Alexana, Shea Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2010, 13% abv.

Pinot Noir is a red grape renowned for it’s picky nature. Difficult to grow even under the most ideal conditions, it nevertheless is one of those varieties most winemakers yearn to produce a wine from at some point in their careers.

Its homeland is in Burgundy, but in the New World, it has been successfully grown and produced in several places including Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Located just south of Portland on the west coast of the US, the Willamette Valley is famous for it Jory loam soils and its Pinot Noir.

This finicky grape demands a perfect climate and growing conditions. It has lower pigments and tannins than other red grapes and origins that date back over 2000 years. The Willamette offers a continental climate with maritime influence from the Pacific Ocean. The diurnal shift here is significant and allows the grapes to retain high acidity as a result of cool evenings and cool maritime breezes during the warm days. There is plenty of rain but at the right times of the year and the summers are long and very warm.

Especially prone to spontaneous mutations in the vineyard, Pinot Noir has many different clones for growers to chose from. Most vines grown in the Willamette these days are Dijon clones.

Pinot Noir buds early and as such is susceptible to spring frost and coulure. Its skins are quite thin making it prone to mildew and rot and it’s also prone to viruses such as fanleaf and leafroll. I know – you’re thinking, ‘Wow – what a catch! Why bother?’

Well, truth be told, when grown in the right conditions, with the right yields and vinified appropriately, it is capable of producing some of the most interesting and elegant wines of the world.

There are only about 7,600 ha growing in Oregon (compared to 26,300 in France and 24,000 in California), but those hectares are attracting some serious interest amongst buyers. The area was initially established by growers including David Lett from Eyrie and Dick Erath (Erath Winery) and eventually others moved in. The Drouhins from Burgundy were the first from the Old World to agree regarding the area’s potential. Large companies have moved in recently from California and things are likely to change significantly in the Willamette as a result of this interest.

Alexana is located in the Red Hills and the grapes are grown at about 200m. This wine is clear and bright, medium ruby with legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, medium plus intensity, aromas of cherry, cedar frond, raspberry, tobacco leaf and leather as it opened.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium ripe, velvety tannins, medium plus intensity, flavours of red cherry, crunchy pomegranate, raspberry, cedar, clove, earth and minerality and leather. The finish is medium plus.

This wine made by Lynn Penner-Ash is WSET ‘Very Good’. Fruit forward, crunchy and fresh, as it opened up it showed increasing leather and complexity. Drinking now and with the tannins and strong acidity is suitable for ageing.
Credit Mike Woods Photography

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Domaine Vincent Delaporte, Maxime, Vielles Vignes sur Silex, Sancerre AC, France, 2012, 13% abv.

France’s Loire Valley boasts four main regions – the Nantais located on the eastern Atlantic coast, Anjou-Saumur inland, the Touraine where the maritime meets a continental climate and the furthest inland region, the Central Vineyards.

Sancerre is located in the Central Vineyards on the Loire River and is the homeland of racy, pungent Sauvignon Blanc wines. It’s blessed with excellent topography and drainage as a result of its Kimmeridgian soils – limestone-based, most similar to those of Chablis and the result of marine fossils from a late Jurassic Era inland sea. The Sancerre Hills have plantings at 200-400m and are mostly south and southeast facing.

This region has a purely continental climate and often experiences spring frosts. The vines are cordon or guyot trained and growers must work hard at keeping yields low, debudding and deleafing so that their Sauvignon Blanc wines don’t become overly herbaceous.

This wine is clear and bright, medium lemon and has legs. On the nose, it is clean and youthful with medium plus intensity and aromas of gooseberry, leaf, grapefruit, pomelo and wet rocks.

The palate is dry with high acidity, medium body, medium alcohol and medium plus intensity flavours of green grass and leaf, more gooseberry, green apple, citrus and minerality. The finish is medium plus.

This wine is WSET ‘Very Good’; strong acidity is balanced by a concentrated yet delicate fruit profile. I didn’t detect much evidence of the silex referred to in it’s name which detracted somewhat from the ranking. Drink now; not necessary to age.

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Muga, White, Rioja DOC, Spain, 2012, 13% abv.

Spain recently cracked the code – its wine production numbers surged last year to make it the world’s largest wine producer. It has officially surpassed second place Italy and (gasp) the French came in at paltry number three.

More than half of that wine was produced in central Castilla-La Mancha which boasts the most extreme climate of Spain with long, cold winters and extremely hot summers. It’s said to have nine months of winter and three months of ‘hell’.

This wine, on the other hand, hails from the north central region of Rioja, Spain’s leading and most renowned wine region. Named after the River (Rio) Oja that runs through the area, they’ve been making wine here since the time of the Romans and Moors. It’s well protected by the Cantabrian Mountains and there are three main zones – Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja – the first two boasting the best chalky limestone-clay soils.

There are 7 grapes generally allowed – for reds, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano and for whites, Viura (known as Macabeo or Macabeu everywhere else), Malvasia and Verdejo. Only 10% of Riojan wines are white and this one is a blend of 90% Viura with 10% Malvasia.

The Muga is ‘joven’ or unaged and is clear and bright, medium lemon with legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and aromas of creme brûlée, lemon drop, hazelnut and almond with a light Sherry overtone.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol and medium plus flavours of lemon zest and white grapefruit, white peach, more hazelnut and almond, light toast and a medium plus finish.

This wine is WSET ‘Very Good’; the fruit concentration is well balanced with strong acidity and not overwhelmed by the oak barrica treatment that offers a nutty hint and aroma of Sherry to the wine. Drink now or it is also suitable for ageing.
Photo credit, Mike Woods Photography

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Poggio Morina Tenuta, Vermentino, Toscana IGT, 2011, 13% abv

Vermentino is an aromatic white grape grown in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence (where it’s called Rolle), and also in Italy’s Sardinia, Liguria (Pigato), Piedmonte (Favorita) as well as in Corsica.

This particular version hails from Tuscany and because it falls outside of the DOC and DOCG rules, it is classified as IGT.

The Poggio Morina is clear and bright, medium lemon with legs. On the nose, it’s clean and youthful with medium intensity aromas of citrus (lemon drop and pomelo), dried herb and minerality.

The palate is dry with medium alcohol and medium acidity, medium body and medium intensity with flavours of lemon balm and lemongrass, dried herbs, almonds and minerals. The finish is medium.

This is WSET ‘Good’ wine; the acidity is average, but the aromas and fruit concentration are solid and balanced. The wine is refreshing and unique, herbal and has a lightly bitter almond taste on the back of the palate. It’s a great summer wine; today was 20c and we enjoyed it with fresh garden greens, Italian dressing and barbecued chicken.

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Koyle Gran Reserva, Alto Colchagua, Carmenere, Chile 2012, 14% abv, C$22

Carmenere is originally from Bordeaux and Southwest France, but it was taken to the New World, specifically Chile by French immigrants in the mid 1800s. It has proven to be far better suited to its new South American home because of the longer and warmer growing season there.

Mistaken for decades in Chile for Merlot, Carmenere produces deeply coloured (often purple) wines with strong tannic structure. They can be quite herbaceous if the yields are not well managed and if they are picked before being phenolically ripe as often happens in Chile. One of its parents is Cabernet Franc and it’s also a half-sibling to Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Merlot. It’s no wonder it’s often mistaken for one or several of these.

Growers stopped planting it in Bordeaux in the late 1870s after phylloxera because it couldn’t be counted on; it had poor fruit set and the yields were unreliable. Hardly any remains in Bordeaux – there are only 21 ha in Paulliac.

The wines produced from Carmenere have a characteristic tomato vine aroma and flavour along with green pepper, red berry, black pepper and if they are fully ripe, blackberry and blueberry with chocolate, soy sauce and coffee.

This wine is from the hills of Colchagua in Chile’s Central Valley region, outside of Santiago. It’s clear and bright, opaque purple and has deep legs.

On the nose, it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and aromas of damson plum, cassis, blackberry, violets, light leather and vine, tobacco and clove.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium plus grippy tannins, medium plus alcohol and medium plus body. The medium plus intensity is complemented by flavours of blackberry, cedar, plum, cocoa, purple flowers and leather. The finish is medium plus.

This wine is WSET Very Good – fruity with concentration yet balanced with solid complexity and a strong finish. Drink now; has potential to age because of the promise of future development supported by the tannic and acidic structure. At only C$22, this is a good deal. We enjoyed it with barbecued ribs and salad.

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Bucci, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico, Superiore, Oestra Vetere, Marche, Italy, 2011, 13.5% abv

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a DOC located in the Marche province of Italy on the country’s east coast. It’s located north of Abruzzo province and south of Emilia Romagna.

About 30 km inland from the town of Ancona, it is heavily affected by the Adriatic Sea’s cooling evening breezes that offer the area a strong diurnal shift; the difference between day and nighttime temperatures enables the grapes to retain high acidity and the wines to be crisp and refreshing.

This wine comes from the Classico zone. There is another Verdicchio zone – de Matelica which is further inland, has higher altitude and offers a fuller style of wine.

The white Verdicchio grape that makes the wine used to be fermented on its skins to produce a full style that didn’t offer much delicacy. Producers used to use something called the ‘Governo’ technique which introduced a second fermentation by adding must made from dried grapes. It added some sweetness and then CO2 was also sometimes added.

Today, thankfully, the modern style follows temperature controlled cool fermentation in neutral oak barrels or stainless steel with no skin contact. This makes it ‘clean and correct’ but also a little less distinctive. That said, this example exemplifies the lemon citrus, herbal element and almonds modern Verdicchio is known for.

The Bucci is clear and bright, medium lemon with legs. On the nose, it’s clean and youthful with medium plus intensity, aromas of dried herbs, almonds, lemon drop and minerals.

The palate is dry with medium alcohol, medium body, medium plus acidity, medium plus flavours of lemon balm, lime, thyme, pine nuts and almonds, light creme brûlée and a medium plus finish.

This is WSET ‘Very Good’; strong acidity, flavour concentration and a good finish with balanced alcohol and fruit. Refreshingly tasty. Drink now, not intended for further ageing.

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San Cristoforo, Azienda Agricola Pietro Rinaldi, Barbaresco DOCG, Alba, Piemonte, Italy, 2007, 14%, C$60

I caught this one at the height of its perfection.

Not being a frequent consumer of Italian wine, I have to admit I need to study just a little (ok, maybe a lot) before I go to buy anything.

Can you keep your Barolos and Barbarescos straight? Your Dolcettos and Doglianis? Soaves and Piaves? Your DOCs and DOCGs? What about your Albas and your Astis, your Amarones, Ripassos and Reciotos? Valdobbiadene, Valle D’Aosta, or Valtellina?

I think you get my point.

So, with that in mind, think of this post as ‘Barbaresco 101′.

Often referred to as a ‘Baby Barolo’, Barbaresco has (sometimes unfairly) been called Barolo’s junior. There is nothing ‘lesser’ about this wine though – it’s simply a different version of a Nebbiolo-based wine.

The Nebbiolo grape (grown here with yields of 57 hl/ha) was usually fermented sweet until the 1890s when dry wines became de rigeur. Most production centres in Alba in Piemonte, the northwest corner of Italy. There is a small area of land planted in Barbaresco, Treiso, Neive and Alba. The Pietro Rinaldi is located at Madonna di Como in Alba’s Langhe Hills.

These areas have Tortonian soil – a calcareous marl that produces soft and fruity Barbaresco wines (like the Barolos grown in Alba and La Morra which are also grown on Tortonian soil). Helvetian soil produces more austere and structured wines (for example in Serralunga D’Alba and Monforte D’Alba).

The Tortonian soil and the fact that it’s close to the River Tanaro also enables the Nebbiolo to ripen faster here; they’re usually ready at 5-10 years. Nebbiolo is a fussy grape and requires a warm site and a long time to ripen. Barbaresco wines must be aged 2 years in oak (1 year less than Barolo) and it has a required minimum of 12.5% abv.

The Azienda Agricola (Domaine) Pietro Rinaldi is clear and bright, deep garnet with legs. The nose is clean and developed with medium plus aromas of dried strawberry, plum, tar, kid glove and a little rose petal. Classic.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, perfectly ripened and finely grained tannins, medium body, medium plus alcohol and medium plus intensity. The flavours consist of deep and dried red fruit (plum, strawberry, cherry) with leather, clove and black Dutch licorice. The finish is a strong medium plus.

This wine is WSET Very Good – it’s a great example of drink now, not intended for further ageing. It has reached its pinnacle. The tannins have resolved perfectly and have obviously been assisted over the past 7 years with the fruit and acidity which is still strong at medium plus. It’s a beautifully balanced effort with complex and concentrated flavours and aromas – the structure is strong.

Bella.

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