Tasting from the Trail

Tuesday was our first staff tasting of 2016—we would finally be back in the bar with glasses and notebooks in hand. Over the holidays we focused fairly exclusively on name-brand gift options, crowd-pleasing party wines, and everyone’s favorite category: budget-friendly hidden gems. We chatted high-end Napa cabs, bargain blends under $10, and Champagne houses 'til it became old hat, but we hadn't been near something like this tasting in too long. Anticipation was high as we looked down the lineup: Grand Cru Reislings, dry Chenin Blanc, German Pinots, and aged Cabernet Franc. Nothing disappointed. Our German and Alsace specialist Eric Story (pictured above in a romantic scene from the road) had tracked down a number of interesting selections from his time on the trail and he had laid out quite a seductive spread. Here are a few of the winners that wowed me:

2011 Rieflé Steinert Riesling Grand Cru Alsace $26.99 — Grand Cru anything for $26.99? I’ll take it. But honestly this wine underscores the vast potential of Riesling and the almost indefinable quality a Grand Cru vineyard site lends to its wine. Though quite structured with high toned acidity, the wine showed a surprising tendency towards richness, with fleshy fruit, intense aromas of petrol and just a touch of lees-y texture. Its fascinating now, but check back in ten years, and see where this wine will go! 

2014 Francois Chidaine “Les Argiles” Vin de France (Vouvray Sec) $24.99 — Chidaine has strangely been cut out of the Vouvray appellation, but the wine is for all intents and purposes Vouvray Sec. This is possibly one of the best vintages we’ve tasted. There were more than a few comments amongst the staff about how entirely undervalued Chenin Blanc is. If you came across a Chardonnay with this much poise, texture, and balanced richness, it would cost you a fortune. So what’s going on in the wine? Beautiful creamy texture with yeasty, nutty notes against a formidable acidic backbone, but with plenty of soft, round orchard fruit showing through. 

2012 Emile Beyer Sundel Lieu Dit Pinot Noir Alsace $39.99 — Pinot Noir from Alsace—not what you would expect. All of the pinots we tasted from Alsace and Germany were far from the watery, insipid reds that people generally picture. Instead, we found a new face to Pinot Noir. These Pinots had the forest and earth aromas of Burgundy with the soft ripe fruit of Oregon, but the unique thing here is that these wines have a much more prominent spice profile and far more dark, berry fruit. The Emile Beyer Sundel, I thought particularly well-balanced and expressive.

2013 Meyer-Nakel Krauterberg Grosses Gewachs Pinot Noir Ahr $144.99 — So who wants to pay $150 for a German Pinot Noir? Well, our German expert Eric Story swears he would put this up against any Grand Cru Burgundy in a blind tasting, and expect it to win. So what is the taste profile? Honestly, the only thing I know to compare it to is Burgundy. The dark, rich fruit reminded me of Clos Vougeot, with the earthy, savory spice of a Gevrey. However, there is something distinctly not Burgundian here—again the exaggerated anise spice and dark berry fruit is something entirely unique to German Pinot Noir.  

1996 Couly Dutheil Clos de l’Echo Chinon $48.99 — This wine is drinking very well. I am particularly fond of Cabernet Franc, the older, more rustic cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon. Peppery, green, and tannic in its youth, it is very long-lived and develops great savory, gamey flavors as the tannins soften with time. Sourced from the Clos de l’Echo, a vineyard dating back to the ninth century, this wine speaks of old school France at its best. You would be hard pressed to find any better value for older wine in the store. 

It's always great to actually taste the results of our endeavors. I always look forward to Tuesdays.

-Heather Vander Wall

On the Trail