Gewurztraminer


If national borders were erased and a sort of primal geography took over, northeastern Italy would fittingly spill over into Austria and Switzerland, where place names, surnames and grape varieties are shared in abundance. That’s certainly true for the mountainous areas of Italy’s Alto Adige region, where Germanic terms are as common as Italian. Taking a prominent place among producers in Alto Adige is Elena Walch, who, with her daughters Julia and Karoline, makes some of the best white wines, well, that I have tasted so far this year. A specialist in gewürztraminer and pinot blanc grapes, Elena Walch — person and estate — farms along rigorous sustainable practices and was among the first in the region to do so. The two examples under review today represent the “regular” bottling of gewurztraminer, drawn from several vineyards, and a single-vineyard model from Kastelaz. Both wines are made completely in stainless steel tanks and are all the fresher and appealing for it, though stinting not a whit on complexity. These were samples for review, imported by Walch/USA, Sausalito, Calif.
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The Elena Walch Selezione Gewürztraminer 2013, Alto Adige, Italy, is the estate’s standard or regular bottling, but the quality is far above standard. The color is medium-gold; pungent aromas of peach, jasmine and lychee, cloves, quince and ginger are seamlessly woven with notes of yellow plum, lightly roasted fennel and a stray finger of coriander; if you think it’s difficult to tear oneself away from these seductive scents, you’re not wrong. Spicy and lively citrus and stone fruit flavors are buoyed by bright, lithe acidity, while the long dry finish offers refreshing notes of celery seed, grapefruit bitterness and brisk salinity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value for the Price.
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The Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, derives from a steeply terraced vineyard (pictured here) that lies 340 to 360
meters — 1,115 to 1,240 feet — above sea level; the soil is chalk-clay with raw rock of volcanic origin. The color is radiant medium-gold; a dazzling array of effects, however splendid, is beautifully integrated. The highly perfumed bouquet features notes of jasmine and lilac, cloves, candied ginger and lime peel, orange zest and blossom, all wreathed with fruit tones of peach, spiced pear and lychee; yeah, pretty heady stuff. Overall, though, the wine is both luscious and seductive, on the one hand, and spare, supple, elegant, on the other, even a bit demanding in its dryness and steely, limestone character. Wonderfully alive and resonant. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $32.
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Last week, Jenn Louis, chef and owner of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, Oregon — I follow this Food and Wine magazine Best New Chef 2012 religiously for her inventive cuisine — posted this picture to her Facebook page. It’s a sandwich of goat liver and pancetta on sour rye bread with pickled chili aioli. I “liked” the image and said that I wondered what kind of wine would be appropriate; her reply was “crisp white.” So I looked through my notes and came up with the roster of eight crisp and savory white wines that might pair nicely with this unusual item as well as such fare as charcuterie, pork chops braised with sauerkraut and apples, veal roast and hearty seafood pastas and risottos. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I reduce technical, historical and geographical information to a minimum in order to offer blitz-quick reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palates. These wines were review samples. They are all, coincidentally, wines made from a single grape variety. Enjoy!
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Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile. % alc. Pale gold color; very bright, clean, fresh, with scintillating limestone minerality; notes of roasted lemon and peach, lemongrass, ginger and quince with a touch of cloves; the body and power build incrementally, adding chalk and loam and hints of dried herbs; faintly grassy; chiseled acidity. A great performance. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; fresh, clean and spicy; lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, hint of peach; lively and acutely crisp but with a sensuous texture that’s moderately lush; still, lots of stones and bones, in the Alsace fashion, limestone and flint, with a surge of cloves and allspice and stone-fruit savor. Delicious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.
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Balverne Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.7% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean, pert, sassy and grassy; lemon, tangerine and pear, hints of mango, roasted lemon and spiced peach, notes of mint, thyme and tarragon; slightly earthy background, limestone and slate; lithe, flinty but supple texture and crisp acidity buoying a sort of bracing sea-salt element. Very attractive. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. 12.5% alc. Pale pale gold color; at first this wine seems a tissue of delicacies, almost fragile but it gains character and depth in the glass; yes, clean, fresh and crisp but spicy, earthy, savory and saline; green apple, spiced pear, roasted lemon; grapefruit and candied rind; limestone and damp gravel, lovely drapery of texture shot with exhilarating acidity; hints of dust, powdered orange peel and cloves in the finish. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 13% alc. 716 cases. Pale gold color; clean as a whistle, fresh and invigorating, with bright, intense acidity and an appealing combination of spicy, savory and salty qualities; roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pear; hints of dried thyme and rosemary and a touch of leafy fig; dry and spare but with a suppleness from partial aging in neutral French oak barrels; lots of depth, subtlety and dimension. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
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Gustave Lorentz Réserve Gewurztraminer 2011, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale gold color; rose petals, lychee and white peach; quince, ginger, white pepper and cloves; hints of melon and fig; beautifully wrought, exquisitely balanced among rigorous acidity, assertive limestone minerality and juicy citrus and slightly candied stone-fruit flavors; lovely sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $24.
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Sequoia Grove Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. % alc. 350-400 cases. Mild gold color; all about persistence: jasmine, lilac, trace of fig and banana, thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and lime peel, touch of grapefruit; a few minutes bring in lemongrass and mango; truly lovely wine with an engaging character and a sense of lift along with some earthiness, chalk and limestone; lip-smacking acidity. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
Image from Bills Wine Wandering.
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Tascante Buonora 2012, Terre Siciliane, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Very pale gold color; clean and fresh, bracing as a brine-laden sea-breeze; roasted lemon, thyme, almond and almond blossom; lovely silky texture enlivened by brisk acidity; lime peel, yellow plum, hint of almond-skin bitterness on a finish packed with dried spices and limestone minerality. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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No, Readers, the splendid Italianate castle you see in the picture here is not located in Tuscany or Lombardy but in Napa Valley, near the town of Calistoga. Castello di Amorosa, completed in 2007, is the pet project, nay, the total obsession, of Dario Sattui, who owns the well-known V. Sattui winery, retail store and picnic-ground farther south in St. Helena. The story of the planning and building of Castello di Amorosa is related in lavish detail on the winery’s website; yes, the setting may be elaborate and medieval, but Castello di Amorosa is a working winery; Brooks Painter is director of winemaking, a position he also holds a V. Sattui. And as is the case at V. Sattui, the wines are available only at the winery or by what’s still quaintly called “mail-order.” Not surprisingly, Amorosa focuses on Italian grape varieties but also on — our focus in this post — gewürztraminer, and if you’re thinking that gewürztraminer has about the same standing in Napa Valley that Lady Gaga holds at the National Academy of Kabuki-Acting Thoracic Surgeons, you would be correct. There are about 11 acres of gewürztraminer vines in Napa (total vineyard acreage about 43,000), which is why Amorosa has Gewürztraminer planted in cool-climate Mendocino County. These wines were samples for review. We move from dry to sweet.
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The aromas of the Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, are frankly gorgeous; jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and pear, quince and ginger, guava and passion fruit, with undertones of lime peel, limestone and grapefruit; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of “Evening in Paris” and lilac-scented face powder. Could the rest of the experience live up to this heady allure? Yes, actually, the wine — made in stainless steel as the others here are — displays admirable crispness and exuberant acidity, a suave, sleek texture, but lively and spicy, a burgeoning element of shale-and-flint-like minerality and, amid its apple and nectarine flavors, an overall crystalline existential glow. And it’s totally dry. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’18, well-stored. 1,100 cases. Excellent. About $23.
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The Castello di Amorosa “Dolcino” Gewürztraminer 2011, Mendocino County, is, as its name indicates, a little sweet. The color is very pale straw-gold; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle are woven with ripe lychees and pears and hints of apples and apricots. No doubt about the sweetness on the entry, where flavors of softly roasted peaches mingle with touches of sage and baked apple, though the wine firms up nicely, under the influence of keen acidity that contributes freshness and moderate crispness to the texture. The wine, then, is lively and spicy, and the finish brings in a bit of grapefruit austerity. 12 percent alcohol. Good as an aperitif for those who like a touch of sweetness or with mildly spicy Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine. 1,849 cases. Very Good+. About $24.
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The Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, is a full-fledged dessert wine that displays all the super-ripeness and golden honeyed slightly roasted stone fruit scents and flavors you could ask for. The color is pale gold; hints of baked apples and peaches, lychees, cloves and ginger snaps entice the nose before segueing into the mouth, where they’re enveloped by a texture that’s dense and almost viscous; the wine is even spicier on the palate, more honeyed, slightly buttery — think of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewürztraminer 2011 is rich, tasty and appealing, but it lacks just by a degree the essential tension and tautness that keep dessert wines on the straight and narrow path of clean, thirst-quenching acidity and scintillating intensity. 11.2 percent alcohol. 2,964 cases. Now through 2018 to 2022. Very Good+. About $35 for a 375 ml half-bottle.
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Pleasant doings on this unusually timely, not to say early, edition of Friday Wine Sips; no clunkers, no plonk, just refreshment and ease and relaxation, though these wines aren’t meant just for sipping out on the porch or patio, sweet as that activity would be; they’re also meant to be thoughtfully and sympathetically (but not too seriously) consumed with food, though fare that’s light and summery would be best. I’m thinking grilled trout or salmon, shrimp salad, salade Niçoise, fish tacos, fritattas, pizza bianco; you get the idea. These wines were made in stainless steel or given a fleeting kiss of oak; the point is their freshness, spiciness and immediate appeal. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, I eschew technical, historical, psychological, anthropological and personal (or personnel) data for the sake of freshness, spiciness and immediate appeal. Wait, I’m getting this deja vu feeling all over again.

These wines were samples for review or tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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Ferraro-Carano Bella Luce 2011, Sonoma County. 13.4% alc. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat canelli, gewurztraminer, viognier, pinot blanc, muscat giallo. Pale straw color; think apples and apples and pineapples, Asian pear and lemongrass, hints of lemon, peach and camellia; in the mouth touches of honeydew melon, more peach but spiced and macerated, honey, hay and a flirtation with fresh rosemary and its slightly resinous, tea-like quality; juicy, lush but balanced by bright acidity and limestone minerality. Quite charming. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $16.
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Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; yellow plums, roasted lemon, bay leaf, cloves; a whisper of oak for spice and suppleness; ginger and quince, hint of leafy fig; deft balance between crisp, sprightly acidity and an almost dense texture; ultimately light on its feet, delicate; long, dry, savory finish. 1,265 cases. Excellent. About $18, and a Great Bargain.
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Chateau Graville-Lacoste 2011, Graves, Bordeaux. 12% alc. 70% semillon, 25% sauvignon blanc, 5% muscadelle. Sleek, suave, elegant; lemon, lemon balm and limestone; very dry, touch of chalk, a little austere; nuances of thyme and tarragon, slightly grassy; quite fresh, clean and appealing yet high-toned, classy, stylish. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $20.
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Domaine de Reuilly “Les Pierres Plates” 2011, Reuilly Blanc, Loire Valley. 12.5% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. So damned pretty, so fragrant, so lively, heaps of personality; spiced pear and lemon, hint of peach; lots of flint and limestone, some austerity on the finish but never less than fresh, vibrant and attractive. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $20.
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Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale straw-gold; very clean and fresh, crisp and lively; lemon balm and lemongrass, hint of tangerine and orange rind; back-notes of dried thyme and tarragon; burgeoning limestone element; lovely, seductive texture, almost soft and talc-like but with superb tautness and reticence. Totally beguiling and just enough complexity. Excellent. About $26.
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Wines made from gewurztraminer grapes can be so floral that they’re off-putting, like old flowers in a vase, or so sweetly ripe that they’re cloying, but find one that’s perfectly balanced and you should clasp it reverently to your bosom, especially when it’s priced as attractively as the Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2010 from Alsace. The estate was founded in 1425 and is now operated by the 18th generation.

Made all in stainless steel, the Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2010 displays a pale straw-gold color and an alluring bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and mango and a hint of slightly buttery and clove-inflected roasted pineapple; the final fillip is a trace of rose petal and golden raisin. This is a gleaming and (again) golden gewurztraminer which in the mouth is all ginger and quince, pears and pear nectar, though the wine is bone-dry, vibrant with crisp acidity and a piercing line of limestone-like minerality that rivets the finish to your blissful palate. Still, the texture is supple and silken, enveloping in character, and the whole package is sleek and seductive. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. We sipped this quite successfully one night with shrimp risotto and the next day with tuna panini. It would also be good with moderately spicy Southeast Asian cuisine. Excellent. About $20, a Great Bargain.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

Image, cropped and re-sized, from aglassafterwork.com.

Last night LL made a damned amazing pasta dish using the recipe for salt and pepper seared shrimp from Sally Schneider’s The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1990; large-format paperback edition 1993), a book we have cooked from so many times that the pages are coming loose and the recipes are spotted and stained; try to track it down. (The page with the “Cajun Meat Loaf” recipe actually has a curiously shaped smear of blood, like a clue in an Agatha Christie mystery novel; “I say, Poirot, look at this curiously shaped smear of blood in this cookery book! And what the devil is Cajun?”) Anyway, LL had made pesto from a bunch of basil we brought home from the Memphis Farmers Market on Saturday, and she tossed the pesto and the spicy, peppery shrimp with whole grain fettuccine (also from the MFM); that was it, brother, and it was great.

I opened a bottle of the Hugel “Hugel” Gewurztraminer 2008, from Alsace, and was glad that I did, because the spicy element in the wine — “gewurz” means, and is almost onomonopaeic for, “spicy” — and its vivid acidity proved to be a good foil for the dish, while its intensely floral and fruity qualities acted as a sort of congenial buffer. The “Hugel” designation indicates that the wine is part of the ancient estate’s “Classic” line of wines, and by ancient I mean founded in 1639. Grapes for these “Classic” wines derive either from estate vineyards or local vineyards under long-term contract. The wine opens with gentle whiffs of ripe peach and pear over a mild note of lychee; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of quince and yellow plum, honeysuckle and rose petal and undercurrents of cloves, allspice and Evening in Paris, the perfume in the blue bottle we all used to buy at the local drugstore for Mother’s Day. The description so far makes the wine sound like a simple sort of an attractive, even seductive “don’t-bother-your-pretty-little-head” wine, but in the mouth matters get a bit more assertive as the spicy character gains momentum, the shimmering acidity and limestone-like minerality take control, and the wine turns itself willingly over to its structural components. Not that there’s not plenty of supple, suave apple, peach and pear flavors available for your pleasure, all of this devolving to a finely-knit, spicy, mineral-inflected finish. Not acutely intense — you would have to go back to 2006 for that — but very tasty and satisfying. 13 percent alcohol. Currently, the 2009 version of this wine is on the market, while the 2007, which you can still find in pockets around the country, is drinking very nicely and is likely discount-priced. Very Good+. Prices range ludicrously, as in from about $18 to $28, with most falling into the $22 to $25 point.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.