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Rioja’s Enotourism Ready

Interested in exploring the Spanish wine region of Rioja?  I’ve got some firsthand, no-fail recommendations for tasting, dining, accommodations and cultural enrichment.

If you begin your stay in Haro, there’s really no need to drive if you want to visit the eight wineries clustered around the historic Haro train station. They’re all within comfortable walking distance of the town center although most of the Spanish tourists I spotted were driving and taking advantage of the ample parking.

The winery tasting rooms that I visited in Haro – La Rioja Alta, Muga, CVNE and Bodegas Bilbainas – and those at outlying wineries – Marqués de Riscal, Bodega Dinastia Vivanco, Torre de Ona – are all stylish, comfortably appointed and well equipped for English speaking guests. Muga’s tasting room was stocked with high-quality goods and teaming with eager shoppers who were offered gracious and informed hospitality. Walk-in tasting fees at CVNE were very modest and I had a quiet table to taste all eight wines on offer at my own pace.

Lunch time, however, can pose a challenge as all the restaurants are located in Haro which requires a hike back to the center of town. The private dining room at La Rioja Alta is the solution and I can recommend their delicious cuisine but take note that reservations are required in advance.  You won’t find Uber or taxi service readily available so visits to outlying wineries do require driving.

Where to stay

Considered by locals as the best hotel in Haro, Los Agustinos Hotel is located in the center of town in an historic building dating from 1373.  The four-star hotel once housed an Augustinian monastery, convent, military garrison, jail and hospital and is just steps from the winery quarter.  Built around a light-filled courtyard, the hotel’s restaurant served excellent local fare.

Wines of note

La Rioja Alta

IMG_7155Vina Arana Reserva 2008 – This seamless blend of Tempranillo and Mazuelo spends three years in American oak resulting in an elegant, ferrous wine with dark cherry, black currant and tobacco.

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 2004 – Orange zest, chocolate, balsamic and black tea with great purity of fruit that extends through the finish, a rare occurrence in a Gran Reserva.

Torre de Ona, sister winery to La Rioja Alta, is located in LaGuardia in the Alava province of Rioja Alavesa.

Torreona

The dormant estate vineyards and view of the Pyrenees mountains at Torre de Ona.

 

Torre de Ona 2012 – Tempranillo and Mazuelo blend aged in Russian and French oak. Ferrous and mineral with black tea, black cherry and raspberry on a charming mid palate with cedar and brown spice apparent on the finish.

Bodegas Bilbainas

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Bodegas Bilbainis winemaker Alejandro Lopez Garcia at the winery’s heralded single vineyard, Vina Pomal.

Tempranillo Blanco Reserva 2013 – Fumé-style with ripe Meyer lemon, chalk and saline mineral notes that’s a benchmark for Rioja.

 

Alto de la Casetta Viña Pomal 2012 – A blockbuster with deep, dark black fruit and restrained use of oak.

Viña Pomal Vinos Singulares Graciano 2012 – Lively aromas of camphor, cherry and ripe cranberry with resolved tannins and delicate finish.

Bodegas Muga

Muga2

Muga’s Juan Muga.

 

Muga Selection Especial 2011 – Graphite, mulberry, chocolate, monolithic black core with coffee and tarry notes on the finish.

Muga Gran Reserva 2009 – Bordeaux-like with toast, black currant, black pepper, licorice, camphor and clove with notable fruit purity and balance.

Torre Muga 2011 – Blackberry, mulberry, fig and prune with very resolved m+ to high tannins and seamless amplification of fruit without overbearing oak influence.

Elciego: Where to stay and what to taste

Riscal

Marqués de Riscal’s Jose Luis Muguiro.

The stunning Frank Gehry-designed Marqués de Riscal hotel and spa built in 2006 on the grounds of the original Herederos del Marqués de Riscal winery which was founded in 1858 is a juxtaposition of old and new.  The hotel and winery which comprise the Marqués de Riscal City of Wine are located in Elciego, a southern village in the Rioja Alavesa province of Alava. The hotel’s breathtaking architecture houses both a Spa Vinothérapie Caudalie and the Michelin-starred Marqués de Riscal and Bistro 1860 restaurants.

Riojan Chef Francis Paniego creates locally-inspired haute cuisine at Marques de Riscal and showcases traditional dishes and ingredients at the less formal bistro. There’s a charming wine bar off the hotel lobby with an expansive outdoor terrace and dramatic views of the medieval town of Elciego. The winery which marked its 150th anniversary in 2008 offers several different tours by reservation with a 90-minute tour and tasting of two wines starts at 12 €.

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Wines of note

Barón de Chirel 2012 – A 70% Tempranillo-dominate blend that includes Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the three-hectare Las Tapias vineyard and produced only in the best years. Deeply black-fruited with chocolate on the nose and plummy, earthy notes of Cabernet Sauvignon making an appearance on the mid palate.

Frank Gehry Selection 2012 – Only 5,000 bottles of this 100% old vine Tempranillo were made so the wine isn’t readily available in the United States.  Without question, one of the best Tempranillo wines that I’ve ever tasted with a rush of black tea, orange zest, balsamic, earth, umami and dark fruits like mulberry and plum.  According to Riscal Technical Manager Luis Hurtado, “It only compares with 1945.”

Briones: What to see and what to taste

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Vivanco Winemaker Rafael Vivanco Saenz.

 

For a one-stop cultural immersion, you’ll want to devote most of a day exploring Vivanco’s state-of-the-art underground winery and barrel cellar and world-class Museum of Wine Culture.  The 4,000-m2 museum, educational center, tasting room and restaurant were built over the original winery in 2004. Founded by Pedro Vivanco, one of Spain’s first credentialed winemakers, the estate is now managed by his sons Rafael who is the winemaker and Santiago who oversees the museum and foundation.

Winemaker Rafael Vivanco Sáenz works with indigenous varieties from the 440-hectare estate vineyards in Rioja Alta and makes a full range of wines from blanco to late harvest.  The winery offers docent-led winery and museum tours starting at 21€, tastings and a fine dining restaurant with stunning views of the estate vineyards and nearby town of Briones.

Madonna

A must-visit in nearby Briones is the Church of Our Lady of Assumption (Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción).  This Isabelline Gothic style church dates from 1521 and houses an altarpiece of incredible beauty.

 

Edetària: Benchmark wines of Catalonia’s Terra Alta DO

As a winegrower, Joan Lliberia is only interested in producing wines that reflect a place.   His estate – Edetària – lies southwest of Barcelona and just inland from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Terra Alta, one of ten sub regions with Denominación de Origen (DO) quality status in the Catalonia winegrowing region of Spain. Wine has been cultivated here for a millennium and Lliberia continues this long tradition by producing wines that express a deep connection to the soils.

Terra Alta is the most westerly of Catalonia’s DOs which are clustered around Barcelona and include Alella, Conca de Barberá, Costers del Segre, Empordà (on the border of France), Montsant, Penedés, Plà de Bagés, Priorat (DOPQ) and Tarragona. Both Cataluña and Cava are broader designations that also apply to the Catalonia region.

The DO has two clearly defined growing regions: the valley floor and the high plateau. Edetària is sited on 38 hectares in the La Plana de Gandesa Valley and the high, limestone plateaus of the surrounding Pàndols-Cavalls and Els Ports mountain ranges.

The lower regions of the Gandesa Valley are composed of younger top soils deposited over a base of marl and sandstone, at mid-level there are fossilized dunes of fine, wind-blown soils and the higher elevations are characterized by older layers of marl, sandstone and calcareous (limey, chalky) terroir.

The complex marl soil types found here are a key factor in wine quality at Edetària. Marl is a chalky, clay-based soil that contributes acidity to wine and its presence throughout the region helps winegrowers like Lliberia maintain acidity in the warm, dry growing conditions. Humid off-shore winds called the “Garbinades” provide some additional moisture that brings relief to the vines during the height of summer.

The unique geology of the valley and Terra Alta’s dry, mild climate produce distinct, crisp white wines that show plenty of dry extract, a quality exhibited by many of the finest white wines around the world, and spicy reds with varietal typicity and vibrant Old World character.

With 24 hectares under vine, the majority of Lliberia’s indigenous grape varieties exceed 50 years of age and the indigenous red varieties like Garnacha and Carignan which are planted to south and southeasterly slopes of sandy “Tapàs” soils comprise the youngest sites averaging 25 years old.

Lliberia produces two brands, his flagship label, Edetària, and the winery’s largest production label, Edetana, that takes its name from an ancient Roman trade route, the via Edetana, that traversed Terra Alta’s vineyards centuries ago.

At Edetària, both international and indigenous varieties are carefully matched to the estate’s five distinct soil types. Garnacha, Carignan and Viognier perform well on “Tapàs” and “Tapàs Blanc,” porous, infertile soils over marl. The rare Garnacha Peluda clone is matched to deep, quick-draining, pebbly “Còdols” soils and Syrah to the estate’s deepest alluvial “Vall” soils over marl. The white varieties of Garnacha Blanca and Macabeu are planted on steep sites with deep, sandy, wind-blown soils known as “Panal” which are fossilized sand dunes.

With vision and a determined pursuit of quality, Joan Lliberia is producing wines of distinction from Terra Alta. In 2003, he built a modern winemaking facility and cellar where estate fruit is crafted into wines that reflect both the terrior and the intention of the winemaker.

His approach is one that respects each plot on the estate. He strives to make wines that are elegant and achieve a maximum expression of minerality and freshness. In doing so, each wine has a unique “personality” which Lliberia credits to the interaction of the different grape varieties and soil types, the microclimate of Terra Alta and precisely-timed harvesting.

Tasting notes for the winery’s current releases reveal both the finesse and the power of Lliberia’s blends and the potential for fresh whites and crisp reds being realized at Edetària.

Deborah Parker Wong’s Tasting Notes:

Edetana Blanc 2010 – 70% Garnacha Blanc, 30% Viognier

Sandy Tapàs soils layered with lime. Grenache is barrel fermented and aged for four months, Viognier is held on the lees. White flower and lime aromas with expressive, crisp minerality on the mid-palate, medium+ intensity and a pristine finish.

Edetana Negre 2009 – 60% Garnacha, 30% Garnacha Peluda clone, 10% Carignan grown on several distinct soils types. Lengthy skin contact and 12 months in new French Oak. Expressive mineral and clove aromas, darker black fruit flavors and fine, ripe tannins with sweeter grape tannins and flourish of cedar on the finish.

Edetària Blanc 2010 – 85% Garnacha Blanc, 15% Macabeu

Low-yielding 60-year old vines on sandy, wind-blown “Panal” soils. Barrel-fermented and aged for eight months in new French oak. Creamy oak aromas, lots of dry extract showing on a driving mid-palate and lengthy, focused finish.

Edetària Negre 2008 – 60% Garnacha Peluda, 30% Syrah, 5% Carignan, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from their respective terroirs. Lengthy skin contact and gentle extraction produce a contemporary style with plenty of Syrah fruit up front and structure from Cabernet Sauvignon on the mid palate. 80-year old Carginan vines add considerable lift and complexity to the blend.

Sicily’s native grapes and the dawn of Italian wine culture

Archeologists researching the dietary habits of prehistoric Sicilians have discovered that wine was on the menu 6,500 years ago. The discovery made by a team of archeologists led by Dr. Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida pushes the timeline for established viticulture in Italy back from the latter part of the Bronze Age (1600–1100 BCE) to the Copper Age (4500–3500 BCE).

While excavating a site on Monte Kronio in the Agrigento province in southwest Sicily, Tanasi found tartaric acid and its salts both of which are natural by-products of winemaking on unglazed pottery dating to 4500 BCE. It’s believed that the Mycenaean Greeks established viticulture in Sicily during the Bronze Age but the discovery has unearthed a much earlier point of origin for Italian wine culture.


Native varieties being trailed in the experimental vineyards at
Donnafugata’s estate in Contessa Entellina.
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG

As the history of winegrowing in Sicily continues to evolve so do the efforts of forward-thinking producers who are working to preserve the island’s native grape varieties. Sicily’s indigenous grape varieties differentiate its wines from those in the rest of Italy and the Iberian Peninsula and, based on Tanasi’s findings, they are likely the very origin of Italy’s wine culture. The grape varieties indigenous to the island many of which were originally used to produce Marsala are gaining a new lease on life as delicious, light, dry wines.

Monte Kronio is located in the modern-day winegrowing region of Sciacca which along with the communes of Contessa Entellina, Menfi, Montevago, Santa Margherita and Belice comprise the Terre Sicane sub region. Research projects are being undertaken here and across Sicily to identify clonal material and insure the diversity of the island’s native vitis vinifera is both preserved and celebrated.  While Tanasi and his team are determining if the wine of the ancients was white or red, we can enjoy their modern-day equivalents.

At their familial estate in Contessa Entellina, Antonio and José Rallo, the brother and sister team of Donnafugata, are cultivating and vinifying 30 biotypes of 19 different grape varieties as part of a study designed to identify clones that are best suited to the region. Massal selection vines were planted in 2009 and the winery has been analyzing the flavor profiles of the grapes including the varieties Nocera, Vitarolo and Alzano which are described by the project as “relics” to validate their potential.


As winemaker and agronomist of his family winery and President of Sicily DOC,
Donnafugata’s Antonio Rallo is an advocate for Sicily’s native varieties.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DONNAFUGATA

According to agronomist and winemaker Antonio Rallo, the varieties Cataratto, Damaschino, Grecanico, Grillo, Inzolia and Periccone are those most likely to be indigenous to the Terre Sicane sub region.  “From the experimental vineyard at Contessa Entellina we’ve propagated Cataratto biotype A and Nero D’Avola biotype A and will begin production with these grapes in a few years,” he said.  “We’ve also propagated Nocera, an ancient red variety with deep, stable color, which we believe has great potential.”


Sicily’s native varieties are well represented in this clonal study that includes
30 biotypes of 19 different grape varieties.
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG

The trial at Donnafugata includes two biotypes of the white variety Inzolia which is the Sicilian name for Ansonica, a variety according to author and Italian native grape expert Ian D’Agata very likely to be indigenous to the coastal region of Sciacca.  It’s closely related to other Sicilian varieties including Grillo, Frappato and Nerello Mascalese which are all known to be native to the island.  Widely appreciated as a table grape, Inzolia is naturally tannic and lower in acidity.  The variety was most commonly used in the Marsala blend as the grape is well-suited to this oxidative wine style.

Inzolia grown at Donnafugata’s Contessa Entellina estate plays a role in characterful white blends including Damarino and Vigna di Gabri, named for founder Gabriella Rallo, where it’s blended with a small percentage of the indigenous Cataratto and Chardonnay.

Sicily’s dozens of native varieties are showcased at the annual Sicilian en primeur tasting hosted by Assovini Sicilia, as association of 70 winery members founded in 1998 upon the inspiration of Diego Planeta (Planeta Estates), Giacomo Rallo (Tenuta di Donnafugata) and Lucio Tasca d’Almerita (Conte Tasca d’Almerita).

In 2016, more than 800 wines were presented among them several notable monovarietal and Inzolia-dominant blends.  Cusumano’s Cubia Tenuta Ficuzza, a richly–textured standout with bright, flinty lemon, and an Angimbé Chardonnay blend, Zonin’s Feudo Principi di Butera Inzolia, Donnafugata’s eponymous Vigna de Gabri, Baglio di Pianetto’s Ficiligno, a minerally Viognier blend, and Principe di Corleone Pollara’s Bianca de Corte Chardonnay blend.

Rallo’s commitment to the research and preservation of native varieties includes Zibibbo or Muscat di Alexandria which is grown under extremely harsh conditions at the winery’s estate on the island of Pantelleria.

Through the efforts of Rallo and the Assovini Sicilia, the production of Zibibbo on Pantelleria gained UNESCO heritage status in 2014.  Vineyard architecture on the wind-battered island demands albarello pantesco, the use of low, head-trained vines, a system of terrezzai muretti or dry stacked terraces and the use of windbreaks known as franzi vento.


Ungrafted, old vine Zibibbo thrives in the extreme conditions at the
Donnafugata’s estate on Pantelleria.
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG

From its estate vineyards which are planted to ungrafted, centenary Zibibbo vines, Donnafugata produces two signature wines: Ben Ryé, a world-class Passito di Pantelleria sweet wine made from macerating a ratio of four kilos of raisined Zibibbo berries to one liter of fresh must, and a superb light, dry wine, Lighea (mermaid) with pronounced jasmine, green tea and ripe green fruit flavors.

The winery is conducting a clonal research project of 33 biotypes of Zibibbo collected by massal selection from Spain, France, Greece and the Italian mainland which is being supervised by Professor Atilio Scienza.  “These experimental vineyards were planted in 2010 and we think it’s too early to begin evaluating the potential of each biotype,” said Rallo.


View from the vineyard behind the Donnafugata winery on the island of Pantelleria.
On a clear day the coast of Tunisia can be seen on the horizon.
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG

Varieties currently being trialed by Donnafugata:

Albanello
Alicante
Alzano
Damaschino
Carricante
Cataratto
Frappato
Grillo
Grecanico
Inzolia

Malvasia della Liparia
Minnella Nera
Moscato Bianco
Nero d’Avola
Nerello Mascalese
Nerello Cappuccino
Nocera
Periccone
Vitrarolo
Zibibbo

IBWSS Recap: a first for California

The IBWSS was the first-ever bulk and private label wine and spirits event in California

Close to 1500 wineries, distilleries, importers, distributors and retailers met in San Francisco for the debut of the highly anticipated International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show on July 26 & 27. At the event, suppliers and buyers traded and attendees learned about the latest trends in bulk wine and spirits, including methods to use private labels as a way to win over customers, boost loyalty and drive new sources of revenue.

The event saw unprecedented success with most exhibitors walking away with deals or potential contacts with buyers. Exhibitors had the chance to meet buyers from Gallo wines, Trader Joe’s, Kroger’s, Bevmo amongst many others.  Buyers came from all over the United States and were not limited to the vicinity of the Californian wine industry.

In the post-event survey, 80% of the exhibitors reported a high level of satisfaction with the show quoting that they were pleased with the number and the quality of buyers that they met at the show. 60% of the exhibitors mentioned that they were likely or very likely to exhibit again with 30% signing up on the spot to exhibit at IBWSS 2018! Read full recap here – IBWSS.PR

The trilemma of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas

It’s generally accepted that we have three choices when defining wine aromas, they are categorized as primary, secondary or tertiary. Yet in practice, many common aromas can be attributed to two of these categories.

Primary wine flavors (the combination of aromas and tastes) come from the grape variety itself and are almost always fruity except when they’re not. Secondary aromas are those associated with post-fermentation winemaking and include yeast, lees, yogurt, cream, butter or cheese and a full spectrum of flavors derived from oak. Tertiary flavors are defined as deliberate oxidation, fruit development, bottle age or any combination thereof.

Petrol, for example, which is most commonly detected in Riesling and attributed to the compound 1, 1, 6, -trimethyl-1,2-dihydronapthalene (TDN), can be present in new made Riesling and in increasingly higher amounts in bottle-aged wine due to the hydrolysis and rearrangement of TDN precursors over time.

The conundrum or trilemma that students of wine encounter when using a tasting rubric like the Systematic Approach to Tasting developed by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) or the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Deductive Tasting Grid becomes apparent when defining petrol. The WSET categorizes it as a tertiary flavor attributed to bottle age in white wines and the Court as inorganic earth/mineral.  Read the full article The Trilemma of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Aromas

Campania Update: Focus on Falanghina del Sannio DOP

If you’re keeping tabs on wine quality in Southern Italy with its myriad indigenous grape varieties and oftentimes limited access to distribution, this update on the Sannio DOP should prove to be useful. Through a combination of research trips to Campania and the opportunity to judge the Radici del Sud “Roots of the South” wine competition which has been held in different venues in the town of Bari, Puglia since 2006, it provides a look at the key factors for the region and a snapshot of wine quality.

The Radici competition uses a unique format of two different juries, one composed of international experts and another of Italian experts, both of which taste all of the wines that have been submitted.  When a wine captures the attention of both juries, they’ve succeeded in pointing you to a grape, a place and a producer that are worth investigating. The preliminary results from this year’s Radici competition which narrowed 350 entries down to 70 were released this week and among them the 2016 Fontanavecchia Campania Falanghina Taburno was singled out by both juries as one of the first or second wines in its class. The winery’s 2009 Vigna Cataratte Aglianico also scored a first.

Falanghina del Sannio

In fewer than 40 years, Falanghina has emerged as a signature grape for Campania’s Sannio DOP.  Although Falanghina is grown across Southern Italy with DOC regions found in Campania, Molise, Puglia and Abruzzo, 80 percent of its hectares lie in Sannio which covers the entire province of Benevento.   Falanghina’s point of origin is attributed to the Bonea commune in Benevento which lies at the southern foot of Monte Taburno, an isolated massif that is part of the Campania Apennine Mountain chain. The indigenous grape owes its name to the Latin “falangae,” the poles that were traditionally used to support the vigorous canopy of this ancient Greek-Balkan variety.

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Day 1 of the IBWSS

By Dominic Basulto & Malvika Patel

The International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show (IBWSS) kicked off in San Francisco on July 26 with a packed exhibition hall and a keynote address from Bobby Koch, President and CEO of the Wine Institute. That led to a full day of presentations, workshops and master classes from some of the top names in the bulk wine and spirits industry.

The question on everyone’s mind at the event, of course, was: “How can my business make the most out of being involved with the bulk wine and spirits industry?” For some participants, it meant mingling on the showroom floor with the 80 international and domestic exhibitors, who were ready and willing to share their advice on how to take advantage of opportunities in the bulk wine and spirits industry offering trade prospects and private label services. These exhibitors included some from nearby California wine-growing regions as well as some foreign exhibitors from as far away as Chile and Australia.

Visitors shifted their focus between the Tasting Floor and the series of presentations and workshops at the South San Francisco Conference Center designed to give participants a deep-dive into the world of bulk wine and spirits. Deborah Parker Wong, a wine industry journalist and judge, set the tone for the day with a presentation on “How to deliver successful bulk wine programs.” As she noted, the global bulk market is becoming more fluid, and that’s changing the go-to-market strategies for many wineries.

That was followed up with presentations designed to cover specialized issues related to the bulk wine industry – everything from marketing to legal issues to pricing. The final presentation of the day came from Nat DiBuduo, President of Allied Grape Growers, who went into detail on how current grape supply and demand impacts the industry, using the example of Pinot Grigio. As he suggested, many wineries get involved in the bulk wine industry because the shifting conditions of supply and demand make it imperative to explore new market approaches.

Day 1 of the IBWSS also included three workshops designed to help wineries and winemakers already involved in the bulk wine industry to develop their expertise even further. For example, winemaker Clark Smith led a master class on postmodern winemaking, in which he described why values like openness, mutual respect and authentic dialogue are so important for today’s winemakers to reach consumers. Steve Burch of Radoux USA followed up with a workshop on how spirits brand owners and distilleries can take advantage of opportunities within the bulk spirits industry, including learning how to make their own apertif for the consumer market.

And, for winemakers trying to negotiate the intricacies of shipping their bulk wines across national borders, Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories led a workshop on how to use certificates of analysis (COAs) in international trade. As Burns pointed out, wine is an inherently safe product, so many of the COAs now required as part of international trade deals might not really be needed. The goal should be cutting down on the number of certificates required, not demanding more of them. However, when COAs are required, it’s paramount to ensure quality results, usually by having the certificates of analysis done by an accredited laboratory.

As the final workshop came to a close, participants milled back out on the exhibition floor of the South San Francisco Conference Center, eager to put their new knowledge to work. Join us on Day 2 of the IBWSS as we hear from another full slate of speakers and workshop participants on topics related to the world of bulk wine and spirits.