Spring is upon us, and summer soon to follow, with warmer, sunny days, and the anticipation of backyard barbecues and lazy afternoons lounging poolside. As COVID restrictions continue to loosen, and we move beyond the dark days of pandemic lockdowns, we look forward to celebrating with friends and family. Not long ago, we received a sample wine that will be the perfect bottle to open for these parties: Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir.
The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
La Belle Fête translates from French to “the beautiful party”, and what a beautiful party it will be with friends and family gathering to enjoy each others’ company, sharing stories and food, and of course tasty and refreshing wines like Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir.
Diora winery is located in the San Bernabe AVA, in Monterey County. A lesser known region, San Bernabe AVA is made up of a single vineyard, planted to about 5,000 acres under vine, consisting of 21 different varieties of wine grapes. The soil composition is dominated by sandy loam, which drains water quickly, forcing the vines to dig deep to find sustaining water. The soil also cools rapidly in the evenings, helping to create wines with crisp acidity.
The name Diora is inspired by the golden hills of the nearby Santa Lucia mountain range. The name is derived from the French term “d’Or”, which is translated to “golden.” Using the estate fruit from the family owned San Bernabe vineyard, winemaker James Ewart crafts wines of elegance and distinction.
The Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir is made from 83.1% Pinot Noir, with a few friends joining the party to complement and enhance the host: 7.9% Grenache, 3.2% Chardonnay, and 5.8% Other Aromatics. The majority of the blend was fermented in stainless steel, but a small portion fermented in neutral oak to add just a hint of creaminess. The result? Read on!
An exquisite, elegant Rosé of Pinot Noir. Pale pink color. Aromas of raspberry and strawberry. On the palate, red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and a hint of watermelon. Dry, light bodied, with bright acidity. The finish carries the red fruit, with the addition of some orange zest and rose petal. Delicious.
With a retail price of $19.99, Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir is affordable elegance you will definitely want to share with others at your own Beautiful Party. You won’t find Diora wines in your big box retailer, but they are worth seeking out. You can search on the Diora winery website for the restaurants and small retailers carrying the label, or purchase online through the Delicato Family Wines Tasting Room site. Either way, your party will be even more beautiful with a few bottles of Diora La Belle Fête 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir.
Sometimes, the search for fine wine is like an expedition; studying wine reviews like they were scouting reports, patiently stalking the aisles of the wine shop, asking the advice of the local guide (wine shop staff), and occasionally checking in with your fellow hunters to see how they’ve done.
Other times, it lands on your doorstep, unannounced and unexpected. So it was when the UPS driver left a distinctive, single-wine-bottle-sized package on the porch a few weeks ago. Upon opening, we discovered a bottle of Salengo Grenache 2018, with its beautiful watercolor art label, and a note indicating the wine was sent at the request of friend and wine broker, Bill Tobey.
We’d never heard of Salengo, but fortunately the box also included a spec sheet, and bio of winemaker Nicole Salengo. In addition, we reached out to Nicole via email, and she was gracious enough to answer a few questions and fill in some additional detail.
The Salengo Grenache 2018 is from Yolo County. Wine lovers may be familiar with wines from Clarksburg…a designated AVA also in Yolo County. Yolo County is in the Sacramento Valley, just west of Sacramento. Its bordering counties include Solano to the south, and Napa and Lake Counties to the west, all known for quality grape and wine production. The fruit for the Salengo Grenache 2018 comes from the Coble Ranch in Winters.
Nicole Salengo is the winemaker at Berryessa Gap winery in Winters. She has nearly 20 years of wine industry experience, including time in Napa and New Zealand. With the release of the Salengo Grenache 2018, Nicole is realizing her long-term dream of having her own label.
The first thing we noticed when we looked at the bottle was the very light color of the wine, noticeable even through the green glass. We are big fans of Grenache, and have had many Grenache wines from numerous regions, but had never seen one this light in color. During our initial email exchange, Nicole said her goal was to model the wine in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style; light and elegant, yet complex, and with lower alcohol.
In Nicole’s bio, and on the back label on the bottle, there is reference to Nicole’s origins from New England. We were intrigued by this, partly because Robyn is from Boston, and partly because one doesn’t often think of New England heritage when discussing wine. So after we tasted the wine (more on that in a minute), we reached out to Nicole again with some follow-up questions. In reply, she said she was born in Vermont and graduated from high school and college in upstate New York. Not Boston, but cose enough!
Beyond that, Nicole responded to our other questions…(warning: wine review spoiler alert!)
AfW: What brought you from New England to Northern California? Other than the weather, of course.
NS: You said it…the weather! I don’t like being cold!
I would call it ‘opportunity’. I’ve always been driven and when I was 8, I told my mom I wanted to move to California. I wanted to go to college here but that didn’t work out so I moved here after college. I had an aunt and uncle living in Davis and they offered to let me come stay with them. So the same year I graduated from college, I had $1,000 and a suitcase (almost like a dollar and a dream) and got on the plane to Sacramento. The rest is history. Once I was here, I worked in a lab and eventually quit to work in a wine shop. That’s where I learned about wine, and then was hired at my first winery. I went back to school at UC Davis for the Winemaking Certificate.
AfW: Your wine is exceptionally light and elegant. What was your process? Length of skin contact, stainless vs oak, oak selection and aging?
NS: Thank you. I try to allow for the variety and place where it’s grown express itself. Grenache is like Pinot Noir in that you can have a lighter expression or a darker, heavier expression. It also has a tendency like Zinfandel to creep up in sugar content once it’s in the fermenter (something I want to avoid). So I wanted to pick it earlier than other red varieties to maintain the acid profile and a lower alcohol level. Other things that I think contributed to the lightness and elegance of this wine are the way it was farmed and the area it was farmed in. 2018 was a year with a large crop so we had more fruit. So all of the energy of the vine was distributed among more grapes resulting in lighter color. In addition, the grapes are from the Coble Ranch Vineyard in Winters (owned and farmed by Berryessa Gap) where it has a warm, Mediterranean climate. Warm weather creates less anthocyanins (color compounds) and can result in lighter-colored wines. Both of these factors contribute to how light and elegant the wine turned out.
I visited the South of France (Châteauneuf du Pape) when I first was starting this project and had the most amazing 100% Grenache: light in color and body with nuanced complexities that really made you think about the wine and every sip was a different experience. My Grenache is modeled after that beautiful wine I tasted out of the barrel in France. I remember thinking that it was the perfect wine. And it liked that it wasn’t showy, it was just being itself, something I strive to do in life. In other words, the wine really spoke to me and created inspiration. The grapes in that French wine were grown on similar soils that give it a nice minerality, so that’s what is creating much of the texture (rather than the skins or barrel) of the wine. The Salengo Grenache was aged in old, neutral barrels so I think that also contributes to the lightness of the wine as well and allows for the fruit to be accentuated. Also the light color: as a young red wine ages, it reacts with the oxygen getting into the wine through the oak staves in the barrel and the wood tannin which can help to stabilize color. This wine was aged in very old barrels, that kept the color light too.
The juice was on the skins for about two weeks, just enough time to ferment but not get any over-extraction. We performed manual punch-downs twice a day, pressed it and aged it for 18 months in neutral oak, as mentioned. The wine really blossomed as it was aging and it was so exciting to taste it along the way to see it open up and release all of these yummy flavors.
AfW: How long have you been making wine? Where did you start, history?
NS: This year will be my 17th harvest. It’s basically been a process of elimination and me trying to prove people wrong and find a career that keeps my attention. I’m hard-headed and have a good palate which has a lot to do with why I’m making wine. It’s been a lot of hard work, and sometimes I try too hard and have too high of expectations and it makes me discouraged but it’s a fabulous combination of art, science, tradition with possibility of great things in the future. That is why I’m a winemaker.
The whole story is I worked at a Belgium-style brewery in college which started to develop my palate. I always had an interest in science, particularly chemistry and geology. I was made wine buyer at a wine shop which expanded my palate significantly when I was an age where I couldn’t afford fine wines. Then, I was hired at a start-up winery and discovered my love for making wine. I fell in love with it the first day of my first harvest. I went back to school, got promoted to assistant winemaking positions, did harvests in Napa and New Zealand and was hired as head winemaker at Berryessa Gap in 2013. I’ve now worked with over 50 varieties and have fulfilled my dream of having my own label. It’s a very fun industry to be a part of.
AfW: What is your wine story? That first bottle that got you hooked?
NS: The wine I referenced earlier has been a part of my inspiration to want to make wine. This is going back to my early twenties when I was a wine buyer. It was a bottle of 1995 Chateau Rayas, Pignon. That wine is 100% Grenache like mine and it’s the same winery I referenced above where I serendipitously saw the small rusty sign while in the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 2016. I was by myself and didn’t speak French but after an afternoon of waiting, I had a tour with the winemaker Emmanuel Reynaud and tasted the 2015 Pignon from barrel.
I also recall tasting some really amazing Pinot Noirs from Willamette that really moved me early on. Then some Tempranillos form the Ribera del Duero that were really amazing. There are lots of great wines out there and I just love the ones that take you to a place. There are times when I taste a wine and I almost feel transported to that region where it was grown and made, those are the very special ones for me, the ones that take you on a mini-vacation and get your imagination going. You know a truly great wine when you taste it, so I just keep tasting.
So it turns out that New England isn’t the only bond we have with Nicole. Kent’s start in wine was with a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; from St. Innocent. Turns out Nicole knows St. Innocent, too, and loves their wines. It’s always good to make new wine-friends!
So what about the wine? Very impressive! It’s a wine that gets better with each sip. Honestly, it’s a wine for wine geeks, like us, but not for everybody. We have a number of wine friends who favor jammy fruit bombs. Salengo Grenache 2018 is not that wine. It is a sophisticated wine with layers of complexity. Here’s our review:
Very pale ruby color, with an almost tawny port rim. The nose is unique, with subtle raspberry and red cherry notes, with dusty, earthy notes. On the palate, raspberry and cherry, cherry cola, and licorice notes, with hints of smoked meat and black pepper. Tannins are soft and smooth. Bright acidity, excellent balance, and a medium finish of red fruit and a bit of licorice. We paired with brats, which complemented nicely and drew out even more earthiness. This is a very sophisticated wine that grows on you the more it opens up!
Are you ready to try an out-of-the box Greneache? You can find Salengo Grenache 2018 online at the Berryessa Gap Winery website. Of course, if you’re in NorCal, please stop by the winery and give it a try. Tell Nicole that Kent and Robyn sent you!
During the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference, we were introduced to the wines of Cariñena, Spain. Predominantly Garnahca based wines, we were instantly in love. As we enjoyed the flavors of these wines, we began to yearn to explore other regions noted for their Garnacha wines. Perhaps the most famous of these regions is the Rhône Valley in France. There, as in most of the wine world, this fantastic and versatile red grape is known as Grenache.
The Rhône Valley is in the southeast of France. It is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the world, with viticulture documented as early as the 4th century B.C. The valley runs some 150 miles in a north-south direction, and as such, encompassess a wide variety of soil and growing conditions. The Rhône Valley can generally be divided into the Northern and the Southern. In the Northern Rhône, Syrah is king, with the wines generally dominated by this grape. Village (and wine) names such as Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage may be familiar to you, as these are some of the more famous Syrah regions in France.
In the Southern Rhône Valley, the wines are most often blends, with Grenache playing the lead role, usually supported by such cast of characters as Syrah and Mourvèdre. These wines are commonly known as GSM. In addition to reds, the Rhone Valley also produces some stunning white wines, from Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne grapes. While we’ve had Grenache and Viognier wines before, including GSM and Viognier from the Rhône Valley, we wanted to deliberately dive into some fine Southern Rhône Valley wines to explore and get to know the region as well as the wine.
The more well-known villages in the Southern Rhône are Côtes du Rhône, a rather generic term for wines from this area, Côtes du Rhône Villages – denoting a more specific identity of place and quality, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and what is arguably the most famous and best quality Southern Rhône region, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are many other villages worth exploring, but we wanted to focus on the most famous and prolific for now.
The Southern Rhône is a Mediterranean climate, as one might expect in the South of France. Long, warm summers and mild winters provide ideal growing conditions for Grenache. In addition, the Mistral winds, blowing up to 60 miles per hour, some 150 days per year, provide cooling and drying to the tight, fungus-prone Grenache grape clusters. Hold on to your hat, to be sure, but appreciate those high winds for the effect they have on this cherished wine!
Before we dive into the wines, allow us to share another little tidbit from history. The famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape is roughly translated to “New Castle of the Pope.” In 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, a village along the Rhône River near the southern end of the valley. Apparently the Popes enjoyed the tranquility of French countryside! In 1317, Pope John XXII had a summer residence built at what is now Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although construction was not completed until 1333, a year before Pope John XXII’s death, the name remains and the wines from this region remain coveted for their quality.
With our interest in Southern Rhône wines, we were pleased to receive the following bottles as media samples. Tasting through these wines, we were transported to the South of France in each glass. Though we have not yet been in person, the Rhône Valley is definitely high on our list of places to visit.
Now, on to the wines!
The wines below are media samples. All thoughts, opinions, and notes are our own. No other compensation was received.
Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis Blanc 2016
Golden color in the glass. Aromas of white flower, light straw, and tropical fruit. In the palate, there are flavors of lemon and grapefruit, with hints of mango, and soft floral and herbal notes rounding out the mouth. Soft, full mouthfeel with vibrant acidity. The finish is medium with pleasing notes of citrus, tropical fruit, and floral. Excellent pairing with grilled sea bass and rosemary quinoa.
Ogier Côtes du Rhône Artesis 2016
Deep, rich purple color. We decanted for about an hour before serving. On the nose, luscious aromas of blueberry, raspberry, and plum with spicy notes. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and plum, with black pepper, baking spice, and vanilla. Notes of milk chocolate as the finish develops, ending with spicy black fruit. The mouthfeel and tannins are incredibly soft, round, and smooth, with medium acidity. We paired this with, of all things, carne asada tacos with a radish-cilantro salsa, and it was sublime. A truly amazing Côtes du Rhône.
Ogier Gigondas Dentellis 2014
Deep ruby color. Decanted for about an hour and pleasing aromas of raspberry, bramble, and black pepper. On the palate, there are flavors of cherry, red currant, cranberry, raspberry, and spice. At mid palate mineral and crushed granite notes emerge, along with hints of milk chocolate and black pepper. Medium body with mild tannins and acidity. We paired this with grilled Ahi tuna steaks, and the combination was amazing! The spice in the wine really enhanced the flavor of the tuna. This is a truly amazing wine!
Ogier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reine Jeanne 2014
They call this the wine of kings, king of wines for a very good reason. Rich, complex, and delicious. Cherry red color with brick rim. Aromas of chocolate covered cherry, licorice, and smoke. On the palate there are flavors of black cherry, ripe raspberry, tobacco, licorice, cloves and other baking spice, and smoky notes. Tannins are firm but smooth, and ample acidity perfect for food pairing. We had this with grilled rib eye cooked medium rare, and it was heavenly perfection. Long, spicy finish with abundant red fruit and milk chocolate. Please may I have another?
As you can tell, we were very impressed with the wines of the Southern Rhône Valley. If you’d like to travel to the Rhône in a wine glass, head to your local wine shop and get yourself some of these amazing wines today!
By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
Photo Credits, unless otherwise noted: Kent Reynolds
The Sadel family is passionate about fine wine. Famille Sadel founder and president Alexandre Sadel established Vin Sadel in Bordeaux in 2014, and has since expanded to the Rhône Valley in southern France. The first family estate is located in Saint Émilion, the famous right bank village in Bordeaux, known for world class Merlot-based red blends. Moving south, the Sadel family chose Vacqueyras, in the Rhône Valley, to produce their next line of wines. This multi-generation wine producing family believes that making great wine takes skill, but is also an art form. We couldn’t agree more! The family approach to wine making is based on three fundamental principles:
“First, we select each plot and each grape variety. Then, our Cellar Manager collaborates for each cuvée at the birth of a new masterpiece, the assembly of which guarantees the complexity. Finally, each vintage is vinified, then elevated with patience and compassion.” – Vin Sadel Website
Understanding the importance of terroir in the winemaking process, and the unique identity of each plot of vines, the family selects the finest grapes each year for use in their wines. Their goal is to achieve excellence in each vintage, that is consistent year after year. This is achieved by the knowledge of each vineyard plot, and the great care that goes into tending those vines.
The Vin Sadel portfolio is broad and impressive. They range from bold Bordeaux Rouge wines, like the Montagne Saint-Émilion, composed of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot, to a crisp Bordeaux Blanc, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc white wine. There are Rhône Valley reds and whites from Côtes du Rhône, and reds from Vacqueyras, and Gigondas. Rounding out the selections are a Rosé de Provence and, in collaboration with a Burgundian winegrower, a Macon-Villages Chardonnay.
With an impressive lineup like this, when we were given the opportunity to sample the Famille Sadel Vacqueyras, there was no hesitation in our gladly accepting!
The wine presented here is a media sample, offered for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. No other compensation was received.
Famille Sadel Vacqueyras 2015
A traditional GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhône blend. Pours brick red, then fills the decanter with a deep, rich, burgundy color. Initial aromas burst from the bottle with ripe blackberry, black cherry, with a bouquet of fresh cut lavender. As it opens up in the decanter, raspberry and mineral notes emerge. On the palate, bright flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, and blueberry, with licorice, tobacco, smoke, and mineral. Layers of depth and structure mingle with medium, firm tannins and bright, lively acidity. The finish lingers long with red fruit, spice, and chocolate. Excellent food-pairing wine, great with grilled chicken thighs and corn on the cob.
Though relatively young, especially in French winemaking terms, Famille Sadel in making a very positive impression and is gaining in popularity. Their Vacqueyras certainly impressed us! Not widely available yet in the United States – they only recently began distribution here – be sure to look for their labels. If you just can’t wait, and happen to be in Paris, you can stop by their wine shop, Maison Givas, located at 6 rue Vauvilliers, 75001 Paris.
By Kent Reynolds, with creative inspiration from Robyn Raphael
There are five wine bars in my hometown of Folsom, California. Pretty impressive for a sleepy suburb outside of Sacramento. Of course, when you consider that Folsom is less than two hours from four world-class wine regions (Sonoma, Napa, Lodi/Clarksburg, and the Sierra Foothills) it’s not so surprising after all.
My favorite local wine bar is The Cellar, located in the heart of Old Folsom on Sutter Street. Maintaining its historic Gold Rush façade, Sutter Street is a charming stroll into yesteryear for tourists and locals alike. In addition to the three wine bars in a two-and-a-half block distance, there are taverns, restaurants, art galleries, antique and gift shops, and an old-fashioned chocolate shop. Old Folsom really is a hidden gem. You ought to come see for yourself!
Yup, those are beer taps on the left! For those who don’t wine.
When I first started frequenting The Cellar a few months ago, their wine list included the most delicious Carménère I’ve ever tasted. The Vina Maipo Vitral Carménère 2012 was full, rich, and smooth. A few days ago I ventured in for a glass of this enticing delight when, to my shock and dismay, I discovered it was no longer on the menu. I shared my angst with Drew, the ever-present and helpful server, and he assured me that the replacement wine on their updated list would not disappoint. I’m a trusting sort, and Drew has never steered me wrong, so I ordered a glass of this new wine: Celler Barcelòna Red Blend 2014. Once again, Drew came through! This wine is spectacular!
Celler Barcelòna Red Blend 2014 is made from 50% Grenache and 50% Tempranillo. Hailing from Cataluña, Spain, it is aged 25% in French oak, and 75% in stainless steel and concrete over seven months.
Celler Barcelòna was founded by winemaker Russell Smith. Having worked at such prestigious California wineries as Joseph Phelps and Flora Springs, Russell pursued a dream of making wine in Northern Spain. He purchased vineyards in the famed Montsant region, and began production in 2013. Considering how impressive was the 2014 I tasted, this is a winery worth watching for many years to come!
Here’s what I thought of it:
Deep purple color. Aromas ripe blackberry and soft oak. Flavors of blackberry, raspberry, and black cherry. Soft oak notes on the mid-palate mingle with soft tannins and light acidity. Long finish of dark berry, chocolate, and spice.
Obscure…O-B-S-C-U-R-E…I have never heard of the grape or the region from which this wine is made; they are both obscure. Obscure.
Having successfully completed the latest round in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge Spelling Bee, let me just say that I am a big fan of the obscure. Although there is no conceivable way to taste all of the thousands of different grape varieties in my lifetime, I am committed to giving it my all, and taste as many as possible! Not too long ago, I learned about the Century Wine Club. Yes, it’s a thing! All you have to do to qualify for membership is taste at least 100 different grape varieties. After going through my wine log, I discovered that I was only a handful short, so I hastened to my local wine shop and stocked up on a few more obscure varietals and blends. Yes, blends count toward membership.
As you may have determined by now, this is my entry into the 30th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #MWWC30. Last month’s winner, Shez, The Epicurious Texan, had the honor of selecting the topic for the next Challenge. As luck would have it, she selected “Obscure.”
Regular readers of my blog may know just how much I enjoy the pursuit of the obscure. My love of obscure not only includes grape varieties, but regions, too. I am even writing a series of blog posts on “Lesser Known AVA’s” which can be accessed from the tab on my menu. Sure, it’s small now, but wait till I get going! Whenever possible, I like to conduct my research live and in person. But that is perhaps a topic for another MWWC.
Nevertheless, when Shez was kind enough to post a blog offering some guidance into what she had in mind with this topic, she specified that she is interested in reading about others’ favorite obscure wines and grape varieties. My only hesitation is in adhering to Shez’ suggestion that we select “that one varietal that they love…” Just one? As much as I tried, the best I could do was narrow it down to three. I hope that’s OK, Shez.
Many who are “into” wine might not find my first selection to be that “obscure”, but most people I know with limited wine knowledge have never heard of it. In fact, just the other day at lunch, a co-worker was looking over the wine list, and asked if any of us had ever tasted “Gree-natch.”
Grenache is a red grape, and is probably most famous as one of the trio of grapes that make of the classic Rhone blend GSM – Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. (Another obscure grape!) It is also the main grape used in Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, and is renowned as a major player in Rosé from Provence. In addition to France, Grenache is also widely planted in the U.S., Australia, and Spain where it is known as Garnacha. One of the things I like about Grenache is its versatility. I have tasted Grenache wines ranging from light-bodied with mineral and gravel notes, to rich and full-bodied with juicy red and black fruit flavors. My favorite Grenache to date falls into the latter category.
Navarro Vineyards Grenache 2012 ($27.00 Retail)
Big, bold red. Blackberry, cassis, spice, and oak. Full bodied with firm, smooth tannins.
I’m not sure why I didn’t take more detailed tasting notes on this one. Maybe because it left such an indelible impression on my brain that I knew I would never, ever forget it!
My second obscure grape may be more familiar to those of you in the Great White North. While on my Quebec “work-cation” earlier this year, I came across Baco Noir, a hybrid grape originally developed to resist phylloxera while maintaining a French character. The grape is also quite hardy and can withstand the harsher weather and climate conditions found in cold regions like Canada. Unlike many native Canadian grapes, which display “foxy” aromas, Baco Noir is bold and fruity.
Henry of Pelham Baco Noir 2014 ($16.40 CAD, approximately $11.35 USD Retail)
Fruit explosion! Deep violet in color. Aromas of blueberry and raspberry. Flavors burst with blueberry, blackberry, black currant, and cedar. Medium tannins, yet full-bodied, with zesty, tingling acidity. Best with food; the acidity can overpower without. The finish lingers with berry and spice.
Many of the reviews I read prior to purchasing this wine complained of its sweetness, which caused me no small amount of apprehension, since I do not prefer sweet wines. However, after tasting it, I discovered this is not a sweet wine. On the contrary, it is quite dry, but very fruit-forward which many people mistake as sweetness. My biggest disappointment is that I haven’t found anywhere here in Northern California where I can get my hands on more of this wine! If any of you dear readers know where I can find it locally, please let me know in the comments!
Finally, please let me introduce you to my friend, Vranac. Talk about obscure! I just checked, and Total Wine & More, the wine superstore, doesn’t list it on it’s website at all! Vranac is a black-skinned grape native to Montenegro. It is most commonly planted in Macedonia and Croatia. Lucky for me, an obscure winery nearby in the Sierra Foothills has also planted some Vranac vines, and produces this remarkable wine. Now that I mention it, I’m way overdue for a visit to Sierra Ridge Winery!
Sierra Ridge Winery Vranac 2008 (Hmm. I didn’t make note of the price when I bought it. I’m guessing in the $18-24 range.)
Deep purple color. Aromas and flavors of Blackberry, cherry, black pepper, and spice with notes of raisin. Medium bodied with soft, smooth tannins and a lingering finish.
One of the common denominators I have found in my exploration of obscure grapes and regions is…value! Since these wines are not widely known, they don’t demand such high prices as their more famous counterparts. Yet, these wines are equally as good, and in many cases (think mass-produced supermarket brands) they are far superior! I encourage you to stretch out of your comfort zone and seek out the obscure. I can promise you will find some amazing wines, and you might even save yourself a buck or two in the process!
This week, my continuing exploration of Old World wine regions brought me, figuratively, to Priorat. In recent years, wines from Priorat have increased in popularity, so I was happy for the opportunity to check them out. The Priorat DOQ (Denominació d’Origen Qualificada) is located in Catalonia, in the northeastern part of Spain.
Priorat is one of only two wine regions in Spain to earn the distinguished Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa), the highest classification in Spain, indicating consistent high quality wines. The other region is Rioja.
The primary grapes from this region are Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan). In addition, winemakers often blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah in their wines. Influenced by the warm, Mediterranean climate, Priorat red wines tend to be intense and full-bodied, with ripe, bold fruit flavors, with ABV in the 15% range, and as high as 18%.
Priorat’s rise in popularity began in 1989, when a group of winemakers joined together to revive the oft-neglected region and improve the quality of the wines. I’ve seen more and more Priorat wines in articles and reviews, so I was excited when I received a bottle as an upgrade in a recent Underground Cellar purchase. For those who don’t know, Underground Cellar’s claim to fame is “free upgrades.” When you purchase multiple wines from a sale offer, random bottles are upgraded to higher priced bottles at no additional cost.
The Capafons Osso Sirsell 2008 is a blend of 35% Garnacha, 26% Merlot, 22% Cariñena, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Syrah. Like most Priorat red wines, it spent 12 months in French oak. Here is my review:
Dark purple color. On the nose, aromas of blackberry jam and ripe blueberries, with hearty oak. These carry to the palate, and are joined with flavors of raspberry jam, cassis, and spice. Tannins are very soft and smooth, and the acidity is balanced. This is quite a jammy wine, especially for an Old World wine. Yet it isn’t a “fruit bomb” but rather is juicy and delicious. The finish lingers long with dark fruit jam followed by earthy mineral notes.
3.5 Stars (85-87 points)
Retail: $24. I paid $21 and got it as an Underground Cellar upgrade.
Although this wine was a little jammier than I prefer, my wife loved it! She’d rate it at least 4.0 stars (88-91 points). I look forward to buying and trying more wines from Priorat.