Guest Post: Are the Wine Gods Mad at Burgundy – Or What?

Wine Gods 1Today we have a guest blog post from Wine Educator Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE – who asks an excellent question: Are the wine gods mad at Burgundy, or what?

Four vintages in succession of meager volumes and circumstances which would challenge the intestinal fortitude of even the most courageous among Burgundy vignerons.  That is what we have seen.

Let’s take it year by year.  Leading up to 2010, a killing freeze occurred on the evening of December 21, 2009, inflicting severe damage to the vines.  This, together with a cold, wet flowering period resulted in a very small crop.  The end result was, in vintage 2010, an average of 25% fewer grapes than normal.   But, at least, the quality was excellent.  (Parker Vintage Rating 93-96 Pts)

Vintage 2011  -  The Wine Spectator characterized 2011’s growing season as “chaotic”.  “Summer occurred in April and May, the year challenged growers with heat, drought, rain, and vine maladies.  It ended with an early and quick harvest.”  After sorting, yields for most were down 20-30% from the norm.  (Parker Vintage Rating 90-91 Pts)

Vintage 2012  -  According to the Wine Spectator, “everything that could go wrong, went wrong, with the exception of rot.  The quantity was reduced by 30% in the Cote de Nuits to 50% in the Cote de Beaune.  The silver lining was that, after the losses due to frost, poor flowering, mildew, and removal of sunburned berries, the grapes left on the vines ripened nicely.  (Parker Vintage Rating 91-93 Pts)

Wine Gods 2Vintage 2013  -  The Wine Spectator reported low yields due to a wet spring,  poor flowering , severe hail in the Cote de Beaune, and fungal diseases in August.  At harvest time, for many, it became a race between ripeness and rot.  After sorting the grapes, the result was a very low volume harvest.  Allen Meadows, the Burghound, says most good wines are “plump, forward, with exotic aromas, round flavors and soft acidities that provide early accessibilities”.  (Vintage not yet rated by Parker)

Some recent data from the BIVB shows the impact of 4 years of reduced production volume on  market supply.  Exports in 2014 were down 12.8% by volume from 2013.  Prior to harvest in 2014, winery stocks had reached their lowest levels in 20 years.

What does this all mean to those of us who like to drink Burgundy wines?  Strong demand and short supply translates into higher prices.  But there may be some relief in sight.

Vintage 2014 produced reasonable volumes and excellent quality, “the best since 2009” said one grower.  Jasper Morris MW and noted author is quoted as saying “with regard to the 2014 vintage, we are talking quality and enough of it to stabilize the market and take pressure off pricing.”

—maybe the wine gods have eased their wrath.

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  the Society of Wine Educators and former member of the Society’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

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The Georgia of Wine and Walnuts

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear about Harriet’s recent wine trip to the Republic of Georgia! 

If you really care about wine, you should think seriously about making the journey to the country of Georgia. You will experience true hospitality, tradition, wine-making, and still be close enough to the Black Sea’s famed resorts when you are ready to relax. And if you like to ski, there are the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains right there as well.

FYI, I have just returned from a visit, and saw no sign of any of the unrest that’s been in the news lately. There is instead a sense of calm and welcoming.

To the Georgians, a guest is a gift from God. And the best way to greet a guest is to serve one’s own wine, made from one’s own grapes. No patch of land goes vacant, and grapes grow on what elsewhere might be a lawn. Further, every home winemaker has a still, and he will also pour you his clear pomace brandy, or Chacha.

If you go to a Georgian banquet, dishes will be continually placed on the table, and nothing will be cleared until the end — in case the guest might want a little more of anything! Walnuts are the preferred stuffing for confections, fruits, vegetables and even boned fish. Meals are leavened with toasts. The toastmaster shows gratitude for the Creator, for food, for friendships, for all the women, for beauty, for love, for people who have passed away, and for the children looking to the future.

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Historical Significance

Georgia is referred to as the “Cradle of Wine,” as wine has been made there continuously for the last 8,000 years (The Georgians say “8,000 Vintages”). There was very early winemaking in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Crimea, Armenia and Moldava, but all evidence points to at least 6,000 BCE, if not before, for the first propagation of wine grapes — in Georgia — in the Fertile Crescent.

Records show 525 grape varieties, including clones, of which 440 are still in use. Do not despair — even if you go there and taste a lot of wines, you are not likely to come across more than twenty, if that many. The white Rkatsiteli and the red Saperavi are the most prevalent, but you may see some international varieties as well.

Historically, this tradition was interrupted for about seventy years, when Russia took over between 1921 and 1991. The Russians knew that banning the production of wine was hopeless in Georgia. “Georgia is synonymous with wine,” it is said. But with wine permitted, the Russians were more interested in high volume than in quality, and after three generations, much of the fine wine tradition was lost. Many of today’s winemakers are now working to restore it.

The city center of Tbilisi

The city center of Tbilisi

There are 10 main wine regions in Georgia, which contain 18 smaller Protected Denominations of Origin (PDOs). The majority of wineries and growers are in the Kakheti Valley, very close to Tbilisi. Going from east to west, you will pass through Imereti and other central and western wine regions. Summers are hot, but spring or fall are perfect times to visit.

Your first stop should be Tbilisi, and once there, you should go to the Vino Underground Wine Bar, which has the largest selection of organic and/or “bio” Georgian wines. Also go to the Azarpesha Wine Restaurant, named for a long-handled drinking bowl, for a traditional meal. You may meet partner and ex-pat American John Wurdeman in either place. He is an articulate moving force in reclaiming Georgian traditions in wine, food, polyphonic music and dance, and is also the founder of Pheasant’s Tears Winery. 

All About Qvervis

Wine has been traditionally fermented and aged in qvevris (kvevris), or large clay pots that are bur ied in the earth. They are shaped something like Roman amphorae, but the amphorae re- main above ground. When people buy older houses, it is not unusual to lift up the floor- boards and find buried qvevris below. Many winemakers are using qvevris now, though some do use stainless steel or oak barrels, and some use both. To learn about qvevris, you should not miss a visit to Twins Old Cellar in Napareuli Village in the Telavi district. I dubbed it “Qvevri School.” The twin brothers have set up an oversized qvevri display to honor their parents.

Previously, the Soviets had taken over their winery, and their father died in prison. The property was eventually returned.  They have made an outdoor room-sized qvevri, reached by a ladder. Once inside, you feel as if you are standing in an enormous qvevri. The clay walls are marked showing levels of internal activity as a wine ages and solids reach the

Georgian Qvervi - Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

Georgian Qvervi – Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

bottom of this curve-sided vessel. The twins have 107 qvevris in use, restoring a tradition that was almost lost. [Note: Besides creating a wine museum, they also have a dozen guest rooms, should you decide to visit and stay over.] With renewed interest in ovoid, clay fermenters, some qvevris are being produced in the United States. A Texan, Billy Ray Mangham of Sleeping Dog Pottery and his team, have a “Qvevri Project.” Andrew Beckham, a potter and winemaker in Oregon has his own “Amphorae Project.” Also, a potter on the outskirts of Austria is now making qvevris. Further, there is increased experimentation with ‘the concrete egg’ – concrete egg-shaped tanks made in Burgundy. The Emiliana Vineyards, from Chile, has made a very big investment in them for their winery in Casablanca.

Among other sites, concrete eggs are used in the Glenora Winery, the first Farm Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY. In 2013, UNESCO recognized qvevris and qvevri-winemaking, and placed them on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Qvevris last for a very long time. They are not discarded when they are no longer useful, but are respectfully leaned against garden walls.

Inspired to visit? Click here to download some  Tips for a Successful Wine Trip to the Republic of Georgia from Harriet Lembeck

HarrietHARRIET LEMBECK, CWE, CSS, is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She may be contacted at hlembeck@mindspring.com.

This article was originally published in the article was originally published in
Beverage Dynamics Magazine - reprinted with permission!

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The Port Wine Treaty of 1703

PortoThe Methuen Treaty – soon to be known as the Port Wine Treaty – between England and Portugal, signed in 1703, was a military and commercial agreement that arose from the goings-on of the War of Spanish Succession.

The treaty was named in honor of its lead negotiator, John Methuen, a Member of Parliament and England’s Ambassador to Portugal at the time.

At the start of the War of Spanish Succession (1701), Portugal had allied with France. France had guaranteed the Portuguese the protection of its navy. However, in 1702 the English navy sailed very closely past the city of Lisbon to and from their way to Cadiz, proving that the French could not really offer the protection they had promised.

The Portuguese, wisely, decided to change sides and began negotiations with England. The Methuen Treaty was the result of those negotiations. The main purpose of the treaty had concerned the ongoing war; the “Grand Alliance” was formalized and the goal of the current war was agreed upon: the new alliance would try to secure the entire Spanish Empire for the Austrian Archduke Charles, who was to become Charles VI of Austria.

Portrait of "The Right Honorable John Methuen" by Adrien Carpentiers (1769s) work and photograph in the Public Domain

Portrait of “The Right Honorable John Methuen” by Adrien Carpentiers (~1760) work and photograph in the Public Domain

The secondary aim of the treaty will be of more interest to wine lovers, as it established trade relations, especially between England and Portugal.

Under the terms of the treaty, English woolen cloth would be admitted in Portugal free of duty. In return, Portuguese wines imported into England would be subject to a third less duty than wines imported from France.  It also stated that Portuguese wines would never As England was at war with France, French wines were already difficult to obtain in England, and because of this treaty, the wines of Portugal – particularly Port, which the British loved – became the popular replacement.

The Treaty, signed on December 27th, 1703, became known to history as the “Port Wine Treaty.”

 

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

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New Year’s Eve in Rome and a Battle of the Bubblies!

Rome colloseum nyeSpending New Year’s Eve in Rome, I was able to observe and enjoy Italy’s dual personality in sparkling wine.  Prosecco was sold by street vendors and enjoyed alfresco; sitting on the Spanish Steps, watching fireworks in Piazza del Popolo or enjoying the concert at Circus Maximus.  Franciacorta was pouring inside Rome’s many Enotecas and Ristorantes.

While both Prosecco and Franciacorta are sparkling wines, there are more differences than just where they are enjoyed.

In the Piazza - Prosecco!

Prosecco is often considered fun, easy to drink, perfect during happy hour and inexpensive – generally a wine for every occasion. Prosecco has been produced in northeastern Italy going back as far as Roman times using the Glera grape variety, which grew near the village of Prosecco.  Cultivation spread to the hills of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the 18th century and there is early documentation that due to Prosecco’s aromatic quality it is suitable for producing wine with a fine sensory profile.

Production continued to spread to the lower lying areas of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia and this is where the Prosecco we know today was first produced in the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to the introduction of a new secondary fermentation technique. Scientific knowledge has come leaps and bounds later in the 20th century, which perfected the Prosecco production method.

Map of Prosecco via http://www.discoverproseccowine.it/en/

Map of Prosecco via http://www.discoverproseccowine.it/en/

Prosecco first received Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1969 for sparkling wines produced in the hills near the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. In 2009 major changes to the Prosecco disciplinare were implemented:

  • Prosecco is now strictly defined as a wine-producing region.  Therefore, the grape used should no longer be referred to as “Prosecco” and is now correctly identified as Glera.
  • The Prosecco DOC was expanded to replace the previous Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) region in northeastern Italy.  The Prosecco DOC now encompasses nine provinces in the regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  This introduced stricter controls and greater guarantees for the consumer.
  • Prosecco Superiore was elevated to Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status.  DOCG wines include Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG and Colli Asolani (Asolo) Prosecco DOCG.
  • The “crus” Rive and Cartizze are new introductions. Il Rive is reserved for sparkling wines which highlight individual communes or hamlets in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene area enabling individual expression.  “Rive” in local dialect translates as “vineyards planted on steep land.” Superiore di Cartizze is the peak of DOCG quality and is considered the “grand cru” of Prosecco.  Cartizze is comprised of 107 hectares of remarkably steep vineyards of San Petro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano, and Saccol in the commune of Valdobbiadene.  This micro area is a perfect combination of mild climate, aspect and soils.  The vineyards here produce a sparkling wine of particular elegance which represents the maximum expression of the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene area.

Prosecco must be made with a minimum of 85% Glera while the remaining 15% can be of any combination of Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta, Glera Lugna, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, or Pinot Nero (only if produced as a white wine).

Who can resist a Bellini?

Who can resist a Bellini?

Prosecco is generally made in the Charmat or “Italian Method,” defined as the second fermentation taking place in large pressurized stainless steel tanks with the addition of sugar and yeast.  This second fermentation lasts a minimum of 30 days.  Once finished, the sparkling wine is bottled and ready to be released into the market.  This method allows the preservation of the grapes’ varietal aromas, giving a fruity and floral wine.

Prosecco can either be produced as full sparkling (Spumante) or lightly sparkling (Frizzante or gentile).  Then the specific style is designated by the residual sugar content.

  • Brut – maximum of 12 grams per liter of residual sugar
  • Extra Dry – between 12-17 grams per liter
  • Dry – between 17-32 grams per liter

Prosecco is low in alcohol with only 11 to 12% alcohol by volume and low in pressure with 3 atmospheres of pressure for the Spumante and 1 to 2 ½ atmospheres of pressure for the Frizzante.

Prosecco is usually enjoyed “straight,” but also appears in some popular cocktails, such as the Bellini (Peach and Prosecco), the Spritz (Aperol, Compari, Cynar), or the Sgroppino (Lemon sorbet, Prosecco and vodka).

In the Enoteca - Franciacorta!

If the French will forgive me for saying this, Franciacorta is the Italians’ response to Champagne. The wines of Franciacorta have been around a long time – mention of the area’s wines appeared in one of the first published works about the technique of production of natural fermentation wines in the bottle and their beneficial and therapeutic action on the human body – printed in 1570.

Franciacorta vineyard in Paderno

Franciacorta vineyard in Paderno

The Franciacorta DOCG is located in Lombardy’s province of Bescia, within the territory of Franciacorta.  Lake Iseo moderates the climate while the hills to the east and west protect the region from winds.  Soils are mostly morainic, laid down by the glaciers that formed the lakes and valleys.

Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine produced by the Classic Method (second fermentation in the bottle) awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) in 1995.  Today, the wine reads simply “Franciacorta”: this defines the growing area, the production method, and the wine.  There are only ten such wines in all of Europe and only three of them are sparkling: Champagne, Cava and Franciacorta.

Franciacorta today is still a relatively small region with 2,700 hectares under vine and around 100 producers. The Franciacorta DOCG limits the varieties to Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Blanco.  It also regulates yields, harvesting times, conditions and many other aspects of winemaking.  Fanciacorta enjoys a long secondary fermentation in the bottle and is aged for many years before release.  While universally known as sparkling wine made in the traditional method, locally this process is referred to as the “Franciacorta method”.

The categories of Franciacorta are:

  • Non-vintage – Aged on its lees for 18 months and not released until at least 25 months after harvest.   Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir, with up to 50% Pinot Bianco.  Produced in a range of styles:  Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, or Demi-Sec.
  • Satèn – Aged on its lees for 24 months.   Satèn is always blanc de blancs made predominantly of Chardonnay with up to 50% Pinot Bianco allowed.  Satèn is bottled at a slightly lower pressure (less than 5 atmospheres of pressure instead of the standard 6 atmospheres) giving it a softer mouthfeel.  Produced in only the Brut style.
  • "Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta" by Nautinut - Own work, via Wikimedia Commons

    “Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta” by Nautinut – Own work, via Wikimedia Commons

    Rosé – Aged on its lees for 24 months.  Rosé is often made from just Pinot Noir grapes, but may also be made by blending a minimum of 25% Pinot Noir with base wines of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Bianco.  Produced in a range of styles:  Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec, or Demi-Sec.

  • Millesimato (Vintage) – Aged on its lees for 30 months and not released until at least 37 months after harvest.  At least 85% of the base wine must come from one single growing year.  Both Satèn and Rose can include Millesimato.  Produced in a range of styles: Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (Satèn only Brut)
  • Riserva – Is a Millesimato (can include Satèn and Rose) which is aged on its lees at least 60 months and not released until at least 67 months (5 ½ years) after harvest.  Since many Franciacorta Millesimatos rest sur lie far longer than the required minimum of 30 months, this designation was created to highlight this unique type of wine.  Produced in a range of styles: Pas dosé, Extra Brut, Brut (Satèn only Brut)

The dosato of Franciacorta are defined in the same way as Champagne’s dosage levels.

  • Pas dosé (No dosage, dosage zero, pas opéré or nature) – maximum 3 grams per liter residual sugar
  • Extra Brut – maximum 6 grams per liter
  • Brut – maximum 12 grams per liter
  • Extra Dry – between 12-17 grams per liter
  • Sec (Dry) – between 17-32 grams per liter
  • Demi Sec – between 32-50 grams per liter

So…now that you know the details – how would you rather spend New Year’s Eve in Roma? Would you like to welcome the stroke of midnight with Prosecco on the piazza, or Franciacorta in the enoteca?

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!)where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

Emerald Lizards, Feathery Grass, and Falconry

Map of AustriaThe wine-growing regions of Austria can be a little confusing. Thankfully, the wines are delicious and well-worth the effort to understand.

Part of the confusion may stem from the fact that four areas that are technically Federal States – Niederösterreich, Burgenland, Steiermark, and Vienna (which, as the capital, plays a double role as both a city as well as a federal state, quite like Washington DC in the US) – all also designated wine quality regions.

All of Austria’s other quality wine regions are located within these four federal states; the presence of the cold and rugged Austrian Central Alps mountain range makes viticultural nearly impossible in much of the rest of the country.

As any good wine student should know, 9 of these designated quality wine regions have been promoted to the highest classification in the land – known as Districtus Austriae Controllatus, or DAC. (The others are referred to as “Weinbaugebiete” or “Quality Wine Regions.) DACs have strict regulations concerning grape varieties, vinification, and wine style, and it is hoped/expected that the other designated regions within the Austrian federal states will, in time, also becomes DACs.

Hinterhaus Castle in the Wachau

Hinterhaus Castle in the Wachau

The first Austrian DAC (Weinviertel) was awarded - quite recently – in 2003. And yet, Austria has one of the oldest wine cultures in Europe. In spite of this, what brought fame to Austria’s wines in recent history – most unfortunately – was a few notorious scandals in the 1980s.

While – I am sure – many people in Austria and beyond would just like to forget about what are sometimes referred to as the “Antifreeze Scandals,” the truth is that the scandals led to a tightening of wine standards in Austria and the creation of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board in 1986. As a result of these moves, as well as Austria’s entry into the EU in 1995, Austrian wine has some of the strictest standards in Europe.

Even before the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and the DACs came to be, the wine growers of the Wachau set their own set of standards. Formed in 1983, the Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus is a trade association determined to protect the quality and reputation of the wines of the region.  Members of the Vinea Wachau, which include almost 90% of the wine producers in the region, must abide by the standards of the organization as well as Austria’s strict wine laws.

The Vinea Wachau has standards for three designated styles of wine, used only for the dry white wines of the region. You’ve probably heard of them:

  • Steinfelder: This is the lightest style of the three, as defined by must weight, with a maximum alcohol of 11.5%. Sometimes these wines are lightly sparkling or “spritzig.” Most of these wines are consumed in Austria as a simple, easy drinking wine; they are unlikely to be exported.
  • Weissenkirchen (The White Church) in the Wachau

    Weissenkirchen (The White Church) in the Wachau

    Federspiel: These “classic” wines are made from riper grapes, with an alcohol of 11–12.5%. These wines are generally rich in aroma and character, while dry and medium-bodied.

  • Smaragd: Sometimes defined as “full” or “powerful,” these are the supreme wines of the Wachau. Bottled at a minimum of 12.5% alcohol, these concentrated, full-bodied wines are likely to be suitable for aging.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the Vinea Wachau named these categories after some of the natural delights of the Wachau:

  • Steinfelder is a decorative, feathery grass that grows on rocky hillsides. Steinfelder is found only in the Wachau.
  • Federspiel is a term related to falconry, historically a favorite sport of Austrian aristocrats. A “federspiel” was a call used to lure the falcon back with its prey.  Austria continues to be a world leader in falconry.
  • Smaragd means “emerald” and refers to the little green lizards that are often found in the basking in the sunlight in the vineyards of the Wachau.

Doesn’t it make you want to book a trip to the Wachau?

 

 

 

 

 

A New Future for Austrian Sparkling Wines!

Austrian sparkling WineLast year – in a very big way – Austria began to take steps to improve the quality and reputation of its sparkling wines.

One of the first actions was to establish an Austrian Sparkling Wine Committee, who set about to formulate some new standards for Austria’s Sparkling wines.

Last week, October 22 was celebrated as the first ever “Austrian Sparkling Wine Day.” As part of the celebrations, the Sparkling Wine Committee introduced a new three-tier quality pyramid for Austrian wines. The levels are as follows:

Top Tier (Level 3):

  • Grapes from a single designated wine region
  • Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid via the Austrian Wine website (see link below)
    Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid via the Austrian Wine website (see link below)

    Traditional method production

  • Minimum of 30 months aging on the lees
  • May be no sweeter than “brut”
  • Must be hand picked
  • Must use whole-bunch pressing
  • Designation of village/vineyard site allowed
  • May be white or rosé

 

Middle Tier (Level 2):

  • Grapes from a single designated Federal State
  • Traditional method production
  • Minimum of 18 months aging on the lees
  • May be no sweeter than “brut” Must be hand picked
  • Must use whole-bunch pressing
  • No designation of village or vineyard site allowed
  • May be white or rosé

 

Basic Tier (Level 1):

Vienna at Night
Vienna at Night

 

  • Grapes may be from anywhere in Austria, but must be 100% Austrian fruit
  • Must be produced in Austria
  • May be any level of sweetness
  • May be produced using any method approved for the production of sparkling wines
  • Minimum of 9 months aging on the lees
  • May be any color – red, white, or rosé
  • May not list a vineyard designation or specific designation of origin

The Austrian Sparkling Wine Pyramid has not been approved into law as of yet. The Austrian Wine Marketing Board hopes to achieve this approval sometime in 2015.

For more information, see the website of Austrian Wine!  

Good Things Come in Small (Piemontese) Packages

Tagliolo Monferrato in Alessandria

Tagliolo Monferrato in Alessandria

Good things come in small packages – it’s an excellent concept to keep in mind with the annual gift-giving season staring down at many of us. It’s also good concept for wine lovers, as well, as we know that the smaller the region (DOC, AOC, GI), the more prestigious, unique, and defined a wine is likely to be.

In honor of that thought, I went in search of those tiny “jewel-boxes” of Italian wine, and came up with three of the most fascinating – and entirely tiny – DOCs to be found out of Italy’s total (at least for today) of 332. These three vineyards just happen to be located in Piedmont, however, my search was not limited to Piedmont – it just turned out that way!

I am sure, with their limited production, these wines are difficult to find outside of their native home – but if you have been lucky enough to ever try one of these wines – let us know in the comments below!

Rubino di Cantavenna DOC:   This tiny gem of a DOC, located in the eastern section of Piedmont, has 5 acres (2 hectares) dedicated to vines, and an annual production of just 1,380 cases. The area is part of the lowlands south of the Po River, at the far end of the Monferrato hills. The following communes are permitted to produce Rubino di Cantavenna: Moncestino, Villamiroglio, Camino and Gabiano (which has its own DOC, with slightly different regulations concerning the wine blend, and at 2 acres/1hectare definitely qualifies as its own jewel box of a DOC, but has not produced any wine in the last few years.)

One of the many Medieval towers in Asti

One of the many Medieval towers in Asti

Rubino di Cantavenna is approved for red wines based on the Barbera grape variety. The rules of the DOC mandate that Barbera be 75-90% of the blend, with the remainder (10-25%) being Freisa and/or Gignolino. The wine must be aged approximately 14 months before release.  (To make things difficult, the Disciplinare of Rubino di Cantavenna dictates that the wine must not be released before January 1, of the second year following the vintage.) Wines of the region tend to be pale red in color, with aromas of plum, cherry, blackberry and vanilla, with perhaps a touch of toasty oak. The wine is generally moderate in tannin, bright in acidity, and with a slightly (ever-so-pleasant) bitter tinge at the finish.

Loazzolo DOC: This tiny region claims 5 acres (2 hectares) of vineyards, and produces on average just 425 cases of wine a year. This region produces a sweet, botrytis-affected white wine based on the Moscato grape variety. The vineyards of the Loazzolo DOC overlook the Bormida River, about 15 miles south of the town of Asti on the southern edge of the Moscato d’Asti area.

According to the Disciplinare of Loazzolo the wines must be made with 100% Moscato grapes, and may not be harvested until after September 20. The grapes must be dried on or off the vine, must be affected by botrytis, and ripe enough to give the wine a minimum of 11% alcohol. The finished wine must have a minimum of 5% residual sugar and must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, including 6 months in barrel, before release. Typical descriptors of Loazzolo include Moscato’s “signature” floral, musky, and tropical fruit aromas, as well as vanilla, honey, and rich texture on the palate.

Strevi DOC: Saving the tiniest for last, the Strevi DOC claims just 2 acres (1 hectare) of vineyards, and produced 233 cases of wine in 2012.  Located in the town of Strevi, located on the eastern edge of the Moscato d’Asti area and bounded to the east by the Bormida River, Strevi was awarded its DOC in 2005. According to the Disciplinare of Strevi, grapes used for Strevi DOC wine must be grown in “vineyards on hilly, sunny ridges with clay soils based on marl and limestone.”

Summer landscape in Strevi

Summer landscape in Strevi

The grapes must be 100% Moscato and the wine must be produced in the passito style, with a minimum alcohol content of 12.5% and two years of required aging. All of these factors combine to make Strevi DOC a rich, golden-yellow wine with amber flecks, richly aromatic with notes of candied citrus, apple, sweet spices and honey, rich and sweet on the palate – and a fantastic match for foie gras, cheese, or apple-based desserts.

 

Thanks to our friends at Italian Wine Central for the acreage and production statistics!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

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Guest Post: Traveling in time at Château De Laubade Armagnac

IMG_0241Today we have a guest post from Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE. Hoke is well-known to SWE members as one of the contributors to the original CSS Study Guide and a popular (and highly-rated) conference speaker. Hoke invites us to travel back in time with a visit to Château de Laubade in Armagnac, and taste France’s oldest brandy, made by time-honored traditions now codified into law.

Located in the departement of Gers in the Gascogne region of south-west France, situated in the verdant rolling foothills of the Midi-Pyrénées, Armagnac hews to the old ways to make a unique rustic and earthy brandy celebrated the world over.

Brandy began here on the many small family farms dotted across the landscape. Thrifty landholders naturally cultivated wine grapes amongst their other crops so good, basic drinking wine could grace their tables. Eventually, the wine found its way into brandy—although most of the farms were too modest to have their own distillery and each year they waited until a local distiller could hitch up his portable still and take it to each farm for custom distillation.

Thus custom and tradition created an agreement on basic methods of brandy production, but allowed, even encouraged, a fiercely independent style by each small-batch producer, since most of the brandy would remain for family consumption, unlike its famous northern neighbor, Cognac, which was focused primarily on commercial exports. Today, the commercial houses of Armagnac remain fairly small concerns, with each having its own way of doing things, but all bound by the officiating body of the Bureau National Interprofessionel du Armagnac.

IMG_0242Château De Laubade, located in the tiny village of Sorbets in the Bas-Armagnac AOC, is a storybook picture of a place, with its gated entrance, sturdy round tower and ancient mottled brick buildings leading to a fanciful Normandy-style chateau from 1870 perched on a hill to view the sweeping expanse of vineyards in the valley below.

These well-tended vineyards are essential, for only they are used for Château De Laubade’s Armagnacs. After the upheavals of phylloxera and oidium that devastated French vineyards, Armagnac recovered and settled in with several approved varieties, but at Laubade, only the four key varieties are allowed: Ugni Blanc, known in Italy as Trebbiano, a workhorse grape;  Folle Blanche, a delicate and floral variety that is susceptible to rot and difficult to farm; Baco Blanc, a French-American hybrid cross between Folle Blanche and Noah intended to give the character of Folle Blanche without the problems; and Columbard, which in this terroir provides impressively spicy and herbal characters to the blend.

Each year the varieties are harvested, fermented, distilled and barreled individually, to be aged and blended by the master distiller into the various Armagnacs the estate produces.

Originally, all distillation in Armagnac was done in a pot-and-column continuous copper still , an alembic Armagnacais, so only one distillation was required to gain sufficient alcohol strength and clarity. Today, any type of distillation is permissible; most distillers use the traditional method, others use the alembic double-distillation approach, depending upon style preferences.

IMG_0240Another traditional touch comes in with the choice of barrel. The Armagnacais traditionally prefer initial aging, from six months to a year, in a local black oak heavy in tannin from the nearby forest of Monlezun, then transferring the eau-de-vie to lighter, finer-grained, and older, more subtle toasted oak barrels from such sources as Limousin and Tronçais for continued but more elegant development.

The minimum aging to be designated Armagnac is one year, but most are blends of much, much older brandies to create the various VSOP, Reserve, XO, Hors d’Age and other well-matured designations.  Armagnac has also continued the tradition of maintaining single-vintage and single-variety releases, with the proviso that any single-vintage must be a minimum of ten years in barrel prior to release.

To maintain blending stocks, and to retard the loss of precious alcohol through evaporation in barrel, when a brandy has gained all it can from the barrel, it is racked into large bulbular glass demi-johns, which are then placed in the most revered cellar location, referred to as Le Paradis—Paradise.  These will be doled out in miniscule amounts and used judiciously to enhance new blends with added depth and nuance.

In one of the more remarkable tastings I have been fortunate enough to enjoy, a master distiller at Chateau de Laubade took me through three levels of sampling.

IMG_0246First, he provided four samples of eau-de-vie from the 2013 vintage which had received no barrel treatment: Ugni Blanc, Baco Blanc, Folle Blanche and Columbard. The differences among the ‘naked’ eau-de-vies were immediate, impressive and actually somewhat startling. The Ugni Blanc was lean, tight, mineral, and tartly, astringently acidic. The Baco was the reverse of that coin, rich, earthy, full in the mouth and expansive. The Folle Blanche was wonderfully floral, light, and bright and lively.  And the Columbard was impressively spicy and tangy and strong with herbal coriander-seed aromas.  Even from this rough and undeveloped primal state, one could easily see the wide range of possibilities a blending could take in the hands of a master.

For the second step, the master distiller brought out four more wines—again, the four basic varieties, but this time they were individually barrel-aged samples: an Ugni Blanc and Baco Blanc from the 1994 Vintage, a Columbard from the 1995 vintage, and a Folle Blanche from 2001.

Again, the differences were immediate and amazing. The mature Ugni Blanc had become forceful and deeply colored, but had maintained that almost steely intensity and structure it showed originally. The Baco, on the other hand, had become even richer, more rounded, and significantly more earthy, with an umami-mushroom undertone. The Columbard had deepened and strengthened its herbal-spice focus, tightened its structure, and had become one of the most singularly expressive Columbards I had ever experienced. And the Folle Blanche had developed a lacy, fruit-floral elegance and airiness that was lovely to linger over.  Again, one could consider the infinite possibilities of mingling these creatures into a master blend.

IMG_0258For the last stage of the tasting we strolled over to the chateau and in the midst of the lavishly decorated sitting room, overlooking the vineyards, I was offered my choices of a dazzling array of bottles from the offerings of Château De Laubade.  While wishing I had the fortitude to taste each and every one of these precious mahogany brandies, I restrained myself—with difficulty–to only a few select choices:  an XO with 15 to 25 years of age; an XO l”Intemporel No. 5 with 25-50 years; a vintage 1990; a vintage 1983; and as a finale, a vintage 1942, a brandy I simply could not resist.

The import of the previous tastings varietal tastings became evident , for with these armagnacs I could discern the contribution of the varietal characters as well as the resonance and depth that maturity brought to the marriage.  The firm linear structure of Ugni Blanc was enhanced by Baco’s warm, earthy richness, with the spice-lash of Columbard coming up from below and the lacy aromatics of Folle Blanche wafting above, and all coming together in the center with four made one and sum magnificently greater than parts.

In the two XO’s, differences of age showed clearly. The younger  XO was lighter, brighter, with more citrus and flower and orchard fruit shining clearly, only beginning to show the tinges of oncoming maturity along the edges. The older No. 5 Intemporel, with obvious and welcome richness from Baco, was profoundly deep and brooding, redolent of dried orange peel, savory mince, and prunes vying with old leather, cocoa, and baking spices, and lingered for the longest time.

IMG_0257The 1990 Laubade, a worthy reminder of the worldwide excellence of that vintage, was still bright and lively with apricot fruit, laced with firm acids, and showing the ability to age gracefully for many, many years.  Again, the striking elements of structure, earthiness, spice and flower were all present. Think of the 1990 as an Audrey Hepburn Armagnac: always young, always charming, teasing, enticing and never out of style.

The 1983 Laubade was more abundant, with more heft and weight and substance, with the feeling it was just now beginning to hit its prime. The foundation of Ugni and Baco were clearly there, with the Baco deepening and mellowing, yet, oddly enough, allowing more room for the spicy-herbal Columbard and faint floral perfume of Folle Blanche to “fill in the spaces” seamlessly, showing the pure mastery of the blender’s art coupled with the seasoning of age.

The 1942 Laubade was a quiet work of art, a gentle, soft, round, warm delight. Initially a bit tentative, it warmed and expanded in the mouth, and the post-nasal aromatics effulgently stimulated the senses. There is something profound in a brandy that bridges the years, that connects you to a time before you were born and like an old film or photo album calls up glimpses of things you never experienced.

In 1942 France had been ignominiously conquered by archenemy Germany, had the heart of its country occupied, with the pitiful remainder shoved into Vichy. The devastating war was flaring even higher, spreading all over the world.  Times were still difficult in Gascony but the land endured, as did the people, and there was even guarded optimism for a brighter future. Grapes still had to be harvested, wine made, brandy distilled.

IMG_0262This Armagnac was a sign of that future; made in hard times, perhaps it would be consumed in far better times. Such is the cloaked power of a well-made brandy, made reverent with age.  And such is the power of Château De Laubade Armagnac that 70 years later the brandy remained vibrant and alive – while the distant past was only dull regret and faded memory.

About the author: An enthusiastic lover of wine and spirits, Mr. Harden left a career in academia to follow his other muse for the last 27 years, trekking around the world to the great producing regions. Recently referred to as a veritable walking omnibus of wine and spirits knowledge, he has experienced every possible facet of the world of wine and spirits as a retailer, restaurateur, bartender, buyer, wholesaler, supplier, marketer, critic, writer, competition judge and an educator. He is currently with Elixir Vitae Wine & Spirits Consultants, a member of the Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Instructor at Mt. Hood Community College, and a Master Instructor with the French Wine Academy.

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Guest Post: Onward to Trentino

Frescoed palazzo in Trento

Frescoed palazzo in Trento

Today, we have another guest post from New York Wine Educator Paul Poux, CSW, as he finishes his trip to Italy with a wine tour through Trentino!  Click here to read about the first part of his trip.

Trento – what a beautiful, impressive town, stuffed full of handsome Medieval palazzi, many of them frescoed – on the outside! After several days in chilly Alto Adige, we had returned to the Italy that we knew, and basked in the warmer temperatures and cheery “Buongiornos!” that we realized had been absent in the north.

That night, at a casual pizzeria alongside a piece of the Medieval city’s old wall, I only saw three wines on the menu, all by the glass: a white, red, and a Franciacorta. I of course ordered the Franciacorta, but what arrived was Trento DOC, a local product, and like Franciacorta, a traditional method sparkling. Its fine bubbles and Trento origin felt perfectly right to me – more so since I had a tasting the next day at the Trento DOC offices.

Schloss Tirolo

Schloss Tirolo

It’s actually “Trentodoc,” one word without spaces, explains Sabrina Schench, the director of promotion. I compliment her on the name since I think it’s a clever way to refer to itself. “It doesn’t sound like we are a doctor?” she asks uncertainly.

Awarded its DOC in 1993, two years before Franciacorta, Trentodoc has its vineyard zones in the cooler hills above Trento and allowed grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Meunier, with Chardonnay dominant.  Trentodoc offerings range from non-vintage Brut aged at least 18 months on the lees to 24 months for Vintage brut to at least 36 months for a Riserva.

I tasted 15 brut and brut zero (“dosaggio zero”) wines dating back as far as 2004 and amidst the stream of what Trentodoc calls “tiny and persistent” bubbles I found neutral aromas but in many a delicious flavor of golden delicious apples. Why was I chasing Franciacorta when I had discovered a unique and refined wine right here in Trento?

Trentodoc tasting lineup

Trentodoc tasting lineup

Trentodoc produces 7 million bottles that are mostly consumed within Italy. They are outgunned in the promotion game by Franciacorta (14 million bottles) and by Prosecco (245 million) and they know it. They are planning outreach to parts of the US market in 2015 and realize it is going to take time. But to show me what is possible within Italy, they sent me to Ferrari.

Giulio Ferrari was the first to make traditional method sparkling wine in the area, over 100 years ago. He visited and studied Champagne’s methods and planted the first cuttings he brought back. His sparkling production stayed small until he sold to the Lunelli family in 1952.

Ferrari’s subsequent success has inspired almost 40 other Trentodoc producers but Ferrari is the largest, at 5 million bottles responsible for 70% of Trentodoc production.

Cantine Ferrari

Cantine Ferrari

The visitors’ center for Cantine Ferrari announces that it is not just a winery but something approaching a fashion brand. Red carpet runways lead past photo collages of boldface names enjoying Ferrari Trentodoc: Donatella Versace, Jessica Alba, Woody Allen, Andy Warhol, even Margaret Thatcher.

Camilla Lunelli, a member of the family who have owned Ferrari since 1952, is warm and welcoming. She assures us that it is a Ferrari Trentodoc, not Franciacorta, that is served at the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, and to the Italian national soccer team.

I tasted four of Ferrari’s offerings, from the Ferrari Brut NV ($25), with a characteristic green apple flavor, to the Riserva Lunelli 2004 ($60 but not commonly available in the US), aged 8 years, that possessed remarkable earthy and umami aromas.

Why do Americans not know more about Ferrari and about Trentodoc?

Lunelli says the answer is somewhat complicated: “First we have to say what we are not. We are not Champagne. We are not Franciacorta. And we are not Prosecco.”

Pauls headshotOur guest blogger, Paul Poux, CSW, finds joy in combining food, wine and travel. Paul provides wine education ‘experiences’  to Millennials for wine brands and regions; and does marketing and sponsor management for food and wine festivals around the country.

Paul’s favorite wines are Amarone and Muscadet. Tell him yours at paul@pouxcompany.com

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Guest Post: Hiking and Sipping Through Alto Adige

Lago di Resia

Lago di Resia

Today we have a guest post from New York Wine Educator Paul Poux, CSW. Paul was lucky enough to take a summertime trip to Italy’s northernmost wine regions, and he is letting us come along for the ride! Read on for Paul’s fascinating account of this trip to Alto Adige and beyond:

I was determined to not drink Pinot Grigio until my trip to Alto-Adige.

Wouldn’t I have my fill of it then? It was the wine I recognized most from the region. Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, with its mineral zing, was refreshing in the New York summer heat. It kept showing up at home, in our monthly wine club shipment and in the trips my dog (and husband) would make to Trader Joe’s NYC store. Our upstate NY store carried 4 wines from Trentino-Alto Adige, all whites, 2 of them Pinot Grigio. And the most recognized Pinot Grigio in the US, Santa Margherita, is from the region.

But when I got to the Alto-Adige, and then Trentino, I saw little Pinot Grigio in stores and on wine lists. The regional website, AltoAdigeWines.com, barely mentions the varietal.

What gives?

I had already had my wine world knowledge tweaked my first night in Milan, at a local trattoria. I chose a Franciacorta from the list, which, when in Milan, is a locally sourced wine from Lombardy. I love sparkling wine and had only had Franciacorta DOCG, once. It was the first night in Italy and I felt like celebrating! But what arrived was not bubbly but a still white wine. The menu had read “Franciacorta,” but the bottle said, “Curtefranca DOC.” I later learned that the Curtefranca DOC was created in 2008 for still whites and reds, to prevent just this sort of confusion. Luckily this Curtefranca Bianco from Ca’ del Bosco, one of the most famous producers in the region, was comforting and cool.

Kellerei Bolzano

Kellerei Bolzano

The next day we drove to Alto-Adige, in a blinding rainstorm coupled with the stop-and-go traffic expected on a Saturday in late July, what the Italians call the “esodo d’estivo” – the summer exodus. The swollen Adige River raced alongside the Autostrada and through sheets of rain I could see the vertical cliffs of the Dolomites. The Dolomite Mountains are compressed coral reefs, rich in calcium and acidity. Grapevines in Guyot and pergola formation cover the valley floor and stretch above in steep terraces, from 600 to 3,300 feet above sea level. Apple orchards and castles perched on hillsides fill in the few remaining spaces. As we ascended into the mountains, the rain abated, then stopped. The Dolomites form rings around parts of the region and we could see storm clouds hovering on the far side of the mountains, not able to advance. During our trip, we received very little rain, while the rest of Northern Italy had storms day after day. Some growing areas in the region receive 300 days of sunshine a year.

Our hotel was in the village of Tirolo, about an hour northwest of Bolzano, the capital. Tirolo gave the town and the entire region its name: Alto-Adige is called Südtirol in German. Alto-Adige was part of Austria until 1918, and it is still Italy in name only. The primary language is German. The food, such as the bread dumplings called knodel, is Austrian. All the tourists were from Germany. The architecture is picture-perfect “Sound of Music,” chalet-style houses with colorful flowers spilling out of balcony windowboxes. In every village, spotless cobbled streets frame beautiful clock towers that ring on the quarter-hour, all day and all night.  Not great if you are trying to sleep, but it means you don’t miss breakfast, either.

Hiking the Dolomites

Hiking the Dolomites

Dinner that night was – finally – an introduction to two of the wines of the region. A perfumed Gerwürztraminer from Cantina Tramin glittered gold in our glasses as the sun set. The town of Tramin claims the grape originated there. It was lower in acid and left a slight bitterness on my tongue. Our next wine, an inky Lagrein Riserva from Cantina Meran, showed black fruit, tobacco and some chocolate. It took me a while to learn to pronounce it as the locals do, la-GRYNE. This was my first good taste of this full-bodied wine from an indigenous grape, and I loved it, although it too was low in acidity, and slightly bitter on the finish.

The next day was spent hiking, where we had our introduction to a “rifugio” hut. These are located way up the mountains and are a destination for hikers, who can eat lunch or stay overnight. I was imagining a one-room shack staffed by an elderly couple who would share their cheese and charcuterie; so I was delighted when we arrived at a modern restaurant overlooking a mountain lake and surrounded by waterfalls and patches of snow. We ordered lunch and a bottle of Vernatsch, the indigenous varietal that accounts for 20% of Alto-Adige’s wine output. This wine (called Schiava in Italian and Trollinger in Germany) is Maraschino cherry-colored with strong candied fruit aromas. When sniffing it I was sure it was semi-sweet but it’s a dry wine, served chilled. It seems not to be taken very seriously except by its producers, but it proved a perfect pairing with my knodel soup. It felt good to be eating and drinking, not hiking. Two of the many dogs in the restaurant started barking at each other. We made friends with others at our farmer’s table. All was good at the top of the mountain.

Alto Adige has 8 DOCs and no DOCGs, and 75% of its output carries the “Südtirol” DOC designation, stamped on the label and on the top of the capsule, a great regional branding technique. Varietal name(s) are usually added to the label.

Piazza Walther in Bolzano

Piazza Walther in Bolzano

The day we descended from our fairy-tale village to visit Bolzano, we were almost sorry: this pretty, cheery town was crowded with vacationers and the line to see Otzi, the preserved Neolithic man recovered in 1991 from a retreating glacier, wound around the block.  So we walked, visited the local Medieval castle, and visited wineries since grapevines are strung in and around Bolzano. Vineyards planted in the local soils of quartz porphyry produce high-quality Lagrein, which is becoming the ‘it’ wine of the region, supplanting other grapes and even apple orchards. But at Kellerei Bozen and other cooperatives, and at the many wineries on the “Strada del Vino dell’Alto Adige,” a range of wines is on offer, not just LaGrein, Vernatsch and Gewürtztraminer but accomplished Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and commonly a blend of all three; Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon; and traditional red blends and blends that incorporate Lagrein.  But I hardly saw Pinot Grigio: I don’t think much of it is consumed locally.

But it was time for a palate cleanser. We were ready to head south to Trentino and its capital, Trento. To follow us along on our trek, tune back in tomorrow and we’ll take you on a tour of Trentino!

 

Pauls headshotOur guest blogger, Paul Poux, CSW, finds joy in combining food, wine and travel. Paul provides wine education ‘experiences’  to Millennials for wine brands and regions; and does marketing and sponsor management for food and wine festivals around the country.

Paul’s favorite wines are Amarone and Muscadet. Tell him yours at paul@pouxcompany.com

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.