Switzerland. Day 1, October 30, 2014

My plane landed in Zurich at 11am. The airport was interesting: there really are men who look like the figures on beer steins, and there really are men who dress up in leiderhosen and look quite elegant. Refreshing, really.

Although my destination was Montreux, I flew into Zurich so I could take the three-hour train trip and do some armchair exploration after the overnight flight. The country is gorgeous — verdant, lush, and rural, all of which surprised me almost as much as the fact that the weather throughout Switzerland was warmer than in Florida at the time.

The integration of towns and agriculture was interesting, for even in the larger towns, little cattle pastures dotted hillsides between developments and streets. Many fields were freshly plowed. The Swiss take their agriculture seriously: in the United States and everywhere else I’ve ever been, our round bales are harvested and left to lie in the fields, at best covered by a tarp. But in Switzerland, each round bale is shrink-wrapped in a protective plastic case.

The train went through Bern, an exceptionally beautiful city from what I could see.

The rolling hills and mountain backdrops were reminiscent of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley off of I-81, as well as parts of West Virginia. After the pastoral trip of more than two hours, I was NOT prepared for the view as the train rounded a bend into the Lausanne region. It was as if a curtain rose: the beautiful Lake Geneva suddenly appeared, along with grapevines on every hillside. The spectacle was just amazing.


Posted in Switzerland, Travel | Leave a comment

The Lodi Native™ Project—Great Idea, Great Wine

Some of the best ideas happen when kindred spirits gather together to enjoy wine.

Lodi-Native-2012-bottlesLodi Native™ is one of them. The project was born two and a half years ago when Randy Caparoso, sommelier and blogger for the Lodi Winegrape Commission (LoCA), brought together several Lodi winemakers for a tasting of their wines with a visiting sommelier. A discussion ensued about how Lodi might best increase awareness of its magnificent old Zinfandel vines.

People in Lodi have been growing wine grapes since 1850, but for all this time Lodi grapes have made their way primarily into large California-appellation wines. Today Lodi grows 40% of California’s Zinfandel, and in the last 20 years, an artisan winemaking movement has mushroomed. The great old Lodi vineyards are being rediscovered and renewed, and are brilliantly displaying the quality of what they can produce. Many of them date back into the 1870s, and many of them are still on their own roots (vs. grafted) and thriving today.

The Lodi Native™ plan started with the notion of showcasing single old-vine vineyards. Remove the winemaker and the style from the practices; highlight the terroir and the site specificity. The idea was to allow the terroir-driven fruit to speak for itself, with different voices depending on its vineyard of origin, similar to other great wine regions of the world.

The winemakers met regularly during the next six months and discussed the protocol of what they would and wouldn’t do. Ultimately, six winegrowers living and working in Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA stuck together and agreed on minimalist winemaking with the following rules:

  • Old vine Zinfandel only (at least 50 years old)
  • Native yeast fermentation, no malolactic
  • No additives (no acid, water, enzymes)
  • No new barrels; aged in neutral oak barrels only
  • Unfiltered
  • Minimal S02

Via an online tasting, we enjoyed six impressive Zinfandels, progressing from westernmost to easternmost in the AVA.

LodiTodd-Maley1. 2012 Maley Brothers, Wegat Vineyard.

It started out green and brambly but opened into a very smooth, pleasant wine that was almost as good as the Trulux (below), but softer.

Todd Maley (pictured, right) said the vineyard was planted in 1958 on St. George root stock, and is sustainably farmed to produce “nice sweet, ripe fruit.” Chad Joseph, winemaker, said it yields three tons/acre. The winery grows 320 acres in Lodi, mainly Zin. Chad was aiming to bring out a textural, tactile mouthfeel, among elegant features of the vineyards that are expressed via native fermentations. They harvested at a lower brix for higher acidity and more delicacy, rather than the in-your-face fruit-jam-bombs that Zinfandels can be.

Wegat is on the west side of Lodi, where there is more clay in the soil; it isn’t as sandy as the eastern side. It has alluvial deposits from the Mokelumne River. Todd likes the “herbal notes on the wine and the bright cherry flavor. A little carbonic maceration, uninoculated wine, but in a portion of the wine we put whole clusters in there, so you’ll pick up a little bit of herbal, minty taste. Destemmed, no crushing, we try to keep as much whole berry as possible, 14 days, bin fermentation.” Then it was pressed and put into barrels, racked one time, with sulfate added for aging. The wine spent nine months in the oak. Both barrels were neutral—in fact they were more than six years old); one was French, another a European barrel. Decisions on oak aging times were left to each individual winemaker. Todd “really wanted to leave the oak out of the equation and just have it be a vessel.”

WEB: http://www.lodinative.com/maley-vineyards/
The Wegat Vineyard is a 21-acre planting of head trained vines, field budded on St. George rootstock by the Maley family in 1958. It is a quintessential “west side” Lodi vineyard: planted in fine sandy loam, yielding less than 3 tons/acre, from a unique clonal selection characterized by consistently loose clusters—all contributing to the round, lush, boysenberry/blueberry qualities long associated with Wegat.

Lodi Layne Montgomery2. 2012 m2, Soucie Vineyard

New home construction, blueberry sauce.

Layne Montgomery (left), winemaker/owner, told us that Kevin Soucie is the grower at this vineyard that was planted in 1916 by his grandfather. Original 6-acre block. Self-rooted, head trained, sandy loam, westmost vineyard in the project. A lot of earth, loam. Has been making wine from this vineyard for 12 years. Consistent, yet different. 22 brix, he wanted the acidity; 750 pounds, no acid addition. Another 1,500-1,700 pounds at 24-25 brix, blended together. No malolactic, no new oak. Amazing how long it took to take off on fermentation on its own: more than two weeks before they pressed. Zins shine at 27-28 brix, but it’s a lot harder to make a balanced wine. He’s liking the more subtle style from the project. “Zin is kind of a blank canvas; it’s so broad; you can do a lot with it. Zin is America’s grape; there’s no Old World to compare it to.” He makes another wine from this vineyard called Velvet Elvis.

WEB: http://www.lodinative.com/m2-wines/
m2′s Lodi Native Zinfandel is sourced from the oldest block of Soucie Vineyard; planted in 1916 and farmed by fifth generation Lodi native Kevin Soucie. The vines are own-rooted and head trained, and the soil—an extremely fine silt with the consistency of talcum powder—is a variation of the series found in Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA’s far western edge, identified as Devries sandy loam. The site is also the closest to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta’s cooling breezes in Lodi, resulting in distinctively lush, pungently earthy, terroir driven styles of Zinfandel.

Lodi Michael-McCay-smelling-2012-Zinfandel-300x2403. 2012 McCay Cellars, Trulux Vineyard

Complex, with many aspects of what you would expect from a Bordeaux. Beautiful fruit. Tannins, yet mouth-watering. Good finish. Licorice, pipe tobacco. Very well balanced. Raw organic cherry pie, a pure expression of the fruit and soaringly beautiful flavors. A little amber in the color. I loved this wine. To me, this was the most complex and sophisticated of the six.

Mike McCay (pictured, above right): Vines taller than 6 feet, head trained, beautiful ladder effect, produce a cluster of grapes that’s very elongated, deep dark style of fruit, blackberry, black cherry, a little bit of tobacco, black pepper, very unusual style of Zin. Really loves the native style; stumbled onto it years ago by accident in 1994. Last to bottle (in November) and he can see this as evolving. Blown away at how it keeps changing, showing more layers, new nuances—fascinating. About 85% of his production every year is native, so this wasn’t all that new to him; it wasn’t out of the box for him.

WEB: http://www.lodinative.com/mccay-cellars/
TruLux is a west side Lodi—Mokelumne River AVA vineyard, originally planted in the 1940s on St. George rootstock. It is distinguished by unusually tall head trained vines (topping 6 feet) and a clonal selection producing atypically loose, elongated clusters. This, and loamy sand, yields dark, meaty fruit qualities with a perceptible earthy, loamy complexity. McCay Cellars currently produces seven different single-vineyard Zinfandels; plus a delicate, refined Grenache (which McCay believes could be Lodi’s “Pinot Noir”); a meaty, scrubby yet plush Carignan (from a vineyard originally planted in 1909); a dry, zingy, contemporary style white wine blend; and the freshest dry rosé this side of Provence.

Lodi Marians-zin-harvest-1024x8184. 2012 St. Amant, Marian’s Vineyard

Mouth-drying tannins, yet soft. Interesting! Blackberry, white pepper.

Stuart Spencer’s wine. Family has been making wine since 1980; he took over in 2006 when his Dad died. This is an 8.3-acre block, own-rooted Zin planted in 1901. Underground drip irrigation put in 20 years ago, rejuvenated the vineyards. Own-rooted, sandy soils; nematodes can be a challenge, but so far so good. 4 tons/acre on 111-year-old vines, so that just shows you they still have a ways to go. Picked at 24.5 brix.

WEB: http://www.lodinative.com/st-amant/
Marian’s Vineyard is a revered 8.3-acre own-rooted Mokelumne River AVA growth, located south of the town of Lodi. It was originally planted in 1901 by a branch of the Mettler family on present-day Mohr-Fry Ranch; and today it is farmed by father-and-son Jerry and Bruce Fry. It is named for Marian Mohr Fry Zimmerman, the Fry family matriarch who passed away in 2007 at the age of 94. Marian’s deep sandy loam is extremely well drained (in many years, yielding less than 2 tons/acre); but in 2012 the vineyard produced over 30 tons of bold, concentrated fruit–a testament to how well it is farmed today, in accordance with Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. The entirety of Marian’s goes to St. Amant Winery, founded by the late Tim Spencer (a Lodi icon).

Lodi Ryan-Sherman-300x2405. 2012 Fields Family, Century Block Vineyard

Green, brambly, a little funky. Tannins.

Ryan Sherman (right): 3 acres, own-rooted, planted in 1905. Tokay, Garnache vines scattered throughout. Short squatty vines, and bigger more robust vines, and took a couple of years working with the farmer to rein it in. Fun vineyard. 9-10 tons from the patch. 85-95% of the wines he produces are along the lines of this native project anyway; also, he uses neutral barrels normally anyway, native fermentation, etc.; all unfiltered except for the whites and the rosé. Bottled Nov. 27.

WEB: http://www.lodinative.com/fields-family-wines/
The Century Block Vineyard is a 3-acre patch of own-rooted Zinfandel (typical of old vines in Lodi) planted in 1905; standing defiantly in a sea of more recently planted trellised vineyards, on the east side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The 2012 is the first vineyard designate on record for this growth, and shows what maximum attention in the field and minimal intervention in the cellar can do.

LodiNativeNoma-Vineyard-Zinfandel_320-3306. 2012 Macchia, Noma Vineyard

More clear than the others, with violet. Cherry. Grape Bubble Yum! This one dances with fleeting whiffs and tastes of delightful things. Brown sugar. But NOT big in your face jam at all. This wine was the most fun of the six. Opening up into new home construction but less so than the other one.

Tim Holdener: Background as a brewer, and has lots of experience with different yeasts being the only thing to change in the brewing, and having the beer turn out completely different. What does own-rooted mean? Most vines in California were grafted onto root stock to protect them from phyloxera and nematodes and other root pests. Centuries ago this wasn’t done, they would just stick a vine in the ground. It’s grown on its own roots. You get a different character coming through on own-rooted vs. grafted on. You do take a chance, but some of the benefits, sandy loamy soil helps the Noma vines survive as long as they have. Special places. Noma is on the east side, close to the river, so it’s in deep, sandy loam soil. It is encroached by a lot of buildings on all four sides, though. It’s dry farmed; one ton/acre, it’s intense and concentrated, but the farmer isn’t making a lot of money on it. This vineyard produces beautiful, higher-acid fruit. 25 brix.

WEB: http://www.lodinative.com/macchia/
Noma Ranch, farmed by second generation Lodi grower Leland Noma, is a 15-acre vineyard of small, stunted, own-rooted, head trained vines dating back to the early 1900s, located on the east side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. It is 100% dry farmed; typically yielding close to 1 ton per acre. These tiny clusters of high skin to juice ratio grapes produces a unique Zinfandel: of all of Lodi’s heritage plantings, Noma is consistently among the most concentrated and highest in natural acidity.


Each winemaker made about 50 cases (a couple of barrels) of these wines. The smallest “patch” was 3 acres, and the largest single vineyard was 30 acres. The wines cost $35/bottle, or they are available in a six-bottle set, packaged in a commemorative wooden case. This six-bottle case is available for purchase from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center; call 209-365-0621 or fill out an order form and fax back to 209-367-0737.

They did it again in 2013, and I’m looking forward to trying this again next year; the 2013 Zins are in the barrels. All the winemakers were more comfortable with it the second year, and in fact all of them extended the method into some of their other blocks and varietals. They enjoyed it. It’s a work in progress. Every time they have a meeting, they talk about other things. Zinfandel was easy to start with, because they’re all growing it. I thought of Grenache while writing this article, and so did one of the winemakers. We’ll see.

http://www.lodiwine.com and http://www.lodinative.com/. If you want to watch the online tasting video, visit http://cca.yourbrandlive.com/c/lodinative.

Samples sent for review.

Posted in California, Tastings, Zinfandel | 2 Comments

Food pairings: Freixenet’s Cava and other wine

Recently I spent several days exploring Spain’s Cataluña winemaking region. I learned about the region’s famous Freixenet Cava as well as many other beautiful wines being produced there. (This post is Part IV about the visit; other posts’ links are at the end of this article.)

Cava is a sparkling wine, made primarily of Spanish grapes but in the Champagne method, i.e. aged in bulk in a barrel or tank first, with a secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. The bottle must be heavy and thick, and the cork must be thick and tightly placed, to withstand the pressure within the bottle. Cava is the most famous of the Freixenet products, but the company makes many other lovely wines and also exports their own wines and other vineyards’ wines to other countries.

Our first night’s dinner was in the town of Vilafranca del Penedès (near Barcelona), at Hotel Casa Torner i Güell, where we stayed for part of the trip.

Casa Torner i Güell is a micro-hotel in Penedès, a wine-making district in the Cataluña region. Reportedly once an old stately home, today the hotel is quite modern, with European touches of chrome, glass, dramatic lighting, and crisp color schemes in the 17 bedrooms that share a bar, restaurant, and garden courtyard. The property is quiet and peaceful.

At the start of our dinner, we enjoyed Cava Elyssia; a happily empty bottle is pictured to the right. This was a fruity and aromatic Brut (dry) rosé of Pinot Noir, from a local vineyard formerly owned by Moet & Chandon.

Our first course was a delicious bisque with a crispy shrimp.

Next came a course of monkfish with a cucumber salsa, olive oil, and orange (pictured above), and the Cordon Negro came out. “Cordon Negro” simply means “black cord” and is a reference to “black tie” elegance. Easily found in the U.S., this Cava is clean and crisp, with aromas of apple and pear.

We were served a course of mashed potatoes with an out-of-this-world mushroom sauce and a thinly rolled, crispy wafer that was only slightly more substantial than filo dough. To my surprise, next we were served another starch: a rich risotto with diced Spanish ham and chives. Maybe our hosts thought we needed to absorb the Cava we’d been enjoying! After that, we were served another fish course on a bed of caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, and crispy onions on top. All of these savory courses were complemented well by the Cava.

The beauty of sparkling wines is that they stand up to any food whatsoever, but do not overpower it. The bubbles and acidity will cut through butter and oils, and the bubbles also cleanse the palate so that the food tastes are, if anything, amplified and not overpowered. That is why sparkling wine is so often associated with chocolate and other desserts—it just works!

Just when I was ready for a change of pace wine-wise, out came the meat course: rare beef with roasted red pepper pesto, paired with Vaza Cosecha Rioja 2011, another wine from the Freixenet family. The wine was a stunning Rioja.

For dessert, we were served a very moist chocolate cake flanked by raspberry sorbet, vanilla-bean Mascarpone, and a caramel crisp. Both the Cavas and the Rioja were delicious with this dessert.


Divinic, located in the same town, specializes in wine and tapas. The restaurant was designed by architect Oriol Llahona.

One of the highlights of the evening was the 2004 and 2005 Brut Nature (left), not only because it tastes wonderful, but also because we learned the romantic history of Freixenet. It is a story of love and feminine grit.

The label is old-fashioned, and the wine is indeed intended to honor the family’s roots and the first Freixenet Cava released 100 years ago.

The story begins in the 1700s, when the Ferrer family established La Freixenada, a winegrowing estate in the Penedès. In the mid-1800s, the Sala family settled nearby in the Penedès, and Mr. Sala converted his father-in-law’s barrel-making business into a wine distribution company, eventually exporting wines all over the world under the name Casa Sala.

In the early 1900s, the youngest son of the Ferrer family, Pedro, married the only daughter of the Sala family, Dolores, uniting the two respected wine lineages. Seeing a unique opportunity in sparkling wines, which were not common in Spain at that time, Pedro and Dolores released their first Cava in 1914 with the Freixenet label.

Tragically, in the 1930s Pedro was killed in the Spanish Civil War, leaving his wife and children alone. Dolores decided to continue to run the business, and even decided to build it dramatically in the face of misfortune. Against the odds of the difficult war time, she succeeded in launching Carta Nevada in 1941. The unique frosted golden bottle went on to become one of Freixenet’s most popular Cavas.

In the 1950s, their youngest son, José Ferrer, took the reins of the family business with the goal of realizing his parents’ dreams of introducing Freixenet to the world. In the 1970s, following the Casa Sala tradition, the family shipped the first bottles of Freixenet to the United States. In 1974, José introduced Freixenet Cordon Negro, a new Cava bottled in a radically distinctive dark frosted bottle, which would become known as the “Black Bottle Bubbly” and is Freixenet’s best-known Cava to this day. In the 1980s, Freixenet became the world leader in sparkling wine produced in the traditional champenoise method.

Today, a century since Freixenet released its first Cava in 1914, the company remains 100% family owned, with the fourth generation now in the business. Gloria Ferrer, José’s wife, is now the family “star,” with fine wines bearing her name from Sonoma, California. José Ferrer, in his eighties, is the President of Honor of the Freixenet Group and the Founder of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in Sonoma’s Carneros district.

But I would like to mention one more food course and wine from that evening: the steaks we were given to grill as desired, with roasted red peppers, garlic and olive oil; and the delightful 2011 Ribera del Duoro Tempranillo served alongside. AWESOME.

WEB:www.casatorneriguell.com, www.freixenetusa.com, www.gloriaferrer.com

Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Cava, Food, Restaurants, Spain, Tempranillo, Travel | 3 Comments

EXCELLENT: Two Ribera del Duero wines

I’ve enjoyed nearly every Spanish wine I’ve tried, and these two Tempranillos were just lovely.

Wine has been made in the Ribera del Duero area for more than 2,000 years. Today, wines must be at least 75% Tempranillo in order to be released with the Ribero del Duero D.O. (Denominaciónde Origen, or geographic origin). The only grapes allowed for blending are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Malbec. No white wines can be released with the D.O. designation, but Tempranillo produces a dry Rosado and that is allowed.

The area, 90 by 20 miles, is in north central Spain and is home to 250 winemakers, approximately half of whom export to the U.S. The area has a rather harsh climate, described as “nine months of cold and three months of hell” with very little rain. Irrigation is allowed, but it’s very expensive. Thus, the roots need to reach down into the soil, and a richer wine is the result.

Alconte2009 Bodegas y Vinedos Montecastro Alconte Crianza, 14.5% ABV, $24 SRP.

My first impression: licorice, gentle tannins. Something intense and special, even cheerful. It opened into a little white pepper with spice and blackberries.

Alconte is a new vineyard, with some older vines. The winegrower doesn’t use trellises, adhering to the bush vine approach. This particular wine was aged for 14 months in French and American oak. (Crianza has to be aged at least 12 months and no more than 23 months.)

NIGHT TWO: Cola, white pepper, red licorice. Very interesting.

BACK LABEL: This wine has been aged for 14 months in barrels made of French and American oak. Total production from the 2009 vintage has been 13,345 bottles. Imported by Classical Wines, Seattle, WA.

WEB: www.Montecastro.es

Valdubon2007Label2007 Bodegas Valdubón Valdubon Reserva, 13% ABV, $27 SRP.

First impression: Elegant, with raspberry. It opened into cherry and delicious, soft fruit and spice. This was aged nearly two years in 80/20 American and French barrels. It didn’t taste like American oak, though—it had the more tightly woven taste of French oak, but it wasn’t over the top.

Valdubón was established in 1997 and 100 acres are planted in Tempranillo.

NIGHT TWO: Subtle cedar on the nose.

FRONT LABEL: This noble red wine is produced entirely with Tinda del País—or Tempranillo—the predominant red grape of Spain. Densely flavored and brick hued, this wine is a true Reserva, patiently aged for almost two years in French and American oak with an extra year slumber in the bottle. The grapes used for this prodigious wine came from carefully manicured vineyards by the Riaza River, producing a wine of balanced acidity and concentrated fruit flavors. This wine complements roasted red meat, game, sausages, or even lamb kabobs.

WEB: www.FreixenetUSATrade.com, www.HeredadCollection.com

Samples sent for review.

Posted in Spain, Tempranillo | Leave a comment

Hey, Kids!

This is cool. If you want to see posts that have been pinned from your page or blog, enter http://www.pinterest.com/source/ and then type the name of your blog or page. So check out http://www.pinterest.com/source/thefrugalwinesnob.com/!

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Summer sippers: Easy-to-find white blends

Earlier this week, I published a blog post about some outstanding white wines from Lodi. While they’re extraordinary, they aren’t easy to find, and most people will need to order them directly from the winemakers.

This post will cover some whites that are at the opposite end of the scarcity spectrum: they are available in the supermarket. However, these wines are still off the usual beaten path, as they are white blends. Here they are, in no particular order.

ApothicWhite20122012 APOTHIC White Winemaker’s Blend, California, $9, 12% ABV

NOSE: Floral, vanilla.

TASTE: First impression of some sweetness. Opens to melon. Pleasantly smooth and round. No edginess at all. If you’re looking for a break from “crisp acidity” and oak, this is your ticket. It’s soft, easy to drink, and can be enjoyed by itself.

LABEL: Inspired by the “Apotheca,” a mysterious place where wine was blended and stored in 13th century Europe, Apothic White offers a truly unique wine experience. Apothic White is a luscious blend of smooth Chardonnay, vibrant Pinot Grigio and aromatic Riesling, which create layers of tropical fruit complemented by hints of honey and vanilla.

WEB: www.Apothic.com

Conundrum20112011 CONUNDRUM White, California, $14, 13.5% ABV

NOSE: A hint of Sauvignon Blanc, minerals.

TASTE: Minerals, a touch of Sauvignon Blanc, some sweetness, lots of fruit mid-palate, lychee, light tannins, light acidity, apple pie spice. Slightly velvety mouthfeel. This one can be enjoyed by itself, or I would pair it with an Asian dish with coconut, peanut, ginger, and garlic as ingredients. The exact blend is a secret, but each year their blend includes, in varying proportions, Chardonnay for its weight and complexity, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon for acidity, Viognier for unctuousness, and Muscat Canelli for floral qualities. Some lots are aged in stainless, some in seasoned French oak barrels, some in new French barrels.

LABEL: Conundrum White—a great wine for a fun night out or a lazy afternoon by the pool—it’s made for food and friends! This wine is pure California at heart with a blend of grapes that makes the taste so special and unique—always the completely enjoyable Conundrum. Served chilled, it is a perfect wine, any time. Jon Bolta, Winemaker. Vinted and bottled in Rutherford. Wagner Family of Wines.

WEB: www.ConundrumWines.com

14HandsHotToTrotWhiteBlend2011 14 HANDS Hot to Trot White Blend, Washington State, $9, %ABV

NOSE: Pears, apples and citrus, with light floral notes.

TASTE: Pear, melon, lemon. This paired surprisingly well with a slightly spicy chicken enchilada with verde sauce—the food really brought out the fruit. A hint of cinnamon, and a little more acidity than the first two. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sémillon.

This spirited white wine reveals vibrant aromas of white stone fruits and citrus, and mouthwatering flavors of fresh apple, pear and melon. The flavors race smoothly across your palate creating a juicy, refreshing finish. 14 Hands celebrates the spirit of the wild horses that once roamed the Columbia River Valley. Fourteen hands in height, these tough little horses were revered around the world for their strength. The terrain that once gave them endurance and spirit now feeds our vines. Our 14 Hands wines share the soul and intensity of this unbridled freedom. Artist Cynthia Sampson.

WEB: www.14hands.com

LittleBlackDress20112011 LITTLE BLACK DRESS Divalicious White, California, $8, 12%ABV

A little flabby mid-palate but a surprisingly long, acidic finish. A hint of mushrooms and earth among the fruit. It’s a blend of 65% Pinot Grigio, 18% Muscat, 8% Chardonnay, 4% Sauvignon Blanc, 3% White Riesling, and 2% Viognier.

LABEL: It’s not an indulgence if you’ve earned the pleasure. That’s what makes you divalicious. So feel free to immerse yourself in divalicious white and experience the crisp intensity, ripe attitude, racy edge and surprising playfulness afforded all great divas, including you. Great taste is your best accessory! Vinted and bottled by LBD Vineyards Hopland, Mendocino County.

WEB: http://www.excelsiorwines.com/winery/little-black-dress/

MenageATroisWhiteBLend2012 FOLIE À DEUX, MENAGE À TROIS California White Wine, $9, 13.5% ABV

NOSE: Citrus and florals.

TASTE: Bananas, melon, citrus; off-dry, mouth-watering, acidity on the finish. It’s 44% Chardonnay, 34% Muscat Alexandria, and 22% Chenin Blanc. Refreshing and quite good.

LABEL: Our White blend brings together refreshing citrus and sweet tropical fruit flavors with crisp acidity. A delightful blend based on three varietals—Chardonnay, Moscato, and Chenin Blanc.

WEB: www.MenageATroisWines.com

Posted in California, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Moscato/Muscat, Muscat Alexandria, Muscat Canelli, Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier | 2 Comments

Five Outstanding White Wines from Lodi

Lodi, pronounced “LOW-dye,” has become a winemaker’s paradise, with 750 winegrowers farming nearly 100,000 acres of wine grapes. In 1998 Lodi had only 10 wineries, and today the number has increased to 77. With about the same number of different varieties being grown there, Lodi produces a whopping 24% of California’s wine grape output.

Located at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Lodi is 100 miles east of San Francisco and 35 miles south of Sacramento. During the growing season, the area has a Mediterranean climate; the days are sunny and warm, with significant temperature drops at night. Rain is rare in the summer, which makes the vines bear intense, concentrated, flavorful grapes. The area, best-known for its reds, has been dubbed the Zinfandel Capital of the World.

However, during a recent tasting, I experienced five wonderful white wines from Lodi which are among the best whites I’ve enjoyed all year. While these five wines are all true to their types, their winemakers are clearly working creatively to produce unusual wines that are way off the beaten path, yet affordable.

The online video tasting was hosted by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission; and Susan Tipton, owner/winemaker at Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards, Lodi’s only all-white wine winery. Despite the importance of Lodi, it still has a quiet, down-home feel and a strong sense of community. Our hosts told us, “You go into a tasting room and you meet the winemaker, the owner.” They said women are prominent in the region.

The first wine we tasted was the 2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürtraminer, 13.6%, SRP $19. This was a huge surprise. Gewürztraminer is generally thought of as a sweet wine. However, this one had salty minerality, crisp acidity, lychee, green apple, and citrus; it was dry, yet beautifully mouth-watering—a bit of a contradiction, but there it is. This surprising Gewürtraminer has very little sugar—just 0.49 g/litre. Winemaker Markus Niggli picked the grapes at lower sugars (21 brix) deliberately to maintain acid levels.

Markus Niggli hails from Switzerland, hence the deft European approach and the foray into German grapes. “Nuvola” is Italian for cloud.

71 cases were made. Just 14 are left; the wine can be ordered via the winery’s Web site.

BACK LABEL: Inspired by modern European architecture, our 2013 Artist Series features the cloud, Nuvola, a symbol of something new and powerful. Label design by Anneka Weinert, a Studio Art freshman at the University of the Pacific, in partnership with Borra Vineyards. This is the second label design in an emerging artist series.

Next up: 2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca, Vista Luna Vineyard, 13.2%, SRP $18. This lovely wine is 90% Garnacha Blanca and 10% Albariño. This had a beautiful aroma—floral, melon, lychee, peach, just a hint of green. The taste reminded me a little of saké! The mouthfeel was silky. Our hosts told us that it is lovely at any temperature; it can be chilled significantly and it won’t shut down, or it can be almost room temperature and it won’t collapse. It has crisp acidity, yet the brightness of tropical fruit, and was especially round at mid-palate.

This wine was produced from organically farmed and green certified vineyards. The “Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winemaking Practices” is a rigorous third-party certification.

Owner/Viticulturalist/Winemaker Markus Bokisch said, “Our Catalan roots have inspired our dream to produce Spanish varietal wines in California.”

This is a versatile wine that is said to pair well with cheeses and tapas.

BACK LABEL: Our Catalan roots have fueled our dream for producing Spanish varietal wines in California. This Garnacha Blanca is grown in the volcanic clay loam soils of the Borden Ranch Appellation of Lodi. Tasting notes reveal creamy flavors of apricot and Comice pears with hints of guava juice and zesty pineapple. Production: 250 cases. Salut!—Markus and Liz Bokisch

Our third selection was Susan Tipton’s 2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognier, 14.1%, SRP $23. Susan grows just one acre of Viognier, and 268 cases of this wine were made.

She likes this paired with lamb tagine, arugula, ceviche, Thai stir fry; cilantro, lime. She called these “big pairings. The peachiness comes out that way. Tangerine, peach, rose.”

This wine was another that presented with a salty minerality. Susan told us, “In the tasting room, they have people taste the grapes off the vine, and taste the wines side by side. The Viognier is identical to the grape.”

There was a faint nose of cigarette smoke as it opened (that’s a new one on me), and it had tannins on the palate too, even though it never touched oak.

The unusually shaped bottle is from Provence; Susan called it an “homage to myself, my body type, except my neck isn’t that long!” Camron commented that his wife reuses beautiful bottles like this to hold flowers and fulfill other functions.

Susan said the reception she’s received in the tasting room has been amazing. (Her pairings are reportedly “legendary.”) She is excited to see winemakers coming on the scene and “playing with more fun whites in Lodi;” she observed that where reds are concerned, people put them on their shelf and “acquire” them, but “when people buy white, they put them in the fridge and drink them right away, so they’re always running out of whites. Wine is meant to be shared with family and friends.”

In her blog, Susan wrote, “The day I tasted my first white Châteauneuf du Pape wine, my life changed. It was the best wine I had ever had. So I quickly drove back to the store for a couple more cases of this wonderful nectar, only to be told I was holding the last bottle in California! Okay, what’s the deal? After research, I realized that the CDP area of France … [doesn’t] produce many whites. The whites consist of blends with Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette and a few other varietals. I decided to give the Grenache Blanc a try and was pleased with the results in our vineyard so I planted Roussanne, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc. These cuttings came by way of Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, California. Tablas is partners with Chateau Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape, where these varietals originated.”

BACK LABEL: ac-qui-esce (a-kwee-‘es) verb; to surrender, to become quiet. I “acquiesce” to nature, the vineyard and the wine when handcrafting these classic, premium, food friendly wines made here … by hand … by me … Susan Tipton.

Fourth in our lineup: 2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, SRP $18. This wine, actually 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Sauvignon Musquee, is the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted in a long time. With mushrooms and earth on the nose, it opened with citrus, big-time fruitiness, and once again the salty minerality. This is the biggest seller in their tasting room.

There are heritage oaks on the property, hence the winery’s name, but no oak goes into their whites. In their reds, yes.

Owner/Winemaker Tom Hoffman suggests pairing this with crab cakes and soft, creamy cheeses.

BACK LABEL: Sauvignon blanc is a superb white variety for Lodi’s warm days and cool nights. We especially like the crisp citricy [sic] flavors and full aroma we get when the grapes are grown in the shelter of a full canopy of leaves. This wine is a wonderful complement to fruit, cheese or a light meal of chicken or fish. Bottled in February, 2014. 325 cases produced.

Our fifth wine, “dessert,” was the 2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco, 12.9%, SRP $14. This wine, like the first Gewürztraminer, was a huge surprise because it simply wasn’t sweet. It was dry and beautiful, with the distinctive rose aroma and taste I’ve come to love about Moscato. “Secco” means dry, and Uvaggio does produce a “dolce” version. This Moscato is 100% Moscato Giallo. The aromas go on and on: besides roses, honeysuckle and ginger are evident.

Uvaggio is in Napa, but the grapes are sourced from Lodi. Uvaggio is producing all Italian varieties, although they are adding a Zinfandel.

Our hosts suggested pairing this with spicy dishes; it has a similar utility to the Viognier. Grilled chicken with fruit salsa or chutney would also work well.

BACK LABEL: Uvaggio—sounds like “Bellagio”—is Italian for “really great wine made by two incredibly hip wine lovers.” We have moved far beyond the conventional chocolate and vanilla by making Barbera, Primitivo, Vermentino and now Moscato. We say since California has a Mediterranean climate, we should make wine with the grapes that actually thrive there.

ALL of these whites were surprises. They were all beautiful expressions of the grapes, yet not stereotypical. All were bright, crisp, clear, with that distinctive salty minerality I’ve already mentioned a dozen times. Different? Oh, yes. These winemakers are clearly having a blast exploring new ways of playing with grapes. But they don’t make wines that don’t sell!

The multicultural aspect of Lodi winemaking was also great fun. Swiss/German, Cataluña (Spain), Châteauneuf du Pape, and Italy wines and grapes are all being used as inspiration and even as sources of vines.

This was a phenomenal online tasting. For one thing, the technology worked perfectly. Even more important, the tasting was a revelation. I no longer think of Lodi only as a region for big reds, from now on I will also think of it as a source of unusual, beautiful whites. High marks to these great winemakers, and to Charles Communications Associates for sponsoring a remarkable evening.

Samples sent for review.

Posted in Alberino, California, Garnacha Blanca, Gewurztraminer, Moscato/Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Musquee, Uncategorized, Viognier | 1 Comment

PREVIEW: Mia line of Spanish wines, just released in the U.S.

Pictured here is a 187ml bottle of Mia sparkling Moscato, a well-made sweet wine. Weighing in at 7% ABV, it’s light enough to enjoy with lunch without spoiling the rest of your day. And, it’s delicious, with a bouquet of roses on the nose and on the palate.

What’s genius about this little bottle is its screwcap. Forget about intimidation with pressurized corks.

More to come on the Mia line. I attended the release party in Ft. Lauderdale and took lots of pictures and notes. Winemaker Gloria Collell.

WEB: www.MiaWines.com

Posted in Moscato/Muscat, Spain | Leave a comment

Catalan cuisine: Cooking with “Chef Isma,” Ismael Prados Soto

What better way to learn about Catalan wines and cuisine than to experience a cooking class? As part of my tour of Cataluña, I did just that.

Our guide and chef was the talented “Chef Isma,” Ismael Prados Soto. A TV celebrity chef and author of five cookbooks, Chef Isma trained in many restaurants cooking classic Catalan cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, and alta expresión (“higher expression”) cuisine.

We met Isma outside Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria market, and we walked around the fabulous place, enjoying the sights and the array of wonderful foods, while Isma selected the ingredients for the afternoon’s class.

La Boqueria is known for its locally grown, “Zero Kilometre” program. The Catalans do not allow GMO seeds or produce at all.

Isma told us that booth rental is nominal, and it is paid to the city. However, the license is granted for 50 years; thus, like the full liquor licenses in Florida, they are sold from person-to-person for a fortune. No wonder: Isma said some of the stalls gross the equivalent of $2,000,000/year.

Many of the market’s stall owners greeted him as a friend, and fans walked up to him occasionally in the aisles. He is a kind family man with a good sense of humor. He is taking a hiatus from the TV scene, because he grew weary of having to come up with jokes and entertainment rather than simply showing people how to cook.

One booth was a mushroom lover’s paradise. Isma said he felt right at home in New York City at some of the Jewish markets.

He chose razor clams and monkfish (“poor man’s lobster”) to prepare for us along with the other ingredients he already had in his kitchen. The seafood was so fresh, it was (a) pink and (b) still moving (in the case of the shrimp and prawns, anyway).
Here is a video of the still-moving shrimp and prawns at the BarcelonaMarket.

After completing our tour and shopping trip, we boarded an elevator and ascended to the top floor of the market into Isma’s kitchen. We had plenty of wine waiting for us!

We were each given personalized aprons with the Freixenet colors, black and gold. In the photo below, Isma’s “assistant” is Toni Domènech Pujol, head of Public Relations for Freixenet. Isma’s sous chef, Mikho, is behind Isma, working on something delicious.

Our starters included edible “spoons” filled with wild salmon caviar. The second appetizer was a construction of a strawberry, sardine, and a strange cactuslike herb that was naturally sparkly and oddly sweet. This course was served with a delightful Freixenet Cordon Rosado sparkling rosé.

Next, Isma prepared monkfish, with the veins and such removed. We learned that if fish is cooked too fast, the fish goes into shock and contracts, resulting in (a) tough fish, (b) a watery, fishy-smelling discharge around the fish, and (c) less flavor in the fish as well. However, if cooked very slowly, the fish retains its moisture yet releases a gelatin. Isma demonstrated how to use this gelatin to create a self-sauce in the pan. With white “hook” beans, snow peas, razor clams, nutty-tasting Jerusalem artichokes (a nice alternative to potatoes), and self sauce, this lovely dish was served with a refreshing Vionta Albariño (crisp, lemon custard; fragrant with citrus, melon, and flowers). The wine is from the Salnés Valley, the birthplace of Albariño and the coolest of the Rías Baixas growing districts, noted for producing crisp and aromatic wines.

For yet another course, Isma prepared rice, but in a way I’d never seen done before. He pan-tossed it in an olive oil based roux, adding “just a little bit” of water when needed to keep it from burning and to keep the moisture in. Then he transferred the rice to a baking dish with water and sauce and baked it in a convection oven.

In due time we were served our main course: Guinea hen rolled up with fois gras in the middle, velvety beans, and Jerusalem artichokes. Guinea hen. We had a laugh about hen-house vs. whorehouse. It was a language thing; you had to be there.

This was served with a Vaza Rioja Crianza 2010. The vintage was whited-out and corrected with pen, because the wine hadn’t been released yet and the appropriate vintage’s label hadn’t even been printed!

For dessert we enjoyed a heavy, triple chocolate brownie cake paired with a Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava, but I loved it with the Vaza Crianza. This is the first pairing I’ve found that works impressively with such a rich chocolate dish.

Originating from the word “Baza” which in Spanish means “trump card” or “new beginning,” Vaza
is produced at the Freixenet group’s Solar Viejo, a winery situated on the shoulder of the medieval village of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. This Tempranillo was absolutely delicious and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 14% ABV.

This is Part Three of posts about my experience of Freixenet wines and vineyards in Cataluña, Spain. Part One was about Cataluña’s Priorat district and the Morlanda winery. Part Two was about the René Barbier vineyard in Cataluña’s Penedès district.

WEB SITES: www.freixenetusa.com, www.heredadcollection.com, and www.boqueria.info

Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Alberino, Cava, Food, Spain, Tastings, Tempranillo, Travel | 3 Comments

René Barbier vineyard: Innovation in Cataluña’s Penedès district

This is Part Two of my report on Spain’s Catalan Freixenet properties. Part One covered my visit to Cataluña’s Priorat district and the Morlanda winery. This post will focus on the René Barbier vineyard in Cataluña’s Penedès district.

Once again venturing out from Barcelona, our group was treated to lovely views of the city. Occasionally, modern logos appear atop old buildings; new buildings have been built alongside the old, at least in the city’s outskirts.

The René Barbier vineyard story began in France more than a century ago. The Web site explains, “In the late 1860s, the phylloxera plague devastated the vineyards of France, among them those of the Barbier family. It destroyed millions of acres of French grapevines over a fifteen-year period and put at risk every vine in Europe. In vine districts, wages were halved, businesses collapsed, and much of the population, including the Barbiers, emigrated to other countries such as Spain. Léon Barbier crossed the Pyrenees, settling in Tarragona where he established his winery in 1880 and was the first to sell his wines in bottles (most wine was sold in bulk at that time in Spain). He applied French winemaking techniques to various types of vines, microclimates and soils, discovering that the local Spanish varieties produced premium wines with striking personality. His son René [1890-1981, pictured at left] would later take control of the winery, reinforcing the quality of the wines with technological advancements, and building a network to distribute these wines throughout the world. In 1984, the winery was purchased by the Ferrer family, owners of the renowned Freixenet sparkling wine house and many other estates in Spain and around the world. Today, René Barbier continues to apply the latest technology in order to craft wines of quality and value that express the terroir of the Catalunya region.”

The René Barbier vineyard uses viticultural techniques that are as natural as possible, but more out of common sense than because it happens to be de rigueur. The earth’s climates are cyclical, and recently the area’s rainfall has often been concentrated in blasts of violent storms with strong, damaging rains. To prevent erosion, every other row is planted with wheat and oats, benign crops that get along with the grapes. The crops are rotated each year.

Winemaker Gabriel Suberviola is experimenting with natural pest control, too. Their method uses “sexual confusion” to deter pests. Red wires, loaded with pheromones to confuse male pests, thus limiting their ability to locate females for mating, are tied to vines here and there, creating a “cloud” of protection over the vineyard. Ever the curious one, I took a whiff, and the red wire indeed had quite a scent. I was briefly affected, and not so well! The system is working, as demonstrated by the specimens prevented from reproducing. Gabriel joined Freixenet in 1980 and became head winemaker at René Barbier in 1998.

The trip took place in early April, and some of the vines’ buds were already beginning to burst. This was happening in the Priorat, too.

Each vine is a poem. I am reminded of Japanese paintings.

Grapes grown at René Barbier include uniquely Spanish white grapes, such as Xarel-lo, native to Cataluña and used almost exclusively in Cava; Macabeo; and Parellada. The estate also grows Merlot, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Carignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

In 2003, René Barbier moved to the village of Sant Cugat Sesgarrigues, about 30 miles west of Barcelona, in the Penedès district. The winery includes a modern 97,000 sq. ft. cellar in a facility designed by Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets, and 296 acres of land and vineyards.

Here is a view of Montserrat from the René Barbier rooftop. Montserrat, soaring to 4,000 ft., can be seen from Barcelona as well. It is, of course, a Catalan icon.

WEB NOTES ABOUT CATALUÑA The province of Catalunya is an area of contrasts, recognized for the relaxing beauty of its Mediterranean coastline and the cutting-edge innovation of vibrant cities like Barcelona. An intrinsic element of life in Catalunya is the joy of wine and food, and the production of wine has a long history in the region. Though the official denomination of origin was established in 1999, winemaking in Catalunya dates back to the time of the Phoenicians.

D.O. Catalunya extends along the northeast of the Iberian peninsula, bound by the Mediterranean to the south and east, and the Pyrenees to the north. [Map courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]

The influence of the Mediterranean Sea and plentiful sun makes the Catalunya region an area with a temperate climate ideal for growing vines. Vineyards in the coastal areas enjoy moderate rainfall and warm temperatures, while vineyards further inland [such as the Priorat] see larger temperature swings and less rainfall.

Catalunya has 27 authorized grape varieties. Among the most important white varietals are Xarel-lo, Macabeo, Parellada and Chardonnay. The most important red varietals include Garnacha, Cariñena, Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The primary characteristics of this region include chalky limestone, clay and sand soil.

Catalunya produces a wide range of wines, including powerful reds, crisp and fresh whites, and classic rosés, and it is also the birthplace of Cava, Spain’s renowned sparkling wine.

Pictured to the right is Kraliner, a still wine blended from the three grapes most frequently used for Cava: 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeo, and 30% Parellada. Pale yellow and green; aromatic with green apples, pineapple, light citrus; dry; lingering.

WEB SITE: http://www.renebarbier.com

Media/trade trip courtesy of the Freixenet company.

Posted in Macabeo, Parellada, Spain, Technical Stuff, Visits to Vineyards/Winemakers, Xarel-lo | Leave a comment