Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Whites for Summer: Pinot Gris & Pinot Grigio

Now that Summer is finally here! it is time to explore more fun whites, by trying and learning about delicious Pinot Gris/ Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, as it is known in Italy, and Grauburgunder, as it is known in Germany, are all the same grape variety, basically a grape mutation of Pinot Noir. However, the style of wines Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio can create will be very different according to climate, winemaking intent and yields. 

Picture of Pinot Gris, courtesy of Wines of Alsace.

One of the best expression of this grape comes from Alsace, where it produces dry, as well as, sweet/dessert styles, affected by botrytis (VT:Vendages Tardives and SGN: Sélection de Grains Noble).  In Alsace, the perfect combination of dry autumns, mineral soils and low yields, produce wines that have fuller bodies, balanced acidity and enticing aromas featuring citrus, spices and honey notes. Here, Pinot Gris is considered one of the top 4 noble varieties of the appellation, and is vinified both as a varietal and in blends, yielding an unctuous and worth aging wine. 

In Germany, especially in Baden and Pfalz, we can find some good samples too, though these tend to be higher in acidity and with lower alcohol levels than those from Alsace. 
In Italy, Pinot Grigio sales raised up to 223 million bottles last year alone. We have two different styles: the mass produced, inexpensive quaff that don't show much complexity/ personality, yet it continues to be a favorite of US consumers.  And better yet, it's the Pinot Grigio produced in appellations in the north east of Italy, such as Alto Adige-Trentino, Collio and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia that make very good samples featuring medium bodies, stone fruit flavors, nice minerality and zippy acidity.

Besides the locations described above, Pinot Gris/ Pinot Grigio has been planted all around the world, in California is usually treated as Chardonnay and fermented it or aged in oak. Oregon produces some good examples, mostly due to Oregon’s cool weather that suits this grape quite well. New Zealand’s Southern Island (Martinsborough) and Victoria, Australia offer good promise too.
Something to notice about this variety is that its skins vary in color, going from grey to blue, to purple, almost too dark to create a white wine. In any case, producers make white wine by removing the grape's skins. 

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio usually features a deep golden color, light to medium bodies and aromas showing honey, lemon,yellow apple, white nectarine, peach and tropical mango, according to climate variations. 

Recommended Producers:
Alsace: Hugel, Trimbach, Weinbach, Zind-Humbrecht, Josmeyer, Lucien Albrecht
Italy: Alois Lageder, Felluga, Attems, Franco Terpin, Tiefenbrunner,Jermann.
Oregon: A to Z, Chehalem, King Estate, Benton Lane, Elk Cove, Big Table Farm.

Wines that I have tasted lately that I liked:
Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio 2018, Alto Adige $12
Gradis Ciutta Pinot Grigio 2018, Collio $19
J Hofstatter Pinot Grigio 2018, IGT Delle Dolomiti $19
Astrolabe Pinot Gris 2016, New Zealand, $14
A to Z Pinot Gris 2018, Oregon, $14
Thank you to Frederick Wildman, HB Merchants and Vineyard Brands for donating samples.

Cheers! Silvina
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#peterzemmer #gradisciutta #Jhofstatter #thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday #pinotgris #pinotgrigio.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Netflix Series and Rosé Wines

Let’s face it, we are in the middle of a crazy summer! Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no vacation for La Wina. This year, I had plans to visit both the Washington and Oregon wine trails, which I postponed for next Summer. I suppose I could have tried to go somewhere not crowded, for a few days, maybe near the beach and by car, but the truth is that everything is so uncertain these days, I decided it was best to stay put in my apartment. And, like many of you, part of my weekends are filled with Netflix series. 

At the beginning, I didn’t want to waste my time watching TV all day.  But there was nothing else to do for fun. Before beginning any new series, I always check how many episodes they have, to decide to start or not, for me shorter is always better, 8-12 episodes at most, since I get antsy very easily, when I see too many episodes or many seasons. From the beginning, I decided not to watch any dramas… life is dramatic enough, don’t you think? And chose comedies or rom-coms instead! With the occasional thriller, I love thriller movies/books/series. I also love to watch series made in Europe: Spain, France, Italy, UK, Denmark, etc. This way, I can also enjoy some traveling vistas too! Though, sometimes I wonder, after seeing so much beauty, What the heck am I doing in NJ?

So, here are some of my favorites: Valeria, (Spain) she is a writer, trying to find her voice, so she starts writing about herself and her friends. The Hook Up Plan (France) her boyfriend dumped her, so her friends hire a guy to seduce her and boost her self esteem, she ends up falling in love with a gigolo...I loved this one, especially because I can brush up on my French, and get lost in the streets of Paris! 2 seasons.  Unorthodox (Germany/USA), she is a Hassidic girl who decides to be free...and finds love and herself in the process. I loved her courage and her pixie cut!  Lovesick (UK) they are roommates, they are in love with each other, but with different timings, will they ever find their way? This one will make you think about love and fate, are the important things in our lives written? Rita (Denmark): she is a high school teacher that will make you laugh, are all guys in Denmark blond and tall, GQ cover men? 4 seasons. Money Heist (Spain), this is a worldwide phenomenon and one of the most seen shows in Netflix, what if a group of thieves take over the National Reserve Bank in Spain and start printing millions of Euros? 4 seasons, though for me the first two were best. Ciao Bella Ciao, Ciao, Ciao… I love that song.... Marcella (UK), she is a detective trying to catch serial killers, plus sometimes she blacks out, making you think that she may have killed one of the characters in the show and now doesn’t remember, 3 seasons. 

Now, what to drink to watch all of these?  A fine selection of Rosés. To learn about the different styles and places to get the best Rosé read an earlier post of mine. Thank you to Frederick Wildman, HB Merchants and Royal Wines for providing samples for me to taste.

Castello Monaci Kreos Rosé 2019 $14.99
Great value comes from the South of Italy, and this is exactly the case with this Castello Monaci Rosé from Puglia. Kreos rosé is named after a Greek Goddess that used to cry for the death of her son killed by Achilles. Made from 100 % Negroamaro grapes, planted in calcareous soils and vinified completely in stainless steel, using the saignée method.  A refreshing rosé featuring crushed strawberries and sour cherry notes and a lively finish.

Santi Infinito Rosé 2019, Veneto, Italy $12.99
This rosé comes from the Veneto region near Lake Garda. It’s a blend of 60% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 15% Molinara, the same blend used in Valpolicella and Bardolino reds. Santi Infinito Rosé is also made in stainless steel, under low temperatures to preserve the freshness of the fruit. A small portion of this wine undergoes malolactic fermentation. A dynamic rosé with ample citrus and strawberries notes and very balanced acidity.

La Bastarde Rosato di Toscana 2019 $9.99
Made from 100 % Sangiovese grapes, this rosato from Tuscany was made with the saignée method and aging on lees for 3 weeks. An expressive rosé , with juicy strawberry, pomegranate and orange blossom notes, complemented by a refreshing finish. Delish!

Hecht and Bannier Rosé 2019, Côtes de Provence $19.99
Enticing Rosé from Provence, featuring a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Rolle.  Made fully in stainless steel.   Hecht and Bannier rosé showcases intense raspberry and orange zest notes and a tight mineral finish. Fleshy!

Domaine de Tarique Côtes de Gascogne Rosé de Presée 2019 $13.99
Well crafted Rosé from the Gascony in SW France. It’s a blend of 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 25% Syrah, 15% Tannat. Domaine de Tarique rosé  is a full bodied Rosé with fresh plum and ripe cherry notes and zesty acidity.

Chateau Sainte Beatrice Rosé 2019 $19.99
Made from a blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Syrah. A harmonious rosé, exudes white cherry and strawberry notes and a very crispy finish. Kosher.

Chateau Roubine Cru Classe Rosé 2019 $24.99
A blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Tibouren, Syrah, Mourvedre and Rolle all grown organically. After a short maceration with skins, fermentation takes place under strictly controlled temperatures to preserve fruitiness. No malolatic fermentation is allowed. An elegant rosé delivers mineral (chalky) notes and intense strawberry and raspberry aromas. Kosher.

There you have it! Now, let me continue watching Billions on Showtime, I just found out why I live in NJ, because I am only 20 minutes away from one of the most beautiful cities on earth: New York, I raise a glass to you, we have less cases of Covid 19 every day! Cheers, Silvina.

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#Roséwine #thoughtsoflawina #netflix #wineinlockdown

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Covid-19 Effects in the Wine Industry

I recently attended a webinar organized by Vinexpo NY focusing on the effects of Covid-19 in the Wine and Alcohol industries. This post is inspired by what I learned in this very informative session led by IWSR, a company based in the UK, that specializes in alcoholic market analysis. 

I must confess, I don't know anything about Economics, though life gave me some exposure, because of my background. Any Argentinean is familiar with the concepts of inflation, devaluation, the cost of dollar vs the peso, recessions of different kinds and lengths, basically how at any time, an economic downturn can impact disposable incomes. However, the effects vary and sometimes are not exactly the same for every industry. Take for example, the last economic crisis that took place in the US, in 2008. We had high unemployment, though less than today’s rate (40 million and counting), and of course the classical effects of any recession, with people afraid of spending or spending less due to loss of jobs and purchasing power, which translated into an increase in alcohol at home consumption and price stagnation. But, on that occasion, we also saw, an increase in consumption, by then, I was working for a wine importer and I saw this with my own eyes, how inexpensive/value brands were selling like hotcakes, while more expensive brand sales decreased, and were affordable to a small group of rich consumers. It took the industry a while to see sales increases for high end wines. So the question is, if we survived then, can we survive again? 

The Covid-19 crisis is completely different from the crisis in 2008, not only because the economic consequences have the potential to be much worse and severe (at the moment I'm writing this post, it's still too soon to see fully the economics effects of the pandemic, though economists are forecasting difficult times ahead), the difference lies on the pandemic itself. The pandemic is more dangerous than any other recession, because in a regular recession we would normally wait and hope for things to start to shape up again (with good economic politics in place, this could happen sooner rather than later). But now, everything depends on the life of a virus, that we know very little of, and that has made us uncertain/ afraid of everything.  All of a sudden, the person next to me has the potential to give me a disease that can kill me and therefore I must stay away from the world if I’m to survive, and so overnight, millions of businesses went under. Indeed, the tragic closure of all restaurants and bars for example, though some are surviving on delivery and take out and some outdoor sales. A pause on all types of retail travel and all the entertainment activities related to travel, and a fundamental change in our social behavior, that may stay with us for a while. Even as states reopen, consumers may be slow to go back to indoor restaurants and bars, at least until a vaccine or cure appears. We went from being with people in gatherings to being in seclusion at home. Of course, wineries, importers and producers are feeling the blow, mostly because a big chunk of their business comes from sales in the on premise channels, now gone until further notice. Think about what happened to the many bars in most cities in the US that can’t do delivery or take out of drinks or the closure of tasting rooms that up until a few months ago, generated considerable sales to any winery. Yep.. the road just became bumpy and according to the IWSR, these effects may stay for a while, at least for 5 years (up to 2024), to return to the same level of sales Pre-Covid-19

Now, before exploring some of the solutions and creative trends we are seeing right now, it's important to look at the sales of wine, at what was happening right before Covid-19. Sales of wines increased for 25 consecutive years, but things changed in 2019, which was the first year when we saw a decrease of 1% in sales, consumers favored spirits and hard water seltzers, instead. Luckily, since the start of Covid-19, only 100 a days ago, we have seen a 200+ % increase in wine retail/online sales, and numbers in wine consumption continue to climb up (similarly to what happened in 2008) this will help to compensate some of the loss of all on premise sales. Now, this won't benefit all producers equally, obviously well known brands with better channels of distribution, will do better than others (unknown and/or smaller producers). 

So, I guess when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade! The time has come for producers to be creative and to invest in other ways to connect to customers, as my mother used to say “necessity is the mother of all inventions”. Some of these trends, we see now, are the use of social media, the wonders of ecommerce, now staying for good and expanding in all markets, rapidly becoming the only way to sell/get wine and spirits (I promise to write about online retailers in a future post), the at home consumption experience, replacing at least for the time being the on premise experience we used to enjoy in the past, the appearance of virtual tastings, happy hours and virtual bars on Zoom or Instagram, now a new way for any producer to connect with their clients, directly. A comment about virtual tastings, those that know me, know that my favorite thing in life is to taste wine… and well watching someone else do it online for me, is not exactly the same. That’s why, I’m more in favor of attending educational conferences, learning about regions or grapes in general,  than watching experts drinking wines I don’t have access to. A better choice, I would like to see more, could be to give a virtual winery tour, with wineries showing parts of themselves, of their properties, allowing attendees to ask questions about terroir and wines….I know.. I just went into wine nerd mode!  If they could complement this experience with tiny samples, that would be ideal for me. A few posts ago, I reviewed the Hopwine event that I thought was wonderful. Maybe, these mini bottles will be the new normal in an industry without wine tastings?, hey if it worked for the perfume industry, maybe wineries should give them a try? 

The bottom line, producers need to reinvent themselves, to be creative and strategic in giving their clients a personal experience, in order to connect “at home” with them. Some restaurants are already doing this, by offering their customers the possibility of duplicating the on premise experience at home, with chefs sharing recipes online and bartenders giving tips and tricks to replicate their famous drinks. Take for example, Olive Garden that now offers their own lineup of Italian wines to go with their meals, indeed a very inventive way to retain customers and to provide them everything in one stop. Will this work? It will depend, it’s not new that the highest markups in wines and spirits happen on premise, and that we only pay for them because they are part of the divine on premise experience. Now, if you could get the same wine/ spirit/ drink much cheaper online/ to go, why would you pay more and buy it from a restaurant? Maybe it’s time for lower markups?  that will be excellent!
Something good coming out of all of this though, is the trading up in price and quality. If before, I was paying $30 for a bottle of wine at any restaurant that normally cost $10 at the store, I could easily decide to buy something better with a higher price tag to drink at home “in the new normal”.
Also, expect a bigger presence online from producers and importers and more investing in digital marketing, educating customers online seems to be the way to acquiring customers' loyalty. I guess we shall see, indeed, we do have a long way to fully recover, economically and mentally, but I'm confident that resilience and creativity will play a key role to our success. 
Cheers! Silvina

#thoughtsoflawina #covid19 #alcoholindustry #wineandspirits

For more wine recommendations, follow me on Instagram @Silvinalawina and subscribe in my website to receive "Thoughtsoflawina" in your inbox.

A special thanks to IWSR for providing all figures and reports to write this post.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Refreshing Whites: Muscadet

Tired of drinking the same white variety all the time? Isn’t it time to try something new and affordable? What about a dry white with refreshing acidity, like Muscadet

Located at the western side of the Loire Valley and close to the Atlantic, Muscadet enjoys a cool and humid climate influenced by the ocean, perfect to grow white grapes, which in this case is the Melon de Bourgogne variety.  Melon de Bourgogne is a crossing of Pinot Blanc and Gouais Blanc and it was brought to the area from Burgundy after a frost destroyed most vineyards in the region in 1709. About 12,000 ha are dedicated to growing Melon de Bourgogne, mostly planted in a variety of soils that include, schist, granite or gneiss.

Map courtesy of Loire
Valley Wines/ Sopexa
In the red circle, the areas of Muscadet

There are four important appellations in this region, located around the town of Nantes,  the most important is Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, named after the two rivers that cross this AOP and where most of wine is produced, about ¾  of the total production, followed by Muscadet Coteaux de La Loire, Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu and basic Muscadet. Wines made in the first three AOP are aged with the lees (dead yeasts) which thanks to autolysis will give the wines creaminess and a bit of spritz. 

Stylistically Muscadet is a light, dry and crisp white with balanced alcohol (maximum by law is 12%) on the palate it will show interesting minerality, and citrus notes: lime, lemon zest, lemon curd and honeysuckle. The best match for this wine is seafood, especially oysters, mussels, but also shrimp and lobster. 

If the words “sur lie” appear on the label, by law the wine must be bottled between March and November of the year after harvest, usually without filtration. Some producers choose to keep wines on lees longer in an effort to obtain a fuller wine. Try to drink this young, to a maximum of 3 years after the harvest.

Recommended producers:
Domaine de L’ecu, Pierre Luneau Papin, Domaine de La Pepiere, Joseph Landron, Chereau Carre and Domaine de La Grange, Château de la Ragotière.

Muscadet that I tasted lately that I liked: 
Château de la Ragotière Muscadet Black Label Sur Lie 2018 $17.99
Château de la Ragotière Muscadet Cuvée Amélie 2015 $17.99
These two fine samples of Muscadet were aged for 10 months with their lees and come from old vines with an average of 30 to 60 years in the first case and 50 years in the second sample. Light bodied, crispy and extremely elegant prove that less is always more. Highly recommended! Cheers, Silvina

#muscadet #thoughtsoflawina #drywhite #melondebourgogne #ChâteaudelaRagotière
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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Chalk Hill Estate Wines

Located in one of the 13 Sonoma county appellations, Chalk Hill Estate boasts the best possible combination of innovation and sustainable viticulture.

Founded almost 40 years ago, this estate  features a total of 1300 acres, which include, the winery and red wine aging facility, its own organic culinary garden, a hospitality center, an equestrian pavilion, oak forests and wild grasslands and 382 acres of vineyards.  
But, what truly makes Chalk Hill so remarkable and unique, is its location, that provides owner and head of winemaking Courtney Foley and her team the opportunity to handcraft wines from a variety of grapes. To the west, the cooler Russian River Valley, known for being the best spot in California to produce cooler climate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and to the north east, the warm Alexander Valley where conditions are ideal to grow and ripen warm climate Bordeaux varieties.
Chalk Hill wines are then, the direct result of successfully matching the terroir of the land which includes a diversity of altitudes (that go from 100-600 ft) and these two microclimates with specially selected clones (their Chardonnay was created/designed by UC Davis) and soils that go from gravel and rock to heavy clay, with a subsoil of chalk colored-volcanic ash that inspired the name of both winery and appellation. 

From the winery's impressive line up, I received two wines to review: Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay 2017 and Chalk Hill Estate Red Blend 2016, a Bordeaux blend featuring Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay 2017 was made following the original Burgundian recipe, it was completely fermented in French oak barrels (both old and new), with native yeasts, followed by malolactic fermentation with lees stirring every two weeks. The wine was then aged for 11 months in oak, 44% new.  $42
This white is power bomb, yet elegant, featuring a full body, with medium plus alcohol, balanced acidity, showcasing lemon and mineral notes. A soft touch of oak complements the creamy finish. 

The Chalk Hill Estate Red Blend 2016 was completely vinified in stainless steel vats, and is a blend of 47 % Cabernet Sauvignon with 37% Malbec , 9% Petit Verdot and 7% Merlot. After undergoing malolactic fermentation the wine was aged for 20 months in French oak, 55% new. $70
This massive red features a full body with notes of black fruits (blackberry, black cherry, plum) with chocolate and spicy notes, ending in a smooth and fleshy finish.
Besides offering customized wine tastings and culinary experiences (Chalk Hill has its own restaurant in Healdsburg), Chalk Hill winery is also a member of the Foley Food Wine society that offers consumers an opportunity to gain points from every dollar spent that can be used to purchase wines, events tickets, tours, etc in 16 different wineries owned by the family, located in the states of California, Oregon and Washington. Something definitely to look forward to, once things come back to normal. Cheers! Silvina

#thoughtsoflawina #chalkhill #WineWednesday

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