Meet John Grochau … or “Why Whole Cluster Matters”

John GrochauSince founding Grochau Cellars in 2002, former bicycle racer and Portland waiter John Grochau has operated by one simple mantra: “Don’t screw it up.” He developed his interest in Willamette Valley wines working at one of Portland’s best wine restaurants, Higgins. He then went on to work at Erath and serve four years as an assistant winemaker at Doug Tunnel’s Brick House Wines in Ribbon Ridge.

John works with growers up and down the Willamette Valley, selecting those who farm sustainably and value balanced ripeness over either quantity or pure power. In the winery, he tries to do as little as possible. Hand harvested grapes are sorted in the vineyard and at the winery to remove any imperfect fruit. Based on the character of the vineyard and vintage, he destems part of the harvest and leaves some of the grapes whole on their stems – up to 50% for some blocks and vintages.

Once the grapes are in the vat, he waits to let the yeast living in the winery or that traveled from the vineyards with the grapes to start a natural fermentation. Gentle pump-overs and punchdowns help extract color, structure, and flavor before aging in mainly used oak rounds off the edges without adding overt wood flavors.

John sums up his approach nicely: “It’s simple really: Don’t screw it up. Resist the urge to do too much. Modern winemakers have such an array of options available to them it’s staggering. Micro-oxygenation. Wine concentrators. Enzyme addition. Not to mention the temptation so many indulge to beat an otherwise fine wine over the head with a battery of new oak. We eschew all this. Minimal handling, subtle coaxing, oak as a seasoning not as main dish: These are the hallmarks of our wines. Honest, accurate, true to their roots and to the wonderful subtleties of vintage variation.”

Whole Cluster Magic

Until about 50 years ago, all red wine was made pretty much the same way. Pick the grape bunches, through them into a vat, stomp around on them a bit to break the skins and free up the juice, and then wait for yeast from the vineyards or living in the winery to get to work. The increasing alcohol, fermentation heat, and a little extra stomping around extracted color and tannin from the grape skins and seeds. If some extra hard tannin or green flavors were also pulled out of the stems – well, that’s just one reason you needed to wait a few years before the wine was ready to drink!

Today, as winemakers attempt to make wine with more fruit flavors and earlier accessibility, most red winemaking starts with putting grape bunches in a device called a destemmer, one that knocks the berries off their stems and dumps them whole or, more often, crushed into the fermentation vat. Destemming lets winemakers avoid the sometimes-bitter flavors and tannins from under-ripe stems and helps the fermenting wine retain color and fresh fruit flavors. If a little texture and body and complexity was lost, no matter: the critics (especially Robert Parker) love fruit and hate greenness so much that the winery was sure to come out ahead.

Over the past 20 years or so, more and more winemakers – especially those working with Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir – have been carefully heading back to the future to try to regain the benefits of including stems in fermentation without suffering the downsides. And you’ll taste how whole cluster use can benefit Pinot Noir, especially, in all three of John Grochau’s featured 2012 wines.

Vineyard by Vineyard, Vintage by Vintage

John decides how much fruit to destem vs. leave whole-cluster on a vineyard-by-vineyard, block-by-block, and vintage-by-vintage basis. The perfect 2012 growing season and harvest meant that he had no concern about adequate fruit in his wines – the ripe berries were bursting with it! In fact, his challenge was to avoid making wines that were “only” about fruit and that lacked the aromatic and textural complexity great Pinot Noir really should have.

So he left between 30% and 50% of his grape bunches intact and fermented them along with the destemmed berries. The addition of stems keeps the fermenting vats’ caps loose and open, allowing more oxygen in and lengthening the fermentation. While some color is lost, the wine gains extra does of spice, herb, and floral complexity and a bit more lengthy tannins on the finish.

But the biggest difference I see in whole cluster fermented Pinot Noir is in mid-palate texture. Taste any of these wines, and you’ll immediately notice how rich and silky they feel in your mouth. It’s a different kind of richness than you get from high alcohol or extract – it’s more akin to glycerol or the kind of gelatin-based slickness you get in a really great meat stock. It seems to keep the flavors on your palate longer and buffers the fine-grained, firm, tannins emerging on the finish – stretching everything out to give more length and delight.

Just like in the old days, John’s use of whole clusters means that these wines will give even more delight as they age gracefully over the next decade or so. But they are far too smooth, silky, and delicious to wait that long – best have some to drink now and others to follow for years!

We’ve enjoyed John Grochau’s wines for years, especially his entry-level “Commuter Cuvee,” surely one of the best value Pinot Noirs coming out of Oregon year after year. But we’ve leaned in harder with his 2012 releases for two simple reasons: the wines are outstanding and they are outstanding value.

We strongly recommend you sample all three of these featured Pinots – one from the Dundee Hills in Willamette Valley’s northern region, one from the fine Zenith Vineyard in the southerly Eola-Amity AVA, and one a blend of fruit from across the valley. As Matt Kramer said of John’s wines a few years ago, “A couple of sips will tell you he’s a purist winemaker interested in finesse, nuance and what can admiringly be called a certain tenderness.” Lovely stuff you really should try!

From Dirt to Wine: Patricia Green’s Willamette Pinots

Patricial greenNot surprisingly for someone who wants to make “wines from dirt to wine,” Patty Green has worked from the ground up. After a stint doing reforestation work (which sounds better than “planting lots of trees), Patty began in the wine business by picking grapes at Hillcrest Vineyard in the mid-1980s. By 1987 she was Assistant Winemaker there, followed by some consulting work in the early 1990s.

In 1993 she became winemaker and sole employee of Torri Mor where Jim Anderson eventually signed on as employee number 2. After a fine run there (including plenty of highly rated wines and a bunch of local and national acclaim), she and Jim left to form Patricia Green Cellars in 2000.

A 2013 Rollercoaster. With 25+ Willamette Valley vintages under her belt, Patty’s had the chance to see pretty much everything the Willamette Valley has to offer. So she was ready for the rollercoaster 2013 campaign. The vintage started off early and then got warm, sunny, and dry and stayed that way. Visiting Willamette Valley vineyards in July 2013, the main concern growers had was that ripeness would come too early for flavor development.

Things slowed down a bit as the summer went on, though, and most sites were entering their harvest windows a tad early in September when remnants of a Pacific typhoon arrived and dropped four inches of rain on the Valley in only two days. For many, this was a disaster, with bloated grapes cracking and rot beginning to spread. Some were forced to pick right after the rain, giving them diluted grapes to work with in the winery and requiring a lot of winemaking to save the vintage.

Patty and Jim were more fortunate – or, rather, their approach to winegrowing was especially well suited to deal with the rain. All of their vineyards are dry farmed and on free-draining sites, and they only use vines 20 years old or order for their estate bottlings. The old vines and loose soils shed the rains easily, allowing them to pick ripe, healthy fruit a week or more after the rain.

A Light Touch with Great Sites. It helps that their vineyards are some of the most outstanding in all of Oregon and that their winemaking is careful and restrained. The heart of their operation is their 30 acre estate vineyard in Ribbon Ridge, right next door to Beaux Freres and not far from Brick House. The wines featured today include some juice from the Estate vineyard (you’ll find that in the Reserve) as well as wines from the benchmark Freedom Hill vineyard down South and the unique Chehalem Mountain sites called Lia’s and Olenik Vineyards.

The recipe in the winery is simple – there is no recipe! Before and during harvest, Patty tries to match soak times, maceration lengths, and barrel programs to the specific character of each site and vintage. Only three things are constant for every wine: native yeast fermentation; all barrels from Cadus, a premier Pinot Noir barrel house; and tasting, tasting, and tasting some more as the wines evolve to pick the right time and best blend to bottle.

The goal is to produce wines that deliver great pleasure young and old while telling the unique story of each vineyard and vintage. This set of outstanding 2013s does that in spades. Do not miss them!

Rutherford and Beaulieu Vineyards: “Beautiful Place”

Andre Tchelistcheff

André Tchelistcheff

Shortly after joining Beaulieu Vineyard in 1938, Russian-born/French-trained head winemaker André Tchelistcheff was heard to say that no wine from this prime slice of Napa Valley could be considered great unless it had a touch of “Rutherford dust.” Tchelistcheff went on to make wine at BV for 35 years, trained and influenced multiple generations of Napa winemakers, and earned the titles “Dean of American Wine” and “Maestro” from his disciples and peers. But few things he did or said have provoked as much discussion or confusion as Rutherford dust.

Start with the basics. Brothers Georges and Fernande de Latour arrived in Napa Valley in 1903 in search of a vineyard. When they reached the prune and apple orchards around the tiny village of Rutherford, Fernande exclaimed “beau lieu!” – beautiful place. They purchased a small ranch, adopted Beaulieu as the name for their new vineyard, and set about assembling what would reach 500 acres of land on and around what came to be called the Rutherford bench.

Rutherford lies in the middle of the Valley as it runs south to north, far enough south to benefit from cool maritime air at night but far enough north to get plenty of heat and sunshine. It’s at the widest part of the Valley, so it gets more hours of sun each day than vineyards more shaded by the mountains to east and west.

Rutherford BenchAnd, importantly, its vineyards are planted on free-draining, alluvial soils – a deep blend of gravel, sand, silt and clay that rests on the rocky base of the old Napa River. Some argue that the best of these soils run on a slight rise from Oakville to St. Helena and call them the Rutherford Bench. Others say that the only Rutherford Bench is the one you can sit on in front of the Oakville General Store. In any event, these dry, loose, often wind-blown (and, thus, dusty) soils are a fantastic place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon

What Is Rutherford Dust? Ask most Napa winemakers to describe “Rutherford dust,” and many talk about things like minerality (a kind of stony/chalky note), or a ground spice character that many liken to just-grated allspice. And, even more will call out how Rutherford Cabernet – especially lower alcohol wines from times before the current emphasis on super-ripeness – leave behind tannins so firm and fine that they remind you of cocoa powder – or the finest of wind blown dust.

As it happens, you’ll find those cocoa powder tannins – fine, dusty, and so ripe they melt away easily – in both of today’s Beaulieu wines along with a dash of minerality and even a little grated allspice (in the Georges de Latour, anyway). But, dusty tannins weren’t actually what Tchelistcheff meant.

Having trained in France and drunk the greatest wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond, Tchelistcheff believed that the first duty of every great wine was to represent the place where it was grown. And, for Rutherford wines, that meant showing the tantalizing balance between warm, even hot, days and cool, foggy, nights. It meant showing fine ripeness of fruit and a touch of fresh herb, but neither the stewy, roasted flavors of hotter vineyards up-Valley or the colder regions to the south. And, because Tchelistcheff believed Rutherford was a great Cabernet vineyard, it meant that any wine wanting to claim “Rutherford” on the label had to be great, too.

In trying to say all of that, he drew on the most distinctive element of 1930s Rutherford: the fine, reddish, dust that blew up off the vineyards and got onto and into everything (hopefully not including the wine!).

Beaulieu VineyardBeaulieu is Back! After establishing Rutherford as a great Napa Cab site and joining Louis Martini, Inglenook and Charles Krug as a America’s foremost wineries from the end of Prohibition – the 1970s, BV’s quality sagged a bit in the 1980s and 1990s. Multiple changes in corporate ownership didn’t help, and having to replant virtually all of their Rutherford sites in the early 1990s due to phylloxera wasn’t an asset, either.

Things got a little better after André Tchelistcheff returned as a consultant in 1991 (he’d retired in 1973). He pushed for lower yields in the new vineyards and helped BV make the transition from redwood fermentation tanks and American oak to stainless steel and French oak. But the winery’s focus on its value, supermarket, wines after Tchelistcheff’s death in 1994 left the fine wine program a bit adrift.

Fortunately, a new focus on quality emerged in the mid-2000s with the hiring of Bordeaux consulting superstar to work on the Georges de Latour Private Reserve program. As Robert Parker noticed in his reviews of the 2005 releases, “Michel Rolland, the brilliant wine consultant, was brought in to help resurrect the Private Reserve program, and it appears his magic has spilled over onto the other wines as well.”

Tasting these 2012s, you’ll be immediately struck by how the new BV is marrying the restrained, traditional, style that made the winery great with an increased emphasis on ripe fruit and supple, velvety, structures. Yes, you’ll find a little of that “Rutherford dust” cocoa powder texture to the tannins and a hint of grated allspice, too. But mainly you’ll love how both wines are so pure, textured, and fun to drink right now.

And, at these prices, a little gold dust is sprinkled in with the Rutherford dust, too.


Virginia is For (Wine) Lovers!

Sorry, low hanging fruit there in the title. We don’t stock many Virginia wines here at the store for a variety of reasons (you can read a little more about why here). Even so, when you live so close to an emerging wine region, it seems almost criminal not to visit. So, last week I spent a couple of days visiting Virginia wineries to get to know the producers we work with a little better, and to visit a few wineries whose wines I am less familiar with. It was a wonderful mini-adventure, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more!


On Thursday, I headed over to Barboursville and met up with Fernando, their vineyard manager. The staff was so apologetic that their general manager was busy, but this ended up being my favorite visit, because Fernando was *awesome.* We hopped in his truck right away, which was so filthy that it made me feel better about my own messy car. He drove me all over the property, and we checked out the Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, and some of the reds – the Muscat is almost ripe!




Much of it stays under netting to protect it from birds. Fernando has been managing vineyards in California and Virginia for almost 30 years, and his love for the land he takes care of is infectious. Being around someone so passionate about what they do is such a joy, and getting a personal tour of Barboursville’s vineyards was so educational and fun.

After a few sips of an already bottled Sauv Blanc (very refreshing, kind of like green melon and fresh flowers) and a walk through the barrel room, it was time to leave for Early Mountain.


Early Mountain was a completely different, and much fancier experience. CEO Peter Hoehn gave me a tour of the whole, grand facility, from the wine library to the gorgeous, airy tasting room and even the airstream trailer they bought to take their wines on the road!



Early Mountain is committed to featuring wines from all over Virginia in their tasting room. After I was finished tasting through their current offerings (the delicious Foothills Red was just as good as I remembered!) I had a glass of the vibrant, toasty Thibaut Janisson’s Blanc de Blancs. There are usually 8-10 wines from other Virginia wineries being featured at the tasting bar at any given time, and the selections rotate often. As I was leaving, Peter and the rest of the team were setting up for a tasting group that they hold with other Virginia winemakers so they can taste and discuss each others’ work. Super cool.

The next day was rainy, foggy, and damp, and up in the Blue Ridge mountains at Glen Manor, the fog looked so beautiful and mysterious wrapped around the vineyards.


Their Sauvignon Blanc is so good we often shelve it in our regular white wine area instead of keeping it with the other Virginia wines because we don’t want anyone to miss it! The 2014 is bursting with juicy grapefruit flavors and a mouthwateringly dry finish. The Petit Manseng I tried, with its electric sweet-tart balance, didn’t hurt either.


Then it was on to Linden, another producer in Front Royal, known for its wines made with minimal intervention. Jim, the winemaker, showed me around his property, and I loved seeing how stripped-down and broken in all the equipment was, like this old German press from the 1950s. So cool!


The wines were all beautiful, but the single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc had a wonderful weight and chalky texture, with bright lemon flavors. So refreshing and perfect for summer.


I can’t recommend visiting our local wineries enough – whether you want a luxe experience at a place like Early Mountain (the charcuterie plate was to die for!) or something with a real small-production, lo-fi feel like at Linden, there’s something for almost every wine lover right here in our home state.


Wander Over to Umbria!

Perticaia VineyardSo, we’re taking an Italian vacation this week. Sure, Tuscany’s famous, has all of Florence’s glorious art, and is chock-full of famous wine regions. But, this time of year, it’s crowded, expensive, and brown. Plus – we’ve already done it, haven’t we? Let’s try something cool and new – Umbria!

That was pretty much Guido Guardigli’s thinking when, after 20+ years of making wine for Tuscan estate owners, he decided to strike out on his own. He purchased a small vineyard and olive orchard not far from the town of Montefalco and gradually expanded it to 17 hectares of vines. As in Tuscany, Sangiovese thrives in Umbria’s rolling hills, and Chianti’s second grape – Colorino – works well also, so he planted some of each. But for his main planning, he chose Umbrian’s own unique grape: Sagrantino.

Like Nebbiolo in Piemonte and Aglianico in Campagna, Sagrantino is one of those grapes that takes a little getting used to and grows well only in one particular place: Montefalco. No one knows where it came from, although followers of Umbrian monk St. Francis of Assisi may have brought it to Umbria from Asia Minor in the 1200s. It yields well and gives plenty of color and fruit plus loads of exotic spice – think clove, nutmeg, cinnamon. But, like Nebbiolo and Aglianico – it can be fiercely acidic and tannic.

The monks’ solution to the grape’s powerful structure: make it sweet! And so this grape became Umbria’s go-to sweet red wine to be used in the Mass as sacramental wine, the probable source of the Sagrantino name.

Perticaia Guido Guardigli

Perticaia’s Guido Guardigli

Sangiovese to Sagrantino
Guido planted about half his total vineyard to Sagrantino (with seven hectares, he has almost three percent of all the Sagrantino currently cultivated in Umbria!) and then set out to figure out how to make it into a palatable wine.

Like most growers in Umbria, he started with a non-Sagrantino wine, an Umbrian IGT based on Sangiovese with dashes of Colorino and Merlot (his bankers insisted he plant some) that’s perfect for casual enjoyment with pizza, pasta, and cured meats. His 2013 edition is delicious, the kind of everyday Italian value you’ll love having on hand this summer as fresh tomatoes come in.

For his second red, Guido took up the Umbrian tradition of adding a kick of Sagrantino power and structure to a mainly Sangiovese red, giving us his Montefalco Rosso. His 2012 is simply superb, marrying Sangiovese’s black cherry, berry blossom, and bitter almond notes to Sagrantino’s unique spice. It’s “serious” in terms of weight, power, and complexity, but still festive and fun – kind of like Umbria itself.

And then there’s Guido’s pure Sagrantino, in 2010 a Tre Bicchieri winner and as impressive a version as we’ve ever tasted. The key to making great Sagrantino – go slow. This wine takes a full three years to make. First, the ripe fruit spends a full three-weeks in the fermentation vat as the yeast living in the vineyard and winery gradually converts sugar to alcohol and slow, gentle, pump-overs extract color and only the ripest, most sweet, tannin. Then, a full year in small French oak barrels of different sizes to allow color to stabilize and tannins to soften. Then, a second full year in tank for more softening without loss of fruit. Then, yet another year in bottle before release.

If you’re able to come in on Saturday, August 1, from noon-4pm, you should really try all three of these Umbrian classics. Or order a mixed dozen right now and beat the DC Dog Days of Summer with a virtual Umbrian vacation!

The ENV Adventure

Silvia Puig ENVSilvia Puig was pretty much born into the wine business – her father, Joseph Puig, is a longtime restaurateur, export manager for Spain’s Miguel Torres and founder of Torres’s operation in Chile. Silvia followed Joseph into the trade, learning winemaking at school and while working at properties in Bordeaux and Spain (including Vega Sicilia’s Alion winery). Eventually, she and Joseph founded their own estate in the Gratallops region of Priorat, in the province of Tarragona southwest of Barcelona.

Silvia and Joseph named their new venture Vinedos de Ithaca, a nod to the Greek settlers who first planted vines in this rugged corner of Spain, and carved an estate vineyard out of the steep hills around the winery. Fairly early on, Jonas met Silvia on a Spanish wine buying trip with importer Olivier Daubresse and began offering her wines here around 2005. Working with their own vines and grapes Silvia purchased from old-time farmers and families across the region, the wines quickly found success in both Spain and in the international wine press both for the traditional reds and, unusually, for Silvia’s striking whites (a rarity in Priorat).

Like so many successful winemakers, Silvia wanted to do something completely on her own, and in 2008 she began the project now called En Numeros Vermells. The name, “Numbers in the Red” and clever label design by local graffiti artist Adria Batet, evoked the rain of bad news showing down on Spain and the world during the late 2000’s financial meltdown.

True “Garage Wines.” In contrast to the larger production volumes of Vinedos de Ithaca, Silvia designed this project to let her intimately nurture small amounts of wine from grape to bottle on a barrel by barrel basis. The small scale let her largely ignore the normal time and financial pressures of winemaking – with a total production of a few hundred cases, she was free to let each wine find its own way to maturity and use only the barrels that actually fit in her final blends.

We through around the terms “garage wine” and “handcrafted” quite a bit, but that’s truly the best way to describe everything about these wines. The En Numerous Vermells “cellar” is the garage of Silvia’s house in the Priorat village of Poboleda, a building that also serves as Silvia’s home and her husband – Belgian chef Pieter Truyts – Brots Restaurant.

In this tiny space, Silvia is literally doing virtually everything by hand. She tends the 10 or so barrels stacked in the space carefully, tasting and re-tasting to learn how each is developing and gaining a deep understanding of each cask’s unique character, strengths, and weaknesses. Multiple blending trials allow Silvia to explore how her charges work together (or don’t), and create an ideal marriage that lets each site and varietal shine without fighting or overwhelming each other.

Even the packaging is by hand! Silvia dips each bottle in wax by hand and decorates each cardboard six-pack with a unique, often whimsical, drawing in pencil, pen, and marker. You won’t often hear us wax enthusiastic about the box a wine comes in, but this year’s artwork – each box unique – is the most charming yet, echoing some of the exuberance and down to earth elegance you’ll find in the wines.

ENV 2015 Release. Silvia doesn’t make much of any of her ENV wines, and has no trouble selling all she has at the restaurant in Priorat and to discerning European customers. We owe our generous – in terms of how much Silvia makes – allocations to the passion and persuasion of importer Jonas Gustafsson. Jonas has followed and supported the ENV project since its inception, often tasting and debating the wines with Silvia as she decides on her final blends.

Although the wines get better and better, Silvia and Jonas have agreed to hold prices steady again this year. No, they are not expensive. But I’d argue that they represent extraordinary value – especially at the mix/match case prices – for a region where even mediocre bottlings achieve $70+ price tags. Come on Saturday and taste; that’s really all the justification the wines need.

The Reds of Austria’s Burgenland

BurgenlandBurgenland was, for years and years, the poorest, most economically isolated region in all of Austria – electricity didn’t reach most homes until the last quarter of the 20th Century!

It’s also one of the flattest areas of Austria – a bump 80 feet high is called a “hill” here – and one of the warmest as hot breezes flow westward from the Pannonian Plain to the east. And, while daytime temperatures can soar, the long, shallow (just 3 feet deep!) glacial lake called Neusiedler See both cools the region at night and pumps out autumn fogs that cover vineyards near the lake.

Fine Wine Potential in Burgenland
Alois Kracher was the first to see Burgenland’s potential for fine wine, taking advantage of the alternating warm sunshine and chilly fog in lakeside vineyards to make sweet wines based on botrytis – aka “noble rot.” Kracher’s unique and exotic bottlings of Chardonnay, Scheurebe, Welschriesling, and, eventually, even red grapes like Zweigelt and Pinot Noir earned huge ratings in Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, etc. and helped spur investment and attention for Burgenland’s vineyards.

Ernst Steindorfer was part of the Kracher revolution, both as Alois Kracher’s friend and his winemaker for many years. But he also made wine for himself, starting first with his mother’s vineyards and selling wine in bulk before gradually expanding the estate to about 22 acres of vines and bottling roughly 5,000 cases per year.

Like his good friend Kracher, Ernst and his family make some brilliant sweet wines – from botrytized Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay – and a killer Pinot Gris we are still trying to get our hands on. The real pride and joy of the cellar are Ernst’s red wines.

Discovering Austria’s Reds 
Once vineyards move far enough from the lake to escape fog, the daytime warmth and nighttime cool makes this perfect red wine country. And growers like Ernst have risen to the opportunity, firmly establishing Burgenland as Austria’s best source of reds. So why haven’t you heard of these wines before?

One reason: Austrians drink them before they can escape the country! Austrian’s love their own wines, love to visit and buy directly from winemakers, and are proud to order Austrian wine in the countries top restaurants and bars. The country only makes about 1% of the world’s wine and drinks 70%+ of its production at home. So, not much makes it here.

A Primer on Austrian Red Varietals
Another reason: Austria’s unfamiliar grapes can intimidate American drinkers more accustomed to popular “international” varietals – grapes that find vineyard homes in many parts of the world. Austria’s best grapes, in contrast, have evolved (or were created) to suit the country’s unique Central European soils and climate. The three most important are:

Blaufränkisch: The “fräkisch” in this grape’s name comes from Medieval Austrian’s assumption that any grape making good wine must have come from Franconia in Germany. It’s probably native to the region, though, and migrated to Germany (where it’s called Lemberger) later. It gives dark colored, fruit filled, brightly juicy wines that are easygoing fun when made in tank and develop more complexity and sophistication when aged in oak. Austria’s second most planted red grape and arguably its best.

St. Laurent: Another old native Austrian grape whose name probably derives from St Laurentius, patron saint of chef’s, whose day is August 10, around the time this grape starts to ripen. It gives aromatic wines of velvety structure and sour cherry fruit. There’s a faint resemblance to Pinot Noir, if with more acidity and structure, but no genetic relationship.

Zweigelt: The most widely planted red grape in Austria is also the one most often seen in the USA. It’s a different kind of Austria native, created in 1922 by crossing Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It’s exuberantly fruity – almost like a cross between Gamay and Zinfandel – but can be a little simple on it’s own. When yields are kept low, though, and barrel carefully used, it can deliver delicious, if a bit exotic, wine.

Ernst Steindorfer grows and vinifies all three of these traditional Austrian red grapes and bottles each of them in two cuvees. One with limited/no oak offers up pure fruit, juicy textures, and easy-drinking value. The other version, the Reserve cuvees, gains extra structure and complexity from time in barrel. All are excellent – we especially loved the Blaufränkisch Reserve – but I’m not sure any are better than this ripe and supple cookout-friendly blend of all three!