Tasted this delicious Barolo tonight-- it's made in a lighter and traditional style, and I could have drunk the whole bottle myself. The winemaker is visiting NYC soon, so I look forward to reporting more about this gem later.
This wine has layers upon layers of interestingness. First and foremost is the taste-- I can't say I've ever tasted anything quite like this before. It was rich and dense yet had a lightness of being, with crazy aromas of melons, spices, pears, leaves, mushrooms and a hundred other things. The fermentation took years to go on in the frigid subterranean cellar of the North Rhone, and it still didn't quite make it to dry. Yet, the wine tastes dry, with the hint of RS really adding texture and body more than anything else. Winemaker Hirotake Ooka has noticed a correlation between long fermentations and higher acidity levels, and uses this to his advantage.
It's half marsanne, half roussane, and St. Peray is always white (AOC mandate). St. Peray itself is an interesting anomaly in the Northern Rhone-- the region has only 60 hectares under vine, white only, and they make still and sparkling (method traditional) wines. This 2005 was made with purchased grapes, but the newer vintages are from his own plots.
Hirotake limits sulphur use to a minimum, and he's currently experimenting with spraying essential oils so that he can avoid sulphur completely.
I have to say, this wine blew me away. It was delicious in its own right, but it also tests the boundaries of what wine can be, pushing them ever outward and creating diversity in an oft boring market. Or, more accurately, the wine re-claims and re-discovers what some wines most likely resembled before mass farming and agrochemicals.
Check out Wine Terroirs post on Hirotake for a truly exhaustive overview of the winery, Hirotake, his other wines, his new vineyards, his future plans, and also loads of amazing photos.
A few days ago Tomas Estes (of Tequila Ocho), Dale DeGroff (King of Cocktails) and Mark Drew (Herradura) joined forces, stopped by work, and gave a masterclass on tequila to our staff. We tasted through two single field Tequila Ocho blancos (Tomas' take on terroir-driven tequila), then side-by-side a Tequila Ocho reposado and Herradura reposado, then side-by-side a Tequila Ocho anejo and Herradura anejo. As they discussed tequila production, I couldn't help but think of correlations in the wine world, and how interesting it would be if the approaches that guide the production of each product could be synthesized for the benefit of both tequila and wine.
Tomas Estes has an interesting view of what tequila is and should be. Listening to him speak is more like hearing a yoga instructor talk about energy/form than it is sitting in a classroom. He is a meta thinker concerned with the big picture, yet he searches for the beauty in nuance.
"Why tequila? It's all about the agave," he says. "These plants sit for 6-8 years under the Mexican sun absorbing the sun's energy. It's a very different base product from other spirits."
The fructins in the agave plant are what make it special, and, to Tomas, make tequila (and agave nectar) a better and healthier product than market alternatives. The way he sees it, the energy highs and lows associated with sugar addiction are avoided in agave nectar and agave spirits, because the fructins release energy at a more even pace and are more readily assimilated by our bodies.
"Because of the fructins, the distillation process of tequila is unique. It creates a unique product with different psychotropic effects than other spirits that come from sugar. Drinking really good artisinal tequila-- it creates a different high, it has its own flavor."
Tomas brings what seems to me to be a winemaker's perspective to tequila. He is looking for vintage and field variation. He makes single-field tequilas to explore the terroir that is captured by the agave. And he uses minimum aging requirements in semi-neutral wood because he feels that if you leave the wine too long in oak, "the wood takes over, and you lose the flavor of the agave, which is what it is all about." He described once trying a heavily wooded tequila blind, and guessing that it was a rum because of the intensity of the oak influence.
He is also experimenting with some interesting concepts. Agave harvest time is literally year round. Some harvesters will go into a field and cut the entire field despite variations in ripeness between different pineapples-- they believe this adds some complexity to the distillate base, and it also allows them to plant the field with crops that will replenish the soil in one swoop. Other harvesters will go into the field and only harvest the plants that they believe are ripe. The agave takes about 6-8 years to ripen, so if a harvester is selectively harvesting based on ripeness, it can take them 3 years to finish harvesting the field. The rainy seasons complicate things more. In the Highlands especially, the agaves are less concentrated during and after the rainy season, and they are the most concentrated just at the end of the drought period. Tomas is experimenting with single field tequilas that are harvested right at the end of the drought (before the rains) to see if it makes a more flavorful tequila.
Tomas' son stepped in and described the technical elements of tequila production, from harvesting, roasting the pineapples, fermenting the aguadulce, then distilling the agave "wine" or "beer" into tequila.
Mark Drew (pictured left, with Dale DeGroff on the right) makes the tequila at Herradura. He described Herradura's natural fermentation in open-top tanks in the middle of an orchard (a rich, yeasty environment). He believes that 65-70% of tequila flavor emerges in the fermentation, and this is why he goes for ambient yeasts. At Herradura they want a little bit of natural organic "funk" in the tequila.
Hmmm, this sounds so familiar to the big yeast discussion happening in the wine world. How integral are ambient yeasts to terroir? Mark would argue that they are indispensable.
Mark also spent some time discussing the agave crisis of 2000. Because the agaves were (and really, still are) such a focused strain of monoculture, a pestilence hit and destroyed about 4 out of every 5 agave plants. This happened at the same time when global demand increased for 100% agave products. So suddenly, demand was up but supply was way down.
Part of the problem is that agave plants are halted from flowering and therefore prohibited from sexual reproduction. There is a consensus among growers that once the agave flowers, the quality of the pineapple decreases and it will not make as good of a product. To get more plants growers simply take rhizomes thrown by the agave and replant them (essentially, it's cloning-- or using identical genetic material to grow a new plant). As tequila producers saw the potential end of their business, the agave crisis of 2000 led to deeper studies about disease resistant strains of agave, and now, agave breeders are working to expand the genetic health of the plants by allowing sexual reproduction in some plants to reintroduce healthy genetic material to the strains that could help the agaves grow stronger through genetic diversity and be more disease resistant.
A wine correlation to this discussion would be deeper studies of crossings. With so many of the world's most desired varietals being 300-1000+ year old clones, the wine world has been able to build upon the past to create incredibly focused and beautiful wines, but it has also limited natural selection and genetic diversity to a potentially dangerous end. Most of the wine industry is built upon fragile monoculture. If vineyard owners didn't have the option of inter-species grafting, would winemakers dealing with phylloxera back in the 1890s have experimented more with disease resistant crossings between varietals, much like agave growers are doing today? The idea of introducing new crossings into the wine market seems like sacrilege (especially to the closely monitored varieties in EU vineyards, restrictions of which ironically only apply to the scion), but if we look at what happened to the agave plants in 2000 and admit that a similar tragedy could happen to our vineyards, experimenting with new crossings seems-- to me, at least-- a necessary and prudent safety net. Sure, I love drinking amazing and transcendent wine from 1000 year old varieties full of fragile genetic material as much as the next guy, but I'd hate more to see the loss of the entire species or large portion thereof on which we base most of our wine production solely because we are too snobby about the sticky concepts of "purity" and "tradition" to do more experimentation with crossings. But enough on that, let's end on tequila.
Dale DeGroff capped the class by making everyone a tequila cocktail-- he made something similar to a margarita, but with yuzu, shiso leaf, and a spritz of smokiness on top. It was awesome.
This is Coffee!
Here is a neat video from the 60s about coffee-- it's interesting to see the vintage coffee brewers, and also to see how we have made a big transition to most of us grinding our beans right before we brew.
Weingut Bründlmayer "Ried Loiser Berg," grüner veltliner, auslese, 1983 (Kamptal, Austria)
I tried this amazing deliciousness yesterday-- honeycomb, mushrooms, dried leaves, baked apples-- it was really an incredible experience.
Weingut Bründlemayer is located in the Kamptal region, and the winery produces some of the most beautiful wines coming out of Austria. More specifically, they are about 50 miles north-west of Vienna and situated along the Danube. The bread-and-butter of production, under the helm of Willi Bründlmayer, focuses on a selection of grüner veltliners, but they also produce riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay, zweigelt, St. Laurent, and pinot gris in style ranging from rose to sparkling. From 75 hectares they produce about 23-30KK cases each year.
Willi has an incredible focus on the ecological diversity in the vineyards-- the grape rows are terraced in an interesting fashion and he strives to maintain a balance of life on the land, making heavy use of cover crops. He also rigorously selects bunches by hand and in small batches, and experiments with raising Sekt standards, and making marc and brandy.
This 1983 is a selection of vine-dried botrytis-hit berries, fermented in oak.
I’m Erin, and this is my wine blog. Here, you'll find information about wines from around the world, and Virginia.