I just returned from the Wine Media Conference in Eugene, OR (the southern Willamette Valley). Or as I like to call it: Wine Summer Camp! Normally the conference hosts close to 300 wine communicators (serious journalists, bloggers, influencers, podcast hosts, and everyone in between). This year due to COVID, the event had about half the number of attendees, but we had no shortage of fun. 

Speaking of fun, one of the highlights of the conference is the “Live Wine Social” event. Attendees sit at round tables as winemakers and winery reps circle around the room, pour their wines and talk about them, while we tweet and post on socials “live” and in real time. It’s a bit of a speed dating (or tasting) situation and it’s a blast. Below are my speed tasting notes/tweets on each wine. 

Enjoy!

Brooks 2017 Rastaban Pinot Noir $65 (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon)

Troon Vineyard 2019 Siskiyou Syrah (Applegate Valley, Oregon)

Benton Lane 2018 Pinot Noir $30 (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

Knotty Vines 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon $15 (California)

Pfeiffer Winery 2017 Blue Line Barrel Select Pinot Noir $65 (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

Brooks 2019 Ara Riesling $38 (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon)

Longevity 2019 Pink Pinot Grigio (Livermore, California)

Troon Vineyard 2020 Kubli Bench Amber $35 (Applegate Valley, Oregon)

Benton Lane 2019 First Class Chardonnay $40 (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

I have not been lucky enough to step foot on the Vega Sicilia property, considered to be one of the top luxury wineries in the world. Situated in the Ribero del Duero DO in Spain, Vega Sicilia is a gem among gems.

About a year ago I was invited to an exclusive collectors’ dinner at Jean-Georges in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Beverly Hills featuring the wines of Tempos Vega Sicilia paired with an exquisite meal. Now I am not a collector of Vega Sicilia wines or of any wines for that matter. But as a member of the wine press/media, I was granted a coveted invite. This evening feels like a distant memory. A time when invitations to wine pairing dinners and winemaker interviews were frequent. This certainly was a standout evening as I would otherwise likely never have the opportunity to try Vega Sicilia wines, as they are hard to come by and priced WAY outside of my price range!

Rooftop Views at the Waldorf Astoria, Beverly Hills

The meal was so good, that I only have a shot of dessert! I was so enveloped by the food and wine, breaking out a camera for each course felt inappropriate. I was also lucky enough to sit right next to Pablo Alvarez, owner and CEO. This was a meal and experience meant to be enjoyed and not documented. 

Bodegas Vega Sicilia was founded in 1864, and it’s been said that if there were First Growths in Spain (as we have in Bordeaux), then Vega Sicilia would be on the list, if not the top of the list. They are one of the most well-recognized and luxury Spanish wines on the market. Their wines are scare, expensive, and in high demand. I felt honored to get to enjoy them that evening. 

Below is a recap of the meal and highlights of the wines we enjoyed, with the notes I was able to jot down without taking away from the experience.

Tokaj Oremus 2018 Tokaji Furmint Dry Mandolas (SRP $20)

Tokaj Oremus is a Hungary-based sister winery of Vega Sicilia. Dry Furmint, when I get to enjoy it, always knocks my socks off. This wine has bracing acid and is hyper austere. Exactly what I want in a Dry Furmint.

Vega Sicilia Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild 2016 Macán Clasico (SRP $50)

From their joint effort with Rothschild, this is BR-VS (Bodegas Rothschild Vega Sicilia). A monstrous wine; in a good way. 100% Tempranillo. Crazy ass tannins. Wowzas.

Bodegas Pintia 2015 Pintia (SRP $60)

Bodegas Pintia is another Spanish sister winery of Vega Sicilia. This wine is concentrated, complex. A pensive wine that feels like it’s thinking and causing us to think. Yet a bit rustic. Quite a juxtaposition here.

Bodegas Alion 2016 Alion (SRP $80)

Another sister winery of Vega Sicilia (there are 4 in total). This Bodegas Alion wine is dripping with tertiary notes: leather, dirt/earth, and toasted nuts. If you’re into savory, this wine is for you! 

Vega Sicilia 2010 Unico (SRP $400)

The Unico wine undergoes at least a decade of aging, hence this is their current release. Always at least 80% Tempranillo then a blend of Bordeaux varieties. I have no tasting notes from this wine. Literally none. I think I was in a trance and trying to enjoy/savor what was in front of me. Sitting next to Pablo Alvarez with a glass of Unico and a Jean-Georges Beef Bourguignon. No review. But if you have a chance to do any of these things in your life, please do.

Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial R.20 (SRP $500)

Also, no review. If you can get a sip in your glass, please savor it. The Reserva Especial line is always a blend of 2-3 vintages, hearkening back to old Spain where wine was not vintaged. This wine is a blend of ’08, ’09, and ’10.

Passionfruit Glazed Pear, Rose Mascarpone, Toasted Nuts

Wishing you all a happy new year as we move into 2021. Also, seems like Spain has been a popular topic as of late on the blog. Last month we explored Spanish Albariño.

Italy does not have one ruling white or red grape. In fact, Italy is home to over 1,000 indigenous varieties, many of who you might never have heard of. Frappato? Molinara? Cortese? Turbiana?

Lugana Wine: Fresh and New

Turbiana is the white grape used to make Lugana wine, a refreshing and dynamic white wine from the Lugana DOC near Lake Garda in northeast Italy. But I’m betting you’ve never heard of the Turbiana grape of Lugana wine. Why? With over 1,000 indigenous grapes, some slip through the cracks and don’t make it to commercial success. So, let’s discover something new and get out of a wine rut with Lugana wine. I wrote about Lugana wine in 2017, but I felt it was time for a refresher!

Lugana Wine: Five Ways

We begin with the entry-level Lugana, which covers over 90% of the wines that come out of the region. No aging requirements on this one. Next up we have the Lugana Superiore where the wine must age for at least one year for this designation. Lugana Riserva must age for at least 24 months (6 mos of which have to be in the bottle). Less common is the Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva (VT) made from late harvest grapes. And finally, Lugana Spumante sparkling wine.  The VT and Spumante Lugana wine styles are both quite difficult to find. I have yet to find them actually!

Below are a few Lugana wines I have enjoyed over the last few months. These wines show bright, fresh citrus and stone fruit aromas and flavors and strong acidity. Also, notes of white flowers and even nuttiness in some Lugana wine expressions.  Retail prices hover around $15 to $25.

Cà Maiol Lugana DOP 2018

Ca Maiol Lugana

Corte Sermana Cromalgo Lugana DOC 2018

Corte Sermana Lugana

Corte Sermana Lugana DOC Riserva 2015

Corte Sermana Lugana Riserva

Azienda Argricola Monte Cicogna S. Caterina Lugana 2017

Monte Cicogna

Tenuta La Meridiana Lugana DOP Annata 2018

La Meridiana Lugana

Famiglia Olivini Demesse Vecchie Lugana DOC 2017

Familia Olivini Lugana

Azienda Agricola Sgreva Sirmio Lugana DOC 2017

Sgreva Lugana

Selva Capuzza Menasasso Lugana Riserva 2013

Selva Capuzza Lugana Riserva

Keep an eye out for Lugana and don’t sleep on it! It’s a great alternative Italian white wine. If you love Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, you might find a Lugana wine that you love!

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 ☺

Rías Baixas Wine vs Vinho Verde

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.

Albariño de Fefiñanes Rías Baixas 2018 ($28)

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!

Rias Baixas Wine

Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2018 ($25)

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. 

Rias Baixas Wine

Paco & Lola Albariño 2012 ($50)

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. 

Rias Baixas Wine

Quinta da Lixa, Aromas das Castas,  Grande Escolha, Vinho Verde 2018 ($10)

Bright, fresh, and fruity. I get notes of green fruit (green apple and pear), stone fruit, and a slight tropical note (melon and pineapple). 

Vinho Verde wine

And for good measure, this is a fantastic domestic Albariño that I recently sampled.

Bokisch Terra Alta Vineyard Albariño 2019 ($22)

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. 

Lodi Albariño

Conor Brasier and Hunter Valley Wine
Today we go down under to Tamburlaine Organic Wines, Australia's largest independent organic producer with over 300 hectares of organic wines in the Orange and Hunter Valley wine sub-regions of New South Wales. Independent meaning that they don’t sell to big-box retailers. Quite impressive for a 120,000 annual case production.

Cheese plate and Hunter Valley Wine

Tamburlaine’s Entry into Hunter Valley Wine

Tamburlaine started over 50 years ago when a small group of friends, led by Mark Davidson, purchased the winery and started making Hunter Valley wine. At Tamburlaine, they believe in low-intervention winemaking and strive to leave their spot on the Earth in better shape than how they found it. While at the Wine Media Conference in October 2019, I toured Tamburlaine with my old wine pal Liz of What’s In That Bottle, and my new wine pal, Conrad of The Wine Wankers. Tamburlaine assistant winemaker Conor Brasier guided us through the property and through a flight of wines for a lovely afternoon!

Hunter Valley Wine in Action

Conor is a breath of fresh air. I always appreciate a young winemaker and their ability to embrace change and innovation. He knows the place inside and out….it felt like he gave us a tour of his living room!

Hunter Valley Wine coming out of barrel

Tasting Hunter Valley Wine at Tamburlaine

 

Preservative Free Au Naturel Premium Cuvée

An all-natural, sulfur-free blanc de blanc made in the Charmant method (the same method used with Prosecco). All fruit from Orange. A nice, easy sparkling clocking in at a low 11.5% ABV.

Wine Lovers Verdelho-Semillon (current vintage 2020 $24)

Conor described this as a “session wine”. Not too serious, yet crisp and refreshing. “Crushable” as the kids say!

Reserve Orange Riesling (current vintage 2019 $33)

Tamburlaine makes 4 Rieslings, all from the same biodynamic vineyard in Orange. Green apple, citrus (grapefruit), and floral notes of white jasmine.

Mark Davidson Riesling (current vintage 2020 $18)

This wine is off-dry showing notes of citrus (lime), plus a floral note of orange blossom. Bracing acid.

Wine Lovers Sweet Phoebe ($24)

A NV late harvest Riesling. Great with Asian/Indian food!

Reserve Noble Riesling (current vintage 2017 $39)

A late harvest Riesling, with a portion of botrytised grapes. I get citrus (lime), plus a honeyed note, and lots of tropical fruits. Though sweet, this wine has great acid to counterbalance.

Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (current vintage 2018 $30)

Fruit comes from their Orange vineyard. 70% of Australia’s Pinot Noir clonal material comes from this vineyard. The wine is quite pretty; beautiful, in fact. Uniquely Aussie.

Barrel Tasting: 2019 Reserve Malbec

This is Conor’s favorite wine at the moment. I got an herbaceous note I don’t generally get from an Argentinian Malbec. Not over-oaked, like some Malbecs from Argentina. The vines in Orange are at about the same altitude as many Malbec vines in Uco Valley, Argentina, approx. 2,700 feet.

Hunter Valley Wine views

Since our visit, Tamburlaine announced that they bought former Cumulus Winery to expand its production capacity. Consequently, this helps cement them as an even bigger player in Australian organic winemaking. They plan to open a cellar door in Orange. However, I do not know the status of that since COVID hit. Tamburlaine is a solar-powered, energy-saving sustainable property, recycling its wastewater and turning solid wastes into vine mulch and compost.

This all sounds like good stuff to me! Certainly, I can attest, the wines were lovely. I highly recommend a visit to Tamburlaine if you ever find yourself in need of some Hunter Valley wine while visiting Australia! In the same vein of Hunter Valley Wine, a visit to Tyrrell’s, is definitely in order. In short, Tyrrell’s is considered the first family of Hunter Valley Wine and makes the best Semillon in the region!

Ground zero for Hunter Valley Wine

“Our wine business has been in the family for over 160 years, which is an amazing thing. We are lucky enough to make wine from vines planted by our great great grandfather in a time when they had no electricity or any of the luxuries we have today. It is an honor to work with these wonderful assets” -Chris Tyrrell

Chris Tyrrell

Established in 1858, Tyrrell’s could be called the First Family of the Hunter Valley. While at the Wine Media Conference in Australia this past October, I got to partake in a lovely excursion to Tyrrell’s where we visited the property and tasted through some pretty special wines. Our tour guide was Chris Tyrrell, 5th generation family member and now the COO.

 

The Tyrrell’s Coat of Arms

In 1963 Tyrrell’s released their iconic Vat 1 Hunter Semillon. This wine is now the most awarded white wine out of Australia. According to Chris, it is known for elegance, power, and strength. Vat 1 came out of the Winemaker’s Selection range when Murray Tyrrell wanted to isolate the best wines of each vintage. He named them after the cask in which they were matured. They are now only bottled in years when they believe the quality is high enough to warrant a separate bottling.

Below are the Vat 1 Semillon wines we had the privilege of tasting while on our excursion to Tyrrell’s. According to Chris, with Semillon, there’s nowhere to hide. Simple and minimal winemaking, which allows the fruit to shine.

*FYI, no oak has been used in these wines at all since the 1980s.

Vat 1 Semillon 2019

A young Hunter Sem showing nicely. On the nose, green fruit, stone fruit, plus a hint of tropical fruit (cantaloupe?) moving into vanilla and delicate white flowers. My tasting notes actually say: delicate white flowers blowing in the wind. But I could have been hallucinating and on a high as I had just seen a kangaroo in the vineyards 🙂

Vat 1 Semillon 2009

This wine is showing the beginnings of age on the nose: petrol and a struck match. These notes are what makes me LOVE aged Hunter Semillon. A beautiful wine with a fruit basket palate and a slight perfumed note.

Vat 1 Semillon 1998

When you taste this wine, you pause. I almost felt like I needed someone to take my hand and walk me through this wine. It is that different and special. Bracing acid that you would expect from a Semillon. Overall, this wine has a full, rounder mouthfeel that other Semillon’s I’ve had.

Working my way through that 1998 Vat 1

“I look forward to continuing to push the barriers of quality in viticulture and winemaking whilst
never forgetting the deeds of the people that got us here.” -Chris Tyrrell

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.

Corona de Aragòn White Garnacha 2017 (12.5% ABV)

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.

 

 

Origium Garnacha Rosé 2016 (12.5% ABV)

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.

 

Photo: riasbaixaswines.com

 

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!

 

Photo: riasbaixaswines.com

 

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.

 

Photo: riasbaixaswines.com

 

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.

 

Photo: riasbaixaswines.com

 

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.

Wines Tasted:

Martín Códax 2016 Albariño (SRP $15.99)

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.

Valmiñor 2016 Albariño (SRP $14)

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.

Bodegas As Laxas 2016 Albariño (SRP $18)

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.

Condes De Albarei 2016 Albariño (SRP $15)

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.

Santiago Ruiz 2016 (69% Albariño, 13% Loureiro; SRP $20)

I get red fruit (wild strawberries) and stone fruit (peach). This wine is a bit more grown up than the previous ones.

Fillaboa 2016 Albariño (SRP $19.99)

Too bad my notes for this one say: my palate is getting a bit kaput at this point. #sorrynotsorry

Terras Gauda 2016 (70% Albariño, 18% Caiño Blanco, 12% Loureiro; SRP $19.99)

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.

Pablo Padín 2015 Albariño (SRP $19.99)

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.

Pazo de Señorans 2016 Albariño (SRP $15)

Bright, crisp, refreshing, with gripping acidity.

Lagar da Condesa 2016 Albariño (SRP $17.99)

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.

 

In March I attended the Tre Bicchieri tasting event in Los Angeles put on by Gambero RossoGambero Rosso is a multimedia brand in the Italian food and wine world that includes: food guides, wine guides, books, a TV channel, a learning academy, and events around the world. The Tre Bicchieri tasting brings together all the highly rated wines that make it into their Vini d'Italia annual guide. The guide is now in its 30th edition. Over 45,000 wines are tasted annually by special committees involving over 70 people. Wines that make the cut in the guide are rated one glass (Bicchieri), two glasses (Due Bicchieri), or three glasses (Tre Bicchieri). The Grand Tasting showcased over 200 wines of all 3 levels detailed above. In tandem with the Grand Tasting, they hosted a Custoza Masterclass. I had never heard of this Italian region, so I was excited to learn about it and try some new Italian wines!

Bianco di Custoza is a while wine DOC in the Veneto region of NE Italy, just south of Lake Garda. The main grapes in the blend are: Trebbiano Toscano and Garganega (the main grape of Soave), and there are a few others. Both the region and the wine are called Custoza.

In this class, we tasted 10 Custoza wines of varying styles. Below are my tasting notes.

Cantina di Castelnuovo Del Garda
Custoza Cavegar 2016

Pale lemon in color with lots of primary notes of citrus, green fruit, stone fruit (white peach), and tropical fruit (pineapple). A very youthful wine that felt like a fruit salad in my mouth.

Gorgo
Custoza San Michelin 2016

This wine is a bit more complex than the first one. Very mouth-watering with a prominent note of salinity. There was some sort of savory note on the palate that I couldn’t put my finger on. This is a great standalone wine….it does not need food.

Menegotti
Custoza Superiore Elianto 2015

A lovely wine of quantity (over 250K cases are produced annually). Stainless steel fermentation and then aging in cement tanks with bâttonage, which I can feel on the palate. There is a fullness and a creaminess that comes from that use of bâttonage.

Monte del Fra
Custoza Superiore Ca del Magro 2015

This is a very aromatic and balanced wine with a slight perception of RS. This wine has fruit and floral notes in addition to pungent spice (ginger). Overall, medium + flavor intensity. A great, sturdy wine.

Gorgo
Custoza Superiore Summa 2015

This wine has depth on the nose and a spicy palate that I love. This wine was fermented in stainless steel with some oak aging.

Cantina di Castelnuovo del Garda
Custoza Superiore Bosco del Gal 2014

A very aromatic wine. Reminded me a bit of a Riesling on the nose. Much riper fruit than the others we’ve tried. Stone fruit and a perfumed elderflower note. Very high acid masks the RS.

Albino Piona
Custoza SP 2013

This wine has the most interesting nose and a creamy, sherbert-like quality on the palate. No idea what that means in formal wine tasting terms, but that’s what I got! There was a saffron note and oiliness on the palate. This felt like the most intellectual wine of the bunch.

Menegotti
Custoza Superiore Elianto 2012

Savory on the nose, including bruised yellow apples. Spicy (especially on the palate) with some funk and a honeyed nose. Slight RS. A wine to enjoy on its own. Bravo!

Albino Piona
Custoza Superiore Campo del Selese 2012

Woah. This wine goes through a serious evolution on the nose. It starts out almost metallic and then moves to a distinct funkiness, almost like peat. Is that possible? A beautiful and interesting palate.

Monte del Fra
Custoza Sup. Ca del Magro 2008

Wow. This wine is hard to compare to the others because of its age. I get notes of ruby red grapefruit and saffron. Great fruit and great acid.

There were a few key takeaways of this MasterClass. For one, Custoza wines age well. Also, the wines had great length in the glass. The wines are exciting and have so much personality and energy.

The tough part is going to be to find them, as much of the production is consumed locally! But keep an eye out for Bianco di Custoza on the label.....sooner or later I hope you find one....you will not be disappointed!

bottle shot by Cori Solomon-watermark

There are many well known Italian wines that we are all familiar with (i.e. Prosecco, Chianti, Barolo, etc), but there are a ton of lesser known Italian wine regions.  Wine is such a fragmented industry with consumers facing shelves upon shelves of choices.  Lugana is not a choice many consumers see on their local shelves, as it is a smaller DOC with most of the wine production consumed within the region.

I had the pleasure of attending two different Lugana DOC wine events in the Los Angeles area this year. In April I was invited to the Valpolicella & Lugana tasting put on by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella and the Lugana DOC Consorzio Tutela. And just last week I attended a Lugana luncheon conducted by Laura Donadoni (Laura Wines) and put together by Cori Solomon (The Written Palette) of LA Wine Writers.

Lugana DOC is located between Lombardia and Veneto on the south shore of Lake Garda. The Lugana region has a Mediterranean climate, but Lake Garda gives maritime influences including cool breezes and relatively mild weather. Lugana DOC was the first all white wine DOC in Italy. Turbiana, which is a clone of Trebbiano specifically grown in Lugana, is the sole white grape used.  All wines are monovarietal. Sometimes the grape is referred to as Trebbiano di Lugana.

Lugana map

The Valpolicella & Lugana tasting took place at the beautiful and recently renovated Park Plaza Hotel. While Valpo and Lugana wines are VERY different, it makes sense to pair the tasting as we are in the same gegraphic region. Also, Lugana wines are all white, while Valpolicella wines are just about all red. Some highlights from this trade tasting include:

Villa Canestrari

This is a family winery with its 4th generation winemaker at the helm. The Museo del Vino onsite showcases old winemaking equipment and tools that have been used since the winery’s opening in 1888.  I thoroughly enjoyed their Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2012 “A”.

Museo del Vino

Shots from the Museo del Vino

 

Loving this Amarone

Loving this Amarone

The award for most interesting wine I tasted at this event goes to Cantina Bulgarini Fausto with their Lugana DOC Superiore 2014 “Ca’ Vaibo”. The grapes for this wine undergo a short drying period before pressing. The final wine is a straw-yellow color (almost gold) and has notes of stone fruit (peach, apricot) along with a strong nuttiness.

Cantina Bulgarini

Cantina Bulgarini

The most recent Lugana event I attended was the Lugana Luncheon put together by Cori Solomon with the LA Wine Writers Group. Laura Donadoni walked us through her portfolio of Lugana wines beautifully paired with the cuisine of Cafe del Rey by Executive Chef, David Vilchez. See details below on each pairing. Each course was better than the next. I could have eaten a plate full of each of them! I’m hungry again just thinking about it…….

Laura Donadoni telling us about Lugana

Laura Donadoni telling us about Lugana

1st Course

Amuse Bouche: Seafood Salad on Toast

Pairing: Cafe del Rey, Lugana Brut, Metodo Classico ($20 retail)

This was an unexpectedly delightful bubbly made in the Metodo Classico (2nd fermentation happens in the bottle). It is crisp with good fruit (citrus and yellow apple) plus white flower notes. What I love is that you also get nice creamy, yeasty, and brioche flavors from bottle fermantation, yet it is still very fresh and clean. This is a nice Champagne alternative at about half the cost of an opening pricepoint Champagne.

2nd Course

Smoked Salmon, Pita, Tzatziki, Mixed Greens, Olive Vinaigrette

Pairing: Montonale, Lugana DOC 2015

This is my White Wine Summer Pick.  Clean, refreshing, and a nice honeyed quality, yet bone dry.  It's also got a nice medium + body and creaminess that comes from battonage (lees stirring for 6 months).

3rd Course

Seared Scallop, Saffron Risotto, Capers, Olive Oil

Pairing: Ca’ Lojera, Lugana Superiore 2014

I love this wine.  It is more honeyed than the basic Lugana DOC and has great structure and acidity. Once the wine got closer to room temperature, it developed a super nutty (almond skin) quality.  The scallop risotto pairing was OUT OF THIS WORLD.

4th Course

Swordfish, Squash Blossom, Passion Fruit Vinaigrette

Pairing: Zenato Lugana Riserva 2014

Zenato is famous for their Amarone wines, but they also have holdings in Lugana.  Great viscosity on this wine, which paired famously with the swordfish. A beautiful orange blossom nose.

Dessert

Bucheron Cheese, Grilled Peach, Honey, Sourdough

Pairing: Perla del Garda, Vendemmia Tardiva

This was a lovely medium dry dessert wine, that would also serve well as an aperitif before dinner.  Personally, I could have a glass of this for dessert on its own!

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