Lopez Haro – an instant classic from Rioja

Hacienda López de HaroI love Spain.  In fact, I have had the good fortune to have visited five times in five years.  In the heart of Spain’s most well known wine region, Rioja, Bodegas Classica brings you Hacienda Lopez de Haro, a Vintae project.  Focusing on revolutionizing the world of wine while still focusing on the small family feel, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Vintae on my first visit to Rioja in 2011.
With Lopez De Haro, the region of the Rioja Sonsierra is the focus.  Located within Rioja Alta, it is nestled at the foot of the Toloño Mountains.  This moderate climate is perfect for making Rioja wine.
 Hacienda Lopez de Haro map
From a youthful red blend, to the age worthy La Reserva, these wines are a great example of how Rioja can be affordable but luxurious at the same time.
2015 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Tempranillo – made from fruit from 50-70 year old vines, this weeknight treat is earthy with dried cherries, tobacco and herbal notes.  Simple but not boring, there is a kiss of oak to finish this is a delicious $8 wine for your pizza or hamburger.
2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Crianza – the youngest of the classified Rioja wines, this luscius blend of Tempranillo, Garnaca and Graciano is a mouthwatering treat.  Soft and pleasing to the palate but firm in structure, dried orange peel, mulling spices and fresh strawberries jump out while Herbs de Provence and cracked pepper layer of subtle vanilla.  At $12, this is a steal.




2009 Bodega Classica Hacienda Lopez de Haro Reserva – surprisingly elegant at this price point, this wine is full of chocolate and chili spice, with lush dark fruit and balsamic notes.  The finish is is full of smoked meat, and it just gets better with time.  At $13, the selection of low yield Tempranillo and Graciano is elegant and silky.  With 20 months in oak, this wine will just get better and at this price point is an excellent introduction to the higher escalations of Rioja.

With wines of this quality for less than $20, make sure some Lopez de Haro is on your Thanksgiving table, or wherever you are celebrating this season!  I can’t wait to go back to Spain to visit this special place.

 
Special thanks to Rebekah Polster of 401 West Communications for introducing me to these excellent wines will killer QPR.  Yet again, Spain is proving that wines of exceptional quality do not have to be exceptionally expensive.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road to Spain!

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!

 

 

 

 

Viva Espana!

catalan-festival-banner

Summer is in full swing, and so is Spain!  Do you like paella?  Dancing?  Wine?

Join Gloria Ferrer at the Catalan Festival on Saturday & Sunday, July 19th & 20th for a party benefiting Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.

Honoring the spirit of the Ferrer family, each day guests can stroll Las Ramblas, recreating Barcelona’s popular main street with the colors, smells and sounds of Spain. Along the way they will sample savory tapas, enjoy paella and cooking demonstrations, and participate in educational seminars, cocktail demonstrations,food & wine pairings and a festive grape stomp.

Along Las Ramblas, stop and state the Gloria Ferrer Carneros sparkling and estate varietal wines, as well as select wines from the Ferrer family’s Spanish wineries.

Live Flaminco music will be playing and you can learn to dance, and admire the artist replica of the Gegants de Mataró made specifically for Gloria Ferrer!

The festival runs each day from noon to 4:00 p.m. and tickets can be purchased HERE for this fabulous benefit event!

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Where in the world is Rioja?

spanish wine, spanish wine regions, spainRioja is a vast region of Spain, and one of the most well known wine regions from that country.  While you can make similarities to Sonoma County, as La Rioja is also a community (or county), the wines from that area can be from Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Baja, and even the surrounding regions of Navarra and Alava.

Located in a north east pocket of Spain, Rioja can be mountainous, lush, dry, desert, or anything in between.  First recognized as a wine growing region in the middle ages, it has evolved to be a world renowned and diverse wine region.

The three regions within La Rioja are microclimates, each with specific soil types and terroirs that differ, while holding a similar continental climate.  Rioja Alta, where I spent most of my visit, is on the western edge and has the highest elevation.  Known for old world style wine, the higher elevation makes a cooler climate.  Rioja Alavesa is similar to Rioja Alta,  but tends to make bigger, bolder wines.  Poorer soil quality means that vines have to struggle more, producing stronger wines.  Finally, Rioja Baja is less of a continental climate are more of the warm, balmy, Mediterranean climate.

The most common varietal planted in Rioja is Tempranillo, though Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano, and Mazuelo (Carignane) are alos allowed and are commonly used for blending.  There are a few rebel wineries that are doing some single varietal bottlings of these grapes and are really very interesting.  While they are the same grapes as their French neighbors in the Rhone valley, they are quite different and more powerful.  The more rare and special Rioja Blancas are usually Viura (Macabeo, which is often used or Cava), Malvasia, and my favorite – Garnacha Blanca.

One of the keys to understanding Rioja, beyond the sub regions, is understanding the classification system.  Much like Bordeaux and it’s first growth Chateau, Rioja has rules around what can be a Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Rerserva.  But it’s not what you think!

Spanish wines are labeled based on how long you age the wine; while there is a newer classification that is simploy “Rioja”, or declassified wine, you can classify most wines in three categories.

  • Crianza red wines are aged for 2 years with at least 6 months in oak. Crianza whites and rosés must be aged for at least 1 year with at least 6 months in oak.
  • Reserva red wines are aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak. Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 2 years with at least 6 months in oak.
  • Gran Reserva wines typically appear in above average vintages with the red wines requiring at least 5 years aging, 18 months of which in oak and a minimum of 36 months in the bottle. Gran Reserva whites and rosés must be aged for at least 4 years with at least 6 months in oak.

Confused?  Yeah me too; so Crianza is what most people drink on a daily basis, and what you’d order in a bar.  Reserva is probably what you’d bring to a dinner party or to your parent’s house, while Gran Reserva is what you’d save for a special dinner.  Of course the interesting thing is, there are often Crianzas that are better quality than Reservas, as it’s simply a matter of age.

riojalabels.jpg

Look for the green Rioja label if you want to try wines from the region that don’t play by the rules, and simply needs sto be from La Rioja.

Red is for Crianza.  Think fun, glass of wine at a bar.  With up to 2 years in oak, these are silky and soft, and ready to go.

Burgundy is for Reserva.  This is a food wine, can have a lot of tannin and works with food.

Purple is for Gran Reserva.  With 2 years in oak, and another 3 years of bottle age, they can be a bit over powering and benefit from a good swirl in your Soiree or Vinturi.

Of course the rules for white wine and rosado vary but these are the basics.

And now that you know, go out and find some Rioja for dinner tonight!

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A Spanish Castle stands guard over Rioja

Bodegas Castillo de SajazarraOn a bright early summer day, as our jet lagged bodies were drug out of bed to meet Rioja sun, we were off on our first visit of the trip, to Bodegas Castillo de Sajazarra.

This beautiful castle was purchased in the 1960s and restored by the Libano family as their family home.  Investigating the property, they realized that there were remnants of wine productoin facilities, and they set out on an adventure to impart their own stamp on a new, IMG_2215modern winery.

The 700 year old original fortress was situated on the border of the Moorish Muslim territory and the northern European Christians, which – as you can imagine could be quite a contested region during the crusades.

Enter the current owner and his family, who are Basque.  Again, a hotly disputed territory, they moved to the now tranquil region of Rioja Alta to escape persecution from the separatist movement in Basque country.

After restoring the wine making facilities to modern standards, the first vintage was produced in 1973 from the the rich chalky soils of the region.  Here, the bold wines of Rioja are front and center, along with the lesser known, delicate and delicious whites.  Today, 250,000 bottles are produced, and aged an average of 3 to 4 years.

While the castle isn’t open to the public, I highly suggest making the time and arrangements to view this piece of history in Rioja!  You wont be sorry, and you might get lost in the dungeon!

IMG_2230     IMG_2210

 

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Cocktail of the week: Gintonica

Put on your yalmulka, here comes gin-tonica,
Its so much fun-akkah to celebrate gin-tonica!

With all due respect to Adam Sandler and his holiday chuckles, a well crafted Gin & Tonic is one of my favorite cocktails.  The wide Gin tonic isolated on white background. Stock Photo - 7066244variety of gins available these days is far reaching, and goes beyond hte bathtub varieties of Prohibition, and past the mass market varieties that resemble little more than nail polish with a fancy label.

Blade Gin

Before I delve in my three favorite Gin & Tonic recipes for your Friday enjoyment, let’s look a little bit at the history at gin.  I first became fascinated with gin when I first went to Spain, where the Gintonic has long been held as a sacred ritual and art form.  As it turns out, filed under the heading strange but true facts about booze, Spain boasts the third highest per capita consumption of gin around the world, after (oddly enough) the Phillipines and the United States.  Britain, which is what pops in to most minds when you say gin, falls fourth in line.  Considering that Spain produces world class wine, this is a pretty crazy statistic – but this Luscious Lushes is happy to have stumbled in to the country where a gin & tonic is a creative outlet for even the most back country bartender takes pride in.

Gin was originally derived from juniper berries in the Middle Ages, and was used as an herbal medicine.  Today, gins are any clear spirit that is made from botanicals, and can be floral, herbal, woodsy, or juiper-y.  The key difference here, is that while vodka is a flavorless spirit, gin has a ton of flavor, and distillers pride themselves on a unique and secret combination of herbs, flowers, and spices, to give their own special twist to their version.

legance in a glass.  There are two distinct types of spirit that can be called gin:Today, with the craft cocktail craze sweeping the US and the world, gin is no longer a medicinal beverage or a poor man’s drink – it is e

  1. Gin – This is a juniper flavored spirit made by adding natural flavors to a neutral spirit.  The predominant flavor must be juniper.
  2. London Gin – must be at least 70% ABV and cannot have any added sugar beyond .1 grams per liter.  Because there is not
    added sugar, London Gin is usually called London Dry Gin.

My favorite gins are all quite different, and I continue to explore and disvoer new versions that are as widely varied in falvvor as a Bordeaux is from a California Pinot Noir:

  • St. George Spirits Terroir Gin – St. George Spirits, the makers of Hangar One Vodka, is across the bay from me and prouces three gins.  Terroir is my favorite, with earthy, forest flavors, minty goodness and cedar notes.
  • Old World Spirits Blade Gin – fruity and spicy, with ginger and hot pepper notes this is a citrus driven gin with earthy bones that really sing.
  • Hendricks Dry London GIn – clean, crisp, dry.  The perfect classic London gin.

Now on to the cocktails!  The key to a good cocktail is having the right flavors, blended together perfectly.  In this case, for my three favorite Gin & Tonics, I like to use bitters to enhance the flavor of the gin, along with different tonics which highlight key notes in the gin.  Tonic makes all the difference!  There are so many craft tonics out there these days, step away from the mass market brands and branch out to Fentimans, Q, or Fever Tree.  If you’re very adventerous, try making your own tonic!

First up:

Terroir Terror

  • St George Terroir Gin
  • Fentiman’s Tonic Water
  • 1 dash lime bitters
  • dash lavender bitters
  • dash cardomon bitters
  • slice of lime

The aromatics of the lavender bitters plays particularly well off of the Terroir; the herbal notes of the bitters and the forest floor qualities of the gin are a stunning combination.  The cardamon adds a hint of exotic spice that you wouldn’t otherwise expect, dancing off of your tongue, while the lime enhances the natural compliment of a fresh slice on top.  The tonic of choice for this is Fentimans, as Schwepps is to flat in flavor, and the Fever Tree, while a tasty tonic, doesn’t pack the punch that makes this Gin & Tonic speical.  I prefer the Fentimans for the lemongrass notes and citrus burst.

Blade Trinity

  • Blade Gin
  • Fentimans Tonic Water
  • Slice of lime

A simple classic, the lightness of the Fever Tree enhances the Blade gin.  Pure and simple.

Sliced Blade

  • Blade Gin
  • tonic syrup, mixed with sparkling water to make tonic water
  • dash grapefruit bitters
  • C&B Old Fashioned Quinine syrup, mixed per directions
  • Antica Fomula vermouth, a premier sipping quality vermouth

The tonic syrup is a unique flavor, and naturally brown, as quinine turns when it ages.  The adition of the grapefruit bitters pop the flavors up in this mixture, and the touch of vermouth brings a roundness and a caramelized sweet note that is pleasing on the palate.  Make sure you don’t use white vermouth or an inferior quality!

I hope these drinks inspire you, and I encourage you to go out and make up your own drinks!

Happy Friday!

Rhône with me!

I can’t believe it!  It’s here!  Tomorrow afternoon, I kick off my 2012 Hospiece du Rhône experience with my good friends Amy & Joe Power of Another Wine Blog.

This year is a particularly special occassion, in that it is the 20th Anniversary of HdR, and Amy’s bday.  I won’t tell you which one, since I want to live through the weekend but it will be big.

This year, Hospice du Rhône, the world’s largest gathering of Rhône variety wines and producers, will celebrate 20 years of all things Rhône.  The events are sold out, which is hardly surprising given the amazing agenda we have lined up, and I’m so excited to be headed down to Paso Robles tomorrow to participate.

Fortunately for you latecomers, if you are in Paso Robles on Saturday, there will be 100 Golden Tickets sold at the door to the Grand Tasting.  It is a bit like Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, as yo8u enter the gates to the fairgrounds, and see the throngs of people lined up.

For our experience, we are starting with dinner at Artisan, a local restaurant known for it’s wine & food pairings with local ingredients.  Amy, Joe, myself, and our friends from Pithy LIttle Wine Co. will kick off the weekend wiht a dinner fit for Rhône-heads everywhere.

Thursday, I will be wandering around Paso with stops at Ranchero Cellars and whereever else the wind blows up.  Thursday evening, a special welcome reception to jump start the event.  A lucky few will be participating in a  Châteauneuf du Pape seminar and pairing dinner, who will have the privilege to taste Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines dating as far back as 1954.  Author of The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Book, Harry Karis along with Vigneron Philippe Cambie will lead the audience through an in-depth look at this historic region of France before delighting in dinner at Paso Robles’ premier French restaurant, Bistro Laurent. Chef Laurent Grangien has carefully prepared a five-course meal for this enchanting evening.

Friday will begin with wines from four rock star winemakers hailing from the Priorat region of Spain. Eric Solomon of Eric Solomon Selections will bring to the stage Jose Maria Vicente of Casa Castillo, Daniel Jimenez-Landi of Jimenez-Landi, Bixente Ocafrain of Bodegas Mas Alta and Daphne Glorian-Solomon of Clos I Terrasses. Next, attendees will dive into the stones Walla Walla, Washington with a focused seminar by the ever spirited and knowledgeable Christophe Baron of Cayuse.  Having just hopped a plane home from Barcelona last month, I am especially looking forward to the Priorat seminar.

After we are full of Priorat, we head over to the Rosé Lunch, celebrating pink wine.  There will be a huge variety of pinks to choose from, and with the delicious nibbles from the girl & the fig, I might need a nap after!  I seem to recall the Great Pot du Creme caper of a couple of years ago when attendees could not eat enough of the three selections and may or may not have accidentally taken a pot back to their hotel room.

After lunch, and said nap, the Rhône Rendezvous has gone BIG!  This walk-around tasting for will feature 100 producers who will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles.  Wowza!  Friday night I have a feeling we might be seen at Villa Creek or the brewery for dinner, if we can roll out of the parking lot.

After a good night’s sleep (or lackthere of knowing how things roll at the Black Oak) day two of the 2012 Seminar Series will begin with a look at the historic Northern Rhône with the wines of Les Vins de Vienne. These wines are crafted by three long-time friends of Hospice du Rhône, Francois Villard, Yves Cullieron and Pierre Gaillard. Closing out day two of the Seminar Series will be Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg, South Australia who will guide the audience through 13 wines showcasing the terroir of multiple vineyard sites and plots.

Lunch on Saturday is always a raucous and good time.  The Lunch and Live Auction gives us a glimpse in to the world of the Rhône Collector, as those with deeper pockets vie for the best lots as we eat the delicious food from Far Western Tavern.  Proceeds from this auction

As we roll out of lunch, the Rhône quest continues at the Saturday Grand Tasting with over 135 winemakers pouring tastes from around the globe for over 1000 Rhône freaks. 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. While strolling the Tasting Pavilion guests will savor bites from specialty food purveyors who will be stationed throughout the hall.

Finally, on Saturday evening, we bid a bittersweet farewell to HdR with casino themed Farewell BBQ.  The beer will flow, the bottles will be emptied, and weekend is topped off by some pretty serious silliness.

To follow all of the phone, the Third Edition of the app was launched.  This app is available for your iPhone & iPad, as well as Android.  Forget the paper!  Go iRhône!  This all inclusive app allows you to find, track, tweet and takes notes on your favorite wines from the event.  Those with the app will never be at a loss for Rhône wine information when at the annual event or at home. This is the digital guide to all things Rhône.

A special thanks to HdR for this unique opportunity to participate again this year.  I can’t wait!  Stay tuned to @luscious_lushes for all event updates!

Calçots!

There is something unique to Catalonia, something

 

delicious.  It is the calçot and the tradition of a calçot

lunch to go with it!

A calçot (left) is member of the onion family, and resembles a cross between a green onion and a leek.  It’s a uniquely Catalan beast, and are
mild and sweet.

Every Spring, the Catalan celebrate with the tradition of the calçotada  – much like the American tradition of the summer BBQ, where c
alçots are grilled over an open flame (in our case over vine cuttings, yum!).  The

result is a charbroiled onion, but a sweet delicious delicacy underneath.

How does one eat a calçot?  Once they are grilled, you strip them of course!  After barbecuing,
It’s a delicate operation, as you grip the bottom of the calçot, and tug gently so the skin pulls off in one long piece.  Then, as Toni is demonstrating, you eat the calçotada in several bites – but in one fell swoop.  Delicious! a romesco sauce is served, and you strip off the charbroiled layer in a magical feat of action.

 

They can get a little messy however, so as
Toni shows us, it helps to have a bib.  Or a cape.  After a full plate of calçot, and several glasses of cava, Toni became…Super Calcot!  The Catalon superhero!

Calçots are particularly delicious with brut cava, as the crisp acidity matches perfectly with the sweet greens and the tangy romesco  sauce.

Now, go out and make some calçots today!  when you can’t find the real thing, baby leeks, baby green onions or red onions can be substituted.  Broil or grill them until tender.  Enjoy with a glass of cava!

 

Pulling it all together

Now that we have seen the grapes come in and the base wine made, it’s time to pull it all together.  It’s time for the assemblage!

Assemblage is the process of choosing which case wine will be blended to make each sparkling wine.  Each base wine can be classified in to different levels of wine, and the process involves several components, including multiple trials and blends.  But first, you need to taste the base wine from which the blended cava will be made.

Each primary still wine is made specifically for the purpose of creating cava.  Unlike the table wine, these wines are made with a lower sugar content and a higher overall acidity.

First up, the Macabeo cava base, showed lychee and a slightly tropical undertone, with bright acidity, green apple and grapefruit.  It’s easy to see how this can create an excellent cava.

Next, we compare the Macabeo cava base with the Macabeo wine base.  IN the wine base, you get a creamy undertone, it’s roudner and softer with more pear flavors followed by citrus.

Now on to the Xarel.lo cava base.  This uniquely Spanish wine has a very subtle nose and is bright, lean and tight.  A strong banana scent is followed by bitter lime.  This wine adds more weights and depth to the finished cava.

Finally we taste the Xarel.lo wine base.  This was a bit like unfiltered grapefruit juice, stll with that banana flavor and a heavier mouthfeel.  I would call this a pithy wine.

Now that we know who the players are, it’s time to play mad scientist with the assemblage!Now we get to the third traditionally cava base, Parellada.  The base wine had a slight spritz, and  was full bodied and had lemon custard flavors with heavy aromatics and floral notes.

Gabriel Suberviola, Master Winemaker at Segura Viudas, was on hand to help walk us through the process.  As we found out in the component tasting, each wine contributes its own unique notes, and bringing it all together takes patience and skill.  To maintain a consistent product, winemakers need to be able to replicate a flavor profile year after year, with minor changes to the blend.

Gabriel and his team taste up to 200 wines, and they are classified in to specific lines.  Each line will become a different wine.  For our small team of amateur wine blenders, we had to learn how to spot a premier cava in the making in the unusual base wines we tasted.  The winemaking team has years of practice and can tell in one sip, but we needed a bit more time.

We started our adventure with four bottles of base wine:

  • Macabeo base wine
  • Xarel.lo base wine
  • Parellada base wine
  • current candidate of test wine, for control purposes
Over the next 2 hours, we tediously tried to create the best blend possible, which Gabriel would then be grading them as we ate lunch.  And so it begins.  Never one to play exactly by the rules, I started creating concoctions immediately.  Instead of trying to match the current test candidate, I decided to go out on my own and create a blend that I thought would make an amazing cava.
In the end, my favorite blend didn’t wine, but I sure had fun trying!  It’s amazing how as little as 5% of one wine or another can have a profound impact on the finished product.  If you’ve never played with blending, I encourage you to do it at home.  You can try it with any old wine, just add a dash of Petite Sirah to your Zinfandel.  Maybe some Malbec to your cab1  be your own winemaker!
The winner of this round was erstwhile wine director Mark, who proudly carried home an

excellent bottle of cava.  The most vivacious team goes to Rebecca and Tom, who had nearly identical blends, but still didn’t win.

Cin cin!

 

 

 

 

Cava cools you off…

It’s hot here in Spain, even though it’s only March. There hasn’t been much rain, and you can feel it all around. The rivers are dry, the air is dry, the vines are dry.

One critical observation about Spain is there is an inordinate amount of smog at atmosphereic gunk. While I belive most of this is organic smog, it makes for a rough go for anyone that is used to clear skies and easy breathing. I myself am suffering after 3 days of heavy smog, where you can barely see the skyline of Barcelona and you can only make the outline of the breathtaking Montserret mountain formation . Even today, from my hotel room less t

 

 

han 1 mile away, the giatn Gaudi Masterpiece, the Segrada Famila, is barely visible in the haze.
When i was in Madrid and Rioja last year, I noticed a simlar issue. With the contstant burning of organic waste (and quite probably inorganic) I wonder how long this city can continue to manage this level of pollution. However, I see steps that are postivie: the city busses are natural gas powedered; there are far more diesel fueled vehicles in Europe than anywhere else ( particular in gas guzzling US); Segura Viudas is making steps to become a green, closed ecosystem.

While in the vineyard in the Penedes region of Catalonia, we toured one of the old vineyards at the estate.  Segura Viudas is a pioneer in the area, practicing sustainable agriculture, as operates as organically as possible with out being constrained to the organic rules of operation. Currently, they are experimenting with reusing the biomass created by pruning, as well as other vineyard activities, and seeling this as fuel. Future plans include using the biomass fuel within

the winery system to becoming a self contained ecosystem.
Additionally, the vineyard manager Sebastià Raventós has been working with cover crops such as hay and oats, to provide a nutrient balance. Of course, this also protects the vineyards from erosion during the rainy season, and also provides another attraction for insects and animals to build a sustainable ecosystem in the vineyard.

Sebastià was born and bred in this small wine growing region, and has the soil in his blood.  His familiy has worked the vineyards in the area for generatiosn.    He belives that great cava or great wine begins in the vineyard, and that great wine cannot be made without great grapes.  He is part of the landscape here, born and bred in this small wine growing region of Penedes, and has the

soil in his blood.  His family has worked the vineyards in the area for generatiosn.    He belives that great cava or great wine begins in the vineyard.  To this point, he fiercly guards his vines, and has a particular reverace to the old, gnarly vines that are growing freely.  While there are advantages to head trained, neat, trellised vineyards, they are also more prone to diseases and pests since they aren’t allowed to grow naturally.  These old vines, planted 40+ years ago, producer less grapes, but grapes of an intensity that cannot be compared.

Sebastià is a lovable charmer, and his passion and lvoe for the vines is clear.  He is a fighter, and is dedicated to a more traditional way of growing grapes; this return to the past has a greater respect for the environment.  Even though he claims not to speak English, there is a glint in his eye when we get excited about talking about green practices.  He pulls out the seeds for the cover crop and grins when we recognize his efforts.

In effect, he is an ecologist who uses less invasive methods, and studies the history of the vineyards to predict future outcomes.  With 19 years of experience on the saem vines, he has been keeping track of weather patterns, including the global climate changes that are impacting all grape growers.  with this knowledge, he can predict down to the day, when the grapes will be ready to harvest.  Planning a trip on Tuesday?  Nope!  We harvest on Tuesday!

Using methods such as pheromone traps for moths, cover crops to stabilize the soil on erosion prone hillsides, and creating biomass from clippings, Segura Viudas has been a pioneer in these efforts.  They have even gone so far as to create a nature train within one vineyard, which explains the natural habit and what they are doing to assist in rebuilding the environment.

Sebastià has such a passion for the vineyards taht he has been taking care of for the last 19 years; it is clear that he is as much a part of them as they are him.  Teh excitement he holds for creating the best possible fruit, and ensuring that every possible action can be taken to take care of these gems is clear.

 

Since it was hot and dusty outside, it was a welcome sight to come inside and taste some of the delicious Cava that the winery produces.  Next up, a bit of history about the property, and some tasting!

¡Viva España!

Happy February everyone!  I can hardly belive it’s still “winter” here in San Francisco, given that it’s in the mid 70s, and the sun is shining.  Time to get out and enjoy some crisp sparkling delicious Cava!

Cava is Spain’s version of sparkling wine, traditionally made from indigenous white varieties – Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada.  Most Cava is made in Catalonia, a region at the north east tip of Spain.  Cava must also be made in the méthode champenoise, whereas sparkling wine made in other (shall we say, less than desirable in my opinion) methods may only be called vinos espumosos (sparkling wines).

I am so excited that in 3 short weeks, I will be spend a whirlwind week, learning all about this magical elixer, from the masters of Segura Viudas.

Some of the activities I will be participating in are:

  • An Assemblage master class, where we learn about the traditional cava grapes, terroir, region and climate.
  • A blending session, where we will learn to create our own special bubbly blend
  • A cooking class to learn about the regional cuisine
  • Meals paired with the wines of the region
  • A side trip to Priorat, one of my favorite regions.  Did someone say Garnacha?  Monastrell?  Garnacha Blanca?  Pack me a straw!

And did I mention, they are rather fond of jamon in Spain?

And now, a bit more about my hosts, Segura Viudas:

Segura Viudas has developed a reputation as a premium cava producer, with the property dating back to the 11th century.  The brand was born in 1959, and the wines were first released in 1969.  The Ferrer family of Barcelona, who owns brands like Gloria Ferrer and Frexinet, purchased the estate in the 1980s making it a global competitor.

I’m looking forward to learning more about cava and the Catalonia region of Spain!  As you might now, I was in Spain & Portugal last year, when I spoke at the International Wine Tourism Conference.  At that time, I took some extra time and explored Madrid, Rioja, and the northern regions, so this will be a great way to round out my Spanish adventure.  I wonder if I can accidentally miss my return flight and get lost in Barcelona?

Watch out for tweets and posts from the road!  Can I do this all with just my iPad?  I hope so!

I've been Vintaed!


Remember Wine Blogging Wednesday?

The one day a month where we all gathered our collective consciousness and blogged about the same topic?  Well the same theme anyway.  Well it’s BACK!  And I’m pleased to be participating because it’s a really great way to give me a shove in the right direction in my blogging efforts.  With my day job, life, travels, and wine stuff taking over and an alarming rate, it’s nice to have a topic that I don’t have to come up with.

Gabriella Opaz of Catavino, who was with me in Porto

This month, Catavino’s Ryan & Gabriella encourage us to blog about Spanish wines.  Fresh off the big ole jet airline from a trip to Iberia, where I spent some wonderful time with Gabriella, I am able to supply oodles of info on this topic!  Specifically, Catavino is asking us to look at Spanish wines we’ve never tried before, or something unusual for the area.  Since I recently blogged about Miguel Merino, my new favorite place in Rioja, I thought I’d use this opportunity to write about my new friends at Vintae.

is mixing it up in Spain, and starting a wine revolution of sorts.  They are a young company which focuses on 6 specific regions in Spain, but in a different way.  Vintae represents innovation and change in a wine region that has been very rigid in its ways, much like France, for years.  The avant-garde marketing and approach have shaken up the industry in Spain, and spawned the Spanish Guerrilla wine movement!

In Spain, wine suffers from a bit of a bad reputation.  There is some of a connotation that is is an old man’s drink, or an object ot mix with 7-up or other such items.  Although, when we were out in Logroño doing a tapas bar crawl, plenty of young folks were drinking wine – but it appears that might be a bit of the exception.  Since I have no real experience with the Spanish wine industry, you will need to take this with a grain of salt.

The company started with 5 wines, made in La Rioja, from grapes that are non-traditional to the region. Given that the wine laws in Europe are much stricter and somewhat archaic by western standards, they had a bit of a time introducing these wines to the market. They were, in fact, the first winery that was allowed to produce these varietals in La Rioja, and are guerrillas in the wine business here – stirring up the old ways of thinking, and trying to make wine fun. This is why their new brand is called "Spanish Guerilla". Kinda catchy don’t you think?

On this day, we visited the two different Vintae production facilities, starting wtih the white wine facility, Castillo de Maetierra, where the illustrious Spanish White Guerrilla wines are made.  Castillo de Maetierra is the only winery in La Rioja which specializes in making white wines.  The Castillo has been an upstart, focuses on unusual (for Rioja) wines such as Muscat and Malvasia, and introducing Spain to foreign varieties such as Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.  Currently, Castillo de Maetierra works with eight different white varietals, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Viognier.  Because these are so unusual in the area, the branding became the “Spanish White Guerrilla”.  Each of the fun labels makes a play on a character from the region – so the Gewertz has beer wench, the Sav Blanc looks a Little bit like Fidel Castro, etc.

Carmelo, our smiling host!

Because there really is a sense of terroir and micro climates in Rioja, the production facilities are separate and distinct to maintain this.  The white wines produced here are so delicate and fickle, that anything more than 30 minutes from field to crushpad would destroy some of the characteristics that make them unique, which is what the winemakers want to avoid.  This is somewhat difficult to grasp as a New World wino since we so often see grapes trucked long distances to production facilities. That said, it makes total sense – treat the wine like your first born child, and she will treat you like the king of the world.

The white wines are made here at Castillo de Maetierra, where approximately 500,000 bottles are produced. YOW!  Just a little bit of wine there folks.  Our hosts, Ana of Vintae and Carmelo Santos, the winemaker, showed us around and gave us a peek at the 2010 barrel samples as well as the current 2009 releases.  The Castillo is located in southern Rioja, where it is a high desert – think Reno folks, and it can get up to 35c in the summer. That’s about 110! Phew. Hot. Because of this, they harvest in August at night. This is crucial for the whites because the whites can begin fermentation spontaneously in that heat.

I must admit, I did a poor job at taking notes of what I was tasting, but you really want to know more about the story right?  Suffice it to say, they were surprising and delicious, and even though it was FREEZING cold outsidede, they were highly enjoyable.  The Guerrilla wines, coming in at about 5 Euro, are an absolute STEAL for budget minded quaffers.

Happy reading, and you should be able to find these wines near you soon!

Contests contests contests!

So here I was, minding my own business, when two very attractive emails came my way regarding contests which promote specific wine regions by attractive prizes like trips.  I don’t often post contests, but these two were things I actually entered myself, so against my better judgement, I’m going to share them with you!

The first is sponsored by Vacations in Austria, the Official Travel Guide.  This sweepstakes is offering a 7-day trip for you and a traveling companion to Austria, with one of it’s themed trips.  The options include an outdoor adventure, art & history, or…Wine & Food!  That’s right dear readers, you can win a 7 day vacation to Austria that focuses on wine!

Now, I have been to parts of Austria, and really enjoyed my time in the land of Mozart and The Sound of Music.  This could be an amazing adventure for some lucky winos.  To enter, you must fan them up on Facebook and be sure to read the official rules. You can increase your chances of winning by tweeting about the contest with the hashtag #itsgottobeaustria, once you fan them up.

This contest ends January 15, 2010.


I also came acorss this great offer from the Vibrant Rioja people.  If you join thier e-newsletter, you will be entered to win things like a case of Rioja, a wine party at your home, tickets to NYC Fashion Week, or – a trip to Rioja! The Vibrant Rioja site is a visually stunning informational resource that I highly recommend you take a look at if you’re interested in learning more.  I really want to go to Spain, so here’s hoping.

Good luck and think of me if you win!