Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Alto Adige: Taste Italian Wines at Their Peak" - My Notes from a Seminar and Tasting

Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser moderated an Alto Adige winery panel last week in Houston with speakers Armin Gratl of Cantina Valle Isarco, Andi Punter of Franz Haas and Kathrin Werth of Muri-Gries Wine Estate and Monastery Cellar.

These are my notes from the "Alto Adige: Taste Italian Wines at Their Peak" seminar and tasting.

The Wines:

The first two hail from Italy's northernmost wine growing zone, Valle Isarco, which is home to 860 acres of vineyards set at steep elevations of 1312 to 3117 feet, they are densely planted and terraced. The mica schist and sandy gravel soils of the area add a mineral component to the wines while the Alpine influence enhances the purity. White wine makes of 95% of production, Muller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer are important grapes along with Sylvaner and Kerner.

Alto Adige Valle Isarco Sylvaner DOC Aristos 2015 by Cantina Valle Isarco -  Lively aromas and flavors of melon and apricot with a distinct mineralty that Gaiser called "classic to the area". 14% ABV

Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner DOC 2016 by Abbazia di Novacella - Fresh, elegant with green apple, citrus and a mineral-laced finish. 14.1% ABV

The next were from the central Adige Valley which is located between Bolzano and Merano and has 637 vineyard acres at elevations of 820 to 2953 feet. In this area there are grapes on the hills and apples in the valleys. The hillside grapes are on red porphyry soils, some limestone areas and sandy loam at lower levels. 63% of the production is for white wines from Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc with the reds made primarily from Schiava and Lagrein.

Alto Adige Pinot Bianco DOC Sirmian 2015 by Nals Margreid - Clean and elegant with apricot, stony notes and a slight bitterness in the finish. 13.5% ABV

Alto Adige Terlano Sauvignon DOC Quarz 2015 by Cantina Terlano - Interesting profile for a Sauvignon Blanc, more saline minerality, subtle fruit, slightly citrus finish. 14% ABV

The next two were from the Oltradige zone where Lago di Caldaro sits in the heart of the hilly 4156 vineyard acres sitting at elevations ranging from
984 to 2297 feet above sea level on limestone and porphyry soils. The wine production here is more balanced with 56% white and 44% red wine made, grapes include Schiava, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer.

Alto Adige Pinot Grigio DOC Anger 2016 by Cantina Produttori San Michele Appiano - The name Anger translates to "a piece of land near home". Gaiser commeneted that it was "all about the lees contact with this wine" which gave it "balance, intensity and lift." Bright, fresh aromas of green apple and pear with a light bitter note in the finish.

Alto Adige Lago di Caldaro Scelto Classico DOC Bischofsleiten 2015 by Castel Sallegg - This wine's name is due to its historic site, the former home of the Bishops of Trentino. Intense raspberry, smooth, pure.

From Bolzano's 1695 vineyard acres set at elevations of 820 to 2953 feet on primarily porphyry soils with gravel on slopes and alluvial on the valley floor, one finds more red wine, it is produced at 70% to the only 30% white. This is due to the warm sunny micro-climate caused by the protection of the mountains and the temperature moderation from the Adige and Isarco Rivers. Schiava, Lagrein, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc are the main grapes in this zone.

Alto Adige Santa Maddalena Classico DOC  Huck am Bach 2015 - This label has existed since 1919. The grapes come from the hilltops, 90% Schiava and 10% Lagrein and are co-fermented. Interesting, tart berries, lingering spice note.

Alto Adige Lagrein Riserva DOC Abtei Muri 2014 by Muri-Gries Wine Estate/Monastery Cellar - A valley floor vineyard with old vines from 1933 still trained to the Pergola System and younger vines now being trained in the Guyot method. Gaiser proclaimed it, "A great food wine that more people should be pouring." Ripe dark berries, chocolate, long finish.

Bassa Atesina is the home of the next two wines. The southern warmer zone in the lower part of Alto Adige is influenced by the mild temperatures of Lake Garda. The largest of the growing zones at 4618 acres with vineyards sitting at elevations of 656 to 3773 feet on mixed soils of limestone, dolomite, loamy rubble, along with sandy marl in the south. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir are important grapes in this area though there is also Chardonnay, Schiava and Gewürztraminer continues to thrive in its homeland of Tramine.  67% of the zone's production is white.

Alto Adige Pinot Nero DOC 2014 by Franz Haas - Punter shared that Pinot Noir had been in the region since the 1860's. It is 1/3 of the production at this private estate. Fresh aromas and flavors of red cherry, forest floor with a lingering mineral-laced finish. Both elegant and pleasantly easy, it was a crowd favorite at the tasting.

Alto Adige Gewürztraminer DOC Kastelaz 2013 by Elena Walch - Modern production methods
including cold maceration, temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation and cultured yeast created a dry, fresh, higher acid Gewürztraminer with all the classic aromas and flavors, lovely.

Excellent wines, all are recommended!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Beast Columbia Valley Wildebeest Red Wine 2010

Sample of the week - Beast Columbia Valley Wildebeest Red Wine 2010

Smooth and juicy with ripe raspberry aromas and flavors with a touch of dried herbs and a bit of a savory note in the fruit-filled finish. Fresh, succulent and delicious! 14% ABV

This red wine comes from the Columbia Valley in Washington state. It is a blend of 77% Syrah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc. Delicious with hamburgers fresh off the grill.

Highly recommended, approximately $30.

Media Sample.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Natura Rosé 2016

Happy Earth Day!

Celebrate this year by Rosé-ing all day with Natura Rosé 2016  sourced from Chile's Rapel Valley.

This refreshing blend of organically grown Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is fresh and easy-going with bright cherry/berry aromas and flavors and a gravelly mineral note in the lingering fruity finish. Tasty with a variety of menu items from sushi to mild cheeses, it is also easy to enjoy alone as an aperitif. With it's only 12% ABV, it makes an excellent patio sipper.

Light, pleasant, delicious and priced at only $10 a bottle, it is highly recommended as the perfect organic wine to Rosé with now and on through the summer!

*Media Sample

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dreaming Tree Crush Red Blend 2014

The Dreaming Tree Crush California Red Blend 2014 is the sample of the week. 
Jammy berry flavors invite you back for another sip of this easy drinking red blend; soft, smooth and welcoming.  Affordably priced at $15 and with a moderate 13.7% ABV, I like it for Sunday afternoon with the extended family. Delicious with pasta with spicy red sauce or barbecue.

A product of a partnership between musician, Dave Matthews, and winemaker, Sean McKenzie, this sustainably-made wine was created to showcase the beauty and ease of life in California wine country. It is a blend of 64% Merlot, 20% Petite Sirah, 13% Zinfandel and 3% other grapes primarily sourced from the North Coast. Their labels are made from recycled paper and the wine is packaged in lighter bottles. 

 *Media Sample

Monday, April 10, 2017

Boom Boom! Syrah 2015

The Boom Boom! Syrah 2015 by Charles Smith Wines is the sample of the week.

Explosive aromas and juicy flavors of cranberry and blackberries with zippy white pepper energize this wine while the smooth tannins and moderate alcohol (13.5% ABV) make this an easy drinking anytime red. Reasonably priced at approximately $17.99 a bottle and delicious with grilled pork chops.

This wine is made from 97% Syrah and 3% Viognier sourced from Colombia Valley in Washington State. The grapes were co-fermented and the wine was aged in neutral barrels on the lees. The grapes come from five different vineyards with unique terroirs which harmoniously blend into a fresh and interesting red wine. All of the vineyards are farmed using sustainable practices such as using recycled water. Enjoy this wine on Earth Day and beyond!

*Media Sample

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Famiglie d'Amarone d'Arte: quality Amarone producers unite!" - Notes from the Houston Tasting

Elise Vandenberg presented "Famiglie d'Amarone d'Arte: quality Amarone producers unite!" to a full room last month at Taste of Italy - Houston 2017 with help from local Vinitaly Ambassador, Jeremy Parzen.

Amarone della Valpolicella wines come from the Valpolicella wine region which is located outside of historic Verona near Lake Garda in northeastern Italy. Vandenberg opened with the relatively short history of the wine. The area has long been known for its sweet version, a passito wine called Recioto della Valpolicella. This wine is believed to have been around since the Roman era while the first commercial release of an Amarone wine would not take place until the 1950's when a winemaker unintentionally left some of the Recioto fermenting until it was fully dry, accidentally giving birth to a new wine style for the region.

The production method used to make this style of wine is what makes Amarone unique but it also adds to its expense. These wines require more grapes per bottle, lots of handwork, more space and a longer creation time which all add to the cost.

Traditionally, the grapes were dried on straw mats for three to four months until almost 40% of the weight was lost, nowadays, plastic bins are also commonly used. This process concentrates the flavors and sugars leading to a typically intensely nuanced, higher alcohol wine.

After a discussion which included an overview of the terroir of Valipolicella, the unique red grapes and the production methods, attendees tasted twelve Amarone wines from a group of quality-conscious producers from the region whose stated goal is to be "guardians of tradition".

The Wines:

2012 was a hot summer with very little rain which led to lower yields from drought stress.
These Classico wines have a minimum aging requirement of two years after the grapes are pressed.

Allegrini - Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 - Sweet aromas of cherry, blackberry, raisin, and fennel. Dry, lush, full bodied, with similar flavors and a lingering licorice-laced finish. Parzen stated his opinion that of all the wines we would be tasting today, this one was "a little more modern-leaning." 15.5% ABV.

Begali -Monte Ca' Bianca Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 - With only 200 cases or so made in the best vintages, this single vineyard wine was one of the smallest production wines in the tasting. Lighter aromas of black fruit, baking spices-cinnamon and nutmeg with a bigger structure, a bit more tannic. Parzen said he felt this one was made in "a very traditional style". 15.5% ABV.

Speri -Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 - Also a single vineyard wine, the grapes went through a longer drying time losing 42% of their volume creating a dry wine with  intense fruit and spice with a smooth peppery finish. In regards to this wine Parzen stated, "It's really alive, a big wine, I'm enjoying it!" while Vandenberg said the spicy nuance danced on her tongue. 15%ABV.

Tommasi - Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 - More mouth-watering with dried cherry and bramble berry, tobacco and light geranium notes, dry with velvety smooth finish. Vandenberg pronounced "it's a very nice wine, really delicious." 15% ABV.

Zenato - Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2012 - More subtle nose, slightly smoky bramble berry flavors in the smooth finish. Vandenberg made the point with this wine that despite the higher alcohol content, it remained very balanced because it was so well-integrated. 16.5% ABV.

2011 was a cooler year for the region other than a late August heatwave which brought about an early harvest.

Brigaldara - Case Vecie Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2011 - This wine comes from a higher altitude vineyard which had a later harvest. It has red cherry aromas and flavors with leather notes and a mineral nuance in the slightly tart finish. 16.5% ABV.

Guerrieri Rizzardi - Calcarole Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2011 - Dry with sweet red cherry aromas and flavors with slightly puckery tannins, this wine was more powerful with a bigger structure. 16% ABV.

Tenuta Sant'antonio - Campo dei Gigli Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2011 - Elegant and smooth with sweet cherry aromas and flavors with dried herb and a long dry finish. 16% ABV.

Venturini Campomasua Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2011 - Only made in the best vinatges, this wine is rich and concentrated with sweet fruit aromas and flavors of blackberry, cherry and raisin, silky smooth, long finish. Vandenberg shared that the grapes for this wine were dried for over five months which led to the more concentrated profile yet the wine still maintained its approachability. 16.5% ABV.

The Riserva designation on the following wines means that the wines were aged longer with a minimum aging requirement of four years.

Musella - Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico Riserva 2010 - This wine comes from a biodynamic producer. 2010 was a rainy vintage with a dry harvest. Very refined with dried red cherry aromas and flavors with a bit of licorice in the long, smooth finish. 16% ABV.

Tedeschi - Capitel Monte Olmi Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico Riserva 2009 - This single vineyard was very rich, dry and round with dried cherry and raisin aromas and flavors with a smooth lingering finish. 16% ABV.

In Italy, the wines are often paired with roasted or braised horse or donkey meat but they also do well with beef, venison or other game. You can also enjoy Amarone della Valpolicella with mature cheeses. All of these wines are highly recommended, they are approachable and ready to drink now.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Two from Les Dauphins

The Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Puyméras 2014 is the wine sample of the week. From a 30 yearold Southern Rhone Valley vineyard in the village of Puyméras that has soils comprised of pebbles and shale on stony terraces, this wine is a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Carignan. This dry, full-bodied red wine has intense fruity aromas of ripe red raspberries with pomegranate and black pepper with matching mouth-filling flavors and a lingering spicy note in the finish. Soft, smooth, fresh and flavorful, this wine was a pleasure to consume, highly recommended. 13.5%ABV.

The Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Réserve Rouge 2015 was also enjoyed this week. This wine is a blend of 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mouvèdre from chalky clay vineyard soils in the southern Rhone Valley, south of Drôme and north of Vaucluse. This wine was a bit bigger with a darker fruit profile. This dry, full-bodied red wine has pronounced aromas of blackberries and blackcurrants with licorice and a subtle earthy note in the lingering slightly savory finish. Fresh and smooth, this wine is also recommended. 14% ABV

Both of these wines were sent to me as media samples for review purposes.
My opinions are my own.