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As David Ling of Hugel explained, you have to understand that Alsatians (the people) are 100% French with a 150% ‘germanic’ mentality and a 200% dedication to Alsace. It’s quite a small region to visit, caught between the Vosges mountains to the West and the Rhine (and Black Forest) looming to the East. The centre is the picture-postcard lovely town of Colmar, with the main winery based villages dotted along the slopes to its west side. ‘Disneyfied’ may say the cruel, but this is an area that thrives on (mainly German and French) tourism, and the brightly painted, scrupulously clean environment packs in the coach parties. A leafy green backdrop of vines provides the perfect foil before the belt of woodland that disappears into the hills.
Supported by a group of intrepid doctors, the Charles Hastings Wine Club, I visited four producers in three days – a comfortable, if quite predictable exposure to the best that Alsace has to offer. We started with the Cooperative at Pfaffenheim, moved on to Hugel at Riquewihr, then Schlumberger at Guebwiller and finally Domaine Bruno Sorg at Eguisheim. Four quite different visits, four quite different takes on the same varieties; effectively we were comparing the merits of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer in the hands of different winemakers – and from different soils and slopes.
There are some generalisations to be made however...
Worthy, never showy, a well-textured white that tends to fill the mouth without bowling you over with individuality of flavour. I like the clean lines of Pinot Blanc Classic from Hugel which is a well-priced staple.
Originally Tokai Pinot Gris (the Tokai dropped to avoid confusion with Hungarian Tokaji), this is much more characterful with more aroma, depth of flavour and a ripe, spicy edge to it. A fuller style than many French whites from other regions, it reminds you why Pinot Grigio is so popular. Sorg’s 2011 is juicy and drinkable, Les Princes Abbés 2011 from Schlumberger felt very complete and balanced, only topped by their grand cru wines.
Classy, fuller and drier than the German counterparts to the East, we felt the best are certainly those from the ‘grand cru’ vineyards – pricier but invariably a big step up in quality. Although we didn’t visit, Ehrhart’s Grand cru Kaefferkopf is a very pure style, while the stars that we tasted include two grand crus from Sorg, Floriment and Pfersigberg which are sited above Eguisheim.
So aromatically enticing, provided the rose-petal doesn’t overpower you first, it was encouraging to taste numerous examples which were well-balanced with enough acidity to keep them fresh. Impressively on-form I felt, and much more enjoyable than I remembered. Pfaffenheim’s Gewurztraminer 2012 is quite fat and round, a good start before taking on world-beaters from Hugel and Schlumberger, who’s Grand cru Kessler is frankly outstanding
Vendange Tardive and Selection des Grains Nobles are simply delicious; concentrated and with intense sweetness but with fresh acidity and a density that again you don’t always see in Germany. They are a price however, and prohibitive for many if you are in a restaurant. We baulked a little at paying 200 euros a bottle…
Overall impressions? There is more intensity of flavour, more depth and ‘fullness’ in the wines of Alsace than you’ll find in comparably priced wines in other regions. But it’s a small region producing hand-crafted wines in mostly small lots (and we visited two major players in Hugel and Schlumberger) so the price is relatively high. The Germanic twist is interesting, and all-pervading. I found an ‘oompah band’ playing in Eguisheim on Sunday morning, and despite rucks of tourists clogging the place up, the locals are terribly polite and helpful. There is an absence of untidiness; no half-finished buildings for example. The food varies from solid, unremarkable germanically named tourist fodder to some outrageously good, French based cuisine. Choucroute /Saurkraut and five types of pig can render you immoveable, yet a simple Flammekueche, a sort of thin crust pizza, is perfect lunchtime fare with a glass of wine. http://www.getalsaced.com/alsatian-specialties.html will explain more. Alsace is a lovely visit, perfect for a long weekend – but make it on the fringe of the tourist season!
Take a look at my video clip of our bike tour of Alsace...
This post was posted in Tanners News, Tanners Trips and was tagged with Alsace, Charles Hastings Wine Club, Domaine Bruno Sorg, Ehrhart, Gewürztraminer, Hugel, Pfaffenheim, Pinot Blanc, pinot gris, Riesling, Schlumberger, Wine, Wine Tourism
Our flagship branch in Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, is almost as famous for the window display as it is for our wine, so the pressure to come up with an eye-catching theme every time can be quite daunting.
With an Italian wine promotion coming up, Helen Chaudron, who designs our window displays, wanted to create something simple but typically Italian and came up with an idea of including iconic Italian ‘Lambretta’ or ’Vespa’ scooters, little imagining that it might be actually possible to borrow some for six weeks!
Hoping Radio Shropshire DJ, Jim Hawkins, might be able to put a plea out on his show, Jim came up with a better idea - The Severnside Lions Scooter Club which is based in Shrewsbury. With the deadline for the start of the Italian wine promotion fast approaching Helen e.mailed the Scooter Club and lo and behold, Jerry Kurek e.mailed straight back with an offer of help!
Two beautiful scooters duly arrived the very next day and have created a lot of comments from passers-by – everyone wants to own one! In recognition of their help, we have given the Club a case of Tanners Claret to help with its 2014 fundraising activities.
Anyone with an interest in Italian scooters should definitely contact the club through their website, www.severnsidelionsscooterclub.com as it has a fantastic membership and a wonderful collection of scooters, they are a great bunch. Jerry Kurek, from the scooter club told us he thinks the window is ‘ace’ and that they have had quite a lot of people get in touch to find out more about them.
The beautiful vineyards and wineries of Puglia and Basilicata in the unspoilt south east ‘heel’ of Italy are a wonderful place to visit!
A small team from Tanners recently flew to Bari airport with Robin Woodhouse, our guide for our four day trip. Robin spent many years based in Italy looking after the Italian end of some very large wine-making projects for British buyers. His own brand, Amanti del Vino (which literally means ‘lovers of wine’ – the name was his wife’s idea) is a range of wines sourced from selected co-operatives around Italy.
Robin put a great deal of effort into making sure the five of us (Alison Chadwick and Rob Crosland from Shrewsbury, Neil Clarke from Hereford, Mark Carter from Bridgnorth and Matt Bevan from Welshpool) got a real feel for the area. As soon as we arrived, with Neil behind the wheel, we were directed to the Hotel Castellinaria with its own private beach on the Adriatic. There we enjoyed seven, yes seven, courses of local fish and shellfish, all proudly served to us by the attentive hotel staff. Rob says, for him, the stand-out dishes were the octopus and red mullet which were matched with some local wines we hadn’t tried before.
Amanti del Vino Primitivo
After a quick dip in the sea the following morning, we stopped off at Ostuni for coffee and to admire the view of the historic ‘White Town’ then onward to the production site for Amanti Primitivo (£6.80) in Manduria. Winemaker, Vincenzo Laera, of Megale Hellas, started off by taking us to the Primitivo vineyards just outside the city driving past its famous ancient ruins along the way. The family has an impressive 250 ha of vines, 150 ha of which are Primitivo and the rest, French varietals. The harvest from the 50 year old vines we saw had already finished, but there were still raisined grapes on the branches: a promising sign of a second crop unique to Primitivo.
At the winery we saw the wine being fermented in a series of large open lagares, a technique adapted from the Roman way of doing things . We were surprised to see (some very happy!) snails floating on top of the cap.
Back in the tasting room, Vincenzo showed us a range of four wines - a very ripe and fruity Grillo, the damsony, velvety 2010 and 2011 Amanti del Vino Primitivo followed by a Primitivo di Manduria DOC. We then tried a Chardonnay and Fiano which were only partially fermented and it was hard to get beyond the strong flavours of Williams Pears and grapefruit! We finished with a Primitivo ‘must’, unfiltered and unfined, which had undergone just 7 days of maceration.
Feudi di San Marzano
After quick lunch in a traditional restaurant near Guagnano, we sped on to Feudi di San Marzano, a thunderstorm threatening overhead. On arrival, we were met by Angelo Cotugno who pointed out that it was the first rain they had had in months after a very dry summer.
In their very impressive hi-tech tasting room, we were also introduced to winemaker Caterina Bellanova, a biologist, and together we tried nine wines and a tank sample. Going through Mark’s tasting notes, it’s hard to identify his favourites; words like ‘superb’, ‘stunning’ and ‘not for spitting’ leap off the page! The Feudi di San Marzano Negroamaro 2011 was rich, tary and smokey with hints of cedar and cigar box on the nose and brambles and dark plums on the palate. The 2012 is now available at £8.95. Mark also really rated the ‘Sud’ Verdeca Puglia IGP 2011 – a perfumed white with tropical notes and a hint of smokiness with great length.
At the end of our tasting, we were treated to 11 Filari, Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale, made from 60 year old vines’ hand harvested grapes which had been allowed to wither on the plant. It had a complex nose, mature notes of figs and cherry jam and a pleasant honeyed finish. It was suggested that we try it with dry almond cakes, fruit tart or savoury cheese and we were generously given a bottle to take away with us for such sampling later.
The rain stopped and the sun was back out when Angelo took us round the impressively modern winery. Grapes were being delivered in little three wheeled trucks (we should get one for each Tanners branch for local deliveries!) that we saw at all the wineries we visited.
Angelo finished our tour with a drive to a nearby vineyard of Primitivo bush vines which has recently been purchased by San Marzano. Angelo explained that other crops are more profitable for local farmers these days and there is a danger of vines being grubbed up. The best way of solving the problem is therefore to acquire the vineyards to make sure that the grapes from the best sites stay available.
While wandering round we enjoyed juicy ripe figs straight from the trees, although we weren’t so brave with the prickly pears.
Robin promised us a scenic drive to our next hotel and it didn’t disappoint as we drove high up towards the beautiful old town of Martina Franca with its maze of piazzas, narrow streets and intricately carved architecture. Our hotel, Masseria Madonna dell’Arco, was made up of individual traditional white stone trulli with their distinctive conical roofs, great for keeping cool.
The next morning, after a dip in the pool and breakfast of local cakes called Boconotti, we left Puglia behind and headed in the direction of the Basilicata region. After a tour and lunch at the Polvanera Cantine, Robin took over driving duties from Neil and we headed off towards Venosa (birth place of Roman poet Horace) to rendezvous with our next hosts from Alovini.
Waiting for us there was Oronzo Alo, the wine maker, with Donato Lamiranda, owner of vineyards used to produce grapes for Alovini wines. After several kilometres of bouncing along the winding, uneven roads in the region around the extinct volcano Monte del Vulture, we arrived at one of Alovini’s Aglianico vineyards.
The Aglianico grapes grown on the darkish soils of the region were still ripening at the time of our visit and had several weeks to go before harvesting. Through translation by Robin, Oronzo described with enthusiasm and obvious passion, the influence that location, soils, nature and human intervention has on the vines that go into his Aglianico del Vulture (£10.80).
Donato escorted us to our evening’s accommodation, meandering though the hilly countryside taking in all the glorious views and having to stop several times so we could all get out of the car to take photos.
Owned by a member of his extended “family” as is the Italian way, Le Masserie del Falco hotel is near Forenza, a region full of hills and mountains in the north east of Basilicata. It was so tranquil and peaceful with scenery to die for: I’d highly recommend a visit here when the building work is complete.
We tasted six of Oronzo’s wines before an amazing dinner. The tasting included Le Ralle Greco Basilicata (£10.70) which has lovely minerality with soft balanced acidity and aromatic hints of peach and apricot. Also, Terra degli Eventi, Basilicata IGT, Alovini 2011 (£9.20) which, in earlier vintages was more “rustic” in style, is now much more elegant and sophisticated: a real bargain with dense ruby colour and delightful berry fruits. Finally, Aglianico del Vulture DOC, Le Ralle, Alovini 2009 (£10.80), inky dark and broody but with soft tannins, subtle berry fruit, hints of vanilla oak on the nose, it still has some youthful acidity.
The following morning, Donato guided us to Alovini’s current HQ to meet up with Oronzo. To our amazement we arrived at what is not much more than a very large garage, inside is an Aladdin’s cave filled with all manor of equipment from a bottling plant to stainless steel storage tanks, oak casks and boxed stock awaiting shipment.
Oronzo explained that he does a lot of the vinification at the co-operative winery where he was once director and now rents space; this is however only a temporary situation and he proudly showed us the plans for his impressive new winery. How these fine wines are currently produced, to such a high standard, in the quantities they are, in such a small space, is astounding; but having met Oronzo and seen his passion first hand, it’s not really a surprise.
From Genzano di Lucania, we drove a short distance to a vineyard owned by Donato where harvesting was in progress, on the way there we passed the plot that will be the location of the new winery. These were Merlot vines, earlier ripening than Aglianico, and the preferred method here was to pick the fruit manually. The picker’s cute little dog proved to be a bit of a character; barking at us if we got too close but as he got used to us he showed a more playful side.
We were in the shadow of Acerenza here, another town with rich history and connections to the poet Horace. With its elevated position at the top of a steep hill, views from the city walls of the surrounding countryside were stunning so a quick pit stop for photos and a Peroni beer were in order.
We had one more destination for lunch before heading to the airport. So the Sat Nav was set for Matera where we enjoyed more fabulous food at a traditional Trattoria with Oronzo and Donato in the heart of the modern city. A stark contrast to the city was the ancient town of Sassi di Matera set into steep cliffs where the last hour or so of the trip were spent taking some time to reflect on what a stunningly beautiful region it is. Also, we were so appreciative of how generous our hosts were with their time and hospitality. So thanks to all; Robin from DiVino, Oronzo & Donato from Alovini for such an informative visit.
This post was posted in Tanners News, Tanners Trips and was tagged with Acerenza, Aglianico del Vulture, Alovini, Amanti del Vino, Angelo Cotugno, Basilicata, Caterina Bellanova, Donato Lamiranda, Feudi di San Marzano, Italy, Le Ralle Greco, Merlot, Negroamaro, Oronzo Alo, Primitivo, Puglia, Terra degli Eventi, Vincenzo Laera