A wine in a state of evolution. Great Langhe Nebbiolo is such a treasure when produced at this level of quality. That haunting aroma of Nebbiolo in its complex and mysterious form. A shape shifter in a glass. To taste it's fine grained and firm tannin with bright lashes of forest berry and strawberry compote, for me is pure delight.
NIEPOORT Vinhos - A NIGHT IN PORTO
Dinner at the restaurant O'GAVETO. Notes from a Trip November 2016
Looking at our schedule of wine makers, winery visits and dinners, I was excited that I would have the opportunity to revisit some producers I had already met on previous occasions. This third time would allow me the opportunity to truly synthesize and close 'a' chapter on what these wineries meant for Portugal. Of course there were a few producers I had never heard of and of course there was several among the few that I was very excited finally get the real low down. One of these producers was Niepoort Vinhos.. Niepoort, doesn't sound very Portuguese does it. Hear me out, Niepoort sounds un-Portuguese, only in name. Dirk Niepoort is a winemaker and an innovator that has pushed the envelope and the creative potential of the wines of Douro and the Wines of Portugal. Now let the record stand...Dirk Niepoort, the current winemaker for the Niepoort house, is the 5th generation of wine makers, the house has been family run since 1842, and have employed 5 generations of the Noguiera Family of Master Blenders over the last 50years. Everything about this house is #tradition but with a contemporary profile and flavour of the wines...! Though in the same breath I have to say that the wines are very Portuguese. So much that they stretch the imagination as far as the grapes will allow.
Sitting at dinner with Paulo Silva (Sales and Marketing) and José Teles (General Manager) I was in for a truly immersive dinner and tasting at a world famous seafood restaurant O Gaveto, in Porto.
First a word on the restaurant O Gaveto...the quality of fish and seafood here is managed by two brothers Joâo and José Pinheiro. Located in one of the biggest and most important fishing ports, the Matosinhos which is also happens to be a suburb of the greater city of Porto. The Pinheiro family has been serving up the freshest fish since 1984 and with some of the fish coming from a proprietary farm that the family operates ensuring consistency and quality. This is the first choice restaurant of any Douro wine producer and should not be missed if you visit the lovely city of Porto. As a child of West Indian parents, I've had the luxury of tasting the freshest fish of the Caribbean at home in Canada and at the source in Barbados...direct from the sea. As well one of my earliest wine trips took me to Santorini and a night of dining on fish literally plucked from a holding container in the sea at table side, I can say that O'Gaveto might have eclipsed all of my previous experiences with fresh seafood.
As I sit here writing and thinking, I ask myself how can I get straight to the point about this tasting and dinner, without the writerly flourishes that one might expect and flourishes that I am barely capable of achieving. I will attempt to revisit the tasting, and dinner as I have in my notes.
Dirk Niepoort is a man of ideas, In 1987 he started to make table wines in the Douro and wanted to exploit the potential and the synergy of Table Wines in Portugal. In 2002 he joined the group Douro Boys, which included Val de Meâo, Vale de Maria amongst a few, that intended to market and push the boundaries and more importantly the perceptions of what Douro table wines would be...call them the Barolo Boys of Portugal...modern, avant-gardiste, breakers of tradition but the guardians of heritage. Later in 2012 he would expand his horizons by joining the Baga Friends of Bairrada. Baga Friends - a group of like minded friends and associates looking to improve on the grape Baga. Baga a noble and fierce grape making wines that have been compared to Barolo and also has the capacity to make traditional sparkling wines not unlike that of Pinot Noir in France.
Niepoort is a collaborator, a protagonist and an artist.
He now makes wine in other regions of Portugal, in particular the Dão and Vinho Verde. The Vinho Verde would be the first wine of the night as we were served our first course of dinner.
Teppo Peixe Branco 2016 Vinho Verde. Niepoort Vinhos.
The wine is from an estate purchased in 2015, this vintage is a combination of the grapes Avesso, Trajaduro, and Azal from a vineyard- Quinta de Val Boa located in the subregion of Basto in Vinho Verde. The wine opens with bright green apple, and slight underripe pear with lemon zest. The wine has a gentle spritz, call it effervesence, which is not too distracting, supporting some soft creamy tropical white fruit flavour. A crisp and pleasant wine as an aperitif.
Conciso Branco 2014, Dão. Niepoort Vinhos
The label for this bottle is one of the most compelling I have seen in a while. The artist is João Noutel , like the wines of Niepoort, the labels are conceptual and quite stunning as contemporary art pieces. He has collaborated with other wineries, a few mentored by Dirk. What I did notice about the label and something I have never seen on any wine label...PERIOD, was that the hand on the wine label was that of a black man, in a suit. I thought the hand of Barack Obama, of course, as this trip was on the eve of the US Presidential Election last November.
The vineyards for this wine are located at 600-800metres above seal level, comprised of old vines Bical and Encruzado. Fermentation for this wine was in traditonal granite lagares and malolactic fermentation was completed in barrel. Initial impressions on this wine was of lovely brioche like aroma with apple, sweet peaches, lemon and lemon curds. A wine in its youth the palate continued with nice oak integration and a rich palate dominated by bright acidity - a vinous combination of apple, white peach and pastry notes.
This was not the first experience with a Dão wine from the hand of Niepoort. My first experience with his wines were with DODA. I proceeded to ask our hosts about this wine.
DoDa / (Do)uro and (Da)o. Niepoort Vinhos.
The concept was suggested by Dirks' father, Rolf, to create the best wine in Portugal by combining the elegance and longevity of the Dao wines and the power and structure of the Douro in one wine. The collaboration would work best with his equal, the wine maker Alvaro de Castro from Quinta de Pellada in the Dão. de Castro himself a master of winemaking in the Dao. The original blend was 50/50 of each wines...being made at their respective Quinta and then blended at Niepoort in Douro. The original name as I was told was DADO, but they had to change the name, at the same time the wine falls out of any appellation law and is simply and beautiful concept wine. Currently the 2011 vintage is available in our Ontario market from Terroir Imports. The wine is killer!
Bical + Maria Gomes Old Vines 2013, Bairrada. Niepoort Vinhos.
This is a gem of a wine, coming in at a whopping 11% alcohol from 60 to 100 year old vines on limestone soil from the coastal region of Bairrada. The elevated acidity in these grapes allows for full fermentation and malolactic to occur in 50 - 100 year old black barrels, originally from the Mosel, Germany. Try to imagine sucking on a well chiselled diamond!
This wine is laced with layers of mineral, mineral and more mineral tones, with slight green notes of green garden herbs: celery, parsley and savoury. The nose is rather quiet in regards to fruit, though I think with time this wine will evolve towards bright and gentle white floral notes, with lean citrus undertones.... I mean this wine is so pure and clean it was difficult to find the upfront pleasure of drinking it in it's youth. Personally, I would study this wine and with time re-visit and intellectually enjoy it's evolution.
I had to ask José and Paulo about this wine and they both attested that Dirk is someone who 'learns by doing and he respects the terroir, the grapes and the identity of the wines. His collaborations with wine makers such as Telmo Rodriques of Spain, Raul Perez and other have informed his beliefs on the benefits of balance and low alcohol in wines'.
Both admit that it is quite possible that Dirk's wines are 10 years ahead of their time. All of the vineyards are currently converting to biodynamic viticulture, the concept of 'less is more' holds true is an underlying theme to the Niepoort wines.
Redoma 2015, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
This wine is sourced from an 85 year old vineyard at 600-800 metres above sea level on schist and granite soils in the Cima Corgo. A classic field blend primarily composed of Rabigato, Codéga di Lorinho, Viosinho amongst the few. Here is a wine of upfront pleasure and richness from the floral and bright fruit of lemon, peach and apple with distinct mineral highlights. The must is fermented in oak with 8 months of ageing and the wine still remains as fresh as apples and summer peaches. If you thought that elegance could not be found in the Douro, then you should try this wine.
Charme 2014, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
Charme is made in one of the historical Port Wine Quinta in the Niepoort portfolio of properties, the Vale de Mendiz. The grapes, mainly a field blend dominated by Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and others, are whole bunch foot trodden in classic 'lagares', with 3 days of maceration with fermentation commencing and then completed in barrel with further ageing of up to 18 months. Out of the bottle the wine leaps forth with pretty red floral notes, some wood spice moving to red apple, red cherry and field berry fruit. Overall the nose is subtle and complex moving to a palate that is gentle with fine grained tannin wrapped in a halo of spiced and slightly candied fruit of currant, strawberry and raspberry flavours.
Rumour has it that the name 'Charme' is a play on words with Charmes-Chambertin of Burgundy. Taste the wine and see for yourself!
Recently the Niepoort house launched the Projectos Series of wines. The Projectos vision manifests itself as limited edition of wines focused on regions and grapes of Portugal that are unique and of interest and/or are made in partnership with other like minded wine makers from within Portugal or abroad. The Projectos include the Conciso Branco and Tinto of Dao , Poerinho of Barirarda and Turris an old vine Quinta in the Douro.
Bastardo 2010, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
The grape Bastardo was relegated to the sidelines of Douro wine production because of it's inability to produce wines of colour and weight, it lacked the power to contribute to port wine blending. The Bastardo grape is related to Trousseau of the Jura in France. What Niepoort has been able to do is fashion a wine of brigthness and a légèreté of bright red cherry, with herbal and savoury notes. A nice salinity runs through the wine which is rather tart and soft in tannin.
Conciso Tinto 2013, Dão. Niepoort Vinhos.
Another killer, label on this wine, a blend of old bush vines Baga, Jaen, Alfrocheiro and a touch of Touriga Nacional from a very ancient vineyard in the Dão. Like Voltron the wine is Part de-stemmed plus whole bunches, with the fermentation in granite lagares followed by barrel ageing and we have before us a wine of elegance and beauty. Tart red and blue fruit, with a wild mint to cola scented aroma laced with black pepper spice. The palate has earthy and gritty tannin, with more of the same fruit with light vegetal/herbal tones. This wine is beyond complex it is compelling.
Baga 'Poeirinho' 2014, Bairrada. Niepoort Vinhos.
An unfined and unfiltered wine, a palate of black plum and black cherry, with fresh dark green savoury notes. From a cool vintage the wine is tart and bright with a cool and lean profile.
Baga 'Poeirinho' 2013, Bairrada. Niepoort Vinhos.
This vintage shows a touch more warmth than the 2014, with black plum, cherry over botanical flavours of cola and root, with gentle tannin and an earthy profile.
Turris 2013, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
From a 130 year old single vineyard, dominated by the grape Touriga Franca, the wine is otherwise a field blend, that offers up a wine that is fresh and lifted, with dark berry fruit, floral hints, and warm spiced tone on the nose. The palate offers pure and driven flavours of ripe dark berries, plush and pleasant with a tartness to balance and easy tannin to keep the wine pleasurable.
Well, you can imagine how fun and engaging dinner was. We finished the meal with a 1997 Colheita Port, which was the best way to finish this engagement. I was thrilled. José and Paulo were very charismatic hosts, the food was amazing, the wines were fantastic! It was an honest and meaningful encounter with wine.
Love from the Ghetto is different than love from fresh meadows.
(Talb Kweli & Hi-Teck/Train of Thought)
Friday tasting - a selection of really chill and delightful wines from Elena Fauci of Faro, Sicily. Italy. and some well made natural wines from Sarnin-Berrux
keep it real and tasty!
Waking up from a dream that was never mine.
Waking into a world that is not of my design
CAPEZZANA of CONTE CONTINI BONACOSSI
SPRING TASTINGS this year ran frequently and with great intensity. It seemed like every body was in town showing their wares and wines from every part of the globe. It was a real task to fit them all in, especially if the wine maker had taken time to make the trip to the North American market. One of the many highlights was a visit from Daniel Edwards, the sales and marketing co-ordinator for the house of Capezzana. Daniel, formerly of the hotel and restaurant industry in his native England, found himself vacationing in a house next to the family estate of Carmignano Tuscany and the rest is history.
I encountered the wines of Capezzana when the entry level Barco Reale wine was in the LCBO vintages, some 6-7years ago. Barco Reale is for all intents and purposes the original and first 'DOC' of Italy, and is arguably one the first appellation that applied the use of the Cabernet grape then called Cabernet Francesi, as a required component to the Sangiovese based wines of the zone. As a student of Italian wines I was much intrigued, I had done my readings on the wines and today was a great opportunity to taste and talk about the wines of the famed winery. Note that the estate was once part of the historic and noble family Medici of Tuscany
BARCO REALE a 300 year history of wine.
History has it that the Grand Duke Cosimo III of the Medici (17th century) created the 'BANDO' a decree that declared the estate of Barco Reale as a wine zone of utmost quality. The Barco being a 53 km long wall that encloses lands and forests which contain an historical hunting ground, the wineries and vineyards, farms, olive groves and a few small rivers and streams. Situated north of Florence and to the Northwest of the Chianti appellation. The Barco Reale was noted of having superior wines and the Bando ensured that future wine was to continue to be made in particular style and fashion and also traded at a certain value to the highest courts and the greatest tables in all of Europe.
The property today is vast and includes 12OO acres of land on which today you will find the historic Medici Villa, along with 120 farmsteads of different families farming 300 acres of vineyards and 600 acres dedicated to olive groves.
It was in the 1920's that the noble family headed by the Count Contini Bonacossi, acquired the property. The Bonacossi family have been and still are collectors of antique art and textiles from Italy and Spain. The purchase of the estate was both a strategic business move and that of passion. The first bottles under the Contini Bonacossi was in 1925, in a more classic Bordeaux shaped bottle like the one we know today, they abandoned the old style straw covered 'fiasco' which was de rigueur at the time. This wine was 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon with 1 year in tonneau and 1 year in bottle. Fast forward to the 1970's, with Ugo Contini Bonacossi the 4th generation and we see the foundations for the wines that I would taste today. In 1979, Ugo purchased clippings of Cabernet and Merlot from Ch. Lafite in Bordeaux in order to establish another level of excellence in their wines
5 generations later and the current family members, Benedetta (wine maker), Vittorio (viticulturist), Filipo (olive oil production) and Bertrice (estate and sales manager) share the responsibility of guiding this family run estates towards consistant quality.
Now for the wines.
THE VILLA WINES:
The VILLA di Capezzana is the flagship wine for the Capezzana Estate, the original blend for the wine remains as it was since 1925 comprising of 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine spends 1 year in tonneau and 1 year in bottle.
2013 Villa di Capezzana : the wine displays layers of earthy dark blue berry fruit and rich red berry fruit, with a nice floral note, bright and lifted giving way to a round and full palate and fine grained tannin. The fruit flavour is a medley of dark blue and red cherry that remains fresh and taut. Given some time the wine will show it's true colours and flavours.
2007 Villa di Capezzana : this vintaged wine has evolved to present the same lovely floral and earthy tones I found in the '13, though with dried yet bright blue and red fruit, now add mushroom and a nice herbal sage aroma. The palate is soft and textured with dusty tannin and a chocolate powder like finish.
TREFIANO VILLA ESTATE WINE
TREFIANO RISERVA wine was first produced in 1979, from a single plot on a 4 hectare vineyard located on the 'Trefiano' Villa estate, not far from the main 'Villa' property and vineyard. This is a 'handcrafted' wine of 80% Sangiovese with 10% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Canaiolo, that spends 16 month in tonneaux and 1 year+ in bottle. This wine has principally been made for the family and the following generations to collect and age.
2012 Trefiano Riserva : is charming with rustic and pleasant bright fruit aroma and a floral nature. There is a certain complexity in this wine, that is understated, gentle and yet firm. The palate is seemingly sweet-ish with layers of orange blossom, some toffee and toasted coffee. It is a lovely and harmonious wine.
ALONG THE FURBA RIVER:
GHIAIE DELLA FURBA = the stones along the Furba River. This vineyard is located on a rather flat zone on the estate. In 1979 Vittorio and his father Ugo decided to establish a bonafide Bordeaux blend. The site and the feel of the vineyard was to emulate Bordeaux, the river, gravelly soil adjacent to a stream but of course in Tuscany. With original cuttings of Cabernet and Merlot from the famed Chateau Lafite, the wine today is a powerful combination of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 30% Syrah.
2012 Ghiaie della Furba is pure and floral, with plum candy fruit, spice and touch of vanilla and all the svelte elegance and richness of a luxury wine without the price tag. The palate is very direct with surprisingly lifted with mineral tones that support bigger flavours rich blue fruit coated with buttered chocolate, wood spice and a vibrant pepper spice that is contributed by the Syrah. The tannins are well defined and need some time to settle but the wine gives pleasure today and I can only imagine the future. This wine is fully biodynamic.
The final wine was the 2010 Vin Santo Riserva. A wine of true passion and dedication that is entirely made by the hand of Benedetta, the chief wine maker for the family estate. The wine is 90% Trebbiano and 10% Colombano Bianco. A delightful nectar that begins with a 3-6 month drying of the grapes on bamboo staves in a full terracotta stone chamber with windows. Benedetta by scent and feel will regulate humidity by opening and closing windows. When the grapes have lost nearly 80-90% of volume the grapes are pressed and turned to wine and then aged in 'caratelli', small wooden barrels made of chestnut, oak, and cherry. The barrels are stopped with concrete plugs and will remain this way for 6+ years. The DOC minimum is 5 years. Only 6000 btls are made each vintage and the resulting nectar is sweet and balanced with vibrant acidity, pale gold in colour with that classic caramelized almond and hazelnut flavours, add roasted peach and apricot with salted caramel.
These are the wines of Capezzana : Conte Contain Bonacossi. Some of the wines are already here, the 'Villa' is currently in vintages with the other wines to arrive in late September to early October. Contact Charles Baker at Cru Wine Merchants.
NOTES FROM A TRIP IN NOVEMBER 2016
It was soon time to leave the Alentejo and start the journey to the north of Portugal, though before going north there would be a visit to the house of José Maria da Fonseca. One of the longest standing wineries in all of Portugal and if it is not the first, it certainly is one of the very first wineries to export wines out of Portugal to International market.
Today the company has approximately 650 hectares under vine that can produce up to 6.9 million litres of wine. With 80% of their exports to Scandinavia, Canada, USA and Brazil and only 20% consumed domestically, da Fonseca is an example of a family run winery that has transformed itself into a well run company with deep roots in the Peninsula de Setúbal appellation. Under the wine guidance of Domingos Soares Franco, a graduate of the wine school at University of Davis in California, Domingos and da Fonseca are known as a leader in research, innovation and winery technology. On my first visit to Portugal in 2013 I had the opportunity to have lunch in the family garden with Domingos and his nephews. His nephews assist in the management of the company and it is their father António, whom I had lunch with on this recent visit, who is the CEO of the company.
Back in 2013 I had the opportunity to taste single bottling of over 15 different Portuguese grape varieties to better understand their character and what they each bring to the blending of wines. Yes the blending of wines is an art in which the best winemakers succeed at. A mastery in the Art of Blending is the key to consistent quality for the wines of Portugal, combined with innovation and improvements in the vineyard the potential is exciting. It is certainly the case for house of da Fonseca
We engaged in a rather quick fire tasting before sitting to lunch. Below are my notes on the wines tasted.
2015 Perequita Branco. Sourced from the very first vineyard for the company, the Cova de Perequita. A blend of Verdelho, Viosinho, and Viognier. No oak, simply pure clean and fresh aroma of orchard fruit, pear with dried flowers. I would say that it was much less fruity and floral than I expected. This wine is direct, fresh and lean.
2015 Perequita Original. This wine is the original and first wine brand the first to be exported. Around 800,000 litres of this wine is made. Aged in 100 year old Mahogany barrels. Mahogany wood is preferred as it is neutral, and strong enough to be shaped into the barrel size the company prefers. The wine is a classic blend of Castelão, Trincadeira and Aragones blended producing an aroma of rather fresh ripe red berry, with gentle floral tones and on the palate moving to gentle tannin almost vegetal and earthy, leading into a soft mineral tone. The fruit on the palate is easy, fruit driven and tart. Good Value and Easy drinking.
2014 Perequita Reserva. The Reserve is a wine that was created roughly 10 years ago, the blue print is Castelão with Touriga Nacional and Touriga France. Vines are roughly 30-40 years old. This wine was made with sheer drinking pleasure in mind, it shares the same structure profile as the 'Original' Perequita, though we go deeper and richer with black berry fruit, seemingly sweeter fruit over layers of vanilla from French oak, and certainly a fuller bodied wine.
2014 'Domini', Tinto Douro. It was only in 1990 that da Fonseca purchased vineyards in the Douro and started making the 'Domini'. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinto Barroca, Touriga Frances and Tinto Roriz. I found this wine as I have with the other Douro I would taste on this trip, to be quite subtle in aroma and persistence. I feel that the wines need a lot of time, like the wines of Bordeaux. The palate seemed to reveal the future of this wine in aroma and palate evolution with dry dark berry fruit, some spice, and earthy tannin and texture. Almost like waiting outside of the club in the line that stretches around the corner, you can feel the bass and sound emanating through the walls, you know what to expect once you get inside the doors, but you still have to wait and be patient.
2014 José de Sousa Tinto Alentejano. The vineyards for this wine are in the heart of the Alentejo at a region called Requengos. The vineyards are cherished for their granitic soils, giving way to mineral and fresh wines despite the ripeness that vines can achieve in the heat of the growing season. So details on this wine, we stretch back to traditional methods with 10% of the wine raised in clay amphora with a grape blend of Grand Noir, Trincadeira and Aragonez. In the glass the wine displays ripe plum and berry aroma with violet floral perfume. Palate is rich and full ripe and baked dark fruit backed by firm tannin and crisp acidity. Despite all this the wine remains fresh and cool to the touch.
2010 'Alambre' Moscatel de Setúbal. Moscatel for me is by far the best value and one of the highest quality dessert wines out there. From a producer focused on quality and precision these wines never cease to please, even the most avid Sauterne or Tokaji connoisseur. Mind you that Moscatel is still very different. José Maria da Fonseca are specialist with Moscatel, the original Muscat of Alexandria. The Setubal displays an intense aroma of bergamot and orange, to rose petal and other floral tones, the palate remains light and elegant in its sweetness with balance. The wine is made from the free run juice from a first press and rests 5 yeas in very old oak barrel. Gentle yet sweet and one of the most balanced dessert wines I have come across.
We then sat down to lunch with António Sr. and we had a very lively conversation that ranged from politics, to world travel and to the history and future José Maria da Fonseca as a family run company.
Without exception Chenin Blanc, Vouvray and the wines of Domaine Huet have got to be some of my favourite wines. Over the last 4 years I've been privileged enough to purchase and pour these wines at George Restaurant and now at Alo. It's almost like I can't have a wine program without them. In fact it was some 10 plus years ago and with Chenin and the wines of Vouvray that I had my eurêka moment with regards to white wines. So special and so delicious.
The 2005 Le Mont Demi-Sec Vouvray now in house at Alo Restaurant along with some 2008 Clos du Bourg Moelleux!
EVORA CITY AND AN EVENING WITH JOÃO PORTUGAL RAMOS - November 2016
We, I arrived in Évora City (a Unesco World Heritage City), late in the afternoon, there would be only a few hours left of sunshine before the chill of the night would begin it's slow creep. I took a walk through the quiet yet busy city. Then suddenly realizing in my instant transformation into a tourist, that this historical city was alive with its inhabitants going about their lives. Children and Teenagers coming home from school, the elders sitting and sipping coffee in the town square, and offices closing up as the restaurants and taverns prepared for evening service. Dinner was to be at 8 at the charming Luar de Janeiro Restaurant with the wines of João Portugal Ramos. It would be a very comfortable dinner and a casual tasting with the wines and the son of João Portugal Ramos, João Maria Portugal Ramos. (pictured below)
THE WINES OF JOAO PORTUGAL RAMOS OF ESTREMOZ, ALENTEJO
2015 Alvarinho Vinho Verde : a very fresh and clean wine with classic characteristics of apple and pear with bright fruit and mineral elements on the palate. 20% of the wine is raised in barrel, giving a soft and pleasing dimension to the wine and not overpowering the lovely fruit makes Alvarinho so pleasant as an aperitif wine.
2015 Marquês de Borba White: this wine is composed of Arinto, Antâo Vaz and a touch of Viognier. What I can say about this wine is that aromatically the wine is quite direct in character, with lovely lemon, citrus and orchard fruit tone with a touch of sweet peach and pear due to the Viognier, only to be balanced by a very pleasing palate with nice acidity and a lemon and mineral sandwich of flavour. Well made.
2015 Marquês de Borba Red : this wine is lead by Alicante Bouchet, Aragonez with support from Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional. As an easy drinking red, with lovely dark berry, currant and a touch of cooked fruit on the nose, which then moves direclty to the palate with like and similar elements framed by freshness and gentle tannin. Freshness and pleasing fruit is the vital and necessary key to good Alentejo wines. A great everyday drinking wine.
2013 Vila Santa Reserva Red : Grape Varieties in this gem are Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. Now a 1/3 component of this wine will be foot trodden in classic marble lagares with the remainder fermented in large wooden vats with ageing in American and French oak. The result is rich and ripe fruit aroma of dark berry, cassis and a perfume that is floral and fruity with a hint of sweet vanilla. On the palate there is the same velvety richness with a touch of rock rose, spice and vanilla from the elevage in barrel. By no way is this an obtuse 'big' wine. It balanced and elegant showing the skill and hand of the maker.
2014 Dourum Colheita Douro Red : here Touriga Franca leads the show with Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. We dig deep into the richness that only the Douro can provide with ripe and sweet berry over toasted vanilla and a touch of grains de café torréfié - roasted coffee. I would say and conclude later in my trip that the wine, and others wines of the Douro, had a Bordeaux like elegance and density, but with lift and clarity of pleasing fruit that allowed the wine to be enjoyed in youth.
FACT FILE ON JOÃO PORTUGAL RAMOS
- João is known as one of, if not the most famous oenologist/ wine consultants in Portugal and is constantly engaged in projects throughout the country. The Dourum label of wines in particular is a partnership with João Maria Soares Franco the famous and important past winemaker of Barca Velha. Barca Velha is the Portuguese equivalent to Vega Sicilia in Spain or Stag's Leap in Napa.
- In the 1990's João himself, after an illustrious career of making wines for others, purchased a property in Estremoz, Alentejo to make his own wines and then soon become one of the largest privately owned family wineries in the south.
- Currently they have a team of 6 wine makers in the group overseeing projects in other regions of Portugal.
- João's son, João Maria has recently finished his Masters in Wine at the wine school of Montpellier and has studied at Bordeaux. He has been working with his father since 2014 and is part of the new vanguard of young wine makers in training.
It is fall in Alentejo, the light of the morning sun is cool, vivid and blindingly bright. Causing one to squint as one looks over the horizon. A horizon divided by sky blue and the earth shades of olive green and vines.
We, I, am in Rueguengos a subregion of the Alentejo, not far from the historical city of Evora. The landscape is familiar, I've been here before, a few years back in time, exploring the wine regions of Vidiguera and to the far north Portalegre. It is beautiful here. Raw, earth, herbs, vines and sky for miles and miles. Today the 6 of us are visiting the Herdade do Esporão. Esporão is one of the pioneering wineries of the Alentejo, pioneers in the sense that the Herdade was a creative vision of the impresario José Roquette and Joaquim Bandeira. Roquette wanted to establish a 'chateau' in the Alentejo, a winery = Herdade, that would be known for quality. In 1972 the Esporão Tower and some 250 hectares of land were acquired. Yet there was still a significant hurdle to overcome as much of this area was occupied by farmers. Farmers who in a post dictatorship era were very much against the notion of surrendering land to raise vines, the idea was ludicrous. It was only in 1980's that a shift in mentality and direction was achieved, with a co-operative plan to rebuild vineyards and restore the land that the Herdade do Esporão project was now able to gather momentum. The vision included wine, olive groves and cork production. In 1985, the first winery was built, and it is here from which I gather my thoughts and memories.
Herdade do Esporão today produces about 15 million bottles of wine. Yes quite significant but key to understanding the potential and scale of what Alentejo and Portugal is capable of. The first brands to hit the market where the Esporão Reserve White and Red. The success of these wines was such that in the 1990's the company expanded into 3 tiers of production, which included the construction of 2 additional wineries. A second facility for white wines, a third for the top level wines and the expansion of the original home winery for the original reserve brands. The wines were present in 47 markets with 40% of consumption in Portugal and with the farmers included in the success grower contracts were re-established and Esporão was acclaimed a successful business model. The success is a combination of vision, quality and consistency which the Wines of Portugal needed in order to establish a foothold in the World Wine Market. You aren't going to find quirky, sommelier geek out wines here. You will find wines of benchmark production standards, precision that represent a necessary dimension of the Wines of Alentejo.
- Herdade = large winery/farm
- Monte = small winery/farm
- Quinta (a term used in the north and primarily the Douro = the classic term for a winery that was obliged to surrender 1/5, a Quinta, of the production to the monarchy.
- Herdade do Esporão sources grapes from the entire Alentejo. Particularly from the high altitude north sub region of Portalegre down to Reguengos.
- 7 different soil types contribute to the complexity of the wines.
- Production is 70% Red wine and 30% White wine.
- Red Grapes farmed : Aragonês (aka Tempranillo, Tinto Roriz as it is called in the North), Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira
- White Grapes farmed : Antão Vaz, Verdelho, Semillon (imported by David who happens to be Australian)
- David Baverstock, Chief Wine Maker has been with Esporão since 1982. He had come to Portugal to work with Symington's in the Douro in 1980. Prior that that he had spent time in France with LaPierre in Morgon, Beaujolais and some time in Germany.
IN THE TASTING ROOM
2015 Monte Velho White : a wine comprised of Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and Perrum offering up initial aromas of apple, pear with white orchard blossom perfume that borders on sweet yet remains bright and fresh. To taste the Branco it is rich yet tense, with green apple to dry peach and other stone fruit flavours. This is a wine with nice balance full and texture.
2015 Verdelho : at it's origin this Verdelho comes from the island of Madeira and it exists for the simple reason that the grape was isolated on the island during the era of the vine disease Phylloxera that devastated the mainland vineyards of Europe. At present we see more frequent use, though it is quite low yielding. It was in 2001 that Esporão started to plant the Verdelho. I would say that the wine is quite unique and interesting with an aromatic intensity that is of waxy green and gold apple, fresh pear combined with citrus moving to herbal light celery and anise like tones. On the palate the wine is quite dry, very dry with some clean and crisp apple, citrus and spiced flavours, think white pepper to jasmine. Quite direct and subtle in complexity.
2015 Esporão Reserve White : the blend here is mainly Antão Vaz, Roupeiro with Arinto and several other white varieties in the mix. The wine is fermented in 60% tank and 40% new oak with a further 6 months on fine lees. The resulting wine is full, with fruity citrus to white tropical fruit aroma over subtle wood spice and vanilla. I'm finding a familiar savoury and herbed aroma. The palate gives way to richer flavours on the palate, with a touch of texture. The wine is warm with big fruit and gentle spice with a pleasant finish.
2015 Monte Velho Red : to make the 5million bottles of this wine, 20 different farmers contribute to the blend of Aragonês, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah. The result is quite clear, with a simple wine of cherry and red berry aroma and flavour, the fruit is fresh and not jammy better yet it is bright and clean. A very easy going wine with little cosmetics and no fuss.
2013 Esporão Reserve Red : the perennial classic from the Herdade based on the grapes Aragonês, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouchet. This wine is a cuvée with each grape fermented separately in tank, blended then matured 12 month in barrel - some new and some used. Here we have rich fruit aroma, dark berry, black currant with spice re: saffron, vanilla, the nose remains fresh and does not move into the cooked fruit territory as one would think with the heat of Alentejo and the 'use' of barrel. The palate deepens with more dark blue and black fruit and gentle herbed tones. This wine is upfront and firm in tannin. A solid example of the craft at Esporão.
A few other wines that are of real interest which I enjoyed over lunch are pictured below.
NOVEMBER 6TH 2016
It was a moderately warm day as I got off the overnight flight from Toronto to Lisboa aka Lisbon. I flew on Açores Airlines, a flight that was efficient and direct as well as a throwback to circa 1986 a memory of the first time I ever flew on an 'aeroplane'. A time when overnight flights meant lights out, no movies, no room to stretch your knees and getting up to the washroom meant walking to the very very back of the plane. What the flight did afford me was the chance to sleep in-flight, for the very first time ever, which meant arriving in Lisbon with enough energy to walk and explore the city before dinner!
I was to be hosted by Andrea Guimarães of ViniPortugal on a wine tour of Portugal. A number of us would arrive in Lisbon to explore Alentejo and Setubal then move north to Porto and the Douro and Vinho Verde regions. The group would be 6 in total, 3 from Toronto and 3 from Montreal. My Toronto colleagues, Josh Correa of Archive and Alessandro Pietropaolo of Bar Isabel, had arrived 4 days earlier to enjoy the many food and wine delights of Lisbon and I would later catch up with them for an apero before going to dinner. I did have the luck of meeting 2 of the 3 Montreal companions whilst waiting for our transfer to the hotel. We had been on the same flight but had not met until now. They were Simone Chévalot of famed Montreal wine bar called La Buvette chez Simone and more recently Furco and Parvis and Sommelier Philippe Boisvert of Le Club Chasse et Pêche and the recently opened Le Serpent. Our Journalist for the trip Patrick Désy from Le Journal de Montréal would join us at dinner. So with a couple of hours to spare I set off with my two new French Friends in Wine, Simone and Philippe for a walk of Lisbon.
DINNER WITH ANTONIO MAÇANITA AND HIS WINES FROM AÇORES AND ALENTEJO
That evening we would dine with winemaker Antonio Maçanita of Fita Preta (Alentejo) at the restaurant Cantina do Avillez-Lisbon, a casual dining environment created by Michelin starred chef José Avillez. Antonio Macanita is considered as one of the best wine makers of his current generation with projects in Alentejo, Açores and most recently in the Douro. His projects embrace the history of viticulture and grapes of each region. It should be noted that Antonio is very much linked to each region by family relations, his father is from the Açores, his mother is from Alentejo and his sister recently joined forces to start a winery in the Douro. Antonio is of the new generation of makers that push towards precise and clean wines, with loads of character, in a era when the wines of Portugal are appearing more frequently on the wine lists of the many fine restaurant establishments in North America. I had the opportunity of meeting Antonio on a visit to Toronto last winter and he is very much an energetic and enthusiastic character. His wines reflect his personality. On this second meeting on his home turf in Lisbon, he was even more jovial as we had grand tasting of his wines with dinner and then proceeded to visit some of his favourite wine bars post dinner and late into the night. He was assisted by his right hand man David Marques and we began an epic first night of tasting.
THE AÇOREAN WINES OF THE AZORES WINE COMPANY by ANTONIO MAÇANITA : the Rare Grapes Series
The two main projects on offer at the moment are the Fita Preta wines of Alentejo and the Azores Wine Company of Pico Island, Açores. We started the tasting with the Azores Wines and appropriately with the 2014 and 2013 Arinto dos Açores. Arinto being a lovely and engaging white grape, this a particular clone indigenous to the Açores. The mainland Arinto is a different clone all together. I currently list the 2013 at alo Restaurant in Toronto, so it was a treat to have the 2014 side by side.
2014 Arinto dos Açores DO Pico : clean and crisp with intense and zesty lemon, apple and subtle floral notes over a briny and salt tartness with a gently herb note. This wine was still very young and taught.
2013 Arinto dos Açores DO Pico : apple to lemons and bright bitter citrus aroma with a pronounced florality. There are subtle lactic and creamy notes indicative of the lees work in the wine but certainly pronounced and evolved after a few years in bottle. The palate translates to golden and green apple balanced with tart acidity.
2014 Arinto dos Açores 'Sure Lie' DO Pico : This wine was composed of like elements from the previous Arinto but now with a complexity that was deeper and decidedly more focused. The apple and floral to chamomile tones are pure, quiet, yet persistent, with a lovely backbone of acid flanked by a crisp mineral flavours of orchard and citrus, and also combined with a touch of 'salt' and brine, all was in balance. In two words this wine was focused and pure.
2010 Terrantez de Pico IG Açores from the Sao Miguel Vineyard site.
Terrantez is an indigenous white variety which is a crossing between Verdelho and Bastardo. Originally planted from a massal selected vineyard, Antonio and his team are in the midst of recovering 47 hectares of the grape for which 27 hectares are currently farmed. As per the tasting of this wine, it was waxy, lemon and lime to green apple on the nose with a fresh butter tone. The palate gave way to a pleasant earthiness layered with sweet apple and pear, viscous round and rich.
2015 Terrantez de Pico IG Açores : The recent vintage of this wine was a clean and lean contrast to the evolved 2010. It was bright and bitter citrus on the nose with the briny to saline aroma. The palate was a mirror image of the nose with added layers of fresh citrus with savory herbal aroma. A profile I find quite often with maritime/mediterranean wines with high acid structure and tone. Only after a couple of hours do the hard edges soften to a smooth if not creamy citrus palate.
There are two Red wines from the Açores that Antonio also included in the tasting. Both of which have been available in Toronto through the agent Le Sommelier by Bernard Stramwasser. I have worked with both wines and have actually cellared one in particular for about 7 months now. That wine is the 2014 Isabella ai Proibida and will introduce it on our wine pairing menu in the coming days/weeks.
2015 Isabella a Proibida is indeed the name of the red grape involved in this wine, a Vinho di Chiero ( a scented wine) which I am quite taken to. It is a grape that is actually not fully recognized and permitted to make quality wine hence the scribble over Isabella (the forbidden) in the photo slide above. The aroma is of ripe and rich plum and currant but not jammed or wooded, with floral and pretty highlights supported by a gentle smokey herbal tint. To taste the wine dials all that back to hit you with lean and bright acid structure with some reference to toffee and toasted coffee, though only 20% of the wine sees oak on this wine. Insert garden herb and savouries. Overall an elegant and evolved wine. A highlight of the tasting and as I have recently revisited the 2014 this wine has a lot of promise for the Açores concept of Antonio's vision and wine program.
2015 Tinto Vulcanico IG a blend of unknown indigenous varieties. At this time of the tasting we were knee deep in wine and food and it was hard to get over the din of the busy and boisterous restaurant. Nonetheless my tasting notes continue with this fresh and ripe berry red with some tobacco, toasted coffee bean, then a herbal savoury edge. The palate could be considered 'brash' for the lack of sweet or pleasurable fruit. The wine overall was tart fresh, herbal and certainly a 'sensorial experience'.
THE ALENTEJANO WINES OF FITA PRETA Vinhos
The next series of wines takes us to Alentejo with the wines from the Fita Preta Vinhos. A project that began in 2004 with his then partner David Booth (1965-2012). Antonio's philosophy with all of his wines is to 'embrace history, knowing full well that one is in the present and needing to move forward, but not without understanding the past'
NOTE: all wines fall under the denomination of Vinho Regional Alentejano
BRANCO / WHITE
2015 Branca de Telha : is the amphora raised white wine made from the grapes of Roupeiro and Antâo Vaz. The grapes are whole bunch pressed, then filtered into 1000litre amphora, fermentation begins, and the wine continues in amphora for 28 days before being moved to stainless steel tanks. This process offers up a wine of floral to waxy fruit and earthy complexity on the nose, primarily peach and apple aroma of a semi-aromatic intensity giving way to a palate of waxy green and russet apple, with a touch of sweet stone fruit. I would call it a very approachable and user friendly amphora wine, not funky but fun enough as a primer.
2015 Fita Preta White : a combination of Antâo Vaz, Roupeiro and Arinto producing a rich and plush white wine. A wine displaying aroma of lemon and orange accented by white flowers. The palate is defined by a bright citrus, with pleasant mouthfeel and texture, almost a slight hint of tannin for a white wine that is entirely void of oak. A fun and sexy wine of good complexity.
2015 Palpite Branco : The term Palpite stems from Portuguese expression for a 'hunch' or a gut feeling, which is applied to the best grapes from separate blocks of Arinto, Antâo Vaz that will be chosen for this top wine. The red carpet treatment for this wine is 100% barrel ferment and ageing with battonage. The 2015 version of Palpite was initiated with a combination of controlled yeast and some natural, in 1/3 new oak with more than 1 year in barrel before bottling and future release. The hunch I get is that this wine offers the 'big' white wine drinker the opportunity to experience Portugal in a 'flavour comfort moment' with a unique and different set of varieties from the Portuguese south, that isn't chardonnay. in fact I don't think I've ever had a Chardonnay from Portugal! The 2015 Branco is rich, with honeyed apple, with of course the classic vanilla like aroma that only oak provides, though a combination of peach and apricot pastry flavours is very pleasing. This wine needs time for all that power to come into balance. Otherwise it is a well made wine, though not my style.
TINTO / RED
2014 Fita Preta Red : a combination of Aragonez (aka Tempranillo, aka Tinto Roriz), plus Trincadeira, and Alicante Bouschet presented as the classic wine for the Fita Preta brand. Initial aroma of black and blue fruit, with ripe currant, moving to mineral toned yet modern floral and rich vanilla tones. Almost Christmas candy like with orange rind and dark cherry though remaining fresh. The palate offers up ripe black and blue fruit, nice toasted vanilla and coffee with a tell tale streak of acidity produced by the vibrant grape Trincadeira. Chill!
2015 Touriga vai Nua : a conceptual expression of Touriga Nacional with no oak influence at all. Touriga 'Nude'. The wine is fleshy and bright with red berry to apple skin - breakdown to strawberry and cotton candy, with sweet coffee cream. The palate continues this theme with lean fresh and tart structure that skips to some plum and rich red fruit and then switches back to orange, bergamot and white pepper. As you can read by the notes the pleasure factor is high on this wine and would satisfy a wide spectrum of wine lovers.
2014 Tinto Castellão : now, Castellâo is a red grape primarily found in the Setubal and Tejo regions. Castellâo has been used to make light and fresh wines though it can be made into a full bodied and age worthy red. A close comparison might be the way the new world public looks at Merlot?!? So what Fita Preta has produces is a wine of pleasure with candy raspberry and bramble fruit dominating, with a little smoked hickory, coconut and vanilla added. It would classify this as a light to medium bodied wine with savoury notes and sour cherry and raspberry on the palate. The wine is made with 30 days of maceration / 12 month in barrel / 12 month in bottle. So yes, Antonio is taking his time to make a precise expression of this once thought of as a simple grape Castellão.
2014 Palpite Tinto : consists of the mighty Aragonez, Alicante Bouchet and Touriga Nacional. This wine aromatically is all black cherry and rich red berry fruit, layered with rich and full aroma of vanilla and spice. The beauty of full bodied reds from Alentejo when done right is that instead of going jam- jammy, the wines kick in with some great structure and acid, call it freshness. This wine will hit all the pleasure spots flavour-wise with rich ripe fruit, dark red and forest berry then slap you in the face with some food friendly acid to balance everything out. This wine is certainly the Rolls Royce of the portfolio.
Yes and that was not all we tasted that evening, though I do feel that sums up the key elements of the Antonio Maçanita Azores/Fita Preta arsenal of wines. Dinner and tasting with this energetic personality was certainly the best way to break the ice on what would be my third tour of Portugal.
NEXT: ALENTEJO - A PORTUGUESE WINE DIARY - PART 2 WILL TAKE ME INTO THE HEART OF ALENTEJO WITH THE WINES OF ESPORÃO AND JOÃO PORTUGAL RAMOS.
It's not often one gets to taste Hungarian wines, though we in Toronto have had the chance at least once a year for the last 4 years. It does help when the wine maker is Robert Gilvesy of Hungarian birth, he after establishing roots in Canada, returned to his homeland of Hungary to build his winery 'Gilvesy Pincészet'. The winery is located on the vast plains of a greater wine region called the 'Highlands' the appellation is called 'Badacsony' direclty located on the north shore of Lake Balaton in South-East Hungary. The subregion and the multiple vineyards specific location is identified as Szent György-Hegy.
Robert was in town late August for an annual visit to family to meet up with agent Nicholas Pearce of NP Wines. They arranged a small tasting at the current hot spot for informative yet informal wine tastings Archive 909.
My recent trips to Austria last summer and more recently participation in the Vienna- VieVinum wine fair has certainly conditioned my palette in what to expect from Eastern European wines. The wines are well crafted and certainly fit for our dining tables and wine bars. Here are my notes.
Robert works primarily with white grape varieties, those being Riesling Italico, Pinot Gris, Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and more recently Furmint. It is interesting to note that the soil in this region is primarily volcanic with tufa and sandy loam, giving way to great freshness and mineral tones throughout all wines.
The entry level wines that he presented were:
Bohém Riesling Cuvée 2015. The Bohém is a cuvée of Riesling Italico, Rhine Riesling with a dash of Pinot Gris for good measure. The wine is fresh, clean and lean as one would expect. Continuing with nice tart and sweet orchard fruit, think green apple, apple skin, and citrus. Overall the wine is nicely concentrated and balanced as an easy and gently way to introduce a drinker to the world of Hungarian wines.
Kaçer Rhine Riesling 2015. Here we jump to 100% Rhine Riesling presented with a pure aroma of apple, pear, and a touch of pine layered with an essential oil of mountain flowers. This wine had a more subtle and complex nose with some creamy notes indicating work with lees. Now moving to the palate the Kaçer is off dry but dry in that fantastic Riesling way, with a gentle weight and nice viscous mouth feel with a fresh apple and pear nectar flavour.
The following wines are labeled under the 'Gilvesy' brand banner for the 2nd and 3rd tier Rhine Riesling and his two (2) Sauvignon Blanc.
Rajnai Rizling (Rhine Riesling) 2015. This wine is made from primarily 45 years old vines and a small component of younger vines and if my notes are correct this wine sees 50% stainless steel ageing with 50% in 2-3year old Hungarian 500 litre barrel. As a tasting note the barrel elements on this wine are well integrated and very little is perceived in the nose and on the palate. The wine presents itself with lively lemon and lime to apple/orchard fruit aroma and flavour with a well rounded weight and mouthfeel. Acid is moderate with a gentle citrus pith bitterness. I would say a very complex wine for the price point at $19.95 and being the 2nd tier of the Rizling offerings. I would enjoy having this wine with food or on a tasting menu...
Tarányi Rajnai Rizling Reserve (single block barrel aged Rhine Riesling) 2015. Here we have complex aroma of stone fruit and citrus, from orange and candy lemon to slighty sweet fuzzy peach. This wine is many levels richer than the previous Rizling examples and is well textured on palate though it maintains the Riesling bright floral elements on the nose and gently on the palate.
Sauvignon Blanc 2015: The Sauvignon Blanc is made with 35 year old vines from the Mogyoros vineyard. This is a good and classic cool climate example of Sauvignon Blanc with gentle tones of grassy and green peppers aroma, with savoury herbed aroma, though bright with ripe citrus - lemon and lime. I would say a very pleasing wine.
Mogyoros Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (single block barrel aged) 2015: with classic sauvignon blanc aroma of lemon, lime, some tropical white fruit with spice one could denote some earth and mushroom. Certainly a richer and creamier textured wine, multilayered with nice acid and a salty, mineral finish.
Pröba Üzem Furmint 2015: This was the final wine of the tasting and it was certainly fun and interesting to taste. In the same breath it is floral and pretty layered over rich and creamed fruit notes with caramel and a touch of vanilla as the wine sees some barrel, though the palate remained fresh clean and interesting with lemon and orchard fruit dominating. Overall it was clean, acid was moderate and balanced.
It was not long ago that I knew absolutely nothing about Nebbiolo and the wines of Barolo e Barbaresco. As a matter of fact, I still know very little as I learn that there is so much to learn. I had read somewhere that Barolo was the King of wines and Barbaresco was the Queen. Wines with lasting depth like that of Aglianico in the south but with a more haunting finish than that of Brunello of Tuscany.
My first trip to Barolo was for a wine -trade event called Nebbiolo Prima, the vernissage of the years upcoming release to market of all wines Nebbiolo including Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo! My invitation was as a Sommelier/Buyer versus that of Media/Journalist. Choose your program was the initial email - vineyard visits, regional tours and choice of restaurants for the evening wine dinners. By the time I researched every single producer and restaurant for their worth, all options I wanted were booked. I was stuck with an initial tour of Roero…WoW!….It was great, it was amazing, what best way to warm up to the great wines of Piemonte than by tasting and learning about the gentle and playful wines of Roero.
I did manage to make but 3 rather crucial and important vineyard visits, really without knowing. The first was to Elvio Cogno in Novello. Walter (son-in-law and wine maker) and Nadia (daughter to Elvio) I had met a few years before and fell in love with their wines. The other 2 wineries were Bartelomeo Mascarello and Vietti. I really knew nothing about them, imagine! Well wasn't I a lucky bugger. 5 years later and 3 trips all in total - each time included a visit to Mascarello and Vietti. Recently I wrote a piece which included a few words about Mascarello (see www.goodfoodrevolution.com 'boy-oh-boy' Barolo) and I think now is an opportune time to share a few words about the house of Vietti and the current winemaker Luca Currado.
First I will reference Jamie Goode once again regarding an article about wine journalism and the subject of favouritism when writing and reviewing wines/wineries. Favouritism certainly and undoubtedly exists but what happens when you get to know the character of the wine and it's maker, after subsequent visits, research and tasting. I do find myself consistently noting that the wines of Vietti, like many others, stand out for their character and impact. Listen, I'm not talking about being the best wine, I'm talking about continually being a reference for erroir, technique and balance. Il est clair ce qu'on trouve tous qu'il faut dans tous les vins de Vietti!
Vietti represents innovation and tradition. I was in a trade seminar focusing on the region of Franciacorta hosted by Ricardo Curbastro and I will never forget him saying that 'a Tradition is the lasting result of an innovation that worked!'
NO BERLUSCONI, NO CRU SINGLE VINEYARDS!
Real Talk! Circa 1961 - Luca's father Alfredo Currado, the patriarch for the current rendition of Vietti along with Beppi Colla, then of Prunotto, asked the question, 'wouldn't it be interesting and innovative to identify and bottle single vineyard expressions from the whole of Barolo'. Up until this point the rule of thumb was that Barolo was a cuvée or rather a blend of the best vineyards and the best of different areas into one wine. That was the true way to make a balanced wine. What one vineyard couldn't give another would provide, producing a uniform and coherent wine year in and year out. Every wine of Barolo would represent a portrait of the region painted by the hand of the wine maker. But what of vineyards that almost had it all. Alfredo wanted a closer look at the region, at the communes and why and how each hill produced a different wine. Alfredo wanted to find greater value, greater depth and character of Barolo, and this new way of thinking would prove to be a great way to differentiate his wines from the others.
How would he achieve this and which vineyard to define this idea? The vineyard would be the heart of the Vietti family, the Le Rocche Vineyards in the commune of Castiglione Falletto. This was going to be the Barolo equivalent to the Burgundy 'Grand Cru'. La Rocche is the most challenging vineyard to manage, with aspect and slope so steep that everything must be done by horse and by hand. It is a vineyard that is the most challenging to interpret, making wines that need time. The results are enchanting, distinct and pure Nebbiolo. The second vineyard would be Brunate in the commune of La Morra with wines that reveals its colours from the beginning with elegance, ripe fruit and 'softer' tannin.
The third would would be Lazzarito of the commune of Serralunga d'Alba. Lazzarito a bonafide 'grand cru' with wines tanninc, spiced and rich with depth of flavour like that of Southern Rhône.
50 years on and these 'cru' are pillars of the Vietti Family of wines. They represent the first single vineyard expressions of and for Barolo. At the time it was an innovation that today has resulted in a widespread and now accepted and necessary 'tradition' of producers presenting an 'ultimate cru' expression of their vineyards.
A FEW MORE WORDS ON VIETTI
This is not the end of it. If you have not already you must taste the single vineyard expression of their Barbera from both Asti and from Alba with some vines surpassing 85years of age. Now, If you choose to continue reading you will not find tasting notes, but background information on a few of the the Vietti wines.
ARNEIS OF ROERO
Luca Currado is the current character behind the the wines of Vietti, along with his wive Elena they make a formidable and jovial pair. He from a family of winemakers and she from a family of restaurateurs.
Another important wine in the family is the Arneis from their Santo Stafano vineyards in Roero. Arneis being a white variety.
Roero is more than just the 'other' appellation for quality wines of the region of Alba. We seldom see the wines in the Ontario market due to the dominion of Barolo and Barbaresco. Though I will say, that on my first visit to Piemonte a few years back I toured the region and I was so pleased and enchanted by the approachability yet complex nature of the wines. The relatively sandy soils, various elevations make for more perfumed and softer wines. Don't drink 'under-age young vine' Nebbiolo from the B&B (Barolo&Barbaresco), drink Roero for a truer elegant and 'ready to drink' expressions of the grape.
But I digress I want to speak of Arnies, the grape once called Nebbiolo Bianco, As it was the blending partner to Nebbiolo in Barolo wines to create a softer and more complex profile to the wines of B&B in much the same way Viognier is used with Syrah in the Northern Rhône. This practice is no longer. Today Arneis stands on it's own and it was thanks to Luca's father Alfredo - the father of Arneis. At a time when the wine world of Italy was planting Chardonnay. Alfredo said No! We need a white wine that is not Chardonnay, and as an indigenous grape variety with character and moderate ageing potential Vietti in 1968 re-planted the Arneis in Roero, and rescued the grape from extinction.
PERBACCO - LANGHE NEBBIOLO
Perbacco - the Langhe Nebbiolo of Vietti is in fact a regular Barolo. It is a blend of several of the Vietti Barolo vineyards that include for the most part wines from Castiglione Falletto vineyards and in particular with the 2012 vintage some components of Barbaresco sites in Rabaja and Pajé. The process is that from the year 2000 they now raise the wines in barrel for 2 years as per minimum 'Barolo' specifications, they then taste the wines blind. Certain barrels that do not make the cut for the 'cru' they originate from then get declassified and go into the Langhe. When Luca's grandmother tasted the first wines of this new method she exclaimed 'Perbacco!' which means goodness or by jove!.
BAROLO - CASTIGLIONE
Castiglione is the Vietti signature house Barolo, comprised of several cru inside of the commune of Castiglione Falletto some of it occasionally be self-declassified Stock from any of the 15 cru estate vineyards around the appellation of Barolo. It is always a consistent wine and a benchmark for understanding their vision.
A few of the CRU
- Lazzarito of Serralunga - was once the site of a famous hospice, or hospital of the region. A quote from the 1600's says that if the hill was good for the people, it should be good for wine'. This wine can take up to 28 days of fermentation.
- Rocche di Castiglione - the first single vineyard 'cru' for Vietti. The emblem and heart of the Vietti family of wines.
- Villero Riserva of Castiglione Falleto - a very special wine that has only been made 10 times in the last 40 years. It is seen only in years of exceptional vintages for the single vineyard Villero in Castiglione Falletto. An international artist is commissioned to make the label for that vintage and the wine is only released 6 years after harvest.
- Ravera of Novello - this vineyard is shared by only a few producers. For Vietti this wine presents a very 'polishedstyle that they would every produces. The rule is that 2/3 of the production is dedicated the the Castiglione blend and 1/3 to be released as 'Ravera' Cru. He initially released the wines to much high critical acclaim but personally Luca did not like the wines. They were too slick. As of 2010 he recommenced single vineyard releases of the wine with limited bottles approx 14,000.
- Barbaresco 'Masseria' - is the Barbaresco made with the 'intelligence' of a Barolo wine maker, thus this wine has the same release as Barolo and has the same minimum specifications for barrel ageing, resulting in a deeper and richer style Barbaresco.
Well. That's it. I hope you may find these in your market pick a few and enjoy!
STREAM OF THOUGHT
It has been a few weeks since my last post and I've been mulling over several short form articles to post. It is quite challenging finding that so called 'writers' voice. As it is, I have a short list of wineries and people to write about and most often I find myself at odds as to how to present the information in a manner that is interesting and worth reading. I hope to find my way by simply just doing. Let me know what you think as we move along!
READING AND WRITING
In the meantime I've been frequently reading other wine blogs and taking notes on style, flow and content. A most recent blog post by Jamie Goode aka The Wine Anorak talked about the need to read NON-WINE CONTENT in order to maintain and train your writers voice. I believe this to be true, just like anything you have to practice what you preach and keep the mind healthy and in shape. I took this to heart and I've decided to share a few of the books I am currently reading and have most recently read. I feel these books encourage a more thoughtful spirit and in turn will change how I approach subjects and stories going forward…and most importantly they offer an escape inward and outward at the same time!
This was a great little book that I have returned to on several occasions. Frédéric Gros is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris XII and the Institute of Political Studies, Paris. In this work he touches on the theme of how many a great philosopher, this book focuses on a catalog of western thinkers, from Rousseau to Thoreau to Nietzsche all practiced the act of walking to move the mind and body to a relaxed state of thought. Only through this urge to walk were they able to come up with some of their greatest works. When was the last time you went for a long walk. Worthy of a read in an age of Uber, Apps, and the need for speed.
This book by Canadian author Dan Rubinstein addresses how walking and the decline of walking has affected the body, society, economy and spirit among other subjects. With first hand accounts and testimony about the need to reverse this decline and how walking can repair the individual, bring communities together and empower marginalized groups and people. A great little follow up read to the first book noted here. A current account, in a personal journal style, that can be read as a whole or in chapters based on the subject that relate to the reader. I'll be reading the chapter on Creativity over the next few days.
I've spent all my university years reading and writing in French, I hold a French Language and Literature degree from University of Toronto. This is, as I've often thought, perhaps why writing in English might prove challenging for me, or different. I've spent recent years studying wine and translating ideas of wine and hospitality to our the guest in oral communication and less written. So I thought I would get back to reading in French and aim to find a style of writing that feels French though I will write in English. As a student it took me a moment to understand the differences between the spoken and written language, and furthermore there is a literary language that is slightly different as well, mon dieu! Reading in French is my method of getting back to a comfortable place, the pleasure of immersion in a second language. L'Immoraliste is a tale of a very educated man, Michel recovering from tuberculosis and his life with his wife. Set in parts of North Africa to the Salons of Paris high society. He turns his back on the 'codes' of society and gives in to inhibition, to a pursuit of the nature of self, then hitting rock bottom before becoming 'spiritually free'.
I hope this entry was a good read!
Over at Alo Restaurant, chef Patrick Kriss is rolling out some new menu items as we transition into Spring.
A new Basil Pistou/Pesto with Pine Nuts, house cured Lardo, Quail Egg Yolk. Anchovy Garlic Purée, Olive Oil Foam and finished with a Parmigiano tuile!
What to Pair with? We are going with a Xarel-Lo Amphora 2014 from Sicus of Spain while we wait for some Vermentino, Grillo and some Mediterranean whites to come in! Any suggestions?
What a difficult job I have. The pleasure is in the challenge! The adventure continues.
AS THE STORY GOES:
I was reflecting on the art of note taking as a component of tasting wine, a recorded memory of mind, wine, palate and physical experience aligned in one moment as the responses to the wine are put pen to paper…for ever. A close friend of mine, a professor in the U.K had asked me on his last visit to Toronto, how do you catalogue your notes, how do you organize your memories? He was doing a study on how we remember things and the physical act of doing so. I told him I have several Moleskine or Moleskine-like note books that at a time each more or less capture 6months to a year of time in tasting…either work related or from trips to trade seminars. They are catalogued or rather organized at this point by year and whatever major trip happened in that book. My memory is captured in a series of notebooks. I'm sure the more seasoned Sommeliers and Wine writers have libraries of notes or perhaps many files on a sacred hard drive locked in a safe somewhere. Some say go digital, though for me the computer, the files, the bright screen inhibits my physical act of writing.
Where am I going with this?... well I've recently signed on as Head Sommelier at Alo Restaurant in Toronto. (December 2016) and we at the restaurant had the pleasure of hosting Ann Jasper and Rob Groh of the Vine Agency , wine friends since the beginning of my career. What they didn't tell us was that they had a third guest and that was the venerable Dr. Jerry Seps of Story Book Mountain Vineyards in Napa.
Jerry Seps quite calm and wise with a stature that brimmed with a professor like aura, as if he had seen all that there was in the world of California wine and more, with hands large from toiling in the vineyards, a grey beard with a very studious look and boyish smile, pardon the comparison but he was a sort of Gandalf of wine. Yes I love Tolkein and that was was my first internal thought when I met him in Spring of 2015 while I was running the George Restaurant Wine Program.
Rob, Anne and Jerry came to dine at the restaurant and for them it was a moment to sit as friends, they've known each other far too long to spend 'off hours' talking shop, but with them they brought the 2010 Seps Cabernet and the recent vintage of the StoryBook Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Estate. As I was re-tasting the wines, my memory raced back to the very first moment (pictured above) I tasted with Jerry with my notebook. The Story and the wines drafted over 2 pages or so. The very notebook in front of me as I post this today.
The truth is 'once upon a time, there were two brothers named Grimm (Adam and Jacob) who started the Vineyard…' when Jerry had the opportunity to take on the Vineyards as his own, he called it Storybook for he believed a wine should have a good story and provide an element to improve your life! Located in the Northernmost vineyard sites at the top of the Napa Valley bordering the top of Sonoma very near to the Chalk Hill Gap at about 2000 feet, the climate of the zone is moderated by fog that enters the valley here the same way that fog keeps Carneros to the south very cool and fresh. Though with much more precipitation. Here he has planted Zinfandel, some 39years ago! On Volcanic soils for the most part and smaller parcels of various soil at relatively high altitude, helps explains the vivacity of these wines. The Zinfandels are intense without being heavy. Farming Organically since the beginning and yielding 200 tons per hectare, these are Zinfandels for those who don't believe Zinfandel can be anything but hot and heavy…but in this case these wines capture what Zinfandel can do in the right hands.
My notes from the tasting of the 2012 Storybook Mountain Mayacamas Zinfandel included memories of ripe and fleshy blue and black fruit, though balanced with tart black berry with tannin that was present but pliable and earthy finish. A pleasing and enjoyable wine that, I as an old-world wine lover could enjoy, appreciate and open my heart to a new 'California' wine experience. The 2012Storybook Mountain 'Eastern Exposures' (not sure why I didn't include the vintage in my notes…might have been too excited tasting) was quite exceptional. A barrel selection that is meant to express three concepts, a) 'a true Character of Zinfandel', b) 'Aromatics' and c) 'Purity in Flavour'. With an added dose of Viognier the wine had an engaging and attractive underlying note that was floral and perfumed black and blue fruit, plum candy, fresh spices and a palate that was cool and warm and refreshing. Zinfandel is one of the few varietal wines that can do all that and stay balanced - altitude, sun and freshness of vineyard site! His 2013 Viognier is barrel fermented to dryness with 8months on lees, was still fresh, still mineral with peach, pear, and apricot skins. The timing of the Battonage added some weight and a touch more glycerine to the wine making it round and full, though far from 'fat'. Très agréable!
Back to the end of their dinner at the restaurant as we stood at the bar and talked life, work, family while tasting the 2010 Seps Cabernet Sauvignon and a revisit to the 2012 Mayacamas Zinfandel. We just enjoyed the wines and I let the memories of my first tasting guide me as I spent some 'less formal' time with the man and his wines. No notes taken…the story will be lodged in my memory this time...
A NEW FACE OF ABRUZZO : TIBERIO
this entry was composed listening to a mix by Joy Orbison , no wine to accompany, just a glass of water first thing in the morning
I can think of few better ways to spend a Monday afternoon than a luncheon with a visiting wine maker. Mr. Charles Baker of Cru Wine Merchants was hosting one of his producers, Agricola Tiberio of Abruzzo, Italy fame. Cristiana Tiberio the wine maker was here to present 6 wines ( 4 white, 1 'cerasuolo' and 1 red).
Now the image and memory that most have of Abruzzo wines are simple, cheerful and fun wines to have with uncomplicated Italian cuisine. Long gone are the days of the 1/2 litre jugs of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo at your local Pizzeria….wait that is still happening isn't it? Aspetta! Cristiana Tiberio has been working hard to bring wines of 'terroir' and character to a thirsty public. The winery was started with her brother, Antonio in 1999, and they first vintages of their wines were released in 2004. A very interesting and critical component to this story is that Cristiana had spent several years making wine in Champagne and in the Mosel and admires the wines of Alsace and Burgundy. Combined with her vision of Abruzzo and what she has taken from a 'french' approach to wine its that it is more critical to 'follow the terroir, follow the vintage and to respect the vintage' if everything is done in a clear and focused way there is 'no need to force the wine' to be what it isn't.
The wines and terroir she has chosen to work are selected with the aim to express freshness and acidity in the resulting wines. She works only with original massal selection vines of the original Abruzzo Trebbiano, 'The' Trebbiano Abruzzese. Not to be confused with the Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC, which can be a combination of any of the many variations of Trebbiano - the Toscana, Emilia-Romagnese, Bombino and Malvasia. All have the capacity of making massive quantities of wine at variable quality levels either for simple table wine or for bulk blending. Cristiana has moved away from this history towards an original source. She is determined to only work with the original Trebbiano Abruzzese from a massal clone selection which originates in an old plot of vineyard she purchased in the mountains outside of the town of Cugnoli located in the province of Pescara. She spent 4 years zoning in on the original vines to propagate her 30 hectares of vines. She tells us that the Trebbiano Abruzzese is of sensitive skin, small berry and quite fleshy and is somewhat sensitive to the light of the sun, hence the traditional 'Pergola' Training with leaf canopy giving just enough radiation to ripen the grapes. The goal is to preserve the freshness of the Trebbiano. The vines are raised on calcarous soils with a subsoil of sand. The wine is made, all the wines are made, from free run juice and ferment in stainless steel. Any and all ageing is done in bottle.
Cristiana presented 2 Trebbiano the first, the 2014 Tiberio Trebbiano d'Abruzzo which was light and lean like a ray of sunlight, with subtle very subtle notes of celery, fennel and citrus and a touch of green apple skins. Compared with the second wine the 2014 Tiberio 'Fonte Canale' Trebbiano of 60 year old vines, the best vines from her winery raised on marl and clay soils with deeper roots. The fermentation here is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts creating a subtle and quite focused wine, only after letting the glass warm did we perceive it's real nature. The wine was mineral, citric, rich and fleshy with saline, olive, sage pine notes. the Fonte Canale is a real wine of the mountains overlooking the Adriatic.
We then explored the wonderful world of Pecorino. My first experience with this grape was with those of Guido Cocci Grifone, nearly 10 years ago when I started my career as a Sommelier. The grape was revived to it's current status by the work of Cocci Grifone and a few other producers particularly of Le Marche (the neighbouring province to the north). We bantered about the origins and the natural home of Pecorino. The natural zones being Le Marche and Abruzzo, but both creating wines of different profiles. Cristiana professes and was clear in letting us understand that Pecorino of Abruzzo is meant to be a mountain wine somewhat different than the Pecorino of Offida DOC in Le Marche which is on lower plains and foothills thus producing 'warmer and richer' wines. In Abruzzo the Pecorino grape can take advantage of altitude and unique micro-climate to help accentuate it's aromatics properties with aroma's like that of orange citrus, sage, fresh fig and rosemary. The first of the Pecorino line up was the 2014 Tiberio Pecorino which though lean and tart had sweet clementine, orange, apple and fresh peach aromas with an almost Assyrtiko minearality with honeysuckle. The wine was quite engaging and convincing. Now the 2006 Tiberio Pecorino was a treat, the wine is actually the 2nd vintage of Pecorino for Tiberio. It was bright, with fleshy creamed peach, this is a wine of texture and a rich profile. Though with lower acidity then expected, it made up for it in herbs and lemon and pleasing flavour.
HISTORY AND BIODYNAMICS BEFORE LUNCH
As I am writing this I really can't recall the last time I encountered a Trebbiano or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo on a wine list or at any of the recent Italian focused trade tastings and perhaps there is a reason for that. I did ask Crisitiana to comment on the overriding mentality of the producers and growers in Abruzzo, her response was that 'first Abruzzo is an amazing region with amazing people and though many producers did not take the time to 'study' the region, there still is not such a 'high culture' of wine. Wine is business and not pleasure'. Outside of Valentini Emidio Pepe and Masciarelli there are few producers pushing the envelope, when in reality there is a lot of wine coming from this region. It is clear that Tiberio is investing and studying the region and charting a new style of wine in a rather cool-er climate terroir. I posed the question of vineyard practices and philosophy touching on the art of biodynamics. The response, as I have been receiving more and more lately is that the Philosophy of Biodynamics can be confused with a lifestyle versus how to make wines. There is a distinct difference. She does not practice biodynamics but works organically and as sustainable as possible, the fact that her mountain vineyards are as isolated as they are means there are not other vineyards to 'contaminate' the area. Her mentality is that the 'most important is the life of the vineyard' and that 'she would not risk the loss of her 'patrimony and heritage' by applying what would be extreme or minimal techniques.
cerasuolo is not montepulciano rosé
The Montepulciano d'Abruzzo of Tiberio is a fresh as can be, no oak, 50 year old vines that are fermented in stainless steel, never over-ripe and never over-extracted. It is a modern style but taken from tradition. All sorting is done in the vineyard with the same team year in and out. Her process of vilification with the red wines starts with a Cerasuolo DOC from the Montepulciano red grape. A wine that is not rosé but indeed a DOC wine, that was born in the mountains, the historical zone of production. At the time the Montepulciano vine would not ripen as it would on the lower plains and the Pergola style training helped preserve the freshness of grapes and thus lent itself to a 'lighter' style of 'red' wine. The Tiberio Cerasoulo DOC is...
- Vines/Grapes selected and treated as if they were to be made into a white wine, grape are specifically selected for freshness rather than ripeness.
- 'Salaso' = to make wine from the first free run juice as if it was a red wine. As she explained briefly,the first free run juice is removed from the main core of the pressed juice and this isolated juice is allowed to ferment as if it was a red wine.
The 2014 Tiberio Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo was of a fresh red berry and candy cherry aroma, soft and plush with bright and lifted palate. It was very pleasing and screaming of tradition and the mountains air.
The final wine for the afternoon was the 2013 Tiberio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It was rich and fresh, more red berry and a lining of blood orange and sour cherry and moving to the palate which was soft with pleasant red fruit, stewed plum and cherry with it's vibrant tannin and smooth finish. Certainly a wine that would stand on it's own and would confuse most Montepulciano drinkers with it's natural freshness and elegance. This was an everyday wine, a great companion for the dinner table or long lunch that will never disappoint with it charm and playfulness.
Overall the wines were most certainly soundly and confidently made and with a distinct vision and profile that after tasting I could imagine the nature of the land with it's vast and rolling hills at the foot of the Appennine Mountains.
Calming down and meditating with Wayne Shorter, Hancock and Crew after a busy week. Restart tomorrow.
'Teru' track 2 side 2 of the Adams Apple LP plus Footprints a classic of the 1960's jazz scene.
A few tasting menu wine gems at Alo. A local Pearl to Earth & Sky, a lady Kisser as an homage to Aphrodite all from lovely Barrels.
Ask and we shall pour, at Alo Restaurant.
CASA MARIN ::::::::::: Crazy for Cool Climate!
This entry was written and composed whilst enjoying a Rabl 2013 Gruner Veltliner 'Langenlois' Kamptal DAC Austria and listening to a Jay Dee aka J-Dilla interview with Gilles Peterson from Feb 2001 commemorating his death anniversary and birthday.
the conversation: w/ Jamie Verbraak - commercial manager
It was nearly a year and half ago that I was introduced to the wines of Casa Marin. A colleague of mine, Mr. Ian Thresher had recently been on a wine tour of Chile and shortly after his return to Canada he placed a private order for several of their wines. The purchase Included a wine of remarquable character this wine being 'the' Syrah from the Miramar Vineyards of Lo Abarca. The wine was enchanting. Along with their Sauvignon Blanc and the rare Sauvignon Gris these wines had a purity and brightness of fruit that is 'Chile' at its best, but these wines had a precision that reflected the passion and drive of their maker Maria Luz Marin.
Maria Luz Marin is Chile's first Lady of wine, the nation's first female wine maker and the first female to own a winery in a rather male dominated industry. She was and still is at the vanguard of cool climate Chilean wines and boy do we love 'cool climate wines'! In fact shortly after her first vintage of 2003 under her Casa Marin label she received acclaime as the top producer of Chilean white wines!
She has accomplished all that she has in the face of a wine hierarchy that is dominated by massive brands and by companies that are not directly related to wine. I was informed that about 60% of the wineries in Chile are owned by approximately 40 large national or international companies. To clarify - I can make no factual claim in this statement but I can understand the 'new world winery' business model and the investment that is needed in order to compete on the world market. Though private sector investment and corporate management is one way of doing things the Casa Marin story set's it apart from the rest.
Maria Luz Marin, started her winemaking career in the 70's and into the 90's gathered momentum by building the 3rd largest producer of bulk wine in Chile, wines that would be used for blending and for supermarket brands in the domestic and european markets. But....She had a higher calling and would be inspired to make 'great' wines with her talent and drive, but where?
Lo Abarca in the 90's
One of Maria's oldest childhood memories was of taking family vacations to the coast. The destination would be on the other side of the San Antonio Valley towards the ocean and the route would take them through an area called Lo Abarca. Lo Abarca is known for superior agriculture products and produce. As a child she would notice the temperature change and coolness as the family car travelled through various elevations towards their destination. As an adult knowing that she wanted to create unique wines, where would that be, and it was a childhood memory that would direct her back to Lo Abarca. Everyone thought she was crazy, it was too cold, the soils were too fertile. It would be folly, it would be financial suicide. Bah! She withdrew investments from her bulk wine company and bought, at auction, vineyard and land over various plots in Lo Abarca and set off to make her own wines as the first Chilean woman to found an independent winery. In 1999/2000 she planted vineyards and in 2003 she released her first wines that would prove to silence critics and nay-sayers.
CASA MARIN is
- 46 hectares.
- planted to Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris for white grapes and Syrah and Pinot Noir for red grapes ( with a new project focusing on Grenache).
- wines are sourced from 63 different vineyard plots.
- 80% of the vineyards are located in the hills of Lo Abarca on various micro-climates at elevations that range from 100 feet to 500 feet above sea level.
- soils range from loam to granite with sand and limestone with marine deposits in the flatter vineyards.
- the maritime terroir is one of the coolest and closest to the coast, though this cool the region benefits from a long season with an early and long spring and rather consistent and moderated temperature throughout the year.
Maria Luz is now assisted by her son Felipe, who has recently graduated from school of viticulture and oenology and has returned home from working in New Zealand. He is also spearheading a project focused on Grenache from vineyards that are farmed with biodynamic and natural applications. The results of which are fascinating and engaging the palates of some of the most astute critics and wine writers around the world.
Casa Marin is the epitome of cool climate wines from the ever evolving wine world of Chile
Sauvignon Blanc 'Cartagena' 2013 : Cartagena is the Casa Marin entry level series of wines. They are most certainly pleasant and drinkable. Those who love Sauvignon in the riper fruit context and those studying Chilean Sauv Blanc will delight in the purity of flavour and complexity of expression. They are using a French Clone for this wine coming from one of their top vineyard sights, which helps explain certain complexity in flavour. From poor soils and a warm site this wine is a pleaser
Sauvignon Blanc 'Cipresses' Casa Marin 2013: is the ultimate expression of the Casa Marin Sauvignon Blanc vision. The wines is made from smaller but better quantity of grapes per hectare coming from the vineyard. They are using a UC Davis 1 clone with cold maceration over 18hours with 3 weeks of lees contact. The wine sees 5% of oak but is barely felt if any on the palate. Think asparagus, sweet corn, and savoury and earthy notes with a sweet pea to creamy pea soup feel. Honestly Sauvignon Blanc is not my first choice but I find these wines to be precise, focused and made with the utmost care.
Sauvignon Gris 'Estero' Casa Marin 2013 : is a unique creature indeed. Sourced from an old clone from Pessac Leognan in Bordeaux that never re-emerged after phylloxera as it was not considered profitable as a grape. Maria Luz felt this would be the exact grape to hold a place in her stable of white wines. The wine is made from spontaneous fermentation with 70% of the wine aged in 2/3 times used barrels with 30% rested in steel. To taste this wine think, grass, herbs, young green shoots, to leeks and chives, with texture and natural sweetness, though it is a dry wine. Lemon Thyme and Lemon Balm, but I may be reaching here. The palate is fresh and spiced with white pepper, round and pleasing. I fun wine for the student and the connoisseur.
Pinot Noir 'Cartegena' 2013 : the first of their entry level Pinot Noir, think lean, fresh and spiced red berry. A pleasant balance of cool climate pinot character - fragrant, meaty, savoury with fruit that is dry versus sweet. Clocking in at 14% alcohol, it is impressive that the wine is so lean.
Pinot Noir ' Litoral Vineyards' 2013 : is an example of their top tier production. The wine is high toned, peppered and savoury with nice red fruit. Really a balance of fruit and the savoury quality of Pinot Noir at it's best. Lush, Plush, mineral with a smokey and pleasant finish. A must have for PInot that should be ready to drink in the next 2-5 years.
Garnacha/Syrah 'Viñedos Lo Abarca No. 3 2013 : this is the Casa Marin new generation of wines made by Felipe, Maria Luz's son. He represents the new generation of wine makers focusing on wines made closer to natural and biodynamic principles. They planted grenache in 2011 and this is first presentation of the wine. 1800 bottles, 2 years in barrel. The wine is killer! Think North Rhone, think Gigondas with a 20-30% blend of Syrah that takes the wine into a whole new level. The wine is of a sweet berry profile, with freshness and vibrancy, white and black pepper, a textured and pleasant mouthfeel. Can you tell that I really enjoyed this wine. Get some when they get here! Please!