Saturday, September 22, 2018

Bruno Colin 2013 Santenay Vieilles Vignes, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy

Santenay BurgundyFor many, Pinot Noir from Burgundy is the standard for perfection. We open a bottle to decide for ourselves.

The Many Faces Of Pinot Noir

Flavor profiles range all over the map for Pinot Noir. In California, Pinot can be fruit forward with a light-medium body with vanilla notes as well as berries. In Oregon, the wine will be lighter and elegant with tart cranberry flavors. Germany, Chile, Australia and New Zealand each have different flavors -- and then there is France.

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France’s Pinot Noir is highly prized. France has the largest number of acres planted to Pinot Noir of any country. In Burgundy, French Pinot is at its best.

We’ve been enjoying our share of Willamette Valley, Russian River Valley and even German Pinot Noir in recent months. It was time to return to Pinot homebase as we opened the Bruno Colin Vieilles Vignes, from the Santenay region of Côte de Beaune in Burgundy.

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The vines for this wine are at least 23 years old and grow in the famed clay and limestone rich soil of Santenay. They are cultivated in the Lutte Raisonnée method, France’s age-old version of sustainable agriculture. Wild fermentation is used, which we believe helps a wine capture the essence of its home terrain.

Getting Ready For Barnyard?

If you are expecting a California-style Pinot, you’ll need a mental reset. The aroma of the Bruno Colin is earthy. On the palate this is a light-medium bodied wine. While perhaps not reaching the full “barnyard” descriptor, it certainly is loaded with earthy and forest floor flavors. The taste of tobacco also mingles with laid-back cherry and herbal notes.

This is a glass that would fare well with any dish that features mushrooms. Duck or fish would match nicely as well.

There’s a lot going on in the glass. I picked this bottle up online for $20, a nice savings over its SRP of $47. We’d recommend this as a solid Pinot pick, especially at the discounted price. We suggest you serve with a meal or at least appetizers, especially if you typically drink Cali Pinot Noir.  The complex flavors of the Bruno Colin Pinot work splendidly with food.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bollina Corte Medicea 2015 'Cletus' Toscana IGT, Tuscany

Cletus Toscana IGTSuper Tuscans break the mold. Can “renegade” Italian winemakers deliver a superior white Super Tuscan?

Red And White?

Super Tuscans are supposed to be red, aren’t they? Some of the world’s greatest wines are red wines of Italy’s Tuscany region that “break the rules” and use international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

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Hold the phone! Tuscan winemakers produce white Super Tuscans also. We recently uncorked the 2015 Cletus Super Tuscan from the Bollina Vineyard.

Cletus is is complex blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Quite a change from the often unremarkable Pinot Grigio which gush forth from Italy.

Verdict Of The Glass

These are three grapes you wouldn’t normally think of joining together, but it works splendidly. Tuscany’s glorious sunshine brings out the best in the fruit. The body of Cletus is medium, which is more substantial than many whites. The flavor profile is bouncy, with bright green apple and melon notes being woven together with a lively acidity. This is  a luscious mouthful.

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We picked this bottle up online for a mere $14.99, a steal for this high quality white which usually goes for about twice the price. Super Tuscans typically give winemakers more leeway to be creative, since they are not regulated by the rules of the regulating counsel of the wine region. We’re happy to say that this white wine lives up to the “super” title.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monastery's Cremisan Winery Highlights Middle East Quality And Obscure Grapes

Cremisan Baladi and Vegan PastaChances are if you hear “Star of Bethlehem” you wouldn’t think of wine. We followed the star and found some great fruit of the grape.

Roots In The Levant

When the Middle East is featured on the evening news, it often depicts an area beset by unrest and strife. It may be easy to overlook that in addition to being the cradle of civilization, it’s the origin point for wine and beer as well.

Through a recent Wine Studio education program we were introduced to Jason Bajalia of Terra Sancta Trading Company. We were able to taste a trio of unique wines imported from Israel.

“No everyone has their own perception of the Middle East,” said Jason. “But politics aside, through Terra Sancta I not only want to introduce the products to the U.S., but also help people understand the importance of the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) today. Not a lot of people realize this is where wine originally came from. It’s where beer came from. The role this part of the world has played in shaping the beverage industry as we know it today is grossly underestimated.”

The wines featured were from Cremisan Winery, located near Bethlehem and operated by the monks of the Salesian order. The Salesian order was founded in the late nineteenth century by Italian priest Saint John Bosco to help poor children during the Industrial Revolution. Cremisan is on the border between the West Bank and Jerusalem, with the main building officially in Jerusalem and the storeroom on the other side of the parking lot in the West Bank. It vineyards feature grapes that have been cultivated on the land for hundreds of years

Rare Dabouki grape bottled by CremisanCremisan is at the forefront of the effort to promote the awareness and use of ancient native grapes. Its wines even inspired a book. Tasting The Past was written by Kevin Begos, who was inspired after have a bottle of Cremisan wine after a trip to Israel.

Rocking Autochthonous Grapes

Don’t be baffled. “Autochthonous” is a term I first discovered in my studies for Certified Specialist of Wine. It simply means native or indigenous. In many countries indigenous grapes, many centuries old, are being uprooted or being ignored in favor of the more popular international varieties like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the other hand, Cremisan elevates this native grapes. In the Cremisan Wine Estate 2016 West Bank Dabouki, they use a grape used by no other winery. The results show the value of this focus on ancient and native grapes. In the glass the wine is a medium gold. Up front there are floral. On the palate the Dabouki is dry with medium acidity. Flavors of honey and tea leaf are striking and the finish has herbal threads.

Cremisan Hamdani JandaliOur exploration of Cremisan wines continued with the Cremisan Wine Estate 2014 West Bank Baladi. For this we enjoyed a vegan pasta dish. “Baladi” means “local” in Arabic. The wine is medium bodied with tartness. It has a pleasing earthiness that paired well with our pasta.

The Cremisan Wine Estate 2016 West Bank Hamdani/Jandali is a white blend that is one of the wineries best. Aside from being a grape combination that is sure to baffle your wine loving friends, this is a well-balanced, enjoyable wine. The acidity is dialed-in just right, melding with flavors of citrus and apricot. It’s a luminous wine that even caught the attention of Wine Spectator. This is a white we would enjoy drinking on a regular basis.

Ancient and native grapes are often much better suited to cultivation than trying to grow a grape variety from thousands of miles away that’s popular in the supermarket. Furthermore, native grapes are threads in a tapestry that bring a richness to the wine. In the case of Cremisan, it can also be a bridge to understanding the culture and life of one of the world’s most fascinating locales.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Wine, Travel And Food News From Vino-Sphere: September 7, 2018

The Blaze of the Moment, by Tennessee Williams (1970s), oil on canvasRare Glimpse of Tennessee Williams Paintings Featured In Miami Beach

Tennessee Williams: Playwright and Painter, an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach, is on view now through October 7. Long known as “Mr. Key West,” David Wolkowsky, the famed scion of Florida’s pioneer Jewish family that helped to settle Key West in the 1800s, has loaned his paintings by close friend Tennessee Williams to the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU for their premiere in Miami Beach.

This is one of the few times they have been exhibited outside of Key West. The exhibition is an intimate showing of nine exquisitely rare paintings by one of America’s greatest playwrights, created by Williams in Key West during the 1970s. One of his closest friends was David Wolkowsky, the Key West developer who owned a private island called Ballast Key (nine miles from Key West), and the Pier House Resort. Both idyllic locations were the scene of many glamorous gatherings hosted by David and Tennessee, including parties for Hollywood luminaries, heads of state, and society’s crème-de-la-crème.

Bordeaux Win Against Counterfeiters In China Provides Boost To Winemakers, Exporters

China is notorious for the adulteration of wine and the relabeling of inferior wines to more expensive brands, making it a safe haven for counterfeit products. However, a recent landmark case in favor of the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB or Bordeaux Wine Council), which represents more than 7,000 Bordeaux-based wine producers, against wine counterfeiters selling fake editions of some of the region’s most prized chateaux, will provide a boost for winemakers and exporters to the country, says data and analytics company GlobalData

In the recent past, China has emerged as the biggest and most profitable single market for French wine, accounting for over 40% of Bordeaux’s annual wine exports by volume in 2016, according to the wine council. By comparison, the entire EU accounted for 35% of Bordeaux exports.

Counterfeit luxury goods are big business in the country, with China and Hong Kong estimated to be the source of 86% of the world’s counterfeit goods. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates this significant percentage to be worth approximately $397 billion.

Sebastian Zuccardi Named Nominee for Wine Innovator of the Year Award

Each year, the editors of Wine Enthusiast Magazine honor the individuals and companies that have made outstanding achievements in the wine and beverage world. Sebastian Zuccardi, third generation owner of Zuccardi Valle de Uco winery, has been named as a nominee for the 2018 Wine Star Award for “Innovator of the Year.” For over 20 years, Zuccardi has been a supplier partner of Winesellers, Ltd., a globally – recognized importer and marketer of fine wines based in Niles, IL.

In 2005, Sebastian Zuccardi led the development of the new stage of the wines of the Zuccardi expansion into the Uco Valley. Since 2008, the winery has an area of Research and Development dedicated to the study of the terroir and the different variables that affect wine production. In March of 2016, he opened the Zuccardi winery Uco Valley, with the premise of producing wines with identity, through the continuous exploration of the different terroirs of the Uco Valley, Mendoza.

Finnish Lapland Photo by Simo VilhunenFinnish Lapland Offers Coolest Jobs Of The Season

It’s now possible to spend next winter enjoying the magic of a winter wonderland and earn money at the same time. Dozens of companies in Northern Finland are looking for candidates to work in exciting jobs beyond imagination.

Tourism in Finnish Lapland is expanding more rapidly than ever. And this is good news for adventurers from all over the world. Dozens of companies are hiring people to work in exciting jobs such as photography guide, Santa's elf, Aurora Borealis watch, husky carer and in more conventional tourism related posts.

One of the most exotic vacancies Lapland has to offer for the coming season, is an elf. And not just any kind of an elf, but the elf of Santa himself. As anyone who's aware of Santa's work load knows, one or two elves will not be enough. Dozens of elves will be needed to help Santa get through the holiday season.

Reindeer also need carers and guides, as do the hundreds of huskies working in the winter wonderland. Hotels need receptionists, kitchens need chefs and buses need drivers.

In order to make companies and potential employers meet, EURES, the European Job Mobility Portal, has set up a digital platform where one can browse through interesting job opportunities and register as a job seeker.

Italian Wine Scholar Program Enrolls 1,000th Student

The Italian Wine Scholar study and certification program, modeled after the industry-acclaimed French Wine Scholar program (launched in 2009), celebrates the enrollment of its 1,000th student since the program's launch in 2016.

"Students are composed of wine professionals and enthusiasts, all committed students of wine, who have already completed more general wine study programs and wish to gain deeper understanding of the wines of Italy," states IWS Education Director Maurizio Broggi, "These students come from over 25 countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Australia, France… and Italy!"

Langhe Italy2018 Harvest Outlook Good in Italy’s Langhe Region

The Colla family is well renown in the Langhe with vineyards in Bricco del Drago in San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, a hamlet of Alba; in Monforte in the Bussia cru; in Barbaresco in the Roncaglie cru; and in the recent acquisition of Cascina Bompè in Madonna di Como, on Alba’s edge.

When asked about the progress of the 2018 vintage and to speculate on the ongoing harvest (Poderi Colla began harvesting Pinot Nero August 27), Tino Colla said, The month of May and the first half of June were among the rainiest periods of the last two centuries, in fact, it seems to have fallen this much last in 1810. As a consequence of the rain, we had no choice but to carry out a larger series of manual treatments to ensure plant health. In fact, many of our vineyards are on such steep slopes that the use of machinery is impossible, so controlling grass and undergrowth in such wet soil is very difficult. By mid-June however, the climate had returned to normal and we were able to make up for lost time and vegetative growth.” For the time being Tino is staying reticent on the overall quality of the 2018 vintage, cautiously saying that “Currently, the vintage promises good things: an abundant yield is expected…”

IridiumSterling Vineyards Official Wine Host for Emmy Awards

For the third consecutive year, iconic Napa Valley winery Sterling Vineyards returns to television's most anticipated night as the official wine sponsor of the 70th Emmy® Awards Season. Governors Ball guests will be treated to a selection of classic Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley wines, in addition to the unveiling of two soon-to-be-released wines: the new, luxury tier 2015 Sterling Vineyards Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon and ultra-limited flagship 2015 Sterling Vineyards Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon. Adding an extra touch of sophistication to the star-studded evening, Sterling Vineyards will also gift a special limited-edition, personalized bottle of the Iridium Cabernet Sauvignon to each Emmy award winner. 2015 is just the second vintage of the winery's premier luxury Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, named appropriately for one of the rarest elements on earth.

Carowinds to Unveil Copperhead Strike Coaster

Carowinds will introduce Copperhead Strike, the Carolinas' first double launch coaster, for the 2019 season. Copperhead Strike simulates the harrowing chase of getaway cars racing through rolling farmland, sending riders on two launches through a relentless winding ride over half a mile of steel.

In this innovative ride, the coaster dynamics are carefully crafted to offer a thrilling and intense low-to-the-ground experience. With three 16-passenger trains fashioned after 1930s coupes, Copperhead Strike sends riders cruising into a Jojo roll right out of the station. They then go into a lightning fast launch to a 360° loop, the second of five inversions, moving into a series of near-miss twists, turns and flips. Without slowing down, the ride launches a second time to accelerate into a memorable hang time loop, leaving passengers breathless and wondering which way is up.

The new coaster is the central element of Blue Ridge Junction, a new immersive, richly themed area inspired by the majestic beauty and easy-going culture of the Blue Ridge Mountain region of the

Colorado Space PortColorado Granted License For Space Port

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted a site operator license to Colorado Air and Space Port, the 11th such license granted in the United States. Colorado Air and Space Port will serve as America's hub for commercial space transportation, research, and development.

"Facilities like Colorado Air and Space Port will be developed around the country and the world," said Mary Hodge, chair of the Adams County Board of Commissioners. "We'll be building a hub that connects Colorado to commercial and research opportunities across the globe."

Colorado Air and Space Port will accommodate vehicles making horizontal takeoffs and landings. The vehicles will take off like traditional airplanes using jet fuel and fly to a special-use airspace where rocket boosters launch the craft into suborbital flight. To land, the craft drops out of suborbital flight and lands like a traditional airplane.

The spaceport will also provide a boost to the state's economy by keeping the nearly 200,000 jobs connected to the aerospace industry in Colorado as well as creating new employment opportunities.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Latest Dry Creek Vineyard Releases Offer Crisp Refreshment, Refined Flavors

A trio of new releases from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Vineyards has something for almost every palate.

DCV 2017 Chenin Blanc

We recently had the chance to “test drive” three new wines from one of our favorite wineries, Dry Creek Vineyards. They each are very different wines, but each caused us to return to the bottle for a refill.

2017 Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg

We had planned a special wine dinner in honor of friends visiting from out of town. I originally planned some big reds, but blistering hot weather changed our plans. We opted for some light, summery food and wine.

We paired the 2017 Dry Chenin Blanc with Potato & Wild Salmon Cakes with Ginger, Scallions and Dill Sauce. It was accompanied by a spinach salad with strawberries, blueberries and toasted hazelnuts.

Dry Creek Vineyards has produced dry Chenin Blanc every year since the winery was founded in 1972. This is a bracing, crisp white wine. Stainless steel fermentation keeps the flavors of pear and green apple fresh. It’s lively and a spot-on pairing with seafood of any sort. SRP is $15.

IMG_20180824_2114242017 Fumé Blanc, Sonoma County

We love Fumé Blanc, a handle used for some Sauvignon Blanc in California. Priced at $15, this is one of our favorite QPR (quality price ratio) wines. In short, you’re getting a great value that’s sure to please. This Sonoma version of Sauvignon Blanc has bright lemon and grapefruit flavors without over-the-top acidity. (I’m talking to you, Marlborough!)

We enjoyed this bottle on a warm evening on the patio. Winery founder David Stare was the first person to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley – and now it is the most widely planted white grape in the region. Mouthwatering flavors and a nice minerality!

IMG_20180829_210439~22015 Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

It’s hard to believe, but true. Dry Creek Vineyard first coined the term “Old Vine” in 1987. Those are two words we love to hear – especially attached to Zinfandel. Old Vine vineyards are usually defined as averaging more than 50 years of age. For this particular bottling, the vines are more than 95 years in age and in some cases, more than 110 years old.

Why does that matter? As vines age, they produce fewer grapes. In the counterintuitive world of winemaking, that’s a good thing. Since there are fewer grapes, each receives a greater concentration of flavor. This bottle has 76% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignane. It is a delightful example of Zinfandel at its best.

This is a refined drinking experience with layers of cranberries, raspberry and cocoa. We detected a bit of spice and pepper on the finish. It is aged 16 months in French, American and Hungarian with 27% new oak. The aging regimen gives added complexity.

The 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel is a winning wine for any occasion. It retails for $35 with a production of 2,200 cases. It’s a wine we highly recommend.

Full Disclosure: We received these wines as a marketing sample.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Locations Latest Wines Raise The Bar

IMG_20180626_165152Our latest tasting shows that the key to winemaking success is location, location, location!

Winemaking Against The Grain

Winemaker Dave Phinney’s Locations brand flies in the face of most winemaking tradition. In most cases, wine regions are all about placing their stamp on a unique style. In France, Burgundy doesn’t want to be confused with Bordeaux. Napa Valley doesn’t want to be confused with Sonoma. Even Rutherford wants wine drinkers to know that its Cabernet is different than neighboring Napa Valley regions.

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On the other hand, Locations tries to blend across all the major appellations to produce a wine that represents the country, or state, of origin. The question is, when you break the rules and thousands of years of tradition in pursuit of expressing freedom, does it work?

We uncorked the four latest Locations wines to find out. In our minds the answer is a resounding “yes.”

The Old And New Worlds

IMG_20180726_185819The quartet of Locations wine included two from the Old World (countries in Europe) and two from the New (everywhere else). Adorned in their attention-grabbing “bumper sticker” labels, we sampled E5, a Spanish red; F5, French red wine; NZ7, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; and WA5, a Washington red wine. Each is priced at $19.99.

Of the many Locations wines we’ve tried over the past few years, E is our favorite. Spanish reds are delicious and the Locations wine boundary-busting blend captures the spirit of the country. It is a blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, Monastrell and Cariñena. Three powerhouse regions are represented: Priorat, Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Also in the blend are grapes from Toro and Jumilla.

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Pepper, black raspberry and vanilla flavors swirl in the glass. It has a silky texture and a long, lingering finish.

The entry from France is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and various Bordeaux varieties (we assume Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot, maybe a few more). The grapes are sourced from Phinney’s network of growers in Rhone, Roussillon and Bordeaux. That prompts us to ask, “What is Burgundy, chopped liver?”

There is no arguing with the results, though. Grenache and Syrah are a classic Rhone formula. Syrah is also widely grown in Roussillon. The emphasis here is on red fruit, with notes of strawberry and cranberry with just a touch of earthiness. This is a solid and enjoyable wine and a great French value at sub-$20.

We uncorked the NZ at a wine dinner to serve with a spread of appetizers that included stuffed mushrooms. My wife is an extreme Sauvignon Blanc fan with a preference for New Zealand’s Marlborough region. For the NZ edition Locations stayed in one region, but sourced the grapes from three different valleys with different characteristics.

IMG_20180826_201306It is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and grapes come from Wairau Valley (known for crisp, grassy flavors), Awatere Valley (bringing the minerality) and Waihopai (with complexity from gravelly soil). This is a great bottle. Some people can get turned off by the extreme acidity in some Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. But NZ turns it down in favor of a more rounded, yet still crisp mouthfeel.

All the hallmarks are there including bright grapefruit and tropical flavors. The flavors of freshly cut grass add to the refreshing experience.

Pizza and Petite Sirah

Our final bottle, the WA, was popped for a casual evening dinner. We made flatbread pizza – one a Hawaiian style with pineapple and Canadian bacon, and the other a barbecue and chicken affair.

We go bonkers over Washington State wine and this did not disappoint. It is a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah. The producer is coy about the specific wine regions used, just saying it is sourced from “within the state’s best growing regions.” To us, that means it includes Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and certainly Columbia Valley (which covers most the the vineyards in the eastern part of the state and drifts into Oregon too).

This is an elegant and enjoyable drinking experience. Although it has 15% ABV, it doesn’t taste “hot.” It is smooth and fruit forward with plum and black cherry notes. The Merlot softens the Syrah and the Petite Sirah adds a bit of mystery.

This is the first Locations Washington State blend and we applaud the effort. There are some unique AVAs in Washington, so we’d love to know specifically what’s represented in the blend.

We recently received a news item announcing that Locations has been acquired by E&J Gallo. We hope that the creativity and high QPR (Quality Price Ratio) continue with these wines. Dave Phinney has a magic touch with winemaking. He created the wildly successful Prisoner blend, then later built up the Orin Swift brand – both of which he later sold. Phinney will continue to be the Locations winemaker.

Whatever your location, you’ll like it better with a glass or two of Locations!

Full Disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cariñena A Spanish Region To Watch

IMG_20180804_094532-01Planted at high altitude, the vineyards  of Cariñena descend into dramatic windswept plains with extreme day-to-night temperature swings, ideal conditions for rich, expressive wines.

On A Spanish Train

Somehow I missed it. As my train rumbled along the tracks from Logroño to Barcelona, I rode right past Cariñena. Cariñena is located in the heart of the Ebro Valley in Spain’s northeast region of Aragón. It’s history dates to 50 BC, but it is the future that has winemakers in the region excited.

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Tucked between two of Spain’s highest profile wine regions (Rioja and Priorat), it might be easy to overlook Cariñena. To do so would mean missing a growing assortment of well-crafted and interesting wines. Wine lovers might also be confused by the region’s name. Cariñena gave its moniker to the grape of the same name (known elsewhere as Carignan). Today, though, there is hardly any Carignan planted. You’ll find instead whites from Viura and reds from Tempranillo and Garnacha.

A Royal History

Cariñena has been attracting attention for centuries. In 1415, King Ferdinand I of Aragon declared his preference for Cariñena wine above all others. In 1585, King Phillip II of Spain was welcomed to the town with “free flowing fountains of wine.” I’m sorry I wasn’t there!

In the 1860s, 90% of European vineyards were wiped out by phylloxera, an insect that destroyed the roots of grapevines. Cariñena was largely spared and became a destination for winemakers vacating decimated areas. In 1909 King Alfonso XIII of Spain granted Cariñena a city charter for their winegrowers’ role in helping European vineyards recover from the phylloxera blight.

Cariñena WinesOur journey of discovery began with three bottles of Cariñena wine from the 2017 vintage. We tasted the Paniza Viura Chardonnay, Particular Garnacha Rosé and the Corona de Aragon Garnacha Blanca.

Tale Of The Grapes

The Cariñena wines weren’t what we expected. I say that in a good way. First, I expected red wines. The region has been promoting Garnacha (known in other parts as Grenache) as its signature grape. Two of the bottles were Garnacha, but one was a rosé and the other a white Garnacha. Interesting indeed!

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We opened the Particular Garnacha Rosé on a particularly steamy hot day. I enjoy Spanish rosé as it has a bit more heft than the typical Provence rosé. The Particular rosé is pale pink in color with nice floral aromas. On the palate there are fresh berry and mineral notes. At 12.5% ABV, this is a lighter wine that is friendly with a variety of dishes including rice, pasta and light meat dishes – as well as being great on its own.

My wife is an ABC person – Anything But Chardonnay that is. Disregarding that, I popped open the Paniza Viura Chardonnay blend. Viura, also known as Macabeo, is the most widely grown white grape in northern Spain. In many cases, Viura is very ordinary tasting, light in body and acidic. However, paired with Chardonnay in this 50-50 blend, it works wonders. The Chardonnay, finished in stainless steel, adds a depth of flavor. The Viura creates a different flavor profile when added to the Chardonnay. There are nice green apple notes and some tropical fruit too. Great for seafood and tapas.

The Corona de Aragon Garnacha Blanca was part of a wine dinner for which we were joined by out of town guests. The summer heat was unbearable, so we tried to keep everything light. To pair with the Garnacha we served a garden fresh Gazpacho topped with Collard Micro-Greens with Bell Pepper Focaccia. Of the four (or was it six?) bottles we served that night, the Garnacha Blanca was the favorite. We had arranged a different white to pair with our Potato & Wild Salmon Cakes with Ginger, Scallions and Dill Sauce – but our guests kept wanting to go back to the Garnacha Blanca until the bottle was dry.

The Garnacha Blanca has 13% Chardonnay and is pale yellow in color. The wine has more body than you may expect from a white wine with flavorings of lime and peach and aromas of white blossoms.

Cariñena is a wine region on the move. We expect to see more and more Cariñena wines on the shelves. The wines we tasted are fresh and invigorating – just the thing for an evening of entertaining or a special meal with friends and family.

Full Disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Argentina Wine Elegance Delivered By Nieto Senetiner and Ruca Malen

Ruca Malen Terroir Series Petit Verdot and MiciHas Argentine Malbec lost its luster? After sipping bottles from these two producers, we say “no way!”

Dance Of The Grapes

Malbec and Argentina are linked like two dancers in a tango. Each step of the dance and each Malbec grape carries the culture of the Argentine people.

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Tango started with the lower classes in Buenos Aires and travelled across the ocean to become a huge hit across the world. Malbec became the “it” wine in the 2000s, propelling Argentina’s wines to new recognition. Has Malbec, and Argentina’s star faded in recent years? We opened bottles from two wineries – founded more than 100 years apart – to get some answers.

Nieto Senetiner Winery Has Tradition Of Quality

Don Nicanor MalbecOur first bottle to sample was from Nieto Senetiner, a winery founded in 1888 by the first wave of Italian immigrants to Vistalba in the growing area of Luján de Cuyo near Mendoza. Perfectly situated at the best latitude for wine production, Mendoza accounts for more than 70% of Argentina’s vineyard acreage. Don Nicanor Nieto joined forces with his son-in-law Adriano Senetiner in the 1960s to purchase the historic Villa Blanca winery in Vistalba, renaming the venture Nieto Senetiner. Today, the winery encompasses 700 acres of estate vineyards in the DOC region of Luján de Cuyo.

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The Don Nicanor 2016 Malbec is a welcome surprise, with added complexity coming from 12 months of aging in French oak and vines with an average age of 30 years. These grapes are grown at 3,100 to 3,400 feet. The wine is round and rich with red fruit and a dash of spice. It is a great value at $18.

The Nieto Senetiner Malbec, at $13 SRP, is no slouch either. On a recent evening we served it along with a pricey Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. One guest couldn’t stop talking about how good the Malbec was! Vanilla and jam flavor notes are wrapped in smooth-drinking tannins.

Nieto Senetiner Red BlendArgentina excels in red wine. Malbec is certainly the most well known, but it isn’t alone. Nieto Senetiner 2015 Red Blend Collection is a mix of 55% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Franc and 15% Petit Verdot.  We enjoyed this with a dinner of Italian eggplant and chicken parmesan. We found it to be a spot-on pairing. It will also go well with grilled beef or stews. There are luscious blackberry and violet flavors with silken textures. Retail is $15.

Boutique Flavors Flow From Ruca Malen

Ruca Malen was founded in 1998 by Jean Pierre Thibaud and Jacques Louis de Montalembert, who have association with France’s foremost winemaking houses. They worked together at Chandon Argentina and wanted to create wines that acknowledged their French heritage while capturing Mendoza's incredible terroir. Ruca Malen translated is “the house of the young girl,” taking its name from a Mapuche Indian legend.  A young tribal woman looked up to the heavens and fell in love with a handsome god. The god gave her a beautiful house, overlooking the world’s splendors.

Mici grillingWe enjoyed the “splendors” of Ruca Malen during a wine dinner we hosted. The five course meal featured light and summery dishes and no red wines until the last two courses. For the meat course I fired up the grill to make my signature Mici – a skinless, spicy sausage popular in Romania. It is made with beef, lamb and pork and generous quantities of garlic. We served it on a pretzel roll with locally made German-style mustard and zucchini crisps.

For the pairing we selected the Ruca Malen 2015 Terroir Series Petit Verdot. A 100% Petit Verdot is hard to find, with the grape usually playing a minor role in blends. This bottle shone with bright red fruit flavors, threads of cocoa and hints of oak. At $18, this is an outstanding buy. A great example of other wine that Argentina produces very well.

Ruca Malen Terroir Series MalbecOur epic wine dinner closed with a berry and chocolate ganache dessert that took decadence to a new level! Clearly this special dessert deserved a unique wine. After polling the guests and determining they didn’t want a sweet white dessert wine, I uncorked the Ruca Malen 2015 Terroir Series Malbec. This is an unconventional pairing. When a wine is this enjoyable, you can shrug off the unwritten rules.

The Terroir Series Malbec uses grapes from the high elevation Uco Valley. It has notes of plum and cherry with a vibrant acidity. The tannins are soft and enjoyable. It’s a young and fresh tasting wine. Retail is $18.

Ruca Malen was recently named “Most Popular Argentinean Wines in America” in a Wine & Spirits restaurant poll. We can understand why. The elegant flavors far surpass what you expect from a sub-$20 bottle.

Argentina and Malbec are alive and well. If you haven’t tried a Malbec or Argentine red for a while, here are two great producers to check out. Do so and your tango dancing will soon improve!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Wine, Travel & Food News From Vino-Sphere: August 20, 2018

Cotton Candy Champagne

Care for Cotton Candy With Your Champagne?

In ode to French singer Edith Piaf’s song La Vie en Rose, the AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Los Cabos is launching a Cotton Candy-topped Moët & Chandon Rose Champagne cocktail. The beverage will be served as a pre-dinner drink on arrival to its French fine dining restaurant, Piaf. At the restaurant and throughout the resort, guests are truly in a state of bliss where everything around is a source of joy as the meaning behind the song entails.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Cheers Trail Focuses on Craft Beverages

Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge has debuted the VBR Cheers Trail and Passport guiding visitors and locals through the regional craft beverage scene. The Cheers Trail will lure visitors to the region and entice them to dine, explore and stay overnight. The Passport is an added incentive offering a variety of discounts specific to 25 craft beverage partners. "This is great news for VBR's booming craft beverage businesses and for the economy as a whole," said Landon Howard, President of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge. "We are now more focused than ever on experience-based travel and ways to connect visitors with our travel and tourism partners."

The Cheers Trail Passport can be found at and is free. Once you click on the link and access the web app, you simply register, follow the instructions and present the Passport to participating locations along the trail to redeem exclusive offers.

Maldives 3-D Printed ReefWorld’s Largest 3-D Printed Reef Submerged In Maldives As Environmental Initiative

The world's largest 3-D printed reef was submerged August 11 at Summer Island Maldives, in what is hoped could be a new technology-driven method to help coral reefs survive a warming climate.

The artificial reef, assembled with hundreds of ceramic and concrete modules, was submerged at Summer Island's 'Blue Lagoon' -- a sandy part of the lagoon, where the resort hopes to create a new coral reef ecosystem.

The project started in a lab in Melbourne, Australia, where industrial designer Alex Goad of Reef Design Lab used sophisticated computing modeling to design reef structures similar to the coral reefs found naturally in the Maldives.

A large 3-D printer whirred away for 24 hours to print molds of the reef structures. These moulds were cast in ceramic -- an inert substance, similar to the calcium carbonate found in coral reefs. The ceramic moulds were shipped to the Maldives, and filled with concrete on the beach at Summer Island.

220 ceramic, concrete filled molds were then slotted together, like a giant LEGO set, to create the new reef.

The new reef sits in seven meters of water, close to the resort's existing coral nursery. Fragments of coral from the nursery are being transplanted onto the 3-D reef, where they will grow and colonize the structure.

Founders of Open That Bottle Night To Speak At Wine Writer Event

Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, founders of “Open That Bottle Night" and renowned wine journalists (, formerly Washington Post) join a robust faculty of writers, editors, and coaches at the 15th annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, to be held February 19 to 22, 2019 at Meadowood Napa Valley. "Open That Bottle Night" falls on February 23, 2019.

New Girl Scout CookieGirl Scouts Adding New Cookie

Girl Scouts of the USA have announced that a new cookie, Caramel Chocolate Chip, will join the 2019 Girl Scout Cookie® season lineup, as a gluten-free offering with limited availability in select areas. With the returning gluten-free Toffee-tastic® cookie, also available in select areas, consumers in all markets will be able to enjoy a gluten-free offering along with the rest of the lineup during the 2019 cookie season. The Girl Scout Cookie Program helps fund girls' development of entrepreneurial and essential life skills, and important experiences for girl members.

Oceania Liners Get $100 Million Makeover

Today, Oceania Cruises has launched the OceaniaNEXT initiative, including an array of dramatic enhancements designed to elevate the guest experience. The first initiative to be undertaken is the $100 million “re-inspiration” of the line's four 684-guest ships (Regatta, Insignia, Sirena, and Nautica) that will result in four better-than-new ships. Each will emerge from the re-inspiration process with 342 brand new designer suites and staterooms, and stunning new décor in the restaurants, lounges and bars, inspired by the line's 450 ports of call.

Seattle Company Releases Highest Caffeine Concentration Gummy

Seattle Gummy Company recently launched Mocca Shots™, a new product with the highest caffeine concentration available on the market. Each Mocca Shots™ dark chocolate gummy packs 100 mg of caffeine, the equivalent of a regular cup of coffee.

Seabourn Approved for Cruises To Cuba

Seabourn has received approval to begin sailing to Cuba from Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, starting with a 12-day cruise aboard Seabourn Sojourn departing Miami on November 4, 2019. Seabourn becomes Carnival Corporation's third cruise brand currently approved to sail to Cuba.

The 11-, 12-, and 14-day sailings will visit five ports in Cuba, calling at three or four on each itinerary and providing guests the ideal opportunity to discover the different regions on this vast island. All five voyages will feature overnight stops in the historic capital city Havana.

Handcrafted Pisco Brandy Set To Launch In Chicago

Catan Pisco, a versatile grape-based spirit handcrafted in Chile, has announced their official launch in Chicago. To celebrate the long-awaited launch, Catan hosted a celebration at the Metropolitan Club in the Willis Tower in July. Featuring cocktails made from the very first case of Catan, the event was attended by the Chilean General Consul of Chicago, Rodolfo Montecinos. All attendees were treated to Chilean dishes made especially for Catan by chef Greg Carso and a performance of the traditional Chilean dance La Cueca.

"Pisco is Chile's spirit of choice and has been the cornerstone of our culture for centuries. I'm proud to be of Chilean descent and our tradition of starting family meals with a pisco sour or sipping it neat with friends at a bar are memories I hold dear," said Catalina Gaete, Catan Pisco founder and CEO

Canadian Signature ExperienceNew Signature Canadian Travel Experiences Highlighted

Destination Canada, Canada's national tourism marketing organization, is pleased to announce the addition of four new members to the Canadian Signature Experiences collection from across Canada.

The Canadian Signature Experiences are a curated collection of over 200 extraordinary and authentically Canadian travel experiences. As diverse as the country itself, these unique experiences are offered from coast to coast to coast and provide an introduction to the best Canada – and Canadians – has to offer.

The four new experiences are:

Coppola Winery to Release Canned Pinot Noir

Francis Ford Coppola Winery, is launching its first canned red wine with the 2017 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Noir. This new product builds on the success of three high-quality white wines from the same can collection, including Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc that launched last summer.

"We're excited to show our continued commitment to premium canned wine by bringing the award-winning Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Noir to a can offering," says Corey Beck, CEO and Chief Winemaker of The Family Coppola. "We were one of the first to put wine in a can and our dedication to superior quality, sustainability and authentic brands remains important to our business."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Terra Bella 2008 Estate Syrah, Paso Robles

Terra Bella SyrahCan this Syrah from Paso keep punching a full decade after the harvest? We uncork to find out.

Ten Years Are Gone

On a recent Friday night I pulled out the 2008 Terra Bella Estate Syrah from Paso. The bluesy sounds of John Mayall’s Ten Years Are Gone came to mind as I uncorked the bottle. “Ten years are gone, what of ten years from today?”

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Aging can do funny things to people and wine. Some mellow with age, some fade away and some just get weird. Which would it be with the Terra Bella?

Terra Bella is a former cattle ranch in Paso Robles that specializes in Rhone varieties and supplies grapes to some of the top California Rhone producers. Talented winemaker Andrew Murray crafted this single vineyard Syrah with grapes from the steep limestone hillsides of Paso Robles.

Into The Darkness

The drinking window for this wine was listed as going through 2017. High time to drink up! Pouring into the glass, the wine is an inky, opaque deep purple. On the neck of the bottle a fine coating of sediment lined the inside.

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On the nose there was a slight odor of acetone, making us wonder if we had waited just a year too long. Swirling and sipping dissipated the smell which gave way to subdued black fruit. The nose was pretty closed.

The Terra Bella has 15.5% ABV and seemed quite “hot” to me on first taste. The Green Dragon turned to me and said, “What are you talking about?” As the wine opened up I experienced the same slippery smooth tannins she was enjoying.

Despite being a decade on from vintage, this is still a big wine. Black fruit and blueberry notes contribute to a dark and powerful character. There are some brambly notes, which we love about Syrah – especially from hilly terrain. The wine has a medium-plus body and a hint of spice.

I’m not sure if Terra Bella is still producing their own wine, or just selling grapes from the vineyard, but this Syrah is an excellent one. We picked this up for a mere $18. To paraphrase John Mayall (with Blue Mitchell playing some mean trumpet behind the vocals), “Ten years are gone and the future worked out fine!”