Drinking Gewurztraminer: 6 wines, 3 countries

Drinking Gewurztraminer with Matzo Ball Soup

Gewurztraminer Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

This week I couldn’t kick the Matzo Ball Soup craving so Jr and I spent an afternoon making it from scratch. By grating fresh ginger into the Matzo Balls, and using a touch of parsley on top of the chicken broth, the soup worked beautifully with Gewurztraminer.

Gewurztraminer produces naturally pungent, easily recognizable aromatics. The grape naturally generates higher sugar levels, leading to a predominance of off dry-to-sweet styles of the grape, or higher alcohol level dry wines. Acid levels also quickly drop in the variety. As a result, Gewurztraminers readily have a fuller mouthfeel, and oily or slippery texture. All combined, cooler climates do better for the fruit. With lower temperatures, a grape that can tend towards blouse-y flavors and feel maintains greater structural focus, and can more easily hold the juiciness to balance its fuller palate.

Following are notes from six dry examples — two each from Alsace, Alto Adige, and California.

* Elena Walch 2013 Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
Alto Adige in Northern Italy stands as both the origin, and one of the most celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer. Elena Walch offers a beautiful dry Gewurztraminer that lifts from the glass with nicely focused fresh rose aromatics then moves over the palate with ultra juicy crisp length. White nectarine, orange blossom, and light chamomile keep the palate nicely focused, crisp, and well integrated with a slippery mouthfeel. This was my favorite wine of the tasting. I kept returning to it through dinner, and after.

Elena Walch 2012 Kastelaz Vineyard Designate Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, 14.5%
On a steep hillside above the village from which Gewurztraminer gets its name, Tramin in Alto Adige, Elena Walch grows the fruit for her single vineyard designate wine. Kastelaz. The site has produced quality fruit for generations. The Kastelaz brings a lighter, rounder focus to the aromatics and palate, carrying white peach, honeysuckle, pear blossom, and chamomile tea alongside light spice elements. Aged on its lees, the Kastelaz gives a creamy, nicely balanced palate. Though this wine offers slightly more residual sugar, it carries nice juiciness, and natural acid levels that bring it in as a dry wine.

Hugel 2011 Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 14.15%
Alsace proves another of the more celebrated regions for quality Gewurztraminer, with the area regarding it as a signature grape. For Hugel, it is a flagship variety. This dry Gewurztraminer carries cooked pear and lifting almond leaf aromatics rolling into a perfumed white stone and orchard fruit palate accented by chamomile tea. There is nice focus here, pleasing texture, and a long finish.

Domaines Schlumberger 2008 “Les Princes Abbés” Gewurztraminer, Alsace, 13.35
Meant to celebrate the long history of the region, Domaines Schlumberger‘s “Les Princes Abbés” portfolio uses portions of Grand Cru fruit from classic varieties. The aromatics keep a focus on freshness and delicate precision carrying crisp red apple, anjou pear and birch bark from nose to mouth. With just a kiss of sweetness, the juiciness of Les Princes Abbés keeps the wine fresh on the palate.

* Thomas Fogarty Vineyards 2012 Gewurztraminer, Monterey County, 13.3%
Taking fruit from a cool, windy vineyard in Salinas Valley, Thomas Fogarty VIneyards delivers one of the nicest examples of a varietally expressive, dry style Gewurztraminer in California. Giving a touch of skin contact to broaden the palate, and develop textural complexity, the wine delivers very lightly toasted croissant with hints of orange blossom, dried rose petals, and lychee all on a crisp, juicy presentation. This wine brings nice freshness, focus, and length.

Gundlach Bundschu 2012 Estate Gewurztraminer, Sonoma County, 14.5%
Showing off the exuberant side of Gewurztraminer, Gundlach Bundschu‘s 2012 highlights the pungent lychee and oily-slippery mouthfeel typicity of the grape. The nose carries lychee and spice greenery rolling into a flamboyant, perfumed mouth of lychee, melon rind, and lily pollen. The 2012 shows the broad character of a warmer profile typical for the variety. I have to admit the expressiveness of this style is overwhelming for me.

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Each of these wines were provided as samples.

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post-edit: I finished this write-up in the middle of the night after a two week run of not-quite enough sleep. My apologies for the creatively varied mis-spellings of Gewurztraminer in the original posting.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

California meets Washington with Jameson Fink

Skype Drinking with Jameson Fink

In the midst of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 Jameson Fink and I became friends. In October 2013, we were able to do a joint wine trip through Dry Creek Valley. We have other joint trips planned for this upcoming year. It’s one of the gifts of wine blogging — you can develop genuine friendships with people you might not have met otherwise.

In the midst of our tour of Dry Creek in 2013, Jameson suggested we find a way to collaborate. Ultimately, we decided to begin by sharing quick visions of our respective states. He’d select two wines from Washington. I’d choose two from California. We’d send them to each other, then via Skype taste, drink, and talk through the four wines.

Following is Jameson’s write-up from the experience. Over on his site, Wine Without Worry, you’ll find mine later today. Here’s my write-up over on Jameson’s site: http://jamesonfink.com/washington-meets-california-with-elaine-chukan-brown/

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Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink, Dry Creek Valley, October 2013

Hi there! I can’t believe I’m talking over/invading Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews for the day. You might remember me from such adventures with Elaine as “Touring Dry Creek Valley with Jameson Fink”.

The Washington Wines

So what wines from Washington State would I send Elaine’s way? Well, I knew I wanted to send her a couple weird bottles. And by weird I mean distinct and unusual in the most satisfying of ways. So I contacted the folks at Whidbey Island Winery and they were nice enough to send each of us a couple bottles for consideration.

Ferry to Whidbey Island Winery

ferry ride to Whidbey Island Winery, photo by Jameson Fink

I definitely wanted Elaine to try something from the Puget Sound AVA. While the vast majority of grapes for vino in Washington come from east of the Cascade Mountains (think Walla Walla, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, etc), there’s some cool stuff happening much closer to Seattle. Therefore, a bottle of 2012 Siegerrebe was dispatched to California.

This Puget Sound white wine is intensely aromatic. Elaine commented, “I’m drinking it through my nose.” (Not literally. I was watching her via Skype so I can confirm this was just a figure of speech.) It’s light and refreshing, clocking in at a summertime porch-pounding compatible 11% alcohol. If you like the intense aromatics of Gewurztraminer and Moscato but without the oiliness and/or sweetness, get a bottle in your fridge, posthaste! And when you’re hungry, pair that Siegerrebe with anything full of veggies and herbs. Like fresh rolls. (But skip the peanut sauce.)

Whidbey Island Vineyards

Whidbey Island Vineyards

The accompanying red wine from Whidbey Island Winery was their 2011 Lemberger. This bottle, unlike the Siegerrebe, is filled with grapes brought in from Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley. Lemberger is a grape that, because of its unfortunate name, doesn’t get the love it deserves. WHERE IS THE LEMBERGER LOVE?!?

This wine reminds me of what would happen if a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel swiped right on each other’s Tinder profiles. It’s fairly light on the palate but finishes with some brawny spiciness. This bottle would be really intriguing with less new oak as the Lemberger has enough going on to not need that flavor boost. I’d be curious to try it with neutral oak or perhaps nothing but steel. But if you find Zinfandel too monolithic, Lemberger awaits with a more gentle approach followed by an emptying out of the spice cabinet. Outstanding BBQ/outdoor grilling red.

The California Wines

So, what of the California wines sent my way? I was really excited to see (though not to type, jeez, what a long name, here goes) a bottle of 2011 Varner Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block. Phew! So thirsty. I’m a huge fan of the Santa Cruz Mountains, like Ridge Monte Bello (DUH!) and the wines of Mount Eden Vineyards, who make killer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and one of my all-time favorite Cabernet Sauvignons from anywhere IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Anyway, back to the Varner. I love California Chardonnay and I ain’t afraid of oak on it, either. What makes the Varner notable is its exquisite balance between fruit, oak, and acid. How balanced is it? It’s more balanced than a seal with a beach ball on the tip of its nose being cheered by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch snacking on popcorn with a judicious amount of organic butter and native yeast.

Or, as Elaine more elegantly put it, this Chardonnay has “rich flavor with so much graceful movement.” Can I get avian on you? Let me paraphrase what Elaine went on to say. The Varner, which develops in a most intriguing manner in the glass, is like a great blue heron with a weirdly elongated form that moves in ways you don’t expect it to. You can’t compare it to other birds because they are the only ones who move like that.

This wine gets a Clive Coats-ian “very fine indeed”.

Next up? The 2012 Wind Gap Syrah Sonoma Coast Majik Vineyard, which also, like the Varner, proved to be magical in the glass. Like a conjurer. It has a very minty, menthol-y, eucalyptus-y, pine needle-y nose and was very earthy yet extremely light on first sip(s). Its a wine that really needs significant time to open up. I gave it a double-decant about a ½ hour before we began but give it hours to properly plump up or stash it in your cellar for a few years. It certainly gained steam throughout the course of the evening.

What makes this Syrah distinct among all of the offerings from Wind Gap? Elaine deems this bottling from the Majik Vineyard to be “the most aromatic and a little strange.” And strange in the way I described weird earlier. As in intriguing! And not intriguing in a way where you are choking down tiny eye-dropper sips while looking for the exit door. More of a “yum I want more” or “I’m sticking around for this rollercoaster…OF FLAVOR” kind of intrigue. Elaine channeled Alaska when describing this wine, likening it to “tundra berries grown in peat”. (Note: Whole Foods does not carry these. I asked.)

Thanks to Elaine for the fascinating and fantastic wines and letting me blather on all over her blog which, like the Varner, is very fine indeed!!! I look forward to our next adventure via Skype. It won’t be a California/Washington exchange, but rather a theme based on a style of wine we both hold near and dear. Elaine, would you care to make the announcement? Drumroll, please….

OH HOW WE LOVE ROSÉ! That’s what we’ll exchange next time — we’ll each select a favorite still rosé, and a favorite sparkling to send to the other, then Skype.

Cheers!

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Thank you to Pax Mahle for providing the Wind Gap sample.
Thank you to Jameson Fink for being awesome.

 

Drinking Small Production Rhone Wines: Rhone Rangers 2014

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.

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Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Tasting Grenache with the Rhone Rangers

West Coast Grenache Noir

This recent weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted their Spring event featuring the largest U.S. Rhone-focused tasting in the country, the induction of Tablas Creek founder Robert Haas into their Hall of Fame, and two educational seminars. The second seminar focused in specifically on West Coast North American iterations of Grenache Noir, looking at the work of eight winemakers from distinctive regions, and moderated by Luke Sykora of Wine and Spirits Magazine.

Grenache Noir Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

In selecting Grenache as a focal point, the seminar turned its attention to characteristics of the world’s most planted Rhone variety. Depending on site and winemaking style, the grape offers a medium bodied wine ranging from bright red juiciness with supple tannin to more weighted fleshiness and darker red-to-purple flavors.

Though the variety is prone to dropping acid, it can offer a wash of flavor with lots of juicy flow when picked before acids drop. The tannin of the variety too tends towards the lighter side, analogous to Pinot Noir in tannin presence. Many winemakers take advantage of the characteristic to offer more delicate expression, but in good Southern Rhone tradition blending with even a touch of other varieties such as Syrah can increase the heft of the final wine.

In selecting the wines for the panel, the Rhone Rangers Educational Committee chose to pick wines from distinctive regions. Though Grenache proves to be the world’s most planted Rhone variety, its development in California and Oregon vinification is still in its earlier stages. As a result, a number of the wines shown represented the first vintage of working with the grape, even from experienced winemakers.

Bob Lindquist of Qupé opened the panel expressing his affection for the variety. He brings a wealth of experience with Rhone grapes from Santa Barbara County to the table. As example, because Grenache varieties are prone to oxidation their aging before bottling needs to be carefully considered. However, as Lindquist discussed, Grenache does better texturally with some slow oxygen exposure. With that in mind, it is rare to see Grenache aged in Stainless. Most winemakers choose oak, though some are also starting to use concrete, to allow for slow air exchange.

The delicacy of Grenache favors neutral oak. However, making the point about the importance of site, Chris Cameron of Broken Earth on the Eastside of Paso Robles explained that, with the warmer temperatures of their region, small portions of new oak help showcase more flavor complexity in the wine.

The Rhone Rangers Grenache Panel Wines

The panel showcased well-made examples of Grenache from a range of growing conditions. Half of the wines presented as still quite tight in their presentation currently due to age, thus wanting more time in bottle or more air before drinking. Following are notes for each of the wines.

Quady North, Jacksonville, Oregon, 2012 Grenache “Bomba”presented by Herb Quady (95% Grenache 5% Syrah)

From Southern Oregon, the Quady North Bomba offers a rocky rusticity with lots of palate tension moving through a long juicy finish. The wine is quite young right now wanting more time in bottle to open but showing structure that speaks well for its future expression. The aromatics give dark cherry musk moving into a brighter palate with the full range of cherry elements–red cherry, cherry blossom musk, branch and leaf oil–all accented by hints of pink grapefruit oil. The palate is tight right now but carries a pleasing tension, and good juicy length.

Mounts Family Winery, Healdsburg, CA, 2011 Grenache Estate
presented by David Mounts

Using fruit from Dry Creek Valley, the Mounts Estate steps out of the glass with a mixed red fruit carbonic lift moving into a darker fruit palate. The wine is still tight on the palate wanting more time in bottle. It moves from smashed red cherry and raspberry blossom into floral musk accents on a line of cracked pepper and a perfumed, lightly drying finish. The nose right now is rather singular and lightly cloying, but there is a nice textural element to the moderate tannin and good tension through the palate.

Campovida, Hopland, CA, 2012 Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyards
presented by Sebastian Donoso

Their first vintage working with Grenache from Mendocino, the Campovida Dark Horse Vineyard brings an integrated fruit-earth-floral aromatic forward into the palate. The wine offers both red cherry and blossom, with floral powder notes showing through a savory cracked pepper mid-palate and accents of pink grapefruit zest. The wine is still tightly focused in its presentation but gives a nice juiciness to tannin balance and good length.

Miner Family Wines, 2012 Grenache, Hudson Vineyards
presented by Maura Christoffers

The Miner Family showed their Grenache sourced from Hudson Vineyard in the cooler Napa region of Carneros, the first crop yield year for the fruit. The wine gives soft red cherry with wild pink rose through a spiced and mint lift aromatic carrying forward on the palate with a light cherry powder mid-palate and clay finish. The wine offers an easy acid-tannin balance, and long finish.

Baiocchi Wines, Fair Play, CA, 2010 Grenache, Sharon’s Vineyard
presented by Greg Baiocchi

With fruit from a small, high elevation planting in El Dorado county region of the Sierra Foothills, the Baiocchi Sharon’s Vineyard gives the nervy tension characteristic of granite slopes. The aromatics here offer feminine perfumed lift with accents of green chili. The palate offers a smooth powdered cherry blossom and cracked pepper mid-palate with powerful flavor, strong structural tension, and a round floral finish. There is a ton of presence to this wine, with textural tannin and plenty of juiciness to keep it moving through a long finish.

* McCay Cellars, Lodi, CA, 2011 Grenache
presented by Michael McCay

My favorite of the wines on the panel, the McCay Grenache offers a sense of completeness that makes it ready to drink now with a distinctiveness that stands out within a line-up of Grenache. Showing alpine strawberry and wild cherry throughout, on the palate the wine gives the suave tannin of a sandier site with nice juiciness. There is a beautiful flavor-to-feel balance, and nice palate contact-to-movement dance, that both carry through with lots of delicate (without being weak) prettiness.

* Qupe, Los Olivos, CA, 2011 Grenache, Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard
presented by Bob Lindquist

Growing their fruit in Edna Valley, Qupé‘s Sawyer-Linquist Vineyard offers nice complexity with ease and a great focus on grounded juiciness. This is a nicely made wine giving lifted perfume of red cherry tree, touches of strawberry, and menthol accents carrying forward into a light pleasing palate with ruby grapefruit peel and integrated fruit spice through a long juicy palate. This wine is full of mouthwatering flavor.

Broken Earth, Paso Robles, CA, 2012 Grenache Estate
presented by Chris Cameron

From the warmer side of Paso Robles, the Broken Earth Estate carries the most overt accessibility with a spiced finish of the wines on the panel. This Grenache focuses in on the pinker side of red fruit aroma and flavor carrying red berry candy powder elements through the mid-palate and accents of ginger powder with light clove touched by black pepper through the finish, all on a body of melting tannin and juicy length. I have to admit that this wine is not my style as its focus stays more on sweet (not sugary) pink-red fruit flavor but it is a well done example of its type.

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Thank you to the Rhone Rangers, and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

World of Fine Wine Issue 43

Varner and Neely Wines in World of Fine Wine

World of Fine Wine

The current issue of World of Fine Wine, Issue 43, has been released. Included is an article by me on Varner and Neely Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I couldn’t be happier.

I have massive respect for the magazine, and its editor Neil Beckett. The publication consistently produces top quality work from the best writers around the world. To be able to go in depth on the work Bob and Jim Varner are doing with their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir labels, Varner and Neely, is a huge honor for me. I have so much admiration for them as people, and for what they’re doing in wine.

In a bit of synchronicity, one of the pivot stones of my philosophy career, Charles Taylor, turns out to have an article in the issue as well. He’s written there on Heraclitus and Kant in relation to the aesthetics of wine (to think I believed I couldn’t joy-geek any harder…). It’s a strange surprise to travel the distance from writing my undergraduate honors thesis on his work, to then being at the same professional institution as him (McGill), to now sharing the table of contents in a wine magazine. God has a good sense of humor.

If you don’t know World of Fine Wine, check it out. It really is an excellent magazine. I’m thrilled to say I’ll have more upcoming work in their pages as well.

If you have the chance to read the article, I’d love to hear from you.

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Carla Rzeszewski, Jr, and I first visited Varner together, thanks to the introductory efforts of Dan Fredman, and a further recommendation from Jon Bonné. She and I spent a lot of time talking about their wines after, and those conversations came with me through the other visits and tastings I was able to do with the Varners. In many ways I wrote the article for Carla–she was the original motivation–to celebrate those conversations we shared. Love to you, Carla.

Thanks to Kate McKay for the magazine photo.

Thank you to Steven Morgan, Kelli White, and Nick Antignano.

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Varner Wines: http://www.varnerwine.com/

To read more on Varner:

Jon Bonné’s article in Decanter, 2011: http://www.varnerwine.com/varner_press_2/Decanter_September_2011.pdf

Jon Bonné’s article in SF Chronicle, 2008: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Bob-and-Jim-Varner-3268043.php

Richard Jennings, 2012: http://www.rjonwine.com/chardonnay/varner-santa-cruz-mountains/

and my personal favorite: RH Drexel’s interview with Varner in Loam Baby: http://www.loambaby.com/v1.html

Cheers!

 

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project

The Lodi Native Winemakers

Lodi Native Winemakers (clockwise from left): Layne Montgomery, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, Michael McCay, Tim Holdener, Chad Joseph. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

Propelled by an idea of Randy Caparoso, six Lodi winemakers have produced and released the Lodi Native Project, a collection of six different Zinfandel wines made from six separate heritage vineyards of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The winemakers include Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards, Layne Montgomery of m2 wines, Michael McCay of McCay Cellars, Stuart Spencer of St Amant Winery, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Vineyards & Winery, and Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines.

What defines the collection rests in technique. The wines are individually made using only ambient yeast fermentations, in neutral vessels, without the addition of anything beyond sulfur, without alcohol reductive techniques, and avoiding fining, or filtering. The wines, in other words, are produced with minimal intervention. The goal is to offer the best expression of the vineyards themselves.

The Wealth of Lodi Vineyards

Weget Vineyard w Chad Joseph and Layne Montgomery

Standing in Weget Vineyard, Zinfandel planted in 1958, Mokelumne River AVA Westside, with Chad Joseph (left) and Layne Montgomery, July 2013. Photo courtesy Randy Caparoso.

Lodi offers some of the highest concentration of quality old vine material in the state of California. As vines age through vintages, they adapt their growing patterns to the conditions of their site, becoming more responsive to the intersection of factors–soil type, water availability, drainage, mineral content, sun, wind, and humidity exposure, etc–unique to their environment. The result yields fruit expressive through aroma, flavor, structure (and even color and size) of its peculiar vineyard.

Younger vines, on the other hand, grow instead with the vigor of their variety. Not yet adapted to the demands of their vineyard location, younger vines produce grapes with resounding fruit flavor, but not necessarily showcasing the elements unique to their growing location. For wine lovers hoping for the taste of a place, then, such potential rests in older vineyards. In a state dominated by vineyards twenty years of age and younger, Lodi’s older vineyards could be understood as viticultural wealth.

However, Lodi commonly gets underestimated by wine media who take the region to produce only overripe mass market wines. Misperceptions of ripeness depend partially on misunderstandings about Lodi climate. As part of the central valley of California, Lodi is taken to be far warmer than it actually is, perceived to match temperatures of growing areas south like Modesto. In actuality, Lodi benefits from the Sacramento-San Joaquin RIver system, or California Delta. The Delta forms a gap in the coastal mountains that pulls cool air from San Francisco Bay over the growing regions of Lodi keeping the area cooler than the rest of the Central Valley. As a result, Lodi day time highs average similarly to mid-to-St. Helena Napa Valley with a cooling breeze hitting daily by mid afternoon.

Wanting to find a way to help improve awareness of Lodi’s quality vineyards, Caparoso brought together the six winemakers to develop a project that would become Lodi Native. Together the group focused in on the question of how to best express the wealth of Lodi vineyards. Towards such ends they agreed upon working with older sites utilizing minimal intervention winemaking techniques. The result is a collection of six distinctive Zinfandels offering juicy while crystalline focus on the character that is Mokelumne River.

The Lodi Natives Project: the taste of Mokelumne River

Marians Vineyard Mohr Fry Ranch

Marian’s Vineyard, planted 1901, Mohr-Fry Ranch. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

The Mokelumne River appellation of Lodi gives a distinctive disposition to its wines. The fine grained soils of the river valley bring a suave character to the tannin ranging from the texture of a voluptuous slippery silk to melt away shantung. The cooling influence of the afternoon breeze offers ample juiciness. Together its a structure that is definitively Lodi.

Moving from East to West along the river appellation the flavors markedly shift. The Eastern half of the AVA showcases ultra fine sand to silt soils that give lifted, pretty red fruit and flower character brushed through with a natural baking spice and light musk element I taste as a range from clove to ginger.

Moving West, the appellation approaches the Delta, with water tables coming closer to the surface as a result, and soils shifting to just a touch more fertile sandy loam. The result is an earthier component to the wines, often giving a loamy essence throughout, sometimes verging on a loamy funk. The fruit tends darker in comparison cut on the edges with a hint of celery salt thanks to the Delta influence.

The Lodi Native Wines

Lodi Native Zinfandel 2012

click on image to enlarge

These are six nicely crafted wines that each give focused expression of their site. The minimalist approach is new to many of these winemakers but in each case they executed the methodology to positive effect. These are clean wines. Together the collection offer crystalline insight into the character of Lodi’s Mokelumne River appellation giving pure expression to the vineyards. Separately they each carry the juiciness of wines to drink with food, and the medium to medium-light body that allows them to work on their own.

Westside Mokelumne

The three wines from Westside Mokelumne–Weget, Soucie, and Trulux Vineyards–offer the celery salt edge with loam elements ranging from mere accents to integrated loaminess characteristic of the Delta influence.

Of the three, the Weget Vineyard farmed by the Maley Brothers and vinified by Chad Joseph gives the most singular focus on fruit with a definitively red lift to the aromatics and palate characteristic of carbonic notes. The red fruit aromatics and palate are touched through by blood orange peel, and faint savory spice. I’m super curious to see how this wine will continue to develop. As it is now, the Weget carries the strongest focus on freshness of the collection with those carbonic elements rising from the glass. There are edges through the wine, however, that hint it will deepen in character and develop further complexity with time.

The collection’s Soucie Vineyard, made by Layne Montgomery and farmed by Kevin Soucie, shows the strongest influence of the Westside funk with the loam elements deepening into loamy musk. At first sniff the funk can be surprising but with air it dissipates and integrates into the overall wine. The wine, however, shows up too with lots of juicy lift and pure fruit expression so that the dark earthy elements are paired alongside red juiciness. This wine likes air as the pairing of elements can then open and swirl together.

Michael McCay makes the Trulux Vineyard bottling of the collection giving a wine focused on earthiness accented by floral aromatics and fruit flavors. The fruit and flower show up deepened by evergreen forest and loamy touches throughout and accented on the finish by dried beach grass and celery salt. This is a nicely focused, nicely balanced wine with lots of juiciness and a shantung textured tannin melting into juicy length.

Eastside Mokelumne

The Eastside wines of the collection–Marian’s, Century Block, and Noma Vineyards–showcase the lighter presentation, pretty fruit elements characteristic of that portion of Mokelumne River vineyards.

Marian’s Vineyard, farmed by Jerry and Bruce Fry and vinified by Stuart Spencer, rests on what would be the center line between East and Westside Mokelumne. However, the site showcases the soils more typical of Eastside plantings. The wine offers perfumed, concentrated fruit of an old vine planting with lots of juiciness balanced by light tannin grip. Light clay notes and musk lift appear in the wine and the fruit characteristics mix blackberry pie (without sweetness or jammy character) and red cherry with clove. This wine shows off the naturally concentrated while still lively flavor of old vine fruit.

The Century Block Vineyard bottling, made by Ryan Sherman, offers lots of red and dark cherry with light plum (no sweetness) fruit concentration spun through with natural (not oak) dark cocoa, touches of red currant, and perfumed musk leading into a talcum finish. Though this wine carries lots of red fruit, the fruit is not the focus. Instead those fresh red elements come in clothed with evergreen and dry cocoa bringing a sense of rusticity to the wine.

The miniaturized vines of the Noma Ranch bottling, vinified by Tim Holdener and farmed by Leland Noma, offer lifted fresh red cherry with black cap and sour dark Morello integrated with natural fruit spice and touched by perfumed musk. The brilliance of older vines shows here as the Noma bottling turns out to have the highest alcohol level of the collection but carries it in good balance with lovely juiciness, concentrated flavor, and easy lightly drying tannin.

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The Lodi Native Wines are available as a complete 6-pack collection sold in wooden box. For the Lodi Native website: http://www.lodinative.com

For Reed Fujii’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140309/A_BIZ/403070305/-1/A_BIZ04

For Fred Swan’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://norcalwine.com/blog/51-general-interest/871-lodi-zinfandel-goes-native

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Thank you very much to Randy Caparoso, Chad Joseph, Layne Montgomery, Michael McCay, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, and Tim Holdener. The Lodi Natives group invited me to taste these wines with them through early stages beginning in July 2013, as well as to join in discussion of the project. I very much appreciate being able to see the development of the project, as well as the wines. Thank you.

Thank you to Alex Fondren, and Rebecca Robinson.

Thank you to Wine & Roses.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

A Visit to Haute-Saône, France: Drinking wine with the Captain at Chateau La Barre

This interview originally appeared here April 1, 2013. Because of recent events it seemed appropriate to repost it today.

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Touring the Vineyards of Chateau La Barre

for Annemarie, and Jeremy

Callaway_vineyard__winery-620x472

climate meter at Chateau La Barre Vineyards

It’s warm when I arrive for the visit of Chateau La Barre. The weather is a relief for the region after fog and cold for several weeks. The area is known for its continental climate but can also get hit with bouts of severe chill due to the mountain influence from the North. Though the Vosges range is in the distance, it still weighs influence on the vines.

My visit to the winery is unusual, as the Chateau owner is known now for his privacy. He’s resistant to interviews but offered to meet me finally in recognition of his family winery’s up coming tricentennial. Owner and vigneron, Jean-Luc Picard, treats his vines now as an homage to his ancestors.

His invitation to meet arrived with a short but direct explanation: We’re not going to talk about his previous career. It’s the Chateau we’re there to discuss, and, though he’d rather avoid interviews, he respects the work of his family and wishes to celebrate their accomplishments. Prior to retiring to his homeland of France, Picard had had a distinguished career as a fleet Captain, but now he sees that recognition as a distraction from the work he’s trying to do for the region.

Meeting the Picards

Jean-Luc_Picard_2395-620x476

inspecting the vines with Jean-Luc Picard

Before I have the chance to sit, Picard ushers me out to the vineyard. It’s the vines he wants to show me. The Estate’s recent developments are exciting, thanks in part to Picard’s archaeological and historical interests as well.

Winemaking hadn’t been part of Picard’s imagined retirement. He’d grown up in the vineyards with his father Maurice teaching him vine maintenance but Picard’s passions took him away from home. With his older brother Robert devoting himself to oenology, Picard felt free to follow the decision of a different path. The traditions of the Picard estate would rest in his brother’s family.

Then, almost three decades ago tragedy struck when a winery fire killed both Picard’s brother, and nephew, Réne. The loss was devastating, and the future of Chateau La Barre seemed uncertain. Robert’s widow, Marie, was able to keep the winery operating successfully until a little less than 10 years ago when she fell ill. Around the same time Picard was first considering the possibility of retirement. With the news of Marie’s illness, and clear counsel from his friend, Guinan, Picard decided to take some time in France. Then the visit led to an unexpected discovery.

We’re standing in front of a special section of vineyard Picard wants to show me. What’s unique is that the grapes are entirely pale and green skinned, an ancient variety known as Savagnin. The region has been dominated by red wine production for centuries, more recently practicing in traditional techniques of wild yeast fermentations, and aging in neutral oak barrels. As Picard explains, the style is one resembling one of the oldest winemaking styles in France, with the most delicate of grapes, Pinot Noir.

Generations ago Chateau La Barre was instrumental in helping to restore the style, once called Burgundy, through the work of Picard’s great grandfather, Acel. Though the approach was met with resistance initially, ultimately, the family was lauded for their efforts to return to less interventionist winemaking based on the grape types that grew best on the land, requiring less use of fluidized treatments, and more reliance on the vines own unique ecosystem.

Prior to Acel Picard’s efforts, it was more common for wine to be made with the use of replicated nutrient intervention. Acel’s view, however, was that such an approach created less palatable, and less interesting wine. So he scoured the historical records for evidence of older techniques. In doing so, he found ancient texts left from devotees of an ancient religion known as Christianity in which it was believed that God spoke to them through the vines. Though Acel refused the more mystical aspects of the religious views, he found the vineyard practices of the texts insightful, and adopted the technique of tending and selecting individual vines, followed by simple winemaking. Chateau La Barre’s wines soon became known for their earthy mouth-watering complexity.

Picard’s own work builds on the efforts of his great grandfather to return to older techniques but in researching archaeological sites of the region, as well as ancient texts, Picard discovered a subtle mistake in Acel’s efforts. While Acel worked to restore red winemaking traditions known to Haute-Saône, he actually restored techniques native to an area of France slightly afield from the region. La Barre, it turns out, does not rest within the old boundaries of the ancient wine region of Burgundy, but instead a political shire of the same name. Picard himself does not believe this historical reality lessens the importance of Acel’s efforts, it just changes their tone slightly, but he does want to see what can be done to explore the winemaking traditions that really were found closer to La Barre centuries ago.

Enter Vin Jaune and the Ancient Varieties

Jean-Luc Picard standing in his Eline Vineyard

Through archaeological work Picard preformed a sort of miracle. He was able to locate still intact seeds from ancient vine specimens known once to have covered this region of France, Savagnin, as well as seeds for the red variety that had once covered the wine region of Burgundy, Pinot Noir.

Before the destructive effectiveness of the technology was properly understood, Thalaron radiation was tested as a soil cleaning technique during the last agricultural age. The bio-effects were irrecoverable with vineyards throughout the Vosges zone being destroyed and then unplantable for a generation. As a result, a collection of indigenous grape varieties were believed to be lost, including Savagnin, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. Once the soil recovered well enough to replant large interests in inter-global varieties took over and any attempts to recover the original grapes seemed over.

During the Restoration period scientists attempted to re-engineer Savagnin as well as other ancient varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but Savagnin proved too susceptible to geraniol instability to engineer. When funding for the project was cut, efforts to restore Chardonnay were deemed the least advantageous and ultimately only Pinot Noir vines were genetically manufactured.

Through intensive research Picard was able to find a cave in the Vosges range containing ancient wooden vessels that proved to have a few small seeds inside. Through similar research he also located similar containers in the area of Gevrey-Chambertin within which he located Pinot Noir. Chardonnay and Cabernet remain extinct.

With the seeds Picard was then able to develop new plantings of both Savagnin and Pinot Noir, and restart sections of his vineyard with them. It is the area with these plantings he has named Eline. It is this he wants me to see.

Thanks to Picard’s efforts we now know there is significant difference in the flavor and aging potential of wines made from the engineered Pinot Noir versus the naturally grown variety. Picard has also discovered evidence from old electronic documents known as The Feiring Line: The Real Wine Newsletter of unique vinification techniques known as vin Jaune that were once used for the grape Savagnin. Through further study he has already discovered the steps to make vin Jaune and is five years into the aging of his first vintage.

I ask if we can taste his Savagnin but he explains it has only been under veil for a little over five years, and needs at least another year before he’s willing to show it. The veil, he explains, is how vin Jaune is made. It’s a film of yeast that covers the surface of the wine and helps it age slowly. When the wine is done it will be named Ressick, he tells me, for a planet that aged too fast.

***

Thank you to Jean-Luc Picard for giving so much of his time.

Thank you to Annemarie for suggesting the interview.

Thank you to Jeremy Parzen for having the background to hopefully get it.

Happy April 1, Everybody!

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Saveur Announces 2014 Best Food Blog Award Finalists

Saveur’s 2014 Best Food Blog Awards Finalists

Earlier today Saveur Announced their 2014 selection for the Best Food Blog Award finalists. The Saveur editors read through what they said were tens of thousands of blog nominations, then selected their favorite six for each category. The Best Food Blog Awards are now open for public vote to determine the winner for each category.

This year Saveur selected Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews as one of the finalists for Best Wine or Beer Blog. I couldn’t be happier than to share the distinction with two of my blogging friends.

The upside of wine blogging for me has always rested in the people I get to connect with as a result. Whitney Adams, and Jameson Fink are two such examples. They’re both doing great work in wine blogging, and are people I’m happy to know.

Brunellos Have More Fun, Whitney Adams

COF2012

COF2012 bloggers in Friuli, L: Talia Baiocchi, Whitney Adams, me, Chris Reid

Whitney Adams, of Brunellos Have More Fun, and I were able to travel together to Colli Orientali del Friuli in April 2012, along with Talia Biaocchi, Chris Reid, Stuart George, and Jeremy Parzen. It was a fantastic trip. Whitney’s work on Brunellos Have More Fun showcases her beautiful photography skills, and joyful writing. Her sharp eye shows appreciation for detail that makes her work charming and warm. Reading Whitney’s work consistently leaves me with a sense of joyful appreciation as she brings beautiful attention to simple pleasure. Her writing now also appears in Punch Magazine. This year Whitney was selected as one of the Saveur Wine or Beer Blog finalists. It feels like a warm hug to see our blogs named their together.

Wine Without Worry, Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink with me in Dry Creek Valley, October 2013

Jameson Fink and I first met thanks to a mutual friend, Melissa Sutherland, over a private Ribolla Gialla tasting I organized. We’ve since kept in touch and were able to tour Dry Creek Valley here in Sonoma County together. His site, Wine Without Worry, brings a fresh playfulness with keen sense of taste to wine that I enjoy. More recently he’s also stepped in as Contributing Editor to the site Grape Collective, producing an impressive amount of daily content ranging from in-depth profiles on wine personalities, to current events, and wine news’ digests. Last year he was a Saveur Best Wine or Beer Blog finalist as well. I’m psyched to share the distinction with him, though a year jag between us.

Saveur Blog Award Finalists

The Saveur Food Blog Award Finalists page offers a digest of brilliance in the food world ranging from the hilarious (and irreverent) Best Writing nominee Food for the Thoughtless by the brilliant Michael Procopio, to blogs nominated for family meal planning, or special diet needs, or food travel writing. The list is well worth reviewing to find new sites for quality reading.

If you’re interested in voting for any of your favorite blogs, you’ll need to register. Registration is straightforward and demands no ongoing subscriptions or purchase. Once you do, you can vote for single categories, or the whole shabang as you choose.

Here’s the list: http://www.saveur.com/content/best-food-blog-awards-vote

Thank you to the Editors of Saveur for including me. I’m thrilled. It’s a beautiful magazine.

Cheers to all of you.

- Elaine

Celebration of Heritage: In Commemoration of my Grandmother, Ticasuk

Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown

Last week the Nome campus of University of Alaska Fairbanks named and dedicated a Student Resource Center to my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown.

Invitation to the dedication ceremony

In 1984, two years after her death, The Crossing Press selected my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown, as one of twelve women to appear in a calendar recognizing heroines of the feminist movement. The family joke at the time was she’d be proud to appear with the other eleven women, but irritated over being named a feminist. She stood in the month of July. Other women in the calendar included Golda Meir–Prime Minister of Israel; Elisabeth Kubler Ross–a psychiatrist that revolutionized hospice care and our understanding of grief; and Carrie Chapman Catt–a suffrage leader that helped establish the 19th amendment, women’s right to vote.

During portions of the last century Alaska Native languages were not allowed to be used in schools, and various cultural practices were also banned or illegal. My grandmother, Emily, fought to have such laws changed while also encouraging her students to speak their language anyway. As a result, she was fired from her teaching post. The local communities demanded she be reinstated.

Emily went on to dedicate her life to preserving the stories, history, and knowledge of our elders publishing three books and leaving multiple manuscripts. In order to direct her work, she spent her life earning multiple degrees, spending much of her time on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. While there she helped start the Alaska Native Studies program, and helped found the Alaska Native Heritage Preservation movement through the state. She was recognized as a result by both a President of the United States, and the Governor of Alaska.

She died in 1982 near the close of her PhD at the age of 78. One week later University of Alaska Fairbanks awarded her an Honorary Doctorate for the work she had already completed.

Dad at the dedication ceremony

my dad at the dedication, photo from Heather Jones

Last Thursday, my parents and extended family flew to Nome to attend the celebration of my grandmother’s life, and the opening of the new Emily Ivanoff Brown Student Resource Center. The Center symbolically brings together Emily’s two passions — preserving and sharing knowledge of our heritage, with an eye towards learning for the future.

In her book, The Roots of Ticasuk, she explains the meaning of her name, Ticasuk. “My Mother explained that my Eskimo name ‘Ticasuk’ meant not just ‘Hollow in the Ground’ but the place where the four winds stored their treasure gathered from all over the world, and I felt very good about my name after that.” For Emily, heritage and education were those treasures.

Thank you to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

Le Metro Volume XI Released!

Le Metro Volume XI

Le Metro XI

The new Loire collection of Le Metro has been released. I’m so psyched about this collection — the region has such a range of wines to offer.

For more on the current Le Metro collection: http://lemetrowine.com/portfolio/the-lure-of-the-loire/

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Also, Aaron Epstein and Le Metro (with a shout out to me – these are fun surprises) just appeared in a great write-up in Riviera Magazine. Check it out here: http://digital.modernluxury.com/publication/?i=202393&ver=html5&p=74

Congratulations, Aaron! I am so thrilled to see your good work getting recognition. Super happy for you, friend!

Cheers!