Category Archives: Spanish Wines

Spring’s Eternal Blessings

Spring celebrates traditions and cultures and new beginnings. This month’s celebrations include the Passover, Easter and a  birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Easter and Passover are time honored traditions filled with family, friends and feasting. At the Passover Seder, people of the Jewish faith celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery and Christians rejoice at their savior’s resurrection. Pagans had their own springtime traditions that involved Ēostre, a Germanic goddess of fertility, bunnies and eggs.

All this celebrating begins as Mother Nature sheds the cold, wet blanket of winter and displays the many shades and hues of green and the occasional clump of sunny daffodils.

Spring brings verdant fare with fresher, lighter dishes and wines on our tables. From appealing asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, to fresh sliced radishes on buttered toast points or crackers, lemony sorrel, the zingiest garden green ever, sautéed leeks and morels, roasted spring lamb with fresh peas, new potatoes with chive butter, juicy, sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb, and the emergence of abundant mint family, there are many refreshing ways to celebrate spring.

Below are some adventurous wines that play nicely with spring’s bounty. But first, my “Spring Wine Rules.”

  1. Spring wines can be complex wines. Color outside the lines with wines that are not your usual fare. Resist the urge to be safe! Be daring! Be adventuresome!
  2. The delicate flavors of spring wines have notes of herbs, grass and slightly tart fruit which are the perfect match for spring vegetables. The brighter the wine, the better the match.
  3. No new oak. These wines should be herbal and crisp; it’s lighten up time! Stainless steel fermentation insures a crisp and fruit forward flavor. Oak does not.
  4. Kosher wines are fairly plentiful and very good. They can range from big and hearty to lower alcohol, fruity Moscatos. From Italy to Israel to southern California, winemakers have been making these wines for decades.
  5. It’s not the perfect guideline for spring wines but wines that will age usually have a cork. Times have changed; screw caps do not necessarily mean bulk wine any more than corks signify high quality wines.
  6. No Chardonnays or Pinot Grigios.

Here are my plucky proposals for spring whites. These are not the easiest wines to find, so go with the region or the grape.

PINOT BLANC – This grape is a member of the mutant ninja Pinot family. Being a mutant ninja has to do with the ease that they can change skin color. The red skinned grapes are Nero or Noir and Meunier and the gray skinned grape is Gris or Grigio. White is Blanc or Blanco depending on where in the world it is made. Today, Pinot Gris or Grigio is more fashionable than Pinot Blanc.

But Pinot Blanc has the body of a Chardonnay and an easy drinking style that is likely to surprise and delight. And it does not see oak! Instead, it spends time in a great big barrel that is more often than not, lined with centuries of tartaric crystals. I often recommend an Alsatian Pinot Blanc as a choice for seafood, vegetables and roasted chicken salads.

As the third most mountainous country in Europe, Greece’s distinct topography enables the cultivation of 350 indigenous cool weather varietals in a warm weather climate. Somewhat unexpected after seeing all those movies of very sunny, sandy beaches in Greece.

One of Greece’s greatest white wines comes from the MOSCHOFILERO (Mohs-koh-FEE-leh-roh) grape. The wine is super dry but has an aromatic and floral nose. It’s a great wine for spring entertaining. Most Moschofilero can be found in Mantinia, a region in the middle of the Peloponnese Peninsula.

ALBARIÑO is native to Spain’s Rias Baixas region. It’s crisp, refreshing and reminds me of a blend of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Albariño can be lovely with an exotic aromatics and crisp citrus character. That makes it great with fish with a sorrel sauce or ham and pea salad. Zingy in style, it has enough fruit for great balance.

GROS MANSENG is a country white from Gascony, in southwestern France, and it delivers a terrific bang for buck. The Gros Manseng grape is filled with fresh, clean, herbal flavors and Armagnac brings more weight than most simple table wines. It’s hard to find a more versatile spring – or summer – wine.

MENETOU-SALONS made from Sauvignon Blanc are in the grassy, minerally flavor realm.  Its racy acidity is ideal for the tender spring vegetables.  Hailing from the Loire Valley, where Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé set the bar, the appellation of Menetou-Salon is just west of Sancerre. The chalky soils are similar to the vineyards of Chablis and the resulting flinty minerality of those wines. Pair it with asparagus and scrambled eggs or a pea risotto as a spring treat.

VINHO VERDE is a fizzy Portuguese white. The fresh citrus and-herb packed flavors, low alcohol and fizzy personality make it the perfect spring wine. The lighter alcohol content is perfect for a light spring brunch of frittata, fresh fruits, and hot cross buns.

PICPOUL, native to the Rhone Valley and Languedoc, tends to be crisp and green similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.  Picpoul de Pinet from vineyards overlooking the Mediterranean Sea can show richness that makes them one of the best value choices out there. Use it to begin dinner as it pairs especially well with clam linguine, barbequed oysters or crab cakes.

VERDELHO plays nicely with spring fare with scents of chervil and thyme and lots of citrusy brightness. It has sweet peachy flavors that add a bit of weight to the mouthfeel. The grape is Portuguese, but it has found home in California, where its ability to hold acidity in the heat make Verdelho a winner. It also shines Hunter Valley where it is blended to brighten up the mellower Semillon. Chill it up and pair it with sardines, olives or a chicken salad.

Another grape to consider is the CHENIN BLANC grape from France, South Africa or Washington. It has a steely, aromatic profile with ripe peach flavors that pairs well with the season’s flavors. Consider a bottle of this with your smoked trout or fresh fruit salad.

May your springtime celebrations be sunny with lighter fare and adventuresome wines!

Annual Top Wine Lists

This is the time of year when wine journalists put together lists of “top” wines of the past year. To quote a few:

  • We rated no less than 20 perfect wines after tasting more than 10,000 bottles …
  • Perhaps this column should more accurately be titled the twelve most enjoyable wines of 2016…
  • Here’s our definitive 2016 list of the top 50 bottles …
  • As the year winds down, we can’t help but reflect on our favorite wines of 2016 …
  • After tasting nearly 4,000 bottles in the past 12 months, our wine critic pays tribute …

It’s a tradition and, unfortunately, most wines aren’t available. Unless the wine critic is familiar to you, use their ratings as a guideline. Know and trust your own palate.

Top wines from small production wineries rarely make it to the grocery store shelves. They just don’t make enough product to keep a shelf presence year round. So, traveling to Woodinville, Eastern Washington, Willamette Valley or California may be an option.

For unavailable wines, put them on your watch list and see what the next vintage brings. Lists of high scoring wines can be instructional about good vintages, cool climates and emerging regions.

One last thought when perusing annual wine lists. If a critic tastes 10,000 wines a year, that’s an average of 27 bottles per day. That critic needs help, so it may be a “collective palate” judging that $45 bottle of wine. And that collective palate, made up of several tasters, could change over the year.

And now at last, my 2016 list …

It’s a list heavy with sunny Spain’s top grape varieties, Garnacha and Tempranillo. Spanish wines are perfect for great wines at a small price. Even Gran Riserva Riojas are only about $40.

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2014 is made from old vines; it’s my unfailing favorite. This purple red Grenache from the Campo de Borja region has a gorgeous aroma and flavors of raspberries and spice. It’s imported by consultant Jorge Ordonez who seeks out old vines and well made Spanish wines.

Solnia Tempranillo 2015 is crafted in the land of Don Quixote, La Mancha. The old vine Tempranillo grapes are hand harvested. From the deep color of the wine, you can tell it went through a long ferment and maceration. Aged for six months to give it further complexity, the wine is balanced and very drinkable at $10. Also imported by Jorge Ordonez.

From the Toro region, Enebral Tinta de Toro 2009 is made by the Well Oiled Wine Company.  Tinta de Toro is a clone of Tempranillo. Enebral’s vineyards are old and yield very low production. Also harvested by hand, the wine sees French oak for 11 months, then matured in bottle for six months before release. You can tell Toro is a warm region with an alcohol content of 14.5% and you’ll be amazed at the color and balance of this wine – for only $12.

Tinto Pesquera Crianza Ribera del Duero 1999 is another all-time favorite andtinto pesquera one I had been hoarding for some time. Crianza is a term used to describe the style of Spanish wine. It’s an aging regimen and describes the youngest category of a wine that has been matured in wood.  A crianza may not be sold until its third year from harvest and spends a minimum of six months in barrique.

Gotin del Risc Mencia 2012 hails from the Bierzio region. Mencia is a red grape variety widely grown in Northwest Spain. It’s a very fragrant grape with glass staining capabilities. It’s rich but not overpowering. Think paella partner for $15.

Atlas Peak Renegade 2013 is amazing. Atlas Peak is also an American Viticultural Area located within the Napa Valley AVA. It’s one of the higher elevations in Napa. The westward orientation also extends the amount of direct sunlight to ripen grape sugars. The soil is volcanic and very porous which means cool evenings for perfect pH. The 2013 Renegade is composed of 93% Syrah, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine is loaded with aromas of dark berries, violets, and tobacco leaf. Aged for 22 months in French and American oak barrels, the flavors are lush with dark fruits, leather and spice.

The Stoller Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 is one of the best Oregon Pinots and reasonably priced. From the best vineyard blocks and French barrels (30% new) in the cellar, it’s aged ten months and then blended prior to bottling. What comes out of the bottle is an marvelous balance of cherries and baking spices with a long, long finish.

Bill Stoller worked on the family farm as a child but as an adult he knew that the rocky terrain that broke discs and plows when tilled, the southern-sloped hills that made growing wheat difficult and the low-yielding Jory soils were all the ingredients of a successful vineyard. Today, the family vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Pinot Blanc.

Intrinsic Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 made two publications’ Top 100 lists. This is the first release from this winery. Part of the wine was aged for a remarkable nine months on the skins, another part in stainless steel and the rest in neutral oak. The label claims, “It dazzles with brooding aromas of herbs and black cherry. The flavors are ripe and balanced with smooth tannins and a long finish.” Dazzles and brooding aside, I’m inclined to agree, found it reasonably priced and still available.

Another gem from the cellar was the Long Shadows Pedestal Columbia Valley Merlot 2004. Long Shadows collaborates with highly regarded winemakers around the world. They use Washington grapes to make wine like they do back home. It’s fascinating to taste a Washington wine next to another country’s wine.

For this wine it’s Michel Rolland, owner of Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and consultant to many others. Let me just name drop here – L’Angelus, Clinet, Smith Haut Lafitte, Pavie and Troplong Mondot in Bordeaux; Simi, Newton, Merryvale and Harlan in California. He has even consulted at Ornellaia in Tuscany and Casa Lapostolle in Chile. Pedestal has pedigree.

Bollinger RD (recently disgorged) 1985 was a pretty amazing bottle. Golden, aromatic and full-bodied, it didn’t have a lot of bubbles but I fully expected it to not be sparkling. I love Madame Bollinger, who would make her daily vineyard inspections in the 1950s by bicycle wearing a dress, a flower in her hair and her pearls.

She once quipped of her Champagne, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”  cork wreath

Cheers and All the Best in this New Year!

What to Drink – Idilico Albariño

What a lovely start to the New Year! A friend dropped in for the annual open house and left without his hat. A few days later, I dropped by his house and reunited the hat and the head.

But the best part was I dropped by at dinnertime. They invited me in for a glass of wine.  And a little week night supper of fried rice to boot.

But back to the wine… It was a Washington winery that I had never heard of and a grape they had never heard of – Idilico and Albariño respectively. Both were quite a surprise to me. I had no idea Washington was growing Albariño.

Winemaker Javier Alfonso, a native of Spain, believes eastern Washington is much like the wine regions of Spain with dry, desert-like climate with hot days and chilly nights. He figures the climate in eastern Washington is very similar to the climate in northwestern Spain’s Rias Baixas wine region where Albariño originates.

Washington’s Idilico Winery is really into Spanish varietals. What other Spanish grapes do they produce you ask? Well, there’s Tempranillo, a juicy and luscious Garnacha (Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvèdre), Graciano and the rare but stunning Albariño

Finicky Albariño is a quality varietal but it’s low yielding. And its skins are thick so the pulp to skin ration is very different from other white grapes.

This Albariño is from a 6 acre planting of in a cooler area of the Yakima Valley north of Prosser. The wine was fermented and aged sur lie in stainless steel for three months.

The wine has the full spectrum of floral, almond and white peach aromas with the stone fruit flavors of apricots, peaches with a bit of citrus to make it really bright. Albariño has bracing acidity from those cool nights and should be consumed in its youth as it rarely ages.

As you might imagine, production of these varietals in Washington is still very small. Their website charmingly explains, “We would like to apologize in advance if finding our wines proves to be difficult. In an attempt to help you locate the wines we will start giving updates via our Facebook Page which you can access below. Happy hunting!

Your fail safe option is to contact your favorite wine shop and ask them to order any available Idilico wines for you. Don’t be intimidated, this is done by good wine retailers all the time. Just let them know which distributor carries the wine in your area.”

Elliott Bay Distributing distributes their wines in our area and the cost about $15. Enjoy!

What we’re drinking: Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2004

Mary writes:

I confess. When it comes to where to plant wine grapes, I’m not the visionary that David Lake, MW was. I scoffed at the idea of planting Syrah back in 1989 when Lake produced Washington’s first Syrah. After all, Washington was the land of Cab and Merlot.

At this year’s Taste Washington I found out while sipping Proper Wines’ 2010 Syrah that Syrah has grown from 800 tons in 1999 — the first year it made the stat sheet — to 11,800 tons harvested last year.

After visiting the famed La Chapelle Vineyard in France’s Rhone Valley, Lake had this vision. By 2009, when Lake went to the great vineyard in the sky, Syrah was the third most widely planted red wine varietal.

Syrah is one of the world’s most diverse grape varieties, displaying a myriad of flavors. It can be floral, peppery, barnyardy, leathery, plummy, smoky and/or herbaceous depending on how old it is and terrior.

It grows best in hot, rocky climates such as the Rhone Valley, Sunny Spain, and the desert regions of California, Australia and Eastern Washington.

And that brings me to the wine of the day from Sunny Spain’s Castilla La Mancha wine region located in the southern half of a hot, dry plateau. Famous for Manchego cheese, Don Quixote and very fine wine.

Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2004, a blend of mostly Syrah and a dab of Monastrell and Bobal. It had been relaxing in my cellar, when a special occasion arose suddenly.

We popped it open and immediately the room was filled with aromas of violets, pepper, licorice, and cassis, which was surprising in itself because of the age. This wine has all the marks of a far more expensive Northern Rhone wine. It had intensity, velvety mouthfeel, wonderful balance and a finish of licorice, cassis and Asian spices.

What we’re drinking: Don Ramon Tinto Barrica

Mary writes:

Looking for a good bargain wine? You’ve come to the right place.

Being a seeker of great wine for under $10, I highly recommend wines from the northeast quarter of Spain known as Campo de Borja. This region is a Denominación de Origen (DO) with a mild climate, located in the shadow of the mountains of the Sistema Ibérico.

One wine from this area I’d recommend trying is Don Ramon Tinto Barrica 2010. Its color is ruby and has aromas of pepper and raspberries with a jammy raspberry flavor. It’s an easy drinking a blend of 75 percent grenache and 25 percent Tempranillo. It retails for $8.

 

Weekly wine defined: Xarel-lo

Mary writes:

Xarel-lo (pronounced: zar rel lo): is a white grape variety that is indigenous to Spain. The vines are found in both Catalonia and central Penedès at moderate elevations. In the Penedès region, it’s one of the base grape varieties of cava, blended with Parella and Macabeo.

Xarel-lo is a hardy plant with medium-sized, thick-skinned grapes. As a result of the thick skin, where all the flavors and aromas come from, the wines produced from Xarel-lo are full-flavored and aromatic.

Sparkling suggestions for New Year’s Eve

By now you’ve probably secured your New Year’s Eve plans, but have you finalized what you’ll be drinking?

If you’re like most Americans, Champagne — sparkling wine if it’s made in America, Prosecco if it’s from Italy, or cava if from Spain — is not something you drink every day.

Instead it’s reserved for special occasions, like New Year’s Eve. (Incidentally, in Italy and Spain people drink their sparklers on a daily basis, much like most Seattleites drink coffee every day).

Seeing as we’re not in Italy or Spain, chances are you don’t drink Champagne (or sparkling wine, Prosecco, cava, et al.) except for once or twice a year. If that’s the case, the thought of selecting a bottle, or two, or three, to ring in the New Year may not top your list of favorite things to do.

That’s where we come in. We called David LeClaire, founder and general manager of Wine World and Spirits, located just off Interstate-5 in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. LeClaire is also a certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Needless to say, he knows wine.

So what does LeClaire recommend for this year’s celebration? That depends on what you’re looking for, he said.

If you’re planning a party for a number of guests (read: wide range of palates and likes and dislikes), LeClaire recommends serving Italy’s Prosecco.

“Prosecco, to me, is one of the best toasting Champagnes you can get,” he said.

The price is nice too — typically a Prosecco in the $9 to $10 range is going to be good. And it’s widely available.

This wine is favorable for large groups because it has a touch more sweetness to it, without being too sweet. Usually it’s liked by everyone.

If dry wine is more your style, consider cava over France’s Champagne. It’s cheaper, while still a quality wine.

General rule of thumb: look for wines in the $10 range, LeClaire said. Anything below $10 may cause you to regret your purchase, especially if you overindulge this year. That’s because sparkling wines in the $6 range have likely been injected with carbon dioxide, which produces the bubbles and often the headache.

“The saying is: The bigger the bubbles, the bigger the headache,’” LeClaire said.

The smaller the bubbles, the better the wine. During fermentation wine produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct of yeast eating sugar in the grape juice. For non-sparkling wine gas is allowed to escape; to make it tingle on your tongue, the gas is kept in the bottle, producing the bubbles.

If you’re looking for bubbly from France, but don’t want to pay the markup on a wine from Champagne, consider one from the Alsace region that straddles France and Germany.

These wines are available in the $15 price range and are very elegant, LeClaire said. Unlike Champagne, which is made from chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, Alsatian sparklers are made with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, producing a softer wine. One brand to look for is Lucien Albrecht, which retails between $15 to $20.

A handful of Washington and Oregon wineries also have jumped into the sparkling pool. That includes Yakima’s Treveri Cellars, which was featured in 2011 at the White House for its State Department holiday receptions and was served earlier this year at the James Beard Foundation dinner. Treveri specializes in sparkling wines, offering Pinot Gris, riesling, Gewürztraminer, chardonnay and even Syrah. You can find most of its wines between $14 and $19.

If all this talk about bubbles has your head spinning — and you haven’t even had a sip yet! — don’t stress. Go to your local wine shop or grocery store and ask the wine steward for help. If you’re in Seattle, stop by Wine World, they’ve got wines you won’t find anywhere else, and staff eager to help.

Tell the steward how much you want to spend, what you typically drink and let them do the work. As LeClaire pointed out, most people who ask for advice will walk away with a better wine than what they would have selected on their own.

Weekly wine defined: Flor

Mary writes:

Flor is the benevolent, film-forming yeast that makes sherry the unique wine that it is.

Flor floats on the top of the wine and prevents oxidation. And as in other parts of the world, the particular yeast cells that make up Flor are particular to the area where sherry is made.

Flor yeast has the capacity to perform a second metabolic action after fermentation. It uses the alcohol and oxygen from the air to produce a coating which floats on the surface of the wine — before bottling so you’ll never have to drink it. But you will be able to smell it in all Fino and Manzanilla sherry.

Fast wine pairings for quick meals

If your home life is anything like ours, you can relate to the recurring scene that plays out each night in our kitchens as we try to come up with dinner ideas that don’t require hours spent slaving over the stove.

The stack of “15 minute meals” cookbooks continues to grow as we try to keep our taste buds happy with meals that can be prepared quickly.

When it comes time to serve the gourmet meals, we don’t want to slow things down by weighing our wine pairing options.

To meet your quick preparation schedule we’re suggesting various wine selections for Ann Vogel’s “one dish wonders”.

Her Red Pepper Spiced Chicken Rigatoni recipe was tricky to find a perfect wine match in part because of the red pepper flakes, which add a kick to the dish, and also because it combines marinara and alfredo sauces.

But after reviewing our trusty “What to Drink With What You Eat” book by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, we think we’ve got a couple options that could work.

If you opt to lay on thick the red pepper flakes, we recommend selecting a dry Riesling or gewürztraminer, both white wines. The slight sweetness of these wines will balance the heat of the red pepper flakes, while complimenting the rich creaminess of the alfredo sauce.

There are a number of affordable options available at the grocery store for each of these varietals, thanks largely to Riesling being a widely planted grape in Washington.

Look to Pacific Rim, a Washington winery focused on making various styles of Riesling, or Chateau Ste. Michelle for affordable gewürztraminer options. And remember to buy dry, not sweet.

If you’re not into heat and you’d rather drink a red wine with the marinara dominated sauce, consider a barbera. This Italian wine has low tannins, making it a great pair for tomato-based sauces, and high acidity, which again will compliment the richness of the alfredo sauce.

For Vogel’s Quick Couscous Paella, because the ingredients are shellfish and chicken based, we recommend a white Rioja.

This Spanish wine is a perfect summer sipper, and seeing it’s from Spain — where Paella is served regularly — it’s only natural that it would be the perfect accompaniment. Look for Marques de Caceres Rioja Blanco at the grocery store. It’s usually priced between $8 and $10, making it a great deal.

Sangria the perfect “punch” for this festive dish

This would have been a great recipe and pairing a couple weeks ago for Cinco de Mayo, but we see no reason why you can’t carry on the celebration a little longer.

As we head into summer there will be plenty of reasons to celebrate — including the warm weather — and Ann Vogel’s fiesta themed potluck dish is the perfect go-to for those warm summer gatherings.

This week’s pairing is slightly different than our usual wine offerings, but we decided to follow the festive theme. That’s why we’re offering a recipe of our own, so grab a clear glass pitcher and get ready to make Sangria.

This delicious, fruit-based wine punch has Spanish roots. Typically Sangria is made with red wine, fresh fruit and a bit of something carbonated. But there are recipes for white wine Sangria that are just as good.

It is easy to make and refreshing for summer barbecues. One beauty of the punch is that you can use a wine that may have not worked with another dish. Sangria is a great way to “spike up” leftover wine with oranges, lemons and perhaps a bit of brandy or Cointreau to brighten it up.

Here’s our suggested recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1/4 cup Brandy or Cointreau
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
  • Fruit, whole, sliced or in wedges (apples, blueberries, cherries, kiwi, lemons, limes, oranges, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, etc.)
  • 2 cups soda, ginger ale, lemon lime or club (chilled)

Preparation:

Dissolve sugar in the orange juice. Combine remaining ingredients except soda. Chill at least one hour before serving, but best overnight. Add chilled soda just before serving. Pour in tall glasses with a skewer of fruit. Consider freezing pieces of fruit in an ice cube tray or small bowl.

Salud!