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Drink Ribera Grand Tasting 2011 – Miami

Ribera Del Duero

Ribera Del Duero

It’s difficult to get a taste of a wine region from one, or even two different wines from that area. Luckily, the folks at Drink Ribera are hosting Grand Tastings across the country, giving you an opportunity to taste almost 100 different wines from Ribera Del Duero. I had the opportunity to attend the launch in Miami, and am glad I did.

Focused mainly on the tempranillo grape, the tiny wine region of Ribera del Duero has approximately 120 km2 of vineyards, which could fit 16 times in California’s 1,942 km2 planted area. However, the rich wine making history, going back 2,000 years as evidenced by a recently unearthed mosaic of Baccus, has a lot to offer. Recent history of Ribera del Duero wineries begins in 1848, with the purchase of the land that is now Vega Sicilia winery.

Prior to the start of the Grand Tasting, several of the attendees began with a VIP tasting of Vega Sicilia wines, both the Valbuena as well as the Unico, their premier wine. Before the tasting, we learned about the history of Ribera del Duero, including going through the 1800s and the addition of the French and Bordeaux influence to the area. We discussed the consistent quality of wines from Ribera, independent of location and proximity to the river Duero. We went over recent vintages and their “grading”, such as 2006 being a good vintage, 2007 and 2008 being very good vintages and 2009 being excellent. These grades are a function of weather and growing conditions being such that the grapes show their fullest potential to make excellent wines.

Vega Sicilia Valbeuna

Vega Sicilia Valbeuna

When we got to discussing Vega Sicilia, we learned a lot about their selective nature. They do not bottle all of the juice their grapes produce, sending some to distillation to brandy, rather than destined for quality wine. They feel that vines are at their peak of productivity between 10 and 60 years, and do not use the vines after they reach 60.  The Valbuena wines are from vines between 10 and 35 years old, while the Unico is made from vines between 35 and 60 years. The wines go through malolactic fermentation and then rest for a year in the oak vats. The Valbuena wines are then aged for three and a half years in smaller oak casks, while the Unico are aged seven years.

However, the selective nature of Vega Sicilia goes beyond a prolonged aging process. They carefully monitor the wines, particularly the Unico, before they are released. As an example, the 1970 vintage Unico was released in 1995, after spending 15 years in oak, and 10 additional years in the bottle.  Additionally, there are vintages, many, that have been skipped as the winery did not feel the grapes produced a wine worthy of the Vega Silica name.

Tasting Vega Sicilia Wines

Tasting Vega Sicilia Wines

Tasting the 2005 Vila Sicilia Valbuena, which retails for approximately $150 shows a youthful wine. Made of 80% tempranillo and 20% mostly merlot and a little  cabernet sauvignon, the nose offers leather and meat with fine baking spices. The palate offers ripe but dark fruit, with a long finish of leather and white pepper. By contrast, the 2000 Vila Sicilia Unico, which retails for approximately $350, has a nose that was 100% spice and earth focused, with little fruit. The palate was a fantastic leather and spice with an exceedingly long finish. I likened it to siting in a well appointed leather chair smoking a fine cigar. The Unico is 80% tempranillo and 20% mostly cabernet sauvignon with some merlot as well.

After starting off on a high note, I was excited to taste through as many of the wines from Ribera del Duero as I could. I found some very nice wines from the region, and have quite a few pages of tasting notes which I’ll share in the near future. However, what I took away from the grand tasting was not the notes on the 42 of 100 wines I tasted that day. I don’t need to recount the flavor profile of each wine. What I took away, what I loved about this tasting, was meeting Vicente Penalba from Finca Torremilanos and learning about his family run winery, and tasting the passion in each glass. In a future article, I’ll discuss the wines I tasted, but also the passion and excitement with which Vicente discussed them with me.  It was his passion that made me excited about Ribera del Duero wines.

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.

Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere – Sparkling Wines for Valentines

Louis Roederer Cristal

Louis Roederer Cristal

If you aren’t a connoisseur of fine Champagne, there’s no doubt you heard of Dom Perignon, Cristal, or Veuve Cliquot from a James Bond movie and rap video.  Indeed, there’s no shortage of expensive Champagne poured each and every February 14th. This Valentines Day men and women everywhere will spend a decent amount of money on good Champagne, often not knowing inexpensive options exist. I’m here to let you know you can pour some fantastic bubbly, and still delight you sweetheart.

When I was asked to visit the CBS12, WPEC studio this week to talk about wines for Valentines Day, I wanted to do something different. Immediately my mind went to Rose wines, something all too often over looked. Once I settled on the Think Pink for Valentines Day segment, I was asked to fill in for a second segment, and came up with three Sparkling wines under $20. I ran into my local Total Wine, with thousands of bottles to choose from, I knew I would find some great options.

Louis Bouillot Perle de Nuit Blanc de Noirs Brut

Louis Bouillot Perle de Nuit Blanc de Noirs Brut

First up was Louis Bouillot (Lou-ee Boo-yoh)  “Perle de Nuit” Blanc de Noirs Brut. Their “Pearl of the Night”, this dry sparkler, made in Burgundy, is a light, crisp and delightful wine. With beautiful bubbles, the palate is light pears and fresh dough, the finish is clean, with a great cherry component. Made of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Gamay, in the traditional method, the Louis Bouillot Blanc de Noirs is aged 24 months, well past the legal requirement of 9 months. This is a great sipper, and I wouldn’t pair it with anything other than good company. I grabbed this at Total Wine for just $16, and it was well worth the price.

You may have watched Kara Kostanich ask on the CBS segment about wines being called “Champagne”. Sparklers not made in the Champagne region of France can not be called Champagnes. The appellation for the Louis Bouillot is Cremant de Bourgogne, which covers France’s Burgundy region and features dry sparkling wines. And while Champagne holds their wines to a high measure of quality, so does the Cremant de Bourgogne appellation.

Rondel Pura Raza Semi-Seco Cava

Rondel Pura Raza Semi-Seco Cava

From France, we jet over to Spain, where a blend of the three traditional Cava grapes; Xarel.lo, Macabeo & Parellada make their appearance. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine made by the traditional Champagne method, and includes fermentation in steel tanks, then a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which gives it the bubbles we love so much. Another Total Wine selection, this $8 sparkler is great. The Rondel Brut Cava has been very highly rated by several magazines, however I selected the Semi-Seco, or sweeter, offering. I felt that for Valentines Day, you may want a slightly sweeter wine, one that is fun and easy to drink. With flavors of dried pineapple or pear, it’s a tad sweet, but not cloying. It’s crisp on the finish, and pairs perfectly with Strawberries.  If you’ve ever wanted to try Champagne and strawberries, I highly suggest trying it with the Rondel Pura Raza Semi-Seco Cava!

Our final Sparkling wine brings us back to Europe, Italy to be precise. It’s time to talk about Brachetto, a sparkling dessert wine from Italy. If your sweetheart is a fan of desserts, this bubbly will be sure to hit the spot. I selected the Sant-Orsola Brachetto D’Acqui, a delicious gem for about $16 at Total Wine! Brachetto is a red grape that is found mainly in Piedmont, the northwest region of Italy. The cherry cola red color is brilliant, and the palate of dry raspberry with a slightly sweet note is balanced with a very clean finish. The sweet berry flavors of the Sant-Orsola Brachetto D’Acqui makes it a natural pair for several desserts.

Sant'Orsola Brachetto D'Acqui

Sant'Orsola Brachetto D'Acqui

Pairing this wine with a chocolate cake, or even a piece or two of chocolates from that heart you always bring your beloved, works wonderfully. The chocolate enhances the fruit flavor, and the two  work well together. I brought a chocolate mousse tart to the CBS set, and it was a very nice pairing. I’d also happily serve the Brachetto with fruit, or alone. It’s a very nice sipper, with a fun, fruity flavor.

There are, of course, hundreds of other wine options for Valentines Day. If these Sparklers don’t tickle your fancy, and you aren’t adventureous enough to try the Rose Wines I recommended, leave a comment below and I’ll try to help you find just the right wine for your Valentine.  And, if you do use one of the QPR Wines (wines with Good Quality to Price Ratio) I mentioned this weekend, don’t be surprised if your sweetheart looks at you, slyly, having read this article, and wants a bigger present with the money on the wine!

New Grapes in the New Year – Carmenere and Albarino

Happy New Year!

Though I didn’t make many resolutions this year, one of my goals is to finish my journey into the Wine Century Club, as each member has drank 100 different wine varietals. I started logging the wines I drank, cataloging each different grape the wines were made from, back in October 2008. Sadly, I stopped recording names and just focused on reviewing, writing, and discussing them. I have 50 written down so far, so there’s only another 50 to go. While I won’t blog about each grape I try, I may mention them, such as the Greek wine made from the Assyrtiko grape I had at the Epcot Food & Wine festival. I hope you come with me on the journey, and discover new and fun wines with me.

Red Wine From Navarra Spain – Marco Real – Garnacha

Video Wine Review of Marco Real Garnacha

Video Wine Review of Marco Real Garnacha

I’ve had a hard time writing this wine review for several reasons. My opinion of this wine disagrees with both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate reviews. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that WA and WS are the end-all-be-all of wine information, but it causes me to pause and reflect on the wine. I often hesitate to recommend a wine that isn’t varietally correct, because I know some wine geek out there will blast me for it. However, Robin’s opinion of this wine was identical to mine, so without further ado, lets talk about Marco Real Garnacha from Navarra, Spain.

Garnacha, which is called Grenache when it comes from areas outside of Spain, such as France or the US, is a very widely planted red wine grape. It usually produces wine that has dark berry fruit flavors, and a great backbone of pepper and spice that make it a very enjoyable red wine, in my opinion. It’s a red wine I love on it’s own, or paired with steak, lamb, or cheeses, and have served at dinner parties frequently.  When I was offered the chance to try the Marco Real 2005 Garnacha from Navarra, Spain, I jumped at the opportunity. To find out what I thought of this wine, watch the short video review, then continue on to see my summary of the wine.

Red Wine From Navarra Spain – Marco Real – Garnacha from Matthew Scott Horbund on Vimeo.

As you can see, the issue I had writing this review is is not if this is a good wine. For the price, which is a suggested retail of about $11, it’s an easy drinking, nice red wine. However, if you’re looking for varietally correct, where the dark berries give way to pepper notes on the palate, this is not the wine for you. This is more of a jammy, berry focused wine that is very easy to drink, a nice evening back-porch sipper. I think it would be great with food, and had it with ravioli with a red marinara sauce, and it went very nicely. As a matter of fact, I purchased quite a bit of this wine from Zsazsa and Company, and plan on having it with friends over pizza soon. 

Closeup of Marco Real Garnacha Label

Closeup of Marco Real Garnacha Label

Wine Spectator gave this wine an 86, and Wine Advocate gave it an 88. Both reviewers noted the spice, typical of Garnacha, which I felt was lacking.  Now, you’re asking, “Matt, what does that mean?” It means if you’re looking for a perfect bottle of Garnacha, this isn’t it. I’ll work on finding one for you! However, if you’re looking for an easy drinking red, one to sip alone or with food, then for $11, you can’t go wrong with this wine.  I plan on opening a bottle of this wine over the next few days, and re-tasting it. I also plan on reviewing a slightly more expensive California Grenache, and seeing how the two compare.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below and let me know if you’ve had Garnacha, or Grenache, lately. If so, what did you like, or not like about it? Have you had the Marco Real, and if so what was your opinion.  I’ll update this post when I re-try the wine with other foods, so check back often.