All posts by Stacy Slinkard

Great European Garnacha/Grenache for Toasting #GarnachaDay 2017

Garnacha, one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, is known and loved as “Grenache” in France, where it enjoys exceptional plantings in the warm Mediterranean climate of Roussillon. While staking claims on being one of the oldest and widest planted red wine grapes in the world, with its origins firmly planted in the varied terroirs of Spain and France, the EU boasts over 97% of the grape’s plantings on an international level.

Garnacha/Grenache – The Grape: Early to bud, often last to harvest, this hardy, thin-skinned red grape is thought to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because Garnacha/Grenache acclimates quickly to the varying demands of crazy continental climates as well as the warm weather patterns of the Mediterranean like a champ, it is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking missions. From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha/Grenache brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other single grape variety can lay creative claim to redwhite, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha/Grenache Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain and Southern France’s warm, sunbaked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha/Grenache grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, and sporting thinner skins that give way to modest tannins all balanced by engaging aromatics, Garnacha/Grenache shines bright with delicious ripe red fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all debut in the bottle. Tapping into old vines that produce lower yields, allows many Garnacha/Grenache vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity that showcase a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha/Grenache may also be crafted as delicious white wine, ranging from fresh and mineral-driven to rich, round and full-bodied, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca” or “Grenache Blanc.”

Pairing Picks for Garnacha/Grenache: With its less intense acidity and tamer tannin levels offset by ripe fruit forward flavors, European-style Garnacha/Grenache is a versatile, food-friendly partner for all sorts of delicious fare. A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, a mix of regional barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, seasonal gazpacho, Serrano ham and Manchego, slow roasted lamb, chicken stuffed with chorizo, lentils, the Paleo favorite of bacon-wrapped dates, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha/Grenache promises and delivers some serious pairing partnerships.

Regional Garnacha/Grenache in Spain and Roussillon:
Today, Garnacha/Grenache finds firm footing throughout Spain and the Roussillon region of France. In Spain, the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja, Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena  is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high-octane reds.  Grenache is the enterprising go-getter of Roussillon, backed by 28 centuries of vineyard prowess and a coveted Mediterranean climate, this French wine growing region is bringing laser-like focus to biodynamic and organic wine offerings. From the Spanish border along the coast, the Roussillon region caters to old Grenache vines that produce both dry and fortified wines from the grape.

Classified as PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) by the European Union, wines from all of these regions are upheld to strict standards to ensure the highest level of quality.

8 Popular Garnacha/Grenache Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Delve into the delicious array of European style Garnacha or Grenache from a variety of regions and styles at stellar values with prices ranging from $10-20.

 

Riding out Summer with Regional Rosé

Whether it’s rosé (France), rosato (Italy), rosado (Spain), Tavel (Rhone Valley) or simply “blush wine” – these region-specific wine terms point unashamedly to pink wine. Rosé wines are the rising stars and delightful chameleons of the wine industry. Ranging in color from hot pink to salmon and copper to pale blush, there are countless shades running from soft and subtle to loud and proud depending on which grapes were utilized and how long the grape skins were in contact with the juice. Happily, the versatile nature of rosé wines doesn’t stop there! Rosés also come in a wide range of styles: sweet, off-dry or bone dry with most Mediterranean sources of distinct rosés being decidedly dry.

Rosé Wine: Color and Character

Rosé wines are essentially red wine grapes in summer suits. Most rosés are derived solely from red grape varieties (though some producers blend red and white wine together to find their perfect pink). During a brief encounter with grape skins, the must (juice) takes on more subtle color variations; however, the longer the contact time the more vibrant the pink hues tend to become. Shades of pink are also significantly influenced by the type of grapes used for the specific rosé wine. Typically, the thicker the grapes’ skins, the more vibrant color pigments they can offer a vat of must.

Which Grapes Reign Pink?

The most popular grapes for initiating a bottle of rosé are Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mouvedre, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. These grape varieties may either be used solo or in a synergistic blend, with many regional rosé offerings basing their grape picks on the more prolific red wine varieties found in each growing zone. For example, many of Italy’s rosatos are founded on the popular Tuscan grape, Sangiovese. Likewise, Spain’s rosados find firm footing with the high-profile Tempranillo or Garnacha grapes coming out of the Rioja region.

Rosé Wine Flavors and More

Typically delivering more body than a white wine, but lacking the tannic grip of a dry red, rosé wines tend to be more subtle versions of their red wine counterparts. The fruit character steers toward red berry profiles with strawberry, cherry, and raspberry along with significant citrus and watermelon debuting on a regular basis. Rosés enjoy a happy range of palate profiles, running from completely dry to fairly fruity and sometimes sweet, depending on the region and producer. If you prefer dry and exceptionally food-friendly wine? Then scout for Mediterranean rosés from southern France, Spain or Italy.

Rosé: Food Pairings

While often enjoyed as an engaging aperitif, rosés are remarkably adept at pairing with a wide range of regional foodie finds. Generally carrying higher levels of mouth-watering acidity, these pink drinks are easy pairing partners. From the quintessential Mediterranean cuisine of fresh fish and signature tapas to summer salads, shellfish or the smoky fare of South American entrees and carrying on quite well with the burgers, brats and pub grub of many American treats, well-chilled rosés promise to be one of the most adaptable wine pairing picks around.

Where to Drink Pink: Regional Recommendations

 

 

 

Six White Wine Grapes that Welcome Summer!

While the summer season doesn’t “officially” kick off until June 21, the lively white wines of summer have been ready to welcome patio pours for months. It’s easy to find your favorite grape, region or producer and keep drinking from the same well all season long, but when it’s time to shake it up and sip “out of bounds,” making new vinous acquaintances with less familiar grapes or regions, we are thrilled to help make those tasty introductions. From the sassy citrus vibe of Spanish Albarino to the herbal tang of Vermentino, there’s a summer white wine adventure just waiting to happen.

Spanish Whites: Albarino and Verdejo

Albarino – Delivering a zesty squeeze of citrus and a dash of salinity in virtually every bottle, Albarino, Spain’s white wine diva, is like sunshine in a glass. Albarino is picture perfect for patio sipping and even better when partnered up with the wine’s hometown culinary heroes like the fresh Galician Country seafood themes of oysters, clams, crab, hake and sea bass or octopus served with white potatoes olive oil and smoked paprika.  These versatile, dry white wines deliver incredibly fresh aromatics, with unmistakable acidity and equally friendly price points. Albarino hails from Spain’s northwest corner known as the region of Rias Baixas (pronounced “Ree-yahs By-Shuss”) where the maritime climate exerts a remarkable influence on the wines and the vines. Most Albarino vines are planted within miles of the coast earning the regional wines the enticing nickname of the “wine of the sea.” Ranging from steely, mineral driven bottles to wines with creamy textures, fuller-bodies, and a bit of butter on the finish (thanks for extended lees aging), Albarino showcases a wide range of palate appeal.

Must Try Albarino Producers:  Burgans, Martin Codax, Pazo Cilleiro, Pazo de BarrantesTerras GaudaLa Cana 

Verdejo – While Albarino comes from Spain’s northwest coastal corner just above Portugal, Verdejo hails from the continental climate, gravelly-soil and higher elevations of Rueda a well-known wine growing region situated about 100 miles northwest of Madrid. Though historically speaking, the grape can be traced back to the 11th century with deep roots in North Africa. In terms of style and structure, Verdejo is traditionally made in a clean, crisp palate style, though plenty of exceptions and experimentation occurs with both barrel aging and extended lees contact resulting in richer, more complex options as well.  These fuller-bodied bottles tend to lean heavily into the exotic flavor profiles of melon and citrus, with a noticeable minerality and almost always a touch of earthy, herbal nuances in the mix.

Must Try Verdejo Producers: Finca Montepedroso, Garciarevalo, Jose Pariente, Martinsancho, Protos

Torrontes

Argentina’s incredibly aromatic white wine wonder, Torrontes offers top notch value (generally in the $10-15 range), prides itself on being remarkably food-friendly and generally carries a medium to full body. Expect a decent dose of mouth-watering acidity (thanks in part to high elevation vineyards), a bone-dry palate style and a heady mix of floral (often rose petal) nuances mixed with rambunctious stone, citrus and apple fruit character. Best bets for food pairings are shellfish, grilled poultry, all sorts of Asian themes with Thai dishes being a personal favorite and even a bit of Tex-Mex with guacamole. Torrontes’ aromas offer up some of the wine world’s best perfumes – sweet, floral and incredibly fresh!

Must Try Torrontes Producers:  Amalaya, Alamos, Alta Vista, Kaiken, Crios de Susana Balbo, Zuccardi

Gruner Veltliner 

Gruner Veltliner (“Groo-ner Felt-lean-er”), Austria’s vinous claim to snappy white wine fame, and as such the region’s cooler growing conditions promise a crisp, high acid, exceptionally food-friendly wine experience. Easily enjoyed as an aperitif and welcoming all sorts of tricky-to-pair foods (think asparagus, artichokes, onions, olives and such), most of Austria’s Gruner Veltliner hails from the regions of Wachau, Kampstal and Kremstal with considerable influence from the Danube River.

Similar to Albarino, Gruner Veltliner tends to see little oak influence overall, but relies on stainless steel tanks to retain the bright fruit character (mainly citrus, apple, melon and apricot or peach and sometimes a funky green bean flare) alongside a zippy acid profile.

 Must Try Gruner Veltliner Producers:  Domaine WachauGroonerLoimer, Markus Huber

Sauvignon Blanc

While admittedly not an “out of the ordinary” summer grape variety, no summer white wine list should be without the ultra versatile, equally able to thrive in Old World and New World regions and extraordinarily affectionate towards food wine, known and loved as Sauvignon Blanc. This highly versatile grape manifests itself in a variety of styles under the umbrella of white Bordeaux, from light, crisp and fruity to rich, complex and creamy, its expressive aromas rely largely on the Sauvignon Blanc grape, but keep in mind Bordeaux Blanc often marries the complementary low acid, full-bodied textures of Semillon as part of the region’s savvy blend. Looking for a loud, lively and happily extroverted version of Sauvignon Blanc?  Discover it in the exuberant, citrus-infused smile found in the snappy acidity of New Zealand’s favorite white wine grape, Sauvignon Blanc is your “go to” girl when it comes to the smells and tastes of summer. Enjoying a range of styles and growing regions, Sauvignon Blanc’s adaptability, reasonable pricing structure, and overall pairing versatility make it an easy stop on the summer wine train.

Must Try Sauvignon Blanc Producers: Chateau Malartic-LagraviereChateau Marjosse, Clos des Lunes, Craggy Range, Dog Point, Ferrari-Carano, NobiloRobert Mondavi

Vermentino

The clear majority of Italy’s Vermentino hails from the large Mediterranean Island of Sardinia, with the best quality coming from the rugged, granite soils of the northeast quadrant of the island called “Vermentino di Gallura DOCG,” which requires a minimum of 95% Vermentino in the bottle. These high acid wines are fermented to a completely dry style and carry a medium to fuller body in general. In terms of flavors and aromas, earthy, herbal undertones set a distinguishing backdrop for subtler citrus, green apple, and pear fruit character. The herbal influences make Vermentino a top pick for pairing with fresh pesto, vegan dishes, seafood and a number of summer salads.

Must Try Vermentino Producers: JankaraPoggio al Tesoro, SantadiSella & Mosca

 

Best Bets for Mini-Champagne and Sparkling Wine Bottles

Fun and festive, with lively bubbles and adorable sizing, the trend of popping off mini bottles of bubbly as bridal shower favors and wedding guest gifts continues with great gusto. Though not limited to wedding wonders, mini bottles of sparkling wine and Champagne are also debuting at baby showers, birth announcements and New Year’s Eve shindigs along with serving as convenient happy hour finds when opening a whole bottle for a single glass just won’t do.

Many customers stop by Wine.com scouting for “mini Champagne” or sparkling wine bottles, which are 187 ml bottles, referred to as “splits” in the wine industry. Essentially, a split is one-fourth of a full sized, standard 750 ml bottle of wine. These bottles are remarkably trendy and carry all kinds of grapes from just as many regions; however, keep in mind that only the bottles bottled in Champagne, France are considered “mini Champagne” – everything else is sparkling wine.

Serving Tips & Tricks:

  • Serving temperatures: with most sparkling wines, shoot for 40-45 °F; however, the Brachetto should be a little warmer at 50-55 °F
  • Serving sizes are 187 ml or approximately 6 ounces. Most Champagne flutes hold about 6 ounces of bubbly, so most pours run closer to 4 ounces. Keep this in mind, if serving the wine in glassware instead of from the mini bottles with a straw.
  • Minis are easy to decorate with ribbons, custom name labels or served with brightly colored paper straws to match themes or festive color schemes.
©2016 LA MARCA USA

La Marca Prosecco – these snappy little blue bottles of bubbly bliss offer up a lively layer of fresh citrus and green apple with a splash of white honey blossom in the mix. Based on the Glera grape out of the Veneto region, Prosecco is Italy’s easy answer to the best of budget bubbly. Intended to be consumed while young and fresh, and in its hometown of Veneto, Prosecco is typically served in a white wine glass instead of a sparkling wine flute.  Incredibly food-friendly, give these bubbles a go with all sorts of appetizers including plates of antipasto, the classic prosciutto and melon, chips and dips, salads, shellfish and much more.

Courtesy of Freixenet USA

Freixenet Cava – Fun and feisty, Spanish Cava is made in the same method as Champagne (with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle), but built with the local grapes of Macabeao, Parellada, Xarel-lo and more recently Chardonnay. With an aromatic offering of apples and almonds this decidedly dry, medium-bodied Spanish sparkler is dressed to impress with the formal black and gold labeling at an exceptional price point.  Perfect for pairing with Cava’s hometown ham, aka Jamón Serrano, Spanish almonds, a variety of tapas, smoked salmon appetizers and sushi.

Courtesy of Le Grand Courtage

Le Grand Courtage, Rose Brut – Just plain pretty. This may be the quintessential bridal shower bottle. Elegant, feminine and packing some serious French flare, these bubbles are based on a heady mix of Chardonnay for depth and texture, Ugni Blanc to bring vibrant acidity, and the Gamay grape to showcase red fruit character and a dash of color. Like many French sparklers, this brut rose presents almost unlimited pairing potential. Sip with everything from pizza to pasta and sushi to barbecue along with chicken salad, baked brie or fig and ricotta spreads.

Courtesy of Banfi Wines

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto – Looking for something red, sweet and bubbly? Italy’s low tannin, light-bodied, low alcohol, sweet styled red sparkling wine, dubbed “Brachetto,” has got you covered. Hailing from Italy’s Piedmont region, the black-skinned Brachetto grape delivers exceptional aromatics. Expect ripe red fruit like strawberry, raspberry and currants wrapped in roses to swoop out of the bottle. Brachetto also enjoys a bit of lover’s legend, as stories swirl that both Marc Antony and Julius Caesar gave Brachetto to Cleopatra in savvy attempts to win her heart. In terms of pairing potential, Brachetto is a top pick for dessert pairings. Consider giving it a pour with chocolate mousse, German chocolate cake, seasonal fruit and berry dishes, chocolate sundaes, cheesecake, bread pudding and more.

Courtesy of Moet & Chandon USA

Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut Reserve – Technically, this is our only “true” Champagne in this feature. While we are often asked about our “mini-Champagne” bottles for weddings and party favors, many customers are truly asking for bubbles in a bottle, not necessarily Champagne. Keep in mind that Champagne is only Champagne when it’s made in Champagne, France. Enter Moet & Chandon, the world’s biggest selling Champagne brand with 30 million bottles sold annually. This bottle of mini bubbly is a top pick wine for those that would like to toast with a classic, dry style of Champagne carrying zesty citrus and Granny Smith apple, with remarkable acidity and an ethereal mix of smoke, brioche and hazelnuts. Classic pairing partners include shellfish, caviar, poultry, smoked salmon and many fried food finds that marry well with the exceptional acidity and bright bubbles.

Riveting Reds from Ribera del Duero

Ribera del Duero – The Place
Image by José I. Berdón

Sitting high on a chalky plateau at 2,500 feet, tucked into northwest Spain, the sultry Spanish wine growing region of Ribera del Duero DO enjoys a heady mix of cool nights and sizzling hot days, showcasing the perfect climate for bringing out the best in the region’s dominant grape variety, Tempranillo.  Ribera del Duero, literally the “bank of the Duero” river, finds firm footing in the extremes of the land. From scorching summers, shielded by rain from two dominant mountain ranges (the Sierra del Guadarrama and Sierra de la Demanda), to harsh, cold continental winters and annual temperature extremes swinging from 0° to 100+°F, Ribera del Duero faces significant threats from both spring and winter frosts. Yet it’s this climate of extremes that also sets the stage for significant temperature shifts during the growing season (often to the tune of 25 degrees or more) between day and night. This diurnal range, or wide temperature variation, allows the grapes to retain high levels of acidity, along with elevated levels of pigmentation in the grape skins while simultaneously preserving the innate fruit-themed aromas and phenolics during the grape’s ripening phase.

Ribera del Duero – The Grape
Copyright: José I. Berdón

Ribera del Duero is red wine country, with a splash of rosé thrown in to lighten things up. Hands-down the region’s shining star is the Tempranillo grape, known locally as Tinto Fino. In fact, Ribera del Duero must contain at least 75% Tempranillo to fulfill the DO requirements in every bottle. Garnacha is a key component of the regional rosé, while Malbec and the international superstars of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also find their way into many of the regional blends. Not surprisingly, the clone of Tempranillo that thrives in this rugged region typically sports a thicker skin which expresses itself in wines that often carry more color pigmentation and higher-powered tannin profiles than their nearby Rioja-based cousins. The wines of Ribera del Duero show an alluring mix of supple intensity, ready to rumble with an impressive array of foodie favorites and quite capable of standing solo.

Ribera del Duero – The Reputation
Courtesy of Tempos Vega Sicilia

Established in 1860, the outstanding Spanish producer Vega Sicilia single-handedly catapulted the region of Ribera del Duero and the Spanish the wine industry at large onto the international wine stage. Unico, Vega Sicilia’s ultra age-worthy and highly collectible cuvee is built on Tempranillo with enthusiastic support from a handful of Bordeaux varieties, adding to the mystique is its decade long aging prior to release. Happily, Unico’s sister label, Valbuena, carries a somewhat lower price point and enjoys considerable accessibility. For decades Ribera del Duero has maintained a sturdy reputation for powerfully built wines with extensive aging potential.

Today, the region offers buyers a full spectrum of wines. From youthful, fresh, fruit-forward delights that spotlight more elegance and enduring finesse to the full-throttle, high tannin, high acid wines that beg for a bit of cellar time, the variety of styles, palate profiles and price points coming out of Ribera del Duero welcomes a broad range of wine enthusiasts from seasoned collectors to curious consumers. Food-friendly, rich and distinct, the most affordable styles represent excellent quality to price ratios, while higher-end bottles are built to get better with time and are intended to showcase specific aspects of regional terroir, often estate grown fruit and an impressive aging structure.

Ribera del Duero – The Wines
CRDO RIbera del Duero

With such a dramatic range of styles and pricing available in today’s Ribera del Duero market, this is a tremendous time to get to know the regional red wine offerings from one of Spain’s most distinguished wine producing regions. Expect dark fruit namely blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and sometimes a swirl of strawberry laced with a dash of espresso, dark chocolate and earth-driven components. In terms of texture and mouthfeel, Ribera del Duero reds range from round and silky to quite soft and velvety with a fuller-bodied profile and exceptional pairing potential with a variety of red meat options, aged cheese, pork and lamb chops.

Ribera del Duero Wines to Try: 
  • Finca Villacreces Pruno 2014  – An easy entry-point into the world of Ribera del Duero, this bottle shows exceptional quality at a budget-friendly price. Ripe blackberry and juicy raspberry fruit mingles with black licorice and a decent dose of earth.
  • Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2014 – Fresh, lively and filled with a snappy balance of well-formed tannins and zesty acidity, this bottle shows some serious cherry and black plum aromas on the nose with the warm tones of vanilla and a dash of mocha singing backup.
  • Hacienda Monasterio Ribera del Duero 2012  – A high-octane wine that is versatile and well-managed, ready to roll now or just as happy cellaring for another 5-7 years. Expect a feisty balance between earth, fruit and sleek, malleable tannins ending with enduring concentration and clarity.
  • Bodegas Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2009 For those that want to live the legend, but don’t necessarily want to spend the extra cash, you might opt to sip the sister label of Unico, Valbuena. Accessible and sophisticated, Valbuena carries a consistent mix of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon giving it a bold, age-worthy profile wrapped up in oak-induced spice and rich, black fettered fruit.
  • Dominio de Pingus Psi 2014The pet project of Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck, Pingus Psi is cultivated using biodynamic techniques to give greater voice to the 70-year-old vines. Distinctly dominated by Tempranillo with 10% Garnacha in the blend, this bottle delivers an unexpected “fresh factor” that wows with bright cherry and end-of-summer raspberry in an ongoing, elegant medley of fruit meets oak.
Photos courtesy of CRDO Ribera del Duero and Tempos Vega Sicilia