Single estate ethos of Grandes Pagos de España

April 10th, 2019

Grandes Pagos de España Masterclass

The Chef’s House, George Brown Community College

Moderator: Sara d’Amato, WineAlign

When the excess of large wine production volumes leaves territorial and personal value systems behind there arises a need for a new ethos. The task of defending terroir and diversity then falls into the hands and expressions of small, like-minded producers. In the case of Spanish wine regions like Jerez and other iconic locations this progressive fight against big box and collective commercialism becomes a matter of great necessity.

Which brings us to the early 21st century story of Grandes Pagos de España. The Spanish supergroup gathers to collectivize their specialized, idiosyncratic and cathartic efforts and voices of some thirty-plus wine producers, all working together to “defend the personality and distinctiveness of their unique wine estates, in order to promote and expand this culture around Spain.” Grandes Pagos de España is borne of a growing concern towards the monoculture of wine production and for a wave of cultural emotion to protect the excellence of wines made as Vino de Pago.

Pago, from the Latin pagus speaks to a physical location, as in a hamlet (like the Italian borgo), or a rural estate (as in the Spanish finca), yet it also refers to a specific category within Spanish wine law. Vino de Pago is therefore an entity for wines produced from highly specialized, single estates. “Grandes Pagos de España is an association of Spanish wine producers dedicated to upholding and promoting the ethos of producing high-quality, single-estate wines and maintaining all that is entailed in their production.”

This tasting brought together 17 wines from 15 appellations; DO Jerez, DO Cava, DO Montilla Moriles, DO Txakoli de Álava, Vino de España, DOP Rueda, DO Pago de Arinzano, DO Navarra, Vino De La Tierra De Extremadura, DO Alicante, DOC Rioja, Vino De La Tierra de Castilla Y León, DOQ Priorat, DO Ribera del Duero and DO Toro. Here are my notes on the 17 seminar wines, along with further examples from Valdespino (Grupo José Estévez) and Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate

White Wines

Valdespino Single Vineyard Fino Dry Sherry Inocente, DO Jerez, Spain (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

The terroir is Albariza white sandy soil, very high in calcium carbonate off of 800 hectares divided into 18 vineyards. The palomino base wine starts at 12 degrees alcohol and after aging increases to 15. Oak aging develops the character. This is Fino that slides over to the really arid line, surely still very salty and briny but it’s the drying character that is just extraordinary. The complexity for the price is almost unbeatable and it is fully accountable for enzymatic activations borne out of necessary and dominant personality traits. Stands for what it believes in and owns it. Just wow. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted April 2019  valdespinosherry  azureau  @valdespinojerez   @azureau  @valdespinosherry  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Gramona Ill Lustros Gran Reserva Brut Nature Cava 2008, DO Cava, Spain (Agent, $60.00, WineAlign)

In Gramona, very close to Barcelona, from a six generation family. The interest here is the ageing, to keep the personality of endemic varieties like xarel-lo and to see how lees aging develops character, but still keeping the nature it was afforded by terroir. Cork aged (not crown cap), riddled and disgorged by hand. Can see up to 60 months of lees aging and is a Brut Nature, no dosage added Cava. Made from macabeo, xarel-lo, chardonnay and pinot noir. Dry and cognitively speaking a child of slow rearing, development and maturation. Fruit very much alive, exotically normal, passionately exemplary and purposefully forward. An absolute benchmark for vintage Cava of age and for years more development. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted April 2019  gramona1881  brixandmortarwineco   @Gramona1881 @brixandmortar  @GRAMONA  @brixandmortarwineco

Alvear Pedro Ximenez 3 Miradas Vino De Pueblo 2017, DO Montilla Moriles, Spain (Agent, $22.95, WineAlign)

From the south of Spain, going back to 1729 and the second oldest wine in the area. A wine based in the vineyard, as opposed to the cellar, unusual for the place. A blend of the best parcels at high altitudes (500 to 620m), on Albariza white chalky soils. The 3 Miradas project is sourced from three plots, La Viña de Antoñín, El Garrotal and Cerro Macho. This acumulation of pedro ximenez is really toasty, nearly flinty, always striking, like lightning. Palate fruity, in white peach and yellow plum, dry, mildly tart and very friendly. As much a still wine as it is a Fino, with help from skin-contract and a very important entry into the category, for the uninitiated and those who look to pair it with nibbles, bites and first courses. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted April 2019  bodegas_alvear  fwmcan   @Bodegas_Alvear   @FWMCan  @BodegasAlvear  @FWMCan

Astobiza 2017, DO Txakoli de Álava, Spain (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)

From northwestern Spain, in Basque country, from ondarrabi zuri and tzkriota. A verdant and herbal txakoli, lively and fresh. Classic lemon and lime, tight, taut and intense. Exactly what it’s meant to be. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted April 2019  astobizawine  azureau  @Astobizawine  @azureau  @Astobizawine  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Mustiguillo Finca Calvestra Merseguera 2017, Vino De España, Spain (Winery, WineAlign)

High altitude at 800m on dolomitic limestone is the home of this merseguera raised in Acacia barrels. Quite fresh and lively with high floral aromas and definite texture added by the choice of wood. Obscures the focus of the land at times but stays true to endemic character in conjunction with that honeyed raising. Will likely develop further complexities along that vein. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2019  bodegamustiguillo  @Mustiguillo  @Bodega.Mustiguillo

Belondrade Y Lurton Belondrade 2017, Do Rueda, Spain (Winery, WineAlign)

Pebbles over clay and limestone at 750m of altitude is the spot for this 100 per cent verdejo with generous addendum from oak aging. Very creamy, with vanilla and caramel notes, definite spice and yet somehow delicate and recognizable. The wood comes around and around, again and again. Nutty, buttery and soft. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2019  belondrade.vinos  @Belondradevino  @BelondradeBodega

Propriedad De Arínzano Gran Vino 2014, DO Pago De Arínzano, Spain (Agent, $69.00, WineAlign)

The first Pago from Navarra, in the Cantabrian Mountains in the north of Spain. Arínzano is unique as an estate for having the terroir recognized as the first to gain such status in the north of Spain. The Gran Vino is varietal chardonnay, in 50 per cent new French oak for one year. Nothing is spared to equip this rich, lush and ambitious chardonnay with all the necessary tools for international infiltration. Combines nutty spice with freshness in less than subtle layering and shows very good length.  Drink 2020-2024. Tasted April 2019  pagodearinzano  markanthonyon  @pagodearinzano  @MarkAnthonyWine  @pagodearinzano  @MarkAnthonyWine

Julian Chivite Colección 125 Blanco 2016, DO Navarra, (Agent, $70.00, WineAlign)

Chivite’s 372 years of Spanish winemaking history accounts for the company’s ability to combine tradition and forward thinking, something this ambitious chardonnay certainly draws upon. The Legardeta Estate is found in Villatuerta with great influence from the continental-Atlantic climate. This is varietal chardonnay with real bite and nuttiness, green apple, tart peach, green mango and shots of tonic. Eleven months in French barrels though not overtly new and over-exacting. Well made chardonnay with true blue cool-climate tones. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2019  chiviteestates  churchillcellars  @ChiviteEstates  @imbibersreport  @ChiviteEstates  @imbibersreport

Red Wines

Palacio Quemado La Zarcita 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Extremadura, Spain (Agent, WineAlign)

A wine that straddles the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, with influence by both. Duelling weather patterns, clay, limestone and rocks all work for tempranillo, garnacha and in this case, touriga nacional, trincadeira, and alicante bouschet. The varietal kaleidoscope is accented by really toasty oak influence as much as terroir and those two salty ocean breezes. That salt mitigates the char and the roasted character of the fruit. So much here for $23 and time will soften the blow. Drink 2021-2025.  Tasted April 2019  @PalacioQuemado  fwmcan  @FWMCan   @PalacioQuemado  @PalacioQuemado  @FWMCan

Enrique Mendoza Estrecho 2015, DO Alicante, Spain (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

A one hundred per cent varietal monastrell from unirrigated old-vines grown on beach-sandy soil with some clay and limestone about. Dealt with gently in winemaking, no pumpovers and all hand work. Really fresh and though so grippy and firm it’s all about fruit. While it saw 15 months in French oak the fruit is well-preserved and full of spirit. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted April 2019  bodegasemendoza @BodegasEMendoza  @BodegasEnriqueMendoza

Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2012, DOCa Rioja, Spain (Agent, $46.99, WineAlign)

Mainly tempranillo (90 per cent), with graciano and maturana tinta on terraces in the Cantabrian Mountains with stones by the river. The aging is 22 months in new French barrels, with at least 22 more needed even now to settle into its skin. Really tangy and direct, grippy and graphite rich. A wild ride in Rioja, broad, rangy, ropey, impressive and long. Drink 2021-2029.  Tasted April 2019  fincavalpiedr stemwinegroup  @FincaValpiedra  @StemWineGroup  @FincaValpiedra  @stemwine

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Hipperia 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

This may be one of the most interesting Bordeaux blends you have never tried, in Right Bank style, aromatically led by cabernet franc. The fruit layers are compressed, variegated, finessed and fine. Only new French oak gathers these Bordeaux grape varieties and wraps them up in scorch and toast, early earthy and savoury. The wood is well-heeded and omnipresent but the red fruit never relents. Graphite and pencil lead dominate but altitude (900m) keeps things minty cool and somehow, some way remarkably fresh. Spice and florals again. Highly floral wines despite the strength and grip. Certainly dirt-earthy but this should settle and pass, leaving fruit to cross over into anew era. Big wine, big bones and big hopes and dreams. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019  pagovallegarcia  azureau  @P_Vallegarcia  @azureau  @PVallegarcia  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Mas Doix Salanques 2016, DO Priorat, Spain (Agent, $74.95, WineAlign)

The stark reality of near-impossible, non-irrigated growing conditions makes perfect sense for producing this old-vine garnacha (80 per cent) with carignan and syrah. One taste and you would be sleeping to miss this as one of the world’s great old-vine garnacha expressions. Wound around a finger of freshness, with the sort of grip that will take two decades to release. Multiply the 14 months of oak aging by 20 at the very least. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted April 2019  masdoixwinery rogersandcompanywines  @masdoix  @rogcowines  @masdoix  @rogcowines

Abadia Retuerta Pago Negralada 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (Agent, $130.00, WineAlign)

From the winery in Sardón de Duero, close to Valladolid. A varietal tempranillo make in small quantities and in French barrel for 17 months. Pure, elevated, floral, regaling and über-responsive by expression back inwards through impression for tempranillo. Some of the sweetest varietal fruit found anywhere in Spain. Ethereal in its own special way by Ángel Anocibar and Pascal Delbeck fromn this very special project. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted April 2019  abadiaretuertaledomaine  halpernwine  @arledomaine @HalpernWine  @AbadiaRetuertaLeDomaine  @halpernwine

Bodegas Mauro Cosecha 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla Y León, Spain (Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)

Less than five per cent syrah adds to great quality tempranillo, with increased freshness over 2015. This is the flagship of the winery, at altitudes in the 800m range, off of sand and clay. Though 16 months of French and American oak (only 20 per cent new) brings plenty of sheathing, swagger and texture there is some really great freshness to this wine. Altitude and agriculture are to thank, plus the magic of place. It results in great acidity and one of those tempranillo that absolutely needs to be made this way. It’s correct, excellent and long. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted April 2019  bodegas_mauro rogersandcompanywines  @rogcowines  @bodegasmauroysanromanygarmoncontinental  @rogcowines

Aalto 2016, DO Ribera Del Duero, Spain (Agent, $47.95, WineAlign)

A wine of remarkably expressive florals, violets and roses, plus bougainvillea and more. High Ribera altitude and calcareous clay are the conduit but also the 50 per cent new French and American wood. Compound the effect with berry to graphite on the palate and a textured presence that is unrelenting and in the end you have a formidable if magical connection. Sometimes it’s hard to believe there is so much going on like here, from Ribera del Duero. Drink 2021-2028.  Tasted April 2019  aaltowinery  noble_estates

Bodegas y Viñedos San Román 2015, DO Toro, Spain (Agent, $64.95, WineAlign)

The local tinta de toro and garnacha grow on acidic soils, low in calcium and blessed with magnesium. The style is far from shy and if 24 months was needed to bring such magnanimous fruit to fruition, 10 times that will be needed to see it settle. I wouldn’t consider drinking this massive 100 per cent tinta de toro (tempranillo) without hours of decanting air or 10 years of bottle time. Black fruit, balsamic syrup and structure are all in. This is not the rustic ancient or even recent times Saint Román. It’s modern, beautiful and bigger than can be imagined. Drink 2022-2035.  Tasted April 2019  bodegas_sanroman rogersandcompanywines  @rogcowines  @rogcowines

More from Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Petit Hipperia 2015, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $34.95, WineAlign)

From the expression “land of horses,” with merlot and petit verdot, plus cabernet franc and sauvignon. Roasted, cured, in salumi and earthy crust. A bit reductive but just a curtain drawn ahead of high-toned and enthusiastic aromatics. Spice and florals again. Highly floral wines despite the strength and grip. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted April 2019  pagovallegarcia  azureau  @P_Vallegarcia  @azureau  @PVallegarcia  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Syrah Montes De Toledo 2016, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $47.95, WineAlign)

This syrah is just one striking example in the international varietal portfolio of Spanish oil and gas entrepreneur Alfonso Cortina. His choices are largely because the DO is not one of the very knowable ones for indigenous varietals. Sourced from low nutrient soils in the Toledo hills in which calcium carbonate needs to be added and acting as catalyst to this formidable syrah, originally planted in 1999. In warm years such as this ’16 it’s co-fermented with viognier, essentially because the proximity of harvest times allow for the get together. Floral and formidable, with liquid chalky character, full on berry aromas and flavours, plus a spicy finish. Class, culture and structure are all here, to be sure. Drink 2020-2035.  Tasted April 2019

Pago de Vallegarcía Family Estate Viognier 2017, Vino De La Tierra De Castilla y León, Spain (Agent, $44.95, WineAlign)

A 100 per cent varietal, 30 per cent in oak fermented viognier. Quite viscous, boozy and metallic. Big viognier, obviously connected in style to Condrieu, Bold, classy and structured, high glycerin and tannin. Needs settling time. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted April 2019

More from Pago de Valdespino

Valdespino Uva Palomino Fino Ojo De Gallo 2016, Vino De La Tierra Cadiz, Spain (Agent, $24.95, WineAlign)

The “eye of the rooster” is a still wine from Fino territory, 100 per cent drawn from Macharnudo Alto, at 140m the highest spot in the area. As 100 per cent palomino it is not a common wine to be sure, noses like Fino but markedly arid in that regard, white chalky, direct, lime to ginger, a better to best tonic and in its highly idiosyncratic way, pretty amazing. A benchmark for dry palomino without a doubt. A throwback to the ancients, when still wine was king and to show how the grape tastes, naked, unadulterated, nutty, nearly yeasty and fine. Consumer warning: It’s a very specific cup of palomino tea. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted April 2019  valdespinosherry  azureau  @valdespinojerez   @azureau  @valdespinosherry  Azureau Wines & Spirits

Leyenda Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Jerez De La Frontera, Spain (Agent, $15.95, WineAlign)

Entry-level Fino, fermented under the (yeast) flor, finished at 15 per cent alcohol. Typical simple, basic and forward Jerez de la Frontera Fino, classic in every way and so proper. Almonds, green olive and spice, with still some fruit notes, like orange and dried lemon. What you need with salty snacks. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted April 2019

Valdespino Manzanilla Deliciosa, Sanlúcar De Barrameda, Jerez, Spain (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)

Deliciosa is made from palomimo grown at the Pago Miraflores in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The enologist is Maribel Estévez (daughter of owner José Estévez) and her Manzanilla is produced by a Solera system consisting of seven scales (six plus a Solera row). Here is a true step up in serious salinity and age accumulated character, from six years of sapidity gaining accountability. The brine here is on the saline side but without searing, iodized or ionized happenstance. It’s just linear and so perfectly orchestrated. You need to taste this. Drink 2020-2029.  Tasted April 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Only one in VINTAGES January 21st, a writer’s defence and nine more

soft-smoky-fusible-fiorentina-at-noce-queenstreet-mcgeefarms-canadianbeef

Soft, smoky, fusible #fiorentina at #noce #queenstreet #mcgeefarms #canadianbeef

Every VINTAGES release we dig deep at WineAlign to pick a wine in response to the question “were we faced with buying only one, what would it be?” David, John, Sara and I do not take this responsibility lightly, nor do we approach the description of said wine without carefully scripting, editing and then publishing our thoughts. Most of our readers are pleased with the content. But you can’t please everyone. As a subscriber or passer-by, if there is something you don’t like, why wouldn’t you just keep moving on and choose to align with another?

Here is my preamble to my Only One from the VINTAGES, January 21st release:

“I am always on the lookout for wine off the beaten path. The term could actually be considered a metaphor for “authentic” and this is what winemakers and consumers, even if they need to be enlightened, really want. Winemaker Patricia Tóth’s Planeta Noto Nero D’avola 2012 is such a wine, grown on the white Sicilian soils of Noto and please do think about this. The mineral is salinity and that saline infiltration tears into bright bred red fruit, fragments it like the rock it came from and brings a brightness of being to otherwise dense and cimmerian nd’a. Today, the production from lesser, even totally unknown grape varieties, despite the zealous search for them by hipsters and geeks, is still considered a marginal pastime and a financial risk. Terrific wines like these are not inexpensive to produce. All sorts of meat clinging to and wishing to fall or be teeth-torn off the smoked bone will work wonders alongside this varietal-defiant, return to how things going forward must be Planeta nero d’avola.”

Is there anything in this section that is unclear? Is the term “beaten path” not obvious as the one I am referring to? Does the passage indicate that authentic wines MUST only be sought out in unusual locations or that seeking wines in unusual places is a metaphor for authentic wines? No. First off, I write “could actually” so I don’t make a blanket statement and secondly, the point I make is that authentic (or honest, if you will) wines are what we want. If they happen to be found off the beaten path than the interest level is increased.

The mineral discussion is always a heated one and like global warming, will always be challenged by those in denial and/or those who find it gets in the way of what they spend and what they earn. Grammatically and theoretically speaking, the words mineral and salinity can be interchangeable. Last I checked, both are nouns. I’ll even concede that the equation is predicated on perception, in aromatics, taste, texture or however else you wish to describe the sensation. Am I saying that the mineral one can detect in the wine is “saline” in quality? To some extent, yes. That much is obvious. But I am also saying that whatever trace minerals are found in soils do find their way into the grapes. And yes, salt, salty, saline and salinity are all ways of bringing the idea to the use of descriptors in a tasting note.

Writing is a tricky slope to navigate and there will be some who will read one’s words and it simply will not speak to them. To refer to something you don’t quite get as crap or someone who’s work you don’t like as a “slap in the face” is an opinion, not a fact. Or perhaps an alternative fact. We can all be judges and critics. Some of us do it better than others and those of us who do it for a living, work and stick together. “It is the difference of opinion that makes horse-races.” Thank you Pudden’head Wilson for that. And Mark Twain. And Samuel Clemens.

That Planeta wine, the preamble I penned in its support and more are the subject of my recommendations for the VINTAGES January 21st release. As always, please jump over to WineAlign to read the full reviews. You will also see a link to the presentation of our new wine revolution. Click on it. You are going to want to be a part of it. Thanks for coming and for reading. Your patronage is appreciated. Best regards, Godello.

evia

Pop Art Red 2014, Pgi Evia, Greece (468686, $12.95, WineAlign)

@eviagreece_gr  @DrinkGreekWine

Beyra Vinhos De Altitude Red 2014, Doc Beira Interior, Portugal (408120, $12.95, WineAlign)

@WineInPortugal  @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal

vernaccia

Guicciardini Strozzi Villa Cusona Vernaccia Di San Gimignano 2015, Docg Tuscany, Italy (172726, $14.95, WineAlign)

@TGStrozzi  @LeSommelierWine

Album Reserva Red 2013, Alentejo, Portugal (477711, $14.95, WineAlign)

@WineInPortugal  @winesportugalCA  @wines_portugal  @TheVine_RobGroh

colome

Colomé Torrontés 2015, Calchaquí Valley, Salta, Argentina (357913, $15.95, WineAlign)

@BodegaColome  @LiffordON  @winesofarg

ferraton

Ferraton Père & Fils Samorëns Côtes Du Rhône 2014, Ac Rhône, France (168708, $15.95, WineAlign)

  @VINSRHONE  @FWMCan

Château Des Charmes St. David’s Bench Vineyard Gamay Noir Droit 2015, VQA St. David’s Bench, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (346742, $17.95, WineAlign)

@MBosc   

mojo

Mojo Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Coonawarra, South Australia, Australia (383539, $17.95, WineAlign)

@MojoWine  @CoonawarraWine  @Wine_Australia  @StemWineGroup

planeta

Planeta Noto Nero D’avola 2012, Doc Sicily, Italy (477190, $26.95, WineAlign)

@PlanetaWinery  @VinidiSicilia  @WinesOfSicily  @Noble_Estates

catena

Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina (959965, $47.95, WineAlign)

@LauraCatena  @CatenaMalbec  @Noble_Estates  @ArgentinaWineCA

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Old vines for the Zin

rockpile-ava-unparalleled-in-so-many-ways-mauritsonwinery-zinfandel-cabernetsauvignon-at-mauritson-rockpile-vineyard

Rockpile AVA unparalleled in so many ways @mauritsonwinery #zinfandel #cabernetsauvignon — at Mauritson Rockpile Vineyard.

Late one afternoon on a seasonally warm February Healdsburg day we walked into the boardroom at Seghesio vineyards for a Zinfandel tasting appropriated off of some of California’s oldest and dearest vines. On hand were Seghesio’s winemaking brain trust, Andy Robinson and Ted Seghesio. It was Seghesio who explained pretty much everything you need to know about Zinfandel and field blends in one sweet sentence. “These old vines are California’s treasures. We haven’t pulled one out yet.”

“Are the wines good because their vineyards are old

or are the vineyards old because the wines are good?”

Cart before the horse. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Catch-22. If we follow the ideas of Aristotle and Plato then we simply say that zinfandel and old vineyards first had their beings in spirit. The dialectical answer can’t help but make use of formal, linear cause-and-effect logic and so results in a paradox because this caused that. Old vines and zinfandel, two things uniquely Californian entwined in a set of mutually dependent circumstances. The question is ultimately moot.

godello-listens-tedtalks-seghesio-zinfandel-ravenswood-carolshelton-joelpeterson-califwine

Godello listens, #tedtalks @seghesio #zinfandel #ravenswood #carolshelton #joelpeterson #califwine

Joel Peterson’s hat was the centre of first attention, that is until the Godfather of zin himself began to explain why the varietal tenets of experienced and gnarly are so important to understanding why zinfandel is the untouchable one. Peterson makes the case for zinfandel Grand Cru vineyards by referring to them as “historical treasures, extremely valuable and they are California.”

Carol Shelton is herself no stranger to the royal and ancient vines. She imagines them as both children and grandparents or rather that they are one in the same, innocent and experienced, but needing coddling and care just the same. Shelton has a soft spot for vineyards that are organically grown, dry farmed and many decades old. On her website Carol quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupery in reference to the Rockpile Vineyard. “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Pretty apropos. It seems Carol Shelton sees the old vineyard before the zinfandel. I think they all do.

The next day we explored Dry Creek Valley’s AVA’s with John Doxon of Dry Creek Vineyards and in the afternoon walked up the ridge between the two arms of lake Sonoma with Clay Mauritson to stand at the top of the Rockville AVA. The vineyards are planted between 800′ and 2000′, with strong winds, soils that range from granite to volcanic and the ever-dangerous Healdsburg-Rogers Creek earthquake fault running through. Three things popped into my head. One, difficult growing conditions make for low yields. Two, above the fog and in the breeze means major league diurnal temperature swings and zero pressure from pests and diseases. Three, this is one of the most strikingly beautiful places on earth.

Rockpile Ridge Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is a Sonoma County tour de force and a steal for the money ($50 at the winery). But I’m here to discuss zinfandel and so we’ll look down left and down right to the Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin Vineyards. These two stunners from Clay Mauritson may be the most unheralded zinfandels you’ve never heard of. The first family vineyards were planted in 1884. It is here in the northern-most reaches of Dry Creek Valley where zinfandel may just find its highest California calling. “Pure geo-political drama.” What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. James Woodsian fun stuff. Keith Moon of zinfandel. That is Rockpile.

eroing-in-on-old-vine-zinfandel-significance-sonomavintners-seghesio-ravenswood-cbsbrands-wildthingzin

zeroing in on old vine #zinfandel significance @sonomavintners @seghesio #ravenswood @CBSbrands @WildThingZin

We tasted nine zinfandel with Ted, Joel and Carol, one with John plus two more with Clay. Here are the notes:

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Seghesio Zinfandel Rockpile 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

Rockpile is Sonoma’s newest AVA,  straddling the ridge between the two arms of Lake Sonoma. The Mauritson farm is perhaps the most dramatic inland vineyard site in Sonoma. It is a relatively cool-ish appellation in part because it is based on ridge tops but notes Ted Seghesio, “I don’t think we can dry farm up in Rockpile, it’s just too warm.” No wonder the zinfandel here develops rich, dusty, of high impact intensity, pressed and controlled with addendum by remarkable palate spice. It’s chewy and intense, without heat, though expected, but there is not. Saw the insides of 25 per cent new French oak, the rest neutral for 12-14 months. Flavours well up with the liqueurs from a multitude of ripe red and purple berries, hematic, loamy and all in. Somewhat imbrued with the folly of youth so exercise some patience. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016  @seghesio  @sonomavintners

Seghesio Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Sonoma County, California (Winery, $46.00, WineAlign)

From a blend of vineyards planted on the Dry Creek bench and the cooler southwest Alexander Valley. Old vine is often loosely interpreted and the general Seghesio rule is 50 years plus, though the average age is approximately 70 years-old, planted here because they were the original cheap, peasant purchased sites. True old vine zinfandel is distinguished by head-trained vines with thick, gnarled trunks and is planted with ancient clones dating back to the turn of the century. I personally am finding more warmth and a slick of oleaginous matter, like white pepper liquid smoke. The temper and texture are pure zin wisdom, knows exactly its place and the time. The early picked Old Vines offers a reference point for the accumulation of varietal time. You sense this though the briary spice of layering in the blending of two vineyards from berries through to that spice. The treatment was 25 per cent new wood, 14 months maximum on fruit that it typically at the extreme end of high acid and sugary fruit. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

Sourced from the Pagani family’s deep-rooted, storied Ranch in Sonoma Valley. The dry-farmed vineyard provides for a rich and nuanced, though not necessarily the most age-worthy structure to the fruit. Certainly a whole other, darker matter, pitchy, rock-blasted cimmerian mess of density and temper. The increased character is a drawn-out dramatic affair, feigning sweetness, with a high amount of Alicante Bouschet mixed in (perhaps as much as 50/50) for what is ostensibly the original California red. “The curtain” is an abiding history marker and maker and yet is low in tannin so drink this during the freshness of its youth. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

Ravenswood Winery

Ravesnwood Estate Zinfandel 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Typically 20 per cent petite sirah field blended in, from five sites with a collection of zinfandel clones planted in Ravenswood’s heritage vineyard back in 1997. Now old enough to stand alone, these vines grew from budwood collected from several of Sonoma County’s finest old-vine zinfandel vineyards. Like the single-vineyard zins, all are made the same way, save for a few micro-decisions for each wine. Time is 18 months in 35 per cent new oak for a level playing field so that each will show typically of site. The quinate muddling is made moot by fruit picked early enough to ask the ripeness not to be the dominant character of the wine. So there is a cooling, not so much herbal but a methylated effect, with depth of cherry and leather and the fleshy underside of the animal. A texture comes across creamy and so different from Seghesio, with a dry-brush aroma and flavour led by dark chocolate. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @RavenswoodWine  @CBrandsCareers  @michellesaba

Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni Single Vineyard 2013, Russian River Valley, California (Agent, $46.00, WineAlign)

Belloni carries a riper, naturally current cure, seemingly suspended in an evolutionary state of grace. The chocolate is tempered, smoothed into the reality of haute-ganache. It’s a bit of a teaser but there is length not yet found in rest of a nine-strong zinfandel the line-up. Will not yield to relinquishing length and still in such an amazing lingering state of berry flavour. “My middle-aged wine,” says Joel Peterson. From a site on Fulton Rd, of sandier soils above an ancient river bench. Riccardo Belloni planted it, around 1971, same time he purchased land on along Wood Road on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. Aye, there’s the saline and antediluvian rub. A very mixed vineyard, barely 75 per cent Zin, plus alicante, petite sirah, carignan and mourvedre. All tolled known as mixed blacks, the varietal melded, mixed and markedly RRV boysenberry is brighter and with great freshness. “It’s treated like pinot noir,” notes Peterson, “and we are conscious of how much oxygen it is gifted along the way.” A gracious Zin to be sure. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted February 2016.

Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Hill Vineyard 2013, Sonoma Valley, California (Agent, $75.00, WineAlign)

Old Vine, Old Hill is rich, smooth and chocolatey, from “Mr. Hill’s vineyard, William McPherson Hill,” who founded Old Hill Ranch in 1851. Joel Peterson is wistful in just thinking about it. “An important and historic vineyard,” resurrected by Otto Teller housing forty different varieties, re-planted in 1985. The vineyard is 68 per cent zinfandel with grenache, mourvedre, syrah, petite sirah, alicante and heretofore referred to as the black panther grape, all together called the Mixed Blacks. It is organically farmed and is indeed of the oldest vines in the Valley of the Moon. In 1983, Ravenswood began this vineyard designate Old Hill Ranch zinfandel, just as the vineyard was turning 100 years old. So at 130 years what further wisdom can it pass on? Plenty, with the classic house treatment of 18 months in 35 per cent new oak. A capacious, fruit-teeming, chestnut-ochre-liquorice-plum pudding zinfandel blend with texture threaded through ages from samite to mantua. The gift of old vines. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Rocky Reserve Florence Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (394510, $48.00, WineAlign)

Insieme with Rockpile by Seghesio in dusty, high impact zin, here liquid saturated and steeping of a complex berry syrup, silky, stylish ands with a certain palate spice thanks to American wood. Vanilla and liquid lavender, ichorous, fusible elasticity. Quite pretty and some heat in the tannins. Defined by elevation at 1400 feet (800 is required) above Lake Sonoma. Basically dry-farmed, planted in 1998, terraced, a morning sun vineyard that receives hot sun into the evening. Thus spiking the fruit but breezes temper ripening (as compared to Dry Creek Valley) so the tannins are polished. Built with cabernet-like structure and blended with 14 per cent petite sirah, in 40 per cent French oak (20 new) plus (40) American (20 new) plus some older irrelevant barrel. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016  @WildThingZin  @KylixWines

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Peaceland 2013, Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $40.00, WineAlign)

The “Friedland” is ambient and racked of floral certainly and also elevated of its varietal tones, with even more blueberry and peppery backbone than the Rockpile. Has increased its viscous and elastic chew with a dollop of melted milk chocolate and the earth’s granola; hemp, chia and all things fibrous and healthy. The jammiest and most texture on the table. Planted in 2001, a “young wine” out of a historical 1800’s place, a commune at 1100 feet of elevation. Represents three different clones of zinfandel (DuPratt, Costa Magnum and St. Peter’s Church). The united zin of red and black fruit, plus 7 per cent petite sirah. The new kid on the block. Needs to get more comfortable in its skin. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Mancini Old Vine 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California (Agent, $50.00, WineAlign)

Mancini Vineyard is Carol Shelton’s tribute to old vines, planted in 1922 (one mile from Belloni) to mostly (78-80 per cent) zinfandel and a Northern California varietal who’s who; carignane, alicante bouschet, petite sirah, grand noir, mataro and some yet unidentified vines. This is a field blend of decided depth, very cherry and exponentially increasing of varietal to wood spice. There is much liquor emulsified into liqueur. Such a highly concentrated wine is ripped with red citrus acidity and strays far from bramble. A wine of high acid, pH and oak with never-ending gobs of dark fruit. A little monster. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016

there-is-no-substitute-for-old-vines-zinfandel-drycreekvnyd-at-cafe-lucia

There is no substitute for old vines #zinfandel @DryCreekVnyd — at Cafe Lucia.

Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Old Vines 2013, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California (412288, $34.75, WineAlign)

As it should be this falls into the category of the mysterious and the enigmatic, a field-blend conjoining zinfandel (75 per cent) with petite sirah (23) and carignane. It takes nearly a month to bring in the multifarious and full-scope ripening varietal mix, between mid September and October. This elongation and elasticity mixes into the old vine magic and spits out strength and complexity. High pH and really pitchy acidity handle the bold and brooding fruit and then there is the presence of meaningful oak. Sixteen months in French, American and Hungarian oak, 29 per cent of it new. Dried fruit and spices rehydrate into a black fruit swirl of sweet leathery pods and perfumes. A blessed convocation is the result, part concoction, part confection and all in. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016  @DryCreekVnyd  @WineLoversAgncy  @drycreekvalley

Mauritson Wines

Rockpile Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $45, WineAlign)

A haunted cabin settler’s story, of one Jack Ireland, of sheep, cattle, clearing the land, moonshine and nights spent in the county jail. A connection through three generations of Mauritsons. Such fresh red fruit is rare (these days) when alcohol (14.75 per cent) and oak (15 months in 90/10 French/American) work the room but welcome to the Rockpile elephant in the room. It’s called balance because of natural acidity, grapes that were not over-pressed and the magic-umami-impossibility of place. My mind digs for Sonoma equivalents in this scarlet, rubicund, ochre magnetic field but fails to draw a similar example. Except greatness from this AVA and winemaker Clay Mauritson in the years to come. Drink 2016-2023.  Tasted February 2016  @mauritsonwinery  

what-is-rockpile-time-in-and-time-out-the-fun-stuff-keith-moon-of-zinfandel-mauritsonwinery-sonomacounty-jameswood

What is Rockpile? Time in AND time out. The fun stuff. Keith Moon of #zinfandel @mauritsonwinery #sonomacounty #jameswood

Rockpile Zinfandel Cemetery Vineyard 2013, Rockpile AVA, Sonoma County, California (Winery, US $47, WineAlign)

Look towards the other arm of Lake Sonoma and let your mind’s eye rest 250 feet higher than Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. The Cemetery plantation is a jagged, craggy outcropping with “a face uneven as a river jag and asperous as the mullein’s flannel.”  The Mauritsons are Los Campesinos of Cemetery Vineyard in Rockpile. The rocks below resemble giant headstones along the Rogers Creek fault and you just have to believe all this immensity of geology impacts the vines. It does but don’t ask how or why, just settle into the cimmerian depth of zinfandel touched by black fruit, spice and the akimbo savour of glutamate and amino acid. Three further months in barrel (85 French plus 15 American) accentuates the spice, smoulder and espresso con crema texture. Ripeness of fruit, tannin and acidity are simply stellar out of this dramatic place. “You know us by the way we crawl and you know us by our cemetery gaits.” Drink 2017-2025.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Part Two: A 30 march of value reds

PHOTO: MONKEY BUSINESS/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Today’s date may read April 5th, 2013 but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still March. Winter chill hovers like a suffocating raft over a simmering cauldron of consommé. We are the suds, the weather our nimbus and we can’t wait to rent our effervescent clothes, break free from the mackerel sky and walk into spring.

Related – More March wine reviews

The coming weeks worth of frosty nights and their refusal to hightail on out of here must then be quelled by belly warming, hearty meals shared in kind with big, bold red wines. Here is a 15-strong list available now and in a store near you.

From left: Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010, Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009, Château Gadet Terrefort 2010, Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010, and Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007

The French

Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010 (177584, $13.95) is a remarkable price for a Vin Pays d’Oc acting as a ringer for a Mark Kent (Boekenhoutskloof) Franschhoek meets the Northern Rhône. A dish of roasted pork belly, boar musk, lacquer, black olive and sun-baked earth would work. Good follow-up to the 2009 Septaguanarian of pork perambulations. Impossible balance for a pittance.  87

Château Agnel Cuvée Phillipe Minervois 2009 (309195, $15.95) is no pretender, this disciplined study in equilibrium. Blessed with a freestyle swimmer’s ability to master strokes in one varietal medley. More Grenache than Syrah, more Yannick than Michael. Exercises a learned rusticity, acts “old enough to face the dawn.” An angel of the morning bursting forth in floral scents and reaching out with a graceful length. Languedoc red as microcosmic study in an Olympian, southern French pool.  88  @FrontierWine

Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009 (310193, $16.95) conjures up full-on hedonism in roasted mutton, garrigue, black raspberry jus and a shot ‘o java. Full-bodied, mochafied richesse, juicy, easy to consume if  never to be seen again. All for $17.  89  @LanguedocWines

Château Gadet Terrefort 2010 (307231, $20.95) waltzes out in empeltre olive, plum sangria and creamy chocolate. Turns roast meaty in gritty tannin, struts great intensity for Médoc, like a “black-haired flamenco dancer,” de color rojo oscuro, not unlike modern Montsant. “Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones.”  90  @ProfileWineGrp 

Château Senejac 2009 (193037, $28.85, 11350145, SAQ, $26.85) walks a rustic, oxygenated Bordeaux tightrope threatening to fray but an earth, tar tincture and Mediterranean sense of longevity keeps this Haut-Médoc wound tightly together. Olive, licorice and Sambucan spice infuse in smokey tones.  91

The Portuguese

Herdade Penedo Gordo Vinho Tinto 2010 (218339, $13.95) from Alentejo, Portugal is very modern, full of lush, dusty berry fruit and void of hard lines. Licorice tang, suet roasted meat built on local grapes (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Trincadeira). Refines the nature of its origins.  87  @winesportugalCA

Quinta Do Penedo 2009 (313676, $18.95) of Syrah-like sheen jonesing to purple sets out muted but after a swirl opens to black cherry bubble gum. Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional work effortlessly together to fashion a Dão whose “white clouds have turned it black.”  This one can come away with me anytime.  88  

The Spanish

Otazu Premium Cuvée 2007 (313809, $16.95, SAQ 11387298, $18.70) plays an intense, gritty Navarran riff full of earthy expletives. Addictive, salty, marinated olive, black cherry plethoric red that stops you in your tracks. Makes use of Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Reminds me of the Hecula or the Manga del Brujo but is so much edgier, crazed, frantic. Wild stuff.  88  @bodegaotazu

Beronia Gran Reserva 2005 (940965, $32.95) has smoothed its cigar smoked extremities with vanilla cream. The sour cherry tang is a necessary advocate for balance and structure. This classic and classy Riojan is ready and willing to sit at the dinner table along side Chorizo, Jabali and stuffed Piquillos.  89  @WoodmanWines

The Argentines

La Puerta Reserva Bonarda 2009 (67801, $18.95) is a serious, brooding, dark and mysterious gem from  Famatina Valley in the north-west of the Province of La Rioja. Red stone fruit, vanilla bean and an Andean rock face of tannin. Once you go cool-climate, altitudinous Argentinian Bonarda, you may never go back to Malbec.  88  @LaPuertaWines

Versado Malbec 2010 (317008, $24.95) takes on Argentina by way of Southbrook (Ontario) and Sperling Family Vineyards (British Columbia) in the estimable hands of winemaker Ann Sperling. Husband and oeno-guru Peter Gamble joins forces to beeline straight for Luján de Cuyo typicity in deep cherry, pitching to black, solder spice and herbs smoldering in oak.  Cool and minting in its alveolate void. Interesting to say the least.  88  @VersadoWine

Versado Reserva Malbec 2009 (316984, $59.95) seems to travel a Hobbsian path laid out like Cobos cobblestone. At nearly two and a half times the cost of the Versado normale you might expect a revelation and you get one or two, if you allow your senses to drift out-of-body, into a lead crystal, Malbec state of consciousness. Tons of charcoal clouding the infundibular annals of the wine. Emerges as a scherzo in velvety tones, texture and structure.  90  @ArgentinaWineCA

The Californians

Langtry Guenoc Petite Sirah 2011 (19935, $17.95) is a more than commendable example out of the less than glamorous Lake County. At only 13% abv, the Langtry is modest and shy by PS standards, heavenly scented by blueberry, white chocolate and eucalyptus. California PS can be formidable stuff but here “I got a California rainbow to come give them thunder clouds a rest.”  87  @LangtryGuenoc

Highway 12 Highwayman 2010 (319186, $27.95) is a proprietary blend of Cabernet Franc (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Merlot (20%) from Sonoman Michael Sebastiani. Present but not overbearing 14.3% alcohol, decadent despite its roots but tempered by good chocolate, olives and herbs. The kind of brambly, inky blend you might swear had some Zinfandel or Syrah in the mix but straight Bordeaux it is. A whack of wine for $28 originally released down south at $42.  90  @highway12winery

The Australian

Dandelion Vineyards Lion’s Tooth of McLaren Vale Shiraz/Riesling 2010 (311233, $19.95) is not a typo or a joke. Riesling does round out this McLaren Vale Shiraz, not Viognier. Only an Aussie would take this risk and help me Rhonda if it doesn’t work. “I can give you lots a reasons why” this works and number one is balance. The dash of white kicks the red into gear – it may be a strange sensation for which there is no prior frame of reference, but boy if it don’t put me on a beach.  88  @mrkcstr

Good to go!