Category Archives: Varietals & Styles

Grab a Glass of European Garnacha (aka Grenache) for #GarnachaDay

 

 

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.

 

 

Rias Baixas & Albarino – Choices of Style

Albariño, from the coastal region of Rías Baixas, the grape’s birthplace, is celebrated worldwide for its signature qualities – vibrant acidity, fresh, fruit-forward aromatics and versatility to pair with a wide range of foods. What wine lovers and Albariño enthusiasts may not realize is the variety’s spectrum of styles — and the new winemaking techniques being implemented throughout Rías Baixas and its sub-regions. While often bottled and consumed young, this world-class variety continues to evolve in surprising ways. The grape’s natural characteristics lend itself to a variety of winemaking techniques and styles, including:

  1. Wild Yeasts: Some winemakers favor the use of wild yeasts during fermentation. This practice can be challenging as the winemaker has less control over which exact yeasts are present, but the technique also enhances the grape’s authentic characteristics in the wine and adds complexity.
  2.  Barrel fermentation and/or aging: Aromatic grapes (like Albariño) typically avoid oak. Barrel contact can dull or mute the aromatics and freshness of the grape, which leaves the wine flabby and uninteresting. But in certain years (particularly warm ones that produce riper, richer grapes), controlled barrel fermentation or aging can truly enhance Albariño — adding texture and extending the wine’s potential to age. More winemakers are experimenting with this option.
  3. Lees Aging: Those little particles post-fermentation can be pretty powerful. The lees, otherwise known as dead yeast, are often removed immediately following fermentation. However, allowing the wine to stay on the lees can add tremendous benefit. Producers in Rías Baixas are using this technique to highlight texture, flavor and freshness.

These different techniques ensure that tasting Albariño will never be boring. Stock up on a few bottles to experience the unique styles of each!

Germany: Light, refreshing and underrated

If you think you know German wine, think again. German wines are some of the most complex, interesting and delicious wines in the world. If you are a German wine fan, you are aware of this little secret, but for those who skip the tall bottles labeled with unfamiliar German text, you are missing out. Through my wine-centered academic pursuits, I often encounter resistance to look past one’s own inexperience with German labeling and pronunciation, and that is a shame. If we can add foreign terms like “Chateau” and “Grand Cru” to our wine vocabulary, we can learn to recognize the German counterparts of “Schloss” and “Grosses Gewächs” — and open ourselves up to a whole new world of electric Rieslings and elegant Pinots. Here are some educational tid-bits that may help you in understanding and buying German wine — you’ll soon realize that reading German wine labels is as easy as drinking Riesling.

The White Grapes:
The most common grape associated with Germany is Riesling. Germany is the homeland of Riesling and it is the region’s most-planted varietal, so this is a reasonable association. In Germany’s cooler climate, Riesling quite often produces a dry wine, with an array of fruit flavors backed by incredibly refreshing acidity (hello, summer!) and a mineral undertone. What makes Riesling unique –and possibly misunderstood — is its ability to be bone dry yet carry such juicy and ripe fruit through its aromas and flavors. And oh, did I mention the crisp and refreshing acidity? And…should you prefer sweeter wines, no better place to find top-quality than Germany; late harvest German Riesling is some of the best and most age-worthy sweet wine in the world!

In addition to Riesling, Germany produces Müller-Thurgau, an easy-drinking, refreshing white wine with apple and pear flavors perfect for hot summer days, Silvaner,  a traditional variety in the Rheinhessen and Frankenregions that offers subtle notes of stone fruits with an herbal edge, Pinot Gris (also known as Grauburgunder) and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder). The latter two are grapes you probably know from other regions, but here in Germany they are a bit more rich and round than their other European counterparts, with loads of ripe fruit and soft acidity.

The Black Grapes:
While the region is most well-known for its fresh, elegant whites, Germany also produces bright, fruit-driven reds. Pinot Noir (also known as Spätburgunder) accounts for 11% of Germany’s total vineyard area, producing red wines with cherry, vanilla and pepper characteristics. In fact, Germany now grows more Pinot Noir than New Zealand and Australia combined, making Germany the third largest Pinot Noir producer in the world.

In addition to Pinot Noir, Germany produces Dornfelder – a thick-skinned grape that produces deeply colored red wines with flavors of blackberry, plum and Elder Flower. If you are hesitant to stock up on German wines because you fear it’s sweet or don’t understand the label, here are a couple of tips for diving in.

Understanding the wine style:
If you don’t want sweet, look for words that indicate dry. One of those terms used is Trocken. Trocken means “dry” in German and some wineries add this word to their labels to alert consumers that the particular wine is indeed dry. Then there is Grosses Gewächs. Sometimes shown as simply “GG” on the bottle, it means two things — first, it’s a dry style, and, second, it comes from a top vineyard site. Typically these will be higher in price, but also in quality. Kabinett, a term that indicates the sugar level of the grapes when they are picked, is typically light in body and can range from off-dry to drier in style. An easy way to determine just how dry the wine is? Look at the alcohol content. Kabinett Riesling with an alcohol level between 8-9% ABV will have more residual sugar, while drier styles can reach 12% ABV. If you want to start with Riesling on the delicate side, go to the Mosel. You will see Mosel on the label, but you can also tell because Mosel wines are bottled in a tall flute-shaped greenbottle. The Mosel, dominated by slate soils on steep slopes near rivers, produces some of the best quality dry (and sweet!) Riesling of Germany. Across all price points, these wines offer citrus and stone fruit, backed by a steely minerality. They are delicate and delicious and a perfect foray into the delights of German wine.

We encourage you to embrace German wines, especially this summer, and enjoy that perfect summer mix of delightful acidity and juicy fruit flavors. You will be the hit at every summer party!

 

The Albariño of Rías Baixas

As summer approaches, our minds dream up our next vacations; they take us to the café-lined streets of Paris, the sunny beaches of Bali, the snowy mountains of Mendoza…

For those of us who can’t exactly hop on a flight to our dream destination next week, certain wines – and their ability to reflect a distinct sense of place – can be the next best thing.  One example is Albariño from Rías Baixas, a white wine that almost tastes like sitting at the beach along Spain’s cool, misty northwest coast.

Rías Baixas is unlike anywhere else in Spain. The small coastal D.O. sits in the broader region of Galicia, also known as “Green Spain” due to its cool maritime climate and abundance of rain – a kind of oasis in a country known for its hot, dry summers.

This climate is a perfect match for Albariño, a thick-skinned grape variety native to the region. While there is plenty of rain in Rías Baixas, there is also ample sunlight, which allows Albariño to ripen and ultimately express notes of white peach, apricot, melon and honeysuckle. Still, the region’s cooling coastal influences produce wines that are light and elegant, chock-full of mouth-watering acidity. The wines often show a slight salinity, mirroring the cool, salty air in which their grapes thrive.

It is no surprise that Rías Baixas wines have burst onto the global wine stage, adored by trendy sommeliers and industry influencers. Comparable to some of the most renowned white wines in the world, Albariño from Rías Baixas offers exceptional value – you can get all the crisp acidity and minerality of a Chablis or a Sancerre for a fraction of the cost. The wine’s fresh style also makes it an ideal pairing with a wide range of foods, but it really shines with its region’s staple cuisine: seafood.

So, what are you waiting for? Pour a glass, grill some oysters, and take a mini-vacation at your dinner table.

Tempranillo – The Ultimate Grilling Wine

Located in the heart of Spain, Ribera del Duero is Tempranillo country. Thanks to a heady mix of cool nights and sizzling hot days, it’s the perfect climate for bringing out the best in the region’s bold style of Tempranillo.

Ribera del Duero – The Grape

Hands-down the Ribera del Duero’s shining star is the Tempranillo grape, known locally as Tinto Fino. The region’s rugged climate forces Tempranillo to ripen with thicker skins, more pigmentation and higher levels of acidity, which all translates to high-powered, meat-loving tannins, vibrant color pigments and incredible aromatic profiles in the glass. The wines of Ribera del Duero show an alluring mix of supple intensity and extreme food-pairing versatility.

Ribera del Duero – A Griller’s Delight!

When it comes to the best wines for grilled grub, red wines typically top the list. Wines that can handle smoked sausage, grilled steaks, poultry, pork and a kabob of seasonal veggies and assorted meat should carry their own balance of fruit, acidity and structure. Tempranillo brings all three key components to the grill and generously offers up exceptional food pairing partnerships.

  • Grilled Salmon: Tempranillo can also show its versatility in partnering up with the likes of grilled salmon, where the wine’s innate fruit character shows up bright as a backdrop against the variety of seasonings and marinades that often wrap themselves around a summery salmon filet. Serving tip: serve cool at around 55-60 degrees especially for lighter fare like salmon
  • Grilled Chicken: Whether slathered in barbecue sauce or simply seasoned with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon, grilled chicken is an easy pairing partner for Tempranillo’s earthy character and fruit forward (often black cherry and strawberry) nature.
  • Grilled Pork: From tenderloin to pork chops, Tempranillo is a master pairing partner with all things pork. Maybe it’s the traditional pairing roots of Jamón ibérico or maybe it’s that Ribera del Duero’s higher acidity cuts through the dry spice rubs and always handy barbecue sauces with familiar ease, either way Tempranillo is a no-brainer for pork themes whether grilled, slow cooked or cured.
  • Steak, Burgers and Brats: Ribera del Duero’s full-throttle tannins can make it a steak lover’s dream. The wine’s tannin astringency is easily tamed by the steaks fatty components and the flavors of both are deliciously elevated. Tempranillo also carries its own smoky character, thanks to oak’s happy influence, which gives it an edge to serving with a wide range of smoked, grilled and cured meats.
  • Veggies? Yes! Don’t let the “red wine with meat” myth steer you away from the grilling adventure of salt and pepper veggie kabobs. Tempranillo is one of the most versatile reds around. Sometimes Tempranillo comes across like a spicy Pinot Noir. The wine’s herbal, earth-driven character can make it an unforgettable partner for the concentrated, sweet flavors of lightly charred veggies.
  • Solo: We aren’t the only ones that like to sip a glass while turning steaks on the barbie. A glass of Tempranillo while pulling grill patrol is the perfect way to get the party started.

Ribera del Duero’s Tempranillo promises loads of blackberry, black cherry and blueberry fruit in tandem with an earthy mineral-driven, tobacco-induced flavor profile. Full throttle fruit and integrated structure, along with Tempranillo’s sassy style and versatile pairing nature make it a top pick wine for serving with a wide variety of grilled fare this summer.

Want to give Tempranillo a go with the grill? Check these out: