Tasting Note: Domaine Gramiller Plénitude 2021 Côtes du Rhône, France domainegramiller.com
I first came across Domaine Gramiller through an opportune bottle of their wonderful Sol Rasteau plucked from the wine list at Brix and Bones (you can read my thoughts on the wine in my Reds list and of the restaurant in my 5 Favourite Foodie Haunts: Norwich). My wine review ended with the words “I look forward to trying more” so when I spied of bottle of Gramiller’s white Plénitude in my local indie wine shop, I didn’t hesitate.
The Domaine is located in the heart of the village of Rateau itself, in the Vaucluse north-east of Orange. As well as a range of Grenache-heavy reds released under AOC Rasteau, the winery also makes red and white Côtes du Rhône wines plus a rosé, a petillant sparkler and a couple of other interesting blends. Plénitude is their 50% Grenache (Blanc), 40% Clairette, 10% Roussanne cuvée – three of the classic grapes of the southern Rhône that they harvest by hand and ferment in cement tanks to preserve freshness.
The wine is a clear, pale lemon in the glass. It has a very fresh lemon nose too, shaded with yellow apple and aromatic pear notes. There are subtle floral aromas as well that read more as scented melon or maybe white peaches poached in a little St. Germain rather than baskets of flowers. These aromas sit over the fruit like delicate filigree work, not obscuring but providing interest and layers. Overall, the nose is fresh and pretty rather than showy. The palate is a little more restrained, dry but not austere with an underlying flinty smoke. There is some weight to the body, a little more than medium I would say, but it remains elegant. Sufficient texture and complexity hold the attention well.
I tried the wine on a lovely warm day sitting in the garden, the perfect setting for its wonderfully refreshing character. The finish is meandering – it’s on the longer side of medium but faded somewhat and then returned nicely. As I drained my glass contentedly I noticed some tartrate crystals at bottom which I took as a good sign that the wine hadn’t been unduly stabilised before bottling.
This is a lovely wine that would accompany you on a summer picnic perfectly. It would also reward a little more serious gastronomic attention too, something fragrant like Escoffier’s Sole Veronique or a lighter chicken dish.
Tasting Note: Dr Loosen Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling GG 2019 Mosel, Germany drloosen.com/en
Decoding German wine labels can sometimes seem like an awful lot of work. It has, historically, led to quite a bit of consumer confusion and some hesitation in reaching for the wines in preference to, say, a very straightforwardly labelled Aussie option. That’s a real shame: the country’s Rieslings in particular can be some of the most glorious whites in the world of wine.
All the information is there on the label – it just takes a little application. The first word that hits you here is “Dry” (you might see the German equivalent too, “Trocken”). Thank you Dr Loosen. It removes any doubt as to what to expect in the bottle as sweetness levels can be notoriously difficult to predict. Following the producer’s name and the vintage are two rather more gnomic words for which you need to grab your German grammar primer. “Kinheimer” is a genitive form of Kinheim, and in this case indicates “of” Kinheim, a village in the Mosel region of Germany. “Rosenberg” is the name of the individual vineyard around the village. So this is a wine from “Kinheim’s Rosenberg vineyard” which is south-facing, something so important this far north. Nicely specific and logical once you’ve cracked the code. At the very bottom, in modest lettering, sits the name of the grape – the noble Riesling, the variety for which the Mosel is especially famous. So there we are: it’s a dry wine from a very specific place in the Mosel made by one of a handful of local producers whose name is synonymous with the quality Rieslings of the area. All this should be more than enough to have you reaching for the cork screw.
Dr Loosen’s eminently sensible approach to labelling continues on the back with further useful information: that the grapes were hand-harvested and that the wine underwent natural fermentation in oak followed by 12 months’ ageing on its lees. All of which can affect how the wine tastes and feels in the glass. You’ll also find the vineyard described with the words “VDP: Grosse Lage”. This is equivalent to the more familiar French “Grand Cru” demarcation in Burgundy – a term of distinction given to what are considered the highest quality areas in the best vineyards. The formidable and somewhat off-putting complexities of German labelling aside, arguably all you really need to know is that the Loosens have been making wine in the area for a long time, coaxing the noble Riesling from the slate-laden vineyards that hang vertiginously over the Mosel river. The current Loosen at the helm, Ernst, is a hugely charismatic winemaker who is something of a torchbearer for his region’s wines.
This particular Riesling is a very pleasing bright and clear pale straw colour. On the nose there are medium+ aromas of grapefruit, apple, pear and gooseberry. These fruit notes are set against a background of slight spiciness and beeswax warmth that balances the green, citrus austerity beautifully. Behind it all lies the tell-tale Mosel slate minerality and kerosene twang, but its relatively subtle here. As the wine warms in the glass a ghost of a lactic, leesy quality appears to add further complexity. There is a hint of lemon meringue pie richness too which is unexpected – nothing too insistent or un-German mind, but rather nice nonetheless.
There's a surprising amount of weight in the mouth and some chew, as well as sufficient fruit sweetness to make it approachable despite its high acidity. A subtle sweet and sour quality resolves in the long finish into something with a savoury, I’m tempted to say smoky, edge. No Pinotage levels of bonfire here, but a very slight char that I suspect comes from the oak. It’s an interesting alternative to some of the wispier, more ethereal Mosels and really rewards the time you spend with it.
Tasting Note: Emil Bauer Bundschuh Sauvignon Blanc 2021 Pfalz, Germany bauerwein.de
Fifth generation wine makers Emil Bauer (and sons) have beaten a somewhat irreverent path across the winelands of Germany’s Pfalz region of late. With names like Bullshit Grauburgunder and Sex Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll Riesling, you’d be forgiven for thinking that marketing might have overtaken serious winemaking. But you’d be wrong.
Sauvignon Blanc husbandry is, it has to be said, somewhat of a minor concern in Germany. As of 2019, there were only 1,500 hectares given over to the grape with plantings mostly confined to Pfalz, neighbouring Rheinhessen and Baden just to the south (figures, like this wine sample, provided by the good folk of Wines of Germany). With Bordeaux, the Loire and New Zealand providing such iconic expressions of the grape, I was intrigued to see what a Germany winery, and one seemingly unafraid of a bit of iconoclasm to boot, might make of it.
The wine is the palest lemon in the glass, but its delicate and ephemeral looks belie a pronounced, concentrated nose of citrus (lemon juice and grapefruit) and green gooseberry. This is undercut by tones of white blossom and tomato leaf that gesture towards the familiar passionfruit twang of its NZ cousin whilst remaining firmly committed to a northern European model. There is an initial ghost of fruit sweetness on the palate, but this quickly recedes in the face of a driving acidity that beguiles and puckers in equal measure. This is an untamed beast compared to, say, Sancerre’s elegant charms – like a wild garden of green berries intertwined with tendrils of rambling honeysuckle, a wild-flower trellis that hides the heavy globes of Pomelo’s bitter fragrance within. The presence of quite a number of tartrate crystals in the bottle seems to confirm a more natural and less interventionalist approach to winemaking too.
Overall, this is a crisp and direct wine, and one that shows a refreshingly different side of Sauvignon Blanc to the intensely perfumed and sometimes blowsy charms of its NZ and Chilean expressions. With a finish on the long side of medium, the wine resolves into powerful citrus with pleasant reverberations of green leafiness.
Tasting Note: Elk Cove Estate Riesling 2020, Willamette Valley, USA elkcove.com
Oregon’s Willamette Valley sits in the north of the state sandwiched between the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Costal Range to the west. This is Pinot Noir territory, but white grapes have also carved out a home – Pinot Gris and Chardonnay for example. There are also significant plantings of Riesling, although on a much smaller scale than Washington State to the north.
This 2020 100% varietal Riesling is from the family-owned Elk Cove who have been making wine in the area since the 1970s. Grapes from what are now some of the oldest Riesling vines in the state are hand-picked and pressed in whole clusters, a process that aims to produce particularly high-quality juice that is low in phenolics (colour, tannin and some flavour compounds). The resulting juice is then fermented at cool temperatures in stainless-stell tanks with the aim of retaining freshness and varietal character.
Pale lemon in colour, the wine gives off a heady Kerosene puff on opening. This petrol-like quality comes from a compound called TDN which can be up to six times higher in Riesling than in other varieties according to the Australian Wine Research Institute. Here, its intensity levels out as the wine opens up in glass but it remains an important part of the profile underlying the predominantly citrus aromas. I puzzled for some time over the exact nature of the citrus on display here: its very force makes it somewhat elusive. Sour and pleasantly bitter notes predominate: quite a specific mix of pure lemon juice, a little zest and the fragrance of lemon grass. There’s lime too, although not in the levels you would expect from Southern Australian Rieslings. A ghost of sweetness gives an almost lemon-drop quality which is very appealing. Grapefruit as well, but again it reads more as a grapefruit + barley sugar rather than the searing sourness of fresh fruit. In addition, there are sweeter fruits but the acidity pulls them back from fully ripe expression into barely ripe nectarine and melon rind. There’s a hint of sweet/sour quince too.
The palate is more expressive than the nose with the wine’s initial fruit sweetness receding quickly into dryness. Registering somewhere towards the top end of dry, the wine has some weight in the mouth: still light and fresh it has a good, full mouthfeel. There’s a slight smoky, slate quality that extends to the texture – initially silky and then a little chewy, not fat chewy but more of a mineral drag in the mouth. The high acidity and rapier-like fruit makes for a wine that is as taut as a wire: linear and single-minded. Not thereby lacking in complexity but with a very focused delivery. It has a long finish that maintains this sweet/sour dialogue, resolving finally into sour apple sweets.
I was left with the feeling I’d just encountered a hugely interesting wine: more daring and less harmonious perhaps than more traditional German, Alsatian or Aussie expressions. Is it enough to divert me from the Mosel or Clare Valley on a permanent basis? No. But it makes a fascinating alternative that showcases another side of Riesling.
Tasting Note: Vasse Felix, Classic Dry White 2022 and Chardonnay 2020 Margaret River, Australia vassefelix.com.au
Pioneers of Western Australia’s highly regarded Margaret River region, Vasse Felix has been growing grapes and making wine since the mid-1960s. In contrast to the King Valley’s “alternative varieties” this is an area that excels in making wines from the classic Aussie take on French varieties, red Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and whites from Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Margaret river sits at the extreme south-western tip of Australia. Surrounded on all but one side by ocean (the “other side” stretches away into dessert), the oceanic influences act to temper extremes of temperature providing, along with the ancient and well-draining gravel soils, a perfect environment for quality grape production. To get a feel for the range of their portfolio and for what’s achievable with these natural resources, I chose their young, entry-level Classic Dry White blend and a 100% varietal Chardonnay (a 2020) from their Premier range. The estate’s top-level Heytesbury Chardonnay deserves a review all its own (to follow when I can get my hands on a bottle).
The “Classic” in their dry white blend refers not only to the area’s penchant for blending Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon but also to the White Bordeaux wines on which they are modelled. When aged, especially in oak, Semillon can be rich and intense (think of the aged wines from the Hunter Valley and, at the extremes, Sauternes) but in youth it can be relatively anodyne. Fragrant and high acid Sauvignon Blanc fits it like a glove and together they can achieve more than the sum of their parts (cf Bordeaux’s Pessac-Léognan). Vasse Felix’s take on matters is a youthful Semillon-heavy blend built on the fresh immediacy of the fruit. Pale lemon in colour with a green tinge, it’s made in an unoaked style to push the fruit forward. The fruit here is certainly at the fresher, greener end of the scale (grapefruit and gooseberry with just an echo of more scented melon) but there is a stone-fruit sweetness hidden in its depths too. It couldn’t be described as floral but there are hints of light acacia honey. As expected, the Semillon pushes up the body and brings the acidity down to medium + levels. Meanwhile, the Sauvignon (25% for 2022) works well to lift the aromatics and tighten things up with its zesty acidity. The blending is cleverly done to create a good, refreshing wine that’s crystal clear in outline.
The Chardonnay is a different beast altogether. It’s made, one feels, to showcase both the local fruit and the winemaking skills in the winery. It succeeds admirably on both counts. The wine is a bright, straw colour with a play of golden reflections. On the nose, there’s the wonderful spectrum of ripe, but not overly ripe, Chardonnay aromas: white peach, honeyed melon and even the beginnings of mango (albeit of the greener fruit near the skin rather than the dripping, fully tropical flesh within). The winemakers report 2020 as a warm, low yielding vintage but one that produced quality fruit: you can taste this in the wine’s aromatic elegance. Matured in French oak for 10 months (then a further 7 months on lees in tank), the wine has restrained pastry aromas with a seam of cedar running through and a full-bodied, mouth-filling texture. The slight pithy bitterness and an elusive note I tempted to call mineral flatter the fruit well giving an enormously appealing glass. I’d want this with char-grilled lobster fresh from the beach-side barbeque.