Inspired by the Tour de France passing through Alsace yesterday and following the roads of the wine route hard core for most of the afternoon, we pulled out a wine today from one of our favorite Alsatian producers. Domaine Paul Blanck has been a fixture for many generations in the Furstentum Valley, a narrow passage in the Vosges mountains containing four picturesque towns (Kayserberg, Kientzheim, Sigolsheim, and Ammerschwihr) and several highly regarded Grand Cru level vineyards. For those that watched Stage 5 or look for replays online, this is the area before the last two climbs about 35-45 miles from the end of the race, and has some of the prettiest views for the day of the towns and vineyards, in a stage that was positively littered with pretty landscapes. The town of Kayserberg also had a large banner out in their most prominent vineyard, drawing attention to the Schlossburg Grand Cru and the iconic ruins of Chateau du Schlossburg that sits above the walled of the town and the vineyard's edge. The Blanck family was instrumental in Schlossburg getting its Cru status (one of the first in the Alsatian system) and is still one of the larger vineyard owners. All the fruit for their basic level bottlings come from vineyards within the Furstentum Valley, and for varietals like Riesling they do blend some juice from Schlossburg that isn't getting used in their Grand Cru bottlings. So if you want, you can spend 10-15 minutes watching world class cyclists riding past the vines that made the wine you are drinking.
When first opened, there is a slight touch of the 'petrol' aroma that comes from many examples of dry Rieslings, especially in Alsace and Germany. A quick decant or a few swirls in the glass will help kick that out to start revealing dried citrus and melon rind aromas as well as a rich wet stone sort of minerality, On the palate there is absolutely no signs of residual sugars, showing lots of vibrant melon and lemon tones, vibrant minerality across the palate and a long lingering stony finish that practically leaves you drooling from the tanginess. Some vintages can carry more honeyed notes and white fruits, so it's important to compare it from year to year when thinking about foods to pair with it. This is a vintage that works with trout and other river fish, savory chicken, and even pork. It can also handle some heat and spices, but wouldn't do it with some of the sweeter glazes or more penetrating heat combinations as you would with wines that have a more noticeable sweet note.
The vast, vast VAST majority of the time (did we mention vast?), Pinot Noir in Burgundy is a stand-alone variety, with the best wines of the region being 100% Pinot 100% of the time. There are a few wines that do involve blending another grape in, which is based on tradition from history. The comedians out there will say sneaking in tanker loads of Syrah from the Rhone and other points South to fatten up weak wines is a 'tradition' as well (a long standing trope from the loosely controlled days of winemaking the the 1900s). But many people forget that the Beaujolais region is included in Burgundy, and there was a time when the Gamay grape had much more overlap in where it was planted with Pinot Noir. In particular the Macon and the Cote Chalonnaise areas still find a handful of producers that have both varieties planted, and from them the delightful Bourgogne Passetoutgrain is made. Even with only 10%-15% of Gamay in the blend, it can take some of the austere edge off of the Pinot that the Chalonnaise wines tend to show, and makes for delicious drinking even in the warmer days of Summer.
While most producers tend to use younger vines in their Passetoutgrain, great ones like Dureuil-Janthihal have Pinot vines of over 50 years, and the maturity is immediately noticeable in the deep Burgundian dark cherry and savory red fruit aromas, with the Gamay throwing in a touch of warm red fruits. The Gamay is much more evident on the palate, providing super fine tannins that almost disappear entirely behind the mouthwatering red fruits and tart cranberry flavors. While there is no need to age the wine for any length of time to soften out the tannin, the freshness of the acidity give everything about the wine so much vitality that it would certainly survive and thrive for several more years in case you forget a bottle or two by accident. Which could happen, because fans will want to buy this by the fistfull.
Italy is a treasure trove of unique local grape varieties, with well over 100 red AND white grapes used in their appellation system. The majority of them are regional specialties that have an identity in the area they are grown, but have little international recognition otherwise and rarely get planted or emulated elsewhere. In some ways the lack of recognition is sad because of the great diversity and untapped potential quality (the world does NOT need another 10,000 acres of Chardonnay at this point), but it also makes Italy that much more special and unique, and there is still so much there to explore. Campania and the area around Naples is a particular hotbed, with immense diversity of climates and soils along the volcanic mountain ranges that provide numerous wine making possibilities. Greco is one of the area's noble white grapes (along with Falanghina and Fiano), which reaches its best expression in the high altitude vineyards of the Tufo D.O.C. The presence of sulfurous rocks (the 'tufo' in their name) gives the wines a distinctive minerality that cuts through the richness of the grape and provides some zest to the natural perfume. As much as we in Charlottesville would like to think the bottling name translates to 'Land of Wahoos', the nickname 'Land of Grapes' is an apt description of the region.
Pale gold in the glass, the first aromas are immediately rich and perfumed, almost flowery like a Viognier but with more white fruits and cooler citrus tones. As it opens up the zestier Mediterranean fruits and more mineral elements start to emerge, so it never gets into the tropical or sweeter flavors. The palate has a rich natural unctuous texture hat comes from a light natural pressing of the grapes (not oak aging or residual sugar), and the fine prickly minerality give the white fruits a quenching lingering mouthfeel. The finish has a bit of stone fruit/melon rind type dryness and firmness that lends a drier sense to the finish than just wet fruits, which gives it a LOT of food potential as every good Italian white wine should. An incredibly lively wine that's great with richer seafood dishes, especially those that feature a lot of citrus, as well as even pork.
We always love to break down stereotypes in the wine world to educate customers about the almost infinite possibilities wines have to offer. Rieslings aren't ALWAYS sweet, and neither are Roses. Chardonnay isn't ALWAYS oaky. Pinot Grigio isn't the ONLY white wine that comes from Italy. And so on. The stereotype for wines from the Muscadet region of France is that they can only be super straightforward, lightweight and the Melon de Bourgogne grape is only worth making in the most simplistic of methods. Perfect to match with fresh oysters or other bivalves, but barely worth making a fuss. NOT SO FAST! Recent years has seen an increase in producers seeking out parcels of older vines to make more singular and distinctive around the city of Nantes, and have even begun identifying some of the more unique soil types to develop Cru levels for the more important vineyards. Many producers are using these vineyards to patiently age the wine in more modern fermentation and concrete storage vessels that can protect the juice from oxidizing without adding an outside flavor like oak barrels would. This wine is a prime example of what Muscadet has become, featuring the double shot combination of the enriching effects from distinctive blue clay prevalent in the Gorges sub-region of Sevre et Maine and five years of rest on its lees in concrete tanks before bottling. No one should be taking wines like this lightly.
A pale gold in the glass belies the intensity of the nose, loaded with lemon peel and salty citrus, as well as touches of brininess throughout, as if a couple drops of oyster liquor were dripped into each glass.The palate is both full and wet at the same time, clean and quenching without feeling thick or lingering but still having significant substance. Lots of zesty citrus rind gives texture to the salty lime and pear skin fruit, and the extra lees time greatly extends the mouth-watering sensation on the finish, especially as the wine opens up over a few hours. This is everything an everyday Muscadet is but with the volume turned up and the knob ripped off, built to provide a little extra decadence that few would have expected from this region a decade or so ago.
Experimentation in the wine world usually happens using small steps and small amounts of wines. You can't make bold changes with the bulk of your production for fear of the financial disaster should something go wrong. This is why most of the more avant-garde trends in winemaking evolve from regions that have excess volume (France, Spain, Italy) and can spare the odd 500 case production without batting an eyelash, or from forgotten vineyards of less desired grapes (Chile, Argentina, California) that nobody was using anyway. Virginia has neither of these situations, with most wineries struggling to find enough mature and quality vineyards to get them from one vintage to the next. Most experiments happen in 1-2 barrel lots (R Wines, Lightwell Survey) if at all. Which is why Early Mountain's 'Young Wine' series is such a breath of fresh air, building both the white and red offering in a 'bistro' style using more naturalist styles of wine making. It would be very easy to make a Vidal Blanc in the slightly sweet mode that most wineries put forward, but this provides a whole new direction for a grape that actually does quite well in our climate.
A bright gold color in the glass, but if you look closely at the wine in the bottle there is the slightest of haze to the wine from being left unfiltered and only the slightest of clarification. This is one of the more natural/non-intervention styles of winemaking employed here that helps give the wine more texture without having to leave in residual sugar or age it in barrels. The melon and pear fruit aromas get a pop of cool citrus that freshens them up considerably, almost hinting at the zestiness of a Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate the texture is clean and quenching with the fruit leaning into the drier more melon rind profile as well as a pear skin and slightly herbal finish. This is not your typical safe and simple Virginia wine, but a successful version of a bistro style wine that you will be hard pressed to find done as well on domestic soil. Pop and enjoy with all kinds of light cheeses, snacks, and small plate dishes.
Post Memorial Day is 'officially' when Rose drinking season gets into full swing, as the majority of the really interesting and unique wines from around the world have made it to our shores or out of the wineries, had time to rest properly after bottling or travel, and truly show their stuff. Year in and year out, this is our time to help re-educate the public about the enjoyment and diversity of DRY Rose wines, and this long time classic from importer Kermit Lynch is always Exhibit A. The wine is made from a unique and sparsely planted mutation/clone of Grenache called Grenache Gris, known for having an extremely pale skin with very little pigment. Many wineries in the Languedoc that have it planted will just blend it in with other Grenache based wines, but the historic Domaine de Fontsainte have used the grape's lightness to its advantage in their Rose. Even with a long time soaking on the skin equivalent with the process to make a red wine, the juice barely picks up a pinkish tint, the classic salmon color of Provencal Rose but with a lot more texture. After you taste it, you will wonder why more wineries haven't picked up on this idea.
The vibrant salmon color in the glass gives off quick aromas of dried strawberry and cherry skin, but time open gives off more peach and stone fruits as well as some light savory herbs. The palate is where this wine becomes more obviously different, with a rich mouthfilling texture and finely grained tannins to match the bright acidity and juicy watermelon flavors. The aromas and flavors make the wine quenching, while the texture gives it substance and the ability to stand toe to toe with a broader array of dishes that would usually crush the thin spirit of many Provencal roses. Do this with all the classic Summer dishes you would expect a Rose to match with, and include savory pork or poultry into the plans as well.
We will readily admit to having an inherent bias towards a certain style of Sauvignon Blanc here at Wine Warehouse. The sheer number and diversity of producers in the Loire section of the store, as well as the choices of cooler climate/minerally soil producers in the California section give the not-so subtle hint that we like our Sauv Blanc on the clean and racy side. This isn't to say we don't like the more round, richer and more barrel influenced style as well, it just has to be something we get really excited about. Capture Wines has one that does just that, mixing several vineyard sources in Sonoma County to get the right combination of rich fruit and vibrant citrus from higher elevation sites. Aging the wines on the lees gives the wine a full texture without needing too much time in barrel, which just serves to further polish the edges into a round seamless final product.
An almost perfectly clear pale yellow in the glass, the first aromas are cool gooseberries and light citrus, but with air (and a bit of warmth if you've just pulled it out of the fridge) the richer leesy aromas start to appear, giving more creamy lemon curd, pears and white fruit pulp. The palate is at first extremely polished with lots of rich pulpy fruit, but as it sits on the palate gets more grapeskin and melon rind tannins, and grows into a fairly zesty finish. This has lots of back porch and meal time possibilities.for the warm weather ahead
For those that follow basketball, the phrase 'Trust the Process' (copyright pending per Joel Embiid) was coined in Philadelphia to try and give the fans confidence in the team building process management had implemented. Some wineries you have to learn to 'trust the process' as well, believe in the winery and what they do from vintage to vintage is going to be for the best wine possible. Fans of Donkey & Goat Winery have learned to trust their process as one of the best producers of natural wines in America over the last 15 years, and the entry level bottling 'The Gadabout' is the poster child for showing trust. Each year the blend and vineyard sources can change depending on access and quality of the vintage, and they build it to give everyone a more cost effective look into what their wines are all about. Usually the base grapes are white Rhone varieties (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne) but additions and subtractions can happen from year to year. The only constant is their use of organic/Biodynamic grapes, native yeasts for fermentation, and as little sulfur as possible.
On the first pop of the cork, the classic 'naturalist' cider tones show through fairly strong, but a few swirls of the glass quickly bring out the more pithy white fruits, melon skins and rich lemon tones. The texture on the palate is plenty rich and full, and the fruits are SUPER zesty, loaded with tangy orange and mouthwatering citrus skins. The sour cidery component that most natural wines carry is evident but does not dominate the vinous character, showing through mostly on the lengthy finish. The longer the wine stays open, the more intense the white fruit tones grow and evolve, genuinely a wine that can improve in the fridge for a couple days thanks to the higher acidity and the skin contact during fermentation. A unique exploration of the natural wine movement, and super tasty for the money.
Many wine drinkers, even long time savvy consumers, get caught in the mistaken old adage that Riesling always makes a sweeter wine. ANY grape variety, red or white, can make a sweeter wine if the maker chooses to. Some are just more adept at it than others, and some are better at disguising their residual sugars and making the taster think the wine is not sweet (we're looking at YOU, Chardonnay!). Riesling suffers from a large glut of less expensive versions from Germany in the market that form a lot of drinker's opinions early on, as well as excellent high quality ones at various sweetness levels. But somehow the driest versions do not register on people's consciousness the same way. Alsace is home to an extremely broad selection of dry white wines from many varieties, and the Rieslings are among the best dry wines in France, full stop. When we got to taste through several wines in the Kreydenweiss lineup recently, we were struck by the absence of any sugary tones throughout his wines, yet were still rich and in balance with the acidity. This is the sort of white wine that should get ALL consumers excited.
The Andlau bottling is named after the town around which the vineyards are based, and is blended from several parcels farmed Biodynamically. Though it is their most 'basic' wine, there is nothing simple about it at all. Zesty, almost cider-y apple and cool citrus aromas that develop over time as the classic initial whiff of petrol blows off, as well as a deeper mineral and fleshier apple character. The palate is immediately full and quenching, with mouthwatering salinity and citrus skin texture. Flavors are not quick to arrive, so some time open or even decanting will help things along, but your patience will be rewarded with fleshy, almost creamy baked apple notes and increasingly lengthy mineral and stone fruit character that keep your palate salivating minutes after drinking. All of this and without a single sugary impression to be found, as dry and textured as a Chablis (and more flavorful too). This is a spectacular match with fattier seafood dishes (acidity helps to cut through without overpowering) as well as foods with an Asian influence but not hot/spicy.
If this label looks familiar, we featured the Smithereens Red Blend about 2 months ago. Having just brought in the equally tasty white wine counterpart, we felt it deserves equal billing. To recap from before, El Dorado County is the heart of the California Gold Rush, one of the major historical influences to westward expansion and European immigration in the mid-1800s. The Skinner family established one of the first wineries and distilleries in 1861 and ran a fairly large operation for many years, but faded into an obscure fragment of history until 2006 when a branch of the family picked up the rights to the name and 'rediscovered' the vineyards. Their vineyards focus on Rhone varieties, capitalizing on the dramatic elevation changes along the Sierra Foothills to grow grapes in a variety of conditions to develop great complexity and subtlety in their many blends.
The winery's Smithereens series pays tribute to the miners of the Gold Rush using dynamite to blast out gold deposits (not the 80s band of the same name), and is built to be their more basic Cotes du Rhone style wines. This blend focuses on the four most noteworthy white varieties in the Rhone, featuring Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc in varying ratios based on the vintage. As with the best wines from the Rhone, the blend shows harmony between the four varieties without any one taking an overly prominent position. A touch of the tropical perfume from the Viognier is checked down by the mineral and zesty citrus flower notes of the Roussanne, and the round texture of those varieties are given freshness by the acidity and citrus skin character of the Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Those that do not like a buttery wine but still want a white wine with some body and complexity should run to try this, a great pairing with more intense seafood and rich pork dishes.
The Best of the Best.
We offering free tastings on these wines in the store every Thursday and Friday, and a 10% discount off the retail price through the duration of the day. Come on by and give them a try!