Wine Education Wednesday – Ribera del Duero

Region: Ribera del Duero

Country: Spain (located north-central, in Castille & Lyon)

Grape(s): The wines of Ribera del Duero are almost exclusively red. White wines are rare and not exported. The reds come primarily from a variation of Tempranillo, which goes by the name of Tinto Fino or Tinto del Pais here. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are allowed and often used in the blend.  Garnacha is used for rosados.

What’s it taste like:  If you’re buying a bottle at $20 or less, you’re likely to get black cherry and plum notes, with bright acidity and dusty, yet smooth tannins. You may find some to be smoky and others to be more jammy. It’s a good idea to read tasting notes on each producer. On the higher end, expect notes of tobacco, licorice, blackberry and minerals. Firm tannins, sometimes rustic, but also with an old-world elegance. The best wines of the area are refreshing, yet sturdy and complex, with an ability to age and mature gracefully. Power + Finesse is what the best wines offer.

Rules & Regulations: Ribera del Duero is a DO, or Denominacion de Origen, which is a quality level that adheres to specific standards set down by a governing body, or Consejo Regulador, for each region. It has been one since 1982. If you care to delve in and learn the nitty gritty on the DO system and Ribera del Duero's regulations, check out Wines from Spain ( They know their stuff.

Producers: Tpesquerahe most famous wine of the region is Vega Sicilia, possibly the most expensive and sought-after wine in Spain. Tasting this wine can be a magical experience. I had the honor of tasting both the ‘68 and the ‘70 in NYC once. This was 6 years ago and it is still fresh in my memory, ranking as one of the top wine tasting experiences ever. 
Other producers include:
Value ($20 or under): Torres Celeste, Vina Gormaz, Abadia Retuerta – these three producers create wines that generally show intense fruit and smooth tannins.
Higher End: Emilio Moro, Condado de Haza, Pesquera, Comenge,  Aalto

What are some of your favorite producers?

Best way to quickly chill a bottle of wine

In the heat of summer (extreme heat if you’re in the NW), we often find ourselves wanting a cold glass of wine, but realizing we lacked the foresight to have put one in the fridge earlier that day. In which case we need some fast measures to chill that bottle. Here are some of my favorite ways to do that.

Ice bucket & water – The most effective method is to fill a bucket with ice and some water and submerge your bottle in it for 10 – 20 minutes. Ice won’t cut it – you must add water to make it work and work faster.

Frozen bottle – You may be lacking ice or bucket or both. For these cases, keep an empty wine bottle in the freezer and pour the new wine into that (or at least enough for a couple of glasses). It won’t be ice cold, but it will cool down in about 10 minutes.

Ice Jacket – Invest in an ice jacket or two. Keep them in the freezer and when your need to chill that bottle down, slip it on the bottle AND put the bottle in the freezer (with jacket on) for about 10 minutes.

Ice cubes – It may seem wrong, but remember that wine is mostly water, so if you’re not digging deep into the cellar, throw an ice cube or two into that glass to cool it down. Think of it this way – If it’s not a wine you can put an ice cube in, it’s worth the wait to cool down… 

How has the economy affected your drinking habits?

 2 glasses
Wine Spectator recently released results from an online poll that asked: “What are you drinking now?” The responses reflected what the numbers have told us this past year as well: Consumers are abandoning the higher-priced or hard-to-get bottles and going for value. This typically means under $20, often under $15, occasionally under $10, but all with the same goal – To find that sweet spot where quality meets value.

We recently noted that this trend of consumers buying at lower price points has in fact brought prices down on some more spendy wines. We even added an option on our site to search by savings since some of the deals are so crazy good.

Now we want to hear what changes you’ve made – give us some stories and specifics. Have you sacrificed a $20 bottle for a $10 one? Switched grapes? Regions? Producers? Trying lots of new things?

This is what we want to know – What are you drinking and why? We’ll include some of your responses in our Wine Club Newsletter.

A Riesling to Try

A question I keep posing these days has to do with what one drinks when temperatures reach into the 100s. In the Northwest, temps are hovering at 102 degrees. This is an area where many homes lack air conditioning, so keeping cool requires fans, basements and cool drinks. When I ask what is most refresohne rieslingshing in this weather, an answer I frequently get is Riesling.

Riesling is a perfect hot weather drink as it is extremely refreshing, while still very fruit driven. The acidity and lower alcohol are a perfect match for quenching your wine thirst. Even when served ultra cold, Riesling’s layers of fruit and minerality can show through.

One to try is the Schmitt Sohne Thomas Schmitt Riesling QBA 2007. At $15, this wine is perfect for summer. Great acidity with ripe peach fruit backed by some good mineral notes. Fruity but crisp & a good, strong finish. Great for hot nights and/or spicy fare. 

Speed Tasting – Speed Blogging – notes from the Wine Blogger Conference

Friday, July 24th – Hanging out at the Wine Blogger’s Conference 2009 in Sonoma, CA. We’re getting ready to speed taste through some Sonoma wines while at the same time, blog about them. We’ll see if my typing can keep up with my tasting. Be forewarned, there are a few wines to taste, so this will be a longer post. Sit down, pour yourself some wine, and read all about it. Excuse fragmented sentences, but this was written “live.”

Wine # 1: El Molino High School 2007 Lions Pride Pinot Noir. That’s right, I said high school. But not to worry, the students are not making the wine. El Molino is an agricultural high school in Forestville in Sonoma county. One of the last agricultural high schools in the area, the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) make this wine on the school’s behalf. The vineyard lies in the Sebastopol area and is owned by the high school. The RRVW picks the grapes, then picks a celebrity winemaker to make it. Now on its third vintage, the ‘05 vintage was made by Merry Edwards, while William Seylem made the 2006 vintage. The ‘07 we’re tasting today was produced by Lee Martinelli, Jr, who was a graduate of the high school. All proceeds go to support the El Molino High School. Only 100 – 120 cases are made per year.

The wine… lovely Pinot Noir full of briary berry & black cherry flavors, sweet spice and bright acidity. A bit hot on the finish (meaning a touch high in alcohol, perhaps?), but it’s my first wine of the afternoon so that could account for something.

Wine #2: Rodney Strong 2005 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon – $75 retail and winery only – so you’ve got to go online and sign up to get some. And they only have 200 cases left.

David Raymond consults on this one – it’s 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot and it comes from hillside vineyards in Alexander Valley. They have the coordinates on the bottle so you can type them in and see it on google maps. Kind of like we and do for all our wines with Map It! It is a bold Cabernet Sauvignon, big fruit but with a great structural backbone to hold it together.

Wine #3: Cornerstone Winery – Tasting the Howell Mountain 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery produces only about 1800 cases/year – all Cabernet Sauvignon, all the time. According to the winemaker, this is not a right-now wine. It is a wine that needs age – time to mature in the bottle. The point of growing on a mountain, he says, is to get small berries, which in turn give the wine fruit intensity, but also intense tannins from the skin–to-grape ratio. Vines are grown on red clay, where iron lends itself to the plant. Characteristics in the wine include black olive, iodine & a touch of oak. The winemakers likes to give it 2 years in oak and 2 years in bottle before release. So, the taste… Yep, it’s a big wine. The tannins are certainly intense, and it is definitely not ready to drink yet. But you can tell with the balance of fruit, tannin and acid, that in 10 years, this wine will be super. In 20 years, it will be killer. I love Howell Mountain wines, and this is no different. First time I’ve tasted this wine and I’m impressed. Pretty yummy stuff. $100 retail.

Whew, okay, next wine (this is exhausting! I’m so glad I took typing in high school!).

Wine #4: Yay! Signaterra by Benziger is next! I LOVE this wine. Tasted it in Aspen. They are pouring the 3 blocks right now, which rocks. I’ve already written about these wines, but a quick note. It’s predominantly single-vineyard – 65% Cab, 35% Merlot. Sourced from three different sites on the valley floor. Gets 18 months of French oak, and you can taste the slight hint of vanilla, but it is balanced and integrated. The wine is giving off dark fruits, chocolate and looong-lasting tannins. The wine has ageing potential, though you could put it with a juicy ribeye and be happy right now. Only $49 from an excellent winery.

Wine #5: Matthiasson 2008 Napa Valley White Wine – this is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla (one of my favorites from Italy), Semillon and Tocai Friulano. Interesting blend. Primarily Sauvignon Blanc, but the others are lending some interesting characters. Kind of half Italian and half Bordeaux blend. Nose is very aromatic with ripe stone fruit & flowers.  Quite lovely, though unfortunately low production. If you get up to Sonoma, stop by here to visit. Silenus Tasting Room is where you can go. This is a wine worth seeking out.

Wine #6: Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon – 92% Cab, with some Merlot & Petit Verdot. Retails for $54, alcohol is 14.5% – the fruit that does not make it into Insignia goes into this blend. Price is much better, bottle much smaller. Good fruit, typical Cabernet flavors, which I love – meaning, while fruit is big, you also get that olive and cedar and tobacco notes. Not a fruit bomb!

Wine #7: Randall Graham is here! Yippee. Cool pioneer in the wine world. We love this guy. And his wine. Tasting the Bonny Doon ‘05 Cigare Volant, which I saw them decanting earlier. A Rhone blend – Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah & Cinsault. An hommage to Chateauneuf-du-Pape is how it began, but as Randall tells us, it is no longer tasting anything like CNP, it has evolved into its own entity. It is elegant and spicy, with bold fruit flavors and fine tannins. Cigare Volant means a Fine Cigar. Alas, they are no longer packaged in the cool cigar boxes… but the wine still rocks. Only $39, this is a great value. A perfect match for game or other grilled meats. Well done, every year. The winery is now biodynamic, too!

Wine #8: Kaz Bullseye 100% Petite Sirah. Okay, it’s 16.5% alcohol. Not going to be my favorite dinner wine. Dessert, maybe. A spitting wine, definitely. The heat! My goodness, the heat! Still, the wine has that typical inky purple color, the fruit is well-done & balances the alcohol, the label is super cool, but could not drink this all through dinner. The winery does do a cool re-fill option with jugs, though. Calls it “Nice Jugs.” Nice name. Kaz Vineyards. Check them out.

Wine #9: Concannon ‘06 Petite Sirah – So this is a wine we sell every year, and usually sell a lot because it is very well-priced. Their inaugural vintage was released in 1961 – had no idea it was that old. Located in Livermore, they are opening up a new tasting room. From Ireland, the Concannons came here in 1883 – it’s one of California’s oldest wineries. Cool fact: In 1950 Concannon had its first female winemaker. Not so common back in that day. The Petite Sirah is a good value. Spicy fruit coming in at $15/bottle.

Wine #10: Bella Vineyards ‘07 Zinfandel from Lily Hill Estate – Beautiful vineyard setting in Dry Creek Valley. Not yet heard of the winery, but the wine is good – very typical Zinfandel – wild berry and very concentrated black cherry. Good stuff.

Wine#11: Twisted Oak Winery ‘07 River of Skulls – scary name, scary label. Comes from Skulls County, hence the name and label. Going to be released next month. 88% Mourvedre, the rest Syrah. Mourvedre is one of my favorite grapes, so hoping for good things here. And it’s good. It’s got that cool meatiness that Mourvedre can lend, backed by wild & spicy fruit. Another winery with which I am unfamiliar. Ah, now I know why – small production – only 400 cases.

Wine#12: Hurrah! Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs – a true favorite. This is the ‘06 vintage. Great apple aromas and flavors, very good fresh bubbles and a light crisp aromatic loveliness. Makes mouth happy! Great way to finish! Will post more on this lovely conference later.

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