Guest Post: Modern Wines from Ancient Santorini

santorini island james bToday we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE - all about some modern wines from a most ancient place…the Greek Island of Santorini.

When one thinks of Greece, one might envision the great Greek Gods – Dionysus, Zeus, and Apollo – sipping wine from golden goblets, perched on high watching the humans battle in epic duels.

When one thinks of Greek wine, one might envision pine resin and retsina  - and this has often kept people from delving much farther into the world of Greek wines.

However, Greek wine is so much more!  Greece is home to some of the more interesting indigenous grape varietals on earth.  Smoky, bone dry whites such as Assyrtiko or full bodied reds such as Mavrotragano and the deliciously sweet Vinsanto are truly the “nectars of the Gods.”

Vines have been grown in Greece for centuries, but in the modern world, Greek wines have been widely overlooked by the wine community.  However, the small island of Santorini, located in the southern Cyclades Islands, is looking to change the way the world looks at the wines of Greece.

santorinin cliffsides firaThe History and Geography of Santorini

First, a bit of history about Santorini, which will give a better understanding why this small island has excellent terrior and climate to cultivate vines.  Santorini was the core of an ancient volcano that erupted in about 1640-1620 BC.  This submerged a large part of the island and created a caldera where the center of the island had been.  The result was a unique mix of chalk and shale beneath ash, lava and pumice, which contributes to the vines having to struggle deep into the soil to find nutrients.

This, in turn, gives the resulting wines intense minerality and singularity in the wine world.  It also is the core reason why the root louse, phylloxera, has never become an issue on this small island.  This fact allows Santorini to have many old vine vineyards.  Grapes are grown on the eastern edge of the caldera at nearly 1,000 feet in altitude.  To add even more stress to the vine, Santorini sees almost no rain during the growing season and the vines only source of water comes from the early morning fog condensation that covers the island.  This is enough to keep the vines alive and thriving.

Steady westerly winds keep the grapes from seeing much of the condensation thus eliminating any chance of rot.  In fact, the winds are so fierce that the vines are typically trained to grow in a Stefani shape, a round basket, where the middle is left open for the clusters of grapes to grow unimpeded.

santorini vineyardAssyrtiko:  Rich, Mineral-driven Whites

It is in this environment on Santorini that Greece’s most intriguing white grape is grown.  Assyrtiko (A seer’tee ko) might just become the next “darling” white wine for sommeliers and wine critics alike.  The varietal is often referred to as ‘the white grape in red’s clothing’.  It is a high acid, full-bodied white with moderately high alcohol that gives the consumer a chance to taste the essence of Santorini.

The minerality that the grape inherits from the soils is sky high.  Flavors of crushed rocks and smoky minerals meld into the bone dry acidity while maintaining ripe citrus fruits such as melon, apple and key lime.  Assyrtiko will be sometimes be blended with small amounts of Athiri and Aidani to add aromatics to the bracing acids.  The wine may sometimes see oak, but is typically aged in stainless steel vats.  Wild yeasts are usually used in fermentation which gives the ensuing wine unique character and flavor profile.  Santorini has 70% of its vines dedicated to this variety.  Some of the best examples are done by Gaia, who produces an unbelievably good wild ferment, and Paris Sigalas.

Vinsanto from Santorini

Assyrtiko(minimum 51%) and Aidani are also the main grape varieties used for the passito-style Vinsanto dessert wines. The late harvested grapes are left out on straw mats for 1-2 weeks which causes them to concentrate and raisinate.  The grapes then go through a santorini sunsetlengthy fermentation process then are aged in oak casks for a minimum of 24 months, but usually for much longer.  The ending results are deliciously sweet wines with flavors of matured honey, dried apricots, and molasses.

The wines are typically low in alcohol and high in sugar, yet are not cloying due to the vibrant acidity of Assyrtiko.  Vinsanto of Greece, not to be confused with Vin Santo of Tuscany, now has the exclusive rights to the name ‘Vinsanto’ although Tuscany can still use the name on the label to describe the ‘style’ of wine making. Vin meaning wine, Santo short for Santorini…Vinsanto. Makes sense.

Mavrotragano:  Big, Bold Red

Santorini may be best known for its indigenous white varietals, but the reds are beginning to make head way in the market.  Mavrotragano is the red grape that is making the biggest waves.  This rare, indigenous variety produces small, thick skinned grapes of very low yield.  Due to the lack of phylloxera issues, this varietal remains largely on its original rootstock.  Mavrotragano was nearly extinct before being resurrected by Haridimos Hatzidakis and Paris Sigalas to critical acclaim.  The wine is aged for a minimum of 1 year in oak, usually French.  The flavor profile is reminiscent of Nebbiolo with red fruits, large notes of minerality and full, yet supple tannins.

The complex, indigenous varietals of this small, yet uniquely gifted island is leading the resurgence of Greek wine in the world.  Greece is leaving the tarnish of Retsina in the past and forging forward with its indigenous quality varietals and the island of Santorini leading the way.

Santorini Greek TavernOur 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 recongized 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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1855: It was a Very Good Year…

Bordeaux 1Its a familiar story to wine enthusiasts…in 1855, Napoleon III, the Emperor of France, decided that France would host an event to rival the Great Exhibition held in London four years earlier.  That event, the Exposition Universelle de Paris, would showcase all the glory that was France – including its finest wines.

One of the exhibitors was the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, which decided to feature a list of the region’s best wines. However, knowing better than to draw up the list themselves, they asked the Syndicat of Courtiers (Bordeaux’s Union of Wine Brokers) to draw one up.

It did not take the Syndicat long to think through the list; two weeks later, they were finished.  Their original list included 58 of the finest Châteaux of the Gironde department – four first growths, 12 seconds, 14 thirds, 11 fourths, and 17 fifths.   Apparently, the brokers did what brokers do:  they assigned the rankings based on price, reasoning that the market, in its infinite wisdom, had already ranked the wines based on who was commanding the highest price.  This move makes more sense if you know that in the 1850’s; the wine trade in Bordeaux was still largely controlled by the British.

bordeaux 2The Syndicat’s original list ranked the Châteaux by quality within each class. Mouton-Rothschild, quite famously, was at the head of the seconds.  However, the controversy concerning the entire list was such that by the time the Exposition rolled around, a few months after the list was first released, they had rescinded the quality listing within the categories, quickly claimed that no such hierarchy had ever been intended, and took to listing the Châteaux alphabetically.

As every good wine student knows, the only formal revision to the original list came in 1973, when, following a half-century of unceasing effort by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Mouton was elevated from second-growth to first growth, and the winery’s motto became “Premier je suis, Second je fus, Mouton ne change.”  (“First, I am. Second, I used to be. Mouton does not change.”)

9.8-The-Haut-Medoc-4-color-[Converted]Since 1855, many changes have occurred in the names and ownership of the properties. However, as long as an estate can trace its lineage to an estate in the original classification, it can retain is cru classé status. Due to divisions of the estates, the 58 original estates now number 61.

And now for the rest of the story…

As any good CSW Student knows, Bill Lembeck, CWE, has designed the maps for the last few editions of the CSW Study Guide.

Next month, (Spoiler Alert) SWE will launch its 2014 version of the CSW Study Guide, and Bill has once again designed and updated the maps for us – this time in color! As a special bonus, Bill has created this map of the Häut-Médoc which gorgeously lists the Châteaux of the 1855 Classification.  A larger image and pdf of the map is available here.

Enjoy, and many thanks to Bill!

 

 

 

The Rheingau Falls in Line

Rheingau 1Here’s some good news:  as of September 1, 2013, the wine classification system in Germany just got a little bit easier.

With the release of the 2012 vintage, the Rheingau is now using the term “Grosses Gewächs” to indicate dry wines produced in their top-tier (Grosse Lage) vineyard sites.  Until recently, the Rheingau was the only region in the country to use the term “Erstes Gewächs” to represent their top-tier dry wines, but as of now, the Rheingau will use the same term as the rest of Germany.

Now, there is still quite a bit of complication to be sure, with the country’s gU’s, QbA’s and Prädikats, but at least for now there is one less piece of the VDP puzzle to figure out.

To explain the VDP – Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweinguter – classifications quite simply, they are the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates – and their goal is to create a terroir-based classification of German vineyard sites, based on the system of vineyard classification used in Burgundy as their model. The idea is to use the quality of the vineyard site in addition to the ripeness of the grape (Prädikat) to define a top-tier German wine.

The levels of quality that an estate can apply for are as follows.   (Note: the method of comparing the VDP classificaton to the vineyard hierarchy of Burgundy is used on the VDP website and can be accessed here):

  • Grosse Lage, or “Great Site” - The highest classification, equal to a “Grand Cru” in Burgundy.  A dry wine from a Grosse Lage is termed a “Grosses Gewächs.”  (As noted above, until September 1, 2013, there was an exception for the top-tier dry wines of the Rheingau, which used the term Ertes Gewächs.  However, the Rheingau estates are now using the term “Grosses Gewächs” along with the rest of Germany – hooray!)
  • Rhengau 2Erste Lage, “First Site” or “Very Good Site”  - Comparable to a “Premier Cru” in Burgundy.
  • Ortswein, or “Classified Site Wine” -  Comparable to a “Village” level wine in Burgundy.
  • Gutswein, or “Estate Wine” - “Comparable to a “Regional” wine in Burgundy.

The 2012 vintage in the Rheingau was notortiously botrytis-free, showcasing grapes that have exceptional ripeness and excellent acidity – a perfect year to highlight the increasingly popular dry style.  We can’t wait to give them a try!

For more information, see the website of the VDP.

Please note:  SWE is trying to keep up with the ever-changing wine and spirits industry, whether it be changes in EU regulations, new AVAs, or newly approved wine regions in  the southern hemisphere.  To access the “quck version” of these updates, see our “Study Guide Updates” pages.  We suggest checking back regularly!

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles. CWE – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

 

PX: Thin Skinned and Not Too Sharp

PX BarrelsThin-skinned and not too sharp. It would sound like an insult if hurled towards a person, put for the distinct grape known as Pedro Ximénez, it is just a statement of fact. And it is just those qualities, the thin skin, the low acidity, and an array of other grapey-uniqueness such as extra-large bunches, susceptibility to Botrytis, and berries of uneven size, that make Pedro Ximénez the star of an interesting array of truly unique wines.

Pedro Ximénez is grown widely throughout Andalucía in the south of Spain, including Jerez, Málaga, and particularly Montilla-Moriles. The grape is also grown in small amounts in some far-flung regions of Spain, such as the Canary Islands, Valencia, La Mancha, and Extremadura; as well as parts of Portugal.

Pedro XimenezFurther afield, Pedro Ximénez used to be quite widely cultivated and is still grown in a few plots in Australia, where it often goes by the nickname “Pedro.” Pedro is, not surprisingly, used in some of the “stickies” produced in Australia.

PX should not be confused with PG, although it is hard not to confuse “Pedro Ximénez” with “Pedro Giménez,” a grape grown in Argentina and Chile. In South America, Pedro Giménez (Pedro-with-a-G) is sometimes used to produce simple, fruity, dry white wines; but the majority is distilled into Pisco. PG, it is thought, is related to but not identical to PX. Rather, it is believed that Pedro Giménez is native to Argentina, having mutated or descended from the original Mission/Pais grapes that were originally brought to the Americas from Europe, so many centuries ago.

To students of wine, Pedro Ximénez is best known as the third player in the three grapes of Jerez.  Any one of my students can probably recall reciting “Palomino, Moscatel, and Pedro Ximénez” over and over in preparation for the CSW. What is rather surprising, however, is that much of the Pedro Ximénez that makes its way into Sherry is actually grown in neighboring Montilla-Moriles.

PX 2Producers of Sherry are allowed to purchase Pedro Ximénez grapes grown in Montilla-Moriles for use in their wines, as long as the wine is aged in Jerez.  This unusual law most likely came to be as the PX grape variety does not really thrive in the humid atmosphere of Jerez. PX is often used to make sweet Sherries, and is blended with Oloroso to make Cream Sherry.

In Montilla-Moriles, the grape is used to make a variety of wines, including low acid, dry white wines and fortified wines somewhat similar to the various styles of Sherries.  However, the truly outstanding wines of Montilla-Moriles are its rich Pedro Ximénez-based dessert wines, some of which are fortified, and most of which are aged solera-style, like the wines of Jerez.

The extreme heat and rugged conditions of the Montilla-Moriles region produces Pedro Ximénez grapes with extraordinary richness and very high sugar levels.  After harvest, the grapes are dried in the sun for several days. The concentrated, shriveled grapes are then pressed and the resulting rich, thick, syrup is fermented and aged, solera style. The resulting wine is unbelievably dark, rich, and sweet, with flavors of chocolate, caramel, smoke, dates, nuts, and figs.  Montilla-Moriles PX is a natural match for rice pudding, ice cream, or any dessert made with caramel, toffee, figs, dates, hazelnuts, or chocolate.

PX Montilla MorillesA colorful legend tells that the Pedro Ximénez is indigenous to the Canary Islands, and somehow got transported to Germany where it thrived.  Somehow, somewhere the grape was then smuggled into Jerez in the belongings of a soldier named Peter Siemens who had served under Charles V (1500-1558) in the Spanish Netherlands.

Like many a really good tale, this one is most likely not true, as it seems unlikely that a warm weather grape such as PX would have survived so far north. Current wisdom points towards Andalucía or the Canary Islands as the most probably homeland for Pedro Ximénez, and it is likely that the name was borrowed either from a local winemaker, as  Ximénez/Ximénes is a common name in the area; or from the town of Jiménez near Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE; your SWE Blog Administrator - bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

 

Blood and Wine…Sangre and Sangria

SangriaSomewhere near the very beginning of every wine class, an eager student asks about Sangria.  They seem to think it is a type of wine, most likely because they have seen bottles of it alongside the wine selection at their local supermarket.

Now, before I go any further, let me assure you: I love Sangria. I’ve served many a punch bowl of it, and often order it a restaurant where the wine-by-the-glass selection looks otherwise questionable.

However, I want to get the point across to my students and fast…Sangria is not a type of wine, despite the bottles you see at the grocery store.  While we’re at it, I remind them that a Mimosa is not wine and a Kalimotxo is not wine.  What all three are, however, are popular cocktails, and in the case of Sangria, a type of punch made out of wine. The tradition of making punch from wine, such as Claret punch in Bordeaux and Gluhwein in Germany, is widespread.

Sangria actually has an interesting history, as should be expected for a drink whose name is based on “Sangre,” the Spanish word for “blood.”  If we go back to 200 BC, we arrive at the days when the Romans were conquering the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans, of course, brought their tradition of wine and viticulture everywhere they went, and planted some of the first vineyards in Spain.

The locals, looking for refreshment, made fruit-infused, watered-down drinks from the hefty red wines of the region. We know that the tradition of wine consumption at the time was to dilute wine with water, so this makes sense. One theory states that the drink was simply called “sangria” after the color of blood.

Another theory on the name Sangria is based on the “four humors,” or bodily fluids (blood and three others too gross to mention). In the days of Ancient Rome, it was thought that varying levels of the four humors were present in a person based on their diet and activity. Personality characteristics and temperament were also based on humors.  A person who aligned with the blood humor was said to be sanguine and considered to be courageous, hopeful and amorous.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these traits can also be the result of daily dose of wine punch!

Sangria and TapasAt the 1964 World’s Fair, held in New York, the Spanish “world area” served its traditional fruity red wine punch to the crowds, and the people loved it! Sangria became popular in the United States, and started its inevitable march towards American commercialization and bottles of Arbor Mist Zinfandel “Sangria” in the ensuing years.

In case you are now dying to try a glass of refreshing Sangria, or think it would be a hit at your next Tapas or Paella party, here’s my recipe.  From what my fuzzy memory can recall, this recipe grew out of a version that I copied down from a library copy of Time Life’s “Food of the World – Spain” book back in the 1980’s. I’ve revised it constantly over the years so that it doesn’t much resemble that original, but I would love to see the original, if anyone still has a copy of those books!

Sanguine Sangria:

  • 1 Bottle Red Rioja Crianza Wine (sure, you can substitute any red wine, or even white wine, but we are trying to keep it real here)
  • ½ Cup Spanish Brandy (again with the keeping it real)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 orange, seeded and cut into thin rounds
  • 2 lemons, seeded and cut into thin rounds
  • 1 red apple, cored and cut into thin slices
  • 1 bottle (750 ml) sparkling water

Method:

  • Place the prepared fruit, sugar, and brandy in the bottom of a large pitcher or other container.  Stir around a bit until well mixed, and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.  If you need to prepare ahead, you can do this step the night before, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
  • When ready to serve, add the wine and stir well.  Add the sparkling water and give another stir.
  • Serve over ice in a tumbler or wine glass.  Make sure everyone gets a few pieces of fruit.

Be careful with this…its goes down easily and is thirst-quenchingly refreshing.  However…it packs a punch.  You’d best know what you are doing.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your SWE Blog Administrator…bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

The Winds of Wine: Le Mistral

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Convinced that it comes in multiples of 3 days, residents of Provence will tell you that the Mistral Wind blows for 3, 6, 9 or 12 days.  Referred to as “Le Sacre Mistral,” it is blamed for headaches, edginess, and the bad behavior of husbands, pets, and children. They swear it is what drove Vincent Van Gogh to chop off his own ear.

The Mistral is a cold, dry, regional wind that occurs each time there is an area of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay accompanied by an area of low pressure around the Gulf of Genoa.  It occurs mainly during the winter and spring, but it can happen at any time during the year. Its cooling effect is perhaps most welcome in the summer, but during the winter it can chill one to the bones.

Roaring in from the north, the strong wind accelerates as it passes through the southern Rhône Valley, funneling between the Ardeche Mountains the low Alps before it heads out to the gulf. Marseilles and St. Tropez often take the full brunt of this cold, strong wind as it finally reaches the Map of the Mistral Windssea and continues its trek to influence the weather in North Africa, Sicily, and all across the Mediterranean.

In the Rhône Valley and Provence, the regularity and force of the mistral causes trees to grow leaning to the south. Vines are often kept low to the ground, their thick and sturdy branches developing a permanent south-facing bow. The rows of Cypress and Poplar trees typical of the region provide shelter from the dry force of the wind.

The Mistral, despite its ferocity, can nevertheless be beneficial to the vineyards in its path. The mistral blows the clouds from the sky and heralds the arrival of sunny weather. When the Mistral blows during the warm parts of the growing season it cools down the vines, helping the grapes to retain acidity through the hot summers. The dryness of the wind keeps the grapes free from humidity and mold, and has earned it the nickname mange-fange, or “mud-eater.”

450px-Bell_Tower_La_Cadiere_d'Azur_Provence_FranceMany wine makers believe that Le Mistral causes substantial evaporation in the grapes, concentrating sugar, acidity, and flavors.  And when the wind finally slows down, it is followed by days of clear, bright sunshine, enabling the grapes to ripen and ripen and ripen….

The name of the Mistral is traced to the Provencal word for “Masterly” and it certainly has had such an effect on life in Provence.  Old farmhouses were built facing south, with sturdy north walls devoid of windows.  The bell towers of the churches in the region are often topped by open iron frameworks, which allow the wind to pass through.

There was even once a law that stated that anyone who claims to have gone mad on account of the Mistral may be pardoned of their crime.  Sacre Mistral!

For more information on “the winds of wine,” see our posts on The Zonda and The Roaring 40′s.

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

 

Prince Golitsyn’s Award Winning “Crimean Champagne”

76 years before the famous “Judgment of Paris,” at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, a sparkling wine from Crimea defeated all the French entries to claim the internationally coveted “Grand Prix de Champagne.”  You may need to let that sink in for a few minutes.  In 1900, in France, Sparkling Wine from the Ukraine won the top prize for Champagne. 

Prince Lev golitsynThe wine, known as Novy Svet, was made by Prince Lev Sergeievitch Golitsyn, a highly educated member of a Russian Royal Family, at his wine estate in Crimea. Crimea is a peninsula of the Ukraine located on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  Lying between  44° and 45° in latitude, the region has an excellent climate for growing high quality grapes.  As a matter of fact, during Soviet times this region was the largest wine supplier in the USSR – which sounds like a good story for another day.

Prince Golitsyn, having studied both law and winemaking in France, established his winery in 1878 on the southern coast of Crimea. He dug a series of wine cellars into Koba-Kaya Mountain (Cave Mountain), much of it below sea level. All in all the tunnels stretched on for over a mile. He planted experimental vineyards of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Aligote and Pinot Meunier and spent ten years perfecting the art of sparkling wine.  The Prince used a variation of what we would call the Methode Traditionelle, allowing his wines to rest on the lees, in the bottle, for three years in his cellars at a constant, underground temperature of 59 – 60°F.

By the late 1890’s, the Prince was an experienced enologist and was producing a large array of sparkling wines.  In 1896 his wines were served at the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II (who would wind up being the last in a long line of Tsars) and Golitsyn was granted the right to display the family coat of arms on this wines.  Soon thereafter, in 1899, Novy Svet

Novy Svet Winery's "Coronation" Sparkling Wine

Novy Svet Winery’s “Coronation” Sparkling Wine

produced its first large-scale production, making over 60,000 bottles of sparkling wine…one of which won the Grand Prix in Paris.  

Legend has it that Prince Golitsyn was was inspired to build an estate in the area during a passionate love affair with Nadezhda Zasetska, an aristocratic young lady who had inherited large land holdings in the Crimea. It is rumored that the Prince bought the land to be near to her and studied enology in order to impress her.  We may never know if the rumors are true, but it does seem that wine and romance often go hand-in-hand.

Prince Golitsyn passed away in 1915 and was buried in a large tomb on his beloved estate.  The Novy Svet winery did not survive the Russian Revolution and the beginnings of the Soviet Union intact, and was plundered and nearly destroyed several times.  Today the restored winery, including the underground tunnels, is government-owned.  Under the leadership of Ms. Yanaina Petrovna Pavlenko, the winery produces a wide range of unique sparkling wines, many of them reflective of the original style and spirit of Prince Golitsyn.

In 1978, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Novy Svet Winery, the Golitsyn House Museum was opened in the house where the Prince lived for over 37 years.

The Novy Svet Winery in Crimea:  http://nsvet.com.ua/en

Klevener de Heiligenstein and the Alsace Eleven

5.10-Klevener-1441-ZvardonThe grape known as Klevener de Heiligenstein is an enigma. It is an allowed grape in the Alsace AOC, but can only be grown in certain places.  It has nothing to do with Klevner, as Pinot Blanc is often called in many places, including Alsace.  In Germany and Italy, Klevener de Heiligenstein is often called Traminer. However, Klevener de Heiligenstein should not be confused with Gewurztraminer, even though the two grapes appear identical while on the vine and they produce similar wines. Got that?

So, now that we are clear on what Klevener de Heiligenstein is NOT, let’s talk about what it is.

Klevener de Heiligenstein is a pink-skinned grape variety that is also known as Savagnin Rose or Traminer.  In Alsace, the grape is also called Rotedel or Edelrose. There are currently about 240 acres of Klevener de Heiligenstein planted in Alsace, where it is made into a concentrated wine of good acidity with a characteristic hint of bitterness on the finish.  While not overly aromatic, the wines are often described as similar to Gewurztraminer in terms of a slight spiciness and a rich texture.

It is known that the grape was originally brought to the town of Heiligenstein in 1742 by the mayor of the town, Erhard Wantz. It is believed that the cuttings Mayor Wantz Klevener 1742possessed came from vineyards planted near the Italian Alps in Lombardy.  Mayor Wantz was a big fan of the grape, and petitioned Le conseil des Echevins de Strasbourg for permission to plant the grape in the region. He won the right to plant his grapes, and soon the wines were well received and even earning higher prices than other wines of the region.

In 1971, the Klevener de Heiligenstein grape was approved for use in Alsace AOC wines.  However, it is the only grape in Alsace that has geographic restrictions placed on it. As such, it is only allowed to be used by specified vineyards in the village of Heiligenstein and four of its neighbors, including Bourgheim, Gertwiller, Goxwiller, and Obernain.  A grandfather clause allows specific vineyards outside of these regions to use the grapes in AOC wines until 2021; however, outside of the 5 approved villages, plantings or re-plantings are no longer allowed.

KlevenerAmpelographer Pierre Galet claims that Klevener de Heiligenstein is a pink-berried mutation of Savagnin that traveled to Alsace, Germany, and other parts of Central Europe.  But here’s where the story gets interesting…Savagnin Rose, aka Traminer, aka Klevener de Heiligenstein, apparently, somewhere along the way, went through a secondary mutation that became Gewurztraminer.  It makes sense, as Gewurz is often thought to be the musqué, or highly aromatic, version of Traminer.

The curiosity known as Klevener de Heiligenstein is often referred to as the “phantom” tenth grape of Alsace.  While many textbooks and websites list 9 grapes of Alsace, Klevener de Heiligenstein is also permitted, although only in certain areas.  The other 9 grapes of Alsace, as every serious wine student should know, are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Muscat, Chasselas, and Auxerrois.  An eleventh grape, Chardonnay, may only be used in Crémant d’Alsace AOC, the sparkling wines of the region.

Rosé for the Sun King

Rose de RiceysBefore Louis XIV, known as “The Sun King,” sipped Champagne at Versailles, he became a fan of a rare wine – a still rosé of Pinot Noir known as Rosé de Riceys– produced in the Champagne region.

Louis XIV is said to have discovered this aromatic and lightly tannic rosé when a group of workers from the village of Riceys-Haut arrived at the construction site of the Palace of Versailles, bringing a supply of their local rosé along with them.  The King was a big fan of Provence rosé, so he asked to try a bottle. (Well, he probably demanded it, but we’ll pretend he asked.) The King liked the wine so much that he soon dispatched the workers back to Les Riceys to bring back more Rosé de Riceys for the royal court.

This unusual, non-sparkling pink wine, produced within just a few miles of Burgundy, is officially part of the Champagne region.  The wine comes from a tiny spot called Les Riceys.  Les Riceys is made up of three close-knit villages named Riceys-Haut, Riceys Haute-Rive, and Riceys-Bas. Wine has been produced in this region since the 1100′s, made by the Cistercian Monks living at the nearby Abbey of Molesme.  The monks  selected the particular south-facing slopes where the grapes are grown as one of the few spots in the whole of the chilly Champagne region with enough sun and heat to ripen Pinot Noir to the point where it can be turned into this aromatic, brightly colored rosé. 

Making rose de riceysThe AOC regulations for Rosé de Riceys are among the strictest in France for a rosé wine, with the goal of keeping the tradition started by the monks at the Abbey of Molesme alive.  The wine is produced using the saignée method of vinification, and the grapes must be picked at a minimum ripeness of 10° Baumé from vines that are at least 12 years old.  The minimum ripeness standard is not always possible to reach, particularly in cooler years.  If the ripeness standard cannot be met, Rosé de Riceys will not be produced that year and the grapes will be used in the production of the region’s other wine, Champagne.  

This tiny appellation has only about 70 acres planted to Pinot Noir designated for Rosé de Riceys. No more than 20 producers make the wine, with an annual total output usually about 70,000 bottles a year. The wine is hard to find, even in Paris (perhaps even at Versailles), so aficionados of the wine drive to the edge of the Champagne region every spring to buy their year’s supply.

Mr HoriotThe Rosé de Riceys AOC was approved in 1947.  However, there was a time not too long ago when the wine was almost lost for good.  It was the 1970’s, and Champagne production was running high.  Champagne was more popular than ever, and growers were making a good living selling their grapes to the large Champagne houses.  In addition, for a few years in a row, the weather wasn’t cooperating enough to sufficiently ripen the grapes to make Rosé de Riceys.  For a few years in a row,  nobody wanted to produce Rosé de Riceys.  However, according to INAO regulations, if a certain type of wine is not produced for five consecutive years, the AOC will cease to exist. 

Pierre and Jules Horiot, 12th-generation proprietors of Horiot Père & Fils, were not about to let that happen! Despite being producers of Champagne as well as rosé,  they strived to keep their part of French wine history alive and continued to produce Rosé de Riceys, even when it would have been much more profitable to  turn their Pinot Noir into Champagne. In time, the other vignerons of the region joined in the fight to save the historical Rosé from ruin, and today this tiny region tucked into the far southern corner of Champagne still makes a rosé fit for a king – if he can find it!

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German Wine Laws: Revised, Reviewed, and Re-learned

Germany RiverHave you ever felt that German wine terminology, with its Geisenheimer Rothenberg and its Amtliche Prüfungsnummer is a bit confusing?

If so, hang on, because it just got a bit more interesting. In keeping with the EU wine blueprint, German wine law was recently reformed for the first time since the last set of major revisions in 1971.  These latest changes occurred in 2009, and now wines are divided into three broad categories, with all kinds of loops and squiggles betwixt and between.

Many of these terms will look and sound familiar to serious students of wine.  But if you happen to be studying for a certification (or any other reason) look closely…there are some significant changes, particularly in the names of the categories.

The new levels of the classification hierarchy for all wines, in ascending order of quality are: 

  • Wein:  This category, previously referred to as tafelwein or table wine, is used for basic wine. There are very few guarantees of quality at this level and most wein is made for the domestic market. These wines may be enriched or chaptalized to increase the final alcohol level of the wine. Some of the wine available at this level is imported bulk wine, mostly from Italy. In order to use the term “Deutscher Wein” the wine must be 100 percent German in origin.
  • ggA – Geschützte Geographische Angabe:  This category contains what used to be referred to as “landwein” or “country wine.” These wines correspond to the PDI category in the overall EU scheme and are not considered “quality” wines, but are a step up from the basic wein category.  At this level, the grapes must be slightly riper than those for wein (half a percent more potential alcohol); Germanyhowever, chaptalization is still permitted. A minimum of 85% of the grapes must be grown in Germany in one of the designated landwein regions, with the particular region specified on the label.
  • gU – Geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung:  This new designation has two sub-categories, and  includes those wines previously covered by the  Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) and  Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) categories. All of these wines are PDO wines. They must carry a place name on the label, with 100% of the grapes from the named region.  The terms Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein (QmP) will continue to be used.

The subcategories of gU (Geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung) are as follows:  

  •  Qualitätswein (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete or “QbA”) is the lower level of the two gU categories. These wines are defined as “quality wine from a designated region.”  These wines represent the largest proportion of German wine output. Qualitätswein wine must come from one of thirteen Anbaugebiete (specified winegrowing regions), be made with one of the approved grape varieties, and reach sufficient ripeness for recognition as a quality wine. Chaptalization is, however, permitted for this category.
  • Germany Steep VineyardsPrädikatswein is the highest quality level designation.  These wines may be defined as “quality wine with attributes.”  Prädikatswein must be produced from grapes grown within the same thirteen Anbaugebiete as the Qualitätswein. These wines may NOT be chaptalized.

To make matters just a bit more complicated, wines at the Prädikatswein level, have another element in their name which indicates the level of the ripeness of the grapes at harvest.  Luckily, these terms have not changed, but just as a refresher, here they are:

  • Kabinett: light- to medium-bodied wines made from grapes with the lowest ripeness level of the prädikate. These wines average 7 to 10 percent alcohol.
  • Spätlese (“late harvest”): wines of additional ripeness made from grapes harvested after a designated picking date. With the extra ripening time, the grapes develop more intense flavors and aromas than Kabinett.
  • Auslese (“selected harvest”): wines made from grapes that have stayed on the vine long enough to have a required level of sugar. The wines can be intense in bouquet and taste, and they have a potential alcohol level in excess of 14 percent.
  • Beerenauslese (BA; “selected berries”): rich, sweet dessert wines made from individually harvested berries, which are sweeter than Auslese and which may also be affected by the honeyed influence of botrytis, known in German as Edelfäule.
  • Eiswein (“ice wine”): wines made from frozen grapes harvested at a BA level of ripeness or higher. Having already become overripe from staying on the vine as late as January, these grapes are harvested after they freeze in the vineyard. They are crushed immediately, and much of the water in the berries is discarded as ice, leaving grape must with a very high sugar level (see chapter 5).
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA; “selected dried berries”): wines from individually picked berries that are overripe to the point of being raisins and are often further shriveled by botrytis. TBAs are considered to be among the world’s greatest dessert wines.

It’s all about the sugar:  In the post-1971 wine regulations, historically renowned vineyards and other aspects of terroir have been largely ignored in favor of classifying wines by grape ripeness.  This priority makes a good deal of sense in the cool-climate vineyards of Germany, where ripeness is never guaranteed, and when it is achieved, it is given the honor it is due.

But terroir is not to be forgotten: Some top-notch wine producers in Germany draw attention to their unique and diverse terroir through the efforts of the VDP.  The VDP, “Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingűter” was founded in 1910 as the Association of German “Naturweinversteigerer” (natural, meaning non-chaptalized) wines.  Today, the VDP has member estates from all 13 Anbaugebiete with the goals of preserving Germany’s traditional viticultural heritage, encouraging excellent wine production, and designating top vineyards sites in each region. The VDP classification system of top vineyard sites was revised in 2012 and now has four levels of classification. These are listed below, in order from listed from highest to lowest:

  • VDPVDP Grosse Lage: The highest level vineyards of the estate, translated as “great site.” (The term Erstes Gewächs (“first growth”) is used in the Rheingau, and there are other regional variations as well.)
  • VDP Erste Lage: The second highest level vineyards of the estate, translated as “first site.”
  • VDP Ortswein: Translates as “classified site wine.”
  • VDP Gutswein:  Represents good, entry-level wines, translated as “estate wine.” The wines originate from an estate’s holdings within a region, and meet the stringent standards prescribed by the VDP.

Whew! I know that was pretty tough to read, but wasn’t it worth it to consider yourself up to date – at least for now – on the German wine classifications?

Let’s hope so!