No, I haven't posted lately. Yes, I have many reviews to write. Later. For now, The Wine Lolly Video:
Now, go get yourself a bottle of rosé. It's time.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Two wines for summer: One for grilled seafood, the other for grilled sausage.
Nuno Cancela de Abreu, who heads Sociedade Boas Quintas, has made the production of high quality wines in the Dão region of Portugal his life's work. After getting an advanced degree at Montpellier (one of the French equivalents of UC Davis), he ran the Association for the Development of Viticulture of the Douro Wine Region; by 1987 he was teaching enology at the University of Trás - os - Montes and Alto Douro in Portugal. He started Boas Quintas in 1991 on his family's estate in Mortágua, in the Viseu district of north-central Portugal. Ten years later, he ran Quinta da Alorna, a property that has been in continuous operation for nearly three centuries. He also consulted for other estates. In 2010, he left all of this to start Boas Quintas.
The Dão Region is surrounded on three sides by mountains that lessen the influence of the Atlantic, with warm summers and lots of rainfall. It is mostly planted to touriga nacional, but white grapes grow well here, too. The best is the Encruzado, which has benefited hugely from temperature-controlled fermentation, since it is prone to oxidation otherwise. According to Jancis, there were a mere 729 acres planted in 2010. This is the principal grape in Boas Vinhas Branco. The other grape—in smaller proportion, is Cerceal Branco, which adds a sense of freshness and also a dose of acidity. The grape is commonly confused with Sercial, which is used to make dry Madeira. The two are unrelated.
Boas Vinhas Branco 2011: As mentioned above, the wine is made from a blend of 70% Encruzado and 30% Cerceal Branco. On the nose, lime, green apple, a little pear skin. In the mouth, peach and pear, a very good balance of fruit, acidity, and mineralic character. It's refreshing; it has charm; it's $11.99. I'm thinking this will pair well with one of the Chef's shrimp-and-fresh tomato dishes, once the season arrives. This is going to be available starting next week, says Josh at Table Wine. This is a no-brainer for those who, like me, would like to add variety to a warm-weather diet of Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, and Pouilly-Fumé.
“Tramontane” is the name of a strong, dry, cold wind that blows into Roussillon from the north, the local equivalent of the southern Rhone's Mistral. Philippe Gard (an agricultural engineer who lives in Banyuls and consults in Bordeaux) and Andy Cook (a New Zealand winemaker/négociant who now lives in the area) started the Tramontane project in 2008. They own a few parcels of vineyards in the region, including one near Argelès along the Mediterranean south of Perpignan, and one at St-Jean Lasseille, about ten miles inland.
Tramontane Côtes du Roussillon 2010: The wine is 100% old-vine, gobelet (bush) trained grenache, made from grapes purchased from vineyards in Tautavel. It opens with a big nose of red berries and black licorice, followed by rich red fruit with surprisingly complex spice flavors and a strong note of mineralic character. Unfiltered. No trees were harmed in the production of this wine. At $14.99, this has a ton of rustic character, and while it will never be confused with anything from Gauby or Tribouley, it manages to offer richness of fruit without excessive weight. We drank this alongside the Chef's garlic sausage, and it was almost like being back in Collioure. Available at the Asheville Wine Market and other fine emporia where everybody seems to know I'm a sucker for this style of red.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Edi Simčič is something else. After years as a grower, supplying his local co-op, he started making wine in 1990. His home base is Goriška Brda in Slovenia, 500 yards from the border with the Collio Goriziano appellation in far eastern Italy, near Trieste. He's always gone his own way, fermenting in oak long after his colleagues across the border had moved to stainless, and championing the Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) grape. His Bordeaux-style luxury cuvee “Kolos” sells for big bucks.
But we are here today to talk about his son, Aleks, who now runs the estate, and appears to have completely absorbed his father's philosophies and techniques. More specifically, we're here to talk about his Giocato Pinot Grigio, an inexpensive PG that tastes like no other I've come across. It's made from grapes grown in vineyards that are about 15 miles from the Mediterranean, on soil so mineral-laden that it's been described as “salty.” Unlike the family's “big” wines, this was fermented in temp-controlled stainless.
Giocato Pinot Grigio Goriška Brda 2011: Aromas and flavors of red and green apples, lemon zest, and floral notes, with just a pleasing hint of sherry-like tang, and lots of mineralic character. It is much fuller in body than many Italian PG wines that cost a lot more. At about $15 this is a bargain. It seems to be out of stock locally, but I'm sure it will be back around, it's just too good to pass up.
Fernão Pires is the most widely planted white grape in Portugal, where it also goes by “Marie Gomes.” Before the advent of temperature-controlled fermentation, it was usually distilled. Jancis Robinson assures us that while it is commonly mistaken for Trebbiano Toscano—with which it shares a susceptibility to oxidation—the two are not related.
Pinhal da Torre has about 90 acres in the town of Alpiarca (D.O. Ribatejo, about an hour's drive northeast of Lisbon) planted to Fernão Pires, Arinto, Viognier, and miscellaneous other grapes. Owned by Paulo Saturnino Cunha, the Quinta do Alqueve estate has been thoroughly modernized over the last two decades. His white wine, made from his workhorse grape, is yet another example of how a “non-noble” grape can be coaxed toward, if not greatness, then certainly a high level of goodness. Hugo Rodriques is the winemaker, and Francisco Cunha is the vineyard manager, who sees to it that everything is picked by hand, destemmed, and subjected to rigorous sorting.
Quinta do Alqueve Fernão Pires DOC Ribatejo 2010: This opens with aromas of pineapple, lime, and lemon, and a funky herbal note that I can't define. On the palate, it gets richer as it passes from the front of the tongue to the back. This actually has a bit of tannic structure. Although they are not related, it reminds me of some of the better-quality Spanish whites made from Airen, where it shares the distinction of being the most widely planted white grape. This came from the Asheville Wine Market.
Bodegas Ostatu is a family winery located in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region in the town of Samaniego. It was, frankly, just another Rioja producer until it got a visit from the formidable Hubert de Bouard de Laforest of Chateau Angelus, who convinced the Samaniego family to abandon carbonic maceration (employed to create an early-maturing, easy-drinking style) in favor of traditional fermentation, with profoundly favorable results. While Ostatu is mostly known for Rioja Crianza and Reserva, the family also grows Viura and Malvasia on half-century-old, south-facing vineyards at elevations of approximately 2,000 feet.
Rioja Alavesa Ostatu Blanco 2011: Made from 90% viura and 10% malvasia, this opens with aromas of lemon and green apple, a bit of Sauvignon-like grassiness, followed by lovely pear flavor and a nice lemony snap at the finish. Not a terribly complex wine, but absolutely delicious, and an example of how the Viura grape (aka Macabeo) generously responds to cool fermentation. Iñigo Sáenz de Samaniego is the winemaker; he ferments in stainless. Iñigo also shares vineyard management responsibilities with his brother, Ernesto. (There is also another brother, Gonzalo, and a sister, Mariasun—this really is a family operation.) At around $15, this is also well worth seeking out. The one I tasted came from Table Wine.
Friday, February 22, 2013
People in Stellenbosch will tell you that their region could be "as big as the Napa Valley" in terms of its potential impact on the international market. I have no predictions to offer, but there certainly are similarities of style. Most of the South African reds I tasted were big, bold, and pretty alcoholic. And then there was the Diemersfontein Pinotage which was simply bizarre (although Terry Fox came up with a great pairing idea: Chicken mole). But there are some truly refined, elegant wines made there as well; here are notes on two of them. (You don't really need to read anything more about Groot Constantia, do you? Wait, you do? Okay.)
The Cloof Farm, where the grapes for Duckitt wines are grown, has been around for two centuries. The town of Darling is located just north of the Cape Town metro area. Vineyards were first planted at Cloof in 1966, with additional plantings in 1976 and 1987. A cellar was completed in time for the 1998 harvest, and the first Cloof wines were released 1999. Today, there are a total of nearly 360 acres. Vines are mostly trained as gobelets, or bush vines; they need less water, grow their roots deeper, have a leaf canopy to protect grapes from sunlight, and produce smaller crops of small, thick-skinned berries (N.B.: The merlot grapes for this wine were trellised). Yield is around 1.6 tons/acre, which is quite low compared to typical South African yields of around 3.8 tons/acre. The name commemorates William Duckitt, who settled in Darling in the early 1800s, and taught agriculture. Today, Peter Duckitt is the viticulturalist responsible for the vineyards at Cloof.
Duckitt Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Darling 2007: Winemaker Christopher van Dieren went for full malolactic fermentation in stainless tanks, then created a blend of 76% merlot and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, and transferred to barrels (43% new French oak) for 15 months. After fining and a light filtration the wine was bottled. Cloof does not advertise itself as organic, but it is a participant in something called the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, a South African nature conservation group. Among other things, the winery has stopped using pesticides, and minimized the use of fertilizers and herbicides.
On the nose, cedar, pencil lead, deep plum, and a hint of gravel; on the palate dark red fruit, rich in texture but not excessively so, and just enough acidity to brighten the finish. I thought it hit a nice balance between Napa-like opulence and St. Emilion-like restraint. It's pretty alcoholic at 14.38%, but not at all hot. The wine is distributed in the UK by Winesulike; it sells there for the equivalent of about $13.50, which seems an incredible bargain.
Chris and Andrea Mullineux are young, attractive, and very smart winemakers. You can read all about them here.
Mullineux Syrah Swartland 2010: The grapes were sourced from six vineyards in Swartland; some grapes were grown on shale and schist, some on decomposed granite, and some in iron-rich soils. Vines were 15-20 years old. The Mullineux family has long term leases on these vineyards, and is directly involved with viticultural management. As with Cloof, yields are unusually low for the region. A portion of the grapes were crushed and destemmed, and then up to 50% whole bunches were added. Indigenous yeasts were used, and there was a daily punch-down; sometimes twice a day depending on fermentation. After completion of malolactic, the wines from each parcel were racked, blended, and aged 11 months in barrels and foudres, using about 15% new oak. The wine was bottled unfiltered and unfined.
My previous experience of South African Syrah/Shiraz was limited; the most memorable was the Porcupine Ridge, a second label of Boekenhoutskloof; it was a cheap and cheerful wine with lots of fruit, lots of pepper, and a wonderful aroma of hard salami. The Mullineux is in a different category altogether, with some of the same black fruit, only with far more elegance, and peppery notes enhanced with some smokey, herbal character. In the mouth, the wine was full-bodied with complex red and black fruit flavors. It was more like a Crozes-Hermitage than some wines I've tasted that actually were from Crozes-Hermitage. No wonder the Platter Wine Guide named it “Red Wine Of The Year.” In Cape Town, the wine was priced at the equivalent of $27.27. Kysela imports it into the U.S. This may or may not be available through Bordeaux Fine and Rare; I've never seen it on a shelf in Asheville.
Monday, February 18, 2013
The happiest surprise of our visit to South Africa, for me, anyway, was discovering the local rieslings. We tasted three, one each from Jordan, Klein Constantia, and Thelema, and each was impressive. Our admiration grew as we learned more about the history of the grape in the region. Here's a quick backgrounder, courtesy of Mike Froud of the Top Wine SA blog. He presents a sorry history of misleading labeling, and explains why Jordan calls its riesling “The Real McCoy.”
Jordan “The Real McCoy” Stellenbosch Riesling 2011: This was made from dry-farmed 25-year-old vines grown on decomposed granite, at an elevation of nearly 1,000 feet. Were it from the Pfalz, it might qualify as a dry Spätlese, given its 7.7 grams/liter of residual sugar and a relatively hefty 13% alcohol. It had a lovely green/gold color, a nose suggesting lime, sweet spice, and mineralic character, and a palate of lemon, lime, and peach, all in a richly textured frame. The finish was refreshingly tart, with citrus and mineralic notes. It paired beautifully with gembok tartare (see below).
Kleine Constantia Riesling 2011: According to the winery, 2011 was a tough year for riesling; yields were unusually low, and the grapes ripened early with lower than normal sugar content. The wine was fermented in large (132 gallon) barrels and stainless tanks, and left on its lees for six months. The style is more like a kabinett: 2.6 grams/liter of RS, and 11.6% alcohol. It had an intense nose of citrus and sweet spice, with some petrol notes. On the palate, it seemed unformed; the fruit, acidity, and mineralic character were jostling each other rather than working in harmony. I'd love to taste this again in about five years! That doesn't seem likely, though, given the low yield, scant acreage planted, and the lack of availability in the U.S. (Cape Classics is the importer, and they bring in only the Vin de Constance, which will be the subject of some future review.)
Thelema Stellenbosch Riesling 2010: Thelema has some of the highest, and hence coolest, vineyards in the Stellenbosch region—up to 3,000 feet above sea level. The vines are 26 years old and planted on a variety of decomposed granite called red Hutton. (Click here for a more thorough discussion of South African vineyard soils.) For this wine, grapes were destemmed, crushed, and left on their skins for 12 hours prior to fermentation in stainless. At just under 12% alcohol and 9.4 grams/liter RS, this reminded me—as did the Jordan—of a Pfalz dry Spätlese, showing a lot of fruit balanced by firm acidity, and a rich texture. There's a pronounced aroma of lime and petrol followed by lovely flavors of peach, citrus, and mineralic notes on the palate, with a clean, pure-tasting finish. In fact, “pure” is a good one-word descriptor of the wine. I really liked this a lot, and am pleased to report that Cape Classics does bring this wine into the U.S., priced at around $13. I don't think anyone in Asheville carries the stuff; in theory, at least, it is distributed by The Country Vintner. I'll have to check with Anne Kaufmann...
The Mule with The Real McCoy and a plate of gembok tartare at the excellent Jordan Restaurant, at the vineyard, found at the end of a very long one-lane road, out to the west of the town of Stellenbosch.
Friday, February 15, 2013
The Chef and I spent a lovely two weeks with our good friends Harry & Susan, who eschew winter in the Perigord for three months in Gordon's Bay, a beach town about 45 minutes east of Cape Town, South Africa. When the four of us are together, the conversation tends to be about what we ate and drank the day before, what we are eating and drinking now, and what we'll eat and drink next.
Harry racked up many kilometers on his white Hyundai (I would conservatively estimate that more than 60% of the automobiles in the Western Cape are white) taking us around the Winelands. We visited Vergelegen, Thelema, Jordan, and Waterkloof in Stellenbosch; Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia on the Cape Peninsula; and Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Findlayson out east in the Overberg appellation. The wineries range from the grand (Vergelegen is where Nelson Mandela has been known to entertain foreign dignitaries) to the functional (Hamilton Russell's tasting room is refreshingly modest).
Wine reviews will appear as my lousy work habits permit. These first three are definitely not typical South African wines (well, the Pinotage is, but it's an odd version). Next time there will be a discussion of a few bottles that were real knockouts. Two of them are rieslings. Yes!
Reyneke was on my list of places to visit; in the end we never quite got there (Jordan is a near neighbor), but we did manage to open a bottle. I learned of Johan Reyneke from reading Monty Waldin's Biodyamic Wine. Reyneke, who in 1998 took over his family's hundred-acre farm just outside the town of Stellenbosch, is one of a very few South African winemakers to rigorously follow biodynamic precepts. Click here for pictures and a brief story about how he works.
Reyneke Reserve White: We drank the 2011, a blend of chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay. The chenin definitely leads off, with aromas of melon and yellow fruits; after a bit you start to pick up notes of lime and oak. The palate follows with more yellow and tropical fruit, with a zing of grapefruit pith at the back end, along with some chalky mineral notes. The chardonnay seems to be more for texture than flavor. The 2010 got 93 points from the Wine Spectator; Johan Reyneke says the wine improves with a few years of bottle age, which may explain why we found it to be a good-not-great wine. These wines recently became available in the U.S., but as best I can determine, only in the New York/New Jersey metro area. In Cape Town, the wine sells for 167 rand, equivalent to about $18.50. A quick search showed prices at around $23 online.
Da Capo Idiom Zinfandel 2007: This was strange. Zinfandel with the aroma and flavor of chocolate mint. It is made by Bottega Family Wines, which holds an annual “La Vendemmia” festival to celebrate its Italian heritage. I presume therefore that winemaker Reino Thiart knows what he's doing, but this did not resemble any zinfandel or primitivo I've ever had before, whether from Sonoma or Sicily or anywhere else, for that matter.
Diemersfontein Pinotage 2009: Another oddity. As the label indicates, the phenomenon of vinifying Pinotage so it comes with aromas and flavors of coffee and chocolate is now going into it's twelfth year. It provoked a brief discussion of the meaning of "torrefaction," and it was pleasant enough, I guess. I found myself wondering what foods it would pair with. I'm still wondering.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
This post is in honor of a sentence from the President's Inaugural speech: "We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit..." We know what "hard choices" means. At least for the vast majority of us. Here are some wines to get us through what the District of Columbia courtiers refer to as the ever-popular "shared sacrifice."
Not that we have it in for the entire 1%. Nothing could be further from the truth! A few of them are trying to make wine more economically appealing for the rest of us.
For example: An international trio of wine moguls, Alfeo Martini (Italian), Roger Gabb (English) and Christoph Mack (German), got together in 1991 to form Mondo del Vino, a wine producing group that operates a dozen labels across Italy, from the Piedmont to Sicily. None of the three are winemakers; their backgrounds are in distribution, a business at which all have been independently successful. I'd never heard of them (except for the Ricossa name for Barolo) until I came across this odd Grillo/Pinot Grigio blend.
Mánerra Grillo/Pinot Grigio IGT Sicilia 2010: Someone is growing Pinot Grigio in Sicily? Apparently so. This is a unique blend of Pinot Grigio (30%) and the Sicilian native Grillo (70%). The Grillo gives some citrus and sweet spice notes, and adds body. Pinot Grigio adds a bit of finesse and some tropical fruit notes. There are peach and apple flavors, and nice snappy acidity. At 13%, there's a touch more alcohol, which makes sense, since Pinot Grigio doubtless gets a lot riper in Sicily than it would in the Alto Adige. Ahough the grapes are grown in Sicily, the wine is actually produced in Priocca, in the Piedmont area, where Mondo del Vino has its headquarters and main production facility. It's clean, tasty, and shows quite a bit more character than similarly priced Pinot Grigio from the north. At $8.99 a bottle, I'd buy cases of the stuff.
I've commented before on the way the wines of the Bierzo region of Spain, where the Mencia grape rules, were presented years ago as the Next Big Thing. It didn't happen, but the wines did not go away, either.
Bodegas Peique 2010 Tinto: This is 100% Bierzo-grown Mencía produced from 45-year-old vines and aged in large barrels—50% French, 40% Russian (!) and 10% American—for two months. On the nose, black cherry/berry and earthy aromas lead into a soft, silky palate of ripe yet savory red and black fruits, with mineralic/earthy/tannic notes at the finish. If I remember correctly, this is priced at about $11, and gives a kind of pleasure similar to that of certain Beaujolais Village wines at $15.
Récoltant-Manipulant producer Michel Collon makes Champagne in the village of Landreville, in the Aube region, which is in the Champagne appellation, although it is more than 90 miles south of Epernay. (If it were a bit further west, it would be part of Chablis.)
Champagne Collon NV: This is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Chardonnay. It opens with some toasty/Brioche-y notes, along with aromas of apple and pear skin; followed by mostly mineralic character on the palate, with a hint of creaminess and apple/pear flavors. I found it lacking in complexity, but it is nonetheless unmistakably from Champagne, and for less that $30, a real value for money.
All three of these are available at the Asheville Wine Market.