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

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Antidepressant in wine form, Chasse-Spleen 2003

Château Chasse-Spleen 2003

Region: Moulis en Medoc, Left-bank, Bordeaux, France

Grape: Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated blend with Merlot and Petit Verdot

Price: around $55

chateau-chasse-spleen-374997

I need to go back in time a little since this bottle has a bit of a history, both old and recent. A few years ago, when I was still living in Paris, one of my good friends was sad. Actually she was depressed, quite intensely so. It is not easy helping depressed people; at least it isn’t easy for me, as I never know what to say. That’s why I decided not to say anything but do something instead. Now, in French, Chasse-Spleen means “chasing away sadness” or “chasing away melancholia”. According to legend, the name was coined by Lord Byron or Baudelaire, there are competing stories. In any case, I thought a couple bottles of this wine would be a good gift for my friend. If they couldn’t chase the sadness away, at least it would make her smile. So I went ahead, gave her this gift. She did smile, and I did keep a bottle for myself to remember that I can be a good friend sometimes.

Fast forward a few years to last weekend, I still have my bottle of Chasse-Spleen with me, now in Boston. Another friend, a person close to me will leave Boston next week. Saying goodbye sucks, and, as was the case before, I don’t know what to say. So, to send up my friend in style and chase away the sadness of a goodbye, I opened the Chasse-Spleen and shared it with her. It seemed appropriate.

Eye: deep garnet

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity, black fruits, plums, blackberries, hints of freshness (mint)

Palate: Dry, high acidity, full body, smooth tannins, long finish (black cherry)

2003 was a heat wave year in France and wines from this year usually show it. This one is no exception, there are a lot of cooked fruits aromas: blackberry, cherry and plum mostly. The wine still has high acidity and the tannins give it a bit of structure amid all the fruit. There are hints of oak, I got tobacco or mocha and I also found a hint of something refreshing like white mint. The finish is long with lingering aromas of ripe black cherries.

Food pairings: The wine was shared over cheese which was not a bad idea. Traditional Bordeaux pairing with lamb might be a good option too.

Overall opinion: I might be hard press to give a fair assessment of this wine given the emotional baggage coming with it. I was always going to like it, but I still believe it was a solid Bordeaux from a very warm year. Another good lesson for my study of Cabernet.

Three shades of red

I’ve decided, as a studying project over the next couple months, that I would learn more about Californian wines.

I’d like to focus on reds made from the grape varieties used in the Bordeaux region. Contrarily to Burgundies, Bordeaux wines tend to be a blend of various varieties in varying proportions. There are three main varieties used: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. They each have distinct characteristics and producers blend them depending on the result they want to achieve by emphasizing certain traits or dampening other ones. Here are a few key points for each grape (broad strokes).

Cabernet-Sauvignon : the Structure

cab sauv

Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new grape, a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. It is pretty hardy, produces low-yields and ripens late. Common flavors are blackcurrant, blackberry, green bell pepper or even cedar and tobacco. In a blend, Cabernet-Sauvignon contributes high acidity and tannins, a key element to give structure to a wine and give it good aging potential. It also has a strong affinity with oak, which of course doesn’t hurt in terms of aging.

Merlot : the Body

merlot

Merlot is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, and, the most planted grape in France. It tends to produce full-bodied, smooth and velvety wines with black and red fruits aromas : blackberry, plum, cherry, blackcurrant,… It ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and can overripe quicly after that. In a blend, Merlot provides softness and body, mellowing the tannins and acidity of Cabernet-Sauvignon

Cabernet-Franc : the Fruit

cab franc

Cabernet-Franc is used to make varietal wines in the Loire valley, notably near the town of Chinon, but it is also one of the varieties used in the Bordeaux blends. Like Merlot it ripens earlier than Cabernet-Sauvignon (the reason it can grow in a cooler climate like the Loire Valley). Common aromas would be raspberry, blackcurrant and violets. In a blend, Cabernet-Franc contributes fruit flavors and finesse. It doesn’t have the staying power of the other two grapes but it can add some flavor to the mix.

There are other varietals used in Bordeaux, mostly Malbec (color) and Petit Verdot (tannins and colors), but these are the main three. Depending on where you are in Bordeaux, wines will have more of one varietal and less of the others. Some wines are Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated (mainly on the Left Bank), some are Merlot dominated (Pomerol and St-Emilion) and there even are Cabernet-Franc dominated wines (Cheval Blanc, Ausone)

Now that the basics, and to be honest, these are the very, very basics, are explained, it’s time to start drinking!