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One of my favorite bistro restaurants in New York City is Le Philosophe, which offers a delicious, reasonably-priced blanquette de veau as well as a list of wines that won’t break the bank. This gulpable 2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon, with its fresh ripe spiced-berry flavors and soft tannins, is one of them. Its refreshing fruity style resembles that of Beaujolais-Villages, but this red has more spice and depth. It was perfect with the creamy main course I savored at Le Philosophe.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon
Region: Loire Valley, France
Grape: 100% Cabernet Franc
Serve with: Blanquette de veau, roast pork
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Chinon is a historic town in the Loire Valley and also the name of an appellation where almost all the wine is red, made primarily from Cabernet Franc grapes. The vineyards, which cover 19 communes, span both sides of the pretty, winding Vienne River. My introduction to the area, though, was through history, when I came as a student to tour the town’s famous stone castle, the grand 11th-century Chateau de Chinon, built on a high rocky outcrop above the river. It has a complex early past: English King Henry II rebuilt it and resided there in the 12th century; later it was captured by the French, and it’s where Joan of Arc claimed divine voices told her that Charles VII, the Dauphin of France, would give her an army to fight in Orleans. Writer Francois Rabelais made Chinon’s wines famous in the 16th century.
U.S. catches up with 2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon
I first drank these delicious, fragrant reds in Paris bistros and wine bars 20 years ago, but they’ve become popular in the U.S. only in the past five or so years. That’s partly because wine lovers are now hunting alternatives to big, alcoholic reds. When Cabernet Franc is grown in cooler climates like the Loire Valley it makes wines that are lighter bodied and more aromatic than Cabernet Sauvignon, but have some of the same character. And the newfound popularity of Loire reds has also been helped because they are often stunning bargains.
Climate change and improved vineyard practices have helped make Chinon’s wines more appealing. When Cabernet Franc doesn’t ripen fully, the wines taste lean, green and herbaceous. In recent, warmer vintages, the wines have been richer. The 2010 vintage was one of the best of the past few decades.
Chateau du Coudray Montpensier was built in the 15th century, but was only established as a winery 10 years ago. Its 2010 Chinon is well worth seeking out.
Top photo: Chateau du Coudray Montpensier and wine label for Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon. Credit: Courtesy of Chateau du Coudray Montpensier
Among the 60 or so Austrian wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of weeks I found my Thanksgiving red for this year. The 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt from Austria has cherry aromas, soft fruit and spice flavors, and the fresh acidity that will keep palates alive during an hours-long dinner heavy on rich foods.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt
Region: Burgenland, Austria
Grape: 100% Zweigelt
Serve: With turkey and all the side dishes
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Everyone worries about what wine can possibly go with the many contrasting flavors on a Thanksgiving table, from sweet potatoes to creamy onions to rich sausage stuffing to tart cranberry sauce to turkey roasted with a rosemary rub. I used to be a purist, offering only two American wines, a white and a red, to match the nationality of the holiday. But this year I’m branching out. My white pick last week was from Italy. Selecting a California Pinot Noir for the red seemed like taking the easy route. And this Austrian red is wonderfully versatile with all kinds of foods.
Zweigelt (pronounced Tsvy-gelt) , a cross between two other Austrian red grapes, St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch, the country’s best red, was developed in 1922 by viticulturalist Dr. Friedrich (Fritz) Zweigelt, for whom it is named. The popular varietal isn’t hard to grow, like finicky Pinot Noir, but the wines from both have a lot in common. Zweigelt doesn’t share the complexity and ageability of fine Burgundies or expensive California examples, though some producers make mouth-filling single vineyard versions.
Zweigelt also reminds me of Gamay or even a light-bodied Zinfandel. The most planted red grape in Austria, it’s a fruit-forward, easy-drinking crowd-pleaser. Most, like this one, are medium-bodied, with silky tannins, juicy acidity and no new oak flavors, all reasons why they’re so food-friendly.
2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt aged in older barrels
The winery, named after owner and winemaker Paul Achs, is in Burgenland, south of Vienna, in the village of Gols. He owns 58 acres of vineyards, all cultivated biodynamically since 2007. This Zweigelt comes from vines planted on gravel in an area between the village and Lake Neusiedl known as the Heideboden, the source of all his young, fresh wines. This one is aged in older oak barrels, which allows it to retain its bright fruit.
This 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt also fulfills another of my Thanksgiving wine criteria: affordability. When different generations of a family, all with very strong opinions, gather at a table for hours, the key to party success is plenty of wine to smooth over heated discussions and keep everyone mellow. Happy Thanksgiving!
I usually pour American wines on Thanksgiving, but after recently tasting this northern Italian white at New York’s Nougatine restaurant, I changed my mind. I’ll be serving this fragrant 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner from the Alto Adige region that’s crisp and generous, balancing bright fruit with notes of flowers and fennel. It’s also amazingly food-friendly.
The combination of tart, savory and sweet tastes in the typical Thanksgiving feast is one reason selecting wines for this all-American holiday is so difficult. At Nougatine, the café section of the more famous restaurant Jean-Georges, the wine not only made a fine aperitif, but also went well with everything from a gently sweet butternut squash soup to a rich tuna tartare to a savory organic roast chicken. I have no doubt the Abbazia di Novacella Kerner will enhance my turkey as well as my rich oyster stuffing.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner
Region: Alto Adige, Italy
Grape: 100% Kerner
Serve: As an aperitif, with turkey and rich oyster stuffing
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This exuberant white also answers another of my problems: finding a wine that will appeal to the wine novices as well as the geeks who’ll be gracing my table. A family holiday dinner, I’ve discovered, is not the time to serve some controversial, unusual tasting cuvée you’ve been dying to try, nor that super-expensive collectible you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Instead, I look for easy-drinking, reasonably-priced reds and whites that can please everyone from my aunt who loves Chardonnay to wine-knowledgeable friends who would be disappointed if I didn’t come up with something unexpected.
The Kerner grape is a fascinating cross between Riesling and Schiava, a light red. Named after a German doctor and composer of drinking songs, it originated in Germany in 1929, but wasn’t released for planting until 1969. Now widely grown in Germany as well as in Austria and parts of northern Italy, it shares Riesling’s tangy acidity and apple and citrus character, but has a rounder, softer, more opulent texture.
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner thrives in the Isarco valley
The Isarco valley, in the shadow of the southern Alps, is one of the places this grape seems to excel, especially in the high vineyards planted on granitic schist around the Abbey in the quiet town of Novacella. (Italian and German are spoken in the valley, also known as Eisacktal.) The historic monastery, founded in 1142 by monks in the Augustinian Canons Regular, is one of the oldest wineries in the world, noted for its exuberant whites.
I always savor Thanksgiving leftovers, so I’ve ordered a case of the 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, and am hoping my guests don’t drink it all. Naturally, I’ll serve a red, too. Look for that pick next week.
Top composite photo: 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner label, with its vineyard in the shadow of the southern Alps. Credit: Courtesy of Abbazia di Novacella
Italy’s less well-known wine appellations provide a continuing supply of truly interesting wines at very reasonable prices, like the fresh, juicy 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano. It’s the first vintage of this dark, intense red with a taste of pure fruit from an organic winery in the district of Montepulciano, southeast of Siena in Tuscany. It was a perfect partner to rich pasta Bolognese at a weeknight dinner.
Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week
Region: Tuscany, Italy
Grape: 100% Prugnolo Gentile Sangiovese
Serve with: Pasta Bolognese, roasted turkey
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Salcheto is the brainchild of winemaker Michele Manelli, who purchased the property in 1997 and added two partners about a decade ago. Together they began exploring ways to improve wine quality while creating a more sustainable, energy-efficient cellar with a low environmental impact.
In 2011, they built what they call Italy’s first “off-grid” winery, which uses no traditional power sources and generates its own energy with solar photovoltaic panels. And it gets by on less than half the energy conventional wineries require, thanks to using only natural lighting, recycled water and gravity. The cellar is built into the side of a hill, with plants on the exposed wall to absorb the sun and help keep the interior cool, and an automated system of opening and closing windows to circulate cooler night air.
The trio also commissioned a research study to document the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine. Including the carbon emissions from vineyard to packaging, it “costs” the equivalent of three and a half pounds of CO2 to produce a bottle of this wine. Last summer they completed the first certification of a water footprint and are working on establishing a biodiversity footprint.
Montepulciano developing its red wines
In Tuscany, wines like Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino get most of the attention, but the Montepulciano zone is working hard to catch up by reinventing itself. Over the past 25 years, the wines have gone from a blend of several varieties to reds based almost totally on a local clone of Sangiovese, as this Salcheto is.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the grand wine of the region, aged longer and in wood. The Rosso is fresher, brighter and easy-drinking. The Salcheto Obvius, released in September, uses grapes from young vines and Manelli ferments and ages the wine in stainless steel, without any cultured yeast or added sulfur. He calls this a “from grapes only” wine.
The Latin name of the wine, Obvius, doesn’t mean obvious, as you might think. It has many meanings, including open and accessible, which the 2012 Salcheto Obvius certainly is.
Top composite image: 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano label and vineyards. Credit: Courtesy of Salcheto Winery
Sicilian wines made from vines planted on the slopes of the famous Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, have been getting well-deserved buzz for the past few years. The fresh, savory 2012 Tascante Buonora Carricante, a white with aromas of flowers and flint, bright acidity, and an intense taste of green apple and slightly smoky rocks, really reflects Etna’s distinctive terroir and has plenty of personality for its very reasonable price.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
Region: Sicily, Italy
Grape: 100% Carricante
Serve with: Rich fish with lemon sauce, pasta and truffles
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Tascante is one of five Sicilian estates operated by Tasca d’Almerita, founded in 1830 and now run by the Count Lucio Tasca and his two sons, Giuseppe and Alberto. On my first visit to the island, I spent a day at their 500-hectare (1,235-acre) Regaleali estate in Sicily’s center, where Anna Tasca Lanza presides over a stellar cooking school. Eight generations of the family have been intertwined with Sicily’s history. In the late 1990s, Giuseppe became fascinated by Mount Etna, and eventually bought 21 hectares (51 acres) of land in the best zone on the northern side of the volcano, where vines are planted on steep terraces. The name Tascante combines the family name and “Etna” spelled backward.
This is a wine area of extremes, with an unpredictable brooding volcano, often covered with snow, dictating unpredictable weather, rough, steep slopes, lava-and-rock-laced soil. Costs to grow grapes and produce wines here are high, which is one reason vineyards were mostly abandoned. About 30 years ago, there were only a handful of producers; now there are more than 80. Old gnarled vines and the diversity of terroirs at elevations from about 1,000 to 3,000 feet were a draw for the new producers who’ve made Mount Etna one of Italy‘s most exciting wine regions.
Tascante Buonora ‘extremely special’
Though Etna’s reds seem to get the most attention, the whites, like this one, are also extremely special. The Tascante Buonora is made from the ancient, rediscovered variety Carricante, which people say has grown on Mount Etna for a thousand years. It’s aged in stainless steel tanks, which keeps its flavors very pure.
Back in 2010, Tasca d’Almerita began working with Italian scientific research institutes on a project of sustainable agricultural development and is to be commended for using more solar energy, reducing the company’s carbon footprint, managing water resources, reducing chemicals in their vineyards.
Sicily, like all of Italy, is a source of fascinating wines made from unusual grapes with highly individual flavors. This 2012 Tascante Buonora is one of them.
Top photo: 2012 Tascante Buonora label and the vineyards in the shadow of Mount Etna. Credit: Courtesy Tasca d’Almerita
I’m just back from more than two weeks in Australia, where I spoke at Savour, the first wine conference put on by Wine Australia, which was held in Adelaide. I tasted dozens of stunning wines during my visit, though many of the best, sadly, are not available in the U.S. — at least not yet. This intensely limey 2012 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, with its chalky, slatey finish, is great and available here. It — and the 2013 arriving later this year or early next year — are pricey but worth it, and will age brilliantly. (A recent survey conducted by Wine Ark, an Australian storage provider, listed Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling as the ninth most collected wine in Australia for 2013.)
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
Region: Clare Valley, South Australia
Grape: 100% Riesling
Serve with: Seafood curry, baked oysters
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On a tour of the hilly Clare Valley, a two-hour drive north from Adelaide, I stopped by the winery to talk and taste with owner-winemaker Jeffrey Grosset and his partner Stephanie Toole, owner of Mount Horrocks winery, whose wines I’ll write about at another time. Thanks to recent rain, the picturesque Clare, which I discovered isn’t a valley after all, was very green and magical, like an English shire, except that you see lines of gum trees and spot the occasional kangaroo. Thanks to Adelaide traffic, I was late.
The Clare has a long history as a wine region, going back to the 1840s, and is noted for its dry Rieslings. An enjoyable way to sample some of them is to bike or hike the 36-kilometer-long Riesling Trail, which passes near a dozen wineries, including Grosset, at the region’s southern end.
A top Aussie Riesling maker
One of the most celebrated Riesling makers in Australia, Grosset founded his winery in an old milk depot in 1981 and now makes three different Rieslings, including the lovely off-dry Alea bottling. The first vintage of the bone-dry Polish Hill, which comes from an organic vineyard planted on gravel, shale and blue slate at an elevation of 1,500 feet, was the 1980. The flavors are tightly wound, intense, steely and focused, with lemon-lime notes, zingy acidity and an elegant purity. Quality is surprisingly consistent from year to year. Older vintages we sipped and spit, 2005 and 2001, have developed more complexity and are filled with power and precision.
Grosset advises either drinking this wine right away or keeping it for at least six years. No worries about finding a corked wine when you finally open it, since Grosset pioneered using screw cap closures instead of corks. He was a driving force behind a group of 14 Clare Valley winemakers who collectively launched their Rieslings under screw cap in 2000.
Top photo: Owner-winemaker Jeffrey Grosset and the label of his 2012 Polish Hill Riesling. Credit: Courtesy of Grosset winery