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Spanish Wines: Beyond The Reds

November 3, 2019 3 comments

Let me ask you something: if you hear the words “Spanish wine”, what is the first type of wine which comes to mind – red, white or Rosé? I’m a self-admitted Spanish wine aficionado, and I can honestly tell you that my first association will be “red”, then probably Rosé, and only then white (when it comes to Spain, your wine type choices are quite wide, as you got also Cava, Jerez, Málaga – but let’s not make it too complicated).

There is a good chance that your associations were the same – Spanish wine equals Red. I certainly started my Spanish wine love embrace from the Rioja, best known for its reds with Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia, one of the best white wines made in Spain, being rather a curiosity than a norm. It took me several years until I heard the name Albariño and tasted what is today probably best known Spanish white wine. And then, of course, let’s not forget about the Rosé revolution which took place around the world over the last 5 years or so – Spain gladly joined the movement with wonderful Rosé, or rather, Rosado renditions of Grenache and Tempranillo rapidly showing up over the Spanish wine map.

Let’s explore a bit a Spanish non-red wine scenery – as I like to say, have wine – will travel. First stop – Rueda, the wine region located almost in the middle of the country.

Rueda is a part of the Castilla y León region in Central Spain. History of winemaking in Castilla y León goes back to the 10th/11th centuries and closely associated with the arrival of Catholic monks, who started vine cultivation and winemaking. We can say that the modern part of winemaking history in Castilla y León started in 1980 with Rueda becoming the first local winemaking region to receive the status of D.O. which stands for Designation of Origin, the quality designation in Spanish wine.

The majority of Rueda vineyards are located at an altitude of 800m (2400 FT) and higher. Rueda is known for its extreme climate conditions, where diurnal temperature shift can reach 50 degrees during the day – which is actually good for the grapes, as it helps to concentrate flavors, sugars and acidity. White grape called Verdejo is typically associated with Rueda wines, even though Sauvignon Blanc wines can also be found coming out of Rueda.

I thought it would be appropriate to give you some fun facts about Rueda, taken from Ribera and Rueda wine website: ”

  • There are 32,500 acres of vineyards in Rueda, of which 28,800 acres are Verdejo.
  • The area has 69 wineries and is cultivated by over 1,500 growers.
  • To be “Rueda Verdejo”, wines must contain at least 85 percent Verdejo.
  • Verdejo is harvested at night to allow the grapes to cool from the scorching summer heat.
  • Verdejo was almost wiped out by Phylloxera in the late 19th century, but it was revived in the 1970s.”

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to taste a few of the Rueda wines offered as part of virtual tasting at Snooth (here is the link to the video recording of this session if you are interested in learning more). The tasting covered wines of Rueda and Ribera del Duero (I only tasted wines from Rueda), and Snooth had a great wine deal offering related to the tasting, which is, unfortunately, already sold out.

We had three of the Rueda Verdejo wines in the tasting, all three were 100% Verdejo, 100% delicious, and 100% great value.

Just to give you a brief summary: Marqués de Riscal is better known as one of the oldest wineries in Rioja. However, they were also one of the first commercial wineries in Rueda, opening the winery in 1972 and being a driving force behind 1980 DO Rueda designation. While Bodegas Menade might be a new kid on the block, with winery established in 2005, the family had been in grape growing business in Rueda for 6 generations, going back to 1820. The grapes used for the Menade Verdejo come from the organically farmed vines which are 80 to 100 years old. The last Verdejo comes from one of the personal favorites – Bodegas Shaya. Shaya Habis, an oaked rendition of the Verdejo, had been my favorite Verdejo wine for a long time. While working on this post it was fascinating (or shameful, depending on your take – I had been writing about Shaya wines for many years, only now finally doing some research) to learn that Bodegas Shaya was a project of Gil family, whose El Nido (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with the addition of Monastrell) is one of the “cult”, sought-after Spanish wines. Bodegas Shaya project was started by Gil family in 2008, with the wines produced from old, low-yielding Verdejo vines.

Here are my notes for the wines we tasted:

2018 Marqués de Riscal Rueda Verdejo Rueda DO (13.5% ABV, $13)
Light golden
Touch of fresh grass, lemon, lemon zest, sage, rocks
Crisp, vibrant, lemon, a touch of gunflint, excellent minerality, medium-plus finish
8/8+, Delicious white wine – by itself or with food.

2016 Bodegas Menade Rueda Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV, $18)
Golden color
Great complexity, Whitestone fruit, a touch of honey, honeysuckle, interesting undertones of sapidity
Savory and sweet, minerally-forward, Whitestone fruit, crisp acidity, vibrant, fresh, medium+ finish
8-/8, should be good with food

2016 Bodegas Shaya Rueda DO (13.5% ABV, $13, 20%-30% of grapes fermented in barrels with 500 – 600 liters capacity)
Straw pale
Very unusual, dusty nose, a hint of grass and white flowers
High viscosity, roll of your tongue wine, restrained white fruit, Granny Smith apples, buttery impressions of a good balanced Chardonnay.
8+, my favorite of the 3, especially after being open for a few days.

How do you like the trip so far? Now it is time to move east to the region called Cariñena.

Winemaking in Cariñena goes back to Roman times. History of Cariñena wines includes Royal proclamations of “Cariñena wines above all”, and even the quality control instituted at the end of the 17th century, monitoring yield levels and production areas. Cariñena also managed to escape the Phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century. In 1932, Cariñena became the second D.O. in Spain (after Rioja). Here is the link for you if you want to learn more about the region.

Cariñena is best known and typically associated with Garnacha (Grenache for all outside of Spain), and it is also often considered to be the birthplace of that grape. Some of the Garnacha plantings in Cariñena exceed 100 years of age. The second important red grape in Cariñena actually shares its name with the region – it is called Cariñena, and also known locally as Mazuelo, and outside of Spain as Carignan. Other red grapes can also be found in the region – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Monastrell, Syrah, Tempranillo, Vidadillo. White wine production in Cariñena is much less than red; you can find Chardonnay, Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo (Viura), Moscatel, and Parellada growing there.

At the beginning of the post, we mentioned the “Rosé revolution”. So very appropriately, I had an opportunity to taste two Cariñena Rosado wines, made out of Garnacha, and the Chardonnay coming from one of the favorite producers, Bodegas San Valero. Here are my notes:

2018 Bodegas Paniza Fábula de Paniza Garnacha Rosé Cariñena DOP (13.5% ABV)
Beautiful salmon pink
Delicate nose of tart strawberries with a touch of lemon
Crisp, clean, refreshing, tart strawberries, good minerality, a hint of cranberries
8, excellent Rosé, a perfect wine for a summer day, but will work well with food at any time.

2018 El Circo Payaso Garnacha Rosé Cariñena DOP (13% ABV, $10)
Intense pink
Wild ripe strawberries
Ripe Strawberries all the way, good acidity, lemon, medium body
7+/8-, craves food

2017 Bodegas San Valero Particular Chardonnay Cariñena DOP (12.5% ABV)
Light golden
Touch of vanilla and apple, a hint of white flowers
Crisp, clean, fresh lemon, a touch of white pepper, vanilla, a round finish.
7+/8-, definitely a delightful wine

Here you are, my friends – Spain makes delicious wines, and not all of those wines are red. And let’s not forget that those wines represent an amazing value. Do you have any favorite Spanish white wines? 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!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, #VerdejoDay Tomorrow, French Laundry Story, Generous Pour Is Back!, Of Clones and Varietals, and more

June 11, 2014 11 comments

PedroXimenezTrianaMeritage time!

Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #105, Grape Trivia – Blends, Part 9.

For the long time, the grape trivia series was focused on the single grapes. But now we are stirring things up, so all the questions in the quiz are about blends (well, even if it is a blend of one ), as most of the wines in the world are actually blends. As usual, there were 5 questions in the quiz.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: Amarone, a powerful dry Italian wine, made out of the sun-dried grapes (appasimento), was actually a result of the accident (complete fermentation of all the sugar) during the process of making of the sweet wine in the same region. This sweet wine is still produced today, albeit in the very small quantities – but it used to be quite famous hundreds of years ago. Can you name this sweet wine?

A1: Recioto della Valpolicella. Recioto della Valpolicella, sweet wine from Valpolicella,  was very well known and well recognized way before Amarone was discovered for the first time. While production of Recioto dramatically decreased over the last few decades, currently Recioto is in the revival and it is drawing more interest, both among producers and consumers.

Q2: These two red sweet wines are primarily made out of all three types of Grenache grapes – Noir, Gris and Blanc, but one of them also allows the use of Carignan grape. Can you name these two wines (I’m looking for the name of appellations, not particular producers) and also specify which one of the two allows the use of Carignan?

A2: As it almost became a tradition for me with this Blend series, here is yet another question where I goofed up. Yes, the sweet wines of Banyuls in France are made predominantly from Grenache grapes – Noir, Gris and Blanc, and Carignan is also an allowed grape in Banyuls. But then there are more than one appellation which uses all three Grenache grape types in production of the sweet wines – Riversaltes ( this was my intended answer), Maury and Rasteau would all fit the bill here. Anyway, I keep learning, and anyone who answered  “Banyuls” is getting a point here.

Q3: This rare red dessert wine is made out of Nebbiolo grapes, and one of its characteristics is incredible aromatics. Can you name this wine?

A3: Barolo Chinato. This wine is made as Barolo, from the Nebbiolo grapes, but with the addition of aromatic herbs – it is a pure symphony in the glass.

Q4: This sweet wine, while typically made from the single grape variety, might claim the prize of “ultimate blend”, as it represents a blend of wines of many different ages, potentially tracing hundreds years of history in some of the bottling. Can you name this wine and explain about “hundred years of history”?

A4: Sweet Sherry, a.k.a Jerez, is typically made out of grape called Pedro Ximenez, and it is aged using so called Solera method – portion of the wine from the old (or oldest) barrel is bottled, and then the barrel is topped off with the younger wine. The barrel is never fully emptied and never cleaned, which means that even in the trace amount, but the very old wine is still present in the bottles, potentially going back to the year when the winery was built (and some of them are 250 years old…).

Q5: This delicious dessert white wine is made by the famed red wine producer in Napa Valley. The wine is made from the single white grape variety, estate grown in Napa Valley, which is of German/Austrian origin (and it is NOT Riesling). Name the grape, the wine and the producer.

A5: Silly me, I thought this would be a difficult question – nope : ). As many of you correctly answered, this dessert wine, called Eisrebe, is made by Joseph Phelps (the producer of famous red California wine called Insignia), from the grape called Scheurebe. A very delicious wine – try it if you will get a chance.

When it comes to the results, again – good participation and we have winners! Gene Castellino (no blog) and vinoinlove both correctly answered all 5 questions, thus they become the winners of this round and get the coveted prize of unlimited bragging rights! I want also to acknowledge Jennifer Lewis (no web site) who correctly answered 4 questions out of 5. Well done all!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!

Let me start from the bad news – for the second year in the row, Bordeaux vineyards experienced the hail storm, torrential rains and almost hurricane-strength winds. The areas around Médoc had been hit the most. I think we are [again] looking at a dim prospects of the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux… For more information (and the picture of hail, quite impressive) please click here.

And now, on a more positive side…. Tomorrow, June 12th, don’t forget to celebrate #VerdejoDay! As I understood from the comments to my post about upcoming #VerdejoDay festivities, Verdejo wines are not that unfamiliar to many of the wine lovers, so I’m sure you will have no problems either to join the festivities in person or at least find a bottle of Verdejo and have fun! I plan to be at the celebration in New York at Tavern 29, so if you will be there, please let me know – will be glad to meet and raise the glass together!

One of the most fascinating restaurants for me in US is French Laundry, located in Yountville, in the heart of Napa Valley. I never visited it, but I read a lot about the restaurant and its star chef, Thomas Keller. As with most of the other success stories, there is not much magic or luck in Thomas Keller’s success-  it is only a lot of hard work and perseverance. The reason I’m talking about Thomas Keller is that I just came across a very interesting article about his recipe for success – you can read it for yourself here. And I really hope one day to write a blog post not just about success of the French Laundry,  but about an actual dining experience there.

Wine [and steak] lovers, rejoice! The Capital Grille just announced a comeback of their Generous Pour program for the summer of 2014. Starting July 7th, 7 wines from California and Oregon, hand selected by The Capital Grille’s Master Sommelier George Miliotes, will be offered at The Capital Grille locations for $25. I always take advantage of this program, and I can’t recommend it higher to anyone who wants to have a great wine experience with their food.

Last but not least for today, I want to turn (again) to Matt Kramer, the columnist for the Wine Spectator. Matt Kramer recently wrote an excellent series about wines of Portugal, but I just want to bring to your attention one article from that series, where he is talking about the need for the mix of grape varietals in one vineyard, almost a field blend, either clonal or the real varietal, to produce great wines. This might be a very controversial positioning – but read the article for yourself and, of course, feel free to comment.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!

Celebrate #VerdejoDay on June 12th – And Discover Great White Wines!

June 3, 2014 10 comments

verdejodayHere I come again with my rhetorical question – how many of you tasted Spanish white wine made from Verdejo grape – raise your hands? Yes, this was quite expected. Meanwhile, Verdejo wines are well worth your attention. Depending on the winemaking style, Verdejo wines can take on the full range of the expression, from light and refreshing to full bodied, complex and thought-provoking. I talked about my favorite Verdejo wines from Bodegas Shaya many times in this blog. 2009 Bodegas Shaya Habis Verdejo, (made from the grapes harvested from 100+ years old vines) was my wine #9 in the Top Dozen Wines of 2011, and 2008 Bodegas Shaya Old Vines Verdejo was one of the wine highlights in February of this year.

Another great example of Verdejo wine is Martinsancho Verdejo, which is produced in the quantity of less than 4,000 cases a year from the Martinsancho vineyard. Verdejo is a star indigenous white grape of Rueda region in Spain, tracing its history hundreds of years back, which became nearly extinct in the 1970s. These were the efforts of Angel Rodríguez of Martinsancho, who used the cuttings of Verdejo vines from the Martinsancho vineyard, to help bring the Verdejo wines back to the mainstream.

Now, what I want to bring to your attention is that instead of listening to me, you can actually go and experience the Verdejo wines on your own! Next Thursday, June 12th, is the #VerdejoDay, which will be celebrated both virtually and in the actual live events. If you live in a close proximity to New York, Chicago, Miami or Los Angeles, you can attend the Verdejo celebration in person. In all four cities, the parties will take place in the restaurants, where you will be able to taste various Verdejo wines (there will be 12 different wines served in NYC), experience Rueda regional cooking and have fun!

To read more about #VerdejoDay celebrations and Verdejo wines, please click here. To register to attend a #VerdejoDay celebration in one of the four cities, please use this link to EventBrite site.

Shaya

Shaya

Even if you can’t attend one of the events, go find a bottle of Verdejo in your local wine store – and you can thank me later. Cheers!

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