Every Monday and Thursday, we discover new wines, regions, and ways to understand this fermenting sea.
- #MWWC29–Time to Vote!
- Riesling from Argentina? Luigi Bosca, Las Compuertas, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza 2014
- Whisky for Whisky Haters: Oban 14 Years Single Malt West Highland Scotland
- Gaja For The Rest of Us: Ca’Marcanda Promis 2013 Bolgheri Tuscany Italy
- Thanksgiving Wine: Gran Moraine, Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon 2013
Munching Vidal Blanc on Keuka Lake, New York
Why fight the cold outside? Let us acclimate to the season with a left field, Winter white. We head south, to a country synonymous with big reds and steak: Argentina. Yes, Argentina, a country that has sold its soul to Malbec. Let us pick the exact opposite of Malbec, the coolest climate grape common to cold, wet, Germany: Riesling.
Luigi Bosca is Argentina’s oldest family-run winery. The Arizus grow gorgeous, biodynamic Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet grapes. Thank their region, Lujan de Cuyo, which abuts the Andes at 3,500 feet above sea level, creating Mendoza’s coldest microclimates.
Their reds show restrained oak, foody acidity, moderated tannins, and controlled alcohols. Can they pull off Riesling? The Arizus make about 6,000 bottles of Riesling annually. They come from a vineyard of 60 year old vines called Las Compuertas on sandy loam soil.
The APPEARANCE looks a clear, pale straw color, with thin waxy legs…good start. Medium, filigreed AROMAS smell of orange blossom, petrol, fresh sage, cut greens, lime juice, and underripe apricot. The PALATE feels snappy, dry, medium in acidity, but with a plump, full, body. FLAVORS pound and pack a fresh lime, sage, dried orange rind, spinach. The finish is long stoney, with hard rock salt akin to margarita salt.
Luigi Bosca’s 2014 Riesling is dry, rich, green-glowing, food-ready stuff. Some herbed chicken or hard cheese would be happy with it. It hardly tastes of Germany. But it should not. It tastes of Argentina. The hot, sunny days give it rip-roaring intensity but the cold nights keep it at 13% abv, with enough acid lift, citric, and saline tautness. It is very good (4 of 5). However, do drink it now. It has another five years ahead of it, but all that packed intensity will fade into vegetal leanness and wax.
Welcome winter in your warm home with a warm climate white. Luigi Bosca’s 2014 Riesling is solid stuff.
Wine has tasted fabulous as far back as my memory (legally) allows me. But I once hated Whisky. It became firmly aligned with regret and college. Coke, Sprite, or whatever fizzy high-fructose corn syrup to hand would mollify it. But Whisky just tasted hot and gross. That is, until I went to Scotland.
Read about our palate-widening visit to Glendronach Distillery here. Ever since, Whisky claims a special place in my heart and cupboard.
In short, cheap Whisky tastes just that, cheap. One has to spend a bit to get skilled distillers and good quality oak barrels. Even then, as with anything new, one has to learn to like it.
Context helps. Pick a cold, miserable night. Be in a positive mood: alcohol is steroids for depression. Avoid distractions: binge watching a show or movie might lead to mindless drinking. Also, avoid ice like the plague. Pour an ounce into a tulip glass with a drop or two of your cleanest water.
Today, we take a baby step but with an approachable spirit as complex and interesting as good wine. Oban, 14 Year Old, Single Malt Scotch Whisky $45-$60/750ml
Oban is old, quirky, and small. They are one of the last surviving distilleries from the 1700s, founded in 1794. It began as a boat building yard, tannery, and brewery. Today, they are one of Scotland’s smallest (0.7 million liters per year). Even the building is small, forcing their wooden condenser to run across rooftops. They also use the smallest legal stills. Unlike most, Oban has made Single Malts (i.e. Estate Wine) since 1880.
Its location makes it special. Most distilleries exist in Scotland’s Northeastern Highlands. Oban, however, survives on the brutal Atlantic coast as one of the last West Highlanders.
How is it?
It has a clear medium intense gold color, bright straw highlights, and lean legs. Aromas smell clean, modulated, and pleasantly complex. Orange oil dominates a frame of juniper, cocoa powder, and died vanilla bean. A notable briney line runs through it. Flavors match aromas with ample fruit and golden delicious apple. It feels dry, with snappy, woody tannins up front, a muscular heat, a lean, medium body, and a soft, fruity finish of medium plus length.
Oban’s 14 is very good (4 of 5), approachable for beginners, but complex and reflects its sea-swept coastal home. They suggest pairing (yes, Whisky food pairings can work) with chicken satay or candied ginger. I just say enjoy it.
Winter closes in. For sad psychological reasons, I now don jackets or sweaters to enjoy chilled whites. I suppose a red will not hurt. Also, we have guests and pizza for dinner. So, a modern Italian seems apt. I rummage around in my crawl space. Why not open an $100 Chianti? Erm….no.
I have lost all grip on reality. My job allows me to try and collect fancy, expensive things. The cost to retail has become my reference point. A wine that costs a shop $25 ends up $33 to $40 on the shelf for the unwashed masses. So all I remember is that I spent $25. Or worse, I was probably given it.
So how do I impress guests but not blow it? Enter Gaja.
No, really, Gaja. Yes, a walk through Gaja on wine.com lists eye-watering prices: $90 Vermentino, $235 Barbaresco, $500 single vineyard nebbiolos, even a $500 Langhe, (go cry here). But Angelo Gaja certainly has earned it.
Born in 1940, Angelo Gaja, a fourth-generation Piedmontese winemaker, took over the family business and flipped it on its head. He brought in 225 liter, new French oak barriques and planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc in the Piedmont: giving his dad a heart attack but launching prices in the international market. He with daughter Gaia Gaja converted to Biodynamic farming and natural winemaking.
Yet, a Gaja does exist for the rest of us. In 1996 Gaja bought his second Tuscan property called Ca’Marcanda (“place of endless negotiations”, because it took forever to acquire) located in Castagneto Carducci in Bolgheri near the coast. 150 acres now grow a sliver of Sangiovese but French grapes dominate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
For around $45, we can touch royalty’s robe. 55% Merlot, 35% Syrah, and 10% Sangiovese ferment separately and then combine in the new year to age in partially used French barriques for 12 months.
Gaja, Ca’ Marcanda, Promis, Toscana Bolgheri Italy 2013:
So, with pizza and good company, how is it? The APPEARANCE looks a clear, moderately deep ruby red. AROMAS smell warm, young but promising, with ripe plum, tart red cherry, resin, cola nut, and cracked pepper. The PALATE feels smooth and even at first, then medium acid and touchy tannins tighten up the plumpish medium body.
Gaja’s 2013 Promis is sleek, modern, delicious, and easy but remains Italian enough with a serious edge and structure that merit a few hours’ decanting or a few years’ cellaring. The plump Merlot core is complimented by Syrah’s spice and Sangiovese’s structure. It is pizza perfect, but a meaty pasta or grilled meat would fly nicely. It is very good (4 of 5) and a steal for $45 or less.
Dang. Ok. I failed. So $45 is still hardly an inexpensive daily wine for most of us. I will work on it.
Thanksgiving can be hell. What wine will work? Food pairing is not the problem. It is people pairing (read here). In past posts, I have leaned on my French crutch of Beaujolais (here and here). Both a good Nouveau or Village will slide seamlessly along with all that salt, fat, and regret. But this is silly. Just because Nouveau releases a week before Turkey Day does not merit its place on the table. Also, most Beaujolais are too tart and lean for most guests.
Thanksgiving is an American holiday. The food is American. The people usually are too. We should drink something American. What better way to match local, bold, rustic foods than with wine from home?
I am from Oregon, but I rarely review our Pinot Noir. Oregon Pinot can have enough complexity and concentration, without being too tannic, heavy, or alcoholic to kill the meal. So, let us show thanks this holiday with something safe.
Gran Moraine, Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon 2013
Now, Kendall Jackson planted Gran Moraine Vineyard in 2005 . Local feeling is mixed over KJ’s invasion of Oregon. But Gran Moraine was slated to become condos with slices of their own vineyards. It could have been worse.
They sit on the Western fringe of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Cool breeze, rain, and classic Northwestern cloud cover keep ripening gradual. The soil is rich, red, and volcanic.
KJ also hires right. Winemaker and Estate Manager, Eugenia Keegan knows her Pinot. She interned in Volnay and Puligny-Montrachet, made wine at local Four Graces, and consults in Russian River Valley and the Roussillon. She has managed to bridge the gap for Oregonian KJ haters.
2013 started warm and dry but ended with cool, wet, classic, Oregon weather. Harvest delayed into early October. After a hand sort and gravity feed into open tanks, the various lots went through tailored cold macerations and fermentations. Ten months followed in 41% new French Oak barrels.
So, what might your guests expect?
APPEARANCE Clear, medium intensity purple core, with limpid clear ruby rims
AROMAS Medium intense, young, dense cranberry syrup, red cherry, orange peel, gingerbread, dried rosemary, iron shavings.
PALATE: Dry, medium plus acidity, edgy, woody medium plus tannins, medium alcohol, medium body.
FLAVORS: dried cranberries, gingerbread, ginger, orange peel, dried tobacco leaf, rosemary that lasts a medium plus length.
Gran Moraine’s 2013 Pinot Noir is compact, young, but hardly heavy nor cumbersome. It has food hungry acidity and tannins. Yet it feels lush and smooth (for Oregon) enough to please most American palates. I would advise decanting it an hour or two prior to the feast. Its flavors scream Fall harvest. At around $45, it is very good (4 of 5) you get what you pay for. My wife admits, “it tastes expensive”.
So, this Thanksgiving you will not please everybody but do try. Think local. Think interesting but approachable. There will be enough to fight over. Let wine smooth out the creases.