Aalto PS 2006 and Franz Hirtzberger Federspiel Riesling 2008

I firmly believe that drinking an impressive wine is a celebration in itself. Combined with a special occasion, like the anniversary of a dear friend, we have the x-ray of a perfect event. Last evening I had a lovely dinner with my good friend Dan, celebrating his birthday at a restaurant in Piata Operei – Trattoria Roma. Dan is a wine lover as well, so the meal was accompanied by two amazing wines: Aalto PS 2006 and Franz Hirtzberger Federspiel Riesling 2008. We had a very tasty three course meal together with the two wines we brought in.

I am an advocate of pairing wine with food and I also try to have at least two wines with my meal when time allows. Please do not get me wrong, I am not saying you should drink 2 entire bottles. Alcohol consumption should be treated responsibly, but having 2 glasses of wine, each from each bottle, is more than enough to have a memorable dinner.

Franz Hirtzberger Federspiel Riesling 2008

Franz Hirtzberger, top Wachau producer with 20ha, is one of the seminal figures in a new generation of Austrian winemakers. His winery, located above the village of Spitz, lies on the Danube at the western end of Wachau. 2008 was a nerve racking vintage that could produce outstanding results in the hands of the most careful producers. Protracted cool and rainy spells in Oct and Nov made harvesting very difficult in Lower Austria and in the Burgenland, but in the southern regions, the autumn was more clement.

I have mentioned in a previous review of another Riesling the wines classification in Austria and you can read them here. Federspiel (named after a falconry device) is allowed 11.5% to 12.5% alcohol, roughly equivalent to Kabinett.

The wine has a clear gold color and an oily appearance in the glass. The nose shows flavors of honey, minerals, already discreet petrol aromas, white flowers and pears. In the mouth the wine is medium to full body with pears, green apples, nice minerality, everything wrapped into a beautiful very high acidity. Loved it. The wine finishes with a medium mineral aftertaste. That high minerality makes this a very good wine.

We had this wine with mussels in a white wine sauce. Not ideally as the wine was heavier than the food but a very nice pairing.

Aalto PS 2006

Bodega Aalto was founded in 1999 by Javier Zaccagnini, formerly director of the Consejo Regulador de Ribera del Duero for 6 years, and Mariano Garcia, who was head winemaker at Vega Sicilia from 1968 to 1998. Aalto wines are the product of 100 ha of vines, comprising more than 250 parcels spread out over the various terroir’s of DO Ribera del Duero. No parcel is more than 3 ha, and no vine is less than 40 years old. The standard cuvee is named simply Aalto, with the bodega’s top wine called Aalto PS- Pagos Seleccionados (selected parcels). Tinto fino(Tempranillo) is the only grape used for the wines. Until 2005, wines were made at a rented winery facility in Roa, but Aalto is now based in a winery at Quintanilla de Arriba. The basic wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in steel vats, but for Aalto PS barrels are used.

Aalto PS 2006 spent 30 months in new French oak and is made from vineyards planted in the 1920s or earlier. The wine has an opaque dark/purple color. I just love the smell of a Spanish beast locked in a bottle. The smell of the wine simply fills up the entire room with its aromas. The wine is thick, leaving many lazy legs coming down after swirling the glass. It has a very sweet lactic nose with pretty much all the specter of the wine aromas: ripe dark fruits, blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, ripe dark cherries, floral flavors: violets, spices, thyme, rosemary, cigar box, earth, mushrooms. It is the most complex nose I smelled so far. In the mouth the wine is full body, almost Port like, it creates a creamy mouth-feel. The wine is impressive, showing real finesse with over ripe, but not jammy, dark berries: blackcurrant, blackberry, tobacco, violets, chocolate, cocoa, mocha, even meaty everything wrapped in a sweet vanilla flavor from the oak. The wine shows immense balance and depth with layers and layers of flavors. When you have this nose and the mouth-feel you would expect the wine to finish with a sweet sensation. But that’s where this wine gains in complexity and surprises: the wine finishes in a very, very long aftertaste with a beautiful pure dark chocolate bitterness that stays with you forever.

If I may turn a negative into a positive and use the words of some of my readers, this wine is decadent, pure obscenity, that good it is. The best wine I had this year. Excellent+

This wine has a price level of 65-70 EUR in Spain, so next time you visit Spain make sure to break the piggy bank and buy one of this bottles.

You can serve this wine with any big food. We drank this wine with our next two courses: penne with beef, sour cream and tomato sauce and the last course: rare grilled beef with mushrooms and grilled vegetables. Perfect match.

I wish my good friend Dan Happy Birthday and best of luck and thank him for sharing this amazing Spanish red.

Even 4 h later, the wine was still fresh on my memory and I could really feel that amazing smell while watching the markets in the US falling sharply. Strange how the memory works when you are on the right side of the trade.

Thanks for reading…

1st of May at Crama Stirbey – part II

You can read the first part of this post here.

Their red wines spend between 12 to 24 months in old and new oak. I tasted:

–          Novac 2006, Negru de Dragasani 2007 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 were aged in 300 and 400 l French and Romanian oak barrels. Not my favorites.

–          Merlot 2006 –  spent 14 months in 2 years old oak.

–          Merlot Rezerva 2007 – had a long maceration on the skin, spent 2-3 months in tanks and another 24 months unfiltered in new Romanian oak. My favorite of this flight.

–          Feteasca Neagra 2008 – produced in limited quantity, spent 14 months in 300 and 400 L oak barrels(2 years old). The wine has 14.9-15.1% alc and already shows a nice balance.

What worries me is that most of the Feteasca Neagra wines I tasted in the last 4 months had over 14.5% alcohol which I find disturbing as all of these wines don’t have enough body and fruit to sustain that alcohol. Both Messrs. Marc Dworkin(Enira) and Oliver Bauer(Stirbey) talk about the big potential of this Romanian variety which, so far, has not produced any outstanding wines.

Usually the Romanian producers do not limit the yields, the result: thin, light body and very unbalanced wines. Perhaps in the near future the Romanian producers will have an epiphany and we, the consumers, will have some pleasant surprises.

In the afternoon we moved to the terrace and had a vertical tasting of Merlot 2004-2009 and Merlot Rezerva 2007:

2004 – was completely closed on the nose and taste. It seems the second day the wine opened and became more approachable. The winemaker advises to decant this wine for 12 h before serving.

2005 – had a bad weather. The 2005 vintage was considered the worst year out of the five tasted. The wine, however, is already drinking well. The wine is very Bordeaux style with a green nose: green vegetables, asparagus, green bell pepper and spices. The wine is very nicely done with no green tannins. In the mouth it has nice acidity, a medium body, with spices, asparagus, discreet dark fruits. The wine finishes delicate with a spicy medium aftertaste. My favorite wine of the vertical. This wine is already very approachable and doesn’t need any long decanting.

2006 – already shows integrated oak, good fruit and balance.

2007 – this was the most difficult wine to taste. The wine has a strong astringency in the aftertaste, really unpleasant. Perhaps after a few years in bottle the wine will be more approachable.

2008 – according to Mr Bauer this vintage evolves better in the bottle that’s why 2008 spent the least amount of time in oak.

2009 – this wine just finished fermenting 3 weeks ago and was in oak barrels for only 1 week. It was more of an academic exercise to taste such a young wine and see an initial phase in the wine evolution.

The vertical tasting finished with a very interesting sweet Tamaioasa Romaneasca 2007 “Stafide” from Magnum,  made from dried grapes only.

2007 was such a hot year that the grapes just dried on the vines without any sign of noble rot. The dried grapes were picked from the 6 ha they have with Tamaioasa Romaneasca. 35 women manually picked only the dried grapes using pincers. This process took 3 days, collecting these jewels each grape at a time. They produced only 70-75 l of this wine with 12% alc and 120g of sugar. The wine was bottled manually and unfiltered. The winemaker feared initially that because of the high sugar levels the wine will not ferment, but the result was a success. A very nice pairing wine to a good cigar.

Do not confuse this wine with the regular sweet Tamaioasa Romaneasca they sale, as this 70-75 l of wine produced is not available. If you are fortunate enough to be invited at Crama Stirbey for a special event, you will probably have the chance to drink this wine.

Both Oliver and Raluca Bauer are warm and welcoming persons so I strongly encourage you to visit Crama Stirbey. Go ahead taste their wines and you will find out how wonderful they are. I end this article with a picture of a beautiful sunset at Crama Stirbey.

Thanks for reading…

1st of May at Crama Stirbey – part I

I spent a lovely 1st of May attending the 6th year celebration from the rebirth of Crama Stirbey. There were far more people than I expected: 320 persons. I enjoined the event as it felt like the 1st day of summer with sun and a pleasant temperature. It gave me the feeling of a rustic celebration but made in an very classy and elegant manner, almost like the time stopped and I traveled back in the past being invited at a royal anniversary from hundreds of years ago. The hosts were baron Jacob Kripp and baroness Ileana Kripp-Costinescu and the celebration was organized with class, being a real success. It was such an antithesis between the image of this party and the 1st of May that all the media channels presented, broadcasting from the seaside, mountains and all other regular barbecues. But, hey, one can make his own choice how to spend his time. If you attended the party you probably know what I am talking about, if not I am really sorry you missed such a great event.

Crama Stirbey is located near Dragasani and they produce wine from International grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Romanian grape varieties: Feteasca Neagra, Feteasca Regala, Tamaioasa Romaneasca (here Tamaioasa comes in two different styles: the usual sweet wine as it is known in Romania and the second produced dry) and local grape varieties: Cramposie Selectionata(dry white), Novac and Negru de Dragasani(both dry reds). What is remarkable about the winemaker, Mr. Oliver Bauer, is that he insisted in maintaining these local varieties, rather than planting Chardonnay or any other International grapes. Therefore they kept the old vines and also initiated a plan to replace some parts of the vineyard with new ones. They are using the Guyot double cane training on the old vines and probably for the rest.

Developed by Jules Guyot in 1860, both the double and simple forms represent the most conservative style of cane training possible. It is the least complicated concept for growers to learn and, providing the number of fruiting canes and the number of buds on them are restricted, Guyot is the easiest means of restraining yields. Even when growers abuse the system, it is still the most difficult vine training method with which to pump up production. This system is commonly used in Bordeaux, where the number of canes and buds are restricted by AOC rules. Guyot is also used for some of the finest wines throughout the wine-making world, both Old and New.

The average age for the vines is 30-35 years old so the vines are not being prone to suffer of hydric stress in hotter years. They have some small parcels of Sauvignon Blanc older than 50 years old. For the old vines the average rootstock number is about 3500, for the newly planted 5500. The yield per ha varies between 3,500 – 5,500 kilos from one year to another, with an all time high of 7000 kilos per ha of Cramposie. The winemaker admits that his goal is to harvest maximum 1 kilo of fruit per vine. For maturing they use four different types of oak: French (usually old oak from Grand Cru’s from Bordeaux), Austrian, Hungarian and Romanian (Transylvania). Their goal is to use only Romanian oak.

Mr Bauer is firm about the use of oak for the wine aging: oak is just a tool that should not be overused and the wine should be made in the vineyard.

I tasted 7 whites, 1 rose, 6 reds, all their current releases and in the afternoon did a vertical tasting of their Merlot 2004-2009.

The whites are all dry, unless specified:

–          Cramposie Selectionata 2009 – this is an easy going white with light body, very aromatic.۫

–          Tamaioasa Romaneasca 2009 (dry) – dry Tamaioasa has peach flavors similar to the sweet wine. These 2009’s wines are lighter in body than 2008’s, almost watery like, which I didn’t like.

–          Feteasca Regala 2009 – a lively wine with good acidity.

–          Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – very delicate with nice floral and mineral flavors.

–          Cuvee 2007 – this is a blend of Feteasca Regala and Cramposie. Last time I tasted this wine last summer, in 2009. Since then the wine gained more in complexity showing greater flavors and a nice medium- aftertaste. For 29 RON(7€), the ex cellar price, this is a serious competitor to any 30-50 RON(7-15€) Romanian white wine.

I want to talk more about their two top white cuvee’s: Feteasca Regala Genius Loci and Sauvignon Blanc Vitis Vetus. These 2 cuvee’s are produced in very limited quantities: about  3000 bottles each. Both wines are fermented with in house yeasts, therefore the winemaker takes a higher risk and so far the reward is amazing. For the rest of the wines they are using controlled yeasts.

–          Sauvignon Blanc Vitis Vetus – made from a parcel of 1.2-1.4 ha of 50+ years old vines located on a hilltop just next to the actual building where the wine is made. This wine was not offered for tasting at this event, but I remember drinking it last year and was more concentrated and complex than the regular Sauvignon Blanc.

– Feteasca Regala Genius Loci 2006 and 2007 – according to Mr Bauer, Feteasca Regala is a grape that needs hotter weather to fully ripe. In 2007 there were more than 3 months of constant 40+ Celsius degrees, so they have been able to achieve the full potential of this indigenous grape.

FR Genius Loci 2006 spent 14 months in Romanian oak. The 2007 spent 22 months in oak. I think this is the very first Romanian white wine that undergoes such a long aging process in oak. Frankly speaking, I do not know any other white wine to spend so much time in oak. The result is EPIC.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the very few guests to do a comparative tasting of the Genius Loci 2006 and 2007. The 2007, already bottled, will not be released on the market sooner than July 2010, and even that month is still under question mark. Mr Bauer confessed on making a big mistake by releasing the GL 2006 too early. This time he decided to let the wine overcome the bottle shock and also let it evolve more prior to release.

Genius Loci 2006 has a nice acidity, lovely flavors of honey, white flowers and a medium to long aftertaste. A very good wine. One of my favorite whites for 2009.

Genius Loci 2007 is a big wine. It has a clear gold color. The wine was bottled unfiltered. There are tartaric crystals in the wine, commonly referred to as “wine diamonds”. There is another interesting correlation between wine stones and the quality of a wine: the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more wine acid will accumulate in the grape, and it is this wine acid which is the building block of wine diamonds. Furthermore, the more time the wine is given to ferment, the less wine diamonds will fall out during fermentation, but the more they will instead build up later in the bottle.

In other words, wine diamonds are an indicator that the grapes ripened for a long time, and that the winemaker fermented the wine slowly and with great care. Both are important precursors to crafting high quality wines.

GL 2007 has an extremely complex nose with lots of honey, flowers, spices and mineral flavors. In the mouth the wine is full body, highly concentrated, almost oil like, with the same flavors of honey, mineral,white flowers and spices. The wine has a nice long aftertaste finishing spicy and leaving you with a desire for more. This wine is already Excellent, but I believe in 2-3 years will become Exceptional.

Part II available here.

Thanks for reading…