Tag Archives: Pinot noir

A tasting of Lucien Albrecht’s wines provides a reminder of Alsatian delights

Lucien Albrecht winemaker Jerome Keller and his wines.

I don’t drink enough Alsatian wine.

I realized that recently while sampling the delightful wares of producer Lucien Albrecht with the producer’s winemaker, Jérôme Keller, in a New York City restaurant.

Alsace, which lies 300 miles east of Paris and is the northernmost wine producing region in France, is just 72 miles long and only a few miles wide and home to 119 villages. Once a part of Germany, the region largely grows Teutonic grape varieties, but the wines are vinified with French customs. The wines are sold in flute-shaped bottles, like many German wines, and the type of grape is clearly placed on the wine’s label – unlike the typical French practice of labeling wines by region. 

The wines of Alsace are mostly white, with Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and muscat the dominant varieties and are the only varieties permitted in the appellation’s 51 grand cru vineyards.  Pinot Blanc, not considered a noble variety, is key in making many Alsatian sparkling wines known as Cremant d’Alsace. But red wines, notably Pinot Noir, have been emerging for the last several decades.

Domaine Lucien Albrecht has long been associated with Alsatian wine. Its origins go back to 1425, when Romanus Albrecht established the family in the town of Thann, near the Swiss border. In 1698, Balthazar Albrecht moved the family to the small southern village of Orschwihr. The Albrecht brand — the second biggest Alsatian brand in terms of sales in the U.S. (by volume) —was purchased in 2012 through receivership by one of the largest and most respected Alsace co-operative producers, Wolfberger. Wolfberger has been around since1902 and also produces wines under the Wilm label. It purchases many grapes from small, independent producers, near Orschwihr where the soils are dry clay and heavy chalk. 

Most of Albrecht’s 500,000-case production is Crémant d’Alsace. Not surprising since Albrecht was a pioneer in the production of Crémant d’Alsace, and was at the forefront of the campaign to authorize the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Crémant d’Alsace, which transpired in 1976. Albrecht’s sparklers are vinified using the classic Champagne Method, or methode traditionalle, from 100 percent free-run juice.

Albrecht wines generally are crisp and lively, some dry, others less so, All, however,  show bright acidity, freshness and the perfumed noses that typify Alsatian wine. Alsatian wines are versatile. While I often drink them with Asian cuisine, they paired well with the Greek seafood I shared with Keller.  Albrecht’s wines also are priced quite reasonably.

I started my sampling with the NV Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé Cremant d’Alsace ($23), a perfect, refreshing aperitif with a salmon hue and a nose of strawberries. One hundred percent Pinot Noir, it has 20 grams of sugar and has spent up to 16 months  fermenting in the bottle.

The NV Lucien Albrecht Brut ($23), certainly not a ringer for Champagne, is nonetheless delicious with its floral nose and notes of limes and apples on the delicate palate.  One hundred percent Pinot Blanc, it was aged in the bottle for 18-24 months,

The Cuvée Balthazar Pinot Blanc 2018 ($14) is soft, smooth and dry, pale yellow in color with hints of stone fruit. This can double as an aperitif and as a food wine. It’s a bargain.

Riesling Réserve 2018, a tank sample that when released will sell for $18, shows its terror, says Keller. It’s balanced, with good intensity and acidity.

Pinot Gris Romanus 2017 ($20), named after winery founder Romanus Albrecht, has a rich perfumed, fruity nose and is fresh and crisp with pear and citrus notes. 

Pinot Gris Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2015 ($33), the first grand cru of the tasting, was lush and full-bodied with ripe pear notes accented by lemon and a hint of sweetness.

Gewurtztraminer Réserve 2018 ($23) is a delicious, concentrated, off-dry wine with notes of spice and lychee. 

Regrettably, I did not get to sample the Riesling Grand Cru Spiegel 2017 ($30), because the bottle was corked.

Gewurtztraminer Grand Cru Spiegel 2015 ( $36). The undeniable star of the tasting. It was elegant and rich with a fruity nose with notes of pear and peach that follow through on the palate along with notes of lychee and rose—all characteristic of the grape—and some minerality.

I’m quite happy that Albrecht and Keller brought their wines to my attention. Alas, these wines, and many others from Alsace, are difficult to find in restaurants. I happily spotted the Albrecht Brut Rosé Cremant d’Alsace recently on a restaurant wine list in South Florida and ordered a glass. Unfortunately, I was told that the restaurant no longer stocked it, because no one had ordered it in the past seven months. What a shame that these wines go unappreciated. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Corks - Wine

McCall Wines: Refined pinots, merlots in a rustic North Fork setting

McCall’s vineyard on the south side of Main Road, Cutchogue. (Photo by Shelley Wax)

There’s a simple, peaceful rusticity at McCall Wines in Cutchogue on Long Island’s North Fork.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the gentle whirring of a wind turbine was the only sound to be heard as Russ McCall stood over a stone barbecue pit grilling burgers for those who’ve come out to help him pick merlot grapes. The ground chuck burgers – sold raw in McCall’s tasting room at $7 each – are made from the organic grass-fed Charolais cattle that he raises on his 108-acre farm, called the Corchaug Estate. (He sells most of his beef, butchered in Jamaica, Queens, to the North Fork Table & Inn.)

Inside McCall’s tasting room, a former potato barn and stable.

Russ McCall flips burgers outside his tasting room (Photo by Shelley Wax)

No tour busses crowd the parking area, which is entered through a dirt drive, and there’s no rush of tourists fighting for space at the tasting bar, housed in an old potato barn that once was used as a horse stable. This is the North Fork at its rural best. It’s a delightful tasting room experience, the kind I‘m sure McCall had his mind set up given his belief that wineries shouldn’t be bars or restaurants.

Sad to say, I’d never before stopped at McCall since it opened in June 2010. I’m glad that I did so recently.

Rural simplicity aside, the wines poured for visitors – and, of course, for sale, are refined, French inspired sipping pleasures.

For $16 you can get pours of four of McCall’s reds: two pinot noirs, a merlot and a merlot-based Bordeaux-style blend. There’s also a pinot noir-based rose and a sauvignon blanc to sample. Alas, I did not.

McCall, who formerly owned a wine distributorship in Atlanta, has been growing pinot noir and merlot grapes in Cutchogue in 1996, when veteran viticulturist Steve Mudd lent a hand. McCall put his name on a bottle for the first time with the 2007 vintage.

At the southern end of McCall’s 108-acre farm, he’s planted 11 acres of pinot – four French clones brought in from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Pinot noir, a difficult grape to grow anywhere, has had only modest success on the East End.  Among Long Island producers making pinot noir are Castello di Borghese, Duckwalk Vineyards, Jamesport Vineyards and Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards (whose 2009 was named best at the 2012 New York Wine and Food Classic). Anthony Nappa Wines produces Anomoly, a pinot noir rose with grapes from the North Fork and the Finger Lakes.

McCall’s wine line up. (Photo by Shelley Wax)

Picnicking in the vineyard at McCall. (Photo by Shelley Wax)

Inside the tasting room l I started off with the silky 2010 Pinot Noir ($30), which exuded cherry and berry notes. Who knew pinot noir this good could be made on Long Island? But then I tasted the richly perfumed, dark-hued 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir ($60), McCall’s first bottled vintage. It’s an elegant wine with incredibly soft tannins and notes of berries and bramble and hints of earth and oak.

Bob Cabral, winemaker at California’s well-known pinot noir producer Williams Selyem, made both McCall pinot noirs at the Millbrook Winery in the Hudson Valley.  John and Kathe Dyson own both Millbrook and Williams Selyem.

McCall’s merlot grapes are planted on the northern 10 acres of his  farm and are vinified at the nearby Premium Wine Group by French-born and trained Gilles Martin, who’s been making wine on Long Island since 1996 and who also is the winemaker for Sparkling Pointe, Sherwood House Vineyards and Bouké. Martin will be pouring McCall’s wines in New York City on  Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. as part of a Merliance tasting at Artisanal, the cheese bistro.

The very likeable 2008 Merlot ($18) is ruby red, medium-bodied with berries on the nose followed by plums and oak dust on the palate. But the intense 2007 Ben’s Blend outshines the merlot. Named for McCall’s late vineyard manager Ben Sisson (who died three years ago at 49), it’s a wine from a beautiful vintage. Predominantly merlot, its assemblage includes petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc.  The tannins are gentle and notes of smoke, cherry, plum and berries are evident. It’s a fine quaff now, but it should also age nicely.

The McCall Wines tasting room, 22600 Main Road (Route 25), Cutchogue, (631) 734-5764, is open from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, until late November. If you’re heading out to the North Fork it’s a must stop.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Corks - Wine