Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wine Reviews: Grab Bag from Bulgaria, Brazil & South Africa

As a contributor for the daily wine blog Terroirist, I receive sample wines from all over the world. Some of the more varied and obscure samples aren’t easy to group together. Hence this catch-all report, which feautures wines from Brazil, Bulgaria, South Africa and other countries.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. They’re organized in alphabetical order by country of origin. This post first appeared on Terroirist.

2012 Gnarly Head Malbec - Argentina, Mendoza
SRP: $12
Aromas of sweet berries, cherry cola and mocha. Fresh and berry-driven on the palate, with gobs of fruit and red licorice and red hot candies, along with some sweet vanilla and floral elements. Some earth undertones on the finish. Easy-drinking, fun, crowd-pleasing stuff, but not complex or evocative. (84 points)

N.V. Salton Intenso Brut - Brazil, Serra Gaúcha
SRP: $15
Gold color with medium bubbles. Aromas of whipped honey, roasted nuts and lemon zest. Creamy with fine bubbles and medium acid. Lemon zest and tart green pears, along with saline and oyster brine notes. Much lighter-bodied than Champagne or other New World Bruts, this reminds me more of a crisp Cremant d’Alsace. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. (86 points)

2011 Salton Chardonnay Virtude - Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
SRP: $22
A rich yellow color. Green and yellow apples on the nose, some honeysuckle, toasted marshmallow. Medium+ bodied, medium acid, this wine shows chunky pineapple and mango fruit, along with notes of honey, walnut and toffee. Not all richness and sunshine though, as some grapefruit peel and lemon come out on the finish. A fun, forward Chardonnay. (85 points)

2007 Salton Merlot Desejo - Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Vale dos Vinhedos
SRP: $25
On the nose, a tobacco leaf and rich soil note, with wild raspberries and red plums. Tart acid, a leaner profile, with fine, chalky tannins. Tart cranberries and raspberries lead the way, with undertones of dried leaves, cigar smoke and a flavor that reminds me of crushed nutshells. Very tart and tangy, not rich and silky, but it’s a well-made, food-friendly wine for sure. (87 points)

2009 Salton Talento - Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Bento Gonçalves, Tuiuty
SRP: $22
Much darker on the nose, with black currants, loam, charcoal and vanilla. Medium-bodied, fresh acid combines with some gritty tannins. The black currant and dark plum fruit crackles on the palate. I get some dried leaves, black pepper, soy glaze and tobacco flavors. Drinking well now, but I think this could improve in the cellar. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Tannat. (87 points)

2011 Veni Vidi Vici Chardonnay - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
A very light straw color in the glass. Bright lemon, green apple, river stones and chalk. Light and tangy, like citrus water on the palate. Lemon, green apple peel and tangerine fruit mix with chalk and mineral. I like the brisk and clean approach, but the wine is still quite light and tastes a bit watered down. (81 points)

2012 Veni Vidi Vici Sauvignon Blanc - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
Medium straw color. Grapefruit and sea salt on the nose, along with some white peach and white flowers. High acid on the palate, medium bodied, with green apple peel, grapefruit and apricot. Light, fresh and clean, but lacking depth or intrigue. (83 points)

2011 Veni Vidi Vici Rosé - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
A watermelon-strawberry color. A huge amount of mineral on the nose, like smelling a rock quarry, also some sharp strawberry and lemon zest, along with some white pepper and an aroma that reminds me of sweet pickle relish, seriously. Tangy acid on the palate, this is a bright and brisk wine. I love the wild strawberry and snappy cranberry fruit. Lots of minerals and white pepper in this wine, with some pickle and earth qualities as well. Crisp, clean and pleasant, a Bulgarian rosé that tastes unique, as it should. 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Syrah. (87 points)

2011 Veni Vidi Vici Pinot Noir - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
A light ruby color. Juicy cherries and cranberries on the nose, some red flowers and rhubarb. Medium bodied, tangy acid, a very floral and focused wine, but enough bright red currants and strawberries. Some earth, wet moss and tobacco notes. So fresh, this is one of the better wines I’ve tasted from this producer, and a solid bargain at $9. I’d love to put this on a by-the-glass list because it’s got some broad appeal and a lot of value. (86 points)

2009 Veni Vidi Vici Cabernet Sauvignon - Bulgaria, Thracian Valley
SRP: $9
Medium ruby color. Smoky and earthy on the nose, like black currants topped with campfire ash and dusty earth. Medium tannins, crisp acid, the currant fruit is tart and crunchy. Earthy, some cedar and cracked pepper. Not too deep or thrilling, but for a bargain-priced Cab this is quite nice. (85 points)

N.V. Blandy Madeira Malmsey 10 Years Old - Portugal, Madeira
SRP: $30 (375 ml bottle)
Smells of yellow raisins, caramel, honey, candied pecans and dried apricots. Classic Malmsey richness with some nutty, nougat and caramel sweetness, but lots of dried apricot, mango and mixed nuts. Still fresh though, with a long finish reminiscent of dried flowers, sea brine, saline and pineapple cake. A lot going on, this begs for hard cheeses, dried fruits and mixed nuts. (90 points)

2012 Seven Springs Chardonnay Over the Mountain - South Africa, Overberg
SRP: $16
A light yellow color. On the nose, I get kiwi, tangerine, lime, a bit of cream and a chalky-mineral aspect. The acid really rocks on this wine, providing freshness to the creamy tangerine, kiwi and green pear fruit. There’s a complex mix of chalk, mountain stream, minerals and white flowers. The creaminess comes out a bit on the finish, but this wine is anything but heavy. Full of flavor and intensity, but still maintains an elegant edge. A delicious and lively unoaked Chardonnay. (90 points)

This label, designed for the American market, is loaded with value.
2011 Seven Springs Sauvignon Blanc Over the Mountain - South Africa, Overberg
SRP: $16
Nose of white peach, green pear, honeysuckle a hint of green grass. Medium+ acid on the palate. A bit of creaminess-waxy elements to the mouthfeel. Tangy, mineral-driven wine with green apple and green pear fruit, backed up by a sage and white pepper note. Not overly grassy, this actually shows some sea brine elements that I quite like. (87 points)

2011 Seven Springs Pinot Noir Over the Mountain - South Africa, Overberg
SRP: $20
Clear light ruby color. Lovely nose of bright roses, red cherries, strawberries, pepper and underbrush. Again with this producer, it seems like you’re gonna get tangy acid, which I love. Bright red fruits (cherries, strawberries, cranberries) mix with pepper, roasted chestnut, clay soil and dried roses. Old world notes. On the lighter side, but not weak. Love the red flowers here. (88 points)

2010 Seven Springs Syrah Over the Mountain - South Africa, Overberg
SRP: $20
Dark, vibrant purple color. The blackberry and currant fruit smell like they’ve been rolled in pepper and thrown on the grill. High acid and firm grip to the tannins. Tangy plums and black currants blend well with campfire smoke and rich soil aspects. I get some pepper and steak sauce on the finish, but the acid helps it tread lightly on the palate. (88 points)

2012 Campo Viejo Garnacha Rioja - Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
SRP: $12
A dull ruby color. Aromas of ripe cherries, strawberries, red licorice and toast. Easy-drinking tannins and fresh acid blend with juicy black cherries and plums. Some smoke and dark roast coffee, and a flavor that reminds me of red hot candies and red licorice. Fun, party-friendly wine. (84 points)

SRP: $17
Aromas of green melon, lychee and some floral notes (orange blossom, honeysuckle). Juicy and tropical on the palate (pineapple, apricot, green melon), along with some floral notes. Creamy, lacking just a bit on the acidity for my palate, but a fun, summer sipper. (86 points)

2013 Bodega Garzón Sauvignon Blanc - Uruguay
SRP: $17
Slight spritz in the glass, with a pale straw color. Aromas of grapefruit, spiced tea and green olives, as strange as that may sound. Tangy and fresh on the palate. The white peach and orange peel blends with jalapeno, white pepper and lemongrass flavors. Crisp, herbal, but more body than your average New Zealand Sauv Blanc. Very food friendly. (87 points)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Virginia Wines & Robert Wiedmaier's Food

I first met Chef Robert Wiedmaier at a the home of renown wine importer Bobby Kacher earlier this year during a tasting lunch with several French winemakers. A man in the kitchen was cooking up some risotto, slicing salmon and otherwise making the house smell amazing. I didn’t recognize him immediately, but when I realized who he was, I nerded out. I stuttered a bit before saying something dumb, like, “You’re Robert Wiedmaier? Wow, I’m a huge fan!”

Robert is a big, affable guy with a firm handshake and an all-around awesome personality. I’ve long been a fan of his restaurants, especially the mussels and beverage selections at Brasserie Beck and Mussel Bar & Grille. So I was excited when I was invited to attend a wine dinner in March at Robert’s flagship restaurant, Marcel’s in Washington, DC.

Chef Robert Wiedmaier at work on some
canapes in London. Photo credit: Marcel's. 
The dinner was designed as a dry run for a similar event Robert was conducting the next week at the U.S. Embassy in London. The seven-course meal included dishes like pan seared scallop with black fermented garlic and squid ink, roasted pigeon with potato risotto and black truffle, and plum tarragon tart with honey and cinnamon ice cream. Yeah, the food was epic.

Considering this meal was designed for Brits, Robert could’ve arranged to pair the food with white and red Burgundy, which would’ve been spectacular with the rich but delicate food. He could’ve served aged Rhone wines, or maybe some high-end California wines. But Robert chose the accompaniment of Virginia’s finest.

What better way to get consumers excited about Virginia wines than pairing them with Robert’s incredible dishes? Hat’s off, Robert! I think it’s great that he chose to promote Virginia wines and serve them alongside his food. So much of the food comes from local sources, so why not the wine?

I’m a fan of Virginia wine, and every year there is more and more of it to explore. Virginia wines have never been better, and there’s good reason to believe that the glory days are still ahead.

The wines were presented by guest sommelier Jason Tesauro, who did a great job explaining how various grape varieties fair in Virginia and the unique aspects of the state’s winegrowing regions.

Here are my notes on a delicious evening.

2008 Trump Winery Blanc de Blancs Kluge SP - Virginia, Central Region, Albemarle County
Bready on the nose with lemon peel and seashell notes. Firm acid on the palate with lemon and lime, green apple peel, creamy and mineral notes add complexity. I enjoyed this more than the bottle I had in mid-2012, as this showed a bit more complexity and nuance. (87 points)

2012 Chatham Vineyards Church Creek Steel Chardonnay Eastern Shore - Virginia, Eastern Region, Eastern Shore
I have little experience with Eastern Shore Chardonnays, but this one has a lot to like. Smells like fresh green apples, tangerine, honeysuckle, sea shells. Medium-bodied with creamy apple, honey and apricot flavors. Clean, fresh, floral, this stainless steel Chardonnay isn’t complicated but it’s very well done. (87 points)

2013 Boxwood Winery Estate Rosé - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun County
Light salmon colored. So perfumed on the nose, with notes of red apple, strawberry and chalk. Medium-bodied, creamy but fresh acid. Juicy red apple, strawberry, all sorts of fruit blossoms, some slight pepper, and ocean note. One of my favorite wines of the evening. (88 points)

2012 Ingleside Albariño - Virginia, Eastern Region, Northern Neck
Faulty. All sorts of dried nail polish going on. Oops. (Flawed)

2012 Linden Sauvignon Blanc Avenius - Virginia, Northern Region
Love the freshness on the nose: sea salt, grapefruit, dandelion, orange blossom. Creamy texture, acid is fresh, I get fleshy white peach and apricot fruit mixed in with notes of white pepper. I wish Linden’s Avenius Chard found a way into this tasting, because I love that wine, but this is still a solid Sauvignon Blanc. Fleshy, creamy, some nice spice but not too herbaceous. (86 points)

2012 King Family Vineyards Viognier - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
Honey, flowers and sea shell aromas. Juicy on the palate with white peach, golden apple and floral notes. Creamy finish. Clean, fresh, tangy finish, I like this style of Viognier. (87 points)

2012 White Hall Vineyards Viognier - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
Flowers, peaches and banana aromas. Bold on the palate with a rich texture, flavors of pineapple, lychee, banana, some peanut and floral notes. (85 points)

2012 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir - Virginia
Light ruby color. Juicy berries on the nose, rhubarb, notes of white pepper and red licorice candy. Bright and fresh on the palate, fine tannins, juicy cherry fruit. Notes of rhubarb, pepper and earth add complexity. Not incredibly deep or profound, but a really solid and promising Virginia Pinot Noir for sure. (88 points)

2012 Veritas Vineyard Cabernet Franc - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
Smells like sweet berry compote, cedar, mulling spices and a soy note. Fresh and juicy on the palate with sweet strawberries and cherry fruit. Very mild tannins and brisk acid, a bit lacking in depth but some nice pepper notes on the finish. (85 points)

2010 Breaux Vineyards Nebbiolo Barrel Select - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun County
Spicy nose with dark berries and a bit of alcohol. I get a lot of red fruit, even some red apple peel and white cherries. The wine is very big (16% alcohol) with medium tannins and acid. Some nice spice and tobacco undertones. I’ve liked some Virginia Nebbiolo, and this is good, but it’s not what I was expecting. (85 points)

2010 Williamsburg Winery Adagio - Virginia
Smells like a campfire, with notes of sweet blackberry jam. Rich on the palate with fine tannins and a silky mouthfeel. Sweet plums, mocha, smoke and spices. A full and jammy style but it’s so well made. Big-time deliciousness factor. 42% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 28% Petit Verdot, aged 14 months in French, Hungarian and American oak, about 40% new. (88 points)

2010 Boxwood Winery Boxwood - Virginia, Northern Region, Loudoun County
Juicy red and black fruit on the nose, some mocha as well. Fresh and silky on the palate with great balance. Love the jubilant red and black fruit, and the notes of mocha, cedar soil and earth give it lots of complexity. Very tasty stuff, showing complexity and elegance. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. My wine of the night. (89+ points)

2010 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon - Virginia, Central Region, Monticello
The black cherry aromas are laced with olive, smoke, earth and charcoal. Fine tannins and fresh acid on the palate, the fruit is ripe and opulent but not overdone. Black cherries and mixed berries, roses, smoke, cedar, also some black olive and dried floral notes. Long, silky, complex, another great Octagon from Barboursville. Merlot, Cab Franc, Cabernet and Petite Verdot. (89 points)

2008 Barboursville Vineyards Malvaxia Passito - Virginia
Honey and almond past on the nose. Very honeyed on the palate, with apricot jam and almond paste. I like the acid here, keeps it from being cloying. (85 points)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Video From My Wine Trip to Languedoc-Roussillon

In January, I spent five days wine tasting my way through the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France. The trip was organized by SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, and centered around the Millésime Bio Fair in Montpellier.

I was joined by a group of wine writers (including 
Alder Yarrow and W. Blake Gray) and sommeliers from the United States and Canada. We kicked off the trip with two days of vineyard tours in the Roussillon, where I experienced more than my share of the intense and persistent Tramontane winds. After the vineyard tours, we spent a few days at the Bio Fair in Montpellier, a trade show with more 700 organic winemakers from 12 countries.I brought my GoPro camera with me, which I usually use for surfing. But I figured I'd try my hand at some "extreme wine tourism" video. I'm no professional videographer, but I had a lot of fun with this. The video box here is quite small, so for a better picture click the full-screen mode once you play the video.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

This is me taking part in a “blog hop.”  

Here’s how it works: writers/bloggers answer the same four questions about the process of writing, then we invite more bloggers to participate. By the end of the year, the goal is to have as many bloggers as possible riffing on this same theme.

The whole #MyWritingProcess endeavor seems like one part chain letter, one part self interview, one part shameless self-promotion and one part supporting other writers. I’m taking part because my friend and awesome writer Shelby Settles Harper tapped me. An alum of the Johns Hopkins University master’s in writing program, where I’m studying, Shelby is an all-around great writer and literary thinker who blogs at “Worth the Writing.”

So, on to the questions...

Q: What am I working on?

Well, like always, I’m working on a whole lot of things at once. I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my second novel Fremdheim for about 18 months now. By the end of summer, I hope to have it ready to go as I search for a new agent and publisher.

I just finished a short story based on my first trip to New Orleans. While at the W Hotel lobby, I met a gravedigger, who took me around to some remote and derelict cemeteries. The story has been simmering for years, but I finally got it down on paper for my “Identity in Literature” class at Johns Hopkins. Hopefully, someone will find the morbid chaos of this story interesting and agree to publish it.

I’ll soon be traveling in South Africa for the first time. I’ll be surfing some cold, sketchy breaks, roaming around in nature, camping out in the wilderness, tasting some wines. So, considering this will be the most epic trip of my 30 years, I plan on writing a lot about it. I have long been a fan of South African wine, and I look forward to my tastings and tours with some great producers. Surely, I will return with many a blog post to work on. I also plan on writing a kind of surf adventure travel piece I hope to submit to some sports and travel publications.

Q: How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My novel Fremdheim is, like Broken Bones, “fiction,” but it’s based on my experience of a specific time and place. As a skeptic son of evangelical missionaries, I had a lot to unpack when my parents decided to leave our Jersey Shore home to Kyiv, Ukraine to tell the people there about Jesus. I ended up at a missionary kid boarding school in Germany’s Black Forest, and Fremdheim is based on that experience.

It wasn’t the high point of my life, but I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. So I have a love-acceptance relationship with the past. I’m not bitter or angry, I’m just reflective. This chaotic past has made me who I am today, so I like to dig into it, explore it, hold it up to the light.

Q: Why do I write what I do?

I’m constantly challenging myself to try bigger and more difficult things. And writing is one of the most challenging things I know. It’s not dangerous, per se, but it’s thrilling.

As far as subject matter, my writing reflects my preference for the rebel, the punk, the outcast, and it stands in opposition to hierarchy, religion and taboo. But, mostly, I love exploring complex characters who operate within dynamic environments. I like writing about those moments when things clash, when people break down, when someone takes a risk and either fails miserably or pulls off something awesome.

Also, in a physical and psychological sense, I write because I feel a constant compulsion to do so. On some level, I write because not writing makes me feel anxious, helpless and downright crazy.

Q: How does your writing process work?

I write most (and I think best) late at night. But each time I sit down at the computer, I approach writing with a different mindset. I like to write in different physical, emotional and mental states, so I can attack a particular piece of writing from different vantage points. Sometimes I get up real early, sip way too much coffee and write for hours before doing anything else. Sometimes I hunker down in my man cave all night, typing away with metal blasting. I also love writing while traveling; it helps me gain new perspectives.

Next up on the blog hop: two friends and awesome writers, Gillian Marchenko and Addie Zierman.  

Gillian Marchenko is a writer and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her memoir Sun Shine Down was published in August of 2013. She is currently writing another memoir about depression. Find out more about Gillian and her work at  

Addie Zierman (@addiezierman) is an author and blogger. She recently published her debut memoir, When We Were On Fire, which was named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2013. She lives in Andover, Minnesota with her husband and two sons and blogs at

As always, thanks for reading. Cheers!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wine Reviews: Oregon & California Pinot Noirs

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

What a solid bunch of wines. These Pinot Noirs from Oregon and California were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2010 Stoller Pinot Noir Reserve Dundee Hills - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
SRP: $45
Clear, medium intensity ruby colored. On the nose, cranberries and sour cherries, a note of red hot candies and rhubarb. Medium+ acid, fine-grained tannins, lots of strawberries and cranberries on the palate. I love the white pepper and resin notes and the creamy oak accents. Tasty, tangy, a good one to drink now or hold for several years. (89 points)

2011 Stoller Pinot Noir Estate Grown - Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
SRP: $25
A clear ruby color. Medium intensity on the nose, with red currants, wild raspberries, and I get the sense that I’m smelling a holly tree, with this strong green-herbal and tart berry combination, some caramel too. On the palate, the tannins are light, medium+ acid, with flavors of tart cranberries, strawberries and a bit of pomegranate seed. An interesting mix of pepper, menthol, some creamy oak and dusty soil. A zesty, lower-alcohol (12.7%) Pinot. (88 points)

2010 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir Hyland Vineyard - Oregon, Willamette Valley, McMinnville
SRP: $35
A dark ruby color in the glass. The nose shows violets and smoke over raspberries and strawberries and a strong mushroom note that I really enjoy. Fresh and elegant on the palate, with very fine tannins, crisp acid and fresh strawberries and cherries, a dark plum note as well. That same mushroom note from the nose comes out on the palate, some bay leaf, cracked pepper and light roast coffee. I dig this wine for its unassuming approach, its nuance, and its delicate flavors, but it’s not one to age for very long. (88 points)

2011 Hyland Estates Pinot Noir Coury - Oregon, Willamette Valley, McMinnville
SRP: $60
Light ruby color. Really nice spice tones on the nose (clove, cinnamon, pepper) on top of bright cherries and cranberries. Brisk acid, fine tannins and snappy red fruit makes this a fresh and food-friendly Pinot. I like the tobacco, pepper and earth accents. (A pleasant hint of seaweed?) A lighter, more reserved style, but showing significant complexity. (89 points)

2012 Gainey Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $30
Ruby-cherry colored. On the nose, some roses, cool strawberries and raspberries, anise, menthol. On the palate, juicy berry fruit, strawberries and raspberries, like strawberry rhubarb pie, mixed with white pepper, earth and tobacco, Complex, spice-toned, along with cola and tobacco. Bright, balanced and pure, but full of flavor. 13.9% alcohol, aged 11 months in 19% new French oak. A beauty. (91 points)

2012 Rusack Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
Ruby-cherry color. Aromas of fig, cranberries, roses, rhubarb and a smoky note. Fresh acid on the palate, with fine tannins, very pretty in its approach. Flavors of cranberries, fresh cherries mix with notes of cola, pepper, rhubarb. Ripe and open, but stays cool and clean, with a pepper and sage-laced finish. (90 points)

2012 Rusack Pinot Noir Reserve - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $40
Medium black cherry color. Aromas of fresh, chilled strawberries and cherries, along with roses, earth and some mushroom. Bright cherries and plums lead the way on the palate, with some crunchy plum skin notes. Tangy, moderate structure, with secondary flavors of earth, rhubarb and strawberry greens, some nice tobacco and white pepper. Slight coffee and cedar on the finish. Very well balanced and full of interesting flavors. (90 points)

2012 Rusack Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $45
Dark ruby colored. Wonderful nose, the strawberry and sour cherry fruit smells fresh and inviting, accented by notes of rhubarb, white pepper and a smell that reminds me sweet pickle relish. From the moment the wine hits the palate, to the finish, the wine is graceful and consistent. Solid tannic structure, highly refreshing acid, and waves of cool strawberry and cherry fruit. The notes of white pepper, earth, tobacco and sweet floral and dried fruit potpourri make this complex and exciting. Long, fresh finish with floral and earth nuances. Beautiful stuff, showing well right out of the bottle, but you could bury this for a while as well. (93 points) 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Charismatic Chenin Blancs From Francois Chidaine

In January, I spent five days tasting my way through the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France. The trip was organized and sponsored by SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, and centered around the Millésime Bio Fair in Montpellier, a convention of more than 700 organic winemakers from 12 countries.

During the fair, I mingled through the tasting tables, stopping to taste and talk with winemakers. High on my list of must-see producers was Francois Chidaine, who has long been one of my favorite artists of the Chenin Blanc grape. These Loire Valley wines have always astounded me with their depth, purity and minerality. From bone dry to sweet, they are some of the best examples of Chenin Blanc I’ve come across.

Here are my notes on Francois’ wines…

N.V. François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Méthode Traditionelle Brut - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
White flowers, lemon zest and chammomile tea on the nose. Crisp and mineral-driven on the palate, with fine bubbles, nectarine and melon rind flavors. Love the oceanic and mineral stream aspects. (88 points)

2012 François Chidaine Vouvray Sec Les Argiles - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
Aromas of white peach and nectarine, mixed with crushed stones and slate. Crisp and pure on the palate, with melon and lime peel. So much mineral and sea shell flavors. Sexy, alive, sure to be long-lived. (89 points)

2011 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Bournais - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
I love this wine, and 2011 is another solid example. Floral, peach, nectarine, minerals on the nose. Peach and cantaloupe all over the palate, but also really tangy. Creamy, slightly nutty, with a bit more honey than the Franc de Pied bottling. Great length on the palate, this will open up a lot over the next few years, I’m guessing. (90 points)

2011 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Franc de Pied Les Bournais - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
Honey, floral, nectarine, apricot and minerals on the nose. Richly textured, honeyed on the palate with nervy acid and lots of limestone and rocks. Lemon peel and peach flavors, mix with limestone and lychee nut. Long and full yet sleek. For me, this might be just a hair above the regular Les Bournais, possibly a little more long-lived, but is it worth the extra money? (90 points)

2011 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
Peaches, honey, mixed nuts and crushed rocks on the nose. The palate is rich, but buttressed by clean acid. So full and floral, with complex apricot, peach nectar, nuts and herbal tea. Long finish with dried white flowers and clay soil. I’d like to try this wine with five years on it. (90 points)

2010 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
Aromas of apricots, honey, yellow flowers and mountain streams. Richly textured, great freshness. Honeydew, nectarine and sweet peaches, along with white tea, flowers and crushed nutshells. Sweet but balanced, a bit low on the mineral content but still incredibly delicious. (91 points)

2010 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Moelleux - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Montlouis-sur-Loire
Deep aromatic display of honey, apricots and flowers. Rich and lush, but also balanced and pure, and not in the slightest bit cloying. Love the apricot, nectarine and pineapple fruit, mixed with cinnamon, lanolin oily undertones. Not a ton of minerality, but it’s still amazing. One for the cellar for sure. (92 points)

2010 François Chidaine Vouvray Moelleux - France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
Complex aromas of honeycomb, apricot, nectarine and chalk. Juicy and rich on the palate with nervy acid. Flavors of honey-glazed pears, caramel, pineapple and lychee. Not too rich because of an underlying sense of chalk and minerals. Long and complex with a long life ahead. (92 points)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wurzelwerk: Riesling and the Quest to Understand Terroir

Photo: Wurzelwerk. From left to right: Maximilian von Kunow,
Johannes Hasselbach, Stef Jurtschitsch, Alwin Jurtschitsch.
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Winemakers and good friends Johannes, Max, Alwin and Stefanie spent the 2012 holidays together, sharing merriment and each other’s wines. As Riesling bottles emptied and night settled in, the conversation turned to terroir. What does a glass of Riesling say about its vineyard site? Is terroir just a combination of the vineyard’s soil, climate and topography? How much does the winemaker affect a wine’s sense of place?

By the end of the night, they’d devised a plan to try to answer some of these questions. The motto: “Give me your juice; I’ll give you mine.” They called it Wurzelwerk, or root work.

The cast:
·      Johannes Hasselbach, Weingut Gunderloch (Rheinhessen, Germany)
·      Maximilian von Kunow, Weingut von Hövel (Saar, Germany)
·      Alwin & Stefanie Jurtschitsch, Weingut Jurtschitsch (Kamptal, Austria)

The concept: Each winemaker trades some of their 2012 harvest with the others. Each winemaker then crafts three different wines, one from his own estate fruit and one from the fruit of the other two.

The result: 3 winemakers x 3 Rieslings = 9 wines. Their final output totaled about 400 half-liter bottles of each of the nine Rieslings.

I recently attended a Wurzelwerk tasting at Domaine Wine Storage in Washington, DC, where these three winemakers showed off the results of their experiment. Alwin kicked off the tasting with an explanation of the basic question they were investigating. If soil, aspect, climate, indigenous yeasts and other site-specific factors comprise terroir, then “by rule, it should taste the same,” Alwin said. “In practice, it’s actually quite different.”

After an explanation of the logistical details, we tasted the first three wines side-by-side. The crowd was befuddled. Questions and concern spread through the room. “Why do they taste different?”

Max chuckled. “That’s the question.” Alwin and Johannes refer to Max as the philosopher of the bunch, and it fits considering how energized he gets by these complex little mysteries. “You can read a hundred books about wine,” Max told the crowd. He pointed to his glass. “No book has this.”

In order to make the process as uniform as possible, the winemakers removed as many variables as they could. Johannes, for example, normally uses old oak barrels to ferment his Riesling, but for this project everyone used stainless steel. The grapes were crushed to avoid potential oxidation that could arise from just shipping crates of whole clusters, but the juice was left in contact with the skins. The on the road juice had the same level of skin contact as the home field juice. (For the sake of consistency and clarity, I’m referring to the wines vinified elsewhere as “on the road” wines, and those wines vinified on their own turf as “home field” wines.) The wines were fermented using only ambient yeasts from the vineyard, meaning no additional yeasts were added to the on the road juice.

Another interesting note: the wines took vastly different amounts of time to ferment. Some were completed three months after the harvest, while others didn’t finish fermenting until June of 2013. Yet another mystery.

This is all part of the fun, Johannes said. “We haven’t demystified wine. If anything, we’ve further mystified it.” The winemakers knew they would learn a few things through this project, and, of course, they did. But Johannes was speaking for all of them all when he said, “The whole idea was looking for answers. What we got was more questions.”

My takeaway: I thought each wine tasted best when it was vinified on its home field. The on the road juice still expressed the basic characteristics of its vineyard, but these wines were slightly out of focus, a bit more hesitant, lacking some of the verve and wow factor of the home field wines. Only slightly, though. I thought all of the wines were impressive. But they were different, unpredictable, perplexing. Their similarities were pushed to the side as my attention focused on their nuanced differences.

My notes follow…

“Der Schatz-Berg”
This is Max’s fruit. These three wines come from Von Hövel’s holdings in the blue slate soils of the Scharzhofberg vineyard, located in the Saar region of the larger Mosel Valley. The wines carry the funny name because, under German wine laws, a wine cannot carry a vineyard designate if it is made outside of Germany.

2012 Von Hövel Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Schatz-Berg” - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Complex aromas of honey, white flowers, white peaches, orange peel and lots of crushed rocks. Tangy, clean, yet rich on the palate, with flavors of orange peel, lychee nut and limes. The non-fruit flavors are just awesome: saline, slate, clay soil, smashed rocks. Long, pure and beautiful. Showing more clarity and precision than the other wines. (92 points)

2012 Gunderloch Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Schatz-Berg” - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Showing a bit less intensity on the nose, with orange peel, white flowers and slate. Ripping acid on the palate, this wine is brisk and salty, more so than the others. Still getting that great orange peel, but some lemon in here too, honeysuckle. Intense minerality on this wine. A bit leaner than the Jurtschisch and ever more when compared to the Von Hövel. (91 points)

2012 Jurtschitsch Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Schatz-Berg” - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
The aromas are still beautiful, and quite similar to Von Hövel’s, but a smidge less intense. Orange peel, white flowers, crushed rocks. Creamy on the palate, but tangy, with orange peel and lychee nut, but this wine tastes a bit nuttier, showing a bit less mineral and a bit more floral and candied orange peel notes. Still a beautiful wine, but shocking to taste the difference. (91 points)

“Der Rote Berg”
This is Johannes’ fruit. It comes from Gunderloch’s holdings in the red slate Rothenberg vineyard, located in the Rheinhessen town of Nackenheim.

2012 Von Hövel Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Rote Berg” - Germany, Rheinhessen
Aromas of peach nectar, apricot, bright flowers, limestone, sea salt. Tangy and zesty on the palate, with orange, papaya and apricot flavors. Love the sea salt and mineral aspects. Close to the Gunderloch estate wine, but just a bit less focused. (90 points)

2012 Gunderloch Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Rote Berg” - Germany, Rheinhessen
Amazing aromas: white peach, apricot, intense floral notes, sea breeze, limestone. So pure and focused on the palate, with flavors of orange, apricot and lychee nut. Crisp, nervy acid, rushing minerals, and notes of spiced tea and mienrals on the finish. More defined and driven than the other wines. Another example of the best wine of the three coming from the home field cellar. (91+ points)

2012 Jurtschitsch Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Rote Berg” - Germany, Rheinhessen
More peaches and yellow flowers on the nose than the other wines, with richer, honeyed notes. Juicy apricot, lychee and orange on the palate. Zesty, with sea shells and minerals, some limestone, chalk and sea breeze notes. A really impressive wine, but definitely different than the Gunderloch estate wine. (91 points)

“Der Heilige Stein”
This fruit comes from Alwin and his wife Stef, who work together on the wines. The fruit comes from Jurtschitsch’s holdings in the Heiligestein vineyard in the Kamptal region of Austria. The soils are composed of desert sandstone with quartz and high silica content.

2012 Von Hövel Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Heilige Stein” - Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal
Interesting mix of aromas: apricot, clover honey and a musky note. Clean and crisp on the palate with rich apricot, lychee papaya flavors, but tingly acid throughout. Sea salt, clay and honeycomb notes. Complex, balanced, beautiful. (91 points)

2012 Gunderloch Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Heilige Stein” - Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal
Apricot, papaya, sea salt and minerals on the nose. Juicy and plump on the palate but nervy acid keeps it balanced. Papaya, lime juice and apricot flavors mix with minerals, chalk and whipped honey. Long, complex, showing a hint more minerals and elegance than the Von Hövel, at least for my palate. Long, honeyed finish. (91+ points)

2012 Jurtschitsch Riesling Wurzelwerk “Der Heilige Stein” - Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal
Focused aromas of white peach, papaya, potpourri, chalk and sea salt. Definitely the most complex aromas of the bunch. Again, on the palate, this home field wine scores big. So pure and direct on the palate, with papaya, lime and apricot. More intense minerality than the other two wines, and this shows complex clover honey, yellow flowers and chalk. Long, sexy finish. A gorgeous Austrian Riesling showing just what the Heiligenstein vineyard can offer. (92 points)

I’ve obsessed over wine for almost a decade now. But despite all the studying, all the blind tasting, all the collecting, all the corked bottles and blog posts, it’s refreshing and liberating to realize, through some sort of Riesling-fueled Socratic epiphany, that I know so very little. Wine will forever by mysterious. “In a hundred years, we will not have all the answers,” Max told the group of tasters.

He’s right. And as we do get the answers, the questions will change, and we’ll need to seek new answers all over again. This never-ending mystery, it befuddles us all, oenologists, growers, winemakers, writers, consumers.  Isn’t that why we love it so?