Wine Review: Winter Warmers, Part 2

27 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Red or white? Before wine became a serious subject of study for me, I gravitated towards whites, and not premium quality ones either, a preference that was likely the product of early learning (e.g., that box of German plonk that was a nigh-permanent fixture on the kitchen counter) coupled with an irrational phobia of such mythological creatures as “tannin-induced hangovers”. As it turns out, there is a general trend in humans towards a greater appreciation for bitter flavors and pucker-inducing sensations that comes with age and experience. Years later, I adore red wine while continuing to appreciate characterful whites. At this point the distinction between red versus white is but a minor factor in my choice of which wine to consume at a given point in time, one that can sometimes influence me at the very early stages of decision-making (“is it a red or a white night?”), but that ultimately carries less weight than varietal, region, style, or what’s for dinner. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada webpage indicates that at the national level, Canadians prefer red wine to white, with the exception of British Columbia, where whites are more popular. Heedless of the overall trend, many (myself included) continue to associate winter with hearty reds. Without further ado, let’s launch into part 2 of our robust red reviews, following Dan’s introduction from late last week.

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2011 Montecillo Rioja Reserva ($18)

Spain has more area under vines than any other country and is the third largest producer of wine in the world. Spanish wine on the whole was considered rather rustic and ragged until a major shift towards improved quality occurred in the mid-20th century, before which time it was not unheard of to dilute the wine with lemonade to increase palatability (!). Rioja remains the best-known area for red wine production in Spain, although recently a few upstart regions have made inroads. Tempranillo is Spain’s top indigenous variety, with plantings doubling across the country over the past decade, and is the dominant grape in almost all Rioja reds. I found a great quote from a top Rioja producer in Benjamin Lewin’s book “Wine: Myths and Reality”: “Everywhere in the world, people want to make wine like Burgundy. But it is not in our history, we have  always blended”. Historically, Rioja’s very warm vineyards resulted in full ripening of any given grape varietal, such that blending was necessary to achieve the desired complexity. In a traditional blend, fruitiness came from Tempranillo, while Garnacha (Grenache) provided more color, body, and alcohol, with relative rarity Graciano providing acid to offset the softness of the other two. This classic blend often yielded wines featuring what Lewin calls “savory, almost animal notes of mature red fruits”. Use of American oak for aging has also led some to conclude that Tempranillo is rather neutral flavor-wise, with vanilla and char notes from oak constituting Rioja’s “true” distinctive flavor profile. Regardless, much Rioja is now made in a soft, fruit-forward style. Some producers have decided to split the difference and offer both traditional and modern bottlings. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wine Review: 2012 Torres Mas La Plana

16 10 2017

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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Cabernet royalty.

It’s Calgary municipal election night, so my plan was to put off this review until tomorrow.  Then I sat here for 10 minutes biting my fingernails and hitting “refresh” on the election results page on my phone every 60 seconds and realized that (1) the next four years of my civic life weren’t about to reveal themselves anytime soon and (2) I could use some guaranteed good news tonight regardless of political outcome.  And nothing screams “guaranteed good news” like the flagship wine of Miguel Torres, the most consistent larger-production winery I know.

If you have a photographic memory of this blog, you may remember that I have told the story of Mas La Plana once before; if you don’t, you can take solace in the fact that I almost didn’t remember this fact myself.  Nothing about this wine is quite as expected.  It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedes, the heartland of Cava in eastern Spain near Barcelona, an area not remotely known for big red wines but blessed with numerous altitudes and microclimates that allow for pockets of warmth and create opportunity for special sites like the one that birthed this bottle.  It hails from a 29-hectare single vineyard planted before I was born, from Cab vines introduced to Spanish soil between 1964 and 1979 based on cuttings from numerous prior homes, including 1st Growth Bordeaux chateaux.  It looks strangely at home in a Burgundy bottle, unlike any other Cabernet Sauvignon I have seen on a shelf.

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Penedes was the first region in Spain to start using modern winemaking techniques like stainless steel temperature-controlled fermentation, and Torres uses them to great effect here to create a bottle that seamlessly communicates Spain’s history and potential to a global wine world, that imbues the Earth’s most ubiquitously successful commercial grape with the essence of the Torres family’s heartland.  Mas La Plana tells a story that was heard almost immediately, as the wine’s inaugural 1970 vintage beat out Chateau Latour and numerous other luminaries in the Cabernet category of French magazine Gault-Millau‘s 1979 Wine Olympics (which weirdly was the exact same competition that put Oregon Pinot Noir on the world map thanks to Eyrie Vineyards’ stellar showing against the best of Burgundy).  Yet it still retains its humble family roots:  its neck foil reads “Vinetum Paganicus”, a term sometimes used to designate top wines but which to the best of my meagre Latin translation ability appears to simply mean “vineyard of a village”. Read the rest of this entry »





2015 Alvear Alange Tempranillo

28 09 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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ALANGE SMASH!!

Some bottles immediately grab your attention for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on.  Other bottles grab your attention by screaming strange Spanish words in 128-point font.  Alvear’s Alange (sorry – ALANGE) is an example of the latter.  Its minimalist / maximalist label and Beetlejuice-like neck pinstriping are designed for the visually primed North American market, as is the consumer-friendly bottle indication of the grape inside (100% Tempranillo), a rarity on Old World wines.  It is a daring display from one of the older family-run wineries in the world, but it serves its purpose well, making you pause for that split second and linger over the bottle; after that, its price tag (a shade over $15) and the quality of the juice inside does the rest.

Alvear is truly a dynastic estate, now on its 8th generation of family winemaking.  The Alvear bodega was first constructed nearly three hundred years ago, in 1729.  Since then, it has not only stayed in the family but is now handled in all aspects by Alvears — there are currently over 50 members of the extended family involved in some capacity.  Alvear is known primarily for sherry, made in the region of Jerez in Spain’s arid southwest corner, but it is also gaining traction as a table wine producer, growing estate grapes due north of Jerez in the Ribera del Guadiana sub-zone of Extremadura.  To say this is an under-the-radar global area for red wine would be a marked understatement, but it’s places like this where values are often found.  Ribera del Guadiana is known primarily for scorching hot summers, freezing cold winters, reddish clay soils and an obscene array of planted grapes: while Tempranillo takes up the most acreage, the area is home to a crazy mix of red and white indigenous and international varietals, from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (!) to Pedro Ximenez and Graciano. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Torres Celeste Crianza

29 03 2016
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Mysterious heavens. Mysterious brown bottle.

I must admit that the weekly sale flyer from my neighbourhood Solo Liquor store doesn’t usually flood me with inspiration,  but this past week, nestled in its pages amongst the Barefoots and the Yellow Tails, was an offer that made me make a special trip down the block.  The current edition (and 10th anniversary vintage) of Torres’ Celeste Crianza, a 100% Tempranillo bottling from the famed Ribera del Duero region in north-central Spain, was on sale for $17.99, down from its usual $26ish.  I now regret buying only one at that price.  It’s becoming harder and harder with the sordid state of the Canadian dollar to find a well-made go-to bottle of wine for under $20, but for one glorious long weekend, this one easily fit the bill.

Torres is as trustworthy a wine name as there is at this kind of price point.  I’ve had a wide range of their offerings over the past couple of years, some of which ($15 Chilean rose?) did not necessarily spike my expectations going in, but all of which delivered quality, character, consistency and obscene value, to the point where I now seek them out in junk mail flyers.  They are a Spanish family-based winery, but their headquarters are in the far east of the country, in Catalunya near Barcelona; Celeste is their first bottling from Ribera del Duero.  Made from grapes grown in the upper reaches of the region, at close to 900 metres of elevation where they are exposed to blisteringly hot days but remarkably chilly nights, the Celeste is able to offer up full fruit ripeness without coming across as loose or flabby.  The wine’s name and label emphasize the celestial, showcasing the heavenly bodies on display nightly above the elevated vineyard which keep watch over the crop. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2009 Beso de Vino Seleccion

22 02 2012

How many of you really needed to see full frontal bull nudity?

I’m sure the first thing the folks at Beso de Vino wanted me to see on this bottle was the 90-point score it received from Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate (which is likely why that number was posted front and centre on the neck in bigger font than the wine’s name).  Instead, the first thing I saw was:  testicles.  Yes, for reasons only known to a marketing department that should be immediately fired, BdV’s loveable mascot Antonio the Bull is drawn on the main label of the wine as a blatantly anatomically-correct stick figure.  Is it really necessary to showcase the animated gonads of a cartoon bull?  It has horns; I can already tell it’s a bull without any more explicit gender identification.  I don’t think the testicles add anything in particular to the artist’s rendition, and it’s not like the bull is really central to the wine or its faux back story (that Antonio kissed the wine and fell in love…not exactly deep stuff).  I am at a loss to explain this, but it’s hard to think of anything else when I look at the bottle.  Most unnecessarily X-rated critter wine ever. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2002 Campillo Rioja Reserva

10 08 2011

Grande Prairie, pay attention: go and find this wine. Right now.

I couldn’t resist — after talking at some length in my last post about how the Tempranillo grape was a chameleon that could show very differently depending on how it was made, and after seeing what the fruity, modern style of the grape had to offer with the 2009 Vega Moragona Tempranillo from Ribera del Jucar, Spain, I went down to my wine fridges tonight and this bottle kept calling out to me.  While the Vega Moragona did a decent job at showing off what New Age Tempranillo was all about, there are few better producers than Campillo at illustrating what can be created using the traditional approach to Spanish winemaking with this grape.  As I mentioned a couple days ago, the main difference with the more traditional style of Spanish Tempranillo is that the wines are aged in oak for significantly longer before release, often in new barrels to further enhance the oak flavours, which leads to bottles that tend to be pre-mellowed before they even hit the shelves; it’s like the wineries do most of the aging for you.  It’s an approach that makes very little sense in terms of the modern business model — how many goods retailers do you know that hang onto their inventory for 5+ years before allowing it to be sold? — but maybe that’s what makes it so charming to me.  These Spanish winemakers, especially in Rioja, the country’s traditional vinicultural heartland, are amazingly dedicated to their craft, and given the world’s recent obsession with bigger, riper, ultra-powerful reds, their wines can be found at shocking values. Read the rest of this entry »





2009 Vega Moragona Tempranillo

8 08 2011

Most neo-minimalist Spanish wine label ever?

This morning I got up just after 5:00 so that I could get into work an hour earlier than normal.  I did this to churn through a rapidly-expanding to-do list so that I could get home before 6:00 to put the baby down while my wife headed off to work.  I will likely do the same tomorrow.  On arriving home, I was definitely not looking for a complex and challenging wine to break down and analyze; I was looking for liquid stress relief, a vinous housecoat and slippers to ease the day into submission.  I’m happy to report that I found it, and it came from an unexpected locale.

The Vega Moragona hails from a fairly new wine region in central Spain, the Ribera del Jucar.  Until recently, RdJ was on the eastern tip of the huge, sprawling and grotesquely hot La Mancha region, located just south of Madrid and home to boatloads of (mostly) cheap, dull, nondescript wine.  However, in 2003, as a result of the unique soils/territory and increased quality prevalent in the area, Ribera del Jucar broke free and became its own DO (Denominacion de Origen), a legal territorial designation officially separating it from the La Mancha pack. Read the rest of this entry »








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