Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in Wine

A while ago I was having a phone conversation with a winemaker. I remarked on a Chardonnay (made by said winemaker) I enjoyed with a listed ABV of 14.5%*. The dialog about wine alcohol levels went something like this:

Me: “I really dug that Chard, was surprised it was so good with the alcohol that high. I must confess, I normally won’t buy a white wine over 14% alcohol [ed note: ghost of IPOB]. I’ll look at the label and then put it back on the shelf if it’s that high.”

Winemaker: “That’s a terrible way to select wine.”

Me: “I’m a monster.”

[awkward silence…aaaaaand scene]

But at a recent wine dinner, one I was invited to by Calhoun & Company, I was fairly shocked by a wine. The winemaker was present, which gave me another opportunity to force another uncomfortable moment. But this time, in person!

Let me tell you about the wine.

It’s October, time for some spooky vines at Chile’s Odfjell Vineyards / Photo via winery

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2017 (Valle del Maule, Chile) $23

Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in WineI was sitting at Butter (where the butter is excellent) with Odfjell Vineyards winemaker Arnaud Hereu. We enjoyed a beer before digging into the Chilean wines of Odfjell. The first wine up was this very cool (and served chilled) old vine Carignan made with organic grapes. It’s an all-stainless steel wine, no oak. The vines are up to 80 years old.

So this Carignan ticks off many of the boxes I love:

  • Under-appreciated grape
  • Unoaked red
  • Served chilled
  • Organic grapes

I was drinking this all like, “Damn, this is good. What a great lunch wine, dinner wine, food wine, wine wine.” Light on its feet but with some oomph. I also really dug the label.

Then I flipped the script or, rather, the bottle to peep the back label. There I spied the wine alcohol level: 15%. Dang! That’s like hotter than the sun. That’s a big burly level of booze! I should be appalled!**

Whatever. It was a really delicious wine.

And that’s One To Grow On. The More You Know. [Cue 80s PSA.]

More on the wines of Odfjell Vineyards.

I’d also like to give a shout-out two a duo of wines form the Armador Tier, the Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. For $15 each, a hell of a deal.

Let me back up about this winery. Here’s the story of its founding:

Over 25 years ago, the pioneering Norwegian Armador, (ship owner) Dan Odfjell discovered and felt in love with a small corner of the famous Maipo Valley, Chile. Born of rain in Bergen, Norway, he could not resist the attraction of the austral sun in this Virgilian setting.

(Sidebar: Whoever wrote this, I love that last sentence. Jealous!)

The wines have a very nautical theme. In Spanish, Orzada means “sailing against the wind” and Armador is the name for shipowner.

Anyway, check out these three bottles and try not to be a judgmental monster like me when it comes to wine alcohol levels. I realize I am an aberration. Most people buying a bottle of wine are looking for a:

  • familiar label
  • label with some sizzle
  • deal or wine within a price range
  • good food/event/activity pairing
  • recommendation from email, website, social media, shelf talker, or (gasp!) human

They are not scrutinizing every detail on front and back label, which you can probably only do in person. Would be interesting to see winery websites with both front/back label shots. But I guess that’s what the tech sheet is for. Of course, staring at a technical PDF is beyond boring for most sane people. It’s not fun nor does it “demystify” wine.

Wait, one more thing about Odjfell! I am so easily distracted.

They  breed Norwegian Fjord horses at the winery. Even though I am very afraid of these animals, how cute is this trio?

Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in Wine

Frolicking horses / photo via winery

*I realize there is some legal fudging you can do on the listed ABV so wine alcohol levels may be higher or lower than what is stated on the label. 

**HYPERBOLE. DUH.

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Chilean Wine Podcast

My recent conversation with Rodrigo Soto got me thinking about Chile. So it was quite serendipitous that not long after I wrote about it, I got to speak with Michael (“Schach”) Schachner. He reviews the wines of Chile for The Thuse and we had a lively discussion about the state of the country’s wine industry and what’s exciting/unexpected. It’s all on the latest episode of What We’re Tasting, a dang Chilean wine podcast!

The cellars at Undurraga, one of the wineries discussed on the show / Photo from winery website

Get to know Sryah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.

Also a reference to legendary punk band Suicidal Tendencies is dropped during a Carménère conversation.

But that’s not the only “C” red grape discussed. Look out for Cinsault and Carignan.

Finally, white wines get some love. From “chill it and kill it” Sauvignon Blanc to the greatly improving quality of Chardonnay, red’s not the only game in town/country.

So May Grapes That Start With “C” 

Chilean Wine Podcast

 

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Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo Soto

I met Rodrigo Soto back in 2012 when I was visiting the Veramonte winery in Chile. (Sidebar: they have a really cool antique corkscrew collection there.) He’s been at the forefront of converting vineyards to organic farming for the Ritual, Neyen, Primus, and Veramonte labels.

Vineyards at Veramonte / photo courtesy the winery

Recently I had a chance to reconnect with him for an informal chat over some coffee. (We met at 8:30am, not prime wine time.) Before he caught a train to go up to Westchester (which gave me unpleasant commuting flashbacks), he left me with a couple bottles to take home.

Two of the topics covered I’d like to address here. One is the question of price and the other is regionality. And this first bottle points to both.

Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay Casablanca Valley 2016 ($50)

Thoughts on Chile Inspired by Winemaker Rodrigo SotoOne of the issues facing the wines of Chile is most people hear “Chilean wine” and only think “value.” Or the dreaded “cheap.” There is no denying that Chile has very high-quality wines at excellent prices. I’ve been a huge fan of its Sauvignon Blanc (and more) for that reason.

While there are some iconic (red) wines that command high prices, like Santa Rita Casa Real, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, and Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta, it’s more of a slog for white wines. How do you get people to consider Chile a source for wines that cost $20, $30 and higher? If I gave you $50 and said get any wine you want, would Chile cross your mind?

Consider a wine like the Ritual Supertuga Block Chardonnay. It’s fermented in big ol’ oak barrels but only 18% of them are new. So you get more texture and less oakiness. (Some of the wine is also fermented in concrete eggs, which I’d call hip but they are getting so popular I don’t even know if that’s accurate anymore. Ok, they are still cool.) It’s rich, it’s elegant, it pleases.

The other issue Rodrigo Soto and I discussed is regionality. Everyone knows Chile makes wine, but how many people drill down into its distinct regions? This wine is from the Casablanca Valley and it’s one of many regions of Chilean wine worth exploring. (If you go here and click on the “See Chilean Valleys” tab you get an idea of how far these regions stretch up and down the country.)

Veramonte Pinot Noir 2016 ($11)

Though I’m steering you to think of Chile beyond budget wines, I have to toot its horn for very good Pinot Noir at outstanding prices. In my wine shop I’d have at least a three-case stack of the Veramonte Pinot Noir, with the top box meeting my exacting specifications for how you cut a case of wine with a box knife. Now I’m having flashbacks to sales reps and merchandisers with sloppy cardboard case cutting techniques. (Shudder.)

I always consider finding good Pinot Noir under $15 to be like the quest for the Holy Grail. (Sidebar: I recently saw the 1981 movie “Excalibur” for the first time in decades. The cast is spectacular: Helen Mirren, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart, to name a few. It’s very weird, moody, and dark. Highly recommend.)

So the Veramonte Pinot Noir (screwcap closure, BTW) has a little bit of oomph. It’s not a light, delicate wine but more medium-bodied. Nice to note it’s 100% Pinot Noir. A lot of cheap Pinot has just enough Pinot Noir to be labeled as such, usually pumped-up with Syrah or whatever other grapes are lying around.

In conclusion: Chile is worth your premium dollars and is a multi-faceted country when it comes to regional wine nuances. You don’t have to spend $50 to experience this but if your ceiling for Chilean wine is, say, $15 and under, don’t hesitate to get into that $25+ range. Thanks to Rodrigo Soto for his time and a thought-provoking conversation. It’s definitely the most consideration I’ve given wine at 8:30 in the morning, and possibly later in the day, too.

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Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

Dynasty noun – a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics, or another field.

The Lurton Family can trace its winemaking roots in Bordeaux back to the 17th century. But it was the marriage of Denise Recapet to Francois Lurton in 1923 that the story of this family dynasty begins. Denise and François Lurton had four children, André was born in 1924, Lucien in 1925, Simone in 1929 and Dominique in 1932.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

André, married to Elizabeth Garros, received the family home, Château Bonnet. In 40 years he amassed property totaling 600 hectares situated primarily in Entre-deux-Mers and the Pessac-Léognan appellation, of which he was one of the founders in 1987. Today, the fourth and fifth generations of Lurton’s control 27 Bordeaux châteaux. Everything from Bordeaux’s largest producer, Chateau Bonnet which is run by patriarch Andre Lurton to 2nd growth Margaux property Chateau Brane Cantenac to Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de LololToday the family has wine interests on most continents and almost all major wine growing regions. In their turn, Andre’s sons, François and Jacques, acquired wine estates in Chile, Argentina, Portugal, Spain and the Languedoc.

 

“If I were a vine, I would choose to be planted in Chile.” François Lurton

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de LololFrançois and Jacques Lurton found this “dream land” whilst working as consultants for the San Pedro vineyards. The first bottles of Araucano, the name of the last of Chile’s indigenous people, was first released in 1997. In 2000, François bought 200 hectares of land in the valley of Colchagua. The valley around the town of Lolol, had that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, that combination of high altitude clay-limestone soils, radical diurnal temperature change and the cooling influence of the morning fog.

 

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

The estate is located in a high valley that runs from East to West, which funnels cold air from the Pacific Ocean. The large temperature differences between the sea and the land causes a white fog “Humo Blanco” to develop, which can be seen most mornings just above the estate vineyards. Hot, dry days and foggy, cool nights, textbook perfect conditions for growing great wine.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

The Lurton family bring literally centuries of winemaking knowledge to bear on this project. But, Francois is a forward thinking man with a vision. Francois Lurton employs 10 full time enologist that work across France, Argentina, Spain and Chile. 2012 the Araucano wines obtained organic certification. In 2013, Hacienda Araucano obtained biodynamic certification (Demeter). The winery is also 100% solar powered.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

Lolol is one of the new coastal appellations in Chile. This wine represents the essence of the cool climate of Lolol. It is made up of the best plots of four grape varieties that excel in the valley: Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. This blend was put together by Francois himself. The grapes are handpicked, double sorted and then left for a lengthy cold soak to gently extract the fruity aromas and smooth tannins. Once fermented separately the different grape varieties are blended together and are aged in French oak for 18 months. A true Chilean wine with a French touch.

Children of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de LololClos de Lolol Red Wine 2013 (Chile) $14.99 / Save $10

“Woodsy, spicy aromas of herbal plum and berry come with a light coating of chocolate. A round, rubbery palate is tight in the long run. Saturated plum and blackberry flavors are oaky in front of an extracted finish that runs long and doesn’t hold back. Drink through 2022.” 91 pts Wine Enthusiast

92 James Suckling, 91 pts Wine Advocate

“There’s never been a better time to buy Chilean wine.” James Suckling, “Indeed, hundreds of outstanding quality wines are entering the market. It doesn’t hurt that the current vintages available, especially for reds, are fantastic – mostly 2013, 2014, and 2015.”

@Chef_LennyChildren of the Vine : Bodegas Lurton Araucano Clos de Lolol

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