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Discover Wines of South Africa

December 1, 2017 10 comments

South African white winesLet me start with a question: when was the last time you had South African wine? You can take a few minutes to ponder at it – but I would bet that if you are a wine consumer in the USA, there is a very good chance that the answer will be “hmmm, never”. But if “never” or “many years ago” is your answer, we need to change that.

The winemaking history in South Africa goes back to the 17th century, when immigrants from Europe brought the vine cuttings with them, as they’ve done in all other places. South African wine story somewhat resembles most of the Europe, as it also includes the phylloxera epidemic and replanting of the vineyards. Unfortunately for South African winemakers and the rest of us, the wine story of South Africa also had heavy political influence, with apartheid, KWV monopoly, and resulting boycott from most of the countries for the majority of the 20th century (here is an article on Wikipedia if you want to learn more). The new chapter for South African wines opened up in the 1990s, with the end of apartheid and subsequent changes in all areas of life, winemaking included.

In the past, South Africa was best known for its Chenin Blanc wines, which was also called Steen. Another grape South Africa was famous for was Pinotage – dinking of the Pinotage wines was likened by some wine critics to the drinking of the “liquified rusty nails”. On much brighter note, while talking about the past, I want to mention Klein Constantia Vin de Constance – the nectar of gods (don’t take my word for it  – find it and try it), made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes and favorite wine of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was buying it by the barrel (legend has it that it was Napoleon’s deathbed wish wine).

Today South Africa offers lots more than a typical wine consumer would expect. The South African wines are often described as “old world wines masquerading as new world wines”, and this is perfectly showing in the wide range of the wines. You really need to try for yourself South African Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and don’t skip the Chenin Blanc, especially if it is an FMC by Ken Forrester. You shouldn’t skip even Pinotage, as it dramatically evolved compared to the old days.  The old world winemaking foundation really shows through many of the South African wines today, and they are always ready to surprise a curious wine drinker.

Case in point – our recent virtual tasting on Snooth. We had an opportunity to taste 6 white wines, well representing South African grapes, styles and regions. The tasting included 3 out of the 4 most popular white grapes in South Africa (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) – the second most planted grape, Colombard, is used primarily in the brandy production. Another interesting fact for you  – until 1981, there was no Chardonnay planted in South Africa, which makes it all more impressive (read my notes below). Two of the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc from the tasting were simply stunning, and the rest of the wines were perfectly suitable for the everyday drinking. What is even better is that you don’t need to rely on my notes if you want to discover what South Africa is capable of – Snooth offers that exact set of 6 wines for purchase, at a very reasonable price of $79.99 for the whole set.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Glenelly Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay WO Stellenbosch (13.5% ABV, $20, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: Beautiful, vanilla, touch of guava, fresh, medium+
P: good acidity, granny smith apple, crisp, maybe a bit too restrained now, lemony acidity on the finish
V: 8, excellent now, but I definitely want to see it evolve.

2016 De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay WO Robertson (14% ABV, $16, 100% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: complex, vanilla, popcorn, medium intensity. Nose clears up as the wine breathes. Golden delicious and honeysuckle appeared. Delicious nose.
P: quite restrained, touch of Granny Smith apples as opposed to the golden delicious. Perfect acidity, vanilla, fresh.
V: 8, will evolve. Definitely an interesting wine.

2016 Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc Swartland WO Steen (12.5% ABV, $15, Chenin Blanc with a sprinkling of Palomino and another secret grape)
C: straw pale
N: interesting, yeast, touch of white stone fruit
P: crisp, restrained, mostly lemony, acidic notes
V: 7, too simple and single-dimensional

2016 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded WO Stellenbosch (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Chenin Blanc)
C: straw pale+
N: inviting, medium plus, minerality, hint of peach
P: clean acidity, interesting touch of pear and white plum with acidic finish
V: 7+, interesting wine, by itself and with food.

2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin (13% ABV, $20)
C: light golden
N: lots of minerality, touch of gunflint, touch of grass (distant hint), white stone fruit as the wine is opening up – doesn’t resemble SB at all
P: crisp, clean, lemon acidity, very restrained, mineral-driven, limestone. Almost astringent. Needs food.
V: rated it first 7+/8-, noting “will be interesting to see how the wine will open up”. More playful after 30 min in the open bottle. Interesting. After two days, this clearly became 8/8+ wine

2016 The Wolftrap White WO Western Cape (13.5% ABV, $12, Viognier 42%; Chenin Blanc 37%; Grenache Blanc 21%)
C: light golden
N: lemony notes, grass
P: a little too simplistic, mostly lemony notes. Drinkable, not great
V: 7, too simple, might work better with food

South African wines are definitely here, at the world-class level. If you pride yourself as a wine lover, they are all ready for your undivided attention.

South Africa’s Top 10 Méthode Cap Classique Wines

October 19, 2017 2 comments

Today I want to bring to your attention a guest post by Brittany Hawkins – for more information about Brittany, please see the bottom of this post.

Source: Wikipedia

Most of us know that real Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.

Some of us also understand that there is a significant difference in the processes used to make Champagne versus many other sparkling wines. But there are other bubbly wines that are made in the tradition of Champagne, which is known as méthode classique.

If you didn’t know this, we will fill you in on the details in a moment, but do know that this little fact is at least one part of the secret behind why South Africa’s MCC (Méthode Cap Classique) wines are so highly sought after?

What Makes MCC So Special?

When you drink a South African MCC, there are at least two key differences between it and the majority of other sparkling wines.

First, as alluded to above, MCCs are made in the traditional Champagne way. This means that the wine is fermented a second time in the bottle (not a tank, like some sparkling wines) using a solution of yeast and sugar. The bottle is left anywhere from 1 ½ to 3 years during the second fermentation. This process is what carbonates the wine.

So, when you open up a bottle of MCC, you are about to enjoy the closest thing on earth to Champagne other than Champagne itself. In fact, South African MCCs are truly rivaling French champagnes due to the quality of their grapes and wine makers.

However, while South African MCC is made méthode classique, it has some unique South African markers. Particularly, as a result of the warmer climate and consistent temperatures of the South African wine country, MCCs tend to be fruitier in character than Champagne and many other sparkling wines, creating unique tasting profile.

Now, let’s give you a run-down of the top 10 MCCs South Africa has to offer.

  1. Simonsig Cuvée Royale Blanc de Blancs 2012

Simonsig Wines in Stellenbosch is home to the very first South Africa Méthode Cap Classique.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we name Simonsig at the top of our list. In the 2017 Cap Classique Challenge, they had two double gold medal winners, as well as other medalists.

We have to agree with the judges of the annual competition in saying that Simonsig’s Cuvée Royale Blanc de Blanc from 2012 is number 1 on the list.

  1. Simonsig Woolworth’s Pinot Noir Rosé 2015

Produced by Simonsig only for Woolworth’s, this MCC Pinot Noir Rosé offers that fruity quality mentioned above, with a crispness sure to deliver a pleasing and refreshing experience.

  1. Domaine des Dieux Claudia Brut 2011

 Tucked away in the foothills of the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge mountains, Domaine des Dieux is a boutique wine farm with very impressive, award-winning wines. Also a gold medalist in the 2017 Cap Classique, Domaine des Dieux’s Claudia Brut MCC will not disappoint.

Made from a predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir base grown in a cooler climate than average South African wine, this MCC will deliver a bit fuller, more austere flavor.

  1. Boschendal’s Brut Rosé NV

 Boschendal farm, in the heart of the Stellenbosch wine country, is one of the oldest wine farms in the country, founded in 1685. Today, it is committed to biodiversity and sustainability.

Boschendal’s award-winning MCC, the Brute Rosé brings together Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinotage to create a unique, versatile blend that is as tasty to the tongue as it is pleasing to the eye. All the grapes and wine used to produce it come directly from their farm.

  1. Graham Beck Brut Rosé 2012

 The Graham Beck Robertson estate is situated in the cool Breede River Valley. They specialize in Cap Classique wines and have a cellar devoted purely to its making and are known for producing some of the best Méthode Classique in the world.

They have numerous award-winning MCCs, but their Brute Rosé recently won gold for best of 2017.

  1. J.C. Le Roux Scintilla 2011

J.C. Le Roux is considered to be one of the leading producers of MCC in all of South Africa. Located in the Devon Valley of Stellenbosch, they are considered a house of bubbly, producing top brands of Cap Classique – Scintilla and Desiderius Pongracz. While most of their MCCs are exquisite, we highly recommend you try their Scintilla 2011. 

  1. Babylonstoren Sprankel 2012

Babylonstoren is another wine farm committed to biodiversity, sustainability with many ways for guests to interact with their farm and winery.

Their award winning MCC, their 2012 Sprankel, is composed of Chardonnay grapes which are carefully chosen from various different vineyards with ideal altitudes. They bring these grapes together to create an MCC with a vibrant and crisp fruity flavor with hints of citrus and passion fruit. 

  1. Laborie Brut 2011

Established in the 1700’s, Laborie has been operating as a world class wine farm for some decades now.

Their award-winning Laborie Brut was made with tender loving care, allowed to mature on its lees for 24 solid months before it was disgorged and bottled. 

  1. Stellenbosch Infiniti Brut

A name well established as one of the greats of the South African wine estates, it should come as no surprise that Stellenbosch produces a superb MCC. Their Infiniti Brut will give you a unique MCC experience, with warm nutty flavors with a hint of citrus.    

  1. Bon Courage Jacques Buére de Blancs 2010

Located in the cooler region of Robertson valley, Bon Courage Estate is home to both locally and internationally recognized and acclaimed wines.

Their line of MCC’s, the Jacques Bruér line, all undergo at least 36-48 months of yeast contact before disgorgement. The Blanc de Blanc is especially exquisite.

For more information on South African Wine farm tours and how to visit them when in South Africa Explore Sideways has all the information you will ever need.

 

Brittany head shotAbout Brittany Hawkins:

Brittany’s passion for food and wine began in her hometown, Napa Valley, California, where she grew up immersed in the wine industry. After receiving a degree from DePauw University, she began her career in Silicon Valley in the advertising and marketing industries. Brittany moved to Cape Town 3 years ago where she launched Explore Sideways and has since been able to marry her interests in food, wine, travel and tech to create transformative experiences around the world.

Re-post: Best Hidden Secrets of The Wine World: Wines of South Africa

January 24, 2013 12 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Hamilton_Russell_Pinot_Noir_2008Continuing the subject of “secrets” of the wine world (you might remember our past conversations about Rioja, Second Labels, Georgian Wines and more), let’s talk about wines of South Africa. If you are asking why South African wines should be considered a “hidden secrets”, please read below.

As one would rightfully expect, history of South African wines is tightly intertwined with history of South Africa as a country. Winemaking in South Africa started in 17th century, and for the long time, South Africa was making dessert wines, some of them still famous, like Constantia. Most of the wines were exported into United Kingdom. Similar to the most of the winemaking world, South Africa experienced Phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century, and lots of vines had to be replanted. The 20th century was marked by the political issues – as apartheid was a bad problem for the South Africa, the institute of wine regulations by KWV also became a limitation for the wine industry. Combination of the KWV restrictions with boycott of the South African goods, including wines, as a means to fight apartheid regime, lead to South African wines staying largely non-existent for the wine lovers around the world. With collapse of apartheid the situation changed, and then KWV monopoly was also broken, which lead to the great advances in the South African wine making. If you want to read more about the history of

A number of different grapes are used in winemaking in South Africa. First we need to mention Chenin Blanc, which is still one the major white grapes used in wine production (it is also known locally under the name of Steen). Similar to the Loire valley, where Chenin Blanc is shining, it makes whole range of wines in South Africa, starting from very dry and acidic, and going all the way up to the dessert wines. Next we need to mentioned Pinotage, which is unique grape, produced and cultivated only in South Africa. Pinotage is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir grapes, and has a number of strange characteristics, such as being reminiscent of liquefied rusty nails in the glass. Then whole bunch of international varietals are also planted (amount of those plantings is increasing), and it includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and many others.

Thelema_Chardonnay_2007So why are we placing South African wines into the “secrets” category? Once you will try [good] wines from South Africa, chances are you will be blown away. It is important to note that South African wines are new world wines masquerading as an old world – which makes blind tasting with South African wines very challenging.

As our tradition goes, let’s open a bottle or two, and let’s talk about the wines. First, 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir. This wine is simply amazing – very restrained and polished, with beautiful restrained fruit, lots of smokiness and earthiness on the palate. This wine shows off as a classic Burgundy, and only when you look at the label you experience almost a shock – this wine is from South Africa, last place one would expect to produce classy Burgundy (you can read about our blind tasting experience here).

Then comes 2007 Thelema Chardonnay, again, very reminiscent of beloved White Burgundy – restrained, with balanced fruit, hint of butter and vanilla on the palate and good tannins – very elegant.

Cirrus_Syrah_2003Last I would like to mention 2003 Cirrus wine – a predominantly Shiraz ( 96%) with addition of small amount of Viognier (4%). On the palate, this wine mostly represents liquid smoke, but it really comes alive in a glass, with excellent tannins, toned down fruit and perfect acidity, well balanced.

I don’t know if I manage to convince you in the “secrets” status of South African wines. But if you will think about it, either way you have to find a bottle of South African wine – to either agree or disagree with me. Look for the one we talked about here – and judge it for yourself. Cheers!

How To Buy Wine At Auction

July 27, 2019 Leave a comment

* * * This is a sponsored post * * *

Buying at auction is great for many reasons – it’s sustainable, it’s timely, there’s huge range, and there’s plenty of quality –  but beyond the purchasing of artworks, jewelry, furniture and collectibles, auctions are particularly great for acquiring wine.

Though many wine connoisseurs and collectors may not know it, top quality wine is available at a fraction of the cost and in large quantities at auction. Whether it’s the wine of France, Italy or Spain that takes your fancy, or whether the New World (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, US, South America) is your ultimate preference, you can find wine in all shapes, tastes and forms at auction. The best place to find wine is through the search service Barnebys, where you’ll find thousands of online auctions at any one time and you can actively bid on these auctions from your computer, wherever you may be.

Consider yourself a wine collector? Find out what your collection is worth with ValueMyStuff, where you will receive a valuation of your item(s) within either 24 or 48 hours. If you’re interested in selling your collection at auction, ValueMyStuff can put you in touch with the right house.

Photo: Marco Mornati

There are a few tips you should know before entering the auction room, however, whether it’s online or in person. Here’s our guide to purchasing wine at auction:

Try something new

If you go to a specific vineyard for a tasting, you’re limited to that vineyard’s own range and produce. However, buying at auction provides access to all kinds of variety and wine from across the world. Auctions are the perfect chance to let your tastebuds fly and to try something new, particularly as each bottle comes at a fraction of the cost of that from a wholesaler or retailer. Mix up your usual order with something daring – it may just end up being the perfect component to your next dinner party.

wine on the shelf

Photo: Scott Warman

Do your research

Particularly if it’s an old wine, make sure you ask about provenance and condition. It’s okay to be nosey, and don’t worry about being a nuisance – it’s your right to ask these kinds of questions. Auctions are the best place to source hard-to-find or niche vintages, and you shouldn’t shy away from older wines, but be sure to understand the condition of the bottles. Other things to consider are not only the age of the wine, but also the label, the cap, the capsule, the origin, how’s it’s been stored, and at what price it’s selling for elsewhere.

Photo: Barnebys/Bukowskis

Expect to pay a buyer’s premium

Remember, the price you bid on at auction – the amount that goes down with the hammer – isn’t the final price as it doesn’t include all costs. You need to factor in the auction house’s buyer’s premium (it’s typically around 20%, but this is at the house’s discretion so be sure to ask beforehand). There may also be charges such as duty or VAT, and, if the auction house isn’t near your home, you’ll need to factor in extra costs such as shipping and transportation.

Photo: Jeff Burrows

Bid

Bidding for wine at auction is exactly like bidding on art, jewelry or antiques, but, as always, it’s best to ask questions as each auction house is unique. You’ll need to register for the auction, place your (maximum) bid, and, if you’re successful, pay any extra costs before collecting your item(s) or arranging transport. Buying at auction may seem intimidating, but it needn’t be: it’s just like online shopping, except you’re purchasing against a few other people and you’re vying for the best price. It’s all about timing: bid early and stake your claim, or wait it out and swoop in at the last minute.

And all this is made easy with Barnebys, where you can search all wines available at auction across the world. Filter by price, location or auction date – and start bidding and adding to your collection today!

June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures

July 10, 2019 1 comment

The Vessel Hudson YardsJune might be my favorite month of the year. There are many reasons for me to say that. For one, it is the very beginning of summer. It is like a Friday night when the whole weekend is still ahead – the same thing with June, the summer is just starting. Then it is the month of my birthday and Father’s Day, which means I get to celebrate a few holidays which are related to me. Throw in the end of school celebration and occasional graduation, and you can clearly tell June brings a lot of reasons to be happy.

This June of 2019 went particularly overboard with all the goodness. At the beginning of the month, I got invited to so many wine tastings and dinners that I had to simply decline the number of invitations. Those which I managed to attend were an absolute standout. Tasting of South African wines was small, but superb, with lots of simply delicious wines. Right after the South African wine tasting, I met with Stefano Ruini, the winemaker for Bodegas Luce, tasted through yet another excellent set of wines and finally realized that Luce, the wine I tasted and admired before, is a Merlot Sangiovese blend produced in the heart of the land of Brunello.

The last event of the same day was a dinner with Michael Benedict and John Terlato of Sanford and Benedict Winery, a pioneer of California Pinot Noir, which took place at the spanking new Hudson Yards, at the Wild Ink restaurant, overlooking freshly minted The Vessel.

My next day was even more memorable, with two hours of the pure joy of talking to Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery in Napa Valley, and tasting (a better way to put it: been blown away by) Stu’s wines, which were simply a standout.

That eventful week ended with the L’Ecole 41, iconic Walla Walla producer’s lunch and vertical tasting, where I finally discovered for myself what is all the fuss about Ferguson.

Then there was Father’s Day, with all the cooking fun and an opportunity to open a special bottle of wine – it is always easier to pull a better bottle when you have a good reason to do so.

My cooking fun was more of the usual – BBQ. However, I experimented with the way the meat was prepared. The chicken breast was marinated overnight in the onion juice if this is a thing – simply a big Vidalia onion pulverized in the blender and then used as a marinade – with the addition of the bbq spices. The lamb was marinated overnight in the buttermilk also with the addition of rosemary, sage, and the spices. The result was outstanding – both chicken and lamb came out juicy, tender, and delicious.

The wine story started with the 2018 Field Recordings Morro View Edna Valley (13.9% ABV, 100% Grüner Veltliner) – fresh undertones of grass, Meyer lemon, bright, crisp acidity – a perfect sip for the summer day.

Two of the Martinelli wines joined the party. Martinelli is most famous as the grape growers, however, they also produced a number of wines under their own name, albeit those are rare. First, we had 2009 Martinelli Syrah Zio Tony Ranch “Gianna Marie” Russian River Valley (15.4% ABV), which took a bit of time to open up into the a delicious, blackberries and pepper concoction, firm and supple.

I only had two bottles of Martinelli so I had no plans to open both on the same occasion. However, when my oldest daughter came and said “Dad, I can have a glass of wine over the next two hours and I want California Pinot Noir” (she has medical condition which generally prevents her from enjoying any type of alcohol), the only wine my brain could think of was 2010 Martinelli Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (15.5% ABV), as I saw this bottle in the fridge the day before. This was a classic California Pinot Noir, which I generally describe as “plums and smoke” – soft, layered, good amount of fruit without going overboard, delicious long finish – an excellent example of the California Pinot Noir – and by the way, perfectly balanced – 15.5% ABV was absolutely unnoticeable.

The last wine I had high hopes for … well, didn’t work out. Back in 2012, I had 2004 Retro Petite Sirah, which was one of my top dozen wines of 2012. This time I opened 2007 Retro Petite Sirah Howell Mountain (14% ABV), hoping that 12 years is enough for this wine to at least start opening up. Nope, no such luck. The fruit was nowhere to be found, the wine mostly had sapidity, coffee and roasted meat notes on the first day, despite being decanted. It slowly improved day by day and showed some glimpses of the fruit on the third day, but still, it didn’t deliver the pleasure I was hoping for.

Well, let’s stop here. I will tell you about the rest of June in the next post – with lots (lots!) more pictures.

To be continued…

Between The Worlds

June 26, 2019 7 comments

What lies on the intersection of the Old World and the New World?

Yep. Starting with the question. As many of you have come to expect. Let me repeat – what lies on the intersection of the old world and the new world? Of course it is the wine we are talking about.

I can spin this question differently if you want. What is the name of the major winemaking region (a country, rather) which is most often overlooked at dinner tables, wine stores, and restaurant wine lists? Yes, give it a thought. I’m sure you know the answer. But it is too obvious, which makes it difficult.

Let’s continue?

If you said “South Africa”, pat yourself on the back. You got it. Yes, it is South Africa. The wines of South Africa are often described as “old world wines masquerading as the new world”, and when you taste the wines from the region, you can easily see why such description makes a lot of sense.

I wrote about wines of South Africa many times in the past, also including them into the “best hidden secrets” series. Winemaking history of South Africa goes back more than 400 years, to the mid-1600s. From there on, South African wine had good times, bad times, phylloxera, political issues, boycott, and lots, lots more. Many times in history the wine production was focused on quantity and not quality, which obviously had consequences and not a good ones.

I had been tasting South African wines for quite a while, and I have to say that I perceive a definite upswing in quality. As I mentioned at the beginning, South African wines are still rare and underrepresented in the modern wine scene, for sure in the USA – nevertheless, every time I get a chance to taste South African wines, they make me say “wow” more often than not.

Case in point – recent tasting of the South African wines in New York. It was not a large tasting, by all means, maybe 60–70 wines, but out of those 60–70, I probably was wowed by at least a half of them, which is very unusual for the trade tasting, maybe with the exception of Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri. Below are my brief notes – as I had a bit more time than at the typical trade tasting, but absolutely not enough to do a full assessment, I’m using words instead of plus signs. Plus, I share here some of my general impressions.

Let’s go:

I love Graham Beck wines – their sparkling wines represent great value. These wines are similar to Champagne, as they undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, so any time you are looking for the bubbles but want to spend the half of what you will spend on the Champagne, see if your wine store carries Graham Beck wines.

NV Graham Beck Brut Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – love it! Fresh, generous

NV Graham Beck Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful, elegant

2012 Graham Beck Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – a touch of strawberries, toasted notes, excellent

2013 Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – wow! Elegant, clean, polished

2012 Graham Beck Brut Zero Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – good

NV Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful! Touch of sweetness, good acidity, elegant

I had some past (and delicious!) experience with Glenelly Chardonnay, so I was definitely looking forward to tasting their line of wines:

2018 Glenelly Unoaked Chardonnay Stellenbosch – excellent

2016 Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve Stellenbosch – excellent, a touch of vanilla, burgundy style

2015 Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – excellent, cassis forward

2012 Glenelly Estate Reserve Stellenbosch (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Shiraz, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot) – restrained, clean, herbaceous, salinity. The wine is built for the long haul.

2012 Glenelly Lady May Stellenbosch (89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc) – Bordeaux style, needs time

This was an unknown producer for me:

2018 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Chenin Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch – unusual, might be a touch sweet

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Merlot – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – simple

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – earthy, nice pepper note

2013 Beau Joubert The Ambassador Stellenbosch – needs time

2014 Beau Joubert Fat Pig Stellenbosch – port style, very good balance, tasty

Yes, there was food too:

Let’s get back to wines.

The next set of wines surprised me in a lot of ways – packaging (labels), creative wine names, unusual grape varieties for South Africa (Barbera? Touriga Nacional?!) and most importantly, tasty wines. When I commented to the lady who was presenting the wines how unique and tasty the wines were, she said very unpretentiously “ah, it is my brother, he is always running around with new ideas, experimenting with the wines”. Little did I know that Bruce Jack is a star winemaker who was making wines for more than 25 years and who has almost a cult following. I can tell you, as the proof is in the pudding, this line of Drift Estate wines offered plenty of proof.

2018 Bruce Jack Year of the Rooster Rosé Western Cape – nice and restrained, excellent Rosé rendition. You would never guess the grape this wine is made out of – Touriga National. Yep. As I did a bit of research, I found out that 2017 was made out of Pinotage, and 2016 out of … Touriga Franca. Yep, talk about South African wines.

2014 Bruce Jack Moveable Feast Red Blend Western Cape – excellent. Dark fruit, spices, just excellent.

2017 Bruce Jack Gift Horse Single Vineyard Barbara Western Cape – another hit. Dark fruit, tar, pencil shavings, tobacco, just wow. Yep, a South African Barbera.

2016 Bruce Jack There Are Still Mysteries Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Western Cape – beautiful, elegant, restrained, truly a mix of the new world and an old world. If you didn’t discover yet South African Pinot Noir, go on, try to find this wine.

And a few more wines:

2018 Boschendal Rose Garden Rosé South Africa – excellent, restrained, Provençal style. Merlot + Pinot Noir blend

NV Boschendal Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique South Africa – excellent

2016 Boschendal Elgin Chardonnay South Africa – Burgundy! Wow, spectacular wine – might be the best 9fnthe tasting.

2016 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Coastal Region – (3 Chenin Blanc vineyards, vines are 35 to 47 years old) – petrol on the nose, beautiful, clean, delicious.

2014 Bellingham The Bernard Series SMV Coastal Paarl Region (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Viognier) – Elegant! Excellent

2014 Brampton Roxton Stellenbosch (41% Syrah, 33% Petit Verdot, 26% Malbec) – outstanding. Lots of power. This wine is named after a bull.

That competes my report. What do you think of wines of south Africa? Any favorites? Cheers!

Wine Love: Lodi, California

April 28, 2019 6 comments

It is with the bittersweet feeling I confess my unconditional love to the wines of Lodi.

It is bittersweet, as on one side when the person is in love, they want to tell the whole world about it. On another side, I don’t want to tell the whole world about it – I want to keep it all to myself. I want Lodi to stay as a secret refuge for those who know. I want the Lodi wines to stay affordable, and the wineries to stay un-Napa – simple, humble, friendly, and worth visiting. But – this is not necessarily right for the winemakers of Lodi, who wants their wines to be known and drunk by the people, and therefore, it is my mission as a wine writer and wine aficionado to help with that, even risking that Lodi might not stay the same.

Bittersweet, yeah.

In general, Lodi is unknown and misunderstood. Wine lovers think that Lodi is only producing Zinfandel and high-power, high-alcohol fruit bombs. This can’t be any further away from the truth about what Lodi really is. So if this is what you thought of Lodi before, take it out of your head, and let me tell you what Lodi really is.

Historically, if California is an agricultural capital of the USA, Lodi is an agricultural capital of California. By the way, do you know where Robert Mondavi (yes, THAT Robert Mondavi) went to the high school? Yep, in Lodi. These are just fun facts, but now let’s get closer to the subject. Lodi is not about Zinfandel. First and foremost, Lodi is home to the Mediterranean grape varieties – Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Viognier, Albariño, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Barbera, and many others. Lodi has a great climate for grape growing – it gets very hot during the day – temperatures in July/August can reach into the lover 100s – however, it cools off very nicely to “ohh, I need a jacket” on August night. That temperature range helps grapes to concentrate the flavor.

Lodi has sandy soils, which are not conducive for phylloxera, thus most vineyards in Lodi are planted on their original rootstocks. Lodi is home to some of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in the USA and in the world – for example, Carignane and Cinsault vineyards are 120+ years old, still bearing wine-worthy fruit. Lodi Rules, developed starting in 1992, became the standard of sustainable winegrowing in California (the same rules are even implemented at Yarden winery in Israel). And one of the most important elements – Lodi winemakers are some of the friendliest wine people you can find.

Until late 2016 I was square with the general public, equating Lodi with Zinfandel only. Then Wine Bloggers Conference happened, hosted in Lodi, and I was blown away by what I discovered upon arriving in Lodi. During that week I was also mesmerized by the attitude and hospitality of the winemakers, who took their time off the most important winemaking activity of the year – harvest – and spent time with the wine bloggers, sharing their love of the land. It is not only about the attitude – the absolute majority of the wines were tasted were delicious – I’m very particular in my expectations as to what good Syrah, Tempranillo, Barbera, or Albariño should taste like.

Two months after the wine bloggers conference I was in the Bay area on the business trip and had an open weekend. I tried to make some appointments in Napa, and when that didn’t work out, I went again to Lodi – had an amazing time tasting through the whole portfolios of Bokisch, Borra Vineyards, and Lucas Winery (the absolute beauty of 15 years old Lucas Chardonnay we tasted at the WBC16 speed tasting session still haunts me). I never wrote about that experience, but this is a whole another matter.

Lodi wines snooth tasting

When I got an invitation from Snooth to join the virtual tasting session of Lodi wines, I almost jumped of joy – yes, I will be delighted to experience the Lodi wines, which are still hardly available outside of Lodi or California at the best (or is that a good thing :)?) Six wines, six producers, a unique and unusual set of grapes – what more wine aficionado can be excited about?

Below are my notes and thoughts about the wines. In case you want to follow along with the video of the virtual tasting, which provides way more information than I’m including here, here is the link for you.

2018 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Ingénue Mokelumne River AVA Lodi (13% ABV, $32, 35% Clairette Blanche, 35% Grenache Blanc, 20% Bourboulenc, 10% Picpoul Blanc, 350 cases produced) – Sue Tipton, winemaker and owner at Acquiesce Winery is known as a white wine specialist. She produces a range of wines made primarily out of the southern Rhone varieties.
Straw pale color
White stone fruit, candied fruit, concentrated
Day 1:
White stone fruit on the palate, good acidity, minerality, salinity
7+; it is really a 7+ out of respect to the wine which so many bloggers raving about. I clearly don’t get this wine, and no, it doesn’t give me pleasure.
Day 2-4:
Elegant, lemon and white peach notes, clean, good mid-palate weight, definitely resembling white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, uplifting, vibrant, perfectly balanced
8+; OMG. The wines can’t be any more different after being open for a few days. It changed dramatically, it opened up, it showed balance and elegance. This is an excellent wine, just give it 5-10 years to evolve (or longer).

2018 m2 Wines Vermentino Mokelumne River AVA Lodi (12.3% ABV, $20, 250 cases produced) – this Vermentino was unique and different in its show of minerality – it is quite rare for me to taste the wines like that.
Light straw pale, really non-existent color
Minerality-forward nose, granite, lemon undertones
Salinity on the palate, lemon, crisp acidity.
8-, tremendous minerality on this wine, it has more minerality than fruit. This wine also shows a bit more fruit after being opened for a few days, but it still retained all of its minerally character.

LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards 2018 Aglianico Rosé Lodi (13% ABV, $20, winery exclusive) – owned by the twin brothers, as the name says, LangeTwins is quite an unusual winery. Fun fact: their own production under LangeTwins label is quite small – however, as a contract winery their capacity to produce and store wines exceeds 2.2 million gallons. It is not the first time LangeTwins makes delicious Rosé from the Italian grapes – their Sangiovese Rosé has a cult following and impossible to get. This Aglianico Rosé is worthy of joining the cult ranks.
Beautiful pink color
Strawberries on the nose, nicely restrained, some minerality undertones
Delicate, balanced, perfect crunchy strawberries, crisp, refreshing
8, love this wine, would drink it any day

2016 Mettler Family Vineyards Pinotage Lodi (14.9% ABV, $25, winery exclusive, 350 cases produced) – not familiar with the winery, but seeing Pinotage on the label made me really wonder. Pinotage is a South African grape, which now produces much better wines than 20-30 years ago, but still with a very polarizing following (love/hate). This was my first taste of Pinotage produced outside of South Africa – and this was one unique and delicious wine.
Dark Garnet, almost black
Ripe blueberries, a touch of smoke, herbaceous undertones
Silky smooth, dark fruit, a touch of molasses, smoke, good textural presence, minerality, good acidity, good balance
8, lots of pleasure

2016 PRIE Winery Ancient Vine (1900), Block 4 Spenker Ranch Carignane Mokelumne River AVA Lodi (14.4% ABV, $29, 70 cases produced) – Just a thought if drinking the wines made from the grapes harvested from the vine which exists for 120 years, gives me quivers. An absolutely unique experience.
Bright garnet
Roasted meat, granite, chipotle
Great complexity, tart raspberries, rosemary, bright acidity, medium body, distant hint of cinnamon, excellent balance
8+/9-, it might sound like an oxymoron, but this wine is easy to drink and thought-provoking. Lots of pleasure in every sip

2016 Michael David Winery Ink Blot Cabernet Franc Lodi (15% ABV, $35, 85% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petite Sirah, 65% 16 months neutral oak, 35% 16 months new French oak) – Michael David winery is known for its show of power in the wines. But when power is supported by elegance, that’s when you have an ultimate experience.
Dark garnet
Unmistakably Lodi, blueberries and blueberries compote, medium plus intensity, fresh
Lots of fresh berries – blueberries, blackberries, chewy, fleshy, well present. Touch of cinnamon, good acidity, overall good balance.
8, massive wine offering lots of pleasure. It just happened that soon after tasting, I had to leave the town for a business trip, so I just pumped the air out and left it standing on the floor. My wife didn’t have the opportunity to finish it, so when I came back 10 days later, I decided to taste it before I will pour it down the drain. To my horror surprise, the wine was still perfectly drinkable. That technically means that it has great aging potential, so maybe I need to lose a few bottles in my cellar.

Here you are, my friends. I hope I made you curious about the wines of Lodi. Definitely look for them in the store, but also keep Lodi in mind as your next winery excursion trip – just get ready to haul home a few cases of wine. Cheers!

Wine, Wine, Wine – Notes from Martin Scott 2018 Grand Portfolio Tasting

November 6, 2018 3 comments

Martin-Scott is one of the largest wine wholesalers (distributors) in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, with a very extensive portfolio well representing all major winemaking countries of the world. I had a pleasure to attend Martin-Scott portfolio tastings in the past, and they were always great with a lot of delicious discoveries. When I had an opportunity to attend the portfolio tasting about a month ago, I was very happy to be able to include it into my schedule.

I wrote about trade portfolio tastings many times in the past. They might seem a bit overwhelming, as you are presented with about 1000 wines and only 4-5 hours of time to taste them. At the same time, the range is incredible and you get an opportunity to expand your wine horizon and always find new favorites.

Here are my general impressions from the tasting:

  1. I know this is my pet peeve, and I keep talking about it at every occasion, but I have to say it again – new vintages of California reds are using way too much oak. There were lots of California reds from the 2015-2017 vintages which were literally not drinkable due to very high tannins content, to the point of your whole mouth getting numb. Unfortunately, some of the bigger Washington producers follow suit and also make over-oaked red wines. I really don’t understand this trend. Yes, using lots of new oak makes wine more expensive. But it doesn’t make it more enjoyable, for sure when it is young.
  2. White Burgundies are amazing. I rarely get to drink those wines for the variety of reasons, so I was literally blown away by the beauty and finesse of most everything I tasted. You will see this love expressed in the ratings below.
  3. South Africa produces some spectacular wines. Check the full list below to see what I really enjoyed.
  4. There are some excellent spirits made in … Sweden. You really need to taste them to believe them.
  5. I was able to add one more new (rare) grape to the collection – the grape called Souvignier-Muscaris from France.

Before I will inundate you with my brief notes, just a reminder for the trade tasting ratings I use. Considering the amount of time versus amount of wines, there is no way I can do much of the thoughtful analysis for a hundred plus wines I manage to taste. Thus I use the “+” signs, with “+++” meaning excellent. When I came up with this system, I really didn’t plan to go beyond “+++”, but you will see now “++++” and even “+++++” (very rarely – maybe one in the whole tasting) – you understand what it means. I also use “-|” as a half-point. The list below only includes wines with at least “+++” rating. As these are all new releases just coming into the stores, essentially all the wines on the list represent a “buy” recommendation – whatever you can find and afford. All prices below are an approximation of the suggested retail prices. I’m sure that the actual store price might be lower for many of those wines.

Now, I will leave you to it. Cheers!

 

Read more…

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars

May 11, 2018 5 comments

Wine and passion are indelible. Yes, wine is a business for the most parts, but making a bottle of wine which someone else is desiring to drink is a labor of love, and every such bottle has a bit of the winemaker’s soul invested in it (feel free to call me melodramatic). Thus I’m always happy to talk to the winemakers, trying to understand what moves them, what drives them to do what they do. A lot of my conversations are virtual, and you can find most of them on this blog.

Many of interviews are truly random in terms of profiling the wineries and winemakers. However, about 2 years ago, with a prompt and help of Carl Giavanti, I started a series of posts called Stories of Passion and Pinot, which are dedicated (so far, at least) to the winemakers in Oregon, producing Pinot Noir wines. Winemakers are always passionate about what they do and the grapes they use – but it seems to me that Pinot Noir, being a difficult grape it is, really asking for a special dedication to allow itself to be tamed – hence the name for the series.

My latest addition to the series is a conversation with Tony Rynders, the proprietor and winemaker at the Tendril Wine Cellars, a young winery in Willamette Valley in  Oregon (the winery officially started 10 years ago, in 2008). While the winery is young, Tony is an accomplished winemaker, who started making wine back in 1989, honed his craft at the wineries around the world, including 10 years as a head winemaker at Domaine Serene, one of the best-known wineries in Oregon.

When Tendril Cellars started, it owned no vineyards, which essentially gave Tony a flexibility to bring the best fruit from the Oregon vineyards he was already familiar with. To my surprise, Tendril Cellars only offers one single-vineyard bottling in their line of  5 different Pinot Noir wines – but you will find an explanation below. In 2013, Tendril Cellars planted a 19 acres Maverick vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton district with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – the vineyard already producing the fruit which is going into the Tendril Cellar’s second line of wines, Child’s Play (a creative name for the wine, don’t you think?).

Tony 5 Courses instruction 2

Tony Rynders leading five course tasting

Tony calls his approach to winemaking “low and slow” – letting the nature to do its work. He is also aging all of his Pinot Noir wines for 16-17 months, which I find particularly appealing. And then, how many winemakers do you know who run organized tastings for their customers? That is what Tony does, presenting his wines as a “5-course meal” and explaining the concept of terroir to the wine consumers (after tasting Tendril wines, Tony’s approach to the tasting makes perfect sense to me – but we will discuss it in the next post).

After learning a bit about Tony and Tendril Cellars, I decided that the time came to sit down (yes, virtually) with Tony and ask him a few questions. Here is what transpired.

[TaV]: You started making wine for others in 1989. Was there something which prompted you to start making your own wines in 2010, a pivotal moment, or you simply decided that it is time to make wines “my way”?

[TR]: I have had several opportunities making wine since I began in 1989.  Each one has contributed in some way to influence my approach to making wine.  I can tell you that I am a much different winemaker today than I was when I started.  I think it is critical that we continue to evolve and adapt as the climate, consumers, and wine preferences change.

In fact, I started my own brand, Tendril, in 2008.  I was just coming off a 10-year stint as head winemaker at Domaine Serene.  It was a highly formative period in my career as there was a massive shift toward new, estate vineyards during my tenure. The creative “heavy lifting” took place largely during my watch.  I accomplished everything I set out to and more.  It was time for my next big challenge…creating a portfolio of wines for my own brands from scratch.  And tell a story about Pinot Noir in a way that it had not yet been told.

[TaV]: You worked at the wineries around the world. Are there any winemakers you would consider your mentors, either directly or indirectly?

[TR]: There is one fact in winemaking that I completely embrace: There is no way to learn it all…I will never stop learning, growing and evolving.   Every winemaker I have worked with has mentored me, including but not limited to, Rollin Soles, Ken Wright, Co Dinn, Jean-Francois Pellet and David Forsyth.

[TaV]: Can you explain your “low and slow” approach to the winemaking?

[TR]: Just like the “slow food” movement, I use top quality ingredients (grapes) from attentive, engaged farmers (vineyards) with whom I have a very close relationship.  I have hand chosen each of our vineyards myself and each brings a distinctive flavor profile (like spices) in order to make our signature “five-course meal” of Pinot Noir.

For all the Tendril wines, I over-vintage the wines in barrel (at least 16 months) and then bottle age 12 months or more prior to release.  The wines are then at the front end of their drinkability curve, with the potential for a decade enjoyment ahead of them.

[TaV]: I find it interesting that in your range of Pinot Noir you have only one vineyard-designated bottling – I always think that designated vineyards and even specific plots are better identify with quality of the grapes and the resulting wines – obviously you don’t see it like that?

[TR]: While I love to make single vineyard wines, I find that not every site is able to produce balanced, compelling and complete wines every year.  And that, simply put, is my goal as a winemaker.  So this is how the unique story and line-up of wines for Tendril was born.  When I started Tendril, I knew that I wanted to do something different with my portfolio of wines.  And it took 6 years to complete the lineup (Extrovert 2008, TightRope 2009, Single Vineyard (Guadalupe) 2011, C-Note 2011, Pretender 2013).

The common model that exists for Pinot Noir is the single vineyard model.  Wineries make 5-15 (or more) single vineyard wines in a given vintage.  The problem is that not all of the sites deliver on their promise of distinctiveness every year.  The true test is a horizontal tasting in which all of the wines are evaluated blind.  In a given year, some wines are great, some under deliver and some taste quite similar in a given line-up.  This is not consistent with my goal.

So, I created my own, unique model for Pinot Noir.  Each of my wines is distinctive and complete.  Collectively, they show a progression of flavors that mirrors the progression of dishes in a five-course meal.  My wines gain in intensity, darker fruit character and structure as the “courses” progress.  And each of the wines must re-qualify for their place in the lineup each and every year.

I believe single vineyard wines should be special.  Since all wineries charge more money for them, I think they should be worth it.  So we typically do just one offering per year that is, simply put, the “wine of the cellar” from just one site.  As I had anticipated, it has proven to be rotational (4 vineyards in 7 vintages).  It is like a Christmas present in that you don’t know what it is until you open it.

Tendril Cellars Pinot Noir

[TaV]: Your C-Note Pinot Noir is designated as “whole cluster fermented” – is that a substantial differentiator to make it the “top of the line” wine, or is there something else behind it?

[TR]: Of the Pinot Noir line-up, the C-Note is the most stylized wine yet at the same time requires the greatest amount of restraint.  Whole cluster fermentation of Pinot Noir is a technique that I have only attempted since 2011.  The was the first year I made a wine using 100% whole cluster…and it was so successful that it became our first C-Note bottling.

For C-Note, we use 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Whole Cluster fermentation, and age in 100% new French Oak barrels (air dried 3 + years).  The restraint comes into play in order to reign in the “whole clustery-ness” and tame the oak impact to mimic a wine with half the new oak exposure.  We are extremely gentle with our cap management to control the whole cluster notes and we select the most subtle, elegant barrels coupled with long aging to integrate the oak flavors.  C-Note is all about complexity, texture and mind-blowing length.  I love making wines that surprise and beguile.

[TaV]: You are one of the very few winemakers who conduct organized tastings. Can you explain what you are trying to showcase with your 5-course Pinot Noir approach?

[TR]: Yes, I believe the best way to showcase these wines and share this unique experience is to do seated tastings.  Like a five-course meal, our tasting take time (typically an hour and a half or more).  But people leave here feeling that that have experienced something truly special…and that is pretty rare.  They are shocked that they enjoyed each and every wine they tasted.

I began working in restaurants at a young age.  I cooked for several years and really enjoyed it.  A few years after I started making wines, I realized that I was using the exact same skill set to make wine that I used to cook.  I am truly a “wine cook” and make wine with that sensibility.

I wanted to showcase a diverse range of flavor profiles that can be accomplished on an annual basis with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.  Each offering is distinctive, unique and impeccably balanced.  Collectively, they showcase perhaps the greatest range of flavors and textures of Pinot Noir under one brand.

[TaV]: To follow on the previous question, how receptive are your customers (typically) to what you are presenting in the tasting? Do they get your point? Do you offer people to taste the wines blind and to try to identify what they are tasting?

[TR]: The beautiful thing about the “five-course meal” context of our tasting is that EVERYBODY can relate to that experience.  People completely get it and they really get into it.  The wines show a progression of flavors just like a multi-course meal.  They also increase in intensity much like turning up the volume on a radio.

At this stage, the tastings are not blind and are tasted one at a time.  And I don’t have the ability to pair food at this time.  But we have done the “five-course meal” here at the winery a few times. It was a huge success.

[TaV]: Maybe an odd-ball question here – wine is an adult beverage, and nevertheless, you called your line of wines “Child’s Play” (I personally like it very much, especially the labels). Do you think wine consumers might find this controversial? Did anyone ever comment on this wine name?

[TR]: I am a huge fan of the “double entendre”.  Here it is actually triple.  1) My kids playing…my two daughters paintings are the original artwork for all the labels 2) We winemakers are big kids and we get to “play” with offering unique wines (the Pinot Chardonnay is the only still version of Chardonnay and white Pinot Noir in the country…to my knowledge), Zinfandel from WA (a unicorn wine), and a stylistically different Rose of Pinot Noir.  The Pinot Noir is just damn good. 3) Child’s Play implies it’s easy…so easy a kid could do it.  We are taking the pretension out of wine with the packaging and the wines inside.  Great value for money…as it should be.

My customers love it.  The only objection came from the Feds…and a simple paragraph explaining point 3) above got us our label approval.

[TaV]: This one is more of the pet peeve question for me. Your Tendril wines are enclosed with the corks (makes me very happy to see it). The Child’s Play line uses screwtops, so obviously the screwtop idea is not foreign to you. I know that some winemakers in Oregon swear by alternative closures (like Don Hagge at Vidon with the glass stopper), but I personally think that the wine needs a cork to age properly. What is your take on this subject?

[TR]: While I like the idea of cork, the execution of the closure has haunted me for my entire career.  Corks are highly variable in both their flavor impact on the wines as well as the oxygen permeability.  Each one is unique and has an unintended impact on my wine.  I believe natural corks are a huge problem and as such, I no longer use them.  But I do gladly use a cork product in my Tendril wines (looks like a duck and quacks like a duck) that provides consistency of density and very low aromatic impact.  I would be happy to talk to you about this topic some time.  I have researched it for years.

Screw caps are new to me, but I love them in the Child’s Play line to further differentiate the brand from Tendril.  I think the MSRP $30 price point avoids any potential push back on the choice of closure.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are so popular nowadays, almost everyone is making them, and often with very good results. Considering your experience at Argyle, should we expect to see Tendril sparkling wine at some point in the future?

[TR]: Maybe…but I will wait until we have a great sparkling wine vintage (cool and slow ripening) to make that decision.  If you asked my wife (who is a sparkling junkie), the answer would be yes.

I would only do it if it could have the potential to be a truly special offering.

Maverick Vineyard

Maverick Vineyard

[TaV]: What is in the store for your new Maverick vineyard? How are you planning to farm it – sustainable, organic, biodynamic? Out of 19 acres, you have 10.5 allocated for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – what about the rest? Any plans to expand beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – let’s say, Pinot Gris, Riesling, etc?

[TR]: At this time, Maverick is LIVE.  We plan to move towards organic over the next few years.  It is an incredibly well behaved site that is already producing strong personality wines.  I view this as a highly desirable trait for a young vineyard.  The Chardonnay for the Pinot Chardonnay (70% of the blend) is all Maverick.  This is the first bottled wine coming from Maverick.

No plans for other varietals at this time.  But the clonal mix for the Pinot Noir (943, Swan, Calera and Mt. Eden) is pretty unusual.

[TaV]: Oregon is clearly a leader in Pinot Noir, considered by many as simply the best in the world, and it is also getting to the same level of recognition with the Chardonnays. What is ahead for the Oregon wine industry? Is the future bright and sunny, or do you see any clouds on the horizon?

[TR]: To me, the only constant is change.  By that I mean that to continue to succeed as an industry, we need to be engaged (both locally and on a world stage), we need to be adaptive (as our climate continues to change, we are in for more and different challenges), and we need to be more concerned about the sustainability of our environment (both locally and throughout the world).

I believe we will have sun and clouds…and perhaps some rain.   Just the weather we always have in Oregon 😉

[TaV]: When you are not drinking Tendril wines, what are your favorites from the other producers and/or regions?

[TR]: Lately I have been enjoying Graham-Beck sparkling wine from South Africa.

Or give me a good single malt Scotch…

Here we are, my friends. I’m sure you are thirsty at this point, but we will talk about Tendril Cellars wines in the next post.

To be continued…

 

One on One With Winemakers: Tasting The Stars

January 14, 2018 2 comments

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” – whether Dom Perignon said these words or not is not really important – but if you thought that we will be talking about the Champagne, you got it right! Also, plural mention of “winemakers” in the title is not a mistake – today’s “one on one” post is actually a double-feature.

The story of Duval-Leroy Champagne goes almost 160 years back, to 1859, when Edouard Leroy, wine négociant, met Jules Duval, grape grower – the rest is a history which you can read for yourself here. Today Duval-Leroy farms 200 hectares (about 500 acres) of vines, mostly in Premier and Grand Cru appellations, also using sustainable viticulture – Duval-Leroy is known as a pioneer of the sustainable grapegrowing in Champagne.

In 1785, “Heidsieck & Cie” company was founded with one dream – to create a Champagne worthy of a queen. After tasting the stars, Queen Marie Antoinette became the first “brand ambassador” for the Heidsieck Champagne. I don’t want to try to regurgitate here the rich history of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, you would be far better of reading it for yourself, but for all these years, Piper-Heidsieck story always included royal families, fashion designers, and movies. The bottle of Piper-Heidsieck was the first Champagne to ever appear in the movie in 1933. Since 1993, Piper-Heidsieck is an official supplier of Cannes Film Festival, and many actors and producers were recognized with the special Piper-Heidsieck Award at film festivals around the world.

Now, let’s get to that double-feature interview I promised. I’m running this “one-on-one” series of the interviews for about 3 years now. Until now, there was always a unique set of questions, prepared specifically for the particular winery and the winemaker. This time, I decided to play it a bit differently – ask the same set of questions of two winemakers – however, in this case, there is a great “common space” between the subjects of the interview – they both make Champagne!

I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with Sandrine Logette, Cellar Master of Champagne Duval-Leroy, and Séverine Frerson, Chef de Caves at Piper-Heidsieck, and here is what transpired:

[TaV]: What is your approach to the blending of Vins Clairs? How many Vins Clairs are typically comprising your most standard NV house blend?

[DL]: It is necessary to first think about the flavor profile you would like to achieve: the aromatic notes with its intensity and its descriptors, its mouthfeel, its volume, its angles, its power and persistence as well as the volume: number of bottles to produce, volume of reserve wines to use and volume of wine to save for future ‘liqueur d’expédition’. The vins clairs are tasted several times (at least twice) after the malolactic fermentation to familiarize ourselves with their characteristics. The first approach to blending is always a minimal concept; which is what I call it my ‘accounting idea’. It is tasted, assessed and compared to our first and last blends of this wine made in previous years. The vins clairs are then improved by modifying only one character at a time. The same improvement is repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the best result. We use about 45 to 55 vins clairs to produce our Champagne Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve.

[PH]: We blend over 100 crus to make Piper-Heidsieck’s NV cuvée: the Cuvée Brut. I think of the vins clairs (base wines) as spices stored in little boxes in her mind and I know exactly which boxes/spices (and proportions) I need to add to create the same taste every year.

[TaV]: Can you describe your “house style”?

[DL]: Our goal is to maintain the quality of our Brut  Réserve NV vintage after vintage:

  • A complex aromatic profile showing fruity notes of yellow peach, damson and subtle red berries along with notes of cocoa powder and toasted bread
  • An integrated, round and generous mouthfeel but yet elegant and fresh.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s wine style is fruity, structured and complex, with lots of deepness. It’s a champagne to treat yourself and to share with your loved ones. Champagne serves as a bridge between people. It triggers and enhances moments of sharing, complicity and joy. And we are the ones who strive to create memorable experiences. It is all truly wonderful!

[TaV]: Somewhat of a continuation of the previous question: I don’t know if you ever experimented with this, but I wonder if a panel of wine consumers (non-experts) would be able to identify your standard NV offering in a blind tasting?

[DL]: We have worked with a panel of French consumers who tasted our Brut Réserve NV. This panel was able to detect the fruity nose without going into details and recognize the roundness of the mouthfeel and the integrated acidity.

[PH]: The goal of our Cellar Masters is to maintain Piper-Heidsieck’s style, and make it recognizable. Our wines are fruity, structured and profound but also well balanced, straight and bright. In the case of the Cuvée Brut, it’s a seductive champagne that you can recognize on your palate right away. What gives it away is its notes of almond and fresh hazelnut that are very lively, subtle and light. It’s a very smooth an pure champagne with notes of fresh pear and apple with a delicate hint of citrus fruits (pomelo). You can also taste the blonde grapes and juicy white fruits that create the lightness of the champagne.

[TaV]: Similar question to the second one, only now for the vintage Champagne – can you describe your house style?

[DL]: Our vintage “house style” is given by the characteristics of that specific year which varies according to the weather, therefore, the quality of the grapes (acid-sugar balance – fruit richness). We do not look for our vintage cuvées to be identical year after year. We make the best vintage with what nature has to offer.

[PH]: The Cellar Masters’ goal when creating a vintage champagne is to put a special year in a bottle. They want to take a snapshot of this particularly great year to keep it as a memory and reward the hard work of our vineyard team without forgetting about the Piper-Heidsieck style. Every vintage is different but they all answer to the Piper-Heidsieck style: wines that are fruity, structured with great depth. Our Cellar Masters took the best grapes from 2008 to put it in our current vintage: Vintage 2008 is a precise, elegant and free-spirit wine that showcases the greatest wines 2008 had to offer.

[TaV]: I would assume all (many?) of the Champagne houses have their “secret stash” of Champagnes which had not been disgorged yet – and the wines are disgorged on one by one basis, maybe for the special clients. Do you have such a “secret stash”? What are the oldest, not yet disgorged wines you have in your cellars?

[DL]: Of course, Duval-Leroy has its secret reserve Champagnes that are not disgorged and waiting in the cellar for that special request. Vintages such as 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990 … are kept in bottles and magnums (not systematically in each cuvée).

[PH]: We do have old cuvées in our Cellars, our “secret library” contains old NV from 1980 to now and different vintages from 1982 and on.

[TaV]: Are the Champagne styles changing to address the consumer demand? For instance, I would expect that people would like to drink more of Brut Nature/zero dosage and Rosé Champagne. What do you think?

[DL]: The Champagnes’ style may slightly vary depending on consumers demand, but not fundamentally change. Champagne is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which defines production rules and style objectives of quality.
We have seen a greater demand for Champagne Rosé and 5 to 10% sales increase over the past 10 years.
Rosé Champagne is an accessible Champagne, more obvious in terms of taste, festive by its color and more enticing.
The growing demand is also linked to the fact that Rosé Champagne has more personality and a specific identity. It is definitely easier to produce due to warmer weather in recent years.
We find an equally interesting demand for low dosage Champagnes. These low dosages are made possible because of a better integrated acidity naturally due to the wines richness and roundness.

[PH]: We do see some trends in the industry, people tend to be more knowledgeable about what they consume and younger generations like to be more informed. They become more and more wine experts so they ask to question about dosage, disgorgement dates … We have our cuvée Essentiel that works really well with wine experts since they have all the information they need on the label (disgorgement date, bottling date, lot number…) and it’s an extra brut. At Piper-Heidsieck we have a wide range of champagnes to please everyone, we have Rosé Sauvage, Essentiel (extra brut) for wine experts and connoisseurs, our Cuvée Brut, a vintage and Cuvée Sublime (a demi-sec). Our range satisfies all consumers, from non-experts to wine lovers and our entire range has complimentary food pairings.

[TaV]: Champagne seems to enjoy higher popularity overall over the last few years. Do you expect that trend to continue? Are the challenges for Champagne which need to be overcome?

[DL]: Of course we want this trend to continue and Champagne to remain the leader sparkling wine out there. In order to overcome any challenges, the Champagne region needs to continue improving.

[PH]: This trend will continue for sure. As mentioned before, the younger generation tends to be more and more knowledgeable about what they consume, especially for wines. They gain interest and want to develop their palate and their knowledge about wine. With more educated consumers that know the quality of champagne and tend to pair champagne with food more and more often we will keep seeing an increasing popularity in champagne consumption in the upcoming years.

The biggest challenge we will be facing is climate change. The Earth is getting warmer and the climate is changing making it even more difficult for us to ensure the quality of grapes as the years go on. With the unpredictable weather, our vineyard team will have to work even harder to protect our vines and ensure a high quality. At Piper-Heidsieck we already took measures to protect the environment as much as we can with recycling measures, reducing our water consumption and gas emissions. It’s a global concern and a challenge that will affect all industries in one way or another.

Another challenge would be the increasing sales of other sparkling wine, but it’s not too concerning as sparkling wines and champagne are very different products consumed for different reasons. As the consumers are getting more knowledgeable they can tell the difference between sparkling wines and champagne and they consume one of the other at different occasions.

[TaV]: What is your most favorite Champagne you personally or your house overall ever produced and why?

[DL]: My favorite is our Femme de Champagne tête de cuvée and specifically the 1995 and 1996 vintages. Very great vintages with beautiful and precise balance and a great aging potential.

[PH]: I actually don’t have a favorite champagne! It all depends on the moment, when I will open it and with whom! I will choose the Cuvée Brut for a festive aperitif with friends. I love the Vintage 2008 for an intimate dinner and the Rosé Sauvage in the summer with a barbecue.

[TaV]: Champagne rules allow using 7 different grape varieties, yet absolute majority only uses 3 from that list. Have you ever experimented with using any of those 4 leftover grapes? If yes, did you get any interesting results?

[DL]: Since 1998, we regularly vinify one of the old grape varietal of Champagne called ‘petit meslier and produce a specific cuvée: Précieuses Parcelles. Petit Meslier is a white grape varietal that grows well in soils rich in clay (a natural cross between Gouais and Savagnin) in the right bank of Vallée de la Marne.
It is a varietal that struggles to ripen, therefore has a mouthfeel marked by sharp acidity and aromatic notes of rhubarb.
I chose to vinify it in barrels to add some fine oak and spicy notes. Currently, we are working on the 2007 vintage with a low dosage of 4 g / l.
It is a cuvée of curiosity, interesting for its rusticity and for an unusual “Taste” of Champagne.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s Cellar Masters never experienced with the other grapes, because they only focused on those 3 grapes and developed an expertise in those grapes.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are produced absolutely everywhere in the world today. Have you tried any of the Methode Classique sparkling wines produced outside of France (Italy, Spain, South Africa, USA,…), and if yes, did you find anything you liked? You don’t have to love them, but maybe you liked just a little, tiny bit? 🙂

[DL]: Fifteen years ago, the Duval-Leroy family contemplated purchasing vineyards in England but decided otherwise. They’d rather stay focused on the terroirs of Champagne.

[PH]: Today sparkling wines are developing, but  Champagne stays the luxurious sparkling wine of reference.
It’s always interesting to discover other regions – for example, I tasted high quality sparkling wines from Italy, Spain and Hungary and even if we are in the sparkling wine category they all had they own style and authenticity!

Time top drink some Champagne, isn’t it?

First, I wanted to try NV Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru (Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend) and NV Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay) side by side, as both are Rosé Champagne. There was a dramatic difference in appearance and taste profile. Duval-Leroy, in a word, was sublime. Delicate pinkish color, just a light salmon pink, whiff of the toasted bread, vibrant acidity on the palate, touch of lemon – seductive, and yes, sublime. Sauvage, on another hand, means “wild” in French – and that exactly how the Piper-Heidsieck was. Strawberry pink in the glass, fresh tart strawberries and a touch of yeast on the nose, and then generous toasted bread, granny smith apples and strawberries on the palate. Truly different and delicious in its own right.

NV Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay, 10-20% reserve wines) was, in a word, classic – generous, voluptuous, touch of toasted bread and yeast, full mouthfeel, golden delicious apple sweetness, good minerality, very present and excellent overall.

Three Champagnes, three different wines, each delicious in its own right, each worthy to be a star of a special celebratory dinner or a quiet evening for two. And two conversations about the wines, the passion, the style, the stars. We spoke enough today; if you are still reading this, thank you and cheers!

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