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 Alsace 11: The curiosity known as Klevener de Heiligenstein is often referred to as the “phantom” grape of Alsace.    The other 10 grapes of Alsace, as every serious wine student should know, are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Muscat, Chasselas, Auxerrois, and Chardonnay.  Chardonnay is also something of an outlier, as it may only be used in Crémant d’Alsace AOC – the sparkling wines of the region.

Avvinare…To “Prepare the Glass for Wine”

Guest Author Susannah Gold of Vigneto Communications tells us about the lovely Italian tradition known as Avvinare…

avvinaireMany people are put off by wine jargon and by certain actions that people take when pouring a wine, whether it be decanting a wine or preparing wine glasses. While it is true that some people just like to put on a show, in many cases all of the pomp and circumstance actually has a practical purpose! Most of us would agree, for instance, that decanting a wine allows the wine to breath and can bring out the bouquet of a “closed” wine.

The Italian have a lovely tradition called “Avvinare” which is a method of preparing the glasses to receive the wine.  While it may appear to be just another wine tasting ritual, the purpose is to make sure the glass is clean and odorless.  Often wine glasses are washed in chlorinated water or have some dust or other substances on their surface. The process of Avvinare will neutralize any unwanted aromas, clean off any dust particles, and leave you with a perfectly primed glass!

Start the process of Avvinare by pouring a very small amount of wine into your glass and swirl it around a bit. This is done to “season” the glass. In fact, it is almost always done with the wine you are about to drink in that particular glass.  After you are finished, pour the wine into the glass of the person next to you and continue around the table until everyone’s glass is primed and ready to “receive the wine.”

Of course, there is some showmanship that goes into this process, as one would expect with anything that originates in Italy – dramatic flair, creativity, and a thoroughly practical element.  So the next time you take your wine glasses out, see if you too enjoy avvinando (past participle) your glass. It is a practice well worth doing and one that will become second nature to you.

susannahSusannah Gold, CSW, CSS, has been in communications for 18 years. Formerly a journalist for Dow Jones Newswires, Susannah has worked in PR agencies, in-house and on her own. In 2007, Susannah decided to marry her communications and wine interests and the result was Vigneto Communications, a boutique public relations, marketing and educational consulting firm specialized in the food & wine industry. Susannah has worked with numerous wine importers, producers, and institutions such as Vinitaly, Slow Wine, and numerous retail wine stores.

In addition to holding her CSS, CSW, and a Diploma of Wine & Spirits (DWS) from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Susannah is one of only a handful of non-Italians in the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers (AIS) and has completed her certification as a Spanish Wine Educator at the Wine Academy of Spain. You can learn more about Susannah and her work at her popular blog, titled quite appropriately, Avvinare.

 

The Story of Brunello di Montalcino

Guest Author Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE tells us the story of Brunello di Montalcino

Don - BrunelloThe story of Brunello embodies man’s quest for perfection.  It begins with the discovery of a special grapevine on a steep Montalcino slope in 1842.  That vine’s subsequent propagation by its founder, Clemente Santi, resulted in the creation of the Brunello wine.

Today, Brunello is considered one of Italy’s greatest wines and a supreme example of Sangiovese at its best.  It has also become Italy’s most recognized premium wine, internationally.  With a total production of 750,000 cases (9L), 65% finds its way into the world’s finest restaurants and connoisseur wine cellars.  The United States has become the largest importer of Brunello, embracing 25% of the total production.  Brunello’s international prominence was recognized by the Wine Spectator when it was selected the “Top Wine of the Year” in 2006.

Now, the rest of the story…

The Place:   The Montalcino zone takes its name from the town, which sits high on a hill as a fortified citadel with commanding expansive views in all directions.  The zone encompasses 8,000 acres of vines, 4700 of which are dedicated to Brunello.   The name, Montalcino derives from the Latin, “Mons Ilcinnus”, or mountain of holm oak.  These oak trees grace the commune’s logo.  Vineyards, while extensive, only cover 15% of the land, with forests, pastures, and fields of grain making up the rest.  Indeed, Montalcino is like an elevated island amidst a sea of undulating wheat fields and pastures.  The scenic beauty of the place won it a coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site award in 2004.

Don -Lying some 27 miles south of Siena and 27 miles east of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Montalcino enjoys a much warmer and drier climate than its Chianti Classico neighbor to the north, and Montepulciano to the east.  This, together with diverse soils (including rocky “galestro,” limestone, marl, clay, and sand) make for growing conditions which consistently ripen its finicky Sangiovese grapes earlier the either Chianti Classico or Montepulciano.  In Montalcino, harvest is normally completed by late September, usually before the arrival of the October rains.

The Montalcino Zone resembles a square formed by 3 perimeter rivers: the Ombrone on the north and west, the Asso on the east, and the Orcia on the south.  It rises from the perimeter to a crest at the Poggio Civitella (2168 ft), a short distance south of the town, Montacino.  There are presently four notable wine production areas.

  • Just southeast of the town, the highest vineyards in the zone are located on steep terrain at an elevation of 1,300-1,600 feet.  The site’s cool conditions favor slow ripening, producing wines that are more austerely structured, but are very age-worthy.  Biond Santi’s “Il Greppo” estate is located here.
  • Northeast of the town, on lower slopes, near Montosoli and Canalicchio, the terroir allows the wines to show fuller, riper qualities to complement their structure.
  • Don - Brunello MapFurther north, toward the perimeter of the zone and at slightly lower elevations, the soil contains mainly clay with deposits of marl and sandy limestone.  Areas such as Altesino and Catiglione del Bosco produce a more forward style of Brunello in this area.
  • Recent plantings in the southwest corner of the zone, near Sant’Angelo in Colle, Argiano, Pian della Mura, and Camigliano, have produced impressive wines with balance and structure.  Here, sandy clay soils are often mixed with limestone and “galestro” at the higher sites.  This area is closest to the sea and has a warmer microclimate.

The Grape: The name Brunello, meaning “the brown one,” came from the description of the Sangiovese Grosso grapes at harvest time – a dark colored, dusky brown berry.  Brunello was the local name given to this type of Sangiovese Grosso, originally identified in 1842 by Clemente Santi.  Today, the term is officially reserved for the name of the wine.  Sangiovese grown in Montalcino has comparatively thicker skins, compared with grapes grown in other regions, and excellent anthocyanins. Both of these factors contribute to Brunello’s deep tannic structure and rich hue.

Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted single grape variety.  It comprises 67% of the Tuscan vineyard acreage and is the main grape in 25 DOC(G)’s of Toscana. Sangiovese is an ancient grape, believed to have resulted from a spontaneous crossing during the Etruscan period.  Recent DNA evidence reflects its parentage as a crossing between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo.

However, there is significant diversity within the grape variety.  Sangiovese tends to be genetically unstable and very adaptable; thus, many clones exist.  Banfi Vineyards has documented over 600 versions of Sangiovese on their estate alone!  Currently, as a result of extensive clonal research trials, the best clones are being propagated.  Most estates are using multiple clones in order to add better balance and more complexity to their wines.

Don - SangioveseThe Wine:   Brunello di Montalcino projects an image of majesty and mystery that heightens its allure.  This aura was cultivated by the Biondi Santi family.  For 100 years, they were the only producers of the wine.  The Biondi Santi estate “Il Greppo,” where Brunello was born, has been called Italy’s first “grand cru”.

However, the wine remained somewhat of an Italian secret until the 1960’s, when word began to spread about the tastings of the extraordinary Biondi Santi vintages of 1888 and 1891.  Soon, the wine world turned its attention to this special place and its remarkable wine.  The Biondi Santi family, led by Franco and his son Jacopo, carry the flag and continue to produce age-worthy Brunello at the family estate.

A growers’ consortium was established in 1967, and has become one of Italy’s most effective with 98% of today’s 208 producers being members.  The consortium has guided a smooth growth in production, while advancing quality standards.

There is, however, growing internal controversy.  Some “modernist” producers would like to shorten the 4-year aging requirement prior to release of the wine.  Some also argue for the right to use small amounts of non-Sangiovese grapes.  These changes are opposed by the “traditionalist” producers who have successfully, thus far, resisted these changes; aside from agreeing to reduce the required time in oak from 4 years to two years.

The Future: The path to wine stardom for Brunello has been like a “shooting star.”  The influx of quality investment over the past 50 years continues and serves to accelerate and reinforce its meteoric rise to prominence.  There are no “industrial” producers among its wine estates.  Although there have been a few bumps in the road, the prospect for continued success is excellent.

Click here for the study aid:  Brunello Fast Facts

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

A frequent top-rated presenter at the Annual SWE Conference, he will be co-presenting “Barolo vs Brunello – A Clash of the Titans” on Friday, August 2nd at this year’s Conference in Orlando.