There are many reasons why I love Spanish wine. I won’t bore you with every single one of them but instead focus on one specific character of the wine production that makes Spain such a dominant force in the industry: diversity.Whilst Spanish wine may be synonymous with grapes like Tempranillo, Albariño, Verdejo and Garnacha there are countless other grapes grown in the country, some of which you might not expect to see either. Riesling. Chenin Blanc. Trousseau. Pinot Noir. Yes, these are all grown in Spain and many of which are produced into pretty epic varietal wines.Given the fact that Spain has the highest volume of land devoted to the cultivation of grapes in the world, the breadth of diversity should hardly be surprising. Add to this a wide array of climatic and geographical differences both on the mainland and on the islands and you have a country with the ability to produce very different and very unique wines.Whilst the staple varietal favourites will always provide the bread and butter in Spanish wine consumption, the increase in quality of non-traditional varietals should give the average wine drinker something to think about. I’ve always been a firm believer that grapes show their truest expression when grown in their indigenous home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find an alternative expression elsewhere.I’ve picked 4 of my favourite International grapes and tried to find a quality Spanish wine made from each. I realise this ‘experiment’ had the potential to blow up in my face but, bear with me, the results may surprise you.A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on AmazonRiesling Alsace. Mosel. Clare Valley. Riesling is an iconic grape grown is some fairly iconic vineyard destinations. Loved by sommeliers and wine geeks around the world and famed for its aromatic complexities, its ability to age for decades and its exceptional ability to express terroir.This has enabled the grape to travel so well and find additional expressions in areas such as New Zealand, Austria, Canada, The Finger Lakes as well as the Catalan Pyrenees in Spain with winery Castell d’Encus.It is here that winemaker Raul Bobet harvests his Riesling grapes at around 1,000 metres in the vineyards hidden within the Pyrenees forests. Farming is completed organically with complete respect to the environment and constant research is carried out by the team into factors such as planting density, cover crop, pruning types, in order to enhance the quality of grapes.The grapes are hand-harvested in small 10kg baskets from the small vineyard plots. The soils are clay limestone and due to the altitude and high diurnal range, the climate is cool, particularly for Catalunya and allows for a slow grape ripening which enhances the complexities. The site is surrounded by mountains and often prone to snow and frost which makes the vines suffer and therefore enhancing the quality of the grapes. This creates a unique micro-climate and a unique expression of Riesling that could most likely not be made in any other location in Spain.Their Riesling is named Ekam and has developed a cult following despite being fairly unknown in the wine world. The vines are young at around 15 years and fermentation is carried out naturally in small 25HL tanks before being bottled and held for 6 months before being released. A pinch of Albarino is added to the wine which adds some aromatics and mineral freshness.The result is a persistent and intense wine with mutli-layers and aromas of lime, grapefruit, white flower and a touch of smokiness that is all overarched with a wonderful acidity and mineral back-bone. It has the potential to age for a very long time.Chenin BlancFamed for its world class quality wines produced in its viticultural home in the Loire Valley, it is also found in small plantings around Catalunya, Aragon and Navarra. Whilst the planting sizes are relatively modest, there are a few producers creating world class Chenin wines with their own Spanish personalities. One of these very producers is the acclaimed Escoda Sanahuja with their bottle of Els Bassots made up primarily from Chenin with small percentages of Sumoll Blanc, Garnacha Blanca and Macabeu. Based in the relatively unknown DO of Conca de Barbera within Catalunya they are committed to producing “natural wines of biodynamic agriculture”. This involves the use of native yeasts for fermentation and with no filtration, clarification, stabilization nor sulphites.At Escoda Sanahuja the grape is the only protagonist. The grapes for this wine are handpicked and undergo a maceration on the skins for around 10 days which gives the wine an amazing amber tinge. Fermentation is carried out in stainless steel using natural yeasts before the wine is aged for at least one year in neutral French oak.The result is a unique and expressive wine with a funky nose and bucket loads of flavour with ripe pear, dried apricot, honey and lychee. The tannins from the skin maceration create body and there’s a slight effervescence to the wine that ends with a long and citrus sweet finish.A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on AmazonTrousseauOriginally from France and most planted nowadays in Portugal as Bastardo and used as part of the blend for Port wine, it is also found in North West Spain under the name of Merenzao.There are various mutations of the grape and enough synonyms to ensure the average wine-buff would have come across the grape in some shape or form.It is a dark skinned grape typically producing deep cherry-red wines with dark berry and forest fruit nuances. The high natural sugars in the grape generally produce wines with high potential alcohol content.We’re sticking with North West Spain, Ribiera Sacra to be exact, and small winery Adega Algueira where their small plot of Merenzao is located on the steep, schist slopes of the River Sil.It is a family run winery in the midst of development, growth and ambition - and I was lucky enough to visit them in 2018. The winery building itself has been expanded from the original structure into a large, modern, clean and organised operation. The wide array of barrels, foudres, amphoras, all different shapes and sizes show commitment to artisanal winemaking. Elaborations are carried out based on what is best for the grape rather than the winery.Their Merenzao wine named Risco is ultra-low production and it’s sensational. Named after the previous owner of this special plot of vines and made from 100% Merenzao, the vines are 80 years old and the wine is whole-cluster fermented, foot-pressed and aged in old oak. The end result is unique and exquisite. Beautiful texture and inky dark colour with flavours of perfumed blackcurrant, fleshy plum, lavender and balsamic. I didn’t bring many wines home from my trip due to luggage restrictions but this one made the cut.Pinot NoirWhat is there to say about Pinot Noir? It's grown all over the world in various styles but firmly rooted as the darling grape of Burgundy. It has the ability to produce bland $5 wines but at the same time those life-affirming bottles from the Cote d’Or where you’d need a 6 figure bank balance, an extremely rich friend or a highly technical robbery plan in order to taste one.You only have to listen to Paul Giamatti in the film Sideways to understand the passion and obsession many feel towards the grape. It’s “thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early…it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world…only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”Quite the high maintenance grape but if there’s one winemaker in Spain who would be up for the challenge it’s Raul Perez.Affectionately known as the Wine Wizard, Raul has been working magic with the indigenous Spanish grape Mencia for decades. Considering the grape is known as the Pinot Noir of Spain, it makes sense that Raul would branch out and experiment with Spanish Pinot Noir.Planted as an experiment by Raul himself, his tiny single-vineyard in the Bierzo region in North West Spain produces the grapes for his wine ‘La Tentacion’, often considered as the finest Pinot in Spain.Whole bunch fermented in open-top 5,000 litre foudres and aged for 12 months in French oak barriques and made entirely by hand.The production is miniscule but the quality can rival many in Burgundy.It is elegant, precise and complex and shows fresh red fruit character with wonderful acidity, a subtle earthiness and a long and opulent finish.A Beginners Guide to Spanish Wine: A simple and casual way to learn decode Spanish wine! "Decoding Spanish Wine" $10 on Amazon
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You read that correctly: Michael Jordan! But not the hall-of-fame NBA legend who was arguably one of the best to ever pick up a ball. This Michael Jordan is a legend in wine and arguably one the best sommeliers to ever pick up a glass. Jordan is a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators and a Master Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers -- one of only 15 people in the world to hold both diplomas! Thus, when he recommends wines, we take notes! Question: Michael, if you were to advise young wine drinkers - who are open to trying new wines - what 3 would you recommend? Answer: For those newer to wine that are eager to try and discover new things I am going to stay with soft, easy drinking AND DELICIOUS, rather than super complex, tannic or dry. Let's stay on the affordable side of things too. The following wines are all just good wines that will make lunch and dinner taste better, or be enjoyed on their own without any food. Rosé: Barrymore Rosé of Pinot Noir - made at Carmel Road in Monterey County. Strawberries and cherries – it’s like liquid love. Definitely foreplay! This is not just her name slapped on “shiners” (meaning, it's not just 'whitelabeled') but Drew actually is making the wine with winemaker Kris Kato, choosing the vineyard blocks, blending and deciding the final wines. Remarkably pretty…soft and delicate. Available for $15. Cenyth, Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Sonoma County has a very different flavor profile, more plummy and cherry with almost a tangerine freshness. Available for $23. BUY Domaine des Carteresses, Tavel is step up in intensity, color (and a trip to South of France) for an excellent Dry Rosé from the Tavel AOC in the Southern Rhône – an AOC that produces only Rosé wines! White Wines: For those that have already discovered how well the “fresh lemon zest” in a light Italian Pinot Grigio refreshes you and goes with antipasto and crispy fried calamari, the new world version is a great discovery. Pieropan, Soave, Veneto, Italy Soft and bright apples and citrus made from Garganega grapes from close to the romantic town of Verona…‘nuff said. Available for $35, BUY Paco & Lola, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain Albariño grapes create a white wine with stone fruit flavors of nectarine, peach and sometimes apricot along with apple and tangerine. Great for anything from the sea with fins or shells. Available for $19. BUY Tangent, Albariño, Edna Valley, California is a California version with those same peach and apple flavors. Delicious! Available for $14, BUY WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon is a fun and delicious wine with plusher texture than the Italians and has not only crisp flavors of citrus and apples, but a layer of Rainier cherry – and I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like that flavor! Available for $20, BUY New logo tee for her! BUY! Red Wines: I am a true devotee of the seductive Pinot Noir grape; it's truly the most sexy grape ever fermented. Grenache/Garnacha and Tempranillo are also delicious grapes when made into plush and fruity wines. WillaKenzie Estate, Gisèle Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon is one of the most pretty and light-styled Pinot Noirs from the west coast. The “Gisèle” is a soft and light bouquet of roses and fresh raspberries – a delight! They also make three or four more Pinot Noirs with varying degrees of intensity and tannin. Available for $28, BUY Beronia, Rioja Gran Reserva, Spain Tempranillo is the primary grape in the blend of the Rioja region, aged and softened in barrel until the vanilla-laden cherry and plum flavors dance together! These wines are quite good values also when you consider the amount of aging required by Spanish law. (A "Gran Reserva" means that the wine was aged at least five years, with a minimum of two years in oak. Gran Reserva wines are typically only made in outstanding vintages/years.) Available for $30, a steal! BUY Radio Boca, Tempranillo, Valencia, Spain is a super affordable and soft version of this grape's plush appeal from the South Eastern region of Spain . They also make a Garnacha that’s more intense but just as smooth, and the winery’s website is quite creative and fun. “GSM” Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blends from Côtes-du-Rhône in the Southern Rhône Valley are very approachable and plush with rich texture and rich red and black fruit while being ultimately soft and smooth. These are great for everyday dishes like pizza and burgers or more extravagant pairings like rack of lamb and pork chops. Also great with vegetarian stews and roasted mushrooms and veggies! Perrin, Réserve, Côtes-du-Rhône, France All the bells and whistles, everything you expect from a classic GSM blend with the addition of Carignan grapes. BUY E. Guigal (available for $15, BUY), Delas (available for $12, BUY), Chapoutier (available for $15, BUY) and Mont-Redon are all good producers of classic and inexpensive Côtes-du-Rhône Well, this list should keep you busy for the at least a few weeks! We thank Michael for his time and for sharing his wisdom with us. Michael is serial restaurateur, beverage consultant, and Director of Global Accounts for Jackson Family Wines. If you have any questions you'd like to ask a Sommelier, just send us an email cheers AT ilikethisgrape.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
We all know and adore Taco Tuesday. It's that day where our local cantina serves up deals on some amazing Mole Poblano or Tinga de Pollo. Even a basic, quality-made tortilla stuffed with meat, cheese and sauce will often do the trick. In any event, we stuff our face accordingly. All of that spicy excellence will definitely need a beverage. Instead of a Mexican cerveza or margarita, how about switching it up with some wine? And not just any vino. You're getting suggestions from someone who has, literally, been voted the best sommelier in America: André Hueston Mack. André Hueston Mack Let's see what Mack has to say on the matter: Taco Tuesday is one of my favorite nights of the week! Growing up in Texas has made me very fond of Mexican food and my go-to wines have always been from the region of Alsace! Their rich, opulent whites tend to have lower alcohol that defuse spicy flavors and marry well with the diversity of spices found in Mexican cuisine. I like 2014 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht 'Zind' which is a blend of Chardonnay and Auxerrois grapes from one of the domaine's top vineyards, Clos Windsbuhl. Aromatic with great acidity and structure, which bodes well with tacos with just a slight kiss of sweetness to foil spiciness.Rioja is a very hot region and tends to make very alcoholic wine that can amplify the spiciness found in food. I'm a big fan of contrast so for something like a casual Taco Tuesday I would opt for an lofty old Rioja maybe from the 80's or 70's where time has allowed the wine to mature. My favorite is 1975 Bodegas Riojanas 'Monte Real' Grand Reserva. Bonus After uncovering some solid taco wines, Mack started waxing poetic about other pairing scenarios as well. Like any superb sommelier, Mack also knows his spirits. So we posed another hypothetical: what would you bring to a friend's birthday when she's really into wine, scotch and cigars? Sounds like my type of woman! It's her birthday so I would go all out - but not on all three items. I would only select one and drill down. My mother always told me that, when shopping for a birthday gift for someone who has similar interest, buy something that would make you jealous.So, hands-down I would opt for Scotch. And not just any Scotch... Enter Silvano Samaroli, founder of Italian bottler and importer of Scotch whisky, Samaroli, which are some of the most sought after whiskeys in the world. Although I'm a huge fan of all of his cask strength whiskys, I would select the 1983 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky for the birthday girl to ensure one of the best birthday experiences ever! André Hueston Mack is an ardent wine educator who has hosted seminars and lead panel discussions at top industry gatherings across the United States, including Aspen Food & Wine Classic and Newport Mansions Food and Wine Festival. Mack was the first African-American to be named Best Young Sommelier in America by Chaine des Rotisseurs. He was a sommelier at Thomas Keller’s renowned French Laundry before helping open Chef Keller’s three-Michelin-starred Per Se as head sommelier. Mack now produces wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley under his own label, Mouton Noir, sold all over the world. Sean Davis via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND
Go to your local bar, grocery store, or liquor shop, and ask for a bottle of cider. More likely than not, you’re gonna be offered something that tastes like apple-flavored beer. These sugary-sweet suds still work when consumed out of Red Solo cups on a college campus, but are hardly worth pairing with your dinner. But there’s hope for fermented apples. Beyond the plonk plastered with humanized apple trees on the bottle, there’s a deeply traditional style of European cider. The old-world approach is catching on amongst beer nerds and hipster sommeliers alike. The geography Nestled in the Cantabrian Mountain Range along the Bay of Biscay is the fiercely autonomous Basque Region. Spanning across the Northeastern quadrant of Spain, and spilling into the French Pyrenees, is El País Vasco. The area is known for its vast heritage, extending back to the late Paleolithic period. Some of the oldest recorded cave paintings have come from this part of Europe. Running parallel to these advances in cognition came the alcoholic revolution. This region of France and Spain is the origin for grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon. Grape geneticists have traced the heritage of some of today’s most well-known varieties to this region burrowed between the French and Spanish border. Traditional cider pouring from a porron pitcher The wines from the Basque region are extraordinary: look no further than the affable white wine called Txakoli from the coastal region of Getaria. But the most unique beverage from this region is the cider made from the apples grown planted along the rolling foothills of the region. The indigenous apple varieties rank in the hundreds, and often producers (called sagardotegis) will blend upwards of 20 different varieties together to make their cider. Making the juice The ancestral method of breaking down sugar means that yeast ferments the apple juice into alcoholic cider. Natural yeast fermentation exists at breweries like Belgian O.G., Cantillon, and naturally-driven wineries like LaPierre in Beaujolais. By not suffocating the juice and letting a slow, more natural fermentation take place, the resulting cider has a vivacity and sense of place. This kind of output is not typically found in sterile, modern facilities. Also, Basque cider traditionally is unfiltered, so all those byproducts of fermentation are kept inside the cider, imparting even more flavor in your mouth. Comparing the aromatics and flavor of a naturally fermented, unfiltered cider to something saturated and completely strained is like comparing Tang to pulpy, fresh-squeezed Orange Juice. Isastegi's apple orchards The other major difference is the lack of carbonation. These ciders are fermented in large wooden casks called kupelas. This low and slow fermentation can take months to fully mature. The small amount of residual CO2 from fermentation is bottled in with the cider, resulting in a faint fizziness, about as much as you’d get in a bottle of kombucha. Reaping the rewards Since fermentation takes months to finish, sagardotegis will typically celebrate the start of cider season with a large party in late January. These producers will open their doors and turn their fermentation rooms into bars, where guests can drink directly from the barrel, a time-honored ritual called Txotx. Txotx Season continues through the winter and spring. All throughout the French and Spanish Basque Country, you can find ciderhouses serving up a traditional Txotx menu of Bacalao (salt cod) and steak. Like any high acid beverage, these ciders can cut through marbled beef or frame the briny qualities of seafood. When picking a Basque Cider, there’s a couple of things to look for. Hold the bottle to the light: if the cider is flecked with floating chunks, you’re on the right track! Is it under a screwcap or cork rather than a traditional crown cap? If all else fails, look for Isastegi, Txopinondo, or Shacksbury’s Basque Collaboration. Basque Cider isn’t for everyone. It’s more tart than sweet, more funky that fruity. But when you’re looking for something complex that can offer an alternative pairing to your dinner, bust out a bottle of Isastegi. Chris Poldoian is a certified sommelier and a member of the Houston Sommelier Association. In his position at Camerata, he brings experience in the Houston market and a vast understanding for the hospitality industry. After spending a harvest in Jerez and Rioja, wine experts and novices can expect small producers in Spain – from the traditional to the avant-garde – to grace Camerata's menu.
You know rosé is hot when movie stars start making it. That’s what’s behind the incredible popularity of Miraval, the Provencal rosé whose price has suddenly gone from “I can afford that” to “wait, what?” Cheapest we can find is $22 per bottle; at most places it’s in the mid to high 20s. (That’s not as expensive as some Provencal rosé, but we predict it soon will be if this inflation continues.) Here’s the background: In 2012, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie paid $60 million for Château Miraval, a 1,200-acre estate in the village of Correns, France. It’s sweet: pine forests, olive groves, terraced hillsides, working vineyards, a private lake and a moat to keep out stalkers. Brangelina tied the knot there in 2014 and call it home. (A little too ostentatious, you say? Hey, Johnny Depp bought a whole French village.) Over the years Château Miraval has served many purposes. It’s been used as a recording studio (Pink Floyd recorded parts of “The Wall” there). In 1992 it became a winery: American winemaker Tom Bove bought it and made it into one of France’s best producers of organic wine. Pitt and Jolie enjoyed the idea of living in a winery. They launched Miraval wines on Valentine’s Day 2013, collaborating with the famous Perrin family (they’re behind Chateau de Beaucastel and they helped found Tablas Creek on California’s Central Coast). The Pitt-Jolie label was catnip to the public. They sold out their first 6,000 bottles of rosé in just five hours. Here’s the problem: traditionally, rosé was dirt cheap. (Next week, Alex, our #SommNextDoor, will explain how it’s made, why it tastes the way it does, and why it’s not supposed to be a big-buck wine.) But Brangelina and their damned celebrity are turning every Frenchman’s inexpensive summer sipper into a pricey pink princess with its nose held as high as its sticker price. That’s just wrong, people. Okay, so Miraval is pretty tasty. But there’s plenty of other great rosé out there that’s in the same quality ballpark at a fraction of the cost. We threw a tasting party last week with a bunch of friends to determine the best of the lot (and there are a LOT – every two-bit winemaker in America has hopped onto the rosé bandwagon in the last few years). Here’s our list of faves with some notes on the best of the best. Prices are lowest available online: France Café du Midi 2015 Grenache Rosé (Vin de France) $10: Watermelon and red cherry nose. Pale-pink color. Ripe red-fruit flavors. Chateau de Campuget (Rhone) $9.99: Pale colored. Very light. Hint of wet stone. Chateau Sainte Eulalie (Minervois) $9.99 Esprit Gassier (Cotes du Provence) $11.99 Juliette La Sangliere (Provence) $9.99 La Manarine (Cotes du Rhone) $10.99 Les Violettes (Cotes du Rhone) $12.99 Triennes (Mediteranee) $13.99: Very similar to Miraval. Its baby sister. Same pale blush color. But it’s not as expensive! Spain Ameztoi Rubentis Rosado Txakolina 2015 (made in Getaria, Basque country near San Sebastian) $19.98: Fruity bouquet, very peachy. Finish is dry. Light bubbles. Interesting! Ostatu 2015 (Rioja) $13.49 Bodegas Viñátigo Listan negro 2015 (Tenerife, Canary Islands) $20 U.S.A. Alta Colina 2015 Rosé Chronic Rosé of Grenache and Syrah $12.99: Woo hoo! Bold! Slightly sweet in the finish. Not French style, but a crowd favorite.