Friday, December 18, 2015

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Bisol’s “Crede” Floats Like a Butterfly

Homestretch of 2015! The year that was supposed to bring us Marty McFly’s vision of the Chicago Cubs victorious in the World Series turned out to be both exciting and challenging on any number of levels, and 2016 looks in all indications to be a “may you live in interesting times” kind of year. Still, we move forward with an eye to celebrating as best we can when we can.

With our celebrations go wine, and end-of-year celebrations scream for bubbly, of course. The all-around sparkling wine champ around Vine HQ these days, whether it’s being cracked on its own, alongside a light dinner, or next to a well-crafted post-merriment brunch, is Prosecco. Most Prosecco, as I pointed out recently, are usually under $15, are a bit fruity, hintingly sweet, and food-friendly.

Like most wine styles, though, there are a few Prosecco which are a little pricier. I haven’t bumped into too many of them, so when the Wine Fairy dropped off a bottle of Bisol “Crede” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG – a $25 bottle – on the ol’ doorstep, I got my patented sideways grin of anticipation.

Before we get into the wine itself, let’s make some sense of that good long moniker. “Bisol,” of course, is the winery. The Bisol family has been producing grapes in the Prosecco region of the Veneto in some form or fashion since 1542.

If we peek back at the classifications of Italian wine that we explored not long ago, a wine labeled “Prosecco” would be at the “DOC” or “DOP” level of classification. “Valdobbiadene” is a specific area within the Prosecco region known for producing the higher-quality versions of the wine, so it gets tagged with “DOCG.” “Prosecco Superiore” does not indicate a difference in aging, as certain other similar sounding tags like “Chianti Riserva” do. Instead, it just translates as, “Hey! This is the gooood stuff.”

As for “Crede,” this apparently is a type of the Veneto soil in which the grapes for Prosecco thrive. In this case, the grapes are Glera (formerly called Prosecco, if you remember), Pinot Bianco, and Verdiso. This should not be confused with this guy, named after the Greek sun god:

No. Not him. But the Bisol gets a thumbs up.
This Crede is a darned nice sparkling wine. Many Prosecco tend to be a little sharp in both their fruit flavors and their acidity, which make them a good pairing for food, since those edges get rounded off. No need with Crede. The perlage (WineSpeak for “description of bubbles”) is creamy and gentle – much more reminiscent of a Champagne than an Italian sparkler. 

There’s a pretty nose of apple and apple blossoms that moves smoothly into a crisp palate of green apples and pears. Nicely balanced, the flavors are quite full and rich. The finish is lasting and creamy, with a gentle smoothness that’s somewhat unique to my experience. We had a couple of glasses alongside a pumpkin bisque with shrimp for dinner and the rest with Chinese takeout a day later, and it paired nicely with both.

All in all, I thought it was a winner. When I’m looking for sparklers that are of slightly higher quality than everyday, but aren’t quite in the premium category, I tend to lean towards some American bottles like Mumm Napa or Schramsberg. The Bisol will certainly have me peeking around the Italian aisle, looking for some interesting drink from Valdobbiadene. If you’re looking for something nice for a holiday meal or celebration, this would certainly be a solid option.

(Thanks to Laura at Colangelo for the bubbly.)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

WITNESS THEM -- The Wines of Macedonia

The national flag of Macedonia. Sunshine!

Some of my favorite wine tasting days involve sampling from countries whose wines I’ve not yet experienced. If you’ve followed this space for any length of time, you know we’ve bounced everywhere from Turkey to Thailand in our quest for good juice.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the EU, many Eastern European countries returned to their winemaking roots. Armed with more modern winemaking techniques, some of these countries, like Moldova, are starting to produce some quality wine. The Wine Fairy recently delivered some treats from another one of these former Soviet Republics to Vine HQ. This time, the wines of the Republic of Macedonia found their way to the tasting lineup. Macedonia has a winemaking history dating as far back at 800 BC. Macedonian wine was common on the dinner tables of Alexander the Great, and the country hopes that their wines will again find favor around the globe.

Before we get into the wines themselves, here’s a quick geography lesson. The Republic of Macedonia should not be confused with the identically-named northern region of Greece. The Republic of Macedonia was once part of Yugoslavia, which split in the early 1990’s – also creating the countries of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Montenegro.

Wine grapes thrive in the terroir of Macedonia. There’s abundant sunshine (usually about 270 days per year) with a continental climate very much like what exists in parts of Italy, France, and Spain. Macedonia has over 61,000 acres of vineyards dotting its hillsides.

Long a part of the culture, many Macedonian families produce wines from their own personal vineyards. Each February 14th, as many Americans are scurrying about buying heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or trying to find last minute dinner reservations, Macedonia celebrates the Feast of Saint Trifun, the patron saint of wine and winemaking, which sounds like a much better time to me.

While winemaking has long been a part of Macedonian culture, the mass production of wine was slowed several times over the years– first by being a part of the Ottoman Empire, where wine production was largely kept alive in monasteries. After a brief resurgence, the rise of the Soviet Bloc placed all Yugoslavian winemaking under control of the state. After Macedonia declared independence in 1991, production began to pick up again – this time with more of an eye towards export. 85% of all Macedonian wine is now exported, making it an important part of the country’s economy.

Macedonia produces wines made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Merlot as well as indigenous varietals Smederevka (white),Temjanika (white), Vranec (red), and Kratosija (red). Because of the varied soils in Macedonia, the flavors and character of these wines vary widely. Thanks to Arielle at Colangelo, I had the good fortune to be able to try a few bottles from this new and interesting region. Here are my thoughts:

Bovin 2014 Chardonnay – As I imagine it, when the Macedonian winemakers started spreading their wings after the Yugoslavian breakup, they looked around the world to see what kinds of wines would go over well. My guess is that the winemakers at Bovin ended up drinking some Kendall Jackson or Meridian and tried to emulate it. The result, as the Sweet Partner in Crime put it, was “an Old World take on a 90’s California Chard,” in that there’s plenty of tropical fruit alongside a really strong oak presence. The old world slides in at the end with a crisp, flinty finish. Chardonnay is one of those grapes that really reflects the unique terroir of a region, and at $15, it’s a quality white to start your Macedonian explorations.

Macedon 2013 Pinot Noir – From the mountains in the southern Macedonia, this pinot noir is not a morning person. If you crack a bottle, expect that it will take a bit of air and time to loosen up. I decanted it for a couple of hours and it still needed a good, long spin in the old tasting glass. Until it gets enough air, it's a little grumpy, with some fairly rough tannins dominating. Once it's had a little time to face the day, it unlimbers itself and becomes quite pleasant, much like me in the a.m. The Macedon’s nose is light, floral, and cherryish. A solid earthy backbone gets wrapped in layers of smoke, plum, and leather. The finish is grippier than your average pinot and hangs around for a good long while. The pricetag is the kicker. I figured it would be solidly in the $25 range, but it's only $15. A killer value.

Bovin 2012 “Imperator” Vranec Red Wine – Unless you're the Wizard of Covington, you likely have no idea how excited I was to try this wine. I mean, I was stoked to be trying an indigenous varietal – the aforementioned Vranec (VRAH-netsch), whose name translates from Macedonian as “black stallion.”

While the Black Stallion grape is plenty cool in and of itself, my enthusiasm stems from my strongly-held opinion that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the great pieces of cinema in recent memory. You might recognize her here:

In my world, Furiosa is the Wine Fairy. I'll drink whatever she suggests.

Her character’s name is “Imperator Furiosa.” She’s an asskicker. Her namesake wine? Also an asskicker. 

As many in that film discovered, you do not mess with the Imperator. Approach gently and with caution.  At 15.5% ABV, the wine's as hot as Charlize,  so give it plenty of air. When I got her in a calm moment, I found a nose of vanilla, caramel, and menthol. I thought it very fruity and medium bodied, with powerful blueberry notes. There's not a ton of tannin to be found, surprisingly, in such a big structured wine, although they started peeking out as time went on. The finish is long and laced with cherry. I thought it tasted like a petit sirah and a pinot noir had a baby. A big, strong, kick you in the palate baby.  Alongside a spinach stuffed veal brasciole with a mushroom sauce, it sincerely shined. Holds up well overnight, if you have any left over. Like many indigenous varietals, the prices tend to get somewhat inflated on export. The price point on this one is $70.