Bodegas Sierra Salinas – Discover the Magic of Monastrell!

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
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!
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!
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.
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

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!

IMG_8739

 

 

 

 

Things are a little yeasty in there

After meandering over to Alta Maria, it was finally time to meet my #QBP – Queen Bitches Posse  over at Tercero Wines, around the corner in Los Olivos.  As I had somewhat secretly clandestinely arranged this day of pre-WBC shenanigans, I was looking forward to being able to relax and enjoy my free day before the conference officially got under way.

Meeting me at the Tercero Wines tasting room were BrixChick Liza, Marcy Gordon who always Comes for the Wine, and Melanie, the Dallas Wine Chick.  Although I wasn’t able to caravan down from the Bay Area with them, once they walked in to the tasting room it was all downhill fun and games from there, with my #QBP sisters.

Tercero Wines specializes in artistic, small production Rhone style red & white wines.  Mastermind Mad Scientist Larry Schaffer creates unique, small lot wines from Viognier to Grenache, and everything in between.  Larry has also been mastering his breadmaking skills, and on this visit we were treated to all things yeast – one of his passions, and three kinds of bread to boot!

While I am a fan of pretty much all of Tercero Wines offerings, this visit my favorites were:

2013 Mourvedre Rose – From a small parcel in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County, they only touched the skins for about an hour, giving it a bright but light and fresh pink color.  Fermented in 100% stainless steel tanks, it slept in neutral oak for 5 months before finally being released.  The bright pop of red berry is followed by blood orange and aromatic stone fruit, luscious watermelon and hard spices.  At only $20 this is a great summer sipper.

2012 Grenache Blanc – it’s no secret that this might be my all time favorite white grape.  Spiked lemonade over river rocks, this beautiful bright and fresh wine is the perfect summer palate cleanser.

2010 Verbiage – a class GSM blend, this black beauty is made up of 62.5% Grenache from two vineyards, 25% Syrah from two vineyards, and 212.5% Mourvedre.  Named Verbiage, like Larry’s person wine blog, because he likes to tell stories, banter, and talk, this wine is a conversation in a bottle.  Dark purple and inky black in color, this wine is full of lavender, lilac, chewy blackberry and beef jerky.  Finished with a dusting of white pepper and gingerbread spice, it’s a great bottle for a foggy summer night, or in front of the fire at the holidays.

Tercero Wines is located in Los Olivos, CA in the heart of the Santa Ynez wine region.

Much wine was purchased by the #QBP on this day, but the tasting was provided free of charge!  Unless you count us listening to the HMFIC payment enough…

 

Sometimes, smaller is better

Often times, people have the assumption that larger is better; whether it’s in wine, packages of snacks at Costco, or houses with more bedrooms than people in the town where I went to boarding school, the message is bigger is better.  Even in wine, the message can be bigger is better; while not referring to size, it often shows up in large production labels, that assume that releasing 10,000 cases means they are successful.  It also shows up stylistically, when wines become Fraken-fied, with additives and strange concoctions of science much more than art.

My choice, therefore, is to spend as much money as I can on supporting smaller, local producers who not only need to cash more, but have more creativity and stylistic control than – dare I say it – that label with the Kangaroo on it down the street.

Luckily for me, I was invited to the Micro Winery Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush in Santa Rosa recently.  Here, several smaller wineries – including Inspiration, were pouring their wares.  I have a few highlights from the event and a shamless plug for a fellow blogger turned winemaker who is doing some great things with Rhone varitals.

First up, Wesley Ashley Wines‘ Intelligent Design Cuvee Blanc is a Rhône style
blend of  Vioginer, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara.  The Viognier adds a nice aromatic note, while the Roussanne gives a crisp acidity that would be perfect for a summer sipper.  We all know by now, that I love a good Grenache Blanc, and the 20% addition to this blend rounds out the white and gives it a solid body.  This is no wimpy wine!  Classic flavors of nectarine and apricot show up under the floral notes of the viognier.

Also from Wesley Ashely, the 2009 Intellivent Design Cuvee is another classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  The Grenache, which is 75% of the blend, shows off its strawberry spice, with the Syrah adding some great backbone.

YOu can find Wesley Ashely Wines at the winery by appointment, The Wine Mine in Oakland, and several restaurants around the bay area.

This is a winery to watch!
Keeping on the Rhône theme, next up we meet the Two Shepherds.  William Allen, a fellow wine blogger over at Simple Hedonisms, and partner Michelle Berger launched Two Shepherds wine to focus on Rhône style wines from California with distinction.

So far so good I’d say!  It takes extreme talent and guts to start a winery, particularly if you’re day job is in sales, as William’s is.  Having known him for a few years now, I have seen first hand the sheer tenacity that it takes to launch a brand, learn about the chemistry of winemaking, the ins and outs of running a business and also trying to pay the bills.  Kudos to a successful launch!

I was one of the lucky few to taste the delicious Grenache Blanc, which is sadly sold out now – but it was a great example of a Rhône white, that balances out acidity with the creamy subtle sweetness.  Some GBs can be either too acidic (I’ve had a few from Spain) or too full bodied which implies sweetness.  The Two Shepherds balances those two, with a nice minerality, white peach, lemon lime flavors, followed by a flinty finish.  I am eagerly waiting for more of this to be bottled so I can nab some for the cellar!

Also from Two Shepherds, the MRV is a classic white Rhône blend, comprised of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.  I enjoyed a bottle of this last night with Butternut squash Lasagna, and the creamy body of the MR balanced the sweetness of the Butternet perfectly.  The Addition of the viogner adds a touch of honeysuckle.

There are two red offerings from Two Shepherds, the GSM, and the SM (Syrah/Mourvedre).  The GSM blend is a bit different than your average southern Rhone, or for that matter, Paso Robles Rhone blend, as the Grenache in this blend adds acidity and flavors to develop that are unique to the area.  The lighter style blends perfectly with the fuller bodied Syrah and Mourvedre, to create a masterpiece of bright red berry, spice box, and a lingering flavor that I personally can only describe as Grenache.

This wine isn’t technically released, but it will be soon and I suggest buying a bottle and letting it sleep for a bit.  If not, give it some air before you sip and swirl.

The Syrah/Mourvedre blend uses the same Syrah from Russian River, and is blended equally with Mourvedre.  The SM is slightly fuller bodied than the GSM, as you don’t have the higher acid in the Grenache to lighten the load.  It is also delicious and would be fantastic with roast chicken, a burger, or cassoulet.

You can find Two Shepherds wines at the winery by appointment, and via mail order, but also at K&L Wine Merchants, Wicked Wines in HBG, and several restaurants in the Bay Area including The Girl & Fig, Spoonbar, and Toast Wine Lounge.  Click here for details.

The moral of this story?  Seek out those small producers.  They work in small lots, and can be more creative than people making large amounts of wine.  Have fun discovering them.  The custom crush / coop tasting room is more and more popular, as it allows smaller brands to showcase their wines while sharing costs for capital expenditures.

Now, I don’t harbor any fantasies of being able to be a chemist and make my own wine, but it sure is fun to live vicariously!  I’ve picked up some of the pieces of the puzzle on the way, and while I don’t think I could go it on my own, I do lust after a barrel or two of Pinot Noir in my future.

Some of my other favorite coop tasting rooms:

  • Winery Collective – San Francisco
  • The Wine Yard – Santa Rosa
  • The urban wineries of Coffey Lane (that’s my own name) – The NPA, Carol Shelton, Vinify Winery Collective & Custom Crush, Inspiration Custom Crush, all located in the same complex as the micro wineries featured in this post.

Explore your town!  There are Urban wineries in San Francisco such as Dogpatch Wineworks and Bluxome Street.  Oakland and Alameda have an urban explosion.

Support your local winemaker!  You won’t be sorry!

 

Something in the way you Rhone

Attracts me like, no other lady!

True story.  I am slightly addicted to Rhone wines, particularly Rhone reds.  I’ve been on a Monastrell/Mouvedre/Mataro kick lately, but my first love really is Grenache.  Of the 22 Rhone varietals, these are my go to babies.  Luckily for me, I’ve been having fantastic luck lately at Whole Foods (not to mention The Spanish Table) at finding some great wine at even better prices.

But really, this post is about the mother of all Rhone gatherings:  Hospices du Rhône .  The annual Rhône celebration in Paso Robles will be celebrating her 20th anniversary next year!

April 26th through 28th, Rhône lovers and producers from all over the world will converge on the Paso Robles Fairgrounds.  Over the last 20 years, HdR has hosted diverse personalities, from Charles Smith (aka AC/DC with Grower Bubbles) to Australian producers, to heritage growers from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

This year, HdR is pleased to announce that there will be an exclusive  Conversations with Châteauneuf-du-Pape event, led by author Harry Karis, vigneron Philippe Cambie and Sommelier Kelly McAuliffe.  After the seminar, which is sure to sell out well in advance, dinner will be served at Bisto Laurentin.  These limited tickets are available a la carte at www.hospicedurhone.org.  Sadly the dinner is sold out at this time.

This year, the seminars will focus on highlighting the last 20 years of Hospice-Du-Châteauneuf producers who have been center stage.  I am especially looking forward to Why Spain (continues to) Rock – which will focus on what is happening today in Priorat and beyond.

Another fantastic seminar will highlight Walla Walla once again, with The Return of the Bionic Frog (say wha?), where Christophe Baron of Cayuse will make his debut at HdR.

On Saturday, France will be showcased with A Collective Quest, highlighting Les Vins de Vienne.

Finally, the seminars round out the day with Research, Revelations and the Art of Being Different.  Here, Chester Osbourn of Australia’s d’Arenderg will explore how recent studies in geology and sub regions have changed his winemaking and growing practices since his last HdR appearance in 1999.

Phew!  But that’s not all kids.  Like a Ginsu knife commercial, the weekend is jam packed with more tastings.

The Rhône Rendezvous is back, where over 100 producers from near and far will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles. To complement this BIG evening of BIG bottles highly-acclaimed chefs from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee will serve up a taste of the South in a BIG way.

But before that you need sustinance, right?   If you’re not entirely dead by this point, don’t forget to participate in the Rosé Lunch, which is always a treat.  This year, our friends from The Girl & Fig will fill us up with deliciousness once again!  Remember the pot de creme from years past? Um yeah.  MORE PLEASE!  I had to taste all three flavors, and I almost left with some in my purse.  The rosés for this delecitble feast will be provided by the attending producers, which is a departure (and a welcome one for variety’s sake).

If you are sufficiently recovered from Friday and still have steam after the final two seminars, the Saturday Grand Tasting will feature over 130 winemakers pouring tastes from around the globe. It has been said that to duplicate this tasting, one would need a passport, many weeks off work and thousands of airline miles to taste the variety of wines showcased at the Grand Tasting.  Many producers who poured at the Rhône Rendezvous will also pour here but they will be featuring different wines.

On Saturday, the Live Auction wil lleave you tingling as lots of sought after wine are hard won and wine washes down the lunch provided by Guadalupe.

If you’re still upright at the end of the day, the Farewell BBQ promises a lot of beer, dancing, and casino action to wrap up your weekend.

After that, you can explore the other wines that Paso has to offer on Sunday!  Or if you’re like me, sleep in, eat a lot of carbs (and bacon naturally) and then head back home with a belly full of delish Rhône and a weekend of memories.

A full weekend pass (highly recomended) is $795 but now is the time to save up!  It’s so worth it.  You can also opt to purchase events a la carte, but by the time you add up a couple of seminars ($155 each) and tasting events ($100-125 each), lunch and dinner, you might as well get the pass.

Hope to see you there!  This year promises to be bigger and better, so if you do only one Rhône event, do this one! 

I'm drawing a blanc

Blanc did you say?  Yes Blanc.  As in white.  Wine.  White wine!  I am not the biggest wine wine drinker in general, instead preferring the heartier meat of a red wine, but there are a few white that really rope me in.  Specifically, Greanache Blanc.  I particularly enjoy GB because it is NOT your average white, it’s nothing like the overblown California chardonnay that I run screaming from, and it’s just plain good.

Grenache Blanc the counterpart to Grenache, or Garnacha, which is classically found in Chateau Neuf de Pape wines from the Rhone.  It is unusual to find Grenache Blanc on it’s own outsidede of the US, but particularly in Paso Robles, this single varietal flourishes.

During my recent trip to Paso Robles, when were were visiting some Zinfandel vineyards, we were treated to dinner at Artisan, a local hot spot for dining.  Since we were exploring the area’s wines, we thought we’d explore the area’s foods as well!  Michael Kobayashi, the owner and general manager, welcomed us like old friends.  We sat down to a well varied menu and wine list, which included a particularly good wines by the glass program.

First up, the Paso Robles Wine Commission selected our appetizers – Cayucos Red Abalone – The green apple and tropical fruits in the Halter Ranch, Roussanne/Picpoul/Gren Blanc/Marsanne “Côtes de Paso Blanc” really brought out the flavors of the abalone, and we enjoyed that along with the Ranchero Cellars Grenache Blanc.  The Halter Ranch white (and red for that matter) were my faves of the evening, and the white
with the honeysuckle, stone fruit and richness topped by a light but noticeable wet river rock flavor were my winning combo.  In the Halter Ranch, I tasted white and had tons of nectarine and grapefruit flavors, with a touch of cotton candy and a hint of light caramel, or brown sugar as well as some lovely floral and honeysuckle notes.  I probably could have had this wine all night and it was a gorgeous match with the abalone, but didn’t work quite as well with the Pork Belly we also had for an appetzer.

We also ordered the Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso red, which is a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mouvdre, Couioise, and Cinsault = basically a Rhone mutt.  This went beautifully with the pork belly.  Before we moved on to mains, I just HAD to order the KILLER gouda and porter fondue. This dish was so amazing that I really wanted to lick the scalding hot cauldron clean.  For mains, I had organic chicken, peas and carrots, aligot potatoes, hen of the woods gravy  which was simply luscious.  With that we continued sipping on several by the glass selections, including another glass of Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso because I loved it so much.

I also tried the Jacob Toft Sarah’s Cuvee, which si a GSM as well.  This was a lovely wine but there was just something missing for me.  For kicks, and because we were in experimentation mode, we tried the Calcareous, Grenache/Mourvedre as well to see what happens when you leave the syrah out.  I think that was it, but I stopped taking notes since iphyoning at the dinner table makes my partner a little testy, so I just enjoyed the lovely food and wine.

Hats off to the people at Artisan.  They made our meal an extremely enjoyable experience.  So much so, that, the next night after being given the shaft at a local brewery, we went back!  There we were, on a Saturday night, with no reservation in a very small town.  There was a festival, and we weren’t sure we’d get in.  But Mike worked his magic, and the hostess who greeted us remembered us and took care of us immediately.  There is something to be said for excellent customer service, on top of excellent food.   The second night, I had an off the menu burger (to DIE for) which the waitress from the night before stopped by to suggest to us.  I split this with my other half, after enjoying the butter leaf salad, beets, walnuts, Point Reyes Bluer cheesem  which was delicate and flavorful.  I started with beer, but quickly moved to wine so we could try those that we didn’t have the first night.  Of courses, by then we were a bit beat and weary of wine tasting, but it was still a blast.

I can’t wait to go back and see Artisan while down in Paso at Hospices du Rhone!  Please do stop by and see Mike and the gang!

The first meal was sponsored by the Paso Robles Wine Commission,  The second was on us, but both were worth 10 times as much as we paid!


 

 

Moo! Ved! Rah!

Trio Vintners is a partnership between three Walla Walla winemakers; Tim Boushey, Denise Slattery and Steve Michener.   Each member of the triad has a unique perspective, and so together they do a bang up job created amazing wines and sharing their love of wine & food.  They are part of the incubator wineries that have cropped up near the Walla Walla airport, where small wineries can foster entrepreneurship and help each other grow, using shared resources.  In this case, each of three incubator wineries can produce 1000 cases of wine collectively, and wade through the legalese that the Federal government has graciously given the wine busienss.

I first became aware of TRIO Vinteners through my friend and wine supplier Catie, of the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman.  Through the magic of all things twitter, I then began a conversation with Denise Slattery, who, in my estimation is almost as irreverent, funny, and amazing as I am!  Ok well, I’m modest too.  As we got to talking, i mentioned that I really wanted to get to know more Washington, and specifically Walla Walla wines, before the WBC.  I turn around, there is a box of Trio’s current releases for me to examine.  thanks Denise!

Since Washington has some unique growing regions, trio has chosen to focus on these unique attributes.  The wines represented celebrate a special sense of place, and really focus on the local terroir.  In the case of the first wine i’m trying, the 2006 Yakima Valley Mouvedre.  The Yakima valley AVA was the first AVA established in Washington, and is now part of the much larger Columbia Valley AVA.  

This Mouvedre is a funny & charming wine, with black pepper, smoky meat, cedar, and blueberry flavors.  I also found a lot of s’more flavors, with some prune &b molasses thrown in for godo measure, followed by cardamon.  It was almost as if I was drinking a good cup of Chai with a s’more on the side.  This is not a bad thing in my estimation – and 4% of Syrah rounds out the masculine shoulders.

Since it’s  becoming more common to see a single varital Mouvedre on the market, it’s great to see this single vineyard example from Washington where the den Hood Vineyard sits at 1300 feet above  the Yakima Valley floor.  Here, the grapes ripe slowly, adn and were aged in Hungarian, American, and French Oak for 20 months before being released to the public.  The resulting wine is chewy, dense and powerful, and perfect for a big steak or BBQ.  the spicy finish on the wine makes it an interesting choice for almost anything, and I hop you’ll give it a shot!  At $26, it’s well worth it, and it just gets better on the 2nd day of being open.  Go BUY some and support your local winemaker.  With less than 150 cases made, this wine will not last long.

This Veddy (or maybe it’s Mourie?) was graciously provided by Denise Slattery at Trio, but you should get some of your own.  Because I’m not sharing!  please follow Denise and Trio Vitners on Twitter.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you certainly won’t be sorry!