RIAS BAIXAS, Albarino and Spring and Summer in a Glass

“It's a smile, it's a kiss, it's a sip of wine ... it's summertime!”  Kenny Chesney

Pity the fortunate who live where the seasons don’t include wind driven sleet that slices through your clothing and leaves your bones quaking from a chill that last for months.  Those poor fortunates never experience the heights of joy we hardies do when greeted finally by the renewal of warm weather.  No, we’re able to celebrate the “changing of the wine” in true spirit.  We move to white wines. Crisp wines. Wines of joy and cleanliness and youth that celebrate the season’s promise of variety. Wines we can enjoy outdoors. Wines that pair so perfectly with many of the lighter meals enjoyed in warmer months.

SOMM Jill Zomorski presenting
Rias Baixas is home to these wines. A region in Northwest Spain, Rias Baixas is hillsides of hard granite beneath a top soil of mineral-rich clay, silt and gravel.  With abundant sunshine, but a cool maritime climate, the area’s five sub-regions, while unique, share in producing aromatic wines of mouthwatering acidity.  These wines are a joy for both the nose and the palate and bring out the best in summer food pairing.

Over 99% of all wine produced here is white.  Twelve grape varieties are permitted, but the most well-known (and produced) is Albarino.  It accounts for 90% of all plantings.  Thinking you know Albarino is like thinking you know a vegetable because you’ve tasted it.  But just as the same vegetable from a different country offers a different experience, Albarino from Rias Baixas offer a unique taste and sensory experience.

Getting Ready to Taste
I enjoyed a tasting of several of these wines in April in Chicago with Sommelier Jill Zomorski presenting information as we moved along, pairing the wines with different small plates prepared by the talented chefs at the Little Goat Kitchen.  As a group, Albarino wines may show aromas of green apple, honeysuckle, citrus, ripe melon, peach, pear and apricot. They are dry, but fruity with moderate alcohol, mineral tones and refreshing acidity that is both palate cleansing and mouthwatering.  But each of
Spring onion pierogi with chive yogurt
and rhubarb relish made by the talented chefs
at the Little Goat. Delicious. Demonstrating
too the versatility of Albarino. 
the five sub-regions within Rias Baixas will contribute its own characteristic. And winemakers will do the rest: Many now favor fermenting with wild yeasts. Some will ferment and/or age – or age some portion – of the wine in wood. Some will extend contact with the lees (spent yeast cells) making for a rounder texture and enhanced flavor.  Others may allow some malolactic fermentation.  Any of these techniques may be used, or used in combination, wholly or in part to make each Albarino unique. What is universal is the characteristic that has made Albarino from Rias Baixas the standard by which all others are judged.

Following is a listing of the wines I tasted and a brief description of each wine’s differing highlight:

VALMINOR 2015: Clear, clean, pale lemon with a green hue. Aromas of ripe peach, white flower. Ripe, juicy fruit aromas but clean on the palate. No malolactic, no extended lees contact – all steel. Quince, lime, floral notes. This is freshness in the glass. (Alc. 12%). SRP $18.99

CONDES DE ALBAREI 2014: Fermented with wild yeasts. Nose is more ripe, more melon with tastes of kiwi and melon. Not sure if there was any malolactic. No (or very short) skin contact.  Another example of the freshness of Albarino. (Alc. 12%). SRP $15.

I enjoyed the wine so much, later I made
roasted sea bass with parsley sauce on a
bed of  chickpea puree and quick-picked
Watermelon radish spirals. Great wine
allows for such versatility.
PAZO SAN MAURO 2014: From further inland and south, this wine does not rest on its lees for any length, but develops color from six hours of skin contact. Aromas of apricot and peaches. Rich, ripe and rounded softly with notes of orange blossom. Flavors of jasmine, peach and minerality. (Alc. 12.5%). SRP $17.

PAZO DE SENORANS 2015: O.K. Time out.  2015 was a great year, I mean terrific, for Albarino in the Rias Baixas.  Consider that when I tell you I so enjoyed the floral nose and rich creaminess of this wine. No malolactic, but 5 months of lees aging can account for the rounded creamy mouthfeel.  Jill points out the aroma of beer foam in the nose.  I’m very suggestive, but now that she mentions it, I must agree, and I love it. (Alc. 12.5%).  SRP $25.

PACO & LOLA 2014:  15% Malolactic Fermentation, three months less contact, the nose is delicate but artful with some herbaceous notes, then lemon-balm and jasmine with fruit notes developing as the wine airs in the glass. Flavor of lavender and apple that is mellow and absolutely delicious. As with all Albarino, this too is dry but with fruit characteristics in balance like a Flying Wallenda.  (Alc. 12.5%). ARP $22.

TERRA DE ASOREI 2015:  Oh, oh, another 2015!  Soft, rounded, floral with peach. Lovely aromatics and flavors in balance play delicately against each other. A push-pull of finesse. (Alc. 12.2%) SRP $14.99

BODEGA VEIGA NAUM 2015: (For my palate) a different approach, but one that works successfully on successive sips.  Detecting some chamomile (?) which is different – or could be attributed to the various small plates I’ve been tasting.  Really should taste this again, and separately, to be fair.  (Alc. 12.4%). SRP $15.

MARTIN CODAX 2014: What you may be thinking of when you think of Albarino. Delicate aromas of lime with white floral notes that carry into the taste. All steel for freshness, 40% Malolactic Fermentation to round it all out. (Alc. 12%). SRP $16.99.

BODEGAS LA CANA 2014:  A standby, I’ve enjoyed it several times. Available at most retail outlets. Native yeasts. Eight months on the lees make it gentle yet naturally peachy with mineral notes. (Alc. 12.5%).  SRP $17.99.

ALTOS DE TORONA 2015: Not just a 2015, but a blend of Albarino, Loureiro and Caino Blanco. Lots of lavender and honeysuckle.(Alc. 12.5%). SRP $16-$20.

Albarino and Rias Baixas: a grape and a region (D.O.) that, coming together, make for a perfect storm of wines with unique character; a sense of place and joyous wine that is food friendly and celebratory of the season with prices that are budget friendly.  What I particularly appreciate is the diversity within the same varietal and region of Rias Biaxas that respects any particular preference you may have for that moment.  Wines that are softer, more delicate, less acidic or more so.  Wines so perfectly complimenting a plate of appetizers, wines enjoyable on their own under a patio umbrella with cooling breezes on summer days and blue skies accented with puffy white clouds.  But throughout it all is the common ancestry of fresh, light-medium bodied wine, with alcohol addresses only in the 12 neighborhood that are refreshing and crisp and just so enjoyable.  

Albarino is fast gaining popularity in the United States. A thick skinned grape that makes for fresh, fruity, but dry wines with luscious aromas and cleansing acidity that is so refreshing.   Wine Mizer advice?  Try several. Invite some friends and have a “blind tasting” with bottles in numbered bags Be  prepared and have on hand some appetizers that can be served at room temperature or chilled and enjoy the gifts of spring and summer and the Rias Biaxas.  You may like them all, but you’re sure to pick a favorite.

……………. Jim

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“Misunderstanding is generally simpler than true understanding, and hence has more potential for popularity.”   Raheel Farooq

Misconceptions are sticky things.  Like dried thistles adhering to your clothing as you walk through the woods, you acquire them without notice.  And the longer you carry them around, the more they seem to affix themselves. Misconception about viticulture are similar. I picked up a few without notice. And as I carried them around, they became fixated --- accepted as logical enough so as to be true. I should know better.

Getting Ready to Taste
the Wines
Then I received an invite to taste wines from Israel, specifically those made under the Yardin label of the Golan Heights Winery. I often taste wines and have tasted wines from all the countries that immediately come to mind and several from those that do not.  I knew too that Israel produced wine, but Israel didn’t have the climate for quality viticulture: too hot, dry, arid and desert like. And “kosher” wine?  We all remember those brands.  That and one or two other misconceptions I’m embarrassed to admit having sticking to me were quickly self-realized once I tasted Yardin wine.  As in Italy, and other areas, elevation is one key to quality viticulture. So is soil. And the Golan Heights offers both in the type for quality viniculture.  Finally, having tasted the wines, and freeing myself from these misconceptions, I’ve become a self-appointed publicist.

Without going into geographical detail (more to hide my ignorance than to risk boring you) the earth’s tectonic plates are constantly shifting and have done so for millennia.  The Golan Heights (you’d think “heights” would have been a clue wouldn’t you?) is a volcanic plateau with varied and distinct soil types.  Vineyards on the Heights are chosen based on elevation, aspect, and soil type and are among the coolest in Israel. Vineyards range from the Sea of Galilee to Mount Hermon reaching up to 3,900 feet.  Golan Heights Winery cultivates 1500 acers of vineyards here, dividing the vineyards into 400 blocks.

The tasting began with a Yarden Blanc de Blanc (2008) sparkling wine. 100% Chardonnay from grapes grown at high elevation in the most northern and coldest region of Israel.  Lemon zest, tart green apple, and (for me) some white pepper on the nose. Citrus and minerality on the palate, from soils of basalt, clay and limestone. The mousse was fine and persistent and the wine was creamy with mild autolytic notes.  No surprise it was made according to the traditional method: whole cluster pressing, secondary fermentation in the bottle.  Disgorging began after more than five years of bottle aging on the yeast.  All this for a suggested retail price of $32?  I was interested.

What followed was a 2014 Yarden “Odem” (organic) Chardonnay (100% Chardonnay), rich, balanced with caramel and deep lemon colored with notes of pie crust, smoky oak and a rich texture, it comes from the single vineyard. If that’s not your style of choice, consider the 2013 Yarden Chardonnay, a blend of pure Chardonnay and very much like a white burgundy. I found it graceful and finessed with balanced creamy notes played opposing tart citrus in aromas of orange. The blend benefits from full lees contact making the mouthfeel rich but is only partially subjected to malolactic fermentation, keeping fruit fresh. Aged seven months in French oak (50% new) the oak is present but unobtrusive.  At an ARP of $22, this is a great value and struck my “happy spot”.  I’ve since bought it at retail.

We then moved on to a wine that completely cleansed me of my misconceptions: Yarden 2T (vintage 2012).  The only problem I have with this wine is the difficulty I encountered in finding it at retail. It’s a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Tinto Cao.  Its somewhat herbaceous nose opens to a joy of Portuguese fruit: blueberry, plum, ripe berries, vanilla and nutmeg in a wine with bright acidity and violet.  Married with Tinto Cao, the blend picks up floral notes, spice and enough tannin to make the wine age worthy. These are the grapes used in making port, but through the skill of winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, are made into still, dry, red wine that intrigues and captivates. Cocoa, spice, white flowers and oak. I absolutely fell in love with this wine. From Israel?  Yes, and wonderful.

We finished with a 2012 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon.  Lots of bright notes, I enjoyed its old world style of restrained fruit that developed with airing.  ARP $32, I wanted to play more with this, initially thinking it might contain some Cabernet Franc (it does not) and whether it was grown in a cooler site, as the fruit was not California fruit-forward in style.  Aged 18 months in French Oak (40% new) I enjoyed blackberry layered with spice and some earthy notes all balanced seamlessly. This wine can age easily 10 more years and I’d like to be able to taste it then and enjoy how those bright notes have moved with time.  

My interest piqued, I later hunted down some additional Yarden
wine by myself and found a 2011 Pinot Noir. If I could be convinced by this challenging wine, then I’d be committed to being a fan. I’m now a fan!  Unusual and interesting, the nose offered dried herbs, eucalyptus and pencil shavings with flavor of black cherry and cola but true to its varietal character. A shade “new world” in color, it was nonetheless fruit restrained. On the second day, the wine lost no character, still offering black cherry but now combined with sweet cherry. Its nose promoted more complex black licorice. It had a medium finish with soft tannins and great balance.

Victor Schoenfeld (l) With the
Wine Mizer
Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld graduated from the University of California (Davis) in 1988 with a degree in Enology. He spent time at Robert Mondavi, Chateau St Jean and Sonoma’s Preston Vineyards and joined Jacquesson & Fils (the 200-year-old Champagne house) before arriving at Golan Heights Winery in 1991. Committed to the application of new technology, Schoenfeld is regarded as one of Israel’s most influential winemakers and has developed sophisticated viticultural analysis in the belief that knowing exact soil type, climatic conditions, variety, clone and rootstock are essential to making quality wines in a “new” region. New technology, old soil and premium wine have resulted.
………………. Jim

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“Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face.” George Eliot

Loving mom comes easy.  The bond is formed at birth and gets nurtured over years of dependency.  Appreciation is different.  It takes time.  Genuine appreciation, after all, requires awareness of things and people and their needs outside our self.  Sometimes decades later, finally removed from being aware of only our own wants,  can we then truly appreciate the sacrifices “mom” made. Seems hardly sufficient that “mom” gets only one day a year then, doesn’t it?   

Recently, throughout Chicago-land, several restaurants teamed up with Anna de Codorniu (Spain’s bestselling sparkling wine) to promote Mother’s Day each weekend in May with special brunch menus.  I’ve been a fan of Anna deCodorniu “Cava” (what sparkling wine from Spain is called) for years. The Herrington Inn & Spa in Geneva, Illinois features a beautifully appointed dining room with lovely views of their patio and garden, a talented chef and a gracious staff that elevates the experience into the special occasion mom deserves.

O.K. maybe I’m not all that removed from my own wants.  I did say Anna de Codorniu after all. Let me explain.  As a wine critic who has had some training and grew up with wine, I’ve enjoyed numerous sparkling wines. What’s so special about Anna Codorniu?  It’s not, for example, the brand Frank Sinatra routinely ordered. Nor is it the trendy sparkler of famous rap singers visiting Las Vegas. But I’ve never believed that price was a determinant of quality.  In fact, I’ve always been more concerned with value received in exchange for money spent.  And then, there’s that thing about Anna de Codorniu being the bestselling wine of its type in Spain, where it happens to me made.  And the Anna legacy goes back to 1551. Could be those people know a thing or two about sparkling wine.

To start:  Anna’s non-vintage Brut (Blanc de Blancs) is 70%
The Herrington's Beautiful
Dining Room
Chardonnay and 30% Parellada (an indigenous grape used in making high quality Cava, it contributes a green apple and citrus bouquet and makes for balanced wines with a crisp finish).  Anna, by the way, was the first Cava to incorporate Chardonnay into its coupage. In fact, Anna’s descendant, Josep Raventos, was the first to master the “Methode Traditionelle” of making sparkling wine in Spain. Methode Traditionelle means the wine is made in the traditional method, i.e. fermented twice in bottle.  Spain’s Regulatory Board requires all Cava be aged a minimum of nine months; “Reserva” 15 months (many are aged longer).  Everyone will tell you that white sparkling wine of this type is great with oysters, and it is. It’s great with all kinds of seafood and shellfish.  And while I enjoy oysters, I know they’re not at the top of every mom’s “I want” list.  So may I suggest a Mimosa for mom?  Try piercing three grapes on a pick and then freezing them.  Then fill a glass one-third with Anna De Codorniu,
add the frozen grapes and top the glass with orange juice.  I also find this refreshing and crisp wine pairs well with so many appetizers, most any white fish, fruit desserts (such as honeydew melon carpaccio) and sushi-sashimi.  O.K., I’ll bring it down a notch.  Try pairing this sparkling wine with potato chips and your favorite movie. Seriously, the wine works well against salt. You’ll thank me.

Enjoyed by itself outdoors (on your deck or patio) and in the graceful, breezy air of summer, you’ll be rewarded with aroma of sea shells, dried pineapple with persistent notes of citrus and a hint of chalk in a sparkling wine pale lemon in color with a golden hue.

Anna also makes a Brut Rose, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.  The wine has a delicate cherry color with strawberry tones; aroma of fresh strawberry and cherry with hints of green apple.  Grapes for both wines come from the Cava-Penedes region in northeast Spain, a “Denominacion de Origen”, or D.O., like an AOC, DOCG, or our own AVA designated area of origin).

Like most dry, sparkling wines, both these finish with an alcohol content of 11.5% to 12%. Easy drinking, light, fresh wines that won’t hurt mom and you’ll enjoy too. I’ve enjoyed the Rose paired with salmon. The crisp finish of Anna Rose cleanses the palate from the healthy Omega-3 fat of salmon and works surprising well with some lamb and pork dishes also.

But what works especially well with either Anna is the price.  ARP is under $15! (Expect to pay more at restaurants and tasting rooms: they have expenses too).  When I referred earlier to “value received in exchange for money spent” Anna matched that requirement perfectly.  It’s a Wine Mizer recommendation and commonly available at many retail outlets.  Mom used to say, “A king’s taste and a peasant’s pocket book.”  I think she would be proud.  


As with all sparkling wines, please remember to chill the wine thoroughly before opening. All sparkling wine is corked under pressure.  Untwist, but retain the cage, cover with a towel, twist the bottle while holding on to the cork (and keep its direction pointed away from you or your guests).  To enhance the enjoyment of the Rose, you may want to allow it to warm on the counter for 5 minutes (after opening) before serving.    

It’s said that wine makes any meal better and I agree. But some meals are at their best when you don’t have to prepare them.  Toward that end, I’ll be revisiting The Herrington Inn restaurant in Geneva. In addition to its lovely surroundings, gracious old-world ambiance and creatively interpreted classics that delight the palate, the staff at the Herrington all seem gifted with ESP. Needs seem to be anticipated before you become aware of them yourself.  Service is attentive without being intrusive. Worse – the plating is beautiful, and the meal itself so much better than  I could have done!  Fortunately, I had some Anna de Codorniu to comfort me in my shame. As I said, genuine appreciation takes time, and enjoying the brunch at The Herrington made me appreciate the difference between being an accomplished home cook and a professional chef.  The Herrington Inn and Anna Codorniu – a great partnership!  Bring mom there next May, but check them out yourself in the meantime.  

…………….. Jim
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"Il vino fa buon sangue.” … (Good wine makes good blood). A common Italian proverb believed to have originated in Tuscany about wine and good health, like “An apple a day….”

Barolo is the region, a D.O.G.C. within Piedmont in northern Italy in which the Nebbiolo grapes for this wine are grown.  Nebbiolo is grown in other areas and used in making wine.  Also well-known is Barbaresco; not so well known are wines labeled Gattinara or Langhe (and there are others).  Barolo is considered the gold standard for the Nebbiolo grape and this one from Peo Cesare (ARP now $55) is well regarded with scores of 93 from Wine Spectator, 91 by Wine Advocate, 91 from Wine Enthusiast and 90 by Tanzer. 

Regardless, all taste (like politics) is personal. And Nebbiolo wines can be assertive early on, requiring time to evolve.  Young, they are tartly acidic and with gripping tannins.  (This 2005, for example, could easily be enjoyed through 2020). Early on, these wines will offer scents of tar and roses. (Even now, I admit to finding tastes and aromas that many find pleasing a bit confounding).  Either way, as they age in bottle and tannins balance, more fruit becomes evident:  cherry, raspberry, blackberry and prune, along with non-fruit notes of violet, truffle, tobacco and tar. Aromas of licorice, violet and clove are common.

The winery was founded in 1881 by Cesare Pio with vineyards near the town of Alba where the winery itself still sits today. Combining the benefits of modern technology with tradition, the winery produces wines considered stylistic but traditional. 

In the glass, my 2005, for example, was of medium cherry color. Picture Pinot Noir with orange hues - classic Barolo. As Barolo ages, its perfume enhances.  I was struck by a strong nose of spicy cherry and dried flowers.  Pronounced in the flavor was black cherry and plum.  Still, this 2005 (after 3 years aging, and a vintage from 11 years ago) had tannins up front that were lengthy and carried into the finish.  This is not “breakfast wine.”  I paired it with veal Osso Bucco, parsnip puree and roasted and seasoned rainbow carrots and wedges of sweet potato.

But this is a wine you can also enjoy by itself, to contemplate over its complexity. I find it a good companion also with cheese such as Grana Padano, or with duck or roast goose or beef, veal or lamb.  Tannins interact nicely with the fats in these foods in a symbiotic way.  Whatever you choose, however, Barolo benefits from decanting.  I fear just leaving the bottle open for a few hours won’t do the job. And while you needn’t impress your friends with a decanter looking more like an art project, you will benefit from even a simple one with a large open top; one allowing the wine to be caressed by air.  Respect the age of older wines, (decant gently, forgo the blender) and let patience reward you with a wine of intrigue.

Cin Cin!
……………. Jim
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Grape:             Nebbiolo, 100%
Vinification:   Stainless steel tanks. About 20 days of skin contact
Ageing:        Medium toast French oak for 3 years: 70% in 20 to 50 hectoliters casks                                                   (a hectoliter is 100 liters, or about 26.5 gallons), and 30% in barriques.




“Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” . Louis Pasteur

I went into the racks today to see which wine might be needed to be enjoyed now, selected and tasted a 2008 Sineann Wines Cabernet Sauvignon from their Baby Poux Vineyard in the Columbia Valley AVA(Oregon). Oregon is what I often think of when I’m thinking of Pinot Noir, and – o.k. – maybe Pinot Gris. Cabernet Sauvignon, for me, is left bank Bordeaux blends, Sonoma or Napa Valley. A good vintage (97 points Wine Spectator), it’s unlikely you will find a 2008 on the shelves now, but 2012 (at 95 points) and 2013 (at 91-94) should be available and worth looking into from Sineann. Deep purple in the glass with a nose of plum, cassis and blackberry that jumps from the glass. Flavors of plum, cola, blackberry, and cassis are well integrated in a full bodied wine that finishes with a razor’s edge of crispness in a wondrous contradiction of flavors that not only linger cleanly but develop. Sage and cinnamon end notes. Aired more and tasted on the second day, mashed blackberry dominates the nose. Flint and pencil lead develop in the taste that still leads with blackberry. Tannins are silky and the wine is creamy smooth. A most interesting and enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignon. Offered a taste to someone who generally does not like structured wines and she loved it. Thumbs up on this one! 
………………… Jim

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“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” ….  Paulo Coelho, Brida

Give me a lotto winner’s check book and I can give you a magnificent red blend.  Trim the winnings down to under $19 and I can still do that with several very enjoyable white wines.  Trim off a little more and insist I do that again but now with red wine and the options narrow into the challenging lane.  To narrow the lane even more and add a speed bump, insist also that the wine be ageable and classically made and then the options lead surprisingly not into a lane at your specialty liquor store, but instead to the checkout lane at your local grocery.

People that have been around wine for decades, have learned through experience that price is not always indicative of quality and that bargains are fermented under the radar so to speak.  The most recent issue (Jan – Feb 2016) of Wine Spectator, for example, stated (page 84) that the average price for a wine awarded 90 or more points in 2015 was $100 in France, $82 in California and $71 in Italy.  There are numerous reasons for this that I’ll forego mentioning in this piece and save, perhaps, for another time.  Let’s accept that most of us aren’t inclined to spend even $71 on a bottle of wine to accompany our family’s prepared-at-home meal whose ingredients cost $15. So being able to find a bottle of red wine that is delicious, affordable and available at the same grocery store you’re shopping at for that meal seems, to me, a real bonus.

Palazzo della Torre (IGT) is an Italian red blend of 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Sangiovese. The vineyard is in the Fumane (municipality) di Valpolicella in Verona (Northern Italy).  This is the same area famous for producing Valpolicella Superiore and the more expensive Valpolicella della Amarone wines. Vines for Palazzo della Torre average 41 years and this wine produced by Allegrini shares some characteristics with these expensive cousins in using both Corvina and Rondinella grapes in the blend and, by the way, in percentages allowed in making an Amarone.

Of course, there are differences. One being price.  Palazzo della Torre dries only a small percentage of the grapes (about 30%) before they are mixed with the base juice (grapes not dried) and then subject to a second fermentation.  (For more on the process of drying grapes (appassimento) click here.   

The Corvina contributes structure and aroma. Rondinella is naturally high in sugar, also shrivels nicely and contributes both sweetness and body with mouth texture. Sangiovese contributes floral aromas and flavor notes of cherry.  This is a wine of depth, deep purple in the glass, with flavor to match: fruit is creamy rich and deep with a silky mouthfeel (malolactic fermentation) and full bodied.  Flavors are of ripe blackberry, cherry-cola with mocha on the back taste and with a hint of nutmeg.  Aromas of blackberry and chocolaty plum jump. It has a medium finish that is off-dry with some tannin on the end but with a sensation of sweetness.  This dry-sweet interplay is always enjoyable; common in wines fermented with dried grapes. Wines of this composition are often somewhat low in acid but Palazzo della Torre can be aged ten years under optimum conditions.    
Referring to the above prices ($71) and point ratings (90 and above), this 2011 Palazzo Della Torre scored 90 points from Robert Parker, 90 points from Wine Enthusiast and 92 points from James Suckling. And I found it stocked at a local grocery for $16.99.  Referring to the quote this post opened with, Palazzo della Torre is a bottle that will be finished once opened, not just tasted.  Pair this wine with lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, risotto with saffron, medium cured cheeses, pork sauced with mushroom. Try it with an Italian style charcuterie of cured sausage, Parma ham, cheeses (gorgonzola, pecorino, Parmesan Reggiano) and walnuts.

Cin Cin!
…………………….   Jim

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Alcohol:                                13.85%
Total Acidity:                         6.1 g/l
Residual Sugars:                     5.4 g/l
pH:                                          3.71

Elevation of Vineyard:                       787 ft Above Sea Level
Exposure:                                            East / Southeast
Soil:                                                     Mostly Clay & Chalk
Avg Age of Vines:                              41 yrs                   

Manual harvest is during the first week of September for grapes to be set aside for drying; end of September for grapes to be vinified immediately. Fresh grapes are de-stemmed and pressed in September; dried grapes in the second half of December.  Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. The first fermentation is at 77-84F for 10 days; the second at 46-72F approximately 15 days. Malolactic fermentation is in mid-April in barriques (59 U.S. gallons). Ageing is 15 months in second use oak barriques, blended together for two months and then bottle aged an additional seven months before release.


“It doesn’t matter if the glass is half empty or half full. There is always room for more wine.” … … Anonymous

I’ve written about some of Jean-Claude Mas’ other wines before, and today I need to write about another. Really, I think it’s his fault because Mas is putting out some of the best product at value prices anywhere in the world today.  His wines are quality focused, but casually enjoyable and at value prices. The Languedoc area in which Cote Mas is located is well known among those in the know for producing excellent value.  The Domaine itself is centuries old and Jean-Claude is the fourth generation winemaker who took the helm of Domaine Paul Mas in 2000. Since then, he has expanded the operation beyond the family’s original estate in Montagnac to now include nine estates across the hillsides of the Languedoc.  Grapes are either estate grown or sourced from long term grower contracts. 
Getting ready to taste
His philosophy is labeled (by himself) as Luxe Rural.”  And he defines it as: “… about finding pleasure from what you see and hear around you. Things don’t have to be very expensive, (he says) In fact it can be something as simple as a perfectly ripe peach or a beautiful view.”  To those who have enjoyed a ripe, farm fresh peach at its peak, or viewed a spectacular water sunset, let me say you probably understand his appreciation for natural perfection. For those whose only experience has been with peaches that are as hard as shipping cross continent necessitates … well, you’re in for a treat with this wine. 

Jean-Claude Mas (R) and the
Wine Mizer. I've lost weight since
but haven't gotten any taller!
In 2012, Jean-Claude brought his “Luxe Rural” philosophy to life with the opening of the Cote Mas Restaurant at the original winery in Montagnac. With an original farm-to-table menu, Cote Mas wines were introduced at the restaurant and became so popular that tourists and travelers wanted to be able to enjoy them at home too. Cote Mas Blanc Mediterranee is one of those original four wines and is now available worldwide.

I first tasted this wine in June and again in August last year and was struck, nay – delighted each time with its masterful balance and sophisticated nuance.  35% Grenache Blanc, 25% Vermintino, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Sauvignon Blanc, each grape is vinified separately.  Each enjoys short skin contact, pneumatic pressing and stainless fermentation to preserve fruit and freshness.  Free run and first press juice only are used in this wine.

In the glass, it shows medium lemon and offers a wondrously lovely nose of quince, orange pith and pineapple.  Flavors of orange segments emerge and a hint of lime develops and as the wine finishes lemon develops again but richly as with lemon curd. The wine finishes cleanly with tastes of citrus and in well balanced acidity.  But what most impressed me about this wine was its nod to tradition despite its “new world bent.”  This is a wine of finesse and, despite its citrus character, subtlety.  Nothing is overpowering. Nothing clubs. It has grace notes: Balance in a classical old world style.
On my own I tasted this against two popular new world whites in the same price arena. In each comparison (I won’t mention the brands) I found Blanc Mediterranee to be less sweet (read that to be not cloying) and with a cleaner finish, making it more adaptable to meal pairing. In a very well-known and popular white domestic blend of three grapes, Blanc Mediterranee also came with the advantage of costing less. As with others of Domaines Paul Mas and Cote Mas, the wines burst with personality and express their unique terroir.  And, in this example, the wine does this at a suggested retail price of only $12.99 (often available at even less).

Retail shelves here in the U.S. often look to foreign visitors as over supplied with choices. Indeed, competition for shelf space is intense. So, at times, I enjoy tasting wines but they’re tainted with a tinge of regret knowing the wine may be difficult to track down.  In my area, several Mariano’s (retail grocery) carry this wine. If your favorite liquor store doesn’t, they may be able to order it for you. The Languedoc region continues to gain recognition as a source of wines with an outstanding quality to value ratio.  And in 2015, the Drinks International sommelier poll ranked Domaines Paul Mas among the top 50 most admired wine brands.  Mas wines are imported by Espirit du Vins/Palm Bay.

…………………….. Jim

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"Pinot Noir is more than just another varietal; it is seductive and ephemeral and attracts a fiercely independent, opinionated breed.”  Lance Cutler, Wine Business Monthly

Some “New World” Pinot Noirs are fruit forward enough to message your brain that the wine is a little sweet.  This 2011 Domaine Michel Juillot Mercurey “Clos Tonnerre” Premiere Cru will definitely NOT do that.  Mercurey is a village in the Cote Chalonnaise sub-region of Burgundy and predominantly produces Pinot Noir. It enjoys its own appellation (AOC) due to its terroir and its more quality focused appellation laws governing the AOC. 

Regarding maximum yields, for example, Mercurey more closely resembles those regulations of the Cote de Nuit and Cote de Beaune than the rest of the Chalonnaise.  The same limestone bed that underlies the Cote d’Or extends south into Chalonnaise, but temperatures in the Chalonnaise are cooler and the fruit has a more brambly forest quality to it.  Mercurey wines can offer value, and offer you a unique style rendering to round out your appreciation of the grape’s different presentations. I found this wine offered a strong nose of brambled cherry, and smooth, light to medium juice of fresh, light, sour cherry. While more ageable than other Chalonnaise, Mercurey is a wine to be enjoyed younger than the more expensive Burgundies of the Cote d’Or, though one more year in the cellar might have been helpful taming this bottle sharp notes.  Whatever your preferences in Pinot Noir, you will most certainly react strongly con or pro to Mercurey – and that is the whole point of the exercise.  Tuition for your experience comes in at an ARP of $30.  Should you be able to find a bottle from either the better 2009 or 2010 vintage, snap it up for immediate enjoyment. In either case, decant the wine, or recap the bottle and taste it again the second day to appreciate how it softens.  Strikes me as a good companion to duck breast with cherry sauce or any sweet sauced BBQ.

…………………… Jim

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