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 :

 

St Laurent : an alternative for pinot noir?

The last leg of my Austrian tour brings me to another black grape : Sankt Laurent. The jury still seems to be out on the origin of this grape. Some say it is a seedling (raised from seed) of pinot noir, others say it is a crossing of pinot noir and savagnin, a white grape mainly used in the Jura. But apart from the different versions I find, there always seems to be a link with pinot noir. The latter being a wine lover’s favorite, I thought this link would guarantee an interest in St Laurent. It seems I was wrong! When I asked the shopkeeper of Wein&Co in Vienna for St Laurent he said that there is not much demand for it. The numbers on www.austrianwine.com confirm this : the share of St Laurent in the total value of Austrian wine in 2015 was a meagre 1,6%. Zweigelt (which is actually the progeny of blaufränkisch and St Laurent) is the most popular blue grape with 13,8%, just to give you an idea. Since there is so little St Laurent planted, it’s hard to say which region specializes in it, because none really does, although Carnuntum (south-east of Vienna) and the Thermenregion (south of Vienna) seem to be areas where it is more commonly found.

Master of Wine Jan De Clercq told me he does not always sell St Laurent because it is not an easy grape and it sometimes has difficulties to ripen in challenging years. So he only has it on offer in vintages where it ripened well and has no vegetal aromas. Still I was eager to get a taste of St Laurent, remembering a nice 2010 of Weingut Glatzer a few years ago.

St Laurent Selection 2015, Carnuntum, Weingut Netzl

The nose is surprisingly ripe with black cherries, even a bit lactic, and also a whiff of tobacco. The mouthfeel is very round and soft, with the acidity only emerging in the final. The black cherries define this wine, which is not very complex, but it is soft, velvety even. I had this St Laurent in a wine bar and had it with a mixed plate of cold cuts, and that went actually very well together. (12€ on the webshop of Netzl)

St Laurent Classic 2016, Carnuntum, Weingut Grassl

Very expressive wine immediately after opening. The first aroma I get is again something lactic, just like I had in the St Laurent of Netzl and one or two blaufränkisch. It’s pretty volatile here, however, because after a whirl or two it makes place for forest fruit, a bit of raspberry on the background, a hint of minerality and a touch of wood. This opens up beautifully and gives a rather complex and attractive nose. The wine balances between the forest fruit and the markedly higher acidity than in the Netzl St Laurent. Like I have found in so many of the Austrian wines I had, there is again this very exciting tension between ripe fruit and refreshing acidity. Not everyone might fall for this, but I particularly like this style of wine. Just when the wine seems to disappear there is some tobacco and forest fruit that pop up in the final, giving good length here. I bought this for 13€ in Wein&Co. Pretty good value for money, I would say! This is the kind of wine that I could keep sipping on. Until it’s finished…

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One of my favority St Laurents

Sankt Laurent Ried Hochschopf 2015, Traisental, Markus Huber

A St Laurent from a different area than the previous two. Traisental is situated next to Wachau, from where the top grüner veltliners come. A “Ried” in German is a single vineyard. The aromas remind me of the St Laurent of Grassl, without the lactic aromas then, with ripe cherries, raspberry and again a hint of minerality. The start is fruit driven, but quickly all of your attention is drawn to the razor sharp acidity that forms the backbone of this wine. Forest fruit heals your palate in the finale and prepares you for another sip. This wine is definitely not a crowd-pleaser, but it pleases me, although I suspect this might be a difficult wine in a cold vintage… You might also remember the zweigelt rosé of Huber in a previous post. That rosé was also surprisingly fresh and completely built on the acidity rather than the fruit. So it seems that Huber, who was Austrian winemaker of the year in 2015, really goes for freshness. Does that ring a bell, pinot noir lovers?

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An attractive bottle, and an attractive wine. But perhaps not for everyone’s palate.

St Laurent 2015, Burgenland, Andreas Gsellmann

Another one of Austria’s top wine makers. His organic St Laurent is pretty consistent with everything I’ve found so far in the previous wines. Again a lactic, kind of yogurt, aroma that finds its way to your nostrils first. To be gently sent off by a couple of whirls. Sour cherries and tobacco come in its place. The mouth feel is again a playful interaction between the ripeness and roundness of the dark fruit and the zingy acidity that cuts right through it. Again a wine that will appeal to lovers of fresh, elegant wines.

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In case you wonder if such fresh wines actually pair with anything. Well, we experimented with this mediterranean quiche with lamb mince, raisins and pine nuts. And that went surprisingly well, the freshness of the wine counterbalancing the ripe and sweetish flavors of the quiche.

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St Laurent and this lamb quiche : very complimentary!

Conclusions? Well, the style of these St Laurents was very consistent, apart from the first one of Netzl perhaps. A lactic touch here and there, cherries, forest fruit, raspberry sometimes, minerality, and especially the trademark acidity that shakes you up and keeps you focused. Probably not a grape for people who like a bolder style of wine, but is it reasonable to say that St Laurent is an alternative for pinot noir? Actually, I wouldn’t go as far as that. St Laurent clearly has its own style, and that’s good, a grape with an identity. But I do think that pinot noir lovers might also enjoy St Laurent and that it has its place in the cellar next to your burgundies and spätburgunders. To bring a bit of variation in what you drink. Without pulling you too far out of your comfort zone…

So, this is the end! My Austrian tour, I mean. At least for now, because I have to say I liked these wines very much and I definitely want to try more. In fact, I am very curious now what all these grapes can do once they are blended. Most wineries have what they call a “cuvée”, a blend of the different grapes they have. I Vienna I had one such blend : the Opus Eximium 2015 of Gesellmann. It was wonderful, very refined, complex, deep and long. So this one triggered my interest for sure! Another thing I’m curious about is how these wines age. Do they get better? I didn’t find the ones I had disturbingly young, but it would be interesting to explore the evolution of these wines. So, as you see, plenty of reasons to continue my investigations into Austrian wine.

For now, though, auf wiedersehen!

 

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!

Zweigelt : Austrian glug glug?

In France they call glug glug wines the easy-drinking kind of wines, like a simple Beaujolais. Nothing wrong with glug glug wines. A light and refreshing red can be very nice in summer or with a simple meal. In France they also call these vins de bistrot, wines to drink in bar. In France it is very common to just have un ballon de vin, a (round-shaped) glass of wine when you’re out with friends. In many other countries the preferred drink will probably be beer, but bear in mind that in France beer costs more than wine… In Austria zweigelt is a grape that often makes this kind of easy-drinking, pleasant ànd affordable wines. In my recent exploration of Austrian wines, however, I have also come across very different styles of zweigelt, such as a very dry and tight rosé, and a very serious, must-have red. Here’s a taste of zweigelt :

Zweigelt 2015, Umathum, Burgenland

Burgenland is a region in the east of Austria that stretches all along the border with Hungary. Mostly red wine is produced there, and this zweigelt is produced by Umathum, a well-known winery from this region. This zweigelt is a very good example of the easy-drinking fruit-forward wines that this grape produces. It has a attractive smoky nose with a bit of leather and ripe cherries. The ripe fruit is the key element in this wine, no difficult tannins here, and it’s kept sufficiently fresh so it doesn’t get boring after one glass. This is einfach lekker, or simply good! Really the kind of wine that I would be happy with if I got this in a bistrot. Bought this at 12,90€.

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Zweigelt Rosé 2016, Markus Huber

As you might have read before, I am not a big enthusiast of rosé wines. I don’t mind them, but it is rare that there is actually a rosé that will stick with you for longer than the actual time in your glass. So I didn’t expect that much from this rosé. Remembering the ripeness of the Umathum Zweigelt, I expected this to be yet another sweetish rosé. No such thing with this Zweigelt Rosé, quite the contrary actually. The nose was very fresh and mineral, and actually did not have so much fruit. This perfectly could have been the nose of a very fresh white wine. The mouth feel continues in the same vein. There is a racy acidity here that makes this wine extremely tight and fresh. The acidic backbone give this wine structure and length. Absolutely no mediterranean rosé feeling here! I paired this wine with an eggplant oven dish and that was a complete mismatch… This rosé should actually be paired like a very fresh muscadet for example, so rather with a sole or a cod fillet, or sea fruit even. Very surprising!

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Zweigelt Luckenwald Reserve 2015, Nittnaus, Neusiedlersee DAC

And then the biggest surprise still had to come. I grabbed this bottle from a shop in Vienna’s airport, taking as much wine as I could in my suitcase and hand luggage, knowing that Austrian wines are not so commonly found in Belgium. It had a big sticker on it with a 93 score of Falstaff, an Austrian wine magazine. I tend to be rather prudent with medals, scores and what not, so again my expectations were not very high for this airport bottle. Was I wrong! The nose is a feast of all the black fruits you can imagine, very abundant and very chique! There is a cedar wood touch here that gives the wine a luxurious feel, while not overdoing it. From the first sip you feel that this wine is incredibly deep and long. There is a lot of everything here, and yet it is all perfectly controlled. Ripe black fruit, freshness, bold but ripe tannins. Big and structured, and elegant and balanced at the same time. There is only one word for this : impressive! I had no idea that zweigelt was capable of producing such a classy wine. And the best is yet to come : I paid 15,90€ for this at the airport. I think I urgently need to go back to Vienna!

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This wine even looks classy!

Time for Austrian wine : Grüner Veltliner

After my posts about Vienna and Vienna’s wine bars, it’s time to finally talk about Austrian wine! I focussed on the typical Austrian grapes : grüner veltliner, sankt laurent, zweigelt and blaufränkisch. I’m pretty sure Austria produces very taste bud worthy sauvignons, chardonnays and rieslings, but for now I reserved my taste buds for the indigenous grapes. Today I’ll share a couple of grüner veltliners that I liked with you. The white wines made from this grape are described as light, very fresh and often you will read that these wines have an aroma of white pepper. While you will certainly find wines that match this description, I found that grüner veltliner is capable of producing very different styles, from light and fresh to powerful and heady.

Light and floral

The first grüner veltliner is an easy going one that goes easy on your budget as well. It’s the “Sandgrube 2013” of 2016 produced by Winzer Krems, a cooperative and the biggest wine producer of Austria. The wine is very aromatic and an instant pleaser, with loads and loads of floral aromas that jump out the glass. It also has a nice underlying minerality, peach, and a somewhat yeasty nose. The wine has a light sparkle, which is also very typical of grüner veltliner, and that adds to the freshness of this wine. The fizz and the acidity make that this wine is light on its feet despite the ripe aromas of white flowers and peaches. This is pretty dangerous stuff to drink, as it goes down all too easily. Perfect wine for a summer pick-nick. No great complexity or refinement, but a cheerful, easy-going wine. Bought at 11,50€.

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Fresh and elegant

The Zöbinger Terrassen 2016, Kamptal Reserve is quite something else than the previous one. While it also has a light sparkle, the nose is much more refined, with the minerality dominating. The whole profile of the wine can best be described as fine : the aromas, the acidity, the fruit. It’s all very elegant and well-balanced. This clearly stands one step above the easy-going grüner of Winzer Krems. You obviously pay a bit more, but the difference in quality justifies the difference in price. Grab this one if you can find it! Bought at 15,95€.

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Powerful

The most powerful grüner I had was at the Eulennest, a wine bar in Vienna. It’s the Brunntal Reserve 2016 of Kolkmann, Fels am Wagram. The color alone already tells you that this is going to be something completely different. Instead of greenish yellow, the color here is much darker, rather golden yellow. The nose is fuller, riper, with peach, apricot, quince, and something that reminds me of curry. I also have a touch of yeast here like I had in the Sandgrube 13. The wine is very round and full-bodied. This not a grüner that is defined by its freshness anymore, but rather by its power. I like it, but this is definitely not a summer pick-nick kind of wine anymore. Rather something to accompany a salmon fillet, for example. Unfortunately no picture of this wine. I see it’s available in Belgium for 21,30€.

I was very happy with my little tour of grüner veltliner. There’s so much more to discover of course. Some of these grüners can age very well, actually, and then develop honey and quince aromas. I haven’t had an opportunity now to try one that has aged, but will look out for more grüners. They are all-rounders really. They are perfect on a sunny day as a refreshing apéritif, but will also accompany a summer salad, or even a light fish dish. In that way they have a profile that is a bit similar to a classic sauvignon blanc : from very light and easy to fresh and refined and even quite powerful wines. And yet, they have their own touch, that typical fizz, but also the floral and somewhat yeasty aroma’s. Plenty to discover in other words, and in general at reasonable prices. So grab a grüner veltliner if you find one and let me know how you liked it!

Reviewing James Suckling’s The Miracle of Alto Adige

On 22th of March, the Miracle of Alto Adige was released, a documentary produced by James Suckling and his son Jack about this wine region in the north of Italy. On 29th it was released for the general public on his website. I was pretty excited about this documentary and eager to see it. I’m a big fan of audiovisual productions about wine. Probably because I’m not the most avid reader there is, but also because the treshold is lower than reading a thick book. After a long day at work, I find it quite relaxing to watch a documentary or listen to a podcast. On the train for example, since I spend at least two hours per day commuting.

One of the series I really enjoyed watching, already quite a few years ago, was Jancis Robinson’s wine course. When I started getting interested in wine that was the perfect introduction for me to the subject. It was very educative and had a good mix of factual information, beautiful images of the world’s best known wine regions, and interviews with key winemakers. When I heard about James Suckling’s documentary about Alto Adige, I expected something similar. I was particularly happy to see that someone like James Suckling chose a fairly unknown region like Alto Adige. I might be wrong, but I think of him as a critic who has a preference for “big” wines, while I know Alto Adige as a wine region that’s especially known for somewhat lighter and fresh wines. Anyhow, it’s a region that doesn’t get a lot of attention, even among lovers of Italian wines, Tuscany and Piedmont still being the go to regions for many.

The documentary starts off with very impressive footage of the mountainous area. The images, shot by drones and helicopters, are really breathtaking, immediately driving home the point of the “miracle” of Alto Adige. That probably should not come as a surprise, the director of the documentary being James Orr, known for popular Hollywood movies such as Three Men and a Baby, and Sister Act 2. The scenery is the perfect introduction to the winemakers of the region, including top winemakers such as Alois Lageder and Elena Walch, but I was happy to see also a few cooperatives such a Cantina Tramin. They only get a few minutes each to talk about their experiences with wine making in the region. After all, the documentary is only 23 minutes long and that seriously limits the possibilities of what you can show. If you want to showcase 6 wineries, well then there’s not an awful lot of time left to show or tell anything else.

Unfortunately this means that you don’t get to know much about the region in general : where is it situated? what kind of wines are made there? and which grapes are used? Particularly the last question is of interest, I find, because Alto Adige is home to a few indigenous grapes such as the well-known gewürztraminer, but also less well-known, but not less interesting, grapes such as schiava and lagrein. Especially lagrein is a grape that I find interesting. It produces medium-bodied, sometimes floral, but mainly spicy, peppery red wines,  reminiscent of syrah. Alas, no word about lagrein or any wine of the region for that matter. It makes you wonder a bit about the point of this documentary. Perhaps James Suckling has a personal preference for the wines coming from Alto Adige? Well, again, you won’t find out by watching this documentary! James Suckling is not to be seen anywhere. You only hear him saying a few lines at the beginning of the documentary.

I won’t hide that I find this documentary a bit of a missed opportunity. James Suckling uses his popularity to draw the attention to a less-known wine region, such as Alto-Adige, and that’s great. But he does not use his knowledge or tasting experience to share his insights, or to let us in on a few talented but yet undiscovered wine makers for example. Nor do we really learn anything about Alto Adige. Pity…

Well, let me give you at least one lagrein to look out for then! It’s the Staves, a Lagrein Riserva of Weingut Kornell. This is a wine that is defined by its pureness, its elegance and yes, the black pepper that could lead you to northern rhone syrah. In its youth the wood can still dominate the fruit a bit, but I drank the 2012 and the wood is perfectly integrated now. I found this wine just under 30€, so quality also has its price in Alto Adige, but what you get in your glass is definitely worth the money.

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So, if you watch The Miracle of Alto Adige, then treat yourself with a nice peppery lagrein or a flowery schiava. They go well with the beautiful scenery.

A few Taste Bud-worthy Barberas

Barbera is probably not the sexiest grape to write about. It’s not the kind of trophy wine you see on top of wine tasting lists. And yet, it’s one of Italy’s most-planted native grapes. You can find it in many regions but it’s in Piedmont that it shines. Or should I say, tries to shine? I suppose nebbiolo will probably always be the first grape that springs to mind when you think of Piedmont. But nebbiolo and barbera are two very different grapes and produce very different wines. Nebbiolo is late ripening, while barbera is earlier ripening (still later than dolcetto though). Barbera wines are often very dark, while nebbiolo is very transparent. And barbera is low in tannins, while nebbiolo tends to produce very robust and tannic wines. The only thing they have in common is the high acidity. So all in all, despite the fact they are grown in the same area, there is very little common ground.

The reason why I find barbera interesting, however, is because it occupies a place where you don’t find many other grapes. Just think of the usual suspects in red : cabernet sauvignon or franc, merlot, syrah, grenache. Or popular Italian grapes, such as sangiovese, nebbiolo, and montepulciano. None of them really has the same characteristics as barbera. Barbera’s ripe but juicy black cherries, its freshness and virtual absence of tannins make barbera worth investigating. On top of that, barberas are normally not too expensive and can be enjoyed while young. The acidity of the grape is also a grateful partner for tomato based sauces. Think bolognese or puttanesca sauces with pasta. For me that’s comfort food with comfort wine. Perfect for those evenings when you want to treat yourself with a nice meal without having to spend hours in the kitchen…

I focused a bit on barbera in the past few months to explore the grape. In general I found that I prefer the Barbera d’Asti over the Barbera d’Alba. In Alba we are in Barolo territory, so it’s nebbiolo that is in the spotlight here. It’s therefore no wonder that wineries choose to use their best vineyards for nebbiolo, as Barolo can be sold at much higher prices than any barbera. In Asti things are different, because barbera does not have to share the attention with nebbiolo. In general I found that Barbera d’Asti is a bit more full-bodied and with more pronounced acidity than Barbera d’Alba, the latter being a bit warmer, rounder. Of course it’s difficult to generalise not having tasted dozens of barberas from Alba, but the Albas I had were not from obscure unknown wineries, so I suppose they were representive for Alba.

The second conclusion I draw from my experience is that barbera is a winemaker’s grape. Despite my feeling that barberas are best when they are juicy and fresh, some were very modern, with very strong wood aromas, obviously more geared towards an international palate. Those are not bad wines per se, but they loose their unique selling proposition. However, the grape allows it, contrary to  terroir grapes such as nebbiolo or pinot noir, which need very cautious extraction and use of wood.

So here’s a few barbera’s I can recommend…

If you’re looking for good, textbook barbera :

Tre Roveri 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Pico Maccario

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The nose is loaded with ripe dark cherries, yet at the same time it has a spicy freshness. The fruit is evolving towards dried fruit, showing a bit of evolution. The wine is rather full-bodied, but has the typical barbera acidity that keeps this wine fresh, nicely covering the 14% alcohol. Actually, this wine was best on day two, showing more elegance and perfect balance. So no hurry here.

If you want to show off :

Vigna Scarrone 2012 Barbera d’Alba, Vietti

Beautiful, well integrated nose with cherries and a whiff of  chocolate. Elegant and complex, with multiple layers and very long finale! No doubt that barbera transcends its peers here, but it also costs more than 30€. That’s a price point where the competition with premium wines from other grapes starts getting really tough. I know that that is comparing apples and oranges. But in the end, isn’t that what everyone does? Nevertheless, great effort.

Nizza 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, Dacapo

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Picture courtesy of the Associazione dei Produttori del Nizza

This is a barbera from the subzone of Nizza which was in 2011 still a part of the denominazione of Barbera d’Asti, but exists separately as DOCG Nizza since 2014. Before that barbera could still be complemented by 10% other grapes. Now it is 100% barbera.

The wine is a bit evolved and the nose has become a nice bouquet where everything has blended beautifully together. The morello cherries stand out, together with a bit of coffee. The ripe fruit is balanced by a razorsharp acidity that might be over the top for some, but I like it. I had it with ragu alla bolognese and that went very well. But mind you, this is more than just a simple spaghetti wine!

If you’re looking for a good price quality ratio :

Soliter 2016, Barbera d’Asti, Pescaja

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This is a barbera that can be found around 10€ and it gives very good value for money. It’s a modern barbera, the wood is still very noticeable, but then again it’s also a very young wine. Beautiful ripe cherries as well and a hint of black pepper. This is a very smooth wine that makes you grab the bottle as soon as your glass is empty. Dangerous stuff!

Piova 2014, Barbera d’Asti, La Montagnetta

Another pleasant easy-drinking barbera at around 10€. Graphite, black cherries, chocolate, and a hint of rose. Quite ripe and round, and the wood is very present. Good and lively acidity that give this wine freshness. Very modern style, but pleasant wine.

So these a couple of barberas that I liked. I did not post all the barberas I tasted here in order to avoid a too lenghthy post, but I started using Vivino to post my tasting notes there, so if you’re interested in the other barberas I tried, you can find them there if you go to my profile.

Cheers!