Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Unexpectedly Good

I'm working on a year end batch of recommendations, but in the meantime, a little something unexpected. Not exactly what you might think to reach for as winter weather descends upon much of the country, but this sample recently met a corkscrew and drinking enjoyment ensued. 

2018 Terlato Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali $20
Though on the pricey side for pinot grigio, this is quite good indeed! Clean, well-made, and steely, the clean profile hints at mountain-grown fruit. The acidity is balance by subdued, food-friendly fruit, making for a terrifically-balanced and poised final product. Certainly the best vintage of this wine I have yet to sample.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Recycle Bin, Week of November 18

As the weather turns in much of the country, we're covering some bolder, richer wines to accompany cuisine as it changes with the seasons.  (Note that these are not Thanksiving recommendations - for those see the last post - but winter weather suggestions.) We've got robust chardonnay, luxe cabernet, a couple of legit Israeli wines, among others.  Cheers!

2017 Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay $22
Unexpectedly and blessedly devoid of flab and excess, this clean, well-made chard is rich and round nonetheless. Warming tones of vanilla and oak frame the acidity-outlines fruit core. Plenty of Northern California Chardonnay character here with out any of the baggage. Pretty.

2017 Hess Collection Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon $32
As good as it was to start, it just got better and better. deep purple color wafting with
mocha-cedar aromatics suggest a cashmere sweater awaits. And it does. The open texture of this wine’s fabric allows the big fruit to unfold languorously, though there’s plenty of sturdy oak framing here to keep everything in line. Perfect wine to curl up with in front of the fireplace over the holidays. Mmmmmmm. Very friendly indeed. 

2017 Ferraton Pere & Fils “La Matinière” Crozes-Hermitages $26
Textbook Crozes and absolutely irresistible (especially after 4 hours decanted.) Black olive runs through the savory profile of this clean, youthful Syrah. crunchy deliciousness emerges with air that streams a river of drinking pleasure. Damn!

2018 Silverado Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Miller Ranch Napa Valley$25
Very balanced and enjoyable, with right down the middle fruit framed by proportional acidity. On the citrus side of the spectrum but still showing hints of fresh grass and Grannysmith.  Subdued by modern standards, which isn’t a bad thing as many sauvignon blancs seem to be striving for so much grapefruit they end up astringent.

2018 Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato Napa Valley $25
An unusual one, showing real sangiovese character in a bright pink, fuzzy sweater.  

2018 Carmel Collection Shiraz Israel $15
Legit. Warm, exotic aromas give way to a supple texture and a broad spectrum of flavors. Faithful to the variety’s character in its darkness, but edged by bright Mediterranean notes and wrapped in a subtle caramel shawl. These contrasts are cohesively integrated into a pleasurable, balanced wine. Good value, too.

2018 Carmel Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Israel $15
Another terrific value from this winery, the cabernet shares a lot in common with its shiraz sibling: true varietal character detailed by Mediterranean influences (fresh herbs and pretty crushed violets), but it also delivers plenty of easy drinking in a blessedly mid-weight package. Unfolds expansively as it breathes. And, as it turns out, quite a crowd pleaser.

Monday, November 18, 2019

A Decade of Thankgiving Advice in 3 Easy Bullets

Eric Asimov's recent piece on Thanksgiving wine selection offers sage words of wisdom for those beginning to fret over what to bring to the table.  A lot of what he has to say sounds familiar, so I went back in time to pluck the most enduring nuggets from ten year's worth of Thanksgiving articles on this blog.

Before we get there, one really great piece of advice Mr. Asimov offers that I hadn't previously considered is to keep it light - in alcohol, that is.  Turkey day is a marathon, not a sprint, so big, heavy-handed wines will just kill your momentum early.  Nap time is part of the tradition, but, please, not in the middle of mealtime!

Adding a low alcohol requirement to your selections (unfortunately) collides with another parameter I have tried to uphold for years: "Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday, so keep your beverages domestic."  Just this past weekend I opened a 100% grenache from northern California.  Boozy and overpowering, its 15.7% ABV is emblematic of what has become the norm for way too many domestic wines.  If you can find flavorful American wines under 13%, then grab them, for sure.  But that is a bit of a unicorn hunt anymore.  I'm undecided on whether to prioritize domesticity or moderacy quite yet, but I've included a few ideas on lighter alcohol wines below.

First, 3 of the best pieces of advice that have appeared here over the past 10 years in order of increasing relevance:
  1. Keep it frugal. That doesn’t mean you should buy cheap stuff, it means don’t spend a lot. 
  2. 'Shock and awe' is a military doctrine.  Unless you want your Thanksgiving guests to feel like Norman Schwarzkopf is carving the bird, tone down the tour de force on bottle selection.  A couple of choices are fun.  More is confusing.  And even more is overwhelming
  3. Don't overthink the beverage choice so that there’s plenty of mind space free to exercise gratitude. The wine will do it’s job as a social lubricant and accompaniment to the meal whether you fawn on it or not. Instead, perhaps consider lavishing a compliment on someone for their qualities rather than their accomplishments.
Okay, now for some ideas on flavorful, lower alcohol wines:
  • Vinho Verde: These two words have become synonymous with cheap Portuguese wines that come in tall, skinny bottles.  But Vinho Verde is actually the name of a region in Portugal where many other wines are made.  You might need to ask around or order some online, but there are some higher end albarino-based whites from the area that might set you back $15 and blow your mind.
  • Pinot Grigio: Say what? Country club luncheon wine?  Like Vinho Verde, it's easy to throw the baby out with the bath water, but there is some gorgeous, energetic PG being made in high altitude vineyards in Italy and France.  Look for Italian bottlings from Sudtirol/Alto Adige, or Alsatian bottlings labeled as pinot gris.
  • Valpolicella: Few wines get me as excited as good Valpo does these days. Made predominately from corvina and more commonly found in Ripasso and Amarone bottlings (which are good, but not for Thanksgiving), the normally-vinted Valopolicellas can deliver extraordinary, saline-laced luminescence in a fleet-footed package. Pra and Mazi are two names to seek out.
  • Bardolino: For all the same reasons as Valpolicella, but Bardolino is even lighter.  If you go to the top of the quality pile you may spend $17 on a bottle you'll find hard not to gulp down like ice water on a hot summer day.
  • Schiava/Vernatsch: Also from the Dolomites area, this light-bodied red can pack a lot of energy and food-friendly acidity into a 12.5% wine that makes me smile from ear to ear.
  • Cru Beaujolais: No, not beajolais nouveau, but bojo from any of the 10 cru subregions are options where the freshness-packed gamay grape achives terrific heights. These wines are sommeliers' faves thanks to their vibrant fruit, quenching acidity, and good value.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Peju: Current Releases

Just shy of ten years ago I was poured a glass of Peju Province's cabernet franc at a fancy dinner in St. Helena. The line up of wines (click on the image to view) at the dinner was like an A list of Napa Valley celebrities, but apparently only two of the wines deserved notation, and Peju's cabernet franc (2006) was one of them.  Later that same week I attended a trade tasting/party at the welcoming estate where I had another go at the same wine.  Looking back at my notes from that week, it's clear it made an impression on me.

In the intervening decade, I've not had the opportunity to revisit Peju's wines.  They're expensive, as are most Napa Valley wines these days, and mostly out of reach for my budget.  Still, when these samples arrived I was curious if lightning would strike twice with that cab franc.  Read on to find out.

Located in Rutherford, Peju is a family-run, organic winery making honest, terroir-driven (mostly) red wines with a certain iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove theme running through them. That said, unlike so many Napa reds, these are categorically approachable and, as is the case particularly with the blends, ridiculously lush, and open textured. This only adds to their appeal.  While expensive, they are no more so than their neighbors' wines, are well-made, and register far higher on the pleasure scale than many. Following are my notes on these wines in no particular order.

2015 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $60
Bright presentation of high-flying spice notes wrapped around a core of surprisingly agile cabernet character. Still just a baby, even at four years old, though approachable nonetheless. 

2013 Peju Cabernet Franc 'Petit Trois' Napa Valley $75
An absolute joy to drink, and not just because it says so on the back label. Dark fruit that occupies the triangle between mysterious, lush, and luxurious is structured by spicy oak notes and a balanced acidity that acts like a homing beacon, and keeps you coming back involuntarily. All of this is delivered in an incredibly relaxed manner, owed in part to its age (six years), but this sort of approachability doesn’t happen by accident. Such a luxurious experience and not a drop out of place. 

2015 Peju 'The Farm' Napa Valley $80
Opulent yet remarkably affable. The luxurious nose gives way to a plush palate where gritty, dusty tannins shape voluptuous, dark fruit. Harmony in the glass. Gob smacking and delicious with a finish that you might want a cigarette for.  A complete package.8-0% cabernet with 20% sangiovese.

2016 Peju Merlot Napa Valley $48
You'll fall in love with this wine without tasting it, that’s how wonderful the robust nose is. The sentiment carries through the tannin-forward palate that grips your salivary glands (and heart) with seductive force. Authentic merlot made in an honest Napa profile. Yum.

2017 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon 'The Experiment' Napa Valley $100
Whoa! The blue tinted color says cabernet and the high cheek-boned aromatics say classy. This is textbook high-end Napa cab, replete with tightly integrated tannins, massive, yet elegant black fruit, and a finish that won’t let your attention wander. French oak framing adds to the poise and refinement, but make no mistake, this is anything but reserved. Proud, confident, and serious without being gregarious. It's also kind of a neat concept, which you can read about here.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Haunting, Beguiling White

This wine has been haunting me since I first tasted it a month ago at the Catalonia tasting, where the producer was gracious enough to part with her last bottle.  (Gracias, Gemma!) Since then it's been beckoning me from the fridge, tempting me to revisit it and see if lightning strikes twice.

White grenache is not your everyday white wine grape, at least not in the US, but it has had a firm grasp on my heart since I first fell for Andrew Murray's whites a dozen years ago or more.  Like its red sibling, white grenache projects the place from whence it came in technicolor.  There's an honesty to the grape that, while pure, also offers no hiding for a winemaker's shortcomings.  In other words, when it's good, it's great. This is one of those wines.

Mas Llunes is a small, family-run operation in the Emporda region of Catalonia. Tucked about as far up in the upper right corner of Spain as you can get, the winery's home town of Garriguella is a scant ten or so miles from the French border and even closer to the Mediterranean coast. Here, Gemma and her father run the family wine business which has roots dating back to the 14th century. They practice modern winemaking that honors the land's tradition.  This is reflected in their Nivia white wine.

2018 Mas Llunes Garnacha Blanca/Macabeu 'Nivia' Empordà Spain $?*
As it warms to cellar temperature, its voluptuous shape unfolds, framed by well-defined, taut edges.  Though full, giving, and generous, there's nothing heavy or boastful about it. This is an elegant and sexy wine that maintains proportional evenness as it casts a dizzying, swooning spell.  Beautifully unencumbered by manipulation, this is as clean an expression of grape and place as I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a long time.  Bravo. 

*Mas Llunes (shockingly) does not have a US importer as of yet, so this wine is only available in Europe, where it retails for around $12. Given what's happening with recently-imposed tariffs, it's anyone's guess what will happen to accessibility to the US market, let alone pricing.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Recycle Bin, Week of Oct. 21

It's been a busy month of tasting through a lot of samples, some good, some excellent, and a few duds.  Also a mixed bag of items here, including some in alternative packaging and an Israeli red.  Of particular note are the Greek red and the Italian white blend. I've purchased these two wines multiple times and will do so again in the near future - that's how delicious and satisfying they are.


2018 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti Terra Alpina $13
Super light platinum blonde in the glass, but anyone thinking that will translate to a shy or insipid wine is in for a surprise. Steely minerals greet the nose and give way to crackling acidity that pirouettes around the palate. Textbook pinot grigio fruit, but its alpine provenance is evident in the chiseled structure. No flab on this food-friendly, fairly priced white.

2018 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Dolomiti Terra Alpina $20
Almost as pale as the pinot grigio, but that’s where the similarities diverge. This nose points to something deeper and more complex. A creamy undertone on the tongue and a mellower vibe suggest more drinking, less talking. Enough space for the minerals to share center stage with the mountain fruit. Very easy going and just as alpine as the PG.

NV iCan (Mercer Estates) Chardonnay Washington $?
This tastes suspiciously similar to Mercer‘s normal Chardonnay bottling in glass. The incongruity of plump vanilla, toasty oak, and cream coming out of a metal can is a little peculiar at first. But it’s what’s inside that matters. Easy drinking and not cloying, this is an uncomplicated crowd pleaser.

NV iCan (Mercer Estates) Rose Washington $?
Simple yet flirtatious, this has a bit of acidity that makes it refreshing. Less fruity than expected, and again, incongruous coming out of a skinny, tall can.

2017 Skouras 'Zoe' Red Peloponnese Greece $13
I just can't get enough of this brilliant wine.  Made mostly from the agiorgitiko grape, it's lighter in density and a couple of shades lighter than a pinot noir.  But it offers lively, electric flavors and irresistible acidity.  Easily a top 10 value discovery for the year and another reason to be on the look out for more Greek wines.

2018 Carmel Private Collection Winemakers Blend Israel $15
Bright nose bursting with lively black fruit aromatics, a theme that (almost) continues in the mouth. Very structured, with broad oak notes framing a lighter weight consonant midsection than you’d expect from a wine of such dark flavors. But that juxtaposition allows for subtleties to echo and a refreshing aspect to linger. Will likely improve and open with a year or two in the cellar.

2016 Buglioni Bianco 'Il Desperato' Veneto $18
This was a discovery made on a recent trip to Verona, whose home town white is Soave. But the locals drink whatever is good, like this garganega-dominated blend.  Amazing lucidity and luminescence that triggers instant infatuation, I'll gladly look past the pricey-ish domestic price tag again and again as I fall deeper and deeper for this aptly named wine.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Eruption Red

For all the bitching I do about California wine being overblown, homogeneous, and overpriced, every so often a wine comes a long that challenges that presumption.  This is one of those wines.  But before we get to it, a word on its appellation.

Lake county sits adjacent to and north of Napa county, and surrounds Clear Lake, one of the state's largest freshwater bodies.  Lake county is also home to the Red Hills AVA, which producers some outstanding, under-the-radar wines.  It's also home to the High Valley AVA, from which this wine is sourced.  According to the producer, the volcanic sands and small sand pebbles make for excellent drainage and force vines to struggle, resulting in concentrated fruit with layers of complexity and structure. I agree.

As Napa's wines continue their meteoric streak into the pricing stratosphere, finding suitable proxies at affordable prices is increasingly challenging, driving many value-seekers (including me) overseas.  But this wine serves as a reminder that it's in the shadows where discoveries await.  I hope to be shining a light on this region in the coming weeks to see what other gems are lurking.

2015 Brassfield Estate Winery Eruption Red High Valley $20*
A kitchen sink blend of mostly Petite Sirah, Syrah, Malbec, and Grenache, this well-constructed red has powerful grip and tension, crunchy acidity, and a solid backbone of delicious, rich black fruit.  Dynamite with burgers or other grilled fare, it's definitely got heft, but poise, too.
*SRP is $30, but I paid $20 at a local wine shop, which I'd gladly pay again.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Recycle Bin, Week of September 30

All kinds of goodies in the recycle bin this week.  We've got Cameron Hughes (not Napa cabernets), a trio of Australian reds (not what you think), and a couple of Chilean ringers.  While all of these wines are recommended, for my money, the Kalfu pinot and Two Hands Angel's Share are absolutely worth seeking out.  (These were all received as samples.)  Enjoy!

2017 Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir Leyda Valley Chile $19
There’s a lot to be happy about with this wine. For starters, it’s beautiful in the glass, and not just by its looks. Gorgeously perfumed, its aromatics are an attractive combination of authentic pinot fruit, subtly exotic spice, and elegance. That theme translates directly onto the palate where a debate over whether it’s more French or Oregonian will ensue. But not for long, because who really cares to be distracted by banal thought when a glass of this is in front of you? Reminds me an awful lot of Emeritus Vineyards’ dry farmed single vineyard pinots; delicate but far from shy. And then there’s the price. While not exactly a bargain basement find, it’s less than half a bottle of Emeritus - more than reasonable given the quality of this wine.

2018 Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley Chile $19
The green vegetable, green pepper, celery root that greets your nose here is far from subtle. And the acidity you would expect to accompany those aromatics awaits the palate at full volume. Beyond that shock, however, is surprising harmony and length. If you like a wine so bright you need sunglasses to drink it, this could be for you (but you'll still be squinting.)

2016 Cameron Hughes Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain Washington Lot 660 $25
Textbook. Nicely structured Cabernet with deep black strap fruit, poised aromatics, and deft balance. Approachable now, but will likely improve with five years of bottle age. This notion was reinforced whereupon tasting after open overnight, it’s texture had eased, aromatics relaxed, and fruit remained intact.Need something nice for the dinner table at tue upcoming holidays? Decant for a few hours ahead and your family will be impressed. Guessed its price point at $25.

2017 Cameron Hughes Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Lot 687 $15
Anderson Valley is up in Mendocino County, home to tall conifers, sheep-dotted hillsides, and rolling
fog banks. It’s also home to its own unique style profile, particularly for pinot noir. Where as Carneros and points south tend to yield cola-infused pinots, it’s cooler up here, translating to a more delicate expression of the group. Lot 687 is a good example of that tonality and for the appellation, with gorgeous luminosity in the glass, plenty of spicy high notes, and enough octane to liven up the sinuses, too. There’s no baby fat on this wine, and it’s better off as a result because you can really see through to what it’s got going on. While not at the complex end of the spectrum, it’s easy to drink, good with dinner, and reasonably priced.

2018 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley $33
Hard to believe I’m using this as a descriptor for an Australian shiraz, but at first glance, this is restrained. It certainly has syrah character, nose of slight tar funk, and a bit of pepper. But where you would expect dense, syrupy juice in the glass, instead is a composed, firm red. Again, with a telltale syrah bounce that electrifies the salivary response, but not (yet) revealing all it has coiled up. Certainly still in its infancy, I’d like to meet this wine again in five or so years.

2018 Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz McLaren Vale $33
Instant infatuation.  Perhaps the most complete and refined example of shiraz I've had. This has it all; power, elegance, youthful vigor, mature poise, and an ABV below 14%.  Walking the tightrope between fruity and savory without over-serving either, this is very, very good indeed.

2018 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale $33
Clean, elegant nose gives way to a voluptuous, fruit-forward palate delivering plump, straightforward cabernet.  It lingers nicely, and begins to show its oak framing and spice box-laced acidity.  Approachable now.

Monday, September 30, 2019

And Just Like That...

It happened quietly and a bit unexpectedly, but it happened nonetheless.  Winethropology turned 10 years old last month.  Plenty has changed since those first posts in 2009; in the industry, in my writing, and in many other ways.  For those of you who have been around since the beginning, thanks for sticking around.  And for the newcomers, here's hoping you have reason to keep coming back.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Catalonia And Its Gems

Catalonia is Spain's northeastern-most state, hugging the Mediterranean to the east and the Pyrenees to the north.  Barcelona, a city that belongs on your bucket list, sits in the middle of Catalonia's coastline.

As a winegrowing region, Catalonia is home to eleven DOs (Spain's version of our AVAs.)  The geography of the state, which is about the size of Maryland, is terrifically diverse.  However, as a whole, Catalonia is virtually synonymous with Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, almost all of which comes from the Penedès subregion. That leaves 10 other DOs, which certainly make their share of sparklers, but, also as a whole, Catalonia is far from a one trick pony.

This diversity of regions and, consequently, wines, was on full display at the Catalonia Wines USA tasting I attended recently.  The tasting was expertly executed, featuring fifteen different producers from almost all eleven DOs, each struggling for attention while the region itself is also vying for light in Rioja's long shadow. But it's usually in the shadows that discoveries await.

Clos Mont-blanc's Xipella
Dani Santacreu, Export Manager for Clos Mont-blanc in the Conca de Barberà DO summed it up well, "It's the beginning for us."  For a winery with a 300 year history, it might seem strange for now to be the beginning, but many of Catalonia's subregions have been organized just in the past couple of decades, and the region has been investing in modernizing equipment and methodology to make the most of its bounty.  Most of the producers I spoke to are also proud of their organic farming practices, which I found refreshing, if not entirely surprising.

Around 75% of wines made in Catalonia are cavas, and a similar proportion of wines being poured at the event reflected this.  Since one could easily spend a week just getting acquainted with this ocean of bubbly, I instead focused on the still wines, many of which are standouts; whites that range from simple, refreshing porch pounders to profound garnacha blanca-based blends with depth and mind-bending complexity. And reds that run the gamut from perfumed, mountain fruit blends heavy on French influence to age worthy cabernets that could rival much of what California has to offer.

One differentiator of these wineries is their use of oak.  In contrast to many bodegas in Rioja, which seem to overdose their wines with American oak, the wines I tasted favored French oak over American, and mostly in restraint. Another big difference in these wines is their price points, some of which are head-shakingly fantastic.  Again, the shadows are where to find the gems, but the injustice of these wines not (yet) having entree into the US market at large is just as mind-boggling as their price points.

It's easy to over do it at a tasting when 45 wines are being poured, which is why focus is key.  I may
The Object of My Desire
have tasted a dozen wines, almost all still, and wish I could have tasted more.  Following are the handful of noteworthy wines that showcase the diversity, quality, and value of Catalonia.  Some of these are available in limited US markets, and I'd recommend looking for them on Wine Searcher.

2018 Mas Llunes Nivia Empordà $21-25
This wine will haunt me.  Made of garnacha blanca (88%) and macabeo, it is profound, full, smartly tailored, and just utterly fantastic.  Far and away the best thing I tasted, I've got a lot more to say about this wine, so stay tuned.

2017 Mas Llunes Rhodes Empordà $24-28
Beautifully packaged and still quite young, this inviting, soft-edged blend of carignan, grenache, and syrah is enchanting.  Mas Llunes' reds show a French influence appropriate to a region tucked into the southern-French border.

2017 Mas Llunes Cercium Empordà $20-24
Bursting with freshness, this grenache-dominated blend sports bold flavors framed by intelligent acidity without being massive or dense.  A delight.

2016 Clos Mont-blanc Xipella Conca de Barberà $15-20
Sensationally aromatic and elegant, this wine can be thoroughly enjoyed through the nose, but why deny yourself the expensive-tasting blend of carignan, cabernet, and syrah? Hard to fathom that a wine of this caliber doesn't cost twice as much. My all around favorite red of the tasting.

2015 Clos Mont-blanc Masia Les Comes Conca de Barberà $36-41
A serious 70/30 cab/merlot blend that will age for decades, but is already showing how this region can compete with heavy-hitters in Bordeaux and Napa.  Deep, tightly-wound black fruit with a thread of cabernet's green-lined fruit.

2018 Costers Del Sio Las Cuadras Tempranillo/Grenache Costers del Segre $18-20
Magnificent texture and with high-toned acidity that makes it a bit jumpy in a youthful way, it is lovely now and should only evolve into elegance.

2016 Costers Del Sio Las Cuadras Crianza Costers del Segre $26-28
Reserved and still hiding its beauty in adolesence, this 70/30 grenache/syrah blend needs a few more years to emerge, but when it does, I'd like to have a bottle or two.  Promising. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Another Peek Behind The Curtain: An Afternoon At The Pageant

Earlier this week I attended a trade tasting. Trade tastings themselves are nothing new or out of the ordinary, but this one was a little different. Normally, a distributor will twist the arms of the producers it represents to pour their wines at an annual event to which retailers, restaurateurs, and others in the retail tier are invited. These are speed-dating events that efficiently put buyers in contact with products and the people who represent them.  Also like speed-dating, there's very little romance.

This week's was different for a number of reasons.  First, it was sponsored by the wine region of Catalonia. Or, more specifically, it was put on by Catalonia Wines USA, which is a domestic wing of Catalonia Trade & Investment, which itself is the investment and development organization of the division of the Government of Catalonia.  In other words, it's the economic development arm of Catalonia's wine industry.
The Penedes winegrowing region outside Vilafranca and Sant Sadurni.

The tasting was also different in that, of the fifteen producers present, just one has an in-state importer. So, not only was it not sponsored by a distributor, but most of the wineries aren't even available locally.  All these producers came all the way from northeastern Spain to see if they could find themselves an importer.

It was hosted at a lovely penthouse restaurant with sweeping views of a river valley, with platters overflowing with cured meats, roasted nuts, and soft cheeses. Not surprisingly (as Catalonia is home to much of Cava country), there were open bottles of bubbly everywhere, adding to the celebratory air of pageantry.  The invitees were largely distributors and importers, (though I did hear one gentleman introduce himself as a facilitator, which sounds like either a lobbyist or a match maker, neither of which I knew existed in the wine business.)  I was invited as a member of the press to help shine a light on this region, which I shall because I learned quite a bit, most of which impressed me, so stay tuned for further updates on this region.

On its surface the event looked like a fancy version of a trade tasting, but the intent was clear: let's find these winemakers some importers.  The winery reps themselves were also quite blunt about the reason they came all the way to the midwest. And why shouldn't they be?  If you're on the prowl for a mate, there's no point in acting coy. What's more is that these wines were good, quite good in some cases. And more than fairly priced in most cases, too.  How, I wondered, is it possible that these winemakers have yet to find entree into the US market, one cluttered with mediocre, overpriced plonk?

This got me thinking about musicians who have yet to be discovered.  We all know of artists who have incredible talent, work hard, tour their butts off, and just haven't broken through to notoriety.  Certainly, you can't fake great wine any more than you can fake soul-stirring music, and they're both going to require a lot of work and sacrifice.  But, man, what was on full display at this tasting is that doing all the right things isn't enough.  You need some luck, too.  And creating the right circumstances for luck is what that event was all about.

Here's wishing all those producers a share of luck - and safe travels home.  More specifics coming soon.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ready For This? Vermouth!

The following two sample bottles of vermouth have been sitting in the review queue for months.  My hesitation in bringing them to the front of the line lay in my ignorance of this beverage.  Is it a wine?  Is it an ingredient?  How does one evaluate it without knowing much about it?

Lamenting this indecision, this weekend seemed as good a time as any for some experimentation.  Mixing them with bourbon - the most common use for vermouth here in the US - seemed silly.  With a suggested retail price of $25 apiece, something told me that these would merit a more reverent preparation.  So, first they were chilled and poured naked into glasses.  That first glance was followed by pouring them over ice in tall highball glasses with a seltzer float.

The experience was surprising, highly informative, and very rewarding.  Like it’s brethren, sherry, vermouth shouldn’t be approached as a wine because it’s a different animal altogether. Scratch that - animals (plural) because the red and white couldn't be more different in every respect.  Which made the aforementioned preparations just right to enjoy and learn about these.

To be sure my exuberance wasn't misplaced, I served a Rojo with seltzer over ice as a pre-dinner drink to a skeptical guest.  Two sips in, he was a believer.  At 15% ABV, these are delightful, refreshing, and versatile wine alternatives, but not all vermouths are created equal, so skip the cheap  stuff and look for these.

NV La Copa Vermouth Blanco $25
Dominated by an earthy, toasted hazelnut flavor, and all but devoid of fruit, this 100% palomino vermouth has more in common with fino sherry than any Spanish still wine. Still, it is refreshing and does a remarkable job preparing the palate (and whetting the appetite) for an evening of degustación. Bone dry and a quickly-acquired taste that will make you feel like a cosmopolitan adult. Try over ice with a seltzer float on a hot afternoon. Garnish with an orange slice if you’re feeling randy.

NV La Copa Vermouth Rojo $25
The color of Coca-Cola in the glass is unexpected, but the the surprise turns quickly to infatuation. Mysterious herbal aromas infused around a core of exotic spice conjure images of dark forests and hooded figures gliding silently in and out of fog. Sharing a lot with Italian aperitivos, but a more grown-up and cool weather alternative to Aperol. 75% palomino, 25% Pedro Jimenez, 100% delicious.