Sunday, February 23, 2020


Pragal is one of those unassuming generic-looking bottles that only gets its due when you dare to get into it.  It doesn't scream, "I'm here! Let me show my stuff!"  Instead it almost willfully holds back its promise by blending into the shelf with more formidable labels overshadowing it.

I first purchased a case of Pragal a year ago along with several Spanish wines and proceeded to stock them all in the Spanish rack.  I guess I thought they all looked Spanish.  It took an especially considerate customer's direction to get the wine where it was supposed to be - with the Italians.

Pragal is a sturdy red wine made by Bertani, one of the giants of Veneto.  Among their landholdings is a large expanse in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region.  They have another large parcel  16km east of Verona.  Pragal sources Corvina from the Valpolicella region and Merlot and Syrah from their Val d'Illasi vineyard to the east.  The wine is then classified as "Veneto IGT."

All three Pragal grape types are sourced from low yielding, hand pruned vines.  After harvest some grapes are dried appassimento-style which accounts for the wine's richness.  A lengthy maceration and fermentation at low temperatures in large oak barrels is done before a malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Then there is a six month fining in oak barrels before the final blending is done.  The wine is released only after being held for more aging in the bottle.

Along with having the heft of a big red wine, Pragal has the fruity spiciness and bright acidity one might expect of serious Italian wine.  The tannins are soft.  The finished product is a deep ruby color with garnet and violet tints.  Flavors include red fruit preserves, dried roses, black cherry, spices, tobacco and black pepper.  The rich intensity of this wine is persistent making it perfect as an accompaniment for all red meats including game.  A formidable pasta dish would also work with this wine. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Quinta de Chocapalha (choc-a-POLL-ya) is a Swiss-owned winemaking estate in the Lisboa Vinho Regional Area north and west of the Portuguese capitol, Lisbon.  A quinta is a country estate; "choca"  translates as a warm wind and "palha" sort of means "calm water flowing into a valley."  The estate has the desirable breezes from the ocean and three rivers running into the property.

Within the larger Lisboa legally defined wine production region there are nine DOC's.  Our estate is in the Alenquer DOC.  Estramadura was the name of this Lisboa region before 2008 when it was renamed to acknowledge the capitol.

The most well known wine region of Portugal has to be the Douro Valley where Port is made.  That region encompasses most of the northernmost 20% of the country.  Most of the lower 80% is considered to be ordinary by comparison.  Vinho da Mesa is the name given to inexpensive quaffing wine in Portugal.  Lisboa is the largest producer of wine in the country while not being the largest production area geographically.  That is the definition of ordinary.

Most of the wine made in Lisboa is made in wine cooperatives.  It has only been in recent times that private wine making estates have appeared.  You might say this region was known for its Vinho da Mesa.  Chocapalha was established in 1987.  Of course, in this era where so many mass marketers masquerade as estates, they too could be a cooperative.  While their website is superior to most vacuous winery websites they nonetheless leave many questions unanswered.

One thing they do well at their website is the delineation of the three wine lines they market.  Their estate wines are called Quinta de Chocapalha.  One step down are their Mar de Lisboa line which they say is more international in style.  Then below that they have Mar de Palha which they say is the "most international" in style.  (Damning with faint praise?)  They make a dozen wines at each level.  We have one red each from the Chocapalha and Palha lines and they display fine quality at fair pricing.

We also have the "CH by Chocapalha," the elite red from the company and that is the reason for this post.  Our 2016 vintage is 100% Touriga Nacional grown in their oldest vineyards.  For this wine their website does go into some detail: Pre-fermentation maceration and successive robotic pressings are done for twelve days at 25 degrees centigrade.  Malolactic fermentation and aging are done in French oak barriques for twenty-four months before the wine is bottled.

The wine is here in the store now and it is wonderful.  It has a violet color with a concentrated floral nose of perfumed black fruit.  The palate shows rich dark fruit flavors and integrated structured velvety tannins.  Once again, this wine is wonderful.  It is frankly one of the best wines we have tasted in recent memory.

Please join us for this week's Thursday wine tasting.  We go from 5 to 7pm.

If you have read through this long meandering post and like bargain white wine we have have a reward for you in the store.  We have two imports we'll sell for $7.99/btl!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


It doesn't look like much.  It's a brownish-orangish natural rind wheel measuring 3-4" tall and sixteen or so inches across.  It weighs thirteen pounds and never has a label on it.  Like I said, it doesn't look like much.  Just another wheel of cheese.

It does look Swiss though.  Or maybe I've just been selling it so long I've decided that's what Swiss cheese should look like.

Gruyere is, of course, my favorite cheese.  It's not only the greatest cheese of Switzerland, in worldwide competitions it wins accolades from experts as "The Best Cheese in the World."  Gruyere wheels are HUGE so Raclette is a far cry from that so I still don't understand why I think Raclette looks Swiss.

Raclette (rock-LET) is a semi-hard, unpasteurized Alpine cow milk cheese.  It's aged 3-6 months so you could say it's like a softer milder Gruyere.  Like Gruyere it has historically been made on both sides of the French-Swiss border and like Gruyere, eighty percent of Raclette originates in Switzerland.

Written references to the cheese go back to convents in the 12th century.  It was considered to be a peasant cheese.  The name Raclette comes from the French word "racier" which means "to scrape."  Peasants would position the cheese next to a fire to soften it before scraping it onto bread.  From those humble beginnings Raclette evolved into a melting cheese over potatoes, which led to gherkins, onions, other vegetables and eventually, dried meats.  For people in the know, using the Raclette scraping apparatus makes all the difference in the finished meal.

Savoie, France is on one side of the border; Valais, Switzerland is on the other.  That area is ground zero for Raclette.  The closest fine wine region is the Rhone Valley and if that place conjures images of big red wines you may be barking up the wrong tree.  The locals pair this one with whites.