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Rethinking Grenache with Wines of Cariñena

January 9, 2022 2 comments

I love how the wine world affords us endless learning opportunities – as long as we are willing to learn, of course. Wine is an indelible part of the culture, thus learning about wine extends our understanding and appreciation of the world.

More often than not we simply focus on what’s in the glass – is it tasty, what is that peculiar flavor, do I want another sip or another glass. That is exactly how it should be – after all, wine is just grape juice. But if we are willing to take a step back, think about the wine in the glass, maybe read an article somewhere online or attend a webinar (which usually doesn’t cost anything), in addition to getting hedonistic pleasure from what is in the glass we might also get fascinated by the history and its strong connection to the wine.

The webinar I’m talking about here today took place almost a year ago (yes, I already confessed that I have a lot of catching up to do), but it is still worth talking about.

Cariñena is not the oldest winemaking region in the world, but with the first vineyards planted by the Romans around 50 BC, it is definitely old enough. As you can see on the map, Cariñena is located in the Aragon region in Spain. Before Spain became Spain in the last quarter of the 15th century, the Kingdom of Aragon held tremendous power in the 14th-15th centuries over a large portion of present-day eastern Spain, parts of what is now southern France, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, Southern Italy and parts of Greece (source: Wikipedia). While this all should interest the historians, this is also relevant to our wine story. In 1415, King Ferdinand I of Aragon declared a preference for Cariñena wines “above all others.” The red wines of Cariñena were made out of Grenache, better known in Spain as Garnacha, and also known under one of its early synonyms as Tinto Aragonés (red of Aragon).

An interesting sidebar here for you: Sardinia claims that Grenache, locally known as Cannonau, originated in the island. It is entirely possible that it is actually true, and maybe Grenache made it from Sardinia to Cariñena where it became so famous – we have to leave it to the grape historians and detectives to unravel.

Going back to the Aragon Kingdom, what I never realized is that political influence is not limited to laws, money, and goods – the vines are also a subject of political influence. The Kingdom of Aragon presided over its territories and pushed down not only the laws but also grapevines, helping to spread Grenache into all kingdom-controlled territories. Grenache plantings appeared all over Spain, in Souther Rhone and Languedoc, and other areas. Way later, in the 18th century, Grenache also made it to Australia and South and North America, to become one the most planted red grapes in the world.

What is interesting about Grenache is that it doesn’t have its own varietal character. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have bell pepper and cassis. Syrah has its signature black pepper. Grenache doesn’t have its signature profile. It perfectly adapts to a place, becoming a conduit for the terroir. For example, if you ever had Grenache from Washington (No Girls Grenache would be an excellent specimen), and some of the most classic Spanish Grenache such as Alto Moncayo, you would know the tremendous difference in taste profile – Grenache from Washington perfectly conveys the “liquid rock” of mostly volcanic soils, where Alto Moncayo would offer layers of dark chocolate and succulent berries – literally two wines from the different planets.

Source: Cariñena Wines

Cariñena is a perfect region for the grape growing – protected by the mountains, it offers long dry summers, cold winters, and very little rain, making the grapes work hard. Cariñena is also a mountainous region, with the majority of the vineyards located at the 1,300 to 2,800 feet elevation – that creates a significant diurnal variation which helps grapes to concentrate flavor. This rather harsh climate also plays a role of a great defender against vine diseases – while most of Europe was devastated by phylloxera in the late 19th century, Cariñena was largely unaffected.

A few more interesting facts about Cariñena. In 1909, King Alfonso XIII of Spain awarded Cariñena a city charter for their growers’ role in helping European vineyards recover from the phylloxera blight. The quality of Cariñena wines was also recognized in modern times when in 1932 it became the second wine region in Spain to receive the status of DO (Denomination of Origin) – the first one was Rioja. And Cariñena is the only region in Spain that has an eponymous grape – Cariñena, better known in the rest of Spain as Mazuelo and Carignan in the rest of the world. Cariñena is another native red grape grown in that region.

In 2016, Wine Enthusiast named Cariñena The Region To Watch, which since then became a slogan for the region, focusing on promoting its wines around the world.

As part of the webinar, I had an opportunity to taste two wines that are well representative of the capabilities of the region.

First wine was produced by Bodega San Valero. Bodega San Valero just celebrated 75 years, formed in 1944 by 66 partners. Today, Bodega San Valero works with 500 growers who farm 9,000 acres of vineyards, which represents 30% of the Cariñena DO. They also use 20,000 French and American oak barrels to produce the wines, and 100% of production is done on the property. I wrote about a number of Bodega San Valero wines in this blog, their Particular Grenache being one of my favorite Grenache renditions. This time, I had an opportunity to taste the 2016 Bodega San Valero Celebrity Grenache Old Vines Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $12.99). The wine had blackberries and chalk on the nose, with a hint of dried herbs. After about an hour in the open bottle, the wine became round, with dark fruit, strawberries, and blackberries, pronounced minerality and a touch of chocolate, crisp acidity, and mouthwatering finish. This was rather a food wine, but still nice and easy to drink.

While Grandes Vinos is taking its roots from a number of Cariñena cooperatives beginning from the 1950s, it was officially born in 1997. The cooperative comprises 700 winegrowers, farming more than 11,000 acres of vineyards spawning over 14 Cariñena districts and growing 10 grape varieties. Grandes Vinos produces wine under 9 different wine ranges. One of those wine types is called Igulp and it is a lightly sparkling grape beverage distributed in beer bottles – I would love to try that.

The wine I tried this time was from the Monasterio de las Viñas range. Monasterio de las Viñas pays homage to the actual monastery built by Cistercian monks in the 11th century, in a privileged place of the Sierra de Aguarón, well known for both their spirituality and high quality of their wines.

2013 Monasterio de las Viñas Gran Reserva Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV, $21.99, blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cariñena, and Cabernet Sauvignon, 24 months in the barrels) had an uplifting, vinous nose, inviting and complex – it was creating great expectations about the wine. On the palate, the wine offered red and black fruit, round, good minerality, perfectly balanced, and perfectly integrated. Easy to drink and dangerous.

This was a great learning experience, making me take another look at the wines and try to see just past of what is in the glass. Let’s drink to the learning experiences of our lives, and may you never stop learning. Cheers!

 

Vilarnau Cavas – Always a Pleasure for an Eye, and Now Organic Too

December 16, 2021 Leave a comment

Here we go – I’m following up a post about Cava with another post about Cava.

Oh well…

It is really appropriate to drink bubbles every day. Really. And it is even triple appropriate to drink bubbles around holidays. And gift them. And every day has something worthy of a celebration. So yeah, let’s talk again about Cava.

First, a pleasure for an eye – take a look – aren’t these bottles gorgeous? I would certainly use them as a decoration if the content wouldn’t be so good. I love this Trencadis design of the bottles – “Trencadís” is a kind of mosaic that is created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, used by Catalan architects Antoni GaudÍ and Josep MarÍa Pujol in many of their designs. I talked about the trencadís extensively in a few of the older posts (in 2017 and 2018), so I would like to direct you there if you want to learn more.

Now, you still have a ground for complaint – I already talked about Vilarnau Cavas less than 6 months ago – what gives? Are there not enough wines to discuss?

Yes, you are right. Or, almost right, to be more precise. The reason to talk about Vilarnau now is a significant change – all of the Vilarnau wines are now made with organic grapes.

Why would winery change its [successful] ways to become organic? What can be a motivation for that? Is that organic wine any different from non-organic wine? I decided to ask  all these questions (virtually) Eva Plazas, Cavas Vilarnau Winemaker – and here is our short dialog:

1. When did you start the transition to using organic grapes? 
In 2013 we started and the first 100% organic harvest was in 2016, as the whole process requires 3 years to achieve a validates [TaV – Certifiable] conversion. 
 

2. Why is using organic grapes important for you?

Organic viticulture is essential to help protect and preserve the environment – the flora and fauna that live within and around the vineyard and help it to improve. By not applying pesticides or insecticides, working with plant covers etc… the balance within the vineyard is greatly improved.
 
3. Can you taste the difference? 
NO 😊 I really mean it – it is probably impossible to do in a blind setting, to put two identical Cavas, one made with organic grapes and one which is not, and taste the difference, but based on your experience – do the final wines taste differently or is the difference simply in the knowledge that one is made using organic grapes and one is not? Totally agree, in a tasting it is impossible to detect whether a cava is organic or not, but it is true that over time the vineyard is balanced and the quality of the grapes (if we do not have heavy rains and there are no attacks of mildew) the balance and quality of the grapes certainly improve.
 
4. Is the whole range of Vilarnau Cavas already using organic grapes (talking about new vintages)? 
Yes, yes the whole range
 
5. Did you have to make any changes in the winemaking process since you started using the organic grapes? 
Yessss! The regulations that apply in making organic cavas or organic wines are restrictive with some winemaking products. For example, the use of:
Maceration enzymes with beta-glucoside activity
• PVPP for clarification.
• Metatartaric acid …

I have stopped using these products or have looked for alternatives to proteins with the animal origin, using pea or potato proteins instead, that is why all Vilarnau cavas are now Vegan too.

So now that you know of all the motivation behind the organic Cavas, I would like to do something I have never done before. Let me explain.
I would like to bring these Cavas to your attention right now in case you are looking for a last-minute present for someone for Christmas or a New Year – I’m sure these bottles will brighten up anyone’s day. At the same time, I plan to open two of the organic samples I received in a few days, but, again, I don’t want to wait with the post. So here is what I will do.
I will copy the tasting notes from my earlier post this year in here. And then I will add the tasting notes for the organic cavas, and we will be able to see if I will perceive these wines differently. Here we go – the notes from June 2021:

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava DO (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel Lo, 15+ months in the bottle)
Light gold
Herbal, earthy, apple, lemon
Fresh, clean, apples, creamy, good body
7+, perfect for every day

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Cava DO (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Garnacha, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle)
Salmon pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of gunflint
Fresh strawberries, crisp, clean, energetic, delicious.
8, excellent

Now, a placeholder for the wines to be tasted in a week  – updated on December 29, 2021

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava DO (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel Lo, 15+ months in the bottle, Organic grapes, Vegan)
Light golden color, small persistent bubbles
Freshly toasted bread, gunflint, medium intensity
Freshly toasted bread, a hint of granny smith apples, a hint of gunflint and minerality, nice creaminess
7+/8-, simply delightful

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Delicat Cava DO (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Garnacha, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle, Organic grapes, Vegan)
Salmon pink color, small persistent bubbles
Clean strawberry aromas, a distant hint of onion peel, open, fresh, and inviting
Fresh strawberries, round, tart, clean, crisp, good acidity
8-/8, outstanding
Here you are, my friends. You still have time to look up these beautiful bottles, make a present for yourself, or surprise your friends and family – and then we will be able to compare notes…
To be continued…
12/29/21
if you ask if I tasted the difference between those wines earlier this year and the wines I tasted now, I wouldn’t be able to confirm or deny it. The wines I tasted before were outstanding, and these wines are also outstanding. The good part is that you don’t need to choose – Cava Vilarnau is made with organic grapes from now on, and you don’t need to think much about it – just enjoy.

Looking for Bubbles? Roger Goulart Got Everything You Need

December 15, 2021 3 comments

First question: how often do you crave bubbles? (My answer: almost every day).

Second question: how often do you actually drink bubbles? (My answer: not often enough. Read – once in a blue moon).

If you answered “not often enough”, here is the third (and fourth) question(s): Why is that so? What stops you?

I can only speak for myself here – I have a few reasons for not drinking bubbles often enough – price; having the right bottle on hand; not being able to finish a bottle once it is opened. Now, can we solve these problems? Let’s take them one by one.

The third problem (not being able to finish the bottle once it is opened) is the easiest problem. No, you don’t need newly minted Coravin for this. The standard Champagne bottle stopper will do the trick.

For the first and second problems – price and having the right bottle on hand – I have a simple answer – Cava.

Cava is a sparkling wine from Spain, made using exactly the same method as Champagne, with the secondary fermentation in the bottle, and aging requirements on par or even stricter compared to Champagne – minimum of 9 months for the regular Cava, minimum of 15 months for Reserva, and the minimum of 30 months for Gran Reserva. Good Cava offers a pleasure comparable to any Champagne in the same category, at half or even a third of the price per bottle, especially considering today’s Champagne prices.

If you noticed, I used the descriptor “good” in conjunction with Cava. As you can never assume that all of the Oregon Pinot Noir is equally good, all of the Riojas are equally good, or all of the Australian Shiraz are equally delicious, not all of the Cavas are equally good. So let me offer my helping hand and make a suggestion – Roger Goulart Cava will not fail you, no matter what the occasion is.

The history of Roger Goulart Cava started in 1882 when Magí Canals dug a wine cellar in the garden in the back of the house, where he started making Cava, in those days still known as Champagne. 17 years later, his son Josep bought the land adjacent to the Canals’ house from the Goulart family – we can consider that an official beginning of the Roger Goulart Cava. In 1919, a beautiful cathedral building was built by Ignasi Mas i Morell, a student of Antonio Gaudí – this became a new home of the Roger Goulart Cava. When Cava DO (destination of Origin) was created in 1972, Canals were one of the founding families. In 1997, 3,000 feet (1 km) of underground caves (more of a tunnel) were dug at the depth of 100 feet (30 meters), to provide ideal aging conditions for the Cava, maintaining a constant temperature of about 57°F-59°F (14°C-15°C).

Roger Goulart Cava Caves. Source: Roger Goulart

Roger Goulart Cava Caves. Source: Roger Goulart

Roger Goulart Cava offers a range of sparkling wines, including Brut Nature (zero dosage) and a range of Gran Reservas – Roger Goulart Gran Reserva cavas are actually not disgorged until the purchase order comes in, to ensure the freshest possible wine being delivered to consumers. The majority of the non-Rosé Cavas are made with three traditional varieties – Xarel·lo, Macabeo, and Parellada, but some of the Cavas might also include Chardonnay. The Rosé Cavas are primarily Garnacha driven, with the addition of other red grapes (Pinot Noir, Monastrell). The new Cavas are also produced from certified organic grapes, so we should expect to see more of Roger Goulart Cavas made with those in the future.

I had an opportunity to taste 4 different Cavas, and even catch a beautiful winter sunset with one of them (as you will see below in the picture). What was surprising to me was the level of freshness across all four wines – the 2012 and 2018 tasted equally fresh. Another interesting tidbit was the fact that the older Cavas, also been Gran Reservas, benefited from additional breathing time. I used the stopper I mentioned before, and I actually enjoyed those wines even more on the second day out of the refrigerator.

Here are my notes for what it is worth:

2018 Roger Goulart Cava Reserva (12% ABV, $19.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Xarel-lo, 15% Parellada, min. 15 months in the bottle, organic grapes)
Fine bubbles
Freshly toasted bread on the nose, a hint of apples
Perfect amount of yeast, toasted notes, crisp, fresh, creamy mouthfeel.
8, excellent. Great with food (had it with salami and cranberry encrusted goat cheese)

NV Roger Goulart Coral Cava Brut Rosé (12% ABV, $19.99, 70% Garnacha, 30% Pinot Noir, min. 9 months in the cellar, bottled in December 2016)
Fine bubbles, beautiful salmon pink color
A hint of brioche and strawberries on the nose, nicely restrained
Toasted notes, toasted bread, creamy mouthfeel, delicious.
8+, outstanding.

2014 Roger Goulart Cava Brut Rosé Gran Reserva (12% ABV, $19.99, 85% Garnacha, 15% Monastrell, min. 36 months in the cellar, bottled in March 2015)
Deep reddish color
A touch of toasted bread notes.
Dry, concentrated, a hint of fresh bread, needs time to open up, then crisp and fresh.
8, very good, better on the second day

2012 Roger Goulart Cava Brut Gran Reserva (12% ABV, $19.99, 60% Xarel-lo, 20% Macabeo, 20% Parellada)
Toasted bread, clean, fresh
Perfect balance, apple, a hint of toasted bread, cut-through acidity, tight, vibrant, full of energy, would perfectly compare to any champagne in a blind tasting. Most likely, would beat the competition.
8+/9-, I loved it even more two days after the bottle was opened. Superb.

As you can see all of these Cavas are priced the same, and at $19.99 they are worth every penny, as the comparable Champagne will be at least in the $45 – $50 range. And the great thing about this pricing is that you can choose the wine based only on how you feel at the moment, and not on the price.

The holidays are upon us, but with or without the holidays – every day deserves a glass of bubbles. Try Roger Goulart Cavas and send me a thank you card later. Cheers!

Tempranillo, Transposed

December 7, 2021 Leave a comment

How do you transpose a grape, any grape?

What does this title even mean? You transpose matrices (in algebra), or, at the very least, the notes of music. But Tempranillo???

Let me put my geek’s hat on, and let’s look at the definition of the “transpose” as the infinitely wise internet presents it:

“transfer to a different place or context”

The legendary CVNE had been producing Tempranillo wines in Rioja since 1879. Step by step, new vineyards were planted, and new styles of Rioja were going into production, each one with its own unique style and character – CVNE, the original earthy Rioja; softer and gentler Viña Real, powerful and concentrated Imperial, elegant and modern Contino. These are all Rioja wines, a blend of Tempranillo and a few other varieties, each one with its own personality and its own following.

Achieving success, some of us can just sit quietly and enjoy it. And some of us just want to say “I’m here now, and this is great, but I can’t stop. Let’s go further”. And down south CVNE decided to go, into the Ribera del Duero area.

Rioja is unquestionably famous with its Tempranillo wines, with producer such as CVNE, Muga, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, and Contador. Ribera del Duero, down south from Rioja, got Vega Sicilia, Pingus, Pesquera, Emilio Moro – all amazing Tempranillo renditions as well. Now, the question is – why would a famous Rioja producer expand into a different region? Well, this is somewhat of a “why did the chicken cross the road” type of question – simply to get to the other side. CVNE doesn’t want to stop. CVNE goes beyond Rioja, into Ribera del Duero, the land of 100% Tempranillo wines – and the folks in Rioja know a thing or two about Tempranillo…

This is how the new brand of CVNE wines from Ribera del Duero was born – and it is called Arano. I had a few questions about this new adventure for CVNE, and so I asked those questions of Victor Urrutia, CEO of CVNE, to understand why the Arano name, why Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, and what does the future hold. Victor graciously agreed to answer my questions – here is our conversation:

[TaV]: Why Arano label? What is the relationship between Arano and CVNE?
[Victor Urrutia]: CVNE is the owner and founder of Bela and Arano. The Bela and Arano labels are facsimiles of a label of ours, that is to say from CVNE in Rioja, from 1910. It is a simple and beautiful label from our archives. When we try and invent things we realise that we’re not very good at it, and that in fact, what our forefathers did is far better. CVNE is a family company and has been since it was founded in 1879. The 3 stars on the label represent the 3 children of CVNE’s cofounder, Eusebio Real de Asúa. He had 2 daughters and one son. Their names were Sofia, Ramon, and Aurea Minerva. The eldest, Sofia, was known as Bela. That is the name we have given to this winery, and it is also the first estate wine that we have made in Ribera del Duero. It’s the first star. The second star is for Arano. The only son was called Ramon and his mothers’ maiden name was Arano. We chose this name for the second estate wine to be released from the winery.
Bela is Tempranillo from our vineyard in the village of Villalba, on clay soils. Aged for 9 to 12 months in barrel. The vineyard is around 70 hectares. Arano is Tempranillo from our vineyard in the village of Moradillo de Roa, on limestone and pebbled soils. Aged over 12 months in barrel. The vineyard is around 9 hectares.

[TaV]: Why Ribera del Duero? What was the inspiration for CVNE to expand into Ribera del Duero?
[Victor Urrutia]: We want to bring our take on rioja’s elegance to rugged Ribera del Duero. The latter makes excellent wines and is a historic region. As ambassadors for Spain across the world, we felt it was our obligation to own vineyards and make wine in Ribera del Duero; and to make these known everywhere.

[TaV]: What is the future hold for Arano Ribera del Duero wines? Do you plan to produce Reserva and Gran Reserva?
[Victor Urrutia]: In Ribera del Duero we are making wines that express the vineyards that we own in this appellation. We label some of these as Crianza, for instance, because some consumers find it helpful; but it is not an important consideration for us when we conceive the wine. As we get to work and know our vineyards better, we will consider releasing new wines from this winery. After all, there is another star in the label, that we need to make a wine for. We haven’t yet found this vineyard. Or rather, haven’t found the way to express what must be our grand cru in this region. But we are working on it.

[TaV]: Any future plans for CVNE to expand further south, maybe into the Toro region?
[Victor Urrutia] There are some great producers in Toro, like the García family behind Mauro. But in general, we find the wines of Toro to be very dense and powerful, and I’m not sure we know how to make wines in that style. Our future lies in continuing to make wines of elegance and age-worthiness.
We need to continue looking for vineyards that will allow us to make those kinds of wines. They’re probably in higher elevations and northern exposures. There’s much to continue doing in Rioja, Ribera and of course, Galicia, where our Virgen del Galir winery has started to make wines of great depth from the vineyards that we bought as well those we’ve planted there. We bottle Godello, Mencia as well as Merenzao, varieties that we hardly knew about some years ago and the wines are phenomenal. We even have Palomino (locals call it Jerez, or sherry) that, arguably, expresses the terroir better than anything, given its neutral profile as a grape variety. Is it perfect? No, but it’s honest. And also quite interesting. Like everything that we try to do.

Now let’s talk about CVNE’s latest and greatest – 2018 Arano Crianza. As Victor mentioned, the grapes for this wine are coming from 4 different plots in the Moradillo de Roa vineyard, located at an altitude of about 3,000 feet above sea level. I had an opportunity to taste this wine, and it was unquestionably Ribera del Duero in style, much leaner and tighter than a typical Rioja wine. Here are my notes:

2018 Arano Crianza Ribera del Duero DO (14.5% ABV, $30, 15 months in French oak barrels, Vegan)
Dark garnet
Aromas of roasted meat and earth jump out of the glass at least a foot away from it. Espresso and herbs come at you at high intensity.
The palate is somewhat unexpectedly mellow, with dark fruit and herbs, good acidity, long and supple finish.
Better concentration on the second and third day, the wine feels tighter with more energy.
Drinkability: 8-. Enjoyable now, built for the long haul

The journey is getting more and more exciting by the minute. This is not algebra, but we are definitely looking at the case of the successful transposition of a grape – go find the results of this Tempranillo transposition, and we can compare notes. Cheers!

Spain’s Great Match, 2021 Edition

November 21, 2021 4 comments

Spanish wines are some of my most favorite wines in the world.

Spain’s Great Match event in New York is one of my most favorites wine events of the year, always offering an opportunity to discover something new.

And I had not been to New York City in the past 18 months – lots of good reasons to be excited, would you agree?

For the second time in a row, Spain’s Great Match event was held at Mercado Little Spain, a Mecca of Spanish cuisine in one of New York’s hottest new neighborhoods, Hudson Yards. I was able to attend the walk-around tasting and two of the seminars, so here I want to share my impressions.

Before we get to the event, just a few facts about Spain’s wine industry. Spain has the biggest grape planting area in the world – more than 2.9 million acres. Spain today (2021) is the second-largest wine producer in the world after Italy. There are more than 600 grape varieties grown in Spain (only about 20 are used to produce the majority of the wines though). Spain has more than 130 defined wine-growing areas.

Now, let me share my observations.

First, Spanish wines are popular. Duh? I can’t argue – I’m starting with the most banal conclusion, but let me explain. Spanish wines were always regarded as the best-kept secret among wine professionals – whatever the general public likes to drink is fine, but the wine professionals would most often resort to the Spanish wines to share amongst themselves and with friends. I don’t know how many people attended the consumer portion of the event in the evening, but the trade event was incredibly busy, also with a significant number of MS and MW in the audience – I never saw these many Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers attending this event. It might be just me not seeing it before, or it might be a testament to the growing popularity of Spanish wines. I think this popularity is also reflected in the increased prices of the Spanish wines – don’t know if supply issues are muddying things up, but otherwise, it seems that the prices are inching higher.

The trend of “internationalization”. Spanish Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines, the keystones of Tempranillo expression, always had its unique taste profile, driven by well-integrated tannins, minerality, and spicy undertones. This character was largely defined by the use of American oak which was traditional in Rioja. I didn’t taste each and every Rioja wine presented at the event, but based on what I managed to taste, it seems that there is a shift towards using the French oak, which completely changes the presentation of the wine, leading with grippy, mouth-drying tannins which completely lock the front of your mouth for a few minutes after the sip. Barolo used to be like that, and it became much better with tannins lately. Now Rioja is offering this internationally indistinguishable style which becomes borderline boring. If I want to drink a grippy powerful wine, I got plenty of choices outside of Rioja – I understand that this might be a trend with young wine drinkers, but it will be very difficult to maintain individuality and build a following if you are simply “one of many similar ones”.

Where did the Godello go? I saw a very little presence of Godello wines, which was surprising. I always thought that this white grape has an excellent future – this might still be the case, but this was not obvious with 3 whites ruling the show – Rioja Blanco, Albariño, and Verdejo Rueda.

Jerez is absolutely delightful. My love of Jerez is back, and the wines we tasted during the seminar (more details forthcoming) were simply superb.

Don’t forget Spanish bubbles. I tasted a bunch of Cavas, and none of them were mediocre. Fresh, clean, approachable, and reasonably priced – great QPR wines for every day.

Now, here are the wines I tasted during the event (with the exception of the seminar wines). Everything which is mentioned below was well drinkable, and the specific favorites are marked (bold) as such.

2020 Santiago Ruiz Santiago Ruiz D.O. Rias Baixas ($25)
2017 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza D.O.Ca. Rioja ($18) – probably my favorite from the Bodegas LAN selection. The most approachable and balanced from this group.
2015 Bodegas LAN Rioja Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($24)
2017 Bodegas LAN D-12 D.O.Ca. Rioja ($25) – single vineyard
2017 Bodegas LAN Xtreme 2017 D.O.Ca. Rioja ($25)
2015 Bodegas LAN Viña Lanaciano D.O.Ca. Rioja ($30)
2018 Bodegas LAN Edicion Limitada D.O.Ca. Rioja ($55)
2015 Bodegas LAN Culmen D.O.Ca. Rioja ($70)

2016 Vins el Cep Gelida Brut Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($20)
NV Bodegas Llopart Brut Reserva Rosé Corpinnat ($28)
2020 Bodegas Vatán Nisia Las Suertes D.O. Rueda ($32)
2018 Bodegas La Caña Navia D.O. Rias Baixas ($32)
2019 Bodegas Avancia Mencía Old Vines D.O. Valdeorras ($35)
2018 Bodegas Breca Garnacha D.O. Calatayud ($16) – clean, simple
2018 Bodegas Vatán Tritón Tinta de Toro D.O. Toro ($20)
2018 Bodegas Vatán Tinta de Toro D.O. Toro ($45)

2018 Bodegas Muga Flor de Muga Blanco D.O.Ca. Rioja ($50) – my favorite wine white of the event – clean, round, fresh, elegant
2014 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($100) – surprisingly ready to drink
2011 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Gran Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($40)
2014 Bodegas Alvear Alvear Fino en Rama D.O. Montilla Moriles ($22) – outstanding. It is very rare to find dry sherry made from 100% Pedro Ximenes grapes.
2016 Sierra Salinas Mira Salinas D.O. Alicante ($18, Monastrell) – Elegant, fresh, perfect acidity
2016 Ramirez de la Piscina Ramirez de la Piscina Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($22)

2018 Rafael Cañizares Bodegas Volver Tempranillo Single Vineyards D.O. La Mancha ($20)
2020 Rafael Cañizares Bodegas Volver Paso A Paso Tempranillo Tierra De Castilla ($35) – excellent, elegant, open

All three were excellent:
2013 Agustí Torelló Mata Cava Agustí Torelló Mata Brut Nature Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($26)
2017 Agustí Torelló Mata Cava Agustí Torelló Mata Brut Reserva D.O. Cava ($21)
2011 Agustí Torelló Mata | Cava Kripta Brut Nature Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($85) – unique and different, would make a perfect geeky present

2019 Bodegas San Valero S.Coop Cabeza Casa D.O. Cariñena ($11, Garnacha) – elegant, round, excellent QPR
2018 Bodegas San Valero Celebrities Syrah D.O. Cariñena ($11)
MV Bodegas San Valero 801 D.O. Cariñena ($20, blend of 2014 Cabernety Sauvignon, 2015 Merlot, 2016 Syrah) – very good, unusual, multi-vintage
2019 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha D.O. Cariñena ($12)

Now, the seminars. The Jerez seminar was superb, offering lots and lots of knowledge about the fascinating world of sherries. Three white grapes – Palomino Fino, Pedro Ximenez, and Moscatel – are behind the tremendous range of wines, all with unique characters and tastes ranging from absolutely bone dry (sugar content less than 5 g/l) to the syrup level with more than 300 grams of sugar per liter. Another fascinating element of Sherry is the Solera production method, where the resulting wine might technically have trace amounts of 200+ years old wines. Lots and lots of care and attention go into the Sherry production. During the “Spotlight on Sherry” seminar, led by incomparable César Saldaña, General Director of the Jerez Control Board, we learned a lot about sherries and tasted through the outstanding flight of 8 wines (with the exception of the last 2 which I didn’t enjoy that much).

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Here are my notes regarding the 8 wines we tasted:

Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana
4 years Solera
Almonds, hazelnut, sage, brioche
Crisp, dry, fresh, hazelnut, pecorino cheese, sapidity, dusty palate
Excellent, perfect aperitif, and perfect for food

2021 Tio Pepe Fino Tio Pepe en Rama-Saca
Unique and different, blend of selection of 82 butts of Tio Pepe Solera
Bottled unfiltered
Beautiful floral nose,
Crisp, clean, elegant, mostly lemon and 0 sugar, chalky note – typical for this type of wine.
Great complexity, elegant

Valdespino Jerez Fino Ynocente
Single Vineyard in Pago Macharnudo
50 years old Palomino Fino vines
Fermented in cask
10 years Solera, Criaderras Solera
Very elegant, apples, lemon
Chalk, lemon, sapidity, 0 sugar

Williams Humber Amontillado Don Zoilo
Solera 12 years
Biologically aged until the full absence of flor
Butterscotch!
Crisp, fresh, herbaceous

Lustau Almagenista Oloroso Pata de Gallina
Almagenista: Juan Garcia Jarana
38 casks, aged on average 15 years
Butterscotch, caramel
Crisp acidity, sapidity, great complexity, hazelnut

Osborne Palo Cortado Capuchin VORS
Solera was founded in 1790! Potentially, there were traces of 230 years old wine!
5 criaderas
Average age 30 years
Tobacco, mint, basil
Pepper, tobacco, caramel, complex, long finish.
Superb

Bodegas Tradicion Cream Tradicion VOS
Blend of 30 years Oloroso (70%), 6 years old Pedro Ximénez (30%)
Average age 25 years
Dry fruit
Concentrated sugar, not great.

Barbadillo Pedro Ximénez la Chila
Solera system average 5 years
Amazing nose – raisins, figs,
Pure liquid raisins on the palate. I would like more acidity.

 


Finally, I attended the seminar called “Essential Spain in 8 Glasses”, presented by Laura Williamson, MS, and Evan Goldstein, MS.

If the country is the second-largest wine producer in the world, cultivating about 600 different grape varieties, is it even fathomable to present such a complex wine world in the format of 8 wines? While it is not easy, you can get reasonably close. I think the presenters made a good effort by including Cava, Albariño, Verdejo, Mencia, Rioja, Priorat, Garnacha, and Ribera del Duero.

2012 Pere Ventura Gran Vintage Brut Paraje Clasificada Cava DO ($55)
Yeasty nose, fresh dough
Crisp, yeasty, yeasty, yeasty, yeasty – not my wine

2020 Condes de Albarei Albariño ($16)
Tropical fruit nose
Acidic, Whitestone fruit, crisp, simple

2020 Bodegas Ordoñez Nisa Verdejo Old World Rueda ($32)
Intense nose with a hint of freshly cut grass, flowers
Rich, caramel component, overdone

2015 Ole Imports a-Portela Mencia ($29)
Very nice nose, fresh, open, fresh berries
Beautiful herbal/gamey component, but then very bitter on the palate – whole cluster not done right?

2014 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja ($85)
Outstanding. Delicious all around.

2017 Clos Martinet Priorat (65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 4% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Smoke, roasted notes
Red and black fruit, perfect balance, great acidity, a touch of chocolate

2018 Also Moncayo VERATON ($35, Garnacha)
Plums, cherries,
Good acidity, fresh, cherries, crisp, great finesse

2018 Pago de Carraovejas Ribera Duero ($39)
Chalk, a hint of cherries,
Cherries, dark concentrated fruit, restrained. Very nice.

Last but not least – there was food! The food was carried around in all the different forms – I didn’t have much time to enjoy it, so I was mostly grabbing pieces of Jamon and Manchego between the tastings – these are the pictures I will leave you with.

This concludes my report. Have you had any Spanish wine discoveries as of late? What are your thoughts about the new wines and new styles?

Celebrate Versatility of Sherry

November 12, 2021 2 comments

Sherry. Jerez. Xerez.

I’m sure you’ve seen the name, at least one of the three. But when was the last time you actually had a sip of sherry? While you are trying to recall, let’s talk about it.

The winemaking area where the eponymous wine is produced, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, is located in the south of Spain and is one of the oldest winemaking areas in Spain and in the world, producing wines since 1100 BC. Nowadays, Sherry is known as a fortified wine – meaning that a neutral spirit was added during wine production to stop the process of fermentation. However, the fortification of Sherry is relatively a young phenomenon, developed in the 17th-18th centuries – until then, Sherry was simply known as a high-quality wine. After developing its unique style as fortified wines aged typically for 8 years using the solera method (the wine is partially taken from the barrel for bottling, and the barrel is topped off with the wine from the new vintage, repeating the process for many years), Sherry became one of the most popular Spanish wines, competing for the crown with Rioja. Phylloxera infestation at the end of the 19th century delivered a lethal blow to the Sherry wine industry, from which it never fully recovered.

Sherry wines are unique and even mysterious. Only three grapes – Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel, are used in the production of sherries. Actually, Palomino is used in the production of about 95% of all Sherry wines. Five different styles of dry Sherry – Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso, are produced from the same palomino grape, each one with its own unique characteristics. Then you have a range of Cream sherries, typically combining one of the Palomino-based dry sherries with Pedro Ximénez, to achieve various degrees of sweetness. Last but not least would be Pedro Ximénez (typically abbreviated as PX) and Moscatel sherries, delivering oozing sweetness – but, when done properly, offering balancing acidity, and becoming heavenly nectar.

I discovered the world of Sherries more than 10 years ago, and really enjoyed that discovery for a while. Until for some mysterious reason (there is a mystery in Sherry, I’m telling you), I stopped enjoying most of them with the exception of PX. I was a bit confused as to why and how it happened and even shared my frustration and the attempted comeback in this post. Then a few months back, I poured myself a little glass of Oloroso from the leftover bottle from the past tasting (the beauty of Sherry – it can keep almost indefinitely after opening, don’t try that with wine), looking for the pre-dinner drink – and I was back in love. Pure mystery, but I’m not complaining.

Considering its range of styles, Sherry is one of the most versatile wines out there. You can pair it with your mood, as the expressions of the dry sherries are literally unmatched in the world of wine offering non-fruity complexity (nuttiness, salinity, herbaceousness, crisp acidity, and more); sweet sherries simply bring you into the world of hedonistic indulgences. You can also perfectly pair a whole dinner with Sherry, starting with a simple aperitif, as I did with the aforementioned Oloroso, and ending with PX, either by itself (good enough) or with a dessert (even better).

Oh yes, the dessert. This week, November 8 – 14, 2021, is designated as Sherry Week (#SherryWeek2021), a worldwide celebration of this unique wine. As part of the festivities, I received samples of the Sherry wines produced by González Byass, one of the purveyors of the fine Sherry wines. Moreover, the sherries were accompanied by dessert, and suggested pairings! I got a selection of pies from Tiny Pies to pair along with the Gonzalez Byass Sherries as follows:

  • Apple Pie with Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso 
  • Pecan Pie with Harveys Bristol Cream
  • Texas Two Step (a pecan and chocolate brownie pie) with Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Cream
  • Cherry Pie with Gonzalez Byass Néctar Pedro Ximenez

Let me say first a few words about Tiny Pies. Tiny Pies company was born in 2010, in Austin, Texas, with its history starting from a simple question – quoting from the Tiny Pies website in the words of one of the founders, Amanda: “One day in 2010, my son, Andrew, innocently asked why he couldn’t take a piece of apple pie to school. I tried explaining to him that it wouldn’t be easy to eat. Andrew then suggested that we make a pie he “could eat with his hands””. The rest is history- today Tiny Pies operate 4 locations in Austin, and they also ship their pies countrywide, and yes, you can eat them with your hands.

Now, the sherries. Out of the four sherries I received, I was well familiar with 3 – Oloroso, Harveys Bristol Cream, and Néctar – instead of repeating my notes, you can find them in this post. González Byass Solera 1847 Cream Dulce (18% ABV, $17/375 ml, 75% Palomino, 25% Pedro Ximénez) was a new wine for me. At first, I got very excited about 1847 in the name, as I thought that maybe this is when the original solera was started and maybe it is still going (which would make it a 170 years old wine, not bad, right? :)). I asked the publicist this question, and the answer was a bit more prosaic but still worthwhile: The founder of González Byass, Manuel Maria González, founded the winery in 1835. His son turned 1 in 1847, so he decided to name the Sherry after the year he turned 1. Otherwise, the wines spent 8 years in solera, and each barrel is used for approximately 30 years. So one way or the other, but 1847 is not a random number.

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Of course, I tasted the wine by itself, and it was delicious – dark amber color, complex and herbaceous nose. The palate was full of dried fruit, chocolate, and figs, with good acidity and perfect balance.

And now, to the pairing!

I obviously went along with the recommendations – here are my notes:

Apple Pie with Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso:
Interesting. Some contrasting notes, but not great. Best pairing – Pedro Ximenez. Worked perfectly, matching the cinnamon profile of the apple pie.

Pecan Pie with Harveys Bristol Cream:
Very nice. Excellent match on the nuttiness. Not so good with Cream 1847. Harveys complements perfectly and refreshes the palate after the bite.

Texas Two Step (a pecan and chocolate brownie pie) with Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Cream
Very good, pairing by the contrast. Sherry perfectly cuts through the sweetness.

Cherry Pie with Gonzalez Byass Néctar Pedro Ximenez
Not good. Néctar flavors clashed with the Cherry pie. Tried with all the sherries, and the only working was Harveys Bristol Cream, as it complimented the flavors of the cherry pie.

This was definitely a fun exercise – it is interesting to note that at least one of the 3 sweet sherries paired perfectly with the dessert – however, the Oloroso pairing with dessert was lost on my palate.

While I’m sharing my experience here, I’m really hoping that this would spark at least a little interest in you, my readers, to seek and try a sherry. Sherry wines are not gimmicks, they are versatile, inexpensive, and give you almost unlimited time to finish that bottle. No need to wait for Sherry Week 2022 to experience Sherry – visit your favorite retailer and give it a try. And then let’s compare notes…

Magnificent Rioja: CVNE Deep Dive

November 8, 2021 8 comments

It is no secret that I have a special relationship with Rioja – I happily admitted it many times. When asked about my favorite wine, I always say that I don’t have one. And every time I give this answer, deep inside there is a bit of the uneasy feeling, the one you get when you know you are not lying, but somewhat flirting with the truth, as Rioja is probably “the one”.

What would make the Rioja so special for me? For one, it was a pivotal experience at the PJ Wine Rioja seminar, where I tasted through an incredible lineup, including a 45 years old Rioja, and it was still absolutely beautiful (later on I tasted 65 years old Rioja which was, again, superb). Also, when it comes to Rioja, I can easily give you a bunch of producer names, whose wines I would wholeheartedly recommend to a friend and also would be excited to drink at any time myself – come to California, I might have to pause for a moment while looking for the favorites to recommend – I hope it tells you something.

Speaking about favorite Riojas, I want to talk to you today about CVNE, also known as Cune due to a typesetting mistake. In 1879, the Real de Asúa brothers arrived in Haro for the reason not related to wine. Nevertheless, that’s how the story of Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (C.V.N.E.), one of the most prominent Rioja producers, has begun. During its 140 years, CVNE remained a hallmark of quality and creativity. In 1915, CVNE introduced the very first White Rioja wine, Monopole. In 1973, CVNE founded Vinedos del Contino, the very first single-vineyard Rioja. Now in its 5th generation, CVNE continues to be a family winery and continues its advancement, now venturing even outside of Rioja, into Ribera del Duero and Valdeorras.

CVNE Rioja wines are produced at 5 wineries. First, there is the original Cune, which is simply a misspelled word for the CVNE, founded in 1879. In 1920, CVNE started production of Viña Real and Imperial Riojas. Viña Real was envisioned to be a more modern rendition of Rioja (in the 1920s), and Imperial was specifically produced for English markets. Imperial went on to become one of the most coveted Rioja wines, even becoming the wine #1 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list in 2013.

In 1973, Viñedos del Contino was created to become the first single-vineyard Rioja wine. In 1994, CVNE started its latest Rioja project, Real de Asúa, to honor the founders of the winery and create the most modern rendition of Rioja, using grapes from high altitude Villalba vineyards in Rioja Alta area.

Each one of these Riojas has its own, unique style. But can we taste the differences? I had a perfect opportunity to try answering this question. I got samples of 3 of the CVNE Rioja Reserva wines – Cune, Viña Real, and Imperial, all from 2015,. I also happened to have a few bottles of 2015 Contino Reserva and altogether this set out a perfect stage to try 4 different Rioja wines from the same vintage and technically, the same producer.

Before we get to wines, let’s say a few words about the vintage. Production of Rioja wines is strictly regulated by its governing body, Rioja Consejo Regulador, to ensure quality, and subsequently, the reputation of the Rioja wines around the world. All the vintages in Rioja have their official vintage ratings – Excellent, Very Good, Good, Medium, Normal. 2015 was officially designated as Very Good (not Excellent, such as 2001, 2004, or 2010, but still Very Good), which should still set a good level of expectations. 2015 vintage had a couple of unique characteristics, though. 2015 had the earliest harvest in the history of Rioja, starting early in September. It was also a very short harvest – typically, the harvest in Rioja takes about 2 months, with the feast of Virgen del Pilar usually taking place on October 12th, to celebrate the peak of the picking season. In 2015, the harvest was completed in 4 weeks so by October 12th all the picking was pretty much complete. How does any of this manifest in wines? I’m honestly not sure, that would require actually a vertical tasting – which I would be happy to conduct if I would have an opportunity.

So how were the wines? In a word – amazing. All four wines were absolutely gorgeous, delicious right now, and will continue to be delicious for the many years ahead. Here are my notes:

2015 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $37, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo)
Dark Garnet
Dark fruit, tobacco, espresso, expressive
Red and black fruit, cedar box, herbs, forest underbrush, firm, good structure
8/8+, lip smacking goodness. Delicious. If you are looking for a massive, earth-shattering wine, such as Walla Walla or California Cab, this is not the wine for you. But if you are looking for the wine which seduces and sings to you, give this wine a try.

2015 CVNE Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $29, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo)
Dark garnet, almost black
Dark, brooding, minerality, cedar box, funk
Dark fruit, plums, explicit tannins, firm structure, fresh, good acidity.
8/8+, excellent, comforting, powerful, impossible to stop drinking.

2015 Contino Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $46, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo and Garnacha)
Dark garnet, almost black
Plums, cigar box, sweet tobacco
Complex, multilayered, earthy, dark fruit, clean acidity, lots of energy
8/8+, This is very early for this wine, but it is very enjoyable now, and it will be amazing with age

2015 Imperial Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $50, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, Mazuelo, and Garnacha)
Dark Garnet
Earthy, spicy, red and black fruit, medium-plus intensity
Dark fruit, cigar box, firm, perfectly structured, delicious.
8+/9-, outstanding, lots of pleasure.

Believe it or not, but Imperial Rioja was my accidental pairing with BBQ chicken pizza, and the wine worked perfectly with it.

So now the secret is out. I’m lying when I’m claiming that I don’t have a favorite wine, and Rioja is the one. Well, I’m quite happy with my choice of affection – but do you have enough courage to name your favorite wine? Oh yes, with the coming holidays, any one of these Riojas would make a perfect present – to a friend, or to yourself. Go ahead, find it – everyone deserves a tasty Rioja. Cheers!

 

Everyday Bubbles

June 17, 2021 1 comment

Do you have an everyday wine? An everyday wine is a wine you are happy to open on any day that has a name ending with “y”, like Monday, without any second thoughts. For the wine lover, there is always a ritual to choose the proper wine for each and every occasion (read: an evening after work), so the everyday wine is the wine allowing to circumvent that ritual, just open a bottle, get a glass, pour wine, and instantly feel better.

I would bet that for the majority of the wine lovers, the everyday wine would be a still wine – white, red, maybe a Rosé, but a still wine. There is an aura surrounding the sparkling wines – you can’t open bubbles without a special occasion, and “just another Monday” might not be it. There are many reasons the sparkling wines not considered appropriate for a casual evening. Sparkling wines have the whole celebratory mindset attached to them – “if I’m drinking sparkling wine I have something to celebrate”. Sparkling wines are usually more expensive than quality-comparable still wines. And so it is somewhat difficult to find a sparkling wine that can be designated as an “everyday wine”.

Difficult, but not impossible. Well, yes, it all depends. If you insist on drinking only Champagne, an “everyday Champagne” might be a challenge – at least a financial one. But if you are willing to look outside of Champagne, then Cava, Cremant, and Prosecco offer some good options. I want to bring two of such “everyday bubbles” to your attention.

First, Prosecco. Prosecco, produced in Northern Italy, is a sparkling wine that had been around almost as long as Champagne – with the only difference that it became internationally known only about 30 years ago (you can read the story here). But today, Prosecco is everywhere, and it offers lots of great options to consider for everyday bubbles. As, for example, Ca’ Di Prata, produced by Latentia Winery, and distributed by Mack and Schuhle I already wrote about a few months ago. Ca’ Di Prata takes its name from the town of Prata di Pordenone in Friuli, one of the epicenters of Prosecco production. I had an opportunity to try a few of the Ca’ Di Prata Prosecco wines (samples), and below are my notes:

Ca’ Di Prata Brut Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $15.99)
Practically clear, nice tangy mousse
Touch of tropical fruit, a hint of honey
Refreshing, Meyer lemon, good acidity, mellow, good volume, a hint of sweet apples
8, very good, easy to drink, simple. Quaffable on its own, but should be perfect for cocktails (Mimosa, anyone?)

Ca’ Di Prata Rosé Extra Dry Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $16.99, 85% Glera, 15% Pinot Nero)
Light pinkish color, abundant bubbles
Hint of strawberries
Strawberries all the way, a touch of lemon, creamy, inviting, a touch of sweetness, very well balanced.
8-, perfect everyday bubbles

Ca’ Di Prata Extra Dry Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG (11% ABV, $17.99)
Almost clear with a greenish hue, good amount of bubbles
Distant hint of an apple and flower petals, refreshing
Green apple, fresh, crisp, initially had a hint of sweetness which subsided, a touch of lemon.
8-, excellent for what it is – easy bubbles.

And then, of course, there is Cava – another perfect candidate for everyday bubbles. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine, produced in exactly the same way as Champagne (secondary fermentation in the bottle) in Penedes in Catalonia. Cava is currently trying to change its image of simple, inexpensive, and often mediocre quality wine by introducing new categories and new subzones in the region – but this should be a subject for a separate post.

The Cava which I want you to consider for the everyday wine is one of my favorites, both aesthetically and taste-wise – Vilarnau Barcelona. I already wrote about Vilarnau at length before, so for the history, I would like to offer you this link. For this post, I tasted two wines (samples) from the beautifully appointed, Gaudi inspired bottles – here are my notes:

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava DO (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel Lo, 15+ months in the bottle)
Light gold
Herbal, earthy, apple, lemon
Fresh, clean, apples, creamy, good body
7+, perfect for every day

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Cava DO (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Garnacha, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle)
Salmon pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of gunflint
Fresh strawberries, crisp, clean, energetic,
Delicious.
8, excellent

What do you think? Would you make any of these wines your everyday wine? Cheers!

Hey, Rioja, What’s New?

April 20, 2021 2 comments

I love Rioja.

But you already know that.

Well-made Rioja, opened in its due time, is one of the ultimate indulgences wine lovers can experience. I can bet this is also nothing new for you.

So what’s new with Rioja?

Every new vintage of any wine is unique and different, true, but talking about new vintages unquestionably banal. How about then Rioja made from organic grapes? What do you think about classic Rioja made from organic grapes – and timely conversation during April, the Earth Month?

CVNE, Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España, one of the oldest producers in Rioja (CVNE celebrated 140th anniversary last year), requires no introduction to any Spanish wine lover. CVNE produces a number of different Rioja lines – Cune, Viña Real, Imperial, Contino are some of the best known. Now, the Cune line has brand new Rioja to brag about – the first Rioja red wine made with organic grapes. The wine is made out of 100% Tempranillo (not very common) from the vineyards which were organically farmed, from the vintage with an Excellent rating (2019 was rated Excellent by Rioja DOC). The wine is also Vegan certified, and even sports the label produced from recycled materials. Most importantly, this is a simple, and tasty wine:

2019 CVNE Cune Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $15, 100% Tempranillo, organic grapes, Vegan certified, wild yeast fermentation, 4 months aging in oak)
Dark ruby with purple hues
Dark berries and cedar box
Soft, round, good acidity, soft ripe fruit, medium-long finish mostly acidic.
7+, food-friendly, simple, and easy to drink.

Back in 1915, CVNE produced Rioja’s first white wine – Monopole. It was not only the first white Rioja – this was the first white wine produced in Spain.

I had the pleasure of tasting many vintages of CVNE Monopole, and I have to honestly say that this 2020 was by far my favorite Monopole I tasted – I know I said talking about new vintages is banal, and here I am, yeah. Oh well. The wine needed a bit of time to open, but after 20 minutes in the glass, it was absolutely beautiful.

2020 CVNE Monopole Blanco Seco Rioja DOC (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Viura, Vegan certified)
Straw pale, literally clear
Explicit minerality, a touch of gunflint
Crisp, tight, lean, hint of whitestone fruit, explicit minerality.
8+, outstanding.

Bodegas Beronia is much younger than CVNE, founded in 1973 by a group of friends from the Basque country. In 1982, Bodegas Beronia became a part of González Byass’s portfolio, and at that point, Bodegas Beronia wines appeared on the international market.

Bodegas Beronia is known for its innovative approach to winemaking. Rioja wines are traditionally aged in American oak, which gave them a rustic, “traditional” taste profile. Recently, many winemakers switched to using the French oak, which gives the Rioja more of the international, “modern” taste profile, making wines also more approachable at a younger age. Bodegas Beronia pioneered the use of specially made barrels, which use both American and French oak in its construction, to create a unique taste profile, an intersection of tradition and modernity.

In this release of 2017 Crianza, Bodegas Beronia recognized the new realities of 2021, where people have to spend more time by themselves, and added the 375 ml, a half bottle to the portfolio, making it easier for the wine lovers to open a bottle for a solo night.

2017 Bodegas Beronia Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $14.99/750ml bottle, $7.99/375ml bottle, 94% Tempranillo, 5% garnacha, 1% Mazuelo)
Ruby red
Freshly crushed red berries, a touch of barnyard, smoke, earthy
Red fruit, eucalyptus, clean acidity, excellent balance.
7+ at the moment, needs time

There you have it, my friends. A brand new organic wine from Rioja, a superb white Rioja, and a thoughtful Rioja, coming in different formats, all reasonably priced, perfectly suited for life at the moment. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Vinous Vino

January 31, 2021 3 comments

This post could’ve been filed under lots of different titles – “confusion of the oenophile”, “beautiful labels”, “how mistakes are made”, “one has to pay attention”, and I’m sure many others.

The story here is rather simple. I saw the wine on the Last Bottle offered at $26. If you ever saw the Last Bottle offer descriptions, it is full of exclamation marks, explanations that they never had the wine like that before and their collective socks were blown away the second they smelled the wine, and the wine will be gone before anyone can even say the name of the wine which is offered. I really can’t pay attention to the text like that, so with a quick glance, I established that this was a Tempranillo wine from Spain, and it was produced by Elias Mora. When reading every other word or less, mistakes are bound to happen. Somehow, my brain transformed Elias Mora into Emilio Moro, one of the very best producers in the Ribera Del Duero region, and at $26 with 4 bottles to buy to get free shipping and $30 of available credit, that sounded like a great deal, so I quickly completed the purchase.

When the wine arrived, first I admired a beautiful label. I don’t know what you think, but to me, this is one of the most beautiful and creative labels I ever saw. Then I noticed the word Toro on the label, which made me instantly question what I have done, as Emilio Moro doesn’t produce wines in Toro. I quickly realized that while the label is beautiful, I have no way to relate to the content of the bottle, except knowing that it is a Tempranillo from the Toro region.

Tempranillo is one of the most popular red grapes in Spain, and while Tempranillo wines are produced absolutely everywhere, it is Rioja and Ribera Del Duero which make Spanish Tempranillo famous. In addition to Rioja and Ribera Del Duero, Toro is the third Tempranillo-focused region. Tempranillo is often called Ink of Toro in the Toro region, and it might be slightly a different clonal variation of Tempranillo, similar to Sangiovese in Chianti and Sangiovese Grosso in Brunello. Compared to a typical Rioja or Ribera del Duero renditions, Toro always packs a lot more power into that same Tempranillo-based wine and typically needs time to mellow out.

I tried to find out if Elias Mora and Emilio Moro might be related in any way, but the Elias Mora website offers little to no information about the history of the estate, primarily focusing on just selling the wine. I also tried to no avail learn the idea behind the unique and creative label – the wine description provides technical details but no explanation whatsoever why the bottle is decorated with an elaborate image of playing cards – of course, it matches the name “Descarte”, but I’m sure there should be something deeper there (if you know the story, I would greatly appreciate a comment).

Now, most importantly – how was the 2015 Elias Mora Descarte Toro DO (14.5% ABV, 12 months in French oak, comes from the plot of 50 years old vines)? It was a typical Toro wine. On the first day after opening, I had nothing but regrets about buying this wine. Freshly opened Toro is just too much for my palate. It is literally an espresso, made from the darkest roast and in the tiniest amount – if you enjoy that powerful punch, you should try a young Toro wine. If you don’t, and you are opening a bottle of Toro, decanter might be of help. On the third day, however, my first sip instantly generated the “vinous vino” words in my mind, so I needed not to worry about the title of this post. The wine transformed into the medley of the dark fruit, perfect aromatics of the wine cellar, cedar, eucalyptus, now just a touch of espresso instead of the whole ristretto shot, clean acidity, and delicious, perfectly balanced, finish. (Drinkability: 8)

There you are, my friends. If you will see this wine, you can definitely buy a few bottles, preferably to forget them in your cellar for the next 5-10 years. And take your time to read wine descriptions – or not, as life might be more fun if you don’t. Cheers!

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