Wines of Croatia: A visit to Konavle

Konavle Wine MapWhen traveling internationally I often find myself in the market aisles trying to make heads or tails of the offerings they have available. Such was the case last week in Cavtat where I came across a few rosés. Given I was on the shores of the Adriatic and seafood was on the mind this of course had appeal. In checking the labels I found one from the local southern Dalmatian region of Konavle which I had earlier read about. I had scanned the nearby mountain side and wondered how they could make wines from grape exposed to so much sun. Only later did I learn that a mere 20km or south of Dubrovnik a small sets of hills rise near the sea creating a small valley that traces down towards the border with Montenegro.

The rose mentioned above was made out of kadarun, an autochthonous varietal from Konavle which as least one believes could make a nice, light summer red which is something Croatia currently lacks (Editor’s note: though the recent rosé of Plavac Mali I had from Vinarija Bartulovic is a nice substitute). This is just a sampling from my very enjoyable conversation with Ivo Ivaniš which also covered natural wine (really just turning the clock back to what Ivo’s grandfather did), his career as a wine taster and the best use of oak (and from which country) in the wine making process .

Dubrovacki Podrumi tasting roomThat wine, which I bought by the way, was made by Dubrovacki Podrumi. One of the 8 or 9 wineries that call this region home. Dubrovacki Podrumi was originally founded in 1876 but despite its history it is going through somewhat of a rebirth. For many years, under Communist rule, the winery was controlled by the government where the focus was on quantity not quality. This was followed by the destruction levied by the Homeland War in the early 1990’s. It wasn’t until 2002 that the winery was again privatized. When Ivo’s brother became a shareholder in the newly privatized Dubrovacki Podrumi he returned to Croatia from the Netherlands where he had lived for the past 16 years.

Dubrovacki Podrumi MerlotinaAnd with that the pendulum swung to quality not quantity. Ivo was brought on as a consultant, along with Jan van Lissum, for the top label of wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Plavac Mali produced from 40 year old vines. Each of these wines sees a combination of Croatian, Hungarian and French oak (new and used). After spending time in the barrel it usually finishes aging in stainless steel or large casks prior to bottling. I had a chance to taste each and came away impressed. The Cabernet (Trajectum) is soft and smooth, the Plavac Mali has juicy, dark fruits with lasting, smooth tannins and the Merlot (Merlotina) is one anybody who claims not to the like the grape should be made to try. I am generally not a fan (and wasn’t swayed just because Ivo’s twitter handle is @merlotina) but was stunned by the depth, the fruit. In a word “opulent”. Looking forward to spending some more time with this one as I left the winery with a bottle in hand.

And while the top end impressed, the standard offerings held up nicely especially given their $5-$7 price point in local markets. In addition to the rosé I had a chance to taste the Malvasija Dubrovacka (fuller bodied than those from Istria) and Crljenak Kaštelanski (one of the parents of Zinfandel). And this level of quality has been true of nearly all of the wines I’ve tasted over the last two weeks. Stateside they are more likely to run you $10-$15 but consider giving one a try. Better yet visit the Dubrovnik area (it’s stunning!) and be sure to take a break from the beaches and history to taste some vino!

How about you? Have you tried Croatian wine? If so what’s your favorite? Any tips to share?

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2012

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2012 Today I was lucky enough to attend the Riesling & Co World Tour 2012 when they made their pit stop in San Francisco. The folks at Wines of Germany always put on an excellent and enjoyable event which I look forward to year after year. And it was indeed a fun day of tastings. Rieslings across the spectrum, a handful of Sylvaner and Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder depending on the label) and a few miscellaneous sparklers, reds and whites. So what were the standouts?

Well it is fun to catch up with favorites. First up was St. Urbans-Hof from the Mosel (where the picture at the top of this page was taken) and their lineup once again shined. The balance here was impeccable as was the ability for the wines to remain light while retaining such presence and weight. While I’ll be looking for any of these the 2011 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese (~$22) was once again (like the ’09) bedeviling. Next up were Leitz from the Rheingau (again hard to go wrong here but the 2011 Rudesheimer Klosterlay Kabinett is hard to beat at ~$18) and Schloss Schönborn (here the 2010 Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Kabinett, ~$18, stood out). From there it is always nice to talk with Claus Burmeister, the CEO and winemaker at Weingut Heitlinger, who is as engaging and entertaining as they come. Not to mention his 2010 Pinot Blanc was something else. I’d surely recommend it but Claus mentioned he’s in search of a new importer stateside so hopefully that happens soon…

Weingut Clemens BuschNow onto the best part; new discoveries. And boy oh boy did I find a great one today in the likes of Clemens Busch. Their lineup was thrilling from top to bottom. The 2010 Rothenpfad (~$32) was my wine of the day but I am eager to spend more time with their whole portfolio. Hat tip to my friend John Trinidad, the man behind SF Wine Blog, for making sure I didn’t miss this one. They are represented by Dee Vine Wines here in the Bay Area so fingers crossed I can score some soon. When and if I do I’ll certainly share…

And finally what would a day of German tasting be without some aged and sweet wines. My favorites here were the ’89 Spätlese from Brüder Dr. Becker which still seemed fresh, the 2006 Beerenauslese from Weingut Knebel and the 2004 Eiswein from Dr. Fischer. Guessing these are all nearly impossible to find but if you happen to stumble upon them you’ll be happy you did!

I was lucky enough to have Angela join me at this event so you can likely look forward to another perspective soon. But in the meantime what’s your favorite German wine? Leave me a note in the comments below as I’d love to hear…

Tasting with @garyvee at VinTank

Tasting with GaryV at VinTank

Earlier this month I was invited up to VinTank where they were hosting @garyvee for the day as he interviewed a bunch of wine luminaries in a still undercover content operation that should soon unveil itself on cork’d. As part of this the winemakers obviously brought along the best of their wares to share and @pmabray was kind enough of to invite others (like me) to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I did have the chance to meet Gary and he was every bit as nice as you would think (and hope) he would be. I also meant a gang of other people which made this more of a social gathering than a tasting event and will explain my limited tasting notes below :-) Given that I have four highlights of what I am hoping to become far greater wine experiences to share…

  • 2009 Natural Process Aliance Sauvignon Blanc ($N/A) – There is a big broader story to be told about NPA but for today let’s stick to the wine which hails from the Russian River Valley (800 cases made). 1/3 of this is fermented with skins, another 1/3 in clusters and the last third on its own. It was bottled the morning before it was delivered/tasted which is the norm for this wine (and quite interesting). Before you even drink this one you’ll certainly notice two things about it. #1) It is bottled in a Kleen Kanteen. #2) You will be taken aback by the cloudy, hazy color this unfiltered wine displays compared to its more translucent peer set. Almost like a summer day in San Francisco if you will allow me to reminisce. Now to the main event, this one starts with a big, fragrant nose loaded with orange fruits: peach, nectarine and cantaloupe; that leave you waiting to get knocked over by the same boldness on the palate but it never happens. Instead you find a wine that is surprisingly refreshing! Loaded with the great flavors of the same aforementioned fruits this one has several more layers that I could spend an evening dissecting and I look forward to doing so. Now I just need to get on @theNPAhardy‘s milk route for a delivery!
  • 2009 Pithy Little Wine Co. Sangiovese Rose ($22) – I was lucky enough to get a chance to taste through a bit of their portfolio and enjoyed all I tried (Chardonnay, Pinot, Syrah and Zin) I must say that while some men are suckers for blonde for me it is all about rose and this (hailing from Paso Robles) was no exception. Jeff mentioned that when they arrived at the custom crush facility that many were surprised to hear they were making a rose with the Sangiovese. Well I am glad they did and guessing you will be as well! The nose on their 2009 was reminiscent of a strawberry jolly rancher (with a bit of watermelon mixed in) that I found delightful. The palate delivers more of the same with loads of strawberry throughout that meet with a crisp, refreshing finish. This is a perfect light bodied summer wine that can be had as an aperitif or served with a nice meal off the grill. That said rumor has it that @winefinesse puts aside a sizable chunk of the 120 cases made for herself so you may have a hard time tracking this one down, but if you do you’ll be glad you did!
  • 2006 B Legacy Reserve Merlot ($60) – Well this one started interesting; you see the VinTank team had set up a visit for me at the Bolen Family Winery about a month earlier but due to technology failure (read dead iPhone battery) I never arrived. I did my best to apologize but upon meeting Eric and his father Mike I was promptly (and rightfully) coined the “a**hole”. That said there were still kind enough to share their wine and their passion with me. Their sole focus is Merlot which allows them to take a different approach than most where it is picked earlier rather than later as Cabernet is the kingmaker. But here they can let the grapes hang. In fact they get many nervous calls from growers wondering when they are going to pick as they are often the last grapes hanging on the vine, sometimes harvesting as late as November. As for the wine itself (hailing from Oak Knoll) it is aged for 26 months in 20% new oak. The nose shows the wines nuances straight away with layers of red berries and spice. On the palate this is surprisingly juicy showing great balance before showering you with an assortment of flavors on the finish with just a hint of warm barrel spices peeking their way through. For someone like me who rarely favors Merlot this was an eye opener. At $60 a bottle it is definitely spendy but if you call yourself a Merlot fan you need to give this one a try or at a minimum get up to the tasting room soon.
  • 2006 Tallulah Les Trois Voix ($30) – Again, here, I was lucky enough to enjoy a few of the wines from the Tallulah portfolio. The Como, a blend of 53% Marsanne, 37% Chardonnay, ~10% Viognier, was toasty and full bodied with a zesty, slightly sweet finish and the Syrah was remarkably approachable. But my favorite of the lot was this Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah blend which is often associated with the Chateauneuf Du Pape. The 2006, hailing from Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County, is composed of 53% Grenache, 29% Mourvedre, and 18% Syrah. With rich fruit and herbs up front this one showed great meatiness and nice vibrant acidity leading to a spicy, earthy, balanced finish. There were only 416 cases made so I’m glad I have a bottle in my possession.

There was many more good wine being poured including Hanzell, Titus, Failla, Modus Operandi, Salinia and Shibumi Knoll which I am bummed I didn’t get to spend more time with. And I missed the Opus One entirely! Next time I’ll have to be faster on my feet. It was a great event, thanks to Paul and the Vintank team for having me!

Port4lio Tasting 2010

Port4lio Tasting 2010

Ever since I missed the 25 Grapes (you’ve never heard of) tasting at Solano Cellars back in late March I had the date for the Port4lio Tasting circled on my calendar. The event brings together 4 importers; Blue Danube Wine Company, Return to Terroir, Siena Imports and Vinos Unico, that more or less bring you the best of the best from across Europe. To put in perspective what had me so excited about this event let me just share this tidbit: “There will be over 125 wines made with 90 different varietals from over 9 different countries!” For those that know me this is the equivalent of taking a six year old to Disneyland. And like children do to their parents I stayed for the very last ride, tasting nearly 70 wines by the time they showed me the exit. My intention was to try and visit all of the importers but as I was amazed at all the new varietals and interesting wines that I never made it beyond my first two stops: the tables of Vinos Unico and Blue Danube. While I could talk forever about this tasting (still even though it was more than a month ago) I’ll share a few highlights from each:

Vinos Unico:

o A load of affordable and refreshing white wines from Portugal. Just about everyone I tasted was less that $12 and a perfect pick for any summer afternoon. As matter fact with the temperature approaching 90 degrees here today I wish I had some handy! Here were some of my top picks:

  • 2009 Trajarinho Vinho Verde – An unoaked blend of 65% Alvarinho and 35% Trajadura this one clean and crisp with nice lemon flavors and a bit of spritziness on a very refreshing finish. At $9 everyone should have a bottle of this in their fridge.
  • 2009 Muralhas Vinho Verde – Another offering from the same cooperative (Adega Cooperativo Regional de Monçao) this one is again unoaked but with 70% Alvarinho and 30% Trajadura. A little heavier in the mouth , no fizz here, more expressive citrus flavors and a firm acid backbone.
  • 2009 Quinta de Soalheiro – This one isn’t as friendly to the wallet ($20+) but was certainly worth the price of entry. Unoaked and 100% Alvarinho this one is made from aged vines (35 years). Beautiful on the nose show great fruit. Fuller in body than I would expect but perfectly balanced with lemon, citrus notes on a mineral backbone with a crisp, racy acidity.
  • 2009 Quinta de Cabriz Colheita – A blend of 40% Encruzado, 20% Bical, 20% Cerceal and 20% Malvasia Fina this is a refreshing wine full of tangerine fruits and peach stones on the palate.
  • 2009 Luis Patos Maria Gomes – Unoaked and 100% Maria Gomes if I had to describe this one in a word it would be “playful”. And by playful I mean there is a lot going on here for a wine in this price range. Some lemon here, floral notes there with almond flavor peeking through. This one is medium bodied with a nice, crisp acidity and a juicy finish. I look forward to spending an afternoon with it sometime soon! Luis Patos also makes some excellent reds as well.

o A few nice red values.

  • 2008 La Nevera Garnacha – Unoaked and 100% Garnacha this one is dark in color with a palate of wonderful bing cherries and a bit of creaminess on the finish. An easy drinking fruit forward wine that is sure to please.
  • NV Urbanite Cellars Redart – Another great offering this one is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 20% Zinfandel and was made to be an easy drinking table wine and it certainly fits the bill! I already snuck out and bought a bottle of this one. Here were my notes: Big juicy blackberry fruit up front on a creamy vanilla backbone with enough acidity to balance and manage the plush, rich fruit. A smooth, pleasing wine with a warm, toasty finish that linger on nicely. Nice depth/complexity for the price point!

o Meeting the Robledo Family

  • The story behind this family run winery is so compelling I dare not to try and tell it better. Here is a concise version from the Sonoma Index-Tribune regarding Reynaldo Robledo recent attendance at a recent White House state dinner honoring Felipe Calderon: “Immigrant, uneducated farmworker, dirt-poor but field-smart, works his way up to manage whole vineyards, then starts a vineyard management company, then starts his own family winery, wins countless awards, hosts the president of Mexico at his Sonoma Valley estate and, two years later, is invited to a White House state dinner.” And there wines make the story even better. My favorite was the 2006 Red Hills Lake County Cab. I sent off a query to ask President Obama his but have to hear back. If I do you’ll be the first to know!

Blue Danube Wine Company:

o Learning more about Gruner Veltliner

  • I’ve had a few but this was certainly my deepest dive to date and I can certainly appreciate their snappy, refreshing minerality. It has certainly earned a place in my summer rotation. While I enjoyed many my numbering system failed me during this portion of the tasting so can’t share any specific notes. Generalizing my notes I see as expected they showed clean, pure wines with citrus and stone flavor profiles with a snappy, refreshing acidity on the finish. Each had their own complexities from floral notes, smoky and spice. This grape can express itself in any number of ways and I am looking forward to exploring it further. I’ll get you specifics as I taste them. Let me know if you have any favorites in the comments below.

o A bunch of surprising whites from Hungary. Beyond sweet Tokaj, my experience here was limited to a single encounter with the Szõke Irsai Oliver last summer and it was compelling. That said I didn’t realize that there was such a bounty of them available and at great prices to boot! Here are a few I’ll be seeking out again:

  • 2009 Hilltop Cserszegi Füszeres – Another new variety for me this one showed a bit of lemon spritz on a clean, stony backbone with a nice mineral acidity on the finish. I look forward to pairing this one with a hot summer afternoon sometime soon.
  • 2007 Szõke Királyleányka – A sibling offering of the Irsai Oliver I mentioned above this one shows pleasing lemon flavors but driven by floral and mineral components. The structure and body on this wine show quality well beyond the price point.
  • 2008 Patricius Yellow Muscat – My wine of the day and none other than Randall Grahm agreed. Apparently him mentioning it made this wine hard to come by as I was just recently able to track down a bottle. My notes from the tasting had this to say: “very fragrant. I could smell this wine for hours. A star from the first sip. Beautiful lemon custard flavors while remaining dry and crisp throughout.” Can’t wait to open this one up!
  • 2007 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos – Okay you caught me (if you are still reading) this one is actually a red. This one shows a light barrel touch, light in body and very easy to drink with dark berry flavors and a spicy pepper finish. A perfect match for a summer barbeque.

o Being introduced to the wines of Croatia and Slovenia. Earlier this year I had my first wine from Croatia, the Bibich Riserva, and was impressed and eager to explore more. I think what excited me about these wines is much the same as what excited me about the wines of Greece and the Kékfrankos above, they are all lighter in body, weight and alcohol. This has many benefits that start with pairing with a wider variety of foods and finishing with being able to have an extra glass at the end of the night. My exploration yielded two more whites and a red:

  • 2009 Crnko Jarenincan – My first love from Slovenia is not exactly indigenous. A blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, this one comes in a liter bottle delivering tangerine and lemon flavors with a light spritz on the palate and a refreshing mineral acidity on the finish. Fuller bodied than expected at 11%. Crisp throughout this wine is a steal at the price point, perfect for any occasion.
  • 2008 Šipun Zlahtina – Another white from the Island of Krk in Croatia this time this varietal can be found nowhere else. Medium bodied with a floral backbone this is a wine that doesn’t reveal itself in a taste. At least not for me. Stone fruit flavors with a touch of nuttiness on the finish I would enjoy spending an evening figuring this one out.
  • 2007 Dingac Plavac Mali – Great juicy, red berry fruit at the front of the palate that turn dry and floral with a lively acidity on the finish. A playful wine this is not one to pair with a steak dinner but make a salad out of it and this would be a perfect mate.

Phew, that was a lot of wine talk! In closing this is going to cost me a lot of money as I continue to explore these wines but I am sure to enjoy every penny of it. In the Bay Area (and Hollywood) we are lucky as K&L Wines seems to stock a solid number of these offerings. That said I know both of these importers and they are more than willing to help you track them down no matter your whereabouts. Also for good measure as I dive into these I will officially begin maintaining my application for the Wine Century Club. Who wants to go along for the ride? What is your favorite varietal or country from off the beaten trail?

Celebrate South Africa 2010!

Celebrate South Africa!

With my pipedream of making it to South Africa and the surrounding wine country for World Cup 2010 a distant memory you can imagine how happy I must have been when I found out about the Celebrate South Africa 2010! tasting event. Given that the ability to taste the wine of 50+ producers in one afternoon was almost as good as getting on the plane. Well not really, but you know that lemon/lemonade story. Now being on the west coast South African wines aren’t quite as readily available as I think they might be back east. So while the temptation to try and taste each and every one of these wines loomed large I showed some restraint making the decision to focus (and not wear out my palate) early on. With that in mind I still managed to taste nearly 40 wines. That said rather than bore you all and detail my thoughts on each of these there were six highlights I wanted to share:

  • Being Introduced to Worthwhile Wine: From the slogan “Great Wines. Better Lives” this seems to be an importer who shares many of the same values I do. One of my resolutions for the year was to lower my carbon footprint so every time I grab a bottle from overseas that crosses my mind. So when Tom Lynch, the founder, told me that he purchases carbon offsets for all of his imports I surely paid attention. But the commitment goes well beyond that as every wine they import is sustainably made. And by sustainable they mean protecting the environment and improving the lives of those with whom they interact. The latest addition to their portfolio, Partnership Vineyards is a shining example. Oh by the way, I wouldn’t even be telling you this if the wines weren’t good. Check out their portfolio to learn more or visit their store locator to track down a bottle for yourself!
    2009 Man Vintners Chenin Blanc
  • Terrific White Value Wines: Speaking of the Partnership Vineyards their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is a great place to start, nice and crisp with grapefruit flavors and a snappy lemon tartness. Sure to please on a summer day! My other two favorites were both Chenin Blancs. The 2009 Man Vintners (available at for $9.99) was crisp and tangy with a mineral backbone and nice nectarine like flavors. The 2009 Painted Wolf “The Den” was crisp with green apple and melon fruit with a little sour lime on the finish. All wines I’m relatively sure you can grab for less than ten bones and each one that I would be quite happy to spend a whole afternoon with.
  • Getting to Know Pinotage: I quickly got the sense that Pinotage is not as big of a part of the South African wine identity as I had imagined. While they were on display, the numbers were no more so than that of Shiraz or the other red varietals that were being poured. That said, I did get a chance to become more acquainted with this grape. Over the course of the day I tasted six different bottles and while none knocked my socks off it was interesting to see the different styles. I am used to what I’ll call the smoky, green, earthy flavor profile but had a few here that were much more fruit driven. To top it off the most memorable of the day was a 2009 Delheim Pinotage Rose.
  • Tasting more of the Boekenhoutskloof Portfolio: For those with a keen memory you may recall that “B” stood for Boekenhoutskloof in my 2009 Year in Review post. There I was enamored by their ’06 Syrah and lamented that I couldn’t try it again three years down the road. As I worked my way towards the table I crossed my fingers that the ’06 might be getting poured today. Alas, it was not but the ’07 was just as memorable showing the same magnificent depth and balance. I also had a chance to taste their Semillon and Chocolate Block, a syrah based kitchen sink kind of blend, which were both compelling (and a bit more affordable) as well.
    2009 Wolftrap Red
  • South African Inspired Red Blends: I had a number of very interesting red blends that like the whites were not only very good but delivered a nice quality to value ratio. Let’s start by sticking with Boekenhoutskloff’s (which I can now spell without looking) second label the 2009 Wolftrap Red (available on for $9.99), a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Viognier, which had nice bright red fruits and spices. It struck me as a perfect grilling wine. As I already grabbed a few bottles of this one I can let you know if it turns out to be true. Next up would be the 2008 Edgebaston Pepper Pot, a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Tannat, which was described as a playful side project for the winemaker and playful it is delivering loads of juicy berry fruit on a spicy, pepper laden backbone. This one is worth seeking out, I’ll let you know if I track it down. Finally, the 2007 Black Pearl Oro, a blend of 56% Shiraz and 44% Cabernet, hailing from the slopes of Paarl Mountain which had a fantastic nose full of dark, brambly berries that merged with earthy, spicy flavors on the palate to deliver a balanced wine with a smooth, lingering finish.
  • Meeting the Mullineux’s: Before leaving I was lucky enough to meet the husband (Chris) and wife (Andrea) winemaking team of Mullineux Family Wines who happened to be in the Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to try their Syrah some time back as part of a Hospice Du Rhone tasting event and welcomed the opportunity to try a broader range of their offerings. They were pouring three wines a Syrah, a white blend and a late harvested Chenin Blanc called the “Strawman” and the whole lot of them were outstanding. The white blend, old vine Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette Blanche, really threw me for a loop. I couldn’t decide if it was rich or light/sweet or tart. It seemed almost chameleon like as it was ever changing and I couldn’t put my thumb on it. I’d like to spend an evening with this one to try and figure it out. Fortunately it looks like I’ll have the chance soon as it appears they are close to lining up an importer. Let me know when you do!

Thanks to the folks at Cape Ardor for putting on the event and having me! And likewise thank you to all your readers who actually managed to make it this far. A question for those of you that have, have you had South African wine? Do you have any favorites to share? I’d love to hear as this is a country I would like to explore further.

Wines of Chile Online Tasting Event

Wines of Chile Online Tasting Event – photo by Lenn ThompsonWines of Chile

A month plus ago, I was lucky enough to join a group of bloggers for an online tasting event organized by the Wines of Chile. The tasting was the first of its type. Prior to the event an exquisite wooden box arrived containing the eight bottles of wine for the event in addition to stemware, a corkscrew and a spittoon. Talk about getting off on the right foot… With the tasting nearly underway the bloggers logged into a videoconference feed that was split between New York, where Gourmet magazine’s Wine & Spirit consultant Michael Green moderated the event from, and Chile (Santiago), where the eight winemakers had convened. The event was groundbreaking and the bar has been set. The one mistake in hindsight was trying to squeeze eight wines from eight different winemakers into one hour. This made it difficult to keep up with the tasting alone much less keep up with what my fellow bloggers were saying about the wines on twitter, listening to the winemakers speak or think of questions to ask them. So while I did taste some very nice wines I feel like I missed out on an opportunity to further my education by tapping the knowledge of the winemakers at the table. So moving forward, IMHO, we need more time with fewer winemakers so that we can all be more engaged with each other, the winemakers and the wines themselves.

So you may ask, after many moons why am I writing about this now? In a nutshell I wanted to share my take on how I see the wines of Chile. As many of my readers know I am a long time fan and think Chile is a tremendous source of value. My first love was the 2005 Casillero del Diablo Carmenere and I have been a long time Carmenere bandwagon rider. The Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc was my next great discovery and after the Emiliana (and a few others I have had) I am ready to jump on board for the Sauvignon Blanc as well. These aren’t the only two grapes coming out of Chile; other include Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Their Cabernet’s are easily recognizable by the green pepper aromas you will find present while the Merlot is mostly used in the many Bordeaux blends they put on offer. The Pinot and Syrah are up and coming varietals in the region and remain a bit inconsistent. That said I can see potential for both to evolve into value plays in the future. That said, for those looking to begin to exploring the wines of Chile today Carmenere and Sauvignon Blanc, I think, are the easiest places to find good value.

Oh, I did mention there was wine involved didn’t I? Each is listed below with my quick notes and the suggested retail price (most can be found for less). If you want more background on any of these offerings or are wondering where to track down a bottle for yourself let me know as I have much more information available on each…

  • 2008 Emiliana Natura Sauvignon Blanc ($11) – Very aromatic, all the expected crispness but there is something rich and intriguing here as well. Nice mineral on a zingy finish with healthy acid. Another feather in Chile’s Sauvignon Blanc hat, really starting to like their style.
  • 2008 Cono Sur Visión Pinot Noir ($15) – Unfortunately this one missed my shipment. Bob Dwyer of The Wellesley Wine Press had this to say: “On the nose, I really liked its strawberries and spice. The finish was big, but not as silky as I’d hope for from Pinot Noir. Overall, I thought it was very good, and at $15 it gives me hope that Chile may be an area for further exploration of value Pinot Noir.”
  • 2006 Los Vascos Reserve ($21) – The first of the blends (65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenere, 10% Syrah, 5% Malbec), early on the tannins made the wine appear unbalanced but with time oak, fruit and acid seemed to come into harmony. I wouldn’t buy it again but it might just be me, it was the favorite of some others that participated in the event.
  • 2007 Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carmenere ($15) – Finally the Carmenere, I heart Carmenere! This one is even bigger than usual. Loaded with fruit and spices but slightly less smoky than I’m accustomed to. A nice, dense effort that is a joy to drink.
  • 2007 Errázuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere ($26) – Even better yet, single vineyard Carmenere. Been dying to try one of these and now I know why. This one had beautiful balance while maintaining its usual power. Expensive but fantastic.
  • 2007 Undurraga T.H. Syrah (pdf) ($24) – A wine from Limari, my first from this region, this one was smooth and balanced. Maybe to a fault as nothing shined through. I would have preferred more depth.
  • 2006 Haras Character Cabernet Sauvignon – Carmenere ($21) – The second of the red blends this one was 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Carmenere, 9% Cabernet Franc, 7% Syrah. I expected green peppers and I got them along with smoke, a bit of tobacco and leather. A nice dry, long finish.
  • 2006 Veramonte Primus ($20) – The last of the blends this one was 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Syrah, 17% Merlot, 16% Carmenère. On the nose it is brooding with dark fruit aromas and delivers a big dose of the same on the palate. This wine shows a lot of layers and continued to evolve in the mouth until the tannins and acidity can no longer be held in check. You can sense good things on the horizon here. Not sure if this bottle just needs a bit more age or if the vines just need more time in the ground but this is one I will be checking up on again…

A great wine night no doubt! Most important learning of the night? Carmenère is pronounced Car-men-YAIR not Car-men-air-a like I have been saying for the past five years (though I like my artistic interpretation better!). If you want to host a Chilean wine night of your own I’m starting dinner with Emiliana Sauv Blanc, then the Errzuriz Carmenere and finishing with the Veramonte Primus. Thanks again to the Wines of Chile for hosting the event. Here’s to hoping there is another one like it soon…

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2009

Wines of Germany: Riesling & Co. World Tour 2009
As mentioned in my visiting the Mosel post, a few weeks back I was lucky enough to be invited to a “trade” only event sponsored by Wines of Germany previewing the 2008 Riesling vintage. The event featured 21 German wine exhibitors showcasing their offerings. With a hundred plus wines on offer I made my decision to focus early on. With that there were five highlights I wanted to share:

Wines of Germany: Weingut St. Urbans-Hof

  • Tasting Weingut St. Urbans-Hof – If there is one winery where I was going to taste everything they had to offer it was Weingut St. Urbans-Hof . And taste I did. One thing I learned while at this event, though I intuitively had an idea, was the low alcohol percentage of Rieslings. The offerings here were between 7.5-9.5%. You may want to refresh your memory on Riesling classifications and check out the 2008 vintage report before getting to some quick notes tasting notes on their offerings:
    • 2008 Riesling QbA ($13) – sweet on the nose, not as much on the palate. Lemon flavors with a nice mineral component coming through. A typical light and refreshing example from the Mosel.
    • 2008 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett ($16) – more floral notes and higher in acidity. You are going to want food for this one.
    • 2008 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett ($19) – Much more depth here. Sweeter and more full bodied on the palate this one shows some nice fruit.
    • 2008 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese ($25) – surprisingly not much on the nose. Lemony tart with a great mineral background and abundant floral notes, my favorite of the bunch.
    • 2008 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese ($30) – Described this one as funky on the nose. The palate doesn’t match. Sweet, savory and juicy with a hint of bubbles.Wines of Germany: Silvaner
    • 2007 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Auslese ($45) – Faint on the nose but rich and full on the palate. Overpowering with taste of honey, nuts and candied golden green apples. Guessing this one would last forever and a day.
  • Learning about Silvaner – My first encounter with this grape which is sometimes referred to as the “King Riesling’s Queen”. Silvaner is celebrating its 350th anniversary in Germany this year and was being showcased at the event. These wines traditionally come in a Bocksbeutel , a rounded, flattend brown or green bottle, and were minerally, lemony and high in acid. Glad I was able to experience them but I am not going out to hunt down a bottle anytime soon.

Wines of Germany and Weingut Rappenhof

  • Comparing an ’07 and a ’98 Auselese from Weingut Rappenhof – This winery offered a nice array of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Spätburgunder (see more below) but the opportunity to sample these two Auselese offerings with roughly a decade in between them easily overshadowed the rest. Not often you get to do these comparisons. Here are my notes:
    • 2007 Niersteiner Pettenthal – Full bodied and peachy. Certainly sweet, comes off as syrupy which overpowers some juicy apple flavors that struggle to breakthrough on the palate.
    • 1998 Niersteiner Pettenthal – The age is immediate apparent on the nose with nutty aromas. What was once perhaps syrupy now delivers a carmel flavor on the palate that is accompanied by honey, nuts and apples. Layers of complexity and this one could easily age another decade or three.

Wines of Germany and Dr. ZenZen

  • German value wines and Pinot Noir – In talking with Seb from Megawine while sampling some offerings from Dr. ZenZen and Peter Brum he mentioned that most of the wines retailed in the $7-$10 value range. Of course my curiosity was piqued, doubly so given that a Pinot Noir was included in the tasting. This lead me to wonder if Germany, like Chile, may be somewhere to start looking for a deal on some nice Pinots. My tasting here was inconclusive.

Wines of Germany and Spätburgunder vs. Pinot Noir

  • Spätburgunder vs. Pinot Noir: Did you know that Spätburgunder is Pinot Noir? I learned this on my recent tasting trip in Germany. In talking with Claus Burmeister, the CEO and winemaker of Weingueter Heitlinger and Burg Ravensburg, I asked why he had labeled his as Pinot Noir while others chose Spätburgunder. His take was two-fold: 1) Pinot Noir is the universal term and no one outside of Germany has heard of Spätburgunder so 2) if you are making your wines in an international style for an international market you should label it as Pinot. If you are making a wine for the domestic market in the traditional style it makes sense to use Spätburgunder. I thought this was an interesting dilemma that he framed quite succinctly. By the way, I was very impressed by all the wines Claus had on offer, none sweet, all dry and crisp with lemon, lime and mineral notes backed up with varying levels of acidity. To top it off these wines all retail for less than 10€. I know he was seeking an importer, I’m hoping he found one!

As you can tell I learned a lot. This was a great event. Thanks to my friends at RF Binder for the invite. I look forward to attending more of these in the future. On a closing note, just in case anyone thinks that life as an owner of a small winery is living a dream (like me!) you should see the travel schedule these folks had for this event alone. 14 stops, 9 countries and 3 continents. Ouch! Hope they have enough energy to get back to San Francisco next year…

Wines of Germany: A visit to the Mosel

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Wines of Greece, Wines of Chile, Wines of Germany. Three topics that need tackling, which to do first. As the title indicated Wines of Germany is taking priority for the evening. Why you might ask? I am headed to the Riesling Week 2009 tasting event tomorrow afternoon and decided to get into the spirit a day earlier. You see, on my sojourn to Greece we detoured through Germany on the way home to visit my wife’s sister near Dusseldorf. Given that we were in the vicinity and my brother-in-law happens to own a small parcel of vineyards (more on that later) in the Mosel (formerly known as the Mosel-Saar-Ruher, thanks for the name change!) we had to make the trip. The Mosel region is named after the eponymous “Moselle” river. The area is cooler but benefits during a temperate summer from the heat reflected from the river. Even more so, the south facing slopes are in demand as they receive direct sunlight leading to better ripening for the grapes. Mission accomplished we headed back to the winery in hopes of doing some tasting.

So, two hours on the audubon which is fun in its own right to the land of the steep, hillside vineyards. Though the Mosel is only the th largest wine growing region in Germany it is the one that has vaulted them to international acclaim around the world. The primary grape is, of course, Riesling. There are also spatterings of Muller Thurgau, Elbing and tiny amounts of others. On driving in, the region was certainly a site to behold.

The Mosel: Staffelter HofOn arrival, our first stop was Staffelter Hof. A winery with an immense history; dating back more than a thousand years. This is the winery that tends to my brother-in-laws small parcel among any others. We were scheduled to meet the winemaker but upon arrival he was still out in the fields completing the days work. With some time on our hands we decided to set out in search of my brother-in-law’s parcel of land. I’m glad we did as the experience was very memorable. The air was refreshing as we walked through the vineyards and the views were stunning and watching the winemakers work the land was a sight to behold.

The Mosel: Snowmobiling As we roamed about looking for his plot it became clear that there was two ways to cultivate this land. It all depends on how far you want to separate the vines. The Mosel: Plow Sledding Looking to get just a bit more yield from the vineyards? Ouch, you have some manual labor on your hands. Make it too narrow to get any power machinery between the rows and you are riding a sled (see picture on the left). This sled has a tow cable that is attached to a tractor on top of the hill. Sit on the sled and the crank starts to pull the tow cable in and the plowing begins. Want it a bit easier? Spread it a bit wider. Ahh, automated bliss. Instead of a sled, think snowmobile. A nice easy ride up the hill. On the flip side, the narrower the rows the more grapes you can get from a parcel. Take your pick, I’m tempted to side with taking a lower yield and making the labor a little easier. Does that make me lazy? Per wikipedia, the Mosel required “nearly seven times more man hours are needed here than in more flatter terrain such as the Médoc”. The main reason here is that you have to work the vines horizontally rather than vertically to prevent yourself from traipsing up and down a hill all day. Couple that with the plowing methods and that renders the modern trellising system useless.

The Mosel: The VineyardsThe Mosel: A view from the vineyard That aside, we continued the search for the family plot. A 40×25 piece of paradise. As we roamed about I learned that in return for letting Staffelter Hof tend to the land and pick the grapes he received some discounted wines… not a bad deal. Wonder if I can get someone to come tend the vines in my backyard, any takers? While walking about I noticed a few things. The first that struck me was the drainage/sewage system that was in place to handle runoff from the storms that make their way to the area. I failed to capture a picture that shows these tiered, liked the vineyards, quickly escorting the water to the river giving it minimal opportunity to run over the land. As you can see from the above slideshow, the terroir here is largely rock and these rains would quickly wipe away whatever nutrients are present. The second thing I noticed was the size of the parcels. No mammoth estates here. Just small parcels of land side by side. Perhaps owned by the same winery, perhaps not. Very neat, except for the difficulty it created in tracking down the one we were in search of. That said, eventually, as you can see from the picture (me left and my brother-in-law Christoph right) we did track it down. Needless to say, I know what to get Christoph come next Christmas!

The Mosel: Staffelter Hof Are return to the winery was more successful than our initial visit as we were able to find the wife of the winemaker, Gundi (middle), who welcomed us and gave us a tour of the facility and sat us down to so some tasting. The first wine was the 2007 Alte Reben Riesling Spätlese trocken , translates to roughly “old vines”, which retails for £12. An excellent wine, nice fruit on the front of the palate with minerally finish that gave me flashbacks to handfuls of rocks in my hands as we stood in the vineyard. The second wine was the 2006 Barrique Rotweincuvee, a blend of three German reds. The winery has this to say; “The varieties Spätburgunder, Frühburgunder and Regent come together in our cuvée “Drei Farben Rot”; a dry red with fruity aromas. Be prepared for a wonderful suprise.” It retails for £14 and is produced in extremely small quantities, approximately 500 bottles per year.

As we were tasting the 2nd offering Gerd (right) returned from the vineyards. He was clearly spent after a long days labor but was courteous enough to spend some time with us before having dinner and getting on with his evening. During our conversation I learned Staffelter Hof farmed about 8 hectares, equivalent to 20 acres, which placed them squarely on the larger side of wineries in the Mosel. They produced about 75k bottles or 6,000+ cases annually. Of these 90% were white and 75% were Riesling. Another interesting note was around the generational aspect of these family wineries. Gerd’s son, Jan Matthias (left), who I did not meet as decided to continue the family’s legacy in the wine business. After studying in New Zealand and Australia he has returned home and is involved in the wineries operations today. It appears this scenario is becoming less of the norm as Gerd mention he has been unexpectedly acquiring vineyards from local winemakers that are retiring and have no one to carry on the tradition. Lastly, he also mentioned that red was making a comeback in the region. Apparently ages ago the area was predominantly planted with red. In the late 19th century nearly all of these vines were replanted to white wine grapes and just recently has it began to claw back some space in the vineyards. At Staffelter Hof they’ve been working with reds since 1998.

So, will I see some Staffelter Hof wines tomorrow at the Destination Riesling tasting? Stay tuned to find out. In the mean time, what is your favorite wine from the Mosel?

Wines of Greece: Drinking Like a Local

Wines of Greece: Drinking Like a Local
We rented a fabulous place, Villa Arkadia, here in the hills of Nafplio. The benefits started before we even got here. Those being that due to our late arrival the caretaker was willing to stock the house with groceries based on our direction. Knowing that we would be rolling in with a minimum of 24 hours of travel under our belts I certainly wanted some wine to be on hand. In truth, I thought champagne may be more appropriate after extensive travels with two children but I digress. I literally added it to our grocery list as just “wine” curious to see what would be waiting upon my arrival.

So what did I find waiting for me? The Tsantali Medium Sweet Red. In the fridge of all places, color me skeptical. A magnum bottling, 11% alcohol by volume, price unknown. The first evening it was impossible to be objective. We were here. We all made it one piece without killing each other. With all of our luggage to boot! Sitting on our terrace looking at a lighted castle in the distance this just needed not to be terrible and it easily delivered on that. Over the next few days I took a closer look at the label and came to realize the wine label one I had come across during my preview of Greek Wines. The winery, Evangelos Tsantalis, seems to cover all ends of the market here in Greece from the cheaper bulk wines to the more premium selections. This one certainly falls more towards the former than the latter checking in at 5.50€ for 1.5L. No nose worth mentioning. On the palate, the sweetness is on the dry side which I prefer, medium bodied and slightly tannic on the finish. The closest parallel I can draw is to an Aussie Sparkling Shiraz. The chilled aspect certainly helps, not sure I would want to meet this one at room temperature. I’ll trust the local, who left it in the refrigerator, on that one thought the bottle advocates for serving at 61 degrees. Good for drinking, not tasting, which makes it a perfectly acceptable sipper for a nice spring evening on the patio.

Wines of Greece: Drinking Like a LocalThe Saturday following our arrival the caretaker, Mattina (pictured with yet to be mentioned dinner), offered to meet us down at the local weekly market to help us pick out some good food. Fortunately for us she wasn’t all that impressed with what was on offer and decided to bring us a homemade Greek meal for dinner that evening. What a stroke of fortune that found our way to her. She was a tremendous help throughout our stay in Nafplio, especially when she took my wife to the local medical facilities when her ear infections were near dehabilitating. Thanks again Matina!

Back to the wine, along with that meal she she brought her 2nd offering of wine. Let’s call it the Matina Cola Reserve NV White. The ultimate in blind tasting. Obviously nothing else to go by, all Matina tells us is that this is a house made wine she gets from a friend and “das ist gute”. She speaks German, me very little but fortunately my wife is fluent. Based on my limited knowledge of Greek wines I was able to deduce and/or assume a few things. First off the wine must be young given they don’t age their whites. Second, based on the golden, translucent hue to the color it can’t be 100% Moschofilero as that would require zero skin contact which would be difficult to achieve in a home wine making arrangement. Now to the wine, at first the nose seems nearly pungent, perhaps it was the plastic. With time it became indescribable. Meaning I was continually searching for an answer but having difficulty pinpointing one. I finally settled on a medley of fruits; banana, peaches and maybe even cantaloupes. I noticed there is an ever so faint presence of bubbles in the glass, perhaps residual from the soda that use to reside in this bottle. On the palate you first notice the fullness of the body weight on your tongue which is unexpected. You quickly find some citrus notes towards the back of the palate but this fullness keeps them at bay until the end. In the mean time, the aforementioned fruits our rotating through the palate. There is little to no acidity to be found in this wine. I’m guessing it is a blend of the Moschofilero and Roditis varietals. Right or wrong, a fantastic wine experience and a pleasant afternoon quaffer at that.

Stay tuned for more! Next up, my adventures at the local wine store and supermarket…

Wines of Greece: Tasting in the Peloponnese

Peloponnese: Wine Roads of Nemea
As mentioned in my last post when trying to learn more I discovered All About Greek Wines. Given the vast amount of information they had available I decided to write them to ask for tips on where I should pay a visit. I let them know I had tried the wines of Domaine Skouras and Domaine Tselepos and asked for their recommendations. They kindly responded noting that the two I mentioned were great and gave me some others to consider visiting. This was the list:

  • Domaine Spiropoulos which has a very nice winery in Mantinia, close to Domaine Tselepos and another one in Nemea (which I subsequently learned is not yet ready for visitors).
  • Gaia Wines which is located in Nemea in the village of Koutsi.
  • Palivos Estate which is located in ancient Nemea.
  • Semeli Wines which is located in in Nemea, in the village of Koutsi very close to the Gaia Winery.

Armed with the information I was ready to begin making my arrangements. Right about then my wife came down with a combination of strep throat and double ear infections and my son’s pink eye made a return visit tying me to our home away from home for most our week in the area. Most unfortunate as the Easter holiday weekend virtually shuts down Greece and we are set to move on the day after. I was able to make one appointment with Apostolos Spiropoulos from the Domaine of the same name who I am excited to be visiting shortly. As for the others I am trying to rearrange some travel plans to return for a day towards the end of my journey

Lastly the map above is the best that exists for Nemea, I’m sure to get lost at least once. They are in need of a good winery map if there are any cartographers available. If you are lucky they might even pay you in wine…