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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!

Evening With Friends

April 22, 2017 8 comments

I confessed it many times, and I’m glad to do it again – one of my most favorite parts of blogging, and essentially the most important one, is people. Interacting with people is the most prized element of any published blog post; meeting fellow bloggers and finding new friends is a huge cherry on top. I don’t know if the wine has any special qualities, but I have a great personal experience with meeting fellow bloggers face to face for the first time and feeling like I knew them for my whole life.

When I got an email from Jim, an author of JvbUncorked blog, offering to get together a few weeks ago, I knew I had to make it work. When I arrived 20 minutes late to Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in midtown in New York, Jim, Lori (a blogger and the winemaker behind Dracaena Wines) and Lori’s friend, Donna, were already there.

Anatoli, Lori and Jim More often than not, when I know what restaurant I’m going to, I like to check the wine list in advance. Aldo Sohm Wine Bar was opened by Aldo Sohm, the Chef Sommelier at Le Bernardine, a world-famous dining destination in New York City. Aldo Sohm is also known for winning numerous Sommelier competitions and was crowned multiple times as “Best Sommelier in Austria”, as well as “Best Sommelier in America” and “Best Sommelier in the World 2008” – you can imagine that the wine list put together by such a wine Pro requires some homework. I don’t know about you but I love and always do my homework, especially if it is connected to wine at least in some way.

In addition a to the substantial wine list, we had another interesting challenge – Donna liked mostly white wines with the nice buttery component to them – but, she was willing to try new wines, which was very helpful, but – the challenge was on.

Being late by 20 minutes had one lucky consequence – the first wine was already chosen and about to be poured by the time I situated myself at the table. We started with 2013 Kuentz-Bas Riesling Cuvée Tradition Alsace ($40) – and it was outstanding. Perfectly bright and intense on the nose, with a whiff of honey and apricot; on the palate, it was live and vibrant, crisp and playful, continuing honey and apricot flavors, supported by clean acidity. An outstanding wine and a great value at a restaurant wine list at $40. Bonus – we got “thumbs up” from Donna – you know how we, wine geeks, feel when someone says about your recommendation “ahh, I like this wine” – the top of the world feeling. Well, kind of, anyway.

As we were pondering at the next wine, it was really hard to decide, especially trying to make everybody happy again. While we were looking at Italian options, feeling “yeah, might be, but really, yeah?”, I took the advantage of my list studying and suggested to try a California Chardonnay. Not just something random, but a very particular Chardonnay – 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Barbara ($80). Earlier in the year, I had my first experience of Sandhi wines with Sandhi Pinot Noir. Sandhi winery was founded by Rajat Parr, a world-renowned sommelier, a partner at Sandhi winery and one of the founders of IPOB (In Pursuit Of Balance) movement for dialed-down, balanced California wines. The Sandhi Pinot Noir was incredible, which made me really curious about the Chardonnay – and it didn’t disappoint. This 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay had generous, intense, open nose with apples and vanilla, and on the palate, this wine was simply a riot – I experienced similar Chardonnay wines only a few times, mostly from Burgundy, when they get incredible intensity and brightness of golden delicious apples, vanilla and honey, supported by just a hint of butter and clear, vibrant acidity. This was truly a treat. And – yay – we got “thumbs up” from Donna again. Two out of two!

It was the time to move to the reds. While previously looking at the list, I noticed a 2001 Santenay for $77 at the end of the Burgundy section, right after 2001 DRC Romanée St. Vivant for $2650 (need an expense account, anyone got one we can share?). At first I thought there might be a mistake either with the price or a vintage in the online copy (had such experience numerous times), but no – the same Santenay was there on the wine list at the restaurant, for the same $77, so it was not very difficult to convince my partners in crime to go for this wine.

2001 Paul Chapelle 1er Cru Gravière Santenay ($77) was earthy, dry and pretty closed on the nose despite quick decanting. It took the wine a while to start showing some dark fruit, with earthy, minerally notes prevailing at the beginning. I think it took the wine about 45 minutes to give us some dark fruit notes and become a bit brighter. This 16 years old wine still has a lot of life left in it, and it is definitely a food friendly wine. By the way, do you care to guess of Donna liked this wine? Yes, you got that right – no, she didn’t. 2–1.

As our evening was progressing, we got a pleasure of meeting Aldo Sohm in person – he came to our table and introduced himself, so we were able to chat with him for about 10 minutes about all the fun geeky stuff oenophiles enjoy so much – how uneasy it is to find good wines at the good prices, especially when it comes to the Burgundy, with the combination of terrible weather and Burgundy’s love on the upswing around the world. Talking to Aldo was definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

It was getting somewhat late, but the challenge was still in front of us – we managed to score with the white wines for Donna to enjoy, but we had to find the proper red. After going back and force we settled on 2007 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva ($75). La Rioja Alta doesn’t need much introduction to the wine lovers – one of the very best producers in Rioja, making delicious wine year after year. Of course, this wine was still a baby, but within the reasonable price range, we thought that it would have the best fruit representation, which, again, we were hoping would win Donna’s vote. The wine was every bit as expected – nose of cigar box and vanilla, dense cherries, vanilla and eucalyptus on the palate, touch of sweet oak, full body, noticeable, but well integrated tannins. This was an excellent wine, but … Nope, we didn’t win this one. 2–2. But one super-fun evening.

It was late, and it was the time to go home. But I really hope we are going to do it again. And again. And again. To all the friends – cheers!

And This Is Why I Love Spanish Wines

July 7, 2016 8 comments

Yes. Confessed uncountable number of times, in this blog and everywhere (want proof? Click here, here, here, here or here).

I love Spanish wines. Never tried to hide it, so no, there is nothing to look for in the closet.

Spain is one of the so called “Old World” wine countries, with biggest grape area plantings in the world and one of the highest volumes of the wine production. But of course this is not the reason for my high sentiment towards Spanish wines.  What is important, however, that if we will take 10 random wines produced in any country, in about the same price range, I will find the most of the wines to my liking out of those hypothetical 10 among Spanish wines – compare to any other region. Another equally important point for me is the value – Spanish wines offer one of the best values in the world; not only that – they are possibly the best QPR wines in the world. For example, if you will compare 1964 Rioja, which is still perfectly drinkable today and still can be found for less than $150, to majority of the wines of the similar age but from the other regions, most of them will not come anywhere close in the amount of pleasure they deliver, never mind the cost.

And then we have to talk about innovation and drive forward. Spanish wines are not standing still. Styles are changing, wine quality is improving, new and unexpected grapes are made into delicious wines. To make this conversation more practical, let me share with you some of my recent Spanish wine encounters.

Today, Albariño needs no introduction. The star white grape of the Rias Baixas region in Northern Spain is known to produce wines with explosive acidity and profile of salinity, which makes them an ideal companion to oysters and anything seafood for that matter. While Albariño wines are generally very good, there is one word I would rarely associate with them – finesse. Or at least I was not, until I had an opportunity to try these two Albariño.

2014 Bodegas LA VAL Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12% ABV, SRP $17, 2 month sur lie) had greenish/straw pale color; intense and open nose of minerals, wet stone and lemon. On the palate, the wine was plump with invigorating acidity, intense lemon finish, crisp, fresh – excellent overall (Drinkability: 8).
2014 Viña Moraima Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12.5% ABV, SRP $19, 7 month sur lie) had light golden color. Nose was very unusual, with candied lemon, intense, tropical, guava notes. On the palate, the wine showed remote hint of sweetness, full body, round and layered with hint of salinity, good acidity. This was definitely the next level of Albariño, thought provoking and different. (Drinkability: 8)

As you can see, Albariño is really starting to deliver on the next level, and I can’t wait to see how far it can go. What is interesting, however, is that all of the best Spanish white wines – to my knowledge, of course – are made from the indigenous varieties – Albariño, Godello, Verdejo and Viura would be the “major four”. The situation is slightly different for the reds, where the local stars, Tempranillo and Garnacha, are joined by the international best, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Going back to the whites, outside of some experimental plantings, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are nowhere to be found in Spain, yes? Well, that would be my statement as of the month ago, but not anymore.

Enters Hacienda de Arínzano. Having tasted recently Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé, which was outstanding, I know that Pago de Arínzano, first Pago (highest denomination of quality in Spain) in Northern Spain, can produce excellent wines. Still, this 2014 Hacienda de Arínzano Chardonnay Pago de Arínzano DOP (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Chardonnay. 12 month French oak barrels – 30% new) far exceeded my expectations. From the first smell the wine in the glass was screaming “Chardonnay” – touch of vanilla, hint of golden delicious apples, just classic Chardonnay. The palate reaffirmed the “classic Chardonnay” impression – fresh, open, creamy, with perfectly balanced white fruit, vanilla, distant hint of butter, perfect amount of acidity – a delicious world-class Chardonnay which I would be glad to drink at any time – and almost a steal at this price. Drinkability: 8+.

Rioja Beronia ReservaWe talked about new wines and new styles. Let’s talk about quality now – well, not the quality per se, but let’s talk about changing mindset. If you would ask me “should I open 5 years old Rioja Reserva”, my immediate answer would be “absolutely not – give it at least another 5 years to enjoy it fully”. By law, Rioja Reserva has to spend at least 1 year aging in the barrel, and most of the producers age it for much longer, so the resulting wines typically should be given ample time in the bottle to evolve. But once again I was proven wrong. I opened the bottle of 2011 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva (14% ABV, SRP $21, 94% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 2% Mazuelo, 18 month in barrel, 20 month in the bottle) and was absolutely blown away. Concentrated nose of dark fruit, cigar box and eucalyptus was supported by bright, dense, perfectly structured palate, with dark fruit and touch of sweet oak. This was definitely one of the best PnP (Pop ‘n Pour) wines I ever experienced, and a nice surprise. Drinkability: 8+

Coto de Imaz Rioja

I want to mention one more beautiful Rioja wine – this one with a bit more age on it. I like it when I have a reason to open a nice bottle of wine, which otherwise would be still laying down and waiting for the “perfect moment”. The special reason was my son’s high school graduation, and as he was born in 1998, this was the first 1998 bottle I pulled out of the wine fridge (well, I’m not telling all the truth – this was the one I knew the exact location of).

To begin with, I was impressed with the state of the cork on this 18 years old wine – it was perfect, showing literally no age on it whatsoever. 1998 Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva (13% ABV, 100% Tempranillo) still had enough freshness on the nose, with the notes of ripe plum, and the palate had ripe fruit with the distant hint of sweetness without any tertiary aromas, good acidity, medium to full body and excellent balance. I’m sure this wine would go on happily for many years. Drinkability: 8+

Okay, we are done here. Do you think I explained my passion for Spanish wines well enough? Great wines, great values, great QPRs, and lots and lots of pleasure – what is not to love? If you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I would love to know your opinion. Until the next time – cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Few Spanish Wine Recommendations

May 12, 2016 9 comments

I’m an eternal optimist, for sure – I keep creating new “series” of the posts (like the one you now see in the title – New and Noteworthy) in the hope that I will remember to use it all the time. Well, I had or still have a number of series in this blog, but very few of them are current ongoing. Will see what will happen with this one. Here is the idea behind this series: I do get to taste many of the newly released wines, some of them are samples, some are not; the wines which I like I intend to share with you in this series of posts. ‘Nuf said, let’s go.

CVNE winesMy love affair with Rioja started after tasting of the beautiful line up of Viña Real, CVNE and Imperial Rioja (all essentially produced by CVNE), all the way up to the 1964. They were all delicious red wines. For the long time Rioja associated for me only with the red wines, until I tasted Lopez de Heredia Blanco and Rosato, both being about 15 years old and delicious. This is how I discovered that Rioja actually is not only red wines. My next discovery of Rioja white wines was Rioja Monopole (100% Viura), which (to my shame) is produced since 1915 – well, “live and learn” (or “better late than never”, whatever you prefer to comfort yourself). And few years ago I also encountered the Rioja Rosato – so now I definitely know that Rioja is a lot more than just delicious reds.
Recently I had an opportunity to taste the latest releases of few of the white and Rosé wines from Spain, not only from Rioja but also from few other regions, and I want to share those wines with you. I don’t know if this is luck, or if I lost all of my taste buds already, but I liked all the wines I tasted – below you will see my tasting notes on the 6 wines, and I would gladly recommend all 6 to you. As a bonus, all 6 are also a great value (under $20). Well, you will be the judge once you will have an opportunity to taste these wines.

Cune Monopole Rioja2015 CVNE Monopole Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Viura) – the oldest continuously produced white wine in Rioja, starting from 1915. I didn’t realize this was a 100th vintage (assuming there was no break in production years).
C: straw pale
N: beautiful white fruit with tropical fruit nuances, lemon, intense
P: clean, crisp and round at the same time – is it possible?, white stone fruit, medium to full body, refreshing, nice acidity on the finish
V: 8-, this wine would brighten up any summer day

Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina2014 Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina DO (12% ABV, $19, 85% Hondarrabi Zuri, 10% Riesling, 5% Folle Blanche, Vegan) – Txakoli is dangerously looking but actually easy to pronounce (just say “Cha-Coh-Lee”) wine coming from the Basque country in Spain. My first encounter with Txakoli was about 8 years ago – it is a clean and refreshing wine, perfect all year around and especially in summer. Similar to many other Spanish whites, it didn’t make it in the US in any major way, but you can still find some of the Txakoli wines in the wine stores – and they well worth your attention.
C: Straw pale
N: concentrated, intense, inviting, touch of peach, candied fruit
P: fresh, undertones of candied fruit but with dry core. Somehow reminiscent of grapefruit, but without much sweetness of bitterness. Medium body and intriguing, leaves you with a sense of mystery which is hard to grasp.
V: 8-/8, excellent and dangerous. Once you start drinking it, it is hard to stop.

Cune Rioja Rosado2015 CVNE Rosado Rioja (13.3% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Tempranillo) – shhh, don’t tell anyone, this was my favorite wine out of the group – but it is a secret.
C: Dark, concentrated pink, bright fresh cranberry juice level
N: intense, floral, with fresh berries and the leaves – imagine smelling the raspberries right on the brunch with leaves on a hot summer day
P: wow, crunchy strawberries and cranberries which just plop in your mouth as you bite them. Clean acidity, super refreshing and every sip is asking for the next.
V: 8+/9-, outstanding, one of the very best Rosé I ever tasted.

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Viña Real Rosado2015 Viña Real Rosado Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $15, 85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo) – you don’t need my comments here – Viña Real needs no introduction to Rioja wine lovers.
C: orange onion peel
N: very restrained, hint of herbs
P: ripe strawberries, good acidity, medium body, unusual. Second day: delicious, round, refreshing, cohesive. Just needed to let it breeze
V: 7+, need to try again to make up my mind. Second day: 8-, excellent, clean, good fruit presence and perfectly refreshing

acienda de Arínzano Rosè2015 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosè Tempranillo Pago de Arínzano (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Tempranillo) – Pago is the highest denomination for wine quality in Spain, above DOC, and it is not easy to achieve it. You can think of Pago as single winery becoming its own appellation – as Arínzano is in our case. What is also interesting about this wine is that it comes from the Tempranillo vineyard which is designated for the production of the Rosé wine, so Rosé here is the goal, not an afterthought.
C: bright pink, beautiful
N: inviting, herbal notes, strawberries, fresh
P: outstanding. Soft, polished, fresh strawberries, excellent balance, lip smacking delicious, medium body.
V: 8, excellent wine, easy to drink with perfect balance.

Laguardia de Viña Real2012 Laguardia de Viña Real Crianza Rioja (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 100% Tempranillo) – can’t leave you without a red, can’t I? Viña Real Rioja Crianza is one of my favorite wines, and it is also one of the best value wines for about $15 or under (depending on where you shop). I never had, however, Laguardia de Viña Real, so was definitely interested in trying this wine when I saw it in the store.
Once I poured it in the glass and took sip, I was not happy. The wine was rather lean and biting, not what Viña Real usually offers in the glass. I decided to decant it, and then after about two and a half hours, the magical Rioja showed up.
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, cigar box, cherries
P: fresh fruit, herbs, sweet oak, medium to full body, well noticeable acidity
V: 8- (after decanting), very nice wine, but give it 5 years or so.

We are done here – let me know if you tried any of the wines I mentioned above and what you think of them. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – #MWWC16 Vote, #SauvBlanc Day, WTSO Marathon, Chianti in New York

April 22, 2015 2 comments

Meritage Time!

Don’t have a lot today – but a few things are worth mentioning.

First – Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC16, “Finish”  concluded with a very modest 7 entrees. All of you, who were busy (or lazy) – and you know who you are – think about it, this is not cool. I really hope you will eagerly fix that behavior for the next time around, or the whole MWWC will be finished. Nevertheless, it is time to vote note – you can do it here.

Last time I reminded you about whole bunch of coming and going wine and grape holidays, so here I will focus only on one – Sauvignon Blanc Day (known in the social media as #SauvBlanc Day), which will be celebrated this coming Friday, April 24th, [hopefully] right in your glass. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most delicious wines, showing a great range of expression from Sancerre in France to Marlboro in New Zealand to Chile and on to California – it is somewhat similar and ohh so different. One thing in common, no matter where the wine would come from – Sauvignon Blanc always means fun! Festivities will take place all over the world, both on April 24th and onward. On April 30th, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will be celebrated in New York – information about this event can be found on the New Zealand Wine web site. If you will scroll down, on the same page to the right you will see information about various events taking place on April 24th in New Zealand, Australia, UK and Canada. You should check Twitter and Facebook (look for #SauvBlanc tag) – I’m sure there will be celebrations all over the world, no matter where you are. Most importantly  – pour yourself a glass of delicious Sauvignon Blanc – this is all you need to join the festivities.

Wine Til Sold Out (WTSO), one of the finest purveyors on the great wines at the value prices, is doing “it” again. What “it”? Of course the Marathon! This time it is Magnum Marathon, which will take place on Tuesday, April 28th. WTSO went extra step and created a great information page about all of their Marathons, so now it is easy to learn about what, when and how (and I don’t need to repeat the rules every time) – here is the link.

The last one for today – Chianti anyone? If you like Chianti, and live in a close proximity to New York, you are in luck, as Consorzio Vino Chianti will be hosting Taste of Italy Chianti tasting event in New York on Monday, April 27th at the High Line Hotel. The event will be open to the public – you can find all the information here.

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

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – #MWWC16, Grape and Wine Holidays, Spirits Talk on the Radio, M. Chapoutier Tasting, LBW Marathon

April 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

Today’s news are a very eclectic mix – from big international grape celebrations to the interesting, but very local updates. Nevertheless – let’s get to it!

First – this is the last reminder for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC16, “Finish” – the deadline to submit your entry is Monday, April 20th. I don’t think I saw a single entry so far, which is sad, as I think the theme is great. Come on – I know you can do it (addressing myself as well as part of the group) – so let’s just do it!

Grape and wine holidays, anyone? I don’t know who, where and how comes up with all of those holidays, but still, as oenophiles, we must support them, aren’t we? First of all, April is the Michigan Wine Month. Well, this might be a tough celebration for those who don’t live in Michigan – don’t know about your state, but Michigan wines are nowhere to be found in the state of Connecticut. If you don’t have an access to the Michigan wine, at least you can read about it – here is the link to the Michigan Wine web site.

Up and coming in the glass next to you is… Malbec! Friday, April 17th is a Malbec World Day. Unquestionably associated with Argentina today, but really one of the core Bordeaux varietals, Malbec often creates soft, luscious and approachable wines well appreciated by the wine lovers everywhere. Your celebration instructions are simple – open a bottle of Malbec, pour, smell, sip and savor. Don’t forget to say “ahhh” if you really enjoy it, and tell the world about it #MalbecWorldDay.

Next holiday is a Sauvignon Blanc Day (#SauvBlancDay), which will be celebrated on April 24th, less than 10 days from now. Actually, when it comes to this holiday, we know where and when – it was created by the folks at the St. Supéry winery in California 6 years ago, to celebrate one of the most popular white grapes in the world, Sauvignon Blanc. If should be easy for you to join the festivities by opening the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and then sharing your impressions in the social media.

The last wine holiday for today is a 2nd annual Rioja Week, which will start on May 2nd with the Wine and Tapas Festival taking place in Chicago. Again, easy to celebrate – get a bottle of Rioja and drink it with friends!

How familiar are you with the wines of Michel Chapoutier, one of the oldest producers in France (established in 1808), best known for his Rhône wines? Whether you are well familiar or not, you are not going to miss out on a tasting of a few of Chapoutier’s Hermitage wines, wouldn’t you? On April 19th, Total Wines & More, one of the largest wine retailers in US, will be conducting a virtual tasting event, where you will have an opportunity to taste (for real) some of the great wines made by Michel Chapoutier. The tasting will take place at the Total Wines stores near you – for more information and to get tickets (priced at $25) please use this link.

Be forewarned – the madness is coming! Nope, not the apocalypse type. Just a simple wine madness.  Last Bottle Wines, purveyor of great wines at value prices, will conduct their Madness Marathon tomorrow (04/16), starting at 12 PM Eastern/9 AM Pacific time, and continuing for the next 48 hours, or until the Last Bottle cellar will be empty.

During the Madness Marathon, all the wines will be offered in the rapid succession, without any notifications – no twitter, no e-mails, no text messages. The only way to follow the madness is by constantly refreshing your browser window. There are no minimum purchases to get a free shipping – you can buy 1 bottle at a time, it is fine. All the wines you will buy will ship together after April 27th.

You will need to have an account with Last Bottle Wines, and all account information should be pre-filled – speaking from the experience, the wine you want might be well gone by the time you will finish putting in an expiration date for your credit card. In case you don’t have a Last Bottle account already, I will be glad to be your reference – not that you need a reference, but if you will sign up using this link, you will get $5 credit on your first order  – and yes, I will get $20 credit after your first purchase – but once you are in, you will be the one who will tell your friends about it. In case the link doesn’t work, feel free to send me an e-mail to talkavino-info (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Lastly, two updates more of a local nature. First, last Friday I had an opportunity once again to talk (yep, that is something I like to do) about my favorite subject. Well, with a slight twist – the conversation was about liquid pleasures outside of wine – Vodka, Scotch, Bourbon and the others. Once again, I was a guest at the Off the Vine Radio Show with Benita Johnson – and you can listen to that show here. Next time, you should call in and ask questions – will make it more fun!

Before we part, I want to mention that I finally produced a post #4 in a series of the Spanish Wine Recommendations – this post is focused on the places where you can buy Spanish wines around the world. The reason I’m mentioning it here is because after I published the post, I got very useful comments extending the coverage of the good places to get Spanish wines around the world. I updated the post with those comments, so if you read the post already, you might want to check it out again. Here is the link for you to make it easier. If you also got any suggestions or comments, please make sure to share them.

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

 

Spanish Wine Recommendations, Part 4 – Where to Buy Spanish Wines

April 13, 2015 15 comments

PJWine_Rioja_IsleAs I was rather hoping for, this post is becoming a living thing – I started receiving suggestions for the additional sources of Spanish wines in different regions of the world – and will be updating the post with those. If you have suggestions of your own – please reach out!

And we are back with the Spanish wine recommendations series. In the previous three posts I talked about my long-time favorite ( and therefore, recommended) Spanish wines in the three different price categories – under $20, from $20 to $50, and from $50 to infinity. Now I want to talk about seemingly a non-subject  – where can you buy Spanish wines.

This seems to be a non-subject as the answer is simple – in the wine store, duh. Well, of course, but it is not that fast and easy. Most of the wine stores in US would have a section of the Spanish wines – however, majority of the wines in that section will be the “value wines” – unknown producers, unknown wines, limited selection of Rioja of unknown pedigree and some of the better names at often inflated prices. You really need a “specialty retailer”, someone who has a passion for the Spanish wines, to be able to buy exactly what you want at a price you want.

So in this post, I will share with you what I know about buying the Spanish wines. As I live in US, I will give you first-hand recommendations based on my own buying experience. Well, US is a big country, and I live in a close proximity to New York, so again, this is where my experiences come from. However, I will include some store recommendations for other areas in US, and I will do the same for the Europe and Australia- but this will be mostly based on the information I found on Internet, not something I know myself. Of course my recommendations will include both online and “brick and mortar” sources – as you can imagine, there is only a handful of the physical wine stores I’m familiar with, so most of the recommendations will pertain to the online stores.

Before we begin talking about the stores, I want to make a few general comments about buying Spanish wines. It may be even just one comment – when it comes to the Spanish wines, the information on the wine label matters. Another “duh moment”? Well, may be it is, but still – I want to make sure it is something you clearly understand. The words such as Reserva or Gran Reserva are protected by the law – unlike US, for instance, where the words such as “Special Reserve” can appear on the bottle at winemaker’s desire, and actually mean nothing regarding the wine. Why is it important? Reserva typically cost more than Crianza, and Gran Reserva typically costs more than Reserva – and you need to understand that to avoid surprises and to be able to buy exactly what you intended to buy and at a right price. And the vintage and producer matter –  of course, this is universal, no mater where the wine is coming from.

Okay, let’s now talk about good places to buy good Spanish wines from.

Before we get country-specific, let me elaborate on the first “duh moment” – the place to buy Spanish wine is at the wine store. It is definitely true, as a trusted wine retailer is your best source of the Spanish wines. To me, “trusted wine retailer” means exactly that – a person you trust with giving you the best deal and taking care of you. As in any other business, some retailers will be simply looking for the quick buck, but some will be there for the mutually beneficial, long term relationship – retailer gets paid, and you get an access to the wines you want at a price which makes sense. If you have a wine retailer you trust, this might be your best source of the Spanish wines, or at least, one of the best sources. But again, “trusted” is a key word here – and if you have a retailer like that, you are in luck, as hunting down good Spanish wines is a challenge.

One more (last!) general note: if you are looking for the particular wine (where to get it from) or just want to check if the price you see makes sense, Wine-Searcher is the place where you should start. Of course it has limitations – if the wine store, for instance, doesn’t sell online, you will not see it come up in the Wine-Searcher results. Also, even if you see the wine to be available in the particular store, especially if you plan to drive to the store, check with the store first if the wine is still available. And Wine-Searcher can’t tell you anything about the reputation and reliability of the store (had my share of issues). Still, it is a great tool to start your search. It is also available as an app on the mobile devices.

United States:

I have to start with my favorite wine store – the wine owned my friend Zak in Stamford, Connecticut – Cost Less Wines. Zak is exactly that “trusted retailer” – not just for me, but for hundreds and hundreds of his regular customers. The Spanish wines section in his store was built gradually over the last 2-3 years (your truly was a bit of a motivational factor, I have to modestly admit) – but at this point, Zak has an excellent selection – La Rioja Alta, R. Lopez Heredia, CVNE, Imperial, Bodegas Juan Gil, Alto Moncayo and many other wines I mentioned in my recommendations are readily available at his store. It is not just the selection – the prices are great too. For instance, you can’t even find 2001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial in the stores anymore. Using Wine-searcher, I found one place online where this exact wine was still available – at $89 per bottle. Zak has this wine on the shelf as $29.99. Unfortunately, Coast Less Wines doesn’t sell online, but if you live in a reasonable proximity to Stamford and looking for a good Spanish wine at a good price, this store would worth a drive.

Next store I have to mention is called PJ Wine, and it is located in New York City. This store and its owner, Peter Yi, literally put Spanish wines for me on the map (Peter is incredibly passionate about Spanish wines). First I discovered the store online, while looking for some specific wine, and this is how I ended up on their mailing list. Then I got an email advertizing free Spanish Rioja seminar – I signed up, drove to the city – the rest was a history and a love from the first sip (especially a first sip of 1964 Rioja). PJ Wine sells both in the store and online, and their selection is nothing short of incredible, including lots of Rioja from the best years – 1964, 1978, 1994 and lots more – all in stock. Again, if you live in New York city or a close proximity, this store absolutely worth a special visit (just do me a favor – decide on your spending limit before you come there, or better yet, leave all credit cards at home and bring limited amount of cash, as once you will start shopping, you will not be able to stop – and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you). Online selection is equally excellent.

One more store I have a good experience with is the Bottle King in New Jersey. It is not just one store, it is a number of stores, mostly located in Northern New Jersey –  plus an online store called The Wine Buyer. Overall Bottle King offers good selection of the Spanish wines at good prices. What is important to know about Bottle Kings, however, that the selection will vary from the store to the store, and most importantly, the selection and pricing online at The Wine Buyer might differ from the physical stores – stores often offer deals and discounts not available through the online outlet.

I wish I can offer you a selection of the stores in any of the large metropolis around the country, like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas or Denver – but I’m not aware of any of the “Spanish wine” specialty retailers. By the way, if you know of any good “Spanish wine” specialist stores in your areas – please let me know, I will be glad to amend the post.

Going all the way to the west coast, there is not a whole lot I can offer as well. However. there is one store I would like to mention – K&L Wine Merchants. They operate three stores in California, as well as an online store. At the time of this writing, the online store offered selection of about 330 Spanish wines, many with the reasonable prices, so I believe it is worth mentioning here.

Last two sources I would like to bring to your attention are both online only. First of all, my beloved Wine Til Sold Out, WTSO.com (also available as an app). While there are other sites with the similar model (Last Bottles, Last Call Wines and more), WTSO has the best deals when it comes to the Spanish Wines. Yes, you have to be on a look out, true (sign up for email and twitter updates from them), and when the deal shows up, you have to act quickly, but still, they have by far the best selection alongside of recommendations I made. Just to give you an example of a recent deal I got there – 2002 R. Lopez de Heredia Reserva, $23 at WTSO and about $35 (give or take) most anywhere else.

The last one for the US is the online store called Wine.com. To tell you the truth, I never bought anything from Wine.com myself, but I checked their inventory, and at the moment they are offering about 300 different Spanish wines, including many of the names I talked about in this series (CVNE, La Rioja Alta, Carchelo “C” etc.), and the prices seem to be reasonable, so I feel inclined to include them into my recommendations ( if you have a first hand experience with Wine.com, I would appreciate your comments below).

Europe:

Okay, so let’s get things straight. As I live in US, I don’t have a first hand experience buying Spanish wines in Europe. So for the stores which I found, I made sure the selection looks good and the prices look reasonable. What I found was a link to an excellent article which pretty much summarizes the online sources for Spanish wines in Europe, so in essence, I only need to direct you to read this article here. Note that not all the stores in the article are equally reputable – for example, a reader told me that Uvinum is known to have problems (poor deliveries and bad customer service), so check the references before you will use them.

Now, this was the part of the original post: If you know if any wine stores with the good selection of Spanish wines (with good prices!) in your country in Europe – please let me know and I will be glad to add them to this post. Lastly, don’t forget that Wine-Searcher works internationally, so you can specify your country when searching for the specific wine.

As I have the reader suggestions now, I will include them below:

Germany:
As recommended by Julian of Vino in Love:
“I highly recommend the online retailer www.vinos.de. They have a great selection (I mostly buy my Spanish wines from them). Vinos also has stores in Berlin and Munich for those who do not like to buy wine online.”

United Kingdom:

As recommended by Mathias of The Winecurious (some stores are reviewed in the Mathias’ blog, so check it out):
“For those in the UK I can strongly recommend Moreno Wines (http://www.morenowines.co.uk) in Maida Vale. They have an excellent selection of Spanish wines and are almost every other year awarded Spanish wine merchant of the year.

Other good UK (or perhaps more London, but many of these deliver) options are:
Lea & Sandemanhttp://www.leaandsandeman.co.uk Perhaps not the largest or most innovative selection but they often have good prices and I really like the friendly service, especially in their Kensington shop.
The Samplerhttp://www.thesampler.co.uk. My overall favorite when it comes to wine shops in London. They are stronger on champagne but also have a good selection of Spanish wines.
Handford, http://www.handford.net  is also a good bet, not cheapest but not expensive either.
Zelashttp://www.zelas.co.uk Good Spanish wines at decent prices.
Two other places that deserves a mention are Hedonism Wines and Berry Bros & Rudd (http://www.bbr.com). Hedonism almost has everything when it comes to expensive and rare wines, not cheap but love to browse there and occasionally  they have good prices on really high-end wines. BBR are the oldest wine merchant in the UK (at least I think so), lovely shop, impeccable service and while not cheapest they do not overcharge so in the fair price category”
Nordic Countries (Finland, Norway, Sweden):
Again, as recommended by Mathias:
Viña Española http://www.tempranillo.nu
http://thewinecurious.com up and coming store, offering great selection of Cava at the moment, but expanding in the near future”

Australia:

Quite unexpectedly for me, it appears that Spanish wines represent a tough love when it comes to Australia. I understand that Australia produces a lot of their own wine, but so does the United States and many other countries. Yet searching for La Rioja Alta and CVNE for the whole of Australia yield only one result. Many of the Australian wine store web site don’t recognize the word “Rioja” and suggest correcting it to “Rosado”. I reached out to The Wine Wankers, very popular and knowledgeable wines bloggers who happen to live in Australia, and I got a few recommendations, out of which I would like to mention Dan Murphy’s, which is a chain of the wine stores in Australia, where you can find at least some of the wines we talked about in this series.  Well, not sure if Australia might be a next opportunity for the Spanish wines, but at least this is the story at the moment. Same as for all of my European friends – if you live an Australia and know of a wine store with a good Spanish wine selection, please let me know and I will be glad to include it here.

And we are done – now you have my Spanish wine recommendations as well as the some of the places where you can buy those wines. I still want to write one more post and summarize all we talked about here, therefore, I’m not waving good bye yet.

To be concluded…

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!

 

There is a Train Station in Haro

July 30, 2013 4 comments

DSC_0184 Vina Real 1978 in the glassI remember talking to someone about great Rioja seminar I attended, and I remember being asked “why did you go to that Rioja seminar, don’t you already know everything you need about Rioja?”. I only raised my eyebrow. Yes, I make no secret that Rioja is one of my all time favorite wines (I’m sure you noticed if you read this blog for a while) – but there is always so much to learn around wine, you can never pass the educational opportunity. Especially when this is the seminar at PJ Wine store, where wine education always includes a glass (or two, or more) of great wine, just to make sure your newly acquired knowledge would be well anchored. As a side note, this seminar took place a while back (in March of 2013), but the experience was so good, it is still worth sharing.

Andrew Mulligan of Michael Skurnik Wines, who was running the seminar, was a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Rioja. Before we will talk about the wines in the seminar, here are some of the interesting facts about Rioja wines which we learned:

  • There are four grape varieties allowed to be used in a production of red Rioja wines – Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo and Graciano. Tempranillo is usually the main grape, which is responsible for main flavor profile and ageability of the Rioja. Garnacha adds body and power, Mazuelo – spicy flavors, Graciano – structure. There are no limitations for the exact wine composition, so all types of blends are possible
  • Rioja wines are typically made out of grapes harvested from the different vineyards in the region. There are also single-vineyard Rioja wines, which are called Pago. Rioja Contino is an example of single vineyard Rioja.
  • Production of all wines in Rioja is controlled by Consejo Regulador (Control Board), an organization founded in 1926. Consejo Regulador also sets vintage ratings for different years. You can find all vintage ratings (starting from 1926!) here.
  • 2010 and 2011 vintages have “excellente” rating – Crianzas should be good already!
  • Bodegas Muga, CVNE, Lopez de Heredia and La Rioja Alta wineries (some of the very best Rioja producers) are all located at four corners the train station in Haro – the location was chosen for the purposes of easy shipping of wines to UK.
  • La Rioja Alta 890 line commemorates the 1890 when the winery was created. 904 commemorates 1904 when Ardanza winery was acquired and became a part of La Rioja Alta. The winery decided to call their wines this way (using 890 instead of 1890 and 904 instead of 1904) so consumers would not confuse commemoration dates with the dates of production.
  • CVNE was founded by 1879 by two brothers, and it produces Rioja in two distinct styles under two different labels – CVNE and Vina Real. All the fruit for Vina Real comes from Rioja Alavesa region, and all the fruit in CVNE wines comes from Rioja Alta.
  • CVNE Imperial label was started specifically for the UK market, and it was called like that because it was created during the UK’s “Imperial Century”.
DSC_0174 Rioja line-up

Rioja seminar tasting line-up

Now, let me present to you the wines with my notes. All the wines are included in the order we tasted them.

CVNE Imperial Reserva 2005 – gorgeous nose, dark fruit, perfect acidity, cherries, perfectly balanced, but very masculine. Touch of eucalyptus. Very long finish. Drinkability: 8

La Rioja Alta Vina Arana Gran Reserva 2004 – Beautiful. A lot more delicate than the previous wine, more earthy, sage notes, very beautiful. Perfect acidity. Drinkability: 8

CVNE Cune Reserva 2004 – beautiful, very delicate, (all 4 grapes are used , Tempranilo 85%, 5% the rest), a bit too delicate for me. Drinkability: 7+

Vina Real Gran Reserva 2004 – Beautiful nose, similar to #1, but smooth palate, very nice, round. Drinkability: 8

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Gran Reserva 2001 – Stunning. A lot of fruit, sweet on the finish. Perfect with food. Absolutely bright and young, you can never tell it is 12 years old. Residual sweetness of Grenache is coming through (20% of Grenache). Drinkability: 8+

CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2001 – Wow. Perfect fruit, less sweetness on the finish compare to the previous wine. Might be my best of tasting. Perfect power despite the age. Drinkability: 9-

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 1998 – Very interesting. A lot more herbs, more subtle, beautiful profile. Drinkability: 8+

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 1995 – Very different. Lots of herbs, subtle, beautiful. Drinkability: 8+

CVNE Vina Real Gran Reserva 1978 – Tobacco, leather, mature wine. Very nice. Still has enough fruit. Drinkability: 8

Yes, I know, my tasting notes are rather short and mostly describe the wines through emotions. However, I think you can see the progression in the flavor profile from the bright fruit to the more earthy, spicy, delicate notes. The common trait among these 9 wines? Elegance. Elegance and balance, to be precise. These are the wines you crave, as you know they will bring you lots of pleasure every time you will open them.

Andrew told us a story from his personal experience with the old Rioja wine. He ordered bottle of 1917 Rioja for the customer, and the customer … refused to take it later on. So the bottle was shared at the table in the restaurant, without much expectations, among the group of young wine professionals. On the very first sip, the table got quiet. And it stayed quiet for the next 5 minutes, as everybody just wanted to reflect on that special moment. I wish you great wine experiences, my friends. 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.

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