Monday, October 22, 2018

South America: It’s Not All Malbec

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

My family is from Argentina. I spent many summers and school breaks there as a child/teenager and one thing I remember is how there were always tumblers of wine on the table for lunch and dinner. Soda water and “cubitos” (ice) are generally added to red wines, especially at lunchtime. Argentina has a very European culture/mentality towards wine. It’s free flowing, it’s inexpensive, and it’s to be enjoyed daily. Such a healthy way to think about alcohol, versus in the US how we view alcohol as a bad thing (a vice), something to be controlled, and less of a daily enjoyment. We moderate most of the time, yet when we get our hands on it, we tend to drink more at one sitting (binge) and suffer the effects later. I propose we all enjoy 1 glass of wine a day and get in tune with the “healthy” Europeans/Argentines!

When people think of wine in South America, they think of Malbec from Argentina. In South America, Malbec is as ubiquitous as water, generally inexpensive, and flows freely at most lunches and dinners. In the Mendoza wine region of Argentina, Malbec is KING. But did you know that many other grapes are grown there? The major wine producing countries in South America are Argentina and Chile. Uruguay is making a name for itself. And we can even find wines from both Brazil and Bolivia.

With the diversity of wine producing countries and their respective regions with different altitudes, climates, and soils, we have some very diverse grape growing in South America.

One grape that you can find in many wine producing regions of South America is Cabernet Sauvignon: the king of all red grapes. With a grape like Cabernet Sauvignon comes marketability and consumer familiarity. If you’re a wine drinker you have probably heard of Cabernet Sauvignon and feel comfortable ordering it at a restaurant or picking it up in bottle at a wine shop. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known to command higher prices than regional grapes. It is the most well-known international red variety, and for that reason more is planted and prices skew higher.

One of the most well-known winemaking families in South America is the Montes family. In 1987 Aurelio Montes Sr. (and partners) started Viña Montes with the goal of producing wines of a quality far superior to what was coming out of Chile. Their Montes Alpha “M” Cabernet Sauvignon became that first super premium wine to come out of Chile.

Aurelio Montes founded Kaiken in 2002 in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. The name comes from the “caiquén” which is a Patagonian wild goose that is found in both Chile and Argentina. A nod to Montes’ Chilean heritage. The vineyards are biodynamically farmed with over 3 million cases produced annually.

We will now taste three very different expressions of South American Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Montes Alpha M Red Wine 2012 $90 (current vintage: 2015)
Directly from the website: Production of Montes Alpha M is extremely limited and vintages are only released if our head winemaker, Aurelio Montes considers that the quality of the wine is up to demanding standards. Production starts by selecting individual grapes at harvest time. This wine, from Colchagua Valley, it´s one of the best and most awarded wine from Chile.

My notes: This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend (80% Cab Sauv, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot). I get red fruit (plum and raspberry), black fruit (black currant), and vanilla. On the palate I also get licorice and caramel/toast. A beautifully made, balanced wine.

Kaiken Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $17
Boy has this wine got bang for your buck. At $17 this wine feels and tastes much more expensive. The wine is deep ruby in color with garnet hues. Aromatic notes include: red fruit (plum, raspberry), black fruit (blackberry), fresh cracked black pepper, spice box (cinnamon, clove), vanilla, and cedar closet. On the palate I get a stronger presence of black fruit, including blackberry and cassis. Mocha fo sho (that perfect combination of chocolate and coffee). As the wine opens up the black fruit softens and spice comes to the forefront, particularly black pepper.

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $20
This wine is medium ruby in color with a perfumed/floral nose. There is a full bouquet of aromas and flavors on this wine: red berries, vanilla (from the French oak), tobacco, spice, and bitter dark chocolate. The tannins are soft and well-integrated.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Artesa: Barcelona Born, Napa Raised

Ana Diogo-Draper, Winemaker

Imagine a career where you have about 30 chances to prove yourself. Each year you get to make one decision and that decision stays with you your entire life. This is the life of a winemaker, according to Ana Diogo-Draper of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Every year she works hard to craft a wine she is proud of. As she says: You’ve got 30 chances to make it right. And once that wine is in bottle it starts all over again. At the end of her career she will have about 30 vintages of wine that have her touch on it.

I recently attended a press luncheon featuring the wines of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. We were lucky enough to meet winemaker, Ana Diogo-Draper, who tasted us through a flight of Artesa wines. THIS is one of the perks of working in the wine business. I have virtually unlimited access to great wines and get to meet the people who are very close to the wines. The stories behind the bottle never cease to amaze me. There is so much life in a bottle of wine, and I love to share this with all of you. I firmly believe that understanding the backstory of a bottle (the vineyards, the region, the grapes, the winemakers, etc) will help you to better enjoy your wine. It’s a beautiful thing!

From the Artesa website:

In the 1980s, the historic Spanish winemaking family Codorníu Raventós began to acquire and develop vineyard land in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Opened in 1991 as Codorníu Napa, a sparkling wine house, the winery ultimately transitioned to producing still wines as successive vintages revealed the quality and potential of the family’s vineyard holdings. The winery was renamed Artesa – Catalan for “handcrafted” – in 1997, and has since become a leading producer of artisan wines from the varietals for which Carneros and Napa Valley are best known: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Codorníu Raventós is still family owned and is the oldest company in Spain with a winemaking legacy in the Penedès region near Barcelona that dates back to 1551.

The 150 acres of sustainably farmed Artesa estate vines are on a former goat farm with a cool and coastal climate and sea-facing vines. Soils are rocky (sandstone, limestone, and loam). The estate vines straddle the Carneros and Mt. Veeder AVAs and are all at 100-500 feet elevation. Pinot Noir is the most planted with Chardonnay coming in at number two and a bit of Albariño. There is a small amount of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Mt. Veeder vines. All grapes are handpicked because of the steepness of the vineyards.

Artesa produces 25 distinct wines for a total of 40K-50K cases annually. Ana has been at the helm of winemaking since 2015. She strives for more neutral inputs to let the grapes and the terroir speak for themselves. 100% native fermentation is used, as there is a healthy native yeast population onsite. Researchers were actually brought in and determined that the native yeast onsite does not exist elsewhere; it is unique to Artesa.

For this special tasting, Artesa bottled the component pieces of their wines for educational purposes. Note that these wines were very roughly filtered, bottled by hand, and are not available for sale.

2016 Chardonnay Component #1
This component comes from Blocks 4, 6, & 7 in their estate vineyard. Both Dijon 96 and Robert Young clones are used. In terms of winemaking, puncheon fermentation and basket press is used, the wines go through 100% malo. With this wine, you smell the winemaking (toast, dairy, and texture). On the nose I get green apple, pear, a light toast, and a dairy/cream note. The wine has a bracing medium + acid. The palate is quite textured (perhaps from bâttonage)? And there is a distinct note of toasty macadamia nuts.

2016 Chardonnay Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 15 of the estate vineyard. A pneumatic press and stainless steel fermentation are both used. The wine does not go through malo. Here, I think, you smell a combination of the fruit and the vineyard. This wine is bright with no shortage of fruity, primary notes. It is a bit cloudy, due to the minimal filtering. Green fruit is quite prominent because of the lack of malo.

2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Chardonnay $38
This finished wine has 20 components parts from 10 different clones. Out of the 20, we only got to taste two (above). This wine feels warm on the nose (it is 14.5% ABV after all!). It is quite layered, almost contemplative. I find many California Chardonnay’s reveal themselves when you first meet. With this wine I had to get to know her a little better before I could make an accurate assessment. There are certainly primary notes present (green fruit and citrus), along with the requisite secondary notes common to Chardonnay: cream and dairy. There is even a faint nuttiness on the finish.

2016 Pinot Noir Component #1
This Martini clone component comes from Block 24 of the estate vineyard, which is the first Pinot Noir pick in the vineyard. Open top fermentation in puncheon for 20-25 days, then basket press. This wine gives red fruit (cherry, cranberry), blueberry, vanilla, spice/toast, and earth (a twiggy note) on the nose. The palate is warm and comforting with immature acid that is not yet integrated.

2016 Pinot Noir Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 14 of the estate vineyard. Stainless steel open top fermentation. The wine is a touch cloudy as it is not finished. This is a very primary wine, compared to the first component piece that had oak influence.

2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir $45
This finished wine has 25 components, of which we got to try two. Now THIS is a finished Pinot Noir. The requisite fruit + spice/earth lead to a good, all-around red that won’t overpower food and is quality enough to enjoy on your own.

Thank you to Matt Kaner & Good Measure, Zach Groth and Colangelo & Partners, and Artesa Vineyards & Winery.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Oh Sherry Baby

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review 

Sherry is an adult beverages that is a victim of the past. The word “sherry” conjures up images of elderly ladies sitting in a living room (doilies on the tables!) drinking a sweet cream sherry. Harvey’s Bristol Cream anyone? What people do not know about sherry is that it is made in a wide variety of styles. Sweet and dessert wines are less popular these days, which has made sherry naturally fall out of style. However, today we will talk about two DRY styles of sherry that may be more up your alley.

This week is International Sherry Week! I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new! What a perfect time to jump in. Let’s first cover the basics of sherry, so you know what you’re getting yourself into!

There are three white grapes allowed for use in Sherry: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel. The main environmental influences for the grapes used in sherry are the unique white chalky albariza soils (which help retain moisture) and the warm, dry weather.

Sherry is a fortified wine made only in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. The main styles of sherry are: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, and PX. The best way to explain what sherry is, is to explain how it is made. The two ways to age sherry are biologically (under flor, which is a blanket of yeast) or oxidatively. All the styles listed above fall into these two categories, or somewhere in the middle. But we’ll explain that in a minute!

Sherry wine aging under "flor"

First, a neutral base wine is made and fermented to a low alcohol (11-12%). The wine is then fortified, in which a neutral base spirit is added to increase the alcohol (15-18% depending on the style). The wine is then placed into oak barrels that are not completely filled to the top and is now ready to enter the “solera” for aging. A solera is a process for aging the wines in barrel. See the picture below from the SherryNotes website (which I highly recommend you visit if you want to learn more about sherry!). The bottom barrels are the oldest and the top barrels are the newest. There are different barrels for each year/vintage. Every year some sherry is pulled from the solera and bottled and every year more sherry is added into the system and it is fractionally blended with the older vintages.

Photo from:

A description of the styles of these samples lie below within the tasting notes.

Tasting Notes

Gonzalez Byass Vina AB Amontillado Sherry $24.99
An amontillado sherry starts out being aged biologically under the flor yeast. It is then moved to an oxidative solera. This is why the main markers for amontillado sherry are oxidative and nutty notes. This wine is a pale amber color, has bracing acid and is super duper nutty. There are also savory/umami notes as well as a woody note. This wine has a veryyyyyyy long finish.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado Sherry $24.99
Palo cortado is a rare style of sherry. The wine starts biologically aging under the flor yeast, but sometimes the flor does not develop properly, so it is moved to an oxidative aging system. For this reason, the wine has a combination of aromas/flavors from both systems. It is a more complex wine and perceived to be of a higher quality. This wine is a medium/deep amber color, very strong acid and is richer than the amontillado. The nuts are a bit toastier, almost like garrapiñadas roasting on the street. I also get dried orange peel, caramel, candied ginger, and baking spices (cinnamon and cardamom). There is also a lactic note, which is typical of a Palo Cortado.

Good food pairings for this wine include: cured meats, nuts(!), and cheese. It is a lovely companion to a charcuterie plate to get the party started! These wines are both perfect as we move into fall and look for something other than simple whites and the ubiquitous rosè. These wines have character, a savory note, and are quite warming.

Thank you both to Donna White PR and Gonzalez Byass USA for these samples!