the Trouble with Rioja Wines

tBoW goes on curmudgeonly jag! Two blogs in a row rip into popular international wines!! What’s next? Napa?

Lettie Teague is the wine writer for the Wall Street Journal. She covers a wide range of wines from pricey (Burgundies) to cheapos to odd regions and the ones wine snobs like to read about. I would link to her columns BUT without a subscription the columns are out of reach in 24 hours (or so).

Teague’s Jan 13 column covered Rioja wines: “Pour on the Oak: Rioja’s Reliably Aged Reds.” Immediately I recalled a Rioja tasted this New Year’s Eve party…2007 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904. Had the big reviews from Suckling and Parker PLUS the big scores in the high 90s [Lettie’s WSJ image adjacent…nice, no?]

A couple of prelim caveats: In the first, the 100 point range for scoring wines is (how can I say this without scrinching faces) frivolous. Find me a wine below 85 points and I will tell you where to buy the 2014 Cune Crianza which is a great bargain at $12. When scores less than 85 are not assigned then the scale is actually 15 points. In the second, avoid reviewers who are paid to sell wines and assign the scores. Better to find a local wine shop with staff that actually drink the stuff. Let him or her get to know what you like and your preferred price point so they can tell you what to buy. One more point…what is the difference between a 96 and 97 point wine? Better yet what could possibly be the difference.

The New Years lineup was brave with many fine bottles lining the bar. Unfortunately, only one bottle was up to the task of pleasing palates. Different wines fell short for different reasons. The 2009 Sweeney Canyon Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara was well made. Our palates have changed since. We (and I am speaking for the smarty pants tasters) no longer favor Central Coast syrupy (to us) beety flavored wines. The two recent vintage Bourgognes were soft and fruity without much stuffing. The winner was opened and placed before the lumpen before the cogoscenti arrived so its remains lay dying in the glasses of the “social tasters” [man, tBoW a real S-N-O-B].

2007 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, $50: The Handle Man brought this with high hopes shared all round. Plenty fruit. Beautiful robe (taster talk for color, weight, luminosity). And big and tannic even after trying again and again for a couple of hours. TOO MUCH OAK. As Teague points out Gran Reserva signifies the wine spent FIVE YEARS in barrel. So this wine was bottled no sooner than 2012 and may have spent even longer in barrel [ed. upon reading about it turns out the wine was bottled after 4 years].

What to make of this? All were disappointed with how the wines we brought by the cognoscenti showed. After ten years we really expected the La Rioja Alta would be more accessible. What’s the deal? TOO MUCH OAK. tBoW favors natural wines made without oak. Or at least wines stored (“aged”) in neutral oak barrels which have been used more than five years and have lost all the oak flavors imparted by new barrels.

Let’s be clear. We hate oaked wines. We are not even sure why the “aged in new oak” style began or where it came from. Spain has institutionalized aging wines in oak to the extent of rewarding wines aged longest in oak with the “highest” rating of Gran Reserva which translates roughly to Grand Poobah of Wines. What is truly worth pondering is how a nation elected to value the use and abuse of oak in making (finishing) wine over factors that are more highly valued elsewhere; e.g., not using oak, steel fermentation, and using natural yeasts or even w-a-i-t-i-n-g for fermentation to spontaneously erupt.

Is there something to be said about the culture? tBoW speculates in his darkest mind that this system was spawned by the fascista values of Generalissimo Franco. Prove me wrong.

The CVNE 2014 Crianza – Crianza means aged no more than two years in barrel which is about 18 mos too long. This particular bottle is a go-to tBoW value perfect for Thanksgiving when the food multiplex is the most challenging to match. And at $14 – we have bought for $10 – it is probably the perfect one-size-fits-all wine for Turkey Day.

tBoW and fam visited La Guardia and Alta Rioja way back before he owned a digital camera. The hilltop village of LA Guardia was a highlight. The yougn ‘uns got a thrill when the “bulls” ran thru the streets. Does this happen every weekend? I was able to find a video of the running of the COWS which captures the thrill we all shared. The streets are narrow and the risks are meager. This ain’t no Pamplona. This was a disco. The only where gouging might take place would be lunch or diner with wine. Although that did not occur.

the Trouble with White Burgundy

Happy New Year from Mauna Loa Volcano

2017 was good for tBoW. We started posting again. Having fun with it. Found a new webmaster who likes wine. Look for change in utility but not in tone. Sticking to the same POV when it comes to wine. We see no separation from life when it comes to wine. Life brings plenty of  interests and conondra. Like the plural of conondrum. Dictionary says go “s” for plural but this does not seem correct. Which brings us to white Burgundy.

tBoW is loving red burgs but they are getting pricey. Good thing snappy observers such as Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal offer guidance to V-A-L-U-E wines “in the space.” Unfortunately, not even Ms. Teague can persuade tBoW to buy another bottle white Burgundy, value or not. Our (royal “we”) problem with the genre is we have lost our flavor for chardonnay. There are dozens – docenes – of white wines we would rather taste and swallow. Here are just a few worth your searching out.

Etna Bianco from Tenuta delle Terre Nere is made from “white grapes… a mumbo-jumbo of local varieties: Carricante, Catarratto, Grecanico, Inzolia and Minnella. So that’s what my Etna Bianco was: a field blend of all the above, with Carricante dominating the blend with roughly 65%.” We paid $21 for the 2016. Simply espectaculo. Sicilia wines are hot in the marketplace; deservedly so. Good news for small vintners not from California or Bordeaux. Look for it and buy some.

Arneis is the white wine from the Barolo region (southern) of Piemonte. Keep in mind the northern region (Milano) known as Altopiemonte produces our favorite red wines. Bottles of Arneis can vary in quality. Price point is around $20 and up. A tBoW favorite is Bruno Giacosa.

Spain makes excellent white wines. We are most familiar with Verdejo and Albarino. There are other white wines from Spain however these two can seem most reliable. Check out the big tasting profile!! Ochechonya!!Verdejo is dry, charming like Robert Morely might have been. Albarino is acidic, zesty and full of picque. Like Terry Thomas; sneaks up on you. It is the nature of Spanish culture that there always be an abundance of choices and ways to enjoy life. Here is a brief and engaging overview of Spain’s white wine varietals to be challenging, distinctive, even if to a fault. If you get the culture you will get the point. Here is a brief description of Spanish varietals. Of course it is not simple!

Gruner Veltliner is the go-to Austrian wine. Notice we do not say Austrian white wine becuz that would be like introducing a German red wine. German and Austrian wines are known for white varietals especially Riesling. Supposedly climate change has resulted in the production of decent red wines from the Boch regions. Where Riesling runs racy and sweet (simplified, I know) Veltliner is racy and sleek. When it’s on it is really on.

Why chardonnay no longer? As a varietal I find it kind of monotone with a narrow flavor profile. Make it fat and it becomes tropical (think Rombauer). Make it lean and without oak and it gets better but stays foxy. I did have an aged Leflaive Chevalle that was so aged it tasted like butterscotch in the glass. That was exotic and certainly delicious.

That reference to Robert Morley made tBoW think of Terry Thomas. I was able to find this lovely brief of the wit of Englishmen like Morley and Thomas. If oyu find yourself with a couple minutes to spare you really should give it a look.

Happy New Year all.

Wine Travel Is So Easy!!

Argentina! Italy! Canada? Portugal and Spain?!

Knowing how to travel is simple. A great getaway is built on two pillars: castle and wine regions. If you want to save money yet still get the feeling of  what it is like to visit a wine region you can attend a well planned tasting. The local primo wine shop – Woodland Hills Wine Company – is really good at putting on tastings.

The November 15 2017 Las Joyas wine tasting featured seven winemakers from Spain and Portugal. Pause a moment. Imagine you are a winemaker from a little beach town in northern Portugal. You and your wife decide a national tour could be fun! You join a mini barnstorm tour and see the USA while chatting up strangers about the wine you make. Not a bad idea for a Fall activity. Like driving across country in a VW van with dogs and strangers.

Once WHWC decided it would become a tour stop they had to find a hosting restaurant. The Peasant Bistro is conveniently located two blocks from WHWC. The little food plates were ideal for the tintos and blancas…crab cakes, meatballs in red sauce, and other stuff I forgot already. All delicious without distracting from the wines. And the wines were good.

A Few Winemakers We Kept Pretty Good Notes About. Alberto Orte is the winemaker for La Antigua which produces ~2,200 cases annually. He is also a partner for Ole Imports which represents many of the wines at the tasting. In California production this small is almost a hobby. We bought the 2008 Clasico made from 40 to 80 year old vines. Head cut gnarly stumps. 60% Garnacha (tBoW’s favorite Spanish red grape. Tempranillo is fruity and fussy. Vines grown in limestone at 700 meters which is high for Rioja. Aged in neutral oak. No new oak and we could taste that. Organic and natural.

Leirana Finca Genoveva is in Galicia which is furthest west on the coast. Rodri and Ari are winemaking love birds. They showed three white wines: two albarinos, and one made from Meano Sanxenxo. One of the pleasures of wine travel and tasting is getting to try something unusual like wine made from the Meano Sanxenxo grape. Not sure I would learn anymore from being there than Albarino is not just that. Ari showed me fotos of the eight foot tall vines! The cordons start around seven feet. Their total production is…drum roll please…300 cases! Organic, natural wines aged in old oak – neutral. Thank goodness these two are sufficiently impoverished to not be able to afford new oak. We hate new oak.
There were more wines including those from the Azores [above foto of vines growing below volcanic Mt Pico]. All in all a lovely getaway from LA. Good job Daniel. Here’s an audio treat that goes with Alabarino from In Deep.

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Thoughts and Prayers Going Forward at the End of the Day

Who is this dude? Izit Kim Young Gun? Or Shootin’ Roy NoMoore? Or the Big Cheeto gone dark, er? More whiffs there than a Cody Bellinger series. It is a handmade movie poster from the 70s when the movie showing moguls in Ghana had to fabricate their own posters out of gunny sacks. Made the entire story up their own. Why not?!? Starring Guy Jesus. Wonder where he is today.

Switch to cable news content, obviously. I mean literally…how many cliches can one viewer stand? It’s almost enough to make tBoW turn off Fox & Friends. I agree with N-O-T-H-I-N-G Bill O’Reilly ever had to say except when he once – and only once – made this point: “at the end of the day” is a phrase overused. Literately. We know what happened to Bill’O. He overused his welcome.

Makes me want to drink WINE. Have wine with food. With friends who like wine. It’s almost Turkey Day already. People gotta prepare. Tinkaboudid.

Here are a few wines that don’t cost so much and are very friendly to the hoi polloi.

On the left is the blancs 2016 M. Chapoutier  Belleruche Cotes du Rhone $15-ish. Picked this up on sale at a local primo market that needs no added press. Tasting notes: Grapes in the bottle include Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette and Bourboulenc. Golden color. Full bodied for a vin blanc from the Rhone. Perfectly suitable for turkey, beets and stuffing.

On the right is the 2016 Domaine Duffour Cotes de Gascogne white wine $10! In the bottle is a blend of “mostly Colombard, along with smaller amounts of Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng.” This wine is preferred to its pairing partner. Tasting notes: (with interpretations) bright (acidic), flavorful (slightly sweet) and fresh (holds together well for the entire meal). Skurnick imports writes about the domaine (under the radar failsafe importer on par with no-risk importers Louis/Dressner and Kermit Lynch).

Today’s theme seems to be oddballs. How about a rare Piemontese grape that is almost rare as a prehistoric shark found recently off the coast of Portugal. You can read about the Pelaverga grape here. This is the kind of shaggy dog story that always merits oenophilic interest. I say Watson! Read the above link! Know this. The juice is tasty though neither enchanting, nor seductive. The price is justified by the curiosity factor.

2015 G.B. Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga $20-ish. Sharp flavors backed with raspberry/cranberry fruit. Lithe and charming. Has the stuffing to go with turkey stuffing. Is it me or do others wish turkey stuffing spent time in the turkey?

Here’s the shark. Looks scary however the actual fish is about 12 inches long.

Time for one more wine!! 2008 Antica Terra Pinot Noir $150 today; $40 on release. if you can find it. We pulled this out of the cellar for a dine out with pals. Bought on release, the third wine made by winemaker extraordinaire Maggie Harrison. tBoW featured her in this 2011 post. A nice story. Good luck if you look for it. Let us know where you found it…and what you paid! Here is a foto of Maggie. I believe she is reluctant about having her foto being taken. Tasting notes: Gentle but not soft. More plum than rhubarb. Exotic and simple. The hazers at the table sucked it up like vampires at a White House “tax reform” strategy meeting. I may have a few more.

Thank you for your service.

The President is a MO….!!!!

Did Mel Brooks script the current administration? Could that be Larry David on a horse? You may not approve of the President but you gotz to admit…he sure inspires the absurd.

The Thanksgiving Classic – you know the World Series – is over. I would tell you hearts are broken all over LA…but that would be a lie. Folks in SoCal fuggedaboudsheeat faster than a Hollywood mogul pops…CENSORED… [ooo..he did not write that].

Let’s review a wine.

Yohan Lardy 2015 Beaujolais-Villages Blanc Les Bruyeres $20. Yummmeee. Not exactly citric but with good acid. Flavors are chard-ish. Mostly the wine is fresh and a great sipper with food. Contributed by Le Large. This is the remarkable piece. This is chardonnay from the land south of southern-most Burgundy: Beaujolais. Where they grow Gamay. when did they start growing chardonnay [KrisB will know]? Beaujolais is about to release its Beaujolias Nouveau which is a marketing ploy cooked up 20 or 30 years ago to prop up a failing market. Think of Beauj Nouv as raw fermented grape juice. Even high falootin trade types (Kermit Lynch) say they love it. Try it and see. It comes round in next couple weeks then it will be gone. Wonder if Costco will carry some? Beaujolais has a sordid history. It wasn’t enough to push awful juice. Certain vignerons mixed in other less-than-fresh juice. tBoW described the decades old sordid history in an earlier entry. Since that epoch of fraud, vintage Beaujolais became serious wine. We always have something in the cellar such as Clos de la Roilette 2009.

WHAT IF BASEBALL FIELD REPORTERS COVERED A WINE TASTING?
tBoW: We are tasting in LA today at the World Serious Wine Event near the ballpark in Silverlake. Our field reporters are Buck Moose and Vine Skully.
Moose: What are your thoughts on this tasting? Do you want it to be the best tasting ever? Tell us what you’re thinking? Are you anxious the tasting may be able to score enough points to be ready for the next LA series?
Winemaker: Sure. We want the best…
Viney: This wine tasting is a lot like the great beer tasting when the Babe called his shot…of Porter. There used to be a wine named Porter that could be drunk with either hand. Much like the Babe was often… After the game of course. Is tonight’s game over yet?
Winemaker: wha…?
Moose: What are your thoughts on Viney? Do you want him to be the greatest announcer of all time? Or just the greatest of all time? Tell us your thoughts on Viney as the greatest announcer of all time?
Winemaker: Well, to tell the truth we just want to pour our best for all the great fans that came to Silverlake today.

Make the safe bet like the Large has learned. Buy the importer – e.g., Louis Dressner and Kermit Lynch; and the region: Alto Piemonte and Southern Burgundy. And count on Verlander.