Posts belonging to Category Spain



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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Est arrivé Fall mais oui poo poo? Vive le bezbol!!

boobly in zee zummer zo nize

boobly in zee zummer zo nize

October brings seasonal changes everywhere except California and Florida. The autumn leaves turn colors. The days dwindle down. September. November.

October doesn’t rhyme. Here in sunny SoCal days cool off with daily highs in the 80s. You have to take a jacket if dining in Culver City, the cultural capitol of West LA. The A-Frame is the hot spot. A little bit of Portland right here in LA.

Roy Choi takes over a custom built Der Wienerschnitzel in an A frame building. Food comes out in small plates rat-a-tat-tat just like with his food truck. And the wine list is good enough. We ordered the same rose reviewed reicheer last week! UCLAns and Westside millenials packed the bar. With each 30 minutes the looks got hookier. Youth. A-frameWEBThanks to Kevin Eats blog where we got the foto.

Most importantly, baseball playoffs c’est arrivé. tBoW loves championship baseball. The postseason really makes the regular season look more boring than we already know it is. Very much like wines rated on the 100 point scale and wines that simply taste great. The ocean of Parkerized wines hardly makes an impact. But the emergence of unique fetishes like “natural wines” or wines from Mt. Etna or the small towns north of Barolo and Barbaresco… this is championship wine imbibing.

Fine wines we have been tasting are listed below.

allegracore11WEB 2010 Romeo del Castello Etna Rosso Allegracore $23: Old World Cab wine from Mt Etna showed volcanic ash on the perimeter of the mouth, translucent robe, balanced, dignified composure. So Euro. Had this next to unnamed [ed. that would be mean] local Cabernet Sauvignon grown and made in the ‘Bu. The new World/Old World comps are obvious. The New World Cab was only five years old with plenty of fruit and sour overtones. Function of the inexperienced winemaker? Fruit is good enough to make decent wine. Needs a better winemaker. This Old World wine from Mt Etna contineus a string of wonderful wines from the Sicilian volcano. 14%

touraine13WEB2013 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine $20: Old vine Sauvignon Blanc from a vineyard under control of the same family since the late 19th century. Small quantities made with miniscule intervention [ed. dat wooden be natch’l now woodid?]. The winemakers are chemists come to wine. How scientists look at terroir: “Using herbicide forces the vines’ roots to the surface, in which they can effectively grow in the 8 to 10 centimeters of fertile soil that you find anywhere in the world. This isn’t terroir. To get to the terroir you need to go deeper.” Rare bottles nearly extinguished brought back to life with care and dedication… spotty leafed newt? Compromise-driven Republican lawmaker? Water responsible farmers in Central Valley? Turf lawns in Beverly Hills? Maybe not that rare. Grassy hints, yellow gold color as in not pale, firm body. Could play wide receiver for Trojans. 13%

montebro-crianza10WEB2010 Montebro Priorat Crianza $17: By the glass at Peddlers Wine Bistro, local wine bar and dining spot which always pours something unexpected. Like this juicy, light to middle weight Spanish red. U20 winner. 13%

More good news. Jen Carter has relocated to Topanga’s Canyon Bistro. The wine list already shows her fresh approach to value and curiously wonderful wine selections. The food and the setting have always been worth a trip. So goodbye Saddle Peak, hello Canyon B!

Politics & Wine: Malibu About Face! Timing Raises Eyebrows.

my attorney Bernie

my attorney Bernie

The Malibu AVA Association won their coveted AVA status August 19, one week before the California Coastal Commission announced there would be no more planting of vines permitted in Malibu. The AVA Committee was preparing a publicity campaign to rally local Malibu vintners to join their AVA Association when they learned County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky zev_plansCROPNOPEWEBhad filed a proposal with the Coastal Commission to prohibit further planting in Malibu. Zev, a master politician who will not seek another term as one of the Five Kings [LA’s five County Supervisors], already had the votes lined up, of course, to approve his motion.

The AVA Committee which includes Malibu developer and perennial Coastal Commission petitioner Don Schmitz organized his own meeting. the idea was to strengthen the vintner’s position by organizing the “horse people” and the “organic farmers” who were also included in Zev’s proposal. [ed. no anti-vaccine folks?]. Zev made the predictable concession. The horse and organic people were removed from his proposal. The wineries remained. And that my friends, is how the political game is played. Grant concessions to the small groups but keep the cufffs on the bigger ones. Do not count out Don Schmitz. He’s gone more than a couple rounds with the Coastal Commission.

What does the ban on further vineyard development mean for the Malibu region? It took three years for the AVA Association to win approval for the right to include “Malibu Coast” on the labels of wineries that include a high percentage of grapes [ed. you don’t know do you? I could know I just don’t want to look it up, OK?] grown in Agoura and on the Coast. Things could get grim.

Cut to the cheese. Wineries with current valid permits will be able to continue. They will also be all that are left in Malibu. Wineries that did not pull permits when they planted are screwed. There are approximately 50 AVA Association winery members. As many as half could be put out of business. That will severely diminish the ability of the Malibu AVA Association to make an impact on the new region. The entire Malibu AVA is within the Coastal Commission boundaries.

tBoW supports the Malibu AVA because it establishes standards for commercial activities, production scales and quality metrics. At least 85% of grapes in Malibu AVA labeled wines must be sourced from the Malibu AVA. Just like they do it in France. Sourced wines will dominate the shelves at the Cornell Wine tasting room. Malibu the AVA and Malibu wines could become some kind of oddball, hardly known wine region where people plant vineyards for reasons mostly having to with design and style. Napa on a tiny scale.

Sourcing juice outside Malibu was one of the reasons to establish the AVA so that wineries that exclusively or primarily made wine from 85% Malibu vineyards would distinguish themselves. Wineries with permits will still be able to source juice outside the ‘Bu. Seems logical that wines labeled Malibu AVA will become more scarce and, perhaps, more costly?

Wines recently tasted from the rest of the wine world we care about that are worthy of reportage.

laclarine12012WEB2012 La Clarine Josephine and Mariposa $26: If you love the idea of a tame English garden or a wild plot of herbs then this is your wine. We cannot recall such a pronounced scent of savory herbs that is repeated in the glass. “The final blend is 72% grenache and 28% mourvedre. The aromas are classic, old-school grenache – pure, high-toned fruit, some dried herb, and wet, chalky stones.” the winemakers love the yellow slate where the vines grow. La Clarine making natural wines the natural way in the Sierra foothills; “adding no yeast, sulfur dioxide, oak chips, enzymes or concentrates in the cellar, and no chemicals, fertilizers or tillage in our vineyard.” We will buy again. So exotic! 14.6% without the burn.

sperino10WEB2010 Proprietà Sperino “Uvaggio” Costa della Sesia $28 (Eno Fine Wine): 65% Nebbiolo, 20% Velspina and 15% Croatina. The blending of Nebbiolo is a soft, sweet and sexy revelation! 100% Nebbiolo now seems to tBoW like 100% Cabernet. Irrelevant. Jim Moore [ed. isn’t his wine label also named Uvaggio?] always said “Cabernet Sauvignon – a great blending grape.” This wine is from Lessona which is one of those “off label” Piemonte communities that grow Nebbiolo, also know as Spanna in the Italian pre-alps. These communities are Gattinara, Ghemme, Valtelina, Bramaterra and Lessona. At least these are the one we know now. Forget Barolo and Barbaresco! Go north! Here is a very good link to learn more about the region and the label. 13.5%

punset07WEB2007 Punset Barbaresco $65 (online): High toned stuff. Pure 100% Nebbiolo from the heartland. Yes it is sinewy, even muscular. Yes it is palate pumping. And yes Nebbiolo wines like these have lost their spot in tBoW’s world of Neb. LKike the discovery of communities like Aloxe-Corton,= and Mercurey in Burgundy and producers like Clois de Moines, we are learning to appreciate particular wines in our favorite varietals that are not quite but almost off the grid. And that are ready to drink right dang now… and next year. Same vintage. This Punset was Parker’s highest scoring 2007 Barbaresco but, y’know, we don’t value Parker’s POV. No sir. [ed. We definitely do not]. Plus this wine needs a lot of air. 14%

pezaWEB2011 Peza do Rei Mencia $20 (Garagiste): Described as the Pinot Noir of Spain, after we sipped and pointed out the balance, medium weight and flavors unlike the riper Tempranillo or more fleshy and rich Garnacha. Wine that we would buy if we saw it. The back label states “eight acres of vertiginous south facing slate terraces in the rugged and beautiful Ribeira Sacra.” Very good value and, even better, a new varietal for tBoW! “Situated at the foot of the Biellese pre-alpine hills, the soil of the Lessona district still contains ancient marine sands that make it one of the most acidic in the entire world of wine production.” 13.5%

Next up… What if the NFL ran wine Tastings?!?

Somehow this Dylan classic seems apropos. Special thanks for ‘Bu News courtesy of the sanest vintner in the ‘Bu, Charles Schetter.