Tag Archives: viognier

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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People Make Wine in Idaho. I’ve Got Proof.

IdahoRockyWine

I write this post sitting in a log cabin in the middle of the Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho. I’ll be lighting a fire and, dreadfully, donning my winter jacket for the first time this season; tonight’s expected low: 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer concludes precisely — cruelly — on Labor Day out here.

Not anticipating functioning wifi, I flipped open my laptop and the connection light blinked on.  Is there no place left in the world detached from the grid aside from the far western Sonoma coast? Regardless, here I type, at the base of stony, jagged peaks in a state to which cartographers had oddly apportioned a wide bottom with a long, slender finger that stretched north to Canada. I’d stare at maps as a child (and still do now), imagining life in the American West of this exotic state, so it feels odd to finally be here  — with my dad — because the fascination I held for Idaho (and surrounding states) was partly an extension of my father’s.

CabinFireplace

My dad grew up a little bit country in Circleville, Ohio, where my great-uncle bred horses for harness racing. Likely a product of the era of his youth, one in which country western films featuring icon John Wayne pervaded the imaginations of growing boys, my dad took a curious shine to all things cowboy and Indian Native American. The toys of his youth reflected this interest which never abated with adulthood.

He’s the only lawyer in Columbus who wears cowboy boots to work and before judges in court, often dressed in a suit. He admits to not owning a single pair of dress shoes but several pairs of Tony Lama and Ariat boots. I believe he once subscribed to Cowboys & Indians magazine, and I know he acquired two reproduction Remingtons to conciliate his dream for an authentic one. (Remington was the equine sculptor who worked bronze into taut, sinewy horses and cattle ropers frozen mid-action.)

IdahoRockyRanchCabininside

Although unable to afford him the gift of a collector’s piece, I offered my dad passage to visit Idaho as a co-captain of my rental car to explore this curiously unadvertised and sparsely populated slice of the West. In addition to traversing the Sawtooth Mountains to ride horses and fish at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, we’d visit nearly a dozen wineries in Boise and its surrounds. Characteristically, his first question was not “wine? In Idaho?” but rather “can I bring my cowboy boots?” Yes dad, bring your Tony Lamas. And your Stetson.

They Make Wine in Idaho

My thin knowledge of the Snake River AVA, approved in April 2007, stemmed from my WSET Diploma exam studies. I’d never actually drank an Idaho wine, let alone seen or heard of one in NYC. The Idaho Wine Commission was prescient in selecting me to visit; I immediately said yes. Intrigued by the chance to visit this state still unknown to me, especially one about which so little was written, I crossed my fingers I’d discover a pioneering wine scene to accompany the state’s unspoiled rivers and mountains.

FirstGlimpseofSawtooth

Quick Idaho Wine Stats (provided by the Idaho Wine Commission)

Idaho had one winery in 1976 and 51 by 2014. The Snake River AVA encompasses 8000 square miles with a little less than 1300 acres planted. Most vineyards are in the Snake River area which lies 30 minutes east of Boise, the best found around Sunny Slope.The leading varieties are, for whites: Chardonnay, Riesling, and Viognier; and reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, and Tempranillo. Elevations range from 600-3000 feet.  The climate is desert-warm with cold nights, and well-draining soils with access to irrigation from the river and reservoirs.

Day One:  Wineries of East 44th Street, Garden City

This industrial strip by the river, ten minutes from downtown Boise, functions like many wine ghettos that have sprung up around the country (Lompoc near Santa Barbara, California and Woodinville near Seattle, Washington), in that it provides young, enterprising winemakers affordable space to pursue their craft when owning vineyard land for a winery is not yet feasible. A particular strip of East 44th street has attracted several small optimists: Cinder, Telaya, Coiled, and Split Rail. The first three are located in a renovated warehouse, the latter in a former auto body garage.

EAST 44th STREET TASTING ROOM HOURS

Cinder: 7 Days a week, 11-5 p.m.

Telaya: Fri. – Sat., 12-6 p.m.

Coiled: Fri. – Sat., 12-5 p.m.

My review of the wineries…


East44Wineries

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Te Mata Estate, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

 

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Te Mata Estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, was founded in 1896. The property was acquired by John and Wendy Buck in 1978, and is currently run by Nicholas Buck, the Estate Director, who has been with the winery, as he puts it, for “life”.   Fortunately, I met Nick in person today, since his answers to my Q&A (below) in advance of my trip, were terse and cheeky. Turns out, he’s a super affable guy surrounded by a lovely team of folks that treat each other like family. Winemaker Peter Cowley has been crafting their iconic Bordeaux blend Coleraine for the nearly 30 years of its production, and this afternoon, the fantastic Mr. Larry Morgan drove me around vineyard sites, and introduced me to the hardworking Czechs (not chicks, as I later found out) who help net the vines to prevent birds from nibbling grapes as they ripen.

A few words from the winery’s site:

Te Mata Estate was established in 1896, specialising in high-quality wines of classical style. All steps in the production of our wines are undertaken by us, from grape growing and pruning through to winemaking and bottling. Today, Te Mata Estate is recognized as one of New Zealand’s most iconic and prestigious wine producers, making nearly 40,000 cases a year of premium wine and exporting to over 40 countries.

Regarding the physical winery, horse stables, constructed in the 1870s, were converted into a winery by the Chambers family in the 1890s, and are today the centre of Te Mata Estate’s winemaking. The winery has since been updated in design, with the aim to create a modern wine-making complex that reflected the character of the landscape. Specializing in in-fill architecture and innovative modernist design, Athfield Architects created a series of buildings to reflect the art deco heritage of Hawke’s Bay and the art nouveau heritage of the original Chambers homestead.

Signature Wines and Prices:

  • Coleraine NZ$90
  • Awatea Cabernet/Merlot NZ$40
  • Bullnose Syrah NZ$50
  • Elston Chardonnay NZ$40
  • Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc NZ$30
  • Zara Viognier NZ$30

What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology? Maximising the potential of Te Mata Estate.

What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Disrupting the wine world status quo.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? Hawke’s bay’s ability to produce world leading wines across an array of wine styles.

What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The growing international recognition of the absolute quality of Hawke’s Bay’s best wines.

How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? Source of widely available, inexpensive, reliable, good qpr, light-bodied, straight-forward, aromatic, fruity, white wines.

What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least? Favorite = Sonoma; Least = Napa.

Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Cabernet Sauvignon.

What do you drink at home when relaxing? Wine.

How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Family.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Mars.

Give one surprising fact about yourself. Alternative career ambition was an astronaut.

 

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Friday Night Flights: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

roofofnkmip

This past Friday, an Australian wine importer friend came by and we decided to open wines we can’t get readily get our hands on here in NYC. I’ve stocked my wine fridge from travels abroad, so our drinking options ranged from wines like Plavac Mali smuggled out of Croatia; Furmint slogged back from Hungary; and a Roussanne from a small producer in Australia.

However, we decided to dip into the case of wine I brought back this past June from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. The Canadians and U.S. have a very cool alcohol import/export relationship; thus, these wines are wholesale, unavailable in the New York market, and, I think, most of the U.S. Such a shame. The Okanagan whites, in particular, the Rieslings, are outstanding. There’s also growing Pinot Noir production up-and-over there (there being the far west of Canada, but still a 5-hour drive east of Vancouver).

The Canadian government handles all wine sales; thus, I gathered my assemblage of vino at the VQA in Penticton. The shopkeeper professed intimate knowledge of the local wineries and wines, so I asked him to help me put together an all-star kit of under $30 bottles, showcasing producers and a variety of grapes. I have nine more bottles left, so I will post commentary and photos once those make their way into my glass. For now, I’ll address the three we consumed. And for you, readers, the best way to enjoy these wines is to visit the source. Between snow-dusted mountains peaks, arctic blue lakes, friendly locals and organic, local food scene, the Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, setting a lofty bar for the wines to reach. Fortunately, they arc high above it.

PoplarGroveWinery

What we drank: Tantalus Vineyards Riesling, 2012; Moon Curser Viognier, 2011; and Stoneboat Vineyards Pinot Noir, 2010.

TantalusRiesling

TANTALUS RIESLING 2012: YIKES. Scary delicious. Both ripe, yet nervy, full of bright, saliva-inducing acid, citrus-y lemon-lime, but plump full of tropical notes, too. Layers and layers of flavor. 2012 was a warm vintage, and maybe that shows, but there’s plenty of structure to keep this wine focused. And what, exactly, does a “warm vintage” mean in Canada, anyway? Although the Okanagan is one of the northern most winegrowing regions in the world, it’s still an arid, desert-like zone, experiencing warm to hot summers.

MoonCurserViognier

MOON CURSER VIOGNIER 2011: Gorgeous bottle, eh? Frankly, my photo doesn’t honor the colors nor art since it’s in black and white; the actual bottle shimmers with golden highlights as though treated to an appliqué of delicate gold leaf (see pic below). The juice inside is equally striking. Compared to 2012 (see above), 2011 was a cooler vintage, which probably helped tip this wine away from the ripeness scale, into a leaner, delicate style that’s uncharacteristic, but wonderful, for the grape. An obvious note of candied ginger pricks the tongue, followed by white peach, white flowers and a lemon-chiffon finish.

StoneBoatPinot

STONEBOAT VINEYARDS PINOT NOIR 2010: I wanted to love this bottle after my enchanting encounters with the first two, but the Pinot tasted just a bit too green for my palate. I can normally get behind more delicate wines–this bottle actually reminded me of a red Sancerre from the Loire I had recently–another region that struggles with Pinot Noir ripeness.  I know Stoneboat is an excellent producer, so I will give them another shot when I head back to the valley in the spring. Not all was lost, however–this wine had lovely notes of savory wet leaf, a bit of spice and earthiness, with a tea-like quality. The fruit played hide-and-seek, but when it popped out, I tasted a bit of currant, pomegranate and sour cherry. This might be to the taste of some folks out there. Interestingly, I found a number of other Okanagan Pinots swung too far on the richness scale, many of them overoaked (I heard producers are moving away from that style), so kudos to Stoneboat for not resorting to such masking measures.

Mooncurser

Above is a photo of Moon Curser bottles, taken this summer near the winery in Osoyoos.

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