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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!

 

Rosé Showdown – California Versus Spain

May 30, 2017 4 comments

A glass of wine as an “adult beverage of choice” continues its growth in popularity. If we will take a closer look at that world of wine, we will discover that there are two types of wine which are leading that growth pattern – those two types would be Sparkling and Rosé. I’m not talking about the growth in the dollar amounts or number of bottles produced, but rather a growth in attention and demand. Today, you will be pressed hard to find a winery around the world which doesn’t produce at least one type of Rosé and one type of sparkling wine – for sure this is the case with Rosé. The production might be tiny (few hundreds of cases or even less) and far less than the demand is – but it is the wine which commands lots of attention.

Rosé from California and Spain

Another “phenomenon” makes me happy about the Rosé – it is slowly losing its “Rosé is only for a summer” connotation and becomes more and more acceptable and requested as a year-round drink. Rosé is a serious wine, with its own unique taste profile and capability to showcase terroir and grape variety, same as any other red or white, with two additional benefits. For one, I would dare to say that in general terms, Rosé’s versatility around food surpasses the white and the red wines – oh well, this might be only me. And the second one is pure aesthetics – the pink palette of Rosé, with possibly more shades than the proverbial 50, looks gorgeous, sexy and inviting – just take a look above and see if you are agreeing with me.

When I was offered to try two Rosé samples, of course, I couldn’t say no. The first wine was familiar to me, as I had a pleasure of trying 2015 vintage of Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé last year. The second one was the wine which I never saw before – Isabel Rosé from California. Thus it became an interesting experiment to see how the two wines would fare side by side.

If anything, putting Rosé from Spain and California on the “same page” makes sense as Rosé is clearly a “new phenomenon” for both regions, growing to prominence over the last 3-4 years at the most. Of course, Rosé was produced in Spain and California in much earlier days – but it was rather an exception and not the norm – unless we want to count white Zinfandel as a Rosé which I personally refuse to do. Until a few years ago, the only Spanish Rosé I knew about was the one from Lopez de Heredia ( which was outstanding). For the American Rosé, even if they were produced, they were really not that good (take a look at the blog post on Vinography called “Why Does American Rosé Suck” – no further comments needed?). Fast forward to today, and you can find lots of beautiful Rosé wines coming from Spain; American Rosé became a standout, as proven in the virtual tasting last year at the #winestudio.

Our first contender today comes from the first Pago estate in Northern Spain – Pago denomination signifies the highest quality of wines, this coveted level is not easy to achieve. Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé is made out of the 100% Tempranillo, in the “proper” way – by macerating the juice with the skins for 6-8 hours. Don’t you love the color of this wine?

The California’s Isabel Rosé is definitely a formidable opponent, as you can see starting from the bottle itself. Glass enclosure, beautiful shape and painted bottle – really curious how many people dare to discard the bottle once they finish the wine instead of keeping it (all I can tell you that I kept mine). A different but equally beautiful color on the mostly Cabernet Sauvignon wine, again produced in the classic style from one of the very best vintages in California (2016 had almost ideal growing conditions, watch out for those Cab prices) – and at one of the well-respected wineries, Michael Mondavi family estates.

As you can tell, it is definitely a game of equals, and for what it worth, my tasting notes are below:

2016 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé Tempranillo (14% ABV, $20, 100% Tempranillo)
C: bright concentrated pink
N: onion peel, fresh crunchy berries
P: intense, red fruit, plums, crisp, good acidity, medium body, will stand to wide variety of dishes
V: 8-, excellent

2016 Isabel Rosé by Michael Mondavi Family Estate California (13.5% ABV, $15, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23.5% Barbera, 1.5% Muscat)
C: light pink
N: intense fresh strawberries, herbal undertones
P: strawberries, good acidity, very dry – not bone dry, but quite dry, refreshing
V: 8-/8, light but affirmative, don’t overchill – needs to warm up a bit to become richer

Well, here we are, my friends. There was only one winner in this competition – me. Yes, I got to enjoy two outstanding wines, which will perfectly fit any table at any occasion,  and at the price, an absolute majority of the budgets. Both will be great on a summer day, a winter day, with food or without it. Grab one or both, chill and enjoy! And if you had any one of these wines, I would be really interested in your opinion. 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!

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