Friday, December 29, 2023

Exploring Exotic Spirits at Stoutridge Distillery & Winery

It looks like we will finish 2023 visiting just over 180 craft beverage establishments. A recent sampling of the unique portfolio at Stoutridge Distillery & Winery was one of the highlights of the year. The establishment was founded in 2006 by Stephen Osborn and Kimberly Wagner who converted a historic farm they had purchased five years earlier to a licensed winery. The farmhouse dates back to the mid-1800s and was originally built by Italian immigrants. In 1902, Vincenzo Marino purchased the property and produced wine commercially until his death in March 1919. But, because of Prohibition and neglect, the farmhouse and vineyards were in ruins by the turn of the century. 

The winery started producing natural (without sulfates or other chemicals) wine using locally grown fruit and using a state-of-the-art, gravity-flow system. In 2017, they expanded into distilling small-batch spirits, and not only distilling, but malting and kilning the grain. In fact, "Stoutridge is one of eight distilleries in America to do its own malting and the ONLY Distillery in the U.S. with a traditional Scottish style kilning floor."

During our visit I was tempted to start with their wine particularly since they source interested native and hybrid grapes such as Frontenac, Noiret, DeChaunac, Seyval, and Niagra, as well as a N.Y. Riesling. But then I saw their spirits portfolio of approximately 75 expressions comprised of Rye Whiskey, Malt Whiskey, Corn Whiskey, Bottled-In-Bond Whiskeys, Brandy, Whiskey-Brandy blends, Grappa, Eau de Vie, Vodka, Gin, Fernet & other bitters, Absinthe, Mastic, and Liqueurs.  Where to start? We decided to skip the whisky, vodka, and gin in order to plow into the exotic. 

Vincent Grappa: A traditionally made grappa, distilled from the skins of Hudson Valley grapes fermented for two months. This method produces incredible aromatic intensity (think of perfume) from both the concentrated natural oils of the grape skins and the myriad fermentation flavors. Named after Vincente Morano who made wine on our site from 1901 to 1919.  We purchased a bottle of this spirit because I felt out of all the expressions we tried, it seemed to hold a sense of place combining the wine and distillery operations. It's also a very agreeable grappa with a full mouthfeel and textured finish. 

Slivovitz: 100 proof plum brandy from locally harvested fruit. We use five kinds of plums in making this spirit to maximize it’s complexity. Slow distilled at high proof captures the complexity but yields a clean spirit that’s very smooth even over-proofed.  With an affinity for Eastern European Palinka, Rakija, and Slivovitz we were instantly attracted to this spirit and the plum character starts immediately and the nose and continues until the long, slightly rugged finish. 

Kirschwasser: 100 proof cherry brandy (kirsch) from locally harvested fruit. We use four kinds of cherries, harvested at varying levels of ripeness in making this spirit to maximize it’s complexity. Slow distilled at high proof captures the complexity but yields a clean spirit that’s very smooth even over-proofed. Delightful. The cherries hold up to the alcohol very easily.

The Damascene: We've added the perfect nuances of cardamom, angelica and white sage to our pot distiller locally grown field blend plum brandy. With a touch of sugar the result is a simply spectacular style of Slivovitz. A very interesting take on Slivovitz and very close to a Croatian Travarica.  With a larger budget I think I would have returned home with a bottle. 

Fernet: Our Fernet is a mint bittersweet liqueur in the Italian style. Developed to express our love of wintergreen and spearmint, but also to adhere to classic proportions of an amaro. This Fernet is a great replacement for bitters in any cocktail recipe. We offer this at 92 proof in order to give the spirit an elegance that is lost at lower proofs. I was excited to try this bitter  and I could envision slowly sipping and not just using in a cocktail. Love the mint profile. 

Quartarium Seed: Our venture into Absinthe production was the inspirational seed of so many flavor projects! Here we celebrate our success in competitions with a Swiss style 'Verte' made from 100% grape spirits in a wooden pot still of our design. This one has more hyssop flower and less artemis pontica.  This really incentivizes an exploration into Absinthe particularly through the several expressions available at Stoutridge. Just a few drops of water and the flavors pop. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The 'A's of Alentejo Wine Masterclass

is Portugal's largest viticultural zone and covers much of Portugal’s southern half, spanning the flatlands below the Tejo River down to Portugal's southern Atlantic Coast. It accounts for 13% of Portugal's area under vine and 18% of wine production. Alentejo incorporates eight sub-viticultural zones (from north to south: Portalegre, Borba, Évora, Redondo, Reguengos, Granja-Amareleja, Vidigueira, & Moura). 

The climate is hot and dry with both a Continental and Mediterranean climate with winters exceptionally cold whereas spring and summer are dry and hot. The region experiences high levels of sunshine in the growing season -- over 3,000 hours annually. also shares that the "Alentejo is broadly flat with hilly areas dotted across its zone. Major mountainous or hilly regions across the area include the Serra de São Mamede (1025m) on the border with Spain at the very northeastern end of the area, and the Serra de Portel (421m) and the Serra d’Ossa (649m), both in the central east".

Portugal has one of the most expansive number of native grape varieties at close to 250, which is the highest density of native grapes per square mile of any country in the world. These grapes are also reflected in Alentejo with the native Antão Vaz, Arinto, and Alfrocheiro joining the international varieties Aragonez (Tempranillo) and Alicante Bouschet as major players. 

These Alentejo wine facts were stressed during a recent Masterclass presented by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein titled The 'A's of Alentejo. During the presentation we sipped six wines, each representing an "A" fact about the region. The wines were part of a Master the World wine kit of small bottles.

Antão Vaz - The Grape
This is the most dominate white grape in Alentejo and most prevalent in the Vidigueira and Reguengos sub-regions. The berries are loosely clustered and thick skinned providing disease resistance and they are also able to cope with drought-like conditions. In general it can provide stone and tropical fruit notes, various nuts, minerality, and ripe citrus. These characteristics were prevalent in the Herdade de Malhadinha Nova Antão Vaz da Malhadinha Branco 2022 ($30) with tropical, tangly lemons, cashews, and racing minerality. 

Although Alentejo is predominately flat, there are areas of significant height that provides important micro-climate benefits. In the northern region of Portalegre, vines planted on on steep slopes at close to 2,500 feet in the Serra de São Mamede benefit from lower temperatures and higher levels of humidity, yielding fresh, elegant wines.  This was evident in the Quinta da Fonte Souto Branco 2021 ($29), a blend of 75% Arinto and 25% Verdelho and aged in various oak treatments. The grapes were harvested from two vineyards located at 1,640 feet. The wine is excellent with a creamy, generous mouthfeel; stone fruits; and a lasting somewhat chewy and tannic finish.  

The Phoenicians introduced viticulture into Portugal 2,500 years ago as well as the use of clay pots in the winemaking process. These talhas de barro or amphorae hold up to 520 gallons of wine and can be as large as seven-feet in height, and weigh a ton. The clay pots are lined with Pez - a mix of pine resin and beeswax to make the clay impenetrable. Unlike the Georgian process, amphora in Alentejo are stored above ground and are moistened during the fermentation process to lower temperatures.  During this segment we sampled the Jose Maria da Fonseca Jose de Sousa 2017 ($19), a blend of Grand Noir, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional.  It is dry, jammy with cherry and plums and a jolting tannic structure that mellows as the wine settles in the glass. 

Alentejano Blends
Red blends comprise a large percentage of Alentejo output and the Fitapreta Tinto 2021 ($27) was appointed as their representative. This wine was fermented using native yeasts an is a blend of four grape varieties featuring primarily Aragonez (Tempranillo) and Alicante Bouschet. Expect a dry wine with loads of dark plum flavors interspersed with earthy tones and a chewy-tannic finish. 

In 2015, the Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Program (WASP) was created to identify and certify sustainable farming and winemaking practices. Today the certification includes 171 criteria which 651 members have met. These criteria include reducing pesticides and other chemicals, conserving water,  soil management, and worker wellbeing. Casa Agricole Alexandre Relvas is WASP certified and dedicates a portion of its land to preserve local endangered plant species.  We sipped a wine from their first label, the Herdade de São Miguel Colheita Seleccionada Tinto 2018 ($16). This another four grape red blend dominated by Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional and is fresh and vibrant with a bright cherry nose, fresh fruit, and a long acidic finish. 

Alicante Bouschet
Although not indigenous to Portugal it has found a home accounting for 2% of all Portuguese plantings and ranking #8 for all reds. The grape thrives in Alentejo, particularly in Vidigueira and Reguengos, and is the second most planted red grape after Aragonez. It produced dense wines with dark fruit, pepper, smoke, and abundant tartness and astringency.  The Herdade de Rocim Alicante Bouschet 2021 ($23) is drinkable now but will benefit with more age as the licorice and tart, astringent, and tannic characters mellow into juicy dark fruit. 

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Wines with Altitude: Domaine Bousquet Part II - The Ameri Label

In Wines with Altitude: Domaine Bousquet Part I, we discussed these estate vineyards 4,000 feet above sea level in Gualtallary within the Tupungato mountain range. To repeat, "In this environment, rainfall is scant, sunshine is plentiful, and the desert-like climate creates a massive 59° F day/night temperature differential. The area also has poor stony and alluvial soils that are interlaced with layers of sand and limestone. This diverse combination creates free-draining soils that, due to the already mentioned limited water availability, stress the vines.  The grapes react to these conditions by increasing skin tannins, concentrating flavor, and retaining acidity and aromas". 

Today Domain Bousquet is managed by founder's Jean Bousquet's son-in-law and daughter: Labid al Ameri & Anne Bousquet. al Ameri had joined his father-in-law full time in 2005 helping to build the winery while Anne joined the company in 2008. "In 2009, the couple moved to Tupungato full-time, assuming full ownership in 2011".

We were very fortunate to receive samples of two wines from their premium label, Ameri -- sourced from fruit from the Bousquet Estate Vineyard. Both of these wines are certified organic which has been the case for this vineyard since the winery's inception in 1997. 

Earlier this year the couple started the three-year transition to fully biodynamic farming even though they have also earned the Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC)™ status from the 501(c)3 Regenerative Organic Alliance. Thus, Domaine Bousquet became one of only four wineries achieve this status to date, and the first outside the United States to meet ROC™’s stringent requirements that pertains to food/produce, fiber, and botanical ingredients. The other three wineries are Fetzer Vineyards (CA), Tablas Creek Vineyard (CA) and Troon Vineyard (OR).

"The California-based Regenerative Organic Alliance (motto: “Farm like the world depends on it,”) has adopted USDA Organic standards as a baseline. ROC™ requires certification in three areas: soil health and land management, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness. Sensibly, potential members apply existing certifications from blue chip organizations such as Demeter, Certified Fair Trade, and Certified Humane, among others, to meet requirements. "

To repeat, the fruit for both the Ameri Red Blend and Ameri Malbec are certified organic and from vines first planted in the Bousquet Estate Vineyard in 1998. The vineyard is located in the Uco Valley’s Alto Gualtallery zone at an altitude of about 4,125 feet. The  Ameri Red Blend debuted with the 2011 vintage and bottles have been numbered since 2018. The blend is Malbec dominant followed by different percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot.  According to the winery,  the "Ameri Malbec is a new development, starting with the 2019 vintage when Domaine Bousquet winemaker Rodrigo Serrano determined that the Ameri Red Blend component wines were presenting so well that the time had come to showcase them individually, starting with the Malbec".

Ameri Red Blend 2020 ($37)
The wine starts with an earthy, barnyard, and mint aroma. Blackberries, chocolate cherries, and sharp tannins dissolve into a chewy, pleasant finish.

Ameri Malbec 2020 ($37)
The wine melts throughout the mouth, spreading evenly and relaxes the body. Seriously, a relaxing sensation. Cherry flavors pop with pieces of chocolate finishing with light approachable tannins.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Masciarelli d'Abruzzo Masterclass with Miriam Lee Masciarelli

For the last few months we have been fortunate to receive several samples from the Abruzzo producer Masciarelli and have written multiple posts concentrating on Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, and their Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo. Last week we received a personal overview of the winery and their wines through the daughter of the founders, Miriam Lee Masciarelli.  Her father Gianna founded the winery in the early 1980's and we learned during the masterclass that during an early trip to Croatia searching for Slavonian oak barrels he returned with her mother Marina Cvetić instead. When Gianna  died suddenly in 2008, Marina took over the winery's management and today shares that responsibility with Miriam Lee.

Loreto Aprutino Vineyard, Pescara
(photo courtesy of Masciarelli) 

During the masterclass Ms. Masciarelli discussed the history and innovations established by Masciarelli Winery such as the introduction of the Guyot training system in Abruzzo and the use of French oak barrels to age Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  Also, the heart of the Cerasuolo DOC lies in a area first sourced by Gianni in 1986 for a Rosato wine. Finally, Masciarelli was also the first winery in Abruzzo to produce a reserve-level Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (1984) which they continue to produce today from the original 12-acre Colle Cave “home vineyard,” dating back to 1930.

We sampled this lineage through the 2018 Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva ($98) and quickly understood the sticker shock. The Riserva is only produced in the best of harvests and fermented in stainless steel. The wine is then aged for five to six years in new French barriques, then more aging in the bottle. This is both a luscious and elegant wine with dark fruit, earthiness, and cocoa on the nose. The structured center is full bodied, with dark cherries and slight spice and chocolate. The tannins are very approachable and the finish lingers and lingers....

Masciarelli is also the only Abruzzo producer with vineyards in all four Abruzzo provinces (Chieti, Pescara, Teramo, l’Aquila) and Ms. Masciarelli discussed the geographic attributes of each regarding soil, climate, and temperatures. The southernmost Province of Chieti is their primary source of grapes and is host to the home San Martino sulla Marrucina estate - the source of the above Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva - as well as three other vineyards.  

San Martino sulla Marrucina Vineyard, Chieti
(photo courtesy of Masciarelli)
"In the northernmost part of the province of Chieti, the landscape is more arid, whereas in the south it is smoother and full of small scattered settlements. A large part of the Majella massif, which is the second highest mountain of the Apennines chain after the Gran Sasso d’Italia, is also located in the province of Chieti. After the limestone peaks, the landscape of the rolling hills at the foot of the Apennines is characterized by extraordinary phenomena, such as the impressive ravines."

The Province of Pescara lies just north of Chieti and is the home of the Loreto Aprutino vineyard, which looks up to the Calderone glacier on top of Gran Sasso. The 2022 Villa Gemma Abruzzo Bianco DOC ($24) is a blend of 50% Trebbiano, 30% Pecorino, 20% Cococciola where some of the grapes are derived from this vineyard and the rest from Chieti. What I find most interesting about this wine is the distinct lime profile that Ms. Masciarelli attributed to the Cococciola grape. The variety also contributed herbaceous to the nose, whereas the Pecorino provides minerality and a fruit/floral balance. A truly unique, refreshing, and satisfying wine. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo DOC with the Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC Superiore

Cerasuolo (chair-ah-swolo) translates loosely to "cherry-colored” in Italian and refers to Italian rosés in general. However the Abruzzo province is one of the few appellations in Italy exclusively dedicated to rosé, the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC. This designation was established in 2010 and mandates that 85-100% of the rosé wine consist of Montepulciano and the remaining percentage be filled with local white grapes. Montepulciano's dark color and tannins give the rosatos body with characters of cinnamon, orange peel, strawberry, rose and a mineral acidity. 

We received a sample of Cerasuolo from Masciarelli, a leading producer in Abruzzo and the producer with vineyards in all four provinces (Chieti, Pescara, Teramo, l’Aquila). The winery has been producing a rosato since 1986 and  Villa Gemma is their flagship line from  winemaker Gianni Masciarelli. The Montepulciano grapes for the Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC Superiore ($20) were harvested from 30 year old vines from the San Martino sulla Marrucina estate in Chieti, destemmed and macerated on their skins for 24 hours, before fermentation in stainless steel.  This rosato has exceptional texture and body with raspberries, pomegranate, and herbaceous aromas followed by a full red raspberry profile enveloped with minerality and subtle mint and finishing with refreshing acids. 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir through Crosby Roamann

The illustrious Anderson Valley is located in the rolling hills of the northern California coastal region of Mendocino County, 110 miles northwest of San Francisco. It is the wine country we all used to know – approachable, intimate, uncrowded, and primarily owner-operated. -- Anderson Valley Wines

The Anderson Valley AVA encompasses a very narrow, low lying region situated ten miles from the Pacific and at the very northern end of California's prime winegrowing area. It is only one mile wide and 15 miles long covering approximately 57,600 acres (23,300ha) of vines. It is amongst the coolest of California's wine regions where the valley is positioned to allow ocean breezes and fog to cool the area. Rain is plentiful, particularly in the cooler months of November through to March. These conditions forced early commercial wineries into planting Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Riesling where in 1982, these three grapes accounted for 400 of the 582 acres then planted.  However, during the next decade and into the new millennium, growers increasingly experimented with Pinot Noir clones and soon that variety became a dominant force within the AVA. These clones could ripen reliably in the cool Anderson Valley climate particularly during it's hot days and cold nights.  

Crosby Roamann is a Napa Valley with an estate in Los Carneros but that also source's grapes from a range of AVAs for their Single Vineyard label.  The winery was founded by vintners Sean and Juliana McBride who produced their first Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in 2007 at a custom crush facility. Soon Sean was working harvests at White Rock Vineyards and learning winemaking under Christopher Vandendriessche. He spent five years at White Rock while simultaneously making wine at Michael Mondavi’s FOLIO winery for three of these years. In 2015, the couple opened Crosby Roamann in the Crusher District with the estate in Los Carneros.

While sourcing fruit from other regions, the playfully "redub" the vineyard's name to reflect ancient and modern Irish girl names based on Sean’s Irish heritage and their twin daughters. For instance the "Fiadh" for the Fiadh Vineyard in Anderson Valley refers to an Irish girl's name meaning "wild" and "untamed".  This "one-acre block of Dijon Pinot Noir clones is just outside the town of Boonville on the south end of the valley – a warmer climate for Pinot. Biodynamically farmed, the vines grow in a wild yet zen spot on clay silt loam, and grapes are harvested in early September". 

The 2019 Fiadh Vineyard Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($38) is a bright and medium bodied wine starting with a sweet cherry aroma with a bit of black pepper that leads to a pleasant herbaceous and dark cherry profile.  The oak influences of vanilla are present but allow the fruit to dominate.  The finish provides enough tannins and acidity to lift the wine and allow for a lingering finale. A very nice wine. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Catalonia Cariñena (Samsó)

Carignan (Cariñena in Spain) is a black-skinned wine grape variety, most likely native to Aragon. The variety is found in wines along the Mediterranean coast, particularly in northeastern Spain and in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region. It is used most commonly for blending with many of the region's other key varieties – most famously Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. In Spain the best Cariñena wines are found in the acclaimed Priorat region and in Catalonia it is often labeled as Samsó. Often found blended with the more plush Garnacha, Cariñena makes up just under a quarter of plantings (of red wine varieties) in the area.

Carignan prefers warm, dry climates when the grape can express high tannins, acid and color. This makes it an excellent addition to red wine blends that have plenty of aroma and flavor, but lack body and depth of color. Carignan is only rarely made as a varietal wine, but the best examples can show characteristics of dark and black fruits, pepper, licorice, and spicy and savory accents.

Carignan is usually grown as bush vines, many of which are very old and require hand-harvesting as the vines' stems are too tough for machines. It is a late-ripening variety that is known to produce high yields if not properly cropped. This was once considered an attractive attribute of the grape but, as this can make it difficult to achieve good flavor concentration, it also led to it falling out of favor. (

For a broader view of Catalonia Wines please read Catalan Wines USA Master Class -- Catalunya's Grapes, Designations, and Wine-making History.  During this tasting there were three expressions of 100% Cariñena poured all representing a different Catalonia appellation. 

Cellar Masroig is a century old winery located in Priorat County in the DO Montsant. This is a mountainous region known for their red wines and the owners of Cellar Masroig asserts that Cariñena is the foundation of their wines. Their Cellar Masroig Sola Fred 2022 ($15) is 100% Carignan and aged six months in stainless steel showing a bright fruit, very fruit forward, with a vibrant mouthfeel and refreshing acidity.  

Molí Parellada was founded in 1987 in the town of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia (near Barcelona) as El Xamfra -- specializing in cava production. In 2016, they opened a second winery in the town of Torrelavit in the DO Penedes. Since the new winery was built within an old paper mill, the new cellar was named Molí Parellada.  Second generation Francisco Domínguez is now the winermaker and CEO and has envisioned the large expansion of production in both cava and still wines. The Molí Parellada Alabrent 2022 ($36) - is one of these still wines, made from 100% Samsó which is interestingly aged six months in a locust tree barrel. The wine has a chewy structured mouthfeel full of slightly spicy sour cherries and other red fruit which carries through the long finish. Imported by 

In 1985, Tomàs Cusiné Barber started making wine at the family-owned Castell del Remei winery, started the Cérvoles winery in 1997, and the Tomàs Cusiné winery in 2003.  All three within the borders of the DO Costers Del Segre. This is a dry, semi-arid Continental climate featuring limestone and clay spoils and Catalonia's northernmost DO. The 30 hectares of vineyards he manages are organically or biodynamically farmed. These vines are planted in high elevations and result in the slower ripening of grapes, thicker skins, optimal acidity, and vibrant colors. This is the situation regarding the Finca Barqueres Carignan 2018 ($53)  -- 100% Cariñena harvested from a 1.5 hectare plot of old vine Cariñena. After fermentation, the wine is aged twelve months in French oak barriques. The wine is delicious, layers of stewed plums and tobacco, some spice, and an approachable finish. Excellent. Imported by Valkyrie Selections.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Louisiana Blanc Du Bois from Landry Vineyards

Pierce's disease is a bacterial disease caused by Xylella fastidiosa, which lives in the water-conducting system of grapevines and is spread from plant to plant by sap-feeding insects. Glassy-winged sharpshooter, an exotic plant pest, is a key vector. Symptoms of Pierce's disease in grapevines include leaf scorch, where leaves become yellow around the leaf margins or between the veins, and the outer leaf area may dry suddenly while the rest of the leaf remains green. Affected leaves are less vigorous and smaller than healthy leaves. 

Grape growers in the Southeast and Texas are susceptible to Pierce's disease primarily because of their humid climate. Native muscadine grapes are mostly resistant to the disease but not Vitis Viniferia or French Hybrids. Enter Blanc Du Bois. Researchers at the University of Florida’s Leesburg Research Station, began a program to create a new grape that was fully resistant to Pierce's disease. Led by Dr. John Mortenson, in 1968, the team was able to develop a complex hybrid grape from crossing a Florida-developed muscadine hybrid (Florida D 6-148) with the Cardinal (a Vitis vinifera L.) table grape. They called this new white grape Blanc Du Bois, after Emile DuBois, a noted grower who emigrated from France to the U.S. in 1882.  As a wine grape, it is known to create white wines with floral and citrus flavors with decent acidity. 

Blanc Du Bois is now found in parts of Texas as well as Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. In the Pelican State, Jeff Landry has been cultivating Blanc Du Bois since he founded Landry Vineyards in 1999. The winery and estate used to be located in eastern Louisiana, but moved post-Katrina to West Monroe, in north-central Louisiana, where the soils, hills and climate are more suitable to growing wine grapes. In the new estate, they cultivate 16 acres of vines, specializing in Blanc Du Bois, Lenoir/Black Spanish and Crimson Cabernet (I envision a few more spotlights).  Over the past 20 years, they have improved the quality of the their grapes through canopy management, cover crops, composting, leaf pulling, and other vineyard practices -- many from recommendation from Viticulturist, Fritz Westover.

I purchased this Landry Vineyards Louisiana Grown Blanc Du Bois ($13) while in Lafayette and this Louisiana Certified Craft Beverage is dry and flavorful with a floral aroma and citrus profile. There's also depth which hints at some type of oak treatment. Would only ask for a little more acidity - otherwise a pleasant wine at a very reasonable price. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Catalan Wines USA Master Class -- D.O. Cava

There was plenty of sparkling wine on display during the Catalan Wines USA Master Class & Wine Tasting last month.  For an overview of the region and Master Class, please see Catalan Wines USA Master Class -- Catalunya's Grapes, Designations, and Wine-making History. Here, we will focus on D.O. Cava and the many expressions poured at the event.

D.O. Cava encompasses multiple areas within Catalonia but is almost 95% within Penedès. It was established in 1991 and highlights the traditional home to this sparkling wine, although today Aragon, Navarra, Rioja, Pais Vasco, Valencia and Extremadura have specific Cava demarcated areas.  The traditional grape varieties used in Cava were Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir now also being used. "Macabeo makes up around half of a typical Cava blend – not because of its flavor (it is quite bland), but because it represents a viticultural insurance policy. Macabeo vines bud relatively late in the spring, ensuring that their flowers and grapes are safe from early frosts. The interesting, slightly earthy flavors that distinguish Cava from most Champagnes are generally attributed to Xarel-lo grapes".  --

Finca Ca n'Estella is a small, third generation operated, and family owned winery located northwest of Barcelona and based out of an 1800 winery and farmhouse. The estate is protected from the north winds by the Montserrat mountains and its proximity to the Mediterranean sea provides a temperate climate.  They poured the Cava Rabetllat i Vidal Brut Nature ($20) which is composed of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Macabeo, and 20% Xarel-lo. Winemaker Miquel Medall allowed this non-vintage Cava to mature two years in the bottle. The bready - yeasty aroma leads to tight effervescence due to the fine bubbles and a delicious dried fruit profile. 

Canals & Munné is another small winery located just outside of Barcelona that was founded in 1915 by Josep Canals Capellades, great-grandfather of the current oenologist Òscar Canals.  The winery's name arises from the union of Josep's son, Josep Mª Canals Casanovas and Dolors Torres Munné -  the parents of current manager Montserrat Canals Torres. They operate two wineries, the original 1915 facility dedicated to weekend wine tourism, and a newer facility located between the vineyards.  They poured a trio of sparkling wine starting with the Insuperable Brut ($16). This is a fresh and textured blend of Macabeu 40%, Xarel·lo 30% & Parellada 30% aged 25 months with a floral nose and a yeasty dried nuts profile. The Dionysus Brut Nature  ($18) is a blend of 30% Chardonnay, 60% Macabeo, and 10% Xarel-lo aged 22 months with another floral nose and a lengthy dry profile. Finally, the Lola Rose Pinot Noir – Brut ($25) is 100% Pinot Noir aged 20 months and has a delicious concentration of red fruits balanced with delicate and persistent bubbles. 

Castell d'Age poured a single Cava in the Anne Marie Brut Nature Reserva ($20). This is a non-vintage blend of 40% Xarel·lo, 40% Macabeu, & 20% Parellada that is aged a minimum of two years. The fruit from this delicious sparkling wine are grown in slate and clay-limestone soils from three estates located in the D.O. Penedès and situated on the southern slope of the Montserrat mountains. The winery is the result of three generations of woman, Aurèlia Figueras, daughter Anne Marie Comtesse who pioneered the introduction of organic farming, and granddaughter Olivia Junyent.

Covides is a cooperative that was founded in 1963 and is comprised of 600 grape growers across the Penedès region. These estates amount to over 2,000 hectares of vines spread out over 50 municipalities. The cooperative operates three winery facilities distributed evenly through Penedès to ameliorate the distances, means of transport, and transit time for the member growers. Since 2013, most of the vineyards are organically farmed and these vineyards cover the four major sub-terriors: Coastal Vineyards, Massif Vineyards (high active lime content ), Vineyards of the Plain, and High altitude vineyards. The Covides Vineyards Elocuente Brut ($12) is an excellent entry level sparkling wine, aged 13 months, with tight persistent bubbles providing a bready and fruity profile. The Covides Vineyards Elocuente Rosé ($13) is 100% Trepat -- an indigenous grape that is known to make fresh, berry-flavored sparkling wine. Exactly.  Duc de Foix is the Covides premium brand and the Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2017 ($50) is a stately blend of mostly Xarel·lo with lesser amounts of Macabeu and Parellada that is aged a minimum of 30 months in the bottle. There's abundant texture of toasted nuts with candied fruit and a long effervescent finish. 

One of my favorite sparkling wines was the Panot Gaudi Reserva Brut ($19) from Ferrer Wines. This is a blend of 40% Xarel·lo, 20% Macabeu, and 15% Chardonnay aged at least 18 months. It's intoxicating and not from the 11.5% alcohol; complex, tight bubbles, and lasting fruit and toasted bread.  This is probably what one would expect from Pedro Ferrer Noguer and one of the oldest wineries in the D.O. Cava -- Cavas Hill founded in 1887.

The final Cava wines, and apologies to any that I missed, were the premium trio from Agusti Torello Mata. This winery was born in Penedès in 1955 by the winery's namesake and today produces over 500,000 bottles of Cava each year. They source from 150 organic vineyards in the Valls d'Anoia-Foix where the grapes are hand harvested from at least 30-year-old vines. Today the winery is operated by his children -- Àlex, who is the winemaker, technical and viticulture director, and Gemma, who is the lawyer and administrator of the company. Their Rosat Trepart 2021 ($29) is 100% Trepat from 30 year old organic vines from the Obach Estate in Mediona, located 800m high with clay and slate soils. The wine is aged 19 months in the bottle and is dry with a charming red fruit profile with lasting effervescence. The Barrica 2018 ($50) is 100% Macabeu that was vinified six months in French oak and then aged four years in the bottle. It provides plenty of  a floral and fruity aroma, yeasty toasted notes, with a textured and creamy body, and lasting finish. The Kripta Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2016 ($130) is their flagship cuvee bottled in a distinct, amphora-shaped bottle. It is a blend of 45%, Macabeu (from Vinya Vicari planted in 1962), 35% Parellada ()from Vinya Lola planted in 1969, and 20% Xarel·lo (from Vinya Mercader planted in 1974). Each bottle is hand-riddled and disgorged and spends 84 months on the lees. Yes, seven years. The wine starts with fine and persistent bubbles leading to a complex nature and a silky texture. Expect a very long finish. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 - Part 2

Our previous post The Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 - Part 1 provides an introduction into Rías Baixas pertaining to its history, wine regions, wine regulations and styles, as well as its signature grape - Albariño. And Grape Spotlight: Rías Baixas, Val Do Salnés, Attis Bodega y Viñedos Souson describes a new trend we discovered at the Roadshow -- the small, but rising production of Rías Baixas red wine. We will continue down that path and describe some of the interesting wines and trends highlighted at the event in terms of lees aging, blends, and sparkling Albariño.

Traditionally Albariño has been produced by fermenting the green skinned grape in stainless steel fermenters and then bottling quickly in order to encapsulate the high acidity,  salinity, and citrus flavors associated with the grape. In this style, expect noticeable aromas and minerality due to the granite soils and proximity to the ocean as well as notes of lemon, lime, grapefruit, and sometimes pear.  

This traditional style is evident in a wine from Bodegas Martín Códax -- a cooperative located in Val do Salnés and founded in 1985 by 270 member grape growers.  Since 2005 Katia Álvarez has managed the winemaking department that created the Martín Códax 2022 ($18.95) -- a classically styled Albariño that provides a crisp citrus minerality and bright acidity that carries through to a long, refreshing finish. On the more innovative side is the Burgans Albariño ($19.95) , a custom custom cuvée made for importer. European Cellars and reflects Celtic name for the hill on which the cooperative is located. The wine is aged on its lees, providing richness to the otherwise citrus and stone fruit profile.  Pressing even further, the Val de Burgáns ($60) is naturally fermented and aged for 7-8 months in French foudre providing a luscious wine that continues to show fresh acidity and minerality along with the stone and tropical fruit.

Staying within Val do Salnés, Paco & Lola is another winery that provides different expressions of Albariño. This is also a cooperative, founded in 2005, and today has over 400 members making it the largest cooperative in the DO Rías Baixas. Their portfolio ranges from the traditional Paco & Lola Albariño ($21) with its noticeable polka dots to the Paco & Lola Prime Albariño ($35) made from the free run must of a selection of grapes from the oldest vineyards and then aged on lees for 6 months. As expected, the texture and body increases while the fruit, acidity, and salinity remain constant. The Paco & Lola Vintage Albariño 2015 ($60) shows the ageability of these wines as this spent one year sur lees. We had heard in the Roadshow's Master Class about the quality of sparkling Albariño and this is expressed by the Lola P&L Sprkling Albariño 2017 ($55). It's bready, effervescent, minerally driven, and rather excellent.

Another sparkling Albariño came from Condado do Tea and Bodegas As Laxas, a family owned operation with a tradition of winemaking going back to 1862. It's 30-year-old vines are planted on granite terraces overlooking the Miño River which itself provides a little warmer environment for the grapes. That being said, the traditional Laxas Albariño 2022 ($19.99) has exuberant acidity lasting much longer than expected. Then there's the Sensum Laxas ($32.99), a sparkling Albariño with a mineral driven, bready and nutty wine with a full creamy mouthfeel and refreshing landing. A fantastic wine. 

Viña Caeira is another Condado do Tea winery founded by Carlos Moro. During the Roadshow, they poured a traditional Albariño in the Viña Caeira 2022 ($27.99) and a single vineyard sur lees Albariño in the CM Albariño 2022 ($36.99). The winery was founded just over 20 years ago and the 25 year-old vines are also planted on granite terraces (Caeiras) overlooking the Miño River. The first one is a delicious portrayal of Albariño -> aromatic, mineral driven, fresh acidity, and lasting fruit. The CM is structured with similar acidity and minerality. 

Interestingly, the wineries representing O Rosal featured mostly Albariño dominated blends or non-Albariño single varietal wines like the Adegas Valmiñor Davila L 2022 - 100% Loureiro. This is a light-skinned white grape that is most familiar in the Vinho Verde wines of Portugal's Minho region. They also poured several several blends featuring Albariño, Loureiro, and two other Galacian white grapes Treixadura and Caino Blanco. We have been fans of the Santiago Ruiz ($22) blend of for quite some time and this includes five Galacian varieties, the four already mentioned plus Godello. This is one of the oldest wineries in Rías Baixas, founded by Santiago Ruiz's grandfather in 1860 and reopended by Ruiz in 1984. Another long time favorite comes from Terras Gauda and their Terras Gauda O Rosal 2022 ($22.99) blend of Albariño, Caino Blanco, and Loureiro. A delicious wine. Finally, we sampled the Lagar de Cervera Pazo de Seoane Rosal 2021 ($22.99) a blend of Albariño, Loureiro, Treixadura, and Caino Blanco that provided more tropical fruit as well as white grapefruit. 

There's plenty of explore in Rías Baixas, not just traditional 100% Albariño wines, but white and red blends, sur lees wines, and sparkling Albariño.  Cheers.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Catalan Wines USA Master Class -- Catalunya's Grapes, Designations, and Wine-making History

Photo courtesy of Catalan Wines USA

Every so often Catalan Wines USA hosts Wine Tasting & Master Classes across the country and fortunately one landing in Washington D.C. last month. The Master Class was presented by Lucas Paya, former beverage director of Think Food Group by Jose Andres and the wine tasting featured a baker's dozen of producers from throughout the Catalunya DO appellation. *

This autonomous community is located "in the north-east of Spain. It stretches from the historic county of Montsia in the south to the border with France in the north with the Mediterranean Sea forming its eastern border...  The Catalunya DO appellation was Spain's first region-wide, cover-all DO title, created in 1999". Most of the wines within this region are covered by 12 DO designations, which includes an all-encompassing Catalonia DO for all the scattered vineyards not covered by the sub-regions and the Cava designation for the region's signature sparkling wine. 

Viticulture in Catalonia started from at least 400 B.C. through the Phoenicians and the Greeks and extended into the Roman period. It died out during the Moorish occupation and resurged after the Christian reconquest -- primarily through monasteries and convents. Some of the more famous are the Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, the Cistercian monasteries of Poblet and Santes Creus, and the Carthusian monastery of Escala Dei. The monks experimented with vine stock and crafting and improved winemaking techniques. This fostered cultural and social development and actually led to a strong export market which expanded further after the 1870s. This is when "José Raventós, founder of the Codorníu group, began producing sparkling wines around the town of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in Penedes, employing the traditional method used for Champagne" --  the birth of Cava.  

Grape Varieties

Catalonia includes a wide range of grape varieties from the indigenous Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo to other Spanish varieties such as Tempranillo (known in Catalan as Ull de Llebre) and Garnacha to international varieties such as Chardonnay, Monastrell (Mourvedre), and red Bordeaux varieties. These grapes benefit from Catalonia's strong Mediterranean climate where the warm coastal areas experience moderate rainfall. Inland areas are more similar to Spain's arid central plateaus, although there are plenty of cooler zones among the foothills and on elevated sites where grapes for the region's signature Cava (Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo) are grown. 

Macabeo is synonymous to Rioja's Viura and its "wines can be fresh, floral and aromatic when harvested sufficiently early and aged in stainless steel, but weighty, honeyed and nutty when aged in oak and harvested slightly later...Macabeo is also quite resistant to oxidation, in no small part due to its high levels of antioxidant resveratrol monomers".

Parellada is found almost exclusively in Catalonia and is used almost exclusively in the classic Cava blend where it provides aromas of blossom and green apple to the wine – ideal complements to the honeyed, grapefruit notes of Macabeo and the earthy flavors of Xarel-lo.  Parellada grows best at higher altitudes, where the growing season is both cooler and longer than in lower-lying areas.

Xarel-lo is also practically exclusive to Catalonia where the light-skinned grape is one of the region's most widely planted varieties. Although there is nothing distinct about the grape in the vineyard, Xarel-lo is valued by winemakers for the acid structure it brings to wines.

Denominación de Origen

There are twelve wine appellations in Catalonia that include ten distinct geographic designations as well as DO Cava and DO Catalunya where the geographic boundaries for each cover multiple sub-designations. 

DO Alella
This designation was created in 1955 and the designation is the closest to Barcelona and encompasses two small areas northeast of the city. For this reason it is constantly threatened by urban developmental pressure. Because of its coastal location, Alella's climate is broadly Mediterranean, but the area's complex topography makes for considerable variation between vineyard sites. The soils are mainly granite and sandy alluvial. The majority of Alella wines are crisp, dry, floral-scented whites made from local grape varieties Xarel-lo (known here as Pansa Blanca), Garnacha Blanca and Viura, and also the French "international" varieties, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The red and rosé wines are based on Monastrell, Syrah, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo. 

DO Emporda
This designation was created in 1972 as  Empordà-Costa Brava and encompasses the extreme northeast of Catalonia bordering France's Roussillon region, and thus shares a similar winemaking heritage. The titled was shortened to Empordà in 2006. The Mediterranean climate and proximity to the sea and mountains provides the DO tagline, "Wines of the Wind" as the strong Tramontana wind can stress the grapes. The limestone rich soil attracts several grape varieties Carinena (Carignan), Garnacha, Macabeo, and Garnacha Blanca.

DO Costers del Segre
This is Catalonia's northernmost DO, established in 1988, and a collection of subregions clustered around along the Segre river valley. It has a dry, semi-arid Continental climate featuring limestone and clay spoils. The DO is comprised of seven sub-zones, four of which are considered "mountain viticulture".  It also experiences a high diurnal temperature variation (70 degrees F) producing aromatic and structured wines. The cooler vineyards produce grapes for Cava (Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo), while the drier areas are suitable for growing red grapes, especially Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Trepat, Monastrell, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Varietal white wines are also produced, based on Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

DO Pla de Bages
This designation sits in the very middle of Catalonia, producing a range of wines from Macabeo, Parellada, Picpoul, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the native Sumoll. The climate is more Mediterranean than Continental, with another high diurnal temperature variation. The soils range from limestone in the higher elevations, to mostly clay to alluvial in the lower reaches.

DO Conca de Barbera
This is a very small region where the production centers on Cava and thus the Macabeo and Parellada grape varieties. It is located right at the heart of Catalan wine country and practically surrounded by other designations. Conca is Catalan for 'basin' and describes the DO's geography formed by the combined valleys of the Francolí and Anguera rivers, above which rise various low-lying mountain ranges. It has a Mediterranean climate with some Continental influences and predominately limestone soils. For red wines, Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carignan), Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most successful red wine grape varieties.

DO Tarragona
This region is immediately south of Conca de Barbera and received DO status back in 1947, making it one of Spain's older designations.  The terrain climbs gently from the Mediterranean sea towards the Serra de Montalt mountains in the north and east where elevations reach 1,310 feet. Here the soil is calcareous, stony and alluvial largely because of the Ebro River. Closer to the sea, the soils are calcareous, tending towards granite further inland. Garnacha and Carignan dominate the reds while Cava ((Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo) for whites.

DO Montsant
This designation, created in 2001, bisects DO Tarragona inland but retains a strong Mediterranean climate. Soils range from silty-loam, clay and granite, to sand and slate. This is another "mountain viticulture" area where elevations reach 2,300 feet. Even though the region is small, there is enough diversity for six sub-zones. Montsant has earned a reputation for its high-quality red wines, particularly those based on old Garnacha and Carinena (Carignan) vines. 

DOQ Priorat
This designation was created in 2006 out of older designations and is completely encircled within DO Montsant. It is one of only two DOCa - Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOQ) designations in Spain; the other being Rioja. The term Calificada translates as 'qualified' or 'guaranteed' and implies a guarantee of high wine quality. Like Montsant, this is a high altitude region with a combination of Mediterranean and Continental influences. Soils are quartz and slate and known as llicorella. These conditions have lead to the "intense, full-bodied red wines; the classic Priorat wine is made from old-vine Garnacha and Samso/Cariñena, and has concentrated aromas of licorice, tar and brandied cherries".

DO Terra Alta
This is the most southern designation bordering the inland section of Tarragona and has the highest altitude with the mountain peaks reaching 3,000 feet. The vineyards are located down in the foothills and valley floors. The climate is mostly Mediterranean with some Continental influences with long, hot summers and very cold winters. El Cierzo, a local dry wind which originates in the Ebro River valley to the west, plays a vital role in moderating temperatures during the growing season, as well as helping to prevent mildew diseases on the vines. The soils are clay and coastal limestone, with good drainage. Garnacha Blanca is the key white grape variety and not surprisingly Garnacha for red.

DO Penedès
This designation was created in 1960 and is the most important viticultural area in Catalonia in terms of both volume and the diversity of wine styles. The region starts at the coast south of Barcelona and extends inland where elevation reaches close to 3,000 feet. The Mediterranean climate provides warm summers, mild winters, and moderate rainfall for the calcareous, clay and limestone soils.  Red Penedès wines have traditionally been made from Garnacha, Carinena, Monastrell, Tempranillo, and lately Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The white wines are made from the varieties otherwise used for Cava: Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo, and more recently Chardonnay. 

DO Cava
This designation encompasses multiple areas within Catalonia but is almost 95% within Penedès. It was established in 1991 and highlights the traditional home to this sparkling wine, although today Aragon, Navarra, Rioja, Pais Vasco, Valencia and Extremadura have specific Cava demarcated areas.  The traditional grape varieties used in Cava were Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir now also being used. "Macabeo makes up around half of a typical Cava blend – not because of its flavor (it is quite bland), but because it represents a viticultural insurance policy. Macabeo vines bud relatively late in the spring, ensuring that their flowers and grapes are safe from early frosts. The interesting, slightly earthy flavors that distinguish Cava from most Champagnes are generally attributed to Xarel-lo grapes". 

* Source for this article: and Master Class Presentation

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Rías Baixas, Val Do Salnés, Attis Bodega y Viñedos Souson

Did you know that red wine is being produced in Rías Baixas?

Val Do Salnés is the oldest of the five sub-regions in Rías Baixas and contains 64% of the region's vineyards. It features the most coastline with the Atlantic Ocean and is thus the coolest and dampest of the sub-regions with an average temperature of 59 degrees F.  The soils here are granite-based and quite rocky. These factors give the wines of  Val do Salnés abundant acidity and noticeable salinity. Like all of the sub-regions in Rías Baixas (See The Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 - Part 1), the vast majority of the wines here are Albariño but Rías Baixas Tinto is a permitted class of wine that accounts for 1% of all production.  

One of these red grapes is Souson, which is synonymous to Vinhao (or Sousao) from just below the border in Portugal's Minho region and composing red Vinho Verde wines.  This is a dark-skinned grape variety indigenous to the western Iberian Peninsula. "It is used to make relatively light red-wine styles which are nonetheless deeply colored thanks to the grape skin's strong pigmentation. Its budding season is mid-late and its maturation cycle is long, so its location predominates in areas that are favorable for early ripening. It has high sensitivity to powdery mildew, medium to mildew and low to Botrytis". (wine-searcher)

Attis Bodega y Viñedos is situating in the center of Val do Salnés. Although dominate in Albariño, the winery also produces a Souson. All the vines grow on traditional pergolas and thus the grapes are somewhat protected from the humidity and moisture. The grapes must be tediously hand harvested and then are naturally fermented in open 500 liter barrels. The wine is then aged 12 months in new French oak barrels and fined with eggs and sea water. 

During The Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 - Part 1, I sampled the Attis Souson 2016 ($40), where the intense color matches the fruit forward character. There's lively acidity and noticeable saline that extends long into each sip. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Wines with Altitude: Domaine Bousquet from Gualtallary, Argentina

Imagine a 240 hectare wine estate located in the Andes foothills at an altitude of 4,000 feet above sea level.  The highest peaks in California's Sierra Nevada, Washington's Cascade Range, or many of Colorado's peaks are only 300-500 feet higher. In this environment, rainfall is scant, sunshine is plentiful, and the desert-like climate creates a massive 59° F day/night temperature differential. The area also has poor stony and alluvial soils that are interlaced with layers of sand and limestone. This diverse combination creates free-draining soils that, due to the already mentioned limited water availability, stress the vines.  The grapes react to these conditions by increasing skin tannins, concentrating flavor, and retaining acidity and aromas. 

The Domaine Bousquet estate is situated in the northern reaches of the Uco Valley, specifically in Gualtallary within the Tupungato mountain range. This massive Andean lava dome is one of the highest mountains in the Americas rising to 21,560 feet above sea level.  The winery's founder, Jean Bousquet, fell in love with the region during a vacation and returned in 1977 to plant this estate -- close to the very highest extremes of Mendoza's viticultural limits. There were many naysayers who doubted Bousquet's endeavor, but Jean believed "he’d found the perfect blend between his French homeland and the New World (sunny, with high natural acidity and a potential for relatively fruit-forward wines)". This feat was within the family winemaking tradition which goes back four generations in the South of France.  This tradition continued as Bousquet’s daughter, Anne Bousquet, and her husband Labid Al Ameri became investors and eventual owners of the family operation. And one last important feature, the estate is 100% certified organic.

Domaine Bousquet produces a range of still and sparkling wines released through almost a dozen brands leveraging the ability to plant multiple grape varieties such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot  Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and the focus of this post: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We received samples of two Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wines, the Méthode Traditionnelle Chardonnay-Pinot Noir Brut NV ($18) and Méthode Traditionnelle Pinot Noir-Chardonnay Brut Rosé NV ($18). The first grape in each listing accounts for 75% of the blend and as expected the Rosé had a more red fruit character whereas the Chardonnay dominate Brut was more citrus and floral. And both shared a bready - yeasty character. What was unexpected was the softness of the effervescence and their lasting nature as well as noticeable minerality in both wines. Gualtallary's limestone soils may have something to do with this. 

At $18 retail SRP, these are tremendous values which we plan to have on hand during our Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Cheers. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 - Part 1

Rías Baixas, Galician for "Lower Estuaries"

Recently I attended one stop on the Rías Baixas Roadshow 2023 that featured a masterclass presented by Advanced Sommelier, Erik Segelbaum and Master of Wine, Caroline Hermann. It also included a showroom tasting of the wines of Rías Baixas hosted by visiting wineries and representatives from the region. Whereas Albariño was the focus we learned several exciting new trends coming from Galicia. But first, a primer.

During the height of Greek civilization between 800-400 B.C., the Celts, who we now associate with Scotland and Ireland, ruled over most of Central and Western Europe. In fact, the Alps mountain range is named from the Celtic Alpes, which itself is derived from a pre-Indo-European base alb (hill). Over time the Celts were pushed to the extremes of Europe - including Galacia where the Romans referred to them as Celtiberians - regardless whether they were ethnic Celts or a mix with Iberian tribes. One of these tribes was known as the Gallaeci and they left behind cultural remnants like language, pagan festivals and bagpipes that endure today. The first winemakers were Roman, who conquered the Celts and firmly established viticulture and global trading. Winemaking practices in the region evolved further in the 12th Century with the arrival of Cistercian monks from France.

Spanish wine regions are usually noted for their dry desert-like conditions and bold red wines. The major exception to this rule is the Galicia region of north-western Spain, located along the Atlantic coastline and bordering Portugal to its south. This is a wet and green region, plenty of vegetation that feeds off the 71 inches of rain per year.   In this  moisture rich environment red wines are a rarity and the white Albariño grape dominates. In fact it consists of 95% of all grape plantings and is the primary reason that the DO Rías Baixas denomination was created in 1980.

DO Rías Baixas encompasses five distinct sub-regions which form around the lower estuaries. 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 and was registered in 1996. Soils are 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. O Rosal also resides against the Miño River -- adjacent to the Atlantic.

Because of the high rainfall and humidity grape vines are widely spaced and trained on stone pergolas and a wire trellis called a “parra".  These parras can reach up to seven feet tall, allowing breezes to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. During harvest, workers must stand on grape bins in order to collect the grape bunches.

Despite the high rainfall amounts,  Rías Baixas vineyards are blessed with ample sunshine - averaging over 2,200 hours of sunshine per year. This sunshine in conjunction with the cooler climate provides an environment for high natural grape acidity. Albariño wines are also known for their floral and mineral character, most likely impacted soil composition within Rías Baixas. The bedrock is primarily hard granite with a top layer of  mineral-rich alluvial (a combination of clay, silt, sand and gravel) formed from deposits eroded from flowing water.

DO Rías Baixas Wine Types:
  • Rías Baixas - 100% sourced from DO Rías Baixas.
  • Rías Baixas Albariño -100% Albariño, grapes can be sourced from any sub-zone.
  • Rías Baixas Val do Salnés - 100% Val do Salnés, 70% Albariño.
  • Rías Baixas Condada do Tea - 100% Condada do Tea, 70% Albariño & Treixadura.
  • Rías Baixas Rosal - minimum blend 70% Albariño & Loureiro.
  • Rías Baixas Barrica – wines aged in oak (red or white), minimum 11.5% abv.
  • Rías Baixas Tinto – red wine, less than 1% of all production. 
  • Rías Baixas Espumoso – traditional method sparkling, minimum nine months on less.
According to the Roadshow, "the accepted theory regarding the origin of Albariño, which is now backed by genetic research, is that the renowned grape is native to Rías Baixas. This evidence is further supported by Albariño’s ability to naturally thrive in the region’s cool, wet growing conditions. Given Albariño’s distinct characteristics, it is perfectly suited to the region's climate and terroir, producing wines that are truly unique. The influence from the Atlantic Ocean air, long sunshine hours, cool nights, heavy rainfall and mineral-rich granite and schist soils create an environment that yields the purest expression of Albariño which cannot be found anywhere else in the world".

Check back for Part 2 when we discuss these Albariño expressions.