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Esther Nin received degrees in both oeneology and biology before beginning her career supervising wine projects across Spain. Esther shares her time as Clos Erasmus winegrower icon Daphne Glorian’s right hand, as well as several additional consulting projects. She later bought a tiny parcel (less than 3 acres) of old vines on the steepest hillside slopes above the village of Porrera. The 2004 was her debut vintage, producing three barrels  from 80 to 100-year-old vines. Nit de Nin is 60% Garnacha and 40% Carinena aged for 18 month in French oak.

Deep, dark ruby/violet in color. Nose of dark fruit, plum, earth, and cocoa. Black cherry, blackberry and blueberry with kirsch, vanilla and spice. Plush, ripe and opulent — with a long finish. This bordered on being a bit much, though I did like it — just not sure it was worthy of all the critical acclaim. 15% alcohol. Imported by Eric Solomon.

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Juan Antonio Ponce heads up this small family run bodega who began bottling their own wines in 2005, after generations of traditional grape-growing that continues today, with the adoption of biodynamic techniques. The Ponce family has 22 hectares of vineyards in the municipality of Iniesta (in the province of Cuenca).

Only traditional methods are used in the winery. The grapes are vinified separately and each wine is made with grapes from a certain block, each representing a different terroir, with its own personality. All Ponce’s grapes are old vine Bobal, averaging 50, but up to 85 yrs old, and are planted at an altitude of 2,300 feet and higher. Bobal is a variety of Vitis Vinifera, native to the Utiel-Requena region in Valencia. Bobal is the third most planted variety in Spain, but most people are probably not familiar with the varietal.

At Bodegas Ponce, they showcase the diversity of soil of each of the various plots, producing wines with different characters, always with reference to the variety Bobal. There are very few, if any other producers working with Bobal in this manner, and in only a few years Bodegas Ponce has managed to create a serious following of their wines around the globe.

Last month, I had a bottle of their La Casilla, from 30-70 year old Bobal vines and aged 9 months in 300,400 and 1,500 liter French oak vats. Aromatics of dark fruits with violets. On the palate, big and bold with generous amounts of ripe dark fruit, graphite, smoke, bubble gum and toast. I was at Terroir Wine Bar in Tribeca a couple of weeks back. I’ll certainly return, not only because they offered La Casilla by the glass. La Casilla is currently on sale at $15  a bottle at Canal’s Bottle Shop (it retails for about $22 a bottle).

This week I opened Ponce’s La Casilla Estrecha, from 72 year old Bobal vines and aged 9 months in 300 liter French Oak vats. It is reminiscent of the La Casilla, but a bit more depth, complexity and polish.

The wines are imported by C&P Wines. Recommended.

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Bar Goiz Argi

Bar Goiz Argi

There are moments when time, place and taste come together to create an experience that results in something that is not only memorable, but forever changes your senses. I had Txakoli before I went to San Sebastian and I was intrigued, but when I had Txacoli in San Sebastian it was a revelation.

Last year after 3 days in Barcelona, we headed to San Sebastian. It seemed like the perfect stop on way to Paris. I had never been and wanted to go as it looked beautiful and had a reputation as a major food destination. San Sebastián and its surrounding area has the most Michelin stars per capita in the world (Arzak, Mugaritz, Berasategi, Akelarre…).  In addition, San Sebastian is home to tasty snacks similar to tapas called pintxos, which are found at the bars in the old part of town.

Brochetas de Gambas at Bar Goiz Argi

Brochetas de Gambas at Bar Goiz Argi

The first night, we stopped in at Bar Goiz Argi, ordered some pimientos and brochetas de gambas. Everyone seemed to be drinking Txakoli, so I ordered a glass as well. The occasion, place, food and drink all came together in a way that only seems to happen a few times in life.

Pimientos at Bar Goiz Argi

Pimientos at Bar Goiz Argi

When I returned home I started to have cravings for Txacoli and pintxos. So this summer I planted pimientos de padron and stocked up on Txacoli. Granted, I have a soft spot for Spanish whites (Godello, Grenache Blanc, Albariño and Verdejo come to mind…) — but Txacoli might be the most exciting and unique wine from Spain.

Once in danger of extinction, Txacoli is undergoing a major renaissance and for good reason. Grown within sea-breeze distance of the Atlantic, the best Txacoli (choc-o-lee) tend to be light and crisp, with sharp citrus flavors and mouth-wetting acidity — making it a great food wine. To accent the wines’ freshness, producers capture a bit of residual CO2 in the bottle. That little spritz accentuates the minerality and acidity and makes the wine sing.

There are three DO certified varieties: Álava, Biscaya and Getaria.

Alavan Txakoli
Arabako Txakolina in Basque, Chacolí de Álava in Spanish. This variety comes from the far north-western end of Álava. It is the youngest of the three DO varieties of txakoli, having gained certification in 2001. It is yellowish in color, very acidic and slightly frothy. Wine making has a long tradition in this region, going back as far as 760AD in the historical record. In the late 19th century grapes were grown on more than 500ha of land, declining to 5ha in the late 20th century before the recent revival.

The most commonly used grape for this txakoli is Hondarribi Zuria (“white Hondarribia”) but other grapes are also permitted: Bordeleza Zuria (Folle Blanche), Izkiriota Ttipia (Petit Manseng), Izkiriota (Gros Manseng) and Courbu.

Biscayan Txakoli
Bizkaiko Txakolina in Basque, Chacolí de Vizcaya in Spanish. This variety is made in most parts of Biscay, except for the far western end. This was the second txakoli to receive the DO certification in 1994. The region produces some 700,000 litres of txakoli annually. Records of wine making in this region go back to the 8th century and references to txakoli go back several centuries themselves. The quality of the txakoli varies, as the microclimatic conditions vary.

Both white and red grapes are used for making txakoli in Biscay. White varieties are Hondarribi Zuria and Folle blanche (called Munemahatsa in Biscay); the red variety used is Hondarribi Beltza (“black Hondarribia”). Historically another light red variety called Oilar Begi (“chicken eye”) was also used. This variety was on the verge of extinct but is making a slow comeback.

Txakoli from Getaria
Getariako Txakolina in Basque, Chacolí de Guetaria in Spanish. This variety comes from a small region in Gipuzkoa around the towns of Getaria, Zarautz and Aia and is of a very pale yellow to green color. This was the first variety of txakoli to receive the DO certification in 1989. Annually some 900,000 litres are produced in this region, mostly on south-east facing slopes to protect the vines from the harsh atlantic weather. Unlike the other varieties which are grown as most varieties of grapes, the grapes for this Txakoli are grown according to the treille or trellis system (called parra in Basque).  The white variety used is Hondarribi Zuria, the red grape is Hondarribi Beltza.

In terms of specific producers/bottlings, Gurrutxaga, Ameztoi and the Ameztoi Rubentis are probably my 3 favorites, though I also really like Uriondo Bizkaiko and Xarmant.

Txakoli Gurrutxaga 2009
Bodega Gurrutxaga was founded by Gotzon Urezpi in 1998 after having purchased an old winery and vineyard in the Mendexa region of Bizkaia. With a beautiful landscape facing the sea, Iñigo has been working to restructure the existing vines and plant new vines on surrounding land. They currently have four hectares planted to Hondarribi Zurri, Hondarribi Beltza and Mune Mahatsa. In the next few years they will be planting eight additional hectars in the surrounding hills creating one of the largest single estates in Bizkaia.

Bodega Gurrutxaga’s 2009 Txakoli is made from 60% Hondarribi Zuri, 20% Mune Mahatsa, and 20% Txori Mahatsa fermented in stainless steel. Light gold in color with a nose of sea salt, citrus and floral notes. Loaded with minerality with notes of brine, citrus and pear. Rich and flavorful. While it is acidic and crisp, it has a softness and elegance not always found in a Txakoli. Imported by De Maison Selections. 10.5% alcohol. $18-20 a bottle. Recommended.

Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina 2009
Just five minutes down the coast from San Sebastian, Ameztoi’s vineyards overlook the Atlantic Ocean. The Ameztoi family has been making txakolina in Getaria for seven generations, utilizing the indigenous Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza grapes to craft a light, crisp wine bottled with residual carbon to give it its signature natural spritz. By adjusting the blend to increase the amount of Hondarribi Beltza, the red txakolina grape, Ameztoi has made this rosé txakolina that retains all the freshness of traditional white txakolina.

The wine has a beautiful pink hue with tutti-frutti aromatics with notes of strawberry and raspberry. On the palate, candied red fruit with citrus and a touch of quinine. Tart and slightly sour acidity, light bodied and totally refreshing. I would love to pour this blind and ask people what they were drinking…Imported by De Maison Selections. 10.5% alcohol. $18-20 a bottle. Recommended.

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Lopez de Heredia “Viña Gravonia” Crianza Blanco Rioja 1999

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Dominio do Bibei is located in the Quiroga-Bibei sub zone of the Ribeira Sacra D.O. Like all Ribeira Sacra sub zones, this area is one of spectacular mountain ranges and flowing rivers, but it is drier and harsher than the others. The Quiroga-Bibei sub-zone is dryer and warmer than the other sub-zones in Ribeira Sacra with a slightly larger clay content to the predominately slate soils.

Bibei is a 125 hectare estate with approximately 45 hectares planted today (old terraces are being restructured and new plantings are in progress). Javier Dominguez is leading the effort to recapture a once great vineyard. The idea is to return to the past to rediscover what was once here. His respect for the history of the land is reflected in the winery and its simple design. There are no stainless steel tanks, only wood or cement and they come in all the different sizes.

The vineyards are still tremendously steep and tremendously difficult to navigate. Planted on these terraces are old vines of Mencía, Garnacha, Brancellao and Mouraton. New plots are being planted using cuttings from these old vines to maintain diversity in the vineyard. In addition to the red varietals, there are plantings of white grape varieties such as Doña Blanca, Godello and Albariño (the cuttings of this last grape being from Do Ferreiro).

Lalama is a combination of parcels and is comprised of 85% Mencia with 7% Garnacha, 6% Brancellao (aka Albarello that grows in Galicia and Portugal) and 2% Mouraton (too obscure to even make the Oxford Companion to Wine). Vine age is a range of 15 to 100 years old. Harvest was done by hand and the grapes were harvested separately by variety.

Dark ruby in color. Aromatics of cherry with strawberry-rhubarb with a hint of cedar box and licorice. On the palate, black cherry, plum and raspberry, with dried flowers with some pencil shavings, earth and vegetal notes. Plush and smooth, medium-bodied but packed with pure fruit. 12.5% alcohol. Imported by De Maison Selections. This was a great pairing with grilled leg of lamb, and I poured it along with an ’07 Breton Nuits d’Ivresse.  I love Catherine & Pierre Breton’s wines, but I thought the Lalama was the winner of the evening. Recommended.

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Angel Lopez and his family founded this winery in 2002 after spending years in the nursery business in Valdeorras. D.O.Valdeorras (Apellation of Origin or Designation of Origin), the second oldest in Galicia and recognized since 1945. Native to the region, the Lopez family supplied a majority of the wineries with their vines and have been on the forefront of Valdeorras’ reborn interest in the Godello varietal. Godello was one of the original varietals grown in the region by the Romans over two thousand years ago, since then the grape has slowly drifted toward obscurity until newer winemakers in the area decided to resurrect this unique varietal that is native to Valdeorras.

The family farms a total of 10 hectares comprised of several different vineyard sites all located in the area around the winery at A Rua. The parcels have varying exposures and elevations but share slate soils and the Godello grape as a unifying element. As the most in-land part of Galicia, Valdeorras enjoys warmer days than most of the region but still benefits from the cool air traveling along the river Sil. A Coroa’s vineyard plots are up on the hillsides (mostly around 500m elevation) rather than near the valley floor where it can get very hot in the summer, with temperatures at times exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. Vines average some 15 years of age.

All the vineyards are hand harvested. Viticulture is sustainable with a minimal amount of herbicides and pesticides used (the winery is transitioning to being fully organic). All the parcels are fermented using indigenous yeast and at low temperatures to extract maximum aromas and flavors. The wines are then aged on the lees for 6 months and a blend is made from the best lots to create A Coroa.

Golden straw in color. Stone and orchard fruit, citrus, white flower and mineral aromatics. On the palate, zesty and zippy citrus with honeydew and green apple — with a hint of thyme and a solid mineral core. Great acidity and grip with a long finish. 13.5% alcohol. Imported by De Maison Selections. I have seen this as low as $16 and as high as $21 a bottle. It takes a little bit of work to locate but it’s worth the effort.

I recently wrote about another Godello, Adega O Casal Novo Godello 2007 — which I really enjoyed and I thought this was as good if not even better. Strongly recommended.

Related post:
Adega O Casal Novo Godello 2007

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Adega O Casal was founded in 2000 by five partners sharing the ideal of capturing the true varietal and optimum expression of the indigenous Godello and Mencía grapes. Starting with inherited family plots at high elevation near the village of Rubía, vineyard area has gradually expanded to the current six hectares. Viticulture is meticulous, seeking low yields. For a number of years, winemaking (though technically advanced) was conducted in a garage in Rubia. A new winery was expected to be ready for the 2008 harvest.

Godello is a white variety of wine grape found in northwestern Spain, in particular Galicia. The Gouveio found in northern Portugal is thought to be the same grape variety. Godello produces some of the best white wines in Spain and yields the best results in Valdeorras. Valdeorras is a beautiful region in Galicia with some 43 wineries and about 1,400 hectares under vine. Valdeorras is 100 miles inland — the terrain is mountainous, the roots of the vines burrow deep into the rock-hard ground, clinging to the steep slopes and leaching minerals from the slate-based soil. The stresses created by this harsh landscape give Godello from Valdeorras its distinctive character.

Spain has been getting a lot of press and attention as a provider of value white wine and Godello is one of my favorites at the moment. There are some that are a little thin — and would encourage selecting from those that don’t see any oak. The Casal Novo is a great example of quality Godello that can be found at $19 a bottle. It shows pronounced floral and fruit on the nose, with notes of orange blossom and wildflowers, stone fruits, melon and minerals. Peach, pear and citrus on the palette with a touch of honey. Great purity of fruit. Lots of minerality with zippy acidity and lengthy, bracing finish. 12.5% alcohol. Imported by Classical Wines. Recommended.

Related post:
A Coroa Godello 2008

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One of the most stunning landscapes in Spain is located in the heart of Galiciain in an area known as the Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Banks). Ever since the Romans inhabited the area, people have been growing grapes on the steep terraces lining the two rivers that form the denomination. Working these lands is extremely difficult as the terraces in some areas are so steep that all the grapes have to be brought in on a dumb-waiter. Galicia is the least prosperous region of Spain, but Ribeira Sacra might have some of the best vineyards in the world. Though it has been long overlooked, it seems as though that is starting to change — and this wine is only one example why people are taking notice.

D. Ventura is a new project by Ramón Losada and his family utilizing old family holdings in the region. Their holding are small — about three hectares and family-owned. There are currently three vineyard sites. Caneiro is in an area known as Amandi. This area has been famous throughout time as being one of the best sites for making wines. Caneiro in particular is unique with steep terraces lining the river. The video below provides a visual of the landscape.

The Losada family recognized the potential here and called on an old winemaker friend to help them craft the wine that they knew Ribeira Sacra could produce.  Viña Caneiro is sourced from the over 80-year-old vines of the Amandi vineyard and is fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts. It was fermented in stainless steel and saw no oak. All farming is done by hand and Ramón, with the help of Gerardo Mendez (Do Ferreiro). In addition to taking an organic approach to farming, winemaking has also changed. They only use indigenous yeast and none of their wines are filtered or cold stabilized. Made from 100% Mencia, which usually produces a fruit and mineral driven medium-bodied wine. The older it gets, it becomes more elegant and complex.

The ’07 D. Ventura “Viña Caneiro” has beautiful aromatics of strawberry, raspberry, fruit rollup and dried flowers. Medium bodied, with lively acidity but soft, light tannins. Strawberry, sour cherry and currant on the palate — a little floral with some green vegetable and spice. The nose really leads, but the flavors follow and don’t disappoint. I was really taken with the aromatics and the brightness of fruit. 13% alcohol and very food friendly. Imported by De Maison Selections. Recommended.

I tasted this along with the Ribeira Sacra Do Burat, which was not nearly as bright — it actually tasted a bit muddy and a little tired compared to the Viña Caneiro.

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