Tag Archives: Sustainable Viticulture

60 Second Wine Review — Anne de K Exception Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Anne de K Exception Pinot noir from Cave de Kientzheim-Kaysersberg in Alsace.

The Geekery

Cave de Kientzheim-Kaysersberg is a co-operative founded in 1955 based around the villages of Ammerschwihr, Sigolsheim, Kientzheim and Kaysersberg. Located between the major winemaking towns of Colmar and Ribeauvillé in the Haut-Rhin region of Alsace, most of the vineyards are planted on the low slopes of the Vosges Mountains.

The co-op is made up of 130 vineyard landowners, many of them descendants from the original founding families, with parcels in the Grand Cru terroirs of Furstentum, Kaefferkopf, Mambourg and Schlossberg as well as the notable lieu-dits of Altenbourg and Patergarten. All the Grand Crus and lieu-dits are farmed sustainably.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity. Some faint cherries and a little herbal tomato leaf note. There is a slight spiciness along the edge that isn’t very defined.

On the palate, the cherry notes come through but are still very faint. The spiciness becomes more defined as a star anise and has seemed to replace the herbalness from the nose. High acidity makes the mouth water but with the lacking fruit has a tart bite to it. Medium-minus tannins have more edge to them than a Pinot should which contributes to the skeletal feel of this wine. Short finish.

The Verdict

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

Dried cherries and star anise spice characterizes this Alsatian Pinot noir.

Admittedly my experience with Alsatian Pinot noir is fairly limited but my gut tells me that the very light style of this wine is not meant for aging. It probably was drinking at its peak 3 to 4 years ago when its high acidity amplified the fresh cherry flavors that would have made a good food pairing for hearty sausages–particularly with the anise/fennel spice.

Now with the freshness of that fruit gone, the wine is just tart and thin. At around $24-28, it’s priced like an upper-tier Hautes Cotes de Nuits Bourgogne Rouge or a mid-tier Bourgogne Rouge with the Burgundies offering better value and more aging potential.

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60 Second Wine Review — Insito Extra Brut Cava

A few quick thoughts on the Insito Extra Brut Cava made by Bodegues Sumarroca.

The Geekery

The Sumarroca family originally hailed from Llimiana, in Pallars Jussà in Catalonia, but moved to the Penedès region in the 1980s when they purchased the Molí Coloma estate in Subirats.

By 1983, Bodegues Sumarroca was producing sparkling Cava. The family’s holdings expanded greatly in 1999 when they bought the Cava house of Marquis of Monistrol–gaining nearly a 1000 acres of vineyards in the prime sparkling wine terroir around the village of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia.

The Insito Cava is sometimes sold as “In Situ” in other markets (from the Latin phrase meaning “on site”) and refers to the Sumarroca’s family philosophy of only using estate grown fruit instead of supplementing with purchased fruit like many of the larger Cava houses.

Made in an Extra Brut style with less than 3 g/l sugar dosage, the wine is a blend of nearly equal amounts of Macabeu, Xarel·lo and Parellada that was aged 16 months prior to disgorging.

The winery is ISO 9001:2008 certified and practices sustainable viticulture.

The Wine

High intensity nose. A mix of citrus fruit and some pastry dough toastiness. There is also a white floral element.

Photo by Nillerdk. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

The combination of zesty lemon, toasty pastry dough and weighty mousse reminds me of a danish pastry.

On the palate this sparkler has a very lively mouthfeel with the zesty citrus notes becoming more defined as lemon. With the toastiness carrying through and the heavy weight of the mousse this Cava has me thinking of lemon cream cheese danishes. Impeccably well balanced for an Extra Brut, the wine is dry and citrus without being tart. The white floral notes come back for the moderate length finish but still aren’t very defined.

The Verdict

At around $15-18 this is an outstanding sparkling wine for folks who are craving something drier than Prosecco (and many American sparklers) but more complex than your typical Cava.

I wouldn’t use this as a “mixer bubbles”. It’s certainly worth savoring with dinner and on its own.

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Getting Geeky with Gramercy Picpoul

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2015 Gramercy Picpoul from Walla Walla.

The Background

Gramercy Cellars was founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. Prior to starting a winery, Harrington managed wine programs for restaurants owned by Joyce Goldstein (Square One in San Francisco), Emeril Lagasse, Stephen Hanson and Wolfgang Puck (Spago). At the time that Harrington passed his MS exam in 1996, he was 26 and the youngest person to have achieved that honor.

According to Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, while sommelier-turned-winemaker is somewhat common in California and other parts of the world, Harrington was the first to traverse that path in Washington State.

In 2006, Gramercy started a partnership with Jamie Brown of Waters Winery that eventually led to the development of Wines of Substance (later sold to Charles Smith) and 21 Grams (now owned by Doug Roskelley and Mike Tembreull, owners of TERO Estates and Flying Trout Wines).

In 2008, Harrington was named by Seattle Magazine as “Best New Winemaker in Washington” and followed that up in 2014 as the magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year“.

Along with Harrington, the wines of Gramercy Cellars are made by Brandon Moss who joined the winery in 2009 after stints at King Estate in Oregon, Indevin in New Zealand and Waters in Walla Walla.

Drawing from Ampélographie Viala et Vermorel. Uploaded by JPS68 via photoshop to Wikimedia Commons under PD Old

Picpoul blanc grapes by Viala et Vermorel


Gramercy started making Picpoul in 2013 because the variety was a favorite of Pam Harrington. That first vintage came from Olsen Vineyards in the Yakima Valley from a block that was scheduled to be uprooted and planted over to Grenache. The cuttings were sourced from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles from original vines at Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Subsequent vintages of Gramercy Picpoul have been sourced from Los Oídos Vineyards located in the Blue Mountains of Walla Walla which are managed by Ken Hart and sustainably farmed. In addition to managing Los Oídos, Hart was also involved in the planting of Ash Hollow, Nicholas Cole, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills East vineyards and today helps manage the vineyards of Abeja, àMaurice, Dunham and Walla Walla Vintners.

The Grape

According to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, the first mention of Picpoul (or Piquepoul) was of the black skin variant in 1384 near Toulouse in the Occitanie region that borders Spain. The name is believed to have been derived from the Oc dialect words picapol or picpol which loosely translates to a “place with a peak” and may refer to the cliff-side vineyards where the grape was planted.

The first account that explicitly described the white skin mutation of Picpoul was in 1667. There is also a pink-skin Picpoul gris that is nearly extinct. All three color variants are part of the 22 grapes that are authorized to be grown in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

A Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc.


In 2009, there was over 3500 acres of Picpoul blanc planted in France–mostly in the Languedoc area where it is the notable variety of Picpoul de Pinet–the largest white wine producing AOC in the Languedoc. The grape is valued in the white wines of the Languedoc and Provence for its high acidity and lemon, floral aromatics.

In the United States, Tablas Creek was the first to plant Picpoul blanc in 2000. In California, Tablas Creek has noted that the variety is early budding but late ripening and tends to produce rich tropical fruits along with its trademark “lip stinging” acidity. Several producers in Paso Robles will occasional produce bottlings of Picpoul blanc including–Adelaida Cellars, Denner Winery, Derby Wine Estates, Halter Ranch, Lone Madrone, Bending Branch Winery and Broc Cellars.

Outside of Paso Robles, the grape can also be found in Calaveras County where Twisted Oak Winery and Forlorn Hope make varietal examples as well as in the Arroyo Seco AVA of Monterrey County which supplies Picpoul for Bonny Doon. In Arizona, Cimarron Vineyard in Cochise County is growing Picpoul blanc for Sand-Reckoner Winery and in the McLaren Vale of Australia, Picpoul blanc has been produced by Coriole Vineyards since 2015.

In Washington, outside of the Los Oídos Vineyards supplying Gramercy, the grape is being grown at Boushey Vineyards, Corliss Estate’s Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla and at Tanjuli Winery’s estate vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.

The Wine

Photo by Vegan Feast Catering. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The lemon custard aromatics and creaminess of this 2015 Gramercy Picpoul is just one of the many complex layers to this wine.

High intensity nose. There is a lot going on here. Initially it starts out very floral and lemony with subtle pastry crust like a lemon custard tart. Underneath the lemon zest is some dusty gravel mineral notes. In a blind tasting, this would have my brain start thinking white Bordeaux. There is also a white floral note in the background that is not very defined.

But on the palate the wine switches gears and starts getting more tree fruit oriented with spicy d’Anjou pears and the floral notes morphing more into lemon verbena. The custard note from the nose carries through adding a richness to the mouthfeel–creamy but not buttery like a California Chardonnay. Even with this weighty creaminess the high acidity is quite present, offering exquisite balance and freshness. The gravel mineral notes come through and have a “crushed rock” element that is almost electric. The long finish brings a subtle hint of hazelnut that would have me wondering in a blind tasting if this was a village level Meursault.

The Verdict

Incredibly complex wine that jumps out of the glass and leaves a lasting impression on the palate. At around $20 bucks this is an absolute steal for all that this wine delivers.

But even if you can’t find a bottle of Gramercy’s Picpoul, do yourself a favor and find any bottle of Picpoul to try. If you are looking to trade out from your same ole, same ole Sauvignon blanc and Pinot gris, this grape is perfect.

Picpoul has the freshness and zip of a great Sauvignon blanc but with some of the spice of Gruner Veltliner and depth of a well made Chardonnay. Examples from Picpoul de Pinet can be had for $10-13 and are often far superior to what you usually find among Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris/grigio and Chardonnay in the under $15 category.

This is definitely a grape that should be high on any wine geek’s list to try.

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60 Second Wine Review — àMaurice Viognier

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 àMaurice Viognier.

The Geekery

àMaurice was founded in 2004 by Tom and Kathleen Shafer with the winery named after Tom’s father. Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines that the first couple vintages were made by Rich Funk of Saviah Cellars while the Shafer’s daughter, Anna, studied winemaking down in Argentina with Paul Hobbs’ Viña Cobos.

The estate vineyard was first planted in 2006 in Mill Creek Valley in the foothills of the Blue Mountains–not far from Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland Vineyard. Planted to Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah, it was the first registered sustainable vineyard in Washington. Additionally, àMaurice were charter members of Vinea–an alliance of Walla Walla vineyards and wineries committed to sustainable practices.

In addition to their estate fruit, àMaurice also sources from Gamache, Connor Lee and Weinbau Vineyards in the Wahluke Slope; Boushey and Den Hoed Vineyards in Yakima Valley as well as Sagemoor, Bacchus and Dionysus Vineyards in the Columbia Valley.

The 2016 àMaurice Viognier is sourced primarily from Gamache and Den Hoed Vineyards. The wine was aged in 5% new oak.

The Wine

High intensity nose with lots of tree fruits–peaches and apricot–and white floral notes. There is also a spiciness in the background that I can’t quite pick out.

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

Lovely ginger spice adds lots of character to this wine.

On the palate those ripe tree fruits carry through and add lots of weight and depth to the wine. But there is also a lot of elegance with medium-plus acidity adding freshness and lift. There is some citrus zest that comes out on the palate with the spice getting more defined as fresh ginger. The floral notes return for the long silky finish.

The Verdict

At around $28-35, this is clearly one of the best white wines made in Washington. What is more remarkable is that this is essentially Anna Shafer’s entry-level Viognier with àMaurice also offering an estate bottling as well as a Viognier/Marsanne blend from Boushey Vineyards.

Well worth looking for.

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60 Second Wine Review — Hedges In Vogue Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 Hedges In Vogue Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain.

The Geekery

Hedges Family Estate started in 1987 when Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges’ contacts in the produce industry asked them to create a Washington wine that could be sold in Sweden. In 1989, the Hedges purchased fifty acres on Red Mountain with construction of the chateau that now sits in the middle of their vineyards beginning in 1995.

In Washington Wines, Paul Gregutt notes that Hedges Family Estate is the largest family-owned winery in Washington State. Firmly established on Red Mountain, the Hedges family were one of the strongest advocates for the region getting recognized as an AVA in 2001.

Tom’s brother, Pete, was the first winemaker at Hedges with the Hedges’ daughter, Sarah Hedges Goedhart, joining as assistant winemaker in 2006 and taking over head winemaking duties on Pete’s retirement in 2015.

Sarah started in the wine industry at Santa Barbara Winery before moving to Sonoma to work at Preston Farm & Winery in the Dry Creek Valley. Here she was introduced to the principles of biodynamics.

Hedges has been farming their estate fruit sustainably since 2003 but in 2008 began converting their vineyards to biodynamics. By 2015, 40% of their 125 acres of vines were certified Biodynamic by the Demeter Association.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Some dark fruit and noticeable oak spice but they aren’t very defined at this point.

Photo by Gandydancer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

This young wine has a basket of dark fruit that will develop beautifully.

On the palate, you get the richness of the dark fruit and smoothness of the oak vanilla but, again, not very defined. Medium-plus acidity and high tannins highlight the big, robust structure of this wine and foretells well for its aging and development. Moderate length finish.

The Verdict

The 2016 Hedges In Vogue Cabernet Sauvignon is super young but has all the ingredients to develop well over the next couple years.

At around $30, it’s on the low end for a Red Mountain Cab from a top estate so this potentially could develop into quite a steal. Worth revisiting in at least 6 months.

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60 Second Wine Review — Gifford Hirlinger Malbec

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Gifford Hirlinger Malbec from Walla Walla.

The Geekery

Gifford Hirlinger was founded in 2001 by Mike and Melissa Berghan. The name Gifford Hirlinger comes from joining the surnames of relatives who settled in Walla Walla in the 1800s. The Berghans purchased a vineyard with the original goal of only selling grapes to nearby wineries but soon found themselves bitten by the winemaking bug with their first vintage released in 2003.

In Washington Wines, Paul Gregutt describes Gifford Hirlinger as an “under-the-radar, soon-to-be-rising” star in Washington, noting their focus on estate grown fruit.

The 2010 estate Malbec comes from a 1.38 acre block of their sustainably farmed Foggy Vineyard (GH-1), which is one of 3 estate vineyards of Gifford Hirlinger–Stephanie Marie (GH-2) and MarieGlen being the other two.

Located right on the border of Washington and Oregon, along Stateline road (the namesake of a blend that Gifford Hirlinger does that frequently features Malbec), the soils of the vineyard are a mix of coarse and fine silt loams.

The wine spent 18-23 months aging in 50% new oak with around 100 cases made.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. A mix of dark fruits that aren’t very defined with much more dominant black pepper spice and forest-floor earthiness.

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

The black pepper note of this Malbec gives it a lot character.

On the palate, those dark fruits come through and get a little more defined as dark berry notes. The black pepper spice is still prevalent and plays well with a dark chocolate element that emerged. Medium-plus acidity still has some freshness that is much needed to balance the weighty dark fruit. Medium tannins at this point are smooth and silky.

The Verdict

This wine is actually holding up pretty well for a 7+ year old fruit-forward Malbec. It’s clear that it is a little past its peak but the pepper spice notes and fresh acidity give it some character.

At $32-36, you are paying for the premium of a Walla Walla estate Malbec compared to Argentina but this is a well made example.

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60 Second Wine Review — Alexandria Nicole Tempranillo

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Alexandria Nicole Tempranillo from Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

The Geekery

Founded in 2001, the origins of Alexandria Nicole date back to the first planting of the Destiny Ridge Vineyard by Jarrod and Ali Boyle in 1998.

Jarrod was working as a viticulturist with Hogue Cellars, under the mentorship of Dr. Wade Wolfe (of Thurston Wolfe fame). While checking out vineyard sites, he noticed an unplanted south facing slope north of Alderdale that overlooked the Columbia River. Finding out that the property belonged to the Mercer family (Champoux Vineyards and Mercer Wine Estates), the Boyles and Mercers went into partnership to plant Destiny Ridge Vineyard.

Today, the 267 acres of Destiny Ridge are sustainably farmed and planted with 23 grape varieties–including unique varieties like Tempranillo, Barbera, Carménère, Counoise, Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Roussanne. While the Boyles get first pick, Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines notes that fruit is also sold to wineries like Chateau Ste. Michelle, Darby Winery, Guardian Cellars, Saviah and Tamarack.

The 2010 Tempranillo is a blend of 94% Tempranillo, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 20 months aging in 1 and 2 year old French barrels with 104 cases made.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Red fruit dominant with cherry and cranberries. A little tobacco spice but very muted.

Photo by Tiia Monto. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Dried cranberry notes characterize this wine.


On the palate, the red fruit is carrying through but is faded and dried. This dried fruit element, interestingly, seems to amplify the spice with black licorice notes joining the tobacco. Medium-plus acidity and firm medium-plus tannins add an edge to this wine that is desperately missing the fruit to balance it.

The Verdict

This wine is probably about 3 years past it peak. That said, even at its peak, it’s hard to say this was a compelling enough wine to merit its $55 price tag.

Especially when you compare it to what you can get at that price from Spain (not to mention southern Oregon), it’s clear that you are paying for the novelty of a Washington Tempranillo.

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60 Second Wine Review– L’Ecole Seven Hills Syrah

A few quick thoughts on the 2013 L’Ecole 41 Syrah from the Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla.

The Geekery

L’Ecole 41 was founded in Walla Walla by Jean and Baker Ferguson in 1983 with their daughter, Megan, and her husband Marty Clubb running the winery today. It was the third winery opened in Walla Walla after Leonetti and Woodward Canyon.

In Washington Wines and Wineries, Paul Gregutt describes L’Ecole as “… one of the most important [Washington wineries], for its history, its vineyards, its forward-thinking owners, and most of all, its wines.”

L’Ecole has been producing wine from the Seven Hills Vineyard since 1993 and now owns 170 acres in the eastern part of the vineyard in partnership with Leonetti Cellar and Pepper Bridge Winery. The other half of Seven Hills is owned by The Crimson Wine Group, owners of Seven Hills Winery, Double Canyon, Seghesio, Archery Summit, Pine Ridge and Chamisal.

Known as Seven Hills East, the vineyard is sustainably farmed and managed by Sadie Drury who was previously the assistant vineyard manager at Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain.

The 2013 Syrah is 100% varietal with 20% of the grapes being fermented as whole clusters with the stems. The wine spent 18 months aging in 40% new oak with around 1,040 cases produced.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. A mix of dark and red berry fruits that aren’t very defined. Some noticeable oak spice and smokiness.

Photo by Fir0002. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

Nice dark blackberry notes emerge on the palate with this wine.

The darker berry fruits carry through to the palate more than the red and become more defined as blackberry and cassis. There is also a savory, smokey meaty element that emerges that is heighten by the medium-plus acidity. Very mouthwatering. The medium-plus bodied weight is well balanced with the medium-plus tannins that have a grippy edge to them.

The Verdict

At $30-35, this is a big quality jump up from the regular L’Ecole Columbia Valley Syrah ($25) and is worth the splurge.

Definitely New World in style, there is an elegance in the savory, meaty notes and juicy acidity that gives it charm.

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60 Second Wine Review — Scarborough Stand Alone Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2014 Scarborough Stand Alone Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Geekery

The winery was founded in 2004 by Napa Valley winemaker Travis Scarborough. A native of St. Helena, after graduating from Sonoma State and studying at UC-Davis, Scarborough worked at Viader before moving to Seattle in 2002.

The 2014 Stand Alone is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Inland Desert located on the Roza Slope of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA and Wallula Vineyard (now known as The Benches) overlooking the Wallula Gap in the Horse Heavens Hills AVA. Both vineyards are sustainably farmed.

The “Stand Alone” series is produced only in what Scarborough deems as the “best years” in Washington. Andy Perdue of The Seattle Times described 2014 in Washington as “record-setting — warm, early and abundant.”

The Cabernet Sauvignon was aged for 26 months, including 6 months in 100% new oak barrels. Only 47 cases were made.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity. Some red fruit and a little spice that is undefined. Also getting some tomato leaf.

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

Just a little too much leafy greenness for my taste.

On the palate, that tomato leaf greenness carries through as does the red fruit which becomes more defined as raspberry, currants and cherries. The spice is still present but still undefined. Medium-plus acidity and high tannins give a lot of structure to this wine but, with the greenness, contributes to it feeling a little edgy.

The Verdict

This wine unfortunately is adding to the mystery of the 2014 vintage that I encountered at the Walla Walla tasting last month–even though this wine wasn’t sourced at all from a Walla Walla vineyard. I’ve had numerous 2014s that I’ve liked but the odd occasional occurrences of green notes in what was otherwise a spectacular vintage is still baffling.

At $50-55, this is a big, structured Cab that is a bit Old World in style. While the structure and tightness will mellow as it develops, those green notes will not leave. If you’re not as sensitive as I am to these notes, you can find some charm in this wine after a few years of mellowing.

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60 Second Wine Review– Aniello Blanco de Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2015 Aniello Blanco de Pinot noir from Patagonia, Argentina.

The Geekery

Bodega Aniello was founded in 2010 by winemaker Santiago Bernasconi and a group of partners. Prior to founding Aniello, Bernasconi worked at Bodega NQN in Neuquen, Patagonia.

The estate owns two vineyards, both in the Mainque district in the upper Río Negro region of Patagonia with the main estate planted in 1998 to Pinot noir, Merlot and Malbec. Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen note in Wines of the Southern Hemisphere that the climate of this area is much cooler than Mendoza with the soils here a mix of clay and sandy loam. The second vineyard includes blocks of Trousseau that were planted in 1932 and own-rooted Malbec planted in 1947. All the vineyards are sustainably farmed.

The Blanco de Pinot noir is produced by gently pressing and minimizing skin contact of the red Pinot noir grape (similar to what is done in Champagne). The wine is fermented in concrete eggs with a mix of native and inoculated yeast. Around 10% of the wine is aged for 5 months in French oak barrels.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity on the nose. Very muted. A little tree fruit like peach and apple.

Photo by National Fruit Collection, Brogdale. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Open Government Licence v2.0.

Little bit of earthy apple notes in this wine.

On the palate, the tree fruits comes through but have an earthier element to it–like bruised apple that suggest a little bit of oxidation. Medium-plus acidity gives some life. The wine has a bit of weight to the mouthfeel and a lot of phenolic texture which is surprising giving the little skin contact it had. There is a subtle spice element that is not very defined that comes out on the short finish.

The Verdict

Despite being a core component of many Champagnes, white Pinot noirs are fairly rare and interesting to try. In a blind tasting I can see myself thinking this is maybe a Pinot blanc or a less aromatic and spicy Grüner Veltliner.

At around $17-20, you are paying more for the novelty than the quality.

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