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.

Friday, October 20, 2023

East Tennessee History at Old Tennessee Distilling Company

Sevierville is a popular exit off Route 40, not only because it is nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and feeds into Pigeon Forge & Gatlinburg but because, itself, has multiple tourist attractions such as hiking, rafting, kayaking, Brass Pro, Buc-ee's, Tennessee Smokies MiLB, Harley Davidson, and, of course, Old Tennessee Distilling Company.

This distillery was first known as Thunder Road Distillery when it debuted in 2014 but rebranded to Old Tennessee Distilling Co. in Jan 2019 in order to "celebrate the culture, people, history and spirits of this great state". And during a visit make sure you take time to learn about this history. For instance, their Dumplin Creek brand of moonshine, vodka and gin honors the Treaty of Dumplin Creek: the last treaty of the State of Franklin and the Great Cherokee Nation. This treaty ceded the territory now known as East Tennessee to residents of the unrecognized proposed state that eventually returned to North Carolina. In addition, their Caldonia Fackler Johnson Rum brand celebrates the life of this former slave who became a prominent Knoxville racetrack and saloon owner. By the time of his death, he was one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the state.

Old Tennessee Distilling Company specializes in farm to bottle spirits made from "local ingenuity and produce". Their master distillers (Dwight Bearden, Adam Gratz, & Kent Merritt) use "recipes handed down through the generations to create whiskey, moonshine, gin, vodka and bourbon that honors the name “Tennessee” on every label". One of these is their Apple Brandy, distilled from Gala apples based on a recipe from a member of the Moonshiner's show, and full of bright apple flavors. For the moonshine, their Coffee was my favorite. And don't overlook their Corn Whiskey which is distilled from 100% corn mash. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Navigating the Bayou Teche

A bayou is a body of water typically found in a flat, low-lying area. It may refer to an extremely slow-moving stream, river (often with a poorly defined shoreline), marshy lake, wetland, or creek.

The Bayou Teche is the most famous bayou in The Pelican State, curling for miles through south central Louisiana, west of the Atchafalaya Swamp.  This bayou runs through multiple parishes and there are several notable towns that were built along the Bayou Teche such as Breaux Bridge (the crawfish capital), St. Martinville (of Evangeline fame), New Iberia (home to rice, sugar cane and TABASCO), Charenton (the site of the Chitimacha Indian reservation, noted for its exquisite double-walled cane baskets), Patterson (Louisiana Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum) and Morgan City (home to the first submersible oil drilling rig, the Mr. Charlie).  And let's not forget Arnaudville, the home of Bayou Teche Brewing.

The brewery was founded in 2009 by brothers Karlos, Byron and Dorsey Knott within a converted old rail car near the banks of the Bayou Teche. Their goal is to brew beers that complement the unique foods and lifestyles of South Louisiana. This includes offering brewery tours in French and English and naming most of the beers in Cajun French in an effort to help preserve and promote the native language. These beers include LA 31 Acadie, name in memory of their Acadian homeland in Eastern Canada; LA-31 Bière Pâle, brewed to pair with dishes savored in South Louisiana (boudin, crab and shrimp gumbo, fried catfish, sauce piquant); and LA 31 Cocodrie DDH IPA, where Cocodrie is Cajun-French for alligator. Many of these beers are prefaced with LA-31 which honors part of the Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway which shadows the Bayou Teche from Arnaudville to Morgan City.

On our visit I paired a delicious pizza with a flight containing the LA-31 Bière Pâle, LA-31 Swamp Thing IPA, Ragin' Cajuns Kölsch, and a Zwickelbier. I love the Pale Ale, the brewery's flagship, brewed with pilsner and oats, slightly hazy, and with a decent supply of Mosaic and Citra hops. The Swamp Thing is a very clean and drinkable "Louisiana-style" IPA brewed with Mosaic, Citra and Chinook hops. How could I not try the Kölsch - one of my favorite styles and this one "made to represent the culture and heritage of Acadiana and the University of Louisiana: ça va mieux avec des amis - It's better with Friends." Finally the Zwick or Kellerbier is a very refreshing unfiltered lager brewed for German Fest. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Avery Island & TABASCO®: Where Bourbon Barrels Find Rest

"TABASCO® Brand products are made by McIlhenny Company, founded by Edmund McIlhenny in 1868 on Avery Island, Louisiana. It was here that he developed the recipe for TABASCO® Original Red Pepper Sauce that's been passed down from generation to generation. To this day, the company is still family-owned and -operated on that very same island". -- TABASCO® Brand Website

During this trip to Cajun Country we allocated time to visit the TABASCO® Brand Factory Tour & Museum, located southwest of New Iberia on Avery Island. This is not an island in the traditional sense. Instead it is one of five salt domes formed as the weight of younger sediment pushed up a column of salt deposited over 165 million years ago creating a topographic rise. Locally, the geological formation is known as “island” because of its height relative to the neighboring land and insular appearance from a distance.  The five islands are also surrounded by salt marshes, cypress swamps, and\or bayous. Over the last two centuries these island have served as wildlife sanctuaries as well as salt and petroleum fields. Not without mishaps. During a visit to Jefferson Island and their gardens we learned of the Lake Peigneur catastrophe. 

Before the Civil War, Hagerstown Maryland born Edmund McIlhenny was a successful and wealthy independent bank owner married to Mary Eliza Avery -- who's family lived on a plantation house on Avery Island. By the end of the war and with the South's economic collapse, McIlhenny had lost everything. He and Mary Eliza moved in with her parents on Avery Island where McIlhenny started experimenting with Capsicum frutescens -- now known as Tabasco peppers. His goal was to invigorate the bland southern cuisine with a new pepper sauce.  

"McIlhenny grew his first commercial pepper crop in 1868. The next year, he sent out 658 bottles of sauce at one dollar apiece wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. He labeled it “Tabasco,” a word of Mexican Indian origin believed to mean “place where the soil is humid” or “place of the coral or oyster shell.” McIlhenny secured a patent in 1870, and TABASCO® Sauce began its journey to set the culinary world on fire. Sales grew, and by the late 1870s, he sold his sauce throughout the U.S. and even in Europe".

While today the production process is mostly automated and the peppers are grown worldwide , the recipe and process are relatively the same as in the early years. Only the oak aging takes a little longer. The peppers are crushed and the mash is stored for three years in white oak barrels (which previously held bourbon or whiskies).  The inside of each barrel is de-charred (top layer of wood is removed), torched, and cleaned, to minimize the presence of any residual whiskey. In addition, the barrels are rehooped with stainless steel rings.. Once closed, the barrel tops are then sealed with salt to form a natural protective barrier that also allows for the release of gases produced during the slow fermentation process. After three years the mash is mixed with distilled vinegar and stirred occasionally for a month. The resulting liquid is strained to remove skins and seeds and then bottled as a finished sauce. 

The McIlhenny Company produced only the original version up until 1993, when the company released the Green Pepper Sauce. Today they have nine varieties, all conveniently available for purchase at the TABASCO® Country Store.  This store is located next to the museum entrance where the self-guided walking factory tour begins.  The entire Avery Island Experience which includes the factory tour and Jungle Gardens & Bird City driving tour is highly recommended.