Archive for the ‘Review spanish wine’ Category

Three Cheers for Four Vines

The guys at Four Vines are not like everyone else — intentionally. When their winery was a start-up, back eight or so years ago, they departed from the herd of heavy, oaked-up whites to make one of California’s first un-oaked Chardonnays. Their Zinfandels, which were their signature wines back then, were regionally specific and showcased regional flavors, instead of being all jammy-pruney-blocky like a lot of California Zin.

I was pleased recently to revisit Four Vines through an online tasting of current vintages. Here’s what I thought.


The 2011 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay is all about pineapple. The nose is tropical and bright, and the first sip zings across the palate with luscious tropical fruit balanced by crisp natural acidity. This stuff never comes near a barrel, so there’s no heavy wood or vanilla flavors.

But wait! There is a nice tapioca creaminess that comes through near the end and rounds out the mouthfeel. I did a little research and yes, the wine did make a passing acquaintance with malolactic fermentation (you know, that secondary fermentation that transforms green-apple-y acids to milky-creamy acids). That little bit of ML apparently toned down that intense acid created by the super-cool weather during the summer of 2011.

I liked this wine, and my husband, who likes those over-the-top New Zealand whites, liked it too. I’d call this a crowd-pleasing, well-balanced, fun summer white.

The 2010 Four Vines Truant Zinfandel seems to be trying really hard to be a bad boy, but I’d have to say:


Truant Zin is not jammy, not prune-y, not block-y, and not hard to drink. In fact, it was really easy to drink a bunch of it with my Seared Ahi Tuna. Who would have thought?

Truant Zin is also not 100% Zin. Actually, it barely beats the 75% needed to be labelled Zinfandel, and includes a healthy dose of Syrah and a splash of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Sangiovese. Really? Who thought of that blend? But it works beautifully.

I really like the dominant blueberry and blackberry flavors that are forward, but balanced by good natural acidity (is that the Italian varietals strutting their stuff?). This red is relatively light on its feet, with a hint of spice to make it just a little bit edgy, and is a great food wine. In fact it may need to make an encore appearance next time I make red sauce (that’s spaghetti sauce to you non-Italians).

Paniza, Spain


A surprising addition to our wine tasting was a Spanish red called Alto-Cinco 2011, which is a collaboration between Purple Wine Company (which owns Four Vines), and Bodega Paniza in Spain. There is so much history and romance to this winery that I don’t know where to start, except to admit my prejudice right up front: I love Spanish reds. I think Spain stands shoulder to shoulder with any wine region on earth when it comes to producing high-quality, value-priced wines. So don’t expect a totally unbiased review…

Now back to ancient, cobble-stoned streets and visions of kings, queens and warriors… The village of Paniza is located in the province of Aragon, which since the 17th century has been a leader in the production of Garnacha (that’s “Grenache” in the rest of the wine world).

Alto-Cinco (“High-Five” to English speakers) is a blend of Garnacha from high-elevation, old-vine vineyards, with a splash of Tempranillo (Spain’s other world-famous grape). French and American oak barrel aging rounds out the mouthfeel. California winemaker Alex Cose worked with the winemaking team at Bodegas Paniza to create this red that I’d call an “Old World food-friendly but New World fruit-forward” wine. I loved the juicy dark berry flavors framed  by that lovely European acidity and supple tannins.
All three of these wines are priced to be good everyday drinkers (under $12 for the Four Vines, $13 or so for the Alto-Cinco), and I’d be happy to add them to my table. Cheers!


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Figaro Tinto 2009 Calatyud: Fine Wine, Finer Price Tag

operaAll I wanted was a cheap and cheerful little wine to perk up my Marinara and Meatballs, and what I got instead was a ton of history. There’s so much packed into this deceptively simple bottle that I don’t know where to start.

First, we have “Figaro:” when I say the name I conjure up visions of a big, bearded baritone belting out, “Figaro, Figaro, Fiiiiigaro”….

Then there’s “Aragon”, or “Zaragoza,” the Spanish province that contains the Calatayud wine region. I see images of medieval knights and ladies, and it turns out there were more than enough epic battles here. Romans, Moors, and half of Europe tried to invade it, and during a particularly memorable (and bloody) siege in the 1800′s, almost every man, woman and child in Zaragoza died rather than surrender to the invading French. Wow — these are some fierce folks…medieval

Then there’s the winery that created this wine, Bodega Niño Jesús. Really? Doesn’t that translate to “Winery Baby Jesus?” I just don’t know what to think about that…

Here’s what I know about my little bottle of history:

  • Figaro Tinto 2009 comes from the wine region or D.O. called Catalayud, which sits on the River Ebro in the northeastern quadrant of Spain.
  • The Continental climate borders on extreme: the summers are hot and dry and the winters are cold. In a single day, temperatures can swing 30 or 40 degrees (F).
  • The vineyards where these grapes are grown sit on south-facing slopes above the river (to catch all the available sunlight, right?). And they’re at elevations of up to 2,500 feet, which gives the fruit more intense flavors and good natural acidity.
  • Finally, the soil is loose, gravelly and really lousy for growing anything else, which makes it just perfect for wine grapes!

Catalayud shares these characteristics with just about every significant wine-producing region in the world. Here’s what makes Bodega Niño Jesús different: it’s a cooperative of about 150 growers tending vineyards with an average age of 30 years. These aren’t really old vines, but they’ve at least grown a beard by now, and contribute more complex flavors to the fruit. The grapes in Figaro are 100% Garnacha (Grenache), which in warm climfigaroates has a fruity, sometimes fleshy style. And significantly, this bottling is from the 2009 vintage, which in Europe was one of the best in memory.

Finally, I’m getting to the wine: Figaro Tinto is simply a killer bottle of wine, and tastes much better than its humble price. I paid $8 for it at Total Wine & More, and I was hoping for something with just enough fruit and acid to balance my Marinara sauce (homemade, thank you). What I got was bright, tangy red and black cherry fruit with a hint of spice and a well-balanced finish. When it hit the tomato-based sauce, both wine and Marinara got up and danced: the fruit became softer and more intense and the sauce turned sweet and savory.

I was in wine-and-food heaven, and all it took was a 10-spot. I will cheerfully buy this wine again, and I’d suggest you take it for a test drive, too, especially if you have pizza, red pasta or any Mediterranean specialty on your menu. And be sure to let me know what you think… Cheers!




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Borsao Berola 2008: Tradition and Innovation

BORSAORomans? Visigoths? Holy cow!

I was researching Bodegas Borsao, a Spanish winery, and discovered that the town they’re named for dates back to the 4th century BC. That’s Before Christ! It’s not the kind of time-span I’m used to, since I deal mostly in New World wines where “ancient history” is 100 years ago.

In Spain, like the rest of the Old World, the tradition of wine drinking and wine making goes back a long way. In Campo de Borja, all kinds of visitors (or invaders), including Romans and Visigoths, have put their stamp on the place. Their tradition of winemaking and wine drinking lives on, and in this part of Spain the Garnacha grape (Grenache to us Anglos) is king.

The wine I tasted recently, Bodegas Borsao Berola 2008, is 80% Garnacha and 20% Syrah that comes from 35 to 60-year-old vines. OK, that’s pretty old for a grape vine… And old vines bring deep, complex flavors.

The Berola poured out deep garnet colored and opaque, suggesting good extraction. The nose offered rich black fruit and a hint of spice and smoke. The palate was quite rich and intense, with plum, coffee, and a hint of earthiness. There was a nice roundness to the mouthfeel, although Berola showed enough acid on the finish to verify its Old World heritage.

I’ve liked everything I’ve tried from Bodegas Borsao. Their entry-level wines, such as Borsao Tinto, are a great bargain, and the Berola, at around $18, is a lot of wine for the money. These wines are handled by negociant Jorge Ordonez, who seems to have a genius for bringing great wines to the international marketplace. Try any of them that you can find, and enjoy a bit of history with your wine. Cheers!


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Hot and Cold: Destinos Cruzados White Wine

whiteEver heard of Macabeo?

I hadn’t. I didn’t know if it was a grape or a town in Portugal. Turns out it’s a grape, all right, and one I’ve enjoyed many times — I just didn’t know I was drinking it.

Macabeo is one of three grape varieties blended to produce Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine. Just to confuse you even more, the grape is also called Viura in the Rioja region. The other two Cava varieties (just in case you want some obscure facts for your next trivia contest) are Parellada and Xarel-lo (no, I don’t know how to pronounce that).

I’m very fond of Cava. It’s a clean, crisp Brut style sparkling wine, and it’s a HUGE bargain compared to French and even most American sparklers. I always recommend a brand called Cristalino, and at only $10 a bottle, it’ll really stretch your wine budget. Cava makes a great aperitif wine: try serving it at your next dinner party with an appetizer of Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche or Boursin on a crostini. I guarantee it’ll be killer.

So back to my misterioso Macabeo. You may know that grapes used for sparkling wine production are usually high in acid, and often pretty tart on their own. But that’s what I wanted, because:

It’s mid-August, the Dog Days of Summer, and it’s 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity!

Who wants soft and fruity wine? We all craved something crisp, tart, thirst-quenching and icy cold. So I ordered this wine, untried and untested, for an in-store tasting. Destinos Cruzados 2010 was a big hit. It was just what the doctor ordered…

The color is a pale lemon yellow, suggesting the light body I expected. Sure enough — it was light and clean on the palate, with tangy citrus and green apple notes. There’s no sweetness at all, and the acid isn’t over the top (I don’t like to have my mouth turned inside out like some too-acidic whites can do). The finish is crisp, pure, and yes, thirst-quenching. This wine is simple, and sometimes simple is what works.

Destinos wines are made in the La Mancha region in southeast Spain, which I’ve written about it before in my review of Finca Sandoval Salia. The Destino line (there’s a red blend made from Tempranillo and Syrah) are priced to fly off the shelf. For under $10, I’d buy enough to fill up my picnic basket. Cheers!




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Can Blau — Can You Blau Too?

montsantSorry for the silly title — I couldn’t resist playing with this (kinda odd) name.

To get down to the serious stuff, Mas de Can Blau is all about new, but it acts like it’s been around forever.

I’m talking about a wine called Celler Can Blau Mas de Can Blau, which looks like a typo but drinks like a dream. And what’s new about all this is that not only is the winery (Celler Can Blau) relatively new, but so is the D.O., or (in English) appellation, from which it comes.

Let’s start again, and clarify all these confusing words. Celler Can Blau is a winery that began in 2003 as a partnership between Spain’s Gil Vera family and Victor Rodriguez. None of these folks were new to Spanish wine, but they set out to develop a relatively new wine region. Their winery is in the Montsant D.O., and I have to admit that I’d never heard of it.blau

Turns out that the Montsant appellation was created in 2001, and includes a horseshoe-shaped patch of land that surrounds the more famous Priorat region on three sides. Montsant is unique in its soils if not its climate. The weather is fairly typical for a Spanish wine region: the summer days are hot and dry, but mountains nearby bring very cool nights (remember that Diurnal Temperature Shift I’ve talked about before? Wine grapes thrive when there’s a big difference, like 25 – 30 degrees C, between the daytime and nighttime temperatures. This builds structure to help create a balanced, bold wine).

Montsant’s soils are more unique: they include three very different soil types, each suited for a particular grape variety. And guess what? Can Blau creates it’s wine from those three different grapes.: Carinena (Carignan to some), Syrah and Garnacha (Grenache).  Now that makes perfect sense.

The wine I tasted was Celler Can Blau Mas de Can Blau 2005 (thanks to our friend Gary Johns for sharing it with us). This is their premium blend, and it’s gotten plenty of big ratings to prove it. And according to one report, it has an interesting parentage: the winemakers are Australian Liz Reed and Spaniard Richard Rofes. Interesting… Read the rest of this entry »

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B Crux 2007

fournierThis had to be a no-brainer.

When I saw O. Fournier B Crux 2007, and heard it was a red blend made in Argentina by a family from Spain,  I thought I might be in wine heaven. Spanish and Argentine reds top my wine hit parade, and here they were wrapped up in one package!

Here’s why I love Argentine wines. The Mendoza region of Argentina, which hugs the lower slopes of the towering Andes mountains, has possibly the world’s best micro-climate for big, red wines. The folks at O. Fournuer explain it this way:

The La Consulta region (where the winery is located) is located in the well-known Uco Valley, approximately 1,200 metres (3,950 ft.) above sea level. At this altitude, there is a significant fluctuation between daytime and night-time temperatures of up to 20º-25ºC. This variance particularly favours the production of wines with an excellent colour and suitable for long ageing in oak barrels.

The region´s stony and sandy soils offer excellent drainage during the summer season. The lack of organic material, limited rainfall and prevailing winds are also conductive to high quality, healthy grapes. Furthermore, the water that irrigates the estates comes pure and clean from the snow thawing on the Andes.

Intense sunlight, cold nights, long hang-time, crummy soil, limited rainfall. All these things combine to produce intensely flavored but  well-balanced grapes.

And what about the Spanish part of the wine equation? I love their reds too, both the traditional Tempranillos from Rioja or Ribera del Duero and the more New World style Garnacha and Monastrell from regions such as Jumilla, Priorat or Campo de Borja. If a Spanish winemaker were given the opportunity to work with Argentina’s natural resources — watch out… Read the rest of this entry »

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Another Spanish Bargain: Yonna 2003

borjaVintage close-outs are a tricky thing. They can be an amazing bargain, or a waste of time and money (my time, and my customers’ money).

So I flinched when I heard, “Down from $25.99 to the amazing low price of $12.99!! But wait! There’s more!!” Well, he didn’t say it quite like that, but I always think of late-night infomercial hucksters when I hear about deals that seem too good to be true.

So was this deal a bargain, or a bust?

The wine I’m talking about is Bodegas San Juan Bautista Yonna 2003. It’s from Spain, known for long-lived reds from the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions. But this wine is from Campo de Borja, a relatively new wine producing area in Aragon province in northern Spain. I say “relatively new” because grapes have been grown there since Roman warriors marched across the Iberian Peninsula, scattering grape seeds and offspring along the way.

Up in Zaragoza (the much-more-romantic Spanish name for the region), the winters are cold and the summers are warm and dry. There’s a large Diurnal Temperature Shift, and if you’ve been reading my blog you know that’s techie talk for “Large Difference Between Daytime and Nighttime Temperatures.” This is a good thing because it helps create structure in the grapes, and contributes to the intensity of the flavors. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Tale of Four Juan Gil’s

jumillaSometimes catastrophes are a good thing. Really.

Now before you start saying I’m callous and heartless, let me explain the circumstances. Just over 20 years ago, the region of Jumilla in southeastern Spain was hit (finally) by the phyloxxera epidemic that had long since decimated the world’s vineyards. In case you haven’t met phyloxxera, this little louse ran rampant through Europe a century ago and wrecked havoc on the economies of Europe’s wine-producing countries. Vineyards were replanted, but at great cost to wine producers.

So when Jumilla grape growers saw their vineyards curl up and die, they took a bold approach. They not only replanted, but chose different varieties for their vineyards that promised to produce better quality wine. They also invested in modern technology, so they could produce wines that would compete on the world stage.

And compete they did. Wineries such as Bodegas Juan Gil now earn high ratings, and have been aided and abetted in their penetration worldwide by my favorite negociant, Jorge Ordonez. But more about him later. Let’s look again at Jumilla.

Tucked away in southeastern Spain, Jumilla has a warm continental climate that’s prone to drought. But wine grapes like a warm, arid climate.

The vineyards are situated on a plateau 2000 feet or more above sea level, and grapes like the slightly cooler temperatures combined with plenty of radiant heat. It helps create intense flavors in the grapes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Another Great Value from Spain

monteI know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: no other country beats Spain for great tasting, great value wines.

The wine that’s got me going again is from Bodegas Borsao, a winery that specializes in the Garnacha grape (“Grenache” to the rest of the wine world). They make many spectacular wines such as Borsao (the baby brother — read my review here), and Tres Picos (the muscular uncle). All of Bodega Borsao’s wines are the darlings of wine critics: they share a boatload of “Best Buy” and 90+ ratings from all the Critics Wine Drinkers Really Listen To.

Monte Oton 2009 is made from grapes grown high on the slopes of an extinct volcano in Spain’s Borja region, where a lot of sunshine and a very little rainfall produce grapes with intense, focused flavors. You get the concentration right away with this wine, and much more complexity than you’d expect at this price point.

The nose offers rich berry fruit, with cherry snuggling up to plum and a little spice creeping in on the backside. The palate is full-bodied but mellow, with more ripe cherry and blackberry fruit. Just when you think it’s simple and tooty-fruity, a zingy, wild, peppery note kicks in on the

Monte Oton was a lot of fun to drink, even though I happened to be eating Thai Coconut Chicken with it. Who would think a peppery red would be palatable with creamy hot/sweet coconut curry? I didn’t, but it really worked. In fact, the experience really opened up my thinking on wine and food pairings.

Did I mention that you can pick up a bottle of Monte Oton for around $10. That’s what I mean about Spanish Value. If you want to find more, look for anything from Spain with the imprint of “Jorge Ordonez Selections” on the back label. This importer has put together an absolutely amazing portfolio of wines, from $8 to $100 or more, and I haven’t found a stinker yet. I’m beginning to look at his imprint like a Seal of Approval…


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Look Abroad for CHEAP but GOOD Wine

globeI just read a post by Tim Fish, a contributor to He talked about the effect our expectations have on our experiences. He tells a really cute story about childhood memories that’ll make many of us think back to the wood-paneled station wagon and 8mm movie camera’s of our youth.

In wine terms, he said we expect much more from an expensive bottle than an inexpensive one, and are much more disappointed when “name” bottles and legendary vintages don’t live up to their press.

I couldn’t agree more. We live in a culture where the price tag is equated with the value, and a big-ticket car or watch or wine bestows tremendous cachet on its owner — sometimes more cachet than they deserve.

Fish says it’s a pleasure to find things that over-deliver: where the value far exceeds the price. Again, ditto. He mentions several California wines that are a great deal for the money.fuego

So here’s where I disagree: I’ve become more and more disappointed with the value of California wines. The cheap ones — i.e. under $10 — have flaws that put me right off. The whites usually have an edge of sweetness where there shouldn’t be one: I don’t want sugar in my Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay! (Watch this video to see me rant about this.) I assume they put sugar in wine to cover up the wine’s flaws, and to pander to Americans’ penchant for sweet foods (Sugar Frosted Flakes anyone?) Read the rest of this entry »

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