Monday, March 26, 2012

Tasting Notes on some Austrian Wine

Gruner Veltliner is the most widely planted white grape variety in Austria. Lower Austria is the largest of the four main appellations.
2009 Fred Loimer LOIS Gruner Veltliner - Lower Austria  $17
Clear, pale lemon yellow color. Clean, medium intense youthful aromas of apricot and lime. Dry, Medium+ acidity, medium alcohol and medium- body with a medium grapefruit, white pepper finish. Good/drink now.
Kamptal and Wachau are  renowned areas for Gruner in Lower Austria due to the sun exposure on the terraced vineyards helping to achieve maximum ripening.
2009 Gruner by ETZ Kamptal
Clear, pale straw color. Clean, medium intense youthful aromas of grapefruit and pineapple.
Dry, medium acidity and alcohol with a medium- body and a medium length pineapple, grapefruit finish. Good/drink now.
Burgenland is a wine region is eastern Austria along the Hungarian border. In addition to making sweet wines, they produce some of the best Austrian dry red wine. Zwiegelt is the main black grape in Austria, it is a cross between Blaufrankisch and St Laurent.
2008 Trie Burgenland   $18
Clear, medium ruby. Clean, medium- developing aromas of undefinable red fruit and funk. Dry, medium- body, medium alcohol, acidity and tannin. Low flavor intensity/short finish. Not recommended, I am hopeful that this particular bottle is not an example of 'some of the best' Austrian dry red.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Estancia's Scott Kelley visits Houston

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to taste some of Estancia's current releases at Up restaurant with Estancia General Manager & Director of Winemaking Scott Kelley. We started with the 2009 Pinnacles Ranches Monterey Chardonnay with the tuna tartar and ceviche. As Scott had started with Estancia in 2007, this wine was overseen by him from start to finish. As a Monterey County native, he is passionate about the local terroir and making wines that reflect this sense of place. The Pinnacles Vineyard is on the east side of the Salinas Valley on the lower slopes of the Gabilan Mountains, this area is ideal for slowly and evenly ripening the grapes and bringing out the pineapple character. 50% of the grapes were fermented in stainless steel and 50% in oak of which 25% was new. The end result in my glass was a nicely balanced, full flavored, medium+ body, medium acidity wine with a medium+ length pina colada finish. A nice wine retailing for about $14.
Next, we tasted the 2010 Estancia Pinnacles Ranches Monterey Pinot Noir. The majority of the grapes come from the same vineyard area as the Chardonnay. The cool breezes from Monterey Bay help the grapes to retain their acidity and when coupled with the sunny granitic soil slopes create an ideal environment for growing Pinot Noir. The resulting wine was a fresh, fruit forward, well-balanced medium everything (tannins, acidity, etc) wine with a ripe red fruit, baking spice flavor and silky finish. Another nice wine at approximately $16. It also paired well with the tuna tartar.
The 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir is sourced from the Stonewall Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands which is located high above the Salinas Valley. The morning fog and afternoon breezes create a cool climate site with a long growing season. This, along with carefully selected rootstock and Pinot Noir clones (Pommard 4, Dijon 114 & 115) combined with the northeast exposure, well drained soils and low yields help to create a wine that is intensely flavored. Due to this wine's depth of color and flavor profile, I had to ask, "What about those rumors of Syrah being blended into some Pinot Noir in the Central Coast?" Scott's reply was definite, we were enjoying 100% Pinot Noir. Due to the terroir, it is easy to get very ripe grapes resulting in deep pigments, stronger flavor, higher tannins and alcohol; it is up to the winemaker to control those factors to get a more traditional style. My braised short rib sandwich had arrived to the table at this point and the wine worked well with it. This wine retails for about $30.
The final bottle was the 2008 Reserve Meritage from Paso Robles. Estancia is a founding member of the Meritage Society and is dedicated to making complex quality blends from Bordeaux grape varieties that reflect the terroir of Paso Robles and specifically the Keyes Canyon Ranch vineyard. The diurnal temperature range is more extreme than anywhere else in California, days are warm and sunny while nights are cool due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean; the result is a rich, intensely flavored wine. The blend for this bottling is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 11% Petit Verdot which spent 14 months in a combination of both French and American oak of which 40% was new. The result- rich flavors of ripe black fruit, dark chocolate and a strong graphite or pencil box character. Full body, medium+ acidity, alcohol and ripe tannins with a long finish. It was quite nice with my sandwich as well and it retails for about $30 a bottle.  
Over lunch, we also talked about his efforts at sustainability both in the winery and in the vineyard. The tractors are run on bio diesel fuel which is created locally and is actually cheaper to use than regular fuel. 85% of herbicide usage has been eliminated with specialized tilling equipment. Water usage is carefully monitored and 75% of the winery's energy needs are provided by solar power. Scott Kelley is committed to making Estancia a role model for environmental stewardship, respecting both the land and the people who live there. It isn't just where his job is at, it's his hometown and he truly wants to preserve the bounty that Monterey offers for the generations who will follow while still making some very enjoyable wines.          

Monday, March 19, 2012

Two Classic Hungarian Wines

My sister lived in Budapest for over a decade so I feel like I should know a little more about Hungarian wines than I do. She brought wine back on her twice yearly visits but we knew less about wine then than we do now so often times we were surprised by whatever may be inside, sometimes it was good and sometimes it was just scary. The grape varieties were usually something that we were unfamiliar with and wine styles seemed to vary quite a bit as well. It was definitely always interesting.

When studying the wines of Hungary, there is always a focus on two of their historically famous wines. The first is the red wine Egri Bikaver or "Bulls Blood" from Eger which is located north east of Lake Balaton. Traditionally, it was a full-bodied wine from the Kekfrankos and Kadarka grapes but newer more modern versions are also being made in a lighter style for both body and tannins and are less expensive in price. These newer versions are often made from the traditional Kekfrankos (aka Blaufrankisch) but with Cabernet Sauvignon instead of the Kadarka.
2008 Egervin Bulls Blood Original Egri Bikaver
Clear, medium purple color. Clean, light developing aromas of black pepper and black fruit. Dry, medium body and alcohol, medium+ tannins and acidity, medium- finish. Structure somewhat overwhelms the low intensity rustic flavor. Acceptable+

The other focus is the sweet wines of Tokaji, a region in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains along the Slovakian border. The three main grapes are Furmint, Harslevelu and Sarga Muscotaly (Muscat Blanc). At harvest, grapes are sorted into three categories, the ones that are botrytis affected are used to make Tokaji Aszu. The level of sweetness is reflected in the puttunyo measurement with 3 as the lowest sugar level and 6 as the highest. The bottle pictured is 5 Puttonyos, which means it must have a minimum of 120 grams per liter of residual sugar.          

2006 Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos
Clear light amber color. Clean, medium developing aromas of honey, citrus blossom, apricot and almond. Sweet, full body, light alcohol, medium+ acidity with a long white raisin and honey finish. Very good/ drink or hold.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Few Notes on Southern France

Together, Languedoc and Roussillon, make up the largest wine region in Southern France. Long considered France's bulk wine region, an emphasis on identifying terroir and on quality production has been changing that image.
2009 Rives-Blanques Sauvageon Pay d'Oc   $11
Clear, pale golden color. Clean medium youthful aromas of peach and lime. Dry, medium+ acidity, medium alcohol and body, medium- finish. Good/ drink now-not intended for aging.
The Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes is in the western part of the Vin De Pays D'Oc region. Located within the Pyrénees, the area has a strong Spanish influence. The red wines are typically Grenache-based. 
2005 Domaine Gilles Troullier VdP des Cotes Catalanes $12
Clear deep ruby. A bit of volatile acidity that dissapated fairly quickly, Medium intense developed aromas of cigar box, pencil box and cherry medicine. Dry, medium+ body, alcohol, acidity and finish with high tannins. Good (a bit overextracted)/ drink now.
The large area of Costieres de Nimes lies on the dividing line of the Rhone and the Languedoc regions. Administratively, it is part of the Rhone but culturally, it is part of the Languedoc. The gravel soil known as Gres is unique to the area.
2007 Domaine de Saint-Antoine Syrah Costieres de Nimes     $10
Clear deep garnet going brickish on the rim. Clean, medium- aromas of ripe black and red fruit. Dry, all structure, low flavor intensity. Make Sangria out of it.

Related Posts:
Notes from a "Wines of Southern France" Tasting
Tasting the Languedoc

Friday, March 16, 2012

Some Notes on the Southern Rhone

The Southern Rhone extends from Montelimar to Nimes. The climate is Mediterranean. The vineyards are not all flanking the river as in the north, some spread out close to 50 miles. The wines are typically blended.
The Cotes du Rhone AOC is regional, the grapes may be sourced from anywhere in the designated zone which includes both the Northern and Southern sub-regions, although 95% of the production is in the south. For this review, I am looking at the red wine which is 95% of their production. Grenache must make up a minimum of 40% of the blend, Syrah and/or Mourvedre up to 60% and up to 30% Carignan, Cinsault and the many other approved grapes. They are looking to make a wine that can be consumed upon release.

2009 Ferraton Pere & Fils Samorens Cote du Rhone   $10
Clear deep ruby color with clean medium- intense youthful aromas of red fruit and lavender. Dry, medium+ acidity, medium tannins, body and alcohol with cassis and a cherry syrup character. Simple, good, drink now.
The next level up is the Cotes du Rhone Villages and then the Cotes du Rhone Villages + Village Name. The wines at this level are more complex and work well with varied cuisine. The next quality level up are the Southern Crus. From north to south, they are Vinsobres, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, Rasteau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac and Tavel.

Starting with Gigondas, a cooler area of the Southern Rhone, known for powerful rustic red wine. The blend must contain a maximum of 80% Grenache with a minimum of 15% Syrah (the rest can be any of the many approved grapes). They also produce a small amount of rose but no white wine.
2007 Perrin & Fils La Gille Gigondas   $30
(80% Grenache/20% Syrah)
Clear deep ruby with a brick rim. Clean, medium developing aromas of ripe black fruit and black olive tapenade. Dry, medium+ body, alcohol, tannins and acidity with flavors mirroring the aromas with a medium finish. Good/Drink now.
2008 Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas  $30
Clear, medium+ ruby going garnet at rim. Clean, developing aromas of black cherry, red plum, smoke and thyme. Dry, medium+ body, alcohol, tannins with medium acidity and flavors similar to the aromas with a medium+ finish. Very good/ drink now.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the most well-known of the communal appellations for both historical and quality reasons and of course for the famous soil, galet stones over sand and clay. Over 90% of the production is red wine which is Grenache based and can be blended with 12 additional grapes. There is a wide range of styles. The white wine is Grenache Blanc based with the addition of Clairette, Bourbelenc, Rousanne and others.
2009 Chateau Mont-Redon Chateauneuf-du-Pape  $30
Clear pale straw color with clean light youthful aromas of peach. Dry, medium+ acid, medium body and alcohol with a short neutral tasting finish. Acceptable.
2009 Feraud-Brunel Chateauneuf-du-Pape  $30
Clear medium ruby with clean medium+ intense developing aromas of smoked meat, cherry syrup and licorice. Dry, medium+ tannins, acid, alcohol, body and finish. Good+/drink now.
2005 Cuvee Bargeton Chateauneuf-du-Pape $60
Clear pale ruby with clean medium intense developing aromas of mixed dried red and black fruit with mint and leather. Dry, medium+ acidity and tannins and medium alcohol, body and length with flavors of raisins, vanilla, cold cuts and black olives. Very good/ drink now.





Related Posts:
Notes on the Northern Rhone
Notes from a Rhone Valley Tasting

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"The Merroir Experience"

As a native Houstonian, I have eaten a lot of Gulf Coast seafood over the years without putting too much thought into it (aside from when I was watching oil flooding the Gulf, courtesy of BP). When I was young, my family spent time in Galveston every summer fishing and crabbing and eating whatever was caught. As an adult I sent my kids to Seacamp in Galveston where they went out on an oyster trawler at 10 years old to haul in oysters, learn to shuck them and then have oyster eating contests on board; this was construed as fun not as child labor, by the way.
The first time I had oysters from elsewhere, I was surprised at how small, flat and briny they were by comparison but again I had not really thought about why they were different other than the water was colder than it was here. I also hadn't really considered location mattering within the Gulf. Well, all that has changed now after attending the "Merroir Experience" yesterday at the Oceanaire restaurant in the Galleria. Texas food guru, Robb Walsh*, author of Sex, Death and Oysters, led a wine and oyster pairing seminar in conjuction with Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini of Barone-Fini Wines, Marco DiGiulio-winemaker for Girard and Matthew Mitchell- winemaker of The Crossings.


The tasting started with oysters from Trinity Bay's Resignation Reef, one of the named oyster appellations of Galveston Bay. The Trinity River feeds this northeast corner of the bay which brings fresh water and nutrients to the oysters causing them to become fat, soft, sweet and creamy. The oysters from this reef were paired with 2010 Girard Sauvignon Blanc from Napa and 2010 Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio. Both of these wines worked well with the oysters, the Sauvignon Blanc's light tropical flavors complemented the oyster's natural sweetness while the Pinot Grigio's minerality was refreshing.
Next up were Point aux Pins oysters from Grand Bay, Alabama, paired with 2011 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc from Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand, and 2009 Girard Russian River Valley Chardonnay. I found these oysters to be a little on the gritty side. I found this Sauv Blanc to be a little overwhelming with the oysters though I am sure it may be enjoyable alone. I was somewhat surprised that I enjoyed the buttery, oaked Chardonnay as much as I did with the raw oyster, the lemon-butter flavors complemented my oyster while the light tannins from the wood aging worked with the creamy/fattiness of it.
The final round were the Pepper Grove oysters from one of the oldest and best reefs in Galveston's East Bay. There is less freshwater here which makes these some of Texas' briniest and they were definitely my favorite. The wines for this pairing were the 2009 Barone Fini Alto Adige Pinot Grigio and 2009 The Crossings Unoaked Chardonnay. I expected this Chardonnay to work really well but was surprised by the funkiness in the aromatics which was too distracting to enjoy. This Pinot Grigio was partially oak-aged but was still refreshing with a nice light fennel quality.
What did I learn? Merroir is as important to oyster flavor and quality as Terroir is to wine.
There are many palatable pairings for freshly shucked raw oysters beyond the classic Champagne and Muscadet, or of course the Texas favorite, a bucket full of ice cold bottled beer.
The fun is in the search not only for the perfect wine but also for the perfect oyster. It is nice to know that the future is looking good for Texas Wild Oysters.

* Texas Eats a new book by Robb Walsh, is an encyclopedia of Texas Cuisine and is on sale now.