Monday, August 22, 2016

An Unadorned Taste of Lodi's Old Vine Vineyards


I recently had the opportunity to taste The Lodi Native Project wines after an old vines tour of the area. In 2012, the Lodi Wine Grape Commission asked winemakers to make a more naked style of 100% Zinfandel wine from designated vineyard areas. These vintners were asked to create low intervention wines made with native yeasts, no new oak barrels, no fining or filtering and no adding acid or water to the wines. The goal was to give a true reflection of these special terroirs.

Wegat Vineyard sits on the west side of the Mokelumne River AVA. The vines were field grafted onto St Augustine rootstock in 1958. This wine is made by Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers. The vines here produce loose clusters with an intense fruit character. This wine had a fruity blueberry/blackberry flavor with an earthy touch of mushroom.

Stampede Vineyard is on the east side in the Clements Hills AVA. The vines are on their own rootstock in sandy loam soil and range from about 80-100 years of age. This wine was crafted by Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Wines, it is more structured, more tannic with cherry and red berry aromas and flavors.

Trulux Vineyard is located on the west side of the Mokelumne River AVA. The vines were originally planted on St Augustine rootstock in 1940's and were head trained and are now over 6 feet tall. The vines produce long loose clusters. The wine is made by Michael McCay of McCay Cellars and also has red fruit flavors but is more savory with dried herbs and a spicy nutmeg note in the finish.

Marian's Vineyard was planted in 1901 and the vines remain on their own roots. It is also located in the Mokelumne River AVA. It is currently farmed by father/son team Jerry and Bruce Fry, the vineyard was named after Jerry's mother. The wine is produced by Stuart Spencer at St Amant Winery. The well draining sandy soil helps to create a bolder Zinfandel with more concentrated dark fruit flavors. This wine was more floral with a slightly peppery finish.

Soucie Vineyard is also located in he Mokelumne River AVA. It is the most western and enjoys more of the cooling effects of the Delta Breeze. Sourced from a vineyard block planted in 1916, the vines are on their own roots in a fine silt soil. This wine was produced by Layne Montgomery of m2 Wines, it was a bit more lush and a little earthier.

Schmiedt Ranch is an 8 acre site located in the bend of the Mokelumne River. It was planted in 1918 and the vines are dry-farmed and sit on their original roots in deep sandy loam. This wine is by Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines, it has concentrated fruit flavors with a silky smooth feel and a long finish.

The next release is the 2014 vintage in November. A six-pack containing one of each is priced at $180 at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center. These wines are highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Livermore Valley AVA

The Livermore Valley AVA is situated in northern California’s Alameda County and has 3,400 vineyard acres. Terroir features include well-drained gravel-based soils and wide diurnal swings. These temperature shifts are created from both the early morning fog and the evening breezes that come in from San Francisco Bay which is located only 35 miles away. The valley is also distinctly oriented laying from west to east instead of the more typical north to south. This unique placement enables it to fully enjoy these daily maritime climatic advantages.

The AVA gets its name from Charles Livermore who planted the first grapevines for commercial production in the area in the 1840's. Recognition for the region would follow when Cresta Blanca Winery, owned by Secretary of the California Viticulture Commision, Charles Wetmore, won the grand prize at the 1889 Paris Exposition. This wine was the first from California to win in a tasting competition in France. Long before the Judgment of Paris was held, Livermore put America on the world wine map. 

Two other wineries founded during this same time period managed to stay in operation throughout prohibition and have continued to remain leaders in California wine production. They are Concannon and Wente Vineyards. Family members have run these without interruption to the present day. The contribution to California winemaking from each is tremendous. Currently, eighty percent of California's Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay plantings come from these two vineyards' clones.

Although more than twenty-five grape varieties are now being grown, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon remain the most important grapes in the region.

The valley now has over 50 wineries. The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association hosts numerous events and tasting experiences for consumers to enjoy throughout the year. With less than an hour drive from San Francisco, Livermore Valley is an ideal destination for your next California wine vacation.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Rías Baixas Albariño

One of the most important white wine grape varieties in Spain is Albariño. It makes a light to medium body wine that is fresh, crisp and elegant. The wines are typically a pale gold or lemon-yellow color. They are dry and aromatic and loaded with sweet fruit flavors including ripe peach, apricot, melon, pineapple and mango. They often have a floral honeysuckle element as well. They all share good natural acidity and may have a light mineral note. They are easy drinking with a light to medium body and moderate alcohol. 

The most important region for Albariño is Rias Baixas (pronounced Re-ass By-shass) which is located up in the northwestern corner of Spain near Portugal. The area is known as “Green Spain”. The climate is generally cooler than much of the country with plenty of rainfall. The Albariño variety does well in this terroir. The climate and soil are heavily influenced by the Atlantic as the vineyards lie along the  long coastal plains of Galicia bordering the ocean. 

Although the region allows twelve different grape varieties to be grown, Albariño is the most heavily cultivated. If the label says Rías Baixas Albariño then it is made from 100% Albariño grapes. Enjoy these Rias Baixas wines with simple seafood tapas or take-out Asian cuisine. Served chilled, they make a great end of summer sipper for our balmy Houston evenings.

2015 Fulget Rías Baixas Albariño* - This wine is a pale straw color in the  glass with fresh fruity aromas of citrus, apple and melon with dried herbs and a light honeysuckle note with crisp acidity and a long fruity finish. This family owned winery has some of the oldest Albariño vineyards in the region dating back to the 1970s. 


2014 Vionta Rías Baixas Albariño* - This wine is a pale yellow color with hints of gold. It has intense tropical fruit aromas with melon, peach and green apple, softer than the above but still with a pleasant acidity, it has a long, slightly tart peach finish. Bodega Vionta lies in the heart of the Salnés Valley. They strive to blend tradition with the best of modernity.

*Media Samples

Monday, August 1, 2016

Meeting Moldova

I was very excited to receive some Moldovan wine samples. Though I had never tasted any wines from the country, I had heard from numerous people "in the know" that these were going to be wines of interest. Moldova is located in southeastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine in the Black Sea Basin. It has a compelling story in the world of wine history.

Ancient artifacts discovered in the area prove that wine has been made in the region for over 5,000 years. Over the many centuries, a sophisticated wine industry developed including designated micro-zones for wine production by the early 1800's. Though the region was well-known throughout Europe as a source for premium wine, its history and reputation were not respected by everyone. Moldova lost numerous vineyards during Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol crusade before declaring its independence from the USSR in 1991.

For the last 25 years, Moldovan winemakers have been hard at work rebuilding and revitalizing the industry. There are now 276,000 acres of vineyards planted to both local and international varieties. Indigenous varieties include Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala, Feteasca Neagra, Rara Neagra, Plavai and Viorica. The historic wine regions have been reinvigorated and the government is now working to promote and protect the quality of the country's wine.

I appreciated my tastes of Moldova, I will be on the lookout for more.


Tasting Notes:

2013 Vinaria din Vale Feteasca Alba - Fresh fruity aromas and mouthwatering, juicy flavors of grapefruit, peach and pineapple with a savory note and a bit of nuttiness in the long, dry finish. Elegant, interesting and affordable. The grape's name "feteasca alba" translates to "white maiden". The grape is indigenous to the region but it is not heavily planted. The vineyards are in the historic Valul lui Traian located in the southwest of Moldova. I served it with grilled shrimp over pasta with a light asiago sauce.

2014 Chateau Purcari "Rosé de Purcari" - This bone-dry rosé was
fresh and fruity with raspberry, apricot and grapefruit with a slightly tart but pleasant finish. It is a blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot and Rara Neagra. This wine comes from the historic Stefan Voda sub-region located in the southeast of Moldova. Dry and fresh, Provencal in style, it is all you could want in an easy summer wine, I enjoyed it with pizza.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Loire Valley Chenin Blanc - Notes from a Lecture and Tasting

Jon-David Headrick was at Camerata Houston on Tuesday to educate local wine professionals on Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley and to participate in Houston's Loire Fest which is taking place all this month at local wine bars around town. He has a portfolio of wines called Jon-David Headrick Selections of which a portion were tasted during the lecture.

Most of his wines are organic or biodynamic. All of the grapes used in these wines were hand-harvested which Headrick says is less common in the Loire Valley than one might think. He chooses wines that have no oak treatment or were aged in neutral oak for an added textural component rather than as a major part of the flavor. He spoke of the massive diversity in the soil types of the region and how this diversity is particularly reflected in the single varietal wines.

The Loire Valley stretches from the Atlantic almost to Burgundy and the vineyards lie near the Loire River. Chenin Blanc is indigenous to the Loire Valley and is the grape used in the best white wines of the sub-regions of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur. It can be made in an array of styles: dry, sweet, still or sparkling. Chenin Blanc has naturally high acidity which not only lends itself to style diversity but also creates wines that age well.

The tasting began with two glasses of bubbles.
Jean-Francois Merieau "Bulles" Touraine Brut- The Touraine AOC lies along the river banks. The Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay grapes for this sparkler were sourced from a single village during a single vintage. Drier in the Brut range, with pear and citrus notes and a light mineral finish.
Louis de Grenelle Cremant de Loire  "Louis"- This sparkling wine comes from the Saumur region. It is made from Chenin Blanc, Chardonay and Cabernet Franc in almost equal parts. It is primarily from the 2012 vintage. Strong mineral character.

From the Chinon AOC, more well-known for their lighter red wines made from Cabernet Franc, this area also produces a small amount of rosé and white wine.
2015 Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc- White wines from Chinon are rare in the Houston market, this was my first one to try. Dry with fresh acidity with grapefruit and crushed seashell aromas and a lemon citrus finish.

Anjou is also a large sub-appellation in the Loire Valley with a diverse mix of soils and grapes. This newer dry, white style is both interesting and elegant. The following two selections are from a bio-dynamic producer and were some of my favorites from the tasting.
2014 Clos de l'Elu Anjou Blanc - Sweet honey aromas with a light nuttiness and a dry mineral finish.
2013 Clos de l'Elu Anjou Blanc "Ephata" - This wine was amphora aged. Dry with more floral honeysuckle aromas with pear and a saline mineral finish.

Wines from Savenniere are almost always dry. Historically, the region has been known for early harvesting before the grapes reach full maturity but some producers like the one below are now harvesting more in line with the neighboring regions and crafting wines with a riper fruit character. It was interesting to compare the two and consider how the younger vines would change.
2015 Damien Laureau Savennieres "La Petite Roche" - From a younger vineyard with slate, clay and sand with an average vine age of 8-10 years, this certified organic wine had light tropical notes with a dry, mineral finish.
2013 Damien Laureau Savennieres "Bel Ouvrage" - From a vineyard with a mix of sand and slate, the grapes were sourced from old vines and were aged in inert oak barrels giving the wine a richer texture and a savoriness to the grapefruit citrus nose and the dry, mineral-laced honey-flavored finish.

The wines from Vouvray are always 100% Chenin Blanc and always white but they can be found in the full range of styles. The vineyards primarily sit on soft Tuffeau, a porous chalky limestone soil that helps maintain acidity in the grapes. This high acidity can balance out the higher residual sugar which makes the wines seem fresher and more food friendly rather than dessert-like in style. It was interesting to compare the perception of sweetness to the actual amounts of residual sugar in the following wines.
2013 Domaine du Viking Sec Tendre - An off-dry style with higher acid, savory aromas, citrus and a chalky minerality; 16-18 g/l of residual sugar.
The following wines are demi-sec or semi-sweet in style with much higher residual sugar than the wine above.
1989 Domaine du Viking "Aurelie" Vouvray - This was a warmer vintage. The wine was matured in a combination of oak and chestnut barrels. Lime pith with rich honeyed flavors and a bit of wet wool in the finish.
1996 Domaine du Viking "Aurelie" Vouvray - The driest tasting of the three, baked pear and sweet ripe citrus notes, mineral finish; 80 g/l of residual sugar.
2002 Domaine du Viking "Aurelie" Vouvray - More vibrant with candied citrus, apple, and baking spice; 70 g/l of residual sugar.