Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Iconic Swiss Varietals Tasting with Paolo Basso: Jean-René Germanier Vétroz Cayas Syrah du Valais Réserve 2009

In this post I continue the tale of the DWCC14 Iconic Swiss Varietals tasting led by Paolo Basso, the World's Best Sommelier. The wines reported on previously are listed at the bottom of the post. The wine treated herein is the 2009 Jean-René Germanier Vétroz Cayas Syrah du Valais Réserve AOC Valais. This was not the third wine tasted at the event. I have diverged from the tasting order so that the AOC Valais wines can be presented sequentially. As I have done in the previous posts, I will provide background on the region, winery, and wine prior to providing the tasting notes.

The Valois AOC has been described previously. Vétroz is a commune within Valais with vineyards on the lower hillside, below the commune of Conthey, and on the alluvial cone of the Lizeme in Balavaud. The south-facing hillside vineyard covers an area of 144 ha and is sited on black shale (formed from marine sediments deposited between 160 and 170 million years ago) and glacial moraines. The Balavaud portion is 67 ha in size and its soil is comprised primarily of large pebbles.

The primary varieties grown in the commune are:
  • Reds
    • Gamay (21%)
    • Pinot Noir (18%)
    • Syrah
    • Gamaret
  • Whites
    • Fendant (Local name for Chasselas -- 23%)
    • Amigne (16%)
    • Petite Arvine
    • Johanisberg
    • Muscat
    • Malvoisie
Wines with the following characteristics are allowed to refer to themselves on the label as Grand Cru de Vétroz:
  • White varieties: Chasselas or Amigne grown in the 1st zone
  • Red varieties: Pinot Noir or Gamay grown in the 1st or 2nd zones
  • Vine age: > 7 years
  • Vine density: 7000 vines/ha.
Location of Vétroz wineries (Source:www.grands-crus.ch)
Jean-René Germanier was founded in 1896 by Urban Germanier and until the 1940s, wine was the hallmark of the enterprise. The establishment switched its focus to liqueurs in the 1940s but re-oriented to the grape beginning in the 1980s. It is currently helmed by third-generation enologist Jean-René Germanier and his nephew Gilles Besse. The average age of the vines is 35 years and the estate is working towards organic certification. The winery produces a number of classic AOC Valais wines as well as a number of blends and Reserve wines.

The Cayas Syrah du Valais is 100% Syrah made from grapes grown on shale soil in Balavaud, Vétroz, and Chamoson et Fully. The grapes are macerated for 10 days prior to a 20-day alcoholic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation and aging occur in 50% new oak barrels.

Tasting Notes -- On the nose balsamic, vanilla, blackpepper, meat, gaminess. On the palate, round, dusky, sweet sensation. Ripe fruit. Savory mid-palate. Rich, young tannins. Great acidity. Long, intense finish with vanilla and balsamic aftertaste.

Previous Iconic Swiss Varietals Tasting posts
Leyvraz St-Saphorin Grand Cru Les Blassinges 2012
St-Jodern Kellerei Visperterminen Veritas Heida 2012 AOC Valais

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, February 23, 2015

El Carajo International Tapas and Wine (Miami, FL): Excellent food where you buy gas

What do you get when you divert a 1,925-mile-long raging torrent into a narrow, bounded canal which has its own tributaries and whose own flow is regulated by locks which open and close on a regular basis? You get the point in Miami where I-95, the longest North-South highway in the union (passing through 15 states between its origin point in Maine and its terminus in Florida), ends ignominuously at Route 1 in the vicinty of SW 32nd Road, dumping its contents unceremoniously on the already frustrated and harried travelers plying that route. But you also get, just a block or so further west (at 2465 SW 17th Avenue), El Carajo International Tapas and Wine, a standout in the burgeoning foodie industry segment designated as Gas Station Restaurants.

Both CNN.com and The Washington Post have published articles within the past year describing the Gas Station Restaurant trend and profiling some of the practitioners. Filling stations are viewed as attractive restaurant sites because their locations on street corners provide good visibility and great access. In many cases ownership of the two enterprises are divergent and co-location can provide benefits to both parties:
  • The gas station owner gets help with overhead costs
  • The restaurant gets a relatively inexpensive space with guaranteed foot traffic
  • Customers get to eat great food in a "surprisingly" pleasant environment.
I heard about El Carajo from Andres Montoya, the owner of The Wine Barn, who visited the establishment when he was in Miami recently for that city's installment of the Bordeaux UGC 2015 Tasting Tour. He spoke glowingly of the food and wines and expressed amazement at the location of the venue. Words like "non-descript" and "gas station" peppered his discourse. It sounded like an adventure so I made a mental note to visit the next time I was in town. That opportunity presented itself last weekend when I travelled south for the South Beach Food and Wine Festival.

So there I was on Friday afternoon. Dumped unceremoniously from I-95 into the unmoving traffic on Route 1. I was familiar with this road. I had had many a traffic-laden trip on it on my way to Coconut Grove. The traffic here is relentless. Suddenly my GPS announced "You have reached your destination." I had been busily chatting away but paused to look for the establishment. I saw no sign of food or a food establishment. There was a gas station over to my right but it did not look promising. But, again, it was the only gas station around so I made a right turn into the cross street and pulled warily into the entrance. There were quite a few cars parked at the site. More than one would expect at a "normal" gas station. I wedged my car into the only available "parking space" and headed for the building entrance.

According to NPR, El Carajo is a bakery, wine store, and restaurant that was founded by Richard Fonseca and which he currently operates along with his wife and three sons.The Chef is one Luis Barbosa whose tapas, paellas, grilled meats, cakes, and large portions are legendary.

The first impression that you get stepping through the entrance is that you have entered the ultimate retail wine warehouse. Bottles of wine are everywhere. The convenience store/gas pump checkout is to the left as you enter with the deli/bakery off to the far right.

A passageway leads from the forward commercial areas to a more dimly lit section of the establishment. A bar consisting of high-top tables and seating on both sides is at the far end of this hallway while the restaurant seating areas are positioned to its right and left.

At the table, the menus were rolled up into tightly wound cylinders the shapes of which were maintained by a thin rope tied around the circumference. It was cute but reading it was a constant battle as it struggled valiantly to return to its accustomed position (rather than yield up the secrets of its offerings). When I was finally able to view the menu in its totality, the contents were truly impressive, both in terms of the number of items on offer and the reasonableness in terms of cost. You need time to fully digest its contents.

I started out with a Galician Soup whose components included Smoked Pork, Sausage, Bacon, Bok Choy, Serrano Ham, and White Beans. It was heavenly. It was almost a meal by itself. By the way, the corkage fee was very reasonable so I accompanied the soup with a bottle of Maison L'Orée Meursault Premier Cru Charmes that I just happened to have in my wine bag. I followed the soup up briskly with a hot Tapas called Fufú de Cangrejo (Savory Mashed Plantains Topped with Fresh Crab prepared in a Spicy Enchilada).

I rounded out my meal with an order of Costillas Canarias -- six succulent and perfectly seasoned Grilled Ribs accompanied by an authentic spicy Canarias sauce. This was a huge portion. I could not handle it in total. I meekly ate what I could and nudged the remainder gently to the edge of the table.

There is a lot of energy at this establishment. The food is good. The staff is friendly and helpful. You can bring your own wine if you desire but do not fear if you forget the bag at home. They have more than enough to fulfill your needs.The timeliness of the service is not 5-star but, what the heck, you are in a gas station. This is a do-over.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, February 15, 2015

42-label Sine Qua Non tasting: The white wines

Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non (SQN) introduced his winemaking style and variety preferences in a 1994 4.5 barrel offering and, since that initial vintage, his wines have become some of the most sought after in the trade with managed access to limited production (approximately 3500 cases annually) and sky-high auction prices being the order of the day. Manfred's recent accident, and no definitive information as to his prognosis, has filled the wine world with a sense of dread and is further fueling the upward price pressure.  To honor the potency of the legacy that he and his wife Elaine have created, and to show solidarity with Manfred and his family during these trying times, wineontheway.com organized and hosted a tasting of 42 SQN wines at Luma in Winter Park on January 31, 2015. The wines included in the tasting are shown below. In this post I will cover the white wines tasted.

2008 Kolibri
    2004 Poker Face Syrah
2006 Noble Man Chardonnay
2009 On the Lam
    2004 Into the Dark Grenache
2006 The Strawman Roussanne
2010 The Monkey
    2004 Ode to E Syrah
2007 To the Rescue Grenache
2011 The Moment
    2004 Ode to E Grenache
2008 Jinete Bajo Roussanne
2012 In the Abstract
    2005 Atlantis Fe 203 1A Syrah

2012 Pearl Clutcher
    2005 Atlantis Fe 203 2A Grenache

    2005 11th Nail in my Cranium Syrah

    2005 The Naked Truth Grenache

    2006 Raven Series Syrah

    2006 Raven Series Grenache

    2006 A Shot in the Dark Syrah

    2006 In the Crosshairs Grenache

    2007 Labels Syrah

    2007 Pictures Grenache

    2007 Dangerous Birds Syrah

    2007 Dangerous Birds Grenache

    2008 B-20 Syrah

    2008 The Line Grenache

    2008 The Duel Syrah

    2008 The Duel Grenache

    2009 Upside Down Grenache

    2009 The Thrill of Stamp Collecting Syrah

    2009 This is NOT an Exit Grenache

    2009 This is NOT an Exit Syrah

    2010 Five Shooter Grenache

    2010 Five Shooter Syrah

    2010 Stockholm Syndrome Grenache

    2010 Stockholm Syndrome Syrah

    2011 Dark Blossom Grenache

    2011 Dark Blossom Syrah

    2001 Midnight Oil Syrah

    2002 Just for the Love of it Syrah

Early SQN wines were produced from grapes sourced from Alban, Stolpman, Babcock, and Bien Nacido Vineyards, among others, but, as shown in the table below, with the passage of time, Krankl has developed his own fruit sources. Syrah and Chardonnay were still being sourced from White Hawk and Bien Nacido Vineyards with the latter also being the home to laboratory blocks of the main Rhone varieties.


11 Conf.
The Third              
Molly Aida


22 acres
6 acres

Santa Rita 
Hills AVA
Oak View 
Santa Ynez 
Tepusquet Canyon

2004, 2008




Syrah (10 
(8 acres)
(3 acres)
(1 acre)
(2.5 acres)
(2.5 acres)
(1 acre)
Petite Manseng
Touriga Nacional
Petit Sirah
Petit Sirah

4350 vines/acre

1.5 tons


We arrived at the tasting as scheduled and stood in awe of the number of wines arrayed before us on the tasting table. A total of 18 persons were participating with the whites and dessert wines set up more informally but the full range of reds had been poured for each position. There was a lot of work ahead. A lot of work had been ongoing since pouring began at 2:30 pm. It was now 6:00 pm.

The white wines were stationed on a table to the back and side of the main table and participants were poured the five wines sequentially.

2008 Kolibri, 2009 On the Lam, 2010 The Monkey, 2011 The
Moment, 2012 In the Abstract, and 2012 Pearl Clutcher (L to R)
Adam Chilvers of wineontheway.com pouring one of the whites
Bev, Parlo, and Gigi Chilvers
Usual suspects
The fruit sources, blend components, and aging regimes for the whites tasted are illustrated in the chart below.

2008 Kolibri
2009 On 
the Lam
2010 The Monkey
2011 The Moment
2012 In the Abstract
2012 Pearl Clutcher
Fruit Source

  • Estate
  • Bought

  • 82%

  • 18% (Bien Nacido)

  • 11 Conf
  • Bien Nacido

  • 11 C + Cum 
  • Bien Nacido

- Bien Nacido
  • Roussanne
  • Viognier
  • Chardonnay
  • Petit Manseng

  • 69%

- 31%

  • 48%
  • 18%
  • 34%

  • 57%
  • 7%
  • 17%
  • 19%

  • 31%
  • 16%
  • 37%
  • 16%

- 100%
Aging Regime
  • New French
  • Used
  • Concrete eggs
  • Stainless steel

  • 25%
  • 75%
  • X

  • X
  • X
  • X

  • X

  • 27%
  • 48%
  • 25%

  • 92%
  • 8%
Aging Period

19 months
19 months

Conf = Confessions; Cum = Cumulus

Before turning to the tasting notes, let's examine some of the considerations associated with the wines. According to http://www.winelit.slsa.sa.gov.au/grapeswines.htm, the characteristics of the indicated varietals are as follows:
  • Marsanne
    • Distinguished by its high alcohol level and deep color
    • Light, dry short-living varietal produced in France; more body and character in new world settings
    • Does not usually age well
    • Addition of juice from Roussanne results in a more aromatic, delicate, and interesting wine
  • Viognier
    • Adds full body, spiciness, peach, apricot, honeysuckle
  • Chardonnay
    • Fruity bouquet of peaches and melon from warmer regions with more acidity and freshness on its fruit palate
  • Petit Manseng (Appellation America and vindefrance-cepage.org)
    • Best known for the production of sweet wines in its native France
    • Aromatic, with peach, citrus, cinnamon, and tropical fruit notes most notable
    • Great acid retention
And now on to the notes. It should be noted that these wines did not get the exposure to oxygen that the red wines did (and in many cases it seemed as though that would have helped).

2008 Kolibri -- Pungency on the nose along with coconut, marmalade, walnuts, roasted nuts, and almonds. Oily texture, weighty on the palate. Big. Rich. Heat. Spicy.
2009 On the Lam -- Aromatic. Sweet white flowers, nutty, herbs, thyme, and parsley. Weighty on the palate with hint of petrol. Spicy red pepper.
2010 The Monkey -- Nuts, spice, white flowers on the nose. Rich and oily on the palate. Slight phenolic note and saline character. Hearty savoriness.
2011 The Moment -- Juicy fruit, aromatic nose. On the palate burnt orange, rich, thick. A little more acid than I have encountered to date. Smoke and pepper.
2012 In the Abstract -- Tropical fruits, orange, creme brulee, walnut, pine, beer, green bark. Almost Burgundian on the nose. On the palate spice, nut, oily. Great texture. Long, oily finish.
2012 Pearl Clutcher -- Vanilla, spice, oiliness, smoke, pepper. On the palate smooth, velvet texture but with weight. Tobacco and nutty flavors on palate. Hurrah for acidity.

In all honesty I prefer my white wines light on their feet and with near-searing acidity. I like Assyrtiko and Roulot Meursault. These were not those wines but I would have liked to have revisited them two days later. I just thought I would throw that out there.

Next up? The reds of course.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, February 9, 2015

Iconic Swiss Varietals tasting with Paolo Basso: St-Jodern Kellerei Visperterminen Veritas Heida 2012 AOC Valais

One of the highlights of the 2014 DWCC Conference was a tasting of Iconic Swiss Varietals with noted sommelier Paolo Basso. I reported on the background of the tasting and the first wine tasted in a prior post and will cover the environment around the second wine and the tasting notes in this post. The second wine tasted was the St-Jodern Kellerei Visperterminen Veritas Heida 2012 from the Valais AOC.

Valais AOC is the largest Swiss wine region, stretching 120 m along the right bank of the Rhone river and encompassing a surface area of 5259 ha. Fully half of the country's wine is produced therein.

Source: swisscellars.com
The climate is continental with cold winters, hot summers, and an autumn warmth which -- in combination with the Foehn wind -- favors the maturation of late-ripening varieties. The region is one of the driest in Switzerland with annual rainfall averaging 600 mm.

The main portion of the vineyard is situated in the 50-km space between Mantigny and Sierre where elevations range between 450 and 800 m but, in the commune of Visperterminen, elevations can reach up to 1150 m, some of the highest vineyard elevations in Europe. The vineyards are owned by a total of 23,000 landholders and are located on a variety of soil types. The primary varieties in the region are Pinot Noir, Chasselas, and Gamay.

Located at the entrance to the Visper Valley, Visperterminen is home to some of the highest vineyards in Europe. The lowest vines are planted at 600 m on the banks of the Vispa from where the vineyard rises steeply -- defined by short terraces with dry stone walls -- to elevations in excess of 100m. The south-facing slopes cover 42 ha of limestone-infused clay and sand soils.

Vineyards of Visperterminen. Source: swissinfo.ch
Visperterminen is also famous for the Heida variety, a small. low-yielding grape that is also known as Paien in the region and Savagnin blanc and Traminer farther afield (Other synonyms includee Nature and Gelber Traminer). This ancient grape, whose origins lie in the sub-alpine regions of eastern France, is grown own-rooted or grafted in Visperterminen and its wines are sometimes referred to as the "pearl of the Alpine wines."

Now back to the wine. The Heida Veritas is produced by St. Jodern Kellerei, a coop established in 1980 to produce and market the wines of the growers in Visperterminen and Visperta. The coop has 500 members and produces 18 different wines in 400,000 bottles from 300,000 liters of wine.

The grapes for the wine are grown on a 0.4-ha plot on lightweight, dry moraine and slate soils. The 100-year-old, Gobelet-trained vines are planted at 9000 vines/ha and are farmed after an integrated production philosophy.

The grapes are destemmed and macerated for 8 hours prior to fermentation. Fermentation is conducted in concrete eggs using selected yeasts. After fermentation the wine is aged on the lees for 6 to 8 months with lees-stirring. The wines are gently filterd prior to bottling.


Notes: This wine exhibited ripe fruit on the nose with pineapple, lychee, overripe peaches, banana, and dried aporicot being the most notable. Rich and warm in the mouth with a savory palate. Round with a long finish. Elegant.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lukacs to the defense of science in winemaking

In her opening remarks describing the objectives of her book, Isabelle Legeron MW states "This book is not meant to be an expose of the wine world. Rather, it is a tribute to those wines that are not only farmed well, but also fly in the face of modern winemaking practices, remaining natural against all odds."

But these high-minded ideals dissipate quickly as, in the Introduction, beginning on the following page, Ms. Legeron initiates a takedown of modernity with the following statement: "The 20th century changed the face of modern agriculture. It streamlined, mechanized, and 'simplified' farming in an attempt to increase yields and maximize short-term profits." Ms. Legeron continues in this vein for the rest of the Introduction eventually covering the slate of issues summarized in the below graphic. Further, on page 14, "And what is extraordinary is that most of the of this change has happened over the last 50-odd years.

So taking Ms. Legeron at her word, things were fine prior to 50 years ago when science reared its ugly head and began to spoil things for every one.

But, looking through the lens of history, Lukacs (Inventing Wine) paints a different picture of the roles of human control and science in the construction of the wine industry that we know today. According to Lukacs,
At the end of the Second World War, a veteran grape grower in virtually any European country could look back over a lifetime of long, hard toil and remember little more than trouble, years marked by deceased vineyards, financial collapse, commerce filled with fraud and horribly violent conflict.
Further, consumers were not drinking  wine any more because municipal water was now safe and clean and refrigeration allowed milk and other perishable beverages to be distributed widely. The social drink of choice was a cocktail. The wine industry, such as it was, needed to revitalize itself. And that it did. Again Lukacs:
From expressing terroir in the vineyard, to employing new technology in order to attain consistency in the winery and stability in the bottle, the potential intimated during wine's initial modernization began to be achieved on an astonishingly broad scale ... Starting slowly in the 1950s and 1960s, but then quickly gaining momentum in the following decades, the quality of not just exclusive, expensive cuvees but also widely available and moderately priced wines rose to previously unimagined heights.
Just to step back a little into the history of wine, as the figures below show, it is not until the advent of the French AOC system in the early 1930s that the wine available to everyday individuals attained some modicum of quality. And then came the Second World War, and with it, a reversion to the past.

Lukacs points out that winemaking in the first half of the 20th century was a reprise of thousands of years past -- "a process of letting nature run its course." But beginning in the 1950s and 1960s grape growers and winemakers began to employ new tools to attain specific "stylistic and qualitative ends." On the technical side, the introduction of temperature control and regular chemical analysis allowed greater control over the fermentation and this gave greater impetus to the concept that humans "could and should assume control" of the winemaking process.

The concept of human control of the winemaking process was not new, according to Lukacs. It began with Enlightenment scientists such as Antoine Lavoisier and Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal in the 1700s, continued through Pasteur (with his discoveries of the role of yeasts and bacteria in fermentation and spoilage) and the work of Emile Peynaud, both in his lab and working with the Bordeaux Chateaus to convert his research to actionable inputs into the winemaking process. Peynaud's contribution included refrigeration, understanding the role of malolactic fermentation, and the need for rigorous selection in the vineyard. His efforts changed the stylistic and qualitative character of the Bordeaux wines such that the "whites became less tart and vegetal and the reds more supple and sensuous, fuller in flavor but less astringent."

"By the second half of the century, the basic idea of directing and mastering winemaking had become so commonplace as to be unquestioned." According to the Director (Pascal Ribereau-Gayon) of the Institute where Peynaud worked, "... great gifts are not just gifts of nature but 'the fruit of a discipline imposed by man upon nature.' "

When Peynaud began his work in the early 1950s, growers were harvesting early and,as a result, the wines were "excessively green or vegetal." He observed that there was a further striking uniformity about the wines: they were all oxidized. Is this the future that Ms. Legeron would prefer that we have? While I can agree with her on the need for better treatment of our soils, and the reduced usage of pesticides, herbicides and nutrients therein (primarily because of their externalities), a wholesale indictment of science in winemaking, and man's attempt to understand and control the relevant processes, is both shortsighted and ungrateful based on the lessons of history.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What is a Natural Wine?

Isabelle Legeron MW has recently published a book titled Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally. In the book she provides her thoughts on what constitutes a natural wine and I have attempted to capture the salient points in the below graphic.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme