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Extreme Wine: Lagrein Riserva from Alto Adige

14 Jan

Kellerei Cantina Andrian’s ‘Tor Di Lupo’ Lagrein Riserva 2014, DOC Alto Adige; Terlano, Italy. 13.5% SRP $50/bottle.

 

When is wine extreme? When the grapes are grown under extreme conditions! These vineyards are steep: up to 4000′ in height, and the grapes for Tor Di Lupo are planted in high trellises along the Easternmost side, getting over 300 days a year of Mediterranean sunshine, with temperatures up to 104℉.

Color is purple with ruby edging. The nose is full of violets with hints of eucalyptus. On the full-bodied palate, cassis and mature cherries meet French oak, with secondary notes of blue plum, mocha, granite, gravel, sodium, and clay. Bountiful tannins are on the long finish; this wine expects to pair with food. Made from 100% Lagrein. My pairings included pizza, full-bodied cheese, and corned beef. Some better pairing choices (Think Northern Italy, closer to Austria) might include fowl and game meats to pork to pasta and flatbreads, but my personal favorites were coal-oven Margherita pizza on the first night and Gorgonzola cheese on the second. The bottle did not last long, as I enjoyed it immensely. While I drank this lagrein young, it has the potential to age 10-15 years easily and will give significant improvement to the owner after such time with proper cellaring.

 

This is an amazing bottle to give to an Italian wine lover, someone who is learning more about wines, or someone who is starting to cellar bottles with the intent of allowing wines a decade or more to age.

 

What extreme wines do you like?
Have you ever considered what the grapes go through in the vineyards?

 

For more about the Lagrein Grape, please click here!

 

*Wine provided for review by Cornerstone Communications.* 

à votre santé!

 

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Why Wines Deserve a Second Chance: #MWWC22

19 Jan

 

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Yesterday was a day I planned for months and worried about for weeks in advance. It was a wine tasting of a group of wines outside my normal scope of expertise. Traditionally when I host a tasting, I do ONE thing specifically: I serve wines I know personally, whose vines and trellises I have paced aside, whose barrels I have touched, whose flavors and colors I know intimately.

This was not one of those times.

Sure, on my ten wine list I hand-picked a few bottles that had been waiting in the cellar for just such a day. But by in large, I researched and shopped regions I didn’t know as well, and looked more closely at wines that often get a bad rap. For examples, the wines we scoot past quickly in a restaurant list when we see them. Such as: Italian white wines, and chianti.

“Why?” you cry out, outraged and distressed, “What have Chianti and Italian white wines done to you?”

Nothing.

That’s exactly it, they did nothing for me, and nothing TO me.

And it’s my own fault.

Because we first taste these wines in a family-style Italian restaurant where cheap wines are served by the gallon. We learn, early in age, to be dismissive of cheap pinot grigio and cheap chianti. As a result, later on in our lives,  we don’t even bother look for quality versions of these same things. It’s as silly as hating cars as an adult, just because your first teenage car was a cheap junker that smoked from the exhaust, had bald tires, and barely got you where you needed to go. It’s not the fault of the vehicle, to be honest.

It’s time to give these wines a second chance.

For white wines, I turned to Friuli-Venizia Guilia.

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I served these four white wines, in order:

Venica 2013 Malvasia from Collio,

Borgio Del Tiglio 2011 white blend from Collio,

I Clivi 2014 Verduzzo from Collio Orientali del Friuli DOC, and

I Clivi 2001 Galea from Collio Orientali del Friuli DOC.

These four wines changed all our preconceived notions of Italian white wines. Crafted with obvious expertise, love and care, these wines displayed depth, complexity, minerality, and body. They told stories. They enticed our palates, and they left us wanting more.

The 2001 Galea showed its age, grace, and deep color beautifully, on par with some of my revered and aged Bordeaux or Burgundian wines. The color alone was stunning; photos just don’t do it justice.

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I found it funny: one of my guests (almost as a rule) dismisses white wines. He was not as quiet as I expected during these first four bottles, and eventually, I learned he was impressed and enjoying himself! And he made a point to speak up and admit both of these points to the group.

And we moved on to the red wines, and we laughed, and we loosened up. And at the 9th bottle, I poured a chianti.

But not just any chianti.

Thought a relatively young wine, I served a Chianti Classico Gran Reserva Selezione, a DOCG wine with the tell-tale black rooster on the bottle. I said little about the wine, and I said nothing about the Rooster.

Chianti rooster

 

 

 

My guests said it all for me. They told me this wine was stunning, eye-opening, not what they expected from a chianti. They shared pairing notes, talked about the color, the nuances they found.

Even after I served the 2000 Brunello Di Montalcino, we ooh’d and ahh’d about it and thoroughly enjoyed it… but eventually we went back to discussing the chianti.

And I thought that maybe it was really us who needed the second chance.

jvb1

à votre santé!

Submitted to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #22

 

Gimme Shelter / Sympathy for the Wine Reviewer

13 Jun

This week I was making dinner and popped the cork on a rosé wine that has been in my queue waiting to taste. And I tried it and was forced to spit it out. I poured another glass, swirled it, and gave it some time to air. I tasted it again. “Mildly better,” I thought, but still the same basic feeling: “YECH!” and into the sink it went.

The Stones were on my stereo, Mick was belting about not getting what he wanted. “I can’t agree more,” I thought as I chucked what was left in the glass and poured a third attempt, leaving it to the air. I went back to my stir-fry, chopping more veggies and adding my spices to the dish. I finished cooking and reduced the heat, grabbing dishes for my family to eat. I called them to come down for dinner, as I tasted the wine a third time. This time, I could actually drink some of it, but didn’t want to. I poured first the glass, then the entire bottle down the drain.

As my family started dinner, I grabbed another bottle from my queue, popped the cork. After a quick rinse of my wine glass with a  swirl of the wine, I tossed that, poured a taste, and examined the bottle.

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige-Süditirol 2010 Lagrein DOC. 13% ABV, $19 from Sherry-Lehmann.  Turning back to the glass: Near-black center in color, I held it to the light to see the deep purple color and the violet edging. I put my nose in the glass and inhaled the scent of rich black fruit, sharp acidity, and violets cutting through the smell of my stir-fry dinner’s ginger and sesame oil. I put a small sip in my mouth, inhaled air across it, swirled around my tongue, and swallowed.

Ahhhhh. Blackberry and boysenberry, powerful acidity, supple tannins. Some more herbal/floral notes, a touch of earth and note of slate under the old wood in the finish. This is a wine meant to enjoy with food that has a little punch.

Mick’s backup singers were fading out, and the intro for ‘Gimme Shelter’ started. I fixed myself a plate of dinner, tasted the sauce, then the wine. Then the chicken and rice, then the wine. My eldest daughter smiled at the studious look on my face and asked if she could taste my wine. “No, but you can smell it. You wouldn’t like this. Trust me, it’s very acidic.” But I had to admit, my mood had shifted with a total reversal from my earlier state of mind. I went to the cupboard and grabbed three spices, trying each one with the food against the wine to see how it fared against cutting the flavor and cleansing my palate each time. Each time, the lagrein left me with a clean and fresh palate, until I tried a hot sauce that the wine could clean the flavor but not the heat.

This is a completely European wine. It has reserve and balance, it’s not going to win any huge awards, but instead it will be enjoyed by oenophiles who know how to pair a good wine with the proper food. For me, this pairing was entirely accidental, but it’s a wine I’d like to have a case of for the right time- when a cab franc is too strong but a pinot noir is too light, this lagrein’s fruit and acidity is just right.

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This wine put me in a great mood, thankfully. I don’t often get stuck with a bottle as bad as that rosé, but some days you can find shelter in a wine that will put you right.

Have you all had a legrein yet, dear readers? I hope so. If not, it’s time you take it upon yourself to find one at your local wine store and try it out when you’re feeling adventurous. It might just give YOU shelter at a time you so need it.

à votre santé

 

 

 

Not the “Pale” Rieder

17 Jan

Castelfeder Lagrein “Rieder”, Süditirol- 2011, Alto Adige, Italy. From Garnet Wines, $15. 13.5% ABV.

Recently, some wines from Italy’s Alto Adige managed to whet my appetite. So  I went looking for additional labels to try from my local NYC wine stores. From the name of this wine alone, I don’t know why, but I was expecting a lighter, brighter, fruitier wine when I purchased this Castelfeder “Rieder”. What I got felt like a full blast of flavor from this Lagrein, proud of its heritage in North-Eastern Italy, the portion where residents identify more as Tyrolean than Italian. To the tasting notes:

Color is deep violet with purple edging. Nose of black plum, cassis, and vegetation.

On the palate, the flavor of plum starts and is followed by gently sour blackberry, with a hint of charcoal on the top palate. Gentle tannins and earth on the medium finish, with floral notes of lavender and violet. Notes of schist, stone, and old wood indicates both the terroir and ancient wine casks for aging. Over several days, the gentle sourness grew in intensity, as did the earthiness, tannins and acidity.

On Days 1 and 2 I loved drinking this alone and it was subtle and delicate with meals, on Days 3 and 4 I was adoring this wine with food as it brought out bigger notes and grew with intensity. This dark, savory, powerful wine was a great foil to the bright wines I tasted recently from the same area. A testament to the great variety you can find from a single region, this lagrein shows similarity to a mature pinot noir early upon opening and acts closer to a cabernet franc after getting air. Fun, flexible, and offering great value in this $15-16 price range, this “Rieder” is one I  want to take over and over again.

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à votre santé!

Cantina Terlano St. Magdalener Häusler, 2011

3 Jan

photo-8Cantina Terlano St. Magdalener Häusler, 2011. Alto Adige, Italy. From Garnet Wine, $17/bottle, 12.5% ABV.

Color is pale violet with garnet edging, a delicate nose of herbs and young red fruit. In the mouth, the acidity cuts across the palate first and then the fruit appears with an evolving finish, allowing this red blend to gently take the taster by surprise. Cherry, young sour blackberry, and some green vegetation are predominant flavors with gentle aftertones of aged wood, stone, and sandy slate. Nice to enjoy by itself, but due to mild tannins this wine shines best when paired with food.

The blended balance of lagrein (15% ) and schiava (85%) grapes makes this wine just sing of its heritage of the Tyrolian vineyards, the high hillsides featuring cold nights, while days are spent in bright sun. While this Häusler is an obvious perfect match for northern italian cuisine, it might shock you in its flexibility, pairing easily with many cuisines and types of food. Subtle, delicious and addictive, it reminded me of pricey red burgundies and made me want to stock bottles of this in my cellar. Try it, you’ll know what I mean.

Here’s a link to the manufacturer’s website, for more information. www.cantina-terlano.com

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à votre santé!

For Love of the Grape: Lagrein

13 May

You don’t have to be knowledgeable about wine to try something different. Sometimes it is refreshing to step outside your comfort zone and try new things.”-JvB
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There are several grapes grown in the seven regions that make up the Italian Alps’ winemaking area known as Alto Adige. Gewürztraminer is said to have originated here (from the town Tramin). Pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio, and riesling are grown and bottled in this region as well. Some lesser known white wine grapes grown in this region include: sylvaner, veltliner, kerner, müller-thurgau, and moscato giallo. Most of these are known as aromatic, dry, refined whites with excellent minerality from the local terroir.

The red wines from the Alto Adige region include well known varietals such as merlot, pinot noir, and cabernet are grown in this region between the Alps and the Mediterranean sea. But the lesser-known local varietals are very interesting, and include schiava, moscata rosa, and lagrein (pronounced “lǝ -grān” or “lǝ-grīn”).

 Lagrein is one of the leading red varietals of the region. If you don’t know the grape, you’re not alone. But that’s no reason not to try it!

A quick aside: You don’t have to be knowledgeable about wine to try something different. Sometimes it is refreshing to step outside your comfort zone and try new things. I would normally never seek out grape varietals that I don’t know for large dinner parties, but I took a chance while in Italy. Not knowing the Sudtirol region  well, during our stay in Merano I asked the sommelier to suggest local wines that would pair well with our meal choices. One evening he brought forward a lagrein to suggest. My initial impression of the wine was not great, but it improved immediately with more air, paired beautifully with the northern Italian cuisine we were enjoying, and was an obvious excellent choice- a lesson I’ve never forgotten!

The character of the lagrein grape falls between a young pinot noir, syrah, and grenache. The colors of a typical wine will range from ruby red to deep violet and purple; the nose can be fruit, perfume, and spice; and the blackberry/blueberry fruit is sometimes followed with spices and pepper. Often the initial mouthfeel is then matched or  dominated by strong acidity and powerful tannins with a medium to long, grippy finish.

Overall, it’s important to note that the lagrein grape has never been intended to be consumed on its own. With a naturally high acidity and tannin, this is a wine made for food. In general, due to higher expenses in both manufacturing and export, Alto Adige wines will cost from $16-45 in general. I doubt you’ll find these on the shelf in the average wine shop; I only found between one and five wines at the three top sellers I use in New York while I found no lagrein wines at smaller wine shops. But I do suggest that some time, you give a lagrein a try. You might be impressed!

When I recently had an opportunity to attend the Alto Adige 2013 Grand Tasting Tour, (with over 20 wineries participating) I remembered my experience with the lagrein varietal and made it a point to pay attention to the lagrein wines at the event.

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In addition to tasting with the winemakers, I also took notes on several lagrein wines during a direct comparison tasting. Please understand that these notes are taken in haste; at these tastings, there is no real opportunity to linger and ponder the wine or taste it several times, with different pairings or over multiple days, hence some brevity in description. A star in front of the name shows it is recommended. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is listed after each wine for your reference.

*Bolzano Lagrein Riserva “Prestige” 2010, $42
Has a nice balance and depth. Ruby-purple color with cherry vanilla nose. Strong blackberry and cherry again on the palate with a fleshy finish.

*Castell Sellegg, Lagrein 2011, $35
My favorite from this group tasting. Violet in color, perfume nose with great forward fruit, strong acidity and tannin. An excellent representation and a well made wine. Highly recommended.

Franz Haas Lagrein 2010, $36
My least favorite of the group with almost no bouquet and a weak flavor in comparison to the other lagreins. Could pair nicely with gentle cheeses, salad, light appetizers. Has a wonderful, eye-catching label, but very pricey in my opinion for the mild  nose and flavor.

St. Pauls Lagrein 2011, $18
Nice purple color, sharp fruit nose. Very hot on the palate (13.5% alcohol) with bitter finish. Would be best served slightly chilled. Acids and tannin overpower the fruit, but shows better with food.

Tenuta Lensch Lagrein 2009, $20
An interesting wine that showed quite differently than the other lagreins in its initial harshness. Perhaps significant air would make a difference, I found this wine a challenge to appreciate.

*Elena Walch Lagrein Riserva Castel Ringberg 2008
This was the first lagrein  that demonstrated a clear and significant step up in quality from the first tier of lagrein wines I tasted. Aged in large oak barrel, there is a gentle wood underneath. Still quite tart, and tannic, this wine has good fruit, body, and structure that show depth and complexity when paired.

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à votre santé!

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