Tag Archives: #WineStudio

#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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#WineStudio Session XII: Germany’s Lesser Known Varieties

The wines discussed in this article were provided as samples by Rudi Wiest Selections.

I remember talking with my good friend Stefano of Clicks and Corks sometime earlier this year, and we were talking about blogging and samples we sometimes receive. He was astonished that I did not seem to get as many samples as he receives (he blogs mostly about Italian wines), and I had to inform him that there are simply not that many distributors of scale that carry German wines: Rudi Wiest and Terry Theise being the two big ones, with several smaller importers like vom Boden filling in the niches. I told him I wish I could get to try some of Rudi Wiest of Terry Theise’s portfolio, but that it was unlikely, being rather far away from the bigger markets.

Imagine my surprise and happiness when I was approached by Tina Morey of Protocol Wines, the host of #WineStudio and #WineChat, informational weekly wine chats on Twitter, asking whether I was interested in participating in the #WineStudio they were organizing in cooperation with Rudi Wiest Selections to highlight some lesser known varieties from Germany!! I happily obliged. If you’re into German wine, it is hard not to have had wines that Rudi Wiest imports. Their list is not very extensive, but they boast some of the best producers in Germany.

#WineStudio is Protocol Wines’ wine education program in which wineries and distributors get a chance to provide a deeper look into what they or their area is doing wine-wise. The discussions are a lot of fun, I have to say, so it is usually worth checking out even if you don’t have the wines to try along.

While Germany doesn’t have the grape variety that Portugal or Italy or Greece have, there are still a bunch of grapes that are not really well known abroad but drunk by a significant number of Germans. This was our chance to explore these more.

We tried and discussed a total six wines over the course of four weeks, and in my book this was hands down the best #WineStudio event yet. I guess my predisposition for German wines and some background knowledge made this a really great exercise. Let me tell you about the wines, because they pretty drinkable! Also, they were all dry wines and I get many questions about which dry wines from Germany I can recommend, so this is a good list.

Schloss Hallburg Silvaner and Wirsching Scheurebe

Schloss Hallburg Silvaner and Wirsching Scheurebe

We started with a 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry and the 2012 Hans Wirsching Iphöfer Scheurebe Kabinett Dry, both from Northern Bavaria’s region Franconia (Franken). Silvaner, a cross between Traminer and Österreichisch-Weiss (literally “Austrian White”), rules in Franken. I have heard frequently that Silvaner is the grape for people that cannot deal with the acidity in Riesling but like Riesling aromatics, and it is widely used in Germany as a very food friendly wine. Scheurebe was created in 1916 by Mr Scheu by crossing Riesling with an unknown wild variety and is considered highly aromatic.

The 2011 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Silvaner Dry (12.5% ABV) was quite expressive in the nose, with tons of peach aromas, with melon and pear and some baked apple complementing the picture. On the palate, the wine showed hints of coconut, good balance, and a certain creaminess. I was missing some acidity, but that is just something I want in my whites, and 2011 wasn’t kind to those loving acidity…All in all a tasty wine that should be great with sushi from what I heard from others.

The 2012 Hans Wirsching Iphöfer Scheurebe Kabinett Dry (pronounced Shoy-ray-buh, 12.5% ABV) weirdly reminded me of a Gewürztraminer in the nose: I got lychee, papaya, then some grapefruit and lime. Intensive, intensive nose. Couldn’t stop smelling. On the palate, the wine showed a nicely tickly mineralitywith a light mouthfeel. The lychee persisted, with pineapple coming to the mix, what an interesting wine. I knew Scheurebe as a rather boring wine from my early youth, usually way too sweet and gooey, but this one had a great dry finish, and still brought out all those amazing aromatics….if you want to surprise friends, this would be a good choice, also for the bottle shape, which is the typical bottle in Franken called Bocksbeutel (which means “goat’s scrotum”), makes for a conversation starter…

Rebholz Pinot Blanc and Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris

Rebholz Pinot Blanc and Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris

The following week, we tried the 2012 Rebholz Pinot Blanc Dry from the Pfalz (Palatinate) and the 2012 Graf von Schönborn – Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris from Franken. In German these grapes are known as Weissburgunder (Pinot blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot gris), and I have had good experiences with the two grapes in the past when they don’t make an appearance as a bland Pinot grigio or Pinot bianco. In Germany, these wines tend to be fruitier, which I appreciate…

The Rebholz Pinot Blanc (13.5% ABV) had a fresh nose with stone fruit, pear and melon as well as hints of vanilla (I doubt it saw any wood in the production process, though). On the palate, the wine was warming yet crisp, with coconut, liquorice, lychee and pear aromas. There was a good balance in the wine, despite the significant alcohol it still felt light-footed and had good length. The wine was made from mostly 70 year old vines, which is pretty impressive for an entry level wine. I liked this expression of the grape.

The Schloss Hallburg Pinot Gris (12.5% ABV), in contrast, was much more subdued on the nose. I got lemon, apples, almonds, and in general the aromas seemed more ripe than in the Pinot Blanc. The wine had a great mouthfeel to it, it was deep and drawing me in, with good heft and good acidity. The aromas I mostly got were peaches and melon paired with nice creaminess. This wine was rich, and yet remained refreshing. The interesting thing was that it felt heavier than the Pinot Blanc, despite having significantly less alcohol.

Becker Pinot Noir and Schnaitmann Lemberger

Becker Pinot Noir and Schnaitmann Lemberger (weird labels, huh?)

The final week was dedicated to two red wines: A 2011 Becker Pinot Noir Dry (from the Pfalz) and a 2011 Schnaitmann Lemberger Dry (from Württemberg). Germany has actually been making great strides in producing Pinot noir (also known as Spätburgunder in Germany), and it is always exciting trying more of these. Lemberger is prominent grape in the Southern-most parts of Germany.

The Becker Pinot Noir (13.5% ABV) poured in a surprisingly dark cherry red. I loved its nose, which was full of gummibear aromas (open a bag and stick your nose in, it’s divine!) and cooked cherries. On the palate, it was initially soft and pleasing, with good acidity. Then, it became spicy, with tons of cassis and red currant aromas, some branchiness with was welcome, and some smoke. The currant aromas persisted throughout the finish, and that made me like the wine. It might have been a bit rough around the edges, and there were some bitter aromas in the finish, but overall a decent wine.

The Schnaitmann Lemberger (13% ABV) poured as dark as a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and its nose was full of flowers, raspberries and blackberries. What a great way to end a night! On the palate, very fruity, with strawberry and raspberry and all-spice and good vanilla aromas that gave it body. This was really, really tasty. As in want more of this right away tasty and the rather low alcohol ensures you won’t be in trouble for it. It remained refreshing all throughout, and this was Nina’s favorite of all the wines by an arms length…

All in all? It’s seriously worth trying other grapes from Germany. Will that replace my love for Riesling? Nope. Will I ever think as highly of a white grape as I do of Riesling? Nope. But the wine universe is full of interesting grapes that make for good switch ups when you want to expand your palate. Always worth it. And, if you’re on track for the Wine Century Club, some of these grapes will surely help you cross the finish line and you won’t suffer for it! :)

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