A summer of Rosé!
What a grand tasting adventure awaits, having just completed my advanced WSET L3 this spring, I am eager to share my hard-earned knowledge by hosting small gatherings for wine tastings.
First up is a DOCa Rioja Rosé “Muga”2013
A gorgeous clear pale salmon-pink wine with a medium body and dry! Lovely aromas on the nose: red fruit: strawberry; peach, pink grapefruit and rhubarb!. Medium alcohol with a good bit of tannin here outshone with how dry it is (XD). Structured and elegant. Palate was the same as on the nose. Blended with three Spanish grapes: Garnacha 60% and Viura 30% ( white grape) and Tempranillo 10% in Clay/Calcareous and Alluvial soil/Calcareous and Alluvial.
Will go great with summer fare: salads, fish and seafood. Made in Rioja Spain DOCa , by Bodegas Muga, 12.5% alcohol, $12.95 LCBO Vintages 603795
Notes from the producers:
“>After about twelve hours macerating with the grape skins, the wine ferments for 25 days in small, 1000 litre wooden vats, which is where it is kept for 2 months before being bottled.
This vintage was hallmarked by generous rainfall, which meant that the vines practically never stopped growing throughout the cycle. As a result, the canopy development was a key factor and conditioned the organoleptic features of the wine, in particular its aromas and acidity.
The grapes’ natural acidity was enhanced, especially the malic acid, leading to typical “green apple”, Granny Smith-type descriptions of the aromas, and fruits at just the right point of ripeness, such as cherries, peaches, pineapple and citrus fruits.
At the start of the vinification process we found that the acidity, a positive aspect on the nose, was excessively dominant on the palate. We had to wait a few months until the wine’s natural evolution smoothed off its sharp edges. On the one hand, the winter cold precipitated out part of the natural acids and on the other, the role played by the fine lees wrapped these sharp edges in a silky mantle.It is a vintage which repaid our patience and the skilled work in the selection of the grapes and work on the lees inside the winery.
The result is a wine with shades of salmon-pink evolving towards bright copper in the bulb.
With the glass held still, the fruit comes to the fore with a rich range of nuances: cherry, apple, peach, pineapple and even white blossom and fennel, not found very often in this wine. And not forgetting the omnipresent pastry shop aroma produced by the fine lees.
On the palate the three-way relationship of bitter-acid-sweet flavours makes the tasting a true joy, intense and long, very long… leaving excellent sensations in the aftertaste which make you want to come back for more. We end with a retronasal stage in which the notes described above are reversed, with the white blossom and fennel becoming dominant.”
Grapes > Viura
Viura is a synonym for Macabeo and is the most widely planted white grape variety in Rioja. It is a fairly straightforward grape to cultivate, although it is susceptible to disease and in particular to downy mildew and grey rot. It is a generous-yielding grape and in Rioja it tends to be blended with approximately 5% Malvasia to produce classic white Riojas. In Rioja Alvesa it is often blended withTempranillo to produce high quality Red Riojas.In the wrong hands, Viura can produce rather neutral tasting wines. However skilled winemakers manage to preserve the grape`s natural aromatic freshness and produce wines that are enhanced by oak maturation rather than overwhelmed. Marqués de Cáceres and Herencia Remondo are widely recognised as two of the finest exponents of Viura in Rioja.
Grenache is an unlikely hero of a grape. Reviled or at best ignored in much of the world, it is the grape chiefly responsible for two of the great, and increasingly celebrated, red wines of the world, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and, a more recent star, Priorat.Part of Grenache’s problem is that it is so widely planted. It is planted on more land than any other grape in the world apart from La Mancha’s white Airen grape because, as Garnacha, it is Spain’s most common red wine grape. It dominates vine plantings all over the northern half of the country that has more land planted to vines than any other in the world. In both Rioja and Navarra it is regarded as playing a distinctly ignoble second fiddle to Spain’s vine speciality Tempranillo. The wine it produces here can be much softer and jammier than the well structured, deeper-coloured Tempranillo, but it doesn’t have to be. Provided yields are restricted, and particularly if vines are relatively mature, Garnacha can produce some alluring rich, spicy reds in northern Spain – and there are particular pockets in Rioja Alta upriver of Najera and in Rioja Baja in the high vineyards of Tudelilla, for instance, where Garnacha vines are renowned for the voluptuous flesh they can bring to a Rioja. The ambitious new Roda bodega, for example, values top quality Garnacha as highly as fine Tempranillo.In Navarra Garnacha has traditionally been used to produce pale wines labelled either rosado or, slightly darker, clarete. Indeed the relatively thin skins of Grenache/Garnacha have persuaded many a winemaker – most notably in Provence – to make a rosé out of this misunderstood grape. But this is only part of the story. Chivite’s Viñas Viejas bottling shows just how fine a full-blooded red wine old-vine Navarra Garnacha can make. A whirlwind tour of many northern Spain wine regions, both famous and obscure, last year convinced me that Garnacha is an under-used resource in many Spanish vineyards.
Perhaps its reputation has been sullied by a red-fleshed version known as Garnacha Tintorera in Spain, and Alicante Bouschet elsewhere (grapes with red flesh are generally regarded as slight cheats). There is also a variant with particularly hairy leaves widely planted in Spain as Garnacha Peluda and in Roussillon and western Languedoc as Lladoner Pelut. It is customary to blend the hairy-leaved and regular versions.
But what has most dramatically revived Garnacha’s reputation in Spain is the intense, minerally top wines grown on the schists of Priorat where ancient Garnacha bushvines provide the backbone of many of the greatest wines.
As Grenache the vine is planted all over southern France. Just north of the Spanish border in Roussillon it is common in at least three different colours: purple-skinned Grenache Noir, pale crimson-skinned Grenache Gris and green-skinned Grenache Blanc. On the steep terraces overlooking the Mediterranean above the ports of Banyuls and Collioure it can reach extraordinary ripeness levels (a general characteristic of Grenache everywhere) and is the chief ingredient in the sweet, strong vins doux naturels made there. Banyuls is the most famous but further north in Roussillon it produces similar wines such as Maury and Rivesaltes as well as doing its bit to make Roussillon’s dry red table wines so strong and ripe-tasting. If there is one single characteristic of Grenache-based wines it is a sweet ripeness, coupled with quite tough tannins if yields are low.
Grenache Blanc makes interesting, if sometimes slightly blowsy, white table wines all over the south of France. They tend to high alcohol and fast development, but make a delightful change from the thinner offerings of its traditional blending partner Maccabeo.
As for Grenache Noir, it is one of the most important red wine grapes of the Languedoc where it has long been blended with Carignan (ungenerous and being pulled out fast), Syrah, Mourvèdre and, sometimes, a bit of Cinsault (another grape often used for roses). Increasingly, however, Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre is regarded as the holy trinity in this part of the world. This is the classic blend for the southern Rhone’s best red wines: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac, Tavel and a host of increasingly exciting Côtes du Rhone Villages from villages such as Rasteau and Cairanne. The Syrah adds structure and longevity. Difficult-to-ripen Mourvèdre can add an exotic gamey, almost animal note. But Grenache Noir is the grape most at home in the best dry, almost drought-prone vineyards of the southern Rhone.
With its upright growth and strong, sturdy trunk, Grenache is ideally suited to being grown as a water-seeking bushvine in hot, windy areas, its only disadvantage being its predeliction to set relatively little fruit. But that, of course, means all the more flavour in the grapes that remain. Some of the finest Châteauneuf of all, that made at Château Rayas, is made from Grenache Noir alone, and although Château de Beaucastel, perhaps even better known, incorporates all 13 of the grape varieties permitted in red Châteauneuf, Grenache and Mourvèdre each constitute about a third of most blends.
The vine is relatively late ripening so can be grown successfully only in quite warm regions. It is particularly important, as Cannonau, in Sardinia where locals claim the variety had its roots before being exported to Spain and France when the island was part of the kingdom of Aragon. Calabria and Sicily also grow some.
In California it is widely planted but chiefly associated with the cheap and cheerful Central Valley and oceans of blush wine. It makes very small quantities of serious wine when pruned severely but doesn’t ripen particularly successfully in coastal regions. For some reason the state’s Rhône Rangers, wine producers who have turned their backs on Chardonnay and Cabernet to explore the possibilities of such grapes as Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier and Roussanne, have virtually ignored Grenache.
In Australia too it took some time for old Grenache vines to earn anything like the respect accorded to old Shiraz and Mataro (Mourvèdre) vines, but each year more and more new bottlings emerge from the Barossa Valley in particular carrying the name Grenache either in splendid isolation or as a fully acknowledged ingredient in a blend with Syrah and Mourvèdre.
Grenache is also grown in Israel and North Africa.
Ch Rayas, Châteauneuf red
Ch de Beaucastel, Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Châteauneuf red
Domaine Santa Duc, Gigondas
Domaine du Mas Blanc, Banyuls hors d’age de Solera
Domaine Gauby, their best Grenache Blanc white wine (fax +33 04 68 64 41 77)
L’Ermita, Priorat, Alvaro Palacios
Greenock Creek Grenache, Barossa Valley
For a long time Tempranillo was ignored by the outside world as a slightly rustic northern Spanish grape of strictly local appeal. It was in the mid 1990s when I was granted my one and only audience with the Gallos in northern California that I realised the grape was now of international interest. Almost as soon as I had sunk into the crimson velour depths of the company limo I was interrogated about my thoughts on Tempranillo. Clearly the world’s biggest wine company had it in their sights.Tempranillo is best known as the dominant grape of red rioja, Spain’s most famous wine. To make a parallel with the most celebrated blended red wine in the world, red bordeaux, Tempranillo plays the Cabernet Sauvignon part while the much juicier, fruitier Garnacha (known in France as Grenache) plays the role of plumper blending partner Merlot. Tempranillo provides the framework and ageing ability, together with the predominant flavour, while Garnacha adds weight. Mazuelo (Carignan) and the much finer Graciano (Morrastel) are also allowed in a Rioja blend.Until the 1990s most red rioja tasted more of oak than grapes. The traditional way of making rioja – ageing for years and years in small, vanilla-scented American oak barrels – disguised Tempranillo’s own flavour. But since bodegas in Rioja have seriously begun to age their wines for much shorter periods in French oak, and also to export young (Joven) unoaked wines, wine lovers the world over have started to come to grips with the essence of Tempranillo itself.
The flavour of Tempranillo is essentially savoury rather than sweet. The characteristic smell has hints of leather but the phrase I use most often to describe it is ‘fresh tobacco leaves’ – even though, as is so often the case with these useful ‘trigger words’, I am not at all sure I have ever actually smelt fresh tobacco leaves themselves. There is something sappy, fresh and vegetal about it, but also something definitively masculine, the sort of smells you would expect to find in a stereotypical man’s dressing room – which is, I suppose, where the leather comes in.
Tempranillo’s skins are not especially thick, so the wine is not marked by particularly deep colour, and rot can be a problem, especially in the tight bunches of the newer clones (although compared to most internationally known grape varieties there are not that many clones of Tempranillo available).
The vine has traditionally been cultivated en vaso, as little low bushvines dotting the Spanish landscape, although some growers have been training it up a trellis to increase yields. What is sure is that when the right clone of Tempranillo is grown in the right spot without excessive yields and with real care, then it can produce extremely long-lived wines. I have had the pleasure of tasting late 19th century and early 20th century riojas from the likes of Marques de Riscal and they are stunning wines on any level. Throughout northern Spain, Tempranillo’s stronghold, vine-growing today tends to be in quite different hands from wine-making, which does not always optimize quality unfortunately.
So vital is Tempranillo to other Spanish wine regions that it travels under many local aliases. In Ribera del Duero, the high plateau south-west of Rioja, it is even more important and is known simply as Tinto Fino or Tinto del Pais. Bordeaux grape varieties and the local Albillo may, technically, be blended with it but rarely are nowadays, except in the region’s most famous wine Vega Sicilia which has proved that Tempranillo grown in this extreme climate with its hot days and cool nights can withstand up to 10 years in barrel and still age for decades in bottle. Today there are all manner of young turks and middle-aged fortune hunters trying their hand at making a more modern, concentrated style of Ribera del Duero – all characterised by an intense, deep crimson and, in good examples, a flavour to match. Dane Peter Sisseck has had phenomenal success with his briary cocktail Dominio de Pingus.
In the small, warmer but extremely fashionable Toro wine region to the north, the local, loose-bunched form of Tempranillo is known as Tinto del Toro. So far Toro wine has been made quite simply and is a sort of exuberant, turbo-charged fruity essence of Tempranillo. But sophisticated winemakers have been moving in and we can expect to see more subtle, longer-lived wines emerging.
In Valdepeñas south of Madrid Tempranillo is known as Cencibel and is the predominant red grape, often lightened by blending with the local white Airen. Yields here can be too high for much varietal character to be evident. It is grown all over the Levante and in Manchuela is known as Jancivera. In Catalonia it is important and known in Catalan as Ull de Llebre and in Castilian as Ojo de Liebre. In Penedes, as in Navarra north-east of Rioja, its traditional blending partner is Garnacha, but Tempranillo is seen as infinitely superior to it. The often antipodean ‘flying winemakers’ parachuted into Spain to cook up wines for northern European markets have had fun blending Tempranillo with fuller-bodied varieties such as Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Merlot.
But Tempranillo is increasingly recognised as important over the border in Portugal, both in the north as Tinta Roriz where it is a respected ingredient in port, in the table wines of the Douro Valley and as an improving grape variety in the red wines of Dão, and in the Alentejo in the south where it is known as Aragones. It is increasingly bottled as a varietal wine, and in the hot climate of the Alentejo in particular can be positively plump.
Elsewhere in Europe, the Languedoc in southern France has long cultivated Tempranillo, even if its produce tends to disappear in blends. The Australians are now becoming rather interested in its novel range of flavours and Brown Brothers of Victoria were the first to sell it in varietal, just-recognisable form. Argentina has grown the vine they called Tempranilla for decades, presumably since it was imported by Spanish immigrants. Untroubled here by the autumn rains that can plague Rioja, it can produce much riper wines in the right hands. Winemakers such as Susanna Balbo at Anubis have applied modern winemaking methods to it to sizzling effect.
As for California, land of the inquisitive Gallos, growers there have been growing Tempranillo – in small quantities admittedly – all along. The vine known as Valdepeñas is none other than this increasingly confident international traveller.
Specifically recommended wines:
- Dominio de Pingus, Ribera del Duero
- Vega Sicilia, Ribera del Duero
- Terreus, Pago de Cueva Baja (Mauro)
- Paga Negralada, Abadia Retuerta
- Roda Cirsion, Rioja
- Artadi, Grandes Añadas or Pagos Viejos, Rioja
- Finca Allende, Aurus, Rioja
- Muga, Torre Muga, Rioja
- Marques de Riscal, Baron de Chirel, Rioja