Thursday, July 22, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Slavonian Graševina with Krauthaker Winery

In a previous Grape Spotlight, we highlighted Hungarian Somlo Olaszrizling, a synonym of Welschriesling.  In reality, Welschriesling should be known as a synonym of Grasevina since the grape is most likely indigenous to Croatia and specifically Slavonia. "Welsch" translates to "foreign" eliminating Germany as the source and since the grape is rare in Italy, the Riesling Italico or the Italian Reisling translation from the Hungarian Olaszrizling could be just a mistaken identity during the Austrian-Hungarian empire. 

Graševina accounts for the largest percentage of wine production in Croatia at approximately 25% with over 8,000 hectares of planted vineyards.  The grape prefers moister environments with early warming vineyards and soils since it requires a long growing season. However, even in warmer climates, the grape is able to retain its acidity. 

In many cases, Graševina wines can be rather pedestrian (light and neutral), but in the best instances, distinct micro-climates allow for the development of complex expressions. That is the case in the cool yet sunny climate of Slavonia -- Croatia's breadbasket. This region encompasses Croatia's section of the Pannonian Basin and is bordered by the Danube, Drava, and Sava rivers.  The close proximity of these three rivers and the presence of the Krndija Mountain creates a microclimate that is particularly suitable for grape cultivation and especially for Graševina. "Požega Valley, as well as slopes of Krndija and Papuk hills, was recognized as a winegrowing land by the Illyrians, while the Cistercians, who arrived in the area at the beginning of the 13th century, founded a wine cellar in Kutjevo in 1232, the oldest wine cellar in Croatia today".  

The Slavonian town Kutjevo is still considered the center of Croatian winemaking and is located at the significant 45.3° North latitude  - shared with other distinguished wine areas such as the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Villány, and in the United States northern Michigan and Oregon. 

Krauthaker Vineyards and Winery is situated in the Kutjevo winegrowing region on the southern slopes of the Krndija Mountain. The winery cultivates grapes in several vineyard sites usually consisting of sandy and loamy soils atop sediment rocks. One such site is the Podgorje Kutjevo vineyard which is the source for their excellent Krauthaker 2019 Slavonija Graševina ($23) that I purchased through Croatian Premium Wine Imports. This wine is as far from pedestrian as you can get, full-bodied and floral with bright stone fruits and apples, finishing with refreshing acidity. It was consumed quite quickly among our family. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Famille Naud -- Cognac's Gin, Vodka, & Rum Distillery

In 1989 Jean-Michel Naud established the Distillerie de la Tour and the Famille Naud brand based out of a family distillery that had been repurposed from an old grain mill in 1923. This was the historic Cognac Distillerie Perrier located on the island of Pinthiers where Emile Perrier had crafted original liqueurs for decades. Famille Naud was able to resuscitate five very old traditional 2,500 liter Charente stills to produce a range of Cognacs and soon after to expand to become the first vodka distillery in Charentes. 

A recent Hopwine expo displayed the extent of more expansion as the kit included three cognacs (VS, VSOP & XO), a French still vodka, a distilled Gin, a 15-year-old Ron de Panama, and two Spiced Rum Hidden Loots. It also included two Pineau des Charentes - the special fortified wines of Cognac. All of these products were interesting, well crafted, and excellent representatives of their respective types. 

Cognac NAUD VSOP France - Charente-Maritime 
NAUD VSOP cognac is a blend of Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Petite Champagne (30%) that is double distilled in traditional small copper pot stills over direct flames then aged for a minimum of 4 years in oak barrels. Before bottling, older Eaux-de-vie (10 to 15 years old) are added to the cognac to add complexity and length.   Expect dried fruit and baking spices on the nose with vanilla and orange added to the palate. 

Cognac NAUD VS France - Charente-Maritime 
NAUD VS cognac is made with a blend of two crus: Bon Bois and Petite Champagne (10%). The latter is aged in new oak casks which convey finesse and structure to the cognac. The Bons Bois imparts notes which are fruity (peach, pear) and floral (vine flower). The Eaux-de-vie is double distilled in traditional small copper pot stills and is aged separately, for a minimum of 2 years in small oak casks of 350 and 400L. The cognac is then aged a third year in larger casks in order to harmonize the flavors. Expect a more toasted profile with honey, vanilla, and peaches.

Cognac NAUD XO France - Charente-Maritime
The NAUD XO cognac is made with a blend of Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne and Fins Bois. Grande Champagne is the most prestigious cru in the Cognac region and is noted for the limestone where the vines are planted. This "conveys an incredible palette of flavors to NAUD XO cognac, where one can perceive the famous note of 'Rancio' (walnut, forest) so typical of extra old Cognacs".  The youngest Eaux-de-vie within the NAUD XO cognac has been aged between 10 and 12 years. Older Eaux-de-vie (35 to 40 years old) is added before bottling to add even more complexity. Earthy, yet smooth with candied orange and baking spices, tobacco, and leather. 

French Vodka NAUD France - Charente-Maritime 
The NAUD Vodka is produced by fermenting French winter wheat that was grown northeast of Paris which is then distilled five times in a column still and then a sixth time in a typical Charentais copper pot still.  Before bottling it is cut to proof using estate spring water that was naturally filtered through limestone grounds. The result is a deeply textured and incredible smooth vodka with no burn. 

Distilled Gin NAUD France - Charente-Maritime
The NAUD Distilled Gin is produced using 12 botanicals which are first infused into the mash for 7-10 days and then distilled in a “vapor bain-marie” in small traditional copper pots stills.  This is a complex gin, exploding with citrus, floral elements, tea, and spices before the juniper finally arrives at the finish. 

Ron Naud Panamá 15 y.o Panama - Arco Seco
This Extra Old Rum is the result of a collaboration between Panamanian and Charentais Master Distillers united by Pierre Naud. The sugar cane was grown on the Peninsula de Azuero (Arco Seco), distilled, and then aged in American oak casks.  A very complex rum with sweet honey, nuts, and vanilla.  

Spiced Rum - Hidden Loot Original Panama - Arco Seco
This rum starts is distilled from molasses where the sugar cane was harvested from the Arco Seco region of Panama and then aged in Bourbon casks. Vanilla and sweet bananas are dominant with some honeyed nuts. 

Spiced Rum - Hidden Loot Dark Reserve Panama - Arco Seco
This rum starts as a 2-year-old rum distilled from molasses in a column still where the sugar cane was harvested from the Arco Seco region of Panama. Then ten fruits and spices are added such as both sweet and bitter orange, coconut, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and bird chili pepper. The oranges are most prevalent followed by some toasted coconut and vanilla. 

Pineau des Charentes - Reserve Or France - Charente-Maritime
Pinthiers Pineau des Charentes pays tribute to the distillery's ancestor, Emile Perrier, and is a 5 year cask aged blend of Cognac and grape juice ( Ugni blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon). This is an amazing fortified wine, dense with a floral nose, dried apricots, honey, candied fruits and nuts, and some baking spices. 

Pineau des Charentes - Reserve Rubis France - Charente-Maritime
Pinthiers Pineau des Charentes pays tribute to the distillery's ancestor, Emile Perrier, and is a 5-year cask-aged blend of Cognac and grape juice ( Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon). Another wonderful fortified wine marrying flavors of black fruit and cocoa with nuts and dried fruits. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Grape Spotlight: Croatian Međimurje Pušipel (Furmint)

"The first records of Pušipel originate from the first half of the 19th century when it was mentioned in the vineyards in the village Dragoslavec Breg. However, after that, the name Pušipel disappeared because it was produced under the name Šipon or Moslavac. This grape variety is also known as the Furmint in Hungary and Mosler in Austria and Germany." -  Wine & more


Continental Croatia is home to several small wine regions with Zagorje and Međimurje bordering Slovenia to the west and very close to Hungary to the north. Međimurje lies between the Drava and Mura rivers and is where the first gentle slopes of the Alps begin. The region has a typical continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers as well as a fairly high level of humidity. That being said, these northwestern regions are the coldest in Kontinentalna Hrvatska and are known for more aromatic grape varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muškat, and Rhine Riesling. But Međimurje is best known for one variety: Pušipel otherwise known as Furmint in Hungary with other synonyms being Mosler, Sipon, Moslovac, and Zapfner. 

The Furmint grape is best known in Tokaj, Hungary where its late-ripening character makes it susceptible to botrytis and leads to the exceptional blended Tokaji Aszú sweet wines. Yet the grape can also be vinified into dry, single-varietal, and minerally driven wines such as Hungary's Somlo region and richer more elegant wines in Croatia's Međimurje.  

Pušipel accounts for half of all vineyard plantings in Međimurje which lead the society of Međimurje wine-makers, "HortusCroatiae", to designate it as the region's signature grape. In this regard, the society devised a unique bottle for all Međimurje Pušipel to ensure the further branding of Pušipel wine. 

For consumers in the United States, Croatian Premium Wine Imports provides access to three dry Međimurje Pušipel wines described below. 

2018 Jakopić Pušipel Classic ($25)
This Jakopić wine pedigree began in 1908 when great-grandfather Philip produced his first wines. This had lead to three generations of winemakers within their estate in Železna Gora, Međimurje. Their Pušipel vines were planted 45 years ago in sand and clay soils. This results in a wine that starts with an earthy apple and pear nose that continues into the full mouthfeel with a little lime. And expect a long satisfying finish. 

2019 Stampar Pušipel Classic ($25)
In 1928, Bolfenk Štampar marries into the family of winemaker Andraš Novak and acquires the estate and cellar that would become Vinarija Štampar. Forty years later, his successor Franjo Štampar plants Pušipel on the Krpec hill - an area of steep inclines dominated by clay with occasional marl, sediment, sparse layers of sandstone, and thin layers of black soil.  These plantings expanded with the purchase of the terraced plots on Mađerkin hill. Today, the winery is operated by the 4th generation of Štampars with the Pušipel Classic a showcase wine. It starts with a pleasant herbal, citrus, and floral nose which leads to a well-rounded mouthfeel of citrus and stone fruits. The acidity is sufficient to lift the finish but not overwhelm the palate. 

2017 Dvanajščak-Kozol Pušipel Prestige ($39)
Vina DK - Dvanajščak Kozol is a family-run operation that cultivates 10 hectares of vineyards below Mohokos (344 m above sea level) and the highest and sunniest part of Međimurje. These vineyards were initially planted in the early 1990s and include the first Pinot Noir cultivated in Međimurje. The winery is run by Viktor and Rajka Dvanajščak (both sommeliers) plus their children Tea (the youngest person to pass the sommelier exam in Croatia at 16 years old) and Viktor (a former med student). This wine has a deeper bright pear and apple profile with a full mouthfeel, depth, and suitable acidity.  An excellent wine.

Disclosure: We received samples from Croatian Premium Wine Imports in order to share our opinion about their products, but this isn’t a sponsored post.

Monday, July 5, 2021

For the Love of Bourgogne Aligoté

Having long played a second fiddle to Chardonnay, Bourgogne’s other white grape, Aligoté, is finally getting its due! As winemakers and growers help realize its potential by giving it more attention and care in the vineyard and cellar, the spectrum of styles available of this incredibly terroir-expressive wine grows wider: Bourgogne Aligoté brims with mouthwatering acidity and salinity as well as a nose driven by green apple, peach, lemon, and white flowers, yielding expressions that can range from light and refreshing to rich and age-worthy.

Although the Aligoté grape represents less than 6 percent of Bourgogne's total vineyard planting, it has a long history in the region. It has been grown in Bourgogne since the 17th century and furthermore, the Bourgogne Aligoté appellation was created 84 years ago this July (1937).  The appellation is a regional AOC, which means that the wines can be produced throughout the Bourgogne region. However, it most prolific within the Côte Chalonnaise -- in the heart of Bourgogne -- and in particular in Bouzeron, in the northern Côte Chalonnaise. 

DNA profiling shows that Aligoté is a member of the wider Pinot family, the same as with Chardonnay. It is an early-ripening variety, is more frost-resistant than its more renowned cousins, and thus planted in cooler sites. Bourgogne Aligoté wines are generally made in stainless steel and are crisp and fresh in style, with relatively high acidity, even after undergoing complete malolactic fermentation. 

During a recent For the Love of Bourgogne Aligoté Twitter tasting hosted by Christy Canterbury, we received and reviewed four Bourgogne Aligoté wines that revealed the floral, citrus, mineral, and refreshing characters of these wines. These wines also offer great value and carry an unexpected weightiness and depth. 

Bourgogne Aligoté Buissonnier Vignerons de Buxy ($19)
Their parcels of Bourgogne Aligoté are located mainly between Buxy and Saint-Gengoux-le-National (Bouzeron) with the grapes planted in calcareous soil covered with scree and rock. The wine is made entirely in stainless steel vats allowing the grape's characters to shine. This wine has a traditional Bourgogne Aligoté profile: white stone fruit, some citrus, real butter, minerality and excellent acids. 

Bourgogne Aligoté Olivier Leflaive 2018 ($27)
The grapes for this wine were also grown in calcareous clay within Puligny and Corpeau in the Côte-d'Or, and not in the Côte Chalonnaise, and using biodynamic methods. The wine was aged primarily in stainless steel with 15% in oak. This helps develop a delicious buttery texture aligning with minerality, soft tropical fruit, and refreshing acids.

Bourgogne Aligoté Marcel Giraudon 2019 ($22)
This wine is another example of the broader Bourgogne Aligoté AOC as the estate is located in Chitry-Le-Fort - near the town of Chablis and part of the Auxerre district. The Giraudon family has been farming and making wine in Chitry for centuries, and the current proprietor, Marcel Giraudon, follows very traditional methods in his work. Their vineyards are on hillsides of Kimmeridgian chalky marl as one finds in Grand Cru Chablis.  This wine was fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel and starts with a light grassy hay and citrus aroma. This then leads to a full mouthfeel, lemons and peaches, creamy texture, and refreshing acidity. 

Bourgogne Aligoté Domaine Chevrot 2019 ($22)
This estate is located in the village of Cheilly-lès-Maranges in the Côte du Nuit, just north of Côte Chalonnaise. Some of the vines were planted 75 years ago, with an average age of 30 years, in limestone soils. The Domaine itself was established in 1830 with the current family generation opting for organic farming in 2008. This is another all stainless steel wine - although with approximately 13 months aging in the vats. It is a fantastic wine with a tropical nose and a creamy, saline, wet rock interior.