Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Emporda and Espelt Garnacha

Funny how these things go.  I was actually standing in front of a stack of Espelt Garnacha and wondering what I should write about when I thought, "well we just wrote about Urgelia cheese from Catalonia, Spain", and there was Espelt, the best red wine for your dollar in the place.  Espelt has been compared to Chateauneuf-du-Pape at a small fraction of the price and it too is from Catalonia!

Too much of a coincidence, eh?  Well there's more...Catalonia is a huge wine D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) created in 1999 to cover all of the regional territory not covered by the eleven smaller D.O.s in Catalonia; kind of like the two hundred dairy farmers who supply the milk for Urgelia, except that Espelt is actually from one of those small D.O.s, Emporda, and here's where it gets interesting:  Ever the history buff and with just a little time invested in research, I have learned seven thought provoking facts about Emporda.  Check this out:

     1.  Alt Emporda is the actual name for the traditional boundary or "comarca" (marked together) where Espelt is located.  It is a peninsula which is sometimes called Emporda Costa Brava to capitalize on the resort area of the same name which, because it is a peninsula with many coves and inlets, encompasses a mesmerizing 360 mile rocky Mediterranean seascape.  The Emporda D.O. was also called Emporda Costa Brava until 2006.

     2.  There are 40-60 winery bodegas in Emporda depending on the bodega defintion.  Many are within five miles of each other but not necessarily easily accessible because of the rough terrain.  Some bodega treks require moderate uphill or downhill hiking.

     3.  The Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes was founded in 750AD and constructed as it stands today in the 11th century.  It stands prominantly at a 1600' altitude within the town limits of Vilajuiga, home to the Espelt bodega.

     4.  Emporda lies sixteen miles from the French border.  Workers from both sides of the border cross daily to work in the other country's wine industry.  This explains the similarity in wine styles between Spanish wines and those from Banyuls and Roussillon in France.

     5.  The Espelt vineyards lie in Cap de Creus Natural Park, which is basically the peninsula in its entirety.  Spain designates "natural" parks for their natural beauty as opposed to National Parks for more historic reasons.  Apparently vineyards are allowable in Natural Parks even though they are set aside for protection from civilization.

     6.  Emporda is known for organic viniculture which is made easier there than in most venues because of the northerly Tramontane winds which effectively reduce mildew and pest occurrence in the region.  Tramontane (think trans-mountain) winds are stong, dry, and cold and span Spain, France, and Italy sweeping southward to the Mediteranean Sea.

     7.  The largest city on the peninsula is Figueres and it is the birthplace of Salvador Dali!

Please join us Friday February 28th between 5 and 8pm when David Rimmer of Lynda Allison Cellar Selections presents three whites, Italian Soave and French Bordeaux and Burgundy, and three reds, Italian Chianti and French Bordeaux and Burgundy.  David has more than thirty years in the wine business so bring your list of stuff you've always wanted to know about wine...and please become a follower here if you like this blog.       

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I have been ordering cheese from Mark in Boston for years and I have come to trust his palate and business ethics implicitly.  Whenever there has been a problem with an order, he has promptly made it right.  Sometimes he will even discourage me from purchasing something I ask for because of questions of quality or pricing.  He also always lets me lead in this telephone dance we do by allowing me to pick his brain for suggestions.  Usually I'm angling toward an inevitable: "What goes with red wine, Mark?"  This time he suggested Spanish Urgelia which he not only liked, himself, but the pricing was good to boot.

Urgelia is a semi-soft washed rind cow's milk cheese from NW Catalonia, the autonomous region adjacent to France. Specifically this cheese is from the townships of Alt Urgell and Cerdanay in the provinces of Lleid and Girona in the Pyranees Mountains.  Urgelia is both a cheese and a brand of cheese manufactured by one large cooperative sourcing milk from two hundred dairy farmers in the region who are sustained by this industry.

The cheese is made from Frisona breed cow milk which is pasteurized for export but may be unpasteurized for local consumption.  Urgelia is a washed rind cheese bathed repeatedly in a yeasty brine before its forty-five day ripening period.  The flavor is a robust buttery taste with noticeable saltiness and a slightly bitter finish.  Washed rind cheeses often sport challenging aromatics for many of us.  This one offers hints of garlicky meatiness but nothing profoundly stinky.

Spain produces a hundred or so different cheeses with only thirteen receiving a "D.O.", the government sanction guaranteeing quality by regulating production methods.  Urgelia is one of those DOs.  The finished cheese has a light brown rind and an ivory white interior punctuated with irregular small holes.  It is a cylinder standing all of three inches tall; extending nine inches in diameter; and weighing about five pounds.

So does it go with red wine?  But of course!  Most reviewers I consulted thought it would marry with any of a number of choices. suggested Volver Tempranillo, which is now in stock here.  The California website,, liked it with California wine of course, and coincidentally this weekend 2011 Peju Napa Cabernet Sauvignon arrives here at special pricing.  White wine and beer are also allowed for this one.

Urgelia goes with fresh fruit, almonds, marinaded olives, tapas, and other regional Spanish dishes.  Stateside, it melts well on burgers and tops off a tossed salad nicely.

This Friday, February 21st between 5 and 7pm, Tommy Basham of Continental Beverage joins us for a tasting of high altitude Mendoza, Argentina reds.  Testamento is the wine brand and we'll taste five offerings all sporting new world forward fruit along with structure and balance that reflect old world values.  Please join us.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Il Falchetto Tenuta Del Fant Moscato d'Asti

Il Falchetto is the only Moscato ever to receive a three glass (highest) rating from Gambero Rosso, the premier tasting panel of Italy, and in the couple Gambero Rosso volumes I have here in the store, only two to three percent of the wines they taste receive that rating.  By that criterion, Il Falchetto is the best Moscato there is...period.

So the question here is, what makes it so good?  Let's describe the wine first.  Il Falchetto is a bright yellow-green-gold in color.  The wine's aroma is elegant yet deep with honey and musk; sweet yellow citrus fruits; lime, green apple, and stonefruit; and then made complete with floral and sage undertones.  In the mouth the wine feels light and soft and effervescent, along with being fresh and sweet.  By contrast, on the palate the wine is rich, creamy, and malty with gobs of peaches, apricots, and fresh grapes, yet not so much of all of the above so as to compromise the wine's acidity.  The wine then finishes respectfully long with lingering fruit flavors.

Perhaps a word should be said about the property.  Il Falchetto is estate-sourced from three family-owned vineyards in the heart of Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy.  Moscato Bianco is the name of this, the oldest of Moscato grapes, and ampelographers have traced its origin to the thirteenth century and the town of Canelli in Asti.  The soils which provide the foundation for these thirty-five year old Moscato vines lie 100 feet above sea level at a southern exposure and consist of limestone, sand, and silt.  The vineyard yield is a low 65hl per hectare and the period of fermentation is seven days at a temperature controlled 59-61 degrees.

So what makes this wine so good?  Because Il Falchetto is old vine, estate grown, hand harvested fruit, gently de-stemmed and quickly pressed in a cool controlled environment; aromas as expressive as these may be possible.  Then since so much of wine tasting is done with the nose, and knowing how light-hearted and indulgent typical Moscatos are, Il Falchetto stands way above the rest.  The rest of the well-structured tasting attributes depicted above then embellish what the aromas advertise.

Two final points: Like all European wines, Il Falchetto shows exceedingly well with food; in this case, fresh fruit, fruit cocktail, hazelnut, yeasty pastries, or aged cheese.  Secondly, if you want to taste it at its best, use a tulip shaped glass to allow those wonderful aromas to waft even more expressively above the glass.

Friday February 14th is Valentine's Day.  Between 5 and 7pm on that day we will be pairing red wines with chocolate here at the store.  This will be a different kind of tasting for us because some of us (ahem) have had difficulty in the past with this combination.  So on Friday we are going to get as scientific as we can in our endeavors to make this thing work.  Please join us on Friday if you want to participate in this groundbreaking project.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Italian System, Part 2

Just when I thought I could stick the cork back into the bottle on this subject, I turned to Wikipedia for a final consult only to find some new information.  In 2010, Italy again revised its classification, this time to ensure it would be consistent with larger European Union pronouncements.  I view these changes as an overlay that aligns the system of the last fifty years with current EU requirements.

There are again four levels in this new system, the first of which only applies to Italy as a producer of bulk wine.  This basic level is called "Vini", which is meant to denote generic wine from anywhere in the EU.  Italy, being a net exporter of wine, will contribute much "Vini" wine without attribution since by law, this quality level does not allow geographical origin to be posted on the label.  Also no vintage dates or grape varieties are allowed on these labels.  What little is allowed on these new labels, seems to defy the reason for wine laws in the first place since they were meant to educate the consumer by putting as much information on the label as possible.

The second level is called "Vini Varietali", or varietal wines, which again can come from anywhere in the EU.  These wines must be "international" varieties which must make up at least 85% of the blend if it isn't a single varietal.  At this level the grape varieties and vintage may be printed on the label but again Italy gets no respect because geographical information is again not allowed.

"Vini IGP" or "wines with protected geographical indication", corresponds to the existing IGT classification.  There are currently 118 of those and you can refer to the preceding post for more information on that classification.

"Vini DOP" or "wines with protected designation of origin" is the fourth and highest category and it includes two sub-categories: Vini DOC and Vini DOCG, and yes, these coorespond to the existing classifications first codified in 1963 but with contingencies.  DOCs have to have first been IGPs for five years and even then it is expected that only a subregion will be elevated due to climate, geology, and originality of winemaking tradition.  Naturally, stricter production regulations follow with admittance into the higher category.  Then for a DOC to become a DOCG a ten year historic evaluation must pass and with admittance comes the expected even higher scrutiny.

Currently there are 330 DOCs and 73 DOCGs in Italy.  With the new system that means there are now 403 DOPs.  Familiar terms like Classico, Superiore, and Riserva all carry over into the new system but, like the above, get tweaked in meaning.

So what does all of this mean?  For now, go by the rules of the preceding post.  At some point in the not too distant future, the United States of Europe will stamp their new imprimatur on the state of Italy