Ridge East Bench Zinfandel 2014

Wine: Ridge Vineyards 'East Bench'
Vintage: 2014
Country: USA
Region: Dry Creek Valley, California
Grapes: Zinfandel
Vines: Organic
Production: Small
Price: $30

It wasn't planned, but seems fitting that last week's zinfandel conversation continues into Memorial Day, as zin has long been considered the quintessential American grape. It's not actually an American native - more on that in a few days - but it has been unofficially dubbed our national vinifera. Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards has been making Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma reds since 1962 with zinfandel a primary focus. He's well known among industry professionals for being especially transparent with his grape growing and winemaking. That, plus an unwavering focus on restrained and elegant wines, has made him a bit of a hero among the new movement cool kids, though he's not quite a natural winemaker. Still, the many single vineyard bottlings represent a honed appreciation for site selection over blend. By blend, I mean of parcels, not necessarily grapes. The East Bench zin here is only one of two 100% single varietal wines that he makes.  

Grown in seven parcels in the East Bench vineyard, planted in 2000 and 2001, this is still a young wine. Ridge's winemaking notes state that 2014 has been the first vintage that all seven parcels were developed enough to include in the final wine. The grapes are organically grown, though he does add some water, I would imagine, to drop and balance the alcohol, and a bit of tartaric acid. These two items - water and tartaric acid - are listed right on the label, a rare site on any wine bottles throughout the world. It speaks to the argument over what exactly IS in our wines. On the Ridge website, they also state the amount of sulfur used at crush and during aging. 

What I find most fascinating about this zin and Clay Mauritson's, which I wrote about last week, is that the vineyards are so near each other, farmed differently - Clay's are trellised and Ridge's head trained - and handled slightly differently in the winery. They're also from two different vintages - 2013 and 2014. Curiouser and curiouser, the nuances of winemaking - a beautiful marriage of art and science - never cease to amaze and reward.

The Ridge East Bench Zinfandel 2014 is a bold, rich wine with wild raspberry and blueberry flavors on the nose and palate. Great acidity and beautifully balanced with silky tannins and long, lush finish. I paired this with a pork tenderloin roast seasoned with ground cumin, sage, course black pepper and salt. Was a great match. 

Learn more about zinfandel from Clay Mauritson in our conversation shared last week, and check back here on Wednesday for a history and science of the grape itself. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Winemaker Clay Mauritson Talks Zinfandel, Heritage & Place

Clay Mauritson portrait.jpg

I met winemaker Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Family Vineyards in the mid-2000s when I sold his wines in New York as a sales rep for T. Edward. He’s a sixth-generation grape grower in Sonoma, California, and the first to make wine from his family’s estate fruit for commercial sale. I wrote about his Dry Creek zinfandel earlier this week. He’s passionate about his craft, his family legacy and zinfandel, which we talked about at length during a recent phone interview. I’ve long been in the not-Cali camp, favoring instead high acid, lower alcohol French and Italian wines, but that’s begun to change as new California producers are shying away from the big flavor, heady, flabby, Parker-style wines, opting instead for a restrained approach and blended wines from varieties outside the usual suspects. “Ninety-three percent of the varietals planted within the United States are basically of five different vinifera,” Clay says. The new movement calls themselves the 7% Solution, making wine from atypical varieties and doing some exciting and interesting things. But there’s a swath of independent producers who were striving for moderate alcohols and balance long before the New Californians caught the media’s eye, and Clay is one such winemaker, keeping it real since 1999. His zinfandels might still reach alcohol levels above 14%, but most of that is the variety, which he explained in our conversation. 

Our conversation was lengthy and some of it quite technical; this one might appeal more to the science-minded reader, though there is some art involved in all this, too.

I’m sharing a few highlights here. The full, lightly edited interview will be published as a long form conversation on Medium at a later date. Check back here or sign up for the Pig&Vine newsletter to keep in the know.  

When I mentioned to Clay that I’d just finished reading Jon Bonné’s recent publication The New California Wine and that it got me interested in zinfandel again, he said he’d take it with a grain of salt - not in a negative way - just that the new cool kids club has a finely-honed vision, for which Bonné is a huge fan. He explained what the 7% Solution is and why it’s telling a good story, but not quite the whole story. 

Clay Mauritson: There’s this group of wineries that have gotten together. That's what they've called themselves - the 7% Solution. It's a similar type of thing as in pursuit of balance. I always say, "Hey, at the end of the day, all of us wineries, winemakers, brands, whatever you want to identify us as, are very self serving.” Meaning of course, I'm going to talk to you about why Rockpile's the greatest place in the world to grow grapes because that's what I do. If you happen to grow pinot noir or chardonnay in a terroir region that gives you phenolic ripeness at 23 *brix and therefore you can make wines below 14% alcohol that are actually really good, then that's what you're going to talk about. If you happen to make blaufränkisch or vermentino or any of the other obscure varietals, you're going to talk about why that's the greatest thing in the world. That's what the 7% Solution is…the obscure wine that no one's ever heard of, probably for a reason.

Some of it, there's certainly a lot of credence in it. When people planted grapes, 100, 150 years ago, rarely, if ever were single varietals planted. It was always planted as a field blend, and when you planted zinfandel, you planted petite sirah and carignan and alicante and a whole bunch of other things to compensate for lack of phenolics and pH. Back then, they didn't even really know that's what they were doing. It's like, "Well, zinfandel's thin-skinned and doesn't have as much color, so let's plant petite sirah that has really thick skins. We get a lot of stuck fermentations with zinfandel, we don't really know why, but if we plant petite sirah and carignan and alicante that ripen later, and therefore are lower brix and higher acid, it helps with the fermentation." Just all that kind of stuff that we now have a better understanding of chemistry-wise.

Pig&Vine: Why is Zinfandel subject to a stuck fermentation?

CM: Well, Zinfandel, it's a bastard of a grape. It absolutely is. I joke all the time with friends and anyone who will listen, that any pinot noir producer who tries to tell you that pinot is the most difficult wine to make, has simply never made zinfandel. The number one reason that zinfandel is prone to stuck fermentations is because it ripens unevenly. More so than any other varietal, it ripens unevenly. It's really thin-skinned, and so they're far more prone to dehydration due to sun exposure or heat. When things ripen unevenly, winemakers in California have the tendency to err on the side of over-ripeness, because theoretically, you would rather taste jammy, fruit forward flavors in your wine, versus green vegetal flavors. The problem is, when you err on the side of over ripeness, you drive higher sugars in the wine, and obviously, high sugars correlates directly to higher alcohol, and higher alcohol correlates directly to stuck fermentations. Ethanol toxicity is the scientific term that we use, but most yeast cannot survive in an ethanol of 16% or greater. Once you get up to that 16% alcohol range, the yeast start to die off and cannot complete the fermentation, and therefore you have a stuck fermentation.

P&V: When you say overripe, what kind of brix are we talking about?

CM: Well, again, it's a huge challenge with zinfandel. No one, at least not that I'm aware of, wants to target 28 brix. What often happens is, you'll pick at say, 25, 25 and a half, and then three days later, once the fruit's in the tank, it'll be 28 or 30 brix, and it's just due to the uneven ripening. When you're out there doing sugar samples, whether you do berry samples or cluster samples, the juice that's going to be readily expressed in berry sampling or cluster sampling is going to be the plumper berries. That juice that you're sampling might be 25 brix, but once you macerate that and you get the must into a tank, the excessive sugar in the dehydrated berries is now released into the must, and so you see your brix go up in tank, and that's very common with zinfandel.

It's common in other varietals as well, but to see a half a point or one point shift in Bordeaux vinifera, that's somewhat accepted. In zinfandel, you'll see literally a two, three point shift in your brix. When you ask the question, "What brix are we talking about?" it depends if you're talking about what your harvest brix were or what your brix are at the start of fermentation. Those are often two very different numbers.

That happens with cabernet [sauvignon]. One of the things, as a zinfandel producer, I'm always very prickly or sensitive to, is when someone grabs a bottle of my zin and the first thing they do is they look at the alcohol content. Drives me absolutely freaking crazy. ETS, which is one of the major labs here in Napa and Sonoma county that does a lot of chemistry work for wineries, they had 17,000 data points from the harvest of 2015 which they were extrapolating this information from - don't quote me on this, because I don't have the number in front of me, but the average brix at harvest of zinfandel was, for 2015, like 26.4, and the average juice samples of cabernet they got was 26.2.

This notion that zinfandels are higher in alcohol than cabernets is a total farce, it's a joke. Now, granted, cabernet has higher tannin levels, higher phenolic levels in general, so it supports alcohols better than a lot of zinfandels do, but I get so offended when people, the first thing they do is look at the alcohol content on a zinfandel when the majority of cabernets in this day and age are as high, if not higher. Zinfandel just kind of got painted with a very broad brush of being overripe or out of balance. Our alcohols tend to be lower than most zinfandel producers. I think in the last five years, out of the eight zinfandels we make a year, so 40 different zins in five years, maybe two or three of them have been bottled at over 15% alcohol.

P&V: You're reaching those alcohol levels because of how you're farming, you're not adding in significant water or anything to balance it out?

CM: No, and part of it is our winemaking practices. Our zins are always fermented in open top container. It doesn't sound like a lot when you talk about the conversion rate, but let's just say that you pick zinfandel at 25, okay? In an open top, your conversion is about .58 per brix, and in a closed top, your conversion rate is about .62. Again, it doesn't sound like much, .04 of a point, right? If you picked at 25 and you ferment in open top, that translates to about 14.% alcohol. If you ferment in closed top, it translates to 15.5% alcohol. In an open top tank you have a distillation effect, where alcohol is a more volatile component, and it will basically blow off, but in a closed top, it hits the top of the tank and condenses back down into the wine or the must.

P&V: That’s fascinating. Going back for a second, we were talking about weird grapes. The 7%, unusual grapes. You actually have some of those planted that you put in your Independence port-style wine, right?

CM: We do. I guess in California, they’re very weird. There’s not a lot of tinto cao or tinto madeira, tourigo national, or sousão growing in California, but that is the traditional way to make Port, using those traditional varietals. My family loves true, traditional, vintage ports, and we saw an opportunity to emulate that in Rockpile. We wanted to do it the right way, not have a zinfandel that we got a stuck fermentation and said, Let’s call it Port.

P&V: Do you feel like zin making a comeback, or did it ever disappear?

CM: It's funny, I've been asked that question like three times in the past week. I don't think it ever disappeared. I think the most objective measure that you can look at is not to say, "What is zin doing in the marketplace?" But go back to the basics. “Okay, what's zin doing in terms of planted acreage? You can probably guess what pinot noir looks like. It looks like this exponential plane, this growth curve. You can probably get a pretty good idea what merlot has looked like over the last, say, 30 years. It had this huge steep climb, and then this huge steep decline. Syrah did a similar thing. Chardonnay and cabernet have this just very slow, steady climb, so there's no big peaks and valleys in that. Then when you look at zinfandel over the last 20, 30, 40 years, it is this perfectly flat line. [Reading from state-wide acreage data] In 2004, there were 42,000 acres of zinfandel in the state of California. In 2012, there were 46,000. It's about a 10% increase. To give you an idea, let me compare that to pinot. This’ll blow your mind. Pinot [noir], there were 25,000 acres in 2004, and 40,000 acres in 2012.

P&V: That's crazy. 

CM: Zin's just kind of slow and steady wins the race. I don't think it has surged in popularity. I think more than anything, it just never went away. There is a transition, absolutely, from zinfandel being used in white zinfandel production, to being in transition to red zin. You're seeing this kind of rediscovery of some of these old heritage vineyards in Lodi and Sierra Foothills. A lot of people are branching out, and not just making zinfandel from Napa and Sonoma counties. 

P&V: Your story is pretty unique. There are not too many people in California who actually come from wine growing families.

CM: We have the luxury of having a very authentic, amazing story. The thing I'm the most proud of about our family is that we have owned and farmed the same piece of property continuously, since 1868. When you think about the concept of sustainability, what's more sustainable than one family being able to make a living off a piece of land for six generations? Next year will be our 150th anniversary of growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley. 

There were a lot of other wineries that started making wine a hell of a lot earlier than we did. We were a little bit late to the game, but better late than never. Part of it is simply because my brothers, and dad, and grandfather before them, they were farmers and ranchers, and they loved to do that. As much as I revere the vineyards, my passion is on the winemaking side, the more entrepreneurial…I love winemaking because it's a new experience every year. You never do anything exactly the same as you did the year before. I think that's very much in that entrepreneurial drive. It's why I love wine so much. It's a constant challenge.

P&V: You're looking for that sweet spot every vintage. 

CM: Absolutely, and it changes from year to year. That's why you put a date and a place on the bottle. Every single bottle of wine tells you that story and, more importantly, that's all a bottle of wine should be, is a perfect representation of those two things. Not perfect in the Robert Parker or James Laube sense, but perfect in that it should never be anything more than a representation of the vintage and the place it came from. The place can be as large as California, or it can be as small as the Cemetery Vineyard block that is 2.9 acres in Rockpile.

*Brix is the American measurement of grape must density - aka sugar within the grape berries. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Mauritson Dry Creek Zinfandel 2013

Wine: Mauritson Family Vineyards
Vintage: 2013
Country: USA
Region: Dry Creek Valley, California
Grapes: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Small
Price: $30

I've known winemaker Clay Mauritson for over a decade - about as long as I've been championing the Robert Sinskey Vin Gris. In fact they both came into my life that first year I worked for T. Edward Wines as a sales rep in NYC. Thanks to T. Edward's generosity in educating their reps with first-hand experience, I was able to visit both the Sinskey and Mauritson estates during my tenure with the company.  Clay took our group for a vineyard tour of the family's Dry Creek Valley estate, including the illustrious Rockpile AVA that encompasses vineyards within the Dry Creek Valley region in Sonoma and so named for it's near absence of topsoil. Clay makes several wines from the Rockpile vineyard, including cabernet, cabernet franc, zinfandel, syrah and a port-style blend of native Portuguese grapes. The estate itself was established in 1868 by Clay's great-great-great grandfather, a Swedish immigrant who planted grapes and made wine to ship home. Six generations of grape growers have supplied fruit to numerous Sonoma producers over the years, but Clay is the first to make and bottle wine from the estate for commercial sale. 

Zinfandel has gotten a bad rap in past years, as it joined the big flavor movement that (over) produced plush, alcoholic inky juice savored by the wine slugging proletariat. But my recent praise for Dashe Cellars proves that not all zins are created equal  (I'll share another California zin gem later this week), and that there are talented producers making age-worthy zinfandels with balance and verve. Clay Mauritson is one of them. Zin is a difficult grape, in part because it ripens unevenly. Later this week, I'll share an interview with Clay where he shares his insight on growing zinfandel and how he battles its inherent propensity for high-alcohol wines

The Mauritson Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2013 is deep ruby in color with purple reflections. Black mission fig and blackberry on the nose are followed by blackberry cobbler on the palate and lush, velvety tannins. A tongue-coating mid-palate of dried and fresh fruit slide into a lengthy finish. So delicious. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Matthiasson Rosé 2015

Wine: Matthiasson
Vintage: 2015
Country: USA
Region: Dunnigan Hills & Napa Valley, California
Grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise
Vines: Organic
Production: Small
Price: $23

Steve and Jill Matthiasson are among those young producers dubbed The New California by wine writer and author Jon Bonné. The unofficial movement to revolutionize California wine is lead by disparate yet like minded people seeking to perfectly match variety to place, as has been done in Europe for centuries. While there's something new about it, the ideals are very close to those of Old California, when wines were made in a style closer to their motherland counter parts in the 1970s and 80s. In short, we're looking at lower alcohol wines with nuanced fruit flavors that reflect both the grape and the place from whence it came. It's an exciting time for Cali winemaking,  grabbing the attention of former naysayers (present company included) and creating opportunities for vinous expression that wasn't there before. 

Matthiasson is known for their whites, but you have to start somewhere with a producer and the rosé was in front of me, so I bought it and it was tasty. The blend is 36% syrah, 31% grenache, 29% mourvèdre, and 4% counoise from two small vineyards, the Windmill vineyard in the Dunnigan Hills AVA and the Hurley vineyard in Napa at the base of the Silverado Trail. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed, then aged sur lie in stainless steel, fully shielded from oxygen and never stirred. To maintain crisp acidity levels, the wine did not undergo malolactic conversion. Lots of details to this one. My reading of Bonné's excellent new book is showing strong.

The Matthiasson Rosé 2015 is pale pink with an orange tinge with lightly fragrant strawberry and raspberry aromas. On the palate, more red berry fruit, delicate in an elegant way, like the quiet beauty who has little to say, but when she does, her words speak volumes. Beautiful acidity, great length, deliciously yummy. I've gotten a little cerebral and poetic with this one, but don't be shy. She's easy to get along with no matter your state of mind. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

lieu-dit (n.) Place Designation

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, and can cover anything and everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. If you have a recommendation or request, please leave it in the comments.

Lieu-dit (n.) Place Designation

Lieu-dit [loo-dee] translates to "place called" and refers to a plot of land or vineyard within a larger appellation, most common, but not limited to, Burgundy for village level wines. It's not a term we hear too often, but it's a good one to know in case you run across it on a wine label. The thinking goes, that plots or vineyards can have distinctive characteristics, like topography, but might not be designated as premier cru or grand cru. Every vineyard has a name, which seems obvious, but most wines outside the cru vineyards are made with a blend of fruit from various plots within the larger village designated AOC, like Pommard, for example. If 100% of the fruit used in a village wine comes from a single vineyard or lieu-dit, then the producer can include the name of the vineyard on the label. It's sort of a way to add panache to a wine outside the upper hierarchy that deserves a nod. 

Earlier this week I wrote about a lieu-dit in Muscadet, Domaine de la Pepière's 'Les Gras Moutons'

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Pepière Les Gras Moutons Muscadet 2014

Wine: Domaine de la Pepière 'Les Gras Moutons'
Vintage: 2014
Country: France
Region: Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Loire Valley
Grapes: Melon de Bourgogne
Vines: Organic
Production: Small
Price: $16-18

"Muscadet, one of France's dry white commodity wines currently undergoing revolution while trying to survive," so says the Oxford Companion to Wine. Muscadet's popularity has certainly peaked and valleyed, and is currently taking a slow climb back into favor. My first experience of it was at Aquagrill in New York's SoHo, where I waited tables in 1999 & 2000, a natural environment for the value-driven juice with upwards of 25 different oysters available at the raw bar every day. Oysters are a favorite pairing for the high acid, lean white with marked salinity on the finish. The region sits at the far west end of the Loire Valley near the juncture of river and Atlantic Ocean and some of France's prime oyster beds. 

The wines are often produced sur liewhich adds a richness to the wine that lightly tempers the Melon de Bourgogne's inherent bracing acidity. Grown almost nowhere else on the planet (excepting a few acres in Washington and California and maybe Oregon), the grape is practically synonymous with Muscadet. Domaine de la Pepière is one of the leading producers of Muscadet and this bottling, from the lieu dit "Les Gras Moutons", is one of the more balanced renditions I've tasted in a while. Muscadet often gives me heartburn right out of the bottle, a disappointing jolt, like walking into a loud, crowded bar and suddenly realizing you just want be home. This one did not. 

I eschewed the classic pairing of seafood and bivalves here and instead made my famous lemon roasted chicken. By famous I mean famous to me because it's something I can make with extremely little effort and no recipe, my favorite kind of cooking these days. Following my own wine pairing advice, I thought the lemon in the dish would match well with the lemon and Meyer lemon peel flavors and textures in the wine. And it did, beautifully. 

The Domaine de la Pepière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 'Les Gras Moutons' 2014 is pale yellow in color with high-toned acidity, lemon pulp and rind, melon and stony notes. On the mid-palate, a surprising and delightful wave of roundness saunters through, then lingers on the finish. If you've seen the domaine's classic Muscadet, and if you drink this wine ever you probably have, the Gras Moutons is a treat to pursue, and a symbol of the region's collective efforts to produce site specific, higher quality, age-worthy wines. I would love to taste this in 10 or 15 years. I can only imagine. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Malolactic Fermentation (n.) Wine Making Term

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, and can cover anything and everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. If you have a recommendation or request, please leave it in the comments.

Malolactic Fermentation (n.) Wine Making Term

The Oxford Companion to Wine calls this process Malolactic Conversion, since no alcohol is actually produced as a result of the chemical reaction. That makes complete sense, though I've never encountered it as such except in the Companion. It's also referred to as Malo, ML and MLF, which reminds me of MILF and scrambles my focus immediately when I see it. It is sometimes considered a secondary fermentation, not to be confused with a second fermentation, which is actually a re-fermentation and technically a flaw.

The malolactic conversion/fermentation converts the harsh malolactic acids in a wine (think Granny Smith apples) to softer lactic acid (think milk), which gives the wine a softer texture. Almost all red wines go through malo and many whites. Sometimes you'll hear, "There was no malo on this white wine," which pretty much insures it's going to be high-toned and crisp, and was a deliberate move on the part of the winemaker. Left to its own devices, a wine will undergo malo every time. While yeasts are responsible for the alcoholic fermentation, turning sugar into ethanol as they party through the grape juice, a malolactic fermentation is the result of naturally occurring bacteria feeding on the malic acids in the finished wine. As with alcoholic fermentation, carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the malolactic conversion, so when it happens in bottle (by accident), it'l leave a little prickle behind. 

Another byproduct of this process is the production of the organic compound diacetyl, which has a buttery flavor and is in fact naturally occurring in butter. This is where that butter bit in California chardonnay comes from. Yesterday I was shopping for popcorn at the market and noticed in the ingredient list for the Butter Flavor option, diacetyl. That form of diacetyl is manufactured and a wee bit controversial. Don't confuse the two. 

Now if you're a "chardonnay hater" there's a good chance the only chardonnay you've had - that you know about - was one that went through heavy malo. That thick, buttery style is an acquired taste, even if you do like your toast buttered. But wines can experience partial malo and the diacetyl production managed. Next time your wine pusher says, "This white has some malo," you'll have a better idea of what she's talking about, but don't assume butter bomb. There are a great many degrees between subtlety and excess. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Maurice Martin Saint-Véran 2014

Wine: Maurice Martin
Vintage: 2014
Country: France
Region: Saint-Véran, Macônnais
Grapes: Chardonnay
Vines: Organic
Production: Small
Price: $18

Sometimes you get to talking with a friend you haven't seen in six months and you forget you're supposed to be paying attention to and documenting the wine you brought. A mellow evening on the couch with a great bottle and real conversation is one of my favorite ways to pass the time, even when it means scrambling to capture the essence of a wine in its last drops. We even got a little work done. Double score. After a brief conversation on how I can improve the wine photography on this site (seriously not easy to get a bottle of wine to tell a story), my host arranged this lovely shot. That was the last of it in the glass. So clean, vibrant and easy drinking, no snacks were needed, just plenty of chat. 

Maurice Martin's sons Richard and Stephane took over the Macônnais winery in 1990 and immediately began converting the vineyards to organic practices. They've been certified organic by the EU since 2012. They use indigenous yeasts for fermentation in stainless steel tank, full malolactic and 10 months aged on the lees. It's a lovely expression of the Saint-Véran appellation, which sits on the outskirts of Burgundy proper, in the Southern part of the Macônnais. 

The Maurice Martin Saint-Véran 2014 is clean, bright, quintessential naked chardonnay with apple aromas and crisp acidity, ripe fruit on the palate, some mineral notes and long delicious finish. 

 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Alice & Olivier de Moor Aligoté 2014

Wine: Alice & Olivier de Moor
Vintage: 2014
Country: France
Region: Chablis
Grapes: Aligoté
Vines: Organic
Production: Small
Price: $25

Aligoté is Burgundy's "other white grape", the one easily dismissed and overlooked. It's the traditional base wine for the kir cocktail, with a bit of crème de cassis mixed in, such is its reputation. Commercially speaking, chardonnay fetches a higher price and, though they are related through parentage, aligoté lends itself to more tart, acidic wines than full, round Burgundy. But there are always those on the margin of tradition with passionate hearts and stubborn minds who bend the rules into something beautiful. Meet Alice & Olivier de Moor. 

This is one of those wines even novices know upon first taste is both good and special. I'd been eyeing it on the shelf at Bacchanal for a few weeks before finally taking the plunge (as if opening wine were a risk). It's one thing to find a wine delicious in your glass and another to experience the wine, to learn the story behind it. Importer Louis/Dressner does such a kickass job of telling their producer's story that even if you never set foot on the European continent, you gain a strong feeling for life in the vineyard. Thanks to an interview with Alice & Olivier, I've learned they are truly on the fringe of Chablis, an appellation with long-held unwavering winemaking beliefs, and they are doing it too well to be snubbed. 

It's evident from the interview they are independent thinkers and philosophers of the vine and life. My kind of people. Their dedication to the small plots of aligoté and chardonnay lean more toward biodynamic and natural than the organic category suggests, but they don't seem too concerned with labels. When asked about their winemaking process, Alice de Moor answered,  "As simple as possible, as respectful to the grapes as possible and with the least intervention possible. By intervening less in the wine making process, you give the wine more freedom. That freedom makes for unique, expressive wines." Sounds like my childhood. The two work side by side, Olivier in the vineyard and Alice in the cellar. They avoid chemicals in the vineyard and the winery, utilize native yeasts and apply sulfur in very small amounts at bottling only. They make a few aligotés and a few Chablis, which are 100% chardonnay. Most of the vines are on the young side, around 20 years old, their winery is built to accommodate a gravity fed process, and they use a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks and Burgundy barrels for vinification and aging. This bottling is made and aged half in tank, half in barrel with 11 months lees aging. It also undergoes malolactic fermentation, which helps to mellow the acidity and add richness. 

The Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne Aligoté 2014 has tremendous acidity balanced with more body than typically found in Chablis, though this wine was very reminiscent of Chablis. Some toasty, nutty aromas with lemon and apple, beautiful expression overall with sumptuous fruit, long finish. Love, love, love. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Vin Gris (n.) Winemaking Term

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. 

Vin Gris (v.) Winemaking Term

A rosé is a rosé is a rosé. But they get there by different paths. Vin Gris, like the Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, is a method most commonly and historically practiced in France's Loire Valley, and made from light skin red grapes like gamay. It's typically more pale than other rosés, which is a direct result of the winemaking choices. Here, the wine is made as if it were a white wine, where the juice is racked from the skins immediately after pressing, extracting very little color from the berries. Most rosés are made by macerating the juice on the skins, maybe a week or so, allowing it to develop far more color, like the Akakies sparkling rosé and Clendenen Family Vineyards Mondeuse rosé

Vin Gris, though translated as gray wine, is not the least bit pallid, as the name might suggest. Vin gris wines are usually elegant light-hued pinks with light, lean body and nuanced flavors, making them easy to pair with many kinds of food and people. 

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