Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Giocato, Ostatu, Quinta do Alqueve: Values From Slovenia and Iberia

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.

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