Friday, May 22, 2020

Top Three Reasons why Rioja is my lockdown wine

The news outlets seem to be unanimous - we're all drinking more during our respective shelter-in-place instructions to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Online booze sales were reported up by over 240 percent as of April 1, 2020.

My own lockdown buying took place at the well-stocked wine mecca of the suburbs, Total Wine. There, I found myself strolling the aisles looking for both familiar and interesting bottles to get me through weeks of sheltering in place. 

As I poured my way through my wine collection over the last two months, I was struck by how much Rioja ended up in my glass.  This was not intentional, but as I go wine shopping I look for value wines that suit my palate and are dependable - and that's what I love about Rioja wines. Some of the go-to Rioja wines I can find in the Northeast U.S. are Lan, Camp Viejo, Marques de Riscal, Lopez de Heredia, Faustino, Muga, Dinastia Vivanco. 

Here are the top 3 reasons I love Rioja wine: 

Palate pleasing flavor - Red Rioja wines (or tinto as they say in Spain) use the grape Tempranillo.  For me, this is one of the winners in the grape world. It produces wines with dried cherry flavors with a touch of tobacco and spice.  I don't go for jammy, fruit bomb wines; I prefer drier styles - so Rioja is well suited to my palate. 

Excellent food pairing - Rioja wines tend to be medium weight and they aren't so bold that they dominate a dish. Therefore, I drink them with lots of dinner staples, including pizza, roast chicken, all kinds of pasta dishes, hamburgers and more.  They usually have good levels of acidity which is always a welcome aspect when pairing wine with meals. Unless a dish cries out for a white wine, I will very often pour a Rioja with what I'm having for dinner. 

Terrific quality for the price - I find the Rioja wines that I buy offer dependable quality. Unlike with Burgundy, I don't break out vintage charts to make sure I'll like what's in the bottle.  And I can spend between $12.99 - $18.99 and get really terrific wines that I know I'm going to enjoy.  That's one of the top reasons that so many of them end up in my cart. 

I hope that all my wine friends are staying safe and enjoying some home-cooked meals with wines that they love.  And, while I have lots of wines from other countries in my collection, you will often find me in the evening with a lovely glass of Rioja keeping me company as I stay safe at home. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

101 Gins captures the flavorful world of a classic spirit

101 Gins to Try Before You Die is a beautiful, smallish format book that provides a current snapshot of many of the best producers of this fragrant spirit. The author is Ian Baxter, a veteran drinks writer also known for his 101 Whisky Books.

The book starts with this premise: "We're in the middle of a new Gin Craze. From being the drink of choice of middle-aged, jaguar-driving golfers and an easy target for stand-up comedians, today's it's harder to find anything hipper on the international bar scene."

The book takes readers first through a little history of the beverage, and then through a bit of the production methods.  Then from page 20 on, it's the - as promised - 101 gins. Each carefully curated entry boasts a beautiful photograph and a succinct page of text.

There are predictably plenty of gins from the United Kingdom represented, starting with #1, Fifty Eight Gin made in tiny batches in a trendy part of London.  Ian characterizes this new gin brand as "a great example of the new wave of small operations trying to find a gap in the market."

But there are also gins made in France -- and Philadelphia. Germany and Spain are also represented as well as Japan.  That one - Nikka Coffey Gin - uses Japanese citrus such as yuzu, kabosu, hirami lemon and amanatsu, as well as apples and sansho pepper -- in addition to the expected ingredient: juniper. And it's ingredients lists such as these that help explain the current fascination.  In a world where "hand crafted" is often just a marketing ploy, gin really can spring from one distiller's imagination and creativity.

Readers interesting in taking a deep dive into this hot beverage category need look no further than this book.

Versatile Lugana delights with modern Indian cuisine

Fans of Lugana wines know that the region offers far more than a delicious white wine from the indigenous Italian grape Turbiana.  It's also a versatile, food-friendly white wine that can work with a variety of cuisines.

A wine media dinner at Spice Symphony showcased five Lugana wines that paired beautifully with the flavor sensations of authentic Indian fare.

Our meal was full of playful touches, like the first course of spicy pani puri.  These crunchy orbs were terrific paired with a sparkling Lugana DOC Classic Method 2016 from Olivini, which showed bright acidity and nice body. 

The Lugana DOC Ca' Maiol Molin 2018 was a medium-bodied wine with citron and stone fruits on the palate.  With our second course featuring samosa pinwheels and paneer with pomegranate, it was a zesty accompaniment to the richly flavorful offerings. 

As dinner progressed, the wine became richer and more complex.  The Lugana DOC Superiore Ca' Vaibo 2017 from Fausto Bulgarini had complex aromatics and notes of pastry and lemon meringue on the palate. It was a full bodied wine that stood up to the multitude of flavors we feasted upon. 

The stand-out wine of the evening was Lugana DOC Riserva Vigne di Catullo 2016 from Tenuta Roveglia. Bright acidity was balanced with a touch of residual sugar.  The grapes used come from 50 year old vines. I found the lime notes on this wine to be lovely counterparts to the richly spiced fare. 

Our final vinous treat was a Lugana DOC Vendemmia Tardiva Rabbiosa 2015 from Marangona.  With 26 grams of residual sugar, this late harvest wine was an elegant touch of sweetness that sent us back into the night with a smile.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scattered Peaks soars with gorgeous Napa Cab at excellent price point

I've often found California Cabernet Sauvignon to pose a quandary - the price I want to pay and the quality I want to receive never align.  On a trip to a cavernous wine store, I looked for a quality Napa Cabernet in the $40 range.  This exceedingly well-stocked shop had zip.  If I wanted to spend over $70 I could get a nice Napa Cab.  If I wanted to spend less than $20, I could get a mass produced California Cabernet that would disappoint me.

But, all that changed the night I met renowned California winemaker Joel Aiken at Corkbuzz.  Joel, well respected for his work as winemaker at the iconic Beaulieu Vineyards, had a new project - a collaboration with Derek Benham, who has overseen numerous successful wine projects in a long California career.  Their recent collaboration has led to Scattered Peaks Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Sourced from prime Napa vineyards including hillside sites, the wine had classic Napa fruit character in that it was beautifully ripe - not overripe.  The wine was deeply colored with inviting aromas of Cassis and rosemary.  On the palate, there were dense blackberry notes and hints of dried herbs. The full bodied wine was lush with well integrated tannins and a long finish.  A recent glance at wine-searcher put this wine on the East Coast in the range of $29.99.  

With the pedigree of Joel Aiken and prime Napa vineyard locations, the quality of this wine is pretty much assured - but tasting made me a believer that quality Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was now within reach. 

Paul Foppiano brings out the best in Petite Sirah in Sonoma

While the judgment of Paris brought California wine to the world's attention in 1976, it's easy to forget that wine in the Golden State has a much longer history.  The Foppiano family has played a role in the Sonoma wine country for more than a century -- and their eponymous winery dates back to 1896.

Today, Paul Foppiano - fifth generation of the family to work in the winery - leads the business and during his tenure, he has energetically worked to promote and elevate the quality of the family's flagship wine, Petite Sirah.  

During a media dinner in New York City, Paul Foppiano joined local writers for a special dinner at The Capital Grille, where we found that his rich and vibrant wines paired wonderfully with an array of show-stopping steaks. 

Here is a round up of the Foppiano wines he presented:

Foppiano Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2018 - A lush wine with tropical notes on the nose and a palate that offered pineapple, lemon curd, and a dash of cream.  The wine was created with slow, cool fermentation and 10% of the wine was aged in French oak for three months. $19.99

Foppiano Estate Chardonnay 2017 - On the nose, the wine had honey and fresh hay aromas. The wine had a honey notes on the palate and a medium weight.  The precision of the wine making is reflected in the fact that a combination of 28% new and 72% used French oak barrels were used for 8 months.  In addition, 48% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation. The judicious use of oak aging, lees stirring, and malo is reflected in the wine - which offers richness without overwhelming the freshness of the fruit. $24.99

Foppiano Estate Pinot Noir 2017 - With an attractive rose petal note on the nose, this Pinot has bright acidity and tart cherries on the palate.  The vineyards undergo careful canopy management and shading grapes is an important step in keeping them from over-ripening.  A wine that would work across many dishes from chicken to pork to pastas. $34.99

Foppiano Estate Zinfandel 2016 - Sonoma and Zinfandel go together like peanut butter and jelly - but for my palate I have mostly found Zins to be too heavy and alcoholic.  The Foppiano Zinfandel was big, but not overwhelming, which I appreciated.  The aroma was full of pomegranate and the palate offered tart raspberry and cranberry.  The wine had good tannic grip, and would be perfect with barbecue and meat dishes.  $27.99

Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah 2016 - Cracked pepper aromas lead to a cherry cola palate with noticeable tannin - a wine with personality and richness. $24.99

Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah 2015 - A lush wine with black fruits and spice, with a brightness of acidity that lifts up the dense fruit.  A big wine but in balance. $24.99

Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah 2014 - With six years of age, the Foppiano Petite Sirah achieved elegance with a plush mouthfeel.  Crushed ripe black cherries and blackberries explode on the palate with well integrated tannin and a very long finish.  Clearly these are wines that can be enjoyed with age. $24.99

Foppiano 96 Red blend 2017 -  This "field blend" style project - including Petite Sirah, Barbera, Zinfandel and Mouvedre - offers a bit of spice with raspberry and cranberry notes.  A big, fun wine that honors the legacy of lands purchased in 1896 by the Foppiano family. $12.99

With Paul at the helm, Foppiano winery has plenty of award-winning wines to offer.  If a prime cut of steak is in your future, reach for one of his Petite Sirahs for a deliciously bold match.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Australia’s Mudgee region offers delicious wines and warm hospitality

The people of Mudgee, Australia, have been cultivating wine grapes since 1858. The downtown is full of two story buildings with upstairs porches and arcaded storefronts that have a romance of yesteryear.

There is plenty of charm in both the town and the extensive wine region – wineries in cozy wooden structures, but also modern marvels with floor to ceiling windows providing achingly beautiful views of the lush vines in the valley and brown undulating hills in the distance.

A small group of wine writers from the Wine Media Conference had the chance to explore the rugged terrain and visit a group of producers from the region. Here are some highlights of a trip through the area:

Gilbert Family Wines
The winery offers a range of wine, heavy on the whites. I found their 2015 Riesling Single Vineyard to be particularly noteworthy with a nose of white flower, palate of zesty lime, and high acidity.  A 2016 Chardonnay L.C.R. was a contrast to this – nutty notes, yellow apples, with rich texture.  Interesting bottles included a couple of petillants and a delicious skin-contact Gewurztraminer.

Highlights of this winery, which offered a modern, glamorous tasting room were Pinot Gris.  The winery offered some wines that were labled “Adventure.”  These included the Weemala Pinot Gris 2019, which had light body with hints of melon and refreshing acidity.  The Clementine Pinot Gris 2019 was an orange wine that had savory notes, spice, and tangerine.  The winery had made some ambitious moves to offer unexpected flavors including an “Orange Shiraz” – Ridge of Tears.  It’s a beautiful wine tourism destination.

This is a rustic tasting room that offers an authentic outback vibe, with a big open porch and natural wood tasting room.  A light-hearted approach to the wines is evident in the fanciful names. My personal favorite was the first sparkling wine we tried – Twinkle Toes – what a marvelous name for a sparkler. The full range of their wines were tasty, uncomplicated, and winning.  Worth the drive to visit.

De Beaurepaire
Truly a world apart – the winery tasting room lies down a dusty road surrounded by hills.  There a gentile sensibility derived from a Burgundian ancestry provides a refined wine experience.  Some of their most outstanding pours included a sparkling, 2018 Blanchefleur Blanc de Balance; 2017 Perceval Pinot Noir, which had a tart sour cherry palate; and 2016 Leopole Reserve Shiraz Viognier, which had a rich mouthfeel, loads of black cherry fruit, and lovely balance of tannin and acidity.

Mudgee is only a few hours north of Sydney, and the drive there takes you over some beautiful stretches of the Blue Mountains.  Once you arrive in this rolling landscape of vines visited by kangaroos at sunset, you’ll know you’ve arrive at truly a world apart.  I recommend making it a weekdend wine trip during a vacation down under.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Bodegas Bianchi honors its roots with new wine project in the Valle de Uco

Bodegas Bianchi has earned a reputation as one of Argentina's best family-owned wineries. The winery marked its 90th anniversary in 2018, and the family commemorated the occasion by adding to its vineyard properties with 420 acres in Vista Flores in the Valle de Uco in the southern end of the Mendoza wine growing region. This region has special significance, because it is here that founder Valentin Bianchi established the original winery in 1928. The new Enzo Bianchi winery is named for Valentin's son, who made wine for the family business for 50 years.  

Silvio Alberto, Chief Winemaker and Agronomist of Bodegas Bianchi, was in New York recently to present current vintages from a number of vineyards at a media dinner. With regard to the new project in the Valle de Uco, Silvio pointed out that the region has a good diurnal shift with warm days and cool nights.  Although San Rafael is famously known as a sparkling wine region, Silvio saw more potential there. In his opinion, "San Rafael means Cabernet Sauvignon," and he said that this area has good conditions to make great wine.  

We had the opportunity to taste through the following wines at the dinner: 

Bodegas Bianchi Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay, San Rafael, 2018 - This Chardonnay has a nice freshness but also a rich texture. Silvio said he prefers this wine to have more fruit and acidity and he does not have it undergo malolactic fermentation.  It was a crisp, well-balanced wine. $18.99 

Bodegas Bianchi Oasis Sur Malbec, San Rafael, 2019 -  Silvio said he finds this wine "easy to drink" and that it has "lots of fruit."  The vineyards are in the far south of Mendoza.  The wine had black plum and blackberry on the nose and palate. The fruit profile was tart and the wine had a smooth mouthfeel. At $15.99 it's a very good value. 

Bodegas Bianchi Oasis Sur Cabernet Sauvignon, San Rafael 2019 - This wine offered  blackberry and black cherry fruit - tart and fresh - with well-integrated tannins. Another good value at $15.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Famiglia Bianchi Malbec, Mendoza, 2018 - Dark, ripe cherries dominate the flavor profile with additional notes of tart cranberry and blackberry. A wine of richness and deep flavor that's a great deal at $19.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Famiglia Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon, San Rafael, 2017 - This wine had blackberry, spice, and a touch of smoke on the palate with a rich mouthfeel and smooth  finish.  $19.99 

Bodegas Bianchi Gran Famiglia Bianchi Corte, Vista Flores, Uco Valley, 2017 - A "Bordeaux" blend of 59% Malbec, 23% Petit Verdot, 11% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Tannat.  The nose was blackberry and plum with a whiff of caramel (most likely from the French Oak barrels the wine is aged in.)  On the palate there was more black fruit, spice, and minerality.  Silvio noted that "the idea with all my wine is to maintain the fruit." $29.99 

Bodegas Bianchi Particular Malbec, San Rafael, 2017 - The perfumed nose had black fruit and a hint of black pepper. On the palate, there was black cherry, a little spice, and smooth, well-integrated tannin. For this wine, Silvio told us he mixed using new and used French Oak barrels for 12 months.  Before bottling, the wine spent a 10-15 day period in stainless steel tanks, which allowed sediment to precipitate, as the wine is not filtered. A year of bottle aging follows that.  Excellent quality for $30.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Particular Cabernet Sauvignon, San Rafael, 2017 - Bold wine with slightly briny nose along with prominent black fruit. On the palate, the wine is well structured with nice acidity and good depth of flavor showing black fruit and black pepper, with long length.  $30.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Enzo Bianchi Gran Corte, San Rafael, 2017 - The fruit on this blended wine is all from San Rafael and includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.  With an inviting nose of black fruits and spice, the wine's was lush with flavors of cherries, blackberries, and pepper.  The wine has well-integrated tannins and long length. $59.99. 

With the development of a new vineyard area, Bodegas Bianchi shows that it is a historic winery that is still striving to improve and expand the types of wines it can make. The tasting with Silvio showed that wines at all levels are made with intention, and that the Bianchi brand has the innovation and attention to quality to continue to offer great wine at excellent price points.