Monday, November 12, 2018

Santa Cristina and the Italian IGT

Most of Italy's wines are labeled DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) or DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), classifications that set rules governing concerning the viticultural zone, permitted grape varieties, wine styles, and more. Barolo DOCG, Chianti Classico DOCG, Prosecco DOC, and Soave DOC are popular examples of each.

However, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status, not because they were of poor quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. One example is the Super-Tuscans -- Sangiovese blended with international grape varieties. Thus in 1992 the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was created -- granting winemakers more freedom to create unique blends. IGT wines are only required to state the vintage, region of origin, and producer name on the label and be made from at least 85% grapes from the region.

Santa Cristina is one establishment that utilizes this classification by creating several Toscana IGT wines. The winery is located in the small historic town of Cortona and in 1946 Niccolò Antinori released their first vintage -- a Chianti Classico. However, with the passage of the 1984 DOCG laws requiring lower vineyard yields, Chianti Classico grapes became so complex and rich that they required more aging than what this fruity, fresh wine should have. In 1987, the winery stopped using the Chianti Classico designation and in 1994 adopted the IGT classification by adding Merlot to soften their signature red wine. This wine has evolved into the Santa Cristina Rosso Toscana IGT and I recently received a sample accompanied by two other Santa Cristina wines. In general, they provide immense quality at a noticeably reasonable price point. Cheers.

Santa Cristina Rosso, Toscana IGT 2016 ($13)
The Rosso not only incorporates Sangiovese and Merlot, but also Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Each of these grape varieties were fermented separately  , then blended and aged partly in oak and stainless steel. The result is a dry, but fruity wine - very food friendly -  with juicy and savory texture finishing with moderate and lasting tannins. Give me a burger or pizza.

Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato, Toscana IGT 2017 ($14)
Santa Cristina was one of the first Italian wineries to release a rosé wine and is named after the cypress trees which reside in the Tuscan landscape. This wine is predominately Sangiovese and offers soft red apples and strawberries followed by a long and fresh finish. Nicely done.

Santa Cristina Pinot Grigio, delle Venezie DOC 2017 ($13)
In the past this would have been referred to as an IGT delle Venezie wine but in 2017 the delle Venezie DOC was created that covers the Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Veneto regions. Seven out of ten delle Venezie wines are Pinot Grigio and this grape variety is required to be 85% of the bottled wine. This is another soft wine, with citrus and green apples dominating the palate with a velvety texture and lasting tail. A great example of delle Venezie Pinot Grigio.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Dave Pickerell and George Washington Rye Whiskey

Last weekend I had my first opportunity to taste the Limited Edition George Washington Rye Whiskey ($185) distilled directly onsite at Mount Vernon at George Washington's Distillery® and Gristmill. The distillery is a fully functional reconstruction of our First President's distillery which in 1799 was one of the largest whiskey distilleries in America. At that time six distiller slaves operated five copper pot stills continuously throughout the year. In 1799, Washington’s Distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey, valued at $7,500 (approximately $120,000 today) while the average Virginia distillery produced about 650 gallons of whiskey per year which was valued at about $460.

The whiskey I sampled is based on a recipe used by Washington and his farm manager, James Anderson, and was crafted by Master Distiller David Pickerell using original methods available at that time. The spirit was double distilled using a mash of 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley. For an un-aged spirit it possesses plenty of weight with slight spice and sweetness that burns off slowly. Sadly and unbeknownst to me, Pickerell had passed away a few days earlier at the age of 70. Terrible news and the Whiskey Wash's obituary described how influential Pickerell was to the spirits industry and particularly to American rye whiskey. God bless.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#TempranilloDay and Discovering Rioja in Three Letters with Bodegas LAN

"Rioja is a privileged region for growing grapes and making top-quality wines, with a unique personality and an exceptional aptitude for ageing. The Rioja wine region is located in northern Spain, on both sides of the River Ebro. The local terrain perfectly delimits the region and sets it apart from surrounding territories. From an administrative point of view, however, its 63,593 hectares of vineyards are divided between three provinces on the Upper Ebro - La Rioja (43,885 ha), Alava (12,934 ha) and Navarre (6,774 ha)."....... DOCa Rioja

In 1972 Bodegas LAN was founded and named after the first initials of these three provinces of DOCa Rioja, but with the L representing Logroño - part of the larger La Rioja. Their estate, Viña Lanciano Vineyard, is set on 72 hectares that are nearly surrounded by a meander of the Ebro River. The river also acts as a natural frontier between Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. According to DOCa Rioja, "in Rioja Alavesa there is a significant influence of the Atlantic climate and the soils are chalky-clay situated in terraces and small plots. In Rioja Alta the climate is also mainly Atlantic, while the soils are chalky-clay, ferrous-clay or alluvial. Rioja Baja has a drier, warmer climate, thanks to the Mediterranean influence and the soils are alluvial and ferrous-clay." And as their name suggests, Bodegas LAN either directly controls or sources from vineyards in each of these three regions.

The winery is also known for their pioneering approach to vinification and oak treatment using the highest-quality oak barrels. These casks are crafted by the world’s best coopers – including French, American, Russian and hybrids.  LAN manages each tank individually - based on the destination it has been assigned. Malolactic fermentation is undertaken in new barrels and in the ageing process, LAN "re-instills our identity onto each wine separately with the use of different kinds of oak as well as with hybrid barrels, a type of cask pioneered by the winery". French Oak
Sourced from various forests in central France (Allier, Tronçais, Jupille…) its characteristic aromas are soft vanilla, clove and chocolate.

American Oak
Coming from Ohio and Missouri, its aromas remind of cocoa and aromatic herbs.

Russian Oak
From the Caucasus and the Adyghe Republic, this type of oak has less fragrance and is more respectful to the wine.

Hybrid Barrels
As pioneers in the use of hybrid barrels, made with American oak staves and French oak heads, their use lend our wines a unique personality.

We recently received two samples to illustrate Bodegas LAN's winemaking process in time for #TempranilloDay. On Thursday November 8th celebrate with a bottle of Tempranillo and follow Twitter #BodegasLAN and #RiojainThreeLetters conversations to learn more about LAN and Rioja. Cheers.

LAN 2015 D-12 ($20)
This wine is a blend of 98% Tempranillo and 2% Mazuelo hand harvested from two plots in the town of Haro (Rioja Alta) and two plots in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa). D-12 is intended to pay homage to the workers of LAN and the name is a reference to “DEPOSIT 12”, the stainless steel tank that each vintage holds those wines that according to LAN winery personnel have the most outstanding attributes each year.   The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 25º C in order to maintain aromatic potential and maximize color extraction. Micro-oxygenation and maceration in contact with the lees prior to malolactic fermentation in order to balance the tannins and display a silky mouthfeel.  The fermented wine is then rests twelve months in new American and French oak barrels followed by twelve months of rounding in the bottle prior to release.  Even after all the oak treatment this is a juicy fruity wine with patches of black pepper and cocoa. It has a fullness that rounds the finish into a lasting statement.

LAN Gran Reserva 2010 ($25)
This wine is 90% Tempranillo and made from a selection of the best grapes coming from 30 year-old, low yielding bush vines in the Rioja Alta and 10% Mazuelo from their Viña Lanciano vineyard. The grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 30º C. The fermented wine was then aged 24 months in American oak and French oak barrels, followed by a minimum of 36 months in the bottle.  This is one full bodied and luscious wine, commanding intense fruit with baking spices and tobacco-leather.  A completely balanced and delicious wine.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Chablis: Climats by Geography

Like many Medieval towns, Chablis is built upon a waterway, the Serein River, which provides the distinct characteristics based on the river's banks. Vines are planted on the hills overlooking both banks, with the right side receiving the evening sun and the left bank the morning sun. This means the right bank receives more exposure - providing a little more flavor to the Chardonnay grapes.  This was definitely true in past years but recently, with a warming climate, many vines on the left bank have been able to achieve full ripeness.  During a Climats by Geography Twitter tasting sponsored by The Chablis Commission, Christy Canterbury MW presented these facts as well as the history of four wines we sampled.

The Chablis region maintains an Appellation D'Origine Controllee (AOC) system with four classifications: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru. The first two are broader in nature; while the second two consist of specific climats - or micro-terroirs. Our wines were AOC Premier Cru which was created in 1938 and as of 2017 accounted for 14% of Chablis wines. There are 40 Chablis Climats that are Premier Cru with Climat defined as a delimited land parcel with special geological and climatic conditions.

Chablis is a cold grape-growing climate and as Canterbury describes "it is a very continental climate with brutal winters. April can be a stressful time for vignerons when they spend many nights warding away frost in the wines". Chablis is situated in northern Bourgogne, meaning that the region is located closer to Champagne than Côte de Nuits -- and one reason Chardonnay is the preferred grape. The cold climate also provides acidity which is a coveted characteristic of Chablis production.

The second shared character is that the soil is 150 million years old and the Kimmeridgian Limestone is loaded with fossilized oyster shells. This character noticeable amounts of minerals into the wine at times providing a wet stone sensation. And Canterbury noted that these "soils are so distinctive they were quarried to build St. Paul's Cathedral in London".

Right Bank Wines

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Drouhin Vaudon 2014
This excellent wine is fresh and bright with a slight lemon character intertwined with wet stone and velvety texture. The grapes are grown on a historical 18th-century Drouhin Vaudon estate that consists of 38 hectares -- all under organic care.  The name Mont de Milieu (middle mountain) was derived from the hill's former position between the County of Champagne and the Duchy of Bourgogne as documents describe Mont De Milieu as far back as the 13th century. The part of the region that faces the town of Chablis is a bit sunnier while the portion that faces the hamlet of Fleys, in the valley to the east, is cooler. And interestingly Mont de Milieu does not have any sub-Climats or further divisions within its borders -- unlike most Chablis Climats.

La Chablisienne 1er Cru Fourchaume La Chablisienne 2016
The wine is characterized by more wet stone mixed with peaches, creamy velvety texture, and a  lingering finish.  Fourchaume is a region that stretches onto a different hillside, attached to the northern edge of the Grand Cru vineyards.  And a little history from Canterbury, the region was written Fourchaulme in 1540 and most likely comes from “fourche” or fork, referring to a fork in the road or the fork between Vaulorent and  Cote de Fontenay.  This La Chablisienne wine is vinified and aged in both fûts (barrels of 228 liters) & stainless steel for approximately one year. Canterbury noted that it has more “stuffing” to benefit from oak aging.

Left Bank Wines

Chablis Premier Cru Montmain Louis Michel & Fils 2016
This wine provides tropical and lychee characters, is saline driven and completes with velvety depth and controlled acids.  The Michel family has  grown and produced Chablis since 1850. Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel oversees his family estate and one of his signatures is using only stainless steel to vinify and age his wine. According to Canterbury this allows for only the "purest essence of his terroirs".  The family maintains two hectares in Montmains with two parcels in its center, near the Fôrets sub-appellation. Montmains is a large Chablis Climats that i sub-divided into two other two sub-Climats. Unlike Mont de Milieu, which has no shadows from the sun, Montmains vineyards do.

Domaine Denis Race Chablis Premier Cru, Vaillons 2015
This delicious wine has a citrus and peach base to the wet stone, solid acids and lingering tail. Domaine Denis Race is a 4th generation estate with the parcels between two and 65 years old. This wine has bigger fruit as the Vaillons is south-facing and known for its intense sunlight. Spelled Valion in 1429, this Chablis Climats overlooks a little valley or “vallon”. According to our host, this may have been corrupted to Vaillons by way of the old folk who used to call valleys “valsons”.