Category Archives: Varietals & Styles

Washington Wine

Brimming with a pioneer spirit, Washington state is not just host to some of our country’s biggest success stories like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco, it has actually become America’s second largest wine producer, after California! Doubling in the last 10 years from 450 in 2006 to over 900 today, it boasts an exploding number of wineries. On top of that, out of Washington’s 900 wineries, nearly 850 are small, and family owned.

Presently, the state has more than 50,000 acres of vines spread out across its diverse landscapes from evergreen forests in the west to sagebrush desert in the east where a particular mixture of soils contribute to making Washington wine truly unique.

Washington Wine Map. From Washington State Wine.

With the exception of two (Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge), all of the AVAs of Washington state are actually sub-AVAs of the larger Columbia Valley. This valley is the center of a soil base of basalt bedrock. On top of this base are the soils of the Missoula Floods, a series of 30 cataclysmic floods occurring after the last Ice Age 15,000 years ago. After the damn of the glacial lake covering parts of Montana and Canada broke, it sent huge rivers of water rushing from Western Montana, across the state and out to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It brought with it granite and well-drained, clay-poor soils. On top of the Missoula Floods layer are loess and wind deposits that have been scattered and blown over the landscape for years. These vary from four to 50 feet deep in places.

In the eastern part of the state, where almost all of its AVAs are located (14 total in the Washington), this windy and rolling landscape has a dry and arid climate; this combined with the soils make the area inhospitable to phylloxera, an aphid-like insect that feeds on grapevine roots. This extraordinary set of climate and soil conditions means that vine grafting is not needed and virtually all of the state’s vines grow on their own rootstocks, which some would argue makes a more authentic wine.

While the state produces wine from well over 40 varieties, it particularly excels in making fantastic wines from Cabernet Sauvingon, Merlot, and Syrah for reds and Riesling and Chardonnay for whites. Here are some of our favorites, which we find to all express the spirit of Washington wine!

The 2013 Figgins Estate Red is a truly remarkable blend. Consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Merlot, it shows a pretty mix of aromas of cocoa powder, forest floor, and red cherry. A full and ripe palate brimming with black fruit, which leads to a long, fine-grained finish. This is a special one that will lie down in the cellar for a few years!

Figgins Family Wine Estates fall release party, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

One of the most famous and arguably the best Cabernet vineyards in the state, the Champoux Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, turns out some of the most supple and well-balanced reds. Januik Winery 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon shows exotic aromas of dried flowers and florest floor. The palate explodes with black and red berries; the finish is full of sweet, velveteen tannins.

Wines of Substance Super Substance Stoneridge 2013 Merlot is a great example of what Washington is capable of. Pronounced aromas of blackberry pie, conserve, and cola give way to a big, juicy, and ripe fruit flavors, a hint of espresso, black licorice, and a good depth in the finish.

Les Collines vineyard in spring, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

Syrah absolutely flourishes in many of Washington’s AVAs. Gramercy Cellars 2013 The Deuce Syrah is a benchmark Washington Syrah and will remind avid Syrah lovers of Northern Rhone. The Syrah grapes come from three vineyards in Walla Walla: Les Collines, Forgotten Hills, and Old Stones. Aromas of violets, olives, and white pepper balance the savory flavors and stony, mineral texture.

Eroica 2015 Riesling offers an amazing balance of ripe citrus fruit, intriguing floral notes, and a mouth-watering acidity typical of Washington Riesling.

Abeja Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington. From Washington State Wine.

The Abeja Chardonnay gives pleasant aromas of white flowers and pear. On the palate its unctuous texture is balanced by a refreshing acidity. Flavors of lemon chiffon and nectarine come to mind.

To search out more Washington wines to try, follow this link.

For everything you wanted to know about Washington wine, check out the Washington State Wine website.

The Blanc Side of Bordeaux

Hailed as one of the top wine producing regions in the world, Bordeaux typically brings to mind bold red wines worthy of the cellar.

But the white wines of Bordeaux are not to be overlooked. These bottles should have a place on your dinner table and at parties all summer long! These wines offer a diverse selection, from bright and easy-drinking to complex, layered, and age-worthy.

If you’re hesitant to try whites from this dominantly red region, you should know that until relatively recently, up to 60% of Bordeaux vineyards were planted to white grapes—reds only came to dominate plantings after a devastating frost in 1956 wiped out most of the white grapevines. While frost destruction was the catalyst for change, the move to more red grape plantings was due to a combination of factors including market demand, better soil-grape matching expertise and the desire to move away form the production of high volume base wines for the spirits industry.

The good news here is that though white wine production may be limited, the attention to detail and dedication to selecting vineyard locations with suitable soil types and mesoclimate make the wines noteworthy. Furthermore, over the past decade or so, producers have been making productive changes to combat issues of oxidation and insufficient aromatics in their white wines. One important change has been improved canopy management, meaning each vine bears the appropriate number of grapes, and these grapes get to see the right amount of sun at the right time. What does that do? It creates healthier grapes, and as well all know, healthier grapes make better wine. Once these healthier grapes enter the cellar, producers focus on keeping fermentation temperatures low, which preserves the fresh aromatics and acidity of the grapes, which is particularly important for Sauvignon Blanc. In summary, the white wines of Bordeaux are thriving due to the use of healthier grapes and better winemaking techniques.

White Bordeaux wines are comprised of three primary grapes: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. One may occasionally see small quantities of varieties such as Sauvignon Gris among blends, but this is fairly rare. Like the red wines of Bordeaux, many of the best white wines are blends, with a focus on creating a balanced wine with character and complexity. The range of varieties available for blending allows for a diverse selection of wine styles. A few styles and regions to look for include:

Bordeaux – the largest appellation of them all! Some of the prestigious red appellations cannot be used on the labels of white wine, so you may just see “Bordeaux.” Many Bordeaux-appellated whites are simple and easy drinking, while others are more complex and noteworthy. Be sure to read the descriptions for these wines, as they could be light and fresh or more mineral-driven and intense. While both are delicious, the appellation itself is so diverse, it’s important to educate yourself before you buy.

Entre-Deux-Mers – Fresh, easy drinking, and value-oriented, white wines of Entre-Deux-Mers (which means between two seas) are the style you want to sip as an aperitif on a hot summer day or with fresh ceviche. Typically dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, these white wines are all about refreshing acidity and lively fruit flavors.

Graves – Named for the gravelly soils of the region, Graves is ideal for producing complex, often age-worthy white wines. With mineral-tinged notes paired with complex fruit and floral notes, these wines are ideal for accompanying a meal and often benefit from a few years in the bottle so the flavors can integrate.

Pessac-Leognan – The cru-level white wines live here, in a small region within Graves. This is where you see higher prices and higher quality. You may call these cerebral wines—not always easy to define in their levels of nuance, but certainly worth sipping to try to find out! These are perfect for a special meal and can easily enjoy some time in the cellar.

 

 

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