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

IMG_1060

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

IMG_2465

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!

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.

Image

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

Image

Great meritage, braised short ribs and great company.

Great meritage, meat and great company.

Yesterday I had the chance to open a bottle that I had been saving for quite some time: Chappellet. This Chappellet Mountain Cuvee is a classic Bordeaux blend. The Cuveé designation means that the wine is a blend and this particular cuveé was made by selecting the best batches produced from mountain slope fruit within the Chappellet Estate, consisting of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Composition

This wine is fruit-forward, exhibiting a subtle juiciness without being jammy, an indication that the winemaker, Phillip Corallo-Titus, handled really well the challenges of the 2008 vintage. The wine maker suggests this wine is for near-term consumption. However, when I first tasted it in 2010 I thought it was complex enough to do some experimenting with mid-term cellaring. Now, the wine shows waning flavors of concentrated red cherry and plum, while oak-ageing adds a toasty note on the finish. The tannins are well integrated, providing a lingering and pleasant finish. The finish isn’t the memorable kind but the kind that will accompany braised meat well. I felt compelled to open this bottle while Ginny Garcia was visiting Providence. I had slow-cooked short ribs the previous night, leaving plenty of leftovers for next day. After a few minutes, our conversation lead us into tapas time. The short ribs were so tender, with all of their fat rendered and added roasted red peppers, this meat dish was crying for some tannic wine to help break down the proteins. Call it happenstance or call it organized chaos, the combination of conversation, short ribs and Chappellet worked out just fine. I purchased this wine at Yankee Spirits in Attleboro, MA for $26.00.

Image

A Gem from Spain: Abadia Retuerta Selección Especial

A Gem from Spain: Abadia Retuerta

This wine hails from Castilla y León, by El Duero region in Spain. However this is NOT a Ribera Del Duero! Instead, the village Sardón del Duero has lent its name to this wine which is produced just outside DO Ribera del Duero by Abadía Retuerta. After opening, the wine is restraint at first, but it gradually shows off its charming side. A classic old-world style with subtle flavors of blackberries and minerals. With additional aeration, it comes out of its shell exuding wild herbs and vanillin scents, gaining power and texture with every sip. The exact composition of Selección Especial varies from year to year, but one can find in different ratios traces of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes. Further flavors are enhanced by 16 months of aging in French and American Oak barrels. Purchased at NH Liquor Outlet for $22.00. One would be hard-pressed to find a bottle from the fantastic 2003 vintage. But essentially any vintage of Selección Especial would satisfy old-world palates.

Image

Fruit bombs also count!

Fruit bombs also count!

Consider this 2006 Napa County Merlot a fabulous one. This Merlot from Folie à Deux is fruit-centric, like many of its Sonoma Valley counterparts. This incantation is well-balanced and loaded with cherry and blackberry scents. On the palate, the wine remains fruit-centric showcasing notes of red plum and red cherries. The tannins are subtle and yet polished. Finishes with good length, perfect for grilled meats, grilled mushrooms and mild cheeses. Folie à Deux typically produces excellent wines sourced from Sonoma Valley, particularly from Alexander Valley. This Napa version is not only rare, but a true gem! I bought this bottle at Stop One Liquors in Pawtucket, RI for $19.00.

Image

2007 Napa Cabs are holding on steadily. Here is a great example

2007 Napa Cabs are holding on steadily.  Here is a great example

I opened this BV Napa Valley wine last night as a quality assurance exercise since I will be holding a horizontal tasting of 2007 this weekend. Mind you, I paid $16.00 for these bottles at Yankee Spirits in Attleboro, MA. This wine is a solid value. You’ll find plenty of red fruit notes that give way to nuances of cedar and ‘Rutherford dust’. The integrated tannins makes the finish long and extremely pleasant. Initially, I thought I would need a slab of meat to help tame the tannins, but after 60-90 minutes of aeration, this wine is quite food friendly. Think cheeses, charcuterie, tapas and the likes. Cheers!