Feeds:
Posts
Comments

One of the more embarrassing episodes of my life involves an infatuation with musical theater. And so, when I walked out of my apartment the other day to find the whole city suddenly in bloom, I couldn’t help but to think of the song below:

Note, of course, that the song is all about JUNE busting out all over because, well, sadly, there’s usually not too much to sing and dance about til then.

New Yorkers love to gripe that Spring is not a season that affords much celebration in the city. Too often, she is much too coy a lover – getting all of our hopes up with a string of beautiful days, warm and sunny, and then taking it all away without warning and leaving us shivering in our light jackets against a cruelly chilly wind and cloud-darkened sky.

Personally, I have vivid memories of railing against Spring’s maliciciously late appearance last year – of wandering past barely budded branches in April and feeling cheated by the season’s pathetic showing of scrawny daffodils and bone-chilling nights.

So, this year, when Spring, in her star turn as seductress, whirled into the city early, sending trees into ecstatic blooms, coaxing tulips out of the ground with wanton promises, and inciting a riot of hyacinths, I couldn’t help but wonder what she was up to.

And then I got over it. Because, heck, we’ve got a real, true, swear-to-goodness Spring in the city this year, and that’s just swell.

This sudden and unexpected turn in the seasons also got me to thinking about just how important the seasons are in wine making.

Just a couple months ago, I took a trip to the Finger Lakes of upstate New York, a place where the seasons and its inevitable variations have a tremendous impact on the region’s wines.

“A lot of people say that the terroir up here is the weather and that defines our vintage more so than in many regions that may have a climate that is fairly stable,” said Peter Becraft, an assistant winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Company (and one of my favorite producers in the region).  “On the east coast you’re dealing with constantly changing weather pattern – some years it is much colder and some year it’s much warmer, some years we get more rain than we need and some years we don’t have enough!”

The view from the Chardonnay Vineyard at Dr. Frank's

In fact, at the very first lunch we sat down to on our whirlwind trip through the region, Tricia Renshaw, a winemaker at Fox Run Vineyards, told us a horror story about waiting a few days too long to harvest the season’s Gewurztraminer and losing the whole crop to bad weather.

The Finger Lakes is quietly but steadily gaining recognition as one of the best wine-producing regions in the U.S., a reputation that is staked largely on the region’s wonderful dry Rieslings.

The region has a long and storied past in wine making – but one that mostly involves producing cheap bulk wine or sweet wines from native North American grape varieties called Vinifera Labrusca (grapes like Concord, Niagara, Catawba, and Delaware). Its worth noting, too, that those sweet wines are still doing just fine, thank you, in the region and, in many cases,  are the work horse wines that pay the bills and allow many of the region’s winemakers to produce their more serious wines.

The Chardonnay Vineyards at Dr. Frank's

It wasn’t until the 1960’s, that an ambitious Ukranian named Dr. Konstantin Frank introduced European varieties to the region and incited a “Vinifera Revolution” that would totally change the direction of wine production in the region.

Ok, you’re thinking, So they’ve been at this since the 1960’s and I still haven’t heard of, let alone tried, a wine from the Finger Lakes? Doesn’t that mean the region had, like, a ten year start on California’s serious wine making efforts? So why have I gotten sloshed on Napa Chardonnay before I’ve even had a sip of Finger Lake Riesling?

And this, dear reader, is an excellent question. Let’s start by addressing the fact that there is just much much more land in California that is amenable to successful viticulture.

In the Finger Lakes, vineyards can only be successfully cultivated on a very small portion of land – the hills directly above the region’s namesake deep lakes. Those lakes are essential to grape production in the region because they are very large and extremely deep. In fact, one of those lakes, Seneca Lake, is so deep that the US Navy tests its submarines inside of it. True story. The depth of those lakes is important because it makes it impossible for the lakes to freeze over in winter and causes them to act as natural weather moderators – keeping the immediately surrounding hillsides warm enough through the region’s harsh winters for vines to stay alive, and cool enough in the summer time to keep them from getting fried.

The view from Lamoreaux Landing

Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, has said it very eloquently indeed.

” Our geography in New York State really limits what we can do,” Trezise told me. “California is so much larger as a state and has so much more acreage within the state that is conducive to growing grapes than we do here in New York […] we’re never going to be a major quantity player in the world.”

In essence,  there’s just not much wine from the Finger Lakes to go around. And because the region’s output and quality is so dependent on the weather, one bad vintage can mean even less wine than the year before or after.

However, it’s important to note that quality is not one of the reasons you’ve never tried a wine from the Finger Lakes. Ask me why you haven’t tried a wine from Mississippi, Kentucky, or Wisconsin and I’m gonna tell you it’s because they’re not very good. Not so, my friends, with the Finger Lakes. Perhaps a few years or a decade ago, this could have been a valid argument but, these days, the Finger Lakes is producing some top quality wines, indeed.

What do I mean by top quality in relation to the wide world of wine?

“We see the opportunity to position The Finger Lakes as North America’s preeminent cold climate region,” said Bob Madill, Chair of the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. “In terms of quality, we truly believe that we can say that we are producing some of the great Riesling of the world -right there along with Alcace [France] and even Mosel [Germany].”

Vineyards at Fox Run Vineyards

I’m the first to admit I’m nothing close to any kind of aficionado on the subject of Riesling. Prior to tasting my way through the Finger Lakes’ offerings, I usually scrunched up my nose and took a pass on the wine – thinking of it mostly as a sweetish wine that I had no taste for. But, what I tasted in the Finger Lakes, for the most part, impressed me. These were some tasty tasty wines.

The winemakers in the region are proud of what they’re doing, too. They believe that there is a true regional style that is emerging and I, for one, can agree. There’s a lot of minerality in these Rieslings that makes them interesting and particularly enjoyable. There’s also razor-sharp acidity (that, in fact, after three days of imbibing caused actual physical pain to my palate), gorgeous perfume, and breathtaking balance.

Obviously, Riesling isn’t the only grape being grown in the region – winemakers are also using Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Gruner Veltliner on the white side. As for the reds, many in the wine world are eager to see what the region does with Pinot Noir and winemakers are also playing with Cabernet Franc, Blaufrankisch (known as Lemberger in the region), Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais) and Merlot. There are also some great sparkling wines coming out of the region. The sparklers would be my recommendation after the Rieslings.

So, in short, if you can get your hands on some Finger Lakes Riesling to celebrate this glorious Spring, go for it. They’re lovely  – and their effusive aromatics are often of a floral nature that makes them a perfect pairing for the season.

As for the reds, in this humble wine blogger’s opinion there’s still some work to be done. Of course, I understand that this is never going to be a region to turn to for a big bold red wine – the style is leaner, brighter, and fresher than that of, say, California. But, personally, I found most (and not all – there are some red recommendations below!) of the red wines I tasted green, twiggy, and tannic. However, I will say that there is some serious promise in the regional blend of Blaufrankisch and Cab. Franc – these, I think are the best bet for the region’s reds – at least for now.

I’ve rounded up my 19 top wines from my Finger Lakes trip below. I’ve thrown in a couple of dessert and ice wines, too, because after this trip, I’m just smitten (if you haven’t already, check out the guest post I wrote for Mutineer Magazine’s blog on the subject!). Now get away from the computer screen and go dance around outside – Spring is busting out all over!

19 Finger Lakes Wines of Note

Pleasant Valley Wine “Millennium” Sparkling Wine – Warm biscuity nose with a hint of cider. Light and appley with a touch of vanilla at the end.

Tierce Dry Riesling 2008 – A toasty nose of roasted nuts, marshmallow, and a whiff of ripe pear – on the palate, there is sparkling acidity, and flavors of ripe tropical fruits that are reminiscent of white gummy bears.

Wagner Vineyards Semi-Dry Riesling 2009 – Softer nose of unripe strawberries with a touch of funk around the edge. Still, however, the wine is very juicy and more fruit on the palate than the nose. Racy acidity.

Anthony Road 2009 Riesling – Tar, pear, and ripe bananas on the nose. Super juicy with nice soft but strong acid, lychee, tropical flavors, this is Riesling is soft, warm and delicious.

Hosmer Riesling 2010 -Lots of fruit on the nose, smells sweet – almost like baked fruits. Luscious and juicy

Eagle Crest Vineyards semi-dry Riesling 2010 – A gorgeous perfume that mingles floral scents with ripe peaches and green mango. Lean fruit on the palate with a brisk minerally finish, brisk acidity.

Dr. Frank’s Rkatsiteli2009 – The nose is musky and melony with a touch of bubblegum. This is a wine made from an obscure grape that is juicy, long, full-bodied, and soft but still very brisk. Floral on the palate, too.

Dr. Frank’s 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling– Tropical fruit on the nose with a hint of peach. Sweet and bright.

Treleaven Chardonnay 2010 – Toasty oak, roasted almonds, and petrol. Rich and buttery with notes of toasty oak and hazelnuts. Nice and full.

Glenora Pinot Blanc 2011– Green apples, peaches, and grass on the nose. A soft and fleshy wine with zingy acidity and flavors of ripe pears.

Wagner Vineyards Semi-Dry Gewürtztraminer 2010 – Floral nose of roses and peonies and some lychee with a whiff of nutmeg. The luscious perfume carries through to the palate with a pleasantly oily texture.  The weight of the sugar in the wine is completely balanced by the acid – making this an old-world style Gewurz with a gorgeous nose that actually translates from the nose to the palate.

Lamoreaux Landing ’76 West 2007  – Cocoa and leather on the nose, nice acid, juicy red fruit, soft tannin and a rush of vanilla on the finish.

Lakewood Lemberger 2009 – Smokey on the nose, with classic notes of black pepper, strawberries, and a slight gamey quality that is intriguing. Tingling acidity, warm, spicy with notes of currents. Fuller to mid palate with chewy rather astringent tannin.

Anthony Road Lemberger/Cabernet Franc Blend 2010 – Floral nose complimented by the scent of baked blueberries. Slight sweet vanilla on the palate, candied violets, high acidity, and soft tannin.

Standing Stone Vineyards Chardonnay Ice Wine 2008 – Smells like a caramel apple. Soft, lush, and juicy.

Martini Reinhardt 2008 Trockenbaren – On the nose, the scent of ripe pink ladies, mango, frangipani all mingle together to make an intoxicating perfume that smells a little bit like Hawaii. Cocoa butter and sunscreen. Bright, juicy, rich, and warm.

Sheldrake Point Riesling Ice Wine 2008 – Baked apricots, fresh almonds on the nose brings to mind the smell of a Danish. On the palate, it’s really bright, juicy with flavors of white peaches, and even a hint of peach gummy candies. Sweet without being cloying at all.

Lakewood Vineyards 2010 Glaciovinum – This super affordable desert wine is made with a grape called Delaware that some claim is native to North America and others argue is the result of some sexy time between European and native varieties. Either way, Delaware yields some delicious desert wine – I likened the nose to cherry Jolly Ranchers but fancier reviewers call it “sweet tangerine.” Bright, juicy, and just bursting with sweet exotic flavor, this desert wine is quaffable delight.

Treleaven Eis Wine 2008 Late Harvest Riesling – Peaches, marmalade, and a streak of caramel make up the nose of this luscious iced wine. The late harvest grapes are frozen after they’ve been picked, which excludes it from being a true ice wine, but its no less delectable. Rich and juicy, this dessert wine has stunning acidity and perfect balance.

       I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, “Jeez, Caroline, can’t you use the one most obvious holiday as an excuse to talk about something other than wine?” And I hear ya, I do. I could totally use St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to talk about craft beers or local whiskeys made from micro-distilleries just a subway ride away. But then I’d be just like everyone else, wouldn’t I?

            So instead, I’m going to use the holiday as a good reason to talk about the wines of “Green Spain.” “Uugghh. Spain? On St. Patrick’s Day. Really???” Yep. Really. For a couple reasons.

A beauty shot of - nope! Not Ireland! Green Spain! Image used under Creative Commons via talliskeeton (Flickr)

The first is that this region of northern Spain is referred to as Green Spain because the area’s combination of ocean influences and rain contribute to lush growth that is reminiscent of Great Britain, Normandy, and – you guessed it – Ireland! Also, a nifty little fact about the area is that it was settled by the Celts nearly 3,000 years ago – the same band of merry marauders who would settle Great Britain and – wait for it – Ireland! One of the Celt’s most enduring legacies in the area is the survival of the Galician language – often spoken and taught in schools of the region right along side Spanish. So in a way, the wines of Green Spain are the closest the Irish have come to producing world-class wine – a fact that makes it the perfect subject for a St. Patrick’s Day post (curious to see what I wrote about last year? Click away).

In particular, I want to focus on the regions of Rías Baixas (pronounced ree-ass bye-shass), known for its white wines made from the grape Albariño; Valdeorras, an interesting up-and-coming region producing wine from an indigenous grape called Godello; and Bierzo, a region where one of my favorite wines, Mencía, is made.

An Albarino vineyard in Rias Biaxas. Image used under Creative Commons via jacilluch (Flickr)

Rías Baixas, as a wine region, really didn’t come of age until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when winemakers of the region were introduced to modern technologies such as stainless steel tanks. From there, the quality of the region’s white wines absolutely took off and were soon recognized as among the best white wines in Spain. Albariño is a grape that makes a wine with a soft and sometimes creamy texture yet high acidity (making it an ideal companion for sea food) and flavors that can range from zippy citrus, peach and apricot to floral and sweet almond. Some of the best Albariño is also quite affordable – ranging in price from $10-15 a bottle.

Vines planted along the Ribera Sil. Image via Jose Pastor Selections

Valdeorras is further inland than Rías Baixas and Godello is planted in vineyards on the banks of the river Sil.  Godello is an ancient grape with a long storied past in the region, but was only revived and revisited by winemakers in the 1970’s. Godello  can be made in two distinct styles; young and barrel-aged. Young Godellos (Joven) are fermented in stainless steel and taste pure and minerally with lemony acidity and notes of wildflowers. Many winemakers are also experimenting with oak and making Godellos aged in barrels; these wines are more honeyed, with notes of vanilla and the stony quality of the grape coming through on the finish.

Godello grapes just hangin' out, gettin' ripe. Image used under Creative Commons via Asier Sarasua (Flickr)

Bierzo, outfitted with a perfect microclimate for viniculture, is home to the lovely Mencía. Mencía makes a wine that is traditionally lighter in body with a distinctly floral nose, flavors of bright ripe cherries and cranberries, and often a streak of herbs or anise. Just like with Godello, winemakers in the region have become bolder with their use of oak barrels for aging the wine, and its not hard to find a bottle imbued with toasty oak and spice, bigger in body than your average Mencía, but that still captures the grape’s exotic floral notes and lively fruit.

Old gnarly Mencia vines planted on slopes in the Ribeira Sacra, a region, along with Bierzo, that makes some of the best Mencia. Image via Jose Pastor Selections.

So, have I convinced you that the wines of Green Spain are worthy of your attention this St. Patrick’s day? I’ve listed some bottles below that fall below the $25 price point (except for one Mencía) for your perusing pleasure. Cheers!

Albariño:

Martin Codax ($10-15): A great introduction to Albariño, Martin Codax’s examples have gorgeous aromatics, full body, crisp acidity, and notes of pear, passion fruit, and apple on the palate. Clean, bright, and straightforward, you can’t go wrong.

Rosalia de Castro ($11): The Paco & Lola Albariño from this producer offers quite a different take on the grape, but one that is no less delightful. Herbacious and floral rather than fruit-driven, this is a super fresh wine. Full, crisp, and with a persistent finish, this wine would be great with sushi.

Adega Eidos ($22): This producer makes Albariño that is very terroir-driven, usually showing intense minerality that can range from stony to briny. Balanced by bright notes of lemon and flowers, these Albariños are complex and lengthy – great wines to pair with seafood.

Godello:

Bodega Del Abad ($10-16): This is a Godello from Bierzo, rather than Valdeorro (which are, unfortunately, pretty hard to come by stateside). Made in the young style and fermented in stainless steel, this Godello is minerally and spicy with bright notes of grapefruit and green apple. Super fresh but still fairly full-bodied and lengthy, it is a great example of Godello Joven.

A Tapada ($20-$24) From Valdeorro, this Godello is made much more in the new barrique style. Waxy, firm, and full in body, with notes of citrus and flowers, this creamy Godello has a slightly nutty character, too.

Mencía:

Benaza Mencía ($10-15): I’ve written about this super wallet-friendly Mencía before, so its no secret that its one of my faves. Light, earthy, and with a tartness that brings to mind cranberries, it also has wonderful balance and a dry finish that makes it go well with food.

Luna Beberide ($12.99): A more medium-bodied Mencía that spends some time in oak -giving it soft tannins and a touch of smoke and vanilla. This producer’s Mencías have consistently made numerous “bang for your buck” lists, and with good reason. It’s a thinker’s wine that evolves in the glass.

Guimaro ($15): If you love Cru Beaujolais as much as I do (and that ain’t no secret), then this is a great Mencía for your introduction to the grape. Violets, cherries, and some slightly smoky, earthy qualities all make this light-to-medium bodied wine delightful.

Gancedo ($19-25): A thoroughly modern Mencía, made with plenty of exposure to oak, this is a full-force wine. On the nose, notes of blackberry, liquorice, and stones lead into a wine that tastes of dark fruit and chocolate.

Descendientes de J. Palacios Petalos ($23): This is one of the most widely available bottles of Mencía in NYC. I see it all the time, so I know it’s fairly accessible. A floral nose of roses with some pink peppercorns, bright and earthy, plush and silky, this is a pretty decent price, too, for such an elegant expression of the grape.

Raul Perez Ultreia San Sacques ($30): Raul Perez is a groundbreaking winemaker in the region. Not only does he produce complex, intense wines that redefine everything you thought you knew about Mencía, but he also works with a number of other winemakers in the region as a consultant. This bottle is his most accessibly priced and a wonderful introduction to Perez – his wines can cost upwards of $90.

Interested in spending this rainy NYC weekend indoors strolling through one of the city’s largest and most expansive wine tastings? This weekend is the New York Wine Expo and, although it starts tonight, there’s still time to get your ticket!

Why bother? Because for $85 tonight (6-10 pm) or $95 tomorrow (2-6pm) you can taste as many wines as you want (or can – drunkies, I’m lookin’ at you) from ALL.OVER.THE.WORLD. Never tried a wine from Portugal? Interested in tasting your way through Italy from north to south? How about a trip around France’s most famed wine regions? Maybe you just want an opportunity to learn or pick up some tips…It’s all possible.

I’ll be there! And I’ll be tweeting the whole thing live – from the word on the latest trends, to insights from winemakers and drinkers alike, and any surprisingly stupendous sips I encounter along the way. Definitely tune in and follow me on twitter (@forgetburgundy) if you don’t already – I predict that as the night goes on and I get more wine in me, things will start to get interesting.

For more information, go the event’s website: http://www.wine-expos.com/Wine/NY/

Biodynamic Old Carignan Vines at Chateau Maris

Natural, Organic, Biodynamic – oh my! Sometimes trying to navigate the shelves of a wine store sure can make you feel like Dorothy in the woods. And I’m not gonna lie – I’ve definitely met my share of curmudgeonly wine shop owners who could stand their own in a witch-off with that famous green-hued cackler.

Understanding the difference between these three environmentally friendly labels isn’t even really enough – there’s a huge debate among people in the wine industry about whether or not these labels make any sort of a difference to the wine itself.

But we’ll get to that. First, let’s tackle each of these terms to understand what, exactly, they mean:

            Organic: A wine that is labeled “organic” means it is produced only using chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other treatments that fall within the parameters of that country’s “organic” guidelines. Different countries have different standards and allow for different practices – but most require a wine producer to meet the standards set out by that government and to pay for a license that allows them to call their wine “organic.” Organic wines can be misleading when consumers assume that “organic” means “without chemicals.” In the USA, organic actually allows for a wide variety of chemical sprays and powders, however, products, if used, must be derived from natural sources and not synthetically manufactured. Organic also becomes a problem when winemakers are using environmentally sound practices that don’t fall within the government’s guidelines – in fact, often they are more “organic” but because they’re not following the rules, they don’t get the label. There are also many small producers that practice organic farming but don’t want to or can’t afford to pay for the license and have to forego it.

Biodynamic: Biodynamic wines are made using the principles of Biodynamic Agriculture, which emphasizes the relationships between all living things in a vineyard and visualizes it as a self-sustaining system. Biodynamic farming has much in common with organic farming in that it excludes the use of artificial and synthetic chemicals and follows guidelines set by a local certification agency. However, biodynamics takes its practices further, with its emphasis on sustainability, and also reliance upon various fermented herbal and mineral preparations, often buried in cow horns, the use of animals instead of machines for labor, and the use of an astronomical (and often lunar) sowing and planting calendar. Many detractors of Biodynamics have focused on the more wacky practices – such as burying cow horns, crystals, and planting based on a celestial calendar.

Natural: So here’s where things get tricky. There is no governing body or association that has set guidelines and presented a series of practices a winemaker must use for his wine to be labeled Natural.  If a wine calls itself natural, that could mean that the wine was made without any intervention – no yeast inoculations, no sulfites added, no fertlizers or chemicals in the vineyard that weren’t heaven sent – nada, zip, zilch. The problem with this approach, however well-intentioned, is that quite often, these wines are highly volatile. They end up refermenting in the bottle (because something wiggled in and started to grow) or they’re horribly oxidized (exposed to oxygen). One of the biggest selling points for many natural wines is that it’s made without sulfides – compounds that have become the scapegoat for every wine drinker who ever got a headache after a glass of wine. Yes, there are winemakers – usually large or industrial-scale – who pour sulfides into their wine like there’s no tomorrow. And that can be a problem. However, sulfides are naturally occurring in wine and have been used in wine production for centuries. So, really, sulfides are not the enemy. Many of the most successful natural winemakers are the ones who understand that wine needs guidance – it needs sulfides, it needs fermentation to be controlled, and the whole process needs to be very clean. Which brings us back to the question of what Natural means exactly? Let’s come back to that in a bit.

What the wine world has to say

            Over the past few weeks I have spent a fair amount of time talking to various peeps in the biz about the whole Natural Wine Movement and also tasting my way through a pretty sizeable sample of natural wines.

One of the people I spent some time with is Jenny Lefcourt, one half of Jenny & Francois Selections, a company that imports and distributes

Jenny Lefcourt, of Jenny & Francois Selections

natural wines. Lefcourt discovered natural wines while living in Paris, where she says she drank a lot of wine and found herself drawn to wines made from small producers using natural winemaking techniques.

“There was a freshness to these wines,” said Lefcourt. “They were alive and complex.”

After many visits to Paris wine bars and vineyards throughout France, all paths led to wine instead of academia and Lefcourt started Jenny & Francois Selections in 1999 with her partner, Francois Ecot.

For Lefcourt, natural wine is made with the least possible use of chemicals, additives and overly technological procedures.

“We present the wines of small vineyards […] winemakers who work like artisans, crafting a different wine each year,” said Lefcourt. “Natural wines are low-tech or no-tech meaning no laboratory yeasts, enzymes, sugar, artificial concentrators, acidification, or sulfites are added during fermentation, and the wines are aged and bottled without stabilizers, or excessive filtering or sulfites.”

One of the biggest challenges to Natural Wine is the perception among some in the industry that the whole movement is a gimmick solely intended to sell more wine. Lefcourt attributes the demonization of the Natural Wine Movement largely to industrial wine producers who don’t want consumers to know just how many chemicals are in their wine.

Jacque Herviou of Natural Selection Wines, whose company focuses on importing and distributing biodynamic wines, agreed with Lefcourt that much of the most vocal opposition to natural wines is coming from industrial producers.

“Natural wine is against industrial plonk that is sold to us as a natural product because they’re anything but,” said Herviou. “They’re made with crazy enzymes, genetically modified yeast and ]…] and also more importantly, pesticides, insectisides, herbicides. There are all sorts of chemicals around it that get into our food and wine.”

Herviou understand the industry’s reluctance to embrace the natural movement in the wake of what he calls the “greenwashing” of the industry.

“If you go to any website for large corporations you’ll see talk of sustainable, organic,” said Herviou. “But it’s a reaction against us and it takes us back to question of what is natural wine? It’s exhausting because it’s the wrong question, the wrong conversation.”

However, the backlash is not restricted to large industrial winemakers. Many smaller winemakers object to the movement, as well. For many of these winemakers it is the implication that their wine is “unnatural” when many of them follow sustainable and responsible practices yet don’t ascribe to the movement’s stringent yet vague guidelines.

“Natural wine is a loaded word in the world of wine,” said Will Ouweleen, the owner and winemaker at Eagle Crest Vineyards in the Finger Lakes. “For me, natural means the least manipulated possible […] its sort of a philosophy of wine as a natural thing so we try to guide the wine like judo masters.”

Ouweleen went on to say, however, that there are few, if any, organic grape growers in the Finger Lakes because the region’s climate puts the vineyards at high risk for mildews and fungi. That doesn’t mean, however, that the growers and winemakers in the area are not sensitive to the issue.

“Most people are like, ‘We live here! If anyone is going to get sprayed on its us!’ So it’s not about being high and mighty about organic but spraying costs money and I’d rather not have that stuff near my family,” explained Ouweleen.

There is also a sense among many winemakers that the movement seeks to bully consumers into buying their wine by playing into the recent rise of the ecological conscience in the marketplace.

“It’s this totally bogus movement today that is using the word ‘natural’ to connote some kind of ephemeral quality that doesn’t exist in the wines,” said winemaker Jeff Morgan, of Covenant Wines in Napa. “If you can grow grapes organic and make your wine really naturally that’s something to strive for but it’s certainly not a consumer’s concern and I think it’s a mistake to buy those wines because of those labels.”

Lefcourt insists, however, that it’s not a marketing ploy, but rather a genuine interest in discovering and sharing wines that she believes in. Lefcourt does acknowledge that there are certain factors in the marketplace that have helped increase awareness of natural wines.

“There are more women, and more younger people interested in wine,” said Lefcourt. “And these are consumers who are more aware of what they are putting in their bodies. Also, there’s an increasing awareness of wine as part of the meal – as going with food, and there’s a freshness to natural wines that lends them to that particularly well.”

Herviou also acknowledged the idea of “freshness” in natural wine, saying that there is a purity to the wines that can be tasted.

The work horses in the vineyards at Chateau Maris, biodynamic winery

As for Herviou, when it comes to natural wine, he has put his money where his mouth is. He is a partner in a Biodynamic winery in Minervois, France called Chateau Maris.  The winery itself is made entirely of organic hemp, a biodegradable material that provides enough insulation to the winery that it requires no heating or cooling.

“The hemp is mixed with lime and together they actually absorb and store carbon,” said Herviou. “So since we bought solar panels, the winery is not just carbon neutral, its carbon negative. Biodynamic is really about the farm as a self-sustaining entity and that is what we try to do.”

Chateau Maris also employs two large workhorses who work in the vineyards, and they use bottles that are made from recycled glass and weigh 1/3 of the weight of a standard wine bottle. The label, too, is made from recycled paper and printed with natural ink.

So, what’s the verdict? Personally, I think that many of the people working within the natural wine movement are doing something they truly believe in. I think Jenny Lefcourt and Jacque Herviou are two such people – they practice what they preach and they’re true believers in making wine that is not just environmentally friendly but also representative of a dying breed of artisanal winemakers who focus on simplicity and purity. I think that there’s good reason to be skeptical, especially with the increasing “green washing” of the industry, but I think that, in general, the natural wine movement is well-intentioned and based on principles that I, for one, can support.

Does that mean I’m only going to buy natural or biodynamic wines? Not in the least. Do I think these wines are better than other wines out there? Not always – they range from terrible to brilliant just like any other kind of wine. Typically, these wines do come from the kinds of winemakers and producers that I like to support anyways – those who have smaller production and approach winemaking as an art, not just a business. They are the winemakers who feel a sense of responsibility to the land, to the terroir, from which their wines are produced and are representative of. For me, the most beautiful wines are expressive of the place they are from – they are the distillation of a unique moment that makes them different from every other wine.

Interested in tasting some delicious Natural Wine? Good, because I’ve made you a nice little list:


Whites

Didier Montchovet Bourgogne Aligote 2009 ($8.00): A fairly obscure grape used almost exclusively in Burgundy and really the only white grape you might encounter besides Chardonnay in the region. You’d be hard pressed to ID this grape in a blind taste as something other than a classic Bugundian Chard with its smoky nutty nose, rich juicy flavors and light body.

Domaine Binner Saveurs 2010 ($10.00): Sweet ripe summer peaches and honey on the nose and a lovely slightly smoky quality on the palate.

Chateau Haut La Vigne Cotes de Duras 2010 ($12.99): Burnt rubber on the nose is complemented by notes of brown butter. That buttery nose follows through to the palate with toasty notes and a hint of lemony citrus and bright brisk acidity.

Claude Courtois Quartz 2008 ($16.99): This is a totally atypical Sauvignon Blanc. Bright and bubbly on the nose, with notes of citris leaping out of the glass, its an absolutely delightful little wine.

Didier Montchovet Hautes Cotes de Beaune 2012 ($17.00):  This wine smells like apple cider! It’s got the sparkling acidity to match, with a slightly dusty texture that is intriguing and delicious.

Domaine Oudin 2007 Les Serres Chablis ($22.00): At first sniff, this is a stinky wine. After a few swirs, the nose opens up into a rich, appley perfume that’s boosted by a savory yeasty quality. Super gulpable!

Clos des camuzeilles Muscad de Rivesaltes 2010 ($22.99): A beautiful wine with an aromatic nose of white peacehes and warm, tropical fruits.  

Domaine Audrey et Christian Binner 2004 Schlossberg Grand Cru ($23.00): On the nose, this Riesling has classic unctuous notes of petrol lingering with the scent of tangerine. It’s savory, bright, toasty and actually made me write “wow!” on my tasting notes.

2010 Plageoles Domaine des Tres Cantous Ondenc ($25.00): This is a wine made from a rather obscure old white variety that was, once upon a time, prominent as a white grape in Bordeaux. The nose is pure honey followed by a rush of ripe pear on the palate that yields a surprisingly dry white wine.

Hardesty 2010 Reisling ($26.00): A really savory and enticing bready and yeasty nose followed by a rush of grapefruit notes and lively acidity.

Chateau Maris Grenache Gris 2010 “Brama” ($50): Apparently those natural wine makers have a thing for obscure   and practically extinct grapes – because Grenache Gris is another one! This wine had the most amazing nose of smoky roasted almonds and burnt popcorn, followed by a wine that is has big sweet juicy fruit, soft body, and racy acidity. A really interesting and rare wine that’s definitely worth the price tag.

Rosés & Sparklers

Deep Creek Cellars 2010 Glade Run Rosé ($14.00): The first note on this wine? “Delicious.” Juicy and bright with notes of ripe pear and melon, this surprising wine comes from Maryland of all places(!) and is utterly delightful.

De la Patience Costieres de Nimes 2011 Rosé ($16.00): An explosive floral nose and inviting notes of ripe fruit make this a wine that is entirely sippable.

Colombaia Vino Rosato Frizzante 2010 ($29.99): This lovely sparkler comes with a trendy crown top and smells like walking into a patisserie. The scent of ripe strawberries and freshly baked bread mingle on the nose with notes of cherry liquorice.

Jacques Lassaigne Le Cotet Champaign N.V. ($70.00): A delicious savory biscuity nose that yields a nice, bright, and juicy champagne. Simply gorgeous.

 Reds

Clos Seguir 2008 Cahors ($12.99): Ripe red fruit an savory notes of oak on the nose are followed by a plump, juicy, and delicious wine that is surprisingly more dry than fruity.

Deux Anes Premiers Pas 2009 Corbieres ($13.99): A great everyday wine that combines funky Carignan, fruity Syrah, and spicy Grenache.

Tire pe Diem 20111 Bordeaux ($13.99): The gorgeous floral nose on this wine just jumps out of the glass, mixed with the scent of ripe plums. It’s pleasantly dry and has savory notes of toasty popcorn on the palate.

Chateau Maris 2009 “La Touge” Syrah ($14.45: This biodynamic wine is made without any filtering or fining. Despite this, the nose is rather shy with a whiff of black raspberries. It’s clean, bright, fruity and has nice lively acidity and some tannin to hold the whole thing up and accents the slightly herbal notes in the wine, as well. 

2010 Sablonettes Les Copines Aussi Gamay ($18.99): The nose on this wine is a little bit funky and definitely has some barnyard notes. On the palate, this wine is light, juicy and very pleasant.

Tire pe 2009 Les Malbecs Bordeaux ($29.99): Smoke and savory notes dominate the nose, along with the tell tale odor of barnyard funk. It’s a soft, nice, and plush wine on the palate.

2009 Plageoles Prunelart ($31.99): A nose of baked plums, dried herbs, and a cool rush of juniper on the end. Bold tannins and a full body lends this wine to accompanying a big meal.

2010 Herve Souhaut Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Sainte Epine ($40.99): A green spice on the nose that comes off more floral than leafy. On the palate, its light and lovely.

Catherine et Dominique Derain Gevrey-Champbertin En Vosne 2009 ($89.00): Earthy and smoky on the nose with a tinge of cherry liqourice.  Ripe red fruit bursts on the palate and paves the way for a velvety smooth wine.

 

 

 

 

That’s right, I’ve done another lovely little collaborative blog post with Mutineer Magazine!

Check it out right this way!

Image used couresy of Creative Commons Dave_B_

Happy Valentines Day!!!

Guess what I did? I went and made you all a few valentines! Chalk it up to just a bit too much time on my hands, an intermittent Photoshop obsession, or just a love of the holiday of love. I’ve decided to suspend all bitterness and just embrace the sheer rediculousness of the holiday. It’s actually pretty liberating.

Also! I’ve also got a rundown of the wines I’ll be pouring at a little Valentines Day Shindig I’m hosting later:

Sparklers

Domain Carneros by Taittinger Brut 2007

Santoleri Grognaleto Spumante Rose Brut N.V

Whites

Les Grandes Vignes 2009 Cotes Du Rhone

Lafite Barons de Rothschild Collection Bordeaux 2010

Reds

Palmina Barbera Santa Barbara County 2009

Clos Siguier Cahors 2008

Seufert Pinotlicious Willamette Valley 2007

Desert

Les Petits Grains Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois N.V.

Happy Valentines Day! May you drink yourself into oblivion tonight.

Just a few days ago, I had the chance to chat with kosher wine-maker, Jeff Morgan, who is behind Napa’s Covenant Wines which Robert Parker has called the “best kosher wine in America.” Read on for my super interesting Q&A with Morgan!

Jeff Morgan, winemaker and owner of Covenant Wines in Napa

ForgetBugundy: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into wine?

Jeff Morgan: When I was 19, I dropped out of college and went to study music at the French National Conservatory. […] I eventually became a saxophone player, singer, dancer, and a band leader at the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo […] circa 1987. The shittier the music was the more they liked it and we were going nowhere fast. So one night I said to myself, ‘Gosh, there must be something better than this – something I like more than music because I could see myself growing old on this stage’ and it just came to me in a flash. ‘Wine! I love wine! I love wine as much as music!’

FB: Were you always interested in making wine?

JM:  Well, I decided to move back to the states, and to New York, where I’m from, and I started knocking on doors out on the east end of Long Island to work as a cellar rat because no one in France would hire an American sax player who knew nothing about making wine! In America you can actually get by on Chutzpah – at least at first. I got a job at a little winery that wasn’t built yet – it was just a vineyard and I worked in the vineyard for about a year and then they built the winery and I worked in the winery for another year or so and learned how to make wine from the ground up.

FB: You ended up writing about wine a fair amount, too. In fact, weren’t you the Wine Spectator West Coast Editor? How’d you go from the east end of Long Island to California?

JM: Yeah. I started writing about wine and somehow I worked myself into the New York Times as a stringer and then somehow I got into the Wine Spectator as a freelancer and they liked what I did and hired me to be the West Coast Editor and moved me to California in 1995.  I stayed with them for another five years and quit in 2000 because I wanted to make wine again so I started a little winery that only made rose wine called SoloRosa. It was a brilliant idea and also a terrible idea at the same time.

FB: So how’d you go from making only rosé to making kosher wine?

JM: I started Covenant (Morgan’s kosher wine label) in 2003 on a dare from Leslie Rudd. […] Leslie is a nice Jewish boy from Wichita and I’m a nice Jewish boy from New York. Neither of us was particularly observant but I’d had some good kosher wines over the years and I said, ‘We can do it! We just need some great grapes from your fabulous vineyards!’ and he told me to think again because he was afraid I’d screw it up so I started with grapes from another exceptional vineyard called Larkmead vineyard.

Two Nice Jewish Boys: Rudd (on the left) with Morgan in the Covenant Cellar. After Jeff was able to show Rudd he knew what he was doing, Rudd finally granted Jeff his wish and allowed a Covenant wine to be made from his coveted and acclaimed Napa Valley grapes

FB: Why was Rudd so afraid you’d screw it up? Are there certain practices and methods you have to use that make a wine Kosher and also compromise the quality of the wine?

JM:No, all wine is kosher! But to keep the wine kosher it can only be touched by a Sabbath-observant Jew. And that is the only requirement. So there is no kosher wine making method and there’s no reason why Kosher shouldn’t be as good as other wine. You just need to pay attention, know what you’re dong, get good grapes and be able to reveal the terroir of what you’re using.

FB: If that’s the case then why does kosher wine get such a bad rap?

JM: Most people who are 40, 50, and older grew up with really lousy Manischewitz concord(grape)-based sweet wines that are bad whether they’re kosher or not. So I think we all have that taste in our memory banks. But I had been writing about kosher wines on [Wine] Spectator for a while so I knew there were good ones out there but Les didn’t. One day we went to a tasting and tried some Israeli kosher wine from a winery called Castel and we were loving them. Les said, ‘Why is this so much better than what we had as kids at Passover?’ I said, ‘It’s a brave new world!’

FB: So since you’ve started making kosher wine under the Covenant label, have you seen an increase in demand for Kosher wines in the marketplace?

JM: I think there’s an increasing demand for fine wine that happens to be kosher. A lot of that is sparked by a resurgence in spirituality and especially Jewish spirituality that’s being embraced by a lot of younger people today that may not have grown up Sabbath observant or keeping kosher but now they are and they’re used to drinking really good wines that aren’t kosher. I also think that the Jewish palate, like the American palate, is definitely becoming more sophisticated and discerning.

Also, did you know that the Jews were making really great wine at least a thousand years before the Roman Empire was even started?

FB: Really? The Jews are not really known, historically, for their wine.

JM: Yeah. We’ve been at it like…forever! Last May, I was in an old winery or wine press, and there were vats that were carved out of the limestone in the Judean hills and I’m telling you, from what I could see from the way that this thing was put together that these guys were making their wine essentially the same way I do! We extract the juice from the berries and we just let it sit there. We don’t even add yeast – I mean we use native yeast, from…. from God! I don’t know where it comes from but why not say from God? And we don’t inoculate, we don’t filter, we don’t fine, it’s a very simple gentle process.

Covenant grapes ready for harvest

FB: So would you describe what you make as “Natural Wine”?

JM: I would say our wines are totally natural but it has nothing to do with the kind of bogus movement today that is using the word “natural” to connote some kind of ephemeral quality that doesn’t exist in the wines. Most of the natural wines I’ve had unfortunately – and it’s a great concept – but most of them are so poorly made that they’re undrinkable; they’re refermenting in the bottle or prematurely oxidized because they don’t use sulphur and it’s a disaster. […] And that doesn’t mean that they’re all that way – it’s a big mistake to make a broad generalization about anything. If you can grow grapes organic and make your wine really naturally that’s something to strive for but it’s certainly not a consumer’s concern and I think it’s a mistake to buy those wines because of those labels.

FB: Changing subjects, here, did you have an “Aha!” moment with wine – perhaps a specific bottle of wine that changed the way you thought about wine?

JM: Yes. I’d been in France for maybe a week, I was 19, and I went to have lunch at the student restaurant at University of Nice. The lunch was government-subsidized and it was only two Francs, or about 50 cents. So I got my little tray and lined up and they had all of these little salads and you could pick the one you want. They had things like celery remoulade, grated carrots with all these funny little things on them, a beet salad and these beautiful little frisee lettuce. I didn’t know what to take but I took the celery root remoulade – I remember that! And it was a Friday so they were serving fish but it wasn’t fish sticks, it was the whole fish with the head on it and I didn’t even know how to eat it! And after that there was a little cheese platter, and you could pick your piece of Camembert and I got to the end of the line, and they said. ‘Monsieur would you like red or white?’ And I realized they had little splits of red and white wine and I can’t remember if I took the red or the white. But I sat down and tucked into the celery remoulade and someone showed me how to eat the fish, and I drank the wine and that was my religious experience, my epiphany. That one meal changed the course of my life.

FB: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the wines you make at Covenant?

JM: I want people everywhere, especially in America, to drink more wine on a regular basis and you can’t do it if the only good wines you can find cost a fortune. Our wines are not cheap – our Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon is regularly about $90-100 retail but we also make a wine called The Red C from different vineyard sources that is just as good in a different way at $44. We also make a really delicious Sauvignon Blanc, and I believe that white wine should start every meal, at about $22-24.

The reason our wines are so expensive, especially the Covenant wines, is that the cost of growing or buying grapes in Napa Valley is like the cost of doing business on 5th Ave. in New York City. We pay, on average, $10,000 a ton for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the greatest vineyards in Napa. Our wine prices reflect the cost of making the wines. This year, we also made a Zinfandel that will be about $35, a Pinot Noir that will be $45 and a Syrah that will be around $40.

So there ya have it, folks! Kosher wine is making a comeback!

Want to know more? Visit CovenantWines.com. And many thanks to Jeff Morgan.