June 20, 2009

2001 Falesco Montiano

Here's an IGT wine from the Lazio region of Italy, near Rome. The producer, Falesco, is well known for its inexpensive Vitiano blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot made in the modern style that the largely untraditional grapes suggest. Montiano is a the premium bottling made in the same style, from 100% merlot.

IGT means Indicazione Geograficia Tipica. It's a designation for wines that don't fit Italy's traditional "DOC" or "DOCG" categories (think appellations in France), either because the grapes come from an area outside specific regions, or more likely because the wine includes grapes that aren't allowed in those specific regions. For example, you can put a little merlot in Chianti and still be Chianti DOCG. But if you want to make a wine with lots of merlot from the Chianti region, you can't call it Chiant. You can label it as an IGT wine from the Toscano region, and more and more producer do just that with their wines that blend traditional sangiovese with lots of cabernet and/or merlot.

Falesco makes its living off IGT wines, from the lesser regarded Lazio region but well known now for high scores from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate newsletter, among other wine publications. The wines are clearly modern in style, but have an Italian signature that no new world wines made from similar grapes ever seem to have. I don't ever love the Falesco wines, but I see their appeal. And it's clear they taste "Italian." For all their modern sheen, I've never had an Amercian wine in this style taste anything close to what Falesco achieves. Maybe terroir isn't dead in the modern world?

The 2001 Falesco Montiano is dark colored in the modern style. The aroma is rich with red and black berries and a green bean streak, ripe and focused with tar and truffle notes that are distinctly Italian. At nearly 8 years, the wine is still youthful, suggesting at least that these modern wines can last a while in bottle.

The flavors are ripe and rich, with fine tannin and sufficient acid. There's spicy red and black fruit, oak marked but not dominated. You wouldn't call this traditional in any way, but next to an unnamed Washington state merlot that features lots of candy fruit and caramelly oak flavors, this is nicely Bordeaux-like with tightly wound, proportioned flavors that trade the gravel of Bordeaux's left bank for the game and balsamic notes of Italy.

This won't make me forget great Chianti or Brunello, much less the best of Piedmont. But I like this wine. I'm not sure if it will develop greater complexity with age, or if its appeal is its intensity and ripeness. But it's clearly well made wine with a pleasant dryness that fits the table better than most fruit-centric wines. I have one more in the cellar, and we'll see what it does with another 5 years or more.

June 19, 2009

2008 Torbreck Cuvee Juveniles

I've recently had a couple great experiences with Torbreck wines from the Barossa Valley of South Australia. But I'm conflicted about this bottling that was sent to this humble blog as a review sample.

Named for the famous Juveniles Wine Bar in Paris, the wine began nearly a decade ago as something of a house wine for the establishment. Demand for the wine grew along with production, and now it's a standard issue in Torbreck's portfolio.

Think about it. Australian red wine at home in a Parisian wine bar? Sounds crazy to me. So perhaps I brought too much expectation to this grenache, mourvedre and syrah blend. It must be a dead ringer for French wine. How else would the French accept it?

Well, the 2008 Torbreck Cuvee Juveniles smells and tastes like good, but very classic, Barossa red wine. It has a dark color with fresh fruit and light eucaplytus aromas, with some pleasant herbaceousness and just a hint of Rhone funk complexity (hard to describe). The flavors are all Australia. Not hot and alcoholic and over the top, but fresh, ripe and almost sweet with a moderately thick texture and not much complexity. The finish is short with a mild acid streak. In sum, not bad but not what I"m looking for in red wine. Not nearly as exciting to me as the Torbreck Woodcutter's Semillon I wrote about recently.

In fairness to the wine and you readers, I took some over to my neighbor who thinks I like overly dry wines. She didn't swoom over the Cuvee Juveniles, but she really liked it. So you might too. Still I wonder what the French think of it. I know the Brits love Aussie wine. But the French? Maybe I'll have to check this out myself.

June 17, 2009

Thinking about Willamette Valley AVAs

Today I listened to the latest podcast from the guys at Graperadio. The theme? Trying to taste the uniqueness of the six sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) of Oregon's Willamette Valley. For the unintiatied, that's Dundee Hills, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Eola-Amity Hills, Yamhill-Carlton District, and McMinnville.

The episode wasn't my favorite. It's hard to taste wine on the "radio" and make it as compelling for the listener as some of their interviews. But I'm geeky enough to have enjoyed it, and it made me think of a provocative article in the May issue of the Oregon Wine Press by A-Z co-owner Bill Hatcher questioning the basis for these sub-AVAs. Visiting the OWP website tonight, I see that four prominent local vintners have posted rebuttals to Bill's article.

Bill essentially says that Oregon is a niche brand among wine drinkers across the US, but a strong one to those passionate about what our state produces. Yet most of them couldn't tell you where Oregon even is, much less where Yamhill-Carlton is compared to the Dundee Hills, or why wines from the two areas would even taste distinct for anyone to care. The AVAs aren't helping. We should instead promote "Oregon" on every wine label and not worry about essentially meaningless sub-AVAs, at least at this point. Obviously, others disagree strongly.

The Graperadio piece exemplifies both sides of the argument well. In pairings of pinot noir bottlings from each AVA, Jay, Rusty, and Eric try to pinpoint (pun intended Jay) the essence of each area. The Dundee Hills signature of red fruit and bright acidity comes through clearly. Mostly, however, they find it difficult.

Perhaps the ripe 2006 vintage that they largely tasted from obscures the subtlties of each AVA. Or perhaps Bill Hatcher is right. The overly large AVAs with varying soil types and exposures simply don't bring anything specific or consistent enough to the profile of the AVA's wines to do the consumer much good. You just can't taste the difference.

Then I read the rebuttals and I can't help but think David Adelsheim, Ken Wright, Ted Casteel, and Harry Peterson-Nedry make terrific counter-arguments that admit the current limitations of our AVAs but emphasize their role on the path to greater meaning.

Adelsheim makes the point that wineries are in the business of educating consumers they sell to, and that in time we'll have more and more meaningful "sub-sub-AVAs" like Ribbon Ridge. Places limited in geographical area with fairly common soils that might have the best chance to reflect meaningful commonalities among producers in the area.

Wright speaks to the deep, involved process that led to the creation of the AVAs. It wasn't slam bang marketing. It was meaningful collaboration largely focused on common "mother rock" in each area. There may be enough exceptions to dispute that, but if Hatcher's argument is correct that the market may be confused by the various AVAs, it's hard to argue at the same time that the AVA initiative is all about marketing. Clearly there's honest passion for the uniqueness of our viticultural areas behind the AVA movement.

Casteel makes the interesting point that the AVAs are akin to "neighborhoods" that naturally develop as the original, tight knit industry has grown. Everyone doesn't fit in the Tigard fire deparment for industry meetings anymore. It's right and good to sub-divide into regions that can provide the local scale for an industry that no longer fits into one house.

Finally, Peterson-Nedry emphasizes a point the others touch upon. Hatcher's business with A-Z is big by local standards. He needs to find lots of customers in a highly competitive, almost commodity driven price range. His concerns are not the same as a smaller, more premium wine focused enterprise. Peterson-Nedry gives a baseball example. Hatcher is looking for people to get on base with Oregon wine. But many others are after customers who are already one base, looking to advance beyond the entry level of brand Oregon to something more meaningful and specific to them.

In the end, it's clear our AVAs have a long way to go to show real distinctness in their wines. And it's true. Do people in Illinois really know (or care, yet) about McMinnville vs. Ribbon Ridge? Yet I think the industry is right to be forward looking. If you're reading here, you're probably a wine lover. Do you know Oltrepo Pavese from Valtellina? Perhaps, and I applaud that. Perhaps not, but it's not because there isn't something to learn and appreciate about those distinct districts in northwestern Italy. I guess it might just depend on how much wine you have to move.

June 16, 2009

Champagne from Prevoteaux Perrier

Last week I had the chance to try some well priced and absolutely delicious, terroir-driven, essentially grower Champagne from Prevoteaux Perrier.

I say "essentially" because apparently most but perhaps not every grape in one or both of these bottles is grown by the producer. I'm not sure, but this is close enough for me. Does it really matter?

First is the NV Brut Tradition, with nice mushroom and yeast aromas and bright, slightly oxidized flavors. This has good length and finesse for a non-vintage wine, with a saline quality I only get in real, good Champagne. What a nice value at just over $30 retail locally.

For just a few bucks more, the NV Grande Reserve Brut is amazing. That saline note from the Tradition is downright chalky here, with deeper mushroom aromas. The flavors are stone fruit and chalk with great finesse, meaning a combination of flavor complexity and intensity with a sense of weightlessness. There's some roundness from oxidation, perhaps from barrel aging in old wood. Overall, this is really good stuff. Highly recommended if you can find it. Vin de Gard brings it into Oregon. Not sure if this producer makes it anywhere else in the US.

June 09, 2009

2007 Burle Cotes du Rhone

From the samples I tried and what I've read from other wine people out there, the 2007 vintage of red wine in France's Rhone Valley is sizing up to be like the 2005 reds of Burgundy. Uncommonly intense and rich without over-ripeness or anything to mask the underlying terroir. I'm typically reluctant to talk about vintages, but rules have exceptions. 2007 in the Rhone looks excellent.

Take for example the 2007 Burle Cotes du Rhone. Sadly this grenache-dominated wine doesn't seem to make it to much of the United States, but it's a favorite here in Oregon thanks to importer PS Wines. Still around $10 as its been for nearly a decade, this is unbeliveabley good wine for twice the price.

Saturated dark ruby in color, it's still translucent and lacking the purple highlights of overextraction or too little exposure to oxygen in the winemaking. The aroma is strongly black cherry, showing the ripe fruit of the vintage. But there are floral overtones, with gravel, black pepper and scrub brush notes that give the wine great succulence.

Things are much the same in the mouth, with fine, ripe tannin and good acid freshness. Nothing harsh or cloying about the fruit sweetness here. The finish is a pleasantly dry and tangy, with good length to the flavors and remarkable intensity for such an inexpensive wine. I'm going to get a few more of these for any time we have roasted food. They will certainly last a few years in the cellar, maybe more.

A note on succession. Old man Edmund Burle died a few years back, and I see the names Florent and Damien Burle on the cork. Looks like this small producer is staying true to its roots despite the new generation. No oaky sheen or creamy fruit sweetness here. Just clear southern Rhone red wine that for me is a benchmark of what the Cotes du Rhone AOC is all about.