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!

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 :

 

Blaufränkisch : the Austrian parade horse

 

If zweigelt is regarded as the « easier » red Austrian wine, then blaufränkisch is seen as the grape with most potential. The parade horse, as the Austrian magazine Falstaff calls it. In general it produces wines that are medium to full-bodied, quite aromatic, spicy, and have a good acidic backbone. It’s mainly produced in Burgenland, which is in the east of Austria, most quality wines coming from those parts of the country. There are three different appellations or DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus – who invented this name?!) in Burgenland where blaufränkisch is either the only or the dominant grape for red wines.

Leithaberg is the most northern one, followed by Mittelburgenland, and then Eisenberg in the south. Burgenland lies at the west side of the Pannonian plain, a big basin in Central Europe, which means that the climate is decidedly continental, so hot summers and cold winters.

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The red area is Burgenland (map from http://www.austrianwine.com)

Leithaberg is the most northern DAC of the three DACs in Burgenland where blaufränkisch dominates and has a soil that’s rich in slate (= schiefer) and limestone. This is supposed to produce elegant and mineral wines with a good acidic structure. The two wines below are from that region but don’t actually carry the DAC classification. Not sure why though.

Blaufränkisch Fölligberg 2014, Weingut Leberl

The first aroma I have is rather lactic, like forest fruit yogurt. Then some peppernut, tobacco, a bit of smoke, and black cherries. The wine is fresh and quite structured with bold but ripe tannins. Ends with a chocolate bitter. A noble wine, but it deserves further cellaring. Contrary to what you’d expect from Leithaberg, no minerality here though. The vineyard is situated on a hill called Fölligberg, where there is a lot of clay. Maybe this explains the more powerful character of this wine.

Blaufränkisch vom Kalk 2015, Weingut Altenburger

Very refined and noble aromas coming from the glass. Blond tobacco, fresh cherries, and yes, a bit of minerality! These aromas remind me somewhat of a good Beaujolais, or even Burgundy. The wine starts fresh and ends fresh, and is nicely structured by the fine tannins. Very elegant, very fresh. This wine reflects the reputation of Leithaberg. Markus Altenburger is specialized in blaufränkisch and has a hands-off approach, not using selected yeasts for example. I would definitely like to try more from this winery!

Mittelburgenland is, quite logically as the name suggests, in the middle of Burgenland… It has a heavier, loamy soal. Add to that a minimum of 300 days of sunshine and only 600mm rainfall per year and you have a recipe for richer, more concentrated wines. 

Blaufränkisch von Lehm 2016, Gesellmann

Ripe forest fruit, cedar wood, a minty touch. The wine is very smooth, not overly powerful, rather medium-bodied with good acidity. Goes down very easily, pleasant to drink.

Blaufrankisch 7301, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer 2015.

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Probably meant as a quaffer, but I enjoyed this very much!

The nose seduces with its black fruit, underwood, and a touch of tobacco. This wine is very light on its feet, joyful an yet nicely structured. The finish is carried by the refreshing acidity. This is lovely! While this is an entry level wine, it is better than average and makes you pour another glass as soon as the first is finished. Great drinking pleasure. One of my personal favorites.

Blaufränkisch 2015 Mittelburgenland DAC Gold Reserve, Weingut K + K Kirnbauer

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This is the premium blaufränkisch of the same winery as the 7301. It has a very luxurious and luscious nose with ripe red fruit, cedar wood, it really jumps out of the glass. The wine is ripe, has a lot of fruit, kept in balance by the refreshing acidity. Black chocolate in the background gives it more depth. This is very approachable as it is now, no need to put this wine away. I cannot help thinking, though, that this wine is a bit “made” and perhaps a tad too easy for its price (+/-25€). Still, I can drink this anytime…

Eisenberg is the furthest down south of the Burgenland DACs. The landscape here is more hilly and slate dominates the soil on the hills. At the foot of the hills there is more ferrous loam, giving more powerful wines while the wines of the hills should be more elegant and mineral.

Blaufränkisch Ried Weinberg 2015, Eisenberg DAC Reserve, Kopfensteiner

This wine does not come from one of the hills but a plateau with heavy loam soil. Cherry liquor, cedar wood, a bit of caramel. The mouth feel is warm and the tannins are rather harsh. The high acidity gives freshness, but this is not my favorite blaufränkisch to be honest.

Food pairing

With all these wines of blaufränkisch I was curious what would match well with them. Duck was a pairing I found on several websites, so off I went to buy duck fillet, or magret de canard.

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Perfectly cooked duck, even if I say so myself!

I made the duck with a mash of celeriac and sautéed greens. The duck had a very powerful, earthy taste. We had the blaufränkisch of Gesellmann and Kopfensteiner with it :

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Even though the wines went relatively well with the duck, I somehow felt that a heavier wine would have been better. I rarely drink Cahors (= malbec) but here I could perfectly picture a good glass of black wine with my duck. The combination with the Kopfensteiner was a perfect illustration, however, of how red meat can completely absorb the tannins of a wine. This blaufränkisch had quite harsh tannins that made the wine not so pleasant without food. With the duck, though, all tannins were gone…

So, conclusion? I thoroughly enjoyed these wines of blaufränkisch. They are hardly ever heavy. Even if they are concentrated and structured, most of them have beautiful fruit and great mouthwatering acidity that make these wines approachable and digestible. In fact, with the trend away from very concentrated oak-driven wines, I am convinced there is a market for blaufränkisch. Another argument for blaufränkisch is that the qualit of the entry-level wines is already quite good, so if you spend 10-15€ on a blaufränkisch, chances are high that you will have a wine that is very pleasant and offers a good price quality ratio. Chances of finding that in Burgundy, for example, very low… Speaking of which, I am not going to pretend that blaufränkisch is an alternative for Burgundy pinot noir, but there were a few that made me think of a fruit-forward pinot noir, like the ones they make in New-Zealand for example. You might find it a bit hard to find these wines though. Even though there are quite a few shops where you will find a grüner veltliner or a zweigelt, if you want to buy a selection of blaufränkisch, you will have to revert to webshops. Or be lucky that you have a specialized shop in your neighborhood. But if you find a bottle, give it a try, and as always, let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

Never waste a good climate change – Burgundy

One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Climate change is a challenge in many wine regions, but creating opportunities in others. Take Burgundy, for example. 2015 was hailed as a great year by many critics. Very good weather conditions resulting in high quality grapes and wine. At least if you like very rich pinots with loads of ripe fruit. Many of the 2015s I tasted at the wine fair of independent vignerons recently in Lille, France, were very generous, ripe and had moderate acidity levels. Of course, this is my personal preference, but I look more for Burgundies with freshness, fresh fruit, good acidity, tension and elegance. The contrast was immense when I tasted the wines of Domaine Jacob at the same wine fair. They do not put the wines in barrels for very long and were therefore capable of already bringing the 2016s to the fair. Well, they were vibrant! And that’s how I like them. To be totally honest, you don’t find the cream of the Burgundy crop at this wine fair so it would be unfair to judge the quality of the vintage just on the Burgundies I’ve tasted there. But still, it gave me a general idea. And it strengthened my belief that the great vintages according to the wine press, do not always produce the wines that I like.

All of this made me wonder about the effects of the hot weather on the wines coming from the plateau of the much cooler Hautes-Côtes in Burgundy. These vineyards are located on top of the Côte d’Or escarpment, the east-facing hills where you find all the illustrious vineyards of the Côtes de Nuits and the Côtes de Beaune. The Hautes-Côtes are higher than the Côtes, as the name suggests, and are not protected from the winds coming from the west. The difference in temperature can be a whopping 5°C… No wonder it’s difficult to have ripe grapes here. Except perhaps in warmer vintages such as 2015? Curiosity got the better of me, and I bought the Hautes-Côtes de Beane “Les Perrières” from Denis Carré, a winemaker based in Meloisey, a village in the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune. I had tried this wine before but from a cooler vintage (2013) and it failed to convince me then, so I was eager to see what the 2015 had to offer :

The nose offers plenty of typical pinot fruit. “Ça pinote”, like the French say. Cherries are singing the tune, with raspberries doing the backing vocals. There is something in the nose that I would like to call “wild”, perhaps a touch of brett even? But it’s not of the sort that overwhelms. It actually adds an intriguing element to the nose. There’s also some herbs on the background, and a whiff of old barrel. The wine kicks off with the cherries and the raspberries but there’s good acidity here that creates a ripe-sour contrast that I like. It lacks a bit of depth and length, but it definitely gives typical pinot drinking pleasure.

 Not too bad for 14,95€, is it? The hierarchy is obviously respected : no great complexity here. But then again, this is a pleasant wine that pinot lovers will like for its typicity and its pretensionless every day drinking character.

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Conclusion : it’s early days to start putting all your money on the Hautes-Côtes in Burgundy, but if temperatures keep rising, the Hautes-Côtes may have good stuff for us in store. New rendez-vous in 20 years or so…

Boutenac : balance in the Languedoc

The Languedoc was known for a long time as the wine lake of France. The region was the main source of very simple wine, often Vin de France. Luckily, things have changed considerably. Winemakers have become aware of the fact that quality is important if they want to gain respect and sell their wines at a higher price. The evolution in the Languedoc to a tiered system with the AOC Languedoc as the basis, with communal AOCs in the middle and Crus at the top of the pyramid, is one of the things that shows how the region is focusing more and more on quality. Things are changing at a fast pace : Terrasses du Larzac was promoted to cru status in 2014, so was La Clape in 2015, and Pic St Loup was the latest to join in 2017. Earlier sub-regions to have become Languedoc crus were Roquebrun and Berlou (Saint-Chinian), La Livinière (Minervois) and Boutenac (Corbières).

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Continue reading “Boutenac : balance in the Languedoc”

If it makes you happy… #Winophiles

…it must be Sud-Ouest! There are two reasons why I love Sud-Ouest, and why their wines do make me happy. First of all, if you’re a bit of a winegeek like me, you will feel very much like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory if you see the multitude of indigenous grapes that the Sud-Ouest has. Fer Servadou, braucol, duras, abouriou, gros manseng, petit courbu, you name it! Sometimes you will find that there’s a good reason why such grapes never  achieve stardom, and that’s simply because they do not produce very interesting wines… That, however, is not the case in the Sud-Ouest. I already wrote here about a hidden gem in Gaillac, made of braucol and duras. And I strongly recommend you to try out this food wine pairing. The reason why you will not find many of these wines in your typical wine shop is simply because there’s not alot being made. Take an appellation such as Marcillac. I once enjoyed a great Marcillac from Lionel Osmin. But all in all they only have 185 hectares of vineyard. Compare that to the 117.000 hectares of vineyard in the whole of Bordeaux and you’ll be able to put things in perspective. Continue reading “If it makes you happy… #Winophiles”