Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Comparing Notes and Tasting Tuscany at Vin Vino Wine

For years I have been exploring the California and Oregon wine countries. While I occasionally brought a friend along they were only interested in having a good time and were not on an enological quest to improve their knowledge of wine and become a better taster. So, in most of my wine tasting adventures I was out by myself with my camera in hand taking pictures, shooting video and social networking with people in the business. This did a lot to improve my understanding of these New World wine regions and note taking abilities but there was something lacking that I have gained over the past 9 months – someone of like interest and experience to compare notes.

Recently I read Secrets of the Sommeliers in which Master Sommelier Alan Murray is quoted saying:

Nothing’s more important than tasting with people who are better than you, who know more than you.”[1]

In the 17 week Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center I learned a lot from our instructors who are Master Sommeliers, but I also learned a great deal from my fellow students. As they went through “the grid” I would compare my notes with theirs to see what we had in common in our perception of the wine but I also gained a greater insight by seeing how they interpreted the aromas, flavors and structure of the wine. While my knowledge and experience of California and Oregon wines was quite extensive, I found that most my fellow wine-geeks had a lot more knowledge and experience with old world wines so I learned a lot from them. This shared learning experience flowed over into our study group which frequently met on weekends.

Now, having graduated from ICC and passed the Certified Sommelier Exams, I’m blessed to have the experience of continuing to learn and grow from these new-found friends as we meet in study groups or get together in various public venues to continue to taste wines together and compare notes.

The format is fairly simple and is generally done in two different ways. We either taste the wines separately and then take turns going through “the grid” and compare notes or we sort of do a free-for-all and throw out all our interpretations of the wine at the same time, sometimes agreeing and other times disagreeing.

Our recently formed study group decided to go through Italy so before we started meeting I invited some of my fellow Somms to join me at Vin Vino Wine in Palto Alto as they were pouring wines from Tuscany. They have two line-ups, a short and a long tasting, and the prices vary according to the cost of the wine. We gathered around 6 PM and the place stops pouring at 7 PM and we left around 7:30 PM, so we only had time for a short series in which we tasted the following four wines. The following reflects my own notes as well as some insights of two people I definitely consider to know more than I do when it comes to wine.

2011 Poliziano Rosso de Montepulciano

This wine is made from 100% Sangiovese and it is from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Italy. This estate was founded in 1961 on 22 hectares of vineyards. It has grown over the years to reach 120 hectares. The name is an homage to the 15th-century humanist poet Angelo Ambrogini, known as ‘Il Poliziano’, who was born in Montepulciano.[2]

This is a clear red wine, ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with a minute amount of aromas indicating some volatile acidity. It has moderate intense aromas of dusty cherries, tart cranberries, cigar box, cloves, violets and lavender, with a hint of dusty cocoa and anise and just a touch of tar. On the palate it is dry and on the first sip the tannins and acidity are a bit of a shock to the teeth and gums, but then they become “sweeter” with the succeeding sips. The wine is medium bodied with medium+ alcohol and a moderate length finish. This wine retails for $18 per bottle at Vin Vino Wine and I have seen it elsewhere for sale between $13 and $20.

2011 Lohsa, Morellino di Scansano DOC

This wine is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Ciliegiolo from the Lohsa Vineyard founded by Fredico Carletti and his family in Maremma, along the coast of Tuscany Italy.[3]

This is a clear red wine, ruby at the core to pink at the rim with a hint of garnet with medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of wild blackberries, pomegranates, dried herbs, bramble bush, dusty wool, and walnuts. On the palate the fruit leans more towards fresh cherry pie followed by dried tobacco leaves, dried earth and a hint of herbs. It is dry with medium+ tannins, medium+ alcohol, and a medium length finish. This wine retails for $18 per bottle at Vin Vino Wine and I have seen it elsewhere for sale between $15 and $20.

2011 Casanova di Neri Rosso de Montalcino

This wine is made from 100% Sangiovese, which is known as “Brunello” in Montalcino, a hill town and commune in Tuscany, Italy. It is from Casanova di Neri which was founded in 1971 by Giovanni Neri in the Montalcino territory and it was passed on to his son Giacomo in 1991.[4]

This is an opaque red wine, dark ruby at the core to pink at the rim with a slight hint of garnet and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of wild blueberries, dried plums, fig, dates, a hint of wet wool, dried mushrooms, canned black pepper, dried herbs, rosemary, and a hint of southwestern seasoning. On the palate the fruit is more towards ripe cherries followed by dried black fruits and a minute amount of black pepper and spice. It is dry with well integrated medium+ tannins, medium+ acidity, moderate+ alcohol, it is highly complex, full bodied with a round mouth feel and it definitely has the deliciousness factor. This wine sells for $24 a bottle at Vin Vino Wine and I have seen it elsewhere for sale between $18 and $25. It was my favorite in the line-up so I bought a bottle which I’ll probably share at a group tasting in the near future.

2010 San Vincente Chianti Classico DOCG

This wine is made from 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot which spent 12 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle prior to release. The San Vincenti estate is the work of Francesco Muzzi and Roberto Pucci. The estate consists of 60 hectares (148 acres) ranging from 350 to 450 meters above sea level located in the municipality of Gaiole, in the heart of the historically most ancient part of Chianti, 30 kilometers from Siena.[5]

This wine is opaque, dark ruby at the core to pink at the rim with a hint of garnet and burnt orange around the edge with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of dried plums, black licorice, burnt rubber tires, old leather and a minute amount of barnyard. On the palate it is dry with chewy medium+ tannins, medium+ acidity and a medium length finish that leaves the sensation of the woodiness of a tongue depressor on your palate. This wine sells for $26 a bottle a bottle at Vin Vino Wine and I have seen it elsewhere for sale between $15 and $27. This lacks any freshness and is a bit too “Old World” for my palate but others may find it intriguing.

[1] Rajat Par and Jordon Mackay, Secrets of the Sommeliers (Ten Speed Press; First Edition edition, 2010), page 29.

[2] http://www.majestic.co.uk/Rosso-di-Montepulciano-zid13074

Monday, April 28, 2014

2005 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Cubillo" Crianza, Rioja

The second and final red wine we sampled in the tasting group on April 13th after the Cabernet Franc from Chinon was a Tempranillo blend from Rioja, Spain.

Tempranillo is a “grid wine” for the Advanced and Master Sommelier levels that was not on the list for the Certified Sommelier exams. The only classic region for this grape is Rioja Spain. There are producers that make wines in a “new world” style and more traditional winemakers who produce wines in a more traditional style. However, this wine only contains 65% Tempranillo so it may not qualify as a testable wine for an exam.

López de Heredia

The López de Heredia family winery was founded in 1877 in Rioja, Spain by Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta.  The winery has an annual production of 41,748 cases of 100% estate grown wine from their 170 hectares (420 acres) of vineyards.

The Vineyard

This wine comes from the López de Heredia family’s Cubillas vineyard, 59 acres of vines averaging 40 years of age, two-thirds of which are tempranillo, the balance planted to garnacha, mazuelo and graciano.

Standard Aging Requirements for Spain

This wine is a Crianza indicating that before it was released it underwent at least 2 years of aging, 6 of which were in wood.

The Grape: Tempranillo

Although this wine is a blend with only 65% Tempranillo I’ll provide a profile for this grape. One of the confusing things about this grape is that it is known by many different names throughout Spain and Portugal.  In Spain it is known as Cencibel (Valdepeñas), Tinto Fino (Ribera del Duero), Tinto del País (Ribera del Duero), Tinta de Toro (Toro), Ull de Llebre/Ojo de Liebre (Catalonia), Jacivera (Manchuela), as well as Tinto Madrid  and Grenache de Logrono (Rioja). In Portugal it is known as Aragonez (Alentejo), Tinto Roriz (Douro Valley) and Tinto de Santiago (Península de Setúbal)

The key indicators that a wine is a Tempranillo that I have experienced are: Cooked strawberries such as from a jar of Smucker’s Strawberry Preserves, a distinctive spice that reminds me of paprika or barbeque potato chips, a rustic earthy-minerality, indicators of American oak such as dill and vanilla and the structure is usually medium to medium+ tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ to high alcohol and a moderate length finish with moderate complexity.

According to the Guild of Sommeliers web site which requires membership to access (http://www.guildsomm.com/), the following is a general description for Tempranillo which is very similar to my own:

Typical Descriptors and Structure for Rioja
(100% Tempranillo or Tempranillo-dominated blend) 

  • Visual: Ruby, Moderate Minus to Moderate Concentration
  • Aromas/Flavors: Moderate Plus Intensity
    • Fruit: Tart/Sweet Red Fruit (Red Cherry, Strawberry, Red Currant), Sour Asian Plum, Dried Plum
    • Significant Oxidation and Brettanomyces for Gran Reserva Styles
    • Floral: Red and Dried Flowers
    • Herbal: Tobacco, Dill
    • Other: Sweet and Sour Sauce, Iodine, Leather, Spice
    • Earth: Moderate to High Minerality, Baked Earth, Clay, Compost
    • Oak: Low to Moderate Use of New American or Mixed American/French Barrels (Long Aging in Oak for Reserva and Gran Reserva Styles), Vanilla, Coconut, Dill, Cumin, Curry, Fenugreek, Sandalwood
  • Structure: Dry, Moderate Plus Body, Moderate Plus Tannin, Moderate to Moderate Plus Acidity, Moderate to Moderate Plus Alcohol

The Wine

The following are my tasting notes of the wine, the descriptors that match my own profile for this grape and/or that of the Guild of Sommeliers are in bold:

The 2005 Lopez de Heredia “Viña Cubillo” Crianza is a blend of 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacho and the remainder is Mazuelo and Graciano. This red wine is ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with medium viscosity. It has moderate intense aromas of dried wild strawberries, cherry vanilla crème, and spice, powered black pepper, and dill. On the palate it has flavors of dried strawberries, rhubarb, sage, dried herbs, barbequed potato chips, paprika, and dried potting soil with obvious notes of vanilla and wood. It has moderate tannins, medium+ alcohol, medium+ acidity, and medium length finish. This wine sells for about $26 per bottle.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

2011 Charles Joguet “Les Petites Roches” Chinon

The first red wine we sampled in the tasting group on April 13th (after the Sancerre, Chablis, Albariño, Pinot Grigio and Riesling) was a Cabernet Franc.

The Grape: Cabernet Franc

It is believed that Cabernet Franc originated in southern France and made its way to the north sometime in the 17th century.  It is one of the parent grapes, along with Sauvignon Blanc, to Cabernet Sauvignon. While Cabernet Franc is known as one of the 6 Bordeaux varietals (where it is also known as Bouchet), it is only a second player to Merlot in any right bank blend. But in the Loire Valley (particularly in the Anjou, Bourgueil, Chinon, and Saumur-Champigny regions) Cabernet Franc is a star player. In Chinon Cabernet Franc is known as “Beurton”- pronounced “bur-tawn” with a slightly rolled “r”. It is also the major red grape in Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil (where it is known locally as Breton) where it produces both red wine and rosé wines (about 2%). It is also an important grape in the Bergerac and Madiran AOCs. Cabernet Franc buds and ripens about two weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon so it tends to fair better in cooler climates and vintages. But is also tends to have more green vegetal notes.

The Region: Chinon

The Chinon AOC is located in the Touraine Region in the heart of the Loire Valley. The vineyards of the region cover the relatively steep banks of the Vienne as well as the less steep slopes running northward from the hills above Chinon to the Loire. The vineyards consist almost entirely of erosional scree and gravels on top of rather hard Turonian limestone. The red and rosé wines (about 2-5% of production) are made from Cabernet Franc with an allowance of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. There is also a small amount of white wine produced from Chenin Blanc.

The Winery: Domaine Charles Joguet

Domaine Charles Joguet was founded by Charles Jogue. Jacques Genet became his partner in 1985 and has been the current owner for over a decade. When they became partners Jacques Genet added to the business a couple of acres of vines on the Monplaisir hillside and the land he owned in Beaumont-en-Véron, where they subsequently planted two dozen acres of Cabernet Franc. They also created a farming company (Société Civile d'Exploitation Agricole, SCEA) in order to further develop the previous efforts of Charles Joguet.

The Wine

The 2011 Charles Joguet “Les Petites Roches” Chinon is an opaque red wine, dark purple at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dark juicy plums, jammy blackberries, cassis, clove, cinnamon, canned black olives, coffee grounds, ash, dried tobacco, tobacco leaves, a touch of roasted green bell pepper, and hints of spice. It is dry with medium to medium+ tannin, medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol and medium+ length finish. This wine retails for about $21 per bottle.

Friday, April 25, 2014

2012 Joh. Jos. Prüm Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett Riesling

The fifth white wine we sampled in the tasting group on April 13th after the Sancerre, Chablis, Albariño, and Pinot Grigio was a Kabinett Riesling.

Riesling is probably one of the most food-friendly varietals and it is definitely a “must have” on any wine menu. Of all the Germany Riesling producers, Joh. Jos. Prüm is definitely one of my favorites. Last month I posted a review of the 2012 Joh. Jos. Prüm Auslese Riesling so in this review I’ll compare and contrast my notes on the two wines.

The History of Joh. Jos. Prüm

The roots of the Prüm family begin with Sebastian Alois Prüm in the village of Wehlen in the year 1156 A.D.. Stadt Wehlen is a town in the Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge district, in Saxony, Germany. It is located on the western edge of Saxon Switzerland, on the right bank of the Elbe, 6 km (3.72 miles) east of Pirna, and 23 km (14.29 miles) southeast of Dresden.

Alois had six sons but only his son Mathais got married, who then had a son named Johann Josef Prüm (1873 - 1944).  In 1911 Johann Josef Prüm founded the family estate winery. Then in 1920, after World War I, Johann’s son Sebastian joined the family business. It was under the leadership of Sebastian that the winery achieved the reputation as a one of the highest quality producers of Riesling in Germany.  In fact, at the 1974 auction his 1949 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese sold for 1,500 Deutsche Marks ($652). In 1969, after Sebastian died, his son Dr. Manfred Prüm followed in his father’s footsteps to continue the family legacy. 

The Joh. Jos. Prüm Estate

Joh. Jos. Prüm’s average annual production is only about 13,000 cases that come from their 13.5 hectare (33.5 acre) estate which consists of nearly 70% ungrafted vines. Some of the vines are in the best parts of the top Middle-Mosel sites such as Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Graacher Domprobst, Bernkasteler Lay, Bernkasteler Badstube, and Bernkasteler Bratenhöfchen. The estate also has holdings in the lesser-known vineyards such as Wehlener Klosterberg, Wehlener Rosenberg, Wehlener Nonnenberg, Bernkasteler Johannisbrünnchen, and Bernkasteler Schlossberg. The vineyards consist of 95% Riesling planted on steeply sloped Devon schist soil. The remaining 5% of the vineyard is planted to Optima in the Wehlener Nonnenberg. Optima is a Riesling and Silvaner cross with Müller-Thurgau created by viticulturalist Peter Morio at the Geilweilerhof Institute for Grape Breeding in the Palatinate in 1930.[1]

The Bernkasteler Badstube Vineyard and the Graacher Himmelreich Vineyard
Joh. Jos. Prüm Vineyard
The Kabinett  Riesling we tasted came from the Bernkasteler Badstube which is the last of the vineyard sites that can appear on a J.J. Prum label. This vineyard borders those of the Graacher Himmelreich on the latter’s southern edge. The Bernkasteler Badstube slopes are on a marginally shallower gradient, with deeper soils than the Graacher and Wehlener, while the western orientation allows the vines longer exposure to the afternoon sun.

The Auslese Riesling in my previous review came from the Graacher Himmelreich vineyard which directly borders the southern edge of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard. The hill faces slightly more westwards than the Wehlener Sonnenuhr and has a more south-west exposure. It is a little less steep and has deeper soils which act as excellent water reservoirs.[2]

The Styles of Qualitätsweinmit Prädikat (QmP)

I have mentioned this before in a previous post, but since we’re comparing a Kabinett  Riesling with an Auslese Riesling it is worth reviewing the 6 Qualitätsweinmit Prädikat (QmP) ripeness categories. They are as follows:

The Styles of Qualitätsweinmit Prädikat (QmP)
This designation applies to wines made from grapes that just qualify for minimum QmP ripeness levels, generally considered a normal harvest for Germany
Literal meaning: “late harvest” (plural form is Spätlesen) is a German wine term for a wine from fully ripe grapes, the lightest of the late harvest wines. Rieslings made in this style will have a little more body, have stone fruit and can be dry or sweeter than Kabinett.
Made from individually selected extra-ripe bunches of grapes. This is also the highest Prädikatswein category that can appear as a dry wine.
Beerenauslese (BA)
Indicates a rare, expensive sweet wine that will have been made from individually selected extra-ripe bunches of grapes, preferably with acids and flavors enhanced by the effects of noble rot.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA)
Literal meaning “dried berries selection,” produced in minute quantities, in only the finest vintages from individual grapes that have shriveled to tiny raisins. After fermentation, they rarely have higher than 8% abv.
Literally “ice wine”, made from grapes that have been left on the vine until the weather is cold enough to freeze them, below - 8°C.

The Wine – Kabinett vs. Auslese

The 2012 Joh. Jos. Prüm Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett Riesling is a clear white wine, straw in color with green tints, with low concentration and moderate low viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of aromas white apples, lemon-lime, white peach and a distinctive note of flint. It also had some sulfur aromas which dissipated with aeration. On the palate it has intense flavors of orange juice concentrate, pears, minor notes of honey, and black tea. It is off-dry with high mouthwatering acidity, medium- body, low alcohol and a medium+ length finish.

Last month I posted a review of the 2012 Joh. Jos. Prüm  Graacher Himmelreich, Auslese Riesling. These two wines are of the same vintage from the same producer so it is worth noting the differences that the ripeness of the grapes coming from two difference vineyards (Bernkasteler Badstube vs. Graacher Himmelreich) makes in these two wines.

The 2012 Joh. Jos. Prüm  Graacher Himmelreich, Auslese Riesling is a clear white wine, lemon / light straw in color, low intensity with a watery meniscus, and low viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas golden apples, lemon-lime, lemon blossoms, melon and a touch of honey. On the palate it is off-dry with mouthwatering medium+ acidity, it is medium bodied with a very long finish. It retails for about $33 per bottle.

The primary differences are: First, the Kabinett had the presence of sulphur aromas that dissipated with aeration which I have found to be more common in Rieslings from less ripe grapes. Second, the fruit of the Auslese is riper and more pronounced. Third, and this is the most obvious, the Auslese has a little more alcohol and body. Other than that, both wines were had similar types of fruit and honey notes in their profile and they were both off-dry, high in acidity and had a lengthy finish. While I wouldn’t argue that one was of a higher quality than the other, I did prefer the Auslese.

[1] http://www.germanwine.net/estates/pruemjj/pruemjj.htm

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2012 Ermacora Pinot Grigio, Colli Orientaili Del Fruili, Italy

The fourth white wine we sampled on April 13th in the tasting group after the Sancerre, Chablis, Grüner Veltliner, and Albariño was a Pinot Grigio from Italy.

The Ermacora Winery


The Ermacora winery is a family business. In 1922 the first vines of Ermacora were planted on the hilly land of Ipplis in the northeastern corner of Italy in the Denominazione di origine Controllata (D.O.C.) Colli Orientali of Friuli, not far from the Slovenian border. The soil consists of calcareous clay, marlstone and sandstone. The grapes are harvested by hand and they use traditional vinification methods.

The name Ermacora has roots in the history of the ancient Romans. Ermacora was in fact the name of the first bishop of Aquileia, who lived around the middle of the third century and it was the Romans who constructed the historical bridge on the Natisone River, along the antiquated route that still today leads to Ipplis. It is in this village of Lombard origin that Dario and Luciano Ermacora operate their winery.[1]

The Grape

Pinot Grigio is the same grape as Pinot Gris (Alsace) and Grauburgunder (Germany) and yet I have found that if you were to taste these side-by-side they would seem more like distant cousins. The climate, soils and styles of winemaking of these regions are too dissimilar which is reflected in the wine.

One of the most helpful resources for studying wine and preparing for exams is the web site of the Guild of Sommeliers (www.guildsomm.com) which provides useful maps, study guides and typical profiles for the most well-known grape varieties that may appear on a Sommelier exam. One way of studying wine is to write your own notes for a wine and then compare them to the profile provided on the web site. While nobody can tell you what you smell and taste in a wine as such perceptions are very subjective, there are characteristics that are commonly found in wines. According to the Guild the following is a typical profile for an Italian Pinot Grigio:

Typical Descriptors and Structure for Italian Pinot Grigio
(basic commercial examples) 

  • Visual: Pale Straw with Hints of Green (possibly with slight copper and pink tones), Moderate Concentration
  • Aromas/Flavors: Moderate Intensity
    • Fruit: Citrus (Lemon), Tree Fruit (Red and Yellow Apple), Creamy Stone Fruit (White Peach, Nectarine), Melon
    • Floral: White and Yellow Flowers
    • Herbal: Watercress/Arugula
    • Other: Peanut Shell, Lager Yeast/Stale Beer
    • Earth: Moderate to Moderate Plus Minerality, Stone/Chalk, Ashen Notes, Saline
    • Oak: None
  • Structure: Dry, Moderate Body, Moderate Plus Acidity, Moderate Alcohol, Slight Phenolic Bitterness

The Wine

Now compare the above descriptors with my tasting notes and see how many show up in the wine’s profile (indicated in bold):

The 2012 Ermacora Colli Orientaili Del Fruili Pinot Grigio is a clear white wine, straw-lemon in color with moderate concentration and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has subtle aromas of lemon pith, blanched almonds, peach skins, dried white flowers, and a very distinctive waft of peanut shell. On the palate is quite different with flavors of bitter oranges, creamy stone fruits, cantaloupe, lemon tart candies, and a hint of chalk with no signs of oak. It is dry with medium+ acidity, medium body and moderate length bitter finish of persistent bitter oranges.

The key indicators in my mind that this wine was a typical example of an Italian Pinot Grigio are the stone fruits (peach, peach skins), the peanut shell, and the bitter notes, particularly in the finish. Many of the other descriptors are also found in other white wines.

[1] http://www.simplywinesdirect.com/productcart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=7287