Cabernet Sauvignon, Chilean Wine, Colchagua Valley, Maipo Valley, Samples, Wine, Wine Blog

Chilean Cabernet Challenge – Colchagua vs Maipo

Chile has been building quite a reputation for quality wines in recent years, with Cabernet Sauvignon leading the charge. Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading grape grown in the country, accounting for more than 20% of all vineyards. Though Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are planted many parts of the country, some 97% of vines are located in the Central Valley subregions of O’Higgins, Maule, and the Metropolitan Region. Within these large subregions, we discover smaller valleys and denominaciónes de origen (DOs) where the differences in soil and climate produce wines with distinct terroir.

We recently were honored to be included in a sampling of six Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines, with the focus on two of these DOs: Colchagua Valley and Maipo Valley. As suggested by our host, we approached this as a head-to-head challenge, akin to a championship sporting event – Team Colchagua Valley vs. Team Maipo Valley. Which team would prevail?

Image Credit: Creative Palate Communications

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

DO Colchagua Valley is situated in the O’Higgins subregion, and accounts for about two-thirds of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards there. Located about 80 miles south of Santiago, the valley is carved from the Tinguinirica River, which flows from a volcanic crater. Elevations in this region range from approximately 2,000 feet at the volcano’s crater, to 360 feet at the coast. Soils range from gravelly, alluvial terraces to rich, clay deposits downriver. As one would imagine, temperatures vary also; cooler at high elevations, and warming toward the coast. These soil and climate conditions produce a range of profiles in the Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

Image Credit: Creative Palate Communications

DO Maipo Valley is in the Metropolitan subregion, and is one of the better-known Chilean wine regions, with a long history of production. The Maipo River begins at the Maipo volcano. As with Colchagua, there are dramatic elevation variations, from 2,500 feet at the volcano, to 600 feet near the coast. There are four distinct alluvial terraces in the Maipo Valley with different soil types, from thick gravel and sand to clay and loose, rocky soils. Again, temperature variations at different altitudes combine with the various soils to create unique terroirs, influencing the resulting wines.

Image Credit: Creative Palate Communications

Now that you know a bit about the regions, let’s get to the wines!

Colchagua Valley

Maquis Gran Reserva 2018

Brick red color. Cherry and raspberry on the nose. The palate is bright cherry, with raspberry, licorice, baking spice, and black pepper. Medium body, edgy tannins, and vibrant acidity. Long, spicy finish.

A very tasty wine, but neither of us would not have called Cab Sauv in blind tasting. (SRP $20)

Los Vascos Cromas Gran Reserva 2018

Deep ruby color in the glass. Nose of blackberry, black cherry, and plum. On the palate there are flavors of ripe blackberry, Marionberry, black currant, black cherry, leather, and a hint of chocolate. Full body with soft, luxurious tannins and nicely balanced acidity. Medium finish of soft black fruit. (SRP: $22)

TerraNoble Gran Reserva 2018

Ruby color with a garnet rim. The nose is quite lively with a bouquet of violet, raspberry, cherry, and spice. On the palate, equally delightful and incredibly smooth, with bright red cherry, raspberry, red currant, blueberry, violet, with hints of tobacco, chocolate, and baking spice. Medium body with satin soft tannins and acidity. Medium red fruit finish. (SRP $20)

Maipo Valley

Echeverria Limited Edition 2016

Garnet color. On the nose, blackberry, cherry, and cassis. Flavors of ripe raspberry, blackberry, cassis, and fig, with soft spice notes and a hint of milk chocolate. Medium plus body, with soft, almost milky tannins and medium acidity. Medium finish of spicy red fruit. (SRP $25)

Viña Aquitania Lázuli 2017

Brick red color fading to garnet at the rim. Aromas of red cherry, raspberry, and blackberry on the nose. These carry onto the palate, with the addition of plum, cassis, clove, and white pepper, with hints of chocolate. Medium body with velvety soft, milky tannins, and bright acidity. Long finish of black fruit and baking spice. (SRP $45)

Miguel Torres Reserva Especial Cordellera 2018

Dark garnet black color. The nose bursts with red cherry, raspberry, licorice, and spice. On the palate, black fruit; blackberry, black cherry, black plum, with ripe wild blueberry, cedar, tobacco, clove, and pepper, with fig, licorice, and raisin emerging on the finish. This wine continues to evolve the longer you ponder it. Full body with ultra-soft tannins, and bright acidity, leading to a long finish. (SRP $20)

This was a fun and interesting competition, with some rather surprising results. We knew going in that it was possible it could be a split decision, with one of us favoring Colchagua Valley and the other preferring Maipo Valley. We also took it a step further, with each of us selecting an MVP – our personal favorite wine from the tasting.

Though we enjoyed every wine from both regions – we can heartily recommend all of them – after much consideration and contemplation, our unanimous conclusion was that the winner, by a very slight margin, was…

The Colchagua Valley!

While the wines from Maipo Valley definitely win the prize for incredibly soft tannins and full, round mouthfeel, we felt the Colchagua Valley wines had a bit more interest and character.

The real surprise, however, was the individual MVP Award. There was one from each region! Robyn’s personal pick was from the winning team: the TerraNoble Gran Reserva 2018. For Kent, this one was a very close second. However, his personal MVP was the Miguel Torres Reserva Especial Cordellera 2018. You can tell from the tasting notes (that Kent wrote) that he was swooning over the layers of continually emerging complexity.

But at the end of the day, when you’re enjoying a really good bottle of wine with family and friends, isn’t everybody a winner? No matter your taste, preference, or profile, there is a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon for you. Next time you are in your wine shop, looking for a nice Cabernet to pair with your meal, or even just to sip, look to the south, and head for the Chilean wine section.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos, except where noted, by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Bordeaux-Style Blend, Flora Springs, Napa, Napa Valley, Samples, Sauvignon Blanc, Soliloquy, Trilogy, Wine

Flagship Wines from Flora Springs

Have you ever known about a winery of great repute, but not had the opportunity to visit or try their wines? Such was the case for us with Flora Springs Winery. We’d known of them for some time, seeing the name on Social Media, in advertising, and even on store shelves. Yet for whatever reason, despite knowing Flora Springs’ reputation as a high quality Napa wine producer, we’d never purchased or tasted the wines. That all came to an end, quite happily, when we received an invitation to sample and review the newest release Flora Springs’ two flagship wines: Trilogy and Soliloquy. 

Bonus! Read on to receive a coupon code for a 10% discount on your Flora Springs order, good through March 4, 2022!

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The Flora Springs legacy began in the late 1800’s, when grapes were planted on what would later become the winery estate. The estate property has deep ties to Napa wine royalty. Originally built in 1885, the first winery on the property was the Charles Brockhoff Winery, which operated for more than 20 years, until Prohibition shut it down. Abandoned and in disrepair, the site considered a “Ghost Winery” saw new life in the 1930’s when Louis M. Martini purchased the property. Though Martini used the winery building mostly for storage, and not production, he lived in the estate house until his death in 1974. Finally, in 1977 Jerry and Flora Komes purchased the estate and resurrected the winery. Flora Springs Winery was established in 1978, and wine production resumed. That same year, their son John began fully renovating the stone winery building, completing the job in 1980. John and his wife, Carrie, now live at the property. 

The first vintage of the flagship red wine, Trilogy, was in 1984. The current release, the 2019, is the 35th anniversary vintage. A Bordeaux-style red blend, Trilogy started out as a three varietal blend, but has since evolved to include other Bordeaux grapes. The 2019 Trilogy is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Malbec. The wine aged for 18 months in 80% French and 20% American oak barrels. Well structured and age-worthy, the 2019 Trilogy is fantastic now (as you will read in a moment), but has cellar potential for at least 15 years. 

Soliloquy is Flora Springs’ flagship white wine. Named for the winery’s proprietary Sauvignon Blanc clone, which was certified in the late 1980s, the first vintage released was the 1989. The current release is the 2020 vintage. For those who recall, 2020 was another year of disastrous wildfires in Northern California’s wine regions, causing damage and smoke taint to many vines and hanging fruit. For this reason, the Soliloquy 2020 is one of the few wines of this vintage that Flora Springs will release. The 2020 is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Malvasia, which spend seven months in a combination of concrete egg tanks and French oak barrels. 

On to the tasting! With such history and reputation of quality, we could hardly wait to open these wines. Here is what we thought of them when the time was right. Of course, we went with the white wine, first!

Flora Springs Soliloquy 2020

Clear golden color. The nose is delightful, with stone fruit and citrus. On the palate, subtle pineapple and tropical fruit, with lemon lime, peach, and apricot. Surprisingly soft mouthfeel, with balanced, lively acidity. Medium finish of citrus fruit. An excellent wine for sipping on a warm (74F) winter’s day. Food pairing: seafood, light chicken dishes. 

(SRP $50)

Flora Springs Trilogy 2019 

Opaque, inky garnet, almost black. Aromas of ripe blackberry, black cherry, plum, and toasty oak. On the palate, big, juicy blackberry and cherry, with vanilla, caramel, and hints of leather and oak. Rich, full body. Tannins are soft and smooth, with medium acidity. This is a big, bold wine that wants a grilled steak or lamb chops. The finish is smooth, with ripe blackberry jam, plum, and milk chocolate notes.

(SRP $85)

For such luscious and delicious wines, you’ll want a special occasion to open them. A special offer wouldn’t hurt, either. 

As luck would have it there are two such special occasions coming up in the next few days:

  • Friday, February 18, 2022 is National Drink Wine Day! Wait, you thought everyday was national drink wine day? So did we. But why not celebrate anyway?
  • Saturday, February 26, 2022 is Open That Bottle Night. The event created by Wall Street Journal journalists, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, to encourage people to open bottles of wine they’ve been holding for an unspecified special occasion that may never come. 

What better reasons to buy and open some special bottles, like the Flora Springs Trilogy 2019 and Soliloquy 2020? Need more incentive?

Special Offer Time! Head over to the Flora Springs online wine shop and make your selections. Enter the coupon code CHEER55 at checkout to receive 10% off your order! Offer valid through March 4, 2022, so act fast! You will be very happy you did! 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Alentejo, Herdade do Esporão, Portugal, Samples, Wine

A Taste of Alentejo with Herdade do Esporão

Many travelers who plan a trip to Portugal think of Lisbon, the country’s capital and largest city. People who are familiar with Portuguese wine may think of Porto, home of the famous fortified wines, or Duoro, and it’s intense reds. All locales are magical in their own right, and everyone we know who has visited has raved about their experiences. They are definitely on our short list of destinations for our next European excursion. 

Yet as much as our friends loved visiting these well-known places, the one region in Portugal that all of them mentioned as “must-go” on their next trip is Alentejo. Intrepid wine explorers know Alentejo as a world-class wine region, producing stunning, high quality wines. However, wines of Alentejo are not as readily available, at least in our area, as other, better known Portuguese regions. (Vinho Verde, anybody?) In fact, a check of our local Total Wine & More store revealed just five wines from that region in their inventory, and only four in stock.

When we received an invitation for samples of four wines from Alentejo producer Herdade do Esporão, and to attend a virtual tasting with Esporão Group CEO João Roquette and winemaker Sandra Alves, we gladly accepted. With this blog, we hope to help promote the region and the wines, to foster interest and enthusiasm, and hopefully greater availability!

The samples and tasting were focused on Herdade do Esporão in Alentejo. Of interest, though, is that the Esporão Group has expanded beyond Alentejo, and has operations in other Portuguese regions. These include Quinta dos Murças in the Douro, Quinta do Ameal in Vinho Verde, and even the Sovina Craft Beer brewery in Porto. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The Alentejo region is the largest in Portugal, and is located in the southern third of the country. Herdade do Esporão is centrally located in Alentejo, in the Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC subregion. Receiving an average of just 23 inches of rain per year, and boasting at least seven distinct soil profiles, the area is ideal for viticulture. The estate is planted to 37 grape varieties, most of which are indigenous. Some of the Touriga Nacional, Verdelho, and Semillon vines are more than 40 years old. 

During the virtual event, we first heard from João Roquette, who provided some history, and described the diversity and sustainability practices employed at Herdade do Esporão. Originally established in 1267, the boundaries of the estate remain essentially unchanged to this day. The estate’s 4,522 acres include 1,091 acres planted to vines, with olive trees, orchards, and vegetable gardens on other parts of the land. 

João Roquette’s relative, José Roquette, and his partner Joaquim Bandeira, purchased the estate in the 1973, shortly before the 1974 military coup overthrew the ruling dictatorship. The Roquette family moved to Brazil in the short term, but José returned in 1983 to begin wine production. The first vintage was a 1985 Esporão Reserva Red. Today, Herdade do Esporão wines are exported to some 50 countries. In the U.S., there are about 25 different wines available, including reds, whites, rosés and Port, ranging in price from $10 to $300.

Herdade do Esporão’s sustainability practices are four-fold: Environmental, Social, Cultural, and Personal. Their mindset is one of thinking about the next generation. On the Environmental front, Herdade do Esporão achieved Organic certification in 2019, following an 11 year process. Beyond the estate, they are helping 16 of their supply growers attain their own Organic certification. On the Social plane, Herdade do Esporão promotes employee equality, fair pay and benefits, and social activism. The estate provides everyone with transportation to and from work, hot, sit-down meals, health insurance, access to legal and mental health assistance, and the possibility of bonuses and advancement. Culturally, they sponsor experience centers, including a restaurant in Alentejo, and host a cultural ambassador program. Finally, Personal sustainability involves encouraging a slow forward lifestyle, encouraging a slower pace of life, taking the time to pay attention to details and perspective that is often overlooked in our fast-paced world. 

Winemaker Sandra Alves took the reins to talk about the sample wines, and walk us through the tasting. Sandra joined the Herdade do Esporão team in 2001, and took on the lead winemaking role just two years ago, in February 2020. Sandra’s early winemaking education was at the side of her grandfather, who made wine from backyard grapes. She pursued an education in Oenology and has received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Early in her career, Sandra was focused on producing white wines…in a country and region dominated by reds. Herdade do Esporão had faith and invested in the project, and as we can attest from the tasting, it has been a tasty success! 

Full disclosure, the Zoom call fell in the middle of a workday, and as such we opted to open and sample the wines over the weekend, a few days before the call. The experience was no less informative, and we were very impressed by the quality. Then, we enjoyed the bottles throughout the week, with the food pairings we suggest in our reviews, below. 

One of the topics of conversation during the call was the affordable price point of these wines. Like wines from many regions that are emerging on the global scale, the values in Alentejo are well worth searching out. 

Whites

Colheita Branco 2020 (SRP $18)

Golden color. Aromas citrus and tropical fruit. On the palate, lemon, pineapple, and Granny Smith apple. Bone dry with refreshing, zesty acidity. Pair this with grilled or pan-seared seafood. Delightful! 

Reserva Branco 2020 (SRP $20)

Golden straw color. On the nose, pear, yellow apple, and butter notes, indicative of the oak aging. Flavors of pineapple, lemon lime, pear, and apple, with hints of toast and butter. Full bodied, with a rich, creamy mouthfeel, and bright acidity. Very satisfying finish. Nice alternative to Chardonnay for pairing with roast chicken. 

Reds

Colheita Tinto 2018 (SRP $18)

Deep garnet color with a brick rim. Aromas of ripe black cherry and blackberry, with hints of clove. On the palate, bright Bing cherry, raspberry, and blackberry, with baking spice and white pepper. Medium-plus body. Chalky, gritty tannins with medium acidity and a long finish of red fruit and spice. Excellent with grilled pork dishes. 

Reserva Reserva Tinto 2018 (SRP $25)

Garnet color with a ruby rim. On the nose, toasty raspberry and cherry notes. Flavors of black cherry, blackberry, and cassis, with hints of nutmeg, clove, and other baking spice, and oak and cedar notes. Full body with firm tannins with balanced acidity and a long, tasty finish. Great with grilled beef or game. 

As we mentioned above, about 25 different Herdade do Esporão wines are available in the U.S., but here in our little corner of suburbia, they are not easy to find. If you happen to spot some in your local wine shop, or on a restaurant wine list, do yourself a favor and buy all you can! Oh, and did you catch earlier in the post, Herdade do Esporão has a restaurant in Alentejo. We started following the Esporão Group Instagram account, and the food shots are amazing! If you’ve been, or get to go on an upcoming trip, do leave a comment to let us know how it is! We’ll be making our reservation as soon as we book our Portuguese vacation! 

Felicidades! 

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Charmat, Domaine Bousquet, Samples, Sparkling Wine, Wine

Bubbles from Argentina!

With Christmas still six days away, there’s still time for you to head out to your local wine shop and grab some bubbles for the holiday. There are many regions and styles to choose from: if you want French, you can have Champagne from, well, Champagne, Crémant d’Alsace or Crémant de Bourgogne from (as the names imply) Alsace or Burgundy, respectively. Other options include Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, or sparkling wine from most any region in the United States. Any or all of these are solid choices to add some sparkle to your holiday table.

But what about south of the equator? Allow us to introduce you to two delightful sparklers from Domaine Bousquet, in Argentina. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

We’ve written about Domaine Bousquet before, and have really come to appreciate the quality of their wines, and their commitment to environmental and social responsibility. (Go ahead, click the link and read about them. We’ll be here when you get back.) 

Like most of the wines from Domaine Bousquet, their quality far exceeds their price point, making high quality wine, including sparkling wine, affordable for pretty much anybody who drinks wine. 

The Domaine Bousquet sparkling wines are made using the charmat method. This is the same method used to produce prosecco. In the charmat method, the winemaker produces a still wine to completion, then adds a blend of sugar and yeast, known as the liqueur de tirage. The wine is then moved into a large, stainless steel pressure tank where the sugar and yeast interact to create a secondary fermentation. Since the wine is held under high pressure, the carbonation created by the secondary fermentation is forced into the wine, resulting in the bubbles we all know and love! 

Charmat sparkling wines are generally bottled and released directly after the second fermentation has ended, and are not aged. As a result, they tend to be lighter and fresher, with a more fruit-driven character. Perfect for food pairing and celebrating. 

Domaine Bousquet Charmant Brut (75% Chardonnay & 25% Pinot Noir) SRP: $13.00

A fresh, fruit forward sparkling. Golden color with vigorous, vibrant streams of bubbles. Nose of pear, apple, and citrus. Flavors of green apple, Asian pear, citrus, and minerals. Bone dry with crisp acidity and a clean finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Charmant Rosé (75% Pinot Noir & 25% Chardonnay) SRP: $13.00 

Salmon-peach color. The nose is fresh strawberry, raspberry, and cherry, driven by abundant tiny bubbles. On the palate, luscious strawberry, raspberry, peach, red cherry, and citrus. Dry with bright acidity and a zesty finish. 

We hope all our readers take some time this holiday season to appreciate and enjoy the joyful things and people in their lives. When you do, we encourage you to raise a toast to health and happiness, with a glass of Domaine Bousquet Charmat! 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Cava, Holiday Wine, Holidays, Samples, Spain, Sparkling Wine

Cava for the Holidays, and All Year Long!

What can be more festive when celebrating the holidays than a glass of bubbles? Sparkling wine adds fizz, fun, sophistication, and…well…sparkle to any celebration, and none more than the holidays. When shopping for sparkling wines, many people automatically reach for champagne. (Of course there are those who think all sparkling wine is champagne, but we are confident that our readers know that champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne!) Nevertheless, if you opt for the champagne option, you can expect to drop a minimum of about $35 per bottle, and that’s just the entry level. 

We’d like to recommend a more budget-friendly option. One that won’t break the bank but does not compromise quality. One in which you could buy two or three bottles for the same price as that single bottle from France. May we present: Cava. 

Sparkling wine from other regions and countries have different regional names. Prosecco is from Italy. Cremant is from regions in France outside of Champagne. Cava is from Spain, a country with many amazing wines and wine regions that we have fallen in love with. The majority of Cava is produced in the Penedès wine region in Catalonia, not far from Barcelona. Cava is not new to us; we’ve had many bottles over the years, and even served it at our wedding in 2019. Cava is often our go-to sparkling wine, whether celebrating an event, pairing with a meal, or just sipping on a warm summer evening. We have tried many producers and have never been disappointed. So naturally, when we received an email offering us a sample pack of six bottles of Cava, we readily accepted. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

We include the Suggested Retail Price as provided with the samples. As you can see, all of them are well within reach for even the most over-extended Christmas shopper. And we’ve seen many of these bottles in local retail stores for even less than their SRP listed here. 

Giró Ribot Paul Cheneau Brut Reserva 

Golden color with vigorous, medium sized bubbles. The nose is nutty, with brioche and citrus. On the palate, lemon curd, lemon, pear, and tangerine, with almond and yeast notes. Crisp and lively with bright acidity, and a clean finish of citrus. 

SRP: $15.99

Bodegas Faustino Brut Rosé of Garnacha 

Salmon rose color. Vigorous tiny bubbles. On the nose, strawberry, raspberry, and just a hint of almond. Flavors of tropical and citrus fruit; pineapple, lemon, with strawberry, raspberry, yeast, brioche, and nutty notes. Bone dry with vibrant acidity and a long, red fruit finish. 

SRP: $20.00

Mascaro Pure Cava Reserva Nature 

Rich, golden color. Vigorous streams of tiny bubbles that last throughout the glass. Aromas of citrus, yeast, and vanilla. On the palate, green apple, Asian pear, lemon lime, with almond, brioche, and yeast. Crisp acidity with a refreshing finish. 

SRP: $15.00

Segura Viudas Cava Brut 

Golden color in the glass. Steady streams of medium sized bubbles lead to aromas of pear, apple, and almonds. On the palate, flavors of citrus, pear, peach, almonds, and yeast. Crispy acidity and a fresh finish. 

SRP: $12.00

Maset Brut Rosé 

Salmon color with vigorous streams of tiny, rushing bubbles. The nose pops with aromas of strawberry, raspberry, citrus, and hibiscus. On the palate, citrus notes of orange and lemon, with strawberry cream, and raspberry. Medium body with a creamy mouthfeel and brisk acidity. Long, crisp finish. 

SRP: $10.00

Vins El Cep Marquez de Gelida Gran Reserva Brut 2016 

This is our first time tasting a vintage Cava. Most sparkling wines are non-vintage, meaning the grapes may have been harvested in different years and blended. A vintage wine must be made using only grapes harvested in the year designated on the bottle. Vintage sparkling wines are typically only produced in the best harvest years, an indication of higher quality.

Golden color. Vigorous streams of tiny bubbles. The nose is citrus and tropical, with hints of almond. Flavors of lemon lime, grapefruit, pineapple, and orange peel, with nutty notes. Brisk acidity with a long, clean finish. 

SRP: $20.00

And that’s a wrap!

Remember, like all sparkling wines, Cava isn’t just for holidays and celebrations. As a wallet-friendly option, you can enjoy Cava all year round! So get yourself some Cava and add more sparkle to your life!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Firriato, Italian Wine, Italy, Mount Etna, Samples, Sicily

Firriato Wines: Showcasing what Sicily has to Offer

What comes to mind when you hear the words: “Italian WIne”? Our guess is that most people immediately think of regions like Chanti, Piemont, or Veneta, or grapes like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, or Barbera. Some with broader wine experience may go to Barolo or Montepulciano; Dolcetto or Nero d’Avola. Yet not many, in our estimation, think of Sicily and the lesser-known grapes native to that volcanic island. We certainly didn’t. Until recently. 

Not long ago, we received an email inviting us to join a virtual tasting of wines from Firriato, a winery that has been making wine in Sicily since 1978. Always up for an adventure, we accepted the invitation. Alas, the day of the Zoom call, we were traveling and unable to attend, but our hosts graciously provided three samples nonetheless, and agreed to send us the presentation. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located just off the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.” The island is home to Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. With frequent eruptions, including the current activity which has been ongoing since February, 2021, the volcano creates obvious challenges, but also opportunities for the residents of Sicily. The resulting volcanic soils on the island are perfect for viticulture and producing stunning wines. 

Vineyards on Sicily range in elevation from sea level on adjacent Favignana island, to 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet) on Mount Etna. This provides varied growing conditions in terms of soil content and climate. There are 80 native grape varieties, with just 13 available to vinify according to Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) regulations. 

The name Firriato is derived from a western Sicilian term, used to define the area closest to the house. This is a well protected area, where the most valuable crops are planted. Firriato can be loosely compared to the French term “Clos”, meaning closed or walled. 

Firriato was established by Salvatore Di Gaetano, who recognized the opportunity to produce high-quality wine on the island. Today, the company has 470 hectares (approximately 1,160 acres) of vineyards, all of which are certified organic. The company portfolio includes seven estates, located in all three major growing regions in Sicily; Favignana Island, the hilly Trapani Countryside, and of course, Mount Etna. They produce a range of wines under nine different labels. 

Access to such diverse growing areas means Firriato can capitalize on the varied soil conditions. The soils on Favignana Island are composed of biocalcarenites (containing fossils) of the quaternary period, which impart saline and balsamic qualities to the wines. In the Trapani Countryside, red marlstones and calcareous-clay soil lends itself to elegant and full bodied wines. And as expected, Mount Etna has young sandy soils of basaltic origin, which produce bold, full bodied wines with mineral characteristics. 

In addition to the commitment to certified organic farming, Firriato was the first Zero Impact winery in Italy, achieving certification as carbon neutral. Their commitment to the environment does not stop there. As part of their progress toward attaining carbon neutral certification, they started planting trees, which they have continued to do to this day. In fact, Firriato has an “adopt-a-tree” program. Click here to learn more and participate in this initiative!  

The wines we received as samples are from the La Sabbie Dell’Etna line, which as the name implies, are from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Etna. Here, Firriato has 84 hectares (approximately 207 acres) under vine, ranging in elevation from 550-900 meters (1,800-3,000 feet.) Even within Mount Etna’s range, there are 12 distinct sub-zones, each with varying soil conditions. Included in the vineyards are some certified pre-phylloxera vines, growing on native rootstocks more than 150 years old. 

Each of the wines presented are from native grapes. The most exciting aspect of that for us (especially Kent, who has a passion for obscure and lesser-known grapes) is that we hadn’t heard of any of these varieties before! All of the wines featured are available for purchase at winesfromitaly.com.

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Bianco 

Grapes: Carricante and Cattarato 

Pale straw color. On the nose, lemon, grapefruit, pineapple, and saline. Flavors of pineapple, citrus, pear, and minerals. Soft mouthfeel (sir lie aged) with medium body and bright acidity. A delicious wine. 

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosato 

Grape: Nerello Mascalese

Pale peach/salmon color. Muted aromas of peach and saline, with a hint of earth. The palate is more pronounced with flavors of peach, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry, and minerals. Light body and fresh acidity with a clean finish. 

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosso

Grapes: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio 

Surprising. Clear, light garnet color with brick rim. On the nose, raspberry, cherry, clove, and smoke. On the palate, it has a very light body, but big flavors of black cherry, plum, stewed prune, raspberry, tobacco, leather, and hints of licorice and minerals. Very soft, with mild tannins and smooth acidity. Great pizza wine.

As our next European adventure, we had already been planning to visit Italy. After experiencing these wonderful wines from Firriato, we will be sure to add a few days in Sicily to our itinerary so we can visit Firriato and other wineries on the island. 

If these wines intrigue you, go to winesfromitaly.com to purchase. We are confident you will enjoy them as much as we did.

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Argentina, Domaine Bousquet, Samples, Tupungato, Virtual Tasting, Wine

Domaine Bousquet: Taking Winemaking to New Heights

We wrote about Domaine Bousquet not long ago, when we received a sample of their Gaia Rosé 2020. In that post, we wrote a little about the history of the Bousquet family and the creation of Domaine Bousquet in the Gualtallary Valley, high in the mountains in Argentina, and the fantastic wine. So naturally, we were honored when we were invited to a virtual tasting including discussions with Anne Bousquet, current proprietor of the winery, and Franco Bastias, the winery’s chief agronomist. (What’s an agronomist? An expert in the science of soil management and crop production. Now you know, too.) Of course, to be a virtual “tasting”, one must have wines to taste. We were pleased to receive as samples, six bottles of Domaine Bousquet wine.

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

In their presentation, entitled “Dishing the Dirt”, Anne and Franco discussed what makes the terroir of Domaine Bousquet so unique. Spoiler alert: The subtitle is “The secret is in the soil.” Anne started us off with some history of the land, family, and winery. 

In 1997, Anne’s father Jean Bousquet, moved from Carcassonne, in Languedoc, France, to the Gualtallary Valley, and purchased a plot of land that had never been cultivated. In this arid region, the driest wine growing region in the world, first things must come first, so in 1998, Jean Bousquet dug a 495 foot deep well for irrigation. Meanwhile, in 2002 as vineyards were taking shape, Anne and her husband, Labid Al Ameri, started to invest in the winery, while maintaining their non-wine-industry careers in Boston. The first vintage was released in 2005, and Labid joined full time in the sales department. By 2008, Anne was on board and she and her family relocated to Argentina. Jean retired in 2011, and Anne and Labid, and Anne’s brother, bought Domain Bousquet and assumed day to day operations. In the years since, production has increased, and in 2020, they sold approximately 7 million bottles of wine. 

Domaine Bousquet is planted to 618 acres of vines, all of which are organic. In fact, they received their organic certification in 2005, the same year as their first vintage was released. With Domaine Bousquet coming out of the gate as certified organic, they raised the bar for other growers in the region, from whom Domaine Bousquet would buy grapes, and many of them have achieved organic certification as well. In addition to organic, Domaine Bousquet has also achieved certifications as vegan and sustainable.

As good as organic, vegan, and sustainable is, Domaine Bousquet doesn’t stop there. They have launched a “360° Sustainability Commitment”. This includes supporting the community and the people who live in and around the town. This is a three-prong commitment: environmental, social, and economic. We’ve covered the environmental part. On the social and economic sides, Domaine Bousquet is certified “Fair for Life.” This certification is part of a fair trade and corporate responsibility commitment for global change for the better and helping others. As part of this, the winery supports several children’s homes in the area, and has donated more than $113,000 to help those in the community experiencing economic hardship and social exclusion. Those are some causes we can get behind and gladly support by purchasing Domaine Bousquet wines! 

Next, we met Franco. Franco’s energy and enthusiasm were immediately evident, and infectious. He gave us some geography lessons, then, in video segments, took us deep into the soil. Literally. 

The Uco Valley is comprised of three departments: Tupungato in the north, Tunuyan in the middle, and San Carlos in the south. Domaine Bousquet is located in Tupungato. This area of the valley was originally settled by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. By the early 1900’s, orchards, vineyards, and other crops were planted. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s, however, that the wine world started to take notice, as local producers started attracting attention to the region. 

The soils in Tupungato vary from rocky to sandy and silt, which flowed down from the Andes mountains. At these elevations, and with the harsh winters there, diurnal temperature swings of up to 59°F can occur, resulting in fresh, fruity wines. One of the other distinctive conditions are calcareous soils, containing concentrations of calcium deposits, which add to the unique character of the wines. 

In the video segments, Franco showed us cross sections of the soil conditions in soil pits, which are dug several feet deep directly adjacent to rows of vines. This was fascinating to see, as each of the wines featured have different soil conditions. As Franco walked us through the various soil pits, we tasted along with the wines. Isn’t that what it’s all about? 

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Pale straw color. On the nose, apricot, peach, and pineapple. On the palate, pineapple, citrus, peach, and pear. Bracing acidity, yet very smooth with a soft finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019

A very unique and enjoyable Chardonnay. Golden color. Nose of pear, peach, and tropical fruit /mango. On the palate, a tropical paradise: pineapple, mango, with citrus, pear, and just a hint of butter. Creamy mouthfeel, with balanced, vibrant acidity. Medium plus body, with a citrus finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019

Bright ruby color. Cherry, raspberry preserves, and white pepper on the nose. On the palate, juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry, with cedar, and spice. Light-to-medium body, soft tannins, bright acidity, and a medium red fruit finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Deep garnet color with a ruby rim. Lots of classic Cab Sauv characteristics. Nose of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry. On the palate, black cherry, plum, black currant, blackberry, and cedar. Medium-plus body, integrated tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of red fruit, baking spice, and pepper. Fresh & clean so the fruit really shines. 

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018

Inky garnet color. Funky, earthy nose, with red cherry and boysenberry. On the palate, ripe, juicy blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, and hints of bell pepper and baking spice. Big, full body, with ripe tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of dark fruit and black pepper and minerals. 

Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018

Wow! Very soft and smooth. Deep purple with a garnet rim. Black cherry, plum, and blackberry on the nose. On the palate, ripe blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and Marionberry, with hints of cedar, cocoa, and baking spice. Rich, full body with velvety tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of black fruit and chocolate.

All of the wines are very well structured and balanced. With minimal oak influence, each wine allows the fruit to take center stage and shine. In the days following the virtual tasting, we enjoyed finishing the bottles with our meals. All are very food friendly, yet able to stand on their own as evening sippers. Did we mention value? The SRP for these wines is shocking; they all drink well above their price point! 

  • Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018 / SRP $20
  • Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018 / SRP $25

We are very impressed with the wines that Domaine Bousquet is producing, and their commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. We definitely recommend you seek out these wines and enjoy them for yourself. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds
Petite Sirah, Sample, Samples, Suisun Valley

Review: Suisun Valley Petite Sirah

Can we talk? 

Let’s get this out of the way up front. Petite Sirah and Syrah are not the same grape. They’re not even spelled the same. However, they do have a few things in common. Both are native to the Rhone,in France. Both go by different names in different parts of the world, most notably, Australia, where Petite Sirah is known as Durif, and Syrah is called Shiraz. What’s more, in 1996, genetic testing determined the Syrah is actually one of the parent varieties of Petite Sirah, the other being the nearly extinct grape, Peloursin

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s talk about Petite Sirah from Suisun Valley. What? Where? Wait, you’ve never heard of Suisun Valley? You’re not alone. But you’ll be hearing that name more and more as this up and coming region makes its mark on the wine world. 

Suisun Valley is located in Solano County, California, which is adjacent to Napa County. Suisun Valley is just a 30 minute drive southeast of Napa, and shares a similar climate with Napa. However, the soils here are more welcoming to what has become Suisun Valley’s signature grape, (drum roll, please): Petite Sirah. 

As a lesser known region, Suisun Valley lacks the notoriety, traffic, crowds, and high prices of its northern neighbor. Instead, small family farms, many of them generations old, dot the landscape. Tasting rooms, too, are family owned and offer a casual and inviting tasting experience. Suisun is also very accessible, just off I-80 in Fairfield, California. (If you’ve been to Napa via I-80, you’ve driven through Fairfield.) There are currently 12 wineries in the valley, with just 3,000 acres under vine. Sounds delightful, no? 

We had the opportunity to sample the wines from five Suisun Valley producers. The Suisun Valley Wine Co-op assembled this sample pack of 2 oz. tasters to tantalize our taste buds and leave us longing for more. It worked.  

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

  1. Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif Petite Sirah 2018

Inky purple color. On the nose, blackberry, plum, and black pepper. These continue on the palate, with “cabinet spice”, cedar, and tobacco. Full body with vibrant acidity and medium tannins. Long finish with black fruit, tobacco, smoke, and spice. 

  1. Mangels Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah 2018

Bright purple color with a ruby rim, Nose of boysenberry, blackberry, and black cherry. On the palate, bing cherry, raspberry, and blackberry. Chalky texture and tannins, soft acidity, and a long finish of black and red fruit.

  1. Tenbrink Vineyards Estate Grown Petite Sirah 2016

Deep purple with a ruby rim. Nose of blackberry, green pepper, and jalapeno. On the palate, blackberry and cherry, with a surprise guest: black olive. Full body, edgy tannins, and medium acidity. Nice, long finish.

  1. Suisun Creek Winery Estate Grown Petite Sirah 2017

Inky purple color, with ruby rim. Nose of blackberry, stewed prune, and boysenberry. On the palate, black cherry, plum, and blackberry. Smooth tannins, medium acidity, and as expected, a rich, full body. Pleasing, smooth finish. 

  1. Wooden Valley WInery Lanza Family Petite Sirah 2018

Deep purple color. The nose is vegetal, with notes of blackberry and bramble. On the palate, bright blackberry, Marionberry, black cherry, jalepeno, and our new friend, black olive. Full body with drying, grippy tannins, bright acidity, and a long, smooth finish.

We enjoyed each of these samples, and it was very interesting to experience the diversity of style and character, considering each sample was the same grape, from the same small region. We look forward to the opportunity to visit Suisun Valley to taste more of the wines coming from this emerging region.

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Ron Rubin Wines, Russian River Valley, Samples, Wine

Review: Ron Rubin Wines

Our appreciation for Russian River Valley wines has been on the rise lately. We’ve been exploring and drinking more wines from this region, and have been quite impressed with the quality and the distinct character of the wines, winemakers, and winery owners. So naturally, when we were offered samples of two bottles from Ron Rubin Winery, in the Russian River Valley, we gladly accepted. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The story of Ron Rubin Winery came to life in 2011, when Ron purchased a winery in the Green Valley neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. Ron got his start in the beverage industry at a young age, when as a child he would spend time in the warehouse of his family’s wholesale liquor company in Illinois. In 1971, Ron traveled to California to attend U.C. Davis to study viticulture and oenology. From this experience, and the exposure to the then-fledgling wine industry in California, Ron started to add California wines to the family portfolio. All this paved the way to his dream come true with the purchase of the Russian River Valley winery. 

After purchasing the winery, Ron renovated the facility and employed the ancient principles of Fung Shui. He converted the estate vineyards to sustainable farming practices. The winery is now SIP-certified and Certified Sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. The estate is planted to 6.5 acres of Pinot Noir and 2.5 acres of Chardonnay. Certainly not enough for Ron Rubin’s dream, so he also sources grapes from five other growers in the neighborhood.  

Ron Rubin calls himself a “beverage guy” and his experience proves this. Beyond wine and spirits, Ron has also distributed sparkling water and tea. In fact, he owns the Republic of Tea brand, which his son manages. His desire in winemaking is to produce affordable, high quality wines so people can enjoy “beautiful experiences.” He has a reputation of being unpretentious and welcoming, and has no interest in making high priced, exclusive wines. He wants people to be able to enjoy his wines for any occasion.  

The wines we received were Pam’s UN-Oaked California Chardonnay 2020, and the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018. Pam is Ron Rubin’s wife and first love. Like us, Pam has always preferred her Chardonnay to be unoaked, so he made it that way for her. We approve.  

Ron Rubin Winery Pam’s Unoaked Chardonnay 2020

Golden straw color. The nose is floral and pear/apple notes. On the palate, yellow apple, pear, and elderflower. Medium body with a creamy mouthfeel and medium-minus acidity. Just a hint of sweetness on the finish. Very easy drinking, a great summer sip, with a fresh finish. (SRP: $14.00)

Ron Rubin Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Brick red with an amber rim. The nose displays ripe red fruit and smoke. On the palate, black cherry, plum, raspberry, and some stewed plum notes, followed by tobacco smoke, cedar, and baking spice. Medium-minus body, soft tannins, bright acidity, and a long finish of red fruit, vanilla, and spice. A nice, budget-friendly Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. (SRP: $25.00)

Ron Rubin Winery wines are available directly from the Ron Rubin Winery website. In addition to the Ron Rubin Winery line, the winery also produces the River Road line of wines, available at Total Wine & More stores. Be sure to give them a try! 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Bordeaux-Style Blend, Chardonnay, Finger Lakes, New York Wine, Riesling, Samples

Three Gems from Ravines Wine Cellars

A few weeks back, we were talking about different wine varieties, and decided we needed to incorporate more Riesling into our lives. Mere days later, as if she overheard our conversation from 3,000 miles away, Courtney from Ravines Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, emailed us offering samples of their wines, including their flagship Dry Riesling. How could we refuse?

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Riesling is a very versatile grape. It can also be polarizing; you either like it or you don’t. In our observation, the polarization is directly related to the versatility – Riesling wines can be made in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet. A few years ago, the market was flooded with cheap, sweet Riesling from Germany, which has turned a lot of wine drinkers away from Riesling in general. That’s a shame, because Riesling is a stunning grape, food friendly and elegant. While we tend to prefer dry wines, we’ve enjoyed some excellent off-dry Rieslings, and have an appreciation for the occasional sweet sip. 

The Finger Lakes Region, in Upstate New York, is known for its Riesling. With a short growing season and cold, snowy winters, Riesling finds itself right at home there. The name, Finger Lakes, comes from the 11 long, narrow lakes formed by glacial movement millions of years ago. Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake are two of the deepest in the US, at 618 feet and 435 feet, respectively. 

Ravines Wine Cellars is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 2001, husband and wife team Morten and Lisa Hallgren founded Ravines Wine Cellars, with a mission to produce a bone dry Riesling. Born in Denmark, Morten learned winemaking at his family’s estate winery in Côtes de Provence, France. Morten went on to earn a degree in winemaking from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier. Meanwhile, Lisa studied the culinary arts and is now a professionally trained Chef. As an adult, Morten came to the United States, eventually settling in Upstate New York, where he and Lisa purchased land between two ravines in the Finger Lakes region. You can read more of Morten and Lisa’s story on the Ravines Wine Cellars website.

Our sample pack from Ravines Wine Cellars included three wines; a 2017 Chardonnay, the flagship 2017 Dry Riesling, and their Bordeaux-style red blend, Maximillen 2017. These, and all of their portfolio wines are available for purchase on their website.


2017 Chardonnay (SRP $19.95)

A unique Chardonnay, made in the appassimento method by partially drying the grapes before pressing. The appassimento method is of Italian origin, and is used in making the rich and concentrated Amarone wines. 

Clear golden color. Aromas of ripe apricot, mild citrus, and pear. On the palate, there are flavors of grilled lemon, pear, peach, and citrus. Medium body with vibrant acidity. The finish lingers with fresh citrus and just a hint of toasty warmth at the end. Excellent paired with roast chicken. 


Dry Riesling 2017 (SRP $17.95)

Clear, golden color. Aromas of pear, apple, and citrus, with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavors of Bartlett pear, yellow apple, lemon lime, and lychee, with hints of honeysuckle and lemon blossom. Light body with brisk acidity and a lingering finish. Paired well with chicken and broccoli stir fry. 


Maximilien 2017 (SRP $24.95)

54% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This is a classic Bordeaux blend. A New World wine with a distinctly Old World vibe. Ruby-garnet color. The nose is earthy, cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum. On the palate, smoky with blackberry, black cherry, ripe raspberry, and red currant, with black pepper, tobacco, cigar box, and wisps of bell pepper. Medium-plus body, with grippy tannins and bold acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice. Somebody please get me a ribeye! 

Thank you.

We found each of the Ravines Wine Cellars wines to be distinct, expressive, and downright delicious. We are happy to have more Riesling in our lives, and will remember Ravines Wine Cellars when it’s time to re-stock that corner of the cellar.

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds