Tag Archives: Organic viticulture

Wine Geek Notes 3/4/18 — Organic Viticulture and Aglianico

Image from L'Ampélographie (Viala et Vermorel), reproduced in
Here is what I’ve been reading in the world of wine today.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Organic Vineyard Share of National Vineyard Area in Selected Countries in 2016 from the American Association of Wine Economists (@wineecon) brought to my dash via Craig Camp (@CraigCamp)

It’s really interesting how much Europe (excluding Greece & Portugal) is taking the lead with organic viticulture. I wonder how much of it is in response to their soils being exhausted after centuries of agriculture or if there are other cultural dynamics at play here. I’m also curious why the US is lagging so much behind, only slightly better than China, Chile & Portugal.

Aglianico Connections in the Napa Valley by Jill Barth (@jillbarth) of L’Occasion brought to my dash via Jane Niemeyer (@always_ravenous).

Also have to give a hat tip to @always_ravenous for leading me to Savor the Harvest’s (@savortheharvest) Aglianico post Aglianico: A Southern Italian Gem #ItalianFWT.

I ADORE Aglianico and featured it in my post In a rut? Try these new grapes! as a great grape for Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah drinkers to explore. I had a lot of fun geeking out to Barth’s post exploring a very unique Aglianico from Napa while Savor The Harvest’s description of a classic old school Aglianico del Vulture from Tenuta del Portale paired with Daube French Beef Stew over egg noodles had my mouth watering.

I wasn’t familiar with the Italian Food, Wine, Travel Group (#ItalianFWT) but this seems to be a monthly series that generates a lot of great posts and wine discussion. For wine geeks and foodies, this is definitely a group worth keeping an eye on. Next month’s topic is La Primavera e Verdicchio hosted by Culinary Cam (@Culinary_Cam).

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What’s fine (and not so fine) about Vegan Wines

Photo by www.Pixel.la Free Stock Photos. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

Veganism is described as one of the fastest growing lifestyle movements in the world. Some estimates claim that in the United states alone, there was a 500% increase between 2014 and 2017 in the number of Americans (around 19 million) identifying as vegan.

For the wine industry, that is a sizable demographic that retailers and wineries have value in marketing to.

So what makes a wine “vegan-friendly”?

For the most part, veganism is a code of conduct that avoids using any animal products or by products as well as anything that has been tested on animals. There are various reasons why people adopt veganism but often ethical concerns about the treatment of animals and impact on the environment are cited.

While wine is often assumed to be vegan, the use of animal-based fining agents such as casein (milk protein), albumin (egg whites), isinglass (fish bladders) and gelatin (animal collagen) in winemaking is problematic for many vegans.

Let’s Talk About Fining Agents

As Alison Crowe notes in The Wine Maker’s Answer Book, fining agents are used to help clarify and stabilize wine by binding to molecules such as proteins and excess tannins. These are items that can cause unsightly haze in the bottle, aggressive bitterness on the palate, off odors and flavors. The agent binds to the target molecule to form larger structures that eventually precipitates and settles to the bottom of tank or barrel as sediment.

Bruce W. Zoecklein et. al in Wine Analysis and Production classified the various fining agents into 8 categories based on their nature.

Photo by self. Uploaded as User:Agne27 to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Isinglass and bentonite fining trials.

1.) Earths like bentonite and kaolin
2.) Proteins like the animal based ones above
3.) Polysaccharides like gum arabic and Sparkolloid
4.) Carbons like activated carbon
5.) Synthetic polymers like polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (or PVPP)
6.) Silica gels like silicon dioxide or Kieselsol
7.) Tannins often derived from insect galls on oak leaves though oak chip fining can also fall into this category.
8.) Others which includes both enzymatic fining (more fining aids rather than fining agents) and chelators that assist in the removal of metals such as “blue fining” with potassium ferrocyanide (illegal to use in the United States).

The different fining agents work on principles of electrical charge (like positively charged gelatin reacting with negatively charged tannins), bond formation (like the carbonyl group of PVPP bonding with the hydroxyl group of tannins) and by absorption/adsorption (like activated carbon absorbing off odors or bentonite adsorbing proteins).

There are positive and negative attributes to each fining agent with no one fining agent being perfect for every situation.

Animal-based Fining Agents

Egg whites (Albumin) Used primarily to remove excess tannins. Works by forming hydrogen bonds with the hydroxyl groups of tannins. Compared to other fining agents like gelatin, albumin tends to remove less positive flavor and aroma traits. Egg whites have a long history of use in winemaking in places like Bordeaux and Burgundy. The usual addition is 1 to 3 egg whites per 225L (59 gallon) barrel.

Casein (Milk protein) Used primarily to remove browning or pink color in white wine. Can also be used to remove some off odors. Works by adsorption and attracting negatively charged particles. Like with egg whites, it has a long history of use in wine production, particularly with the great white wines of Burgundy. It also has the benefit of reducing the concentration of iron and copper in wine. In red wines, it can negatively impact the wine by removing the polyphenol resveratrol that has been associated with various health benefits.

Gelatin (derived from the boiling of animal tissues like bones and tendons) Used primarily to remove excess tannins. It has a positive charge that reacts to the negative charge of harsh tannins. It can be prone to over-fining that can strip a wine of positive flavors and aromas.

A heat stability trial for rose wines that have been fined with isinglass.

Isinglass (derived from the air bladder of fish like sturgeons). Used primarily to help clarifying wines, remove excess tannins and to “unmask” or bring out varietal character.

Chitosan (derived from chitin in the exoskeleton of crustaceans) Used primarily to remove haze causing proteins from white wines. A positively charged agent, it often needs to be paired with a negatively charged fining agent like Kieselsol to be most effective.

Blood Albumen (derived from the blood of ox and cattle) historically used but illegal in the United states, France and several other countries.

Vegan-friendly Alternatives

The website Barnivore is a database of wines and other liquors that have been vetted by users to be either “vegan-friendly” or not. In answering queries about their use of animal based fining agents, many wineries share their alternative methods.

Photo by self. Uploaded as User:Agne27 to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Letting the wine settle and clarify on its own before racking into another container is one method to avoid using fining agents.

One common method is the use of time and gravity to let the wine settle and clear out on its own. This is the technique used by Baldacci in the Stags Leap District and many other wineries. Depending on several factors like the health of the grapes, method of pressing, pH and temperature, this method could take several months and even then the wine might not be completely stable. Some wineries facilitate this method with the use of mechanical centrifuges and ultra-filtration but these carry the risk of being overly aggressive and potentially stripping the wine of positive flavor and aroma attributes.

Along those lines, many wineries adopt a hands-off method of not fining or filtering their wines at all. This is the method used by many high-end wine producers like Black Cordon and Kapcsandy in Napa Valley. This does carry the risk of haze and sediment developing in the bottle but the risk is often presented to consumers as a trade-off for having potentially more complex and flavorful wines.

The most used “vegan-friendly” fining agent is bentonite, a type of clay that can dramatically swell in size to adsorb protein molecules. This is the method used by wineries like Chinook in Washington State, Ideology in Napa Valley, Spier in South Africa and many others. One big drawback is that it causes significant loss of wine volume due to the heavy sediment it creates. As much as 5-10% of volume could be lost. Roger B. Boulton et al notes in Principles and Practices of Winemaking that these voluminous bentonite lees also create a large amount of solid waste that can have an environmental impact (such as sealing percolation ponds) if not properly disposed. In red wine, there is also a risk of color loss.

Photo by self. Uploaded as User:Agne27 to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The lees sediment and volume loss from bentonite can be significant (between 5-10%). Using counter-fining agents like isinglass can help with lees compaction but would obviously make the wine not vegan-friendly.

Some wineries like Amici use the technique of “yeast fining” for wines like their 2013 Russian River Pinot noir. This involves adding fresh yeast to a wine where their cell walls (which are about 30% positively charged proteins) can adsorb many polyphenols and compounds that can cause off odors. It brings the risk of the yeast breaking down as lees, releasing sulfur compounds and enhancing reductive notes. Also, if not removed by filtration, the yeast in the bottle can start re-fermenting any residual sugars–causing spritziness in what is, otherwise, supposed to be a non-sparkling wine.

PVPP is a synthetic polymer that can remove bitter tannins and brown discoloration from white wines. Like casein, it can remove the polyphenol resveratrol from red wines. There is also a risk of overfining with the PVPP binding to desirable tannins and anthocyanins needed for structure and color.

Sparkalloid is a blend of polysaccharides and diatomaceous earth (fossilized algae) that can be used to clarify white wines. It does take significant time to eventually settle and creates a fair amount of waste with the DE that requires proper disposal.

Activated Carbon can be used to remove off-odors such as mercaptans (rotten eggs, burnt match). It does have the risk of overly oxidizing wine as well as stripping color and resveratrol from red wines.

New Developments on the Horizon

Ronald S. Jackson notes in Wine Science that fears about the prions potentially in gelatin and “Mad Cow” disease, encouraged studies into the use of plant proteins like wheat gluten as a substitute for gelatin. (Note: most gelatin used in US winemaking is derived from pigs rather than cows) Likewise, a New Jersey company has been experimenting with using pea proteins in conjunction with bentonite and silica as an alternative to gelatin.

Interest in food allergies have also spurned innovations with Scott Labs developing a technique to isolated chitosan from the fungus Aspergillus niger (instead of shellfish and crustaceans) that can be used as a fining agent.

The California based ATP Group has developed a way to extract tannin powder for fining from white wine grapes instead of insect galls to help soften tannins.

In 2016, a Swiss company announced that they were experimenting with the use of UV light to soften tannins in lieu of using animal-based protein fining agents.

The Biodynamic Quandary

While wineries can avoid using animal products in the winery, there is a question of whether wines produced from fruit sourced from biodynamic vineyards are truly “vegan-friendly”. This is because several of the “preparations” used in biodynamic viticulture require the use of animal products such as cow horns (BD 500 and 501), stomachs, intestines and bladders.

In an anecdotal account of a visit with the vineyard manager of the biodynamic Pinot noir producer Sea Smoke, Kirsten Georgi (The Armchair Sommelier), describes how the “Biodynamic approach” to removing gophers without the use of poisons or chemicals involves trapping several gophers, killing them, burning their ashes and spreading those ashes over the vineyard during winter solstice as a means to “scare off” the rest of the gophers. This method of “peppering” vineyards with the ashes of pests is not unique to Sea Smoke with recipes on biodynamic websites recommending its use for everything from weeds, snails and insects to mice, rats, rabbits and opossum.

Photo by Mark Smith. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Manure composting at a biodynamic vineyard in Tasmania.

Despite these practices, organizations like PETA recommend biodynamic wineries as “vegan friendly”. The UK website Vegan Wines Online notes that while “…natural animal products can however be used in the growing process all the biodynamic wines they sell are somehow suitable for vegans.

Even organic viticulture could be problematic with the use of animal-derived bone and blood meal being used in lieu of chemical fertilizers. There is even debate if manure, as an animal by-product, is acceptable. Like honey and milk, manure doesn’t require killing the animal but still often requires farming to acquire.

There is also the question of whether the increased presence of insects in healthy and vibrant vineyards that eschew the use of chemicals can make a wine less vegan-friendly due to the higher incidence of insects as MOG (material other than grapes) getting caught up in the harvest. On the Barnivore website, Calcareous Vineyard in Paso Robles expressed this reservation though their wines were still classified as “vegan friendly”.

More Manipulated=More Vegan-friendly?

With the concerns of high insect MOG, biodynamic viticulture and organic animal-derived fertilizers, is it possible that the vineyards that can produce the most “vegan-friendly” wines are really the ones being farmed with heavy saturation of pesticides (no insect MOG there) and chemical fertilizers? Mass produced wines like the PETA recommended Sutter Home and Moët & Chandon often employ these conventional, chemical dependent styles of viticulture.

While avoiding using animal-based fining agents to remove excess tannins and haze forming proteins, big mega-corps can use other tricks to manipulate the wine with things like lab designed enzymes, oak adjuncts and Mega Purple which will “smooth out” bitter tannins and cover up off-flavors.

Just a single drop of Mega Purple had this white Riesling looking and smelling like a Grenache rose. Crazy stuff.

Sure, Charles Shaw reds (Two Buck Chuck), Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon, Meiomi Pinot noir and Yellow Tail reds are made without animal fining agents but should vegans (and really all wine drinkers) be concerned with what other products are being used to make these wines?

And while it can be exciting to see advances in the use of pea proteins and fining agents derived from fungi like Aspergillus niger, its worth asking if these are only adding to the laundry list of the 60+ (and counting) additives that can be used in winemaking–taking it even further away from being just “fermented grapes”?

Now What?

While I’m not vegan myself, I wholeheartedly support anyone that chooses to live their life by convictions that eschews the use of animal products. I respect their ethical concerns for the treatment of animals and the impact on the environment that using animal products have. It’s also not my wish to stress out vegans who just want to relax and enjoy a nice bottle of wine.

But I do believe it is fair to think about the big picture involved in many seemingly “vegan-friendly” wineries that utilize viticulture and winemaking practices that may not align with the ethical and environmental concerns of many vegans.

However, it is clear from sites like Barnivore that there are tons of environmentally conscious wineries (many of which are even owned by vegans) that are producing vegan-friendly wines. They may not be the easiest to find at grocery stores or restaurant wine lists that can be dominated by the portfolios of the large mega-corps but these often small family-owned wineries are well worth seeking out and supporting.

And that’s something that I think both vegans and non-vegans can drink to.

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60 Second Wine Review — Tagaris Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2015 Tagaris Pinot noir from the Areté Vineyard.

The Geekery

Founded in 1987 by Michael Taggares, the Tagaris winery honors the original Greek spelling of the family’s surname that was changed when Taggares’ grandfather, Pete, immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island.

According to Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines, Tagaris became a “winery to watch” in Washington when Frank Roth joined the estate as winemaker in 2006. A former cellarmaster at Barnard Griffin, Roth also spent time in Canada working at Hawthorne Mountain and Sumac Ridge before returning to Washington.

Over the years Tagaris has earned a reputation for focusing on small lots from unusual grape varieties in Washington like Tempranillo, Counoise, Mourvedre, Carmenere, Cinsault and Pinot noir from their three estate vineyards.

The 200 acre Areté Vineyard was first planted in 1983 and is certified organic. Located at an elevation of 1300 feet on Radar Hill near Othello, the vineyard is a source of organically grown fruit for Power’s Badger Mountain and Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Snoqualmie Naked wines. The vineyard include 2.27 acres of Pinot noir planted on sandy loam.

Frank Roth’s winemaking style is noted for his restrained use of oak, preferring to use neutral oak barrels that are at least six years of age.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Some red cherry notes with a little herbal tomato leaf. With some air a bit of fresh cranberry comes out as well.

Photo by Anna Anichkova. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

This Pinot has fresh cranberry notes.

On the palate those red fruits come through with the herbal notes more muted. There is also a spice element on the palate that is not very defined. Medium-plus acidity with medium tannins and a very light body that makes the fruit taste a bit thin. Perhaps this could have used a little new oak to balance?

The Verdict

At around $30-35, you are paying for the novelty and uniqueness of a Washington Pinot noir.

Admittedly, if you compare this to the quality level you can get from an equivalent priced Oregon or California Pinot, it doesn’t hold well.

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Keeping up with the Joneses in Burgundy — Morey Edition

Photo by PRA. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0As with our first edition featuring the Boillot family, we’re going to explore the many Morey estates in Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet, trying to dissect the tangled weave of similar names to see how the estates may (or may not) be related.

Along with some Google-Foo, my scalpels on this journey will be:

Remington Norman and Charles Taylor’s The Great Domaines of Burgundy
Clive Coates’ The Wines of Burgundy
Matt Kramer’s Making Sense of Burgundy
Bill Nanson’s The Finest Wines of Burgundy

The Morey Family

The Morey family’s history in Burgundy dates back to at least the 16th century with evidence of winemaking in Meursault since 1793. The history in Chassagne-Montrachet dates back to Claude Morey’s arrival from the village of Paris l’Hôpital in 1643.

In modern winemaking history, Albert Morey (father of Jean-Marc and Bernard) was one of the first estates in Chassagne-Montrachet to domaine bottle when he started out in 1950.

Robert Parker has noted in Burgundy: A Comprehensive Guide to the Producers, Appellations, and Wines, that the Morey family name is well regarded in Burgundy for producing “…very good, sometimes excellent white wines.”

In studying the various Morey domaines, the family’s prominence in the Grand Cru vineyard of Bâtard-Montrachet is apparent with several members producing examples. Though Domaine Pierre Morey owns nearly half a hectare and Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey contracts with multiple growers in the Grand Cru to expand his production, most of the Morey Bâtards come from tiny holdings averaging only around 0.11 hectare (≈ 0.27 acres).

The Current Morey Estates

Domaine Pierre Morey (Meursault) founded in 1971 by Pierre Morey, son of Auguste Morey, who farmed several parcels for Domaine Comte Lafon under métayage agreement. For two decades, Pierre also served as vineyard and winery manager for Domaine Leflaive during which time he was inspired to convert his estate to organic viticulture in 1992 and biodynamic in 1997.
Prime holdings: Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru (0.48 ha), Meursault 1er Les Perrières (0.52 ha) and Pommard 1er Les Grand Epenots (0.43 ha)

Domaine Emile Jobard-Morey (Meursault) tiny 4.5 ha domaine ran by Rémy Ehret, son-in-law of the original owners, and Valentin Jobard. The vineyards are farmed using sustainable viticulture. Unfortunately not much information is available about this estate to decipher the connection to the other Moreys or to estates like Domaine Antoine Jobard.
Prime holdings: Meursault 1er Charmes (parcel just below Les Perrières) and Meursault 1er Le Porusot

Domaine Jean-Marc Morey (Chassagne-Montrachet) founded in 1981 by Jean-Marc after the retirement of his father, Albert Morey, with his father’s holdings divided between Jean-Marc and his brother Bernard (Thomas & Vincent’s father). For almost two decades his daughter, Caroline, has helped him manage the property with his son, Sylvain, running Bastide du Claux in the Luberon.
Prime holdings: St. Aubin 1er Les Charmois (0.40 ha), Beaune 1er Grèves rouge & blanc (0.65 ha) and Chassagne-Montrachet Les Champs Gains rouge & blanc (0.77 ha)

Domaine Marc Morey et Fils (Chassagne-Montrachet) founded in 1919 by Marc’s father Fernand Morey with Marc taking over the family estate in 1944. In 1978, the estate was divided between his two children with his son, Michael, taking his holdings to establish Domaine Morey-Coffinet while his daughter, Marie-Joseph, and her husband Bernard Mollard continued producing under the Domaine Marc Morey name. Today the estate is ran by their daughter Sabine with all the vineyards being farmed sustainably.
Prime holdings: Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru (0.14 ha), Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Caillerets (0.20) and quasi-monopole of Chassagne-Montrachet 1er En Virondot (2.02 ha) with the domaine buying the remaining 0.1 ha from other growers

Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey (Chassagne-Montrachet) founded in 2001 as a négociant firm by Pierre-Yves Colin (son of Marc Colin in St. Aubin) and Caroline Morey, daughter of Jean-Marc Morey, with the first solo vintage of estate fruit being produced in 2006. Prior to returning to his father’s estate in 1995, Pierre-Yves spent time working in California at estates like Chalk Hill and in the Loire and Rhone. The vineyards of Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey are farmed sustainably with some hectares farmed completely organic.
Prime holdings: Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Chenevottes (0.40 ha) with purchase contracts for Grand Crus Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne and Bâtard-Montrachet

Caroline Morey’s Chassagne-Montrachet Le Chêne

Domaine Caroline Morey founded in 2014 by Caroline Morey, daughter of Jean-Marc Morey and wife of Pierre-Yves Colin. The domaine owns 7 ha inherited from Caroline’s father in Chassagne-Montrachet and Santenay.
Prime holdings: Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Caillerets (0.75 ha) and Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Champ Gains

Domaine Thomas Morey (Chassagne-Montrachet) founded in 2006 when the estate of Bernard Morey (Jean-Marc’s brother) was divided between his sons, Thomas and Vincent. The estate is relatively unique among the Moreys with around half of its production being focused on red Pinot noir. All the vineyards are farmed sustainably.
Prime holdings: Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru (0.10 ha), Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Vide-Bourse (0.20 ha located just below Bâtard-Montrachet) and Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Dent de Chien (0.07 ha located just about Le Montrachet)

Domaine Vincent et Sophie Morey (Chassagne-Montrachet) founded in 2006 when Vincent inherited his share of his father’s estate. His wife Sophie is from the notable Belland family in Santenay and brought with her to the domaine around 12 ha. All the vineyards are sustainably farmed.
Prime holdings: Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru (0.10 ha), Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Embrazées (3.80 ha) and Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Caillerets (0.35 ha)

Domaine Morey-Coffinet (Chassagne-Montrachet) founded in 1978 when Michael Morey, son of Marc, combined his inheritance with that of his wife, Fabienne (daughter of Fernand Coffinet and Cécile Pillot). The other part of Domaine Coffinet went to Fabienne’s sister, Laure, who founded Domaine Coffinet-Duvernay. The estate has been practicing organic cultivation (receiving Ecocert in 2015) and is converting over to biodynamic.
Prime holdings: Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru (0.13 ha), Chassagne-Montrachet 1er En Remilly (0.35 ha located next to Chevalier-Montrachet) and Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Les Blanchots-Dessus (0.06 ha the southern extension of Le Montrachet)

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Getting Geeky with Domaine de Couron Marselan

Going to need more than 60 seconds to geek out about the 2014 Domaine de Couron Marselan from the Ardèche region.

The Grape

According to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, Marselan is a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that was created by Paul Truel in 1961 at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA). The grape was named after the town of Marseillan where cultivars produced by the INRA’s breeding estate of Domaine de Vassel are stored.

Marselan wasn’t officially added to the register of varieties till 1990 when growers began to plant it in the Languedoc and Southern Rhone. By 2009, there were almost 6000 acres planted with Robinson noting that the most successful producers of the variety have been Domaine de Couron, Chateau Camplazens, Domaine de la Camarette, Paul Mas, Mas de Ray and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate of Domaine de la Mordorée which does a Marselan, Merlot and Grenache blend.

In the Côtes du Rhône AOC, Marselan is only permitted up to a maximum of 10% so Rhône producers wishing to make a varietal examples have to produce it as a Vin de France or under one of the regional Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) like Pays d’Oc, Mediterranee, Bouches-du-Rhone, Aude, Cotes de Thau, Coteaux d’Enserune, Cotes de Gascogne, Comtes Rhodaniens, Cotes Catalanes and, in the case of this bottle of Domaine de Couron, from the Ardeche.

Photo by Vbecart. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and released under  CC-BY-SA-3.0,

Marselan grapes

Outside of France, Marselan was first planted in the Penedès region of Spain in the mid-1990s with some growers in the Terra Alta region of Catalunya also experimenting with the variety. In Argentina, around 195 acres of the grape was planted as of 2008 and around 59 acres in Brazil. In Uruguay, Bodega Garzón blends Marselan with Tannat and makes a varietal example as well.

In China, the Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard located in Hebei province in the shadow of the Great Wall in Hulai county includes plantings of Marselan that winemaker Li Demei produces a varietal wine from. The 2015 Marselan from Grace Vineyard in the Shanxi province won the top prize at the 2017 Decanter Asia Wine Awards.

The Winery

Located in the village of Saint Marcel d’Ardeche, Jean-Luc and Marie-Lise Dorthe are 9th generation vignerons farming their vineyards in this area of the Rhône valley northwest of Avignon. All their parcels are farmed sustainably and organically.

The area used to be a Roman settlement with many ruins and archaeological sites. The Roman coin featured on the Domaine de Couron label was uncovered in one of their vineyards.

Domaine de Couron farms .72 acres of Marselan planted in granite and limestone soils. The grapes are completely destemed after harvest and fermented in concrete tanks. The wine doesn’t see any oak during aging so as to better convey the typicity of the grape and terroir of the vineyard. Around 1000 cases are produced each year.

The Wine

Mid intensity nose. A mix of black fruit like cherries and currants as well as some herbal notes like mint and tomato leaf. With some air, a little Grenache-like smokiness emerges.

Photo by McEC16. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The mix of juicy cherries and currants give this Domaine du Couron Marselan a lot of charm and adds to its food pairing potential.

On the palate, the black fruit carries through but the medium plus acidity also adds some red fruit like juicy cranberries to the mix. The herbal and smoke notes are still present but much more muted on the palate than on the nose. In their place is an intriguing tobacco note that I usually associate with Cabernet Sauvignon that has seen some time in oak. Medium tannins and medium body give good balance and structure.

The Verdict

What was most charming about this bottle of Domaine du Couron Marselan was that you could pick up some of the Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics of its parent varieties in this wine. In a blind tasting, I would probably peg it as a moderate weight Côtes du Rhône or perhaps even an earthier Spanish Garnacha.

For a BBQ wine or if you are just in the mood to try something different, it is well worth the $13-16 for a bottle of this geeky grape.

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60 Second Wine Review — Hatzidakis Santorini

A few quick thoughts on the 2014 Hatzidakis Santorini.

The Geekery

Hatzidakis Wines was founded in 1997 when Haridimos Hatzidakis, a former winemaker at Boutari Winery, started his winery outside the village of Pyrgos. Hatzidakis took over care of 10 acres of 100+ year old vines owned by a nearby convent and replanted a vineyard that was abandoned after an earthquake in 1956.

Hatzidakis’ approach is to emphasize the minerality of native Santorini grape varieties that thrive in the volcanic soils of the island. The vines are farmed organically and only native wild yeast is used for fermentation.

While Hatzidakis was the first winery in Santorini to release a vineyard-designated Assyritko, the 2014 Hatzidakis Santorini is 100% Assyritko blended from vineyards in the villages of Akrotiri, Megalochori, Pyrgoas and Vourvoulos. The wine is kept on the lees for 40 days to enhance mouthfeel.

Jancis Robinson notes in Wine Grapes, that Assyrtiko likely originated on Santorini and today accounts for around 70% of the island’s vineyards. Its extensive plantings in Santorini makes the variety the third most widely planted white grape in all of Greece–behind only Savatiano and Roditis.

Unfortunately, Haridimos Hatzidakis recently passed away in August of 2017 with his daughter, Stella, taking over the winery.

The Wine

Photo by RickP. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.5

The fresh lemon verbena note of this wine is captivating.

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of citrus and herbal notes like lemon verbena with some hay straw.

On the palate, those citrus notes carry through and add a pithy component that compliments the medium bodied weight. The racy minerality of Assyritko is quite present and mouthwatering with the high acidity. It’s balanced well with the body and subtle creaminess of the wine. It’s not creamy like a Chardonnay but the weight is not that dissimilar from a Pinot blanc.

The Verdict

The Hatzidakis Santorini is drinking absolutely scrumptious right now. The savory minerality compliments the layers of citrus fruit and herbal notes which makes it a wonderful accompaniment to food.

The wine probably still has another 2-3 years of life before waning and at $20 is well worth picking up a few bottles.

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60 Second Wine Review — Pierre Gerbais L’Originale

Some quick thoughts on the Pierre Gerbais L’Originale Extra Brut Champagne that was highlighted in my review of Robert Walters’ Bursting Bubbles.

The Geekery

In Peter Leim’s Champagne, he notes that Aurélien Gerbais is an 8th generation grower in the Côte des Bar and the 4th generation to make wine in this region of the Aube.

The estate of Pierre Gerbais is unique in Champagne in that Pinot blanc accounts for nearly a quarter of the domaine’s 43 acres of vines–including some plantings in the historic “Les Proies” vineyard that were planted in 1904. While other estates uprooted their Pinot blanc in favor of the more fashionable Chardonnay and Pinot noir, Pinot blanc’s ability to better handle the humidity and frost that can descend into the river valley around the Gerbais’ estate in Celles-sur-Ource favored its planting.

After Aurélien’s grandmother became sick from pesticide residue on the vines after working in the vineyard, the estate converted to organic viticulture in the 1990s.

The L’Originale is 100% Pinot blanc sourced from old vine plantings. It spends 36 months aging on the lees prior to being disgorged with a dosage of 3 g/l. Around 3000 bottles are made every year.

The Wine

High intensity nose with huge apple notes that are a mix of both fresh cut apples and grilled apple slices–like something topping a wood-fired white pizza. Some spiced pear as well.

Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke. Posted on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-3.

The subtle smokiness of the apple adds savory complexity to this Champagne

On the palate the apple notes continue and are met with creaminess and weight. The subtle smokiness from the nose exhibited by the grilled slices linger and compliments the toasty-leesy flavors of the Champagne. The finish is long with a salty minerality.

The Verdict

There is a tremendous amount of complexity and character in this Champagne. It is well worth its $70-80 price tag and outshines many wines in the $100+ range.

Being a small production grower, this Pierre Gerbais L’Originale won’t be easy to find but if you can get your hands on it, buy multiple bottles.

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Geeking out with Taupenot-Merme Gevrey-Chambertin Bel Air

Going to need more than 60 seconds to geek out over the 2009 Domaine Taupenot-Merme Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Bel Air.

The Background

Domaine Taupenot-Merme is a 7th generation family estate based in Morey St.-Denis ran by siblings Romain and Virginie. The estate covers 32 acres in both the Côtes de Nuits and Côtes de Beaune including plots in the Grand Cru vineyards of Charmes-Chambertin, Mazoyères-Chambertin (Taupenot-Merme being one of the few estates to bottle these Grand Crus separately), Clos de Lambrays (the only other estate outside of the eponymous clos to own a piece of this Morey-St-Denis Grand Cru) and Corton in the Le Rognet climat.

According to Bruce Sanderson of Wine Spectator, until 1988 the estate did all their vine propagation and rootstock grafting in house, carefully selecting massale clones from their best vines. Since 2001, all the vineyards have been farmed organically.

For winemaking, the grapes get around 10 days cold soaking before fermentation with the estate using wild, indigenous cultures for both primary and malolactic fermentation. Fermentation is done in stainless steel with a mixture of punch downs and pump overs before the wines are transferred to barrel where they see 12-15 months aging before spending their last 3 months in tank prior to bottling. The amount of new oak each wine receives varies, ranging from 25% for village level to 40% for Grand Crus. Premier Cru wines, like the Gevrey-Chambertin Bel Air, usually see about 30% new oak. The wines are bottled without any fining or filtering.

The Vineyard


The Premier Cru vineyard of Bel Air surrounded by the Grand Crus of Gevrey Chambertain.
The pink line highlights the up-slope part of the vineyard that is village level.
Photo taken from screenshot of The Wine Scholar Guild’s Master Burgundy Course.

The Bel Air vineyard is located in an enviable position up-slope of the esteemed Grand Cru Chambertin-Clos de Bèze with 6.6 acres classified as Premier Cru.

The high altitude vines and rocky, oolithic limestone-rich soils tend to do particularly well in warm vintages (like 2009) where it can maintain fresh acidity. The vines are at the same altitude as much of the Grand Cru of Ruchottes-Chambertain and parts of Latricières-Chambertin but Bel Air is much more heavily shaded by forests and sits on a steeper slope which impacts the amount of direct sunlight the vines receive. Though the most heavily shaded plots are not permitted to Premier Cru classification but rather village level Gevrey-Chambertin.

As with a lot of Burgundy, it is hard to know exactly how many growers own pieces of a particular vineyard. Matt Kramer’s 1990 book Making Sense of Burgundy, list 11 owners with the family of Jean-Claude Boisset owning the largest segments with 1.5 acres. Domaine Taupenot-Merme’s 0.9 acre holdings in the Premier Cru were mostly planted in 1973 and produce around 205 cases of wine.

On WineSearcher.com, you can find several offerings of Bel Air Gevrey-Chambertin from producers like Domaine de la Vougeraie (ave price $73), Philippe Pacalet (ave price $123) and Domaine Philippe Charlopin-Parizot (ave price $79).

The Wine

Photo by Nissy-KITAQ. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

The floral earthy component of this wines makes you feel like you are walking through a botanical forest.

Medium intensity with pop and pour. A mix of red and dark fruits with a tinge of sweet baking spices like cinnamon and allspice. Tossed in a decanter and after an hour, WOW! The aromatics jack it up to high intensity with the fruit becoming more defined as a mix of dark plums and red cherries. The spice is also more pronounced and is joined with a floral earthy component, like walking through a botanical forest.

On the palate there is silkiness to the mouthfeel with the ripe tannins but medium-plus acidity keeps it feeling very fresh. The fruit carries through but the spice notes get a little more quiet as the floral earthy notes come to the forefront and linger for a very long finish.

The Verdict

This is a wine with a lot of layers and while it was drinking gorgeously, I can’t help but feel like I opened it up too young. It probably has the legs to keep on developing for another 5-7 years easily.

The wine is averaging around $108 on WineSearcher.com but I was able to pick it up at a local wine shop for $90. That is a screaming deal for how scrumptious this Burg is drinking and I’m sincerely regretting not buying more. Even at $108, it is a very compelling bottle and one of those wines that screams “Yes, this is what high quality Burgundy is about!”

If you can find this bottle, nab it.

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