Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Journalist, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

Drinking out loud. 

Filtering by Category: "Chardonnay"

Road Trip: Finger Lakes Part 3

Excited by our great tastings yesterday, we were ready for our last day of wineries on the trolley tour.  We knew we would be at some of the more touristy spots so managed expectations accordingly, but were still hopeful there would be some quality quaffing.

Our first stop was at Wagner, the Disneyworld of Finger Lakes wineries.  You enter into the gift shop and are immediately taken on one of the rides  (the tour of the faciltity with a Production 101 schpiel) followed by the tasting options (both wine and beer are up for grabs).  You can then get lunch at their cafe (with the un-Disneylike surly staff).  Be sure to buy some of your favorites on the way out!
We went through the wine tasting and here's where we encountered Melody, the aforementioned grape engineered in a Cornell University lab, designed to be light on the nose, ghostlike on the palate, but enough of a simple presence on the tongue to encourage more drinking.  None of what we drank was really our style, so we headed over to the brewery, which was a pleasant surprise. In particular, we enjoyed the Amber Lager, IPA, Oatmeal Stout, and the Doppelbock.  The beers trumped the wines at Wagner. 

 What we quickly learned is that many of the touristy spots offer flights of dry wines or sweet wines.  We always opted for the dry after seeing the frightening Catawba and other native grapes on the sweet runs.

After WagnerWorld, we hit up Standing Stone. Their 2012 Riesling displayed pleasing notes of citrus and warm tropical fruits complimented with the terroir-driven minerality and a decent amount of acidity. At this winery, I was also introduced to their 2011 Semi-dry Vidal, a grape with tons of pineapple and warm weather fruits, a butterscotch tone but a very short finish.  Upon further research, I learned Vidal is a hybrid of Ugni Blanc (also known as the Italian grape Trebbiano) and Rayon d'Or, created in the 1930s by Jean-Louis Vidal, designed to stand up to cold and harsh winters.  They also had several red varietals, the most interesting of which was 2010 Dark Red.  Made from the Saperavi grape, native to Georgia (as in Eastern Europe, not the South, y'all), the wine was intense ruby in color with flavors of macerated blackberries, black tea and soil. 

Lakewood Winery followed but nothing really drew us in.  Their 2010 Cabernet Franc was agreeably smoky but the Rieslings were oddly lower in acidity that what we normally expect in a Riesling. The absence of zing left them feeling unstructured.  

Then,  beacon of light arose on the trail:  Fox Run Vineyards.  This was one of the wineries on our "must-try" list and we were looking forward to what they had to offer. Their Tierce Riesling 2010, which is actually a collaboration among Fox Run, Anthony Road and Red Newt,  was served at the Presidential Inauguration this year, so expectations were high.

Again, we optioned for the dry flight which contained  Chardonnays reminiscent of ones found in the Languedoc-Roussillion, Pinot Noirs more aromatic most of the others we've tasted, as well as a Lemberger/Cab Franc blend, two grape varietals were were coming intimately familiar with. However, it were the Rieslings that jarred our palates awake.  The 2012 Dry Riesling had the now-familiar citrus fruit and stony aroma profiles with intense orchard fruits joining on the tongue. I had to keep going with their Rieslings, so the 2010 Riesling 12 was next on my lineup.  A few tropical fruits appeared on this sweeter-style Riesling but a very light smokiness wafted on the finish, giving it some intrigue.  My flight ended with their 2011 Reserve Riesling, the pinnacle of this tasting. It was off-dry so sugar tingled on the tip of the tongue and it married the zest of citrus fruits again with the more tropical tones. The flavor profile was somewhat simliar to the 12 but there was a gorgeous balance and complexity to this wine.  

How do you follow up with a tasting as spectacular as Fox Run?  You drink beer.  At our final stop, White Springs winery, we fled from the wine tasting table when we got a whiff of their sickly-sweet wine cooler and moved over to the Glass Factory Brew House table. Again, we found a rather elegant Doppelbock as well as a quaffable IPA
While the second day was a bit uneven in terms of what we tasted, we still came away with a deep appreciation for the region and the wine culture that has developed.  I'm eager to go back and delve even deeper into this burgeoning area.

P.S.  If anyone can tell me what these palate-cleansers are, I'll buy you a bottle of Riesling.  They taste exactly like Pop-Tart crusts.  Mmmmm, Pop-Tarts.

Illicit Behavior by Sud de France

"Angel by day, devil by night!" screamed the tabloid headlines.   Apparently, Sud de France has fallen into its old ways with its reds.  Boring, insipid wines that lack intrigue, or even basic balance, have started to show up at the tastings.  There seems to be a blasé attitude towards creating anything worthwhile, even though the potential is there.  

The third tasting event for Sud de France yielded uneven results. While the region has been known to experiment with grapes and blends, showcasing its cowboy spirit, a couple of the bottles seemed to show disregard for fundamentals of quality winemaking:

Felines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet 2011 (approx. $15)
Like the Picpoul at the last event, this one showcased the same floral notes and apricot on the nose.  On the palate, ripe peach joined the apricot in the orchard, along with some lemon peel and slate-y minerality.  The salty essence that was so striking in the other Picpoul was very muted here, but it was still zingy and acidic.

Barons de Rothschild Lafite Val de L'ours, Chardonnay, 2011 (approx. $11)
Hooray! Another decent Chardonnay option.  Not quite as complex as Burgundy, this wine nonetheless gave Chard a little more street cred. Lemon and lime were immediately present on the nose and the palate, along with very ripe golden delicious apple.  There was a decent amount of stone and minerals on this wine to bring it back from the fruit side but had a round-ish mouthfeel, despite the fairly high acid.  

La Roche de la Chevaliere Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 (approx. $12)
And then, SdF fell off the wagon.  Raspberry, blueberry and blackberry coupled with green bell pepper and wet soil on the nose, but the palate was thin and flat and the fruit was marred by a stemmy, underripe green note.  It was all out of whack and felt almost like an identity crisis - what cab sauv tastes like this?

C'est La View Pinot Noir Syrah 2011 (approx. $11)
In theory, I understood how this should have worked.  Pinot's plum and prune fruits could have given a plush, rounded feel to the peppery edge of the Syrah and as both wines are rooted with soil characteristics, it could have led to a rich, luscious wine.  However, what it gave was  a medium minus body that didn't deliver on the potential complexity.  It was thin, tight and high-pitched.  

Keep tasting, friends....

Lebanese, Please

By now, I've preached my most fundamental tasting mantra, "drink what you like," enough times to put an om-chanting yogi to shame.  However, in times when I'm exploring an unfamiliar wine region, "pair like with like" and matching a wine with its country of origin is a great gateway to something new.

A recent dinner brought my friend and I to Almayass, a Lebanese/Armenian restaurant with branches across the the Middle East.  I'm not very familiar with Lebanese wines but this seemed like an opportune time to give one a go.

Ksara Blanc de Blancs, Sauvignon Blanc. Semillion, Chardonnay blend, Bekaa Valley, 2011
(head shot)

 The first thing that struck me about this wine was the fluted bottle.  Based on presentation alone, I wondered if this wine would resemble a Riesling, which is traditionally bottled in this shape.

(full body shot)

Riesling?  Not quite. Instead, this medium-bodied white had a honeysuckle, floral and almost honeycomb-like nose, balanced by some tropical fruit.  Very faint but still present was a bit of minerality, most likely due to the soils in the vineyard, a nice counterbalance to the luscious topnotes.

On the palate, much of what came through on the nose also appeared, but there was an unctuousness that I found very appealing, while still being rather elegant. I really dug this weird vino.

Hummus, let me introduce you to your new friend...

What's In Your Suitcase?

I pride myself on my packing skills and can pretty much go anywhere with just a carry-on. Over time, I've learned how to edit so it's just myself and a bag on a plane. When I see people in the airport with an entire luggage train, I wonder, what could they possibly be carrying?

On a recent Friday night, one of my favorite wine stores, Le Du, hosted a last minute tasting of Burgundy wines from producer Benjamin Leroux of Maison Benjamin Leroux and Comte Armand.  Apparently, he was in the country for a visit and had a ton of wine with him - did the shop want to host a tasting? Forget the extra pairs of shoes, that's the kind of overpacking I want to do.

When we arrived, the tasting was well underway and a crowd bunched around a table lined with 11 wines. Seven of the wines were available in the store plus four "bonus" wines, two of which were  premier crus.  I wasn't able to note all, but below are some highlights.

Maison Benjamin Leroux Auxey Duresse Blanc 2010
Pale yellow in the color, the nose showcased some citrus fruits, slate, minerality and a twee bit of oak.  With the first sips, the wine showcased a moderate acidity and similar flavors to the nose.  The slight bit of oak persisted, which I personally found a little off-putting. However, it was restrained enough to not be confused with a California chardonnay.

Maison Benjamin Leroux Chassagne Montrachet Abbaye de Morgeot 2010
With this wine, lime is the name of the game:  lime fruits and limestone notes dominated the glass. There was more minerality in this one than the Auxey Duresse and the oak was absent. Again, the wine expressed a moderate acidity and was wonderfully balanced; here's a beautiful example of a white Burgundy.

Maison Benjamin Leroux Volnay Mitans 2010
Black cherry, strawberry, violets and bit of ash were immediately noticed when we smelled the wine and after sipping through, the fruits came through again.  It was traditionally light bodied structured with moderate tannins.  This was a very elegant wine - a real pinkie lifter.

Comte Armand Pommard 1er Cru clos des Epeneaux 2010
"Purple" was the first word that came to mind with this wine.  Black cherry, plum and violets joined green pepper, rosemary and other herbaceous notes in the nose.  On the tongue, the fruits burst with bing cherry, blueberries and super-ripe plums.  The herbs planted themselves back into earthy notes and  you could taste the all the vineyard components with each sip.  Truly a stunning wine.

Comte Armand Pommard 1er Cru clos des Epeneaux 1999
This is the oldest Burgundy I have ever consumed and was a prime example of how a wine ages.  Fruit was almost nonexistent in this wine and instead earth, tobacco, ash and a muskiness pervaded. An odd scent of sour milk also wafted through, though it was muted. On the tongue, I had to dig around for a bit to find traces of violets and overripe plums. The noticeable tannins gave this wine quite a bit of structure.  Crazy-complex and a good indicator of what its younger sibling is going to taste in a few years.

Keep tasting, friends...

My Kind of Chardonnay

I don’t drink a lot of Chardonnay.  Because it’s one of the most widely planted white varietals, it’s often a crapshoot finding a terroir or viniculture technique that produces a Chardonnay I really like.  To oak or not to oak?  Honestly, I don’t always want to taste it to find out the answer. 
However, I was recently introduced to a Chardonnay that I’ve nicknamed The Game Changer.  The time: A Thursday night. The place: A new neighborhood wine bar.  The wine: Domaine Faiveley Montagny.
 My palate was a bit bored from all the rose I had been drinking over the summer and I wanted to venture out. 
“Chardonnay?”  I replied skeptically when the bartender offered me a taste.
“Just try it,”  was the response.
Well, hey now.  This was quite something else.  A white burgundy, green apple and pear on the palate with the slightest bit of nuttiness or biscuit on the nose.  On the palate it was clean and crisp, rather acidic and with good minerality.  There was still a bit of pear, but is that a bit of a citrus fruit I’m getting as well?  Now this was a revelation!  All those tree-licking oaky chardonnays and their butter-churning siblings are running scared.  
I’m still a Chardonnay skeptic (there have been a few chardonnay mishaps since), but after tasting this wine, I’m intrigued by what else this grape is capable of.  
Keep tasting….