Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier

I didn't know whether to entitle this one varietally to conform with this summer's theme or to call it "Little James' Basket Press White" which is actually what we're writing about here.  Little James is a negotiant wine from Chateau de Saint Cosme, one of the great Cotes du Rhone houses of Gigondas.  At their website they delineate the ownership of their vineyards beginning with its planting in 109 AD through its 1590 purchase by Barruol ancestors unto the 1992 advent of the Louis Barruol era, the fourteenth generation of family ownership.  Saint Cosme markets fourteen different Rhone reds and whites with Gigondas being their only actual estate wine.  In addition to their Rhone wines they make red and white versions of Little James from grapes grown in the western Languedoc in Minervois.

Sometimes it's hard to tell how seriously negotiant wines are taken by their owners.  Obviously the focus of Saint Cosme is Rhone fruit and, of course, Gigondas fruit in particular.  But if a second label is good, finds an audience, and sells well, then there is money to be made exploiting that product too.  Louis Barruol is all about terroir both in the Rhone and apparently in cool climate mountainous Minervois where he feels his Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier were meant to be.

Barruol thinks Sauvignon Blanc in particular is terroir-driven and Minervois facilitates the light fresh raciness along with acidity that Sauvignon Blanc needs.  The wine also features tropical fruit and citrus fruit aromas and flavors, grassiness, and minerality.  He thinks Viognier is rather predictable by comparison and will always deliver apricot and other stone fruit aromas and flavors along with body and an oily texture.  That said, Barruol's Viognier is a "selection massale", an ancient version from Condrieu rootstocks and cuttings planted in Minervois in 1982.

The 2013 St. James in the store is 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Viognier.  It sees no time in oak which enhances it's aromatically intense raciness and is intended to be drunk young.  One review cites its "orange peel, grapefruit, ripe citrus, and fennel" character.  The wine works well as an apertif and pairs well with all white meats, Asian foods, veggies, and also for your summer picnics.

As we said above, negotiant wines can be tricky, either they are just a commodity for exploitation or they may represent something more.  Given all that we have set forth here, taking a chance on Barruol's Little James makes all the sense in the world.

Please join us this Friday the 31st of July after 5pm as David Rimmer once again de-mystifies European wines for us here at the store.  The lineup will include French and Italian reds and whites that 40 year wine veteran David will carefully guide us through leaving no pertinent questions unanswered.  There might be a few cheeses and crackers too!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 9: Coda di Volpe

This post is another slight detour from the white blending grapes theme here this summer.  While Coda di Volpe is most certainly an Italian white blending grape, it is notable, if it's notable at all, for just one historically mediocre white wine, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio.  We're writing about it here because we will soon be stocking a new and exceptional Lacryma Christi, another example of what can result when a private capital infusion meets traditional European wine making.

Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio is best known as a light dry white wine from the Campania region of southern Italy.  There are also red and rose Lacryma Christis as well as sparkling and fortified dessert wines made from these vineyards.  Naples is the largest city within the appellation and that would ordinarily be the go-to for recognizable place names there were it not for Mount Vesuvius and its horrific volcanic legacy.  It is on those lava-enriched Vesuvian slopes that Lacryma Christi grapes take root.

Written references for Campania wines date back to the twelfth century BC and Coda di Volpe may have been around at that early date. Coda di Volpe, by the way, means "tail of the fox" and refers to the shape of the grape bunch as it hangs on the vine.  The Vesuvian soils benefit Coda di Volpi vines in two prominent ways: they impart acidity to this low-acid grape type and they thwart the phylloxera aphid which apparently doesn't care for acidic soils.  The breezes from the Bay of Naples also facilitate the acidity and freshness of the wines.

The Vesuvio appellation received its DOC in 1983 when interest in Lacryma Christi promised a revival of these ancient wines.  By Italian wine law, Lacryma Christi must be 30-80% Coda di Volpe with the remainder being some combination of Verdeca along with an allowance for smaller portions of Falanghina, Caprettone, and Greco di Tufo.  With its current popularity, some Lacryma Christi is actually 100% Coda as are other varietally named local wines.

Lacryma Christi and those other varietal Coda di Volpe wines marry well with seafood in any form, pasta, and appetizers.  Coda wines feature a pale yellow color, pear aromas, and flavors of pineapple, white peach, and licorice.  These wines offer moderate body, minerality, and the aforementioned pronounced acidity.  They should be drunk young, within two years of bottling.

Lacryma Christi means "the tears of Christ" and any article on the subject would be remiss not to explore the meaning of the name.  The two most common explanations feature Christ shedding tears either in joy during the ascension when he looks down and sees the beauty of the Neopolitan countryside and bay or in sadness when during the fall Satan snatches a piece of heaven which then becomes that same beautiful bay and countryside of Campania.  Either way, where Christ's tears fall, vines begin to grow.        

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

White Wine Grapes, Part 8: Auxerrois

We first became acquainted with this obscure white grape years ago when we were told it was an archaic name for Chardonnay, which was close but not quite.  Auxerrois (oh-sehr-WAH) is actually a full sibling of Chardonnay, sharing the same parentage of Gounais Blanc and Pinot Noir but apparently not the exact same DNA.  When Chardonnay was the global rage thirty years ago, Auxerrois vines were conveniently mistaken for Chardonnay in northern Italy and South Africa with resulting wines being marketed as Chardonnay.  In parts of France Auxerrois is a synonym for Chardonnay so those places may legally market their product as such and within its home in Alsace, Auxerrois may be sold as Pinot Blanc.  It's no wonder the grape has an identity problem!

Pinot Blanc is the most widely planted grape in Alsace and the most common blending partner for Auxerrois.  Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Bianco in Italy, is one of the family of pinot grapes that have resulted from mutations in the vineyards over centuries.  Pinot Noir, with its unstable genome, has parented all of these mutations.  In Alsace, when a label says Pinot Blanc, the region recognizes the wine to be some mixture of white pinot grapes, so it may include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris (Grigio), Auxerrois, and even free-run Pinot Noir.  Or it may be 100% of any of them, including Auxerrois.

Auxerrois is the third most widely planted grape in Alsace and because it is the quintessential Alsatian blending grape it is by default the least well known in the region.  At its most common, Auxerrois is the base wine for Edelzwicker, the white jug wine of the northern Alsace.  It is also prominently blended with Pinot Blanc in the sparkling Cremants d'Alsace.

As a blender, when blended with other pinot-family types, Auxerrois adds rich musky spicy aromas in a low-acid full-bodied oily format with moderate honey flavor.  In the Pinot Blanc blend, the Pinot Blanc adds the light fresh crispness.  In the hands of lesser winemaking talents, Auxerrois alone tends toward cabbagy aromas, lacking mid-palate flavors, and flabbiness in body.  Only when yields are limited in the vineyard and modern super-clean winemaking facilities are utilized do the racy concentrated citrussy aromas and flavors dominate.

There are sixty+ names in existence for Auxerrois with Pinot Auxerrois and Auxerrois Blanc leading the pack.  Auxerrois is a cold weather grape and has performed well in Canada.  It is also planted in Oregon and Michigan and would seem to have a fine future in select vineyards across northern America.  The fresh citrussy/spicy Auxerrois blends complement all kinds of seafood, soups and salads, veggies, and Asian cuisine making Auxerrois a fine new selection for American wine lovers.

The Friday, July 10th, at our weekly After 5 wine tasting we'll be featuring examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  Please join us!