February 2012
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Jan   Mar »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
272829  

Month February 2012

Degas’s Dancers, and the (Surprising) Grace of a California Chardonnay

Edgar Degas, Three Dancers in an Exercise Hall 1880

Examine any of Degas’s paintings of ballet dancers from the later portions of his career and one sees a charming simplicity of grace. The dancers most often appear quite young, shown in muted tones, generally in practice rather than performance situations, and wearing skirts that puff about their bodies creating the shape of a bell.

Already a successful painter, Degas’s dancer series appeared as a departure from the work he’d done previous, and seemed reflective too of him taking a new level of consideration for form and balance after years of portraits involving people in everyday circumstances. What is unique about Degas’s overall career at the time, is his interest in behind the scenes portrayals of human life. He often painted people at rest alone in a room leaning on their own knee, or a bartender rushing to tend to too many customers. The dancers shift Degas’s focus from the reality of everyday grit and even despair, to instead an occupation of intense dedication to craft. (Incidentally, Degas was also later the first European artist to produce a mixed media sculpture in 1922–a ballet dancer of bronze wearing actual gauze skirt, and bow. To see an image of it look here: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/29.100.370 )

At their best, Degas’s dancers celebrate the varied shapes, expressiveness and self-contained focus of the human body. What is common among his work from this series is the sort of inwardness each of his subjects carry. They are aware of their surroundings, and they respond to it (most especially in the few where dancers are on stage) but in each case the young women are deeply rooted in themselves, focused on performing a long standing tradition with proper poise, balance and grace.

Today Degas’s dancers are a sort of familiarity, appearing so many times in the background of movies, celebrated as a historical feature in museums, reproduced and reprinted for posters at home. Such common presence can make it easy to overlook the skill and ingenuity of Degas’s work. But one of the gifts of the ballet dancer series is how much detail and presence they contain in themselves–the dancers have a life on the canvas that is their own, and offer richness to the viewer willing to return to them again and again with dedicated attention. These are a reflection of Degas’s talent and well-trained experience as a painter.

Antinori Antica 2009 Chardonnay

click on comic to enlarge

Chardonnay stands as California’s most planted grape. Advantages of the variety include its relative ease to grow in the field, and its popularity as an approachable, buttery, fruit-driven wine. The California style is known for these descriptors with the wine spending its life on oak for spice and wood notes that increase its fullness and zest on the tongue, and undergoing malo-lactic fermentation too adding a buttery or butterscotch flavor. Though there are multiple exceptions to this style in the overall region, it is still easier to find a chardonnay from California that fulfills it than not.

Enter Antinori. As they tell it, the Antinori family began making wine in 1385 in what is now Italy. As such they have 26 generations of wine makers in the family. In the 1960s, Piero Antinori visited California and began to dream of a second wine making venture for his family in a new locale along the California hilltops. The project gained roots in the early 1990s when they purchased land along the Napa Valley. What is unique about the property is its hilly terrain, and higher-than-normal planting elevation. The rocky soil suits chardonnay’s needs for enriching struggle, and the slopes allow drainage that encourages clarity of flavor. Naming the estate for a combination of their own name and that of California, Antinori’s Napa wines are known as Antica. Their first vintages of Napa wine–Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay–were released in the mid-2000s.

My feature today of Antica Chardonnay arises because of my surprise with it. Antinori has managed to create a chardonnay that carries aspects of California’s chardonnay typicity but with a sophistication and elegance that shows both complexity and focus. In short, Antinori makes oak and butter-notes desirable.

One can taste the oak influence, but it is light, offering baking spice and touches of sweet heat all balanced with pleasing fruit and bright acidity. The wine has the butter elements of malo-lactic fermentation but here they are more creamy than buttery and bring a steadiness to the elongated finish. The citrus fruits are also balanced and at ease in the glass, dancing alongside fresh crushed rock minerals, and even light hints of smoke.

Antica’s 2009 Chardonnay shows a dancer’s body. Like Degas’s graceful figures, this wine certainly arises out of long standing tradition. But this wine has its own life–focused in the glass, determined to carry the tradition forward, while comfortable in its own fluid strength. This is readily one of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from California recently, and I celebrate it especially for its ability to take up the fearfulness of an oaked chardonnay and instead make it good.

For an interesting video from the Antica estate on the production of this 2009 chardonnay watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYS5KSB25tw

***

Seth Long, of Seler d’Or, dedicated this 29-day month of February to the variety chardonnay. To add to the charm of this venture his site is also filled for it with a predominance of guest writers–some of the most knowledgeable and quirky figures of the wine blogging world. To thank Seth again for taking up such an interesting project, I decided to, with him, close the month of February with a chardonnay focus. Check out Seth’s interesting blog, where his own writing dives into the qualities of what he calls “real wine.” http://sethmlong.com/

***

For just a touch more on the range of flavors chardonnay can show depending on wine style, check out my color characteristics card on the grape from a previous post:

http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2011/12/12/chardonnay-varietal-characteristics-card/

Cheers!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Girl Scout Cookie Season Has Descended; Let Us Find Their Perfect Wine Pairings!, for Katherine

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout Cookie season has hit the United States. Did you know there is even a free iphone app to help you locate where the cookies are available for sale?

I got a request to do tasting note comics for Girl Scout Cookies. On my other comics blog I’ve done that from time to time–draw up tasting notes for random foods. What was desired here was a comic representation of the sentimental favorites’ flavors and general qualities so as to be able to keep celebrating the phenomenon even in their off season.

The truth is, I don’t really eat Girl Scout Cookies. It isn’t that I WOULDN’T. It’s just that I don’t. But the idea of drawing tasting notes for them cracked me up, and the idea of drawing cookie notes alongside wine notes down right made me laugh. So, clearly the way to make the request work was to draw up tasting notes for the cookies alongside their perfect wine pairing.

The goal of any wine and food pairing is to bring together the right elements such that both the food and the wine are improved, so that they become something together they simply weren’t before the combination. It can be nice to have wine and food beside each other even when they don’t improve each other so thoroughly, but it’s a magical experience when the perfect pairing is found.

So, when I announced I was going to take the Girl Scout Cookie Wine Challenge, Katherine offered to bring over cookies in each of the flavors available in our area. Before she showed up I ran to the wine shop where I bumped into James, the head chef of Cuvee 928, and he offered input on my wine pairing ideas. Thank you for his suggestion of the Blanc Pescador and the Oloroso Sherry. And then along the way when a couple of surprise cookies I hadn’t anticipated appeared, @DecantChicago gave a push to go ahead and try a bottle of Demi-Sec Champagne I’d already been considering. Wonderfully by the end of the night we really had hit the perfect pairing for each cookie.

Enjoy!

Thank you to Katherine, James, and Cara Patricia–Decant Chicago–for your help!

Tasting notes appear in recommended tasting order as well.

Trefoils and Blanc Pescador

click on comics to enlarge

Girl Scout’s most classic cookie is their Trefoil Shortbread. The cookie is crisp and buttery with very faint sweetness, and the crunch of a proper biscuit. Honestly one can also taste preservative notes along side the buttery flavor so any good wine pairing would hopefully moderate that lightly bitter element.

The Blanc Pescador is a wonderfully crisp, lightly effervescent Cataluyna table white wine perfect for Mediterranean style seafood dishes. I’ve had it along side fish soup with wonderful results. It even did well as the wine base for Risotto.

It’s made from the same grapes as those allowed for Spanish Cava–50-60% Macabeo, 20-25% Parellada, 20-25% Xarel-lo–but instead of making a full sparkling wine, the winemaker chose to make an effervescent (half-sparkling, basically) style instead.

It’s a perfect pairing for Girl Scout Trefoil Shortbread cookies. The wine increases the buttery flavor of the cookies, while also cutting the preservatives bite, and the cookie ups the mineral quality, and lemon flavor of the wine. Yum!

Savannah Smiles and 2005 Dr. Loosen Erdener Pralat Riesling Auslese

click on comics to enlarge

The Savannah Smiles is a lemon flavored shortbread style cookie rolled in powdered sugar and new to the Girl Scouts this year.

This Riesling Auslese is a beautifully balanced sweet wine. It carries a nice mix of rich fruit and light floral qualities alongside pleasing minerals. This style is often thought of as a dessert wine and with its sweeter quality many people drink it only at the end of a meal. But, it’s worth tasting this with a range of other types of food though from spicy thai food, to blue cheese.

The Erdener Pralat vineyards are a mere 4 acres in the Mosel Valley, but are thought to generate some of the finest wines of the region. This is a wine that does well for decades in the bottle. If you have some it’s well worth holding onto but is also drinking nicely now. It’ll simply gain a deepened complexity over time.

Dr. Loosen’s Erdener Pralat Riesling Auslese is also a perfect pairing for Girl Scout’s new-this-year lemon shortbread style cookie rolled in powdered sugar, their Savannah Smiles. When put along side the sharp tang of the lemon cookie the heavier elements of the wine come into even better balance. The wine mellows the cookie tang, while the cookie lightens syrupy elements of the wine.

Do-Si-Dos and Demi-Sec A. Margaine Premier Cru Champagne

click on comics to enlarge

The Do-Si-Dos were an unexpected addition to our tasting evening. I had thought we had five cookies to review, and didn’t know in advance of this one. The Do-Si-Do is a slightly salty, crisp oatmeal cookie with a thin layer of creamy peanut butter inside. With the combination the cookie carries toasted oatmeal, the creaminess of the peanut butter with a slightly salty, faintly sweet palate.

To balance the dryness and saltiness of the cookie it would need something soft in the mouth and slightly sweet. Not as heavy as the Auslese, nor as thick as the upcoming Banyuls.

We turned to the Demi-Sec A. Margaine Premier Cru Champagne, and the combination was perfect. The demi-sec style offers a softer body for the champagne while also giving just a touch of sweetness. The balance of herbal notes with a light brie funk on the nose and touches of yeast and toast bread beside minerals give a range of flavors avoiding the cloying problem. This is an elegant, delicate, and balanced champagne.

The Margaine is a special champagne in that Arnuad Margaine fully produces this champagne himself. Grower’s champagne is a less common version of the wonderful drink, and one that offers a difference in quality from the more mass produced types that dominate the wine type. A grower’s champagne is simply one in which the person that makes the champagne has also grown his own grapes. Margaine does just that making less than 5000 cases a year.

The wonderful thing about this wine really is found in how widely it could be paired. I’d love to drink it with dim-sum, as suggested by Michael Skurnik, or with spicy thai food. Oh… yum.

Alongside the Do-Si-Dos the yeast of the champagne is highlighted in a pleasing way, while the wine makes the peanut butter of the cookie both smoother and creamier tasting. The wine also eases the crunch of the cookie just slightly in a way that makes it work better.

Samoas and Lustau Almacenista Oloroso Sherry

click on comics to enlarge

The Samoas cookie from the Girl Scout combines a crisp cookie center covered in caramel, toasted coconut and touched with chocolate. So it offers a combination of chew with crunch, and some sweetness.There are also lightly buttery elements to be tasted here.

To pair, a dry, full flavored companion is found in Oloroso Sherry, a dry style sherry showing lots of nut, hints of caramel, and touches of rich fruit. The high alcohol content work against the sweetness of the coconut making it more balanced, while the cookie brings out more fruit notes in the sherry uncovering flavors of dried cherry and more raisin. So, while the cookie became less sweet, the wine turned more complex. A pleasing complement.

The truth is a lot of people I know don’t like coconut, and so this cookie comes as the least favorite for them. I don’t mind the fruit-seed but also am not much into sweet cookies. It was a nice moment to see how this wine and the cookie worked together. As Katherine, one who does not like coconut, put it, “the cookie became worth eating” without hiding the coconut altogether.

At this point in the evening the wine and cookie match up was going so well Katherine extended me the following compliment. Thank you! “I salute your ability to pair Girl Scout Cookies with wine. It’s an important life skill.” Katherine, there is no one better to work on such a project with.

Tagalong Peanut Butter Pattie with 2003 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls

click on comics to enlarge

The Tagalong is a cookie topped in creamy peanut butter and covered in chocolate. The flavors here are rich, full, and very buttery and creamy.

The Banyuls is a full bodied, full flavored dessert wine that showcases nut, caramel, dried herbal, and spice notes. The acidity here is medium high helping to balance the sweetness of the wine and the alcohol level at 15.5% gives just enough heat to counter the richness.

When paired with the peanut butter pattie the cookie becomes more creamy and buttery, while the wine becomes less sweet, and a hint cooler. The buttery-ness of the peanut butter works well here against the alcohol heat. The salt of the peanut butter too fights the sweetness of the wine so as to lessen such effects when drinking it, making both the cookie and the wine smoother.

The classic pairing for Banyuls is chocolate, and with this cookie I agree while adding a couple more demands alongside.

Thin Mints and Rihaku Nigori Sake Dreamy Clouds

click on comics to enlarge

The big challenge of the night came in trying to pair Thin Mints. Mint and chocolate are a hard set to make work with a wine. The classic pairing for Thin Mints is, after all, coffee. But I was determined that a wine could be found, and realized that the fumy quality of sake, rice wine, resembles slightly the fumy nature of mint flavor, while the very slight sweetness of Nigori style sake would likely work with the sweetness of a cookie. All my friends were skeptical.

Thin Mints are as they sound, a thin cookie with a thin layer of mint dipped in chocolate. They do well being frozen and then eaten after an overnight in the cold state.

Nigori Sake is left slightly cloudy in comparison to other types of sake, which are, by contrast, filtered. Nigori holds some rice sediment still, which keeps a slight haze in the cup, and works to help generate what is thought of as the sweetest of sakes, though still only slightly sweet. Due to the rice and yeast used, the Rihaku sake is also quite fragrant with dried plum, hints of banana, and a rice tang.This style is also meant to be finished once the bottle is open as oxidation will quickly change the flavors. Rihaku Dreamy Clouds is a super clean, pleasant sake.

I’ll admit the sake and cookie were a surprising flavor combination. I hadn’t had Nigori sake in a while and after a steady stream of grape wine tastings up till this point it was a significant contrast. Still, once the sake and cookie were tasted together the combination worked. The sake made the mint even more palatable, also cutting the waxiness of the chocolate, while the cookie erased the banana elements of the sake.

***

Thanks again to Katherine, James, and Cara for your enthusiasm and suggestions! Thanks too to Katherine for providing the cookies. :)

***

Have a wine focus you’d like to see explored here through comics and write up? Please feel free to email me at lilyelainehawkwakawaka (at) gmail (dot) com . I enjoy the challenge, and hearing from you too!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Caves 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006

Abe Schoener, Scholium Project winemaker, as Thor

click on comic to enlarge

Considering the Meaning of the Germanic-Norse God Thor

From the 8th to 12th centuries a campaign to Christianize Scandinavia ensued with missionaries first venturing into Denmark and over time slowly establishing a network of churches through Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and later Finland. During this time period, many people in the regions became nominally Christian but simultaneously showed resistance in other ways. One way in which this is seen is that the god Thor stood as a popular symbol of working against the demands of the missionaries to instead maintain ones own commitments, even while the larger system of Christianity stayed in place. People were seen wearing symbols of Thor to express such interest. In this way, the symbolic history of the god Thor includes working against the larger social system in place without necessarily undoing it.

Thor now is often recognized as a kind of storm god, because of his pictorial associations with lightning, and other cloud formations. However, scholars have found that Thor’s deeper associations actually included family, community and fruitful health of the fields. The god does bring lightning with him as he travels when needed. He is also connected with the growth of oak trees, fertility, and healing. Further, it has been found that Thor has carried a presence across centuries of tradition, reaching from Ancient times all the way into contemporary interest. Over time he has been seen with many nicknames, even while the symbols surrounding him are consistent. (I promise talk of Thor will be relevant in a moment.)

Tasting Orange Wines: Italians Alongside California’s Scholium Project

Several weeks ago several of us tasted five orange wines–three Italian and two from Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project–alongside each other. (For more on the Italian orange wines, and a picture of the wines that shows their rich color and opacity side-by-side check out Thursday’s post. Incidentally, the name Thursday actually originates in honor of the god Thor. Honest.) In tasting the five wines together a family of style showed itself between the Italian wines on the one hand, and the Scholium wines on the other. There was a kind of textural quality common to each set that differed from that of the other. Orange wines vary so much from the kinds of wine most people are used to it can be challenging to describe the experience of tasting them. In seeing how the Italian wines diverged from the Californian it seemed metaphor best captured familial congruence. While the Italian wines drank as if they embodied themselves in the glass, the Scholium wines had a focused, sharp precision as if they were shooting light from the glass before you’d even finished pouring them.

Wine Maker Abe Schoener

Abe Schoener of Scholium Project has become a kind of mythical figure with a strong cult following. His wines deviate so consistently from the mainstream perception of California wine style they take on their own sort of cult of personality, associated with the perceived personality of their maker, but garnering a following of their own. On the wine geek-hipster side of things, much of the passion people hold for Schoener’s wines arises out of their departure from the nominal style of California. He does his own thing within the surrounding region without falling to expected styles of the area, and without changing the way the overall system works either. California is comfortable with what it does in wine.

Schoener also garners a following, however, from his own personal story, and the commitments he brings to his work. Originally a philosophy professor, in the late 1990s Schoener began to grow tired of academia and turned to deepening his knowledge of wine. While touring and learning in Napa Valley he eventually connected with wine maker John Kongsgaard and assisted with him for a year. As the story goes, at the end of the year, Kongsgaard sent Schoener off to begin making wine on his own believing he had gained the knowledge to step into his own production process. Taking a risk, Schoener gave up academic life all together and began funding his wine interests with credit cards and a couple of small financial supporters.

Schoener avoids the claim that he purposefully makes wines that taste different from his area’s surrounding wine makers. But he readily admits that he experiments with various production techniques and describes his wines as a project in which he’ll try something new and hopefully learn to emulate those he admires. Schoener also states that his goals are to let the wine manage itself, so to speak, while also producing a style that reflects the place, the harvest year, and the grapes themselves. However, Schoener’s wines often show such difference from how the involved varieties are usually expected to taste that he avoids naming the grapes on the label and instead offers the name of the vineyard from which the fruit was harvested, and a title he believes captures that particular wine’s personality (most often historical literature references).

Creating Scholium Project Review Comics

My wine comics generally include some visual reference to an element from the wine label being reviewed. However, the label of Scholium Project wines consistently carry an elegant presentation of the first proposition of Newton’s Principia. I’ve drawn a Scholium wine previously and as such wanted a different challenge of presentation for a comic of these wonderful wines. In reflecting on the original experience I had with Scholium orange wines alongside the Italians the reference to light shooting from the glass stood out. Between the similarity that description has with lightning, and the god Thor’s association with the health of fields, as well as oak, fertility and healing I realized two things. Thor is connected to a range of elements deeply entwined with the wine makers life, and, like Thor, Schoener would seem to have the ability to wield the power of lightning. To put it another way, Abe Schoener–a newly found nickname for the god Thor.

Scholium Project The Prince in His Caves 2010

click on comic to enlarge

100% Sauvignon Blanc

The Prince in His Caves is an orange wine produced entirely from Sauvignon Blanc. It has been an ongoing project of Schoener’s released now for a handful of years. Illustrative of Schoener’s commitment to developing his abilities, the Caves project has been produced with a similar basis of technique–foot stomping of grapes with extended skin contact, thus making it an orange wine–each vintage but with tweaking of the details of production to allow for recognition of that year’s grape qualities. As such, the Cave project is very vintage driven.

The 2010 rendition of The Prince in His Caves is a vibrant, enlivening, and at the same time elegant wine showing a surprising mix of characteristics, as must be expected from any orange wine. The alcohol here is fairly high at 14.02% and thus the wine is warming, but the effect turns out pleasing alongside the medium high acidity and smooth medium tannin. This is not a wine that burns. The flavors here show similarities to ginger-peach tea in a manner desirable from the wine glass. Those notes are expanded by a bouquet and flavor of honeysuckle, touches of white pepper, and a surprising, lovely bite of pickled lemon. For such a range of characteristics, the Prince still shows as well balanced. The finish here is impressively long leaving light in the mouth for at least two runs around the block.

Scholium Project San Floriano Normale 2006

click on comic to enlarge

100% Pinot Grigio

Schoener’s 2006 San Floriano Normale exemplifies his willingness to admit when an experiement didn’t really work out, as well as his interest in seeing what he can do to work with it. As he describes it, the acidity on the original version of this wine was so high it was verging on undrinkable. He reblended barrels and aged the wine in a mix of conditions (in the cellar, outside on the patio, back in the cellar, back outside, etc) for five years before bottling, thus turning a skin fermented pinot grigio into an incredibly textured chocolatey, rich fruit wine with tang, both richness and precision, and sherry or madeira like notes. It shows both the oxidative elements of sherry, and the rich flavors associated with maderization.

incredibly, the alcohol on this wine is high at 16.98%. It definitely carries the heat of such alcohol and yet the body of the wine makes it work. My fear in tasting the San Floriano Normale was that with the high alcohol-medium high acidity combination this wine would burn the mouth as it got warmer. Initially I was certain that it needed to be served partially chilled. In actuality the wine handled drinking warm quite well and remained pleasant, without burning as high alcohol and acid together will tend to do.

Both of the Scholium Project orange wines were liked by the group in our tasting, and a couple of the tasters went on to order some of the Prince in His Caves to have with dinner. They’re wines that are fascinating on their own, and also work alongside food.

***

Thanks again to Kim for requesting the orange wine focus. It’s been fun to delve so deeply into the phenomenon, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it, Kim. There are numerous other orange wines in the world. I have a few more in cellar that will appear here in the future.

If you’re interested in knowing about other orange wines, check out Dr. Vino’s nice long list that includes many of them.

http://www.drvino.com/2011/10/29/orange-wines-levi-dalton-decanting/

Thank you to Dan for encouraging me to go ahead with the Thor cartoon. I was nervous about doing it but am happy with how it turned out, and appreciate the push to take a risk. I hope Abe Schoener finds it funny as well.

***

To read the rest of this series, follow these links:

Understanding Orange Wines 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins do to Our Saliva: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/18/understanding-orange-wines-a-quick-and-dirty-look-at-how-theyre-made-and-what-their-tannins-do-to-our-saliva/

Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines: Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/20/understanding-orange-wines-2-georgian-amber-wines-pheasants-tears-rkatsiteli-vinoterra-kisi/

Understanding Orange Wines 3: Italian Orange Wines: Gravner Breg, Vodopivec Classica, Bea Arboreus, Coenobium Rusticum: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/23/understanding-orange-wines-3-italian-orange-wines-gravner-breg-vodopivec-classica-bea-arboreus-coenobium-rusticum/

***

Have a wine focus you’d like to see explored here through comics and write up? Please feel free to email me at lilyelainehawkwakawaka (at) gmail (dot) com . I enjoy the challenge, and hearing from you too!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Understanding Orange Wines 3: Italian Orange Wines: Gravner Breg, Vodopivec Classica, Bea Arboreus, Coenobium Rusticum

Gravner Breg; San Floriano Normale Scholium Project; The Prince in His Caves Scholium Project; Vodopivec Classica; Paolo Bea Arboreus

The photograph of five of the eight orange wines reviewed in this four part feature on orange wine gives you a sense of how rich the color and opacity of these wines can be. Remember too that each of those five wines shown above was made with what are otherwise thought of as white wine grapes.

Italian Orange Wines

In the orange wine phenomenon Italy stands among wine geeks generally as the most well-known, and desired center of production. Producers like Gravner in Friuli, and Bea in Umbria are famous and followed among wine geeks, seen as the originators of a new tradition of unusual wine.

Interestingly, as recently as the 1950s what we now call orange wines were being made by various producers in Italy simply as one possible way to make wine with white grapes. However, by the 1960s such practices were dwindling with the idea that more contemporary methods, including removing skin contact, was the more appropriate, technically correct way to make white wine.

As will be discussed further, in the 1990s Georgian Amber wine making tradition reintroduced the orange wine making process to Italian wine makers leading to the reintegration of extended skin contact (maceration) and the possibility of using earthenware fermentation vessels (called kvevri in Georgia, anfora in Italy). Though the use of clay is sometimes mistakenly taken as fundamental to orange wine production, in actuality it is not necessary to the process. Maceration with white grapes is definitive of orange wine, with the use of anfora being only one possible way to produce such wine.

Paolo Bea 2006 Arboreus

click on comic to enlarge

100% Trebbiano Spoletino

In the Umbria region of Italy, Paolo Bea‘s farm uses 80-100 year old, pre-phylloxera vines that exhibit a unique constitution. They’ve been trained to grow like trees with the canes on the vine pointing up allowing a great space underneath. The tradition of growing vines in the arboreus fashion reaches back to pre-tractor farming when crops were planted mixed together. By teaching the vines to grow up like trees farmers could better utilize the ground underneath to produce other crops. It was not until the introduction of motorized tractors that arboreus vines were commonly removed and differing crop types were regularly planted separately.

Bea is well known for his interesting and high quality, low production, artisan style wine. His Arboreus named wine is made with full skin contact entirely of one grape–Trebbiano Spoletino–and fermented with partially dried grapes mixed in as well to add richness of flavor. Once the wine has fermented it is aged in stainless steel tanks without temperature control for 4 years. The resulting wine is rich, clean, and lovely.

Bea’s style is known for being hugely vintage specific. Because of his low intervention style of wine making, and commitment to biodynamics, the ripeness of the grapes from year to year, as well as other factors like how wet the season has been, show strong impact on the resulting wine. Incredibly, the 2006 vintage included only 80 cases, further emphasizing the low production aspects of Bea’s wine making.

Bea’s 2006 Arboreus was both lightly flavored and full body-textured in the mouth. It carried a strong soft palate focus so that the flavors of the wine hit at the back and top of the mouth showcasing the fullness. The flavors included white peach and pear alongside light passionfruit, and white flowers, filled out by anise, maple, and distinct bergamot. The acidity here is medium high keeping your mouth watering over the medium tannins. This is a sexy wine with pleasing texture.

The Bea was the favorite of at least two of the ten people that participated in a private tasting of this and four other orange wines. Everyone present (that was willing to select favorites) included it in their top two.

Coenobium Rusticum 2009

click on comic to enlarge

45% Trebbiano, 35% Malvasia, 20% Verdicchio,

Just 30 miles north of Rome, the Coenobium wines are produced on site at Monastero Suore Cistercensi. There the nuns of Cistercensi tend the grapes and make the wine by hand. The nuns are invested in very low intervention practices allowing fermentation to occur based on only naturally occurring yeasts, and completely organic practices. Amazingly, the nuns draw on the talents of Giampiero Bea, son of Paolo Bea, maker of the Arboreus wine just mentioned to develop their wine making techniques.

The blend on this Coenobium Rusticum 2009 is pert and showy. It leaps from the glass ready to dance strong floral, woody, apple skin scents. The truth is this wine needs some age to really celebrate what it has to offer. Currently the youth shows as fume-y making the bouquet almost medicinal. However, the structure is there in this wine to support time in the bottle. Also, the Coenobium Rusticum has a respected recent vintage history that shows it tends to do well with some age, becoming more layered and grounded with time. That said, there are clear notes of yellow apple skin, and Macintosh apple along side vegetal characteristics and white tropical flowers here. The tannins are medium high, drying the mouth over the medium acidity.

This wine is also known for doing very well after opening. As Alder Yarrow explains on his blog Vinography, the extended maceration (skin contact) fundamental to orange wine production makes orange wines, and certainly the Coenobium Rusticum, more resistant to the negative effects of oxygen exposure. That is, while most wines will keep only a couple of days after being opened, according to Yarrow’s article on a previous vintage of the Coenobium, this orange wine can keep for several weeks after being opened when kept cool. He also recommends decanting the wine early in the day for drinking in the evening to allow the flavors to really open properly.

For those of you interested in purchasing some orange wines, the Coenobium Rusticum is available at a lesser price than the other Italian orange wines (though the Georgian orange wines reviewed Monday are of similar price, if you can locate them–they are harder to find) and so is a good value. The nuns produce the wine as part of their spiritual practices and also to support their facility but also purposefully keep their costs very low all around.

Vodopivec Classica 2005 Vitovska

click on comic to enlarge

100% Vitovska

Everything about this wine is sexy. The texture is rich, and the flavors are subtle and evocative. As ridiculous as it might sound, this wine carries the soft intensity of a woman whispering she wants you–the intimacy and sensuality of such a moment captures the feeling of giving yourself to this glass. The wine carries light oxidation offering subtle sherry-like qualities with very light fruit. The oxidation effect here pumps up the mineral-like elements and with the smaller fruit focus the glass has a lot of refreshing sea air and mineral to it. All of this is rounded out with spice notes of clove and licorice. What a lovely wine!

Paolo Vodopivec is an exciting man to study–video interviews of him online show his focused passion for the wine he makes and the land he cares for. This passion is further expressed through his commitment to a rather obscure grape indigenous to the Fruili-Slovenia border. Vodopivec’s wines are made with the Vitovska grape, which is so uncommon it appears in only one English language wine book. The grape originates from Slovenia but is now grown more over the mountain range in the Friuli region of Italy.

Though Vodopivec does make anfora wine, the Classica is made using Slovenian oak. Vitovska is kept on skin contact for two weeks in oak, then once fermentation is complete (using only indigenous yeast and no temperature control) the wine is aged for two years in Slovenian oak barrels.

This wine was one of my favorites in all the orange wines tasted–it is a lovely, approachable wine, that is also intriguing to drink, and effectively pushes all my love-for-grape-obscurity buttons.

Gravner Anfora Breg 2004

click on comic to enlarge

45% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Pinot Grigio, 15% Chardonnay

Josko Gravner is the most famous of the world’s orange wine makers. As the story goes, in 1996 a friend of Gravner traveled to Georgia and witnessed wine makers there making Georgian Amber wine in kvevri–earthenware vessels. The friend was certain Gravner would enjoy experimenting with making wine in the Georgian fashion and so purchased a kvevri and sent it to Gravner in the Friuli region of Italy. Gravner spent several years learning, and experimenting with the kvevri and orange wine making techniques.

By the second half of the 1990s Gravner was already considered one of the best white wine makers in all of Italy. His abilities were famous and as a result he had numerous wine makers from around the country that would travel to Friuli to study with him. At that time his celebrated abilities were focused primarily on making white wine in a contemporary fashion (no skin contact) with fermentation and aging occurring in oak barrels. However, after several years experimenting with wine making in clay, Gravner shifted his wine portfolio completely and released his first all anfora wine collection in 2001, made too with extended skin contact, thus making them anfora-based orange wines.

In the same sweep from oak to anfora, Gravner also moved deeply into biodynamic practices speaking of the poisons created by non-biodynamic wines on the one hand, and the spirit of the wine on the other. Gravner’s website explicitly states that he bottles on the waning moon, a practice integral to fully-vested biodynamic treatises. The initial public response to Gravner’s shift was that he was crazy. His wine sales dropped, and his wines were deemed atypical to the regional type, further impacting his marketing credibility. By 2006 though orange wine had become a major geek-wine fetish with Gravner as the mystical head shaman of this cult world.

Tasting Gravner’s Breg Anfora makes clear that his work with orange wines is not merely a matter of wine-geek paradise. Gravner is doing something special here. In the private tasting that included this wine, 10 of us all in or connected to the food and wine industries tasted five orange wines side-by-side. While there was strong interest in each of the five wines, the Gravner received the most all around appreciation for its balance and complexity.

The Gravner Breg has a rich, warming effect in the mouth. It shows beautiful complexity offering dried fruits with floral characteristics, alongside leather, and forest floor with spice. This is a savory wine that would do well with salty foods. The unusual nature of these orange wines meant the group was willing throughout the tasting to fall to metaphor and brief story elements to explain the experience of drinking these wines. The regular “tastes like apple” type notes simply wouldn’t suffice. With Gravner’s Breg the comment was that this wine is like drinking oysters next to a man that had just finished a pleasantly sweaty work day. The savory aspects of this wine are seafood and sweat delicate in the most wonderful way.

***

Friday we’ll complete the series focusing on orange wines by looking at a couple of orange wines from California.

***

To read the rest of this series, follow these links:

Understanding Orange Wines 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins do to Our Saliva: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/18/understanding-orange-wines-a-quick-and-dirty-look-at-how-theyre-made-and-what-their-tannins-do-to-our-saliva/

Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines: Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/20/understanding-orange-wines-2-georgian-amber-wines-pheasants-tears-rkatsiteli-vinoterra-kisi/

Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Cabes 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006 http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/25/understanding-orange-wines-4-abe-schoeners-scholium-project-the-prince-in-his-caves-2010-san-floriano-normale-2006/

***

Thank you to Garret at Italian Wine Merchants for his help in locating the Gravner, Bea, and Vodopivec wines mentioned here.

Thanks again to Kim for writing to ask if I’d do an orange wine feature! I hope you’re enjoying it!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines; Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi

To properly tell the story of the orange wine phenomenon one must begin in the country of Georgia. While discussions of orange wines famously focus on Italian wine makers (primarily Gravner and Bea) and their influence on wine making in  both their own and other countries, their orange wine-making techniques actually originate in their discovery of Georgian wine making tradition.

Archaeological evidence currently points to the longest known history of wine making resting in the area now known as Georgia, with clay wine making vessels, there called kvevri, dotting the countryside, many still containing seeds of ancient grapes.

Today, Georgian wine making still follows tradition with many people across the countryside actually making wine for themselves in their own back yard. And by that I literally mean IN their own backyard. Kvevri work importantly by being buried in the ground. On the western side of the country kvevri are often buried in sand outside, however in the East where temperatures are higher, wine makers tend to construct wine cellars in which the kvevri are buried. Wine cellar ground burial is seen to keep the ambient temperatures cooler around the lid of the kvevri, and also to protect the structure more fully.

click on comic to enlarge

Georgian Amber wine production utilizes white wine grapes indigenous to the Georgian region, but instead of using them in the way traditional to contemporary white wine making, as discussed on Friday, the grapes are left in contact with the skins during fermentation. But, the Georgian Amber wine tradition goes even further–juice is not only left in contact with the skins, but also the seeds, and the ripest stems as well. By including so much of the grape plant in the process, Georgian wine makers have found that the wine remains more stable, allowing what would now be called a natural process in the production of these wines. That is, preservatives are not utilized in making Amber wines. Instead, the tannins introduced from the various grape parts (when all included in fermentation called the chacha), and the naturally high acidity of the grapes themselves work together to allow for a wine making process without the introduction of petro-chemical, or human made, such as biodynamic, additives. Further, by being buried in the ground the kvevri provide a cool environment in which fermentation can take place, allowing a slower process.

Kvevri are made of earthenware (terra cotta type clay) that is then lined in beeswax as a kind of natural light sealant. The material allows for micro-oxydation to occur in the wine but does not heavily influence the taste of the wine itself, as other materials such as oak would. During the fermentation process the egg shape of the vessel encourages a natural circulation process of the chacha to occur. As the materials circulate the seeds slowly sink and get caught by the pointy bottom of the kvevri, thereby largely removing their influence on the flavor of the wine.

When fermentation is complete, wine is transferred into another kvevri leaving sediment behind in the first. This is done repeatedly as desired by the wine maker leading to a natural filtration process as the wine moves from one vessel to the next. In this way no chemicals are used for fining or filtration. Once the final kvevri is in place with the wine, it is left to age for anywhere from one to eight years buried in the ground, and covered with leaves, a simple natural product (like clay, or cork) lid, and then sand.

Traditionally, Georgian Amber wine has been made with the indigenous grape Rkatsiteli, but today some wine makers are producing Amber-style wines with other indigenous white grapes as well, such as Kisi. In either case, with the extended skin, and stem contact the tannins on Amber wine are higher, and for both grapes the natural acidity is also higher, leading to a wine with loads of structure.

Note: many orange wines around the world are made in amphora in a manner similar to that described here for Amber wines. However, Georgian wine makers emphasize that their earthenware vessels are unique. In their view kvevri have properties not typical to all amphora. As such, I have made a point of continuing to call them kvevri here. Many wine discussions on orange wines (of which Georgian Amber wines are included) will speak of kvevri or amphora interchangeably.

Pheasant’s Tears 2009 Rkatsiteli Amber Wine

click on comic to enlarge

As the story goes, a wine maker has succeeded when he makes a wine so good it brings a pheasant to tears, thus the name of this Georgian winery.

In recent history, Georgian wine making served the area’s local people, with many producing wine for their own families, or, with higher production regions, went to what was at the time the Soviet Union. However, when Georgia became independent again the economic exchange situation changed.

After the separation of the two countries an international political incident occurred. In 2006, four Russian officers crossed into the Georgian countryside and were picked up by local authorities accused of being spies. It turns out the incident caused offense to then Russian ruler Putin, who retaliated by cutting off all travel and exchange links to the smaller country of Georgia. Needless to say, the Georgian economy was significantly affected, and the area’s wine making exports were hampered as well. Interestingly, soon after an American painter that happened to be traveling through the region helped redirect Georgian wine exports to new regions of the world.

In 2007 painter John Wurdeman paired up with Georgian wine maker Gela Patalishvili, after the two met by chance when John was painting Gela’s vineyards. Together they started the winery Pheasant’s Tears focusing on Georgian wine making tradition with marketing and export heading West. (Their story is utterly charming-you can read more about it on their website.)

Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli Amber Wine follows the long standing tradition producing an importantly unique wine. The grape is indigenous to the region, and combined with amber wine practices creates an intensely floral-perfumed wine with rich texture, and an impressively long finish. “Ripe” is the best way to capture the simple effect of this wine in the mouth. But its characteristics are complex–the floral qualities are most impressive, but they are grounded with ripe fruits, and nut characteristics all on the body of medium high tannins, and medium high acidity. This wine first waters your mouth, and then dries it out again.

After tasting the Pheasant’s Tears, I drank it along side roast chicken breast, mixed vegetable filo pastry, and a feta vegetable pasta salad. The wine went equally well with all selections, and I am certain would pair even more broadly. The structure on this wine means it can stand years more aging, and I’d be curious to taste either an older vintage, or this one again in several more years to see what it does to the floral and fruit characteristics.

Incredibly, Rkatsiteli is one of the oldest known grape varieties with many of those seeds found in kvevri around the Georgian countryside dating back at least 3000 years. It also naturally shows incredibly high acidity with wine makers having to work to make wines from it more drinkable–most often either through aging, or later harvesting–as a result.

This wine is one I was thoroughly intrigued by, and have certain respect for, but I have to admit the ripe tart tang of it combined with such heavy floral elements were strange for me, and I felt a limit in how much I wanted to drink. I wanted to taste it but continuing to certainly demands food alongside. The finish on this wine is so long I could honestly feel its effects in my mouth as much as 30 minutes later.

Vinoterra 2006 Kisi

click on comic to enlarge

Wine maker Gogi Dakisvili employs Georgian Amber wine making traditions producing several varietal wines of different white grapes indigenous to the region. While he does produce a rkatsiteli amber wine, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to taste from another grape local to the area–Kisi. Kisi garners far less international attention, and is a lesser produced varietal as well. In fact the grape’s reputation is small enough it shows up in few wine books.

In Georgia, Kisi is more commonly found in the Kakhetian region of the East (where both these wines originate), and there is often treated to a blended wine or a sweet wine process. Here, Dakisvili instead chooses to produces a dry style single varietal with it.

The Vinoterra Kisi offered impressive balance giving elegance to what is certainly a richly textured wine. The flavors here are both floral and fruit driven with the thickening of date flavors and smoke showing as well. The acidity on this kisi is medium bringing a nice complement to the medium-plus tannin. So, here you have a wine with pleasing mouth feel, that dries your mouth but keeps it just watered enough to allow the wine’s flavors to show through.

After tasting this wine I drank it alongside the same dinner described above, but I also added on at the end a piece of traditional Yupik-style hard smoke salmon just to experiment. The wine honestly complemented the fish, which is no small feat. Alaska native style smoke fish is incredibly firm bodied, with rich oils, and strong smoke plus salmon flavors. You stink good for hours after eating it. The oils of the fish helped the tannins of the wine, while the smoke notes and acid of the wine complemented the fish. I’m impressed.

(If you want to read more on salmon styles from Alaska, including the smoke fish I mention here, check out a newer blog from an Alaskan fisherwoman, wine drinker and skier that discusses the yumminess of these things: Fish*Ski*Wine. She’s super knowledgeable on both salmon-wine pairings, and different seafoods, so feel free to ask her questions there. I know she’d love to hear from you!)

Of the two Georgian wines I enjoyed the Vinoterra best, but I recognize too that it has the advantage of age over the Pheasant’s Tears. Reviews of older vintages of the Pheasant’s Tears imply that the pert qualities of the Rkatsiteli calm as it ages. Both wines are certainly capable of extended cellaring, and both also prefer to be served with food.

Neither of these wines wants to be a cocktail style wine drunk alone. They’re lonely for food, and your palate will do best with them respecting those needs.

***

Again, thanks to Kim for writing and asking me to do an Orange Wine Focus.

If you want to read more on what makes an Orange wine, well, orange, check out my explanation of them from Friday. There you’ll also see more of an exploration of the importance and effects of tannin in wine.

http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/18/understanding-orange-wines-a-quick-and-dirty-look-at-how-theyre-made-and-what-their-tannins-do-to-our-saliva/

You can also read more about Georgian Amber wine specifically by exploring the numerous links embedded throughout this post.

Wednesday we’ll take a look at several Italian orange wines, including those made famous by Gravner and Bea.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

***

To read the rest of this series, follow these links:

Understanding Orange Wines 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins do to Our Saliva: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/18/understanding-orange-wines-a-quick-and-dirty-look-at-how-theyre-made-and-what-their-tannins-do-to-our-saliva/

Understanding Orange Wines 3: Italian Orange Wines: Gravner Breg, Vodopivec Classica, Bea Arboreus, Coenobium Rusticum: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/23/understanding-orange-wines-3-italian-orange-wines-gravner-breg-vodopivec-classica-bea-arboreus-coenobium-rusticum/

Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Cabes 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006 http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/25/understanding-orange-wines-4-abe-schoeners-scholium-project-the-prince-in-his-caves-2010-san-floriano-normale-2006/

***

If you have a feature you’d like investigated and comic-ed out too, feel free to email me and let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

lilyelainehawkwakawaka (at) gmail (dot) com

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Understanding Orange Wines Part 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins Do To Our Saliva

Kim wrote and asked if I would do a feature on Orange Wine. She’d read about the phenomenon online and hoped I’d take some time both to explain what the heck orange wine is, and also to review some orange wines. Thanks so much for asking, Kim, and I’m so happy to do a feature on the subject for you!

So, today we’ll cover both the general process through which orange wines are made, and the basic qualities of grapes that get presented differently in the orange wine making process, and thus make tasting orange wines interesting.

Next week we’ll look at a whole series of orange wines from various parts of the world, reviewing the tasting notes of each, and the more specific story of how each are made.

click on comic to enlarge

Knowing these points about the basic parts of the grape–the skin, seeds, and pulp–will help explain what is importantly different between a typical white wine, and an orange wine of the second sort. (Though I would eventually like to taste a Vino Naranja and admit I haven’t gotten to do so yet. For those wine geeks that are interested in such things–vino naranja is aged in a solera method and as a result shows qualities like sherry. The rest of this post ignores vino naranja and assumes that the designation “orange wine” refers to the second version of this designation.)

So, first, let’s look at the quick and dirty basics of how a white wine is typically made these days.

click on comic to enlarge

In white wine production the skin is quickly separated from the bulk of the juice. Though the skins are then pressed again to gain more juice from the grape, the liquid from the first press, and that from the second are kept separate during fermentation. In this way, the wine maker can then carefully select the right proportion for mixing to create the final bottled wine. By keeping the first and second press juice separate the wine maker is also able to reduce the color, and tannin influence in the wine. In both, the skins are kept away from the fermentation process, and the seeds are filtered out of the liquid before fermentation as well.

The reasons for keeping the skins and seeds separate from the liquid rest primarily in the flavor and textural effect they impart to the wine. Understanding how the tannins present in the skin, seeds, and stems impacts the quality of the wine will better show the difference between a wine made with their influence and a wine made without their influence.

An orange wine is made with a white grape variety, but in a process more like how red wine is typically made.

click on comic to enlarge

Though orange wines are made with white grape varieties, because orange wines are produced in a manner more like how red wines are made, orange wines have textural and structural qualities closer to a red than to a white wine. While the free run and the press juice are kept separate in white wine production, in orange wines there is only the initial pressing done firmly and then skins are fermented within the juice. In this way the skins impart both color and tannin to the wine. The richer color quality of the wine caused by the skin is where the designation “orange wine” originates.

The basic commonality of orange wine production is the extended contact of the skin with the juice. However, different orange wine producers vary other aspects of the production process, most notably how long the skin contact continues. For some wine makers, the skin contact is as little as several days, while for others it continues for several months. Besides the choice of extended skin contact, orange wine producers also differ in the type of fermentation vessel used. This aspect of orange wine production will be considered further next week when we review specific orange wines.

Because of the extended skin contact, orange wines not only have a richer color quality, they also have higher tannin content than typical white wines, while still showing many of the sort of fruit and floral tasting characteristics of a white. As a result, many consider orange wines a difficult food pairing challenge. Tannins create a textural quality in wine that feels both drying and bitter in the mouth, and changes how we experience the flavors of whatever we are tasting, be it wine or food.

Since white wines are produced to keep them sediment free and tannin low, we experience not only their particular grape profile but also a different textural quality than wines made in a red wine fashion. Orange wines, retain their particular white grape profile but gain the structure of a red wine. But also, with the higher tannin levels of the orange wine, the grape’s flavor profile does shift some what along with the texture. Interestingly, in fully blind tastings (where the wines literally could not be seen in the glass) orange wines have actually been mistaken as reds.

***

To read the rest of this series, follow these links:

Understanding Orange Wines 2: Georgian Amber Wines: Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, Vinoterra Kisi: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/20/understanding-orange-wines-2-georgian-amber-wines-pheasants-tears-rkatsiteli-vinoterra-kisi/

Understanding Orange Wines 3: Italian Orange Wines: Gravner Breg, Vodopivec Classica, Bea Arboreus, Coenobium Rusticum: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/23/understanding-orange-wines-3-italian-orange-wines-gravner-breg-vodopivec-classica-bea-arboreus-coenobium-rusticum/

Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Caves 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006 http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/02/25/understanding-orange-wines-4-abe-schoeners-scholium-project-the-prince-in-his-caves-2010-san-floriano-normale-2006/

 

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Considering Biodynamic Red Wines from Paolo Bea, Chapoutier; and Natural wines from Quintessa, and Eyrie Vineyards

Monday here hosted a comics-based examination of biodynamic practices in relation to wine. Following are reviews of four very different red wines from four different regions. The first two are made using biodynamic practices, and the second two are made using non-petrochemical practices.

Paolo Bea 2007 Umbria Rosso

click on comic to enlarge

The complexity on this particular Paolo Bea was astounding. The tannins here are higher than on any other wine I’ve tasted. As such, it demands food (fatty salami is perfect) to help bring out the flavors, and time with open air on it. Without food the tannins make this Rosso a challenge to drink, with food the fruit is rich and lovely, accompanied by herbs. That said, I very much enjoyed drinking this wine, even with the challenge. The textures were rich, not only because of the tannins, but because of the dense sediment within the glass.

Paolo Bea is thoroughly invested in biodynamics, working a farm with grapes as only one small part of the overall estate. He is known too for saying that filtering a wine removes its soul–one is meant to experience what the grapes have to offer complete. Skimming reviews and articles on his work you’ll regularly see his wines described in this language too, as having soul with the import being that the metaphysical quality is somehow extra to what other wines would seem to offer.

Bea’s wine making practices are also manageable partially because of his focus on economy. His goals are to produce only as much wine as he can sell, rather than to push for making extra money, and also to make only wine he loves. What Bea loves is to allow nature to do its work, rather, as he puts it, than trying to dominate it.

To add to the interest of this particular Bea wine, it’s a Sagrantino blend, bringing in Sangiovese, and a touch of Montepulciano. Sagrantino is indigenous to the Umbria region where Bea grows and makes his wine.

M. Chapoutier 2005 Crozes-Ermitage

click on comic to enlarge

At the end of a hard day I decided to pick the one wine I knew that would pull me in and occupy my attention with joy. I turned to this Chapoutier. The 2005 Crozes-Ermitage has just enough age on it to bring out the complexity and richness of the Syrah, but has at least 15 years more aging potential in the bottle. The flavors here bring together rich fruits, spice, and earth, with a smooth texture.

Chapoutier is known for his biodynamic commitments. He helped start a wine-focused biodynamic certification program in Europe, and freely offers critique of other biodynamic programs and their perceived limits.

The quality of Chapoutier’s wines is reliable, over a range of price-points. Currently his name carries a large presence in the wine world as he is regularly seen commenting on the current state of various areas of the Rhone, and also working with other wine makers to develop new projects.

** Post Edit for Clarification: Vineyard Practices Contrast

The first two wines mentioned in this post draw strongly on biodynamics as a system. The following two American wines utilize *elements* of biodynamic practices without carrying certification, and while allowing other non-petrochemical practices that they believe best suit their purposes. If you are interested in certified biodynamic wineries within the United States, consider the list linked at the end of this post from Wine Anorak.

**

Quintessa 2005 Rutherford Red Wine

click on comic to enlarge

Quintessa is a beautiful estate in the Rutherford district of Napa Valley. Their Meritage red blend begins with a base of Cabernet Sauvignon, and brings in various amounts of other Bordeaux-style blend grapes, namely, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and/or Carmenere, depending on the vintage.

Quintessa’s estate utilizes biodynamic practices, without showcasing certification, focusing on diversity of plant life on the property, and the advantages of animal composts.

My sister and I visited Quintessa Estate in 2008 taking a private tour of the vineyards, and winery. They offer a barrel tasting coupled with a tasting of the vintage the relevant barrels then blend into, all alongside food pairings created by a Napa area chef. The experience was a treasure, and led to drinking this particular bottle several years later.

The 2005 Quintessa is perfectly aged now. It shows an interesting blend of both dried and fresher fruits, with earthy elements and a pleasing briny quality. Though the sardine reference might seem unusual, here it offers savory and briny elements that make the wine refreshing and nicely balanced, while still carrying the fuller qualities of a Meritage wine.

Eyrie Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir

click on comic to enlarge

Eyrie Vineyards helped start the Willamette Valley wine region. In the 1960s David Lett brought Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris to the valley becoming the first to plant the former in the region, and the first to plant the latter in North America. Their wines bring with them consistently good quality, and I’ve become a fan of each of their grape varietals.

Jason Lett now continues the Eyrie project his father started, as well as his own. Eyrie is known and respected for its biodynamic practices showing a small but functioning farm with a range of animals (I particularly enjoy seeing how the Lett’s reference their chickens with a fondness), and other plants.

The 2008 begins with a lot of wet leaves and forest floor, and opens into a balanced range of red fruit with the spice of hatch chile, and hints of smoked bacon that surprised me. The wine is pleasantly rich flavored while medium-light bodied. I enjoyed it on its own but would be happy to drink it alongside cedar-plank or grilled salmon.

*** Post Edit: Jason Lett, the President and Wine Maker of Eyrie, has clarified that their vineyard is not strictly speaking biodynamic. My inclusion of Eyrie and Quintessa was purposeful–that though they do not showcase biodynamic certification, they do follow important aspects of biodynamic practices. As Jason Lett clarifies, they have developed “a strict set of practices all [their] own.” In other words, while the Eyrie approach strongly overlaps the focus of a healthy environment seen in Biodynamics, they part ways when it comes to the treatments mentioned on the last page of the Biodynamics comics shown here Monday. My view of these ideas is that one can share overall purposes without having to strictly follow entirely identical practices. In other words, cow manure buried in a horn in the ground might not be the only way to fulfill our goals of a healthy environment. Thanks for responding, Jason!

***

For a good, though partial list, of biodynamic wine makers check out Wine Anorak’s list here: http://www.wineanorak.com/biodynamic3.htm .

Again, it is good to note that some wine makers have biodynamic practices without certification. There are also wine makers that draw on biodynamic practices to develop a non-petrochemically based practice their own. In this way their goals of creating a healthy environment may be similar without the practices being entirely the same.

If you’re in the United States, for a good source of biodynamic wines online check out the following retailers:

Out of NYC

Italian Wine Merchants: http://www.italianwinemerchants.com/

The Natural Wine Company: http://www.naturalwine.com/catalog

Out of SF

Biondivino: http://www.biondivino.com/

***

Friday will take a look at how orange wines are made. Then next week we’ll review first some biodynamic orange wines, and then later in the week some other orange wines.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Biodynamics & Wine: Or, What Poop, Crystals, and the Moon Have in Common

click on comic to enlarge

click on comic to enlarge

click on comic to enlarge

click on comic to enlarge

A number of wine makers around the world follow biodynamic practices. Certification currently is offered by two different institutions. In the United States, Demeter is the most common certifying institution. Demeter has branches in other areas of the world as well. However, Demeter’s focus is on agriculture in general, not simply on wine making. In Europe, Biodyvin offers certification only for wine makers. Chapoutier helped begin this Biodyvin believing both that Demeter’s process was not stringent enough, and also that the unique processes of wine making (no crop rotation, for example) meant that vineyards needed their own observation institution.

To read more on Biodynamics and wine, check out Wine Anorak’s series on the process: http://www.wineanorak.com/ , as well as Wine Anorak’s list of Biodynamic wine makers here: http://www.wineanorak.com/biodynamic3.htm . Also, check out a quick summary of Biodynamics and Wine from Crush Pad at http://www.crushpadwine.com/blog/2012/01/biodynamic-winemaking-demystified/ . For more consideration of Rudolph Steiner and some of the esoteric aspects of biodynamics read Down Garden Service’s summary of the practice: http://www.dgsgardening.btinternet.co.uk/biodynamics.htm

Wednesday we’ll review a few biodynamically made wines, including one from Chapoutier. Later this week we’ll look at the intersection of biodynamics with orange wines.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Vertical Tasting of Monte Bello Wines: 1990, 1994, 2001, 2006, 2008, and the Klein Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello  is considered by many the finest example in the United States of a Cabernet Sauvignon focused Bordeaux-style blend. As such it is often referred to as “America’s First Growth” referring to the strength of quality found in the wine, and the age of the vineyards as well.

Ridge Vineyards began when doctor Osea Perrone purchased acreage atop Monte Bello Ridge near Santa Cruz, terraced the land and began planting vines. The cellar he dug into the mountainside is still used today as Ridge’s production facility. In the 1940′s, a theologican, William Short developed an abandoned vineyard just below the Perrone estate, and began planting Cabernet Sauvignon. From the Short property the first Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon were produced, in the 1960s regarded as some of the best of their era.

Monte Bello vineyards are grown between 1300′ and 2700′ in elevation, lending to concentrated flavors. The ground in the area shows a combination of green stone, and decomposing limestone, unlike the earth of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Additionally, the Santa Cruz mountains receive air currents from the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay keeping a fairly cool climate for the grapes to grow in. These elements combine to produce a Cabernet based wine considered in many ways unique for California.

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical Tasting

click on comic to enlarge

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a Ridge Monte Bello vertical tasting hosted by Solano Cellars in Albany, California (just north of Berkeley). The tasting brought together five Monte Bello blend vintages, with a recent component bottling of the Ridge Klein Cabernet Sauvignon produced from what is known as the Klein Monte Bello vineyard. That is, the Klein Cabernet goes on to form a portion of the ultimate Monte Bello blend, and is offered on its own as well in limited production.

1990

I was impressed by the ageability of each these wines. The 1990 was my favorite of the selection, showing the greatest balance of characteristics as well as development, but also offering the potential for several more years of cellaring. This vintage brought together wonderful dried fruit elements, with hints of forest floor and cigar box, bbq spice sweetness on savory meat notes, and the trademark Eucalyptus oil touches that Ridge Cabernet is known for carrying. In fact, the Eucalyptus oil showed through each of the vintages tasted.

1994

The 1994 showed as far more youthful than the vintage would seem to imply. It carried a richer, fuller body than the 1990, and brought together more savory elements than the previous, with less tart or sweet touches, as well as a more distinct note of Cabernet Sauvignon’s characteristic green pepper elements. The tannins and overall structure were consistent with the 1990.

2001

2001 showed as the ripest of the vintages, carrying less structure (though by no means absent of it) than the others. The grapes of 2001 grew amidst heat spikes not typical to the region, thus rushing and slowing their ripening. The fruit here offered a mix of black fruits, and underlying dried fruits, giving a chewy complexity. The umami (savory) elements were here as well, all together giving a medium-long finish.

2006

We were lucky to taste from 2006, as it is a less available vintage, due largely to smaller production that year after little rainfall. The tannins here were strongest, carrying alongside them the most distinct herbal notes as well.

2008

In 2008 the Monte Bello vineyards were surrounded by forest fires that threatened hundreds of acres in the Santa Cruz mountains. Gratefully the estate was spared, but the smoke notes definitely show themselves as an established element of this vintage. The wine is youthful, with all fresh fruits rather than the dried concentrates appearing previously. There is earth on the nose, but shifting to tart acidity in the mouth.

2009 Klein Cabernet Sauvignon

Our final wine of the evening was the component part Klein Cabernet. I’d say it could do with several more years of age before drinking, though it shows impressive structure and a wealth of developing flavors now. After sitting open for several hours the tannins were still thickly drying. The acidity is medium + here too, but the tannins definitely win. I’d love to taste this fresh, vibrant cab again in a few years.

***

Thank you to Jason of Solano Cellars, and Amy of Ridge Vineyards for co-hosting this lovely event!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Pictures from a Wine Tasting

As mentioned on Wednesday’s post, I co-hosted an obscure-wine tasting this week along with the owner of Pizzicletta, Caleb Schiff. It was a total foodie-wine geek-artisan-political-philosophers event that included the Baker for Criollo, both a bartender and the wine buyer for The Wine Loft, the head chef for Cuvee 928, the manager of The Flagstaff Coffee Company, a jewelry maker at Will McNabb, a dentist on the Navajo Reservation, and a political philosopher activist working on immigration issues in Arizona. Commonality? We all love wine and food, and get along pretty damned well.

Here are some pictures. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be integrating in articles and reviews focusing on the collection of very unique wines.

Thanks so much to everyone that was able to participate, and to Caleb for hosting us at Pizzicletta. The food you provided was great too! Thank you!

The wines we selected were six unusual types. We opened with a still-white varietal from Piedmont, then moved into a series of five orange wines-three from Italian heavy hitters, and two from California. What a fantastic time!

Thanks to Kim for writing and asking me to do an orange wine focus. I’ll be writing up these five soon, and have four more we’ll taste later.

Cheers!

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com