Posts Tagged ‘Pinot Blanc’
The Eyrie Vineyards are widely credited with the creation of Oregon as the Pinot Noir state of the USA. The state has just celebrated 50 years of growing grapes for one of the world’s most elusive wine styles, celebrated by Stephen Brook in his up-to-date tribute in the February 2012 edition of Decanter magazine. But as a recent tasting for Andover Wine Friends showed, there is much more to Eyrie Vineyards and Oregon than just attempting an American version of red Burgundy. In fact two of the three wines that really impressed the tasting group were not Noir at all.
Following the publication of Grape Vines, Jancis, Julia and José’s tome of late 2012, we have to learn not to speak about Pinot Noir, Gris and Blanc as three different varieties. They are merely colour variations of the genetically identical Pinot variety. Skin colour is not a big deal in the grape geneticist’s world. If Pinot Noir flourishes in the relatively cool Pacific-influenced climate of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, it is, therefore, hardly a surprise that Pinot Blanc and Gris also do well. But we just don’t hear about them in the same way. Pinot Blanc 2010 is a limited bottling from Alsatian clones grown in the Three Sisters Vineyards which was planted in the 1980s and so now has some vine age. The ‘three sisters’ are the three colours of the Pinot variety! This is not the wine for you if you want something that is going to jump out of the glass at you. But if you want something which will complement a wide range of food, with mineral, ripe and green apple notes with a touch of peach, very fine acidity and good length you will enjoy this. It is good value at £14-75. (When the opened bottle was tasted two days later the nose had really developed with quite marked stone fruit notes.)
The real stars among the whites were the Pinot Gris and the Chardonnay, though there is a sting in the tail of the latter. I love Pinot Gris and this was a really outstanding example. The grapes come from all four Eyrie-owned vineyards, are fermented in stainless steel and, crucially, the young wine is kept on the lees until bottled. After five years, Pinot Gris 2007 was at a peak – but may yet be able to fly higher, like the red-tailed hawks which give the winery its name. Medium minus gold in colour from age, and evolved honey-scented, refined apple and melon fruit on the nose. In short, beautifully fragrant and integrated. In the mouth the lees effect was more evident with the richness and fatness which lees contact and the passing of time can bring. A great savoury edge to a wine with real palate weight but perfectly balanced. And all this for £12.80 …. The question we were left with was how much was this quality due to the Pinot Gris itself, and how much to the bottle age.
We loved the Chardonnay Reserve 2008 too. It is a vineyard and barrel selection, choosing the barrels which show deeper, richer and more complex flavours, as winery website says. The wine making details there are not detailed but it does state that the wine is aged for nine months on unstirred lees in a combination of neutral (ie older) and new French and Oregon oak barrels and then lightly filtered. This results in an extremely impressive, weighty and subtle Chardonnay: pale lemon in colour, a rich nose with layers of interest, good intensity of ripe fruit and a fine savoury yeastiness. (That yeastiness is subtle because of the decision not to stir up the lees.) A very fine wine – but one that does cost £29 and so it up against some pretty stiff competition from the great, mineral, white wines of Burgundy. Sadly for us, affluent American consumers like their Chardonnay too much.
We then turned our attention to the red wines, starting with a real rarity. Pinot Meunier is normally only experienced as a part of the Champagne blend. In other words although it is a dusky red grape, its juice is used in a white wine. Pinot Meunier 2009 had a very pale ruby colour, a bright cherry and tinned strawberry nose, light palate with savoury flavours to the fore, medium grippy tannins and some length. Interesting rather than outstanding. The property’s two Pinot Noirs followed and there was a really marked contrast between them. Both are pale ruby, in other words made in a Burgundian mould rather than the much deeper coloured versions of some Californian Pinot. Pinot Noir 2008 comes from the fruit of younger vineyards and is matured for 11 months in neutral oak barrels. It had a slightly musty nose, with a touch of volatile acidity and refined red berry fruit. The fruit showed well in the mouth but just lacked a bit of concentration. By contrast, Pinot Noir Reserve 2009 comes from forty year old vines on their own roots (phylloxera struck Oregon in the 1990s but this vineyard has clearly escaped it thus far). The fruit is completely destemmed and then fermented as whole berries in small bins with punching down four hours – real, small scale hands-on wine making. Gently pressed the wines are fermented out and then aged in oak casks for two years in which they clarify naturally and the wines are bottled without fining or filtering. The result is a wine of great quality, a rich and beautiful nose of red berries married to attractive smoky and savoury qualities, a rich and supple palate with the fruit sweetness coming out on the long finish. The pronounced quality difference is due partly to vine age and partly to vintage, 2009 being a warmer, better year than 2008. Due to the same market factors, neither of these wines are inexpensive but we agreed that we would rather pay £38 for the latter than £24 for the former.
In general the wines of the Eyries Vineyards are marked by low intervention winemaking and resulting elegance, balance and subtle nuance. They are a classic example of how elegant, light to medium weight but balanced wines can be thrilling.
Alongside these Eyrie wines we also tasted a couple of others from the North West. Apart from ticking off ‘Idaho’ as a wine making state, we didn’t particularly warm to Chardonnay, Vickers Vineyard, Idaho, 2008. The fruit is grown at an impressive 850m above sea level and showed some real tropical intensity balanced by acidity, but the oak was just so dominant making the wine that was medium minus gold in colour with butterscotch and vanilla the predominant impression. Perhaps after few more years the fruit/oak competition may become a more even contest. By contrast Tempranillo, Abacela, Umqua Valley, Oregon 2005 was a wine of real depth, some finesse and character. Although we are back in Oregon, the climate in Umpqua, 170 miles south of the Willamette Valley is more like Ribera del Duero than Beaune. Indeed that is precisely why Earl and Hilda Jones moved the thousands of miles from Florida to plant the Spanish variety they loved, the first planting of this variety in the Pacific North West. Oregon clearly continues to attract wine pioneers. Mid ruby in colour with first signs of garnet on the rim, this had fine quite powerful, fragrant fruit (from strawberry through to ripe blackcurrant) on the nose suggesting a warm climate. In something of a contrast the palate was lean and subtle, with high acidity and medium, chalky tannins. An impressive wine at a very good value £14.50. The oak regime here is very restrained: 94% French oak, 6% American of which just 14% is new and 26% second year, meaning that the time in oak changes the texture of the wine rather than adding flavours.
Overall this was a fascinating tasting of some splendid wines of real character. They have been chosen by and are available from Savage Selection, run by Mark Savage MW who roams the earth looking for growers and wine makers who aim for finesse and balance in the glass.
Outside of the New World with its focus on the characteristic qualities of single grape varieties, Alsace has got to be the easiest wine to taste blind. Aromatic Gewurz, steely Riesling, more neutral but classy Pinot Gris and the odd glass of Pinot Noir (which has the decency to be red), this is going to be a doddle isn’t it? Let’s see how we got on at the late February Bring a Bottle Club.
With a theme as big as North Italy, the Overton blind tasting group, where each member brings one or more bottles without much conferring, could have been very wide-ranging. We had a fairly representative sample, though no sparkling wine (Prosecco, Franciacorta, Asti) and one obvious classic missing – Amarone della Valpolicella. The selection was stronger in the whites than in the reds, which I at least was not expecting, but we did finish with one of the sweet rarities in which this country abounds.
|Italian wine makers in the north have a great range of varieties to play with, both local and the so-called internationals. So it perhaps wasn’t surprising that we ended up with two classy versions of Sauvignon Blanc from Mario Schiopetto 2008 and then Meroi 2008, both from Friuli, Italy’s most north easterly region. Neither was grassy and crisp, but both had good punchy fruit, some lime notes and great substance and length – plus some classy oak notes in the latter case. No danger of SB becoming a clichéd wine here.|
|Two further whites, rather less well known. Custoza, Monte del Frá, 2010 is a five way blend from a small DOC near Lake Garda, with pear drop notes, some residual sugar and a rich pear and apple palate. Pinot Bianco from Cantina di Terlano, Sud Tiröl/Alto Adige, 2010 showed some nice sherbet notes and cut apples. It probably needs some time in the bottle to develop its characteristic fatness.||
||We might have seen this coming as Inama has been the standard bearer for Italian whites in our local shop Caviste. Two members brought identical wines, a top quality Soave, Vigneti di Foscari 2004. This led to a predictable attempt to learn how to pronounce Garganega variety (accent on second syllable), now affectionately known as the Lady Gaga variety. Example one had rich, developed fruit with excellent vibrancy. Example two may have been slightly oxidised or perhaps stored in less than ideal ways and so was more advanced ageing – a fascinating comparison for two supposed identical wines.|
|On to the red wines. The next three wines were all made from the Nebbiolo grape in Piemonte, though in different guises. The first Le Tense, Sassela, Nino Negri, Valtellina Superiore 2007, comes from much further north than Barolo, in fact north of Lake Como. Pale ruby, sour cherries, fragrant and medium weight – with its local varietal name of Chiavennesca. Number two was from a very famous||
|producer – Sandrone – but a minor DOC, Valmaggiore 2002, in the Roero, rather warmer than Barolo. This is grown on a steep sandy slope and produces a rather darker wine and relatively low in tannins, making some of us opt for Barbera – wrongly! Finally there was Barolo, Milani 2007, an entry level example of a great name – pale, fragrant, properly tannic.|
|The final two reds included a subtle example of a good quaffer, Alfredo Bugliani’s Valpolicella Classico 2010 – light, pleasant, lovely Corvina fruit. Then a rarity in England, Burgum Novum riserva, Lagrein, Castelfeder, 2005. The Lagrein grape is local to Alto Adige and this quality example was a dark ruby, with rich cherry and plum fruit and nice oak notes, quite full and rounded (Merlot was a reasonable guess).|
||A final rarity, courtesy of the producer La Sclusa who attended Decanter’s Friuli day on Monday. Picolit, native to Friuli, is a grape variety famous for floral abortion and therefore very poor bunch formation and very low yields. The wine is made then by semi-drying the grapes, further reducing the yield – and raising the cost. Picolit 2008 is a lovely golden colour, and then full of walnut, almond and toffee apple flavours, only moderately sweet. Some thought it was the wine of the evening.|
|North Italy – as with the rest of the peninsula – has a huge range of wine styles, local and international varieties, not to mention vinous curiosities. This evening showed a good sample of these, but only one evening cannot do justice to all. On now to Bordeaux …|
Andover Wine Friends’ March monthly tasting was ably introduced by member, Lefty Wright, with knowledge and a light touch. The tasting was arranged around the characteristic grape varieties of this northerly region, and Lefty’s commentary interspersed with local detail and reminiscence. Here’s the line up, nearly all sourced from the Wine Society.
As Janet and I had been in Piemonte but not got to the Gavi area, we made bee-line for the home of the Cortese grape at Vinitaly 2010. This massive wine fair allows you taste some of the real specialities (and peculiarities) of Italy and that includes some little known sparkling wines. Here the focus will be on two little known sparklers, from the Gavi (South East Piemonte) and Franciacorta (Lombardia) areas.
Generally, Gavi has a reputation a bit like Soave – rather a basic, mass produced white wine, popular in the past with Italian restaurants, with a few good exceptions which only wine buffs know about. La Scolca, or Soldati La Scolca to give it its full name, have always held out for quality and especially for the steep rise in interest which bottle ageing brings to good Gavi. The company has just celebrated 90 years so it clearly has done some things right.
All of La Scolca’s whites are made exclusively from the native Cortese grape. The entry level Gavi 2009 is a fresh, moderately fruity wine, well made without being very attention seeking. Gavi di Gavi 2009 must come from the commune of Gavi is not itself a big jump up in quality but is much more persistent in its flavour. By contrast the selection Gavi di Gavi D’Antan 2000 is a revelation. First of all it is made from the best grapes in good years only, secondly it has the benefits of a decade of ageing. It has a pronounced nose of pears and melon fruit, then a strong lime streak. In the mouth it is a quite a big, structured wine, with great persistence. The company has these older bottles to sell, in this case at €35. You can suddenly taste what all the fuss is about.
La Scolca have also made a speciality of sparkling versions of Gavi. The great majority of Italian sparklers are tank fermented which is a cheaper process and preserves the freshness of the fruit for wines for drinking young. By contrast La Scolca’s wines are all metodo classico, ie second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne, and all are from individual vintages. The Metodo Classico 2006 has a honeyed nose with good fruit and fairly modest yeast notes. It has a noticeable bitter finish – highly prized in Italian food and wine but not to everyone’s taste. The Metodo Classico riserva 2002 is a pale straw colour with a green tint and has really benefitted from its seven years on the yeast in the bottle – a much more complex nose, lovely yeasty, patisserie notes followed by plenty of delicious fruit. Better again is the D’Antan riserva 1998, which has spent a full eleven years on the yeasts of the secondary fermentation in its bottle. The nose is yet more sophisticated and the wine is beautifully smooth in the mouth – a real treat.
Brief aside – all wine bottles are difficult to photograph successfully because of the light reflecting off the bottle. But this bulbous shape takes the biscuit. Every single one of my general ‘whole bottle’ shots has my reflection in it – just to prove I was there! Low angle next time.
This starts out as a pale salmon pink and ages to this rather lovely apricot. D’Antan rosato 1998 shows the influence of even this tiny addition of Pinot Noir with some more (now very rounded out) raspberry fruit, altogether a class act.
Just over one hundred miles North East, the other side of Milan is the Franciacorta area. I was cheered to read in Tom Hyland’s Vinitaly blog that one of the reasons he gives for going to this wine fair is Franciacorta. Where else can you try these quality sparklers, so prized in knowledgeable Italian circles, so unknown elsewhere? Basically the wine comes from a zone in Lombardy, near Brescia, is made from the same grapes as Champagne, by the same method, and costs much the same price. But the style is rather different, no doubt because of the geology plus the warmer weather. There is a market out there for a Champagne style wine but with richer, more mature fruit, but cracking it will be a huge challenge. In the meantime it is one to search out.
This time we tasted wines from just two growers, the first of whom makes just one wine. Santus is a new venture between two agronomists who pay tribute to their vine/wine consultant, Alessio Dorigo, who they charmingly describe as rigoroso spumantista! With their ‘precision bubble maker’ the two of them have done a great job in producing something really rather distinctive, in comparison with the fresh, subtle but fruity, sparkling wines, typical of the zone. A key difference is their practice of keeping the grapes on the vines for 10 days or so after full maturity. 10% of the wine has been aged in old barriques and all the wine is kept in its bottles on the lees for 21 months. This produces a wine strawy yellow in colour with a rich, extracted palate and a dry finish. A very promising debut and we look forward to the rosé which will appear in the future.
We then enjoyed the wines of Bredasole, a more typical Franciacorta company with five sparkling wines. These are classic Franciacorta – around two years in the bottles during the second fermentation producing nice yeasty flavours above ripe fruit (Brut 2007). By contrast the Satèn (2007) style is made from white grapes only (in this case 100% Chardonnay) and has slightly less pressure. It has a delicate nose, and lovely subtle fruit. The most ‘serious’ of the five, is Nature 2006, which is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Nero (30%) and Pinot Blanc (20%), spends an impressive three years in bottles in the second fermentation stage and has no balancing sugar/alcohol added at the end. The yeast notes are beautiful and pronounced as is the excellent fruit. Two party pieces follow – a rosé and a medium dry version. The former – Rosé 2007 - is the palest apricot pink, the product of the freshly pressed grape juice being held with the Pinot Noir skins for just 2-3 hours. Nice raspberry fruit, entirely dry finish. By contrast Demì starts out life as a rather more acidic base wine but with higher dosage, so more sugar added to offset the acidity. In the mouth the sweetness-acidity balance is good, definitely sweet but not at all sickly. Would be excellent with patisserie. This is a really good range at decent prices – but sadly not available in the UK.
And finally, a part of the Piemontese wine scene that is massively undervalued, the lovely, quite sweet, sparkling Moscato. It’s a classic which gets little attention because it’s not ‘important’, ie at least one of expensive, fashionable, or in need of long ageing. But it is straightforwardly delicious, full of flavour (it actually tastes of grapes, how strange is that) and low in alcohol. Perfect for tea time (how English!), for picnics, for celebrations, for desserts.