Thirsty Thursday: Pre Labor Day White Garnacha Blanco Vina del Vero

This Thirsty Thursday we need something interesting.  Labor Day will come and we will drink cheap beer.  The last thing we need on Labor Day is a conversion about grape clonal types.  It is a day to eat, drink, and not think.

Group Of Friends Enjoying Barbeque On Beach TogetherBut until the brainwashing, let’s test that gray matter with something familiar but not: Grenache.  Now Grenache has starred in award winning red roles such as: Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhône, Rioja, Priorat, anything big red and Languedoc, and rosé from Provence.

And then there’s Grenache Blanc: a mutation of Grenache Noir, much as Pinot Noir mutated into Blanc and Gris.  Like Grenache Noir, Blanc grows vigorously throughout the Western Mediterranean, producing large, thin-skinned grapes that can reach high alcohols.

Today we find it in Somontano DO: an appellation high in the foothills below the Pyrenees and East of Rioja:

Somontano Map Wine These high hills mean colder nights, which should keep Grenache’s tendency toward flabbiness and low acids in check.

The producer is Viñas del Vero, which sounds like some pure, board room meeting, demographics-tested, genius (like Blue Sky Thinking or Gogurt), but they are real, really.  They own 700 hectares and a real winery: San Marcos estate.  One of their vineyards is solely dedicated to Garnacha Blanco: La Miranda de Secactella. And this is what their 2012 tastes like:

La Miranda de SecastellaLooks: clear, bright yellow like, lemon juice.

Aromas: Think of a medium intense mix of lemongrass, honeydew melon, and white pear that meshes with an exotic, but light, layer of chai tea with cream.

Palate: Dry, perfectly present balancing acidity, a ripe, fullish body, and actually hints of tannin.

Flavors: a ringing line of grassy, snappy, lemon-like greenness runs through this.  Around it layer soft white melon, those chai tea spices, and pear, all of which tighten into a salt-like minerality. Long.

Conclusions: Mouthwatering yet fat.  This reminds me of really good chardonnay from cool climates of the new world: crackling acidity that keeps a rich body in check, while a deft lacing of French oak melds both acid and body into one fairly harmonious whole: very good (4 out 5).  This could take on richer dishes, herbed white meats, grilling, cream sauces, fried things.  And it costs under $15.

So today, grab something new. Test that gray matter, while it still cares.  And then have a happy Labor Day.

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Drinking in Lyon: Bugey Pinot Noir and Jura Chardonnay

This Monday finds us 126 days deep into our EU Austerity Drinking Tour: our post-WSET Advanced attempt to (cheaply) drink our way through Europe’s great vineyards, breweries and distilleries.

Last Monday’s post visited Lyon’s Roman ruins, a Crozes-Hermitage under $10, and big, pretty churches.  Today, we wake to omelets and cappuccino in our home stay.  The Metro then slingshots us to the Lumiere estate.  Apartments have mostly replaced their photo factory, but one vestige remains:

Lumiere HangarAuguste and Louis shot 46 seconds of their workers walking out of this hanger on March 19, 1895.  Thus, the first commercial film began with labor leaving for its evening of freedom.

Next door, the Lumiere brothers lived in a splendid, Art Nouveau mansion (with their wives…awkward?).

Lumiere estate lightWe tour it .  The audio guide just translates placards (total ripoff!).  After two hours of rooms, films, and historic cameras, we walk home exhausted.

T and A Lumiere First CameraLuckily, we buy pastries, make pasta, and find this:

Duport Bugey Pinot NoirNow Bugey is not at the top of any wine list (except maybe in Bugey), but that’s why we travel.  Just East of Lyon, before Geneva, Switzerland are wedge valleys hung with vineyards gasping for sun.

Bugey Wine RegionsYves Duport, makes “Bugey Tradition” from Pinot Noir.  This 2010 costs a mere € 8.20.  So how does this daily red of central, eastern France fair?

Appearance: Like most pinot, it looks a pale ruby, purple with a fading clear rim. Aromas: Young, mild hintings of candied raspberry and green tea seem, well, a bit hidden. Palate: it feels dry, snapping with acidity, mellowed by supple medium tannins, medium 12% alcohol, and a surprisingly fullish, round body. Flavors: like the body, extra flavors of raspberry tart, crust and all, a slight clove, bell pepper, finish in an array of minerals that last for a medium plus length.

Duport’s Bugey Tradition 2010 Pinot is unexpectedly round, ripe, yet bright.  It recalls Alsatian pinot noir.  If the only the aromas were more persuasive and complex. Still, for under 10 EU this is Good (3 of 5).

We sleep until 10:30.

Lyon StreetA lazy climb takes us to Lyon’s silk merchants.  We learn all we care to know about silk (mainly that the silk moth is the most adorable bug on earth):

Lyon Silk MothWe miss the silk tour (damn!) and instead grab a fabulous lunch at an ancient bakery which we take to a nearby park bench.

T and bread pizza lyon(No, I don’t carry a cardboard-cutout Tracy for all my photos…she just likes adorable moths and pastries).

We then find Lyon’s Colosseum, from which one can see their cropped Eiffel Tower, Basilica, and even the Alps beyond:

A Lyon AmpitheaterOver-cultured, we Metro to the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, which, thanks to winter and socialism, are free:

Lyon Lion(Yes, a lion in Lyon, a very lazy, French lion at that).  After shopping at a Christmas store, we find an all natural grocery and come home with organic pumpkin seeds and this:

Domaine Pignier Cellier de Lacuzon ChardonnayThese not only organic but biodynamic Chardonnay grapes grow just North of yesterday’s Bugey, in the Côtes du Jura: a region famed for cold climate, wild wines, that often see extended cellaring.

Somehow, Domaine Pignier, Cellier de Lacuzon grew this 2008 Chardonnay, aged it, and only charges €8.30. But is it junk?

Appearance:  Glasses fill gold that shows a slight bubble. Aromas: Young, medium intense roasted nuts, tart golden apple, and honey make for a butter-less chardonnay. Palate: It feels dry, with racy, extra acidity, medium alcohol (13%), and a normal body. Flavors: delicious, golden apple, a typical, not overdone oxidized nutty almond, hazelnut core, lime, chalk, and salt finish make for a lengthy, very good white (4 of 5 points).  Honestly delightful, mouthwatering wine.

We crash. Sprawling, grey, urban, modern Lyon was good to us.  Tomorrow bags will pack for Beaune in the heart of Burgundy.  Check back next Monday for that! Until then, be still my heart.

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Thirsty Thursday: Marchesi di Barolo, Maraia, Barbera del Monferrato, Italy 2012

I’m finding it hard reaching for red this Thirsty Thursday. It is still August.  Summer has yet to leave us. I do not want to hear the word Fall.  But then we have Barbera.

barbera grapesNo, not those perpetually rerun Saturday cartoons, but a big, fat black grape that grows like wildfire throughout Northwestern Italy.

Barbera makes for a staple red wine of the North, attached to regions like Asti and Alba. Yet nearly filling the Piedmont region and enveloping the familiar appellations of Asti and Alba ranges Monferrato: a hilly swath south of Turin (Torino).

piedmont doc wine map

Today’s Barbera del Monferrato DOC comes from Marchese di Barolo: grandaddy of famed, classic Barolo and Barbaresco.  It is 100% Barbera.  Yet because Monferrato is massive (that huge pink blob mapped above), this wine will be under $10 on any respectable shelf.

Marchesi Di Barolo Barbera Monferrato Marchesi di Barolo titled it “Maraia”: or rowdy kids. You know, the ones with the one-eyed dog, who roam the streets burning ants with a magnifying glass, playing endless amounts of baseball, and ending up in every single film from 1980 until 1995: when it stopped being cute.

Lucky dog.

Lucky dog.

So what does an inexpensive bottle of little rascals taste like?

Appearance: It has a clear yet dense purple ruby color with a short clear rim.

Aroma: At first soft vanilla and dry leaf (6 months of oak) then morph into a warming, intense black cherry syrup.

Palate: Snappy and dry, the palate prances about with bright, chattering acidity, minor tannin, and a medium minus body.

Flavors: A moderately intense array of bramble berries that blacken fingers leads, followed by tart orange juice, and finished with a light dusting of oak ash.

Conclusions: MdB’s Maraia Barbera is simple, playful, and delightful.  It displays Barbera’s twangy fruit mostly unadorned by oak. It is a perfect wine for the fruit and acid of red tomatoes: from caprese salad to pasta.  Well done (3 of 5) and perfect for summer.


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No EU Austerity Drinking Tour Monday

My apologies readers. This Monday’s EU Austerity Drinks Tour will have to wait until next Monday.  If I still have sanity and attached fingers, Thirsty Thursday’s wine recommendation will arrive.

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Thirsty Thursday: Chill with Blandy’s Madeira, 1998, Colheita, Single Harvest, Verdelho, Portugal

With summer’s heat upon us, we turn to whites, rosés, hell…anything chilled.  Although going too far might risk damnation:

jesus-popsiclesThank you internet, thank you (and yes, those are wine).  But if you’re not into drive-by Eucharists via ice cream trucks, how about chilling with something traditional yet all too forgotten: fortified wine.

America’s founders lived on fortified wines like Port, Sherry, and especially Madeira (the bar tab leading up to signing the Constitution saw 54 bottles of the latter). Why? Boats lacked air conditioning. The heat ruined most wines that lacked high alcoholic protection.  But fortified wines survived the trip.

Now most Ports are drunk cool, Sherries can range cooler, but Madeira should be chilled into the 40s. So break out the surf board, sun tan lotion, and get that brazilian…it’s summer!

This Thirsty Thursday we splurge on a wine from 1998, from a grape called Verdelho, from a Portuguese island called Madeira, from a seven generation producer known as Blandy’s.

Blandys Madeira 1998 Colheita Single Harvest Verdelho Portugal

Appearance: Clear, bright golden amber with guase-like legs.

Aromas: A monumental punch of hard cider, orange liquor, green fig, fresh grass, honey, and salt simply own my nose.

Palate: It is medium sweet but bright acids, vegetal pine tannins, and oodles of alcohol wash away any thoughts that this is dessert wine.  The body is full up front then leaned out, taught and serious by all its structures.  A fine line of viscous texture keep this from becoming too serious, too austere.

Flavors: A complex, intense array of flavors vie for attention: dried orange peel and orange liquor, lime, green fig, honey, creme brulee, vanilla syrup, salt, white pepper, white smoke… One could go on for months, this 1998 is endless.

Conclusion: Bandly’s 1998 Colheita Madeira Verdelho is outstanding stuff (5 of 5). Chilled: it is mouthwatering, bright, complex, and honestly still in its youth.  It reminds me of Islay single malt scotch: serious, challenging, yet so rewarding.

Whereas most wineries age their wine for a year or two, this sees fourteen.  Fourteen.  Imagine, making something and then sitting on it, making no money, then when that newborn is ready for high school, bottle it and pray it sells.

Now all that time in barrel, baking in hot rooms (the estufagem process), makes the wine immortal.  You can age it for decades.  It will taste the same open for over six months.  For around $60 a 500ml, that’s an investment.

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