Posted by: tomciocco | July 22, 2014

IT LURKS TOO IN MARCHE

Certain grapes approach something like ubiquity, and Vernaccia Nera is one…Wait, what? Yes indeed, because Vernaccia Nera is none other than some strain of…Grenache. And I use the name French name “Grenache” because it is probably the name of this “family” of grapes that is most commonly used by the greatest number of growers worldwide though most indications point to Aragon in Spain as the homeland of this collection of vines, where it is called “Garnacha”. But in Catalunya it goes by the name “Garnatxa”, in Campania “Granaccia”, in Veneto “Tai Rosso” and “Cannonau” in Sardegna, and this is to mention just a small sampling of the raft of names by which this constellation of grapes is known.

With just rudimentary knowledge of Italian one can infer from the name that Vernaccia Nera is one of Grenache’s black-skinned sub-varieties, but there is also a pink-skinned type named Grenache Gris, the white-skinned Grenache Blanc, and even a cultivar known as Garnacha Peluda (“Hairy Garnacha”), a red-skinned sub-variety so dubbed because of its fuzz-covered leaves. What all of this diversity within this genetic line clearly implies is that Grenache (or whatever it’s called in any given zone) is a very old variety that has had many centuries to mutate, experience spotaneous crossing, or have undergone intentional crossing via human hands.

Typically, all of the strains of Grenache are sun worshippers, thriving in zones with lots of light and a long, hot growing season. But as with any grape variety that has experienced this many permutations, certain branches have become adapted to much cooler, cloudier and wetter places like Colli Berici in Veneto and to a somewhat lesser extent, the province of Macerata in Marche, Italy which is the place from where this evening’s wine comes.

Perhaps not surpringly, the red-skinned varieties that have adapted to/been husbanded to grow in these cooler zones produce lighter colored wines as well as ones with lower alcohol levels, two features that are quite divergent from the lion’s share of wines made with Grenache which tend to be very deeply colored and with alcohol contents often reaching 15% by volume.

Precisely how Grenache wound up in north-central Italy, how long it has been there, and how it acquired the name “Vernaccia Nera” (the name Vernaccia is linked to the world “vernacular” which would indicate that Vernaccia Nera is a grape that is decidedly local and common to the Macerata area, but paradoxically, Vernaccia Nera is absolutely NOT native to Marche and its total acreage there is actually very limited) is still basically unknown, but there it is…lurking.

Vernaccia Nera possesses a fairly large slice of the exhuberant fruitiness that bigger versions grown in hotter zones do, but with quite a bit less alcohol than these more corpulent examples, which for me makes Vernaccia Nera a great partner for a really good pizza…with fresh mozzarella and onions…and so my wife Jen made the call…

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Fontezoppa Serrapetrona Vernaccia Nera “Campignano” 2009

True, deep garnet color. Rustically elegant nose of cherry, burnt orange peel, black raspberry, freeze dried coffee, roasted nuts, sea spray, celery seed and licorice. The palate has a charmingly austere medium body with a smooth, peppery tannic structure and a tart acidity, that perfectly frames earthy flavors of strawberry preserves, dried cranberries, blackberry, new leather, and hibiscus. Long, very complex finish. A truly unique facet of “Grenache”.

It’s no great secret that in terms of wine, Germany is known generally for its world-class whites, and more specifically for those made from its signature grape Riesling; red wines, no so much. But that said, there are indeed red wines made within the borders of Deutschland, and we’ve got one on the line right here.

It will surprise few that most of the reds that emanate from Germany come from the southern reaches of its territory (where there is more sun and warmth in general) and to further qualify, from the southwesternmost growing zones of Baden, Pfalz, and the region from which this wine springs, Rheinhessen. Just to maintain clarity, Rheinhessen is still primarily a white grape dominated appellation, with the most prevalent variety being the white Muller-Thurgau with the second most common being the aforementioned Riesling. But in the “show” position is the powerfully Teutonically-named red grape Dornfelder which composes 40% of this evening’s wine.

The Dornfelder grape is an all-German creation dating to the mid-1950s which was developed by crossing a host of crossed grapes with a second load of crossed grapes, most of which have northern European roots, to finally arrive at what is has become the final and standardized variety being grown in Germany today. All too often, man-made lab bench viticultural creations don’t live up to the expectations of their creators who are often looking to take the best flavor charateristics from one variety, the desired colors from another, the climatic preferences of yet another, and the disease resistence of a fourth (or fifth, or sixth). But as we know from that old margerine commericial: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”, the upshot of which is more often than not that some if not all of the desired traits sought don’t actually come through in the final strain. Dornfelder however is one of vine science’s great success stories: it’s got lots of real sophisticated flavors, a deep color, it ripens early and reliably enough to make it commercially viable, and it has a soild track record of resistence to a bevy of vine diseases. All of these positive traits have made it the fastest growing red variety in Germany in terms of total acreage.

The other 60% of this wine is made up of the justifiably world-famous and ubiquitously cultivated red grape from Germany’s long-time rival and neighbor France, and that variety would be none other than the truly great Pinot Noir. Though it is not common knowledge, Germany grows more Pinot Noir than most casual winos would imagine, and has been doing so for centuries with the proof being found in the fact that Pinot Noir has not one but two German names: Spatburgunder and Blauburgunder.

This wine, though a fairly simple gulper of a drink, shows the real kismet between these two grapes when grown under typical southwestern German vineyard conditions, with the Dornfelder filling in a deep color, “bass notes” and a denser mouthfeel that German Pinot is often short on, with the Pinot contributing its indomitable elegance and spicy ethereal flavors that Dornfelder, despite its solid quality, just cannot attain. Again, this is not a wine to line up against any of the great Vosne-Roamnees or Gevrey-Chambertins of the world, but what it IS is a clear testament that Germany is more than capable of making distinctive quality reds, and at great price points to boot.

Though I could have opted for a very traditional Geman menu to go along with this little charmer, I had some days before made my own home made graxlax from some Copper River salmon I scored at the fish market so I decided to follow the Scandinavian route and mount some slivers of the ‘lax on some rye toast with cucumber and red onions, and then follow that up with the super-classic main course of Swedish meatballs with Lingonberry jam and boiled ‘taters.
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Rheinhessen “Wunderwein” 2012

Transparent, pinkish ruby color. Direct but still sophisticated nose of cherry, strawberry, red raspberry, brown spices, tree bark, mocha, pine needles, brook water, and a touch of wood smoke. The palate is medium light with soft tannins and a juicy acidity with clean and copmplex flavors of red currants, watermelon, sweetened cranberries, chestnut paste, paprika and hints of rosewater. Great warm slightly black-peppery finish.

 

The varieties from the greater Bordeaux region – the two Cabernets, Merlot, Malbec and other southwestern French denizens like Tannat get the lion’s share of the ink when discussing this part of the wine world mostly because they make up the great majority of the wines made in this part of country. There is however another quintessentially southwestern French variety that almost no one knows despite its unique personality, and this grape goes by the name of Negrette. This evening’s wine is classified as a Fronton which is the name of an A.O.C. that lies about 25 miles north of Toulouse. I have logged one previous post about a Fronton wine, but that bottling was blended with some of the grapes mentioned above. This wine is made from pure Negrette.

Despite its fair dispersion in the growing regions of Fronton, Villaudric and Lavilledieu, Negrette’s precise origins and genetic identity are as yet unsubstantiated, though there are some credible theories that place it as a relation to Malbec. This entire area of France is typically quite dry, and more particularly, in the Fronton region, due to its location in the Garonne river basin, the soil is quite sandy. As it turns out, these two features are the key terroir characteristics for raising Negrette which is a grape that absolutely requires mostly dry weather and well-drained soils due to its extreme susceptibility to all of the vine diseases associated with a surplus of water like molds and mildews. Consequently, it seems very likely that Negrette is quite an old vine that evolved/was developed to cope with these conditions over many centuries.

In the glass, Negrette is something of a seemingly contradictory dichotomy: it is very deeply colored and with a certain weighty mouthfeel, but its other face is not highly structured, having only moderate levels of both tannins and acids, and its flavors are quite overtly fruity and feminine with an almost aromatically fragrant nose. This somewhat peculiar character make it a great candidate for making blended wines, and so it goes in most cases, but there are increasingly more and more producers who see these idiosyncracies as an asset to be featured rather than a weakeness to be shored up by other grapes, and the way that this wine presents itself clearly lends credence to the ideas of producers like this one who have the confidence that Negrette can and does produce complete and satisfying wines with out assistence.

I put this delightful red with a first course of cold green bean salad with walnuts dressed with a tomato paste and shallot vinaigrette, which I followed up with pan fried strip steaks liberally dusted with piment d’Espelette and a side of Lentilles du Puy with potatoes.

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Chateau La Colombiere Fronton Negrette 2012

Blackish purple color with crimson at the rim. Arresting nose of black raspberry, plum, candied watermelon, blueberry, lilies, subtle barnyard notes, wood smoke, licorice and dark chocolate. In the mouth the wine is medium full with a chewy texture, a soft tannic structure and a juicy acidity that push rustically elegant flavors of blueberry, myrtle, black currant, sandalwood and eucalyptus. Long, softly dry finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | July 11, 2014

SLIPPING ON THE PINK GARDA

Recently, I wrote about the Italian peninsula’s paucity of pink (wines) by featuring the Puglian producer that put out the first commercial bottle of rosato. In case you didn’t read that post, only this area, and Abruzzo (in the form of a wine called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo) and this evening’s wine from way up north on the shores of Lake Garda, called Chiaretto di Garda produce rose` wines in any meaningful quantities.

 The fact that these latter two pink wines have names more particular than “rosato” (just the Italian word for “rose`”) in the form of “cerasuolo” and “chiaretto” is a testament to the fact that these areas have a fairly long tradition of producing pink wines, and that they are something more than also rans. And where Abruzzo’s cersauolo almost always possesses a very deep pink if not very light red color, as the name “chiaretto” implies (it translates roughly as “little clear one”) the rose` wines from the Garda area are almost always quite pale, truly pink wines.

The terroir of the Garda wine region is quite peculiar, especially when considering the area’s northerly location. From certain spots within this zone the snowcapped Alps are clearly visible, but rather than lending their chilly air to this zone, these highest mountains in western Europe actually serve to shelter the area from the cold northerly temperatures. And, like any large lake, Garda moderates temperatures, keeping summer daytime highs lower and winter nightime lows higher. Further, the lake serves to reflect a lot of solar energy into the vineyards, allowing the relaible ripening of all kinds of red grape varieties that just a few clicks away from the water is far more difficult. In fact, this area is warm and sunny enough to reliably raise olives, and while I wouldn’t swear to it, I’d say that this region is the northernmost one that can pull of such a feat.

This area cultivates a veritable bevy of grape varieties, both white and red, and the blend in this rosato is a clear confirmation of this cornucopia, it being a blend of two very local grapes: Gropello and Marzemino, and two “national” varieties in the form of Barbera and Sangiovese. So when all is said in done, the sweetness of the terroir the lightness of the style, andthe complexity of the blend make for some of the the prettiest and most sophisticated rose` wines made anywhere on the Italian peninsula. And as I said to start this post, there aren’t scads of such pink wines made in the Bel Paese, but Garda Chiarettos are proof that if there is a “Goldilocks” place for making rose` wines in this country so well known for its reds, this is definitely it.

I matched this delightful rose` with a first course of egg tagliatelle with a three mushroom and leek cream sauce, followed by hake braised with tomato, wine, anchovies, capers, etc. with a side of the white polenta so peculiar to eastern Lombardia and Veneto.

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Pasini Az. Ag. San Giovanni Chiaretto Valtenesi 2013

“Smoked salmon” color. Elegant aromas of sour cherry, strawberry, grilled peach, fresh flowers, fresh herbs, dried ginger, lychee nuts and honey. In the mouth the wine is medium light in body, with a juicy and fresh acidity and pretty, soft flavors of raspberry, cranberry, and hints blood orange and green olives. Long super clean finish. Very nice stuff.

Posted by: tomciocco | July 7, 2014

ROTGIPFLER – A BEAUTY WITH THE NAME OF A BEAST

Yeah, if you were able to choose the name of your product, the name Rotgipfler probably wouldn’t even make it into your top thousand, but the growers and winemakers in Austria’s Thermenregion don’t have any such choice, so it is what it is, they live with it, and push forward. Obviously, a short digression is in order…

Austria’s Thermenregion (pronounced ter-men-REHG-ee-own by the way) is situated geographically about 40 miles south of Vienna. And as you can perhaps infer from its name, this gently hilly area is shot through with hot springs which in addition to contributing a pronounced minerality to the quite humus and chalky, lime-rich soils, in certain spots, actually serve to measurably warm vineyard soils.

Not surprisingly, this peculiar terroir has a couple of very peculiar – indeed unique – white grape varieties in the form of Zierfandler, and tonight’s subject, the unfortunately tagged grape Rotgipfler. The latest genetic research seems to indicate that Rotgipfler is an old spontaneous cross of the strongly Jura-associated white variety Savagnin and another Austrian rarity, the pink-skinned Roter Veltliner. Currently, though Rotgipfler is in no danger of extinction, there is less than 300 acres of this variety under cultivation, with most of the vineyrds located in the even more tooth-breakingly named town of Gumpoldskirchen.

In terms of its character in the glass, Rotgipfler yields wide-bodied, piquant and semi-aromatic wines not dissimilar to those derived from Traminer, though the two varieties have no genetic kinship. And because of the grape’s high acidity levels and deep flavor, this a variety ages quite well, and consequently responds quite well to some exposure to oak, and indeed 20% of this particular bottling is aged for four months in large, used oak casks, with the remainder resting in stainless steel for the same stint.

Getting your hands on a bottle of Rotgipfler is a lot harder than liking it if you do manage it, but putting aside its undeniably convivial personality, its rarity in some part represents a decent part of its appeal. And getting to tell your friends and colleagues that your drinking a wine with a handle like “Rotgipfler” doesn’t hurt either – it’s fun to say, and it elicits lot of raised eyebrows when you do. Would that it raised as many glasses, but like I said, sometimes rarity makes a really good thing into a great one. This is definitely one such case.

To match this full-throated white I served a first course of zucchini and green pepper fritters followed by a main course of pork schnitzels fried with lots of sage and dusted with sweet paprika with a pea and carrot melange to keep them company.

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Johanneshof Reinisch Thermenregion Rotgipfler 2010

Greenish, medium golden color. Fragrant and fresh nose of honeydew melon, apricot, mandarin orange, white flowers, toasted almonds, cedar and pine sap. The palate shows an overall very well-balanced and cohesive medium-full body with an elegant minerally acidity and flavors of kumquat, kiwi, lime, smoke and cream soda. The finish is very long with clean notes of sweetened ginger and Shiitake mushrooms.

Posted by: tomciocco | July 3, 2014

FROM THE BANKS OF THE LOIRE TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN COAST

It usually comes as a distinct surprise to most non-wine anoraks that South Africa is the first non-Eurasian locale to have a wine industry, and that it was begun by the Dutch, a people not typically associated with viticulture. South Africa’s long winemaking tradition began in 1659 in what is now the charming city of Cape Town. Precisely what grapes were planted and vinified in that year is a fact that has been lost to time, but considering that the planting of red varieties in South Africa only began in earnest in the 1970s, beginning initially with the oft-kicked around, all-South African hybrid grape (developed by a South African for South African in 1925) Pinotage which is a cross between Pinot Noir and the southern French variety Cinsault.

But even though the cultivation of red grapes has exploded since the 1990s, a full 18% of all the land under vine in the entire country is planted to just one non-red variety, the Loire’s great white, Chenin Blanc. Exactly when Chenin Blanc arrived in South Africa is still the subject of debate, but considering that it has been dubbed with an Afrikaans name – ‘Steen’ – it’s safe to say that Chenin’s arrival goes back a couple of centuries at least. And indeed, along with the much more recently introduced Sauvignon Blanc which in my opinion takes ‘place’ in South Africa’s viticultural steeplechase, Steen/Chenin Blanc thrives in South Africa like no other variety, and at its best can rival the Loire’s greatest Vouvrays and Montlouis’.

The fruit that composes this particular wine emanates from the Agter-Paarl region of the Western Cape from bush vine plants (low, untrellised vines favored in very hot and dry regions like this one), all of which are quite old. All vines produce more intensely-flavored fruit as they age, but this goes double for Steen. The wine is aged on its lees (the dead yeast cells) for up to four months which further enhances the wine’s depth and complexity, and to maintain a cleaner and fresher overall profile for the wine, all of the juice utilized is “free-run”, meaning that the grapes are not mechanically/artificially pressed, but rather in a sense, press themselves under their own weight.

Like lots of Chenin Blanc/Steen-based wines, the final product displays a touch of sweetness, but fear not, this extra touch of residual sugar comes off in the mouth as a richness which is always balanced by Steen’s typical searing levels of acidity. For me, Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s most distinctive white grape varieties, and it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to call it absolutely unique, often displaying rich stone fruit flavors, an intense minerality, and in many cases, a pleasantly funkiness that serves as a second foil to the extra bit of sweetness.

Chenin Blanc wine, even the ones from its homeland in France’s Loire Valley, is not on many drinker’s radar, let alone the ones that come from South Africa, but that needs to change. So if you’re looking for a decisive departure from Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay or Riesling or Gruner Veltliner or Verdejo or Falanghina or ANYTHING white for that matter, grab yourself a bottle of Steen.

I matched this very gregarious wine with a first course of a salad of black-eyed peas, cucumbers, scallions, and avocado with a simple lime vinaigrette followed by a main course that sent a nod the way of South Africa’s large Indian population in the form of a yogurt chicken curry with prunes served over plain white Basmati rice.

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MAN Vintners South Africa W.O. Coastal Region Chenin Blanc 2011

Slightly greenish light, bright golden color. Arrestingly expressive nose of apricot, cantaloupe, quince, flint, buttered corn, egg custard, candied fennel and ground ginger. In the mouth the wine is fat and ever-so-slightly sweet but with a piercingly tart acidity with sweet and sour flavors of pineapple, yellow cherry nectar, white peach,  violet candies, an intense stoniness, and boiled peanuts. Whistle clean bitterish finish.

As I’ve surely mentioned before, there is not a long tradition for the production of pink wines in Italy. There are many Italian wine regions and producers within those regions who have never made one, and in all liklihood never will. The Spanish and the French on the other hand do have a long tradition of making rose` wines and the for the most part, the Italians have left the production of said to these two cultural cousins and neighbors.

There is one region however that got onto the rosy wine train sooner than any other in Italy and that place is Italy’s “heel” region, Puglia, and this evening’s producer, Leone de Castris, was the very first to commercially bottle and sell an Italian rose`, just a few months after Mussolini fall in 1943, making this 2013 vintage the 70th edition of this groundbreaking wine.

The wine is classified as an IGT Salento that comes from the town of Salice Salentino in the province of Lecce in the southern portion of the Pugliese peninsula. The name Salice Salentino may be familiar to wine drinkers as the name of a D.O.C.-level red wine that carries the same name, and indeed both wines are made from the same grapes: the complex, elegant and structured Negroamaro and the the fresh, sweet-tempered and aromatic Malvasia Nera di Lecce. And whether the wine is red or pink, the percentages that compose each wine is quite similar, with the red version typically weighing in at 90% Negroamaro with the Malvasia playing the cameo role at 10%. With this rose` cuvee`, the blend is tweaked to 80% Negroamaro and 20% Malvasia Nera di Lecce in order to boost the wine’s overall levity and drinkability.

In most cases, pink wines are made for immediate consumption and are therefore usually not made from grapes from any given producer’s top vineyard sites, and at least in terms of its conception, this one isn’t much different from the rest, but that said, the vines that supply the fruit to produce this wine are all better than 50 years of age which directly contributes to make a wine that can benefit from a short aging, and further is a testament to Leone de Castris’ desire to not make their rose` as an afterthought or just as a seasonal, money making bottling to round out the line. To be clear, this rose` is still as fun and quaffable as any other out there, but what’s actually to be found underneath the cork brings to the table a depth, an intricacy and a wider drinking window than most other pinks that are now flooding the market – it’s a wine that is “serious” enough to not be just a hot weather guzzler, but while still retaining the affability that all rose` wines out to have, which makes this a very useful wine indeed.

I put this wine together with a traditional Pugliese pasta dish called penne con i broccoli (with tomato, onion, garlic, anchovies, raisins, pine nuts and of course, broccoli) followed by a main course of “smother fried” eggs with potatoes, leeks, lemon juice, mushrooms, thyme and oregano.

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Leone de Castris Salento I.G.T. Rosato “Five Roses” 2013

Slightly coppery, deep pink color. Forward nose of jarred maraschino cherries, strawberry, green olives, with prominent notes of dried red flowers on a fresh chalky base. In the mouth the wine shows a rich and warm but still bright medium-full body with flavors of stewed peaches, red currants, blood orange, dried herbs, sweet spices, vanilla bean and hint of cocoa. Fat but cleanly bitterish finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | June 26, 2014

A BIT OF THE MIDI IN (THE) COLUMBIA (VALLEY)

It’s no secret that wide swaths of California have a climate that almost exactly mirrors the classic sunny Mediterranean winemaking terroirs found in Italy, Southern France and Spain, but Washington State? To be fair, the Columbia Valley growing region (which by the way also leaks down into Oregon, and indeed this wine emanates from a little town in Washington called Lyle that rests directly on the Columbia River just north of the Oregon border) is not exactly like Sardegna or Minervois or Priorat, but it is definitely a far cry from the cool and rainy images conjured by the Pacific Ocean-influenced regions in western Washington.

Like so many fine wine regions, The Columbia Valley (which contains sub-zones such as Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and Yakima, all of which contribute different grape varieties to this blend and upon which their respective micro-climates put a distinctive stamp) gets lots of hot sun (more than many regions in California) but once the big yellow disc goes to bed, the evening temperatures here drop dramatically. This sort of temperature excursion directly yields lush, ripe fruit that also shows a crispy, crunchy and fresh acidity that yields balanced but still dramatically-styled wines.

So what we have in this cuvee` is essentially a sort of Cotes-du-Rhone Village blend with the varietal percentages carefully dialed in for the southern Washington terroir. To put actual names and numbers to the composition, the wine is made up of 28% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 23% Syrah, 13% Counoise, 8% Carignan and 2% Cinsault with the fruit fermented in both open and closed concrete vats and then aged for 11 months part in concrete and part in 90% used and 10% new French oak barrels. The upshot of all this is that this blend of six different grapes from three sub-zones aged for a shortish stint in both cement and (mostly) used oak yields a wine that accentuates the characteristics of the region rather than a sole grape variety or the signature style of a “celebrity” winemaker. Columbia Valley, it’s time for your close-up.

This bright and bold American wine called for a menu to directly match these characteristics and this time around that turned out to be pepper and onion cheese steak sandwiches with a fresh corn, black bean and carrot salad.

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Syncline Columbia Valley “Subduction Red” 2012

Opaque, blackish purple/garnet color. Smokey, minerally aromas of mulberry, black raspberry, plum butter, cloves, dried roses, and cut green underbrush. The palate is full-bodied, supple, chewy  and rich, with tall but tamed tannins and crunchy, juicy acidity framing sweet and sour blueberry, black cherry and black currant fruit flavors well supported by notes of pumpernickel bread, “burnt cream”, black pepper, and dark chocolate. Quite clean and long notes of tomato paste on the finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | June 20, 2014

GET UP, GET DAO

During the more or less dicatorial rule of Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1933-1974) a great deal of damage was done to Portuguese wine culture, and it’s a situation which the whole country is still trying to recover from, and no one region more than the north-central Dao. In a horribly misguided attempt to harness the winemaking industry in Portugal for the greater glory of his twisted view of the nation, a huge chunk of the winemaking in Portugal was forcibly and very clumsily collectivized, and where The Douro further north to some degree escaped this grand disruption because of its hilly and often harsh terroir, the flatter terrain and milder climate in the Dao made it the perfect target for forcing quantity over quality, and sadly there is still too much slapdash wine being made in this region, an area which was once considered to be Portugal’s finest. The last two decades or so in Dao has seen a significant reversal of this long retrenchment, and this evening’s producer is one of the winemakers leading the charge back to restoring the region’s reputation as a source for truly fine wines.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: per capita, Portugal might have more native grapes than any other wine-producing nation, and the Dao might be the epicenter for this vinous multiplicity, and this diversity goes for both red and white wines. Tonight’s wine was a white, and this bottling holds very much to the tradition of making wines from blending multiple grape varieties. The Portuguese are some of the world’s most masterful blenders and indeed there are very few Portuguese wines – red or white – made from a single grape variety.

This wine, made by the great Alvaro Castro, is a cuvee`, like all of Mr. Castro’s wines, that beautifully balances a modern, clean and sleek drinkability derived exclusively from traditional Dao varieties and with all of the soul and warmth for which very traditional Portuguese winemaking is so well known. The specific blend in this case is 40% Cerceal (which is not to be confused with the staple Madeira variety Sercial; they are completely distinct varieties despite their homophonous handles), 40% Bical, and 20% Encruzado.

So if all you know about Portuguese white wine is the mass-produced tart and sprizty but ultimately wan and flavorless Vinho Verde (this is not any sort of knock on Vinho Verde as a whole, just on the innocuous plonk that crowds too many shelves), try and locate a bottle of this stuff or any other product from Mr. Castro or any other quality producer of Dao wine; they’ll ably demonstrate why the Dao was once considered to be the Bordeaux of Portugal, and why it can, and in my opinion eventually will be again.

I matched this sophisticated white with an appetizer of tuna, potato, olive and mint fritters followed by a gloss on the Alentejo region classic dish pork with clams, more specifically, Manila clams, linguica sausage, white kidney beans, yellow grape tomatos with wine, bay leaf, parsley and cilantro together with some good, fluffy Portuguese rolls to sop up the sauce.

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Alvaro Castro Dao Branco 2011

Convivial nose of lemon, honeydew melon, yellow cherry, ginger, ground coriander, fresh herbs, toasted grains, and a touch of lily, all underpinned by an ultra-fresh minerality. The palate is medium in body with elegant and expressive flavors of comice pear, peach nectar, with a smooth and well balanced texture punctuated by a fine and nervous acidity. Long and complex subtly creamy almond and apple finish. Very nice stuff.

For a whole host of reasons, Greece, one of the most ancient and well-developed wine cultures in the world, and a place with a huge range of completely endemic grape varieties, has very little recognition on shelves and restaurants (apart from some of the finer Greek ones), at least outside of Greece itself. Strangely, what is probably the most well-known Greek wine is a white called Retsina, which is also one of the world’s strangest and for most drinkers, least palatable. As you might infer from the wine’s name, Retsina (think ‘resin’) is a wine that is made with the addition of a paticular type of pine sap used to replicate the ancient tradition of sealing amphorae with pine tar to prevent oxidation. Obviously, this addition markedly effects the flavor of the wine, and consequently, its consumption levels (which amongst non-Greeks is low), despite its fairly high name recognition. Thankfully (at least for this wino), there is no pine tar in this evening’s wine.

What we did have on the table tonight was an entirely different Greek white from an appellation called Mantineia made exclusively from a grape called Moschofilero. Mantineia is a plateau that rises to over 2,500 feet above sea level on the large southern Greek island region called Peleponnese. Not surprisingly, this is an exceedingly ancient cultivar that as a consequence has quite a few sub-varietal mutations whose fruit represents nearly every color in the oenological rainbow: from black to red to deep yellow to almost whitish green and with names that start with the each sub-variety’s fruit color in Greek, but all ending in ”-filero”. In spite of all of these permutations, almost all of the commercially produced wines made from this family of grapes comes from the whitish green strain and it is only this sub-variety that carries the name Moschofilero.

And considering what a pretty little charmer Moschofilero is, it’s a wonder that it hasn’t made a bigger name for itself in the foreign market, but such is its lot, at least thus far. In terms of its character in the glass, Moschofilero is typically very pale in color – often almost “water white” – but its aromas and flavors are anything but pallid; it is quite aromatic and redolent of a cornucopia of citrus fruits and presents the palate with a super-crisp and fresh acidity that makes it such a great partner for all of the sour, vegetable and fish-based dishes so common to Greek cusine.

So to make the best of what this saucy little wine is putting out there, I matched it with an appetizer of toasts spread with tuna, olives, long, green pepper, and celery in a garlic/parsley mayonnaise followed by a main course of braised zucchini stuffed with feta cheese, rice, egg, yellow tomatoes, and dill over a bed of shredded and smothered black kale with yogurt, Aleppo pepper, garlic, onion, cucumber and yogurt, served at room temperature.

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Tselepos Mantineia Moschofilero 2012

Slightly coppery light gold color. Very perky and aromatic nose of pear, mandarin orange, and honeydew melon fruit followed by secondary notes of ginger, wild rose, broom, cinnamon and toasted almond. In the mouth the wine shows a medium-weight body with crisp and minerally flavors of white currant, tangerine, yellow cherry, sweet white corn, capers and white pepper. Long and lightly bitter quinine finish.

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