Have you heard of Pignolo? I hadn’t until recently – when I tasted the wine below) – though I since spotted it in one of my friend Cara Rutherford’s posts. Now I could be forgiven for this as I’m no expert on Italian wines, though Pignolo does feature as one of Jancis, Julia and José’s 1,368 Wine Grapes. However, it nearly disappeared after its native Friuli was ravaged by phylloxera over a century ago, and it was forgotten about; low yielding vines and susceptibility to powdery mildew put it at a disadvantage when it came to replanting.
Fast forward to the 1970s and Pignolo vines were found (on their own rootstocks) at the Abbey of Rosazzo. Cuttings were taken from these hundred plus year old vines and a new vineyard planted by Girolamo Dorigo (no relation to the former England footballer Tony Dorigo, to the best of my knowledge). Other producers in Friuli have since planted Pignolo so that a tiny 20 hectares in 2000 had grown to (a still modest) 93 hectares in 2010 (let’s not ask about 2020 just yet!)
I had the opportunity to taste Dorigo’s Pignolo earlier this year and I was astounded at its expressiveness and quality:
Dorigo Friuli Colli Orientali Pignolo 2015
On pouring it shows a medium intensity, more red than black, and a lighter garnet towards the rim.
The nose is just amazing. Firstly there is new oak, not as you would typically find it in a wine’s aromas, but rather more like being in a Médoc chais. If you’ve ever had the chance to be in such an establishment the oak is lifted, intertwined with evaporating alcohol from the wine. Freshly made milk chocolate and lightly roasted coffee and exotic spices (so exotic, in fact, that they are hard to pin down!)
The aromas continue through to the palate, though the oak is a little more pronounced now but fresh raspberries, cranberries and alpine strawberries have joined the fray. The palate is super-smooth, with gentle tannins just hovering in the background. Acidity is firm but not intrusive, just giving a fresh aspect to the ripe fruit flavours.
This is still a very young wine, especially in magnum, which will develop gracefully over the next few decades. Even in this youthful stage, I have to include it among the top five wines I’ve ever tasted and declare it as the best nose on any red wine I’ve tasted, ever. This wine is made in very small quantities but if you ever get chance to enjoy a bottle chais vous (you see what I did there?) then you owe it to yourself to snap it up!
As Sonny Fodera almost said, “Give Me A Riesling”. Of course that’s a bit silly – who wants just oneRiesling? Riesling is known as one of the most terroir-transparent grapes around, i.e. the aromas, flavours and texture of the wine are very dependent on where it is grown. Wine-making techniques to influence the style of the wine are used sparingly – oak influence is rarely seen, for example – but there is one major decision that winemakers take: to vinify the wine dry or to leave some residual sugar. Here are two excellent Rieslings which showcase different styles:
Disclosure: both bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own
Petaluma Hanlin Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2016
Petaluma is a premium wine producer located in the Adelaide Hills, just east of the city of Adelaide. They were founded in 1976 with the aim of making excellent wines from the regions and vineyards most suited to each variety. Their range has expanded gradually and now includes:
Clare Valley is in South Australia, almost due north from Adelaide and at the top of the Mount Lofty Ranges (Australia’s literal naming convention strikes again). Even within this small region there are significant stylistic differences, most easily illustrated by Grosset’s Polish Hill and Springvale Rieslings.
Although Riesling is the king here, there are red wines made from varieties that are more closely associated with warmer climates: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. This apparent departure from the norm is because of the high diurnal range which gives the black grapes enough sun and heat but cools down enough at night to keep the Riesling grapes happy.
This Riesling – as the name suggests – is from the Hanlin Hill single vineyard which sits at 550 metres altitude. At four years from vintage it still pours a pale lemon colour. Lime and slate open the aromas along with grapefruit and peach stone. There’s a very light whiff of kerosene but its lack of intensity shows that this wine is till fairly young.
On the palate this wine is very clean (but not Clean!) and fresh, but still pithy and with some body. It’s very dry (probably technically dry, i.e. as dry as fermentation could take it) as is the norm in the Clare Valley, but the mid-palate has plenty of fruit sweetness with peach and grapefruit joining racy lemon and juicy lime.
This bottle opened up more as I returned to taste it over several days; if consuming in one sitting I would actually recommend decanting it, not something I would usually think of for Rieslings. And I liked it so much, I think I will definitely find some more of this…and hopefully taste it with some more age!
I’ve already explained the subregions of the Mosel in a recent post, so I won’t repeat it all here. You may remember my reference to “the famous sundial vineyards” of the Bernkastel District…well the German for sundial is Sonnenuhr so we have one of those here!
Selbach-Oster is a very traditional producer based in Zeltingen in the Middle Mosel, with a family history in wine spanning four centuries (to date!) The business has two sides: a negociant operation J. & H. Selbach which uses bought in fruit, and the estate proper Weingut Selbach-Oster. Their vineyards amount to 24 hectares in total and are located in Zeltinger itself plus Wehlen and Graach:
The biggest giveaway as to the style of this wine is the alcohol: 8.5% abv. The relatively low alcohol – even for a northerly country such as Germany – indicates that some of the sugar in the grapes has not been fermented and so is present as residual sugar. The trend in Germany is for drier wines, even Rieslings which have usually had some sweetness to them, so this is very much a traditional style.
I was unable to find a residual sugar figure for this wine so my best guess as to its sweetness would be medium – definitely sweeter than off-dry but not into dessert wine territory. However, due to its thrilling acidity, the sweetness is received by the palate as fruitiness more than sugariness. Although sugar isn’t volatile (i.e. smellable) there are sweet notes on the nose of this wine. It isn’t that complex though…just totally delicious!
Tasted back to back these two wines are remarkably different, yet share some vital things in common: citrus aromas and flavours, lifted aromatics and the minerality plus racy acidity that typifies Riesling. The Mosel example is easier to like but the Clare Riesling is more cerebral; pick the one you feel in the mood for!
And for those who might recognise the song alluded to in the title, here’s Sonny Fodera ft. Janai – Give Me A Riesling Reason
A new Kiwi label “Hãhã” has just been launched in Ireland, but it’s not a spoof – Hãhã is actually a Mãori word meaning savoury and luscious. It was established less than ten years ago in 2011 by four families, and is still owned by the same folk. Their wines hail from Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough and include most of the most popular varieties from New Zealand: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. There are also sparkling wines and rosé in the portfolio (with the Hawke’s Bay rosé even having a dash of Malbec).
As the wines have just been launched only the key wines are currently available in Ireland. Here are two that I tried and enjoyed recently:
Disclosure: bottles were kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own
Hãhã Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019
The nose shows citrus (lime and lemon) plus ripe green bell peppers. These notes continue though onto the palate, and unusually for Marlborough Sauvignon there are no real tropical notes. Despite the green notes this is a mellow rather than sharp wine; it’s very mouthwatering but the acidity is fresh and pleasant rather than harsh.
If I had tasted this blind it would have stumped me as to its real origins – I might have guessed a classy Italian or German Sauvignon (if you haven’t tried examples from those countries then my postulation was a compliment!) Despite Marlborough Sauvignon’s popularity, even its fans would admit that it’s often too aromatic and exuberant to make a good partner for food, but Hãhã Sauvignon is a delicious exception to this rule!
Hãhã’s Marlborough Pinot Noir is one of the top wines in their range. As you’d expect it’s fruity, and a lighter style of Pinot, but despite the fruit it’s not simply a smashable wine. The nose is lovely, with rich strawberry, raspberry, cherry plus spice and a touch of mocha. In the mouth it’s smooth and medium bodied, with the red fruit now joined by black. Tannins are present but modest. Overall this is a supple, easy-to drink wine that would also serve well at the dinner table.
Returning to the translation of Hãhã for a moment, I don’t think that “luscious” is that apt for these wines, but “savoury” definitely is! They manage to bridge the worlds of quaffing wine and serious food wine. They both have fruit but a superb savoury aspect which makes them very easy to like.
And, for those who were clubbing in the mid ’90s, this is the track which immediately sprang to mind when writing this piece:
Rolly-Gassmann is based in Rorschwihr, a small Alsatian village close to Ribeauvillé; a ten minute drive along the D18 takes you past André Kientler on the outskirts of Ribeauvillé and close to Gustave Lorentz and Marcel Deiss in Bergheim. Even amid Alsace’s highly diverse soil types Rorschwihr is something of an extreme case; the faultline that passes through the village created 21 different soil types, and so there are lots of small climats with their own peculiarities and specificites. These are so important to the local vignerons that, when the powers than be tried to amalgamate them into larger plots for grand cru classification purposes, they refused and said that “either there would be 12 Rorschwihr Grand Crus or none at all”. So none it is!
Rolly-Gassmann’s Domaine dates back to 1611 but the current name is decades rather than centuries old after two wine families became intertwined through marriage. The estate includes 40ha in Rorschwihr plus 10ha in Bergheim, all run on organic and biodynamic lines. Despite the lack of grands crus, there are lots of lieux-dits belonging to the domaine, each suited to a certain grape variety.
Silberberg – Riesling
Kappelweg – Riesling
Pflaenzerreben – Rieslings
Rotleibel – Pinot Gris
Oberer Weingarten – Gewurztraminer
Stegreben – Gewurztraminer
Rolly-Gassmann is well known among Alsace cognoscenti but aren’t seen outside France that much; it transpires that only around 20% of sales are exports, and that the domaine has a large cellar of bottles including many older vintages, so well worth a visit.
The bottle I review below was a very kind gift from my good friend Peter Dickens. I had saved it for a special occasion and shared it with my wife last weekend, though didn’t manage to take a photo before the bottle was whipped off to recycling (first world problem, I know) so I even nicked Peter’s photo!
Rolly-Gassman Alsace Pinot Gris Rotleibel de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives 1996
When you open a bottle of white wine that’s over twenty years old there’s a definite pang of nervousness: will it be totally oxidised? corked? vinegar? While good Alsace Pinot Gris definitely benefits from a bit of bottle age it’s not normally regarded as having the longevity of Riesling. This bottle had also been in and out of the wine fridge several times as it was going to be opened on a few previous occasions .
But thankfully the wine was amazing! Not even a cracked cork!
Vendanges Tardives (VT) is the Alsace term for “late harvests”, a sweet wine from grapes that are left on the vine for several weeks after the regular harvest so that they continue to ripen and produce more sugar. Rotleibel de Rorschwihr is the name of the lieu-dit, literally meaning “red soil” – which I imagine includes plenty of iron oxide – that are perfect for the extravagance of Pinot Gris.
And extravagant this wine is – so powerful yet fresh, full of ripe tropical fruits, ginger, cinnamon, honey and marmalade. It’s a sweet wine without any hint of flabbiness, and one that could happily pair with certain main courses as well as desserts. The complexity is mindblowing.
While the Remelluri estate’s origins hark back over six hundred years, the Rodríguez family’s involvement started relatively recently in 1967 when Jaime Rodríguez bought the key vineyards. They lie on the high slopes of the Sierra de Toloño mountains – at a high altitude, but with a southerly exposure and protected from overly harsh weather. Significant diurnal temperature swings help the grapes to become fully ripe yet retain flavour and acidity.
Chemicals have never been used in the vineyards but the organic approach has been extended to a holistic system; far from being a monoculture, the estate has fruit groves and hedges to maintain a natural balance.
After decades spent raising the bar in Rueda, Ribero del Duero and Galicia, prodigal son Telmo Rodríguez returned to Rioja in 2010 and set about further developing the Remelluri estate. Amongst his initiatives are reexamining old training systems and evaluating the best variety for each specific plot and microclimate.
There are currently five wines in the Remelluri range:
Lindes de Remelluri ‘Viñedos de San Vicente’
Lindes de Remelluri ‘Viñedos de Labastida’
Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva
The two Lindes wines are made from the grapes of growers in the surrounding villages. Now we turn our attention to the top wine in the stable:
Remelluri “Granje Remelluri” Gran Reserva 2012
The “Granje Remelluri” Gran Reserva is made only in the best years, and then only in very small quantities. The blend for 2012 breaks down as 70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and 5% Graciano.
The vines selected for the Gran Reserva vary in age from 40 to over 90 years old and are at elevations between 480m and 705m. Vinification takes place in small wooden vats with ambient yeasts, followed by maturation for 24 months in a variety of seasoned oak vessels from 225L barriques up to 2,000L foudres. After bottling the wine is kept in Remelluri’s cellars for a further five years before release.
This is an epic, immense wine still in the early stages of youth. The nose has a cornucopia of fruit: blackberries, plums, black cherries and wild strawberries joined by cedar, exotic spice and vanilla from the oak. It is warming and powerful in the mouth, with dark fruits and vanilla, yet with elegance and freshness. No shrinking violet this, it’s a substantial wine that would be best with hearty food now or to be kept for the long haul. If I had the spare readies I’d be opening one every couple of years.