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!


Carmenère: The Best Red Wine for Under $25.00

Carmenere GrapesAlthough one person’s passion may indeed be another’s poison, few red wine lovers today would refute that Carmenère, Chile’s emblematic red grape variety, almost always over-delivers in every sense.  A good Carmenère (and many fine examples abound) not only offers amplifying aromatics and tremendous flavor, its ripe, fine-grained tannic structure allows for early consumption, yet Carmenère is a wine that can age gracefully for 5-7 years or more.  Carmenère’s vibrant purple color with flashes of rich ruby captivates the eye, while the wine’s aroma evokes a whole set of savory aromas from deep woodsy scents and wild blackberry to dark chocolate and roasted coffee tones. Authentic Carmenère never lacks for flavor, which makes it the ideal accompaniment to an enormous variety of foods and cuisines, such as grilled barbecued chicken, flank steak, and zucchini parmigiana.

I love everything about a good Carmenère, not the least of which is that I don’t have to take out a bank loan or tap my line of credit to enjoy one.  When made from physiologically ripe grapes, it rarely fails to provide a rich and rewarding experience.  It drinks well young, needs very little breathing time, and consistently delivers more flavors for the money than almost any other grape varietal.  The best examples are great on their own and are equally compelling in the company of simple dishes as well as grand cuisine.

Alas, all Carmenères are not created equal, as one can find underperformers in every wine category.  Nonetheless, the following producers can be counted on to furnish consistently fine Carmenères that offer pleasure: Carmen, Casa Silva, Casas del Bosque, and Valle Secreto are certainly four of the finest producers of Carmenère.  Carmen re-discovered Carmenère and pioneered organic viticulture in Chile with the varietal, while Casa Silva’s oenologist, Mario Geise, has been dubbed the King of Carmenère for his outstanding work with Carmenère and bringing Chile’s Colchagua Valley to the forefront of viticultural excellence.

Meanwhile, Casas del Bosque holds the distinction of being named Chilean Winery of the Year at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London for two years in a row (2013 and 2014), while Valle Secreto’s very limited production First Edition Carmenère has upped the ante on this varietal by adding another layer of richness and sophistication to Chile’s special grape.  For between $15 and $25 a bottle, one can enjoy great Carmenère.  Few other varietals could consistently entertain that claim.