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Varietal Voyage No.12 – 2008 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier

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Varietal Voyage

Alas, we’ve come to the final white wine on our varietal voyage.  The third viognier on the list comes from Yalumba in South Australia’s Eden Valley. Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery. Founded in 1849, Samuel Smith started with just 30 acres of land near Angaston. He named this small parcel “Yalumba” – the aboriginal word for “all the land around.”  One hundred thirty one years later Yalumba planted 3 acres of viognier in the Barossa Valley, the first commercial plantings of this variety in Australia.  Curiously, the Eden Valley region, shown on the label, is an eastern extension of the Barossa Valley. They now have access to over 70 acres of viognier from a range of regions, giving the winemakers the ability to select the best qualities of each area. The Eden Valley viognier is just one of the 5 viognier based wines that Yalumba produces.  The others are the Y Series, Virgilius (Yalumba’s outstanding benchmark viognier), and 2 sweet dessert-style viogner’s.

For this particular wine, our opinions were split.  Sue was not all that impressed with the selection, on the other hand, I found it to be quite enjoyable. It’s moments like these that illustrate how subjective the wine tasting process can be. Each person’s palate is differnet and the way we perceive aromas and flavors varies tremendously.  What is important is it to try new wines and to form your own opinions.  This is the only way to find out what you really like.  As long as you get to try new things and enjoy the experience, that is all that really matters.

With that said, this is my review.  As mentioned earlier, I found this wine to be quite good.  Emanating from its golden yellow color is a bouquet full of rich peach and apricot mixed with peppery spices.  Flavors range from succulent peach and melon at the start to luscious apricot and citrus laced with spice throughout the long finish.  In addition, there are complex, creamy notes of honey and toasted biscuits (from 10 months resting on lees) that tie it all together.

2008 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier ($19)

Well that’s it for our twelve white wines.  Now we go over to the dark side to experience twelve red wines from around world.  Next up Cabernet Sauvignon!

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Varietal Voyage No.11 – 2008 Domaine de Gournier Viognier

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The next wine on the list is from France’s southern Rhône valley.  Domaine de Gournier is a very small winery located near Cévennes, between Avignon to the east and Nîmes to the west. Gournier’s Viognier is classified as a vin de pays, or country wine. According to France’s classification of wines, this one is somewhere in the middle in terms of quality.  For this leg of our journey this wine is a little unusual, because it is not 100% Viognier.  It is a blend of primarily Viognier with a little Sauvginon Blanc and Chardonnay added to round things out.

Maurice Barnouin and his family started Domaine de Gournier as a nursery, growing and cloning vine stock for other vineyards. Several years ago they decided to start making their own unique style of wines.  Gournier now produces several wines including: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre, as well as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. The 200 hectare estate (about 500 acres) is situated on a plateau of limestone rich soil with little vegetation to prevent the warm Mediterranean sun from ripening the fruit to its fullest.

The 2008 Viognier is a good example of a simple country wine. If you are expecting a big, fruit-forward expression of the Rhône valley, think again. This is a very simple, everyday wine that doesn’t overpower your palette or your pocket book.  It has pleasing, but delicate floral and peach aromas that work together with light, herbaceous apricot flavors.  The addition of Sauvignon Blanc brings a pleasing balance of mineral flavors and fresh acidity that seems to dance around on your tongue. Serve this one slightly chilled for a great summer refreshment.

2008 Domaine de Gournier Viognier ($11)

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Varietal Voyage No.10 – 2008 Rosenblum Cellars "Kathy's Cuvée"

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Up to this point we have tasted wines made from several different grapes including: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay. The fourth and final white varietal on this voyage brings us to Viognier!

This strange sounding varietal, pronounced Vee-yoh-N’YAY, is a finicky grape that is difficult to grow. Most prevalent in France’s Rhone Valley, it has been grown with much success in many places around the world. The United states is one of these places but it has only been grown here for the past twenty years.

This week’s Viognier is from Rosenblum Cellars. In 1978, Kent Rosenblum, his wife Kathy, and several friends founded Rosenblum Cellars. Using grapes sourced from several now famous vineyards, they quickly became known for top quality Zinfandels. Over the years Rosenblum has grown in size and popularity, producing numerous award winning wines. All of Kent’s successes have earned him title: “King of Zin.” Grape Radio interviewed the King of Zin recently, Click here to listen.

“Kathy’s Cuvée,” named after Kent’s wife, is one in a series of wines called the Appellation Series. This particular wine is made from a blend of Viognier grapes from three different California appellations, each with very differnet soils and climatic conditions, rendering very different aromas and flavors.

The first thing you notice is how aromatic this wine is. As soon as the cork is removed, rich floral and tropical fruit aromas fill the room. The flavors are equally as rich and even more complex. Sue’s described her first sips as “fireworks” exploding with different flavors. This is where the three appellations shine through. The cooler location (Fess Parker Vineyards, Santa Barbara) provides the structure with bright, citrus flavors and well balanced acidity, while the warmer areas (Ripken Vineyards, Lodi and Lange Twins Vineyards, Clarksburg) flesh it out with lush, ripe apricot and pear flavors. Careful aging in a variety of oak barrels and some time resting on lees offers a creamy, honey-like texture that reminds you of silk. All of these aspects blend together so well that you hardly notice its high alcohol content (14.5% ABV).

2008 Rosenblum Cellars “Kathy’s Cuvée” ($18)

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Varietal Voyage No.9 – 2005 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault

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The last Chardonnay on our list comes from the Burgundy region of France, or more specifically, Meursault, in the Côte de Beaune. Burgundy is typically associated with Pinot Noir, but it is equally known for Chardonnay. With the exception of Gamay and a little Aligoté, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the only two varietals allowed to grow here.

Meursault is the heart of white Burgundy (aka Chardonnay). The vineyards here grow in a great diversity of soil types. Everything from stony chalk, to gravely clay is present giving these wines great richness and complexity. The cool temperatures here keep the grapes from getting too ripe which helps the winemakers capture the natural flavors and acidity of the fruit.

In 1731 Michael Bourchard left his home in the French Alps and moved Volnay where he established himself as a cloth merchant. In 1751 Michael’s son, Joseph, began his own business. Joseph, also a cloth merchant, sold Burgundian wines as well. It wasn’t until 1775, when Joseph purchased the family’s first vineyards in Volnay that they started to grow their own grapes and produce their own wine. After that, the rest is a very interesting history lesson. Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils now owns many properties in Burgundy, including vineyards in the Côte de Beaune, Côte de Nuits, Côte Chalonnaise, Côte Mâconnaise.

This complex wine had Sue and me scrambling to understand everything we had tasted. This surprisingly pale yellow Chardonnay provided many different layers to discover as it opened up throughout the evening. The fruit aromas and flavors are more discreet than the other Chardonnays. Peaches and honey were the most obvious flavors but there is a definite underpinning of fresh herbs and minerals. This puzzle of flavors balances nicely with the toasty notes imparted by oak fermentation and aging, and finishes off with a lingering dose tropical fruits.

2005 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault ($54)

  • 100% Chardonnay
  • Meursault, Côte de Beaune, France

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Varietal Voyage No.8 – 2007 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay

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The next Chardonnay on our list comes from Australia’s Barossa Valley (pronounced “Bar-ah-sa”). The Barossa Valley is located in southern Australia about 30 miles northeast of Adelaide, this is Aussies’ version of the Napa Valley. This region produces almost half of all the Australian wines. Trevor Jones Winery, part of Kellermeister Wines, is in the town of Lyndoch at the southern tip of the Barossa Valley. The valley’s hot, dry climate is perfect for growing intensely ripe Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache, but it also produces some very good Semillon and Chardonnay.

The 2007 Virgin Chardonnay is unlike many traditional Chardonnays. As the name suggests, this “virgin” chardonnay is made completely without the influence of any oak. Many Chardonnays are fermented in oak tanks and or aged in oak barrels. For some people the use of too much oak overwhelms the natural fruit flavors of the grapes with strong overtones of toasty vanilla. In response, many producers are making wines that limit the amount of oak they use or forego its use completely.

This Virgin vintage was thoroughly enjoyable. For its young age it has a surprising golden yellow color tinted slightly green. The absence of oak is immediately evident, which allows the natural fruit character to shine through. Aromas and flavors of stone fruits (peaches and apricots) permeate the wine with some tropical fruits mixed in for good measure. Nutty, herbal notes may be a sign of some time spent on it lees. It has a rich buttery mouth feel that comes along with the judicious use of malolactic fermentation, a process that converts tart-tasting malic acid (think green apples) to lactic acid (think milk or butter), not uncommon for Chardonnay. With all of this complexity it ends with a clean finish that begs you to take another sip!

2007 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay ($18)

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Varietal Voyage No.7 – 2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay

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This week we leave behind our final chenin blanc and move on to the next varietal on the list: Chardonnay! For this particular wine we are travelling south from Mendocino to the Grgich Hills Estate near the southern tip of Napa Valley.

Grgich Hills Estate is an interesting venture that began in 1977 between master winemaker, Mike Grgich and Austin Hills of the Hills Brothers Coffee conglomerate. Today they own 366 acres spanning across five top quality vineyards. To keep quality high, they concentrate on just six different types of wines (Fumé Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Violetta). Another interesting fact is that all of the Grgich Hills vineyards are sustainable and “biodynamically” farmed. Think “organic” on steroids! Biodynamic farming is a philosophy that treats the Earth as a living organism. Only natural preparations, cosmic rhythms, and nature’s own basic elements are used to create a harmonious balance between vineyard and Earth.

If you have ever heard of the “Judgment of Paris” then you probably have heard of Mike Grgich. He is the winemaker (then working for Chateau Montelena), that was responsible for creating the award winning chardonnay (1973 Chateau Montelena) that beat out all of the French wines in a 1976 blind tasting. This was arguably the watershed event that put California on the map as force to be reckoned with in the wine making world. One could go on talking about this event for hours. If you want to know more, I would suggest reading George Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris.

The 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay is created from grapes grown at the Grgich Hills Estate’s Carneros and American Canyon vineyards. These two properties are nestled in the valley near the San Pablo Bay where the cool ocean breezes and fog help maintain the grapes’ natural fruit character and crisp acidity. 2006 also happens to be the first vintage from these vineyards that was certified as “biodynamic.”

This Chardonnay was quite different from many of the other’s we have tried over the years. In the past, many were over oaked and many saw some malolactic fermentation. The resulting wines were usually very buttery, masking much of the natural fruit character of the grapes. The 2006 NV was nothing like those earlier wines. It was clear from the first taste that the winemakers chose not to use any malolactic fermentation, allowing the bright acidity and complex flavors of apples, lemon, and pineapples to shine through. The winemakers also chose to ferment and age the wine carefully in a mix of old and new oak barrels, imparting very pleasant toasty, vanilla flavors. A little pricey at $40, but worth every penny!

Knowing that we’ll never be able to afford a ’73 Chateau Montelena, I wonder how this one compares?

2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40)

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Varietal Voyage No.6 – Husch 2008 Mendocino Chenin Blanc

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Our final Chenin Blanc on the voyage brings us back to California. This time we’re visiting Mendicino County and California’s most northern appellations.

The Husch Vineyards were established in 1971. Located a few hours north of San Francisco (map), this is the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley AVA. In the beginning the Husch family produced only a few grape varietals, mainly: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. In 1979, Hugo Oswald purchased the vineyards and winery from the Husch’s and is now operated by the the third generation of the Oswald family. Today they produce 21 different wines, maintaining the same standards of excellence as they have for the last thirty years.

Ironically our chenin blanc doesn’t come from Anderson Valley. The Oswald family owns another vineyard east of Anderson Valley, near Ukiah. This property has been with the Oswald family since the 1960′s, long before the purchase of the Husch winery. Called “La Ribera” (the riverbank), this vineyard lies along the banks of Russian River and has long been the source for their Chenin Blanc, as well as, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable wine which I could easily see drinking on a hot summer’s day. This young wine (released April 2009) has a very pale yellow hue. It’s light color packs sumptuous aromas of apriocts, tropical fruits and honeydew melon. The delicious flavors hold true to the aromas finishing with a slightly sweet, honey-like texture that reminds me a little of fruit cocktail.

Next up…Chardonnay!

Husch 2008 Mendocino Chenin Blanc ($13)

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Varietal Voyage No.5 – 2006 Domaine des Roche Neuves "L’Insolite"

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As you can probably tell by the name, this next chenin blanc is from France. Like the Sauvignon Blanc sampled for VV3, this wine is also from the Loire Valley, specifically the Saumur AOC. This too was recommended by Ben Christiansen at the Waterford Wine Company.

Situated on the south or “left” bank of the Loire River, Saumer lies between Angers and Tours. About 3 miles southwest is the village of Varrains. This is where you’ll find the vineyards of Domaine des Roche Neuves. This area of the Loire is laced with sandstone, flint and aluvial silts. The same tuffeau limestone used to build the historic castles and châteaux also plays a critical role in the quality and style of the wines in this region.

L’Insolite, which translates to “out of the ordinary,” is a dry Chenin Blanc. In a region that excels at making off-dry and sweet chenin blancs this is truly unusual. In 1996 the proprietor of Domain des Roche Neuves, Thierry Germain, purchased a small plot of very old vines (now over 80 years old) and began produding a dry chenin blanc. Here they follow strict biodynamic farming methods to preserve as much of the natural fruit character (and the environment) as possible and maximize the expression of terroir. When the grapes are harvested the juice is fermented in oak tanks and then allowed to rest on its lees in several different types of oak barrels. The winemakers use this combination of terroir, yeasts and oak to give us a complex and unique wine.

I will have to admit that this was one of the more difficult wines to get our heads wrapped around. There were a lot of things going on in this wine that we didn’t expect! L’Insolite had a much richer yellow color than the South African Chenin Blanc (See VV4). Rich herbal aromas combined with those of citrus, pears, and apricots. Nuts and minerals intertwined with the light flavors of herbs and citrus. The oak fermentation and aging was evidenced by the nutty, vanilla undercurrents that lingered through the finish.

This wine was fantastic! Thanks Ben!

2006 Domaine des Roche Neuves “L’Insolite” ($30)

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Varietal Voyage No.4 – 2008 Ken Forrester "Petit" Chenin Blanc

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After three interesting, and very different sauvignon blancs, it is time for us to explore the next grape on our list. VV4 brings us to one of the world’s most versatile grapes, Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc is used to produce everything from bone dry, high acid wines to deliciously sweet dessert wines. It can be found in sparkling “champagne style” wines, such as Crémant de Loire, and even fortified wines.

Widely thought to have originated in France, Chenin Blanc can can be found growing in vineyards around the globe. However, only a few wine regions in the world see chenin blanc as primary varietal, these are France, South Africa, and the United States. For this week’s journey we explore South Africa’s Stellenbosch region.

The town of Stellenbosch, 30 miles east of Cape Town, was founded in 1679. It is the center of viticulture in South Africa, and rightly so. The hot summers, and cold, damp winters, combined with the varied soils (light and sandy to decomposing granite) make this region well suited to growing a wide variety of wine grapes, including chenin blanc.

The 2008 “Petit” Chenin Blanc from the Ken Forrester Vineyards is a good example of what South Africa has to offer. The light straw color reveals delicate aromas of citrus and pear with a dash of minerals. Off-dry (slightly sweet) flavors of lime, green pears, and green grapes (Thompson?) are very refreshing and bright. The light acidity and lingers in your mouth for a juicy finish. Not as rich or complex as a 2007 or 2008 Forrester Meinert Chenin Blanc (FMC), but a great everyday wine nonetheless. Save this one for your next spring picnic!

2008 Ken Forrester “Petit” Chenin Blanc ($13)

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As a side note, I purchased this wine at Kafevino, Milwaukee’s new wine bar, café, and retail wine shop that just celebrated their grand opening on 10/22/09. They have a good selection of affordable wines and a helpful staff. If you are in the Historic Third Ward, it is definitely worth a visit.

Varietal Voyage No.3 – 2007 Domaine Claude Riffault "Les Boucauds"

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Our third wine on the Varietal Voyage brings us to France, specifically Sancerre at the western end of the Loire Valley. This wine was recommended by our favorite wine merchant, Ben Christiansen, the owner of the Waterford Wine Company in Milwaukee.

From the Atlantic coast to the mountains of central France, the Loire Valley runs east to west for some six hundred miles. The Loire is France’s third largest appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) and the top producer of white wine. This is the definitive home of Sauvignon Blanc.

Sancerre is one of the most well-known wine regions in the Loire. The village of Sancerre is surrounded by several wine producing communes such as Sury-en-Vaux, the source of this week’s wine. Domaine Claude Riffault grows their sauvignon blanc on the limestone hillsides of Sury-en-Vaux, northwest of Sancerre proper. The cool continental climate combined with the chalky, flinty soils make this area ideal for fresh, fruity Sauvignon Blancs. The grapes are hand picked and fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve the freshness and fruitful character.

Of the three Sauvignon Blancs we tasted, Sue and I agree that this was our favorite. The light straw color was a little darker than the previous two wines we sampled. The grassy, herbal aromas accompanied flavors of fresh citrus and nectarines. A pleasant mineral quality tied everything together. Well balanced acidity, and herbal notes carried on through to a clean finish. This wine should pair wonderfully with seafood. We tried it with steamed mussels and found the mineral qualities of the wine and the shellfish to be a good match.

This wine was a great finish to this leg of the journey. We now head off into the world of chenin blancs to explore what this varietal has to offer.

2007 Domaine Claude Riffault “Les Boucauds” ($26)

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