Friday, September 21, 2018

Grenache Day: What's in Your Glass?

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review

Did you know that today is Miniature Golf Day, National Chai Day, World Peace Day, AND International Grenache Day?

I didn't think so.

Just about every day of the year has some sort of "holiday" attached to it. You can Google the date and find out what random and obscure holiday is celebrated that day. Most of these "holidays" are no more than a ploy to get people to consume and buy stuff. The same goes for wine days. Throughout the year we celebrate different wine grapes, regions, and styles by giving the day a name. Yes, these holidays are created by regional marketing associations and PR firms. BUT, I will say that it does give consumers a chance to step outside of their wine comfort zone and try something new!

Being that today is International Grenache Day, why not go to your local wine shop after work and pick up a bottle of Grenache/Garnacha to enjoy this Friday night? It's a perfect excuse to jazz up your Friday night and "Up Your Wine Game".

Have you tried a Grenache before?  Here are some basic facts about Grenache that you may not know.

Grenache is a red grape that makes a wine that (as a general rule) is on the lighter side in terms of body, tannins, and acidity. Grenache can be used to make both red wines and rosé wines. There is also a variety called Grenache/Garnacha Blanca that is used to make a white wine. Don’t think of this wine as “wimpy”. Grenache can be bold and spicy and is a fabulous wine to go with grilled meats. Common aromas and flavors found in Grenache include red, sometimes candied, fruit such as strawberry and raspberry; also spice such as clove, white pepper, and cinnamon. Grenache grows well in warm climates and can be found in places like: Spain (Cariñena, Priorat, Rioja), France (Languedoc-Roussillon, the Rhone, Provence), California, and Australia. It is even called Cannonau in Sardinia. Grenache is originally from Spain where it is known as Garnacha. It is the predominant grape in DOP Cariñena, in the northern Aragón region.

What makes Grenache such a unique wine is its versatility. It is a great varietal wine (meaning a wine that is named after the dominant grape variety), but also is a good partner in blends to add spice or to soften the acid or tannins of the partner variety. The other great thing about Grenache is that there are so many value priced Grenaches of incredible quality. You don’t have to spend a ton to get good wine.

Fun fact: All that #roséallday #rosébae you’ve been drinking is predominantly Grenache. That’s right: Grenache is one of the most popular grapes vinified as a rosé. See, you’ve been drinking Grenache, loving it, and you didn’t even know it! Do me this favor: walk into your local wine shop and ask the salesperson to help you find a good Grenache for under $20/bottle. You will thank me later! Here are a couple Spanish Grenache wines I'm drinking today for International Grenache Day.

Corona de Aragòn White Garnacha 2017 (12.5% ABV)
This wine is from the Cariñena appellation in Spain. There is also 13% Chardonnay blended in. The wine is pale lemon in color. On the nose I get citrus (lemon), green fruit (pear). Very primary and fresh. A youthful wine. On the palate I get a marked salinity, as well as the same primary fruit notes. The wine has medium -acid, medium body, medium + flavor intensity, and a medium + finish that lingers. This wine is vibrant. It's fun and lively and is a GREAT alternative to the usual white wine suspects: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio.


Origium Garnacha Rosé 2016 (12.5% ABV)
This wine is a medium, bright pink color. The notes here are wholly primary, both on the nose and on the palate. Red fruit abounds: cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. There is a faint floral note: perhaps rose petals? This wine is bright and juicy. Everything you want in a rosé. And this ain't no delicate, pale rosé from Provence. This wine is BRIGHT pink and can really stand up to food. Think grilled seafood, or a salad with grilled chicken. I would be a nice companion to most summer fare.




Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rocket Science & Wine at Vidon Vineyard


At Vidon Vineyard, there is a perceivable push/pull between science and romance. According to David Bellows, the Vidon winemaker with a PhD in molecular biology, the artistic side is overrated. But I’m going to have to disagree with him. Even here, at a science filled laboratory/winery, there is some romance. A lot of heart goes into the wine here, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not all science.

Vidon Vineyard gets its name from the combination of the names of the owners: Vi-Don (Vicki and Don Hagge). Vidon is a family-owned estate vineyard (14.5 acres) in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Don and Vicki purchased the property in 1999 when Don was 69 years old and “retired”. In order to prepare the land for vines, he had to clear an ungodly amount of rocks and stumps (over 1,000 of them!). The soils here are varied, with predominantly sedimentary and volcanic elements. A “dog’s breakfast” David called them. “Gemisch” in German. “Mish mosh” in Yiddish. When you are with Don and David, you get a lot of facts thrown at you. It’s the scientist within each of them. David says “We are educators, so we like to educate.”


L: David Bellows. R: Don Hagge

Don holds a PhD in Physics and worked at NASA as the Chief of the Physics branch for the Apollo 7 through the Apollo 13 missions. Which begs the question: Is it more difficult to make wine or to send a man to space? Not sure if there is a straight answer, but we can certainly ponder. In addition to being the owner, Don is also vineyard manager and tractor operator. Retirement has not slowed him down one bit. Sidenote: He also jumped out of airplanes in the Korean War. Is there anything this man has not done?

Both Don and David are constantly tinkering and inventing. During our visit they showed us a few of their inventions: a glass stopper bottling line, a makeshift wine preservation system, and a wine storage system. They both like to develop new skills and create things from scratch. And their modest winery does function as a sort of laboratory. Decisions are made pragmatically with cost and efficiency in mind. According to Don “Part of what you learn as a scientist is to be systematic. I always try to figure out how to do things better and more efficiently.” Don is even working on creating a new wine club, called VinAlliance that is more like a loyalty club, with multiple wineries participating. No rest for the weary at Vidon Vineyard.


The world according to David Bellows

Their style is minimal intervention winemaking with indigenous yeasts and thoughtful oak use. According to Don “We keep the use of SO2 down, and we don’t use enzymes or additives. And we don’t mess with the wines, but let nature take its course.” With that being said, I had to ask the scientists their thoughts on biodynamics. Their exact words: there’s no singing or naked dancing here!

Vidon produces Pinot Noir (three different clones: 777, 115, and Pommard) and small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo. They have a 2,100 case production that all takes place in an 800-square-foot facility. All Vidon wines are 100% estate grown.

Wines Tasted

2016 Apollo Chardonnay $60
Fun fact: The Apollo 11 spacecraft carried man to the moon on July 20, 1969, which Don observed from NASA headquarters along with the rest of the team.

2014 Three Clones Pinot Noir $45
They liken this wine to a jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) all playing together. This wine has all BRIGHT red fruit; very primary.

2014 Brigita Clone 777 $50
This wine was the most aromatic of the Pinots. The piano of the jazz trio. A surprising palate of complex fresh and juicy fruit with a slightly candied note. Also, fresh rose petals and white pepper. Each of the component Pinots are named after Don’s grandchildren.

2014 Mirabelle Clone 115 $50

This component adds the acidic backbone to the Three Clones Pinot. On its own, I’d describe it as feminine and Burgundian in style. The vines for these grapes are on red Jory volcanic soil. This wine has a perfumed nose with a touch of vanilla.

2014 Hans Clone Pommard $50

This component was described as the shoulder of the wine, or the bass line. The whole structure of the Three Clones is sitting on this. I felt more phenolics on this wine than the others, yet it really softened up upon drinking. Beautiful vanilla note both on the nose and palate.

2015 Saturn Syrah $40
Saturn was the powerful booster that launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft into orbit on its way to the moon in 1969. This wine has a deep purple color with dark red and black fruit both on the nose and palate.

If Don and David don’t feel any romance for the wine, then why don’t we find them in a laboratory? Or plugging away at a desk in a library with their heads in a book? Something drew them to this world. Either the juice in the bottle? The story behind the bottle? Or maybe getting to meet people day in and day out who come visit the tasting room? In the end Don “Just wants to make a good product, charge fair prices, and give folks a nice experience.” So while it may look like these guys are all science, they do have a heart. A logical, scientific heart. And according to Don “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to make good wine, but it doesn’t hurt if you are.”

As we were wrapping up our visit, we also got to meet Mr. Studley, the rooster who prances around the property like he owns the place. I asked Don if he’d ever get a vineyard dog. “When I get old, I’ll get a vineyard dog”. He’s 86.

Mr. Studley to the right

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

An Italian Afternoon with Doctor Wine & Drago Centro



Daniele Cernilli aka “Doctor Wine” recently came to Los Angeles for a stellar wine tasting and pairing with the food of Drago Centro, in downtown Los Angeles, as part of his California Tour 2018. The occasion was the launch of his 4th Edition to The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine. There are 25 contributors to the book, which is not an Italian wine encyclopedia, but rather a curated list of wines from the best producers including winery information, tasting notes, etc.

Some have called Daniele the “Robert Parker of Italy”. Depending on your thoughts of Parker, that comparison can be a compliment or not! Suffice it to say that Daniele Cernilli is an important voice in the Italian wine space. Case in point, he was one of the founders of Gambero Rosso some 24 years ago and remains an important wine critic and educator.

Below is a recap of this amazing lunch, including the wines! Note that two to three wines were paired with each course.

First Course
Cecaluccoli Lobster Carbonara, Egg Yolk
I don’t have many tasting notes for the food except for “OMG”. This lunch was to die for. Each course better than the next. And now I am craving carbonara:)



Pairing #1 (my fav)
Contadi Castaldi Lombardy Brut Rose NV Franciacorta DOCG
According to Daniele, this wine is the color of a Vidalia onion. It is younger and approachable with a beautiful, clean primary nose and a lovely crisp palate. This wine has a slight yeastiness and medium +/high acid, which really cuts through the fat of the carbonara. Lees aging of 24-30 months, which is not too detectable on the nose, but is detectable on the palate. 10g/L of liqueur de disgorgement. Contadi Castaldi also owns Bellavista, a famous Franciacorta producer.

Pairing #2
Vigne Surrau Branu Vermentino di Gallura DOCG 2017 Sardinia
One the nose, this wine brings citrus, green fruit, and a hint of stone fruit. Also, almond skin, and a floral (honeysuckle) note. On the palate, I get citrus (lime peel), stone fruit (apricot, peach), tropical fruit (pineapple), and a floral note. This wine is chewy with great texture. A bold wine with medium + body. This wine is all stainless steel and sees no oak.

Second Course
Tortellini, Ricotta Pecorino, Parmesan, Basil, Pine Nuts
I have never had a dish like this before. Soft, pillowy tortellini stuffed with cheese, basil, and pine nuts. When the tortellini broke in your mouth, an unexpected rush of warm soup came out. Delish!

Pairing #1 (my fav)
Colosi Piero Nero d’Avola DOC Sicilia 2017
These vineyards are on a tiny island (of 300 people!) just off of Sicily. This wine is a purple/violet color and smells a bit more sophisticated than most Southern Italian wines, which tend to be more rustic. The nose has the perfect combination of red fruit (plum and cherry), floral (violet), and earth (cedar) notes. There is also a slight graphite note. Daniele also got a caper/vegetal note. On the palate this wine had a strong acid backbone and was very rustic. Very Italian.

Pairing #2
Vinchio Vaglio Serra I Tre Vescovi Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG 2015
This is their flagship wine. Very versatile. The nose smells like a pile of dirt and that makes me happy. Dirt is exactly what I want to smell in an Italian wine. The fruit is delicate and I also get a hint of violet petals. Refreshing acidity on the palate, plus some oak tannins that I think will mellow with time.

Pairing #3
Casa Vinicola Luigi Cecchi e Figli Srl Chianti Classico Riserva di Famiglia 2014
This wine is a medium garnet color (possibly due to age?). On the nose I get sour red cherry (which is a Sangiovese marker) plus floral notes. Very rustic. The palate also brings me sour cherry, good acid, and demands food.

Third Course
Colorado Wagyu NY Steak, Celery Root Puree, Au Jus
The marbling on this steak…..oh boyyyy!!!! So good.



Pairing #1
Statti Arvino IGP Calabria 2015
This producer also grows olives on their property and is the largest producer of olives in all of Calabria, with over 55,000 trees! This wine has a lovely rusticity on the nose with lots of red fruit. It spends 12 months in French oak (which is not super evident on the palate; perhaps neutral oak was used?). On the palate I get medium + tannins and medium + acid (enough to make you salivate). This wine is balanced and great alone. It does not need food.

Pairing #2
Velenosi Vini Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2013
This wine gives me black fruit, dried cherries, spice (black pepper), leather, and black licorice. It reminds me of an Old Vine Zinfandel.. Powerful, structured, and layered. You almost want to chew it. Juicy. This wine is like a beautiful Italian woman. You can’t stop looking at her. She appears effortless. 

Pairing #3 (my fav)
Tenuta Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte DOC 2011
This is the most iconic wine of the tasting. It really held up to the food. Major structure. A step up from everything we have tasted toda thus far. The nose was spectacular: fruit and tons of herbaceous notes such as dried sage and tarragon). #thatnosethough. Only 200 cases produced.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Etude Wines: The Pursuit of Pinot Noir Perfection


Pinot Noir, for many serious wine lovers, is “lo maximo” (which in my homeland of Argentina means: the maximum/best) when it comes to red wine, with Burgundy, being the pinnacle or the most pure expression of the grape. To be transparent, I have not enjoyed as much Burgundy as I’d like. Newsflash: good Burgundy is expensive, and that’s just not how I roll. I tried a couple pricey Burgundies in my WSET Diploma class, but other than that, my Burgundy exposure has been basic Bourgogne Rouge and maybe a handful of Village level selections.

At the Wine Bloggers Conference last year in Sonoma, I attended a Wine Discovery Session on Pinot Noir with Jon Priest, head winemaker at Etude Wines since 2005. Priest’s winemaking is not heavy-handed, as he wants the fruit and the region to shine. This session did not feature any Burgindies, but I was eager to explore a grape that is not readily on my “go to” list.

"Etude was founded on the philosophy that winemaking begins in the vineyard long before harvest, and that superior grape growing allows our winemakers to craft wines of exceptional varietal expression and finesse. This remains our approach today as we continue to build the Etude legacy." 
-Jon Priest

Jon Priest

Grace Benoist Ranch which spans 600 acres and several vineyards is Etude’s estate flagship property in the Los Carneros AVA of Sonoma. It was developed in 2000 with seven Chardonnay clones and 17 Pinot Noir clones. The first harvest was in 2003 and since 2004, all Pinot Noir for their wines is sourced from these estate vineyards. Sustainability is an important part of Etude Wines. Native Oak and Bay trees onsite protect nearby waterways, 12 miles of wildlife corridors were incorporated in the vineyard to preserve the natural migration of wildlife, wetlands are protected, and an erosion control plan was implemented. In the winery, solar panels supply about a third of Etude’s energy needs, recycled water is used for landscape irrigation and employees manage a composting and recycling program which diverts a large percentage of waste away from landfills. The Etude team also manages an onsite garden, with a portion of the produce donated to the Napa Food Bank.

Grace Benoist is at a higher elevation and close to the Petaluma Gap in a cooler growing region. The fog and maritime breezes off the Pacific Ocean and the Bay keep daytime temperatures low, creating the perfect environment for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The property has three distinct soil types: the Petaluma Formation (coarse sand and gravel deposited through moving water), the Sonoma Volcanics (rocky), and QTU (young bedrock; volcanic pebbles and boulders).

Let’s get to the wines! Pinot Noir is well-known for expressing the place and terroir in which it was grown to a degree that no other wine varietal can. Here we will explore seven Etude Wines, all Pinot Noir.

Wines Tasted:

2015 Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir Carneros $47
Jon’s notes include: turned earth, dark fruit, with quenching acid. My notes: This wine is medium ruby in color, with strong notes of earth and forest floor (VERY Pinot Noir), red/blue fruit (cherry, blueberry), baking spice, pepper, medium + acid, and medium - smooth tannins. This wine is a bit earthier than the next wine coming up.

2015 Etude Heirloom Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir Carneros $95
These grapes are not certified “heirloom" or "heritage” but they do know that the vine has been passed down from vigneron to vigneron. This wine is more delicate (floral/perfumed) on the nose than the first one. It is a baby at the moment and will only improve in the bottle.

2014 Etude Yamhela Vineyard Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley $65 (current vintage 2015)
This is a youthful wine with red fruit (cherry, plum), though this fruit presentation is a bit more demure than the Carneros fruit. Grainy/powdery medium tannins.


2015 Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast $65
This vineyard is 4.5 miles from the ocean with the vines sitting just above the fog line, meaning they see vibrant, bright sun and also get the cool ocean breeze. Red fruit jumps out of the glass with this wine.

2014 Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley $55 (current vintage 2015)
Deeper, darker fruit than the others, though the fruit is not quite black. A slight perfume with a higher alcohol than the others at 14.1%. These vines are in Santa Barbara County in an area cooler than some of the other expressions presented here. Santa Maria Valley is a transverse valley with long arroyos that run E/W versus the more common N/S. This wine is soft and delicate on the palate.

2014 Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills $50
This wine is nervy! It has youthful fruit with a graphite/minerality note. The soils are on ancient seabeds in the Santa Ynez Valley between Buellton and Lompoc. This is a cooler area that is defined by the ocean influence.

2014 Etude Bannockburn Pinot Noir Central Otago, New Zealand $60
Central Otago is unique in that it is the only continental climate in New Zealand. It is very dry there with flinty, loess soil. Funk prevails with this wine. Savory, umami notes and a meatiness with minerality/iron due to the soil.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August: Washington Wine Month


Loess Vineyard, Walla Walla

August is Washington Wine Month, which is quite apropos as over 300 wine bloggers will be heading to Walla Walla in 8 weeks for the Wine Bloggers Conference! Disclaimer: I know NOTHING about it as I don’t have much tasting experience with Washington wine. Also, it was not a big topic in my WSET studies. Let's face it, the Brits (who run the WSET program) are not too interested in the nuances of a Washington Merlot. With that being said, it’s exciting to visit a wine country and have no preconceived notions. Let’s learn some of the basics of Washington wine on our journey together.

The early history of Washington wine country goes back to Italian immigrants bringing Cinsault plantings to Walla Walla. And in the 50s and 60s both Chateau Ste. Michelle and Colombia Winery were founded, who now both dominate the Washington wine scene. Today the region is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling, and Chardonnay.

The Cascade Range defines (and divides!) the state. To the west of the mountains is a maritime climate (mild and wet) with less than 1% of Washington plantings and to the east of the range is a drier continental climate, where most of the grapes reside. Summers are hot and dry with wide diurnal swings and winters are cold and harsh. Most wineries use irrigation from the major rivers (Walla Walla, Yakima, Snake, and Columbia Rivers), though a few (who receive enough rainfall) are experimenting with dry farming.

There are over 50,000 acres planted to v. vinifera in Washington. Washington also comes in as the 2nd largest wine producer, after California. There are 14 AVAs within the state and with the exception of Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge, all other AVAs in Washington are sub-appellations of the Columbia Valley. The other AVAs are: Red Mountain, Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys, Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, Snipes Mountain, Lake Chelan, Naches Heights and Ancient Lakes.

Credit: Washington State Wine Commission

My Wine Bloggers Conference journey will take me to a couple different locations in wine country. I am participating in a pre-conference excursion in the Red Mountain AVA, the smallest (and warmest) appellation in Washington, with just over 2,200 acres under vine. This is a red grape dominant area because of the warm desert climate, and with only 5” of rainfall annually, most vineyards are irrigated.

The main conference is taking place in Walla Walla, another sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley. Much larger than Red Mountain, Walla Walla is over 322,000 acres in size, but only 2,900 acres are under vine. Walla Walla also has the largest concentration of wineries in Washington. Part of the AVA is in Oregon, therefore it’s known as a “cross border” AVA.

One unique fact about Washington is the that one wine producer dominates the state. Chateau Ste. Michelle, and its holdings, account for upwards of 50% of the wine produced annually in Washington state. It will be interesting to dig into some of the regions a bit and learn if this behemoth in the industry helps or hurts the region as a whole? Also, I will be curious to see if Chateau Ste. Michelle or any of their wineries has a presence at the conference.

Either way, I am JAZZED to visit Washington and enjoy a new wine region. My Wine Bloggers Conference experience started that way back in 2015 when (on a whim) I flew to the Finger Lakes in NY and learned about a whole new area. Discovering new wine regions…..this is what it’s all about! 

Spring Valley Vineyard

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Vintastic Voyage: Valle de Guadalupe (Part 2)

This is my second installment (first one HERE) of Vintastic Voyage featuring the Valle de Guadalupe area of Baja California. And it won’t be my last! Valle de Guadalupe is my new favorite weekend trip from LA. For one, the food scene is insane….trust me. You will eat VERY well while you are here, and will not break the bank! There are many wineries: from small mom and pop spots to larger wineries with a more corporate feel. In short, there is something for everyone. What I really love about this place are the people. It’s the combination of wine country with the Mexican hospitality I so love. So much so that I am already planning my trip back!

This is a recap of my June visit with a girlfriend of mine. We left Los Angeles at about 7am on a Saturday morning and returned to LA Monday afternoon. It was a 48-hour whirlwind, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Getting There
We opted to drive to Valle de Guadalupe. From LA proper, with no stops, it is about a 3.5 hour trip. Before you cross the border, you do need to secure Mexican auto insurance, which you can do easily if you are a AAA member. I secured a 2-day policy for about $40.

We reached the border by about 10am after stopping for coffee and gas. Once past the border, you instantly feel you’re on vacation. The Pacific coastline on the drive down Baja is gorgeous. In my opinion, it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. A favorite stop of mine is Puerto Nuevo, a small fishing town about 10 miles south of Rosarito. The “town” consists of a small drag right on the water with shopping (Mexican handicrafts) and lobster restaurants. We definitely wanted lunch and decided on La Casa del Pescador at the recommendation of Erika Beach, a fellow wine blogger at With Love, Paper and Wine. See her post HERE. La Casa del Pescador did not disappoint. The lunch was $20 each and included: soup, a full grilled lobster, fresh tortillas, the fixins’, and a margarita!




From there we headed further south and then inland to Valle de Guadalupe. One thing to know about traveling here, especially if you are driving, is that there are hardly any street signs…..at all. Lots of “roads” are still dirt, and Google Maps/Waze does not tell you if you will be on a paved road or a dirt road. We had a lot of trouble finding our hotel, and found that the GPS wasn’t working properly. At one point it took us to this dirt road that dead ended at a private property with goats yelling…..and I mean yelling(!) at us. I recommend you secure directions ahead of time (call/email your hotel to get their directions that will include landmarks).

Once we made it through that fiasco, we arrived at the brand new El Cielo Resort. We were a bit worried at first, as the property clearly was not finished and in the middle of some MAJOR construction. But once we found the front desk and sat in the air conditioned lobby with a complimentary glass of wine, all was well! We found the staff friendly, helpful, and welcoming. They got us checked in, and what a room we had! This hotel is brand spanking new, and they are only in Phase 1 of development. The rooms were clean, bright, comfortable, and luxurious. We had a suite with a king bed. There was also a living area with a mini fridge/mini bar. The rooms even had Nespresso machines and frothers. SUCH a nice touch! The bathroom was amazing: his and hers sinks, huge shower, and a separate toilet room. Plus, cushy robes! Definitely worth every penny. 



After being here three times, I can say the one piece you will spend $$ on in VdG is lodging. But don’t worry, you will save $$ with literally everything else, as the food and wine is super affordable, especially for the quality level. We had a long day driving, so we took our time the first afternoon. We napped, showered, and enjoyed the lobby a bit more. They put out complimentary snacks (meats, cheeses, and sweets), will happily refill your wine, and even have a selection of top shelf spirits and mixers that are self-serve.

Once we had sufficiently relaxed and freshened up, we headed to dinner at Finca Altozano, which turned out to be one of my favorite places on this whole trip! The entire property and restaurant is partially or completely outdoors. The restaurant actually has no walls….it’s entirely open to the outdoors. This place was awesome: a great menu, lovely atmosphere, and friendly staff. On the website, the restaurant is described as an “asador campestre”, which translates to country BBQ. The renowned Mexican chef Javier Plascencia is at the helm of Finca Altozano, which not only is a restaurant, but also has a bar, coffee shop, helado shop, permanent food truck, and “petting” zoo onsite! When I go back, I will be sure to plan some time on the front/back end to explore and enjoy. The perfect evening would be to arrive early for a cocktail, enjoy dinner, and then coffee and dessert! To die for. We each had 3 drinks, an appetizer, we shared an entree, split dessert, and the total bill was $80 (which includes tip). 

Finca Altozano

Dinner at Finca Altozano



The next morning we started out at Vinos Lechuza. They have completed ten harvests and have been open to the public for five years. Their claim to fame is that some of their wines are served at French Laundry in Napa. Thomas Keller discovered the Vinos Lechuza wines while in Cabo San Lucas, and subsequently added them to his French Laundry wine list. It’s a small(ish) property with a simple tasting room, and beautiful outdoor space. Be sure to do the tasting outside on their patio...it’s beautiful. They offered great service with a very nice staff who gave us a brilliant, personalized experience. 



Wines Tasted:

2016 Stainless Steel Chardonnay $25
This wine spends 8 months in stainless steel tanks with bâttonage. I get green fruit (green apples and pears) on the nose plus MLF notes of dairy/cream. This wine has a medium + body with a pleasing texture which can come from the bâttonage or perhaps skin contact?

2017 Royal Blush
This fruit for this rosé is 100% estate (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Tempranillo). This wine (saignee method) had been bottled only two weeks prior, so it was still going through some bottleshock and was not fully integrated. They said it should be ready in a month or so. For now I get all red fruit (cherry and cranberry).

2014 Amantes $29
The fruit for this wine is 100% estate (grapes include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, and Graciano) and spends 24 months in a combination or American and French oak. I get red fruit (plum, cherry, and raspberry), floral (rose petals), sweet baking spice, plus cedar from the oak. This is a very easy, drinkable red that I’d describe as round and well-balanced.

2015 Nebbiolo $75
This wine spends 32 months in new French oak and was bottled only 12 days ago. As can be expected, this is a completely different Nebbiolo expression than those found in Piemonte. This wine is earthy, and has a tobacco note that I loved. I get a strong note (on the nose and palate) of some sort of minerality. On the palate I described it as clay.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $65
This wine spends 24 months in new American oak. I get ripe black fruit (blackberry and cassis), black pepper, and fresh cut green bell pepper. This wine is smooth and yet with a long, complex finish. On the back palate I get tobacco/cigar pipe. Strong, well-integrated tannins.

After Lechuza, for lunch we had to try Troika, a permanent food truck on the Vena Cava property. Getting here proved to be one of the hardest parts of this trip. I think we were 2 miles away and it took us over an hour to get there. We tried Waze, Google Maps, and stopping to ask for directions to no avail! We finally called Troika and someone there was able to guide us. Phew! We had arrived and let me tell you, it was worth it! The property, the views, all top notch. And the food did not disappoint. We started with ceviche, had 2 types of tacos, dessert, and a beer. All for $20 TOTAL. 


Daybeds at Troika

Tacos at Troika

Believe it or not, after the one winery and lunch we were done and ready for a siesta! So back to El Cielo we went! We napped and refreshed and were off for the evening. To start we went to the winery at El Cielo for a tasting, as that was complimentary with our hotel stay. It was not until we got there that I realized I had been there before for a wine tasting. This was not my favorite place...in my opinion the wines leave a bit to be desired, so we’ll move right into dinner.

We hopped into an Uber and off to Deckman’s En Mogor. Drew Deckman came to Baja (he’s originally from Georgia) a few years ago….before it was cool. AND he has a Michelin star under his belt! Deckman’s is completely outdoors. The outdoor kitchen and grill is the first thing you see when you walk in. Huge pots of seafood, bread cooking/toasting on an open hearth. This meal was nothing short of amazing. We shared two appetizers, two entrees, a dessert, and three glasses of wine each ad our bill was also $80 TOTAL (including tip). The value is incredible.

The hearth at Deckman's

Appetizer at Deckman's

Rosé with a view at Deckman's

Mussels at Deckman's

Sidenote: In case you were wondering, there is NO nightlife in the Valle. None at all. By 8pm, pretty much everything is shut down. And with the lack of infrastructure (paved roads, and street lights), you’ll want to be home and in your hotel come nightfall.

On our way back home the next morning we stopped at Caesar’s in Tijuana to enjoy a caesar salad where it was invented in 1927. This place looks like you stepped right out of the 50s. In fact, it reminded me of Musso & Frank’s in Hollywood. A total throwback. From the servers black and white attire, the copper espresso machine from the 1920s, and the copious amount of dark cherry wood everywhere. I have to say, this was one amazing caesar salad. No shortage of creaminess, zest, and tanginess. Everything you’d want in a caesar salad.




From Tijuana, it can take quite a long time to cross the border. This time it took about 3 hours, and that was on a Monday. Plan for longer if it’s a Sunday! If you go into it expecting there to be a wait, it won’t be so bad. There are many locals selling stuff as you wait. I recommend the aguas frescas and fresh churros. Also, there are a couple carts selling fresh tortillas. Grab a couple bags and you can freeze them when you get home, so you always have fresh tortillas available!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Exploring Rías Baixas

Photo: riasbaixaswines.com

The Wine Bloggers Conference is a combination of geeking out about wine, socializing, and learning a bit along the way. This session was an incredible study into the Albariño grape and the wines of Rías Baixas, Spain.

The seminar presented by Lyn Farmer and was one of the best wine presentations I have attended. Lyn is engaging, comfortable speaking in front of a group, and VERY knowledgeable. Most presenters do not have this trifecta. I can’t count the number of times I have attended a presentation by someone who is clearly not comfortable speaking in front of a crowd! He is also a James Beard Award-winning wine and food writer, broadcaster, and editor.

Ok, let’s get down to business! We are discussing the Denomination of Origin (DO) Rías Baixas in the Galicia region of NW Spain, which was formally established in 1988. Rías Baixas has over 9,000 acres under vine and a total of 6,500 growers. Fun fact: over half of the winemakers here are women! Why, you ask? Men, for centuries, have worked in the maritime industry, with many sailors away on ships for months on end, year after year. The women were left to rear children and manage many agricultural tasks, including grape growing and winemaking!

Photo: riasbaixaswines.com

As you can see in the map above, there are five estuaries within the Rías Baixas region. These estuaries are deep, wide inlets of water reaching many miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. These “arms of the sea” mix fresh and salt water to sustain rich maritime life. Local legend says the estuaries are the five fingers of God’s hand when he rested in Galicia after creation. Galicia, also known as “Green Spain” is covered in green fields and mist. Its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean brings a cool, maritime climate with heavy rain and abundant sunshine during growing and ripening season. This makes for good acid and balance in the wines.

Photo: Riasbaixaswines.com

99% of all wine produced in Rías Baixas is white. There are 12 grape varieties allowed, but the indigenous Albariño makes up 90% of plantings and is the flagship of the region. The grape gives classic aromas of citrus, green fruit (pear), stone fruit (peach, apricot), tropical fruit (ripe melon, mango) and honeysuckle. Albariño is a very food-friendly grape because of the good acidity and minerality. To say it pairs great with the local seafood is an understatement! As a general rule, Albariño should be enjoyed upon release, though some have enough structure and complexity that allow for aging.

The soils of Rías Baixas are uniform, hard granite soils with mineral-rich alluvial top soils. Alluvial soils are soils (clay, silt, sand, and gravel) that form over time from deposits left by running water. To counter the rainfall and humidity (which can bring both mold and rot) most vines are trained on wire trellis’ or “parra” anchored by granite posts. This method elevates the vines higher than most other training methods to allow maximum circulation to prevent mildew and to promote even ripening. The harvesters even need to stand on grape bins to reach the bunches! It is worth noting that some vineyards are moving to double cordon to modernize.

Photo: riasbaixaswines.com

In the winery, modern, temperature controlled winemaking in stainless steel tanks is the norm. Grapes are delivered from the vineyard to the production facilities quickly to avoid oxidation. Many wineries ferment with wild yeasts and are experimenting with extended lees aging to develop character and complexity.

Wines Tasted:

Martín Códax 2016 Albariño (SRP $15.99)
This wine has a melon character with high acid and salinity. A local, indigenous yeast is used for fermentation. A cold fermentation is used to preserve the fresh fruit aromas. This wine is made in the Val do Salnés region, which is the original and oldest sub-zone in Rías Baixas.

Valmiñor 2016 Albariño (SRP $14)
The vines for this wine are all pergola trained. The grapes undergo a cold soak for 8 hours. This wine offers me green fruit (apple) and stone fruit (white peach). With 30,000 cases of this wine produced, this winery is one of the largest in the region.

Bodegas As Laxas 2016 Albariño (SRP $18)
This wine is a smidge less fruity and richer than the first two wines. I get green apple, white flower, and earthiness (which is not common for Albariño!). This was one of the first wineries in Rías Baixas.

Condes De Albarei 2016 Albariño (SRP $15)
This wine has slight residual sugar (3g/L) and is a tad more elegant than the first three. Notes of grapefruit, pear, honeysuckle, and a lighter tropical fruit note. This wine undergoes some (though not full) malo.

Santiago Ruiz 2016 (69% Albariño, 13% Loureiro; SRP $20)
I get red fruit (wild strawberries) and stone fruit (peach). This wine is a bit more grown up than the previous ones.

Fillaboa 2016 Albariño (SRP $19.99)
Too bad my notes for this one say: my palate is getting a bit kaput at this point. #sorrynotsorry

Terras Gauda 2016 (70% Albariño, 18% Caiño Blanco, 12% Loureiro; SRP $19.99)
Thumbs up for this guy! Very floral, specifically whiteflower. Caiño Blanco almost disappeared from Rías Baixas in the 1980s until Terras Gauda launched an ambitious replanting program in 1989.

Pablo Padín 2015 Albariño (SRP $19.99)
An interesting showing for Albariño. I would love to revisit this wine, as I didn’t have enough time with it in this “group” situation. I get a savory/umami feel...almost an animal note.

Pazo de Señorans 2016 Albariño (SRP $15)
Bright, crisp, refreshing, with gripping acidity.

Lagar da Condesa 2016 Albariño (SRP $17.99)
This wine was fermented in French oak, hence the vanilla note. Aside from the Pazo de Señorans, this was the most interesting of the bunch.