Dueling Rieslings

Last weekend, I tweaked my drinking homework a little bit. Instead of blind tasting a single bottle, I tasted 2 wines side by side. The idea was to train myself on differences and help calibrate my “sensors”. It’s easier to say that a wine has medium + acidity when you can compare it with a wine that has medium – acidity. I did that sort of thing before, in a much less structured way with a couple of red burgundies.

The wines were both from the same grape, Riesling. One came from Australia and the other one from Germany, both can be found in retail for between $15 and $20. Those are the common points, now we need to taste the difference

The wines :

  • Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley Dry Resling 2014
  • Nahe, Kreuznacher Knonenberg Auslese Riesling 2013

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Appearance

  • Pewsey Vale : clear, medium lemon with legs
  • Nahe : clear, medium lemon with thicker legs

Similar in color and intensity, the Nahe’s higher sugar shows more legs

Nose

  • Pewsey Vale : clean, medium intensity. Notes of citrus (lemon), vegetal, green fruit (pear), white flowers and mineral (rock, with faint petrol notes). The wine is young but developing.
  • Nahe : clean, medium + intensity. Notes of tropical fruit (mango), flowers (elderflower), stone fruit (yellow peach). The wine is developing

First big gap here, with the Nahe showing a very different set of aromas, much riper and exotic compared to the greener, citrusy Pewsey Vale

Palate

  • Pewsey Vale : dry, medium + acidity, medium – alcohol, medium body, medium flavor intensity, medium – finish.
  • Nahe : medium sweet, medium + acidity, medium – alcohol, medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, medium + finish.
  • Pewsey Vale : notes of citrus (lime), mineral (rock, oil), green fruit (apple)
  • Nahe : notes of tropical fruit (pineapple), stone fruit (yellow peach), flowers (elderflower)
Delicious homework

Delicious homework

Conclusion

  • Both wines are good. I would give a slight edge to the Nahe but not enough to move it to very good.
  • Both wines can be drunk now but they have potential for ageing

After doing some research, I think I did ok, one big mistake on the alcohol level however because the Nahe is only at 9% ! That’s definitely a low, not a medium -. The whole exercise was fun, I’ll definitely try it again.

 

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Blind-tasting challenge #2

Here are my tasting notes for a second blind-tasted wine. This time a white, selected, opened, chilled and hidden by a trusty assistant (she had a couple glasses too).

Appearance :

Clarity : clear

Intensity : medium

Colour : lemon

Other Observations : with legs

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Nose :

Condition : clean

Intensity: medium +

Aroma Characteristics : citrus (lemon), white flowers, oak notes (smoke),

Development : Developing

Palate :

Sweetness : dry

Acidity : medium +

Alcohol : medium

Body : medium +

Flavour intensity : medium +

Flavour characteristic : citrus (lemon), oak (smoke, toast), green fruit (green apple)

Finish : medium –

Conclusions :

Quality level : good

Level of readiness : can drink now, potential for ageing

Identity : Chardonnay, oaked, from a moderate to warm climate. I ventured a guess of Australia. I thought about California but I was missing the usual peanut notes.

Price category : mid-priced

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The wine : Au Contraire, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, 2013

Once again, I didn’t disgrace myself too badly. I did misfire on the region : Sonoma California instead of Australia, but I got the variety, the climate and the wine making technique. Encouraging. Also this is a good value wine for $20 or less, very well integrated oak, nice roundness. Have a trusty assistant get you a bottle.

Judgment Day in Paris

What does being a wine nerd mean? Actually, what does being a nerd mean? If we define nerdery, then we can define wine nerdery as being simply the fact of presenting nerdlike attitudes to the subject of wine. The key word in the last sentence is “subject”, a nerd needs a subject to obsess about. Nerdery, at least the way I understand it, is different than passion. Passion is a strong desire, an overwhelming attraction for something whereas nerdery is a consuming desire to learn and know everything about a subject. I goes beyond liking something, there needs to be a thirst (see what I did here) for knowledge and lore, no matter obscure.

And there is a wine lore, undeniably. Actually, there are several wine lores; one could approach the subject matter through geography (the producing regions), science (the fermentation process), botany (grape varieties), law (bottling and labelling regulations)… There is a lot to know, there is a lot to learn, there is a lot to bore your friends with.

Personally, I like history, and there is a history lore of wine. Of course, mostly it consists of trends, underlying tendencies and slow processes rather than seminal events. There are however such events that helped shape the wine world. Once such event, known as the Judgment of Paris seems a good topic to bore you with today.

Judgment of Paris by Rubens

Judgment of Paris by Rubens

First of all, let’s mention the pun aspect. The judgment of Paris is the seminal event that caused the Trojan War, with the Trojan prince Paris finding in favor of Aphrodite against her fellow goddesses. In the wine world, it refers to a blind tasting event, held in Paris, on May 24th 1976, that pitted French wines around their US counterparts.

Eleven judges, nine from France, one from the UK and one American, blind tasted ten red wines and 10 white wines. The reds were all Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated blends, pitting top Bordeaux against top Napa Valley wines. The whites were all Chardonnays, this time pitting Burgundy against the Napa Valley. Remember, the year was 1976, so if you think French people are snobbish about non-French wines now, imagine how it must have been back then. Also, the grades given by the non-French judges were not counted, so the rankings are purely French-based.

tasting

Why did that tasting become a seminal, world changing event then? Well, because the US wines won. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars dominated the red competition and Chateau Montelena won the white wine contest. Just to be thorough and drool a bit here were the line ups for each contest (ranked by result with their final score).

Red wines

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973, Napa Valley (127.5)

Château Mouton-Rothschild 1970 (126)

Château Haut-Brion 1970 (125.5)

Château Montrose 1970 (122)

Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ’Mountain Range’ (Montebello) 1971, Santa Cruz Mts. (105.5)

Château Leoville-Las-Cases 1971 (97)

Mayacamas 1971, Napa Valley/Mayacamas Mts. (89.5)

Clos Du Val 1972, Napa Valley (87.5)

Heitz Cellars ’Martha’s Vineyard’ 1970, Napa Valley/St. Helena (84.5)

Freemark Abbey 1969, Napa Valley/Rutherford (78)

White wines

Chateau Montelena 1973, Napa Valley/Calistoga (132)

Meursault-Charmes 1973, Roulot (126.5)

Chalone Vineyards 1974, Monterey County/Soledad (121)

Spring Mountain 1973, Napa Valley/Spring Mountain (104)

Beaune Clos des Mouches 1973, Joseph Drouhin (101)

Freemark Abbey 1972, Napa Valley/Rutherford (100)

Batard-Montrachet 1973, Ramonet-Prudhon (94)

Puligny-Montrachet 1972, Les Pucelles, Domaine Leflaive (89)

Veedercrest 1972, Napa Valley/Mt. Veeder (88)

David Bruce 1973, Santa Cruz Mts. (42)

Of course this constituted a big surprise, there were controversy, protests, endless discussions about what it really meant. In the end, it did not matter, the result was that American wines were put on the map and I believe it’s a good thing. There is a movie about the event, it’s called Bottleshock and I plan to watch it soon. The question is rather, why did I decide to write about this now?

montelena

Well, it just so happens that last week, I was lucky enough to share a bottle of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay with some friends. It wasn’t the 1973 vintage of course, it was a 2011, which in a way is good because, like the vintage used in the competition, it was 3 years old when drank. It is a fantastic wine, crisp, with aromas ranging from tropical fruits to citrus while still sampling some peach along the way, great balance and acidity. One of the best wines I had all year. The price also doesn’t hurt, you can find it for around $50 which for a “star” wine is a bargain. For instance another wine from the contest, the Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles from Leflaive, will cost you around $200 for a bottle of 2011. I’d rather have the Montelena, thank you! It’s not often you can sample a wine that actually made history, or even just a wine that is famous. Price tends to be prohibitive for these bottles, and it is okay, it makes them even more special. An affordable, historic, great wine is something to celebrate though. This nerd will continue looking for wine knowledge, especially if it’s that tasty.

Unlike any other, COS Rami 2011

Cos Rami, 2011

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 50% Insolia and 50% Grecanico

Price: 35$

Being a wine nerd has its perks, now I know some producers name, and I get very excited when I see one of their wines I never had on a restaurant menu. This past Tuesday I was dining at a reputable Italian restaurant in Harvard Square and I was giddy because I saw earlier that they had a COS wine I never had.

I have reviewed several COS wines this past year, including their Nero d’Avola or their Cerasuolo di Vittoria. All excellent wines but I was particularly impressed by their Pithos Bianco. A white wine that was the most original thing I ever tasted, they used maceration and fermentation in clay amphoraes to bring character to the traditional Sicilian grape varieties. When I saw the other white from COS on the menu, my choice was made.

The two grapes are traditional Sicilian white varieties, Insolia tends to be flavorful but lacks acidity and Grecanico is vibrant and acidic but more neutral. The Rami differs from the Pithos in 2 ways, the Pithos is 100% Grecanico and it has longer skin contacts and use of the clay containers.20140826_201957

Eye: a deep gold

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Citrus fruit with a rocky, mineral backbone, not steely like a Chablis but rather organic, earthy.

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium body, lots of aromas to taste, I get walnuts, a bit of citrus fruit, some flowers (I read someone describe it as “pot-pourri”). There definitely is some minerality under the fresh aromas. The body is nice, compact while not being underwhelming.

COS never disappoints. The Rami is a little less original than the Pithos, it’s not as marine and salty but it remains a UFO of a white wine. You don’t expect the color, you don’t expect the taste, you just have to enjoy them. I’d say it’s the missing link between the Pithos and a more normal white wine.

Food pairings: It’s an original wine so you can be creative with the pairings. I’m not sure fish would be the ideal candidate, I would recommend veal actually.

Overall opinion: In one word: Awesome. In more words: COS does Sicilian wines well. I encourage you to try their wines. Their reds are excellent but their whites are original on top of being top notch. Try this wine, I’m sure you never had anything like it.

Grade: 9/10

Rose and whites, it’s summer after all

Now that I am back to a more regular posting and drinking schedule, my weekend tasting nights have picked up again. As the picture below will show, life was good. Here is the lineup from that evening.

soiree rose

Philippe Tessier, Cheverny 2013

I am not normally a rose fan but I had a good feeling about that Loire Valley offering. Cheverny is an appellation that produces red, white and rose wines. The rose is made from Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes. It had a nice salmon color with some almost orange tinges. Red fruit notes with a bit of underlying spice, a very refreshing combination, perfect for summer, BBQ, appetizers… It is also quite cheap, you can find it for $10 or so. Stock up before summer ends!

Cheverny tessier

Arianna Occhipinti, Tami Grillo 2010

Ah, Arianna… I like many of her or her uncle’s wines, Tami is her affordable, varietal wine line. Grillo is mostly known for being used in Marsala but is beginning to be used as a varietal. Things got interesting because Grillo is supposed to be fresh, simple, meant to be drank young, but we actually drank a bottle of 2010, the wine had aged and it was not a bad thing. A lot of oxidation notes gave it a unique character, it should have gone terribly wrong, but it didn’t. Now I need to get a bottle of a more recent vintage to try it the way it’s supposed to be drank. This one is also pretty cheap, around $15 I believe

Tami Grillo

Badenhorst Family Vines, Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2013

Finally, the most classic South African Chenin Blanc ever. Clean, crisp, acidic, a very good example of what Springbok Chenin Blanc is supposed to be with lots of citrus notes and white peach. A very solid selection, especially for the price: $15

Copy of Secateurs Chenin 2009

And for the swing and a miss of the night, we had that bottle of Fume Blanc 2011 from Grgich Estate. It was by far the most expensive and acclaimed bottle of the evening, it was supposed to rock, and it was corked.

The sad part is that you could still get the awesome aromas behind the cork taste, but, I guess it was finally not to be. Well, the other wines provided plenty of material and a lot of enjoyment. The evening was a success.

First night of summer, Orsolani Erbaluce

Orsolani, La Rustia, Erbaluce di Caluso 2012

Region: Piedmonte, Italy

Grape: Erbaluce

Price: $18

I have been living in the US for the better part of 3 years now and I still hadn’t visited the nation’s capital. That oversight has been corrected last weekend as I flew down to DC to visit a friend. We sat down on the terrace of an Arlington restaurant of a warm Friday night and ordered a bottle of Erbaluce to ease the catching up process.

Erbaluce grapes

Erbaluce grapes

Erbaluce is a white grape from Piedmonte in Northern Italy. It can be used to make sweet, dry or spumante (sparkling) white wines. The sweet passito from Erbaluce grapes is apparently well rated. There is a dedicated wine region appellation for those wines, Erbaluce di Caluso. DOCG is the higher tier of Italian appellations (one step up from DOC). The grape and the appellation have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since the 1990’s but as far as I know, the grape isn’t widely used outside of Piedmonte. The wines tend to be well received though, and they are becoming trendier. I definitely see more restaurants carrying them than before.

orsolani Erbaluce

Eye: Pale lemon with strong hints of green

Nose: Clean, medium minus intensity, lime, grass and peach notes

Palate: dry, slightly sparkling, medium plus acidity, medium body

The aromas were fairly straightforward at first with white peach and lime in the foreground. The wine is lively with good acidity and a very light sparkling quality, very refreshing on a warm June night. Later on more complex notes come to play, more on the herb/flower side (lavender). The body is on the lighter side which reinforces the refreshing aspect.

Food pairings: I think it’s fairly versatile; we had it with some cheese. It would work well with fish, seafood and chicken.

Overall opinion: Very refreshing with a lot of aromas, a good summer wine

Grade: 7/10

Thai food, Game of Thrones and Riesling

Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was special to me. As you probably know, I self-identify as a nerd and this series, both books and TV show, have been at the top of my love list for a few years. I went through the books like Leo Di Caprio going through fashion models, and, ever since the TV show started, I have been waiting for the adaptation of one particular scene. And they adapted the hell out of that scene last night.

House-Martell

I knew it was happening, the title of the episode left no doubt about that, so last night, I took steps to ensure I would be ready. Thai food, spicy Thai food, and a glass of Riesling were needed, with them I knew I could face what was coming. And see, that’s the thing, I knew it was coming; I read about it years ago, I talked about it, I re-read it, and still I was emotionally invested in it. Part of me is angry at myself for caring about things that are not real, and part of me just wants to applaud what is, ultimately, great storytelling. Storytelling so good it sucks you in when you already know how it ends.

Glass of German Riesling in hand, I watched one of my favorite fictional characters do what he does best. I watched him channel Inigo Montoya, Casanova and Bruce Lee at the same time and I felt like a little kid being able to enjoy something so much. Why do I like Oberyn Martell? He’s everything I’m not; he’s cool, suave, agile, a real ladykiller… He even has a widow’s peak when I just have a plain boring receding hairline, the dude has everything.

One thing I do have though is my glass of Riesling. I’ll stop pestering you with inane thoughts about a TV show and talk about the wine.

Loosen Bros. “Dr L” Riesling, 2013

Region: Mosel, Germany

Grape: 100% Riesling

Price: around $10

Loosen Dr L

Loosen Bros. is a fairly renowned German winery and they specialize in producing Rieslings. The Riesling grape is extremely versatile and can be made in a variety of styles, for instance by varying the level of sweetness. Of course, besides styles, you can also produce Riesling from different areas, vineyards and parcels. Basically you have two whole set of variables to play with.

That explains why, while they focus on the Riesling grape, Loosen Bros can still have a huge list of different wines.

The “Dr L” is their non-vineyard Riesling line; they describe it as “introductory” which I guess is a good way to call it a gateway-Riesling.

Eye: clear, pale lemon

Nose: clean, medium minus intensity, notes of lime, mango and pear

Palate: off-dry, medium plus acidity, medium body, medium length finish

Notes of apple, candied limes and lemons along with something definitely more tropical, like pineapple. The finish is nice with lingering candied citrus notes.

Food pairings: Spicy food (Thai, Indian), rich fish dishes (try saying this fast 5 times), desserts

Overall opinion: good value for money, nice off-dry Riesling with a very aromatic character and nice acidity. If you’re like me and you love Thai food, it’s a great wine to pair with larb salad or basil fried rice.

Grade: 7/10

A Rhone away from Rhone, Treana Marsanne Viognier

Treana Marsanne Viognier 2010

Region: Central Coast, California, USA

Grape: 50% Marsanne, 50% Viognier

Price: around $23

I’m an expat, which means I am from one place, but, presented with the opportunity of living someplace else, I chose to go for it and make a new home. There is another word to describe a person like me, a transplant. Easy transition from my boring little life into the wine blogging part of this wine blog, you can also transplant vines.

I’ve always been curious to see how some varieties, or blends that are typical of an old world region turn out in a different setting. In a way they are like me, expats, transplants, refugees, exiles, except that I actually decided to move, nobody just grabbed me and uprooted me to a strange place. In the case of today’s wine, Marsanne and Viognier are a traditional blend from the Rhone Valley region of France (sometimes involving another variety called Roussanne). Viognier is the aromatic part of the blend with Marsanne providing body, staying power, color and ageing potential. They are used to produce some of the most respected whites from the Rhone Valley, like the Hermitage appellation in the Northern part of the Rhone.

Treana is the name of a range of wines from Hope Family Wines out of Paso Robles, California. The vineyards are located in the Central Coast, a region that is known for the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean on its climate which should help make the climate more similar to the windy northern Rhone Valley.

Treana glass

Eye: Clear, Deep gold, Marsanne is known for giving wines a lot of color

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity, stone fruits (yellow peach, apricot), tropical fruit (passion fruit), white flowers, candied orange peel

Palate: dry, medium-plus body, medium minus acidity, long finish. Notes of yellow peach and apricot along with cloves and a slight mineral quality. Nutty notes from oak on the finish.

This wine has a lot of aromas; it’s very fruity but also has spicy, flowery, mineral and oaky elements which give it a lot of complexity. It’s a wine that makes me think of summer whenever I take a sip, not a lazy summer day but rather a full, busy, fun summer day. Ripe fruits, a rich style, nice body, long finish, there are a lot of things going on.

Food pairings: White meat, shellfish and spicy foods sound like potential matches.

Overall opinion: Complex and rich with a lot of aromas, a good fuller bodied white wine that remains fruity. The wine also has potential to age for a few more years. I think it’s a winner.

Grade : 7/10

Southern France, 1 (big) region, 6 wines

I went to a tasting last Friday that offered various wine from Gerard Bertrand, one of the main producers in Southern France. He’s a bit of a media darling, having graced the cover of Wine Enthusiast under the headline “Southern France’s Leading Man” complete with a picture of him with flowing locks and boyish good looks.

Anyway, he produces a lot of different wines, from a vast collection of vineyards and regions spread around the central part of Southern France, around the cities of Narbonne, Montpellier and Perpignan and his production is structured in ranges, including an organic wine range called Naturalys.

At the tasting I went to we had access to wines in the Terroir (focused on a region), Grand Terroir (focused on smaller, more defined appellations) and Reserve Speciale (variety-based) ranges. Here are my quick impressions

Cremant de Limoux : $12

cremant de limoux

Started off with the sparkling. Cremant is a generic word for French sparkling wines. Usually made with the same techniques than champagne, cremants can be found in various regions: Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant du Jura). This one is made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, it was nice and refreshing, an easy alternative to champagne.

Terroir Picpoul de Pinet : $12

gb picpoul

Made entiterly from the Picpoul variety. I never tried this grape and I ended up finding the wine a little flabby, lacking some acidity to give it structure. Nice pear notes but it remains my least favorite wine of the tasting

Reserve Speciale Viognier : $15

viognier

One of my favorite grapes, very aromatic, lots of white peach, apricot and white flowers, great value for money if you like Viognier.

Reserve Speciale Pinot Noir : $12

GB pinot noir

I always have my doubts about warm climate Pinots, they tend to be overly jammy for my taste, not this one. Apparently the grapes are grown on the highest part of the vineyards where the temperatures are a bit cooler which preserve enough acidity for the wine to function. You still get ripe fruit but not overwhelmingly so, very enjoyable, a twist on regular Pinot Noir that will not make my Burgundian ancestors roll in their graves.

Grand Terroir Pic Saint-Loup : $17

gb pic st loup

I actually wrote a full review of this wine a few months ago. I stand by it, it’s easy to drink and I would still call it a slut of a wine, but I use the term affectionately. It’s a classic GSM wine (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)

Grand Terroir Tautavel : $13

tautavel

This one comes from the appellation Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel. Another solid red wine. Blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. Lots of ripe red fruits with a little bit of spice. Nice body and tannins.

All the wines have decent value for money, except for the Picpoul which I didn’t care for. It seems that Gerard Bertand is focusing quite a bit on the US market so most of these would be available stateside. Gerard Betrand has a lot of different wines, what is listed there is but a small sample. Sound off in the comments if you had some of his other products.

A wise choice : Badger Mountain Riesling

Badger Mountain Riesling, 2013

Badger mountain

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA

Grape: 88% Riesling, 6% Muscat Canelli, 6% Muller-Thurgau

Price: around $12

My last post about the Riesling variety was prompted by the wine I’m writing about today. I had a friend over and I wanted to flex my cooking muscles which resulted in Chicken Grandee and macaroons for dessert. Thus I ended up looking for a wine that could go well with that meal. I started thinking I had two options, either go big and bold with an Aussie Shiraz to try and match the dish, or go fresh and acidic to try and complement it. Unable to reach a decision, I got both and let my date decide. She chose the fresh option, she chose the Riesling. She chose wisely.

choice

This bottle comes from the Columbia Valley, the biggest growing region in Washington State. It is known for having a variety of micro-climates and the ability to produce wines with “European-like” complexity, especially in comparison with the more fruit-forward wines of California. This is the common word, I don’t necessarily agree with that.

Eye: medium lemon

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity, candied apples and tropical fruit

Palate: Off-dry, medium-plus acidity, medium body.

It’s a very refreshing wine with nice acidity. Strangely this wine made me think of apple cider on the nose. Very nice aromas of tropical fruits, like kiwi or mango. It should be noted that this wine is organic and made without any addition of sulfites. Those traits are heavily promoted by the winery so I thought I’d pass them along. I’m not sure how I feel about Organic growing. I’m definitely not against it, I’m just not sure it brings more to the table.

Food pairings: Worked well with the New-Orleans dish I had made: Chicken Grandee, roasted chicken with potatoes, sausage, garlic and peppers with a lot of rosemary. It was fresh enough to stand up to this rather heavy dish.

Overall opinion: Good value for the price, cool looking bottle, easy to drink, good example of a slightly off-dry style of Riesling. I think it’s a winner and a go to bottle if you’re invited to dinner during Spring or Summer.