De Martino El León Maule Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,
Main Variety:
Contributing varieties: ,

De Martino El León Muale Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006

De Martino El León Muale Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006

February 29th is apparently Carignan Day.  I know what you’re thinking – how is it that this has not been on the front page of every newspaper in the world?  I’m not sure either.  But it’s here, and to jump on the bandwagon, I’ve decided to go with the De Martino El León Maule Valley Single Vineyard Carignan 2006.

So what about Carignan is so inspiring that some people think it deserves a day of its own, albeit only every four years.  I think if it had been proposed a few years ago, it would have been seen as ironic.  Some, I’m sure, see it that way now, for Carignan is a much maligned grape, described in the OCW as “the bane of the European wine industry”.

First, the facts about the grape.  It is black, late budding and late ripening, which makes it suited to the warmer areas of the Mediterranean, including North Africa.  It is difficult to train for machine harvesting, and is susceptible to a number of blights, including powdery mildew, downy mildew, rot, and grape worms.  (Grape worms?  Who knew there was such a thing?)  It produces a wine with high levels of colour, acid and tannins.  So far, pretty ordinary.  What made it popular was its ability to produce very high yields.  At rates as high as 200 HL/HA, it’s hard to beat the vast quantity of wine that could be produced from it.

The problem is the wine produced could typically not be described as quality.  The colour, acidity, and tannin levels were matched only by its bitterness.  The wine produced was not one to be consumed young, but nor was it good enough to age.  Nevertheless, the vine was planted widely in the south of France to replace the grape Aramon, which suffered greatly from late frosts, something the late blossoming Carignan could handle.  Between the mid-1960s and the late 1990s, Carignan became the most planted vine in France, contributing greatly to the EU wine lake, though vine pull schemes through the 1980s and 1990s put a big dent in the area under vine and Merlot surpassed it around 2000.

For all the Carignan hate, there are actually some very nice wines made from Carignan.  Old vines on poor soil with low yields can produce varietals of significant character.  Carbonic maceration has also been a technique in the winery that takes the edge off the product at a younger age.  It can also serve as an important component in a blend, given its colour, tannins and acidity.

In addition to the south of France, Carignan is also found in Spain (called Mazuelo or Cariñena) as the major component in the wines of Priorat, and as a minor element of the wines of of Rioja, Costers del Segre, Penedès, Tarragona and Terra Alta.  It’s also found in the Americas, in minor amounts in California, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, and in the case of this bottle, in Chile.

Speaking of Chile, we’re back, having been once before to try some Sauvignon Gris.  This time we’re in another valley, the Maule Valley, further south and in from the coast than on our first visit to the San Antonio Valley.  The Central Valley is the overriding DO, with Maule Valley being a region which in turn has at least six subregions.  Being one of the more southerly regions, it is cooler than most wine areas of Chile, as well as cloudier.  The climate is Mediterranean, and the soils are generally clay-loam, and often lack nitrogen and sometimes potassium.

The area is considered the one of Chile’s most traditional areas of wine production, with Pais having been planted by Spanish conquistadors, with that variety making up roughly 25% of the area under vines.  Bush vines in dry grown vineyards are the traditional style of viticulture, though newer plantings are trained to wires and irrigated.  Cabernet Sauvignon plantings have eclipsed those of Pais, with smaller shares of the remaining 45% going to Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenère, and Chardonnay.  While I can’t find any figures for the percentage of Carignan, there are a number of other producers using it in their wines.

Speaking of producers, De Martino is a family-run winery founded in 1934 and currently on its 3rd and 4th generation of contributors.  They have vineyards from Elqui in the north of the wine growing range all the way down to Bio Bio, which is the second most southerly Chilean wine region.  The were the first producer to release a wine labeled Carmenère after DNA profiling established that much of what had been thought to be Merlot in Chile was not.  They produce a wide range of wines, including an impressive collection of single vineyard releases.  Their vineyards are farmed organically, though they have not been certified.  They are also all planted on original roots instead of being grafted onto phylloxera resistant rootstocks, which fortunately has not been a problem in Chile.

So this wine in particular is from a dry-grown, bush vineyard, planted in the 1950s on granite soil, with a dry growing season but plenty of rain in the winter.  The vineyard has small amount of Carmenère and Malbec, in addition to Carignan.  I’m slightly disappointed, in that I really want to tick the varietal Carignan box for my century, but alas the tasting notes for the 2007 indicate 5% each of Carmenère and Malbec, and I have no reason to believe they’d have skipped them for this 2006.  The wine saw over a year in French oak.

None shall pass

None shall pass

I decanted the wine, and I know the photo isn’t going to do it justice, but the cork is an absolute hero, with maybe 1mm of darkening.  It could have been put in the bottle this morning.  Not a lot of sediment, but I only bought this bottle over the weekend so while it’s been stood up ever since, it could perhaps have used a few more days.

The colour is a deep ruby, showing very little sign of development.  The nose is slightly hot, with dried red fruit and spice in a potpourri style.  There’s a hint of wood and even vanilla which I wasn’t expecting given the oak treatment was French.  On the palate, the fruit is much fresher, almost juicy, and still red.  The spices shift from sweet to green peppercorn, and dried herbs. The acidity for which Carignan is known is certainly there, but in the context of the full flavours and reasonably full body, it works.  The tannins are well integrated, to the point that I really have to concentrate to pull them out.  There’s some black pepper and liquorice on the finish, and the length is well above average.

This is an very good wine, and I’m not just saying that because it’s Carignan Day.  It has a serious intensity, as well as good complexity of flavours on the palate.  I really think this is one for the cellar, in that I while it’s not overly young, I expect some very interesting secondary characters to start emerging over the next five to ten years.

As with so many larger producers, the point on the map is their address/cellar door, and sadly is quite a distance from the location of the actual vineyard.  However, on their detail page for this wine, their is a cute popup map that shows the vineyard location.  I really would love to find a way to display both the winery pin and a polygon detailing the wine region, even if it would increase the amount of work I’d have to do per post by 100% (until I’d made maps for every region).

919 Wines Petit Manseng 2010

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,
Varietal:

919 Riverland Petit Manseng 2010

919 Riverland Petit Manseng 2010

There’s a small restaurant right around the corner that often has interesting wines by the glass, and I first came across Petit Manseng there.  It was in a French wine, possibly a blend with Gros Manseng, but alas I have neither the name of the producer nor the tasting note.  I do remember having to look up the region as well as the grape, both being completely new to me.

While that does still happen now and again, it does so less frequently, which is why I was so excited yesterday about the Basque bubbles.  For this part of the world, I’m come across most of the low hanging fruit (so to speak) and so while if I were to move to Italy, Spain, or Greece I’m sure I’d be confounded daily by new varietals, around here most of the international varieties and even the first tier regional grapes are not difficult to find.  However, it wasn’t until my visit to the Cellar Door Wine Fair the other day that I was aware of Australian producers of Petit Manseng.  In fact, there were at least two, and I’ll talk today about the one I liked the most, 919 Wines Petit Manseng 2011.

Petit Manseng is a French grape typically associated with the southwest of the country.  (If I use the expression “back to back Basques” you are free to shoot me.)  It’s permitted in a number of appellations, most notably Jurançon and the Pacherenc AOCs.  In the Jurançon AOC it is used in both dry and sweet wines, in conjunction with Gros Manseng and Courbu.  It is permitted in both Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Madiran’s counterpart dry and sweet/semi-sweet white wine AOCs respectively.  In dry wines, it and Courbu must make up between 60% and 80% of the blend, with the remainder being made up by Arrufiac, Gros Manseng and at most 10% Sauvignon Blanc.  It is also grown in the Languedoc.

The grape itself is known for small berries with this skin, often yielding very little juice.  It’s prized by makers of sweet wine for its ability to last on the vine well past conventional harvest, turning to raisins and concentrating its sugars without the need for botrytis.  It has a big brother grape, Gros Manseng, which is not considered as high a quality grape, though it does have higher yields and the two are often found together in blends.

919 Wines is based in the Riverland, an area of South Australia that is all but unknown to me.  That’s not strictly true – I could point to it on a map (which I in fact do, below) – but as someone who has not visited it, I had been happy with the broad generalization that it was an area of heavy irrigation used to produce huge quantities of grapes for use in bulk wines.  While there is almost certainly a fair amount of truth to that generalization, it does not tell the whole story.  The area represents half the grapes crushed in South Australia, and roughly a quarter of all production throughout the country.  A large percentage of that goes to large companies such as Constellation Wines, but there are a growing number of small producers who are making quality wine, including some that have been working biodynamically and/or with alternative varieties.

The climate is warm continental, in that it’s hot during the day in the growing season and cool in the evenings.  There’s little rain, though since the whole of the region is based around the river Murray, irrigation is the norm.  Soils vary, but I think I say that in almost every single post.  In this case, it’s sand over clay in river valley areas, and in higher elevation areas it’s sand over clay and limestone.

919 Wines is a small winery that has a focus on fortified wines, according to their website.  Maybe it’s just because I’m less interested in fortified wines at the moment, but when I visited their stand at the show, I was looking exclusively at their table wines, of which there are quite a few.  In addition to this Petit Manseng, they produce varietal wines of Savagnin, Vermentino, Shiraz, Tempranillo, Durif, and “Touriga”.  I put Touriga in quotes, because while they mean Touriga Nacional, there is at least one other Touriga, Touriga Franca.  It’s a bit like when people talk about their Cabernet, and I always have to ask “Sauvignon or Franc?”.  Yes, a pet peeve.  But since I love Touriga Nacional, I’ll give them a pass and try to pick up a bottle for a future post.

This wine is very pleasing.  It’s a pale straw colour in the glass.  On the nose it is a creamy pear, with some stone fruit.  On the palate, it has a very satisfying weight, a very good body for a white.  It’s a little sweet, but I can’t say if it’s residual sugar or just fruit sweet, coming from the peach and apricot.  It also has good acidity, with some lime carrying the lighter flavours.  It’s seen a couple of months of French oak according to the winemaker’s notes but I’m not enough of an expert to say that I can taste it.  It has good length, with a bit of lingering (but not cloying) sweetness.

This is a good wine.  It delivers some interesting flavours from a varietal that’s not especially well known in this part of the world.  It also has a very good texture, in that the combination of palate weight and hint of sweetness make your mouth take notice.  I didn’t buy any of their other wines, but my local wine merchant has a few and I’ll make a point of picking up one or two.

 

Ulacia Getariako Txakolina 2010

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,
Main Variety:
Contributing varieties:

Ulacia Getariako Txakolina 2010

Ulacia Getariako Txakolina 2010

The other day I was saying something silly about how interesting varieties of grape don’t jump out as me as much anymore because at this point I’ve tried all the most commonly encountered wines?  That just makes it all the more special when something unusual does come my way, even if it does mean I’m writing about my fourth Spanish white while Germany is still neglected.

Today I am writing about the Ulacia Getariako Txakolina Blanco 2010.  It’s a wine from the Getaria in the Basque Country of northern Spain, just west of San Sebastian, and it is charming.  (I’ll be using the Basque terms/spelling as much as possible, unless otherwise indicated.)  Wine here has a recorded history going back 1000 years, though the area under vines is less than a tenth of the 1,000 HA that it was pre-phylloxera.  Getaria is a fishing village on the Bay of Biscay, with Getariako Txakolina being the DO for the vine growing area around it.  The region as a whole is maritime with a considerable Atlantic influence, though the vines are planted in the hills surrounding it, often on the southeast facing, often steep, unterraced slopes for maximum sunshine and some protection from sea breezes.  The winters are mild and summers cool, with 1,500 – 1,600 mm of rain per year, the highest of any Spanish wine region.  The soils are largely clay, covered with sand.

Txakolina is a style of wine, spelled Chacolí in Castilian, traditional to the Basque region.  It’s typically white, low in alcohol, and somewhat sparkling, very much akin to Portugal’s Vinho Verde.  In addition to being made in Getariako, there are several other DOs in the vicinity that have their own take on it, sometimes with different permitted contributing grapes.  It’s typically fermented slowly under refrigeration, and bottled with some effervescence.

Getariako Txakolina label on neck

Getariako Txakolina label on neck

For all Txakolina, the primary grapes used are Hondarribi Zuri (white) and Hondarribi Beltza (red), which are, as you might expect, two versions of the same  grape.  For Getariako Txakolina the required blend is 95% Zuri and 5% Beltza, though in Arabako Txakolina Gross Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Corbu are permitted in small amounts, while in Bizkaiko Txakolina, a portion of Folle Blanche may be used.  Rosé and red wines are also made in these regions, though in much smaller quantities and largely for local consumption.  Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza are largely found only in this region and I have not been able to find any record of it being cultivated outside of Spain.  Also, it’s a tough grape to spell – it’s apparently Hondarribi, Hondarrabi or Ondarrabi depending on where you are even within Basque Country.  Vines are typically trellised, to make the most of the breezes in the often damp conditions, and to shelter the grapes from hail.

This wine is made by a family run winery, Nicolas Ulacia e Hijos, which produces roughly 6,000 cases per year, largely for local consumption.  The two grape varieties are vinified separately under refrigeration, blended and then bottled quickly enough that residual CO2 is retained in the bottle, which is sealed with a cork.  I’m coming up a bit short on detail for this producer as I cannot find a website for them – I’ll update this post if/when I do.

In the glass, it was difficult to determine colour as I was in a dimly lit restaurant when I had this, but I would put it at pale lemon with a bit of green.  The nose was floral, smelling of blossom, with some grapey notes.  It was youthful, but not particularly intense.  The palate was of lime, and very zesty as a result of both good acidity and the bubbles which were more prominent that what I’ve read online would have led me to expect.  The body was light, and there was almost a hint of sweetness, but I don’t think it was down to residual sugar – more likely just the freshness.

This is a very good wine for what it is – young and meant to be drunk you, refreshing, and inexpensive despite having come to the far side of the world from a small producer.  I’ve seen the term “fun” used to describe Txakolina wines and I think this wine absolutely hits the mark.  It’s also worth noting this was a 2010 and most sources recommend drinking the wine within a year, so it was almost certainly better still this time last year.  In any case, I’m very glad to have been able to try it, and look forward to perhaps spending a summer drinking my way around Spain.

K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011

K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011

K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011

I spent the afternoon yesterday at the Cellar Door Wine Festival in Adelaide.  There were just under 200 wineries represented, with the vast majority (all perhaps?) from South Australia, with a few beer and cider breweries along for the fun.  It was a good chance to see what is happening in the local industry, though I did end up working for part of the day.

It didn’t look like many people were actually buying wine, and there were far too many people toward the end who were drunk (which obviously I don’t usually mind, except in this case when I couldn’t be one of them).  Sadly, I stayed sober, but I did pick up a mixed half case from six different stands, only one of which I’d had before.  I also bought a bottle of Kangaroo Island Spirits Gin, because nothing says you love wine like walking out of a wine festival with a bottle of gin.  I asked them for a straw, but alas, they couldn’t help me.

Many of the bottles I bought will likely feature here in the coming week or two, and this is the first, the K1 Adelaide Hills Grüner Veltliner 2011.  The others I picked up were likewise varieties less commonly found in Australia, and so with that, it’s time to talk about Grüner Veltliner.

You know you’re in the wine trade when you like Grüner Veltliner.  Or you could be Austrian.  Either way, you have excellent taste.  Good Grüner Veltliner can be everything that a white wine should be, from austere to perfumed, from mineral to spicy, from light and refreshing to very concentrated.  If you like Grüner Veltliner, and you know who you are, first off good for you.  But second, do not be upset at the fact that no one drinks it outside of the trade (and Austria).

No amount of convincing will bring the wine drinking world as a whole together with Grüner Veltliner to live happily ever after.  It is just not going to happen.  I can hear Grüner Veltliner fans disagreeing with me, but in their hearts they know it’s true because they’ve been trying for years to convince people it’s the next big thing.  Right after Riesling.  Without success.  The thing is, the problem is not with Grüner Veltliner.  There is nothing wrong with Grüner Veltliner that needs to be changed so people accept it.  People who like Grüner Veltliner need to accept that the rest of the world is not ready, and may never be.

So other than being the under-appreciated darling of the wine trade, and popular in Austria where it is the most widely planted white grape, Grüner Veltliner is actually gaining some traction.  In neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe, as well as with some brave souls growing it in New Zealand and Australia as well, acres of vines are growing year on year.  It is considered early ripening in warm climates, but within continental Europe, Austria is about the northernmost limit as to where it will ripen at all.  At its best, it can produce wines that are both aromatic and substantial, with ageing potential and depth of flavour and character.  Typical tasting notes stress minerality, body, and peppery spice.

I’ve covered so many wines from the Adelaide Hills, I don’t have much else to say about it as a region, except that it covers more area than most people might think.  K1 is in Kuitpo, which puts it about as far from Hahndorf near the center of the region as it is from the sea.

K1, or K1 by Geoff Hardy as it says on the label, is a winery in the southern reaches of the Adelaide Hills, due east from McLaren Vale.  The name Hardy is one of the biggest in the Australian wine industry, going back 125 years.  Geoff Hardy is of that family, of Thomas Hardy and Eileen Hardy fame, but did not join the family firm, opting instead to grow grapes independently, and quickly began to supply fruit to some of the region’s best wineries.  He also made small amounts of his own wine, and his reputation, independent of his family name, grew out of a cooler climate take on Shiraz.  While still a relatively small, family run producer, K1 has at least 23 varieties planted, and makes a very wide range of wine, red white and rosé, still and sparkling, varietals and blends.  Other less commonly seen varieties include Arneis and Gewürztraminer, and apparently there are Tannat, Fiano, and Teroldego vines planted though I am not sure they’ve made wines from any of the last three yet.  Actually, it was pointed out to me that the Tannat may be for a Pertaringa wine, another winery Geoff Hardy runs.  Maybe, maybe not as K1 is Adelaide Hills and Pertaringa Tannat is McLaren Vale.  I picked up a bottle of it yesterday, and look forward to giving it a go.

This is the third Australian Grüner Veltliner I’ve tried, and apparently there are at least a couple more available that I should seek out.  Unfortunately, I have yet to have one that lives up to what I think Grüner Veltliner should be, based on the Austrian wines I’ve had.

In appearance, it is industry standard pale white wine Pantone, clear and bright.  On the nose there are elements of lime, melon, white pepper, though not with particular intensity.  On the palate, there’s plenty of lime/citrus acidity, with a hint of lychee and green apple and a sour, candied fruit finish.  However, I do not get minerality that is so key to what I think of as Grüner Veltliner.  Also, it is lacking body, almost watery in texture.

Now all that said, when I see the K1 Grüner Veltliner 2012 on the shelves, I’ll likely buy a bottle.  And the 2013.  And the 2014.  I think this is a great grape variety, and I really want to see it do well in Australia.  If I hadn’t been spoilt by such excellent Austrian Grüner Veltliners, I might be happy with this wine.  It’s certainly not as green as one of the other Australian’s I’ve tasted.  But for now I think the vines need to mature, winemakers need to continue to work with the grape, and perhaps in time there can be an Australian Grüner Veltliner capable of rivaling its Austrian forebearers.

Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010

Origin: ,

Colour and type: ,
Main Variety:
Contributing varieties: ,

Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010

Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010

Today it’s a lovely wine I’ve had by the glass a few time in the last month, and which has never failed to please, the Telmo Rodríguez Basa Blanco Rueda 2010.  This is my third Spanish white in this blog, and I put it down to the time of year.  It’s hottest in this part of the world right about now, and while I do love a bit beefy Chardonnay, it’s at times like these that I look for a white that’s a bit lighter.  This one absolutely fits the bill.

It hails from Rueda, which is in the northwest quadrant of Spain, though closer to Madrid at the center than to the coast.  Rueda traditionally is exclusively a white wine region, historically making a fortified wine in the style of Sherry.  In 1980 though it was awarded Denominación de Origen status in recognition of a huge shift from exclusively Palomino-based fortified wines to also producing a table wine based largely on Verdejo, Viura (Macabeo), and Sauvignon Blanc.  Rueda DO must be at least 50% Verdejo, or a Sauvignon Blanc varietal, while Rueda Superior must be at least 85% Verdejo.  Red and rosé wines are now also permitted within their own DO rules, in the form of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha (Grenache).

The region as a whole is at 700-800 metres elevation, and is generally composed of flat highlands.  The climate is considered continental, with long, cold winters and hot, dry summers.  Even during the summer, the evenings get very cool, with high diurnal temperature variation, allowing ripening during the days but preserving acidity in the evening.  Traditionally, levees were built around vines to collect water which were then half-buried to preserve moisture, though that practice has largely been replaced by more modern water management techniques.

The soils are sandy and stony, with more gravel in the better areas.  Limestone outcroppings can be found throughout the region, in particular with clay along the river Duero which cuts through the north of the region.

This wine is a blend of 85% Verdejo, 12% Viura and 3% Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m sure I’ll have varietal Viuras and Sauvignon Blancs aplenty at some point, so today it’s all about Verdejo.  First off, it is apparently not the same as Verdelho, which is a bit confusing for me as I just figured it was a Spanish/Portuguese spelling difference.  In fact, I’m hard pressed to find any evidence of it being grown anywhere in the world other than Spain, and really within Spain its home is certainly Rueda.  It’s an aromatic white, though prone to oxidation under traditional winemaking, which is one of the reasons it was used in oxidatively handled fortified wines rather than in table wine.  However, now with such modern techniques of picking at night and temperature controlled fermentation (and refrigeration of the grapes/must/wine in general) it is possible to make it into wine that retains the fresh, aromatic characters.

Telmo Rodríguez is a celebrated Spanish winemaker of great renown.  The company he runs, along with his partner Pablo Eguzkiza, was founded in 1994 with the intention of making great wine from native Spanish varieties.  In addition to this wine in Rueda, he makes another which is 100% Verdejo, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.  His company makes 20 wines across nine different regions of Spain, covering the entire country.  Production ranges from 3,252 bottles of Pegaso Garnacha in Castilla y León to this Basa of which I drank one of 600,000 bottles.

I can’t get my head around what 600,000 bottles would look like, all in one place, 50,000 cases doesn’t help.  781 pallets is still too many to imagine.  However, I think many winemakers would be lucky to be able to make one bottle of wine as lovely as this one.

It’s pale lemon in the glass, with fresh pear on the nose, with some lemon and honey to back it up.  On the palate it has crisp, but not overly zingy, acidity.  It has a medium body, and medium length, and the palate absolutely matches the nose with a pear finish.  It’s bright enough to cut through spicy food without burning through your gums if you drink it without food.  It’s not overly complex, but nor is it overly pretentious or expensive.  A great summer drop, but probably not one to cellar.

The pin in the map is the company address, which unfortunately is not so close to where this wine is made, but given that they make wine throughout Spain in so many different regions, it’s at least in the right country.

South Australian Ancient Riesling Trio

Heggies 1989, Stanley Mick Knappstein 1987, Pewsey Vale 1989

Heggies Vineyard 1989, Stanley Mick Knappstein 1987, Pewsey Vale 1989

Today is a bit of special in that I’ve pulled some bottles out of the cellar and am curious how they’re doing.  They’re three Rieslings from South Australia, and they’re all from 1987-1989.  I only picked them up a few years ago at auction, and they were rather old at that point.  I have opened up similarly aged South Australian Rieslings with disappointing results, but I have high hopes for these.  However, they were not hugely expensive, and I do have more of them in the cellar in case they’re very good.

The three wines are:

  • Heggies Vineyard Rhine Riesling 1989
  • Stanley Mick Knappstein Clare Valley Rhine Riesling 1987
  • Pewsey Vale Rhine Riesling 1989

There are some things worth noting right away about these bottles.  First, they’re all under cork.  Today I think you’d be hard pressed to find any South Australian winemaker who puts Riesling under cork.  Pewsey Vale, producer of the third wine,  was the first winery to use Stelvin screwcaps in 1977, though they discontinued their use in 1984 due to consumer backlash, only to return to Stelvin in 2003.

Second, all the wines list their varietal as Rhine Riesling.  There are a number of “Riesling” named grapes, such as Welschriesling which is unrelated to RIesling, or Wales for that matter.  Then there’s Cape Riesling, at one point in Australia known as Clare Riesling, which is actually Crouchen, a French grape.  Further confusing the issue, the name “Riesling” was used in a somewhat generic fashion in Australia to refer to white wine, often off-dry and blended from a number of grapes.  Australia used to play pretty fast and loose with variety and region names before their export market caused them to toe the line, as evidenced by things like “Grange Hermitage” or “Sparkling Burgundy”.   The term Rhine Riesling was to indicate that a variety was in fact the same Riesling grown famously along the Rhine.  These days pretty much all Riesling in Australia is the genuine article, and is just labelled Riesling.

Finally, the regions as described on the labels is not what you would see today.  The Mick Knappstein Riesling, like its namesake, is proudly from Clare Valley.  However, the origin of the other two wines is only made slightly more clear upon closer inspection of the labels.  The Heggies back label lists it as being from the ““high country” in the Adelaide Hills”.  The Pewsey Vale back front label says the “vineyard was established in the Barossa Ranges”.  People do in fact make fine Riesling in both the Adelaide Hills and in the Barossa.  However, both Heggies and Pewsey Vale are in Eden Valley, the next regions over from Barossa to the southeast, between it and the Adelaide Hills.  Eden Valley isn’t a new thing, but perhaps it wasn’t a region that one put on a label in the late 1980?  I honestly don’t know, but would like to.

At this point I should write about Clare Valley and Eden Valley, the complete history of Mick Knappstein, and tell you everything I can about the three producers.  However, that’s for another post, because the point of this is to tell you what these wines are like after 20+ years in bottle.  One word:  excellent.

Getting them out of their respective bottles was a slight challenge.  I started with a waiter’s friend on the first, but alas the bottom quarter of the cork wasn’t as keen on coming out of the bottle as the top three quarters.  The next two were a bit easier through the use of an Ah-So cork puller.  All three corks were getting a bit mushy at the wet end, but were absolutely sound on the dry end.  However, there did end up being some cork fragments in the first few pours of the wines.

All wines were a lovely amber colour, but clear and bright with no signs of cloudiness or fault.  All had very good acidity, which has allowed them to retain their freshness.  Likewise they all had petrol notes that gave a savory element to balance out the citrus fruit.

Heggies Vineyard Rhine Riesling 1989

Heggies Vineyard Rhine Riesling 1989

The Heggies has some lemon/lime curd notes that I didn’t pick up on the others, on top of the lovely petrol with a dash of honey.  It has a medium body, with medium plus acidity.  The finish is honeyed but without particularly long length.

Stanley Mick Knappstein Rhine Riesling 1987

Stanley Mick Knappstein Rhine Riesling 1987

The Stanley Mick Knappstein has the classic petrol nose, but with hints of fresh lime.  The most acidic of the three, it was deliciously crisp, with more length and complexity than the other two, with a grilled pineapple finish.

Pewsey Vale Rhine Riesling 1989

Pewsey Vale Rhine Riesling 1989

The Pewsey Vale is the most savoury of the three, with a honeycomb element not present in the others.  It shares some elements with aged Chenin Blancs I’ve had, in that rather than citrus the fruit has shifted toward quince.  Still, very refreshing, but heavier, more savoury flavours.

I’m embarrassed this post isn’t more of a cornerstone for this blog – there is so much more that can be written about the regions and producers, but honesty I wasn’t expecting to write more than another morality tale about leaving wine in the cellar for too long.  However, it turns out that these three have been quite happily maturing and are tasting brilliant.  Fortunately, I have more in the cellar, and I look forward to digging a bit deeper into each the next time I open them.

Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996

Origin: ,

Colour and type: ,
Varietal:

Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996

Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996

Today is the first of a more complete posting about one of the wines from the recent Sicilian tasting, Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996.  I looked through the twelve wines we tasted, and have decided I’m going to examine four of them, and for very selfish reasons.  First, I discounted the sweet wines because I’m just not that interested.  They were very good, but I took my exam in fortified wine a year and a half ago (and passed) so it’s water under the bridge until Marsala is suddenly trendy (again?). Of the eight remaining, I decided that four Sicilian wines would really be enough, given there are so many other regions/countries I haven’t touched (Germany springs to mind), and the selfish bit comes into it in the form of deciding which four.  I went with the four straight varietals, first because I’m interested in hitting a century as far as varietal wines, and also because I find it easier to identify varietally typical characters in varietal wines than in blends, especially when they are grapes with which I’m not particularly familiar.  And with that, we have this wine with is a Nero d’Avola.  First though, the region.

This wine is labelled Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) Sicilia which doesn’t tell us a whole lot.  It does tell us the grapes are from Sicily, and in terms of quality it is a step up from Vino da Tavola (VDT) or table wine, but it doesn’t telll us much more than that.  However, knowing that it’s Nero d’Avola and having a look at the fact sheet for the wine gives us a bit more detail.  On Sicily, the city/commune of Avola is in the southeastern tip of the island and plantings were initially concentrated in that region.  However, Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most widely planted red grape, and plantings have extended out to other parts of the island.  The fact sheet puts the origin of the grapes for this wine in the hinterlands of the Gulf of Gela if Google Translate is to be believed, which is in the vicinity of the Cerasuolo DOC and DOCG regions, as well as the Riesi DOCs, all of which are known for Nero d’Avola production.  The climate in that part of Sicily is not unlike the island as a whole, with mild winters and a dry growing season.  If ever there was a place that could be described as having a Mediterranean climate, it’s Sicily.  The soils on which these grapes were  grown is described as clay and limestone at an altitude of 100-200 metres, far from the volcanic heights of some other Sicilian vineyards, particularly in the east around Mount Etna.

There could be several reasons why this is an IGT and not a DOC or DOCG wine.  First, it could be that the grapes were sourced from multiple regions, though that would not disqualify it from DOC Sicilia.  Second, and more likely is that the method of production is not in line with all the DOC requirements, possibly to do with cropping levels.  Third, the producer might not have considered it worth the bother of jumping through all the DOC/DOCG hoops, as very little Sicilian dry wine is DOC or DOCG.

Nero d’Avola, in addition to being the most widely planted red grape on the island, is also the most famous.  Locally it is often called Calabrese, hinting at a connection with Calabria in the toe that is Italy’s boot.  At the moment there are a number of Nero d’Avola clones in use in Sicily, and so it’s difficult to make broad statements that apply to all of them.    Generally though it’s a thick-skinned grape, and requires a fair amount of warmth and sun in order to ripen.  The two main issues for producers are yields, which can be too high if left unchecked leading to a lack of concentration, and acidity which can be too low if grapes get too much sun and ripen too quickly.  The flavour profile is of cherries, berries and plums, each of which can be red or black depending on the clone and vineyard conditions.  It can be made in a fruity, drink-now style, or with more structure and acidity to have long ageing potential, and with or without oak maturation.

Duca di Salaparuta is one of three wine producers owned by a large holding group, along with Corvo and Florio.  It has existed as a wine brand for 180 years, dating back to Guiseppe Alliata, who was in fact Duke of Salaparuta and was run by a member of his family as recently as 1959.  It is both the largest and most famous Sicilian winery, having produced the first fine wine of Sicily.  They produce a wide range of wines across the island, with red, white, sparkling and sweet wines as well as grappa, with this Duca Enrico being the top of their range.

This wine certainly showed it age in the glass, with a medium minus garnet shade and very slow legs when the glass was swirled.  On the nose it was clean and fully developed, with medium intensity oak, chocolate and coffee coming though – a bit musty.  On the palate it was dry with medium intensity of dried cherries, liquorice, coffee grinds, tobacco and a hint of dirt.  The tannins were velvety but of medium plus intensity, and medium minus alcohol and medium body.  This was a very good wine, though it may have been slightly too long in the cellar.  The developed flavours were potent, but the taste of dried cherries reminded me that there might have been a point where the fruit wasn’t completely overshadowed.  That said, I certainly enjoyed tasting it and would absolutely pick up a bottle of a slightly younger vintage.

The pin in the map is the location of the company headquarters – this wine is from the region of the Gulf of Gela to the south/southeast along the southern coast.  At least it’s on the right island.

Sicily Tasting, February 2012

Sicily

Sicily

As I mentioned in a recent post, I had the pleasure of attending a tasting of Wines of Sicily.  Wine production has a long history in Sicily, at least as far back as the 8th century BC, when Greeks colonized the island.  In more recent times, Sicily’s best known beverage has been Marsala, a fortified wine named for a city in the northwest of the island.  However, Sicily today produces a wide range of white, red and sparkling wine, as well as a variety of dessert wines and grappas.  The tasting consisted of three flights of four wines each, themed as whites, reds and dessert wines.  Here is the listing of the wines poured (with photos here):

  • Whites
    1. Sicilia IGP Cavallino Bianco Carlo Pellegrino 2010
    2. Sicilia IGT Inzolia Barbazzalle Bianco Cottanera 2009
    3. Sicilia IGT Carolina Marengo Feudi del Pisciotto 2007
    4. Etna DOC Pietramarina Bianco Superiore Benanti 2007
  • Reds
    1. Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG COS 2009
    2. Etna DOC Serra della Contessa Benati 2006
    3. Contea di Sclafani DOC Rosso del Conte Tasca D’Almerita 2004
    4. Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996
  • Dessert
    1. Passito di Pantelleria DOC Coste di Mueggen Benanti 2005
    2. Malvasia di Salina DOC Capofaro Tasca d’Almerita 2007
    3. Marsala Superiore Secco Vito Curatolo Arini
    4. Marsala Vergine Riserva Vito Curatolo Arini

The hierarchy of quality/restrictiveness of classifications in this listing is Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) / Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP) with the grapes being from a particular region (I’m pretty sure they’re the same, with IGP more typically used for non-wine products such as cheese), Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) being a more restrictive set of rules for a particular region with a higher expectation of quality, and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) being the highest quality with the most stringent restrictions on production.  Sicily has a single DOCG (Cerasuolo) and 23 DOCs (including one covering the island as a whole).  Theoretically anyone on Sicily could produce Sicilia DOC wine, but the restrictions on yields and therefore on revenue make it a tradeoff relative to the higher premium producers might expect over just labeling their wines IGT/IGP.  DOC wines account for just a very small percentage of total wine production, with most of it being for dessert wines.

Sicily is a warm place, closer as a whole to North Africa than to Rome.  It has a number of factors that make it well suited to growing grapes.  The terrain itself is very hilly, allowing the planting of vineyards to optimally take advantage of the sunlight, warmth, and altitude. Also, being an island, the sea is never far, and the cooling influences of the breezes provide desirable diurnal temperature variation.  The soils of Sicily are generally described as poor, which combined with a low amount of rainfall, make for the challenging conditions under which vines can be expected to yield some of their best fruit.  The geography of the island is dominated by volcanoes, from the still active Mount Etna in the east to the now rolling hills in the west of long dormant siblings.

The traditional wine of Sicily is Marsala, a fortified wine in the tradition of Port and Sherry, with a similar history of being initially created from a local wine with spirit added to aid in transport by boat to England.  While at one time it was a hugely popular export, it has fallen to niche status and is most commonly found outside of Italy used in cooking.  Wine production in Sicily has undergone great changes over the past two decades and is in the midst of further still.  There has been a significant shift from gobelet and bush vines to wire training, which has allowed the introduction of mechanization and a lower cost structure.  Outside consultants have been used to good effect, and quality levels have risen considerably.

In addition, the use of indigenous Sicilian grapes has become a great selling point.  While international varieties have made some headway into Sicily, the climate is not nearly as well suited as it is for native varieties, which have become increasingly well known.  The most widely planted, the white grape Catarrato, is largely used to make grape extract, but others such as Inzolia and Grillo have been recently made into modern styled white wine.  Grecanico is another white grape grown locally, though it may in fact be Garganega by another name, so not strictly indigenous.

The best known of these trendy Sicilian grapes is Nero d’Avola. While it accounts for only 13% of total vineyards, it can produce high quality varietal wines with great barrel maturation and ageing potential, and can bring body, colour and longevity to a blend.  Such is its popularity that New World producers in California and Australia are cultivating it in warm climates.  Perricone, Nerello (Mascalese and Mantellato) and Frappato are also important local red grapes, though more typically found as components of a blend.

While this only scratches the surface of Sicily, I’ll go into more detail with some of the grapes and regions as I profile a few of the wines and producers from the tasting over the coming weeks.

 

Scott Winemaking Fiano 2011

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,
Varietal:

Scott Fiano 2011

Scott Fiano 2011

After a big Italian Sicilian* tasting, I’m back to Australia, but with an Italian varietal.  It’s the Scott Fiano 2011 of the Adelaide Hills.  This is very much a small world experience for me, in that this wine was brought to a party at our house this past weekend and while it sounded familiar, I didn’t really know the producer.  It turns out the Scott winery and cellar door are right around the corner from the winery in which I’ve worked a few vintages.  I will have to swing by next time I’m up that way.

I’ve featured wines from the Adelaide Hills three times – a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay, and a Pinot Noir / Chardonnay sparkler.  While the region as a whole is considered cool and elevated by Australian standards, it’s not quite the Mosel, and people have been having success with many, many different varietals.  Pinot Grigio is especially popular there at the moment, with Scott in particular doing a sparkler, while others make both normal and late harvest versions of it in it’s less bubbly form.  Sauvignon Blanc has long been a favourite from the region, but if you turn over a few rocks, you can find producers making Dolcetto, Aglianico, Malbec, Sagrantino, Nebbiolo, Tannat, Grillo, and Vermentino.  I could probably get pretty close to a century just in the Adelaide Hills, but really where’s the fun in that?

Fiano is a strongly flavoured grape variety which is most widely grown in the south of Italy. Historically it is thought to possibly originated with Greek settlers, and that it was the grape vitis apiana used in the Roman wine Apianum produced in the vicinity of Avellino.  The root of apiana is the Latin for bees, which are strongly attracted to Fiano grapes in those vineyards.  More recently, Fiano di Avellino DOCG is the most famous made from Fiano, and “apianum” is often seen on bottles of the region.  It can be found in over a dozen other DOC regions, though more often than not as a contributing grape in a blend instead of as a varietal or the major component.  It’s not widely seen outside of Italy, with of course Australia being the exception.

Fiano is a thick skinned grape with small berries and typically low yields, and has therefore not always been the most popular among producers.  The wine it produces can smell of honey and pears when young, but is capable of ageing and the young fruit gives way to spicy and nutty characters with development.

I wish I had more information about Scott Winemaking, but I may be able to string together a few guesses based on the single page of information on the website.  Given the location, it’s a small producer, possibly a single winemaker named Sam.  He lists four wines including this one, with the others being a Shiraz Sangiovese blend, a classic sparkling wine blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and a sparkling Pinot Grigio.  I hope to update this if I get to meet the producer.

This wine lives up to expectations as far at Fiano.  It’s certainly very modern in that it has the colour that the industry demands of a young white.  The nose is clean, with fresh pear, cinnamon, and a hint of honey.  I had some perry over the weekend and it came right back to me.  On the palate it’s very crisp with good acidity.  The flavours match what was promised on the nose, along with slightly spicier notes and a hint of nuttiness, though I did have a fair number of toasted pine nuts with dinner so they may be sticking on my palate.  I would have put this at around $25 retail and it appears that’s pretty spot on.  It’s a very good wine, quite right at that price, though frankly I’m willing to pay a premium for the rare or exotic which I think this is.  I know it’s not the only South Australian Fiano so I’m hoping that the others live up to the quality level set by this one.

*My favourite place in the world to drink martinis is Dukes Hotel in London.  Their bar is staffed exclusively by Italians, or so I thought.  I asked an older barman if everyone who worked there was Italian and he said “No, everyone else is Italian.  I am Sicilian.”  So there you have it.