Tag Archives: 2012

Villa Bellangelo – Finger Lakes Riesling and Chardonnay with a cool surprise

A while back, I saw my buddy Anatoli’s stellar and raving review of Villa Bellangelo‘s Rieslings, which he stated had finally converted him to Finger Lakes Riesling. Naturally, this triggered my interest (when have I ever heard Anatoli rave about Riesling? Just kidding!). I am a Riesling snob after all, and when folks I like and trust are impressed with a wine in general, but in particular with a Riesling, I want to try and see for myself.

I have a had the good fortune of having participated in several Twitter tastings organized and hosted by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, the association of Finger Lakes winemakers, so feel like I have somewhat of an idea of what is going on in the Finger Lakes, particularly Riesling-wise. Let me add that I also, quite naturally I believe, do compare these Rieslings in my head with Mosel Rieslings I know. The Finger Lakes after all are considered similar in their volcanic soil and rather cold temperatures. I do, however, always try to see these wines by themselves, and compare them to their counterparts in the Finger Lakes as well. One general impression I have is that, while Riesling from the Finger Lakes rightly is considered the best in the US, a lot of them are still a little too one-note for me. A great Riesling has at least five or six layers of flavor and complexity, while I often find myself wishing for more of that complexity in the Finger Lake Rieslings I have tried. That does not make them bad wines, to the contrary, they are very enjoyable, but I think for truly great Rieslings more complexity is key.

Ok, so much for my “credentials”. Sometime after Anatoli’s piece, Villa Bellangelo and I were tweeting and exchanging messages, and they offered to send me some bottles as samples to see for myself. I gladly agreed. The package arrived, with a cool piece of shale bedrock from Villa Bellangelo’s vineyards, which has joined our collection of Mosel slate. Since there were four bottles, I wanted to have some friends over to try along, to see what this group, that has tried wines with us a lot of times, thought as well. With November rapidly turning into December, it took us all the way into January until we could get together and try the wines, along with charcuterie and cheeses, our natural spiel…

Cool piece of shale bedrock.

Cool piece of shale bedrock.

So, who is Villa Bellangelo? Villa Bellangelo was founded in 2002 by Michael Litterio, but was purchased by the Missick family in 2011/2012, who hail from California, according to a post in the New York Cork Report. According to several bloggers and writers (including East Coast Wineries), the winery is a great spot to visit (with Yelp reviews supporting this claim), sitting atop a hill overlooking Seneca Lake. Some of the vineyards belonging to the winery date back to 1866, which is awfully cool, I think. That’s 150 years!!! The winery produces a bunch of whites and reds, and also produces wine from hybrids like Seyval blanc.

My package contained two Rieslings, a Seyval blanc, and a Chardonnay. After some back and forth, I decided to try the Chardonnay first (which I expected to be the most muted wine), then the two Rieslings, and then the Seyval blanc (because it appeared to be the sweetest wine).

So, what did I think? Here are my notes:

Chardonnay!

Chardonnay!

2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Chardonnay (ABV 13%), retails for $20: The wine poured clear in a rather pale color (giving me the hope – justified – that it was more in a French style). The nose was somewhat subdued, with some oak and nuts (walnuts?). On the palate, the wine was bone dry and light, with crisp acidity nicely balanced. It was definitely low on the wood, but also a bit too restrained on the fruit for my taste (you get why I like Riesling?). What made me like this wine was its minerality that led to a spicy finish. Definitely more French in style, which I really appreciate. All by itself, this might have been a bit boring, but it sure worked with our charcuterie. Should be paired with food.

Two of Villa Bellangelo's Rieslings

Two of Villa Bellangelo’s Rieslings

2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Dry Riesling (ABV 11.3%), retails for $18: Aaaah, Riesling. The wine poured clear with hints of green. The nose was moderately aromatic, but showed good fruit: I got sour peaches, some apple, some floral notes. Would have liked a bit more intensity. The wine tasted dry (although there definitely would be some sugar left at this low alcohol level), was light and crisp. I thought it had good acidity and a very good mouthfeel to it, was quite balanced, but on the palate it just didn’t remind me much of a Riesling, and the table agreed. I think there just wasn’t that much aroma going on. The wine finished spicy, which was a new flavor for a Riesling for me. While the nose surely indicated Riesling, I am not sure I would have recognized it as a Riesling in a blind tasting based on the flavor. This does not mean I didn’t like the wine, in fact I thought it was tasty. Just not Riesling-y enough for me.

2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Semi-Dry Riesling (ABV 10.8%), retails for $18: Often, when I find a dry Riesling from a particular winery lacking in flavor (a bit more sugar just brings out more fruit), I look to the semi-sweets. I like that they labelled it semi-dry, because the alcohol indicates it is still pretty dry, and semi-dry is the literal translation of the German “halbtrocken”. Easy to make a German happy! :) Now this wine showed itself pretty much with the same color as the previous. The nose, however, was a different story: nicely peachy, almost peach cobbler, which I love, some bees wax. The wine tasted medium-sweet, with a bit more viscosity, but still fresh acidity. It was flavorful, with good fruit: peach juice, mandarin, some peach pit. Really an enjoyable and good expression of Riesling: flavors were there, the finish was good.

A delicious hybrid

A delicious hybrid

2013 Villa Bellangelo Seneca Lake Seyval Blanc (ABV 12%), retails for $16:  I’d never had a Seyval blanc before, so I consulted Jancis Robinson’s and others’ encyclopedia Wine Grapes. According to this, it’s a French hybrid popular in “marginal climes, especially England”. Now, doesn’t that sound appealing? ;) I was intrigued for sure. The wine poured in a very light color and had a quite restrained nose, maybe some canned peach, but I couldn’t make out much. On the palate, however, what a surprise: Dry and crisp, Asian pear galore (especially the Asian pear freshness), some lemongrass, good acidity, just a really, really tasty wine. Man, that was a really cool surprise. Liked it a lot, and at $16 quite the steal.

My general thoughts? Villa Bellangelo did a good job here. Especially the semi-dry Riesling makes me want to try their single vineyard and reserve Rieslings, I definitely see potential there. The Chardonnay was well-crafted, and the Seyval hit it out of the park. Definitely want to visit the winery, too, given the photos I have seen. Add in that the contact was super friendly, and that piece of bedrock a cool way of showing me some terroir. I like how dynamic the Finger Lakes are, and how, due to their rather short history of professional winemaking, things are still in flow a lot. That creates opportunities for wineries as well as wine lovers.

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2012 Loosen Bros. Dr. L Riesling

America's go to riesling with Korean pancake

America’s go to riesling with Korean pancake

Just a quick alert: Sunday, I had my first Dr. L from the 2012 vintage. I know I am late to the party, but we had so many 2011s still stashed away and I wanted to get them out of the way first. I first wrote about the 2010 here, and let me quote more about the wine in general before:

“For those not familiar with the wine, just a few quick facts. Ernst (or Ernie) Loosen, the owner of Dr. Loosen Estate, is one of the major producers along the middle Mosel with vineyards in many prime sites (Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Prälat, Erdener Treppchen). He is a charismatic figure and has done loads for promoting German rieslings. The Loosen Bros. Dr. L is his entry wine produced for a global market. The Riesling grapes come from all over the place and are blended for this wine.”

You might remember that this has become my got to, everyday Riesling: easy to drink, with the right amount of residual sugar, and a solid bet. The price is decent (I wouldn’t pay that much for it in Germany, but for the US, the pricing is decent). So value-wise, it’s about as good as it gets for a decent entry-level Riesling. The 2011 suffered from the generally lower acidity in the vintage, but the 2012s are way more exciting now. And they are out on the shelves, so go ahead and stock some. They last for at least another year or two.

So, what’s to like about the 2012? More acidity than the 2011, making it fresher and crisper. There are nice apple aromas and some sweet pear, just an easy going, enjoyable wine all by itself on a warm or warm-ish afternoon.

In Ann Arbor, they are available at Trader Joe’s for $11.99 (I believe) andat Whole Foods for $12.99, but you can buy them for $8.99 at Costco. The best thing is, you do not need a Costco membership in Michigan to buy alcohol. If they ask you for the membership card at the entrance, tell them you only want to buy alcohol and you can go in. Then same story at the cash register. It’s super easy and very convenient (their wine selection is pretty good and very well priced).

So, what are you waiting for? Get a bottle and let me know what you think. You can always go and buy more if you like it!

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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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