Archive for June 3, 2013

Christian Vogt of Karthäuserhof Winery Talks about 2012

Karthäuserhof is one of the top producer’s in Germany; arguably making some of country’s top dry and noble sweet wines.  But, Karthäuserhof is no flash in the pan.  Winemaking has had an extremely long tradition at this estate, a history that goes back many hundreds of years.  In fact, artifacts have been found on the premises that indicate wine production took place during the Roman times and records describe wine production on the estate as early as 1223. 


The name Karthäuserhof comes from the word Karthäuser, which refers to the Carthusian monks who worked and owned the estate from 1335 to 1803.  As a result of the Peace of Luneville, negotiated by Bonaparte and Talleyrand, properties all over Germany were secularized, or were taken away from the religious orders who had prior ownership.  As a result, in 1803, the French took possession of the Karthäuserhof estate.


The tasting room on the estate

In 1811, Valentin Leonardy, the first generation of the family currently running Karthäuserhof, acquired the property at an auction in Paris.  It wasn’t until Valentin’s grandson, Wilhelm Rautenstrauch, however, that Karthäuserhof started to develop a reputation for producing great wines.

In 1986, Christoph Tyrrell, the 6th generation, took over the estate. Under Christoph’s direction, the estate has come to produce truly world class wines, having been selected as Producer of the Year in 1997 by Feinschmecker Magazine and in 2005 by Gault-Millau.  After 16 years at the helm, ownership was transferred within the family to Christoph’s cousin, Albert Behler in 2012.

Vital Statistics:

·         Christian Vogt is the winemaker and manages the cellar.

·         The Karthäuserhofberg is a monopole vineyard made up of a decomposed Devon slate soil and is planted 90% to Riesling and 10% to Pinot Blanc, average vine age 35 years. 

·         The estate produces 12,000 cases from 19 hectares of vineyard with a breakdown of 85% dry and 15% sweet.

·         The estate uses a combination cultured and wild yeasts.

Hanno Zilliken Talks About the 2012 Vintage and the Future of the Estate

A Bit More About the Estate:

Forstmeister Geltz Zilliken consistently receives top scores in the wine press both in Germany and outside Germany.  Typically lean, minerally, with laser precision and unbelievable age-ability, Zilliken is a top performer in the Saar.


The town of Saarburg


Records show that the Zilliken family has been making wine since 1742 in Ockfen and Saarburg.  Today, Zilliken is known as one of the top estates in the Saar.  Over the years, the Zilliken estate had been cut up, due to inheritances following marriages or deaths.  Fortunately, the estate was able to be reconstituted by 1976 to its original size at which time Hanno Zilliken began his time as cellar master and by 1981, took ownership.   Today, Zilliken is known as one of the top estates in the Saar, receiving top reviews in the wine press both within Germany and outside.

After completing her studies at Geisenheim and a two year stint at Schloss Vollrad in the Rheingau region, Hanno’s oldest daughter, Dorothee joined the Zilliken estate in 2007.

A Unique Aspect of the Estate

The estate is known for its cellar; three levels below ground and the deepest cellar in the Saar it has nearly 100% humidity and a constant cool temperature of about 48°F. The wines are fermented and matured in German oak (1,000 liter) fuders.

Vital Statistics:


Riesling in Saarburg Rausch


Hanno in the Rausch Vineyard

The estate owns 11 hectares of prime Saar vineyards, 100% planted to Riesling.

The following Grand Cru vineyards are instrumental for the greatness of the estate:


Hanno Showing the Basalt Rock in Rausch

Saarburger Rausch- Slate, very gravelly with basalt rock

Ockfener Bockstein- Gravelly, grey slate, sandstone laced with quartzite.


Mt. Etna: Great wine from Volcano Country


Sicily’s Mt. Etna region is rugged and arid, an inhospitable terrain of volcanic soil and brush that somehow manages to nurture the development of intense wines with both age-ability and finesse.   Mt. Etna , the tallest active volcano on the European continent at close to 11, 000 feet high or 3330 meters, has a soil rich in minerals like copper, magnesium and phosphorous along with varying exposures and sea influences that contribute to as much (or more) as a 20 degrees Celsius temperature fluctuation between night and day.   The warmth during the day helps to ripen the grapes, while the cool temperatures at night help to maintain acidity– key to the world class wines Etna is able to produce.  

Etna received its DOC status in 1968, but the potential of the region was not understood until recently.  Prior to the late 1980s, Mt. Etna was not even considered to be a high quality bulk wine producer, unlike other wine areas in Sicily.  What changed Mt. Etna’s fortune was the desire of producers such as Benanti  to begin the production of world class wines.  Once the painstaking work of learning, or relearning Etna’s terroir began, word quickly spread of the regions potential. 


Mt.Etna has a semi-circular shape spreading from North to Southwest, which means that the sun and sea influence can vary greatly between the most northern vineyards and southwest vineyards. This translate to harvests in the north taking place, on average, a month later than those in the south, while Etna, in general, harvests later than anywhere else in Sicily.  Of course,  the fact that Etna vineyards are located on altitudes between 450 meters to 1100 meters and that rain is practically absent in the summer, but can be very high during the autumn or winter period, all contributes to the concentration and complexity of Etna wines. 

The best of the whites are made with some Carricante and the reds made predominately with the  Nerello Marscalese and Nerello Capuccio grapes, all grapes native to Eastern Sicily, some tracing many hundreds of years back.  The highest quality producing vineyards have old vines or even pre-phylloxera vines, predating the 1880s.  Oenologists on Etna have hypothesized that the volcanic lava, ash and sand of the region have helped impede the louse from wreaking total destruction of the region.   


There is a unique vibe here in Sicily–its people, terrain and architecture influenced by invaders that included the Greeks, Romans, the Germanic Vandals, the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and later by the mid -1700s even the Spanish came to Sicily and ruled for a time.   Viewed as a bread basket by many of these conquerors, its Mediterranean climate and location only about 2 miles off of the mainland of Italy to the north and  under 90 miles from the coast of Africa from its southern tip, contributed to its desirability by conquerors looking to feed its armies.  Today, Sicily, and Mt. Etna specifically, are just starting to unlock the potential of its terroir and the results are exciting.

Below, just a glimpse of some of the outstanding producers responsible for putting  Mt. Etna on the world class wine map:


benanti 002

The Benanti family had been producing wines on Etna since the end of the 1800s.  However, it wasn’t until 1988 when Giuseppe Benanti decided to revive the traditions of the estate that Benanti turned its focus to making quality wines.  The quest for world class wine production began with an in-depth and extensive 5 year study of the Etnean soils, the clones of the indigenous vines, followed by analysis of the best modern vinification practices.  On completion of the study, Benanti was able to produce wines with a unique flavor profile; wines that highlight the ancient fragrance and flavors that are quintessential Etna.


To best understand the work involved with the learning the terroir on Etna and the role their long time winemaker Salvo Foti played Giuseppe Benanti described the process as follows:


 “Foti, son of Etna, informed me that there was no knowledge regarding how the wine needed to be produced since the Etna wines that were barely on the market, even as bulk wine, were not of great quality. So, we asked the collaboration of Prof. Stefano Rocco from the Experimental Institute of Oenology of Asti (Piedmont) and Prof. Jean Siegriest, now sadly passed away, from the University of Beaune in Burgundy (France). Using their protocol, we conducted 150 tests until we were able to produce our first white wine for the company Benanti, the Pietramarina, Etna Bianco Superiore in D.O.C. followed by our red wine the Rovitello, Etna Rosso D.O.C.”


Benanti Vineyard

Check out the Pietramarina, the white wine made with Carricante that put Benanti on the map.  Also delicious, Rovitello, Serra Della Contessa,  and Majora.


A fruit tree in the Benanti vineyard


I Vigneri, Salvo Foti


Salvo Foti played a pivotal role in developing the wine region of Etna, not just at Benanti, but ViniBiondi and Gulfi before starting his own estate.  Salvo’s focus has always been in the vineyard and with the exception of a copper and sulfur mix, no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides are used.   All grapes are harvested by hand and all work is done by hand or with a mule.   Fermentation is done in open oak vats without enzymes and thermal control.  Very little or no sulfur is used on the grapes or must.  Bottling is done under the lunar cycle.  Little to no filtration is used.  The end result are wines that shows the unique terroir of Etna. 


My favorite wine of the line-up was the 2006 Vinupetra made from Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante and Francisis.  The vines for Vinupetra are located around 700 meters on the north side of the volcano near the town of Calderara.  The climate is very harsh and cold, the summers are hot and dry can be extreme fluctuations between night and day temperatures.  Many of the vines are old with goblet trellising.  This wine had lots of red cherry, red plum, strawberry, floral and mineral notes with a touch of vanilla and smoke.  This wine had a velvety texture and finished long.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere


Marco de Grazia

Established in 2002 by famous Italian Wine Exporters/Brokers Marco de Grazia and his brother Sebastian, the estate is located on the northern slopes of the volcano, with vineyards between the village of Solicchiata and the town of Randazzo.   



Given the extreme climate, the estate focuses on vineyard management first by farming organically and doing everything it can to ensure even and complete ripening of its grapes.  Terre Nere produces 2 hectares of Carricante, 1 hectare of Nerello Cappuccio and 18.5 hectares of Nerello Mascalese and .5 hectares of other white berry varietals. 


Tenuta de Terre Nere consists of over 30 hectares, divided into 10 parcels in four crus, with a total vineyard area of 23 hectares.  Except for 6 hectares recently planted, the remaining vines are between 50 and 100 years old with a small pre-phylloxera parcel of vines aged 130-140 years old.  The pre-phylloxera plot locatd in the Calderara Sottana is best known as La Vigna di Don Peppino, named after the vigneron who lovingly took care of these old vines for over 70 years. 


Don Peppino’s house and the prephylloxera Vineyard he managed.


Volcanic rocky soil

The vineyards are located in Calderara Sottana, Guardiola, Santo Spirito and Fuedo di Mezzo and the elevations range from mostly 600-1000 meters in altitude.  As might be expected, the soils are comprised of a combination of volcanic type soils; ash, sand and basalt pebbles, etc. 


Check out the entry level Rosso and Etna Bianco, they are delicious and very affordable. But, of course, the whole range is excellent.


benanti 003

The Don Peppino prephylloxera selection

More pics from Sicily, a must visit for foodies and oenophiles: 


Max von Kunow of Weingut von Hövel Speaks About His Estate, the Saar, and 2012

The Saar often is overshadowed by the wines off of the Mosel River, but in recent years, the Saar has come to shine very brightly for its nervy, minerally, terroir driven wines.

In a three part series, Elixrr is focusing on three top Saar estates, starting with the von Hövel estate in the town of Oberremmel.  More videos to follow!

Above is an interview with Max von Kunow, the newest, and seventh generation von Kunow to take over the estate.  Max talks about his future plans for the estate, the von Hövel philosophy to wine-making and the 2012 and 2011 vintage.  I hope you enjoy.

Outside the von Hövel Estate



Some Smooth Armagnacs To Sip

There are many great Armagnac available, but below are a few great estates to look out for.

Château de Laubade

First, is Château de Laubade one of the premiere estates in Armagnac. Built in 1870 and comprised of 260 acres of single vineyard, Château de Laubade is located in Sorbets d’Armagnac, the noblest area of the Bas Armagnac.  The four main grapes of Armagnac are used by Château de Laubade, with Ugni Blanc making up 47%, Baco 22A 30%, Colombard 15% and Folle Blanche 8%.

The Lesgourgues family has been running the estate since 1974.  In its 3rd generation, the estate continues to implement sustainable farming practices.

Château de Laubade is currently the only Armagnac estate coopering its own casks from forests surrounding the estate, a process that requires 3 years of wood drying before the barrels can be constructed.

 ARLE.jpg    The XO is between 15-25 years of age with Baco, Ugni-Blanc, Colombard and Folle Blanche in its blend.  This is rich and viscous, super complex with vanilla, dried fruit, orange peel and prune.

ARMAGNAC-INTEMPOREL-HORS-D-AGE-CHATEAU-DE-LAUBADE--LAUBADE.jpgThe Hors D’Age is a mix of 12-20 years, made predominately with Baco.  Lots of dried fruits, some butterscotch, nut and apricot notes.

p402074.jpg1983 Vintage a mix of Ugni Blanc and Baco.  Rich and complex with some leather, dried fig, prune, cedar and toffee notes.


Bas Armagnac Dartigalongue

Founded in 1838 by Pascal Dartigalongue in Nograro, the estate is still in controlled by the Dartigalongue family.  The vineyards of the estate are on mostly sandy soils, with particular focus on the grapes of Ugni Blanc and Baco.

The estate has 3 different cellars. One cellar is dry, one wet and the other cellar is an elevated dry cellar built in the 19th century.  The Armagnac vintages are aged through the 3 cellars. 

Dartigalongue has been available almost from the beginning in Belgium, Holland, England and the US via the port of Bayonne.   They produce about 60, 000 bottles per year.

 The XO is made from a minimum of 10 year old spirits, with the oldest 20 years old.  Very elegant, vanilla, smoke and cedar notes with prune and dried orange and apricot notes.

Other great estates to look for include, Janneau and Tariquet, to name a few.  Try some Armagnac today!

Armagnac, the Forgotten Brandy of Southwest France is on the Upswing

Gingerbread, prune, violets, truffles, orange peel, vanilla, cinnamon and cream…Just some of the adjectives used at a recent tasting to describe Armagnac, France’s oldest produced brandy.  The best of Armagnac is flavorful and aromatic; the more Baco driven, aged examples can be especially rich and viscous with smoky, dried fruit, prune, nut and rancio flavors.  Younger Armagnac often are lighter and fruitier with floral aromas; sometimes herbal notes.

Armagnac has long been overshadowed by Cognac, but comparing the two is unfair.  The famous bartender Salvatore Calabrese perhaps said it best:

“The difference between cognac and Armagnac? Imagine a length of velvet and another of a silk fabric.  Stroke them.  The velvet has a deep, rich texture.  That is an Armagnac.  The silk is pure finesse, and that, to me is a Cognac.”

Armagnac offers a unique product at comparatively bargain prices–which may explain the 6% uptick in export sales in 2012 according to BNIC.  The prices range according to age and estate as is the case for most wine and spirits, but an outstanding bottle aged 20 years can be had for under $45 a bottle or £35.

Consumers can find Armagnac in a number of styles and a range of maturation periods spanning from as little as 3 months for Blanche Armagnac to Armagnac that has spent many decades in barrel before release.  The new Blanche Armagnac seems to have great potential for mixologists, not to mention other younger Armagnac styles that work have been shown to work well in cocktails.

And unlike in Cognac, Armagnac has a tradition of single vintage releases, for those who like to enjoy a very specific year.  A mature example of Armagnac spanning 40 years and slightly beyond is fairly easy to obtain on the market today.

So why is Armagnac relatively unknown to consumers?   Perhaps one explanation has to do with its geography.  Although the first region to produce brandy in France, Armagnac wasn’t all that accessible outside of landlocked Gascony until the 18th century, when Dutch traders started shipping Armagnac from the Port of Bordeaux.

However, transporting from Armagnac was not very economical as the River Baise was too shallow in certain areas for many months of the year, preventing cargo from being shipped.  It was only in 1839 when the River Baise had been deepened and extended in some areas that economical transport to Bordeaux via Condom came about.

For brandy lovers, it may be a blessing in disguise that Armagnac has been slow to export.  Armagnac is today dominated by mostly small, family owned distillers, a total of 500 independent producers, 300 cooperatives and 40 negociants. This means that a truly handcrafted, unique product can still be found in Armagnac.

It is interesting to note that Armagnac is a relatively rare product on the market when compared to Cognac and other spirits.  Only 5.6 million bottles of Armagnac were produced in 2012 versus 183 million bottles of Cognac, and an estimated 5 billion bottles of vodka.  50% of Armagnac production is consumed domestically with the rest being exported to over 100 countries, with China, Russia, the UK, Germany and Spain leading the way, according to statistics provided by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de L’Armagnac (BNIA).


It took contributions from three cultures to develop Armagnac.  First, the Romans who brought wine vines to the region. Second, the Arabs who invented the Alembic, and third, the Celts, who introduced wood barrels into the equation.

Armagnac or Aygue Ardente, the precursor to Armagnac was developed for therapeutic reasons, not for pleasure, which may surprise some. In 1310 Prior Vital du Four, a cardinal, famously wrote about the 40 virtues of the spirit that could miraculously cure hepatitis, cankers and gout to name a few.  It was also attributed to preserving youth and retarding senility.

It wasn’t until 1410 according to records, that Armagnac was consumed and sold.  Finally, in the 16th Century Armagnac became available in regional markets.   By the 18th century, Armagnac was finally exported to international markets via the Port of Bordeaux by the Dutch.

In 1760, Armagnac finally made its way to Versailles and took the French court by storm.  Armagnac became the preferred brandy of King Louis XV.

After the US War of Independence, the US boycotted whiskey and cognac, another form of rebellion as these were the preferred spirits of the English.  Armagnac helped fill the void and America’s thirst for brandy in the early days.

By the 1850s, the Gers, the department where Armagnac grapes are grown, was the biggest grape growing region in France.  Unfortunately, in 1879 phylloxera hits the region destroying half of Armagnac’s vineyards.

In early 1900s, the 3 regions of Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Tenarèze and Haut Armagnac are delimited and the Appellation decree is signed.  In May 27, 2005, a new AOC is created for Le Blanche, a fruity and floral water clear brandy made from a choice of Folle Blanche, Ugni-Blanc and Baco.

Now, the Technical Information about Armagnac

There are 10 accepted grapes, with the 4 main ones as follows:

Ugni Blanc – 50% of Armagnac grape production is made with Ugni Blanc, making a high acid, low alcohol wine.   When distilled, it makes a very refined, high quality spirit that ages well.

Baco – is the only hybrid allowed in Armagnac grape production and makes up 40% of Armagnac grapes grown and a cross of Folle Blanche and the Noah grape.  Baco was invented by François Baco, a Landais schoolmaster at the end of the 19 century in response to the phylloxera devastation.  It is particularly adapted to the sandy and boulbène soils of the Bas-Armagnac where it gives smooth, round eaux-de-vie with aromas of ripe fruits, especially after long ageing.

Folle Blanche – makes up only 8% of grape production due to difficulty in grafting, it is the most ancient and  best  known  variety.  The Folle Blanche produces a floral, elegant brandy that are shows particularly well in the Blanche and other young Armagnac.

Colombard – only represents about 2% of Armagnac grape production.  It is fruity, spicy spirits with some vegetal characteristics and is most often used as part of a blend.

Other varietals allowed, but only a few hectares are grown are  Clairette de Gascogne, white Jurançon, Plant de Graisse, Meslier St François or the white and rosé Mauzac.

Regional Information

Located in the heart of Gascony, between the Adour and Garonne Rivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Armagnac is divided in 3 regions so defined by the Fallieres Degree in 1909; Bas-Armagnac, Armagnac-Tenarez and Haut-Armagnac.  The best Armagnac’s are thought to come from Bas-Armagnac, which typically comprises of a sandy, boulbènes (mix of sand, clay and iron) soil.

Armagnac-Tenarèze is thought to produce coarser, more full-bodied Armagnac with a soil that is a mix of boulbènes, limestone and clay.  Some liken the Armagnac of this region to have violet notes.

Haut Armagnac is the largest territory, but the smallest vineyard area and has a chalky soil.  While this region produces good quality, there are few producers remaining here.

Vinification of Base Wine

Grapes fermented to about 8-10 ABV.  The addition of Sulfur Dioxide is prohibited. The resulting wine is usually high in acidity. There is no fining or filtering before distillation, lees contact is maintained to add to the flavor profile.

Overview of Armagnac versus Cognac

Armagnac Cognac
Grapes Mainly, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Folle Blanche, Baco + 6 others Ugni Blanc
Distillation Column Distillation- single distillation Pot Still – double distillation
Climate Warm, sunny, drier than Cognac Maritime, humid
Maturation Gascon Oak, AKA Black Oak from Monzelun Forest Limousin and Tronçais Oak
Soil Composition Sandy, boulbènes (Bas Armagnac) Limestone, boulbènes (Tenarèze) Limestone


What the Armagnac Label Means

•    VS or *** Young Armagnac between 1 – 3 years

•    VSOP or Napoleon, Armagnac between 4 – 9 years

•    XO or Hors d’Age, from 10 years on

•    XO Premium, over 20 years and vintages

Special Thanks to Amanda Garnham of Attachée de Presse at Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac for making historical and statistical information available to Elixrr.