Barrique, Your Weekend Wine Read: A Personal View of Oregon.

MyPunch down baptism into the world of wine took place in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It was there I first fell in love with Pinot Noir. The fall after I graduated college, I worked as a harvest intern at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars for the 2012 vintage.  My liberal arts degree entailed years of abstract thinking and I was searching for something more concrete, tactile, sensory. The process of making wine is one of the most palpable forms of labor. It includes the strenuous effort of punch downs, the sticky feeling of sorting grapes for fourteen hours straight, and the delight of tasting the inchoate releases of last year’s vintage.  Penner-Ash took me in as a member of their family. And for my four month stay, the valley spoke to me.

In terms of winemaking regions the Willamette is relatively young. Its genesis dates back to the 1960’s when mavericks such as David Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath planted the first vines. I like to think of the valley as a young professional.  It has seen early success, but it is still embarking on what will be a lengthy, world-class career.

As the tradition of winemaking in the Willamette ages, one cannot help but compare it to its elder, Burgundy, considered the “Promised Land” for the cultivation of Pinot Noir. It is thus common to evaluate Oregon wines in a strict binary, either as “Burgundian,” or “not Burgundian” But the regional personality of Oregon Pinot Noir is not that simple. There are over 450 producers in the Willamette Valley and the style is pluralistic.  Rather than simply viewing Oregon as an imitation of Burgundy or a rejection of it, it is perhaps more important to think of the valley as a relatively young region that is still creating its own history and tradition. While I cannot predict how the area will change in the coming years, below are a few distinct vineyards and producers to keep an eye on:

HylandHyland Estates: First planted in 1971, the vineyard is one of the region’s oldest. When I first visited this site, the unique altitude of the vineyard fascinated me. The vines appear to be in their own world. They grow at an altitude ranging from 600 to 800 feet above the sea in the Coastal Range, and here they have their own microclimate. During my visit I was informed that this environment is unique to the valley as it experiences cooler summers and warmer winters, allowing for more consistent ripening. The soils are composed of volcanic Jory and Nekia, which provide excellent drainage and give the wine characteristics of cherry and spice. Here, forty-year-old vines of Pommard, Wadensvil, and Coury Pinot Noir clones are cutting a distinguished name for the vineyard. When I first tasted a wine from Hyland, I was struck by how it walked a fine balance between transparent, ripe, fruit and a seductive inner personality. Renowned winemakers crafting single vineyard wines from here include Penner-Ash, Bergstrom, and Beaux Frères.

Antica Terra:  The 11 acre vineyard that produces Antica Terra’s estate wines should be on everyone’s radar screen. Planted in 1989, these vines have struggled in extreme geological conditions for the past twenty-five years. The estate is part of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, a region accented by rocks and boulders. If there were a contest held in the Willamette for “best wine from extreme terroir,” then I would put my money on Antica Terra’s estate vineyard. It features a steep slope of bedrock that includes fossilized oyster shells. The estate wine, Antikythera, is a gorgeous expression of this intense terroir. When winemaker Maggie Harrison left her assistant winemaking position at Sine Qua Non for the Willamette in 2005, she had a hard time believing that the vines at Antica Terra were planted in 1989. Rather than gnarled and sturdy, the oldest vines still don the appearance of infancy. Their trunks are spindly and frail. The result: precious, low yields of tiny berries with a reduced seed count. Maggie Harrison uses these yields to make a wine that is rich in tannins from the Pinot Noir skins, but avoids the harsh tannins embedded in the seeds.  Antikythera offers a focused inner concentration of fruit and minerality. It is one of the most sought after wines in the valley, and I can’t wait to try the 2012 vintage.

Shea Vineyard: If you are a follower of Oregon Pinot Noir, then you have probably heard of Dick and Deidre Shea.  They are pioneers who have struggled, and I mean really struggled, to make their vineyard one of the Willamette’s best. Shea’s fruit is some of the most prized and allocated in the valley. What makes it so? Wines stemming from the Shea vineyard consistently evoke aromas and flavors of dark fruits, violets, and spice. These wines are deep. For me, drinking Penner-Ash’s vineyard designate bottle of Shea was like listening to Highway 61 Revisited for the first time. It struck a cord that I will never forget. However, Shea’s vines have not always been superstars. When Dick Shea left his job on Wall Street and planted his vineyard in 1989, he initially struggled to sell his fruit. Then Phylloxera struck the vineyard throughout the 1990’s. This led to selective replanting and a meticulous vineyard management strategy. Weathering these storms, the Shea vineyard has become one of the most celebrated sites in the region. For an excellent bottle of Shea, look for the single vineyard selections of Bergstrom, Penner-Ash, Raptor Ridge, J.K. Carriere, and also Dick and Deidre’s own, Shea Wine Cellars.

PalmerWhat will the regional personality of the Willamette look like in ten years, or twenty? This question includes not only how the vines themselves mature with time, but also how producers and vineyardists continue to develop a relationship with their land.

Sincerely,

Matthew Beaton

Fine Wine Sales

Bordeaux’s smallest appellation hits it big!

2011 Château Puygueraud Côtes de Francs de Bordeaux—$21.99 ($18.69 on 12 bottles)

Aromas of cordial cherries, thyme, and spice.  On the front of the palate this wine is lush and supple with fresh notes of sweet cherries, hints of bacon, and wild herbs.  The density of the fruit and the richness of texture is matched by a finely knit tannic spine and an assertive espresso bean finish.  There is definitively the structure for mid-term (3-5 years) development in bottle, though the viscerally appealing fruit profile will make it all-too-easy to drink young.  All in all, the quality here suggests a wine for twice the price and, if it was from a more famous appellation, that would most assuredly be the case.

bord2bord1

East of Saint- Émilion lies Côtes de Francs, the smallest of Bordeaux appellations.  Like Lalande-de-Pomerol, Cotes de Francs benefits from the investment and expertise of the great Chateaux of the Right Bank.  In the case of Chateau Puygueraud, it’s the Thienpont family.  Owners of both Vieux Certan and Le Pin, Puygueraud was purchased by patriarch George shortly after the end of the Second World War.  The estate was decimated and it was only through thirty years of careful rehabilitation it was returned to its potential.  Today, George’s son Nicolas runs the estate, carrying on his Father’s legacy.

bord32011, as a vintage, is difficult to sum up.  Weather-wise, it was a wild year, with nature supplying a rollercoaster of unusual conditions.  Spring acted more like summer; summer like autumn; autumn like spring.  A tremendous amount of work needed doing, in the vineyard AND sorting table, but those estates, like Puygueraud, with the resources to go All-In have emerged with precision, elegance, and excellent tannic spines.  What was most remarkable, in tasting Puygueraud, is the seamless interaction between plush fruit on the front and mid-palate with the proper tannins on the back end.  Or, as Duncan said, a party in the front, business in the back :-)

 

Sincerely,

Matthew Beaton

Barrique: All you ever wanted to know about Austria, but were afraid to ask…

My first encounter with Austrian wine came when I was finishing college.  I was a frequent customer at a major local wine shop; in those days I slurped down plenty of good, if relatively commercial, Bordeaux and Rioja, and occasionally would splurge on a Burgundy from one of the better negociants. But what really did it for me was the German Rieslings.  Noting my early fixation on German wines, one of the owners of the shop asked me one day:

“How much Austrian wine have you had?”

”Well… none!”, I replied.

Whereupon a bottle of Salomon Undhof was pressed into my hand.  Man, it was delicious.  It hit me at a completely different level from my favorite Mosel and Saar wines.  There was just as much aesthetic beauty, but while the German wines were intensely cerebral, this Austrian bottle was deeply satisfying on an emotional level,  gouleyant, as the French might say.

The most important thing to remember about Austrian wine is that, with the exception of a few precious dessert wines, the wines are all dry.

The second most important thing to remember is that Austria is both the youngest wine culture in Europe, and one of the oldest.  The Celts brought viticulture here some 3,000 years ago, and Austria’s vineyards survived the Romans’ ban on provincial winemaking in the 1st century AD.  Some of Austria’s best estates, such as Schloss Gobelsburg, Stift Göttweig, and Nikolaihof, trace their origins back to this era.  But by the late 20th century, the focus had shifted to bulk wine for export (largely to neighboring Germany), and it took a major scandal in the early 1980s for the Austrians to realize that something was amiss.   In 1985, Austria enacted the strictest wine law in the world, and essentially rebooted its wine culture overnight.

Virtually all Austria’s vineyards are in the four eastern states, an area that shares at least as much of its cultural heritage and physical geography with Hungary, Italy, and Slavic Europe as with Germany.  Many people, places, and wineries bear names like Czerny (Polish), Moric (Croatian), or Szemes (Hungarian).  In the words of Philipp Blom, one of the premier English-language writers on Austrian wine, “Road signs in the centre of Vienna point to Prague, Budapest, and Brno, not to Munich or Berlin.  [...]the frontiers of the Habsburg Empire are, understandably, still important for wine traditions in areas with historically fluid borders, such as the Burgenland and Styria.”

wachauLower Austria (Niederösterreich) is arguably the most important wine region, and is most people’s introduction to Austria.  The most famous wines are the whites of the Wachau, Kremstal, and Kamptal.  These areas account for the vast preponderance of Austria’s Riesling, but also is the spiritual heartland of Austria’s iconic grape, Grüner Veltliner.  Excellent wines are also made from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and the indigenous Neuburger.  These are dry, full-bodied, and display a very Burgundian tension and focus.  The Wachau wines are more linear, while the Kremstal and Kamptal wines are rounder and broader.

 

Wachau wines fall into three principal categories based on alcohol content.  Steinfeder (under 11.5%), Federspiel (11.5-12.5%), and Smaragd (over 12.5%).  In the rest of Austria, the corresponding categories to the last two are Classic (or Klassik) and Reserve.  The lighter Classic wines must not have overt wood influences, while the more substantial Reserve wines (with the exception of Riesling) can.

 

Grüner Veltliner is most people’s initial introduction to Austrian wine.  It’s a good place to start because it feels familiar to most people but it is also distinctive and recognizable.  It also works well in a variety of styles, from refreshing wines in liter bottles for uncomplicated enjoyment, to dense, rich wines suitable for decades of cellaring and can range in flavor profile from herbaceous and peppery to broad and melon-laden.    The best Grüner Veltliners from the Wachau or Kamptal can age just as long (if not longer) than the top Rieslings.

The Rieslings are powerful, dry, and eminently ageworthy.  The aromatic spectrum ranges from stone fruit to borderline tropical, but with wonderful mineral definition.  A top producer’s Riesling Smaragd from a great primary rock site is one of the premier expressions of this grape in the world, and thus one of the world’s great white wines.

The Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris wines tend to be creamy and medium- to full bodied, with nice acidity, and can be a nice alternative to oaky German or flamboyant Alsatian examples.

neusiedlBurgenland forms the country’s border with Hungary and in fact was formerly known as Deutsch-Westungarn (German-West Hungary).  Even today, public signs are often in Hungarian (or Croatian) as well as German.  The main specialties of the area are red wines and white dessert wines.   The red wines tend to be medium-bodied, spicy, and judiciously oaked.  If you like cru Beaujolais, Northern Rhône wines, or some of the meatier reds from the Loire, these will definitely be your thing.  Blaufränkisch is quickly emerging as the consensus pick as Austria’s noble red grape, but some excellent wines are also made from Sankt-Laurent (a local grape believed to be related to Pinot Noir), and Zweigelt (a crossing of the aforementioned two varieties and Austria’s most common red grape).

 

wien2In addition to being the capital city, Vienna (Wien) is home to 621 hectares of vineyards, mostly in the green belt that surrounds the city’s historic core.  Its specialty is called Gemischter Satz (German for ‘mixed set’), a field blend of at least three varieties, planted, harvested, and pressed together.  This practice started as a hedge against viticultural hazards that affected one particular variety but evolved into a unique specialty that is the perfect complement to the city’s hearty yet refined cuisine.

Styria (Steiermark) is probably the least-known area among American consumers.  Styria, like Burgenland, is considered something of a backwater. The local dialect is quite hard to understand, even for other Austrians, and it is spoken with a very distinctive and recognizable accent (think Arnold Schwarzenegger). Unlike Lower Austria, which is so dry that it is one of the few European wine regions to allow drip irrigation, Styria is cold, damp, and rainy.  The most common grape here is Welschriesling (no relation to Riesling proper), but it is best known for full-bodied Sauvignon Blancs that many consider among the finest in the world.  The best growers also do impressive things with Weissburgunder, Morillon (local name for Chardonnay) and Muskateller.

steiermarkToday’s Austrian wine landcape is essentially a pastiche of ancient customs and the best modern techniques.   Austria’s wine culture is rich, mature, and pluralistic.  Production is dominated by small, family estates,   the benchmark for quality is remarkably high and just keeps getting better; and the wines are shockingly easy to grasp for those more familiar with French or Italian wines.  Austria, at its best, combines a Germanic intellectual rigor with Burgundian self-assuredness and aesthetic sensibility.  There has never been a better time to indulge in these wonderful treats.  Prost!

 

Quick Reference guide to Austrian wines:

Wachau

Medium to full-bodied Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners with tremendous mineral definition and aging potential

Kremstal, Kamptal

Similar to Wachau, but rounder and more voluptuous.  Also good Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris

Thermenregion

Poweful, fleshy whites from the hills south of Vienna.  Typically a blend of Rotgipfler and Zierfandler, but also some very good Chardonnay and Riesling

Weinviertel

Spicy, crisp Grüner Veltliner.  Also good sparkling wines.

Wien

Famous for Gemischter Satz (field blend).  Also good Riesling and Pinot Blanc.

Steiermark

Best known for full-bodied Sauvignon blanc.  Excellent Chardonnay and Muskateller.

Burgenland

Red wines (Blaufränkisch, Sankt-Laurent, Zweigelt).  Also excellent dessert wines (Ruster Ausbruch).

Raise a Glass with Legras & Haas!

“In Success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it,”

Winston Churchill

legras

It is a marvelous era for Champagne.  Small, family owned domains who, in previous generations, would have sold on their grapes to the large Maisons have been striking out on to make Champagne under their own steam.  Strange as it is to believe, it wasn’t so long ago there was a drastic separation between the people who grew the grapes and those who made the wine.  Terroir was subsumed in favor of a house style which would stay constant, bottle to bottle, year to year, century to century.  But now, the farmers are taking charge.

People like Francois Legras, whose family has been growing grapes in the region for two hundred years but hadn’t made a bottle until 1991, are changing the way the world sips Champagne.

We are avid supports of Grower Champagne and with La Fête du Champagne this weekend, we wanted to make it easy to give the little guy a chance so we’re offering the Legras & Haas Brut NV at the lowest price in the country!

Legras & Haas Brut NV  

$30.00

“Light gold. Mineral-driven aromas of lime, lemongrass, chalk and honeysuckle. Fresh citrus and orchard fruit flavors are complemented by deeper notes of smoky lees and sweet butter. Seems like there’s more chardonnay in here than 60%. A racy, finely etched Champagne.” 

Josh Raynolds, International Wine Cellar

Cheer up your Fall like the Viennese!

Vienna is the only capital city in Europe with bona fide vineyards within the city limits, some six hundred hectares divided among hundreds of small, family owned plots.   Historically contained within the city walls (some of Europe’s first vineyards) the vine has since been pushed to the outskirts of town, finding safe haven in the green belt established at the end of the 19th century by visionary mayor Karl Lueger.

Today’s wine culture in Vienna is inextricably bound up with the city’s Heuriger or wine taverns.  Each fall most wineries open a seasonal wine bar where patrons enjoy local specialties along with copious quantities of the house wines, specifically the Heuriger (German for “of this year”, referring to both the establishment and the wine).  The tradition is at its heart a celebration of the harvest as well as an opportunity for locals and tourists alike to enjoy food, drink, companionship and good cheer (Gemütlichkeit in German).

The city’s specialty is something called Gemischter Satz (German for ‘mixed set’), a field blend of at least three varieties but often as many as twenty, planted, harvested, and pressed together.  Generally a mixture of aromatic and non-aromatic grapes as well as early- and late-ripening varieties, the averaging out of each vine’s varietal character results in a wine where the terroir of Vienna’s outlying hills takes center stage.

Bern564reiter Wiener Gemischter Satz 2013 – $16.99

The Bernreiter family has been farming grapes here since 1848. The winery is currently run by Peter, who serves as a mentor to Vienna’s younger generation of quality-oriented winegrowers and farms 8.5 hectares of sandy loess on the south slope of the Bisamberg hill overlooking the city center.   This wine consists primarily of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Chardonnay, and Riesling, aged in stainless steel.  As one might expect of a disparate grape blend, this wine presents a spectrum of bright, juicy fruit, from meyer lemon and sweet orange to apricot and white cherry.  But the real star here is the texture: crisp and well-defined but substantial, with refreshing mineral character and juicy, food-friendly acidity.  Imagine the best Pinot Grigio you’ve ever had, turned up to 11.

–Duncan

The Barolo of the South

Aglianico has been popping up all over my world lately.  It’s as if the Universe is trying to remind me of this tremendous Southern Italian varietal which I’ve long loved but lately neglected.

“Deep in colour with aromas suggestive of the volcanic origins of the vineyards or of chocolate and plum.  They have fine grained tannins and marked acidity on the palate, becoming more subtle and tarry as they mature.  The high levels of tannin and acidity have earned this varietal the sobriquet of “Barolo of the South”.  Jancis Robinson

In the hills of Taurasi is where Aglianico scales its greatest heights.  As a grape, Aglianico requires a tremendous amount of time to ripen fully thus it’s not uncommon for the vineyards in Taurasi to have snow on the ground during harvest.  This is a serious wine with tremendous cellar potential.  Personally, I’ve had Taurasi going back to the 1980s but it’s not uncommon to hear stories of great bottles with nearly a century of age.

And one of the greatest is undoubtedly Mastroberadino’s Radici Taurasi.

“Mastroberardino is the royal family of Campania. The estate’s Taurasi, first produced in 1928, is a legendary wine that can rival the best from any region. Although many of today’s leading producers in Campania have chosen to pursue a more modern approach, there is little question that Mastroberardino paved the way for all important wines in Campania.”  Antonio Galloni

It’s a hard thing to offer young Taurasi.  In its youth, it is often so dense and tannic as to be practically mute.  Fortunately, Mastroberadino occasionally releases older vintages from their cellar straight into the market thus I was lucky enough to come across a 2006.  With 8 years of bottle age, it is just starting to show itself, though don’t hesitate to put some away and enjoy over the next 10-25 years.

Mastroberadino Radici Taurasi 2006 ($75.00)

Wine Advocate #195
Jun 2011

Antonio Galloni

95

Drink: 2016 – 2046

radici

The 2006 Taurasi Radici hits the palate with masses of blueberries, black berries, flowers and spices. The 2006 is a big, explosive wine in need of considerable cellaring. That said, it is remarkably accessible for a young Taurasi from this historic property. Layers of fruit continue to build towards the exotic, concentrated finish. This is a marvelous wine in the making. The 2006 spent two years in a combination of casks and smaller French oak barrels. Anticipated maturity: 2016-2046. 

–JT

 

 

 

 

 

Yann Bertrand Fleurie “Cuvée du Chaos”

Fleurie might just be the most exciting, dynamic cru in Beaujolais these days.   The personality of this terroir shines through all the best wines despite the multiplicity of styles.  The wines are exceptionally elegant, but with the structure and intensity to potentially age a very long time.  And on top of all that, there’s several energetic young producers continuing to bring attention to the area as a place capable of producing some quite serious wines.  When we tasted these, I went over to the Beaujolais section to look at the shelf.  Do we have space?  No?  Oh well, we’ll take them anyway!

Yann Bertrand Fleurie “Cuvée du Chaos” 2013 – $29.00 (pre-arrival)

The150314-FLEURIE CHAOS YANN BERTRAND EXPORT “Cuvée du Chaos” is from the estate’s oldest vines, at least 80 but some over 110 years old.  This wine has wonderful fresh aromas of black tea, violet, licorice, and wet concrete. Cold carbonic maceration followed by aging in old small oak barrels gives the palate a savory component that helps counterbalance the vivid and intense strawberry and red-raspberry fruit.  Clean and linear, with tremendous viniosity.

bojovines

The oldest, gnarliest gamay vines I’ve ever seen

Yann Bertrand never set out to become a winemaker, but when he finally embraced his destiny and settled down at the family farm to learn the craft, he couldn’t have hoped for better teachers; he counts Yvon Metras and Jean Foillard as his mentors (if you’re not familiar with the region’s history, let’s just say these guys really, really know what they’re doing).    All the vines are at least 30 years old (some much, much older) and planted in the pink granitic sand typical of the area.

–Duncan