Posts Filed Under on the road

DallA(l)s(ace)? (Hugel Recent Releases)

Vinted on October 11, 2017 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

Hugel front

When I visited venerable Alsatian wine icon Hugel on a media jaunt earlier this year (2017), they were nary a year removed from the family tragedy of Etienne Hugel’s untimely death, and their CEO had left the company the week prior to my visit. When I mentioned to 13th-generation family member Marc-André Hugel that many of the faces in their most recent welcome video could no longer be found with the company, he quipped “You remember [the tv show] Dallas? It’s just like that here.”

Marc-André Hugel

Marc-André Hugel

If anything defines Hugel, it’s probably that combination of reverential, hard working focus and tongue-in-cheek, cavalier acceptance that Marc-André displayed with affable gusto during my visit. Which isn’t surprising, considering that if you took too seriously the things with which Hugel has to deal on a regular basis, you’d probably blow a gasket. As Marc-André put it, “having a company in the middle of a 2,000-year-old city is… not easy…”

Hugel makes about one million bottles of wine annually, exporting them to over 100 countries, and is fond of testing out new tech in the cellar (to wit: they claim to be the first company in the world to employ a robo-palette). But that cellar dates from 1543, and happens to be near the center of the improbably precious town of Riquewihr. The oldest barrel therein dates back to the early 1700s (full disclosure: I might have crawled inside of it… also, they generate some downright impressive tartrate deposits). The combination of relatively large production, modern touches, and ancient surroundings requires the careful use of their restricted (and highly regulated) space.

Life in the vineyards is equally “not easy.” Their most famous is probably Schoenenbourg (which Marc-André described as “my whole fortune!”); not only does it sits within spitting distance of Riquewihr, but it has, at its steepest extent, slopes that are around thirty-five degrees. Add to that farming difficulty the pressure of maintaining a site that has been revered for hundreds of years (Voltaire is said to have once owned holdings there, for example, which might explain where the Hugel clan gets some of their humor)…

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Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Domaines Schlumberger crand cru vineyards 1

“We are very cheap for a Grand Cru!”

Thomas Schlumberger

Thomas Schlumberger

It could be said that Domaines Schlumberger‘s Thomas Schlumberger doesn’t fully understand the negative connotations of the word “cheap” in the English language. I write that because, as he told me the above quote during a media visit to the Guebwiller property that has been in his family for about 200 years, he phrased it in a tone that was at once proud and matter-of-fact.

The bottom line is that no one really offers a smoother glide path into the vinous world of Alsatian Grand Cru that Schlumberger. First, they have the typical history portion covered: Domaines Schlumberger is still a family business (7th generation export manager Thomas lives across the street from the winery, “where I grew up,” having come back to the family business after a stint in the perfume industry at the behest of his uncle), and still operates out of the area in which the family settled from Germany (choosing the site because of its access to water, needed for their textiles business). From a desire to make wine for their own consumption, they gradually expanded and replanted their plantings in the area to about 70 hectares (this took the purchase of 2500 plots in a single decade, along with ten years of replanting, much of it on terraced slopes so steep that a special breed of horses that don’t experience vertigo were needed to work the vineyards).

Domaines Schlumberger winery dog

obligatory winery dog photo…

From a Grand Cru perspective, Domaines Schlumberger has the raw material to offer inexpensive Grand Cru action: about ten percent of all Alsace Grand Cru wines are sold by them, and they are the largest independent winery in the area, exporting 2/3 of their production to 50 countries (so chances are good that you can find some of their wares).

Maybe most importantly for an ultra-competitive, information-saturated wine market, they have what might be the simplest Alsatian SKU category formula: you can try “classic” versions of Alsace’s principal grape varieties in their Les Princes Abbés line, or the Grand Cru single-site versions, and that’s basically it…

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Spit Shine (Domaine Marcel Deiss Recent Releases)

Vinted on September 20, 2017 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines
Jean-Michel Deiss

Jean-Michel Deiss, talking spit

Jean-Michel Deiss likes to talk spit.

That his family, winegrowers since 1744, are established as the Alsatian version of winemaking royalty probably helps him to get away with it.

“Wine today is an industrial project,” he told me (through interpretation) during a media tour visit to Domaine Marcel Deiss‘ Bergheim winery. “But great wine is not a question of taste. Great wine is like a [good] book; as soon as you finish reading, you look for someone you love [to share it with].”

Or, in my case, you put it on the Internet to share it with total strangers. But the point is a solid one. Anyway, we were talking about spit.

Busker Du Alsace

Busker Du on the streets of Alsace…

“Salivation is how you measure a wine’s energy,” Deiss continued. “You don’t need to be an expert for that. And there’s no salivation without terroir. It’s like geography in the mouth. Where you get salivation, you get terroir.”

“It’s not an efficient concept,” he added, at which point he showed multiple rips in his pants, presumably the result of his efforts in the vineyard and the cellar.

Domaine Marcel Deiss is still a family-run outfit, utilizing about 20 people and overseeing about 30 hectares of vineyards, many of which are old vine field blends (or, as they like to call them “companion planted” vines) of Alsace’s key grape varieties, with roots deep enough that the different varieties essentially ripen around the same time. Deiss’ focus is now solely on vineyard site (rather than on variety), as well as on biodiversity, minimal sulfur additions, and no filtration. Lest you think that this ostensibly hands-off approach should make life at Deiss easier, Jean-Michel’s son Mathieu echoed his father’s sentiment regarding the amount of extra work required by their approach; “with ‘natural’ wine, you have to be more precise in the cellar, not less.” At which point, he offered up the next generation’s version of dad’s ripped pants: according to his cell phone, he had logged the equivalent of 100 kilometers of walking in the last four days alone…

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Contact Points (A Decade Of Cà Maiol’s Molin Lugana)

Vinted on August 17, 2017 binned in elegant wines, Italian Wine, on the road, sexy wines, wine review
Cà Maiol sparkling on lees

Lugana bubbles on the riddling rack at Cà Maiol

Walter Contato knew potential when he saw it.

Like an inordinate number of Italians before and after him, this successful Milan-born businessman took holidays in the sometimes-too-charming-for-words (as in, how-the-hell-are-we-gonna-get-the-car-through-these-narrow-Medieval-streets?!?? levels of charming) Lake Garda town of Sirmione. As an inordinate number of successful white businessmen seem to want to still do, Contato eventually decided that he wanted to become a wine producer, and chose the site of his presumably favorite vacation spot – home to the Lugana wine region – as the place he would try his vinous hand.

It worked out; Contato eventually went on to help establish the Consorzio Tutela Lugana (still in existence today). In the 1990s, he handed over the reigns of his wine venture, Cà Maiol, to his mellifluously-named sons Fabio and Patrizia.

Contato picked a great spot, from a wine-growing perspective; the nearby Dolomites protect the vineyard area (now measuring about 100 hectares in Lugana) from the cold winds coming out of the north. They vineyards sit on enviable calcareous soils. They even have the requisite Older Building, erected in the early 1700s.

I visited Cà Maiol as part of a Lugana-area media jaunt, but I’d had ample access to one of the company’s flagship Lugana releases – Molin – long before that, during previous visits to the region, L’Anteprima Lazise, and even as part of library tastings during that most recent tour. And so I thought that I’d share a bit of perspective on how the Molin fares in bottle over a decade or more (SPOILER ALERT: it fares well)…

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