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Toast The Royal Couple With Champagne

Prince William and Kate Middleton (pic:Reuters)

Prince William and Kate Middleton (pic:Reuters)

On Friday April 29, 2011 Prince William of Wales will marry Catherine “Kate” Middleton as millions across the globe tune in. Whether you are wholly uninterested, or throwing your own Royal Wedding Party at home to watch the affair, one thing that should hold your excitement is the bubbly served at the event. There had been lot of speculation about who’s sparkler will be served, but it has been confirmed that it will be a true Champagne, from Pol Roger.

As the second largest consumer of Champagne in the world, England has a long love affair with Pol Roger Champagne. Began in 1849 in Epernay, France, Pol Roger was the Champagne of choice for Sir Winston Churchill from 1908 until his death in 1965. Sir Winston Churchill was such an influencer of the producer that upon his death in 1965 they added black borders to their lables, and in 1984 they released a prestige cuvee bearing his name. The top of the line, the Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill is a premium Champagne, bold, like the man who is it named after.

However, you do not need to be a Royal or British elite to sip and savor the bubbly served at the Royal Wedding Friday. The Pol Roger Brut Reserve White Foil is reasonably priced at approximately $40 USD, but has all of the finesse and flavor you expect from a fine Champagne. Pol Roger Champagne is imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, and distributed widely throughout the country.

While I’m sure the chef’s of the Royal Wedding will be pairing caviar with Champagne, you can pair foods with Champagne that are a little more budget friendly. Salty foods go well with brut Champagne, from smoked salmon to tater tots. I’ve served “pigs in a blanket” and a spicy brown mustard with Champagne before, knocking people’s socks off. And if you’ve watched “7 Year Itch”, the delightful Marilyn Monroe educated everyone that potato chips pair perfectly with Champagne.

I’ve put up tasting notes about Pol roger Brut Reserve White Foil Champagne before. It was part of a number of sparkling wine recommendations for Valentine’s Day. However, it can clearly be served at many, and any, occasion.

The following is a press release from the Champagne Bureau, with information about the origins of Champagne.

Comite Champagne Logo

Comite Champagne Logo

Amid the hubbub surrounding the Friday, April 29, wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William, one detail is not to be missed: the happy couple will be honoring tradition by serving Champagne at the reception.

England is the second largest consumer of Champagne, after France and ahead of the United States, according to the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the trade association comprised of all the grape growers and houses in Champagne. By choosing Champagne to celebrate their marriage, Catherine and William are following the custom of many other royal weddings, including that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

“Champagne only comes from Champagne, France, but it is consumed around the world at celebrations large and small,” said Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. representative of the CIVC. “Given the prestigious nature of the occasion, it is fitting that guests at the royal wedding will have the chance to toast to the couple’s good fortune with a glass of authentic Champagne. For those of us who will be watching at home, enjoying the event with a glass of Champagne is a lovely way to join in the celebration.”

Champagne is only produced in one unique region, which covers less than 80,000 acres and lies 90 miles northeast of Paris. The grapes are handpicked and processed in accordance with strict regulations and an intricate hands-on method, carefully developed and cultivated over 300 years. While there are many other good sparkling wines produced around the world, only Champagne is the traditional wine of royal weddings and coronations.

About the Champagne Bureau

The Champagne Bureau is the official U.S. representative of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), a trade association which represents the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France. The bureau works to educate U.S. consumers about the uniqueness of the wines of Champagne and expand their understanding of the need to protect the Champagne name. For more information, visit us online at www.champagne.us. Follow us on Twitter at ChampagneBureau.

Rodney Strong Vineyards – Changing the world one bulb at a time

Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light

Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light

Earth Day was April 22nd, 2011, and leading up to it was a wine blogger tasting of Rodney Strong Vineyards wines. The idea behind the tasting, besides trying four of their wines, was to learn about the earth friendly initiatives Rodney Strong Vineyards have been participating in. As part of their Rodney Strong Vineyards Green Light program, which I’ll talk a bit about below, the folks at Rodney Strong Vineyards provided each of with with a CFL blub to start our own earth friendly initiatives. Oh, and the wine was pretty good too.

Rodney D. Strong founded the winery in 1959 as the 13th bonded Sonoma County winery. The Klein family, a fourth generation California agricultural family, are the current private owners. The family has implemented some environmentally friendly initiatives, such as installing a solar electric system on the top of their barrel warehouse in 2003. The system generates enough energy to power 800 homes, and their dependence on the power grid decreased by 35%. Additionally, they have installed a lighting system that uses motion sensors and energy efficient light fixtures to reduce energy use, minimizing heat output, and optimize light quality. They also own the distinction of becoming Sonoma County’s first carbon neutral winery in 2009.

Rodney Strong Vineyards Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc

Rodney Strong Vineyards Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc

While the environmentally friendly projects are exciting, we were equally excited to taste the wines. The wine tasting was a mix of two white and two red wines. First up was the Rodney Strong 2009 Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc. With a retail price of $13.50, this crisp white is all estate fruit, from a vineyard planted in 1971 in honor of Rodney Strong’s wife, Charlotte. This white wine, as well as the chardonnay I will talk about next, needed time to open up. I’m finding more white wines lately that need to sit and breathe, or aerate, to really express their nuances. Initially the wine was very grassy and green on both the nose and palate. However, after 15 minutes of opening in the glass, the nose was still a bit grassy, but tropical and grapefruit notes began to show. The palate of of the Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and light, with grapefruit and a touch of herbaceous or grassy note.  About 10% of the wine sees French oak when fermented, with malolactic fermentation giving it a rounder, more full mouth feel. The remainder of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks with no malolactic fermentation, retaining it’s crisp taste. An interesting wine, especially if you don’t want a fruit salad in your glass.

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2009

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2009

Next up was the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay. In 1965, Rodney Strong was the first to plant chardonnay in what would later be recognized as the Chalk Hill American Viticultural Area (AVA). Made from 100% estate chardonnay, 86% of the wine sees malolactic fermentation and French oak aged 10 months. This gives it the rounder mouth feel and buttery quality while still retaining a portion of crisp chardonnay for balance. The nose is a buttery tropical fruit salad, and the mouth feel was indeed round, fully and silky. Up front, the palate was a subtle papaya with a tinge of oaked vanilla and spice on the finish. After over 20 minutes in the glass aerating, the palate was a bit more fruit forward, and the spice well integrated, with vanilla highlighting the fruit, rather than competing with it. Again, the Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay benefited from opening and breathing, just like the sauvignon blanc. Right out of the bottle, I would have passed on both of these whites. However, with time to open, they became very interesting and enjoyable.The Rodney Strong 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay retails for about $20, and while this isn’t necessarily a budget white wine, it’s certainly interesting enough to try.

Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir 2008

Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir 2008

This brings us to the red portion of our program, starting with the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. With a suggested retail of $40, this red wine needed about 30 minutes of decanting, or really aerating, to show it’s full potential. The nose has great dark strawberries and a hint of cocoa on it. I loved the complexity of the wine’s bouquet. There is delicious red fruit on the palate, a burst of it at first, followed by dark and earthy on the midpalate. It was not sweet, but it was just beautiful and fresh fruit. There were secondary notes of smoke as well, which added to the complexity and enjoyment. The Rodney Strong Reserve Pinot Noir had great acidity as well, and I would happily pair this wine with anything from salmon to steak, as it truly would work with that range. The wine is aged 10 months in 100% French oak barrels, has 14.9% Alcohol by Volume, and is certainly a big, but delicious RRV Pinot Noir.

We finished up the evening of wine tasting strong, pun intended, with the Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage. First, meritage is pronounced similar to heritage. The inclination is to add some French accent to the word, but don’t. Wine geeks will quickly point out the error. Second, meritage is a proprietary term used to denote red and white Bordeaux-style wines without infringing on the Bordeaux (France) region’s legally protected designation of origin. The Rodney Strong 07 Symmetry is a blend of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% malbec, 3% merlot, 1% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot. It’s aged 26 months in French oak barrels, and has 15.1% ABV.

Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage

Rodney Strong 2007 Symmetry Red Meritage

Now that the wine geekery is behind us, this wine was fantastic. At a suggested retail price (SRP) of $55, it’s hard for me to say you must try this wine, as it may be outside of the budget of many wine lovers. However, if you find yourself looking to splurge, or if $55 is in your wheelhouse, swing for the fences and try this wine, you’ll thank me. The bouquet of the Rodney Strong 07 Symmetry Red Meritage at first is perfume and floral, which blows off shortly and shows dark red cherries and briar or brambles on the nose. The palate shows complex layers of blackberry, coffee, dark chocolate and spices. Tim Elliot of Wine Cast reviewed the wine recently and felt the oak was a bit generous and made a strong appearance. However, he mentions that with aging, the oak will integrate well. Perhaps our palates are different, as I felt the oak was nice on this, and didn’t need to pull any splinters from my tongue.

Overall I thought the wines were well done, and enjoyed what they had to offer. I also enjoyed the follow up from the team at Rodney Strong Vineyards, saying that their Compact Florescent Light initiative had tremendous success. They had over 85,000 pledges to switch from an incandescent bulb to a CFL, and caused the program to end over two week earlier than originally expected.  I’m a big believe in CFL bulbs, and have replaced all but 4 bulbs in my house with them. I did not use the CFL that the nice folks at Rodney Strong Vineyards sent me as part of their project, and will instead find a nice home for it in a family member’s home. We all need to do our part!

Backsberg Wines Kosher For Passover or Anytime

Happy Passover

Happy Passover

For years my Jewish friends have been conditioned to drink the “foxy” concord grape wine pumped out by the Manischewitz company during the holidays. During a recent CBS12 WPEC TV segment, while bringing some well made wine for Passover Seder to your attention, anchor Ben Becker asks “Why no love for Manischewitz”? Drink it if you like, but I’m here to offer freedom from the slavery to  high octane grape juice with two more Kosher for Passover wine selections.

I recently received samples from Backsberg Estate Cellars , which was founded by  family of Jewish refugees from Lithuania in 1916. Backsberg is located in Paarl, a town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Today, the Back family owns 110 hectares of vineyards located at the slopes of the Simsonsberg Mountains. These vineyards are dedicated to the production of their traditional line, as well as the kosher wine line. Both of the wines below are 100% Kosher Mevushal (pasteurized) and are made under the certifications of the Cape Town Beth Din and OU (Orthodox Union) of the United States.

Backsberg has become the first wine producer in South Africa and one of only three in the world to gain Carbon Neutral status using carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is a process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir. The Back family is committed to preserving the environment through tree planting, conversion to bio fuel, and other initiatives including lighter weight bottles. They are not only stewards of the land, doing their part to ensure the next generation can enjoy the land, they are also humanitarians. In the wake of recent natural disasters they are participating in a program called ShelterBox, which provides emergency supplies and tents to people in need. A good family making good wine.

Backsberg 2010 Chardonnay Kosher for Passover

Backsberg 2010 Chardonnay

The first selection is the Backsberg Kosher Chardonnay 2010. This wine definitely benefited from some aeration and time to open. As soon as it was uncorked, the nose was buttered popcorn. However, after just a few minutes of swirling and aerating, nice tropical notes developed on the nose. The palate was crisp, with great fruit. Pears on the attack, and a mid palate that was a little buttery and a finish that was a bit spicy and toasty.  It has a short finish, but some residual spice lingers. Interestingly, there is no oak on this wine, so the spice and toasty notes are a characteristic of the grape and where they were grown, rather than the barrel process.  Again, with time to open, more tropical notes came through on the palate, and for $14 I would recommend the Backsberg Kosher Chardonnay 2010 for any time, regardless of religious persuasion.

Backsberg 2008 Merlot is a great wine for Passover or anytime

Backsberg 2008 Merlot

For a red wine option the Backsberg Kosher Merlot 2008 is right on the money. Again, for just $14, this wine is perfect for anyone, anytime, kosher or not. The bouquet was rather tight, showing a little dark fruit. The palate showed restrained black fruit up front, with a nice mid-palate transition to a finish of woody smoke and some pepper spice. The wine has nice integrated tannin, not overly dry, this will rock with your brisket, lamb shank, or any other roasted meat meal.

Backsberg has a large line of wines, and I’d love to hear if you’ve had any of them. Kosher or not, Backsberg should find it’s way into your glass.

Drinking for a good cause – Charity Case Rose

Charity Case 2008 Rose Wine

Charity Case 2008 Rose Wine

It’s always exciting when you can take what you love doing, and find a way to do good things with it. That’s exactly what the team at Charity Case Wines has done. Jayson Woodbridge, of Layer Cake and Hundred Acre, has lent his name to the project, teaming with vineyards and wineries around Napa, and together create budget friendly wines with a good cause.

Taking grapes donated from Napa vineyards, Charity Case created a rose wine out of mostly cabernet sauvignon, along with zinfandel, merlot and syrah. In 2008, about 305 cases were made, and about 2,000 cases in 2009, a very generous year. The 2010 vintage will see about 300 cases again, as obviously the yields and market will dictate how much participating vineyards can offer.

All of the proceeds from sales of the Charity Case wine go towards those in need at several charities, including Aldea Children & Family Services, Cope Family Center, Foster Kids Receiving Center and Wolfe Center Teen Drug & Alcohol Treatment program. That alone is a good reason to buy some Charity Case Rose and drink the wine.

I’ve long been a fan of rose wines, it was the topic of one of my early television segments on Daytime. I love the refreshing flavors that rose wine can offer, especially on a hot summer day. At $12 per bottle, the Charity Case Rose 2008 was an easy drinking wine. It had some red fruit on the nose and palate, though there was no acidity to balance that out on the finish. It was a simple, straightforward wine, easy to sip on. Notes from the winemaker indicated that 2008 was a very rainy year, and that caused the fruit not to be super concentrated, thus offering this style of wine.

Pairing sweet smoked ribs with rose wine

Pairing sweet smoked ribs with rose wine

I’m curious to follow Charity Case through 2009 and 2010, to see how, if at all, the wines change. I would love to see some brighter fruit and some more acidity on the finish, to help the wine pair better with foods. It couldn’t stand up to my smoked ribs, as the sweet and savory sauce overpowered the wine. The Charity Case Rose did, however, pair nicely with cheddar and manchego cheeses on the second day, and I would pair it with cheese and fruit next time.

Some fellow wine writers had some great things to say about Charity Case Rose. Dan, The Iowa Wino thought the Charity Case 2008 Rose was outstanding. The La Jolla Mom picked it as her 3rd favorite out of 12 rose wines. The Miami Wine Guide liked it as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts! What do you think about Charity Case wines, or rose in general?

 

What is a Rhone wine – WBW71 post

Wine Blogging Wednesday 71

Wine Blogging Wednesday 71

One of the issues many new to the wine world face is learning the grapes certain wines are made with. This is more an issue with old world wines, such as Italy and France, though it can be an issue in the US as well. For example, when I tackled today’s Wine Blogging Wednesday post, Rhone not from Rhone , I had to first recall exactly which grapes make up Rhone wines. The main ones are GSM, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, if you weren’t sure. However, there’s a great supporting cast of cinsault, petit sirah, viognier, roussanne and marsanne. For today’s WBW post I selected a Paso Robles cuvee, or a blend, of Rhone varietals and am excited to tell you about it.

By way of background, Lenn “Devours” Thompson started an initiative to corral wine bloggers, getting them focused on the same topic once a month, called Wine Blogging Wednesday. Each month a different blogger would come up with a topic, and we’d all write about it. I didn’t join the fray until 2008, years after WBW was in motion. However, it’s a great way to get different perspectives on the same topic. It shows that even the experts see grapes differently.  Today’s topic is Rhone Wines not from Rhone, brought to us by Tim Elliot of Winecast.

As I mentioned, wines made in the Rhone style include Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes. I could have selected a Grenache from Spain, or a Syrah from California for this article, however I’ve wanted to write about my dinner and interview with Austin Hope of Hope Family Wines and thought tasting his Liberty School Cuvee was the perfect opportunity. I’ll first cover the wine, then a little about Austin and dinner.

Liberty School Cuvee 2007

Liberty School Cuvee 2007

The folks at Liberty School believe that the Central Coast of California is perfect for Rhone varietals. If their 2007 Cuvee is any indication, I say they’re right. A cuvee is a blend, and this wine is a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier. I’ve often said that I’m not a fan of Syrah from California, as it comes in big and jammy, and I prefer the more restrained, earthy Syrah from France. However, at 13.5% ABV the Liberty School Cuvee is not a big wine, and it’s anything but jammy.

I taste the wine at three intervals, right after opened, after 10 minutes of air, and after 30 minutes of air. While it definitely opened and changed, it was fairly consistent throughout. The wine was a dark inky purple, and the cork bottom was almost black. At first, the nose had a very meaty bouquet, with a note of cocoa and spices. It had a great lush mouthfeel, and after 10-30 minutes there were dark berries balanced with some earth and nice leather notes on the palate. When I say leather, I could envision a well polished leather chair in a stately mansion, regal and sophisticated. The wine was definitely dry, though not tannic very tannic. Towards the end I started to taste secondary notes on the finish of spiced cherry pie and smoke, with a finish that lingered. I grabbed this wine at the grocery for $15, and it’s definitely a wine to try. We paired this wine with hamburgers, though we could have thrown a variety of grilled, roasted or smoked meats it it successfully.

What I enjoyed most about the wine was how it captured the essence of old world Rhone wines, with a touch of new world finesse and approachability. I’ve planned on tasting some more Hope family Wines and Libery School Cuvee against some Rhone wines in the near future and compare and contrast. I had taste several Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage a few weeks back, and while they cost a bit more, I’m interested in the taste profiles as a comparison. I’ll be sure to let you know.  I’ll also let you know more about Paso Robles, home of Liberty School and Hope Family wines, as I’m visiting the area next week.

I hope to catch up with Austin Hope again when in Paso. He’s a great guy. very dynamic, and passionate about wine and all that it entails. My interview of Austin turned more into a dinner with a great guy, as the restaurant was too noisy to record our conversation, and we talked too quickly and about too many topics to take notes of any quality. We did, however, cover a few topics that I thought were quite interesting, such as multi-vintage wines and box wine, as well as a hot project that make change the way you look at Paso in the future.

Austin feels that the concept of multi-vintage wines needs to be looked at a bit more closely. He maintains that by using wines of different vintages, winemakers will be able to capture the youth and expressiveness of younger vintages, with the maturity and complexity of older vintages. He believes by doing this, wines will be more approachable upon release, and offer more than any young release wine can. I’m excited to see what he does with this concept. Austin also believes that he can put out a box wine of sufficient quality to carry a Hope Family Wines name. Expect a spring or summer 2011 release of his box, and I will definitely get my hands on it. I expect it to be a very approachable and affordable wine.

As for the last project, well, that one I can’t talk about yet. However, when Austin told me about it, I found myself secretly rooting for him to succeed. We’ll see soon!

Have you tried a Rhone style wine, whether from France, California or elsewhere? Let me know what you thought!

 

White Wines from the Alsace – Helfrich

Helfrich Wines from Alsace, France

Helfrich Wines from Alsace, France

While the rest of the country digs out from snow, spring has sprung in Florida. The weather reached a high of 84 degrees, and after a day in the sun I was looking for something refreshing to drink. I decided to open white wines from the Alsace region of France that I have had in my cellar for a number of months. While information about the producer is nearly non-existent on the web, and various articles site different longevity information about the producers, one thing remains constant. The riesling, pinot blanc and gewurztraminer from Helfrich are pretty darn good.

Several writers have met with Anne-Laure Helfrich the sister of Frederick Helfrich and note in their writeups that she is the sixth generation Alsatian, while others note her father is third generation in the wine business.  Regardless of how long they’ve been in Alsace, or the wine business,  Helfrich offers two levels of wine, the noble variety (entry level) which all retail for $15 and the Grand Cru which are single Vineyard offerings which retail for $25. The Alsace wine region, which is in France on the border of Germany,  is one of the smaller wine producing areas in France. The region typically produces dry riesling, while the other notable varieties pinot gris and gewurztraminer are typically off-dry, with some residual sugar left after fermentation.

Helfrich Riesling 2008

Helfrich Riesling 2008

The first offering that I tried was the Helfrich noble variety Riesling 2008. The nose, or bouquet is stone fruits and petrol, with mineral notes. The palate comes across as tart green apples, citrus and is very mineral driven. Though not very acidic, some acidity is definitely noticeable on the mid-palate and finish.  With some time, and air, the wine opens up nicely. The flavors round out a little, becoming a little less tart green apple, and more focused on citrus flavors. The wine comes across very dry, and can remind you of a sauvignon blanc. The winemaker’s suggested food pairings are sushi, white meats, Alsatian tarts and smoked salmon.

Helfrich Gewurztraminer 2008

Helfrich Gewurztraminer 2008

The second wine from Helfrich was a the 2008 gewurztraminer, which I just popped and poured. The nose is a little floral, with melon notes coming through as well. On the palate, it’s a medium weight with white flowers upfront followed by a burst of sweet stone fruit. There is a sprinkling of white pepper on the finish, but it’s lost amongst the flavors of flowers and peach. Typically, gewurztraminer has a nice spicy component, and the name actually means Spicy Traminer (a grape). However, after 20 minutes in the glass, the wine warmed up a little and with air has opened a lot. The palate is much more white flowers now, with a nice vein of spice on the finish. I really enjoyed this wine, especially as it opened up. It has a nice bit of sweetness that will appeal to many, while the structure and balance make it a good buy at $15.

Helfrich Pinot Gris 2008

Helfrich Pinot Gris 2008

Finally, the Helfrich pinot gris 2008 rounded out the tasting for the day. With a mineral driven nose of stone fruits such as nectarines and peaches, this white wine from the Alsace region of France has a delicious bouquet. Slightly viscous with a medium mouth feel, the initial approach of this wine is super ripe stone fruits, particularly apricots. There is a honeyed fig component as well, and this wine is very reminiscent of the late harvest semillion I had from Apex recently. The Helfrich pinot gris comes across a little sweet, however its finish leaves crisp and clean and purely fruit driven. Again, aerating this white wine opened it beautifully. After 15 minutes in the glass it’s become a bit more balanced, the sweetness is a bit more tame, though prominent, and the spice little bit more noticeable throughout the palate.

The Helfrich gewurztraminer 2008 and pinot gris 2008 were both off-dry wines, what most people would think of as “sweet”. The sweetness, and fruit forward nature of both of these wines make them a perfect pairing for spicy foods, as well as the typical “Asian” food pairings. The pinot gris may go well with pork, perhaps slow cooked with onions. All of these white wines were refreshing on a hot day, perfect summer sippers, and food friendly. At $15 each, there’s no reason to avoid them, so let me know what you think.

These wines were provided as trade samples for me to taste and review honestly.

Getting to know Cigales – Museum Real Reserva – WBW70

wines spain has to offer

Map of Spain

The world of wine is vast, and anyone who tells you they know all about wine is lying or in denial. There is always something new to learn or experience. There is a grape you haven’t taste, or a producer and region you haven’t explored.  It’s easy to drink the wines we know we love, staying in our comfort zone. However, the risk of getting a bottle of wine that doesn’t agree with out palate should never outweigh the possibility of taking a new adventure. When Lenn “Devours” Thompson, with Gabriella and Ryan Opaz of Catavino, asked wine bloggers to take on WBW #70: Spain, it was time to taste something new or different.

While there are some 600 grapes grown in Spain, 80% of Spain’s wine production comes from only 20 of them, including Garnacha, Tempranillo and Albarino, as well as Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, the three lesser known grapes that go into Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain. Tempranillo is the focus of Spain’s main wine producing regions Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and I’ve covered those areas in quite a few posts on the site. However, there is a lesser known area that is producing some fantastic Tempranillo which I recently discovered.

Musueum Real Reserva red wine from Spain

Musueum Real Reserva red wine from Spain

Cigales is a wine region just north of Ribera del Duero, with approximately 2,600 hectares planted in 37 vineyards. Cigales produces about 5 million liters of wine annually, compared to 60 million liters from the 20,500 hectares and 240 vineyards of Ribera del Duero. Founded in the late 1990s, Finca Museum estate is home to about 1200 acres, or about 560 hectares of vineyards in Cigales, nearly half that over 50 years-old. The wine is sourced from old vines from some of the highest hillside vineyards in the Pisuerga Valley of Cigales. These vines have extremely low yields, and along with their age produce a grape with concentrated flavors.

While the Museum Real Reserva 2004 Tempranillo was aged 24 months in new French oak, with the exception of some mild-to-medium tannin, it’s barely perceptible in the wine. This wine needs about 30 minutes to decant or aerate, and it will continue to evolve after that. The nose has a very earthy, cherry bouquet, and the palate is light and fruit focused. Dry and tannic, there are notes of rose petals and an earthiness that elude to a Barolo. There is a medium acidity on the finish, and it’s definitely a food friendly wine. We paired this with a chicken marsala dish, and the two were very complimentary.  For about $25, this is a wine that I’d say is on your must try list.

Osborne Pedro Ximenez Sweet Sherry

Osborne Pedro Ximenez Sweet Sherry

To finish the night, I opened a bottle of Sherry I’ve had in the closet for a few weeks. Sherry comes in many styles, from dry to sweet, and this bottle of Sweet Sherry was left over from a mushroom soup recipe I made in December. I can, and will devote an entire post or two to Sherry, however I’ll give you the quick and dirty of what was in the glass. A thick and heavy palate, there are sweet plums and raisins on the palate. After a short while, it opens into a warm, luxurious palate, with an everlasting finish. There are notes of walnuts and raisins that permeate the air and coat the palate. I’ve been told that aside from sipping on it’s own, a sweet sherry like the Osborne Pedro Ximenez goes well over vanilla ice cream.

I’ve only touched the surface on Spain, and this is the first Tempranillo from Cigales I’ve had. However, it’s markedly different from those I’ve had from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Even the newer, more fruit focused Rioja wines are not as soft and elegant as the Museum Real Reserva was. They typically are much more earthy and tannic, though that may be their intended style. I intend on doing a little more tasting and comparing, and I’ll share with you in the future.  What else would you like to know about Spanish wines? I’d love to help make Spain more approachable, and your next wine adventure.

Valentine’s Day Wines Made Easy

Wine for a Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine’s Day

Everyone likes options. While I tossed out a few great picks in my latest CBS Segment on Valentine’s Day and Superbowl Wines, some friends asked for a few more selections. Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of perfect wines for the day of love. However, these are a few wines that I’ve sipped in the past few months that will work well for most of your Valentine’s Day needs.

Whether starting your night with a sparkling wine or pairing a Champagne with your meal, I’ve got three selections that I absolutely love. The first two are under $20 and widely available, and hail from the Alsace. Domaine Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest leading Alsace family owned estates, tracing its roots back to 1425. The Albrecht Brut and Albrecht Brut Rose are two lovely sparklers from France, the Brut crisp with tart apples, the Brut Rose has notes of plums and tart cherries. Both of these sparklers make a great aperitif, and pair nicely with a cheese plate perhaps with goat cheese or Brie.

Lucien Albrecht 2009 Sparkling Gift Box

Lucien Albrecht 2009 Sparkling Gift Box

If you’d like a sparkler from Champagne, the Pol Roger Non-Vintage Brut White Foil is a great option. It cost approximately $40, and is delicious. Though a brut, meaning dry Champagne, I found the palate a little softer and fruit forward. It wasn’t as dry as perhaps the Pol Roger Pure Non-Vintage, another $40 option that is delicious. Again, perfect as an aperitif, and a beautiful pairing with fruit, cheeses, or even popcorn. Yes, popcorn! Champagne loves salty foods, so popcorn, potato chips and oysters are a natural pair. For those who’s French is as poor as mine, the name is pronounced pawl roh-ZHAY.

Pol Roger Non Vintage Brut White Foil

Pol Roger Non Vintage Brut White Foil

If you’re looking for a big, bold red wine for your evening of love, look no further than Mount Veder 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon or Trefethen Family 2004 Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon.

A $40 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that definitely is worth it’s price, Mount Veder Cabernet Sauvignon has a nose of black cherry and a medium palate with medium tannin. There is great fruit burst up front with nice complexities, including a little vanilla, a little cocoa, a little pepper and spice. I think it’s well balanced, and good on it’s own or with food. If you are looking to pair a red wine with your Valentine’s Day dinner of grilled or roast meats, whether it’s beef, veal, even pork, this wine will do the trick.

Mount Veder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

Mount Veder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been in the Trefethen Family wine club since 2008, and love the surprises they send me every few months. I enjoy their regular Cabernet Sauvignon quite a bit, which retails for about $50. For a special occasion I open the Trefethehn Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which for $100 is a very special wine. Whether pairing with prime rib, rack of lamb or sipping alone, the big bold tannin grabs you, and the delicious black cherry and spice keeps hold of you.

Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon

Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon

Zinfandel is for lovers, or at least I think so. It’s a warm, cozy wine, and it pairs well with anything from pasta to ribs to steak. Titus Napa Zinfandel will run you about $25, but it’s well worth it. Big and bold, like your love for your Valentine, there are fantastic flavors of ripe red berries, offset by huge pepper and spice on the finish. This wine needs some air to open up, though the second you pop the cork you will will instinctivly pour a glass and enjoy the powerful flavors this wine offers.

Titus Napa Zinfandel

Titus Napa Zinfandel

Not quite the powerhouse that Titus is, the Paso Creek 2007 Zinfandel is very round and approachable. Jammy berries, chocolate notes and even some caramel, this wine is a perfect sipper for under $20. Perfect alone, or with food, this wine will make your Valentine feel the love.

Paso Creek Zinfandel

Paso Creek Zinfandel

If you have questions about other wine options for Valentine’s Day, food and wine pairings, or anything in general, feel free to leave a comment below! I’d love to play cupid, minus the diaper!