The Best Spanish Wines: Rioja and More

Spain12x16_2In spite of the wealth and variety of Spanish wines that lap upon our shores, Rioja remains the name most familiar to Americans. Rioja is a traditional style of wine with longstanding brand recognition that consistently delivers affordable, quality wines in several styles, and its name is easy to pronounce. Names such as Montaña, Martinez Corta, and Valenciso, among others, not only flow easily across the tongue, they connote quality, style and value. Yet, Spain remains a treasure trove of exciting red and white wines from across the Iberian Peninsula that deserve the recognition that Rioja commands.

The refreshing, sprightly Verdejo from Rueda, a historic area south of Rioja, is only now catching on among wine drinkers. An indigenous Spanish white grape, Verdejo was resurrected from near extinction in the 1970s thanks to a couple of erudite wine growers, including Angel Rodriguez who created Martinsancho by grafting Verdejo cuttings from his 300 year old vineyard into a nearby vineyard, and sending those cuttings to nurseries throughout Europe. Pure, natural and unadulterated, Angel Rodriquez’s Martinsancho remains the quintessential Rueda Verdejo.

The full-bodied red wines of Ribera del Duero, Priorat, and Tarragona also deserve better recognition, especially among wine drinkers thirsting for bold red wines with robust frames. Condado de Haza and Pesquera from the flamboyant Alejandro Fernandez, as well as Dominio Basconcillos, Mauro, and the legendary but expensive Vega Sicilia offer unsurpassed quality from Ribera del Duero. Clos Galena and Pasanau from Priorat provide equally compelling bold reds at prices that won’t necessitate a second mortgage. The same can be said for Terrer d’Aubert, a boutique Tarragona winery that crafts exceptional full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha/Cabernet blends.

La Rioja Wine Region

For elegant, somewhat lighter red wines we suggest looking to Spain’s Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra regions for Mencia – a grape that some have likened to Pinot Noir. Mencia from producers such as Altos de Losada and Peza do Rei fashion age worthy red wines that offer haunting aromatics and considerable complexity. Godello, another indigenous Spanish varietal, also hails from Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra where it yields very tasty white wines that are well worth seeking out.’


Photos Credit: WineFolly

Beaujolais Is So Much More Than Nouveau

Beaujolais-Wine-countryBeaujolais remains one of France’s classic, most celebrated wines, although its reputation has often been maligned by the ocean of Beaujolais Nouveau that inundates consumers each fall. Will the real Beaujolais please stand up?

Situated in the extreme south of Burgundy, Beaujolais is a vast region of nearly two hundred villages and communes, which are spread out on varying subsoils and are influenced by individual terroirs. Unofficially, Beaujolais forms the dividing line between northern and southern France. Straddling the un-specified equivalent of the American Mason-Dixon Line, authentic Beaujolais flows in copious quantities north to Paris and south to Lyon and beyond to the delight of many.

In spite of inherent variations in quality, which reflect the differences in soil composition, altitude, and level of production among the region’s thousands of growers, one common denominator comes to fore in Beaujolais – the Gamay grape. Gamay provides the defining character and flavor of Beaujolais, and nowhere is this more the case than in the 10 cru villages of Beaujolais – the source of the finest wines of the region. Although wines bearing a Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC can provide very pleasant drinking, the ten cru villages comprise the heart of Beaujolais and offer the consumer the finest Gamay wines in the world. In addition, each of these ten townships possesses a special terroir and individual set of characteristics that make for memorable drinking.

These 10 cru villages of Beaujolais are Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, St. Amour, Fleurie, Regnie, Chenas, Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin-à-Vent. Although each cru has its merits and particular attributes, Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin-à-Vent are widely acknowledged to be the finest, fullest and most Burgundy-like of the wines of Beaujolais, and they enjoy an enviable reputation for ageing up to five years or more in bottle with excellent results.

Some reliable producers of excellent cru Beaujolais include Château de Pizay, Château de Saint Lager, Daniel Bouland, Georges Descombes, and Mathieu Lapierre. Like all Beaujolais, cru Beaujolais is best consumed in the company of good home cooking and served cool or even just slightly chilled. Enjoy!


Casas del Bosque: Winery of the Year and the Source of Chile’s Best Wines

Casas del Bosque not only holds the distinction of Chilean Winery of the Year, having been so chosen two years in a row at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, it may also be the “hottest” winery on the planet with more recent 90+ scores than anyone of us can count. Located just 40 miles from Chile’s capital of Santiago and a mere 18 miles from Chile’s principal port of Valparaiso, it is almost mind boggling to think that Casas del Bosque sprang to life in 1993, yet this seeming upstart has already garnered worldwide attention with a plethora of delicious, hedonistic wines at all levels.

Casas del Bosque Winery

Although Casas del Bosque cultivates nearly 500 acres, it very much remains a boutique operation. In addition to its vineyards in Casablanca, the preferred South American locale for Pinot Noir, Syrah and premium white wine production, Casas del Bosque also possesses significant vineyard holdings in the premier red wine producing valleys of Maipo and Rapel south of Santiago, areas noted for fashioning exceptional Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon. Casas del Bosque’s meticulous attention to vineyard management and careful site and varietal selection guarantee superior fruit for the winery’s extensive portfolio of high quality wines.

Most premium wineries specialize in one or at most a few varietals that burnish their reputation and earn them medals at competitions and points from leading wine critics. In the case of Casas del Bosque, it is difficult to decide which wine stands out, as each varietal offering seems to have been blessed by the Midas Touch. Perhaps it is the fact that Casas del Bosque’s vineyards have been meticulously selected for the right varietal and are spread throughout Chile’s best viticultural valleys and microclimates. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling hail from the winery’s superb Casablanca holdings and form the backbone of the estate’s white wine portfolio. Exceptional Pinot Noir and Syrah are also cultivated by Casas del Bosque in Casablanca. Casas del Bosque’s exceptional Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon emanate from the warmer Rapel and Maipo valleys, while the winery’s Pequeñas Producciones (very limited productions) of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Syrah are Casas del Bosque’s ultimate luxury offerings. Among all varietals and at every price point, no one appears to be offering finer quality and value than Casas del Bosque. From Casas del Bosque’s entry level 2015 Reserva Pinot Noir (92 points James Suckling) and 2015 Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (91 points Descorchados) to the estate’s hallmark Platinum Award recipient 2014 Pequeñas Producciones Syrah (96 points Decanter), which was also Decanter’s “best Rhône style wine in Chile,” no one tops Casas del Bosque right now for quality, value, and variety. Enjoy!


Rosé is the Summer’s “Hottest” Wine

Rose WineWhen the weather turns warm, the tree frogs and cicadas begin to sing, and barbecues and backyard parties are in full-swing, it is time to pour a glass of cool rosé – the summer’s hottest wine.

Rosé has been popular in Europe for centuries and enjoys a long, illustrious history.  Nonetheless, with the exception of the low alcohol White Zinfandel craze of the 1980s, Americans have been reluctant to embrace anything pink but a high octane Cosmopolitan, until now.  Fortunately, long gone are the days when White Zinfandel is the only rosé game in town.  Today’s rosé wines emanate from many different grape varieties and come in all different flavors, shades of color, and levels of sweetness from around the world.  However, it is dry rosés from California, Spain, South Africa, and most prominently Provence in southern France that constitute this summer’s “hottest” wine.

Provence is the spiritual home of today’s dry rosé.  It is a land that elicits visions of scintillating landscapes, eye stopping vistas, and undulating fields of lavender and massive cypress as they wave in the winds that wash the countryside clean.  Provence is also the birthplace of troubadours and Provençal, the lyrical language of poetry, and the planet’s most endearing wines.  More than 140 million bottles of wine are produced annually in Provence, a region famous for its wines since the Roman era, and over 105 million bottles (75% of that entire region’s wine production) is rosé.

Many of today’s most popular domestic and imported rosé wines flow from traditional Provençal grape varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan and Rolle.  However, around the world, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and other varietals make fine dry rosés, too.

Provençal rosés and many of their New World counterparts are dry, delicate wines that are much more akin to white wine than red wine, as they are produced like white wines with minimal skin contact and no time in oak barrel.  After harvest, a portion of the grapes undergo a cold maceration at various temperatures and lengths of time according to the grape variety in order to preserve the wine’s delicate aroma. The remaining grapes are vinified by a direct pressing, which imparts a slight pink color from the skins of the dark grapes.  The wines are then blended and their élevage (upbringing) takes place entirely in stainless steel tanks until early February, when the young rose-colored wine is bottled for maximum freshness.  Rosés are this summer’s “hottest” wines because they are fresh, flavorful, and served cold from a variety of premium grape varieties.  In most cases, dry rosés are at their best in the first year of their life, which means looking for the current vintage or most recent release.  Enjoy!


Pinot Noir: The World’s Most Expensive Wine Need Not Break the Bank

pinot-noir-grapePinot Noir grapes are, without a doubt, one of the world’s most expensive grapes to grow, as well as one of the most difficult grapes to cultivate. Like an orchid, it requires constancy, just the right soil with a precise environment to thrive, and temperatures that are neither too cool nor too warm. More often than not, the temperamental Pinot Noir grape acts as a jealous and demanding lover. However, when the stars align, the terroir is ideal, and the winemaker possesses enough knowledge of the finicky, thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape to know when less is more in the winemaking process, Pinot Noir becomes transfigured and the wine it yields shines with a luster like no other.

Adored by connoisseurs and idolized by collectors and critics, Pinot Noir enjoys worldwide appeal. Pinot Noir’s ancestral home is France, where it is responsible for all of the great red wines of Burgundy, including Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, and Romanée Conti – the latter being the world’s most expensive wine. For centuries, French Burgundy enjoyed the reputation as the only great Pinot Noir. However, in the past forty years, California’s Carneros, Monterey, Russian River, Santa Barbara, and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations have lured Pinot Noir lovers by fashioning world-class Pinot Noirs. Oregon’s Willamette Valley, New Zealand’s Central Otago, and most recently Chile’s cool Casablanca Valley also rank as meccas for the mercurial Pinot Noir.

Although fine Pinot Noir will never be cheap, it need not break the bank. Some exceptional affordable French Burgundies still exist, including the 2012 Domaine Jacques Girardin Clos Rousseau Premier Cru Santenay, and the 2010 and 2012 Jacques Girardin Les Feuillets Premier Cru Savigny-les-Beaune. From California, Fore Family Vineyards’ 2009 and 2010 Carneros Napa Pinot Noirs truly outperform the pack by delivering complex, age-worthy Pinot Noirs that keep on giving. Benovia, Freeman, Molnar, Paraiso, and Walt are other outstanding boutique California producers of world-class Pinot Noir, but whose wines cost a fraction of most Premier and Grand Cru French Burgundies.

bethel-heights-aeolian-pinot-noir-2012-bottleWalt’s La Brisa and Blue Jay offerings are especially worth seeking out. Oregon’s Willamette Valley holds another treasure trove of outstanding Pinot Noirs. Bethel Heights 2012 Aeolian Estate Eola Amity Hills Pinot Noir is just the most recent success from this pioneering Willamette Valley family estate. And from lands “down under,” few can match Josef Chromy in Tasmania or Rockburn in New Zealand’s Central Otago in fashioning outstanding Pinot Noir. Enjoy!