Uncornered Market » Wine http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:21:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Extreme Wine Tasting, New Zealand Stylehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/new-zealand-wine-tasting/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/new-zealand-wine-tasting/#comments Wed, 24 Apr 2013 16:31:48 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=13226 By Daniel Noll

This is our on-the-ground introduction to the New Zealand wine scene, focused on the South Island regions of Marlborough, Central Otago, and Nelson. It includes recommended wineries, a wine cottage experience for the romance bucket list, and an insight into how wine tasting in New Zealand can be more frightening than jumping off a bridge. […]

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By Daniel Noll

new zealand wine tasting
This is our on-the-ground introduction to the New Zealand wine scene, focused on the South Island regions of Marlborough, Central Otago, and Nelson. It includes recommended wineries, a wine cottage experience for the romance bucket list, and an insight into how wine tasting in New Zealand can be more frightening than jumping off a bridge.

As we motored down the Gibbston Highway outside of Queenstown, I reached for my turn signal to point our way towards a dirt road for Chard Farm. For the tenth time in as many tries, I fired up the windshield wipers instead.

The cleanest windshield in all of New Zealand,” our friend Andrew quipped. His joke would never lose its luster, as I could never really conquer the control panel of a left-side drive car in New Zealand.

Old dogs, new tricks. But we were on our way to taste wine. Things were about to look up.

Then the driveway-cum-access road began to narrow. The gravel softened. Guard rails vanished. Were there ever any? The mood, precarious. Vertical drops into the canyon were beyond the crane of the neck.

Even wine-tasting in New Zealand is extreme. This is the gorge-road we had to drive to get to Chard Farm vineyards.
Can you spot the vineyards in the distance?

I white knuckled the steering wheel. The irony: I’ve been bungee jumping, cave diving, and hang gliding all over New Zealand and here I am, examining my own mortality on the way to a wine tasting. For passengers and driver alike, navigating this wine road was quite possibly more frightening than bungee jumping the bridge just across the way.

I see dead people.”

Instead, we found a few glasses of exceptional Pinot Noir. Much nicer. And this was just the beginning of our dive into New Zealand wine — the aromatic usual suspects Riesling and Pinot Gris, surprising unoaked and restrained Chardonnays, inimitable Sauvignon Blanc, and even well-executed Syrah. But where did we find it all? And how? This is the full story.

If you’re looking for recommendations for specific South Island wine regions, skip ahead to:
Gibbston Valley, Central Otago Wine Tasting
Marlborough Wine Tasting
Nelson Wine Tasting
Waipara Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting in the South Island: Get Amongst It

If you do it right, your wine tasting experience in the South Island will not only encompass drinking good wine, but it will also be about the people you meet, the landscapes you drove through to find them and how everything comes together to produce the wines you are tasting.

Small private tasting rooms are the best. As you enjoy a taste from white to red, chat with the sommelier. There are no stupid questions, only ones that bring you closer to understanding what you are drinking and whether or not it suits your taste. Part of the fun of wine tasting in New Zealand is talking with people and tapping into their passions about the wines they serve, wines in general, and their country.

But how to get started to know which wineries to go to? The first step is to pick up a local wine route map. Then ask locals and sommeliers at the wineries for recommendations. Before you know it, your map will be filled with circled wineries, marginalia, and recommended vintages. That’s how we carved our New Zealand wine experience and found all the wineries listed below.

Note: We had a rental car to get around (details at the end of this post) as this option provided us with our desired level of freedom and flexibility. This is our recommendation. However, if you are concerned about driving, it’s also possible to rent bikes in Marlborough (that come with handy wine bottle panniers or saddlebags) or to take a wine tour.

Wine Tasting in Gibbston Valley, Central Otago

Central Otago, just outside of Queenstown, may just be the epicenter of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Warm days, cool nights. As you make your way, you can imagine ravine-cooled air toughening the skins of Pinot Noir grapes that will someday be pressed into something that you’ll eat with a steak. Yes, Pinot Noir with a steak. New Zealand’s got ‘em.

Chard Farm
The reward for navigating the access road to Chard Farm, outside of the beauty of the scenery itself: a pleasant experience that encourages conversation. A solid go-to tasting room to begin (or end) your Gibbston Valley outing.

Wine Tasting at Chard Farm - Gibbston Valley, New Zealand
Wine Tasting at Chard Farm – Gibbston Valley, New Zealand

Chard Farm whites were eye-opening, particularly the peachy Pinot Gris 2011, the honeysuckle-like Gewürztraminer 2010 and the hint-of-apricot 2010 Riesling. We also tasted a few Pinot Noirs here, including the juicy Mata-Au Pinot Noir and the the top end 2010 Tiger Pinot Noir and 2010 Viper Pinot Noir. Of those two, the Tiger was our favorite — when we return, we’re buying a bottle.

Wine tasting details: Monday-Friday: 10am-5pm, Saturday-Sunday: 11am-5pm. Wine tasting is free, but if you don’t buy a bottle they suggest giving a donation for a local charity the winery supports. Address: 205 Chard Road.

Brennan Wines
Not only is the wine tasting fun and personal, but the Brennan Wines setting — against a backdrop of flinty mountains — is pretty spectacular. It was thanks to a recommendation that we found this small boutique winery tucked away off the main road as it didn’t appear on the wine map. The winemakers are experimenting with varietals like Termpranillo and Pinot Grigio, as well as producing a range of Pinot Noir.

Our suggestion is to spend some time here and enjoy a picnic amongst the vines. At the winery you can buy a plate of local cheeses, sausages and breads (NZ$25) and while away your hours playing pétanque (boules).

Quite possibly the world's most beautiful pétanque pitch (boules, bocce). Brennan Vineyards, Gibbston Otago, #newzealand
Brennan Winery, New Zealand’s most beautiful pétanque pitch?

Although we appreciated the distinction between the Italian style Pinot Grigio and French-style Pinot Gris, the Pinot Noirs ruled the day. The 2009 Brennan Pinot Noir was perhaps our favorite taste (with the warm 2008 a close second), but the 2010 B2 Pinot Noir was perhaps the easiest-drinking value buy, in case you don’t have room in your luggage.

Wine tasting details: Monday-Sunday: 11am-5pm. Tasting fee: NZ$5, waived if you buy a bottle. Address: 86 Gibbston Back Road

Central Otago Wine Tasting, Maps and Additional Wineries of Note

If you’d like to plan a full day or multi-day wine tasting outing on your own, download the Central Otago wine maps. When you are on the ground, you can get all these maps in one nice little free brochure. This is pretty much all you need. Here are the Central Otago sub-regions and a few more recommendations we were given.

  • Gibbston — Mt. Rosa – if we’d had a little more time, this would have been our last stop. Peregrine Wines and Amisfield Wines also came recommended.
  • Cromwell
  • Bannockburn – Felton Road winery also came recommended.
  • Alexandra

Wine Tasting in Marlborough

New Zealand’s Marlborough wine region is akin to California’s Napa Valley in the way that small, independent wineries sit proudly next to big wine powerhouses. Vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see. As wine tasting in the region has become more popular, bistros have popped up at wineries or along the main wine routes. So you’ll be able to find something other than meat pies and fish & chips — though those both go well with the right bottle — to compliment your wine of choice.

The next vintage, up the wine row -- Herzog Winery, Marlborough #newzealand
Herzog Winery in Marlborough

Although the Marlborough wine region is known best for Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll find a surprisingly wide selection of Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Pinot Gris — all along with Pinot Noir and even some courageous vintages of Syrah. Outside of wine-tasting, simply driving through the region will take hours, if not days, just to accommodate ogling and pulling over to take photos of stunning scenery.

Hans Herzog Estate Winery
Hans Herzog Estate is where wine, good food and atmosphere all come together. We suggest that you plan a lunch or dinner stop at the Bistro to enjoy dining outside in the garden. The menu changes regularly to reflect what is fresh in the garden or region. Even though the food and garden setting are exceptional, we found that the prices at the Bistro ran about the same as a decent pub in the city. (Note that the menu at the restaurant is more upscale than that of the bistro.)

Sample Starters at Hans Herzog Bistro - Marlborough, New Zealand
Sample Starters at Hans Herzog Bistro

Herzog Vineyard Cottage – Splurge Suggestion: If you’re looking for one place to splash out during a visit to the South Island, the vineyard cottage at Herzog is it. We don’t easily succumb to accommodation, but this is a special place. The cottage is the epitome of coziness. And then you fall out the front door right onto the vineyards. That is, if you manage to get beyond the decor and vegetation snaking around your own private deck. We had to be escorted from the premises after checkout time had passed. (We kid.)

A view from our wine cottage at Hans Herzog Estate, Marlborough. I will have to be forcibly removed from the premises on checkout. #newzealand
View from our wine cottage at Hans Herzog.

Wine tasting details: Monday-Friday, 9am – 5pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11am – 4pm (summertime). A tasting of three wines will cost NZ$10. Address:81 Jeffries Road, Blenheim

Seresin Estate
A few turns into the hills and you’ll find Seresin, a tiny boutique winery. For pure vintage quality, particularly given the strictures of organic and biodynamic winemaking in New Zealand, Seresin is hard to beat.

2011 Sauvignon Blanc, one of our favorites in the region, with a bit of toast, honey, wild yeast and not so much of the tomato stem. 2010 Pinot Gris, our favorite of this aromatic, offered a little voluptuousness that would go nicely with pork. The 2010 Chardonnay, another winner with its creamy, yeasty roundness touched with flint.

Wine tasting details: Every day, 10-4:30pm. Cost is NZ$5 per tasting, can be applied to the purchase of a bottle. Address: 85 Bedford Road, Blenheim.

Fromm Winery
Each time someone circled Fromm Winery on our wine map, they’d say, “Now this is the place for reds in the Marlborough area.” In the land of white wines, Fromm Winery bucks the Marlborough region trend by focusing mainly on its red varietals. And its experimentation with big red wines like Syrah pays off.

Wine Tasting at Fromm Winery - Marlborough, New Zealand
Wine tasting at Fromm Winery, Marlborough.

Wine tasting details: Every day, 10-5pm in the summer (Oct-Apr). In the winter (May-Sept) the tasting room is open on Fri-Sun, 11am-4pm. Cost is NZ$5 per tasting, waived with a bottle purchase. Address: Godfrey Road, Blenheim.

Giesen Winery
Although Giesen Winery can get busy with cruise passenger traffic, the sommeliers really went out of their way to ensure a personal tasting experience. If you have a bit of time, consider snacking on a cheese and salami plate with a bottle of wine in the garden. Giesen offered some of the least expensive wines along the route, with entry level wines running $16NZ a bottle.

2010 Brothers Viognier to pair with food. Riesling 2012, our favorite. Also a winner of one of the Air New Zealand wine awards. Perhaps what I liked best about this wine, the tasting notes included “a hint of petrichor.” Among our new favorite words.

Giesen Vineyards - Marlborough, New Zealand
Looking out over Giesen Vineyards in Marlborough.

Wine tasting details: Every day, 10-4:30pm. Address: 26 Rapaura Road, Blenheim.

Marlborough Wine Maps and Other Wineries

Among a pretty tight consistently recommended group of wineries in Marlborough that we missed: Dog Point, Rock Ferry Wines, Framingham, Auntsfield Estate, Yealands Estate (picturesque), and No. 1 Family Estate (particularly if sparkling wines are your thing).

For an overview of your options in the Marlborough wine region, check out the Marlborough Wine Trail map, a copy of which you should be able to pick up from any local tourist office.

Seafood Odyssea:

The Seafood Odyssea leaves from Picton on summer afternoons and takes you through the Marlborough Sounds for a detailed look at a green-lipped mussel farm and salmon farm. Honestly, we never imagined learning about local seafood farming methods would actually be so interesting. Or, so beautiful. And we enjoyed a huge bowl of tender, fresh green-lipped mussels, cold-smoked salmon and Tio Point Oysters all finished with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Not a bad afternoon.

Green Lipped Mussels on the Seafood Odyssea - Marlborough, New Zealand
Green Lipped Mussels on the Seafood Odyssea

Seafood Odyssea Details: Book in advance with Marlborough Travel to ensure your spot. The boat leaves at around 1:30pm and the journey takes 3-4 hours. Price: $135/person (includes seafood and wine mentioned above). Hint: If you are a group, are interested in a broader selection of wines to taste, and you haven’t taken the Cook Strait Ferry, contact Marlborough Travel to see what it would take to arrange a custom experience with a sommelier on board.

Wine Tasting in Nelson Region

While Kiwis are friendly in general, we found people in and around Nelson to be notably hospitable and fun. Compared to Marlborough, the Nelson wine region is less well-known, but its popularity for viniculture is growing. After you visit Marlborough, you’ll find that the style of Sauvignon Blanc from this region to be even more distinct, with even more hints of tomato stems and green pepper. Sounds crazy, maybe, but go stick your nose in a glass and experience it for yourself.

Neudorf Vineyards
Every person we spoke to in Nelson steered us to Neudorf Vineyards. It’s easy to see why. Although Neudorf is larger than most in the area, its wines retain a personal, family feel. Across the board from the whites to the reds, Neudorf wines are consistently good. Buy a picnic plate of cheeses, meats and olives to enjoy with a bottle of wine for the afternoon in the garden.

Tasting included a distinct 2012 Sauvingnon Blanc with more than a hint of tomato stem and a 2011 Viognier, the red-drinker’s white wine, with a touch of wood and oil, not quite a Chardonnay. Loved the Pinot Noir, all around. Our pick for taste and value: 2010 Tom’s Block Pinot Noir.

Wine Tasting at Neudorf Vineyards - Nelson, New Zealand
Everything marked with a dot is part of that day’s standard wine tasting.

Wine tasting details: Daily, 10am-5pm in summer. Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm in winter. Address: 138 Neudorf Road, Upper Moutere

Greenhough
Tucked back off the main road amidst fruit orchards is Greenhough Winery. We were fortunate to have our tasting with one of the owners, so we heard the story of how the family has developed the winery over the last twenty years while maintaining an organic approach.

2012 Apple Valley Riesling, liked the crisp with a bit of acidity. Apple Valley 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, less grassy than most, even a little creamy. 2012 Chardonnay, similarly surprising with hints of oak and stone, vanilla and spice. Finally, we picked up a bottle of the 2012 Riesling Noble (botrytised dessert wine) that we will serve with the right fresh cobbler or plate of ripened soft cheese.

Wine tasting details: Daily, 1pm-5pm from Christmas through January. Weekends only, 1pm-5pm from Labour Day to Easter. Address: 411 Paton Road, RD1, Hope

Rimu Grove Winery
This small boutique winery not too far from Mapua is worth visiting just for the views of Tasman Bay, Rabbit Island and Waimea Inlet. The wine tasting experience itself is personal and fun; our sommelier not only knew her stuff about Rimu Grove, but about all the wineries in the region.

Pinot Gris 2010, a bit of oak, a touch of acidity, otherwise soft on the palate. A versatile and surprising Chardonnay, mild oak with hints of nuts and melon.

Wine tasting details: Daily, 11am-5pm in summer. Monday-Friday, 11am-5pm in winter. Tastings are free. Address: Bronte Road East, Upper Moutere

Nelson Wine Map and Guide

For an overview of your options in the Nelson wine region, check out the Nelson Wine Guide and Map, a copy of which you’ll have with you when you are on the ground in Nelson.

Wine Tasting around Christchurch, North Canterbury, Waipara Valley

If you happen to be in Christchurch and are looking for a wine tasting opportunity nearby, consider Waipara Valley. While we don’t consider ourselves authorities on the region, we did aim to check it out on our way back from Hanmer Springs to Christchurch and were glad we did.

Pegasus Bay Winery
After a quick poking around online for wineries on our return route to Christchurch, we happened upon Pegasus Bay Winery, noted in the region for its restaurant.

Penny, the sommelier, took us through a broad range. Of note: 2010 Sauvignon Blanc uncharacteristic of those at the north end of the South Island. 2010 Bel Canto Riesling, perhaps our favorite of the tasting with hints of citrus and even jasmine. 2010 Gewürztraminer fascinating with rose water, jasmine and even other floral notes like hyacinth. 2010 Pinot Noir deep color, plums and cherries, velvet and spice.

For more information on Waipara Valley and North Canterbury wineries, download the North Canterbury Wine Guide and Map.

—-

A note of thanks: Many people came together to make our final week in New Zealand a tasty, romantic and memorable one. In addition to the people and companies we thank below, we also would like to give a shout out to all the Kiwis we met along the way who steered us to many of the wineries you see above. They never seemed to tire of our questions and some even provided us a ride when we needed it.

Disclosure: A big thanks to New Zealand Rent a Car for providing a car to us for our last week in New Zealand. We’d also like to thank the folks at Destination Marlborough for arranging our stay at Hans Herzog Estate Winery and getting us aboard the Seafood Odyssea with Chris and Jo, who shared their decades of knowledge of the seafood and wine industry with us. Our flights to New Zealand were kindly sponsored by Air New Zealand. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Wine Tasting in Mendoza, Argentina: Going Beyond Malbec and Loving Ithttp://uncorneredmarket.com/wine-tasting-mendoza-argentina/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/wine-tasting-mendoza-argentina/#comments Wed, 26 Jan 2011 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5587 By Daniel Noll

Maybe you’d like to visit wine country in Argentina. You’ve heard about Mendoza, but you wonder: How to I go about wine tasting and touring wineries there? The options are many, but if you’d like to have a meaningful, enlightening wine tasting experience and an awesome time, here are a few tips on how to […]

The post Wine Tasting in Mendoza, Argentina: Going Beyond Malbec and Loving It appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Daniel Noll

Maybe you’d like to visit wine country in Argentina. You’ve heard about Mendoza, but you wonder: How to I go about wine tasting and touring wineries there? The options are many, but if you’d like to have a meaningful, enlightening wine tasting experience and an awesome time, here are a few tips on how to do so without blowing a ton of cash.

Fall Colors at the Vineyards Near Mendoza on the Way to Santiago - Argentina/Chile
Mendoza Vineyards Against the Andean Mountains

When we visited Argentina, we saved Mendoza, the country’s oldest and best-known wine region, for our last stop. Mendoza is one of those familiar names — it’s the epicenter of Malbec, Argentina’s most famous red wine varietal, and as the autumn harvest begins to fade into winter, the snow-covered Andes frame something simply stunning.

But there’s always hype, isn’t there? Due to feedback from other travelers, we’d tempered our expectations of Mendoza prior to our visit. In actual experience, we were pleasantly surprised to find not only some excellent wines but also some warm, passionate people working in the industry who were keen to open their world to us.

How did we do this? We took a three-pronged approach: seek out a tasting room for orientation, go deep with a public transport tour of Lujan de Cuyo, and wind things up on a bicycle down the wine roads of Maipu Valley. For sure, we’d taste Malbec, but we also went offbeat with Cabernet, Bonarda, Petit Verdot and Viognier, too.

Whatever you choose to do in Mendoza and wherever you choose to go, we offer this general bit of advice: show your curiosity, don’t be afraid of exposing your inexperience, ask lots of questions and always seek out tastings beyond the standard offer.

Note: Many wineries close down over the weekend. If your stay overlaps with a weekend, do your research or call in advance to be sure the winery you want to visit is indeed open.

1) An Orientation: Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room

When you first arrive in Mendoza, make a beeline to this place. With close to 100 wines by the glass served by savvy sommeliers, Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room is the place to go for an orientation on Mendoza wine regions, wineries, wines and varietals. However deep or broad you’d like to go, Vines of Mendoza is thorough and approachable.

Take a seat at the bar up close to the action, and let the fun begin.

Wine Tasting at the Vines of Mendoza - Argentina
Tasting Mendoza Wines at Vines of Mendoza Bar

In our experience, the bartender-sommeliers are what seal the experience. The ones we’d spoken to weren’t just trying to push the most expensive glasses of wine our way. They spoke intelligently and passionately, but never to the point of overdoing it. They had fun and so did we.

Tell them what you’re looking for in a wine and they’ll usually recommend three to four wines to try. If you ask nicely, they will give you small tasting of each (a sort of mini-flight) so that you can choose the one you like most. Buy a full, generously poured glass. You’ll be surprised; it’s often not the most expensive wine you’ll choose. The whole process works particularly well for couples and small groups.

On our first day, we were drawn to a Viognier, a white wine varietal. An unlikely pick in a country known mainly for its reds, but that Viognier (Lorca Poetico 2008, 40% oaked) would remain with us as one of our favorites. We made our way through various styles of Malbecs (we had to, didn’t we?) and we went further afield to Bonarda, a traditional blending varietal we’d become fond of.

The standard tasting flight costs 60 pesos ($15), while wines by the glass run from 15 pesos ($4) upwards to 80 ($20) pesos. Although flights offer an overview, wines by the glass (particularly those that happen to be on daily special) are ones that will likely leave a chop-licking impression.

Vines of Mendoza also hands out nifty maps of Maipu and Lujan de Cuyo which include recommended wineries and restaurants. The Vines of Mendoza staff will even give hints as to which vineyards to visit, depending on what type of wines you are looking to experience.

If you really adore a specific wine or winemaker, they can also arrange shipping around the world.

Address: Espejo 567, Mendoza; tel: +54 (261)4381031

Helpful Tips:
– Time your visits to Vines of Mendoza on Happy Hour evenings, from 7-9 PM which feature a 50% off list of select wines by the glass. Happy Hour days change (Wednesday and Saturday during our visit; last we heard, Tuesday and Friday), so call in advance to confirm.
– Visit the Vines of Mendoza location at the Hilton Mendoza on Thursday nights for all you can eat tapas and two glasses of wine for 45 pesos ($12). A terrific value — and an experience that left us feeling spiffier and more refined than we actually are.

Tasting highlights:

  • 2006 Bonarda Marrena: red fruit and a hint of spice
  • Sagre de los Andes, Malbec 2008: smoke, leather, flowers, even a faint essence of elastic bandages (we kid, sort of)
  • Rothschild, Flecha de los Andes, 2008 Gran Malbec: mmm, chocolate
  • Lorca Poetico, 2008 Viognier: fresh hints of citrus fruit, 40% aged in oak barrels, lending the wine body and firmness

2) Wineries in Lujan de Cuyo

Outside of Uco Valley, Lujan de Cuyo is the highest quality wine-growing sub-region in Mendoza. It’s also a place where a slew of mid- and high-end wineries operate. Although having a car will make things easier, it is possible to get to Lujan by public bus from Mendoza (just ask at your guest house or hotel). After the bus drops you off in town, things can get a bit tricky. This is where you’ll have to walk and ask questions for wineries in town, or hire a taxi to take you to the vineyards on the town’s outskirts.

If you plan to visit several wineries, our suggestion would be to hire a taxi for the day to drive you around as distances between wineries can be vast.

Autumn in the Vineyards - Mendoza, Argentina
Autumn in Lujan de Cuyo

Among the Lujan wineries we visited below, all export wine abroad, with Alta Vista wines being the easiest to find in the U.S.

Achaval Ferrar

Achaval Ferrer is an example of one of the boutique high-end wineries emerging in this area. The Argentine owners came from backgrounds altogether different than wine (the cement business), but they decided to follow their passion. They understood their limitations and brought in talent from Italy and Argentina to craft the high-end wines they envisioned.

Achaval Ferrer operates vineyards in both Lujan and Uco Valleys, their wines drawing characteristics from old vines, distinct soil types and high-altitude climates — all of which find expression in a more subtle French style rather than the bold, fruit-forward one common to many Argentine wines. Achaval Ferrer wines are geared toward longevity and export, so the winemaker keeps alcohol levels low.

Good to the Last Drop - Mendoza, Argentina
Wine Tasting at Achaval Ferrer, Lujan.

Achaval Ferrer seems also to be on the itinerary of big wine buyers and spectators (i.e., those with private drivers and deeper pockets), but the atmosphere was not at all stuffy. The hosts were very welcoming to two independent travelers like us who showed up at the door without a reservation. And there is a nice personal touch: one of the owners led us on the tour and through the tasting.

Tour and Tasting: Call ahead to make a reservation or find out when tours are scheduled. We lucked out and arrived five minutes before a tour was set to begin. English language tours are available. Our tour was free, but the Achaval Ferrer website now indicates that tastings cost $10.
Tasting highlights: Quimera Blend (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot),
Contact information: Calle Cobos 2601, Pedriel (about 10 km outside Lujan de Cuyo), tel: +54 9 261 5 53 55 65 (Patricia Lambert)

Carmelo Patti

Running a one-man-show winery doesn’t leave much time for the details, including putting up a sign outside. But if you are looking for character, story and some unique quality wine, you’ll have to pay Carmelo Patti a visit. Just as we entered the courtyard, Carmelo walked out from a garage with a thief full of young Cabernet Sauvignon taken straight from the barrel. Without skipping a beat, he handed it to Audrey as if they’d been old friends: “Try it. It will be a good wine, but it needs time. Maybe another year or more.”

He was of course right in all respects.

Talking with Carmelo Patti - Mendoza, Argentina
Speaking with Carmelo Patti at his winery

As Carmelo explains it, his marketing is all boca a boca (word of mouth); it’s the quality of his wines and the energy of charismatic personality that has thrust his one-man operation into the pages of the major press and wine magazine circuit.

Even after working his whole life in the wine industry (and working very hard, if our visit was any indication), Carmelo Patti struck us as passionate as ever about wine. To age like this, the stuff of dreams.

Tour and Tasting: Free. Show up during the day and Carmelo will take you around the entire operation (he and his helper were cleaning the tanks from the crush when we arrived). Carmelo doesn’t speak much English, although he’s so friendly that we imagine language is hardly a barrier to non-Spanish speakers.
Tasting highlights: Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($17) – smooth, sophisticated, and very much a product of the soil the vines are grown in.
Contact information: San Martin 2614, Lujan de Cuyo, (0261)498-1379/155601020

Alta Vista

AltaVista was by far the largest of the wineries we’d visited that day. We arrived late and had seen more than our share of winery facilities that week. We skipped the tour and went straight for the tasting, which included four wines in the low and mid range of AltaVista’s vast offerings. This was OK, but we asked some questions to poke around the possibilities of tasting something else by the glass.

We’re glad we did.

Sensing our curiosity, our hostess told us about Los Escasos, a limited line of inexpensive estate wines. The line was a result of deliberate experimentation — winemakers had free range to create their dream wines. Each label was designed with a character to express the personality of the varietal inside. We were intrigued, but unfortunately the wine we wanted to try most – the Petit Verdot – was not on the wines-by-the-glass menu.

Los Escasos Wines at Alta Vista - Mendoza, Argentina
Los Escasos Wines at Alta Vista Winery

Sensing our disappointment, our hostess looked around, shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “What the heck?” and reached for the corkscrew.

She poured herself a glass as well. As she swirled it and took in the aroma, you could tell she was thoroughly enjoying herself. She confided with a smile, “This is a really unique wine, my favorite of the group. Good choice.”

Tour and Tasting: Standard tasting is 30 pesos. Tours available throughout the day.
Tasting Highlights:

  • Terrior Selection, Malbec 2007: nice body and tannins, a good reliable Malbec
  • Los Escasos Petit Verdot 2004: tropical, red fruit, lot of tannins, needs time to open
  • Los Escasos Cabernet Sauvignon 2005: unique and fruity. We shared a bottle of this with a Mendoza-based caterer who prepares dishes expressly for wine-pairing. And judging by his reaction, he was quite impressed. Not bad for a $10 bottle.
  • Alta Vista Temporal Blend 2007: tasty, well-balanced tannins and fruit ($15)

Contact information: Alzaga 3972, Lujan de Cuyo; Tel: +54 261 496 4684

3) A Leisurely Cycle-and-Taste in Maipu Valley

Biking from winery to winery, with tastings in between, is fun and oddly amusing. Keep in mind, however, that we recommend this more for the overall experience rather than the quality of many of the wines you’ll taste along this route.

Biking and Wining - Mendoza, Argentina
Biking from winery to winery in Maipu Valley

The truth is this: because of the large quantity of travelers taking this route, tours and tastings can be crowded. We also found that many of the groups of travelers we ran into seemed more interested in the quantity of wine they could down, rather than the quality of wine they’d be exposed to. The wineries obviously understand this and many often serve their lowest quality stuff.

Can you really blame them?

So if you have a sincere interest in wine tasting and getting a better feel for the wines in Maipu, ask for a wines-by-the-glass menu (often reasonably priced), allow the crowds to scatter, and enjoy a taste or two of something a bit higher quality.

Whatever wineries you choose to visit on your biking path, consider stopping off at Tempus Alba for lunch. Their rooftop restaurant features a nice view of the vineyards, a calm atmosphere and a rather excellent lamb burger and steak sandwich.

Delicious Meal at Tempus Alba Winery - Mendoza, Argentina
Lunch at Tempus Alba, Maipu Valley

Order a tasting flight to go along with your meal and enjoy a nice break (we particularly enjoyed the Tempus Pleno — a Cabernet-Malbec blend — and a rather unusual Malbec Rose). Beware though; you may not be able to leave without a barrage of kisses and hugs from Christian, one of the winemakers.

Uco Valley

If we had more time in Mendoza, we would have gone to Uco Valley (and probably done so first). It’s a bit further afield, but because of the high altitude, wines made from grapes grown here are said to generally be among the best that Mendoza has to offer.

Rent a car or driver for the day or book tickets on the Bus Viniviticola that visits several wineries in the course of the day for 100 pesos ($25).

—-

Mendoza could indeed keep you for weeks with its collection of wineries and wine bars. Even if you only have a couple of days, you can still get a solid overview and taste of some excellent wines. And the whole experience just might change the way you think about the sophistication and diversity of Argentine wines.

In fact, you may just find that there’s more to Mendoza than Malbec.

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Red Rocks and Wine Tasting: Cafayate, Argentinahttp://uncorneredmarket.com/cafayate-wine-tasting-argentina/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/cafayate-wine-tasting-argentina/#comments Fri, 14 Jan 2011 06:00:00 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5571 By Daniel Noll

Red rocks and desert. Doesn’t sound like the right conditions for a wine region, does it? The name Cafayate, another of Argentina’s winemaking regions, doesn’t quite have the same ring as Mendoza. But there’s something about the sandy soil — good for irrigation control and filtering – that finds expression in the local grapes, including […]

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By Daniel Noll

Red rocks and desert. Doesn’t sound like the right conditions for a wine region, does it?

Wineries Near Cafayate, Argentina
Cafayate Wine Region

The name Cafayate, another of Argentina’s winemaking regions, doesn’t quite have the same ring as Mendoza. But there’s something about the sandy soil — good for irrigation control and filtering – that finds expression in the local grapes, including the local white wine varietal of choice, Torrontes.

So when we rented a car with friends and drove around northwestern Argentina for a week, we made sure to spend a little time sampling the local vintage in Cafayate. The outskirts of town is flush with vineyards while Cafayate itself is scattered with tasting rooms.

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes Growing Outside Cafayate, Argentina
Cabernet Sauvignon grown in vineyards outside Cafayate

Torrontes: A Nice Surprise

While Mendoza is known for its Malbec and Patagonia for its Pinot Noir, Cafayate is known for Torrontes, a white wine varietal closely identified with the region.

Upon first sniff, the Torrontes aroma is virtually unmistakable. Jasmines, peaches, roses and bits of citrus hints are so aromatic and fresh that you might be tricked into thinking you are about to drink something sweet. The result: something understated and dry.

Refreshing and unique, Torrontes is fast becoming one of the new adored babies of the wine tasting world.

Wine Tasting and Winery Visits in Cafayate

Although Cafayate is experiencing a bit of a tourism boom and appearing on more and more itineraries these days, there’s still a markedly laid back feel to it. When we approached the local tourism office, we found a woman half asleep at a table outside the office kiosk in main square. We inquired as to wine tasting opportunities; she laboriously lifted her index finger and pointed to a faded photocopy list of wineries and tasting schedules taped to a side window of the kiosk.

Sun-bleached and dated, the paper didn’t look very reassuring. So we coaxed a winery map from her and she was kind enough to note wineries nearby that offered daily tastings.

Here’s what we found.

1. Bodegas Etchart

One of the largest and oldest wineries in the area with production dating back to 1850. Although the facilities are imposing, the tour and tasting makes Bodegas Etchart worth a stop. Their standard tastings don’t feature any of their reserve wines, but you’ll have the opportunity to understand the Cafayate approach to winemaking and sample several wines made from an array of grape varietals.

Wine Tasting at Bodegas Etchart in Cafayate, Argentina
Bodegas Etchart in Cafayate, Argentina

If you arrive at the same time as a large group of locals (as we did), ask for a tour in English and you’ll likely be treated to a more intimate personal tour.

Cost: Free
Location: Route 40, KM 1047 (south of Cafayate). A couple of kilometers outside of town towards Quilmes. Rent a bike, walk or take a taxi.
Times: Monday-Friday: 9-12, 13-17, tours start at 13:15, 14:15, 15:15; Saturdays: 9-12
Highlights: Cafayate Reserve Torrontes 2009. Light and fruity aroma like a Gewurtzteminer, but a dry and bodied taste.
Malbec: OK, but not aged in Oak
Cafayate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: More body & tannen
(Note: Some of these lines change names and labels for export)

2. Bodega Nanni

A small, organic winery that runs its winemaking operations right in the middle of the town of Cafayate. Our friends in Salta had introduced us to Nanni wines and we were curious to taste more.

Checking the Color of the Wine - Cafayate, Argentina
Diving into wine tasting at Nanni Winery in Cafayate.

Cost: 5 pesos, but if you buy a bottle this can be used toward a purchase. Note: Nanni offers the option to take a tour, taste wines or both.
Location: Silverio Chavarria 171, Cafayate (a few blocks from the main plaza)
Times: 14:30 – 18:30
Highlights: The Rose was the best of the tasting. The Tannat is also good and unusual.

3. El Transito

The night before visiting El Transito, we purchased a bottle of their Pietro Marini Malbec from a local wine shop (yes, we were somewhat drawn by the old man on the label) and had really enjoyed it.

Pietro Marini Wine - Cafayate, Argentina
Pietro Marini Wine at El Transito Winery

So we decided to pay the winery a visit to see what else they offered.

We asked about the man on the label and were told that this was indeed Pietro Marini, the great-grandfather of the current owner of the winery. He had come to Argentina from Italy in the late 19th century and built a winery in Cafayate. He obviously remains an inspiration as his image is just about everywhere in the winery and on its labels.

While we enjoyed some of their wines, the tasting was so stingy as to almost be absurd. It would have been impossible to pour any less into our glasses. And, when we asked about tasting reserve wines — even offering to pay for a glass – our request was met with a stiff, resolute “not possible.”

Cost: Free
Location: Belgrano 102, Cafayate
Times: 9-13:00, 15-20:00
Tasting highlights: Our favorite here is the 2007 Pietro Marini Malbec. Smooth, nice fruit and a decent finish for a relatively inexpensive bottle. The 2007 Cabernet, while not quite on the level of the Malbec, exhibited even more fruit.

We bought the oaked (Roble) Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon blend at the tasting room out of curiosity and found it disappointing and flat in comparison to the unoaked Malbec. Another lesson in “Never judge a wine by its price.”

4. El Porvenir

We had tried a bottle of El Porvenir wine the week before with our friends in Salta and thought it was excellent. The 2005 Amauta Cabernet Merlot blend is one of the best wines for the money ($10) and one of the best we’d tasted during our time in Argentina.

While at the tasting room, we chose to skip the tasting – the price was high (more than $20 for the two of us) and the ambiance was non-existent. Instead, we bought a bottle of the 2006 Amauta Cabernet Merlot blend, which didn’t quite live up to the beauty of its 2005 predecessor.

A few weeks later we ran into a French couple working in the wine industry and they highly recommended a wine tasting at El Porvenir, indicating that only its highest quality and reserve wines are served. Based on the reliability of their other recommendations (in Mendoza), next time we’ll be sure to incorporate an El Porvenir tasting into our itinerary as a splurge.

Cost: 40 pesos
Location: Córdoba 32, Cafayate
Times: 10-13, 15-18:00
Tasting highlights: Amauta, Laborum.

Other Cafayate Wineries:

Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya: The original family behind Bodegas Etchart. We’re told the trick is to book in advance to enjoy a wine tasting lunch with the family.

Touring Wineries in Cafayate: The Upshot

Cafayate offers the opportunity to learn about and taste its wines without the logistical headache of coordinating a lot of transport. Get a map from the tourist office and plan your own little wine route. If you have a rental car, you can visit some wineries in the countryside. And if not, there are more than enough tasting opportunities in town.

Either way, retire with an order of empanadas in the evening and your favorite bottle from the day.

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The Lesson of the Great Bavarian Wine Harvesthttp://uncorneredmarket.com/lesson-great-bavarian-wine-harvest/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/lesson-great-bavarian-wine-harvest/#comments Thu, 18 Nov 2010 09:18:00 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5581 By Daniel Noll

Has anyone ever told you how lucky you are regarding something for which you’ve worked so hard? Even when they’re trying to pay you a compliment, it stings a bit, doesn’t it? After a visit to a family winery in the Bavarian region of Lower Franconia this past October, I imagine that’s how winemakers sometimes […]

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By Daniel Noll

Has anyone ever told you how lucky you are regarding something for which you’ve worked so hard? Even when they’re trying to pay you a compliment, it stings a bit, doesn’t it?

After a visit to a family winery in the Bavarian region of Lower Franconia this past October, I imagine that’s how winemakers sometimes feel.

During a weekend crush event at Bickel-Stumpf winery, we helped pick the season’s Cabernet Sauvignon. We enjoyed the blazing autumn sun, we ate heartily, and we tasted far too many wines. And like any roundly fulfilling experience, one of life’s lessons was reinforced along the way: the best in life is often less about glamour and more about hard work, mettle, and passion.

A Helping Hand - Bickel-Stumpf Winery in Thüngersheim, Germany
Picking grapes for the wine harvest, Lower Franconia

Morning Wine and the Harvest

After a 10:30 AM wake-up glass of Reisling — fresh, crisp and reminding us why we were all gathered that day — we were off to the family vineyards in Thüngersheim to start picking.

About 25 of us were paired off and set free to move up the wine rows armed with buckets and clippers. Our task: leave no ripe grapes behind.

The harvest staff – seasonal workers mainly from Romania and Poland — followed behind us, replacing our buckets as we filled them and swooping in when we missed a bunch. (With German efficiency at work, this rarely happened).

A Mighty Grape Harvest - Thüngersheim, Germany
Wine harvest time in Lower Franconia.

The workers must have been laughing to themselves, “These crazy people are actually paying to do this?”

With little urging, we sampled some of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes we’d cut. Rarely, if ever, do grapes taste this good. Sweet with a bit of tart to balance the sugar, and a distinct flavor hinting at the wine they’ll become.

Audrey Sneaks In Some Grape Eating at German Wine Harvest Event
Tasting Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

There was something satisfying about clipping ripe berries, hands a-purple. Our temptation to romanticize was mitigated by the fact that we’d only clipped a tiny fraction of the vineyard. Not to mention that harvest is only one event; vineyards need to be watched, cultivated. By no means do grapes follow the Jack and the Beanstalk narrative.

Perfect Franconian Vineyard Symmetry
Terraced vineyards in Lower Franconia, perfect rows.

The business of wine making is about acquired knowledge in agriculture, chemistry, geology and a fine palate to discern flavors imperceptible to others. And that’s when things go well. Otherwise, it’s about battling the elements and seeing years – like this one in Central Europe – where only 30% of your typical grape harvest makes it because of an uncooperative summer marked by heavy rain.

Winemakers work with what is, and they marshal it all to create a fine, quaffable example of liquid artistry.

Leberkäse and Federweisser

We broke for lunch at picnic tables arranged on the edge of the winery and watched Reimond, the father and head winemaker, slice butcher-fresh, steaming loaves of leberkäse onto soft bread. (Leberkäse literally means “liver cheese,” but don’t be fooled. It contains neither of those. One of the other guests put it nicely, “Do you know leberkäse? It’s everything mixed together at the butcher. We don’t eat it often because it’s not very healthy, but it’s perfect to eat like this.”)

Preparing Leberkäse Sandwiches -
A wine harvest picnic of leberkäse sandwiches.

Unhealthy perhaps, but fitting after a morning of clipping in the crisp air and sun.

We washed down our sandwiches with glasses of federweisser, a cloudy, fermenting wine available only around harvest time. Although federweisser tastes one step away from grape juice, it’s deceptively powerful and continues to ferment in your stomach.

Lunchtime at the Vineyard - Thüngersheim, Bavaria
Lunch at the Vineyard

Cheeks reddened with the sun and the next round of drinks. The Romanian workers even kicked in an offer of home-brewed slivovice (plum brandy) for good measure.

A Franconian Feast

Later that evening, after a walk in the vineyard and tour of the Bickel-Stumpf production facilities, we gathered at the family’s home in the small town of Frickenhausen am Main in the 500-year old family cellar — the same one once used to store the family’s winter provisions of potatoes, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and barrels of wine.

These days, the cellar serves as a hollowed-out storybook setting for a beautiful, candlelit dinner and wine-tasting.

A Lovely Dinner at Bickel-Stumpf Winery - Frickenhausen in Bavaria, Germany
Dinner in an old Bavarian wine cellar.

We piled our plates with hearty Bavarian food: schweinbraten and kloss (roast pork potato stuffing balls), red cabbage and brussel sprouts. Wine flowed — their signature Silvaner; a classic Riesling; Scheurebe, a delightful hybrid of the two; a Müller-Thurgau; and a stand up Spätburgunder, a German style pinot noir.

Melanie, whom we originally befriended in Berlin, shared stories of growing up in a family of winemakers: “My father used to tell us that water we had to pay for, while wine we had and could drink for free.”

Her mother and father both came from a long line of winemaking families. When they married, each one kept the family vineyards (one in Frickenhausen, the other in Thüngersheim) for growing, but they merged production facilities. And the Bickel-Stumpf label was born. In this current generation, Melanie works for VDP, the German wine quality association, and her brother, Matthias, works alongside his father as a winemaker.

Melanie and Matthias have even joined forces to create a blend of traditional German white wine varietals that pairs well with spicy Asian food, a favorite of Melanie’s. The wine is called “26” in honor of when it was first conceived on her 26th birthday.

An affinity for all things wine clearly runs in the family.

Note: We tried this wine with spicy Thai curries and a spicy Hungarian paprika sauce. We can vouch that it was excellent with both. And at 7.50 €/bottle, it’s also very reasonably priced.

Ice Wine Passion

Reimond later came around with tall, slim bottles of schnapps, grappa and cognac. Melanie explained that in addition to this and everything else we’d tasted, her father also makes ice wine. After the harvest, he often leaves a few rows of grapes on the vine. For proper ice wine, grapes have to freeze and be picked at exactly –11 degrees Celsius.

It used to drive my mother crazy; the thermometer would always hit -11 Celsius — during the holidays. Family would be gathered around and my father would run into the fields to check on his frozen grapes. She tried to forbid my father from leaving fields for ice wine, but it didn’t work,” Melanie laughed.

Reimond later opened a bottle of ice wine from 1999. As he did, he explained why the grapes need to freeze and how the press process differs from ordinary wine. The amount of juice extracted from each raisin-like grape is miniscule. The result is something like the white wine equivalent of liquid gold. Sweet, not cloying. Like nectar, refined and meant to be appreciated in small doses.

As we sipped, Reimond was probably already thinking ahead as to whether this year’s conditions would be right.

With some hard work, maybe he’ll be lucky.

Photo Slideshow: Bavarian Wine Crush Weekend

If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you would like to read the captions, you can view our Bavarian Wine Crush Weekend photo essay.

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Panorama of the Week: The Makings of a Great Brunello di Montalcinohttp://uncorneredmarket.com/panorama-brunello-di-montalcino/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/panorama-brunello-di-montalcino/#comments Mon, 11 Oct 2010 16:45:43 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5488 By Daniel Noll

Have you ever read about or quaffed a famous wine and wondered how it was made? The terrain where the grapes were grown, the hands of the winemaker, or the transformation the wine has undergone from harvest to dinner table? These were just a few of the questions piquing our curiosity about the great wines […]

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By Daniel Noll

Have you ever read about or quaffed a famous wine and wondered how it was made? The terrain where the grapes were grown, the hands of the winemaker, or the transformation the wine has undergone from harvest to dinner table?

These were just a few of the questions piquing our curiosity about the great wines of Tuscany during our recent visit there. So we paid a visit to several wineries to get a feel for the land, the people, and the craft behind the great wine traditions of this region. Open the panorama below for a clue on how Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most prestigious wines, is made. You’ll find two important components: a charismatic winemaker, and large Slavonian oak barrels.

360-Degree Panorama: Learning about Brunello di Montalcino at Capanna Winery

panorama directions

Slavonian oak? Don’t you mean French or American oak? Isn’t that how all great wines are aged — in small barrels, retired every few years to ensure quality?

Well no, apparently.

Before our recent visits to wineries in the Montalcino, Montepulciano and Maremma areas of Tuscany, this is what we assumed.

When we first heard “Slavonian,” we figured there was a language hiccup and everyone we’d spoken to meant Slovenian oak. What we hadn’t realized: Slavonia is a region in Croatia that produces a subtle oak more suitable to the temperament of the Sangiovese grapes that go into the great Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulcino wines.

In the panorama, you’ll notice that the barrels are huge. They are sometimes used for as long as seventy years (compared to the three to five years peak lifespan you’ll hear about French and American oak barrels). Perhaps most importantly, the flavor imparted by the Slavonian oak barrels is much subtler than their smaller French and American counterparts.

As for the personality behind this wine, check out Benito Cencioni, the winemaker at Capanna. When we pulled up late Friday afternoon in the pouring rain, he greeted us and escorted Audrey inside with the help of an oversized umbrella (Dan? He was on his own!). Anyhow, Benito has been making wine since 1957 and Brunello di Montalcino since 1970; his children continue with the wine making tradition today.

Capanna’s 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is worth a stop. And, although the area is not particularly known for its white wines, the Moscadello di Montalcino, a dessert wine, is surprisingly tasty.

So, next time you open a bottle of Brunello (or any wine, for that matter), imagine its back-story. We know we will.

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Patagonia: Hitchhiking the Wild West of Argentine Winehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/patagonia-hitchhiking-wild-west-argentine-wine/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/patagonia-hitchhiking-wild-west-argentine-wine/#comments Thu, 16 Sep 2010 18:30:24 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5223 By Daniel Noll

Patagonia: the home of otherworldly landscapes, uplifted granite, glaciers, unrelenting wind, and the toughened skin of a Pinot noir grape. At the region’s northern reaches, where fabled mountains yield to desert flatlands, there are wineries. We couchsurfed and hitchhiked our way to find them, and when we did, we were pleasantly surprised to find that […]

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By Daniel Noll

Patagonia: the home of otherworldly landscapes, uplifted granite, glaciers, unrelenting wind, and the toughened skin of a Pinot noir grape. At the region’s northern reaches, where fabled mountains yield to desert flatlands, there are wineries.

Vineyards in the San Patricio del Chañar Region Outside Neuquen, Argentina
Vineyards in Patagonia, just near Neuquen.

We couchsurfed and hitchhiked our way to find them, and when we did, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had them virtually all to ourselves.

Adventurers, read on. For those of you interested in the details of do-it-yourself wine touring in this area, read Patagonia Wine Tasting, a How To.

Note: This is the first in our series about wine in Argentina. Next up: Cafayate, Mendoza, and how to choose a bottle of Argentine wine.

The Genie out of the Patagonian Wine Bottle

We had come to Argentina with a Patagonian wine itch to scratch. The region is very quickly coming on the world wine scene. But where to begin?

The answer would come on our first evening after crossing the border from Paraguay when an employee at a wine shop in Puerto Iguazu gave us an unexpected primer on three of Argentina’s wine regions – Mendoza, Cafayate and Patagonia.

And Patagonian wines?” we asked.

Good Pinot Noirs.” He said. “It’s a young wine region, but it’s getting better each year.

Sold.

So we sampled some Patagonian wines during our two-month stint in Buenos Aires. A Pinot Noir here, a Malbec there. A Syrah, even a Cabernet Sauvignon. The more we drank, the more we liked, particularly of those Pinots. We wanted to know more.

Large Variety of Wines at Fin del Mundo Winery - Patagonia, Argentina
Wine tasting at Saurus Winery in Patagonia.

En route from Bariloche to Cordoba, we stopped off in the town of Neuquen, the jumping off point for the Patagonian wine routes. Our goal: to tour some Patagonian wineries independently without renting a car. Unfortunately, the initial results of our online research yielded Twitter echoes (i.e., Google searches that yield your own tweets on the topic).

Florencia and Fabricio, our CouchSurfing hosts in Neuquen, were thankfully on the case. When we arrived, they’d put together all the public transportation information we’d need. But independence from a tour or rental car came at a price: two early morning buses to the base of the route and the choice to walk, hitchhike or taxi from there.

No problem, right?

To the Wine Road, the Open Road

Funny thing about the desert: early mornings are cold, really cold. That we were sleep deprived made our first bus to Cinco Saltos even more difficult. The bus was packed with locals on their way to factories and schools outside of town. Even in the best of conditions, we would have missed our stop. As it turned out, we missed it by a mile.

Or was it two?

We jumped off in the midst of fruit orchards and walked back along a highway, buses and trucks throwing the cold morning wind in our faces.

What did we sign up for again? Is this wine touring?

Blowing In the Wind - San Patricio del Chañar, Patagonia, Argentina
Scenery in San Patricio del Chañar in Patagonia, Argentina

We cut across a series of dirt roads. “Excuse me. Where is Cincos Saltos main square?” we asked two local women on their morning walk.

Straight…left, right…then straight,” they offered, chuckling. They were intrigued by the misplaced gringos and wondered how we had appeared, seemingly out of the middle nowhere.

When we found the main square and our bus to San Patricio del Chañar, we engaged the bus driver with concern: “Is this the bus to the wineries?

Don’t worry,” he said, amused at our anxiety. “I will tell you when to get off.”

He showed us the schedule for return buses so that we wouldn’t get stranded. This man was our guardian for the day.

It turns out there were no wineries in San Patricio where the bus terminated, but a few taxis were available to take us the ten kilometers to our first winery, Bodega NQN. When our driver dropped us off, he grew protective, almost afraid to abandon us: “Are you sure? Here, take my number. Please call me. I’ll come and get you.

We assured him we’d be alright and reluctantly he left.

Bodega NQN: Wild West Minimalism

Bodega NQN, at the northern end of the Ruta del Vino served as our first taste of Patagonian vineyard aesthetics and the philosophy of new minimalist simplicity. Wineries in this region were only about a decade old, but the sheen and modernity were striking. Wine tradition was out, high science was in.

If the Fountainhead’s Howard Roark owned a winery, this is where it would be.

The region is a desert, so there’s lots of sunshine; washout vintages are not an issue. Days are warm, nights are cool. The game here is about control and irrigation from canal systems that take runoff from the mountaintops. Because of the desert, fungus and insects, the usual vineyard vandals, haven’t yet proven an issue.

Hand Sorting Grapes in Patagonia, Argentina
Grape selection and sorting.

We asked our guide, a young woman who took us around for over an hour and patiently answered all of our questions in broken Spanish, which years had been better than others.

No bad years. As the vines age, each year is better than the next.

Consistency from year to year is a blessing in the wine industry, but this dependability also precludes the odd exceptional year that everyone raves about.

Notable tastes at Bodega NQN: Viñedos de la Patagonia Malbec Malma 2007: Nice fruit, berries and tannin. Our favorite of the tasting. After tasting the young 2009 Malbec, and the fruit-forward Malma Merlot Reserve 2005, this was a relief.

Malma Wine at NQN Winery Outside Neuquen, Argentina
Wine Tasting at Bodega NQN in Patagonia

Hiking to Fin del Mundo, the End of the World

Not yet courageous enough to hitchhike, we walked the seven kilometers to Bodega Fin del Mundo, the oldest (from 1999) and largest winery on the route. As we walked along the side of the road, our favorite neighborhood bus driver passed us, heading in the opposite direction.

In the middle of nowhere, his smile and wave made us feel oddly reassured.

Upon our arrival at Fin del Mundo, we were set up with a guide and a tour right on the spot.

Inside Fin del Mundo Winery - Neuquen, Argentina
Getting a tour of the Bodega Fin del Mundo winery.

During the tasting, our guide gave us an overview of the different labels and qualities that Fin del Mundo produces, from inexpensive table wines (Ventus & Postales del Fin del Mundo) to the mid-range (Newen) to its higher end Reserves and Special Blends.

This is one of the nice features of Argentine wineries: ranges are broad, and there’s usually something for every budget and preference. The difference in price (and sometimes quality) is dependent on aging in oak barrels (and duration), selection of grapes, and how long it is kept in the bottle before being released.

Wine Tasting at Bodega del Fin del Mundo - Neuquen, Argentina
Wine Tasting at Bodega Fin del Mundo in Patagonia, Argentina

When our guide learned of Dan’s preference for Pinot Noirs – a grape variety suitable for growing in this region because of the climate and well-drained soil – she opened up a few more bottles for us to taste. The tasting experience was laid back and comfortable; there was no sales push nor attempt to swiftly show us the exit.

Notable tastes at Bodega Fin del Mundo: Fin del Mundo Pinot Noir Reserva 2008: Light, smooth, a bit of smoke, presumably from the oak. Fin del Mundo Malbec Reserva 2007: Smooth, round, nice fruit and a bit of velvet in the finish.

Experiments in Hitchhiking

As we considered the three kilometer walk we had ahead of us from the entrance to the main road, good fortune appeared. A group of employees from the Argentine Wine Testing Board exited the winery with boxes of wine under their arms.

This was the life.

We asked where they were headed, and when they realized we were without a car, they insisted we join them. We were both in admiration of each others’ jobs.

Taste wine every day?” That sounded pretty good to us.

Traveling the world, writing about it and taking photographs.” That sounded good to them.

After agreeing to swap jobs one of these days, they left us at the main road and we continued our walk south.

Audrey Hitchhiking Between Wineries in Patagonia, Argentina
Audrey tries to hitchhike between wineries in Patagonia.

When it comes to hitchhiking in this part of the world, using the entire hand (palm down) almost as if to slow down the car seems to yield better results than a waggle of an upturned thumb. Perhaps it also helped that our inhibitions about hitchhiking had vanished. One good interaction and a little tippling will do wonders for one’s hitchhiking confidence.

A few minutes later, a woman and her son picked us up. We hopped in the back of their car and shared our story, where we were headed.

She nodded. “My son is traveling around Europe right now. He’s doing what you are doing.”

In a karmic exchange, she offered safe passage right up to the front gate of the next winery, Familia Schroeder. Hopefully her son would find similar kindness to get him where he needed to go, halfway around the world.

A Final Taste, A Ride Home

Familia Schroeder’s best-known label, Saurus, refers to dinosaur bones discovered when the winery was being built. Amidst the displays of recovered bones in the cellar, our guide-sommelier explained the winery’s specialty, Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir Grapes at Bodega Familia Schroeder in Patagonia, Argentina
Growing Pinot Noir Grapes at Bodega Familia Schroeder in Patagonia

It’s because the days are hot, the nights are cold and there is a lot of wind, the grapes become strong and their skins thick. This is what makes Pinot Noirs in this region so unique.

We tasted several vintages and agreed. We came away with an excellent bottle of Select Reserve Pinot Noir for our hosts. One of the appealing aspects of Argentine wines is a bottle costing anything over $10 could be considered expensive and is often of surprisingly high quality.

Notable tastes at Bodega Familia Schroeder:
True to their word, Familia Schroeder’s Pinot Noirs are their specialty.
- Saurus Pinot Noir 2008 and Saurus Pinot Noir 2007 (both barrel fermented): smooth and fruity
- Patagonia Select 2008: floral, berries and hints of the mineral-rich soil.

Looking Down at Red Wine Aging in Oak Barrels - Bodega Familia Schroeder outside Neuquen, Argentina
A view of the barrels at Bodega Familia Schroeder in Patagonia.

We left, bottles of wine in hand and walked the edge of the vineyards towards the main road. By this point, our pace was plodding, the sunshine and wine consumption having taking its toll. As a small car passed by, we feebly waved our hands.

Surprisingly, it stopped. We ran over and asked the driver, an older gentleman in a baseball cap who looked like he spent his days working outside in the sun, if we could get a ride to the main road or perhaps the town of San Patricio.

He smiled warmly, shook his head and asked: “How about I take you all the way to Neuquen?

The transportation angels sang from above.

It turns out our ride was courtesy of a Familia Schroeder irrigation specialist. He once worked in the fruit business but now applied his talents in the vineyards. As we shared our itinerary in Argentina, he remarked, “You know, each region of Argentina has its own culinary specialties.”

So what’s the specialty in this region?” we asked, genuinely curious to learn about something new in Neuquen.

Hmm…asado.

Then he started laughing, “It’s asado everywhere in Argentina, isn’t it?

And with asado, a good red wine.

——-

Read: Patagonia Wine Tasting, a How To for all the practical details for wine tasting in the San Patricio del Chañar and Rio Negro sub-regions outside of Neuquen, Argentina.

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Panorama of the Week: Berlin, Where German Wine Meets Contemporary Arthttp://uncorneredmarket.com/panorama-german-wine-vdp-berlin/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/panorama-german-wine-vdp-berlin/#comments Fri, 10 Sep 2010 18:58:05 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=5116 By Daniel Noll

When you hear “German wine,” what comes to mind? For many it means “Riesling, white wines, sweet.” With the help of VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) and their 100th anniversary celebration, we aimed to better understand what German wines are all about. The roster: 200 of Germany’s best wineries. The backdrop: 70 of Berlin’s trendiest art […]

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By Daniel Noll

When you hear “German wine,” what comes to mind?

For many it means “Riesling, white wines, sweet.” With the help of VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) and their 100th anniversary celebration, we aimed to better understand what German wines are all about.

The roster: 200 of Germany’s best wineries. The backdrop: 70 of Berlin’s trendiest art galleries. For a taste of German wine tradition and Berlin art gallery style, take a spin around the panorama below.

Yes, those are stuffed birds dangling from the ceiling.

360-Degree Panorama: Tasting German Wines at me Collectors Room in Berlin’s Mitte Neighborhood

panorama directions

As I hopped back on the German wine learning curve, I reflected on my admittedly limited experience: a full-semester wine course at university, during which German wines were covered in two or three classes. I remembered tidbits of the intricacies of Germany’s wine classification system and ripeness scale.

Sure, German wines made an impression on me back then.  But relative to the messaging and marketing from other wine growing regions around the world, German wines had to battle misconceptions: light, sweet, often expensive, with difficult to comprehend labels.

High in specificity, low in accessibility. Like many others, I usually gravitated to anywhere but the German wine section at the local wine shop.

That’s why this event served as a real palate-opener.  German whites are crisp and often feature a beautiful acidity. They are fresh but complex, and certainly not universally flat. German varietals like Riesling and Silvaner and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) are not only different from one another, but their style and interpretation in Germany is distinct from elsewhere in Europe and around the world. And while German whites usually get all the press, we learned this weekend that German reds are no slouches either. There’s tough competition from their French counterparts next door, but my experience so far only makes me want to learn more.

As with understanding anything, appreciating German wine is a process.  I feel like we are just onto something. This is only the beginning.

Zum Wohl!

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Tarija, Bolivia: The Lowdown on Bolivian Winehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/tarija-bolivia-wine/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/tarija-bolivia-wine/#comments Tue, 15 Dec 2009 22:00:53 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=2762 By Daniel Noll

While the people of Tarija, Bolivia will keep you hanging around, it’s the wine – surprisingly drinkable and made with grapes grown at an elevation of 6,000 feet — that Tarija is best known for. Bolivian Wine-Tasting for the Adventurous The town of El Valle in nearby La Valle de la Concepción (Concepcion Valley), a […]

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By Daniel Noll

While the people of Tarija, Bolivia will keep you hanging around, it’s the wine – surprisingly drinkable and made with grapes grown at an elevation of 6,000 feet — that Tarija is best known for.

Bolivian Wine Tasting - El Valle, Bolivia
Bolivian wine tasting.

Bolivian Wine-Tasting for the Adventurous

The town of El Valle in nearby La Valle de la Concepción (Concepcion Valley), a sleepy little place tucked into the canyons, features several small family vineyards and wine bodegas where you can partake in the local vintage.

Bolivian Vineyard - El Valle, Bolivia
Bolivian vineyard in La Valle de la Concepcion near Tarija.

These are not fancy affairs. So don’t think Napa Valley or Bordeaux. Think something like Sideways goes south of the border.

At La Casa Vieja, an artisanal vineyard, we joined ten Bolivian engineering university students visiting the region for a national conference. Their bubbling “free wine” excitement reminded us that university student priorities around the world are not that different after all.

The vineyard’s sommelier (a very generous use of the term) quickly washed out several glasses as he gave a brief history of the vineyard and its wines.

We assumed that the glasses were for each of us. But no. After he lined up an almost-to-the-brim pour of a different wine in each glass, we realized that we would be sharing. The H1N1 Swine Flu public announcement poster campaign across Bolivia imploring people to not share glasses apparently had not yet reached this far south.

Wines Set Up for Tasting - El Valle, Bolivia
Wines set up for tasting…and sharing.

Although we considered dropping out, our curiosity got the better of us. So we tasted: a tannic red, a sweet white, a less tannic red, a light white, then a grape infused with sangani, the local grappa. Ten wines in all, in no discernible order, all at light speed. A hapless sampling at best.

The wines were simple — nothing particularly refined or exceptional, yet nothing too terribly offensive either.

Although the university students were thrilled with the tasting, we decided to move on and picked up the dirt road toward the town square. Although most roads in El Valle are not yet paved, the town appears as though tourism development has been on somebody’s mind. But for all the signs and buildings on the mend, the place retains a bit of ghost town secret splendor.

We visited Hosteria, an eclectic mishmash of a place: one part vineyard, another part curiosity. Its proprietor, Jesús Romero, gave us a tour of his “museum” – an odd, dusty collection of artifacts from the area featuring everything from fossils and bones to old suitcases and random stills.

Jesús uncorked a bottle of his latest vintage for us to taste and sat down with us for a chat. He was proud of his eight year-old Sangiovese vines from Argentina and Chile. His wine: strangely effervescent. His demeanor: contagiously positive.

Family Vineyard - El Valle, Bolivia
Jesús and his family vineyard.

We figure that someday when the throngs make their way, Jesús and his compound will be at the center of attention in a venue that fittingly defines the region.

Bolivian Wine-Tasting, Bodega Style

If you are serious about understanding Bolivian wines, we highly suggest a stop at La Vinoteca at 731 Ingavi Street in Tarija. You can taste any of the dozens of Bolivian wines they carry. They’ll open any bottle and pour a single glass – for about $1.50. They can talk about each of the wines and vineyards and offer comparatives like “though Kohlberg is the oldest, Campos de Solana has the best quality and overall value.”

Maybe you’ll agree. Maybe not.

To figure it all out, order a plate of picados — a tapas-like appetizer plate of olives, cheese, ham, and pickled onion bits — and go slowly.

When we began our wine-tasting, we asked for some recommendations but focused on unfamiliar varietals (like Tannat) and sprinkled in a few of our well-known favorites (like Syrah):

  • 2008 Aranjuez Tannat: Tannic, but juicy; a bit too much of an alcohol finish. ($4.00/bottle)
  • 2005 Concepcion Cabernet Sauvignon (Reserve): Dry and smooth, with hints of peppers and berries, but unexceptional given the price. ($11.50/bottle)
  • 2007 Kohlberg Syrah (Reserve): Good body, dry. A solid wine, particularly for those desiring a bit more of a tannic finish Syrah at a reasonable price ($8.00/bottle)
  • 2008 Casa Grande Trivarietal Reserva (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon): Smooth, balanced. Nice fruit, and a pleasant finish. ($10.00/bottle)
  • 2005 Magnus Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon: Rich, smooth and very drinkable right out of the bottle. ($6.50)
  • 2008 Kohlberg Malbec (Reserve): Perhaps the best of the tasting group, all around. Drinkable, nice fruit. ($8.00/bottle)

Our bill for six glasses of wine plus a picados plate substantial enough to serve as dinner: just over $10.00.

As we indicated earlier, the 2008 Aranjuez Duo (a Tannat-Merlot blend) became our favorite Bolivian wine. While we found the Aranjuez Tannat too puckering by itself, it softened nicely and added the necessary body when blended with Merlot. At $3.50 a bottle, this wine was a good value.

Final Thoughts on Bolivian Wines

We have a growing body of experience in both bad wines (think Tajik wine and some select Chinese vintages) and good wines (several years attending theFrench Independent Vintner Salon in Strasbourg).

So where do we fall on Bolivian wines?

Although Bolivia’s vineyards boast wine pressed from grapes grown “at the highest altitude in the world,” we don’t expect Bolivian wines to become the next big thing at international wine competitions. However, if you avoid the least expensive table wine options –which are unfortunately what most shops in Bolivia outside of Tarija tend to carry — you just may be pleasantly surprised.

Having said that, it’s difficult for small Bolivian wineries to compete with their larger and more experienced Chilean and Argentinian counterparts on price.

Regardless, if you find yourself in the neighborhood of Tarija, Bolivian wines are worth a try.

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The Wine Bends: A Detour in the Austrian Countrysidehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/the-wine-bends-an-average-day-in-the-austrian-countryside/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/the-wine-bends-an-average-day-in-the-austrian-countryside/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2008 16:16:42 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=343 By Daniel Noll

Ah, Austria. We could wax artistic about Vienna’s museums, poke fun at the people in period outfits selling classical music concert tickets, tell stories about Euro 2008, or tempt you with impressions of Viennese coffee houses and flaky apple strudel. But what fun would that be? You can read about that in the New York […]

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By Daniel Noll

Ah, Austria. We could wax artistic about Vienna’s museums, poke fun at the people in period outfits selling classical music concert tickets, tell stories about Euro 2008, or tempt you with impressions of Viennese coffee houses and flaky apple strudel.

Austrian Ticket Vendor Dressed in Period Costume - Vienna, Austria
Decked out in period costume in Vienna, Austria.

But what fun would that be? You can read about that in the New York Times Travel Section, Conde Naste Traveler or any other travel magazine.

Instead we’ll share how, with the help of an Austrian friend and an unplanned turn of events, we discovered the real Austria in the country’s Weinviertel (Wine Quarter) about an hour outside of Vienna.

A Bucolic Weekend in the Countryside

“We’ll go to my parents’ house in Pulkau and experience the real Austria. After breakfast, we’ll take a walk in the countryside. My mother will make us beef roulade for lunch. Maybe we can rent bikes. Tonight, we have a choir group barbecue,” our friend Christian briefed us on a rough itinerary of our weekend from the driver’s seat. The bucolic weekend plans were aplenty and the good-omen sun shone brightly as we parted the rolling hills outside of Vienna.

We arrived in Pulkau to an iconic Austrian breakfast (coffee, fresh bread, meats and cheeses) overlooking Christian’s parents’ backyard pond. The backdrop was stunning and quintessentially Austrian: pastel villages tucked in rolling green hills, all punctuated by a requisite church (Pulkau was special, it featured two churches).

Aerial View of Pulkau - Pulkau, Austria
View over Pulkau, Germany.

Christian suggested a quick stop at a friend’s place before setting out for a stroll in the forest.

“How do you know Christian?” Kurt asked as we walked up the driveway to his farmhouse and mechanic’s workshop.

“Oh, we met while trekking in Burma,” we responded as everyone gathered at the picnic table. Kurt, middle-aged with thinning blond hair, sympathetic eyes and a weathered face, nodded as if that were the most natural answer in the world.

Although he had spent most of his life in this tiny Austrian village, Kurt was not untraveled. Over a beer, we learned about his road trip through Europe to Libya in the 1970s and his frustration in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when a cute bartender couldn’t comprehend that Austria was in fact a different country from Australia.

The Detour Begins

Unknowingly pointing to an apricot tree, Dan asked, “What kind of tree is that?” An innocent enough question, the answer to which arrived in the form of a bottle of apricot schnapps.

After a few remarkably smooth shots, Kurt disappeared with the bottle and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Our relief was short-lived, however. Kurt had other plans and returned with a bottle of cherry schnapps.

You know, the Austrians are somewhere between Germans and Italians. It’s ideal, really…like a little bit of anarchy,” Christian mused.

Frankly, anarchy isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Austria, one of the world’s cleanest and best-organized countries. Reflecting on this incongruity under the socially lubricating glow of a few shots of schnapps, we found the idea positively hilarious and somehow right on.

Then the plum schnapps (also known as slivovitz or slivovice) arrived.

Then came the grappa.

Yes, this felt vaguely like anarchy.

“So, Kurt, what about mushroom picking? Is it possible now?” Christian poked around.

“There are no mushrooms in the forest right now. The moon is not right,” Kurt offered matter-of-factly as he looked overhead.

Our afternoon in the Austrian countryside – originally replete with activities such as cycling, hiking and mushroom picking – was boiling down to a perfect, if a bit schnapps-laden, day around the picnic table. This experience further underscored the concept that somewhere along the way to making it to the scheduled events in our lives, we actually live life.

A Winemaker and The Thief

It was 4:00 in the afternoon and we were now unofficially three hours late for our lunch of Christian’s mother’s beef roulade.

“Let’s go down into the wine cellar. It’s authentic, like 300 years old,” Christian explained, as if we needed convincing.

We ducked our heads and followed Kurt into his subterranean hideout as he lead the way with a torch and a barrel thief (a glass contraption vaguely resembling an eye-dropper that is used to siphon wine directly from the barrel).

Drinking Wine in Cellar - Pulkau, Austria
Down in the Austrian wine cellar.

We gathered around Kurt as he climbed atop one of the wooden barrels. As he drew breaths through the thief, it filled magically with a rolling, golden liquid: wine from last year’s harvest. Kurt tapped the wine from the thief into our glasses and gave us a tour of his cellar. The air temperature was 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees F), perfect for storing wine all year-round, but a tad frosty for two recent arrivals fresh from the steam of summer in southern China.

In the dim light, Kurt pointed to a black mossy stone hanging on the wall towards the back of the room. We couldn’t read the inscription beneath the date, but the numbers were legible: 1784. This wine cellar had been in Kurt’s family for over 230 years.

The cellar was also about as old as the United States of America! Our amazement was met with a shoulder shrug and another splash of wine. For Austrians, this depth of history was typical. Wine was nothing new here; it was in their blood.

Though Italy and France draw the bulk of international attention for European wines, Austrian wines can be delightful. Although relatively light, whites like Gruner Veltliner suit the environment and serve as a tart, refreshing accompaniment to things like warm summer days and heavy Austrian meals like wursts (sausages) and schnitzel.

As we lightened the wine barrels, philosophy came easy and time seemed to stand still. Then, in mid-conversation, Kurt fell over backwards. He landed perfectly nestled between two barrels, his wine glass held high above his head. Although he hadn’t spilled a drop, this was perhaps an indication that it was time to exit the cellar.

The Wine Bends

As we emerged from the cellar, we were bathed in fresh, warm air. We didn’t realize that we were setting ourselves up for the “wine bends.” Think of this newly classified disorder – an affliction of amateur wine cave divers like us – as the reverse of altitude sickness. When you emerge too quickly from the damp, dark coolness of a wine cellar into the heat and sunshine of a summer day, all the blood – and the alcohol within it – seems to race to your head at once.

Kurt disappeared, but Christian assured us this was Kurt’s usual reaction to the “the bends.”

Talking about Wine - Pulkau, Austria
Wine lessons from Farmer Sepp.

Christian decided we should visit Kurt’s cousin, Farmer Sepp, next door to buy some eggs – and of course to taste more wine. “Sepp’s wine is probably better than Kurt’s,” Christian offered, as if our wine degustation faculties somehow remained finely tuned.

After a glass of wine with Farmer Sepp (we could in fact tell it was of higher quality), it was 6:00 P.M. and time to return home.

We arrived at Christian’s house with our haul from Farmer Sepp’s – ten farm-fresh eggs and six bottles of wine. The ratio seemed just about right for the territory. We apologized profusely to Christian’s mother. She had prepared a wonderful homemade meal five hours ago and was disappointed that we’d be tasting her culinary specialty after a spin in the microwave.

As we took our seats at the garden table overlooking the postcard-perfect church towers and sloping fields of the village below, we noticed there were only two of us at the table, not three. We looked around and saw a body sprawled out under the birch trees in the garden: Christian. Lily, the family’s Jack Russell terrier, licked his feet in a futile effort to wake him.

The Main Event

We eventually made it to the choir barbecue, perhaps a little worse for wear from our afternoon adventure.

After another round of grazing – sausages, salads, dark breads, and berry crumbles – at the choir picnic, Christian and Kurt the choir master (not to be confused with the Kurt above of wine-making and mechanic fame), took us to St. Michael’s, the Romanesque church next door. Thanks to Kurt’s master set of keys, we enjoyed a private evening tour of the 12th century church and its 13th century ossuary.

Christian grabbed a hymnbook in front of the altar and began singing. Kurt joined him seamlessly, mid-phrase. They treated us to a brief private concert. The acoustics of the 900-year-old structure were epic and the chill from the stones added to the mystery of the moment and placed the finishing touches on the charm of the weekend.

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Liv Tyler and Chinese Winehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/liv-tyler-and-chinese-wine/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/liv-tyler-and-chinese-wine/#comments Tue, 06 Nov 2007 00:54:14 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2007/11/liv-tyler-and-chinese-wine/ By Daniel Noll

Having just uncorked our first bottle of Chinese wine, we began to reminisce about the small, lovely and affordable French wine collection we’d built in Prague (then quickly quaffed), thanks to the Salon de Vignerons Independants (French Independent Vintners Festival) that we attended in February 2005 and February 2006 in Strasbourg, France. In addition to […]

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By Daniel Noll

Wine Tasting Booth at Salon des Vins - Strasbourg, France
Wine tasting booth

Having just uncorked our first bottle of Chinese wine, we began to reminisce about the small, lovely and affordable French wine collection we’d built in Prague (then quickly quaffed), thanks to the Salon de Vignerons Independants (French Independent Vintners Festival) that we attended in February 2005 and February 2006 in Strasbourg, France.

In addition to tasting over 300 different wines at those two events, we returned home with a small cache of 100 bottles. The taste and quality of the bottles we purchased belied the fact that most of them cost well under 10 Euros. We could continue our little daydream here, but we’ll leave you to read this article that we wrote about the Salon earlier this year.

Now, back to our current reality…

You might be wondering, “Why on earth are you drinking Chinese wine? Are you really that desperate?” The real answer is in fact, “Yes, we are.” Aside from an Uzbek wine (that we’re certain was Italian) that was served to us at an Italian restaurant in Tashkent and some new world varietals that graced our palates while in the care of friends in Bishkek, we’ve endured a bit of a drought while in Central Asia.

To rationalize further, we’re trying to follow-up on a trend in the development of better quality Chinese wines. We had heard and read pieces like this one last year regarding how the Chinese were trying to improve the quality of their wines by importing French vines and hiring high-priced French viticulturists.

We marched right on down to the local Carrefour (the French supermarket chain for those of you unfamiliar) in Urumqi. The bottle of Xinjiang West Region wine at 20 Yuan (just below $3) seemed dangerously cheap. We couldn’t understand a word the Carrefour employee said about it. Her body language communicated something between “this is a very good bottle of wine” and “our manager insists that we push this stuff on unsuspecting tourists.”

“Why not?” we thought. Let’s give it a try.

Chinese Wine Cork - Xinjiang, China
Chinese wine

If anyone can leapfrog into quality wines, it’s probably the Chinese. They have pockets of suitable landscape, soil and climate. And when it comes to harnessing technology of any kind, they’ve proved more than capable. Some may argue whether they can master the art anytime soon, but they can certainly master the science. The ongoing challenge for the Chinese, however, will be to improve the quality without inflating the price.

A Chinese Taste Test

Day 1 – Upon opening, the bottle is not quite undrinkable, but leaves a lot to be desired. Light, almost like grape juice, with an alcoholic finish and no depth. Time to replace the cork and give this wine a think.
Day 2 - Do we dare? Yes. Things are in fact getting better. Wine begins to develop some fruit and depth and becomes drinkable to a couple of desperate tourists who’ve been stuck in the mountains of Central Asia for too long.
Day 3 – Wow. The bottle is virtually transformed. Something occurred to us. Perhaps the Chinese authorities had crawled into our heads and could tell that we wanted to write a piece on Chinese wine. In an effort to sway our opinions and the direction of this piece, they entered our room in the middle of the night and swapped the 1999 West Region wine in our bottle with a Cotes du Rhone cuvee.

Seriously though, a little bit of air made all the difference to this wine. Although it wasn’t ready for the Strasbourg Salon, it is something we would consider drinking again. Two lessons – not only does aeration do wonders for just about any bottle of wine, but inexpensive Chinese wine can be perfectly drinkable.

And before you laugh at that last comment and dismiss Chinese wine, consider what the world thought of Chilean and Argentinian wine 20 years ago. As we travel throughout China, we will continue to play the role of wine-tasting guinea pigs. We’ll keep you posted on when we find that perfect, or at least that better-than-average, bottle.

Hello, Liv

Liv Tyler Wine - Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan
Liv Tyler Wine?

So, what does all this have to do with Liv Tyler? Not much, except that we got a chuckle out of the wine selection in the village shop at our homestay in Sary Tash, tucked away in the southern mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Besides serving deep fried eggs and potatoes, the shop offered candy bars and only the best in post-Soviet spirits including – you guessed it – a bottle of Liv Tyler wine.

Now you know why we’ve been hesitant to try local wines in Central Asia. We like Liv Tyler, but seeing her image on a wine label doesn’t inspire much confidence in the contents of the bottle.

It couldn’t have been much worse than the Tajik wine (a fortified Marsala wannabe) we would experience just a few weeks later. While drinkable in the most minuscule of quantities, it’s not a bottle we’d buy again, even with its 1928 vintage label. Come to think of it, we didn’t even buy it. Some friends and fellow travelers had shared it with us to drown their sorrows after a run-in with the Turkmen Embassy. When we departed our quarters in Dushanbe, the bottle remained on the bookshelf, cork off, and only 1/4 consumed. It wasn’t even good enough to chase away a bad day.

We suppose we have to draw a conclusion here. It goes like this: Good, cheap French wine if you can get it. Mark our words, Chinese wine’s a ‘comin. Tajik wine: give it a pass. Liv Tyler on a bottle: look but don’t touch.

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