Sunday, July 14, 2024

Monticello Wine Trail Leads To Treasures of Virginia Wine

Virginia's Monticello Wine Trail Offers unique terroir, passionate winemakers, and collaborative spirit. 

Thomas Jefferson, founding father and wine lover, envisioned vineyards surrounding his mountaintop home, Monticello, and wines from his native state of Virginia attaining world-class status. While he never lived to see the dream fulfilled, today the more than 40 wineries of the Monticello Wine Trail are working to make his vision reality.

Last month we visited the wine trail in the Charlottesville, VA, area and discovered scenic panoramas, friendly faces, and elevated wine.

Barboursville Vineyards

The Library 1821 tasting at Barboursville Vineyards is a celebration of Virginia wine. It takes place in a posh library overlooking a sloping vineyard of Cabernet Franc with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. Wines include two dozen selections including the numerous vintages of the flagship Octagon red blend dating back to 2007.

Octagon is a blend of estate-grown Bordeaux varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. It is only produced in fine vintage years. The 2020 vintage is an angelic-tasting experience with velvety tannins and notes of cooked plums, ripe red berries, herbs, and a touch of oak. It has a finish that lingers. 

Winemaker and General Manager Luca Paschina, who grew up in a winemaking tradition in Piemonte, Italy, focuses on texture and mouthfeel, knowing that the grapes will assuredly deliver aroma, taste, and color. The soil and climate at Barboursville have helped establish a very European style.

There's a lot to love with the Library 1821 tasting (and food is available). In addition to Octagon, the Petit Verdot Reserve 2019 and Paxxito dessert wines were exceptional.

While visiting, be sure to make a stop at the Barboursville Ruins (on the winery grounds), the crumbling remains of Governor James Barbour's Jefferson-designed mansion. The octagon-shaped drawing room in this house lends its name to the winery's premier wine.

King Family Vineyards

King Family Vineyards didn't aspire to produce wine at its beginning, instead when David and Ellen King moved from Texas to Virginia in 1995, they sought 12 acres of flat farmland for a polo field. It didn't take long to realize the land's potential as a vineyard site. The farm now contains both Roseland Polo and King Family Vineyards.

Sipping a chilled glass of wine outside on the winery's patio while watching polo ponies and riders practice on the polo field with a panorama of mountains in the background is an enchanting experience. The 2022 Viognier has a floral aroma with honeysuckle and stone fruit on the palate. Our friend described this as "sipping love from a cloud." Roseland, a classic Virginia blend of  Chardonnay, Viognier, and Petit Manseng, is also recommended.

The reds at King Family are rich and rewarding. The 2024 Cabernet Franc, a 2024 Governor's Cup winner, features black cherry and white pepper notes. The 2020 Meritage is a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot is a memorable wine. The 2021 Petit Verdot was our favorite red, with inspiring flavors of smooth, juicy raspberry, just the right amount of tannins, and a lush body.

King Family Vineyards is an exceptional winery experience. Located in Crozet, it offers self-guided wine flights, guided tastings, and winery tours.

Chestnut Oak Vineyard

Small is beautiful, or it can be if you discover a hidden gem winery. Chestnut Oak Vineyard is such a find. A small, peaceful winery, it has earned some huge accolades. After a long day on the trail (wine trail, that is), this intimate tasting room was perfect for enjoying outstanding Monticello AVA wine.

We recommend this not only for the wine but the outstanding artwork. The bright and playful mural by artist Carol Barber transforms the space into a one-of-a-kind experience. The Chestnut One and Chestnut Two Bordeaux-style blends have earned high honors in the prestigious Governor's Cup competition.

The 2021 Rosa Virginiana Rosé, made with Merlot and Petit Verdot, bursts with fresh strawberries and peach flavors. My favorite on the red side was the 2019 Merlot, which delivers ripe red fruit notes, smokiness, and just the right amount of tannins. The caramel flavor in the finish was the perfect touch.

Chestnut Oak in Barboursville is open Friday through Monday.

Afton Mountain Vineyards

On the eastern slope of its namesake mountain, Afton Mountain Vineyards was founded in 1978 as one of the first vineyards in Virginia. At nearly 1,000 feet elevation, a layer of fog clung to the vines as we arrived for our recent visit. In addition to the stylish tasting room, there is a pavilion for larger groups.

The 2023 Albariño is a shining example of how fabulous this grape can be in the US. It is refreshing with citrus, green fruit, and apricot notes. 

The clay and loam soil produces some tremendous reds. The 2022 Merlot, smooth with lush cranberry flavors, shows why people should love this grape. I wrongly assumed that the 2019 Bacco would be Bacco Noir. Instead this delightful Super Tuscan-style wine is a salute to Bacchus, the god of wine and agriculture. It is a blend of Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, and Tannat. It has flavors of black currant, smooth blackberry, and mint. This was one of the top wines on our five-winery tour.

T is the flagship wine of AMV. This Bordeaux-style blend has Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was selected as a Governor's Cup gold medal winner this year. A well-balanced wine, the 2019 vintage has pronounced tannins and robust black fruit flavors. We were delighted to be able to taste this alongside the 2017 T vintage.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Organic Cameleon, Danaus Wines Delight With Taste And Value

Are you familiar with “critter” wines? Years ago the wine Yellowtail, best known for a hopping kangaroo on the label, took America by storm, becoming the fastest-selling brand in the nation. Maybe you know Gato Negro, an inexpensive wine from Chile that features a black cat on the label. Or maybe your spouse or friend proudly displays their latest wine acquisition by saying, “Just look at that cute horse on the label!”

I tend to shy away from “critter” wines. My focus is on what’s inside the bottle. When we got the chance to review three new wines, however, these “critter” wines changed my mind.

We recently uncorked the Cameleon Signature Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Argentina and Danaus (named after the scientific name for the Monarch butterfly) Spanish red blend. Each distinguished itself from the zoo of inexpensive wines by combining rewarding taste and value. Each is made with organic grapes.

The Cameleon wines are produced by the Bousquet family, a fourth-generation family that left their native France after a long worldwide search for an idyllic wine-growing region. The chameleon exemplifies their ability to adapt successfully to a new environment.

Their search led them to the Tupungato Valley of Argentina, in the Uco Valley. The vineyards are at the foot of the Andes and benefit from a near-constant breeze from the mountains, sandy soils that provide excellent drainage, and plenty of groundwater from the Andes snowmelt.

The 2021 Cameleon Signature Cabernet has a fruit-laden nose and a palate loaded with cherries and strawberries. There is ample oak and notes of dried herb. The texture is silky and the body is medium. The wine receives malolactic fermentation and six to eight months of oak aging. Fifteen percent of Malbec adds to the pleasing experience. SRP is $20.

Made with over-ripe, partially raisinated grapes, the 2022 Cameleon Signature Chardonnay is golden in the glass and offers pineapple, peach, and apricot notes. It has a touch of sweetness and is whole-cluster pressed, resulting in a deeper, richer flavor than you may expect. This is a Chardonnay that can be paired with desserts, not just seafood.

The Cameleon wines are available at Total Wine in 28 states. The SRP for the Chardonnay is $15.

Danaus hails from the Costers del Segre DOP in Northeast Spain. It is a playful wine that combines 45% Tempranillo, 45% Garnacha, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine gets four months of aging in large French barrels providing a bottle with ripe fruit notes combined with toasty oak. Danaus features threads of cranberry and savory notes as well. This is an enjoyable sipper, suitable for most casual occasions. It’s an appealing value at only $13 SRP. Danaus is available in 17 states.

We suggest you round up these critters for your next party.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Judgment of Paris Anniversary Tasting Highlights French and California Wines

We offer our version of the historic Judgment of Paris tasting in which California wines earned their place on the world stage.

The shockwaves on May 24, 1976, started in Paris and rippled around the world. On that day in a blind tasting, French wine experts judged red and white wines from California superior to first-growth and other renowned bottlings from Burgundy and Bordeaux. We set out to stage our own event on the 48th anniversary of the original tasting.

There were two blind tastings in what has become known as the Judgment of Paris, one of top-quality Chardonnay and the other of red wines. Organized as a publicity stunt by British wine merchant Steve Spurrier, many expected a bad showing by the US wines to accelerate the downfall of American vineyards, instead a Napa Valley wine rated best in both categories.

California long had a reputation for unremarkable wines, sometimes marketed with misleading labels like Burgundy, Chablis, or French Colombard. The Judgment of Paris was the shot heard ‘round the world. In an instant, California wine producers learned they could compete with the well-established French wineries. Winemakers across the globe realized their potential as well.

My good friend Arthur Barham (of Merlot2MuscadineMerlot2Muscadine) was inspired after watching Bottle Shock, the 2008 movie that dramatized the Judgment of Paris tasting from the perspective of Bo Barrett of Napa’s Chateau Montelena. We spoke and agreed a JOP anniversary dinner would be a marvelous opportunity for our first full-fledged collaboration.

We decided on a smaller group of four couples (compared to some of our other soirees) and the focus would be a celebration of French and American wine with gourmet food pairings. The event would be held at Arthur and Mary’s house. Each course would feature a California and French wine.

Oh, yes. To kick the event off in style, we would feature sabrage, the opening of sparkling wine with a saber. It was Arthur’s brainstorm to do a double sabrage with each of us opening a bottle -- one French, one American -- simultaneously. It could either be a spectacular prelude to dinner or an embarrassing “fail” circulated on social media. You can see the results here:

We decided to dig deep into our cellars to pick our French and American wines.  The double sabrage featured Korbel Brut (US) versus Bourgeois-Boulonnaise Champagne Premier Cru Tradition Brut. Both are made with the méthode champenoise. The Premier Cru Champagne is made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the Korbel has Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Pinot Noir.

The appetizers, courtesy of Sanjay and Michelle, were Chicken Reshmi Kabab, Paneer Tikka, and Gobi Manchurian (deep-fried marinated fried cauliflower florets, onions, chili, and soy sauce). These paired well with the bubbles and the latter was a spot-on match with the next two wines. On the French side, we served an old favorite, the Château Paradis La Grande Terre Côteaux Aix en Provence Rosé 2023. For the American side, we offered the Curran 2022 Grenache Gris from Santa Barbera. This was my first taste of the Curran and I loved the pale rose quartz color and white raspberry flavor.

A most unique salad, La Salade Mentonnaise, was served next. Menton is the Lemon Capital of France and this salad featured plenty of citrus with fennel, orange, artichoke, pine nuts, lemon zest, and orange vinaigrette. Prepared by Amy and Tony, this was a light and playful pairing with the 2020 Domaine Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du- Pape Blanc and the Chateau Montelena 2021 Chardonnay. Chateau Montelena was an original participant in the Judgment of Paris and bested the French opposition.

Petite Steak Bites with Béarnaise Sauce, baked polenta & roasted asparagus was the featured entree. We paired this (prepared by yours truly) with a beautiful Chateau Beau-Site Saint Estephe 2016 and a 2015 Pursuit Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Both wines feature Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, although the Bordeaux has 60% Cab and the Pursuit has 81%. Each wine was decanted for two hours.

The red wine lovers had been waiting for this dish, steak and two great red wines! I sipped the Bordeaux first, and the Beau-Site (named because its vineyards are on one of the Medoc’s highest points) began with rich flavors of blackberries, plums, and leather. The Pursuit offers more of a new world character, with bold waves of black cherry, plums, and baking spices predominating along with subtle cigar box notes.

As we continued sipping the red wine and revisiting the others, we compared notes and debated the merits of each wine. Meanwhile, Arthur was preparing dessert: a mouthwatering Grilled Fruit Kabob Medley with Chantilly Cream.

Early on Arthur and I had discussed what wines to serve with the final course. I suggested that after having eight wines, we should go with just one dessert wine (from anywhere). After all, the original Judgment of Paris wasn’t a dessert wine contest.

The final wine was the 2019 Paxxito from Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia. This is one of Arthur’s favorite dessert wines and I was bowled over by it during a visit to the winery earlier this month. It was a palatial ending to a memorable wine dinner.

Who won the judgment this year? The Americans seemed to hold a slight edge
but with many crossovers. One guest who spends every summer in Europe was a strident supporter of France. How fortunate we can freely enjoy wines from both countries.

Thanks to all who attended and to compadre Arthur for this great collaboration.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Hestan Wines Highlight Festive Spring Dinner

We celebrate Spring with four premium wines.

“Spring Into Fun” was the theme of our recent wine dinner, which featured wines from Hestan Vineyards paired with gourmet small plates. Hestan is a picturesque Napa estate named for owners Helen and Stanley Cheng whose passion for fine wine and love for Napa Valley's charm led them to purchase the former cattle ranch in 1996. Stanley pioneered hard-anodized cookware in the 1970s, so we saluted this wine with a culinary tour de force. 

The evening began with some Premier Cru Champagne with panko-coated cauliflower florets and chimichurri two ways. Our daughter Rachel provided the amuse-bouche as well as the dessert. Delicious!

Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears in puff pastry appetizer were paired with the 2022 Hestan Sauvignon Blanc. This complex wine gets six months of aging in stainless steel and neutral oak. It has aromas of white blossoms and flavors of pear, honeysuckle, and lemon.

The 2020 Hestan Chardonnay comes from the San Francisco AVA. Appropriately enough our next dish was accompanied by homemade sourdough bread made with a starter from San Francisco. The garden salad was dressed with tarragon vinaigrette and the bread was served with truffle oil. This Chardonnay has ample oak and offers notes of apricot, vanilla, and toast.

The stunning 2019 Vincent Christopher Pinot Noir was our next wine offering. It is a single-vineyard wine from Sonoma Coast made with Dijon clones 113 and 828. The label was created for the Hestan line of Pinot Noir and is named for the Hestans’ two sons. Our dish was served with seared snapper and fruit salsa made with apple, strawberry,
and basil. We tip our hats to winemaker Jeff Gaffner for creating a beautiful mélange of cranberry, black cherry, cedar, and herbal tones. I would have enjoyed sipping this all night.

The 2019 Hestan Grenache, served with grilled skirt steak and Mojo sauce, surprised our guests. They didn't expect the intensity and rich flavors. The wine is made with whole-cluster fermentation and is aged 15 months in neutral oak.  It was an ideal match with the wine displaying pure raspberry flavors, plum, and herbal notes. 

Hestan Vineyards delivered a premium wine experience that delighted our dinner party guests.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Great Atlas of Italian Wines Is An Indispensable Guide For Wine Lovers

Confused by Ciliegiolo? Mixed up by Marzemino? You’re not alone. The world of Italian wine is complicated as well as beautiful.

The Great Atlas of Italian Wines, a 384-page coffee table book by Alessandro Avatanco and Vittorio Manganelli, bills itself as the definitive tool for understanding, choosing, and discussing Italian wine. The book is published by Rizzoli and is available through Amazon and other outlets.

Italy has 20 wine regions and about 350 official wine grapes. It tells the story of Italian wine region by region with a description of the most widespread international grape varieties and the most important native grapes. If you are a lover of Italian wine, this book is a treasure trove of information. At your fingertips, you can look up grapes like Albarola and Grechetto and get important insights into the region.

There is a listing of the 1,500 most important producers and 3,000 of the best Italian wines. The wineries are indicated on plentiful maps that aid in the understanding of the geography. Another great feature is the infographic for the wines from each region. The infographics graph each wine in 10 dimensions from a central point. At a glance, you can see that Vermentino di Gallura rates high in drinkability (5) while not so much in complexity and longevity (3).

The authors have impressive backgrounds. Alessandro Avataneo is a director, teacher, and publisher. He has worked in more than thirty European countries, the United States, and Japan. Vittorio Manganelli is a long-time collaborator of Vini d’Italia and has edited the volumes Atlante delle vigne di Langa and The Art of Italian Wine for Slow Food Editore.

The US price is $85. We find this book a pleasure to read and a vital resource for lovers of Italian wine.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Adelaida Vineyards Releases Trio Of Spring Wine Winners

Rhône grapes add up to unique and refreshing new bottles from Paso Robles.

Adelaida Vineyards is a pioneer in Paso Robles wine. Established in 1981, it was the ninth winery in Paso. It is family-owned and all wines are 100% estate-grown and organically certified.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to taste three spring releases from this critically-acclaimed limited-production winery. The 2023 Adelaida Rosé, 2022 Adelaida Picpoul Blanc, and 2022 Adelaida Anna’s White all come from the Anna’s Estate Vineyard.

The vineyard is dedicated mostly to Rhône varieties. The white varieties (except for Viognier) lie at the lowest part of the vineyard where they benefit from cooler air. The red varieties are planted at higher elevations to capture greater sun exposure.

Adelaida is located just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The afternoon sea breezes contribute to a dramatic diurnal temperature swing allowing slow ripening and the development of nuanced flavors and high acidity.

The Anna’s White is a standout wine that delighted us from the opening sip. The blend is 41% Grenache Blanc, 37% Roussanne, 17% Muscat Canelli, and 5% Picpoul Blanc.

It's golden yellow in the glass and coats the tongue with rich, strikingly complex flavors of tart green apple, stone fruit, and ginger. The Muscat Canelli adds an interesting twist to this wine. It's aged nine months in a combination of new French oak and concrete. This is a smashing Rhône-style wine. Highly recommended! SRP $45.

We paired the rosé with vegan African Peanut Stew with brown rice and crispy kale topping. The rosé is one of the best we've tasted this year. It has "a lot going on" with 74% Grenache and smaller amounts of Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Counoise.  In the glass, the wine is a beautiful pink pearl. A contemporary style of rosé, it’s nice and juicy. It offers floral scents and rounded flavors of cranberry and cherry blossom on the palate. SRP $35.

We’ve been fans of the Picpoul Blanc grape for many years and were looking forward to tasting this new release. Our daughter is a vegan chef, and she whipped up a special dish to pair with the Picpoul Blanc, vegan Aloo Gobi Mutter (potatoes, cauliflower, and peas with Indian spices). The wine is aged in concrete eggs and neutral oak for nine months. We love that as it adds an extra layer of texture without smothering the flavor.

Picpoul translates to “stings the lips” and there is ample acidity here that creates a vibrant wine. It is flush with tropical flavors, minerality, and notes of stone fruit. It’s a refreshing glass that certainly goes with seafood or plant-based dishes. Only 293 cases were produced. The SRP is $40.

As if producing wonderful wine isn’t enough, Adelaida is a forerunner in the ecology movement. Only 10% of Adelaida’s 1,900 acres are planted to vineyards; more than 1,000 acres of land remain undeveloped and unfenced, for ecological and wild animal habitat. The winery also produces all of its energy needs from its own solar farm and recycles its pond water for storage and ranch use.

These wines are available directly from the winery via its website.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

German Riesling 589 Years Old And Better Than Ever

Last month Riesling marked its 589th birthday. Loved around the world, it originated in a vineyard in Rüsselsheim, Germany.

Count Katzenelnbogen logged the first evidence of the Riesling grape, near the Rheingau region on March 13, 1435. It began a new age of white wine in Germany. Riesling was much better quality than typical for the time, was more resistant to frost, and had a much fruitier aroma.
Riesling has been a favorite of ours for many years (but less than 500!). It can be finished in a variety of styles, from bone dry to semi-dry to late harvest and even ice wine.

It thrives in colder climates and is high in acidity. The acidity give it a fresh and delicious character. Residual sugar (left when the fermentation is stopped) often gives the wine needed balance.

We are super-fans of dry Riesling, but more and more I’m drawn to the off-dry style which, in my view, allows you to experience the full spectrum of flavors.

California, Washington, New York State, France, Austria, and Australia all produce quality Riesling. The undisputed champion of Riesling is certainly Germany. Germany grows more than four times the acreage of Riesling compared to the nearest competitor, the US.

We recently tried two delicious German Rieslings. The 2022 Dönnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett carries the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) eagle on its label, a symbol that the wine comes from a vineyard from one of Germany's top producers. Elegant notes of apple ripple with acidity balancing a light sweetness. A wonderful example of Kabinett Riesling.
The 2019 Leonard Kreusch Estate Riesling (Mosel) is a delightful off-dry wine with notes of lime, peach, and grapefruit. The medium acidity balances the residual sugar for a smooth sipping experience. This was perfect for an aperitif.

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

Monday, April 1, 2024

Eight Wine Trends For 2024

Wine Trends For This Year

When I was asked to put on a wine tasting for the Peak City Exchange Club Of Apex (a community service group), I landed upon the theme of wine trends for 2024. The wines for the event at Peak of the Vine were selected accordingly.

Here are the trends I highlighted and four wines that were served along with the presentation:

  1. The NOLO (No- and Low-Alcohol) wine category is on fire. Low and No-Alcohol Wines continue to grow. Some call it needless but others see it as an exciting part of wine’s future. It fits in with Dry January, responsible drinking, and healthy lifestyles.
  2. Organic and sustainable wines are trending. When it comes to social issues and sustainability, consumers want to spend in a way that’s consistent with their values. In particular, the 21-35 age group buys “responsible” wine more regularly than the older generation.
  3. After the COVID pandemic, consumption has dropped and rising costs are affecting wineries. Labor shortages are a real concern for vineyards. Wine prices are going up. cheaper wine brands have consolidated through major wine deals and smaller producers are focusing on higher-priced premium wines to cope.
  4. Rosé all year is now a thing. The quality of rosé has never been higher. The drier Provence style has captured the world market. The blush wine pairs perfectly with many dishes making it a perfect go-to wine no matter the season.
  5. The sparkling wine category is showing strong growth. This also benefits Champagne alternatives, such as Prosecco, Sekt, and Cava. Crémant from France is one of my favorite values. During the pandemic, people discovered Champagne tastes just as good in sweatpants as in a tuxedo. As a result, sparkling isn’t reserved for just special occasions.
  6. Orange wines, also known as skin-contact wines and amber wines, are made from white grapes. They possess both the flavors of white varieties with the texture and tannins common to red wine.  They are good for people experiencing “wine fatigue” and can develop flavors of nuts and dried fruit.
  7. Obscure grapes are on the rise. Grapes such as Mourvèdre, Petite Verdot, Carignan, and others are being bottled on their own rather than being a small part of a blend.
  8. There's a lot of food and drink inflation going on. This includes grocery stores, restaurants, and the wine shelf. The prices of wine have gone up, reflecting increased winery costs. Portuguese and Chilean wines are tasty and affordable exceptions.

These Four Wines Are On Trend

Mas Fi Cava Brut, Spain: This sparkling wine is made with the traditional method in Penedes, Spain. Undergoing a second fermentation in this bottle, it is aged for 10 months providing its fine bubbles and complex and structured palate. There are notes of white flowers and citrus on the nose, with fresh stone fruits and pleasant creamy flavors in the mouth. SRP below $20.

Santa Julia 2023 “El Zorrito” Orange Wine Chardonnay, Mendoza: This unfiltered and flavorful wine opens with aromas of lemon peel, yellow grapefruit, and grass. The palate has weight and delivers bright grapefruit, lemon, and apple. A perfect pour for summer days, we discovered this winery during our recent trip to Argentina. The wine shows yellow apples and lemons, marmalade, and lemon drops, and peaches and tangerines in abundance, with a touch of creme brulé. Texturally, a few extra days of skin contact make the El Zorrito juicy, intense, and energetic. SRP $19.

Quinta de la Rosa 2019 DouROSA, Douro, Portugal: Produced with 50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca, and 10% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) this is an accessible red that delivers smooth flavors of cherries and black currants. The tannins are smooth but will develop with aging. Pairs well with roasted veal and potatoes. 13.5% alcohol. SRP $18.

Lapostolle 2019 Grand Selection Carménére, Rapel Valley, Chile: This bold wine has a fresh nose with red fruit notes such as strawberries and plums, along with red paprika and spices. This delicious wine is perfect for grilled red meat and medium-seasoned dishes. The Lapostolle family began winemaking in France in 1827. In the '90s they established a winery in Chile. In 2005, they became the first South American winery to have a #1 wine as selected by Wine Spectator. SRP $16.

These wines provide the value, style, and flavors that are on trend this year.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Tale Of Two Spanish Garnacha Wines

You may know Grenache, or Garnacha as it is known in Spain, as a luscious red wine. But what about the lesser-known white Garnacha? We open two bottles to explore.

If you are a wine lover, chances are you’ve tasted Grenache, a red grape that’s grown around the world, most notably in France’s Rhône Valley, California, Australia, Italy (where it is called Cannonau), and Spain, where it is called Garnacha (or Garnatxa in Catalonia). It’s also widely used in rosé.

Red Grenache is used in the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend in France, regional blends (with Cariñena), and in the GSM (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah) blends popular in Australia and around the world. The red grape is known for its red berry, white pepper, and spice flavors. The final product can depend on the vessel in which it is aged (steel, oak, or cement).

Grenache Blanc (or Garnacha Blanca) is a more elusive creature. The grape originated in Northern Spain but is strongly associated with France’s  Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon regions. In Spain, the grape is found in Priorat, Aragon, and Terra Alta. You’ll also find the grape in Italy and in California’s Paso Robles AVA.

I consider Grenache Blanc a gem. It is a full-bodied white with low acidity and higher ABV than your average white wine. Whenever I see a bottle, I usually buy it. In this case, it provided a perfect opportunity to compare red and white Garnacha from Spain.

Chapillon 2018 Cuvée Paul, DO Calatayud

Cuvée Paul is a winning wine made with 100% Garnacha grown on 70-year-old gnarled vines in the Calatayud region. Calatayud is in the northeast central part of Spain in the Zaragoza province. It is in the Ebro River valley and is crisscrossed by many of the Ebro's tributaries. The soil is stony and loose.

Christophe Chapillon grew up in a winemaking family based in the Loire Valley, and he recognized the potential in Calatayud’s rocky soils years ago. He founded Chapillon Wines in 2006 in partnership with César Langa Gonzalez, whose vineyards have been in their family since 1867.

The 2018 Cuvée Paul is a plump wine rich with blackberries and candied cherries enhanced by spice and fresh mint flavors. It gets oak aging (12 months in American oak), so there is more body than some Rhône-style Grenache finished in concrete. This wine is a blast and should be paired with hearty red meat dishes, stews, or poultry. ABV is 14.5% and it is priced at about $15.

This bottle is perfect for those who love bold reds, especially those from France's Rhône Valley.

Herència Altés 2022 Garnatxa Blanca, DO Terra Alta

Herència Altés is a family-owned winery in Terra Alta, a DO located in the province of Tarragona in Catalonia. They speak Catalan, which is a distinct language from Spanish -- hence the different spelling of Garnatxa. As the name Terra Alta indicates, the region is in the mountains. Years ago I visited Tarragona. My hotel was a short distance from a Roman amphitheater and, indeed, the first grapes were planted by Romans centuries ago.

Experiences growing up among vines and a passion for the world of wine and this landscape encouraged Núria Altés and Rafael De Haan to start working in the family vineyards in 2010 and develop the project we now know as Herència Altés. Their focus is the Garnatxa varieties and Garnatxa Blanca is considered their flagship wine.

The south-easterly Garbí wind brings freshness from the nearby Mediterranean to the vineyards, which feature chalky soil and low rainfall. Garnatxa Blanca is drought-resistant and is the star variety in the region.

The grapes for the Altés Garnatxa Blanca are harvested by hand. They undergo a wild fermentation and only the free-run juice is used. Stainless steel tanks are used and the fermented wine stands on the lees for three months and gets regular stirring (batonnage) to add creaminess and structure to the wine.  This is a fresh wine with notes of salinity and citrus mingling with peach and apricot flavors. It’s a bright refreshing wine perfect for tapas including squid. ABV is 13% and the cost is about $17.

We love Grenache/Garnatxa in its many iterations. From red Grenache aged in concrete with subtle flavors to white Garnacha that recalls the Mediterranean breeze, there is a bottle for every taste.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Marqués de Cáceres Wines, Spanish Cuisine Highlight Dîner en Blanc

Wines from Rioja and Rueda featured at fashionable dinner.

Whenever I receive a group of wines to review, we usually gather friends and hold a wine dinner. That was the case with wines we received from the well-known Spanish winery Marqués de Cáceres. My wife, the Green Dragon, decided to add a twist, “We’re going to make this a dinner in white!”

Dîner en Blanc is a worldwide event spanning six continents in which people have a meal dressed in white in a temporary dining setup in a public space. Diners are required to provide their own food, tables, chairs, and tablecloths. So, I guess we properly should have called our event  Dîner en Blanc-ish, because we certainly weren’t going to ask our guests to sit outside in January.

This sent me on a quest for things not normally in my wardrobe, like white shoes, white pants, and a white belt. I’m sure our guests faced a similar sartorial dilemma.

Our wine lineup included a Cava, two whites from the Rueda region, and a rosé and two reds from Rioja. Guests at the dinner were asked to choose a wine and prepare a small plate to pair with it.

Marqués de Cáceres was founded by Enrique Forner in 1970. He was exiled to France during the Spanish Civil War and founded a wine business in the Rhône and Loire valleys. He later purchased two chateaux grand cru classé in Bordeaux.

Under the guidance of daughter Christina Forner, who took over the winery operation in 2007, the winery expanded into Rueda and later expanded into Ribera del Duero. Today, the wines can be found in 120 countries, and 50% of the production is exported.

As the crowd gathered and oohed and aahed over the white outfits and the stunning table decorations, we popped open the Marqués de Cáceres Brut Cava. Cava is one of my favorite sparkling wines because it is made in the traditional method, just like champagne. The energetic bubbles and creamy froth added to the festive mood as we munched on delicious Belgian endive and radicchio stuffed with either brie cheese, walnuts, and drizzled honey, or whipped feta scattered with capers and red pepper flakes. Thanks to Ronda and Joe, who traveled from Savannah to attend, for this dish.

The next course featured grilled shrimp atop a citrus salad of naval and blood oranges, shallots, olives, thinly sliced fennel, and red onion. This provided an ideal pairing for the 2021 Sauvignon Blanc from Rueda. Rueda is crafting some of the most interesting white wines in Spain. The rocky soil forces the grapevine roots deep below, digging through sandy, stony soil for water and nutrients. This results in delicious minerality in Rueda wines.

The Sauvignon Blanc is rich and herbaceous with notes of peach and pear. If you are a Sauvignon Blanc fan, give it a try. Alison created this tasty salad.

Verdejo is by far the most planted variety in Rueda. The 2022 vintage we sampled was youthful and tasty with lime and mineral notes with a slight floral accent. The grapes are harvested at night to preserve the fresh flavors. Our next dish, Salmorejo, is a traditional chilled soup made with tomato and bread and has a thick texture. Our dish was topped with chopped egg and Serrano ham. The acidity and refreshing flavor of the Verdejo were perfect to cut through the creaminess of the soup. Gracias to the Green Dragon for this dish.

Expect the unexpected with my good friend Arthur Barham of Merlot 2 Muscadine and his wife Mary. They transported us to the Spanish seaside with a show-stopping paella of saffron-infused rice cooked with chicken, chorizo, and shrimp. The dish was presented in individual cast iron pans. This popular Spanish dish was matched with the 2022 Rioja rosé. The wine is a delicate pale coral color with intense red berry flavors and great acidity. This was a truly inspired pairing.

As Rueda is known for its white wines, Rioja is recognized around the world for its red wines. The region is a DOCa, the highest quality category in Spanish wine regulation. The harvesting of wine in the area dates back to the time of the Phoenicians. The preeminent grape is Tempranillo with Garnacha a distant second.

The 2019 Rioja Crianza is mostly Tempranillo with small amounts of Garnacha and Graciano. It is aged for 12 months in oak barrels and another year in the bottle. I was pleasantly surprised by its silky texture. It was a grand match with the Ibondigas en Salsa de Almendras, tender pork meatballs poached in a creamy almond sauce accompanied by an assortment of vegetables. Diane and John made this masterpiece that melts in your mouth.

The 2017 Rioja Reserva is a bold wine made only in the best vintages from vines between 45 and 50 years old. The wine is aged for 20 months with an additional two years of bottle aging. The result is a superior wine with solid tannins yet smooth ripe fruit flavors. This wine required something bold, and Green Dragon served up smoky lamb chops with Patatas Bravas (grilled potatoes with a spicy sauce). The strong flavors of the lamb were balanced nicely by this big Spanish red.

Thanks to all our friends for making this a truly fantastic event!

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