Posted by: tomciocco | August 30, 2014

CAREMA THE CROP

The Piedmont region in northwestern Italy is positively riddled with D.O.C. and D.O.C.G.-level appellations that highlight if not exclusively prescribe Nebbiolo as their grape variety: Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara, Ghemme, Faro, Lessona et al. And though the latter two are fairly obscure regions, Carema has got them all beat both in terms of obscurity as well as geographical remoteness.

Located directly next to Italy’s smallest (and largely Francophone) region Valle D’Aosta, the Carema zone is MINISCULE. There are only TWO – count ‘em, TWO – producers in the tiny town of Carema: a private winery by the name of Ferrando and the producer of this wine, Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema, a co-operative concern with almost 80 member/growers that farm a total of just 42 acres of vineyards. That’s it. 

As you might expect from its location, Carema sports the highest altitude vineyards in Piedmont, and some of the highest in all of Italy, with some vineyard sites located close to 2,000 feet above sea level. Most of the vines are grown on precipitously steep slopes that are terraced to make working them a little more manageable. Not surprisingly, this area is quite cold and snowy in the winter time, so most if not all of Carema’s vines are trained high to prevent them from being completely snowed under and to also allow the strong sun found at this altitude to warm the more sensitive business ends of the vines which serves to maximally promote spring budding and foliage development in this harsh environment.

And though Carema is just as much a Nebbiolo wine as Barolo for example, when all is said and done, the two wines could hardly be more different. First, in Carema, as in many of the more northerly Piedmontese Nebbiolo-heavy appelations, the so-called Picutener and Pugnet clones of Nebbiolo populate the vineyards rather than the Michet and Lampia types that inhabit more southerly growing zones like Barolo. Then there is the soil. The Barolo region is largely composed of either calcareous marls or dense sandstone while Carema’s soil is rocky limestone. And as previously mentioned, Carema is considerably cooler year-round then any part of the Langhe.

Not surprisingly, all of these factors conspire to produce much lighter-colored, feminine, and etherally scented wines with lower alcohol levels. In fact, the clonal differences and the radically different terroirs ultimately produce such divergent results that many a drinker would be hard-pressed to believe that these two wines were produced in the same region from the same grape variety. And though it might be heresy to say, more times than not I’d take the Carema over the Barolo: it’s a better value economically, it matures more quickly (though it is still quite ageworthy), and it’s far more versatile at the table. Carema is not something you’re likely to turn up at your corner liquor store, but if and/or when you do run across a bottle, grab it and see just how easy-going and pretty Nebbiolo can be.

I mated this very elegant wine with a first course of mushroom risotto, followed by a pork tenderloin roasted with prunes, apricots, herbs, shallots and wine with a side of roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

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Cantina Produttori dei Nebbiolo di Carema 2010

Slightly browned pale brick red color. Very elegant and evocative nose of wild blueberry and strawberry, dried roses, pine sap, cinnamon, mocha and wood smoke. The palate is medium light in body with a beautiful balance between fine, smooth but wiry tannins and a juicy, nervy acidity that conveys fine and complex flavors of cranberry, black cherry, raspberry, roasted chestnut, licorice, and minerals. Long and slightly austere sweetly earthy finish. A tremendous value.

Posted by: tomciocco | August 27, 2014

ALBILLA FAN FOR LIFE

The endeavor of ampelography (the identification and classification of grape vine cultivars) is as fascinating task as it is a slippery one. At its inception, this work was based mainly on readily identifiable physiological characteristics such as leaf shape and size, berry color and shape, bunch structure and form among other characteristics. And until the advent of DNA testing, this sort of taxonomic system served viticulturalists fairly well, but it’s not difficult to imagine how it can and did also lead to false results – the world is full of plants and animals that share many, many physical traits, but turn out to be completely unrelated. And indeed even DNA analysis, though it is far more reliable than traditional ampelography, can lead to inconclusive results depending on which and how many data points are tested.

 But let’s refocus down to the level of a singular example of this as yet imperfect system of classification in the form of the grape variety (vareities in reality – sort of…) known as “Albilla” or just as often, “Albillo”. Without getting too deeply into the weeds of ampelographic DNA research, there are at least 7 varieties that carry the name Albilla (usually with some modifier such as “Real”, “Mayor”, “Blanco” etc. stuck on at the end ), that have been determined to be either varieties that are known by other more commonly accepted names, but most of which turn out to be completely unrelated varieties that simply bear the Albilla name, and this evening’s wine falls firmly in the latter category.

Hailing from the southeasternmost region of Castilla-La Mancha in the area around the cities of Albacete and Cuenca ( hence its (un)official name “Albilla de Albacete”), tonight’s wine is made from a white grape variety that is almost certainly unrelated to its other namesake varieties. Further, Albilla de Albacete is perhaps the rarest variety to carry the name. Most of the other “Albillas” can be found under this name (and others as well), in multiple regions of Spain as well as in North Africa, Sardinia and a few other places too. But as far as anyone knows thus far, Albilla de Albacete is a unique cultivar that is absolutely peculiar to the area around Albacete/Cuenca.

So, you might ask, how does all of this pop science apply to the average wine drinker? Well, in a way not at all, and in another, it’s critical. Focusing on the latter distinction, of all of the “Albillas/Albillos”, Albilla de Albacete is likely the rarest as well as the “noblest” and most complete, which unlike most of the others, enables it to be bottled unblended. Albilla de Albacete tends to have a muscular structure that can easily carry the higher alcohol levels that it typically produces, and which can also greatly benefit from some oak aging (this particular wine is fermented in oak barrels and then aged in medium-sized French oak barrels for eight months). In terms of general flavor and aroma profile, Albillo de Albacete is big and mouth-filling but never lacking a sassy acidity, and with rich sweet and sour citrus and green fruit flavors. It’s not the sort of wine that you’d soon forget, and I for one have made a new friend in this southeastern Spaniard, and one for which I’ll keep an eye out for in my oenological travels.

To go with this bold bottle, I served toasts with a spread not too dissimilar from Sicily’s caponata, composed of eggplant, yellow squash, green olives, celery, onions, cilantro and tomatoes followed by grilled chicken tenderloin skewers marinated in a almond, garlic, pimenton, oregano, cumin, ground coriander, oil and sherry vinegar paste with carrot, pea and spinach white rice on the side.

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Bodegas y Vinedos Ponce Manchuela Blanco “Reto” 2013

Pale, “white gold” color. Subtle aromas of green melon, peach, tree sap, ground pine nuts, dried ginger, candied fennel, broom and lilac. The palate is quite expansive, well structured and slightly austere with a deep, zippy acidity with flavors of tangerine, gooseberry, white currants and very subtle cream and vanilla flavors, all underpinned by a fine, chalky minerality. The wine finishes with a long, warm and clean bitterish finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | August 22, 2014

COMING FROM SOME FUNNY PLACES…

 …and it’s a good thing too. This is definitely not the first semi-rant I’ve launched on this topic and it almost certainly won’t be the last, but here goes. Europe is the original home to vitis vinifera and its thousands of cultivars, as well as “wine culture” in general. Places from Georgia all the way to Portugal have had literally millennia to develop all manner of grape varieties (work done by human hands as well as spontaneously by nature) and wine styles. The value of a long patrimonies like Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti Classico cannot be underestimated.

 But this evening’s wine, which hails from California (El Dorado County in the northeastern part of the state not far from Lake Tahoe, to be specific) which has a winemaking tradition that is barely 150 years old at best. Initially, it was easy to understand the reliance on producing the “Meritage” blend (read “Bordeaux”) or the Rhone blend: these are great traditions in winemaking and if folks 150 or 100 or even 50 years ago knew anything at all about wine, these are the styles of wines that had notoriety and therefore also had traction in the market, but at a lower prices.

 But flashing forward to the 21st century, why have so few producers moved away from these Old World styles,which were all developed for their home terroirs, and not developed the blends or varietal wines that work for their regions? Let’s face it, growing and bottling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in hot and sunny Napa Valley when these types of wines originate and thrive in cool, damp, and often cloudy Burgundy. Well, they did it and still do it this way for basically the same reason they always have – it’s the most reliable path to steady sales; it’s for the same reason that early premium Japanese cars looked like Mercedes Benzes and Ferraris.

 A change in this approach is long overdue, and thankfully more and more New World winemakers have realized that the terroirs in which they work are now fully understood and that they also need feel no shame about the potential of their growing zones. This is one such wine.

What we have in this evening’s wine is a blend of 72% Vermentino and 28% Grenache Blanc grown in some of the highest (over 2,000 feet in elevation) and coolest wine regions in The Golden State. Both of these varieties are endemic to crescent of the Riviera (Liguria in Italy and coastal Provence in France as well as the islands of Corsica and Sardegna) in the northern Mediterranean, but you’d be looking a long time in this area to find these two varieties blended in tandem and in these proportions. Further, El Dorado County is 200 miles from the sea and the areas of the Riviera that has traditionally hosted these varieties has no elevations that even approach the heights at which these vines are cultivated to produce this wine.

Often, taking grape varieties out of their cultivational comfort zones and planting them in radically different ones yields consistently questionable results (see above) but sometimes it works, and this is one of those cases. The overarching ideals of the United States have always been based on the expansion of freedoms as well as the exaltation of experimentation, and that is precisely what we’ve got here, which is a conception of winemaking that everyone in the New World should emulate.

So in keeping within the American tradition (but not too closely) I served this fun and fresh wine with a southern American classic plate of floured and fried catfish flavored with Old Bay seasoning with tandem sides of collard greens cooked with a little bacon fat and grits with a nice little of bottle of hot sauce to squirt onto the fish.

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Edmunds St. John “Heart of Gold” El Dorado County 2010

Quite deep golden color. Bold nose of apricot, papaya, yellow flowers, mixed nuts, anise seed, cocoa butter, and a salty minerality. In the mouth the wine is quite full-bodied, with juicy acidity that frames big flavors of lemon curd, peaches in syrup, honey, white spices, and butterscotch. Fresh, bitter almond finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | August 19, 2014

IN AUSTRIA, GRUNER VELTLINER IS “NUMMER EINS”

So many casual wine drinkers are entirely uninitiated into the fantastic world of Austrian wine, and indeed for some, the very mention of “Austrian wine” produces blank and/or quizzical looks. In short, Austrian wine rocks, and if you aren’t drinking Austrian, you should be.

One thing that makes Austria such a great wine-making nation is its wealth of native grapes, both red and white, but even with such an abundant collection of home-grown vines, no grape variety is more emblematic and representative of Austrian wine than Gruner Veltliner (GROO-ner velt-LEE-ner). And though Austria does raise this bevy of native grapes, Gruner Veltliner occupies nearly one third of the total land under vine which speaks loudly about how really fine Gruner Veltliner can be, and how much the Austrians truly love it.

 And with all of this acreage of Gruner vines being tended, it might lead one to think that Gruner grows like a weed, but to a large degree the opposite is true. Gruner Veltliner is quite prone to diseases associated with a surplus of water in the soil as well as in the air, and it matures late enough in the season that not all of Austria’s vine-growing regions can reliable ripen it and maintain vine health simultaneously. Because of this, most of the country’s Gruner is planted on the hills leading down to the Danube in eastern Austria, particularly in the regions of Wachau, Kremstal (the source of this evening’s wine) and Kamptal. Because of their geographical positioning in the Danube basin, these areas receive continual warm winds from the hot Hungarian plains to the east, a factor that diminishes the chances for moisture-reliant diseases that simultaneously promotes full fruit ripening.

 Interestingly, despite the “Veltliner” part of its name, recent DNA analysis has established that it has no relation to any other grape in the “Veltliner” family like Fruhroter Veltliner, Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler et al. In truth, Gruner Veltliner’s lineage has one foot in the Traminer branch of vines, with the other planted in a line of a very obscure vine from the area around St. Georgen.

 Along with two other great Northern European varieties – Riesling and Chenin Blanc – there is nothing that well-bred Gruner Veltliner cannot do stylistically. It is as comfortable as a bone dry wine as it is as a thick, sticky dessert wine and every gradation sweetness there between, and because of its popping acidity and bold flavors, it makes great sparkling wines to boot. And though for me all wines are (or should be) “food wines”, Gruner Veltliner’s solid structure, crispness and gregarious flavor profile makes it a perfect and perennial companion at the table all over Austria. Would that this were the case all over the world…

And speaking of food, the grub I matched with this vivacious example of Gruner consisted of a traditional Viennese appetizer of battered and fried celery stalks followed by a main course of stuffed cabbage rolls (pork, rice, onion, garlic, paprika, dill) baked in a simple tomato sauce with a nice dollop of sour cream and slices of good rye bread to keep them company.

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Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner Kremser Kogl 2013

Bright, light gold/green color. Piercing nose of gooseberry, pear, white currant, and minerally aromas of yellow pollen flower and nutmeg. The palate is medium weight, with a sharp and etched acidity that frames flavors of grapefruit, yellow cherry, green apple, peas, white pepper, and fresh herbs. Finishes with a dynamic fresh bitter/tart character.

Posted by: tomciocco | August 13, 2014

GETTING BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM A FRIEND (IN GALICIA)

In large part, Spain’s cool and green northwesternmost region of Galicia is still an unknown quantity to most wine drinkers. Yes, there are two grapes, one white and the other red, in the form of Albarino and Mencia respectively, have made a small dent in the market, but even these heaviest hitting Galician varieties don’t swing even a small fraction of the weight that other Spanish varieties like Verdejo (a white) and the very fine and ubiquitous Tempranillo do. It’s not even close.

But in this evening’s case we’re discussing a wine constructed from a blend of two Galician varieties that while are not ultra-rarities, are nonethelss not on the radar of most wine drinkers, namely two grapes known as Godello and Treixadura. Typically, Godello, which is a very fine white grape variety that thrives in dry conditions and is known for its supremely elegant and slightly austere acidity and minerally mouthfeel, is vinified and bottled solo. As a rule, Godello is so much more about its performance on the palate than its olfactory characteristics but its scents are often slightly shy and muted which makes it a superb match for the intense sweetness of crustaceans and the briny punch of shellfish.

 Enter Treixadura (a.k.a. Trajadura as it is known in the Minho and Vinho Verde regions over the border in Portugal), stage left. Treixadura, though a high quality grape in its own right, is rarely if ever encountered in an unblended bottle. On both sides of the Spanish/Portuguese border, Treixadura is typically mixed with other local varieties like Albarino, Loureiro, and Perderna for the pretty white fruit notes and golden color that it brings to the party. But for all its wonderful aromas, Treixadura lacks a bit of acidity and structure in general, so it is rarely the best choice to stand alone.

 But like most if not all marriages or friendships, these two grapes beautifully fill in the other’s gaps, with Godello providing a taut and sexy physique in and on which to hang Treixadura’s sweet and slightly perfumed aromas. It’s often said that “You gotta have friends”, and this very appealing wine is the perfect oenological analog to demonstrate the truth of this old maxim.

A first course of grilled chorizo over a puree` of white beans flavored with lemon, bay leaf and cilantro and a main course of turbot in green sauce (with parsley, peas, white wine and lots of garlic in a very light roux) paired most amicably at the table with this fresh and dynamic amalgamated white.

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Via Arxentea Monterrei 2012

Slightly greenish, medium golden color. Very expressive nose of peach, apple, pear, cut grass, fresh sage, caramel flan, candied fennel, and broom. The palate has a medium-weight body with a fresh and clean acidity with elegant but still quite concentrated with flavors of green fig, lime, citron, and boiled peanuts, all underlaid by a smoothly polished minerality. Softly bitter finish. A real charmer

Posted by: tomciocco | August 9, 2014

RED MINERVOIS: A BIG WINE FROM A BIG REGION

Of all of France’s viticultural regions, Languedoc is the most sprawling and also likely the one that currently holds its best kept secrets. Broken into many patches of land across the map beginning near Nimes in the east, and reaching all the way to the Spanish border, this extensive region is undoubtably France’s hottest, driest and sunniest viticultural areas, but like any wine-growing region that extends for the hundreds of miles that the Languedoc does, this area contains scores of designated appellations that within the overarching Mediterranean conditions, contains a vast number of permutations in terroir.

Until only about 20 years ago, Languedoc was France’s main source for powerful, rustic (almost exclusively red) wine made for jugging and drinking in tumblers at picnics or barbecues. As a rule, the Languedoc is nothing short of a paradise for the vine – full fruit ripening is easily achieved year in and year out, the very dry conditions dramtically curtail problems with insect pests and shut out any issues with rot, molds or mildew almost completely. But not surprisingly for such a bountiful, countrified place, the old guard vignerons loved to capitalize on their good fortune and grow as much fruit in their vineyards as the canes and trunks of their vines could support. For these old farmers, more was always better. Unfortunately, getting quantity to coincide with quality is not easy to manage, so for centuries Languedoc was relegated to the production of thick, alcoholic bulk wines.

But as the old guard of growers and winemakers now begin to pass into the great winery in the sky, new blood, both local and from outside the region, has begun to flow in to make the most of the exemplary conditions in this region, but with the clear intention to limit yields and boost quality. And in the the expansive Minervois region, this is exactly the sort of work that the Augustin family has undertaken.

The Augustins are family whose roots in viticulture reach down and back to the 1870s, but in a place that might be the most diametrically opposed to the Languedoc in every way imaginable, name the chilly, northerly, and world-renowned white sparkling region that goes by the name of Champagne. And compared to Champagne, raising vines in Minervois is easier than sliding down a greased pole.

The Augustins’ vineyard is located in what is probably the hottest and driest area within the large Minervois A.O.C. (a designation it received in 1985), which is locally known as the Balconies Aude. In addition to the semi-arid weather, this area is possessed with a nearly perfect composite soil made up of a mix of clay, limestone and sandstone, a blend which is not only extremely vine-friendly, it perfectly retains what little rain does fall, allowing the vines to produce intensely-flavored fruit derived from the climate, but without any of the pruney and clumsy flavors that come from vines grown in stonier, quicker-draining soils found elsewhere in the region.

This particular cuvee` completely shuns the often unfairly slagged off and most traditional grape from this area, Carignan, in favor of the Northern Rhone’s noblest black-skinned grape Syrah (60%) with equal parts of the decidedly traditional and local varieties Grenache and Mourvedre orbiting the central Syrah body. To preserve the natural intense olfactory sensations offered up by this combination of grapes and terroir, the wine ages for a fairly short stint in 1/3 new, 1/3 first passage and 1/3 second passage medium-sized French oak barrels, a regimen that perfectly polishes the wine without obscuring the quite particular blend of grapes and the intense yet elegant character given to the wine by the terroir. Regretably, lots of wines from Minervois, and indeed all over Languedoc, are still flabby, “hot”, and dominated by heavy, stewed flavors, but this wine is definitely NOT one of those; on the contrary, this wine represents a clear and pretty snapshot of Minervois’ best present and its brightest future.

I matched this burly but still nuanced and graceful wine with a pureed chick pea, tomato and leek soup followed by a grilled and sliced top round cut of beef with a thyme and mushroom gravy and a side of mashed potatoes blended with grated zucchini and perfumed with roasted garlic

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Chateau Fabas Minervois Mourral Rouge 2010

Bright, deep crimson/purple color. Earthy but still very elegant aromas of black cherry, myrtle, black raspberry, coal smoke, licorice, dried Mediterranean herbs, sandalwood and licorice. The palate is full, dense, firm, chewy and supple in texture with tall but polished tannins and a crunchy acidity that projects flavors of plum, strawberry preserves, mulberry, black olives, dark spices, and mocha. Long, warm and dry finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | August 5, 2014

PRIORAT’S DYNAMIC DUO

Abbott and Costello, black and white, peanut butter and jelly. These are just three polarized dyads that truly complete each other, and for me, the same is true of two grapes from the Catalan segment of the Iberian peninsula, namely Garnatxa and Carinyena (to use their Catalan-language spellings).

Those of you who read this blog regularly probably know that I’m a bit of a stickler for any given (Old World) region building their contemporary wine cultures on the traditions of their pasts, and for me, this process begins with grape varieties. The precise origins of Garantxa and Cariyena is still fairly hotly debated, but the latest/ best scholarship places their origins in what is now Aragon, but for centuries, Aragon and Catalunya (who are next-door neighbors geographically) were culturally and politically entwined, so these two grapes are for all intents and purposes as Catalan as they are Aragonese.

Unfortunately (as least as far as I’m concerned), over the last 20 or 30 years, Priorat has been too reliant on French/International varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and more than a few others as well. Why? Well, they are fine varieties all, and using good raw materials is extremely important, but beyond that, their name recogniton (read “marketability”) far outstrips the notoriety of Priorat’s local varieties as well as the identity of the Priorat region itself. The problem with this “International” approach is that these varieties, though they will grow just fine in Priorat’s extreme terroir (semi-arid, with long, hot and sunny days, and often very chilly nights, even in the summertime, with lots of friable, slatey soil), these foreign varieties behave very differently in this sort of environment, and consequently do not reach the levels of quality and longevity that they would in Bordeaux or the Norther Rhone.

Garnatxa and Cariyena however, because they are native to this region, truly thrive in this terroir, and indeed actually need this often harsh terroir to show their best aspects. Garnatxa and Carinyena planted in the cool and rainier Loire region in France for example would produce thin and unbalanced wines if the vines produced any fruit at all, or even survived long enough to produce this inferior fruit; both of these vine varieties have been known to just up and die when planted in the wrong spots.

But when Garnatxa and Carinyena are in their wheelhouse terroir (like Priorat) however, Garnatxa is allowed to fully realize its maximal exhuberant, sweet and sour red-fruity nature, and the Carinyena can completely express its earthy, dark-fruited and highly structured, often somewhat austere character. These two grapes in an optimal growing region like Priorat make the perfect foil for the other, each nearly perfectly filling in the other’s gaps.

Further, in the pursuit of a very “contemporary” style, all too many wines from Priorat are over-exposed to new oak flavors, which along with all of the non-native varieties, serve to almost completely obscure any notion of tradition, terroir and even a basic balance in the final product. Happily, the producers of this particular cuvee` also avoid this pitfall by aging the wine for only a short stint in oak (10 months) which only subtly contours and polishes the wine, allowing grapes and place to shine. This is Priorat as it should be.

I paired this powerful but still quite elegant and balanced wine with a first course of a pureed corn and tomato soup spiced with pimenton, followed by a main course of pork tenderloin medallions in a light cream and pomegrantate sauce with a side of yellow cauliflower with mint.

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Portal del Priorat “Gotes del Priorat” 2012

Deep crimson/purple color. Penetrating nose of blackberry, plum, strawberry preserves, brown spices, old leather, purple flowers, licorice, pine tar and burnt sandalwood. The palate is big, and highly structured with elegantly rustic, stubbly tannins and zippy acidity that frames muscular, robust flavors of black currant, blueberry, cranberry, juniper, cracked black pepper and dried Mediterranean herbs. Powerful, earthy austere finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | August 1, 2014

JACQUERE: THE CHEEKIEST WHITE FROM ALPINE FRANCE

Mountains are geographical features can have interesting and often profound effects on languages and people by insulating them from their neighbors, so why shoud grape vines be any different? The Jura region in the northern French Alps has the pale red pair of grapes Trousseau and Poulsard and its quite peculiar local white, Savignin, three varieties that for all intents and purposes, exist nowhere else. Similarly, in the somewhat more southerly region of Savoie, we can find the oenological oddities of Mondeuse (a red), Roussette (a white), and the subject of this evening’s post, another white grape known as Jacquere.

Despite Jaquere being the most widely planted and productive grape in the Savoie region, its notoriety trails that of both Roussette and Mondeuse, and that’s a shame. Roussette is definitely more corpulent and complex than Jacquere, and of course neither white can match the black cherry and spicy sassiness of Mondeuse, but that said, Jacquere is no also-ran slouch, with its bright, clean minerality, fresh acidity, fragrant green and yellow fruit and Alpine florality.

This wine could be known simply as a Savoie Blanc, and indeed it is one, but because these Jaquere grapes are grown in a small delimited region of the Savoie, it qualifies to carry the cru name “Chignin”, a distinction it shares with several other mostly or entirely Jacquere-based crus like Abymes, Apremont, and Jongieux. But no matter the specific source of Jacquere-based wines, the results are fairly similar. These are wines that tend to achieve only modest levels of alcohol (this one clocks in at 11.5%), and with a typically lean mouthfeel, but what Jacquere lacks in depth and size, it more than makes up for with its pretty, coquettish aromas, its lithe and tidy palate, and its usually long, polished and crisp finish.

As you might infer, Jaquere-based wines pair particulary well with medium-aged cheeses and freshwater fish, especially if it’s fried, so to make the most of this, I paired this mountain madamoiselle with a first course of toasts with melted Tomme de Savoie (keepin’ it strictly regional) cheese studded with bacon lardons, chives and parsley followed by fried catfish in a dill, chervil and tarragon breading with a side of braised radishes.

 

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Charles Gonnet Chignin 2013

Very pale white gold color. Vivacious nose of white peaches, pineapple, sliced pear, minerals, ground ginger, yellow flowers and almond milk. The palate is medium-light with clean, fresh and spunky “sweet and sour” fruit flavors of apple, grapefruit and white currants beautifully supported by notes of egg custard, ground nuts, lilac and pine. Long tonic water finish. 

Posted by: tomciocco | July 28, 2014

THE EXQUISITE BITER FROM THE LOIRE’S FAR WEST

All of the major white varieties from the vast region (regions actually) that is the Loire Valley are well known for their crisp, bright acidity: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Melon. There is however one grape from the river valley’s outlet to the ocean in the region’s far western reaches that when it comes to acid, beats ‘em all and it is known by one of two names, Gros Plant or more commonly, Folle Blanche.

 Within the Nantais (the Loire sub-region where Folle Blanche makes its home), the Muscadet appellation (which yields wine made from the Melon grape) walks away with most of the attention and accolades, or at least as much as wine from this neglected area of the Loire gets such attention. And to be completely fair there are at least a couple of reasons for this. First, Folle Blanche is not the easiest variety to grow due to its extreme susceptibility to almost every kind of vine ailment stemming from a surplus of rain and fog, and the Nantais has plenty of both. Further, if one is completely honest, Melon is the bigger, more complex and ultimately “finer” of the two varieties that essentially complete for the same palates and situations at the table.

But that said, Folle Blanche and Melon do not necessarily produce fully interchangeable results. Because Melon is typically aged on its lies, and naturally yields higher levels of alcohol, Muscadet has somewhat funkier, and more muscular character with an almost aromatic character on the nose, whereas Folle Blanche wines lean to a leaner, “greener” and more minerally overall presentation,with an even higher level of acidity.

Both of these wines are almost invariably and stereotypically paired with shellfish, and especially oysters, and for good reason – these wines and briny bivalves make as perfect a combination as any wine and type of food can enjoy together. I can and have served both of these wines with shellfish, but this time around I decided to take a completely different approach by mating this Folle Blanche wine with a chilled and slightly tart cream of watercress and potato soup followed by fresh turkey breast dressed with a lemon-inflected oyster mushroom gravy with a side of diced green beans and carrots.

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Domaine de la Bregeonnette Gros-Plant du Pays Nantais “Folle Blanche” 2013

Very pale, “white gold” color. Spunky nose of grapefruit, white peach, green fig, pink rose, minerals, sour cream, broom and cut grass. The body of the wine is light and high-toned, with a tart and piercing acidity and flavors of gooseberry, lemon, lime, sea water, curaçao, almond and white spices. Clean and bitter finish with great length.

 

 

Posted by: tomciocco | July 24, 2014

OOOH, BEBA, BEBA – BEBA, BEBA

Spain is a nation whose wine scene is dominated by just a couple of handfuls of regions mostly dotted fairly close to the northern and eastern coasts – from Rias Baixas eastward to Bierzo then to the Riojas, then on to the Catalan appellations of Priorat and Penedes, then souuthward to Jumilla and and Yecla. Sure, there are lots of other wine zones tucked into interior the valleys and plains, but “the edges” of the Spain’s wine world inarguably dominate its viticultural face to the outside world.

Well, this evening’s wine is from another “edge” of sorts, and the name of its region – Extremadura – clearly indicates this status, but this edge is one that is pretty far from the sea and in reality marks the border with the border with the Alentejo region of Portugal, deep in the southwestern quadrant of the Iberian peninsula. To say that this part of Spain is off the beaten track is a pretty big understatement. Though the area contains the fairly large city of Badjoz, and selected slices of the countryside possesses a certain austere beauty, Extremadura is largely dusty, hellaciously hot and arid and largely devoid of greenery. When it comes to tourism, the Costa Brava, the Basque coast and the Andalusian seaside it’s not.

But, with all of this isolation and lack of commerce comes some little perks, and this wine is one. Now just for sake of clarity, there is precious little truly “fine” wine made in Extrmedura – hell, there isn’t much wine made here at all due to the area’s seriously harsh climate. But in any such place, there are always a few fascinating extremophilic denizens, and the white Beba grape is one such example.

There is some indication that Beba (which in this bottling is known by one of its numerous alias “Evas de Los Santos”) may originate in neighboring Andalusia, but precious little if any plantings remain there today. Now As I alluded to above, Beba is not Chardonnay, it’s not Reisling, and it’s not Fiano. No, Beba is a variety that directly reflects its rustic and unpretentious origins: bright, fruity and direct, which makes it a perfect companion to Extremadura’s simple, genuine and homespun cuisine that is heavy on pork and legumes and which maintains a generally elemental character overall.

So in keeping with this set of facts, I made a very Extremaduran first course called migas (literally “crumbs”) which is little more than a very humble peasant dish that is invariably based on small scraps of stale bread fried in olive oil with lots of sliced garlic, and the pimenton to which I added a couple of chopped hard-boiled eggs and lots of parsley. For the main course, I made medallions of pork tenderloin oven-glazed with orange juice, onion, fennel seed and oregano with a side dish of chick peas stewed with yellow grape tomatoes.

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Vegas Altas Extremadura Evas de los Santos NV

Bright, golden color. Lightly aromatic and pleasant, slightly oxidized nose of apricot, peach nectar, lemon zest, honey, hay and powdered ginger. In the mouth the wine is medium-bodied with a fairly rich mouthfeel that is nicely balanced by a fresh acidity that reveals flavors of yellow cherry, lime, green melon, cocoa butter and vanilla bean. Clean, bitterish quinine finish.

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