Horizontal Tasting: Mariah Vineyards Pinot Noir from Cartograph and Waits Mast

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Cartograph & Waits Mast Mariah PinotI love it when a plan comes together!  One of my favorite things about wine, is tasting the expression of the winemaker in the bottle.  Every touch, every decision, every nuance in his or her mind ends up in your glass.  Pinot Noir particularly responds to a gentle hand, and there is no better way to taste that than by tasting wine crafted by two winemakers, with fruit from the same vineyard.

In this case, I am lucky enough to know two fabulous wine makers who are using Pinot Noir fruit from Mendocino County’s Mariah Vineyard.  As a long time fan of the delicacy and brightness of Pinots from Mendocino County, I fell in love with these two wines at first sip – but each on it’s own merits.  Now, having the opportunity to taste them side by side, I can key in on the specific attributes of each wine that make my taste buds smile.

The Mariah Vineyard is located in the extreme reaches of Mendocino, and is part of the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  This is one of the most fascinating AVAs for wine, as it’s a non-contiguous region that is specifically drafted from “Islands in the Sky” – all vineyards that fit in the Mendocino Ridge AVA must be above 1,200 feet in elevation, and exist entirely within the coastal zone of Mendocino County.  The vineyards in this magical plane are blanketed in a thick layer of morning fog, helping maintain the zingy acids, and sit in small patches of usable space on the ridgeline that is often covered in heavy Douglass Fir forest.  Here in the Islands in the Sky, some of the state’s best Pinot Noir is grown.

First, the 2012 Cartograph Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48). Rich strawberry and cherry mingle with wild mint and wood smoke.  Fresh cream is present, with a slight cola note on the background.  Bright cranberry acidity plays with an herbal finish of forest floor and pine needles, with Bing cherries threading through the entire palate.  The finish is coated in ground baking spices, reminding me of a gingerbread house and Thanksgiving’s cranberry sauce.

In contrast, the 2012 Waits Mast Cellars Mariah VIneyards Pinot Noir ($42) is slightly wilder, with more black cherry and bramble berry pie.  The cedar woods are more pronounced, and the mint is hiding in the background.  A slightly richer wine, brown sugar dances on my palate.  The Waits Mast is Little Red Riding Hood, meandering the forest, darting in and out of black raspberry bushes, hinting at black cherry and voluptuous bramble berries, while enjoying a softer, more velvety mouth feel.  The finish is dusted with a pleasant pinch of white pepper.

The primary difference in these wines comes from the clonal selection of the specific blocks in the vineyard.   While the Cartograph block uses clone 115 and 777, the Waits Mast is block is 667 and Pommard.  Pommard is known to be a richer style Pinot Noir, with dark fruit and depth of flavor, while the 777 has that eartly, forest floor and herbal character that I found in the Cartograph.  The 667 in the Waits Mast brings out that dark cherry and plush tannin.   Another key difference is the use of commercial yeast (Cartograph) vs native yeast (Waits Mast).  Does yeast make a huge impact?  Sometimes.  Ocassionally.  Maybe.  These subtle but clear differences can showcase the stylistic features that each winemaker wants,  while still representing the fruit in a clear and present way.

In the end, these wines are so similar, that the primary different is so subtle, it can be hard to pick up.  Stylistically, they are on the same page; flavor wise, there are ever so subtle differences, that make them both sisters, and yet, unique.  So, vivre le difference!  Now, go forth and make your own vertical.  See what is different, and what is the same.  You won’t be sorry!

 

Wines of Alsace – beauty in diversity

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Wines Of AlsaceWhen I think of the wines of Alsace, my mind immediately wanders to the sparkling Cremant d’Alsace, an amazingly affordable priced bubbly.  Then, I meander to the aromatic whites of Gewurztraminer and Riesling, before setting on the classic Pinot Gris.  With so much diversity in style, even within a single varietal, it’s easy to forget that there is more to the region than these four styles of wine.

Located on the northeastern edge of France, the Alsace region has been French,  German, and everything in between for hundreds of years, with a strong tradition of wine and food.  Following the path of the Rhine river, this narrow strip of rolling hills and alpine villages lazily follows the river through over 100 wine communes.

Over 90% of still wine from Alsace is made with white varieties, lending to the claim of “pure expression”.  The expression of the region, the cuisine, and the styles of winemaking are all evident in these wines.  Typically, when I think of Alsatian whites, I gravitate pairing with spicy foods – Thai, Indian, Burmese. Recently however, I was delighted at the flavors that danced on my tongue pairing delicious whites with Moroccan food.  Logically, this makes sense – the sensual flavors with the bold spices are perfect for the cooling white wines of the region.  Stunningly versatile, we had fun mixing and matching the p;airings with the delicious food.

Starter:

Eggplant, cucumber, oregano, pepper, za’atar – a ragout of sorts that was beautifully flavorful.  I skipped the Kanpachi since I have a food allergy, but the za’atar was magnification with the 2013 Meyer-Fonne Pinot Blanc Vielles Vignes.  The creaminess of the eggplant and pungency of the oregano and peppers really played off the unctuous Pinot Blanc.

Second:

Chicken with preserved lemon, green olives; Snapper with red charmoula

Cous cous with brown butter; Carrots with dates, pecans, urfa and mint; Potatoes with buttermilk and onions; Beans with tomatoes, feta, and za’atar crumble

This was an incredible feast for the senses and there was SO much food!  Both of the wines served as excellent pairings but I preferred the 2010 Riefle Riesling Grand Cru Steinert Bonheur Exceptional with the chicken.  The aromatic spice of the dish played perfectly off of the aged Riesling’s own spice, as well as the slightly oily mouthfeel.  The Snapper was delicious with the 2012 Albert Boxler Pinot Gris Reserve.

Cheese – typically you might think of pairing a sweet, dessert style wine with a sweet dessert.  However, the balance of the sweet wine with the creamy, sharp, and pungent cheeses was imply mouthwatering.  The 2012 Weinbach Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum Vendanges Tarvide is still full of life, with beautiful acid, honey notes and caramel syrup, while maintaining apricots and acid . The pairing of Point Reyes Blue cheese with a dash of honey and this was was sublime.

Thank you to Mourad for an amazing Moroccan feast, and to the Wines of Alsace for the surprising pairings.  Alsace’s marketing motto is “Pure Expression” and these wines hit the mark, while showing us how you can be versatile and don’t have to stick with tradtion when pairing the aromatic white wines of eastern France.  With excellent QPR and price points friendly enough for every wallet, it’s easy to experiment with Alsatian wines.  Try a bottle with your favorite ethnic cuisine, or with BBQed chicken.  Go ahead and try an older Pinot Gris with pork chops.  The beauty of wines with versatility is that you can!

Next time you are in the mood for North African cuisine, think Wines of Alsace! 

 

Thank you Wines of Alsace for the delicious meal, and inventive pairings!

Tastemakers: Madrona Vineyards, Excellence in Cabernet Franc

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Earlier this year, when I was in El Dorado wine country in Northern California, I had my first experience with Madroña Vineyards.  This family run business is in an idea climate for Rhône and Bordeaux varietals, and the elevation in Apple Hill gives it a special terroir that stands out from the rest of the pack.

Sitting at 3,000 feet, Madroña has three vineyards, all family owned:  The estate vineyard, the Enyé Vineyard, and the Sumu-Kaw Vineyard, in Pleasant Valley.  Each vineyard has a unique character, and with over 26 varietals planted, winemaker Paul Bush can experiment with small selections, and tweak them until he is satisfied.  Some of that desire to blend, tweak, and perfect, resulted in this unique horizontal tasting of four Cabernet Francs.

While talking to Paul on my recent visit, I had the opportunity to taste two of these Cab Francs, and was instantly smitten,  When I found out he was doing a Cab Lovers Experience, I was excited to taste all four of his offerings side by side.  In the Cab Franc 4-pack, each bottle is a vastly different expression of the grape.  What would the single block near the barn tattie like?  Hint:  One of these things is not like the other.  Would an experiment with mechanical destemming vs hand selection make a marked difference?  Good question.  Finally, is the sum of the parts equal to the parts themselves (what happens when you blend, Vinny?).  For me, the side by side tasting experience is a clear showcase of how micro terroirs and winemkaing technique can alter the final product.  Oh, and it’s good juice.  Very, very good juice.

First up, the comparison between La Machine and Grain by Grain, where the grapes were picked at the same time, the same way, but processed slightly differently.  The Grain par Grain (berry by berry) and La Machine were both hand harvested, but the Grain par Grain was carefully destemmed by hand, and transferred to fermentation puncheons by nuns who have never eaten processed food.  Ok I was just kidding about the nuns; but compared to the La Machine that was destemmed by a traditional destemming machine, and pumped in to the puncheon, it was a much more etheral experience – which clearly impacted teh final result.  Everything past the destemming and transfer to puncheon was performed identically.  What were the differences?

2011 La Machine Cabernet Franc ($40) – Bursting with red fruit, bing cherries, pomegranite, and forest berries, the cedar plank and mint notes were apparent from the get go.  Given a bit of time, milk chocolate, baking spices, dutch cocoa, molasses, and a hint of green peppercorn came out to dance on the palate.  The La Machine was slightly sharper, with harder angles and brighter acids.  Bright red fruit and hibiscus shine through, and on the second day, more earthy notes were detectable.

2011 Grain par Grain Cabernet Franc ($60) – like a velvet glove, cloves, cracked pepper and smoke hung over blackberries and ripe plums, while dried herbs and cassis lingered in the background.  This was a much more feminine wine, unctuous at times, and perfect with blue cheese or just on it’s own.  It would seem, to me at least that the manual deconstruction of the grape bunches and careful transfer to puncheons made a silkier, smoother, more feminine wine.  I also found that the La Machine provided more acid and brighter red fruit.  This might be in due to the bruising of the fruit in the machined process, or the tannins that inevitably get in the fished wine with some escaped stems or seeds.

Next up, the 2011 East Block Cabernet Franc ($35).  This is a departure from the first two, as it was done essentially the same way the La Machine was, with the exception of using open top fermentation bins.  The East Block had a specific character that wasn’t present in either of the first two, and that could be due to the yeast strain, or the micro terroir in the half an acre block.  It was darker and chewier than the first two, with firmer tannins, beef jerky, and less fruit notes.  The overwhelming flavor of black tea was lingering on my tongue as I sipped this small lot wine.  Was it due to the different strain of yeast, the physical location of the block, or something different?  The East Block had a delicate floral note to it, more so than Grain par Grain or La Machine, and had a cooler climate influence with brooding tobacco and plum.  What a departure from the first two, with the addition of 6% Cab Sav, 1% Merlot, and .5% Malbec.

Finally, the 2011 Signature Cabernet Franc ($22), which, sadly – is sold out.  Mechanically destemmed and also fermented in open top fermenters, this was the workhourse of the group   With a touch of Cab Sav blended in to round it out, it was polished and simpler, with lilacs, violets, and plums as well as pure cherry.  A beautiful expression of Cab Franc, and easily approachable.

Located just about two hours from San Francisco, I encourage everyone to get out and explore El Dorado County, for the wine, the fruit orchards, and the history.  Stop by Madrona and taste for yourselves!

 

Thank you to Madrona Vineyards and Paul Bush for showing me the beauty of Cab Franc from El Dorado!  (Samples)

 

 

 

 

 

VinoMax – an aerator with a twist

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I’ve written about several aerators over the years, and have rarely seen a new one that is unique and functional enough for me to actually use frequently.  The Vinomax is one such gadget however, that I am finding myself using more and more.  Vinomax is different because of it’s patented triple aeration system, which focuses on not over aerating your wine.  If you’ve left your wine out in the open for long enough, you know what too much air does; it isn’t pretty.  However, with an aerator, you are trying to outsmart Mother Nature by increasing the oxygen contact while short-cutting Father Time.

 

With both bottletop and stand alone devices, as well as a travel option, Vinomax is giving us the best of both worlds.  While the handheld device looks exactly like a giant Vinturi, it actually behaves quite differently.  This device actually mixes your wine with air three times, increasing contact and aeration, creating the perfect glass, every time.

I found that this tool is very useful for those big wines that you just don’t have 4-6 hours to open up, let alone something that might need 12 hours!  By aerating the wines, you are softening the tannins and making them more ready to drink immediately.

While nothing is a substitute for good old fashioned time, these tools are handy to have in your arsenal when you need to help a wine along in the aeration process.  The handheld model is oversize cylinder, with a bigger barrel and more oomph than the original aerator, the Vinturi.  I like the way it feels in my hand, and quickly aerated a glass of red wine.

The bottle top model is nice to have if you’re pouring through a whole bottle, and allows you to pour directly from the bottle to your glass without the added (and sometimes messy) step of using a handheld aerator.  In this case, I preferred the handheld model, but the bottle top is handy indeed.

When you want a quick glass of wine, I’d go with the handheld.  If you’re pouring for a crowd, go for the bottle top.

When I look for wine accessories to give to my friends & family as gifts, I will definitely be giving the Vinomax hand held product to my wine brethren this year.  The triple aeration process seems to work better than a single aeration chamber, and while my heart still belongs to the Wine Soiree

Thanks to Vinomax for the samples!  Now go forth and shop at VinomaxProducts.com!

Clif Family Bruschetteria – A Revolution in Napa Valley dining options!

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There’s a big green truck rolling in to town, and it’s the kind that picks up your trash cans!  If you haent’ heard by now, Clif Family Winery has expanded their St. Helena operation to include the Cliff Family Bruschetteria Food Truck, replete with northern Italian menu options that are magically created to pair with the wines.

Clif Family Wines began with a spark of inspirtaion, when founders Gary Erickson & Kit Crawford, both avid cyclists, enjoyed the laid back lifestyle where a leisurely meal and bottle of wine were always on the agenda after a full day.  It stands to reason that the health-minded founders of the Clif Bar Company would also want to complete their lifestyle portfolio with wine.  After a long bike ride, with some tasty energy booting Clif Bars, who doesn’t need a glass of yummy wine?

 

And so, here we are in St. Helena, at the Vino Volo tasting room and salon, where the winery tasting room has expanded to include a beautiful outdoor seating area and the Bruschetteria, offering bites, snacks, and full meals.  Keeping things local, Executive Chef John McConnell takes advantage of the Clif Family Farm in nearby Pope Valley, as well as various other local suppliers, to maintain the freshest of flavors.

 

On the day we visited, BrixChick Liza and I were greeting by General Manager Linzi Gay, who joined Clif Family in 2007.  With a curated menu of options that were paired wtih the day’s food options, we were off on a culinary adventure, while enjoying the peaceful setting on the back patio.

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726Porchetta Bruschetta paired with 2012 Oak Knoll Chardonnay
.  The juicy porchetta was perfectly rich for the Chardonnay, which was aged in 50% new French Oak for a delicate creaminess while still maintaining the fruit.  I loved the fresh, clean citrus notes that were followed by a mineral, flinty finish which paired perfectly with the fattiness of the pork.

 

 


Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124726 (1)Pomodoro Bruschetta paired with 2011 Kit’s Killer Cabernet – c
oming from the slopes of Howell Mountain, Kit’s Killer Cab is bursting her green herbs, as well as bright red fruit and, chewy fig, and tobacco leaf.  This combination of a higher acid wine was perfect for the tomato based Pomodoro Bruschetta, which was oozing with garlic and goat cheese.

Evernote Snapshot 20150508 124727Finally, the Funghi Bruscetta with 2011 Gary’s Improv Zinfandel.  As someone who has kind of a thing for mushrooms, the aromas wafted over to my nose even before they served it, and I couldn’t wait to dive in.  Seasonal mushrooms are slathered with Fontina cheese and fresh herbs, and perfectly toasted.  The Gary’s Improv Zinfandel, also from Howell Mountain, is a lovely example of high elevation fruit that shows both the brambleberry, dark blue and black fruit notes that are the hallmark of Zinfandel, but also the spice rack and acid pop that are classic Howell Mountain.  The earthy hard spices were a perfect match for the funghi!

With only 4,000 cases produced, winemaker Laura Barrett, who just joined in  2014 after a stint at Casey Flat Ranch, is able to focus on specific fruit sources that are both Estate and sourced fruit.  Picking just the right vineyard, she is able to craft small lot wines of distinction, and serve them with the perfect companion bites.

The Bruchetteria has been open since 2014, and is normally parked outside the Clif Family Vino Velo tasting room on Highway 29 in St. Helena; but don’t’ be surprised if you see the big green truck roaming the valley!  The food truck is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30-4:00, and is a perfect stop for lunch or a mid afternoon snack anytime you are in Napa Valley.  Dishes range from snack sized salads and bruscetta, to larger lunch portioned roticceria dishes, and are perfect for sharing.

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Stop by and stay a while!
Special thanks to Clif Family and The Barn Group for hosting us for this perfect lunch hour escape.

The Artful Wine Lovers Journal

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As a wine writer, blogger, and social media junkie, I’m often attached to my phone for hours on end, clicking my thoughts in bits and bytes.  There are times, however, that I like to have an actual notebook.
When that happens, I look to a compact, purse size notebook, that can fit in my hand comfortably.  But who wants an ugly notebook?   Enter the Renaissance Art leather wine journals!  These pretty little folios are handmade Italian leather, with a beautiful wine tasting notebook inside.  The best part about this, is that once your notebook is full, or if you want more room – you can simply insert your own notebook for future note taking.
I have really enjoyed my sample, and it tucks in to my purse perfectly; the handy leather thong strap, is a great way to keep your favorite pen secured as well.
Renaissance Art was founded over 16 years ago in Sante Fe, a place well known for it’s artists and unique, hand crafted treasures.  Its founder, Arthur, began the company out of necessity.  He wanted to start recording his own on paper, and nothing in the market quite suited him.  As any enterprising young artist would do, he went out and created his own.
The results are beautiful, elegant yet rustic, leather bound journals that are hand crafted with love.  As a tool to encourage you to write your thoughts wherever you go, these little babies are just the ticket!

 

Check out the rest of the products HERE.  From wine journals, to sketchbooks, classic moleskins and custom book covers, set the mood with the oldest tool of the trade:  a blank book.  With the custom finish options and book variations, you will never need another book cover again.

Would you like to win a wine journal?  Leave a comment on the blog to be entered!

Tilenus – Excellence in the lost art of Mencia

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From one end of Spain to the other, the #OleWinos continuing adventures took us across the country – by trains, planes, and automobiles.  OK, there were no planes, but at times the high speed train from Alicante to Madrid certainly felt like one!

A two hour blur later, we piled in the rented van and took off for Bierzo, a small DO located in the northwest region of León.  Located in a lush, green, and hilly area of the north, there are many small valleys and wide, flat plains that are perfect for cultivating Mencia, the area’s grape.

Making our homebase the university town of Ponferrada, the castle loomed large over the walled old town where our hotel was.  With a viticultural history dating back to Roman times, the phylloxera plague nearly wiped out the industry in the 19th century.  With modern advanced in vine grafting, the vineyard economy slowly recovered, and producing grew to be a significant influence on the region’s economy.  In 1989, the DO was created.

With the heavy quartz and slate soils, vineyards are planted on moist, rich soil.  Here in Bierzo, only a handful of grape varietals are allowed:

  • Mencia, Alicante Bouschet, and a few experimental grapes for red
  • Godello, Palomino and Dona Blanca (and a few more experimental grapes) for white.
  • With these “experimental” varietals only allowed in Crianza (young) wines, the Riserva and Grand Riserva wines must only contain the classic varietals to carry the DO lable.

On this trip, we were exploring MG Wines‘ property Bodegas Estefania, which was founded in 1999.  Keeping in line with MG Wines mission of sustainalbe, unique, and local wines, “Tilenus”, as Estefania is commonly known as, meets and exceeds those expectations.

Bierzo

James the Wine Guy and the Dallas WIne Chick clowning around!

 

IMG_8944Bodegas Estefanía, much like the other MG Wines Group properties, prides itself of being sustainable, modern, and true to the native habitat of the region.  While they focus primarily on the indigenous Mencia group, they also make a Godella (white).  Our host, winemaker Carlos Garcia, led us on a bit of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – as we explored the rugged countryside where the vineyard are located.  On this particular day, it was drizzly and cold, so we scrapped our plans to explore the hilltop plot, and instead explored the oldest vineyard.

Here, in what was formerly the land of bulk wine and large coop wineries, Bodegas Esefania was founded in 1999, it was influential as the start of the Bierzo revolution.  Once an old creamery, it was acquired by bin 2014.  It’s primary brand, and what most people refer to the winery as, Tilenus, pays tribute to the Roman era of Bierzo; today, this history is on the wine labels, with the image ofa Roman coin, signifying the period of history when the Roman’s mined the area for gold.

The red earth undulated like a fault line, revealing many microclimates of peaks and valleys.  In these vineyards, 80% of the fruit is grown, with the additional 20% sourced from small, local vineyards.  Tilenus carefully maintains separate vinification of each vineyard, and each of the five Mencia based wines comes from a different area.  This gives each wine a distinct sense of terroir, and no two are exactly the same.

Keeping in the theme of MG Wines holdings, Tilenus uses the best tools available to them; in this case, the careful use of native yeast increasing the character of the Mencia based wines, and brings out the true local flavor of this little-known grape.  With the minimal use of oak so as to not overpower the delicate wines, the true expression can shine through beautifully.

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The wines of Tilenus reveal the nuances of the mineral driven Mencia grape; each one bringing out another layer of excellence and unique flavors.  Mencia is one of the most tannic wines in the world, and mastering the balance of structure is something that is difficult.  Tilenus seems to have done that just fine.

2014 Vendimia – at only $14, this entry level wine is a bit rough, but shows violets and forest floor, with limestone, plums, and bay leaves.  A great introduction to Mencia.
2008 La Florida s- dense rose petals and floral notes, hard spices and smoke masking purple fruit, dried plums, tobacco, and holiday spices.  $20
2006 Pagos de Posada – this top of the line example comes from small berries in a vineyard that has a lot of wind, keeping them dry.  Full of coffee, dark chocolate, and ripe purple fruit, with a dusting of peppercorn and mint.  Very elegant and balanced, with silky tannins.  $50
2007 Piesa – Hailing from the oldest parcel of land, it is an inky dark color with black fruit, chewy dried figs, and chocolate.  From a vineyard at 1800 feet, and only 1000 bottles produced, the dried sage and white pepper compliment the dense, dark fruit.

This whirldwind tour of Spain exposes us to some of the lesser known areas and varietals that should be better explored for anyone that loves wine.  MG Wines Group represents the best of these up and coming regions, with an emphasis on terroir, history, modern technology, and sustainable winemaking.  Three cheers to MG Wines for an outstanding portfolio, and experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodegas Lavia – true expression of Monastrell

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In the continuing saga of the Adventures of the #OleWinos, who are visiting the wineries of the luxury wine group MG Wines Group, we meandered around southern Spain to the DO of Bullas.  The Bullas DO is located in Murcia, and is known in particular for it’s young red and rose wines from the local Monastrell grape.

This time, we are headed to Bodegas Lavia, in the DO of Bullas.  This area has been producing wine since at least the 13th century, when he Christians invaded and pushed the Moors out.  The modern wine industry wasn’t developed, however, until the 1980s, when the bulk wine industry was supplanted by modern equipment and smaller winery investors.  In 1994, it officially became a Denominacian de Origin.With MG Wines’ focus on wineries that share a philosophy of coaxing the essence of Bodegas Lavia Bullasthe grape out, Lavia fits this culture perfectly with it’s dedication to the finer points of Syrah and Monastrell.

Bodegas Lavia was founded in 2003, when a a like minded group of wine lovers and winemakers became enamored of the possibility of creating a winery that produced wines from organically grown grapes, crafted in to wines with the maximum expression of the grape.  Here at Lavia, everything has a purpose and is done with great care and consideration – from the gravity flow winery, to the focus on Syrah and Monastrell, the wines are expressive and clear beacons of the Bullas DO.

Located in Venta del Pino, Bodegas Lavia is at approximately 800 meters above sea level.  With Monastrell vines averaging 40 years old or more, younger Syrah plantings are intermingled, giving Lavia it’s distinct flavor profile.  The use of native yeast further adds tot he overall terroir of the wines, and it’s slant towards lower tannin, elegant, and fresh Monastrell-Syrah based blends.  With 2,500 hectares planted to 80% Monasrell, a bit of Tempranillo, a bit of white, and the rest Syrah, the wines are an icon of the very small Bullas DO.

Bodegas Lavia Bullas

With his eye on a more Burgundian expression of the grape, winemaker Sebastien Boudon (who also makes the wines of Bodegas Sierra Salinas) strives to make fresh and elegant wines, in a different style from Sierra Salinas.  By using only 500 liter barrels instead of the standard 225 liters, oak is a very light hand and is primarily a storage vessel versus a flavoring component. Bodegas Lavia’s wines are all elegant and complex, and very different than Sierra Salinas even though the primary grape used in both houses is Monasrell.

 

2010 Lavia is 80% Monastrell, 20% Syrah.  The rocky soil produces fruit with thinner skins, helping to create a lighter colored wine with a more translucent color.  Flavors of rich red fruit, cherry and raspberry burst out of the glass, followed by floral notes, smoke and plum.  This fresh and light style of Monastrell show a bright acidity on the finish, with a touch of pink peppercorn.
2006 Lavia + – this 100% Monastrell gem is a deep brick color, primarily due to the age, and was fermented 50% in wooden tanks, 50% in 500 liter neutral barrels.  The juicy red fruit, strawberries and cherries have kept it’s vibrancy, almost 10 years later.  It is a zesty and fresh wine that is still youthful and zippy.

2012 Lavia + Finca Paso Malo – this is the top of the line flagship is also 100% Monastrell, from a single vineyard and hand selected.  It is classic and lean, with bramble berries, wild blueberries, and campfire notes.  This special wine is only made int he best years, from a 50 year old vineyard with hard, clay soils.

 These two examples of bodegas that produce Monastrell are a spotlight on what MG Wines has at their heart – wines that express the local terroir, native varietals, and modern winemaking. Even thought they are less than 100 kilometers apart, Sierra Salinas and Lavia couldn’t be more different, unique, and expressive of the wines of this part of Spain.
Bodegas Lavia

The #olewinos

From Bullas, we traveled by train and car to get to the opposite tip of Spain, where, we explored Mencia and the charms of Bierzo with Telenus!

 

Bodegas Sierra Salinas – Discover the Magic of Monastrell!

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Sierra SalinasBodegas Sierra Salinas was founded in the year 2000, by the longtime viticultural family Castano.  Here, old vineyards were revitalized, in this corner of southern Spain tucked between Alicante and Murcia.  Sierra Salinas is committed to making artistically expressive Monastrell, the classic, dark grape of this region that is bound to tradition and culture.  Castano however, is dedicated to mixing old with new, and has created a modern wonder of a winery, in this classic culture of winemaking.   In 2013, when MG Wines Group acquired the property, there were already far ahead of the game.

The vineyards of Sierra Salinas are located in the mountainout region of the same name, in the town of Villena, which is in the inland area of teh Alicante DO.  Here, with the diverse altitude that only mountain regions can bring, along with the dry, almost desert like landscape, there are a large number of microclimates playing with grape growing.  With it’s dusty lunar landscape, and high mesa and plateaus, one might think they had been transported to the Arizona desert.  In fact, this region is well known as an area where Spaghetti Westerns were filmed, with the Arizona like landscape, cold winters, and hot hot summers.  And yet, with the Meddeterrean so nearby, the climate can be Continental and Medeterranean, with a large diurinal swing helping to keep acids high and sguars in balance.

 

Sierra Salinas

 

soil at Sierra SalinasThe soils of the region are an interesting factor as well, with large, loose stones, Caliza, and soil strata at Sierra Salinaslimestone all impacting the terroir.  The 30-60 centimeters of loosly packed topsoil is high in iron content, giving it it’s distinct red color.

 

 

 

 

IMG_8760Winemaker Sebastien Boudon, French by birth and Spanish by passion, emigrated to the region because he saw new horizons in winemaking.  The state of the art winery features a gravity flow winery, to avoid unneccesary pumping, and small tanks for batch vinification to exact measures.

 With 70% of the property planted to Monastrell, Sierra Salinas specializes in this variety.  Another 20% if planted to the local Alicante Bouschet (known locally as Garnacha Tintorero).  This place is history ina  glass, with the oldest vines being 70 years old, and the newest babies only 15.  These ancient vines have rootsystems so deep, that they penetrate the limestone layer, some 15-20 feet thick!

 

Sierra Salinas specializes in organically grown wines that are treated with care; from hand harvesting, to custom fermentation tanks featuring adjustable, self sealing lids – everything is carefully thought out and designed.  The wines we tasted on this day clearly showed this passion for the region and for Monastrell, as they were each different expressions of the same, delicious grape with slight variations.

  Sierra Salinas

 

2012 MO – Monastrell
35 year old Monastrell, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Garnacha Tintarero, with a hint of Syrah.
Dark purple, with strong spice notes sprinkled on top of dark cherry, ripe plum, blackberry, and tobacco.
Chewy and dense with blue fruit and cigar box.  Mo is an excellent choice for a BBQ, party, or just a good steak.  At ~$10, it’s a steal!

 

2010 Puerto Salinas
70% Monastrell, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Garnacha Tintarero, 5% Petite Verdot
This is a stronger, darker, sexier version of Monastrell, with a richer profile and denser fruit.  It’s inky and chewy, with chocolate covered blackberries, brown sugar, and a surprising kick of acid on the finish that Monastrell is so well known for, after feef jerky and black pepper tease your palate.   If you want to impress your friends at your next dinner party, pull this ~$15 beauty out with the main course instead of a Napa Cab!

 

2010 Mira
60% Monastrell blended with Cabernet Sauvingon and Garnacha Tintarero
A chew plum with more weight than Mo or Puerto Salinas, it has a nutty note that makes it very well balanced and pleasant in the mouth.

 

 2009 Salinas 1237
The 1237 is the flagship blend of Sierra Salinas, so named for the vineyard that lies at 1237 meters above sea level.
45 Garnacha Tintarero, 33% Petite Verdot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Monastrell
This unique wine spends it’s fermentation in open barriques, adn is aged for 21 months in the same barrel.  Bursting with red fruit, Spanish strawberreis, and blood oranges, the finish has toffee, antise, menthol and eucalyptus.  This is truely a special bottle and while $95 is a splurge, this is worth it!

 

  
vineyards of Sierra Salinas
With most Sierra Salinas wines priced well below $20, these are worth finding.  The nuances that Monastrell can accomplish with a talented “Magician of Monastrell”, as Brix Chick Liza calls Sebastian are amazing.  Monastrell, Mataro, Mourvedre – what ever you call it, go out and find some today!
Currently, Sierra Salinas is seeking representation in the US, particularly on the WEst Coast.  If you are interested in carrying these amazing wines that are a screaing value, please contact MG Wines Group!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alicante – Southern Spain’s Best Kept Wine Secret

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Last month, I was among a small group of bloggers invited to visit some special regions in Spain by the luxury wine group MG Wines Group.  MG Wines focuses on wines of distinction from various regions in Spain, and this fam trip was all about the unique, the sublime, and the special wines that MG owns. From the far southern deserts of Bullas, and Jumilla, to the cold, wet north Bierzo, we visited three wineries that were tied together by their dedication to sustainable agriculture, wine making techniques and culture, and yet very different in style and taste.

I love Spain; each time, I come away more enamored than I was before.  I was excited to be included in this small group of wine writers, not only because they were all good friends and people whom I consider talented writers, but also because it was my first time experiencing Jumilla, Bullas, Alicante, and Bierzo.

We began our trip in the southern Costa Blanca city of Alicante.  More well known for it’s beaches, seafood, and sun seeking Brits than it’s wine, Alicante is a bustling town newly connected to Madrid with a high speed rain link that makes travel a breeze.  Nearby, there are several wine producing regions that focus on Monastrell (Mouvedre) and Alicante Bouchet (known as Garnacha Tintarero here), and are delicious alternatives to the more widely known Rioja.

As you might have guessed, Alicante gives it’s name to Alicante Bouschet, the red skinned, red fleshed grape that was so popular in Italian field blends in California’s wine history.  BUt this wine is so unique that you pre-concieved notions will go out the window.  Alicante is it’s on DO, or Spanish Demoninacion de Origen, and is currently in ti’s 75th year as a DO, even though winemaking traditions can be traced back to the Roman times.

Here, Monastrell and Alicante are king among the bold, dark red wines that are growing in popularity and elegance.  After settling in to our hotel in Alicante, the intreped Ole Winos cast out for a tapas crawl on the waterfront.  While it was still late winter / early spring, we bundled up and enjoyed some local wine, cava and delicious eats before our adventure began in earnest the next day in Jumilla, home of Bodegas Sierra Salinas.  Stay tuned for more on that one of kind experience!

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Tastemakers: Italian Focus with a diverse history!

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One of my favorite stops the last time I was in El Dorado was Miraflores, a sprawling hilltop winery with a beautiful terrace and expansive views.  On the day we next visited, it was raining, but that wouldn’t deter our delicious tasting of Italian focused winemakers here in El Dorado.  There is a long history of Italian immigrants in the area, largely due to the Gold Rush and enterprising folks who started restaurants, businesses and other ways of striking it rich supporting the miners, and maintaining cultural ties to the homeland.  Today, we tasted through some examples of modern day Italian winemakers:

MirafloresMiraflores is located on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail, in the heart of El Dorado wine country.  Winemaker Marco Cappelli is both an artist, and a scientist, like any good winemaker, and focuses on creating wines of distinction that reflect the varying terroir of the region.  With 12 years of experience at Miraflores, Marco also has been a winemaker in Italy, France, and Australia – learning about terroir, wine styles, and the uniqueness of each region.

Mirafloras sits at 2700 feet, on granite based, well drained soils.  The 2012 Barbera is clone 4, which is lower in acid than other clones, which creates a richer, more mellow final wine.  Fermented in opt top vats, it aged 22 months in neutral oak to allow the fruit to show through.  Rich, and bold red fruit, with chewy and dense figs, leather and coffee give way to bright Bing cherry and a zippy finish.  A great example of what elevation can do!  $28

C.G. Di Arie VineyardC.G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery was founded in 2000, when Chaim and Elisheva Gur-Arieh purchased the 209 acre property in the Shenandoah Valley.  With the rolling hills averaging about 1,700 feet, they knew that this area had the potential to create world class wines.  Today, they are able to produce up to 15,000 cases of wine, in the state of the art gravity flow facility that also houses an art gallery.  With 40 acres currently planted, they plan to put 30 more to vine by 2020.  Chaim strives to make wines that have balance and style.

The 2012 Primativo is a lighter style wine, mimicking the Zinfandel that so many immigrants to this region planted.  It’s spicy gingerbread flavors are uniquely different than the classic California Zinfandel from this region.  The bright acidity make this an excellent wine for burgers, BBQ, and general enjoyment.  $25

Nello-Olivo-175Nello Olivo is a character straight out of a Hollywood movie.  Larger than life, and full of verve, this second generation Italian-American has wine in his blood.  Born to a large brood in the Bay Area, Nello started a successful property development business in Los Angeles, where he raised his family before the real estate market crashed in the early 1980s.  Heading north to the Cameron Park area near Sacramento, which was near his beloved Lake Tahoe retirement dream, Nello and his family purchased 21 acres in 2000.  Here, he planted seven varietals, focusing on the historical Italian grapes that he is so connected to.  Initially selling most of his grapes to the newly founded El Dorado wine community, Nello kept a small amount for himself for some home winemaker experiments.  Eventually, he was enticed to begin his own winery, and in 2005, produced his first vintage of commercial wine.

Leaning on the skills of winemaker Marco Cappelli, Nello decided to set his sights on an obscure grape of his ancestral home in Umbria – Sagrantino de Montefalco.  This unique wine is representaitve of the family history, and is a an unusual varitety to be planted in California.  Fortunately, it took, and a successful venture was born.  Sagrantino is native to Umbria, and is only grown in the Monte Falco region.  It is considered the most tannic wine in Italy, and can be sharp and bitter while young, yet ages marvelously.  The 2012 Sagrantino is full of plum, berry, cherry and cloud berry flavors, followed by tangerine and milk chocolate.  While this was a young wine, I can see the aging potential and look forward to trying a glass in 5 years.  $79

Mastroserio WineryRuggero Mastroserio has degrees in engineering, geology and music, and also trained in enology in Italy.  Phew!  After crafting wines in the area for 10 years, Ruggero founded Mastroserio Winery in 2010.  The region of Fair Play is idea for producing varied, nuanced wines, sitting in a granite bowl high atop the El Dorado Hills.

The 2010 Barbera is a bowl of dark chocolate covered cherries, rich and opulent.  With dark berry, fig and plum character, it is soft and plush on the palate, with a touch of acidity at the end, as Barbera should have.  This soft cashmere sweater warms you with dried herbs and crushed black pepper, waking up the palate and piquing your curiosity.  $77

With so many wineries and varieties in El Dorodo, I hope you will take a road trip and discover them for yourselves!  Special thanks to the El Dorado Winery Association and Solterra Strategies for arranging a varied, and complex look at the region.  There are so many wineries to choose from, I look forward to more trips and more posts soon!

 

Tastemakers: Fresh is best at The Independent

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The Independent – Restaurant and BarAfter a full day of learning about the history of the El Dorado County wine culture, we headed in to Placerville for a pairing dinner at The Independent.  While I had ducked in here for dinner the last time I was in town, I was happy to experience the pairings and enthusiastic locally fresh cuisine by Chef Ryan Montgomery.

Owned by Jeff & Judy Thomas, together with their son Ben Carter, who manages the facility, The Independent is their second venture in Placerville.  The now acclaimed Heyday Café in old town Placerville, where I enjoyed a delicious lunch, inspired them to open The Independent, with an expansive outdoor space and focusing on fresh, creative American fusion.

Here are some snaps of the meal!  Paired with the local wines, it was simply delightful.  While I refrained from detailed tasting notes during dinner, the thoughtful pairings and fresh flavors were delicious.

If you’re ever in Placerville, make a beeline for The Independant!

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Featured wines for the first two courses, as well as the not pictured Scallops:

Skinner Vineyards & Winery – 2012 Seven Generations ($26) – 52% Grenache Blanc, 21% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne, 9% Viognier, 2% Picpoul Blanc and 2012/2013 Mourvedre ($26)

A blend of 5 classic Rhone varietals, it was fresh and lively with the salad, and scallops.

 

 

IMG_8656Holly’s Hill –  2013 Grenache Blanc ($25), which was delectable with the salmon.  I am a huge fan of Grenache Blanc in general, and this was no except.  Flinty, floral and citrus notes combined with fresh pears.

 

 

 

 

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With this gut busting steak, the David Girard Vineyards – 2011 Coda Rouge – 46% Mourvedre, 36% Syrah, 15% Grenache, 3% Counoise ($30).

This bold red Rhone blend was perfect for the meat course, and really gives you a wonderful idea of what syrah can do in this hills.  The Coda Rouge blend is a prime example of the Rhone focus in El Dorado County, and the elegance that some elevation can give to classic blends.  Beautiful spice notes, plums, and a hint of graphite follow bold berry and hibiscus.

 

 

When you are in Placerville, or driving up to Tahoe, make sure you stop by and stay a while at The Independent.  You won’t be sorry!

 

 

 

Tastemakers: El Dorado’s Founding Families

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IMG_8625In the late 1970s, a group of upstart winemakers and like minded wine lovers, left the confines of traditional winemaking geography, and headed up to the hills.  While winemaking was just coming in to the golden era in Napa Valley during this time period, a few renegades decided that it was time to head to someplace more wild, more unknown, more…diverse.

With a long history of agriculture, El Dorado wine business started with the Gold Rush, when immigrants sought land to plant thier native grapes.  When Prohibition came, acreage shrank from some 2,300 planted acres in 1900, and vineyards made way for pears and other tree fruit.  When the fruit industry suffered from a pest infestation int he late 1950s, UC Davis moved in and used the area for experimental vineyards.  The commercial wine industry was born out of this, and in the late 1970s, the founding fathers began a tradition that is still strong today.

  • Madroña Vineyards – in 1973, Dick & LEslie Bush fell in love with the beauty and surroundings of Placerville.  Taking a huge leap of faith, as tehre were no other commerical vineyards and wineries to lean on or learn from, the Bush’s planted thier vineyard, which was – at the time – the highest in California.

With the vineyard becoming a family project, the Bush’s involved thier children and their parents, while Dick’s engineering background helped layout the vineyard and build thier future home.  Today, the winery has evolved to include Paul & Maggie Bush, who make the wines and manage the vineyards, as well as Maggie’s role managing the winery operations.  Additionally, David & Sheila Bush purchased some nearby land, the Sumu-Kaw parcel.

At Madrona, wine is the family business.  There is a careful focus on artisianal winemaking, sustainable care of the land, and family.  At the winery in Camino, the elevation is perfect for growing the wide variety of grapes that make the Rhône and Bordeaux focused wines.  At 3,000 feet, there are three vineyards that make up the family business.  Madrona, Enye, and Sumu-Kaw.  Each site is unique and has distinct terroir, and with over 26 varietals planted, what might seems as “anything goes” at first, is actually carefully selected for it’s blending potential and sum of the parts.

Tasting the wines, I was particularly enthralled by the amazing Cabernet Franc. Paul Bush has a particular passion for this grape, and it shines through in the glass.  His particular verve for balance and epxression of terroir is clean in the two different expressions of Cab Franc.  In fact, he made 4 variations of Cab Franc, each one with a specific tweak and unique element.  We were able to taste the very special Grain par Grain (berry by berry) version, and if you are a Cab Franc lover, get yet to Madrona Vineyards!

– 2011 Grain par Grain Cabernet Franc – whole berry maceration for 20 days in new French oak puncheons, hand turned and then punched down twice a day.  Aged for 20 months in 3 year old French oak, with just a hint of Cab Sav (1.4%) .  With only 24 cases made, this is a rare gem indeed.  Full of dark cherry, blackberry, and spiced fig notes.  This is a rich and elegant lady, with a velvet smoking jacket on.  Coffee in one hand, chocolate in the other.  $60

  • Sierra Vista is another one of the long standing wineries here in El Dorado County.  When the McCreadys settled here in 1972, they had an eye on the soil and topography as a perfect place to plant a vineyard.  When the first plantings in 1974, as I experineced on my Pleasant Valley adventures last year, there are some lovely wines, and view, from this property located on Red Rock Ridge at an elevation of half a mile.

Today, the winery farms 28 acres of mountain side vineyards, at 2,800 feet, on varying mountain terrair.  With low yields, and high intensity of flavor, the terroir is perfect for Rhoen varietals.  WIth the first syrah plantings in 1979, John’s eye was always on the Rhone varieties.  Using syrah grapes that are descended from Cote Rotie fruit, John found that El Dorado was very similar in geography adn terrain to many parts of the northern Rhone.   Today, they produce about 5,000 cases, focusing on those rhone varieis.

– 2013 Fleur de Montagne is a bright and fresh rose, with wild strawberries and watermelon flavors.  The clean finish is great for a picnic or summer lunch on the deck, and the $25 price will make your wallet smile

  • Boeger Winery sits on a site that was a homestead during the gold rush, and the original house, cellar and distillery that were build then, are still in use today.  The winery itself survived Prohibition by producing wine for the local church, but the vine didn’t fare as well.  As vineyards were replanted to fruit trees, the vines didn’t return until after the pear crop failed.  That is when the Boegers purchased the property, and turned it back to vineyards.  While a small amount of vines still remain from the 1800s, most were replanted in 1972 when the Boegers purchased the property.

With 40 acres of vineyards on two sites, the winery also manages and additional 50 acres under contact in El Dorado County.  With the steep, rocky hillsides, over 30 varietals are planted and thriving.

– 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is floral and delicate, with the additional of Semillion, Chardonnay, and Flora (a blend of Gewurztraminer and Semillion) in the blend.  The old vine Savignon Blanc gives a rich mouthfeel, which has a mild acidity and juicy finish.

  • Lava Cap Winery planted thier first vines in 1981, and the winery opened it’s doors in 1986.

Lava Cap Winery The Jones family, a family of geologist, specifical sleected this site for the volcanic soils that were perfect for vineyards.  With the focus on hand crafted wines and sustainable acriculture, Lava Cap has become one of the most well known examples of El Dorado wine today.

  • 2013 Chardonnay – as the largest production in Lava Caps lineup, this unique white wine is made of 4 clones.  With 70% barrel fermentation in French oak, the wine is started with native yeast and finished with an inoculation of commercial yeast.  Bursting with Meyer lemon, this is a nice example of a chardonnay that can be barrel aged but is not overly oaked.  It is refreshing, with a strong mineral finish.

Throughout this visit, we tasted more wines from these producers.  Next up, pairing some delicious wines with the innovative food of The Independant!

 

These are just a few of the wines and wineries visited in my exploration of El Dorado County.  A special thank you to Solterra Strategies and the El Dorado WINery Association for extending their lvoely hospitaltiy and opening doors to these unique wineries!

 

 

El Dorado: More than glitters

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If you are from California, the first thing that pops in your mind when you say El Dorado County is probably the gold rush.  True, this is what placed a good many of the small towns on the map, but these days, there is precious little gold left in the rivers, creeks, and hillsides of El Dorado County.  Instead, agriculture is the new gold:  from apple orchards to vineyards, El Dorado COunty is booming with green gold; just over an hour from Sacramento, it is teetering on the edge of becoming a new kind of Napa.

Last month, I got to spend a long weekend exploring the wines of El Dorado county.  From exploring the founding fathers, to wine pairing dinners, there si so much to offer in this diverse region in the foothills of the Sierras.  With Tahoe a short drive away, and Sacramento nearby, it is a great place for a quick getaway or stop over during on a longer trip.

El Dorado might be mistaken as a zinfandel king.  Rather, it’s neighbor, Amador County, is more well known fo powerful zins that leap out of the glass with spice notes.  In El Dorado, almost anything goes.  One of the key features of the wineries if El Dorado is their ability to be El dorado CAflexible and experimental.  Most wineries make 5 or more varietals, and make them well.  Some go over the top and make over 20 unique wines, and yet – still manage to do them well.  That is a hard task for the best winemakers in the world!

Within El Dorado County, vineyards are planted between 1,200 and 3,500 feet, which gives it a unique distinction amongst California AVAs.  With a variety of soils dominated by volcanic magma and grantite.  Within the larger El Dorado AVA lies the smaller nested Fair Play AVA, and here in the land that so many dreams were made, and broken, during the Gold Rush, the possibilities are endless!

Join me as I explore the county, one wine at a time.  First up:  We experience the founding fathers of El Dorado wine, and how they broke new ground.

Thank you to the El Dorado Winery Association and Solterra Strategies for this wonderful experience!

On the Road to Spain!

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It’s hard to believe, but in three short days, I will be on a plane, headed to Spain, where maybe it will rain.  I am excited to be returned to one of my favorite places to explore, and to reach out to new areas of wine production and geography.

On this adventure, I will exploring three wine producing regions in Spain, to experience some world class wines, hospitality, and food.

First up, Bullas, a DO in the wine region of Murcia, which is in the southeaster corner of Spain.  This southern gem kisses the Mediterranean sea, and the town itself is an ancient one with evidence of Roman occupation, including wine production dating from that time.  Now, it is known for it’s bold and powerful Monastrell (Mouvedre) based red wines.  In Bullas, we will visit Sierra Salinas, and Bodegas Lavina, soaking up the delicious Monastrell and jamon as as explore the sustainable agriculture and stewardshp of the region.

El BierzoAfter our southern adventure, it’s off to the norther DO of Bierzo, located in the northwest corner of Spain.  Here, we will experience Mencia, Alicante Bouchet, and a smattering of white wines at Tilenus Winery.  Here, it’s xpereincing the hearty chickpea stew of the northern part of Spain to keep us warm and ready to go.

A short but sweet whirlwind through Spain, and then i’m off to France on vacation for a week!  Wish me luck and delicious wine, and check for updates from the road.  There will be plenty of pictures of jamon Iberico as I plan to eat my weight in Pata Negra, as well as delicious tapas, and other delights.  France will include a trip to the Champagne region, where I will taste the stars in a glass, and gain a smile ear to ear.

¡Salud!