Monthly Archives: February 2014

An Eiswein (Ice wine) themed #winechat on Twitter

The three dessert wines participating

The three dessert wines participating

Disclaimer: The wines were provided by the winery or wine association as samples.

Last week, I participated in a #winechat on Twitter. The theme was Eiswein (and dessert wine). The wines were supplied by Knapp Winery and Boundary Breaks Vineyards of the New York Finger Lakes region, and by the Austrian Wine representatives in the US. At 9pm EST on Wednesday, a group of several bloggers who received samples met with the organizers Protocol Wine Studio, the suppliers, winemakers and others interested folks to discuss the wines as well as ice wine in general.

For those unfamiliar with Eiswein (the German word for Ice wine), I wrote a longer piece about it a while back so please feel free to check it out here. To recap: Eiswein is made from grapes that are frozen on the vine (that’s for purists, like me, some regions, like Quebec, allow freezing off the vine). The grapes freeze, so all the water in the grape becomes ice. When you press these grapes, all you get is minuscule quantities of pure concentrated flavors. Sugar and acidity are extremely present in these wines. They make for some of the rarest wines in the world, and age ridiculously well.

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

Meats from Biercamp in Ann Arbor

We had a few friends over for trying the wines, because of their intensity, I usually only want a small glass of each wine. It is the perfect wine to share. We paired the wines with mostly cured meats from the wonderful Ann Arbor sausage shop Biercamp (duck bacon, Canadian bacon, and a honey/cracked pepper bacon as well as Andouille sausage), cheese (a creamy Delice de Bourgogne, Manchego, goat Parmiggiano, and Roquefort), as well as homemade (by one of our insanely talented baker friends) sweet macarons. I will write a separate post on what to pair with sweet wines, but for now you should know I prefer salty over sweet pairings.

Macaron made by our friend

Macaron made by our friend

But on to the wines. Up first was the 2012 Boundary Break Late Harvest Riesling (not technically an Ice wine). The wine is made by a young winery whose other Rieslings have gathered quite some praise from The New York Times and others. This wine was made with Riesling grapes from one single clone that come from a single vineyard. The vines were planted in 2010, so they were very, very young when the grapes were harvested for this wine. In Germany, winemakers tend to hold off on producing wine from vines that are under 4 years old. The wine had 127 grams of residual sugar per liter, and 14.2% ABV. The first thing we noticed when pouring was how light in color the wine was. The nose offered aromas of ripe cantaloupe, cream, honey, some vanilla, and something the reminded of gummy bears. On the palate, it was very sweet without much acidity, which was what surprised me the most. Its mouthfeel was light, and there were some orange bitter rinds like in English orange jelly. I struggled with this a bit. There was definitely craft in this wine, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the winemakers should have held off on making a small quantity, high level wine from such young vines. It also didn’t feel like a Riesling to most of us. Trying it with the macarons made the wine a bit more acidic, which was welcome. So this could definitely be paired with sweets. Retail price: $30

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Boundary Breaks Riesling Late Harvest

Next up: Knapp Winery’s 2012 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. Harvested on January 3, 2012 at 11 degrees Fahrenheit (which by my standards makes it a 2011, because the grapes grew in 2011, not 2012), the wine spent almost a year fermenting slowly until it was bottled on December 20, 2012. 24 cases were produced, the wine has 12% ABV and 140 grams of residual sugar per liter. The wine’s color was more saturated than the Boundary Break Vineyard Riesling. The nose was gorgeous, with ripe aromas of spiced orange, some clove, bergamotte. On the palate, this Vidal Blanc showed good acidity, some smoky aromas, with a wonderful viscose mouthfeel to it. I got citrus aromas, mandarin oranges, and raisins mostly. What I was struggling with was the alcohol. It left an almost cognac feel to the wine on the finish, which I was not looking for in an Eiswein. Others on the table had less of an issue with this, so it might just have been me. When I retried this wine 6 days later, the alcohol had stopped bothering me. All in all, a solid wine with good primary Eiswein aromas. However, texturally it reminded me more of an Auslese or Beerenauslese than an Eiswein. I would probably not have identified it as such in a blind tasting. As for pairings: It worked remarkably well with the creamy delice de Bourgogne, taking off the edge of the alcohol. With the goat parmiggiano, more almondy flavors became present, and the bacons worked as well. While I thought it was also good with the macarons, I got shouted down by the table that that was not the case….Retail price: $25

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Knapp Vidal Blanc Ice Wine

Finally, we tried the Austrian 2009 Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein, an Eiswein made from the red grape Pinot noir. The wine poured in a gorgeous amber color, lush and rich and syrupy in texture. The nose was beautiful, with dried apricots, honey, and rum and raisin aromas. When I tried it, my first note read “ICEWINE”, underlined twice. The richness and flavors worked, the wine felt special, just like an Eiswein should. There was a wonderful smokiness to the wines, with the aromas from the nose persisting. Its finish was great: It became smoky again, with lots of honey, and a wonderful acidity that tickled your throat. The wine was decidedly heavier than the first two, and much more intense in flavors. It also paired the best with salty foods. This was a wonderful expression of how interesting ice wine from a red grape can be. Retail price: $69

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

Höpler Pinot noir Eiswein

All in all it was a great experience, and I am grateful for the organizers and hosts for letting me participates. The wines were all interesting and showed the diversity there is. The conversation on Twitter was lively and engaged, and I got into some really interesting side discussions about pairings and occasions to drink these wines.

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2012 Domaine des Aubuisières Cuvée de Silex Vouvray

Different vintage, same bottle (Photo taken from Peter Weygandt, the importer’s, website – click the photo to get there)

I don’t know about you, but I am getting so sick of this winter weather in Michigan. The other day we had rain/snow/thunderstorm conditions resulting in slush everywhere. I come from one of Germany’s warmest regions, and am not used to these several month long winters that just drag on and on…

On the wine front, winter also means more red wine consumption for me. It comes naturally, but I am also realizing I am getting a tad tired of drinking mostly reds. Always a sure sign winter better be over. I do drink whites during winter as well, but especially the lighter, easy to drink Rieslings often don’t quite feel right, and our treasure chest of good, deeper, heavier Rieslings has been dwindling as of late. The more I relished Nina’s find from a few months ago: The 2012 Domaine des Aubuisières Cuvée Silex, a wine from the Vouvray region. This is definitely a first on this blog: A French white. OMG, what’s wrong with me??

Let me give you some background on Vouvray: It’s an AOC region in the Loire valley in Western France, just east of Tours. The region is France’s largest producer of Chenin blanc grapes, which are naturally high in acidity. Its climatic conditions are favorable to noble rot (botrytis) which is usually helpful in producing very sweet, age-worthy wines (like BA or TBA in Germany, or Sauternes in France). Vouvray also produces sparklers for those so inclined.

Our bottle from Domaine des Aubusières is owned by Bernard Fouquet with 28 hectares under vine. Apparently, Fouquet is a younger guy and has garnered some praise for his wines (see his importer’s page, and there is a pretty cool portrait about the winery from 2009 on the Jim’s Loire blog). He makes single vineyard and cuvée wines. The wine we had, the Cuvée de Silex, grew on clay soils, and has 9 grams of residual sugar per liter (at low end of medium-sweet when you look at German wine law), 6.85 gr/l of acidity, and ticked in at 13% ABV. Nina had discovered it at a tasting hosted by Village Wine Corner, a local wine shop with tons of charme and tastings every other month, and loved it for what she described as “cinnamon wine”. Now you see why this wine could make sense in cold weather, right?

Here are my tasting notes from when we tried it the other day: The color a bright yellow, the nose showed lightly smoky aromas, citrus, and hints of cinnamon (not as much as Nina seemed to remember). The alcohol was noticeable, but not oppressive. On the palate, the first thing I noticed, was how good it felt in the mouth. It had the right amount of – I don’t want to say silkiness, because that wasn’t it; I want to use the word woolly, do you get what I mean? It was heavy enough to warm me, yet showed great acidity which kept it fresh. The feel of this wine had a soothing quality, it made me want to cuddle up with it. Maybe that’s why I am thinking woolly. There were aromas of grape and again, slight cinnamon. The wine tasted dry, the sugar was no issue whatsoever. It paired exceptionally well with some soft cheeses we had (particularly with a Délice de Bourgogne, a triple cream brie type cheese). We shared the bottle with friends and it went down in no time…I am not sure it would drink that well in the summer, but to me, this was a great, great winter white. They exist. We just have to find them!

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Sunday Read: Wine Fundamentals Part 4 – FEW

When we try wines with friends, one of the consistent topics that comes up in discussion is how to describe wine. It seems tricky, and the more elaborate the descriptors (the worst I have heard of is “women rider saddle after a hard ride”, yes, that happened!), the more intimidating it can be. I always encourage everyone around me to say what comes to mind….imagine the sick mind that came up with the descriptor I just mentioned! On the other hand: We have all sorts of weird smells stored in our brains (from our childhood mostly). And so if a wine smells like, say, old socks, then say so. Nothing is too crazy. Just go for it. Wine is, among many other things, a communicator. And only when we talk about what we smell or taste in a free and open way, without being intimidated about embarrassing ourselves, can we really enjoy the conversational part and the wine itself.

As with everything, there are some basics, and my new found friends over at Parade magazine, Allie and Melissa (we met at VinItaly), wrote a great piece about these basics a while back. The key is “FEW”, which stands for fruit, earth and wood, which make up the components of wine aroma. They go through all three with helpful examples, and do so in an entertaining way that does it’s job: Take away the intimidation factor.

One of the key takeaways for me has been that I need to smell everything around me, apples in the supermarket, the fresh ground coffee I put in my espresso tin can, the rusty spots in our mailbox. Only if our brain knows what something smells like we can identify that in the wines we drink. My case in point is gooseberry: I often find gooseberry in wines (a German obsession of a tart, yet sweet berry), while most of my American friends have no idea what a gooseberry is and therefore cannot identify it. The beauty of all of this is that flavors are subjective, shaped by our perceptions and knowledge. As with most knowledge, we get better as we practice.

If you want to learn more about these, head over to Allie and Mel’s article. I found it very enlightening!

Happy Sunday!

Allie and Mel Uncorked: Wine Fundamentals Part 4 – FEW

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