There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…to keep me from drinking the wines on it 07/25/11
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – the nearest major city to yours truly – has a whole bunch of things for which it’s widely known. Just off the top of my head, I can think of cheesesteaks, pretzels, poor sportsmanship, the Liberty Bell, Rocky, and of course a certain television program which, funny though it may be, has single-handedly given rise to the most egregious meteorological misconception of our generation.
One thing Philly isn’t famous for is wine, a reality which has pained my conscience ever since my affair with the grape began to burgeon into the beautiful, drunken flower it is now. Due at least in part to heavy restrictions from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (quite possibly the worst liquor control board in all of Pennsylvania), the number of wine bars in the city is, well, pathetic. Indeed, up until a couple of months ago, I wasn’t aware of any at all…although to be fair I hadn’t looked very hard, what with my general aversion to public places and other people.
Still, some events – and for whatever reason, these typically involve wine – have a strange effect on me: an irresistible, almost gravitational pull that overrides my will, coaxing me out from my reclusion to wander the wider world. One such event was the Taste of Chile, held in the faraway land of New York City last month. But I already wrote about that one.
The subject of this entry, however, is both a bit more recent and a bit more local. Last Thursday I attended a delightful wine class arranged by the best and, to my knowledge, only wine bar in Philadelphia, a little place by the name of Tria (along with another little place by the name of Tria, and an associated little place by the name of Biba). “Tri,” in case you didn’t know, means “three,” reflecting Tria’s emphasis on wine, cheese and beer – a “tasty threesome of fermentation,” as their website so suggestively puts it.
Having gone to college, I have nothing against beer, while cheese and I are practically bff’s; but this is a wine blog, and wine is what brought me to Tria in the first place. Specifically, it was mountain wine – a class featuring small-production Old World wines imported by Neal Rosenthal and presented by Clarke Boehling, his Director of Sales. Given that the syllabus included offerings from Piedmont (my favorite region of my favorite country), as well as Switzerland (a country I hadn’t tried any wines from yet), I really didn’t have much choice: I was off to Tria’s Fermentation School!
Of course, I arrived way, way too early, so I figured I’d brave the stifling summer hellscape and head a few blocks over to the nearest Tria (Fermentation School classes are held in an office building rather than the bars, probably for spatial reasons). While there I had a lovely Riesling from Pfalz, and an intriguing Fer Servadou from Marcillac, but these weren’t mountain wines, so you don’t get to read about them.
But don’t despair! I still have plenty of mountain wines to brag about in greater detail. And here they are:
My first of the evening (and the only one I tried prior to class) was the Michel Gahier 2009 Arbois Rouge “Grands Vergers”, a wine from the Jura region of France, so named for the Jura mountains that border Switzerland. This was produced from the Trousseau grape, and Google tells me it goes for around $30 per bottle. New region? Check. New grape? Check. Even before the pour, I was excited.
It poured a medium-red color in the glass (fair warning: my color notes are kind of useless for these wines, since I didn’t view them under ideal lighting) with musky aromas prominent from the get-go, a vaguely animal aroma somewhat redolent of Aglianico. The similarities ended there though, with bright notes of red fruit joining in (I said cherry). The palate left me unable to choose between raspberry and strawberry, but about five minutes later, when I was halfway from the bar to the class, thinking it was all over, I tasted a sudden, unmistakable rush of dried fig.
This would be the definition of a long finish. thumbs up.
Next up was the first wine actually served at the class, the Luigi Ferrando Erbaluce di Calusi Spumante Metodo Classico “La Torrazza” 2006 Brut, which in addition to being my first white wine from Piedmont, was my first sparkling wine from Piedmont, my first sparkling wine from an actual vintage, and my first wine made from the Erbaluce grape altogether. Hooray!
The online prices seem to be pretty inconsistent for this one, ranging from $20-$35. In any case, it was pretty easy on the eyes, with persistent bubbles traveling along an impressively vertical trajectory. The nose gave an impression of yeast, with flavors of pineapple and provolone (yes, you read that right) on the palate. Overall it reminded me a little of Prosecco.
This fizzy Erbaluce earns thumbs up.
Following that was the first still white of the tasting, the Ermes Pavese 2009 Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, my first wine from Prie Blanc grapes, and my first wine from the Valle d’Aosta region of Italy, available (if you’re lucky) for around $25.
Perhaps the most notable feature of this wine was the age of the vines whence it had come. Because of the Valle d’Aosta’s extreme mountainous climate, the Phylloxera bug – which in the 19th century wiped out over half the vineyards in Europe – left the region alone, permitting the vines to keep doing their thing (ie, getting older). Why does this matter? As vines age, they produce fewer grapes, but usually with greater concentrations of flavor. And any vine dating back to pre-Phylloxera times is pretty damn old, oenologically speaking. So you do the math.
Wine-wise, I’d say this reminded me most of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, at least on the nose, with aromas of grapefruit and what I’ve come to call gooseberry despite not really knowing what gooseberry is. The palate, though, presented notes of swiss cheese alongside the grapefruit, an interesting followup to the provolone-y Erbaluce.
Light, crisp, and refreshing, this wine earns thumbs up.
Following this was the Serge Roh 2009 Petite Arvine de Vetroz, my very first wine from Switzerland, a fact which excited me to no end.
All joking aside, I do become slightly aroused when I get to add a new country to my sidebar, so I was pretty psyched. What’s more, this was my first wine made from the Petite Arvine grape, and you know how I feel about unfamiliar varietals. This wine seems to be selling for around $30.
On the nose this reminded me somewhat of a Torrontes or Gewürztraminer, with notes of peach and lychee. On the palate these flavors repeated themselves, along with a bit of creaminess (surprising, since this wine was not fermented in oak) and nice, peppery spice at the end that seemed to come out of nowhere. This was a bit heavier than the Prie Blanc.
I award my first Swiss wine a solid thumbs up.
The next wine was probably the strangest I tasted that day, as well as my favorite white. I’m almost ashamed to say that it was a Chardonnay, but dammit, the Jacques Puffeney 2007 Arbois Blanc Chardonnay must be acknowledged for what it was. Every so often a wine comes along that makes me feel like a total noob again, and ladies and gentlemen of the Internet, this was one of them.
Another wine from the Jura region, also around $30, this had a nose that was, for lack of a better term, insane, smelling like oaky bourbon at first whiff, then sherry upon closer inspection (dates, almonds, and caramel being the major notes). Very dry on the palate, this didn’t taste the way it smelled, giving an impression primarily of anise, with plenty of minerality supporting it.
The alcohol wasn’t as strong on this as the nose had led me to believe it would be, either. I checked the bottle and it was 13%, about the same as you’d find in Chablis, (Chardonnay from Burgundy [incidentally, Jura is sandwiched in between Switzerland and – you’ll never guess – Burgundy]).
Quite the puzzle, I give this Jura Chardonnay thumbs up; it’s a thinkin’ man’s wine, for sure.
Then finally, we made the switch to reds! Of course, for me it was the switch back to reds, thanks to that whole pregaming adventure, but who’s counting? The wine was another offering from Valle d’Aosta, the Grosjean Freres 2007 Torrette Superieure “Vigne Rovettaz”, $25ish online. It was produced mostly from the Petite Rouge grape – yet another new varietal for me – blended with some Fuman, Cornalin and Pinot Noir. Is Pinot Noir the only name there familiar to you? Yeah me too.
This wine kind of reminded me of Aglianico (and therefore also the Trousseau from earlier), with a touch of graphite on the nose at the beginning, which soon opened up to chocolate, along with boysenberry, and some smokiness. The palate presented good acidity and minerality, with notes of anise and raspberry. On paper this sounds like it would score higher than the Jura Chardonnay, but it left me less wowed overall.
I award this Aglianico-wannabe blend one thumbs up for making a respectable effort.
The penultimate wine of the evening was the Conrad Caloz 2009 Cornalin “Les Bernunes”, another wine from Valais, Switzerland. It retails for between $35 and $40, and it was made from the Cornalin grape, which you may remember from the wine before this one. Or maybe not; this is a long post.
The nose gave an impression of figs and black licorice, with the palate containing more black licorice, earthy fruit (mulberry, maybe) and high alcohol and acidity both. It sort of reminded me of the first Carignan I reviewed – a wine with unrealized potential. But I’m also allowing for the possibility that I was kind of drunk by this point.
Whatever the case, I give this wine thumbs up.
And at long last, we come to the end: the final wine, the Luigi Ferrando 2006 Carema “Etichetta Nera”, hailing from Piedmont, and produced entirely from my favorite grape, Nebbiolo. The Carema DOC isn’t as well known as the big guns, Barbaresco and Barolo, but this wine still commands a price of around $35.
Lighter in color than its predecessors, this wine smelled mainly of prunes, with a bit of alcoholic heat being noticeable as well. The palate reminded me more of the Nebbiolos I’d drunk in the past, with strong acidity and some boysenberry flavors, along with a touch of earth. With surprisingly friendly tannins for such a young Nebbiolo, in this regard it was more reminiscent of d’Alba or Langhe iterations of the grape.
I award the Carema thumbs up, although I’m the first to admit that rating would probably be higher if I’d drunk it before the others, Nebbiolo slut that I am.
This post is running dangerously long, so I’d just like to thank Jon Myerow and Michael McCaulley of Tria for inviting me to this event, and then also finding a seat for me, even though I don’t think I was supposed to have one. I’d also like to thank Clarke Boehling for his presentation, which was both delicious and informative.
All things considered, this was a highly successful evening. I tasted half a dozen new varietals and some wacky expressions of old ones. And looking back, my two favorites of the night were the Jura wines – red and white, each rated 9.5. I guess there’s just something about Jura.