One on One With Winemaker: Brett Jackson of Viña Valdivieso, Chile

June 19, 2017 2 comments
Viña Valdivieso vineyards

Source: Viña Valdivieso

Today, sparkling wines are produced everywhere, and we are getting quite used to it. Sometimes, it comes almost to a surprise when we hear that particular producer doesn’t offer any sparkling, at least as part of the “winery special”. But this was not the case even 10 years ago, when the sources of the sparkling wine were much more limited.

When you are thinking about Chilean wines, well respected worldwide, what kind of wines come to mind first? I would bet you are thinking about Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Sauvignon Blanc and may be some Chardonnay. I would also safely bet that you don’t think of Chile as a producer of the sparkling wines, right? So without asking google or reading ahead, can you pause for a second and think when could Sparkling wines be commercially made in Chile?

While spending time in France, Don Alberto Valdivieso fell in love with Champagne. As a matter of fact, he loved it so much that upon his return to Chile in 1879, he founded Champagne Valdivieso and became the first producer of the sparkling wines in Chile and the whole of South America.

Fast forward to today and Viña Valdivieso produces the full range of sparkling wines, including both Viña Valdivieso produces the full range of sparkling wines, including both méthode champenoise and Charmat, and the extensive line of still wines which includes a unique solera-method dry red called Caballo Loco. I had an opportunity to sit down (albeit, virtually) with the Viña Valdivieso Winemaker, Brett Jackson, and ask him a few  bunch of questions – here is what transpired from our conversation:

[TaV]: I would guess that Viña Valdivieso first sparkling wines were made with the Traditional Method. When did the Viña Valdivieso start producing sparkling wines using Charmat method?

[VV]: Valdivieso started making sparkling wines from 1879, all the bottles in traditional method. Only from the eighties began the elaboration by Method Charmat

[TaV]: What is the oldest sparkling wine which can be found in your cellars? What was the oldest Viña Valdivieso sparkling wine you ever tried?

[VV]: For the earthquakes of 1985 and 2010, that affected our underground cava,  we lost bottles from the early fifties to the present. We only recovered some bottles from 1996 onwards that are still preserved in our cellar.

[TaV]:  Do you make any single vineyard sparkling wines? What about vintage sparklers?

[VV]: For Traditional method, we have single vineyard Valdivieso Blanc du Blanc made of 100 % Chardonnay and Valdivieso Blanc du Noir with 100% Pinot Noir

Since 2013, we started using the label vintage in Valdivieso Blanc du Blanc. Actually, the new portfolio sparkling for Champenoise Caballo Loco Grand Cru 2014 uses an exceptional vintage.

[TaV]:  When you produce Traditional Method sparkling wines, do you follow the path of the French Champagne and try to achieve consistent “Chateau” taste profile? How many Vin Clairs your typical blend include? Do you use also reserve wines, and what would be the oldest you would use?

[VV]: We use different vintages to give consistency to our portfolio. Charmat Limited include 2 years at least in different percentage of varieties, blending,   Traditional method we use Both of 1 vintage as well as several in blending. Currently, the use of expedition liquor for some 2014 bottles of traditional method is from 2011 vintage.

[TaV]:  Do you use sustainable farming methods? What about organic – you do it now or have any plans?

[VV]: Our farming methods are sustainable, being certified with the Wines of Chile Sustainable code. We are working with a 15Ha organic vineyard in the south of Chile with some very exciting red varieties. Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Carmenere, Tannat, Carignan, Syrah, and Petit Syrah. The first wines from this vineyard should be appearing late 2018.

[TaV]:  What was your most challenging vintage for the sparkling wines and why?

[VV]: 2012 and 2013 the most difficult, extremely challenging because of the huge amount quantity per hectare. We don´t have Traditional method these years, except Blanc du Blanc 2013, 100%  chardonnay.  The Chardonnay variety was the only one that excelled to maintain consistency in quality and longevity for its storage in bottles.

[TaV]: What was your most difficult vintage for the still wines and why?

[VV}: 2016, the most difficult, lots of rain during April. Chile lost around 30% of the harvest due to these rains. Extremely challenging conditions.

[TaV]: What were you favorite vintages for the still and sparkling wines?

[VV]: For still wines 2000 through to 2010 were exceptional with a string of outstanding vintages, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010. I would give the edge to the 2005 vintage, great balance in the wines, maturity, acidity, and exceptional flavor.

For sparkling wines 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016. because of the balance of fresh maturity, big natural acidity, fresh fruity character . 2014 was the best, with the fruit from consolidated new areas for traditional method such as Biobio, Limarí, Itata, and new improves for charmat with vines so close to Andes mountains and Coastal range. 2014 is the first vintage for a new sparkling label called Caballo Loco Grand Cru Biobio Valley , Brut Nature and Blanc du Noir, currently available.

Viña Valdivieso wines

[TaV]: Today you produce still white wines from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Have you ever experimented with any other white varietals? Any plans to introduce any new Viña Valdivieso white wines?

[VV]: We do a small amount of Viognier. In the near future we will be launching Rousanne and Marsanne. Both look very promising with great potential.

[TaV]: What is the “Next Big White Grape” for Chile? Is there one?

[VV]: The “next big” is white wine. It is not easy to see as on an international scale, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay dominate to such an incredible extent.

[TaV]: Same question for the reds – is there “Next Big Red Grape” for the Chilean wines?

[VV]: For individuality and exceptional quality, the old vine Carignan from the Maule Valley is making a substantial mark. Also, Syrah has the potential to produce exceptional wines from many different areas of Chile.

[TaV]: For how long do you produce your Syrah wines? What is your inspiration for the Syrah? Is there an international style you would compare Viña Valdivieso Syrah to?

[VV]: We have been producing Syrah for around 10 years. When looking at what we try and achieve, I really look to the northern Rhone, trying to capture spice, black and white pepper. Our style has evolved over the years, initially being more of a new world dark rich style, whereas now I would compare more to soft spicy Rhone style. However Syrah is so unique in that as a red wine every area it is grown in, it produces a wine which is unique to that area.

[TaV]: What is the story behind Caballo Loco? Why all of a sudden to produce Solera-style red wine? Do you produce this wine every year? How do you say it is changing year over year?

[VV]: Caballo Loco, has a long history in Chile, the first edition being released in the early nineties. It was created through a series of events between the winemaking team, sales team, and owners. It is a reflection of the innovative nature of Valdivieso, and not being afraid to try new  While it is based on our solera Sistema, each bottling is unique and such receives an individual edition number. The current edition on the market is the N°16, which contains 20 different vintages. The new edition N°17 will contain 50% of the previous edition (in this case N°16), and 50% of the new vintage wine. This method allows us to evolve the nuances of the wine over time. Over the years new vineyards, areas, varieties, and techniques have been incorporated into the wine. Each new edition is released when it is ready, which is not necessarily on an annual basis. Roughly every 18 months a new edition is released.  The subtle changes over the years for me is principally increasing complexity and depth as we have come to better understand the vineyards of Chile and the opening of new areas.

[TaV]: It seems that Valdivieso ÉCLAT was produced only once in 2011, with an unusual for Chile blend of grapes. As there a story behind this wine? Any plans to produce a new vintage?

[VV]: Eclat VIGNO, is a blend of Old vine Carignan and Mourvedre. We are part of the VIGNO, a group of 13 wineries which has created this label VIGNO. It is an aggrupation which has been lead by winemakers with the objective to highlight the exceptional quality of these old vine vineyards in the Maule Valley. To place VIGNO on the label the wine must contain 100% of old vine from the Maule Valley. Of this, a minimum of 65% must be old vine Carignan. This is also intended to improve the situation of the small growers in the area, an area with many small growers which had in the past been obliged to sell there Carignan grapes for generic red blends, in which they were diluted away. Now with this initiative, the fruit is sought by many wineries for its quality potential resulting in substantially better prices for the growers. There will definitely be another vintage when the wine is ready.

[TaV]: What’s ahead for the Viña Valdivieso – new markets, new wines – what makes you excited?

[VV]: New wines to come, we have some really fun projects coming on. From the Maule Valley, we will shortly have some wines from an organic vineyard, being from an exciting range of varieties. Grenache, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Tempranillo, Tannat, Carignan, Carmenere, and Mouvedre. We still do not have a name for the range, but the quality of wine from these low yielding vineyards is exceptional.

Late this year we will be launching in the Eclat range 3 new wines under the Curiosity label. Cinsault from the Itata Valley, on the coast, old vines being cultivated in the traditional methods they have been using since vines were first introduced into Chile. There are records of wine being produced in this area since the 17th century. Also, a Rousanne, and a Marsane. These two whites look great, and for me show the potential for these Mediterranean varieties in Chiles conditions.

In the markets around the world it is a very exciting time for Chile, after years as been considered the supplier of good easy drinking wines, Chile has now become a very respected wine producer where people are respecting and expecting wines of the highest world class level. As a foreigner who has accepted into the industry I feel very privileged and lucky to have been able to play a small part in what has been this transformation of the wines from Chile.

I hope you are still here and reading this – I really love these conversations – while virtual, they still share the passion and even the obsession those little grapes bestow on us.

I’m sure you are thirsty by now, so pour yourself a glass, and let me share my impressions from tasting of the few of the Viña Valdivieso wines:

NV Viña Valdivieso Brut Chile (12% ABV, Chardonnay 60%, Semillon 40%, Charmat method)
white stone fruit, distant note, light mousse, good acidity on the palate, touch of grapefruit notes. Drinkability: 7+

NV Viña Valdivieso Rosé Chile (12% ABV, Pinot Noir 70%, Chardonnay 30%, Charmat method)
beautiful color, inviting nose of fresh berries with touch of herbs, light, round, touch of fresh fruit, excellent balance, refreshing. Drinkability: 7+/8-

2015 Viña Valdivieso Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva DO Valley de Leyda Chile (12% ABV)
straw color, very intense nose of blackcurrant and black currant leaves, same on the palate but with restraint, nice acidity, black currant, excellent. Drinkability: 8

2013 Viña Valdivieso Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard DO Valle Sagrada Familia Chile (14% ABV, Punta de Rosa Vineyard)
dark ruby color, touch of bell pepper, berries and leaves of the cassis, mint, touch of roasted meat. Palate follows the nose – medium body, good acidity, fresh red berries, touch of cassis, nice savory notes. Enjoyable by itself, but will work well with food. Drinkability: 8

Here we are, my friends. Sparkling from Chile? Yes, please! Cheers!

 

Villa Torrigiani: Traditional Roots, Modern Wines

June 15, 2017 Leave a comment
Villa Torrigiani

Source: Villa Torrigiani

When it comes to traditions, Italians definitely know how to preserve them. Tour the country, and you will see that finding a 500 years old villa or palace in Italy is very easy; there are plenty of places where the connection can be made through even a 1000 years of history. Italians definitely know how to preserve their traditions.

Talking about traditions, Villa Torrigiani, located in the heart of Tuscany,  is exactly one of those well-preserved places, tracking its history back for 1000 years if not longer. Here is the information you can find on Wikipedia:

“In the hills of San Martino alla Palma, vineyards and olive groves have been cultivated for more than a 1,000 years. The estate is located not far from the Via Francigena, the route used by crusaders returning from the Holy Land, and as such a point of passage, the location took its name from Saint Martin, patron saint of vintners and grape harvesters, and Palma (Olive tree), the symbol brought home by crusaders as proof of their travels.

In the mid-1400s, in the very midst of the Renaissance, the marquises Torrigiani, bankers and wine sellers, bought the land that extends from Castellina all the way to the top of the hill of San Martino alla Palma, thus founding Fattoria Torrigiani (The Torrigiani farm). The marquises Torrigiani called on the renowned Florentine architect Michelozzo who designed the stately Villa Torrigiani, which was constructed from 1470 to 1495. The villa, with its numerous halls frescoed by master Florentine painters, is situated at the center of the farm and looks out over the valley of Florence and the cupola of the Duomo.

 

At the beginning of the 16th century, the farm was divided into 22 “poderi”, or farmsteads, each run by a family group, many of whom have descendants who live in San Martino to this day. The farm was so well organized that it was self-sufficient and no longer dependent on Florence, and consequently, its inhabitants were able to avoid the bubonic plague outbreak of the 1600s.

Fattoria Torrigiani remained the property of the same family for around 500 years until 1967 when it was purchased by the Zingone family who carried out an extensive restoration of the villa and an expansion of agricultural production, of wine and olive oil in particular.”

Fattoria San Martino alla Palma covers almost 900 acres, out of which the vineyards take about 115 acres, and about 300 acres dedicated to the olive trees – in addition to wines and grappa, Villa Torrigiani also produces olive oil.

Villa Torrigiani Chardonnay

Now, the wines produced by Villa Torrigiani are unquestionably modern. Unoaked Chianti, Chardonnay from Tuscany, super-toscan – while the wines are rooted in tradition, it is hard to argue that they also represent modern Italian winemaking.

I had a pleasure to taste a number of Villa Torrigiani wines, and my tasting notes are below:

2015 Villa Torrigiani Monte Mezzano Bianco Toscana IGT (13% ABV, 100% Chardonnay, 6 mo in French oak barriques)
C: light golden
N: medium intensity, green apples, touch of vanilla
P: needed about 15 minutes in the glass, opened up nice and plump, vanilla, golden delicious apples, crisp acidity, disputants hint of butter
V: 8-, very nicely made, pleasant

Villa Torrigiani red wines

2015 Villa Torrigiani Chianti DOCG (12.5% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, Stainless steel)
C: garnet
N: fresh, open, medium intensity, caraway seed, touch of sweet cherries
P: fresh, clean, medium body, ripe cherries, touch of cherry peats
V: 7+, needed about 20 minutes to open up and come together, after that delicious all the way through

2012 Villa Torrigiani Chianti Reserva DOCG (13.5% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 12-14 month in barrique, additional 6-8 month large oak botti)
C: dark garnet
N: espresso, sweet oak, ripe plums, tobacco, sweet plums
P: dry, perfect balance, dark fruit, supple cherries, good acidity, medium body, medium finish, fresh and open
V: 8-

2008 Villa Torrigiani San Martino Rosso Toscana IGT (13.5% ABV, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Sangiovese, 12 month barrique, additional 12-14 month in large oak botti)
C: garnet
N: open, inviting, cassis, eucalyptus
P: fresh, playful, polished, layers of dark fruit, cassis, clean acidity, excellent balance. A true delight.
V: 9-, outstanding. I would love to drink this wine every day.

Here you are, my friends. A beautiful estate with a very long history, producing excellent wines. The only challenge we have at the moment is finding these wines in the USA – but hopefully this will change soon. Cheers!

Franciacorta: Unique, Different and Authentic

June 14, 2017 9 comments

“Sir, I will be very happy to work with you to improve the quality of your wines, but I have one request”, said young oenologist. “What is it?“ said Guido Berlucchi, the man famously known throughout the whole Franciacorta for his aristocratic, elegant lifestyle. “I would like to make Champagne here, in Franciacorta”.

The year was 1955, and young oenologist’s name was Franco Ziliani. Guido Berlucchi, while may be surprised, was not shy of taking the risk, and Franco Zeliani got to work. First vintages were a total disaster – awfully tasting wines, blown up bottles. But in 1961, the patience and perseverance paid off, and first 3000 bottles of the Franciacorta sparkling wine came into being.

Mr. Berlucchi invited his influential friends from Milan to try the wines, and they all happened to like it. The new chapter in the Franciacorta history was opened.

Map of Franciacorta

Map of Franciacorta region

The wine was produced in Franciacorta literally forever. The land surrounding Lake Iseo from the south was strategically located along the trade path between Turin and Rome. In the 11th century, the monks created a special zone called Curtefranca to encourage land development and commerce – “Curte” in this case represents “land”, and Franca, while sounds related to France, has nothing to do with it – it simply means “free of taxes” in Italian. The primary focus in Curtefranca was agriculture, and can you imagine agriculture in Italy without making the wine?

As the time went on, the Curtefranca became known as Franciacorta – however, the Curtefranca name didn’t disappear and since 2008 it is a designation for Franciacorta still wines.

That first 1961 vintage at Berlucchi became a turning point for the whole region which was before mostly known for its red still wines. Producers started changing their ways and make sparking wines, and Franciacorta DOC was established in 1967 with 11 sparkling wine producers. Franciacorta became first DOC in Italy to require all sparkling wines to be produced by the metodo classico. In 1990, the Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta was formed and became a major regulatory body for sparkling wine production; in 1995 Franciacorta was awarded a DOCG status, top level of quality for the Italian wines. Starting from August of 2003, Franciacorta became the only region in Italy where the wines can be labeled only as Franciacorta and not Franciacorta DOCG – similar to the Champagne where the word AOC doesn’t appear on the label.

If you are like me, I’m sure you are dying to hear a few more facts. Today, Franciacorta comprise about 7,500 acres of vineyards and produces about 15,000,000 bottles per year; there are about 200 grape growers in Franciacorta, 116 of them produce their own wines. 65% of all the vineyards are organic, and conversion to organic methods continues.

Franciacorta vineyards

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are the only permitted varieties in production of Franciacorta, with Pinot Blanc being somewhat of a bastard child, as the grape is even more finicky to properly produce than Pinot Noir – while some of the producers phasing it out (e.g. Berlucchi), the others love the perfumy bright character which the grape can impart on the resulting wines.

Franciacorta’s climate is very conducive to getting grapes ripen perfectly. The climate is generally mild, with consistently warm summer days. The Lake Iseo creates a cooling effect during the summer nights, helping grapes to reach the levels of phenolic ripeness which is very difficult to achieve (if not impossible) in the Champagne. During winter, the lake provides a softening effect, protecting vines from the very low temperatures.

Unquestionably Champagne was an inspiration for the ways and means of the Franciacorta sparkling wines – as expected if you use metodo classico production. However, Franciacorta is largely moving past the “Champagne copycat” status and actively seeks and creates its own unique style, not only by stricter aging requirements (both non-vintage and vintage Franciacorta must be aged on the lees for longer than the Champagne in the same category), but by the whole method of production – for instance, by using only stainless steel tanks for the fermentation or relying much less on blending and more on the quality of the grapes from the given vintage.

Franciacorta is obsessed with quality. It starts in the vineyard, where even if not certified, most of the grapes are growing as organic. New vines are often planted at a very high density, to force the roots to go deep down as they have no room to grow to the sides. The yield is well limited to about 4 tons per acre. All the grapes are harvested by hand (this is a requirement of Franciacorta DOCG). The grapes are cooled down before the pressing – and in the case of Ca’del Bosco, one of the premier producers in the region, the grapes are even washed and then dried, using specially created complex of the machines.

Getting the grapes into the winery is only the beginning of the quest for quality. We talked to many winemakers, and they were all repeating the same words – “gentle pressing”. There is a tremendous focus on gentle handling of the grapes, using various types of presses. Arturo Ziliani, the son of Franco Ziliani, who is in charge of winemaking at Berlucchi, gave us the best explanation. “Think about a lemon. Cut it, and right under the skin, you will see the white layer – pith. When you quickly juice the lemon, lots of that pith ends up in the juice, rendering it cloudy – and adding bitterness and extra acidity. If we would juice the lemon slowly without destroying the pith, the resulting juice would be clear – and lemonade would need a lot less sugar to make. While much thinner, grapes also have the layer of pith right under the skin – and when we press the grapes, we want to avoid crushing it as much as possible”.

Even gentle pressing alone is not enough. Franciacorta regulations allow up to 65% of grape mass to be pressed. Most of the winemakers press less, at around 50%, in some cases even limiting only by 30%. At all stages of the process, there is a great effort to protect grapes and wine from oxidation; such focused handling also allows to greatly reduce the levels of added SO2 – while the law allows up to 210 mg/liter, many winemakers limit it at only 50 mg/liter.

Official Franciacorta Glass

Obsession with the quality. Attention to detail. How do you drink your bubbles? The flute, you say? Where you ever able to perceive the full bouquet of your sparkling wine through that small opening on top of the flute? Well, leave the flute for Champagne, but if you want to enjoy Franciacorta, you will have to dump it (whatever way you see fit) and upgrade to something better – an official Franciacorta glass. It is specifically designed to enhance the visual and sensual qualities of your bubbles in the glass. The shape allows concentrating the aromas. And the glass is specifically made with the slight imperfections at the bottom to help form beautiful bubble traces better (perfectly polished glass doesn’t allow bubbles to form).

Glass of Franciacorta

Obsession with quality. Attention to detail. Passion. So what makes Franciacorta unique, different and authentic? It is all of the above. Franciacorta is a unique place, with its own terroir, its own ways of making the wines, and really its own, authentic sparkling wines. Franciacorta shouldn’t be compared to Champagne, for sure not anymore, not based on the tasting of 50 or so wines during our 5 days there. Well, maybe except one thing – similar to Champagne, it should be simply called by the name. You will make all hard working Franciacorta producers very happy next time at a restaurant, when you will have a reason to celebrate (and every new day is enough reason in itself), by simply saying “Waiter, please bring Franciacorta, the best one you got!”

Travel Diaries: Few Restaurant Recommendations for Prague

June 12, 2017 1 comment

@ Pivovarský klubI recently shared my excitement after spending two weeks in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities on this planet – mostly in pictures. Today I want to share with you some of the dining experiences, just in case if you plan traveling to Prague in the near future.

First, let me give you a “thousand feet view” of Prague’s dining scene and Czech cuisine. Prague is a modern city, so as in any modern city, you will find a mix of different cuisines, and the range of dining style options, from the street food to the beer gardens to the bistro and then the world-class fine dining. Prague is a popular tourist destination so you have to expect to find lots of tourist traps, especially around any historical sites.

Talking about Czech cuisine, the best thing to have in Prague is pork. Pork dishes are done in a number of the ways – smoked pork cold cuts, roasted pork shank and anything in between – I spent quite a bit of time dining together with an international group, and pork dishes always were the most popular and generated the most of the “wow” references. Don’t get me wrong – of course, there is lots more to eat than just pork. The game is big in Prague – venison, ostrich, wild boar – you can easily find all of those on the menu, and all at the reasonable prices. Of course, there is chicken, and the fish dishes would also be worth your attention. If you like pickled vegetables, you might find yourself in heaven – everything I tasted was delicious, not overly vinegary and with an excellent crunch. In a number of restaurants I also saw special vegetarian sections on the menu, however, I don’t think vegetarian cooking is as widespread as it is in the USA.

One more quick note before we talk about the restaurants themselves. English menus are generally available, but not everywhere. In a few cases, we had to wait for someone to come and translate the menu for us. One way to avoid it is by using Google Translate app on your phone, where you can just point it to the text on the menu and get your immediate translation. Download extended dictionary as the basic one might not be enough.

Ahh, sorry, another quick general note. In Prague, you should drink local. The beer is excellent, not matter where and no matter which. Local wines, often made from Austrian and German varieties (Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, St. Lauren, Portugieser and more), are generally excellent and you should do yourself a favor and try them while in Prague, as many of those wines are simply not available outside of Czech Republic.

Now, let’s eat! Well, I meant let’s talk about the restaurants. Below are the restaurants which I’m happy to recommend – there were definitely a few I was not thrilled about, but I don’t see a point of bringing them up in this post.

Kampa Park
Na Kampe 8b, 118 00 Praha
Ph: +420 296826102
http://www.kampagroup.com/en/

Let me start with one of the best dining experiences of the trip. Kampa Park was the first fine dining establishment in Prague, opened in 1992. The location is superb, right under the Charles Bridge, so you get the great view of the bridge and the river – definitely hard to beat. Make no mistake – the restaurant can be expensive, pretty much on par with fine dining prices, let’s say in New York ($50+ pp lunch) – but of course, it will depend on what you will order.

Good wine list with a good number of local wines. Food is creative European, lots of good options. We had cream of asparagus soup which was sublime, and then the pork cheek which was super tender and flavorful. The service is top class – attentive and helpful. Overall, for a great restaurant experience and the views, I can’t recommend the restaurant high enough – I think it worth the price.

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Pork Cheeks @ Kampa Park

Terasa U Prince
Staromestské námestí 29, 110 00 Praha-1
Ph: +420 602 462 260
https://www.terasauprince.com/terrace

The restaurant is located on the roof of U Prince hotel. It is notoriously difficult to get in and suggested reservations are two weeks in advance. However, many people manage to talk their way in without any reservations, so you definitely should try your luck.

Most important part of the experience is the view. There is only 1 (one) beer available at the restaurant, and two different wines by the glass (and none of them were Czech), otherwise the drinks menu is extremely expensive. Food is decent, but not amazing. Creme Brulee is supposed to be very good. But again, the views are amazing, so it is worth suffering for one night.

Prague View from Terasa U Prince

Pivovarský Klub
Križíkova 17, Karlín, Praha 8
Ph: +420 222315777
http://www.pivovarskyklub.com

If you like beer, this place is a heaven. As you walk in, you can see the walls all covered in various types of beer. Everything on draft is excellent – I had most of what they offer and all the beers were one better than another. If you don’t want to drink Czech beer, no problems – there is a great offering of Belgium, German, UK, and others. I had 5 AM Saint by the Brewdog, something which is hard to find in the USA, and it was outstanding.

The food is mostly traditional Czech. Good soups, good pickles, cured meats, port, duck. Very reasonable prices. Good location close to the subway station. Definitely recommended.

Arrosto Ristorante
Mikuláše z Husi 1709/9, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 241 405 964
arrostoristorante.cz

Located in the close proximity to Vyšehrad which I highly recommend visiting as a tourist attraction – great place, located close to the subway station with the same name (Vyšehrad).

The restaurant is charming, especially the room in the back where the tables stand around the big tree. From the name of the restaurant, you would expect that the food will be an Italian, and it is to some degree, but definitely with the local flair. Good wine list with a number of local wines to select from. We had buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and then file of sole with pasta – all delicious.

The Bašta Brewery
Sousedský Pivovar Bašta
Táborská 389/49, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 602 295 403
ubansethu.cz/en

This is a true neighborhood restaurant for the locals, despite having the menu in English available (also in a close proximity to Vyšehrad). You sit down at the communal table, and beer starts flowing – fresh, tasty, simple, without any cherry or mango flavors. Then the bread arrives, and then whatever you will decide on. The menu is not large but offers many local specialties. Cold frankfurter sausage with pickled onions was excellent. Duck fat with crackles was just spectacular, home pate outstanding, luscious and tasty. Fresh crispy fries are a must when you drink beer, right? And then the smoked pork (pork belly and pork loin) was just an incredible dish in flavor, you could smell smoke before the dish was even landed on the table.

The whole price of feast was $25 for two – I’d say you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Of course it is impossible to fit Prague’s food scene into the one simple blog post – but I still hope my personal recommendations might be useful.

One more note before we part – I also ate at a number of “fast food” places – Chinese, Oriental, Pizza, Creperie – and pretty much everywhere the food was reasonably priced and tasty. However, yes – be aware of the tourist traps.

I hope your travels will take you to Prague and you will get to enjoy this beautiful city! Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Unbound Creativity at Killer B in Norwalk, Connecticut

June 5, 2017 9 comments

Killer B SoNoIf you don’t love bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon, this post is not for you. If you love bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon, but you are hungry – I can’t say this post is not for you, but I highly suggest you will go eat before continuing reading. For the rest of you, folks, let’s have some bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon fun!

More often than not, it is easy to categorize a restaurant. “Fine dining” would easily invoke an image of the white tablecloth with perfectly arranged plates and silverware, and the waitstaff enamored with the bowties. “Burger joint” would bring you an image of maybe the ketchup bottles and simple wooden tables and chairs, and, of course, lots of burgers on the menu. “Bistro” would probably not have a strong mental image associated with the category, but it means “easy and fun place”, for sure to me.

When it comes to Killer B in Norwalk, Connecticut, it is not easy to place it into a specific category. Okay, for sure this is not fine dining establishment, it is not snuffed up like that, and you will definitely feel that when the check will arrive. But it is not a burger joint either  – I feel we need a new category – maybe a “burger bistro”, just to signify that Killer B is simply a place where creativity is unbound. And by the way, the “B” actually stands for “bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon”.

Talking about creative, let’s start with the drinks. Killer B offers a number of interesting cocktails. But maybe “interesting” is just not the right word. Two of the cocktails on the list get smoked right in front of your eyes – right at the table. A small glass box arrives together with your cocktail, the pipe with aromatic chips is lit, and the smoke fills up the box. And you are witnessing all the magic.

I tried a few cocktails – Bourbon Mule (knob creek rye, lime juice, ginger beer) was tasty, not too sweet and with the good balance. Bite The Bulleit (Bulleit bourbon, house made ghost pepper honey, lime juice, orange juice, muddled jalapeños, topped with red bull, maple smoked right at your table) was very good, but not as spicy as I would expect,  seeing the “ghost pepper” to be a part of the ingredients. But the smoke was there, so the cocktail was definitely a treat. Smokin’ B (Jim Beam black bourbon, bittermilk smoked honey sour aromatic bitters, strained over an ice sphere, garnished with a toasted orange slice, smoked right at your table) was, well, smokey, and yes, tasty too, nicely balanced and very cool to look at.

Then the Bacon Flight (flavors: bourbon, butterscotch, fire, honey, orange) arrived, and this is when I realize how the real adult candy should taste like. Thick cut, perfectly crispy, and with tons of flavor – this bacon disappeared in the blink of an eye. Seriously, that bacon was simply something else – if you would have an opportunity, bacon at Killer B is a must experience.

What arrived next was simply amazing – Lazy Man Lobster Mac (3 lbs of lobster, Monterey jack,  cheddar,  served in a lobster shell) – can’t be described using any words other than “super-creative” – and whole lobster shell, filled with mac and cheese and lobster – just wow.

Time for a salad, right? First, we had the Wedge Salad (boston lettuce, diced tomatoes, red onions, bleu cheese crumbles, creamy bleu cheese dressing and signature bacon), fresh and crunchy. The Cheeseburger Salad (mixed greens, burger, tomato, onion, pickles, American cheese, creamy bacon bourbon dressing) – was one of one of the “wow” moments for me – how many times you really wanted the burger but not the bun? Here it is – a salad which tastes like fully composed burger (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles), but without the bun! Another simple, but the wildly creative dish, if you ask me.

We continued with Volcano Potatoes (bacon-wrapped baked potato, onion, sriracha, honey, oozing melted cheese) – very tasty and again, creative – just look at the color of that dish. Beer Cheese & Bacon Nachos (house made potato chips, beer cheese, bacon, salsa fresca, black olives, sour cream) were simply dangerous  – nobody could stop eating this dish until the last tiny morsel disappeared! Bacon-wrapped Fried Mozz (fried bacon wrapped mozzarella, bourbon bacon sauce) was another delicious concoction – who can say no to bacon and melted cheese?

Then we had Bacon Cast Iron Mac and Cheese (candied bourbon bacon, bacon, more bacon) which I’m not sure I can properly represent (I mean how good it was), so let me explain it to you this way. I brought the leftovers of this dish home. My daughter loves mac and cheese (who doesn’t?), but she doesn’t like bacon. As the leftovers didn’t have any visual bacon presence, I decided not to tell her and see her reaction. She starts eating, she is clearly happy, then she turns her head to me and says “it has bacon, right?”. “Yep” was my short answer. She continues “it’s soooo good!”. So yep, that’s how good this mac and cheese was.

Mac'n'Cheese at Killer B

Now, we finally arrived at the burgers! We had an opportunity to try 3 different burgers, each with its own unique presentation and its own taste profile.

Killer B (double-decker pork patty & beef patty seasoned with bourbon & Guinness bourbon candied bacon, LTOP, bourbon bacon mayo, between two bacon grilled cheese sandwiches) was a bit scary to look at – so it definitely accomplished its purpose of bringing a “wow” to the table. But beyond the looks, each component was tasty, by itself and together. The Stinger (jalapeño patty, pepper jack, lettuce, chipotle mayo, jalapeños, sriracha, spicy bacon, chili flake bun) was not too spicy, but what I really enjoyed is the fact that you could taste jalapeño everywhere – so if you like jalapeño, this would be unbeatable. Country Style (open faced, Lettuce Tomato, BBQ sauce, black bean corn salsa, onion rings, corn bread) was also unique, sporting some of the very best onion rings I ever had – crispy and crunchy, overall – an excellent burger.

Killer B Burger

The Stinger Burger at Killer B

Country Style Burger at Killer B Now, I have two questions for you (hoping you are still reading). First, do you think we left without trying the dessert? Second, do you think our dessert didn’t contain any bacon?

No and No!

Our first dessert was Coconut Peanut Butter & Double Trouble Milkshake, which was outstanding, fun to look at, tasty and perfect for sharing. And then (drumroll, please) we had Fried Oreo Cookies with … bacon! Yep, inside of each little roll of goodness, yes, there it was, a bacon. Clear, wild standout – a great finish to the great experience.

There you have it, my friends. I hope you successfully survived this bacon and burger juggernaut, and maybe I even made you crave some. If you are ever in a proximity of Killer B (I use “proximity” loosely here – when you crave something, distance shortens greatly), don’t miss your chance for an unforgettable bacon, burger, beer and bourbon experience. Cheers!

Killer B
80 Washington Street
Norwalk, CT 06854
Ph: 203.853.2326
http://www.killerbsono.com

 

Killer B Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

New and Noteworthy: Red Wines Edition

June 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Recently, we were talking about the Spanish wine samples I had a pleasure of trying. Now, let’s visit some other countries. Would  France and Argentina be okay with you?

Let’s start with something very simple – how about some Cotes du Rhone? Cotes du Rhone reds are known to be easy drinking and soft. They typically can be classified as GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre – however, the exact proportions of those three grapes can vary from 0 to 100%. It is recommended that Cotes du Rhone reds should be consumed within 3-4 years after release, but some of the better specimens can last for close to 10 – still, they are not meant to be aged extensively.

Les Dauphins became a family wine venture in the 1920s, when France was experiencing a “bistro revolution”. Easy drinking Cotes du Rhone wines were a perfect pairing for a vibrant bistro fare, and Les Dauphins became one of the popular suppliers for such wines. Fast forward to today, Les Dauphins offers a full range of Cotes du Rhone wines – white, rosé and a number of reds, still well suitable for a bistro experience. The wine I had was 2015 Les Dauphins Reserve Cotes du Rhone:

2015 Les Dauphins Réserve Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $18, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre)
C: dark Ruby
N: medium intensity, touch of sweet tobacco, fall leaves, plums
P: hint of pepper, good acidity, touch of alcohol heat, graphite, black plums
V: 7, maybe needs a bit of breathing time to round up. Definitely evolved and smoothed out over the next couple of days. 7+ on the next day

Last year, I had a pleasure of learning about Cru Bourgeouis wines, and the wines were so good that I proudly declared that my faith in affordable and tasty Bordeaux wines was restored. This year, I was happy to find out that my conclusion was not an accident, and it is definitely possible to find deliciously tasting [and reasonably priced] Bordeaux wines.

Château Haut-Logat vineyards overlook the village of Cissac-Médoc, located between Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac, and it is a part of the Cheval Quancard properties. The wine was perfect from the get go:

2012 Château Haut-Logat Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc AOC (12.5 ABV, $25, 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc)
C: garnet
N: intense, mint, touch of bell pepper, touch of freshly crushed cassis
P: beautiful, medium body, cassis, eucalyptus, tobacco, touch of sweet oak, medium finish
V: 8, excellent Pop’n’Pour wine

The next two wines come from Argentina, and yes, both are Malbec.

Ruca Malen means “the house of the young girl” in the local language of the ancient tribes inhabiting the area, and it has a nice legend attached to that name (which you can read on the back label above). Bodega Ruca Malen was born in 1998 with the vision of creating terroir-driven wines. The grapes for the Ruca Malen Malbec came from the two high-altitude vineyards – one in the Uco Valley, at 3600 feet, and the second one in Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, at 3115 feet above sea level, from the 22+ years old vines. The wine was varietally correct and easy to drink:

2014 Ruca Malen Malbec Reserva Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, $18.99, 12 months in 80% French Oak/20% American oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of pepper, sage, freshly crushed blackberries, intense
P: medium body, plums, mint, soft, good acidity and overall good balance, medium finish
V: 8-, easy to drink

Nieto Senetiner history predates Ruca Malen’s by more than 100 years – it starts from the first vineyard in Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza, planted by the Italian immigrants in 1888. Today, Nieto Senetiner farms more the 1000 acres of vines, located in the 3 estates in Mendoza.

Don Nicanor Single Vineyard is a flagship wine produced at the estate and it is named after the mentor of Bodegas Nieto Senetiner who was instrumental in setting the direction and the vision for the winery.

2010 Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Malbec Villa Blanca Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza Argentina (15% ABV, $44.99, 18-24 months in French oak barrels)
C: dark garnet, practically black
N: intense, red and black berries, baking spices, vanilla, fresh blackberries
P: intense, fresh, noticeable tannins (French oak), clean acidity, a bit of the alcohol burn, slightly underripe, crunchy berries, more of a raspberry profile, tar. A couple of days later, the intensity still there.
V: 8. Needs time to open up, can’t judge from the get go. Even a few days later, packs a lot of power. Craves food – nice charred steak feels the most appropriate. Will develop over next 10–15 years at the minimum.

Here you are, my friends – a few red wines well worthy of your attention. Cheers!

 

Rosé Showdown – California Versus Spain

May 30, 2017 4 comments

A glass of wine as an “adult beverage of choice” continues its growth in popularity. If we will take a closer look at that world of wine, we will discover that there are two types of wine which are leading that growth pattern – those two types would be Sparkling and Rosé. I’m not talking about the growth in the dollar amounts or number of bottles produced, but rather a growth in attention and demand. Today, you will be pressed hard to find a winery around the world which doesn’t produce at least one type of Rosé and one type of sparkling wine – for sure this is the case with Rosé. The production might be tiny (few hundreds of cases or even less) and far less than the demand is – but it is the wine which commands lots of attention.

Rosé from California and Spain

Another “phenomenon” makes me happy about the Rosé – it is slowly losing its “Rosé is only for a summer” connotation and becomes more and more acceptable and requested as a year-round drink. Rosé is a serious wine, with its own unique taste profile and capability to showcase terroir and grape variety, same as any other red or white, with two additional benefits. For one, I would dare to say that in general terms, Rosé’s versatility around food surpasses the white and the red wines – oh well, this might be only me. And the second one is pure aesthetics – the pink palette of Rosé, with possibly more shades than the proverbial 50, looks gorgeous, sexy and inviting – just take a look above and see if you are agreeing with me.

When I was offered to try two Rosé samples, of course, I couldn’t say no. The first wine was familiar to me, as I had a pleasure of trying 2015 vintage of Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé last year. The second one was the wine which I never saw before – Isabel Rosé from California. Thus it became an interesting experiment to see how the two wines would fare side by side.

If anything, putting Rosé from Spain and California on the “same page” makes sense as Rosé is clearly a “new phenomenon” for both regions, growing to prominence over the last 3-4 years at the most. Of course, Rosé was produced in Spain and California in much earlier days – but it was rather an exception and not the norm – unless we want to count white Zinfandel as a Rosé which I personally refuse to do. Until a few years ago, the only Spanish Rosé I knew about was the one from Lopez de Heredia ( which was outstanding). For the American Rosé, even if they were produced, they were really not that good (take a look at the blog post on Vinography called “Why Does American Rosé Suck” – no further comments needed?). Fast forward to today, and you can find lots of beautiful Rosé wines coming from Spain; American Rosé became a standout, as proven in the virtual tasting last year at the #winestudio.

Our first contender today comes from the first Pago estate in Northern Spain – Pago denomination signifies the highest quality of wines, this coveted level is not easy to achieve. Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé is made out of the 100% Tempranillo, in the “proper” way – by macerating the juice with the skins for 6-8 hours. Don’t you love the color of this wine?

The California’s Isabel Rosé is definitely a formidable opponent, as you can see starting from the bottle itself. Glass enclosure, beautiful shape and painted bottle – really curious how many people dare to discard the bottle once they finish the wine instead of keeping it (all I can tell you that I kept mine). A different but equally beautiful color on the mostly Cabernet Sauvignon wine, again produced in the classic style from one of the very best vintages in California (2016 had almost ideal growing conditions, watch out for those Cab prices) – and at one of the well-respected wineries, Michael Mondavi family estates.

As you can tell, it is definitely a game of equals, and for what it worth, my tasting notes are below:

2016 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé Tempranillo (14% ABV, $20, 100% Tempranillo)
C: bright concentrated pink
N: onion peel, fresh crunchy berries
P: intense, red fruit, plums, crisp, good acidity, medium body, will stand to wide variety of dishes
V: 8-, excellent

2016 Isabel Rosé by Michael Mondavi Family Estate California (13.5% ABV, $15, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23.5% Barbera, 1.5% Muscat)
C: light pink
N: intense fresh strawberries, herbal undertones
P: strawberries, good acidity, very dry – not bone dry, but quite dry, refreshing
V: 8-/8, light but affirmative, don’t overchill – needs to warm up a bit to become richer

Well, here we are, my friends. There was only one winner in this competition – me. Yes, I got to enjoy two outstanding wines, which will perfectly fit any table at any occasion,  and at the price, an absolute majority of the budgets. Both will be great on a summer day, a winter day, with food or without it. Grab one or both, chill and enjoy! And if you had any one of these wines, I would be really interested in your opinion. Cheers!

 

New and Noteworthy: Few Spanish Wine Samples

May 16, 2017 3 comments

If you read this blog for any period of time, you know that Spanish wines have my unquestionable love. From Rioja to Rias Biaxas to Priorat to La Mancha – Spain offers lots of tasty wines, often at an unbeatable value.

Spanish wines

I would rarely refuse a sample of Spanish wines, as this is the best opportunity to try new vintages and share my thoughts. What you can see below are few of the samples I got during February and March – all new vintages and all should be available right now at your favorite wine store.

Bodegas Beronia well known for its Rioja wines, but this time it is a white wine from Rueda we are talking about, made from 100% Verdejo. I love Verdejo wines when they have enough of the crisp acidity but don’t go too far into the grassy notes to become Sancerre twin. This wine was excellent, and a great value:

2015 Bodegas Beronia Rueda DO (13% ABV, $12, 100% Verdejo)
C: Light Golden
N: bright, inviting, invigorating, white stone fruit, ripe peach, touch of tropical fruit with a distant herbal underpinning
P: fresh, perfect acidity, touch of fresh cut grass (tiny), sweet lemon notes, refreshing
V: 8-/8, excellent wine, lots of pleasure, and a great QPR

Bodegas Torres might not be a household name in the USA, however, Torres Family is the biggest wine producer in Spain – which, luckily, doesn’t affect the quality of the wines. I had many different Torres wines from many different Spanish regions, and those wines rarely disappoint:

2013 Torres Celeste Crianza Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $20, 100% Tempranillo)
C: dark garnet
N: muted nose of baking spices, lavender, touch of roasted meat
P: dark fruit, good acidity, refreshing, open, plums
V: 7+, fresh, simple, easy to drink

Rioja Gran Reserva for $25? Yes, please, but let me taste it first? Gran Reserva is expensive to make – think about all the cellaring time the wine requires (5 years total) to be officially marked as Gran Reserva. So $25 is a great price for the Gran Reserva if it tastes good – and this wine was outstanding:

2005 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva Rioja DOC (14% ABV, $25, 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano)
C: garnet
N: delicious, touch of barnyard, ripe black fruit, intense
P: black fruit, cedar box, sweet tobacco, succulent, fresh clean acidity, delicious.
V: 8/8+, outstanding, great example of Rioja potential, no sign of age, great QPR

Txakolina still can be considered a rare wine in the US – those wines are trickling in, but can’t compete for attention in any way compared to Albariño, Verdejo or even Godello (yes, I’m mixing grapes and places – Txakolina is a region in the Basque area, where the white wines are typically made form the grape called Hondarrabi Zuri – the rest of them are grapes). Txakolina wines are usually “unique and different”, as was this particular wine:

2014 K5 Arginano Uhin Berdea Hondarrabi Zuri Getariako Txakolina DO (11% ABV, $22, 100% Hondarrabi Zuri)
C: golden
N: touch of vanilla, ripe white fruit
P: very interesting, cut through acidity of Muscadet, but plump body and mouthfeel of Marsanne. Outstanding pairing with herb-crusted goat cheese – might be the best cheese pairing I ever experienced.
V: 7+, worth trying, especially with the food

Let’s finish today’s line with practically a classic – Albariño from Rias Baixas area in Galicia. Albariño typically is a seafood friendly wine – and the one below was a perfect example:

2015 Fillaboa Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $20, 100% Albariño)
C: light golden
N: fresh white fruit, tropical, guava, inviting
P: clean, medium body, good acidity, lemon, refreshing, very quaffable, medium lemon zest finish
V: 8-, very good rendition of Albariño

That’s all I have for you today, my friends. What were your new and noteworthy discoveries? Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Beautiful Prague

May 15, 2017 8 comments

For the first time I visited Prague in 1990 (if memory serves me right, of course). I have some scarce memories of that trip – Charles Bridge, Clock Tower, Gothic architecture and a street the food in form of the waffle with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I always wanted to come back and experience Prague once again – and finally opportunity presented as one of my business meetings took me there.

You know how it can be dangerous to rely on the past experiences while setting the expectations? Everything changes – we change, everything around us changes as well – “you can’t enter the same river twice”. And the best moment in any experience is when you say – ahh, it is even better than I expected.

That is my feeling about the Prague. Beautiful city, all covered with the red roofs (somehow, red roofs have a magical effect on me), beautifully colorful buildings, castles and cathedrals everywhere – you derive the pleasure from anywhere you look (well, sadly, once you step a little away from the old town, you see lots of graffiti and simply start dreaming about all the pain which should be inflicted on the people who do that, but this is way outside of the subject of this post).

I’m not going to try to describe my impressions in words – instead, let me inundate you with pictures – lots and lots of pictures of the beautiful town of Prague. And when I say lots and lots, I actually mean it…

Prague Views

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Don’t think you will find vine grapes growing in New York’s Central Park, but you do in Prague!

Spring in Prague

Prague Vltava River

Prague Vltava River

Prague Views

 

Prague Views

Prague Views

Prague Views

Red Roofs of Prague

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Streets of Prague - Trdelnik

These two peeing man (the parts of their bodies which attract the most attention are not only releasing the water, but also moving – heard quite a range of comments from the spectators:

Peeing man sculpture at Kafka Museum

Peeing man sculpture kafka Museum

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castle Cathedral Fragment

Prague Castles and Cathedrals (1)

The legend has it that St. John of Nepomuk was executed for refusing to give the details of queen’s confession to the king. The St. John is honored with his own statue on the Charles Bridge. The legend also has it that if you will touch two of the fragments on the bottom of the statue, you wish will b granted. However, it seems that the legend might not get it exactly right – take a look at this blog post to learn what exactly do you need to touch:

Let me leave you with the love locks at the Charles Bridge – Prague is a beautiful city which is easy to fall in love with. Cheers!

Love Locks near Charles Bridge in Prague

Thinking About Albariño, or Notes from Albariño Deep Immersion with Snooth

May 11, 2017 3 comments

For the first time I tried Albariño wine around 12 years ago, during my brief stint as a sommelier at a small restaurant. I remember the producer –  Burgans. I remember liking the wine quite a bit, and since that time, Albariño surely became a part of my regular “wines to drink” list. My longest (and still current) Albariño love is Bodegas La Caña Albariño, which typically has a small amount of wine aged in oak, offering great level of complexity – but this is not what we will be talking about today.

The history of Albariño traces back to the 12th century in the Rias Baixas region in Spain (legend has it that Rias Baixas was a resting place for a brief moment for the God’s hand after the creation – you don’t have to believe it, of course). In 1980, Rias Baixes became a DO named after it’s main grape, Albariño, changing its name to Rias Baixas DO in 1986 (EU laws don’t allow for the Denomination of Origin to be named after a single grape). Over the years, Albariño started finding its way to the consumers around the world, often touted as an alternative to the Chardonnay. Considering the location (Atlantic coast) and cuisine (heavily dominated by shellfish/fish) of Rias Baixes, it is not surprising that Albariño, which typically shows crisp acidity, is perfectly marrying variety of seafood dishes.

If you think about winemaking around the world, there are some common trends no matter where the wines are made. One particular trend I want to mention is better understanding of the local terroir. Every new vintage adds the details to the knowledge of successes and failures – which vineyard produced better fruit, how the fruit was different, how even better fruit can be produced. With this knowledge, winemakers can identify the differences between seemingly close vineyards, understand that those differences are not accidental, and that those differences are worthy to be noted, used and even stressed – now the one, seemingly monolithic “terroir” region can be split into a smaller pieces.

This is what leads to the creation of the new regions and sub-regions, and you can see it around the world. For instance, only a few years ago, practically all Sauvignon Blanc wines from Marlboro in New Zealand were only identified on the labels as Marlboro. Today, Marlboro Sauvignon Blanc wines proudly identify themselves as Wairau Valley or Awatere Valley, and you can find detailed notes stressing their unique characteristics.

Rias Baixas Wiune Regions Map

Rias Baixas Map wine regions map. Source: Rias Baixas Wine

Same processes of creating smaller, more focused viticultural areas is taking place all over the world – and Rias Baixas is not an exception. Today, Rias Baixas DO has 5 defined sub-regions – Val do Salnés, the oldest and best known source of Albariño wines; Soutomaior, Contado do Tea, O Rosal and Ribeira do Ulla. Each sub-region has its own soil and climate conditions, the terroir, which translates into the differences in the wines.

Last week I was lucky to participate in the special virtual tasting organized by Snooth, one of the best online sources of the wine knowledge. In the tasting, we had an opportunity to experience 10 different Albariño wines, representing 3 different sub-regions, and of course to discuss the wines in the rapid-fire chat.

I have to honestly admit – I didn’t wait until the official tasting to taste the wines – as the wines arrived a few weeks before the tasting, I took my time to try them slowly, as 10 wines within one our and engaging conversation using one’s fingers is quite difficult to do. I also didn’t know the order of tasting, so my tasting was done at random, where during our online chat the tasting was going from one sub-region to another – the tasting notes below appear in the tasting order at the event.

Here are my notes:

Sub-region: Val do Salnés: 

2015 Martin Codax Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $16.99)
C: light yellow
N: medium intensity, fresh lemon notes
P: lemon and lemon zest, cut through acidity, medium palate, clean
V: 7+, surprisingly nice pairing with a spicy pepper spread

2015 Condes de Albarei Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $15)
C: light golden
N: medium intensity, lemon, green apple
P: touch of sweetness, Meyer lemon, good acidity, medium body, clean
V: 7/7+, nice, simple

2015 Vionta Albariño Limited Release Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $15)
C: light golden
N: medium intensity, grassy, more of a Sancerre style, touch of lemon and hay
P: crispy, fresh, clean acidity, lemon, medium body, good balance overall, round
V: 7+/8-, very well executed.

2016 Pazo Señorans Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13.5% ABV, $25)
C: straw
N: medium intensity, grass, fresh lemons
P: crisp acidity, touch of salinity, lemon, touch of volcanic minerality, interesting complexity
V: 8-, drinkable by itself, but craves food

Sub-region: Contado do Tea:
2015 Pazo de San Mauro Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $17)
C: light straw
N: honey, flowers, honeydew, delicious and inviting
P: great complexity, touch of honey without sweetness – you know you have honey in the glass, but no sugar, clean acidic finish, medium body, unusual and interesting
V: 8/8+, most interesting of the group, very unusual

2016 Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18)
C: straw pale, a welcome relief from all the 2015 so far
N: intense, lemon, candied lemon
P: off-dry, bright, crisp, white plums, hint of pineapple
V: 8-, nice and pleasant, easy to drink

Sub-region: O Rosal

2015 Altos de Torona Albariño Sobre Lías Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $14)
C: light golden
N: minerality, white stone fruit, medium intensity
P: fresh, crisp, nice lemon notes, craving oysters, cut through acidity
V: 8-/8, nice on its own on a hot summer day, and will be great with seafood, especially shellfish.

2015 Santiago Ruiz O Rosal White Wine Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $20, blend of Albariño and Loureiro with small addition of Treixadura)
C: straw
N: medium intensity, nice white fruit (peach) and floral notes, touch of tropical fruit like guava
P: medium body, soft, round, white stone fruit, good acidity, fresh, excellent balance
V: 8-/8, definitely one of my favorites

2015 Valmiñor Albariño Edición Especial 10 Años Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18.99)
C: golden
N: intense, white stone fruit, fresh, white plums
P: lip smacking acidity, fresh, open, lemon, herbs, very dry, medium body, medium finish
V: 7+, very pleasant, will be perfect for any summer day, or any day with seafood. Makes you crave oysters.

2015 Bodegas Terras Gauda Abadía de San Compo Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $20)
C: golden
N: medium intensity, touch of lemon, white stone fruit
P: clean acidity, slightly off dry, under-ripe yellow plums, medium body
V: 7+, nice and quaffable.

Did I clearly tasted the differences in the wines from the different regions? No, I wouldn’t say so – however, as you can tell from the notes and ratings, I liked the most two Albariño wines from the Contado do Tea region. Will the Albariño get more distinguishable – you bet. Should you go and open a bottle of Albariño right this moment – absolutely, go and do it now.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Don’t forget that upcoming Sunday is Mother’s Day in the USA – I’m sure Mom would greatly appreciate nice and refreshing glass of Albariño – and note that some of the very cool labels in the wines we tried (wink, wink). Cheers!