Articles in Viticulture

David Dupasquier in the fields. Courtesy of Domaine Dupasquier

It’s probably still premature to break out the Txakoli or Sancerre, or whatever crisp, refreshing white you prefer for summer, but there’s definitely a category of wine that embodies the chameleon-like nature of early spring, especially here in New York, where the weather is a reminder of Robert Frost’s lines.

You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

– From “Two Tramps in Mud Time

I find that France’s little-known and oft-neglected Savoie region — a tiny Alpine growing area perched up in the mountains along the Swiss border — delivers just what I’m looking for this time of year. With its versatile range of whites that run the stylistic gamut from playfully brisk to generously rich, and its light-bodied, elegantly lifted reds, Savoie wines offer the perfect way to pass the time while waiting for the first spring greens to appear at the market.

Whenever I drink wines from this part of the world, I immediately envision myself in a landscape that seems to belong in “The Sound of Music,” complete with herds of grazing cattle, sleepy little cottages and a token babbling brook. Technicolor Hollywood fantasies aside, it can’t be denied that, at their best, the area’s wines communicate an unmistakable sense of place, all mountain air and meadow grass and wildflowers.

Although not a whole lot of the area’s wine makes it to U.S. shores, what does arrive is truly worth seeking out. Producers of note include Franck Peillot, Eugene Carrel, Domaine Labbé and the extremely hard-to-find Domaine Belluard, but I’ve recently developed an obsession with a small vigneron by the name of David Dupasquier, located in the village of Jongieux, who makes a gorgeous lineup of wines from such distinctive regional grapes as Jacquère and Altesse (his whites), as well as the red-skinned Gamay and Mondeuse.

Minimalist Savoie winemaker

A fifth-generation winemaker now at the helm of his family estate, Dupasquier adopts a minimalist approach to his work in the vineyards and the cellar. For one, he harvests entirely by hand, which, given the precariously steep vines he tends, must pose a considerable challenge. Among other praiseworthy practices, he also makes a point of fermenting with indigenous yeasts, which better allows the underlying materials of the wine to shine through. For anyone interested in experiencing the high-altitude clarity possessed by so many wines from Savoie, Dupasquier’s efforts couldn’t be more faithful regional ambassadors.

His unusual level of dedication and care is evident across all of his wines, and his profound expression of the Jacquère grape is no exception. While many examples of the varietal are innocuous affairs, best used to quench the thirst of skiers after a long day on the slopes, his version possesses a bright wash of acidity and a stony mineral core that overturns expectations while remaining utterly true to its place of origin. Despite its deceptively lithe and nimble frame, it manages to deliver a sense of weight without being weighty, gesturing toward richness with a fuller, creamier texture than any other expression of the grape I’ve encountered. In this respect, the wine seems to me like an Alpine version of some of the better Muscadet cuvées that have recently raised that region’s profile.

All in all, the wines offer a refreshing dose of seasonal irony. On the richer side of the spectrum, for those chillier April days when, as Frost writes, you feel like you’re still “back in the middle of March,” Dupasquier’s stellar Rousette de Savoie does the trick. Particularly appealing in the recently released 2010 vintage and based on the late-ripening Altesse grape (known regionally as Rousette), it represents just the sort of comforting, deep-yet-chiseled, viscous-yet-fresh white to be enjoyed with the last of winter’s hearty, bone-warming fare: Think roast pork or trout in cream sauce. When the warmer weather comes in full force, however, I’ll gravitate toward his bright and elegant vins rouges. Plunged in the ice bucket before serving, the 2010 Dupasquier Savoie Gamay drinks like a transparent, mountain-grown Beaujolais, chock full of juicy red berry fruit and a clean mineral finish that sings of the rocky slopes in which it was raised. Cue the first spring chicken.

Top photo: David Dupasquier in the fields. Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Dupasquier

Read More
Feudo Arancio Dalila. Credit: Courtesy of Feudo Arancia

Sunny Sicily is in the throes of a wine revolution. This rich apricot-and-citrus-toned white, 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila, is an example of just how much has changed since the island turned from producing industrial plonk to quality wine from native grapes. With a 2,000-year wine history, Sicily is now one of Italy’s most exciting, cutting edge regions — and the source of dozens of current bargains. This is one of them.

Dalila is one of the two blends in the Stemmari portfolio, which also includes single varietal reds and whites made from native and international grapes. The Dalila blend is mostly Grillo, a local Sicilian white varietal used traditionally to produce fortified Marsala. Highly fragrant, with exotic notes of mango, Grillo can be exciting on its own, but the addition of some Viognier, a Rhône Valley grape, gives this wine a round, rich texture and contributes aromas of honey and wildflowers. I’m guessing the wine’s name is supposed to evoke the Dalila (of the Bible and the opera), who renders her former lover Samson powerless by cutting off his hair.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila

Price: $13

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 80% Grillo, 20% Viognier

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with: Seafood risotto, soft cheeses


More from Zester Daily:

» Rare white from Mount Etna in Sicily

» 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne offers charming value

» 2011 Inama Soave Classico climbs the Soave ladder

» 2011 Masseria Li Veli Askos Verdeca is more expressive than the price suggests

Stemmari is the Sicilian project of Mezzacorona, a company originally founded more than a century ago in northern Italy as a winegrowers’ association. In Sicily, the company sources grapes from its 1,700 acres of vineyards at two large estates on the island’s south coast, near Agrigento and Ragusa, where winds sweep in from the Mediterranean. The winery is built in traditional rustic villa style.

Considering this is a fairly big project, Stemmari’s commitment to “green” ideas and sustainable winegrowing is commendable. Though the vineyards are not organically farmed, the company uses “good” insects as an alternative to chemical treatments, as well as “sexual confusion” — a biological system that fights destructive bugs by limiting their reproduction. Thanks to Sicily’s hot, dry, windy climate, it’s also relatively easy to use few chemicals here. Solar panels generate the winery’s electricity, wastewater is recycled, and Feudo Arancio even desalinates seawater to keep its reservoirs full.

Sicily’s long winegrowing history began even before the Greeks arrived to colonize the island in 750 B.C. On a wine tour a few years ago, I wandered the ruins of magnificent ancient temples just outside Agrigento that they left behind. The group of eight buildings, strung out along a road of big stones, is deservedly one of the island’s most famous archeological attractions.

For most of the 20th century, Sicily was known for industrial-quality bulk wine. The wine renaissance started in the 1990s, as forward-thinking producers planted international grapes such as Chardonnay and focused on quality instead of quantity. The 2000s brought the rediscovery of fascinating native grape varieties such as Grillo. The 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila is a tasty, food-friendly blend of the two revolutions.

Top photo: 2013 Feudo Arancio Dalila. Credit: Courtesy of Feudo Arancio

Read More
Chianti Classico wine tasting. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Chianti Classico DOCG is one of Tuscany’s most prestigious wine appellations: Any wine bearing that name must be produced within a specified area and adhere to strict regulations about its making. So when the Consortium of Chianti Classico producers announced a change to its categories, wine critics and appassionati took notice.

Chianti Classico’s consortium recently launched a “Gran Selezione” category: a group of wines touted as the pinnacle of the area’s wine pyramid. The Gran Selezione will account for about 10% of Chianti Classico’s annual production of 35 million bottles, for a value of 70 to 100 million euros.

The launch may have taken place, with much ado, in the spectacular frescoed Renaissance hall of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, but the reaction — in Tuscany and beyond — has been mixed. Although 35 of the area’s top wineries have so far bottled a wine in the new category, many others are giving the “Selezione” a wide berth — for now, at least. To understand the reasons for this, it’s worth taking an overview of Chianti Classico.

The delineated area known as Chianti Classico is located in the Chianti hills between Florence and Siena, and has long been recognized as one of the region’s best for wine production: It was first shaped in 1716 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Modern Chianti Classico gained elevated DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) in 1984 with the “Black Rooster” wines; its consortium now represents more than 600 members.

The overall area for Chianti production is much larger, however. It stretches farther into the provinces of Siena and Firenze, and into those of Pisa, Arezzo and Pistoia. This is confusing for consumers: Although Chianti Classico and appellations such as Chianti Rufina DOCG are recognized for their premium wines, simple, inexpensive — and often not great — “Chianti” wines abound from these other parts of the region.

In Chianti Classico DOCG wines, the primary grape is red Sangiovese. Each wine must contain 80% to 100% Sangiovese, with the remaining percentage made up from other specified red grapes, including “international” varieties, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Until recently, these wines fell into just two groups: Chianti Classico Annata (the “normal” vintage) and Chianti Classico Riserva (aged for at least 24 months), which were considered the appellation’s best wines. (Some producers, however, choose to make their top wines outside of the DOCG rules. These wines are bottled under the IGT appellation, and are the so-called Super Tuscans). Now a third group has been added.

To be admitted into this Gran Selezione, a wine must pass an additional taste test and be aged for a minimum of 30 months, of which three are in the bottle. (Note that “gran” is a shortened version of “grande,” and here means top, not grandmother.) It must also be made from the grapes of a single vineyard or from a selection of an estate’s best grapes. “The idea of this top tier is to help consumers identify an estate’s best wine,” says Sergio Zingarelli, the Chianti Classico Consortium’s president.

There’s the rub. Objectors note that the Riserva system was already in place to do that, and that the new Selezione may increase confusion in the cluttered Tuscan wine map. The Gran Selezione has stimulated a lively debate among the Italian wine world — in Tuscany and beyond — about the pros and cons of the new classification, and about alternative ideas for a change in the appellation’s structure. (Changes must be ratified by law, as the Gran Selezione’s have).

Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi, left, and Filippo Mazzei of Fonterutoli, Chianti producers and joint vice presidents of the Consortium, at the Gran Selezione news conference. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi, left, and Filippo Mazzei of Fonterutoli, Chianti producers and joint vice presidents of the Consortium, at the Gran Selezione news conference. Credit: Carla Capalbo

“During the recent economic crisis, the production of Chianti Riserva wines has increased, and they’re competing with Chianti Classico’s higher-level Riservas,” says Leonardo Bellaccini, the winemaker at San Felice, a leading Chianti Classico estate. Its well-known Riserva, Il Grigio, recently passed the tests to become a Gran Selezione. “We hope that once the Gran Selezione branding is recognized, it will stop the confusion between these two types of Riservas.”

Many cutting-edge wines here come from small estates with forward-thinking winemakers at their helm. Paolo De Marchi, of Isole e Olena, is one. His award-winning, pure Sangiovese Super Tuscan, Cepparello, would qualify for the Gran Selezione, but he’s reluctant to change its status.

“I don’t agree with the Consortium’s vision on this,” he says. “For me, great wines are made by their location and vineyards, not by the hands of men. I’d much rather see us differentiate between the sub-zones within Chianti Classico as a way of emphasizing the diversity of our terroirs.”

The concept of “villages” as used in Burgundy — which would allow the wines’ labels to cite the township within which they are made, such as Gaiole, Castellina or Greve in Chianti — is a hot issue among premium estates wanting to differentiate growing areas within Chianti Classico’s 7,000 hectares (about 17,300 acres) of vineyards.

“The Consortium is beginning to take steps in that direction, but it may be several years in the coming,” says Robert Stucchi Prinetti of Badia a Coltibuono. “The diversity of Chianti Classico’s terroirs is one of its strengths.”

Some producers and wine experts believe the Consortium has missed a precious opportunity to requalify Chianti Classico by limiting its grape varieties to Sangiovese and other native Tuscan grapes such as Colorino and Canaiolo.

“A Gran Selezione of just Tuscan grapes would have made sense by emphasizing the link between these varieties and this specific area,” says Bellaccini. That “first tier” would have been clearly understood by everyone.

Will Gran Selezione wines cost more? “That will be up to the individual estates,” says Consortium Vice President Filippo Mazzei. “We have not imposed price hikes for these wines, though they are of course the estates’ top bracket wines.” The Consortium hopes producers of other high-flying Super Tuscans will be encouraged to reclassify them as Gran Selezione wines, and that the word will spread positively about its latest category.

Top photo: Gran Selezione wines sit on a higher podium than the rest of the Chianti Classico wines at the media tasting in Florence. Credit: Carla Capalbo 

Read More
2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Bokisch Vineyards

The snow outside has me longing for the beginning of rosé season. But sampling this bright 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado, with its lively flavors of cassis and pomegranate, at dinner recently reminded me that you don’t have to wait for hot weather to enjoy savory, medium-bodied pink wines. This food-friendly example was perfect with grilled pork chops and sautéed kale and would be delicious with tapas like olives and sharp cheese.

The wine’s origin, Lodi, Calif., surprised me, as did the varietals in the juicy blend. Bokisch Vineyards has made a specialty of growing Spanish varietals and two found their way into this wine. Made mostly from Barbera, it includes percentages of Graciano and white Albariño that add notes of dark cherry, smooth tannin and a nice crispness. Graciano is a very old variety in Spain, supposedly dating back before the Romans arrived. Aging in stainless steel preserves the wine’s acidity and fruit.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard

Price: $16

Region: Clements Hills, Lodi, Calif.

Grape: 86% Barbera, 8% Albariño, 6% Graciano

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with: Barbecued chicken or pork chops; tapas; paella


More from Zester Daily:

» Taken with a Spanish red from Cune

» Generous red from France warms up winter

» Crowd-pleasing party red wine from the Loire Valley

» Rare white wine from Mount Etna

Markus Bokisch, who owns the eponymous winery with his wife Liz, has a deep family connection with Spain, where he spent summers in Catalonia with his mother’s relatives. He started his career at Joseph Phelps in Napa, but spent a few years working in the wine industry in Spain, where he fell in love with Spanish grapes. When the couple returned to the U.S., they bought land in Lodi, planting varietals such as Tempranillo and Garnacha. Now they farm 1,000 acres, selling the grapes to 40 wineries.

I’ve always thought of the Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area), southeast of Sacramento and west of the Sierra Nevadas, as the place big producers such as Sutter Home and Gallo turn to for grapes for their basic, somewhat boring blends. Few realize it has a 150-year-long vineyard tradition; many families have grown grapes — especially Zinfandel and Tokay, used for brandy — for a century or more.

Although Zinfandel is still the most planted grape, a new generation of adventurous growers is branching out. The Bokisches are at the forefront of the experimentation. Many of their vineyards are organic and others are certified green according to “Lodi Rules.” This complicated system includes using solar and biodiesel energy and monitoring the land ecosystem and water, but also permits some use of synthetic pesticides.

The 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado leans toward the bigger, fruitier Spanish style of rosé, which makes it ideal for drinking at any time of the year. So don’t wait for summer to sample its delights over a long brunch or dinner.

Top photo: 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Bokisch Vineyards

Read More
Trimbach vineyards in Ribeauvillé, Alsace

Once upon a time, Alsace wines were relatively simple to understand. Alsace is virtually the only French appellation that allows the mention of a grape variety on the label, and with a couple of easily identifiable exceptions, the wines tended to be dry. But things seem to have changed in recent years. Am I alone in feeling disappointed that a wine I thought would be dry from the label turns out to be rich with a sweet, even cloying, finish? And then matters are complicated further with all the grands crus names. There are 50 altogether, but I can only ever remember a handful. Happily, a recent visit to Maison Trimbach in Ribeauvillé has served to restore my faith in the region.

The first thing you see when you walk into Trimbach’s tasting room is a sign: “Say No to oak. Help put the fruit back in wine.” This augured well, as did the appearance of my guide, Anne Trimbach. There have been Trimbachs in Ribeauvillé since 1626, and she is a member of the 13st generation. Bright and vivacious, she is the daughter of Pierre, the winemaker, and helps her uncle, Jean, on the export market.

Trimbach makes the full range of Alsace grape varieties, with elegantly leafy Pinot Blanc, some rounded Pinot Gris and some deliciously understated Gewürztraminer — we joked about whether a restrained Gewürztraminer really exists. But it is really with Riesling that the Trimbach style comes into its own, emphasizing the slatey minerality of the grape variety.

A full range of Riesling

Trimbach makes seven qualities of Riesling, beginning with the simple Riesling based on grapes purchased from some 30 growers, picked and pressed by hand. The vinification is very simple, usually entailing a malolactic fermentation and certainly no oak. Freshness and minerality are the key characteristics. The wine has a fresh slatey note, with very good acidity, and a firm dry finish — just as Alsace Riesling should be.

Next up the scale is the Riesling Réserve, a selection of grapes, mainly from Trimbach’s own vineyards around Ribeauvillé. The vinification is the same, but the grapes come from vineyards with a higher limestone content. The result is a wine that has citrus notes and is very mineral, with wonderful freshness and great length. There is a certain austerity on the palate, making for a very pure example of Riesling.

The cuvée of Vieilles Vignes comes from vines that are 35 to 40 years old. They first made this cuvée in 2009, from two foudres of particularly good wine. The flavors are rich and intense, but not sweet. The wine may be a little more gourmand than the Réserve, but the fruit is always balanced with steely acidity, making a wine that is dry and honeyed, with an elegant finish.

The Cuvée Frédéric Emile is one of the flagship wines of Trimbach, whose grapes are grown in marl and limestone soil. We tasted the 2007, which Anne described as a miraculous year — full of scares about the next climatic hazard, but everything turned out well in the end. The nose was rich and honeyed, very intense with an underlying austerity.  On the palate, the wine was firm and slatey with very good acidity and razor-sharp clarity. I could almost describe it as the Chablis of Alsace.

The Trimbachs, from left: Jean, Pierre, Anne and Hubert. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach

The Trimbachs, from left: Jean, Pierre, Anne and Hubert. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach

The other flagship Riesling is the Clos Ste Hune, from a vineyard the Trimbachs have owned for 200 years. The soil is pure limestone, and the vines are an average of 80 years old. The wine is made the same way as Frédéric Emile, but here you taste the effect of terroir: They are quite different. The Clos Ste Hune is very slatey, very mineral, very powerful, with very good acidity and still very youthful, with wonderful length.

And then we were given a treat: 1985 Clos Ste Hune. The colour was golden, with an elegant nose that was dry and slatey, but with an underlying richness. On the palate, there were lots of nuances, with some very intriguing dry honey and some lovely notes of maturity. It was rich and elegant, but not heavy or sweet, with a lingering finish. A fabulous glass of wine that demonstrated just how beautifully Alsace Riesling ages.

The Vendanges Tardive and Selection de Grains Nobles, traditionally sweeter and richer, are only made in the very best years. The 2002 Vendange Tardive Riesling was light golden in color, and on the nose, rich with a maturing nutty nose. On the palate it was very elegant, with very good acidity — there was a little noble rot in 2002, but that is not essential. The palate was beautifully balanced with rich honeyed fruit, combining fresh acidity with some sweetness. It was subtle and nuanced.

Our tasting finished with 2001 Sélection de Grains Nobles Frédéric Emile. The grapes were picked in mid-November, with some noble rot. The color was golden and the nose maturing beautifully, as only fine Riesling can. On the palate there were nuances of dry but honeyed, nutty fruit, with some slatey characteristics and a touch of minerality, with a smooth rich finish. It was a powerful example of the heights that Riesling can achieve.

Top photo: Trimbach vineyards in Alsace. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach

Read More
2012 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay label and vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Tenuta Sant'Antonio

Red wine blends are booming in popularity in the U.S., and I predict that in 2014 white blends will follow suit. The floral and citrus-scented 2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay is a bargain Italian example: dry, fresh, fruity, tangy and perfect as an apéritif or with steamed mussels. It also happens to be more interesting than you might expect for an under-$15 wine.

Satisfying white blends have a long history in European wine regions, and in the past few years innovative California winemakers have turned to Italy for inspiration.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay

Price: $13

Region: The Veneto, Italy

Grape: 60% Garganega, 40% Chardonnay

Alcohol: 12.5%

Serve with: Aperitifs, mussels in broth, vegetable risotto


More of Elin's wine picks:

» 2011 Inama Soave Classico

» A rare white from Mount Etna

» A generous red warms up winter

The Veneto region in northeast Italy, where the Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia comes from, has a mild climate, thanks to nearby Lake Garda, and a winemaking history that goes back to the ancient Greeks. It’s a region of wine contrasts, home to Amarone, a unique red made by a labor-intensive process of semi-drying grapes, and mass-market commercial companies that pump out millions of boring bottles a year.

The Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia blends a familiar international variety with a local Italian grape that’s widely planted throughout the Veneto. Late-ripening, Garganega is the variety that dominates Soave Classico, which must be made in a specified district near the city of Verona. The grape resembles Chardonnay in that both vary widely in taste depending on where they’re grown, when they’re picked, and how the wine is made.

Garganega grown on the Veneto’s flat plains for quantity rather than quality becomes simple, mediocre plonk. At Tenuta Sant’Antonio, grapes are planted on rolling hills, yields are kept low, and bunches are harvested by hand, all in the name of quality.

The four Castagnedi brothers — Massimo, Armando, Tiziano, and Paolo — who founded Tenuta Sant’Antonio worked as viticultural and technical wine consultants before starting the winery in 1989. They bought land in the Valpolicella zone adjacent to their father’s vineyard property, joined the two, then planted grapes and began making wine.

The Castagnedis produce a wide range of classic reds and whites under the Tenuta Sant’Antonio label, and are best known for their more expensive, top-quality Amarones, Valpolicellas, and Soaves. They describe the Scaia wines (the word refers to stone flakes in the chalky soil where the vines grow) as “modern interpretations” of traditional classics.

Happily, this doesn’t include aging in oak, which overwhelms the Garanega grape. The 2012 Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay is fermented at cold temperatures and aged in stainless steel, which preserves fruit and crispy acidity. The wine is much better than the ocean of easy-drinking whites from the Veneto. While it doesn’t have the character and style of the very best Soaves, it does have a juicy, mouth-filling personality and an attractive, everyday-drinking kind of price.

Top composite photo: 2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay label and vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Tenuta Sant’Antonio

Read More
2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas. Credit: Courtesy of Château de Saint Cosmé

When the temperature drops to zero and snow piles up in drifts outside my door (as it did last week), I want a rich, filling stew for dinner and a warm, generous red wine to match. The ripe, plummy 2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas is a classic choice, meaty and structured, yet fresh, savory and exuberantly fruity, with notes of blackberry and pepper. It was one of my highlights at a recent tasting with Gigondas producers at New York’s Rouge Tomate restaurant.

Gigondas is a village with a very pretty town square and an appellation in France’s southern Rhône Valley that produces only red wine. It lies in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail, jagged limestone formations with 2,600-foot peaks that resemble sharp teeth or a rooster’s comb.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas

Price: $34

Region: Gigondas, Southern Rhone, France

Grape: 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 18% Mourvèdre, 2% Cinsault

Alcohol: 14.5%

Serve with: Daube of beef with olives and tomatoes, braised short ribs


More from Zester Daily:

» A juicy, organic red from Montepulciano

» Mandela legacy in a bottle

» A crowd-pleasing party red wine from the Loire Valley

» A rare white wine from Mount Etna

» A vibrant value from Montalcino

The wine, based on the Grenache grape, is often called the the poor man’s version of more famous and expensive red from Châteauneuf-du-Pape 10 miles to the south. It’s not a comparison producers like. At the dinner, Château de Saint Cosmé owner and winemaker Louis Barruol pleaded, “We want to be loved for what we are, not as a cheap Châteauneuf!”

In fact, the terroir in Gigondas is different from that of Châteauneuf, and wines from vineyards at higher elevations, like those from Saint Cosmé, can have more perfume and finesse, though usually less complexity. The blend of grapes must include no more than 80% Grenache, at least 15% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, and up to 10% other Rhône varieties.

Saint Cosmé Gigondas

Built on what was once the site of a Roman villa, Saint Cosmé is the most ancient estate in the region, with cellar vats that were carved into rock in Roman times. The Barruol family has owned the property since 1570, and Barruol, who took over in 1992, is the 14th generation.

Saint Cosmé produces several single-vineyard Gigondas bottlings in addition to this standard cuvée, which includes a greater percentage than usual of the gnarled old vines around the château. Tucked into the hills above the valley floor, the vineyards are shaded by the Dentelles, which helps preserve the wines’ bright acidity. A regime of aging in old oak barrels keeps them from being too oaky.

I plan to savor more 2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas again very soon. The end of winter is a long way away.

Top composite photo: 2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas bottle and label. Credit: Courtesy of Château de Saint Cosmé

Read More
Rippon Vineyards in New Zealand

Who would have thought, 30 years ago, that New Zealand would be producing Pinot Noir with an international reputation? It has all happened in an incredibly short time, so that several of the original pioneering winemakers are still involved in the industry. And a recent tasting in London and New York demonstrated just how successful Pinot Noir is in New Zealand.

This was a tasting that I could not possible miss: three decades of Rippon Vineyards Pinot Noir, beginning with the 1990 vintage, which I tasted as a vat sample the very first time that I went to New Zealand. Rippon Vineyards in Central Otago was one of the first New Zealand vineyards that I visited. It is the most fabulously beautiful spot, with breathtaking views over Lake Wanaka toward the Southern Alps. Central Otago lies on the 45th  parallel, which makes its vineyards some of the southernmost in the world — there is not much land between Otago and Antarctica.  Whereas most New Zealand vineyards are on the country’s east coast, Central Otago enjoys a continental climate, with harsh winters and warm summers. Schist is the dominant soil at Rippon.

These days, Nick Mills makes the wine at Rippon, but it was his father, Rolfe, who was the true pioneer. Rolfe’s grandfather bought the land in 1912, and Rolfe began planting vines in 1975.

“It was all very much a learning curve, experimenting with many different grape varieties,” Nick said. “Pinot Noir was just one of several. And nothing was known about different clones.  You got cuttings from other growers, and there was a strong element of self-sufficiency and indeed isolation.”

The first commercial wines of Rippon were made in 1989, and in 1990 a talented Austrian winemaker, Rudi Bauer, took over for a few years. (He now has his own estate, Quartz Reef.) Back in 1990 there were just six wineries in Central Otago; nowadays there are 120 wine growers, though not all with their own winemaking facilities.

New Zealand Pinot Noir has regional variations blossom

At the time that Rippon was getting started, Chard Farm and Gibbston Valley were also experimenting with Pinot Noir, among other grape varieties, in Central Otago. And at the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island, Larry McKenna, who had arrived in Martinborough in 1986, was busy putting Martinborough Vineyards on the map for Pinot Noir, alongside his neighbours at Ata Rangi and Dry River.

Nick Mills and his wife, Jo, at Rippon.  Credit: Briar Hardy-Hesson

Nick Mills and his wife, Jo, at Rippon.
Credit: Briar Hardy-Hesson

Elsewhere on the South Island, there were pockets of Pinot Noir in Nelson, Waipara and Marlborough. Today, Pinot Noir is the most widely planted red variety in the country, and the regional variations are becoming more apparent. I generally find that wines from Central Otago are riper and richer, from enjoying long hours of summer daylight, while those from Martinborough are more savory and maybe more structured.

But back to Rippon. Carrying on the family tradition, Nick studied winemaking, including a course on biodynamics, in Beaune and worked with winegrowers in the Côte d’Or. Sadly, Rolfe died in 2000, and in 2003, Nick’s mother suggested that it was time for Nick to come back to Rippon and take over responsibility for the winemaking.

He talked of how his winemaking has developed. “There are so many things to consider. Whole bunches? Do you add the stems? Are they ripe? You need to understand your fruit.” He certainly shows that he does with this range of wines, which tell the story of the family land.

Read the detailed tasting notes.

Top photo: Rippon Vineyards. Credit: Briar Hardy-Hesson

Read More