Domaine Nicolas Réau Anjou Rouge Cuvée Pompois 2009

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Domaine Nicolas Réau Anjou Rouge Cuvée Pompois 2009

Domaine Nicolas Réau Anjou Rouge Cuvée Pompois 2009

Today is Cabernet Day, better known as #CabernetDay.  I was torn between participating as I did for Carignan Day in February and Malbec World Day back in April or ignoring it, as I did for Chardonnay Day.  While Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine grape, made into some excellent wine the world over, it doesn’t need any help from me to raise awareness of it.  And so participating according to the letter of the day, while showing complete disregard for the intentions of the organizers, I give you a Cabernet, Cabernet Franc that is, the Domaine Nicolas Réau Anjou Rouge Cuvée Pompois 2009.

Really I have nothing against Cabernet Sauvignon – I respect it as the cornerstone of many great wines, including the Ridge Monte Bello I had for my birthday this past year.  I’ve covered a dozen wines so far in which it was a component, most either as the largest portion of a blend or as a varietal.  But just as I hate it when someone says “Pinot” without specifying Noir, Gris, Blanc or Meunier, people who say Cabernet without specifying Sauvignon or Franc need some reminding that there’s more than one.

I’ve written about the variety before, in particular when I covered another wine of Anjou, the Château Pierre-Bise Sur Schistes.  To quickly recap though, Cabernet Franc is a classic French grape, a traditional component of the red Bordeaux blend and the main red grape of much of the Loire Valley.  Relative to its Bordeaux blending partners, it ripens early, is somewhat light in colour, tannins and body, but can bring fruit to the blend as well as a bit of leaf and stem flavour.

Anjou as well deserves a quick word – a region in the Loire, grouped together with Saumur, it’s in the western end of the valley with Nantais between it and the sea.  The area produces red, white and rosé wines, still and sparkling, which range from dry to very sweet.  If they distilled spirits and perhaps made fortified wines, they would have everything covered.  The climate is continental, though with some influences from the sea and winds down the river valley.  The main soil type is schist, though there are areas of chalk as well.

Nicolas Réau is a native of Anjou, but not from a wine background.  Described as a rugby player and a jazz and blues pianist, he was in his thirties and finishing some commercial studied when he decided he’s rather move into growing grapes and making wine.  He bought a clos in Anjou of a dozen acres and started his new career not long after the millenium.  He also produces wine off property in Chinon, and his range consists of two other varietal Cabernet Francs and a barrel fermented Chenin Blanc.  Vines are grown organically, though apparently not certified as such.  Harvesting is done by hand into baskets, fermentations are not inoculated so wild yeasts do all the work, there is no filtering or fining of the wines, and apparently no sulphites are added to those that occur naturally.

I hate to say this, but the wines of Nicolas Réau are described as “natural”.  Long time readers of this blog will perhaps remember that I expressed my thoughts on “natural” wine some months ago when I looked at a Pinot Noir from Lucy Margaux.  If you don’t follow the link, suffice it to say that I think that using the term “natural” to describe wine is dishonest.

First off, there’s no strict definition, such that any producer, even the most massively industrial, can call their wine natural.  Second, calling your wine natural implies that people who don’t use that term are making wine which is unnatural.  Finally, compare a naturally growing plot of virgin forest with any vineyard in the world and then try to tell me the vineyard is natural, with its evenly spaced, identical clones.

That said, I can gripe all day about what people say or write about their wine and what they put on the label or in the marketing materials, but what actually matters to me is what’s in the glass.  And if you made it all the way through what I had to write about the Lucy Margaux, I liked that wine.  I think it is dishonest to use the term natural to describe wine, but that influences what I think of the producer, not what I think of the wine itself.

So in the glass this wine is clear and bright, and has a deep purple colour with quick, thick, pale purple legs.  On the nose it’s clean, with medium intensity, a developing character and notes of black fruit, stalks, and sweet spice.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium green tannins.  It has notes of tart cherry, some cranberry, some greenness, a hint of chocolate, and some Red Vines® ( a red liquorice candy).  It has a medium plus length and a black liquorice finish.

This is a very good wine, natural or whatever.  It’s a bit tight – it comes across as almost concentrated and needs time to open up, be it a few hours exposed to air or if you’re more patient perhaps a few more years in the cellar.  The colour is much richer than I would have expected from a varietal Cabernet Franc, but the flavour profile certainly has typicity, and does not lack complexity.

And while the rough theme for this week had been inexpensive but potentially interesting wines from a large wine retailer, this wine was purchased from one of my regular suppliers at a price well within my normal range (not too expensive, not too cheap).

Luigi Cavalli Lambrusco Dell’Emilia

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Luigi Cavalli Lambrusco Dell’Emilia

Luigi Cavalli Lambrusco Dell’Emilia

One of the many nice things about studying wine is that there are a good number of very knowledgeable and interesting people who are writing about it.  I’ve made no secret of how important Jancis Robinson was in my Diploma studies, and I mentioned Victoria Moore back in December with regards to writing good tasting notes.  Another writer I especially respect and enjoy reading is Eric Asimov, which is how I ended up with this bottle of Luigi Cavalli Lambrusco Dell’Emilia.

Back in 2006 he wrote a column about Lambrusco, singing its praises and lamenting how its image had been all but ruined by the likes of Riunite in the 1970s.  I hadn’t even started to study wine, but I remember the column because it allowed me to tuck away the fact that sparkling red wine was produced in Italy and I made use of it several times in the face of people who insisted that it was an Australian innovation.  It was purely academic, however, as I did not have an opportunity to actually try one.

Since then, despite numerous wine courses, Lambrusco has remained nearly mythical.  I did encounter it once in a large bottle shop, but the packaging was so dubious and the price so inexpensive that I thought I should wait for a better example before having my first sip.  Further years have passed since, and a few weeks ago Asimov published another column in which he again championed the wine.  (He also has a book due out in October, How to Love Wine.)  As I am currently on a string of wines which will not make my (temporarily) non-drinking wife jealous, I decided now was the time to actually see what Asimov was writing about and so I sought out a huge wine retailer and finally bought a bottle.

For those not familiar with Lambrusco, it is an Italian red grape found largely in the north of the country.  When I say grape, I really mean grape family, and it’s commonly said that there are 60 subvarieties or clones of the grape.  More recently though, advocates of the grape have put forward that there in fact 13 (possibly as many as 17) different varieties of Lambrusco, with the vast majority of wines being made from a subset of only six, Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco Marani, Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Maestri, and Lambrusco Montericco.  The grape is especially productive in the vineyard, and is typically used to make sparkling red wines that vary from dry to fairly sweet.  It’s used in wines across eight DOCs (and four sub DOCs) around Modena, Reggio  Emilia, Parma and Lombardia, and is also made into Indicatione Geografica Tipica level wine in Reggio Emilia and Lombardia.

Unfortunately, most Lambrusco is tank fermented and very cheaply mass produced.  As a wine it is best known for having flooded the USA market in the 1970s in the form of a frothy red wave of sweet Riunite.  After years of popularity, the wine’s reputation is now largely bound up with that industrial style and not looked upon kindly by most people who are serious about wine.  Asimov though is on a mission to revive the wine by highlighting quality producers, and has had some success in New York and Los Angeles.  Good examples, often with the secondary fermentation in bottle, are being imported by specialist merchants and promoted in Italian restaurants, particularly those featuring flavours of Emilia-Romagna.

Sadly, his influence has not yet reached Adelaide (as far as I know).  My quest for a bottle last week was rewarded with a choice of three options, and my selection was the most expensive at just under $8.  I’m guessing from its appearance that neither the label nor the contents have changed since the 1970s.  Speaking of the label, it’s worth spelling out the information on it.  This is a Lambrusco Dell’Emilia Indicatione Geografica Tipica, which tells us the grape (family) and that it’s from Emilia-Romagna but a step down from DOC quality.  Vino Amabile Frizzante lets us know that this is a sweet, bubbly wine.  There is no indicated vintage.  The label also says “di San Ruffino” ® which I cannot claim to fully understand, other than that there are areas within Emilia-Romagna by that name which the producer, Luigi Cavalli, has apparently trademarked.  I do not believe that it has anything at all to do with Ruffino, a highly regarded producer in Tuscany.

A quick word about Emilia-Romagna – it is a huge region in the north of Italy that spans 240km east to west.  Within it are at least 22 DOCs and 2 DOCGs, though they account for only 15% of wine produced.  The Lambrusco family of grapes, if taken as a whole, makes up roughly 40% of production, with Sangiovese being the second most popular grape at 23%. The area is geologically diverse, from hills and peaks in the west down to coastal plains in the east.  The climate likewise is much cooler in the mountainous zones than on the milder plains as they stretch toward the Adriatic.  I’ve also read that the region has officially dropped the hyphen between Emilia and Romagna but can’t find a corroborating source, so I’m sticking with it for now.

I’ve also been unable to find very much information regarding this producer, not even a website nor a physical address, so if anyone has more information please drop me a note or leave a comment.  Fine print on the top label suggests that the company has been passed from father to son since 1901.  Beyond that though, all I’ve been able to determine is that it’s made for Cantarella Bros., a company based out of Sydney (though with offices throughout Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore) that imports a range of products, largely food, from Europe.  It’s best known brand in Australia is Vittoria Coffee.

Diving into the wine itself, in the glass, it is clear and bright, with a deep purple colour, quick legs, and some bubbles around the rim but no overt carbonation.  You can only tell there is any fizzing whatsoever by putting your ear to the glass, at which point you’ll hear the odd bubble breaking the surface.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium minus intensity, and notes of cough syrup, some bitter herbs, and a splash of Campari.  On the palate it’s off-dry and you can tell that there is some prickliness of carbonation, but no real fizz.  It has medium minus acidity, medium plus flavour intensity, medium body, low alcohol, low soft tannins, and a medium minus length.  There are notes of cola, red cherries, bitter herbs, some bitter orange, and cough syrup.  It has a very sour finish that made me shudder a bit on my first sip.

I really don’t know what to make of this.  I’ll go with acceptable in terms of quality, and I cringe to think what I would have made of either of the two lower priced bottles next to it on the shelf when I bought it.  It has an interesting flavour profile, with some amount of complexity, but not one that I associate with wine.  Beyond that though, I hesitate to judge a wine style that is so completely new to me.  I don’t expect I’ll be rushing out to buy another bottle of Lambrusco until I can find one from a producer that Asimov specifically recommends.  Sadly this wine is more of the tradition that has caused many to dismiss Lambrusco rather than of a quality that might have them reconsider.

Pin in the map is approximate only to Reggio Emilia where the producer is based, and I’m calling this a varietal “Lambrusco” as I don’t have any better granularity of which specifically.

Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009

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Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009

Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009

I have roughly a dozen really nice bottles of Malbec in the cellar that my wife and I brought back from our trip to Argentina a few years ago.  I believe they’ll all improve with another decade of careful maturation, but nonetheless I did pick out one to open a couple of months back.  As fate would have it, before I had the chance, we received the good news that another child is on the way.  My wife suspended her drinking and that bottle, among others, went back into the cellar for safe keeping.  While I’m happy to reserve the best bottles of our collection until we can share them, that doesn’t mean I have to abstain entirely, and so this more recently and locally purchased wine fits the bill without making my wife too jealous.  Today’s wine is the Kaiken Mendoza Malbec 2009.

This is the fourth Malbec dominated wine this blog has seen, and I described the grape with a decent level of detail when I covered the Majestic Plough on Malbec World Day.  However, to quickly review it’s a red grape, originally from and part of the classic red Bordeaux blend, but it’s more recent French home is in Cahors.  In the New World, it is widely planted, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, and Argentina is the country where is has become the national grape.  We hit upon Mendoza when I wrote about the Zuccardi Aglianico but to recap it’s an arid region of Argentina in the rain shadow of the Andes, and vine cultivation is only possible through irrigation based on the annual melt of the snow cap.  Malbec is the most widely planted, and indeed signature grape of the region.

So having written previously and separately about both the grape and the region, it’s worth spending some time on Malbec specifically in the context of Mendoza.  In the vineyard, the region mitigates some of the weakness of the grape.  Malbec is prone to downy mildew and rot which are most commonly problems under wet conditions, but since Mendoza is essentially high desert, neither is so much of an issue.  Likewise in Bordeaux Malbec ripens after Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as it needs more sunshine, but in Mendoza the combination of clear skies and altitude allows the grape to not just ripen consistently, but also to develop a fruitiness not found in French Malbecs .  Apparently the higher ultraviolet component at altitude also encourages thicker skin development, which provides more and softer tannins.

In terms of picking a producer that is typical of Mendoza, I must admit I am more than slightly off the mark.  While Kaiken produces wines in Argentina, it is actually a label in the family of wines from Montes, a multinational producer originally from Chile.  Fittingly this branch of the company is named for a species of wild goose that regularly crosses the Andes between the two countries.  Under the Kaiken label, Montes produces varietal wines and blends largely based on Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon at different quality levels, as well as a Malbec rosé and a traditional method sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Founded in 1987, Montes, the parent company, produces several lines of wines in Chile, from vineyards in the Colchagua Valley (including one in Apalta), Aconcagua Valley and Curico Valley.  They were one of the first large exporters of Chilean wine, and have branched out not just to Mendoza, but also to Napa and Paso Robles in California.

This wine is in the Kaiken Reserva line, which is worth a quick note.   The term “reserva” is legally defined in Spain with respect to how a wine has been matured, and such treatment is generally applied only to wines of higher than typical quality.  Within the New World, “reserve” is used more broadly, and without legal definition, often by producers to indicate a range of wines that are of higher quality than their standard range.  However, some producers use “reserve” or “reserva” for even their most modest wines, which has devalued the term to a large extent, and as the Kaiken Reserva line is their most affordable, that could well be the case in this instance.  Even more confusingly, some Grands Crus Classés producers in Bordeaux incorporate the term “reserve” into the names of their second wines, such as Réserve Léoville Barton.  In short, if you see the term “reserva” or “reserve” it can indicate very different things (or nothing at all) depending on the context.

And as much as I like to pick nits about how wines are labelled or positioned in the market, the real judgement of a wine is in the tasting.  In the glass, this wine is dark ruby with quick legs.   On the nose, it’s clean and developing, with sweet spice, plum, cinnamon, and raspberries, not to mention a bit of oak and cedar.  On the palate it’s dry with medium acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus fine tannins, medium plus body, medium plus intensity, and a medium length.  There are notes of red meat, chocolate, simple red fruit, brambles, and a mocha finish.

This wine is good, but I can’t go any higher than that.  It has a granular texture – not because there are bits floating in it but just because that’s how it’s hitting my palate.  I don’t know if it’s just not well integrated yet, but it’s perceptible in the mouth in a somewhat negative way.  Also, there were no violets or perfume on the nose, which to me are essential for a Malbec experience, particularly one that’s only three years old.  Beyond that though, there was some complexity on the nose and palate that showed some development, it was in balance as far as the intensity, tannins and body, though could have used more acidity, and the flavour profile was pleasant enough even if it was missing some of the varietal characters I wanted.  I don’t normally go into price in my analysis, but as the theme for this week is “cheap and cheerful” it should be known that this was not an expensive wine, and as such delivered good value for money.

Hungarovin Szekszárdi Kadarka 2009

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Hungarovin Szekszárdi Kadarka 2009

Hungarovin Szekszárdi Kadarka 2009

Some of the big box bottle shops carry wines that are clearly brought in for immigrants missing a taste of home, and as an immigrant I’m always pleased to see quality wines of my homeland.  However, as often as not, the featured wines take the form of more popular, less expensive brands, in which I have little interest, in the same way that at one point the only American beer available when I lived in the UK was Budweiser.  Still, when they’re cheap and cheerful imports of less familiar grapes from other countries, I’m happy to give them a go.  I picked up a few such wines last week, and while they’re not likely to be the best wines I’ve ever had, they’ll certainly be varied.  And with that, I give you this Hungarovin Szekszárdi Kadarka 2009.

Hungary has a long history of producing wine, though if you ask a wine student about it they’re more than likely to start the conversation with Tokaji.  That’s fair enough, in that it’s one of the most famous sweet wines in the world, and from there the focus will likely touch on the Bull’s Blood of Eger, a potent traditional red blend.  Beyond that though, I think it’s fair to say that most other Hungarian wines stays in Hungary.

This wine is Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of Szekszárd, which is in the south of the country, just west of the River Danube.  It has a continental climate, with long hot summers and cool winters, particularly as you move away from the river.  Vineyards are found on the eastern and southern slopes of the Szekszárd hill, which reaches heights of 100-120m and is made up of an iron rich red soil.  Another soil type for which the region is known is loess – a mixture of eroded clay and silt, brought together by wind rather than water – which can be as deep as 15m.

The area is best known for the production of red wines, and is the only area outside of Egar that is permitted to produce Bikavér, or Bull’s Blood.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot are popular recent imports, to the detriment of the more traditional plantings of Kékfrankos (Blaufränisch), Kékoportó (Portugeiser) and Zweigelt.  Kadarka, once a cornerstone of the region, is increasingly rare.  There is also some amount of white wine produced, made from Welshriesling and Chardonnay.

Kadarka, despite the decline in plantings, is the classic red grape of Hungary, having established its reputation with Bikavér.  Its role in that blend is largely being supplanted by Kékfrankos, and Kékoportó due in no small part to Kadarka’s late ripening (which limits where it can be planted) and its susceptibility to rot.  It also is prone to high yields with low concentration.  That can be mitigated through the use of bush vines and severe pruning or green harvesting, though at the additional expense of manual labour in the vineyard.

I can’t say as much as I would like about this producer as their website is a blank page at the moment.  However, secondary sources suggest that Hungarovin was founded in 1971 as an export company, is based in Budapest and makes wine from a number of regions throughout Hungary.  In addition to Tokaji and Bull’s Blood, Hungarovin produces varietal white wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Irsai Oliver, and Juhfark, and reds from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and this Kadarka.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with medium plus ruby colour, and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity.  It is very medicinal, with sour cherries and cough syrup fighting it out for top billing.  There’s a little peppery funkiness as well, and by that I mean the skunk cabbage note I get from Pinot Noir, not a fault.  On the palate it’s just off dry (though it says “medium sweet” on the back label, curiously), with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus soft tannins, medium minus alcohol, high intensity, and a medium plus finish.  There’s more cough syrup, sour cherries, cranberries, and a bit of slightly burnt coffee.

Looking at my SAT note doesn’t really do this wine justice in the slightest.  When I had my first sip, I immediately thought “this is the most sour wine I’ve ever tasted.”  Not faulty, not bad, just intensely sour.  It reminded me of the first time I had proper unsweeted cranberry juice, having only been familiar with cranberry cocktail, which is really sugar water with a splash of cranberry.  I almost didn’t write about this wine, but I’m sitting here with a glass out of the same bottle the day after I opened it writing this note, and while it is still intensely sour, I can look beyond that and actually taste the wine and it’s fine.  I’ll score this as acceptable, which is obviously a step down from my usual good+ ratings, but to my palate it’s too out of balance to be scored as good.  There is a little complexity if you can get past the intensity, even if it is dominated by cough syrup.

This is the first Kadarka I’ve tried, as well as the first Hungarian wine this blog has seen, and even though I’m not in love with it, I look forward to trying another.  The other day, someone I know tweeted a picture of a bottle of Pinotage from South Africa with a caption that read “One of the worst wines I’ve ever tasted.”  I replied “I wouldn’t judge the quality of the variety based on the Pinotage that finds its way to Australia.” Really that applies more broadly to the wines of South Africa (or any grape/place).  Coupled with that, the bottle of Pinotage in question cost the same as a bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz (by which I mean not very much), and I doubt most Australian winemakers would want Shiraz or Australian wine in general judged on the basis of that.  This Kadarka was in roughly the same price range.  So despite not being keen on this bottle, I will not judge other Kadarkas and other wines of Hungary based solely on it.  Instead I welcome an opportunity to broaden my sample size.

Website Tinkering

Behind the curtain

Behind the curtain

I’ve made some changes to the website over the last few weeks, and while they’re small, I just wanted to bring some of them to the attention of readers in case they notice any problems.

First I’ve changed the way the Grapes page works, in that it now updates automatically when I post a new wine review based on the custom taxonomies I put into place some months back.  A small change, but it’s no longer subject to me remembering to update it, nor to my alphabetization skills.

Second, I’ve changed a few things on the right sidebar, including restoring the calendar after figuring out how to have it show both posts and wine reviews instead of just posts.  I’ve also updated the lists of links to reflect sites that are invaluable as far as research that I do for each post, as well as some sites I respect and enjoy.

Third, I’ve had another pass through the WSET Diploma OCW Links pages and cleared up a few formatting bugs that made it look a bit rubbish on Safari.  I’ve also updated the template for that section to differentiate it from the rest of the site and to make it a bit more like the WSET Study Guides from which the lists of terms are taken.

Finally, I’ve updated the About pages to give a bit more information about the site, the wines that are featured and about me, your host.

There are certainly a  few more things I’d like to do with the site in terms of improvements, but those changes were the most important to me so at this point I’m ready to get back to more writing.

Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011

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Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011

Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011

Yesterday’s wine was a lovely Castro Martin Albariño and up until recently today’s wine could have been held up as a New World counterpoint.  But just as the availability of DNA testing has upset many families with revelations of misattributed parentage, so too has it brought clarity, at times unwelcome, to the identity of grape varieties.  And with that somewhat dubious introduction, I bring you Tscharke Wines Girl Talk Savagnin 2011.

When I wrote about Albariño yesterday, I failed to mention how well regarded it is.  It’s considered the best white variety of Spain, and had a surge in popularity over the last two decades.  In that time, it has attracted the attention of not just consumers but also of vignerons and winemakers in the New World anxious to see how the variety would perform in their terroirs.  As such, plantings found their way to California, Oregon, New Zealand and Australia.

Or so it was thought.  Jean-Michel Boursiquot of the University of Montpellier, who we first encountered when I wrote about a Chilean Carmenère, visited Australia and suggested that what was being called Albariño was in fact Savagnin Blanc.  The issue was taken up by government researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which was originally responsible for bringing the variety from Spain.  Known Albariño samples were imported, comparisons were made, and in 2009 Boursiquot was pronounced correct.  From that vintage onwards, any wines produced from what had been thought to be Albariño needed to be labeled Savagnin (Blanc) or Traminer.  Needless to say, there was a huge uproar.

First, Savagnin Blanc / Traminer.  Savagnin Blanc is a grape closely associated with Jura, France, where it is most commonly made into vin jaune, an oxidative style wine that has similarities with the fortified wines of Jerez.  Traminer is a relative of Gewürztraminer, though without the aromatic qualities, and of diminishing popularity in cooler, continental areas of Europe.  Traminer also has a history in the Barossa Valley in South Australia, where it has been used to make sweet wines which have likewise waned in popularity.  In 2000 the French ampleographer Pierre Galet established that Savagnin Blanc and Traminer were in fact the same grape.

So back to 2009, and suddenly Australian producers are told that wines which had been successful as “Albariño” are now required to be labelled as either an unfamiliar French grape or as an unpopular Germanic grape.  Looking at press coverage and remarks from producers at the time, the entire Kübler-Ross model played out very rapidly.  Some producers did not believe the CSIRO’s findings, or if they did they wanted to find some accommodation in being able to continue to use the name Albariño.  There was widespread anger at the CSIRO for selling the vines as Albariño in the first place, and I’m sure no shortage of depression at the bad fortune.  However, as the label on this bottle attests, there was acceptance.

Also, it should be noted that subsequently the origin of the confusion was traced back to Spain, whence the vines were supplied, not a mix-up on the part of the CSIRO which was responsible for importing the material and then distributing it to nurseries and growers.

It was something of a tragedy for two reasons.  First off, the people who were hurt, the producers, were not the ones at fault.  They were sold vines as Albariño, and in particular in the case of Tscharke they found the vines had the ampelographic characteristics they expected – conical clusters, multiple pips, the right number of bunches per shoot and the right berry size and colour.  While sales of “Albariño” were on the rise, selling Savagnin or Traminer was a completely different prospect.  Even in the unlikely event that consumers would seamlessly switch varieties, there were still associated costs of changing labels and all the accompanying materials.

It also brought Australian labelling into question with regard to varieties.  Australia has a very chequered history with the use of dubious place and grape names on labels, but had made great strides in recent years to conform to international standards.  Unlike some historic misrepresentations, this was not an attempt to ride on the coattails of a popular region or variety, but rather an honest mistake in trying to produce wines of the same grape locally.  Nonetheless, the damage was done.

However, three years on I optimistically like to think that the worst is behind “Albariño” producers.  Varietal Savagnins grace the shelves of bottle shops, and while I don’t have sales figures, I hope that consumers still enjoy the wine even if the name on the label has changed.  While misidentifications of grape varieties can cause confusion and grief, they are a fact of life.  Improvements in genetics based ampelography will continue, and I personally am expecting some surprises when Wine Grapes is published in October.

Tscharke Wines is based in Barossa Valley, and is the product of Damien Tscharke, who also runs Glaymond Wines.  While Glaymond is best known for classic grapes of Barossa, the Tscharke label was split off in 2004 to showcase alternative and emerging varieties, such as Montepulciano, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Zinfandel, Graciano, and now Savagnin.  They even produce a Frizzante Savagnin under the name Eva.  They were the first, and in 2009 the largest, Australian producer of “Albariño” and were thus at the centre of the controversy at the time, and had doubled their production between 2008 and 2009 to some 4,000 cases.

As to this wine, in the glass it is clear and bright, with pale lemon green colour and a viscosity on the inside of the glass when swirled that can’t make up it’s mind if it’s a film or legs.  On the nose it’s clean with medium minus intensity, and notes of pear, custard, and a little bit of green vegetable.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus intensity, medium body, medium alcohol, and medium minus length.  There is apple zing, with both green apple acidity and a bit of red apple sweetness, as well as some lemon-lime and bitters, and a hint of waxiness on the finish.

This is a good wine.  The palate is a bit low on complexity, and the finish is slightly short, but it’s an interesting wine for those of us who like alternative varieties.  The fruitiness is attractive, and it certainly hits the numbers in terms of acidity and intensity on the palate.  I’m not an expert, but Albariño was not the first thing that jumped to mind when I sniffed it – I didn’t get any blossom which is my usual tell (though often wrong) for that variety.  Then again, if someone had told me that’s what it was, I don’t think I would have disputed it either.  I hope that Tscharke has put the mix-up behind it, and continues to pioneer alternative varieties in Australia.

Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010

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Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010

Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010

It’s still winter here, but I’ve had a few nice whites over the last weeks and I’m trying to sort through them.  This one in particular I had by the glass some time ago and revisited this week because the tasting note I took the first time was incomplete.  So, second time lucky with this Bodega Castro Martin Rias Baixas Albariño Sobre Lias 2010.

I look forward to getting back to Spain.  I’ve been to visit almost ten times, but all the trips were when I was living in London and more interested in whisky, and as such I’ve not done any wine tourism.  Now though, I could easily spend a summer there, starting in Rias Baixas in the northwest and winding my way through the country until I ended up in the far south in Jerez.

Speaking of starting in Rias Baixas, this is not the first time this blog has been there, though it was all the way back in February that I wrote about Bodegas Eidosela.  As I mentioned then, it is a region in that bit of Spain directly north of Portugal, on the coast, and plantings are dominated by Albariño.  Five other white grapes and six red grapes are also permitted, though combined they make up less than 10% of vines.

The climate is maritime with an abundance of rain.  Disease pressure is generally high in the vineyard, and overhead trellises or pergolas were traditionally used to allow airflow, though rows of Geneva double curtain are more commonplace now.  Soils are granitic, though some of the five sub-zones have alluvial soils as well, particularly in river valleys.

Bodegas Castro Martin is a family run producer that traces its roots back to 1887, though the current winery was established in 1982 by Domingo Martin-Morales, five years before the Rias Baixas DO was created.  The winery itself is largely gravity fed, spread across three floors, and is claimed to be the first in the region to make use of stainless steel tanks.  Since 1993, the business  has been in the hands of Angela Martin.  She was joined by English wine buyer Andrew McCarthy who apparently arrived in 2001 hoping to find some Albariño and ended up marrying Angela as well.

Bodegas Castro Martin produces four wines made exclusively from Albariño, though as expressions of different sub-zones and terroirs.  This wine is from the coolest of those sub-zones, Val do Salnés, with vines planted in sandy soil over granite and quartz.  The grapes are hand harvested into baskets, and then hand sorted at the winery.  After the fermentation in stainless steel, there is 5-6 months of lees contact.

Albariño is a thick skinned and aromatic white grape, known for producing good levels of acid, alcohol and flavour.  It is an important grape in Vinho Verde, and while in Rias Baixas it is sometimes found in a blend, more commonly of late it is bottled as a varietal.  It’s found a following among winemakers in Australia, though that is a story for later this week.

In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and slow legs.  It’s clean on the nose with medium minus intensity, developing, and with notes of custard, grapefruit, pear, and blossom.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium body, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity, and medium length.  There are notes of green apple, quince, grapefruit, pear, and some herbs – coriander / cilantro I think.

This wine is strongly acidic, but not in a bad way so much. It is a bit shy on the nose, but on the palate it has a very pleasing flavour profile.  I’m happy to call this good, and given that I had it by the glass it might be even better with a bottle known to be fresh.

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

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Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009

My visit to Burgundy at the start of a tour through France was certainly memorable, from visiting the vineyards of DRC to the winery tour at Dubœuf.  Unfortunately with only so much time, it’s impossible to visit all the places one would like, and regrettably I didn’t get to Chablis.  Fortunately, Chablis is widely available internationally, and today’s wine is the Gilbert Picq & ses Fils Chablis 2009.

Burgundy is a region that rewards closer inspection, and specialist knowledge can demand detailed information not just down to specific villages but indeed down to who owns which row of vines in which vineyard.  With that intensity of focus, it’s no wonder that in the study of Burgundy, sometimes entire regions can be overlooked or forgotten.  It most frequently happens with Beaujolais – I have a map supplied by the Bourgogne Conseil Régional that notes the region as being south of Macon but apparently there was not enough room on the paper to include it.  The map does include Chablis, and while there is an argument to be made that Burgundy and Beaujolais would be better thought of as separate regions, it is a far less common sentiment with regards to Chablis.

That said, even a quick look at a map reveals the geographic distance between Chablis and the rest of Burgundy, and it could just as easily have been included with Champagne or the Loire’s Central Vineyards of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.  However, in terms of wines, the still, varietal Chardonnays of Chablis are a better match for the other white regions of Burgundy despite the distance.

The region has a continental climate, and a cool to cold one at that.  While summers can be hot at times, winters are typically very cold and spring frosts through May are one of the biggest factors in vintage variation.  They can impact not just the quality of the vintage, but in extreme cases whether or not there is a vintage.  So potent is the threat that since the 1950s various approaches have been pioneered to help the vines survive frosts, from heating units in the form of smudge pots to aspersion, or the spraying of water droplets to form a protective layer of insulating ice on the vines, preventing serious damage.  Both approaches have their drawbacks, in terms of cost and effectiveness respectively.  I’m also somewhat surprised that aspersion is permitted given its resemblance to irrigation.  (I am kidding).

Chablis is largely based on a highly sought-after soil type known in English as Kimmeridgian (sometimes Kimmeridgean), or argilo-calcaire in French.  Named after Kimmeridge, a town in Dorset, England, it is typically a mix of clay and limestone fossils dating back to an identically named stage in the Upper Jurassic epoch.

In terms of the Chablis appellation, established in 1938, Chardonnay is the only permitted grape, and there is a hierarchy of classifications.  There are seven Grand cru climats, or lieu-dit, and a further 40 such vineyards with Premier Cru classification above the generic AOC Chablis.  There is also the neighbouring and not as highly regarded Petit Chablis, also Chardonnay based, and established in 1944.  However, it is on the fringe of Chablis and based largely on Portlandian soil, which is younger and has a larger sandstone content.

As this is my sixth varietal Chardonnay, I’m not going to talk about the grape too much, but how it is handled in Chablis does deserve a note.  Chardonnay is a wine that can be subjected to a variety of treatments in the winery depending on the desired style.  Within Chablis, the use (or not) of oak is a big point of differentiation in terms of style.  The region as a whole is known for producing wines that have a steely intensity, and in some cases that is quite literal with fermentation in stainless and no oak treatment post-fermentation.  (I am not suggesting you can taste the fermentation vats.)  Others ferment in barrel, and others still start in steel and then have some oak maturation.  However, other influences outweigh the use of oak, such that Chablis is generally thought of as an easy wine style to identify in blind tastings, perhaps because with age even those wines not subjected to oak treatment can pick up flavour characteristics often associated with oak, including nuttiness.

Gilbert Picq & ses Fils is a small, family run producer which has been working vines in Chablis for generations.  The domaine and its 32 acres were established by the namesake, but were passed to his children in 1976, with Pascal tending the vines, Didier making the wine and Marilyn running the business side.  In the vineyard, their focus is on low yields, with severe pruning and two rounds of crop thinning over the growing season.  In the winery, the wine is fermented in stainless steel and does not see oak maturation, so as to most clearly express their terroir.  It does, however, undergo malolactic fermentation.  In 2006 they acquired a sorting table, enabling them to hand select their grapes, and in conjunction with that improvement they shifted to using wild yeast for fermentation.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon green colour and a thin film instead of legs on the inside of the glass when swirled.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of lemon, seashell, quince, candle wax, a hint of smoke which may be what other people call struck match.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, medium body, medium plus intensity, medium alcohol, and medium plus length.  There are notes of lemon, really tart lemon at that, quince, seashells, and some flint.

This is a very good wine.  I want to call it austere, but I’m not sure that’s really what’s hitting me.  There is a purity to the acidity, which is very intense, but not to the exclusion of the mineral notes.  It certainly fits the profile of what I would expect of a somewhat young, unoaked Chablis, and while it’s at the expense of any richness or creaminess that some people enjoy, the steeliness is undeniable.

I can’t find a website for the producer, so no link and the pin in the map is approximate.

Some Tips for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam – Part 4

Please read carefully

Please read carefully

Right, I’ve told you about planning out your studies and reviewing the examiners’ reports, what you need to know about wine regions, and what you need to know about everything else.  Finally, there’s the exam itself, which is worth its own post.  I promise this will be my last post on the topic, because if you’re not a Diploma student, it makes for rather dull reading, and really I just don’t have anything further to offer on the topic.  Still, the exam itself, the hours spent actually taking it, are worth discussing.

There are four things I’ll address about taking the exam – reading, planning, writing, and pacing.  First, reading.  Every year the examiners’ report is littered with examples of students sitting the exam who didn’t read the instructions or the questions.  The instructions have some crucial information in them, particularly which and how many questions you are required to answer.  Typically the theory section will have a mandatory question and then several others of which you are required to answer most but usually not all.  Obviously it’s important that you understand which question you are required to answer, but it’s also critical that you not waste time writing answers beyond the ones for which you will be awarded points.  Every year some number of students make that mistake, so don’t be one of them.  Also, double check names.  Even casually it’s very easy to mix up Pouilly-Fuissé and Pouilly-Fumé, but under the stress of exam conditions it’s been known to happen with Austria and Australia.

Reading is important for the tasting section as well, as each flight is of a distinct nature that requires a specific type of tasting note.  Typically these will be along the lines of an assessment of quality of three similar wines, or finding the theme that unites the three wines.  If you just write standard tasting notes for each flight without having understood the instructions, you’re unlikely to receive full points.

After you’ve read the instructions and all the questions, you need to start planning before you put your pen to paper.  First, if you have a choice of questions you’ll need to decide which questions to answer.  There may be a question for which you are completely unprepared (hopefully not the mandatory question) or it may be just a matter of deciding for which questions the material is freshest in your mind.  Second, if you are going to answer one of the multiple short answer questions, decide which ones, because you’re likely to be allowed to drop one or two.

Next, jot down a quick outline of how you plan to answer each question.  This serves two purposes – you’ll write a better answer if you have an idea as to the structure you want before you start writing, and also you’ll quickly find out if you would be better off answering a different question instead.  If your answer is about a region or a grape, it’s also handy to jot down reminders as to the points you want to make sure you address in your answer.  This also applies for the tasting, making sure you cover all the required parts of the SAT.

Third, writing.  Over the course of sitting the exam, you’ll be writing furiously for hours.  Unless you write in longhand often, it can be a shock to the system, which is the last thing you need during the exam.  For that reason, I strongly encourage people to sit a practice exam.  It is a good idea for other reasons as well, but really, it’s worth it just to get the experience of having to write page after page of text as quickly as you can.  Also, you’ll get a better idea as to how much you can write in a fixed amount of time, which brings me to my last point, pacing.

When I took the theory part of the exam we were given three hours in which we had to answer five questions.  That works out nicely to 15 minutes prep time, 30 minutes per question, and then 15 minutes at the end to review.  However, you really need to stick to it. If you go over time on one question, you will have that much less time for the rest.

The same is true for your tasting flights.  Make sure you quickly hit all the points of the SAT because they are easy marks which should not require a huge amount of thought.  Don’t  get too bogged down in trying to nail the grape and the region.  Keep in mind how few marks they are worth relative to the tasting note as a whole and don’t obsess over them when you would be better off putting down your best guess and moving on to the next sample

So that’s it.  I expect Diploma students will get more use out of the OCW links I posted last week than any number of tips I could ever write, and recognizing that I’ve updated them with the two pages from the very front of the Unit 3 Study Guide in the “How to use this Study Guide” section.  They are largely for review, but potentially useful for students who are preparing for their Unit 1 and Unit 2 exams.  As always, I’m not an examiner and I have no special insight other than having passed (and only just at that).

By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008

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By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008

By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008

I’ve been meaning to write about this producer since I tasted their wines at the Adelaide Cellar Door Festival back in February.  I kept putting it off though, because I know they have some interesting wines in the pipeline that might advance me in my quest to taste 100 varietals.  However, I swung by Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills a couple of weeks ago where the winemaker had set up a tasting, and this wine subsequently turned up in my neighbourhood bottle ship, so I decided that covering it now is more important than waiting on their next releases.  And with that, I give you the By Jingo! Adelaide Hills Montepulciano 2008.

In terms of region and grape, we’ve been to the Adelaide Hills many times, and somewhat surprisingly this is not our first encounter with a Montepulciano – I tasted the Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo back in December. Even more surprisingly I wrote a borderline halfway decent description of the grape back then.  But for review, it’s a red grape planted widely throughout Italy, producing wines that typically have deep colour and medium acidity, which are made without oak influence and meant to be consumed relatively young.  Also, it is not the grape used to make the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – in that case the name refers to the town and the wine is based on Sangiovese.  I also should have mentioned back in December that it ripens fairly late and gives consistently generous yields.

As with nearly every grape variety I’ve ever described, someone has a patch of it somewhere in Australia, and By Jingo! is not the only such producer of Montepulciano.  Vinodiversity lists over a dozen wineries with plantings or wines made from it, largely in South Australia but with one in Victoria.  There are also plantings in New Zealand and California, though I think it’s fair to say they are all of very small scale and that the grape hasn’t yet really taken off outside of Italy.

By Jingo! is based in the Adelaide Hills, but I hadn’t heard of them until February, partly because they only celebrated their first year as a label this month, but also because they don’t as yet have a cellar door.  What I’ve learned about them since then is that they’re driven by a love of Italian varieties, with Montepulciano being their star variety.  The winemaker and vigneron, John Gilbert, got his start in wine by planting a small vineyard and taking a low level job with a producer in McLaren Vale.  He followed up with a winemaking degree, vintages at opposite ends of Italy in Alto Adige and Sicily, and work on other wine labels before this venture where he’s finally able to focus on Italian grapes in Australia.

In addition to this Montepulciano, By Jingo! has produced a Zinfandel and a Montepulciano / Zinfandel blend.  There is also mention of Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro on their website.  In addition, a Grillo has been produced but not yet released, which Gilbert apparently imported as a variety in 2001.  More conventionally, they also produce a Shiraz.

On top of that, they have a wine they call Mendoza, named for the Chardonnay clone used to produce it.  Not being a Chardonnay expert I can only relate that relative to the classic Dijon clones, Mendoza can have smaller berries with a greater skin to juice ratio at the expense of higher incidence of millerandage (hen and chicken) which is when you get very small berries mixed in a bunch of normal sized berries.  Both of of those factors can contribute to a richer style of Chardonnay.  By Jingo! describe theirs as having citrus and icing sugar characters.

I have a bit of a gripe with their naming choice.  The clone is named for the region in Argentina in which it is believed to have originated, and hence it’s an Australian wine with the name of a non-Australian wine region prominently printed across the front label, a practice once widespread throughout the industry here but now largely stamped out.  That said, they’re certainly not trying to pass off their wine as anything other than Australian Chardonnay, and most Australian consumers who know the region Mendoza will likely also have heard of the clone, so it’s perhaps only an issue if they export to South America.

Back to the wine at hand, in the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark ruby colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of red fruit – cherries and plums – sweet spice, some star anise, and a bit of potpourri.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium soft, mouth coating tannins, medium plus intensity, medium plus alcohol, medium body, and a medium minus length.  There are notes of cherries and plums, and a cocoa powder taste and texture.  The texture might be down to it not being filtered and me not properly decanting, though it is by no means unpleasant.

I don’t taste Montepulciano often, but I had a look back at what I wrote about the one I tasted in December and was pleased to see the tasting note was more similar than different.  I’m happy giving this wine a rating of very good.  The fruit is still fresh, even after three years in oak, but some developed notes are certainly coming through.  The time in oak I think is what sets it apart from how this grape is traditionally handled in Italy, and as such while it’s drinking nicely right now, I would expect it to cellar well for at least a few more years in contrast to the drink now style of Italian Montepulcianos.  I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of their range released, particularly varieties I have not yet tried.