Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Future of Grüner Veltliner

 

Site and yield are essential to the success of grüner veltliner (grew-ner velt-LEENER) or green veltliner, the most indigenous and abundant wine grape planted in Austria.  Site, because the finicky grape needs deep, loose soils that maintain moisture and climate than protects it from numerous diseases.  Yield because the vines are extremely fertile and abundant and their growth requires closely regulated pruning.

There is constant debate regarding grüner veltliner.  Some see it as trendy, not sustainable worldwide. It emerged in US markets at the turn of the century, mostly as a food-friendly, popular alternative on restaurant wine lists.  Since that time, popularity in this country has waned.  However, still their national grape, it represents over one-third of all vineyards in Austria, nearly 43,000 acres with another 5,200 acres in the Czech Republic.

Wachau wine region along the Danube River

Miles outside of Vienna, in regions like Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal within the broader Lower Austria or Nierderosterreich region, gruner veltliner vines grow, side by side with riesling on terraced slopes above the Danube River.  This terroir and traditional winemaking practices make rich, concentrated wines with expression.  Austrians are always willing to have their wines “blind tasted” with fine chardonnay and riesling.  Their grüner veltliner has always competed very well.

Much of the skepticism with grüner veltliner is over its ability or inability to age and some actually believe that it peaks during its youth.  The whites of Burgundy France, Rioja Spain and some in California are now designed to age up to five years or more.  To prove itself worthy and enhance its competitive nature, producers are hosting tastings of aged gruner veltliner as proof of balanced maturity. For me, it’s about taste and texture, regardless of the wine’s age and the good releases I have recently tasted deliver my

Carlisle “Steiner Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner

preference for that soft, creamy minerality on the finish.  They also pair well with grilled fish or chicken.

A recent peak in my interest in grüner veltliner was sparked by the 2011 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard ($25/92-pt), from a mountain vineyard in southeast Sonoma County.  It began a tasting of zinfandel and syrah and I found the texture and balanced acidity impressive.  It delivers an unusual combination of spice and floral aromas followed by diverse citrus, tropical and stone fruit flavors on the palate.

Fermented solely in stainless steel with no softening malolactic fermentation, winemaker Mike Officer has proven that great skill can transcend both red and white varietals.  This could be the best grüner veltliner in California.

The following wines include some I have tasted and others that have been highly reviewed and are accessible. They are all available in wine shops and on-line.

The terroir in Santa Barbara County is so diverse that I am always looking for small, unique releases, red or white.

2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard

Graham Tatomer grew up working at wineries, developing both a passion for winemaking and an understanding of the breath of options available in cool, marine-influenced climates.  Focusing primarily on riesling and pinot noir, Tatomer produces two grüner veltliner including the 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard ($27/90-pt) near Lompoc.  The vineyard’s name translates to “ocean soil” and, in this case, is a combination of sand, diatomaceous earth and loam.

The wine offers nice stone fruit(peach, apricot) and citrus flavors with a unique minerality, described as “kelp-like,” throughout the finish.  On the argument of preference between young and aged gruner veltliner, both the Meeresboden and the 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner John Sebastiano Vineyard ($35) were designed to age with grace developing more honeyed flavors.

 

Wine Spectator magazine described the Austrian 2015 Birgit Eichinger Hasel Grüner Veltliner Kamptal ($15/91-92-pt)as “a powerful and savory white, with concentrated green peach, apple and white cherry flavors, accented by sage and white pepper notes.”  They also predicted the wine’s drinkability will peak in two or three years. A savory wine from the Kamptal region along the banks of the Danube in northern Austria, it is a very good risk at fifteen dollars.

Chehalem Winery is located in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley near Newberg.  Focusing mainly on single-vineyard pinot noir, I enjoyed, during my last visit, a very

2008 Chehalem Gruner Veltliner

good grüner veltliner from the Ribbon Ridge appellation.  Their current release, the 2015 Chehalem Grüner Veltliner Wind Ridge Block ($24) uses both stainless steel and neutral oak barrel for fermenting which produces a balance of herbal and stone fruit flavors and a healthy minerality through the finish.

Monterey County and the Central Coast region is home to many accessible grüner veltliner releases including the Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2015 ($20) from the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo.  Rich concentrated flavors ranging from white pepper to ripe melon drive more mineral notes on the finish.

The makers of Monterey County’s Vollendet Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($24) strive to replicate a true Austrian-style wine like those from the Wachau region.  The grapes are picked early and fermented in stainless steel, but stirred on lees to add richness and texture. Whole cluster pressing adds an herbal

Vollendet Gruner Veltliner 2016

flavors to match those of stone and tropical fruits.  This wine is reputed to be food friendly for fish, goat cheese, Thai food and even fried chicken.

The best American riesling does not come from California or the Pacific Northwest.  It is produced in the Finger Lakes region in New York State and Herman J. Wiemer is one of the finest.  He recently began developing a “gruner”  and the Herman J.

Herman J, Wiemer Gruner Veltliner 2014

Wiemer Grüner Veltliner 2014 ($27), his second release, is getting nice reviews.  Integrated and concentrated herbal, floral, melon and stone fruit flavors are described as “balanced and long.”

Domäne Wachau is the largest winery is the esteemed Wachau region and well known throughout Austria. They produce various styles of riesling and gruner veltliner from steeply sloped vineyards. Their current releases are available on-line and include the Domäne Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2015 ($16-20/91-pt) that is defined as a light, crisp wine that is best enjoyed now, while it is young.  It has been reviewed well with particular acclaim for balance.

Domane Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2015

The Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Terrassen 2016 ($24/92-9t) is described as one of the “complex, full-bodied wines of the Wachau with aging potential.”  It is their top release, using only the best grapes.

In an article debating the merits of grüner veltliner, the author described a friend who was skeptical until he shared “an F.X.” with him. Afterward, as its told, his friend was hooked forever on the varietal.

After some quick research, I discovered that F.X. Pichler, from Austria’s famed Wachau region, is arguably the world’s finest producer of grüner veltliner. Much of the aged F.X. Pichler wines are only available through auction. However, I found that the 2010 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd ‘M’ Wachau ($80/91-pt) was available through a few of the major on-line outlets.

Sourced from five different terroir within Wachau, the “M” is fermented and aged in twelve hundred liter casks.  They repeated the batonnage (sur lie) process for a few months to give the wine its signature creaminess. I prefer integration of the dead yeast

F.X. Pichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd “M”

back into the juice because I prefer rich, creamy wines.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate lauded all aspects of the wine, but their report that “ green bean, apple and white peach are dusted with brown spices and Szechuan pepper” was engaging enough to consider purchasing a bottle.

The review ended, declaring “the fascinating interplay of fruit and mineral that characterizes the very best F.X. Pichler wines is missing in their “M.”  This tells me that the best F.X. is still out there.  I then found the 2015 F.X. Pichler Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau ($80-100/93-pt).  Wine Advocate, after glowing reviews, detailed complexity and a balance of “richness with tension and invigoration.”

Beyond my reach in price and accessibility, it’s nice to dream of enjoying a glass of F.X. on a fall afternoon outside of Vienna, overlooking the Danube River.

To my mind, grüner veltliner wine is more than a passing fad. It has many fine qualities and can be a pleasant, food-friendly alternative to chardonnay and other white wines.  With heightened awareness, I will now look for the varietal and, when the opportunity presents itself, enjoy a glass to discover what a “balance of richness and tension” tastes like.

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Sonoma wines and a great beer

 

Montafi Ranch Vineyard

Our friends were coming into town and wanted to taste some of Sonoma County’s finest.  After a brief glimpse at my wine notes, Carlisle Winery popped out.  Over the past few years, they have placed wines, both zinfandel, on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list, including the Carlisle Zinfandel Russian River Valley Montafi Ranch 2014 96pt/$47, #14 on the 2016 list.  I contacted Sarah Weese at the winery and arranged a tasting of their new releases in the barrel room.

Ironically, a few days before our tasting, my friend, John, shared a bottle of 2014 Carlisle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($37)that blends 11% petite sirah with zinfandel from two vineyards in this northern Sonoma County appellation.  The dark fruit and concentrated flavors that I had read about were there and the presence of petite sirah was clear on the finish.  Now, I was excited to learn more.

Carlisle Vineyard

We also planned to make our traditional stop at Merry Edwards Winery near Sebastopol to taste their new sauvignon blanc and pinot noir releases.  Owner/winemaker Merry Edwards is a true icon in the world wine industry.  Her Hall of Fame credentials are impeccable and, after a storied career, she has settled into the Russian River Valley to produce high quality wines from her estate and other prominent vineyards.

Our last stop at the Russian River Brewing Company in downtown Santa Rosa was the pleasant surprise of the day.

To quote someone else, it was “a long and winding road” to the remote Carlisle Winery production facility, north in the town of Windsor.  No fancy tasting facility, just a small barrel room and production patio where a few staff, led by owner/winemaker Mike Officer, concentrate on creating fine wines with fruit from prominent Sonoma vineyards.

Entrenched in a software development career, Mike Officer’e true passion since college was winemaking.  What began as a hobby, Mike, along with his wife, Kendall, were soon producing 300 cases in their garage,  This evolved into the establishment of Carlisle Winery and Vineyards, where they could focus their attention on small lot releases of old-vine zinfandel and Rhone varietals like syrah and petite sirah.  Today, after adding winemaker Jay Maddox to the team, Carlisle produces 9,000 cases annually, twenty different wines which are nearly all distributed to loyal members of their mailing list.

We joined Weese in the barrel room and began our tasting with Grüner Veltliner, a white Austrian varietal. With only 159 cases, the 2015 Carlisle Sonoma Mountain

Carlisle “Steiner Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner

“Steiner Vineyard” Grüner Veltliner ($30) comes from the only such vines in the county. It is pressed whole cluster and fermented in stainless steel tanks. There is no oak or malolactic fermentation, just natural flavors.

With a medium-bodied mouthfeel, the nice aromas and flavors of grapefruit and lime evolve into honeydew melon on the finish. It is rare to find Grüner Veltliner in California and one this good belongs in my cellar.

2015 Carlisle “Mancini Ranch Vineyard” Zinfandel

Next up was a comparison of two current old-vine zinfandel releases from prominent vineyards, one in the Russian River Valley and the other in the eastern Sonoma Valley appellation.  My friends preferred the 2015 Carlisle Russian River Valley “Mancini Ranch” Zinfandel ($47) which adds 15% of mixed varietals including Carignane, Abouriou, Valdiguié, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir, Petite Sirah.  Favoring red fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry, this wine is more austere, a wonderful food zinfandel.

I was partial to the 2014 Carlisle Sonoma Valley “Bedrock Vineyard” Zinfandel ($47) for its richness and intensity. Tucked away in the southeast region, this old-vine vineyard is wonderfully farmed and soaks up as much heat as any in Sonoma County. Adding bits of old-vine mourvedre, petite sirah and alicante bouschet, this release is well-structured with deep flavors of dark fruit, licorice and a hint of chocolate.

2015 Carlisle Palisades Vineyard Petite Sirah

From two lots in a Napa Valley vineyard, the 2015 Carlisle Napa Valley “Palisades Vineyard” Petite Sirah ($50) lives up to its reputation for delivering great flavors, vintage to vintage. The opposite of whole-clustered, the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, but continue to lie with the skins for a few months to soften the tannins and enhance the deep purple color

Still young for a petite sirah, we decanted the wine which softened the tannins and exposed the balanced dark berry flavors and rich mouthfeel.

I am always curious of good syrah releases, those of complete balance when the fruit, spice and herbal flavors act as one. I found a good one in the 2015 Carlisle Russian River Valley “Papa’s Block Syrah ($44).  The grapes were fully ripened at harvest and about thirty percent were crushed whole-cluster to enhance the herbal flavors while fermenting in new French oak barrels, adding to the complexity of the dark berry flavors. Expect refined intensity and decanter if you plan to drink within the next year.

The group left with six bottles and all willingly joined the mailing list.  If you are seeking obscure, small lot wines whose reputation is on the rise, the list is your only option to hopefully secure future Carlisle releases.

Although she produces, vintage to vintage, fine single-vineyard pinot noir and chardonnay, everyone knows about Merry Edwards highly acclaimed Russian River Valley sauvignon blanc.  The nearly sold out 2015 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc 93pt/$32 placed #17 on Wine Spectator’s list of 2016 top 100 wines.  It is expected to be included each year.

2015 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

On the nose, this wine has intense floral hints of jasmine and honeysuckle along with tropical fruit and crème brûlée.  The flavors result from the addition of sauvignon musque and six-months aging, sur lee, in French oak.  This softens the tart grapefruit and tangerine flavors with a rich, creamy texture.

We completed the tasting by comparing three new pinot noir releases, two very different single-vineyards and the last representing eight vineyards within the cool, higher elevated and marine influenced Sonoma Coast appellation

The 2014 Merry Edwards “Meredith Estate” Vineyard Pinot Noir ($63) is from the flagship estate vineyard, planted eighteen years ago. This full-bodied wine

2014 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate Vineyard

expresses ripened fruit through the nose and rich, concentrated red berry flavors with hints of vanilla and cinnamon on the finish

The Georganne Vineyard is the most northerly and warmest in the Russian River Valley, producing the 2015 Merry Edwards “Georgeanne Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($63), a very accessible, fruit-forward wine with signs of spice and coffee on a long finish.

I am drawn to the consistent quality of many pinot noir releases from the designated Sonoma coast appellation. To this point, the 2014 Merry Edwards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($45) is moderately priced, but like previous vintages, offers approachable complex fruit and spice flavors.  This new release has a healthy

2014 Merry Edwards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

acidity, concluding with a wonderful layer of cherry and caramel.  Whatever you prefer, Merry Edwards delivers tremendous quality from all her wines.

On the drive home, our friends asked if we had heard of the Russian River Brewing Company.

“Of course,” I said, “It’s located on 4th Street, but there is always a line around the block.”  It seems that this brewing company is known worldwide for their limited production of two beers: Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger.  Our guests son, knowing that they would be in the area, had requested some. We have also stopped by several times when my son is in town but were always met with extensive lines.

Pliny the Elder

Today, on a Monday afternoon, there were no lines.  We parked and went in. Pliny The Elder, the rare American Double/Imperial IPA was available by case or bottle.  We scored some and soon will be cool parents again

The group celebrated a wonderfully productive day with a glass of this unique Russian River release, one with a foamy head and complex pale ale flavors.