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Alsace Wines – Beyond the aromatic whites

July 27, 2017 - 3:00am

Alsace is probably most well known for the aromatic whites – Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewertztraminer.  It is also well known for their sparkling wine, Cremant d’Alsace, amde in the classic champenoise method.  But, Alsace also produces some lovely Pinot Noir’s will excellent QPR.

Tucked away in a corner of eastern France, Alsace has long been a disputed territory.  In the confluence of Germany, France, and Switzerland, the Alsatian culture is a fitting blend of these three.  Bouncing back in forth across the arbitrary borders that conflict cause, the Alsace region has maintained an independant mentality.

 

When the AOC was created in 1962, wines were not required to be bottled in the region and there were no Grand Crus.  That quickly changed in the mid 1970s, and in 1976 the AOC of Crémant d’Alsace was created, to showcase the sparkling wines of the region, which had been produced since the 1900s.  Using the Méthode Champenoise (Champagne style, secondary fermentation in the bottle), these bubblies are made from the local aromatic whites of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Auxerrois, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The rarest of Crémants is the rosé, make entirely of Pinot Noir.

 

Sitting down to dinner on this evening, we were treated to the Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV.  This $20 sparkling wine comes from a producer that has been making wine for 400 years; with a 14th generation winemaker at the helm, the estate recently went biodynamic.  Aged in foudres and on the lees for 9 months, it is bursting with strawberries and bright citrus it is a delightful summer sipoper.

 

Other Crémants to enjoy: Allimant-Laugner Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NVthis popular producer offers another history lesson as the Allimant and Laugner families have been making wine since 1724.  Now run by 10th generation winemaker Hubert Laugner, this mineral drive rosé comes from vineyards on the granite slopes of the Vosages.  It is zesty and driven by blood orange and red fruit, and is a great option for weekend brunch!  $18

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rose Brut – this budget busting $12 sparkler is a house staple.  Easy to drink, easy to find, grab it while you can!

 

Moving in to more undiscovered territory, we started to explore the Pinot Noirs of the region.  With 90% of the wines produced in this region being white, and 18% being Crémant, there is only a smattering of red wine available.  The vast majority of this red wine is Pinot Noir, used both for the illusive Crémant Rosé, as well as still wines.

 

2015 Rieflé Pinot Noir Bonheur Convivial – Another historical house, the grapes for this wine are grown on the limestone loess and were fermented on native yeast.  Aged in French oak for 10 months, the result is a low alcohol (13.5%) wine with floral notes wafting out of the glass, followed by bright cherry and dusty strawberry, Jolly Rancher notes and mouthwatering herbal notes.

2012 Hubert Meyer Pinot Noir Fut en Chen – Dark ruby with a muted nose, rustic and more ore savory notes are followed by black cherry, cranberry, and rhubarb flavors.

 

 


2012 Domaine Ostertag FronholzThe youngest house in my roundup, Domaine Osterag was founded in 1966.  Famous for the Muenchberg Grand Cru vineyard, but this Fronholz Pinot Noir comes from top top of the hill of Epfig.  Known for the minerality, the grapes are 100% destemmed and aged in neutral barrels for a year.  Grippy and full of limestone, the subtle cherry comes out after a bit of air.  Exuding earth and crushed minerals it’s another lower alcohol winner clocking in at 13.7%.  $45

Special thanks to Thierry Fritsch of the Vin’s d’Alsace, for his expressive humor and pure passion for Alsace, and to Teuwen Communications for the lovely event!

 

 




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Viura – the illusive white wine of Rioja

July 12, 2017 - 1:50pm

 

If you’ve like Spanish wine, you undoubtedly love Rioja.  The backbone of Rioja was build on Tempranillo, and is dominated by rich, red wines, but did you know that Riojo also has refreshing and lovely white wine?

While there actually is a Tempranillo Blanco grape, the shining star among the allowed white varietals in Rioja is Viura.  A mildly acid white grape, it is often used as a blending component, and was nearly wiped out by phylloxera.  When they replanted, much of it was replaced by Malvaia and Garnacha Blanca.  Viura is also one of the most im . portant grapes in Cava production, where it is known as Macabeo.

Viura is an excellent alternative to Chardonnay, and if you see the Lopez de Haro Blanco in your wine travels, be sure to check it out.

100% Virua, these grapes were hand harvested and spent a short 3-4 months in oak, keeping the vibrant and fresh flavor.  A low 12.5% ABV (Hallelujah!) this is a wonderful choice for brunch or lunch, wit tropical flavors, peach, fresh citrus, and a lush mouthfeel.  Yum!

 

Thanks to another great selection from Vintae and Lopez de Haro!

 

 

 

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Onward Wines

May 30, 2017 - 10:01pm

When I was first introduced to Onward Wines, I was intrigued by the thought of three wines made from Malvasia Blanca, as I thought of how to approach a piece on unique wines for weekend brunching.  I love Malvasia, and there is really none to speak of in the US – save this little patch of land in Contra Costa County.

Further investigation in to Faith Armstrong Foster’s wines, however, revealed wines that are expressive of terroir in its purist form, quality, uniqueness, and a sense of place in every glass.

 

Onward 2015 Pétillant Naturel, Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Beginning with the beguiling Pétillant Naturel, made from Malvasia Bianca, the Onward selections express freshness that can often get lost in the shuffle.  Pet-Nat, a fun, rustic take on sparkling wine, captures bubbles the old fashioned way.  Bottling these wines before primary fermentation occurs, without the addition of a dosage or yeast, Malvasia Blanca makes a natural muse for this style.

With nutty Marzipan, hazlenut and lychee notes, complemented with Asian pear and honey, the Pet Nat holds peaches and brioche, with ah hint of ripe tuscan melon.  There is a natural salinity coming fro the Malvasia, and a pinch of citrus zest to keep it fresh.

This Pét-Nat is floral and fruity, but refreshingly bone-dry. The opening aromatics are like sticking your nose in a fermentation vat, with yeasty brioche notes and lively youthful freshness. To follow are notes of night blooming jasmine, citrus blossom, melon rind, warm Kaffir lime scones with preserved lemon…and a refreshing hint of sea air….and did I mention soft tiny delicate bubbles!

 

Onward 2014 Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Like a summer day in a bottle, Malvasia Blanca jumps out of the glass with stone fruit, fresh and floral notes and a searing acidity to refresh your hot and dusty taste buds.  The grapes were whole cluster pressed, adding much needed texture and tannin, the wine was finished in stainless steel while the lees were stirred every two weeks.  Oh so very fresh and happy, kumquats and pears dance around golden delicious apples with a splash of fresh cream.

 

Onward 2013 Pinot Noir, Hawkeye Ranch, Redwood Valley

The often forgotten Redwood Valley, deep in the forests of Mendocino County, is an interesting growing region.  With cooler than average temperatures, dense Redwood groves and chilly damp fog, it’s a challenging place to grow any wine – let alone pinot noir.  But grow it does, and this example is a beautiful expression of cool climate pinot noir.

Pale and clear, wild strawberries are front and center with bright hibiscus and Queen Anne cherries.  Juicy pomegranate and rhubarb are rounded out with lingering methol and forest floor notes.

 

Onward 2014 Carignane, Casa Roja Vineyard, Contra Costa County

i love Carignane.  It is one of those lost grapes of California, and was, at one point, a huge part of the old Italian field blends that helped to solidify the commercial wine industry in the state.  Often overlooked, Contra Costa is a prime growing area for Carignane as well as Zinfandel.

This inky dark wine jumps out of the glass with acid and spice notes, with rich blackberry notes.  The palate is juicy plum flesh, boysenberries, zesty hibiscus and fresh cranberry over a layer of black berry cobbler.  The rich blue and black fruit and tempered by brilliant acidity that keeps you wanting more.  You can just see the sneak attack by the field blend friends Mourvedre and Malvasia Nero hiding in there.

Onward doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can usually find Faith cruising around Napa or parts north seeking exceptional fruit.  The wines are available online and and select retailers and are priced beween $20 (Malvasia) and $40 (Pinot Noir) roughly.

A very special thank yuo to Charles Communications and Onward Wines for a wonder lives tasting, and these amazing wines!  I will definitely be adding these to my regular rotation of enjoyment.

For more of Faith’s wines, check out Farmstrong, hand crafted blends.

 

 




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Achaval-Ferrer – wines of distinction from Argentina

May 17, 2017 - 12:00am

When you think of a classic wine from Argentina, you probably think of Malbec.  But would you also think of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and yes – even Merlot?  What exactly is Cabernet’s role in Argentina anyway?

Enter the upstart minds of Achaval-Ferrer.  In 1995, the first twinkle in the eyes of the winery partners appeared, with their minds set to the gestalt of creating the best wines possible.  In 1998, the first property was purchased, Diamonte Vineyard and the winery was founded.

So, last month on #winestudio, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, from Malbec to Cab Franc, and what a journey it was!  Wine Studio is an ongoing educational project that seeks to bring writers, wineries, and consumers together on Tuesday evenings on Twitter. For the month of April, we explored the wines of Achaval-Ferrer.  My favorites of this series are outlined below.

One Tuesday in April, which happened to be #worldmalbecday, we tasted two wines blind.  Naturally we knew that they were 100%, or at least, significantly, malbec based, but what no one anticipated was that we were actually tasting two vintages of the same wine, with very different results.

These wines were the 2012 & 2013 Quimera, named for the top of the line blend that is made, lke all good wine, in the vineyard.  More than simply the sum of it’s parts, the blend varies ever so slightly every year but is always predominately Malbec.  To showcase the other varietals that Achaval-Ferrer focuses on, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon is blended in.

2012 Quimera

Earthy forest floor erupting n eucalyptus and menthol.  Tobacco and dark chocolate mingling with blueberry and blackberry, with old fashioned black licorice on the finish. Astute and developed but can be cellared for years to come.   $30

 

2013 Quimera (pre-release)

Bursting with fruit, classic Malbec.  Fresh plums, baking spice, hint of dried lavender and herbs de Provence.

What we didn’t know at the time of tasting s that this was the same wine, same blend, but with vintage variation.  According to the winemakers, 2013 was actually a clear year at the site, however, the fruit was showing more, undoubtedly due to it youth.

So what is the point?  The point is that wine is a living thing; wine changes in the bottle, but it changes in the vineyard.  The same wine can be impacted by climate, localized weather, harvest conditions and so much more.

Also, there is more to Argentina than fruit bomb Malbecs.  While they are fun, and great for a party, there is more and more of a Bordeaux influence creeping in; this is natural given the origins of Malbec in Cahors (just south of Bordeaux) and it’s use in many Bordeaux blends.  Stylistically, Malbec from France is quite different, but as time goes on and Argentinian wine grows up, you can see the development of these restrained and austere styles.

So go out and taste some Argentinian blends!  They are relatively inexpensive, and while not cheap (compared to many mass marketed Malbecs) and can offer an eye opening look at what Argentina can produce

Achaval-Ferrer also makes a stunning Cabernet Franc which we also tasted and I highly reccomend!

 

 

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