Guest Post – On the Weinstrasse: Pfalz

Today we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE. James’ article describes an amazing trip he recently took along the Wine Route in the Palantinate. Read on!

Old Town Neustadt

Old Town Neustadt

Nestled comfortably in the Haardt Hills, which is an extension of France’s Vosges Mountains, is the exquisite town of Neustadt. The town happens to be the central point for the 85-kilometer long German Wine Route (“Weinstrasse”) through the Palantinate.  I recently spent two weeks in this fascinating area.

Established in 1935, this is the oldest of the German wine routes. The ‘trail’ is a windy road that delivers you past many of the great wineries and famous vineyard sites throughout the region. The Weinstrasse has the most expansive array of vineyards that I have ever encountered.  The drive is breathtaking as it winds through historic wine villages such as Forst and Bad Durkenheim, which holds the largest wine festival in the world.

The picturesque Haardt hills and Palatinate forest provide a stunning backdrop for the various varietals grown in the Pfalz. The trail starts right near the French border of Alsace with the symbolic German Wine Gate in the town of Schweigen-Rechtenbach.  It is made of sandstone which is also the main soil structure throughout the Weinstrasse.  There is a

The Wine Gate in Schweigen-Rechtenbach

The Wine Gate in Schweigen-Rechtenbach

rather unique tasting room with an abundance of excellent wine to sample and buy.  The trail ends at the House of the German Wine Route in Bockenheim an der Weinstrasse.  The Rhine River flows lazily through the area as it continues onward through Germany.

One common theme with the wine of the Pfalz was that most of the wines were Trocken (dry). The typical American consumer often has a stigma with German wines thinking that they are all syrupy sweet and uncomplicated.  The Pfalz wines are quite the opposite with most being dry and deliciously complex.  The reason that dry wines are common throughout this region is that it is one of the hottest in Germany and therefore the grapes can ripen to a greater degree.  The ensuing wines created can range from off dry to completely bone dry.

I had the distinct pleasure of traveling the entirety of the Weinstrasse as well finding quaint towns a little off the main road. St. Martin was one such town that we decided to visit.  Our guide’s favorite winery, Weingut Egidiushof, was located here and recommended that we try the wines.  The town’s name came from the huge sandstone church of St. Martin, with its statue of the saint overlooking the town.

The people of Weingut Egidiushof were very hospitable as we sat down in the small tasting room to try a plethora of selections such as Silvaner, Riesling, and Muller Thurgau. The whites had a common theme as all of them had a distinct tropical fruit bouquet, were un-oaked, and had good acidity. They produced some delightfully light reds with the Blauer Portugieser being the best of the bunch.  It, in fact, was the wine that we drank while watching Germany eliminate Argentina in the World Cup Final.  The wine was light bodied (like a Pinot Noir) with an easy acidity and vibrant fresh red fruits that reminded me of a Cru Beaujolais.

The Wine Village of Wachenheim

The Wine Village of Wachenheim

The crown jewel winery of the entire trip was actually in the Haardt hills of Neustadt. The winery was called Muller Catoir.  It is managed by 9th generation owner Philipp David Catoir (pronounced Kat wah) and the vineyards have been in the family since 1774. Muller Catoir is part of the VDP system in Germany.  This system holds the wineries to a higher standard of quality which include lower yields and typically hand harvesting.The quality wines at this winery were second to none.

The wine maker, Martin Franzen, is from the Mosel and makes a true effort to showcase terroir and varietal character. Five wines were tasted, starting with the Haardt Dry Riesling 2013. It showed an abundance of tropical fruit with vivacious acidity.  The Haardt Muskateller (Muscat a Petite Grains) 2013 was brilliant and a wine to seek out for summer.  My personal favorite was the Haardt Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) 2012 which offered sleek acidity to pair with the delicious bright fruits and just a kiss of oak.  Spätburgunder is beginning to gain traction in the wine world with low yield, boutique wines that can rival Burgundy in quality.  The most interesting was the dessert wine Herzog Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese 2007.

The Hambach Castle and Vineyard

The Hambach Castle and Vineyard

Rieslaner is a cross of Silvaner and Riesling that is highly susceptible to Noble Rot. There is very little Rieslaner in the world and this vineyard is nestled in the Haardt hills, so a TBA wine is not able to be produced every vintage.  This wine was exceptional and rivaled the sticky Selection de Grains Nobles wines of Alsace.  The Haardt Riesling Kabinett 2013 was a surprise.  It had just a touch of residual sugar, but the wine was perfectly balanced by the backbone of acidity.  The minerality came to the forefront and gave the wine a striking personality.  All in all, Muller Catoir is a winery that is offering whites and reds of impressive quality that should be sought out.

Just outside of Neustadt in Wachenheim was another excellent producer called Weingut Dr. Burklin-Wolf. This winery is considered one of the three main quality wineries of note known as The Three B’s, the others being Von Buhl and Basserman-Jordan. Dr. Burklin-Wolf had excellent Rieslings that had definite aging potential, especially in the 2013 vintage.  The best of the selections tasted was the Wachenheim Altenburg Riesling 2013 which showed powerful acidity with precise citrus fruits and exquisite minerality.

The Pfalz wine country is an experience that one should definitely seek out if in Germany. The history and sheer volume of vineyards are enough to make a wine lover immediately start to geek out.  I had the pleasure of trying several wines like a Schwarzriesling Rosé

Neustadt, on the Wine Route in the Palatinate

Neustadt, on the Wine Route in the Palatinate

and Rubin Cuvee Halbtrocken Sparkling that I have never seen in the states.  The abundance of wineries throughout the wine road could keep any interested traveler busy for weeks.

Many can say that they have traveled through Paris, Champagne, and Burgundy, but how many can boast a trip through the picturesque Weinstrasse? I am thankful that I can.

Our guest author, James Barlow, CS, CWE, is a wine director of over 6,000 wines labels for a store owned by Spec’s Fine Wines and Liquors in Houston, Texas. He is also the author of the widely recognized wine blog thewineepicure.com. James is also a recent recipient of the CWE Certification (Congratulations, James!) and as such has taken on the duty of teaching the Certified Specialist of Wine course to fellow employees in hopes of having the best educated staff in the state of Texas. Way to go, James!

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A Saturday SWEbinar: The Dirt on Spain!

spain Heredia WineryWhy not start the weekend with a Saturday SWEbinar?

This Saturday – July 26, 2014, at 10:00 am Central Time – we’re offering a repeat performance of “The Dirt on Spain”!

Hosted by SWE’s Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, this session’s tagline is “A Terroir-Tinged Trip through the Tierra of Spain.”

Jane’s session will cover some of the unique geographical and geological attributes that make Spains wine so special – such as the albariza of Jerez, the estuaries of Rías Baixas, and the llicorella of Priorat. (If none of that made sense to you, be sure and read chapter 11 in the CSW Study Guide – soon)!

Below you will find the details on this sessions, as well as the link to the online classroom.

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. (Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.) When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

A SWEbinar for Tuesday: Cognac with Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE

Photo credit: Rosier Photography

Photo credit: Rosier Photography

This Tuesday – July 22, 2014 – at 12 noon central time, we are please to continue our series of “spirited SWEbinars” with a session on Cognac, led by Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE.

This webinar is sure to be fascinating for CSS students and fans of Cognac alike! Hoke will be joining us “fresh off” of his latest trip to the Cognac Region, and is sure to be full of insider information and travel tips. For those of you studying for the CSS, be sure and read chapter 5 in the CSS Study Guide ahead of time to brush up on your Cognac and brandy knowledge!

This SWEbinar is offered free of charge and is open to the public.

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

  • Tuesday, July 22 – 12 Noon Central Time – Cognac (from the CSS, chapter 5), hosted by Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE

If you have any questions about our SWEbinar program, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

Friday’s SWEbinar: The Dirt on Spain!

spain Heredia WineryThis Friday – July 11, 2014, Jane Nickles CSS, CWE, will be hosting a SWEbinar all about the wines of Spain (chapter 11 in the CSW Study Guide).

Jane’s session is entitled “The Dirt on Spain – A Terroir-Tinged Trip through the Tierra of Spain.” Jane’s session will discuss some of the unique geographical and geological attributes that make Spains wine so special – such as the albariza of Jerez, the estuaries of Rías Baixas, and the licorella of Priorat. (If none of that made sense to you, be sure and read chapter 11 in the CSW Study Guide – soon!) This SWEbinar will be held twice in July - on Friday, July 11th at 12 noon central time, and again on Saturday, July 26th at 10 am central time.

Below you will find the details on this sessions, as well as the link to the online classroom.

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. (Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.) When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

Swebinar in the grassFriday, July 11 – 12 Noon Central Time – The Dirt on Spain: A Terroir-Tinged Trip through the Tierra of Spain (based on Chapter 11 in the CSW Study Guide), hosted by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE

Guest Post – The Power of One: The Wente Clone

Today we have a guest post from Amy Hoopes of Wente Vineyards. Ms. Hoopes give us a fascinating story of the history of the Wente Clone Chardonnay, as well as a preview of her conference session, to be presented on Friday, August 15th at the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.

 

Wente Clone Chardonnay

Wente Clone Chardonnay

The Power of One – The Wente Clone

When Ernest Wente was a student at the University of California at Davis in the early 20th century, the California wine industry looked a lot different than it does today. There was no established model, but the area and its wines were beginning to garner respect and attention around the country and the world for the potential quality of California wines. California was just showing the inklings of what it would eventually become – one of the world’s most respected wine making regions.

While at U.C. Davis and with the help of Professor Bonnet, Ernest Wente began researching the background of Chardonnay, which is now known as the unique variety responsible for making the best white wines of Burgundy, France. He fell in love.

With the help of Leon Bonnet, Ernest convinced his father, Carl H. Wente, to allow him to import some cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montpellier in southern France.  In addition, he acquired some promising budwood from Chardonnay vines planted at the Gier Vineyard in Pleasanton; vines which had been imported from Burgundy a number of years earlier by Charles Wetmore, founder of Cresta Blanca Winery, one of the other original Livermore wineries.

Over the next 30 to 40 years (even through Prohibition), Ernest selected vines that seemed to offer the best of all worlds—a strong, resistant vine that produced fresh, clean aromas and rich apple and pear characters when fully ripe.

Little did he know that he was changing the landscape of wine in America forever.

At first he was merely pleased with the vines’ performance in the vineyard. They grew well and were healthy and vigorous. And then came the wine. The family was so pleased with the results that they were the first to produce a varietally-labeled California Chardonnay, with the 1936 vintage—a practice that few pursued in those days.

chardonnayWente Vineyards Chardonnay soon grabbed the attention of others. As winemakers in the Golden State tasted Ernest’s Chardonnay, they quickly began asking for cuttings of the vines. And Ernest, ever a friend and colleague to his fellow winemakers, never turned anyone away. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the Wente Clone (as it was now being called) began to spread across the state.

In fact, there were fewer than 150 acres of this varietal, then known as “Pinot Chardonnay,” in all of California in 1962. Then, the Guide Michelin declared that the Wente Chardonnay was the finest white wine produced in America, and the rush to plant this varietal began. By this time, three generations of the Wente family were involved, and they knew that they had something special in their vineyards.

The greatest vineyards and wineries in California began replanting their Chardonnay vines with the new clones, and the results were startling. Within a few years, the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, which featured a significant percentage of the Wente clone, won the Great Paris Tasting of 1976. This firmly positioned California Chardonnay on the worldwide map of fine wines.

And that was just the beginning; winery after winery crafted award-winning wines from those grapes. Sangiacomo Vineyards, Kistler, Kongsgaard, Ramey, and Paul Hobbs have all featured the Wente Clone in wines that have won widespread critical acclaim.

The power of one clone transformed California’s viticultural landscape, and in so doing, converted generations of American winemakers and wine drinkers to the glories of Chardonnay. Over 100 years and five generations, Wente Vineyards has made Chardonnay the most popular wine in the New World.

AmyHoopesbw_pp (1)Amy Hoopes will present “The Power of One: The Wente Clone” on Friday, August 15th at 8:45 am as part of the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators. At this session, Ms. Hoopes will  tell the whole story of the Wente Clone. Attendees will have the opportunity to taste through a flight of wines from Wente Vineyards and its many relatives around California who have built their winemaking reputation on the Wente Clone.

As Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer of Wente Family Estates, Amy Hoopes oversees all global marketing and sales operations for the family-owned wine portfolio including Wente Vineyards, Entwine, Murrieta’s Well, Double Decker, and Hayes Ranch, as well as for the lifestyle operations, The Course, The Restaurant and the Concerts at Wente Vineyards.

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

Guest Post: Vines for Ransom

This week, we have a guest post from Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE. Don gives us a bit of history and insight into the wines of Vosne-Romanée, as well as a preview of his session at this year’s SWE. Conference.

“Whose vines are worth a ransom of $1.4 million?”   Read on to find out…

cn_image_size_vineyard-poisoningOn a cold day in early January, 2010, a letter arrived addressed to Monsieur Aubert de Villaine, co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.  In it, the writer threatened to poison the vines of the acclaimed Romanée-Conti vineyard, unless a ransom of one million Euros ($1.4 million) was paid.  In a second letter, a precise vineyard map was provided identifying 3 vines in the vineyard which had already been drilled and poisoned.  M. de Villaine contacted the local authorities, a “sting” operation was planned, and the perpetrator was apprehended.

The 4.47 acre Romanée-Conti vineyard rests in the heart of the village of Vosne-Romanée. The wines produced from the village’s vineyards are among the most sought in the world. The current price of a single bottle of the 2011 Romanée-Conti wine is $12,500.00, according the wine.searcher.com website.

What makes the wines of Vosne-Romanée so special?

Most critics point to its “terroir.” Terroir is that combination of physical factors embracing the grapevine and affecting the production of its resultant fruit, the grape.  Soil components, topography, and climatic conditions work together creating a unique environment that produces exceptional grapes for making the wines of Vosne-Romanée.

V-R MapThe ace in the hand Vosne has been dealt is its soil. An almost perfect mix of limestone marls laid down some 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period.  These ancient soils were brought to the surface with the same tumultuous forces that raised the Alps and Pyrenees, about  35 million years ago.  Subsequent faulting has resulted in the “shuffling” of Vosne’s deck,  causing a mixing of limestone layers from different epochs of the Jurassic.  Physical and chemical weathering over the past 10,000 years have put the finishing touches on what has been described as the “blue ribbon” recipe for ideal pinot noir growing soil.  Other parts of the Cote de Nuits have their own excellent recipes, but Vosne-Romanée reigns supreme.  That recipe is: a blend of white oolites, Premeaux marly limestone, and Calcaire a’ entroques  thickened by Ostrea accuminata marl.  This is covered with a topsoil and pebble layer, averaging 3-foot deep, on a gently sloping, eastward-facing incline, lying on fractured limestone bedrock.

What are the best growing sites in Vosne-Romanée?

We have already mentioned Romanée-Conti as the most coveted of Vosne’s vineyards.  What are the others?  Burgundy’s vineyards are among the most intensively studied in the world.  Benefitting from nearly one thousand years of monastic scrutiny, Burgundy’s best growing sites were formally classified with the implementation of the French AOC system in the 1930s.  The best vineyards, based upon their ability to consistently produces exceptional quality wines, are designated Grand Cru.  Within the borders of Vosne-Romanée  there are six Grand Cru vineyards.  Four of the six are “monopoles”, meaning that they have a single owner and that owner is the only producer of the wine.  This is a rarity in Burgundy due to the fractionalization of vineyard ownership.

The six Grands Crus are:

Romanée-Conti:    4.47 acres, 450 case average production, bottle price $12,500 (2011 vintage).    Monopole of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

  • V-R townShort History:- Tied to the Benedictine Priory of St-Vivant in 13th century;  purchased by the Croonembourg family in 1631; purchased by Prince de Conti in 1760; owned by Nicolas Defer in 1794; bought by Julien-Jules Ouvard in 1819; sold to descendants of present owners, Duvault-Blochet in 1869; in 1942, Henry Leroy purchased a 50% interest.  Currently, Aubert de Villaine and Henri-Federic Roch operate as co-directors of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
  • Notes of Interest:- The last vintage from ungrafted vines was 1945.  The vines were then 300-400 years old.  Replanting occurred in 1947.  No wine was declared under the Romanée-Conti AOC from 1946-1951 inclusive, due to replanting.  At present, the average age of the vines is 60 years of age.

La Romanée:  2.09 acres, 300 case average production, bottle price $4,132 (2012 vintage).  Monopole of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair

  • Short History: Famous since the 14th century when it and Romanée-Conti might have been a single parcel.  Ever since 1835, La Romanée has been clearly distinguished from Romanée-Conti; acquired by the Liger-Belair family in 1815.  By agreement, Maison Bouchard Pere & Fils exclusively made and marketed the wine from 1976-2001. Between 2002 and 2005, the Liger-Belair family shared the wine with Bouchard.  As of 2006, complete production and marketing rests with Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair.
  • Note of Interest: La Romanée is the smallest appellation in the French AOC wine system.

MapLa Tache:  14.97 acres, 1600 case average production, bottle price $2091 (2011 vintage). Monopole of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

  • Short History: Owned by Jean-Baptiste Le Goux de la Berchere, president of the Parliament of Bourgogne from 1568-1631 and passed to his descendants until its confiscation by the government during the French Revolution. Ssold in 1794 to Claude-Francois Vienot-Rameau, who sold it to the Liger-Belair family in 1800;  purchased by Edmond Gaudin de Villaine of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in 1933.
  • Note of Interest: Vine age averages 55 years of age and 93% of the vineyard is in production.

La Grande Rue:  4.07 acres, 650 case average production, bottle price $485 (2012 vintage). Monopole of Domaine  Lamarche

  • Short history: The vineyard dates to the 15th century and has always enjoyed high regard;  purchased by the Marey family after the French Revolution.  Passed by marriage to the Liger-Belair family, and again, by marriage to the Champeaux family.  They sold it to Edouard Lamarche in 1933.  His grand- nephew, Francois Lamarche is the present owner.
  • Note of Interest: La Grande Rue was elevated to Grand Cru in 1992. In the 1930s, the owners did not apply for Grand Cru status because of tax implications.

V-R countrysideRichebourg:  19.83 acres, 3,000 case average production, bottle price $1400 (DRC 2011 vintage).

  • Short history: A large part of Richebourg was owned by the Cistercian monks in the 12th century.  The name of the vineyard was first recorded in 1512.  After the French Revolution, in 1791, it was sold to a Parisian banker, Jean Focard.  It was sold to several prominent families in the 19th century.  Ownership, today, is split among 11 owners, including, most prominently, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, who owns 44% of it.  Leroy is the next largest owner with 10%.
  • Note of Interest: Richebourg is considered the best of Vosne-Romanee’s grands crus, after Romanée-Conti, La Tache, and La Romanée.

Romanee St-Vivant:  23.32 acres, 3600 case average production, bottle price $1421 (DRC 2011 vintage)

  • Short history: Belonged to the Priory of St-Vivant, a dependency of the Cluny Benedictines in 1232. After the Revolution, was sold to Nicolas-Joseph Marey in 1791.  Descendants of Marey-Monge subsequently sold parts of Romanee St-Vivant to several prominent domaines in the 20th century, culminating in 1988 with the sale of 56% to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for $10 million.  There are a total of 10 owners today.
  • Note of Interest: Romanée St-Vivant is the largest grand cru in Vosne-Romanée proper.

The best of the rest: Just below the rank of Grand Cru are the next best vineyards, referred to as Premier Cru. Vosne-Romanée is blessed with 14 premiers crus, including 3 climats located in the neighboring village of Flagey-Echezeaux which are sold under the Vosne-Romanée . Most notable of these premiers crus are: Aux Malconsorts, Cros Parantoux, Aux Reignots, Les Suchots, and Les Beaux Monts.

Postscript:  Nature has bequeathed to Vosne-Romanée an almost perfect environment to produce Burgundy’s finest red wines. The humans who care for these cherished vines are of the highest order and see themselves as caretakers of a sacred trust. The result has been acknowledged by wine connoisseurs worldwide and is demonstrated by the market demand for these wines. The value of that which is unique and superlative in its category is clearly seen in the prices being paid by those desiring possession. Truly, Vosne-Romanée stands as the crown jewel of Burgundy’s red wines.

Click here for a copy of: Tasting Notes for the Vosne-Romanée Grands Crus from Allen Meadows

Don KinnanDonald P. Kinnan, CSS, CWE has been in the fine wine trade for over 30 years. In 1985, after a successful military career, he joined Kobrand Corporation as a sales manager and, in 1992 was promoted to Director of Education. As such he was responsible for Kobrand’s wine and spirits education programs nationwide for over 20 years.  Don is a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Wine Educators and currently serves on the organization’s Executive Committee.

Re-match! Don will be presenting his views of the wines of Vosne-Romanée, and defending their honor up against Nick Poletto and the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, at this year’s SWE Conference in Seattle. Don and Nick, as well as their perspective regions, will vie for the title of “Burgundy’s Best Reds” and will settle the controversy in a true courtroom fashion, presided over by Judge Missi Holle, CSS, CSW. You will be the jury as you weigh the presentation of evidence, taste the wines, and hear the ardent claims of the attorneys representing each side. The verdict will be yours. Will Gevrey, with its Napoleonic endorsement and 9 grands crus, take the title, or will Vosne-Romaneé with its glamour and reputation reign supreme? Join us in Seattle to find out!

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger: Alsace – The Unheralded King of White Wines!

Rue Mercière in Strasbourg

Rue Mercière in Strasbourg

Today we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE. James article is all about the glory that is Alsatian wine – and an attempt to understand why more wine professionals and consumers alike don’t seem to truly appreciate this unique wine region.

In my humble opinion, Alsace is, unequivocally, one of the best producers of white wine in the world.

And yet, I have worked in wine retail industry for a decade and have often scratched my head at lack of Alsatian sales.  The region seems to play second fiddle to Germany and other white wine producing areas in France.

There’s no argument that Alsatian wines are an enigma – first and foremost for the mere fact that it is the only region in France that puts the varietal on the front label. But somehow, this does not lead the American consumer to gravitate more towards these wines.  Sommeliers and retailers alike often note that the wines of Alsace are a niche hand sell.  The question is why?

It could be due to the common misperception that Alsace produces wines that are light and sweet; in reality, they are, for the most part, dry and full bodied. It could also be that all of us – consumers and wine professionals alike – just need to take a closer look at Alsace and its long history of vine and wine.

Alsace SceneThe region has exchanged hands between France and Germany several times and even had its independence for a brief period.  It is separated from the rest of France by the Vosges Mountains in the west.  Most vineyards are located in a long thin strand throughout the foothills of the Vosges.  This mountain range gives Alsace a unique ‘rain shadow’ effect which makes it one of the driest climates in all of France.  Colmar, the capital of the Haut Rhin, is the driest city in France.

Alsace is divided into two departments, the Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin with the former housing over two-thirds of the regions Grand Cru vineyards.  There are 51 Grand Crus overall with Kaefferkopf being the latest addition in 2006.  The Grand Cru vineyards are typically located on south or southeasterly exposures which give the vines ample sunlight to reach phenolic ripeness.  Most Grand Crus require 100% single varietal wines produced from one of the four noble varietals, which include Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. Grand Cru vineyards have strict requirements as to minimum must weight, alcohol, and hand harvesting.

Alsace is a kaleidoscope of soil structures with ‘gres de Vosges’ pink sandstone being the most famous. The higher elevation villages are generally composed of schist, granite and volcanic sediment, whereas the lower villages typically are more clay over limestone based.  The plains consist of richer more alluvial clay and gravel soils.

White varietals are 90% of the production of wine in Alsace, which in turn are dominated by the four noble grapes.  These wines are markedly different than those of neighboring Germany.  Alsatian wines are typically fermented dry, whereas the Germans have a classically sweeter appeal.  The dry wines of Alsace can be some of the most food friendly wine in the world, especially with spicy cuisine. They have higher alcohol while retaining excellent acidity which makes them some of the longest lived white wines in the world.

Half-timbered houses in ColmarAlsace is the one region on Earth where these four noble white grapes are at their richest and most voluptuous expressions.  Alsatian Rieslings are some of the more powerful expressions of the varietal produced.  They are amongst the longest lived dry whites in the world with a plethora of acidity and minerality to go with the higher alcohol content.  Zind Humbrecht Riesling Brand Grand Cru is a stellar example with Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht at the helm.  He is an ardent believer in biodynamics and the terroir really shows in the wines produced.  One might note that the residual sugars have been creeping up in recent years.

Pinot Gris (formerly Tokay d’Alsace) thrives in Alsace.  In fact, this region may have the most complex expression of the varietal in the world.  The Pinot Grigios of Italy are typically light and tart, whereas Pinot Gris in Alsace tends to exude a rich, round mouth feel with just a touch of residual sugar and higher alcohol.  Trimbach is one of the better producers.  They make a moderately priced Reserve Pinot Gris that is full bodied and power packed full of delicious tropical fruits, crushed rocks, and poignant acids.

Gewurztraminer is a pink skinned variety that shows excellent aromatics and spiciness combined with a round, textured mouth feel and spectacular minerality when grown in Alsace.  Gewurz, meaning spice in German, is believed to have been first encountered in the German speaking town of Tramin located in northern Italy, and thus the complicated name.  Gewurztraminer is usually sweeter than Riesling and offers perfumed bouquets of white flowers and rich tropical fruits.  Domaine Weinbach’s Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Cuvee Laurence offers one of the best versions of this dynamic variety.

Street Corner in Strasbourg

Street Corner in Strasbourg

Muscat is more distinguished here than its counterparts throughout France.  Alsatian Muscat offers grapey, floral notes that can be appreciated in a young wine, but can also produce some age-worthy dessert wines. Selection de Grains Nobles is a wine produced from botrytised grapes.  This only occurs in perfect weather conditions, so the wines are quite rare.  These wines are fully sweet and can be aged indefinitely.  They are considered some of the best dessert wines in the world.  Marcel Deiss is a stunning producer of not only Muscat but all the noble varietals in the Selection de Grains Nobles style.

I believe the average consumer’s misunderstanding of the Alsatian wines keeps them from delving fully into its wines.  The stigma that is haunting Alsace must be changed. It must be up to the wine professionals who are in love with these exquisite wines to slowly but surely teach the modern, wine-savvy consumer to fall in love with Alsace – the unheralded king of white wines.

Our guest author, James Barlow, CS, CWE, is a wine director of over 6,000 wines labels for a store owned by Spec’s Fine Wines and Liquors in Houston, Texas.   He is also the author of the widely recognized wine blog thewineepicure.com.  James is also a recent recipient of the CWE Certification (Congratulations, James!) and as such has taken on the duty of teaching the Certified Specialist of Wine course to fellow employees in hopes of having the best educated staff in the state of Texas. Way to go, James!

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Insider Wines of the Côte d’Or

Pommard BurgundyWould you like to be an expert on the wines of Burgundy? If you said yes, it might be a lost cause! Not to dash anyone’s hopes, but according to Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE, no one is really an expert on Burgundy – its just far too complex!

I won’t confuse you all by calling Don a Burgundy expert, but he certainly is a wonderful and knowledgable Burgundy educator. Don was generous enough to share with us his recent presentation, given to the “World of Pinot Noir” conference held this year in Santa Barbara. I’ve listened to it several times and learned something every time!

In your (perhaps hopeless?) quest to become an authority on Burgundy, keep an eye and ear out for the following interesting tidbits about the insider wines of the Côte-d’Or. These are the points that really stood out to me!

  • Marsannay is the northernmost village appellation in the Côte-d’Or, and the only Burgundy appellation which includes red, white, and rosé wines in its village-level AOC.
  • Clos NapoleonFixin is considered to be the “little brother” to Gevry-Chambertin, and has a unique connection to Napoleon.  The Premier Cru vineyard “Clos Napoleon” is named for the Emperor, and the region boasts a a museum as well as a sculpture in his honor. The connection is due to the previous owner of the vineyard, Claude Noisot, who as an Officer in the Imperial Guard accompanied Napoleon to the Island of Elba.
  • Santenay, located at the far south end of the Côte-d’Or, is known for its use of the “Cordon de Royat” vine training system, used to restrain the vigor of a clone of Pinot Noir unique to the region known as “Pinot fin de Santenay.”

Click here to view Don’s power point presentation on Slide Share.

Click here to listen to the first half of the presentation, and click here to listen to the second half, both courtesy of Grape Radio.

Don KinnanDonald P. Kinnan, CSS, CWE has been in the fine wine trade for over 30 years.  In 1985, after a successful military career, he joined Kobrand Corporation as a sales manager and, in 1992 was promoted to Director of Education.  As such he was responsible for Kobrand’s wine and spirits education programs nationwide for over 20 years.

Don is a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Wine Educators and currently serves on the organization’s Executive Committee.

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Grottino di Roccanova

The town of Matera in Basilicata

The town of Matera in Basilicata

Grottino di Roccanova…if you’ve never heard of it, don’t be too hard on yourself.  I chose to write about Grottino di Roccanova because it is so obscure.  If this is the first you have ever read about it, I am sure you are in good company.

Grottino di Roccanova is a small, relatively new DOC located in the Basilicata wine region – which is about as far south as you can go in Italy.  Basilicata is located on mainland Italy’s southern border, tucked in-between the “heel of the boot” (Puglia) and the “toe of the boot” (Calabria.)  Perhaps we should say Basilicata is the “instep” of Italy (or maybe not).

In 2009, Grottino di Roccanova was approved as a DOC region and became the fourth DOC located in Basilicata.  It joined three others:  – Matera DOC, Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC and Aglianico del Vulture DOC. Of course, seasoned wine students may recognize Aglianico del Vulture Superiore as Basilicata’s lone DOCG.  The richer, longer-aged version of Aglianico del Vulture received DOCG status in 2010. A wide range of wines is also produced in the region under the Basilicata IGT.

GrottinoGrottino di Roccanova DOC produces red, white, and rosé wines using primarily Sangiovese for the reds and Malvasia Bianca for the whites. The area itself is part of three communes:  Sant’Arcangelo, Castronuovo di Sant’Andrea Potenza, and Roccanova. The terrain, being made up of hills and mountains in the southern end of the Apennine Mountain Range, is rugged and diverse.

The red and rosato wines of the Grottino di Roccanova DOC are based on Sangiovese, which must be present in the wines between 60 and 85%. The remainder may be made up of Malvasia Nera, Montepulciano, and Cabernet Sauvignon; each of which may be present at levels between 5 – 30%. Any remainder may be comprised of any native red grape approved to be grown in the Basilcata IGT.

The white wines, known as Grottino di Roccanova Bianco, must be a minimum of 80% Malvasia Bianca.  The remainder of the wine may comprise any non-aromatic white variety approved to be grown in the Basilicata IGT.

More information on Grottino di Roccanova DOC may be found on the website of the Cervino Vini Company.

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Chartreuse, “Elixir of Long Life”

ChartreuseChartreuse is a spirit with a long and fascinating history. The story begins in 1605, when the monks of the Vauvert Monastery, a branch of the Carthusian Order located in a suburb of Paris, were given an ancient document by Hannibal d’Estrées, a Marshall of King Henri IV.  The manuscript was a formula for an “Elixir of Long Life,” most likely the work of a 16th century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbs and plants in the treatment of illness.

The formula, containing over 130 ingredients, was so complex that it was never fully used by the monks at the Vauvert Monastery.  However, in the early 1700’s, the monks sent the manuscript to the Grande Chartreuse – the head monastery of the Carthusian Order.  The apothecary for the Grand Chartreuse undertook an exhaustive study of the formula and, by 1737, had unraveled the mystery and designed a practical formula for the preparation of the elixir.

The monks began production of the formula, which was sold in the town of Grenoble and other villages located close to the Grande Chartreuse Monastery.  The elixir had a natural, clear green color, and from the fame of the liqueur, the color became known as “chartreuse.” Today, Chartreuse still bills itself as “the only liqueur to have a color named after it.”

The monks protected their secret recipe throughout the centuries, including the tumultuous time surrounding the French Revolution when all religious orders were Char Yellowexpelled from France.  The Chartreuse monks left France in 1793, but one monk remained behind with a copy of the original manuscript.  Another monk secretly retained the original; shortly after leaving The Grand Chartreuse Monastery he was arrested and sent to prison in Bordeaux.  However, he was not searched and eventually passed the original document to a friend, Dom Basile Nantas.  Dom Basile was convinced the Monks of the Grand Chartreuse would never return to France, so he sold the recipe to Monsier Liotard, a pharmacist in Grenoble.  The pharmacist, however, never attempted to produce the elixir.  When Monsieur Liotard died, his heirs returned the manuscript to the Chartreuse Monks.

The Monks of Chartreuse were allowed to return to their Monastery in 1816, and resumed the production of their Chartreuse elixir.  In 1838, they introduced a sweeter version of “Yellow Chartreuse” flavored with saffron.

In 1903, the French government expelled the Monks once again, and the Chartreuse distillery was nationalized. The Monks fled to Spain and built a new distillery in Tarragona where they produced a liqueur they called “Une Tarragone.”

In the years following the nationalization of the distillery and Monastery, the French government sold the Chartreuse brand and trademark to a company who set up an operation known as the “Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse.” The company went bankrupt in 1929. Upon the announcement of the bankruptcy, friends of the monks Char VEPpurchased the remaining shares and gifted them back to the Monastery.

After regaining ownership of their brand and trademark, the Monks returned to their distillery located in Fourvoirie, not far from their original Monastery, and resumed production of authentic Chartreuse liqueurs.  When, in 1935, the Fourvoirie distillery was severely damaged by a landslide, the Monks moved to Voiron, where the production facility still exists today.

The selection and preparation of the “secret” blend of over 130 herbs is still done today in the Monastery.  Once prepared, the ingredients are taken to the production facility in Voiron where they are macerated, distilled, and aged in oak casks for several years.  In addition to “Green Chartreuse” and “Yellow Chartreuse,” a special bottling known as V.E.P. Chartreuse (“Viellissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé”) is produced.   V.E.P. is aged longer than the other two products, and is packaged in a reproduction of the bottles used in 1840.  Each bottle of V.E.P. is individually numbered, sealed with wax and presented in a wooden box.

Since 1970, a company known as “Chartreuse Diffusion” handles the packaging, marketing, and distribution of Chartreuse products. However, the Carthusian brothers still prepare and produce the liqueur, and to this day, remain the only people who know the secret formula for their “Elixir of Long Life.”

For more information, visit the Chartreuse Website.

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