Wine Review for Spring: Grillo Grapes by Tenuta Rapitala Sicily Italy

An earthquake and marriage coincided in 1968.  The Belice Valley earthquake destroyed Rapitalà winery in western Sicily, just as French Count, Hugues Bernard de la Gatinais, married Gigi Guarrasi and moved there.  Together, they renovated their winery and vineyard. Six years later, Rapitalà began to lead modern wine-making in Sicily. Today, son Laurent continues their drive.

They own 618 acres ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the sea.  Grillo grapes cut a western swath across these elevations.  Now, I know what you are thinking: Grillo must be some funny Sicilian name for Pinot Grigio. Or maybe Grillo is grilled wine. Or maybe they name it after a local animal armagrillo. No! The Grillo grape comes from uncertain origins, but handles heat and often ends up fortified as Marsala.  Rapitala harvests it early in mid-August.

Rapitala Grillo Sicily

Now, I could only get my hands on a 2012. But for $14 lets have faith and try it.

The APPEARANCE is light yellowish green with golden highlights.

The PALATE feels dry, light but hardly hollow, with pleasant crisp acidity.

AROMAS and FLAVORS come out fairly forward and bright with sage and pine nettles, dried white rose, gold pear, and lemon juice leading the show. Salt and wax carry for a medium plus length.

Rapitalà’s Grillo is just right for Spring. It is solidly good wine (3 of 5) even pushing five years away from vintage.   This wine will provide a pleasant diversion to other easy but bright things like Pinot Blanc or Gris.  Imagine warm evenings, finally breaking out the patio furniture and grilling some fish.


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Wine Review: E Carrel Brut Sparkling Wine from Savoie France

Just before you get to Swiss and Italian Alps. Just before you bathe yourself in fondue. Make a wine stop in France’s Savoie:

Savoie Wine Map

Savoie is a collection of seven gerrymandered valleys just warm enough to ripen grapes.  Romans called it Sapaudia or Sabaudia: land covered in fir trees. Clearly, they had little confidence in its wine potential.  But the French needed somewhere to ski.  So they annexed Savoie in 1860.

Understandably, crisp white wines make up three fourths of Savoie’s product.  Native grape Jacquere dominates at around 20% of plantings, followed by cool climate red Mondeuse, white Altesse (aka Roussette), and familiars, Roussanne (aka Bergeron), Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Gamay.

Eugene Carrel, Paulette and son Olivier run their family estate in Jongieux, forty miles southwest of Geneva.  Their 23 acres of vineyards hang high and steep at 1,476 feet above sea level, on chalky clay soils, desperately facing the sunset southwest.  Luckily, Jongieux enjoys nearly three more hours of sun than the rest of Savoie.

E. Carrel’s Brut comprises of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Jacquere made fizzy thanks to secondary bottle fermentation akin to Champagne. Promising….

But how does this mountain goat bubbly taste?

Carrel Brut Savoie

The APPEARANCE looks clear, but like pale golden hay, with a rapid froth that mellows into a fine rapid string of pearl bubbles. Lovely.

Mild, fresh, but quiet AROMAS smell of grass, hay, light honey, lemongrass, and star gazer lily.

The PALATE feels off-dry, braced by racing, well cut acidity. Yet a plump little medium body and waxed texture compensate for the acid and fizz.

Flying intense FLAVORS contradict the demure nose with fresh white honey, crisp lemon grass, a touch of chalk, and singing lemon juice that last a medium plus length.

E. Carrel, Brut, Savoie France NV will start any party off right. This is very good (4 of 5) and under $16, a lovely alternative to any Cremant de… or Cava out there.  Involve appetizers, salads, mild or young cheeses (goat boucheron), flaky white fish, scalloped potatoes…heck, take off your ski jacket, put on a cardigan sweater, kill the lights, fire up some candles, and warm a pot of fondue.

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Cava Solves Power Outage

imageWith 90 + mph winds knocking trees into power lines, it looks like we will not have power through the night. Desperate times call for desperate measures: time for the emergency Cava rosado. Nothing will fool us into thinking we’re in sunny Barcelona better.

Vilarnau, Brut Reserva Rosé, Cava, Spain NV $15

It looks bright clear and cranberry pink. Smells of fresh, underripe strawberries, orange, and vanilla. Nears brut dryness with zipped acidity and a twangy fresh personality. Made from native Trepat and Pinot Noir. Very good stuff 4 of 5. $15 Thanks Vilarnau!

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Revel in the World’s Biggest Wine Bottle Punt

Now, I am not implying that Krupp Brothers Winery suffers from an inferiority complex, size issue, or that they are over-compensating for anything in particular. But *cough *cough

Krupp Brothers Punt

Look at that punt. You could fit a foot in that punt. That punt defies the laws of glass physics. I mean, just revel in its glory:

Wine Bottle Punt I thought this M5 Stagecoach Cabernet was a magnum. Nope, 750ml. Empty, it weights nearly two pounds and eleven ounces. Empty!

Krupp Bottle Weight

2 lbs 11 oz! Our rabbit weighed 2 lbs 11oz. A whole dang rabbit! Normal wine bottles weigh fourteen ounces. 14 oz! Not nearly three times that amount.

The next time you spend $200 on a bottle, feel solace in knowing that you are getting a lot glass. Buy two and you will get two new barbells: very expensive, breakable barbells.

The wine is pretty good as well.

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Found in Translation: A Grape By Any Other Name (Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 32 #MWWC32)

The theme is “translation” for this, the thirty second Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.

Luckily, my Aunt surprised me recently.

She hosts near-monthly dinners, cooks great food, and pours copious amounts of sparkling wine.  I bring good bottles that survived my workweek.  Well, at our last powwow she had something new from Oregon.

Now, most American wine is an act of translation.  Why?  Because we try to conjugate European grapes with American soil, climate, and palates.  Results taste familiar but different: like speaking French with a Texan accent.  But with today’s wine, America forgot the encyclopedia.

My Aunt’s wine comes from Dundee, Oregon.  There, by 1975, 15 acres of red clay-loam and volcanic soil got planted with what they thought was Pinot Blanc.  Erm…nope!

The mistranslation dates back to 1939, when Georges de Latour first planted a white grape at Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) in California.  BV called it “Pinot Blanc”, “Melon”, and even “Chablis”.  Even David Lett, founding father of Oregon’s Eyrie Vineyards, fell into the Pinot Blanc trap.  It took until 1980 for French ampelographer Dr. Pierre Galet to discover that America’s “Pinot Blanc” was actually Melon de Bourgogne: a grape synonymous with Muscadet in the western Loire.

Whether marketing or mess up, we should not cast too much blame.  Melon de Bourgogne, as its name implies, originated in Burgundy anyway.  It even comes from a Pinot blanc and Gouais blanc crossing.  Also, Melon from our warmer climates is soft, pear-like akin to Pinot blanc than its briney lemony Loire counterpart Muscadet.

By the 1980s, Ken Wright’s Panther Creek set Dundee’s vineyard straight.  He made the first, aptly-labelled, “Melon de Bourgogne” from those vines.  After 1999, the Baldwins bought the vineyard and founded De Ponte Cellars (named after their Portuguese matriarch). Their winemaker Isabelle Dutartre hails from Burgundy, which promises well.  Oregon’s 2014 vintage provided record amounts of exceptional fruit.

So how does their Melon de Bourgogne fair?

De Ponte Cellars, D.F.B., Melon de Bourgogne, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2014 $20-$25

De Ponte Cellars Melon de Bourgogne 2014


The APPEARANCE borders on pale straw, with glints of gold.

AROMAS waft about, easy-as-you-please, showing white pear, apple blossom, light honey, and a little pip of lemon juice softened by marzipan.

The PALATE’s acidity feels bright but tame, the body medium, round and texture mildly viscous.

Mellow FLAVORS echo aromas with ripe white pear, honeyed lemon, chamomile tea, and a pinch of salinity. Flavors carry an unobtrusive medium plus length.

De Ponte’s 2014 Melon de Bourgogne is tidy, fruity, and easy, yet dry, fresh, and linear enough to take seriously.  But do not expect zippy French Muscadet.  This is American Melon and it is very good (4 of 5) especially drunk now.  It begs for Spring, mild seafood, oysters, salads with pear, nuts, and feta, vegetable Paella, or mild cheese like my Aunt’s Gouda.

As the wine maker turns grapes into magic, wine writing requires us to translate liquid into words.  We parse a drink’s chemical signatures to tell its story: by proxy, adjective, association, and metaphor.  However, neither are perfect.  Pinot Blanc is not Melon de Bourgogne.  Yet it seems like it.  Just as my “white pear” is someone’s golden apple.  Our stumbling makes the journey more interesting.  In wine making, as in wine writing, it is fine if some things get lost in translation.

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #32 (#MWWC32)


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