The next duo showcased one of my absolute favorite southern Rhone Valley red wines–Vacqueyras by Sang des Cailloux. Vacqueyras is one of the top villages in the region. Interestingly however, on my first professional visit to the village, I was astounded to see so many different soils, just in a span of 10 minutes of driving. The point being, so many different soils can mean so many different levels of quality. Sang des Cailloux (blood of stones, as it translates to be), however, is on a plateau with rounded river stones, similar to what one sees in the finest vineyards of the neighboring (& most famous) village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This is a brooding, wildly rustic, soulful beast. (Most modern winemakers wouldn’t like this wine, because of its techinical/often microbial flaws. I don’t care, however, as that just means more of this wine for me). I once served this wine with a spit charred, 31 day dried aged ribeye, served with a very savory bay leaf chimichurri & it was wine & food magic!!!!. Here we taste a 2013 versus a 2005, just to show what happens with bottle age. Most young sommeliers don’t have too many opportunities to taste wines with some age to them. So, here was an example.
The intent in this next flight was to taste a more classical styled Merlot based, more soil driven Right Bank Bordeaux (Chateau Gombaude Guillot) versus, what I think is a more winemaking driven Merlot based red from the same general area. Blind tasting in these kinds of situations can really give a clearer read on the wine differences because of no preconceived notions. In this case, I found, without a doubt, the Chateau Gombaude Guillot much more interesting of the 2 with loads of real soil character. These kinds of wines, sadly, are becoming harder & harder to find.
The next trio featured two 2000 Barolo–a more classical styled Cavallotto “Riserva” San Giuseppe….& a more seemingly moderned styled Fontanafredda “La Villa”. I think it is important as a sommelier to understand the difference between traditionally made & modern styled wines & these 2 wines clealry showcased that differrence. On a personal note, Iam also hoping that by understanding & therefore appreciating traditionally made wines better, this style will not fall by the wayside. The third wine, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from La Valentina, shows a contrast between Nebbiolo & another one of Italy’s top tier indigenous grape varieties–Montepulciano, done in a much more modern style. I think tasters thankfully really got the jist.
We ended today’s tasting with 3 different vintages of Mourvedre based Bandol reds from Domaine Tempier. Small verticals like this can open discussions about how the wine changes with bottle age, can also change the foods one would recommend for each.
Yes……a VERY fun, hopefully insightful tasting. Again, thank you to all who came.
Cheryle & I recently participated in a HUGE food & wine learning opportunity at the first class Resort of Paws Up, located an hour’s drive outside the town of Missoula, Montana. The culinary weekend was named WinterFest & featured a top echelon of chefs including Hosea Rosenberg winner of “Top Chef” 2005 and chef/owner of Blackbelly restaurant of Boulder, Colorado; Brooke Williamson first runner up “Top Chef” 2010 and co-owner/co-chef of Playa Provisions, The Tripel and Hudson House; Colby and Megan Garrelts of rye and Bluestem restaurants (Colby was also a 2015 James Beard awardee) and of course Ben Jones, the Executive Chef of the Resort at Paws Up.
It is opportunities like this where one can really have a lot of fun working with chefs as they prepare their creations, and mutually come up with some sort of food and wine “magic” which can inspire all, including the guests. Thankfully, each of the chefs were open to collaboration, which made the weekend a real hoot of a time and a real learning opportunity.
One of the culinary highlights was named “Streams”, a very colorful dish of beet cured trout, trout roe, smoked whitefish roe, 63C quail egg and garlic parmesan powder created by Resort Chef Ben Jones. The wine we served was the 2013 Fürst Muller Thurgau “Pur Mineral” (roughly $22 a bottle) , whose, wonderful though delicate aromatics and soil driven minerality made for a striking, memorable pairing. This opportunity clearly reminded me how aromatic white wines can really uplift foods, just as fresh herbs do. While we may not have trout readily available here in the islands, one can readily use this wine with a myriad of fresh fish dishes for similar reasons. Take, for instance, mixing ahi cubes with sea salt, a tiny bit of chili pepper flakes & chiffonade of shiso and trying it with Birichino Malvasia Bianca. Or, as another example, consider panko-ing a piece of swordfish, sautéing it, and finishing it off, with a squeeze of lemon, a tad of white wine, butter and some fresh thyme. Then try the dish with a wonderfully perfumed, minerally white wine such as the Melville Viognier “Verna’s”. In all cases, I think you will be amazed at the synergy these combinations can create.
Another of the most interesting pairings of the weekend featured a dish–Beets with snow peas, pancetta, mint cream & celery leaves, a creation of James Beard awardee, Colby Garrelts of Kansas City. The wine we paired was the 2013 Dr F Weins Prum Kabinett Feinherb “Graacher Himmelreich”. I know guests must to have asked themselves–A German Riesling? Fortunately, Colby & his wife/pastry chef extraordinaire Megan, understand the merits of high quality German Riesling like this & how it can make food taste better. Therefore, to ensure a more seamless pairing, Colby marinated the beets in a very intense vinaigrette first. The dish’s resulting higher acidity then lent itself to work its magic with the ever so slightly sweet edge of the wine. Furthermore the inclusion of the mint & celery leaf components worked very well with the innate minty/petrol/minerality of the wine. Yes, it was magic!
Another interesting pairing was the Crown of Squab with winter apples, farro, Green Dirt Farm cheese & spiced quince with the 2014 Marcel Lapierre “Raisins Gaulois”. At first the dish sounded like a Riesling dish because of the innate sweetness of the apple & quince, so the dish was adjusted by adding a red wine component to both the apple & the farro. For those, not familar with the wine, it hails from the Beaujolais region of France. Marcel Lapierre was truly one of the game changers in the French wine community, mainly because of his more sustainable, naturale, “back to basics” approach to grape growing & winemaking. His Cru Morgon bottling was what received most of the accolades & high acclaim. His “Raisins Gaulois”, in comparison, is a wine he would regularly serve at his dining table, because of its innate food friendliness, terrific deliciousness & total gulpability!
Another of the real highlight pairings featured Elk Loin, jerky and demi glace, red currant jam, pine dust and potato pillow. This preparation deftly worked with the 2012 Cantina Valpane Grignolino del Monferrato, an exotically perfumed, Italian “country” styled red wine, which worked so effortlessly with the leaner elk meat, making the meat taste juicy & so tasty. Furthermore, the wine’s exotic & rustic scented character made for a very interesting pairing with all of the fixings. It is pairings like this one dreams about experiencing. Here in the islands since elk is not readily available, we could also pair these wines with savory prepared local lean meats such as wild boar or Lanai venison. We could also the same with the next dish.
On the second night dinner, the entree was a Peppered Venison Loin with smoked sweet potato puree, brussel sprouts & red wine apple & port-red wine sauce. As you will also see in the picture, Chef Hosea marinated the venison for a few hours with olive oil, garlic & rosemary. Furthermore, he, based upon the paired red wine, instead poached the apples in red wine, smoked the sweet potatoes for an hour before pureeing & added red wine & some wild Montana cherries to the Port sauce. The dish was an amazing pairing with the 2012 Faury St Joseph served, both smokey, peppered, savory & wildly rustic.
Other wonderful pairings included the Potato Gnocchi with roasted wineter squash, bitter greens, lardon & mushrooms, which was paired with a Hans Wirsching Scheurebe Kabinett Dry “Iphofer”. I walked away from this trip with even a greater appreciation for this German white wine, its mesmerizing minerality, wonderful though delicate perfume & therefore its remarkabe affinity with a wide range of foods.
“Earth & Sky”–5 spiced Duck, roasted cauliflower puree, wild mushroom terrine, sherry vinegar “ice cubes”, chive oil, Killing Frost Farm micro herbs–which we paired with a very earthy, minerally 2014 Meyer Naekel Pinot Noir from the Ahr region of Germany. Yes, we chose the Meyer Naekel because of its earthiness, muskiness & intriguing spices, PLUS how remarkably UN-heavy & delicious it really is. Furthermore, this dish called for youthful fruit, balance, rather than any hard edges & more moderate alcohol levels. I thought this was an amazing pairing!
While I normally don’t look to pair wines with dessert, at the end of one of the night’s meal, we thoroughly enjoyed a Spiced S’Mores Pudding with graham cracker crumble, thyme marinated blackberries & Earl Grey toasted marshmello with a well chilled glass of 2013 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls “Rimage” & it was magic!
I am really looking going back next year! If you are interested in being there too, the dates are January 19th through the 22nd, 2017. Either mark your calendars or call them for more information.
Here is the final piece on the tasting we did today.
The next flight featured Pinot Noirs from the Old World. The first, 2012 Jermann “Red Angel on the Moonlight”, is a very refined, more delicate red wine from Fiuli, Italy. What made this wine perplexing at first, was the mere fact that Silvio Jermann made quite the reputation in the 80’s & 90’s with his game changing white wines. He continued his crusade then producing very dramatic, intense proprietary white wines–“Vintage Tunina”, a Sauvignon Blanc driven blend & his much heralded “Where Dreams come from…..”, a powerful, lush, oak ladened Chardonnay based white. So, in 1988, he releases these more delicate nuanced RED wines? Still, the wine is enjoyable & has a real affinity for foods. Hailing from Friuli & mainly neighboring Slovenia & its Brda marl soils, this 2009 Movia Pinot Nero is produced from 30 year old vines & aged up to 4 years in barrique. The final wine of the trio was the 2011 Furst Spatburgunder “Hundsruck GG”. Paul Furst in my humble opinion produces not only the very best Pinots out of Germany, but also can stand tall on the world class stage His Hundsruck parcel is a mere 3 hectares in Burgstadt & red sandstone soils, which usually ripes Pinot 2 to 3 weeks later than Burgundy. Of his many Pinot bottlings, Hundsruck is his most powerful. Again, please go to archives to check out a previous blog I wrote & paul Furst & his wines. There is a lot to say!
The final flight of the tasting featured Pinot Noirs from the varietal’s “motherland”, Burgundy, France, where the soil is premium. We tried to feature wines from distinctly different areas to better show a spectrum of possibilities, rather than a quartet of Cru wines trying to out show each other. The 2013 Regis Bouvier Bourgogne “Montre Cuil” comes from a steep, sandy-ferruginous soil parcel outside of Dijon. The parcel is 1.8 acres in size with 50 plus year old vines. The grapes are fermented in concrete & aged for 10 months in 3 to 4 year old barrels. We absolutely love the transparency & purity of this easy drinking, delightful, “country” style Pinot. The next wine was the 2013 AP De Villaine Bourgogne Rouge “La Digoine” from the Chalonnaise region of southern Burgundy. These are 35 to 45 year old vines, grown in clay-limestone soils, & the juice is fermented in wood, with 2/3’s stems & then aged in old oak for 10 to 12 months. This is yet another terrific, pure, transparent Pinot, but done in a classy, much more highly refined style. We then looked to remind tasters there is a big difference in wine profile between those from the Cote de Nuits & those from the Cote de Beaune. In addition, we chose to show more classically styled renditions–the 2013 Robert Chevillon Nuits St Georges Premier Cru “Bousselots” & the 2013 Guillemot Corton Grand Cru “Le Rognet”. Bousselots is roughly at 750 to 850 feet elevation, 10 to 15% grade of gravel, limestone & clay soils. NO stems are included in the stainless steel fermentation & the wine is aged in barrel, 30% new. This classy, highly vinous Premier Cru shows why Chevillon is the top dog in the Nuits St Georges appellation. It has admittingly taken me a very long time to understand & truly appreciate the Pinot Noirs of Guillemot, which is quite a surprise to me considering I normally appreciate finesse, elegance, grace, balance & terroir, especially when done in a classic style. Well, I certainly liked this bottling in 2011, 2012 & now this 2013. These are 50 year old vines, grown in ferruginous oolite soils, fermented in wood & aged for 18 months in oak, 10% new. Light in color & more delicately nuanced, this wine is worthy of ending an epic tasting like this!
Thank you to Warren Shon for hosting this tasting & thank you to all who came.
So, after “setting the table” via the Melville wines, we then moved on to taste interesting, top caliber Pinot Noirs produced from different heritage/heirloom plant material, grown in different appellations.
The first wine was the 2013 Knez Pinot Noir “Demuth Vineyard” out of the Anderson Valley. The Navarro River snakes itself through this valley & ends up emptying into the Pacific Ocean further north. That cut in the hills allows the cold air from the ocean creep into the valley & chill it. Where most of the early noteworthy vineyards of the Valley were mostly flatland & some benchland vineyards, we are now seeing more & more vines being grown up in the hills boxing in the valley. If one stands in Booneville, for instance, & then faces east, up on that 800 to 1200 foot hillside, is the home of 4 of the valley’s most revered vineyards–Abbey Harris, Cerise, Demuth & Savoy. Demuth has the oldest vines, having been planted over 30 years ago–Pommard & 2A vines grown in mainly bear wallow soils. The 2013 saw roughly 50% stems & was aged in oak for 12 months, 30% new. The next wine was the 2012 Neyers “Roberts Road”, which is planted along the Petaluma River & farmed by the iconic Sangiacomo family. This parcel is Swan selection & a basalt-clay gravel soil which is very cold even during the Summer. The 2012–50% stems & 10 months in oak, 30% new.
The next duo of wines are produced from Martini heritage vines planted in 1989, 90 & 91 on a wind pounded mesa, 5 minutes closer to the ocean than Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley. The vineyard is named Gold Coast & the soils are a sandy loam with tiny seashell bits scattered here & there. The 2013 CF Pinot Noir saw 8 pickings of fruit, had stems included in only 1 barrel out of 8 & sees NO new oak whatsoever. Thank you to Gary Burk of Costa de Oro for producing this wine for us, every year, since I believe 2002. The 2013 Paul Lato “Duende” sees NO stem inclusion & spends 15 months in oak, 50% new. Here is the difference between lovely, elegant, lighter & ethereal & the more dramatic, highly vinous, mesmerizingly layered “trophy style signature to Lato. What a really cool comparison!
The next duo started with the 2013 Domaine de la Cote “Bloom’s Field”–Swan, Calera & Mt Eden vines, planted actually out of extreme west Santa Rita Hills. 100% stem inclusion, 20 months in oak, 10% new. 2013 Tyler “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”–this is truly THE single vineyard for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, (Mt Eden selection planted in 1971 on its own roots!!!!!!) This 2013 sees 15% stem inclusion & spends 14 months in oak, 40% new. The final wine of this flight was the 2012 Patz & Hall “Pisoni Vineyard”, a monumental, very masculine, vinous stud from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey. Superstar grape grower, Gary Pisoni made quite the media splash back in the day for suitcasing what was believed as cuttings from the iconic La Tache vineyard of Vosne Romanee in Burgundy, France & planting them in his namesake vineyard. This wine came from the older vines, saw 15% stem inclusion & 50% new oak. (We also slipped in a couple of unnamed, highly acclaimed, BIG name players blind, just to provide yet another perspective.)
The first wine was the 2010 Scherrer Pinot Noir “Russian River”, which listed 30% clone 828, 12% 777 & 58% Elite clone (which I suspect is a spin off of a Dijon clone). This tasty, classy, very elegant & balanced, newly released 2010 had NO stem inclusion & spent 19 1/2 months in oak, 1/3 new. My experience with the Scherrer wines over the past few years has been eye opening for me. While many wines can age, the Scherrer wines are incredible & get so much more interesting with bottle age. I suspect this will be yet another in a long line real jewels along those lines. (go to archives & check out previous Scherrer wine posts to better see what I mean). The next wine, 2012 Neely Pinot Noir “Picnic Block” hails from the Spring Ridge Vineyard, located 500 to 1000 feet up a hill from the Stanford University golf course in Palo Alto. The Varner brothers, Jim & Bob produce small lots of highly acclaimed Chardonnay & now equally as acclaimed single parcel Pinot Noir under the Varner….& the Neely labels. Picnic Block was planted in 2000 to Dijon clone 777. The resulting Pinots are have a dark, masculine character but are still well textured & well balanced. This 2012 saw only 2% stem inclusion & spent 12 months in oak, 25% new. Unfortunately, this wine was corked. The third wine of this flight was the 2013 Rivers Marie Pinot Noir “Silver Eagle”. This is the handiwork of superstar Napa Valley Cabernet maker Thomas Brown of Schrader fame. The gorgeous & generous 2013 was produced from clone 828, a Vosne Romanee selection & Calera, all planted in 2004 out on the Sonoma Coast. 10% stems & 10 months in oak, 25% new.
The next wine, 2011 WH Smith “Maritime Ridge” is also from the Sonoma Coast, actually a blend of 2 main vineyards with smidgeons from 2 other sites. the composite is clones 115, 667 & 777, NO stems, 18 months in oak, 50% new. Owner/winemaker Bill Smith was the founding winemaker of La Jota & helped usher the Howell Mountain appellation & grape varieties such as Viognier & Cabernet Franc, in addition to his massive, masculine, power packed, “mountain grown” Cabernets until he sold the project to Kendall jackson in the early 2000’s. I started carrying his WH Smith labeled, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs with the 1988 vintage, because of their incredible, intoxicating perfume. Because the earlier bottling had such light, translucent colors, somewhere along the line, Bill morphed their style to much more masculine & dark colored. The next Pinot in this line-up was the 2012 Anthill Farms “Comptiche Vineyard”. Located in the northern & therefore cooler end of the Anderson Valley at higher elevation, the Anthill trio get 50% Swan & roughly 50% Pommard/115 with a small dollop of 667 & use 50% stems inclusion in 2012 with 16 months of oak aging, 25% new. I first tasted their wines at the Russian River Pinot Noir Forum & was absolutely mesmerized with their elegant, refined, lovely renditions. These guys are really in stride now. Unfortunately, this wine also had a corkiness. The final wine of the flight was the 2012 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir “Fire”, a relatively new standout Pinot project up in Oregon under the watchful eyes of Mark Tarlov & superstar French winemaking consultant Louis Michel Liger-Belair. I can go on & on about this project, as there is a lot to discuss, but I would instead suggest you go to the archives of this blog & look up the interview I previosuly did with Mark Tarlov about their mission & schtick. I think you will find it interesting, even though his thoughts are quite controversial to other wine professionals.
One of our goals for 2016 is to do more educational tastings. Here is one we did today for the trade. As I told the participants, there is never one answer. By learning, we can ask better questions…..& thereby continue to learn.
We began by doing a tasting of wines from the Melville estate vineyard of the Santa Rita Hills appellation. We were fortunate as Chad Melville sent some barrel samples to start the learning wheels churning.
The first duo featured two 2015 barrel samples–both produced from Dijon clone 114, same winemaking, just from different soils. Anna’s–is more sandy soils & from my perspective, lighter, more transparent & ethereal. M–is more clay to the soil, & therefore had more forward fruit with more umpff. This help set the table for the participants as we moved along to other wines.
The second duo featured two 2015 barrel samples, both produced from the same Dijon clone, same soil, one done with NO stem inclusion & the other with 100% stem inclusion. While more & more professionals debate about the merits of stem inclusion, I am not sure if too many, at least here in the Islands, really understand what qualities this translates to in the finished wine. Here was an opportunity to see first. Furthermore, as we moved through this day’s line-up of wines, we could now discuss, soils & stem inclusion better on each of the wines presented.
We then tasted a finished wine, the 2013 Melville Pinot Noir “Estate”, which was produced from 16 different clones/selections, 40% stems, & aged in older oak, which provided yet another perspective on the vineyard for tasters.
The next 2 wines were produced from single parcels of the estate vineyard. “Block M” (95 points) is the wine swept parcel on top of their sand knoll, mainly botella clay & planted to Dijon clones 114 & 115. The 2013, which is the seemingly riper, more forward of the 2, saw 80% stem inclusion & aged in old barrels. The “Terraces” (94 points) is the 3 parcels on three sides of the sand knoll, which Block M caps & is planted to Swan, Mt Eden, 115, 667 & 777 on clay loam/calcareous shale soils. The 2013 had 50% stem inclusion & was also aged in older oak. One could readily taste the differences between these two wines……from the soils, plant material & % stem inclusion. The third wine of the flight was the 2012 Samsara Pinot Noir “Melville Vineyard“. The Melvilles came onto the Santa Barbara wine scene in the late 1980’s & from early on, Chad Melville was their vineyard-ist & Greg Brewer was their winemaker. A little bit down the road, Chad & his wife, started their own label, Samsara, where Chad was the vineyard-ist AND the winemaker. So, here is the wine we thought would provide some additional perspective…Melville grapes (2/3 Pommard, 1/3 667), 50% stems & 22 months in oak, 25% new. What a VERY different slant, using Melville grapes!!!! I refer to this wine as Black Beauty–such power & strength, done very effortlessly so.
For the future, the BIG news is, Greg Brewer has moved on & now Chad Melville will be overseeing the vineyards AND the winemaking. We wish Greg the best with his future endeavors. The change at Melville will be sooooooo interesting to watch unfold & settle out. Stay tuned!!!
Thankfully there is a whole world to explore and enjoy in one’s search for good wine. Many wine lovers naturally gravitate to the award winners and specifically those which garner high scores and accolades from the major wine media. There is always a time and a place to enjoy these, especially when sharing with some friends, co-workers or fellow wine lovers. I am sure most can recall at least one such really special wine ah-ha moment.
My question then is, have you also had that kind of ah-ha moment enjoying a mind blowing wine and food pairing?
In the “Old World” , France, Italy and Spain for instance, wine served with food is typically part of their lifestyle. Wine is regularly served at the dinner table, rather than only on special occasions. Furthermore, each region typically has their own slant on regional foods AND what kinds of wines to serve with each. They have, after all, had a long history working out what works and what doesn’t.
We, in the U.S., have only recently really started down this road.
One of the interesting observations that I have learned over the years, is that different kinds of foods, more often than not, work with different kinds of wines . How can the same wine, then, work with the same fish cooked with just salt and pepper, a teriyaki sauce and a Italian tomato sauce?
Since we have a wonderful selection of fresh fish here in the Islands, here are 4 wines which can work with a wide range of flavors and cooking preparations for you to experiment with. Hopefully, the goal would be to find wines you could serve with fish at home.
2013 Rudolf Fürst Muller Thurgau “Pur Mineral”–I love this wine, because it is so amazingly light, minerally and ethereal with a crisp, refreshing edge. You can therefore have this wine with all kinds of fresh fish preparations from simply sautéed with salt & pepper to lightly oriental in style to Mediterranean. Furthermore, because winemaker/owner Paul Fürst was selected as “2003 Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year” one is getting a stellar white wine at a reasonable price.
2013 Birichino Malvasia Bianca–The grape variety here is Malvasia Bianca and is grown in the cooler Monterey appellation of California. This wine has profuse perfume (lychee & grapefruit nuances), which in most cases will make the taster think the wine is sweet. It is not. It is medium dry to dry depending on the vintage, with a lightness on the palate and a real, freshly squeezed lime edge, which is sure to keep your palate fresh and alert between bites. Furthermore, we love how these kinds of “aromatic” wines uplift foods just as fresh herbs innate do. You can fun with this wine at all kinds of Asian restaurants—especially Thai & Chinese—or even with Mexican or Mediterranean. This is really a quintessential “food” white wine, if there ever is such a thing.
2013 Champalou Vouvray Sec–This minerally, riveting white wine comes from France’s Loire Valley. Yes, this is the same general area where Joan of Arc did her crusades and where Leonardo Da Vinci chose to be buried. (the point being it has lots of history). With my first sip, I am always re-amazed at how effortlessly light and ethereal it really is. Furthermore, this is yet another “aromatic” white wine, which is greatly butressed by the wine’s truly mesmerizing, prominent minerality which just enhances its food friendliness. Besides the wide range of ethnic foods one could pair with this wine, it also really is an ideal wine just to sip on those especially hot days or after coming home from a hard day at work.
2014 Dr F Weins Prum Riesling “Estate”–The 2012 has just arrived here in the Islands. Cheryle and I were in the vineyards tasting these grapes with the winemaker/owner, Bert Selbach. (Cheryle was in total awe how impossibly steep and rocky they really are.) Still, many of Germany’s top sites are also just as steep and rocky. In this case, it really is the masterful skills of Bert which separate him from his peers. His resulting wines are so remarkably light, ethereal, airy and delicious. This would be the first wine I would grab for oriental foods. As you will see, it really is like biting into a cold apple and will help cool and soothe your palate between bites of spicy or salty foods.
Today, we conducted a tasting of German wines for the trade. It was really nice to see all of the young sommeliers/wine professionals who came to the tasting. (I would like to greatly thank Warren Shon, Fritz & Agnes Hasselbach & Theo & Johannes Haart for helping assemble the various wines).
To start off this casual, “introductory” seminar, we thought it important to point out the 13 anbaugebiete (winegrowing regions) of Germany & in an effort to keep discussions as concise as possible, we would be only discussing 4 today–the Mosel, Rheinhessen, Nahe & Franconia.
The first topic of discussion was the extreme growing conditions Germany historically experienced over the years. In fact, until recently (essentially pre-1988), the wineries were lucky if they had 2 or 3 “ripe” vintages out of every 10. This meant in many cases, as long as the weather permitted, longer hang time was needed & therefore the grapes would get more physiological maturity at lower potential alcohol levels. This, has been one of my real fascinations with the wines from Germany, especially in terms of compatibility with foods.
Then, we discussed how ALL wines could be produced sweet to dry depending on what the winemaker wanted to do, whether the wine is sparkling, red or Riesling. The point being NOT all German wines are sweet.
We then discussed sugar & its relationship to wine in Germany. Sub-topics included Öchsle, süss reserve, residual sugar & chaptalization.
Silvaner–is a less heralded grape variety. Historically, it provided the “core” for the German “country” white wines such as Liebfraumilch, for the masses to consume, both locally & abroad. Culinarily, my wife & I discovered while in Alsace one year, Silvaner is a grape variety whose neutrality & pli-ability allows it to work with a surprisngly wide spectrum of foods. Furthermore, its delicate aromatics accent & connect well with fresh herbs. Hans Wirsching excels with this grape variety & his is certainly worth checking out.
Scheurebe–to help the plight of so many UN-ripe years, German scientists continually experimented crossing grapes vines, hoping to get some kind of Riesling nobility, but with earlier ripening times. The Scheurebe (Samling 88) was one of the 2 most popular. Created in 1916 by Dr George Scheu, this cross of Riesling & a wild grape variety can offer riper, rounder plumpness we like with intriguing black currant, grapefruit qualities. Again, Hans Wirsching produces stellar renditions.
Muller Thurgau–yet another of the more popular grape crosses (Riesling & Madeleine Royale) created by Herman Müller in 1882. Fürst, as we tasted today, produces by far the most interesting rendition I have tasted from Germany. It is also incredibly diverse with foods, because of remarkable etherealness & minerality. Paul Fürst (2003 Gault Millau “Winemaker of the Year”) has but 1 hectare planted of this grape variety & in red sandstone soils.
Riesling–in comparison, we decided to taste a DRY styled Riesling from the town of Piesport & Reinhold Haart. (Theo Haart–2007 Gault Millau “Winemaker of the Year”). As this wine deftly showcases, Riesling in this case has rounder, seemingly riper acidity. Riesling is also a conduit of a vineyard’s “terroir”. Furthermore, as we will see later in this tasting, there is so much more to consider within the Dry category.
Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)–Pinot Noir (& Pinot Blanc) is gaining in popularity & notoriety in Germany. In the 1990’s, we saw Meyer Naekel from the Ahr region; Heger in the Baden region & Fürst in Franconia as the leaders. From my point of view they are still the leaders of this highly fickle grape variety, although some might a case for Becker from the Pfalz region as well. Still, I think when you try a Fürst Klingenberger or Schlossberg designated Pinot Noir, you will better know, that German Pinot has “arrived” on to the world class stage.
We also had a brief discussion of the different quality levels of German wine–Tafelwein, Landwein, QBA & QmP (including Kabinett, Spätlese & so on). We also briefly discussed the VDP organization & how it unofficially greatly helps drive wine quality, since the wines we were sampling today were from VDP estates.
The second flight we tasted consisted of 2 wines from the same red slate soil, the same vintage & the top echelon winemaking of Johannes Hasselbach of Weingut Gunderloch. (Johannes carries on the high tradition of what his father, Fritz, established at this domaine). One of the wines is a 2013 Estate Riesling Trocken (dry) & the other labeled as 2013 “Jean Baptiste”. The Dry Riesling lists 13 degrees alcohol & the “Jean Baptiste”, which I would say is Feinherb in style & registers at 10.5 degrees alcohol. Just another opportunity to discuss weight, physiological maturity, residual sugar & alcohol levels.
We originally wanted the third flight to showcase “fruity” style Riesling (therefore some residual sugar) from the same vineyard–Kabinett & Auslese in oechsle measurement. I was hoping to do so with wines from Bert Selbach at Dr F. Weins-Prüm. Because Bert is a direct descendent of the iconic Prüm family, he has sensational vineyard holdings including parcels in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, & Domprobst, Ürziger Würzgarten & Erdener Prälat. Furthermore, we really like how ethereal & airy Bert’s Rieslings are. They are light like no other AND completely showcase the vineyards’ terroir & soul. Lastly (& probably most importantly business wise, his wines are so darn remarkably priced for what you get in the bottle). Sadly, as it turned out, I forgot to bring the wines & we ended up instead using a Kabinett, a Spätlese & a Gold Kapsule Auslese, although all from Dönnhoff, EACH from a different vineyard. Even so, one could readily see the difference in must weight, extract, physiological ripeness, intensity & power as we went up the oechsle ladder. The icing on the cake, was that we got to taste lots of Dönnhoff wines!!!! How often does that happen?
Our intention for the next flight was to show what happens to a DRY, Cru quality wine with bottle age. So, we served 2 DRY Rieslings from Dönnhoff, a 2001 “Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg” Spätlese Dry & a 2012 “Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg” GG (Grosse Gewachs–Germany’s attempt at Grand Cru). Nothing shy or wimpy in this flight! OMG. For those questioning if Riesling is a noble grape variety, you should have tasted these! We also briefly discussed the main criteria for GG wines, so tasters could better understand & appreciate what was in their glass.
The next flight showcased 2 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett wines from Reinhold Haart–a 2012 & a 1991. The goal was to show tasters how apparent sweetness levels change to a more tactile creaminess with bottle age. Furthermore, the mineral comes soaring back to the forefront & the acidity integrates so much more harmoniously. Just on another note, I hope it reminded all, that the Haart wines young or old, Kabinett or Spätlese are from a vineyard which is of Grand Cru quality, BUT also he is as good of winemaker as there is from anywhere in the world.
The final flight was again an opportunity to taste a young versus an older wine, in this case 2012 & 1996 Spätlese, each from the Nackenheimer Rothenberg vineyard & Weingut Gunderloch. Here is another winery which produces superb wines, which WAY overdelivers quality for the price! In 2012 when I was last there, this vineyard was on track to ripen 2 to 3 weeks earlier than Haart in Piesport, so I can find the wines to be more forward, young & old. BUT, I also find the innate stoniness from the red slate greatly butresses the acidity to make it so much brighter & fresher. This carries through the wine with age too. I find the stoniness so much more exotic, provocative & thankfully different than that of the high toned, floral, minerality of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wines. One can definitely end the meal in an uplifting way with the 1996 Spätlese.
And, as we summed up things at the end, we talked about all of the variables offered in today’s tasting–differences in grape varieties, soils, winemaking, residual sugar levels, alcohol levels, acidity, minerality, dryness/sweetness AND young versus old, just to name a few. Now, just imagine the possibilities one can have pairing with foods!!!!
Thank you to all who came.
One learns….to ask better questions….& thereby continuing to learn.
One of the main challenges in running a restaurant (or any business for that matter) is staffing–finding the right people & ones who will “fit” in. Dauting task to say the least. What can be quite helpful is the candidate’s resume & especially letters of recommendation, especially if it is from someone you know and/or have a good reputation & long time industry credibility.
Whether it is all true & complete is the question, but it does provide one with background information & insight & therefore can perk one’s interest & more importantly equip you then to ask better questions.
I often find the same can be true with finding the right kind wine.
Here is a note from Anthony Lynch, son of wine importer Kermit Lynch recently passed along to me. It certainly re-perked my interest.
“Great wine is made in the vineyard, as the saying goes, but not all vineyards make great wine. In some instances, most notably Burgundy, centuries of experimentation have effectively pre-selected the best sites for today’s winemakers, but this is not always the case: sometimes the task of choosing a site—relying solely on intuition and an intricate understanding of what makes a terroir great—is left to the vigneron.
When Sylvain Fadat, proprietor of Domaine d’Aupilhac, acquired the Cocalières parcel in 1998, it was overgrown with rugged, wild garrigue, and had been abandoned since the last brave soul cultivated it two centuries prior. Yet Sylvain saw enormous potential in this eight-hectare natural amphitheater. For starters, it lay at an altitude perched high above his hometown of Montpeyroux; coupled with the northwest exposure, this would allow for slow ripening with cool nights to preserve the acidity so dearly valued in a hot southern climate. Second, with basalt soils from its volcanic past as well as limestone deposits from an ancient lake, Cocalières represents a unique geological phenomenon. After years of painstaking labor to clear the land of massive boulders and tenacious shrubbery, Sylvain planted Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache for his Cocalières red. The final step would be to give it the usual Aupilhac treatment: organic farming, native yeast fermentation, long aging in neutral wood, and an unfiltered bottling. Year after year, this terroir beautifully marries a delicate freshness with the ripe, soulful fruit we are accustomed to in southern reds. Here is your chance to discover the great cru of Cocalières, evidence that with a bit of ambition and hard work, good wine is indeed made in the vineyard“. Anthony Lynch
Last night was another tasting with our VINO wine friends. Two of the wines were “Helfer Vineyard” Chardonnay from 2011 & 2006.
We frequently get asked how wines change with age & we thought showcasing 2 of Fred Scherrer’s single vineyard “Helfer”, 5 years apart, would be an interesting example.
Helfer Vineyard is located in the Russian River Valley on Vine Hill Road, slightly north of Kistler. I believe this vineyard is less than an acre in size, located in a bowl, with more whitish, sandy Goldridge soils, planted in 1993 mostly to Kistler Hyde selection with smaller amounts of Dijon clones 76 & 96. The 2011 was wild yeast fermented, whole cluster pressed, spent 15 months or so on the lees & saw roughly 50% new oak. Having tasted many of his Helfer designated Chardonnays, we were very surprised how open & forward this wine is at such a youthful age. It certainly was a crowd favorite because of its elegance, refinement & class, despite have a strong & virile core & structure. The 2006 in comparison, was fermented with Montrachet yeast, 50% new oak & 100% malolactic. It was still very tight fisted & intensely structured, with however, much more ethereal & lanolin nuances & a profound stoniness peaking through. I think this will be some kind of wine once it has a chance to resolve itself.
The wine gang followed the tasting with bottles they had each brought of other older Scherrer wines. Oh my goodness! What a memorable tasting this now turned out to be. Here are some of the highlights–
Scherrer Vineyard is roughly 20 acres of vines planted in southeast Alexander Valley on a bench above the Silver Oak holdings. The soils is more clay-loam-gravel & the Chardonnay parcel Fred works with–the vines were grafted over in 1989 using budwood they got from Ulysses Lolonis of Mendocino. On this night, we tried 3 different vintages (all 3, harvested at roughly 1 ton per acre). Interestingly, all 3 were essentially treated the same way–using Montrachet yeast, whole cluster pressed, 100% malolactic & roughly 50% new oak for 14 to 16 months. (the 1999 was slightly different–two, out of the 8 barrels, were 500 liter puncheons used). The 2007 was a mega-intense, unyielding stud with lots of vanilla/oakiness showing…& yes a stoniness, but it was definitely hibernating. I was going to use the word beast to describe this wine’s magnitude, but this wine really has just too much class to be considered a beast. I have been fortunate to have had the 2002 “Scherrer Vineyard” bottling quite a few times over the past 2 years. 5 years ago at a tasting at Sansei Kapalua, I then proclaimed it was one of the very best Chardonnay I had ever had! On this night, the 2002 tasted much more youthful than any of the other tastings over the past 2 or so years. In fact, it was still oaky & very tight fisted in its core. For those of you who still own some, this is an absolutely stunning wine, which hopefully will set a standard for you to measure others by, as it did for me. 1999–This was a pretty as pretty can be, ethereal wine butterfly. I had never had something like this from California. It was very floral, delicately spiced & so sheer & airy-like on the palate. Simply divine. I suggest this was having a glorious wine at the perfect time of its life. There was some real golden shadows, so I suggest one enjoy the wine shortly. I am sure it can go longer, by why wait?
Both of these were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Scherrer Vineyard in Alexander Valley. The 1999 was still so amazingly youthful. Initially, it had a bark quality that I had never experienced in a Scherrer Cabernet before, but that blew off after some air time. The wine displayed red fruit with a stoniness in the core. We love the wine’s class, superb texture & wonderful balance & once again showed Fred’s masterful touch. FYI–I did notice some oak characteristics still, but I really had to look for it, rather than anything poking out. Fred recalls he used about 2/3’s new oak & the wine aged in the barrels for about 24 months.
The 2003 was much more refined, but still quite remarkably youthful. In a blind tasting I would never have guessed this wine was 12 years old. Although there were certainly bottle age nuances, the core & structure was still tight & virile. I was surprised to hear that Fred used 75% new oak & aged the wine in barrel for about 30 months.
It is hard to find wineries which do 1 grape variety well enough to standout. Fred Scherrer undoubtedly deftly crafts Chardonnay & Cabernet on that level as these 7 wines confirmed. I should also add that he also produces truly superb Syrah, Rose, Zinfandel AND Pinot Noir.
Thank you VERY much to all attendees for sharing! It really was a special night.