Showing posts with label Blaufrankisch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blaufrankisch. Show all posts

Friday, July 6, 2012

Twitter Tasting The Finger Lakes - Red Tail Ridge Winery

Several weeks ago, a small gathering of wine writers got together on Twitter.  That’s not too unusual, considering the amount of time many of us spend there anyway.  This was, however, a special virtual event designed to celebrate the wines of New York’s Finger Lakes region, specifically the wines of Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan.  The husband/wife team are the winegrower and winemaker, respectively, of Red Tail Ridge Winery on Seneca Lake.

The idea was, we would each receive a shipment of wines to taste and tweet about through the magic of social media.  Some of us found that the delivery service had trouble getting the wines to us in time, but I already had a bit of experience with the Red Tail Ridge wines.  I had met Irelan at a wine tasting event in Los Angeles earlier in the year.

Red Tail Ridge, I discovered while tweeting, is the first LEED Gold certified green winery in New York state.  The steps they have taken to leave a smaller footprint has reduced the winery’s energy consumption by over 50 percent.

There were plenty participants in the Twitter tasting making comments about the orange peel they were enjoying on the RTR Dry Riesling, the pairability of the Semi-Dry Riesling and the spicy, leathery notes on the Pinot Noir.  I found the wines of Red Tail Ridge to be outstanding, and a very good indication that the Finger Lakes region is bringing a lot more than Riesling to the table.  Here are my notes on the wines kindly provided by Red Tail Ridge.

Pinot Noir Finger Lakes 2010
This estate-grown Pinot was hailed by the Twitter tasting group for its fruit and earthiness as well as its notes of leather and spice.  It is very light in color - quite a pretty violet hue - and you can see right through it in the glass.  Aromas of raspberry and cherry are framed in a beautiful earthiness.  The palate shows great fruit, with only a hint of tartness - but that mineral-laden earth shows up here, too.  That’s a real grabber for me.  I also like a wine with good acidity, which is present in this Pinot as well.  The tannins are not terribly assertive, and that’s how I like them in a Pinot.  The minerals last into the finish with a bit of citrus in the background.

Blaufränkisch Finger Lakes 2009 ($23)
It’s unusual to run across Blaufränkisch and Dornfelder grapes outside of Europe.  That’s no doubt why Red Tail Ridge makes these two wines under the Obscure Red Varietal Series banner.  The Blaufränkisch comes in a Cabernet-style bottle, while the Dornfelder is packaged in a Pinot Noir-style bottle.

The Blaufränkisch grape is quite popular in Central and Eastern Europe, but it certainly qualifies as an obscure grape in the United States.  This wine is 12% abv, and is aged in older American oak barrels.  The nose smells mainly of spiced cherries - quite aromatic, with an herbal note and a floral aspect, as well as a trace of earth and minerals.  It’s really a beautiful bouquet.  On the palate, spices are at play with cherries.  There’s a racy acidity and a forceful tannic structure giving this wine great backbone.  The medium mouthfeel and the acidity work together to make it a refreshing sip.

Dornfelder Finger Lakes ($20)
This non-vintage novelty is a blend of the winery’s 2009 and 2010 vintages.  The wine is estate grown, aged in older French oak barrels and carries a 12% abv number.  The Dornfelder grape is quite popular in Germany.  It was created in 1955 by grape breeder August Herold, but it was not made available for cultivation and use in German wine until 1979.  The vines on the Red Tail Ridge property were planted in 2007.

Aromas of cherries and blackberries mix with a green floral component, but the nose is not as spicy or aromatic as the Blaufränkisch.  Wonderful fruit shows on the palate, mainly black cherry and plum.  The acidity is nice and refreshing while the tannins are perky, but neither element is as pronounced as in the Blaufränkisch.

Semi-Dry Riesling Finger Lakes 2010 ($16)
The semi-dry is estate grown, from RTR Vineyard.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation and carries an alcohol content of 12% abv.  It's pale in the glass, with a nice, aromatic nose showing tons of peaches and tropical fruit.  There is also the slightest aroma of petrol.  It is full in the mouth, despite the lack of oak and malolactic.  The sweetness is there, but a tart fruit flavor follows it up and a limeade acidity carries through on the finish.  I get a hint of petrol on the finish, too.  It makes me want some Thai food, or a spicy Italian sausage to pair with it.

Dry Riesling Finger Lakes 2010 ($19)
This Riesling is also fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation.  The alcohol content is also a low 12% abv.  On the nose, this pale wine shows a bit more minerality than the semi-dry.  A beautiful slate aroma paves the way for the peaches and nectarines, with a nutty hint following.  The palate on this dry Riesling shows plenty of citrus and zesty flavors along with a wet rock minerality.  The acidity is brisk and it imparts a refreshing quality to the sip.  I'd love it with some crab, or even just mixed greens.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wine Country: New York Finger Lakes - Red Tail Ridge

The wines featured on the Now And Zin Wine Country series are usually shipped to me from the winery’s location.  This time, they came to me in person.

At industry wine tasting events in Southern California, I am exposed largely to California wines.  There’s a smattering of events featuring European wines and fewer from around other parts of the globe.  Hardly ever at these events do I get a chance to taste an American wine that is not produced in the western US.  A recent wine show gave me one of those rare opportunities.

Finger Lakes winemaker Nancy Irelan, owner of Red Tail Ridge Winery in upstate New York, poured her wines at the Wine Warehouse trade event on April 24, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

Red Tail Ridge Winery is located on the western shore of Seneca Lake, one of eleven long, narrow lakes left by glaciers.  On a map, they look as if a hand may have clawed them out of the earth, hence the name “Finger Lakes.”  The winery’s name is credited to a pair of hawks who nest close to the 32-acre vineyard.  They are the constant companions to Nancy and her husband, Mike Schnelle, as they work amongst the vines.

I have enough experience with Finger Lakes Rieslings to know that crisp acidity is their calling card, and that remains true with the Rieslings of Red Tail Ridge.  That bright, zippy acidity is at its best in the '09 Estate Dry Riesling, and the 2010 Chardonnay Sans Oak is no slouch in that department.  That steely Chardonnay also has a great fruit axpression, as does the Red Tail Ridge 2010 Semi-Sweet Riesling, Geneva-Dresden Bench.  The latter has the apricot flavors digging their way out of a massive display of earthy minerals.

The Red Tail Ridge 2009 Semi-Dry Estate Riesling is a showcase for peaches, while their ‘09 Good Karma - a Riesling/Chardonnay blend - is a source of income for the local food bank.

Their 2008 Blaufränkisch caught my attention, as I have not had the chance to experience much in the way of Finger Lakes reds.  This Austrian grape - called Lemberger in Germany - is one of the Red Tail Ridge wines in their “Obscure Red Varietal Series.”  They also make a Teroldego and a Dornfelder for that series.

The fruit for the Red Tail Ridge Blaufränkisch is from the Martini Family Vineyard.  This wine shows a gigantic expression of earth on the nose, with extreme acidity and minerals on the flinty, cherry palate.  This wine was my personal star of the entire event.  I mentioned to Irelan that there are some hip, new wine bars springing up all over Los Angeles which would kill to have something this crazy good on their wine lists.  At less than $15 per bottle, it’s a steal.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blue Danube Wine Company At Port4lio, Los Angeles 2012

The Danube River flows through Central Europe for over 1,700 miles - from the Black Forest to the Black Sea.  Along the way are wine regions producing wines which can legitimately be called hidden gems.  The wines of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia are well worth exploring for the taste alone.  The sense of history that comes with each sip is a bonus.  You can also find an easy way to add some exotic grapes to your Century Club efforts.

The Blue Danube Wine Company is a wine distributor with a mission.  The San Francisco-based wholesaler is bent on making wine lovers of the United States aware of the fine wines they import from Central Europe, from those hidden gem areas along the blue Danube.

At the recent Port4lio tasting event in Culver City, California, I had the chance to sample from a literal smorgasbord of wines featuring producers, grapes and wine regions with which I had little experience - and even less success in pronouncing.  Fortunately, Blue Danube’s Frank Dietrich and Stetson Robbins were there to help out the tasters with pours and pronunciation.

Juris Winery is near Gols, Austria - just southeast of Vienna near the Neusiedler See.  Winemaker Axel Stiegelmar (right) was on hand to present his wines personally.

Stiegelmar talked of his four-story winery, which utilizes gravity to help make a smaller carbon footprint.  He talked of his family’s winemaking tradition, which dates back to the 1500s..  What he really loves to talk about are his grapes, mainly St. Laurent, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  For this event, Stiegelmar poured his red wines.

The Juris ‘10 Zweigelt lives up to the expectations held by lovers of this grape.  The smoky nose, the earthy fruit, the firm tannins and razor-sharp acidity all contribute on the way to the incredible finish.  More strong earthiness comes on the nose of the ‘09 St. Laurent, which leads to a beautiful sour cherry flavor.

The Juris reserve wines are made from older vines.  Stiegelmar says, “the vines are mature enough so the roots have reached down below the top layer of soil into the mineral layer below.”  The mineral aspect does come through significantly on the ‘08 Pinot Noir Reserve, along with raspberry and strawberry and a mouth-watering acidity.  The ‘09 St. Laurent Reserve shows great minerals and sour cherry on the palate.

A beautiful blend - the Juris ‘09 Ina Mera is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon,, 30% Merlot and 30% Blaufrankisch.  It is very clean and earthy with bright acidity.  The wine is playful in the mouth with a long, gorgeous finish.

Slovenian producer Batic - an organic estate in the Vipava Valley - covered a wide range of styles with just a few wines.  The Batic ‘06 Pinot Gris tastes like candied green apples.  The ‘08 Pinela - a grape grown only in this small area - is a refreshing white with great acidity.  The ‘09 Cabernet Franc shows dense forest fruit on the nose and a taste of tart raspberry.  As I found over and over at this event, the wine has excellent acidity.

Also from Slovenia, Kabaj - pronounced ka-bay - is located in the far western part of the country, immediately next to Italy, in the Goriska Brda region.  Two whites produced with skin contact presented intense minerals.  The ‘09 Beli Pinot is a Pinot Blanc possessing an earthy acidity, while the ‘09 Sivi Pinot is a Pinot Grigio exploding with minerals, earth and green apples.

Coastal Croatian Reds included one from Terzolo, in Istria.  The ‘09 Teran was described by Robbins as “a masochistic wine.”  It is a bit tannic, but I didn’t feel I was looking for trouble by enjoying it.

Bibich produces wine in Skradin, North Dalmatia.  Their ‘09 R6 Riservo - made of Babich, Lasin and Plavina grapes - is very old world, with high acidity and nervy, savory flavors.

Dingac Winery, from the Peljesac Peninsula of Dalmatia, poured several wines made from Plavic Mali, the Croatian version of Zinfandel.  Their ‘10 Plavac is surprisingly smooth for a grape that is known for its tannic nature.  The ‘10 Peljesac is a little bigger and shows some spiciness, while the ‘08 Postup has a big mineral display.

There were some lovely sparkling wines, too.  Törley - Hungary’s famous sparkling wine producer - had four bubblies represented.  Gala blends Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Királyleányka.  Fresh apples grace the nose and palate.  Fortuna - Muskat Ottonel, Irsal Olivér and Muskat Lunel - is fabulously sweet.  More sweetness comes from Hungaria Grand Cuvée brut, a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling blend.  It captivates with a beautiful, sweet floral expression.  The Tokaji has beautiful sweetness tempered by a healthy dollop of minerality.

Kogl - from Štajerska, Slovenia - went the other way with it.  The non-vintage Albus Clasique of Riesling, Yellow Muskat, Chardonnay and Furmint grapes is a dry sparkler showing earthy minerals and toast.  The non-vintage Rubellus Clasique is made from Pinot Noir as a rosé.  It has a nice, funky, toasty nose with a beautiful and elegant on the palate.

If you want a real education in the wines of Central Europe, a visit to the Blue Danube website is an absolute must.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011


Austria Uncorked

Austria Uncorked, a showing of Austrian wines at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills May 2nd, 2011, promised a bevy of fabulous white wines to sample - after all, highly structured whites are what Austria is best known for worldwide.

If Austria has a national grape, it would have to be Grüner Veltliner.  The food-friendly, mineral-driven GruVee was all over the room at this event, with most tables pouring several versions.  Riesling was popular, too.  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also popped up from time to time.  Riesling has a reputation as a sweet wine for some, but the Austrian expression of the grape is quite dry and sometimes so mineral-driven that the fruit is almost obscured.

Despite the grace and elegance shown by the white wines, it was the red wine from Austria which really shone. BlaufrankischZweigelt and St. Laurent are grapes which are all well under the radar for American wine drinkers, unheralded - if not unknown - to most.  Examples of Austrian Pinot Noir showed earthy minerality, light texture and low alcohol levels.  In fact, I don't recall seeing many wines at Austria Uncorked with an alcohol level higher than 14%.

My favorite stop was the table where Birgit Braunstein presented her wines and those of her husband, Martin Pasler.  Their vineyards were planted 70 years ago by her grandfather on land that's been in her family for hundreds of years.  Several of their wines ended up as favorites of mine from this event.

GruvyAs is the case at wine tasting events where there is a proliferation of one particular type of wine, I experienced palate fatigue and the Gruner Veltliners all started to taste the same.  I've experienced the same thing at events that were heavy on Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Albarino.  Mixing it up made for a good palate cleanser. I'd taste whites for a while, then reds, then back to whites.  I even went across the property and sampled a few Ribera Tempranillos at another event going on at the same time.  As good as those Spanish wines were, I didn't stay long. I couldn't wait to get back to Austria.

Austria is roughly at the same latitude as Burgundy, but with more dramatic temperature swings.  Hot days and cool nights help produce wines with aromatic, full-bodied character.  35 grape varieties are authorized for use in making quality wine in Austria.  About a third of the grapes are red wine, another third Gruner Veltliner.  Field blends are common in Austria, where they are called gemischten Satz.  These wines are blends in which the different grapes are harvested and vinified at once.

After the event, I retired to the SLS bar to go over my notes.  Next to me was a young couple engaged in spirited discussion with Wolfgang Puck.  They talked on a number of topics related to food and wine - I couldn't help overhearing - and it wasn't surprising to discover that Puck likes Austrian wines.  He has a soft spot for the wines of Alsace as well.

It has occurred to me before - and was brought into sharp focus at Austria Uncorked - that red wines are more about taste while white wines are more about feeling.  I'll close with a few of my favorite tastes and feelings of the event.

The event was staged by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and the Austrian Trade Commission, and event was the featured event for Austria Wine Week LA, in which a handful of tastings were staged around SoCal.

The Wines

Brigit BraunsteinAs I mentioned earlier, the wines of Brigit Braunstein and Martin Pasler were my favorites.  Their vineyards are in Burgenland, on Lake Neusiedl in the Neusiedlersee - Hugelland region.  Braunstein took over her family's winegrowing business in the mid 1990s and produced her first vintage in 1996.  She says it was "a moment of real happiness in my life."  Her appearance at Austria Uncorked constituted her first visit to the U.S.

Braunstein poured two white wines of note, a Welschriesling and a Weissburgunder.  Welschriesling has no relation to the Riesling grape and is of unclear origin.  Weissburgunder is better known as Pinot Blanc.  The former has a lovely, aromatic nose sporting green peppers and flowers, while the latter has a creamy, fruity taste of peaches and pears.  Both these whites feature great acidity, but that was not an uncommon tasting note throughout the room.

Braunstein's reds really bowled me over.  Her Zweigelt - the most-planted red grape in Austria - has a beautiful cherry nose and a huge cherry taste.  The Blaufrankisch shows its chalky, limestone soil with an earthy nose and mineral-laced strawberries on the palate.  The St. Laurent - a grape which is a child of Pinot Noir bearing the same cantankerous traits as its parent - is a complete delight.  Her Oxhoft red blend marries Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon for a wine which displays enormous red fruit on the nose and on the brilliant palate.

As if these treats were not enough, we proceeded to the dessert wines.  A pair of Botrytis-infected beauties were poured.  The Beerenauslese blends Welschriesling for acidity, Goldburgerfor the fruit and Neuburger for the sweetness.  Sweet pears and apricots show in this delicious dessert wine.  The Trockenbeerenauslese is a late harvest Pinot Noir showing the chalky limestone soil in its sultry sugar.

More Wines

Judith Beck - '09 Zweigelt shows extreme earthiness and brilliant fruit flavors at once.

J. Heinrich Winery - '08 Cuvee of Blaufrankisch, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot presents a very smokey nose and spicy red fruit.

Juris Winery - '08 St. Laurent has a dirty, funky nose, and I mean that in a great way.  Tart and dry, very interesting.

Rosenhof Winery - Four dessert wines - Beerenauslese, two Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein - that are sweet with great acidity.

Johanneshof Reinisch Winery - A 2010 Rotgipfler - have you had that grape? - is a white with a nutty salinity and citrus fruit.  Also, an $89 '06 St. Laurent which has tannins as smooth as silk.

Salomon Unhof Winery - A 2009 Gruner Veltliner Reserve from the Lindberg Vineyard is creamy and full with a citrus finish.

Turk Winery - A 2009 Gruner Veltliner from the Kremser Sandgrube Vineyard has great acidity and a spicy citrus zest taste.

R & A Pfaffl Wine Estate - A no-oak 2010 Zweigelt with bright cherry nose and flavors would be great chilled on the deck this summer.  Their '08 St. Laurent shows fantastic minerals on the nose and a dry, dark cherry taste.

Kracher Winery - They poured six dessert wines.  Tops were the '08 Cuvee of Welshriesling and Chardonnay - done in steel, but showing a smokey sweetness - and the '08 ScheurebeTrockenbeerenauslese which is viscous, sweet and clean.

I enjoyed stopping at each table at Austria Uncorked, and limiting myself to just these wines I've mentioned seems an injustice.  There were so many great tasting Blaufrankisch, Zeigelt and St. Laurent wines - not to mention all the Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings - that this piece could have gone on for pages and pages.  If you are not familiar with Austrian wines, get familiar.  You'll be doing yourself and your palate a favor.