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
Amador County, La Mesa Vineyards, Shenandoah Valley, Wine, Wine Tasting

A Tasting Room with a View: La Mesa Vineyards

It seems that as Amador County wine country receives more exposure and accolades, new wineries are popping up like spring wildflowers. We say this in a good way – since this means more variety and more opportunity to taste some fantastic wines from our favorite day-trip wine region. One such new winery is La Mesa Vineyards, with a recently opened tasting room perched atop a bluff overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by its estate vineyards. We’d driven past La Mesa a number of times on our way to another winery where we are members, but with reservations required at most wineries during the pandemic, timing had not worked out to enable us to stop in. Until a warm, spring-like day in February a couple of weeks ago. 

Many visitors to Amador County may not have the opportunity to experience La Mesa, and that is a shame. Like many areas, the Shenandoah Valley has developed something of a “central” area along Shenandoah Road, where the more established, sometimes trendy “destination” wineries are located. Many visitors stop there, unaware of what awaits them around the next bend in the road. La Mesa is a couple of miles beyond that area; you have to keep driving to be rewarded with the stunning views, amazing hospitality, and delicious wines. 

Originally from Montreal, Quebec, vigniron Côme Laguë comes from a long lineage of agriculture; 10 generations to be specific. However, this enterprising French Canadian pursued a career in tech. Still, throughout the evolution of his career, he never lost the passion for wine that he had developed early on. He and his family often traveled through Amador county on their way to camp in the Sierras, and eventually he resolved to purchase land here. When the time came, he found just the right spot; a former walnut farm. As an added bonus, the property also had an established vineyard planted to Primitivo. Rather than rip out the vineyard, Côme decided to try his hand at winemaking. A neighbor helped with the first vintage, a single barrel of wine. That was all it took. Côme was hooked, and after a few more years at the craft, opened La Mesa Vineyards.

The tasting room at La Mesa is a modern, striking building, featuring sweeping views from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, or the generous patio outside. Much of the wine is produced from estate fruit, with some sourced from nearby vineyards. The estate vineyards surround the tasting room, adding to the allure of tasting a wine that was produced from grapes that grew just yards away. 

It was surprisingly quiet when we pulled in; only a handful of other guests enjoying wine on the patio. As a result, we had the tasting room staff practically to ourselves. They continued to be quite attentive even as more people arrived and filled the patio tables. The standard tasting flight consists of five select wines, with an option of whites and rosés, or reds. You can also customize your flight. La Mesa produces a wide variety of whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling, so it can be hard to select just five. Fortunately, being wine tasting veterans, we knew the drill: We ordered one flight of the whites and rosés, and one of the reds, and shared them.

Our server particularly recommended the Chardonnay, which was included in the whites and rosés flight. She explained that Côme prefers to make his wines in a more Old World style, meaning his Chardonnay saw no oak, and no malolactic fermentation. It is made in the style of a Chablis which, as we don’t prefer the heavily oaked style, was music to our ears!  We enjoyed it so much, we bought a bottle to take home. 

We also were surprised by the Muscat Canelli, which was aromatic and refreshing, but not cloyingly sweet, as some can be. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the whites was the Barbera Blanc. Several years ago, Kent purchased a “White Barbera” from a different winery, and reminiscent of White Zinfandel, that one was sickenly, syrupy sweet. The La Mesa Barbera Blanc, however, was fresh, bright, and refreshing, with zesty acidity. This wine is made from the same Barbera grapes used in the traditional red wine, but the skins are removed immediately after press, so the wine derives none of the red color. We ended up bringing one of these home, too! 

All of the reds were excellent. The two standouts for us were the Primitivo and the Petite Sirah, which was also recommended by our server. The Primitivo was lively and vibrant, while the Petite Sirah was dark and brooding. Kent is rather particular about his Petite Sirah, and this one got the seal of approval. Despite the fact that we only needed to purchase two bottles to waive each of our $15 tasting fees, we left with a few more than that. 

In recent weeks, taking advantage of the unseasonably springlike weather, we’ve done a bit of wine tasting on day trips around our area. We’d begun to notice that at many of the small wineries we were visiting, we would like two or three of the wines, but others we didn’t care for at all. This was not the case at La Mesa. Each and every wine we tasted was tasty and high-quality, including the bonus pours of the Library Primitivo 2014, and La Notte, their fortified Port-style wine. 

We will definitely plan to stop in at La Mesa Vineyards again. If you are in the Amador area, do yourself a favor. Venture just a bit further up the road, around that bend, and up the hill to this wonderful tasting room with a view. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds (except where noted and credited.)
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
Amador County, Iron Hub Winery, Semillon, Sierra Foothills, Wine

An Amazing Find: Iron Hub Sémillon 2018

It’s no secret that we are big fans of Amador County wines. Located in the Sierra Foothills AVA, about an hour east of Sacramento, Amador County is home to more than 40 wineries. While we haven’t yet visited them all, that is a goal we hope to eventually achieve! Of those we have visited, one of our favorites is Iron Hub Winery. Their striking tasting room is perched atop a hill with sweeping views of the valley and distant Sierra Nevada mountains. Seated tastings on their patio are some of the most relaxing and enjoyable we have experienced. 

Iron Hub Winery was established by Tom and Beth Jones. Tom was the founding winemaker at Lava Cap Winery, in neighboring El Dorado County, In his almost 30 years there, Tom helped Lava Cap to become an award winning, locally renowned winery. In 2014, Tom and Beth purchased the property that would become Iron Hub Winery, and with their son, Spencer, began a new chapter with a winery of their own. 

The name Iron Hub came about when Tom, on a rejuvenating excursion in the mountains of Northern California, discovered an antique wagon wheel hub. Amador County has a rich, Gold Rush history, and many settlers arrived via wagon. The wagon wheel hub was hand-forged iron, a lost art in today’s frenetic world. Thus, the name Iron Hub was born, because, well they say it best on their website

The iron hub exemplifies the artistry and beauty of hand-forged tooling of days past. Tom and Beth named their new boutique winery on Steiner Road “Iron Hub” to reflect their joy of discovery and craftsmanship.

Of course, history and a beautiful tasting room don’t mean much, unless the wine is good. Let us assure you, Iron Hub Winery wines are good. Very, very good! We always come home with several bottles when we visit. One recent visit introduced us to what has become an Iron Hub favorite: their Sémillon 2018. We purchased multiple bottles, and are down to our last. 

Sémillon may be an unfamiliar grape variety to some. Sémillon is native to Bordeaux, France, and is best known as the grape used to craft the luxurious dessert wine, Sauternes. It is also used as a blending grape, playing second fiddle to Sauvignon Blanc in White Bordeaux wines. 100% varietal Sémillon has been relatively rare, but is becoming more common, at least in Amador County! We know of several wineries here that produce 100% Sémillon wines. The Iron Hub Sémillon 2018 is one of our favorites, an opinion shared by those wine-loving friends who have been fortunate to taste it with us. 

Exquisite and refreshing. Golden color. Aromas of honeysuckle and pear. On the palate, zippy acidity and flavors of pear, peach, honeydew melon, and apricot. Medium finish. 

This is a wine that is delightful to sip on it’s own, but also has the backbone and structure to pair with a variety of seafood or poultry dishes. And as one might expect, 2018 is sold out, but we look forward to other vintages! If you make it to Amador County, be sure to stop in at Iron Hub Winery. If you’re lucky, they’ll have some Sémillon in stock, and you can experience this amazing find, too!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
BoaVentura de Caires Winery, BoaVentura Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, Wine

Our Wine of the Week: BoaVentura de Caires Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Blue Label 2012

One of the most magical things about wine its its ability to evoke memories and transport you to times and places far away. So it is with this week’s Wine of the Week. Three and a half years ago, we were invited to the Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend. For two days in March 2018, we visited several wineries and tasted lots of wine. (You can read about our adventures in the two-part series here and here.) One of the wineries we discovered on day one was BoaVentura de Caires Winery, or simply BoaVentura Vineyards. BoaVentura specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, and it shows. As we reported more than three years ago, their wines stack up against Napa Cabernets at more than 3X the price! The day of our visit, we purchased this week’s Wine of the Week, the BoaVentura de Caires Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Blue Label 2012.

Does it surprise you that Livermore should produce such outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon? Well, it shouldn’t. During our research prior to our 2018 visit, we learned (and wrote) that Livermore Valley was instrumental in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon’s success. In fact, some 80% of Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted in California can be traced back to clones developed at Concannon winery in Livermore in the 1960’s. And these clones can be traced back to the Concannon Mother Vine, imported from Château Margaux in Bordeaux, France, in 1893. So it makes sense that the wineries in the Livermore Valley would produce world class Cabernet Sauvignon. 

BoaVentura Vineyards was inspired by owner and winemaker Brett Caires’ grandfather, BoaVentura Baptiste de Caires, who had a passion for good wine. BoaVentura immigrated from the Portuguese island of Madeira in 1915, and settled in Oakland, California, not far from Livermore. Family meals always featured wine, and Brett soon developed his own passion. In 1999, he and wife Monique bought five acres of land in the Livermore Valley, and a dream became reality. 

The BoaVentura de Caires Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Blue Label 2012 is made from 100% estate fruit, all hand-picked by family and friends, as are the grapes for all of BoaVentura’s wines. BoaVentura produces five different Cabernet wines, color coded from Green Label to Maroon Label. The Blue Label is near the top of their lineup at number four. Don’t let that scare you, though. We paid just $59 for the 2012 vintage, and on their website, the price for the (sadly sold out) 2016 vintage is only $40! Not exactly daily drinker wine prices, but for a wine this good, we made an exception on a Tuesday night, to pair with our steak dinner.

Deep, opaque ruby color. On the nose Black cherry, black currant, and blackberry with hints of bell pepper and eucalyptus. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, cassis, stewed plum, boysenberry, and blueberry, with vanilla and white pepper notes. Full body with smooth tannins and still-puckery acidity. Lively and fresh, drinking well now, yet with several more years of potential.

We are way overdue for another visit to the Livermore Valley. And though there are plenty of other wineries there that we haven’t yet visited, we’ll definitely be paying a return visit to BoaVentura de Caires Winery when we go.

What was your wine of the week?

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Argatia Winery, Assyrtiko, Greece, Greek Wine, Haroula, Malagouzia, Wine of the Week

Our Wine of the Week: Argatia Winery Haroula 2016

Two years ago this week, we were on our honeymoon in Greece, so it seems appropriate that our Wine of the Week is a Greek wine. During our 12 days in Greece, we visited four different wineries; two on Santorini, and two on Crete. If you haven’t tried Greek wine, you really must. We have encountered few wine regions that showcase the unique, local terroir than those in Greece. A word of caution, however. Greek wine production is still relatively small, or should we say, boutique. Most of the bottles you find in mega-mart wine stores are mass produced and not the best quality. To find the best Greek wines, check a local, independent wine shop, or head over to the Internet. Sites such as Uncorked Greeks, Diamond Wine Importers, and Wine.com carry a wide range of high quality Greek wines that we wholeheartedly recommend. We found our Wine of the Week, the Argatia Winery Haroula 2016, at Uncorked Greeks. 

Argatia Winery was founded in 2000 by Panagiotis Georgiadis and Dr. Haroula Spinthiropoulou. The name Argatia is derived from the concept of “cooperation for the achievement of a common purpose”, which is very important in Greek agriculture. The founders combined their knowledge of science with their love of wine to create high quality wines from indigenous Greek grapes. The winery is located in the town of Rodohori, in the Naoussa region of the northeastern Greek mainland. 

The Haroula 2016 is a white blend of two native grapes; 60% Malagouzia and 40% Assyrtiko. You may be familiar with Assyrtiko, which is arguably the most famous Greek white wine grape and the signature grape of Santorini. These two grapes combine in this wine as proof that sometimes, when opposites get together, they can create a magical partnership. Assyrtiko is known for its acidity and minerality, while Malagouzia (also spelled Malagousia) offers aromatics and a balanced, citrus and peach fruit profile. The blend of the two results in a wine of finesse and character, that’s just darn good! 

Argatia Winery Haroula 2016

Deep golden color. The aromas take us back to Greece: pear, citrus, and saline. On the palate, ripe pear, apricot, lemon zest, and citrus, with minerals on the finish. Medium-minus body with fresh acidity. Delicious with grilled fish tacos.

One of the things we love about Greek wine is that even their whites are age-worthy. Did you catch that this was a 2016? Not too many five year old whites from the U.S. are worth drinking, but this wine is in its prime! 

Be sure to check out some good Greek wine, and let us know what you think. 

What was your wine of the week? 

Yamas! 

  • 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