Sauvignon Blanc, I love you. You were there when I needed a break from Chardonnay. You were there when I wanted a crisp, clean, high acid white. Thank you. Thank you for being a constant in my life. But Sauvignon Blanc, I need a break. It’s not you, it’s me. You have been lovely, I just need something different. I know that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but I need to see for myself. I promise I’ll be back. We can frolic in the meadow like we used to do. But for now, I need to see what else is out there. Perhaps something from the Rías Baixas wine region? I digress...
Why hello Albariño. You exciting little thing. You’re checking all the boxes I need: high acid, crisp, clean, and palate cleansing. You’ve swept me off of my feet and reminded me to BE ALIVE. This is what excitement feels like. Oh, and you keep things interesting when you role play as Alvarinho. You’re the same person but with a different hairdo and a shorter skirt, you little minx. Wow, I haven’t felt this alive in years. Sauvignon Blanc, I do miss you, but I sure am getting what I need with Albariño and Alvarinho over here. See you soon…..I’ll send a postcard.
If you are a Sauvignon Blanc lover and stuck in a wine rut, you’ve come to the right place! Keep an eye out for Albariño or Vinho Verde, and you just might find something else that satisfies you ☺
To lay the groundwork, the white grape we’re talking about is called Albariño in Spain (the Rías Baixas wine region) and Alvarinho in Portugal (the Vinho Verde region). Both generally come in tall green bottles with a screw cap. They can also be slightly sparkling. The effervescence used to be natural, as carbon dioxide would get stuck in the wine as it underwent a secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. Now, some winemakers tend to add the CO2 as a part of the process, as consumers have come to expect it!
Albariño/Alvarinho wines generally have high, bracing acid. They’re generally aged in stainless steel, though sometimes oak is used. The wines are almost always bottled and sold young, and meant to be enjoyed right away!
Here are a few Rías Baixas wine and Vinho Verde examples to look out for.
This wine has been made for almost 100 years, as the first vintage was in 1928! Beautiful notes of green fruit, citrus, and stone fruit. And Zoe likes it!
A classic Albariño producer. A super-duper rich nose on this wine. Rich stone fruit and tropical fruit. Acid driven and crisp AF on the palate. This wine keeps you on your toes.
What you know about aged Albariño? This is the serious kid in the class. Aged on fine lees for a year with weekly bâtonnage, then four more years aging in stainless steel tanks. This is one of those wines where you open the bottle and you’re reminded why you love wine. Creamy, round, and slightly perfumed on the nose. Great acid plus an oily quality I do not normally get from an Albariño. Lovely. Just lovely. This wine makes me smile.
Bright, fresh, and fruity. I get notes of green fruit (green apple and pear), stone fruit, and a slight tropical note (melon and pineapple).
And for good measure, this is a fantastic domestic Albariño that I recently sampled.
Markus and Liz Bokisch have been producing Spanish grapes in Lodi since the early 2000’s. In fact, Markus was the first to bring Albariño to Lodi, and now it’s planted in over a dozen vineyards. This wine is well-balanced and offers the high acid I’d expect from the grape. Bright fruit, including citrus (lime and tangerine), green apple, and tropical notes (did someone say lychee?). Also, a lovely orange blossom floral note.
Today we virtually travel to the la Rioja wine region of Spain. Although I have never been there, I’d love to visit. Last fall I participated in a month of Wine Studio Twitter chats featuring the wines of Bodegas LAN in Rioja. While we can’t engage in wine country travel at the moment….alas we can dream through the glass.
#WineStudio is an online, Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, as well as a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, but only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation.
Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag as the group does the wine tasting together. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Above all, Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has consequently seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.
Meanwhile, for the Bodegas LAN edition of #WineStudio we were joined by Lyn Farmer. Lyn is a James Beard Award-winning wine and food writer and WSET Certified Educator. He was the perfect fit to guide us through these wines!
Bodegas LAN was “born” in 1972 and is named after the initials of the three political provinces in the DOCa Rioja wine region: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra. LAN blends the best of Rioja tradition with modern winemaking and an innovative approach to oak use. They own 20,000 barrels, so there are a lot of oak options. Signature handling of oak includes the use of Russian oak, hybrid oak barrels with American staves, and French oak tops and bottoms. Yes, they use Russian barrels, and they admit it! Overall LAN has evolved into a more modern winery versus a traditionalist. They make wines of a more international style, which helps the international market understand what you do. This helps move bottles……which is the ultimate goal!! Check out my previous post about Bodegas LAN HERE.
Enjoy tasting notes from the wines we savored throughout the month of November.
95% Tempranillo and 5% Mazuelo. Aged for 14 months in combined American and French oak barrels followed by 9 months in bottle before release. RED RED RED fruit notes + sweet spice + vanilla. A classic Rioja nose. This wine stands alone, in my opinion; no food necessary.
92% Tempranillo and 8% Mazuelo. 18 months in hybrid American/French barrels followed by 20 months in bottle prior to release. Very deep red fruit plus blue fruit. I also get notes of red hots….yup I said red hots….spicy cinnamon notes. This red is perfect for a Fall evening. Not quite a warming winter red…..enjoying a glass of this in the Fall would be exquisite.
96% Tempranillo plus 4% Mazuelo and Graciano. 26 months in hybrid American/French barrels followed by 36 months in bottle prior to release. A full-bodied and dark red, as you’d expect from a Gran Reserva. Notes of dark red and black fruit, including cherries and blackberries. Plus a warm baking spices from the oak treatment.
Vat number 12 used to the reserved for wines that stood out after fermentation for their great aromatic intensity. D-12 is a homage to this vat. This is the 10th edition of this release. 100% Tempranillo. Aged 12 months in hybrid American/French barrels. Deep garnet color plus red fruit aromas of cranberries plus prunes. Vanilla plus cinnamon notes.
90% Tempranillo, 8% Granciano, and 2% Mazuelo. From a selection of 30-year-old vines located in LAN’s Viña Lanciano estate. Aging in French and Russian oak plus 20 months in bottle. Winery notes: Elegant aromas of red fruits in liqueur and black fruits (blackberry/blackcurrant) plus spiced notes of clove, cinnamon, and vanilla. Perfumed hints of violets.
85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo. Aged in French plus Caucasian oak barrels. This is my favorite of the bunch. Complex and layered…just how I like my reds. Bright red fruit (cherries and plums) quickly moving into dark, ripe, black fruit, including blackberry and black currant). Tertiary notes of chocolate and coffee, plus tobacco. All the structural elements strike a stunning balance.
100% organic Tempranillo grapes. Aged 14 months in new French oak. From the tech sheet: LAN Xtrème is the extreme manifestation of the LAN philosophy in terms of respect for the raw materials. Minimal intervention from the start to preserve the essence of the terroir. No additives to the must or the wine, except for a small quantity of Sulphur to avoid oxidation and the development of undesirable microorganisms.
To sum up, we are all home and we are all getting a bit stir crazy. But we can still drink wine, connect with people virtually, and dream of wine country travel in our future.
When you think of the Rioja, you generally think of red wine. But did you know that Rioja wine region wines can be white, rosé, or red? Also, every bottle of Rioja carries an official trust seal (classification) located on the back of the bottle. Be sure to look for this label on every bottle. This ensures it is an authentic Rioja region wine.
Rioja was the first region in Spain to receive DOC status in 1925. It is located in North Central Spain, along the Ebro River, and is 210 square miles in size. The region is most known for its medium-bodied elegant wines that are fruity when young and more velvety when aged. The wines are also known for their aging potential. There are three sub-regions in the Rioja: Rioja Alavesa (chalky and limestone soils), Rioja Alta (chalky soils with more Atlantic influences), and Rioja Oriental (alluvial soils with a Mediterranean influence).
The main grape used to make Rioja wine is Tempranillo with 80% of wines being Tempranillo based. It is a grape indigenous to Spain and finds its finest expression in the Rioja region. Tempranillo is versatile and has great aging potential. Other grapes used in the Rioja include: Graciano, Garnacha, Viura, Maturana Tinta, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, and Maturana Blanca.
Moving away from the facts, and into my personal opinion, Rioja wines are a great way to start a cellar as the prices (for what you are getting) can be quite reasonable. Aside from the fact that the wines are great, one reason why I speak highly of Rioja wines is their value. What’s great about the Rioja is that many of the producers have had the winery/vineyards in their families for generations. With that being said, they might not have a mortgage to pay or a construction loan to pay on a fancy new chateau-like building (as do some CA wine regions). Personally, I like to know that my wine dollars are going more towards the juice than to expensive real estate, a famous winemaker, or a marketing budget.
Rioja only releases wines when they are ready to drink, which takes out a lot of the guesswork. This is why you see older Rioja vintages on the shelves at such killer prices. The “current release” of a wine can easily be 5-10 years old. So if you buy a bottle, rest assured that you can bring it home and pop it open with no problem.
Which leads me to another important topic when talking about Rioja region wines: aging. Rioja has a strict aging classification system. The details are a bit complicated, but the good thing is that the aging level can always be easily found on the bottle. No guessing here. Rioja aging classifications (for red wines) are below:
No aging requirements. Can have minimal oak aging.
Aged for 2 years with a minimum of 1 year in oak.
Aged for 3 years with a minimum of 1 year in oak and 6 months in bottle.
Aged for 5 years with a minimum of 2 years in oak and 2 years in bottle.
In November 2018 I attended the “Spain’s Great Match” event where Wines from Spain poured 150 wines alongside tapas and pairings from Jose Andres’, The Bazaar restaurant. At this event, I attended a Rioja Wine Region seminar in which I tasted the below Rioja wines. Cheers!
Bodegas Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2013 D.O.Ca. Rioja
This wine is showing a bit of age with its garnet color. The traditional Rioja nose (sour red fruit, sweet spice, vanilla, and cedar), plus violets, also classic for Rioja. This wine is made from all estate grapes, which is not typical in Rioja. An elegant wine.
Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Reserva 2013 D.O.Ca. Rioja $24.99
This 100+-year-old producer falls under the Cordiníu portfolio. Ruby in color with purple hues. This wine does not have the “traditional" Rioja nose. It’s actually a bit understated. Delicate violets on the nose. Black fruit and licorice on the palate.
Bodegas Montecillo Reserva 2011 D.O.Ca. Rioja
A more modern nose for Rioja. Such a youthful, fresh wine for being 8 years old! Sour cherry prevails! A hearty fish (such as tuna or swordfish) would be a good pairing.
Bodegas Ontañón Reserva 2010 D.O.Ca. Rioja
The most polished wine of the bunch with a beautiful nose of red fruit (sour cherry + cranberry) plus a “spice” character, perhaps jalapeño? This wine is aged in a combination of American and French oak.
Bodegas CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2009 D.O.Ca. Rioja
This wine is deep ruby color and has the nose of an old Rioja: a combination of red and black fruit, violets, spice (cloves + cinnamon), and toasted oak. Smooth, well-integrated tannins.
Bodegas Faustino Gran Reserva 2005 D.O.Ca. Rioja $40
This wine is versatile and could work with many different foods. At 14 years old it is quite soft and understated. Actually, the most understated of the bunch.
At the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla last October, I attended a seminar about the wines of Bodegas LAN, led by Doug Frost, one of only four people in the world with both the MW and the MS certification. The thought of that seriously makes my head hurt. I digress......
Bodegas LAN was “born” in 1972 and is named after the initials of the three political provinces in the DOCa Rioja: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra. LAN blends the best of Rioja tradition with modern winemaking and an innovative approach to oak use. They own 20,000 barrels, so there are a lot of oak options. Signature handling of oak includes the use of Russian oak, hybrid oak barrels with American staves, and French oak tops and bottoms. Yes, they use Russian barrels, and they admit it! Overall LAN has evolved into a more modern winery versus a traditionalist. They make wines in the international style. This helps the international market understand what they do and helps move bottles…the ultimate goal!!
In Rioja there is a good number of women winemakers and oenologists. According to Doug, women are making more “exciting” wines in the Rioja, such as María Barua at the helm of winemaking at Bodegas LAN. Though we all know that good winemaking actually begins in the vineyard. The 72-hectare (178 acre) estate vineyard is named Viña Lanciano and is situated between the sub-regions of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bodegas LAN subscribes to sustainable viticulture with no mineral or chemical fertilizer (only organic solutions, as needed) use. And no herbicides or pesticides.
Credit: Bodegas LAN
At the vineyard, the continental climate is moderated by the Cierzo and Solano winds. The vineyard is nestled between the Cantabrian mountain range and a loop of the River Ebro, which both shield the vines from extreme frosts and summers. Many think that Rioja is just HOT. It can be, but it is not a one-trick pony. It is close to the Atlantic and also has Mediterranean influences.
Viña Lanciano offers well-drained soils of sandy loam (including pebbles, gravel, and sand). Consequently, the vines dig their roots deep into the soil for nutrients. The vines (planted to: Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, and Garnacha) are old, low-yielding and between 40-60 years of age.
Credit: Bodegas LAN
Grapes sourced from long-standing suppliers in the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa.
Young, fresh fruit on this value-priced, everyday red wine. Bright, juicy red fruit plus black cherries. Medium, well-integrated tannins plus a whisper of tertiary notes (coffee and chocolate).
A nice interplay of lovely fruit plus some savory notes. The oak influence is starting to show here. This wine tells a beautiful Old World story in the glass…..and that whole story is a bargain at $20. Compare that to the sea of shitty, commercial $20 wines out there. The best wine tip (as far as finding a good value), is to go to the Old World!
In order to meet the “Gran Reserva” category in Rioja, the wine must have a minimum of 5 years aging: at least 24 months in oak plus at least 24 months in bottle. This wine sees 24 months in barrel plus 36 months in bottle before release. If this wine was a music style, it would be an R&B slow jam…..some baby makin’ music! It’s slow…..smooth……and warm. Notes of cigar box (smoke) plus spice box moves into licorice and coffee bean on the back palate. Also some garrigue notes (fennel/cumin). Will continue to age for 20+ years.
The winemaker’s favorite tank (#12). Produced with select wines from small parcels in the Rioja Alta and Alavesa. Vignerons choosing their favorite tank to keep and drink themselves is a tradition in Rioja.
Reflects the unique identity of Viña Lanciano, the estate vineyard.
Named in homage to the vineyard, and is the flagship wine. Oh yeah……big ass tannins. But very well-integrated. Give me some food here, and I’m a happy girl!
All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard.
All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard. This wine is only produced in excellent vintages. A perfumed note makes this wine very special. Especially tannic plus a savory/garrigue note.
Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review
Did you know that today is Miniature Golf Day, National Chai Day, World Peace Day, AND International Grenache Day?
I didn't think so.
Just about every day of the year has some sort of "holiday" attached to it. You can Google the date and find out what random and obscure holiday is celebrated that day. Most of these "holidays" are no more than a ploy to get people to consume and buy stuff. The same goes for wine days. Throughout the year we celebrate different wine grapes, regions, and styles by giving the day a name. Yes, these holidays are created by regional marketing associations and PR firms. BUT, I will say that it does give consumers a chance to step outside of their wine comfort zone and try something new!
Being that today is International Grenache Day, why not go to your local wine shop after work and pick up a bottle of Grenache/Garnacha to enjoy this Friday night? It's a perfect excuse to jazz up your Friday night and "Up Your Wine Game".
Have you tried a Grenache before? Here are some basic facts about Grenache that you may not know.
Grenache is a red grape that makes a wine that (as a general rule) is on the lighter side in terms of body, tannins, and acidity. Grenache can be used to make both red wines and rosé wines. There is also a variety called Grenache/Garnacha Blanca that is used to make a white wine. Don’t think of this wine as “wimpy”. Grenache can be bold and spicy and is a fabulous wine to go with grilled meats. Common aromas and flavors found in Grenache include red, sometimes candied, fruit such as strawberry and raspberry; also spice such as clove, white pepper, and cinnamon. Grenache grows well in warm climates and can be found in places like: Spain (Cariñena, Priorat, Rioja), France (Languedoc-Roussillon, the Rhone, Provence), California, and Australia. It is even called Cannonau in Sardinia. Grenache is originally from Spain where it is known as Garnacha. It is the predominant grape in DOP Cariñena, in the northern Aragón region.
What makes Grenache such a unique wine is its versatility. It is a great varietal wine (meaning a wine that is named after the dominant grape variety), but also is a good partner in blends to add spice or to soften the acid or tannins of the partner variety. The other great thing about Grenache is that there are so many value-priced Grenaches of incredible quality. You don’t have to spend a ton to get good wine.
Fun fact: All that #roséallday #rosébae you’ve been drinking is predominantly Grenache. That’s right: Grenache is one of the most popular grapes vinified as a rosé. See, you’ve been drinking Grenache, loving it, and you didn’t even know it! Do me this favor: walk into your local wine shop and ask the salesperson to help you find a good Grenache for under $20/bottle. You will thank me later! Here are a couple Spanish Grenache wines I'm drinking today for International Grenache Day.
This wine is from the Cariñena appellation in Spain. There is also 13% Chardonnay blended in. The wine is pale lemon in color. On the nose, I get citrus (lemon), green fruit (pear). Very primary and fresh. A youthful wine. On the palate, I get a marked salinity, as well as the same primary fruit notes. The wine has medium -acid, medium body, medium + flavor intensity, and a medium + finish that lingers. This wine is vibrant. It's fun and lively and is a GREAT alternative to the usual white wine suspects: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio.
This wine is a medium, bright pink color. The notes here are wholly primary, both on the nose and on the palate. Red fruit abounds: cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. There is a faint floral note: perhaps rose petals? This wine is bright and juicy. Everything you want in a rosé. And this ain't no delicate, pale rosé from Provence. This wine is BRIGHT pink and can really stand up to food. Think grilled seafood, or a salad with grilled chicken. I would be a nice companion to most summer fare.
The Wine Bloggers Conference is a combination of geeking out about wine, socializing, and learning a bit along the way. This session was an incredible study into the Albariño grape and the wines of Rías Baixas, Spain.
The seminar presented by Lyn Farmer and was one of the best wine presentations I have attended. Lyn is engaging, comfortable speaking in front of a group, and VERY knowledgeable. Most presenters do not have this trifecta. I can’t count the number of times I have attended a presentation by someone who is clearly not comfortable speaking in front of a crowd! He is also a James Beard Award-winning wine and food writer, broadcaster, and editor.
Ok, let’s get down to business! We are discussing the Denomination of Origin (DO) Rías Baixas in the Galicia region of NW Spain, which was formally established in 1988. Rías Baixas has over 9,000 acres under vine and a total of 6,500 growers. Fun fact: over half of the winemakers here are women! Why, you ask? Men, for centuries, have worked in the maritime industry, with many sailors away on ships for months on end, year after year. The women were left to rear children and manage many agricultural tasks, including grape growing and winemaking!
As you can see in the map above, there are five estuaries within the Rías Baixas region. These estuaries are deep, wide inlets of water reaching many miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. These “arms of the sea” mix fresh and salt water to sustain rich maritime life. Local legend says the estuaries are the five fingers of God’s hand when he rested in Galicia after creation. Galicia, also known as “Green Spain” is covered in green fields and mist. Its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean brings a cool, maritime climate with heavy rain and abundant sunshine during growing and ripening season. This makes for good acid and balance in the wines.
99% of all wine produced in Rías Baixas is white. There are 12 grape varieties allowed, but the indigenous Albariño makes up 90% of plantings and is the flagship of the region. The grape gives classic aromas of citrus, green fruit (pear), stone fruit (peach, apricot), tropical fruit (ripe melon, mango) and honeysuckle. Albariño is a very food-friendly grape because of the good acidity and minerality. To say it pairs great with the local seafood is an understatement! As a general rule, Albariño should be enjoyed upon release, though some have enough structure and complexity that allow for aging.
The soils of Rías Baixas are uniform, hard granite soils with mineral-rich alluvial top soils. Alluvial soils are soils (clay, silt, sand, and gravel) that form over time from deposits left by running water. To counter the rainfall and humidity (which can bring both mold and rot) most vines are trained on wire trellis’ or “parra” anchored by granite posts. This method elevates the vines higher than most other training methods to allow maximum circulation to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. The harvesters even need to stand on grape bins to reach the bunches! It is worth noting that some vineyards are moving to double cordon to modernize.
In the winery, modern, temperature-controlled winemaking in stainless steel tanks is the norm. Grapes are delivered from the vineyard to the production facilities quickly to avoid oxidation. Many wineries ferment with wild yeasts and are experimenting with extended lees aging to develop character and complexity.
This wine has a melon character with high acid and salinity. A local, indigenous yeast is used for fermentation. A cold fermentation is used to preserve the fresh fruit aromas. This wine is made in the Val do Salnés region, which is the original and oldest sub-zone in Rías Baixas.
The vines for this wine are all pergola trained. The grapes undergo a cold soak for 8 hours. This wine offers me green fruit (apple) and stone fruit (white peach). With 30,000 cases of this wine produced, this winery is one of the largest in the region.
This wine is a smidge less fruity and richer than the first two wines. I get green apple, white flower, and earthiness (which is not common for Albariño!). This was one of the first wineries in Rías Baixas.
This wine has slight residual sugar (3g/L) and is a tad more elegant than the first three. Notes of grapefruit, pear, honeysuckle, and a lighter tropical fruit note. This wine undergoes some (though not full) malo.
I get red fruit (wild strawberries) and stone fruit (peach). This wine is a bit more grown up than the previous ones.
Too bad my notes for this one say: my palate is getting a bit kaput at this point. #sorrynotsorry
Thumbs up for this guy! Very floral, specifically whiteflower. Caiño Blanco almost disappeared from Rías Baixas in the 1980s until Terras Gauda launched an ambitious replanting program in 1989.
An interesting showing for Albariño. I would love to revisit this wine, as I didn’t have enough time with it in this “group” situation. I get a savory/umami feel...almost an animal note.
Bright, crisp, refreshing, with gripping acidity.
This wine was fermented in French oak, hence the vanilla note. Aside from the Pazo de Señorans, this was the most interesting of the bunch.