Spanish Gems

At a recent dinner, I was tasked by a couple of friends to bring Spanish wines that were off the beaten path.  The challenge: one of these friends is fond of red Rioja while my other friend dislikes it. Worse yet, they had been disenchanted with their previous selections hailing from the Iberian Peninsula.  I thought I would throw them a curve ball.  I selected two reds, an “unknown” wine from Rioja (Loriñon) and a wine from an “unknown” region (Calatayud).  Obviously, in this particular ocassion, the “unknown” applied to my disenchanted friends.

LORIÑON RIOJA

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Loriñon Rioja, from Bodegas Brenton, is made in a classic old world style.  For starters, the fruit used for this particular Loriñon wine comes from vineyards located in the Rioja Alta, at the highest elevation in the region.  Typically, wines from Rioja Alta are bright and earthy, making them exceptionally food-friendly.  Furthermore, this Crianza has been aged in american oak barrels adding an element of elegance and age-ability.  This peculiar bottling offers aromas of freshly crushed fruit and spiced with fantastic oak undertones.  Although I love oaky Riojas, this iteration is well balanced such that one could taste the layers of fruit, minerals, spices and oak working well together.  For the uninitiated, the predominant grape variety in Rioja is Tempranillo.  According to the Wine Bible, a typical Rioja wine may contain around 60% Tempranillo, %20 Garnacha and smaller percentages of Mazuelo and Graciano grapes.  In terms of the maturing of the wine, crianza means (literally “nursing” in this context) that the wine was aged no less than 12 months in oak barrels and 12 additional month in the bottle.  In case you wonder, Reservas are aged 24 months of which at least 12 months must be in oak barrels and an additional 12 months in the bottle prior its release.  Grand Reservas are aged 5 years, spending no less than 18 mont in oak barrels and 36 months in the bottle. By the way, this wine paired very nicely with grilled lamb rubbed with rosemary and garlic.  I decided to decant this it because at first, it was tight, despite its age.  After two hours in the decanter, it got better and better sip after sip.


 

CALATAYUD

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This Claraval wine is from Calatayud, a relatively new  and small DO in the Province or Zaragoza, acquiring DO status in 1980.  Although there are seven authorized grapes in Calatayud (Garnacha, Mazuelo, Tempranillo, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) to make red wines, the most relevant grape variety in Calatayud is by far Garnacha.  This 2006 version consists of 50% Garnacha, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah.  This wine is rich, loaded with notes of chocolate, charred fruit, leather notes.  It finishes with a core of cherry and blackberry fruit that it is almost impenetrable.  At first, I was tempted to pair it straight up with the lamb, which it actually worked well.  However, I thought that after aeration, the perfect partner food-wise was Jamón Iberico and manzanilla olives.  In either case, please do not believe me.  The truth is in the bootle. Try it!

Are Wines from Washington age-worthy?

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When was the last time you had a succulent wine originating from the state of Washington? I recently tasted a couple of Washington wines during a visit to Seattle. As a matter of fact, I had an epiphany after visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle and tasting their Ethos Merlot 2005 early this year(2015). The 10-year old wine was astonishing, following the tried and true Napa Valley’s recipe for successful Cabernet: Ripe, decadent and complex. Except this was a Washington Merlot! Shortly after my trip, I went on a rampage looking for Washington wines, which brings me to the point of this post. How come I have never heard conversations about Washington wines age-ability?
First, I have to admit that I had been paying way too much attention to California and Oregon wines; Napa Cabs and Oregon Pinot Noir respectively. As I researched more about the Ethos wine, I realized that some of the best Washington wines had built a reputation on “Right Bank” Bordeaux blends, anchored with Merlot. Like Bordeaux, Washington has a cooler, shorter growing season. Accordingly, winemakers decide on the composition of their fabulous blends depending on each vintage, using varying amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Now onto these wines in the pictures. The one on the left is the 2007 Pirouette, from the Long Shadows Vintners, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It opened up with forward aromas of vanilla, black cherries and minerals. My preliminary impression was that the wine was a bit tight, which lead me to do an experiment. After the initial taste, I let it air. Every two hours, I would taste it again, make some notes for a later comparison in order to extrapolate and make assumptions about its age-ability. Yes, my experiment involved getting up at 2:00AM, 4:00AM, 6:00AM and so forth to properly take a sample. Of the twelve samples, right around the 6th sampling, the bouquet reached its pinnacle. The round, soft, and elegant mouthfeel was lingering and satisfying. However, afterward the bouquet lost grip but the flavors remain pleasant. For the price of $50.00 at Marty’s in Newtown, MA, I thought it was a borderline good value, considering my specialty is finding values in the $20.00-30.00 range.

The second wine, Waterbrook Reserve 2007 Columbia Valley Merlot, was a bit easier to analyze but I must admit that knowing the price prior tasting impacts expectations. The wine was balanced with intense aromas and flavors of black cherries with hints of cedar. On the palate, the wine was full body offering the richness and texture found in more expensive wines. Finishes with earthy notes, mellowed tannins and concentrated fruit flavors. Alas, no 24-hour aeration experiment! The tannins of the wine suggested meat and I assure you, complementing it with sirloin tips was an excellent option. For this, I paid $20.00 at One Stop Liquor in Pawtucket, RI.

Perfect Pairing: Textbook Malbec and Steak.

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Few things, among the simple meals I consider comfort food, provide pure pleasure such as a juicy slab of steak accompanied by a bold and tannic red wine. Particularly if the red wine is a fine textbook Malbec from Argentina. Malbec hails from Bordeaux, where is one of the six grapes permitted to be part of a Red Bordeaux blend. However, after the phylloxera epidemic of 1850 hit the region, Malbec almost disappear and became less popular in Bordeaux. These days Malbec has found a new home in Cahors and all the way to Mendoza, Argentina, where it is now the prominent grape in both regions. Unlike the tried and true Old World Vs New World wine comparison from Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah to Pinot Noir, Malbec provides one of the few examples where one could draw stark distinctions between wines of the same grape, made in different places. But these disctictions are not derived from terroir alone. While Cahors sticks to tradition producing wines with a more austere flavor profile, brooding fruit, tannins and minerals, Argentina produces more opulent wines, intense, fruit-forward and spicier. A key factor in these differences is the climate. Mendoza enjoys more days of sun and drier growing seasons, resulting in riper grapes than those in Cahors. Now, the proof is in the bottle. This Malbec comes from Bodegas Dominio de La Plata and this 2010 BenMarco is what I consider a textbook Malbec because it represents an unresolved tension between Old and New Word style. Opens up with lush aromas of vanilla and oak, highlithed by hints of earth, black currant and spice. Finishes long focusing on the tamed tannins. The wine is unfiltered and furnished with about 12% of Bonarda. Paired deliciously with a marbly Rib Eye and green beans sautéed with garlic. Bought at Pops Fine Wines in Easton, MA, for $22.00.

Have you tasted Vino Nobile Di Motepulciano lately? You should!

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Although the wine has been made for centuries before it was declared the king of wines in Francesco Redi’s poem in 1685, the name Vino Nobile de Montepulciano was coined in the 20th century. Surprised? Even more surprising is the fact that this delicious wine was once labeled as Chianti in the late 19th century. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano means Noble Wine from Montepulciano, a small Tuscan town about 70 miles south of Florence. Please, do not be confused with another Italian wine named Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. As you may surmise, in the latter, the grape is Montepulciano and it is produced in the Abruzzo region. Vino Nobile on the other hand, like many of its Tuscan counterparts, is a blend consisting mainly of Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) with smaller percentages of Canaiolo and Mammolo grapes. Similarly to a Spanish Crianza, what earns this wine the Nobile characterization is its aging. This wine has twenty four months of aging of which twelve are spent in oak and the remaining twelve in the bottle. Furthermore, the Riserva wines spent twenty four months of aging in oak and twelve in the bottle. This iteration of Vino Nobile from Corte Alla Flora is mellow and balanced with flavors of black cherry, vanilla, hints of sage and loaded with minerals. The finish is persistent and elegant and if you combine this wine with Castelvetrano Olives and Manchego cheese, watch out, it could be addictive! It was fortunate having enjoyed this wine during an amazing evening with my friend AJB. Long live the holy Quaternity: Conversation, Wine, Olives and Cheese. No bread was necessary! The wine was purchased at Krogers in Smyrna, GA for $28.00.

Wines for the soul .. and Soul Food

Fino, Sherry Wine

A few days ago I had the opportunity to chat with Market Research extraordinaire Andrea Burns in Atlanta, GA. We exchanged observations about a seemingly highly regarded IT corporation. Quickly, the evening was waning away and such a fantastic conversation succumbed to the delirium of trying a bowl of homemade gumbo. Obviously, these food lovers immediately debated the merits of using okra as an ingredient in Gumbo. I calmly explained that the most important part of gumbo (now I know, besides the okra!) was pairing it well with a fine wine. Finding a suitable partner for the gumbo was extra challenging because my most gracious hostess has an inclination for really dry wine. What to drink? Well, the complex flavors of dry and nutty Amontillado ‘Sherry’ could not have been better accompaniment for her tasty gumbo. BTW, if you care to know, the word Sherry is simply an anglicization of Xeres, the name of the area (D.O.) in the southwest corner of Andalucia, Spain, where this wine is made. Xeres, was founded by the ancient Phoenicians more then 3000 years ago and at some point or another Greeks, Romans and Moors ruled it. The key to this subtle, elegant and remarkable wine is the combination of Palomino grapes, white chalk and Flor. The chalky white ground in the Xeres vineyards almost bakes the vine by reflecting the strong sunlight up to the ripening Palomino grapes. At harvest time, the clusters of grapes are set down on a mat grass to dry under the sun. Once the the clusters loose water to evaporation, the Palomino grapes are squeezed and the resulting mosto is stored in huge bungs to begin fermentation. The magic happens during this period. These bungs must have a hole for aeration, as Sherry is one of few wines in which oxigenation is actually beneficial for its production. With air flowing into the bungs, a yeastlike fungus starts coating the surface of the mosto. At this point, not even the winemaker knows if the resulting wine will be Fino or Oloroso Sherry. Why? This would depend on the yeastlike Mycoderma vini fungus also known as Flor, the mysterious agent that determines the fate of the wine. The Flor is thickest on wines which will become Fino and thinest on those destined to become Oloroso. Once the Flor finishes imparting flavor to the wine beneath, dies and sinks to the bottom. After the Flor has done its work the wine is racked, graded and fortified with Brandy. Finos are lightly seasoned with Brandy, while Olorosos would take a little more of the spirit. You see, it is not that simple to eat gumbo. You need great conversation, a great cook and a magic moment. The sherry, well, you may get it at the store. I bought this bottle at Whole Foods in The Exchange At Hammond in Atlanta for $22.00.

Thanksgiving wines!

Pinot Noir

A beautiful rendition of the velvety, smooth, delicate and yet luscious wines from The Côte de Nuits made in the Willamette Valley in Oregon from Le Puits Sec vineyard in the “Spring Valley”. This area boast a great micro climate that yield great wines from Burgundian and Alsatian varieties. This wine is made form Pinot Noir grapes which are Pommard clones.   Putting this into context, all the pinot noir vines in North America come from France.  In the early 1970s there were three Pinot Noir clones available from UC Davis: Pommard, Wâdenswil and a third minor clone mislabeled Gamay Beaujolais. At any rate, this wine was a great pairing to braised duck, honoring the visit of my niece Maria Vaughan hailing from Okinawa, Japan.  This particular bottle is full body, showcasing bright flavors of currant and black cherry.  Impressive in how the fruit aromas echo in the palatte.  Finishes velvety, earthy and toasty.   Cheers!

Wines for Roasted Lamb Continue reading

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Fine Wines from Il Veneto: Prosecco and Valpolicella.

Prosecco

We started the night with a glass of Prosecco from Tentua Santomé. This particular bottling is made with grapes sourced from DOC Treviso, in Veneto, Italy. The wine offers aromas of honeysuckle and pear. The flavor is vibrant on the palate, rounded with additional flavors of braeburn apples and honeydew. Finishes distinctive with equal parts of tanginess and residual sugar.

Italian Night.

Ripasso

The origins of Ripasso date back to 1964 thanks to Masi Agricola, a mid-size and yet influential Veneto producer. Masi developed a technique by which Valpolicella wine was refermented on the Amarone pomace, or the pressed skins left over from Amarone production. The resulting wine was given additional complexity and elegance, effectively making it a ‘baby Amarone’. And just to be precise, the Valpolicella AVA require the use of least 85% of corvina, corvinone and rondinella and up to 15% of molinara, rossinognola, negrata, trentina, sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc may be included. Of course, this initial Ripasso technique is analogous to re-using ground espresso coffee beans for re brewing a batch of drip coffee. These days however, making Ripasso does not involve refermenting Valpolicella wine with skins left overs. A more modern technique has been adopted by which the wine is refermented using grapes especially semi-dried for this specific purpose. The results of this new approach are the same, imparting complex aromas and flavors and creating a more elegant wine. The aromas of this Cesari Ripasso are filled with cherry and leather. The flavors echo the aromas, finishing with firm tannins and a touch of wood from twelve months aging in slovenian oak. Quite good.

A Ripasso Wine

Mara – Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso

Bosan Amarone Della Valpolicella

Amarone, of acclaimed famed worldwide, is also from Il Veneto and it is one of my favorite wines. Amarone wine is made using the quintessential Appassimento process, or raisining of the grapes. Appassimento, literally means in Italian “raisining“, which is a process of semi-drying grapes. This process is very likely an ancient Roman technique. Originally, grapes were dried to concentrate flavors and elevate sugar level to make sweet wine. In fact, in Il Veneto this sweet wine is called Recioto. At some point it was discovered that occasionally the wild yeast would ferment all sugars into alcohol, creating the predecessor of Amarone. Contrary to popular belief, Amarone wine is actually an invention of the 20th century.
This particular rendition of Amarone consists of 80% Corvina and 20% Rondinella. The wine is concentrated, full-bodied with a lovely mixture of dried fruits, nuts and spice upfront aromas. The flavors are congruent with the aromas, delivering a medium to full-body mouthfeel. It finishes long and focused on the dried fruits and spice, a testament of its three years in French and Slavonian barrel–not to be confused with Slovenian Oak though.

SIngle Vineyard Amarone

Bosan Single Vineyard Amarone

Il Bosco Amarone Della Valpolicella

This version of Amarone is almost identical to that of its cousin Bosan Amarone. Same grape composition, 80% Corvina and 20%. But Il Bosco spent only two years in barrel. One could argue that this is a baby Bosan.
Obviously, being a younger wine than its predecessor, Il Bosco is a bit more rustic. Intense aromas of currants and herbs. On the palate, the wine is also intensely flavorful, loaded with notes of blackberry and raisins on a tight and yet elegant tone. Finishes with well integrated tannins. Perfect for Risotto Al Funghi. Cheers!
Il Bosto
Another single vineyard amarone

Jema Corvina

My favorite wine of the night. Made of 100% Corvina. This is a wonderful wine that offers a complex array of aromas and flavors. It opens up with aromas of dried cherries and cedary oak. On the palate, the wine offers notes of prune, cherries and minerals. Full-body and fully flavorful. Finishes long, balanced and oaky undertones. The oak notes come from aging in French oak for 18 months. A truly fantastic wine! Think of meats, charcuterie and aged cheeses.
Saluti per cento anni!
Jema
What a beautiful Wine!

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Exceptional Value from Columbia Valley in Washington State


I think this wine might be the value of the year so far. At a first taste, the wine opens with lush aromas of black fruit, tobacco and spice. On the palate, the wine is firm, rich and intense, with layers of black cherry, earth and cedar flavors. A wine exhibiting these characteristics in itself is a terrific wine. Now let’s consider this: The price of this wine was $11.00 upon release. I actually bought it for $10.00 at Woodman’s in Madison, WI. This bottle was part of a horizontal taste of international wines from the 2007 vintage that I conducted last Sunday for a group of wine enthusiasts. Among these fabulous wines were Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet, Allegrini Veronese, Joseph Phelps Le Mistral and Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec from Mendoza. The average rating for all the wines was 90 points taken from scores of Magazines ranging from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast to Wine and Spirits. Our wine enthusiast friends could not agree on which wine was the best and for good reasons. Every palate is different, we all know that our genes control the process of degustation and ultimately the selection of wines we like. However, the we all were able to agree in monetary terms. The Columbia Columbia Crest Grand Estates was the clear winner given that it was the only wine under $20.00, let alone it only costs $10.00!

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Amarone from South America? Not quite, but quite good!

Amarone from South America? Not quite, but quite good!

Enamore is a joint collaboration between Allegrini, the famed Italian producer of Amarone, and Bodegas Renacer, one of the top new-age producers in Argentina.
This wine is produced similarly to Amarone wine in that the grapes are subjected to appassimento, a process in which the grapes are dried outdoors in mats to shrivel until the grapes have lost about 1/3 of their mass, helping them increase sugar concentration. At a glance, the name Enamore is simply the Spanish term for falling in love [with this wine for example]. However, a closer examination of the term would reveal that the word Enamore is a play on Amarone. Scramble the letters in Amarone and you’ll get Enamore. The grapes are sourced mainly from Lujan de Cuyo which is located between 850 and 1000 meters over sea level. Without a doubt, the resulting wine is a complex blend which is composed of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bonarda. This fantastic wine exhibits aromas and flavors of earth, chocolate and dark, dried fruits. I would suggest to serve it with roasted meat, earthy dishes featuring mushrooms and game. I bought this bottle in New Hampshire Liquor Store for $23.00. Cheers

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Spicy Mouthfull of Blackberry and Currant from Down Under

Warm Climate Gem from Down Under

What a better way to combat Monday blues than sipping a Barossa Shiraz from South Australia. As the picture may suggest, I asked Dr. Cheryl Vaughan, biochemist and wine quality assurance extraordinaire, to do the honors of leading the tasting this evening.

What We Tasted Tonight


Wolf Blass Gold Label
This 2002 Barossa Shiraz from Wolf Blass is ripe and still vigorous for this vintage, explosive with its blueberry, currant and licorice aromas and flavors, which persist through the finely tuned finished. After about two hours of aeration, the wine started turning lighter and leafier, developing slightly metallic notes. I figured I would do an experiment and open a more recent vintage of the same wine for good measure, adding a system of control and minimize any prevailing biased. Predictably, the newer vintage was rich and spicy with more peppery and licorice notes than the older vintage. The result: The wine is definitely a value wine because while young is packed with fruit and spice. As it ages, it looses in a somewhat harmonious fashion the bulk of the fruit. But, after 12 years, it should be ready to be consumed now that it is at its peak. It should decline in a year or two.
I purchased all vintages of this wine at One Stop Liquors in Pawtucket, RI. The wine staff is not really friendly and they are not very knowledgeable about wine, but they certainly more than make up for their deficiencies with great prices at $16.00 per bottle.