Monthly Archives: May 2013

Postcard From Germany #1

11 May 2013

I’m winding my way through Bavaria at the moment, and what a lovely place! Mountains, forests, charming little towns… It’s idyllic.

And of course, I’ve already found all sorts of exciting things to drink. I’ll post postcards of my favorites whenever I get the chance. Here is Postcard #1:

Grauburgunder Auslese

Munich isn’t all about beer. At the Pfalzer Residenz Weinstube, a wine bar dedicated to the renowned Pfalz region, I sampled this memorable 2008 Erpolzheimer Kieselberg Grauburgunder (Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris) Auslese, made by the Winzergenossenschaft Kallstadt. What a mouthful, both in terms of pronunciation and flavor.

This remarkable wine from Kallstadt (just north of Bad Dürkheim) had a rich gold color and an aroma of green apples and spicy pineapple. It tasted even better than it smelled, with rich, sweet fruit and a lush, caramelly texture, balanced by incredibly lively, gingery spice. Zow.

I asked the waiter if he’d sampled the wine. He replied, with some apprehension, that he had. “Ah good — it’s really delicious,” I exclaimed.

“Do you think so? It’s not really to my taste…”

Leave it to a German waiter to rain on my parade. Yes, I do think so. The wine is wonderful. Punkt.

Don’t Like It? Make It Yourself.

8 May 2013
Me and Alessandro

Me and Alessandro Bindocci

If you discover that wine from a certain nearby region is generally not to your liking, you can take a number of courses of action. A normal oenophile would probably just drink wine from another region. A more obsessive/compulsive oenophile might doggedly keep trying wines from that region until she found one that agreed with her palate. But these solutions, in the end, are for amateurs.

If you’re a professional, like Alessandro Bindocci, you go to that region, rent a vineyard, and make the wine yourself.

Traditionally, wine made from Barbera, a respected variety from Italy’s Piemonte (Piedmont) region, did not see a lot of time in oak. In fact, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that “a small number of Barberas underwent a significant metamorphosis” as producers undertook barrel maturation. And originally, the Companion continues, the notion of aging Barbera in barriques (small casks holding approx. 59 gallons) was greeted with “local bewilderment.” But nowadays, many of the Barberas you’ll find are aged in barriques of new French oak.

According to The World Atlas of Wine, these barrique-aged Barberas “conform more closely to the modern red wine stereotype: big, bold, deep purple, and easy to appreciate in youth.” But if you like your red wine with food, acids are the most important thing. Bindocci finds many of these new Barberas over-oaked, with not enough acid to balance things out (a complaint commonly expressed about many California wines).

As a fourth-generation winemaker, Bindocci was uniquely positioned to change things. Under the Mazzoni label, he rents Piemonte vineyards and vinifies the wine himself in stainless steel. The wine is then transported to Montalcino’s Il Poggione winery, which his family has managed since the 19th century. There, it is bottled and bottle-aged in Il Poggione’s cellars.

It seems like a lot of trouble. I suspect I would have been satisfied to give up Barbera altogether and simply drink the local Brunello di Montalcino! But then Bindocci shared a glass of his 2009 Mazzoni Barbera with me, and I could understand his passion for it. It had a tightly wound, earthy aroma. I took a sip and was greeted by a burst of fruit, some controlled black-pepper spice and an almost raisiny finish. It had a velvety texture, and though it tasted rich, it was quite light on its feet (thanks to those important balancing acids). The Mazzoni tasted even bigger and fruitier paired with some roasted red peppers, capers and burrata. And sampled with some prosciutto, notes of iron came to the fore.

I wonder if Bindocci’s decision to age the wine in stainless steel instead of the now-ubiquitous oak once again caused “local bewilderment”? Cheers to him for having the courage to buck tradition.

A Super White Super Tuscan

4 May 2013

Mazzoni Pinot GrigioWhen I think of a “Super Tuscan,” I think of Cabernet or Merlot (or, to be honest, a Superman-like winemaker clad in an Armani cape). But certainly not a white wine. The Super Tuscan phenomenon started with Sassicaia, a wine wholly outside the DOC classification system. It was made with Cabernet, not the typical Sangiovese, and the vines were planted near the coast, miles away from any DOC-recognized vineyards. Thus, Sassicaia had to be labeled as a lowly Vino da Tavola, along with the most basic Italian plonk, despite the fact that it was one of Tuscany’s best wines.

The classification system has since been rethought, and wineries working with “international” varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah can now label their wines IGT (Indicazioni Geografiche Tipiche), which can at least indicate a region of origin, instead of simply “Italy.” Reds dominate this category of wine, but that may be changing, as I discovered over dinner earlier this week.

The engaging Alessandro Bindocci of Tenuta Il Poggione, along with the vivacious Liz Barrett of Terlato Wines, a major Chicago importer, invited me to dinner to try some of Il Poggione’s renowned Brunello di Montalcino. I was surprised and delighted when we started the evening not with a Brunello, but a Pinot Grigio.

I had never sampled, to my knowledge, a Tuscan Pinot Grigio — all the quality Italian Pinot Grigios I knew of came from the mountainous north, from Alto Adige or Friuli. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “Pinot Grigio is planted as far south as Emilia-Romagna,” the province on Tuscany’s northern border. A Tuscan Pinot Grigio varietal — a white Super Tuscan — is extremely unusual, and it had my Odd Bacchus antennae tingling.

The hand-harvested fruit for the 2011 Mazzoni Pinot Grigio comes from vineyards in Tuscany’s Maremma region, a formerly marshy and malarial strip along Italy’s west coast (described in more detail in this post). I wouldn’t have guessed this environment would be well-suited to Pinot Grigio, which I associate with cooler, high-altitude terroir, but that’s why I make a better blogger than winemaker. This Pinot Grigio tasted delicious.

Many of us associate Pinot Grigio with light, inoffensive and bland flavors; it’s a wine for a hot summer pool party or a beach picnic. But this golden-hued beauty had some oomph. After pressing, the juice sits for 24 hours on the skins, giving the wine additional body, followed by 25 days of cold fermentation, increasing the wine’s acidity. The craftsmanship is readily apparent in both the aroma and flavor.

The wine smelled fresh and lively, like a green whiff of spring. On the palate, it exhibited focused and controlled fruit, prickly acids, some aromatic qualities, and a surprisingly lush finish. It was light but complex, and a fine value for the price. Sampled with a white pizza topped with arugula and parmesan, the food-friendly acids kicked into high gear, and the wine became juicier and rounder. A delight.

White Super Tuscan wines may not have captured the public’s imagination just yet, but after tasting this Pinot Grigio, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the near future.


2011 Mazzoni Pinot Grigio: Light, lively and complex, with food-friendly acids and unusually lush fruit. A very good value for the price, especially compared to the most famous mass-market Pinot Grigios.

Grade: A-

Find It: A number of Whole Foods stores carry the wine, or you can buy it online for $17 from

Note: The wines described in this post were provided free of charge, as was the dinner that accompanied them.

The Memorable Whites Of Viña Chocalán

2 May 2013

Vina ChocolanOne of the eco-lodges where I stayed in Costa Rica veered much more towards “resort” than “lodge,” with a swim-up bar, wine bar and even a small sushi restaurant. I felt, I must admit, a little silly supping on sushi in the middle of Central America, but then I suppose it’s no more ridiculous in Costa Rica than it is in Chicago.

In any event, this sushi restaurant had two cases dispensing some surprisingly unusual wines by the glass, and I sampled several small pours along with my fish. The wines of Viña Chocalán turned out to be something of a revelation.

This winery dedicated to “sustainable and socially responsible” production methods is located in Chile’s famous Maipo Valley, near the town of Melipilla just south of the capital, Santiago. Phylloxera-free Maipo is well-known for its Cabernet, Chardonnay and, to a lesser extent, its Carménère. But the sushi restaurant’s wine case boasted some true Maipo oddballs: Viña Chocalán Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Riesling in the sushi restaurant’s wine case.

I was initially confused to see these three varieties coming from one winery — Viognier traditionally thrives in France’s warm Rhône Valley, far from much chillier Alsace and Germany, where Gewürztraminer and Riesling are happiest. But a closer inspection of the labels revealed that Viña Chocalán’s Riesling and Gewürztraminer come from San Antonio, not Maipo. San Antonio, which Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia calls “the fastest-rising new wine district in [the coastal viticultural] region,” is closer to the Pacific Ocean than Maipo, making it more susceptible to the cooling influence of the Humboldt Current.

None of these grape varieties is grown in any significant amount in Maipo or San Antonio. None of my reference books mentions any of them, and even the Viña Chocalán website omits Riesling and Gewürztraminer from its roster of wines. These are pioneer varietals, and if these examples are any indication, I’d say they have a serious future:

Viña Chocalán Gewürztraminer (San Antonio): I loved the sweet, floral aroma, which reminded me of jasmine and honey. On the palate, this wine started with some slightly watery fruit, but it tightened up into some white pepper spice and a finish of tart acids.

Viña Chocalán Viognier Reserve (Maipo): A fine example of Viognier — dry, tight, focused, minerally and floral at the end.

Viña Chocalán Riesling (San Antonio): This was the one that really blew me away. Its dry, tart and woodsy flavors totally took me by surprise. This isn’t a Riesling that will please everyone, but I found it racy, exciting and wonderfully unusual.

You may not see any of these specific wines in your local shop, but keep your eye out for Chilean varietals besides the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Carménère. Winemakers are engaging in some fascinating experiments down there, and you might just stumble across a real gem.

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