Austrian Wine Month

As many of you know, Frank and I were fortunate enough to do a wine trip to Austria several years ago. While there, we fell in love with Austrian whites—Gruner Veltliner especially, but also Riesling and several blends that joined Gruner with other lesser known varieties like Gelber Muskateller and Welschriesling. In the years since, Austrian reds have come on strong. In addition to the native Blaufrankisch, Saint Laurent and Zweigelt (the last a grape developed as a cross of the first two), there is also some very solid Pinot Noir coming mostly from the Burgenland.

Earlier in the year, we were contacted by one of our distributors from whom we buy a lot of our Austrian wines, about participating in “Austrian Wine Month,” from May 8th-June 7th. Usually we are not big on marketing plans to promote someone’s wines but, . . . this month is timed with the arrival of the new vintage whites and we do love Austrian wines and think that if more people were exposed to them, they would too! We said okay, we’ll participate.

Agreeing to participate meant only two requirements: first, that we tell you about some Austrian wines that we enjoy; and secondly, that we host a tasting of Austrian wines—that’s easy! Our Austrian wine tasting is scheduled for Saturday, May 11th, at 5:30. It will be led by Winthrop Pennock, of Artisanal Cellars and will focus on new vintage whites. There is a $25 tasting fee that includes light food pairings by North End Butchers. Reservations are necessary. Please call (802) 246-6400.

Selecting wines was a lot harder than arranging a tasting; we really do like a lot of Austrian wines! We decided that we should choose at least one wine from each major growing region, that we should have whites and reds that represent the varietals most associated with those regions, and that we had to limit ourselves to one bubbly (that was really hard!).

The major regions responsible for the highest quality wines in Austria are Niederosterreich or Lower Austria; Burgenland; and Steiermark, also known as Styria. Lower Austria, ironically enough, is in the northeast part of Austria. The areas above the Danube—Wagram, Kamptal and Wachau, are the regions from which the creme de la creme of Austria’s dry white wines derive. In the area of Lower Austria southwest of Vienna, Carnuntum and Themenregion, the climate is warmer, allowing the classic red varieties of Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt to ripen. The Burgenland, southeast of Vienna, produces full-bodied, rich reds and delicious dessert wines. Finally, Styria, located in the southeast, bordering Slovenia, produces terrific whites, including elegant Sauvignon Blancs and rich Gelber Muskateller.

There really is something for everyone in Austrian wines. We hope that you will embark on a little wine journey with us this month, discovering the breadth of Austrian wines and appreciating the quality of wines you get for the price.  Our picks for the month, along with descriptions from Winthrop, Klaus  or me, are posted separately.

 

 

 

MENU: Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting with Friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for a fun thing to do with friends? Marty, Laurie and Beth have gathered together a great list of wines to share plus an easy menu to quickly pull together. The inspiration and recipes came to us from our friends Meghan Carey and Pat Howell.

 

THE WINES

Roger and Christopher Moeux, “Cuvée des Lys,” Sancerre, Rosé, 2011 (Marty’s choice): $21.99

While I love Sancerre, often I find rosé Sancerre (made from Pinot Noir) to be more earthy than what I want from rosé, and then there is the price! This one delivers. It has rich fruit flavors of apricot, peach and bright cherry, with a beautifully tart, minerally finish. Make one of the cheeses you pick up for this tasting is a Crottin de Chavignol, because that is the village from which this wine comes. The crisp acidity will match nicely with the tanginess of the Chavignol.

Castillo Perelada Cava Brut Rosado NV (Beth’s choice): $11.99

A winner when we tasted it.  This cava is a gorgeous cranberry color and in the glass has a lot of small bubbles.  Made from a blend of Trepat(60%), Monastrell (20%) and Pinot Noir (20%), it has a fruity nose with a floral underlay.  It is very well-balanced, rich and fruity – hints of a soft, flavorful, non-astringent rhubarb.  Absolutely yummy, this is a wonderful cava for regular drinking.

Perelada Garnatxa Blanca 2011 (Beth’s choice): $11.99

This old-vine (50-60 year-old vines) wine from the northeastern coast of Spain is made with 100% Garnatxa Blanca (white Grenache) grapes.  It is pale yellow in the glass with a floral, fruity nose and a hint of something briny.  In the mouth it is lively, fresh and intense.  It is fruity on entry and has a long, dry, smooth finish.  It is full-bodied with lots of complexity.  Delicious!

Kingston Family Vineyards Tobiano Pinot Noir 2008 (Laurie’s choice): $19.99

This Pinot Noir sang to us for many reasons – it is a fruity, full-bodied pinot. It’s all about cherries, blueberries, a little vanilla and a hint of tobacco. Its character is smooth and velvety with a pleasurable soft tannic activity going on. Drink this one now – the Kingston Family only releases their vintages when they’re ready for you. (N.B.—Courtney Kingston will be guiding at tasting of their wines for us this fall.)

Chateau Du Trignon Rasteau 2007  (Laurie’s choice): $19.99

We only pick ‘em when we love ‘em and this one hit that note. This wine is a traditional Cotes-du-Rhone in locale and estate. It is a blend of 55% Grenache and 45% Mourvedre. Since it is given extensive skin contact during fermentation this wine exhibits the flavors and aromas of Herbs de Provence, blackberries, and just the right spice and touch of licorice. We loved this wine’s velvety tannins. Rasteau 2007 is robust and in its prime.

FOOD PAIRINGS with RECIPES

  • Charcuterie Plate: assorted dried salamis, thinly sliced
  • Cheeses: Aged Gouda (cow), Harbison by Jasper Hill (cow), Manchego (sheep)
  • Goat Cheese Appetizer (recipe below)
  • Greens and Leek Cake (recipe below)

Goat Cheese Appetizer

6-8 oz. plain goat cheese
1/2 cup good olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped, pitted calamata olives
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (I like the soft ones not in oil)
1/2 tsp. dried OR 1 tsp. fresh rosemary and thyme
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
ground black pepper
1 T. chopped fresh basil * (add just before serving)

Crumble goat cheese on platter. Crush or chop garlic in olive oil; add remaining seasonings to olive oil. Let stand (if you have time) for an hour, then pour over goat cheese. Top and mix with olives and sun dried tomatoes.

*Just before serving, add fresh basil. Serve with crusty French bread or Carr’s water crackers.

Greens and Leek Cake

This cake is a cross between a custard and a frittata. It’s best served at room temperature, bake it a few hours ahead of serving

2 lbs. fresh greens (spinach, chard, mustard, turnip or beet), triple washed
2 medium leeks, triple washed
2 T. butter
salt and pepper
fresh nutmeg
2 cups whole milk
6 large eggs
pinch of cayenne

Chop greens and leeks into thin ribbons. Melt butter in a deep pan over medium heat. Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender but still green, about 5 minutes.

Turn up the heat and grate a little nutmeg over the leeks. Add the greens on top in layers, sprinkling each layer with a little salt. Cover tightly and cook until greens are just wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Turn contents of pot (including cooking juices) onto a platter and let cool.

Preheat oven to 400. When the greens mixture is cool, taste for seasoning and adjust (should be highly seasoned). In a food processor, puree the cooked vegetables with the milk and eggs in batches, adding a pinch of cayenne and any remaining cooking juices.

Pour green batter into a buttered baking dish or 9 to 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, or when knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature before serving.

 

Feeding My Hunger For Spanish White Wine: Pazo de Señorans

Pazo de Senorans

I never imagined the day would come when I would admit to such inclinations, but after much agony and deliberation I must confess that I’m enchanted by Spanish white wines.  Perhaps it’s their sheer gustatory novelty, or their “consumer friendly” pricing, or the simple fact that they are lipsmackingly good, or a combination of all of the above.  Nonetheless, I can’t manage to keep my hands off bottles of such heretofore obscure grape varieties, such as Verdejo, Godello, Viura (in Catalonia it is known as Macabeo—a principal Cava grape variety), Xarel-lo, Moscatel, Hondarribi Zuri, and Albariño.

Ok, in all seriousness and to be fair, not every Spanish white wine is great, but critics and consumers seem to agree that some of the finest white wine values are coming out of Spain. Thanks to several intrepid importers over the last few years, more and more whites from the Iberian Peninsula have found their way onto American store shelves and restaurant wine lists. While many of the varieties are not well known, their relatively significant store shelf presence alone indicates that the American wine-buying public has grown to embrace them as economical and novel alternatives to the established white wines of France, New Zealand, USA, etc.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and explore several of its up-and-coming white wine producing regions. While we are very fortunate that many of the top producers are imported, I wanted to see for myself where these obscure grapes are being grown, and to decide for myself who constituted the top producers are. I also wanted to visit their wineries, and to venture into the wine bars where the local winemakers gather in the evenings. My quest for el vino blanco took me to Basque country, Galicia, and Rueda. While I managed only to scratch the surface, I drank more of the local vinos blancos than I would like to admit to my doctor and came away with my suspicion confirmed that Spain is a top source of value white wines.

I explored no region and its wines more than Galicia and, in particular, the DO (Denominación de Origen) of Rias Baixas (Galician for ‘lower coastal inlets). Founded in 1988, the young Rias Baixas DO runs along the rugged Atlantic coastline from the Portuguese border north to Cape Finisterre (due west of Santiago de Compostela). The principal grape variety is the white Albariño grape. When the DO was created, there were 492 growers, 14 wineries, and 585 acres under cultivation; today there are an astounding 6500 growers working over 20,000 individual vineyards plots (many one could call backyard vineyards), 198 wineries, and 8650 acres under cultivation.  These startling statistics illustrate the incredible growth in viticulture this region has experienced in the last thirty odd years and apparently they can’t keep up with worldwide demand.

The rise of Rias Baixas as a DO and its subsequent popularity has been mirrored by a rise in the quality of the wines. At the outset many of the growers sold their fruit to large cooperatives with a focus on high yields to maximize profits, but as the region developed, more growers started to make their own wines, lowering yields, practicing better viticulture, and ultimately making much more compelling wines. No winery is a better example of this than the much lauded (both in American and international wine publications), Pazo de Señorans.

The Vines of Pazo

When the current owners of Pazo de Señorans purchased the estate in 1979, it was planted with kiwi trees and old Albariño vines. At the outset, they sold off their wine as bulk juice, but they soon changed directions when globalization rendered their kiwifruit orchard obsolete and they began to take a personal interest in producing their own wines. They were fortunate in that they possessed some of the oldest vines in the DO and they had the resources to get their venture off the ground. 1990 was their inaugural vintage and over the last 20 years, determined as ever on making the best Albariño possible, they’ve risen to the top. Starting with a production of 7,000 bottles, Pazo de Señorans now produces 450,000 bottles in a state-of-the-art winery.  The estate vineyard comprises 20 beautifully trellised (using the traditional method of training the vine up granite post pergolas—a form of horizontal trellising—as in the above picture) acres of Albariño and produces 3 distinct Albariño wines.

Three Distinct Albarino Wines

By far the largest production wine is the Pazo Señorans Albariño (on the right). This is the wine that made Pazo de Señorans’ reputation and it continues to be the foundation of their brand despite their remarkable and highly innovative bottlings: the Pazo Señorans Seleccion de Anada (on the left) and the Sol de Señorans (in the middle).  Made from a combination of estate and purchased fruit, the Pazo Señorans Albariño is an exemplar of stainless steel fermented Albariño. The 2009 Pazo Señorans Albariño (current vintage) displays gorgeous citrus and tropical fruit elements underpinned by an iodine-heavy minerality on the nose. The mélange of fresh citrus and rich tropical fruit notes carry over to the palate along with ripe stone fruit  flavors (peach and apricot stand out) and compelling minerality. The result is a remarkably concentrated and rich Albariño with a seductively round, creamy body. This wine fortunately is well distributed in the US; anyone who enjoys Albariño should give this standard-bearer a try.

Those who get a chance to visit Spain should not pass up the opportunity to try the other Pazo de Señorans bottlings that don’t make it to the US except in extremely limited quantities: the Seleccion de Anada and the Sol de Señorans. They represent vanguard efforts in exploring where the Albariño grape can be taken. The 2004 Seleccion de Anada (current vintage) spent four years on its lees in stainless steel, resulting in an incredibly rich Albariño. I was fortunate to try it several times and I can honestly say it is a revelation. The 2006 Sol de Señorans is an experimental Albariño that is aged for 6 months in oak. The resulting wine exhibits oak derived richness and a rounder body than the other two bottlings—a very intriguing and rare wine.

So with what to drink Albariño? In Galicia, it is enjoyed with all manner of seafood dishes, especially shellfish. It is also a great aperitif wine and I always have a bottle or two handy in the warmer months for sipping on the patio. If you haven’t had the chance to try an Albariño or the Pazo Señorans Albariño specifically, I strongly encourage you to try one soon.

Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate:

2009 Pazo Señorans Albariño

93 points: “Pazo Señorans’ 2009 Albariño beautifully displays the high quality of the 2009 vintage in Rias Baixas. Light gold in color, it offers up a splendid bouquet of mineral, honeysuckle, lemon, and tropical aromas. Round, creamy, and remarkably concentrated, this outstanding effort will provide much pleasure over the next 4 years.”—Jay Miller

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar:

2009 Pazo de Señorans Albariño

92 points:  “Vivid yellow-gold. An intensely perfumed bouquet shows aromas of nectarine, iodine, lees and pungent flowers, with a strong mineral undertone. Very rich and exotic but possesses a serious spine of acidity, which adds lift to broad tropical and pit fruit flavors. The lees and iodine notes repeat on a long, floral- accented finish. This wine’s marriage of power and vibrancy, not to mention its complexity, is very impressive.”—Josh Reynolds

Wines for Romance

Paul Bara, Champagne, Grand Cru, Bouzy, 2000–$59.99

When you want to convey that nothing short of Champagne can possibly express the value and respect with which you regard your partner, we can vouch for this very special grower-Champagne made from 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay grapes from a Grand Cru village specializing in Pinot Noir. Richard Juhlin, the Champagne savant, describes Bara as a “legend in Champagne” and, along with two others, shares the distinction of the “most quality focused grower in Bouzy” (a Grand Cru village in Champagne).   The wines are aged at least 4 years (and in this case, was aged for 10 years before release), giving him a rich, lush style. Nonetheless, his wines are characterized by tremendous energy and bright fruit. This is a gorgeous wine for a special occasion. We enjoy the wine so much that we almost always have it just on its own, though it can perform admirably as a starter with brie with an apricot chutney and almonds or with your main course of lobster, duck, or butternut squash risotto.

Graham Beck, Sparkling Rosé, Brut, 2008 South Africa–$15.99

One of our all-time favorites combining two great attributes– bubbly and pink! Like traditional Champagne, it is made from Chardonnay (55%) and Pinot Noir (45%) and, like Champagne, secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. It is a very pale, beautiful salmon color with aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry and that yeasty, rising bread dough scent typical of sparkling wines aged on their lees for longer periods, in this case, at least 16 months. If you choose the Graham Beck sparkling Rose´ to celebrate your evening, you will be in good company. In 1994, Nelson Mandela toasted his inauguration as President of South Africa with a glass. Years later, Barack and Michelle Obama raised a glass together in Chicago to celebrate Obama’s selection as the Democratic candidate for the 2008 presidential contest. It is very festive, and goes beautifully with chocolate. It is also remarkably affordable at $15.99.

Hillinger, Secco, Sparkling Rosé, NV, Austria–$17.99

Another combination of pink and bubbles, this one from Austria’s Neusiedlersee area in Burgenland (below Vienna). Made from 100% Pinot Noir, but rather than the traditional Methode Champenoise with secondary fermentation in the bottle, Hillinger’s Secco uses the Charmat method, with secondary fermentation occurring in large stainless steel tanks that are pressurized. Sparkling wines that use the charmat method prize freshness of flavors, and you will certainly find that in the Hillinger Secco. Ripe red berries on the nose and palate, but the finish is full of zest, very lively and super fresh. It is an energizing wine that will do well at the beginning of the evening, perhaps with a bit of sushi.

Whites

Pratello, Lieti Conversari, Manzoni Bianco, Garda (Italy), 2009– $22.99 (organic)

We had to include a white wine whose name translates to “happy,” or “pleasant conversation”! It helps that the wine is also delicious. The grape from which this wine comes, Manzoni Bianco, is a hybrid of Riesling and Pinot Blanc. It has the aromatic nose of Riesling—floral, some white peach and even honey, then on the finish, some nuttiness that I would associate more with Pinot Blanc. We visited Pratello in the late fall and that is where we “discovered” this wine. The winemaker, Vincenzo, shared the 2002 Lieti with us and it was a remarkable, actually stunning, wine. 2002 was a notoriously awful year in much of Europe (except Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire)—tons of rain, cool weather, hail. It’s one of those vintages that mostly one avoids. I was nonplussed, however, by the concentration of the 2002 Lieti Conversari. We were enjoying it in late fall 2010, and while it was rich and concentrated, it still had energy. If you like this wine, it has the potential to age. We have put some down to see how it develops. In the meantime, however, let it lubricate your evening so that you may engage in “lieti conversari” with your Valentine.

Domaine Bellegarde, Le Pierre Blanche, Jurancon Sec, 2008– $24.99  (Biodynamic)

It is 80% Petite Manseng, 20% Gros Manseng I’ve written about this wine before; if only I could find those notes. I have waxed on about this wine’s aromas and flavors of quince that make it the perfect foil for membrillo (fresh quince paste).  We have used the membrillo with Manchego cheese and that combination is so close to perfect that it is silly; add the Bellegarde and it is on the asymptote of perfection.  This is a massive white wine, full, lush, super-rich, but once again, that weight is carried on the finish by vibrant acidity. It is so alive for such a big white. It needs an aged cheese like an English Cheddar or it can accompany the main course, so long as you have something like pork, duck, goose, or lobster. Vegetarians, try this one with a vegetable Wellington, more delicious than a beef Wellington any day. Just use a puff pastry for richness, then fill with various roasted veg and some cheese (Manchego?).  Alternatively, vegetarians could do a strudel with a combination of blue and Neufchatel cheese, with cauliflower and peas.  You get the idea; something rich, creamy, decadent—this wine will pair up beautifully.

Reds

Steininger, Zweigelt, “Novemberlese,” Kamptal, 2008– $16.99

Elsewhere I have described this wine as “hedonistic,” and it is. It is all about pleasure and immediate satisfaction. Zweigelt is a hybrid of two Austrian red grapes, Saint Laurent and Blaufrankisch, and it combines the great qualities of both—juiciness, fruitiness, spiciness and rich, lush, fullness. It is called “Novemberlese” because the grapes are picked as late as possible, early November, and they are ripe and sweet. The wine made from these grapes reflects that richness and would love to be paired with aged cheeses (try a 3-year Gouda), a big main meal of meat (think sausages) or that lovely finish of chocolate!

Begali, Ripasso, Veneto, 2008–$21.99 (Organic)

We do love this wine. Made from the same grapes as Valpolicello, but this is so not Valpolicello. Regular Valpolicello is enhanced by drying some of the grapes so that they shrivel like raisins, then pressing them so that just a drop of rich nectar emerges, and blending the nectar in with the Valpolicello.  The result is a much richer wine with much sweeter fruit, more like fig and balsamic than bright cherry. Think roasted meats and sweet, caramelized vegetables. Also consider it with chocolate when you come home from your romantic dinner out. The perfect nightcap.

Altovinum, Evodia, Garnacha, 2009– $10.99

A budget price, but not a cheap wine. This wine is one of the best values in the shop. For lots more on the producer and the wine, see Alex’s blog post below. Alex wrote about the 2008 and, we are so pleased to report, the 2009 is just as good or better. Nothing pleases us more than to find a wine of this quality at this price; what a value!

Having just read a review by Tanzer, and conceding that he said it well, it appears below. I will note only that it received a 90. Enjoy.

Sexy, high-pitched aromas of strawberry preserves, black raspberry, minerals and pungent flowers. Concentrated but not at all heavy; sweet raspberry and blackberry flavors are lifted by a hint of violet. Very suave, especially at this price; finishes with silky tannins and excellent clarity. No jamminess here, which is pretty rare for inexpensive garnacha. These vines are reportedly planted at 850 to 1,100 meters altitude on slate and are more than 100 years old.

Hurrah to Three Syrahs

What do the wines of Hermitage (Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle, Jean-Louis Chave), Cote Rotie (Guigal’s single-vineyard Cote Roties-La Mouline, La Turque, La Landonne), and Penfold’s Grange have in common? Well, they are easily some of the most sought after, iconic, and expensive wines produced (a case of 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle recently sold at auction for $98,587). More fundamentally, they are all Syrah-based wines. With the sea of unidimensional, mass-produced Shiraz that fills supermarket shelves and college dorm recycling bins, it’s easy to forget that some of the world’s most profound wines are made from Syrah.

When picked ripe, Syrah produces dark, dense, alcoholic, rich wines. In fact, these attributes made it common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries to “hermitage” the wines of Bordeaux. That is to say, wine makers and merchants blended Syrah from the Northern Rhone region of Hermitage to bolster the often anemic, under-ripe wines of Bordeaux. One writer even noted in 1827 that a staggering 80% of the production of Hermitage was sold that year to members of the Bordeaux wine trade. It is worth mentioning that even today, one often hears rumors about Pinot Noir producers, especially in California, augmenting their wines with Syrah. There is little doubt that Syrah is capable of supplementing some of the finest wines in the world, but it also produces plenty of fine wines that fall closer to the ‘everyday wine’ category.

Recently, Syrah has been hit by a wave of consumer disinterest. Only a few years ago, Australian Shiraz was a best seller and Syrah was being madly planted in California (in 1985, there were only 100 acres of it in CA, today there are at least 13,000 acres). Then, due to a complex nexus of factors, consumers began turning away from the variety and today most wine shops have greatly reduced their shelf space that was once devoted to Syrah. It’s a real shame because there has never been so much good Syrah on the market as there is today. While the famous appellations of the Northern Rhone (principally Hermitage and Cote Rotie) and Australia’s Barossa Valley remain the source of the most famous examples of the variety, there are fantastic Syrah’s being produced in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, the Central Coast of California, Yakima, Columbia Valley, and Walla Walla regions of Eastern Washington, New Zealand, and South Africa.

One of the most appealing aspects of Syrah is its stylistic range— determined either by terroir or winemaking techniques, or the combination thereof. For example, broadly speaking, wines from the Northern Rhone tend to express a certain meatiness and to possess solid underlying acidity, whereas many examples from Australia fall into the ‘fruit bomb’ category of exuberantly ripe, round fruit. Syrah, therefore, is an extremely versatile wine to pair with food. Moreover, in the winter months the variety is especially agreeable as its pairs particularly well with hearty, meat-rich dishes.

Below are three examples, each of which represents a fine example of Syrah.

2007 Camplazens Syrah Vin du Pays’Oc ($15.99)

This is a delightful example of the ‘old world’ Northern Rhone style of Syrah at a modest price. The Camplazens offers up a complex aromatic mélange of violets, enticing hints of grilled meat and sizzling bacon, wood smoke, and ripe blueberry fruit. This complexity carries over to the palate with dark plum and blackberry fruit, enhanced by meat and herb undertones. Nice underlying acidity makes this a great food wine, as does the fact that it weighs in at reasonable 13% alc.

2006 Rolf Binder Hales Barossa Valley Shiraz ($19.99)

This is a classic example of a relatively restrained Australian Shiraz, with its rich fruit profile, yet medium alcohol (14.5%) and modest new oak influenced flavors. On the nose, it presents intense creamy blueberry, and soy latte notes, while the palate is packed with jammy black cherry fruit with some nice spice accents. A great wine to warm up with next to the fire on a cold night, or to pair with rich winter beef dish, or wait until summer and pop it with some BBQ.

2009 Substance Syrah ($19.99)

While high-end Washington State Syrahs have been winning accolades for much of the last decade, this is a great example of a value-driven wine from the Evergreen state. It adroitly straddles the stylistic divide between the wines of old world and those of the new world. Pungent floral aromas of carnations and violets with hints of herb, humus, and grilled meats issue forth from the glass. In the mouth, it offers juicy raspberry and boysenberry flavors with a touch of fresh tartness developing at the back-end. This wine possesses amazingly richness and body for its medium alcohol (13.7%) and has nice acid and tannin underpinnings. It is very youthful and primary at this stage and, while it can be easily enjoyed now, it will only benefit from some short-term cellar time.

Alex’s Picks for Holiday Gifts

It is that time of year, when holiday gift shopping is on everyone’s mind. Buying a bottle of wine as a gift is not always easy. Let’s face it, there are a lot of wines out there and everyone seems to have a different taste for wine. To help out, I’ve selected three wines in the shop that I think will satisfy a broad range of palates and pocketbooks.

2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle ‘Eroica’ ($23.99)

As far as I’m concerned, there is not a better domestic off-dry Riesling for the price. ‘Eroica’ is a partnership between Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernie Loosen (one Germany’s most famous Riesling producers). From the outset, the goal was to produce a great American Riesling comparable to Loosen’s wines from the famed Mosel Region. The 2008 represents the tenth vintage of this wine that, over the years, has not only garnered praise from all corners of the wine world, but also played a major role in establishing Washington as a prime region for high quality Riesling. What makes the 2008 wine so compelling is its balance. The crisp apple, pear, and white peach flavors are checked by bracing acidity and piercing minerality. While this wine is technically off-dry, it is just barely—there is not even a hint of sweetness. The ‘Eroica’ is a very versatile wine and pairs well with Indian curries, Asian cuisine, seafood (especially crab cakes and scallops), and roast turkey. And, if you are so inclined, the racy acidity will permit this wine to gracefully age for at least a decade.

2008 Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir ($34.99)

I am truly enamored with this wine. Bethel Heights is one of the oldest vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and it has a long track record of producing wonderfully balanced Pinot Noirs. The 2008 vintage in the Willamette valley was a marvelous one, and Bethel Heights has hit a home run with their Estate Pinot Noir. A lush cherry fragrance with hints of spice extends to the rich flavors on the palate. This wine exhibits fantastic concentration balanced by surprising acidity. Ripe fruit flavors and an exceptionally lush mouthfeel belie the 13% alcohol. Though this wine was perfectly approachable when it was first opened, it only got better with time. This has the stuffing to age for, at least, a decade. Rarely does one encounter an Oregon Pinot Noir of such quality with less sticker shock attached. It is also worth noting that this is an Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine.

2006 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard ($58.99)

For the money, Andrew Will is producing some of the finest Bordeaux blends in the country. Every vintage, Andrew Will garners big scores from not only Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, but also the Wine Spectator and even Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Among those that follow the Washington wine scene, Andrew Will has long been considered one of the state’s top wineries (alongside the likes of Quilceda Creek and Leonetti), but outside of these wine circles, Andrew Will is hardly a household name. Perhaps it’s the winery’s small production and the relatively limited exposure of most American wine drinkers to high-end Washington wines that are to blame. Anyway, anyone who enjoys Bordeaux-style blends should take notice.

One of the great virtues of Andrew Will wines is their balance. Few wines today so perfectly span the stylistic divide between Bordeaux and Napa. Taking advantage of one of Washington’s most heralded old vine vineyards, Champoux Vineyard, the wine displays the ripe fruit character of a top-flight Napa wine, yet it also possesses the restraint and complexity of a classed-growth Bordeaux. One of the key elements to this feat is the substantial acid profile of the wine, which is much more in line with Bordeaux than Napa. The 2006 Champoux Vineyard is comprised of 57% cabernet sauvignon, 35% cabernet franc, and 8% merlot and it is a real stunner. The cabernet sauvignon is readily apparent on the nose, with dark fruit, cassis, and a hint of methol. These aromas carry over into the flavors on the palate along with undertones of cream, spices, and chocolate. Overall, this wine offers wonderful complexity, balance, a beautifully round mouthfeel, and excellent length. The 2006 Champoux Vineyard possesses a definite sense of charisma and gravitas. This will reach its peak in 3-5 years and will remain there for at least another 5 years. If consuming soon, decant for at least 3 hours.

A Delicious Value: the 2008 Altovinum Evodia

The Gratification of Discovery. While there are many reasons that wine is a fun and an interesting subject to explore, one thing I’ve learned in my involvement in the wine world is this:   few experiences rival the gratification of discovering a great value wine. One constantly hears the refrain that never before has the consumer been so spoiled by such a diverse and extensive selection of value-driven wines. Yet, I can’t name the large number of times I’ve opened a wine that the critics have declared a fantastic value, only to be let down. Perhaps I expect too much…or so I thought until recently. The Cote Est was certainly a pleasant revelation this summer and with the seasonal plunge in temperature, the focus of my consumption has shifted to red wines. Fortunately, thanks in part to reading the critics, but also to my luck and, dare I say, intuition, I’ve lately unearthed several shining examples of great everyday (under $12) red wines and of these, I am most excited about the 2008 Altovinum Evodia.

Unearthing Values in Spain. No country is churning out more high quality, low-end wine today than Spain. One of the principal reasons is that there is more vineyard land in Spain (2.9 million acres) than in any other country on the face of the planet; moreover, Spain is blessed with some of the oldest vines in Europe. Before the wine quality revolution of the late 90s, which revitalized many of Spain’s once forgotten wine producing regions (Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Jumilla/Yecla, etc…), farmers in these areas made so little income from their low-yield, old vine vineyards that replanting them was an uneconomical afterthought. The result is an abundance of old vine vineyard sources in these up and coming regions. This is no more apparent than in the wines from the Denominación de Origen (DO) of Calatayud in the southwestern corner of Aragon. With its ancient high altitude vineyards, Calatayud has attracted lots of attention and investment. During the last decade, a steady stream of popular value Garnachas have hit our shores from Calatayud: Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha, Bodegas Ateca “Garnacha de Fuego” and “Ateca” are prime examples.

A Charismatic Wine at this Price Point.  Evodia (Greek for “aroma”) is a new project from the American importer, Eric Solomon (European Cellars) and the seemingly irrepressible enologist, Jean Marc Lafage. Sourced from the highest vineyards in the DO (2400-3000 ft. in elevation), the quality of the low-yield, old vine (up to 100 years old) Garnacha fruit is apparent in the glass. An alluring bouquet of fraises du bois complemented by an undertone of herbs issues forth after a few seconds of swirling. In the mouth, soft, lush strawberry and cherry fruit flavors spread across the palate and the concentrated old vine fruit offers excellent weight and length. In sum, it is a strikingly charismatic wine for the price point.

Fresh Fruit Character. One of the most appealing aspects of Evodia is the fresh quality of the fruit. In part, this is the result of excellent vineyard site selection. The cooler high altitude sites mitigate the hot climate of Aragon, helping the fruit retain acidity and keeping the sugar/alcohol in check. In other words, Evodia is not your typical jammy, super alcoholic Garnacha. Finally, the wine is fermented and aged in tank, which preserves the wonderful fresh fruit character and does not impart any distracting flavors.

The 2008 Altovinum Evodia is a delicious bargain that is a perfect every day red for now and the colder months that lie ahead.

Alcohol: 14%

Drinking Window: 2010-2012

Pairing Ideas: Pork and lamb pair especially well with Garnacha, but other good pairings include: beef stew, aged cheddar and Manchego, sweet potato soup. The relatively low acidity and low tannin levels make it an appealing wine to drink on its own as well.

Price: Under $12.

Josh Reynolds (Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar): “Bright ruby. Fresh strawberry and raspberry aromas are deepened by notes of licorice, black tea and pungent herbs. Supple in texture, offering sweet red fruit flavors and showing no rough edges. A smoky note comes up with air, adding complexity to a nicely persistent, red berry-dominated finish. Extremely easy to drink, and offering excellent depth and clarity for the money.” (89 pts).

An Ode to Summer

Domaine Lafage, Cote Est, Catalan, 2009

Domaine Lafage, Cote Est, Catalan, 2009

As we start to feel the first tinges of fall in the air, is there a better time to toast one of the summer’s best whites?  After some of the long, hot days of this past summer, there was nothing I craved more than a refreshing glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris, Muscadet, or even a cool-climate Chardonnay.  However, with this year’s heat wave, by the time August rolled around another glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc no longer had the appeal that it did 8 weeks before. Fortunately, I found a few worthy replacements and none is as exciting in terms of QPR (quality-price ratio) as the 2009 Cote Est.

This ‘vins des pays’ from the Côtes Catalanes provides so much pleasure that I remember checking my receipt after first trying it; I simply couldn’t believe it cost less than $12. It’s not very often that a wine sourced from truly old vines is as well-priced. There are no standards or regulations for labeling a wine ‘old vines’ or ‘vieilles vignes,’ which often causes confusion on the part of the consumer, and in a lot cases, the vines aren’t even that old. The oldest chardonnay vines in California were planted in 1953, for example, and they are the source for the highly rated Hanzell Vineyards Ambassador’s 1953 Chardonnay (retail: over $100). On the other hand, in the Spanish region of Rias Baixas, there are Albarino vines that are over 200 years old producing one of the world’s great dry whites (Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas, retail: $40).

While vine age is not always indicative of quality (people often reference the legendary 1961 Bordeaux vintage in which many incredible wines were made from young vines as most of the vineyards in Pomerol and St Emilion were wiped out by a harsh winter in 1956), old vines are cherished and very sought after. They produce much less fruit than younger vines, but their fruit tends to be much more concentrated and nuanced. Which brings me back to the Cote Est, this is a wine of impressive quality and complexity– thanks to the old vine components. Part of what I find so appealing is the fact that the wine is so fresh. There is no oak to add great richness in body, flavor, or color. Instead this wine is fermented and aged in neutral stainless steel tanks, allowing the fruit to express itself.

In the past I’ve not been much of a fan of either Grenache Gris/Blanc or Marsanne. They tend to produce high alcohol, low acid wines that, on a cold winter night might be fine, but not in the summer. Here is where the talents of the winemaker, Jean Marc Lafage, become apparent. The alcohol of the Grenache and Marsanne is kept in check and he blends in Chardonnay, which isn’t readily apparent in the aromatics or flavors, yet contributes a wonderful acidic backbone to the wine. The final result is not a typical southern French blend. While it displays many similarities with a Cotes du Rhone Blanc, it has much livelier acidity than any CdR Blanc I’ve ever tasted, making it more refreshing and much more food friendly.

The aromatics of this wine are impressive (in my notes I characterized the nose as ‘exuberant’). It is quite complex with an initial wave of white spring flower aromas, lemon zest, fermented stone fruit, then with some air comes a more nuanced chalk character and a hint of iodine (think Chablis or Muscadet). This lovely interplay between fruit and minerality is matched on the palate with stone fruit, citrus, roasted almonds, and floral qualities balanced by nice minerality and acidity. In all, a well-balanced rather unique wine.

-Age of Vines: The Grenache Gris/Blanc component (50%) is sourced from 80 year old vines and the chardonnay (30%) from 20 year old vines. –the Marsanne (20%) is from young vines

-Stainless steel tank elevage

- Alcohol: 13%

- Drinking window: 2010-2011

- Pairing ideas: Aperitif, especially with creamy cheeses like Brie or Camembert (try Vermont’s Blythedate Farm cheeses), rich, cream based soups, pasta primavera, or butternut squash stuffed with quinoa, pine nuts, parmesan and sage.

Price: Under $12

“Summer Sippers” Case

Summer Sippers Case

 

One characteristic that each of these wines shares is their refreshing acidity that qualifies each as a “summer sipper.” Summer is the season for light-bodied, fresh, clean wines with lots of energy to give us a little kick as the dog days of summer lull us into lethargy. They pair beautifully with the lighter, fresh fare coming out of our gardens or from the Farmers’ Market or CSA.

Broadbent, Portugal, Vinho Verde, NV
Technically a non-vintage wine because they should be consumed within the current vintage so including the vintage is unnecessary. We prefer the Broadbent because Bartholomew Broadbent, importer, insists that the wine be shipped via refrigerated containers to preserve its freshness. A blend of indigenous white varietals picked before they are fully ripe, the wine brings to mind fresh, tart lemonade that is made even more refreshing by adding a gentle spritz.

At only 9.5% alcohol, the Broadbent Vinho Verde is perfect for picnics or summer brunches; serve well-chilled. Because of the low alcohol, Vinho Verde is a great selection for the late afternoon or early evening when it is still hot and you want something refreshing. It makes a great aperitif, but can be served with salads, crudités or briny oysters. If you serve cheese, this would be best with goat cheeses to accent their tanginess. It is likely to be overwhelmed by creamier cheeses and richer foods, though Vinho Verde’s low-alcohol and high acidity would work very nicely with fried foods like fish and chips.

Hugues Beaulieu, Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet, 2009, $11.99
Another refreshing white wine for summer from the unlikely AOC of Coteaux du Languedoc, unlikely because this AOC is all about big red wines, but for the little oasis of Picpoul with its limestone soils. Flavors of grapefruit and green apples with a clean, briny finish make Picpoul the summer wine of the Languedoc where daytime temperatures often hit 32-35 degree Celsius (90+ Fahrenheit). Picpoul translates literally to something like “lip stinger” for the bracing acidity for which it is known.

Like the Loire’s Muscadet, the acidity and brininess of Picpoul make it an easy partner with briney shellfish like oysters or clams. It also accompanies anchovies quite nicely, and therefore makes a good pairing with either Ceasar Salad or pissaladiere. It would also work well with sole or other flakey, white fish. It’s terrific, however, on its own as a palate awakener after a long day in the sun.

Domaine Carrel, Savoie, Jongieux, 2009, $9.99
TRY THIS WINE! Tucked up against the Alps, the Savoie region produces a small amount of wine, 70% of which is white and 100% is delicious. It’s certainly some trope of mental association, but the words that kept coming up to describe this wine were things like “mountain wildflower,” “wet stone minerality,” “Alpine cool air”- you get the idea. Made from the Jacquere grape, this wine conjures images of the place from which it derives with its clean, fresh, ethereal aromas and flavors. I actually wrote additional descriptors like Meyer Lemon, fruit blossoms and spearmint, but the most descriptive word I wrote for it was simply “yum!

This wine, the Carrel Jongieux, has earned its stripes as the summer house wine, along with the Peyrassol Rosé, at Chez Ramsburg-Larkin. It is so refreshing and so delicious that we enjoy a glass on its own while sitting together in the evening watching the “show” in the meadow across the dirt road. Myriad types of birds, a deer or three or four, and our “chats lunatiques” keep us entertained while reminding us constantly that “life is good.” The Jongieux just fits; it conveys the same message.

Domaine Baron, Les Vieilles Vignes, Touraine, 2009, $10.99
100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire- if you love Loire Sauvignon Blancs, this is the wine for you. I happen to be among those who prefer their Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire- dry straw, terragon and vaguely minty aromas with citrusy fruits. Until we discovered this wine, however, the Loire would set you back at least $15 for a Touraine, and $20-$30 for a Sancerre. We were thrilled to find this small production, under-the-radar producer using grapes from older vines (vielles vignes), thus concentrating flavors to make a more intense wine.

There is a classic Loire-”greenness” to this wine-lime zest, fresh peas, spearmint. If you are making pea soup with mint, this wine is the perfect complement. Loire Sauvignon Blancs are typically paired with goat cheeses. It would work well with shrimp, a spring/early summer risotto of asparagus and lemon or peas and mint, sushi or falafal. This is a terrific value Loire Sauvignon Blanc that I plan to share with all those who love Loire Sauvignon Blanc but can’t afford to drink it as often as they otherwise would.

Commanderie de Peyrassol, Cotes du Provence, Rosé, 2009, $17.99

Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre  As always, our “go-to” summer rosé- light-bodied, dry, minerally, floral, a bit more fruit this year than last, strawberry, peach and nectarine. 

 

This has been the quintessential summer sipper at Chez Ramsburg-Larkin for years. We fell in love with Provencal rosés having spent a summer holiday in Provence with dear friends who disabused us of our “American” perception that rosé meant white zinfandel. The Cotes de Provence appellation de controllée (AOC) is the heart of French rosé. Located in the eastern part of Provence, Cotes de Provence winemakers typically blend much larger portions of Cinsualt and Mourvedre into their rosés than their Languedocian neighbors. The result is greater floral (Lavender), fresh herbs (herbes de Provence) and mineral aromas and flavors. They also allow less contact with the skins , which yields an elegant, light salmon-colored wine.

 

Were you in eastern Provence from spring to mid-fall, you would see the outdoor seating areas of bistros filled with people sipping wine the color of this Peyrassol. When we sip our Peyrassol Rosé, we are transported back to Provence, to meals light meals of Caprese salads, pissaladiere and bowls of Nicoise olives with herbes de Provence. At home in Green River, we have come to associate Peyrassol with summer in Vermont, with the gift of having good friends nearby with whom to create and share fond memories, often over good food and good wine. As you introduce your friends to dry, minerally rosé, enjoy it while casually grazing on olives, crostini with fresh pesto-either basil or cilantro, goat cheese marinated in fresh thyme and rosemary, and roasted vegetables served with aioli.

 

Domaine Gilbert Picq et Fils, Chablis, 2007

Pink grapefruit, pineapple syrup, and oyster shells on the nose, then sweet and surprisingly creamy in the mouth, with a concentrated lemony flavor that avoids any impression of hardness. A very ripe wine from a crop that was sharply reduced by hail. For all its richness, this soil-driven wine fnishes with excellent grip and length. 90-Tanzer

 

From vineyards around the town of Chichee, Picq’s generic 2007 Chablis smells of pear, freesia, almond, and shrimp shell reduction. Corresponding flavors mingle with refreshing grapefruit on a velvet-textured palate. Bitter hints of black currant skin and citrus pips are subtly integrated into a long, lively, buoyant, infectiously juicy finish whose complex interplay of citrus, floral, and mineral elements is rare for a basic Appellation Chablis.

 

The wines of Picq represent some of the most amazing values in Chablis, not only on account of the reasonable prices asked for their two premier crus, but for the frequently premier cru quality exhibited by their trio of village wines, a quality that is nothing short of astonishing in 2007. (And the components for 2008 were exciting too, early on.)  90-Parker N.B.-massive hail storms throughout Chablis devastated crops for 2007, leading to considerably lower yields.

 

Those paragraphs above are the verbatim reviews of Stephen Tanzer, International Wine Cellar and Robert Parker, Wine Advocate. What the above does not tell you is that Chablis is Chardonnay. At the village level, as opposed to the Premier Cru level, the wines are generally unoaked, aged only in stainless steel or completely neutral barrels. The soils of Chablis are characterized by large amounts of silex, or flint over a clay and limestone base. The silica represent the decomposition of oceanic fossils and contribute a minerality to the wines produced here.

 

I have enjoyed this wine several times, and my less-sophisticated palate picks up pear and melon (honeydew), orange peel and salinity.  Chablis is a great way to persuade the ABC crowd (Anything But Chardonnay) that all Chardonnay is not a butter-bomb. There is certainly greater body here than in the Vinho Verde, Jongeuix or Picpoul, and for that reason, this wine is more likely to accompany your main meal, whether grilled salmon or Lemon-Tarregon Chicken. It could also accompany a roast pork. For vegetarians, try this beautiful Chablis with omelettes with fresh herbs or perhaps a nice, chilled Vichyssoise-or both!

Wine Reviews: Summer Whites

Summer Whites

Broadbent, Portugal, Vinho Verde, NV
Technically a non-vintage wine because they should be consumed within the current vintage so including the vintage is unnecessary. We prefer the Broadbent because Bartholomew Broadbent, importer, insists that the wine be shipped via refrigerated containers to preserve its freshness. A blend of indigenous white varietals picked before they are fully ripe, the wine brings to mind fresh, tart lemonade that is made even more refreshing by adding a gentle spritz. At only 9.5% alcohol, the Broadbent Vinho Verde is perfect for picnics or summer brunches; serve well-chilled.

Hugues Beaulieu, Coteaux du Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet, 2009, $11.99
Another refreshing white wine for summer from the unlikely AOC of Coteaux du Languedoc, unlikely because this AOC is all about big red wines, but for the little oasis of Picpoul with its limestone soils. Flavors of grapefruit and green apples with a clean, briney finish. If you are having fish, especially something like oysters, try this wine. If not, enjoy it in the early evening as a palate awakener.

Domaine Carrell, Savoie, Jongieux, 2009, $9.99
TRY THIS WINE! Tucked up against the Alps, the Savoie region produces a small amount of wine, 70% of which is white and 100% is delicious. It’s certainly some trope of mental association, but the words that kept coming up to describe this wine were things like “mountain wildflower,” “wet stone minerality,” “Alpine cool air”– you get the idea. Made from the Jacquere grape, this wine conjures images of the place from which it derives with its clean, fresh, ethereal aromas and flavors. I actually wrote additional descriptors like Meyer Lemon, fruit blossoms and spearmint, but the most descriptive word I wrote for it was simply “yum!”

Domaine Baron, Les Vieilles Vignes, Touraine, 2009, $10.99
100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire– if you love Loire Sauvignon Blancs, this is the wine for you. I happen to be among those who prefer their Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire– dry straw, terragon and vaguely minty aromas with citrusy fruits. If you are making pea soup with mint, this wine is the perfect complement. This is a terrific value Loire Sauvignon Blanc that I plan to share with all those who love Loire Sauvignon Blanc but can’t afford to drink it as often as they otherwise would.

Domaine Lafage, Cote d’Est, 2008, $10.99
A proprietary blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Grenache Gris and Chardonnay. A friend brought this wine to us a few months ago to share what he claimed was one of the best-value, interesting whites on the market. We tried it and agreed; thanks, Alex! There is a lot here for the price, and for those of you who enjoy a fuller-bodied but still refreshing white, this wine is for you. As a preview, we were able to buy this wine on sale and it will be arriving in early June for just $9.99 per bottle; in a case, that becomes $8.99. Because we are a small shop with cash flow limitations, we bought only 5 cases at the June price, 2 of which are already reserved. If the review piques your interest, you might come in to get a bottle and try it to know whether you want to reserve some of June’s allocation. The review in the Wine Advocate says it better than I can, so I’ve reproduced it below.

Lafage’s 2008 Cote Est (note the slightly different spelling of the name from previous years ) comes from Chardonnay, Marsanne, and old Grenache Blanc vines on cobbled soils near the coast, blended with the fruit of centenarian Grenache Gris vines on Pyrenean schist. The wine is aged in tank on its fine lees and the result is not only irresistibly delicious but truly complex. Orange and lime zest, white pepper, narcissus, fennel, and mint in the nose lead to a juicy, bright palate with musky floral perfume and a shimmering interchange of citrus with wet stone, salt, iodine, and other ineffable mineral elements. This will fascinate and refresh in equal measure as well as fiendishly insinuate itself into your culinary regimen over the next 9-12 months, and could also be held a bit longer without fear.