Exploring S.A. Prüm Rieslings

Source: Palm Bay Imports.

His hand felt like an oven mitt—filled with stone. “My god,” I thought as I removed my paw, “those are hands that have worked the vines.” Which is true.

Raimund Prüm is a mountain of a man, and he and his family having been making wine for a very long time. Some of the vines are 130 years old. The Prüms have vineyards on the slopes above the Mosel River, whose various formations of slate have enviable effects on the grapes. Raimund —with help from his wife Pirjo— oversaw the operation from 1971 until recently, when he put his daughter Saskia in charge.

I’ve enjoyed my share of riesling over the years—Dr. Konstantin Frank’s are a favorite— but it never has been my favorite wine. I tend to drink white wine in warm weather, and too many of the rieslings I have tried are sweet. Maybe it is my thick northerner blood, but sweet drinks just do not appeal to me when the Mercury is up.

And it was a balmy May day when Raimund was here in Washington, DC. The thought might have entered my mind: “Will he squash me like a grape if I show little enthusiasm for his wines?” But it did not have the chance, because before I even met the man his lovely wife saw to it that I got a glass of S.A. Prüm Kabinett 2009, which was surprisingly un-sweet and wafted a honeysuckle aroma. It was, to my surprise, refreshing.

Over lunch, I tasted at least seven different S.A. Prüm rieslings and was really impressed. Not only were they all very good, each riesling was different. The Wehlener 2010 was acidic and nosed of pineapple; the Wehlener Sonnenuhr 2014 was almost a dessert wine and oozed fruit aromas; and Spatlese 2003 unleashed a bouquet of tropical scents. Some wines were dry, some were a little sweet, and one was full-on sweet (but not cloying). It was impressive to experience so many different flavor profiles coaxed from the same grape.

Both the Prüms emphasized that riesling should be treated as a year ‘round drink, with different versions being better in different seasons. As for the old saw about red wine going with meat—humbug. They pair wild boar with riesling.

When I departed the tasting, I thanked Raimund for the eye-opening experience. He expressed his gratitude and invited me to come stay in the guest house at the vineyard. He said it had a fine bed, so that I could rest after we tasted wine early in the day. “You can rest so that you will be ready for the second tasting we will have.” Pirjo surprised me with a farewell hug and told me she would have two chilled bottles waiting for me in the guest house.

Time to book my flight. Tell my wife and the kids I’ll be a week or two late for dinner.

Kevin R. Kosar is the vice president of policy at the R Street Institute and the author of Whiskey: A Global History and Moonshine: A Global History. He is the editor and founder of AlcoholReviews.com. This column also was published by the American Spectator.


Sella & Mosca Sardinian Wines

What comes to mind when one reads the word, “Sardinia”? Sardines? That island where Napoleon was exiled? (Actually, he cooled his heels in Elba.) Anything?

The difficulty of mentally associating much of anything with Sardinia is understandable—it’s a distant and difficult to characterize place. Officially a province of Italy, Sardinia is the second island in the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian constitution gives Sardinian considerable liberty to run its own affairs.

Less than 1.7 million people live on its 9,300 square miles, scattered in cities and small towns. Sardinia’s weather is sometimes tropical; palm and olive trees grow there, and turbulent storms blow in from the sea. But snow also falls in the highlands. Film stars sometimes holiday on Sardinia’s beaches, but the island also is spotted with a slew of NATO bases and installations, to the ire of some locals.

The cultural is similarly hard to peg for outsiders. Italian is the official language and is widely spoken, but there is a native Sardinian language which is more Latin-esque, and comes in varying dialects. Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, and various Africans all have landed on the island over the centuries. Unlike neighboring nations, Sardinia is more matriarchal than patriarchal. Women tend to be more educated than men, but the residential literacy rate is nearly 100 percent.

One unsurprising fact about Sardinia is that it, like its continental neighbors, makes wine. Lots of it.

Yet, Sardinian wine can be difficult to find in the United States. That is because much of the wine made in Sardinia is sold there or in Europe. Palm Bay International of Port Washington, New York imports Sella & Mosca wines. And America’s strong dollar might well induce more bottles to our shores. Which would be a good thing, since the wines are good and the atypical grapes give the palate something new.

So, suffice to say that when I recently had the chance to sample Sardinian wine I had no idea what to expect. The omnipresent Cabernet Sauvignon grows there, but most of the wines came from grapes  —Vermentino, Torbato, Carignano, Cannonau — that were at best vaguely familiar.

The eight wines…. Was it eight? Senator I cannot recall…. Anyhoo, the eight wines I tasted were produced by Sella & Mosca, Sardinia’s largest winery, which was founded a century ago. And I like everyone of them.

The two whites, La Cala Vermentino ($14) and Terre Bianche Torbato ($21) , were any interesting case in contrasts. La Cala has apricot and floral notes and was creamy in the mouth. Terre Bianche tasted of orange peel, apples, and was crisp. The latter was especially tasty with briny oysters.

The Sella & Mosca reds were very different from the fruit bombs one tends to find on American store shelves. A three-year old Terre Rare Carignano ($15) was a little dry, and showed blackberry and earth notes. Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC was wonderfully musty—it was the taste equivalent of stepping into an old cellar where mushrooms were growing. Giovanni Pina, Sella & Mosca’s winemaker, outdid himself with Tanca Farra Alghero DOC 2011. This $27 bottle of wine blew me away as it balanced the rich fruit flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon against the earthy and leathery notes from the Cannonau grapes.

Finally, the high-end ($65 and up) Marchese di Villamarina DOC (2010, 2009, and 1999) offered a Sardinian take on Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, what one got was not the uber-tannic, fruit-forward cab model. Rather, the Marchese wines all showed modest fruit and interesting baking spices and tobacco notes. I was impressed, but I’m not the only one. Critics have deemed Marchese vintages excellent.

The next time you are perusing the drinks aisles or at a restaurant, look for one of these wines. I think you too will be impressed.


Got the Wine Blahs? Try Another Grape

Romance WinesI admit it—I keep a box of Pinot Grigio in the fridge. I also have various Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Pinot Noirs on my wine rack. These are my House wines, the wines I sip (or gulp) after a day at the office while I corral my children to the dinner table.

Most of these wines I pick up at the grocery store on Saturday mornings, when I am loading up the cart with diapers, peanut butter, bananas, and the other staples of life. From  month to month, the wine brands I buy change, but the grapes frequently remain the same. This is not unusual—most wine consumers tend to settle on brands and grapes. “Give me the Chardonnay” is one of the most uttered sentences in modern America.

It’s cliche but true—variety is the spice of life, and these days there is no excuse for mindless repetition. Try a different grape. The market offers an incredible array of wine options at prices that hedge risk. Pasqua Sangiovese runs $10, and is a long way from the dreck that used to come in the straw basket clad bottles. It noses of blackberry, vanilla, and leather, and it paired well with bacon pizza. Continue reading “Got the Wine Blahs? Try Another Grape”


What Makes a Terrible Wine?

Source: http://blog.graphe.it/
Source: http://cavemontblanc.com/?menu=vini-estremi

by B.D Fischer

In their excellent (no joke—it’s the best place to start if you are just learning and also a tremendous reference) Wine for Dummies, the married Mary Ewing-Mulligan (a Master of Wine—one of only 322 in the world, it’s like Ph.D. on top of a Ph.D.) and Ed McCarthy tell this story:

“Several years ago, we were enjoying one of our favorite red wines, an Italian Barbera, in the Alps.  It was a perfect summer day in the mountains—crisp, clear, and cool.  The wine was also perfect … with our salami, bread, and cheese.  A couple of days later, we had the very same wine at the seashore, on a cloudy, humid, heavy-pressure day.  The wine was heavy, flat, and lifeless.  What had happened to our wonderful mountain wine?”

This story was on my mind as I recently drank, and reviled, a 2013 Caves du Vin Blanc de Morgex de la Salle (CVBMS) “Vini Estremi” Dalle Valle d’Aosta ($20, Free Run Wines, LLC, importer).  The source, as usual, was Rimmerman.  Concerning the 2012, which Rimmerman claimed was “almost impossible to tell … apart,” Antonio Galloni (far more reliable than Rimmerman, which is why he was quoted) gave 90 points and said, “Slate, crushed rocks, lime, grapefruit and white flowers burst from the glass in an energetic, chiseled wine loaded with class and personality. Hints of white truffle and ash linger on the finish.”

That’s a flavor profile right in my wheelhouse, but no … and but why?

Minerality, yes, some grapefruit and white flowers (white flowers?), possibly.  But no bursting, let alone class, personality, or lingering.  If you have been here before, Gentle Reader, you know that I do not normally discuss wine in terms of body.  I am not sure why—perhaps because it is so purely value-neutral as opposed to “structure” or “balance”—both light-bodied and full-bodied wines can be excellent.  But I have rarely tasted wine purporting to be of any quality with less body than this Vini Estremi.  It was wine-related water.  The bubbles rose to the top of the glass in a white scum.

As a brief aside, this illuminates the critical Rimmermanian weakness as a purveyor.  He is so valorizing of clarity, purity, and terroir—Old World to a fault—that the drinking experience can be lost.  You have to know how to read him, and above all do not buy Bordeaux.  Esoteric American blends, bubbles, Australia, yes.

But the Vini Estremi:  Could the problem have been this wine’s unusual circumstances of creation?  Rimmerman again:  “[I]t’s the only version of pre-phylloxera … wine you will ever taste.”  This is worth stopping for:  At the end of the 1800s, nearly all of Europe’s Vitis vinifera (i.e., wine as we know it) vines were destroyed by the minute insect Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, commonly known as phylloxera (superfamily Phylloxeroidea, family Phylloxeridae).  Virtually the entire continent was only saved by grafting vines from Texas (put that in your pipe and smoke it, Europe) onto the survivors. If Rimmerman is to be believed, the wines of CVBMS are the rare exception, the only ones that I know of.  Could this be the cause?

Doubtful, for in that same offer (April 22, 2014), I also purchased CVBMS’s La Piagne ($22), bottles of which I consumed at a birthday party this winter over spicy Korean at the legendary Da Rae Jung in Lincoln Square, Chicago (the extra cool factor with the La Piagne is the cork, which is not a cork at all but a glass stopper) and it was near perfect.  But if not the pre-phylloxera vines then what?

We drank the Estremi with pan-seared salmon and miso soup—an inspired food pair.  However, I did not get home until 30 minutes before we retired to the porch with our plates—not enough time for a normal chill so I put it in the freezer.  Maybe that had something to do with the wine’s failure, except that it’s a common technique and thus doubtful.  I’m grasping at straws here.

But.  It has been a strange, bad summer on the shores of Lake Michigan, cold and in the 2015 American way, wet.  No kind of payoff for the supra-miserable winter, and enough to make one think about recalling a mayor.  The humidity as we poured our glasses approached 90% in the aftermath of and prelude to rain.  More rain.  So we think of Ewing-Mulligan and McCarthy.

And we must remember that, like all of us, a bottle of wine is a living thing, and as subject to the seasons and tides, mood disorders, and the unreasonable voices of critics who will not be silenced. (Rating: Not good)