Tuesday, September 19, 2017


LAN is a winery estate in Rioja, the finest appellation in Spain.  The name is an acronym standing for the three provinces of Rioja: Logrono, Alava, and Navarra.  John Perry Calaff is the Export Manager for LAN and has graced our premises twice in recent years affording us a taste of their four wines offered here in the Atlanta marketplace.

Interestingly enough, the vintages for these labels has not changed so what we have is two snapshots of the evolution of four wines in the bottle and the results were telling.  A year ago the Reserva was the version I was touting as the one to buy.  I was actually telling customers it may be the best twenty dollar red in the store.  High praise indeed.  Now I'm not so sure.  It wasn't so much that that one didn't show well.  It was fine.  But the fifteen dollar Crianza just way overperformed at that price point eclipsing the Reserva in value.  What a wonderful soft red dinner wine it is!

The other head turner on the table was the 2011 LAN Edicion Limitada which just happened to be a top 100 Wine Spectator selection.  While the Crianza showed all it had right out of the chute, this one was a hard cover novel with alluring artwork that opened up into an entrancing read.  You just couldn't put it down!  Every once in a while the Spectator gets it right.

Tempranillo is the great red grape of Spain and just like the Spectator that country got it right with that selection.  Around the world wherever it's planted Tempranillo is ordinary at best but in Spain it's delightful.  Most Lan reds are minimally 85% Tempranillo and Mr. Calaff informed us that food affinities for these kinds of wines included seafood in tomato and garlic sauce, lamb chops, cured cheeses, and tapas.

Calaff also gave a little seminar on the usage of oak in wine barrels.  The reds, other than the Limited Edition used French and American oak for aging with the French imparting dark spices including clove, black pepper, and cedar while the American imparted sweet tannins, vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and nutmeg.  He went on to say these woods were more porous than others allowing the wine to aerate during aging.

The Limited Edition on the other hand was put into Russian oak after initially seeing seven months in new French oak and that wood comes from a colder climate making the grain tighter and less porous cutting off any air that may create a softer wine.  This one is for putting away, folks!  Then for additional complexity a twenty percent blend of Graciano and Mazuelo is blended into the eighty percent Tempranillo.

Please join us next Thursday the 21st at 5pm when Cheri Rubio presents a tasting of Napa Valley reds and whites.  Our tasting selection includes examples from Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, Provenance, and Acacia.  Maybe we'll learn about oak barrels there too!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sbragia Family Vineyards

Everyone knows Beringer Vineyards wines from their presence on chain store shelves everywhere.  Mass market industrial plonk, right?  Well, sort of, but Beringer is huge and does much more than just vin ordinaire.  It is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley and was in private hands until 1971 when the Nestle corporation purchased it.  Ed Sbragia made wines there for a total of thirty-two years starting in 1976 and served as head winemaker there since 1984.  The company has now been purchased by its fourth publicly traded owner so for as long as he worked there Ed Sbragia only knew the corporate culture.

"Sbragia" is an Italian name.  Ed's grandfather was a winemaker who emigrated from Tuscany to America at the turn of the last century settling in northern California.  Specifically the Dry Creek area became home for the Sbragia family and Ed developed lasting relationships with peers in the industry so when Dry Creek's Lake Sonoma Vineyards became available in 2004 he jumped on the opportunity to start his own Sbragia Family Vineyards.  Though still employed at Beringer in 2004 Sbragia purchased fruit from others to supplement what he grew at Lake Sonoma Vineyards before completing his winery purchase in '06. While he terminated his full time status at Beringer in '08 he remained a consultant for them for several years thereafter.  Ed now operates the estate with his son, Adam, the fourth generation Sbragia in the industry.

At Beringer Ed Sbragia was known for the great reserve wines they produced, in particular his Chardonnay was received by both the critics and the public with acclamation.  Today all ten Sbragia Family Vineyards wines are designated "single vineyard" with juice coming from nine vineyards which include fifty acres owned by the family.  Sbragia sources high elevation Cabernet Sauvignon from both sides of the Mayacamas mountain range at Monte Rosso vineyard on the Sonoma side and Mount Veeder on the Napa side.  He sources Chardonnay from Napa's Gamble Ranch and all other types from vineyards in Dry Creek and Alexander Valley.

"Bold, classic, intensely personal wines" says their website and while both the Home Ranch Chardonnay and Andolsen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon sold equally well at our weekly store tasting, my vote goes to the Cab.  As we said above Sbragia may be best known for his Beringer Reserve Chardonnays but his current circumstances may open all kinds of creative avenues for this acclaimed wine maker.

On Thursday the 14th at 5pm at our weekly tasting Ted Fields will present three from Rioja, Spain and a 2008 (!) red from southern Italy.  Ted is a former college professor so expect to get a real wine education that night.  Please join us!