Monday, September 5, 2022

Navarra's Inurrieta Winery Brings Fresh Approach to History of Family Winemaking

The region of Navarra lies in the northeast corner of Spain. While it's a land where the past glory of the Kingdom of Navarra still feels vividly alive, the region today also boasts innovative winemakers looking to bring a fresh approach to ancient practices.

On my trip to Navarra this year, I visited Bodega Inurrieta as part of group of trade and media. The Inurrieta name refers to the place where the owner's family grew grapes nearly a century ago.

On the way, we stopped in the picturesque village of Olite, where an ancient fortress was being used as the backdrop for a new series "Vampire Academy." What would we find at the winery, our group wondered... Ghouls and goblins among the Garnacha?

Bodega Inurrieta lies in the Ribera Alta, one of five winemaking regions of Navarra. The region accounts for one third of the production of Navara.  When we arrived, we were happy to see a bright, modern, airy winery.  Walking over the metal catwalk that overhung the stainless steel tanks, we were assured that we were very far from any ghouls.

As we settled in a spacious table lined with full length windows that showed the vineyards and forests outside, we were walked through the bodega's current releases. Some of my favorite wines from our visit are assessed below:

The 2021 Inurrieta Orchidea is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was very aromatic with fresh gooseberry and citrus notes. On the palate, there was lemon and a hint of pinepple with a backbone of acidity and a touch of minerality on the finish. I didn't expect to enjoy a Spanish Sauvignon Blanc so much, but this was a wine that won a gold medal at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon among other accolades. 

We tasted the Inurrieta Coral, a rosado comprised of a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Garnacha. This was a lovely rose with notes of strawberries and a lift of acidity. A darker rose wine came next - Mediodia. This was a richer version of rose with more savory notes -- delicious for summer and beyond.  

Next came several hefty red blends that showcased the power that red wines can have in this region. Inurrieta Sur 2020 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot  which spends 7 months in American oak. It was a beautifully balanced wine with plums and a bit of bacon on the nose. It had a rich mouthfeel with dark fruit and a hint of spice. Well-integrated tannins made this delicious to drink now, but I would certainly age this as well.

My favorite wine was the Inurrieta Mimao 2020, 100% Garnacha. The grapes get a cold soak for 8 days when they come in to retain freshness and flavor. After the first round of fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks, Malolactic fermentation takes place in used French oak barrels, where the wine rests for 7 months. The resulting care produces a wine of fresh red and black berry flavors, round mouthfeel, and lingering finish.

During our visit, we enjoyed some delicious local treats including smoked meats, hard cheeses, and white asparagus -- a great start to our day of wine touring in the area. 

Inurrieta welcomes visitors and is just a 40 minute drive from Pamplona. 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Chilean Wines that Capture the Spirit of the Vines from Ritual, Primus & Neyen

Sofía Araya has enjoyed a thriving career in Chilean wine since graduating from la Universidad de Chile, and today she serves as head winemaker for several prestigious Chilean wineries. At a recent media dinner, she led a tasting of a selection of organically-farmed wines with the Ritual, Primus, and Neyen labels.

During the evening, Sofía conveyed that her focus is on letting the grapes and the land where they’re grown shine. The first wines we tasted were from Ritual, which pays homage to vineyard workers by featuring them on the labels. 

Ritual Sauvignon Blanc was a fresh wine with lively aromas of gooseberry, notes of lemon mousse on the palate, surprising body, and good acidity. Sofía uses some whole clusters in the crush as well as barrel fermentation to add complexity to this wine. $21

Ritual Pinot Noir was a medium to light bodied wine with ripe red cherry flavors with notes of sage and white pepper. It’s created with native yeast in the fermentation. $21

The Primus Carmenere is from vines that are 25 years old as well as some older vines approaching 80-90 years. Sofía believes that Carmenere grapes benefit immensely from these older vines. This wine had blackberry and toffee on the nose and palate, along with spicy pepper notes. $21

Primus Red Blend had a nose of black and red fruit with a hint of green pepper. On the palate the wine offered black fruit with notes of rosemary. It had good length, smooth tannin, and balance. $21  

Neyen is a wine label named for the spirit of Alpata, the esteemed region within the Colchagua Valley.  The grapes for the wines from this label are sourced from old terraces of the Tinguiririca River.

The Neyen wine is a blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine had rich aromas of blackberries and cherries with hints of rosemary. The wine was full bodied with rich fruit as well as a note of balsamic and toffee on the back end. It was a truly gorgeous wine that I would love to see with age. $65

The Neyen Malbec is a special wine that showcases how Malbec on the other side of the Andes can fare. This wine offered delicate aromas of roses and red candies, and the palate had both structure and freshness with ripe Bing cherry flavors and fine tannins.  $150

All of the wines made under Sofía Araya had a freshness and a focus to them – the flavors had a purity that winemaking only sought to enhance without hiding anything. I appreciated these well-crafted wines, which further strengthened my contention that wines from Chile offer both value and quality to wine lovers.  

Monday, May 30, 2022

Carmenere Cowboys from TerraNoble Wrangle Pairings with Aplomb

One of the most fun parts of being a wine lover is playing around with pairings. And the “Carmenere Cowboys” from TerraNoble winery were in NYC recently to do just that – with the lively culinary offerings of Citizens at Manhattan West to choose from. The enjoyable evening was eye-opening with regards to the pairing possibilities of Chilean wine.  

The winery’s name, TerraNoble, refers to the Maule Valley’s fine soils that can produce great wines. The winery has vineyards across the Casablanca, Colchagua, and Maule Valleys of Chile. The winery’s guiding philosophy is one of minimum intervention. Winemaker Marcelo Garcia’s practices reflect that, favoring aging in more neutral containers such as large format foudres or concrete eggs.

Our evening began with TerraNoble Grand Reserve Carmenere 2018 served with spicy tuna crispy rice. The spicy kick to the tuna tartare made this a delicious match to the wine’s notes of cranberry, herbs, and white pepper.

Next was some hard Parmigiano Romano paired with Grand Reserve Carignan 2018. This wine was a surprise to me, as I’m not sure if I’ve had Carignan from Chile before. The nose was lovely with floral notes of violets and rose. On the palate there were bold cherry and hints of dark chocolate with bright acidity. A wine I will keep an eye out for. The salty, fatty cheese was well suited to the wine’s fresh acidity.

Our third course paired crisped pork gyoza with the Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.  The wine had aromas of dried cherries and eucalyptus. On the palate, there was cranberry and a hint of balsamic and black pepper. The wine’s spicy notes and integrated tannins complemented the fatty pork of the gyoza well.

Our fourth course was quite a showstopper – Flintstone-size sticky ribs. The ribs were gorgeous by themselves, but when paired with the TerraNoble CA2 2018, the course took on a new dimension. CA2 is Carmenere sourced from a cooler region with a maritime influence. It has some green pepper dimensions to the nose and palate, and that herbaceous quality was terrific with the fatty, sweet ribs – like another spice added to the plate. 

The dessert course was a surprise – an enormous salted truffle cookie that was rich with deep cocoa flavor. The generous sprinkling of salt on top and the fact that the cookies weren’t very sweet made them an unexpectedly good pairing with TerraNoble CA1 2018. Also a Carmenere, this wine is grown in warmer foothills of the Andes and therefore had more concentration of deep cherry flavors that complemented the chocolate well.

A final bonus wine wrapped up the evening nicely – Lahuen. This Bordeaux-style blend includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.  It was an elegant wine with fresh blackberry, cherry and hints of rose with well-integrated tannins.

The "cowboys" from TerraNoble were charming hosts to us and led the tasting with warm hospitality. The evening truly demonstrated that Chilean wines are wonderfully versatile – and that the wines of TerraNoble are particularly fun to pair. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Delicious with a Dash of Do-Good - ONEHOPE Wines from Napa Valley

California winemaking has gone through many phases since the earliest pioneers who shone in the tasting of Paris in 1976. From hugely powerful wines heavily impacted by new oak aging, and the waxing popularity of Pinot Noir and waning appeal of Merlot (thanks, Sideways) to the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) advocates. Today there is a move towards letting the grapes shine, managing alcohol levels, and always looking for the best parcels from which to source grapes.

The new hunt for freshness in the resulting wines is a decided boon for wine lovers who are looking for varietal expression, more acidity, while still wishing for complexity and richness. Mari Wells Coyle is vice president of winemaking and estate operations at ONEHOPE Winery in Napa Valley, and, under her stewardship, the wines are delivering lovely quality of fruit, more balance, and delicious, complex flavors.

But ONEHOPE is more than just a top notch wine producer – the Rutherford winery was founded 15 years ago with the mission to give back. For each purchase, the winery donates 10% of the price to customers’ chosen nonprofits. Today the winery has donated over $8 million.  It’s an outstanding achievement that makes drinking well and doing good easy.

Mari was in NYC for a media lunch at Marta, where she walked us through a number of current releases.

Estate 8 Fume Blanc Rutherford 2020 – Rutherford fruit that sees a mix of new and used oak barrel aging produces a luxurious white with floral and herbal aromas, white plum flesh and toffee on the palate, a round mouthfeel and long finish. A very special wine.

Reserve Collection Chardonnay Napa Valley 2020 – Although the vintage was growing during some times of fire, the fruit was clean and so wine could be produced. This had a fresh nose of orange blossom and the citrus continued on the palate along with honeyed toffee notes on the backend. The balance of acidity and richness makes this wine a delight.

Reserve Collection Pinot Noir Russian River 2020 – Lush strawberry jam and dried roses on the nose with dark cherry flavor and well-integrated tannins. A more delicate Pinot Noir that still had satisfying flavors and length.

Reserve Collection Zinfandel Amador 2020 – I was pleased to see that this Zin avoided the heaviness that is often seen from the grape in California.  There was an appealing blackberry nose and rich black fruit with a touch of spice on the palate with a full body.

Naturally, the Cabernet Sauvignons were a highly anticipated part of the tasting and they did not disappoint:  

Iconic Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2017 – Redolent of blackberries on the nose and palate with hints of baking spice and a long finish.

Iconic Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2018 – A cooler growing season resulted in a wine with slightly more herbal and rose tones on the nose. The wine delivers black and red fruit on the palate and tight tannins.  

Iconic Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Atlas Peak 2019 – This wine from Edcora Vineyard in Atlas Peak is drinking beautifully right now. A longer growing season contributed to delicious ripeness in the fruit – reflected in the ripe black fruit flavors and aromas. The wine is big, rich, but balanced – a terrific reflection of the best of Napa.

ONEHOPE wines are available online here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Feeling the love for expressive New Zealand wines from Loveblock

The world of wine is always changing, and the big, overblown New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that were hugely popular over the past few decades are making way for more subtle interpretations of the grape. You can see this particularly in the newest releases from Loveblock, where organic farming practices are being increasingly applied. 

At a wine media dinner at Osteria La Baia, Erica Crawford, founder and CEO of Loveblock Wine, explained that organic farming is one of the factors that contributes to a more restrained Sauvignon Blanc. Rather than encouraging abundant growth through applications of fertilizers and clearing any other plants between vines, the Loveblock vines are made to struggle. So, no fertilizer is applied, and, also the vines compete for soil nutrients with the plants growing between the rows. Erica used the analogy of an only child who gets everything versus one who needs to share with many siblings – in other words, those vines are not getting spoiled.

Our dinner began, however, with a different grape—Pinot Gris. It’s fair to say that those of us in attendance fell in love with this wine. It was a luscious, aromatic interpretation, offering a crisp minerality, tart apple and pear, as well as a lovely acidity. This is a wine I’d happily drink on its own, and it was also delicious with the sea bass I had for a main course. In addition to seafood, I’d enjoy with poultry, pork, and light-sauced pastas.  Erica assured us that this wine “just gets better with age.”

Next we enjoyed the Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc. Erica told us that 82% of the vines are either organic or in the process of conversion to organic. I enjoyed the quieter aromatics that were still quite fresh with grassy, citrus notes and the wine’s flavors of lemon, tangerine, and white pepper – with refreshing acidity as well.  Erica noted that “Texture is quite a focus for us.” The vineyard management practices include using a cover crop between vines. 

A special new project for the Loveblock team is the introduction of a very different style of wine – Loveblock Tee.  This wine made of Sauvignon Blanc grapes has the addition of green tea tannin to preserve freshness, rather than the traditional addition of sulfites. On the nose and palate, we found clove and ripe red apple. The texture was more round than a traditional Sauvignon Blanc. Consumers who have an affinity for natural wines as well as those who wish to avoid sulfites will be interested in this unique wine. 

Our final wine was the Loveblock Pinot Noir. This was a delightful wine with floral aromatics, medium to light body, and tart cherry and cranberry flavors with low levels of well-integrated tannin. 

The Loveblock wines are delicious representations of what wines from Marlborough, New Zealand can become with careful vineyard management and intentional winemaking choices. With their beautiful botanical labels, they’re easy to spot on the shelf. For myself, I especially look forward to enjoying their sensational Pinot Gris again soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Georges DuBoeuf Cru Beaujolais 2019 and 2020 Add to Growing Luster of Region

Living in the shadow of some of the world's most revered vineyards is something that may feel like a bit of a hardship, but the Beaujolais wines of Georges DuBoeuf are getting along just fine, thank you. In fact, the proximity to Burgundy's Cote d'Or is even garnering the region some accolades as a value choice from the area. 

Tasting through a number of 2020 and 2019 bottles from DuBoeuf's cru Beaujolais wines, I was pleased to note that they were a pleasure in their own right - and no comparison to other regions or styles was necessary. These are wines that are thoughtfully made and not trying to be anything other than terrific renderings of tangy, fresh, fruity Gamay.

It's always a pleasure to see Romain Teyteau, Export Director, North America for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. Romain was in New York to show a selection of current releases at Benjamin Prime Steakhouse. 

I was thrilled that we began with the Domaine Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse 2019. Pouilly-Fuisse has always been one of my favorite whites, and this one was drinking beautifully with aromatic white flowers and honey on the nose and a round mouthfeel with yellow apples and cream on the palate. 

With an assortment of appetizers, we sampled the 2020 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages. The 2020 vintage has been characterized as "warm and clean" and this Villages wine was a reflection of that - tart raspberry on the nose and palate with an easy appeal and no perceptible tannin. 

Moving on to our main courses (steaks all around) we began to explore the Cru Beaujolais wines of Georges DuBoeuf. 

The Chateau de Saint-Amour 2020 had more black fruit character than is often found. Romain explained that the winemaking involves both whole cluster and destemmed fruit, which produces wines of intensity while keeping the texture silky. 

Clos des Quatre Ventes Fleurie 2020 offered attractive aromas of tobacco and dried cherry. The fruit here is from a historic vineyard of 80-120 year old vines. The palate was full of tart cranberry and raspberry with bright acidity and low tannin. 

Domaine de Javernieres Cote du Py Morgon had a delicate nose of violets and raspberries. The soil here is a cumbly schist that encourages vines to root deeply bringing minerality to the wine. On the palate, raspberries and blackberries with a touch of balsamic are balanced by light spice. The wine has good length. 

Chateau des Capitans Julienas 2020 is full of ripe black cherry aromas and delivers the same on the palate, along with a hint of white pepper. Romain explained that the wine is made with some parcels going through carbonic maceration and others not. In addition, parts of the harvest are destemmed while others are whole cluster. The resulting wine has power and length while still maintaining elegance and low tannin. 

Domaine des Rosiers Moulin-A-Vent 2019 had delicious cherry and spice aromas that paid off on the palate. Cassis notes added to the lushness. This is a wine of depth that will age, defying the idea that Beaujolais should only be drunk young. 

It's always an education to drink through a number of the Cru Beaujolais villages. Each has its own special characteristics - some bolder, others more delicate, yet all quite special. These wines of Georges DuBoeuf reflect the pleasures that the 2019 and 2020 vintages have to offer and bring credit to the region. 



Saturday, April 23, 2022

Cultivating Time at Chateau Palmer Champagne

Chateau Palmer, a very English-sounding Champagne house, was in fact founded in 1947 by seven French grape growers. The owners had set their sights on the British market and chose what they considered to be a classy English name for their venture: "Palmer." Today the house is esteemed for the consistency and elegance of its cuvees. More than 50 percent of vineyards used by the Chateau are designated as Grand and Premier Cru vineyards located in the Montagne de Reims area which lies between the Marne and Vesle rivers. 

Today the house is dedicated to sustainability and has committed to providing sustainable protection of the vineyards for the sake of the wine, the grape growers and winemakers, the environment, and its customers. 

At a media dinner at Scarpetta, Raymond Ringeval, Export Director of Champagne Palmer & Co., led a small group through a tasting of some current releases as well as some rarer bottles. 

We began with the Brut Reserve NV which, according to Raymond, always has at least 50% Chardonnay. He told us that it is rare to have this much Chardonnay in this kind of blend, but that this "queen of grapes" is one of the signatures of Chateau Palmer, as they source from two of the Grand Cru villages where Chardonnay thrives. The Brut Reserve was crisp with fresh citrus notes as well as toasty brioche. It is aged four years on lees before bottling. 

Next we sampled the award-winning Blanc de Blanc made from 100% Chardonnay sourced from Premier Cru vineyards in the Montagne de Reims as well as from the Cote De Sezanne. Raymond explained that this was one of their most renowned Champagnes. Of special note is the aging these wines see; magnum bottles of the Blanc de Blanc spend 10 years on lees. The 750 ml bottle had 6 years on lees and had notes of crisp lemon, toast, and hazlenuts.  

These non-vintage Champagnes spend more time on lees than many, contributing to their complexity and roundness. In addition to the grapes and winemaking techniques, aging is another important factor in what makes these Champagnes special. According to Raymond, "We're cultivating time." 

The Rose Solera NV Champagne has 42% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier, and there is the addition of 8% of Solera of Pinot Noir.  The solera was begun 40 years ago, and every year new wine is added to it. This unexpected addition is the source of extra richness and complexity. Of all the Rose Champagne I've had, none have made such an impression on me. There is a power to this wine, along with finesse. On the palate, straweberries, baking spice, and cream.  

The Vintage 2012 Champagne was very aromatic with notes of ripe pear and marzipan. On the palate there was great complexity and layers of marzipan, pear, and toasted almonds. The wine also had minerality and bright acidity. Raymond explained that the house only creates a vintage wine every 5-6 years. 

The next wine was a special cuvee known as Amazone. The name hearkens to the mythical race of women warriors and reflects the strength and elegance in the wine. The current release of Amazone is a blend of three top vintages - in this case 2012, 2009 and 2010 - as well as a solera Chardonnay. It spent 8 years on lees. The wine was dense with flavors of apple compote, baking spice, and marzipan. A delicious and unique cuvee. 

We ended the evening with the Vintage 1999 Chauteau Palmer Champagne. Raymond told us that vintage Champagne is part of the Palmer DNA.  This wine had aromas of dried fruits and toffee, which continued on the palate, along with minerality and a freshness that belied the wine's 23 years.  

Among the world of Champagne, Chateau Palmer is making wines that are distinct due to their high concentration of excellent Chardonnay in the cuvees as well for their penchant for long aging. I was impressed by the line, which had excellent choices for many moods and occasions - from parties to noteworthy anniversaries.