Blackcurrants and tapas : Mas Martinet Menut Priorat

Mas Martinet, Menut Priorat 2010

Region: Priorat, Catalonia, Spain

Grape: Grenache, Merlot, Syrah

Price: $20

Menut Priorat

My Washington DC trip was capped with a dinner at a spectacular tapas restaurant. The food was great and the wine list was, well, extensive to say the least… There were so many references that they had to use a very small font. Anyway, to accommodate a assortment of tapas, I opted for a Priorat wine from Catalonia.

Priorat is one of these trendy up and coming appellations. It’s located in Northeastern Spain, near Barcelona. Priorat is a DOC, the highest level of appellation in Spain, with the only other DOC being Rioja. It should be noted that on Priorat bottles, it won’t read DOC but DOQ. The reason: Catalonia speaks Catalan, not Spanish (just go with it). Priorat vineyards are planted on terraced hills and the soil is a distinctive black slate and quartz composition (known as llicorella). Garnacha (Grenache) is the main variety used in Priorat wines with several other grapes being allowed,  Garnacha Peluda, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah for red varieties and Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo, Pedro Ximénez and Chenin for white varieties.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a trendy region and as a result, the Priorat vineyard is expanding with the total planted area almost doubling in size from 1990 to 2010.

Eye: Medium-plus ruby

Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Blackcurrant and black pepper notes.

Palate: dry, medium-minus acidity, medium body, rounded tannins, long finish

The wine is dominated by the blackcurrant notes detected on the nose. I realize that blackcurrants are not a very American fruit but for a Frenchmen they tend to be reminiscent of childhood. Blackcurrant (cassis) then and some underlying black pepper to spice things up (from the Syrah?). The finish is long with oaky notes of coffee.

Food pairings: We had it with tapas which included: crab, shrimp, cheese, sweet corn, patatas bravas and duck. As I said, it was a spectacular meal and the wine went along with everything.

Overall opinion: Trendy region but reasonable price point. It’s not the most complex wine but it’s easy to enjoy which makes is a winner in my book.

Grade: 7/10

Italian- Spanish night

Last weekend’s wine tasting night took a turn for the epic. Freed from WSET studying, my friend Laurie let loose the dogs of wine and it made for a spectacular lineup! We ended up having an Italian-Spanish them to the evening, which was unexpected but much appreciated.

Falesco, Est! Est!! Est!!! de Montefiascone, 2011 from Latium, Italy (Trebbiano, Malvasia, Roscetto), around $15

Est Est Est

An Italian white to start the evening, crisp and dry with citrus, apple and pear aromas. Est! Est!! Est!! (complete with multiple exclamation points) is the actual official name of the appellation (and the most annoying thing to type ever). It’s nothing to write home about but the name of the DOC is just too good to pass up. Mean people on the Internet have said that the name of the appellation is way more exciting than the wine itself. Well, it’s a very exciting name.

Stefano Farina, Barolo, 2009 from Piedmont, Italy (Nebbiolo), around $40

Stefano Farina

That’s a big jump in category from the Falesco. Roses, red fruits and smoky (charcoal) aromas are present in this pretty typical Barolo. I was keeping it for an occasion, taking the WSET diploma qualified. Nebbiolo is a variety I fell in love with a few months ago, it’s a shame it’s so pricey… A very well made wine, just short of being spectacular. I’ll stay on the hunt for Nebbiolo based wines: Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara,..

Marina Cvetic, S.Martino Rosso, Montepulciano, 2009 from Abruzzo, Italy (Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo), around $25

Cvetic

Another big Italian red, bold and intense with blackberries, red plums, vanilla and chocolate notes. Interestingly enough after the Barolo, it also had a smoky character, but more in a firewood, earthy way than the Barolo which was more on the charcoal, mineral side. I think it was my first Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ever; I can start to see what all the fuss is about. I need more examples to form an opinion, add it to The List.

La Gitana, Manzanilla, NV from Andalucia, Spain (Palomino), around $15

La Gitana

Ah, a vacation reminder. Manzanilla is fortified wine from Southern Spain, it’s actually a kind of fino sherry that is made in the city of Sanlucar de Barrameda, on the coast. It’s a very dry wine with marine aromas (it’s made by the sea) and also distinctive almond, hazelnut and floral notes. As for the floral notes, manzanilla in Spanish means chamomile and the wine was named that way because, well, there are chamomile notes in the wine.

El Chaparal de Vega Sindoa, Old Vines Granacha, 2011 from Navarra, Spain (Grenache), around $15

El Chaparal

We finished with another Spanish wine, from Northern Spain this time. Fruity and spicy, a playful little wine. The color completely threw me off as I tend to expect a fairly light color from Grenache and this wine looked quite dark. I guess Navarra joins Rioja as the Spanish representatives on The List. Given the fact that their country is out of the World Cup already, they need all the help they can get.

So, as you can see, this made for a very enjoyable evening. A fringe benefit of moving to the US was the increased availability of non-French wines, including, ironically enough, European wines. It would be hard to find that many quality Italian or Spanish wines in Paris (not to say anything of New World wines). Now, when is that next wine dinner?

Southern France, 1 (big) region, 6 wines

I went to a tasting last Friday that offered various wine from Gerard Bertrand, one of the main producers in Southern France. He’s a bit of a media darling, having graced the cover of Wine Enthusiast under the headline “Southern France’s Leading Man” complete with a picture of him with flowing locks and boyish good looks.

Anyway, he produces a lot of different wines, from a vast collection of vineyards and regions spread around the central part of Southern France, around the cities of Narbonne, Montpellier and Perpignan and his production is structured in ranges, including an organic wine range called Naturalys.

At the tasting I went to we had access to wines in the Terroir (focused on a region), Grand Terroir (focused on smaller, more defined appellations) and Reserve Speciale (variety-based) ranges. Here are my quick impressions

Cremant de Limoux : $12

cremant de limoux

Started off with the sparkling. Cremant is a generic word for French sparkling wines. Usually made with the same techniques than champagne, cremants can be found in various regions: Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant du Jura). This one is made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, it was nice and refreshing, an easy alternative to champagne.

Terroir Picpoul de Pinet : $12

gb picpoul

Made entiterly from the Picpoul variety. I never tried this grape and I ended up finding the wine a little flabby, lacking some acidity to give it structure. Nice pear notes but it remains my least favorite wine of the tasting

Reserve Speciale Viognier : $15

viognier

One of my favorite grapes, very aromatic, lots of white peach, apricot and white flowers, great value for money if you like Viognier.

Reserve Speciale Pinot Noir : $12

GB pinot noir

I always have my doubts about warm climate Pinots, they tend to be overly jammy for my taste, not this one. Apparently the grapes are grown on the highest part of the vineyards where the temperatures are a bit cooler which preserve enough acidity for the wine to function. You still get ripe fruit but not overwhelmingly so, very enjoyable, a twist on regular Pinot Noir that will not make my Burgundian ancestors roll in their graves.

Grand Terroir Pic Saint-Loup : $17

gb pic st loup

I actually wrote a full review of this wine a few months ago. I stand by it, it’s easy to drink and I would still call it a slut of a wine, but I use the term affectionately. It’s a classic GSM wine (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)

Grand Terroir Tautavel : $13

tautavel

This one comes from the appellation Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel. Another solid red wine. Blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. Lots of ripe red fruits with a little bit of spice. Nice body and tannins.

All the wines have decent value for money, except for the Picpoul which I didn’t care for. It seems that Gerard Bertand is focusing quite a bit on the US market so most of these would be available stateside. Gerard Betrand has a lot of different wines, what is listed there is but a small sample. Sound off in the comments if you had some of his other products.

Wine Music : Grenache

After a lengthy Twitter and email discussion with Zelda of Illustrated Wine, I decided to change the angle of my Wine Music posts a little bit. She argued that it would be more interesting to illustrate wines with more obscure or local music. Given the fact that I have an endless supply of French music to share, and that my previous offering of Burgundian songs was well received, I thought it would be worth a try.

It also helped that I had the perfect music/wine combo in mind for that new approach. Grenache is a grape from Spain which is most famous for the wines produced in France in the Southern Rhone Valley. It’s a lighter, fun, fruity grape that works well in blends and is fairly easy drinking by itself.

Given those characteristics, I think I would use a song by French band Les Negresses Vertes called Sous le Soleil de Bodega. Like Grenache, it’s light and fun, and also, it displays some Spanish sounds which calls back to the Spanish heritage of the grape. Finally, the song was made to illustrate wine as it contains a few invocations to Dionysos (Dionysus), the Greek god of wine, wine making and general drunkenness: “Toi Dionysos, bénis ma chair, bénis mes os” or, you Dionysus, bless my flesh, bless my bones.

Last reason I wanted to post this song, summer is finally coming to Massachusetts and not a moment too soon. This song always makes me think of summer, of heat, sun and lazy afternoons spent drinking wine on the terrace with my dad, this song is actually a favorite of his. Now I get that I’m the only one with an emotional connection to the song, but do you agree with the pairing?

The Dark (Gre)Knight : Rocland Estate Grenache

Rocland Estate Grenache, 2008

Region: Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia

Grape: Grenache

Price: around $15-$20

I’m dating a girl who is nice enough to eat my cooking on a regular basis which allows me to try more recipes than I normally would, I’m not a fan of cooking for myself. Case in point last weekend, I made some pork piccatas, a very easy way to cook pork, veal or chicken just with some garlic, lemon juice and white wine. I kinda decided on the recipe at the last minute so I had to make do with whatever wine I had available. It had been a long time since I had some Grenache so the decision was somewhat easy.

Grenache is an international grape originating from Spain and that I mostly know from its Southern France examples. It’s a red grape, very light in color (often used for rose wine) with pepper and red fruits aromas. It’s often used in blends with Syrah and Mouvedre because Grenache by itself lacks color, acidity and tannins. This particular wine comes from Australia, the Barossa Valley is probably the top wine region in South Australia (and maybe of all Australia) and is especially known for its Shiraz wines. So basically, what I’m saying is that I had no idea what to expect.

Rocland Estate

Eye: Clear, Deep garnet, very dark for a Grenache

Nose: Clean, medium plus intensity, very earthy nose with thyme notes. Red fruits, strawberries and some leather notes.

Palate: dry, medium-minus body, medium minus acidity, round and low intensity tannins. Medium plus finish (red plum). Aromas of pepper, herbs (thyme), red fruits (strawberry and raspberry).

Food pairings: I made pork piccatas with simple cherry tomatoes pasta. The wine won’t be able to cut the fatness of heavy creamy dishes but it will work well with most meats.

Overall opinion: I had a hard time re-conciliating what I knew about Grenache and what was in my glass. The color was, well unexpected, so dark, maybe from wood ageing? Tannins and acidity were on the lower side, as expected from the varietal and there was an interesting range of aromas from fruity to earthy. To me it feels like an outlier but I don’t have an extensive knowledge of Aussie wines. I definitely enjoyed it though. Maybe it’s not the Grenache Australia deserves but it’s the one it needs right now?

Holy wine glass Batman!

Holy wine glass Batman!

A very Rhone interview

I met Eileen Fabunan at Wine Riot Boston last month. Eileen is responsible for the promotion of Rhone Valley wines on the US market and thus she had a booth at the event, offering samples of the many wines the Rhone Valley can offer. She kindly accepted to answer a few questions for my blog.

Vineyard in the French wine region of the sout...

What is your background? How did you end up working for Rhone Valley Wines?

I have a Bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a degree in international wine & spirits trade from the Grande Ecole de Commerce de Dijon in Burgundy. I took viticulture, oenology and sensory analysis classes at the Jules Guyot Insitute of Oenology and I have passed the Advanced program of the WSET. I also followed a program on Comparative Wine Law between the US and the EU at the University of Reims. I then worked for a winery in the Northern Rhone Valley and I joined Euroconsultants in 2009 to manage on-off trade and festival promotions programs for the Rhone Valley wines in the US.

 

Can you explain exactly what is Rhone Valley Wines?

Inter Rhône is the inter-professional body for all Rhône Valley AOC (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée) wines with the exception of Châteauneuf du Pape. Created on 28 November 1955, Inter Rhône represents over 1,800 entities like private wineries, cooperative wineries and négociants. Its role is to promote the wine appellations of the Rhone Valley region and support sales in France and abroad.

The producers you represent are spread out over a large area with very distinct wines, isn’t that a challenge when trying to promote such wines?

As you say, the Rhone Valley wine region follows the Rhone River for 150 miles. It’s the second largest quality wine producing region in France in terms of both surface area and production. Globally we represent appellations from Cote Rotie in the North to Costieres de Nimes in the South, but in the US we mainly focus on helping the producers that already export to the States. Mostly those producers are from the Southern part of the Rhone Valley, below the town of Valence so we tend to focus on these particular wines in the off trade for example, especially because they are well suited to the American market. Besides, even though there is a wine range of appellations, the vast majority of these wines are a blend of Grenache and Syrah, with some Mourvedre and other additional varieties in smaller proportion, so there is a certain unity in that regard.

Rhone Map

Let’s talk about the American market then, how are your wines doing in this market?

Traditionally the well-known wine regions for France were Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy but the market has changed quite a bit in the past few years. Now there is a new generation of wine drinkers that takes full opportunity of online resources to discover, learn about and buy wine. Information is widely available and that democratized the wine market, you do not have to be an expert to enjoy wine.  I think there is a new crowd of young professionals that is getting into wine in the US and that wine from the Rhone Valley appeals to them, mostly because we have great value for money with a lot of bottles in the $10 to $15 range that are both affordable and easy to drink.

What about food pairings? What would be a good match for Southern Rhone wines?

Generally speaking Southern Rhone wines have Grenache as their main grape variety. This usually means ripe fruit aromas with hints of spiciness and, since Grenache is a thin skinned variety, a medium body and lower tannins that make such wines very approachable and easy to drink. You can pair them with a variety of dishes, especially with simple fare such as pizza, pasta and barbecue, simple wines for simple food. We have a formula that goes “easy on the palate, easy on the wallet” It may sound cheesy but I still think it’s pretty true.

Finally, if you had to sum up Rhone Valley wines in a few words, what would these words be?

Ripe red fruits, spicy and peppery notes, generous, easy to enjoy, & ”Always Right.” There is no such thing as a wrong occasion to open a bottle of Rhone Valley wine.

I’d like to thank Eileen once more for taking the time to answer these few questions. I’ll try to post some tasting notes and posts about this region whose wine I personally enjoy. As winter is coming to Boston Rhone wines can provide a little bit of welcome warmth!

Tasting Notes : Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic St-Loup 2010

Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic St-Loup 2010

Region: Pic St-Loup, Languedoc, France

Grape: blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache

Price: around $20

PSL

I had my friend who works in the wine industry over for dinner the other night and, since I didn’t have any dessert ready, we decided to have wine as dessert instead. My stock of red wines was limited and I chose the Pic St-Loup because I thought it would be a good conversation wine. Pic St-Loup is a specific sub-region of the vast Languedoc region in Southern France. Languedoc is traditionally known for producing a lot of simple, cheap, easy to drink wines even if recently the overall quality has been rising and smaller sub regions like Pic St-Loup have been established. The region produces mostly red wine and the varieties are centered on the GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) trilogy.

Eye: very deep ruby

Nose: Clean, intense. Well, hello jammy fruit! Plums, prunes and blackberry, I also detected a hint of thyme, very Southern France flavors

Palate: medium acidity, medium body, low tannins, short finish

I’m going to start by saying a very snobby thing, but I promise, if you bear with me, I will explain and it won’t sound as bad once I’m done. Deal? Ok here it goes. This producer exports a significant part of his production to the US, and you can tell he caters to a perception of what Americans expect from a wine. This Pic St-Loup is a very easy to drink, very enjoyable and ultimately very forgettable wine. It has very little tannins, very little structure and almost no staying power at all. From the first sip on, it’s pure fruit, very well rounded, very simple and, I think, very efficient. Languedoc wines can be a little harsh with high alcohol but this wine is very well rounded and goes down easily. A third of the wine is aged 9 months in oaked while the rest is kept in vats and the two parts are then mixed together to produce a smooth, fruity result. By design, this wine is easy to drink.

Food pairings: As I said, this wine was my dessert. I think it would work well with dishes that include herbes de Provence. Lamb chops grilled with thyme come to mind for some reason.

Overall opinion: My friend called it a slut of a wine. It gives you everything right away without making you work for it. Instant gratification that ultimately leaves you not totally satisfied. This Pic St-Loup is enjoyable, but it is not interesting.

 I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, sometimes easy to drink and accessible is what you’re looking for. Ultimately that’s what it comes down to: what are you looking for? If you want a wine that will change your life, challenge you and make you see God, then this is not your wine. If you want to sit back, relax and just have a glass of wine then, by all means, have some of this Pic St-Loup.