Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc with Wairau River Wines

New Zealand's Wairau Valley wine zone provides an extended growing season where the warm days and cool nights allow grapes to develop boisterous acidity balanced with noticeable fruit.  The valley is located in the larger Marlborough region in the northeast section of the South Island and follows the Wairau River from the Spenser Mountains in the west to the Pacific at Cloudy Bay. The Richmond Mountains in the north separate it from the sunny region of Nelson, and the Wither Hills in the south protect the valley from harsh weather systems from the south-east. 

Wairau Valley has a warm, dry climate that is moderated during the growing season by sea breezes from Cloudy Bay. Hot sunshine during the day and cold ocean winds at night extend the ripening period in the grapes, leading to a balance of fruit complexity and acidity. This diurnal temperature variation is essential to the terroir in the Wairau Valley – without it, much of the classic punchiness of the wines made here would be lost. (

Sauvignon Blanc accounts for over three-quarters of New Zealand's wine exports which focus on the fresher styles -- fermenting and storing in stainless steel to retain the grape's naturally high acidity. has an interesting note that "the original plant material for much of the Sauvignon Blanc planted in Marlborough in the 1980s, 90s and today traces its way via Australia and the University of California, Davis. This latter institution sourced their rootstock from Wente Vineyards (the cuttings were taken by the legendary grape breeder, Dr. Harold Olmo, in 1958) who got theirs from a vineyard established in the late 19th Centruy with cuttings from the Sauternes estate, Château d'Yquem".

Wairau River Wines is a Wairau Valley producer located on the eastern side of the valley within the most prolific wine-growing area where the Wairau River meets the Pacific Ocean. The winery was founded in 1978 when Phil and Chris Rose planted their first vineyard. After a decade of contract growing, they established the Wairau River Wines brand in 1991 and currently release ten varietal wines including New Zealand's signature Sauvignon Blanc. Their sons Hamish (viticulturist), Sam (winemaker), Pip (hospitality), and Rose (chef) have assumed the major responsibilities showing that the Rose family implemented a succession plan that is sadly missing for so many family operations. 

I received their Wairau River Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($20.99) in conjunction with a #BackToNature campaign highlighting the confluence of quality wine and heading outdoors.  With the industry-wide adoption of screwcaps, New Zealand wines are at the forefront of enjoying these wines outdoors.  The Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent choice for both indoor and outdoor consumption. The wine starts with tangly grapefruit on the nose that leads to a textured body of stone fruits and finishes with a long, dry, and refreshingly acidic tail.  For a family that likes to hike and fish the wine pairs nicely with freshly caught trout cooked using the Wairau River Solos Stove.  Cheers. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Mosel's Leiwen & Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich Riesling

The previous Grape Spotlight focused on Mosel's Bernkastel district and specifically the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard.  In this post, the focus remains on Bernkastel but specifically on Riesling grown in the Leiwen sub-region. The town of Leiwen is located on the western side of a hairpin in the Mosel river near Trittenheim and far upstream from Bernkastel. As opposed to the south-southwest exposure of the Bernkasteler Doktor, Leiwen vineyards follow the river and can face east, north, or as in the case of the Leiwener Laurentiuslay vineyard, west-southwest. Vineyards facing east are planted on more gradual slopes, whereas vineyards on the northeast-oriented banks and west-southwest are planted on steep slopes. 

Leiwener Laurentiuslay is the farthest upstream of all the Bereich Bernkastel sites rated as Grosse Lage by the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter). "The grey slate soil provides excellent natural water management, balancing good drainage with sufficient water retention for warmer summers. Lizards can be found sunning themselves on the slate in the near-Mediterranean mesoclimate". --

Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich is a German producer utilizing Riesling grown in Leiwener Laurentiuslay and on the similar sunbaked blue devon slate soils of the Köwerich Allemagne vineyard.  Church records show that Nick Köwerich's family has been living in Leiwen since 1548, potentially part of the Riesling Mosel wine tradition that began in 1465.  Both he and his wife Annette are agricultural engineers and apply modern techniques to the traditions Nick learned from his father's vineyard.

Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich Allemagne - Mosel Herr Mosel Köwericher Laurentiuslay - 2020 Riesling
If you seek a dry, minerally driven Riesling, then look no further. Expect bright lemons, racy minerals, a hint of tannins, and a long dry finish.

Weingut Nikolaus Köwerich Allemagne - Mosel Fräulein Mosel Leiwener Laurentiuslay - 2016 Riesling
On the other hand, if you prefer a sweeter, more full-bodied Riesling with similar salinity then Miss Mosel is your wine. There are a plethora of fruit flavors from citrus to stone fruits to green apples -- all combined in a creamy body -- and balanced with sufficient acidity. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Grape Spotlight: Mosel's Bernkasteler Doktor & Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Riesling

Viticulture started in the Mosel in the 2nd century when Romans planted vines on the steep slopes bordering the Mosel River. These slopes can reach 68-75 degrees and adds to the picturous charm of this wine region.  As the river meanders from its confluence with the Rhine River to Germany's border with Luxembourg and France, it passes through famous wine villages along the valley such as Brauneberg, Erden, Graach, Piesport, and Bernkastel. 

Bernkastel is located right on the banks of the Mosel river, between Graach (to the north) and Piesport (to the west). This is the very heart of the Mittelmosel ("middle Mosel") and is arguably Germany's top wine-growing location. The Mosel river forms a hairpin bend here, inside which lies a finger of land dominated by steep, towering, vineyard-lined slopes. -- 

This sub-region shares many characteristics of the larger Mosel region, a long growing season featuring a cool, northern continental climate. Yet there are several factors that facilitate the ripening of grapes. The vineyard slopes optimize the vines' exposure to the sun while simultaneously solar radiation is reflected off the rivers' surface. And the dark slate soil absorbs heat during the day and radiates it back to the vines at night.  The disadvantages of such steep vineyard sites and porous soil are that it requires hand harvesting and in winter, after heavy rain, workers must carry back soil that has run off the vineyards.  

One of Bernkastel's most famous vineyards is Bernkasteler Doktor -- a small (3.25 acre / 1.8ha) plot that directly borders the village of Bernkastel. The Riesling vines are planted on a south-southwest exposure and a steepness between 60 and 70 percent -- providing ideal conditions for all-day sunshine. The vines are also predominantly ungrafted as the grey slate provides protection against phylloxera and average 60 years of age with some over 100 years old.  

Parcels of the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard have belonged to members of the Thanisch family for more than 200 years and the family has a documented winegrower pedigree since 1654. Today Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch is now up to its twelfth generation and is also proud of their female tradition. The name “Wwe. (widow) refers to Katharina Thanisch who was only 30 years old when her husband, Dr. Hugo Thanisch, died. In 1996 Sofia Thanisch became the fourth successive female family to operate the winery and will be succeeded by her daughters, Juliane and Christina. 

The grapes from the Bernkasteler Doktor vineyard are handpicked, slightly squeezed, and then left for 14 hours to macerate before being gently pressed. The wine is then naturally fermented without any addition of cultured yeast or enzymes for a period of four to five months. After fermentation, the wine matures for several more months on the lees in order to gain more stability and complexity. A recent Hopwine salon provided me an opportunity to sample two of their Bernkasteler Doktor wines along with another Bernkastel Riesling.  

Weingut Witwe Dr. H. Thanisch, Erben Müller-Burggraef Allemagne - Mosel Berncasteler Doctor 2020 Riesling
Lots of senses in play here. Petrol, herbaceous, spicy, stone fruit, minerals, and lively acidity.  

Weingut Witwe Dr. H. Thanisch, Erben Müller-Burggraef Allemagne - Mosel Berncasteler Doctor 2020 Riesling Grosses Gewächs (GG)
A beautiful wine, full-bodied and complex with citrus and ripe apples finishing with refreshing acidity. 

Weingut Witwe Dr. H. Thanisch, Erben Müller-Burggraef Allemagne - Mosel Bernkasteler Riesling Kabinett 2020 Riesling Bernkasteler Kabinett
The non-Doctor but still excellent with creamy citrus and stone fruit, racy minerality,  and lively acidity. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

CiderCon 2022 Sessions - Designed for Professionals, Beneficial for Consumers

Although CiderCon 2022 was a conference devoted primarily to cider professionals and members of the American Cider Association, there were plenty of seminars that benefited a layperson like me.  I attended four of these seminars that were at times very complimentary. In the future, the organizers may want to schedule the seminars on a goal-based path so that each builds upon previous sessions. 

400 Years of American Alcohol: Cider, History, Cocktails and More
This session was hosted by mixologist Tiffanie Barriere and over two cocktails using Potter's Craft Cider, she highlighted the history of cider - particularly through the eyes of Black historical figures. These figures included James Madison Ruffin -- an emancipated slave who managed many agricultural projects before and after the Civil War, including the planting and maintenance of Appomattox Plantation’s apple orchards and its cider fruit.  She told the story of Antoine Amedee Peychaud, who "came to New Orleans from the island of San Domingo, the former French colony that is now Haiti. By 1832 he owned an apothecary in the French Quarter where he made his famous bitters ... which was the essential ingredient in the official Sazerac cocktail. Among many bartender guides, Barriere introduced us to Tom Bullock, the famed bartender at the St. Louis Country Club and author of the 1917 bestseller The Ideal Bartender.  According to George Herbert Walker, a club member and both the grandfather and great-grandfather of a chief executive, "I doubt if he has erred in even one of his concoctions."  

Introductory Palate Training
This session was hosted by Darlene Hayes who also oversees the American Cider Association's Certified Cider Professional program. This was a foundational seminar on participants can familiarize themselves and train their palates to individual structural elements within cider.  We sampled a control cider in terms of that cider with different levels of sugar, acids, and tannins.  Worth repeating often. 

A Cider Among the Faults
Nicole Leibon hosted this session on determining which cider was the innocent control cider and which were fatally flawed. The panelists discussed several faults such as Volatile Acidity from Acetic acid (vinegar) and emphasis on Ethyl acetate (nail polish), Diacetyl (overly buttered), and Acetaldehyde (stale bread). 

Top of the Mitten: High Latitude Ciders from Northern Michigan 
Another session hosted by Nicole Leibon and where we finally started tasting retail ciders by exploring Michigan's 45th parallel.  Through two ciders each from Tandem Ciders, Left Foot Charley, and Presque Isle Farm. The beauty of this session is that these producers source the same apple varieties from the same orchards and use different fermenting methods to produce completely different ciders. Some are produced using controlled fermentation whereas others by wild ferments with some creamy and round and others funky and chewy.

Wild, Clean & Free: Harnessing the Beauty of Wild-Fermenting, Without the Flaws
This session hosted by Christine Walter of Bauman's Cider would build upon the previous by continuing the tasting of wild-fermented sparkling cider and Pet-nats.  We started with the delicious Kossah Wild Fermented from Raw Cider, followed by the 2017 Roxbury Russet Pet-nat from Artifact Cider, and finishing with the Sponti 2020 from Sundstrom Cider.  This last is fantastic, a wild fermented cider, aged on lees, and bottled unfiltered. Sparkling apple funk. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Cognac Refresher with Pierre Vallet

The latest Hopwine fair provided a great opportunity to refresh my knowledge of Cognac in terms of geographic location (80 miles or so north of Bordeaux) grapes, crus, and terrior through samples from Pierre Vallet. This is a brand of Famillie Vallet, a six-generation estate founded in 1837 through their primary estate Château Montifaud.  The family farms over 125 hectares in two of the six crus of the cognac area: in Grande and Petite Champagne. The soils in these centrally located regions contain a large proportion of limestone, a soil type favored by the predominate grape variety Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano).  The wine made from Ugni Blanc is characterized by high acidity and low alcohol which has encouraged distillation. This generally occurs twice in copper pot stills with aging protocols using Limousin or Tronçais oak barrels.  Before bottling, the spirit is cut to 40% abv.

The production capability of Chateau Montifaud is controlled by the output of this estate, the Pierre Vallet brand augments their supply of Ugni Blanc from vineyards in the other four Cognac crus: Borderies, Fin Bois, Bon Bois, and Bois Ordinaires. The soils in these crus are similar to the two Champagne crus just a little less chalkiness.  

Cognac regulations define four categories that reflect the time each has spent in the barrel. VS (Very Special) cognacs must contain brandy no younger than two years old; VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) must be at least four years old; XO (Extra Old) must be at least 10 years old; and the newest category, XXO must be at least 14 years old.

During a virtual session tasting through the Pierre Vallet samples, I learned that the two Famillie Vallet brands have unique methods of implementing the Cognac regulations that may date to Pierre Vallet himself -- the son of founder Augustin.  Wine intended for the older Cognacs is distilled with lees providing additional body to the spirit. Younger Cognac is expected to be fresher so the wine for these categories is double-distilled without lees. In either case, the spirit weighs in at 70% and is cut with water between 64 and 68% depending on the cognac's target age. They have learned that cutting too fast introduces a soapy taste so between 60% to 41.5% of the spirit is cut 5% on a designated schedule - three months for younger, 12 months for older. Once reaching 41.5% abv, water that has been aged in barrels is added drop by drop until 40% is reached. This provides a deeper color.

Pierre Vallet Cognac VS
The youngest spirit is three years instead of the mandated two and this is an extremely fresh, floral, and fruity cognac - characterized by a noticeable body.  The local favorite is VS, tonic, and lime. 

Pierre Vallet Cognac VSOP
The youngest spirit is between six and eight years instead of the mandated four, aged in new French casks, and the 5% reduction every three months. Still floral with pear and cinnamon starting to stand out from this more complex cognac. Moving into the sipping cognac territory. 

Pierre Vallet Cognac XO
The youngest spirit is 20 years instead of the mandated 10 years. Dried fruits on the nose followed by an intensity and explosion of flavors. Dry spices like cinnamon and cloves lead to a long finish. This cognac has been aged in mature barrels with a 5% reduction every six months.

Pierre Vallet Cognac XXO
The youngest spirit is 30 years instead of the mandated 14 years and was aged in mature barrels with the 5% reduction every 12 months. Aromas of vanilla and licorice with prune and other dried fruits on the palate. Think of finesse throughout the extended finish.