Articles in Review

2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt is an ideal red wine for Thanksgiving. Credit: Weingut Paul Achs.

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

Price: $20

Region: Burgenland, Austria

Grape: 100% Zweigelt

Alcohol: 12.5%

Serve: With turkey and all the side dishes

More of Elin's wine picks:

» The right white wine for Thanksgiving 2013

» A perfect white wine for parties

» A perfect red wine for parties

» A rosé that's ideal for the holidays

» Sting's 2010 When We Dance Chianti

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!

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Elin McCoy's WinePick: 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano

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

» 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano

Price: $19

Region: Tuscany, Italy

Grape: 100% Prugnolo Gentile Sangiovese

Alcohol: 13.5%

Serve with: Pasta Bolognese, roasted turkey

More from Zester Daily:

» A silky red from Burgundy

» A discovery in Portugal's Dao region

» Vietti's Barbera offers charming value

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

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2012 Tascante Buonora Carricante

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

2012 Tascante Buonora Carricante

Price: $20

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 100% Carricante

Alcohol: 13.5%

Serve with: Rich fish with lemon sauce, pasta and truffles

Try these Italian wine picks:

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

» 2011 Inama Soave Classico climbs the Soave ladder

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

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

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Jeffrey Grosset and Polish Hill Riesling. Credit: Courtesy of Grosset winery

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

2012 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling

Price: $35

Region: Clare Valley, South Australia

Grape: 100% Riesling

Alcohol: 12.7%

Serve with: Seafood curry, baked oysters

Three more Riesling picks from Elin McCoy:

» Riesling for an Obama state dinner

» Oregon Riesling with a hint of Alsace

» Poet's Leap of Washington is a tantalizing Riesling

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

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Winemaker Luca Currado and the label for 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne. Credit: Vietti Winery

Italy is a huge source of reasonably-priced, food-friendly wines. This juicy, delicious 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, with its tangy taste of smoke, licorice and sour cherries is one of them. So it’s no surprise that it was one of the most-poured-wines-by-the-glass listed in Wine & Spirits Magazine’s 2013 restaurant poll.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne

Price: $18

Region: Piedmont, Italy

Grape: 100% Barbera

Alcohol: 14%

Serve with: Pork medallions with onions, braised beef stew with Barbera, pasta Bologna

More of Elin's wine picks:

» Smoothly rich, ruby red and intriguing 2008 Cascina Gilli Vigna del Forno Freisa d’Asti

» A striking, aromatic 2011 Masseria Li Veli Verdeca from Puglia

» An exciting Puglian red, 2005 “Puteus” Salice Salentino

» A vibrant value from Montalcino

» A dry white to sip with friends

Vietti is one of the top producers in Piedmont, where the star grape is Nebbiolo, which makes the region’s great, complex, long-lived and definitely pricey Barolos and Barbarescos. But as everywhere, hanging out with the star grape is rarely the way to get the region’s best buys. Barbera is less grand, but it’s also softer and more approachable than Nebbiolo, with charm, wonderful berry-like flavors, and the bright acidity that’s the key to its easy partnership with food. It’s the third most-planted red grape variety in Italy, and accounts for about half the grape plantings in Piedmont.

Founded in 1919, the Vietti winery is in a tiny village, Castiglione Falletto, and has about 90 acres of vineyards in various appellations. The late Alfredo Currado, who married the daughter of the winery’s founder, was one of the first to vinify grapes from single vineyards, then a revolutionary concept, and essentially rescued nearly extinct white grape Arneis from oblivion.

Their talented son Luca spent time in California at Opus One, and in Bordeaux at Mouton Rothschild before taking over as winemaker. His approach is to focus on organic viticulture and expressing the terroir or sense of place in the wines. The wines are clean and modern, but with a very traditional undertone. They’re rich but not heavy or extracted.

The winery makes five Barberas. This entry level Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne is a blend of three vineyards in a designated region around the town of Asti. It’s usually released a year later. The Barbera d’Alba Tre Vigne comes from three vineyards in a neighboring area overlapping that of Barolo. The Barbera d’Alba is richer, bolder, more powerful, with more elegance, and costs a bit more. The three others come from special single vineyards; one is a cuvée of old vines.

Today, there’s a Barbera renaissance in Italy, but until fairly recently it was considered a rustic, peasant wine. Alfredo Currado was one of the pioneers who believed that growing it on top sites and keeping yields low was key to quality.

His son Luca carries on that idea, which is why this 2010 Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne is so good.

Top composite photo: Winemaker Luca Currado and the label for 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne. Credit: Vietti Winery

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Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week: 2011 Foris Riesling

Riesling spent years on the unfashionable grape list, but that’s over, thankfully, and the varietal has been experiencing a serious comeback. This light, fruity-tart 2011 Foris Riesling from Oregon’s Rogue Valley, with its flavors of bright citrus and green apple flavors and only 11% alcohol (!), is one of the many fine and inexpensive ones available. It’s a bit in the Alsace style, and like many Rieslings, it’s exceptionally food-friendly. It was the perfect choice with scallops and bok choy laced with lemon slices at a recent dinner. And it was another reminder that Oregon wine country is about a lot more than Pinot Noir.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2011 Foris Riesling

Price: $13.50

Region: Rogue Valley, Oregon

Grape: 100% Riesling

Alcohol: 11%

Serve with: Ham, smoked salmon and trout with horseradish cream sauce, sautéed scallops

More from Zester Daily:

» Looking back at the Summer of Riesling

» An Oregon Riesling served at Obama state dinner

» Oregon Pinot Noirs don't have to be $100 a bottle

» An Alsatian Riesling delight

Riesling’s revival in the U.S. owes much to sommelier and self-described “acid freak” Paul Grieco, co-owner of New York’s Terroir wine bars and Hearth restaurant. He initiated the Summer of Riesling movement back in 2008, when he decided the only white wines he’d pour by the glass in his wine bars and restaurant from June to September would be Riesling. Now the idea has gone national and a page lists hundreds of participants and events. There’s still time to join in, as these continue through Sept. 21.

It’s not surprising that Oregon has become a source of interesting Rieslings. The state’s cool climate and ancient volcanic soils give the wines a unique character. It was one of the first varietals planted, and in the 1980s, nearly 25% of the state’s vines were Riesling. Then Pinot Noir started grabbing everyone’s attention. Today, only about 50 wineries (of 450) produce Riesling.

The Foris winery goes back to 1971, when Ted Gerber and his first wife Meri bought vineyard land in remote Illinois Valley in southwest Oregon. In 1974 they planted Pinot Noir and Alsace varietals — Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and, of course, Riesling. At first they sold grapes, but in 1986, they founded their boutique winery, which now produces wines from about 180 acres divided among four vineyards in the Rogue Valley appellation. Like Alsace, their vineyards experience a wide diurnal shift — warm days, cool nights — that gives the wines roundness and crisp acidity.

This 2011 Foris Riesling has both, which is why it’s so delicious with food.

Try it and see.

Top photo composite: Label and bottle for the 2011 Foris Riesling. Credit:

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2010 Camille Giroud Cote de Beaune-Villages and winemaker David Croix. Credit: Michel Joly

I’m a huge Burgundy fan, so I’m always looking for delicious wines from this fashionable region of France that have reasonable price tags. The lacy, perfumed 2010 Côte de Beaune Villages from boutique négociant Maison Camille Giroud, which tastes of red berries and exudes elegance, is one I’ve sampled recently that definitely fits the description.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2010 Camille Giroud Côte de Beaune-Villages

Price: $33

Region: Burgundy, France

Grape: 100% Pinot Noir

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with:  Grilled salmon with new potatoes, tuna steaks with mild red fruit salsa

More of Elin's wine picks:

» A favorite Portuguese white that exudes far more quality than its price suggests

» Violet- and truffle-scented 2010 Domaine Colinot Irancy Les Mazelots

» Savory-tart 2009 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Premier Cru Clos des Myglands

The wine was on the list at Le Filet, a trendy Montreal restaurant with outdoor tables that specializes in fish dishes cooked with Japanese flair. The menu is all small plates, and this light, savory Côte de Beaune-Villages went with just about everything we ordered except the briny raw oysters from Prince Edward Island — proving once again the food-friendliness of wines made from Pinot Noir grapes.

Maison Camille Giroud has a long history, dating to 1865. But the Giroud family decided to sell in 2002 to a group of Americans led by Ann Colgin and Joe Wender, who preside over Napa Valley’s cult Cabernet label Colgin Cellars. They brought in the indefatigable Becky Wasserman-Hone to help revamp and modernize the cellar. (An American, Wasserman-Hone settled in Burgundy in 1968 and now runs her export firm Le Serbet, which represents more than 100 French wineries.) They hired brilliant young Burgundian winemaker David Croix to oversee the wines. Even entry-level bottles, such as this Côte de Beaune-Villages, are superb.

Allure of Burgundy

The in-demand Burgundies that command the highest prices are the region’s premiers and grands crus from the famous Côte d’Or, a narrow, 35-kilometer-long (21.7-mile-long) limestone escarpment that contains some of the most expensive vineyard land on earth. It’s divided into two parts: the northern Côte de Nuits and the southern Côte de Beaune, the source of my pick this week. Reds from the Côte de Beaune-Villages appellation are a step up from those labeled simply Bourgogne rouge, and must use only grapes that come from one or more of 16 villages in the southern part of the Côte d’Or.

The 2010 vintage produced wonderfully silky reds despite the year’s sometimes difficult growing conditions, which included a poor flowering at the beginning of the season, a cool August and hail and thunderstorms in September. Unfortunately, yields were lower than usual, which means there’s less wine from this vintage to go around.

Croix, now also the managing director of Maison Camille Giroud, has never been a fan of new oak and this wine reflects his emphasis on fresh, bright seductive fruit. No, it’s not super cheap. But this 2010 Camille Giroud Côte de Beaune-Villages shows that Burgundies, even at the bargain level, are better than ever.

Top composite photo: 2010 Camille Giroud Cote de Beaune-Villages label and winemaker David Croix. Credit: Michel Joly

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Alvaro Castro and his daughter Maria. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Skurnik Co.

Portugal continues to be a source of fine wines at exceptionally reasonable prices. When I think of the country’s Dão region, though, I usually think red wine. So this smooth, citrusy white, 2012 Alvaro Castro “DAC” Dão Branco, really surprised me. It has a lovely combination of fragrant crisp fruit and intense mineral tastes, with way more quality than its price suggests. It was one of my favorites among a group of white wines from the Dão region that I sampled recently.

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week

2012 Alvaro Castro DAC Dão Branco

Price: $14

Region: Dão, Portugal

Grape: 40% Bical, 40% Cercial, 20% Encruzado

Alcohol: 13%

Serve slightly chilled:  Grilled cod or bluefish with garlic and lemon

Two more Portuguese wine selections:

» Dry red charm of 2009 P + S Post Scriptum

» Vibrant white 2009 Niepoort Tiara

Located in the heart of Portugal south of the Douro, where the country’s famous ports come from, the Dão is one of the oldest wine regions in the country and Alvaro Castro’s family roots go back to the 16th century. A former civil engineer, Castro took over his family’s two quintas (estates), Saes and Pellada, in 1980 and now makes wines in collaboration with his daughter Maria. A major personality in the Portuguese wine world, he is immersed in many winemaking projects including a joint wine, Dado, with the ever-inventive Dirk Niepoort.

The Dão used to be dominated by cooperatives because of restrictive wine laws, but in the past couple of decades a revolution has been going on, and there’s significant investment from private individuals who have upped quality. The region is often described as Portugal’s Burgundy because of the style of the wines, which favor finesse and subtlety over power. That’s certainly true of Castro’s wines.

DAC brand is Castro’s inexpensive entry level brand — there’s a red, too — but the granite soils and the altitude at which the grapes are grown lie behind the wine’s distinctive character just as they do for his lineup of more expensive wines. Many of those carry the Quinta da Pellada name.

Castro is passionate about local grape varieties — Portugal has hundreds — and the DAC white (branco) is a blend of three. Lemony Encruzado, the most planted white grape in the region, is very fragrant. High acid Bical is usually used in blends and contributes brightness and notes of apricot. Cercial develops smoky hints with age.

Few wine lovers seem to be familiar with the wines from the Dão region, but it’s filled with bargains well worth discovering — like this 2012 DAC Branco.

Top photo: Alvaro Castro and his daughter Maria. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Skurnik company.

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