Saturday, October 16, 2021

2018 Alex Foillard Cote de Brouilly

What's better, more information on the wine label or less?  It depends on the wine.  If a level of quality has been established for the wine as is the case with French Burgundy, then less is better.  It's from the finest wine appellation in the world, after all, therefore we know it's going to be good and that's the case with our subject today.  The Alex Foillard Cote de Brouilly has an attractive label depicting red grapes but spares us unnecessary verbiage.   The back label indicates its reputable importer and that's really all we need to know.

Cote de Brouilly is one of the ten grand crus of Beaujolais, the southern end of Burgundy.  It lies just below Morgon, one of the best Crus.  Cote de Brouilly is the southernmost part of that southern section and it produces the softest red wines of the appellation.

Jean Foillard is the father of Alex, the winemaker we're talking about today, and Jean put Cote de Brouilly on the map by producing low intervention, "natural" wines.  This novel category is actually not novel at all; it is the traditional way wines have been made through the centuries.  It's taking what the vineyard gives you and working solely with that with nothing extraneous added to the process.  While Alex is very much in the mold of his father, this wine includes "a small dose of sulphur."  

The Gamay grapes for this wine are organically farmed on a single hectare of Chateau Lieu-dit land in the La Folie a Odenas region of Cote de Brouilly.  The vines are thirty to sixty years old, planted in north facing vineyards of granite and sandy schist soils.  The fermentation is done using the traditional carbonic maceration (whole bunches) method over a twenty-one day period in cement tanks using natural yeasts.  The wine is pumped over every three days during the process.

The wine is unfiltered and sees a year of aging in French oak.  Its texture has been characterized as silky and satiny with structured well-knit tannins.  It also has a tangy acidity, minerality, juicy freshness with sweet and savory spices and potpourri.  Fruit flavors may include raspberries, blood orange, strawberries, kirsch and perhaps candied cherries.

Here's your Thanksgiving dinner wine, folks.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Don Melchor and Massal Selection

We have successfully sold Don Melchor, the premier wine of Chile, since its inception in 1988.  When our vendor told us the current 2018 vintage was critically acclaimed, we thought, yeah, sure, it always is.  It turns out she understated things a bit.  James Suckling, one of the most reputable critics, gave the wine 100 points.

So that means it's perfect, right?  After reading a half dozen other reviews we think it may be.  All of the scores we found were close to 100.  Numerical review points are b-llsh-t, by the way, in the same way awards shows are and competitions that judge by purely subjective standards.  You either like something or you don't.  After reading up on the vintage and knowing this wine the way we do, we think the wine is probably as good as advertised.

Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the pre-Phylloxera Puenta Alto vineyards of the northern Maipo Valley appellation.  The estate vineyards lie on the north side of the Maipo River, a region that should be considered Chile's Grand Cru.  

Concha y Toro is one of the five largest wine companies in the world.  Don Melchor is its flagship offering.  We think the label originally represented the best wine they could make in a given vintage, kind of like what a lot of California companies piece together as their Meritage wine.  Over time the estate has become more closely defined to the point where they have now erected a state of the art winery on the property.

Enrique Tirado has been the Don Melchor winemaker since 1997.  As the estate has been more tightly defined so has the viticulture.  Against the prevailing wisdom of the modern era, clonal selection of grapes is no longer the practice there.  Massal Selection is the  propagation of grape vines using the cuttings from older vines in the vineyard.  It is the way things were done prior to the improvements out of UC Davis in California.  Massal selection assumes the unique individual distinction shown in exemplary old vines will carry over into the budding newly planted offshoots.  Since the French wine industry was so successful for so long using this practice,  it only makes sense to go with it.  Especially if you have pre-Phylloxera vines.

The 2018 Don Melchor is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.  The grapes are hand harvested from the estate vineyards including the lower yielding massal selection vines.  

In his 100 point review, Suckling uses terms like "stunning, vibrant, energetic, complex aromas and flavors (flowers, black currant, raspberries, peaches), full-bodied, refined, polished, impeccable texture and beauty, lengthy flavors, balance, harmony and transparency."  He also advises holding the wine for a few years.  All in all, this one's probably pretty good.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Dry Creek Zinfandel

This is more or less a stream-of-consciousness report on California Zinfandel and the Dry Creek Valley.  We intended to write about the new Quivira Vineyards Zinfandel that came in last week.  Our vendor got noticeably animated when he presented it to us so we know it's got to be good.  We just got sidetracked in our research.

Zinfandel made its arrival in California in 1852.  Italian immigrants pursuing their gold rush dreams carried their vines on their backs across the country little knowing that the real treasure going forward would be their gift to the domestic wine industry.  Zinfandel, or Primitivo in Italy, or Tripidrag in Croatia before that, is about as far from wine nobility as it gets.  But as we're learning everyday, if you get the right ordinary grape planted in the optimal environs, good things can happen.

One of those venues for the Italian peasant vines was Dry Creek Valley, a sixteen mile long, two mile wide valley in northern Sonoma County.  Dry Creek was granted its legal definition as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1983.  Its viticultural history actually goes back to 1880 which was a historical pivot point for the domestic wine industry.  Zinfandel had already become the most widely planted grape at that time in California but the Phylloxera aphid had also just arrived in the state at the same time.  Because the bugger was so destructive, all of the vineyards of California would have to be replanted setting back the industry for a decade or so. 

We took our first wine industry job in Berkeley, California back in 1976.  At that time we were charmed by some very flavorful field blends that we now know owed their opulent fruit profile to the Zinfandel grape.  Those blends were, in fact, Zinfandel-based.  And they were charming in their crudeness.  They were rough and brambly and unpretentious and the perfect counterpoint to wine snobbery.  And they were great with burgers!

Our point here is to contrast our perception of things with the industry marketing effort of that time.  They were trying to present Zinfandel as a type somewhat on a par with Cabernet Sauvignon or at least close to that kind of quality.  Concurrently Gallo and others were using the grape in some very successful, economical commercial blends.  The cognitive dissonance is hard to ignore.  How can something be both an economic filler in a blend and a centerpiece varietal at the same time?  But that's Zinfandel.  And that's marketing.

If you flash forward to today we see a mature Zinfandel market that has settled on reasonable pricing for this very utile grape.  The blends are everywhere and they're as good as ever.  Sonoma Dry Creek varietal Zinfandels have assumed the appropriate mantle as some of the best in California.  

What's wrong with this scenario?  Nothing, as far as it goes.  But the mass marketers are too clever by half.  Technology has cleaned up Central Valley grapes to the point where they can be blended into northern California Zin-based blends that are then marketed to an unknowing public as "fine wine."  Extraneous additives are then plugged into these kinds of wines further de-legitimatizing things.  And pricing is high.  And it just ain't right.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

DOCG Prosecco

DOCG stands for Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.  It is the Italian government's legal name for the highest quality level in a given historical wine type.  After what must have been an exhausting winnowing process, Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene earned its DOCG in 2009.  The Prosecco product, itself, earned its DOC in 1969 and before that it had a two hundred year pre-modern history in its northeast corner of Italy.  

Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the hilly region in eastern central Veneto.  Glera is the name of the Prosecco grape.  In order to receive its DOCG, a wine from that region must be tasted by a government representative to ascertain its quality.  While on the face of it that seems like a guarantee of quality, it is not.  The DOCG only mandates that the rules have been followed in the production of the wine.

The Italian government is nothing if not thorough in its wine definitions.  There are four subcategories in Prosecco DOCG.  Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is the production from fifteen communes in the region.  Most DOCG Prosecco fits into this category.  Each winery in the region produces its own proprietary blend, much like French Champagne, and grape yields are limited to 13.5 tonnes per hectare. 

Terroir is the French term for the unique environmental characteristics in a vineyard.  Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive is terroir-driven wine that is sourced from forty-three rives or "steep sloped vineyards" in the delimited DOCG region.  Those grapes must be hand harvested with no more than thirteen tonnes allowed per hectare.

Valdobbiadene Superiore de Carlizze Prosecco is the absolute top quality of the category.  It is sourced from 107 hectares of the steepest hillsides of Valdobbiadene and yields are limited to 12 tonnes per hectare.  The aromatics of this wine include nuances of apples, pears, citrus, peaches and apricots.  The flavors are a minty, elegant and balanced mix of the fruits above.  The finish is almondy. 

The last category in DOCG Prosecco is different from the other three in that it pertains to a wine style as opposed to the terroir-reliant definitions above.  Sui Lievitre is a slightly cloudy Brut Nature that has a toasted bread character.  The name means sur lie and in winemaking the lees refer to the crud that lies in the bottom of the fermentation tank when the fermenting process is finished.  After the grape remains are skimmed off, the spent yeasts that are left in the bottom are called fine lees.  If the wine is left in contact with these for a while the wine takes on a yeasty character.  This wine style is believed to reflect the centuries-old process of the region.

Why this post?  Simply because of consumer demand.  Prosecco is hot.  Stop in and try what should be the best!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Chateau Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux

Last week we got in a case of the 2018 Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux.  We had tasted it the previous week and were so impressed we jumped on it.  Sulpice is classy in the way only Bordeaux can be.  Its birthright endows it with a credibility the new world can only dream of.

Saint-Sulpice is located near the village of the same name, more or less equidistant between the town of Bordeaux and the hallowed Saint Emilion district.  The area Sulpice calls home is Entre-Deux-Mer which means "between two oceans" and refers in this case to the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers.  It's a sizable wine growing region that is sadly undistinguished for its reds.  The Entre-Deux-Mer name actually only applies legally to the white wines of the region.  

Reds from this region are either considered to be generic Bordeaux or, if the quality merits it, Bordeaux Superior.  Yields must be lower and sugars higher to get the Superior label.  Our Chateau Sulpice is simply labeled "Bordeaux."

Saint Emilion is home to the finest (and most expensive) Merlot on the planet.  A typical blend of the region would include 60%+ Merlot with Cabernet Franc as a secondary grape.  Saint-Sulpice, located just south of Saint Emilion, is 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.

Chateau Saint-Sulpice is owned and operated by the Duberge family who have invested in modern temperature controlled stainless steel tanks while maintaining hand harvesting and other traditional winemaking efforts.  They believe their efforts reflect the style of the classified growths.  

Duberge's Sulpice contrasts with the great Cabernet-based wines of the Medoc.  The local Entre-Deux-Mer microclimate offers an extended growing season resulting in a softer fruitier style wine.  In fact, the wine displays typical right bank fruit/spice complexity and balance wrapped in a ruby red color.  One commentator called it "ripe black fruit, plums, toast, spices and a rich, smooth and soft finish."

Friday, September 3, 2021

Tail Gate Red

 Dateline: Gainesville, Georgia; September 1, 2021; 12:15pm

Text of phone call:

Georgia Winery: Hello, Georgia Winery, this is ______ speaking.

Me: Hi, I'm Don Waara.  I'm a retailer in Gainesville and I'm also a blogger.  I just bought a case of Tail Gate Red and I'd like to write about it.  Can I speak to someone about the wine?

GW: I can help you.  There isn't much to say about it really.  It's sweet red wine.

Me: What else can you tell me?

GW: It's very popular.  We sell a lot of it.

Me: What else?

GW: Just a minute I'll get the bottle.

Me: (Thinking - Didn't I just say I bought a case of the stuff?)

GW: (Proceeds to read the label to me as I look at it myself.)

Me: Please don't take this the wrong way.  Is there anyone else there I could talk to?

GW: Just a minute. (talking in the background)  It's mostly Concord grape with some De Chaunac.

Me: I'm not familiar with De Chaunac.  

GW: There's just a splash of it in there.

Me: Is the winemaker available?

GW: He's too busy.

Me: What about your website.  More information there?

GW: You can look.

Me: My problem is I try to string together four or five paragraphs in my posts.

GW: You won't get that.  It's sweet red wine. 

Me: What about residual sugar?  We all judge sweetness differently.  Do you have the percentage of sugar in the wine?

GW: Wait a minute.  (more background talking)  The wine goes with milk chocolate.  And you serve it cold.  And it tastes like Welch's grape juice.

Me: Thanks for your time.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Chilean Pinot Noir

Let's cut to the chase.  We all know how good Chile's everyday wines are.  You name it, whatever grape variety you like, they are all more than decent as everyday fare. 

But what's better than the everyday stuff from Chile?  Well, Carmenere for sure.  But we're a pinot guy.  And we're downright snobbish about it.   Good pinot is fine, thank you very much, but great pinot is truly exceptional; that is, if you concede that ninety percent of pinots on the market are disappointing, which is why when you get a good one, it's memorable.  How's that for circular logic in a run-on sentence!

So we started this post thinking, if everyday Chilean pinot is as good as it is, just how good could the superior stuff be?  And why haven't we tasted any of the super-duper stuff that we assume is out there?  Are the locals holding it back for themselves?

In fact we have tasted higher tiered pinots from Chile in the past and they haven't been anything to write home about.  Pinot Noir was a latecomer to the Chilean wine scene and it is very much a work in progress.  The changes that are now happening there reflect the difference between Chile and say, California, which seems content to supplement ordinary pinot juice with a goodly dollop of Syrah and then marketing it as superior. 

What Chile is in the process of doing is reassessing clonal varieties of Pinot Noir, searching out cooler microclimates and reducing yields, all in an effort to drive quality up.  

If you look at the Chilean wine map there is no set pinot appellation.  it's not like Oregon.  Pinot is everywhere up and down that ribbon of a country and that actually explains a great deal.  Chile is bordered on the left by the Pacific Ocean and the right by the Andes.  That framework serves to moderate vineyard temperatures greatly.  Now all they need to do is fine tune things a bit.

(Having the right volcanic soils doesn't hurt either.)

Yesterday we ordered the Vina Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir.  It was on a short list of high quality pinots.  Vina Leyda is located in the Leyda Valley, a sub-district of the San Antonio appellation fifty miles to the west of capitol city Santiago.  The Leyda Valley is formed by the Acongagua River which extends from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean.  During the day the vineyards are cooled by the ocean breezes while at night the cold water from the Andes does likewise.

Vina Leyda markets a lower tier Pinot that also gets high marks from the critics.  What separates the Lot 21 from the regular pinot is the human element.  Not only are the grapes hand-harvested (not a minor task in itself) but then those grapes are de-stemmed and further pared down bunch by bunch on the winery sorting table.

Sixty percent of the berries get a soft crush, the rest are fermented as whole berries after a six day maceration.  During the seven day fermentation the mass is punched down 3-4 times a day.  The wine is then aged ten months in French oak with malolactic fermentation before its release.

We can hardly wait to taste this one.