The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon

Winemaker Thibaud Boudignon looks me straight in the eye and says, “I want fresh vitality in my wines and an almost brutal minerality,” and I honestly have to catch my breath for a moment, since it’s been some time since anyone spoke to me so directly in my love language.

I gulp and take another sip of his electrically bright Chenin Blanc and concentrate on scribbling notes in my notebook, all the while thinking that I can’t imagine a better description for the kinds of white wines that I find most arresting.

I can say without question that Boudignon’s efforts are, in fact, truly arresting. This young man, a relative newcomer to the tiny Loire appellation of Savennenièrs, is setting a new standard for what Savennenièrs can be.

Boudignon never set out to be a winemaker. In fact, what he wanted more than anything was to be an Olympic champion in Judo. With his bearded, muscled frame and massive hands, Boudignon certainly looks like he’d make a formidable opponent in any contest of strength, but dreams and reality don’t always match up.

“By the time I was 21 I realized I was never going to be a champion,” says Boudignon with a shrug, “so I headed to the south of France to get some work.”

Boudignon’s Clos de la Hutte vineyard with its fractured schist soils.

Boudignon, who lost his mother Françoise when he was only 17, had spent some of his childhood playing in his paternal grandfather’s vineyards in the South of France, and also grew up in Bordeaux drinking Medoc wines at lunchtime with his mother’s father, François.

So when he headed south, he naturally fell into work first in the vineyards, and then in the cellar. Boudignon would eventually make his way to Bordeaux, where he worked at Château Olivier and Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, and then to Australia where he worked at De Bortoli, followed by a stint at Domaine Charlopin-Parizot in Gevrey-Chambertin.

“Eventually I arrived in the Loire, where I was put in charge of Chateau Soucherie,” says Boudignon, who arrived at that Savennières producer in 2007 and soon after realized that he and the estate’s owners had a different vision for where the wines should go.

“I decided in 2009 that I needed to work for myself,” says Boudignon, “but I knew I needed to have money to start something. I stopped being an employee in 2015, worked as a consultant until 2018, and since 2018, I have been focused only on my production.”

A Blanc Slate

After making that fateful decision in 2009, Boudignon began buying grapes in Anjou to make roughly 3000 bottles of Anjou blanc.

“I had three barrels that all tasted different in that first vintage, and I decided to blend them and make it a tribute,” says Boudignon, describing the creation of the Anjou Blanc he named ‘a François(e).’

“When you decide to write your mother and your grandfather’s name on the bottle, you don’t cheat on quality,” he says.

That wine would go on to win Boudignon his first notable acclaim as a vigneron and was snapped up by top restaurants across France. Boudignon took the money he received and reinvested it in his operation, something he has been doing ever since.

Within a couple of years, Boudignon had begun sourcing small amounts of Savennières, prompting him to learn as much as he could about the appellation.

“Do you know that there are roughly 300 hectares of land in Savennières, but only half are planted?” he asks. “I began to think to myself, ‘I wonder what the potential is here?'”

As he was doing research on the appellation, he came across an old reference to a walled vineyard named Clos de la Hutte. “I said to myself ‘where is this place?’ and I began to search.”

Resurrecting a Clos

He would eventually find the wall, but it no longer surrounded a vineyard. So Boudignon used the majority of his savings to buy the land and put a vineyard back in what he is convinced was one of Savennières’ historically significant lieux-dits, or named vineyard sites.

He got his first harvest off the vineyard in 2015.

“Clos de la Hutte is the culmination of everything I’ve done,” says Boudignon. “It is our grand cru, and it is always a monster. Whatever the year, what it produces is unbelievable. It is not impressive but it has power. It is like the gentle swipe of a tiger’s paw. He is not punching you, but you feel the power.”

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
A view across the Clos de la Hutte with the stone wall in the distance.

Like most of Savenniéres, the six acres (2.5 ha) of Clos de la Hutte consists of shallow topsoil of light clay chock full of bits of the fractured dark schist (known locally as Anjou Noir) that sits beneath it.

This schist represents the metamorphic remains of something called the Amorican Massif, what was once a large Paleozoic mountain range that has been ground down to nearly nothing in the roughly 300 million years since. But the roots of this mountain range remain, offering up the sparkly, flaky rock of their buckled and compressed foundations as places for vines to grow.

These rocky shallow schist soils are the defining characteristic of the Savennières appellation, which is planted almost exclusively to Chenin Blanc (though there are some secret pockets of Verdelho, which is a tale for another time).

Investing In a Legacy

Continuing with his theme of reinvestment, Boudignon built himself a small winery in 2016 to exacting specifications, heavily focused on maintaining conditions in the cellar while keeping the carbon footprint of his operation to a minimum. Because the winery sits on the same schist bedrock as his vineyards, Boudignon couldn’t dig an underground cellar and has settled for a custom system that pulls ambient air into a buried pipe to reduce the energy required to cool it as well as allow precise control of humidity.

Boudignon has structured the building to require what he sees as the absolute minimum of handling from fruit to bottle. “I want to take 100% of the potential of the vines and put that into the wine,” explains Boudignon. “As soon as you cut the grapes you are losing potential. That is why I invested so much in this winery.”

Boudignon works biodynamically but seems content to dispense with all the dogma associated with the approach.

“When Steiner was looking at biodynamics it was about yield and quality, but really, biodynamics is about life,” says Boudignon. “For us, the vineyard is the most important thing. My goal is a healthy vineyard without stress, where the grapes can reach complete maturity. I like relaxed fruit. When the vines suffer things get out of balance.”

“It’s not just the grapes you want relaxed,” says Boudignon, “It’s also about the team. We respect the soil, but we also respect the people we work with, it’s an entire system. These kinds of wines are possible because of the work we all do in the vineyard.”

Boudignon does no analysis of his grapes or his wines through the winemaking process, choosing instead to pick when he thinks things are ripe, which for him is mature but not overripe. He assiduously avoids botrytis, which he believes makes the wine much more prone to oxidation.

Like many winemakers, Boudignon believes the single most important decision he makes every year is when to pick, a moment that is informed by his desire to express everything that his schist soils are capable of showing.

In Service of Minerality, In Search of Emotion

“Since 2018, all I do is eat, think, and sleep Chenin,” says Boudignon, “and the wines have started to be different.”

“I don’t want to produce a wine that has a lot of flavor,” he goes on to explain. “I want a wine that might sometimes be closed when it is young, but which ages well and more than anything else, expresses minerality. Minerality is key.”

“I don’t want the wine necessarily to be impressive on the table,” he continues, “I want the wine to keep the mouth fresh, to make me want to drink and want to eat. Acidity, yes of course, but also minerality. There is a difference. Acidity is vertical. Minerality is ongoing. It pushes and makes the wine long. These days it’s trendy to be focused on pH and numbers, but I don’t believe you can see minerality in terms of a number. You can see minerality when you walk through the vineyard and look at the fruit.”

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
Another view of the Clos de la Hutte vineyard

Boudignon prefers to harvest as quickly as possible, and get the fruit into the cellar as cool as possible. He presses whole clusters into steel tanks chilled to 37˚F/3˚C, and then moves some of the wine to old oak barrels (and recently some concrete eggs) for fermentation with ambient yeasts. He likes to let the wine do its own thing in the cellar, though he prefers to inhibit malolactic conversion, keeping as much acidity in his wines as possible.

“I haven’t done malolactic fermentation since the beginning,” says Boudignon.  “The Chenin I like doesn’t have malo, and I want to make the wines I like to drink. I think a lot of people pick too early to preserve the acidity they lose during malo, and they aren’t getting full maturity. We keep things cold and then add sulfur in February or March. If the wine happens to go through malo, it’s not a big thing,” he shrugs.

The wines are never fined or filtered.

“I work for the taste,” continues Boudignon, “For the emotion of the thing. I am not afraid of what will happen. It’s like when you are in love with a girl. If you spend all the time being afraid that she will leave you for someone else, you can never really be with her. Maybe I’ll make mistakes, but mistakes are a part of the winemaking process. To make a mistake is not a problem. To keep making the same mistake, that is the problem. I learn from each vintage, and now I have the capacity to see what will happen.”

Farming in the Face of Disaster

From the 18-or-so acres (7.5 ha) he farms, Boudignon produces roughly 3000 cases of wine each year, all Chenin Blanc with the exception of a tiny amount of rosé.

That is when he gets a harvest at all.

In 2017, he and many fellow growers lost their entire crops to frost and hail. In 2019, he harvested merely 30% of his normal yield.

“When you go into your vineyard and see it all destroyed, it is like a bomb going off—in your vineyard and in your mind,” he says. “That is why I had to invest in frost protection. If I cannot protect my young vines, I think I should just stop doing this.”

Boudignon spent 30,000 Euros last year for an electronic frost protection system—a wire that runs along the length of each cordon that emits enough warmth when turned on to keep young spring buds and leaves from freezing. It’s not foolproof, but he showed me tender young leaves that were still clinging to life on vines that had the wires and desiccated dead leaves on those that didn’t.

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
The warming wire of Boudignon’s electric frost protection, and an emerging bud that was saved.

Boudignon has planted his vineyards with 10 different massale selections of Chenin Blanc, some from Domaine Huet in Vouvray, and others from elsewhere around Savennières. Most of the vines are trained in the guyot-poussard method, a bi-lateral pruning that supposedly increases sap flow and prevents vine disease, but which Boudignon likens to training a bonsai.

In Clos de la Hutte he has also planted half an acre of his vines on their own roots, rather than using rootstock, in an experimental search for more mineral expression.

“I just wanted to see what the difference would be,” says Boudignon, who has started bottling those vines separately, as they do indeed express themselves differently.

Boudignon has also recently begun a new vineyard project in another walled site just down the road from Clos de la Hutte, in a sunnier, windier spot with more sand and even less soil between the sunlight and the schist. These 4.5 acres (2 ha) will be known as Clos de Vandleger.

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
The recently planted Clos de Vandleger vineyard.

Anticipating Greatness

At 40 years old, Boudignon is entering the prime of his winemaking career, having already turned many heads. Indeed, his success as a young vigneron has brought renewed attention to the Savennières appellation, which he has mixed feelings about.

“People are arriving now in the wine business with Instagram and a lot of money,” he says with a shake of his head. “We have our 7 hectares and we are simply focused on nothing else but quality.”

Boudignon is pleased that he has gotten to the point where the economic pressure to make sales and support the business can take a back seat to the wines and his sense of what they need to show their best.

“Now I can say that people will not taste the wines until they are right,” he says proudly. “It is a responsibility rather than a pressure now.”

Right for Boudignon seems to mean chiseled wines, with resonant complexity, incredible expressiveness, and mouthwatering brightness. And yes, a more than an occasional dose of brutal minerality.

Please sir, may I have some more?

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon
Thibaud Boudignon

“When you are young,” says Boudignon, “You think having experience is something that older people hold over you like it helps them to say that they are important. But when you get older you realize experience is important for understanding, to anticipate. I am not living in fear. When you start your life in sport, you realize your career is very short. The same in wine. Maybe at the end of my life, I will have only 20 or 30 vintages. I don’t want to regret something. That is why I do everything with 100% passion and 100% investment. Everyone will tell you they want to produce the best wine possible, but the question is what do they do in the service of that? What you do is what makes the difference, every moment that you are ready to do what you have to do to get the kind of wine you believe in. When I do that, this doesn’t feel like work at all. In fact, when I do that, everything makes perfect sense.”

Tasting Notes

I don’t think I can recommend these wines highly enough. They now are among my absolute favorite renditions of Chenin Blanc.

In addition to the wines below, Boudignon makes a rosé, which he did not have available to taste when I visited, and which I am quite keen to try. Keep an eye out for it.

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon

2020 Thibaud Boudignon Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon oil, quince, and flowers. In the mouth, explosive acidity offers lemon and grapefruit flavors tinged with acacia blossom and a bit of quince and pear. Mouthwatering, fantastic crushed stone minerality. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “Clos de Frémine” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of flowers, lemon oil, wet stones, and a hint of guava. In the mouth, bright juicy lemon, white flowers, and acacia blossoms all swirl with a silky texture and slightly softer acidity. This wine is detailed, deeply stony, clean, and bright with a long finish. Gorgeous. Aged in 600-liter barrels, with a total of about 10% new oak. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “a François(e)” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of wet stones and lemon pith with a hint of unripe pear. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon and a hint of banana mix with pear and beautifully chiseled acidity. Gorgeous lemon pith and lemon oil flavors emerge with hints of flowers that linger in the finish. Silky texture and beautifully saline. This is now a selection of only free-run juice and only the best fruit from the La Gare vineyard from which Boudignon sources his Anjou Blanc. Sees 20% new oak. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “La Vigne Cendree” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince and lemon pith. In the mouth, silky flavors of lemon pith, pear, grapefruit, and lemongrass have a fantastic juicy brightness. The wine features a long, stony finish with a hint of a chalky texture. Deeply mineral. This wine comes from a 1-acre parcel of vines that Boudignon has contracted. No new oak used. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “Clos de la Hutte” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stone, tree blossoms, lemon pith, and grapefruit. In the mouth, incredibly silky flavors of lemon pith, lemon oil, unripe pear, acacia blossom, and quince have a cistern-like minerality with deep stony depths. Incredible acidity, great length. One of the best mouthfuls of Chenin Blanc I have had in a long time. This wine ages in 30% new oak of various sizes for 18 months before spending another year in the bottle before release. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $110. click to buy.

2020 Thibaud Boudignon “Clos de la Hutte – Franc de Pied” Savenniéres, Loire Valley, France
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and wet stone. In the mouth, gorgeous stony lemon and grapefruit pith flavors are silky and deeply stony. Essential, stripped down, and ethereal, with some hint of greengage plum along with citrus and unripe pear. Stony, stony, stony. This is a special bottling made from only own-rooted vines planted in the stoniest sections of the Clos de la Hutte vineyard. The wine is aged in glass demijohns, “to go straight to the minerality,” says Boudignon. Only 300 bottles are made. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $??

The Emotion of Savennières: The Wines of Thibaud Boudignon

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Let’s Talk About Bruno: The Simply Delicious Savoie Wines of Bruno Lupin

I followed Google Maps through the little Haut-Savoie village of Frangy and up a steep hillside into the vineyards, eventually to be deposited at the end of a gravel driveway labeled with the number where the internet suggested I’d find the tiny winery of Bruno Lupin.

Emerging from my rental car, I was greeted by a genial old man who despite his smile, wanted to know what the hell I was doing in his driveway. At least, that’s what I thought he was (politely) asking me in French, a language I cannot be said to speak, only to butcher.

The next 2 minutes of conversation were the stuff of so many slapstick comedy routines involving two parties earnestly trying to understand each other in the absence of a common language. Eventually, I gathered that I had indeed found Lupin, but instead of Bruno, I had the pleasure of addressing his father, Francois. I had arrived at his childhood home, still occupied by the elder Lupin, in the midst of a very old vineyard planted by and named for Francois’ father Jean, whom everyone called Pepe.

From this small, steep plot of Altesse, Bruno Lupin (and his father before him) has long made a flagship bottling of deeply mineral, silky, seductive wine that sings of the region’s morainic clay-limestone soils and crisp pre-alpine sunlight.

Eventually, through a combination of hand gestures and a trickle of comprehension squeezed from my broken French, I gathered that the younger Lupin I had come to see that morning would be awaiting me just down the hill at the site of his modest winery and tasting room, converted from an ancient chicken coop and feed store in the center of town.

Deep Roots

The Lupin family has been associated with the little village of Frangy for more than a century, but when Bruno Lupin came of age he had no intention of working in the family wine domaine. Instead, after his Enology studies in Beaune, he went to work for Cave de Genève, a large co-op winery in Switzerland, where he assumed the role of Chief of Vinification and spent almost 15 years making very large quantities of wine with a high degree of sanitation, precision, and repeatability.

In 1998, at the age of 35, Lupin returned to his hometown to take over from his father, after it became clear that neither his brothers nor his sister were going to keep the family business running. In the process, he left behind nearly everything he had been doing from a winemaking perspective in Switzerland, save perhaps a keen attention to detail.

“In Switzerland we produced a lot of different wines, and the company lost itself in diversity,” says Lupin. “When I decided to come home I wanted to keep things simple.”

Lupin immediately began phasing out all herbicide and pesticide use in his family’s 15 acres of vineyards and left behind all interventions in the cellar save temperature control, occasionally preventing malolactic conversion, and the addition of sulfur dioxide when needed to keep his wines fresh.

For the past 25 years, Lupin has been focused almost entirely on one plot of land and one grape, the variety Altesse that many believe may have originated in the region. This long history with the grape is perhaps one of the reasons that Frangy is a cru—one of only 4 villages in the Savoie region that are allowed to attach their names to bottles of Roussette de Savoie, the local AOC designation for Altesse.

Lupin’s plot sits at the heart of a hillside named Les Aricoques, which has been associated with some of the highest quality Altesse made in the Savoie for a very long time.

“Altesse requires an incredible amount of attention,” says Lupin. “It has a lot of vigor, and so if you want the highest quality you have to work extremely hard in the vineyard.”

Let’s Talk About Bruno: The Simply Delicious Savoie Wines of Bruno Lupin
Bruno Lupin amongst his Altesse.

Lupin’s seeming mastery of the variety has put him much in demand as consultant, troubleshooter, and overall expert in the region. Recently a non-profit decided to resurrect an historic vineyard bordering nearby Lake Annecy, and brought on Lupin to head up the effort.

Simple Wines, Complex Flavors

As with many vignerons of a similar persuasion, Lupin spends as much time and effort as possible ensuring he harvests pristine fruit. In addition to his organic farming regimen, he utilizes homemade buckthorn-bark tea sprays, the tannins of which he says fortifies his vines against mildew and helps him reduce his copper sulfate usage.

Lupin also takes pains to diversify the ecosystem of his vineyards. He encourages trees to grow on his vineyard borders, allows vegetative growth between his rows, and has retained a small copse of trees in the center of his hillside, which remains home to rabbits, birds, badgers, and the occasional fox.

His grapes are harvested by hand and brought into the winery where they are whole-cluster pressed gently with a pneumatic press into either his old enameled tanks or the newer, temperature-controlled stainless tanks he’s been buying as funds allow. The oldest vines from the Pepe vineyard end up in an unusual concrete tank in the form of a trapezoidal icosahedron (20-sided volume) with a horizontal egg-shaped chamber at its core.

The wines ferment with ambient yeasts, and then generally age in tank, except for a couple of cuvées that spend time in wood, including some old acacia barrels. While the Cuvée du Pepe from his oldest vines is allowed to go through malolactic conversion, most wines are not. Lupin seeks to conserve the chiseled acidity that Altesse can deliver in the face of a warming climate.

Along with this interest in acidity, Lupin prefers to ferment nearly all of his wines to dryness, which sets him apart from many of his fellow vignerons, who prefer to leave a bit of residual sugar to balance what they see as the austerity of the Altesse variety.

The 10% of his vineyard planted to Mondeuse Lupin treats much the same as his whites, with the addition of 2 weeks or so of semi-carbonic maceration and then aging in old oak casks before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

“My Mondeuse is not the same as other people’s,” says Lupin. “I have a white wine terroir after all. I prefer lighter tannins and more fruit, a style that can be drunk early instead of having to be laid down for a while.”

“It’s important for me to make a wine that me and my family will like,” says Lupin. “When I believe in my product, people will taste my wines and they will be convinced, or not. I’m not looking for a cliché wine. My goal is to produce the best wine possible and let the quality speak for itself. I have only two grapes, so I keep it simple.”

Simple in conception does not mean simple in expression, however. Lupin coaxes a remarkable dynamic range out of his wines, at once both deeply mineral as well as ripe with flavors of fruit and herbs. Lupin may be economical with his words when it comes to describing his wines, preferring terms such as simplicity or finesse, but it’s clear that he thinks quite carefully about each of his wines and what he wants them to express.

A quote by Paul Claudel hangs from an ancient basket press in Lupin’s cellar: “Wine is the teacher of taste and, by training us in the practice of inner attention, it is the liberator of the mind.”

Wines of Sentiment

While simplicity is clearly a guiding principle, that doesn’t mean Lupin doesn’t like to experiment.

“I stay with the bread and butter, a stable production,” he says, “but then maybe there are little offshoots. I make a little rosé, or more sentimental wines.”

At one point he and his wife Suzy, who manages the compact little tasting room adjacent to the winery, decided to begin the tradition of a night-harvesting party. Vintage permitting, Lupin leaves a portion of his grapes on the vine that will be harvested at the first full moon following his normal harvest. Family and friends are invited out under the stars, and with much merriment and requisite drinking, the remaining grapes are harvested and then make their way into a wine named Cuvee de la Pleine Lune.

Let’s Talk About Bruno: The Simply Delicious Savoie Wines of Bruno Lupin
The night-harvested wine that celebrates friends and family.

Lupin also recently began making a skin-macerated, orange version of Altesse fermented whole cluster in a tank with punchdowns that is positively brilliant and should be hitting the market shortly.

In 2015 he also began making a very unusual rendition of Altesse, half of which is aged in cask for 5 years su voile, under a blanket of flor yeast in the style of dry Sherry. The entire production of this wine was sold to a single merchant, and it wasn’t made again until 2020, so it may be a while before you come across a bottle.

Even though Cremant de Savoie must by law be made from the better-known Savoie grape Jacquere, that doesn’t sit very well with the folks in Frangy, who have been making sparkling wine from Altesse for perhaps more than a century, and don’t care to grow what they consider an unsuitable variety for their chillier meso-climate. Bruno was granted an exception to continue making his 100% Altesse Cremant de Savoie until 2020, but he says that will be the last vintage. If he decides to make sparkling wine moving forward, he’ll have to label it Vin de France.

The Anvil Overhead

When I visited Lupin last summer, the region had just been hit with crazy storms, including torrential rains and a bunch of hail in various places, causing mildew and rot to go rampant, and this after spring frosts that were particularly damaging for some. Lupin winced visibly when estimating the impact on his vineyards.

“If I am lucky, I will make enough wine to cover my interest payments,” he said. “We just have to hope this is an exception and not the trend. It’s worrying.”

The Savoie region has been hammered by adverse weather events in recent years, with significant hail damage in the 2018 and 2019 vintage. This past spring brought particularly hard frosts across most of France, including in the Savoie.

Just over a week ago on June 5th, the vineyards of the Chignin-Bergeron region were struck by a massive storm that left drifts of hailstones more than a foot deep in some places, decimating many vineyards. In a region full of small, family-run producers like Lupin, the distance between making a living and complete insolvency remains quite small.

“All I can do is try to keep back some stock of wines,” says Lupin, “So that I always have something to sell.”

Beyond that, few options exist for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend on vineyards elsewhere (to hedge their risk), or pricey technology such as electric frost protection that can only hope to mitigate the damage.

All the more reason, then, to talk about these wines, and encourage people to seek them out and support producers like Lupin, despite the wines being somewhat obscure and difficult to find.

Lupin’s wines are imported by De Maison Selections, but can be tricky to find online. I’ve provided links below for any and all I could.

Tasting Notes

2019 Bruno Lupin Cremant de Savoie, Savoie, France
Palest straw with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of peaches, white flowers, creme anglaise, and ripe apples. 6 g/l dosage, but I would have guessed higher. In the mouth, faintly sweet apple and white floral flavors have a nice bright crispness. Crémant legally is required to be Jacquere, but Bruno was given a special exception to use Altesse until 2020. This is the last bottling that is 100% Altesse. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

Let’s Talk About Bruno: The Simply Delicious Savoie Wines of Bruno Lupin

2019 Bruno Lupin Roussette de Savoie Cru Frangy, Savoie, France
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of green apples, dried herbs, and flowers with interestingly a faint tobacco note. In the mouth, bright apple and Asian pear flavors mix with herbal notes. Excellent acidity. 100% Altesse. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2019 Bruno Lupin “Cuvee du Pepe” Roussette de Savoie Cru Frangy, Savoie, France
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of pastry cream, apples, and yellow herbs. In the mouth, silky flavors of Asian pear, white flowers, and wet chalkboard have an exciting vibrancy. In the mouth, the wine has incredible length, with citrus pith and yellow herbs lingering for a long time in the finish. 12.5% alcohol. Wonderfully crisp and bright. 100% Altesse made in concrete egg. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $29.

2019 Bruno Lupin “Cuvée Les Barriques” Roussette de Savoie Cru Frangy, Savoie, France
Pale straw in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, a touch of honey, and a hint of oak. In the mouth, bright stony flavors of citrus pith and dried yellow herbs mix with a hint of Asian pear and white flowers. The oak usage here seems to lean out the wine a bit, making it somewhat stonier and crisp, with a tiny hint of toasty wood in the finish. Spends six months in used Francois Freres barrels. 100% Altesse. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2018 Bruno Lupin “Cuvée de l’Acacia” Roussette de Savoie Cru Frangy, Savoie, France
Palest greenest gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and wet stones with the barest hint of gunflint that might easily get it mistaken for a Chablis. In the mouth, bright lemon pith and lemon oil mix with crushed stones and electric acidity. Silky white flowers and deep minerality. Gorgeous. There’s a precision to this wine that is positively thrilling. 100% Altesse. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5.

2020 Bruno Lupin Rosé of Mondeuse, Savoie, France
Palest coppery pink in the glass, this wine smells of raspberries and citrus peel with sweet floral notes. In the mouth, raspberry and watermelon rind mix with citrus peel and wonderfully stony minerality. There’s a faint tannic grip to it and excellent acidity. Quite delicious. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2019 Bruno Lupin Mondeuse, Savoie, France
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black raspberry and aromatic herbs. In the mouth, lithe herbal, black raspberry, and mulberry flavors are wrapped in a faintly muscular skein of tannins over a wonderfully stony core of bright berry fruit with faint aromatics. Excellent acidity. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $27.

2019 Bruno Lupin “Cuvee de la Pleine Lune” Altesse, Savoie, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle and dry tobacco. In the mouth, intense Asian pear, honeysuckle, dried yellow herbs, and wet stone flavors have a nice intensity. These grapes are left on the vine until the next full moon after the main harvest, and then family and close friends go out at night, drink wine, and harvest these rows with headlamps. The resulting wine is higher in alcohol and a bit richer, but still dry and delicious. 100% Altesse. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2020 Bruno Lupin Orange Altesse, Vin de France
Light amber in the glass, this wine smells of marijuana and other dried herbs. In the mouth, gorgeous faintly tannic citrus peel. Dried herbs, dry tobacco, wet stones, apricot skin. Fantastic acidity. 100% Altesse spends 15 days on the skins. Bruno only made about 500 bottles. 12.8% alcohol. Not yet released or named, it will have to be labeled Vin de France as extended skin contact is not approved by the Savoie appellation. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

2015 Bruno Lupin “Alt 1550” Altesse, Vin de France
Light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of oak and citrus pith and herbs with a crushed nut quality. In the mouth, lightly tannic textures surround a core of nutty, dried citrus peel, very dry, dried herbs, and a hint of vanilla, but doesn’t taste sherried or highly oxidized. 50% of this wine ages under flor for 5 years. 13% alcohol. The entire production of this wine was purchased by a single merchant. It was next made in 2020 and has yet to be released. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $n/a

Let’s Talk About Bruno: The Simply Delicious Savoie Wines of Bruno Lupin
Suzy and Bruno Lupin.

The post Let’s Talk About Bruno: The Simply Delicious Savoie Wines of Bruno Lupin appeared first on Vinography.

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

I don’t suppose that it’s an uncommon experience, but I definitely came back from my recent press trip to the Loire knowing that I’m not drinking enough Chenin Blanc. Before leaving, I counted myself a fan of the variety, often ordering it off of wine lists at restaurants, but I don’t own that many bottles from the Loire, and I haven’t been in the habit of buying them regularly. But that’s going to change.

Vouvray and Savennières are two of the Loire’s appellations dedicated only to Chenin Blanc. While a number of Loire Valley appellations feature both red and white wines from different grape varieties, Vouvray and Savennières make only white wines, and only from Chenin. While Savennières is best known for (and is dominated by) its dry wines, both regions produce dry, semi-sweet, and sweet wines, while Vouvray also makes sparkling wines.

Vouvray from the air

They share the same grape variety, but these two regions on the northern bank of the Loire River produce dry white wines of a distinctly different character, in part due to their very different geologies.

It’s always tricky to generalize, but I would say that the wines of Vouvray come across as slightly richer, with a little more weight and heft in the glass, while Savennières has a stonier, lighter quality. Whereas I tend to taste pear, quince, and lemon in Vouvray wines, I tend to get more grapefruit notes and less quince in Savennières.

The trip I attended in late April for the Val de Loire Millésime event afforded me the opportunity to taste a number of wines from each appellation side-by-side. Also, because I arrived a little early for the junket, I got the chance to spend a day wandering around Savennières and make a couple of producer visits, which I’ll end up writing about in due course.

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs
A walled Savennières vineyard

In the meantime, I thought I’d share my notes on some of the better wines I tasted from each region as part of my official visit, and a little bit about these two unique centers of Chenin Blanc production.

Vouvray

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

The long, long, Loire Valley is typically divided into four primary regions, the largest and most central of which is Touraine, which is centered around the city of Tours. Nestled just to the east and north of Tours is the appellation of Vouvray (marked in orange above).

Vouvray (and indeed, much of the surrounding region) is characterized by its sedimentary soils that the French refer to as tuffeau, or chalky limestone. Formed 90 million years ago when the region was a large shallow sea, the sandy, fine-grained limestone of what is known as the Paris Basin is slightly different than the true chalk found in Champagne or England, but has many of the same properties when it comes to water retention and overall chemistry.

Vouvray sits right at the farthest edge of what might be considered any real marine influence sweeping up the Loire Valley, and tends to therefore have more of a continental climate, with warm summers, colder winters, and sometimes rather inconvenient storms. The variability in the climate tends to result in significant vintage variation among the wines. When the weather is fine, the region’s wines sing, from the complex dry and sparkling wines to the botrytis-richened sweet wines.

The region probably hosted vines in Roman times but has definitely been growing wine more or less continually since the Middle Ages. According to Interloire, the trade association representing the breadth of the Loire Valley, there are approximately 160 different producers of Vouvray, farming around 5000 acres of vines.

Most producers make their dry whites according to a similar protocol: pressing whole clusters of grapes (picked earlier before the grapes shrivel or botrytis sets in) into steel tanks to ferment, usually with ambient yeasts, and then often aging those wines in older oak barrels. Some producers choose to block malolactic conversion, but most let it happen naturally.

Tasting Notes

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

2020 Careme Vincent “Clos de la Roche” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of wet stones, white flowers, and lemon pith. In the mouth, saline flavors of lemon pith, white flowers, and Asian pear have a deep stony depth, and a wonderful lemon pith and lemon oil finish. Long and juicy and delicious. Certified organic. Score: around 9.5. Cost: €27.

2020 Jean-Marc Gilet Domaine De La Rouletière “Les Perruches” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers, lemon pith, and pear skin. In the mouth, lemon pith, white flowers, a touch of quince, and deep stony minerality are bright with deliciously juicy acidity and a faint salinity. Very tasty. Certified organic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2018 Domaine Du Petit Trésor “Belle au naturel” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon oil, white flowers, and pears. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of lemon pith, lemon oil, quince, and white flowers have a faint tannic grip and a deeply crystalline stony minerality. There’s a long pear-skin finish with a bit of a grip to it. Sadly bottled in a much heavier bottle than it needs to be. Certified organic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: €12.

2019 Domaine Champalou “Le Portail” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Light yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and lemon oil. In the mouth, lemon oil and Asian pear have a nice bright grip to them, welded to a deeply stony wet chalkboard minerality. Just a hint of salinity lingers in the finish. Certified organic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $42. click to buy.

2020 Vignoble Alain Robert “Les Charmes” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, lemon oil, and a hint of white flowers. In the mouth, lemon oil and Asian pear mix with a hint of quince and grapefruit with fabulously bright acidity and deep stony quality. Light tannic grip, long citrusy finish. Excellent. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: €7.5.

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

2020 Domaine Huet “Le Haut-Lieu” Vouvray Demi-Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon and quince. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of lemon and quince mix with white flowers and wet stones. Certified organic and Demeter biodynamic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2020 Vigneau Christophe Et Stéphane “Silex” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon zest and a touch of white flowers. In the mouth, lightly sweet flavors of lemon, grapefruit, quince, and wet stones have a nice long finish with just a touch of heat. Certified organic. Score: around 9. Cost: €12.

2019 Earl Damien Pinon “Le Clos Tenau” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
A light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince and lemon curd. In the mouth, flavors of quince paste, lemon curd, and a touch of vanilla are rich but with excellent acidity and a nice stony minerality to match, making for a silky, weighty, but still-freshly-bright package. In organic conversion. Score: around 9. Cost: €13.

2020 Domaine De La Robinière “Bel Air” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of honey and candied lemon rind. In the mouth, bright lemon and pear flavors have a lovely tannic grip and deep stoniness to them. Citrus pith lingers in the finish with a hint of salinity. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2020 Breussin Denis Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of oak and vanilla, wet wood, and lemon peel. In the mouth, lemon peel and ripe quince flavors are welded to a deeply stony quality with a light tannic grip and excellent acidity. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2017 Domaine du Viking Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon pith and pear. In the mouth, deeply stony lemon and grapefruit flavors are tinged with quince and the strongly tannic grip of pear skin. Stony and bright. Needs some time to open up. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: €12.5.

2020 Brisebarre Philippe “Vignoble Brisebarre” Vouvray Sec, Touraine, Loire Valley, France
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon, vanilla, and a hint of pear. In the mouth, lemon, grapefruit and a pear-quince flavor also has a hint of buttery pastry. Good acidity and stoniness. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

Savennières

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

Roughly 80 miles to the west of Vouvray, and just west of the city of Angers, lies the tiny village of Savennièrs (pronounced sauce-en-yay). Home to only a few dozen producers, Savennières spans only about 740 acres in total, with roughly only half of that planted to vines.

Its geology couldn’t be more different than that of Vouvray. Savennières is known for its soils of shiny mica-schist, a metamorphic rock that is part of the Amorican Massif, a large area of uplifted stone that resulted from upwellings of magma from the earth’s crust. As this magma swelled upwards somewhere between 400 and 600 million years ago, it heated the rock above it, turning the sandy ocean-bottom sediments into schists.

Since its uplift, the massif has been eroded down so that the landscape doesn’t look much different than that of Vouvray, but the underlying soils are quite separate, and undoubtedly have some influence the character of the region’s wines.

Most Savennières winemakers follow a similar winemaking protocol to their colleagues in Vouvray, with some younger winemakers experimenting with aging only in steel or in concrete eggs.

Tasting Notes

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

2020 Domaine Thibaud Boudignon “La Vigne Cendree” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon and grapefruit and a hint of resinous butterscotch. In the mouth, intensely bright lemon and grapefruit flavors mix with a hint of pear and deep stony minerality. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $92. click to buy.

2019 Patrick Baudouin “Bellevue” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus peel, nut skin, and a hint of flintiness, and a touch of quince. In the mouth, fantastic saline flavors of citrus oil, grapefruit, and wet stones have a gorgeous brightness and citrusy snap thanks to excellent acidity. That resinous struck flint note lingers for a long time in the finish Outstanding. Certified organic. Score: around 9.5. Cost: €35.

2019 Domaine Belargus “Gaudrets” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck flint and lemon oil. In the mouth, saline flavors of struck flint, smoky, grapefruit, pear, and long stony finish. Fantastic acidity, salty deliciousness. Deeply crystalline. In organic conversion. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2019 Domaine Du Closel “Clos Du Papillon” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of grapefruit oil and a hint of vanilla. In the mouth, bright pear and citrus oil flavors are juicy and delicious and very stony, with a light tannic grip and long mineral finish. Certified organic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

2019 Fournier-Longchamp Domaine FL “Chamboureau” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of nutty citrus and a hint of pear. In the mouth, bright lemon and grapefruit flavors mix with a touch of nougat and deep stony minerality. Fantastic acidity and freshness. With a light tannic grip. Certified organic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $33. click to buy.

2018 Terra Vita Vinum “Bigottière” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale yellow gold with a hint of green, this wine smells of wet stones, citrus pith, and white flowers. In the mouth, deeply stony notes of wet chalkboard mix with citrus pith, white flowers, and very delicate aromas of pear flesh. Lovely filigreed acidity and deep mineral purity. Certified organic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $48. click to buy.

2020 Château De Plaisance Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus pith, grapefruit, and a flinty smoky quality. In the mouth, bright citrus pith, grapefruit, Asian pear, and light daikon flavors have a clean stoniness that is quite deep. There’s a light chalky tannic quality to the wine, with a pomelo pith finish. Demeter biodynamic certified. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $55. click to buy.

2019 Raymond Morin “Chateau De Varennes” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers with a hint of struck flint. In the mouth, wonderfully bright flavors of citrus oil, grapefruit, pear, and pear skin have a nice flintiness and tannic grip. Deeply stony and bright. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: €15.

2019 Château du Breuil Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and pear. In the mouth, grapefruit, pear, and lemon oil flavors are juicy and bright with deep stony qualities, wet chalkboard minerality and texture, and a long citrus oil finish. Delicious. Certified organic. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

2018 Domaine Des Baumard “Clos Du Papillon” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus oil and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, bright tangy pear and pear skin flavors mix with citrus oil and a hint of quince paste and nuttiness. In organic conversion. Score: around 9. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2020 Domaine Taillandier Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale yellow-gold with a hint of green, this wine smells of vanilla and candied grapefruit with a hint of Asian pear. In the mouth, Asian pear and lemon oil mix with a hint of dried honey and notes of dried citrus peel lingering in the finish. Score: around 9. Cost: €21.

2020 Domaine Du Petit Metris “Clos De La Marche” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of grapefruit oil, grapefruit pith, a hint of flintiness, and a touch of apple. In the mouth, green apple, grapefruit, and Asian pear flavors mix with a touch of pear skin and a nice wet stone underbelly. Good acidity. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2020 Domaine Des Forges “Clos Du Papillon” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of a touch of oak, pear, and citrus oil. In the mouth, citrus oil, vanilla, pear, and grapefruit mix with a nice stony underbelly. Light tannic grip. Long finish. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2020 Domaine Ogereau “Clos Le Grand Beaupréau” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Pale yellow gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear and citrus. In the mouth, citrus and pear and a touch of quince mix with a nice stony underbelly. Certified organic. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

2019 Chateau Soucherie “Clos Des Perrières” Savennières, Anjou-Saumur, Loire Valley, France
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon oil, Asian pear, and grapefruit. In the mouth, silky flavors of grapefruit and wet stone have a delicate filigreed acidity. The flavors are a bit soft and imprecise, but still pleasurable. In organic conversion. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $40. click to buy.

Same Chenin, Different Pleasures: Tasting Vouvray and Savennièrs

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A Mighty Melange: The Custoza Wines of Lake Garda

I don’t think there will ever come a time in my life when I feel like I have a comprehensive grip on all the wines of Italy. One of the reasons I love Italian wine so much will always be the sheer, staggering diversity of what the country produces. Pretty much every nook and cranny of Italy hides a new wine grape or regional wine style, making for what is almost a neverending list of things to taste and discover.

This week we’re going to explore an Italian wine that gets very little attention in America, being much better-known in Europe, where it sells like hotcakes to Germans and Austrians looking for a reasonably-priced bottle of predictably good Italian white to go with their dinners.

While the wine may be obscure, the place it comes from most certainly is not. Most Americans have heard of Lake Garda and Lake Como, the two stunning glacial-carved lakes that are famous for being playgrounds of the rich and famous in northern Italy.

The hillsides surrounding Lake Garda, in particular, have hosted grapevines since Roman times, exploiting the moderating climatic influence of the lake and the well-drained morainic soils that remain the gift of the region’s glacial past.

The growers in this area, now known as the north-central part of the Veneto wine region, have made their fortunes primarily on their red wines, the famously popular Valpolicella and Amarone. But they’ve long grown white grape varieties as well, primarily Garganega (famously the basis of Soave wines), Trebbiano Toscano, Cortese (known locally as Bianca Fernanda), as well as Trebbianello, the very confusing local name for a clone of Tocai Friulano from nearby Friuli that has no relation to Trebbiano.

A Mighty Melange: The Custoza Wines of Lake Garda

Somewhere around the late 1700s, historical records begin to reference wines with the name Custoza, which happens to be a small village about 12 miles to the southwest of Verona. By the mid-20th century, Custoza was known for a strong tradition of making primarily dry white wines (but also a bit of sparkling and sweet passito whites) leading to one of Italy’s earlier DOC designations for the wines of Custoza in 1972.

Custoza‘s roughly 3500 acres of vineyards are tucked between the southern tip of Lake Garda and Verona to the southeast. The porous, rocky soils that underlie most of the vineyards tend towards the calcareous, while the lake’s influence ensures temperatures a few degrees warmer in the winter and a few degrees cooler in the summer than the surrounding countryside.

Bianco di Custoza is a blended white wine, made up of at least three of the region’s four traditional grape varieties, none of which can make up more than 45% of the total blend. A further 30% of the wine can be comprised of a mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Malvasia, Riesling, or Monzoni Bianco (a cross between Sylvaner and Riesling). Bianco di Custoza has a minimum alcohol level of 11%, must be fermented in steel, and aged for at least 3 months before sale. Custoza Superiore is traditionally made with older vines with lower yields and must have a minimum alcohol level of 12.5% and be aged for 5 months before release. Custoza Superiore has the option of being matured in oak barrels, though not all winemakers choose to make their Superiores this way.

A Mighty Melange: The Custoza Wines of Lake Garda

Beyond these basic strictures, producers have a great degree of latitude, some choosing to explore techniques such as air-drying or flash-freezing some of their grapes before fermentation, others exploring longer periods of maceration, or aging in concrete.

I was recently given the opportunity to taste a bunch of Bianco di Custoza wines when the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting came through San Francisco. While I have tasted a Custoza wine here and there over the past decade or so (usually at the same tasting), this was my first opportunity to sit down and compare a number of wines.

While there are some significant variations in how the wines are made, it’s safe to say that most Bianco di Custoza wines have a nice freshness and a pleasant fruity quality that features apple, pear, and citrus notes. The most successful and interesting wines have a deeper mineral character and even a slight salinity that makes them particularly mouthwatering and satisfying.

In my (admittedly somewhat limited) experience, I have yet to have a truly profound bottle of Custoza, but on the other hand, I can also say I have yet to find a bottle that I would not happily drink, properly chilled, on just about any occasion. Like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Weiner Gemischter Satz, Bianco di Custoza is pretty close to a sure bet for deliciousness at a reasonable price if you come across it.

A Mighty Melange: The Custoza Wines of Lake Garda

Tasting Notes

2021 Cantina di Custoza “Val dei Molini” Bianco di Custoza, Veneto, Italy
Palest greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple, green grapes, white flowers, a touch of lime. In the mouth flavors of candied green apples, and lime with hints of star fruit predominate with a faint salinity. Excellent acidity. A blend of Friulano, Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Cortese, and Chardonnay fermented in steel. A large cooperative of more than 250 growers in the eastern part of Valpolicella. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2020 Cantina di Castelnuovo del Garda (Vitevis) “Ca’ Vegar” Bianco di Custoza, Veneto, Italy
Near colorless in the glass, with a hint of green, this wine smells of lime pith and unripe apples. In the mouth, crisp and bright citrus pith and green apple mix with a stony mineral core. Faint salinity, great acidity. Less primary fruit, nice steeliness with a touch of herbs. A blend of 40% Garganega, 40% Trebbiano Toscano, 10% Trebbianello, and 10% Cortese. This is a massive cooperative winery operation with more than 6000 acres of vineyards managed by more than 1350 winegrowers. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20.

A Mighty Melange: The Custoza Wines of Lake Garda

2020 Corte Gardoni “Mael” Bianco di Custoza, Veneto, Italy
Light gold in the glass with hints of green, the wine smells of warm hay, bruised pear, and a hint of herbs and grapefruit. In the mouth, herbal, savory notes mix with pear skin and yellow herbs. There’s a hint of yeastiness here and a faint grip, with a touch of salinity on the finish. A somewhat mysterious wine. Great acidity. A blend of 40% Garganella, 20% Trebbiano, 20% Trebbianello, and 20% Riesling vinified separately in steel, and then blended. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2020 Le Vigne di San Pietro Bianco di Custoza, Veneto, Italy
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green, this wine smells of honeysuckle and Asian pear. In the mouth, floral notes, crisp and fresh Asian pear flavors are stony, even steely, with great acidity. There’s a light tannic grip and brightness to this wine that are quite appealing. A blend of Garganega, Trebbianello, Trebbiano, Cortese, and Manzoni Bianco aged for 6 months in steel tanks. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16.

2020 Gorgo “San Michelin” Bianco di Custoza, Veneto, Italy
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of Asian pear with a hint of white peach. In the mouth, salty notes of Asian pear, white peach, and hints of dried herbs predominate. Faint grip, excellent acidity, and balance. Very fresh. A blend of Garganega, Cortese, and Trebbiano. 13% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2020 Seiterre Tenuta San Leone Bianco di Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Light greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of white peaches, vanilla, apples, pear, and white pepper. In the mouth, peach, apple, and Asian pear have a nice saline quality. Excellent acidity. Some bitterness, like pear skin on the finish. A blend of Garganega, Trebbiano, Trebbianello, Bianca Fernanda, Chardonnay. Spends about 3 months in oak barrels before bottling. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2020 Tamburino Sardo “La Guglia” Bianco di Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Light greenish-gold in the glass, but with a real green hue, this wine smells of Asian pear, a hint of membrillo, and dried fruits. In the mouth, flavors of bright sultana, bruised pear, and apple mix with a hint of dried apricots and faint citrus notes. There’s also a bitterness and faint grip along with excellent acidity. A blend of Garganega, Fernanda (a clone of Cortese), Trebbianello, Trebbiano Toscano, and Incrocio Manzoni, all of which are dried for 25-40 days before being made into wine. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20.

2019 Calvalchina “Amedeo” Bianco di Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of white peaches and pears. In the mouth, fantastically bright and juicy white peaches, green apple, and pear flavors mix with a stony steeliness and a lovely saline quality. Juicy, even mouthwatering, with a faint tannic grip. Excellent acidity. A blend of Garganega, Fernanda, Trebbianello, Trebbiano Toscano. The grapes are briefly frozen upon harvest and then thawed to be whole-cluster pressed. Some maceration on the skins is allowed and then a long(ish) lees aging. Malolactic conversion is deliberately blocked. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $16.

A Mighty Melange: The Custoza Wines of Lake Garda

2019 Monte del Frà “Ca’ del Magro” Bianco di Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, Asian pears, and vanilla cream. In the mouth, crisp flavors of white peaches, creme anglaise, and white flowers mix with poached pears. Unique and quite distinctive with a sweet egg cream quality. Great acidity and a hint of salinity. A blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Cortese, Incricio Manzoni. 13% Alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2019 Villa Medici Bianco di Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of pear skin, white peaches, and white flowers. In the mouth, this wine has a fantastic salinity, like seawater tinged with white flowers, Asian pears, white peaches, and rainwater with hints of basil. Excellent acidity, deep minerality, great depth. A blend of 30% Trebbiano Toscano, 30% Garganega, 30% Bianca Fernanda, and 10% Trebbianello aged in steel for 6 months or more. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20.

2018 Menegotti “Elianto” Bianco di Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Light greenish-gold in the glass, this wine smells of a touch of vanilla, white flowers, apples, and Asian pears. In the mouth, Asian pear, peach, and green apple mix with white flowers. Crisp and bright minerality, faint salinity, and a hint of bitterness linger in the finish like pear skin. Ages for at least 8 months on the lees. A blend of 50% Fernanda (despite, it seems, regulations prohibiting any single grape from making up more than 45% of the blend), 40% Garganega, and 10% Trebbiano. Aged for 8 months in concrete. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $16.

2017 Ronca “Ulderico” Bianco di Custoza Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Light to medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of poached peaches, wax, and dried apricots. In the mouth, dried apricots, Asian pears, vanilla, peaches, and wet stone have great acidity and brightness, but also a parchment-y quality. Two harvests are made, one quite late, and both batches are given some skin maceration, adding a bit of a tannic grip on the palate. Faintly saline. A blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Tocai Friulano, and Riesling Italico grown on both traditional trellising and pergola. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

A Mighty Melange: The Custoza Wines of Lake Garda

Photos by Iuliia Boiun on Unsplash and the Consorzio Tutela Vino Custoza.

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/26/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week might easily have the sub-headine “The week of great values,” as the first few wines I’ve got here are all super delicious, and all under $25.

Where might one find such a font of vinous values, you ask? Why Italian white wine, of course. From north to south, Italy makes fabulous white wines that often trade at a tiny fraction of the price commanded by its famous red wines.

Take the La Valentina Pecorino, for instance, with its stony lemon brightness that you’d want to drink with practically anything you eat (including of course, Pecorino cheese). It’s a mere $17. Then there’s the slightly more regal Arneis from storied producer Vietti, with a faintly saline apple and lemon complexion.

From the same neighborhood as the Arneis you’ll also find the Enrico Serafino Gavi di Gavi, the grape from the commune of the same name in Piedmont, singing its white floral and lemon cucumber song for a mere $16.

If you know me, you’d have predicted that one of these wines would certainly be a white wine from the slopes of Mount Etna. Yes, I’m volcano-obsessed, and this deeply mineral expression of Carricante from Tasca d’Almerita just lights me up, and for $19 its a steal.

Last but not least, Askos and you shall receive. As wine lovers we should always be in search of new experiences for the palate, so here’s one for you from Masseria Li Veli that will deliver far more than its mere $19 tariff: Verdeca. It’s an ancient and slightly mysterious grape indigenous (maybe) to the Puglia region of Italy. I say maybe because according to the world’s leading grape geneticist, it’s identical to a grape also found in Greece. Who had it first? We don’t know. But if you try it now, you’ll enjoy it so much, that won’t matter.

Closer to home, I have a set of new releases from a young brand called Marine Layer, not to be confused with the retro-styled clothing brand of the same name. This is yet another wine project from the peripatetic Baron Ziegler, who runs an import company as well as several wine brands up and down the West Coast. As far as I can tell, Marine Layer is the spinoff from a set of wines with the same name at one of Ziegler’s previous projects, Banshee Wines. The wines are well-made expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. In fact, they’re delicious. I have just one gripe with them, and that’s the fact that in the name of premium branding, they’re packaged in ridiculously heavy bottles with wax over the cork. I don’t mind the wax, as its relatively thin and easy to remove. The heavy bottles, though, are horrible for the environment and need to go away.

Merry Edwards’ wines have always found their highest expression in her single-vineyard bottlings, and this week I’ve got two of them, from the Bucher Vineyard and a site called Warren’s Hill, which I think is the better of the two (excellent) bottles, thanks to its positively electric acidity. Merry sold her winery in 2019 to the Champagne house Maison Louis Roederer, but it continues to make high quality wines in the same style.

And now for something…. darker. Jonata is a well-known name in some circles by virtue of having the same owner as Screaming Eagle, billionaire Stan Kroenke. Located in Ballard Canyon down in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara, it produces a number of Rhone-style wines that lean towards richness and opulence. Winemaker Matt Dees tends to keep them lively, with good acidity, though, so they’re still drinkable in their richness. I’ve got two of their new releases this week, the Fenix, which is a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend, and Todos, which is a blend of all 10 grapes farmed on the estate.

Last but not least, I’ve got the latest release from a small estate in Saint Helena run by the energetic and enthusiastic Linda Neal, for whom her little vineyard, Tierra Roja, is the culmination of a life-long passion for farming. Neal fell in love with agriculture at an early age, and geared the rest of her life, including college and career around it. The second-to-last chapter of that career involved 20 years of vineyard management. Now she has only one vineyard to manage, and some help with that, which was particularly important for this 2018 vintage, because for the first time, Neal wasn’t involved in the harvest. Instead she was volunteering for the Peace Corps in Morocco. She clearly left things in good hands, as her 2018 Cabernet is brimming with energy and depth.

Notes on all these below!

Tasting Notes

2019 Fattoria La Valentina Pecorino, Colline Pescaresi, Abruzzo, Italy
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of dried lemon rind and a touch of sea air. In the mouth, faintly saline flavors of lemon zest, lemon pith, and pomelo have a bright zip thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s a wonderful mineral backbone to this wine, with a faint chalky grip to it. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

2020 Vietti Arneis, Roero, Alba, Italy
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, lemon and lemon pith mix with golden apple, wet chalkboard and white floral notes for a crisp, faintly saline mouthful with fantastic acidity. Delicious. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.        

2020 Enrico Serafino “Grifo del Quartaro” Gavi di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy
Palest straw in the color, this wine smells of lemon cucumber and white flowers. In the mouth, lovely floral notes mix with star fruit and green apple with a hint of candied guava. Lean and bright with excellent acidity and a chalky mineral backbone, this is a delight of a wine. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2020 Tasca d’Almerita “Tascante Buonora” Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy
Palest straw to the point of being nearly colorless in the glass, this wine smells of wet pavement, pomelo pith, and unripe apples. In the mouth, deeply stony flavors of lemon and lime pith mix with grapefruit juice and wet chalkboard. Fantastic acidity makes for a crisp, zingy expression of the volcano. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2020 Masseria Li Veli “Askos” Verdeca, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers and sweet pastry cream. In the mouth, delicate flavors of lemon pith, grapefruit zest, white flowers and oyster shell have a fabulous brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Very refreshing. Verdeca is a rare Puglian grape variety that is apparently also found in Greece by the name Lagorthi. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/26/21

2018 Marine Layer “Aries” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of lemons and pastry cream. In the, mouth, lemon curd and pastry cream flavors have a nice edge to them thanks to very good acidity, as well as a nice silky texture. Hints of vanilla in the finish. 13.6% alcohol. Comes in an absurdly heavy bottle, weighing 1.68 kg full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $36. click to buy.

2018 Marine Layer “Gap’s Crown Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and grapefruit pith. In the mouth, lemon and grapefruit flavors have a faint toasty note to them, and decent, but not fantastic acidity. Good flavors but missing some dynamism. 13.2% alcohol. Comes in an absurdly heavy bottle, weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Marine Layer “Lyra” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherries and a hint of chocolate. In the mouth, bright cherry and raspberry fruit is silky and smooth, with excellent acidity that keeps things quite juicy across the palate. Hints of citrus peel enter the finish with barely perceptible tannins. 13.8% alcohol. Comes in an absurdly heavy bottle, weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2018 Marine Layer “Gravenstein Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberries and raspberry leaf. In the mouth, silky flavors of raspberry and sour cherry are zippy and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint kumquat and dried floral note in the finish with just a touch of the herbal quality that comes from some stem inclusion in the fermentation. Quite pretty. 13.2% alcohol. 125 cases made of absurdly heavy bottles, weighing 1.68 kg when full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65. click to buy.

2019 Merry Edwards “Bucher Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of slightly smoky raspberry and cherry fruit. In the mouth, raspberry and cherry notes mix with herbs and powdery tannins that lightly coat the mouth. There’s a faint smokiness in the finish, with a hint of alcoholic heat. Excellent acidity. 14.3% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $63. click to buy.

2019 Merry Edwards “Warren’s Hill” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, fantastic acidity makes flavors of cherry and raspberry come alive and bounce across the palate. Faint, gauzy tannins coat the mouth and flavors of citrus peel linger in the finish along with bright cherry. Excellent. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $66. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 9/26/21

2018 Jonata “Fenix” Red Blend, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of black cherry, tobacco and earth. In the mouth, rich black cherry and licorice notes are wrapped in a suede-like blanket of tannins. Faintly bitter licorice root notes linger in the finish along with cola nut. Thankfully there’s enough acidity here to keep things fresh and balance out all that plush richness. A blend of 66% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $90. click to buy.

2018 Jonata “Todos” Red Blend, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara, California
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of faintly smoky blackberry and black cherry fruit with some chopped herbs. In the mouth, a rich, velvety melange of blackberry, black cherry, licorice and cola swirls under its soft blanket of tannins. Decent acidity. Definitely on the rich side, with the faintest hint of heat on the finish. A blend of all 10 grape varieties grown by the estate: 45% Syrah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 9% Petite Sirah, 5% Merlot and 6% of five other varieties. 14.4% alcohol. 2640 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2018 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Saint Helena, Napa, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, iodine, and cassis. In the mouth, intense and juicy black cherry, blackcurrant and cola flavors are tinged with vanilla and a hint of toasted oak. Supple, muscular tannins wrap around the core of the wine but don’t put too much of a squeeze on the palate, letting long notes of blackcurrant and black cherry linger in the finish with a hint of licorice. Powerful and intense, but pretty well balanced, with excellent acidity. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases of bottles too heavy for their own good, weighing 1.65 kg when full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $170. click to buy.        

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Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/26/20

Hello, and welcome to my periodic dig through the samples pile. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

It’s Riesling week! Or mostly Riesling, as I dig into a big chunk of German samples that came my way recently. We’ve got several key German wine regions represented this week with a wide range of wines, from entry-level to top-tier single-vineyard bottlings.

Just as a reminder for those of you who aren’t used to the Prädikat, or ripeness designations for German wines that suggest the level of sweetness you might find in a wine: Trocken means dry, or with barely perceptible residual sugar, while Kabinett is a bit sweeter, and Spatlese, sweeter still. I don’t have any Auslese wines this week (which is the next notch up the ripeness scale), but I do have a nicely aged Beerenauslese-style wine, which is a step above Auslese, and is made from berries fully affected by the noble rot, botrytis cinerea.

With that, let’s move on to the wines.

Before we get into the Rieslings, I’ve got a pretty nice little Pinot Gris from Villa Wolf in the Pfalz region of Germany. The wine isn’t horribly complicated, but it does the trick for anyone looking for a crisp and tasty aperitif wine or something simple for a sunny day.

Also in the non-Riesling department, Villa Wolf has a pitch-perfect rosé of Pinot Noir that is a match for top pink wines everywhere, and will satisfy any rosé enthusiast. Chill it down, snap off that screw cap, and get busy enjoying summer.

For starters, I’ve got three entry-level Rieslings from Villa Wolf in the Pfalz and Fritz Haag and Maximin Grünhaus in the Mosel. Each of these wines has distinct character, with the Villa Wolf leaning towards the green apple side of the flavor spectrum, while the two Mosel wines have that characteristic petrol and citrus character that marks many Mosel rieslings. All are decent, affordable, and pleasant expressions of Riesling.

But let’s take it to the next level, shall we?

Some entries from Weingut Robert Weil add yet another German wine region to the list this week, the Rheingau. Robert Weil is a venerable, if somewhat newer producer in the region, the family having only made wine in the region since 1875!

I’ve got two Riesling Trockens from Weil, the Keidricher and the Keidrich Turmberg. The estate is located in the town of Keidrich, which lends its name to both of these wines. The first is a mix of different Keidrich vineyard sides, hence “Keidricher,” while the second is from the Turmberg vineyard in Keidrich. Both are excellent, but the Turmberg offers a particularly refined and delicate expression of Riesling.

Next we’ve got two wines made from the same vineyard, but simply picked at different ripeness levels. The Abstberg vineyard (which translates to “abbots hill”) in the Mosel is one of Germanys grand cru vineyards, designated by the Grosse Lage (literally “great site”) designation by the VDP organization whose job it is to decide such things. Maximin Grünhaus makes several Rieslings from this prominent, incredibly steep sloping hill of blue slate that has been planted with vines for more than 1000 years. Both their Kabinett and Spätlese bottlings are superb and wonderful studies in the role of ripeness in wine. Somehow, as can sometimes be the case, the wine with more sugar (the Spätlese) has a lightness and a lift to is that its slightly-less ripe sibling does not. Both are utterly delicious, however, so it’s hard to go wrong.

A few river bends away, in the town of Brauneberg, Weingut Fritz Haag, under the direction of Oliver and Wilhelm Haag, farms another well-known stretch of riverbank known as the Juffer Vineyard (shown in the image above, from my visit there in 2012). In the heart of the Juffer Vineyard, on one of its steepest slopes, sits a huge sundial, the Juffer Sonnenuhr. In an interesting comparison, I’ve got Spätlese wines from the two main sections of the vineyard — same riverbank, same grapes, same ripeness, but just a slightly different section of the vineyard. And the difference is clear. Both are excellent wines, but the section of vineyard surrounding the sundial has something special, which is why it has been picked separately for decades.

Lastly, let’s return briefly to the Rheingau for Hans Lang’s “Nobilis” bottling of Riesling. This wine is a dessert course in itself, moderately, but not cloyingly sweet, offering the many great flavors that botrytis can bring to Riesling with the mellowing effects of age. If you want a sip of liquid sunshine, see if you can find a bottle of this stuff.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy!

Tasting notes

2018 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris, Pfalz, Germany
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of freshly cut pear, wet chalkboard and pomelo pith. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of pear and Asian pear mix with a hint of woody, herbal tone. Grapefruit citrusy notes linger in the finish. Pleasant and tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Riesling, Pfalz, Germany
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of unripe apples, lime zest and white flowers. In the mouth, green apple and Asian pear flavors mix with white flowers and a crisp wet pavement minerality. Very faint sweetness, mostly aromatic, with the mouth left feeling slightly chalky and dry. 11% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5 . Cost: $15. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of ripe apples, citrus peel and a hint of kerosene. In the mouth, green apple, Asian pear, and mandarin orange flavors have a crisp snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. The wine has a faint aromatic sweetness but comes across as entirely dry, with a clean, floral finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $21. click to buy.

2018 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhaus “Maximin” Riesling, Mosel, Germany
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of diesel and citrus zest. In the mouth, apple and tangerine flavors have a nice silky texture and a faint aromatic sweetness to them. Wet chalkboard minerality creeks into the finish, leaving the mouth somewhat parched and chalky. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Keidricher” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Pale blonde in color, this wine smells of mandarin orange zest and a hint of paraffin. In the mouth, Asian pear, mandarin zest and grapefruit flavors have an angular sharpness to them thanks to aggressive acidity. Steely notes linger in the finish, along with citrus zest. Mouthwatering, and slightly austere, but excellent. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $38. click to buy.

2018 Robert Weil “Keidrich Turmberg” Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, wet chalkboard, and star fruit. In the mouth, gorgeously filigreed flavors of lime zest, Asian pear, white flowers and citrus pith have fantastic balance and poise with beautiful acidity and length. Outstanding. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $54. click to buy.

2018 Maxmin Grünhaus “Abtsberg VDP Grosse Lage” Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin, honey and exotic citrus. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of honeysuckle, Asian pear and wet chalkboard are mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. Beautifully floral finish. 8.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2018 Maxmin Grünhaus “Abtsberg VDP Grosse Lage” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of honeysuckle and candle wax. In the mouth, beautifully silky flavors of honey and rainwater mix with mandarin orange oil and Asian pear. Beautiful wet chalkboard minerality leaves the mouth feeling clean and refreshed with scents of white flowers and honey. Moderately sweet. 8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $44. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag “Brauneberger Juffer” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of pink bubblegum and linalool. In the mouth, lightly sweeter flavors of green apple, Asian pear and tangerine have a gorgeous acidity and beautiful crystalline mineral quality to them. Floral notes linger in the finish. Excellent. 8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $31. click to buy.

2018 Fritz Haag “Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr” Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of paraffin and citrus zest. In the mouth, beautifully bright flavors of Asian pear, white flowers and rainwater have an ethereal lightness to them, an incredible delicacy that seems intricate and weightless. Lightly to moderately sweet, the wine’s finish is clean and crisp, with a distinct and pervasive minerality. Utterly compelling. 7.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $37. click to buy.

2011 Hans Lang “Hattenheimer Hassel – Nobilis” Riesling Beerenauslese, Rheingau, Germany
Light amber in the glass, this wine smells of orange marmalade and apricots. In the mouth, silky, slightly weighty flavors of honey, apricot, and canned peaches have enough acidity to keep from being cloying, but they’re still pretty sweet. The finish is clean and tastes of candied citrus peel. 9.5% alcohol. Tasted out of a 375ml bottle. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $149. click to buy.

2018 Villa Wolf Rosé of Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany
A pale peachy pink in the glass, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon rind. In the mouth, crisp berry and watermelon flavors have a nice zing to them thanks to excellent acidity. Silky textured, but eminently snappy, this is a winner of a pink wine. 12% alcohol. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

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Overlooked/Underrated: Godello

My latest missive for VinePair takes a look at a white wine grape, Godello. Its home is Galicia, on the northwest coast of Spain. I’ve got the story behind the grape’s preservation, its more familiar friend, and five bottles to check out. Have a look:

vines at Bodgeas Godeval / photo courtesy Valkyrie Selections

Why Chardonnay Fans Should Consider Godello

You’ve probably heard of the former grape (yeah, duh/doy), which I hope will lead you to the latter. Spoiler alert: the trio of experts I talked to on the importer/somm side all mentioned the Big C white grape when queried about a comp.

Reflecting on this specific question, I had a touch of an existential (wine) crisis/hand-wringing episode:

In hindsight, should I feel conflicted touting a grape’s distinctiveness yet craving a familiar touchstone? Based on the responses, it strikes me as a prescient way to encourage drinkers to opt for Godello. The goal being to define it on its own terms: Godello for Godello’s sake.

(Also see my Valpolicella/Pinot Noir comparisons.)

Anyway, this has passed and I’m good. (For now.)

Finally have a look at the Xagoaza Monastery and Church of San Miguel, restored by Bodegas Godeval and about 300 feet from the new winery.

Overlooked/Underrated: Godello

image via Bodgas Godeval

What’s a wine grape you think is overlooked and underrated? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be curious to see if the grape is something I’ve covered before, and it may serve as a reminder to take another look. And, hey, even famous grapes can seem to fall by the wayside. Or, probably more accurately, fall out of fashion for a small subset of highly opinionated wine drinkers. (Like me.)

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Who Wants a Light, Fresh, Low-Alcohol Organic Spanish White Wine?

I’m always on the lookout for organic white wines. So I was delighted to taste (and take home) the Las Dos Ces Blanco from Spain’s Chozas Carrascal winery. I picked up the bottle at my local wine shop, Grapepoint Wines, for $15. Go to wine tastings at your neighborhood place; it’s a great opportunity to discover new things. (And buy a dang bottle!)

The first thing that caught my attention? This wine was from a region I’d never heard of before: Utel-Requena*. It’s west of Valencia by about 50 miles, taking its name from two neighboring towns. Further label perusal reveals the wine is made from organic grapes. Alright!

Chozas Carrascal Las Dos Ces Blanco 2018

This Spanish white wine is a blend of 80% Macabeo and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. You might know the former grape as Viura from such wines as white Rioja, as well as it’s important role in Cava. While I am a huge fan of pungent, zesty Sauvignon Blanc (like New Zealand’s iconic bottlings), I also like Sauv Blanc as more of a “seasoning” grape. If SB is at times too aggro for your liking, a nice splash of it (like the 20% in the Chozas Carrascal) add some lively flavor and interest.

What else is cool about this wine? It’s no boozy monster. At 12% alcohol it makes for a perfect afternoon wine, excellent with seafood and whatever refreshing situation arises.

Chozas Carrascal’s vineyards are at an elevation ranging from about 2,400 to 2,700 feet. I always like high elevation vines, because they look cool and enjoy cool nights. Those lower temperatures mean more chill grapes that retain that crisp freshness instead of getting it baked out of them.

And now you can chill out with a bottle.

Who Wants a Light, Fresh, Low-Alcohol Organic Spanish White Wine?

Vineyards / Image via Facebook / Chozas Carrascal

*I should mention Bodegas Chozas Carrascal is a Vino de Pago estate, a fairly new (2003) Spanish wine designation. This is actually something I didn’t know about. Folks, I don’t know a lot of things. 

Wine-Searcher does a good job of explaining what it means: rewarding wineries for doing cool things with atypical grapes and/or vineyards falling outside of its demarcated region and/or its rules. So you’ll see the top wines labeled “Vino de Pago” rather than Utel-Requena.

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Fantastic White Wines and Sparkling from Lucien Albrecht

Back in May I joined Lucien Albrecht winemaker Jėrȏme Keller for some wine (duh) and snacks at a small media get-together. I said “yes” because many of these wines are like old friends, particularly the sparkling and Pinot Blanc. It was an impressive set of bottles, and here are my favorites of the lot.

Idyllic Alsace in the fall.

Lucien Albrecht Sparkling and White Wines

(Note that the 2018 wines were recently bottled and a couple months away from release when I drank them. Their condition at the time was excellent, so I only imagine them currently even better.)

Lucien Albrecht NV Rosé ($23)

When I worked at a Seattle wine shop (Esquin), for many on the staff this bottle was the answer to the question, “What wine is always in your fridge?” Rosé sparkling wine is at the top of my favorites list, and at just over 2o bucks, it’s hard to beat this bottle. Made from Pinot Noir.

Lucien Albrecht 2018 Pinot Blanc Balthazar ($14)

This wine is a slammin’ bargain, so fresh and tasty. Strangely/surprisingly, this wine is actually 70% Auxerrois. So how/why is it labeled “Pinot Blanc”? Good question. I reached out to the folks representing Wines of Alsace, who got in touch with the Committee of Alsace Wines (CIVA). Here’s what I found out.

The rules for still wines are:
  • Producers are allowed to label their wines “Pinot Blanc” regardless of the Auxerrois percentage in it, as “Pinot Blanc” is considered an appellation in this case, now, instead of the grape variety.
  • If the wine is 100% Auxerrois, it can be labeled either Auxerrois or Pinot Blanc.
  • However, if the wine is a blend and not 100% Auxerrois, it cannot be labeled Auxerrois, and must be labeled Pinot Blanc. 

These rules should be changed. Though perhaps for many markets the word “Pinot” in the name gives it a familiar association, unlike Auxerrois which is probably wine anxiety-inducing in comparison.

Enjoy this wine on a deck chair under a pool-adjacent umbrella.

Lucien Albrecht 2018 Gewurztraminer Réserve ($23)

This is a grape that’s been hit-or-miss for me. Dry versions are often stripped of the grape’s aromatic/textural wonders, but too-sweet Gewurztraminers can be overwrought and oily. (Here’s a good dry one from California, BTW.) This offering from Albrecht, however, is classic Gewurz. This is what the grape should be, textbook stuff. There’s a decent amount of sugar in this Gewurz, but you’d never know because it drinks quite dry. Break out the spicy food.

Lucien Albrecht Riesling 2017 Grand Cru Spiegel ($30)

A big step up from the (very fine) regular bottling. “Riesling really shows where it grows,” says Keller. So I can only imagine what a special site Speigel is. Almost completely dry and very age-worthy. It’s cool to find another white wine at 30 bucks or less that can greatly reward your patience. (This Italian Verdicchio is another recent gem along those lines.)

So clear some space in your fridge. Have a couple bottles of sparkling rosé in there for brunch, Tuesday night, grilled salmon, whatever. Reach for some PB when you need a glass after surviving a stiflingly hot, crowded subway nightmare. Maybe the Gewurz with Nashville hot chicken? And the GC Riesling with a roast pork/broccoli rabe/provolone sandwich, transport you to Philly (food-wise).

This post was written on a day where the heat index in Brooklyn at 2:11pm EST was 110 degrees.

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My Favorite Bargain White Wine in the History of the World

Many highlights of being in Tacoma for Thanksgiving but one was undoubtedly being reunited with a long time Hall of Fame white wine: Domaine des Cassagnoles Cuvée Gros Manseng. This is the top white wine, pound for pound, dollar for dollar you’ll find. I haven’t seen it in New York but it has kind of a cult following in Seattle. (Which I will take some credit for from my days as a buyer.)

Domaine des Cassagnoles 2016 Cuvée Gros Manseng Reserve Selection (Côtes de Gascogne) $13

If you’re looking for bargain white wine, head to Southwest France. Particularly, the Côtes de Gascgone region, the home turf of DdC. The winery makes a blend even LESS EXPENSIVE than the Gros Manseng (which is the grape, BTW). If you see CdG on a label, just buy that dang white wine.

So this bottle has so much easy-drinking flavor and actual texture. It’s not too searingly acidic like a lot of cheap white wines. I’d call it medium-bodied, which is remarkable for a “simple” wine. It’s not perfume-y like a Viognier or Torrontes, but is aromatically enticing. The Gros Manseng checks off so many boxes for a wine of this price. (BTW, got the price from Wine-Searcher.)

If you’re having trouble finding it, the importer is Weygandt-Metzler. So when you go to your local wine shop, let them know this is the company responsible for bringing this amazing bottle to our fair shores.

I also wrote about the Gros Manseng back in 2010. A very short, to-the-point post.

Also, if you missed the natty wine kerfuffle that recently set the insular indie wine world ablaze,  read about it (along with my thoughts) in my newsletter.

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