Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rioja Pt.4, Tempranillo and the Future

1960 marks the beginning of the modern wine industry in Spain. Multinationals began to invest in Spain at that time with designs on providing for what they foresaw as a burgeoning American market. Mechanized cultivation with pesticides snd herbicides, being the norm of the times, meant a general trend away from hillside vineyards toward the fertile Ebro River banks which would be easier to farm. Tempranillo became established as the premier grape of Rioja at that time replacing Mazuelo and Graciano, with clonal selection for quantity and disease resistance being the operative guideline.

It wasn't until the 1980's that reds came to dominate whites in production reflecting the coming of age of the American market. The reds of the time were blends of the three major regions of Rioja; the Alta, Alavesa, and Baja; and were traditional blends of Tempranillo (color and elegance), Garnacha (fruit and alcohol), Graciano (spice and acidity), and Mazuelo (astringency and bitterness). As stated in an earlier installment there had been a gradual trending away from lengthy oak barrel aging and more emphasis upon retaining a fresh and fruity structure.

Robert Parker, the premier wine critic, came to wield an undue influence in the wine world in the 1980's and in Spain he was both the bane of the industry's existence and its catalyst for change. Traditional Riojas did not meet Parker's standard for textured, dark fruity, jammy intensity. They were always intended to be food wines as opposed to centerpiece wines but Parker's influence hastened the changes necessary for commercial success and eventual Parker accolades.

Spain has historically looked to France for direction in its wine industry and in the modern era of international winemaking with truly remarkable winemaking artists on retainer, estate-grown Tempranillo has assumed a greater stature. The traditional blends of Alto, Alavesa, and Baja are now yielding to the terroir-driven estates of the French model. Tempranillo in the northern Rioja is now being compared to Pinot Noir(!)with its red fruit flavors, moderate weight, and low astringency as opposed to the oak aged more Cabernet-like style.

Rioja's higher elevation with its foothill vineyards near the Cantabrian Mountains actually compares more favorably with the terroir of Burgundy (Pinot Noir) than to Bordeaux (Cabernet), its historic counterpart. With Tempranillo's short growing season and harvesting at cool Rioja temperatures, blended or unblended, the comparison only deepens. Now mechanized farming and the movement away from the Cantabrians has to be reconsidered and reversed for the future of Tempranillo in Rioja looks very interesting to say the least.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wine Tasting Review - June 24, 2011

There were actually eight wines tasted here this weekend, the six scheduled and presented by Curtis Gauthier of Empire Distributing, and two additional chardonnays that proved noteworthy. Six wines deserve commentary here.

The 2009 Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc ($12.99/btl) was complex and rich with body for that grape type. It was quintessential California wine and did not rely on the transient popularity of the citrus overdose so many have.

The 2009 Marquis de Caceres Rioja Rose ($9.99/btl) was just about right for what it was in our time and place, ie., its summer wine and this is summer.

2009 Ernie Els "Big Easy" Red Blend ($19.99/btl) is a South African Syrah/Cabernet blend with a few other grapes filling it out. It was clearly superior wine with its mouth-filling new world grapy Rhone-ish opulence. "Centerpiece" would seem to be the operative word here.

Henri Savard NV French Blanc de Blancs ($9.99/btl) was timely in the same way the rose was. It helped that Curtis, a trained chef, served it with a dollop of raspberry sorbet in it.

The 2008 NO Chardonnay ($13.99/btl) was not served Friday night since it was from a different distributor but I did show it with the others on Saturday and it was obviously superior to many others on the table. NO is unoaked California wine that still seems more substantial and complex than others in that category.

The 2003 Carpe Diem Mount Eden Chardonnay ($24.99/btl) was one I had taken off the shelf fearing it was no longer good. It was actually great on Friday but less so on Saturday and when I finished it on Sunday, it was spotty. Eight years is the maximum you should expect for new world chardonnay from a superior vintage and this one was just right, but they do decline quickly after uncorking.

The best sellers this weekend were the sauvignon blanc, rose, and sparkler. Hey, it's summer! Stop in this week and try them with a 10% discount.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rioja Pt. 3, Macabeo/Viura

Spain actually suffered through a sixty year period of devastation between phylloxera, mildew, civil war, depression, and two world wars. Rebuilding post-World War II also was a lag time for the wine (and cheese) industry so 1960 could be seen as the beginning of the modern wine industry in Spain, so make it a seventy five year low for the industry. This issue deals with the white table wine grape of Rioja which actually has twenty five names across Spain but is best known to us as Macabeo or Viura.

Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca were the primary white grapes of Rioja at the turn of the last century. The grafting of vinifera vines onto American rootstocks was not automatic with all vines. Some just didn't work and changes were necessary. This is where the industry shows its mettle. Garnacha Blanca was deemed to be unworkable on American rootstocks and oxidized too easily anyway so it was replaced by Macabeo, a grape with a proven history elsewhere across Spain. Malvasia was then reduced to a supporting role in the white Rioja blend.

Here is where the acumen of the industry leaders of one hundred years ago is in clear evidence. Oxidation was recognized as a problem then and as if they were prescient enough to know the evolution of modern wine making, they chose a grape that would make a lovely light, crisp and floral seafood compliment and when blended, the Malvasia, often barrel fermented for richness, would make the wine suitable for poultry and other Spanish dishes. For inveterate white wine lovers, white Rija fits the summer season like a glove.

Here are two incidental notes on Macabeo outside of Rioja. Macabeo is one of the white grapes sometimes blended in small amounts into certain reds, a practice sometimes employed in wine production regions around the world to make a lighter wine. Macabeo is also part of the Spanish Cava (sparkling wine) blend along with Xarel-lo and Paralleda.

Cite the blog and get your discount on Spanish white wine in the store this month.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wine Tasting Results June 17th, 2011

Six wines were tasted on this day; three light dry whites, a sweet white, a brut rose sparkler, and a great Russian River Pinot Noir. As the sole red, MacMurray Ranch Russian River Pinot was hands down the finest wine on the table by far. Out of six pinots marketed in the Atlanta market by MacMurray, I had been told it was their best and I am sure it is. Mac Murray even markets an Oregon Pinot, by the way, but I don't think it could be better than this one.

Second place in my opinion was a sleeper, the 2009 Borgo Maddalena Italian (Venezia) Pinot Grigio. This wine was an elegant dinner wine with long soft flavors sheathed within its medium light body. Its acidity was ideal and it was fine.

Third place was a tie between Mistinguett Brut Rose Spanish Cava and Chateau du Casses French White Bordeaux, which is an odd couple indeed. Mistinguette was a large mouthfilling rich "red" rose, probably not for most rose lovers, while du Casses was a very light and dry seafood wine. Mistinguette might serve as a cocktail for red wine lovers and in ninety degree temps I guess du Casses would work the same for white lovers.

Tinterro Moscato d'Asti and The Wishing Tree Unoaked Chardonnay were both decent examples of their types and may have been deserving of third place recognition but they definitly trailed the pinots.

Stop in this week before Friday the 24th and try any of these wines or the new cheeses in the store and get a 20% discount on your purchase.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dirty, Foul, and Proper

Recently I read a fine article that addressed the age-old question, "What wine do I serve my guests if I have no idea what they like?". My answer would be to serve the wine you feel is most appropriate for the meal. This writer, however, was aiming for congeniality. She recommended Pinot Grigio for a white and Italian reds in general for most meals. I agree with these recommendations based upon my experience here tasting out wines. The Italians are always well received.

But what if congeniality is not your thing and what if you are having strongly flavored meats (sausage/game?) with onions and garlic and cabbage and you think you might even want to light up a cigar at the table? What if the wedge of cheese on the table is an extremely aged Gruyere with what looks like a new and evolving life form on its exterior...and it's looking right at you? What if you don't give a hoot about political correctness and beer actually sounds okay in lieu of wine but your other half says wine. Do I have a wine for you.

Actually at any given time this store will have a half dozen earthy, strongly flavored reds from around the world but mostly from Spain, Italy, or France. They are exclusively "food wines" as opposed to sippers which is why they don't show well at tastings even if I offer a slice of sausage or strong cheese to accompany them. People really want to taste "stand alone" wines, something that could be served as a cocktail. Occasionally though someone will have a break-through moment when the food sample really works with the wine and more than a little magic occurs.

The wines I am talking about in particular are Spanish blends of Garnacha, Tempranillo, or Monastrell or their counterparts in the French Cotes du Rhone or elsewhere. These kinds of red blends are made everywhere but Spain unapologetically revels in these "dirty" wines. "Dirty, foul, and proper" my friend says, meaning this is the way it should be. You really can't get dressed up to work in the yard, can you? That is, unless your understanding of appropriate attire is that which works for you and your purposes.

It is all subjective in the final analysis and wine choices are not of ultimate importance anyway. Far from it. But if you want to try a stinky Spanish red, see me and cite the blog for a 10% discount. Also see the "Bomfim" blog from May 16th for further exposition on the subject.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Review of June 10th Wine Tasting

Of six wines tasted five deserve mention.

1. The first wine in the lineup was the 2010 Sensi Collezione Italian Pinot Grigio. It is an off-dry, light summer quaffer, perfect for this time of year. At $10.99/btl it was understandably the most popular wine of the tasting.

2. Kloster Pinot Noir 2005 is an industry close-out ($7.99/btl)from Phalz, Germany. It is a light and fruity red, again completely appropriate for the event and it too sold very well.

3. The 2008 Van Ruiten Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel is one we have tasted and approved in the past. It too sold well at $18.99/btl.

4. 2010 Sweet B Shiraz is a very good sweet red wine ($9.99/btl) but apparently we didn't have sweet red lovers here on Friday.

5. Novecento Sparkling Argentine Rosado was a real eye opener. It is labelled "dulce" but was not exceptionally sweet or the acidity and bubbles cut its sweetness. The makeup of the wine also includes a lot of white juice, making it a lighter than expected rose. It was very good at $12.99/btl.

All in all it was a good showing. Cite the blog and try any of these with a 10% discount this week.


Saturday, June 11, 2011


Macabeo became the principle white grape of Rioja, Spain; Grenache became prominent in the Cotes du Rhone; and Carmenere was exiled from Bordeaux. All of these changes and many more resulted when Europe was invaded by a critter only one millimeter long, the dreaded North American phylloxera aphid, which originated here in the eastern United States. As a result radical change was forced upon european grape growers as that wine industry was brought to its knees by the beastie and viticultural history would be written anew with consequential decisions being made in the interest of future generations of wine lovers.

1858 is often cited as the beginning of the phylloxera invasion when growers began noticing diseased vines in Spain and France. In 1863 Languedoc-Roussillon, the extent of the problem was fully acknowleged for what it was, even if the cause was still unknown. In 1868 the bug was discovered and solutions began to be offered including flooding the vineyards, creating French-American hyrid grapevines, spraying chemical insecticides, and grafting european vinifera vines onto disease-resistent American rootstocks. By 1880 grafting prevailed but not without years of resistance from well meaning nativists who feared the end of european quality wine as it was then known.

Why the mystery about the bug? A bug is a bug, right? Squash him. Well yes but that's easy to say from our vantage point. In that simpler time dealing with an unknown foe like phylloxera meant catching him first and he is elusive to say the least. The aphid's probosis contains two tubes, one for taking in nourishment and the other for injecting venom into its host. When the food source collapsed it was time to move on to a new host just as the signs of trouble in the health of the plant were appearing. Moreover, the bug reproduced sexually and asexually with four self-contained life stages (18 stages overall) migrating from the roots outward and upward to stem and leaves, and even more moreover, in different environments the species' reproductive patterns differed from other places. This is the bug from hell. For real expertise on this subject go to and

So why bring up phylloxera now? I had planned to write about Macabeo and got distracted. Stop in this month and say "phylloxera" three times, cite the blog, and get 10% off on wine or 20% off on cheese.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sine Qua Non

Sine qua non means "without which not" which means the subject is essential; that is, without this thing, this would not be. For the Spanish box wines called Sine Qua Non the meaning is these are essential for everyday usage. The boxes are three liter containers meaning the volume equals four 750ml bottles. The cost is $21.99 per box. Each fifth is 25 ounces so your cost is .22 per ounce. Nice.

Sine is a dry white and is 100% White Grenache grape sourced from the Terra Alta region is southeastern Spain. White Grenache is a popular blending grape in Spain and France where it is included in red blends. The grape offers lengthy citrus flavors and herbaceousness when its yields are controlled. It needs a low temperature fermentation and can be flexible for different winemaking needs. The Terra Alta D.O. is a plateau above the Elba River and the first written documentation of White Grenache in Terra Alta dates to 1647. It is known to have mutated from Red Grenache in Spain before moving on to France.

Qua is the full bodied dry red composed of 30% Grenache, 60% Carignon, and 10% Syrah. It is fruity, dense, spicy, and concentrated and persistent. Its D.O. is Montsant in northeastern Spain in the provine of Tarragonia in Catalonia. The cimate there is partly continental but mostly Mediterranean. The soil is lime over a granite and slate subsoil. The D.O. is 360 meters above sealevel and the weather features dry summers. Reds from here are comparable to the powerful Priorats.

Carignon (Carinena in Spain) is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It is a vigorous plant that buds and ripens late thwarting frost damage. The large Carignon berries have blueish-black astringent skins and form large compact clusters. Its wine is colorful with high acidity and tannins but no distinctive flavor. Whole cluster carbonic maceration using old vine fruit with no oak aging has produced the best examples of Carignon wine. Its raison d'etre appears to be its high yields.

Non is the rose in the line. It is 100% Tempranillo from Tarragonia and is a light and floral refresher. Spanish roses are the best of the category and Non may be the best example in the line.

Try any of these here this month, cite the blog and get 10% off.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reposo, Falcata, and Squared Three

Here is a report of our most recent tasting event with Rene Busque of RMB Associates.

Reposo (rest) is a young vine red and white from the Pago Casa Gran winemaking company of Valencia, Spain. The red is fruity and forward and fun. It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Monastrell, and Syrah. The white is a medium body dry white with a fruity character. The grapes here are Gewurztraminer (50%) and Moscatel (50%). Both wines are 2008 vintage and retail for $12.99/btl.

Here is what's interesting. I tasted these wines a year ago and found the white to be the better of the two. It was forward, floral, fruity, and a show stopper for those who like that kind of wine. The red was good a year ago too. Now, fifteen months later the white has become much tamer and less brash without the frontal fruit assault and the red is as good or better than before.

Falcata is the higher tier product from Pago Casa Gran. The 2006 Falcata Casa Gran is composed of equal parts Monastrell, Garnacha Tintorera, and Syrah. It is a luscious mouth-filling Rhone-style red with ample fruit and and spice. The 2006 Falcata Arenal is a Garnacha/Monastrell blend using fruit from 40 year old selected vineyards with a resulting darker, richer, and less fruity red than Casa Gran.

Both Falcatas are organically farmed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with yeasts native to their respective grape types. Casa Gran retails for $19.99/btl; Arenal, $29.99/btl.

Squared Three is from Rodinia Wines, the parent company of V&C favorite, Casas del Bosque of Chile. The 2006 vintage S3 differs greatly from the other four wines tasted yesterday. It sees fourteen months in oak with malolactic fermentation resulting in an elegant, bright cherry and spice, muscular yet fine red. It is a complete bordeaux-style effort from nose through long lasting finish. The grape composition is 50% Garnacha, 30% Merlot, and 20% Tempranillo. Ribera del Queiles is its DOC and it retails for $19.99/btl.

The envelope, please... All wines sold well Friday with Casa Gran lagging the others by a little. S3, Arenal, and Reposo Red were sellouts and all will be back in stock next week. In my opinion all of the reds were exceptional and the white was decent.

In conversation Rene and I agreed that these are the kind of wines that excite us and ecourage us in this industry. The more exposure alternative selections receive, the better we grow as an industry because the consumer becomes more aware of what is available here at retail. Try these wines at the store this month mentioning this blog and get 10% off the regular price.