Spanish Wine

End of Summer Sipper: Rueda, Spain’s Verdejo

Looking for a new white wine to try in the final month of summer? If you like Sauvignon Blanc, I’d suggest checking out Verdejo from the Rueda region of Spain.

This Spanish wine region northwest of Madrid, the Denomination of Origin (D.O.) Rueda, was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1980. The production area is located in the Region of Castilla y León and consists of 74 towns and villages. The major grape variety is Verdejo and it’s origins date back to the 11th century.

White wine varieties make up the majority of Rueda’s vineyard landscape (approx. 98% of total plantings) and Verdejo makes up 85% of those white grapes. The growing soil is located on a high, flat plateau, which makes for cooler growing conditions and a longer season. The cold climate of the evenings preserves the lively acidity that characterizes the wines.

 There is only one D.O. in the region of Rueda, which is “Rueda D.O.” Within the D.O. there are many styles of wine, and these styles each get their own back label as an identification seal.

Albariño often comes to mind for people thinking of Spanish white wine. But Rueda is gaining in exposure and popularity. As a Sauvignon Blanc fan, I love the Verdejo discovery. It’s fresh, zesty and very reasonably priced!

Oro de Castilla Verdejo 2013

Variety: 100% Verdejo
Aroma: Grassy citrus
Taste: Pear and melon with herbal citrus notes
Price: $14.99
My thoughts: This wine is made in the classic style and has been called “a textbook Verdejo” showcasing the wine’s bright, fresh and mineral flavors. Highly recommend this 100% unoaked wine especially as an aperitif.

Finca Montepedroso Verdejo 2013

Variety: 100% Verdejo
Aroma: Apricot and green apple
Taste: Grapefruit, lichi and peach
Price: $17.99
My thoughts: This wine is a bit bigger and complex giving it a richer flavor, probably due to the five months it sits on the lees. Great food wine.

Salud to a great end of summer sipper, Verdejo from the Rueda region of Spain!

Exploring the World of Spanish Wine with Swirl&Sip

At our September Fine Wine Divas event, we had a great time learning about (and tasting!) wines from all across Spain…from Penedès to León to La Mancha to Rioja. We pulled out the Spanish Wine Region map (check out this great one from Wine Folly) and went on a wine tour with Jason from Swirl&Sip, our wine sponsor for the evening.

We tasted the sparkling, wine, rosé (or rosado in Spain) and red wines.

  • NV Signat Semi-Seco Cava
  • 2011 Heredad de Penalosa Verdejo
  • 2011 Vina Altaba Rosado
  • 2010 Lar de Paula Madurado
  • 2008 Lar de Paula Crianza
  • 2005 Lar de Paula Reserva

And while everyone enjoyed the Cava, the reds were the favorites. The top two were…

2010 Lar de Paula Madurado

  • Variety: Tempranillo
  • Aroma: Dark plum and bright red cherries
  • Taste: Velvety plum and cherries
  • Price: $13.99
  • Pair with: Tapas, roast turkey or lasagna
  • Our thoughts: Light and fruity yet smooth. Great value wine!

2005 Lar de Paula Reserva

  • Variety: Tempranillo
  • Aroma: Spice, balsamic vinegar, roasted meat
  • Taste: Blackberry, tobacco, black pepper
  • Price: $23.99
  • Pair with: Hearty tapas, lamb with cherry reduction, or a beef stew
  • Our thoughts: Big, smooth, spicy, all at a great price.

While both of these wines are 100% Tempranillo from Rioja, they underwent very different aging processes, and, in turn, are very different wines. The Madurado spent only 4 months in oak, lending it a lighter, fruitier characteristic, while the Reserva spent 18 months in oak, and then aged for 18 more months in the bottle, leaving it big, spicy and intense.

One of the Wine Divas summed it up well, “These red wines are the kind I can spend a night with!”

We paired the wines with Spanish cheeses and Mediterranean tapas which truly demonstrated how food friendly Spanish wine is. While the Divas weren’t crazy about the Verdejo and Rosado, once paired with food they were really nice.

Our lovely sponsor, Swirl & Sip, currently offers a selection of high value wines (including all of the wines above) online. Their first wine shop is scheduled to open later this fall in Fairfax’s Mosaic District, and will offer a tasting bar, an expanded selection of unique and delicious wines, hand-crafted beers and gourmet foods from passionate producers. Sign up for their newsletter online to stay up to date on the grand opening!

Now I need a real trip to these wine regions! 😉 Salud to Spanish wines!

Celebrating International Grenache Day in Spain

It’s International Grenache Day! The holiday emerged following the inaugural Grenache Symposium in 2010, which hosted 250 delegates from 23 countries to draw up a blueprint for boosting the global profile of the wine. Grenache (known as Garnacha in Spain) is one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world. It ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions such as those found in Spain, Sardinia, the south of France, and California’s San Joaquin Valley. The event gave spotlight to one of Spain’s most popular varietals and most widely planted.

Garnacha typically has strong red fruit expression with subtle notes of sweet spices and floral aromas.  The wine is food-friendly, complementing an array of dishes, including vegetables, beef, lasagna and pasta.

Since the wine is often used in blends, it does not often take the spotlight. However, Campo Viejo, the leading winemaker in the Rioja region of Spain, is celebrating the varietal by launching its first-ever 100% Garnacha. Old vines growing in their original terroirs in Rioja Baja under warm climate conditions, result in a wine with strong red fruit expression, floral aromas and softness in palate.

Campo Viejo Garnacha 2012

  • Variety: Garnacha grapes from Alfaro & Aldeanueva (Rioja Baja, Spain)
  • Aroma: Cassis, violet, vanilla spice
  • Taste: Toasty spice with a berry tart and sweetness with hints of vanilla and caramel
  • Price: $12
  • My thoughts: Light bodied yet complex…berry, sweet and spicy. The wine’s spicy toastiness hit me first then the tart yet sweet lingered.Very nice! It would be a very interesting tasting to compare to Grenache from south of France.

Cheers to Campo Viejo’s new wine and to International Grenache Day!

Around the World of Sparkling Wine

I’m always a big fan of sparkling wine, special occasion or none. And the holidays are the perfect time to bring out ANY bubbles.

Last week, I attended an “I Brake for Bubbly” tasting at The Curious Grape, a local wine bar and shop, for a great tour through the sparkling wine world….Austria -> Chile -> France -> Spain -> California -> Italy.

Through this tour you’ll see what makes Champagne, which can only come from Champagne, France, so special, and what the climate, grape varieties and process create for sparkling wines from other regions and countries.

First a little overview about how sparkling wine is made.

  • The Traditional Method: The classic way is the méthode traditionelle (traditional method), or méthode Champenoise (Champagne method), developed in Champagne, France. Wine is produced in the normal way, then bottled with a sugar and yeast mixture to sit for a second fermentation. Carbon dioxide is produced during this fermentation creating the tiny bubbles. The yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle, referred to as the lees. While the wine is aged on the lees, complexity in the flavor develops (Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months for this second fermentation). Next the sediment is removed through ‘riddling,’ the tilting of the bottle on riddling racks to allow the sediment to move to the neck. The neck is then frozen, the cap removed, the plug of frozen sediment shoots out from the pressure. The bottle is then topped up with dosage (small amount of sugar solution, amount added varies based on sweetness and dryness levels desired), recorked and wire caged. Whoosh! Quite a process. Now you know why Champagne is expensive!
  • The Charmat Method: This method, also known as the Italian method, is quicker and used to make many less expensive sparkling wines. In this process, the yeast and sugar are added to the wine in the pressurized stainless steel fermentation tanks.Then this wine is bottled.

Now onto the tour…

Flight 1: Austria for Riesling Sekt

Sekt is the name used for sparkling wine in Germany and Austria. Both wines we tasted are from Weingut Steininger, a small family-owned winery in the Langenlois Valley of Kamptal, one of Austria’s northernmost growing regions. This is a very interesting tasting to compare…

  • 2009 Steininger Riesling Sekt, $25.99: The grapes for this wine come from the lower part of the slopes and a nutrient rich soil. It’s 100% Riesling grapes made using the Traditional Method and aged on the lees for at least one year. The result is a bready nose and apple flavors. Very nice!
  • 2008 Steininger Riesling “Heiligenstein” Sekt, $51.99: Heiligenstein means Holy Stone and is among one of the world’s most famous vineyards for Riesling. It’s very high altitude vineyards, grown on steep terraces of solid rock. First fermentation for this wine in neutral oak casks is one year, then aged on the lees for two years. No dosage is added. It produces a more concentrated sparkling wine with minerality and stone-fruit with bigger bubbles. A real treat!

Flight 2: Chile & France for Chardonnay-based Sparklers

  • 2011 Cono Sur Brut, Bío Bío, Chile, $18.99: This is a quite nice entry level sparkler made of 90% Chardonnay, 6% Pinot Noir and 4% Riesling. You wouldn’t expect a sparkling wine from Chile, but this one comes from the very southern part of the country, with sunny yet cold weather perfect for growing sparkling wine grapes. While made using the Charmant Method, they age the base wine for four months in barrel before second fermentation, then allow the wine to rest on the lees in tank for three months before bottling. Very balanced with nice minerality!
  • Non-Vintage Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Champagne “Hugues de Coulmet” Brut, Champagne, France, $51.99: Pierre Moncuit is a small boutique producer dating back to the 1940s. Their 36 acres of Grand Cru Village are in the the southern part of the region, which produces some of the region’s best grapes as they are grown in very chalky soil, giving great minerality to the wine. Although this is non-vintage, all Pierre Moncuit’s are made with single vintage grapes. Aged three years for second fermentation in the bottle before disgorgement. Very special boutique Champagne!

Flight 3: Spain & California for Red Grape-based Sparklers

  • Non-Vintage Canals Canals Cava Brut Nature Rosat Reserve, Penedes, Spain, $15.99: Cava is sparkling wine in Spain. Cava mainly comes from Penedes region. Cava is made with Spanish grapes using the Traditional Method. This wine is made from Garnacha, Monastrell, Trepat and Pinot Noir. Reserva in Spain means it’s been aged at least 15 months. Brut Nature means no sugar is added to the dosage. Ths wine has been aged 24 months in second fermentation. Very nice!
  • 2008 Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, Carneros, California, $21.99: Carneros is the cold end of the Sonoma and Napa Valley. Founded by Spain’s Freixenet, the second oldest Cava house dating back to 1889 in Spain, they started Gloria Ferrer and planted the first grapes in 1980. Made with the Traditional Method from 92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay and aged 18 months on the lees, there is also 5% non sparkling rosé added to give it the pretty pink color and creamy round texture. Lovely subtle strawberry and vanilla notes.
  • Non-Vintage Roederer Estate Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley, California, $28.99: Roederer Estate Brut is the first California sparkling wine to be produced by Champagne Louis Roederer, the fine winemaker of France. The Anderson Valley is the coolest of California’s sparkling wine regions, also very wet so hard to ripen the grapes. This blend is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with 5% non-sparkling Pinot Noir added for color. Roederer follows the common Champagne practice of holding a portion of each year’s harvest in “reserve” to enrich the non-vintage blend in any given year. This wine is made of 10-20% reserve wines aged in oak for roundness and aged 24 months on the lees. A Champagne like sparkler from California!

Flight 4: France & Italy for What’s Hot Now

  • 2010 Domaine des Nugues “Made by G,” Beaujolais, France, $19.99: This wine from the Beaujolais region is 100% Gamay grapes, however sparkling wines aren’t allowed to be labled Beaujolais, thus the name Made by G. These grapes are hand-harvested and fermented, then fermented again using Traditional Method for a few months on lees. No sugar is added, the sweetness coming just from the Gamay grapes.
  • 2011 Tenuata Il Falchetto Moscato d’Asti “Ciombo,” Piedmont, Italy, $17.99: As an Italian wine it is considered Frizzante, their main term for sparkling wines. This wine is made of 100% Moscato grapes and tank fermented. The grapes are grown in the Ciombo region on 25 year old vines. The results is a very intense, floral, honey wine with low alcohol. It’s a perfect after dinner offering.

And that was our flight around the world of sparkling. What’s your favorite sparkling wine?

Cheers to Bubbles!

Sparkler Sampler

An ‘around Europe’ sampling of sparkling wines, my favorites, was a great opportunity at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. With the start of the holiday season this week, its the perfect time to share more about bubbles and some to try during the upcoming festivities.

Let’s start with a little about how sparkling wine is made. As yeast ferments the sugar in grape juice to produce alcohol and wine, it produces carbon dioxide gas as the by-product. To make sparkling wines, the winemaker puts the wine through a second fermentation, adding sugar and yeast to the wine to create carbon dioxide bubbles (either in the bottle which is the Traditional/ Champagne method and most expensive OR the Charmat method in stainless steel fermentation tanks).

* France’s Champagne

  • First stop is the best known sparkling wine… Champagne. According to legend, Dom Pérignon, the Benedictine monk and cellar-master of the Abbey of Hautvillers, is the father of champagne. Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France (only 45 minutes via fast train from Paris). The region, the most northern and coolest vineyards in France, is perfect for the grapes that are used in Champagne … Red Pinot Noir, Red Pinot Meunier or Chardonnay. The famous Champagne ‘houses’ buy most of the grapes from the growers in the region and each house has its own style of producing Champagne (like Blanc de Blanc means white from whites only using Chardonnay grapes).
  • Möet & Chandon is the most popular producer/house (they also produces Dom Perignon…created only on years that the harvest is precisely suitable and aged 7 years before released) and were featured at the Festival. They were serving up their 4 champagnes: White Star Impérial (their flagship), Rosé Impérial (the Glamoruous Champagne), Nectar Impérial (the Daring Champagne) and Nectar Impérial Rosé (the Extravagant Champagne). Each stop had great signage describing and mapping your tasting.
  • I enjoyed had a glass of their flagship White Star Impérial. It represents all of Champagne’s nuances as its made of Chardonnay to give it freshness, elegance and citrus; Pinot Meunier to give it white fresh fruit flavor and roundness; and Pinot Noir to give it structure and spiciness. Its a lively bright glass for all occasions (but a little drier than I like). Approx retail $35.

* Spain’s Cava

  • Next stop on our walk around the world… Spain for Cava. First introduced in 1872, the sparkling wine is produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia, south west of Barcelona. Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Montserrat mountains make it ideal for cultivating the Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada grapes (the most common grapes for Cava). Its made using the Traditional Method thus very similar to champagne.
  • Giró Ribot, Spain’s pre-eminent producer of Cava, was serving their Cava Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain.  An elegant sparkling Cava with the French influence of styling, aged for 9 months it has green tints, tiny bubbles like champagne with a honey and herbal taste. Approx retail $10.

* Italy’s Prosecco

  • Next country Italy for my personal favorite… Prosecco. This dry sparkling wine comes from the Veneto Region of Italy (north of Venice) and the Glera grape. Prosecco is produced in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene regions which became DOC in 2009. Not to be confused with Asti Spumante, the sweet sparkling wine produced in the Piedmont region of Italy, this is the sparkler also traditionally used inthe Bellini cocktail. Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method making the wine less expensive to produce.
  • I sipped a juicy glass of Caposaldo Prosecco…with a nose and taste of citrus, green apple & acacia notes, it has good body and signature medium to larger bubbles of Prosecco. Approx retail $13.

* Germany’s Sekt

  • Last stop on the bubbles tour… Sekt in Germany. German production of sparkling wines dates back to 1826 when Georg Christian Kessler founded G. C. Kessler & Co. to produce the wine after previously working for the French Champagne house Veuve Clicquot. Sekt uses Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir Grapes. The majority is produced using the Charmat method.
  • In Germany I enjoyed a nice glass of P.J. Valckenberg Madonna Sekt, a fruity sparkling full body wine made in the Rheinhessen region of Germany. Approx retail $11.

Cheers to the bubbles of Europe! May you enjoy many glasses this holiday season!