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  • Malbec World Day with the Hess Collection, Colomé, & Amalaya

    Posted: 2019-04-17 06:57
    "Malbec World Day" or "Malbec Mondo" as English speakers prefer to say is celebrated on April 17 to commemorate the day back in 1853 when Argentina's President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento officially made it his mission to transform Argentina's wine industry.  He asked Michel Aime Pouget, a French soil expert, to bring over new vines from France and amongst Pouget's selection, was Malbec.  In the following years, the Malbec varietal flourished in Argentina's dry, and sunny weather, particularly at high elevations.  Today, Malbec is Argentina's star varietal.

    Here we are for Malbec World Day 2019 and I received a trio of Malbec samples from the Hess Collection portfolio, specifically from Bodega Colomé and Bodega Amalaya. The wines are produced in the Calchaquí Valley in Salta, Argentina. The valley has altitude - from 5,500 ft to over 10,000 ft above sea level - making it one of the highest viticulture regions in the world. This high altitude provides intense daytime sunlight and cool nights that help better retain the acidity and concentrated fruit characteristics of the grapes.

    Bodega Colomé is one of the oldest working wineries in Argentina and home to the highest vineyards in the world in Salta's Calchaquí Valley. The winery was established in 1831 when the vineyards were first planted on original rootstock imported from Bordeaux -- and these vines are still bearing fruit today.

    Bodega Amalaya wines began as an experiment at Bodega Colomé in order to find alternative sourcing and varieties for Malbec and Torrontés blends. Donald Hess instructed his researchers to seek an area where no vines had ever been planted the workers labeled the quest using the Inca expression Amalaya meaning 'Hope for a Miracle'.

    Amalaya Malbec 2017 ($16)
    This is a fresh and fruit forward blend of 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, and 5% Petit Verdot that will be gone before you realize.

    Colome Autentico Malbec 2017 ($30)
    The ‘Authentico’ Malbec is made from 100-year-old Malbec vines planted at over 7,000 feet. It is a textured and plush wine with dark intense fruit, both chocolate and vanilla, with a long silky finish.  This is an elegant wine with power.

    Colome Estate Malbec 2016 ($25)
    The fruit for this wine derives from the  Colome Estate vineyard as well as from the El Arenal, La Brava and Altura Maxima vineyards. It comes across with more dark fruit blackberries with bits of earthiness, tobacco, and spices. It also has more of a tannic structure providing enhanced aging potential. If only I had the patience.

  • Lodi Wine: Old Vine Zinfandel & Ancient Vineyards

    Posted: 2019-04-19 06:33
    Marian's Vineyard at
    Mohr Fry Ranches
    Lodi is the "self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World" producing over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel, with the vast majority of it grown in the Mokelumne River AVA. But to paraphrase a favorite song, " well...how did it get there"? According to Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wines, brothers George and William West had added Zinfandel to their Stockton based El Pinal Winery by at least the 1860s. In 1889, German-born Joseph Spenker planted a vineyard, most likely from cuttings from El Pinal, that consisted of Zinfandel, Carignan, Mission, and Tokay -- the later a Vitis vinifera table grape that closely resembles the gnarled look of the Zinfandel vine. This plot is still farmed today by Spenker's ancestors (Wanda Woock Bechthold and her son Greg Burns) in the Royal Tee Vineyard of Jessie's Grove Winery and is Lodi's oldest Zinfandel-dominated planting.  By the way, the oldest continually planted vineyard in Lodi was also planted by Spenker a few years earlier, in 1885, and is the famed Cinsault dominated Bechthold Vineyard.

    Lizzy James Vineyard
    Other historic vineyards, planted in the early 20th century, are Marian's Vineyard at Mohr Fry Ranches, Lizzy James Vineyard owned by Harney Lane Winery, and Soucie Vineyard. The 225 acre Mohr Fry Ranches contains nine distinct blocks of own-rooted Old Vine Zinfandel. The ranch is currently farmed by the father-son team of Jerry and Bruce Fry, whose family has been farming in California for over 150 years. Jerry named the oldest Zinfandel block, 8.3 acres of own-rooted vineyard planted in 1901, Marian's Vineyard after his mother Marian Mohr Fry Zimmerman.  The Lizzy James Vineyard is a 20-acre plot of gnarly Zinfandel vines first planted in 1904. It is named after Lizzy and James, the children of proprietors Jorja (Mettler) and Kyle Lerner, after the Mettler family purchased the vineyard in 2005. And, in 1916 Edward Soucie, Sr. planted own-rooted Zinfandel on Lodi’s far west side which is today owned and managed by fifth-generation Lodi native Kevin Soucie.

    Michael Klouda at
    Bechthold Vineyard
    A logical question regarding these ancient vines is "do their yields deteriorate drastically over time"? Michael Klouda, vineyard manager at Michael David Winery and winemaker at Michael Klouda Wines agrees that this does occur occasionally and individual vines must be replaced periodically. But in general, modern sustainable vineyard practices have increased the health and vigor of grape clusters.  Kyle Lerner mentioned a similar opinion when discussing the restoration project at Lizzy James Vineyard and the necessity of resuscitating a number of unhealthy vines.

    Geographically these ancient vineyards share a common planting within the Mokelumne River AVA and are often own-rooted -- even when the St. George rootstock was available. This was possible since the sandy soils along the river are a deterrent to the phylloxera louse -- although the soils do not eliminate the threat completely -- it's just more manageable. The Mokelumne River location has remained conducive to Zin, as currently 99% of Lodi’s Zinfandel plantings are concentrated in this AVA.

    That being said, there is also an east-west dimension to the soils within the Mokelumne River AVA that leads to a dichotomy in the wine styles. On the east side of Lodi (or east of Highway 99) the soil is sandier and deeper and can be described as more of a loamy sand than sandy loam; whereas west of Hwy. 99 the vineyards are sandy loam with generous amounts of finely crushed granite washed down from the Sierra Nevadas. In addition, the east side contains lower water tables which along with the sandier soils equate to smaller berries and clusters.  According to Randy Caparoso:
    "...this means higher skin to juice ratios as well as earlier ripening; and both factors can result in lower pH, higher total acidity as well as increased phenolic content (the color, tannin as well as aromatic compounds of wines are derived from grape phenols and polyphenols). In plainer English, this means brighter, crisply balanced white wines, and darker, firmer, zestier, flavorful red wines. The opposite – larger clusters and berries – means lighter colored, softer, rounder, less aggressively flavored wines". 

    Mokelumne River Zinfandel
    During our visit, we experienced this dichotomy in practice during a blind tasting of East vs West Zinfandel.  For instance, the west side M2 Wines Soucie Vineyard Lodi Native Zinfandel, the Maley Brothers Vineyards Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Zinfandel, and the Harney Lane Scottsville Vineyard Zinfandel share characteristics of earthiness, mushrooms, and a softer structure. Wines made from Mohr Fry Ranches' grapes also possess these classic westside traits. In contrast, eastside Zins such as the McCay Cellars Lot 13 Lodi Native Zinfandel, Fields Family Stampede Vineyard Zinfandel, and Ironstone Vineyards Rous Vineyard Reserve Ancient Vine Zinfandel share characters of a brighter cherry flavor, black tea, zestiness, and structured tannins. The Harney Lane Lizzy James Vineyard Zinfandels also fit these descriptors. These and other excellent  Mokelumne River Zinfandel we sampled were clear indicators of how the grape variety excels in Lodi.

    Cheers to old-vine and ancient Lodi Zinfandel and please note that this post was heavily influenced by Randy Caparoso and his Lodi Wine Blog and special thanks to the Lodi Winegrape Commission and Snooth.
  • Wines of Navarra, the Camino de Santiago, and French Grape Varieties

    Posted: 2019-04-13 07:21
    The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and concluding at the shrine of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela in the Spanish province of Galicia. The pilgrimages started very shortly after the believed discovery of the tomb of the Patron Saint of Spain in 814. There are two competing claims regarding James evangelization of the Iberian Peninsula with one, based on the Epistle to the Romans where St. Paul suggests a disciple hadn't visited Spain and the alternative, that after James was martyred in AD 44 his remains were transported back to the land that he had in fact evangelized.

    Regardless, pilgrims flocked to the site using the Camino de Santiago and Wines of Navarra website, "in 1234 the first of a succession of French monarchs ascended by marriage to the throne of the Kingdom of Navarra, ushering in over three centuries of cultural flowering still evidenced today by the beautiful and well-worn vestiges of the region’s late Romanesque and high Gothic architectural ambition". As a result of these events, French pilgrims and Monarchs desired French wines so that French grape varieties were planted in the province.

    by the "12th century the Camino emerged as a highly organized international phenomenon". Soon afterward continues the

    These Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Garnacha (Grenache), and Chardonnay vines remained planted among local Tempranillo and Viura vines through throughout the centuries. According to Wine-Searcher.com, "In 1933 the regional Navarra DO was created and its geography is diverse with a number of different features that affect the region's vines and climate. Its proximity to the Bay of Biscay (Atlantic Ocean) in the northwest, the Pyrenees in the northeast and the Ebro River all combine to moderate temperatures created by the effects of the Mediterranean climate.

    Because of this diversity, five sub-zones were created: Baja Montana in the northeast, Valdizarbe in the north, Tierra Estella in the northeast, Ribera Alta in the center, north of the Ebro, and Ribera Baja in the south below the river. A small section of Navarra is classified as Rioja DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada)".

    Recently I received three wine samples that reflect the abundance of French grape varieties but also the history and geography of the region.

    Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin Pinot Noir 2017 ($12)
    Castillo de Monjardin is located in the foothills of the Pyrenées not far from the French border and literally part of the Camino de Santiago as the Castle of Monjardin is a populate hike. The Castle's heritage peaked in the 12th Century but grape growing continued dominated by Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Pinot Noir. Bodegas Castillo de Monjardín operates a family estate of 220 Ha of vineyards that aged were planted 15, 30 and 70 years ago. These Tierra Estella situated and Atlantic influenced vineyards reside on sunny slopes at an average altitude of 1800 feet and are cooled by the "Cierzo" wind -- "a strong, dry and usually cold wind that blows from the North or Northwest through the regions of Aragon, La Rioja, and Navarra". This Pinot Noir is made from grapes harvested from the high altitude and 30-year-old "El Cerezo" vineyard and aged 6 months in oak barriques after fermentation. This process provides slight vanilla and toastiness which are subtle compared to the soft earthy tones and dusty finish. Excellent.

    Bodegas Ochoa Calendas Viura Chardonnay 2018 ($12) - Adriana Ochoa winemaker; Ribera Alta
    Although the current Bodegas Ochoa operation has "only" been in an operation since 1845, the winery possesses an invoice from 1370 where the residing King requested wine from an Ochoa brand. Not only was its location in Olite, the summer residence of royalty in medieval times but it is also situated in the heart of Navarra in Ribera Alta. This is a continental climate bordered by Atlantic and Mediterranean influences, thus warmer with less rainfall than Tierra Estella, but cooler than the Mediterranean climate to the south. The current winemaker is Adriana Ochoa -- the 6th generation of family members to produce wine. She crafted this 50-50 blend to showcase the liveliness of the Viura and the structure of the Chardonnay. It is delicious.

    Bodegas Inurrieta Cuatrocientos 2016 ($18)
    Bodega Inurrieta is also a family-owned company and located in Ribera Alta, but with a little more Mediterranean influences. The name Inurrieta pays tribute to the family name Antoñana and refers to the land where their family grew vines almost sixty years ago. This is a recent endeavor, with the first vines planted in 1999. This Crianza wine is a blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 6% Syrah, and 5% Graciano. After fermentation, the blended wine was aged 14 months in French Allier and American oak barrels. The result is a structured wine, medium to full-bodied with noticeable but approachable tannins.

  • Alternative Packaging from Argentina's Santa Julia

    Posted: 2019-04-11 06:00
    Who's been looking for wine distributed in alternative packaging to bring along during hiking, cycling, boating, or fishing trips? I know I have. And I recently received a strong contender from Winesellers Ltd. a trio of wines packaged in 375ml cans (SRP $5.99).  The wines are produced by Santa Julia, an Argentine brand that leverages their Mendoza location. The winery practices certified organic vineyard management, thus two of these wines are labeled Organic. The Organic Chardonnay provides a classic unoaked Chardonnay flavor; very refreshing with subtle depth and sufficient acidity. The Organic Malbec Rosé behaves again as expected, refreshing with layers of strawberries. However, the red Tintillo is the most interesting as the 50-50 blend of Malbec and Bonarda is fermented using carbonic maceration -- a process where the grapes are fermented intact order to achieve a fruitier wine. It's also designed to drink chilled,  or mildly so in my opinion. A fun wine.
  • Lodi Wine: The Basics

    Posted: 2019-04-10 06:34
    Last week I spent four days exploring Lodi California with Snooth and witnessed the unique wine culture that reflects this region. Over the next couple of months expect regular Monday posts describing this culture.  But today I want to highlight the region's significance so here are a few basic facts available from the Lodi Winegrape Commission.

    Relevance
    The Lodi Appellation (American Viticulture Area) is the most prolific in California and accounts for 20% of all wine grapes crushed in the Golden State. According to the Lodi Winegrape Commission, "there are more acres of wine grapes planted in Lodi than all of Napa Valley and Sonoma County combined; in fact, more than the entire states of Washington and Oregon together, plus another 30%". Thus, Lodi is arguably the most widely planted wine region in the entire U.S. and why the region is relevant to wine consumers.

    Geography
    The Lodi AVA is located between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains on relatively flat terrain. It enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool evenings -- particularly when the "delta breezes" move in from the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. Lodi's soils were formed millenniums ago as erosion from the Sierra Nevada mountain range were carried to the valley via the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers. In addition,  the land adjacent to the Mokelumne River contain layers of sandy soils where Zinfandel vines were planted own-rooted a century ago. In the east, the closer vineyards are planted to the mountains, the soil becomes heavier in clay and stone.

    History
    Lodi was heavily influenced by the California Gold Rush of 1849 as miners looked for farmland as an alternative to failed mining operations. Wine grapes were first planted in 1850 and in 1858 George West founded El Pinal Winery to become the region’s first commercial operation. Soon after several German families immigrated to the region from the Dakotas and their descendants are still growing grapes today - sometimes as 5th and 6th generation farmers. Along the way, Prohibition did not destroy the industry like in so many other regions as Lodi growers shipped grapes eastward for home winemakers (which was still perfectly legal). Post-Prohibition, wineries rebounded with old-vine Zinfandel becoming Lodi's unofficial signature grape.

    Appellation
    The Lodi AVA was created in 1986 and is located in the counties of Sacramento and San Joaquin. (TTB). In August 2006, seven new AVAs were created within the broader Lodi AVA to allow wineries to differentiate among the geographic and climate variances: Alta Mesa * Borden Ranch * Clements Hills * Cosumnes River * Jahant * Mokelumne River * Sloughhouse. However, in general, Lodi winemakers continue to utilize the broader Lodi AVA designation on their labels in order to leverage and market the Lodi name.

    Grape Varieties
    Lodi is predominately a red winegrowing region, with approximately two-thirds of the acreage dedicated to red grape varieties. In fact, Lodi is the "self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World" producing over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. And these are old-vine zinfandel with the oldest plantings dating back to 1888. More recently, however, Cabernet Sauvignon has overtaken Zin as the most widely harvested grape -- with many going into the bulk wine industry. Yet, the real story is Lodi's grape diversity with over 100 varieties crushed into wine with half of these German-Austrian varieties planted by Mokelumne Glen Vineyards.  Other notable grapes we will cover are the Spanish grapes Albariño, Verdejo, Graciano, Tempranillo, and Garnacha; the Italian grapes Barbera, Aglianco, Sangiovese, Teroldego, Fiano, and Vermentino; and the southern Rhone grapes Cinsault, Viognier, Syrah, Picpoul Blanc, and Clairette Blanc.

    You can follow the Lodi Wine story here.  Cheers.

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