Weekly Apéro Hour: A Tale Of Two Syrahs

Here’s your weekly apéro hour!

DRINKING: This week a friend brought over a wine from the Northern Rhone cru Cornas, where 100 percent Syrah wine is made atop a great granite hill with vineyards as much as 400 meters above sea level. This particular bottle is one I’ve enjoyed before, and loved, from Franck Balthazar, who aside from having a fabulously appropriate last name is known for making extremely elegant Cornas wine, including this completely sans soufre cuvée. It is luscious yet bright, full of black olive notes and a bit of sandlewood or maybe campfire in the tannins. It’s a comforting wine, perfect for these chilly Aussie evenings. This bottle was from the 2014 vintage and it was totally great, but could have used more time.

It was funny, when I was drinking it, how much it reminded me of another wine I’ve drunk recently: the 2016 “Tommy Ruff” Shiraz/Mourvèdre (50/50) cuvée from Tom Shobbrook in the Barossa Valley (who is featured in Issue 2 of Terre Magazine!).

OK, it’s not 100 percent Syrah (if you didn’t know, “Shiraz” is New World for Syrah) — but the Syrah definitely dominates the Mourvèdre in the Tommy Ruff wine, with plenty of olive and cherry pit and leather notes underpinned by a hint of spice. But I was laughing because the wines are both 13 percent in alcohol, both are very soul-warming and somewhat on the fuller-bodied side, yet lightened by acidity from — in the French case, I’d guess, cool nights — and in the Barossa case, I’d guess,  early picking. And both are such beautiful examples of what can be done with Syrah, a grape that can easily tend toward flabbiness and high alcohol.

Where the Tommy Ruff wine comes from, the Shobbrook family vineyard in the Barossa, couldn’t be more different to the steep slopes of the Rhône. And yet, these wines had a similar effect on me. You have to wonder, sometimes, how terroir can trespass entire countries, even continents. Intelligent winemaking can become a bridge across long distances. And for me, this experience of two Syrahs, from two terroirs, was a sort of glimpse into my own fragmented sense of self, at the moment — one foot in Australia, one foot in France, and yet always pulled mentally back to the States, where my family is and where it’s one political disaster after another.

Speaking of that . . .

CONTEMPLATING. Ever since the current U.S. President (I won’t write his name) came into power, there’s been a consistently repeated sequence:

Step 1: President does something egregious, shameful, threatening to humankind

Step 2: Humankind responds by blasting feelings and political statements all over social media

Step 3: Various forms of fundraising and marching occur across the U.S.

And then the aftermath of this is usually someone in the White House gets fired and replaced, or maybe things get passed to the Federal or Supreme Court. Which, now, is definitely going to swing in the President’s favor, anyway. Ughhhhh. How did adults actually let this all happen?

I was in Sydney when the news came out about the detained children at the U.S. border, some as young as 9 months old, guilty of no crime other than trying to make better lives for themselves against all the odds. I couldn’t sleep all night after reading the articles about how these children were being treated. And in no time, it was all over social media — people were posting photos of children crying, and call-to-actions to donate to Raices Texas or the ACLU. And I immediately felt the impulse to do the same. But then something stopped me.

This painting, by Ad Reinhardt (“Abstract Painting,” 1960-66), came to mind. I saw it on display in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York about six months ago, and it recalled the way many people, including me, took to simply posting black squares on Instagram to express our feelings of revolt at the political situation. You can interpret it any way you want, obviously, but consider the decade it was painted in, and that Reinhardt was a civil rights movement supporter and a vocal opponent to the U.S. war in Vietnam.

And reflecting on this work of art, I worried, if we rely on social media as an outlet for feelings about injustice, is that a temporary fix for a much bigger problem? I also thought about my life over the past year: living in France, then Australia, two countries that also have seriously questionable policies in regard to migrants. It’s not just a U.S. problem, it’s a global problem. People are being deliberated excluded from the supposedly all-encompassing notion of human rights.

The sum of all this reflection, for me: I’d like to be constantly doing something to support justice, rather than simply reacting every time there’s a severe crisis. It’s been incredible to see all the money people raised to support work at the U.S.-Mexico border. I hope I can find a substantial way to contribute, as well. Guilt and anger are not productive emotions; I’d rather be constructive rather than in despair.

That said: if anyone knows of an organization who works with refugees, anywhere on the planet, who is particularly in need, I have an upcoming project and I’d like to donate some of its revenue to this cause. Thanks for any tips you can share!

READING: I’ve dug into Sheila Heti’s latest book, Motherhood, pictured above with the wines. Wow. I really want to tell you more about it, but I’m going to wait until I’m a little further in.

MORE READING AND DRINKING: wild fermented, barrel aged aleI mean, I guess that’s basically what this blog is about? So, Wildflower Beer is a new project based in Sydney, Australia, where brewer Topher Boehm has translated his love for Australian flora — the reason he, being a Texas native, decided to live in Australia is that he fell in love with the stunning native flowers — into beermaking. I’ve been enjoying his this weekend alongside an indie mag about beermaking, called Hops & Barley, from the UK. the magazine has a really cool feature about brewers with winemaking backgrounds, which looks at other ways that wine and beer intersect — namely, with the use of wine barrels for ageing beers. Another cool indie mag discovery!

I’m looking forward to collaborating with Topher on an article for Pipette Magazine, which is set to come out in October. I’ll be working on that nonstop over the next few weeks. I have to say, living out here in the hills, surrounded by clean, fresh air and friendly people who make amazing wines, is not a terrible setting to be in for editing and writing. Every day I take the dogs for a walk, and I marvel at the simple beauty of a pinecone covered in dew, with water droplets on the edges of the pines, sparkling in the morning sunlight.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In the woods is eternal youth.”

TRAVELING: Oh my gosh, Tasmania was beautiful! (Proof above!!) I went there for a wine tasting called Bottletops, hosted by Franklin Bar & Restaurant, but I was also able to get out into the wilderness a bit, foraging for incredibly delicious, meaty native oysters in the cold waters on the south end of the island, walking in the woods, picnicking by the blue lake.

I’ve posted some highlights from the wine tasting on Instagram already, and I’ll share a few more in coming weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to mention something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: hospitality to travelers.

I used to run an AirBnb in New York. We made special effort to provide a cozy space, with nice art on the walls, chocolates on the bed, and sometimes even a vase fresh flowers in the guest bedroom. These days, I use AirBnb frequently, as a guest — and too often, the apartments are completely soulless, designed purely to provide basic needs for a visitor. I always have trouble sleeping in these spaces!

So I really appreciated staying in the cutest AirBnb ever in Tasmania’s main city, Hobart — the host had installed all sorts of funny vintage knick-knacks giving it character, and there were lovely drawings on the wall, a really nice French press, and a shelf full of secondhand books. I spent an hour diving into this amazing publication Journal of a Novel, from John Steinbeck, who wrote and kept letters to his editor while he was working on the massive tome East of Eden. I loved reading about Steinbeck’s struggles to produce the book he’d go down in history for — from the day-to-day, like managing to do laundry, to the ongoing and infuriating creative challenges, the sense of disappointment when the writing wasn’t going well, all the things that we forget about or aren’t aware of when we read the finished work.

To all the hosts out there who put thought and time into providing welcoming spaces: hats off to you. I felt like the Steinbeck book appeared in my life for a reason, as I am working on a small fun little book manuscript. Steinbeck’s letters were a reminder that nobody is exempt from the ongoing challenges to writing — but we have to do it anyway! While my book is certainly no 600-page modern classic, it is still taxing to put something together and have the confidence to share it with the world.

I’ll be able to announce that project very soon!

And for those of you eager to learn more about the forthcoming Pipette Issue 1, consider signing up for the occasional newsletter. It’s the first place where announcements come out about pre-sales, events, and discount codes for purchasing magazines and for tickets to wine tastings around the world. The link is here.

Have a lovely finish to your weekend! xxR

P.S. If you enjoyed this week’s apéro hour, take a peek on the right side where you can sign up to receive this blog directly in your inbox (if you’re on your phone, you have to go back to the blog’s home page, rachelsigner.com, to find the sign-up).

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Spritzes, Birthdays, Knowing Thyself

This week, I turned one year older. (I’m not going to hide my age from you: 34.)

On my birthday, I was staying in a little house outside Rome, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards growing the red grape Cesanese. My boyfriend and I took a walk in the nearby town, which seemed straight out of an old Sophia Loren film, and where we shopped for veggies and cheeses and a cut of steak to cook for dinner, and then had spritzes in the piazza; after, we went back to the house we were staying in, to drink more spritzes and watch the sunset.

Often, people comment on my social media or in e-mails that my travels “look amazing” or that I’m really “living the dream.” I never quite know what to say in response. Should I deny that Italy is beautiful and I just had some spaghetti alla carbonara to die for at a little neighborhood trattoria in central Rome, or that spring wildflowers have surrounded us everywhere we’ve gone for the past few weeks, and that I spent an entire afternoon observing people and sketching in one of Copenhagen’s new coffee shops Andersen & Maillard because the energy in that space was just so nice? Should I not admit that I’m incredibly excited to return to Australia and taste the wine I made a few months back, and consider when it will be ready for bottling?

Or, should I reply mentioning how much my stomach hurts from the lack of exercise and stress of traveling, that it’s really hard to run a small indie magazine while living on the go, that my entire family had a gathering with all my nieces and nephews there and I kind of wish I’d magically teleported over to give them all hugs, or that on certain days, I would trade this transient existence for whatever their full time jobs are?

Well, this has gotten heavy, quick! This post started out as a way of introducing myself to many of you who have, for whatever reason, started following me in recent weeks. Whomever you are — whether you’re a seasoned magazine editor, a mother of five who enjoys reading, a winemaker, a friend of a friend who followed out of curiosity — I welcome you here very much, because without you I’d be writing into the void.

But I hope you’re not here hoping that I’ll only blog about wine! I do like to write about wine, of course, but sometimes I wish I could be a sort of superhuman Renaissance Woman, writing about wine, literature, modern art, and even politics with expertise and flair. I feel like the world we live in wants us to market one side of ourselves to the world, rather than confessing our multi-faceted natures. Some people manage to escape this monotony, I think — either they jump swiftly and surely from one project to the next, or they gracefully merge their interests into one place. For the latter, I’d note the newsletter from the California wine delivery service “Pour This.” Not being a California resident, I cannot order any of the wines, but I absolutely love the way the company’s founder Ashley Ragovin weaves personal stories and cultural topics into her wine updates. It was an obvious “yes” when she approached me wanting to write for Terre, and if you haven’t yet cracked open your copy of Issue 2, do it now and go straight to Ashley’s story about getting to know Sicilian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti. I love that I can work with such talented and unconventional writers!

But I’m meandering severely. What I wish I could somehow know, is who all of you out there are! Some of my readers, I’ve met and know well. There’s the natural wine fanatic in New York (hello, Andrew, glad you enjoyed Greece!). There’s my mom — and my mom’s lovely ex-boyfriend. There’s the aforementioned editor of an established magazine (you still out there?). Writerly types, I assume, are on the roster. Give me a shout on email sometime, or wherever really, if you feel like it. Let me know if you liked a recent post, if it made you laugh or prompted a question.

Et moi? Well, you already know my age. You may also know that I’m originally from the U.S. but left a year ago, two suitcases in hand, to let the wind carry me. You possibly know that I love wine, only natural wine, made from grapes with no preservatives added. I’m a long-term yoga practitioner, I love modern art, I have seven (or is it eight now?) tattoos. Currently, I am writing this in a hotel room outside Rome, wearing a towel and sitting on the floor. I’m staying up all night because we have an early morning flight and I can’t sleep when I know I have to be at the airport in three hours. I’d rather write.

I’ll have more to say soon, when I’m back in Australia, and I’ve processed the past few weeks. It’s honestly been an incredibly inspiring trip. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my own relationship to natural wine, and I’ve also — sort of unexpectedly — learned a bit about spring pruning, since that’s what people have been busy with in the vineyards we’ve visited. (That’s the vineyard of Le Coste in Italy, up there — one of my favorite natural wine producers.) Vines are really amazing and quirky plants — their instinct is to grow wild, but they have to be tamed to make decent wine. (Metaphor for humans? Hm…) The work of spring pruning involves trimming off the unnecessary shoots that come in all over the branches, and it is a massive job for any small grower to undertake. So much love and care is going into vineyards, all over the Northern Hemisphere right now, as berries begin to flower and turn into actual grapes. Here’s wishing a wonderful growing season to all of you.

And to those of you who have recently joined me here, stay tuned for a new project, which I’ll announce soon. It’s a project for dreamers and risk-takers and those who are fed up with life’s mundane routines, those who thirst for something new, even if they don’t know yet what that is. I’m guessing some of you out there are a bit like that. More to come. I think I’ll tackle a few emails before it’s time to rev up the rental car one more time and do the airport song-and-dance I know so well.

I’ll leave you all with a quote from the Surrealist intellectual Andre Breton:

“I have no desire to know myself. (Basta! I shall always know myself!)”

. . . Um, wow, if this little birthday is this existential, what will 35 be like???

Modern-Day Vikings In Copenhagen

Many of us dream of living on the edge—giving up our jobs, letting the wind blow us from one place to another, no possessions or responsibilities to weigh us down. Sometimes people need to completely shake up their worlds in order to find a new direction. For me, the past year has been about living nomadically, and I’ve definitely discovered its bonuses as well as its limitations.

Recently, I spent one week in Copenhagen, a city of waterways and bike paths, and of many notable, delicious places to eat and drink. The weather was stunning—sunshine and light breeze—and everybody was out, cycling and relaxing in the city’s many parks, drinking beer on terraces, walking in the botanical gardens. Some friends, who were also in town for a big natural wine tasting called Fri Vin, asked me to join them on a boat ride along the canals. Obviously, my answer was yes!

I rode my rental bicycle to the other side of the bridge, parked, and waited alongside the sparkling blue water. Soon, my friends arrived in a ramshackle sailboat that was missing its sail, with a bucket of Belgian beers. All aboard . . .

“Let’s head toward the pirate cove,” said our captain. We rode along the calm water, checking out various architectural marvels like the opera house.

Fifteen minutes later, some of us were ready for a swim, so our captain slowed down the boat. Two of the guys stripped their shirts off and jumped in, immediately howling at the frigidness of the water.

Then we noticed a woman standing on the deck of a boat, which was part of a cluster of boats looking even more ramshackle than ours—and even a shipping container of sorts, parked atop a raft. “Hey there,” she said calmly.She was wearing a bra, a sarong, and eyeglasses, and her long brown hair flowed down her back. We hollered back: “Just stopped here for a swim.” We come in peace.

“Just let me know if you need anything,” she said in a friendly tone before disappearing into her boat house. Clearly, this was her territory. I saw now that this collection of boats was a squat. We were on the waters just outside the Copenhagen district known as Cristiana, which was established in the 1960s as a “free state,” and today is sort of a tourist attraction (and an open market for marijuana), although many people also actually live there, governing themselves according to their own principles.

Two minutes later, the woman reappeared. “Actually, you got an extra beer?” Of course we did! Quickly, she was standing atop a raft, using a plastic oar to make her way toward us, her brown hair blowing around her shoulders. Her raft parked besides us and just as she was coming aboard, my arm outstretched a plastic cup of beer already poured to welcome her, we heard a call from back on her home base:

“Check this ouuuuuut!”

There was a young woman on deck, jumping up and down and smiling wildly. She had pixie-cut, bleached blonde hair. Beside her was a guy with his shirt off, soft wavy brown hair hanging down his back, and a calmly poised woman wearing a flowered skirt and striped t-shirt. The blonde woman was holding up a box of wine in one hand, and a six pack of beer in the other.

“Whoa,” said our friend who’d first greeted us, looking back over her shoulder. “How’d you get all that?”

The guy replied proudly, with a shrug, “Just walked in and out of the store a few times.” Their looted bounty was ample: a few boxes of wine, and many beers. Soon, the modern-day Vikings had all rowed over to us, eager to meet the visitors and share their appropriated booze. They were from Latvia, Denmark, Sweden. They’d found their boats in different ways—one was half-sunken near shore and they managed, somehow, to dig it out of the mud. To get into the city limits without a boat license, they’d snuck through by night, keeping a watch for any coast guard. They mostly didn’t speak to their families, except for the Danish woman, who said she saw her parents from “time to time.” They lived by their wits on the canals of Copenhagen, and planned to sail the Nordic waters once the weather was fully warm. The pixie blonde clinked her plastic cup of beer with my wine, and told me I was welcome to live on her boat, anytime.

After half an hour of sharing beers and stories, we had to go, and the pirates retreated on their rafts—one was a canoe, actually. After the boat ride, I hopped back on my rental bike and rode back to my AirBnb in the hipster neighborhood Nørrebro. Suddenly, my nomadic life of freelance writing felt very bourgeois, very tame, compared to the Vikings we’d met, who survived thanks to illegality, cunning, and the strength of a group.

I keep thinking of those Vikings. Their story shows that a city can be experienced in so many ways. In Copenhagen, I visited many of the cool restaurants and coffee shops and wine bars, discovering their beauty or critiquing their food, collecting material for an upcoming article (and I also rode around on a bike, distributing copies of Terre to shops all over the city!). But the encounter with the pirates was something that will stay with me forever, even if I can’t show it on Instagram—it wasn’t a consumable experience. It was an encounter, out on the open waters, a reminder that there are no real limits or boundaries to how we live.

I’m not suggesting that you join a squat and drink shoplifted boxed wine! (Ugh.) But I think there are ways to be a modern-day pirate, in every day life—to sneak outside of the boundaries of what’s expected, live with fewer things and a greater sense of freedom, enjoy a city for its hidden forms of livability rather than seeing it as an object of desire, a furnace that stokes our constant need to consume.

Often, when visiting a new place, we feel compelled to use up every minute of our time at cool restaurants or shopping. That’s fine—my best memories of that week in Copenhagen include the soft, sweet warmth of the kardammomme I had at Juno bakery, as well as the long lunch I had at Relae, enjoying some of the most creative dishes I’ve seen in a while. I feel transformed by walking along the paths outside the Louisiana Museum, where works by sculptors such as Richard Serra and Alexander Calder are installed amongst forest and scraggly rocks with a view overlooking the water toward Sweden. But the everyday encounters are what humanize the city and make it more than just a collection of experiences; they make it a place where people achieve their dreams of freedom, however humble or impossible-seeming they may be.

For Students Of Bubbles And Lovers Of Italy: Franciacorta

I suppose you could call me a student of bubbles. When it comes to sparkling wine, there’s so much to think about, and try to understand: the conditions for ripeness; the balance created by acidity; lees influence; reduction vs. oxidation; pressure levels; soil types and grape varieties; disgorgement dates–the list goes on! But that’s why it’s so fascinating. It’s like being stuck in an endless PhD program, where the crappy stipend is palliated by sip after sip of occasionally quite stunning juice. There are ways in which bubbles, when made really well, can reveal things about a place in a way that a still wine cannot, I think. There are emotional experiences to be had with beautiful bubbles. And when the dosage is kept low, and vinosity is emphasized over powerful bubbles, these wines can pair so well with food.

the biodynamically farmed vineyard at 1701 Franciacorta

This being my obsession, I gladly accepted an invitation to visit Franciacorta. This northern Italian DOCG, located just northwest of Brescia in Lombardia, probably best known for the dramatically beautiful Lake Iseo, prides itself on making high quality méthode traditionelle wines that are uniquely Italian. As in, they are not just an “alternative” to Champagne. Of course, the same grapes are involved: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc. It’s a young region, relatively–the DOC was founded exactly 50 years ago with the goal of becoming Italy’s bubble kingdom, beyond the Charmat-method, populist Prosecco, and it became a DOCG in 1995.

From one perspective, this is a marketing challenge and a big business risk that I’m not sure I would have wagered, given both Prosecco’s and Champagne’s popularity and successful branding. But the climate of Lombardia does seem good for this kind of wine, and anyway, who says that if you decide to make sparkling wine, it needs to be about competing with other regions? Franciacorta may never be as prominent as Champagne; it may never be as beloved and saleable as Prosecco. But it’s interesting in its own right, in many ways.

Franciacorta may be a new DOCG, but this being Italy, of course, it has deep history. There are mentions of a region called “Cortes Francae” as far back as 1277, and in 1570 a physician named Dr. Conforti makes note of sparkling wine in the area, calling it “mordacious” (stinging) wine. Anyone who loves Italian food and wine and culture (MEEE!!) should be learning to appreciate Franciacorta and its small group of producers, who very widely in style, size, and terrain–it’s a region with five soil types, according to the locals. There are very large, industrial producers in Franciacorta; there are also medium-sized, organically farmed estates; there are small, slightly idiosyncratic, even biodynamic producers; and there’s at least one fiercely natural producer who, unsurprisingly, is kept outside the DOCG–that’s Cà del Vént, who, unfortunately, I was unable to visit.

One thing that sets Franciacorta apart from any sparkling wine region is that nearly every producer is adamant about using little or zero dosage at disgorgement. There is a lot of Extra Brut or Brut Nature/Zero Dosaggio Franciacorta out there to choose from, and unlike in Champagne, it’s not necessarily the most prized/expensive cuvée of the estate. It’s just what Franciacorta winemakers prefer. “Sugar for me is like a mask: a bit fake,” is how Sabrina Gozio, the hospitality manager at Castello di Gussago, phrased it. “It changes the balance of the wines” when you add too much dosage. Also unique in Franciacorta: the wines are effectively always made as single-vintage cuvées, rather than incorporating reserve wine as in Champagne.

Another idiosyncrasy about Franciacorta is this style of wine they have called “Satèn.” Essentially meant as an aperitivo wine, it’s a blanc de blancs–Chardonnnay and Pinot Blanc are both permitted–made with slightly lower pressure (5 bars is the maximum). Saten also has longer time on the lees–24 months versus 18, per DOCG rules.

Erbamat in the Barone Pizzini vineyard

A recent point of excitement in the DOCG is that an indigenous grape called Erbamat has recently been allowed into the list of permitted varieties. This is probably because some of the larger, more influential producers, like Barone Pizzini, see it as an important historical grape in the region, and want to experiment with it. Silvano Brescianini, General Manager and VP of Barone Pizzini, where 3- and 4-year old Erbamat vines are growing, says that, in early experiments, the grape appears “aromatic and high in acidity” to some tasters. Erbamat has low polyphenols and a clear/light color, he says. They’ve had some challenges getting the Erbamat vines to produce grapes consistently in their otherwise healthy, organic estate; Brescianini thinks the next step is to “find the good clone.” I look forward to returning for some taste trials!

Organic viticulture is practiced, one could say, fairly widely in Franciacorta–I met and heard of over a dozen viticulturalists and growers who had recently converted their estates, or were in the process of doing so. Sabrina at Castello di Gussago said that organic viticulture is important because families, including her own, are “living near the vineyards.” As well, it’s a question of quality: her colleague Angelo Divittini, the winery’s agronomist, explained to me that over the years, Franciacorta has experienced a “loss of natural organic substance” in its soils–and he said this was a significant problem in Italian agriculture overall. “Forty years ago, the organic matter was 4 to 5 percent,” said Antonio. “Thanks to synthetic fertilizers, we’ve lost it all.” Organic winegrowing is important because the future is at stake, as well as regional heritage: “This land is our patrimony,” he said.

But there is only a nascent biodynamic movement in the region. 1701 Franciacorta is currently the only Demeter certified estate in the DOCG. I visited the home vineyard and cellar with Marco Benedimi, their oenologist. The project was born in 2012, when Silvia and Federico Stefini, a brother and sister team, purchased the 11-hectare estate and winery from a Count. They converted it to organic first, and received Demeter certification in 2015.

All the 1701 wines, even the “Brut,” are basically zero-dosage or very low-dosage, and they are planning to change the labels soon to reflect this. We tasted mostly wines that consisted of the 2012 vintage, and had been disgorged in March 2017, with the exception of the Satèn, which was a 2013. I liked them all, finding complexity and minerality in each one, but most enjoyed the rosé, made of 100 percent Pinot Noir (like in Champagne, blending is allowed here): the nose had ripe cherries and strawberries; the palate was full of mineral notes and acidity and seemed like it would open up to new flavors with time; I could have pictured it alongside grilled vegetables, pasta dishes, or a cheese plate. I also tried 1701’s still Chardonnay, fermented in amphora, which had a smoky stonefruit nose, and was mineral and light on the palate, with lip-smacking acidity.

In the cellar, we tasted some of the freshly pressed juice, as harvest had just begin. The Chardonnay had lots of acidity and was just beginning fermentation. The Pinot Noir had just been pressed and was juicy and fruity; they were getting ready to add fermented grape must to kickstart the process.

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All sparkling wines at 1701 are hand-riddled–the total production is 5-6000 bottles per year. It’s possible to find them in the UK via Cave de Pyrenes. I don’t think they’re currently in the U.S.

Another great experience was tasting through the wines of Arcari + Danesi, a project of Giovanni Arcari and Nico Danesi, and one of the first Franciacorta wines I’d tried in New York, imported via Indie Wineries. I met with Arianna and Alex, as Giovanni and Nico were out of town.

The Arcari + Danesi project was born in 2007/8. They are well known for their “Solo Uva” wine, which omits sugar entirely, and which they first made in 2011. “Solo Uva” is a Chardonnay with only grape must to accelerate the secondary fermentation in bottle, rather than using sugar as is the norm worldwide, and with must again at disgorgement, instead of dosing with sugar. As you see above, there are two Solo Uva wines, one Brut and one no-dosage; then there are two standard wines and then there’s a vintage reserve.

I found that the Arcari + Danesi 2013 basic Dosaggio Zero was really singing; it had intense mineral notes, bright acid, and a fruit basket of lemons and peaches. I think it will age very well. It’s 90 percent Chardonnay, 10 percent Pinot Blanc, and spends over 30 months on the lees. The Solo Uva wines spend about 24 months on the lees.

Overall, the Arcari + Danesi wines are bottled at lower pressure, compared to other Franciacorta producers–around 4 or 4.5 atmospheres, versus 5-6. This is simply what they prefer. Generally speaking, it’s what I prefer, as well. Sprkling wines at lower pressure are, in my experience, are more vinous and food friendly.

Although it seems that most Franciacorta producers stick to stainless steel fermentation, one notable exception to the rule is the organic estate Mosnel, where barrel aging in French new oak is the norm. Out of their line-up (see header image), the 2012 Satèn was one stand-out; it wasn’t captivating me at all the wineries but the Mosnel approach, using 100 percent Chardonnay, aging 60 percent in horizontal tanks and 40 percent in barrels, delivered a wine with rich fruit, and strong acidity, offset by 6 grams of dosage. Overall, the wines at Mosnel (imported to the U.S with David Bowler Wines) have chewier textures and more toasty notes than wineries that don’t let the wine ferment or rest in barrels.

Monte Isola

Franciacorta has a lot of potential; although most producers actually export a relatively low percentage of production, the wines can be found at Italian restaurants abroad, and of course you can enjoy the wines in Italy. If you’re in Milan,, it’s a quick day trip to Franciacorta; Lake Iseo is really beautiful and peaceful, with an island in the middle that you can stroll around on a sunny day, and various historical convents scattered around. And the food in the area is excellent. They have a special kind of sardine-like fish that comes from the lake called agone, which you’ll encounter in various pasta dishes around the area.

Pacchieri with agone

Looking forward to embarking on further studies in bubbles to share with you. xRachel

 

 

 

Nobody Drank Much Water At H20…

I hope that my latest feature on Sprudge Wine will serve as something of a lighthearted mood-lifter (tu te calmes and carry on, is perhaps what Thierry Puzelat might say…?). It’s a write-up of the raucous and extremely well-curated two-day natural wine fair H20 Vegetal, held last month in Catalunya, Spain. You can read it here

xRachel

It’s All Greek To Me, But Only Some Of It Is Worth Drinking

What’s old is new, and what’s new is old, right?

Nowhere does that seem more true than within the culture of natural wine. After all the money spent on science and technology in the late 20th century, with the goal of creating a commercial wine industry, and thousands and thousands of wineries installing temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks for a quick and consistent fermentation, people all over the world are now putting their grapes into clay amphorae, fermenting them without sulfites, and letting wine be just about as wild as it was back in the days of Dionysus. 

Crazy, right? Next thing you know, people will actually be talking to each other in cafés instead of perusing Instagram on their phones. Er, probably not . . .

In Greece, a country with 4000 years of documented viticultural history, modern winemaking dominates, and is strongly influenced by Bordeaux-style oenology. But there are a few people making really interesting, low-intervention or natural wines, and elevating the country’s fascinating indigenous grapes. My article about the producers leading the way for natural wines in Greece is up on Sprudge Wine, read here

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I had the pleasure of tasting many of these wines during a recent visit to the country. What’s important to mention here, too, is that the wines really shine especially with Greek food, which is rich in flavor and features lots of fresh Mediterranean vegetables, like eggplant and tomato, as well as plenty of meat, feta cheese, and dolmas. So, ideally, that would be the way to enjoy the wines; however, I did recently have a fantastic 2013 Xinomavro from a producer named Oenos at a restaurant here in Paris (cute place called Tannat, in the 11ème), and it was perfect with duck. (Although Xinomavro with moussaka, that’s just, like, boom.)

moussaka!!! so good!

If you live in New York, I really recommend the restaurant Molyvos, where I first tasted many of these wines a couple years back with the very knowledgable wine director, Kamal Kouiri; the food is really delicious and classic.

Thanks for reading!

 

Loire Valley Trip Report

I’m writing from Paris, after a week in the Loire Valley and before that, a week in Alsace (which informed last week’s Vine Pair column on Riesling, Gewurtraminer, and Pinot Gris from Alsace; read here).

I’m still coming down from the sleep-deprived, adrenaline-fueled high of visiting producers across the Loire Valley whose wines I first tasted when I was a server at Reynard, then sold when I worked in retail, and then wrote about in various articles. I felt that it was time to see their terroir and their cellars, get to know them in situ, and understand the geography of the Loire Valley. It was a week of long drives guided by GPS, muddy walks in rain-soaked vineyards, discussions of weather patterns, tasting and tasting and tasting, and some very special meals. I’m grateful to the vignerons who took time from their busy schedules (after rain, the vines need a lot of attention) to show me their vineyards and cellars.

The 2016 vintage is difficult, as anyone who is following France’s wine regions will likely know. The Loire Valley did not get hail this spring, but it did have frost on the vines a few months ago, and then it rained this month for two weeks straight. Flowering is just happening now, which is late, and many producers have lost between 50-70 percent of their potential grape production. 2015 was a very warm vintage with a high yield, and 2014 was a “classic” vintage with a balanced, warm growing season.

Here, going to mention just a few highlights; more in-depth coverage will come in the months to follow.

Domaine Vacheron

J-L Vacheron_Clos_RSigner

Jean-Laurent Vacheron and his cousin are the 4th generation of vignerons at this certified biodynamically farmed Sancerre domaine, which today comprises just under 50 hectares. In the early 20th century, the domaine produced both wine and goat’s cheese, and had a restaurant as well, but they specialized in wine in the 60s, and planted vines in the fields where the goats had grazed. The move to organic began here in ’93, and to biodynamic in ’97. The Vacheron approach is very much focused on micro-terroir, or soil types; there is a special cuvee devoted to each unique parcel of land. The very worldly and professionally experienced Jean-Laurent took me out in his truck and showed me the fault line where the compacted, flinty Silex soil begins; this type of limestone from the Eocene era constitutes about 20 percent of all Sancerre vineyard land and lends a flinty taste to the Sauvignon. Jean-Laurent showed me the shed where he makes his biodynamic preparations, and we also stopped by a special, tiny parcel called Le Clos des Ramparts, which has some ungrafted (franc de pied) Sauvignon. A special bonus was tasting through a vertical of the “Belle Dame” Silex soil Pinot Noir going back to ’06; it was amazing to see the vintage variation.

Hervé Villemade

Hervé Villemade_RSigner

Upon arriving to Hervé’s domaine in Cheverny, I found his 92-year-old father working in the garden. Later I asked Hervé whether his father ever took a day off, predicting correctly that the answer would be “no.” The second thing noticed was that the walls of the winery are covered with beautiful, large-format photos of Hervé’s harvest workers (taken by a friend of his). It looks like a very, very fun place to do harvest. Most of the Sauvignon and Romorantin vineyards that form part of 22 hectares total are right near the winery, and we put on boots to tromp through their sand and silex soils. Hervé explained that there is only about 60 hectares left of Romorantin in France, which almost made me cry because I love it so, so much; fortunately he has planted some through a massale selection of vines. As the story goes with nearly all grapes that are nearing extinction, people ripped up much of the Romorantin in the 50s and 60s to plan grapes that produce more and are easier to grow, like Sauvignon. Hervé, along with Thierry Puzelat and Domaine Tessier, is experimenting with making wine in quevri, as well as a concrete egg, although generally he ferments in tanks or large neutral foudres, and then assembles the wine before further elevage. This was a fantastic tasting that revealed the age-worthiness of many of Hervé’s cuvees and the overall craftsmanship of his very precise winemaking. If you see his “Les Ardilles,” a blend of mostly Pinot Noir and some Gamay that displays notes of crushed strawberry, lemongrass, and rose, do not hesitate to buy and drink it. His Cheverny Rouge (Pinot/Gamay) is so wonderful and light, with soft tannins. Perhaps the stunner for me was his “Les Acacias” cuvee, made from a 1962 planting of Romorantin: it is dark golden, with intense aromas of stonefruits and lemon, and a rich texture. The kind of wine you should cellar until you meet someone you desperately want to seduce.

Thierry Puzelat

Thierry Puzelat_Rsigner

I showed up at Thierry Puzelat’s domaine in Montils a few days after he’d celebrated his 50th birthday party with friends from all over the world, and he was in good spirits. Clos de Tue-Boeuf is the family property that Therry inherited, which dates back to the 13th century. The site is located about 2 km from the Loire River, on a gentle slope with southern exposure, and clay-silex soil, and holds many old vines parcels, including a 1976 plot of Pinot Noir that Thierry remembers hand-watering with his parents as a kid. Thierry was not always a natural winemaker. For his training, he worked for a first-growth Bordeaux estate, Clos Fourtet in Saint-Emilion, and then spent four years working for Sopexa (a French wine marketing enterprise) in Montreal. Someone told him about Marcel Lapierre, and in 1991 he went to visit the domaine and met other natural vignerons in the Beaujolais region and eventually, throughout France. He worked at Chateau Saint-Anne in Bandol, which is where he began making sulfur-free wines. In 1995, Thierry began converted Tue-Boeuf to organic. With the exception of an entry-level line of juice, Thierry’s wines are basically all single-parcel bottlings focused on terroir, which means they are often blends because the vineyards are co-planted. The 2015 Pinot Noir bottling from the “Les Gravottes” vineyard was one of my favorites from tasting: it is fermented in barriques, after foot crushing and a 10-day semi-carbonic maceration, and the result is light and fresh, high acid juice with notes of crushed cranberries and raspberries.

Noella Morantin

Noella Moratin_Rsigner

Spent an afternoon in the company of this strong-willed vigneron, who trained with Philippe Pacalet and Domaine Mosse, and worked for four years for Junko Arai, before setting out on her own in the late Aughts. Some of the vineyards she now works with are ones that she cultivated during her tenure for Arai; others were inherited from the vignerons of Clos Roche Blanche. I’ve drunk Noella’s wines on many occasions and always found them to have a special suppleness, roundness, as well as a lithe acidity. Perhaps this is due to the extremely long fermentations her wines undergo (one of her 2015s was still fermenting when we tried it in the cellar) as well as the long elevage in used barriques. Noella farms 6 hectares in the town of Pouillé; she used to have more but actually downsized because she emphatically wants to stay very small so as to work closely with the vines. I’m incredibly fond of the “Chez Charles” Sauvignon. Depending on the vintage, it may show some of those classic pyrazine notes Sauvignon is often known for, but what I love most is the perfect balance of acidity, freshness, and structure in this wine. I would cellar one of these babies if I had a proper cellar.

Domaine de l’Ecu

Fred Niger_Rsigner

Mad scientist at work here! Fred Niger, who became an autodidact vigneron after a previous career as a lawyer, is working with several different kids of amphorae, which he plays with to reveal different aspects of the juice. He has the three main soil types of Muscadet in his biodynamically farmed 25 hectares (of which 16 are Melon de Bourgogne): gneiss, orthogenesis, and granite. Tasting through these three wines, it’s quite interesting to see how the different soil compositions affect the final juice. We also sampled the same wine, a Cabernet Franc that goes into a cuvee called “Mephisto,” from several different amphorae, and one barrique, to observe how it develops differently; the final wine is a blend of all these vinifications. Fred’s Melon de Bourgogne wines are great, but his amphorae wines are the stars here. I fell in love with the “Mephisto” and will be bringing back a bottle that someone very lucky will get to drink with me this fall.

Whew, OK, that’s all I can do for now, plus why am I sitting inside writing when I’m in Paris? A bientôt!