Cedars, Mountains and Vines – wines of Lebanon

Standard

Despite never having been to Lebanon, like everyone else this week, Lebanon has been on my mind with scenes of the dreadful explosion in Beirut, and a tasting of some Lebanese wine seemed called for.

Ixsir is one of the newer estates in Lebanon, founded in 2008 by Etienne Debbane, Carlos Ghosn, Gabriel Rivero and Hady Kahale, with their wines launched on the Lebanese market in 2010. I first tasted their red wine at a Lebanese masterclass held by Tim Atkin at Prowein in 2015. The 2011 (35% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Syrah 10% Merlot) had a big plummy fruit with firm tannins and evident new oak.

Lebanon’s Mediterranean coastline runs for 225 kilometres. The fertile coastal plain rises steeply up to mountains running the length of the country, where the famed cedars of Lebanon grow. In 1697, Henry Maundrell climbed up into the mountains, he described where

The noble (cedar] trees grow amongst the snow near the highest part of Lebanon; and are remarkable as well as for their own age and largeness, as for those frequent allusions made to them in the word of God. Here are some of them very old, and of prodigious bulk; and others younger of a smaller size. 

The highest mountains rise up to 3088m in northern Lebanon, sloping down to lower altitudes in the middle before rising again to 2695m in the south The Beqaa valley lies at the northern part of the Great Rift Valley which then runs between the Galilee and Golan mountains (mentioned in the last post on Israeli rosé), through the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth) and down into Africa.

While the actual cellars are based in the north of Lebanon, the vineyards are spread around the country. Different altitudes and soils are used with different varieties to gain complexity. The lowest vineyards Batroun at 400m in the north lie on clay, sand, limestone planted with Syrah, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot. Ainata, at 1800m (limestone and clay) are planted with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Caladoc (Grenache x Malbec). Bechouat is at 1100m (red iron clay, gravel and lime) planted with Arinarnoa (Tannat x Cabernet Sauvignon), Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo. Niha at 1200m (marl and rich limestone) is planted with Viognier and Syrah. Halwa at 1400m in the Bekaa valley (clay and limestone) is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Muscat and Merlot. Jezzine at 950m (chalk, clay, and limestone) is planted with Syrah. As mentioned in previous posts, high altitudes give greater ripeness and thicker skins as well as benefiting from greater freshness and acidity.

High altitude Ixsir vineyards

There are three wine ranges:

  • El Ixsir (red and white wines)
  • Ixsir Grande Reserve (red, white and rosé)
  • Altitudes Ixsir (red, white and rosé)

I had four wines to taste: two white and two red from the El Ixsir range.

El Ixsir 2018 white 70% Viognier 30% Chardonnay on clay and limestone in vineyards at 1200 and 950m. Aged for 12 months in French oak, ⅓ new, ⅓ one fill, ⅓ older. Floral perfumed aromas, delicate but definitely floral. Very careful use of oak – minimal toasting but giving a white nut tannic flip on the finish and some extra dry weight to the structure. Little obvious fruit, slightly closed? Very delicate, gentle lemon acidity, white flowers, fresh almonds, elegant. Opening out in the glass and a spectacular match with fresh sardines baked in white wine and fennel… we just needed a table overlooking the Mediterranean!

El Ixsir 2019 white en primeur Viognier Chardonnay Very perfumed and floral Viognier notes much more evident. Silky rich texture with more evident oak character on the palate and still not yet fully integrated. Again restrained style fruit with long citrus acidity.

Both whites showed high altitude cool climate restraint with the fresh creamy acidity often found on limestone. In a blind tasting, the delicate aromatics made me think of Chardonnay Musqué – an aromatic mutation of Chardonnay. Interestingly there seems to be a link between the Lebanese variety Obaideh and and another Chardonnay mutation Chardonnay Rosé.

El Ixsir 2014 red 14% abv 55% Syrah 35% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot on iron clay and limestone on three vineyard plots at 1800m, 1375m and 1180m aged in French oak (50% new) for 24 months. On the nose, ripe black fruit aromas followed through with tight black cassis fruit and firm tannins. In fact the cassis and blackberry fruit is so intense it feels almost jam=like, except that it is dry and restrained on the finish with notes of black minerality and garrigue. Tannins are fine grained and slightly powdery texture, mouth coating on the finish. Medium + length for acidity, although the fruit stops a little short of the acidity. Ready to drink now but will continue to mature and age for a while. I tried this with a vegetable tomato gratin which did not fight with the wine’s richness and with a freshness which echoed the elegant acidity.

El Ixsir 2019 red en primeur. Lovely menthol black fruit nose. Ripe, rich supple. Much more new world – opulent black fruit, black currants, cassis, with fine silky tannins. Juicy with long fresh acidity. Another 18 months in barrel will tighten up the tannic structure. Quite a powerful fruity wine with lovely freshness.

Deir el Ahmar

#iloverocknrosé will be hosting an Instagram live tasting of Lebanese rosé on Sunday 16th August – see rocknrose.wine.

Israeli Rosé Evolution

Standard

Eighteen years ago, in May 2002, at a dinner in London, I met Israeli winemaker Eli Ben Zaken from Domaine du Castel, and I was impressed by his wines, grown on the Judaean Hills. Looking back at my tasting notes at that vertical tasting of vintages throughout the 1990s, it was possible to see how his wines had evolved.

I did not know much about Israeli wine until January 2015, when I was able to spend ten days touring round Israeli vineyards. With an image in many foreign markets for only producing sweet religious wines, it came as a shock to taste fresh whites and serious dry red wines and to learn about the enormous advances in the quality of wine being produced. The four main vineyards – Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights and Teperberg – control 70% of the local market and wine exports, and there are about fifty commercial wineries.

Rosés were not so visible on my 2015 visit. I learnt that in the 1970s and 1980s, Grenache rosé was a big brand, a deep-coloured, semi-dry, verging on semi-sweet, wine. By the 1990s, with the start of the boutique winery boom, tastes began to change and wine making improved. Victor Schoenfeld, a UC Davis graduate, arrived at the Golan Heights Winery in 1991 and helped pioneer a wine making revolution in Israel. However, it was not until around 2007 that rosé started, in a small way, to be taken seriously, even if only as a simple light, fresh, summer wine.

By 2017 when I was researching my book Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution, a growing number of rosés were appearing. The majority were increasingly lighter in colour and structure compared to the heavier, sometimes off-dry traditional style. A wide range of varieties is used, including Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Malbec, Marselan, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah, Viognier and Zinfandel. As production increases, some winemakers are looking at more complex styles, with a few ageing in oak. The styles are extremely diverse, as each producer makes rosé in his own style, searching for the best rosé to suit terroir and varieties and an Israeli rosé style is still evolving.

An Israeli rosé even made it to my selection for premium rosés for Decanter On-Line May 2019.

HaNadiv Rosé 2018, Bar Maor, Made with 100% Marselan (a Cabernet Sauvignon x Grenache cross), the wine has attractive ripe raspberry red fruit which develops into rich red fruits with tropical notes as it opens out in the glass. A creamy structure with a chalky mineral backbone and a hint of tannin on the finish. Long fresh acidity and well-balanced structure.

Although there are no regional appellations in Israel, and wine can be blended from around the country, there are three regions which stand out as being successful at producing high quality wines, with their focus on higher elevations (from 500 to 1,200 metres)

  1. Judaean Hills
  2. Golan Heights
  3. The Upper Galilee

For every elevation increase of 100 meters, temperature decreases by 0.6°C with a corresponding increase of one percent Ultraviolet radiation. This leads to thicker skins and greater concentration of flavour. Higher altitude vineyards usually have a larger diurnal temperature variation (a large difference in day/night temperature). During the day the grape accrues carbohydrates via photosynthesis in the leaves, then at night during respiration the vine borrows back from the berry some of these stores. The lower the night-time temperature, the less the vine needs to borrow during respiration – resulting in more intensity in the grapes. [See also post on Rioja Rosados with Altitude]

The following are just a small representative of the Israeli rosés available, tasted in July 2020, showing some of the diversity and the encouraging evolution of more serious rosés.

The Judaean Hills

This region is the home to The Judaean Hills Quartet of four wineries: Tzora Winery with Israel’s first Master of Wine, Eran Pick as winemaker, Domaine du Castel, Sphera (which specialises in white wines) and Flam Winery. The Judean Hills wine region lies between the Mediterranean Sea and Jerusalem. The central coastal plain south east of Tel Aviv, 40-50km away, leads to the rolling hills of the Judean Foothills. After the town of Beit Shemesh, the elevations rise sharply and continue to rise until Jerusalem.

I continued my friendship with Eli, even if only at fleeting moments at various wine fairs and chatting on Facebook. My son, a mere toddler when they first met, has even spent time at the vineyard in the Judaean Hills.

Meeting for lunch on a cold wet December day in Paris

Eli’s estate, Domaine du Castel, is located in the Jerusalem Hills. He already had a rosé made from a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, from plots not used for red wine. The grapes were harvested early to retain acidity, minimum skin contact and fermented in tank at a low temperature, but already in 2016 Eli mentioned he was thinking about an oaked rosé.

“The idea of barrelled rosé was intriguing me. In November 2018 I visited Château d’Esclans [in Provence] and I was very lucky to meet again, and unfortunately for the last time, my friend Patrick Léon. It was a very long and comprehensive visit that included lunch at the château with Sasha Lichine. Patrick was very frank and volunteered a lot of information and we tasted all the wines including Garrus. So this is my inspiration…”

Eli made the 2018 from a blend of Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre (although for the 2019 is considering replacing Carignan with Grenache), from good vineyards.

The Razi’el vineyards

There is still some question over the optimum time and maturity for the harvest. The wine is fermented in demi-muids barrels at a low controlled temperature, blended and then aged in barrels for 6 months. Only 1,700 bottles were made for the 2018 vintage, with more planned for 2019.,

This month I was able to taste the first vintage of the oaked rosé, Razi’el, and the latest vintage Rosé du Castel. Eli asked me to be honest in my comments. So, as with many rosés sent to me for tasting, I chilled them in the fridge, and took them out half an hour before tasting. Both wines seemed lacking in fruit and charm. Disappointed, I put them to one side and then tasted a second time a few days later at a warmer room temperature but still cool. Having been opened a few days, the effect was similar to the aeration gained from decanting and they tasted excellent. What an enormous difference!

This is an important lesson. Serious rosé should not be served as a chilled light refreshing swimming pool rosé, but treated with the respect normally given to red wines.

Notes below are from the second tasting.

Rosé du Castel 2019 60% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe creamy acidity, red berry fruit, good redcurrant acidity supplemented by a long mineral core. Overall, impression is of lots of ripe strawberry and cherry fruit, almost voluptuous ripeness, with the firm mineral and slight tannin finish restraining and giving backbone. Serious weight.

Razi’el 2019 50% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre, 25% Carignan. Creamy, white peach, intense white fruit, raw hazelnuts. New oak is still very much there, giving very firm structure and a slight tannic finish. The ripe fruit gives weight countered by very fresh acidity stretching back on the palate and exploding with a discrete burst of juicy raspberries. Still very young – this rosé will certainly continue to involve and improve over the next 2 to 3 years. A serious gastronomic rosé worthy of its inspiration.

The Golan Heights

This is the coldest region in Israel. The vineyards on this volcanic plateau rise from 400m to 1200m and there is enough snow for skiing in the winter.

Golan Heights Winery Victor Schoenfeld is the head winemaker here.

Mount Hermon 2019 Syrah, Tempranillo, Tinto Cao, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. 12.5% abv. Salmon pink. Soft creamy ripe raspberry and strawberry fruit with long, red currant acidity and mineral core and dry finish. Pleasant easy drinking

Yarden 2019 Tinto Cão. Salmon pink Creamy fruit with sour red berry acidity with hints of bitter almonds. Long acidity and phenolic finish. As the wine warmed up it opened out to reveal delicious fruit structure and was delicious with food.

To find out more about the Yarden Tinto Cão, it will be presented on #iloverocknrosé instagram live on Sunday 9 August 17.30 CET on my Instagram account elizabeth.gabaymw. For more details see the website rocknrose.wine

Yarden Brut 2013 66% Chardonnay and 34% Pinot Noir grown in the cool northern part of the region. Ageing sur lees for five years. Pale onion skin colour with fine bubbles. Evident rosé character with red fruit and cherry character, long mineral fresh acid structure with hints of richness and autolysis.

Upper Galilee

Galil Mountain Winery in the Upper Galilee, from vineyards between 420 to 800m makes the following two rosés.

Galil Mountain Rosé 2019 57% Sangiovese, 33% Syrah 10% Grenache. 13.5% abv. Dark coral pink. Red fruit and roses. Very pretty, floral, ripe cherries and red fruit balanced by a vibrant sour red currant. A small percentage of saignée has created a rosé which would appeal to red wine drinkers and has enough body and structure to go with food.

Yiron 2019 67% Grenache 30% Syrah 3% Viognier. Shell pink, creamy broad mouthed southern French style. Creamy white peach fruit with Syrah giving a black fruit inner core for structure. Hints of saffron spice, fresh red currant acidity. Very good, classic. Great for summer drinking.

 

With so much going on with development of new styles of Israeli rosés, I think maybe it is time to return and do a rosé tour.

Austrian rosé: The hills are alive with the taste of rosé

Standard

A few years ago, Austrian rosé was little known, just mean acidic Schilchers from Styria (related to the schillers of Germany), or heavier styles, a by-product of bigger red wines. In the past ten years, rosé production has grown, with peak consumption in the summer, often drunk with soda water. The most common variety is Zweigelt (a St Laurent x Blaufränkisch blend), alone or in a blend, as well as Blaufränkisch and Cabernet, also found in Hungarian, Slovakian and Czech rosés.

While Austrian rosé sales may have grown a little slower than surrounding countries, both quality and creativity have leapt ahead. Their good acidity, ripe fruit, ageing potential, and overall quality, results in some very serious wines. Austrian MW, Andreas Wickhoff explains that the rise of biodynamics and the “slow wine” movement in Austria has led to rosés with a touch more colour, extract, tannin structure, low/no SO2 levels, with more diverse styles, and creativity in wine making, contributing to some exciting and innovative rosés.

I tasted 80 rosés, which, unless otherwise stated, were from 2018. As I tasted, I divided them into the following groups.

Pale pink to blanc de noir

This style made up the biggest category, reflecting the current international trend for very pale rosé. Closer to white wine in style with creamy, white peach fruit and fresh berry acidity. Good examples were from Anton Waldschütz’s‘Hof’; Geyerhof (2017); Durnberg’s ‘Cool Climate’ Falkenstein; Jurtschitsch Langenlois (all Zweigelt) and, Stift Göttweig’s Messwein all from Niederösterreich. Artisan WinesMerlot Reserve (2017) Burgenland, is a classic blanc de noir with black fruit and a hint of salinity.

Taking this style a little further, were some more intense, complex and weighty rosés, presented in dark bottles (paleness evidently not their selling feature). Petershof from Weingut Christ, Wien has wild berry acidity, firm mineral, structure finishing with zippy freshness and a long saline finish; Johannes Gebeshuber’s Querfeldein, Thermenregion has elegant sour and sweet cherry fruit with salt and white almonds, fresh minerality and long saline acidity and Theresa Haider’s Pink, a serious, powerful wine with white nuts, wild berries, firm structure and long mouth-watering finish.

Red berry, mineral and saline

Similar in style, but with more red fruit, these rosés formed another group. Bernhard Ott’s Rosalie from Wagram, full of ripe, red berries tempered by a dry, saline finish, steely, almost mouth-puckering acidity and a mineral austerity. Johannes Trapl, Niederösterreich has two rosés in this section. His classic has vibrant sour redcurrants and cherries, firm minerality and mouth-watering, crunchy acidity. His No added nonsense is smooth and silky with intense sweet and sour cherry fruit, with hints of almonds backed by a long fresh mineral core and vibrant acidity.

Johannes Zillinger has three rosés, two here, and one more full-bodied. Velue Cabernet, a serious rosé for red wine lovers with red berry fruit, hints of leather and savoury spice, high acidity, austere, mineral structure and a hint of almond tannin on the finish. His Revolution Pink Solera, with whole berries fermented in amphora, has ripe strawberries, cherries and wild hedgerow fruit with smooth, creamy texture balanced by a mineral core and chewy acidity.

Domäne Wachau Rosé Federspiel (Zweigelt) Wachau, is fragrant with ripe red berries and blue flowers, creamy, silky texture, a hint of savoury spice, long blue mineral structure and crisp red berry acidity. Schödl Loidesthal‘s Rosengarten (Pinot Noir) has sun-kissed silky cherry fruit, a vibrant acidity and saline finish. Rabl’s, Rosé Celestia (Zweigelt) has opulent cherry, raspberry and redcurrant fruit forming a weighty, structured intensity, lifted by piercing acidity and fine-boned minerality.

Full-bodied fruit

The next group has less saline minerality, more obvious fruit fullness and is interesting because they also share some vinification techniques such as spontaneous fermentation.

These first three, from Burgenland, share an intense ripe berry fruit. Umathum’s Rosa has opulent, weighty full-bodied fruit perfectly balanced by fresh acidity and a saline mineral restraint.

Franz Weninger’s Rózsa Petsovits, on the Austro-Hungarian border, has intense full-bodied, ripe sour red cherries, redcurrants, spice, with hints of blue flower minerality. Mouth-watering with refreshingly sour fruit. Heidi Schröck’s Biscaya (9 varieties aged in acacia) was full of ripe juicy cranberries and dried fruit, with dry, savoury notes, vibrating acidity and a long saline finish.

With great balance of ripeness and acidity, Domaine Wachau’s 1805 Reserve (Pinot Noir and Zweigelt) uses spontaneous fermentation in 500l barrels. Pretty vanillin oak aromas emphasise the slightly floral character; the beautifully integrated oak gives extra weight to the ripe berry and cherry fruit, with mouth-watering acidity and a saline mineral finish. Zillinger’s Numen (St Laurent unfiltered), is a pale ruby red with dark rich fruit, black cherries, red berries, leather, Christmas spice and fresh acidity. This may not be everyone’s definition of a rosé, but I love it.

Summer drinking

Fresh and fruity summer rosés included some of the few from the 2019 vintage. From Burgenland, Tinhof’s Blaufränkisch is a fruit bowl of blackberry, mulberry and creamy peach fruit with fresh, zippy acidity and a restrained dry finish; Höpler’s Rosé Celestia is delicate and creamy, with fresh cherry fruit, floral notes, hints of spice and fresh acidity and Prieler’s Rosé vom Stein has soft ripe cherry and red berry fruit, delicate minerality and long fresh acidity.

From Niederösterreich, Ingrid Groiss’s Cuvée Rot is quite joyous with intense red berry fruit, crunchy acidity and a whisper of minerality; Gottfried Mittelbach’s Klassik Zweigelt has cherry and raspberry jam and sour red berries and vibrant acidity and Winzer Krems’s Sandgrube 13 (Zweigelt 2019) is full of cherries, redcurrants and fresh crisp acidity.

Sparkling rosés

Diversity continues in the sparkling rosés, from the gentle, creamy cherry fruit of Felsner’s Frizzanteto more serious traditional method fizz. Feiler-Artinger’s Sekt has crisp red fruit, floral notes, fine mineral acidity and a saline finish. Bründelmayer’s Brut shows age with evident autolysis, wild red berries, tart, crisp acidity and minerality. Kracher’s Brut has pretty creamy ripe black cherries and fresh redcurrants with slightly leafy acidity, while Erich & Walter Polz’s 2012 Brut has elegant creamy cherry fruit, some autolysis and a long austere mineral finish.

This diversity means there is no single Austrian Rosé style, which for me makes them so exciting.

******

Based on an article first published by The Buyer 2 February 2020, iIn a tasting organised for me by Austrian Wine.

Authentic Wines of Slovakia

Standard

First published in The Buyer in March 2020

Very little is known of Slovakian wine in the West, although that looks set to change, argues Elizabeth Gabay MW, who describes it as one of the most exciting wine regions she is working with. The once-marginal climate led to a whole slew of crossed grape varieties including Alibernet, Dunaj, Devín and Svojsen being developed by vine breeders who have since achieved cult status for their work. Many of the wines are ‘on-trend’ featuring skin contact, high acidity, purity of fruit and experimentation with fermentation and ageing vessels. In this insightful piece Gabay looks at the producers of ‘authentic’ Slovakian wine, the varieties they are working with and highlights the wines that she thinks are worth seeking out.

“‘Authentic’ wines from Slovakia with diverse fruit character and vibrant acidity, serve as ambassadors of quality, regional character and a blend of modernity and historic traditions,” writes Gabay.

A surge in new estates and young winemakers, creating wines which are uniquely Slovakian, with both international varieties and a large range of crossed varieties, is a breath of fresh air in a market looking for something new, and makes Slovakia one of the most exciting regions I work with. Reductive winemaking with purity of fruit and high acidity are a hallmark of modern Slovakian wine, with some experimentation, harking back to pre-Communist traditions, including spontaneous fermentation, skin contact, different fermentation and ageing vessels.

Slovakia lies in the heart of Central Europe, bordered by Hungary to the south, Austria and the Czech Republic to the west, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east. Until recent climate changes, its southern vineyards around 48N were regarded as the northernmost limit for winemaking in Europe with the northern Tatra mountain ranges being too cold. This northerly climate has resulted in strong German influences, such as the expression of potential alcohol levels in “fermentable sugar” and labels indicating a wine’s sweetness. Vintage variation, especially for reds is important.

This marginal climate led to a number of crossed varieties being developed throughout central and eastern Europe. Red crosses used include Alibernet (Alicante Bouchet x Cabernet Sauvignon), Dunaj ((Muscat Bouschet x Oporto) x St. Laurent); Hron and Nitra (both crossings of Abouriou Noir x Castets) and André (Frankovka Modrá x St Laurent). Amongst the whites, Devín (Red Traminer x red-white Veltliner), Svojsen ((Pinot Gris x FeteascăAlbă) x Riesling), Milia (Müller Thurgau x Traminer), Breslava ((Traminer x Chasselas) x Santa Maria d’Alcantara), and Noria (Ezerjó x Traminer). Vine breeders, in particular Dorota Pospíšilová in Slovakia, has hallowed status.

International varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir (particularly successful), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and Central European varieties such as Frankovka Modrá (Blaufränkisch), Svätovavrinecké (St Laurent), Modrý Portugal (Portugieser), Grüner Veltliner (Veltlínské zelené), Welschriesling, Furmint, Lipovina (Hárslevelü), and Traminer.

The Small Carpathians Wine Region (blue); the South Slovak Wine Region (pink); the Nitra Wine Region (green); the Central Slovak Wine Region (brown); the East Slovak Wine Region (yellow) and Tokaj (red).

The country is divided into six regions, although these are administrative rather than terroir-based and, outside of Tokaj, grapes from all regions can be blended together. Regional character is developing.

The Small Carpathian hills, running south-east to north-west north of Bratislava, are based on granite with outcrops of decomposed schist and phyllite, resulting in greater minerality, zesty acidity and a floral note to the wines. Karpatska Perla, one of the largest estates, has almost forty different labels. Single vineyard wines show diversity with Grüner Veltliner (Ingle: zesty lime and white fruit and Noviny: rich cream, honey and nuts), Rieslings and Pinot Noir.

Neighbouring estate, the family owned Terra Parna works with similar varieties. Its elegant Portugieser, a variety present in the region since the 17thcentury, has structural inky black fruit and saline finish. Vladimir Magula’s new estate makes natural wines, including an apple-crumble rich Olaszrizling with zesty acidity; a spontaneous ferment Portugieser and Frankovka Modrá and Unplugged Frankovka Modrá (cranberry, spice, blue flower minerality and silky tannins). Martin Pomfya new, rapidly growing estate has a mix of varieties, with whites sourced in the Small Carpathians (including a delicious creamy Chardonnay) and reds from the south. Local variety wines include Breslava (fragrant floral fruit and long citrus acidity) and Red Traminer (intriguing Christmas spice, crystallised ginger and Seville marmalade).

Oenologist Edita Ďurčová works with several different wineries to make a classic Pinot Noir red, Pinot Theresian, an aromatic white from Devín and a fruity Nitria-based rosé in her Vinifera range.

Slobodne, on the border between the Small Carpathians and Nitra, currently converting to biodynamic, has a large range of wines: Eggstasy of the Alpinist, a skin-contact Riesling in amphora (long and fresh with an orange tang); Cutis Deviner, an orange wine of Devín and Traminer (aromatic with saline texture) and Pyramid, a Gewürztraminer in qveri, (citrus-fresh, creamy ginger.)

The gentle hills of South Slovakia (level with Burgenland) slope down to the Danube, on largely calcareous clay, loess and alluvial soils, producing riper, rounder fruit. Winemaker Miroslav Petrech at Chateau Béla, (owned by Egon Müller), makes elegant lime and floral dry Riesling, reminiscent of Mosel and rich late-harvest wines.

Nearby Chateau Rúbaň produces similar Rieslings, aromatic wines from Svojsen (fresh citrus and herbal freshness); Noria (off-dry, violets and peaches) and Milia (honeysuckle and lemon). Brothers Lukás and Matús Berta of Vinárstvo Berta have a floral Moravian Muscat (Muscat Ottonel x Prachtraube); a tropical rich Pinot Gris and Rúbaňand Berta both have leafy floral Alibernet’s with cassis fruit and bitter chocolate tannins. Tomáš Sládeček at Velkeer, has an intense Riesling (peach and lime cordial) and an orange wine made with Pálava (Czech crossing: Red Traminer x Müller-Thurgau) and Traminer full of orange flower perfume, Seville marmalade and saline finish. The Kasnyik brothers have skin-contact Riesling and Welschriesling (honeyed rich dried fruit), a concentrated floral, peach and cream Grüner Veltliner, an orange Riesling and a stylish Pinot Noir. Bott Frigyes, an established biodynamic producer, has a wide range of varieties including a lime and mineral Riesling and an intense black cherry Pinot Noir.

The Central region includes the south-facing slopes of the extinct volcano, Sitno, with the old gold-mining city of Banská Štiavnicain its crater. Brano Nichta produces Dunaj from some of the oldest plantings in the country. On volcanic soils, the minerality and structure carry Dunaj’s floral notes and show ability to age. Natural winemaker Marek Uhnák of Čajkov makes a pink skin-contact Pinot Gris (creamy red fruit and complex notes of orange and spice) and a partial skin-contact Devín which retains the variety’s aromatics with extra mineral structure.

Tokaj in south eastern Slovakia is a geological extension of the Hungarian region, using the same varieties Furmint, Lipovina and Yellow Muscat, and measures the botrytis berries with puttonyos. Ostrozovic and Tokaj & Co produce dark gold, rich marmalade and Christmas pudding style wines. Macik has moved towards more reductive style Tokaj with fresh fruit.

In the context of the wider, more commercial Slovakian production, these ‘authentic’ wines, with diverse fruit character and vibrant acidity, (only available in relatively small quantities, RRP ranging €8 to €30), serve as ambassadors of quality, regional character and a blend of modernity and historic traditions.

 

Exploring Negroamaro Rosati in Salento

Standard

In the past year, I had two short trips to Salento in the Puglian region of Italy, organised by Terre del Negroamaro, an organisation launched in 2008 to increase awareness of wines made from this classic Italian grape.

During my first visit in August 2018, I spent two days tasting and talking about the rosés, including a vertical tasting going back to 1976 and, I admit, my brief knowledge of Puglian rosé had resulted in only a small reference in my book on rosé wine, for which I was teased by Davide Gangi of Vinoways, who compered the event.

Continue reading

A Sweet New Year!

Standard

In the spirit of the day, here are my wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy, peaceful, prosperous and sweet New Year with some favourite sweet wines from 2019.

It somehow seems very appropriate to be thinking of sweet wines for a new year. While looking forward to the future, these sweet wines are all firmly rooted in our vinous history. These sweet wines also span a wide range of vintages with memories of past years – perfect for the years to come!

tokaj bottles

Tokaj bottles in the cellar

 

Continue reading

Canary Pink

Standard

Looking at the Canary Islands on the map, their location, just off the coast of north west Africa seems an unlikely place to find fresh rosé wine! In March 2019 I had a short visit to Tenerife and La Palma and was able to taste some of the rosés (as well as some splendid red, white, fortified and vino de tea wines)

Locator Map of Canary Islands

Continue reading

Stockinger barrels at Domaine de Trevallon

Standard

This article was originally published in Nomacorc website magazine in the summer 2016, following my three day visit to Trevallon in April 2016. A cold Mistral was blowing for most of that week, so hiding in the cellar some days, despite the noise, was a respite.

Sometimes the most unexpected vineyard visits appear from nowhere. While researching my article on new trends in premium rosés for Nomacorc, I discussed the use of Stockinger barrels with Stockinger’s European agent Thomas Teibert of Domaine de l’Horizon. Thomas asked if I were interested in going to Domaine de Trevallon at the end of April to see a rare event – the installation of five 3400l barrels by Franz Stockinger, head of coopers Fassbinderei Stockinger from Waidhofen-an-der-Ybbs in central Austria. Trevallon and its wines has always been one of my favourite estates, and the opportunity to observe this unique occasion, to see the domaine from a different perspective and taste the results, was one not to be missed.

View of Domaine de Trevallon on the western edge of Les Alpilles

Domaine de Trevallon, one of the most famous Provence estates, is located on the north western slopes of the small Alpilles mountain range overlooking the Rhone valley and not far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The domaine’s artistic origins still dominate most articles: The romantic holiday home of Parisian artists, friends of Picasso, their son Eloi Dürrbach’s creation of the wine domaine, planting Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings from Château Vignelaure, whose owner Georges Brunet had brought cuttings from his Bordeaux estate Château la Lagune in the 1960s. The quality of Dürrbach’s wines made Trevallon an early flagship for Provence, though Trevallon is not included in the Les Baux de Provence appellation due to use of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Syrah.

Continue reading

Rioja Rosados with Altitude

Standard

‘Two is company, three is a crowd’. Tasting one or two fresh, high altitude rosados from Rioja is interesting; tasting three or four, and a theme starts to appear.  While Rioja may be best known for its red wines, its rosado revolution is showing great promise.

Continue reading

Rosés of IGP Pays d’Oc 2018 vintage

Standard

First published in The Buyer June 2019

Created in 1987 IGP Pays d’Oc has become regarded as the New World winemaking region of France, with single varietal wines its calling card. But the denomination is not always associated with rosé, especially when its near neighbours are the three appellations of Provence, which is odd given that it produces almost half a million hectolitres every year. In a ‘tasting special’ The Buyer asked leading rosé expert Elizabeth Gabay MW to taste-test 97 Pays d’Oc rosé, to pick out the best according to varietal and style and advise us on which ones we should put our money behind.

Pleasantly surprised by the range and quality on offer Gabay concludes “Chapeau to IGP Pays d’Oc Rosé!”

IGP Pays d’Oc may not be a denomination which springs to mind when considering French rosé, but with 23% of French rosé production 1.6 million hl in 2018 (compared to 1.1 million hl from the three combined Provence appellations of Côtes de Provence, Coteaux Varois and Coteaux d’Aix), it is certainly a market sector worth considering.

Following Languedoc winemaker Robert Skalli’s studies in California in the late 1970s, he became convinced that the climate in Languedoc was similar to that of California, and that the Languedoc could be the New World region of France and could produce quality single varietal wines. The denomination was created in 1987. Today, Florence Barthès, the director of the IGP Pays d’Oc says that single varieties are the DNA of the denomination with over 90% of wines being labelled as varietals (in reality this means at least 85% of the wine is made from a single variety). Amongst the rosés, Grenache remains the single most popular variety, closely followed by Cinsault then Syrah.

Faced with the daunting task of tasting 97 IGP Pays d’Oc rosés, I was expecting a degree of uniformity and fashionable restrained dryness. ‘Find ten or twelve examples you like’, I was told. Instead, I was bowled over by both the quality and range of styles on offer, and struggled to limit my selection. My favourites included varietal expression, with some more joyful, others more serious and complex. There may not be a single style, but there is certainly lots to discover.

Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris

Grenache, which can include both Noir and Gris versions, came in a number of different styles. I particularly liked the version by Domaine de l’Herbe Sainte [not in UK] with its classic salmon pink colour followed by an explosion of wild raspberry fruit on aroma and palate, ripe creamy body, a fine mineral core and long mouthwatering acidity. Gerard Bertrand’s Naturae had intense strawberry jam fruit with vibrant, intense acidity that left the mouth tingling with fresh fruit.

The pale Gris rosés of Languedoc have more akin with Provence rosé. Les Vignobles Foncalieu’s Le Versant [Inverarity Morton and Hennings Wine, about £9.99 retail] was a pale shell pink with creamy white peach and apricot fruit, round, rich, creamy texture and an overall lush softness backed by long vibrant acidity. Les Jamelles Clair de Gris [not in UK] made with Grenache Gris had intense raspberry, whte peach fruit, fresh pear, white flowers and lemon and lime acidity – a lovely wine for a summers evening in the garden – softer and riper than a white wine, with fresh vibrant elegance. Calmel & Joseph’s Villa Blanche [Daniel Lambert Wines, around £11.99 retail] 60% Grenache Gris and 40% Grenache Noir was a more structual style with creamy white peach fruit, redcurrants, wild bramble and fraise de bois fruit. A serious dry rosé with nice complexity and intensity. Les Collines du Bourdic’s Eclat de Gris [available through Sommelier Consultant] had delicate creamy peach and apricot fruit with hints of wild berry tartness and lime acidity.

Continue reading