Sample Central Europe

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, May 14, 2015…

The EU definition of Central Europe includes Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Germany and Italy.  All of these regions (with the exception of Poland, which focuses on distilling) have winemaking traditions stretching back to pre-Roman times.  Even under the Ottoman Empire, winemaking continued as monasteries were allowed to produce sacramental wine.  Though white wine dominates the landscape, red wine production is not far behind. Today we’ll sample three wines from Austria, the leader in production; one from Hungary; and one from northeast Italy.

We’ll look first at the Austrian offerings, a white, a rosé, and a red that reflect the country’s strengths.  Neumeister Gemischter Satz 2013 is uniquely Austrian white wine made from a field blend of at least three types of grapes grown, harvested, and fermented together.  The wine is most closely associated with the city of Vienna, though this comes from southeast Steiermark.  The grapes ferment spontaneously with natural yeast, and the wine is aged five months on the fine lees.  Fresh and bright with a creamy palate and a lingering finish, this wine works as an aperitif or with seafood, poultry, and salads.

An almost 1,000-year-old monastery provides the Gobelsburg Cistercien Rosé 2014, a blend of Zweigelt, St. Laurent, and Pinot Noir.  Here the varieties are fermented separately with little skin contact to keep the color pale, then blended.  Its fresh wild cherry and berry flavors allow it to stand alone or partner a wide variety of foods.  Ecker Zweigelt Brillant 2012 is made from Austria’s signature red grape by a family that’s been farming in Wagram for over 400 years.  This unoaked Zweigelt offers cracked pepper and clove, plums and black raspberries, all supported by nicely etched acidity.  Pair with duck, mushroom-based dishes, mild curries, and anything with char from the grill.

Owned by Isabella Zwack, the sixth generation of her family to make wines, the Dobogό vineyards are located around the town of Mád in Tokaj.  Though most famous for its Tokaji Aszú, the winery also makes a dry version of that wine’s dominant grape.  Dobogó Furmint 2012 is produced from 30-year-old vines; grapes are fermented in large old barrels and aged in smaller, new-second year ones.  Pear, peach, and orange notes join flinty minerality and round acidity, inviting pairing with ceviche and other fish dishes.   

    Italy provides San Pietro Schiava 2013 made from a light, tart, fruity (raspberry and cherry) grape usually used in blends.  The Consorzio Viticoltori Alto Adige is a group of six producers who pool technical resources; the best lots from each are bottled under the San Pietro label.  Made from sustainably farmed grapes, this wine has a dollop of Lagrein that intensifies the color. Think of it as Italian Beaujolais with a bit of firmness and a lovely texture; chill it a bit and pair with soft cheeses.  What a great way to welcome spring!

–M.P. Rouse

Honor Thy Mother

From our Hang Time Tasting on Thursday, May 7, 2015…

Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, is coming this weekend.  Red Feet is celebrating mothers—the women who raised us, our partners and friends, even Mother Earth.  We’ll taste some lovely libations for a special meal, to welcome the belated arrival of spring, and to provide some celebratory fun.

We’ll kick things off with a Spanish white from Valdeorras in the northwest, Viña Somoza Godello Sobre Lías 2013.  Godello is the grape, often compared to the Burgundian expression of Chardonnay for its weight and texture.  Apples and kiwis, flowers and peaches, bracing acidity, biscuit from lees contact, mineral notes—all are present here.  Pair this with anything from the sea (lobster ravioli in cream sauce, crab, sea bass), pasta with pesto, roast chicken, or a nice slice of Provolone or Manchego cheese.

Spring is here, and so is pink wine!  The beautifully packaged Lafage Miraflors Rosé 2014 is made from organic Mourvèdre and Grenache Gris.  Don’t let the pale color fool you; this wine is quite substantial, reminiscent of a Bandol or Tavel.  It offers framboise, strawberry, cherry, mineral, and spice on a pure and focused frame.  Try this with a porch swing or a salad of baby greens, slivered almonds, feta, and chicken with raspberry vinaigrette.

We’re showing two contrasting reds.  Northwest Spain provides another winner, Pago de Valdoneje Mencía 2012.  Here the Mencía grape shines, its dark cherry fruit complemented by cedar, cassis, smoke, spice (sage and rosemary), and dark berries. Acidity is fairly high and tannins are soft, and the wine has the translucency of Pinot Noir.  This is a good partner for jamón Iberico with Manchego, charcuterie, or grilled vegetables.  For that special steak on the grill, Malbec is a natural.  Dos Minas Malbec 2013 comes from high desert country in Argentina’s Salta province.  It’s rich, loaded with ripe dark fruits, roasted meat, earth, and a hint of pepper. Smooth, well structured, nicely complex, and just plain tasty, this is a wine to share with Mom.

What’s a holiday without bubbles?  Whether you serve it at brunch or before going out on the town, Dom. Collin Crémant de Limoux Brut NV is just the ticket.  This sparkler is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Pinot Noir with a second fermentation in bottle (like Champagne, at a fraction of the price).  It’s balanced, elegant, lively, crisp and dry, with fruit and floral notes.  Celebrate!

–M.P. Rouse

Under the Italian Sun

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, April 30, 2015…

Despite its history of spreading the culture of vine and wine, Italy fell behind France and Spain in the production and trade of wine.  By the mid 18th century, viticulture and enology had declined considerably, and while the unification of the country during the mid 19th century led to some improvement, Italy was over a century behind. Wine was sold largely in bulk rather than bottle until fairly recently, and many of Italy’s most famous wines took their present form less than a century ago.  Italy is still a land dominated by local wines in local styles, matching local foods.

Italian wine law was developed in the 1960s with the French system as a model.  It prescribes permitted grapes, styles, alcohol levels, vineyard practices, and winemaking rules (e.g. ageing).  Four levels of specificity exist: Vino da Tavola (table wine, the most general); IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, with some flexibility in grape selection while permitting producer, vintage, and variety on the label); DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, of which there are some 300); and the elite DOCG (DOC e Garantita).  Meant as a guide to quality, the system was largely a failure until reforms in the 1990s improved the extent to which labels reflect quality.

Here are the stars of today’s tasting, moving from the northwest to the southeast. We’ll begin in the Piedmont, with Truffle Hunter Leda Barbera d’Asti 2013.  Barbera is a workhorse grape, productive and early ripening, high in acid and fruit, low in tannin and alcohol, and food friendly.  It’s often known as “the people’s wine” for its range of styles and wide availability.  Pair with pizza, pasta with red sauce, or a chunk of Pecorino.  Although the Piedmont is known mainly for reds, whites are also made.

The Gavi region bordering Liguria is home to the Cortese grape, a crisp white not unlike Sauvignon Blanc.  Picollo Ernesto Gavi 2014 is a good example and a great partner for pasta with pesto.

Moving east to Lombardy, to the western shore of Lake Garda (Italy’s largest), we come to the Valtènsi DOC, created in 2011 to showcase the Groppello grape.  San Giovanni Il Chiaretto Rosé 2014 is a blend of this high-acid strawberry-inflected grape with Marzemino, Barbera, and Sangiovese.  The bottle is unusual and so is the wine.  Try it with shrimp or tuna salad, or perhaps a chicken quesadilla.

On to Tuscany, but not to Chianti; instead, we’ll pause in the Maremma for Tenuta la Badiola Acquagiusta Rosso 2010, a powerful blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah.  Named for an underground spring that provided “sweet water” at a time when malaria was rampant, the wine is made from estate fruit harvested by hand and fermented in tank.  It offers spice, dark fruit, and balsamic notes, making it a good partner for grilled lamb, beef, or mushroom dishes.

Now we’ll hop across the peninsula and down to the heel of Italy’s boot, to the town of Salento in Puglia, for a taste of the Barocco Negroamaro Salento IGT 2013.  This everyday wine is dark in the glass and spicy/fruity, with a slightly bitter component.  It pairs well with pizza, pasta, and cheese, of course, but it’s also good with chili or barbecue sauce.

–M.P. Rouse