Gabe's View

Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Pinot Blanc

Dinner With Helfrich Winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with Helfrich Winemaker Nicolas Haeffelin and taste current releases of his wines. Helfrich is a family owned winery that was founded in 1934; it sits in the northern part of Alsace. They farm the Steinklotz vineyard which is one of only 51 in all of Alsace that has Grand Cru status. Additionally they source some of their fruit under long term arrangements with trusted neighbors. Amazingly Nicolas’ family has had a winemaker in every generation dating back to 1560. Prior to his time back home in Alsace Nicolas studied and worked in Burgundy and then spent a six months in New Zealand. It was a pleasure tasting wine with Nicolas and witnessing his passion for his work. Helfrich’s portfolio includes a carefully considered array of wines that share commonalities of quality while they are also each distinct. What follows are my thoughts on a trio of my personal favorites from the evening. The Helfrich 2012 Gewurztraminer was produced entirely from fruit sourced in Alsace. This wine is composed entirely of Gewurztraminer. After harvesting the fruit was destemmed and placed in a horizontal press. The juice was then passed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation. It was settled and racked on the lees to help round it out. This wine is finished in screw cap and has a suggested retail price of $14.99. This wine opens with a gloriously big nose that shows off tropical fruit aromas in abundance. The palate has apricot and Lychee fruit was well as white cling peach flavors. The finish is long and lusty with bits of mesquite honey and spice closing things out. The Helfrich Gewurztraminer is a gorgeous wine that I simply wanted to keep drinking.

The Helfrich 2012 Pinot Blanc was produced using fruit sourced within Alsace. This offering is 100% varietal. After harvesting the fruit was fermented at cold temperatures for about a week and a half. It was then racked on the lees. It’s bottled and closed with a screw cap. This Pinot Blanc has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Subtle hints of petrol emerge first on the nose of this Pinot Blanc. Fruit characteristics emerge next and dominate. Peach, wisps of nectarine and papaya are all part of the palate. Copious spice notes and a continued mélange of fruits make up the finish which has nice length. This wine is crisp and refreshing, perfect for warm weather sipping.

The Helfrich 2011 Pinot Gris Grand Cru was produced from fruit sourced at their own Steinklotz Vineyard. This offering is 100% Pinot Gris. The fruit was hand harvested and then destemmed. Whole grape membrane pressing followed. Fermentation was accomplished at cold temperatures in stainless steel tanks. This Grand Cru offering has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bright stone fruit aromas burst from the gorgeous nose of this Grand Cru Pinot Blanc. The palate here is dense and layered with delicious, rich fruit flavors speckled with spice characteristics. Wave after wave of fresh and unctuous fruit flavors keep coming as this wine envelops your senses. The finish is substantial and lingering with spices, bits of honey and fruit flavors reverberating impressively. This Pinot Blanc was a sublime match with Pork Confit and side of sautéed Brussels sprouts.

What I love most about this trio of wines and the Helfrich portfolio in general is the great bang for the buck they represent. Alsatian wines, at this level of this quality, that we typically find on our shelves in the US often sell for much more. These are delicious wines that work wonderfully on their own and paired with food. In some cases they work well with cuisine more substantial than you might anticipate. These are well made wines that are affordable for everyday drinking and substantial and interesting enough for special occasion drinking as well, particularly in the Grand Cru tier. If you enjoy complex, aromatic whites with substance, do yourself a favor and look for one of the offerings from Helfrich.

Gustave Lorentz - Cremant d’Alsace (NV) / 2009 Pinot Noir Le Rosé / 2007 Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim

Alsace France is a region that can certainly inspire tons of passion from wine lovers. White varietals rule the day here. When they are from excellent vineyards and made with care they can be nothing less than amazing. I recently tasted through most of the portfolio from Gustave Lorentz. This Alsatian family has been making wine since 1836. It was a pleasure and an eye-opener to samples these wines. As is typical of Alsace the majority of their offerings are white with a few reds in the mix as well. Both still and sparkling wines are part of the mix. I’ve liked each of the selections I’ve tasted from this producer but here are three diverse ones that really set themselves apart.

First up is the Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace (NV). This sparkling wine is composed of Chardonnay (33%), Pinot Blanc (33%) and Pinot Noir (33%). This offering was produced using the classic “Methode Champenpoise.” 4,500 cases of this wine were bottled and it has a suggested retail price of $24.99

The nose of this non vintage Sparkling Wine is remarkably fresh and lively with apple and green melon aromas of particular note. Brioche, juicy orchard fruits and bits of stone fruit are all part of the palate along with spice and mineral notes. The finish shows an inherent creaminess along with touches of candied lemon zest. This is a really nice sparkling wine for the money. It drinks well on it’s own but will work even better paired alongside light foods.

Next up is the Gustave Lorentz 2009 Pinot Noir Le Rosé. The grapes for this wine were picked as ripe as possible. This wine is 100% Pinot Noir. The fruit was sourced from vineyards that feature clay and limestone heavy soils. 2,000 cases of this Rosé were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99.

Fresh, ripe Bing cherry aromas drive the nose of this 2009 Rosé. Strawberries, cherries and vanilla characteristics are all at play through the palate. These are joined by hints of darker berry fruit and a touch of candied cherry. The darker fruit elements emerge a bit more forcefully in the finish along with a touch of white pepper. This wine is light and refreshing as most well made Rosé should be. But it also features more depth, weight and complexity than the average example. This wine will pair really well with light foods. A fruit and cheese plate would be perfect. Of course it should be chilled, but resist the temptation to over-chill this beauty.

The final wine in this trio is the Gustave Lorentz 2007 Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergheim. The fruit for this wine comes from the namesake classified Grand Cru site. This offering is all Gewürztraminer. The soils there feature heavy clay and limestone components. The vines average between 30 and 50 years of age. Fruit for this offering was hand picked and the whole grapes were pressed and this juice was separated from the free run juice. Fermentation took place with select and native yeasts in mature oak vats. It was aged in these vats for 11 months prior to bottling. 1,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $59.99.

Aromas of apple, yellow melon, vanilla and a touch of crème fraiche fill the expressive nose of this 2006 Gewürztraminer. Apricot and yellow peach notes are in abundance throughout the palate. A nice spice component featuring white pepper, cardamom and nutmeg is present as well. Lot’s of sweet yellow and white fruits continue through the impressively long and persistent finish which shows off a bit of a honey. In addition to the lengthy finish the purity of fruit is what strikes me as most impressive about this Gewürztraminer. This wine is delicious now, both on its own and paired with spicy foods in particular. However don’t hesitate to lay it down for the next 8-12 years.

This is a delicious trio of wines from Gustave Lorentz. That said don’t hesitate to try others with their name on the label either. I’ve sampled quite a few and each has been a winner.

Examining the Age Worthiness of White Wines from Alto Adige

Last week I attended a tasting in Manhattan featuring the wines of Alto Adige. This region sits in the Italian Alps. Both red and white varieties are grown with white taking the lead at 55% of planted acreage. This two-part tasting included a walk around portion that featured tons of exciting new releases from a host of producers. Both red and white wines were showcased. That was the second part of the day; I’m going to focus on the first part. That initial piece was a 90 minute, sit-down seminar during which eight white wines were presented. The mission statement of the seminar was to illustrate the overall age-ability of white wines from Alto Adige. There are few regions in the world that produce white wines with the ability or intent of aging. The ones that have that capability however can often be transcendent. I was pretty curious to see how these wines would taste and if they really did have the as advertised potential for above average longevity. What follows are some brief thoughts about each of the eight wines we tasted. Nals Margreid 2007 Pinot Grigio Punggl DOC Alto Adige. This single vineyard wine is 100% Pinot Grigio. Half of the grapes for this wine were fermented and aged in large oak barrels, the other half in stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $24. The 2009 is the current vintage of this particular wine. The 2007 features lots of yellow fruit flavors throughout a round and sweet but well balanced palate. It shows off the juicy flavors that are prevalent with relatively small production Pinot Grigio treated with care; as opposed to the vast array of anonymous Pinot Grigio that hits US shelves by the boatload.

Franz Haas 2004 Cuvee Manna. This wine is a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay, Traminer Aromatico and Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was sourced from four vineyards at altitudes of 350 to 850 meters. Each lot was picked and fermented separately. The Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc saw time in Barrique while the Riesling and Traminer Aromatico were fermented in steel. The blend was assembled at final fermentation and spent 10 months on yeasts prior to bottling. 50,000 bottles of this wine were made and at release it had a retail price of $40. The stated goal of this wine is the ability to pair with as wide an array of foods as possible. Apricots, and white cling peach characteristics are dominant on this wine which is driven by intense, fresh fruit flavors. There is a bit of honey on the finish. Ultimately this offering is layered with loads of complexity. For me this was one of the most interesting wines of the day.

San Michele Appiano 2006 Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin DOC Alto Adige. This wine was sourced from vines with 25-40 years of age on them. The vineyards selected sit approximately 450 meters above sea level. This wine was aged in a combination of new (40%) and used (60%) barriques. This offering spent 11 months on yeast. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35.99. Lilac, peach and a hint of petrol are all present in the nose of this wine. Apricots are prominent on the palate along with spices that carry through the finish along with minerals. This wine has terrific concentration of fruit and persistent, lingering and rather impressive length.

Caldro Castell Giovanelli 2007 Sauvignon DOC Alto Adige. The vines the fruit for this selection were sourced from average 5-10 years of age. This offering is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation and aging took place in oak casks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $48. This wine is incredibly aromatic with citrus and melon fruit just exploding from the nose. The palate shows continued citrus in droves. Minerals are the story on the crisp, clean finish. This wine has racy, slightly zingy acidity.

Terlan Nova Domus 2005 Terlaner Riserva DOC Alto Adige. This wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc (60%), Chardonnay (30%), and Sauvignon Blanc (10%). The fruit was sourced from vineyards sitting between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. Fermentation took place in large oak casks (50%) and 500 Liter Tonneaux. The wine spent a year on the yeast. At release this offering had a suggested retail price of $55. Citrus and spice notes are both prominent on the finish of this wine. Stone fruits dominate the palate. The finish of this selection just goes on and on. For a 5 + year old white blend the fruit on this wine is incredibly fresh and vital. It just keeps beckoning you back for more.

Alois Lageder 2002 Chardonnay Lowengang DOC Alto Adige. The fruit for this wine was selected from vines with 40 to 60 years of age on them grown at vineyard sites sitting 260-450 meters above sea level. This was fermented using native yeasts. It was aged in a combination of new (50%) and used (50%) barriques. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $40. Apple, limestone and minerals are all present on this wine. Its overall style in many ways brings to mind aged Burgundy. The purity of fruit and length of finish are both impressive. 

Peter Zemmer 2006 Gewürztraminer Reserve DOC Alto Adige. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer, Fermentation took place with pure strains of yeast in temperature controlled tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $29. This wine is gloriously aromatic with spice and dried fruit and flower aromas emerging from the glass in droves. The palate of this wine is rich and layered with flavor; it's also impeccably balanced and incredibly in focus. The finish has prodigious length that features a particularly impressive spice component.

Tramin 2004 Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer DOC Alto Adige.  The Nussbaumer Estate Vineyards sit between 350 and 500 meters above sea level. This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer. Fruit for this wine was hand picked. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. At release this wine had a suggested retail price of $35. Nectarine, lychee and hazelnuts fill the nose of this wine. Through the palate apricot and both white and yellow peach flavors are present in droves. This wine has a rich, layered and honeyed finish that lingers persistently. This wine has incredibly appealing flavors and you’ll be hard pressed to stop drinking this once you start.

The bottom line is that each of these selections was impressive in its own right. Taken as a group they were an impressive lineup that achieved the mission statement of showcasing the eminent age worthiness of well made white wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Each of them was drinking well and featured fresh flavors that belied their ages. As a group they also had more life ahead of them. Given the complexity, drinkability and obvious longevity these particular wines as well as the current vintages are well worth your time, effort and money.

Hugel et Fils - 2008 Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Les Amours”

Pinot Blanc is one of those grape varieties that often enough confuses those unfamiliar with it. Some are unsure what it is and how it varies from Pint Gris for instance. And that’s a fair enough question since it is a genetic derivative of Pinot Gris. Taste-wise however there can be a wide gulf. While there are certainly a few other notable regions that have traditionally grown Pinot Blanc, Alsace is without question the area it’s most associated with. Today I’ll look at a current release of a Pinot Blanc from Hugel et Fils. The Hugel et Fils 2008 Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Les Amours” is an Alsatian white wine that has been a mainstay on US shelves since the early 1970’s. This offering was produced from fruit sourced at a number of vineyards in Alsace. It is composed 100% of Pinot Blanc. This wine in 375 ml half bottles sells for approximately $10.

Fresh orchard fruit aromas fill the nose of this 2008 Pinot Blanc. The palate shows off lots of apple. Golden delicious notes alternate with wisps of green apple. Vanilla and ginger provide subtle hints of spice. The wine is ultimately crisp and refreshing with firm acidity. It keeps you coming back to the glass for more. It works nicely in its own and will also pair with a host of lighter foods and dishes.

This is a lovely light wine that works well as a welcome wine or as the first wine at the start of a meal. It's crisp, mouth-watering and a nice way to get a party started.

Hugel et Fils - 2006 Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Les Amours”

There is a lot of really nice Gewürztraminer and Riesling being produced in Alsace; as a result not nearly as much attention is usually paid to Pinot Blanc. In my opinion that’s a shame. There are examples of this wine out there that are lovely, well priced and most importantly quite delicious. Today I’m going to look at a widely available offering from Hugel. Their yellow label wines are on the shelf of most wine shops that have an Alsace representation. The 2006 Hugel et Fils Pinot Blanc “Cuvée Les Amours” was produced using fruit sourced from local growers under long standing contracts. This selection is 100% Pinot Blanc. Fruit is hand harvested and the presses are filled by gravity. The juice in the first part of the pressing is the only one used in the yellow label “Hugel” wines. Bottling occurs the spring after harvest. The wine is then bottle aged until ready for release. The suggested retail price for this offering is $16.99.

A potpourri of fresh flower aromas is joined by lychee fruit and vanilla in the nose of this 2006 Pinot Blanc. The lychee theme continues in the palate where its joined by apricot and hazelnut flavors. A terrific spice component emerges at mid-palate and continues forward from there through the finish. This wine is crisp and refreshing with solid acidity.

You could pair this Pinot Blanc with light appetizers or drink it on its own. In either case it’s a very solid white entry that I've found you can depend on from one vintage to the next.

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