Spanish & French Wines

Title: Spanish & French Wines
Location: Windham Wines Wine Gallery 30-36 Main Street, Brattleboro, VT
Description: Join Mark Johnson of ELB Imports for a very informal, fun, post-tax tasting. $25, plus tax includes light food. Reservations necessary. Please call 246-6400
Start Time: 06:00Pm
Date: 2011-04-15

Viva Italia

Title: Viva Italia
Location: Windham Wines Wine Gallery 30-36 Main Street, Brattleboro, VT
Description: Janna Waite, of Wine Wave, returns to share her insight on a number of Italian wines, from the Veneto to Piedmont and Tuscany. Janna is a lot of fun, so bring your mother (it is Mother’s Day weekend, after all) and enjoy a relaxed, informative tasting that includes light food pairings. $25, plus tax. Reservations necessary. Please call 246-6400.
Start Time: 5:00pm
Date: 2011-05-14

Feeding My Hunger For Spanish White Wine: Pazo de Señorans

Pazo de Senorans

I never imagined the day would come when I would admit to such inclinations, but after much agony and deliberation I must confess that I’m enchanted by Spanish white wines.  Perhaps it’s their sheer gustatory novelty, or their “consumer friendly” pricing, or the simple fact that they are lipsmackingly good, or a combination of all of the above.  Nonetheless, I can’t manage to keep my hands off bottles of such heretofore obscure grape varieties, such as Verdejo, Godello, Viura (in Catalonia it is known as Macabeo—a principal Cava grape variety), Xarel-lo, Moscatel, Hondarribi Zuri, and Albariño.

Ok, in all seriousness and to be fair, not every Spanish white wine is great, but critics and consumers seem to agree that some of the finest white wine values are coming out of Spain. Thanks to several intrepid importers over the last few years, more and more whites from the Iberian Peninsula have found their way onto American store shelves and restaurant wine lists. While many of the varieties are not well known, their relatively significant store shelf presence alone indicates that the American wine-buying public has grown to embrace them as economical and novel alternatives to the established white wines of France, New Zealand, USA, etc.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and explore several of its up-and-coming white wine producing regions. While we are very fortunate that many of the top producers are imported, I wanted to see for myself where these obscure grapes are being grown, and to decide for myself who constituted the top producers are. I also wanted to visit their wineries, and to venture into the wine bars where the local winemakers gather in the evenings. My quest for el vino blanco took me to Basque country, Galicia, and Rueda. While I managed only to scratch the surface, I drank more of the local vinos blancos than I would like to admit to my doctor and came away with my suspicion confirmed that Spain is a top source of value white wines.

I explored no region and its wines more than Galicia and, in particular, the DO (Denominación de Origen) of Rias Baixas (Galician for ‘lower coastal inlets). Founded in 1988, the young Rias Baixas DO runs along the rugged Atlantic coastline from the Portuguese border north to Cape Finisterre (due west of Santiago de Compostela). The principal grape variety is the white Albariño grape. When the DO was created, there were 492 growers, 14 wineries, and 585 acres under cultivation; today there are an astounding 6500 growers working over 20,000 individual vineyards plots (many one could call backyard vineyards), 198 wineries, and 8650 acres under cultivation.  These startling statistics illustrate the incredible growth in viticulture this region has experienced in the last thirty odd years and apparently they can’t keep up with worldwide demand.

The rise of Rias Baixas as a DO and its subsequent popularity has been mirrored by a rise in the quality of the wines. At the outset many of the growers sold their fruit to large cooperatives with a focus on high yields to maximize profits, but as the region developed, more growers started to make their own wines, lowering yields, practicing better viticulture, and ultimately making much more compelling wines. No winery is a better example of this than the much lauded (both in American and international wine publications), Pazo de Señorans.

The Vines of Pazo

When the current owners of Pazo de Señorans purchased the estate in 1979, it was planted with kiwi trees and old Albariño vines. At the outset, they sold off their wine as bulk juice, but they soon changed directions when globalization rendered their kiwifruit orchard obsolete and they began to take a personal interest in producing their own wines. They were fortunate in that they possessed some of the oldest vines in the DO and they had the resources to get their venture off the ground. 1990 was their inaugural vintage and over the last 20 years, determined as ever on making the best Albariño possible, they’ve risen to the top. Starting with a production of 7,000 bottles, Pazo de Señorans now produces 450,000 bottles in a state-of-the-art winery.  The estate vineyard comprises 20 beautifully trellised (using the traditional method of training the vine up granite post pergolas—a form of horizontal trellising—as in the above picture) acres of Albariño and produces 3 distinct Albariño wines.

Three Distinct Albarino Wines

By far the largest production wine is the Pazo Señorans Albariño (on the right). This is the wine that made Pazo de Señorans’ reputation and it continues to be the foundation of their brand despite their remarkable and highly innovative bottlings: the Pazo Señorans Seleccion de Anada (on the left) and the Sol de Señorans (in the middle).  Made from a combination of estate and purchased fruit, the Pazo Señorans Albariño is an exemplar of stainless steel fermented Albariño. The 2009 Pazo Señorans Albariño (current vintage) displays gorgeous citrus and tropical fruit elements underpinned by an iodine-heavy minerality on the nose. The mélange of fresh citrus and rich tropical fruit notes carry over to the palate along with ripe stone fruit  flavors (peach and apricot stand out) and compelling minerality. The result is a remarkably concentrated and rich Albariño with a seductively round, creamy body. This wine fortunately is well distributed in the US; anyone who enjoys Albariño should give this standard-bearer a try.

Those who get a chance to visit Spain should not pass up the opportunity to try the other Pazo de Señorans bottlings that don’t make it to the US except in extremely limited quantities: the Seleccion de Anada and the Sol de Señorans. They represent vanguard efforts in exploring where the Albariño grape can be taken. The 2004 Seleccion de Anada (current vintage) spent four years on its lees in stainless steel, resulting in an incredibly rich Albariño. I was fortunate to try it several times and I can honestly say it is a revelation. The 2006 Sol de Señorans is an experimental Albariño that is aged for 6 months in oak. The resulting wine exhibits oak derived richness and a rounder body than the other two bottlings—a very intriguing and rare wine.

So with what to drink Albariño? In Galicia, it is enjoyed with all manner of seafood dishes, especially shellfish. It is also a great aperitif wine and I always have a bottle or two handy in the warmer months for sipping on the patio. If you haven’t had the chance to try an Albariño or the Pazo Señorans Albariño specifically, I strongly encourage you to try one soon.

Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate:

2009 Pazo Señorans Albariño

93 points: “Pazo Señorans’ 2009 Albariño beautifully displays the high quality of the 2009 vintage in Rias Baixas. Light gold in color, it offers up a splendid bouquet of mineral, honeysuckle, lemon, and tropical aromas. Round, creamy, and remarkably concentrated, this outstanding effort will provide much pleasure over the next 4 years.”—Jay Miller

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar:

2009 Pazo de Señorans Albariño

92 points:  “Vivid yellow-gold. An intensely perfumed bouquet shows aromas of nectarine, iodine, lees and pungent flowers, with a strong mineral undertone. Very rich and exotic but possesses a serious spine of acidity, which adds lift to broad tropical and pit fruit flavors. The lees and iodine notes repeat on a long, floral- accented finish. This wine’s marriage of power and vibrancy, not to mention its complexity, is very impressive.”—Josh Reynolds

Wines for Romance

Paul Bara, Champagne, Grand Cru, Bouzy, 2000–$59.99

When you want to convey that nothing short of Champagne can possibly express the value and respect with which you regard your partner, we can vouch for this very special grower-Champagne made from 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay grapes from a Grand Cru village specializing in Pinot Noir. Richard Juhlin, the Champagne savant, describes Bara as a “legend in Champagne” and, along with two others, shares the distinction of the “most quality focused grower in Bouzy” (a Grand Cru village in Champagne).   The wines are aged at least 4 years (and in this case, was aged for 10 years before release), giving him a rich, lush style. Nonetheless, his wines are characterized by tremendous energy and bright fruit. This is a gorgeous wine for a special occasion. We enjoy the wine so much that we almost always have it just on its own, though it can perform admirably as a starter with brie with an apricot chutney and almonds or with your main course of lobster, duck, or butternut squash risotto.

Graham Beck, Sparkling Rosé, Brut, 2008 South Africa–$15.99

One of our all-time favorites combining two great attributes– bubbly and pink! Like traditional Champagne, it is made from Chardonnay (55%) and Pinot Noir (45%) and, like Champagne, secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. It is a very pale, beautiful salmon color with aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry and that yeasty, rising bread dough scent typical of sparkling wines aged on their lees for longer periods, in this case, at least 16 months. If you choose the Graham Beck sparkling Rose´ to celebrate your evening, you will be in good company. In 1994, Nelson Mandela toasted his inauguration as President of South Africa with a glass. Years later, Barack and Michelle Obama raised a glass together in Chicago to celebrate Obama’s selection as the Democratic candidate for the 2008 presidential contest. It is very festive, and goes beautifully with chocolate. It is also remarkably affordable at $15.99.

Hillinger, Secco, Sparkling Rosé, NV, Austria–$17.99

Another combination of pink and bubbles, this one from Austria’s Neusiedlersee area in Burgenland (below Vienna). Made from 100% Pinot Noir, but rather than the traditional Methode Champenoise with secondary fermentation in the bottle, Hillinger’s Secco uses the Charmat method, with secondary fermentation occurring in large stainless steel tanks that are pressurized. Sparkling wines that use the charmat method prize freshness of flavors, and you will certainly find that in the Hillinger Secco. Ripe red berries on the nose and palate, but the finish is full of zest, very lively and super fresh. It is an energizing wine that will do well at the beginning of the evening, perhaps with a bit of sushi.

Whites

Pratello, Lieti Conversari, Manzoni Bianco, Garda (Italy), 2009– $22.99 (organic)

We had to include a white wine whose name translates to “happy,” or “pleasant conversation”! It helps that the wine is also delicious. The grape from which this wine comes, Manzoni Bianco, is a hybrid of Riesling and Pinot Blanc. It has the aromatic nose of Riesling—floral, some white peach and even honey, then on the finish, some nuttiness that I would associate more with Pinot Blanc. We visited Pratello in the late fall and that is where we “discovered” this wine. The winemaker, Vincenzo, shared the 2002 Lieti with us and it was a remarkable, actually stunning, wine. 2002 was a notoriously awful year in much of Europe (except Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire)—tons of rain, cool weather, hail. It’s one of those vintages that mostly one avoids. I was nonplussed, however, by the concentration of the 2002 Lieti Conversari. We were enjoying it in late fall 2010, and while it was rich and concentrated, it still had energy. If you like this wine, it has the potential to age. We have put some down to see how it develops. In the meantime, however, let it lubricate your evening so that you may engage in “lieti conversari” with your Valentine.

Domaine Bellegarde, Le Pierre Blanche, Jurancon Sec, 2008– $24.99  (Biodynamic)

It is 80% Petite Manseng, 20% Gros Manseng I’ve written about this wine before; if only I could find those notes. I have waxed on about this wine’s aromas and flavors of quince that make it the perfect foil for membrillo (fresh quince paste).  We have used the membrillo with Manchego cheese and that combination is so close to perfect that it is silly; add the Bellegarde and it is on the asymptote of perfection.  This is a massive white wine, full, lush, super-rich, but once again, that weight is carried on the finish by vibrant acidity. It is so alive for such a big white. It needs an aged cheese like an English Cheddar or it can accompany the main course, so long as you have something like pork, duck, goose, or lobster. Vegetarians, try this one with a vegetable Wellington, more delicious than a beef Wellington any day. Just use a puff pastry for richness, then fill with various roasted veg and some cheese (Manchego?).  Alternatively, vegetarians could do a strudel with a combination of blue and Neufchatel cheese, with cauliflower and peas.  You get the idea; something rich, creamy, decadent—this wine will pair up beautifully.

Reds

Steininger, Zweigelt, “Novemberlese,” Kamptal, 2008– $16.99

Elsewhere I have described this wine as “hedonistic,” and it is. It is all about pleasure and immediate satisfaction. Zweigelt is a hybrid of two Austrian red grapes, Saint Laurent and Blaufrankisch, and it combines the great qualities of both—juiciness, fruitiness, spiciness and rich, lush, fullness. It is called “Novemberlese” because the grapes are picked as late as possible, early November, and they are ripe and sweet. The wine made from these grapes reflects that richness and would love to be paired with aged cheeses (try a 3-year Gouda), a big main meal of meat (think sausages) or that lovely finish of chocolate!

Begali, Ripasso, Veneto, 2008–$21.99 (Organic)

We do love this wine. Made from the same grapes as Valpolicello, but this is so not Valpolicello. Regular Valpolicello is enhanced by drying some of the grapes so that they shrivel like raisins, then pressing them so that just a drop of rich nectar emerges, and blending the nectar in with the Valpolicello.  The result is a much richer wine with much sweeter fruit, more like fig and balsamic than bright cherry. Think roasted meats and sweet, caramelized vegetables. Also consider it with chocolate when you come home from your romantic dinner out. The perfect nightcap.

Altovinum, Evodia, Garnacha, 2009– $10.99

A budget price, but not a cheap wine. This wine is one of the best values in the shop. For lots more on the producer and the wine, see Alex’s blog post below. Alex wrote about the 2008 and, we are so pleased to report, the 2009 is just as good or better. Nothing pleases us more than to find a wine of this quality at this price; what a value!

Having just read a review by Tanzer, and conceding that he said it well, it appears below. I will note only that it received a 90. Enjoy.

Sexy, high-pitched aromas of strawberry preserves, black raspberry, minerals and pungent flowers. Concentrated but not at all heavy; sweet raspberry and blackberry flavors are lifted by a hint of violet. Very suave, especially at this price; finishes with silky tannins and excellent clarity. No jamminess here, which is pretty rare for inexpensive garnacha. These vines are reportedly planted at 850 to 1,100 meters altitude on slate and are more than 100 years old.

February and March Tastings

Our tastings require reservations so we can make sure we have the right amount of food and wine.  Please make reservations by calling 246-6400 or emailing us at wwines@sover.net.

Saturday, February 12th at 4pm

Via Vino — Italian Wine Tour

  • Wines from the Veneto, Tuscany, Piedmont and Abruzzo
  • Led by Rob Forman, National Sales Manager for Dalla Terra
  • 4:00, Tasting fee of $25, plus tax includes light food pairings
  • Please call 246-6400 or email wwines@sover.net. to reserve your space with a credit card number.

Saturday, February 19th at 4pm

Bordeaux

  • Enjoy wines from the Medoc, St. Emilion and Bordeaux Superiore, and learn what makes these wines unique.
  • Tasting led by David Humphrey, Certified Specialist of Wine,  Farrell Distributing
  • Tasting fee, $25, plus tax, includes light food pairings. Reservations necessary. Call 246-6400 or email wwines@sover.net.

Saturday, February 26th at 4pm

Wines from South Africa– from Chenin Blanc to Pinotage.

  • Led by Douglas Elliot, Graham Beck Wines.
  • Tasting fee, $25, plus tax, includes light food pairings. Reservations necessary. Please call 246-6400 or email wwines@sover.net.

Saturday, March 12th at 4pm

TBA — Stay Tuned!

Hurrah to Three Syrahs

What do the wines of Hermitage (Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle, Jean-Louis Chave), Cote Rotie (Guigal’s single-vineyard Cote Roties-La Mouline, La Turque, La Landonne), and Penfold’s Grange have in common? Well, they are easily some of the most sought after, iconic, and expensive wines produced (a case of 1961 Hermitage La Chapelle recently sold at auction for $98,587). More fundamentally, they are all Syrah-based wines. With the sea of unidimensional, mass-produced Shiraz that fills supermarket shelves and college dorm recycling bins, it’s easy to forget that some of the world’s most profound wines are made from Syrah.

When picked ripe, Syrah produces dark, dense, alcoholic, rich wines. In fact, these attributes made it common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries to “hermitage” the wines of Bordeaux. That is to say, wine makers and merchants blended Syrah from the Northern Rhone region of Hermitage to bolster the often anemic, under-ripe wines of Bordeaux. One writer even noted in 1827 that a staggering 80% of the production of Hermitage was sold that year to members of the Bordeaux wine trade. It is worth mentioning that even today, one often hears rumors about Pinot Noir producers, especially in California, augmenting their wines with Syrah. There is little doubt that Syrah is capable of supplementing some of the finest wines in the world, but it also produces plenty of fine wines that fall closer to the ‘everyday wine’ category.

Recently, Syrah has been hit by a wave of consumer disinterest. Only a few years ago, Australian Shiraz was a best seller and Syrah was being madly planted in California (in 1985, there were only 100 acres of it in CA, today there are at least 13,000 acres). Then, due to a complex nexus of factors, consumers began turning away from the variety and today most wine shops have greatly reduced their shelf space that was once devoted to Syrah. It’s a real shame because there has never been so much good Syrah on the market as there is today. While the famous appellations of the Northern Rhone (principally Hermitage and Cote Rotie) and Australia’s Barossa Valley remain the source of the most famous examples of the variety, there are fantastic Syrah’s being produced in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, the Central Coast of California, Yakima, Columbia Valley, and Walla Walla regions of Eastern Washington, New Zealand, and South Africa.

One of the most appealing aspects of Syrah is its stylistic range— determined either by terroir or winemaking techniques, or the combination thereof. For example, broadly speaking, wines from the Northern Rhone tend to express a certain meatiness and to possess solid underlying acidity, whereas many examples from Australia fall into the ‘fruit bomb’ category of exuberantly ripe, round fruit. Syrah, therefore, is an extremely versatile wine to pair with food. Moreover, in the winter months the variety is especially agreeable as its pairs particularly well with hearty, meat-rich dishes.

Below are three examples, each of which represents a fine example of Syrah.

2007 Camplazens Syrah Vin du Pays’Oc ($15.99)

This is a delightful example of the ‘old world’ Northern Rhone style of Syrah at a modest price. The Camplazens offers up a complex aromatic mélange of violets, enticing hints of grilled meat and sizzling bacon, wood smoke, and ripe blueberry fruit. This complexity carries over to the palate with dark plum and blackberry fruit, enhanced by meat and herb undertones. Nice underlying acidity makes this a great food wine, as does the fact that it weighs in at reasonable 13% alc.

2006 Rolf Binder Hales Barossa Valley Shiraz ($19.99)

This is a classic example of a relatively restrained Australian Shiraz, with its rich fruit profile, yet medium alcohol (14.5%) and modest new oak influenced flavors. On the nose, it presents intense creamy blueberry, and soy latte notes, while the palate is packed with jammy black cherry fruit with some nice spice accents. A great wine to warm up with next to the fire on a cold night, or to pair with rich winter beef dish, or wait until summer and pop it with some BBQ.

2009 Substance Syrah ($19.99)

While high-end Washington State Syrahs have been winning accolades for much of the last decade, this is a great example of a value-driven wine from the Evergreen state. It adroitly straddles the stylistic divide between the wines of old world and those of the new world. Pungent floral aromas of carnations and violets with hints of herb, humus, and grilled meats issue forth from the glass. In the mouth, it offers juicy raspberry and boysenberry flavors with a touch of fresh tartness developing at the back-end. This wine possesses amazingly richness and body for its medium alcohol (13.7%) and has nice acid and tannin underpinnings. It is very youthful and primary at this stage and, while it can be easily enjoyed now, it will only benefit from some short-term cellar time.

Alex’s Picks for Holiday Gifts

It is that time of year, when holiday gift shopping is on everyone’s mind. Buying a bottle of wine as a gift is not always easy. Let’s face it, there are a lot of wines out there and everyone seems to have a different taste for wine. To help out, I’ve selected three wines in the shop that I think will satisfy a broad range of palates and pocketbooks.

2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle ‘Eroica’ ($23.99)

As far as I’m concerned, there is not a better domestic off-dry Riesling for the price. ‘Eroica’ is a partnership between Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernie Loosen (one Germany’s most famous Riesling producers). From the outset, the goal was to produce a great American Riesling comparable to Loosen’s wines from the famed Mosel Region. The 2008 represents the tenth vintage of this wine that, over the years, has not only garnered praise from all corners of the wine world, but also played a major role in establishing Washington as a prime region for high quality Riesling. What makes the 2008 wine so compelling is its balance. The crisp apple, pear, and white peach flavors are checked by bracing acidity and piercing minerality. While this wine is technically off-dry, it is just barely—there is not even a hint of sweetness. The ‘Eroica’ is a very versatile wine and pairs well with Indian curries, Asian cuisine, seafood (especially crab cakes and scallops), and roast turkey. And, if you are so inclined, the racy acidity will permit this wine to gracefully age for at least a decade.

2008 Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir ($34.99)

I am truly enamored with this wine. Bethel Heights is one of the oldest vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and it has a long track record of producing wonderfully balanced Pinot Noirs. The 2008 vintage in the Willamette valley was a marvelous one, and Bethel Heights has hit a home run with their Estate Pinot Noir. A lush cherry fragrance with hints of spice extends to the rich flavors on the palate. This wine exhibits fantastic concentration balanced by surprising acidity. Ripe fruit flavors and an exceptionally lush mouthfeel belie the 13% alcohol. Though this wine was perfectly approachable when it was first opened, it only got better with time. This has the stuffing to age for, at least, a decade. Rarely does one encounter an Oregon Pinot Noir of such quality with less sticker shock attached. It is also worth noting that this is an Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine.

2006 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard ($58.99)

For the money, Andrew Will is producing some of the finest Bordeaux blends in the country. Every vintage, Andrew Will garners big scores from not only Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, but also the Wine Spectator and even Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. Among those that follow the Washington wine scene, Andrew Will has long been considered one of the state’s top wineries (alongside the likes of Quilceda Creek and Leonetti), but outside of these wine circles, Andrew Will is hardly a household name. Perhaps it’s the winery’s small production and the relatively limited exposure of most American wine drinkers to high-end Washington wines that are to blame. Anyway, anyone who enjoys Bordeaux-style blends should take notice.

One of the great virtues of Andrew Will wines is their balance. Few wines today so perfectly span the stylistic divide between Bordeaux and Napa. Taking advantage of one of Washington’s most heralded old vine vineyards, Champoux Vineyard, the wine displays the ripe fruit character of a top-flight Napa wine, yet it also possesses the restraint and complexity of a classed-growth Bordeaux. One of the key elements to this feat is the substantial acid profile of the wine, which is much more in line with Bordeaux than Napa. The 2006 Champoux Vineyard is comprised of 57% cabernet sauvignon, 35% cabernet franc, and 8% merlot and it is a real stunner. The cabernet sauvignon is readily apparent on the nose, with dark fruit, cassis, and a hint of methol. These aromas carry over into the flavors on the palate along with undertones of cream, spices, and chocolate. Overall, this wine offers wonderful complexity, balance, a beautifully round mouthfeel, and excellent length. The 2006 Champoux Vineyard possesses a definite sense of charisma and gravitas. This will reach its peak in 3-5 years and will remain there for at least another 5 years. If consuming soon, decant for at least 3 hours.

A Delicious Value: the 2008 Altovinum Evodia

The Gratification of Discovery. While there are many reasons that wine is a fun and an interesting subject to explore, one thing I’ve learned in my involvement in the wine world is this:   few experiences rival the gratification of discovering a great value wine. One constantly hears the refrain that never before has the consumer been so spoiled by such a diverse and extensive selection of value-driven wines. Yet, I can’t name the large number of times I’ve opened a wine that the critics have declared a fantastic value, only to be let down. Perhaps I expect too much…or so I thought until recently. The Cote Est was certainly a pleasant revelation this summer and with the seasonal plunge in temperature, the focus of my consumption has shifted to red wines. Fortunately, thanks in part to reading the critics, but also to my luck and, dare I say, intuition, I’ve lately unearthed several shining examples of great everyday (under $12) red wines and of these, I am most excited about the 2008 Altovinum Evodia.

Unearthing Values in Spain. No country is churning out more high quality, low-end wine today than Spain. One of the principal reasons is that there is more vineyard land in Spain (2.9 million acres) than in any other country on the face of the planet; moreover, Spain is blessed with some of the oldest vines in Europe. Before the wine quality revolution of the late 90s, which revitalized many of Spain’s once forgotten wine producing regions (Campo de Borja, Calatayud, Jumilla/Yecla, etc…), farmers in these areas made so little income from their low-yield, old vine vineyards that replanting them was an uneconomical afterthought. The result is an abundance of old vine vineyard sources in these up and coming regions. This is no more apparent than in the wines from the Denominación de Origen (DO) of Calatayud in the southwestern corner of Aragon. With its ancient high altitude vineyards, Calatayud has attracted lots of attention and investment. During the last decade, a steady stream of popular value Garnachas have hit our shores from Calatayud: Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha, Bodegas Ateca “Garnacha de Fuego” and “Ateca” are prime examples.

A Charismatic Wine at this Price Point.  Evodia (Greek for “aroma”) is a new project from the American importer, Eric Solomon (European Cellars) and the seemingly irrepressible enologist, Jean Marc Lafage. Sourced from the highest vineyards in the DO (2400-3000 ft. in elevation), the quality of the low-yield, old vine (up to 100 years old) Garnacha fruit is apparent in the glass. An alluring bouquet of fraises du bois complemented by an undertone of herbs issues forth after a few seconds of swirling. In the mouth, soft, lush strawberry and cherry fruit flavors spread across the palate and the concentrated old vine fruit offers excellent weight and length. In sum, it is a strikingly charismatic wine for the price point.

Fresh Fruit Character. One of the most appealing aspects of Evodia is the fresh quality of the fruit. In part, this is the result of excellent vineyard site selection. The cooler high altitude sites mitigate the hot climate of Aragon, helping the fruit retain acidity and keeping the sugar/alcohol in check. In other words, Evodia is not your typical jammy, super alcoholic Garnacha. Finally, the wine is fermented and aged in tank, which preserves the wonderful fresh fruit character and does not impart any distracting flavors.

The 2008 Altovinum Evodia is a delicious bargain that is a perfect every day red for now and the colder months that lie ahead.

Alcohol: 14%

Drinking Window: 2010-2012

Pairing Ideas: Pork and lamb pair especially well with Garnacha, but other good pairings include: beef stew, aged cheddar and Manchego, sweet potato soup. The relatively low acidity and low tannin levels make it an appealing wine to drink on its own as well.

Price: Under $12.

Josh Reynolds (Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar): “Bright ruby. Fresh strawberry and raspberry aromas are deepened by notes of licorice, black tea and pungent herbs. Supple in texture, offering sweet red fruit flavors and showing no rough edges. A smoky note comes up with air, adding complexity to a nicely persistent, red berry-dominated finish. Extremely easy to drink, and offering excellent depth and clarity for the money.” (89 pts).

An Ode to Summer

Domaine Lafage, Cote Est, Catalan, 2009

Domaine Lafage, Cote Est, Catalan, 2009

As we start to feel the first tinges of fall in the air, is there a better time to toast one of the summer’s best whites?  After some of the long, hot days of this past summer, there was nothing I craved more than a refreshing glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris, Muscadet, or even a cool-climate Chardonnay.  However, with this year’s heat wave, by the time August rolled around another glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc no longer had the appeal that it did 8 weeks before. Fortunately, I found a few worthy replacements and none is as exciting in terms of QPR (quality-price ratio) as the 2009 Cote Est.

This ‘vins des pays’ from the Côtes Catalanes provides so much pleasure that I remember checking my receipt after first trying it; I simply couldn’t believe it cost less than $12. It’s not very often that a wine sourced from truly old vines is as well-priced. There are no standards or regulations for labeling a wine ‘old vines’ or ‘vieilles vignes,’ which often causes confusion on the part of the consumer, and in a lot cases, the vines aren’t even that old. The oldest chardonnay vines in California were planted in 1953, for example, and they are the source for the highly rated Hanzell Vineyards Ambassador’s 1953 Chardonnay (retail: over $100). On the other hand, in the Spanish region of Rias Baixas, there are Albarino vines that are over 200 years old producing one of the world’s great dry whites (Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas, retail: $40).

While vine age is not always indicative of quality (people often reference the legendary 1961 Bordeaux vintage in which many incredible wines were made from young vines as most of the vineyards in Pomerol and St Emilion were wiped out by a harsh winter in 1956), old vines are cherished and very sought after. They produce much less fruit than younger vines, but their fruit tends to be much more concentrated and nuanced. Which brings me back to the Cote Est, this is a wine of impressive quality and complexity– thanks to the old vine components. Part of what I find so appealing is the fact that the wine is so fresh. There is no oak to add great richness in body, flavor, or color. Instead this wine is fermented and aged in neutral stainless steel tanks, allowing the fruit to express itself.

In the past I’ve not been much of a fan of either Grenache Gris/Blanc or Marsanne. They tend to produce high alcohol, low acid wines that, on a cold winter night might be fine, but not in the summer. Here is where the talents of the winemaker, Jean Marc Lafage, become apparent. The alcohol of the Grenache and Marsanne is kept in check and he blends in Chardonnay, which isn’t readily apparent in the aromatics or flavors, yet contributes a wonderful acidic backbone to the wine. The final result is not a typical southern French blend. While it displays many similarities with a Cotes du Rhone Blanc, it has much livelier acidity than any CdR Blanc I’ve ever tasted, making it more refreshing and much more food friendly.

The aromatics of this wine are impressive (in my notes I characterized the nose as ‘exuberant’). It is quite complex with an initial wave of white spring flower aromas, lemon zest, fermented stone fruit, then with some air comes a more nuanced chalk character and a hint of iodine (think Chablis or Muscadet). This lovely interplay between fruit and minerality is matched on the palate with stone fruit, citrus, roasted almonds, and floral qualities balanced by nice minerality and acidity. In all, a well-balanced rather unique wine.

-Age of Vines: The Grenache Gris/Blanc component (50%) is sourced from 80 year old vines and the chardonnay (30%) from 20 year old vines. –the Marsanne (20%) is from young vines

-Stainless steel tank elevage

- Alcohol: 13%

- Drinking window: 2010-2011

- Pairing ideas: Aperitif, especially with creamy cheeses like Brie or Camembert (try Vermont’s Blythedate Farm cheeses), rich, cream based soups, pasta primavera, or butternut squash stuffed with quinoa, pine nuts, parmesan and sage.

Price: Under $12

January Tastings

Saturday, January 9th, 4:00-6:00
California Blends

We have some lush, rich, velvety, huge reds to share with you. From the Central Coast’s iconoclastic Four Vines to Napa and now Mendocino icon, Duckhorn, this is a lineup to “wow” the “big” red wine drinkers. $20 tasting fee.

Saturday, January 23rd, 4:00-6:30
20 Wines for $30– a new quarterly series

Join us for a fun afternoon of tasting lots of interesting, beautiful wines in a walk-around tasting at the Wine Gallery. Light hors d’oeuvres provided. Space is limited. Tickets for this tasting can be purchased at Windham Wines or by calling  802-246-6400 with a credit card number to reserve your spot. Space is limited to 40, must reserve by January 19th. See you there.