Posts Filed Under sexy wines

The People’s Republic (Highlights From “Authentic Alentejo”)

Vinted on August 24, 2017 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, sexy wines, wine review
union theological seminary

Tasting Alentejo at the Christian Hogwarts…

In the grand scheme of the wine world, Portugal appears to be the county that stands tall, despite its relatively small size (about 575 miles long, and just under 140 miles wide). In Napoleonic-complex fashion, it makes up for its stature in other ways; Portugal is in the top ten worldwide in vineyard acreage, per capita wine consumption, wine exports to the USA, and almost squeaks into that list for wine production (coming in at number 11).

Given that, we tend to forget that Portugal’s land mass isn’t actually all that tiny; one of its largest production areas – Alentejo – is responsible for half of the world’s wine cork production, takes up approximately one-third of the country, and has portions in the south that stretch all the way out to the coast. Alentejo has eight sub-regions, over 35,000 acres of PDO wine production, and is about the size of Belgium.

Joshua Greene Alentejo NYC

Wine & Spirits’ Josh Greene, doing his best religious statue impersonation

The host of a recent Wines of Alentejo “Authentic Alentejo” event held (I was a media guest), Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein summed it up this way: “‘the People’s Republic of Alentejo,’ if you will.”

Wine has deep roots (ha ha) in Alentejo, stretching back about 4,000 years. The pre-Roman-era Tartessians likely introduced winemaking to the region, and the Romans cemented it into its DNA (including the amphorae methods of talhas de barro, still in use today). The region has more or less been making wine ever since, with only a brief decline during Moorish occupation in the 8th Century. In modern terms, tourism-stimulating attention from National Geographic and a nearly seven-fold increase in wine producers in the late 1990s have brought renewed vinous attention to the region.

Well, that and the fact that several of the wineries became known for the fruit-forward, full-throttle, probably-overblown style of winemaking popular with major wine critics during the last couple of decades.

But Alentejo wines don’t have to be overblown; at least, that’s the takeaway that I got from the wines presented by Goldstein and co-host Joshua Greene in the refractory of NYC’s Union Theological Seminary (best imagined as the Christian version of the main hall at Hogwarts)…

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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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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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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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