Pinot Blanc originated in Burgundy, according to lore, as mutations of Pinot Noir that would happen at random in the vineyards. Once the vines changed from red to white, that vine and and grafts cut from it would forever be white, and over time Pinot Blanc came into being in France and eventually appeared across much of Europe (also called Weissburgunder). In most places it is looked at as more of a workhorse grape going into blends or sparkling wines because of its high natural acidity, but every once in a while you can find a producer that prizes their parcel a little more than others. Eyrie Vineyards is the oldest of the Old Guard in Oregon, planting their first vineyards in 1965 and still possess some of the oldest Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vines in the country. While Pinot Blanc was not among their earliest plantings, it is well established in several parcels among their Dundee Hills vineyards and considered on the very short list of Pinot Blancs made outside Europe.
Pale in color and fairly quiet aromas in the glass at first, with soft peach and pear fruit with some orange citrus tones initially, with some time open there can be a bit of spice and slightly richer fruit emerging. In general, though, Pinot Blanc main appeal isn't a big perfume; we will leave that to the Gewurztraminers and Pinot Gris of the world. The palate is where the variety stands tallest, loaded with quenching acidity over the tangy stone fruits and a mouthwateringly long finish with endless prickles of zest and melon skin. The age of the vines and the lengthy lees aging is quite evident, and truly necessary, providing vital fruit texture in the mouth that would leave the wine a bit shrill if it wasn't there. Acid fans will love this, but it won't scare away too many fans of fruit forward wines either. A great Summer treat to pair with fresh fish and seafood dishes without too much weight or briny tones, like trout, catfish, or your more simply prepared white fish fillets.
Sometimes Virginia wineries are looked at in a negative light for making very similar cookie cutter style wines. It can be difficult to venture too far away from what 'sells' in order to try something even a little outside the norm. But different can result in a move to something better, especially for a smaller winery trying to stand out. When we tasted on this most recent vintage of Chardonnay from Knight's Gambit, produced from fruit off their estate near Lake Albemarle, we were struck by how much of a Burgundian influence it carried. A reserved hand on the oak treatment is at odds with the usual route of oaky/buttery style looking to emulate the Californian prototype. Now while we don't have the soil types to bring out the vibrant minerality of say a Chablis or the subtle nuances of Meursault or Montrachet, the the warmth and zest of a quality Maconnais is fully proper and this wine takes on that style extremely well.
From the first pour there is lots of aromatic white fruits and zesty citrus on the nose with only the slightest hint of toasty barrel, nothing that needs time to 'blow off' as the wine opens up. Lots of freshness and energy here that speaks of warmth without getting into the tropical or sweeter fruit characters, and the energy carries over to the palate as well. There is a roundness here, but not from a buttery weight that saturates the palate, instead from purity of the fruit that gives loads of fresh citrus and clarity to the finish. This is the wine you want to take to friends that don't want to try wines from Virginia because they've had 2-3 and think they know what they are all about. Prove them wrong!
Getting off our little summertime Riesling kick from the last few weeks, but still looking to enjoy a great wine to chill down for hot weather with a bit of obscurity this time. The Savoie region is off the traditional tourist line for French travelers, unless you are looking for spectacular mountain scenery, in which case it's one of the great alpine wine regions of the world. The wines are also becoming more popular with drinkers looking for lower alcohol options. Based along the Swiss border (the closest and most influential major city by a wide margin is Geneva) the region's most important grape by volume is Jacquere, a variety that rarely gets planted anywhere in the world except upon these mountainous vineyard sites. Apremont and Abymes are the two most important sites here, somewhat morbidly named in honor of a terrible landslide off of Mont Granier that buried several villages and thousands of villagers nearly 800 years ago. Apremont (the 'bitter mountain') sits at the higher elevation along the mountain, and this bottling takes advantage of some of the higher parcels to catch precious extra hours of sunlight each season, milking out every last drop of ripeness and intensity that can be found in the delicate Jacquere grape. This 'intensity', of course, is all relative.
If you ever heard the word 'crystalline' to describe a wine and wondered what they meant by it, this is the perfect example of that term. Clear light gold in color, the aromas are mostly fresh white fruits with hints of zest and musky melon rind, but all at a very low volume of intensity. The palate is crystalline, and there just isn't any way of getting around that word, with the freshness like mountain stream water punctuated with citrusy acidity that leaves your mouth watering for minutes afterwards. At barely over 10%abv, your first instinct is to think the wine is hiding some residual sugar somewhere. For this grape in this environment it just ripens without much sugar, so this is completely dry and the weight is purely from quality natural ripeness. This is about as refreshing a wine as you can find out there, excellent with a chill to it and ideal with summer salads and cooled seafood dishes.
Another hot week in Central Virginia, another great dry Riesling for you to throw into the fridge. Anyone want to guess what we love to drink to fight back against the oppressive humidity? With a bit of chill on it, the vibrant acidity cuts through heat like a razor, refreshes your palate without leaving behind anything weighty, and are generally lower in alcohol so you don't feel as guilty going back to top up your glass when it inevitably gets consumed all too quickly. This is also our first offering of what will likely be dozens more from the highly regarded 2018 vintage in Germany, a year being touted not only for the sweeter wines at the top end but the ability it gave for producers to create exactly what they wanted at all price points and levels of dryness. Peter Lauer is one of the great producers of the Saar River, a tiny tributary of the Mosel that rarely gets featured on a label because there are so few that hold vineyards there. He also chooses to make wines that don't follow the traditional German Pradikat labeling laws, so those not in the know may pass over his labels. Most of his wines are intended to 'taste dry' and are allowed to reach whatever residual sugar levels they end at naturally, using native yeasts and only adjusted at the end if needed. Barrel X is a combination of several sites within the Saar, less than a mile apart from each other ('If we were in Burgundy, this would be the equivalent of a Bourgogne Blanc'), and is one of the most ridiculous values you can find that speaks so clearly of its origins.
The term Feinherb is used instead of Halbtrocken locally, which means half-dry, referring to the slight amount of residual sugar left here. But if you were honest most people would barely notice it when presented with all the flavor found here. Lychee, lime zest, fresh herbs and tons of white flowers on the nose even with a healthy chill on it out of the fridge, like walking through the produce section of a farmer's market with fruit samples cut open for you to sample. On the palate there is a slight indication of the residual sugar, but the fruit is SO juicy and clean, and the acidity is SO quenching and refreshing it really isn't something anyone should get hung up on. The finish is as long and clean as a bite of a freshly sliced and perfectly ripe lime, with no lingering sweetness at all. This is a wine with immediate pleasure, long life potential, and about as many different reasons to use for enjoyment as there are bottles for you to buy. If you haven't been a bi Riesling fan in the past, now is a good time to start!
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.
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!