Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Trebbiano: Beyond Hamburger Helper

“A typical tasting note on a varietal Trebbiano is characterized by its brevity: pale lemon, little nose, notably high acid, medium alcohol and body, short. And that, I'm afraid, is it.” That's Jancis Robinson, from Vines, Grapes, and Wine. I often refer to Trebbiano as “The Hamburger Helper of Italian white wine,” since it shows up in some proportion in wines made all over Italy, from Soave in the north to Sicily in the south. I can think of one producer who made “serious” wine from the grape, and that was the late Gianni Masciarelli, whose Marina Cvetić Trebbiano d'Abruzzo can still be obtained, as long as you're willing to shell out $60 for Trebbiano. I'm not.

But I willingly parted with $12.99 to taste a Trebbiano-heavy blend from the distinguished Giuseppe Mazzocolin, winemaker at Fattoria di Fèlsina, who made his name producing some exceptionally fine Chianti Classico. Fèlsina is based in Castelnuovo Berardenga, a lovely village that will forever have a good association for me, since back in the day it was the only lovely village outside of Siena that had an ATM.

Pepestrino 2009 IGT Toscana: This was made from 70% trebbiano toscano, 15% chardonnay, and 15% sauvignon blanc. The grapes are from the Pagliarese vineyard at the northernmost end of the Fèlsina property. On the nose: roses, lavender, grass, hint of melon. On the palate: pear, citrus, tropical fruit, hint of hazelnut, very soft, with an impression of richness. Hint of cinnamon spice on the finish. This provided a very nice change-up from my recent obsessive consumption of Muscadet and similar briny, mineral-driven wines. I admit to being somewhat startled to find this wine reviewed by the Wine Advocate (87 points); I guess the Fèlsina label gives it visibility and respectability. Erin at the Asheville Wine Market gave us the steer on this one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gamay As Steak Wine

Maybe you've heard of “La France Profound.” Its U.S. Equivalent might be “the heartland,” although I think the Australian expression “the back of beyond” is probably closer to the truth of it. It is the land in the center of France defined by the Central Massif. Just about smack in the middle of it is the little town of Marcilly-le-Châtel, where Jacky Logel and Odile Verdier grow gamay grapes and make wine. Their appellation is called Côtes du Forez, and while wine has been made in the region since 980, AOC status was granted only in 2000. Domaine Verdier-Logel is one of a very few independent grower/makers in the region; most of the wines are produced by Les Vignerons Foréziens, the co-op in the village of Trelins. Few of these wines make it into the U.S.; this one is imported by Wine Traditions out of Falls Church, VA.

Domaine Verdier-Logel “Volcanique” (not vintaged; most of the fruit is from 2008): It opens with aromas of black raspberry and a hint of spice; bright red and black berry fruits follow, with a bit of mineral character and quite firm tannins. Imagine Beaujolais as steak wine. The wine was made from organically grown vines on vocanic soil, as the name indicates. According to their website, superstar sommelier Eric Beaumard gave guidance in production. At $14 a bottle (from Table Wine) this is a serious value. As is the case with Beaujolais, this responds well to 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Petillant, Frizzante, Crackling, Spritzy...

I've posted before about the glories of vinho verde. Like a lot of you, I go for the petillant, frizzante, crackling, spritzy, low-alcohol white wines when the temperature rises to 80 degrees. And now I've found one so compelling I feel obliged to call attention to it, even though it's already received all kinds of good press. I'm referring to the 2010 aVinYó “Vi D'Agulla” from J. Esteve Nadal, a winemaker in the Penedes known best for his cavas. (For some amusing background on the Nadal family, click here for comments from Jay Murrie at 3Cups.) On the nose, lemon zest, honeysuckle, and oceanic brininess. On the palate, more lemon, a bit of green apple, and even more briny mineral character. It is as though someone took the best characteristics of Txacoli, Vinho Verde, and Gaillac Perlé (might throw in Muscadet, too, since we're on the “briny” thing) and rolled them into a single, irresistable wine.

As if that weren't enough, this is made from 100% organically grown Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, a grape shunned in certain precincts for fear of sweetness. If this wine doesn't cure the “muscat is always sweet” crowd of their prejudices, I guess nothing will.

At 10.5% alcohol, this is an eminently gluggable thirst-quencher. Although at $15 a bottle, you may want to glug with a bit less abandon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d'Age

Arnaud de Villeneuve was born in 1238, and was physician to kings and Popes. He was also an alchemist, and he invented the vin doux naturel style of wine in the 13th Century. The process used is called mutage, in which distilled grape spirit is added to the must to stop fermentation. It is similar although not identical to the process used to make port. This particular wine seems a near relation to a fine medium-sweet sherry.

Arnaud de Villeneuve Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d'Age 1982: This bottle was purchased at the Rivesaltes Cooperative in Roussillon, and transported via backpack. Yes, those were the happy days before TSA and the three-ounce rule. To be called "Hors d'Age" the wine must be aged in wood for at least five years; it is expected to acquire some oxidative character. Appropriate to a wine of its age, the color was on the darker side of golden. This opened with notes of walnut, dried fruit, and just a hint of brown spice. The palate follows with more dark dried fruit, a touch of dried honey, and a nice streak of refreshing acidity and some creamy texture. The finish is long and almost juicy. There is a definite family resemblance to a medium-sweet sherry. Made from a blend of 90% Muscat of Alexandria and 10% grenache blanc. As best I can tell, Les Vignobles du Rivesaltais, the producers, do not distribute their products in the U.S. Of course, all is not lost. Find a bottle of Domaine Lafage “Grain De Vignes” Muscat de Rivesaltes, from the talented Jean-Marc Lafage. It won't have the finesse of a nearly 30-year-old bottle, but it does share the seemingly contradictory juicy dried fruit character, with notes of honey, spice, and pleasing lightness of weight. Lafage's wines are distributed in the U.S. by Polaner Selections.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Occhipinti, A to Z

Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Bianco 2009: Bob and Sandy brought this to dinner the other night. I confess that my taste for dry muscat was an acquired one—the experience of a wine whose nose promises sweetness, only to be followed by an almost austere dryness was off-putting to me at first, and while I got over it with time, I can easily understand how others might not find it worth the effort. It amuses me to call the SP68 Bianco the “A to Z” wine, because it is made from Albanello and Zibibbo grapes. “Zibibbo” is the local name for Muscat of Alexandria, which in most parts of the world is considered inferior to Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, but not in Sicily, where the hot climate gives generally excellent results. Both grapes are grown at an altitude of just under 1,000 feet, in soil that is a mix of sand and limestone (not unlike that found around Pouilly Fumé). The juice was left on its skins for 15 days, and the wine spent six months in stainless, was bottled unfiltered, and given another month of aging in the bottle. The initial impression was of floral and herbal notes, plus dried honey. In the mouth, the wine was light, crisp, limpid, with lemony citrus flavor and a nutty note that we were divided over: Some thought almond, some pistachio. If fresh air can be said to have a taste, this wine had it.

Ms. Occhipinti, of course, is a superstar of the biodynamic world, as is her uncle Giusto, who runs the COS winery. This is her first commercial release of a white wine; I look forward to many more vintages.