Across Time and Space: Olga Raffault Les Picasses Chinon Cabernet Franc 2010


tours me building

So young, so naive, so thirsty…

Four years ago, my wife and I landed in Tours on the Loire River in France. The city jumbled modern and medieval comfortably. Our ’70’s dorm sat a few blocks from “an indoor market, rioting with vendors, that provides salvation in the form of local bread and cheese.” At entrance sat the wine shop, Les Belles Caves.  I grabbed multiple bottles of Chinon, Cabernet Franc, from textbook producer, Olga Raffault.

Olga took over her husband’s vines after WWII.  With Ernest Zenninger’s expertise, Olga’s wines gained glory.  She worked into her eighties, while her son Jean and wife Irma followed. Now her granddaughter, Silvie, with her husband Eric de la Vigerie run the reigns.

We first tried Olga’s Les Peuilles 2009. I claimed it “good (3 of 5) wine, perfect for a very French lunch, but probably too young to flaunt its stuff.” Luckily, we also had Olga Raffault’s Les Picasses vineyard 2006.

olga raffault chinon picasses 2006

Not a shabby dorm view

Maybe it was the fifty-plus year-old vines. Maybe we finally got to eat our potato dinner. Either way, Les Picasses was “very good (4 of 5).  Lovely wood spice, florals, earth, and silken, chai tea like characteristics compensate for lean fruit.”

So. Now that I am older, less wise, and no longer in France, how might Olga Raffault’s 2010 Les Picasses fair?

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2010

AROMAS smell intensely of iron filings, tanned leather, porcini mushrooms, cedar, boysenberry jam, and lavender.

The dry PALATE feels reedy, lean, with twangy acidity and a soft yet splintered woody tannic structure.

Medium intensity FLAVORS taste of boysenberry, lemon, red apple skin, cedar, and fresh herbs that carry a long length. 4 of 5 very good.

Honestly, most would find these descriptors unpleasant.  Even in 2012, Olga’s 2006 ranged from “tart red apple, to a soft, woody cigar core, and a tangy lime finish”.  Yum?  Probably not.  But one cannot always sit in a hammock and wear sweats.  From time to time, an office chair and a suit force us to take things seriously.

Likewise, Olga Raffault’s Les Picasses 2010, as with their 2006, is a masterwork in controlling Brettanomyces.  The wild yeast can ruin a wine.  But the Raffaults have enough twangy fruit and effort to tame the beast.  But this thing still demands food.  Charcuterie, coq au vin, baked garlic, grilled game bird, and aged hard cheeses will set it straight.

To Raffault’s credit, Les Picasses 2006 and 2010 maintain a line of continuity and quality, even across continents and time.  They demand one to perk up, focus, make an effort but not try too hard.


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An Amarone for October: Le Ragose 2007

Cold fixes in this side of the hemisphere. Leaves catch fire. Grey and rain dampen the ether. It is not Port season yet. But it is Fall. And I have the perfect wine.

Fly to Valpolicella, valley of many cellars. In the hills overlooking fair Verona grow swaths of vines. The Galli family tend 70 terraced acres near 1,200 feet above sea level: the highest in the region. They bought the abandoned vineyard in 1969.  Here, it is dry, above the fog line, cool yet sunny: perfect for appassimento, aka grape-drying.

Le Ragose View

Enter Le Ragose Amarone.

The Galli harvest a mix of native grapes (50% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 20% Corvinone, and others). Next they dry them in wooden crates until the new year. Then a wild fermentation in tanks leads to a year of settling. Standard Amarone appassimento methods.

But what makes the Galli odd is that they age their wine in Slavonian for five years. Five years! Most people switch careers in less time. The 2007 marks their current release stateside no less. Yet is this patience worth it?

Le Ragose, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC, Italy 2007 $48

Le Ragose Amarone 2007

The sexy APPEARANCE looks clear, with a medium ruby core framed by a light brick rim, and almost cartoonish heavy droplet tears.

AROMAS unfold like an open knit sweater of red cherry juice floating above dried black fig, vanilla and mocha powder, orange juice, green cedar, old cigar box.

The dry PALATE clicks with an equilibrium of medium plus acidity, dusty tannins, medium plus (15.5% abv), and medium body. Le Ragose does not go quietly. You mouth will still squeeze and squeak for food. But it seems supple compared to most monster Amarone.

Warm, inviting FLAVORS start with cassis, candied orange peel, mocha powder, and christmas pudding…ah…lovely, but they then snap straight into a tight yet long finish of cedar, cinnamon, tomato leaf, and alcohol warmth.

Now, most Amarone is big, brooding, alcoholic stuff. I rarely drink it because of its intensity.  But Le Ragose’s 2007 has had enough time to chill out. This is Amarone to drink, especially with food.  Imagine roasted wild birds, lamb, blue cheese, portobello mushrooms dishes, truffle pasta: intense foods with a bit of earth or funk.

Wine clichés like “complex” or do not do Le Ragose” justice.  There is nearly too much going on here.  Textures and flavors keep shifting like piano fingers: delicate yet firm. Drink now through 2025.


Le Ragose, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC, Italy 2007 $48


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Fall Calls For Dessert Wine: Kracher Beerenauslese 2011 Austria

Finally, Fall comes to the Northwest. With it, like leaves on a tree, I shed my need for crisp, light, whites and reds. It is not cold yet for Port mind you. But a small glass of something sweet and complex to slowly sip away the cool evenings is in order.

To Austria!

Neusiedler Lake satellite

The shallow slip of water, known as Lake Neusiedl, creates a foggy bubble where Botrytis cinerea, aka noble rot fungus, pierces grape skins and dries them. This happens in Bordeaux and other regions, but Austria is cooler than most. Thus, Riesling, Chardonnay, and other germanic grapes reign supreme.

Let’s not mess around but go straight to icon Kracher Winery.

Alois Kracher Jr left pharma chemistry to his father’s winery in 1981. By the early ’90s, he brought the winery fame, while the anti-freeze scandal ruined the rest of Austrian wine.  He was the first Austrian to get 100 point score from Robert Parker.  Sadly, pancreatic cancer took Alois in 2007, but his son, Gerhard, now 36, runs the winery

Today’s Fall wine is Kracher’s Beerenauslese 2011: a noble rot, late harvest wine, aged 16 months in 80% stainless tanks, 20% in casks. Grapes include 60% Welschriesling and 40% Chardonnay.

Do you want to pretend it is summer? Do you hate sweet wine (because you hate life)? Then Kracher’s Pinot Gris snaps with acidity, salt, seriousness, and dryness.

Kracher Wines

Dessert on the left.

But accept it. It is Fall. You want more than mouthwatering alcohol.

The APPEARANCE looks a clear, brilliant medium gold, with silver highlights and plump legs.

AROMAS and FLAVORS crash like sea foam waves with intense honey, chamomile, lemon juice, apricot syrup, orange peel, anise, and salt. It tastes like Fall. It carries for miles.

But step away from that flavor assault. The PALATE clicks along with well-oiled balance: cracking acidity meshes seamlessly with viscous 6.7 grams per liter of sugar. Like most couples, each are horridly obnoxious apart, but together they dance.

Kracher’s Beerenauslese is faultless, outstanding stuff (5 of 5). It pairs with you. You  don’t pair with it. You need to slow down. Sip this symbiosis. If you get hungry, Thai red curry, aged goat and blue cheeses, supposedly Kracher even makes their own cheese.

Embrace Fall. Embrace sweet wine. Embrace Kracher’s Beerenauslese.


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A Wild Fall White Wine: Nino Negri, Ca’Brione, Valtellina, Italy 2015

For all intents and purposes, it is basically Fall. Actually Halloween as my wife started decorating in August.  But with temperatures dropping and rain falling, I want a white wine with some meat on its bones.  Tired of the same old Chardonnay? Then you have come to the right post.

Let us fly to the crown of Italy, 30 minutes from Switzerland, where the valley of Valtellina slices open a couple Alps.


Although plantings push to 12,000 feet above sea level, this microclimate sets a steep, cliff-edged stage for vines. The southern exposure works like a solar panel. The river moderates temperature. Thus cool climate grapes like Nebbiolo reign. And Nino Negri has worked the land since the 15th century.


But it gets boring hanging your hat on one grape. So they tinkered with a white blend and called it Ca’ brione.

In September they pick Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: new comers to this land of tradition. To temper their acidity the grapes dry in crates. Meanwhile, in October, red grapes Incrocio Mazione and Nebbiolo get picked and pressed for the clear juice (like Champagne’s Blanc de Noir). All four ferment with white grape skins in the mix.

Half new and used French barrels temper it for eight months.

Nino Negri, Ca’Brione, Terrazze Retiche di Sondrio IGT, Valtellina, Italy 2015 $30

Nino Negri Ca Brione White Wine Valtellina

The APPEARANCE looks amazing. It is clear, with mild straw color and bright gold highlights.

Delicate AROMAS of linen and beeswax surround ripe white peach, marzipan, flint, and lemon rind.

The dry PALATE tingles with ample acidity, warm medium alcohol, and a medium body that feels viscous, plump in texture up front tightening into twangy steel.

Intense complex FLAVORS jump with gold raisin, ripe pear, wax, and tart pineapple juice that carry for days.

The nose is subtle and alluringly deceptive, the palate is rich, assertive and a bit wild, and persistent.  Ca’brione is an outstanding white (5 of 5).  Awesome stuff for $30.  It makes me want fall foods: nutty risotto, mushroom dishes, cream sauces, anything earthy, a bit rich but not overbearing.

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Virginian Wine is for Lovers? Drinking Local -VS- Trendsetting

My wife’s conference brings baby and I to Virginia. We stay in Alexandria: namesake of our ten month old and posh tourist excursion from Washington DC.

Alexandria Courthouse

“Really Dad?”

Now, with a week to kill, between eponymous photo-ops, I explore Alexandria’s wine shops and bottle bars.  Years have passed since I last sold or tried wine from Virginia. I remember liking it. Lean and structured, like Bordeaux, Baboursville Octagon Red seemed solid.

But a concern slowly creeps in.  Alexandria’s shelves and lists feature fab Sancerre, German bubblies, Rhône growers, interesting South African Chenin Blanc, Langhe Nebbiolo, and Californian classics.  Heck, every shop has at least three Oregon Pinot Noir, even unseen single vineyards, and I come from Oregon.

Yet after five shops, only one shop had one bottle of Virginian wine…on the bottom shelf.

Meanwhile, King Street clatters with rolling luggage.  Tourists the world over stay here to visit D.C., Mount Vernon, and Virginia at large.  But shops and wine bars could care less. Why?

I see this in Portland. List, after rack, after cooler fill with cool labels and small producers. But they end up having the same wines.  In their rebellion, they all grow the same beards and man buns, get eagle tattoos, wear plaid shirts, tight jeans, and boots in summer. Rebellion of the redundant always folds into the Zeitgeist.

Maybe their sameness/difference helps them survive against the big chains. But I look at Total Wine, state ABC stores, and chains: they only stock a few natives too.

Could the problem be Virginia’s wine?

Virginia lays claim to the oldest vitis vinifera grapes in the States. Jefferson planted cuttings that survive. Native Norton grape took the world by storm in the 1890s. Sure phyloxera, Prohibition, and California’s rise knocked with wind out of Virginia. But surely, some wine should be worthy of these posh spots.

I start with Horton Vineyards’ Viognier 2016. $14.  Like Rhône whites, they barrel ferment their Viognier for complexity.

Horton Viognier Virginia 2016

Its APPEARS clear with medium lemon color, slight petilance (ruh roh), and washy thin legs.

On first crack, AROMAS smell of matchsticks. Let it breath. Sulfur fades to medium intense fruits of canned pineapple juice, mint leaf, vanilla icing, honeysuckle, and musky beeswax.

The near dry PALATE starts soft and fruity and then revs to top gear with a whiplash of lemony acidity. The acidity obliterates nearly everything until a warm, viscous layer of alcohol levels it out.

FLAVORS follow the palate, with melon and pineapple fruit first, then torque into lemon juice, green bell pepper, salt and cracked flint. A light foxy musk hangs around for a medium length.

Good (3 of 5)

Horton’s Viognier oddly reminds me of retsina with its musky, citric, yet vegetal notes.  But stick with it.  Don’t read a book by its cover.  First impressions are odious.  It takes a while to acclimate to this wild and whippet white.  After a few glasses we seem to accept each other.  Even then, I would advise food: garlic things, hummus and pita, Greek salad, feta, white fish, veal with lemon sauce. $14

Let’s try Horton’s red.  The grape in glass is Norton: a rare US Native Vitis aestivalis that gained respect, crushing French wine in the 1890’s because it broke from the cliché that American grapes make foxy, musky wines (more on that later)…

Horton, Norton, Orange County, Virginia 2015 $15

Horton Norton Virgina 2015.jpg

Multiple vineyards of 93% Norton, 7% Touriga Nacional get aged fourteen months in oak.

The APPEARANCE is inky purple with medium legs.

Aromas glow with creme de cassis, raisins, blueberries, spices like nutmeg and cinnamon from christmas pudding, and, like the Viognier, a wild fox musk.

The PALATE feels dry, with lip-puckering acidity, medium splintery tannins, a medium alcohol and body. Chunky and edgy.

FLAVORS come quick but lean and shallow, reminiscent of black raisins, cassis, pomegranate juice, red cedar, with fox musk. The finish is medium length, citric yet gamey.

Good (3 of 5)

Horton’s Norton has edge, under-ripeness, and a forest-feral quality that I want to admire.  Sheep cheeses, seitan tofu, noodle dishes with soy sauce, or spicy sausages might marry well with this young, wild one. Horton seems to know what’s up, when they suggest, “game, grilled sausages, and spicy ethnic foods.” It is hard to love alone but still good, real wine, so reflective of place to a fault.

Maybe my old favorite Barboursville can step past the funk. They have been around since …. and play up their Jefferson connection. The label spends more time on the home he designed for Barboursville than the juice inside.

I go past $20 in hopes that Barboursville Cabernet France Reserve 2015 ($23) can they dodge the musky bullet?

Barboursville Cabernet Franc Virginia 2015

The APPEARANCE looks a clear ruby with medium legs.

Medium AROMAS echo the French oak via dried tobacco, added with dried sage and thyme, dried mint, and the inevitable musk which looms heavy over a mild raspberry juice.

The dry PALATE shows best balance with still punchy acidity, reedy medium tannins, enough alcohol, and a lean, medium body.

A bit of juicy red raspberry and plum skin catch us up front, but all that musky, oaky, herbaceousness carries from the nose into the medium plus finish.

Very good (4 of 5).

Barboursville Cabernet Franc is still that lean, punchy, red grape behind the serious French oak. It tames but also cannot hide the feral, foxiness that seems endemic to Virginian wine. It begs for aged cheddar, blue cheese, portabella mushroom burgers, lamb, venison, even wild boar.

Shoot. Let’s go off the deep end with an ancient grape from the near east: Rkatsiteli.

North Gate Vineyard, Rkatsiteli, Virginia 2015 $16

Rkatsiteli, called R-kats for ease, clearly begs for a label with cats on it. So Mark and Vicki Fedor hired a local artist to draw lions from her native Nambia. Of course.

North Gate Rkatsiteli Virginia

The APPEARANCE looks clear as a pale, lemon ice with a wimpy wash.

Again, matchstick sulfur clears way to light AROMAS of honeydew melon, fresh ginger, rose water, and light musk oil.

The PALATE feels plump, dry, with medium plus acidity hidden by a viscous stream of slow burning alcohol.

Medium FLAVORS limeade, honeydew melon, and a spicy ginger on the finish carry a medium length.

It works well enough to drink alone, but throw spring rolls, cucumber appetizers, and light mediterranean appetizers its way and be happy.

Good (3 of 5). Well wait…

OK. There is far more Virginian wine out there. Maybe, my coin flip floundered.  But funk at these levels can border on fault.  New York, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, et cetera often also suffered this fate.  Their cold winters, short seasons, and young vines lead to underripe fruit.  This means green flavors too little to hide funk.  But that foxiness the French once blamed our native vines for, really comes from bacteria. The French have Brettanomyces that, when tamed, creates complex layers of saddle leather, barnyard, and forest floor. But Brett can ruin French wine just like Virginian wines.

Yet having drunk the koolade for a week: eaten local fish, peanuts, cheese, and ham, North Gate’s Rkats and Barboursville’s Cab Franc start grow on us.  We cringed at New York wine when we moved there.  But after a year, some (not all) started to taste amazing.  We acclimated.

So back to Alexandria’s wine buyers. Many are transplants trying to make it in a tourist hub.  They brought their hip wine baggage with them.  Even though they buy ham, cheese, honey, veg, et cetera from Virginia’s lush western hills, they forgot the wine in their backyard.

It takes hard work to keep acclimating: to find the good in the new, old, weird, and wild.

But wine buyers forgot to be relevant in the pursuit of being interesting. It must frustrate them to send a curious tourist away because their list/shelf lacks the local. But find something decent, Horton, Barboursville, take their money, and support your community.

That, or there’s always local beer:

Virginia Beer

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