November 25, 2012

Viña Gravonia – a classic white from Rioja

Alice is right. It is a delicious wine, from an exceptional producer. It is white, it is made of Viura and the name is Viña R. Lopéz de Heredia.
Alice is of course Alice Feiring, who nurtures tradition and wine making without unnecessary human interference. In the book “The battle for Wine and Love; or how I saved the world from Parkerization” she describes, in a wonderfully vivid and personal style, the meeting with the charismatic Maria José López de Heredia. Their lunch in Haro was accompanied by a Viña Gravonia. We are told that the wine, of vintage 1997, is “the star of the show”.
I tasted the 2002 vintage and was overwhelmed by the character and intensity of the wine. In fact, it was some time since I enjoyed a classic white Rioja. The experience made me realise how much I have missed this style. Of course it is nice to have easy-to-drink, fresh, fruity white wines. But variation is needed and then I prefer an eloquent personality.
R. López de Heredia has a long history. Founded in 1877 as the first bodega in Haro and one of the first three in Rioja. This was at the time when French merchants came to Rioja to find alternatives to the French wines after the attacks of phylloxera in their home country.  The young Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, who then studied winemaking, followed in their footsteps and fell in love with Rioja. Soon the bodega was established. It is still owned and run by the family who cherishes the old traditions.
The grapes to Viña Gravonia come from the vineyard Viña Zaconia, located just next to the bodega. A stony and poor 45 ha large piece of land with 45 year old Viura vines.
The vine is made in the old-fashioned traditional way. After the crushing of the grapes, with immediate removal of the skins, the must is fermented on large, 60 hl wooden vats. Only the grapes’ indigenous yeast is used. The wine is matured at least four years on 225 litres barriques of America oak, with racking twice a year.
It is fined with egg whites, bottled unfiltered and receive an additional four years of maturation on bottle before it is released to consumers. The alcohol is pleasantly low 12,5%. A detail I appreciate.
Viña Gravonia 2002 has a beautiful hue of deep dark gold. The nose is voluminous and permeated of slightly sweet wood. Full-bodied with good acidity, rich almost tannic. Concentrated developed palate with loads of oak and nuts. Delicious finish with very good length.
Try it!

November 17, 2012

Champagne - a style study

Champagne, just taste the word and think of the enjoy of life that comes to your mind. Luxury and flair. Corks fly into the air. Party time!

But which kind of Champagne do you prefer in your glass? Have you ever thought about the different styles of Champagne and which one is your favourite? This was the theme of an interesting tasting including only noble bubbles.

The fresh style was represented by Guy Charlemagne's Blanc de Blancs. Thus 100% Chardonnay. Often a Chardonnay-dominated style. It is fresh, light and youthful. Lemon flavours and austere acidity. Wonderful to shell fish and the favourite of oyster lovers. Another of my real favourites in this style is the very likeable Rudolphe Peter's Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve. Pierre Peters, located almost next door to Guy Charlemagne in the little grand cru-village Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in Côte de Blancs.

The "widely appealing" style has more body, is softer, fruity with a tiny sweetness. Rosé Champagne is found in this style. We tasted Veuve Cliquots Vintage Brut Rosé 2004 which showed good balance, nice fruit, red berries and enjoyable acidity. Delicious just on its own, but why not to a lighter dish of meat?

The full-bodied style often gets many supporters among the Champagne beginners. That is my experience. Pour a glass of Pinot Noir-dominated Champagne and watch the effect. Not unusual to get a comment like "I have not been that found of Champagne, but this is great". When we not serve it as apéritif it is well suited to both foie gras and a bit heavier meat dishes. Swedish Jessica Perrion provided her family's Thierry Perrion Tradition Grand Cru to our tasting. Full bodied, heavier, dark fruit, a bit thicker on the palate. Really yummy.

Finally the mature style. Well, just listen to the name of the style. These are wines of some age that have developed mature notes, complexity and roundness in the acidity. Flavours of ripe apples, spices, chocolat and coffee are usual. The intensity of the bubbles might have calmed down a bit, but for the lover of mature wines this will be a real treat. Just enjoy it on its own. We tasted a Special Club Champagne from Grongnet, vintage 1999.

My favourite among these styles? Well, I prefer three of them: the fresh, the full-bodied and the mature. So it will more depend on occasion and producer. In this tasting Perrion and Grongnet got my highest scores.

November 05, 2012

Pelorus – nice bubbles from the misty bay

Last week’s most interesting tasting was a sparkling event. On the agenda, the New World. One of the wines turned out to be a real challenge for our reference champagne and it was outstanding compared to the other sparkling wines. Perhaps not that surprising, as one of the big Champagne houses is the owner of the winery. 

The wine we liked so strongly was Cloudy Bay Pelorus Blanc de Blancs. Thus 100% Chardonnay. Made by the traditional method, it is stated on the back label. The Swedish wine magazine Livets Goda tells us that the Pelorus Blanc de Blancs was made especially for the 25th anniversary of Cloudy Bay in 2010 and that Sweden is the only European country where it is launched. A superb sparkling wine and incredible value for just 119 SEK (~17 USD) at Systembolaget.
Large fresh, very nice multifaceted nose, which grows and develops in the glass. Notes of butterscotch, spices, flowers, lemon and bread. Medium bodied, fresh with pleasant fruit . Mineral, nuts, lemon. Long, complex taste with characteristic Chardonnay bitterness. Very delicious!
Cloudy Bay is best known as the creator of the pioneering New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh fruit, clean, aromatic with the distinct nose and palate including black current leaves, gooseberries and nettles.
We do not need to travel back in time more than 30 years to find the roots of Cloudy Bay. The year was 1983 when the Australian David Hohnen tasted his first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Hohnen was then the successful winemaker of Cape Mentelle in Margret River, Australia. He got completely overwhelmed by the wine and soon plans for New Zealand winemaking started to grow. On a reconnaissance trip to New Zealand one year later he found the right spot, Blenheim in Marlborough on the northern tip of the South Island. He also met Kevin Judd, who was to become the wine maker of Cloudy Bay during 25 vintages up to 2009.
1985 was the first year of Cloudy Bay Vineyards and the construction of the winery started. At the beginning, purchased grapes were used to make the wine. The first vintage was in fact made at Corban’s winery far up in Gisborne at the North Island. George Taber describes in his book Judgment of Paris how Kevin Judd, who not could attend to the wine making personally, made the first vintage on distance by instructions to the Corban staff over the phone. Interesting is also that some Semillon was included in the first vintage, just below 15 percent, i.e. beneath the limit to be stated on the label.
Back home in Hohnen’s Australia, the wine was an immediate and hearty success. And that was only the beginning of the success story. Cloudy Bay became the role model for the clear-cut New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine, the consumers love it and every vintage is sold out in no time.
The French LVMH, owner of several highly renowned wine producers including Veuve Clicquot and Möet & Chandon Champagne, was an early partner in both Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle. 2001 they became sole owner, when David Hohnen sold his remaining share.  The production of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has increased steadily and is today said to exceed 100 000 cases, i.e. 1,2 million bottles, per year.

There are critics who consider Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc not to be worth its premium price any more. The latest vintage, 2011, is available at the Swedish Systembolaget for 239 SEK (~34 USD). When I tasted the same vintage this spring it fulfilled all my expectations and had then a more pleasant price tag of 199 SEK (~28 USD). At the new higher price level it is unfortunately hardly best value.

The Pelorus Blanc de Blancs is on the other hand an extreme bargain. Just to run to the store!