Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Georgia on my Mind – Lost Eden Red Blend


No, not the one that will be the center of the political universe for the next six weeks or so. Today we are off to the country of Georgia, just north of Turkey on the Black Sea – the bridge between Europe and Asia on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains.

Unlike the state of Georgia, with a climate utterly unsuitable for growing vinifera grapes (but their peach wines might be fun) – the nation of Georgia has one of the longest traditions of winegrowing in the world. Evidence of wine growing in Georgia dates back some 8,000 years to sites near the country’s capital, Tbilisi. The origin of the word “wine” itself may stem from here. There is a word in classical Georgian, “Gvino,” which means something that “rises, boils or ferments.”

Georgia has a fascinating winemaking technique – a technique listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage roster. In this technique, after the grapes are pressed, the juice is placed into large teardrop-shaped pots called “qvevri.” Each of these pots can be used for as long as a hundred years. The qvevri are then set in large holes in the ground and surrounded by gravel to protect the pots from shock. Smaller qvevri are used for fermentation, while the larger ones are used for storage. 

Georgian Qvevri -- Trust me, they're pointy.

At the end of fermentation, the dead yeast naturally falls down into the pointed tip of the qvevri, allowing the clarified wine to be separated from solids and drawn off. Wines are then either bottled or pumped into other, clean qvevri for further aging. No tanks or barrels are used in this traditional process – which is still the case in at least part of the production of the bottle of Georgian wine that I had the opportunity to try recently thanks to a visit from Drinkerbell, the Wine Fairy: Lost Eden 2018 Red Blend.

The Lost Eden wine comes in one of the more interesting bottles I’ve seen recently. Lost Eden uses a glass stopper at the top of the short neck which tops this black bottle wreathed in a vinous relief pattern. It’s cool lookin’, gotta say. Even though the wine is marketed as a red blend, the wine is made 100% from a grape varietal called Saperavi. In Georgia, wines can be marketed as blends if the grapes are sourced from different vineyards, even if they're all the same varietal.

Astute fans of the Vine might remember that I wrote about Saperavi as part of a writeup on Moldovan wines a few years ago. As I wrote then, “Turns out ‘Saperavi’ translates from Georgian as “paint” or “dye,” and I was a bit shocked when from the bottle poured squid ink!” – which is also the case with the Lost Eden. In creating this blend, more "modern" techniques are combined with the traditional qvevri production. As winemaker Lado Uzunashvili put it: “My goal with the Lost Eden Red Blend is to find the perfect balance between modern and traditional Georgian winemaking practices. Bringing the two sides together illustrates the quality as well as the evolution of winemaking in my country.”

Even though this wine checks in at 13% ABV, don’t let the light alcohol fool you. This is a girthy wine. I found it to be really fruit forward. Lots of cherry and blackberry flavors power up from the first sip, and the wine is toothcoatingly rich. Plenty of tannin lingers beneath the fruit. The finish is a little smoky and somewhat fruit-sticky. The Sweet Partner in Crime said it reminded her of an Aussie Shiraz, while I thought it was like a petite Petit Sirah. Either way, I wouldn’t consider it a “light” wine by any means.

This style of wine probably wouldn’t be for everyone, but if you are hosting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (which I sincerely hope you’re only doing with the nearest and dearest in your bubble this year!) – the big fruits here would accompany turkey and stuffing, serving the same purpose here as the cranberry sauce – to provide a fruity counterpoint for many of the other flavors.

This is a wine for folks who are feeling a bit adventurous and like big, bold flavors. The wine’s quite reasonable in cost, too. If you can find it available, it will probably set you back $18-20.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Stay safe!

Monday, November 16, 2020

When it rains, we pour -- A look at Chateau Peyrassol Rose

Was a soggy few days last few days here in Happy Valley. Typically, I’d be dipping deep into richer reds as the chill of winter starts to come on, but I’m not going to pass up an opportunity to continue my passionate advocacy for Rosé All Day just because the weather’s getting colder.

Honestly, I have no issue with rosé during the winter months. As an aperitif, I’d prefer to drink rosé than many whites when a chill is in the air, especially if I’ve got some meats and cheeses to snack on.

Drinkerbell, the wine fairy, brought along a bottle of Château Peyrassol 2019 Côtes de Provence Rosé during the soggy slog of last week. This bottle from Provence is a lovely reminiscence of summer, as well as a darned good food wine.

The Chateau itself has a fascinating history. Founded in the 13th century by the Knights Templar, the Chateau originally was a major way station for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land (we will avoid subsequent discussions of the Crusades, however). After the French Revolution, the land was acquired by the Rigord family, where the wives ran the winemaking aspects of the estate through the following couple of centuries. Philip Austruy purchased the property in 2001 and revamped the winemaking operation.

Made from grapes from the oldest vines on the Chateau’s property, this blend of Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, Ugni Blanc and Rolle (the last is better known as Vermentino), is a pale, rosy pink in the glass. The freshness inherent of a lot of Provence rosé hops right out of the glass at first sniff with aromas of lemon, orange blossom, and peach. These flavors carry straight through to the crisp, pleasant palate.

One criticism I have of some rosés is that they try for “fresh” and land on “acid bomb” instead. Not the case here. This wine has great balance between acidity and round mouthfeel. The finish is fresh, clean, with a lingering citrus flavor. Such a nice wine to just sip on, honestly.

As I mentioned, we tried this with a charcuterie board of salami, Marcona almonds, and Manchego cheese and it made a lovely companion to the starter. The chicken for dinner, roasted with a paprika-based spice paste, was a bit too assertive for the delicacy of this wine (Luckily, we had a nice bottle of Beaujolais in reserve!) – so if you’re having it with food, I’d probably stick to fish or a lighter meat preparation.

Or, you could pop and pour it in front of a fire and imagine how good it will feel once the weather warms and we can start being outside again. We’re going to need these kinds of reminders to get through the winter together in one piece.

This wine retails for $18-22. If you’re interested in spending a little more on a nice bottle of rosé, it’s certainly in that category.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Mosey over to Moser for some Italian bubbly

Hello friends! How you holding up out there?

Ringed by the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy, the Trento growing region has proved over the last hundred years or so to be fertile ground for growing grapes to produce sparkling wines. In the mid 1980’s, the growers in this region began organizing themselves around sets of oenological standards.

The result of this organization bore fruit, pardon the pun, in 1993 when the Trento region received DOC status in Italy. As a refresher, DOC is short for Denominazione di Origine Controllata – which refers to the aforementioned standards.

DOC (and its fancier cousin, DOCG) have now been subsumed under the broader “DOP” category – and is still used for familiarity’s sake. However, the winemakers saw an opportunity to broaden their brand, and Trentodoc was born.

The grapes used to make Trentodoc sparkling wine —Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Meunier—are harvested by hand, and the “base wine” ages slowly in the bottle on the lees from a minimum of 15 months for a Brut to a minimum of 36 months for a Riserva, and upto 10 years for more refined and mature Trentodoc wines. Trentodoc is available as a white or rosé wine as Brut, Millesimato, and Riserva.

The other major production difference between Trentodoc and many other Italian sparkling wines like Prosecco is the method of carbonation. Most Italian sparklers use the Charmat Method for carbonating, which involves carbonating wine in tanks. Trentodoc sparklers exclusively use what is termed Metodo Classico, which is the same as the Methode Champenoise used in Champagne. In these wines, the wine is carbonated in the bottle while being periodically turned, and the expired yeast is disgorged at the end. (For a more detailed explanation, see here.) Wines made in Metodo Classico tend to be have more balanced flavors and have more carbonation than their Charmatted cousins.

Thanks to a well-timed visit from Drinkerbell the Wine Fairy, a bottle of Moser “51,151” Trentodoc Brut arrived at my door. After election stress, work from home craziness, and not a little cabin fever from lockdown, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I wanted an evening to kick back – and how better to do that than with bubbly, I ask you?

This wine’s nomenclature is an homage to Francesco Moser, a champion Italian cyclist, who held the world “hour record,” which refers to the distance ridden from a stationary start over the course of an hour. Moser rode 51.151 km in his record run. Along with his cycling prowess, he worked in his family vineyards from his youth and, in 1979, along with his brother Diego, established the Moser winery near the village of Gardolo di Mezzo.

We cracked the bottle as the skies darkened in State College. (This means that both of us had left our respective workstations a little bit early this time of year.) Sitting back in our “evening chairs,” we had our first few sips. This 100% Chardonnay sparkler has a lightly fruity nose with some very pleasant floral aromas and a little toast on the back end. The mouthfeel is round and full, with lots of refreshing bubbles. Not as much of that toast and yeast lees flavor carries through to the midpalate, but there’s a collection of fruit: pineapple, mango, and pear. The finish is zippy and cleansing, settling back into a little bit of fresh bread at the very end. All in all, it’s just a super pleasant sparkling wine.

As we got closer to the dinner hour, I manned the stove and put together from some fresh crab ravioli from another central PA institution, Fasta & Ravioli Company, done in a simple white wine sauce. The wine’s flavors married particularly well with the rich shellfish, playing off the meatiness while cutting through the sauce’s butter. While crab is an obvious pairing, shrimp or lobster would be nice. I also tried a little bit we had left over the next day with some braunschweiger on a saltine – a flavor craving I picked up as a kid – and was actually a pretty nice match. While I know liver sausage may not be everyone’s cup of tea, any sort of pâté would be lovely alongside.

I’ve long been a fan of these Metodo Classico wines, if you’ve followed here long enough. They’re excellent budget-friendly substitutes for many Champagnes, and the Moser is no exception. You’ll find this for around $25, which is well-priced for a bottle of this quality