22 July, 2010

The Ancient Wines of Campania from Fattoria Alois

I recently attended an Italian wine-tasting and had the pleasure of meeting Massimo Alois, winemaker and marketing/pr manager of Fattoria Alois in the Italian region of Campania. He is the son of Michele Alois and their winery, Fattoria Alois, is located in the Caitini mountains in the province of Caserta. Before they became winemakers the Alois family was known for their successful textile business. Massimo’s English is excellent so that evening I learned a lot about the regional wines of Campania and about the "ancient" varietals recently discovered in Campania. Andiamo!

Massimo with his nephew, the next generation of Alois winemakers.

A very short oeno-history of Campania
Campania is a region in southwestern Italy, and the major city is Napoli (Naples). As you can see from the maps below there are many wine-producing areas in Campania but I am focusing on Caserta which is where Alois is located in the Caitini Mountains. This is volcano country and this winery is approximately midway between the active Mt. Vesuvius and the inactive Monte Nuovo. As for wine, the major red varietal is Aglianico, and the major whites are Greco di Tufo, Fiano Avellino and Falanghina.

Wine-producing areas of Campania

The Land of Wine
Campania has a history of being conquered by neighboring foreigners, starting with the ancient Greeks who were overwhelmed by the variety of grapes causing them to call Southern Italy “Oenetria” or land of wine. However, the Greeks brought their own vine cuttings with them and indeed, the Aglianico varietal is thought to have originated from a Greek grape and the Greek word for "Greek" is “hellenico.” On a more recent note the Bourbon Kings of France “situated” themselves in the region in the 1800s. The favored wine was white wine made of the Pallagrello Bianco varietal which was totally wiped in the phylloxera plague of the late 1800's.

The "Pre-phylloxera" varietals of Campania
Twenty years ago there was a government project devoted to finding ancient varietals that survived phylloxera attacks but that were no longer being cultivated. Well, the findings resulted in many re-discoveries and Alois is bringing these varietals back to life. These “rediscovered” varietals include Pallagrello Bianco, Pallagrello Nero and Casavecchia. The origins are believed to be from ancient Greece. More on these in my tasting notes below.

Tasting Notes and More
That evening we tasted two whites and four reds. Before I give my tasting notes here is some general info about the wines:

-These wines have all earned “IGT” status which in the Italian "wine laws" stands for “Indicazione Geografica Tipico”. This basically means that the wine comes from a specified geographical location but that grape varietals from other locations may be used.

-Alcohol levels: All wines come in between 12% to 13.5%

-Very few of their wines are fermented or aged in oak.

-As I mentioned before, the winery is situated between two volcanoes, one of which is still active. Yes, this means the grapes grow in volcanic soils and there are traces (sometimes strong) of ashy minerality in the nose and palate of these wines.

I Vini
2009 Michele Alois “Caulino” – Made of Falanghina – light gold in the glass, light mineral notes and light citrus notes on the nose, this is a dry, acidic white wine that has a silky mouthfeel, savory notes and a long linger. This white is fermented in stainless steel and no oak is used for fermentation or ageing.

2009 Michele Alois “Caiati” – 100% Pallagrello Bianco one of the “pre-phylloxera” varietals. Less mineral more fruit, medium gold with peach and green apple notes on the nose. This varietal was the favored wine of the Bourbons and I swear it reminded me of a light and pure Chardonnay.

2007 Michele Alois “Settimo” blend of Pallagrello Nero and Cassavecchia – toasty, cinnamon spicy, dark red fruits on nose and palate. Mineral finish. Nicely balanced.

2007 Michele Alois “Campole” blend of Aglianico and and a bit of Pallagrello Nero – nose of cherry liquer and berry cobbler. Palate is very minerally. A bitter edge that smooths out on the back of my palate. The more I drink the more I want…complex and balanced. (my favorite) This wine is screaming for "Cioccolata!"

2008 Michele Alois “Murella” 100% Pallagrello Nero – this actually has some aging in French oak barrels lending oak and spice notes on the nose and palate. Blackberry cobbler on the nose with a dry, mineral finish.

2007 Michele Alois “Trebulanum” – 100% Casavecchia – This is the bold big boy of the bunch. Opaque ruby, with brambly red fruit notes on nose and palate, the Casavecchia or Old House” takes its name from the place that it was discovered which was next to an “old house” on the vineyard property. Dry, oaky with a smooth yet brambly finish that lingers on the palate…

ON the Lookout for Alois
These are wines to look for, especially if you are a lover of Italian varietals like I am. The QPR is excellent as most of these wines retailed for around $19.99. Campania may not (yet) be one of the famous wine-making regions of Italy but Alois is getting international recognition and their 2005 Trebulanum received high marks from wine critic Robert Parker, Jr. I may not be a” Parkerite” but his high scores do earn wineries recognition and I believe that Alois deserves the recognition.

Molto Grazie to Prima Ristorante and Wine Shop in Walnut Creek for having the tasting and for providing the appetizers!

16 July, 2010

Tequila! Thoughts from a wine-lover...

In my world of spirits Tequila is just for fun. Unlike wine, I drink it to get a buzz on and don't think much about how it tastes. I love to start the party with a couple of shots of tequila blanco, or maybe a classic Margarita. But as I just learned from the good folks at Herradura, Tequila can be a more serious spirit and is made just like any other spirit, and has varied aromas and flavors.

The more i learned about it the more comparisons I made between Tequila and wine. By now I'm sure we all know Tequila comes from the Agave plant of Mexico. There are tequila producers in Northern Mexico and Southern Mexico and the agave cultivated by Herradura is located in Jalisco a state in Central Mexico. Each region has its own climate and soil types which affect certain characteristics of the agave. Hmmmm, sounds just like the concept of "terroir", or the importance of where the grapes actually come from...

Herradura's tequilas blancas (known as "silver")are
distilled, filtered and aerated. The aeration process is what makes them so smooth. No ageing except for the "Herradura Blanca" which is aged for 45 days in oak before bottling, lending it a light straw color. Wow, this tequila is fruity and has some floral and woodsy notes. Really smooth. These are all 80 proof but they make some that are 92 proof. Yikes! I would do shots of these or use them in a Margarita, but I was very happy sipping my shot-glass of Herradura Blanco. I feel these ones give a very pure expression of the agave. Which is quite pleasant.


These are the darker tequilas as they are aged anywhere from two to 48 months. They are distilled and filtered but not aerated. The oak barrels used for aging are made of new American oak, and they taste like it with very woody, spicy and nutty notes on the nose and palate. These are what I call "sipping" tequilas and make fine digestives.

The oldest of the lot: The "Anejo" or "aged" is barrelled for two years before bottling. It is a medium amber color. And, yes, there are notes of wood but there are some spicier notes such as coconut and vanilla. The agave had a roasted or cooked quality. Very smooth. 80 proof.

Luis Guy Ricaud, a Market Brand Manager for Herradura, explained that Herradura is making some more premium tequilas to keep up with the competitive tequila market. You can find Herradura at Bevmo.

Brix Chicks picks: El Jimador Blanco and the Herradura Blanco. I personally don't liked the aged tequilas as much but I think everyone at the tasting was loving the Anejo!

And don't forget: July 24th is National Tequila Day! A great excuse to have a shot or two of your favorite tequila.

12 July, 2010

Confessions of California Wine Snark - Pre #WBC10

Okay, I confess.  I never understood the hoopla about Oregon wines.  Usually, I would try them as one offs in the company of (sometimes dozens) of California examples, and so none of the Oregon offerings really shone for me.  They seemed tight or flat or just plain wrong.  My low point was without reading glasses selecting a Siduri Oregon Pinot for a blind tasting where my accidental tourist finished dead last out of a field of eleven with the equivalent score of an SAT candidate who got his name wrong.  So although Luscious Lush Thea had to threaten me to get me to attend the PreWBC outing planned by the amazing Lynnette Shaw of Solena Estates.---talk about not knowing how lucky you are--- I am six kinds of glad Thea did!  From the moment I got off the plane, Portland was a revelation of discoveries, camaraderie, hospitality, adventures, cheese and ---best of all---WINE!  I found that spending a day of tasting the wines in their natural habitat and alongside similar bottles, the complexity, quality and delectability of all things Oregonian came flashing through and I was converted.  I cannot wait to go back!  The experience was so rich with discovery and delight, I can only encourage you to get to Oregon as soon as you can! 
Meeting up with a group of intrepid local and imported Bloggers,  we got our first two surprises: Voodoo Donuts and a real English Double Decker bus.  Fortified with sugar, we took off for the Willamette Valley where we visited Solena Estates first.  There we met both Laurent and Danielle Montalieu (owners and winemaker) and learned the great story of how they started Solena (each of the vines in the pictured vineyard were wedding gifts) and even better got the experience of tasting through samples of divine Pinot.  In the cool depths of the Solena caves, we were invited to barrel taste Pinot Noir samples from all over Oregon side by side in two barrel treatments.  Hyland! Yamhill-Carlton! Guadalupe! Med Toast! I scooted from barrel pair to barrel pair energized by the thief in my hand.  The experience was like watching Fourth of July fireworks in that I kept being surprised and delighted by each subsequent sample more and more in different ways.  And the grand finale?  The finished products masterfully paired.  Can you say, "heaven"? Yes! Fresh corn soup with diced fingerling potatoes, pancetta and a refreshing 2008 ElvenGlade Chardonnay.  I will be
looking for this food friendly wine in restaurants from now on.   And my favorite pinot had to be the 2007 Solena Guadalupe Pinot Noir.  From there we were off to Soter Vineyards where my favorite was the 2006 Beacon Hill Pinot Noir which has interesting notes of menthol in initial aroma, followed by flavors of spice, chocolate, coffee and a lovely dark cherry finish. Tony Soter and James Cahill were there to regale us with stories as infused with history and humor as I was infused by their tasty offerings and sweeping vistas.  I particularly liked their take on the clonal varieties. I heard many great stories of clonal selection with such definite specificity in my Oregon travels, but at Soter, they used fruit from a vineyard that had 80% of its planting were an unnamed heirloom clone   Complex flavors that evolved in the glass. Yum!  From there, on to Anne Amie on a hillside so steep some plantings dip below the AVA line.  Great stories from winemaker Thomas Houseman and intriguing wines including Muller Thurgau  ( a grape developed in Germany as a cross between Riesling and an unnamed local grape) and cool white blends.  Thomas also busted out an aged Riesling from 1992 and invited us to imagine where we were in 1992---probably more interesting for him as he started as a Modern dancer in New York and came to Oregon via a love of brewing and an apprenticeship in Mendocino.  But to live in the present ---a wonderful wine with petrol, honey, white flowers, sinuous texture....  And of course, fabulous Pinot Noir. After a full day of delicious, I found myself with a serious Oregon wine addiction.  To cap the day off, the amazing Mary Cressler, sommelier, educator and Blogger invited the lot of us to her place for smoked BBQ pork butt.  Gathered in her backyard with delightful food, great wine and best of all the fabulous company of other bloggers, I blissed out and sighed in delightful anticipation of not only the WBC to come and new discoveries in yet another state, but also to planning a return to Oregon, whose bounty of European inspired wines, abundant hospitality and natural beauty galore inspired me to leave behind all snark.  So many thanks to Lynette Shaw, Mary Cressler, Solena Estates, Soter, Anne Amie all my fellow bloggers!  Oreogon IS for Pinot Lovers!

06 July, 2010

An Summer Evening of Alsatian Delights: Zind-Humbrecht Gewurtzraminers and Pinot Gris

For my "summer of wine" I am learning about and drinking wines of Europe. I have some formal wine education but I think the best thing to further my education is to taste as many wines as I can. So I jumped at the chance to blind-taste some of the finest whites from the Alsace region of France: Zind-Humbrecht Gewurtzraminers and Tokay Pinot Gris. This highly-esteemed Domaine makes over 30 wines including Riesling and Muscats. These whites can age gracefully, especially when made by Zind-Humbrecht.

The Big, Bold Whites of the Alsace
In general Gewurtzraminer is an aromatic, full-bodied, low acid, pink-skinned varietal that really blossoms in the climate and terroir of the Alsace. They can be dry or off-dry (sweet.) Typical aromatics include lychee, stonefruit, rose, honeysuckle and citrus fruits. The Pinot Gris is similarly full-bodied, unlike Pinot Gris from Italy and the States. They are higher in acid than the Gewurtzraminers and there are similar aromatics such as citrus, peach, ginger, vanilla, smoke and almonds. No new oak is used for any fermentation or ageing of these varietals because the winemakers are going for a pure expression of the fruit. Both of these varietals can be complex, bold and lush and they both make sumptuous "vendange tardive" or late-harvest wines.

The Tasting
A group of 20 of us blindtasted 8 Gewurtzraminers and Pinot Gris and we finished the evening with 2 "vendange tardive" or late harvest wines (which I did not review). Another Alsatian Gewurtzraminer from the famous Domaine Weinbach was thrown in as a ringer to compare and contrast. Each person rates the wine and then the ratings are tallied for a group total. We also tried to identify which were Gewurtraminers and which were the Pinot Gris. Here are the results of the tasting and some tasting notes:

Notice the deep golden color of these aged whites from 1994-1999.

A) 1994 Domaine Weinbach "Cuvee Laurence", Altenbourg Gewurtz(16.4%)
deep gold in color, spicey notes of keffir lime, ginger, fennel and orange marmalade on the nose; off-dry with an oily, viscous mouthfeel and aftertaste of lime. This wine was the oldest and it aged so well so it is no surprise that it came in at #2.
Group rating-2 My rating - 2

B)1999 Zind-Humbrecht "Vieilles Vignes", Wintzenheim" Gewurtz(12.5%)
medium gold, nose was skunky at first but those notes evaporated to reveal notes of apricot and honey. dry with notes of sweetness, bright acidity, lush mouthfeel
Group 5 My #4

C) 1999 Zind-Humbrecht "Goldert", Gueberschwihr Gewurtz(13.5%):
at first this struck me with light notes of petrol but underneath were notes of honey,lime and tart fruits. This one was also tangy and acidic with a bit of oiliness
Group - #4, My #5

D) 1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Clos Saint Urbain-Rangen de Thann- Grand Cru" Pinot Gris(14%
This was dark gold with a light orange tinge. Dry, acidic and spicy on the palate. Seems to have lost its former vibrancy...
Group #7, my #8

E)1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Rotenberg-Wintzenheim" Pinot Gris(14%)
light gold, with mineral notes of limestone, aftertaste of lime. acidic.
Group #8, my #7

The winner of the evening:
F) 1999 Zind-Humbrecht "Clos Windsbuhl", Turckheim (13%)
Another golden-hued Gewurzt with lychee, marmalade, and honeysuckle. It was off-dry but retained a good level of acidity. Balanced with some creaminess on the palate. Luscious and a little fresher than the others.
Group #1, my #1

G) 1997 Zind-Humbrecht "Vieilles Vignes", Wintzenheim Pinot Gris(14%)
dark gold, with notes of vanilla and peach and apricot. off dry.
Group #3, my #6

H) 1996 Zind-Humbrecht "Rotenberg-Vendange Tardive", Wintzenheim Pinot Gris (13%):
Yes, there was botrytis in this one. And it was darker gold so I knew it was an older vintage. Notes of honey, orange marmalade and apricot on the nose. I loved the aftertaste of apricot.
Group #6 my #3

The winner of the evening.

In the past I have never been that impressed by Gewurtzraminers because they can be too sweet. But now that I have tasted the finest examples of them I am in love with their pure fruit expression, fruit and floral aromatics, and slick, full-bodied textures. It was also interesting to get a sense of how these wines can change over time and that they become even more complex and spicy as they retain their acidity. These wines call for hard cheeses and foie gras!