An Incredible Day at Orsolani

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This past Wednesday during our tour of the Piedmont, Doug and I made the hour or so drive to the Orsolani winery, right near the Valle d’Aoste, from Alba.  We were of course looking forward to our appointment, but we had no idea just what was in store for us.

We were greeted by winemaker Gianluigi Orsolani, and he began to tell us what he had planned for the day, but when we expressed interest in Carema, where their Nebbiolo, “Le Tabbie'” comes from, he immediately and graciously switched gears, and we hopped in his station wagon to make the drive to see the historic Nebbiolo vineyards in this region.

carema town from above

As you can see, these were completely jaw-dropping, and having an experienced guide like Gigi, as he is known, was invaluable.  These old Nebbiolo vines are trained pergola style very, very high, an effort to keep the vines warm in this marginal wine climate.  As you can see in the photo, the old concrete posts that hold up these elaborate trellises are taller than a lot of people, including me!   After scrambling up the old stone steps to see higher and higher terraces of vineyards, Gigi very kindly led us back down using the road instead of making us climb back down on those (I use this term loosely) steps.  Otherwise, the trip back down could have ended in disaster.

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Then it was on to touring the winery and tasting.  We went on an extensive tour of all of the traditional winemaking equipment.  This place is old school!  The highlight was the equipment used to disgorge and cork the sparkling wine made from Erbaluce here.  Gigi disgorged a bottle right in front of us!  We’d never seen that done by hand before, and we even got to taste it.  Even without dosage, it was delicious – as fresh as it gets.

orsolani sparkling bottling equipment

When it was time to taste, we were greeted by the patriarch of the family, who treated us to delicious cheeses and a traditional sausage made from potatoes blended with the meat mixture.  Doug was so enamored of regional delicacy that I thought he might ask me to put what remained in my purse!

orsolani father salami

One of the fascinating things about a winery like Orsolani is that it shows the diversity of one single grape.  Aside from their Carema Nebbiolo and an everyday red blend, all of Orsolani’s wines are made from the traditional white grape Erbaluce.  Like the Loire Valley’s Chenin Blanc, Erbaluce is a fascinating regional grape that, while it doesn’t get as much attention as international varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, is much more versatile.

We tasted the still whites, including La Rustia, which we’ll have on tasting this weekend.  Crisp and clean, but at the same time an aromatic change of pace, this is a wonderful, affordable white that shows real regional character.  Most interesting was the comparison we got to do between the finished bottles released to market that are fermented with the more reliable cultured yeast, and the ‘experimental’ wines that are being fermented with wild yeast.  Though the wines fermented with cultured yeast feature bright, fresh, clean fruit flavors that are sure crowd pleasers, the wines fermented with traditional yeast produce wines with more minerality and secondary flavors.  Both are wonderful, and Gigi said that they may someday blend the two.

The sparkling wines were also delicious, but what really blew us away were the sweet wines.  The 2006 Sula was one of the most balanced, drinkable, and just flat-out scrumptious dessert wines we’ve ever had.  Though it contains a whopping 185 grams of residual sugar per liter, you’d never know it to taste this balanced and poised wine.  Stay tuned for that one!

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The fun wasn’t over yet, as Gigi took us to a fabulous, traditional country restaurant where we tried bagna cauda, which we nicknamed ‘fish fondue.’   Like fondue, it’s served warm, but rather than melted cheese, the dip is made from anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and sometimes cream.  You eat this delicious concoction with raw and lightly cooked vegetables and meat.  Most delicious of all was the screamingly fresh cows’ milk cheese that you dipped into the already creamy, decadent anchovy mixture.  Outrageous!

As if the day hadn’t been incredible enough, on the ride back, Gigi learned that Doug didn’t have a saber to use on sparkling wine.  So, before we left, he gave him one!  It made it back to the US and is now proudly on display at the shop.  So far no one has been brave enough to use it, though.

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Speaking of bravery, on the drive back we hit a freak snowstorm coming back into Alba, making the drive a little more interesting than we would have liked!

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We can’t thank the Orsolani family, and especially Gigi, enough for the incredible, educational, and fun day we spent there.  This kind of generosity and warmth of spirit is what makes the wine business so wonderful.  What’s in the glass is important, but it’s really the people that make this job so rewarding.

–Diane

A Taste of Austria With the Steininger Family

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of meeting Karl and Brigitta Steininger, the family behind Steininger, one of our favorite producers of Austrian wine, at a tasting held by local importer Klaus Wittauer of KW Selections.

steininger reisling sekt

I started with a vintage sparkling Riesling -look at that snazzy bottle!  This 2008 had rounded out nicely from a few years in bottle, but still retained lovely freshness and varietal character.

Favorites currently on the shelves here at Chain Bridge Cellars showed well, and I got a chance to taste a single-vineyard bottling of the Riesling Kamptal we carry.

One of the more special bottles on display was a magnum of our ever-popular Gruner Veltliner Grand Gru.  Klaus informed me that in this vintage, the acacia casks that have become an integral part of the Grand Gru profile were new, and it was evident as soon as I put my nose in the glass.  The aromas of honeysuckle and vanilla were exotic, while on the palate the wine showed satisfying richness and structure.  A Gruner for lovers of white Burgundy, for sure.

steininger grand gru

Also sure to please Burgundy and Champagne lovers was the Burgunder sparkling wine.  Steininger produces 10 different sparkling wines, most of them single-varietal, but this blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, is their answer to French Champagne.  This was a serious sparkler, its richness and wood influence a nod to high-end French producers like Krug.  The Gruner Veltliner Sekt, a staple in our sparkling selection, held its own against the Burgunder and the current vintage of the sparkling Riesling.

steininger group shot

Whenever we get a chance to meet the people who make the wines we carry, we jump at it – thanks to Klaus Wittauer of KW Selections and Select for bringing Karl and Brigitta Steininger to the US!

–Diane

Over the Hill or Hitting its Stride?

old wine bottle

Wine industry ‘op-eds’ on whether and how long to age wine pop up pretty frequently.  Either wine lovers are impatient and don’t age wine the way they should (‘kids these days!’), or, as in this one, aging wine is obsolete – grapes are riper and wines are better made, making aging unnecessary.

Then there are the critics, who don’t help matters by publishing ‘drink dates,’ that sometimes seem a little too specific.  “Drink from now until the 3rd Tuesday of March of 2018.”   To add to the confusion, they are often tasting barrel samples that haven’t been bottled or shipped under normal circumstances, so they are tasting a wine that is going to taste somewhat different by the time a normal consumer buys it off a store shelf or in a restaurant.

So, what’s the answer – to cellar or not to cellar?

We think it’s somewhere in the middle, which unfortunately doesn’t make for attention-grabbing headlines.  Whether or not wine should be cellared for long periods has more to do with what flavors you like in wine.

If you like wine young, fresh, and full of fruit, then you should drink it young and ignore those dates at the end of wine reviews.  If you like more mature wines, with what wine dorks like us refer to as ‘secondary’ flavors, you should find a place to store wine until you’ve got it at the point where you like it.

Which begs the question: How do you figure out what you like?  Taste a lot of wine!  Pretty fun solution, right?  Whenever you get a chance to taste an older wine, jump at it, whether it’s at an in-store tasting or your Uncle Herb wants to bring out something musty from his cellar.  Hunting in stores can sometimes yield results (we always have a few more mature bottles, and there are more in our cellar if you ask), but unless you know and trust your source, you can’t always be sure of how well the wine has been stored, which can affect its ability to age.

When you taste these older wines, ask yourself if you honestly, truly like the its flavors and aromas.  It’s OK if you don’t!  There is absolutely nothing wrong with preferring young wine, but it’s easy to forget that when presented with an older bottle because it just seems more ‘special’ somehow.

Last but not least, sign up for our One Sip At A Time Aging Wine class on March 14.  We’ll walk you through the characteristics that separate older wines from younger ones, and help you decide once and for all whether or not you think a wine is over the hill or needs 10 years to be most enjoyable to you.

Our First One Sip At A Time Class!

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We were thrilled to see so many new faces at our very first One Sip At A time class this past Thursday.  This first class, “Tasting and Talking About Whites,” focused on, you guessed it, white wines.  When learning to taste wine, whites are a great place to start, because of their lighter body and greater transparency.  The difference in aroma and flavor between a more neutral Pinot Grigio and a pungent, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc are very apparent when there’s no tannin or dark color to get in the way.

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By the end of the class, everyone was swirling and slurping with gusto, something that is usually tough to get new tasters to do.  People are generally too polite when tasting wine – you’ve really got to slurp to get all those flavors!

We tasted all the wines in pairs, starting with a white blend from one of our favorite Rhone producers, Philippe Plantevin, and an off-dry Riesling from Klemens Weber.  Then we moved on to our new favorite Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc from Henri Bourgeois.  This pair provided a great contrast between one of the so-called ‘neutral’ varietals, Pinot Grigio, and one of the ‘aromatic’ varietals, Sauvignon Blanc.  When you smell these side by side, there is no mistaking which is which!

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We ended with a pair of dueling Chardonnays, showing how different one of America’s most popular grapes can taste depending on whether it’s aged in oak barrels or not, and we learned where that ‘buttery’ flavor really comes from.  Thankfully, it’s not from that frightening stuff that comes out of a  metal canister at the movie theater (anyone else secretly love that stuff?), but it is the same aroma compound!

Thanks to everyone, new customers and loyal regulars, who made the evening such a success!  Your questions and comments are what make these classes so fun and informative.  Our next OSAAT (hey, we live in the land of alphabet soup titles, why should we be left out of the fun?) class will be on Valentine’s Day, and, fittingly, will focus on red wine basics.  It should be a fun and informative evening, whether you’re single or bringing your significant other for some romantic sipping.  We promise not to make you fill in those paper Valentines for everyone in the class…or will we?

Peruse the links below to see what you missed:

Dom Philippe Plantevin Cotes Du Rhone Blanc 2010

Klemens Weber Burrweiler Altenforst Riesling Halb 2011 (1.0l)

Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro Pinot Grigio 2011

Henri Bourgeois Sauvignon Petit Bourgeois 2011

Dom Thibert Macon Fuisse Bois De La Croix 2010

Girard Chardonnay Russian River 2011

What We’re Drinking: Post-Holiday Roundup

Though the holidays are always a hectic time of year here, we do manage to celebrate ourselves.  Here’s what we’ve been drinking for the last couple of weeks – what have you been drinking?

Doug rang in the New Year with a 2006 Guillon Vougeot, and reported that it’s showing real Grand Cru weight and complexity now.  Its silky, lush texture was its most impressive characteristic, and it just got better and better with air.  Last week he revisited the Lamy Pillot Pot Bois 2008, which was bigger and broader than expected from such a cool site, and had gorgeous, perfumey aromatics.

Diane enjoyed the decadent and delightful Friandise from Jean Vesselle on Christmas Eve.  The review from Stephen Tanzer includes the fanciful note, “This smells like a Kir Royale mixed by Dali, or maybe Magritte.”  One sniff of this, and you’ll know exactly what he means!  Too often we dismiss off-dry wines as being one-note, or not sophisticated.  This is pink, to boot, and it could not be more poised and elegant.  Valentine’s Day is a mere 5 weeks away, and we can’t think of a better pairing for chocolate covered strawberries.  It never hurts to plan ahead, gentlemen (or ladies)!

Lauren had a few sips of our favorite value Gruner Veltliner – Paul D, in a 1L bottle.  Delicious, refreshing, and economical!  It paired wonderfully with some gently spiced chili with butternut squash – what more could you want on game day?  Except beer, maybe…

So, what did you enjoy during the holidays, or in the first few days of the new year?  Let us know!

A Very Happy New Year at 2941

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Every year on January 2nd, we spend a day together doing a thorough physical inventory of the store.  It’s a time to reflect on the previous year, correct the little mistakes we’ve made along the way, and, usually, eat a lot of sandwiches.

This year, we decided to do our annual staff holiday dinner after the holidays and after our arduous inventory day as well, so that we could truly enjoy some fantastic food and wine and each others’ company without the stress of the holidays weighing on our minds.  It turned out to be a great idea, made even better by the incredible food, wine and service we received at 2941 in Falls Church.

Doug was kind enough to bring along two show-stopping bottles, and wine director Jonathan Schuyler did a fantastic job of pairing them with just the right courses as well as choosing delicious, interesting wines to go with the rest of the tasting menu.  One of the most fun things to do in a restaurant is to put away the menu and simply tell the kitchen and service staff, we’re in your hands.  We did exactly that, and were treated to a truly special evening.

We started with bubbles, of course, a but then it was off to the races, with a squash soup dotted with spiced marshmallows.  This was paired with a white wine made from Pinot Noir from none other than our friends at Brandborg cellars.  The deeper flavors in this deceptively colored wine were a great match with the sweet baking spices in the soup.

When the Alphonse Mellot Sancerre was poured for the next course and we took a sip or two without the dish that went with it, the table was divided.  Some loved the wine, and some thought it was a little aggressively oaked for their tastes.  These quibbles melted away once the wine was paired with an incredible lemon risotto with perfectly cooked prawns.  The intense citrus flavors, richness, and brininess from the seafood somehow made the oak disappear, leaving you with nothing but refreshing fruit and just enough structure to stand up to the dish.  Pairings like this seem magical, but they are more often than not the product of a lot of hard work, tasting, and really knowing food and wine.

2941 prawns

To go with the 2007 Lamy Pillot Le Montrachet that we brought, the kitchen outdid itself, pairing it with mascarpone ravioli covered with truffle shavings.  The smell alone was decadent.  The Lamy Pillot was exactly what great white Burgundy should be: massive power and structure, but balanced and beautiful, like the giant supermodels in the Rolling Stones’ “Love is Strong” video.  Good pairings complement or contrast; great pairings manage to do both, and the ravioli were a great pairing with this wine.

2941 ravioli

Next we took a refreshing trip to Spain with a piece of grilled rockfish paired with savory paella broth.  To go with it we had a 1994 Lopez de Heredia Rioja.  At this point it was clear that the chef and sommelier were having almost as much fun as we were.  Pairing an oaky, aged wine with a seemingly delicate fish dish was a risky move, and it was glorious.  After the crazy decadence of the Montrachet, this brought us back to earth in the best possible way.

2941 fish

Next came the 2004 Latour, courtesy of Doug (thanks, boss!), which was paired with an inventive twist on surf and turf.  The Latour was in a great place, showing ripe, balanced fruit and beautiful notes of tobacco leaf and leather.

2941 surf n turf

We finished with a light, but flavorful dessert, perfect after all of the rich savory courses.  Paired with the light, fruity, frozen souflee was a Clairette de Die, an off-dry sparkler from the South of France.  Starting *and* ending with bubbles – what better way could there possibly be to ring in the New Year?

2941 dessert

Thanks to chef Bertrand Chemel and the kitchen team, to wine director Jonathan Schuyler, and the rest of the staff at 2941 for an incredible evening of wine, food, and great service.  You all made it look easy.