Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Trio From Spain's Gonzalez Byass

In 1835 at only 23 years old Manuel María González Ángel founded the precursor to Gonzalez Byass creating the Tío Pepe (Uncle Joe) sherry brand inspired by his uncle uncle, José Ángel. In fact the winery’s foundational solera is still inscribed with “Solera del Tío Pepe”. Nearly ten years into his operation Manuel united with his English Agent Robert Blake Byass to form González Byass as they shipped "exceptionally pale..." Tío Pepe wine to the United Kingdom. Together they built the company to be the leading exporter of sherry wines in Jerez.  González Byass focused exclusively on sherry until the 1980's when they started incorporating wineries from other notable Spanish wine regions into the corporate umbrella. These included Bodegas Beronia - D.O.Ca. Rioja and Viñas del Vero - Somontano. And during the same period "the Byass family withdrew from the business and the winery passed into the hands of the direct descendants of Manuel María González". For this winter season we received three samples that will warm your palate.

Beronia Crianza 2015 ($14.99) & Beronia Reserva 2013 ($19.99)
Rioja is situated in the Ebro Valley hemmed to the north by the Cantabria mountain range and to the south by the Demanda range and creating an enclave for the eventual production of quality wines. Yet in ancient times it was inhabited by a Celtic tribe called Berones who called the area Beronia. In modern times (1973) as the region now know as Rioja became the preeminent Spanish wine producing region, members of a gastronomic society founded Bodegas Beronia -- which was eventually incorporated into the González Byass portfolio. The winery is specifically located in Rioja Alta -- the western most of the three major Rioja sub-regions -- and it's high elevation and Atlantic climate assists in the development of acidity, color and moderate alcohol levels. Like most of Rioja, the Tempranillo grape reigns supreme and is the majority grape in both these wines.  As expected, the Beronia Crianza was aged one year in oak and is excellent (what a value). Expect bright cherry fruit with slight black pepper and very comfortable tannins.  Reserva wines must spend three years aging with one of those in oak and the Beronia Reserva spent 20 months in various oak treatments and then aged an additional 18 months in bottle.The wine is darker where the fruit and dirt mingle with black pepper and expect more depth and noticeable tannins. Nicely done.

Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2010 ($39.99)
"Viñas del Vero owes its name to a river in the Somontano district of Spain. The source of the Vero river lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and it is famous for its ravines, canyons and gorges. The Secastilla valley lies at the far north-eastern limits of Somontano, nestling half way between the two main roads that link Somontano to the Pyrenees. It enjoys a special Mediterranean microclimate that is quite distinct from that of the rest of the region and is ideal from growing vines and olive and almond trees". Garnacha is just one of several Spanish and International grape varieties planted at Viñas del Vero and is the sole grape in the Secastilla. Even though the wine was only aged eight months in oak, it is very complex with dense cherries, spices and chocolate floating through various depths and lingering tannins.  This is a delicious wine - if your ready to splurge - it comes highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Settle Down Easy with Local #VACraftBeer

There are now 266 brewery tasting rooms in the Commonwealth and sadly we have now only visited our 65th in the #VABreweryChallenge. The latest is quite close to home, the recently opened Settle Down Easy Brewing Co. (SDE). Located in Falls Church, the brewery's name is derived from lyrics in the Grateful Dead song Ramble on Rose -- but not so fast. Odell Brewing Company had trademarks rights from their Settle Down Brown, yet in a rare sign of trademark fellowship, granted the new proprietors rights to the name.

There were two positive aspects I noticed when entering the brewery. The first was its spacious and open floor plan that allows visitors to flow easily between tables and the bar. Plus it provided an extensive view the brewing equipment.  The second was the two British-styled beers that were listed on the color-coded tasting wall. English styles seem to be overlooked within the current craft beer market but SDE was pouring the Gallows Pale Ale and the Do Yourself a Favor Porter. I wonder if Head Brewer Henry Jager perfected these recipes at his stints at Twisted Pine Brewing Company and Heavy Seas Brewing. They are excellent examples of each style.

The brewery's overall portfolio is expansive with several hopped beers to meet the current IPA fever. There are multiple IPAs, a Dry Hopped Kolsch, and a hopped Martian Monster Red.  They also offer experiments with honey with the Sweet Scoville Sting Honey Jalapeno Ale (it has a kick) and the Raspberry Ramble Raspberry Honey Ale (aroma-centric and tart). But if the Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout is available on nitro, don't leave without a taste.

And as always these breweries can be visited easily using theCompass Craft Beverage Finder. Sorry iPhone 11 iOS and iPhones 5S and greater users. Cheers.

Monday, December 3, 2018

From Vitis sylvestris to Tempranillo & Garnacha in Spain's Vinos D.O. Navarra

"The first records of winemaking in the region date back to ancient Roman times, but grapes were almost certainly thriving here long before that. Vines of the prehistoric Vitis sylvestris species – predecessor of the cherished Vitis vinifera – have recently been discovered still growing in Navarra. After the Romans, grape-growing continued under the Moors, and was then greatly expanded under Christian rule. Demand for wine was strengthened by Catholics making the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago to the shrine (now a cathedral) in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, where tradition has it that the remains of the Apostle St. James are buried.", Wine-searcher.com

These ancient vines most likely found refuge on the Iberian Peninsula during the Ice Age and gradually retreated from alien varieties with  successive Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Arab and Crusader populations (Vine to Wine Circle). But fascinatingly, some Vitis sylvestris still flourish today  - particularly in Navarra, one of Spain's 17 first-level administrative regions, located just north of Rioja in north-central Spain.

This region has a Mediterranean climate that is moderated by its proximity to the Bay of Biscay (Atlantic Ocean) in the northwest, the Pyrenees in the northeast, and the Ebro River.  It gained its DO status in 1933, but because of its diversity also includes five sub-zones: Baja Montana in the northeast, Valdizarbe in the north, Tierra Estella in the northeast, Ribera Alta in the center, north of the Ebro, and Ribera Baja in the south below the river. A small section of Navarra is classified as Rioja DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada).

Traditionally, Navarra has been strongly associated with its rosé wine (rosado), with Garnacha producing the best examples. However in the 1980’s, the official state laboratory of Navarra (EVENA) deducted that red wine blends were the future of the region and Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot were widely planted.

We recently received four red wines from Vinos D.O. Navarra which showcase the powerful and elegant nature of their two most popular grape varieties:  Tempranillo and Garnacha.  The first is considered the "great ambassador" of Spanish wines and accounts for 33% of grape plantings in Navarra whereas Garnacha (indigenous to the Ebro Valley) accounts for 23%. 

Bodegas Ochoa Crianza 2014 ($23)
Javier Ochoa has been producing this 100% Tempranillo wine since 1987 from grapes sourced from their Santa Cruz estate. One year aging in American Oak plus some rounding in the bottles provides a medium bodied texture wit fresh sour cherries, dense dirt and chewy tannins.

Senorio de Sarria Crianza 2013 ($17)
This wine has the least amount of the Spanish noble grapes as it is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% each Graciano and Garnacha. The grapes were sourced from vineyards planted in limestone and marl near the town of Puente la Reina -- "the crossroads of the ways" -- a medieval town where the two main routes on the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago de Compostela converge. After fermentation the blended wine was aged 12 months in American oak that shows oaked vanilla and spices along with a juicy and earthy character that finishes with smooth tannins. 

Bodegas Nekeas El Chaparral Old Vine Garnacha 2016 ($14)
This winery is located in the sub-zone Valdizarbe and this 100% Garnacha comes from vines planted 70+ years ago. The hillside vineyard consists of porous marl and sandstone and benefits from large diurnal temperature swings - slowing growth and enhancing acidity. After fermentation the wine was aged five months in French oak providing some vanilla and spices to this bright, fruit forward wine. 

Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin La Cantera 2016 ($12)
This estate was founded in 1988 and the Garnacha is sourced from 70 year old vines on the La Cantera vineyard. "La Canera" translates to "quarry" which describes the vineyard's rocky and poor soil where vines must root deeply in order to produce even its low yields. Combined with 15% Sauvignon Blanc, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel then aged six months in French oak and 6 months in the bottle before release. This is a jammy wine, fill of bright dark fruit, noticeable tannins, and finishes very clean.