Refreshing dry white wines for late August's 'Dog Days'
When August's humid “dog days” have you panting for refreshment, quench your thirst with mouthwatering dry white wines with intriguing personalities. Try a bottle or two from growers dedicated to expressing terroir through organic grape growing and natural winemaking.
Expressing terroir (pronounced “tair-wah”) — what's that you ask?
Essentially the idea suggests wine expressing the “sense of place” of the vineyard where the wine originated. The geology, top soils, sun exposure, climate, and vintage conditions should be reflected in the wine's aromas, flavors, concentration and freshness. In short, the wine should have distinct, natural personality.
Grapes, for example, produced from vineyards atop either granite or limestone bedrock can produce racy white wines with refreshing acidity. Organic winegrowers seek to capture these traits by training their vines to produce fruit with complex aromas and flavors balanced by natural freshness.
The approach runs counter to modern, conventional winemaking. The latter essentially views grape growing and winemaking as an industrial process for producing wines as fungible commodities with standardized, flawless “quality.” Rather than reflecting terroir, conventional winemaking primarily aims to “control” risks. This leads to using synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers in the vineyards.
By contrast, organic winegrowing abandons chemical treatments in favor of applying natural, topical preparations. These merely assist the vines themselves to combat threats. The process also compels vines to toil in healthier, vibrant soils. In response, the vines must sink deep roots to tap water and vital nutrients in the underlying bedrock.
After harvesting, terroir-driven wine producers take a “hands off” approach in the cellar to preserve the grapes' natural, delicate aromas and flavors. The growers monitor natural fermentations occurring with native yeasts instead of controlling the process by introducing commercially derived yeasts that produce predetermined aromas and flavors.
Finally, terroir-focused producers typically add minimal sulfites when bottling wines. The aim is to highlight what “RAW WINE” festival founder Isabelle Legeron MW calls “transparency” and “authenticity of taste.”
Experience the invigorating aromas and refreshing flavors of terroir in the following:
In northeastern France's Alsace region, winegrower Jean-Christophe Bott takes full advantage of the complex terroir surrounding his beautiful home village of Beblenheim. The nearby hillsides offer diverse geology encompassing granite, sandstone, limestone, and clay, to name only a few. Ample sunshine, cool nights and dry conditions also generally prevail to create ideal grape growing conditions.
Bott and his team work not only organically, but also biodynamically which adds applications of specific natural treatments. In early spring, Bott applies the “500” cow manure compost spray to revive soils. Applications of the “501” silica spray in early summer aim to energize flowering vines.
The 2014 Domaine Bott-Geyl, Points Cardinaux Métiss, Alsace, France (Luxury 34987; $16.99) offers a delicious introduction to Bott's terroir-driven, dry white wine style. The Pinot Blanc, Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir blend unfolds delightful pear and floral aromas on the nose. Then rich, fruity citrus, apple and quince flavors balance with racy acidity. Most importantly, the wine has distinctive, mouthwatering freshness, a personality trait found in Alsace's best dry white wines. Highly Recommended.
.East across the Rhine River and to the north, Germany's Rheinhessen region has a rather dubious reputation for producing easy drinking, but not particularly distinctive wines. But in 2005, when Jochen Dreissigacker assumed the reins at his family winegrowing estate in the quiet Rheinhessen town of Bechtheim, he envisioned enhancing quality by highlighting and expressing the qualities of Rheinhessen's terroir.
Despite initial skepticism even within his family, Dreissigacker reduced yields and eliminated chemical applications in the vines. He began plowing between vine rows and hand hoeing soils around the vines. He also sows organic manure to boost soils and force the vines to sink strong, deep roots to tap into the terroir.
The vineyards lie on rolling hills with silt, sand and marl clays covering limestone bedrock. This terroir shines in the delicious 2015 Dreissigacker, Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen—Qualitätswein, Germany (Luxury 99315; $19.99). The wine holds an exquisite tension between concentrated, ripe fruit and racy refreshment. The light straw color unfolds delicate peach and floral aromas with light smoky hints. Ripe apple, apricot and citrus flavors follow. Rich acidity and a touch of creaminess balance the dry, lingering finish. Highly Recommended.
Dave DeSimone is the Tribune-Review wine columnist