Monday, December 2, 2013
I absolutely love the wines of Alsace and believe that this is the finest collection of white wines in the world; taking into mind the whites from Burgundy as well as Friuli, Alto Adige and Campania in Italy, that's a strong statement, but one in which I'm convinced. Add to that the marvelous array of wines, from Pinot Gris to Riesling to Gewurztraminer as well as a few others (including one red, Pinot Noir) and you've got a collection of wines that can pair up beautifully with a wide range of foodstuffs.
Recently, I tasted through the wines of Gustave Lorentz, an excellent producer situated in Bergheim near the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. The family has been producing wine there since 1836 and today is managed by Georges Lorentz, sixth-generation vintner. They own a total of 85 acres of vineyards of which 34 are Grand Cru, with four at Kanzlerberg and thirty at Altenberg de Bergheim. In 2012, their vineyards were certified organic by Ecocert.
I've tasted a few entry level "reserve" wines from Lorentz over the years - quite often the Pinot Blanc- and have been very happy with the overall balance as well as the typicity of the products. They represent Alsace well and they're also fine values, with the Pinot Blanc coming in around $16 a bottle (sometimes even less).
I recently tasted through six of the current Gustave Lorentz wines at two dinners: one with Thai food - I find that Alsatian wines and Thai food are a match made in heaven - and then with the traditional Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings. The opening wine was the Cremant d'Alsace, which is a unique sparkling wine from Alsace. This is made according to the methode champenoise system; the wine is under less pressure than a traditional Champagne, hence the name cremant, translated as "creaming." The Lorentz version is a blend of 1/3 each Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir and is a delight. My tasting notes are as follows:
"Delicate yellow, fine perlage; aromas of golden apple peel and a hint of lemon custard. Medium-full with very good concentration. Nicely balanced, very good acidity and very good persistence. Well made, this is a very flavorful cremant that is quite dry; it is also one of the nicest I've had in some time. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years."
I enjoyed this with turkey and the Thai food; it worked well with both, as the acidity and cleanliness of this wine cut through the spice of these foods. The suggested retail is $25.
Lorentz also produces a very nice rosé, made entirely from Pinot Noir. This has a beautiful strawberry color with fresh watermelon and strawberry fruit, very good acidity and impressive depth of fruit. This is quite dry and nicely balanced. It also worked well with turkey (with gravy) and an array of Thai dishes. The suggested retail is $16.
Three other wines that are of excellent quality are the 2011 Gewurztraminer "Reserve", the 2007 Pinot Gris "Schofweg" and the 2008 Riesling "Burg". Gewurztraminer is a specialty in Alsace and it's always been a favorite of mine; this 2011 from Lorentz with its exotic lychee, pineapple and lemon tea aromas and dry finish is first-rate and a wonderful partner for all of the foods I've mentioned in this post. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years; suggested retail of $25, which is quite fair.
The 2007 Pinot Gris from a single vineyard (an extension of Altenberg) offers inviting flavors and aromas of red apple and oragne peel backed by impressive depth of fruit and a lightly spicy finish; this was especially nice with Thai curry. This has the concentration to drink well for another 5-7 years; this is a delightful wine with a suggested retail of $30.
The 2008 Riesling "Burg," also from a single vineyard, is medium-full with lovely aromas of petrol and apricot (classic for this variety); the finish is long and very dry. 2008 was an excellent vintage in Alsace with expressive aromas and very good natural acidity; though not a year that produced the "biggest" wines, 2008 in Alsace yielded wines of beautiful varietal purity and structure. This is superb at present with pork and lighter game and white meats and should drink well for another 3-5 years, though I may be a bit conservative in that estimate. Riesling is certainly a hallmark of any Alsatian producer's portfolio and this is one that the Lorentz family should be proud of; suggested retail is $30.
Finally, let's talk about the 2006 Gewurztraminer from the Altenberg de Bergheim Grand Cru vineyard (depicted in the above map). The Grand Cru appellation in Alsace was certified in 1975 with many of the first vineyards being designated as such in 1983; there are a total of 51 Grand Cru vineyards in Alsace. Altenberg de Bergheim, located a bit north of the town of Colmar in the Haut-Rhin ("Upper Rhine") section of Alsace is considered an exceptional site for Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
The Gustave Lorentz 2006 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim is clearly a wine of great breeding, as you would expect. Light golden yellow with sumptuous aromas of lychee, apricot, mango and white roses - just this description alone makes me want to try this wine! - there is a richness and lushness, even an oiliness on the palate. Full-bodied with outstanding persistence and excellent acidity with ideal ripeness, this is a superb wine; my dining companion at the Thai restaurant (whose name was not Gustave) called this wine a "show stopper" and I heartily agreed. This is so delicious on its own, but it would be a shame to not pair this wine with food; this is perfect with Thai pork or chicken or even duck, while it would show off turkey and lighter game beautifully and would also be ideal with foie gras. This is such a unique wine for so many reasons; it has great complexity and power, yet it is always in balance, while the varietal purity is spectacular. This should drink well for another 7-10 years and the suggested retail price of $50 is quite fair, considering where this wine is from as well as its limited production.
Tasting through a lineup of wines such as these is a great exercise in discovering what the wines of Alsace are all about. Being able to experience such first-class offerings from Gustave Lorentz merely reinforced the marvelous quality of this renowned family producer.
The wines of Gustave Lorentz are imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, CA.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Jean-Marie Barillère, Co-President, Comité Champagne
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few weeks ago in Chicago, just before the wonderful Champagne tasting hosted by the Comité Champagne (read my post here), I was a guest at a small lunch hosted by this group. The purpose of this lunch was to discuss current trends in Champagne; the featured speakers were Jean-Marie Barillère and Thibaut Le Mailloux of the Comité as well as Sam Heitner of the Champagne Bureau, USA.
The discussion went back and forth and the guests (primarily media) were allowed to ask questions and state their opinions; this was a nice change from the usual approach where one speaker talks and everyone listens. How nice to have a free flow of ideas!
Instead of writing a full recap of the discussion or an essay, I'll list a few facts:
Average annual consumption of Champagne:
In France: 3 bottles - In the US- less than one glass
40%-45% of Champagne sold in the US from October to December
Since 2008, there has been a slight decline in sales. This is due of course to the worldwide economic crisis. Sales were better in 2009 than in 2008.
Lately there has been a decline in sales in France and England, while sales have been steady in Italy. There has been a slight increase in Germany and Scandanavia, while the biggest increase over the past few years has been in Japan, especially with younger women (30s and younger).
The Comité is taking even stronger steps to protect the Champagne name, as they are still upset by inexpensive sparkling wines from California labeled as Champagne.
There are 15,000 growers in the Champagne district, 4651 grower/producers, 143 cooperative producers and 349 houses. If you purchase more than 5% of your grapes, you are considered a house.
To show you how popular Champagne is, this product represents 30% of France's wine exports, yet Champagne makes up only 4% of the country's vineyards (and .4% of the world's vineyards). I'd say they're doing something right when it comes to marketing and selling Champagne, wouldn't you?
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Antonie Songy, Champagne Pascal Doquet (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
On Tuesday, October 29, the Comité Champagne (Champagne Bureau) held a tasting in Chicago with 36 Champagne producers pouring three of their finest cuvées for the trade. Well-organized and attended, this was an outstanding tasting that offered great evidence not only of the amazing quality of Champagne but also the marvelous diversity of these products.
As the USA Champagne Bureau noted, this was their first official tasting in Chicago and only the fourth one held in the United States. As I commented to Sam Heitner, director of the Bureau, they need to come back more often! To be able to taste so many superb wines from a mix of famous and lesser-known producers was not only a treat, but also a great educational experience. I can't imagine that the members of the trade that attended this event are not going to come away with a greater appreciation of Champagne; I also have to believe that many of them are also going to purchase several of these wines for their restaurants or retail outlets.
I could write volumes about this event, but for now, I will comment on some of the finest wines I tasted (of course, I didn't taste everything, so I imagine that I missed quite a few other first-rate wines).
Best Blanc de Blancs: Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs - Hands down, the finest Blanc de Blancs I tasted at this event. One thinks of Blanc de Blancs as a wine of finesse, not power. Yet here was a 100% Chardonnay that was a wine of deep concentration, perfect ripeness and marvelous structure that was among the most full-bodied of the tasting. Lovely now, this will peak in 7-10 years.
Most Distinctive Cuvée: Drappier "Quattuor": This had to be the most distinctive wine at the tasting, if only for the blend of grapes in this wine, 25% each of four white varieties (yes, you read that correctly, four white varieties): Chardonnay, Petit Meslier, Blanc Vrai (Pinot Blanc) and Arbane. (Please read my recent post about varieties in Champagne; while most people believe there are only three approved varieties for Champagne, there are actually seven).
This "Quattor" is a Blanc de Blancs - interestingly enough, a Blanc de Blancs that is not 100% Chardonnay; believe me, there are not many others! Offering powerful yeasty aromas as well as notes of apple, pear and honey, this is a rich, very complex wine with excellent persistence and beautiful acidity. This will be at its best in 5-7 years; I imagine this would be especially wonderful with lighter game or many veal preparations.
Best Non-Vintage: Pol Roger "White Label", Bollinger "Special Cuvée" and Lamiable Brut Grand Cru: Like a treasured friend, the Pol Roger "White Label" is something you can count on again and again; the richness and impeccable balance of this wine are striking. Offering tons of flavor, perfect harmony and beautiful finesse, the "Special Cuvée" from Bollinger is underrated, as everyone looks to their more expensive wines, but this is first-rate, with outstanding depth of fruit. The Lamiable offers dried pear and tropical fruit along with a nice plummy character (this is 80% Pinot Noir). It also has a lovely mineral character in the finish.
Let's Hear it for the
Best "Great" Producer that is relatively unknown: I do my best to stay current on the finest houses and growers of Champagne but of course, as there are so many producers, there are always going to be some I don't hear of or have the opportunity to taste their wines. Yet even with all that, I'm amazed that I'd never had the wines of Pierre Paillard from the town of Bouzy, home to some of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards in all of Champagne. Each of the three wines of Paillard poured at this tasting - the Bouzy Grand Cru, the Bouzy Grand Cru 2004 and the Rosé "Les Maillerettes" (mentioned above) are all from Grand Cru vineyards. These wines certainly have the power and complexity you would expect given their notable origins, but these cuvées exceed their distinguished breeding, as they display distinct minerality and are exceptional evidence that terroir can exist in Champagne, a notion often dispelled by many observers. This is an outstanding producer!
Arthur Silvente, Duval-Leroy (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Best Wines: Duval-Leroy "Femme de Champagne" 2000; Phillipponat "Grand Blanc" 2004; Nicolas Feuillatte "Palmes d'Or" 2002 - Again, there were dozens of first-rate wines at this event; however, there were three that stood a level above the rest.
The "Palmes d'Or" from Feuillatte is all about power; while this wine needs a lot of time to display its best, it is already a remarkable offering from the finest vintage of the decade in Champagne. The "Grand Blanc" from Phillipponat is a stellar wine, truly one of the finest Champagnes I have ever tasted. Powerful with outstanding complexity and persistence, this is what a great Champagne is all about and it is certainly one that you recall even days after you taste it.
Finally there is the sheer perfection of the Duval-Leroy "Femme", the firm's tête-de-cuvée. The 2000, a blend of 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir, was vinified in oak, which gives the wine an added richness on the mid-palate; combined with the tremendous depth of fruit, this results in a flawless wine, one of exceptional power and elegance at the same time; this is a Champagne that is simply unforgettable. Duval-Leroy has become one of my go-to houses for great Champagne; this is certainly one of the finest wine producers in the world.
A big thank you to the Comité Champagne for their skill and hard work in organizing this tasting. Also thanks to the producers that participated and shared their wines and knowledge and finally, thank you also to my friends who attended this event and shared their preferences - many of you alerted me to some great wines I would have otherwise not have tasted. I can't wait until the next Champagne tasting in Chicago - unless I make it to Champagne first!
Friday, October 11, 2013
One of the best days for an Italian wine lover is coming! The Simply Italian Great Wines tour is returning with stops in Chicago on October 28 and Los Angeles on October 30.
This is a day for every Italian wine fan in the trade and media. There are several seminars as well as a grand tasting of wines from numerous regions in Italy, including Friuli, Piemonte, Tuscany, Umbria, Veneto and several others.
I've been involved in this event for the past several years and again, I'll be teaching seminars in Chicago, specifically on Umbria and then Piemonte. There will also be seminars on the wines of the Veneto as well as Chianti Classico and also one about "Regulating Italian Wines in Today's Market."
These seminars will be presented both in Chicago and Los Angeles. As they fill up quickly, it's recommended that you sign up right away.
Details are as follows:
Chicago, October 28
333 North Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Los Angeles, October 30
Mr. C – Beverly Hills
1224 Beverwil Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Again, these events are for the trade and media only. To sign up, email Jessica Celona at firstname.lastname@example.org (phone 305-937-2488) or click here.
Hope to see you on the 28th (or 30th) for a great day of Italian wines!
Monday, September 9, 2013
Conventional wisdom about anything - automobiles, movies, sports - can be a tricky thing. Usually that information is true, or at least accepted as true. I won't get into the misinformation that clogs up the internet these days - I could write all day on that topic.
Take Champagne for example, when it comes to universal truths. We all know that an authentic Champagne - produced from grapes grown in the Champagne district of France - can be made from three grape types, namely, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. That's a fact that everyone knows - right?
Well it turns out that there are actually seven varieties permitted in the production of Champagne. It's just that you don't hear about the other four as only a handful of producers use these other varieties. Then consider that these four varieties account for approximately 1% of the total planting in Champagne and you can understand why these varieties are rarely discussed.
Still, they exist and here they are listed: Pinot Gris (also known as Fromenteau or Enfumé), Arbane, found only in the Aube district, Pinot Blanc (also known as Blanc Vrai) and Petit Meslier. They're all white varieties by the way, so that means there are a total of five white varieties that can be used in Champagne (Chardonnay, of course, being the other) with two red varieties: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
There actually are a few producers that craft a Champagne using all seven varieties and I recently tasted one, the Le Nombre d'Or "Campaniae Veters Vites" Brut from the great house of L. Aubry Fils of Jouy-les-Reims. This was the 2005 vintage and the primary grapes are Pinot Gris and Petit Meslier, while the other five varieties represent anywhere from 5% to 15% or 20% of the blend. The name incidentally means "the golden number," referring to all seven varieties in this wine. The specific cuvée name "Campaniae Veters Vites," means "old vines of the countryside." (Incidentally, there is also a Blanc de Blancs version of this wine - named Sable Blanc de Blancs - which is comprised of Chardonnay, Arbane and Petit Meslier.)
As you might imagine, this is a very distinctive Champagne; instead of the toasty, yeasty notes you find in the aromas of so many Champagnes, this has perfumes of green mint, dried pear, chamomile and even a hint of fig and dried yellow flowers. Medium-full, this is quite elegant and vibrant on the palate and there is a long, satisfying finish with very good acidity and a light earthiness. It's not an austere style of Champagne; it is delicious and extremely well balanced, and of course, displays marvelous complexity. It's beautiful now and should drink well for another 3-5 years - perhaps longer.
I may not have been in seventh heaven, but what a stylish Champagne!