Category Archives: 2010

#WineStudio XIII: Spotlight on Le Marche Wine Importer ZGR

One of the things I love most about wines, is meeting the people behind them. Most of all, naturally, meeting the winemakers themselves. But there are more people involved in the wine trade than winemakers: importers, distributors, and retailers.

Sometimes these guys are in it to our chagrin, when prices seem out of control due to middlemen and all sorts of weird dealings, but sometimes also to our delight, because it is these folks that enable us to get wines in the U.S. or elsewhere that are new on the international wine map, or are simply really hard to get.

Enter #WineStudio, a series of Twitter tastings organized and hosted by Protocol Wine Studio. I have sung their praises in the past, but I need to reiterate this: I find it amazing what Tina and Guy have been pulling off there. An atmosphere of curiosity and total non-snobbiness, banter as well as enlightening conversation, even if you don’t have the actual wines to taste along. #WineStudio usually happens as a series of several Twitter meetings at 9pm ET on Tuesdays, and then there is the weekly changing #WineChat which is also worth checking out.

I love the format of #WineStudio because it gives you a chance to dive deeper into a region or a portfolio, and since you do this over the course of several weeks, you really feel like you get a better grip on it (check out my awesome experience with Wine Studio XII which focused on lesser known German varietals).

#WineStudio XIII, which I was fortunate to participate in, took place from late April to mid-May, and it focused on Le Marche region on Italy’s Eastern coast. The center of the region is Ancona, and for the longest time, winemakers there have sold their grapes to cooperatives that used to make streamlined, rather boring wines. Over the last ten years, however, things have been changing, with growers wanting to produce their own wine, a more focused look at indigenous grapes like Lacrima di Morro d’Alba (a personal favorite of mine), and what seems like huge leaps in quality assurance. Le Marche still seems very much off the grid when it comes to Italian wines, and most people are not very familiar with the region in general (myself included)…

The wines we got taste and experience during the three sessions were provided by ZGR Imports, founded and run by mid-20s Jonathan Zeiger. Jonathan embodies what I love about wine and people engaged in wine: Enthusiastic about the wines and regions he cares about, curious and always looking for new ways to share what he is fond of, engaging and personable, just a really, really likable guy. He pretty much stumbled on his business, when he was backpacking through Europe and hit up one of the wineries in Le Marche. When the owners, whom he befriended, told him they were looking for an importer, he started his own business…if that isn’t enthusiasm and can-do attitude, I don’t know what is. Check out his website, it’s pretty neat, you can buy his wines directly from him, and his story is even better told in his own words…Guy also did an interview with him that is worth your time (see here).

Any distributor or importer that wants to show his portfolio faces the dilemma of how to present the wines: Do you want to do comparative tastings of wines made by the same grape, or do you want to focus on one producer in detail? Many things influence these decisions, and it is often an early indication if that person really knows what they are doing. When I received my tasting order sheet, I was scratching my head: Jonathan had selected to go with portfolio tastings, trying a Rosso Piceno and a Pecorino wine from one winery one week, and then the same wines from another winery. My gut was telling me I would have liked to try the Rosso Piceno wines against each other, and then the Pecorino wines. But as it turned out, Jonathan had done everything right: The winemaking styles of the two wineries were drastically different, so it would have been really difficult to compare the wines against each other…well done, Jonathan!

We started with wines from the family-run winery Centanni, which is located in  Montefiore dell’Aso. The winery is organically certified.

Centanni 2012 Pecorino

Centanni 2012 Pecorino

The first wine started us off on an incredible trajectory: Centanni 2012 Offida Pecorino. The color was golden yellow, and the nose showed some rubbery aromas, but was quite fresh. I didn’t detect many aromas in the nose. On the palate however, this was a stunner: very fresh, aromas of pear, orange rinds, some cream with a spicy, and later even tickly finish. While the wine was heavier with its 13% ABV, the alcohol didn’t show itself as overbearing, mainly because of the great acidity. The nice thing about this wine was its play between heavy and light. I am usually not a big fan of higher alcohol whites, plus I am VERY partial to Rieslings, but this one did work for me. According to Jonathan, Italians say it’s a white that acts like a red, and that was so right. For many in the group, it was the first Pecorino they ever had, but I had tried one in Rome two summers ago. This one was miles better. Really strong showing and it retails for $29 (which I would consider a bit pricey).

Centanni Rosso di Forca

Centanni Rosso di Forca

Next up was the Centanni 2012 Rosso di Forca which is from the Rosso Piceno DOC. Rosso Piceno is a unique blend of the region, consisting of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Sangiovese grapes. As it turns out, that is genius pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines can be dark and brooding and spicy, while Sangiovese is lighter and less rustic. This representation of the blend (50% Sangiovese, 50% Montepulciano) really impressed me: The color was of a purplish red, and the nose showed mineralic and flower aromas, some wood, some liquorice. Really intriguing. On the palate, the wine was chewy, yet feeling quite light. There were cherry, some berry and vanilla aromas, also cedar wood and good tannins. The finish didn’t contain a hint of bitterness and was long lasting. While the wine contained enough fruit, it was more these forest aromas that impressed me. I returned to it again and again. Nina commented it combined the lightness of a Pinot Noir with the boldness of a Cabernet Sauvignon…for $17, this is a steal.

The following week, we tried the wines from Rio Maggio, located in the heart of Le Marche in Montegranaro. The winery was founded by Graziano Santucci in 1976 and his son Simone took over operations in 1996 when his father passed away.

Rio Maggio Pecorino

Rio Maggio Pecorino

We started with the Rio Maggio Colle Monteverde 2012, a wine made with 100% Pecorino grapes. The first thing I noticed was a very wet cork that also disintegrated as I pulled it out of the bottle. I don’t think it tainted the wine, but it sure was surprising for such a young wine. The color was a golden yellow and the nose was fun with butter popcorn aromas and some pear. However, on the palate, while the mouthfeel was nicely heavy, this heaviness translated into the flavors as well. There was a lack of acidity that made the wine less enjoyable than Centanni’s. Aromas of pear consisted throughout, but I couldn’t get over the fact that the wine seemed more brooding than refreshing (which I do consider a key quality in white wine). No faults really with the wine, but just not my type. Retail: $24

Rio Maggio Rosso Piceno

Rio Maggio Rosso Piceno

Next up was the Rio Maggio Contrada Vallone 2010, their Rosso Piceno. The color of this wine was dark, with slight brick color. On the nose I got an awesome combination of rhubarb pie, plum, green tea and some mushroom aromas. WHAT A NOSE!! I just didn’t want to withdraw my nose from the glass. Really weird combination, but I LOVED it. On the palate, this wine showed rather strong wood aromas and was quite restrained, almost austere. There was good acidity, but the tannins threw it a bit off for me and it felt like the alcohol was a bit out of control. But as you know, I am quite sensitive to this. Most other tasters had no issues with this. Retail: $24.

As we discussed the differences between the two wineries, Jonathan explained that Centanni makes more “modern” expressions of the two wines, while Rio Maggio is a more traditional showing of Rosso Piceno and Pecorino. I definitely preferred the more modern approach, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the aromas exuding from both Rio Maggio wines. What an experience…

I will be spending a few days in Le Marche in July, and am already giddy with excitement!

 

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Tasting with Friends: Unexpected Pinot Noirs

It had been way too long since we conducted one of our fairly regular wine tastings with friends. The rules are always the same: The host sets a topic (we did “European Reds“, “Strange Fruit“, “French and Argentinian Malbecs“, “Michigan vs. Mosel” and others in the past; you can find links to all of them here), and then guests bring a wine bottle each. The wines are usually accompanied by cheeses and meats, and as of late we try to taste them blindly.

Two of our friends had to move out of town for work, so we had been missing them dearly. When one of them came to town for a visit, we made sure to have a tasting. Since I was hosting, I had the honor of setting the rules. I called the tasting “Unexpected Pinot Noirs” and explained that I would like to try Pinot not from France or the U.S. usual suspects Oregon and California (but guests were free to ignore that rule). I am a huge fan of Pinot Noir and was looking for a chance to expand my palate.

We paired the wines with cheeses and meats from my local go to sausage maker Biercamp. These guys just know what they are doing: I got several bacons thinly sliced, including duck and lamb bacon, a wonderful garlic and herbs de Provence sausage with a nice kick, as well as smoke sticks from them. Delicious pairing options for sure.

Blind tasting has its own trappings, and I am always a bit weary of it because it is the most humbling experience you can imagine. You try to whittle down where the wine is from, and while doing that more often than not I convince myself that it is a particular style or region or vintage and then look for arguments to support that, thus closing off my mind. Nina tends to be way better than me at picking up nuances and determining characteristics about wine. She definitely owns me in blind tastings, and so it was with this one:

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

The first wine we tried was a German Pinot Noir (called Spätburgunder, literally “late Burgundy”), a 2010 Heinrich Mertes Waldracher Meisenberg Cuveé Lara. My friend Mansoo had sent me this bottle a while back (as well as the other bottle we entered into the race), and I was eager to try it. Heinrich Mertes winery is located in the Ruwer valley, a small tributary to the Mosel river. The wine showed a medium-light red color. The nose was perfumy with currants and some heat. It wasn’t exciting at all. The heat was actually quite disturbing. On the palate, though, this wine shone: raspberry, red currant and tobacco aromas, and an awesome kick of acidity. The puzzling and intriguing thing about this wine was that the fruit tasted very ripe, yet the acidity kept it wonderfully fresh. This was a strong beginning. The nose not so much, but the flavor profile was awesome. For me, the acidity gave it away: Because I knew there was a 2010 from Germany in the race, a year with quite high acidity in general, I took my chances and guessed right (so did Nina).

Quite the label, huh?

Quite the label, huh?

Next up, a 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg from the Mosel (our second entry). The color was in stark contrast to the first wine: dark, purplish red. The nose showed wet dirt, some rotting branches and what others described as compost aromas. Not very pleasant. I think the compost descriptor came from hyper-ripe fruit aromas, but I couldn’t nail down which fruit. On the palate, the first noticeable thing was that it was way chewier than the first wine. It also was somewhat smoky, with cherries and cranberry aromas as well as a bit of vanilla. In my mind, this was totally a new world Pinot with a lot of the characteristics I have encountered in some California Pinot Noir: too potent, too strong, no restraint. But I want my Pinot Noir less potent, less strong and with more restraint. I did not like this wine. I guessed it was from somewhere pretty warm, and definitely new world. Boy was I wrong.

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

The third wine of the evening was a 2012 Brys Estate Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Noir from Michigan. Apparently, Michigan winemakers consider 2012 one of the best Pinot Noir vintages yet, so this should be exciting. The color on this one was gorgeous: a red currant red, darker than wine 1, much lighter than wine 2. The nose was flowery, with some strawberry, rather intense smoke, but seemed quite closed at this point. On the palate, the wine felt creamy and heavy, which gave it a wonderful mouthfeel. But it is a mouthfeel I don’t expect or particularly cherish in a Pinot Noir, which I want more light footed and delicate. Still a solid showing. Nina guessed Michigan correctly, I had no clue.

Another established Michigan winery

Another established Michigan winery

Up next, a 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos  Pinot Noir, also from Michigan. Again, the color was spectacular, a bright and shiny red currant. The nose was full of roses, almonds and cedar wood, with hints of red berries. I thought the nose was gorgeous. The palate also started off nicely, with spice and pepper aromas, and a light footed feel to it. But then the palate turned out to be a bit harsh: There were bitter aromas kicking in that were rather striking. It also felt like the wine had a bit too much alcohol (which was not the case, we checked later and it clocked in at only 12% ABV, but felt more like 14), and that really turned me off. I couldn’t get over the harshness in the wine. My guess was, because of the perceived high alcohol, a warm climate wine, maybe Southern Italy.

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

Second to last came a 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley. New Zealand has definitely gained some serious street cred for its Pinot production. The color was similar to the previous wine, and the nose was awesome: strawberry jam with rosemary and sage aromas. It was crazy, but good crazy! I loved it. The palate was very herbal as well, thyme, rosemary and sage aromas, with strong acidity with some iron aromas, great lightness to it and some red berries. This was very unique and therefore impressive wine. I hadn’t come across such an herbal Pinot before. This was an exciting wine. Because of the iron aroma that I had come across before in an Oregon Pinot Noir, I decided to guess Oregon…

The final wine was a 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveé Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The color was more purplish, maybe black currant. The nose was chalky, intensely perfumy, with cocoa aromas. On the palate, the wine seemed rather bland: some cherries, some strawberries, plum, not very expressive though. Straight-out fruit forward style, but all a bit thin. I would not have recognized it as a Pinot Noir if I hadn’t know it had to be one, maybe more of a Grenache or so. I just didn’t find much that excited me about this wine. Not bad, but quite standard. My guess, because it was a bit heavy, was California.

So, recap: My guesses were mostly off. My ranking of the wines from best to least favorite, is 1 (2010 German), 5 (2011 New Zealand), 4 (2011 Michigan), 3 (2012 Michigan) and 2 (2007 Germany) and 6 (Oregon) – the last two share the spot, I couldn’t decide.

Combined with the others rankings (6 points for favorite down to 1 point for least favorite), this is the likability ranking:

First place: 2010 Heinrich Mertes Cuveé Lara – 23 points (ranked first by three people out of four)

Second place: 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir (New Zealand) – 17 points (ranked second twice)

Third place: 2012 Brys Pinot Noir and 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir – 16 points each (with the Arcturos being ranked first once)

Fifth place: 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveée Pinot Noir – 6 points

Sixth place: 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg – 5 points (ranked last by three out of four)

The tasting was fun, and it was kind of interesting to have a German Pinot Noir ranked first and last. The Heinrich Mertes was just such a great expression of the grape, to me it was a rather easy winner. The New Zealand Pinot Noir was unique in a good way, expressing some aromas that were unfamiliar, yet seemed befitting to the grape.

The pretty clear winner

The pretty clear winner

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Weingut Kistenmacher und Hengerer: The Wines

The wines of Württemberg winery Kistenmacher & Hengerer

The wines of Württemberg winery Kistenmacher & Hengerer

As promised, I wanted to share some of my tasting impressions from my visit to Kistenmacher & Hengerer winery in November (you can find my introduction to the winery here):

We started with the Rieslings, which Hans Hengerer likes to make in the trocken (dry) style (90% of his Riesling production). We tried 2012 and 2011 Rieslings, from Gutswein, which is the estate wine, via Ortswein, which would be a village in Burgundy, and then on to his Kabinett and Spätlesen. I was surprised by the sheer number of Rieslings Hengerer produces. Most of the wines showed a beautiful creaminess combined with spiciness. His 2012 Riesling Theresa, a village wine, showed great aromas of caramel and peach with just 4 grams of residual sugar, and his 2012 Alte Reben Spätlese, from vines that were planted in 1971, was dense and concentrated, with nice acidity and time to develop. A 2012 cuvée of Kerner and Riesling, made as a sweet wine with 50 gr/l, was also quite impressive.

We then tried a 2012 Gelber Muskateller, which blew me away. I could not move on from this wine, and at the end of the tasting, I went back to it. The aromatics just were incredible. Gelber Muskateller, according to Austrian Wines called “Yellow Muscat” in English, which is a direct translation of the German term, is a version of Muscat a Petit Grains, according to the San Francisco Exmaminer, which also reports it is the oldest type of Muscat and one of the oldest grapes known (read more here). The vines were planted in 1971, so this is a nicely aged vineyard to begin with…In the nose, I got grapefruit and pine needles. Very intense. I was so surprised by this. On the palate, I got rosemary and again pine needles, coupled with yellow fruits. It was SO intense, hard to put in words. The wine was dry, and tasted great. We discussed what to pair the wine with, because it seems that is a problem, and I suggested pork roast with a mustard crust. Sabine Hengerer was skeptical and later asked a sommelier, who thought it wasn’t a good idea…we tried it out, and while it wasn’t a bad pairing, it also didn’t really help either wine or food to shine…nonetheless, a great experience to try this grape, and what an aroma-intense wine this was.

We moved on to the reds, where I want to focus on the 2011 Trollinger Alte Reben, a grape that is very prominent in the region and also known as Vernatsch or Schiava. The vines were planted in the 1960s, and the first thing one notices is how light the color of the wine was, having a red brick, almost terracotta color. The nose showed ginger bread and meaty aromas, a weird combination but not unpleasant at all. On the palate, the wine is light and refreshing. At 12.5% ABV it’s a great wine to drink with a typical German dinner of bread, meats and cheese, and according to Hans Hengerer it can be served chilled in the summer.

Another red wine we tried was a 2009 Clevner, which is a Pinot droit clone, which is a clone of Pinot noir. The nose was full of red fruit, with earthy aromas and ginger and ginger bread. I really liked that combination of fruit and ginger bread, and the earthy aromas hammered home its Pinot noir character. Fascinating wine. The must had contact with the grape skins for 5 weeks, and the wine was produced in 30% to 50% new wood.

Two Pinot noirs from 2009 and 2010, which were concentrated and intense, yet soft and enticing, were followed by a 2009 Lemberger Alte Reben, which I enjoyed quite a bit as well. Lemberger is a big deal in the region, and Hengerer wants to increase production because the grape copes better with higher temperatures than Pinot noir. The aromas in the wine were great, cherries and tobacco, great acidity and a couple more years to go.

Hengerer also produces more international blends: I tried the 2010 M+C (Merlot and Cabernet Franc) and the 2009 Maximilian (which is a cuvée of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Spätburgunder aka Pinot noir). The M+C was fruity and nicely soft, with some green pepper aromas and a good length. I could see Nina falling in love with this wine. The Maximilian was a lot more round than the M+C, seemed in a better place at this point of its development. 2009 definitely helped because the acidity was more in check. The wine is aptly named after one of the Hengerers’ children’s cuddle toy, and one can’t help but notice how apt that is: The wine is cuddly and pleasant, very open and very enjoyable.

Hengerer has his own opinion about Merlot and why he blends it. He doesn’t see it as a very interesting grape by itself, but thinks it adds to cuvées. His comment about Merlot: “Does’t hurt, doesn’t make you blind” (“Tut net weh, macht net blind”). Now don’t take this a summary of his collection of wines! Hans Hengerer produces a great array of different wines from different grapes, which I think takes a lot of skill and dedication. The results are at times surprising and challenging (I look at you, Gelber Muskateller!), but always worth the experience. These wines are made for the long(er) run, as was shown by the older wines I was lucky to try. I hope you’ll get a chance to try some these one of these days.

With Hans Hengerer

With Hans Hengerer

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