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  • Grape Spotlight: Alentejo's Portalegre DOC and Arinto

    Posted: 2022-06-28 09:34

    Located along the Spanish border, the Portalegre DOC is Alentejo's northernmost subregion and is completely different from the rest of the Alentejo -- from the altitude to the soils, from the vineyard sizes to the age of the vines. The vineyards are located at the foothills of the Serra de São Mamede mountain range, between 600 and 700 meters above sea level. Thus the climate is cooler and wetter than the baking plains of southern Alentejo. And it receives influences from both the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The soils are primarily granite and interspersed with small patches of schist in the lower areas. Vineyards tend to be fragmented in the hills, divided into numerous small plots of very old vines -- many of which may be seventy years old.  In general, these conditions help produce fresh and elegant wines, yet equally powerful.

    Arinto is a late-ripening, medium-sized yellowish grape that's naturally high acid content makes it well suited for the hot Alentejo environment. And the tightly packed bunches are shaded from the hot sun by the vine's large leaves. The grape provides a range of profiles from grapefruit to lemon and lime and green apple to some stone fruits. 

    The Adegas de Portalegre Winery was founded in 1954 by a small group of winegrowers and is actually located in a Natural Park -- the Natural Park of Serra de São Mamede. This means the vines are planted at high altitudes, between 600 and 700 meters, and the average age of these vineyards are 70 years old. We received a sample of their Conventual Reserva Vinho Bianco 2018 which is a unique blend of Arinto, Fernão Pires, Syrah, and Bical. The Syrah grapes were harvested from the Serra da Penha vineyard -- an eight-hectare granite soil plot that starts at 450m and runs to the top of Serra da Penha at 650 meters. The other grapes were grown in the Quinta da Cabaça vineyard, an even higher plot with clay and granite soils. The wine is very complex starting with a white flower aroma, then moving towards a saline and white peach profile, and ending with excellent acidity. The 14% alcohol is unnoticeable. 

    The Herdade da Torre de Palma is located in Monforte, Portalegre, and farms seven hectares in their estate vineyard, which interestingly enough, is planted with seven different grape varieties. The vineyard consists of light clay soil on top of the granite with smaller instances of limestone, schist, sandstone, and marble. The vineyard receives wide diurnal temperature swings which extend the maturation period - leading to increased acidity. The wines are created by enologist Duarte de Deus who tends towards a minimalist approach. That being said, the Torre de Palma Arinto - Alvarinho 2021 was fermented and aged on its lees in French oak. There is definitely a sense of depth in this wine with a strong citrus profile, complemented by a touch of tropical notes and minerality. 

  • Grape Spotlight: Abruzzo DOC Pecorino

    Posted: 2022-06-24 10:14

    “…one morning in September, before the harvest, I and others went to Arquata del Tronto, in the hamlet of Pescara, where they had pointed out to me an ancient vineyard cultivated with Pecorino. Arrived on the site I was indicated by the owner of the land Mr. Cafini some shoots that were evidently two, or three, generations old. In the following February I went back to pick up the shoots and took them to my company in Ripatransone, where I made the first grafts: my idea was to cultivate it in purity. I know, it was a crazy idea, everyone said it, my friends always repeated it to me in the winter evenings in front of the fire, but I wanted that wine, I knew it was possible, and I never doubted” -- quote from Guido Cocci Grifoni in The Rebirth of Pecorino

    Abruzzo is a naturalist's dream "as half of the region's territory is protected through national parks and nature reserves, more than any administrative region on the continent, leading it to be dubbed 'the greenest region in Europe'".  That could be why it has been occupied since the "Neolithic era, with the earliest artifacts dating to beyond 6,500 BC. In the 6th century BC, the Etruscans introduced viticulture into the area which continued with the Romans -- who contributed to much of Abruzzo’s recognizable history.  Even after the fall of Rome, the Lombards, Byzantines, Magyars, and Normans successively imparted some type of influence in Abruzzo.   Throughout these periods, viticulture has been a constant with multi-generation small plots, sometimes less than a few hectares, being passed down through successive generations. 

    Abruzzo is located directly east of Rome and bordered by the Molise wine region to the south, the Marche to the north, the Lazio to the west, and the Adriatic to its east.  It is further divided into several sub-regions: Controguerra, Teramo, Chieti, Pescara, and L’Aquila (L’Aquilano) -- with Chieti being the prime winemaking region (75% of vineyards).  Most of Abruzzo is rugged with  65% mountainous with this landscape assisting grape growing by blocking most storms from the west. And to the east, the Adriatic Sea provides a moderating Mediterranean climate for these vineyards; vines that are predominately planted in calcareous clay soils.

    The most popular grape varieties in all sub-regions are Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. That being said, our current focus is Pecorino, a light-skinned wine grape that, in general, produces dry, minerally, driven, floral, and herbaceous wines. According to our friends at Wiki, "Pecorino is a very old variety that, as believed by ampelographers, likely originated as a wild grapevine growing in the Sibillini Mountains that was eventually domesticated for wine production".  Its name derives from the Italian word pecora, meaning sheep, most likely because sheep would often eat the grapes while moving through the vineyards. 

    Pecorino's home region is actually in Marche and in the last couple of centuries was slowly phased out because of low yields. By the mid-20th century, it was thought to be extinct. But in the 1980s, Guido Cocci Grifoni decided to "search for this native vine in the wild lands of the Sibillini National Park" and the quote above is how he traced an old vine raised in Pecorino in Arquata del Tronto.  "In February 1983, the first rows of vines were grafted in different geographical exposures within the grounds of the  Cocci Grifoni Estate. And just two years later the first demijohns of wine were produced". -- The Rebirth of Pecorino

    Since then, the variety's plantings have grown exponentially, and Pecorino is now found across the Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria, and Tuscany.  "The 'Abruzzo' DOC was created to protect and enhance the main autochthonous regional grape varieties, in particular Pecorino and Passerina, and by means of the 'Abruzzo' DOC, the territory of origin of these wines has been directly identified, as a guarantee of their quality, typicality, and origin." -- Consorzio Vini d'Abruzzo

    This month, the Vini d’Italia 2022 experience came to Washington DC showcasing 100 wines at the Embassy of Italy, There were also two masterclasses led by journalist and author Lorenzo Ruggeri, the first focusing on Italian wines in general and the second specifically on Pecorino wines from Abruzzo. I attended this second session which compared ten Pecorino wines from ten different producers and from various sub-regions within Abruzzo.

    What I discovered was that these wines were able to alleviate the high sugar content and corresponding higher alcohol into crisp, fresh, and acidic wines. In general, they provided a vibrant white flower aroma with degrees of herbaceousness with sage, basil, and thyme. The wines also alternated between a ruby red grapefruit profile and a red delicious apple profile with a major exception being the Pasetti Abruzzo Pecorino Superiore Collecivetta DOP 2020 which had a textured profile of an upside-down pineapple cake laced with melons. The Podere Colle San Massimo Abruzzo Pecorino Colle Dell'Orso DOC 2019 showed the savory side of Pecorino layered with multiple spices. Two that stood out were the Tenuta Terraviva Abruzzo Pecorino Terraviva DOC 2021 and the Tenuta I Fauri Abruzzo Pecorino DOC 2020. The first is from a small organic grower located very close to the Adriatic so this wine is a little riper with a floral aroma, savory red apples, some herbaceousness, and energetic acidity.  The second is from the first female winemaker in the Consorzio Vini d'Abruzzo and is from the Chieti sub-region. This wine also provides savory fruit and the accustomed herbaceousness but is saline driven based on the clay calcareous soils of their vineyards. Both of these are evidently priced near six euros, so you don't need to spend much to obtain quality Abruzzo Pecorino. Saluti. 

  • A Tasting To Remember at Krauthaker Vineyards and Winery

    Posted: 2022-06-21 09:28

    Wine lovers are well aware of the 45th parallel North - the line halfway between the equator and the North Pole - that runs through many of the world's predominant wine regions: Bordeaux, Rhine Valley, Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Oregon, and Michigan. Less well-known is that this demarcation runs through Croatia at the Istria peninsula and at our current focus: the Požega Valley in Slavonia. Winemaking has occurred in this valley near Kutjevo since the Illyrians, Celts, and Romans and continues today through the efforts of the Krauthaker family through the endeavors of the legendary Vlado Krauthaker. During our recent visit to the winery, we gained an even greater appreciation for their operation through a tasting and dinner which lasted over five hours and reached 33 wines and brandy from the tank, bottle, and barrel.

    In 1976, Vlado Krauthaker came to Kutjevo from Slovenia and began working at the historic Kutjevo - Winery 1232 - today the largest producer in Croatia and also claims the oldest working cellar in Europe. For 18 years (14 as the chief oenologist) he worked at this wine-cooperative championing Graševina and Slavonian wine. Eventually, he left the comfort of that position and planted one hectare of vines and launched Krauthaker Vineyards and Winery. Although he still admires Slavonian Graševina (Grape Spotlight: Slavonian Graševina with Krauthaker Winery) he has planted 43 other grape varieties and expanded the estate to 50 hectares while also operating and overseeing 65 hectares of cooperative vineyards. 

    These vineyards are located on the southern slopes of the Krndija Mountain at elevations of 200 and 300 meters. The slopes and the Požega Valley were recognized as a winegrowing land by the Illyrians and the ancient Romans called it the "Golden Valley" (Vallis Aurea). This golden valley is known for viticulture not only because of the angle of the sun at 45 degrees longitude; but also because the valley was part of the Pannonian Sea and consists of sandy soils containing fossilized sea creatures. At Krauthaker, they fertilize this nutrient-poor soil with manure and work the vineyards using horse labor as has been the tradition for centuries. 

    Whereas Vlado continues to oversee the vineyards, his daughter Martina is now responsible for the winemaking and together they have accelerated innovations in the cellar. Vlado had introduced the use of amphora in the mid-2000s and now they utilize egg-shaped wooden barrels to allow the lees to circulate in the wine without any dead spots. They also innovate in the vineyard, planting 44 grape varieties with many used solely for experimentation in the cellar. That being said, Graševina has the largest share of total production at 22%. 

    During our visit, we are initially greeted by Martina and her cousin Ivan - both having been raised in the vineyards and cellars and understanding the complete history and processes of the winery. We first visited the 12-year-old new production area and cellar - housing thousands of liters of wine settling in stainless steel, amphora, and various-sized barrels. Tasting a few Graševinas from the tank allowed us to attest to their freshness, minerality, almonds, and bright fruit profiles. 

    We then traveled to their tasting room and initial cellar to start the marathon tasting. Ivan had pulled a lineup of wines starting with the refreshing and aromatic charmat-made Julija 2021 - a sparkling wine blend of Muscat Ottonel and Zelenac (Rotgipfler). This last grape (a natural crossing of Traminer and Roter Veltliner) was the basis for a most interesting wine - the 2020 Krauthaker Zelenac Kutjevo (82 HRK).  It is green and nutty but the slightly bitter profile is complemented by strong floral notes and significant tannins.  Later that evening, Ivan introduced us to the 2016 Krauthaker Kuvlakhe - an amber wine that rested 90 days on its skins in amphora. In 2009, this had been the winery's first amphora wine and the first label on the Croatian market free of sulfur. The 2016 has a great mouthfeel, structured, with a solid tannin backbone 

    As for Graševina, we started with the 2021 Podgorje Graševina (65 HRK), which is bright with almonds and green apples, but was overshadowed by the savory 2020 Graševina Mitrovac (77 HRK). The grapes for this wine were harvested from the estate's oldest vineyards (35-55 years old) about two weeks after the Podgorje. The wine sits 10 months on lees developing complexity, texture, and showing more stone fruits. Over dinner, we sampled two more Graševina wines starting with the 2020 Krauthaker Graševina Kasna Serba (100 HRK) - a late harvest wine with layers of apricots, honey, and candied fruit. This was followed by the 2019 Krauthaker Graševina Izborna Berba Prosušenih Bobica (100 HRK) - another delicious dessert wine made with botrytis grapes.

    There were plenty of red wines as well -- not surprisingly a few Frankovka and Pinot Noir. More unanticipated was a Nebbiolo, Syrah, Muskat riza (Red Muscat), Mercs (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend). These were all excellent wines, truly representative of the respective grapes and region. 

    It was not only a pleasure meeting Vlado Krauthaker - but a lifetime of memories of spending so much time with the wine-making legend as well as Martina and Ivan. We will be posting quite often in the future about these wines and any we find through Croatian Premium Wine Imports. They currently have the 2019 Podgorje Graševina in stock.