Georgia On My Mind

I’m always pleased when wine questions turn up in the pub quiz, a recent example being “Where can you find the worlds largest wine cellar?”.  Having visited the sprawling vast caverns of Champagne, where you sometimes need a motorised vehicle to get around, I offered it up as my answer.  I was wrong, its actually in Moldova.

Chalk Cellar

This reminded me that many people naturally think of France as the birthplace of wine when the truth is much more Eastern European.  In fact, it’s just across the Black Sea from Moldova, in Georgia. 

The oldest known evidence of wine-making there dates back 8,000 years, with scientists able to trace the organic compounds found in wine-making in various pottery shards.  This historical importance, along with over 500 unique indigenous grape varieties and unusual wine-making techniques, should make Georgian wines an easy sell.  How come then, most of us have never seen or tried them?

Traditionally focused on the domestic market and surrounding countries, the rug was firmly pulled from under Georgia’s feet when Russia imposed an import ban on their wines in 2006.  Low standards and a plodding reliability on the norm caused them to lose 90% of their exports overnight. 

Although lifted in 2013, the ban pushed them to improve quality and focus on further export opportunities, signing trade agreements with the EU and the quickly expanding Chinese wine market.  Russia once again accounts for 50% of exports but, in just 4 years, China has become their third largest market.

These sales are all good but, due to the local economies they are mostly low value, with rival brands competing on bottle prices in the £1-£1.50 bracket.  Serious future growth is dependent on higher value sales; hence them now looking to richer Western markets including both the UK and US.

Wine is not immune to the recent food trends for ‘natural’ ingredients and processes, and buzzwords including organic and biodynamic are never far from reach when talking about current production styles.

This ‘back-to-nature’ style perfectly suits Georgian wine as many producers still practice the traditional methods used for thousands of years.  Instead of fermenting/ageing wines in ultra-modern temperature cooled facilities, they bury them underground in large egg-like clay jars called ‘Qvevri’, where they utilise the naturally cool and consistent underground temperatures. 

Qvevri

Whilst this continued soaking of the grape juice on its skin is not so different to regular ‘over-ground’ red wine production around the world (the red colour comes from the grape skin, not the flesh), globally produced white wine sees little skin contact.  The Qvevri production sees them pick up a much darker hue, becoming ‘Gold’ or ‘Amber’ wines; a whole new spectrum of colour and taste.

These differences give unique selling points to Georgian wine and, with a little development to the quality classifications and labelling (both hindered by largely unpronounceable place names and grape varieties), they’ll be coming to a store near you very soon.

Two high-street staples have already taken the plunge and you can buy a Georgian white (aka gold) from M&S and a red from Waitrose.  Will you take the plunge too?

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the October 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.

Aldi Wine Club 16th Tasting Panel – Note #3

AWC Logo

Having proudly been part of several of Aldi’s previous tasting panels it was inevitable that at some point I would come across a wine previously tasted.  The last tasting note was prepared a full year and a half ago in April 2016 and so we’re a couple of vintages further forward and any assessment is far from a regurgitation of my earlier thoughts.

The Limestone Coast in the south eastern part of South Australia is clearly named after its Limestone base, which is exactly the right ground on which to grow Chardonnay.  The free draining soil allows the vines easy access to water whilst not allowing them to become water-logged or damp, therefore keeping a low PH level and a fresh vibrant acidity.  It is the same combination that gives us both the world famous wines of Burgundy and Champagne.

The magic is clearly working here too as both Decanter and the IWSC have bestowed awards upon the wine’s 2014 vintage.  With the ‘Exquisite Collection’ a flagship in the Aldi wine range, the bottle comes smartly presented with a royal blue neck brace and screw cap, nicely off-setting the green glass colouring.

Aldi Chard 1

The label is printed on nicely textured paper and is clear and well-presented, although it does contain my pet-peeve; the signature ‘approval’ from ‘someone somewhere’, in this case chief winemaker Adam Eggins.

The wine was bottled in South Australia by well-respected family run winery Taylors, and imported in to the UK by a subsidiary of Burgundian wine royalty, Louis Latour.

Exquisite Collection Chardonnay 2016, Limestone Coast, South Australia, 13.5%, £5.79

The backlash days of ABC (anything but Chardonnay!) are long gone but, as if still weary of the burden, the first word that the back label summary says is ‘unoaked’ and it did get me wondering if makers of Aussie Chardonnay still feel the need to distance their product from the cheaper, mass-produced offerings of the past.

Aldi Chard 2

In colour this is a pleasing medium yellow with golden tints, but the real fun starts with the nose which is rich and full with an almost gloopy quality.  Led by the clean, well ripened tropical pineapple, there’s a whiff of stony apricot to back it up.

As suggested by the nose, the palate is rich and full with an oily texture, well balanced by an upfront mouth-watering acidity.  The fresh fruit seesaws between the yellow notes of tropical pineapple and honeysuckle, over to pippy green apple and freshly squeezed lime.

In terms of weight the palate has a nice creamy, buttery, peppery spiciness and I can imagine it being a wonderful match for a similarly weighted dish such as pasta carbonara.  The pepper gives way to some white grapefruit on the end palate which adds a drying, bitter tone which frankly, overstays its welcome.

Not recalling any bitterness in the 2014 vintage I decided to check my notes and, sure enough, the end palate was fruit driven and long-lived, and was something I raved about in terms of quality.

A quick check on the vintage reports for both 2014 and 2016 for the region show that 2014 was the better of the two years with good sunshine fully ripening the fruit.  2016 would therefore naturally have fruit that wasn’t as bright as before and would contain trace elements of unripe characters such as apple pips and bitter grapefruit.  I also noted with interest that a fellow customer review on the Aldi website called it out for being drier and not as ‘outstanding’ as the previous vintage.

Followers of biodynamics believe that certain days are better than others for tasting a wine, and I did ponder whether the time of year may have something to do with the overall success of the tasting.  Tasting the 2014 on a bright and sunny day in early springtime yielded a wine that I fancifully described as reminiscent of ‘blue skies’ and yet this tasting left an impression as brooding as the dusky autumnal evening I conducted it on.

In summary, whilst not as immediately satisfying as the 2014, this is still a rich, ripe wine that will pay dividends when matching up to food.  Another thing definitely worth a highlight is that, in the time between the two tastings the UK has seen an increased level of wine duty as well as pricing fluctuations from the uncertainty of Brexit, yet there has been no price change for this wine.

That on its own is frankly remarkable.

A customer favourite scoring 4.6 out of 5 on the Aldi website, my thanks go to AldiUK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Masterclass

Jolene Hunter, the South African born winemaker at renowned Alsace producer Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, was in town recently to present a selection of their wines in a terroir masterclass.

Zind Humbrecht

Although the individual families have been making wine since the 17th century, the modern day story really begins in 1959 when Léonard Humbrecht married Geneviève Zind.  Since this time the Domaine has grown to hold 40 hectares, including some of the very best parcels in Alsace’s top Grand Cru and Lieu Dit sites.

Now run by Léonard’s son Olivier (one of the rare number of winemakers who also holds the MW qualification), the Domaine is well known for its non-interventionist policies and have long practiced organic procedures.  The Domaine was certified fully biodynamic in 2002.

Rather than simply presenting us with a handful of the circa 30 wines in their portfolio, we were specifically comparing three grape varieties (Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer) across two different Alsatian terroirs.

Windsbuhl

Clos Windsbuhl

Clos Windsbuhl is the more northern of the two sites and situated in Hunawihr.  The vines are spread over 5.5 hectares and planted at 350 metres above sea level which, when paired with the moderating effects from the great swathes of forest to the west, keeps the vines nicely cooled throughout the warm growing season.

The soil here is known as muschelkalk which is an extremely old form of limestone, and the resultant wines are full of clean and pure fruit expressions with well-defined acidity.

Zind Humbrecht Riesling 2014, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace, 12.5%

Medium straw yellow in colour and with a deep citrus nose.  Rich gloopy palate full of creamy lemon, honey and white pepper.  A very precise streak of acidity cuts through the weight keeping this well balanced.

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2012, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace ,13%

Strict sorting was required in the ripe vintage of 2012 and this ripeness was very evident on the nose.  With a similar youthful colouring to the Riesling, the nose here had touches of peach skin to the green notes of lime and apple.  The palate was slightly sweetened by the 36.5 grams of residual sugar and had a fleshy lemon curd quality.  Very clean and intense fruits played the lead here against a mellow acidity.

Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer 2013, Clos Windsbuhl, Alsace ,13%

Golden in colour, the nose of this wine was full of sweet honey and lemon and extremely powerful.  A nice and firm weight in the mouth, the lemon citrus took the lead here backed up by green flesh on the end palate.  Like the Pinot Gris before it, a mellow acid took the rear and allowed the ripe fruit to sing on its own.  Very refreshing.

Thann

Rangen

We move south now to Rangen, and more specifically to the Clos Saint Urbain, which is the only site in the whole of Alsace that is fully classified as Grand Cru.  Sites are on very steep slopes here and are all fully worked by hand as mechanisation is impossible.

The soil is mainly composed of volcanic black rocks and fragments known as Grauwacke which brings out stronger, denser fruits and darker smoky notes.  The darker direction of the wine is also immediately visible in the more golden colouring.  The rocky fragments heat up quickly in the day warming the grapes and concentrating the sugars.  Once again the cooling effect of the high altitude, and the cool night temperatures allow sufficient acidity to remain.

Zind Humbrecht Riesling 2014, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 12.5%

2014 was a good vintage here and this resulting wine possesses a gold colour and lighter body.  The palate is lean, with a pin-point acidity matching up to the strong green lime and smoky notes.

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2012, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 14.5%

Golden green in colour, the nose of this wine was full of creamy citrus lemon and lime.  On the palate this is joined by fleshy apple flesh, cream, white pepper spice, and hints of peach.  Rich and smooth with a mellow, but defined, acid.  Fleshy palate, rich and smooth.

Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer 2013, Rangen de Thann, Clos Saint Urbain, Alsace, 13.5%

Deep golden yellow in colour, the nose was full of sweet honey and lime nose, and a blossom fragrance.  Made from 34 year old vines, and with 42 grams of residual sugar, this was intense and sweet but not at all cloying.  Lots of deep honey and textured lemon.

Selection Grains Nobles (SGN)

One final comparison came in the form of the sweeter SGN style.  Made from strictly selected berries that have been affected by noble rot, these partially raisined grapes lose their water content leaving the rich and concentrated sugars.  SGN is the highest rating of late harvest wine in Alsace.

Pinot Gris Clos Windsbuhl SGN 2008, 10.8%

2008 was a good year for producing SGN wine as the weather was wet in the summer and then dry before harvest allowing the rot to stop and the rasining to commence.

Bronze in colour with very pronounced toffee and sweet honey on the nose, the dense weight was at no point cloying, and the high acid well balanced the ripe fruits of lemon citrus and green apple.  More matured fruit notes from dried pineapple and lemon curd.  Very long finish.

Pinot Gris Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain SGN 2009, 11.8%

This wine was more of a deep gold in colour (the effect of the volcanic soil).  On the nose there was toffee, bruised and brown apple and light florality.  The palate was just like drinking liquid toffee and extremely satisfying.  Creamy and sugary, the acid was more towards medium in this wine and the overall sensation was nicely rounded.  Very long finish and extremely pleasant wine to finish on.

With thanks to Gonzalez Byass for the tickets to their portfolio tasting and Domaine Zind Humbrecht masterclass.

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