Vouvray. It’s such a lovely word, rolls off the tongue so nicely, feeling much like the succulent Chenin Blanc produced around the small town of Vouvray on the right bank of the Loire River, in the small appellation of the same name. At first sniff, honey. Unequivocally, honey. Then ripe yellow apples, steel wool, chalk. It’s a pretty, luminescent yellow with a bit of haziness. There is herbaceousness on the nose too, fresh mint. The texture is soft with small grains, like candle wax. This Vouvray is dry, it has weight, but the acidity lives well within the richness and gives intensity of flavor, power in feel with ease and refreshment. The flavors are warm lemon, mint, limestone and honey. It evolves, lingering on the palate.

Vouvray is the largest and most significant white wine producing appellation in the Loire Valley, it is nestled along the north bank of the river, just east of the larger town of Tours, for which the Touraine region is named. Across the river is the smaller appellation of Montlouis-sur-Loire, also a great producer of varying styles of Chenin Blanc. Chenin is native to the Loire and is greatly at home in the tuffeau, clay and gravel soil types of Vouvray. It is capable of producing quality wines that range from fine vibrant and dry to full, sweet and nectar-like. Every producer of Vouvray or Montlouis has no choice but to depend heavily upon the weather each season – moreso than other regions of the world because the style of wine they end up they producing is completely reliant on the season. Some say that this is where the Atlantic and Continental climates meet resulting in some perfectly Chenin producing characteristics, and some rather unpredictable condtions. The continental influence gives warm and long summers in which the temperatures slowly decrease as fall approaches. Chenin ripens late as is, so this is very ideal. The harvest in Vouvray is often one of the latest in all of France each year, often stretching into November. There are several mesoclimate pockets of extreme humidity which in good years invites botrytis.

Botrytis bunch rot is a fungal disease that can do one of two things. If it appears late in the season and effects grapes that are almost ripe or damaged it depletes the yield significantly. If it graces the vineyards with its presence earlier when the grapes are vibrant and healthy than desirable effects occur. On the outside the grape turns more deeply golden to pink then maybe purple, they brown, then wrinkled and raisin-y. The skin is incredible hard, impenetrable by undesired micro-organisms. On the inside nearly half of the original water content has been lost (evaporation and to the fungus), and the botrytis consumes sugar, but consumes more acid too, thereby increasing the sugar concentration and providing us with delectable, full sweetness. If that’s the case, the wine is labeled moelleux. Dry are sec, semi-dry are demi-sec and sparking are petillant. If a season is not particularly warm and/or botrytis does not present itself, then more sec will be around that year.

Chenin itself has lots of acidity, a waxy mouthfeel, lots of stoniness, wet hay, honey, orange blossom, ripe yellow apple, bruised apple, and even in the sec wines, a fullness to it. Vouvray has fantastic longevity – the 2009s will have great acidity now (like, a lot of it) and the strength to evolve in the bottle for a decade.

I had a recent evening with my tasting group over delicious Vouvray and some of the better wine-centric conversation we’ve had in a while. A coincidence? I think not – there is a lot to say about this place and this wine. Free to bring any AOC Vouvray, we wound up with two wines from Domaine Huët that were both better than good yet incredibly different from one another. I have tasted Huet wines many times over the previous months and am continually wowed by them and so frequently hear the Domaine referred to as the greatest of all Vouvray producers. That said and tasted, I was spurred to learn more of Domaine Huët l’Echansonne, to use its full name.

The Domaine is, in reference to other European wine-producers, quite young. In terms of impact and quality? Significant. It was born officially in 1928 when Victor Huët, a WWI veteran suffering from the effects of exposure to mustard gas sought fresh country air. His wife, Anna-Constance was fond of a home that happened to harbor the now quite famed La Haut Lieu vineyard, and so it began. Son, Gaston took over after a time, then began farming the renowned Clos de Bourg vineyard in 1953 (purchased it a decade later) and purchased Le Mont vineyard in 1957. The three vineyards are along the Première Côte of Vouvray, land considered to be grand cru in status. Le Mont has soil of clay but more so stone and grants wines of strong minerality in their youth with great age-ability. Clos de Bourg is surrounded by stone walls and has more shallow soils than Le Mont, and even more stone. Wines from here have extreme minerality and some say, more strength and texture than those of Le Mont.

The 2010 Le Mont Sec has a greatly rocky nose with underlying honey, warm lemon, chamomile. It’s acidity is linear, moving and strong and powerful. The 2009 Clos de Bourg Moelleux smells of melting honey, candle wax, orange blossoms and ripe apples. Its palate is full and juicy, the acidity finds my mid-palate, stealthily, unnoticed, and then slowly dissipated as I continue to taste honey, limestone and pear pie. Both wines were so good, and very different. It was cool to taste the extremely different vintages and therefore styles from varying vineyards but be able to recognize the overall language of the wines, the textural similarities, the weight and most of all, the soil.

Gaston’s son-in-law, Noël Pinguet joined the domaine and continues as vigneron there today. Pinguet was one of the early adapters of Biodynamic vineyard practices and after a successful partial trial conversion in 1988, fully converted the vineyards in 1990 which only added beauty, consistency and success of Huët wines. When Gaston was ailing and passed away in 2002, Anthony Hwang stepped in. Hwang was born in the Phillipines, became a successful NY business man with a fervor for wine who can often be found vigneron-ing in Tokaji, of all places. His partnership and backing of Huët has enabled Pinguet to continue what Victor Huët began.

That was going to be the end of this post, but the other night I got to attend a tasting where Sarah Hwang, daughter of Anthony Hwang and director of sales and marketing for Huët poured the new releases, including a 1985 Clos du Bourg Moelleux.  It was cool.  ’85 was not a spectacular vintage in Vouvray but it wasn’t poor either.  Some tasters didn’t care for this wine at all, I was intrigued by it and found it quite delicious.  Its color is vibrant, almost unrealistically so.  Think yellow highlighter.  The nose has rich fruit and freshness but also obvious age but not in way that I’ve smelled on other bottle aged wines before.  It wasn’t oxidated at all, not minerally either.  The closest descriptor for me would be browned apples but fresh apple at the same time. The texture was quite remarkable, rich with fine graininess which, I learned is what “Moelleux” references, (in addition to rs level) it means marrow.

Ribeira Sacra (courtesy of twentymonths)

I was recently turned on to the Spanish varietal, Mencía (“men-thee-ah”), especially when I heard that it was likened very much and even at one time, thought to be related to Cabernet Franc.  DNA profiling has proven that the two are not related, but that doesn’t change the fact that Mencía in the glass can have striking similarities to Cabernet Franc and my new found crush on the grape.

Mencía didn’t get much respect before because it produced wines that were simple, light and fruity in the NW of Spain.  That started to change when in 1998, Alvaro Palacios and his enologically-trained nephew made their way to Bierzo.  Alvaro Palacios is a widely recognized name when it comes to Spanish wine because he’s one of the fellas who after working at Chateau Pétrus, revitalized the vineyards and helped stamp quality winemaking into the region of Priorat in the early ’90s.  He and his nephew saw the great potential of the Mencía vineyards of Bierzo, on the other side of Spain, especially around the town of Corullón and started producing single-vineyard bottlings in 2001.

Mencía has been around for a long time in the Northwest of Spain, Galicia and Castilla y Leon as well as in Portugal where it is called Jaen and used as a blending grape.  Galicia is a land of Celtic tradition and culture that encompasses Rias Baixas, producer of mineral-driven and high-toned dry whites; Ribeiro and its wines from Treixadura, Torrontés & Albariño; Ribiera Sacra, Monterrei & Valdeorras, the latter three which we go into more detail regarding their production of Mencía.  More inland is Castilla y Leon where the Bierzo DO and is producing Mencía also.

Monterrei is a remote valley, surrounded by mountains, riding the northern border of Portugal.  The soils are primarily sandy with some slate too and the best vineyards are on the valley floor where the grapes enjoy cool nights.  Amizade is a producer here (joint project between experienced Spanish winemaker, Gerardo Mendez and De Maison Selections, an importer with a killer portfolio).  Amizade’s Mencía has a touch of two other indigenous grapes in it: Caiño and Arauxa.  The 2010 is pretty intense aromatically and a little wild, in a great way.  It offers juicy ripe fruit balanced by stony minerality and nice acidity.

Valdeorras is the easternmost DO in Galicia and is home to some really steeply sloping vineyards.  I haven’t experienced any Mencía from here yet, but it apparently has some respect.  In addition to Mencía, this region produces Garnacha Tintorera which is synonymous with Alicante Bouschet, the only teinturier that is vitis vinifera.  A teinturier is a grape that has red flesh and therefore produces wines with incredibly deep red color.  There’s your fun fact re: Valdeorras for today.

Ribeira Sacra is a DO that was created in 1996.  If I were Mencía, I’d want to grow up here.  The vineyards are on severely sloped sites along the said to be breath-takingly beautiful River Sil; this area is to Spain what the Mosel is to Germany.  The river grants a just-right cooling effect through the region producing wine with medium body, red fruit, minerality and fresh, natural grape acidity.

Bierzo’s vineyards are made of well-draining soils atop slate and granite amongst the Cantabrian Mountains at high altitudes of approximately 1,700ft.  As already mentioned, the wines from here were before, light and fruity but this was apparently because the grapes were overplanted in fertile soil thereby producing diluted juice. The “Petalos” 2008 that I have had from Palacios is not that in the least.  Rather, it is rich and earthy, spicy and full.

After tasting four different Mencías side by side, I recognize the varietal characteristics as being similar to Cab Franc in how it exudes a fresh red fruit, cider-like nose with some earthiness alongside it.  Above anything else when I smell and taste Cab Franc, I find a prominant green pepper aspect that is defnitely not present in Mencía, the earthiness here is more just simply dirt-like.  I like the grape a lot when it’s conditioned into a wine that is simply… well, Mencía.  Then, it is fresh yet full, red-fruit expressive with a generous amount of the best kind of acidity – the kind that isn’t noticeable but rather, simply cleanses your palate during the lingering finish.  The tannins are there and there’s quite a bit of them, but they’re balanced most pleasingly by the fruit, the earth, the acidity and the medium body.  I would drink an unoaked Mencía, such as the Viño do Burato with anything from my sister’s barbecue ribs to crispy, grilled little bird to smoked, peppery salmon.

A little on Champagne and sparkling wine made by the Traditional or Champenoise Methode… I’m sure you’ve heard – Dom Perignon invented it, right?  Wrong.  We owe some viticulture techniques and artful assemblage or blending techniques to him, but otherwise, he thought the sparkles were bad and spent many of his years at Abbey of Hautvillers trying to rid of the bubbles.  What about Widow (Veuve) Clicquot?  The mother of the bubs, right? While we can thank her for the likes of remuage, the technique of riddling, she and some of the other Champagne widows likely poisoned or suffocated their husbands in the early 1800s.  At least that’s the vibe that I get…

Anyway…

When it comes to wine style, terroir, single vineyards, obviously single vintages, cuvees, etc are prized across the world.  Champagne is greatly different, unless we’re talking about growers that have changed the last 20 years – many a Champagne houses made (and make) their reputation upon their house style.  Non-vintage champagnes are the most prevalent style of Champagnes and they are a blend of grapes (one, two or all three of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier), blend of vineyard areas and blend of vintages.  Champagne is one area of the old world where the process and decisions of the producers has as much to do with and is as important as where the grapes hail from.  Let’s break it down…

The Champenoise Methode or Methode Traditionnelle are the same save for the fact that Champagne can only come from eh ehm… Champagne.  Some of the ageing requirements vary also.  Otherwise, here’s my go at explaining this complicated process in an uncomplicated way:

- pick the grapes
- press very soon after, especially the black grapes to avoid that the juice acquire any color
- the first 2,050 liters is the vin de cuvée
- the following 500 l is the vin de taille and tends be richer in color and tannin
- allow the juice to settle for between eight and 15 hours, sediment will fall, then rack
- the must may or may not be chaptalized at this point
- primary fermentation occurs and results in a high acid wine that we’ll refer to as the base wine. Its abv is approximately 11%.  It takes place in either stainless steel or used barrels, some growers experiment with a percentage of new oak
- clarify the base wine by fining, filtering or centrifuge
- keep the base wine in the stainless steel or barrel until the following February or March
- blend. I’m talking grapes, vineyard areas, vintages. Some don’t do this.  Notably, Cedric Bouchard – he does single vintage, single varietal, single vineyards Champagnes.  But for those producing wines with a “house style” this is where the art of blending comes in.
- cold stabilize. maybe.
-  rack & bottle, add a mixture of wine, yeast & sugar called liqeuer de tirage to ignite the secondary fermentation that occurs in the bottle.
- secondary fermentation takes place for up eight weeks. Abv rises by 1.2 to 1.3%. About 5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure develops as a result of the CO2.
- while secondary ferm is happening, autolysis also occurs.  That’s the breakdown of dead yeast cells.
- age on the lees for a minimum (in Champagne ) of 12 months for non-vintage
- there’s all kinds of yeast cells in there now; we want to trap them in the neck and expel them. So…
- remuage or “riddling” = if old school or elite cuvee, lay the bottles sur latte (horizontal) in a pupitre. That’s a thing that looks like two doors leaning against one another in an “A” shape, holes in the side for all the bottles.  Over the course of 8 weeks or so, someone (with patience) rotates the bottles and tilts downward each bottle ever so delicately and precisely so that the yeast slowly gathers and falls into the neck. OR, use the Spanish-invented gyropallette: a machine that does the same thing over the course of I think 24 hours with 504 bottles at a time.

Patient French men.

- when the bottle is totally upside down it’s sur point.  Bollinger’s “RD” champagne is left like that for a long, long time, not moved into the next step of disgorgement until order. That’s cool.
- degorgement or “disgorgement”: dip the tip of the bottle into frozen brine solution to freeze the yeast cells. pop off the crown cap and the frozen portion will expel itself. some wine is lost during that step, so more is added.
- that’s called dosage.  It’s a combo of wine and sugar syrup.  here’s the chance of the house to further define their style and level of sugar.  There’s a big move for “non-dosage” wines these days.  I’ll touch on that in a sec.  Anyway, the level of dosage and grams of sugar that might be added determines the level of Champagne it is (extra brut, brut, extra dry, sec, demi-sec or doux). Brut is most common and the grams of sugar can be between 0 and 12.
- then put a cork and cage on it. The cage wire is twisted 6 times.
- non-vintage Champagnes must age 15 months in the bottle (this includes time sur lie)
- vintage must age 36 months

I quote below, one of my favorite wine writers yet again, Terry Theise, from his 2011 Champagne sales catalog in regards to the issue of dosage.  I can’t say it any better than him, and he cites a great example / experience:

“I opened my existing Champagne catalogue and saw I’d written a desperate note; ‘Must we talk about residual sugar any more?’  This is the inevitable downside of the Champenoise entering the current.’  In 2008 I detailed a revelatory tasting we did with Hebrart in which we looked at six different dosage options for his 2004 club, and learned what you always learn when you taste through different sweetness levels.  Sugar acts upon every other facet of the wine in unpredictable ways.  More sugar doesn’t invariably mean a greater sense of sweetness.  Sometimes the “sweeter” option tastes drier than the less sweet wine.

Among the trendy young growers there’s a sad tendency to see this question in obtusely broad strokes.  Less dosage is not always better.  It doesn’t make your wine more honest, more pure, more transparent, more sophisticated or more honorable; it just makes it more dry.  Among the many dubious things we owe the big Champagne houses is that they’ve poisoned the well by making their commercial bottlings treacly-sweet in order to mask the deficiencies of the base product, or because they presume their “market” wants the wines sweet.  And so we all beleive that less sweetness is more desirable.  First we let them dupe us, and then we duped ourselves.”

My tasting group’s bubbles tasting was great, we ended up with a good variety of styles and it prompted me to look further into bubble-related topics like decanting Champagne; more on that later.

Customers frequently ask me, well, “what’s your favorite wine?”  I can’t honestly answer that question as it is always changing, my encounters with wine ever-evolving as new styles, regions and varietals are introduced into my young wine world.  One consistent go-to, something that I am not always in the mood for by any means yet always enjoy sipping is Cabernet Franc and namely, Cabernet France from the Loire River Valley.  I like its myriad of fall fruit flavors, its brightness, lean, natural and garden-like greenness.  It is a full-bodied wine but is not heavy and it has flavors that harmonize with surprisingly to me, a great variety of dishes.

I began “Reading Between the Wines” yesterday by Terry Theise and can barely put it down to write this right now.  I have read bits of his sales catalogs on Champagne, Austria and Germany – great pieces that give the reader a just a glimpse into his exuberant passion and impeccable taste for wine.  The writing in those is bold and loud, funny, no bull-shit and good.  The book takes a on a more quiet tone but the passion is a fire burning as brightly as ever.  What I have read so far has impacted me greatly; in fact, it was exactly what I needed to hear as a pup in the wine trade.  A few months ago in the midst of taking the final course through ISG and starting my new job at Soul Wine I found myself so effing overwhelmed.  I was enjoying wine, loving it, but feeling frustrated and spastic, grasping to know more facts, aching to understand the theory and history better.  I was scolding myself for not being able to remember every single wine I tasted more clearly and pissed that I wasn’t born with a natural capacity to be able to read everything French in perfect form.  But that was not fun.  I tried to make myself chill out, to slow down and look at the big picture, to be patient and proud of myself for being where I am now – for moving 2,000 miles by myself with no job and having dropped way more money than I had on these classes to go for it, not even sure of what it was yet.  I have since calmed the fuck down and realize among other things, that this takes time, but still find myself getting wound up and anxious sometimes, hungry to get it more.  Theise speaks to this situation almost as if he was talking to me directly.  His reflection on his own history in the trade grants wholly sound and practically pharmaceutical advice regarding my conundrum.

“Wine is like a shy dog.  Lunge for it and it backs away.  Just sit still and it draws nearer.  Wine is less about what you can grasp than about how you can receive.  You grasp it more firmly if you grab it less tightly.  It will resist you if you insist on subduing it.  You can accumulate only so much knowledge in quantifiable bits, but you accumulate understanding if you learn to relax.  Wine doesn’t like being dominated.  It prefers being loved and wondered about.  It will do anything for you if you’re curious and grateful.” P. 19

I wish I had an encyclopedic type of memory but yeah, I discovered while pursuing my degree in art history that I am not one of those fortunate souls who can easily memorize facts layered on dates layered on facts layered on life, bummer.  I need to get the sense of things before I can accumulate the relevant facts in my head, because if the facts are there and I don’t really know which cabinet they go in, they’re pointless facts for me.  When I do get a grasp on the frame, then the names, soil types, histories, producers and tastes, all fall into place, and they stay.  It takes time.

That has nothing to do with Cab Franc, you say!  Well no, not exactly.  I have yet to even finish the book but I must tell you, the love and excitement that Theise has for everything wine is infectious, the writing is beautiful, the meanings are deep, his experiences are funny, ok…I need to stop- just read it… The point: Theise’s book sums up how much we should all be enjoying this.  I am one of the lucky individuals who get to make a living in the trade and that’s pretty damn cool.  That being said, I felt bogged down to prepare a long thing on Cab Franc for tasting group this week, so I have compiled some information, but more importantly, I wanted to share the aforementioned stuff.

Back to Cab Franc.  I love this grape.  It’s been around for a looooong time.  It was already known for producing wines of good quality in St.-Emilion and Pomerol by the end of the 1800s.  Around the same time, it was planted by an abbot named Breton in the town of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley.  There, “Breton” is still used as a synonym for Cabernet Franc and a producer, Catherine et Pierre Breton, make wine.  We tasted the Breton 2009 “La Dilattante” which is beautiful, a great stylistic contrast to other selections.  It is a powerful yet not heavy, memorable, but not loud wine.  It is replete with green aromas, the tannins are rich.  I had the remainder of the bottle the next night and it was even better, one of my favorite wines that I have had in the last year, I will say.  Anyway, Cabernet Franc is happy in cool, inland climates, grows in a variety of soil types but thrives in tuffeau, sand, clay and limestone found in Chinon and Bourgueil.  (The Breton wine we had is from Bourgueil.)  It is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon but is generally lighter in both color and tannin.

The Loire Valley is a long expanse stretching from the Atlantic Ocean east along France’s longest river, vineyards stretching across nearly 600km.  It is also called “la Jardin de la France” and is famous for is magnificent chateaux.  With 63 AOPs and so much land under vine, there are a myriad of wine varietals and styles produced here from Gamay to Muscadet to Chardonnay and beyond.  There are four not exactly official areas across its length, from west to east they are: Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine and Central Vineyards (referencing that they’re in the center of France, not the center of the Loire Valley).  We are visiting Anjou and Touraine for our Cab Franc focus.  The town of Saumur is famed for its miles of underground cellars, carved into the soft tuffeau soil.  A brooding contrast to the Breton wine we tasted was the Antoine Sanzay “Expression” 2008 from Saumur-Champigny.  This wine is big and muscular with a deep, dark purpley core, a thick mouthfeel, expressive pencil lead notes, and strong but fine tannin.  Very delicious, yet so different.

On the western edge of Touraine lie the three other appellations we are focusing on: Bourgueil, Chinon and St.-Nicolas de Bourgueil.  Chinon produces the more silky and tender Cab Francs from the sand and gravel based soils.  These wines are light (comparatively) and drink well young.  The softer, tuffeau soil adds more structure and some of this too, is found in Chinon.  Bourgueil is quite different – it has steep slopes and more limestone, these wines have muscle and can age for 10+ years, something that I surmise to be true of the Breton wine, even though this one is produced via carbonic maceration.

A touch more on the varietal itself: I had a magnificent birthday dinner recently.  One course consisted of collard greens alongside hanger steak over pickled seasonal vegetables.  We drank a Yannick Amirault (rapidly becoming a favorite Loire producer of mine) 2002 Bourgueil “Le Petite Cave”.  I took a bite of the dish and said, “This tastes like the wine.”  While tasting Cab Franc before, I hadn’t likened it to this before, but PICKLED VEGGIES is quite perfect.  It has the richness of the green produce, but the vinegar-y brightness of pickled-ness plus ripe, dark red fruits like Titan cherry, raspberry and blackberry combined.  I like this varietal because it possesses green leanness funkiness yet verbose ripeness of fruit at the same time.  I could give you a list longer than that of my descriptors of Gewürz, but I’ll refrain because you should find out for yourself, because it’s awesome.

Cheers.        

Alsace is a most interesting of areas from not just a wine perspective but food, language, culture and the umbrella over it all, historical point of view.  For centuries, the region has been traded between French and German hands with never-ending influence of traditions from both countries.  Today one will find an in-between of French and German language called “Alsacian” in French but “Elsassich” in German, similar to Swiss German, I believe and difficult for Germans to understand… But my brother-in-law is Swiss and he says it’s difficult for him to understand also… so hmm…  The cuisine is primarily German. Thank you Alsace, for the stink that is münster cheese (that wasn’t sarcasm), Foie Gras (kind of… ), and plates of choucroute where I anticipate thinly sliced modest servings of meat but instead encounter mounds of sausage and potato that seem to be straight from the butcher’s room.  The primary varietals are more German than French, but the wine style more French.  Confused? Just know this: Alsace wine world began a patchwork when it comes to everything: soil types, food types, language and more.  The whole evolved to be better than the sum of its parts; Alsace truly stands out as its own.  I find the wines to be incredibly distinctive, the terroir is bold, its wines are telling.  I can’t tell the grand crus apart blind, but do recognize the Alsatianaromas in a wine; a true marriage of varietal markers and strength of place.

 Strasbourg

Alsace is located in the northeastern portion of France, west of the Vosges Mountain range, one of the sunniest and driest regions of the country.  It is similar to eastern Washington in that it is protected by the rain shadow effect of its westerly mountains.  It is the smallest region in all of France with the Bas-Rhin being in the north (“bas” referring to the lower elevation of the mountain range as compared to the south) and Haut-Rhin being in the south where the Vosges are a bit taller.  The climate is semi-continental, the land is rolling and the best vineyard sites are on slopes facing south, east, or somewhere in between.

2009 was a “safe vintage” according to Olivier Humbrecht of the more than renowned Zind Humbrecht winery.  One will not find many bad wines from this vintage.  ’07 and ’08 gave a bit more tension, minerality and tightness in character; ’09 seems a bit looser.

The bottle is a “flute” or “wine of the Rhine” bottle with a long and thin neck, slender body.

Now on to the varietals that are deemed noble, those we shall taste:

Riesling:  Wonderful to drink with the mound of choucroute, pork-based dishes, fish and shellfish.  I love Riesling.  It is so much of everything: fat weight yet screaming acidity resulting in a silkiness on my palate; old things, earth and mustiness yet fresh fruit, citrus zest and crispness.  While researching Alsace I came across my new favorite word: ampelography: the field of botany concerned with the study of grapevines.  This website is more than fantastic, I gathered much of my information regarding this topic from there, including more than you probably care to know regarding the ampelography of all the varietals of Alsace.  Example: the leaves of Riesling from Alsace are orbicular and thick with medium serrated edges.  The berries have thick skin, are small, golden to light green with reddish freckles when mature.  I could go on, but I won’t because I want not that you stop reading.  Onto what it tastes like: lemon, grapefruit, peach, pear, white flowers, citronella (I like that), lime, salty, iodine (this is a major terroir thing that I get in other varietals too, not just Riesling), cumin, fennel, mineral, flint, petrol.  Zippy, racy, “rapier-like” acidity compounded by a round opulence.  Whether vinified dry or sweet, I find it oh-so-pleasing and feeling like no other varietal.

Pinot Gris: this is an aromatically complex wine that develops most notably, into a smokiness.  It’s originally from Burgundy and in Alsace has been called “Grauer Tokayer” then “Tokay Gris” then “Tokay d’Alsace” then “Tokay Pinot Gris” then finally just “Pinot Gris” as of 2007.  Whew.  It’s not as intense as Riesling, generally but is incredibly complex.  What it tastes like: dried fruits, apricot, honey¸ beeswax, gingerbread, mushroom, forest floor, burnt greens.  It feels more round with inherently less acidity than Riesling, has great substance and “lively roundness”, a slightly sweet opulence.  One way that I recognize Pinot Gris is by its color in the glass – it has a slight pinkish tone to it because its skins are grayish pink or sometimes grayish blue.

Muscat: also known as Muscat “a petits grains” or Muscat d’Alsace, this is most notably, amongst the hundreds of wine-producing grape varietals in the world, the one that smells grapey.  Wines from Muscat are straw in color with frequent hints of silver.  The nose is intense and with the grapey-ness you may smell some subtle floral notes.  It can be vinified sweet or dry, if it’s dry, it has a mouthfeel that’s like… a grape.  It often has some muskiness in there too.  Do you want to know the ampelography??  The grapes are round, medium in size with an amber-yellow color.  Muscat is one of the few wines that pairs well with asparagus.

Gewürztramier: the Grandma grape.  It smells like perfume, roses, popurri, gingerbread, soap… aka, Grandma.  It’s ferociously intense, very distinctive.  Gewurz is a particular selection (so what I gather from that, a clone) of what was once known as Traminer or Traminer Rose.  The word literally translates to “spicy traminer” which makes sense because you can oft pick up, amongst all the perfume and soap etc, a spiciness in the form of clove, maybe pepper.  The notes of Gewurz are a mile long, here’s a few more: orange peel, peppermint honey, lychee, passionfruit, mango, flowers, liquorice.  It is exuberant, full-bodied and round with generally, not a lot of acidity.  You taste everything you smell and more.  It’s funky fullness can be delectable with spicy dishes and strong cheese.  It too, can be vinified sweet or dry.

‘Das it for now.

If you only know Austria for the likes of Mozart, the govinator and the origination of the theory of the Oedipus complex, you are missing out.  Allow me to introduce you to Grüner Veltliner.  Yes, that is the name of a grape varietal.  I will simply deem it “Grüner” for this little spiel.  Forgive me if I forget an umlaut or two.

This white grape is grown in a few places around the world at this point, but its home is Austria where it is grown in nearly 1/3 of the country’s vineyard land. White varietals in general are dominant in the country, notably Riesling, Welschriesling and Weissburgunder followed by some reds such as Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. The climate in Austria is aggressively continental which serves the creation of intensely aromatic wines.  The most quality regions for Grüner are in the northeast, not far from Vienna where the Alps have given way to the Pannonian Plain comprised of a great variety of soil types and varying conditions.

Grüner is a crisp and dry white wine prized for its freshness and fruitiness.  It is full-bodied and amongst its fruit aromas and flavors you can often find a spicy or peppery note.  Grüner also has something altogether unique about its likeness… Hugh Johnson puts it best when he describes is at something between grapefruit and dill.  That’s perfect.  It really does have some herbaceousness about it but bright and lively fruitiness, the powerful forwardness of perfume and a full, bold body of substance.  The nose is… striking.  It’s salty, briny.  Also, chalk-like.  It feels like I’m smelling chalk when I smell Grüner.  Its aromas are invasive, penetrating.

Now a little about the regions.

The Wachau is the westernmost wine district, most inland and one of the smallest of Lower Austria, yet the most famous.  The wines from here are elegant and refined.  The vineyards are along the steep banks of the Danube River, facing south where the sunlight boldly reflects off of the broad river. Grüner does well in the lower banks in the loess and sand, so the topmost vineyards are reserved for the most nervy of Rieslings.  The mesoclimate here offers regulating influence of the water, supreme air circulation and a significant diurnal shift, resulting in wines with great acidity and preserved aroma.  Some wines from here have the capability of ageing spectacularly.  The oldest Grüner I’ve had from here is a 2000 Weingut Lagler “Elisabeth Selection” and it was gorgeous.  It was deep golden in color, remarkably fresh and fruit driven with subtle yet persistent acidity and miles of evolving flavor, pleasing in every way.  I fell a little bit harder for Grüner that night.


The Kremstal region is just east of Krems, adjoined to Wachau and the southern sister to Kamptal.  It has a very long wine history dating back to the middle ages.  The clay and limestone soils around Krems lead to Grüner with great density.  The Kamptal region is named after the river Kamp.  It is centered around the wine town of Langenlois and produces greatly concentrated Grüner and fine Rieslings.  It too is known for its loess soil type which is a clay and silt combination that is fine-grained, the result of wine deposits. It’s quite calcareous and contains many fossils and Grüner has an affinity for it.  Not far from the wine center of Langenlois is the exceptional producer, Schloss Gobelsburg.  I tasted the 2009 Kamptal Reserve and found it the perfect marriage of rich and luscious fruit with the striking and loud herbaceousness.  It was perfectly bright but full-bodied too.  The 2010 Stadt Krems from Kremstal was more fruit forward… I’m not sure if that is because it’s Kremstal or because of the vintage.  Thiese tells us that 2010 was a bit chilly in Austria but it seems to have resulted in just slightly higher acid than normal.  That said, the Stadt Krems is not more fruity just because of the year.  Kamptal is north and slightly east of Kremstal but because of the mountain protection to the north, it is almost two degrees warmer than Kremstal.  It is said to produce similarly dense Grüner but the south-flowing tributary of the Danube (the Kamp) that grants cooler temperatures at night and therefore more acidity and liveliness.  So, I’m not sure if Kremstal Grüners in general have more fruit than Kamptals but it is the case here and may be because of the effects of the Kamp.

The theme of our tasting group was Austrian Grüner but I threw in a twist; I wanted to see how a certain Washington Grüner stood up to all the Austrians. Here are my tasting notes:

- Bright, little greenness. nose: intense. brie. peaches, ripe. thyme. warm lemon. palate: big & full, great balance, ends zippy and tart. not much herbaceousness on the palate, luscious fruit, good, great all-over acidity.

Annnnd what was it? 2010 Syncline Grüner Veltliner from Underwood Mountain Vineyard, Columbia Gorge, WA.  I thought it stood up quite well to some of the Austrian gems we tried.

Our tasting group was bewildered by Tempranillo more than once so I’ve had a request to visit Ribera del Duero as a theme for tasting.  Before we do that, I want to have a red Rioja tasting because it is a great introduction to Spain that paints a good picture and foundation for the style and history of the country’s wine production.

The history of wine in Spain is long… I s’pose that’s why we call it history?  What I mean to say is that a lot has happened that shifted the modus operandi of the Spanish wine world is very significant ways many a time.

Deep breath, here’s the historical low-down:

Grapes were thought to be cultivated as long ago as in the 4th century BCE in Spain.  The Phoenicians farmed then the Romans the latter of whom introduced some fine farming techniques like pruning and viniculture techniques like ageing.  The ancient wine industry was just moving right along until the Moors took over from 711CE to 1492 and said that wine was no longer allowed.  Lots of vines were pulled up but some remained because grapes were still allowed for fruit and for juice (I bet some naughty Spaniards still made wine).  Then the reconquista occurred in 1492, the Catholic royalty embraced and encouraged wine production so now the industry was really booming.  Combine that with the fact that Spain prevented all of its colonies (which were many) from producing their own wine so they’d have to rely Spain.  Sherry was huge (based out of the very old port town of Jerez) and likely one of the first exports to North America.  Spanish wine was ruling!  But then… phylloxera.

Phylloxera: a root-feeding pest that only attacks grapevines first discovered in 1863 in France.  The yellow female who is about 1mm long lays a TON of eggs which then produce four to seven generations in one season.  By the time the damage is visible to us, it’s too late and the vine is ruined.  It took a significant amount of time and research to figure out how to deter this aphid.  The solution?  Graft the top part of the vine to rootstock from America.  American rootstock is resistant to phylloxera and just as this little pest has made its way around most of the grapevine growing world, so now has American rootstock.  There are some places that have pre-phylloxera vineyards that survived though.   There’s a lot more to the story, but there are the basics.

Phylloxera didn’t hit Spain until about 1901.  The solution to graft onto American rootstock had already been discovered but it still took a lot of time and resources and set the Spanish wine market back so some producers started producing cheap, bulk dross to get by.  Then there were the world wars.  The industry survived but was in a bleak condition until Fascist Franco established co-ops all over the country which helped in volume but not quality.  When Franco died and Spain entered the EU in 1975 things started looking up, the country took on a wine law system very similar to that in France, order was in place and quality was sought after.  There are around approximately 61 delineated areas of quality (look for “DO” on the label) and two slightly superior areas (DOCa): Priorat and Rioja.  Finally, I’m talking about Rioja.  I imagined my history snippet to well, a snippet.

Rioja is in North Central Spain hugging the Ebro River, it’s a large area geographically speaking and has about 57 hectares of vineyards.  Ripening grapes here is never really an issue because the mild continental climate combined with the influences of both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic oceans creates ideal conditions for our little grape friends.  The altitude is relatively high, higher than most all of France in fact but being further south latitude wise = lovely exposure to the sun.  Drought can be an issue however and when soils become dry, they cannot support a lot of vines at once.  Therefore, lots of vineyards in Spain including in Rioja are spaced quite widely apart and trained low to the ground.

The wine!  A typical Rioja red blend is about 70% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 7.5% Graciano and 7.5% Mazuelo. Tempranillo is prized for its finesse, great ageing capability and impressive aromatics.  Temprano means “early” in Spanish so the name is likely a reference to the fact that this grape ripens relatively early in the season.  It has flavor profiles like strawberry and raspberry, spice, leather and tobacco leaves.  Its life with oak introduces lots of other notes that we’ll get into. Garnacha is the same thing as French Grenache (though it has a longer history in Spain).  It is high yielding and produces wines with high alcohol.  Bad thing?  It oxidizes easily during production and ageing.  It marries wonderfully with the strength of Tempranillo.  Mazuelo is also called Cariñena (also the name of a town in NE Spain) which is the same thing as Carignan, a common blending grape in the Rhône. It produces wines that are high in acid, tannin, color and bitterness, hence using it in small amounts as a blending varietal. Graciano is a low-yielding grape that like Mazuelo, adds color but also adds intense perfume aromatics and depth to the fruit.

Oak: Before phylloxera entered the wine world, the Spanish were fermenting and ageing their wines in large barrels.  When France was devastated by the pest in the late 1800s a lot of vignerons made their way down to Spain and introduced small barrels to the winemaking style.  Around this same time the Spanish were trading goods with North America and so enter, American oak. There are three categories of red Rioja wine (broadly speaking) that we can encounter in the market today.  The first one being traditional: Quick fermentation then a long time in American oak and lots of ageing making wines that are light in color but have layers of flavor. American oak introduces bold aromas and flavors like dill pickle, sunscreen, toast, coconut and more, plus a big but soft mouthfeel.  Too much of this can be bad and make a wine very monolithic but if well-integrated it allows for a complex wine with varietal expression.  Some producers who have maintained the traditional style include López de Heredia, La Rioja Alta and Marqués de Murietta.  The second style is modern: use of French barrels is preferred to American, more Tempranillo is used (sometimes 100%), the wine is more extracted.  An example producer of this style is Marqués de Caraces.  There is also the post-modern: new oak is used (French or American), more wines are single vineyard, some international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon are included in the blend; this is true in the example of Marqués de Riscal. (Marqués de Riscal has a monumental winery and hotel [shown below] in Rioja that is designed by renowned designer, Frank Gehry,.  You may recognize this name from the Seattle Experience Music Museum, work at Millenium Park in Chicago and more.)

Ageing: I am not into wines that use lots of oak, new oak in particular.  Well-integrated oak with some of the ageing techniques of the Spanish though, and it’s a wine with distinctive style.  Something that sets many Spanish wine producers apart from other wines from around the world is the fact that they very often age their wines for extended periods of time before release.  A red wine labeled Crianza is at least two years old with a minimum of one year in cask.  A Reserva is three years old with at least one year in cask and a Gran Reserva is two years in cask followed by three years in bottle.  Hence, the red Riojas you can buy at your local wine shop are somtimes, some of the older ones on the shelves.

Some past tasting notes: dried plums. Rust. High tannin. Chewy. Dill. Black cherries. Stewed fruit. Prunes. Tobacco. Smoke. Black tea. Coconut. Strawberry, mocha. Toast. Cookies. Cranberry. Sunscreen musty. Toffee.  Sweet spice. Dried flowers. Jame. Clove. Orange peel. Fireside. Caramel. Cinnamon, vanilla. Figs. Fruit pie.

I didn’t mean to write that much.

1. clear, transparent. pale straw with hint of pink. looks like Pinot Grigio. Almost salmon, especially compared to the others. Nose: bright, ripe fruit. strawberry. orange peel. almonds. not a lot going on. more herbaceous as it opens. palate: rich & ripe at frist, punchy acidity that lessens and becomes prickly. no oak. apple flavors, pear, nice linger. balanced, but don’t love it. pleasant, fruity flavors. My guess: Friuli Answer: Friuli Pinot Grigio. woops. (didn’t write down the producer).

2. very yellow. kind of cloudy. nose: stone, smoke, celery, pepper, asparagus, blue cheese, fresh lemon. lots going on. thyme. palate: more acidic than #1. very bright. feels like apple skin but tartness is balanced by great rich fruit. stony, but strong. continuously refreshing and cool. acidity is smooth and gradually increases before dissipating. My guess: I already knew that this was my choice: ’05 Reverdy Sancerre

There are my actual notes for 3 and 4. mmm looks like they’re not easy to read, plus I already typed them up, so you get both. Maybe next week I’ll just snap photos with my actual camera instead of iphone so you can see my real life notes, swear words and all.

3. almost clear, super light yellow. medium viscosity. most intense nose so far. pink grapefruit. very pungent. asparagus. blue cheese. palate: all -over acidity. bright, clean. super citrus. acidity rises up quickly, very green apple taste. doesn’t linger long. acid sits on my gums. my guess: tough, but that’s the point, yes? this is so pungent and forward that it makes me think new world. but there’s also funk and green. i’ll venture to guess Collio. Answer: 2009 Sancerre

4. same visual as number 3 but lower viscosity. nose: ah! i smell 3 and 4 side by side and they smell the same, i swear, super pungent. ok, 4 might be more ripe fruit, less funk. still some blue cheese. it’s a little hot… capsicum for sure. the acid is gently all-over and rising. then vanishes. taste again: some bitterness for sure. some flint. the acid is lower in this than in #3. they are overall very similar. my guess: damn i don’t know. i’m not a big fan, i’ll say that but maybe all this acid is going to my mean. green apple skin… i’ll guess collio. or sancerre. well… at least i know it’s not pinot grigio. Answer: 2009 Pouilly Fume Regis Minet

5. Since we all brought French, we opened up a Felluga Russiz Superiore 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Collio: still, a very similar nose. gooseberry. some herbaceousness, stone, mashed banana, but pleasantly so. Delicious.

Sauvignon Blanc. Ahhhh, Sauvignon Blanc.  When I was first getting into wine I actually had this impression that Sauv Blanc was simple.  I was bored by its citrus flavors, high acidity and lack of length.  Well, let’s be honest here, I was very naive.  Before I launch into all things Sauv Blanc, I will take this opportunity to mention the problem of “not liking” any one varietal.  Working in the retail side of the wine business I frequently encounter customers who insist that they “don’t like Chardonnay” or “don’t like Merlot” for instance.  About 80 years ago this would’ve been very plausible because if you were drinking merlot, it was from Bordeaux and it was of a certain vinicultural style.  Today that is not the case.  Merlot (and Chardonnay even more so) is produced in so many countries and in so many styles that discounting the varietals entirely only limits one’s chance to taste amazing wines.  I understand why one may decide they don’t like any said varietal – they’ve tasted some that they didn’t care for.  But really, just because you don’t like Chard-oak-nay, don’t discount Chablis.  Please.

Ok.  Moving on…

I looked back over notebooks and notebooks of tasting notes from the previous couple of years.  Here are some descriptors of Sauvignon Blancs that I have encountered: Grapefruit. Stone. Orange peel. Tree fruit. Jalepeño. Cat pee. Aloe plant. Developing funk. Musty. Yellow apple. Green apple. So pungent. Smoke.  Piercing. Limestone. Green fruit. Green apple. Citrus. Grass. Freshly cut green pepper. Warm lemon. Zesty. Gooseberries. Pink grapefruit.

Sauv Blanc likely originated in Bordeaux.  DNA research in 1997 found that sometime during the 18th century it got together with Cabernet Franc and created… dah dada daHH! – Cabernet Sauvignon.  Don’t you like Sauvignon Blanc better already?? That’s why Sauv Blanc shares some aromatic similarities with the big and boldly structured Cab Sauv, namely the commonly found herbaceous quality that can be likened to green bell pepper.  Mmm delicious.  I am sipping a 2009 Domaine Cherrier Sancerre as I write this and it chock full of the green pepper flavor compound; a methoxypyrazine.  Some describe this compound as a negative.  It’s not.  If it’s rancid and over-powering then yes, yuck, it’s likely the result of underripe fruit and winemaking issues.  If it is present but well-integrated like this Domaine Cherrier is – I can smell white flowers, lemon, grapefruit, white stone all intermingled with the green pepper, then it’s quite heavenly.

Sauv Blanc is grown and produced in Bordeaux (blended with Semillion here), the Loire Valley, Northeastern Italy, Slovenia, Romania, New Zealand, California, Washington and beyond.  I want to delve into “old world” Sauv Blanc so at our tasting we are exploring the below:

Sancerre: Sancerre is a town located on the far eastern portion of the Loire River Valley in France.  It is nestled on the left bank where the river runs a north to south course; across the river is the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire.  Sancerre is more than just a town however, it is also a delineated wine region.  In fact, fourteen different villages in the vicinity are allowed to use the name “Sancerre” on their labels including Chavignol where lots of delicious goat cheese comes from.  Important factoid.  Pinot Noir is also produced in the region but moreso white and more specifically, our beloved Sauvignon Blanc.  The region has some varied soil types but is predominately limestone and clay.  Many vineyards (there are always exceptions) have a higher content of clay than its sister region of Pouilly-Fume, resulting more sturdy wines.  The area is comprised of a lot of south-facing slopes so sunlight is plentiful but the climate is pretty much continental giving a significant diurnal shift of temperature which is a very good thing.  The vini techniques are more oft than not, free of oak.  Sancerre grants us beautiful Sauvignon Blanc in all its natural glory – clean, crisp, bone dry, bright but strong with profiles of melon, gentle citrus, even acidity with great longevity on the palate.  These wines are most often best drunk within two years of harvest but again, there are exceptions.  Some producers are using Sauvignon Blanc clones from before the 1950s rather than modern clones.  The former are producing longer living wines with great ageing potential.

Pouilly-Fumé: Okay let’s set this somewhat confusing record straight: there’s a town on the right bank of the river, just across from the Sancerre region called Pouilly-sur-Loire.  Vineyards around here grow and produce wines from the Sauvignon Blanc variety but here, they like to call is Fume Blanc, so the wines are Pouilly-Fumé.  Got it?  Good.  There are always exceptions in wine (how about I mention this factoid in every paragraph, hm?) but what’s kind ofclassic about Pouilly-Fumé is the distinct aroma of gun flint in the wines.  “Huh??” Yeah, the soil is limestone and clay but also has a high proportion of clay-flint that is called silex.  This flint gives the wine a sometimes very prevalent smoky aroma likened to gun flint.  Even the locals have a hard time telling Sancerre from Pouilly-Fumé because they can be so strikingly similar, but some possible differences would be that Pouilly-Fumé will be more perfumed and can live longer.

Friuli: Also known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, this is the most northeasterly region of Italy bordering Austria and Slovenia.  Sounds like a supremely fabulous place to visit, eat and drink because it has intense influence of Italian, German and Slavic cultures all in one area.  The production of white wine here is king. There are all sorts of varietals thriving here from Müller-Thurgau to Merlot to Riesling to of course, Sauvignon Blanc.  The areas producing Sauv Blanc mostly have calcareous marl soils with sand and rocks.  The region of Collio is within Friuli, so read on to get more specifics.

Collio: Also known as Collio Goriziano.  This is one of my favorite regions for Italian white wine.  The world “collio” means hill, so guess what the region is like.  It’s hilly.  Collio focuses greatly on pristine, technologically advanced white wine making, all while maintaining what is natural to the terroir.  I find wines from here to be a little more subtle than those from the Loire Valley… I don’t have much to say about them quite yet.  Collio is very proximal to Slovenia and I enjoyed a bottle of Slovenian Sauv Blanc recently; it was very good, I likened it more to the extreme pungency of New Zealand Sauv Blanc over Sancerre. Eager to find out more.

Alto Adige: This very German-influenced region is west of Friuli in a very mountainous region and is named for the Adige river that flows through.  Lots of apples grow here too.  There’s a lot of Lagrein (a red varietal) grown here, along with Silvaner, Gewürztraminer and more.  Sauvignon Blanc production is not huge here but is said to be of great quality.

Mmkay let’s get a-tastin’.

Tasting notes, guesses and answers

1. Bright, vibrant core, pretty clear. Slightly tawny red. Medium+ viscosity. Nose: medium+ intensity, lots going on. cherry pie filling, hot – but i mean that in a good way, not like too much alcohol. rust. wet leaves. red apple flesh, ripe. palate: healthy, medium+ acidity. medium+ tannin. balanced. fleshy fruit, blood orange peel, lovely finish, great linger. wet leaves and cranberry. Guess: I knew this one was my pick. Answer: Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2008

2. Similar appearance but brighter, more red, less tawny. Medium viscosity. Nose: figs. Medium+ intensity. Lots goin’ on here too. Cigar smoke, cedar box, soy, fruit is secondary. Palate: oak tannin, tastes young but is smoother than number 1. Lots of red fruit.  Blood orange.  Don’t like it as much as #1. My guess: Chianti Rufina. Answer: Melini 2006 Chianti Classico

3. Very similar appearance to number 2 but medium+ viscosity.  Nose: older. Healthy. Browned red apples, strawberries, bonfire. Palate: Medium+ acidity, high tannin, lots of grape tannin. No oak. Lots of fruit, strawberries, chewy tannin. Browned apple skins. My guess: Rufina. Answer: Selvapiana 2009 Chianti Rufina

4. All light red, stains the class a bit, medium viscosity. Nose: Smells like number 2 a bit: cedar, cigar smoke. A little EA (ethyl acetate), raisins, pretty hot (as in too much alcohol), dried strawberries. Palate: bold. Medium+ acidity that lingers, drives through the rest of the wine, very alive. Hugging tannins, very drying especially around the gums but then fleshes out a bit, likely influence of oak. Lingers mostly on the gums, dries strawberries, cranberries, iron, leather, there is oak. My guess: Classico.. but modern?. Note: we had a WA state winemaker with us that evening that said, “now this is more the type of thing i like to drink!” Answer: Washington State, Covington Cellars Sangiovese (2008 I believe). Notes: I asked someone in the group to bring a Washingtion Sangio for a drastic comparison. Fun stuff.

5. Very deep red core, much darker than previous wines. Slight tawny rim, medium+viscosity. Nose: plums, cherry pie filling, figs, browned apples, baking spice, vanilla, living earth.  Palate: all-over tannin, oak for sure, a bit chewy, dried cherry, very bright, lovely acidity. My guess: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ’09. Answer: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2004

6. Medium+ viscosity, very dark, similar to number 5. Nose: very different! Pine needles, wet leather, old wood, saw dust. Palate: all-over tannin, oak, very smooth, gentle but still great acid and tannin, mellowed. Tertiary stuff for sure, so pretty. My guess: the oldest of the bunch. Answer: 2000 Brunello di Montalcino. p.s Thank you Janea, for this beauty of a wine.

7. Very light red, still vibrant, clean, young. Nose: bright, a little hot, cherry cough medicine but in the best way, orange peel, cedar, fire wood. Palate: cherries. different tannin…hugs the sides and gums instead of the tongue (usually signals oak to me vs. grape tannin, but this is still different). Very bright red fruit. Young, no oak. My guess: Rufina ’09. Anser: Isola e Olena 2007 Chianti Classico

Follow-up: I would like to eat pizza now.

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