30 September, 2013

Quarters - The Wine Show: South African Pinotage

Last month's Quarters the Wine Show, focused on Pinotage, a wine as often misunderstood as it is delicious.  I nearly developed a phobia for the variety after getting a particularly bad clunker in the WBC Speed Tasting round. Mud.  Trucker brakes.  Ick.  I never sought it out after that.  Then turns out, it caught up with me after I won a raffle to attend the Wines of South Africa's wonderful event in London.  I gleefully swilled Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Bordeaux blends, but gingerly avoided the Pinotage table.  Lucky for me, I met up with a dynamic gentleman who not only advocated strongly for Pinotage but guided me around the crowded room to try example after example of delicious Pinotages.  Cherry. Chocolate. Coffee.  A white Pinotage (it tasted like a Condrieu) even a delightful sparkling Pinotage.  Tasting all those wonderful wines changed my mind and made me begin to seek out Pinotages.  Not an easy task in Northern California.

For last month's episode, I opened a wonderful sample I had received from Silkbush Vineyards in the South African Western Cape's Breede River Valley region.  The growers experimented for several years finding the best conditions under the dramatic vistas of the towering Silkbush Mountain to plant the vines.  Wines made from their fruit began to collect awards.  Now the fruit is produced and sold in the US under the label, Lion's Drift.  , I found this to be a delicious example, with aromas of lush vanilla and red fruit.  These were echoed in the flavors, with red fruit and baking spice that wove into elements of blackberry and a touch of cocoa.  Nice acidity and color too.  It made me want to locate Oaxacan food, rich with spice but not heat, to pair.  At under $20, a bottle, this reminded me of a Beaujolais more than anything else.  Ripe, fresh, and an easy pairing, easy on the budget wine. In looking for a source to buy more, Alana Gentry also turned me on to a great resource for South African wine: Cape Ardor Wines passionate importers who cull their lists to present great examples of South African wine to make your shopping easy.

An speaking of resources, I later found out my London wine guide was the notable Peter May, whose excellent book: PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine
provides a 360 degree look at the past , present and future of Pinotage along Peter's interesting journey to discover the variety in South Africa and beyond. A lively read that illuminates.  If you are interested in the history of Pinotage as well as a great armchair travel adventure, this book is a great venue.

South Africa is an exotic location for wine, where vines grow on windswept plains and baking heat, but where winemakers with a sense of history and their eyes on the future are producing wonderful wines.

Next week, our upcoming episode will focus on blends.  I can't wait to discover more!

20 September, 2013

Last Days of Summer: ’09 Tercero Larner Vineyard Grenache, #GrenacheDay

                A friend and I celebrated #GrenacheDay with one of my favorite Grenaches tasted in the last year—’09 Tercero Larner Vineyard Grenache (14.5% ABV, $30/winery).  In a recent message, winemaker Larry Schaffer wrote, “The ‘09 Larner Vineyard Grenache is 100% Grenache, clone 362, from this special vineyard that sits in the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley, the area that will become its own AVA shortly. The vineyard is different than the others in the area in that it is 100% sand - and it sits lower than the others in the area and stays much cooler due to this, allowing for later ripening without sugar spikes and retaining great acidity.  The’ 09 is 75% whole cluster [fermentation] and was aged in 3-5 year old French oak barrels for 30 months prior to bottling in April 2012. I only made 100 cases of this wine and really dig it!”
                I really dig it too. At this time of year, it tastes like the end of summer and the beginning of fall in a bottle—bright and dark all at once.  A medium-bodied wine with soft, integrated tannins, this Grenache is dominated by classic black pepper flavors with ripe strawberry, black cherry, and plum with cranberry on the finish.  My friend and I also noticed wonderful green herbal notes and dustiness—maybe cumin—balancing the red fruit and pepper.  When Schaffer pours his wines at tastings, he decants them in beakers, and so we decanted the Larner Grenache for about an hour and a half before drinking it with a truffled pecorino, chicken stew, and simple green salad with French vinaigrette.
                Tercero’s entire lineup is terrific—including a Rhone-style Grenache blend (“Cuvee Christie”), the Watch Hill Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, and “The Outlier” Gewurztraminer.  A few weeks ago, I also enjoyed the ’12 Camp 4 Vineyard Grenache Blanc—deliciously salty, bone dry, and refreshing with orange peel flavors.  To top off his great wines, Schaffer’s easiness and personal attention to education about his wines, Rhone varietals, and Santa Barbara County vineyards are inviting and engaging.  This summer, Brix Chicks Xandria and Michele visited Santa Ynez Valley and raved about the Tercero tasting room in Los Olivos.  I’m looking forward to drinking much more Tercero wine in the future and visiting soon.