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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Cantina Giardino Gaia

Italy (Campania)

fiano

www.cantinagiardino.com

The roots of their winemaking go back to 1997, when Daniela De Gruttola and winemaker Antonio di Gruttola were touring the Ariano Irpino region of Campania in southern Italy. They discovered several farmers with patches of old vines untouched by modern treatments. Old vines, Antonio contends, are better able to defend themselves against disease and climate change. They have stronger immune systems than seedlings cloned in laboratories. “Their diversity is their strength for survival; no disease will kill them.”

Spurred on by the possibilities for winemaking at its most natural, Daniela and Antonio, with four friends and relatives joined forces to vinify about two thousand bottles for their own use, all in the garage of Pasquale Giardino, the senior partner of the group. By 2003 Cantina Giardino was born, the commercial enterprise began, and today production is up to about 24,000 bottles annually, with 90% of it exported. It is made up of ten different bottlings, both red and white, each enhanced with a label designed by one of their artist friends. At this scale there is not a great deal of profit to be made. So why do it? The answer — “Because  it makes us feel better.”

They view their approach to winemaking as fundamentally a “philosophical-cultural” concern. It embraces respect for the environment and the consumer, emphasizing “originality, craftmanship, and authenticity.” Central to that approach is the restoration of varietals indigenous to the region, including Aglianico Irpinia, Fiano, Greek, and Coda di Volpe.

Our bottle of Gaia is all fiano, from vines 40-70 years old. The various organic growers from which they purchase grapes work their vines only by hand. Once harvested in mid-October, the grapes undergo a rigorous selection process. A four-day cold maceration on the skins is followed by manual pressing with a wooden press. Fermentation on the lees extends to three months, in barriques of chestnut and acacia, and then in oak barrels of 600-litre capacity. Only indigenous yeast. A year-long aging on the lees. Bottling with no fining or filtration. Minimum addition of sulphites, and in some years, none at all.

Recently the group has purchased two hectares of their own vines. There is increased use of 200-litre terra cotta amphorae (manufactured locally) for the vinification. This has led to a new enthusiasm. The heart grows fonder. 

Cantina Giardino Gaia 2009

The natural qualities of the wine are immediate, in the golden haze in the glass, and the exciting, uncommon aromas. Rich and earthy, a complex menage of brackish smoke and spice. In the mouth it is no less lively, with a cut of tannic sourness that makes for an authentic, unstripped, thoroughly memorable encounter.  $$

[Thanks, Elena, for the wine photos, and the food!]

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Matetic Vineyards EQ Syrah

Chile (San Antonio Valley)

syrah

http://www.matetic.com

Matetic Vineyards EQ Syrah 2008

Dark, dark violet ink. Intense black fruit nose, with liquorice spice notes. On the palate a fresh acidity, a clear fruit concentrate, nicely structured. Full-bodied and full-flavoured. Enlivening the Christmas season.  $

Matetic Vineyards dates back only to 1999, with the decision of the Matetic family to expand its business interests in Chile to the production of wine. The San Antonio Valley was the site chosen, about 120 km west of Santiago, specifically its Rosario region. Here the soil and climatic conditions are excellent for the cultivation of grapes. Founder Jorge Matetic put in place a team of professional winemakers and consultants and Matetic Vineyards quickly developed a reputation that placed it among Chile’s top wine producers.

Matetic produces both red and white varieties. For red, syrah predominates. The syrah vineyards are in two near flat sections of the Rosario Valley, with a slight north elevation. They consist of decomposed granite topped by red clay. The climate is temperate mediterranean, strongly influenced by the South Pacific Ocean. It is marked by broad temperature fluctuations, as much as 20 degrees on a given day. The cool nights and moderately hot days are ideal for the ripening grapes.

The ninety hectares under vine are organic, with a leaning towards biodynamic methods. Careful vineyard management limits yields. Harvesting is by hand. The best grapes are destemmed and inspected further so only the most perfectly ripened find their way to the temperature controlled fermentation tanks. The tanks relatively small size allows for more individual attention, and greater precision during the blending process.

There’s a state-of-the-art cellar for the storage and maturing of the wine in oak barrels, fitting rather impressively with the landscape. It’s the major focus of any wine tour. Wine tourism is a major business in Chile and Matetic Vineyards fits the bill perfectly.

All this sounds rather businesslike, contrasting with the centuries-old, multi-generational domaines of Europe, but it is the more likely reality among New World wineries. In this case what it lacks in history it makes up in quality.

Raise a glass. Feliz Navidad.

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Marie-Courtin Efflorescence

France (Champagne)

pinot noir

[no website]

Marie-Courtin Efflorescence 2007

The bottle says “extra brut” and for sure it is the driest champagne I’ve experienced. Dry, but by no means bitter. There’s a fresh, savoury nose, with hints of apple, tarragon, yeast perhaps, and cheese. In the mouth a crisp vegetal and mineral presence. Flavourful and elegant. With a lingering sensory finish. Charming.  $$$

Regular readers of this blog know I have a fondness for small production grower champagne. I could never appreciate all the fuss over champagne, until I encountered this new breed of exceptional single harvest, single vintage, single grower champagne that flies in the face of the big names in the region.

Dominique Moreau cultivates just 2.5 hectares. Hers is, in fact, a single hillside vineyard of 40-50 year old vines, mostly pinot noir. It is located in the village of Polisot, in that other, that less-prized part of Champagne — Aube. Long considered merely a supplier of grapes for the prestigious Marne to the north, the Aube region has recently come into its own, with a host of  vignerons whose grower champagnes are turning the heads of those who thought they knew all there was to know about what makes great champagne.

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In the case of Moreau and her domaine Marie-Courtin it starts with the limestone-clay soil, which in many ways is closer to the soils of nearby Chablis than those of Marne. Add immaculate care through the growing season, including debudding and bringing the fruit to its prime ripeness (sometimes a challenge in Champagne, the most northern of France’s wine-growing regions). Continue with hand harvesting and traditional wooden basket pressing, in which the first and last litres of juice are set aside, so only the best is fed by gravity to the tanks on the lower floor. Vinification using only indigenous yeast, and, in the case of Efflorescence, using neutral oak barrels. No added sugar at the time of bottling. Minimal intervention at all stages.

Moreau chose to name her domaine after her great-grandmother, whom she recalls as very much “a woman of the earth.” The domaine was created in 2001, with her first vintage in 2006. Cultivation has been strictly organic from the start, with some biodynamic methods. She will often use pendulums in both the vineyard and the cellar to access the various stages of development from grape to wine. Until recently, she produced only two cuvées. Efflorescence, she notes, refers to “something that evolves in perpetuity.” A decisive step away from the year-to-year sameness of the bottlings from Champagne’s big-name houses. A step rather towards wine that varies with vintage and age. How much more interesting and wine-like.

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Tres Sabores ¿Porqué no?

United States (California)

zinfandel (76%), cabernet sauvignon (12%), petite sirah, petit verdot

www.tressabores.com

Tres Sabores ¿Porqué no? 2007

If this colourful wine has a reputation for being the life of a party it’s because it likes to play with the senses and be perfectly charming at the same time. Deep and rich in the glass, but not brawny. This unusual varietal combination is packed with flavour and very drinkable. Youthful, and a bit exotic. Black fruit, spices, tobacco, chocolate. A pleasant tannic touch. One cork popped leads easily to another.  ¿Porqué no?  $

I think of it as a bit of a melting pot of a wine. Our celebratory wine for the reelection of Obama. Bravo. ¡Bravo.

Tres Sabores translates to “three flavours.” Three tastes. Three components (according to their website) of good winemaking – the terroir, the vine, the artisan. When Tres Sabores was in its formative years, three winemakers were hired, given their own section of zinfandel vines, and the complete freedom to do with it what they will. The result – three cuvées, three bottlings, three different wine drinking experiences.

The owner behind this experiment was Julie Johnson. That was 1999 and Johnson, once a public health nurse in the Napa Valley, had decided to make her own strong foray in the business of making wine. Years before she had co-founded Frog’s Leap Winery with her first husband and a third partner. But this was a move well beyond that. By 2003 she was wine-making herself, learning lots, and very much enjoying the experience.

Suddenly disaster struck. In the fall of 2005 a huge fire in Vallejo destroyed a wine storage facility used by 95 wineries and many private collectors. Tres Sabores lost 2000 cases. It was a devastating blow, but one from which Johnson emerged with renewed vigour. (What little she salvaged from the fire she made into a meat marinade and glaze which she sold as Fire Roasted Zinfadel Sauce!)

Johnson knows the value of her vineyards. Set on the western side of the Napa Valley near the top of the Rutherford Bench, a “sweet spot”, to use her words, for her red grape varietals. The ranch style property has been long certified organic (likely one of the first in Napa), and not only for its five hectares of grapes, but also for olives, pomegranates, lamb and guinea fowl. Visitors consistently report the generous welcome they receive, in a family-friendly atmosphere that remind them of the Napa of the 1970s.

It’s reassuring that such places still exist, given that Napa seems all about big business these days. ¡Bravo.

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Domaine Vincent Stoeffler Kirchberg de Barr Grand Cru

France (Alsace)

gewürztraminer

www.vins-stoeffler.com

Vincent Stoeffler is part of that newer generation of vignerons in Alsace — educated, very much in tune with environmental issues, strongly committed to tradition and terroir. In recent years they’ve taken on a strong profile across the region. It speaks well of wine-making in this part of France.

Stoeffler studied viticulture at both Beaune and Dijon, followed by internships in several different wine regions, prior to taking over the family vineyards in 1986. Today the domaine amounts to 15 hectares spread over 10 communes. Since 2002 all have been certified organic.

Thirty-five different labels are produced here, using eight traditional varietals of Alsace. These include a late harvest, a “sélection de grains nobles”, and a couple of fine crémants. There are two grand crus — a riesling from Schoenenbourg de Riquewihr, as well as a reisling, pinot gris, and this gewürztraminer from Kirchberg de Barr.

The soil is essentially shell-bearing limestone. The Vosges Mountains give protection from the western winds. But it is the care that is taken with the vines that raises substantially the quality of the wine production. Much of it is by hand, ensuring healthy plants benefitting from good aeration, set among soils that are vigorous and alive with micro-organisms. The aim is a low yield of top quality grapes at ultimate maturity. Harvesting begins in October and takes about five weeks. The grapes go through a very slow pressing, followed by natural fermentation, without added yeasts. Maturation is on fine lees in large, old French oak casks, for about nine months, with manual racking. The addition of sulphur is minimal.

Says Stoeffler, “I am looking for the purity of aromas and flavors, balance and personality in each of our wines, and I give the same attention to them all – from simple sylvaner to the noblest wines.” He is quick to add that he makes wines that appeal to him, not ones lead by marketing concerns.

The result — a very fine selection of wines across the board that have garnered strong and widespread praise from the French wine press. In recent years they have been reaching North America, with equal accolades.

Domaine Vincent Stoeffler Kirchberg de Barr Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2008

A warm, gold-highlighted colour in the glass. The citrus, spicy gewürztraminer aromatics are much in evidence, but refined and with a mineral undercurrent. A smooth, substantial mouthfeel, on the drier side of sweetness. Full-flavoured and inviting, charmingly well-balanced. Delicious.  This is a wine experience that very much bears repeating.  $$

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