Avalon 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, California. 13.8% ABV, $12

I haven’t blogged in a while. Yesterday, Tim Edison at WineTurtle.com sent me a link to his blog post about the 103 Best Wine Blogs. We’re on it. Smart guy—that’s a good lesson on how to get 103 top bloggers to re-post and tweet links to one’s blog, to add him to our blogrolls, and to inspire some of us to catch up. It’s a good blog, have a look.

2012_Avalon_CABTonight, as I work up my piano version of Leon Russell’s classic “A Song for You,” I’m enjoying the 2012 Avalon Cab. Like the song, it starts out light in the soprano range, with an amazingly clear dark magenta color, opening quickly into the depths of a pure expression of warmth, honesty, and experience. I love the cherry.

As expected from the color, this wine is a blend (76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, 7% Zinfandel, 4% Merlot), although technically in the U.S. a wine can be called a single variety as long as it is made of 75% or more of that variety.

In November 2014, Wine Enthusiast awarded it a Best Buy and 88 points. “Very fruity, fresh and easy to enjoy, this has the smoothness of barrel age but little overt oak flavor. It features bright red cherry and raspberry aromas, juicy berry flavors and a texture with just enough bite to be appetizing.”

* Napa Valley: Where Cab is King. We blend grapes from our partner growers throughout the Napa Valley to create the core of our C A B. From the valley floor, to mountain vineyards, these grapes add backbone and complexity to our final blend.
* Lodi Appellation: This appellation adds what we call the “Yum Factor” that is represented in wines produced from this warmer growing region. Lodi’s “East Side” vineyard’s red soil and climate are perfect for producing rich, lush Cabernet Sauvignon that sets the stage for our final blend.
* Paso Robles Appellation: Our Paso Robles vineyard selections add a powerful elegance to the wine and shows prominently in the final blend with its dark fruit flavors, deep color and bright acidity.
* Monterey County: Monterey’s cooler climate adds bright fruit and light herbal tones that bring the final blend together. This brightness makes
C A B more versatile with a wide selection of foods which is why we refer to this wine as your “Go-To CAB”.

LABEL: Avalon Winery produces only Cabernet Sauvignon. C A B is made from grapes grown in vineyards from appellations with optimum growing conditions for Cabernet and aged a minimum of eight months in French and American oak barrels. C: Complex dark berry fruit flavors. A: Aromatic anise, spice and vanilla. B: Barrel aged for richness and toastiness. ~ Derek Benham, Proprietor.

WEB: www.AvalonWinery.com

SONG: A Song for You, by Leon Russell

Sample sent for review.

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Music | 2 Comments

“So, are you opening anything special for Thanksgiving?”

chin-chinLast night, a Facebook friend and fellow wine blogger asked me, “So, are you opening anything special for Thanksgiving?” Here is what I wrote in response:

Life is quite strange sometimes. The short answer is, Yes and No. The long answer is as follows.

My ex-husband recently married a Jehovah’s Witness, which means they do not celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.

He has become somewhat estranged from his mother, who is, of course, my former mother-in-law. She is 80 years old.

Through our two children, I learned that she was feeling bereft due to the lack of celebrations, and on the occasion of my son’s 13th birthday in September, I felt compassion for her, called her, and invited her to meet us for dinner to celebrate. She did, and it was definitely the right thing to do.

So I again invited her to join us for Thanksgiving. We are going to a restaurant for our mid-afternoon supper (her request), and going to her house for dessert, wine, and Scrabble afterwards (again her request).

Her favorite wine is white Zinfandel. So that is what we will be drinking tomorrow. Is it special? Yes and no!

I hope you slept in. I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving and drink whatever you want with the people you call “family and friends.” Today I’m grateful for the relationships that have transcended circumstances and remain intact and meaningful anyway.

Posted in Family | 1 Comment

Three Fine Tempranillos

ThreeTempranillosNov2014Thanksgiving is a busy time for wine geeks, with Tempranillo Day on the second Thursday in the month (today!), Beaujolais Nouveau Day on the third Thursday, and, of course, Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday. Here’s what I enjoyed for Tempranillo Day this year.

1. 2012 Valdubón Cosecha, Ribera del Duero. 13% ABV. $15.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the 2007 Valdubon Reserva, so I was excited to try this one. Unlike “Reserva,” though, “Cosecha” doesn’t mean much when it comes to aging time in barrels–in fact, it simply means that 85% or more of the grapes that went into that particular bottle must be from the year stated. (Reserva red wines must be aged for at least three years, with at least one year in oak.)

Dark garnet. Bright, cedar, cigar box, slightly medicinal nose with a surprisingly round, fruity, gentle (almost soft, but in a nice way), powerful taste. Mouth-watering, then a mildly tannic finish. I was surprised to learn that it spent zero time in oak.


“Bright fruit flavors of black cherry and boysenberry, with vanilla accents, are supported by light, firm tannins and citrusy acidity in this round red.”
Wine Spectator, November 2014

“Dark violet, blueberry and earthy black plummy fruit greets the nose along with streaks of licorice and medicinal spice. Tight, focused and just a bit tart on entry, this open nicely on the palate featuring soft, almost plush fruit underpinned with firm, slight rustic tannins. There’s some nice fruit here, blueberry and plum toned, but the emerging savory nuance adds attractive complexity. It’s a pretty well behaved wine showing a hint of sophistication yet retaining the rugged character of Ribera.”
Snooth, March 2014

WEB: www.HeredadCollection.com

2. 2011 Vaza Rioja Crianza, Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa. 14% ABV. $19.

I’ve tasted two other incarnations of Vaza Rioja, both in Spain last April when I visited Barcelona and the Priorat region courtesy of Freixenet. One experience of it, the 2010 Crianza, was in connection with a cooking class in Barcelona. The other experience, the 2011 Cosecha, was during our first dinner of the trip.

Deep violet garnet. Dusky fruit and oak, vanilla. Blackberry, licorice, spice and everything nice; a complex acidity that is mouth-watering first and then dry on the finish. Aged in French and American oak for 12 or more months, as is required in order to be a Crianza.

ANOTHER REVIEW: “The Vaza Crianza is fresh and fruit forward with attractive dark red fruit notes. While modestly concentrated, it is very pleasant drinking, with dry firm tannins on the finish.”
International Wine Review, July 2014

WEB: www.HeredadCollection.com

3. Mia Red, NV, Spain. 14% ABV. $12.

This summer, I attended winemaker Gloria Collell’s launch of her Mia brand in Ft. Lauderdale, and I tried a number of sparkling and still wines that evening that were all marvelous and approachable. And this one is another Tempranillo that wasn’t aged in oak! However, in this case, unlike the Cosecha (#1), I wasn’t surprised–it has a softness and purity that is appealing.

Dark violet. Clean cherry aroma. Full of fruit and brilliance. Mouth-filling, beautifully soft wine with the most pleasant and rich cherry taste ever. With 14 g/l residual sugar, this would be characterized as off-dry, although it doesn’t come across as “sweet” at all.

Winemaker Gloria Collell writes:

“Mia red highlights all the qualities of Spain’s classic grape variety–Tempranillo. As I wanted the pureness of the grape to shine through, the wine isn’t barrelled in oak.

“The colour of the wine is a deep ruby red with a slightly violet blue touch, which is typical of a young Tempranillo. And if you put a glass of our red to your nose, you can smell a real earthiness, plus hints of plums, violets and even orange.

“When you come to taste it, I think you’ll find the wine rich and fruity, with hints of plum and red berries. It’s a little spicy as well and has a taste that lingers in the mouth.

“I think my Mia red is perfect to drink with white meat, beef and lamb, as well as pasta and vegetables. You can also enjoy drinking it slightly chilled if you prefer.”

WEB: www.MiaWines.com

Of these three Tempranillos that I enjoyed last night and tonight, it was difficult to select a favorite, as all of them had tremendous appeal and differences. And if you can’t find any of these three wines, I would also recommend any vintage of Marques de Riscal, because every vintage has been delicious and a little different, and the wine is easy to find anywhere, even in higher-end grocery stores. Samples sent for review.


Posted in Spain, Tempranillo, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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

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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