INSIDER'S PICK: 2016 LIGHTWELL SURVEY SYRAH/RIESLING 'LOS IDIOTS' VIRGINIA RED $27.99
When winemakers are looking to experiment and push the boundaries of their artistic medium, they almost always have to do so with excess or unwanted fruit. It's one of the reasons so many of the wines being produced in the 'naturalist' style are using grapes you may never have heard of or done in odd or non-traditional combinations. This is even harder in places like Virginia where there are barely enough good vines to go around for the full-time regular projects, much less having something left on the bone for experimentation. Lightwell Survey is a VERY small side project for Early Mountain winemaker Ben Jordan in collaboration with several friends within various parts of the wine industry, created with a mission to explore the less championed parts of the state and experiment with some of the minimalist winemaking styles that don't translate well to the more mass marketed wine styles. With some wines being made in less than 50 case lots, you may never see what they do get 'scores' or 'awards', because there just isn't enough to spare sending out free samples for evaluation. Taste them for yourself, see how unique and extraordinary they are, and let your own palate decide.
Inspired by the Northern Rhone tradition of co-fermenting Syrah and Viognier harvested at the same time from the same vineyards, this unique combination of Syrah and Riesling comes from a vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley. A transparent ruby color in the glass, which comes from the diluting effect of the 40% Riesling in the Syrah, the aromatics are absolutely outrageous. Alternating black cherry and cola notes with white wildflowers, cassis and peaches, constantly back and forth. The contrast of red and white aromas are very similar to those found in the Italian red grape called Ruche, or even Blaufrankisch from Austria/Eastern Europe. The palate is even more intriguing, picking up the acidity from the Riesling in the tart red cherry and ruby grapefruit notes, white the tannins provide structure and dryness to the peach and grapeskin flavors. The act of co-fermenting versus just blending the finished fruit integrates the two grapes so elegantly and seamlessly, it's a wonder more people don't try this idea. This is not making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, it's delicious and innovative winemaking at it's best.
Throughout most of winemaking history, vineyards developed where the growing conditions are the easiest vintage to vintage. Without technology, grape growing is a hard enough task without throwing in any extra degrees of difficulty. It's why even the greatest minds of the 18th and 19th centuries couldn't get the industry off the ground here in Virginia. With the vest improvements in every phase of vine development, vineyards can be planted in increasingly marginal conditions as winemakers look to be the first to find an undiscovered great terroir to mine. Even within well established growing areas like Valpolicella near Verona in Italy, there are new heights to reach. Stefano Accordini and their family started planting vineyards at increasingly higher altitudes around the mountain town of Cavalo in 1975 in an effort to exploit conditions they believed would naturally restrict the vigor and control the yields of the vines, helping to intensify the flavors, yet still provide ripe healthy fruit. In addition to their success and recognition among other wineries in Valpolicella, they have received international acclaim by winning awards in the Mondial des Vins Extremes competition, reserved for wines grown in what they call 'heroic vine growing areas'.
The basic Valpolicella Classico for most houses is their softest and most approachable bottling, but even this has a little extra edge thanks to the higher altitudes. Dark raspberry cherry tones on the nose are given some iron and cocoa tones from the cooler climate, as well as an almost Bordeaux-like dark currant fruit. The palate is quite soft on the tannins as a Valpolicella is expected to be, with only the slightest of dusty tones coming through on the finish, but still has plenty of structure thanks to the firm spine of acidity that brightens up all the flavors on the palate, even inviting a tang of blood orange and darker citrus flavors. As it opens up the fruits get a bit juicier and more generous, but always stays a step above the usual everyday bistro wine. This deserves a nice roast or other savory slow cooked 'comfort foods' to warm you on snowy weekends like the one approaching.
Certain grape varieties are harder to make into an 'everyday' wine than others. The things you do to lower the cost of farming the grapes (yield per vine, care in the vineyard, labor and selection during harvest) are also where flavor flaws develop, and some grapes have flaws that show up more readily than others. Nebbiolo is definitely one of those grapes, as it has a harder or high toned edge that needs time in the bottle to soften, so it is usually planted in the better ripening sites and made into nicer wines. If it appears in a more approachable wine it is usually part of a blend with Barbera and Dolcetto to soften Nebbiolo's edges. The Albino Rocca winery does things a little differently with this wine to tame Nebbiolo into a more serviceable role, extracting the juice and aging it in tank in a manner similar to the way Beaujolais is made, which makes a 'softer' wine than Nebbiolo usually creates. There is also a small percentage of Cabernet Franc blended in, just enough to bring a touch more fruit and savory aromatics.
From the start this will not be a wine anyone will confuse with a Barolo or Barbaresco (the most famous wines made from Nebbiolo) but the earmark characteristics are definitely there with loads of violets and bright red fruit aromas, as well as a savory smoky perfume lingering in the background. The palate is at first soft and generous showing off the darker flavors from the aroma, but the tannins are sneaky and appear the longer the wine is kept in the mouth, light and dusty but persistent and delivering a tart lengthy finish. Extremely food friendly thanks to the absence of oak, and only needing a little bit of time open to really hit it's full stride.
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!