Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Tastemakers Table Presents Rías Baixas Albariño

I've been infatuated with Albarino wine since last year's WineStudio's foray into DO Rías Baixas - Spain's unique Galician wine region. Unlike most of Spain, this region is lush with greenery that is fed from 71 inches of annual rainfall. The white Albariño grape dominates DO Rías Baixas with 90% of grape production. And what fantastically fresh, acidic, and minerally driven wines they represent. At a recent Tastemakers Table tasting of Rias Baixas Albarino held at the Succotash Restaurant in National Harbor Maryland, Mark Oldman, author of How to Drink Like a Billionaire!, stressed the reliability and authenticity of these wines and is his number one alternative to Chardonnay.


The DO Rías Baixas encompasses five distinct sub-regions. Ribeira do Ulla is the newest (formed in 2000) and is the most northern region. Val do Salnés is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape. This is the original and oldest sub-region and it's fingers reach out into the Atlantic.  Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-regions where the soil is light and sandy over granite bedrock. Condado do Tea (The County of Tea) is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River which separates the border with Portugal, and is the warmest and driest region. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.

And I'm started to prefer wines from this last region: O Rosal. Their wine contain similar levels of acidity as their brethren but seem to have an enhanced salinity beyond that generated by the granite soils as well as a more rounded profile and floral notes. This preference may have risen from the two O Rosal wines at the Tastemakers Table session which were blends and not 100% Albarino.  The 2015 Santiago Ruiz ($20) for instance is a blend of Albarino, Loueiro, Treixadura, Godello, and Caino Blanco - all indigenous grapes to the region. And the 2015 Terras Gauda ($24), which was my overall favorite, is a blend of Albarino, Caino Blanco, and Loueiro. 

There were also a few 100% Albarino at the tasting that impressed our group. The 2015 Pazo De Señoráns ($21) is highly recommended. The winery is is located in the Salnés Valley and is fresh citrus and saline with abundant acids. Also from that region, the 2015 Martín Códax ($15) has similar acidity but a fuller body as it sits five months on its lees. Interestingly this winery is a co-op of 600 family vineyards. Finally, the 2016 Bodegas As Laxas ($20) hits all the notes from their Condado do Tea grapes: heavy peach fruit, high acids, and plenty of minerality. Nicely done.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Columbia Valley Red -- Men From The Boys

Recently I received a sample of the Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Columbia Valley Red ($40), a collaboration between Dennis Cakebread (yes, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Cakebread Cellars) and winemaker Aryn Morell.  Evidently Dennis Cakebread was drawn to the high quality wine produced in Washington's Walla Walla Valley and wanted to be part of that wine community. This wine is a Bordeaux styled blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Malbec sourced from three separate vineyards: Seven Hills Vineyard, Lawrence Vineyard, and Stillwater Creek Vineyard.

And the winery's name arises from an interesting historical fact related to the area. Lieutenant John Mullan was "an American soldier, explorer, civil servant, and road builder". In the mid 1800s he explored western Montana and Idaho, discovered the Mullan Pass over the Continental Divide, and "led the construction crew which built the Mullan Road -- the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains to the inland of the Pacific Northwest. Mullan's engineering and surveying was so efficient that modern-day Interstate 15 and Interstate 90 follow the route rather precisely through present-day Montana, Idaho, and Washington. And as a result of the Mullan Road, by 1870, Walla Walla had become the largest town in Washington Territory with a population of 1,394.

While sipping the wine I was reminded of a new song by Phoebe Legere, Men From The Boys, from her Heart of Love release. Like John Mullan, the Mullan Road Cellars 2014 Columbia Valley Red has the "real stuff" - it's sturdy, firm, and will stand out without being overbearing.  There's plenty of dark dried fruit and dust, sturdy tannins, and a long smooth finish -- all which "separates the men from the boys" - or in this case separates this wine among among many others. While the Mullan Road Columbia Valley Red lures you in with it's manliness,  Legere entices with her sexy vocals. And cheers to "guts and hearts".

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Is the Public Ready for Canned Wine?

During last week's U.S. Wine & Beverage Industry Expo (USBevX), wine packaged in cans was noticeably present at the event's trade show. The benefits of can packaging are significant: lower production and transportation costs, protection from light, and increased consumer flexibility. All reasons which help explain why canned beer is becoming the industry standard in the craft beer world.  But will that standard translate to the wine industry or will it remain somewhat of a gimmick?

It all depends on consumer preferences. On one hand there is evidence that consumers will accept alternative packages and closures. As stated above canned craft beer is a viable option among beer consumers and wine consumers have eagerly accepted the screw-cap closures. According to this Freedonia study, wine consumers are also seeking more flexibility in single serving options and alternative packing.  And the canning industry is adding additional flexibility by developing a resealable can for containers larger than single servings.

But will will this translate into greater market share?  The percentage of  boxed wine in the marketplace is growing, but it's overall volume is still minuscule as compared to bottled wine.  Although I wish them well, I believe canned wine (like box wine) will be hampered by the perception of quality. Or lack thereof. Yes, there are examples of tasty wines within each category - but the overall consumer impression is negative. And that will most likely not change based on the wines I sampled at USBevX.

Starting with the positive, the two rosé wines -- RUZA Lodi Rosé and Underwood Oregon Rosé -- were tasty, although the Underwood seemed somewhat extracted. And the Francis Coppola Winery SOFIA Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine is a very nice option. This 70% Pinot Blanc, 15% Riesling, 15% Muscat blend receives it's carbonation using the Charmat tank fermentation method.  Plus a straw is included so the ladies won't lose any lipstick.

That being said, when possible, please pour canned wine into a glass. Not only will you be better able to appreciate well made wine, you will be in a better position to identify flawed wine. That's exactly what happened while sampling the Backpack Snappy White. From the can it was okay, but pouring into the glass allowed us to identify multiple flaws starting with a pungent aroma that the can had suppressed. Another disappointment was The Infinite Monkey Theorem Red Wine. While I'm a fan of their Colorado made wines, I couldn't get past the light carbonation in this California sourced wine. Is the carbonation necessary?  And the final red wine (that I can't recall it's name) was so flabby and nondescript that we had to liven it with Oak Wise liquid oak. It transformed into a tasteful wine after that.

Thus be careful when choosing your canned wine. Many outlets allow you to purchase in singles so experiment to find the quality offerings. Cheers.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Standing Solo with Noam Pikelny's Universal Favorite and the Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

Today (March 3rd) Grammy nominated banjoist Noam Pikelny newest solo album, Universal Favorite dropped. Released by Rounder Records, this is not your typical solo effort - in fact, that's exactly what it is - just Pikelny and his banjo. No supporting cast; and this simplicity creates a fantastic album. My favorite track is his interpretation of the Josh Ritter <-> <->Mississippi John Hurt Folk Bloodbath. Pikelny's soft vocals and picking provide a heartfelt rendition of the Ritter's popular song. His deadpan baritone vocals on Old Banjo, My Tears Don't Show, and Sweet Sunny South glide the lyrics in accompany with the banjo's melody.  What took him so long to step in front of the mic?  The instrumentals are classic Pikelny showing a range of sound coaxed from his banjo. Never a dull moment. You can listen to these songs right now as they are streaming at Garden and Gun Magazine.

And grab a bottle of the 2015 Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Estate Chardonnay ($15) before listening. This wine's simple, yet classic flavor, mimics Universal Favorite. It was also one of my favorites during the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association excursion at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference, where it was served at the dinner with 5th generation winemaker Karl Wente at Concannon Vineyard. The wine is named for the "morning coastal fog pushed by Pacific wind streams into the bowl of the San Francisco Bay and lured inland by Livermore Valley’s unique East-West orientation".  This daily condition helps add freshness and acidity to the wine, while the soils and clonal variants add minerality, and the wine making process - creamy texture. Like the album this wine starts simply, but the underlying acids, texture, and minerals provides elements that are normally not present at this price. Well done.

For those in the DC area Pikelny is scheduled for Wolf Trap on March 29th (solo, not with the Punch Brothers). Too bad its not at the Filene Center, then I'd bring a bottle or two of the Morning Fog. Cheers.