Posts Filed Under on the road
Let’s bid adieu to November, in our hazy, Post-Thanksgiving-Holiday trytophanic bliss, by catching up on the happenings over at My Name Is Barbera (for whom I’ve been doing both written and video work helping to promote Barbera – and other – wines from the Monferrato area).
First, there’s a lips-eye-view (yeah, I agree, that phrase was a bad idea) of Monferrato’s vinous equivalent of a Wild and Crazy Guy, Grignolino. I’ve written about this wily, overachieving red grape before, but here’s a chance to get up close and personal with it through a video tasting of Grignolino wine with Paolo Bava, whose passion for these wines will quickly be evident once you start watching.
Next, we get back to our normal programming, which means focusing on Barbera. In an interesting twist, in the next vid we move away from the relatively small production outfits that have been the focus of much of our previous journey through Monferrato’s Barbera producers, and talk with Lorenzo Giordano of Vinchio Vaglio (who just celebrated their 30th anniversary, with an event at which I was supposed to speak, but couldn’t attend because I got wicked sick… and yeah, I’m still a little raw about it, thankyouverymuch…). As you’ll see in the vid below, Giordano oversees a sizeable cooperative operation, and so has a unique, 20,000-foot view of Barbera throughout the region, and through all of its various quality levels.
[ Editor’s note: Yes, I realize that tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA. No, I don’t feel compelled to write about wine pairings for it, because that topic has been covered, and covered, and covered, and covered, and covered already. If you’re really jonesing for Turkey Day wine help, see previous coverage of that here on 1WD, all of which is still relevant. ]
Every once in a while, I get asked to do really cool things, like judge wine competitions alongside bright, interesting, qualified people who, for reasons that I still don’t fully understand, consider me a peer.
Evan Goldstein, MS, surveys the room during the AWoCA 2017 judging
Such was the case a couple of months ago, when my friend Evan Goldstein (and his Full Circle Wine Solutions biz) asked if I’d be interested in judging the 2017 incarnation of the Anual Wines of Chile Awards, held this hear in his native San Francisco. I’ve worked with Evan and FCWS a few times before, who are top-notch, and we know that Evan knows his shiz when it comes to South American wines in general, so of course I said Hellz Yeah to that.
The winners of the 2017 AWoCA (now in its 14th incarnation) were recently announced at an event in Washington DC, and so I am now officially able to share highlights of the results with you.
What I found most exciting during the unfolding of the AWoCA competition, even more so than the high quality of Chile’s vinous wares in general, was how well Chile’s much-touted diversity was on full, 4KHD-tuned-to-vibrant-color-settings display in the wines that were entered…
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Remember when I waxed all smitten-like over a tasting of Rangen Alsace Grand Cru Riesling?
Well, I do.
I was so smitten, in fact, that I did something that I’ve only ever done twice in ten years, which was to reach out to the U.S. PR agency dealing with Alsatian wines and ask them to book me on a media jaunt to the area, so that I could get my feet directly on those Rangen rocks. Which, luckily for me, they did.
In a classic case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for-vuz-you-just-might-get-it, I then had to scale the greater-than-45-degree slopes of Alsace’s southernmost (and by far its steepest) Grand Cru vineyard site, though the view (and the tastes) about 450 meters up were well worth a little breathlessness (PSA: if you consider yourself not exactly physically fit, you might want to skip a visit to Rangen). Think the Mosel, only steeper (yes, the vineyard workes use ropes to secure themselves from falling to their deaths during harvest), or the Douro (only with less terracing and more danger to life and limb). The only marring comes by way of the factories along the nearby Thur river, a holdover from the `50s. Otherwise, this spot between Thann and Vieux-Thann is thoroughly picturesque.
Rangen has a few other characteristics that distinguish it from the rest of Alsace’s (many) GC sites. It might be one of the oldest of the region’s Grand Crus, with the origin of its name being lost to posterity (the first recorded reference goes back all the way to the Thirteenth Century). The rocky soils are about 330 million years old, the result of older mountain ranges and volcanic extrusions all mixed up together. This makes for a harder-than-average vineyard soil, with dark components that help to retain heat, with a more fragile subsoil that allows deep penetration by the vine roots.
You’d think that, with the steepness, naturally low yields, and the fact that it takes new vines closer to seven years to produce fruit here (versus three years in more forgiving environments), that harvest would be a total bitch. But there’s an even bitchier aspect of the Rangen for those that tend it…
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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.”
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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