Posts Filed Under wine review

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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Turning Tables To Turning Heads (Trestle Thirty One 2015 Finger Lakes Riesling)

Vinted on August 30, 2017 binned in elegant wines, wine review

For Riesling lovers, the last four years in particular have been a good time to be alive.

Trestle 31 Riesling 2015On one side of the shiny Riesling-fine-wine-world-market coin, Europe’s traditional flag-bearing regions of that grape been performing well; on the other side, we’ve seen the emergence of up-and-coming areas that, while far from wine-drinking household names, undoubtedly have potential.

In the middle of those extremes, we are witnessing the coming of age of what for years were Riesling-producing regions sometimes derided as being in “maybe they’re just also-rans?” category. Finger Lakes, I’m looking at you.

The best of the wines of New York’s Finger Lakes – both red and white – have almost certainly never crafted been better than they are now. Which isn’t to say that FLX Rieslings were always bad; we know that isn’t true, particularly for the standout producers on Seneca Lake. But until recently, there always seemed to be enough mediocre wines for many of the wine cognoscenti to feel that FLX deserved the fine wine participation trophy, rather than a European Cup.

Thankfully, that table setting seems now to have been turned, with either more FLX wine producers pulling their weight and meeting their high-quality Riesling potential, tastemakers developing enough open-mindedness and sophistication to entertain the Finger Lakes as a world-class Riesling producing region, wine critics catching up their perceptions to the reality of the quality wines being crafted in FLX, or (much more likely) a combination of all three.

The result is that the area is both retaining and attracting wine talent; as in today’s highlighted example from the sample pool, which was crafted by Robert Mondavi Winery alumnus (and Constellation Director of Winemaking) Nova Cadamatre, who (as of the time of this writing) crafts the releases for FLX’s 240 Days Wines

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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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