The Wines (some) of Jose Maria de Fonseca, A Somewhat Definitive Guide


I haven’t written much lately because, frankly, there hasn’t been much that I experienced that excited me. Besides, it’s a lot of work and I don’t get paid for it (see note at column’s bottom as to why I choose not to).  I have been posting short reviews and industry news on my Facebook page, several of them about the wines of Portugal – call it my “Portuguese re-phase”- so when I got an invite to meet with senior winemaker Domingos Soares Franco of Bodega Jose Maria da Fonseca, it took me all of a millisecond to accept, and I became excited again.

We met at avec in Chicago in May with other wine professionals where I felt guiltless in monopolizing his time.  Domingos is passionate about wine.   Passion translates into good product and his wines are beyond that.  We tasted several wines and I think the best approach today is simply to start at the beginning and go forward with each of the wines tasted.


The "Mizer" (R) and Domingos  Soares Franco ( VP & Senior Winemaker)
sharing my favored Alambre de Setubal

Jose de Sousa 2017
My favorite. A tenor nose: all high notes with oriental spices. Silk on the palate counterbalanced with bass notes of dates, chocolate, fig and plum offset by allspice and a hint of oak.   A small part (maybe 30%) used in the process is very similar to that used by the Romans 2000 years ago. That portion of the grapes: {Grand Noir 58%, (the local name for Baga), Trincadeira 22% and Aragones 20%} are destemmed by hand and trodden underfoot. Afterwards, a small portion of the must, skins and stems are fermented in talhas (clay vessels) and another in legares (large granite holding tanks) and the rest in temperature controlled stainless steel. The use of talhas gives spice to and adds another dimension to the wine (call that dimension “secondary,” “tertiary”…… we need a new name for this old process) that sets this beverage apart from anything you’ve ever tasted. The wine has skin maceration of four weeks followed by nine months in French and American oak casks. Despite the inclusion of stems, I found the tannins smooth and rounded. With a suggested retail price (ARP often less) of $19.99, this is a must buy and a “Mizer” recommendation.  ALC: 14.5%.  TA: 5.25 g/L   pH: 3.63.   Region: Alentejo   93 points Wine Enthusiast (2016 Vintage) and 94 (2015 Vintage), drink through 2020 and 2019 respectively.  Other tasters refer to “a dense texture, layered with black fruits and acidity” and stating that the wine “has a particularly juicy edge.”  Agree about the texture and dark fruit..

Periquita Reserva 2017
A logical follow up to the Jose de Sousa, it has lower notes and a deeper nose, but a slightly sweet aroma. Plum lifted by violet on the nose. Blackberry with some cardamom on the palate. Some grip. From the V.R. Peninsula De Setubal, the wine is produced at Cova da Periquita. The wine had proven to be the best in the region, so popular, in fact, that it became known as Periquita wine.  Other owners asked for cuttings, which Jose de Maria de Fonseca obliged. But he registered “Periquita” as a trademark in 1941 and its popularity has since taken hold in Sweden, Brazil, the UK, USA, Canada, Denmark and Norway. With its character, sweet aroma and complexity, it’s easy to understand why it has been so well received.  Blended from indigenous grapes (I’m all about that): Castelao (56%), Touriga Nacional (22% and Touriga Francesa (22%). Fermentation about 7 days at 79(F) with full skin contact. Aged 8 months in new and used French and American oak.  ALC:13.0%   TA:5.60 g/L   RS:7.9 g/L.   Region: Setubal Peninsula.  The SRP (Suggested Retail Price) is $14.99 which also contributes to its worldwide acceptance.  90 Points Wine Enthusiast which recommended it as a “Best Buy”.  Drink now per them. Other tasters refer to “strawberry red cherry (and) aniseed toast (with) smoky nutmeg licorice” and “hints of vanilla and dark berries.”  Wine Enthusiast refers to it being “full of black fruits with a structure of generous tannins”.  Today, being in June 2019, I found the tannins noticeable but very pleasant.      

Domini Plus 2015
A study in grace.  A wine to pair against wine from anywhere that “wine snobs” are inclined to contemplate over. The nose is wispy and ethereal.  It seduces and then diffuses leaving you with a memory of wonder. Baking spices.  Slight toast. This is elevated “old world”, not in-your-face. On the palate, the wine is rich and mouth coating, but it’s not a one-note song. Wet slate, clove, minerality, all lifted by rose petal; each element seamlessly intertwined. Liquid art.  From the Douro – a recent area for Fonseca, but one most artfully managed and used – the wine is a blend of Touriga Francesca (96%) and Touriga Nacional (4%).  Tasting this wine, I came to understand why Domingos prefers Francesca over Nacional.  Less assertive, more polished and refined.  27 acres of the vineyard are from the Douro Superior and this makes itself evident in the glass. So does the process of vinification: Full skin contact at approximately 82(F). Ten months in new French oak.  ALC: 13.9%   TA: 6.0 g/L   pH: 3.64   SRP: $44.99   Region: Douro    90 Points Wine Enthusiast, which recommended drinking from 2019.  Wine Enthusiast also referred to this wine’s “Intense aromas of violets, cassis, spice and blackberries” and stated that the wine (“palate”) “is full bodied and concentrated with rich, black fruit flavors, smooth tannins and a long persistent finish.”  Looking through the magazine’s reviews, I observed this wine has been well rated consistently by them with an earlier reference saying, “It’s the French wood aging that gives this wine it’s Plus moniker. It brings out elegant perfumes, the black fruits rich and smooth.” 

Ambre Moscatel de Setubal 20 Years   
How to describe this wonder of sweet wine that remains under the radar; harder yet – to explain why?   Trockenbeerenauslese has given way to less expensive Ice Wine. (For me, like comparing a “puddin’ pop” to Tiramisu).  As popular as Chianti has become in the U.S., sales of Vin Santo remain insignificant.  Few have tasted a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, though so many proclaim the elegance of French wine. Is it that generally, the market has moved away from “sweet” wine or is it the cost?  Seems I’ve observed a great many people starting out in wine opting for sweet. Perhaps once graduated and moved on, sweet is relegated by them to “inferior” but no one knowledgeable about wine believes that.  Good wine vs. bad wine is available as either.  As for cost, admittedly no winery’s flagship wine is inexpensive.  But I submit it’s an experience that should be appreciated on occasion.  And this Moscatel (from Setubal) is both unique and a quality reference point for what dessert wines should be.  Any wine can be sweet, but how it is balanced with acidity is the not an inexpensive art.  Consider too that any wine aged 20 years in wood comes with cost.  Then again, all Moscatel de Setubal is fortified yielding a wine of higher than average alcohol (fortification stops the fermentation process, leaving residual sugar).  It is served in small glasses. And re-capped, the wine will remain fresh for months making it not so expensive after all.  What can you expect from this Moscatel from Setubal?  The nose is alive with caramel, honey and orange marmalade.  The palate enjoys a carry-over of these notes in harmonious balance. Of all dessert wines tasted, it finished so crisply as to make it unique – not to disparage a  5 puttonyos Tokaji Aszú, or any other “sweet” wine.  But this wine is so unique, so tied to the geography of Setubal in Portugal, that it should not be ignored. And it needs to be experienced for its finish. If you’re wondering if this was my other favorite, you no longer need to wonder. It is. ALC: 18.4%   TA:7.3 g/L   pH: 3.34     RS 182 g/L   SRP: $69.99   Region: Setubal Peninsula    Wine Enthusiast:  92 – 94 Points. In its most recent review, the same magazine states “This Moscatel de Setubal is a beautifully smooth, nutty wine, with acidity and freshness along with sweetness. Surprisingly light, despite its 18% alcohol, its closest parallel is Madeira rather than Port.”  Earlier, I quote them saying “Why is Moscatel from Setubal so unknown?’.  

Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 40 Years    
As with the 20 Year Alambre, the best lots are selected for production of this fortified wine. Upon arrival, the alcohol level of the grapes is analyzed to determine the ideal moment to add brandy, halting fermentation. Aged in used oak as is the 20 Year.  And, as in the 20 Year, no caramel or color is used.  I observed a greenish hue at the wine’s rim-edge in the glass (normal after 20 years). The wine is more intense than the 20 year in all aspects and developed stronger aromas and a  taste of brandied raisin.  As with the 20 year: 100% Moscatel.  ALC: 18.7%   TA: 5.25 g/L   pH: 3.4   RS: 187 g/L   SRP: $149.99   Region: Setubal Peninsula 

I like to think Galileo Galilei somehow tasted these wines when he said “Wine is sunlight held together by water.’ and I too wonder why (as did Wine Enthusiast when they asked) Why is Moscatel from Setubal so unknown?’.  These wines are not a testimony of interference or technology.  They are all indigenous and all about terroir. Yet, the wines of Portugal, particularly Setubal, have long flied under the radar.  Perhaps it’s because its neighbor’s (Spain) land mass and acreage plantings is so much larger.  Perhaps it’s because Italy (with more than 900 indigenous grape varieties) have awed American palates. Fact is, these wines offer a unique footprint; a sense of place – wines made from grapes (also indigenous) that grow best only in that place. Tasting that wine, these wines, puts in your glass a sense of that place unlike any other. You can leave home without leaving your living room.      

Saude………….
Jim

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RAVENSWOOD WINERY


Where have all the flowers (wineries) gone?”  …. Peter, Paul & Mary


Benziger,
Hop Kiln,
Kenwood,
Merry Edwards,
Seghesio,
Siduri. 

And now, Ravenswood. 

If writing is an exercise to develop futility muscles, this post is a good example.  Whatever I say here will have no impact on what has happened.  It won’t change anything.  And what happened is not even “new” news.  Fact is, I felt so bad upon learning this, I took some time off from writing about it, or for that matter …  about anything (either here or on my Facebook page). 

The issue so troubling for me was that with most others of those mentioned above, the acquisitions and sales were seamless.  The same people I met and whose company I enjoyed are still at those wineries.  The winemakers and counter servers are still there.  The marketing people are still there. At trade events, the people I’ve known are still representing the company at various cities throughout the United States.  Unless you knew the winery had “changed hands,” you likely hadn’t noticed anything. Allegedly, the new, mega-international-corporate-conglomerate simply infused cash into the business to build the brand.

Then comes Constellation and EJ Gallo and there goes Ravenswood.  Ravenswood was just one of 30 Constellation brands that Gallo purchased April 4th.  A spokesperson (Alexandra Wagner) for Constellation said “Constellation’s top priorities are the long-term interest of our business, our people and the communities where employees live and work.”  In an interim, however (always there is one) employees of the tasting room at Ravenswood said they were being let go as of May 15 this year.  Gallo only bought the brand.  The tasting room on Gehricke Road is being closed after thirty years.

My most recent experience with Ravenswood was opening a 2012 “Old Hill” (single vineyard) Zinfandel that I purchased at the winery and paired with a slow-cooked brisket.  This was another wine I intended to write about as I found the time.  Maybe it’s that reference to “time” that has me so troubled.  Instead of a review, this post becomes a eulogy; a reminder of how fleeting our grasp on our presumptions are; how tentative our hold is on things we assume will remain as they “always have”.                                                 

                                                                                    
Ravenswood wasn’t started to be sold a few years later as some “Rockstar” labels have been.  Nor was it “the son of” a famous label spun off to be sold a short time later.  It was founded by Joel Petersen in 1976. The iconic tasting room opened in 1991 and it quickly became a mecca for Zin worshipers.  The winery’s “Old Hill”, “Cooke’ and “Dickerson” Zinfandels became legendary.

I enjoyed playing Blender at the winery, what they called the “Blend Your Own Experience.”  (see: https://www.winemizer.net/2015/03/ravenswood-winery-blend-your-own-wine.html ). It took me a few hours to settle on a blend I could be satisfied with.  It took just the same time for me to assure myself that blending wine was not in my future.  Not when I tasted what they did.
The Wine Mizer, a Master Blender NOT!

Brisket, Dry Rubbed




The “Old Hill” vineyard is in the heart of Sonoma Valley and has the oldest vines in all the county. Predominately planted to Zinfandel, the vineyard has at least 30 different grape varieties also.  The blend for “Old Hill” is 75% Zinfandel from these old vines and 25% “mixed blacks”.  Tasting this wine, one wonders how Zinfandel hadn’t been given the respect it is due.  Produced by Ravenswood, grapes used in the making of this wine deserve the reference of being called “noble” and “international”. 

Ravenswood made other wines, of course:  Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and blends.  I tasted them.  I bought them.  But it was their Zinfandel especially that set my passions aflame.  Pairing this bottle with brisket, I wasn’t then aware the winery would soon survive in memory only.  But I was aware that the wine was so good, it deserved respect and to be paired with a meal to remember.  So the brisket was dry rubbed and slow cooked for 10 hours and 45 minutes, occasionally sauced, served with home-made Cole slaw, fresh corn, and a tangy four-bean salad.  Like the wine, the meal was of humble origin, not “noble” but delicious.

Brisket, 10 Hrs, 45 Mins Later
Ravenswood Zinfandel, whichever label, is classic.  Assertive yet reserved, it is artistry on the palate. For me, “Old Hill” is the pinnacle of their Zins.  Raspberry, dark chocolate, licorice, black plum, black cherry, a hint of blueberry – all these fruits play against minerality and notes of coffee and spices.  The meld of fruit, mineral and spice is joined in a seamless weld. All elements are in exquisite balance, in balance so exquisite it is seldom found in other, more expensive, “noble” and “international” releases.

With scores in the 90s from critics, it seemed the critics got it.  But not enough of us did.  I don’t know why. In the boom years, Ravenswood was selling a million cases a year.  That dropped to 300,000 now.  Did their motto “No Wimpy Wines” scare some people away?  In fact, their wines were some of the most finessed I ever tasted, but as I read more about the impact of labeling upon sales, I appreciate I know nothing about marketing.      

Finally served

      
4 Bean Salad

Some Coleslaw





     Great wine is art, but unlike the works of the Renaissance, wine does not so long endure. “Old Hill” Zinfandel, 2012 is drinkable through 2024 and tasting delicious now.  But, like the original works of art, it cannot be remade and no copy will ever duplicate it.  Search out small independent wine stores, careful to avoid those who store bottles upright and next to a  window.  Seek out a single vineyard Zinfandel from Ravenswood and taste a classic.

Cheers??
…………………. Jim

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TECH SPECS & ETC.
Varietal:                               75% Zin, 25% Mixed Blacks
Vineyard:                            “Old Hill” (a single vineyard), Sonoma, CA. Planted in the 1880s and among the most desired Zinfandel plots in all of California.  Soil is “Tuscan Red Hill” (slightly acidic, brown to yellowish-red, mixed with clay and gravelly loam).
Aging:                                   19 months 100% French oak, 30% new.
Bottled:                                  May, 2014
ALC:                                      15.2%
Acidity:                                    6.0g/L
Ph:                                            3.63
Limited Production:              1596 Cases
ARP:                                      Previously, between $48-$60, now N/A
AWARDS:
Silver:                                    2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
Gold:                                     2014 Orange County Wine Society
RATINGS: 
Connoisseurs Guide:             93
Wine Spectator:                     93
Wine Enthusiast:                   90

For the story about Ravenswood’s closing as appeared in the Sonoma Index Tribune see https://www.sonomanews.com/business/9535497-181/end-of-an-era-sonomas

APPASSIMENTO


“I think you've got to keep it simple, keep it fresh. Stay away from all that processed stuff, read the labels.”…..  Emeril Lagasse

Learning languages – even a few words from different tongues – staves off brain aging. If you’re 21, you probably don’t care. But if you’re 50, you should – so here’s today’s word to learn: APPASSIMENTO. It’s Italian and it appears on some wine labels.

When you see that word on a wine label, expect a full-bodied wine. It means the grapes have been dried (traditionally) on bamboo or straw mats for several weeks or even months. This process (Appassimento) concentrates the sugars and flavors (relax – it doesn’t mean the wine is sweet unless you see the word “Passito” on the label).  With all that loss of water inside the grapes, being dried,  the grapes become raisinated and that concentrates flavor.

The famous Amarone della Valpolicella is always Appassimento. It is delicious, but expensive (labor intensive & costly to produce as it takes many more dried grapes to produce a wine). There is also what people call “Baby Amarone”, correctly known as Valpolicella Ripasso. These wines still use raisinated grapes but the pomace (leftover grape skins) is used for the second fermentation. Given restaurant markups, this is the wine I look for in Italian restaurants. Good and not as expensive as a true Amarone.

Many Italian producers employ the Appassimento method throughout Italy. It is not limited by grape varietal.  It is not restricted to the Valpolicella region within Veneto.  While Amarone (the most famous example) is from Veneto and always uses the Corvina and Rondinella grapes, this Massaro Del Fondo is from Puglia (far to the south of Veneto in Italy; an area better known for its Negroamaro and Primitivo (think Zinfandel) grapes. In fact, this Massaro Del Fondo is made from Primitivo grapes.

But today, we’re talking not so much about wine or even producers as we are about words on the label. The process is the point. And the point is that you want wines (even if you don’t know that you do) made via Appassimento. This bottle, with a ridiculous ARP of $18, will reward with deep, deep layers of plum and ripe red fruit and delicate spicy scents; no heat, easy to enjoy.

Why so much assurance? Appassimento! Learn the word.


For information on another wine from Veneto made via the same method but from different grapes and not an Amarone, see


In fairness to chef Lagasse, his quote relates to food, not wine, though the two work hand-in-hand as your right and your left.  Read these posts and I guarantee you’ll never be confused again by a similar label from Italy and you’ll be able to order these wines as appropriate and with confidence in restaurants.
   
Salute!
……………… Jim

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COLPETRONE MONTEFALCO SAGRANTINO


Amici e vini sono meglio vecchi.  (Old wine and friends improve with age)… An Italian proverb.

Trying new wines can be “the best of times” or “the worst of times.”  For a dedicated aficionado of indigenous grapes and the wine that results from their vinification, each bottle is fun and layers on another experience. But for casual enjoyers - those comfortable within their known taste zone – tasting a purchased bottle of wine made from a never-heard-of grape is entered into more cautiously. In real world speak, that means the bottle most often goes untried.  Pity.  A door remains closed that may have opened delights. 

From my outlook, tasting wines made from grapes unknown is always a thrilling and mind opening experience but I respect that everyone’s palate is both personal and correct for the person possessing it.  Perhaps I can add value to this blog by describing some of these grapes and lead you down the road that as Robert Frost said was the less travelled because, indeed, it may make all the difference.


Sagrantino is the grape.  It is indigenous to Montefalco. Montefalco is in Umbria in Italy and the best place for growing this grape. No matter who produces wine made from Sagrantino, if you enjoy sweet or exclusively fruit-forward wine, these wines will prove unpleasant.  If, however, you enjoy wines of different character and you enjoy matching such wine with different foods, or even the seasons, you should consider adding some Sagrantino to your racks.

But add it considerably in advance of when you plan to enjoy it.  Referring to the quote above, Sagrantino improves with age.  In its youth, tannins are concentrated. It’s not uncommon for Sagrantino to open beautifully at eight years of age and improve even further during the next five years. As Cabernet Sauvignon can be bold, powerful, concentrated, masculine and age- worthy so can Sagrantino be.   Fortunately, for us, Colpetrone (the producer) makes Sagrantino in a more international style, meaning you can enjoy it earlier; not meaning the wine made from Sagrantino by Colpetrone has sacrificed its typicity.  

Even so, Colpetrone’s Sagrantino will reward you for patience. With time in the bottle, polymerization binds pigmented tannins into larger particles that will collect as sediment and the juice softens.  In the U.S., winemakers are sensitive to consumers thinking anything but the clearest wine must be a fault. Much of what is produced here has been filtered and fined to such clarity and, being drunk young, has become what many people take as a standard.  Problem is, it is the tartrates and phenolics in wines that develop the aromatic compounds that form bouquet, build taste and develop the varietal’s character.  

This 2009, ten years from vintage, still benefited from air.  Decant for an hour or enjoy the next day after opening.  Full bodied, like a Cabernet Sauvignon, but not fruit forward, it exemplifies “old world” style in fruit being present but subdued as part of a seamless composition. Tertiary notes of chocolate and smoke add complexity.   Its nose offers earth but lifted by lavender. Brambled berries reintroduce the forest element.  Sour cherry and dried cranberry on the palate, some balsamic and dried strawberry linger into a long finish accompanied by a hint of leather and nutmeg. Fruit becomes more pronounced the second day with lots of blackberry, black raspberry and black cherry joined by strawberry (jam) on the nose.  The wine is less edgy and its tannins softened.  Strawberry (jam) also becomes more evident on the palate. But either day, the wine’s acidity provides a somewhat tangy finish making it also food friendly. 




Keep a few bottles aside.  Taste them along the way and enjoy the changes within each bottle.  Fire up the grill on a cool, summer night and pair this wine with grilled meats and game.  Braised meats can warm up the kitchen in the cooler months and Sagrantino from Montefalco will pair nicely then also.  Aged cheeses do well as will red-sauced pasta and pizza.  If you’re lucky enough to have a black truffle on hand, enjoy this wine’s earthiness against some crumbled truffle on the pasta.  Thin sliced Italian beef with green peppers on an Italian roll may look less worthy than a magazine photo but will go together nicely regardless.  

Salute!
……………… Jim

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ETC:
The Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG requires 100% Sagrantino grapes be used, with 37 months aging before release, of which at least 12 months are in oak barrels and 4 months in bottle.  Colpetrone ages its Sagrantino 12 months in oak barrique and another 26 months (minimum) in bottle before release. The grape is noted for its thick skin which naturally develops tannin.
ALC: 14.5%
Imported by: Vias Imports, Ltd., NY, NY.
ARP: $23.

VALDESPINO PALO CORTADO SHERRY


“He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery”… . Samuel Smiles

So many sherries, so little time, it’s important that I get to one of my favorite styles: Palo Cortado. I was never a fan of White Zin, but there’s no denying it was hugely popular and still has fans.  Did you know that it was an accidental discovery”?  Same with Molten Lava Chocolate Cake.  Same with Palo Cortado Sherry!

Palo Cortado begins as a Fino but during the aging process, the flor doesn’t develop as expected so the wine (after biological aging) continues to age oxidatively. Today, circumstances providing for this can be encouraged, but the result will be the same: a sherry that is somewhat lighter in color than Oloroso, but much darker than a Fino, yet with the full body of an Oloroso and bone dry.



Expect notes of burnt/bitter orange and dried fruits (apricots), caramel and almonds/walnuts. Most recently, I enjoyed this Bodegas Valdespino Palo Cortado Viejo C.P. and found it gave me all that and more with smoky notes of vanilla extract, baked apple and brandied raisins. There’s a hint of caramalized banana as in “Bananas Foster” but emphasizing the bubbling mixture of butter, rum and dark brown sugar minus the sweetness.  “Viejo” (meaning old) is fitting giving that the Palomino vines used by Valdespino are 25 years plus in age and the average age of the wine in bottle is 25 years also. The vineyard (Macharnudo Alto) is a single vineyard at high elevation and on prized soil (albariza) that is light and high in chalk content lending intense minerality and is the best for growing Palomino grapes. During aging, the wine is refreshed with Fino “Inocente” and Amontillado “Tio Diego” (flagship wines of the estate).



You’ll find Valdespino Palo Cortado an excellent pairing with Jamon Iberico, aged Manchego cheese, almonds and hazelnuts (put these together for a charcuterie board). Consider also aged Comte and Cheddar. Good too with roasted chestnuts, pates and smoked meats and some roasted root vegetables. Also good against Jerusalem artichokes with dip (though I’m not a fan of that veggie) and (God forgive me) “Bridge Mix” chocolate candy).  Most Somms may disagree, but I find it wonderful with grilled shrimp spiced and prepared with diced sweet onion and fresh garlic. (Each time I served this wine with grilled, spiced shrimp, everyone loved it). Serve the wine just slightly chilled. 93 points Robert Parker Wine Advocate,  96 from Wine & Spirits Magazine. ALC: 20%.  My bottle imported by Cream Wine Company. (Chicago, IL). For more information on this and other sherry styles, see:  https://www.winemizer.net/2018/11/sherry-simplified.html
Salud!

…………….. Jim

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winemizer.net does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).




JERMANN PINOT GRIGIO


“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” …. William A. Foster

Soft, watery, flat, without character, thin.

Zingy, zippy, mouthwatering, with typicity.

That is the obverse and the reverse of the wine coin.  Winemakers, we know, make wine.  And like coins, countless denominations are made across the globe.  But whereas governments can just continue minting non-precious metal coins (what choice do you have?), wineries are often pressured into responding to demands.  Varietals that have captivated the palate of the international marketplace are nudged into quenching the world’s thirst. But varietals are precious. There are no shortcuts to climate, soil composition, yields per acre/hectare.  Wineries not profitable in such a competitive marketplace don’t long remain in business. And the lure of profit is strong.  Sometimes, compromises in quality get made. And winemakers are given suggestions regarding the “facts of life.”  And those “facts” sometimes translate into overproduction.

If you’re of the age to remember the Merlot of California in the 80s and 90’s you’re of age also to remember Sideways (the movie released in October 2004) and what happened to the sale of Merlot afterwards.  It hasn’t happened yet with Pinot Grigio, but it looks to be in the beginning stage.  Too much Pinot Grigio I’ve tasted recently has been of the first type: soft, watery, flat, without character, thin.



I first wrote about Jermann (on my Facebook page) in July of 2018 when I paired it with a luncheon menu of Haddock steaks prepared with a lemon-caper sauce.  Tasting it again a month later, I was still impressed.  Hired to pour this (and other wines) at an event last week, I tasted it again.  Three times at bat. Three home runs. And my opinion was not unshared. The retailer’s stock of this wine was sold out an hour before the 4-hour event ended. That’s a considerable endorsement given the wine’s ARP of $23, higher than most PGs, but also an endorsement of the American consumer’s palate when many PGs are available and priced at under $15.  Let’s consider why that may be:

The winery’s estate vineyards are in Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy’s north-easternmost region. This is the fifth smallest region in Italy, but despite its size, the region spans a wide variety of climates and landscapes.  From the mild-oceanic in the south to the Alpine-continental in the north.  The hilly area, just south of the mountains and along the central section enjoys a more temperate climate. However, even within this smaller area, there is considerable diversity of terrain.  Walled by the Alps on the north, the region is exposed to air masses from the east and west and from the southerly “Sirocco” blowing in from the Adriatic Sea and capable of bringing heavy rains.  The Jermann winery is tucked into the hills of Friuli Venezia Giulia below the Dolomites with two vineyards: (1) The Rutters Estate in the hilly Collio sub-region where vines are cooled by the Bora wind off the Adriatic Sea promoting grapes with perfume and zesty acidity due to diurnal temperature drops. Soil here is predominantly marlstone and sandstone belonging to the Flysch formation from the Eocene era that gave rise to a rocky substrate and later formed the characteristic “ponca” (marine fossils from the sea bottom brought to the surface by the same tectonic movement that created the Alps).  It is chalky and mineral rich.   (2) the Villanova Estate in the Isonzo sub-region where vines are grown in a permeable gravel, clay and sand soil and where the temperature is moderated by proximity to the sea and the lower Alps.  Clay in the soil here promotes body.

Too much body and the wine becomes too fleshy and flat – no zest!   Not enough body and the wine cracks from its own astringency; is thin and bony.       

Grapes are picked at dawn to preserve freshness and are partially vinified on the skins, then aged in stainless to maintain freshness and aromatics.  In the glass, it shows deep lemon-green.  Most people enjoy aromas of white peach, but (for me) it was lemon first, then fresh cut apple before the peach.  All of this carried onto the palate.  As the wine is allowed to warm, you’ll enjoy a faint suggestion of pineapple.  A curious vegetative note announces too, which I likened to lemongrass and enjoyed.

Of course, all impressions are personal and correct for those experiencing them.  I have to mention, a common one is pear. Others get green apple and a note of tangerine. One mentioned hazelnut; another banana.  But the most common is pear. Any impression is valid for the person experiencing it and if enough people experience the same impression, it’s sufficiently valid for me to mention it too.  But, personally, it’s the finish of this wine that is the “closer”.   Whatever impressions you’ll experience, this wine has concentration and a depth of flavor that is missing in many of the varietal’s companions today.  It offers a racy acidity balanced by fruit that carries throughout the tasting and into a finish I think long for a white wine.

I wrote previously about another Pinot Grigio that I found to offer excellent value in comparison to others within its price category and being priced lower than Jermann.  But if you’re willing to step up some in complexity, I think you’ll find the step up in price worth it.  Sometimes you get even more that what you pay for.

Maybe it’s because this area in Italy (like Alsace in France and other areas worldwide) is multi-cultural; the Friuli Venezia Giulia region being influenced by its history of Austrian, German and Slovenian winemakers.  How people impact the vines (tending & managing) is part of terroir also, as much as where the vines are grown (that part of terroir most people have come to accept).  In a pour into your glass of Jermann’s Pinot Grigio what you will recognize is its uniqueness – a character harder to describe than to appreciate.  One sip and you’ll recognize quality.

Cin-Cin!
………….. Jim


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TECH SPECS & ETC.
Jermann:                                             https://www.jermann.it/
Distributed by:                                    Lux
                                                            https://www.luxwines.com/collection/jermann
Varietal:                                               Pinot Grigio, 100%
TA:                                                      5.6 g/L
Ph:                                                       3.20
RS:                                                       4.0g/L
ALC:                                                    12.5%
Rating: 
James Suckling:                                   91
Robert Parker’s W.A.                           90
Wine Spectator:                                    90


GERARD BERTRAND “THOMAS JEFFERSON” CREMANT DE LIMOUX BRUT ROSE

“Too much of anything is bad. But too much Champagne is just right.” … F. Scott Fitzgerald

I enjoy Champagne. You might say I LOVE it.  But Champagne, by definition, is only made from the grapes of that region within France.  It excludes Crémant (also French).  It excludes Metodo Classico. It does not allow Cava.  Nor is Sparkling Wine allowed membership.  It is - that of Champagne which I crave - expensive and, so for me, not presently allowed as an everyday enjoyment. But to do without “tasting the stars” is inconceivable. 

Then again, some of the best French food is of the bistro sort.  And some of the most enjoyable French wines are those of the Loire.  “Relaxability”.  Casual but elevated.  And so comes Gerard Bertrand of the Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France.  Blending Chardonnay (70%), Chenin Blanc (15%) and Pinot Noir (15%), with the first and last grapes mentioned being those used in Champagne and with the wine being twice fermented in the bottle (as in Champagne) but with an ARP of only $20, there are differences and differences both to be appreciated.

I’ve enjoyed other of Gerard Bertrand’s still wines before.  So did Thomas Jefferson who stocked his cellar with sparkling wines (Crémant) from the area (Limoux) in Southwest France.  In fact, Limoux was the first area in France to work with sparkling wine.  And it was Don Perignon who learned from the monks there at St Hilaire Abbey about making such wine.  It is that area in Southwest France, where the technique of making sparkling wines was first perfected.   

Of course, the climate is different in Southwest France than that of Champagne in Northeast France.  But Bertrand’s vineyards are maintained in the highest elevations of the area with cool nights assuring the cleansing acidity in the grapes that is so necessary for making quality bubbly.

All the tech aside however, always it comes to what is inside the bottle and I can tell you this.  My son and his significant other joined me for dinner.  I put together a simple meal plan, casual – but elevated. It began with an appetizer of slices of organic tomato, buffalo mozzarella, fresh leaves of basil and a reduction of balsamic di Modena.  Altogether, there were to be five courses and five wines.  I expected to put aside several bottles for enjoyment later. I was wrong.  The Gerard Bertrand “Thomas Jefferson” Crémant De Limoux Brut Rose remained on the table in a chiller and was quickly emptied.  That’s a strong endorsement – not just my opinion.

Casual, but elevated. And so quickly emptied.

 
Apparently, by unanimous agreement.

Salmon-pink in the glass, it produces fine bubbles and a delicate mousse. Its texture is rich and surprisingly creamy.  Aromas of red fruit (strawberry and raspberry) seduce. On the palate raspberry carries over from the nose. The strawberry is elevated with notes of cream.  Toasted bread from lees aging adds complexity.  But for people put off by Champagne with pronounced notes of yeast (brioche etc.), this is not that. Casual, but elevated, the wine’s components work in synergy and balance; each element contributing unobtrusively toward a whole that is pleasing.  Citrus is joined with floral notes.  Fruit is evident and creamy, but the wine has spot-on acidity rendering a crisp finish that lasts. 

Against the creamy soft Buffalo Mozzarella, the wine matched in texture while also serving to cleanse the palate of that richness.  Dinner aside, it’s great to enjoy by itself.  Chocolate dipped raspberries would be fun. Brie cheese a natural. Ham croquettes, prosciutto, smoked salmon, sushi, mushrooms stuffed with crab, devilled eggs finished off with caviar, pates, tapenade, salad Nicoise. The acidity of a Rose Crémant makes it naturally food friendly. Gerard Bertrand makes it affordable.    

Sante!
................. Jim

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winemizer.net does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).

NOTE: The monks of St. Hilaire discovered the first “wine with bubbles” in 1531. The vineyards used in making Gerard Bertrand’s Thomas Jefferson Rose are on the foothills of the Pyrenees where the grapes benefit from cool conditions.  Wine is blended together and then transferred to barrel for 8 months.  Imported by Wine West, LLC (Sausalito, CA).  ALC:12.5%