Posts Filed Under overachiever wines

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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Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Old Vines Somontano

What do you do when your identity, your story, and even your best efforts are only seen through the contextual lens of your more famous cousins?

Besides developing an inferiority complex, I mean? After all, major characters in Greek tragedies were written with this stuff in mind; and it happens to be the defining lucha of Northern Spain’s Somontano wine region. That’s not the entire Somontano story, of course; as it happens, the region just might be the home of your next favorite Garnacha or Cabernet. While the DO is probably more familiar to WSET students than to American consumers, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot have been grown in Somontano for over one hundred and twenty years.

Viñas del Vero old vines

Viñas del Vero’s old hillside vines

Somontano is a place that’s relatively high on quality fine wine and winemaking prowess, but low on the ohhhhh-producing items (think indigenous grapes, or trendy stylistic techniques) that make for easy feature article material in the wine trade. The area largely produces wines from international varieties, in some cases from vines with significant age on them, done up in styles that are clean, fresh, and modern enough to all but dilute any defining sense of place.

But a sense of place does exist in Somontano, albeit courtesy of more famous wine regions. When the phylloxera epidemic spread throughout France, Somontano’s proximity and favorable climate made it an attractive spot for planting French vitis vinifera; which was later followed by declining demand and the abandonment of vineyard sites that were promising but difficult to farm. Sites like Viñas del Vero‘s “rediscovered” high-elevation plantings.

Situated at the northeastern slopes of the Somontano DO, along the edges of the European plate, these vineyards had dwindled down to 5 hectares by the time that Viñas del Vero rescued them (they’re now up to about 55 hectares). The oldest of the field-blended vines along those 800-meter-high, calcareous hills are in excess of 100 years in age. As Viñas del Vero’s vineyard manager José María Ayuso put it (during a media tour of the region), “you can get maybe one bottle per vine” from those old souls…

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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)

San Diego kiss

Kiss kiss! We heart San Diego…

CIWC 2017I was once again fortunate enough to be invited to judge at the annual Critics Challenge International Wine competition, which took place late last month in Stay-Classy San Diego.

CC is always one of the highlights of my professional year; the organizers, volunteers, and fellow judges are all top-notch, and the fact that they’re also great people with whom to hang is just tasty icing on the cake. And then there’s the whole going-somewhere-gorgeous-to-taste-wines aspect, and, well, I suppose In can’t be helped for waxing too poetic at about it.

As in past years, I thought that I would highlight a few of the wines that I considered particularly memorable from the medal-winners. In this case, there were two that received a Platinum award from my judging panel that went on to take Best-in-category awards, and another that didn’t come from my table, but I just wanted to make sure was on your radar because it’s friggin’ tasty…

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Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)

Vinted on June 2, 2017 binned in elegant wines, on the road, overachiever wines, sexy wines, wine review
Marangona's Alessandro Cutolo

Marangona’s Alessandro Cutolo

Alessandro Cutolo kind of looks like a viking.

Aside from close proximity to a body of water (in this case, the Italian Lake Garda), however, the heavy-handed Old Norse warrior comparison fizzles out completely. Because at the crossing of the Veneto and Lombardia regions, Cutolo, as owner and winemaker of Lugana’s Marangona, crafts elegant, svelte whites without even a hint of the roughshod among them; thanks in part to what could only be described as a minimalist approach.

Marangona vines“I want to do as little as possible,” Cutolo told me during a recent media-trip visit, “to [express] my idea of the wine.”

This don’t-touch-it-in-fact-don’t-eben-look-at-it-you’ve-already-seen-enough approach starts in his calcareous-clay soil vineyard, where the grass is high (“it helps with disease”) and the treatments are few. “If it’s possible to have less [impact],” he remarked, “than why not?”

Cutolo owns 27 hectares of ten to fifty year-old vines in Lugana, most of them planted to the deceptively age-worthy Turbiana variety. The estate’s buildings date from the late 1600s, and his family farmed grapes, corn, and cattle here since the 1950s. He now produces about one hundred thousand bottles of (downright delectable) Lugana wine per year…

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