Tasting the Wines of Envínate

TL;DR – I really, really like Envínate

Wax seals makes everything look better

Easily the hottest name in Spanish wine right now, Envínate has become a poster child of sorts for the ‘new wines of Spain’ and for good reason. Their wines come from Spanish regions that seemed for a while forgotten, with the kind of quality you’d normally find in wines of more prestigious appellations.

The team behind Envínate had met in university where they were all once students of oenology. José Martinez, Laura Ramos, Roberto Santana and Alfonso Torrente founded Envínate in 2005, and originally functioned as just a winemaking consultancy company. Winemaking under the Envínate brand took off with the 2008 vintage and are intriguingly made with indigenous grape varieties, focused on terroir, purity of fruit and balance. Production is tiny, further exacerbating the supply problem for these already, very sought after wines.

My first taste of Envínate was of their Albahra bottling about a year ago. Up until that time I had only read about the group and would enviously watch as their labels showed up frequently on instagram. Then one fine day, quite serendiptously, I had stumbled across the website of a local wine retailer who had snapped up (somewhere/somehow) about 36 bottles of the 2017 Albahra. He agreed to sell them all to me for the restaurant and it was featured on our wine pairing for a while. It was a big hit with our restaurant guests.

The wines are now however exclusively imported into Singapore by Artisan Cellars – a boutique wine importer and distributor with an incredibly exciting portfolio of trailblazing, modern wines and also a healthy selection of some of the greatest classics from Burgundy and Champagne. Big shoutout to Valentin and team for providing the pictures and wines to taste!

The 2018 Albahra from vineyards that fringe the great plains of La Mancha in Central Spain

Probably the wine that Im most familiar with from their range. I remember when first trying the 2017 over a year ago, I approached this wine a skeptic. Skeptical because of what mainstream academic books would tell us about La Mancha and its mostly large scale, commercial vine cultivation and how a large proportion of its grapes actually goes into brandy production in parts of Spain. At the same time, I really wanted to be proven wrong about any prejudice that I might have had – and what better example to do this.

The vineyards are located southeast of La Mancha in the D.O. of Almansa. The appellation itself is about 7,200 hectares and sits in a unique position that gives it a climate that’s both partly continental and mediterranean. Garnacha Tintorera is the most planted variety here (60% of all plantings) with Monastrell a far second. The Almansa vineyards were bought by Envínate in 2012 and about 3,300 cases of these wines were made.

The 2018 Albahra is made with predominantly Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), with Moravia Agria making up the rest of the blend – a lesser known grape variety that would have probably added freshness and tannins to the mix. This wine was immediately riper and more tannic than the rest of the wines of the flight. On the nose, the Albahra had a pleasant stemmy, cherry stalk aromas, as do most of their red wines, the product of 30-40% whole bunch fermentation employed. Overall great power compared to the rest of their reds, well structured and great concentration of spicy and deeper red-fruit driven flavours and aromaticity.

Next on the flight were the 2018 Benje wines from the Tenerife. The wines come from the north-western tip of the island, on some steep and sometimes terraced vineyard areas, falling under the tongue-twisting D.O.: Ycoden-Daute-Isora. The soils here are mostly volcanic, thanks to its local volcano, Mount Teide. So, fun fact: Mount Teide is the world’s third tallest volcanic structure and also the highest peak in all of Spain. The volcano last erupted in 1909.

The fruit which goes into the Benje wines are sourced from vineyards that are at about 900-1200 metres above sea level, planted to old-vine Listán Prieto, a grape that’s also known as the Mission Grape or País in South America, and Listán Blanco, otherwise known as Palomino. The vines are raised untrained, and viticulture is old fashioned and chemical-free.

The fruit is destemmed and vinified separately according to the individual parcels that they come from, with fermentation taking place in both concrete tanks and neutral French oak. Wines then age for about 8 months on its fine lees and the wines are then bottled without filtration. The white wines also observe a small amount of skin-contact for about 6 days.

This maceration on the Benje Blanco must have contributed to its beautiful golden colour, but its nose is where the wine truly shines. Slightly oxidative and savoury on the nose with plenty of olives, chysanthemum and orange flowers that really give this wine a beautiful aomatic lift. The acidity of the wine did feel a little sharp and the alcohol pretty warming, but its savouriness was the theme here, finishing with a pleasant briny minerality.

The Benje Tinto wines do seem a notch more reductive than the rest of their wines and can be much earthier and barnyardy than the rest too. Decanting would come in handy here. The fruit quality is vibrant and tangy, with plenty of fresh raspberries and red cherries on the nose and palate. A touch of black pepper and tomato leaf character also gives the wine a nice herbal quality. It did remind me of some Trousseau wines that I’d had in the past from the Jura, lighter bodied but definitely not lacking in concentration of flavour. Tannins were soft and acidity was fresh.

Incredibly complex and gastronomic, very quickly became a favourite of mine

Also from the Tenerife are the Táganan wines. Where the Benje vineyards are located on the north-western tip of the island, the Táganan wines are farmed on the north-east. Táganan is both the name of a nearby village from this part of the Tenerife (this wine actually comes from another village called Almáciga) and is also a local term for ‘steep slope’. Though I haven’t had the chance to taste the rest of the wines from the Táganan range, this single vineyard Campanario Blanco should have stood for the pinnacle of its expression.

The wine is a field blend of varieties like Forastera Gomera, Boal, Verdelho and Listán Blanco, and come from a vineyard relatively close to the sea. The wines are matured in neutral barrels for about 12 months. This one too had a beautiful golden color, with a slighty coppery tinge. It had a greater floral aromaticity, slight nuttiness, olives and this pale ale character, which I think could be brett? Acidity was round, wine was full bodied and pretty warming, finish was long.

But really, the highlight of this flight for me was this next one.

The highlight of the tasting: the 2018 Lousas Viñas Aldea

The Lousas ‘Vinas Aldea’ is the best wine from the range, in my opinion. It’s comes from the steep slopes of Ribera Sacra, home to Mencía – a variety of grape that I think to have characteristics of both Grenache and Pinot Noir. The wine is fresh with plenty of vibrant red fruits, some meat, and also a pretty fleshy palate. This would even benefit from about another 5-8 years of age, if you can bring yourself not drink it at all and instead have it stashed away.

The wine itself is not made with with just Mencía. There are several other local varieties in the blend like Alicante Bouschet and Merenzao. The fruit comes from 3 different communes within the Ribeira Sacra appellation, but primarily from slate and schistous soils at elevations of between 440 and 600 metres above sea-level. The wines are matured for about 11 months prior to bottling and release.

The wines of Envínate seem to set the tone for the future generation of Spain’s new and rising producers, placing the bar pretty high – very necessary if Spain is set to continue to compete in the international markets with countries associated with generally higher quality winemaking and prestige. Envínate should be the introduction we all needed to the forgotten terroirs of Spain, from the volcanic Canary Islands to the sacred valleys of Ribeira Sacra.

The wines here were tasted a year ago, with the article written, but siesta-ed in my drafts for about the same time. My procrastination in wrapping the story up has brought me full circle as I tasted the latest vintages of the same wines just a few weeks ago, and all I can say is that they continue to impress. It is about time you read what I thought of Envínate a year ago – still very consistent with what I feel about them a year later.

Not Going Anywhere

I’ve been just incredibly busy since Circuit Breaker went into ‘phase 2’ and us restaurants were allowed to finally open. I was left with very little time and space (in my head) to have written something for the blog in that period. It reminded me again how we can’t do everything all the time. I first realised this when I tried learning an instrument on top of working my long and ridiculous hours, gym classes, WSET Diploma coursework, and spending time with my fiancée.

Months later now, things seem pretty much back to normal with the exception of, of course, the donning of masks all the time and social distancing, which have become quite intuitive already as practices. The country is looking to move into ‘phase 3’ by the end of the year if our local case count for COVID-19 keeps at zero. Fingers crossed.

It has been also only recently that I have been properly bugged by the fact that I’ve not published a single post since the last one months ago, and also by how I’ve left that Zinfandel article at ‘Part 1’ for months and not followed up with ‘Part 2’. It’s something that I’m sure to work on these next few weeks and also on generally improving this blog with more regular updates. WSET is back up and school has started for my final exams so it is what I will be prioritising, but the blog will be a close second.

I hope you are all doing ok and holding things together. I’ve been very fortunate in this pandemic for many reasons. It is now that I feel like we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel – Biden winning has got something to do with it too. I also hope that you will stick around for what I’ve got planned for the future of the blog, and wish to see you on the other side!

Fred Lallier and Domaine Michel Brégeon

Easily one of the most powerful Muscadet wines I’ve ever had, this is the Gorges by Mr. Fred Lallier of Domaine Michel Brégeon.

His wines, they tend to stick out with a kind of quirkiness that somehow comes through – though not the flashy kind you’d get with the likes of Domaine Landron or Domaine de l’Ecu. Jo Landron’s moustache and Domaine de l’Ecu’s labels seem to scream for attention where Fred Lallier really is kind of a recluse.

Sitting across from Fred, his French-English dictionary always close by.

I had met Fred Lallier in 2018, when I had flown in to Nantes to visit a few wineries in the Loire Valley. Fred’s was one of the first I would visit in rainy Nantes.

Fred had taken over rom Michel Brégeon in 2011 and now farms about 9 hectares of vineyards mostly in the crus of Gorges and Clisson. He had implemented organic viticulture since having taken over at the estate. Where the Clisson vines are planted to Granitic soils, the vines of the Gorges are planted to a kind of soil that you only really find in this part of France. It is called Gabbro and is a type of blue volcanic soil, caused by underwater volcanoes, and is attributed to giving these wines their power.

A display of the gabbro rock on Fred’s table where were tasting from.

The wine felt full bodied for a Muscadet and felt like it had more heat than just 12% alcohol. The acidity balanced that power, giving it a crisp and fresh mouthfeel, its minerality pronounced and heavy, creating this sense of steeliness in the wine. As far as flavours go, the wine was incredibly lemony and flinty, with hints of lemon verbena and basil. Concentration of flavour was high beyond a doubt and started showing even some spice notes like sandalwood, eventually.

The cru system in Muscadet continues to expand with more sites being approved through a rigorous selection based off of various criteria. The Gorges cru was more recently approved in 2011, along with the crus of Clisson and Le Pallet. Along with its unique Gabbro soil type, the Gorges is also known for starting its harvests later than the surrounding areas, another reason why perhaps its wines can show these levels of fullness. These various crus of Muscadet should give the consumer greater options when it comes to purchasing the region’s wines, and would also appeal more to the serious and discerning drinkers who are after much more than just a midday quaff.

It is a shame that we don’t drink enough Muscadet, or get made fun of drinking Muscadet, when some of these well made examples can drink better with more complexity than some wines of Sancerre and the Chenin Blancs of Saumur. It is indeed a brilliant region to be discovering a bottle at a time, with every weekend fish roast, or on sunny afternoons with shucked oysters by the pool.

If you’d like to try this particular Muscadet by André-Michel Brégeon, and you live in Singapore, click here to buy online!

2018 Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Thoroughly glad to have been able to taste this wine – it has not just left a bunch of pleasant and long flavours in my mouth, but it’s also quickly become a wine I’ll remember for a long while. Why haven’t I heard of this estate earlier?

Francesco Cirelli farms about 22 hectares in the commune of Atri in Abruzzo, Southern Italy, and I mean literally ‘farm’, for a bulk of that area is devoted to raising livestock like poultry animals and sheep and also farms olives and figs. The entire estate is farmed organically, including the mere 6 hectares planted to vines. The description of their farming methods on the official website however seems to point more toward a kind of permaculture, citing a more ‘cyclical’ balance with livestock manure used to fertilise crops and the grass, and that in turn feeding the animals as they graze.

The estate itself was founded in 2003 by Francesco Cirelli who had purchased the land after falling in love with it. He had apparently just graduated from a very prestigious university studying economics when he purchased it. Cirelli produces all his wines in amphora, believing in preserving the purity of the fruit’s natural character. He farms three different grape varieties – Trebbiano, Pecorino and the only red of the three, Montepulciano.

Today I am having Cirelli’s Montepulciano, a red grape that I often compare to Syrah a lot. They share the savouriness and spice, the reduction, a bright acidity, and a generally softer tannin structure than when compared to varieties like Sangiovese for example that you see planted anywhere and everywhere in Italy.

On the nose the wine was wild; bramble berry overload, crunchy black cherries, fresh earth and a slight leafiness. It was very umami on the palate too with a slight brininess about it. The acidity was bright and vibrant, tannins soft but obvious. I had this with a nice grass-fed steak my girlfriend had cooked up, though I personally felt that it would have done better with either lamb, squab or pigeon.

Overall really pleased to have been introduced to this wine, especially when the wines of the other icons of the region like Emidio Pepe and Valentini’s wines are quickly getting rare and prohibitive with their steep price points. You are sure to hear more of Cirelli in the future. I’m for sure a return customer.

Crazy About Zinfandel?

Part 1

Well, I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one. I also am particularly aware that this grape variety has stirred very polarising opinions amongst sommeliers and seasoned wine drinkers. It is a wine that evades many in blind tastings (which must especially frustrate the egos of sommeliers) because of the vastly different styles. Regardless, Zinfandel’s success in its historical home in Croatia, its spiritual home in Italy and its more recent frontier in the New-World’s Californian sun-drenched valleys, is all a testament to the inherent quality and persistence of this great grape variety.

Not many sommeliers I know are fond of Zinfandel wines, attributing their ambivalence to its rather simple and fruity style – and less admittedly its evasiveness in a blind tasting.

Wineries, especially in California, have consistently positioned Zinfandel wines second to their Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot labels, inadvertently marketing this wine as the lesser option within their selection. Prohibitive? Well, perhaps.

But Zinfandel’s potential quality within California beyond its obvious commercial success – notwithstanding the bastardisation of it all with the gratuitous innovation that is ‘white Zinfandel’ – has its devoted advocates. It was after all, during the 1850s, the most widely planted grape variety in the state of California.

The Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project (ZAP) is one such advocate of this grape variety, promoting the quality of Zinfandel through it carefully selected and cultivated grape cuttings and also works to identify some ‘legendary Zinfandel vineyards’. A very well made video commissioned by ZAP details the differences in some of these vineyards and its effects on the wines.

Many old vines of Zinfandel remain in California, some of which have existed even prior to the era of Prohibiton, and continue to produce to this day. The Original Grandpère Vineyard of Amador County does claim to have vines that are about 150 years old, making it home to some of the world’s oldest Zinfandel. Deaver Vineyard is another vineyard also in the Amador County, that is home to Zinfandel vines planted as far back as 1881.

Though I may not have wines today from either of those vineyards, they all come from very reputable Californian estates. Grgich Hills, Heitz Cellars, Château Montelena and Ridge are some of the most Iconic wineries in California, though they are not known necessarily for their Zinfandel wines.

It does look as if I had turned my bedroom inside out looking for a missing bottle of Grgich Hills. I unfortunately am left with only this picture as the one I intended to use was not saved.

Of the lot, I must say that there is one estate that does take more pride in its Zinfandel than the rest of them. It has also got to do with the heritage of the founder of the estate and his family that now continues to run it.

Grgich Hills estate was founded in 1977 by Mike Grgich, an immigrant from Croatia. Mike Grgich was Head Winemaker at Château Montelena from 1972 to 1976. His claim to fame came when the Chardonnay that he had made with Château Montelena had ranked 1st in the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting.

The Grgich Hills estate now farms about 150 hectares of vineyards completely organically and produces about a dozen different wines. This 2012 Napa Valley Zinfandel comes from its vineyards in Calistoga where most of the estate’s Zinfandel is planted.

It wasn’t as lifted as the rest of the Zinfandels I’d tasted in this flight, and showed plenty of restraint. The fruit quality was nice and ripe and had just a touch of jam on the nose. No new oak here, leaving the focus on the fruit. It generally lacked the intensity you’d expect from the higher quality Californian estates, and definitely not in a bad way. The elegance in the wine helped lift some of the more nuanced aromas and flavours like black tea and cola. The wine did have some Petite Sirah in the blend, at about 3% and spent about 16 months in neutral large French casks prior to release.

Overall, it would have ranked somewhere in the top 10 Zinfandels I’ve ever had. The acidity was fresh, the tannins and the primary fruit intensity was very well balanced. One thing that I had not enjoyed about this Grgich Zinfandel was that its alcohol did not feel integrated with the wine. I must say however, the wine did rub off me as if it were from the old-world, possibly the ‘Croatian touch’ showing through. It was however not anywhere as ‘old-world’ as my next Zin.

Don’t drink and read.

Now this has got to be one of the best Zinfandels that I’ve ever had – The 2012 Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Zinfandel. I am really looking forward to having this again.. oh what a treat.

Founded in the 1950s by ex-Beaulieu winemaker Joe Heitz and his wife Alice, Heitz Cellar would eventually produce its first vintage 12 years later with the Grignolino variety in 1962. Shortly after, the winery would be known for its single-vineyard wines, with their Martha’s Vineyard wines becoming the first single-vineyard designate wine in the state, in 1965. This success would spur the addition of a few other single-vineyard bottlings, with the inclusion of Bella Oaks Vineyard and the Trailside Vineyard into their portfolio. The Ink Grade Vineyard however was the latest addition and was acquired in 1989.

This 80 hectare east facing vineyard finds itself located within the Howell Mountain AVA and is planted to a variety of different cultivars, some of which are Portugese varieties.

Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and the wines are aged for two years in French oak barrels with a small percentage of new oak used here. The garnet colour of the wine struck me as an indication of the wine perhaps showing some development. The nose confirmed this, that the wine was developing with aromas of bruised black fruit, but still held its presence with great aromatic lift. It felt like some of that lift could have come from volatility in the wine.

It was indeed a savoury, earthy and complex number, possessing this undeniable old-world quality. I would always play this game with myself when I’m tasting alone, by asking myself what I would have thought this wine to be if it was served to me blind. My answer this time was that I would’ve thought the Ink Grade Vineyard Zinfandel to have been something from northern or central Italy. Its aromatic intensity was what had me comparing this in my head to a Brunello or even a Barolo. The difference however, would be more obvious on the palate.

The acidity and fruit intensity was well balanced, and the tannins would have been a medium plus. It felt like just the right amount of tannins for me. Alcohol although 14.5% was well integrated in the wine. The concentration of flavour was strong but not juicy, or jammy or fruity. It was earthier, deep and sophisticated. This is a wine to enjoy now. I would not keep this for much longer and really, what for? It just perfect now. I really look forward to getting acquainted with the rest of the Heitz Cellar wines eventually!

Zinfandels come in many different styles but so far it does seem like the price points generally stay the same. I have yet to taste a Zin that would cost as much as perhaps a winery’s top Cabernet Sauvignon release. Well I’m definitely not complaining. I talk about 2 more Zinfandels in part 2 (to be published) and perhaps some Tribidrag in part 3? Stay tuned!

Sommeliers in this Circuit Breaker

On the 3rd of April 2020, the Singapore government announced the Circuit Breaker measures that would observe the closure of all restaurants, hawkers and food stalls islandwide. They would only be allowed to operate through delivery and/or takeaway. It was a tough pill to swallow for everyone and it meant going out of business for some.

The sooner these surviving businesses learn to adapt, the stronger their prospect of sticking around. Unfortunately, some restaurants have had to let several of their staff go and was the only way they were able to stay afloat in the near term. This was a move many restaurants had tried their best to avoid, but was necessary for a few.

But tough times may be an instigator for innovation. Restaurants like Cloudstreet completely did away with the idea of its restaurant menu served as takeaway, cynical about the ability of delivery and takeaway in also delivering the fine dining experience to your homes. Instead, Cloudstreet’s Executive Chef Rishi Naleendra had decided to go forth with a preview of his latest concept Kotuwa, that was due to open in brick and mortar on the 1st week of April, via delivery and takeaway. This proved to be a huge hit, Sri Lankan grub proving its due as some kind of remedy for anxiousness in this situation.

Rishi is not alone in innovating. Just a stone’s throw away from Cloudstreet, Lerouy, a modern Alsatian restaurant by Chef Christophe Lerouy, had started baking Flammkuchen, aka Tarte Flambée in French, for takeaway and deliveries during the Circuit Breaker.

But, enough about chefs. What about the Sommeliers? Beverage sales make for a huge proportion of a restaurant’s revenue and without that revenue stream now, restaurants can really suffer. Each day that passes during the Circuit Breaker without a beverage solution in place is money not being made by the business. How have sommeliers reorganised to manoeuvre through this Circuit Breaker?

Ronald Kamiyama, Beverage Manager for the Cicheti group, a small restaurant group that’s behind three Italian eateries in Singapore of which one is a pizzeria, says that the many ‘Zoom pizza parties’ taking place have helped keep the business up. He adds that in spite of the demand for takeaway pizza to feature on these webcam parties, the business will still be unable to cover its losses, but will suffice to keep the jobs of its staff. The Cicheti group has yet to let go of any one of its staff.

Ronald and the Cicheti group also seem to be favourably positioned in these takeaway times, based on the type of food that it sells. Pizza, calamari and its well-loved crack pie are all food items that would do well as takeaway food items. Even the dough recipe at Cicheti had been slightly tweaked to keep better as it makes its way to the customer. The Cicheti group has made its menu available on all four major delivery platforms (Deliveroo, Grab, Food Panda and Oddle), conscious however, of the very high commission fees charged by some of these companies.

As far as the Cicheti wine program was concerned, Ronald had decided to keep its offering simple with about under 10 labels available on its website, with about the same number of wine bundles of varying themes. He continues to increase the number of wines and bundles available on its site with time, as the demand increases. This is consistent with what the majority of restaurants have also done. Most have kept their selections rather succinct and navigable in a time where the help of a sommelier in guiding your purchasing decisions is not acquirable.

Ronald’s role as a wine professional has temporarily taken the backseat in this time and has had to direct his focus on tasks immediately responsible for generating revenue. Apart from his efforts in selecting specific wines to be made available as part of their delivery and takeaway offering, he has had to work the pizza boxes and even personally deliver some items.

Vincent Tan, head sommelier at Odette talks about his role pervading various aspects of management. Of particular interest to me amongst his number of responsibilities was his undertaking of reaching out to the rest of the staff in his team and checking up on them, to “keep everyone’s morale up and trying to make sure that they are not going crazy at home”.

The Circuit Breaker has also meant that restaurants have had to reduce the number of staff present at any one time, creating the need for shifts between staff with more time at home. Although less time at work may sound like a breath of fresh air to some of us, to the folks who are used to spending 90% of their time in the precincts of the workplace, this can be stressful. Noticing this problem, Vincent jumped at the opportunity in alleviating some of this stress for the team by carrying out wine training classes over Zoom. He has also spent much of his time studying for the Advanced Sommelier exams, that he plans to attempt next year.

Odette’s reputation was not built on its amazing cuisine alone. The elegant pastel-coloured space, high quality surfaces and furniture, the incredibly attentive and professional service team and the calming ambience completes the equation that is Odette. How do you package all this in a delivery?

Aleksandar Draganic, Beverage Manager of the Burnt Ends Group is grateful that he’s in Singapore at the time of this pandemic. He’s impressed at how well the situation has been handled thus far and feels generally optimistic about the road to recovery. Burnt Ends is not completely new to delivery, having had the ‘Sanger’ available for delivery and takeaway well before the Circuit Breaker. Aleks and his team import most of their wines but up until the Circuit Breaker, not much much importance was given to getting its e-commerce platform up and running. During the Circuit breaker however, progress accelerated. “Under these unfortunate circumstances, we figured out that this could be the ideal program to work on regarding the wines” says Aleks, adding that sales has picked up very nicely since launching and that it was the “biggest innovation” in this time.

Contemplating the future of restaurants post-Circuit Breaker and post-COVID-19, it does seem like some innovations are here to stay. Many restaurants that were in the past rather averse to the idea of delivery and takeaway, have had their eyes pried wide open now to its potential. Sommeliers are also not oblivious to the prospects of selling wines online. Platforms like Shopify and Wix have made it fairly easy for anyone to set up an online shops.

Should we expect to see more and more restaurants offering their stock online in the months and years to come? Should I go as far to say that it would be unquestionable to future restaurant business owners that when setting up a brick and mortar space, an online shop would naturally be set up with it? This very well could be one of the few innovations that make up the new normal for the restaurant industry in Singapore and around the world.

2016 Ziereisen Talrain Spätburgunder

Wow. What a wine. This had to be amongst the earthiest and meatiest Pinot Noirs that I’ve ever had, one that would work well with even beef dishes, I remember thinking.

The Ziereisen wines hail from a nook in the southwestern corner of Baden called Markgräflerland. It is the southernmost district of Baden and is at borders with both France and Switzerland. Compared to the better known Baden district Kaiserstuhl, the Markgräflerland has a cooler climate and is dominated by soils of loam and loess, with some limestone.

There may be about 10 wineries in the Markgräflerland with notable production, most of which are run by some motivated individuals, some of whom are especially young, like the brothers behind Weingut Claus Schneider who are showing plenty of promise, and the bearded duo behind Weingut Scherer-Zimmer, producing only Landwein. Master of Wine Jürgen von der Mark farms about 4 hectares of vines in the town of Bad Bellingen producing wines under his eponymous winery, experimenting also with some pretty odd varieties like Orleans and Petit Manseng in his field blends.

The Ziereisens however, are on a whole other level of non-conformity. They are considered to be the founders of the Landwein movement in Baden, and as part of their commitment, initiated the annual Landweinmarkt event in Müllheim that allows only Landwein producing estates to showcase their wines. The Ziereisen are outspoken about the current wine regulations in Germany and consider it to be limiting and detrimental to the potential diversity and quality of the local wines.

It is not some well-kept secret that wine regulations can be prohibitive to creativity, diversity. Since the times when appellation controls were set upon wine producing regions, originally intended to discourage what was at the time, rampant fraudulent blending, has now turned into a powerful system of perceived hierarchical classification. However more and more, appellation systems seem to be listening the winemakers that it swore to protect, and no longer take 30-40 years before a single modification is made. Changes to appellation laws now however, do seem to take place with more immediacy, especially when it comes to addressing major issues like climate change.

Without digressing any further…

The Ziereisens are a winery to watch, if you haven’t been already for the past 30 years that they’ve been around for. This is my first time tasting the wines and am truly blown away. The Talrain was deep, smoky, earthy and animal. The words ‘elegant’ and ‘finesse’, words that I’d normally use to describe the subtlety of Pinot Noir, will not apply here. The wine definitely had a richer velvety texture than a 2017 Pommard I was having earlier, with greater grip as well. The acidity was fresh as ever, considering also that it has been planted on one of the highest vineyards in Germany, at 500 metres above sea-level. 30% of the fruit was not de-stemmed and the wines were aged in large old barrels for 24 months. Trust me, you have to try this.

It was a welcome slap to the face and a reminder to not concede your idea of great Pinot Noir to the style of Burgundy. Burgundy, no matter how great, will continue to be Burgundy. But the rest of the world still wants a shot at Pinot Noir, no country more so than Germany. Already acquainted with the elegant and mineral style of the Bernard Huber wines of Baden’s Breisgau and Meyer-Näkel’s old-school, well-oaked Burgundian approach in the Ahr, I can tell you that you need to keep an eye out of German Pinot Noirs, or you’re bound to miss out on this quiet revolution that is taking place.

2016 Foradori Teroldego

With Mother’s Day around the corner, it was a scramble for most restaurants to try and capitalise on this opportunity by launching some sort of Mother’s Day promotion. I’d usually let this slip and not really engage in these ‘festive promotion’ type things, but had felt obliged in this instance, probably because of a recent Digital Marketing course that I had been signed up for by my company.

The course was carried out by hotel and tourism school SHATEC on Google Meet, a pretty neat web-based collaborative platform developed to handle such classroom learning. Apart from the occasional connectivity interruptions, and time just spent waiting on a special handful of people manoeuvre their way around the app, I must say that it has been an alright experience. It was an insight into what the internet and computers are again capable of. Also kudos to Google for really thinking up something like this and making it work.

I had learnt a handful of things in the duration of this course, but one that I thought to be especially relevant was to take the opportunity in festive times to launch a promotion or a sale. It was Mother’s Day and I thought well, why the hell not. When every other restaurant that decided that it was going to be Champagne for a Mother’s Day promotion, I had a different idea. The 2016 Foradori Teroldego was what came to mind as I’d wanted a unique red wine, but mostly because the owner of the estate herself is a mother, who has now handed over production to her three children. This would be the wine that I’d get my mother for Mother’s Day I thought, if I hadn’t already bought her a hand made porcelain tea set online.

The wine comes from the Trentino region of Northern Italy, an unlikely region for export quality wine, not because of some geographic predisposition that it finds itself in but instead its long time association with more commercial wine production. Cooperatives account for 80% of the production of all wine here, and 60% of all wine produced here come from one major company, Cavit.

An important style of wine from this region that has made export quality and is seen around the world however, is Trento DOC. Trento DOC wines are sparkling wines produced in the Champagne method, and have been made here since the early 1900s. Ferrari is a prominent brand of Trento DOC.

Though the Trento DOC wines and many of the commercial still white and red wines may be made with international grape varieties, the region is home to number of unique and exciting local grapes. Nosiola and Manzoni Bianco are two native white varieties while Marzemino, Schiava Grossa and Teroldego are some of the native red ones. These don’t make as much wine as Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay in the region, and therefore we don’t hear much of these varieties and it’s a terrible shame.

Elisabetta Foradori and her three Children Emilio, Theo and Myrtha

My first taste of Teroldego was of Foradori’s 2009 Granato, her top Teroldego bottling on the first vintage her estate was officially certified Biodynamic. I will admit that I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this 2016 Teroldego, which was fresher, cleaner, elegant and more vibrant. Im sure its youth definitely helped in exemplifying said vibrancy, but they both showed great quality – quality that could threaten the dominance of international grapes in the region.

It is this story that Elisabetta Foradori had sought to tell the world, and what a way to do it. She had taken over the estate, located in Campo Rotaliano in 1984 at the age of 20. Now her three children Emilio, Theo and Myrtha Zierock continue in their mother’s footsteps, in elevating the potential of the local wines of Trentino. The family farms about 28 hectares of vineyards, and own about half of those vineyards, all farmed to Biodynamic principles. The vineyards are surrounded by the Dolomites, an alpine mountain range that turns into a very popular ski area in winter.

The beautiful view from the vineyards looking into the great Dolomites

80% of Foradori’s vineyards are planted to Teroldego, 15% to Manzoni Biano and 5% to Nosiola. The vines that made this wine come from about 9 hectares of vineyards planted in a mixture of alluvial, gravel and sandy soils. The fermentation takes place in cement tanks after which some of the wine is racked into barrels where they will mature for another 12 months. The wines are then blended and bottled.

One thing that I found particularly interesting about the Granato Foradori bottles is that they were bottled in Shiraz-looking bottles. Very squarish and stout bottles, made with what felt like high quality glass. The wines however were far from tasting anything like Shiraz. The standard Foradori Teroldego wines come in regular Bordeaux bottles.

Teroldego wines have deep ripe black-cherry flavours with a pronounced tannin and acid structure. The wines when made well have great ageing potential, as the Foradori wines reveal. The 2016 Foradori Teroldego had a Malbec-like purplish colour with good depth. The wine itself was reductive but opened up over a period of about 30 minutes. In hindsight, decanting would have been a good idea here. The aromas were more savoury than fruity with earthy notes, some juniper, aniseed and pine. It had that burnt rubber aroma that you’d normally associate with Pinotage. It started showing hints of herbaceous bramble bush aromas as the reduction eventually blew over. Overall the quality was high with the wines showing great balance and elegance. The acidity made this wine that much more gastronomic and it yearned to be sipped aside some local Tyrolean Speck. This is a wine that I’m sure that I’d revisit many more times in the future.

In any case, it turned out that the promotion was a success and we had sold out of the wines in one day – I had reordered the stock twice more since putting it up. So, hooray Digital Marketing course! You’ve proved to be…profitable.

A very happy Mother’s Day to all of you! If you’d like a bottle of the Foradori wines, they are distributed in Singapore exclusively by ewineasia, and you can pick one up here!

The 2010 Heinrich Blaufränkisch

I had recently picked up a book on German wines by Master of Wine Anne Krebiehl and was pretty intrigued by the fact that the book had an entire chapter for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). A country previously only known for its white wines has seen a significant increase in Pinot Noir production. Plantings had doubled in the decade between 1990 and 2000, an increase that is primarily attributed to climate change, and the then new generation of winemakers who were more endowed than previous generations with the know-how of red winemaking.

Austria on the other hand, has about a third of its total vineyard area devoted to black grape varieties, of which many are indigenous to the country. In spite of that, it is, not unlike Germany, white wine that still comes to mind when most of us think ‘Austrian wine’. This is all slowly changing with a new generation of winemakers who are intent on elevating the perception of quality of its local red wines. Gernot Heinrich is one of them.

Gernot and Heike Heinrich, husband and wife, established the estate in 1990 in Gols, Burgenland – a town that is at the intersection between Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The goal was to move away from the simple and bulk wines they were making at the time and to produce instead, high quality red wines with local Austrian black grapes.

Gernot Heinrich was also a founding member of Pannobile, a group that has now 9 total members. Paul Achs, Claus Preisinger and Hans Gsellmann are some of the other members. It does feature a strong lineup of members, all with an unanimous goal: to produce wines that will genuinely express the terroir of Burgenland, through local grape varieties, cultivated organically or biodynamically. Each of the member estates must release a cuvée labelled ‘Pannobile’ adhereing stringently to these principles, which will be are for sale on the Pannobile webshop.

My first taste of the Heinrich wines was of their Pannobile cuvée from the 2012 vintage. An almost equal blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch, it was love. It had this cherry like tangy acidity, quite the velvety texture and was mostly fruity at the start but allowed its deeper and earthier tones to come through after about 10 minutes in the glass. The structure was reminiscent of a central Italian red wine while the savoury aromatic and flavour concentration screamed Hermitage. I would have thought the wine to have another 5-8 years in the bottle till it peaks, but I would not have kept it for any longer. It was drinking beautifully well.

This wine that I have just had however, is an entry-level bottling from the estate but punches about its weight. Compared against the Pannobile cuvée, this wine is not a blend and is made with only Blaufränkisch. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and oak vats. The wine ages for about 18 months in barrel, just a few months shorter than the Pannobile wine, but still as long most high quality Bordeaux wines. Only old Austrian oak vats are used here for maturation, though their premium wines have in the past seen a heavy handed use of new oak.

The bottle sports the Vinolok closure, as do many of their wines. I have only noticed that the 2009 Heinrich Gabarinza magnum from my personal collection uses a standard cork closure, though it could be that the rest of their premium, single-vineyard range uses them too.

I quickly realised that I had probably missed this wine’s peak by 3-4 years. I felt that it was on the verge of decline, and tertiary aromas were a dominant feature. The tannins were soft but the acidity kept fresh and was its redeeming asset. Though it was mostly dried fruit, tobacco and dried leaves all over, I couldn’t help but still relate this wine to an aged Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage. It had that savoury and spicy undertone, that just some years back would have been a lot more vibrant and dominant. Overall, a wine that I think we waited a little too long to drink, but still had great freshness that I enjoyed very much with a big bowl of slipper-lobster pasta.

Although white wine production at the estate is getting a boost with skin contact wines also making an appearance more and more each year, I have associated the estate with modern and complex red wines. I definitely recommend Heinrich’s red wines as the primer to the world of red Austrian wines. The wines combine complexity with easy-drinking that not a lot of wineries can do well. Except, maybe don’t wait 10 years before enjoying their standard Blaufränkisch release.

These Rather Tough Times

My first post comes at an odd time. Not just odd, but surreal.

COVID-19 has come, as if from the wildest plots of thriller novels and thrust into the real world, like a tornado, taking with it lives and livelihoods. The escalation of this virus has been so quick that I can’t even keep up with the changes in regulations that are happening everyday.

Today marks the sixth (?) day of the ‘Circuit-Breaker’, implemented as part of the government’s plan to further try and contain the spread of the virus. One of the regulations put forth in this implementation was to have restaurants close for dine-in and instead be set up for delivery and takeaway only.

We find ourselves in completely new territory. Grab Food or Food Panda? Or should we instead consider Oddle that offers both an online shop platform with integrated fulfilment services or should we get an account with Shopify and work on fulfilment ourselves with a third-party? It was just madness with each of us proposing a different idea and eventually settling for what would more immediately work for us in this circumstance.

What our restaurant accomplished in just a matter of days, to have switched from a contemporary fine dining restaurant, to a fast paced modern Sri Lankan take-out concept peddling about a hundred curries and Kottu roti, was quite the feat to behold. It happened to be more successful than initially anticipated. We only hope this keeps up in the weeks to come.

I jumped at the opportunity to set up a wine takeaway shop online for the restaurant. I quickly realised two different things: first, on top of this being a completely new can of worms, it also required a very different marketing process. Second, that if there was anyone out there in the perfect position to start a wine e-commerce platform, it would be us in restaurants. Let me elaborate on this second realisation.

Restaurants like the one that I work for have acquired over the long and hard years before, a following and an established brand image. Almost all of our guests associate us with quality and trust our decisions when it comes to picking what we choose to sell in our space. I am sure that this trust pervades the many different aspects of our business including the wine program.

The question now is getting this brand image translated onto our web-based platform seamlessly. The team behind the branding of the restaurant, Restless, and I have had discussions about if we should build this up as its own entity, and not be just an extension of the restaurant. This would be something we are due to explore once COVID rides out.

As a restaurant, we work with close to 60 suppliers for just our wines alone. This generous access to wines allows the customer a candy store of options all in one place. Getting this variety online at retail markups all in one place could be an incredibly profitable prospect.

However for now, we are left to deal with the difficulties and limitations that the virus has left us to work with. We are, like many other restaurants, confident of emerging on the other side stronger than we were before. Focused on surviving this mess, I guess all other ambitions of grandiose will have to take the backseat for now.