Chateau Ferrande Graves (white) 2010

ChIateau Ferrande Graves 2010

ChIateau Ferrande Graves 2010

Being both a writer and a fan of rich, flavorful reds lends me one disadvantage: the potential to seem biased. So, I thought it was time to show you all that I still love a good white wine. Sure, I’ve covered them before. But probably not as much as I could. Today I’d like to tell you about a lovely white Bordeaux I had last night. Purchased in a marathon sale from Last Bottle Wines, this was the first to arrive at my doorstep and it was just what I was in the mood for last night. You can’t pair red with everything. Well, almost…

Fully lemon in color, this wine comes from the large catch-all appellation, Graves AOC. Located just southeast of Bordeaux city along the Garonne river, it includes the more famous AOC of Pessac-Léognan (where the only non-Medoc first growth Château Haut-Brion resides) and the highly renowned sweet white wine-producing AOCs, Barsac and Sauternes. Sauternes is where Premier-Cru Supérieur Château Y’Quem resides.

While not as famous, its regionally-appellated reds, whites and sweet wines are still very well-regarded and for that reason, quite affordable. For example, great sweet white wines are also made in the appellations of Cérons AOC and Graves Supérieur AOC. Thriving in the gravel soils, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the reds, usually blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. And Château Ferrande Graves 2010 is your typical white from the region – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon with a medium body and finish thanks to the Sémillon, but still crisp and refreshing thanks to the Sauvignon. Both the reds and whites of Graves AOC are more modern and forward than their austere Prémier Cru counterparts. I think this is a good thing and allows the appellation a bit of its own identity.

Graves is also the origin of Claret, the oft-traded Bordeaux wine of the middle ages and hence, is often considered the birthplace of the fine red wines of Bordeaux. It derives its name from the gravelly soil, where wine-making thrived long before the marshy areas of the Medoc were deemed suitable for viticulture. At the sale price I paid only $13 which is affordable indeed for such an enjoyable wine.


Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre 2012

Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre 2012

Domaine Michel Thomas Sancerre 2012

I just returned from a wonderful trip to London, filled with historical landmarks and family gatherings. Of course I brought back a few bottles of wine. One of these was a lovely Sancerre that my family and I enjoyed over the weekend at a barbeque.  Domaine Michel Thomas 2012 Sancerre is a delicious example of this classic Loire style. Michel and his son Laurent run this family business. The family have grown grapes for many generations and have focused on winemaking since 1968. They are of the philosophy that minimal cellar intervention gives the purest expression of the vineyard.

Pale lemon in color, it has expected stone fruit and citrus notes, is medium in body and dry. I also picked up green pea and fresh cut grass notes which is also characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc. It was crisp and refreshing and the perfect apéritif on this hot day. The Loire style of Sauvignon Blanc is more subtle than you would find in a Marlborough, New Zealand example, with less bright acidity and more flint/mineral notes — though you will find the herbaceous ‘cat’s pee’ aromas in both styles. Calcified remains of an ancient seabed provide this mineral accent in the terroir as it does in nearby Chablis.

There’s also about 20% red and rosé production here. I actually just ordered a Pinot Noir Sancerre in the recent pre-harvest marathon on Last Bottle wines which I can’t wait to try.

I paid 14 pounds for the bottle, which is in the ballpark of its average web price of $23. Abv is 12.5%.  I’ve been enjoying Sancerre for many years and this is a very good one – Try it!

Alto Adige Wines USA Grand Tasting, April 25th 2013, New York City

Alto Adige Wines USA Grand Tasting, NYC

Alto Adige Wines USA Grand Tasting NYC

Update: I have slightly revised a portion of this entry based on feedback I received. While it appeared to be a Snooth event to me it apparently was just being promoted by them which is how I came to be at the event. Also it seems there was more extensive literature provided earlier in the day at a related event but as I was among the first ten through the door at this tasting at 7pm I can reiterate that there was none of this broader literature present by the tasting portion. I also have revised my geographical error. I appreciate the feedback and opportunity to be corrected. After all I’m here to learn and share that learning and personal experience with you. I don’t see my capacity as that of a critic. I do this for personal enjoyment not income or reputation. Thanks.

Last night I went to a Grand Tasting in Manhattan presented by Alto Adige Wines USA. This region is also known as Südtirol. There were tasting tables for Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Schiava, Lagrein, Pinot Nero, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and ‘other varieties’ which included Moscato, Riesling, Sylvaner and Kerner blends. Kerner was a new wine for me, and hence exciting to try. Named after a German doctor and poet with some poems and songs focusing on wine, it was very tasty. It is a German variety brought here in the 1970s. The Alto Adige region includes the Dolomite Mountains and the Italian Alps and shares bi-cultural and bi-lingual ties with Germany and Austria which informs several of the varieties grown in this part of Italy.

In the two hours the event lasted, I was able to taste through about 25 wines. I think 3 hours is a safe minimum when featuring this many wines. Though I have heard others say 3 is too long. Overall there were around 20 different producers. Each table was split by variety (except for the mixed table) not by producer. I might have preferred it the other way, but I also think this works as it helps you do horizontal comparisons from multiple producers. Here are my picks:

Favorite producers: Franz Haas Winery and Lahnhof.

Favorite wines:

Lahnof Pinot Bianco Firmalein 2011 – $19

Cantina Valle Isarco Kerner 2011 – $27

Tenuta Lentsch Moscato Giallo 2011 – $19.99

Kaltern Caldaro Lago di Caldaro (Schiava) Pfarrhof 2011 – $18

Nals Margreid Schiava Galea 2011 – $22.99

Castelfeder Pinot Nero Glener 2010 – $21.99

Franz Haas Winery Pinot Nero 2010 – $49.99

Erste + Neue Pinot Grigio Classic 2012 – $15.99

Lahnof Pinot Grigio 2011 – $22

Franz Haas Winery Manna 2010 (blend) – $39.99

The event in the Metropolitan Pavilion

The event in the Metropolitan Pavilion

There was also a Sauvignon Blanc table and while they had some nice examples it wasn’t high on my priority list as its not a local specialty and I was really going for that experience.

The crowd was a mix of young and old professionals. The music was more of a young New Yorker’s mix. My savvy music ear was able to discern current New York City rock bands the Strokes and TV on the Radio over the din of the room.

There was also a catered table of gourmet cheeses, meats, breads and condiments including some Lagrein cheese (which I paired with some Lagrein wines, of course) and fine prosciutto.

Catered local specialty foods

Catered local specialty foods

A nice modern touch here was a large projector screen with rotating past tweets about the event. I feel like it was a lost opportunity not having the ability to add live tweets by attendees to the stream.

I also think there could have been more complete printed material on the producers and wines. Or perhaps some sort of master checklist or tasting note sheets to better document favorite new discoveries for when you’re ready to buy. And on that note, where do I buy? My immediate assumption is that that information is online somewhere, but making it easy to find them after the event translates into sales. The producers would have benefited from having this information included in the event materials. If printing all that is costly, at the very least provide a website landing page with links to where you can purchase all of the wines. I looked but couldn’t find one. I feel like this was a big oversight.

There was at least one person, whether a winemaker or rep, at each table that could answer my more technical questions on the wines but there were also several who were just pourers who didn’t know much about what they were pouring at all. I believe some of these were just staff from the wineries themselves that weren’t formally educated in wine in their job capacities and came along to help.

Overall it was a lovely event, I discovered new wines I loved, and I look forward to the next one. Everyone got a nice tote bag and a small printed guide to the event and varieties in general. There was a good crowd and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, myself and my wife included. A fun spin on the event is a contest where you can tweet photos of yourself and friends enjoying the event and win prizes like Alto Adige wines or mountain-climbing classes.

Oh, Bordeaux! (Day 2)

Harvesters in the Medoc

Harvesters in the Medoc

We just got back from another great visit to the North Fork of Long Island’s wine country, and I have some great experiences to talk about. We had to cut the trip a day short due to a little hurricane named Sandy that just rolled through with a vengeance, but I think Saturday was a fantastic day all around, and I am happy to have gotten home easily and safely and well stocked on great wine for the storm. I will recap next week, but first I wanted to talk about the rest of my Bordeaux trip.
We woke up the next morning (god I love French continental breakfasts) and got right on the bus. On the way to our tour of St. Emilion, we made a small detour and drove past the one and only Petrus and Cheval Blanc where harvesters were busy out in the vines.

St. Emilion

St. Emilion

Our wonderful trip organizer didn’t miss a single detail. Oh what I saw. We then made our way to the small ‘train’ car that would guide us through the beautiful medieval town of St. Emilion. A recording played over the intercom walking us through the history of the town and its wine. But really the scenery was what this was all about. Stunning, and I mean stunning views of rolling hills, castles, cathedrals and cellars were around every postcard-like turn. The limestone cellars pretty much ran the full perimeter of the town underground many wineries and vineyards and the cathedral in the center of town has an even older one from the early middle ages below it, carved out of the limestone to around 90 ft deep. We took a walk through the village afterwards to pick up this and that and get more photos. Then it was on to the left bank and the Medoc.
Our drive took us over the much larger Gironde and past downtown Bordeaux, actually the 5th largest city and financial center of France, and the airport. We then made our way up into the Medoc, passing countless large Châteaux in Margaux, St. Julien, and then Pauillac. You could clearly see the gravel in the vineyard beds and these were much larger in size, upwards of 60 hectares each.  Harvesters were out in numbers here too.

Château Pichon-Longueville

Château Pichon-Longueville

We arrived at our destination, Chateau Pichon-Longueville, formerly “Baron” before it was acquired by its current owner AXA insurance, who also restored it shortly thereafter. It was built in 1851 in a style that was a tribute to the famous Loire Chateau Azay-le-Rideau. It was a small castle right out of a fairy tale with a shallow square lake in front.  The original owner (Pierre de Rauzan) also owned the land and vineyards across the road and split the two between his sons and daughters, this being the Château the sons were in charge of until selling to AXA.  The daughters’ Château, Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is also fully operational still.

Our visit started with meeting the head winemaker, property manager, an AXA representitive and their negociant, or the person who arranges the sales of their wines to buyers and vice versa. They gave us a brief overview and then we sat down to a gourment harvest lunch with them and their staff, which included several of their top vintage reds and some whites they make under the label Château Suduiraut. There was a typical (but of high quality) white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon and Semillon, and then an outstanding Sauternes made of the same varietals, that just blew me away. I couldn’t get enough.  These bottles are all upwards of 100 euros a piece, and were flowing freely about the table.  We then went on a short vineyard tour where we were told of the history of both Châteaux and their purchase and upgrades by AXA. Incidently there are a few other Châteaux in the region owned by large companies, another being Chanel.

Barrel Cellar, Pichon-Longueville

Barrel Cellar, Pichon-Longueville

We then started our tour and tasting. As we reached the vineyards they told us about how they harvest each year. This vineyard alone is 73 hectares and most of the vines are 30 year-old Cabernet and Merlot, with some Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. We then went to the large barrel room underneath the square lake, full of room after room of hundreds of barrels of this and last years vintages. These were all bought en-primeur already, hundreds of millions of euros worth! This is definitely a larger operation than its right bank competitors. We made our way next into the vinification rooms, with 40 large steel tanks fermenting and pumping over large batches of wine, and even got to walk along the upper metal walkway to view the wine pumping over the caps in the tops of the tanks.

Pichon tasting

Pichon tasting

We completed the tour by going to the tasting room and trying about 6 different vintages of their incredible red wines. While I didn’t bring any home, I know where I can order some and will be picking up a few for special occasions.

On the way out we took a quick detour through St. Estephe and by Lafite, which was a nice final treat. Then it was back to the airport for our return to the UK and then home. What an amazing experience. More than a few times some of us wanted to offer to stay and help harvest, being paid in wine and food just like their workers! Maybe one day…

Should you want to visit yourself…

D2  33250 Pauillac, France

05 56 73 17 17

Pretty Tasty Cupcakes

Cupcake Vineyards Pinot Noir

Cupcake Vineyards Pinot Noir

Since my discovery of wine has begun, all the while my wife was enjoying one of her favorite wines, Cupcake Vineyards’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. At this point I was starting to pay attention to wine more, trying to absorb everything I could about who makes them, how, and where. So every bottle, whether a Grand Cru Gevrey-Chambertain (I enjoyed one of those last weekend), or a Gato Negro, was a potential learning experience.

I have tried several of the varietals from Cupcake Vineyards and so far have been impressed with the quality. They started and are based in the Central Coast, California region with Bordeaux varietals and then expanded to several international styles as well as expanding at home. All these wines are made from collaboration with their head winemaker in the classic regions for that varietal. For example, he travels and works directly with winemakers in Marlborough, Mendoza, Barossa, etc. The Sauvignon Blanc was the first I tried, and we’ve had a lot since. I often joke that we are solely keeping them in business. But it’s good quality, at a good price, so why wouldn’t they be popular? It is a typical, but above average refreshingly crisp NZ Sauvignon with all the expected stone fruit and citrus and grassy and ‘cat’s pee’ aromas. On the palate it is refreshing and light and citrusy. A fine example of New Zealand signature Sauvignon Blanc, right down to the screw cap.

On another occasion I had the Malbec, from Mendoza. I enjoyed classic chocolate and leather notes as well as a bit of spice. This time I am trying my favorite, Pinot Noir. Speaking of Central Coast, this one is made right there at home. Cooled by the Pacific and fog, this is a great region for a grape like Pinot Noir. It insures a long hang time to get maximum ripeness.  It is a 2010, which is good – 2011 wasn’t a very good year for California. According to their website the grapes are cold-soaked and then fermented at a cooler temperature to preserve the bright berry fruit. I am definitely getting that fruit and oak, nine months to be precise, and cherry, spice and smoke aromas. The color has a nice medium intensity and it shows concentrated fruit on the palate as well. The finish is just long enough, and overall this is a delicious little Pinot Noir. I look forward to finishing the bottle with some BBQ chicken I am grilling up tonight. Another classic example. I seem to be using the word classic a lot, which tells you that they convincingly make many styles of international wines, at a cost accessible to everyone. I love that they have downloadable tasting notes for each wine. That is a nice touch for the enthusiast, like me.

I see that they now make vodka, so I will give that a try based on my experience to date with their wines. They also continue to make wine at home in California, including two custom blended wines called “Angel Food” and “Red Velvet,” also on the must-try list.