Archives for posts with tag: Wine Theme this Month

If you are used to drinking Italian Wine, you probably think most Italian Wine is Red. As a straw poll I asked a (pretty knowledgeable) group of 9 wine enthusiasts to guess how much Italian Wine is White. Guesses clustered around the 30% and 40% mark, and only two put the figure over 50% – the most recent (2016) figure is 54%.

This disparity is accounted for by a number of factors. The most planted white grapes in Italy are the workhorse or blending varieties: Trebbiano Toscana  (Ugni Blanc in France) and Catarratto. These are followed (7th and 8th in the list of total areas planted, with grapes of any colour) by Chardonnay and Glera (Prosecco) used significantly for Sparklers. The highest placed “ordinary” white grape in the list of area planted is  – Pinot Grigio!

So if you ignore all these – and you probably do – that easily wipes out the majority that the white grapes attain (the balance would be something like 56:44 :: red:white), and gives a figure more closely conforming to impression.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Italy has some great white wines, and several that are under-rated. So much the better because they usually provide better value.

Here’s a wine map of Italy (produced by Wine Folly) with the important grapes and styles noted for each area. You can pick out white grapes by their yellow bunch icons underneath each Region name.

Wine Folly Exploration Map

After the five white grapes named above the next most important (either through quality or quantity) are the following 15 (in roughly descending order of volume):

Malvasia bianca: A white variety covering  more than 6 sub varieties that occurs throughout Italy.

Moscato: Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in Moscato d’Asti.

Garganega: The main grape variety for Soave, a dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy.

Grillo: Another, rather more interesting, workhorse grape from Sicily.

Vermentino: This is widely planted in Sardinia and also found in Tuscany and Liguria.

Grechetto: The quality grape in better Orvieto.

Cortese: A Piedmont grape which is the base for Gavi, and can produce interesting sweet wines.

Falanghina: A Campania grape from quite a hot area which nevertheless accompanies sea-food well along with two other grapes from the same area – Greco di Tufo and Fiano.

Friulano: A variety also known as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse, common in Friuli.

Verdicchio: This is famous in the areas of Castelli di Jesi in the Marche region.

Pecorino: Native to Marche and Abruzzo, producing wines have a rich, aromatic character.

Arneis: A variety from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th Century.

Vernaccia: A quality wine famous from San Gimignano in Tuscany, where it is recorded since the 13th Century.

In addition, other important international white varieties are grown including: Sauvignon Blanc; Pinot Bianco; Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau.

I suppose that a real picture of Italian white wine might be gleaned from sampling most of these 15 grapes, but we have to whittle it down to 6. It’s easy to omit the first two, as respectively too generic and already well known. I also felt Fruilano and Verdicchio merit the same respective comments.

I want to omit Vernaccia and Vermentino too, as we tasted them only one year ago. Finally, although I like all the Campanian grapes, showing all 3 might be too much so I’ll omit at least one.

That whittles the choice down to 8 – you’ll have to wait to the Tasting itself for the final selection.

Notes from the tasting will be with you in 4 or 5 days…

Until then….

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We all know the basic wine overview of the Loire… It’s divided into 4 big areas, each with their distinctive grapes and famous names. Going from West to East these are: Nantais (Muscadet from the Melon de Bourgogne grape); Anjou (Chenin Blanc); Touraine (more Chenin and Cabernet Franc); Centre (Sauvignon Blanc and some Pinot Noir). This gives a mental picture that can be represented a bit like this:


All well and good, and in fact a pretty accurate general picture. However, the four areas aren’t really of equal size. Just looking at West-East extension – Nantais is nearly 60 miles, Anjou only 45 miles, Torraine over 70 miles, and then a 20 mile gap to the 50 mile wide Centre. Production is uneven too: Nantais produces a bit over 10%; Anjou nearly 40%; although the geographically largest, Touraine only yields about 20%; and Centre nearly 30%.

Here’s a much more accurate topographically correct map:
All the above notwithstanding, the naive generalisation isn’t too far off. Only the small areas of the Vendée are not covered in the West. In Anjou you will find bits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau, and Gamay here and there (Gamay actually appears across Touraine too). The East only real exception is the deceptive Pouilly-sur-Loire (not Fumé) area which makes wines from Chasselas!

The real variations to the general picture are within the Touraine area.

You can find all sorts of grapes here but there are three main departures, which form the basis of this month’s tasting:

  • In the North: the often neglected areas of Coteaux du Loir and (less significantly) Coteaux du Vendômois
  • In the North-East: the odd areas of Cour-Cheverny and Cheverny and the Solonge area in general
  • The increasing presence of Malbec – under its original name Côt – especially as you go East along the Cher River. Côt actually arrived here from its original home in Quercy at the time of the renaissance, before going to Cahors and thence to Argentina…

Firstly the relatively little known area lying along Le Loir river about 25 miles due North of Tours. [Le Loir actually flows West, pretty well parallel to La Loire, for another 50 miles from here before joining the Sarthe just North of Angers.]
This area (sometimes referred to as North Touraine) is actually composed of three wine areas: Coteaux du Loir (CdL), Jasnières and Coteaux du Vendômois. You can read more by scrolling down to the post of January 24 2017…
Jasnières is an enclave within the general CdL area, capable of rather good Chenin Blanc – fierce acidity with a rich counterpoint. However the area’s oddity is the Pineau d’Aunis grape, a spicy, herby grape which must form 60% of the reds. Sometimes it’s 100% – and we’ll see what that’s like…

The area in the extreme NE of Touraine is the second source of strange wines. The story goes back to the renaissance ascent of the Château at Chambord – as a hunting home for Francois I in the early 16th Century. Many grapes, from Bourgogne and elsewhere, were planted there, nearby in the Solonge area and at Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny. The unusual white grape Romarantin is the main grape in the appellation of Cour-Cheverny… While Cheverny white is mainly Sauvignon Blanc, and red is a Pinot Noir / Gamay blend (recalling Bourgogne Passetoutgrains). Many grapes find their way into the Rosé from here and the surrounding area including Pineau d’Aunis again.
However other varieties also made their way to Chambord and despite being lost to phylloxera in their home some have survived. A couple moved from there to be in the Solonge winery of Henri Marionnet, Domaine de la Charmoise (you can read more about this winery by scrolling down to the September 20 2016 post).
As well as un-grafted Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, Gamay and Côt, they have direct line descendants of the Chambord plantings of Romarantin and the otherwise extinct, Teinturier (red flesh), grape: Gamay de Bouze.

Finally – the eastern Touraine has an increasing preponderance of Côt. We’ll try an example from the Cher area, together with a Pineau d’Aunis Rosé sourced from the same grower..

Until soon…

This month, the ICC Tasting will be of wines from Collioure, in the very capable hands of Richard.

Collioure AC (AOP) is a small wine area in the very South-Eastern corner of Roussillon – and indeed France.  Centred upon the old fishing village of the same name, the area also produces  produces Vin Doux  within the identical geographical boundaries, which is always labelled Banyuls.  Collioure is the name reserved for normal strength, dry wines.

Collioure/Banyuls is a small area, producing about 4% of all wine in the Roussillon area. Similar amounts of each are made, depending on the harvest. Collioure is untypical in that 20% of the planting is white (the average over all Roussillon is 3%!) – so about a third of white Roussillon AOC (now AOP) is from Collioure. Which is interesting now since AOC white was only permitted in Collioure from 2003.


Collioure AOC red is always a blend which must contain at least a 60% of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre with no individual grape permitted to exceed 90% of the total blend. Cinsault and Carignan and allowed to up to a maximum of 30%. Today the AOC white blend must contain a minimum of 70% blend of Grenache blanc and Grenache gris with Macabeo, Malvoisie, Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino (Rolle) permitted to round out the remaining portion of the blend – though each of those grape varieties can not individually exceed 15%.


Richard has chosen to show wines based on one of the top 5 producers – if not the best – Domaine La Tour Vieille. They produce 70,00 bottles a year of Banyuls and Collioure, by manual harvesting 10 ha of red and 2.5 ha of white. They practice Lutte Raisonnée viticulture. The grapes are all grown on schist soils and are composed of – Reds: (5%), (15%), (65%), (15%); Whites:  (10%), (10%), (50%), (20%), (10%). So a very typical mix from the area. The grapes range in age from 20 years old (some of the whites) to 70!

All grapes are harvested by hand and nothing is mechanized at all (no tractors) and all wines are fermented traditionally with wild yeasts. They make a white, a Rosé and several Banyuls and late harvest wines, as well as several prestigous Reds….

The white Collioure, “Les Canadells” is vinified in the following way:  the Grenache Gris is pressed immediately after harvest; Grenache Blanc, Macabeo, Vermentino, Roussanne undergo a short skin maceration; then percentage of the wine is fermented in oak barrels with a regular stirring of the lees and bottled 6 months after harvest.

All the Collioure reds undergo pump-overs and all punch-downs are by foot, the wine is bottled 10 to 18 months after fermentation.

A very attractive tasting, I think… I wish I was there but I am actually avoiding the 31°C sun in the Loire….  With Richard’s (and other attendees’) assistance the notes should be with you early next week (although I face a crashingly busy weekend before then)…..

À Bientôt…

Most wine enthusiasts will be familiar with Alsace Wines. We have explored the area often and become familiar with their main grapes: Riesling; Pinot Gris; Gewürztraminer (of course)… but also Pinot Blanc; Sylvaner; Auxxerois; Muscat and Pinot Noir… Many fewer wine lovers will be as acquainted with Alto Adige, however.

Alto Adige is actually only the northern third of the full Italian region: Trentino-Alto Adige. That itself is the northernmost Italian region, comprising two areas with very different personalities: the Germanic Alto Adige (or Südtirol), which borders and once belonged to Austria, and right below it the more Italian but still very Alpine Trentino. The region’s capital and largest city is Trento, followed closely by the Südtirol provincial capital: Bozen (Bolzano). The breathtaking valley of the Adige River is renowned in the wine world for varietal labeled cool-climate wines, mainly white. It has no DOCGs, eight DOCs and four IGPs.

In fact the full region, Trentino–Alto Adige, is a similar size to Alsace in terms of area under vine and volume of wine production. In 2015, Trentino–Alto Adige produced about 2.5% of Italian Wine (13.7 million cases),  but Alto-Adige has less than a third of the Regions vineyards – mostly small growers unlike large co-operatives and producers further South – and it’s contribution is about 0.7% (3.9 million cases).

The Alto-Adige area is Y-shaped: Valle Iscaro is the right arm,  following the Iscaro river from nearer Austria until it meeets the Adige River near Bolzano. The Adige above Bolzano constitutes the left arm from the Valle Venosta, flowing though Terlano. Below Bolzano, going  due South towards Trento and the “tail” of the Y, fuller versions of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanco Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürtraminer are more common.

Terlano focuses more on international varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinots.  Valle Iscaro majors on the Germanic grapes: Riesling; Müller Thurgau; Sylvaner; Kerner; and Grüner Veltliner.

Overall white grapes varieties occupy about 60% of Alto Adige’s wine-growing area and are vinified into the best wines. There are 20 varieties common: Pinot Grigio; Gewürtraminer; Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay lead the way, but Sauvignon Blanc; Müller Thurgau; Sylvaner; Kerner; Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are also significant in Alto Adige.

So Alto-Adige has many grapes of Germanic origin: Riesling; Gewürztraminer; Sylvaner; Kerner; Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner. The first three are shared with Alsace too – as are the Pinot Family – so comparison seems attractive.

It may be said that the most obvious comparison: Pinot Gris/Grigio is actually the most complicated. First of all there may be clonal or selectional differences in the grape plantings although they are the same variety. Secondly the “target” style is different: richer complex wines in Alsace and fresher lighter wines in Italy. Finally,  yields are often much higher in Italy resulting in a neutral “quaffing” wine. That’s being generous,  a lot of the Italian version – possibly two thirds – could be called Pinot (e)Gregious, wines that are often thin, inoffensive occupants of the early parts of Restaurant wine lists, where they offer (I would say) characterless wines for people who don’t like wine…

Actually some of the better examples, though of a radically different style, do come from Alto-Adige – and I think the comparison is one we are going to have to try.

So the varieties I have chosen to show in comparison of the two areas end up being the Alsace big three: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The Alsace wines will act as a style reference to see what we think of Alto Adige versions. I think the next time I approach a tasting focusing on Alsace I’ll make sure basic versions of those three grapes are entirely omitted and concentrate on all the other styles and varieties .

The wines will be in pairs to aid comparison, although it’ll be immediately obvious which is which – not least because the Alsace example will have more age. So only the most similar pair – the Rieslings – will be tasted blind… We’ll see how these – vaguely Germanic – wine areas deal with those grapes.

Notes will follow in 3 or 4 days…

Until then….

This month’s ICC Wine Tasting will show wines form Uruguay.

Uruguay is a small Wine Country, producing less than a third on one percent of the world’s wine. That still makes it’s production about 30 times that of the UK, about the same as Slovakia & Czech Republic combined, and a bit less than Switzerland.

Main Uruguayan Wine Areas

The country itself is small, the second smallest in South America, and has a mostly maritime climate. It’s soils are clay, loam and limestone – though there is considerable variety as you move away from the coast and up in altitude.

Mostly the wines we see in the UK are Tannat or Tannat blends from Canelones and Maldonado, but that is slowly changing. I even remember sampling a Gewurztraminer some – probably over 10 – years ago.

Wine making has been going on in Uruguay for well over 250 years, but it was the French-Basque immigrant, Don Pascual Harriague who brought Tannat vines to Uruguay in the late 1800’s from France. Tannat proved to be a perfect match for the primarily clay-loam soils and temperate maritime climate of Uruguay, and has been the country’s signature wine ever since.

Tannat is still the most widely grown grape (36%). Other common varieties are Merlot (10%), Chardonnay (7%), Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Sauvignon Blanc (6%), and Cabernet Franc (4%), but Syrah and Alboriño are new promising developments…

Other than these basic facts I no little of Uruguay wine, and I suspect most readers will be in the same boat. So it’s a pity that I cannot attend the tasting this week – it will be led by the very capable Janine. I look forward to reading – and posting – the notes in a few days.

Until then….

South Australia produces about half of all Australian wine, in addition it typifies the increasing divergence of mass-production and individually crafted wines in the country.

First, though, the basics:

There are 18 Wine Areas in South Australia, although perhaps only 10 are important, for one reason or another. About 60% of S. Australian wine is red and 40% white.

The 18 Wine Areas are grouped into 7 zones, and you will sometimes see generic wine from a zone rather than an individual area. This is only really of significance in the most South-Eastern zone – Limestone Coast, nearly 2% of S. Australian wine bears that generic name.

The larger zones are: Far North; Mt Lofty (N of Adelaide inc Clare); Barossa (inc Eden V); Lower Murray (East around Riverland) ; Fleurieu (S of Adelaide); Limestone Coast  (S-E near the Victoria border, inc 6 specific areas); and (not shown) Peninsulas (either side of Spencer Gulf).

By far the largest area is Riverland, in volume terms, which produces 56% of South Australian wine, although by value it’s below a quarter! And it is Riverland that exemplifies the other distinction in South Australian wine: mass produced wine from high-volume grape growing versus grower crafted wine. In the European Wine World we often have the model of a Grower / Winemaker producing wines from their own grapes, grown for that purpose. This is far from being the only model, but it is a vague indication of the division between artisan and mass-produced offerings. However is South Australia only about 30% of wines are produced by the growers, the rest from grapes-bought-in (often, though not always) for mass produced plonk. This is even more severely the case in Riverland where the grower-made wine proportion falls below 20%.

The obverse of this statistic is that about 44% of wine outside Riverland is grower-made, and it is these wines that attract interest from the serious wine enthusiast. They amount to only about a fifth of all South Australian Wines, and these are even more heavily weighted to red – red wines are about 75%.

The other main producing areas are: Langhorne Creek (7.3%); Barossa Valley (6.6%); Padthaway (5.5%); McLaren Vale (5.0%); Coonawarra (4.3%); Adelaide Hills (3.4%); Wrattonbully (2.9%); Clare Valley (2.5%); Limestone Coast – generic (1.8%); Currency Creek (1.2%) and Eden Valley (1.2%). No other area produces more than half of one percent.

As to grapes – on the red side Shiraz (nearly half of all reds) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) dominate all other grapes; well over half of the whites are Chardonnay, and these three grapes make up 68% of all those grown in the state.

However all though every area grows several grapes there are several Area/Variety combinations (usually representing 20%-40% of that area’s production) that are well known, high quality and reaching premium prices.  The most famous of these are Barossa Shiraz;     McLaren Vale Shiraz;      Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon;      Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc;     Clare Valley Riesling and Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. These represent the easily viewed peaks of South Australian wine, but there many hidden gems… We shall see what the fuss is about in a tasting led by Kathryn on 16th March.

I’ll post notes in about a week.

Until then…

 

When I looked through my archives I was surprised to find that the WING group had not had a dedicated tasting on the precise subject of Portuguese Wines for over 8 years! Of course, Portuguese wines have featured every now and then and we have focused on Port specifically (most recently in April 2015 – see posts of 2nd and 5th April 2015, below:). However it’s quite a while without a general look at the 10th= biggest wine producing country…

Portugal is a bit of an enigma, which isn’t surprising as most of the country was more-or-less feudal under the Salazar dictatorship that was only overthrown in 1974! Many very old indigenous styles and grapes persist – for good or ill – but the sudden growth, “European-isation”, and influx of investment has opened Portugal to development similar to that in a new world country. So it is with wine: Port is complemented by famous and sometimes great wines from Douro, Bairrada, Dao, Setebul…  and they are being supplemented by new world wine-making in Lisboa, Ribatejo and Alentejo. Sometimes this is sensitive development of indigenous grapes, sometimes a new world formula and sometimes a bit of both.

In addition Portugal seems to suffer more severely from a trend that to some extent besets all wine imported in the UK – we tend to get the cheap rubbish and the very top wines, but most of the interesting, good value, upper-middle-budget stuff… they keep at home… wise people. I have tried to use the upcoming Portugal tasting, in part, to look at this price/quality level.

Portugal nearly doubled production towards the end of the last century, overtaking  Greece, Hungary and Romania. It produces about 2½% – 3% of the world’s wine, vying with Germany and Russia for 10th, 11th and 12th  places in the wine-production league [different years see these countries in different orders, but they are all a way behind Chile in 9th and all produce double the output of Romania in 13th]. Port accounts for about 15% of the vines, and table wine is about 70% red.

Although the real jewel in Portugal’s crown is Port,  given that we have tasted these wines relatively recently we’ll concentrate on other wines in this tasting.

Historically I picture the Portugal Wine Regions a bit  like the map here – The 8 regions mentioned above together with  the great Island of Madeira, plus another offshore area – Açores (Azores); plus Trasosmontes; Tavora Varosa; Beira Interior and Algarve:

Rough mental image of Portuguese Wine?

Rough mental image of Portuguese Wine?

Vinho Verde is a wine area as well as the name of its most notorious product: the sharp, light, slightly spritzy white. Sometimes, and lately often called Minho, the area also grows the Alvarinho grape, famous as Alboriño just over the border in Galicia, with some success.

The Douro (Port) area, where big reds from the Port grape varieties are used. These especially feature Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) for table wines. As you might imagine from the Port connection, these are often tannic wines with the characteristic rich earthy note found in so much Portuguese wine. Often one can detect port-ish nuances too. Whites from higher altitudes are making an appearance too.

Dao: 40-80 kms to the South, with a similar, but slightly lighter style. Touriga Nacional is the best grape and Dao wines must include at least 20%. The pliant, sweet fruit and herby qualities of the Jaen grape (called Mencia in Galicia), and Pinot-ish character of Alfrocheiro soften the wines.

To the east of all this is the little seen Beira region.

Bairrada lying to the west, Atlantic, side of Dao. The area uses the Baga grape, which reminds me – at least – of Sangiovese. Unusually for Portugal, this grape is often vinified on its own, or with some Touriga Nacional. Pure examples show the sour cherry and fruitcake spectrum one is used to in Chianti, but again with that typical earthy twist.

Lisboa, (Riba)tejo and Setebul are near the City of Lisbon – lying to the North, East  and South respectively. Sub divided into smaller regions these areas produce more light gluggable styles and more white wine than the other areas (where red is usually over 70%).

Alentejo: a large area centred about 100km South East of Lisbon, extending East to the Spanish border. This is a hot, modern wine area often basing red wines on Aragonez (another synonym for Tempranillo), Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira. This area behaves a bit like a new World area – with a hot climate and modern methods. Although Cabernet, Chardonnay and especially Syrah are creeping in, the old grapes – mercifully – are still in the majority.

More recently some of the areas have been slightly renamed and re-organised – here’s a more up-to-date and detailed map – showing sub-regions, wine types and/or main grapes for each region!

portugal-wine-map

Portuguese wine is dominated by indigenous grape varieties – someone actually counted 248 in production a few years ago. There is also quite a lot of regional specificity – grapes predominantly found only in one or two regions. There is no big national grape variety: Castelão is the most widely planted variety with 7½ % of vineyard area. Unless you count Tempranillo (known as Tinta Roriz in the North and Aragones in the South), which is equal* second most widely planted at 7%, the most common International variety is Cabernet Sauvignon (with about 1% of vines). There are so many grapes used and so much blending that perhaps place, Regionality, is more important than grapes.

*Fernão Pires a high-yielding aromatic white, has roughly equal vineyard area, but probably more wine

 

The proportions of production by each region in 2015 are shown in the graph below. DOC wine is the highest category (like AC in France). In this graph Port is included in the Douro figures…

010.png
This graph tells us a lot – firstly the four areas at the top of the chart  do not contribute significantly to total production or (especially) in DOC production (<3%) . Even if you include the generally prolific regions of Lisboa and Tejo plus Beira the DOC figure only goes up to about 7%. However the high figures of IGP production in Lisboa and Alentejo show an interesting change in production – the growth of newer styles and untypical grapes that haven’t yet set quality standards – especially in Alentejo.

For this tasting we will skip Port as I’ve said, and I’ve tried to track down bottles at that rare – in the UK – upper-middle price/quality level. So we’ll sample: Madeira; a classy wine from Minho; a (rare in UK) high quality Bairrada; a Duoro and take a look at quality and modernity in  Alentejo wines…

Notes will appear in 4 or 5 days.

Until then….

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