Thematic Tasting: White Autochthonous

March 25, 2015

autochtonous_whites

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Last week my friend Victor Oliinykov from Good Wine put on an interesting blind tasting of white wines made from autochthonous grape varietals.

The purpose of the tasting was not necessarily to shock and wow, but rather to explore with no prejudice the wines which, on average, we tend to drink a lot less frequent (to various degrees) than the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs of the world. Whether planned or not, the line-up ended up being fairly split between the more known (Verdicchio and Grüner Veltliner), less known (Assyrtiko and Godello) and rarely tasted (Chasselas and Airen). All of the wines presented, except for the Fendant and Alejairen, I’ve tried before, which is great because it gave me an opportunity to compare my notes and see how the wines developed since the last time I had them.

By and large this was a very cool academic exercise and a refresher course for the organoleptic memory. What is more important – this is the kind of off-beat and quirky tasting which you’re very unlikely to put together yourself. While such tastings will not haunt you with forever like, say, a La Tache vertical would (pardon the comparison), it is one of those very important training exercises which give breadth to your perception and understanding of wine.

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TASTING NOTES

March 25, 2015

Name:El Vinculo
Vintage:2011
Type:White Wine
Varietal:Airen
Producer:Alejairen Crianza
Region:Spain / La Mancha
Alcohol:14.5%

Airen is the most planted grape in the world you've not heard of. To be precise -  it is in top 3 (along with Cabernet Sauvigno and Merlot) with their positions shifting a bit due to change in planted area and various sources of data. But I bet you've heard of the other two guys, so Airen is clearly the invisible giant as far as most people are concerned.

Considered inferior, Airen is predominantly for producing brandy. Alejandro Fernandez, the mastermind behind Grupo Pesquera (which includes El Vinculo bodega) took a risk and produced the 100% Airen wine.

The result is interesting, but not quite my cup of tea. I couldn't overstep the massively candied, creamy strawberry, toffee and caramel nose. It was as if I had liquid candy in the glass. Complements of the 24-month barrique elevage.


March 25, 2015

Name:Hatzidakis Winery
Vintage:2012
Type:White Wine
Varietal:Assyrtiko
Producer:Nykteri
Region:Greece / Santorini
Alcohol:15.0%

A knee-jerk reaction might send one to the skin-macerated Friuli in identifying this wine blind. The slight rancio, hint of petrol, initial VA, intense aromatics and round mid-weight texture are conducive, but none are quite right to really mistake it for the colder Friuli "orange" wine. Nykteri carries the sun and the warmth of the Santorini island.  It is juicy and rich, and biggish, yet bound tightly by the vibrant acidity. It teeters close to the overkill line, but doesn't quite cross it.

The word "nykteri' can be loosely translated as "stay up all night" and refers to the traditional winemaking practice of crushing the grapes during the night right after the afternoon of harvesting. I suspect the main idea behind this was to cool down the grapes before crushing them (Hatzidakis uses a hand-operated basket press) to help preserve as much freshness as possible, considering they were left under the scorching sun of Santorini past the normal harvest time to overripen. That's the source of that richness in body and flavor which is immediately evident when you taste Nykteri.

Skin contact is short, around 6 hours. Fermentation is in steel, followed by 6-12 months in small 5 year-old barrels. By law, to qualify for PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) Santorini, the wine must contain at least 75% of Assyrtiko grapes. For the remaining 25% Aidani and/or Arthiri grapes may be used. This one from Hatzidakis is a 100% Assyrtiko.


March 25, 2015

Name:Avanthia
Vintage:2012
Type:White Wine
Varietal:Godello
Producer:Godello
Region:Spain / Galicia
Alcohol:13.5%

It was a one-two punch for me and I was out. And I stayed out. Chalky, dusty, doughy, floury and even some chicken broth in the nose. All of this could've been not bad if the flavor was more on the bone-dry crispy and funky. Instead, it was oaky sweetish, lazy, mildly supported by the acidity backbone. Out of whack really.

In the past I've tasted another wine from Avanthia, made out of and named after Mencia - one of my favorite Spanish autochthonous varietals typical of Bierzo region. The style was alright, albeit flirting a touch with commercial lean.

I would hate to think that they completely choked the Godello. I am curious to give it another go, but this particular bottle did very little for me.


March 25, 2015

Name:Weingut Bründlmayer
Vintage:2008
Type:White Wine
Varietal:Gruner Veltliner
Producer:Grüner Veltliner Kaferberg
Region:Austria / Kamptal
Alcohol:13.5%

Quite aromatic. White blossom (jasmine?) and soapy on the nose. The first thing that hits you in the mouth is slight frizzante crackle in the mid-palate. It goes away within 10-15 minutes in the glass, but the initial crispiness remains. The problem is it completely disintegrates in the mid palate. Flat as a a dry lake bed. Mysteriously there is a palatable finish, but it appears out of nowhere, only accentuating the limp middle. Aged Grüner Veltiners can be great. This bottle was not one of those examples.


March 25, 2015

Name:Sartareli
Vintage:2009
Varietal:Verdicchio
Producer:Balciana
Region:Italy / Marche
Alcohol:15.0%

The yeasty nose resembling of an aged Champagne just wouldn't let go of its grip. I don't remember this being the case with the last bottle of Balciana I had. Admittedly, I don't drink this Verdicchio too often, but this has me intrigued now. Must retry. Salty, ripe pear and apple and dark bread crust/yeasty nose.  Very good acidity, relatively dense and round body and a touch of tannins with apple core bitterness.  The alcohol level is evident, which might explain part of the biggish body. My previous experience with the same vintage of Balciana was more towards the white fruit and better balance, which makes me wonder whether this was an off bottle or an off day for me.


March 25, 2015

Name:Marco De Bartoli
Vintage:2012
Type:White Wine
Varietal:Grillo
Producer:Grappoli del Grillo
Region:Italy / Sicily
Alcohol:13.5%

Expressive, but not banal nose. Very savory. Starts off with fresh stoney minerality and a hint of fresh rubber, gradually developing the smoked/cured meat aromas. It might not be the most complex aroma, but undeniably interesting and engaging.  With time the fruit starts showing up, but it's unlikely you'll wait that long.In the mouth you're hit by the same freshness, although not a crispy one. More of a breezy kind. Acidity is key here. It is piercing, but only a step away from sharp and angry. A cool wine - unmasked, confident and a touch sarcastic. All it needs is a good pair.


March 25, 2015

Name:Domaine De Beudon
Vintage:2010
Type:White Wine
Varietal:Chasselas
Producer:Fendant
Region:Switzerland / Valais
Alcohol:11.6%

The pale dusty strawish color is a good hint of what might follow. Quiet nose. Yeasty, with a touch of white flowers and a whif of Moscato grape. Light body and flavor. Rather flat. After 30 minutes in the glass it loses almost all of its character, especially in terms of flavor. What's left of the aromas resembles the Weissbier.