Pinot Grigio

Unusual Whites At Tangley Oaks

3 August 2013
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This is the way to start a Friday afternoon.After a sparkling introduction to the mansion at Tangley Oaks, we moved on to tasting some delicious whites imported and/or distributed by Terlato Wines. I very much enjoyed the grassy but well-balanced Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc, the rich and minerally Chateau de Sancerre Sancerre and the flinty, creamy and spicy Lapostolle “Casa Grand Selection” Chardonnay, but of course what I really want to talk about are odd ducks of the tasting. And there were some mighty tasty odd ducks.

2011 Cuarto Dominio “Tolentino” Pinot Grigio: I tend to avoid Pinot Grigios unless they come from the far northern Italian provinces of Friuli or maybe Trentino-Alto Adige. Too often, Pinot Grigios from elsewhere can be insipid and wan. But how could I resist a Pinot Grigio from the Uco Valley in Argentina? The World Atlas of Wine calls the high-altitude vineyards in this valley “the most exciting part of Mendoza,” and if the Tolentino is any indication, Pinot Grigio does just as well in the Uco Valley as Malbec. It had a rich but very fresh aroma, and a lush texture leavened with focused, almost pointy acids. Fruity, but with a dry finish. Delightfully refreshing.

2012 Protea Chenin Blanc: As Lettie Teague recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Chenin Blanc “may be the world’s most noble yet most discredited grape.” Chenin Blanc has been “responsible for a great deal of plonk,” she rightly notes, but it also “can produce wines of depth and complexity.” This Chenin Blanc from South Africa certainly fits the latter description — in fact, it’s “made by a genius,” remarked Anthony Terlato during the tasting. Crafted by winemaker Johann Rupert, the Chenin Blanc had an enticingly perfumed aroma with a bit of a grassy note. It tasted full and plump, but a dry backbone and some zesty spice kept it well-balanced and thoroughly charming.

2007 Boutari Kallisti Reserve Assyrtiko: This remarkable wine comes from Santorini, which The World Atlas of Wine calls “the most original and compelling” of the Greek islands. On this unusually scenic speck in the Aegean, most vines are trained in little bushy balls close to the ground, to protect them from the wind. Assyrtiko originated on Santorini, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, which calls it a “top-quality white grape variety” with a “severe mineral profile.” This particular Assyrtiko certainly struck me as top quality. It had a sweet and smokey aroma which reminded fellow taster Liz Barrett (Terlato’s Vice President of Corporate Communications and PR) of toasted oak. It felt rich and almost buttery, but quite taut and fruity as well. There was something exotic about it too — a certain spicy, aromatic quality which I loved. Delicious.

2008 Chimney Rock “Elevage Blanc”: I don’t often write about wines from Napa Valley, but this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris blew me away. I can’t remember ever tasting a Sauvignon Gris, so I looked it up in my trusty Oxford Companion. This relatively rare variety is a pink-skinned mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, and “it can produce more substantial wines than many a Sauvignon Blanc,” the Companion asserts. Sauvignon Gris has a following in Bordeaux, the Companion goes on to note, which perhaps explains why the Elevage Blanc reminded me a bit of Pessac-Léognan, one of my favorite whites from Bordeaux (or from anywhere, for that matter). This beautiful wine practically glowed with elegance, its creamy fruit focusing into some carefully restrained white-pepper spice. Voluptuous but perfectly balanced — a joy to drink.

Note: These wines were provided free of charge as part of a wine tasting at the Tangley Oaks estate.

Up next: The Reds.

Postcard From Germany #1

11 May 2013
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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.

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.