Sampling port wine in the Douro valley

For the last leg of our holidays we went to the Douro Valley and, finally, Porto. Impossible then not to go tasting port wine… To be honest, however, I had to force myself a little bit to do it. I still remember port from my days as a student, when I had a, let’s say, « younger » taste. Port was sweet and therefore I drank port, it was as simple as that. I drank cherry beer for the same reason… 

Luckily things have evolved! I never really came back to port, however. Even though I know there is so much more to it than the cheap supermarket ruby and tawny ports. Reason more why I had to take this chance to sample a few ports. 

So off we went! First stop was Quinta da Pacheca, a small winery (50 hectares) based in Lamego, which is situated in the Baixo Corgo, the first of three sub-regions in the Douro valley, being the coolest of the three and receiving more rainfall than the Cima Corgo and the Douro Superior.

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Map copyright of Court of Master Sommeliers

A boat trip from Pinhao to Tua allows you to get an impressive overview of the vineyards on the very steep slopes of the hills along the river. 

Pacheca prides itself of being one of the first wineries to bottle under their own label, well before the Douro became a demarcated zone in 1756, the first one in the world by the way. Despite the fact that Quinta da Pacheca is a relatively small winery, it is modern, having its own hotel (barrel rooms included) and fancy restaurant.

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Beautiful, but I hope they have airco!

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Groups who are on a boat tour have dinner in their vat room

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A certain Mr Sandeman is watching over

I was on an organised visit, and Pacheca also has still whites and reds, so the tasting included also two still wines, before the port wines. Of the latter we tasted a 20 year old tawny and the 2012 vintage. 

If you’re not familiar with the styles of port wine, these are the basics : tawny is an oxidized style of port (hence the color and the name) because it spends many years in small wooden barrels, up until 40 years! Ruby ports are not oxidized because they are bottled immediately (standard rubies) or spend a limited time in big wooden casks (vintages).  Vintage ports are top ruby ports and considered to be among the best wines in the world. These ports are at their best after several decades of bottle ageing, so you need to be very patient if you buy a vintage port…

Normally vintage ports are only declared in the best years, 2011 being such a year, and more recently 2016. Some wineries, like Pacheca apparently, chooses to  declare more often, the choice being entirely theirs. They do need to get the approval of the Port and Douro Wines Institute, because it’s the institute that decides whether the port is good enough to be declared as a vintage.

Back to Pacheca :

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Vintage 2012 :

Very smooth aromas and mouthfeel. Ripe cherries, surprisingly low in tannin for such a young port, good acidity. Very soft, velvety even. A bit too easy for my taste, honestly. A smooth operator! 42€

The 20 year old tawny

Very rich, opulent nose, with dried figs, date, brandy, and quite strong oxidative aromas here but I love how the walnuts complement the candied fruit and give extra depth, almoste create another level within the wine. Very long finish, with good acidity helping the port to linger nicely on your tongue. I will spill the beans a little bit : this was the best port I had in Portugal, and you will be astounded once you see which other ones I’ve tasted later on… 42€

Just a round of applause, by the way, to Quinta da Pacheca for letting us taste such beautiful and expensive wines on the tour. At other wineries, the better the quality, the more you paid. Not unlogical, and that’s why it makes the Pacheca tasting even more exceptional.

Once we were in Porto for the final leg of our holidays, we tasted a few more port wines.

At Quinta do Noval, on the terrace of their wine shop/bar, on the bank of the river Douro. Great setting to watch the sunset!

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Hey, what is Ronaldo doing here?!

Colheita 2003

A colheita is basically a tawny port from one particular vintage, 2003 in this case. On the label it shows when the wine was bottled, 2018 for this one, which makes this a 15 year old tawny. The oxidation here is also quite clear, but not in a way you’d expect it to be. This was the kind of nose of a wine that is slightly past its peak. Not much, I don’t want to exaggerate, but I think the time has come to drink this Colheita. Rather low acidity as well, probably explained by the hot vintage, which makes it a bit viscous. Not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.

Tawny 10 Years old

More balanced nose than the Colheita, ripe cherries, smooth, not very nutty at this stage. Good port. But what I often saw is that the price of the 20 year old tawny was not exponentially higher. If the 20 year old gives more complexity, what I expect it does, it might be worth spending a bit more.

The last winery we visited was Graham’s, a property of Symington. No tour, just tasting.

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Lot’s of people visiting Graham’s

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18€ per glass…

Tawny 10 Years old

Ripe cherries, the sweetness still quite present, but well balanced. You sense that this the youngest of the tawnies. Very smooth and rather easy-going.

Tawny 20 Years old

A bit more depth here, but it’s still the fruit that draws the attention. Very little nuttiness in comparison to the Pacheca. Good, but you know by now which one I prefer…

Since this was our last visit, and since Graham’s is a big name, I was very curious to taste a top port, so we decided to spend a couple of extra euros (this is an understatement) for the 40 year old tawny and the 1983 Vintage! 18€ each per glass. Tasting portion!

Tawny 40 Years old

This had to be it. The nec plus ultra, the wine that overarches all the others and keeps you silent for a couple of minutes. 1983 is considered a top vintage and we were told that it’s now in a beautiful spot to drink. The nose was definitely complex, with loads of candied fruit, dates, figs, you name it, but also quite a strong caramel aroma, which I found a tiny bit too present. The port was very much like nectar, liquid honey almost, and again little oxidation. Very nice, deep. But I suppose this is a slightly different style than the Pacheca. Different price also… 142€

Vintage Port 1983

Very fine nose, dried raisins, slightly herbal. This makes me think somewhat of a nicely evolved Chateauneuf, quite ripe obviously, but still elegant and persistent. Good balance and very soft. I expected a bit more length perhaps. But still, a very nice vintage. Unfortunately at the same price level of the 40 year old tawny : 142,50€.

The visit to Graham’s was a nice ending of my little port exploration. It gave me an idea of what top ports can offert. But am I now converted to port wine? Well… Hard to say at this point as I noticed that the styles of Pacheca and Graham’s differed considerably. So it would be nice to explore a bit further. Unfortunately, the better quality port wines come at a price (and prices are going up fast it seems), so you will not just buy a couple of dozens just like that. So I’ll start with laying my hands on a Pacheca Tawny 20 Years. Because that was a bottle that I seriously liked! 

 

The perfect girl at Quinta do Piloto

The second winery I visited during my holidays in Portugal was Quinta do Piloto. I was eager to visit another winery in the Setubal region, because it’s here that the grape castelão is the traditional main grape for reds. As you might have read in one my previous posts, my interest in this grape was piqued when I drank Rodrigo Felipe’s Humus Lca, 100% castelão. The region where the grapes are grown is the same as for the sweet Moscatel, but is called Palmela (named after the town), an appellation that allows still whites, rosés and reds.

Quinta do Piloto is a family owned estate. That does not mean, however, that it’s small, as they have have 200 hectares of vineyards. At least, I wouldn’t call that small. My guide, Rita, did not agree, though. The estate used to have 500 hectares before it was divided among the children during the last change of generation. That’s why Rita found 200 hectares small. A question of perspective, I suppose.

The winery is not the most modern. Or as Rita gracefully said : it’s an old winery, but “built according to modern principles”. She referred to the construction of the winery in several levels in order to use gravity to transport the juice of the crushed grapes to the tanks without using pumps.

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Before we started the tour, Rita said she was going to give “a perfect girl” ! I was already looking forward to meeting Scarlett Johanson, but alas… The perfect girl was a shot of half aguardente, the local brandy, representing a strong woman, and half Moscatel de Setubal, representing a sweet and charming girl. The mix of both was “the perfect girl”. I politely took a few sips, but quickly emptied my cup on a moment Rita was not paying attention. Things weren’t meant to be with the perfect girl…

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Preparing the perfect girl

Moving on to the real wines. I had 3 whites and 3 reds :
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Siria 2016

We kicked off the whites with a wine made of the grape Siria. I had never heard of this grape, let alone tasted it. It is also known as Codega in the Douro and Roupeiro in the Alentejo. The nose was particularly fresh, with green apple taking the front stage.  The wine was surprisingly fresh, and could almost make you think you were drinking a muscadet. But it was also extremely light and there was little more going on than the initial freshness. Normally I like such wines, but this one lacked a bit of content.

Roxo 2017

This was not the sweet Moscatel Roxo de Setubal, but a dry version of the same grape. Very aromatic nose, immediately appealing with peach and white flowers. This wine had  more body than the Siria, and a bit more depth. Very playful and fresh. A nice summery wine.

Branco Reserva 2015, DOC Palmela

Very different glass of wine here, a stylistic break really. Yellow plum and pear come out of the glass. This requires a bit more sniffing! An aromatic profile that is completely different than the previous wines, more serious as well. This Branco was quite full, without being heavy. Not an easy wine though. Not something you would just have as an aperitif, but rather a wine that you would drink with a meal. The bacalhau com natas, cod with cream and potatoes, would be a good match if you wanted to pair it with something Portuguese. This wine is made of arinto, antão vaz and siria.

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Touriga Nacional 2016

This varietal wine kicked off the three reds. Touriga Nacional is especially known in the Douro Valley for being the main grape for Port wines, but Portugal, which is a wine country where wines traditionally consist of blends, sees an increase in monovarietal wines and Touriga Nacional is the grape you will most often find for such red wines.
I was afraid I was going to get a heavy and jammy wine, not having had many good experiences with monovarietals of Touriga Nacional. But this one was not heavy at all! The nose was very appealing with blackberry aromas and blackcurrant. The remarkable thing in this wine was the freshness and balance, with an acidic backbone that would prove to be the defining characteristic of all their reds. Lots of fruit, very smooth and velvety. There is also quite a bit of tannin here, but it’s ripe and will soften perfectly with ageing. Very good effort!

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Very different wine, riper than the Touriga, with dark plum in the nose. The freshness kept this wine attractive enough, and ripe tannins gave this a bit of backbone. Probably not a wine that I would recognize as Cabernet if I was served this blind, but not a bad wine.

Tinto Reserva 2014, DOP Palmela

This is the wine I came for, the Castelão, and it did not disappoint me. One sniff was enough to immediately realize that this was a different register. From the attractiveness of the fruit in the previous wines to a more elegant nose with flowery notes and fruit that tends to be more red than black fruit. Nice tension in the wine and precise, yet ripe tannins that guarantee the ageing potential. I like the restraint and the somewhat cool character of this wine. Perhaps I met the perfect girl after all at Quinta do Piloto.

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Bravo Quinta do Piloto!

Bacalhôa Vinhos :art, art and art. And wine…

My first visit to a winery during my holidays in Portugal was to Bacalhôa, located on the peninsula of Setubal, just under Lisbon. Setubal is especially known in Portugal for producing Moscatel, sweet fortified wine. The grape is known in France under the name of Muscat. But there are also still wines being made in the region, either as regional wines, or under the DOP Palmela.

Bacalhoa has much more in their portfolio, however, than regional wines and Moscatel. They have wines from seven different regions of Portugal. The winery was created in 1978 by the family Scoville, but it was José “Joe” Berardo, a businessman/stock trader/art collector, who bought Bacalhôa in 1998 and brought it to its current position of being one of the biggest wine producing companies in Portugal. The roots of Bacalhôa lie in Azeitão, at the Palácio da Bacalhôa, which is where I started the guided tour, together with a dozen or so other tourists. There was a second group doing a tour at the same time, just to give you an indication of the size of this venture and the amount of people it attracts. In Europe wine tourism is still not so developed as in the US for example, so I was even more surprised to see such a machinery at Bacalhôa.

So, the Palace : it dates back to the 15th century and changed hands many times. The first wine was issued in 1978 and you can still buy their first cabernet sauvignon, that was produced in 1979. 5000€ for a 10L bottle will do the trick. If it’s still drinkable is another question. IMG_1797I will save you all the details of who owned the palace (Portuguese kings amongst others), and just share a couple of pictures instead because the palace is really beautiful. It’s impressive how it was renovated by the way. We saw a few pictures of the state it was in at some point, and the difference couldn’t be bigger. It was basically a ruin. With José Berardo being an avid art collector, it’s now not only beautifully renovated, but also full of paintings, statues and other artefacts.

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The poolhouse

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The vineyard behind the palace used for Bacalhôa’s flagship wine

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Co-owners of the Palacio

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I like art. Seriously, I do!

When the visit of the palace was over, I had good hope that we would finally hear something about Bacalhôa’s wines and get a sip as well. Instead of that, we now went to José Berardo’s private art collection, which is 3km further, next to the wineshop. I was on the extended tour…

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Bacalhôa’s art collection

Even though the collection is a perhaps a bit eclectic, there are beautiful pieces there. I particularly enjoyed the art nouveau and deco furniture in the collection. I even got to see original pieces of Victor Horta, the Belgian art nouveau artist. When we then did the room with African art, I really started wondering a bit if I was in a winery or a museum.

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Art

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More art

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Belgian art (Victor Horta)

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More Belgian art! (William Sweetlove)

But then! Finally barrels…IMG_1833Here’s where the Moscatels age. The region of Setubal actually has two different Moscatels, the ordinary one and then there is the Moscatel Roxo, of which there are only 40ha in the region. Bacalhoa has 5 of them. It is a natural mutation of the Moscatel and  is supposed to be sweeter and more concentrated.

We then also got to see the vat room for the still wines, which was very atmospheric, with very little light and azulejos, the typical Portuguese tiles, on the wall.

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Aha! We are in a winery after all…

Luckily we then moved on to the tasting part. As I mentioned, Bacalhôa has a big portfolio, with wines from all over Portugal, but in this tour, you only get to taste three. Luckily our guide was in a good mood and threw in a fourth. Here they are :

Quinta da Bacalhoa 2016, Vinho Regional Peninsula de SetubalIMG_1839This is the estate’s white, made of Sauvignon, Sémillon and Alvarinho. The nose was rather simple, with citrus, and a touch of honey. The wine was round and ripe, despite the use of sauvignon, which normally gives freshness. Unfortunately, not much freshness here and a bit simple on the whole. Price : 16,99€.

Quinta da Garrida, Reserva 2014, DaoIMG_1840A wine from their estate in the Dão, made of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. A rather lactic nose, cherry yoghurt, and very peppery. Again a round wine, with the cherries playing the main role here. Not very complex and lacking depth. This is all about the fruit. Price : 7,49€.

Moscatel de Setubal 2015, DOP Moscatel de SetubalIMG_1842The entry-level Moscatel of Bacalhoa. Very dark in color. The guide explained that they use the must of red grapes to give a bit of color to the wine. The wine is very aromatic, with loads of fennel and aneth, almost a bit like cough syrup. Despite that this is a sweet and fortified wine (17%), this is a pleasantly refreshing, balancing the candied fruit rather well. Good finish, with a bit of caramel lingering on your tongue. Really nice. Especially given the price of 4,99€…

Moscatel Roxo Superior 10 Anos, DOP Moscatel Roxo de SetubalIMG_1838The guide threw in a fourth wine, which was normally not included in the tour. I’m glad she did, because this was clearly from another level. Beautiful and complex nose, with marzipan, spices, honey. Just like in the basic Moscatel, there is a great acidic spinebone in this wine that carries the sweetness of the ripe fruit. The density here is remarkable, with the wine really coating your palate, without becoming gooey. This is a delicious nectar, that nestles on your tongue to stay there very comfortably for a while. Price : 19,99€.

The Moscatel Roxo was a nice ending to a long visit. I didn’t expect the Moscatels to be so attractive. I have tasted several Muscat based fortified wines, from the Languedoc for example, but most came across as sugary and simple. Here they really have more to offer than that, and they are very well made, nicely balanced. I was less impressed by Bacalhôa’s still wines, however. And it’s particularly the white estate wine that raises a few questions in my mind. It’s not very clear to me why you would want to make Sauvignon blanc in a hot region like Setubal. The wine wasn’t bad, but if I want a Sauvignon blanc, then I will look for it in Bordeaux, or the Loire, depending on the style I want.

Anyhow, Bacalhôa should be commended for preserving the patrimony of the region. The Palacio was really beautiful. And for art lovers, there is plenty to revel in. If you go for the wines, do check out the Moscatels. The Roxo was the best Moscatel I had in the region.

Periquita : Portugal’s oldest red wine

Today we were in Sintra, about half an hour from Lisbon. Really beautiful, but make sure you have your hiking shoes on if you go there! Or better, have a « tuktuk » drive you around…

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The colorful walls of the Palacio da Pena, the former royal summer residence in Sintra

When we made a stop to buy some water in a local grocery shop, I saw a small bottle of Periquita 2015, a wine of Jose Maria da Fonseca, one of Portugal’s big wine producing companies, owning more than 30 brands. Curiosity got the better of me and I bought it to try it in the evening with cured meats and cheeses. The main reason why I was interested in this bottle is because it’s mainly produced of Castelao (next to trincadeira and aragones), and I had a good experience with Rodrigo Filipe’s Humus of Castelao, which you can read about in my previous post. Castelao is known to produce wines with a higher than average acidity, and if you have been following my blog for a while, I suppose you know that I like such wines. The other reason I bought that bottle is that I was also a bit curious what the quality is of such a mass produced wine.

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I can be very clear about that : it was better than I expected, and actually a very good price quality ratio! The nose let me believe for a moment that this was going to be a very ripe wine, and rather not my cup of tea, with dried fig, plums, spices, and a hint of tobacco. But the wine was surprisingly fresh, and even quite structured, with sturdy but good tannins. A nice companion also with the cured goat cheese. I paid 4,40€ for the half bottle, so a whole bottle will not make you go bust either.

I’m pleasantly surprised by this Periquita, which was the first red bottled in Portugal (around 1850) according to the winery’s website. And it only strengthens my interest in Castelao. So be warned, there might be more Castelao reviews comings up soon…

Exciting stuff coming out of Portugal

I left on holidays today, yay! And Portugal is my destination. No wine holidays really, but I hope to squeeze in a winery visit or two. Or three… 

Most people will know Portugal for its port wines or for the still reds of the Douro and the Dao. Even though I can appreciate a good port, these are not the wines that I spontaneously look for when buying wine. My mistake probably. Maybe I will try and schedule in a visit of a port winery, we’ll see.

When it comes to Portuguese still reds, I generally find these wines pleasant to drink. These are generally very ripe and fruit-driven wines, great partners for a summer bbq. In Belgium, however, the Portuguese reds that you find in the supermarkets are often budget wines,  priced around 5€ or even less. Not bad per se, but also not the wines you really go looking for either. On top of that, my personal preference goes to wines that are a bit fresher, with a natural tension, higher acidity. The Portuguese wines that are commonly found in Belgium tend to be full bodied, very ripe and a bit too easy going for my personal taste. 

So not much to look forward to, you might think? Well quite the contrary, actually. There are quite a few hidden gems in Portugal. So, in order to get in the mood for my holidays, I did a bit of research and ordered a number of Portuguese wines of which I thought they might please my taste buds. And I found quite a few interesting bottles. Here’s a few recommendations :

Bairrada

If you have not heard of Bairrada before, that’s ok, this is not a region that receives alot of press attention. And that is a pity, really, because the wines from this region deserve to be better known. Why? One word : baga. This is the name of the local grape that is used to make red wine. For long it produced very rustic, tannic wines, but some wine makers have started making wines that are a bit lighter, with a lighter touch of oak, and tannins that do not condemn your wines to the cellar for 20 years. 

Filipa Pato is such a “new style” wine maker, with new style also meaning natural wine, use of amphorae, the whole lot. She is the daughter of Luis Pato, one of the leading names in Bairrada and someone who still makes wines in a slightly more “rustic” style, as I have been able to taste. Filipa Pato has several bagas and I have tasted two of them so far, and both deserved to be mentioned here! 

The first is called Post Quercus 2016, which is Latin for « post oak ». A very clear statement : no oak barrels used for this wine. They used amphorae for this wine, and the wine is made with as little intervention as possible. This gives a rather light, but compelling wine, exuding aromas of iron, cherries, and minerality. This wine has written cool climate all over it. And yes we are in Portugal. But on the Atlantic Coast… and that makes a big difference!

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This is a 50cl bottle!

The second baga of Filipa Pato I tasted was the Territorio Vivo 2015, partly aged in amphorae, partly in old wooden barrels. The nose is a very pretty, very noble and refined, with cherries, leather, and a bit of smoke. The wine is pretty rustic at first and needs some time to open up, but when it does, this wine shows its character. Still young, but great potential. More structured and serious than the Post Quercus, but still very attractive, again very cool climate. This wine can do with a bit of food at this point. A couple of years further cellaring will surely benefit the wine.

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It strikes me that both wines remind me of nebbiolo. The red fruit, the acidity, and above all the structure. It’s hard not to make this comparison. But let’s be honest, there are worse comparisons to be made…

Lisboa

Rodrigo Filipe makes organic wine in the Lisboa region, but did not get the DOP qualification for his Humus Lca 2015. It wasn’t considered typical! So he just bottled it as vinho regional, a regional wine. I surely don’t mind, because this wine is excellent as far as I’m concerned. This is a wine made of castelao, a grape mainly used on the peninsula of Setubal. Here it gives a rather light, but exciting red wine with cherries, raspberry, roses, and a touch of wood in the nose. Quite complex! Again a beautifully fresh wine, that actually makes me think of a very good Beaujolais. Light, juicy, salivating. A wine you just can’t get enough of. Just chill the wine a bit and you will have a delightful glass, also in the summer.

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I forgot to take a picture of the Castelao… This is actually the Tinta barroca, also good!

Douro

Yes, Douro! I enjoy a glass of Douro from time to time. But in general, the ripeness of Douro reds makes me stop after one or two glasses. Not in the case of Luis Seabra! He is the former winemaker of Douro star, Dirk Niepoort, but set up business for himself. And it’s clear why he did that. His Xisto Illimitado 2015 is a very tight and tense red. The dried cherries that playfully whirl out of the glass do not yet give away the surprise. But when you take your first sip, you immediately realize that this is definitely not Douro business as usual. This is mineral, fresh, razor-sharp, and powerful, and yet elegant. Wow, I did not see this coming… Painfully young almost, with very robust tannins leaving their traces, but they are ripe, and make the act of opening this bottle forgivable. Again a wine, by the way, that was not allowed in the DOP qualification because of its lack of typicity… 

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The label is as tight as the wine

It seems that I don’t like typical Portuguese wines! Luckily there are quite a few people in Portugal who dare to defy tradition. They definitely won me over.

Let the holidays begin!

Avoid wine and vinegar. Really?

It’s one of the food-wine pairing wisdoms you will often hear or read : if you want to have a glass of wine with your salad, don’t use vinegar in the salad. Vinegar is said to cause your wine to taste spoiled. Or throw it off balance. This was even one of the things we were taught during our sommelier training.

The thing is : this does not match with my experience. First of all, I cannot eat a salad without a vinegar based dressing. I love the freshness that the vinegar gives to my salad. When it’s summer, you want something refreshing, and just having a splash of olive oil on my salad doesn’t do the trick for me. I need to have that sour kick underneath whatever goodness there is in my summer salad, whether it be ripe tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, you name it. I also like sweet and sour salad dressings, like balsamico vinegar, or vinegar with olive oil and honey, or apple or pear syrup. Plenty of possible combinations there, and they all add a fresh extra layer to your salad. And you know what? There’s plenty of white wines or rosé wines that will work perfectly well with your salad.

When I started the sommelier training we learned the basics of food and wine pairing by combining things such as a green apple with different kinds of white wine, like a fresh sauvignon blanc, a full-bodied chardonnay and a sweet wine. It will probably not come as a surprise that the sauvignon and the apple were the best match. For the very simple reason that both a green apple and a typical sauvignon have high acidity. So they echo each other. The acidity of the sauvignon does not shock you after you just had a piece of green apple. And vice versa. The same goes for fresh goat cheese, which is also high in acidity. It’s for obvious reasons that goat cheese and sauvignon blanc are such an exemplary food-wine pairing. So why would a nice vinaigrette on your salad not work with a fresh white wine?

Today I had a courgette carpaccio with pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, pine and sunflower seeds,  and parsley. The dressing I used was made with olive oil, balsamico vinegar and apple syrup.

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Not only delicious but also pleasing to the eye

I paired it with a lovely chenin blanc from Anjou, in the Loire Valley : the Blanc Ivoire 2016 of Château Soucherie.

IMG_1620I like this wine very much. It has everything I look for in chenin blanc : an almost ethereal minerality that sets the scene for ripe exotic fruit, and even a touch of honey. The ripe aromas of the fruit and the honey contrast with a fresh and zingy mouth feel. There’s plenty of green apple and lemon zest there that beg you to drink this wine in your garden with a nice summer salad. An attractive finish as well, with a touch of wood leaving its print on your tongue.

The wine paired very well with the courgette carpaccio. The dressing of course, but also the pomegranate seeds and the feta cheese offer plenty of elements to echo the freshness of the wine. Nothing offsetting here, no spoiled taste, just summer indulgence…

IMG_1618So don’t hesitate to have a glass of white or rosé with your salad and vinaigrette. Just look for something that’s not too heavy, no oaked chardonnay for example, but something fresh, think sauvignon, chenin, muscadet, albariño, plenty of options. Even unoaked chardonnay will work, if you really wanted to. So go ahead and experiment. And let me now what works for you! Cheers.

Taking gewürztraminer to a higher level

The Alsace uses a concept of “noble varieties” to define which grapes can be used in the areas that are designated as “Grand Cru”. I’ve always wondered what could be meant with “noble” varieties. The grapes that are used to make the highest quality wines, I read everywhere. OK. Riesling is one of those grapes that no one will question, I suppose. But why do the noble varieties in the Alsace include pinot gris and not pinot blanc? Or pinot noir for that matter? And then there is muscat and gewürztraminer, both noble varieties in the Alsace. On the one hand, I’m very happy that there are still regions that want to cultivate the traditional varieties, and that do not massively plant sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. On the other hand, these are not my go-to grapes in general. The grapy character of muscat and the aromas of lychee and rose in gewürztraminer tend to be rather dominant. I like it when a wine invites me to sniff and sniff and sniff again before I even consider having a sip. Then when you do take a sip, the wine sinks in and makes time stop for a couple of seconds. It gives you that whoa-moment that every wine lover wants to experience once every while. I think I have not tasted the right muscats and gewürztraminers until now to experience that. Luckily I recently had a chance to taste the wines of Domaine Lissner…

It was without great expectations that I went to a wine fair in Ghent, called PURr, dedicated to natural and organic wines. I’ve been to a couple of such wine fairs before and had my share of, well let’s say, animal aromas… I don’t mind when they are there a little bit, they can actually add complexity, if you’re open for it… But when it’s too much, it’s just too much, off-putting even. In whites you will then find aromas of apple cider or ashes. It was therefore a nice surprise to taste very fresh and complex wines at the stand of Theo Schloegel of Domaine Lissner. We started off with a muscat that was not grapy at all, and that had a crystal-clear acidic structure. Very refreshing and salivating. It was the gewürztraminer, however, that made me silent for a moment.

IMG_1594This gewürztraminer comes from the Grand Cru Altenberg de Wolxheim. When Theo poured this wine, his tone became somewhat worried. He said : “Please, take your time to taste this wine, at least one full minute!” After he repeated this one or two times more, I was aware that this wine was a) very dear to him, b) not just a quaffer, and c) that he probably has his share of people who come to wine fairs to down as much as possible. He then said : “You should actually drink this wine in ten years time!”. He then repeated once more : “Really, take your time to taste this wine!”

The first sniff at my glass made it clear from the start : this is indeed not “just a gewürztraminer”. No can of lychees in my glass, but a mineral start, followed by orange, exotic fruit such as pineapple, and a bit of curry powder. Nothing overwhelming, rather a subtle, yet intense nose that makes you sniff and sniff again. The first sip revealed a bit of the spiciness that you can have with gewürztraminer, but again very well dosed. The mouth feel was very round and the concentration of the wine was enormous. You could almost chew on this. Definitely no simple summer quaffer. By then, I could perfectly imagine why this wine should be drunk in ten years time! And also why I needed to take my time… Another interesting thing about this wine is that it is completely dry. Gewürztraminer is sometimes made with a bit of residual sugar to make it off-dry. No such thing here. The remarkable consequence of that is that this wine has a whopping 15,5°C alcohol… Luckily well integrated.

As you might expect, this is the kind of wine that invites to eat with it. I matched this wine with rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad commonly found in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s an eclectic mix of pineapple, mango, bean sprouts, toasted peanuts and, in this version, fried tofu. The dressing is a mix of lime zest and juice, oil, sambal oelek and sugar. A very refreshing, tangy salad, yet at the same time lightly sweet and hot. This turned out to be an absolute winner with the gewürztraminer, because the lime and the chilis added a bit of structure to the wine, while the wine beautifully echoed the mango and the pineapple. A great example of how one and one can be three…

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Hit the ro-jak!

So here we are. All of this goes to show that you just need to keep tasting and exploring! Otherwise you miss out on these hidden gems, made by super passionate wine makers, who put their heart and soul in it. And with stunning results…

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Cheers!

I joined the French Winophiles this month, a group of wine bloggers who publish one article a month on one central topic. Please join our chat on Twitter. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of Alsace wine suggestions from the Winophiles :