Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rioja: The Motherland of Spain

When you think of the Rioja, you generally think of red wine. But did you know that Rioja wines can be white, rosé, or red? Also, every bottle of Rioja carries an official trust seal (classification) located on the back of the bottle. Be sure to look for this label on every bottle. This ensures it is an authentic Rioja wine.

Rioja was the first region in Spain to receive DOC status in 1925. It is located in north Central Spain, along the Ebro River and is 210 square miles in size. The region is most known for its medium-bodied elegant wines that are fruity when young and more velvety when aged. The wines are also known for their aging potential. There are three sub-regions in the Rioja: Rioja Alavesa (chalky and limestone soils), Rioja Alta (chalky soils with more Atlantic influences), and Rioja Oriental (alluvial soils with a Mediterranean influence).

The main grape used to make Rioja wine is Tempranillo with 80% of wines being Tempranillo based. It is a grape indigenous to Spain, and finds its finest expression in the Rioja region. Tempranillo is versatile and has great aging potential. Other grapes used in the Rioja include: Graciano, Garnacha, Viura, Maturana Tinta, Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco, and Maturana Blanca.

Moving away from the facts, and into my personal opinion, Rioja wines are a great way to start a cellar as the prices (for what you are getting) can be quite reasonable. Aside from the fact that the wines are great, one reason why I speak highly of Rioja wines is their value. What’s great about the Rioja is that many of the producers have had the winery/vineyards in their family for generations. With that being said, they might not have a mortgage to pay or a construction loan to pay on a fancy new chateau-like building (as do some CA wine regions). Personally, I like to know that my wine dollars are going more towards the juice than to expensive real estate, a famous winemaker, or a marketing budget.

Rioja only releases wines when they are ready to drink, which takes out a lot of the guesswork. This is why you see older Rioja vintages on the shelves at such killer prices. The “current release” of a wine can easily be 5-10 years old. So if you buy a bottle, rest assured that you can bring it home and pop it open with no problem.

Which leads me to another important topic when talking about Rioja wines: aging. Rioja has a strict aging classification system. The details are a bit complicated, but the good thing is that the aging level can always be easily found on the bottle. No guessing here. Rioja aging classifications (for red wines) are below:


No aging requirements. Can have minimal oak aging.

Aged for 2 years with a minimum of 1 year in oak.

Aged for 3 years with a minimum of 1 year in oak and 6 months in bottle.

Gran Reserva
Aged for 5 years with a minimum of 2 years in oak and 2 years in bottle.

In November 2018 I attended the “Spain’s Great Match” event where Wines from Spain poured 150 wines alongside tapas and pairings from Jose Andres’, The Bazaar restaurant. At this event I attended a Rioja seminar in which I tasted the below Rioja wines. Cheers!

Bodegas Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2013 D.O.Ca. Rioja
This wine is showing a bit of age with its garnet color. The traditional Rioja nose (sour red fruit, sweet spice, vanilla, and cedar), plus violets, also classic for Rioja. This wine is made from all estate grapes, which is not typical in Rioja. An elegant wine.

Bodegas Bilbaínas Viña Pomal Reserva 2013 D.O.Ca. Rioja $24.99
This 100+ year old producer falls under the Cordiníu portfolio. Ruby in color with purple hues.This wine does not have the “traditional" Rioja nose. It’s actually a bit understated. Delicate violets on the nose. Black fruit and licorice on the palate.

Bodegas Montecillo Reserva 2011 D.O.Ca. Rioja
A more modern nose for Rioja. Such a youthful, fresh wine for being 8 years old! Sour cherry prevails! A hearty fish (such as tuna or swordfish) would be a good pairing.

Bodegas Ontañón Reserva 2010 D.O.Ca. Rioja
The most polished wine of the bunch with a beautiful nose of red fruit (sour cherry + cranberry) plus a “spice” character, perhaps jalapeño? This wine is aged in a combination of American and French oak.

Bodegas CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva 2009 D.O.Ca. Rioja
This wine is deep ruby color and has the nose of an old Rioja: a combination of red and black fruit, violets, spice (cloves + cinnamon), and toasted oak. Smooth, well-integrated tannins.

Bodegas Faustino Gran Reserva 2005 D.O.Ca. Rioja $40
This wine is versatile and could work with many different foods. At 14 years old it is quite soft and understated. Actually, the most understated of the bunch.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sella & Mosca: Simply Sardinia

In my wine journeys I have the opportunity to experience fabulous wines and attend events where I get to taste these wines and meet the winemakers. One such occasion was when I was introduced to Sella & Mosca, the largest winery on the island of Sardinia. Sardinia lies south of France near the island of Corsica and off the west coast of Italy. Sella & Mosca lies on the NW corner of the island, just inland from the historic port of Alghero, which was designated a DOC in 1995.

Sardinia has a 6,000-year winemaking history. Sella & Mosca is the largest winery on the island (550 hectares planted) and almost the oldest. Fun fact: it is the second largest contiguous vineyard in Italy! They use all organic cultivation and participate in other sustainable activities. The vineyards have been planted with alternating rows of oleanders, palms, maritime pines, eucalyptus and other Mediterranean plants. The winery also maintains a 12-acre nature preserve dedicated to Mediterranean vegetation and local wildlife.

Tourism is the main industry on the island with 1.4 million tourists visiting year-round. In the summer, the population of the island doubles. The island provides lots of sun and wind and desirable soils for grapes including: iron-rich limestone, clay and sandy soils. All their wines are made from estate-grown grapes and they grow both native varieties (Vermentino, Torbato, and Cannonau) as well as some international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Of note about Sardinia is its designation as a “Blue Zone”. Blue Zones are regions of the world where Dan Buettner claims people live much longer than average. Other blue zones in the world include Okinawa, Japan and Costa Rica. Sardinia is said to be on this list partially because Cannonau has one of the highest concentration of resveratrol as any other grape variety. 

Founded over a century ago in 1899, Sella & Mosca was started by two Piemontese businessmen: Erminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca, who were two very important figures during the Risorgimento. Had to look this one up! According to Wikipedia: the Italian unification, also known as the Risorgimento, was the political and social movement that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century.

Today, the head winemaker is Giovanni Pinna who lead us through a tasting of their wines.  A native of Sardinia, Giovanni has devoted his entire career to studying, working and teaching others about the island’s unique viticultural landscape. He joined Sella & Mosca in 2000 and is now chief winemaker over their annual production of 7.6 million bottles!

Most notable about Sella & Mosca is their dedication to the Torbato grape, their flagship variety. Torbato was brought to the island during the Spanish rule. Even though a variety called Turbat is found in Spain today, Sella & Mosca is the only producer in the world to vinify it as a 100% varietal wine. Today they produce four types of Torbato: Torbato D.O.C. Alghero, Terre Bianche D.O.C. Alghero, Terre Bianche Cuvée 161 D.O.C. Alghero, and Torbato Spumante Brut. Giovanni uses no oak in their white wines, as he wants you to experience the grape, not the wood.

Sella & Mosca wines are readily available in Los Angeles at the Wine House, K&L Wines, and Wally’s.

Below I detail the Sella & Mosca wines tasted at this luncheon, as well as the incomparable food pairings courtesy of Celestino Drago at Drago Centro. Note that the menu was created to try different wines with different courses, so it was not a straight one course + one wine per pairing.

Crab Salad Toast, Truffle Arancini, and Tuna Crostini

Torbato Brut 2017 Alghero Torbato Spumante DOC $24.99 (12.5% ABV)
This wine has bright fruit notes of pear and green apple with a delicate whiteflower note on the back end, but not as much florals as you’d get from a Prosecco. This wine has medium + acid and is quite round…not austere. A fabulous pairing for seafood. I feel very honored to try this wine as Sella & Mosca makes the only varietally labeled Turbato in the world! Fun fact: they are working on a traditional method Turbato sparkler that is still sitting on the lees and aging. That would be a treat to try!

First Course
Scallop, Roasted Maitake Mushroom, Truffle Beurre Blanc 

Second Course
Tagiolini, Seabass, Cherry Tomato, Pine Nut, Fish Fumet 

Le Arenaire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Alghero DOC $17.99 (13% ABV)
A much riper nose (less green) than the ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It is round, ripe, but with gripping acid, just as you’d expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus (Meyer lemon), green fruit, and a hint of tropical notes (unripe pineapple). A very well-balanced wine…I really love this one. Great acid and great body. Fabulous with both the scallop and the pasta course. And at $17.99, a great QPR compared to other Sauv Blancs out there where the quality can be a bit lacking at that pricepoint.

Monteoro 2016 Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG $26.99 (14% ABV)
Vermentino is a well-known grape to Sardinia. It is found in other regions (such as Liguria and Tuscany) but 75% of Italy’s Vermentino finds its home in Sardinia. In France it is known as Rolle. Here in Sardinia this wine is produced in Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia’s only DOCG, formed in 1996. A lovely almond-skin nose gives this wine a true “Sardinian” feel, as you know instantly this is not one of the international varieties. Typicity reigns with Vermentino in Sardinia. 

Third Course
Lamb Loin, Venere Risotto, Roasted Beets, Bartlett Pears, Lamb Jus 

Fourth Course
Chef’s Assorted Cheeses 

Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC 2015 $17.99 (14.5% ABV)
Cannonau is known elsewhere as Grenache, a thin-skinned red variety. Over 700 years ago the Spanish brought Grenache to Sardinia and over time the grape has changed and now it’s known as Cannonau. This wine gives bright red fruit, floral (violet) notes, graphite/minerality, earth, umami/mushroom, and balsamic notes. No joke, my tasting notes on the palate says: HOLY SHIT. This wine inspires me. For $17.99 you are transported to the Mediterranean. To Sardinia. Italian wines tend to do this……they take you there. Whether it’s through the nose or the taste, or how the wine plays with the food, or how it brings back memories of perhaps a trip you took to Italy. It is quite a special thing and this wine reminds me why I LOVE Italian wines. There is just something about them.

Tanca Farrà Alghero DOC 2014 $26.99 (13.5% ABV)
This guy is 50% Cannonau and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. You can actually smell/taste the structure and backbone that Cab Sauv lends.

Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC 2010 $59.99 (13% ABV)
The grapes for this wine originate in the Villamarina vineyard of the estate. After harvest and fermentation, the wine is matured in small French oak casks for 18 months before transfer to larger oak barrels for a further year. After bottling, it is aged an additional 18 months. A beautiful, well-balance wine. Really nice. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Odfjell Vineyards: The Best of Chile in a Bottle

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

It is not often that wine crosses my desk that possesses the holy trifecta: affordable, organic/biodynamic, and delicious. This was the case with the wines of Odfjell Vineyards of Chile. I wanted to speak to the winemaker and learn more about Odfjell and about making wine in Chile. Arnaud Hereu, chief oenologist/winemaker was kind enough to answer a few questions as I explored and tasted their wines.

Odfjell is a good example of sustainable viticulture and winemaking in Chile. When I asked Arnaud, why do you think that Chile is one of the leaders in the world for sustainability when it comes to viticulture and winemaking? He responded: Chile is a country that thinks of the future, a country always a step ahead. Chile is a country really connected to nature: the landscape, the fruit industry, even the mining industry in a way…they know that they have to keep their country in “good shape” for the next generation. Wine is an important aspect of agriculture, it is exposed outside of the country and I think it is important for us to show to the world that yes, we care about the future.

Odfjell was started by Dan Odfjell, a Norweigan shipping owner and avid traveler who was won over by a small corner of the famed Maipo Valley in Chile. Fast forward and today the business is lead by sons, Lawrence and Dan Jr. They now have 284 acres of vines in the Maipo, Lontué, and Maule Valleys and are 100% certified organic and biodynamic, producing 60,000 cases annually.

Lawrence, one of Dan’s sons, designed the gravity flow winery onsite. The system allows for extremely gentle handling of the grapes. The winery is situated on a hill above the vineyards. Carved into the slope, over 60% of the winery is underground. This subterranean environment naturally achieves low and stable temperatures for storage. The design incorporates a number of passive cooling strategies, such as: optimizing solar orientation and using 30cm thick concrete walls as thermal mass. Gravitational wineries ensure that during winemaking, pumping is reduced to an absolute minimum, thus avoiding unnecessary agitation of the wine. This gentle handling allows us to preserve all the subtle fruit characteristics from the vineyards for the final bottle.

Gravity-flow winery onsite at Odfjell

On a (sort of) unrelated to wine note, they also breed Norweigan fjord horses on their estate. Dan brought them to Chile over two decades ago. These horses control weeds, provide better soil drainage, and transport grapes during harvest without compacting the soil. And they're cute!

I asked Arnaud: Is there something special that you feel you can do/accomplish at Odfjell versus at another winery? He replied: Odfjell is paradise for a winemaker. The owners are really open to try new things. They trust the winemaking team. The vision of the Odfjell family is long term.

And now, let’s explore the wines of Odfjell Vineyards. I am not including my personal notes as I had a bit of a stuffy nose upon tasting and my palate was not up to snuff. But I can say that I did enjoy what I tried and even shared these wines with friends who were all impressed, especially with the Armador Cabernet Sauvignon at $15. Try getting something of that quality from California for 15 bucks?!?!?

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
Winey Notes: Ruby color with hints of violets. Red fruit such as strawberries and plums, as well as licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla, chocolate, and mushroom.

2017 Odfjell Ordaza Carignan ($23)
Winery Notes: Ruby red in color with a hint of violet. Red fruit aromas of strawberries and plums appear on the nose along with licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla. Perfectly balanced on the palate with ripe tannins and a long, refreshing finish.

2013 Odfjell Aliara ($44)
Winery Notes: Concentrated deep violet in color. The nose is attractive with a range of aromas from the different varieties in the blend, including hazelnuts, dates, and fried figs as well as floral notes (jasmine and roses). The palate is sophisticated, intense, and juicy; complemented by chocolate, coffee, and tobacco leaves. The finish is long with ripe and velvety tannins.