Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two For Summer: Boas Vinhas Branco and Tramontane Côtes du Roussillon

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

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.