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New and Noteworthy: Few Spanish Wine Samples

May 16, 2017 2 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!

One on One with Winemaker: José Moro of Bodegas Cepa 21

January 6, 2017 7 comments

When it comes to Spanish wines, Ribera Del Duero is probably most iconic and best-known region worldwide  – I know some will say it should be Priorat or Rioja, but let’s leave this argument for another time. Hold on, here is a bit of stats to support my statement. If you will look at the Wine Spectator Classic ratings (95-100, best of the best), you will find 38 wines from Ribera Del Duero, 24 from Rioja and only 11 from Priorat rated in that category. And while in Ribera Del Duero, do you know which wine has the top Wine Spectator rating of all times? 2004 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero Malleolus de Sanchomartin.

No, this is not the wine we will be talking about here, but – it is perfectly connected to our story. First commercial wine under Bodegas Emilio Moro name was released in 1989 – however, Moro family’s viticultural traditions and experience go all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century, starting with Don Emilio Moro, a first generation vigneron. Today, in its third generation, Bodegas Emilio Moro continues to build upon a century of traditions and tried and true techniques. And now we are getting to the actual subject of this post – the latest venture of the Moro family – Bodegas Cepa 21.

Bodegas CEPA 21

Photo Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

Bodegas Cepa 21 was created by brothers José and Javier Moro, the third generation vignerons. It is located in the heart of Ribero del Duero region, in the area known as “The Golden Mile”. It is worth noting the Ribera Del Duero comprise highest altitude vineyards in Spain, located at 2,400 – 3,300 feet above sea level. Bodegas Cepa 21 farms 125 acres of estate vineyards, and has another 125 acres under direct control through the agreements with wine growers. All 4 wines produced at Bodegas Cepa 21 are made out of one and the same grape – Tempranillo, albeit it is their own “Moro clone”, cultivated for more than a century.

Instead of inundating you with more information which you can easily find at Bodegas Cepa 21 website, I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with José Moro, an owner and winemaker at Bodegas Cepa 21, and inundate him with the barrage of questions – and now I can share that conversation with you:

[TaV]: Cepa 21 name implies that this is the winery for the 21st century. By the time when Cepa 21 was created, Emilio Moro was well known and very successful business. What was the motivation for the creation of the Cepa 21 winery and the brand overall? What sets Cepa 21 apart from the Emilio Moro?

[JM]: Cepa 21 is the project of the third generation of the Moro Family. We were eager to experiment with a different terroir and a diverse expression of the Tempranillo variety. Our goal was to find the maximum expression of the Tempranillo variety, respecting the finesse and elegance of the grape.
In that sense, Emilio Moro and Cepa 21 have several differences. For starters, Cepa 21 vineyards are orientated to the north whereas Emilio Moro vineyards have a southern orientation. The climate is another differentiating factor (colder in Cepa 21) and the way we classify our wines also differs. In Emilio Moro we classify attending to the age of the vineyard and its vines, whereas in Cepa 21 we classify according to the altitude of the vineyards.
The result: Cepa 21 wines are subtle but structured, fresh and yet complex, elegant and full of personality and they have an interesting aromatic palate.

Cepa 21 Winery

Cepa 21 Winery. Source: Bodegas CEPA 21

[TaV]: What is 21st century winery and how Cepa 21 fits into that image? Are you also trying to appeal to millennials with this wine?

[JM]: From the moment people see the building in Cepa 21, a black and white minimalist structure with an air of “chateaux française” raising among vineyards, they realize they are about to discover something made for this century.  Innovation has also been one of the key values throughout the winemaking process. It’s this union of modernity and our unique Tinto Fino clone that turn Cepa 21 wines into a traditional and yet modern wines made for today’s consumers. I believe it is them who define modern winemaking, and not the other way around… And in Cepa 21 we make a continuous effort so our wines exceed the expectations of these new consumers.

[TaV]: It seems that previous vintage for Cepa 21 was 2011, and now the current vintage is 2014. Does it mean that Cepa 21 wines are only produced in the best years?

[JM]: We have maximum quality standards for our wines, so if a vintage doesn’t have enough quality, we simply don’t bottle it. This is a way of guaranteeing consumers that if they buy a bottle of our wine, it will meet their expectations, whatever the vintage they choose to purchase.

[TaV]: Ever since the inception of Cepa 21, what were your most favorite and most difficult vintages and why?

[JM]: 2011 was an excellent vintage, one of the best in the Ribera del Duero. The climatology was perfect for our variety, with sequential rainfall that resulted in a powerful vintage of great quality wines. 2015 was also an outstanding vintage; hot temperatures and hard work resulted in very promising wines.
2009 was a really difficult vintage. It was extremely rainy and cold, with frequent hails that stopped the vegetative cycle of the plant. It was a vintage to forget.

[TaV]: What are your biggest/most important markets for Cepa 21?
[JM]: Cepa 21 is a young winery, but its growing at a fast pace. We export our wine all over the world, from Asia to the United States, and we continue to grow internationally. The US is one of our key markets this year, but we also focus in European countries and in our own, Spain.

[TaV]: Along the same lines, do you sell in China, Cepa 21 or Emilio Moro wines? Even broader, are Ribera del Duero wines known/popular in China?

[JM]: Yes, we do sell in China and we are proud to say our wines are very well regarded in this market, although we recognize there is still a lot of work to be done. I often visit China and talk about the potential of our DO, which is popular in China but still has a lot of potential.

[TaV]: Do you grow any other grapes than Tinto Fino at any of the Emilio Moro/Cepa 21 properties? If you don’t, do you have any plans to start growing any other grapes?

[JM]: We recently announced in Spain that we are starting a project in El Bierzo. We are looking into producing a white wine that’s 100% Godello, a grape that stands out for its elegance and finesse. We are only in the initial phase, but we are sure of the potential of this relatively unknown grape.

[TaV]: It seems that Tinto Fino is one and only grape used at Cepa 21 (and also at the Emilio Moro too). Do you ever find it limiting (the fact that you only have one grape to work with)?

[JM]: Tempranillo is king in Spain, it is the national grape, and our Tinto Fino clone we use to graft each and every one of our vines is what moves us, our reason of being. No, we don’t find it limiting at all.

[TaV]: On your website, I saw a reference to “Moro clone” – is Tinto Fino from your vineyards actually different from the mainstream Tempranillo?

[JM]: Definitely. We grafted our vines with a unique Tinto Fino clone to achieve the maximum expression of the variety. It allows us to produce wines that age beautifully, that embrace the flavors given by the barrel during ageing and of great quality.

The cluster is smaller and looser, the vines produce less grapes – For us, quality is more important than quantity – but offer fruit that ages beautifully in the bottle.

[TaV]: Are the general challenges facing Ribero del Duero region, or is everything great in its winemaking world?

[JM]: We had to reinvent ourselves due to the economic crisis that Spain has been experiencing for the last years. The Moro family embarked on a new project with Cepa 21. It was a winery that was only going to produce the wine that bears its name, but during the worst part of the crisis we launched “Hito”. It means “milestone” – And it definitely was one. We have never stopped evolving since then.

[TaV]: To the best of my understanding, Cepa 21 practices what is called a “sustainable viticulture” – dry farming, etc. Do you have any plans to advance to organic methods, or maybe even biodynamic?

[JM]: Not at the moment. But we respect the climate 100%… We only work with what our environment gives us, and we use no artificial irrigation.

[TaV]: When it comes to the wines of Ribera del Duero, outside of your own wines, do you have any other favorite wineries?

[JM]: The Ribera del Duero is an area known for its viticulture tradition. There are many great wineries in this area – Apart from Emilio Moro and Cepa 21, I wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite.

[TaV]: The same question, now going beyond Ribera del Duero – any favorites in Rioja and Toro?

[JM]: I enjoy drinking wines from Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Eguren, and Bodegas Sierra Cantabria. They all produce amazing wines.

[TaV]: Are the Cepa 21 wines made for the immediate consumption or will they benefit from some age?

[JM]: Hito Rosado and Hito are our rosé and our young wines and, as such, they are better when drunk shortly after they are released. Cepa 21 and Malabrigo, even though they can be enjoyed when they are released, will greatly benefit from ageing in the bottle: They will evolve beautifully.

[TaV]: What is next for you? Are there any new projects in the making, maybe even outside of Ribera del Duero?

[JM]: Like I said before, we do have a project in El Bierzo with 100% Godello grape. Until we release that wine, whenever that may be, we will continue promoting our wines abroad to show the true potential of the Spanish Tinto Fino and our unique clone.

Cepa 21 tempranilloNow, after reading all this, it is time for some wine! 2011 Cepa Tempranillo made it to the Wine Spectator 2016 Top 100 list, so obviously it instantly disappeared from all of the stores. I was very happy to try the 2014 rendition, which now should be getting into the stores near you:

2014 Bodegas Cepa 21 Tempranillo Ribera Del Duero (14% ABV, $25, 100% Tempranillo, 12 months in French oak)
C: dark garnet, inky
N: lavender, fresh blackberries, cigar box, typical Tempranillo nose
P: ripe plums, well integrated, dusty tannins, eucalyptus, smooth, clean acidity, excellent balance.
V: 8/8+, excellent now and will evolve.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Great history, great present, great future – all through the hard work and passion. And luckily, we all get the wine we can enjoy. Cheers!

OTBN 2016: Two Spanish Jewels, And What The Others Opened

February 29, 2016 5 comments

Vegaclara Mario - Passion I don’t like making decisions. Here, I said it. Not around the wines for sure. But I have a justification for this indecisiveness – and I’m sure many oenophiles will attest to the same. You see, I like to drink aged wines. Despite popular notion from many wine professionals that people don’t understand what is good for them and should drink their wines young (here is the latest piece from Steve Heimoff on the subject), I still like my wines with a little age on them. Heck no, I actually like them well aged. But most wines in my cellar are in the single quantities (yes, that means One bottle) – therefore, if I open it, I will not be able to find out if it will improve with age. As you can imagine, this can lead to many, many “indecisive moments”.

So for the people like myself, Open That Bottle Night was invented. I will not go again into the history of the OTBN – I already wrote about it extensively here. But the event itself really makes you to take decisions and “just do it”.

Yes, the decision making is frustrating. But once decision is made, frustration is out and anticipation and excitement are in. It would be so interesting to understand how the mind (subconscious?) arrives at a decision where there are lots of possibilities, all promising similarly happy outcome (in the end of the day, no matter what bottle you will open, as long as it is not spoiled, you will still be happy – with a 99% chance). Someone really have to study how the oenophile’s mind works. So in this mysterious way, all of a sudden the decision came to open two of the Spanish wines I had for a little while. To be absolutely honest – first I decided on those two wines, then I started figuring out what was making them special – and these wines are special.

Angel Rodriguez Mertinsancho Verdejo RuedaHow special? Both wines were made by pioneers, and they represent true passion and vision which makes winemaking so unique. The first wine was called  Martinsancho, made out of the grape called Verdejo in Rueda, Spain. Martinsancho is the name of the vineyard in Rueda, where Verdejo had been planted since 17th century. But you see, in the mid 1970s, the whole size of the vineyard was only 1 acre, and it was pretty much the last of Verdejo left in Spain, due to natural (phylloxera) and man made (political, economic) causes. Angel Rodriguez had a passion, vision and tenacity to preserve that vineyard, replant the original cuttings on the 25 acres, and literally single-handedly restart Verdejo production in Rueda. Angel Rodriguez’s hard work was even honored by the King of Spain Juan Carlos.

How was the wine? One word – delicious. One of the very best Spanish white wines I ever had. Here are the notes:

2009 Ángel Rodrígues Martinsancho Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV, $17, 100% Verdejo)
C: light golden, very pretty
N: restrained, touch of grass, minerality, almonds
P: great deal of finesse, it is smooth, silky, good acidity, medium to full body, elegant
V: 8+, great world class wine

Our second started with this view once the top foil was removed:

Vagaclara Mario Bottle TopFrom my experience, this doesn’t mean the wine is spoiled (at least so far it never happened), but it still makes you uneasy – there are no substitutes in this game. This was the only hiccup though, the wine itself was unaffected.

Vegaclara Mario Ribera Del DueroSimilar to the first wine, this one was also a product of a passion, a dream. Clara Concejo Mir inherited the vineyard from her grandfather Mario. Located at the high altitude of 7,750 feet, this is first vineyard in teh Ribera del Duero region; the vineyard is also adjacent to the vineyards of legendary Vega Sicilia. While Tempranillo is a king in Ribera del Duero (often called Tinto Fino), Clara also had a vision to add Cabernet Sauvignon to her wine which she called Mario (yes, in honor of her grandfather). She also had perseverance to lobby the regulatory body of Ribera del Duero to allow officially put Cabernet Sauvignon on the label of the Ribera del Duero wine. The rest of this can be subsided to a moan which you will produce upon taking a sip of this wine.

2008 Vegaclara Mario Ribera Del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, $25, 77% Tempranillo, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13 month in oak – 33% French, 33% American, 33% Hungarian)
C: dark garnet
N: fresh berries, touch of barnyard, eucalyptus, black currant
P: yum! (is that a good descriptor?) silky smooth, polished, great depth and concentration, black currant, dusty mouthfeel, flawless, perfect balance
V: 9, a wine of an outstanding finesse

Now that I told you about wonderful wines and passion we experienced, I want to give you a glimpse into what the others were drinking. First of all, I was very happy to see an increased number of posts about OTBN all over the social media – or as at least it seemed as an increased number of posts to me. And then over the course of the week I inundated lots of people on Twitter, keep asking them what are they going to drink (and making sure they will remember about OTBN) – I hope it didn’t cost me any followers, but oh well, it is a good cause. So below is a small collection of tweets plus some blogs posts about the OTBN wines, in no particular order:

The Armchair Sommelier:

Food and Wine Hedonist:

Jean Edwards Cellars:

Peter Zachar:

Wine Raconteur wrote about the wines he will not be opening for OTBN:

https://thewineraconteur.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/open-that-bottle-night-2/

Margot Davies: (by the way, I would really love to try that wine)

Gwendolyn Alley:

Bill Dufton:

Winetracker.co:

DrinkWhatULike:

The Fermented Fruit:

Vino In Love:

These are the snippets of conversations I had about #OTBN – I’m sure I missed some too. So what did you end up opening for OTBN and did you like your choice after the cork was pulled out? I would love to know – you know where the comments section is.

Before we part, I want to remind you that actually you have the power to make any night an Open That Bottle Night – no need to wait a year to open That Bottle. Just do it! Cheers!

 

 

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 14, 2013 9 comments

Tempranillo_AutoCollage_29_ImagesToday is an International Tempranillo Day 2013!

Tempranillo is an indigenous grape originated in Spain (by the way, do you know that Spain has the biggest area of grape plantings in the world?), with more than 2000 years of history. It is black, thick-skinned grape, capable of surviving temperature swings of Mediterranean climate, with very hot days and cool nights. Name Tempranillo comes from Spanish word temprano, which means “early”. Tempranillo typically ripens two weeks earlier compare to many other grapes.  Tempranillo also one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world, with about 500,000 acres planted world-wide.

Tempranillo grapes are naturally low in acid and sugar content, so they often rely on blending partners to complement on both. Flavor profile of Tempranillo typically includes berries, leather (so famous in Rioja wines) and tobacco. Most famous Tempranillo wines come from Spain, from Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, but Tempranillo is successfully growing in many other regions, including Portugal, California, Texas (up and coming star), South Africa, Australia and others. It is also interesting to note that Tempranillo is known under lots of different names (and as such, can throw some curve balls to The Wine Century club aficionados) – it is known in Spain as Tempranillo, Tinto Fino, Ull de Llebre, Tinto de Toro (this grape actually has clonal differences, similar to Sangiovese/Sangiovese Grosso), Cencibel and many others. It is known in Portugal as Tinta Roriz, Aragonez and Tinta Aragonez. But for the rest of the world it is simply known as Tempranillo.

So what is so great about Tempranillo? It has a few qualities which squarely set it on the line with the bets of the best in the wine world.

First, it has a great affinity for oak – Tempranillo wines can age and improve for the very long time in the oak barrels, and the resulting wine will pick up subtle nuances and complexity from that oak.

Tempranillo wines are very good at ageing. Best Tempranillo wines will rival best Bordeaux and Burgundy when it comes to improving with age and maintaining its youthful character. I have a first-hand account I can share with you – here is my experience with 1947 Rioja Imperial.

Last but absolutely not least in my book – Tempranillo wines are affordable! You can drink absolutely fabulous wines in the price range of $20 to $50, occasionally going into the $80+ – can you say the same about California Cabernet, or Burgundy, or Bordeaux? Not really… But with Tempranillo wines you do have this luxury. Of course there are  Tempranillo wines which will cost $600+, but those are the exception, not the norm.

So what Tempranillo wines should you be drinking today, or any other day for that matter? I would love to give you a variety of recommendations, but come to think of it, I can only mention a few names coming strictly from Spain. There is nothing I can tell you about about Portuguese Tempranillo wines, as Tinta Roriz is typically blended with other grapes to produce Port. And while Tempranillo wines are made in Texas, California, Oregon, Washington and probably other states in US, most of those wines are available only at the wineries and rarely leave state limits.

But – when it comes to Tempranillo from Spain, I got favorites! Let me give you a few names of the producers – all the recommendations are personal, as I tasted many of their wines.

Rioja: La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Muga, Vina Real, Lopez de Heredia, Cune Imperial

Ribero del Duero: Emilio Moro, Vega Sicilia, Hasienda el Monsterio, Bodegas Alion

Toro: Teso La Monja, Numanthia

DO La Mancha: Bodegas Volver (one of the singularly best wines money can buy for around $15)

So I think it is the time to have a glass wine. Before we part let me leave you with a few interesting resources:

A vintage chart of Rioja wines, going all the way back to the 1925

A general vintage chart of Spanish wines, starting from 1992

A map of Spanish wine regions

And we are done here. Ahh, before I forget – Tempranillo Day now has a permanent spot in the calendar! It will be celebrated every second Thursday in November. Have a great Tempranillo Day and cheers!

 

Axial Vinos – Spanish Wine Intro

November 8, 2013 13 comments

A while ago I got an email from the Axial Vinos marketing, informing me that two of the Spanish wines from Axial Vinos portfolio had been recently added to the Trader Joe’s wine selection. I was also asked if I would accept a sample of the wines. As you might now, I have a difficult relationship with the samples – I don’t actively solicit them, and I consider each request individually. To be entirely honest, I had less than a handful of requests for sending the samples, and so far I didn’t reject any. I don’t have a strong criteria for rejection, it would probably have to be something like a Crane Lake of Sutter Home, for me to say “no, thank you”, but nevertheless, that makes me feel better.

As the wines which were offered to me were Spanish wines, which are some of my favorites in the world, of course I said “yes, please”. A few weeks later, the wines arrived, and then I had an opportunity to taste them – and now I would like to share my impressions with you.

Before we get to the wines, a few words about Axial Vinos. It appears that Axial Vinos is an export company, which works with the wineries in different regions of Spain, where it sources all of their wines. Axial Vinos portfolio includes more than a dozen of different wineries, located in all the leading regions, such as Ribera Del Duero, La Rioja, Penedes and others.

Now, let’s talk about the wines. From the get go, I really liked the packaging:

Axial Vinos

You know, this additional layer of paper, wrapped around the  bottles, enhances an element of mystery. Wine in the bottle is always a mystery, this is what makes it such fun – you really don’t know what is there, behind the cork, so your imagination can run wild, simply based on all the visual cues – the shape of the bottle, the label, the capsule. Here you can’t clearly see even those details, so the mystery multiplies.

But of course the next step is to unwrap the bottles (and admire the labels):

Avial VinosOkay, so we are done looking at the bottles, let’s talk about the content.

2012 Zumaya Tempranillo Ribera del Duero DO (13.5% ABV, 100% Tempranillo)  – nice and simple, food friendly wine. Hint of dark fruit on the nose, some blackberries and espresso notes on the palate. Tannins are soft and light, good acidity, good balance. Easy to drink. Drinkability: 7

2011 LA MANO Mencía Roble Bierzo DO (13% ABV, 100% Mencía) – what I like about Mencía-based wines as a whole is energy. Somehow all the Mencía wines I tasted to the date have this universal bright and uplifting character. This wine had nice, freshly pressed juice on the nose with the prevailing aromas of the fresh cherries. Similar cherries/plum profile on the palate, simple, clean, medium body, round dark fruit, easy to drink. Drinkability: 7+

NV La Granja 360 Cava Brut (11.5% ABV, 70% Xarel-lo, 30% Parellada) – simple and elegant, perfectly refreshing, just a touch of sweetness, good acidity, very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8-

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All in all, this 3 wines can serve as a perfect introduction into the wonderful world of Spanish wines. To all the lucky people who can buy their wines at Trader Joe’s (Trader Joe’s in Connecticut doesn’t sell wines, so I’m not one of them), I highly recommend not to miss on all these wines. Considering that the Turkey Day is coming, I believe all three wines will pair quite well with the Thanksgiving feast, and I’m sure you will not break the bank to get them. If you will try or have tried these wines already – let me know what do you think.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. Enjoy your Friday – and the weekend is coming! Cheers!

Divine Experience, or Happy 15th Anniversary Brasitas!

July 28, 2013 16 comments

A few days ago I got an invitation to attend the wine dinner at Brasitas restaurant in Stamford, in honor of Brasitas 15 years anniversary. The invitation came through by ways of the Connecticut Bloggers group, run by Wendy and Greg Limauge (if you live and blog in Connecticut, you definitely want to be a part of this group).  Now, take your wild guess – do you think I accepted the invitation? Okay, that was a dumb question, so let’s move on – closer to the great food and wine.

I had been to Brasitas a number of times before, and it is safe to say that this is one of my favorite spots in Stamford. Brasitas identifies its cuisine as “Latin Fusion”, and considering the food which is served there, this is a pretty good designation. Now our dinner this time was a special event. The menu consisted of 5 dishes, paired with the special wine program (courtesy of Brescome Barton, one of Connecticut wine distributors) – so let me share that with you (but please keep in mind that this can make you hungry…).

We started our evening in style, with the Cave based version of Kir Royale:

This Codorniu Brut Cava, Penedes had a tiny drop of raspberry liquor, which didn’t change its very dry, austere character of the Cava. It is interesting to note that Codorniu family makes wines for 5 centuries (starting in 1551), and it was one of the first Cava producers in the region in 1872.

The very first dish of the day was Ensalada Catalana (Baby Spinach, Manchego Cheese, Golden Raisins, Pinenuts, Caramelized Quince, Blue Cheese and Sherry Vinaigrette):

Ensalada Catalana

Ensalada Catalana

The caramelized quince provided perfect support for both blue cheese and Manchego, overall creating very nice and refreshing appetizer.

Our next wine was 2012 Mar de Frades Albariño,  Val do Salnés,  Rias Baixas DO:

Mar de Frades Albarino

Mar de Frades Albariño

Mar de Frades means “A sea that is also a wine” in Galician. Bodegas Mar de Frades started producing wine in Val do Salnés region of Rias Baixas in 1987. The winery is located in the area where river Umia meets the sea, so you can see this sea relationship perfectly incorporated in the bottle itself. The label on this wine is also pretty unique, showing the blue ship on the label when the wine is at ideal drinking temperature (46F – 50F).

This 2012 Mar de Frades Albariño,  Val do Salnés,  Rias Baixas DO (100% Albariño, 12.5% ABV) had muted fruit on the nose, with nutty undertones, then it showed some white stone fruit. On the palate the wine was a little flat and acidic. I don’t know if this was really the right drinking temperature for the wine, as it showed more fruit as it warmed up. It was definitely not the Albariño I know, but I would think that it was specifically produced in this less fruity style. Drinkability: 7

Paired with Albariño was the dish called Pulpo a la Portuguesa (Roasted Portuguese Octopus, Bacalhau & Potato Cream, Charred Scallions, Chorizo, Mojo Verde):

Pulpo a la Portuguesa

Pulpo a la Portuguesa

The octopus was perfectly cooked it was definitely the star of the dish ( as expected).  I have to honestly tell you that Bacalhau was lost for me in that potato cream, and I would probably appreciate a bit more assertive presence from the chorizo, but overall that didn’t take much out of this excellent dish. An interesting side note – this was a first encounter with an octopus for a number of people at our table – but I think they all happened to like it!

Next up was 2010 Ramon Bilbao Crianza Rioja, Spain:

This 2010 Ramon Bilbao Crianza Rioja, Spain (100% Tempranillo, aged for 14 month in oak, 8 month in the bottle, 13.5% ABV) is produced by Bodegas Ramón Bilbao, founded in 1924 in Rioja Alta region. The winery had somewhat of the turbulent past, going through the number of owners but really turning around in 1999. The wine was outstanding (note to all – 2010 was a great vintage in Rioja, make sure to stock up on those wines). Nose was amazing – luscious dark fruit, some hints of eucalyptus. The nose sensation continued on the palate – dark red fruit, soft and luscious, perfect acidity, perfect balance overall, medium long finish. Drinkability: 8

This excellent Rioja was paired with… nothing else, but fish! The dish was called Pajespo con Romesco (Monkfish, Jamón Serrano, Saummer Pea Casserole, Ramesco Sauce, Pisto and Clam Broth):

Pajespo con Romesco

Pajespo con Romesco

How do you think the pairing was? In a word – spectacular! Earthy flavors of the sauce and nice saltiness of the fish wrapped in Jamón Serrano perfectly married the wine! I’m the first to ignore “fish with white…” rule, but in my experience this was the first truly spectacular pairing of such sort which I experienced. Bravo!

This was definitely the hard-to-top-off experience, but the next dish was … well, it was not better, but it was definitely on par.

First, the wine. 2008 Cruz de Alba Crianza Ribera del Duero, Spain:

Crus de Alba Ribera del Duero

Crus de Alba Ribera del Duero

This 2008 Cruz de Alba Crianza Ribera del Duero, Spain (100% Tempranillo, 15 month in barrel, 10 month in the bottle, 14.5% ABV) produced by Bodegas Cruz de Alba in Ribero del Duero region. This is relatively young winery, which came into existence only 10 years ago, in 2003. The winery web site is available only in Spanish, so just on my understanding it seems that this is a new venture of Bodegas Ramón Bilbao.

In general, the wines in Ribera del Duero are made from the same Tempranillo grapes as the wines of Rioja – but typically Ribera del Duero wines are more massive and concentrated than those of Rioja. This wine was no exception – dark fruit, structure, power, cherries, espresso and dark chocolate on the palate, perfect cut-through acidity, perfect balance. Definitely an outstanding example of Ribera del Duero wine.  Drinkability: 8.

This wine was paired with probably a culmination dish of the evening – Chicharrón (Pork Belly Brined in Smoked Paprika, Cauliflower-Manchego Foam, Crispy Cauliflower, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Solera Vinegar, Pickled Cherries):

Chicharrón

Chicharrón

This dish was a symphony of flavor and texture – succulent meat, the sauce with enough sweetness and acidity, crispy skin – all worked together perfectly. Cruz de Alba Crianza, with its sour cherries profile, was creating a delicious combination.

And then there was dessert – Torta de Aceite (Olive Oil and Rosemary Cake, Grapefruit Sorbet, Cosecha Miel Marinated Grapes):

Torta de Aceite

Torta de Aceite

The dessert was paired with Licor 43, a citrus essence with the touch of vanilla, which naturally complemented the dessert perfectly. This was a great finish to the fantastic meal.

Last, but not least – Jaime Guerrero, chef and owner of Brasitas, came to talk to us, which was a great ending for the evening:

Chef and Owner of Brasitas

Jaime Guerrero, Chef and Owner of Brasitas, talking to CT Bloggers

There you have it, my friends – great dinner, great food, great wine, great company – life at its best. I really enjoyed meeting all the Connecticut Bloggers who came to this dinner – Denise (and Jay) from DeeCuisine, Alicia from Local Food Rocks,  Bonnie from Home Place,  Greg and Wendy from Connecticut Bloggers – and I hope to seem them again soon.

And we are done here. Until the next time – cheers!

Brasitas Restaurant
954 E Main St
Stamford, CT 06902
(203) 323-3176
http://www.brasitas.com/

Disclaimer: I was invited to this dinner as a guest of management. All opinions are my own.

Brasitas on Urbanspoon

Notes from Slocum & Sons Wine Tasting in Connecticut

October 8, 2011 1 comment

This past weekend I attended yet another great wine tasting by Connecticut wine distributor Slocum and Sons. Of course when hundreds of wines are presented in the tasting, there is a good chance of finding lots of great wines among them. This tasting was no exception – I had a lot of tasteful encounters at the event. Here are some notes, with pictures, as usual.

Let’s start with the sparkling wines. One of the first wines we tasted was Armand de Brignac Brut Gold (Ace of Spades):

The Champagne is this sparkled (no pun intended) bottle was good, with good body, green apple and zinging acidity running in the back. At the same time, as I’m always looking for QPR when I’m thinking about wine, this wine, the most expensive in the entire tasting, at about $270 per bottle, doesn’t not represent value at any level. If I have to spend this amount on the bottle of Champagne, I would much rather drink Krug.

Continuing sparkling wines category I have to mention Champagne Vollereaux, which is a Growers Champagne. We tried Vollereaux Brut NV, Vollereaux Rose Brut NV and 2004 Vollereaux Cuvee Marguerite – all beautiful wines, full flavored champagnes, with the most expensive one still being less than 1/4 of the price of Armand de Brignac – and delivering more pleasure.There were other great Champagnes there, such as Laurent Perrier and Veuve Clicquot, but I also have to mention a wide variety of excellent Cavas, sparkling wines from Spain – here is the picture of the line up of one of my all time favorites – Segura Viudas, with all four wines being one better than the other:

Moving one to the white wines, there were some personal discoveries and some “meet and greet” with old favorites. In the “personal discoveries” group first I would like to mention 2008 Trefethen Dry Riesling Oak Knoll District, Napa valley – this is  the first California Riesling which I really enjoyed – it got all the beautiful white fruit, balancing acidity and even hint of petrol!

The next discovery are two wines from Bodegas Shaya – 2010 Bodegas Shaya Verdejo Rueda DO and 2009 Bodegas Shaya Habis Rueda DO.

Both wines are made from the 100 years old vines Verdejo, first wine fermented in stainless steel tanks and second one, Habis, fermented in French oak barrels. Bodegas Shaya comes out with very clean fruit and minerality expression, good acidity, very balanced. But once you taste Habis, the first and immediate impression is Wow – this will beat any Chardonnay! I don’t want to push it too far, but I would love to see this wine next to Peter Michael Chardonnays in the blind tasting – that would be a very interesting experiment.

Few more highlights in the white wines category. Three of the Talbott Chardonnays – 2009 Tabott Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay, 2009 Talbott Logan Chardonnay and 2009 Talbott Kali Hart Chardonnay were all outstanding, showcasing balanced wines, with good acidity, white fruit and hint of vanilla. I didn’t have Talbott wines before, so I was very impressed with the quality. And then in the “familiar category” I want to mention two Spanish whites, both of them I got to know thanks to the The Capital Grille’s “The Generous Pour” summer wine program. These wines are 2010 Jorge Ordonez Botani and 2010 Bodegas La Cana Albarigno.

Both were beautifully refreshing, with floral notes on the nose, with La Cana having a bit more of acidity and mineral expression – both wines should be perfect on any summer day.

Coming to reds, the task of sharing my impressions becomes even more challenging – there were A LOT of great ( did I say “great”?) wines from Spain, California and France, so I will have to resolve to more of the pictures than words.

I want to start from the wines of Charles Mara. As some of you might remember, 2007 Mara Pinot Noir Laughlin Road Ranch was my most favorite wine last year (#1 in the Top Dozen). Now, I had an opportunity to try 2008 Mara Pinot Noir Laughlin Road Ranch Russian River Valley. What a radical departure! If I would be given those wines in the blind tasting, I would never even guess that those wines are coming from the same vineyard, left alone made by the same person. While 2007 was California Pinot at its best, 2008 is a pure Burgundy – dry, austere and in need of time – it probably needs another 5 years to open up.

Another very interesting wine was 2008 Mara Russian River Valley Zinfandel “old vines”:

As Charles Mara said himself, he was trying to make a “super-Tuscan”  of Zinfandels, by blending zinfandel grape with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from two different vineyards. I think he successfully accomplished that, ending up with powerful, dense red wine, showing beautiful fruit with a great restraint. This wine also need at least another 5 years to showcase fully.

Spanish reds selection at the tasting was so strong that it is nearly impossible to decide what wines should be mentioned and which were my favorites – El Nido, Alto Moncayo, Muga, Sierra Cantabria, Tesso La Monja – all powerful, beautiful wines, all age-worthy, delivering pleasure right now and for the next 30-40 years (or longer). I guess I would have to put a stick in the ground and say that 2007 Bodegas El Nido El Nido was my favorite Spanish wine in the tasting ( with the second thought in my head – well, yeah, and what about … ) – powerful, with amazing structure, firm tannins, good fruit, very balanced – “wow” was my single word descriptor.

By the way, standing next to El Nido are two Spanish wines,  2009 Blau and 2009 Can Blau – both were outstanding, fresh, with lots of sour cherries on the palate – and quite affordable for every day enjoyment.

There are few more reds I want to tell you about. First, it is Chateau Leoville Poyferre from Saint Julien. I already wrote about great experience with 2005 Chateau Leoville Poyferre Grand Cru Classe wine (here is the link to the post). This time I was able to try first, second and third labels of Chateau Leoville Poyferre – 2006 Chateau Leoville Poyferre Saint Julien Grand Cru Classe, 2006 Pavillion de Poyferre Saint Julien and 2008 Chateau Gulliver Bordeaux AOC.

Chateau Gulliver was the lightest from the group, showing lots of earthy notes on the palate, and both Chateau Leoville Poyferre and Pavillion de Poyferre were big, powerful and well structured wines, with chewy tannins and lots of dark fruit, very balanced.

There was another set of wines which belong to the same group (owned by Chateau Leoville Poyferre), but coming from across the ocean – from Argentina, to be precise. These are the wines from Cuvelier Los Andes – take a look at the similarities in the label design:

Two out of four wines presented in the tasting were my favorite – 2009 Cuvelier Los Andes Cuvee Maule, soft and round, and 2007 Cuvelier Los Andes Grand Vin, a Malbec blend, big and powerful.

Last but not least was a group of wines from Ferraton, coming from Northern France – 2006 Ferraton St. Joseph La Source, 2007 Ferraton Cote Rotie L’Eglantine and 2006 Ferraton Hermitage Les Miaux:

Both St. Joseph and Hermitage were classic Syrah wines, earthy, spicy, with the hint of white pepper and good amount of dark fruit. But my absolute favorite was Cote Rotie. First, I have to admit that it was my first ever taste of Cote Rotie. Actually Cote Rotie meaning in English is “roasted slope”, due to the amount of sunlight and positioning of the vineyards. You could actually taste all those roasted rocks in this wine, creating unforgettable impression. Needless to say this was my absolute favorite in the tasting.

I think it is time to finish – there were still more wines I wanted to share with you, but I think this is enough for now. More great stories is coming, but for now – cheers!

Spanish Wine Festival, In Pictures

June 28, 2011 3 comments

About 10 days ago, I attended Spanish Wine Festival, organized by PJ Wine in New York. I can give you a summary of the event using only one word: Overwhelming. It is challenging to produce any kind of detailed summary, because there are literally no bad wines in such a well organized tasting event. There are some wines which will leave you indifferent, then there are some which are great, but not ready, and then there is great amount of wines where you go from “wow” to “wow, this is great” and to “wow” again. Therefore, I will simply give you a report in pictures. No, I didn’t get a picture of each and every wine I tried. All the wines shown below are personal favorites, and they are all highly recommended. And the good thing is that PJ Wine regularly carries most of them.

Well, let’s go.

1999 Vega Sicilia Unico and 2000 Vega Sicilia Unico, from Ribera del Duero. These are the wines to be experienced – balanced and luscious:

2006 Clos Mogador, Priorat – powerful and balanced:

Lopez de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rioja – 1976 Gran Reserva, 2000 Rosado and 1993 Blanco: 18 years old White Rioja and 11 years old Rioja Rosado – both are fresh and vibrant. Wow! And Gran Reserva – beautiful and mature wine, which will still keep going for a while.

Bodegas El Nido line, including flagship 2006 El Nido – gorgeous layered and balanced, and requiring another 10 years to really blossom:

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero, including full Malleolus line – wines of incredible balance and elegance:

More Rioja – Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 1995 and 1999, as well as CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva 2001

1997 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, 1995 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 and 2001 Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial – probably the best Rioja wines. Period. Classic and amazing.

Representing Toro: 2007 Numanthia and 2007 Termanthia, silky smooth, balanced and powerful:

More Rioja – 2004 Martinez Lacuesta Reserva, great wine from the great year:

Starring Garnacha from Campo de Borja – 2008 Alto Moncayo and 2007 Aquilon – beautiful, soft and spicy:

Jerez, a.k.a. Sherry  is coming back – take a note of it. All Barbadillo wines were simply delicious, and Colosia Amontillado was also right in the league:

I would like to thank PJ Wine folks profusely for arranging such an amazing line up of wines for the event. And if I can make a suggestion, myself (and I’m sure, hundreds of other wine lovers)  would really enjoy PJ Wine Grand Tasting event in the Fall – we can only hope that PJ Wine will be kind enough to organize one…