Five Tips on Finding Value Wines in Bordeaux

Château Beychevelle

Sun setting on Château Beychevelle in Saint-Julien.

New year, new you, right? How about new drinking goals instead, like finding ways to experience the fabled Bordeaux that sommeliers like to brag ignited their passion for wine — but without going broke. Left Bank or Right Bank, Pauillac or Pomerol, the finest bottles from the chateaux of these vaunted lands, at hundreds of dollars, occupy an aspirational category few can afford to indulge in regularly, if ever. Unfortunately, the cheaper wines miss more often than they hit since quality varies wildly by vintage and producer. Unlike the reliability of a $15 Chilean chardonnay, one needs guidance when shopping for Bordeaux.

Looking for tips on finding value (as defined by QPR, or quality-to-price ratio), I turned to Hortense Bernard. Bernard is the general manager of Millesima USA (1355 2nd Avenue; 212-639-9463), the American arm of France’s leading online wine retailer. Bernard knows a thing or two about wine, and not only because she grew up tasting it as a bébé. Representing the fourth generation of a venerable Bordeaux family, Bernard moved to NYC in 2011 to lead the company’s U.S. operations. Millesima USA offers an impressive selection of fine and rare wines from France, Italy, and the New World, both online and in the brick-and-mortar store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Bernard shared the following five tips, and does the homework for you by recommending wines she carries in each category. If you commit these to memory, however, you’ll be drinking better Bordeaux for a dime no matter where you are (well, more like a quarter).
(For an even deeper look at the region, check out the Bordeaux wine council’s website, which provides info on grapes, appellations, and deciphering a label).

Smaller Vintages: Smaller, according to Bernard, does not reference the actual size or quantity of production, but rather denotes a “classic” Bordeaux vintage that is perfect for drinking but did not make it to the investment market. These wines are ready to consume earlier, are less expensive, and easier to approach and understand by novices than the greatest vintages. Weather is a key factor in determining the characterization of the harvest, but winemakers also have a major impact. Bernard offers the 2002 vintage as an example: it did not get a lot of attention when it was released; the American market ignored it. However, she says 2002 is drinking “amazingly” right now. She adds that for some estates, the 2002 shows the typical aromas of mature Bordeaux without having to find (and pay for) a 20 to 30-year-old bottle. Bernard emphasizes that the wines won’t have the depth and complexity of long-lived vintages, but drinking them will help neophytes familiarize themselves with the pleasures of aged examples.

Chateau Haut-Batailley, Pauillac, Grand Cru Classé, 2006, $51.99
Château Grand Corbin-Despagne, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru Classé, 2004, $37.99

Fifth Growth: The 1855 classification in Bordeaux is one of the most famous aspects of the region’s wine industry. All collectors want classified wines, and the top Grand Cru Classés like Château Margaux or Château Latour have prices commensurate with their prestige and demand. The historic ranking (commissioned by Napoleon III for a world’s fair of sorts) of Sauternes and top cabernet-dominant Left Bank estates into five classes, raises some contemporary issues like the exclusion of exemplary estates and appellations (for example, everything on the merlot-heavy Right Bank), and the fluctuation in quality by several ranked chateaux. Regardless, Bernard advises that it’s easier to learn about this very expensive category by starting with the fifth growths because “most of them are affordable and real treasures.” She offers Chateau Batailley in Pauillac as a fifth growth that consistently receives Parker scores ranging from 88 to 94.

Chateau Batailley, Pauillac, 2012, $43.

Cru Bourgeois: “They are the best-kept secret and most misunderstood of Bordeaux wines,” says Bernard, explaining “the Cru Bourgeois classification is a list of wines from the Médoc that were not included in the Classification of 1855, but are still of high quality and represent great and approachable wines that typically retail for under $40 per bottle.” The wines, she says, are all about fruit, perfect for everyday consumption. Cru Bourgeois gives drinkers the opportunity to experience a renowned vintage from a famous appellation and a famous proprietor, relatively (a key word) inexpensively. For example, one can try the highly-regarded 2009 vintage for $25 with Chateau Peyrabon, or a famed Bernard Magrez property (he is the sole owner of four Grand Cru Classé estates) with the 2010 Grand-Chênes for $35.

Chateau Peyrabon, Haut-Médoc, 2009, $25
Bernard Magrez Chateau Les Grand Chenes, Médoc, 2010, $35

MillesimaNYC

Inside Millesima’s NYC store.

Second Labels: Bernard says that one of the best ways to experience great Bordeaux without spending too much money (again, relative), are second labels. Drinkers can buy wines from top estates, top vintages, and top winemakers, at a fraction of the price. The concept of “second labels”’ came into being in the 18th century when winemakers were deciding what grapes to use for their first bottling. Instead of disposing of the leftover fruit or selling it in bulk, producers bottled a second wine, derived from the same terroir and winemaker. The grapes were not damaged; they simply did not make the flagship cut. Second labels used to be reserved for the family, but they are now a strong segment of the market. Croix de Beaucaillou is a good example of a second label. The first label, Ducru Beaucaillou, a Saint-Julien second growth, on average retails for over $200 per bottle and is consistently a top-selling and highly rated wine year after year.

Croix de Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien, 2008, $42. 
Lacoste Borie, (the second label of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, a fifth growth), Pauillac, 2004, $34.99.

Lesser-known Appellations: Bernard suggests looking for quality-minded estates in lesser-known appellations such as Moulis, or any satellite of Saint-Emilion, Barsac, Médoc, etc. Generally, those areas do not have the same reputation as the best-known appellations, since they lack classified estates, but they still have great terroir. Treasures can be found, but hunters should engage a Bordeaux connoisseur to help discover them as most estates will not have scores.

Chateau Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes, Bordeaux Superieur, $17

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The Ultimate Swiss Wine Road Trip: Part 2

 

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Visit Switzerland for the wine, but don’t skip the Matterhorn. All images by Lauren Mowery.

In continuation from yesterday’s post, and a repost of my original article in USA Today

VALAIS

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Dramatic vineyards aren’t solely the domain of Vaud. Given Valais is home to the ski resorts of Verbier and Zermatt, it is logical that the highest grapes cultivated in the country reside here, too. Not to mention some of the most remote, difficult-to-pick locations, often planted to tiny plots of obscure grapes, the sight of which leave you wondering about the sanity of the growers. Petite Arvine, Cornalin, and Chasselas, known locally as Fendant, are prevalent.

Wine isn’t the only prized product in the alpine region. Warm and creamy, Raclette du Valais carries its own designation of origin. Legend has it a Valais vintner conceived the concept on a cold day when he melted a slice of raw milk mountain cheese over a wood fire. As though melted cheese needed inventing.

Wineries

Domaine de Muses in Sierre (tasting by appointment)

Robert Taramarcaz’s wines deserve attention based on the merit of the juice alone. However, it didn’t hurt that one of Robert Parker’s top reviewers, David Schildknecht, reported back with praise for the vigneron’s Petite Arvine. While definitely a highlight from his wide range of wines, local grapes Heida and Humagne Rouge, plus Syrah and Merlot, merit tasting.

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Rouvinez in Sierre (Monday-Saturday, no appointment)

As one of the region’s larger producers, Rouvinez also sports the sleekest tasting room. At the bar, visitors can sample wines sourced across the family’s multiple estates, while catching a price break on bottles: Rouvinez makes some of the best 14 Franc Fendant and Gamay in the valley.

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Jean-René Germanier in Vetroz (Friday, Saturday; or tasting by appointment)

Cornalin. You’ve never heard of it and won’t find your neighborhood retail shop stocking it next month, but this Swiss grape, in the hands of Jean-René Germanier and his nephew Gilles Besse, is worth tracking down. For those who doubt the mountainous country’s potential for full-bodied reds, this savory, plummy wine tastes even bigger than the 13.5% alcohol inside.

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Kellerei Chanton in Visp (Monday, Wednesday-Sunday; closed Tuesday)

In an era of vinous homogenization, the family behind Chanton pride themselves on preserving Switzerland’s diversity. No plot is too small, or too steep, no grape too obscure, for the chance to be turned into wine. Enthusiasts keeping scorecards on the number of varieties they’ve tasted, can add a dozen, like Gwass, Himbertscha, and Eyholzer Roter, in the tasting room.

Lodging

Alpes et Cetera If you don’t mind daily 25-minute drives, up and down hairpin-turn mountain roads, book this unique property. The young owners, both formerly in the architecture business, built eight cozy chalets, each decorated in a different theme highlighting an aspect of Valais culture.

Don’t Miss

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Dinner at Château de Villa in Sierre. You’ll want to follow the aroma of fire-roasted fromage as soon as you arrive, but spend an hour in the vinothèque, or wine tasting bar, first. The thorough retail and by-the-glass selection covers the most important producers to the scarcest grapes. Inside the restaurant, let veteran waiters guide you through the distinct Raclette of each Valais village. Yes, that means multiple plates of hot cheese for dinner. But you get potatoes, gherkins, and pickled onions, too.

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Zermatt. If you came as far as Valais, you’d be remiss not to spend two days hiking around the spectacular Matterhorn. Bed down at the cozy, upscale Cervo Hotel; their restaurant features a host of Swiss wines to accompany the contemporary country fare.

BÜNDNER HERRSCHAFT, GRAÜBUNDENGraubundenHotelWeissKreuzWindowViewIn this picturesque slice of the Rhine Valley, producers cultivate an overwhelming 45 grapes, although visitors should focus on just two – one an international star, the other a local oddity.

Pinot Noir (aka Blaüburgunder) producers refer to their enclave as Little Burgundy for good reason. They make nuanced, elegant, age-worthy wines that win international honors, but limited production that is domestically consumed, keeps this corner of fine wine country in relative obscurity. But you wouldn’t know it walking the quartet of towns Malans, Jenins, Maienfeld (Heidi’s home), and Fläsch; each one is stacked with cellars, the streets supplied with maps and arrows to assist wine tourists. In addition to great Pinot Noir, Completer, a white grape first referenced in 1321, provides further wine geek bait. A handful of producers like Dontasch saved it from extinction to produce dry, high acid expressions that can evolve in the bottle for decades. Approximately five acres are cultivated, making it one of the rarest fine wines in the world.

Wineries

Weingut Donatsch in Malans (Tavern open Wednesday-Sunday; closed Monday, Tuesday. Tours by appointment).

“Everything I’ve bottled has at one point, been in my hand” explained Martin, the effusive, English-speaking younger half of the Donatsch family father-son winemaking team. Their winery and wine tavern are located in the center of Malans; beneath the property and city streets, runs a labyrinth of tunnels still in use. His dad Thomas is a pioneer among Swiss vintners as the first to experiment with classic Burgundian winemaking methods, notably with wooden barrels he received from La Tâche as a gift. Both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are in high demand due to big points scored with critics, but their Completer is the true rare treasure for collectors.

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Obrecht in Jenins (tastings by appointment)

Fifth generation winemaker Christian Obrecht partners with his viticulturalist wife Francisca, at their small, biodynamic winery. Their main vineyards range in age from 35-55 years old, and he works primarily with old Swiss Pinot Noir clones because, as he explained, “Burgundy clones are too drinkable” for his taste. See if you agree.

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Weingut Fromm in Malans (tastings by appointment)

Perhaps better known internationally for their recently-sold properties in Marlborough and Tuscany, the family now focuses all their energy on their Swiss enterprise. Walter Fromm runs the show, focusing on Pinot Noir; the lineup includes a village-level wine, and four vineyard-specific bottlings to showcase the influence of soil.

Lodging

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Hotel Weiss Kreuz in Malans is a perfect base for exploring surrounding wine country. The boutique inn seamlessly blends old-world detail with chic style.

Can’t Miss

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Lunch on the terrace at Restaurant Alter Torkel overlooking the mountain-framed vineyards.

Book a half or full day wine country tour with Wine Tours Switzerland. Owner Gian Carlo Casparis speaks a handful of languages, is the only outfit in the region, and is well-connected.

 

 

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The Ultimate Swiss Wine Road Trip: Part 1

 

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View of Lake Geneva from the Lavaux Vineyards. All images by Lauren Mowery.

First published in USA Today

Switzerland’s vineyards hide in plain sight. It seems impossible that tourists driving around the compact country wouldn’t notice the thousands upon thousands of green vines planted neatly across rows of stone terraces, yet Swiss winemakers report exactly that.

Perhaps the lack of alpine wine in travelers’ domestic markets coupled with their single-minded focus when visiting – whether it be to ski Zermatt, hike the Rhone glacier, or shop for watches – explains their failure to recognize how deeply Swiss wine culture is rooted. But the funny thing about finally noticing the obvious: once you do, you’ll see that object of your attention everywhere. And so it was during a recent trip to explore the wineries of Vaud, Valais, and Graub nden: vineyards were everywhere.

For a country few associate with fermented grapes, Switzerland has a long, rich history of cultivation analogous to its better known neighbors France and Germany. In fact, just as monks carefully planted, observed, and delineated the patchwork of venerated sites that now compose Burgundy, Lausanne’s bishops in the 12th century also ordered the architecture of vine parcels out of the wild terrain surrounding Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).


While vineyards are scattered across six regions, from Zurich to Geneva, and Neuchatel to Ticino, three cantons are particularly suitable for visitors due to their distinctiveness, the density and accessibility of the wineries, and quality of the wine.

Vaud, a French speaking canton in the southwest corner of the country, encompasses much of Lake Geneva and the UNESCO World Heritage site, the terraced vineyards of Lavaux. These stunning sites soar from the edge of the lake precipitously towards the firmament at inclines you’d believe only angels could harvest. Chasselas, a delicate white, and the best known Swiss grape outside of Switzerland, shines here.

Southeast of Vaud lies Switzerland’s warmest, most prolific growing area, Valais. The Rhone River cuts a wide, 100 km long swath of hospitable channel, allowing for valley floor and slopeside viticulture. Valais produces an enormous range of grapes (some argue too many). Several, like Petite Arvine, have the quality and charm potential for international markets, except for infinitesimal production levels. But trying a wine you’ve never had and will never see elsewhere is part of the area’s allure.

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Continuing northeast across two harrowing mountain passes leads to German-speaking Graubünden, and the source of the Rhine River. The premier wine region of Bündner Herrschaft earned the monikers Heidiland and Little Burgundy, for two obviously different reasons. Johanna Spyri set her tale of a little girl from the Alps not far from the country’s finest Pinot Noir vineyards. The Completer grape, an age-worthy rarity, is unique to the area.

Before you go, create a free account on SwissFineWine.ch. The multiple-language site aggregates hard to find data in one place, like information on grapes, regions, wineries, and wines. Users can track where they’ve been, where they want to go, along with the wines tasted with room to rate and comment. Contact information and maps are especially useful.

Here’s my guide to road tripping across Swiss wine country:

VAUD

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Fairytale scenery. Impossible vineyards. Alpine peaks and verdant pastures. Lake Geneva is trimmed in a landscape of contrasts that defines the clichéd term “indescribable beauty.” But there is nothing cliché about an 800-year old wine region of which few have heard.

Outsiders have heard of the Swiss Riviera, defined end-to-end by the elegant towns of Lausanne and Montreux. They descend in droves throughout the summer seeking incredible views balmy weather, and a lively music scene. Freddy Mercury spent enough time in Montreux to earn a permanent perch on the riverfront.

Another draw, the La Prairie anti-aging center lures moneyed clients in search of the fountain of youth. Perhaps they are in the right place, but looking in the wrong spot. “The secret to longevity is a bottle of Chasselas a day,” suggested local winemaker Simon Vogel. ”Or at least, that’s what my grandfather preached, and he lived to be 99.”

Wineries

Domaine Croix Duplex in Grandvaux (Monday-Saturday, no appointment)

Perched high in the village of Grandvaux, family-run Croix Duplex offers infinite views from their flower-ringed tasting terrace. The son, Simon Vogel, makes the wine, focusing on terroir-driven Chasselas. They are members of Clos, Domaines & Chateau, a 23-proudcer strong association that adheres to strict production guidelines and quality controls. In addition to Chasselas, they make vivid Pinot Noir, plus red grape novelties Gamaret and Garanoir.

Clos Du Boux in Epesses (tastings by appointment)

Grand Cru Chasselas specialists, the son of this respected family winery, Benjamin, has recently stepped in to play a leading role in its future. He will guide interested parties through a comparative tasting of the most important and distinct appellations of Lavaux, from St-Saphorin (often light, with finesse) to Dézaley (known for structure and complexity).

Domaine Henri Cruchon in Échichens (Monday-Saturday, no appointment)

“There are no bad varieties, only bad vignerons” declared Catherine, the plucky daughter of winemaker Raoul Cruchon. The well-traveled 28-year-old brought her experience abroad, home to the traditional region. She and her dad grow a range of local grapes using organic/biodynamic viticulture principles (in a vineyard with a view of Mont Blanc!), and experiment with unfiltered and low Sulphur wines. Try the Altesse (a grape known as Rousette in Savoie), for its honeyed aromas laced with apple and ginger spice, or the smoky, unfiltered Chasselas called Mont de Vaux.

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Cave de Rois in Villeneuve (tastings by appointment)

If Swiss Syrah could become a thing (so far, only the French can coax consumers into buying it), then Marco and François Grognuz, the father-and-son team behind Cave de Rois (King’s Cellar), will be those responsible. Working with tiny plots of land, they discovered that certain sites too hot for Chasselas, could bake Syrah into proper ripeness.

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Domaine de la Pierre Latine in Yvorne (tasting by appointment)

Owned by Philippe Gex, the vineyards sit high above the Rhône Valley adjacent to an ancient road used by the Romans to cross the Alps. Gex turns Grand Cru Chablais grapes (Chasselas), into a transparent, mineral-tinged wine that pairs brilliantly with Gruyere cheese. He makes perfumed Pinot Noir and Syrah, too. Andrea Scherz, the director of the Gstaad Palace, commissioned a 100th anniversary edition wine from Gex which proved so popular with guests, he continues producing it exclusively for the resort.

Lodging

Montreux and Lausanne both make excellent bases for exploring the region, although Montreux’s smaller size equates to less traffic and bustle.

SuisseMajesticDeckViewLakeGeneva

The Suisse Majestic Located in Montreux, the younger vibe, with commensurate price (slightly lower than nearby Grande Dames), plus killer views from terraced rooms, makes this an easy choice.

Gstaad Palace Technically in the canton of Bern, tack on an excursion to this century-old luxury property after visiting Pierre Latine, the last winery on the way up to the village. A recent renovation modernized the formerly classic rooms, most outfitted with balconies. For the ultimate escapist fantasy, plan a lunch outing to their rustic alpine pasture hut.

Don’t Miss

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A tour with Swiss Riviera Wine Tours. They handle the appointments and driving so you can relax. However, if you’re willing to part with a dear sum, schedule a ride across Lac Léman at sunset with company owner Nic in his restored vintage Riva. Viewing the terraces from the water is magic.

Lunch at Tout un Monde in Grandvaux. A new chef spins regional cuisine into polished dishes, accompanied by an all-local wine list. Book the three-course business lunch for the best value, and dine on the terrace.

Dinner at Auberge de l’Onde, housed in a historic 13th century building in charming St-Saphorin. Decorated sommelier Jérôme Aké Beda is a local celebrity; ask about his personal wine project.

Finally, for the wineries you miss, wine bar/retail shop Vinorama stocks over 260 Lavaux wines, many available for tasting.

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Wine is Too Cheap, and Other Lessons from a South African Harvest (Part 2)

This story is continued from “Wine is too cheap: Working Harvest in South Africa (Part 1)

Drew'sHandsRiesling

Cradling Riesling. Paul Cluver makes far too little of this wonderful wine.

As a tasting exercise during meals, Burger pulled two bottles of wine for me and the assistant winemaker Drew to sample blind and guess the grapes and origin. We could ask four strategic questions to narrow down the answer. Swirling and sniffing, we discussed the attributes in each glass. “This wine has the aromatics of a Sauvignon Blanc,” I’d comment, and we’d ponder whether it included Sémillon as a blend. The cellar hands, peculiarly, had little interest in tasting wine with us, despite spending all day in the pursuit its production. Only one team member extended his glass for a sample, although he contemplated the wine quietly at the other end of the table. The rest preferred to drink hard cider (a new Cluver product using their orchard apples.)

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The inside of the Cluver cellar.

In my mind, I could ascribe reasons for the local black employees’ lack of interest: they perceived wine as a white person drink or possibly it seemed complicated or expensive or maybe they felt intimidated to talk about it around their white, educated employers. Maybe they didn’t like the taste, or maybe working at a winery was as much a job to them as picking apples or working in a factory; a job they desperately needed in a country with 25 percent unemployment. Too desperate to worry whether the Pinot showed red or black cherry fruit. Whatever the impetus, their disinterest carried a tinge of sadness that seemed to allude to a larger socioeconomic dynamic within the country.

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Part of the cellar crew.

When I first arrived at the farm, I asked Burger if any other interns would be joining us. “A few months ago I had two German wine students emailing me about flying down” he said. “However, this season I decided to give the work to the local men who needed the position – and pay – more than a foreign intern student [interns are unpaid].” His decision demonstrated a smart and solicitous attitude towards the welfare of his community.

Speaking to some of the cellar staff over punch downs or mopping, they seemed happy for the work they had. But few believed moving up in the wine industry – beyond a cellar rat role – would ever be possible. Did they want for enterprise, or believe in the existence of an employment ceiling, knowing better than I with my American optimism, that black South Africans just don’t get assistant winemaker jobs? (It’s important to note that most winemaking positions require viticulture and oenology degrees, and have become scarce even for those holding one, due to increased competition. Of course, aspiring winemakers need money to attend school in the first place.) Clearly these are complicated questions with roots deeper than my time in South Africa afforded me to dig.

According to Burger, programs to provide training and certification to cellar staff interested in pursuing long-term employment in the industry are growing. Also, the Cape Winemakers Guild, of which Burger is chairman, instituted a protégé program to help young students with demonstrated aptitude, finish school and gain winemaking experience through a three-year paid internship at Guild member wineries. It seems there is progress afoot.

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Most gals sorted and cleaned, but she ran the forklift.

For two weeks, I aided a tight knit team of people in the process of moving grapes from vine to barrel (obviously I wasn’t there long enough to see any wine through to bottling). Ascending and descending ladders; lifting, bending, squatting, and standing all day on one’s feet. Winemaking isn’t for out-of-shape acrophobes afraid of injury and long hours. And, frankly, it is still a male-dominated industry, from the head winemaker, down to the cellar hands (at the majority of wineries I’ve visited around the world, not just in South Africa). It’s not that women can’t do the physical labor (yes we can, dammit), but it could be a limiting factor for some women when considering winemaking versus wine marketing, as a career path.

The experience also cemented my belief that consumers demand too much wine for too little money. The number of hands (and risks) involved in turning healthy grapes into a characterful, lively drink, let alone one with a soul that speaks of a singular time and place, are numerous.

Vines only bear usable grapes several years after planting. Pruning, pests, disease, weather, and now a changing climate: all these variables demand management and determine the quality of the fruit. Add training in proper picking and sorting technique, ensuring healthy ferments, keeping the power on so your temperature controlled tank stays cool. There are many critical points in the process where mistakes (not catching bacterial spoilage in the wine), accidents (falling into a tank and dying), and natural catastrophes (birds wiping out a vineyard), can lead to long-term consequences. Producers only get one vintage a year from which to earn an income.

Winemaking IS washing.

Winemaking is washing.

And what about the farm workers: the cogs in the wheel of the wine industry? Minimum wage for agricultural labor in South Africa is 130 rand a day (about $10 U.S. dollars). Many employees live on the farms of their employers; those that don’t, and can’t afford cars (most), are transported by trucks en masse from their villages to work and then home again at night. The Cluvers commendably provide education and health care for employees and their children, but these basic securities aren’t accessible to many others around the country. (Not to single out South Africa, the U.S. has a troubling reliance on cheap Mexican and Central American labor.)

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Fermentation cap on an ambient yeast Chardonnay.

The wine business is fraught with fragility, tenuously held together by people who share a common devotion to its cause, not big salaries and handsome margins. But that doesn’t justify forcing producers to price wine arbitrarily at $11.99 because consumers have decided that’s all they want to pay or because they perceive, to use South Africa as an example, the wines to be cheap because they historically were. Government and our three-tier distribution system all take big bites out of that figure, too. Writers that argue solely in favor of drinking cheap wine do an injustice to the industry at large by perpetuating the notion that wine should be inexpensive and accessible to all at all times, while failing to acknowledge that often the only way to achieve low price points is at the expense of someone else’s livelihood, or quality, or worse, both.

Shouldn’t the producer turn some profit to compensate for their risk and investment in the business? Shouldn’t winemakers afford to pay off education loans and save for their future? Shouldn’t a laborer earn a living wage to buy a $20 dollar bus ticket to see a sister in Johannesburg, the equivalent of two bottles of weeknight Merlot from the supermarket?

Before my sojourn to South Africa, I admired winemakers for their labor of love, but mostly as a notion, an ideal. After spending two weeks with one – especially one making wines of purity and finesse (now that I’ve tasted Burger’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), while balancing the well-being of his team and minding the pesky bottom line – I’ve found that ideal chiefly congruent with reality. While I’m not sure I want to follow in his footsteps permanently back up that ladder, I might work another harvest; after all, in their line of work, I’m cheap labor.

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Drew, Andries, Me, and Dr. Cluver

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Wine is Too Cheap, and Other Lessons from a South African Harvest (Part 1)

Looking at its narrow frame and spindly rungs, lashed to the top of a seemingly skyscraper-high steel tank by a single, knotted rope, I was briefly prompted into panic. But winemaker Andries Burger’s comment echoed in my head: “the two French girls we had last season did everything the men did. They carried buckets up those ladders.” With my right leg trembling, I fought the instinct to remain grounded and clambered to the top, balancing the metal handle of my plastic container of nitrogen addition (to keep yeast happy and functioning), awkwardly in the crook of my elbow.  It would be a small, short-lived victory. By the end of the day, ladders posed no more challenge than climbing into a car. I had a new problem: how to punch down Pinot Noir grapes without falling into the tank (and suffocating from CO2).Winemaking is a physically demanding job. Particularly during harvest when hours are long and grapes are waiting; days can start as early as five in the morning and continue well past the last rays of light for months. As a writer on the topic, I felt understanding the finer details of the process, set within the broader framework of the wine industry as I already knew it, would make me a better, more insightful journalist, and possibly more sympathetic to the challenges and choices winemakers face.
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Riesling grapes waiting to be sorted.

To sample the experience, I elected to join Paul Cluver in Elgin, South Africa for an unpaid, two-week internship during the recent 2015 vintage. My participation was part of a larger initiative aimed at encouraging women to work in the wine industry, the brainchild of Kathy Jordan of Jordan Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.
The “women in wine” mentoring program elicited applications both from around the world and locally, in conjunction with the support of Jancis Robinson (the world’s most notable woman wine journalist), to join harvest with a member winery of PIWOSA (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa, a collection of likeminded producers pooling their marketing dollars and power.) Applicants needed to hold either a winemaking degree or the WSET Diploma. I carry the latter.My résumé was selected by a winery nestled in the cool-climate Elgin Valley. Burger, the longtime winemaker, earned a reputation for producing elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with one of the finest sought after Rieslings in the country. Not being available in the New York market, I banked on the Cluver reputation by flying to the southern hemisphere to work at a winery without having first tasted its wines.

Tall and burly with vivid blue eyes, I figured Burger for the winemaker as I exited Cape Town airport. We drove off in his bucky (South African for truck) and 45-minutes later arrived for lunch at the local Elgin farm stall/bakery/pie shop Peregrine. Eager to jump into the rhythm of the country’s meat-hearty diet, I opted for a taste of the native game and ordered springbok pie (antelope-gazelle, ubiquitous around southwestern Africa).

PCSharingLunchVV

Zebras and an ostrich sharing a feeding bowl in the sanctuary. Likely a tenuous friendship.

My accommodations (like many of the winery employees, as well as the entire Cluver clan) sat two kilometers deep into the family farm, a sprawling property of apple and pear orchards, and vineyards, defined partially by mountain borders. The Cluvers carved out space for a wildlife sanctuary (home to two zebras and two ostriches, comically fed from jumbo bowls) and built a challenging mountain biking course to tempt ripped athletes in colorful Lycra from around the world. A natural amphitheater set within towering ghost gum trees drew a large domestic audience for monthly summer concerts.

I was assigned a modest cottage, an old laborer’s dwelling that sat at the base of several vineyards (the same Pinot grapes I’d be fighting with later in the week). A rondavel formed the attached bedroom. It had a conical thatched roof like those that capped traditional dwellings in the bush or luxury safari properties mimicking the experience for well-heeled tourists. My temporary home fell midway on the spectrum between the two (I had hot, running water, but lacked a dedicated gin and tonic butler.)

That first night, I collapsed on the bed; I hadn’t lain down in nearly thirty hours since departing New York. Peering into the shadows of the cone-shaped ceiling, I wondered if I might find a bird (or a bat) nesting in its cavity. Outside, the wind surged and retreated, beating at the hut’s walls like the pounding of ocean surf against an intruding rock. At that point, the reality of my location finally switched from dream state to “on.” I was alone, in the dark, on a wine farm, in Africa. Mercifully, sunlight washes clean the dramas of the nocturnal mind and I awoke fresh for the start of my first day.

Mornings at the winery started just past seven. One facet of the harvest experience I would escape was grape picking. Hand harvesting of bunches occurred in the chilled air of night. Local workers were trucked out to designated rows at ten o’clock P.M. where they snipped with shears and headlamps until dawn.  It looked difficult; exhausting. But the grapes, ranging from Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, to Pinot Noir, remained cool, plump, and taut for pressing the following morning, while the workers avoided the grueling daytime heat.

PCCellarLadiesVV

The ladies found me hilarious for a number of unfavorable reasons.

The days took on a fairly predictable, labor-intensive routine. After the dawn delivery of fruit (the pickers would head home to snooze until dusk), grapes were hand-sorted to pull out rotten, infected, shriveled, or generally defective specimens. Pictures posted near the table reminded workers what flaws to identify. The female team, composed of permanent and seasonal employees, always sorted. Never the men, who made up the core team of cellar workers. The ladies chatted and laughed about the daily soap opera viewed the night before (so they said). Speaking Afrikaans, their dialogue was inscrutable, but they seemed amused at teaching me words so they could snicker at my atrocious pronunciation.

After the sorting table, grapes went through the de-stemmer (unless left intact for whole bunch pressing, e.g., Chardonnay). White grapes then went to the Vaslin press, and red grapes went into tanks to start cold maceration. The rest of the day was spent monitoring the progress of presses, cleaning, tasting and recording the development of ongoing fermentations, cleaning, punching down red grapes (the act of puncturing the thick “cap” of grape skins and solid matter that float to the top of a tank so as to integrate it back into the juice below), cleaning, making additions with buckets on ladders (like the aforementioned nitrogen), transferring wine between tanks, cleaning, and then washing down equipment, followed by cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. I started to believe winemaking was 50 percent cleaning. (Another winemaker I met estimates it at 75 percent).

We spent lunch as a family, or at least I felt like I carried the Cluver surname given the warmth they extended and interest they took in my city life back in New York. Burger actually is family: he married Inge Cluver, the eldest daughter of Dr. Paul Cluver (the patriarch and a former neurosurgeon), who works in the office alongside her brother Paul (the managing director), Karin (production director), Inge (financial manager), and sister Liesl (marketing director). For a family that lives a short stroll away from each other, and works an even shorter distance apart, they maintained a remarkable harmony.

PCNightPicking

Night picking by headlamp to avoid the heat of the day, for both worker and grapes.

Repast discussions toggled between updates on the vineyards to updates on the orchards. The other hot topic: installation of a new solar panel system. South Africans have endured a year of “load shedding,” a polite term for the equivalent of rolling power blackouts scheduled (and sometimes not) around the country, instituted by the mismanaged, national power company to deal with an aging, overloaded grid. With many more years of blackouts projected, the Cluvers had the foresight (and wherewithal) to reduce their carbon footprint as much as to protect their investments.

The energy at dinner was different. The cellar staff and winemaking team gathered for evening family meal (exclusive of the women who cleaned and sorted). Offerings cooked or purchased by the daytime staff, were simple and hearty — sausages, chicken, hot dogs, and salami sandwiches. Most nights, dinner only provided a break in the work before the men returned to the floor to finish the last press and then, of course, clean.

Continued tomorrow in Part 2: The life of a cellar worker.

PCWinemakerHandsVV

Harvest ink.

 

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Women & Wine: Three New Books Explore the Fermented Drink

Three New Wine Books by Women

Recently published in the Village Voice

The year of the sheep is turning out to be the year of the woman wine writer. Yes, talented females published plenty of books prior to 2015. For decades, in fact. But a recent spate of tomes illustrates how the ladies aren’t just catching up to their male counterparts, they are setting sea change momentum to outpace them.

Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Wine Glass (Provisions Press)

Two weeks ago, Forbes.com contributor Cathy Huyghe toured New York wine shops and bookstores and met with the local chapter of the #WineLover group for the launch of her first full-length literary effort, Hungry for Wine. I confess to a slight bias toward her work; we first met on a week-long excursion through Turkish wine country exactly a year ago. I knew she planned to capture in her book an especially poignant exchange with a winery owner near the tip of Gallipoli, so I was anxious to read her illustration of that moment.

Wine books often take an educational tone primarily useful for the student or serious oenophile, making for dull reading. Wine is a pleasure studied by the senses; how could words compete? Yet Huyghe makes reading about the fermented drink rewarding. Her memoir/travelogue reveals twelve stories about twelve wines, and the people and places that produced them, to deliver heartfelt and humbling allegories for our lives.

From Chapter 1: How to Live Your Wine Life With No Regrets, the author urges us to reexamine how we live — do we oscillate between regretting the past and pinning redemption on the future? Huyghe describes an elderly man’s cellar. He filled it long ago with fine wine, kept under lock and key, while he awaited a special occasion. Sadly, no visit from a friend, nor celebration, ever met his standard of worthiness, and eventually, every wine expired past its prime. Life shouldn’t be left for enjoying later, a time that may never come, she reminds us.

In Chapter 8: How to Make Wine When Your Country Is at War, a Syrian winery continues with the business of grape growing and winemaking despite the civil conflict at its door. Huyghe explains how the war has complicated the simplest matters of production. For example, grapes must be sent over the Lebanese border on ice via taxi for testing and sampling. Yet the owners of Chateau Bargylus persist. They entrust day-to-day operations to trained locals, paying them above-market salaries to keep them there, hoping “to create a sense of cohesion and purpose.” People facing intractable hardships still go on with the business of living; war doesn’t define them; our difficulties don’t define us.

North of the Syrian border lies Turkey, another country undergoing a political battle, though of a different sort. Turkey has a nascent wine culture that draws from its ancient viticultural past. New wineries have sprung up to embrace indigenous grapes and create a compelling, modern wine industry. But the pro-Muslim, anti-alcohol government has banned alcohol marketing, which Huyghe’s seventh chapter, How to Market Wine When It’s Forbidden to Market Wine, addresses. In it, she touches on the themes of perseverance and defiance, raised by the founder and owner of Suvla Wines in Gallipoli. I’ll defer to the reader to judge the point of the story.

Despite the weight of several of her topics, the paperback is a fairly quick and easy read. Both neophytes and experts can derive value from it, whether by introduction to a new wine region or by inspiration to create a “special” occasion on a Tuesday night to open that long-awaited wine.

Wine in Words: Notes for Better Drinking (Rizzoli Ex Libris)

Earlier in the year, Lettie Teague, longtime wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal, published a collection of essays called Wine in Words: Notes for Better Drinking. Although her assemblage of thoughts on a range of topics, from wedding wine to New Zealand’s screw cap contribution, reads like sketches logged over years in a frayed notebook, they’ve been compiled into a butter-yellow, textured hardback (jacketless, thankfully) intended to endure.

The entries are organized into three parts: Fun to Know, Need to Know, and Who Knows. Since these categories reveal little about their content, the book is best sampled by whimsically flipping it open with a “feeling lucky” attitude, landing on a random page. Readers who seek more structure might find this frustrating.

By conventional standards, her essays aren’t necessarily useful; some, like the entry on wine and food pairing or another on grocery store wine, merely stimulate the reader to think about the topic independently, choosing whether or not to use the tools of her annotation. The thing about wine — the thing Teague gets — is that there isn’t always one “answer.” It’s not a mathematical problem to be solved. While she doesn’t hesitate to share her opinion (she really doesn’t like pinotage), she doesn’t force it on readers as the sole possible conclusion, like many bombastic (often male) wine industry vets.

So how should the reader enjoy her compendium of tidbits? Comparing the book to the drink itself, she suggests her essays be digested in sips, making Wine in Words the perfect bedside dresser companion to color one’s dreams with wine.

Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island (Cider Mill Press)

One of Long Island wine’s most vocal champions, Eileen M. Duffy, editor of Edible East End and Edible Long Island, has bestowed the region with a detailed depiction of its rise from the first optimistic plantings in the Seventies to the world-class region it has become, in her spring publication Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island.

Rather than give a textbook chronicling of the region’s evolution, however, her sharp prose brings to life the complexities of this singular place through the stories of a dozen local players and their wines. Duffy tapped community relationships, fostered for over a decade, to score revealing interviews with growers and winemakers. She has broken the book into four parts: The Pioneers, The Craftsmen, A Vision of a Sustainable Island, and The Future of Long Island Wine, each section highlighting contributors to the overarching concept.

Duffy opens with Louisa Hargrave under The Pioneers. Hargrave, the original architect of the North Fork wine industry, converted the first potato field to Vitis vinifera in 1973. Her vineyards are long sold, but Hargrave had an indispensable hand in shaping the region, as do younger entrants like Kelly Urbanik Koch, a Napa-bred winemaker working with the organically- and biodynamically inclined Macari Vineyards. At just over forty, East End wine is still fairly young — but catching up to the world fast. Lovers of Long Island cab franc, or tales of American ingenuity, should read this book before Duffy is compelled to pen the update.

More New Releases From Women…

Madeline Puckett, founder of website Wine Folly, known for pairing digestible distillations of complex wine topics with colorful infographics, has just released her first book with partner Justin Hammack:Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine.

Finally, students of the ferment should update their libraries with two more contributions to the reference book genre: the revised edition of Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine and Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible.

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Like Christie Brinkley, White Wine Can Age Spectacularly

King Estate Winery in Oregon produces age-worthy pinot gris.

As beach season draws to a close (today, September 23rd, is the Fall Equinox, not Labor Day), I want to address a global wine-related epidemic that hits its zenith in summer. Throughout July and August, I visited several white wine producing regions in Oregon, Germany, and Switzerland (the Swiss not only make wine, but I’d argue it’s better than their chocolate and more affordable than their watches). With each vintner visit, our discussion of their carefully crafted whites and demand for their latest vintages inevitably led to the following conclusion: Consumers are sucking them down long before they should be opened. In other words, we drink white wine too young.

This deduction contradicts conventional wisdom. We’ve been taught the rule that the majority of whites should be consumed within a year or two of production, and that only sweet wines and expensive Old World expressions — the finest white Burgundy (chardonnay) in particular — truly deserve cellar time. During the summer, writers and retailers tout young, fresh wines as “porch pounders” and “poolside sippers,” employing reader hooks by comparing sauvignon blanc to a Harlequin beach read or pairing it to OMI’s catchy seasonal tune, “Cheerleader.” While such descriptors seem innocuous and fun, and may be meant to demystify wine, they also perpetuate the “white wines are simple and best drunk young” stereotype that shapes consumer behavior and the cycle of the industry.

A gift from Swiss winemaker Philippe Gex — he made me promise not to open it for at least four years.

A few weeks ago, I tasted a vertical of Oregon pinot gris (the same grape as pinot grigio). The King Estate Winery near Eugene presented me and several other journalists with a lineup of butter-hued bottles spanning a decade, pulled from their library. The wines were not their most expensive single-vineyard or domaine bottlings, but rather represented their entry-level “signature” line, retailing upon debut for approximately $17.

The current release, a 2014, drank straight, snappy, and undemanding, evocative of an electrified bellini (more voltage than fruit, due to high level of acid). Without the opportunity to compare it to older vintages, a regular Jane in the tasting room probably would conclude the wine good, but simple and best drunk young, and pick up a bottle or two to quaff at her upcoming weekend patio party.

As a journalist — admittedly with insider access — tasting the ’14 alongside the ’11, ’08, ’07, ’06, and finally the ’05 proved not only that Oregon pinot gris ages spectacularly (really, spectacularly!), but that comparatively, with no disrespect to the taut and vibrant ’14, drinking the latest release tasted akin to biting an underripe peach. Extra time in bottle — even just two more years — gently softens sharp edges, while allowing the wine to develop weight, texture, and layers of flavor (marmalade, tropical fruits, nuts, and honey), transforming that tart rock into a juicy, sun-kissed, tree-picked pleasure. Unfortunately, wine requires more time and patience to “ripen” than does a piece of fruit.

So why do we drink our wines so young, and what can we do about it? (To clarify, this discussion does not encompass cheap, mass-produced wines of vague origin.) Certainly, the freshness of a wine may be its chief draw, depending on the occasion; I won’t deny the pleasures of a young Txakoli or Muscadet paired to lemon-spritzed seafood. But we also have a culture that embraces youth and perpetuates the myth that complexity is somehow too demanding on the senses, especially in the summertime. “I want an easy wine that doesn’t challenge me or make me think” is a commonly sung refrain. But complexity in wine doesn’t equate to a tedious, cerebral exercise; “complex” is a synonym for evolving aromas and flavors, which tend to deliver more deliciousness, resulting in more pleasure. Yes, there are some wine drinkers who love the sharp, steely edge of an austere infant wine. But even the makers of such wines argue they need — deserve — a few years to harmonize in the bottle, too.

Tending the steep vineyards in the Valais, Switzerland, requires hard work and handpicking.

Unfortunately, producers and retailers don’t make it easy to find older vintages on the market. Winemakers admit they release wines far earlier than they’d like, often to meet demand, citing customers (including exporters, distributors, and consumers) who refuse to buy previous vintages once a new one comes due for release. But they also do it for the infusion of cash. The old adage that vintners in Europe could count on one vintage in the vineyard, one in the cellar, and one in the bank no longer holds true given the tough economics of the modern winemaking business.

Retailers generally don’t have the space or financial means to take on the task of cellaring wines, especially ones that won’t yield a worthwhile profit from the time investment — to wit, white wines lacking in pedigree and price point like Soave, or, frankly, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, which ages surprisingly well. Restaurants are a better source for indulging in developed examples, but prices can be off-putting. Other ideas include calling up wineries to ask about purchasing library wines and seeking placement on email lists with specialty retailers like Chambers Street Wines, to be notified when they make cellar acquisitions. Ultimately, however, the onus falls on us to change our drinking behavior. Try holding back a bottle or two, even for just a year (assuming you have the storage space and optimal conditions, like a wine fridge, to do so), to increase the wine’s pleasure factor. After all, isn’t deriving pleasure the point of drinking wine?

Below are a few examples of whites worthy of extra time in the bottle, but the list goes on: grüner veltliner, Muscadet, assyrtiko, savatiano, chasselas, gewürztraminer, Bordeaux grapes (sauvignon blanc, semillon), Rhône grapes (viognier, roussanne, marsanne), albariño, savagnin (a/k/a heida, paien, traminer). If you find older examples of these wines (ranging from two to ten years, depending on variety, producer quality, and vintage) in a reputable retail shop or restaurant, don’t hesitate to select one; they likely stocked it on purpose.

The Swiss grape heida, also called traminer and savagnin

Riesling With its high acidity and propensity over time to reveal layers of exotic flavor like a vinous Dance of the Seven Veils, riesling is one of the most suitable — and rewarding — wines to age in the world: the Christie Brinkley of grapes. Aromatics range from mineral, spice, and smoke to citrus, stone fruit, and honeyed, luscious tropical notes, depending, again, on the region, producer, and vintage, but also the amount of residual sugar left in the wine, a factor found mostly in German riesling.

David Salinas, wine buyer for Chambers Street Wines, not only agrees (not about Christie Brinkley), but pointed out that Jancis Robinson does, too. Salinas said that a few years ago the English wine critic “conducted a head-to-head tasting of older red Bordeaux and older Riesling with the aim of evaluating, as a group, which wines had aged more gracefully, and for her panelists, the winner was riesling.” Look to Germany, Austria, Alsace, Australia, and American regions/states like the Finger Lakes, Oregon, and Washington.

Garganega Known for dry, medium-bodied, moderate-alcohol wines showing lemon-citrus, yellow fruits, bitter almond, and often a whiff of white flowers or chamomile on the nose, you probably know Garganega better as the predominant grape grown in Soave, a historic region in Italy’s Veneto. Soave has suffered an image problem as a cheap wine region; producers capitalized on the wine’s popularity in the Seventies and churned out insipid, industrial-quality wine. But the region has enjoyed a quiet revival, with quality-minded producers like Gini, Pieropan, and Inama making a range of age-worthy wines from Classico DOC, Superiore DOCG, and single-vineyard sites experimenting also with oak-aged styles.

According to Evan Goldstein, MS, “quality Soave can age and age well…high-end cru Soave can age for a much longer time than people think. Volcanic soils produce bigger, richer, ‘oilier,’ longer-lived wines.” Recent vintages have expressed riper, weightier, and richer wines balanced with a minerality that builds a solid case for the aging potential in the region, thanks in large part to Soave’s ancient volcanic soil.

Viura Also known as macabeu/maccabéo in southern France’s Roussillon, and macabeo in much of Spain, viura is the primary grape variety of white Rioja. Dry, fruity, and low in acidity (for an age-worthy grape), many simple, low-quality wines have been made from it due to the vine’s troublesome nature in the vineyard. But in the hands of producers like Lopez de Heredia, Allende, and Marqués de Murrieta, the wine develops character and verve in the bottle. Rioja as a region has touted its aging of tempranillo-based red wines as a reason consumers should buy them. Lopez de Heredia does the same for its whites, regularly releasing older vintages onto the market. (Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in Chelsea recently stocked the 1999.)

Carrie Strong, wine director at Aureole, loves aged expressions of white Rioja, and rotates them into her list when available. “Older Rioja blanco wines are absolutely beautiful, showing off like a sassy chardonnay wearing a flamenco dress complete with castanets, daring white Rhone Valley varietals to age nearly as well. These sultry whites show off their salty, almond, and herbaceous notes with an irreverent snare but embrace the dance that is a perfect food-and-wine pairing.”

Chenin Blanc Thanks to Pascaline Lepeltier, wine director for Rouge Tomate and staunch advocate for chenin blanc, many wine lovers now have a deeper appreciation for this versatile grape. It’s light body and naturally high acidity, especially when grown in its spiritual home the Loire Valley in France, means chenin can produce dry, sweet, still, and sparkling wines, all of which can age successfully, sometimes for decades. South Africa may be the biggest competitor to the Loire in terms of quality, especially from old bush vines found in places like Swartland. Mullineux, Sadie Family, and Botanica are all putting their personal stamp on the grape.

Juliette Pope, wine director at Gramercy Tavern, likes to introduce chenin to customers looking for older whites. “Chenin, like riesling, typically has that very food-friendly acidity level, as well as buckets of fruit, honey, and minerality, especially when we are talking Loire Valley, which is where any of our older ones come from. All of this can meld with age into such savory, layered, lamb’s-woolly beasts that cry out for drinking with all manner of stronger cheeses, dark-meat poultry, fattier pork, and lobster.”

Pinot Blanc In youth, this grape often comes off bland and neutral, offering, at best, white florals, delicate fruit, and fresh, moderate acidity; but with age, the best examples from Germany, Italy, and Alsace shed their ugly-duckling feathers to take on a nutty richness, roundness, and creaminess. However, it took a deep dive into Austria’s terroir and treatment of pinot blanc, especially around Styria and Burgenland (look for wines from Leitner, Heinrich, and Beck), where the wines often see oak aging, to convert me into a pinot blanc believer. During a recent conversation with an Austrian producer, the vintner reminded me why they call the grape “weissburgunder,” or white Burgundy: “because it mimics Burgundian chardonnay without the price tag,” he exclaimed gleefully.

Rosé I added this category of pink wine after Tom Geniesse, owner of Bottlerocket Wine & Spirits, pointed out that the same question regarding the aging of white wines applies to rosé wines, too. “Some rosé,” he said, “improves with a little bit of age. Not all. But to generalize and say they all MUST be new, new, new is an oversimplification of this complex beverage.”

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Postcard: Sunset over Burano Island and Venice, Italy

BuranoatSunset

Sunset over the Venetian lagoon island of Burano, known for traditional, handmade lace, and located a short walk from the Venissa Wine Resort, where I stayed over the weekend.

BoatingthroughVenice

Venice and the 118 islands that constitute its whole, testify to the ingenuity, artistry, and humor of humanity. The city is exquisite in every light, in every circumstance; quixotic in its ornate persistence, and seductive in the details of its decay.

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Postcard: Il Castello di Soave, Veneto

CastleofSoave

The famous castle in the wine region of Soave, “Il Castello di Soave,” was built in the 10th century to ward off invading Hungarians. Now, tourists stroll its walls during breaks from the town’s enotecas and wineries.

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Postcard: Abbey of Follina in Prosecco Country

AbbeyofFollina

View of the fountain inside the Abbey of Follina in the province of Treviso. We ran in for a brief look on a drizzly day while touring Prosecco country. The monastic complex dates back to the 12th century, during which the grape-loving Cistercians replaced the Benedictine monks

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