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.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Learning the Art of Living Sicilianly with Lucio Matricardi

Lucio Matricardi, the winemaker for Stemmari, was in Houston at Coppa Osteria last month to introduce the Stemmari line of wines to a group of Houston writers. He spoke passionately about the many changes that have been taking place in Sicily regarding winemaking. He explained how the generations before him focused on the easily exportable Marsala cooking wine while younger generations on the island are now focusing on making higher quality dry wines. 

He believes the climate and terroir lend themselves to more natural and sustainable vineyard practices. He says he is interested in making wines that he, himself, wants to drink.  Enjoying wine with meals is part of Sicily’s culture, it is part of “the art living Sicilianly”, according to Matricardi, and he wants his wine to be at the same quality level as the produce he would choose for his meals. 

Across the region, growers and winemakers are committed to using the most modern winemaking techniques to best showcase their indigenous varieties while still respecting the land from which the grapes were grown. 

I really enjoyed meeting Lucio and felt his zeal was reflected in the wines we tried. We enjoyed our tasting over an array of delicious shared appetizers and a selected entree. The atmosphere was lively. I recommend that you look for the wines from Stemmari and try living Sicilianly this summer, too!

The Wines:
The first two wines are made from 100% Grillo grapes grown on the sunny, sandy soils of Acate in the province of Ragusa in Sicily’s southeast. This native Sicilian variety was historically used in the production of Marsala, these first two wines show its versatility. 
Stemmari Baci Vivaci - This spritzy, aromatic wine has light floral aromas with fruity flavors and a pleasant mineral note in the finish. Served chilled, this affordable, light wine would make a great party wine. Tasty with all our appetizers and my grilled fish, it is sold exclusively at HEB.
2014 Stemmari Grillo - This wine is a dry, medium-body white with light floral jasmine aromas and rich tropical flavors. It was also very nice with the appetizers and my dinner. Available at Spec's.

Made from the indigenous Nero d'Avola grape variety also grown in the Ragusa province.
2014 Stemmari Rosé-  This wine had aromas and flavors of ripe strawberries with a light fruity finish. Easy drinking and delightful with everything on the table.

Also made from indigenous Nero d'Avola grapes, these were grown in Sambuca di Sicilia in the province of Agrigento, an area known for creating more intense reds.
2014 Stemmari Nero d'Avola - Velvety smooth and rich with intense strawberry and blackberry aromas and flavors, particularly delicious with the eggplant caponata.

Two blends-
2013 Stemmari Dalila - An aromatic blend of Grillo and Viognier, this medium body white has sweet aromas of tropical fruit, honey and vanilla.
2010 Stemmari Cantodoro - This medium body red blend is made primarily from Nero d'Avola with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon for more structure. It has pronounced mixed dark berry aromas with notes of licorice and vanilla from the longer oak aging.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2011 Malabrigo Tempranillo

Last night, we enjoyed a #TempranilloTuesday at home with grilled pork chops and a bottle of the 2011 Malabrigo by Bodegas Cepa 21 from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. Only 5,000 bottles of this wine were produced. 

It is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, also known as Tinto Fino, sourced from the clay and loam soils of the Castrillo de Duero village. This vineyard area is one of the highest elevations and coolest parts of the Ribera del Duero wine region which gives the grapes a longer time to fully ripen while allowing them to retain their acidity.

More elegant than some Ribera del Duero wines, this well-structured dry red has a full body, good acidity and silky tannins with blackberry and licorice flavors, a hint of smoky cedar and a long, spicy white pepper finish, very delectable and highly recommended.

Although the wine was delicious with our meal, after opening and tasting the wine, I wished I had served it with Texas brisket. The finish on this wine makes you crave "burnt ends".

This bottle was a media sample, it has a suggested retail price of $70.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

On the wine list: 2013 Faury Cote-Rotie

Recommended to our table by Steven McDonald, the wine director at the original Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, this northern Rhone red from the Cote-Rotie sub-region did not disappoint. This blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier is produced by the artisanal father/son team at Domaine Faury and are carefully aged in a mix of mostly neutral barrels in various sizes.

Rustic elegance are the key words when describing this wine. Full body, smoky red berry flavor and a long, stony mineral finish, delicious and recommended.