The Next Great Grape: Garnacha From Cariñena

At times, it can be a little bit tricky to keep up with the world of wine. Ancient grapes like Saperavi and Trousseau cycle back into fashion just as quickly as brand new regions are planted with vines. Learning about wine can sometimes feel a bit like waiting in line at Disneyland—once you’ve made it through the room of Cabernet, Pinot, and Chardonnay, you turn the corner and there’s a whole other room filled with obscure varieties and appellations to learn. In fact, the more you learn about wine, the more you realize there is still left to learn!

To help you stay ahead of the curve, we’ve done our homework on one of Spain’s most exciting up-and-coming regions. It’s still under the radar, so even your wine-loving friends will be impressed by your discovery. The region is Cariñena—open any reference book like the Wine Bible or the Oxford Companion to Wine, and you might find one mere sentence about this northeastern Spanish DO. Located in Aragon between Catalunya and the Pyrenees Mountains that form the border between France and Spain, wine has actually been made there since the Roman era, and DO status was achieved in 1932. So in reality, the only thing that’s new about this region is the public’s interest in it.

When we think of Spanish wines, we typically think of Rioja or the much younger DO Ribera del Duero. But with its signature Garnacha-based reds and other high-quality reds and whites, Cariñena is poised to become the next big thing from Iberia due both the affordability and crowd-pleasing approachability of its wines. While Garnacha is the most widely planted grape, Mazuelo (known elsewhere as Carignan, or Cariñena—a grape that originated in this region with which it shares its name), Syrah and Tempranillo are also common. These are used to produce smooth, fruit-forward red wines (often made from old vines) as well as bright, red-fruited dry rosés. White wines are commonly made from the Viura grape.

Since these wines are so budget-friendly, you have nothing to lose by giving them a try! Add a bottle to your next order and before long, you’ll be singing the praises of Cariñena to your uninitiated friends.

 

Wine-Buying Tips for Father’s Day

This Father’s Day, shake things up and give Dad the gift of wine inspired by his hobbies and personality. It’s a given that a variety of occasions can influence the purchase of a flashy wine bottle, but buying wine based on Dad’s personal passions offers up a lively avenue to celebrate dear old Dad this Father’s Day.

The Golfing Dad

Whether it’s wrapping up 18 holes or going for an easy nine, avid golfers can sip vinous inspiration from some of the best in the business. Cart jockeys and mulligan-makers alike can share the green and the grape with high flying pros like Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus or Ernie Els. Got a Dad that tends to be a “King of Cabs?” Then reach for Arnold’s California-based Cabernet Sauvignon, carrying dark fruit and layers of spice and herbs alongside dusty, easy-going tannins.

Looking to escape to the “Land Down Under”? Greg Norman can get Dad there with his signature red, a bold wine spotlighting plenty of forward fruit dominated by blackberry with a mix of mocha and a wisp of smoke. Dubbed Limestone Coast Shiraz, this bottle is easy on the budget and ultra food-friendly.

With vineyards situated on the granite-layered soils of Stellenbosch, South African pro golfer Ernie Els makes the most of his roots (and vines) by digging deep to build Bordeaux and Rhone-based blends. Known in golfing circles as “The Big Easy” thanks to both his signature swing and solid stature, Els’ bottle by the same name is built on the sturdy back of Shiraz (60%) and well-rounded by Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), with a healthy mix of the Rhone’s finest varieties singing backup.

The Grill Master Dad

Whether he really is master of the grill or just wants to be, giving Dad a bottle or two of versatile wines that promise to make the most of grilled grub will thrill any fire-loving, tong-bearing man this Father’s Day. For burger lovers, whether it’s bacon-wrapped, bison-based or simply beef with a slab of cheddar, opt for the dense fruit and laid back structure of California Zinfandel. A best bet is Seghesio Zinfandel 2014, which comes straight from the cattle-driven country of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Or scout for Lodi’s Michael David Earthquake Zinfandel 2013. The name is a nod to San Francisco’s devastating earthquake of 1906, and made with grapes planted around the same time, promising a truly “old” vine wine.

Dad, the Adventurer

If Pop is the type that likes to bust paradigms and climb mountains (or ladders), dreams of living off the grid (or simply offline), and looks for adventure in life whether it’s new routes or new grapes, then we’ve rounded up some wines that are often off the radar. Got a white-wine loving Dad? Shake it up with Sardinia’s Vermentino, a lively, crisp wine that typically gets along just fine sans oak. This Italian darling promises heady aromatics and a remarkable propensity for all sorts of food, especially shellfish, pesto, and veggie themes. Check out the 2014 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino for some serious Sardinian love delivered via exotic tropical fruit, bright acidity and a clean, crisp finish.

Prefer an out-of-the-box red wine discovery for Dad this Father’s Day? No worries, with over 800+ grape varieties, Italy promises more wine adventure than virtually any other wine growing region on the planet. Pushing way past Chianti and Barolo, the Veneto wine region, bordered by Venice and the rugged Dolomites, produces an easy-going red wine blend that stems from an ambitious trifecta of grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Want to give this classic Valpolicella style a swirl? Then look for the fuller-bodied, red cherry flavors of Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2011. Prefer to go full throttle with the same grape trio? Then opt for the deeply concentrated, stouter-styled Amarone—enter Masi. As an innovative producer of world class Amarone, Masi’s appassimento methods produce top notch wines from semi-dried grapes. To offer Dad a high-octane taste of the Veneto, there’s no better ambassador than Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2010. Ready to roll now or happily held for another decade, Masi’s Amarone is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Dad, the Intellectual

If Dad leans more towards brains than brawn, then Burgundy begs for consideration this Father’s Day. Known for highly cerebral wines that thrive on taking a specific speck of soil and fanning it into a concentrated conversation piece, not to mention an all-senses-on-deck tasting experience, the best of Burgundy guarantees the essence of time and space, history and geology, culture and conscience. Burgundy offers a thoroughly classical education in one delicious glass. Diving into Burgundy is a no-brainer for Dads possessing a penchant for the scholastic, and a top pick on the Burgundy wine trail is Albert Bichot Aloxe Corton Grand Cru Clos de Marechaudes 2013. From this engaging red wine diplomat of organic origins, expect complexity with a serious side, and well-developed fruit supported by fine tannins. If Dad’s palate steers toward Burgundy’s whiter side, then check out a classic from premier producer Louis Jadot, in the 2013 Louis Jadot Chasagne-Montrachet Abbaye de Morgeot, which comes with a round of dried flowers, subtle citrus, and vivid minerality.

So, which wine will I give my golf-course-living, grill-loving, airplane-flying, Soduku-playing Dad this Father’s Day? Good question. It will likely be an older Amarone (with some selfish strings attached).

 

 

 

Provence: The Prescription for your Pink Wine Phobia

Do you suffer from a crippling fear of rose-tinted wines? Do you wander the aisles of the wine shop, shielding your eyes from bottles filled with cheerful pink liquid? Do you find yourself frustrated on a hot summer day when a glass of room-temperature red is insufficiently refreshing yet white seems insubstantial for pairing with your barbecued fare? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be suffering from a debilitating condition known in the oenophile community as “roséphobia.” If you or a loved one is suffering from this disorder, do not despair—hope is on the horizon.

The most effective treatment to combat roséphobia is exposure therapy. Many sufferers are simply unaware of the breadth and depth of styles of rosé wine available on the market, especially those who are traumatized by flashbacks of saccharine Mateus and other similar products popular in the second half of the 20th century. However, these distressing memories can quickly become a thing of the past through the discovery of dry, high-quality rosés, particularly those hailing from the Provence region of southeastern France. This treatment may be administered under the counsel of a skilled professional, but roséphobics may also explore these wines on their own, taking comfort in the knowledge that just about any bottle is a safe bet.

Unlike the nearly neon-hued, sugary blush wines of (mostly) yesteryear, the rosés of Provence possess an appealing pale salmon color that is easy on the eyes. This visual aspect is important, as the first sensory interaction a roséphobic will have with a wine is the observation of its pigment. The delicate appearance of Provençal rosé can provide reassurance to those undergoing therapy that they may expect to consume a wine of balance and finesse.

Interference with treatment may occur if a roséphobic makes the false assumption that the muted shade of these wines bears a correlation to a lack of flavor. In fact, these rosés can be quite substantial and structured. Almost always blends, they combine the best assets of various locally grown varieties for a superior flavor profile and mouthfeel. Grenache gives fresh berry aromas, Cinsault adds bright fruitiness, Carignan and Syrah provide body, color, and structure, Tibouren contributes elegance and aromatics, and Mourvèdre lends spice, floral notes, and firm tannins. Awareness of the capabilities of these grapes is an important step in preparing the skeptical roséphobic for the first sip.

The next phase of treatment is the tasting. Though it may seem intimidating, former roséphobics have been known to look back on this part as the moment they realized they were cured. It is recommended to combine this step with a proper Provençal meal in order to enhance enjoyment of the wine. For best results, try a traditional bouillabaisse—a seafood stew flavored with olive oil, garlic, saffron, and fresh herbs. Provence’s dry, structured, and zippy rosés with notes of red berries, watermelon, orange citrus, stony minerality, and the local garrigue (a mix of wild Mediterranean herbs including lavender, rosemary, and thyme) are the perfect accompaniment to such a hearty, flavorful dish. On their own, they are equally enjoyable, providing plenty of refreshment without sacrificing substance.

Once you have consumed your first glass of rosé from Provence, you are well on your way to recovery. In fact, you may very well eventually find yourself experiencing symptoms of rosé addiction, which include seeking out high-quality rosé wines from other regions, frequently planning picnics, and compulsively checking the internet for reasonably priced airfare to warm-weather destinations. This should not be cause for concern—eleven out of ten wine professionals agree that a moderate case of rosé addiction can be beneficial for your enjoyment of life. Though the initial diagnosis can be alarming, roséphobia is easily treatable and the prognosis for recovery is strong. If you know someone who is suffering from roséphobia, please help spread the word so that no wine lover is forced to live with this unnecessary and tragic condition.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer in a Bottle: The Albariño of Rías Baixas

Many regions throughout the world are known for a particular specialty—gastronomic or otherwise—but some more than others have the ability to conjure up vivid sensory memories. One such region is northwestern Spain’s Rías Baixas. To the uninitiated, this may just look like a confusingly-spelled set of words. But to those who have visited or tasted the wines and cuisine of this region, the phrase “Rías Baixas” is enough to make the mouth water, evoking the sensation of salinity in many different forms: a refreshing glass of white wine, a briny seafood meal, or the crisp, fresh air of a picturesque oceanside vista.

The wines of Rías Baixas owe much of their personality to the geography and terroir of the lush, verdant region. Situated along the Atlantic Coast, the relatively modern DO (established in the 1980s) is unique within Spain for its focus on white grapes, which thrive in this relatively cool, damp corner of the country. The name “Rías Baixas” (pronounced “re-ass by-shuss”) comes from Galician—”rías” is the word for the sharp estuaries that cut in to the “baixas,” or the lower-altitude region of southern Galicia. These narrow, finger-like bodies of water that stretch inland from the Atlantic Ocean contain a mix of fresh and salt water, making them an ideal home to an incredibly diverse array of delicious maritime creatures that make up the cuisine of the region. Hard granite soils combined with mineral-rich alluvial top soils provide optimal growing conditions for top quality white wine production.

The other key component of this region is its star grape variety: Albariño. While other varieties are permitted, Albariño makes up the vast majority of plantings, and with good reason. It has the ability to produce distinctive wines that maintain their unique varietal character in a wide range of styles, owing both to the diversity of the five different sub-zones and to winemaking decisions such as maceration length,  the use of wild yeast, barrel fermentation and ageing, malolactic fermentation, and lees contact.

Texturally, Albariño typically falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, while flavor-wise, floral perfume, zesty citrus, stone fruit, and minerality are ubiquitous. In the warmer sub-regions of Rías Baixas, ripe melon and peach flavors dominate, while bottlings from cooler climes are often marked by lean acidity as well as grapefruit and lemon notes. An undercurrent of salinity runs through most examples, making them an unparalleled pairing with the region’s plentiful seafood offerings. The Albariño grape is so integral to the style of the wine produced in Rías Baixas that the name of the variety is printed on every bottle—a practice rarely seen elsewhere in Spain (or most of Europe, for that matter).

Thanks to the adaptability of Albariño and its friendly, near-universal appeal, the Rías Baixas DO has something to offer just about every white wine drinker. These wines can be enjoyed year-round, but are especially delightful during the summer, when warm, sunny weather calls for a crisp, refreshing beverage. They sing when paired with any kind of marine life—particularly oysters or scallops—but are equally fantastic on their own. If you can’t make it to Spain for a vacation this summer, a bottle of Rías Baixas Albariño just might be the next best thing.

 

 

 

New Zealand: A Sauvignon Blanc for every Palate

Most wine professionals would agree that no grape variety is more easily identifiable in a blind tasting than Sauvignon Blanc. And perhaps this variety’s unique qualities are more pronounced in wines hailing from New Zealand than in those of any other provenance. As soon as the bottle has been opened and the wine is poured into a glass, an unmistakable perfume fills the surrounding air with notes of zesty citrus, tropical passion fruit, freshly cut grass, tangy gooseberry, and occasionally crisp bell pepper or piquant jalapeño. Often, vegetal aromas like asparagus or artichoke are present as well.

But although New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc typically stays true to its varietal character, don’t mistake its consistency for uniformity. Though many of these wines share common aromas, there is a wide range of techniques available to grape growers and winemakers to coax the raw materials into delightfully different final products.

The decision of when to harvest the grapes is one way in which producers can influence the style of the wine they intend to make. When Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested early in the season, they have high natural acidity and flavors that lean toward lime and asparagus. If weather permits and the grapes are left to ripen longer on the vine, notes of tropical fruit and even peach can develop. Producers will select the date of the harvest with this in mind. Some wineries, for example, Jules Taylor, have several vineyard properties throughout a particular region and will harvest each at a different time, so that they may be blended together for a more complex and layered wine.

There are many different clones of Sauvignon Blanc to choose from, and winemakers often select a clone or a mix of clones in order to produce a desired style of wine. Some of these highlight classic New Zealand grassy and herbaceous flavors, while others, such as the Bordeaux clones, tone down these “green” notes and focus on tropical fruit. Mt. Beautiful is an enthusiastic proponent of the latter type of clone. Later, in the winery, yeasts can be selected as well to bring out the desired level of aromatics from the wine. Wineries like Giesen, Whitehaven,  Villa Maria, and Nautilus put a high emphasis on yeast selection, while others like Pegasus Bay choose to rely on the indigenous yeast naturally present in the winery and on the grapes.

Another option in the vineyard is to encourage lower-yielding vines. Generally, as the number of grapes grown in a certain area decreases, the concentration of flavors in each grape increases. This results in a more complex and flavorful wine, and is becoming a more frequent practice in New Zealand vineyards.

Once the grapes have been harvested and transported to the winery, the winemaker has an important decision to make regarding the vessels in which the wines will be fermented and aged. Stainless steel has typically been the popular choice in New Zealand, which preserves the pure, fresh fruit aromas of the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Babich, Mud House, Stoneleigh and Astrolabe are known for making wines in this clean, crisp style. But increasingly, winemakers are turning to various types of oak barrels to produce an alternative style of wine. Unlike the production of, say, some California Chardonnay, the aim here is not to add woody flavors to the wine, but rather to round out the texture and create a richer mouthfeel. Often, as is the case with Brancott‘s higher end “B” Sauvignon Blanc, only a small percentage of the wine spends time in oak to create a subtle effect. Some of these wines, such as those from Staete Landt, have a surprising ability to age beautifully.

Another increasingly popular way to enhance the body of these wines is extended lees contact and occasionally lees stirring. This interaction with dead yeast cells adds a creamy yet elegant roundness to the wine. Clos Henri, Mt. Beautiful, Yealands, and Wither Hills all employ this practice to varying extents.

Some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, such as Loveblock, goes through the process of malolactic fermentation, much more typically associated with Chardonnay. This helps to soften the tart, green, acidic flavors for a more approachable style that could perhaps serve as a gateway for those not used to the more pungent characteristics common to the variety.

Yet another way to diversify Sauvignon Blanc is to combine it with something other than Sauvignon Blanc. Pegasus Bay does this beautifully with a Bordeaux-inspired blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This adds great complexity, texture, and some subtle savory notes, as well as extra ageing potential.

With all of these different methods of producing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, not to mention regional variation (Amisfield, for example, is located in the much cooler climate area of Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in the world), it is easy to see that this small country has something to offer that will please just about any palate. If you’ve written off this grape as a one-trick pony, you may want to give it another try. And if you’re already a fan, there likely are many delicious new styles that you have yet to taste. There has never been a more exciting time to drink these wines, which are still almost criminally affordable even for the very best. Try New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc well-chilled as the summer heats up, paired with salads, fish, vegetables, goat cheese, or just a few good friends and the warmth of the sun.

 

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