A Matter of Choice – Douro

Portugal’s Douro Valley is known for its port but its table wines are also taking centrestage.

HERBACEOUSNESS or herbal, vegetal and grassy flavours in certain white wines give them character and an attractive green tang. But in red wine, they are often considered to be negative attributes.

This flavour is usually the result of grapes picked and processed when unripe. The resulting wine often lacks fruity taste or structure. Thus many wine producers spend much effort to sort their grapes and remove unripe berries, thus preventing the weedy, green taste from emerging in their red wines.

Not Dirk Niepoort, though. He is the fifth generation head of a family business in Portugal’s Douro Valley that has been making port since 1842, and more recently, wine. He will readily tell you that a little herbaceousness in red wines is a desirable thing.

“Which of these, made from the same vineyard, do you prefer?” asks Dirk who offers me two glasses of red wine.

I taste them and there are similarities. One is rich with ripe dark fruit and a velvety texture, the other is less flamboyant. It has the same dark fruit aromas and flavours but there are nuances of herbs and grass and a silky texture. Whilst the former is impressive, the latter is delicate. No doubt as to which gets my vote.

“The first wine you tasted is made from grapes picked quite ripe whilst the latter, which you preferred, is made from grapes which are on the green side,” smiles Dirk, enjoying my look of surprise.

He shows me around his brand new winery, called Quinta de Napoles. The tour begins at the grape sorting table. Workers stand on both sides of a conveyor belt and grapes whizz past. Each bunch is subjected to inspection – overripe berries, sometimes entire bunches, are removed here.

The rest of the winery, with its state of the art equipment (conical tanks, presses, hydraulic punch down machines) would make any New World winemaker green with envy.

It feels surreal as we are, after all, in Douro Valley, where Old World port is really the area’s claim to fame. But it looks like its red wine has also come to take centrestage.

I enquire if the Niepoort family’s port business has modernised but Dirk assures me that he still makes port very much in the traditional method. His passion, however, is making table wine – red and white.

In 1987, when his father bought vineyards, the Niepoorts were port shippers who purchased basic port wines, then matured and blended them. Dirk only became passionate about wine after working as an intern with Movenpick restaurants in Switzerland.

When he joined the family business, it was coincidental that the Douro region had just entered a new phase of making table wines.

“If you want to see something old, come down to our port lodge,” invites Dirk.

I travel three hours from the hillside vineyards back to the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, located across the river from the city of Porto. Here, the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean and many port houses store their wines in warehouses called lodges, much as they have been doing for centuries.

There is no signboard on the old oak door. Not even a bell. I bang on the door and moments later, it is unlocked by Dirk. Inside, the smell of an ancient wine cellar assails my nose. It is not unpleasant but a mix of earth, mushrooms and the scent of wine.

In the dim light, I see huge wooden casks of wine maturing amidst cobwebs that are decades old. I pinch myself – hadn’t I seen this place before in a scene from Lord of the Rings perhaps?

I finally get to taste some port. A 1966 vintage; no less. It is a Colheita that has been matured in casks and then bottled in 1985. It is sublime with floral, hibiscus, coffee and mocha overtones.

Dirk certainly has offered me some of the best tasting experiences: After those red wines he offered me at the vinyard, he also pours me some Niepoort white wine from the 1996 vintage. It has the nose of an aged Riesling with a hint of diesel (considered to be asset), but half an hour later, it develops some honey and biscuity overtones, reminiscent of a aged white Burgundy or white Rhone.

Over time, the wine opens up to aromas of baked root vegetables, almonds and a hint of dry sherry. Meanwhile, in the mouth, it is fresh with flavours of custard and chrysthemum tea. I am awed – here’s truly a special wine from a talented winemaker.

Another glass of red wine is handed to me and I take a big sniff. There is mushroom, smoke, stewed cherries. Over time, I detect animal and earthy flavours with a touch of soy in the red wine.

I am convinced it is a Burgundy. Dirk shows me the bottle; it is a Niepoort Robustos of the 1990 vintage – the first red wine Dirk ever made!

Not bad for a guy with no oenological background. He makes wine purely out of passion and knowledge gathered from everywhere.

A true lover of wines, he travels, tastes wines made by other producers, talks to them and learns from their experiences. Then he goes home and makes better wines.

From the corner of my eye, I spy Dirk coming up to me with yet two more glasses of wine.

“These are made by a friend who has a small winery in Spain,” he says to me. “Tell me which you prefer….”

published in the Star Newspapers


The New Rioja

Most wine lovers know Rioja as a dry red wine – made from a blend of grapes from different regions. Before its release, Rioja is maturated lovingly in American oak casks, and also in the bottle. The resulting wine is undoubtedly memorable with flavours of dusty red and black fruit, coconut and hints of leather, subtle nutty oxidative nuances with a savoury sweet finish.

Typically the wine making of Rioja begins in parts, each different, bringing unique elements to complete the wine. In short, fresh, aromatic and bracing wines from one or two sub regions (Alavesa and Alta) are blended with warm rich wines of another (Baja) to achieve balance and harmony.

From Alavesa and Alta, come Tempranillo. Both sub regions are cool, thanks to the Atlantic influence and lofty vineyard locations of more than 500m. The terroir here teases out delicate flavours of strawberry and tobacco in the Tempranillo grape. What you get are fresh structured wines. A third sub region – the Rioja Baja, supplies the balancing texture. Here, the climate is Mediterranean – dry and warm. The Garnacha grape thrives here, and brings to any blend, alcohol and volume.

The blended Rioja is aged in American oak (often in large vats) to round out tannins and to develop characters of leather and earth. The end result is a wine as complete as can be.

These days however, a new Rioja style has emerged. It’s simply referred to as the ‘Modern Rioja’ to distinguish it from the ‘Traditional Rioja’ style described above.

The ‘modern’ Rioja is different in the sense that grapes are picked when the fruit begins to exhibit intense flavours. Strong extraction (long macerations) and other methods ensure the resulting wines are fruit forward. Wines are aged for a shorter period, usually in small French oak barrels. The resulting wine is decidedly New Worldly in taste – creamy texture, juicy sweet red and black fruit. A toasty vanilla edge with hints of dried herbs comes from the small oak barrel treatment.

Towards an evolving Rioja

On a visit to Rioja recently, I discovered for myself, that leading producers are taking their own routes to making excellent wines.  The lines between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ aren’t quite as defined as before – and wines span a myriad of tastes.

Bodegas Roda is a relatively new wine company that began operations in 1991 (Rioja was first demarcated in 1926 but many wineries have been producing wine there since the 19th Century). Since, Roda has quickly established itself as a ‘modern’ wine producer with its big, bold wines that appealed to drinkers upon release. Its flagship – Cirsion, quickly took a place amongst Spain’s top 20 wines. Roda continues the traditional approach to blending but with one caveat. Only the best fruit from low yielding, old vines are selected, often from various blocks of vineyards in the Alta and the Baja. From the Alta, Roda uses Tempranillo as well as a minor grape, Graciano; from the Baja, it’s Garnacha and Tempranillo. And with a short ageing period in new French oak, Roda wines emerge – voluptuous and velvety.

Re-emergence of minor varietals

But why use Graciano, a minor Rioja grape?

I got my answer at Dinastia Vivanco. This winery, located in a small hilltop town of Briones, is a champion for grapes like Graciano and Mazuelo. Graciano has a beautiful blueberry hue apart from violet and minty notes. In the past, producers used Graciano to add colour, fragrance and acidity to their wines. Few however realised that the Graciano grapevine needs fertile soils to produce those characteristics, hence it was gradually left out of the blend. Not any more. Just as impressive, Dinastia Vivanco’s Mazuelo was brimming with mulberry fruit flavours with some mineral and chalk elements. I was told that in the past, Mazuelo had been sidelined because few realised that it reveals its true taste only when the vine is quite old.

The rise of Garnacha

At Bodegas Emperatriz, owned and managed by the enthusiastic and youthful Hernáiz brothers, it is Garnacha that makes its statement. The Emperatriz Garnacha was lush with blackberry jam and succulent cherry notes with a touch of ground black pepper. It was not overwhelming, but rather elegant, and did not require the tempering structure or acidity of high grown Tempranillo. The secret here is fruit harvested from 65 year-old vines!

I recalled my encounter with a spicier version of Dinastia Vivanco’s Garnacha. Yet, tasting another producer’s wine, the Ruiz Jimenez’ Garnacha, revealed savoury characters. That’s when the realisation hit me about Garnacha. Treated with care, Garnacha is not just a blending wine with high alcohol and low acidity – subtle, structured, elegant and tasty – it will hold its own alongside Tempranillo as another noble Rioja varietal.

Regional identity

Now, armed with the knowledge of Rioja’s grapes, I headed to Palacios Remondo, owned by Alvaro Palacios. Spanish wine aficionados know of his cult wine, l’Ermita, from the Priorat. Palacios is now championing Rioja – especially Rioja Baja (or Orientale as Alvaro calls it).

“On vineyard sited on a cool hillside where the soil is chalk or stony”, Palacios suggests, “Garnacha will shine”. In a vineyard above the town of Alfaro, Palacios’ Baja grown grapes enjoy hot days and cool nights amongst the higher altitudes. A revelation indeed, since Baja is often associated with only heat. And it is here, that Palacios fashioned Garnacha and Tempranillo into the wine called Remondo ‘La Montesa’ – impressive with dark fruit, wild herbs, lively acidity allied with elegant tannins and a minerally finish.

Next up, I encountered the single vineyard wine –  Senorio San Vincente de la Sonsierra (from the Eguren family). In the early 80’s, a vineyard had been chosen for its good drainage, poor soil, good midday exposure and sheltered position against the cold north wind. The recent vintage of the wine, a 100% Tempranillo, made using both modern and traditional methods, was perfumed with dark chocolate and cassis, tasty acids and round tannins. To compare, a 1999 proved to be sophisticated with all the bearings of a grand mature red.

The wisdom of tradition

So far, I had been revelling in ‘modern’ styled wines. What of the traditionalists? Wasn’t it at the prestigious Grandes de la Rioja 2010 blind tasting exhibition of over a hundred wines, that a 1997 La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 stood a head taller than many of the ‘modern’ styled wines, with its complexity, evolution and finish?

And at Lopez de Heredia / VinaTondonia, wines are still made in the most traditional way –  no different from 1877 when the winery came to being. I tasted a 1989, then a 1981 and finally a 1961. The three wines left me with a truly unforgettable impression –wines with a depth of character underpinning its bouquet and flavours of stewed fruit, olives, hay, herbs, earth and more. Yet the wine remained fresh all throughout, thanks to fine acids. It was revealed that if new vines are needed, they are grown using ‘massale selection’ (cuttings taken from the old vines to replicate the same characteristics) and unlike the ‘modern’ techniques, wines continue to be lovingly aged in big oak vats, exposed slowly to oxygen – the secret to the wines’ longevity, hence revealed.

Where is Rioja headed then?

I turned to Mr. Mardones, in charge of the Rioja Region Agricultural Research station. Over the last decade, he has identified and collected 1300 clones of Tempranillos. Not only that, the researchers have re-discovered 64 varieties of Rioja indigenous (native and rare) grapes, and soon we’ll see and additional 13 new minority grape varietals suited for the Rioja terroir.

Traditional wine, or modern wine, single varietal wine, or single vineyard wine, youthful wine or aged wine, with such diversity, Rioja is headed for the stars!

Published in Appetite, February 2010

Watch videos on Rioja wines at the American Culinary Institute World of Flavor – Spain site.

Maranges

At the Grands Jours de Bourgogne wine exhibition that is held every two years in Burgundy, vignerons and producers gather and pour out delicious tasting portions of wine all day at their booths. Many wine professionals can be found tasting Cote d’Or where many of Burgundy’s Grand Cru wines come from.

Whilst Grand Crus represent the best, their prices are also commensurate. In a quest to seek out good value Burgundy, I turned to the lesser-known appellations. And this was how I came to discover the Maranges.

Domaine Sorine et Fils is best known for Santennay wines, from most southerly wine-producing commune of the Cote de Beaune (within Cote d’Or) and the wines are noted for good fruit flavours and good tannic structure. It was after tasting the domaine’s Santennay 1er Cru Beaurepaire that I was asked by Mr. Sorine, “Do you know Maranges?”  A shake of my head resulted in a pouring of a wine called Maranges 1er Cru ‘Clos Roussot’. It had a soft silky texture, tasty light acids and was quite delicious. I wondered why I had not heard of this wine. Mr. Sorine explained that the Maranges that lies next to the Cote d’Or, is the youngest appellation in Burgundy and only had received its appellation status in 1989.

At the next booth, I met Mr Pablo Chevrot of Domaine Chevrot who must have overheard my questions and he shared a bit more. ‘Did you know that before Marange became an appellation, negociants had used Marange wines to add depth and complexity to their blends of Cote de Beaune-villages? It’s because the Maranges wines offer a miscellany of tastes.” Three Chevrot wines lay in front of me.  The first, a Maranges 2008 ‘Sol de Chene’ was delightful with bright raspberry fruit and soft acidity.  The next wine I lifted to my lips was a Marange 1er Cru, ‘Les Clos Roussots’ 2008. It proved to be elegant with mixed red fruits, herbs, mocha and mint overtones. Finally, a Maranges 1er Cru, ‘Le Croix Moins’ turned out to be complex with star anise, cinnamon, mixed spices, herbs and sweet fruit. I never expected to encounter so many different versions of a wine.  Mr. Chevrot explained that the 170 hectares of Maranges vines are planted on various soils and it is these soils that contribute to varied tastes – call it terroir. Chevrot’s three wines certainly attest to this. I learned that the first wine was made from grapes grown on gravel soils; the second wine came from fruit grown on limestone soils and third wine’s spicy character is due to deep soils containing silica.

At the booth of Domaine Maurice Charleux et Fils, I was revelling in wines from old vines and this confirmed rumours that another secret of the Maranges – many vines still contain old vines. Domaine Maurice Charleux et Fils’ Vieilles Vignes (old vine) Maranges was showing a complex mix of red fruits, spice and soft acids. The big surprise was a white Marange 2008 – with white stone fruit aromas and soft acids. According to the producer, less than 5% of the wines of the Maranges are white. Then I got to taste a 1er Cru Marange called ‘Fussieres’ – This white wine, made from only 3 year old vines was so rich full and complex with sweet ginger and nutmeg overtones that it could have passed off for a Grand Cru wine.

Intrigued, I took a drive to the Maranges.

As I headed west from Santenay, the ‘Golden Slope’ or Cote d’Or seemed to end just as I went around the hill.  The traffic thinned out and the landscape changed quite dramatically. A medieval castle, the Chateau de Couches came to view. Vines were not to be seen for a stretch of road; instead small groups of cows were spotted grazing here and there on green swathes of land. The road gradually became hilly and then as we turned another corner, I spotted quaint villages dotted on the crests of small hills. Incredibly, the sun emerged from behind the clouds and illuminated vineyards yonder.

And then it occurred to me, the Maranges is not only one of the most pretty of vineyards in Burgundy – there are lovely, affordable wines to be had here.

More about the Maranges

The Maranges lies between Burgundy’s two major sub regions – the Cote d’Or and the Cote Chalonnaise.

Until the appellation came about the wine producing villages were called Cheilly-les-Maranges, Dezize-les-Maranges and Sampigny-les-Maranges. Dezize-lès-Maranges is the one located highest up on the slope. Today, the whole area is simply known as the Maranges.

There are nine premier crus, of which some are shared between the villages. They are

Les Clos Roussots, La Fussière, and Clos de la Boutière, La Fussière in the Cheilly-les-Maranges village;  La Fussière, Clos de la Fussière, and La Croix aux Moines in the Dezize-les-Maranges village; and  Les Clos Roussots, Le Clos des Rois, and Le Clos des Loyères in the Sampigny-les-Maranges village.

About 33 produces make Maranges wines. Many of the Maranges best wines are made from grapes grown on soils containing a relatively high content of limestone and clay not too much different from the Cote d’Or escarpment. Hence the Maranges wines at times are reminiscent of the Cote d’Or wines but prices mean they reflect excellent value.

In Maranges, expect to find rich, full-bodied wines brimming with red fruit; dark and robust chewy wines with black and red fruit as well as complex and elegant wines. There are also citrus fruity soft whites with a hint of tangy acidity as well as the textured, complex and full white wines.

Burgundy Vintage Report 2007/2008

It’s never too late to report on a vintage. In most times its best to report after the wines have been bottled, rather than earlier, when the wines are in the barrel. Pronouncements about the 2007 and 2008 vintages of Burgundy during spring or summer had to be modified since the weather and climate changed and shaped the quality and quantity of the fruit during the growing season and harvest. Here is a selection of tasting notes on the most memorable wines that I tasted in November 2009 when I attended the Beaune wine auction and in March 2010 at the Grands Jours Exhibition.

They demonstrate that 2007 is a lovely vintage. Reds are approachable and if tannins are not hefty, the wines are sophisticated and textured and make for delicious drinking. Whites are pure, exquisitely balanced and are starting to drink very well indeed.

As for the 2008 vintage, it has been said to be one the best vintages for Chablis of the last 25 years – wines have all the qualities of intensity, minerality, balance, and liveliness. For Burgundy as a whole, excellent reds and whites mark the 2008 vintage.

The 2007 Vintage
It began with a mild winter. Next, some unusual warmth in March and what followed was more heat in April. The result of a little too much warmth and sunshine accelerated all things natural. Buds burst out and flowering got under way. Growers were sure they were heading for a hot year, maybe a heatwave like in 2003. Everything pointed towards an early harvest in mid-August, and it was likely that New Worldly fruit driven wines would be made. Then unexpectedly, came some cooler months, with rain. Ironically, growers started worrying again, this time about ripening. But in the end, came some warmer days in August and September. Growers breathed a sigh of relief, reciting the oft bandied phrase, “Dieu est un Bourguignon” (God is indeed a Burgundian). Growers that sorted their grapes ended up with a good normal sized harvest of Pinot Noirs with good aromas and Chardonnays with a nice acid backbone. Some of the best reds are multidimensional. Whites have been admired for their precise presentation with good tension.

Red
Dujac, Morey St. Denis, 1er Cru – Truffles, prunes and red fruit, elegantly presented. Fine and silky tannins, a light and approachable wine that will continue to improve.

Comte Armand, Pommard, 1er Cru, “Clos des Epeneaux” – Red fruit, hint of raspberries and spice, sticky tannins and lovely finish.

Camille Giroud, Vosne-Romanée, 1er Cru – Lots of tannins and good acid structure, still quite closed but with some spicy notes revealed. A keeper.

Frédéric Magnien, Charmes-Chambertin, Grand Cru – Perfumed nose, full broad in the mouth with soft silky tannin.

White
Jacques Prieur Meursault, 1er Cru “Les Perrieres”– Stone fruits, minerals, honey, butter, soft yet with supporting acids. Rich and fruity yet floral also. Long.

Pierre Morey, Meursault – Vanilla, white fruits and incredibly balanced. Elegant, soft, round and hint of honey.

Sebastien Magnien, Meursault, 1er Cru, “Les Meix Chavaux” – White fruits, generous, round, fresh and sprightly acidity, silky finish.

Bret Brothers, La Soufrandière, Pouilly-Vinzelles, Climat les Quarts – Smooth rich yet elegant wine with tasty acids and a very long tail.

Vincent Dureuil-Janthial, Rully Blanc, ‘Maizieres’ – Lovely crisp presentation with minerals and citrus.

The 2008 Vintage
Spring came off with a good start. It was warm and by mid May, vines were producing leaves. But a summer with lots of rain meant a cold and wet season. Vignerons even experienced hail in their vineyards. The result – rot mildew and oidium and ultimately reduced crop. Everyone was lamenting the state of the vintage. Then came the miracle. Autumn brought with it the sun and bright skies. Not only that, windy days were just the thing to dry out the vines and vineyards, bringing a halt to the rot. And with good weather all the way through, the vintage was saved. If vignerons ended up with fewer and smaller grapes, the resulting juice turned out to be quite concentrated. At the end, wines, from the basic Bourgogne right up to the Grand Cru turned out to be quite elegant, with good acids (thanks to the cool temperatures throughout the year) and considerable elegance. Reds were pure whilst whites were delicious.

Red
Ponsot Clos St. Denis ‘Tres veilles vignes’, Grand Cru (in barrel) – Red and black fruit, herbs pepper spice. Developing every few minutes. Beginning with yellow fruit then white fruit then flower petals, then mixed spice. Balanced, silky soft yet every present tannins. Very long.

Dujac, Bonne Mares, Grand Cru – Subtle aromas of florals with rich red fruit, silky tannins, broad and elegant presentation.

Sorine et Fils, Maranges 1er Cru “Clos Roussot” – Red fruits, light yet present acids, and soft as fleece. Delicious.

Georges Chicotot, Nuits St.-Georges 1er Cru “Les Vaucrains” – Red fruits, white pepper, hint of jam and minerals.

Didier-Montchovet, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune – Silky soft, full on flavour balanced with a sweet note.

Genot-Boulanger, Pommard 1er Cru, “Clos Blanc” – Red fruits, hint of strawberry, spicy and with tasty acids.

Domaine Romanee Conti, Romanee Conti, Grand Cru (in barrel) – Sweet fruit and spice, yet understated. Big structure with lacy tannins, yet elegant. Long, sensual and unforgettable.

Stephane Brocard, Corton-Renardes, Grand Cru – Intense with lots of layers, spicy and silky with good structure.

Bouchard Aine & Fils, Charmes Chambertin, Grand Cru – Smoky with woody overtones but balanced by fruit; broad in the mouth.

Albert Bichot, Echezeaux, Grand Cru – Perfumed and quite feminine with good structure and a long finish.

White
Henri de Villamont, Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru – Lots of fruit and balance, complex and complete.

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis Bougros, Grand Cru – Lots of different aromas mingling together – herbs, flowers, nuts and marmalade, lively.

Louis Latour, Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru – Minerals, almonds, good structure and ample in the mouth

Rous Pere & Fils Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru – Pears, ripe fruit, tasty acids and round.

Seguin Manuel Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru – Mineral oil, balanced, luscious in the mouth and long.

Domaine des Perdrix, Nuits-Saint Georges, Blanc, 1er Cru, “Les Terres Blanches”– Brimming with pear, grapefruit and green apples made for a memorable and unexpected white wine from a mostly red wine appellation.

Denis Bouchacourt, Macon-Solutré – White fruits and florals, beautiful mid palate, complete in every sense with a lovely long finish.

Domaine de la Saraziniere, Bourgogne Aligoté – Floral, round lively with a touch of tangy acid and a finish of peach and pear. Very tasty.

Ninot Rully 1er Cru Gresigny – Scintillating acidity yet elegant with citrus white and yellow fruits, a hint of minerals and nuts with a long finish.

Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay – Nose of white flowers, flavours of white fruits, round and sweet, soft effervescent acids, beautifully presented.

The Cellars of DRC

Shiraz of South Africa

as reported in the Star Newspapers

Syrah’s origin is the stuff of legends – The Kings of Persia (now Iran) were the first to taste Syrah wine.  The grape subsequently traveled to Europe thanks to a returning crusader. Another story has ancient Greeks bringing Syrah vines from Persia to Sicily. The Romans then took vine cuttings from Sicily and planted them on a hill in the Rhone Valley called Hermitage.

But how did Syrah get to South Africa?
Surprisingly, it was thanks to a migrant to Australia, James Busby, during the early 1800’s. Curious about wines, Busby went back up north, to Spain and France to visit vineyards.  On his return to Australia, he brought along vine cuttings. The ship that Busby sailed in, stopped off at the Cape to pick up provisions.  And he must have dropped off some Syrah cuttings there.

The rest of the cuttings were renamed Shiraz and they became Australia’s most famous wine. But how has Syrah fared in South Africa?

I recently visited Stellenbosch, Paarl and various wine regions of South Africa to find out.

Colin Collard, who runs a successful ‘Wine of the Month Club’ in South Africa (SA), gave me a quick overview over a glass of delicious Shiraz, by La Motte winery.  “Because the Shiraz grape produces low yields there was little demand for it. After apartheid, all changed. When I started the business, there were only 100 wineries in the country. Over the years cooperatives were privatized and today there are over 600 wine companies. Farmers who used to supply low quality grapes to cooperatives suddenly became wine producers. Producing quality wines meant they could charge more and reap healthy profit. So they turned to the quality cultivation of the Shiraz grape.”

Later, at the Michaelangelo Wine Challenge, alongside other judges, I blind-tasted lots of Shiraz. The wines were deep coloured, had a perfume of ripe red fruits, filled the mouth with flavours, yet tannins were ripe and lightly chewy. Added to it, the wine finish was long – all you would expect of a good wine. So I decided to take notes and after the blind tasting was over, was able to identify some favourites.

In taste, it is difficult to pin down a distinct SA style. Some wines are reminiscent of France’s Northern Rhone Hermitage wines, with raspberry and blackcurrant flavours, a toasty edge and a rich grand texture. Others resembled Cote Rotie, being redolent of red fruits such as cherry with smoky undertones and a hint of meat.  Yet, some others were almost undistinguishable from the Australian Barossa Shiraz, with big, complex mouth filling flavours of the hot-climate grown grapes. And there was also SA Shiraz with a big structure allied to elegance, like those Australian cool climate Clare Valley wines.

I paid a visit to Fairview Estate where Charles Back is a champion of the grape. “Shiraz is the back bone of our business; the grape excels in the Paarl Mountain; and the most expressive Shiraz wine is usually made from grapes growing on granite soils”.

Yet granite is not the only soil that Shiraz thrives on. At another Paarl-based estate, Simonsvlei, the deep clay soils are responsible for spicy overtones. Indeed, the spice element is found in Simonsvlei’s ‘standard’ Shiraz as well as in their Hercules Paragon Shiraz.

That is not to say you don’t get outstanding Shiraz in other regions. Mulderbosch Estate’s Shiraz, made from grapes grown in the Stellenbosch region, was like a Gigondas from Rhone’s south – the wine had nuances of violets, iodine and a freshly ground white pepper.

Table Mountain is better known for its panoramic views than wine. Still, the Muratie Estate’s vines grown on the Table Mountain’s sandstone soils produced a rich Shiraz, with a delicious ripeness, modern in style.

It was the juicy Bilton with bright fruit that reminded me of the cool temperature ferment Shiraz of certain Australian wines. Then there was the rich red fruity wine with lashings of vanilla and oak from Hofstraat Winery’s ‘Renosterbos Shiraz’. It was inspiring – for the creator is a ‘garagiste’ – a term used to describe home winemakers who rent equipment and cellar space to make their dream wine – usually 1 but up to 12 barrels of it.

Yet another wine, oozing with strawberry jam and blackcurrant flavours, is the former cooperative Kango Winery’s ‘Swartberg Shiraz’. Made from grapes grown in yet another part of the Cape, these lovely wines had wine connoisseurs arguing about the origins of fine SA Shiraz.

Is there a need to pin down a definable style for SA Shiraz? Lovers of the grape variety will love the Saronsberg ‘Full Circle’– with its lightly bitter tannins. Or they might revel in the Kleine Zalze, all spicy and fruity. Alternatively, the Kaapzicht is cherry-smoky like with muscular tannins. Then again they might prefer the Landskroon ‘Paul de Viller’ with a savoury taste and chewy tannins. For something all complex and layered it has to be the De Grendel. Looking for something plummish that will stand the test of time, then a Kanu Shiraz is for you. And if you love organic, hand-made wines, the Shiraz of Springfield Estate is a must.

Shiraz may yet turn out to be South Africa’s new signature red.

Douro – Cristiano Van Zeller

Until recently, all the Douro Valley exporters produced port. However, it’s not that table wines were never produced in the Douro. The port producers did make small amounts of table wines for local consumption, usually from surplus grapes or grapes that by law could not be used for making port.

Lately, however, a new generation of winemakers in the Douro are turning their attention to producing red wines for export. Instead of using surplus or low quality grapes, they have been using the same, high quality grapes that were destined for port.

These include Touriga Nacional (venerated for its tannins and acidity), Touriga Franca (prized for its perfumed aromas) and other grapes varieties such as Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cao (produces concentrated and spicy wines) and Tinta Barroca.

The reason for this couldn’t be simpler. If the grapes can be turned into high quality port, surely fine table wines can also be made.

Any visitor to the Douro Valley will be awed by the vista of stunning hills, running on both sides of the river and falling steeply down to the water’s edge. And on the steep slopes of the hills are man-made terraces, all planted with vines.

In this region of contrasts, winters are cold and wet while summers are searingly hot. Soils range from granite to schist, slate and even limestone. In many places, the Douro River cuts through the slate, thus splitting it into vertical layers below the surface . This enables water to seep in and roots grow deep.

Vines are planted almost everywhere from the river’s edge right up to an altitude of 500m. Microclimates abound and the conditions are perfect for making fine wine.

Cristiano, checking on our lunch

On a recent tour of Douro, I visited a group of five like-minded port producers who have turned their efforts towards making dry table wines. They do so with the intent of promoting the region for its fortified port wines as well as for its fine table wines. They call themelves the Douro Boys.

First of the Douro Boys is Cristiano van Zeller of Quinta Vale Dona Maria. A former co-owner of the esteemed port winery of Quinta do Noval, van Zeller set out on his own a little over a decade ago, buying a vineyard and then adding to it an old vineyard belonging to his wife’s family.

Although he began by making port, he discovered that he could also make good red wines from the same grapes. To make quality wine, “you make mistakes, try everything and even deliberate errors just to discover the consequences,” he shared.

Over the years, as van Zeller crafted his wines, he found a growing interest from appreciative drinkers for his table wines. Less port was made as more grapes from the vineyard were destined for wine.

Today, with the assistance of winemaker Sandra Tavares da Silva, 25,000 bottles of red wine are made at Quinta Vale Dona Maria. Van Zeller continues to expand operations by leasing neighbours vineyards and also acquiring them.

Winemaker Sandra Tavares da Silva (left) helps port producer van Zeller make fine, dry white table wine.

I tasted his Quinta Vale Dona Maria red wines from various vintages – all had beautiful aromas but it was the 2004 with a scent of fresh plums, a sweet core of red and black fruit and a complex and elegant finish that impressed me most.

Lemos & Van Zeller CV-Curriculum Vitae 2007 was another equally outstanding wine with power and stature; it was herbal with spice, violets, eucalyptus and pencil shavings, tannic and perfect for long ageing.

Then out of nowhere, van Zeller whisked out a pink wine.This was a big surprise as I had only been expecting red wines from the region. The delightful rosé wine lived up to the estate’s reputation – it was perfumed with strawberries and had a smooth texture. Another wine was uncorked. I was way past surprises. But even so the white Quinta do Vale Dona Maria VZ Branco seduced me with its citrus overtones, with an underlying oak flavour and creamy texture.

Douro wines certainly are full of revelations!

Note: Its entirely unfair to compare wines from different countries and regions but for readers unfamiliar with Portuguese table wines and wondering about the styles, here are some approximations:

The Quinta Vale Dona Maria is like a terroir-based European wine; The CV could be compared to a New World iconic wine, the pink, somewhat between a mid-heavy bodied Tavel and Navarra rose; and the Branco – I could have mistaken it for a Pessac Leognan.

Grüner Pastures

The Grüner Veltliner wine, once considered suitable only for quaffing in the Viennese Heurigen, has evolved into a wine that has earned its place in the lists of a handful of international restaurants.  Grüner Veltliner, literally meaning ‘green grape from the Veltlin village of Tirol’ is a local speciality grown on 36% of Austria’s 47,500 hectares of vineyards.

In style, the uniquely Austrian white wine Grüner Veltliner has elements in common with not only the wines of Germany, but also those of other countries. If I may venture a generalisation, the famous Grüner Veltliner is delicious, with floral-fruit typical of Rieslings wines, the snow-pea-kind of herbaceousness and fruitiness of Sauvignon Blancs from cool New World regions. Allied to it is the clean crisp yet un-aggressive dryness of the Australian Semillon wines whilst the silky richness found only in Alsace Gewurtztraminers completes the wine. With the best many varieties, no wonder Grüner Veltliner has become the most widely planted grape in Austria.

The Appetite Tasting Panel was convened and here’s what we thought of the wines.

The Panel

The Sommelier – Janice Koh
People who love bone dry Rieslings such as the zippy Aussie Clare types will love these wines. I was impressed with the freshness, even in the older wines. Some great Gruners were seen here today. I loved the big spectrum of flavour in the Loimer, the juxtaposed flavours of vanilla ice cream and minerals in the Neumayer Engelberg and the mineral crisp Neumayer Zwirch

The Wine Journalist – Jenny Tan
Most gruners are unoaked so it was refreshing to have toasty flavours in a gruner. Yet it is well handled. I am referring to the Kurt Angerer 1997. Wines like this were put up in a taste off in the UK recently and they beat some Burgundian Chardonnays!  There is potential in wood aged gruners.

The Wine Lecturer – Daniel
What an eclectic mix – so many styles in one variety. I am ecstatic. I’d drink Ott as there’s lots of stuff in the wine, and not forgetting the incredible balance. Then there is also Hirtzberger where I am seeing good development and its so different.

The Wine Journalist – Curtis
Huber was outstanding and way ahead, a classic with sea salt mineral flavours; Salomon Undhof was explosive – nutty with the salt and marmalade; and Neumayer Zwirch for its exotic botrytised style – this will will age. Ultimately my vote goes for the Non bortytised gruners – those with the inherent pomelo-grapefruit kind of searing acidity.

The Wine Consultant – John Chua
Just give me any gruners that are up to seven years old. There was a good showing here. I like them young. Huber for its overall taste, Ott for its density and refreshing taste and Salomon Undhof because it is spicy – all this is what gruner is.

Appetite Wine Editor – Ed soon
I could not imagine we tasted just one variety. And herein the secret is revealed. Savour them young but some can show those wonderful aged Riesling and mature Chardonnay characters when aged. This is a noble variety indeed. So bring on the sushi, the cheeses, the salads and even the meaty stews.

The Wines

* Good / ** Very Good / *** Outstanding

Nigl, ‘Privat’ 2006 (Kremstal) ** Peach, pear, yellow plums apricots, chick peas, intense, warm, textured, wholesome. A rich bold wine that works well with stews, meat dishes and cheeses
Markus Huber, ‘Obere Steigen’ 2006 (Traisental) *** Intense, with minerals, roses, bananas, lemons, grapefruit, sea salt. Racy and exuberant wine.
Eichinger ‘Gaisberg’ 2006 (Kamptal) *** Crystalline fresh, length with perfume of honey, peach, cream, tropical fruits and with a savoury finish and length. Truly a refreshing wine.
Loimer ‘Lois’ 2006 (Kamptal) ** Fresh minerality and squeeze of lemon, lingering although straightforward. A wine with lemon burst personality.
Ott ‘Der Ott’ 2006 (Wachau) ** Ripe banana and guava notes allied with white pepper, grapefruit, yet rich, warm and with a smoky savoury palate. A fruity wine.
Alzinger ‘Steinertal’ 2005 “smaragd” (Donauland) ** Hint of quince and peas, almonds florals and white stone fruits, fleshy yet zingy with a good balance. A poised wine.
Salomon ‘von Stein’ 2005 (Kremstal) ** Spicy, herbaceous, floral, biscuity, pickled ginger, mineral oil even; an inordinately complex wine.
Prager ‘Achleiten’ 2005 (Wachau) ** Edamame beans, green tea, off dry style with honey, botrytis but good intensity and an exotic wine.
Neumayer ‘Engelberg’ 2004 (Traisental) ** Leaner style with mint, herbal, bread, white pepper - exotic.
Neumayer ‘Zwirch’ 2004 (Traisental) ** Persimmons, pear, lemons and minerals. Pure with a toasty flavour. Angular wine.
F.X. Pichler 2003 “smaragd” (Wachau) ** Fat, fruity, toffee nose, earthy with barley mints and cammomile; textured and earthy wine.
Hirtzberger - Honivogl 2003 (Spitz/Donau-Wachau) ** Opulent, rich, honeyed with minerals and development of secondary bouquet. Layered and long and big.
Domaine Wachau (FWW) 2000 “smaragd” ** Atypical wine with whiffs of lemon curd, pineapples, flint and slightly oil but complex with soy and bacon.
Kurt Angerer ‘Donatus’ 1997 (Kamptal) ** Classic wood aged and mature wine nose - buttery, spicy, mineral oil, yet underlined by fresh citrus notes and some toast and vanilla. Smoky.

Grüner At a Glance
Growing Grüner

Previously, more the merrier – This variety adapts easily to many soil types and can produce at high crop levels. The Lenz Moser vine training system, named for the Austrian producer who developed it, was developed so that the vine could produce lots of grapes in widely spaced vineyards that accommodate machines to reduce labour costs. However, the wines farmed this way turned out to be light and simple; but lot of wine can be made this way.

Less is more, today –  In the 1990’s, Austria’s winemakers discovered that, with lower yields and higher ripeness, Grüner Veltliner can produce strikingly intense and concentrated wines. So began the shift towards high end Grüner Veltliners.

Grüner Where

The wines are terroir specific and so their styles can range from fruity with white-pepper nuances to those with secondary flavours reminiscent of lentils and bayleaf, depending on where the vine is grown.

•    Weinviertel – This district within Niederösterreich and Austria’s single largest winegrowing area and offers the medium- and light- bodied Gruner, of ordinary quality.

•    Wachau – Lying west of Vienna and facing south and on bank of the Danube is the Wachau region. Grüner here are made in the unctuous, hedonistic, ripe style. Many are identified on the label with the term Smaragd – and it is best to cellar the wines for 4-6 years prior to indulging.

•    Kremstal – Adjacent to the Wachau, is the Kremstal and its combination of loess soil and primary rock make for wines with greater body.

•    Kamtal – Here, you will find deep and powerful wines even more intensely flavored that that of the Kremstal, owing to the soil’s combination of loess, clay and primary rock.

Grüner What

•    Marvelously fresh, fruity, clean and simple to be enjoyed immediately after they are made in the Heurigen taverns around the country

•    Dry and full bodied,  with nuts, spice, nutmeg, almonds and nougat. You begin to appreciate the mouthfeel and textures due to the balance of acidity and sweetness, and the 12.5% alcohol

•    Full and complex (up to 14% alcohol) showing fruit flavours of pear, quince and apple.

•    Sweet and rich (late picked and also Trockenbeerenauslese), most wines with intense apricot and dried fruit overtones

Groovy Grüner Pairings

Despite all its various incarnations – there is a certain crystalline clarity and purity of flavour in Grüner Veltliners. Whichever style you chose, the wine has the uncanny ability to pair with all types of cuisines and especially with “difficult” foods such as artichokes and asparagus that usually overpower wines,

Spice Nice
Most of the wines are not high in alcohol, and so they can pair well with spicy dishes. White pepper  in some of the wines will echo the flavours in many Asian foods. The wine also pairs harmoniously with cumin, coriander in a Tunisian vegetarian cous cous. Try the light, brisk styles of gruner with light Thai or Malaysian dishes. The more intense Grüners will go with curries and sauces featuring peanuts or sesame oil.

Ja umami
Crispy Mushroom snacks or steamed Chinese mushroom-vegetable dish make very good liaisons with Grüner Veltliner. Try the dry style as well as the sweet style Grüners with sun dried tomatoes on toast – you will taste a marriage made in heaven.

Grüner Now

You will find the grape growin in Austria’s neighbouring countries.  In Hungary, it is known as Zoldveltelini whilst in the Czech Republic you can identify the grape as Veltlinske Zelene.

The grape has made its way from Europe, from Slovakia and Yugoslavia to the
South Island of New Zealand and to Oregon in the U.S.

Grüner Savvy

When you have become a Grüner Veltliner fan and can say the name of the wine correctly (pronounced: Groo-ner Velt-leener ), its time to show you know more. Being able to call up or order the styles, especially if you are in Austria ( Steinfeder for the lightest style; Federspiel means a richer, more fruit-intensive wine at 11.5% alcohol; and Smaragd for the complex version of 13-14% alcohol) shows you are no wine snob but a wine expert!

Want more?
Steinfeder usually refers to ‘quality wine’ of the Wachau; Federspiel is the equivalent of Kabinett (German and Austrian classification of non chaptalised wine with less than 10 grams per litre residual sugar); Smaragd means emerald, the colour of the tiny lizard inhabitants in the vineyards.
And if that is not enough, merely mention the family relations of Gruner. It is etymologically related to the lesser-known Roter (red) Veltliner and even lesser-known Brauner (brown) Veltliner, although the two darker grapes are genetically distinct from Grüner Veltliner.

This article was published in Appetite Magazine

Sicilian Wines

Wines from Sicily, Island in the Sun

Head south to the drowsy, holiday region that is the island of Sicily and you will note that it has awakened, at least in the domain of wine. Sicilian bulk wines had always anonymously ended up in blends further north, including Tuscany. But recently, the producers took a long hard look at their vineyards. The outcome – the Sicilian terroir of dry hot summers with hillside and maritime locations, is especially suited to the production of high quality bottled wines.

by qifei

Alessio Planeta, whose wines have charmed New World wine drinkers is convinced that Sicily will live up to its new reputation as the ‘new frontier’ of Italian winemaking,  alluding to Sicily as the ‘Australia of Europe’.

Indeed, the Sicilian terroir is a winemaker’s dream, enabling the easy production of ripe, sound grapes. But that can be a two edged sword. On the one hand, producing in volume, intensely coloured, high alcohol wine with not much character is easy. Conversely, if Sicily was to break from its mold, and head for the boutique end of the market, producers had to put on hold future streams of income from bulk wine in order to transform their operations.  This they did with varietals such as Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot, indicating to the wine world that Sicilian wines have a place on the connoisseurs table.

by depinniped

Some of the oldest companies like Corvo and Tasca d’Amerita continue traditions but have updated approaches. Corvo in the last few years has become a leader in the value for money stakes with its generic and worldwide ubiquitous bianco (white) and rosso (red) wines. Tasca d’Almerita has achieved the transition to modernity.  The techniques go beyond new vineyard work or cellar techniques. The production philosophy extends to alternating grapevines plantings with that of other crops and using natural means of cultivation with an awareness of the ecological environment.

As Sicily’s northern regional wine producers looked on with surprise at how quickly Sicilian wine gained acceptance in the world marketplace, Sicilian producers raised the ante further. Alongside the internationational varietals, they have begun producing outstanding versions of their indigeneous varietals such as Inzolia and Nero d’Avola, to name a white and a red.

Amongst the ambassadors of unique traditional varietals are Benanti and Palari, both offering incredibly tasty wines made from unheard of grapes such as Nerello, Cappuccio, Carricante and Galatena. If, you are not totally convinced, try a glass of something less esoteric sounding; say a Nero d’Avola, by Morgante or from any Sicilian producer.  The wine will seduce you with its juicy, cherry fruited but classy nature with its nuances of mint and eucalyptus, spice, vanilla and more.

Then go on to taste unabashed blends such as Nero D’Avola with Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet (Santa Anastasia) or that of Nero d’Avola with Pinot Noir (Rapitala). You will begin to understand the Sicilian red grape’s accommodating nature and the enthusiasm of producers, attempting to bridge traditions and modernity.

Cottanera, whose un-irrigated vineyards are located on the slopes of Mount Etna has begun showcasing top end wines made from grapes, ‘foreign’ to Sicily such as Mondeuse and Syrah.  Sole di Sesta ‘Syrah’ shows incredible mastery of the French Rhone varietal.

And if market forces are an indication, Donnafugata’s Mille e una Notte, hardly into its 20th vintage, already boasts a price that reflects the super Sicilian status of the wine, yet the wine, a 100% DOC Nero d’Avola, is French oak aged.

Undoubtedly, Sicily has undergone its own wine revolution – her wines are now dazzling critics and winning the hearts and minds of restaurateurs and connoisseurs.

About Sicily

Sicily, lying south of the mainland of Italy, is an island set in antiquity. Fought over by countless invaders, its culture and heritage owes something to them all. Lovers of history, art and architecture will be swayed by the monuments of each of her historical epochs – from Greek temples, Roman Piazzas and Arabian buildings to Swabian palaces and churches overlaid with the baroque stamp of the Spanish.

Today, the adventurous might wish to scale or ski down the slopes of Mt. Etna, one of the world’s largest active volcanoes. Alternatively the drowsy, holiday region of Sicily offers lots of sun and sea, making for a perfect holiday with the bonus of good wine and food.

There are people who go to Sicily just for breakfast where they serve ice cream with morning coffee.  Throughout the day, you can delight your tastebuds with crispy and sweet ricotta cheese turnovers, chewy pistachio cookies, honey rice fritters, chocolate, cannoli, cassata and more.

Sicily is notable also for its seafood – mussels, tuna, sardines and swordfish are main and starter dishes. Pastas in fish sauce and eggplant dishes are aplenty.  Caponata is a sweet and sour speciality made from chillis, capers, olives, peppers and brinjals/eggplant.

As for wine, Sicily boasts hosts of good wines. Thousands of years ago, the Greeks brought their know-how, vines and wines to Sicily. For the last few decades Sicily has been known for her bulk wines. But of late, world wine drinkers have demanded something else – boutique and higher quality wines.  Thanks to the island’s diverse topography – from valleys to hillsides to maritime locations, diverse grape growing conditions exist. Thrown in are potassium rich volcanic ash soils and you get a range of ideal high quality bottled wines.

Thus we’re seeing firstly, wines made from familiar varietals such as Chardonnay and Shiraz but also Sicilian indigeneous varietal wines such as Inzolia (white) and Nero d’Avola (red). The Nero d’Avola, if you haven’t tried it, is a seductive grape which entices with its fragrance of blueberry and wild strawberries in the wine. Furthermore the wine will have soft smooth tannins and delight you with its lightly smoky bitter chocolate undertones.

If you have tasted Sicilian food, you might wonder if there are some similarities to Asian food. They have salted fish, sweet and sour flavours are found in many dishes and chilli is liberally used to spice things up. As such, Sicilian wines that go with Sicilian food could go well with certain Asian dishes.

Here is a shortlist of producers to look out for. Enjoy!

Corvo/Duca di Salaparuta offers economically priced wines. The value for money generic Corvo Bianco is crisp and delicate whilst the Corvo Rosso is well balanced and smooth.

Planeta, who specialise in New World styled wines put Sicily on the wine map. These days, they produce traditional wines as well.

If you thought Marsala was wine made for cooking with, try drinking the Superiore fine dry marsala of  Florio with Thai stir fried vegetables. The wine’s dried fruit and soy flavours and lightly sweet finish will make the food-wine marriage heavenly.

Tasca D’Almerita makes splendid traditional varietal red and white wines at various price points as well as a delicious but higher priced Chardonnay with well integrated fruit and wood flavours.

Baglio Hopps offers a beautifully textured Chardonnay blend (Briaco delle Gazzere), a Nero d’Avola with forest fruit flavours and a plummy Merlot-Cabernet blend (Incantari). Any of the three wines will go with grilled vegetables, salted fish, tuna or steak.

Lovers of Australian Shiraz and Southern Rhones will be impressed by Cottanera’s Sole di Sesta ‘Shiraz’ which is peppery, not jammy but leaves a warm glow in the mouth.  Donnafugata is a leading producer who has managed to place Sicily on the world wine map with the majestic red wine named 1001 Nights (Mille e un Notta). The producer’s sweet white wine called Ben Rye should goes well with nasi lemak. Try it also with chicken rice.

Benanti is a pharmacist who wanted to revive old Sicilian wine traditions so began producing Nero d’Avola and other wines. Benanti’s white Pietramarina Etna Bianco Superiore has soft fruit flavours and a honeyed texture. It is ideal for accompanying peppery or sweet-sour dishes.

Palari makes a wine from indigenous grapes too and it is called “Faro” (which means lighthouse) although it is also a DOC. The wine, blend of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Nocera, elevaged in French oak, is  complex, elegant, with savoury notes of spice and earth combined with that of fruit.

Juicy, cherry fruited, classy Nero d’Avola is the offering from Morgante.  With nuances of mint and eucalyptus, spice, vanilla, the wine drinks like a red Burgundy and is perfect for Peking Duck.

OTHER NAMES TO CONSIDER
Calatrasi, Rapitalà, Spadafora, Santa Anastasia, Valle dell’Acate.
RECENT TASTINGS
2006 Vignali Roccamora, Cataratto Bianco Sicilia IGT, $55
The “Vignali Roccamora” estate is situated in Contrada Montoni, at Agrigento, near the south west coast of Sicily. The wine project came about as the result of a collaboration between producers Gian Andrea Tinazzi (from Verona) and Gaetano Alfano (from Agrigento).
Taste: Pale straw yellow in colour, herbaceous with basil, lime and sour plums, pine and peppermint and a sustaining elegant finish.  ***
2005 Vignali Roccamora “Cratey’s” Nero Avola Merlot IGT $35
The Cratey’s is a 70% Nero d’Avola with 30% Merlot blend, intended to combine the exuberant bright fruit of Nero d’Avola with the velvety texture of Merlot. This wine is matured for 12 months in American oak.
Taste: Beautiful, warm spicy, red fruit, morello cherries, plums, medium weight with round and plumy finish, solid, yet not overbearing, with good length.  ***
2005 Etna Rosso, Feudo Di Mezzo, Etna DOC, $56
Terre Nere is located on Sicily’s Mount Etna, and vineyards are planted with late-ripening indigenous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio — many of these vines were planted pre-phylloxera. The soils are mostly volcanic ash speckled by black pumice and peppered with abundant volcanic rock. Marco and Iano de Grazia are the proprietors here.  The first vintage was in 2002.
The Feudo di Mezzo vines average 80–100 years old. The 1.35-hectare vineyard is terraced, although not as steeply as the Guardiola vineyard. The soil here is a blend of volcanic ash and volcanic sand, quite unusual in this area. Feudi di Mezzo is located at high altitudes, ranging from 650–700 meters above sea level. The wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.
Taste: Perfumed with cherries, coconut, blueberry and almonds; well-balanced, and with nice acidity and longish finish. ***
2005 Etna Rosso, Guardiola, Etna DOC, $56
The Guardiola is comprised of two vineyards planted to 100 per cent Nerello Mascalese for a total of 2.1 hectares. Vines are 50–150 years old. At 800–900 meters above sea level on the north side of Mount Etna, the Guardiola vineyard is the highest red-wine producing vineyard in all of Europe. Days are hot and tempered by breezes while it gets very cool in the evenings. The vineyard is organically farmed and vinification includes 10–15 days of maceration and 18 months in 25 per cent new French oak barriques.
Taste: Raspberries, vanilla, cherries, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut and multi-layered; well-knitted with a stone fruit-bitter aftertaste. ***1/2

2005 Etna Rosso, Sottana Calderara , Etna DOC, $42

The Calderara Sottana, is from 40- to 50-year-old vines grown at 700m altitude.
by Christina de Fontao
The ‘Calderara Sottana,’ made from the indigenous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. The Calderara vineyards are well exposed, and are not surrounded by hills; the “airiness” helps to protect the vines from mildew and oidium. The grapes are harvested at the end of October (making it the second to last harvest in all of Italy, after Aglianico). Vinification is simple, classic, and Burgundian in technique. Alcoholic fermentation and maceration on the skins lasts between 10 to 15 days; malolactic fermentation and maturation are carried out in oak (25% new). After 18 months the wine is bottled without filtering.
Taste: Plush with almonds, exotic spices, Christmas cake, soy sauce, with a dry mid palate and some light chewy tannins, and quite elegant.   ***

Barbaresco

by danielebneter

Only a one-hour drive south from the city of Turin (Torino) in Italy and an equal distance from the Mediterranean and the Western Alps is the wine sub-region of Barbaresco.The greater region is called the Piedmont and her famous wines are the Barolo and Barbaresco.

Like Barolo, Barbaresco is made from a noble grape called Nebbiolo, which has been cultivated in Northern Italy since the 14th century. Thanks to the microclimate, Barbaresco’s grapes are picked earlier. The laws require Barbaresco to have a lower alcohol requirement – 12.5% compared with Barolo’s 13% –  and Barbaresco is aged for a shorter period than Barolo.

As a result, the wine tastes a little less tannic, is less structured and comes across more elegant than Barolo. Hence, Barbaresco wines have been described as the smaller sibling to Barolo – or the yin of the yang

Barbaresco’s unique personality is also due to terroir. Lying next to the Tanaro river, the microclimate is moderated by the influence of the river – this allows the Nebbiolo to ripen here a little earlier than it does in the Barolo region. Most of the soil of Barbaresco is calcareous marl and, in parts, calcium rich soils are mixed with fertile alluvial soils (altogether sandier than soils in Barolo).

Because Barbaresco’s ripening period is shorter than Barolo’s, the resulting wine contains less tannins, acidity and fruit structure. This explains why Barbaresco wines tend to be lighter in body than the wines of Barolo; and are usually fruitier, more perfumed and more accessible in their youth compared to Barolos.

Why then do we hear so much about Barolo and so little about Barbaresco?

There are several reasons. Barbaresco producers are mostly small growers turned winemakers and production is about a third that of Barolo. The larger companies running estates in Barolo find it easier to promote and distribute their wines overseas. As such, Barbaresco has always been in the shadow of Barolo – often mentioned in conjunction with Barolo.

If Barolo consists of 11 villages, Barbaresco’s villages are small and number only four. They are Barbaresco, Nieve, Treiso and San Rocco (Alba). However, the vineyard names to remember (if you are a diehard aficionado) are just as numerous!

·BARBARESCO – Wines can be described as elegant, perfumed and complex; grapes are grown at an elevation of 270m.

The Grandi Vigne or cru vineyards are Asili, Bricco o Bricco Lemondo, Casotto-Loreto, Cavanna, Cole, Faset, Martinenga,  Moccagatta, Montaribaldi, Montefico; Montestefano, Morassino, Ovello, Pagliuzzi, Paje, Pora, Rabaja, Rio Sordo, Roccalini, Roncaglie, Roncagliette, Ronchi, Secondine and Vitalotti.

·TREISO – To the south of Barbaresco, grapes are grown here at an elevation of 410m. Wines are lighter in texture with sticky tannins.

The Grandi Vigne or cru vineyards are Bernardot o Bernardotti, Bordino, Bricco, Casot, Castellizzano, Manzola, Marcarini, Montersino, Nervo, Pajore, Rizzi, Rombone and Valeirano.

·NIEVE – Lies in the hills north-east of Barbaresco around the Neive township; grapes are grrown at 320m. Wines are full-bodied with medium-full tannins.

The Grandi Vigne or cru vineyards are Albesani, Basarin, Bordini, Bricco, Bricco Mondino, Canova, Cotta, Curra, Fausoni, Gaia Principe, Gallina, Marcorino, Messoirano, San Giuliano, Santo Stefano, Serraboella, Serracapelli and Starderi.

·San Rocco, Seno d’Elvio – Part of Alba, this tiny strip lies west and at an 180m elevation alongside the Treiso commune. It produces easy to drink wines, with stronger tannins balanced by sweet ripe black fruit flavours.

Note that all wines are called Barbaresco, although the commune may be named, similar to the case of Barolo. Note that almost 95% of Barbaresco is produced in the first three areas – Barbaresco, Treiso and Neive.

The Barbaresco appellation is a quarter of Barolo’s, and soils are more even, so differences amongst the various commune wines of Barbaresco are subtle.

Reading the label

Many wines can be identified by the name of the vineyard and some are better than others. Producers may share vineyards and some make better wines than their neighbours. Labels are easy to read but the information is difficult to process. If you think Barolo is difficult to understand, Barbaresco is even more complex.

Many producers own vineyards in different communes. Some make wine the old fashioned way, others offer modern wines. Occasionally you will find two styles from a producer as well as crus (single vineyards) and blends. Some of the best wines are those that combine both tradition and modernity – for example, the ageing of wines in new barriques for a period, to round out tannins and to pick up sweet spicy notes, and then in traditional large oak (botti) to draw out the amplitude and develop finesse in the wine.

Terms such as Bricco and Sori may appear on the label. They mean “ridge/hill peak’’ and “slope’’ respectively and producers might use these terms to indicate that wines produced from grapes grown on the vineyards on these ridges and slopes could be better than the normal.