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#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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2011 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp “Kern” Riesling Fass 9

Peter Lauer's iconic label

Peter Lauer’s iconic label

For me, 2011 is a difficult vintage in German Riesling. The summer was very warm, and the grapes ripened a lot which resulted in lower acidity levels in general. It made for really nice dry wines when I tried them in 2012, but by now, I find a lot of them to feel flabby and uninspiring. So in general, I tend to avoid 2011 German Rieslings, at least at the moment.

It’s nice when you come across a bottle that actually captures you and makes you come back to it. And that was exactly what this bottle of wine by Saar winery Peter Lauer did for me. Peter Lauer, now a member of the elite winemaker association VDP, has been making highly acclaimed wines for a while now, and while I still have not visited the winery (something I intend to remedy this summer), I have had a decent amount of their portfolio. Their labels are hard to miss, given their unique design, and there are many things that make this winery stand out:

They try to defy German wine laws by putting fantasy names that closely resemble abolished vineyard names on the label to truly designate terroir and where exactly the grapes were grown.

They also put the barrel number on the label, because traditionally this winery put the must from its different plots in different barrels to vinify them separately.

They tend to not use the usual designations of Kabinett or Spätlese, and it is rather the barrel number (the German word for barrel is “Fass”) that will indicate what style the wine is made in.

Their slogan is: “Riesling for advanced drinkers” (Riesling für Fortgeschrittene)…

The 2011 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp “Kern” Riesling Fass 9 has 10% ABV with 35 grams of residual sugar/liter and hails from the Ayler Kupp vineyard, one of the prime locations along the Saar river. The “Kern” subsite is facing away from the Saar, on the far end of the Kupp. The winery considers it one of its premium sites, stocked with old vines. You can see it on this map:

Peter Lauer vineyard site map (Credit: Winery website)

Peter Lauer vineyard site map (Credit: Winery website)

The wine poured in a light yellow color like straw with hints of green. The nose was intense, with aromas of green apple and papaya, very fresh. The nose alone made me want to dive deeper into the wine. On the palate, it was light to medium bodied with a lot of heft to it. It was creamy, with lots of caramel, almost burnt caramel aromas (totally unexpected given its color!) and showed a lot of herbal character. I did not detect much fruit. The acidity was not noticeable, but not very prominent, but the sweetness was at the same time never overpowering. Towards the end, I detected some bitter aromas which did not quite fit in at that stage. The finish was of medium length. On the next day, the wine tasted a lot nuttier with walnut being the most prominent aroma on display.

This is not a Riesling as one usually expects a Riesling to be: The lack of fruit on the palate, the heaviness of the wine. There was so much going on on a different level than usually that made this wine a great experience. I am again and again surprised by what this grape can be capable of in the hands of the right winemakers. This wine is definitely worth a try and your time, especially in the darker months of the year. Peter Lauer wines are rather well available in the US.



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GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery – The Tasting Notes

The vineyards of GranMonte Winery

The vineyards of GranMonte Winery

Alright, as promised in my Meeting the Vintners article on GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery last week, I want to share some impressions on the wines I tried. We had the chance to try these wines with dinner, and some without, and that definitely shaped some of the impressions. All in all, I think the line up was pretty impressive. The wines expressed a ton of flavor, making them very appealing.

Let me start with a couple of whites:

The 2012 Sole Chenin blanc Viognier, which contains 93% Chenin blanc and 7% Viognier grapes, was fermented in stainless steel and French oak barrels and spent four months on the lees. It has 13% ABV, 5.4 gr of acidity/liter and 3.8 gr of residual sugar/liter, which under German wine laws puts this in solidly dry territory. The wine poured in a clear, light yellow and had an incredibly fresh nose with banana and citrus aromas. On the palate, it showed good fruit in the beginning, mostly citrus, then it became quite creamy on mid-palate to be followed by bitter orange rinds which were surprising but not unpleasant. The acidity kept the wine refreshing, which made it a great companion in the tropical heat.

The 2012 Verdelho poured in a stronger yellow color, and showed a nose full of tropical fruit: a bucket full of papaya and passion fruit. Absolutely loved it. On the palate, it was almost medium-bodied, silky and creamy, with good acidity and nicely lingering finish with some lemon pepper aromas. I enjoyed this wine for its great drinkability. I wasn’t quite sure how to pair this with food, but with a wine like this I don’t actually feel like it needs pairing. Again, very enjoyable white wine.

The 2013 Verdelho, which had just been bottled, in contrast was of very light color, almost as clear as water. The nose had mostly gooseberry aromas (which I underlined four times in my notes), papaya, some chewing gum, and just jumped at me in its fruitiness (yes, even after the previous two wines!). Again, this wine was more on the medium-bodied side, passion fruit the dominating aromas. The mid-palate seemed a bit wobbly, but that might be due to its recent filling, and the finish came through strong with a nice peppery touch. Strong showing.

I really wasn’t expecting the whites to be this fruity and light given the climate. That was a very nice surprise.

In the winery shop.

In the winery shop.

We then moved on to the reds, and we were in for some treats.

We started with the, again recently filled, 2012 Heritage Syrah. Made from only Syrah grapes, this wine ferments in stainless steel and then spends 12 months in French oak. 13% ABV, and a healthy acidity of 5.67 gr/l. It poured in a medium ruby red, and the nose showed cassis, sour cherries, some branches and slightly earth aromas which were complemented by violets. I really enjoyed the fruitiness of this wine on the palate, with raspberries and some jam. It was earthy, had great tannins, and combined subtlety with a good backbone. The finish was just beautifully long, it lasted and lasted and lasted (I wrote down 25 seconds +). The coolest thing about this wine was how it stood up to steaks paired with super spicy oils. We just couldn’t believe how this wine worked with such heat. Incredible.

We then tried the 2009 Orient Syrah, one step up from the Heritage Syrah. The grapes come from their three oldest and lowest yielding blocks in the vineyard, were fermented in stainless steel, and then moved to 83% French, and 17% American oak barrels for 12 months. The wine had 14% ABV and 5.1 gr/l acidity. The color was decidedly darker than the Heritage Syrah. The nose was very restrained, seemed much more old world in style than the previous wine. There was some leather, some prunes. On the palate, this full bodied wine showed great balance, was just the right amount of dark fruits with earthy aromas ( I really enjoyed how earthy this one was), tannins to hold it up. It also showed a long finish and was a pleasure to drink. Not as exciting as the Heritage, but definitely well made.

Probably Nina’s favorite of the night was next: The 2009 Asoke Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah, GranMonte’s flagship wine. Made with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Syrah grapes, the must ferments in stainless steel before spending 14 months in 83% French and 17% American oak barrels. The final product has 14% ABV and 5.8 gr/l of acidity. It was pitch dark in the glass, almost black. Wow. The nose was decidedly Cabernet Sauvignon, branchy, a bit green peppers, with red berries and vanilla aromas. Very expressive nose, intense. On the palate, all I got initially was cassis, cassis, cassis, so strong. The wine had great tannins, showed some tobacco, heft and a good mouthfeel. The balance was there, the finish was good. Everything came together in this wine. As I said, Nina really really liked this wine. For me, it was too powerful, I think. I am not a fan of these big reds. Again, this was a great wine, it was just not meant for me. I am more at home with the earthier, less expressive wines.

The final wine was, how could it be otherwise with me, the just filled 2013 Bussaba Chenin blanch Semillon, a white made in the late harvest style. It contains 60% Chenin blanc, 35% Semillon, and 5% Canadian Muscat grapes. The color was very light, almost watery (not what I expected in a late harvest style white). The nose showed intense aromas of honeydew, mango, and mint. On the palate, it was most of all refreshing, again showing this great acidity that Nikki is capable of expressing in her whites, that never make this boring or feel too sweet. It retains a lightness and seems to have the right ingredients to also age well.

All in all, as you can probably tell, I was quite impressed. The wines showed finesse and craft, and most of all, were pretty tasty. I was told by the owners that some of their wines are now available in San Francisco, and when I did a quick Google search, I found the Thai restaurant Koh Samui & The Monkey at least offered some GranMonte wines in mid 2013. Might be worth checking out!

Wine and company make people happy

Wine and company make people happy

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