Jumilla: Beyond Rioja and the power of making connections through Wine

Jumilla has made its case: Spain does not necessarily means Rioja

The powerful Infinito, from Jumilla

I recently joined a Consulting Firm’s team to help one of its clients in the Boston-metro Area. After almost two weeks I made some acquaintances of which one of them stands out: my esteemed colleague Andrew, who is an avid wine enthusiast. I didn’t know that until recently when we exchanged ideas to help his client evolve through an Agile Optimization Project. You see, in the Agile lexicon, the name of the game is adaptability. Like any living organism, Organizations that adapt survive. While we were exchanging ideas around the client’s enviable position it currently holds in the niche Speech Recognition market, I couldn’t help to bring up an analogy related to wine. An Agile Optimization is about adapting and disrupting the market. Similarly, in the wine industry, those producers that have rested in their laurels will perish at the hands of newcomers who are disrupting the market by making great wines at reasonable prices. Which is exactly what has happened in the Spanish wine landscape. Or at the very least, what has happened to the access American consumers now have to these newcomers. I’ll elaborate. Infinito, from D.O. Jumilla which has gone through a wine/vineyard Optimization over the past few decades itself, would be a good a analogy. Jumilla was ‘recently’ struck by phylloxera in 1989, forcing the hard-core producers adapt to survive. It also opened the door for new players to rewrite the book of Jumilla. For example, this wine Infinito (literally infinite) is composed of Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Now, you did not expect that combination, did you? For the uninitiated, Monastrell is the local name given to Mourvèdre. Some scholars attribute southern Spain as the birthplace of this famous grape. If Bandol came to mind, you’re partially right. Even though this incarnation from Infinito could rival the brooding wines made of Mourvèdre from Bandol, they are totally different styles.

I opened a bottle of Infinito last night when my niece Linda from Okinawa joined us for dinner, where the wine compensated for an anticlimactic view of the sunset from our deck. The wine opened up with prized aromatics, sporting dark fruit, tobacco and spice derived from oak. The color is deep purple which gives an indication of its full body. On the first sip, the wine explodes with ultra-ripe notes of black cherries, chocolate and a touch of earth. The wines finishes long as summer solstice with persistent notes of black fruit, chocolate and olives undertones, revealing a sublime tension between power and elegance. No wonder, the wine went through an 18-month aging process in new American and French oak barrels. If you find this wine, please consider chilling it for 20-30 minutes in the Fridge to ensure that the bursting fruit and spice doesn’t feel alcoholic in the mouth. The wines is pushing it at 15% alcohol content as it is. I paired the wine with just cheese, Jamón Serrano and some olives. The wine definitely would require protein such as lamb, steak tips or even grilled chicken or something more basic such as bread and strong cheeses. I bought the wine at East Side Wine and Spirits for just under $20 bucks. After further reflecting on my initial conversation with Andrew, we talked about some of the tried and true wine growers and regions in California from Charlie Wagner to Peter Michael and from John C Sullenger to Alexander Valley. What we didn’t discuss at length was wines from Spain! He acknowledged that these wines are not in his radar yet. Who could blame him, he has an incredible 500-plus wine collection that is somewhat eclectic and yet as impressive as any. I hope this Infinito wine puts Spain in his radar now.

Salud!

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The Vibrant Purple of Barrosa Fruit

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Shiraz from Barrosa Valley

This bottle from Wolf Blass offers vibrant purple edge to the color, saturated by ripe Barrosa fruit, the wine is supple and approachable. As side note, I opened the bottle at room temperature, roughly 70º F  inside my home. The first sip felt hot, alcoholic and yet bursting with fruit.  No wonder, this 2007 iteration had 14.5% alcohol.  Simple solution: I lowered the temperature by surrounding the bottle in a cylindrical wine chiller. It’s amazing how a few degrees could make a huge difference while testing wines.  Once it reached 66º F I tried it again and sensed right off the bat spicy and herbal aromas of white pepper and rosemary.  The 2007 contains 25% fruit sourced from Eden Valley, providing the herbal edge. The wine is framed in medium tannins and finishes with persistent aromas and flavors of raspberries, white pepper and vanillin derived from 18-months aging in new and seasoned French and American oak respectively.  I bought this bottle at Stop Wine & Liquors in Pawtucket at $22.00.  I was surprised to find a 2007 on the shelf, somewhat unconspicuously  between rows of wines.  What a find!

Coincidence or Is it’s Just South Africa Week?

An Old-World wine from an up-and-coming world-class destination.

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Last week I was mainly working on two things: My skiing and my Actuarial lingo.  I am doing a consulting gig for a reputable Insurance Company in Rhode Island where I met Dale, a colleague from South Africa.  We briefly talked about education, our career paths, collaborative work, the beautiful landscapes scattered throughout his native country and specifically about Stellenbosch, or ‘Wine Country’ as he eloquently put it.  Fast forward to the weekend and I found myself  skiing at Sunday River.  On my way up to Maine, I picked up a copy of the Economist and surprise, surprise, I found half a dozen references to South Africa and two lengthy articles about Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president.  Well, if that wasn’t enough, my skiing plans included meeting up with a friend who I often help him select wines for his collection.  At the end of our first ten runs, we decided to break for lunch at Brookside’s Condominiums.  As a thank you gesture for my helping him build-up his wine celar, he gave me a bottle that he had stumbled upon in “New Hampshire:”  The bottle was a Meerlust Red 2017, a typical blend most commonly found in Bordeaux: 60% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot.   The wine opened up mildly aromatic with floral, peppery notes highlighted by freshly crushed pomegranate.  However, the wine was really tight and flat.  After half a glass, I was unimpressed with it and let the rest of the experiment to aeration.  After all, I had made the mistake of mentally comparing the Meerlust Red 2017 to one of my favorite wines from South Africa: Glen Carlou Grand Classique another Bordeaux-esque blend from Paarl.  About six hours later the wine actually developed some complex aromas and flavors.  But the experiment wasn’t done yet.  Unintentionally, I let it rest for another full day and those initial floral aromas gave way to nuances of toast, leather and minerals. Once the wine developed complex flavors, it really reminded me of a Medoc wine from Saint-Julien, but the wine is from South Africa!  After doing a little bit of research, I found the wine at the Wine and Liquor Outlet in Portsmouth, NH for just under $20.00, a decent QPR wine.  So, was it coincidence that last week was all about South Africa, my colleague, The Economist and even my weekend bounty?  Well, I don’t believe in coincidence. In the words of Morpheous in the Matrix Reloaded, “I believe in Providence.”  I ended up enjoying the wine for its character and charm with some help from oxygenation, leaving the final glass loaded with tobacco, plum and dark chocolate notes and some grip thanks to the tannins.

For those who have tried the trendy new-world style wines from Paarl and even other Stellenbosch wines such as Stark-Conde, this Meerlust Red is a tried and true rendition of the old-world style.But don’t believe me, the real experiment is when you’d try it yourself.  The unintentional experiment of leaving it exposed to oxygen for too long is a good indication that the wine will age well. In fact, I could argue that the this 2017 iteration of Meerlust Red will not be ready to drink until 2022, but why wait?  In either case, as the week came to an end all I can say is Go South Africa and cheers!

Quatro Castas, A Great Portuguese Find

Hint:from Esporão and it’s not Port!

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Quatro Castas means literally four cépages, or four varietals. To pique your curiosity further, it’s made of equal parts of Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Syrah and Alicante Bouchet.  For the sake of learning, let us review first the local Portuguese grapes. Touriga Nacional is mostly associated with the production of Port wines. Well, in fact most of all indigenous grapes in Portugal such as the ones listed here, are associated with Port production since Port wine could be made of up to 100 different grapes.  Trincadeira, is the local name of Tinta Amarela which is widely planted in the Alentejo Region, it produces rich red wines of full body.  Alicante Bouchet is the local name for Garnacha Tintorera, which is a teinturier grape of red skin and pulp used mainly for adding color and structure to red and Port wines.

Quatro Castas is a full body wine with heady and spicy aromas that might require pairing with a slab of steak to complement the abundant dark plum and dark cherry  flavors framed by medium weigh tannins.  It finishes persistently earthy with cocoa notes.  What you may like the most is the QPR at $16.00 per bottle.  I bought this bottle at Seabra Super Market in Attleboro, MA.

 

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 months 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, reminding me of 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.

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.

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 wine 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.  Especial thanks to my dear colleague Debbie Sears for this tasty gift.  Cheers!

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