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Spanish Wines: Beyond The Reds

November 3, 2019 3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my notes for the wines we tasted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Garnacha from Cariñena

November 13, 2015 2 comments
Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards. Source: Cariñena DOP

Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards.
Source: Cariñena DOP

Today we will be talking about Garnacha, better known around the world under its French name of Grenache.  But the region we will focus on is located in Spain,  so let’s use regionally-appropriate name.

Garnacha is one of the most important grapes of Spain, rivaled only by Tempranillo. It is planted practically in all the regions, and used both solo and as a blending grape, delivering tremendous range of expression.

Let’s narrow down our focus a bit and talk about Garnacha from Cariñena. Cariñena is a region in the central part of Spain, second oldest official DO (protected origin) in Spain and one of the first in Europe, created in 1932. Most of the vineyards in Cariñena are situated on the mountains, from 400 meters to 800+ meters (1300 ft – 2600 ft) above sea level. One of the best known grapes from the region is … Cariñena, which I find quite  confusing considering that this is also the name of the region itself. However, the most planted grape is…yes, Garnacha, which takes 55% of all the grape plantings. Another interesting fact is that Garnacha plantings in Cariñena are some of the oldest in Spain, with age of some vines more than 100 years old.

I will not inundate you here with information which you can find on your own, for instance, on the official D.O.P. Cariñena web site. I recently heard that Andrea Immer Robinson, one of the 18 women Master Sommeliers, and an official Sommelier for Delta Airlines, selected Cariñena Garnacha wines to serve to the Business Class passengers on Delta flights due to its affinity to the high altitude. Obviously I got intrigued with this statement, and I was lucky enough to reach out to Andrea and ask a few questions about it. Here is what I was able to learn:

Q: It sounds like different wines might have different affinity to showing best at the high altitude? Is that really true? Can you elaborate on this a bit?
A: Yes it is true. At altitude your sense of smell is muted and your palate is less hydrated. Consequently, more restrained wine scent/flavor profiles or more intensely tannic wines may not present as well in-flight.

Q: Do you have an example of the wine which is delicious on the ground, and doesn’t taste that well up in the sky?
A: It is less that a wine doesn’t taste well in the sky, and more that it may seem less expressive or flavorful. The subtlety of Italian Pinot Grigio is an example of a style that classically seems muted and less flavorful at altitude. But I did find a great one that belies the broad-brush experience I have had which is exciting.
[TaV comment]: Obviously this is where the limitations of the virtual conversation kick in, as I would love to ask Andrea what was that great Pinot Grigio which she was able to find to serve at the high altitude.

Q: What do you think makes Garnacha from Cariñena good wines to drink at the high altitude? Do you think all Garnacha from Cariñena wines are equally good to drink at the high altitude, or is it only few particular wines?
A: The Garnacha from Carinena is expressive and concentrated and the tannins though present, are soft and ripe – so, the wine shows a lot of character and is not drying to the palate in flight. The particular example that is getting rave reviews presently is a 9 year old Reserva – that extra bottle age gives complexity that customers are going ape over. I don’t thin every wine would garner this type of response–I think the bottle age and complexity of the Reserva level are a big part of it.
[TaV comment]: Yep, here we go again – would love to know what Reserva wine was that…

Q: What are your favorite Garnacha from Cariñena wines, whether on the ground or on the board of the plane?
A: I love the Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva that we are serving on Delta now. I also really love the Castillo de Monserran and the Paniza Vinas Viejas on the ground (haven’t tried them in flight). Perfect as we get into stew season!

I also was able to taste a few of Garnacha from Cariñena wines, and below are my impressions:

2012 Viñas Viejas de Paniza Garnacha Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $18, 100% Garnacha, 6 month in oak)
C: dark ruby
N: lavender, espresso, touch of dark fruit
P: hint of chocolate, cherries, medium body, good acidity
V: 7+

2012 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Old Vine Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $14.99, 100% Garnacha, 14 month in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, whiff of alcohol, dark fruit, raspberries
P: fresh raspberries, open, bright, medium body, herbal undertones, pronounced acidity, short to medium finish, but then tannins come in after a while.
V: 7+ at the moment, needs time. Judging by the acidity and late tannins, this wine needs at least 5 years to develop

2013 Corona de Aragon Special Selection Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV, $14, 50% Garnacha, 50% Cariñena, 5 month in oak)
C: Dark garnet
N: restrained with herbal undertones, pencil shavings (rarely use this descriptor, but it was very deserving here), hint of blackberries
P: fresh, delicious, dark chocolate, cherries, classic Grenache rendition with good acidity and excellent balance
V: 8-, my favorite of the tasting, would happily drink this wine every day – definitely an excellent QPR

Have you had any of the Garnacha Cariñena wines? What are your thought on the wines at the high altitude? Don’t be shy, comment away! Cheers!

P.S. I would like to thank kind folks at Gregory White PR for providing samples and reaching out to Andrea Immer Robinson

Month in Wines – September and October 2015

November 4, 2015 5 comments

If there is one neglected topic in this blog, it is the “month in wines” series, which I managed to produce quite regularly during 2014 and before. I will do my best to fix this, so if you see “June Wines” blog post in December, you would know why. This also means that these “caught up” posts will be even longer than usual – but again, now you know why.

There were lots of interesting wines during September and October, so here is a glimpse into what was pouring – well, it is a long “glimpse”, as I’m trying to cover 2 month at once, so please bear with me.

2014 Notte Italiana Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, kosher) – simple and easy, good acidity. 7

2013 Via Semi Sweet Sparkling Wine, Israel (10.7% ABV, kosher, 50% Gewurztraminer, 50% Viognier) – the inner snob said “it will not be good”, and was ashamed. The wine had nice balance of sweetness and acidity, very pleasant and simple. 7+

2013 Fero Vineyards Dry Riesling, Pennsylvania (11.5% ABV) – still need to write a post about visiting Fero Vineyards. In any case, this was nice and classic, good acidity, nice touch of honey and honeysuckle, but just a touch. 7+

2012 Carlisle The Derivative Sonoma County (14.2% ABV, 54% Semillon, 30% Muscadelle, 16% Palomino) – delicious. Bright white fruit on the nose, more of the same on the palate with clean acidity. 8-

2013 Carlisle Compagni Portis Sonoma Valley (13.9% ABV, blend of Gewurztraminer, Trosseau Gris and Riesling) – another delicious Carlisle white. Fresh and bright on the nose, medium to full body on the palate, with an impeccable balance of fruit and acidity. Ahh, and the new grape – Trosseau Gris. 8

2015 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valley Marlboro (13% ABV) – literally summer in the bottle. Fresh, exuberant, a pure delight. And the first wine I had of 2015 vintage. 8

2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.2% ABV) – one would never think to find white wine made out of the red grape outside of Champagne, right? This was a beautiful surprise – fresh, vibrant, crisp, good white fruit, medium body, excellent balance and complexity. 8-

It appears that this is all I had for the whites – note to self – need to drink more white wines… Anyway, the rest are the red wines.

2013 Valcantara Old Vine Garnacha, Cariñena DO, Spain (13.5% ABV) – closeout deal at my local wine store ($7.99) – however the wine is outstanding. Classic Garnacha with plums and dark chocolate. Good acidity and easy to drink. 8-

2013 Alighieri Rubino del Marchese Toscana IGP (12% ABV) – another closeout deal, same price as previous wine. There was an interesting bottle variation as the first bottle was just all about acidity and not much about fruit, but the second bottle was much more balanced. Quite enjoyable, especially at the price. 7

1997 Le Ragose Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore (12.5% ABV) – it showed age, but was still well drinkable. Lots of tertiary aromas, touch of dried fruit, but still with a good core of acidity. 8-

2011 ARFI Gabriel Cabernet Sauvignon Judean Hills, Israel (13.1% ABV, kosher) – not a bad rendition of Cab, but was a bit too sweet for my palate – I would like it to be a bit more balanced. 7

2014 The Crossings Pinot Noir Awatare Valley Marlboro, New Zealand (14% ABV) – very good example of Pinot Noir from Marlboro. Good balance of fruit and acidity, all the Pinot traits. 7+

2005 Viña Real Rioja Crianza (13.5% ABV) – classic Rioja, no sign of age. ‘Nuf said. 8

2005 Block 213 Merlot Oakville Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) – was opened for the “Merlot Month”, and I’m glad I did – it was right at the pick, if not starting to decline a bit. Still quite enjoyable, good body, good amount of fruit, cassis. 8-

2012 Nissley Naughty Marietta Semi-dry Red Wine Lancaster Valley, Pennsylvania (12% ABV) – and again inner snob was ashamed. While the wine shows some level of sweetness, it is perfectly balanced with acidity and tannins, very pleasant wine after all. 7+

2013 Field Recordings Hinterland Vineyard Cabernet Franc Paso Robles (14.1% ABV, $18, 88% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot) – nicely polished and very classic. 8-

2013 Field Recordings Tommy Town Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (14.3% ABV, $18, 100% Cabernet Franc) – a bit rough initially, but came down to its senses after time in the glass. 7+

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only a few more, I promise…

2005 Château Gravat Médoc AOC (13% ABV) – still have one last bottle from the case. Only now, 10 years later, this wine is losing the grip of green chewy branches and starts showing ripe fruit and overall power. Patience is a virtue of the wine lover. 7+/8-

2005 Bodegas Ignacio Marin Barón de Lajoyosa Gran Reserva Cariñena DO, Spain (13% ABV, 50% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo, 10% Cariñena, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – perfectly structured, firm, fresh, dark fruit, delicious. 8-

2009 Wente Vineyards Small Lot Petite Sirah Livermore Valley, California (13.7% ABV, $35) – one of my absolute favorite wines – dark, polished, lots of power and structure, delicious till the last drop. You can get this beauty only at the winery, so if your plans will take you to the Livermore valley, do yourself a favor… 8

2011 Turley Duarte Zinfandel Contra Costa County (15.6% ABV)  – delicious, classic, dark and brooding. 8

2007 Verve Syrah Columbia Valley (14.5% ABV) – spot on – touch of spices, pepper, violet, dark fruit, delicious. This one comes with regret – I should’ve get lots, lots more during Last Wine Bottles marathon… 8

2007 Waterstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $22) – I don’t care whether this wine contains any of the Harlan fruit or not – this is simply delicious, outstanding California Cab which you can’t beat in value. Classic, clean, loads of black currant, perfect balance. 8+

2009 Domaine Fond Croze Cuvée Shyrus Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $29.99/1.5L, 100% Syrah) – delicious rendition of the old world Syrah – pepper, lavender, dark fruit, all intermingled and balanced. 8-

2010 Turley Zinfandel Tofanelli Vineyard Napa Valley (15.8% ABV) – I couldn’t stop smelling this wine for good 10 minutes. I didn’t want to drink it – I wanted for smell to last for as long as possible. Can’t describe it – it had everything the wine lover would want from the glass of wine. There, I said it. Incredible. On the palate, the wine had lots of dark fruit and spices, structure and power. Then is closed up and opened only on the second day. This would definitely evolve – I wish I had another bottle… 8+/9-

2012 Turley Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV) – an opposite to the previous wine. At first, it was practically closed. After a while, it showed all the traits of the great California Cab – black currant, a bit of dust, firm and delicious. 8

2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley (13.5% ABV) – if I would have to name 10 best Syrah producers in US, Zaca Mesa would be definitely in the top half of that list. Perfectly layered, with dark fruit, pepper, spices, smooth, balanced and absolutely delicious. 8+

Believe it or not, but we are finally done. What were your wine highlights as of recent? Cheers!

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