Selections for December 2016

A tangy sucker

2015 JUBILEE PINOT BLANC – Alto Adige DOC, Italy

From a picturesque northern Italian wine region with terrific terroir comes an enervating white:  It smells and tastes wonderfully, aggravatingly tangy.  White pepper, just-ripening apricots, bergamot, chalk and white peach skins are all on the attack.  Your palate is happily upset, and you are reaching for food.

What’s unusually marvelous about this?  “Jubilee” is made from Pinot Blanc, a.k.a. Pinot Bianco, a.k.a. Weissburgunder.  Grow it in most parts of California and you get an easygoing, soft, but otherwise unidentifiable shadow of – say – Chardonnay.  Grow it in most parts of the WORLD for the same less-than-distinctive effect:  Little to say in the nose and just as boring in the mouth.  Alsace sometimes gets it right, but winemakers there are too concerned with their glory grapes Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris to give much attention to workhorse Pinot Blanc.

Certainly, Alto-Adige is the difference.  Alto Adige lies on a subalpine border with Austria. The juxtaposition of high altitude freshness and unusually warm microclimate makes the Alto Adige’s wines some of Italy’s most compelling.  Another difference is Small Vineyards, the importer of this wine personified by TWS friend Tom Kelly.  Tom and I met for lunch in Berkeley several months ago to taste several pre-arrivals, and with the antipasti in play it was only a matter of a few sipping seconds before I committed to this for your club.  Cold cuts, seasonal squash dishes, sushi . . . you name it – it will all work with this energetic, food-craving white!


2015 CEDRUS le BLANC – Cotes de Gascogne, France

This comes from south of Bordeaux; Gascony, the land of the Three Musketeers, Foie Gras, and Armagnac.  Producers of the latter only more recently added fine winemaking to their repertoire as a grape glut solution.  Lucky us:  Gascony now produces the most enlivening white wine value in France!

Here is a combination of two grapes which are hardly household names.  60% is devoted to Colombard, called “French Colombard” when cultivated here in California.  During the 1990’s I frequently roamed a head-pruned mixed-white-variety vineyard here in Livermore.  It was planted in the 1920’s to now-less-fashionable Grey Riesling, Palomino, and French Colombard, among other oddities.  I remember tasting grapes from the various vines one September just before harvest:  The Palomino (used in Spain for Sherry) and Grey Riesling were sweet but totally devoid of acidity, that necessary component of “zing” which keeps a white wine refreshing.  Then I tasted the fully ripe Colombard:  Lemon Drops!  This old vineyard had been planted with the plan of blending all of these components, and French Colombard’s role was – obviously to my burning tongue - acid provision.

The remaining 40% of Cedrus?  Ugni Blanc.  Want a prettier synonym?  How about “Trebbiano,” Italy’s name for it?  Trebbiano’s role here is to soothe nervous Colombard’s anxieties and add a little easygoing softness to the palate.  White pepper, daisies, grapefruit . . . the message of this vibrant wine is precise, direct, and un-fussed.  You are meant to eat it with soft cheeses and – certainly – fish!