Alsace Pinot Noir Grand Cru?

Good tidings were brought by a few Pinot Noir makers in Alsace. Now that quality and quantity have improved, they will apply for the grand cru status for this noble grape, the official noble grapes at this moment being Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Zotzenberger Sylvaner. Though Alsace is perceived as a dominantly white wine region, which is hardly surprising, reds have always been made and were sometimes highly valued. Documents have been digged up by the initiators that state that in the 15th and 16th centuries the reds from Rouffach were more expensive than the whites, which we obviously should recognize as proof of their superior quality.
Past performances can have a long influence, as the Bordeaux classification shows, but at the time the Alsace classification was established Pinot Noir was not deemed worthy. The grape was used only for Crémant or for light rosé-like summer wines.
My first encounters with Alsace Pinot Noir were in that area: light-bodied, sometimes greenish, at best served slightly chilled with a plate of charcuterie. That is okay, but okay does not nearly qualify for grand cru.
IMG_1452968318924Nowadays some vintners have made serious work of this difficult variety and are trying a more Burgundian style. More skin contact, (old) oak barrels. I would say they are successful. Last summer I visited Cave de Turckheim. Their Pinot Noir was a revelation, showing it can be done, making high quality Pinot.

Pinot noir fût de chêne 2011, Cave de Turckheim, AOC Alsace, 13,5%vol, ca. € 12
In the nose red berries, a little vanilla. Relatively full-bodied, cherries, spices. Very tasty.

So who says: ‘Lack of acidity and complexity often prevent Alsatian pinot noir from achieving anything more than pleasant, easy drinking, quality levels’? Wikipedia does. About time to edit that piece of information, wouldn’t you say?


The Patriotic Tourist

‘What wines should a patriotic citizen of Switzerland pour on the first of August?’, a reader of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung asked the wine editor. On the Swiss National Day, celebrating the founding of the Confederation in 1291, he wanted to uncork the right bottles. The editor refrained from too specific a recommendation, so as not to be confronted with offended wine-makers asking why their wines were not mentioned. After praising Swiss wine in general, he shared his plans for the evening: a zippy sparkling wine from Ticino as an aperitif, for starters a Petite Arvine from Wallis, to accompany the ubiquitous grilled meat (grilling is a national obsession in Switzerland) an oak-barreled Pinot Noir from Schaffhausen and for pudding a sweet wine from the Vaudois. I wouldn’t have minded to join, wine-wise at least.
AfbeeldingI must confess, the same question troubled me, a tourist in this beautiful country, too. As Switzerland is a confederation and the National Day is celebrated rather locally, the only national item being the speech by the president, a local wine would be best, I thought. The good news was that we would arrive in Graubünden that afternoon, home to the Bündner Herrschaft where they make an excellent Pinot Noir; the bad news that all shops would be closed. (Already at the French-Swiss border we had been informed that on August 1 ‘la Suisse est fermée’.) The all-Swiss Coop supermarket came to my rescue: here I found Selection 1291, a Vallaisian Dôle for the bargain price of about 8 Euro’s, with the story of the oath printed on the bottle.

Selection 1291, Dôle AOC Valais, 2014, 12,7%vol., ca. € 8
Agreeable wine, good value for money. Roundness is typical for Dôle (Pinot Noir/Gamay).


Catch of the Month (Feb/March 2015)

I am not much of a smartphone addict nor an app fetishist, and no one would be interested in my ‘first screen’, but I’ve started using a wine app, and proud of it. As I do not want to share my tasting notes with the world unless I choose to do so via this blog, I favour Wine Notes. It’s a US centred app (American wineries are the first to pop-up) that enables me to type down my notes and take a picture of the bottle. I am still undecided about my tactics concerning the scoring system. No ‘BBBBW Points’, therefore.

Here are a few notes, rather ad random.

Il Fait Soif 2013 (Domaine Gramenon/Maxime-François Laurent), 13,5%vol., € 13,95
Red naturally made Rhône wine consisting of Grenache (80%) and Syrah (20%). ‘Diablement fruité’, the red berries jump out of the glass. In the mouth they are accompanied by earthy tones and some tannin. Light-bodied, not light-hearted. When the weather is thirsty, but very drinkable on rainy days too.

Regent Barrique Feinherb (Michel Schneider), 11,5%vol., ca. € 7

I should have been warned: Feinherb and only 11,5%vol. Somehow I tend to forget that German ‘feinherb’ does not mean ‘subtly herbal’, but ‘medium sweet’. First impression oddly was that of alcohol. Did an okay job with Ottolenghi’s polenta with mushrooms.

Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts 1er Cru 1991 (Domaine Thomas Moillard), 13,5%vol., € 5

If ever there was a catch: bought in a junk-shop for an incredible € 5 (not by me), this 24 year old Burgundy from a well-known house was still as fit as a fiddle. Okay, the colour, still dark-red, had developed a brownish shade and its fruitiness had faded, but only to make way for a deeper, complex taste. Paired with Toklas’s smothered pigeons. Still licking my lips.


A Taste of Pennsylvania

Now that I have managed the art of visiting European vineyards I thought it time to take it up a step and try my luck across the ocean. In the New World, I was told by a Californian friend, wine tastings are about wine drinking – and drinking a lot. Having a European taste himself but feeling obliged to give Californian wine a fair chance, he once embarked on a tasting trip. He started off fine, talking to the vintners, being genuinely interested, asking questions, tasting, spitting, commenting, in short ‘the works’. But the wines were not to his liking, nor was he encouraged in his professional style by the bus loads of wine tourists who inundated the tasting rooms. In the end, having spit less and less, somehow trying to wash off the taste by drinking more, he found himself crawling AbFab style out of his wife’s car to join a flock of sheep.

Pennsylvania isn’t California in many ways. Wine making started early but had to deal with major setbacks of which it is still recovering. William Penn himself was one of the first who gave it a try (around 1682), but as he concentrated on vinifera vines he had little success and was forced to furnish the cellar of his Philadelphia house with European wines instead (A History of Wine in America, p. 33). Still, he stood at the cradle of American wine making: it was near his very premises, almost a century later, that a spontaneous hybrid between a vinifera and a labrusco was found: the Alexander grape (named after the gardener of Penn’s son), with which the first commercial wines were made (p. 85).
But even the combined forces of statesmen like William Penn and Benjamin Franklin and the many inquisitive Rhinelanders and Moravians who missed their homeland drink couldn’t hold out against the backdrops history (Revolution, Civil War, Prohibition) and nature (phylloxera, mildew, black rot) was providing them with. As a result Pennsylvania became famous for its unfermented grape juice, made from grapes unsuitable for wine making. Only as late as 1968 Pennsylvania’s Farm Winery Act allowed grape growers to make, and sell, wine.

BuckinghamValleyVineyards-5Pennsylvania’s 140+ wineries are thus all relatively young. That may be the reason that for some of them wine seems to be something on the side, musical events or running a bar being the core business. Not so for Buckingham Valley Vineyards and Winery. This family-owned winery of over 40 acres makes affordable dry and sweet wines from vinifera, native American and hybrid grapes and several sweet fruit wines. In their own words: ‘We consider wine to be a food item, to be enjoyed with meals or without, to be consumed without ceremony or snobbery, to be affordable on an every-day basis.’ That their wines are low in alcohol (11%vol) is a bonus too.
When I asked for a spittoon, I learned that here too tasting means drinking. Did I think I wasn’t going to like their wines? But after a few minutes they came up with something I could use as such.
Though I didn’t like all the wines I tasted (e.g., I thought the Merlot unremarkable, the Niagara to be avoided) I did have a liking for their Seyval Blanc and Chambourcin.
Seyval Blanc (no year, 11%vol., $11): Sweet apples, floral notes. Bit sweet. Easy. Drink well chilled as aperitif or with salad.
Chambourcin (no year, 11%vol., $11): Best of their reds. Dark-red in colour. Full-bodied, oak-barrelled. Herbs, black currant leafs. Benefits from a little chilling.

20141206_185026Stargazers Vineyard & Winery has a little shop and tasting room (with spittoon, though I got the impression the shop manager was a little shocked when I spat into it) in the charming town of Lititz. I didn’t visit their home base, but I was told the wines there are sweeter than in the shop. Having said that, there was only one dry red wine available. Still, this nearly 20 year old winery is a serious one, taking into account terroir and sustainability, and resisting too much filtering.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Reserve (13,5%vol., $18): The scent of black currants really comes out. Dry (without the ubiquitous American sweetness), fruity, some dark tones, smooth.
Arneis 2013 (12,5%vol., $20): This Piedmontese grape is doing a great job here. Pear, melon, juicy, lots of taste. Paired well with pan-fried fluke and grilled asparagus.

bluemountainI came across Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, situated in the Lehigh Valley AVA, in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square farmer’s market (see also under Famous Caffs). They started with French hybrid grapes but planted European varieties too as they found out soil and climate are similar to the Loire and Burgundy regions (and who wouldn’t want that?). With 100 acres and serveral selling points in Pennsylvania Blue Mountain is a big player.
Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (12,6%vol., $15,50): Sauvignon Blanc? You could have fooled me. Too sweet to my taste, lacking freshness. Not too bad though if well-chilled accompanying a beetroot salad with goat’s cheese.
Cabernet Franc 2010 (13%vol., $18): ‘For the adventurous wine drinker’, said my vendor who knows how to chat-up his customers. There is some truth in it. Light-bodied, fruity (red berries) with a green touch and an earthy finish. Soft tannines. I would pair it with porc, not with beef and chocolate as the label says.


How to

Are there any parts of life not covered by How-to manuals apart from being born and start breathing, though many of us got a little help with these tasks too? Type ‘How to’ and Google provides one with a few search options: ‘how to tie a tie’, ‘how to delete facebook’ and the slightly worrying ‘how to train your dragon 2′ (something must have gone wrong the first time). Let’s be honest: these are by no means easy tasks. But visiting a vineyard? I could do that without help, couldn’t I? The Huffington Post does not agree and I must say, I have made a faux pas or two myself.

Thinking winemakers are everywhere as welcoming as in Alsace, I once headed out in rural Chianti to one of the star winemakers, via small, sometimes hardly gravelled roads, only to be chased from the premises once I got there. Didn’t I know they had a shop in Montepulciano? That’s where I should go. I didn’t. That was not what I wanted.

Malans, CH

Malans, CH

Last June, visiting the Bündner Herrschaft, a small region of quality wines in Switzerland, I thought I’d do it more carefully. Though I had a few names in mind, I asked the hotel manager if she could recommend a winemaker where I could taste and buy wine. “On such short notice?” she exclaimed. No way. Did I really think winemakers had time to receive me? They have work to do. Maybe in winter, when the vineyard needed less attention. But even then. And of course they would charge me.

When it dawned on her that I was interested in buying wine too, not in huge quantities maybe but surely more than one or two bottles, her entrepreneurship got the better of her. Why not taste the open bottles of their house wine, for sale in the winemaker’s shop just opposite the hotel? In the hotel’s kitchen, right away? Why not indeed, I liked their sparkling wine. And of course she allowed me to leave any boxes for the day in a cool place so I could do some more sightseeing.

A vineyard is not a vineyard is not a vineyard is not a vineyard.


Vivino Non Est Divinum

Kloster Fahr’s Discretio, a Federweiss, is a red wine from Rheinhessen, Germany. So is their Pinot Gris.
Surprised? Well, this is what wine app Vivino tells us. Per chance I happen to know better. Federweiss is a white, so is Pinot Gris, and Kloster Fahr is not to be found in Rheinhessen, nor in Germany.

Let me start by saying that it is not Vivino bashing I am after. I don’t use the app, nor any other wine app for that matter (though that may change). I suppose, as Vivino is community-driven, that mistakes like these will be corrected in time. I’ll correct this one here, as I feel sorry for Kloster Fahr, a community-driven institution itself, but in a less virtual world (or is it?).

KlosterFahrKloster Fahr is situated in a secluded spot in the otherwise crowded valley of the Limmat, a few miles from Zurich, Switzerland. It is a beautiful, sweet place, this monastry for female Benedictines, and of a far more humble nature than the male headquarters in Einsiedeln. Where the male Benedictines proudly present their much pilgrimaged Black Madonna and their famous Vesper service with a (mildly) polyphone Salve Regina, the nuns at Kloster Fahr make do with sacred textiles and bottles of, among others, Discretio, Laudate, Nocturna, and Gaudeamus.
Gaudeamus igitur, as these bottles contain Federweiss, Pinot Gris, Regent, and a sparkling wine respectively, made from their own grapes. The ladies, old and young, do the harvesting (Wümmet), the rest of the job is done in their commission by cellar master Roland Steinmann.

KlosterFahr-vatWine has been serious business here since 1130, the 4,2 hectares of Kloster Fahr (“ir eygen fruchtbar Gut, das man nempt Var mit der Capellen”) now providing more than they need for celebrating mass. Beside common grapes like Riesling x Sylvaner and Pinot Noir they grow Dornfelder, Zweigelt, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Some are elevated on wood, e.g., their flag ship Monacha Pinot Noir Barrique (too much so to my taste, though some customers like it even more oaky, so Steinmann told me). The Discretio, an off-white white of Pinot Noir (Federweiss, a common thing in German-speaking Switzerland, not to be confused with German Federweißer, a young, fermenting wine), is an excellent Apéro and not too sweet. The Laudate is an agreeable, soft-spoken and off-dry Pinot Gris. Their Nocturna Regent, my favourite, is dark purple with notes of plums, black olives and vanilla.

Whatever Vivino makes of these wines, in neutro genere vinum est divinum, especially when made by nuns.


Sensible Shoes

Living in one of the ‘Ten Places in Europe You Never Thought You Could Afford’ can be a challenge. Imagine everything in your local supermarket, everything except for the cotton buds, had doubled in price and you get the picture. We are vegetarians now most of the time, and we do everything by foot.
But even expensive cities have things for free. Here it is water, for example. Everywhere in the city are so called Brünneli, water taps in the shape of a urinal with drinking water for humans and animals. Parsley too can be for free, at the Oerlikon market, but for that one needs to buy vegetables up to a considerable amount of money (but then again, one has spent a considerable amount of money before one can say ‘Wiie bitte?’ in Schwyzerdütsch). Other herbs (ramsons, burnet, thyme) can be found along streets and in the surrounding hills.
So when I read about a free wine tasting at the lake, I put on my sensible shoes and walked. It being a beautiful day I imagined a considerable crowd of wine lovers and the tinkle of glasses and happy laughter. The Bürkliplatz seemed deserted though, and the only people I saw were eating a sausage at a Wurstbude. But at the bandstand about five people had gathered, and they were sipping wine alright. Two wines were being presented: Akkurat Rot (red) and Akkurat Weiss (white), Akkurat being the name of this new brand of Staatskellerei Zürich, for sale from half June at around CHF 15. The name stands for an honest wine for daily use. That so few people had bothered to come might have had to do with the ‘spontaneity’ of the event, only advertised on their own website.
It would be a bit of a bore to say that these wines are made accurately. The red is a Pinot Noir of which one third is matured in oak. That results in an almost sweet, juicy wine with red berries and a little vanilla on the palate. Not really to my taste, but if served cool surely an agreeable ‘Apéro’. Its white counterpart is a blend of RieslingxSylvaner (=Müller-Thurgau), Muscat and Pinot Noir. Zippy, citrusy (pink grapefruit) with something exotic. Would not only do well as an aperitif, but could also accompany a meal, e.g.,  of fried white fish or roasted chicken.

If you want an impression of this ‘pretasting’, click here. For some reason no photographs of me have been selected. The sensible shoes, probably.


A Taste of 2013

After seeing or reading about the sports(wo)man of the year, the books of 2013, the most embarrassing TV fragments, several news overviews, much lamenteds and where to buy 2013s best deep-fried solid doughnuts (a somewhat longwinded translation of “oliebol”), I feel compelled to share my “outstanding wines of 2013.” That is what they are: standing out. Presented at random. Happy New Year.

Riesling Grand Cru Vorbourg 2008 (Domaine Muré, Alsace), 12,5%
Well-known winery where the kids (12th generation) just took over. This Riesling was made by René père. Golden-yellow colour. In the nose dried apricot, honey, and a whiff of petrol. Good acidity combined with voluptuousness and minerality. Can age for some more years.

Les Cormiers 2011, Vin de France (Christian Venier, Touraine), 12,5%, € 9,95
A Cabernet Franc that brings a smile on one’s face: redcurrant, wild strawberry, juicy. A perfect wine for a summer’s day.
Christian Venier is a natural wine maker who learned the trade from Thierry Puzelat of Clos du Tue Boeuf but is said to be less experimental (according to his distributor). No filtering, no sulphites, indigenous yeasts.

Viña Gravonia Crianza 2004 (Bodegas López de Heredia, Rioja), 12,5%, € 12 (ad loco)
Golden colour, deep honey-like, sweetish smell, in the mouth dry, full-bodied, complex, honey, sourish apricot, mandarin, almond, freshly-cut herbs (the latter to my astonishment), long aftertaste.
See my earlier posting.

Blanco 2012 (Luis Cañas, Rioja), 13,5%, ca. € 7
A barrel fermented blend of 85% Viura and 15% Malvasía from vines of over 50 years old. Well-balanced, medium-bodied, ripe pear, apricot, minerality. Maybe not spectacular but more than enjoyable till the last sip and rather good value for money. My applauded house white.

Château Lestage-Darquier, Moulis Cru Bourgeois Terra Vitis 2010 (Brigitte and Francois Bernard, Bordeaux), 13,5%, ca. € 13
Soft-spoken, fruity, refined Bordeaux that can age for some more years, but I am not sure it will.


Bye, bye Molinos?

I have a confession to make. In the 1990s Los Molinos, a cheap Spanish red from the local supermarket, was my favourite. I didn’t spend much on wine in those days, couldn’t afford it really, and thought of Los Molinos as a more than adequate and affordable wine. It had a smooth, warm, almost sweet vanilla taste hitherto unknown to me. Though interesting at the beginning, and highly appreciated for some time, I soon grew weary of that surplus of oak. So much so, that I avoided all wine Spanish for almost two decades.

Now rumour had it that Spanish wines had improved, that some producers had reduced the oak, either by shifting from American to French oak or by using older barrels. Though these rumours didn’t make me rush to the shop, they slowly warmed me to the idea of giving Spanish reds a second chance. What better opportunity to do so than in Rioja, during the DWCC, the (not exclusively) European wine blogger’s conference of October 2013?

It was my first conference, my first visit to Spain and an unusually long break away from my working duties, summer holidays aside. I had a marvellous time.

But it’s all about the wine, isn’t it? So what about those Riojas? Still avoidable?

Let me start by saying that I didn’t taste wines of small wineries, but only of a few bigger and quite famous Riojan companies, so I can’t give you an overall view. Having said that, I can assure you that Rioja has a lot to offer. Rich, full-bodied wines, velvety mouth feel, dark red fruit (stewed plum in older Rioja’s), liquorice. They make a great pairing with game (the hairy variety), beef, and sausages. Let me present a few of the red wines I tasted during the conference, in alphabetical order (the whites are a different story altogether, coming up soon).

  • Bodegas Baigorri, Garnacha 2010 (100% Garnacha): My favourite of the quality red wines I tasted during a sumptuous lunch at this intriguing winery. Fruity, harmonious, elegant.
  • Bodegas LAN, LAN a Mano 2009 (80% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo): Dark-purple coloured wine of their own grapes. Full-bodied, round, spicy, dark fruit. Not so good for one’s ecological footprint (ridiculously heavy bottle, “for marketing’s sake”, the winemaker told us), but otherwise uplifting.
  • Bodegas LAN, Culmen Reserva 2007 (85% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano): Dark-coloured wine of 40-60 year-old vines. Sweet attack, dark, ripe fruits, nutmeg, soft tannins, liquorice. Excellent.
  • La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Reserva 2004 (80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha): This traditional Rioja isn’t released every year. 2004 is now available. Dark fruit, almost stewed plum, spicy, soft tannins, smooth. Superb. One of The Telegraph’s picks for Christmas (with pork!).
  • Luis Cañas, Reserva 2007 (95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano): They have of course wines that are older and more full-bodied than this ‘simple’ reserva, but I liked this one best at dinner on the premises of this hospitable winery (we were welcomed with a Basque dance).
  • Marqués de Riscal, Barón de Chirel 2006 (80% Tempranillo, 20% Other): “Other” is Spanglish for Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that, after a period of experimenting, is now forbidden in the Dutch way (i.e., forbidden but tolerated): the grapes of existing vineyards may be used, but not mentioned. Riscal’s experiments with Cabernet Sauvignon and other non-indigenous grapes date back to 1862. This 2006 is a bit alcoholic in the beginning, elderflower berries, plums, chocolate, smooth. After a while the alcoholic note disappears and in comes more fruit, spices. My Riscal favourite.
  • Marqués de Riscal, Finca Torrea 2007 (Tempranillo and Graciano): Modern-style wine. The smell reminded me of fermenting crushed grapes. Smooth, fruity, soft tannins, a little wood. (The 2010 is sharper and a bit alcoholic.)

Not so bad, eh, these Riojas? Quite marvellous, actually. Though I’ll continue to treat them with care (they are not house wine material), red Rioja’s are definitively back on my list of wines to look out for. Still. When tasting, I spit. I have spitted out many a fine wine as you can see, even one of € 240 a bottle (Riscal’s Frank Gehry Selection 2001). The only glass I swallowed during this conference was the one presented to announce next year’s host of DWCC: a Swiss Pinot Noir. Cheers.



Wine&Dine: Viña Gravonia & Partridge

If this is the tasting note:
Golden colour, deep honey-like, sweetish smell, in the mouth dry, full-bodied, complex, honey, sourish apricot, mandarin, almond, freshly-cut herbs (the latter to my astonishment), long aftertaste,
what to eat?

Let me first explain a bit more about the wine. This was one of the first wines I tasted during the DWCC (Digital Wine Communications Conference) in Rioja (on which more in a future post). That day’s programme didn’t permit it really, but we had heard so much about them that we sneaked out and drove to Haro, to Bodegas López de Heredia, better known as Tondonia or Heredia. A traditional winery if ever there was one. Think huge wooden barrels, thick layers of fungi on the walls, and temperature control by opening or closing the windows. Their wines are named after the vineyard and should express the character of that terroir and of that terroir only, (and this is unusual) consistently, year after year.

Tfgravoniahey sure take their time. The wines not only spend years in barrels, the harvesting of the grapes for Viña Gravonia Crianza 2004, the subject of the tasting note above, took 33 days, enabling the harvesters to pick only the grapes that are perfectly mature. No rush after that either, as this Crianza of 100% Viura (12,5% vol) has spent four years in barrels and five years in the bottle.

But what to eat with a wine of such complexity? Rest assured: anything goes, according to the information leaflet: “Perfect with all kind of fish, no matter the way cooked. Grilled seafood. Well seasoned white meat. Also very nice with pasta.”

As I feared the wine might overwhelm a humble white fish, I chose the not so white meat of partridge, this being the game season. A traditional recipe is Perdreau aux Choux, for which one needs one old and one young partridge, the older merely to infuse the cabbage with taste. Alas, old partridges are a thing of the past (don’t ask your supplier for an old bird; I did and was nearly kicked out of the shop).


Partridge with savoy cabbage ‘Spanish style’

Preheat oven at 175 °C. Rinse, dry and season partridges (one p.p.) and brown them on all sides in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Cover them with vine leaves (partridges are delicate) and put them in the oven for about half an hour. (Note: vine leaves can be salty.)
Cut a (piece of) chorizo into small cubes and fry them in a dry pan till the fat has run out. Put the cubes aside and fry a diced onion in the fat. Add savoy cut in small stripes and fry on low heat. Season to taste. You may add a handful of dried cranberries: good for taste, not so good for the Spanish touch.

Now was this a good match? Bird and wine proved to be a happy combination: almost lively, even if that’s an odd thing to say about a dead bird. Bird and cabbage were good too, rubbing each other’s darker sides. Wine and cabbage didn’t do much for each other.

In the Netherlands some wines of López de Heredia are for sale here.

Leser aus der Schweiz, pass auf: Schnäpchen bei Real wines bis zum 30. November.