Monday, October 15, 2018

Nonino Single Varietal Grappa - A Concept Before It's Time

 “We are the only distillery in the world with 66 artisan pot stills for distillation”, Elisabetta Nonino

In the modern environment of craft or artisan distillers, the concept of a single varietal grappa makes perfect sense. Yet, 45 years ago that concept was revolutionary -- in all phases of the production cycle -- from suppliers to producer to the consumer. And that's what Benito and Giannola Nonino faced when in 1973 they introduced the first-ever single variety grappa, Nonino Monovitigno, made from Picolit - an indigenous grape from the distillery's home region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The concept was revolutionary in that suppliers combined the pomace (the post pressed pulpy matter of grape skins, flesh, seeds, and stems) for all grape varieties into the same bins. The combined pomace was then fermented and distilled into grappa. And most winemakers were reluctant to change this process until Giannola recruited the wives to separate the varieties in exchange for higher payments.

On the producer side, this concept involved additional capital and labor expenses. Nonino utilizes separate stills for each varietal so that the initial investment was minimal yet the number of stills directly correlates to the number of single varietal grappas. As their portfolio expanded, so did their capital expenses. Thus today the distillery operates those 66 artisan pot stills mentioned above. And in order to maintain freshness the distillery operates 24 hours a day during harvest so that the pomace from white grapes are fermented and distilled immediately while the already fermented red grape pomace is distilled on arrival. This preserves the inherent characteristics of the original grape variety.


As one can image, the processes that Nonino has adopted has increased the overall quality of the grappa but at a higher retail price point. And consumers have rewarded the distillery such that "in 1984, Benito and Gianolla solidified their status as industry leaders by introducing the world’s first single-vineyard, single-grape distillate produced using whole grape clusters".

Nonino was founded in 1897 by Orazio Nonino in the Friuli region of Italy and has run through six generations as Benito and Giannola passed control over to their three daughters Cristina, Antonella and Elisabetta (the 5th generation).  This month Elisabetta and sixth generation Francesca visited the United States to showcase not only the single varietal grappas but also their popular Amaro and GIOIELLO® honey distillate spirits.

The duo stressed quality as in the artisan nature of the distillery and furthermore, each specific run. In this respect Nonino grappa could be a Certified Craft Spirit™ via the American Distilling Institute (ADI). This is relevant because Italy provides a lax regulatory environment regarding grappa and allows for the industrial production of the spirit -- which widely accounts for the general lack of esteem for grappa. Elisabetta stressed that in order to combat this perception the "distillery independently declared its grappa as 100-percent artisan, and that any products with the Nonino name are produced and bottled at the distillery, made using artisan methods, with no added coloring or caramel".  Here are a few comments on each of the artisan products they presented at out tasting.  Cheers.

Grappa Nonino Picolit Cru ($178.99, 100 proof)
Yes expensive and the highest in abv, this is current iteration of the original Monovitigno released in 1973. It is also made in the ÙE (“Oo-ay”) style being a single cru grappa made through the distillation of premium, single-varietal, single-vineyard pomace of selected Picolit grapes.  There's a slight burn due to the 50% alcohol, which can be alleviated with an ice cube, but the grape flavors quickly dominate the palate.

Grappa Nonino Il Moscato ($71.99, 82 proof)
This grappa is 100% Moscato from Friuli di Aquileia and contains the grape's inherent floral characters.

Grappa Nonino Vendemmia ($44.99, 80 proof)
This is a blend of Pinot, Prosecco and Malvasia grappas that have been individually fermented and distilled. As expected there are multiple sensations produced by this smooth spirit.

Grappa Chardonnay ($71.99, 82 proof)
The Nonino's consider 40% abv as grappa's sweet spot and this delicious version weighs in at that level. It is completely devoid of heat both on the nose and in the palate and includes slight oak characters from mild oak treatment. Excellent.

Grappa Antica Cuvee Reserva ($118.99, 86 proof)
Another blend of single varietal distillates, this time Cabernet, Merlot and the local Schioppettino aged from five to twenty years in Limousin, Nevers and Grésigne oak barriques and in small ex-Sherry barrels. Because of the longer aging process, the warehouses and barrels are under seal and permanent surveillance by the Customs and Monopoly Agency - similar to the U.S. TTB. This grappa is complex with spices and almonds, but so smooth - perfect neat or with a cube

Grappa Vendemmia Riserva ($49.99, 82 proof)
For this spirit the Monovitigno® - single varietal grappa - are aged over 18 months in Limousin and ex-Sherry barriques providing color and oak sensations such as vanilla, chocolate and spices. In this case, the quality-price ratio is exceeding high.

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia® ($54.99, 70 proof)
The recipe for the Amaro dates from  Elisabetta's grandparents and contains a grappa base that was aged in French oak and ex-sherry barrels and then infused with with herbs and other botanicals.  The grappa is a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Moscato, and Malvasia from the Eastern Hills of Friuli.  This is quite the unique spirit, floral and citrus with some caramel and vanilla and just hints of licorice. Hit the cocktail recipes for this one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Discover Sherry with Gonzalez Byass During #InternationalSherryWeek

This week is #InternationalSherryWeek and the best place to start is with Gonzalez Byass. Yes, we received two samples for the week - but over at wine-searcher.com Rachel von Sturmer makes the case for Gonzalez Byass as well.   In brief, Sherry is a fortified wine from the Jerez region of Andalucia in south-west Spain. These wines come in multiple styles from bone-dry fino to sweet Pedro Xomino, Moscaiménez (PX). Dry styles most likely utilize the Palomino  grape whereas sweeter styles are generally comprised of Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria). See the attached in depth overview from the Whiskey Exchange.

The precursor to Gonzalez Byass was established in 1835 when 23 year old Manuel María González Ángel created the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle uncle, José Ángel. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form González Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." Tío Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez.  Besides the flagship Tío Pepe, the company offers several other Sherry wines including the two we received below. Cheers.

Gonzalez Byass Vina AB Amontillado ($24.99)
100% Palomino that after fermentation and fortification to 15.5% abv started in the Tio Pepe solera. During this process the wine gains several unique characters as displayed in the Tio Pepe wines as a layer of yeast known as "flor" forms on the surface of the wine providing character and protiecting the wine from oxygen. After a minimum of four years, the wine is then moved to the Vina AB solera where it remains for another eight years. During this time the flor dies from lack of nutrients and the wine undergoes oxidative aging.  This is a very pleasant wine, with honey nut and figs on the nose, which proceeds to a light bodied by chewy texture and a fresh finale.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado ($24.99)
Also 100% Palomino but fermented and fortified to 18% abv before entering the Leonor solera.  The layer of flor yeast does not form as the alcohol level kills the yeast and thus the wine undergoes complete oxidization.  The wine remains in this condition for 12 years before bottling.  This wine is a home run, sipped during the MLB playoffs, and featuring a nutty maple syrup aroma where the nuts follow into the palate and combine with orange peel and caramel. Just excellent.


Courtesy of the Whiskey Exchange


Sherry production can be split into two primary styles: fino (which is known as manzanilla when made in Sanlúcar de Barrameda), and oloroso, which are both made from the Palomino grape. As a still wine in itself, Palomino produces a light, rather bland style of wine; it’s the second process where the characters and flavours of sherry are brought to life.

When making fino sherry, still wine is fortified with alcohol to 15-15.5% and transferred into sherry butts which typically hold 600 litres. These barrels are filled five-sixths full and a layer of yeast, known as flor, forms on the top, preventing oxygen from getting into contact with the wine. After a minimum of three years’ ageing, it can then be called sherry and it will usually be bottled shortly after this time. By leaving it for longer, the wine will develop a richer, nuttier and more biscuity flavour, however the yeast will usually die after seven to eight years.

For oloroso, still wine is fortified to 17% abv as the yeast flor is unable to survive at this level of alcohol. The wine is once again transferred into butts and left to age oxidatively where it will pick up much flavour. The other striking difference between how oloroso and fino sherry is aged is down to the solera system, which consists of a series of barrels (often layered on top of one another) called the criaderas y solera. The newest wines start at the top criadera and over the years are slowly passed down to the next level and mixed each time with older wines, until they arrive in the final solera from which it will be bottled. With this process, the wines can take many decades to pass through the solera.

STYLES

Fino (manzanilla)

These wines are light bodied, bone dry and low in acidity. Typical aromas and flavours include, almonds, yeast, toast, chamomile, savoury notes, citrus, ripe apple and lemon peel. Manzillas are often regarded as tasting slightly saltier due to them being aged by the sea. Best served chilled.

Amontillado

This style is richer and nuttier than a fino but lighter than an oloroso, and benefits from being served lightly chilled. Typical flavours that you would find in these wines are almonds, dried fruit, woody notes, caramel, orange peel, and burnt marmalade.

Palo Cortado

Often regarded as having the nose of an amontillado and palate of an oloroso, palo cortado tends to be less bitter than amontillado. These wines are typically medium bodied, and dry with flavours of toffee, caramel, dried fruits, raisin, almonds and hazelnuts, with some savoury and leather notes in the older styles. These are best served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Oloroso

These wines are best served at room temperature, although some styles can be delicious slightly chilled. Oloroso is usually full bodied and low in acidity, and although dry, the richness of olorosos can often be misleading. Expect to smell and taste flavours of Christmas cake, dried fruits, orange peel, woody notes, almond, brazil nut, bitter chocolate and toffee.

Pale Cream

Similar to cream sherry, these contain slightly less residual sugar and are therefore not quite as sweet. The base sherry in these tends to be fino or amontillado rather than oloroso, with Moscatel or PX added to provide the sweetness. These tend to have flavours of caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, toffee, dried fruit, grape, almonds, biscuits and yeast.

Cream

The base for these wines is typically oloroso, which then has PX or Moscatel added to create sweetness. The best examples are often blended in their youth and mature for many years before being bottled to create a more balanced wine. These tend to be sweet with flavours of caramel, raisins, burnt sugar, toffee, dried fruit and grapes. Until recently, terms such as sweet amontillado, oloroso dulce and rich oloroso were banned, and these must now be labelled as cream sherry.

Moscatel

Moscatel, also known as Muscat in France, is one of the few wine grapes that actually tastes of grapes. The grapes are usually grown in vineyards to the north of Jerez but the wine must be made in Jerez to be able to use the name ‘sherry’. Moscatel produces a naturally sweet wine which is then fortified. These tend to have lots of floral characters along with honey, grape, blossom, raisin, citrus, caramel and orange peel. These are best served chilled and pair fantastically with fruit-based desserts or sweet pastries.

Pedro Ximénez (PX)

Pedro Ximénez, often referred to as PX, is the grape behind this lusciously sweet style of sherry often containing 300-500g of sugar per litre. These wines typically have flavours of dried fruit, fig, raisin, prune, toffee, caramel, dates, dark chocolate, Christmas cake, citrus peel, candied peel and coffee. PX is best served chilled to balance the high sugar content and pairs well with chocolate, mature and full-bodied cheeses, or even drizzled on vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Bazin's on Church Showcases Santa Barbara's Foxen Winery and Vineyard

This autumn, Dick Doré, co-fonder and co-owner of Foxen Winery and Vineyard, conducted an east coast blitz showcasing their Santa Barbara County Wines at various establishments such as Vienna's excellent restaurant Bazin's on Church. At this tasting event, we were able to chat with Mr. Doré about his wines, the grapes sourced from famed Bien Nacido Vineyards, and the affects f two consecutive years of wildfires and mudslides. Regarding the last topic, tourism is slowly rebounding and the grapes show no affect as he predicts a stellar 2018 harvest.

Bill Wathen and Doré founded Foxen Winery in 1985 using a property purchased by Doré's great-great grandfather, Benjamin Foxen, in 1837. This property and most of the vineyards used by Foxen are located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA which is the most northern of Santa Barbara's six AVA's. This region receives the most rainfall, has sandy to clay soils, and is close to the ocean which provides cooling from winds and fog. Chardonnay dominates Santa Maria for whites; whereas Pinot Noir & Syrah dominate for reds. Here is the Foxen lineup we sampled that night.

2015 Foxen Old Vines Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chenin Blanc ($26)
This vineyard was planted in 1966 by Doré's cousin Buddy Wickenden at lower elevations which block the coastal breezes and provides a warmer micro-climate. For Chenin Blanc this warmth allows the grapes to attain full ripeness producing wines with depth and finesse to complement the inherent acidity. Further complexity is provided by aging the wine seven months in neutral French oak barrels which doesn't overwhelm the creamy melon and stoney flavors.

2016 Foxen Bien Nacido Vineyards Block UU Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay ($34 - Wine Club Exclusive)
As stated above Bien Nacido Vineyard is famed because it is the most widely bottled single vineyard designate wine in the world. That's impressive and Doré related how Foxen has been one of that vineyard's primary customer for years. And this Chardonnay helps explain why. Bien Nacido is composed of very sandy soils such that vines are own-rooted and do not need to be planting using root-stock resistant to the phylloxera louse. In this case the original Block UU was planted in Riesling, but when that grape vine failed to mature as expected Chardonnay was grafted onto the Riesling roots. Quite unique -- both the vineyard management and the resulting wine -- which is barrel fermented and aged on it's lees for eight months. It is a fantastic wine, full of that classic chardonnay flavor with brighter fruit balanced by juicy acids.

2014 Foxen Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($36)
The fruit for this wine are derived from throughout the county but don't discount this wine for its lack of single vineyard or AVA status.  It is medium bodied, but with intense fruit and complexity. Expect leather, smoke, slight black pepper and other spices with medium tannins and decent acidity. A solid wine.

2015 Foxen John Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($52)
The Sta. Rita Hills AVA was established 2001 as a sub-region within the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA and is the closest AVA to the ocean; thus also the coolest within the SYV. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the favored grapes like this one from the John Sebastiano Vineyard -- which is located on the extreme Eastern edge of the AVA. Foxen participated in the original planting and was able to select the grape clones and vineyard blocks prior to planting.  This is a dense wine with raspberries overtaking cherry with spices and abundant acidity.

2014 Foxen Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyards Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($64 - Wine Club Exclusive)
Bien Nacido is known for their Pinot Noir and this wine is terrific. After 17 months in 40% new French oak, it is deep and complex - dark fruit mingles with leather and spices. The power in this wine continues to the tail as the integrated tannins and acids lift to it's conclusion.

2013 Foxen 7200 Vogelzang Vineyard Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Cabernet Sauvignon ($60)
This AVA is the easternmost end of the Santa Ynez Valley and thus is a little warmer than the other SYV appellations. Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon are prevalent here and Vogelzang Vineyard provides the bulk of Foxen's 7200 wine program since 2000. This vineyard witnesses a large diurnal temperature swing - particularly in the summer where the temperature can drop 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. This phenomenon matters as it helps grapes retain acidity. This wine was a complete surprise, my favorite of the tasting as it provides excellent fruit, depth, tannins, texture, chewy tannins and uplifting acids. Certainly wish east coast cabs could reach this level of quality.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Exitus 2016 Vintage Bourbon Barrel-Aged Red Blend

Bourbon barrel-aged beverages have slowly seeped into the wine industry and O’Neill Vintners & Distillers entered the field with the Exitus Wines 2016 Vintage Bourbon Barrel-Aged Red Blend ($17.99). This wine is a majority Zinfandel blend incorporating lesser amounts of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot -- then aged in mature bourbon barrels for three months. The combination of wine and spirits come naturally for this family-owned wine and spirits company as they sourced the bourbon barrels from Kentucky and the grapes from estate vineyards or 15,000 contracted acres throughout California. These grapes are fermented in stainless steel before the barrel aging which helps the wine retain the dense fruit as the barrels add leather, vanilla, and chocolate notes. A side affect of the barrels and perhaps the Zinfandel is a little heat on the nose. And the tail falls slightly flat - but overall a worthy wine. Cheers.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Book Review: Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide

The Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide ($21), written by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack ,reflects many of the features that make their Wine Folly website so popular.  The book utilizes info-graphics and photos to simply yet clearly explain wine topics such as grapes and regions.  The book is most suited for wine novices but also provides easily accessible references for more experienced wine consumers. The book starts with Wine Basics such as how to taste and store wine in addition to how it is made. After a section on Food & Wine Pairings, the book guides readers through dozens of grape varieties and styles of wine -- such as the different categories of sparkling and dessert wine.  This section is quite informative as it includes information on the grape's lineage, tasting profile, serving recommendations, where it grows, and similar grapes. A nice quick and easy reference.


The final section relates to Wine Regions and covers most of the major wine producing countries and sub-regions although lovers of Croatian and regional American wines will be disappointed.  Interestingly (and happily) Hungary was covered and the above photos show the layout used for the regions. The guide provides the major grape varieties and major sub regions within that country displaying the information through info-graphics and maps. A second page suggests wines to explore as well as focuses on the country's signature wine. For Hungary, they've provided appropriate exploration wines by augmenting Tokaji Assu, Furmint, and Egri Bikaver with the lesser known Egri Csillag and Somlo Juhfark.  However, I do quibble with the use of grape names where in the map and Varieties chart they utilize the Croatian term Graševina for the Hungarian Olascsrizling where the broader term is Welschriesling. The Varieties chart also includes the term Blaufränkisch instead of the Hungarian Kékfrankos. Readers may get confused because they will never find a Hungarian wine labeled Blaufränkisch or Graševina - but I understand they intended to utilize a broader term.


Finally, for larger countries with regulations regarding labels and classifications, the book presents a readable guide. Italy is pictured above and the Reading a Label section provides the naming methods and term definitions --  an accessible guide for all levels of consumers. The Wine Classification section is also handy for Italy as the book explains the DOG and DOGC classifications.

The Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide is a worthy collection to any wine library as an easy resource. If readers are expecting more in depth coverage, go elsewhere, but for an accessible and clear introduction to grapes and regions - this book will suffice. Cheers.