White Wines

Portraits of Bardolino

The depth of a wine region inevitably hangs on its people. Traveling, then, I am listening as much to those we meet as I am tasting the wine.

March took me to the Lake Garda region of the Veneto to get to know Bardolino.

Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardoni stands as a highly respected vintner in the Bardolino region. His work has focused on fighting homogenization of flavor and quality in the region’s wine.

While his grapes were sold for a few years to a local cooperative, Gianni was never satisfied with the wine they produced.

Additionally, cooperatives tended to push for the planting of international grape types. Until the end of the 1970s, vintners were legally forbidden from growing and selling Italian varieties. The push for international grape types was seen as a necessary economic strategy by the government.

Gianni was determined to retain the already established indigenous varieties. So, to keep his vines from disappearing into a morass of uninteresting wine, he began making wine himself in 1980.

Following is part of the story he shared with us on our visit. It has been translated from the Italian.

Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni

Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni

Gianni Piccoli, Corte Gardoni, March 2015

We are in the Southern most portion of the Bardolino DOC. It is less rocky. We have moranic soils.

The [white wine] Custova is a blend. It can have Trebbiano, Garganega, Tocai, Cortese, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Riesling. I was on the wine counsel. Trebbiano is not a very interesting grape, so I worked to reduce the portion. Now it can have more of the others.

Then, I found Tocai [Friulano] in the vineyard. It was in the garden. I had a discussion with a professor of the Wine Institute, and they said it is not Tocai. They have not found the DNA yet. We do not know what it is. It still grows in the garden.

I was the first one to do the sustainable system of farming in this region. It is almost organic. It is almost organic because we tend to do everything organic, but just in extreme cases, if it is needed, we might use low impact non-organic methods.

My wines have a tendency to improve with age. The minerality of all these wines is due to the moranic soils, and specifically in this location, and possibly also the methods of vinification.

The wines are all consistently around 12% alcohol. We work very hard for that.

With Bardolino, people talk about only up to 5 years of aging. That is because people used to focus too much on quantity and not on quality.

Gianni and Mattia Piccoli, Corte Gardoni

Gianni and Mattia Piccoli, Corte Gardoni, March 2015

Mattia, Gianni’s son, begins to add to the story.

My father started the winery in the 1980s, and he thought if he did not have a Cabernet, Merlot blend he would not survive. It was impossible.

My father started with 3000 bottles [of the Cabernet, Merlot blend], and now we produce 3000 bottles. Just like that – even. [He moves his hand in a flat motion through the air, then holds up 1 finger.] Just 1 hectare. The rest is local wines.

We grow 25 hectares total. 200,000 bottles.

Gianni returns to telling us his story. 

My parents and grandparents, my ancestors, were here and for them the fruit was the most important, not the wine. It went to the cooperative. I started the winery. The first year was 1980.

They had potatoes, corn for the livestock, and some vines. Even 50 years ago, it was like this. Sometimes they would have to postpone harvest of the grapes because they had to take in the corn for the livestock.

Many years ago, another winery, asked me if they could sell some of my Chiaretto. Their winery was well-known. I was not well-known. They did not have any rosé. So, I made it, and they sold it as theirs, but I also sold it as mine.

A famous enologist came and tasted my Chiaretto, and he said, I think there is a flaw in this Chiaretto but I cannot tell you what it is. 

So, I brought him to the other winery. They were embarrassed because they knew it was the same. I said, I think this man would like to taste your Chiaretto.

[laughing]

The enologist, he tasted it, and he said, ah! this is a good Chiaretto! but it was the same.

I did not tell him.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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The Wines of Ca Lojera

In March, Cathy Huyghe and I were lucky enough to enjoy dinner with Ambra and Franco Tiraboschi of Ca Lojera who produce beautiful wines from Lugana using only estate grown grapes.

The Lugana DOC sits directly south of Lake Garda straddling the Veneto and Lombardy regions of Italy. It is a small DOC that grows a little over 1000 hectares of vines.

Lugana white wines must be at least 90% Trebbiana di Lugana, also called Turbiana locally. This is the Verdicchio grape grown in Lugana’s chalky soils. It should be noted that Trebbiana, also known as Ugni Blanc, is a different grape variety. (The original post left that ambiguous. It has been clarified below.) Each of the Ca Lojera whites are 100% Turbiana.

Dinner at Ca Lojeradinner at Ca Lojera from left: Angelo Perreti, Fillipo Fillipi, Franco Tiraboschi, me, Ambra Tiraboschi, Paola Giagulli, photo taken by Cathy Huyghe, March 2015

Aged Ca Lojera wines are wonderful – full of life, freshness and viscosity both, with a mineral drive that ages towards infinity. The young wines masquerade as simply approachable. They can trick your palate into thinking the wine is merely quaffable, but there is subtlety to them worth investigating, that also fleshes into a special wine with age.

Even more, the people. It’s dinners like this that make everything else worthwhile. Angelo Peretti, the Internet Gourmet, kindly arranged the dinner for us. Fillipo Fillipi of Fillipi winery, and Paola Giagulli also joined us. A perfect group.

Following is a glimpse of the Ca Lojera story as told to us by Ambra and Angelo, who also served as our translators for the others, with snapshots from the evening.

Franco Tiraboschi, Ca Lojera

Franco Tiraboschi, March 2015

Ambra: Franco sold real estate. I was a hotel keeper there in Verona. We didn’t know anything about wine. in 1992 we bought the property to resell. The grapes were ripe but they sold for too little so Franco decided to make wine. Then he fell in love with wine.

Angelo: So they had no need to make wine. They could do what they wanted. It was a second career with much luck.

We begin dinner with a 2008 Turbiana Spumante.

Ambra: The 2008 Turbiana had too much acid so Franco made sparkling with it. He made all of it sparkling. Franco is incapable of doing anything small. Only a small wife. Nothing else. [laughing]

The sparkling wine does not say Lugana on the label. Cathy and I ask about it. There is laughing all around as they answer. 

Ambra: Franco does not like regulations. Bureaucracy he does not like. He must make things when he wants to.

Angelo: The spumante is not registered Lugana. Franco forgot to do the paperwork.

sitting with Franco Tiraboschi

sitting beside Franco Tiraboschi, photo by Cathy Huyghe

We begin to discuss what wines we will open.

Angelo: They are the only producer in Lugana that can offer a lot of vintages of Lugana because they did not sell it. They did not realize how to sell it at first.

Ambra: We needed a lot of time to realize how to sell.

Angelo: So now they have a lot of old vintages and people come here to buy because white Lugana ages in a wonderful way.

Ambra: 1992 our first commercial vintage. 1999 the oldest we sell now.

The food begins to be served. We begin with mixed salumi and vegetables. One of my favorite moments with Angelo happens as a result. The simple passion of it gives window to his character. With it I also learn something about cured meats that makes sense as soon as he says it but I wouldn’t have realized. 

Angelo: It is very important to have salumi by hands. You can feel how sweet it is by your hands. The smoother it is, the sweeter it is. You must try it with two slices. One with your hands. One with a knife. And they will taste different.

I follow Angelo’s advice. The creamy salt of the salumi goes perfectly with the fresh chalkiness of the sparkling wine. We return to discussing Ca Lojera history. 

Ambra: I worked in the fields with Franco for 17 years. Then it was necessary for someone to sell the wines. So, we decided he would stay here in the winery, and I travel to sell the wine. I do not like it but it is necessary. Usually once a month, I go somewhere.

Ca Lojera wines

We open several vintages of Ca Lojera. A 2002 Superiore, a 2003 Riserva del Lupo, alongside a 2011 Superiore, and a 2011 Riserva del Lupo. 

Angelo: Old Lugana are very mineral. They have a smell of petrol. They are lighter in structure. Young Lugana are more fruity. In my opinion, the 2003 is the best Lugana ever produced but I do not say I love the wine. It is not love that I have for the wine because love can end.

I taste the 2003. It is wonderful. Emotionally overwhelming with beautiful balance of fresh fruit and petrol, a persistent spice. Notes that are almost waxy with mixed yellow fruit, star fruit and a fresh lake breeze finish. There is a hint of sweetness but only a hint. This is a wine that has a lot to say. I agree with Angelo that it is beautiful.

Angelo: The 2003 describes this land, this territory in a better way. In the 2003 Lupo, I identify Lugana. It was a horrible vintage. A hot vintage. But It tastes Lugana. In the worst vintages, Crus emerge.

Franco nods and explains the 2002 of the older wines is his favorite but he really likes the younger wines. He likes the freshness and the fruit. He believes the 2011 Riserva del Lupo is a special wine that will have a lot to say. I comment that the wines are full of life. Angelo agrees.

Angelo: I love humanity behind wines. I taste that here.

Cathy asks Franco how his winemaking has developed since he started. 

Angelo translating for Franco: My way of making wine has not changed. Something has changed and it is in the vines. There are better practices taking care of the vines.

Angelo: He changes. He has a wider oenological and agricultural culture. Now he knows the temperatures he prefers.

Angelo translating for Franco: Yes, the cooler the better. I like to have very slow fermentation so I decline the temperature. Because the lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation, the better the wine.

Sitting next to Ambra Tiraboschi

sitting beside Ambra Tiraboschi, March 2015, photo by Cathy Huyghe

Ambra agrees. She used to make the wines with Franco and comments on what she learned from 17 years in the vineyard and cellar.

Ambra: We had a consulting winemaker for a while. He said, fermentation is the most difficult part of winemaking. It’s true. If you do not know how to hear the fermentation, if you cannot hear the music of the fermentation, you will never make a personal wine.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Andy Smith in the Vineyards of West Sonoma Coast and Green Valley

Andy Smith in Jentoft VineyardAndy Smith walking through Jentoft Vineyard, West Sonoma Coast, Jan 2015

“It’s okay to blend,” Andy Smith, winemaker and partner of DuMOL Wines tells me. It is morning and we are walking through the rolling hills of Jentoft Vineyard, a site near Occidental DuMOL planted specifically for blending.

Smith has agreed to spend the day driving me through DuMOL vineyards. We’re discussing the region but also his evolution as a winemaker.

Jentoft is unique for DuMOL in that it is one of only a few sites they farm in the rolling hills off Occidental Road.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, DuMOL made a name for itself making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the Russian River Valley. More recently, the team has expanded further into sites hugged by the hills mere miles from the Ocean.

The addition of these cooler climate vineyards also reflects the winery’s shift towards a leaner style over the last decade.

But for Smith, the winery’s move into sites near Occidental is not just about climate.

“People talk about climate, but, for me, the soil makes the flavor. Soil is the building blocks of the flavor, and the climate is the vintage variation.” Together, Occidental vineyards have something unique to offer.

“To me the wine [in this area] always has a sense of air-oir, not just terroir, a conifer-spicy element.” Smith says.

Blending DuMOL 

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard

Andy Smith in Wild Rose Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

I ask Smith if he’d ever make a single vineyard bottling from Jentoft.

“I think the single vineyard thing,” he says, pausing briefly, in the midst of answering, no. “There has to be something distinctive, and agreeable, and verifiable, and repeatable. I am sure this site can make a distinctive wine that is a distinctive part of a distinctive blend.”

DuMOL bottles a number of single vineyard sites, but has developed and farms even more. The goal for DuMOL is to bottle excellent wines rooted first in their own farming. Some sites, in Smith’s view, offer that beautiful component within a multi-site blend, while other sites carry their own sense of completeness.

The point is that high quality vineyards sometimes best serve as components in a blend rather than on their own.

Developing a site’s character, be it is for blending, or single bottling, takes time. Jentoft, for example, was planted in 2007.

“This site is just starting to come into its own for us.” Smith explains. “The first year a vine gives fruit can be quite nicely structured and well balanced. Then, the next few years the vines are like unruly teenagers. Around eight years a vineyard starts to find its balance. Then around fourteen years there is another plateau, and vines become much more self regulating.”

What that means today has changed from viticultural views of even ten years ago.

“That is the fun part of the change in the last ten years,” Smith says. “From the idea that we need to tell the vine what to do. Today farming includes beautiful cover crops, insectiary rows, and then seeing the results. For me, that is the exciting part. You can taste the results as well. The wines taste better at lower alcohol.”

Evolving the DuMOL Style

I ask Smith about his evolution as a winemaker. We are discussing Smith and his contemporaries from the early days of DuMOL.

“We were young guys in the late 1990s,” Smith says. “Starting out making rich wines. Now many of us are making lighter wines, with aromatic perfume. You know everything is different.”

But the change in style, Smith points out, occurred as part of a larger context, not driven by wine alone but the overall food culture.

“In the late 1990s, the scene was booming. Restaurants were booming. Chefs were going on with pork fat, and the wines reflected that.” Big flavor was not just a Parker fancy, but a cultural fascination.

“Some of my wines, I go back, and taste, and wonder, what was I thinking?” Smith laughs. “But, you know, it was the taste of the day. Now we have less new oak, and less toast. We have really moved to a more ethereal style with more perfumed aromatics. If you want more honey in your chardonnay, or more cassis and black fruit in your pinot noir, you pull leaves and expose clusters. Now we avoid sun exposure on the fruit.”

Smith’s reflection on sun exposure gets to the core of how DuMOL has shifted its style from bold flavor to graceful richness – DuMOL’s wines today a dance of movement and flavor.

“We’ve pulled back the wines as the farming has improved too.” Smith points out. “You can’t just go on and say, I am going to pick at 21 brix. You have to take a few years getting in tune with the farming, the soil health, and all that.”

DuMOL Today

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard

Andy Smith in Heintz Vineyard, Green Valley, Jan 2015

DuMOL’s focus on farming has helped the label grow at a judicious rate, focusing on quality as it allows for growth. It’s maintained such an approach by expanding its volume only as its farming allows. As a result, quality remains in the hands of the DuMOL team, relying on fruit they’ve cultivated to match the house style.

“That’s part of our philosophy.” Smith explains. “I don’t like any extremes – no extreme pruning, no extreme exposure to the grapes, not too much, if any irrigation. Vines are a crop we maximize, and you maximize that by making the vine work hard, not stressed but hard.” I ask Smith to say more about how he maintains that middle line in the vineyard, avoiding extremes.

“The soil health is, of course, really important.” He responds. “Water is available for the vine. The roots are really deep now but because they haven’t been force fed water, they don’t binge on it. Vines are self regulating. They take what they need, and don’t take too much. When you over irrigate, you force the vine to take what you give it, and it takes and takes and takes, then collapses and ripens through dehydration.”

Then there is the architecture of the vine.

“The way we farm with tight spacing, we are looking for grapes that are bright and fresh, with thick skins though we are achieving that without exposing the clusters to sun. It gives more herbal complexity, dense deep tones, and bright fruit.”

The result shows through beautiful integrity from bottling to bottling.

DuMOL wines offer concentrated flavor and structural density with bright fruit, and delicious acidity across varieties thanks to the farming, while cellar choices preserve the wines’ pleasing texture and freshness. The combination Smith describes as his winemaking goal.

“I like texture, but I also like freshness. Any texture or density,” Smith clarifies, “should come from the vines.”

***

DuMOL makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a small amount of Viognier from Sonoma County.

DuMOL Wines: http://www.dumol.com

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

Grimm's Bluff olives + vines looking into Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard & olive grove from the hilltop above, Nov 2014

Before he and his wife Aurora planted it, “this was all native grasses,” Rick Grimm tells me as I step onto their ranch, Grimm’s Bluff. Grimm’s Bluff stands at the southern most boundary of the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA in Santa Ynez Valley. At 859 ft, the property lifts above the Santa Ynez River to the south, the rest cupped by the rolling hills of Happy Canyon.

We pass a large-ish personal garden as we head towards the vineyard. It looks to be a mix of flowers, and vegetables — aesthetic and produce plantings. A comical mix of spotted hens cluck after us briefly as we walk but stop before we reach the vines.

Establishing a New Vineyard

“We knew what type of wine we liked,” Rick Grimm explains, “but not how to grow it.” Happy Canyon itself proves one of the younger zones for vines in the county and includes an array of aspects, and elevations thanks to the varied hills and peaks that surround the canyon. Prior to establishing their site, the Grimm’s subzone of Happy Canyon had no vineyards.

Even vineyard companies through the region “didn’t know what would grow best,” Grimm explains, “since they hadn’t grown in this area.”

The Grimm’s reached out to celebrated winemaker Paul Lato for winemaking. His own label, Paul Lato Wines, has earned him regard from critics and wine lovers alike. Then they also connected with Philippe Coderey to help establish the vineyard. Coderey’s well-respected work in biodynamics includes tenure at sites ranging from Domaine M. Chapoutier in France, to Grgich Hills Estate in Napa, Tablas Creek in Paso, and Bien Nacido in Santa Maria Valley, among others.

Together, the team discussed their goals for style and expression while studying the property. They chose Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon as their varieties — two grapes that have done well in the appellation — then researched to best match clones and rootstock to site and intention.

“Paul had been tasting different clones,” Grimm says. “We researched what rootstocks would do well here. Then, it was, head trained, or, VSP? We chose both with some clones of each, and both rootstocks on both sides.” By diversifying planting within the property vintners mitigate their risk while also increasing knowledge of the site over time.

Biodynamic Farming 

Wishing to create the highest potential for quality through the health of the vines, the team established Grimm’s Bluff using biodynamics. While other vineyards in the region are farmed biodynamically, Grimm’s Bluff remains one of the few done so from the start. Integral to biodynamic principles is biological diversity.

“We have chickens.” Grimm says, referencing the hens that greeted us when I first arrived. “They’re part of our biodiversity element, but then Aurora turned them into pets so we’ve been considering other birds,” Grimm laughs. “Birds are like a walking insecticide.”

Besides vineyard, the Grimm’s have also planted olives, a personal garden, and wild flower insectariums. “Aurora does a lot of gardening,” Rick tells me. “She is good at seeing every part, and how it will fit into the big picture.” Her vision has helped guide the overall design for the property and their family home.

They’ve also kept both untouched and pasture land. By leaving uncultivated, and wild plant zones including forest, and natural transitions of scrub brush and grasslands, greater insect, and animal stability is held through greater plant diversity. The increased health of insect and animal populations helps balance the health of the vines as well. It’s a focus on the biology of not just the vine but its surrounding environment.

Pasture land with cattle helps the team’s need for organic compost. “We make all our own compost.” Grimm explains. “We started from day one making our own. It is difficult to make sure [purchased] manure is all organic with no antibiotics.”

The Stages of Light

RickGrimmsBlufflooking north into Happy Canyon from the top, with Rick Grimm, Nov 2014

Exploring the property with Rick Grimm, gives glimpse into intimacy with a special site. We stand now on the highest point of the site on a hill looking over the vineyard to our east, and the rest of Happy Canyon to our north. The view leaves us dumb for a time. Then, reflecting, Grimm slowly names four stages of the Bluff’s day.

“There is early morning mist on the lake, animals and birds everywhere,” he says, describing the ranch as the sun comes up. “Then, low morning light. The animals have left. There is still a lower, clear light but no mist.”

Finally we come to afternoon when the direction of everything switches in the Santa Ynez Valley. Thanks to the transverse mountain range that defines the valley with an open mouth to the ocean, the region’s wind moves in and out in regular daily rhythm. You can almost set a clock by when the coastal influence reaches your portion of the valley.

“Around 1 PM,” he says, “it’s the heat of the day, and the wind picks up. Then, there is evening. It’s totally clear. There are tons of stars. At night we’ll build a bonfire and just see the clear sky.”

The Wine the Site Gives

Rick and Aurora’s time with Grimm’s Bluff has begun to give fruit. The Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc marks the first release for the project. They have also harvested and vinified their first Cabernet Sauvignon in 2014, yet to be released.

Descending the hillside back towards the vineyard, I ask Rick how he enjoyed bringing in the Cabernet for its first fruit.

“I’d never tasted Cabernet right after it’s been pressed, before it goes into barrel. Is it supposed to taste good?” He responds smiling. “When Paul offered me a taste, I thought he was joking. Then I tasted it and I thought, you know what? I could drink this.”

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc


Grimms Bluff 2013 Sauvignon click on image to enlarge

Grimm’s Bluff
Sauvignon Blanc
Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

13.8%
3.27 pH
0.696 TA

all organic & biodynamic farming
clone 1 & musque clone, first fruit

$40
90 cases

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc delivers lifted aromatics, and a palate of mixed citrus — kefir lime, grapefruit, and hints of mandarin — in both fresh fruit and blossom all carried on a nice backbone of mouthwatering acidity, crushed oyster shell, and saline accents. Winemaker Paul Lato weds crisp focus with a creamy midpalate for a beautifully balanced wine — both refreshing and giving, lithe and supple. Ultra-long finish. Nicely flexible with food. Recommended.

***

To read more about Paul Lato, check out my previous interview with him: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/15/living-courage-paul-lato-wines/

I had the most striking photos of Grimm’s Bluff — it is a beautiful site — and of Rick and Aurora. Then my computer crashed and I lost them. Remember to back-up, dear ones.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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La Clarine Petit Manseng 2013click on image to enlarge

La Clarine Farm
Petit Manseng 2013
Fenaughty Vineyard, Placerville, California

13.5%
dry
2.9pH
14.1 g/L acidity

six months ambient yeast fermentation
rested on lees until bottling in August

Aromatics and flavors of almond, apricot, pineapple juice and dried lemon with touches of anise, and a long sea salt finish. Screaming acidity, delicious fleshy texture, endlessly mouth watering. All about freshness. Pairs well with chicken, chicken pho, hard cheeses, grilled salmon, or black-eyed peas with pork belly.

31 cases bottled

p.s. Happy New Year! Cheers! See you back here Wednesday. Je suis Charlie.  

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Respect for Pinot Gris

Pinot gris, aka. Pinot grigio, proves to be one of the most under celebrated of grapes. Thanks largely to a trend towards light touch, or sweet style mass produced wines from the variety, the grape now is often thought of as bland, or lifeless.

Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, however, disagrees, naming Pinot grigio one of the noble varieties, capable of transporting direct expression of its site through its wine. Travels through Friuli support Stuckey’s view. Heritage houses in the region respect the grape. With the local tradition of Ramato style wines, for example, a little skin contact can go a long way to carrying not only copper toned colors, but richer flavor, and stimulating mineral expression. Or, a little lees time, and greater complexity with richness appears.

In Oregon, David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards too believed in the value of Pinot gris, establishing the first plantings of the variety in the new world in 1965, and the first vintage in 1970. In 1976, and then again in the late 1980s, Lett established further plantings of the grape. Lett’s belief was that when grown well, and vinified to allow varietal expression, Pinot gris could produce fresh, flavorful wines.

Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot Gris

Eyrie’s Estate Pinot Gris consistently offers ridiculous value. Part of its secret rests in vine age, with a huge portion of the fruit coming from vines planted in the 1970s, giving flavor concentration and complexity. Lett’s vision placed Pinot gris as the perfect pairing for salmon, rather than Chardonnay, illustrating Eyrie’s ability to combine flavor with fresh acidity, and mineral length through the variety.

The Eyrie 2012 Estate Pinot gris offers the expressive fruit liveliness of the vintage, with lots of freshness, and mineral crispness at only $15-19 per bottle. It’s sick. Expect fresh melon, accents of lily with greenery, and a hint of rhubarb on tons of crunchy mineral length. This wine is all about palate stimulation, and making your mouth water without gouging your pocket book.

Eyrie 2012 Original Vines Pinot Gris

Eyrie Pinot Gris Original Vines 2012click on image to enlarge

In 2011 Eyrie President and Winemaker, Jason Lett, launched a special bottling of Pinot gris made only from fruit of the original Eyrie Pinot Gris planting established in 1965. It proved to be one of my favorite wines of last year.

For 2012 he continued the project, again vinifying juice from only the original vines for their own cuvée. The wine is aged in old, large wood casks, or tun, remaining on lees for a year, with slow malolactic fermentation to bring a mid-palate creaminess to the intense vibrancy of the fruit.

The 2012 Original Vines proves to be ultra stimulating, offering thrilling acidity and freshness coupled with loads of flavor. The fruit forwardness of the vintage shines here on the wines pink-lightning structure. This wine has definite perspective. No questions asked. Just fresh fruit, mineral-zing truth. I am in love.

If you’re near Oakland, Bay Grape on Grand carries the Original Vines Pinot Gris. It’s a super secret, ultra limited stash so get there quickly and shh…

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

 

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Growing the Vinho Verde: The Wines of OLO

In the Basto zone of Vinho Verde, Jorge Quinta of OLO at Quinta de Val-Bôa grows white wines that bring together lifted texture–all lightness and length–with rich flavor. It’s a young project that has already garnered international attention, carrying distribution in the UK, and being regarded as one of the best wines of Portugal for 2014.

Basto Region of Vinho Verde  view from the front of Quinta dd Val-Bôa in the Basto zone of Vinho Verde

The project brings together long-standing friends Jorge Quinta and Dirk Niepoort. Prior to his venture into winegrowing, Quinta owned one of the top restaurants of Oporto, through which he and Niepoort’s father, Eduard, developed their most popular dish, pepper steak served with young vintage port. Sitting to lunch at Quinta’s table with the two men–Jorge and Dirk–feels like I’ve been invited into a great intimacy. I don’t glimpse all the details of its history, but I can feel the comfort between them.

Jorge Quinta pouring his brutoJorge Quinta pouring his OLO 2012 bruto, sparkling white Vinho Verde

Outside we begin the meal with Quinta’s 2012 bruto–a fully dry sparkling white Vinho Verde that carries a textural richness and purity refreshing alongside the salty meats and fish we’re eating. We’ve been served charcuterie, and what Quinta calls fried sardines though they look and taste just like smelts, small fish I grew up eating in Alaska.

The joke there has always been that you know you’re family if you’re invited to share smelts. The little fish are eaten whole like a breadstick from head to tail with the guts and bones intact. Cooking them smells up the house so much you have to be comfortable alongside the person you share them with.

Niepoort explains he wants Quinta to hold the 2012 bruto, and not release a sparkling wine until the 2013 is ready. The 2012 is delicious but Niepoort believes it will be insightful to see how the wine develops over time.

1906 beer casks at Quinta da Val BoaAs we snack through the foods outside, Quinta describes a sort of experimental traditionalism. He wants to make wines of his region, but avoid knowing in advance exactly how they’ll be made. It’s a balance of making crucial decisions in advance, while avoiding a formula. “One of the most important things,” Quinta tells us, “is the point of the harvest. Without that there is no point, you have to adjust to it.” Each vintage, he explains, puts differing demands on the grower-winemaker. You decide what to do in response to those demands, rather than deciding in advance the wine you’ll produce.

As Quinta describes his goals, he excitedly points out his newest acquisition for the winery — two large casks he will use to make rosé. As he explains, five of the casks arrived in Portugal from Denmark in 1910 full of beer. He has no idea how old the casks were at the time. His father-in-law acquired them next to make red Vinho Verde. In the last year, Quinta received two of the five. They’ve been without wine in them now for six years, so he’s been soaking them to prepare the wood for next year’s rosé. After finishing the bruto, we move inside for a sit down lunch.

Val Boa whiteVal Bôa 2013 Vinho Verde

We begin with soup made half of wild mushrooms, and half wild asparagus, both harvested from Quinta’s 3.5 hectare vineyard. Quinta’s VAL-BÔA Vinho Verde pairs beautifully. It is a wine Niepoort describes as all about harmony — the kiss of sweetness balances the high acid so well the two appear together as simply light refreshment on the palate. It would be perfect too alongside spicy Thai food in the place of Riesling.

The VAL-BÔA opens a point Niepoort has come to believe strongly in winemaking. “It is more important to get the acidity right than to get the alcohol right.” He explains. That said, the VAL-BÔA comes in at 11%, the OLO wines at 12.5%. Niepoort’s point is on deciding when to harvest. He makes picking decisions now almost ignoring sugar levels in favor of the preferred acidity. The alcohol will take care of itself. It’s an idea he believes supports the ultimate aging of the wine, and, more importantly, it’s pleasure now. “The point of it is the lightness” of the wine, he says.

OLO Mondim de BastoOLO 2012 Mondim de Basto

We move to the main course. Quinta has chosen to serve us a traditional Portuguese dish, bacalao, of dried cod, and potatoes. That morning though he was also able to take a fresh white fish from a river that runs through the vineyard. They’ve baked it covered in herbs, alongside lightly minted rice. We enjoy both with the core wines of the OLO portfolio — Alvarinho, and Mondim de Basto, a Vinho Regional Minho white blend. The Basto brings together traditional Portuguese varieties–Trajadura, Pedernã, Alvarinho, Avesso e Azal–in a branco (white) blend.

The Mondim de Basto has recently received the country’s top attention. The news is to be released the day after our visit, and Quinta is very pleased. Jaoa Paulo Martins named it one of the top white wines of Portugal for 2014 in his book Vinhos de Portugal, considered the top wine review text for the country.

It’s a beautiful wine that offers incredible lightness amidst intensity of flavor and a creamy midpalate followed by tons of length. When it was first bottled, Niepoort explains, it was one of the best white wines he’d ever tasted from Portugal. Then it refermented in the bottle.

Jorge Quinta showing off his button hole napkin invention“It refermented in the bottle.” Quinta tells us. “I slept on it for three nights.” He points at his eyes. He’s actually saying he barely slept. “I have to either [dump it] or go forward. I decide I go forward, so I had to reopen 17,000 bottles.” To correct the problem they had to open every bottle to filter the wine, then rebottle everything. “Unbelievable amount of work.” Quinta says. The wine is beautiful, but Niepoort clearly misses the magic of what it had been before. For Quinta it’s still a wine to be proud of. Martins’s regard simply affirms it.

OLO AlvarinhoWe pour the OLO 2013 Alvarinho. I smell the wine and am immediately dumbfounded. It’s unlike anything I’ve smelled before, not a typical Alvarinho. It’s as if Quinta anticipates my thoughts. “There is no other Alvarinho like this,” he says. “You can like it or not but there isn’t.”

The wine is confounding but pleasing. It’s all lightness and pungency on the palate, simultaneously strange and attractive. The nose almost spiced, almost sweet, then both disappear. The palate almost hints oak, then stretches through the midpalate into a minutes-long and lifting finish. It’s a wine of contradictions–spicy but not, sweet but not, woody but not, intense but light–held through Niepoort’s idea of harmony.

Jorge QuintaLeaving the restaurant business to open the Quinta de Val-Bôa, Quinta carries what feels like realistic pride in OLO, as well as a new sense of inspiration. His wines are beautiful, and he keeps the achievement in larger perspective. “What I know about wine,” he explains, “is 15%. In that 15% I know a lot. I still have 85% to learn.”

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Quinta de Val-Bôa does not currently have, but is interested in representation in the United States.

Thank you to Dirk Niepoort, Jorge Quinta, and Joao Pires.

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

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 Nagy Wines with Clarissa Nagy

Nagy Portfolio

click on image to enlarge

Focusing on two whites and two reds, Clarissa Nagy offers wines with a focus on fresh aromatics, clean fruit presentation, with tons of juiciness. Nagy’s touch as a winemaker is wines with a lot to give through a delicate presentation moving with a heart of strength.

While also making Syrah from Los Alamos, her Nagy Wines showcase the style of Santa Maria Valley — pretty and feminine floral fluit notes carrying an integral spice element on a body of juicy mineral length and easy, while present, tannin. The wines throughout are beautifully clean, and fine, with lovely concentration, expressive while retaining that delicate touch.

Giving crisp and fresh floral aromatics with a hint of wax, Nagy’s 2011 Pinot Blanc moves into crisp, fresh length through the palate. The wine offers a vibrant stimulation of citrus through the mid-palate rolling into touches of wax and white pepper on the finish, with a seaside mineral crunch throughout.

Nagy’s 2012 Viognier carries mixed floral notes coupled with a present and mouthwatering citrus element and mineral crunch that bring a dynamic balance to the wine.

The reds from Nagy are my favorite. The 2010 Pinot Noir gives nicely open, pretty aromatics with wild edges touched by sea sand. The palate carries a pretty balance of juiciness and length to light tannin traction, giving the integrated spice room to touch the mouth. The fruit here is clean and juicy.

I really enjoy Nagy’s 2010 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard. The site produces incredibly tiny berries and low yield, with Nagy taking fruit from a hillside section. The combination leads to an inky, almost brooding Syrah lifted by Nagy’s utterly clean, fresh fruit focus. The wine hits the balance of lightness with genuine concentration on the nose brought into lots of juiciness and length on the palate. This Syrah is all red rose with mountain violet, dark rocks, and sea sand texture with a Shawarma core, that touch of bbq crackle spice that brings something to chew on. It’s a natural spice integral to the fruit itself.

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The Nagy Wines website: http://nagywines.com/

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Thank you to Clarissa Nagy.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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

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I am traveling and as a result, relying on a different scanner than usual. The color quality of the drawings posted here, then, are different than I would normally expect. Please excuse the change.

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Three Santa Maria Valley Chardonnays

Last week I took the full 7 days to focus on a cleansing diet, eating only vegetables for the duration. By the end of my week without wine, sugar, salt, or coffee I’d stopped craving chocolate chip cookies, and realized the thing I looked forward to tasting again was finely crafted chardonnay.

Chardonnay at its best is an almost perfect grape. Grown in the right location, made with the right hands, it gives a balance of fruit expression on mineral drive, with light phenolics and juiciness for days that is hard to argue with. (In fact, good chardonnay obliterates argument as it hums through your mouth with juicy joy.) The grape’s recent history of shame cannot cover over the potential for the genuine beauty it offers.

Santa Maria Valley, in the northern portion of Santa Barbara County brings together the ripening flavor potential of ample UV exposure with a climate that carries a persistent inland wind, and daily fog movement, as well as unique soils. The result is lean focused, mineral-laced chardonnay with a presentation moving from floral through fruit on juicy juicy length.

Recently I was able to taste through a number of Santa Maria Valley chardonnays. Following are four of my favorites from three labels.

Falcone Family Wines

Falcone 2012 Chardonnayclick on the image to enlarge

The Falcone Family Wines focuses their winemaking primarily on fruit from their own Templeton Gap-influenced property in San Luis Obispo. However, they also make one chardonnay from the Sierra Madre Vineyard of Santa Maria Valley. The site carries unique clonal plantings for California. The Falcone Family’s chardonnay celebrates the uniqueness of the site, bringing long mineral lines to a wine with layers of flavor on a clean, focused and juicy palate. The citrus aspects move through the whole range of blossom, to zest, accented by smooth nut notes, all cascading through mineral length.

Paul Lato Wines

Paul Lato 2010 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Paul Lato Wines offer focused intensity humming on the rich side of finesse. His Santa Maria Valley chardonnay deepens into savory notes with age, holding onto its core of vibrancy and length. His “le Souvenir” shows off the advantages of the Valley, also drawing on the unique Sierra Madre site, bringing both a lot of juiciness and sapidity through an ultra long finish. The flavors are surprising as they give notes of olive leaf and lemon salt touched by hints of beeswax. The mineral crunch throughout couples with juiciness to keep the palate watering through a long finish.

Riverbench

Riverbench 2012 Chardonnayclick on image to enlarge

Clarissa Nagy stepped into the winemaking at Riverbench with the 2012 vintage. She brings to Riverbench her talent in winemaking, with her wines consistently carrying a delicate presentation moving through a heart of strength. Nagy’s wines celebrate the structure and juiciness of Santa Maria, while also bring the focus to the Valley’s pretty flavors. The Estate and Bedrock chardonnays bring a slightly different style focus to the Riverbench fruit, with Bedrock focusing in on the clean, lean juiciness offered by stainless steel fermentation, and the Estate giving the textural, ultra light toast touch possible with barrel fermentation. Both wines are beautifully made, with the focus on a range of feminine citrus elements and lots of length.

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