17 Canadian wines that rocked in 2017

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

I first published this year-end summary of Canadian wine excellence in 2013 and four years on that original list of 13 has expanded with four more. It’s a good thing too because four years later 17 wines is but a fraction of what could or should be included. This exercise is more than difficult. It’s biased, exclusive and decisive but it is meant to celebrate a select few with a mandate to elevate and exult the rest. It’s also a proclamation read to many who remain ignorant to an ideal of great wine being made in Canada, to tell the insolent they are not welcome here anyway. The winemakers in this country are in full command of their acumen, craft and future. They own it. Roll out the red carpet. Here they come.

Related – 16 Canadian wines that rocked in 2016

My writing about wine is a display that spills everything but subtraction, reduction and minimalism. It is an occupation whose reality is examined to points of madness, of long, run-on sentences, often at odds with grammatical winemaking realism. My tireless, tiring sentences and phrasing can at times offer a feeling that is potentially endless. So thanks for reading and putting up with me.

As I have noted before, I try to visit wines more than once before reviewing them, preferably from more than one bottle but even more importantly, with a good chunk of time having passed between assessments. The most complete picture is drawn from such a course of critical action but it’s not always possible. Not a single one of these 17 wines were decided upon at a single VINTAGES release, sterile and windowless LCBO laboratory tasting. The nearly 2000 wines (of which approximately were 20 percent Canadian) that I tasted in the LCBO lab in 2017 are kept, compartmentalized, reviewed and stored over at WineAlign. They are forged from and formed by a very specific, of the fleeting moment style. They are the results of root days and fruit days, often plagued by other writers present levels of distraction and time constraints. These 17 wines are children of repeated concentration and stand out because the makers went out of their way to bring them to me.

Please allow me to quote Wes Anderson. “It is an extremely common mistake, people think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to…,” continue to provide what you need to entertain your readers. Thank you to the winemakers for sharing their stories time and time again.

Related – 15 Canadian wines that rocked in 2015

Heartbreaker

If 2016 was a most difficult year, what does that say about 2017? It was a most dippy, derisory, barmy and yet chimerical one. Once again too many special people were taken from us and in Ontario, no one more important to everyone who works in wine than Karl Kaiser. It can and should be argued that the industry we all call home is at its 2017 state because of Mr. Kaiser and what he pioneered more than 40 years ago. Karl Kaiser was eulogized by Brock University’s Dan Dakin. Please take the time to read it.

Related – Karl Kaiser left indelible mark on Brock University

Once again we all lost someone close to us in 2017. Celebrity deaths, especially the ones of loved musicians seem to hit us the hardest because we relive moments of our lives when their songs are played. I’ll ask the social media trolls to walk on past and to once again, please respect our reminiscences.

Gregg Allman. Richard Anderson. Harvey Atkin. Walter Becker. Chester Bennington. Johnny Bower. Chuck Berry. Glen Campbell. David Cassidy. Chris Cornell. Jonathan Demme. Fats Domino. Dick Enberg. Stephen Furst. J. Geils. Robert Guillaume. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay. Connie Hawkins. John Hurt. Al Jarreau. Martin Landau. Jerry Lewis. Erin Moran. Sir Roger Moore. Bryan Murray. Charlie Murphy. Bill Paxton. Tom Petty. Della Reese. Don Rickles. Sam Shepard. Joni Sledge. Keely Smith. Harry Dean Stanton. Y. A. Tittle. Mary Tyler Moore. Adam West. Malcom Young. Joanne Godel.

Don’t forget the pouring rain

There was more than enough good news out of 2017, especially from Ontario. After one of the wettest summers on record and this looming harvest of disaster everything changed. The temperatures hit 30 degrees and remained there for much of September. October obliged with warm and slowly declining temperatures with very little precipitation. Not only was the 2017 vintage saved but it became one of the great phenolic ripeness stories in wine country history. Quality high. Check. Quantity high. Check. Win win for wine.

The year continued to throw thousands of wines my way. I did travel more and so the international count ran higher at the expense of the local. I plan to fix that in 2018. Things have a way of balancing out anyway. Still I’m sure I tasted close to 1000 Canadian wines once again. We continued to pay great attention to Canadian wines at the WineAlign office. I once again joined the judging with Tony Aspler at the Ontario Wine Awards, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia at the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada and with David Lawrason at Gold Medal Plates.

Related – 14 Canadian wines that rocked in 2014

My wine on tap program at Barque Smokehouse and Barque Butcher Bar welcomed a third child to the family when we opened Barque Smokehouse Burlington in August. With that opening we were proud to partner with Rosewood Estates to join the family that over the years has included Tawse, Lailey, Norm Hardie, Creekside, Between the Lines, Kew Vineyards, Redstone, Stratus, Leaning Post, Between the Lines, Coyote’s Run, Vineland Estates and Creekside Estates.

It began, as it always does with Niagara’s Icewine Festival in January and in February there were Thirteen ways to taste Cuvée. In March I found Fifty ways to Taste Ontario and then travelled to Germany for Godello’s March through Prowein, The Ahr Valley and The Rheinhessen. As a Canadian and a representative of Wine Country Ontario I hung around the Canadian pavilion, talked with our coast to coast winemakers, vintners and marketing representatives, took in the seminars on cool climate wines led by David and Dr. Janet Dorozynski and of course, tasted some wines.

Related – 13 Canadian wines that rocked in 2013

In the company of #family so thank you judges, friends and badasses #NWAC17 #killedit

Any major dude will tell you

At the Terroir Hospitality Symposium in May we debated the highly controversial new category of Skin-Contact wines in Ontario. Orange is the new smack should have been my title but instead I chose to talk through hushed tones in Pop goes VQA, a story in three parts, each one more misunderstood than the others. It would take months to come to better and more improved conclusions to that haughty complex story.

In June we convened the WineAlign Canadian Wine Awards in the Annapolis Valley. It was the first time that Nova Scotia hosted our motley crew and what a smashing success it was. Great thanks must go out to all our tremendous hosts including Wines of Nova Scotia, Domiane de Grand Pré, Benjamin Bridge Vineyards, Blomidon Estate, Annapolis Cider Company and Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax.

In July I once again made the pilgrimage to i4c, the International Chardonnay Cool Climate Conference, “the local mecca attracting thousands, arriving to praise chardonnay in all its glory. It’s chanted with incantatory connotation by patrons cantilevered like alluvial fans across the Niagara Peninsula. It teaches us about more than chardonnay because the rapidity of climate change is real and the desire for fresh is yet unquenched. This transcends chardonnay. It’s about growing grapes and making wines in places we all previously discounted. Recently scoffed at. It concerns farming higher, further and edgier. This conference and this grape together let us know that we must change.”

At i4c we welcomed California’s Karen MacNeil, Dr, Jamie Goode, Bill Zacharkiw, Treve Ring, Kurtis Kolt and Rhys Pender MW and then I penned 69 chardonnay reviews. What did Godello learn from Cool Chardonnay in 2017? After a visit to Pearl Morissette I learned from François Morissette, vigneron about oxidation.“Whatever we press, we oxidize. We do not oxidize wine, we oxidize must.” There’s a big difference. The stabilization of these wines are attributed to this idea of getting rid of all oxidizable compounds before they enter into the next stages of the winemaking process. Pleasing aromas, flavours, textures and ultimately the sum of the above elevates the cool chardonnay game and speaks to the future. But I did not learn enough. I needed to move beyond the ubiquity of cool climate. I wanted to understand more about cold soaking and whole berry fermentation. Just last week Pearl Morissette’s savant winemaker Brent Rowland sent me these words of enlightenment.

“This is the main reason I am such an advocate to whole bunch fermentation. The best tannin and worst tannin are seed tannin, depending on how you extract them…heat and alcohol rip out aggressive angular tannins. By keeping the berry attached to the rachis for as long as possible you are creating a little microenvironment for fermentation that is low heat and low alcohol, enabling you to slowly extract long polymerized tannins. This and perfume is the reason I do everything whole bunch. To me whole bunch has nothing to do with the stems, tannins from stems or flavour of stems.” He continues. “I absolutely think that skin contact wines can have elevated structure and texture. I also do not subscribe to the idea that some arbitrary number like “10 days” defines the genre. I did say that Orange wine is not an in-between wine but its own genre and I believe that. For the record I feel the less rigid the criteria for the category the better. As you state the broader the category the more opportunity for discovery of a valued category.” Thank you mate.

Be part of the Greatest Wine Revolution since Prohibition.

Where are we one year later?

I’ve two words for you. WineAlign Exchange. The WineAlign Exchange taps into the world of wines beyond the LCBO and delivers a curated, mixed case of top quality wines directly to your door. All the wines have been carefully chosen by our panel of critics for their quality and value. David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Sara d’Amato, Steve Thurlow and Godello. The first case delivered to hundreds of members was an all Platinum Award winners pack from the National Wine Awards of Canada. In terms of free trade we await a decision but don’t expect a miracle in 2018, Christmas or otherwise. As for the VQA panel in Ontario? Well, read my article referenced above and you’ll get my drift.

One of my favorite wines I tasted in 2017. All killer no filler. Beautifully ripe #cabernetfranc nice layers of cocoa, red, and black fruit. Tannin is liquid silk. Can_t wait for next

Let’s be Franc

Cabernet Franc is getting better all the time. In British Columbia the coolest sites are increasingly raising fresh, spirited and ultimately crushable wines with unmistakable west coast accents; savour, garrigue and mountain tea. With thanks to venn diagram circles drawn in and out of Niagara’s Lincoln Lakeshore, but also magically deep into the Prince Edward County limestone, the great Ontario hope is developing into what we thought it might be. Getable and structured red wine.

New World cabernet franc growing sites produce less delineation as compared to the various lieux-dites in the varietal homeland, France’s Loire Valley. Niagara is beginning to enter into an Old World state of mind, so now winemakers and by extension wine geeks, are posturing over micro-terroirs; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Escarpment, St. David’s Bench, Lincoln Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek. The same is happening in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley although the cumulative stylistic is worlds (four provinces to be exact) apart. In Nova Scotia Benjamin Bridge Vineyards’ viticultural and vinifying braintrust of Jean-Benoit Deslauriers and Scott Savoy are allocating serious resources to cabernet franc in the Gaspereau Valley. But how is it that decisions are made as to where to plant this crisp, juicy and crunchy grape? While many will disagree, if you consider growing sites as circles within the aforementioned venn diagram, in Canadian soils the shared subtleties can easily get buried or muddled within the common areas. The lines may be drawn but the web is tangled. That said, the story of franc terroir is getting clearer and clearer. Interloper carries the torch.

Tonight brought to you by #interloper and the inner beauty of #cabernetfranc @RavineVineyard #vqaniagaraonthelake

At this most recent NWAC17 judging experience the results from cabernet franc paints a more palatable picture than those brushed by both merlot and cabernet sauvignon. We are collectively impressed with and solidly behind the direction growers and winemakers are taking with this noble varietal. The 546 acres planted in B.C. are rising steadily and if I were merlot I’d be looking in the rear-view mirror. In Ontario more than 4,000 tonnes were harvested in 2015, third to only chardonnay and riesling. Four of five Gold Medals were Ontario in origin, 10 of 16 were awarded Silver and 10 of 17, Bronze. While only four in Ontario are labled “LL,” no less than 10 of the 24 winners were made with at least some significant amount of fruit grown in the Lincoln Lakeshore/Beamsville Bench circle of commonality. The sites we want to call “cru” are no longer a mystery.

Taskmasters not pictured #punchdowns #interloper

I can’t say this list is full of surprises, save for the first of 17. You see this particular wine is close to my heart because I had a hand in its concept and design. My partner Scott Zebarth and I teamed up with winemakers Marty Werner and Ben Minaker at Ravine Vineyards to produce what we all feel is the most exciting fresh breath of cabernet franc air to arrive in Ontario in quite some time. It’s obviously self-serving to put it on a best of the year list but we are very proud of this project and its inaugural effort. If you’ve tried it you know. If you haven’t, give me a ring. We’ll break Interloper bread together. To the other 16, welcome to the list.

Scott, Marty, Ben and I are proud to present the now SOLD OUT #interloper Cabernet Franc 2016. We’ll be back next year #vqa #niagaraonthelake #ravinevineyard

Interloper 2016, VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario ($19.95)

Produced at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery with the winemaking team of Martin Werner and Ben Minaker

Variety: 100 per cent cabernet franc

Fruit source: 55 per cent Estate (St. David’s Bench), 40 Creek Road, five Tanbark (Four Mile Creek)

Harvest Dates: October 26th and November 5th, 2017

Time on skins: Estate 26 days, Creek 21 days

Length and type of fermentation: Three weeks, ambient/wild for both

Élévage: Eight months in old 225 L French barrels

Case Production: 22

mgodello  scottzebarth  marty_werner  benminaker23  ravinevineyard

Charles Baker Riesling B-Side 2016, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $22.00, WineAlign)

Vinyl records sound different because they are designed with grooves carved in that mirrors the original sound’s wave form. Their analog recording delivers a sensory feeling of warmth, an aural of texture, nuance and soul. There was a time when the hits spun over and over were also pressed onto the A-Side of 45 rpm singles. The discovery of a never before heard B-Side was a revelation because is was extra material from a favourite band and it was a great song. It meant the record was already too strong for that song to make the final cut and to choose it for a B-Side meant it would elevate the quality of the album. A well-chosen B was not an afterthought. This is the accomplishment of the first Charles Baker’s B-Side, for itself and for the vineyards of Iaen and Picone. Baker digs about in the Niagara Peninsula’s escarpment dirt for young vine, not ready for prime time riesling fruit. If perchance it seems like cheating on his per se Vinemount Ridge Picone and Ivan bottles so be it but one look at him and he’ll say “Hey, hey, what can I do?” His 2016 B-Side delivers a spray bottle Zeppelin expressing heady aromas, high in the stratosphere and raining down upon the earth. The notes are an all in, breath of classic Baker riesling air, blanketing from up above and with a landscape that reeks of lime and quivers with classic agitation. The fruit is wild and full, the salty grit infiltrating and gripping the bloody omniscience of this package. What is this B-Side and where will it be lead? To the top of the ridge, from earlier harvests, younger fruit and higher yields. Scratch the single vineyard elitism, just listen to the song and raise one up, to getting ‘er done before the conceptual singular side one and side two, Ivan and Picone. The Beatles? Forget it. Led’s flip side to the ‘Immigrant Song’ A is the one. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted November 2017  Charles Baker Wines  stratuswines  @cbriesling  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Tawse Riesling Quarry Road Vineyard 2016, VQA Vinemount Ridge, Ontario (198853, $24.50, WineAlign)

There is no substitute for seasonal Vinemount Ridge warmth when you are (or even if you’re not) trying to emulate a Mosel like, fleshy Kabinett tension. The Tawse Quarry Road riesling has shown signs of such mimicry in the past but here in 2016 the coincidence is uncanny. Riesling amounts to just 10 per cent of the 2007 planted vineyard, a Fly Road in Lincoln block where chardonnay (planted in 1998) and pinot noir (2007) are queen and king of the hill. But it is riesling that mines for limestone and uses it to distill, filter and enervate the outright fruity purposes of orange zest, lime juice and sweet grapefruit flesh. This ’16 has it all; adipose drupe, salty elements and stasis preserve. It will add some petrol and honey after a few years time and drink well for a few to a bevy more. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted November 2017  tawsewinery  @Tawse_Winery  @tawsewines

Malivoire Rosé Moira 2016, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario (AgentWinery, $24.95, WineAlign)

Hard to believe what I see, a hue not blush nor pink, but gris. That “if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.” Forget about Provençe, don’t think too hard about Vin Gris but concentrate only on what Shiraz Mottiar has acceded with Rosé for Moira in ’16. Light and lithe do not begin to explain the rub. Rocks and stones are what come through the good earth on the nose. Is this the blush equivalent of mineralité, away from chardonnay and into pinot noir? “Is she really going out with him?” But the pinot noir component is almost non-existent so what is the phenolic advantage here? Has this gone too far or not far enough? Don’t mistake the things I say. This is delicious, understated and fully underestimated Rosé. It will have great appeal to a specific cognoscenti population and who could not think to drink it any day of the week? Commercially considered however, it may not speak a universal language. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted March 2017  malivoire  shirazmottiar  @MalivoireWine  @ShirazMottiar  @MalivoireWine

Flat Rock Riesling Nadja’s Vineyard 2016, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Escarpment, Ontario (578625, $24.95, WineAlign)

Nadja, like the Bréton novel begins with the question, “Who am I?” A surrealistic trigger is incited by the first taste, with excitement running in many directions but like the book, Nadja’s non-linear structure is grounded in Twenty Mile Bench riesling reality. She is an elite varietal wine in 2016, excitable girl, gregarious, punchy and so bloody juicy. I don’t recall the last Nadja with so much up front zest fervency and writhing aromatic gait, “exploding international, the scenes, the sounds, and famously the feeling that you can’t squeeze ground.” The lime flesh and cordial infusion brings the flavours into a once tropical, twice bitten realm. The vintage delivers the electric version, the new pornographer for the vineyard and the song sung loud swan song for departing winemaker Jay Johnstone. Was it all for swinging you around? Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted October 2017  flatrockcellars  @Winemakersboots  @FlatRockCellars

First Fruit: Field Day Pet Nat, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

An escarpment Pet-Nat is born, thanks to the healthy and precocious idealism of winemaker Ryan de Witte and his Winona-based host Ilya Senchuk at Leaning Post Wines. The name “First Fruit: Field Day” carries three connotations; a reference to De Witte’s first commercial wine, the first crop off this particular block and the fact that it’s a field blend of two grapes. The erudite hat is thrown into the micro-cuvée, sparkling wine ring with interchangeable tracks of arts and science from near-equal parts muscat (60 per cent) and gewürztraminer. The style is pétillant-naturel, or as they say in Italy, Vino Rifermentato In Bottiglia, under crown cap with what Ryan notes “as much of the lees as I could get in.” The tightrope induces a two-fold increase, of reduction and for texture, from the nutrients fed the fermentation. De Witte’s math was sound because the effervescence is strong enough to blow the reduction off after a few seconds in the glass. One point for science. After tasting two samples I can safely say that the yeast deposit can’t be missed but it is those crafty and leaningpostwineconsolidated cells that drive the salvus meets salus machine. This lithe, re-fermented and crackling sparkler is both safe and healthy. You can feel its enzymes usher liquid happiness through your body and it makes you pause, leave the warrior behind and become at one with the experimental fizz. It’s raw and you want it to be so. The aromatic varieties collogue preserved lemon, ginger and aseptic vegetal scents in an almost funk-less Pet-Nat. It’s an impossible one actually, that is until you get a load of that slag at the bottom of the bottle. But the lack of danceable, rhythmic funk may deny you a Cissy Strut so think on it like Foam meets Talking Heads as in minimal, industrial, synth-pop. Or, in sparkling wine terms, one Pet-Nat’s riflessioni naturalische is another one’s clarity. One point for art. The intrigue here sets the bar high and looking ahead, when acidity can further provide boundless rhythm section support we’ll really have something to talk about. Inaugurals are never easy, nor is progress but the sophomore release will most certainly play on repeat. Let’s hope someone finds a category to place it for three-letter approval. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted Twice, February 2017  leaningpostwine  @LeaningPostWine  @Witte_Wine  Leaning Post Wines  Ryan de Witte

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2015, Cave Spring Vineyard, VQA Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (566026, $29.95, WineAlign)

In a word, balance. Well two, balance and brilliance. CSV in 2015 takes the reigns from itself and stands firm. The fruit is in charge, the mineral a support system unparalleled and the minor celebratory sweetness a mere afterthought when it comes to rounding out the complexity. CSV is pretty darn back in ancient dolomite time travel and escarpments high great in 2015, uplifting, serious but yet not so. The numbers trip the light fantastic, fooling like gold and bones dry are seemingly preserved in karst but impossibly not. The sensoria apprised reel from the finest acidity it can possibly carry in its veritable truth. Deep lemon intent and a new wax vernacular speak the clarity of a wine that listens to its own expert advice. Might as well have made itself. CSV 2015 is one of the finest rieslings ever made from Ontario grapes. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted March 2017  cavespringcellars  thevineagency  @CaveSpring  @TheVine_RobGroh  Cave Spring Cellars  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency

Sneak peak in the @TriusWines Meunier with Craig McDonald and a true Niagara Grand Cru @coolchardonnay site #lincolnlakeshore #oliveiravineyards #vqa #wildferment

Trius Showcase Chardonnay Wild Ferment Oliveira Vineyard 2015, VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario (Winery, $36.75, WineAlign)

When you consider the level of quality provided by the Wild Ferment 2014 it would be hard to imagine raising the bar any further but this is what winemaker Craig McDonald has managed with his exceptional 2015. The accomplishment is purely based on one year older, wiser and complexities developed Oliveira Farm vineyard fruit, the holy chardonnay grail, Lincoln Lakeshore playground. The site sits along the QEW below the escarpment’s Twenty Mile and Beamsville benches, a recipient of glacial till and rocks left behind by an ancient river running from a lake. It’s a chardonnay wonderland. Intensity of fruit purity, fleshy and real, remarkably juicy and notably crunchy has increased, upping the pleasure game and turning the impression knob up to 11. The windmill generates more power while always maintaining a classic Trius level of finesse. Then you think on the wood integration, equally impressionable because acidity is sweet and refined. Dry extract is also impressive, not to mention a fineness of grape tannin. The site’s unofficial designation as a Niagara Grand Cru should be upgraded with status. There is no better time than the present and the Wild Ferment’s 2015 ability is proof enough. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted July 2017   triuswines  @TriusWines  @triuswines

Pearl Morissette Cuvée Madeline Cabernet Franc 2014, VQA Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (Winery, $38.00, WineAlign)

From the 19th Street Vineyard and wow, there is simply no cabernet franc like this cabernet franc. It pops and flies from the glass, in and out of your mouth, playful, buoyant, joyful, unbridled. A silky and spicy ripeness that’s also shed by its tannin, like shavings of a chocolate only a master knows to render, then currants electric and alive. Excels by its chewy mouthfeel and texture and you must ruminate on this cabernet franc. This is the it vintage, with all the enzymes in control, wrapped up in the enigma membrane and this low, classical Beethoven orchestral strings rumble, on a Verona stage, surrounded by the ancient rocks, acoustics perfect. You can get lost in franc like this. Drink 2019-2027.  Tasted July 2017  pearlmorissette  @PearlMorissette  Pearl Morissette

Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2015, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (639641, $43.95, WineAlign)

Some of the Okanagan Valley’s great chardonnay fruit is found on its eastern shore and makes its way into this Quail’s Gate Reserve. The story and place go back 60 plus years and wait if you can’t nose it in this top North American chardonnay. Forget comparisons, competitions and blind judgements but pull anything you want from Sonoma and watch this raise eyebrows and turn heads. The variegations are numerous and in replay. Richness, bite, energy, spirit and firm conceit. The barrel is everywhere and nowhere. What is a great chardonnay? It’s completely invisible, yet always in sight. It remembers what people hate. It anticipates the consumer’s needs before the needs are needed. A great chardonnay is, above all, discreet to a fault. Such is the Stewart Family Reserve. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted October 2017   quails gate  hobbsandcompany  @Quails_Gate  @AMH_hobbsandco  Quails’ Gate  Hobbs & Co.

Sparkling wine you need to know @lwwines Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut 2013, from the shores of the #minasbasin #annapolisvalley #novascotia

Lightfoot & Wolfville Blanc De Blanc Extra Brut 2013, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

Josh Horton and Rachel Lightfoot presented an early, less leesy glimpse of their 100 per cent estate chardonnay at i4c in July of 2016. It was a different animal than this recently disgorged (late February/early March) sparkling wine. The Extra Brut lives up to its designation, from fruit grown on the shores of the Minas Basin under the auspices of a markedly warm year with exceptional phenolic ripeness and 25 per cent malolactic gain. The time relative to texture lees accumulation is approximately 40 months and it’s an accurate representation of Nova Scotia low and slow. The flavours are wisely developed ripe and spicy, leaning into a moment or two of oxygenation, but seemingly richer than the amount of lees time that was given. Now emerging from the shell of not just a warm but a great chardonnay year (as previously proven by the Ancienne released two years ago). The notion here is of a sparkling wine that has been brought home, a B de B that you need to get to know. There are layers and layers of character that fold and unfold. The precision, focus and rendering is citrus tamed, mouthfeel in perpetual expansion and contraction, length linear and elastic. And it’s just the beginning. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted June 2017  lwwines  @lwwines  Lightfoot & Wolfville

Blomidon Late Pick Sparkling Chardonnay 2011, Nova Scotia, Canada (Winery, $45.00, WineAlign)

The 2011 late-picked chardonnay, the “Hurricane” is a hyperbole of itself. Normally picked in later October, the frost-free weather allowed further time and development. Picked from seaside vineyards just ahead of another hurricane (in a season that included Irene), this is sparkling wine you just have to try. Though lean, taut and as intense as you are likely to taste, the developed character and complexity is visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Three years on the lees brings the texture and fills the gaps, holes and voids created by such a tightly wound cool climate chardonnay. The dry factor is exaggerated in 2011 (a one-off says winemaker Simon Rafuse) but the wine takes full advantage of the Extra-Brut intent. Did it require the anxiety of a recent and an impending cyclone? Can it be duplicated? “That’s the story of the Hurricane.” Visionary for Nova Scotia and Canadian sparkling wine. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted March 2017  blomidonestate  @BlomidonEstate  Blomidon Estate Winery

Southbrook Poetica Red 2013, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario (355859, $69.95, WineAlign)

It seems at first that Poetica 2013 was chosen by winemaker Ann Sperling to be the deferential one. The blend is dominated by 74 per cent cabernet sauvignon, the highest number ever for the wine. Conversely the cabernet franc component is set to 23 per cent and far less petit verdot (3 per cent) rounds out the blend. That number had been 29 per cent in 2012 because the varietal elegance shown at that time necessitated the relationship. In 2013 it is the cabernet sauvignon that displayed with elegance and an uncanny ability to sow of its own accord and yes, it is an exceptional vintage so look for 2013 to age on a 15 year curve. The Witness Block CS-CF follows suit and the SV-PV is better off for the allocations. Every wine wins as a result. There is this deep-impressed sous-terre tang in here, a wisdom certainly, and when it is released later in the year the heads will turn. Poetica is often but here not overly tannic, but it is endowed with bones, spine and structure. The flavours, spice and magnetism give cause to salivate. Only Ann Sperling makes Niagara reds like this, wines that can develop such architecture without an excess of tannin, astringency and chalky chocolate from over-wrought wood exchange. Poetica 2013 will drink well young and comfortably into the end of the next decade. Drink 2018-2028.  Tasted January 2017  southbrookvineyards  thelivingvine  @TheLivingVine  @SouthbrookWine   @SouthbrookWine  The Living Vine inc.

A finer man, winemaker and host you will not find. Thank you @normanhardie @keeponshucking @clarsenault @cuveeletittia @Mknow21 @mclauriault and all.

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Cuvée Des Amis 2014, Prince Edward County, Ontario (Winery, $150.00, 1500ml, WineAlign)

As exceptional as chardonnay may have seemed from out of the 2013 Ontario vintage you haven’t lived or loved until you get a taste of (only in magnum format) Norm Hardie’s 2014 Cuvées des Amis. This chardonnay attacks and ascends, recalibrating the inner workings of the brain and how it develops conceptualization. It is a state of the art and all-knowing elixir to remind that ’13 was a vintage with profitable yields and a generously stretched canvas on which to practice on, for when things begin to get real. The CdeA spent 18 months in barrel, the first 12 (in 35 per cent new), the next six in neutral and the last six in stainless steel on the fine lees. The spin class in the mouth manages agility, dextrous, furtive movement and completes many pirouettes. The dance is pure joy but the intensity is equally to disturbingly intrusive, suggesting more settling time is necessary. The flavour pearls are delicate and come straight from the oyster so they carry salinity, power and brine. Pure lemon essence is received by intravenous injection. Sumptuous is translated from Hardie-speak as a four-letter, Prince Edward County word. It doesn’t get more real than right here, with the best fruit, the tripping of the light fantastic, previously unheard and unseen unconscionable concentration. Drink 2019-2025.  Tasted twice, June and July 2017  normanhardiewinery  @normhardie  Norman Hardie

Le Vieux Pin Équinoxe Syrah 2014, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $80.00, WineAlign)

Èquinoxe is announced without equivocation as the Bricco of B.C. syrah and an absolutely lovely Bench expression from winemaker Severine Pinte. What came from these three-quarters Osoyoos Lake District and one-quarter Black Sage vineyards in 2013 was floral and peppery, with a fineness that belies a dessert climate but in 2014, well this is something more and other. You just have to think about texture here and a quality of acidity that is peerless in B.C. syrah. So juicy, beautifully tannic and rendered with culture and class. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted October 2017  levieuxpin  @LeVieuxPin  Le Vieux Pin Winery

My eyes do not deceive me. It’s Decant @StratusWines #cabernetfranc bottled with lees #vqa #niagaraonthelake #karimrashid

Stratus Cabernet Franc “Decant” 2014, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $95.00, WineAlign)

“A designer’s hands are tied. They are only as good as their opportunities.” The words of the brilliant bottle designer Karim Rashid fully apply to the mirrored universe in which winemaker J-L Groux works, here with a deferential and ulterior cabernet franc, bottled with its lees. When I first tasted it in February (in advance of this auspicious release), its unfiltered state spoke of a hyperbole of perfume, marked by exoticism. The aromatics gave far east five-spice, star anise, cardamom, miso and incense, all natural by-products of its purposed ferment. More grain spoke out but also a roundness of tannin and a smoothness both coating and comforting. There was chocolate accentuated by the treatment, with thanks to those lees left in the bottle. The chopped up and constructed bottle catches the lees while the volume flows out and the function out of form mimics the thought of lees delivering structure and yet they are invisible, caught in a hidden net or nook, out of sight, out of mind. But it’s not about pouring. It’s about the hand, or the slight thereof. Then there is the copycat idealism of strata in the vineyard, of geology transferred to the bottle and kept there, like a ship perfectly preserved inside. This cabernet franc will age better, as is the plan, with thanks to the lees that you’ll never have to deal with. There were 110 cases made. Drink 2019-2029.  Tasted twice, February and May 2017  stratuswines  @StratusWines  Stratus Vineyards

Supper at Benjamin Bridge

Benjamin Bridge Méthode Classique Estate Blanc De Blancs 2013, Nova Scotia (Winery, $119.50, WineAlign)

Tasted from a bottle disgorged in May 2017, there alights a plugged-in, three-pronged, dazed, charged and enchanted energy about the Bridge’s ’13 Blanc de Blancs. The history of go it alone pure chardonnay is a relatively short one for the estate so this quickly makes up for lost time or rather with haste sets the timer and heads out at first light. “Like sittin’ on pins and needles, things fall apart, it’s scientific.” Wild, of talking heads temper and yeasts, done up in demi-muids, with a wilder secondary fermentative push riding on the coattails of the primary fermentation. Everything in this wine is a productive child of the vineyard, of no third party sugars or consultations. “How do you do that without making a Pétillant Naturel,” I wonder aloud. It’s a second ferment, non-contiguous is the reason, even if the former is both influencer and mentor to the latter. It certainly falls under the category of “micro-cuvée. Like its cousin and predecessor (Blanc de Noirs 2011), this ’13 BdeB is mired intensely inward within its own specificity and is not so much a sparkling wine with competitive soul. It is a pure representative of chardonnay grown in Nova Scotia for one purpose. So let’s talk about true stories and wild, wild life. “You get on board anytime you like.” Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted July 2017  benjaminbridge  caveman__jones   winesofn  @Benjamin_Bridge  @benjaminbridgevineyards  @WinesofNS @benjaminbridgevineyards  @winesofns

As we taste through the #NWAC17 finals we thank @ZWILLING_CA for the rocking great glassware. Canadian wines are better for these vessels.

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

We take you now to garage wine in Chile

The antediluvian revival one percent from #chile @garagewineco via @cruontario with @cbriesling #derekmossmanknapp #pais #carignanfieldblend

‘Twas back in September that Charles Baker brought Derek Mossman Knapp to Butcher Bar for a sit down with Chile’s newest and oldest wines. You all know Charles from Riesling and Stratus Vineyards fame. Derek is a Canadian in Chile and few winemakers, expatriate or deeply local generational have delved as deep into the country’s heartland, oldest vines and ancestral traditions.

Known to the locals as “That Garage Wine Company,” Mossman Knapp and his wife Pilar Miranda source Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in Maipo. They draw Carignan and Cinsault from Itata. Derek and Charles (by way of Cru Wine Merchants importing agency) brought their Maule Valley project wines to taste; dry-farmed Mediterranean Carignan field blends grown on centuries-old rootstock by small farmers with Garnacha, Mataró and Cinsault. They also poured Pais.

Each wine is from a different place: Caliboro, Sauzal, Truquilemu and Portezuelo. Separate parcels of one or two hectares each belong to a small farmer who works with horse and plough as his family has done since colonial times. The wines are made by hand with native yeasts in small tanks, punched down manually and pressed out in a small basket press.

I tasted one Pais and three Carignan field blend lots that day with Jamie Drummond and Sara d’Amato. Here are the notes.

Derek Mossman Knapp with Jamie Drummond and Sara d’Amato

Garage Wine Co. Pais First Salvo Ferment 2015, Secano Interior, Do Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $27.95, WineAlign)

“You tell me there’s an angel in your tree,” or in this case on the Pais vine, a.k.a. “Mission” or in the local vernacular, “Pipeño.” In the hands of Canadian Derek Mossman Knapp these high-yielding, nouveau producing Maule Valley ancients are taken on a tour of resurrection. He and winemaking partners Pilar Miranda and Dr. Alvaro Peña are taking these ‘old becomes new again’ varietal vines and making history in a glass. The First Salvo Ferment as they call it is “the wine they drank in colonial times” but here original, purer than natural, with minimal sulphites after the (no new oak) barrel ferment. As a red berry liquid salve it is chalky and full of grape cure, “a one winter wine” as Derek likes to call it. So enjoy this between when this is tasted and when this is written (April 2017), literally. A wine that pushes the lore of measurement, history and precision. The price reflects the one winter promise. familiar somehow and fantastic. So please, don’t burn down the mission but feel free to “take all you need to live inside.” Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted September 2016

Garage Wine Co. Lot #48 Carignan Field Blend Portezuelo Vineyard 2013, Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

From a wine company in which harvests were and are still are measured in barrels. The fruit is fermented in open-top vats, caps are punched down by hand, pressing is manual, yeasts are strictly native and work is done in a renovated (circa) 1840s cellar. The Portezuelo Vineyard in Itata is just the sort of place to give a bottle a wine a story, like this parcel of a hectare (or maybe two) farmed with horse and plough as the farmer’s family has done since colonial times. This carignan field blend curated by Derek Mossman Knapp, Pilar Miranda and Dr. Alvaro Peña delivers a deeper wealth of fruit so should be considered as carrying a longevity into a second winter. It is possessive of some sweet and fine-grained tannin and forges an impossible connective route from one fruit on to another; pomegranate to raspberry and vice versa. Really remarkable into its great length. Exactly what you need from a two winter wine out of which the field variegates in the glass. Also offers up proof that these wines are about places not varietals. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Garage Wine Co. Lot #47 Carignan Field Blend Truquilemu Vineyard 2013, Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

A sister to the Lot #48 grown in Portezuelo, this Truquilemu field-blend of carignan, garnacha & mataró is grown by a small farmer using ancestral hand and horse methods in the tradition of the Secano Costero. This strikes an accord in similarity to Lot #48 but here of a more pronounced, deeper cure that is not just grape-derived but takes a bigger risk. More granitic, schist syrah-like with charcuterie aridity and the intense tang of dried smoky, meaty flesh running through its veins. More hematic, ferric too, deeper, grittier and firm. This carries tannin and will go three to five winters deep, at least. But you never forget about the fruit here. There are blueberries mixed into the red drupe. A complex conclusion is drawn. Drink 2018-2023.  Tasted September 2016

Garage Wine Co. Lot #45 Carignan Field Blend Sauzal Vineyard 2013, Maule Valley, Chile (Agent, $39.95, WineAlign)

Lot #45 comes from the Sauzal Vineyard and like sisters 47 and 48 is a carignan field blend co-planted with garnacha and mataró. The location is on the road to Constitucion in Empedrado in the shadow of the Sauzal Coastal Mountain Range. The older cracked granite soils cool slower than those of Andes proximity. If the Lot #48 in Portezuelo showed the region’s red fruit and #47 out of Truquilemu the schisty-mineral and meaty cure than it is here in Lot #45 where the twain is met. The freshness antithetical to taut stylistic combined and distilled into the most amenable is quite something. It makes sense that Derek Mossman Knapp would pour this last of the three, if only for educational purposes, but I prefer to call it revelation. Now we are tasting something you can store between two and five winters. The Sauzal persists as red fruit sumptuous with quite a bit of liquorice within a solid core of acidity. Fresh and yet quite firm, bright and cool. This will gift the broadest appeal because it has less cure and more middle of the road desire but it is still so very different than 99 per cent of Chile. Also noted are some herbs and fennel but it is not distinctly savoury. It is also the most tart of the four, the most recognizable in any commercial sense and yet it is anything but that. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted September 2016

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign

Garnacha covered part five: Calatayud

In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine.  The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Calatayud, Aragon, Spain

Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlignDiscover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

The journey has already established a forever Garnacha embed into our hearts and minds. The adage of “keeps on giving” was spinning forth from the gift of five erudite nights in Zaragoza and four synoptic days of Garnacha immersion through the DO’s of Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano and Terra Alta. On the fifth morning it was high time to get out of Zaragoza city and head southwest, to the fertility fields of Calatayud. The feeling immediately impressed, of calm and wonderment created by gently rolling hills through wide open spaces.

Related – Garnacha covered part four: Terra Alta

100 year-old #garnatxa vines @docalatayud #vinasviejas

100 year-old #garnatxa vines @docalatayud #vinasviejas

Related – Garnacha covered part three: Somontano

Between a rock and a #garnatxa place @docalatayud @winesofgarnacha #garnacha #grenache

Between a rock and a #garnatxa place @docalatayud @winesofgarnacha #garnacha #grenache

Related – Garnacha covered part two: Cariñena

Related – We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja

Before continuing with this fifth and final installement on Garnacha, thanks again must be afforded to our hosts; The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. First to Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. To Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral and Roser Mestre for their guidance and companionship.

Sofía González Martínez and Los Canadienses with our host Javier lázaro Guajardo, Secretary of the Calatayud PDO

Sofía González Martínez and Los Canadienses with our host Javier lázaro Guajardo, Secretary of the Calatayud PDO

Calatayud

Garnacha rules in this Denominación de Origen. It is here where winemakers hang on with clenched grips to ropes made of hope and the idea of “keeping the secret alive.” The master plan is to perpetuate the passion, the centuries of accumulated knowledge and the drive for a prosperous future. The task currently resides under the tutelage of Presidente de la DO José Félix Lajusticia.

Calatayud is one of the latest harvesting DO’s, in fact the vintage was still in motion during our visit on October 23rd and would not finish until late October or early November. Cooperatives play a major role, like Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra which farms 650 hectares of vineyards. Older Garncaha vines are 80 – 100 years old. One bush vine produces one kilo of fruit for one bottle of wine and the market supports the flow through with one euro paid to the grower. That needs to change.

Abandoned vineyard in #calatayud where 100 year-old vines are farmed for one euro per vine

We walked the boundless and endless vineyards with Javier lázaro Guajardo, Secretary of the Calatayud PDO. We also came upon abandoned Macabeo (Viura) vineyards, sitting in silence, waiting to be ripped out for almonds, apricots and olives. The equation is simple. Wake up the world and open eyes to such travesties and to the sentient upright varietal that is Garnacha with the indisputable quality it can deliver. Find two euros per kilo and turn $9.99 wines in North America into ones that fetch $19.99.

Garancha vines, Calatayud

Garancha vines, Calatayud

Calatayud is like a bicycle wheel,” with the river Jalón running through the centre. Remains of winemaking date back as far as 153 BC. Marcus Valerius Martialis from the Roman town of Bibilis documented winemaking in the first century made by Cistercian monks who founded the Monasterio de Piedra, now the museum for the PDO. The region works the effects of an extreme continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters that combine for upwards of 50-60 degrees of variance.

Hey...Macabeo #calatayud

Hey…Macabeo #calatayud

The night before we paid a visit to another Zaragoza resto to feast on local specialities and to get a glimpse of Garnacha from Calatayud. At Borago Cantina we tasted Cruz de Piedra, Altovinum Evodia, Altos Las Pizarras, Las Rocas Viñas Viejas de San Alejandro and Clos de Baltazar El Heroe Garnacha Viñas Viejas.

Borago Cantina, Zaragoza

Borago Cantina, Zaragoza

Clos de Baltazar El Heroe Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013

Clos de Baltazar El Heroe Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013

Tempura is a many splendored and endemic Spanish thing, Borago Cantina, Zaragoza

Tempura is a many splendored and endemic Spanish thing, Borago Cantina, Zaragoza

At the offices of the DO in Calatayud we were presented the following wines.

Thou shalt not blink should these @docalatayud #garnatxa command higher prices. And they should.

Thou shalt not blink should these @docalatayud #garnatxa command higher prices. And they should.

Cruz de Piedra

Cruz de Piedra

Bodega Virgen de la Sierra Cruz de Piedra Garnacha Tinto Selección Especial 2013, DO Calatayud, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

From 50-100 year old vines out of the largest cooperative and the stable of Axial Vinos, special selection, the “cross of stone,” to guide the pilgrims. Magnified, elevated acidity and tones, lashing the red berry fruit, offering exhilaration and consternation. Six months in oak for a shine and with faith to seek happiness. A demanding wine, rich, clay-limestone cakey, citrus expansive, blessed by bitters, tinged in tar and crackling with char. Fierce tannin, actually, for Garnacha. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015  @louisgeirnaerdt

Albada

Bodega Virgen de le Sierra Albada Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, DO Calatayud, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Song of the ancient vine growers, or dawn, or both, in meaning. Curious, musty, reserved, muted, of perception in tobacco and spices. So very rustic, leathery and reeking cedar, the aromas coming out with aeration though the tannin are tough and demanding, Still, this does not give away much, especially considering the longer ferment and the fact of American Oak. No vanilla or white nut, not necessarily a bad thing, but again, curious. Not nearly as expressive as the second of two bottles tasted in Zaragoza the previous night. That second bottle was much more expressive, integrated and rich, with acidity piquing. Would like to see this with some further integrated age. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Altovinum Evodia 2014, DO Calatayud, Spain (Winery)

A custom cuvée for Eric Solomon from 800-900m vineyards and 60-80 year old vines. The name means “perfume,” a person’s scent passing by. No oak, great acidity, rock, slate and aridity. This is a very pure expression, unencumbered, unadulterated, liquorice red and black. The freshness and the soil aspect so front and centre is just perfect. Terrific wine that lets the basic purpose of Garnacha to speak and to shine. Must agree with the “place over process” notation on the bottle. Tannin is certain of itself and willing to keep this grooving alongside acidity for three to four years. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted October 2015  @EuropeanCellars

Las Rocas

Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2011, Do Calatayud, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

From vines 70 years of age in vineyards at 900m of altitude. A very warm, soothing, inching up the heat scale Garnacha with each passing breath. Quite the fruit to rock perfume, very concentrated, jammy, nosing red currants, plums and strawberries. So much fruit. All in. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015  @BSanAlejandro  @TrialtoON

Las Pizarras

Bodegas y Viñedos del Jalón Las Pizarras 2011, Calatayud, Spain (Winery)

The winery dates back to 1960’s and the fruit from vines 60 plus years of age. Just one month in French oak gives barrel kisses in vanilla and leather, despite the short stay. As a 2011 it is offering delicate balance and small notations from that wood. Silky, in threads through the nose, in linen on the palate and in glide on the finish. Cool, slightly savoury, elegant, so interesting to taste a Garnacha with just a kiss of oak and post four years in bottle. Says so much about the quality of the grapes, the winemaker’s confidence to let is rest before releasing. This program is unlike any other that I tasted, not just in Calatayud, but in all of Aragon and Catalonia. Valiant, brave, sure. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @bodegasjalon

Altos Las Pizarras 2011

Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon Altos Laz Pizzaras 2011, Calatayud, Spain (WineryWineAlign)

The same fruit but this time 11 months in oak. Richer certainly, a hyperbole of expression as compared to the unplugged, with more tannic structure and extraction from the barrel. Bound by a cure, a natural weighty funk, liquid chalk and the acidity preserved. Stronger, by the wood and the tannin. This feels like a wine that has yet to alter its initial course, that it will take three more years before change is going to come and five to seven before its slides back down the other side of the Moncayo. Drink this between 2017-2022. The fruit aromas will stand, alongside the tannin and will begin to peel away in 2019-2020. Tasted October 2015

Casa Escartin, Calatayud

Casa Escartin, Calatayud

Mushrooms, Casa Escartin, Calatayud

Mushrooms, Casa Escartin, Calatayud

After our visit into the hills and vineyards of Calatayud our final Aragon feast took place at Casa Escartín, a local joint with a sense of the parochial as much as any we visited the entire week. The Garnacha from the region and the winemakers sent us packing aboard a rush hour train back to Madrid.

Good bye #calatayud

Good bye #calatayud

A Francis Bacon #madrid moment, were I in the frame #figurewithmeat #jamon

A Francis Bacon #madrid moment, were I in the frame #figurewithmeat #jamon

When in Madrid #churros

When in Madrid #churros

Los Canadienses with Wines of Garnacha's Sofía González Martínez, Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Los Canadienses with Wines of Garnacha’s Sofía González Martínez, Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Garnacha covered part four: Terra Alta

Terra Alta

Terra Alta

This is the fourth of five instalments concerning the wines of Garnacha from the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlignDiscover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine.  The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – Garnacha covered part three: Somontano

Our host in Zaragoza was The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. The trip was orchestrated with expertise by Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. Our chaperones were Ignacio, Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral and Roser Mestre, in Zaragoza and on expeditions to the five DO’s that comprise the wines of Garnacha.

Related – Garnacha covered part two: Cariñena

Related – We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja

Terra Alta

Crossed off the bucket list is a visit to the land of Garnatxa Blanca, Catalonian of the heart, in drive and from desire. The journey from Zaragoza to the furthest afield of Garnacha’s five D.O’s passes through vast stretches of landscapes in painted desserts and sculpted of mountain congeries. Soon the valleys begin to wind and snake their way between the limitless hills, tracing paths carved out in memory of long ago raging, ancient glacial rivers. The road slices through terraced panal, the spongy soils of Terra Alta, davenports to vines cultivated by the most prolific producers of white Grenache in the world. In Terra Alta, that number occupies 49 percent of the total Spanish production.

Terra Alta can be found in the southwest corner of the northeast corner of Spain. In a nutshell it may be incongruously defined as a large geographical area, “la más meridional de Cataluña,” with a small population of a mere 12,000 inhabitants. The prevailing winds, el Cierzo from the north and the summer Garbinades, “the Arab wind” from the southeast, add humidity, to protect from vine disease and to help finish a grape’s ripening process. Unlike its Aragonese brethren, the grape varieties grown in Terra Alta at times need a little help from their friends. To that end, five years ago an irrigation system was created, useable from May to September, to also help with the ripening process.

Interpid travellers in Terra Alta: WineAlign's Sara d'Amato and Godello

Interpid travellers in Terra Alta: WineAlign’s Sara d’Amato and Godello

It is fascinating to note that when Pablo Picasso was sick he came to Terra Alta for the air. He also came for the wine. He drank what was called vino brisat, skin macerated white wine, somewhere between orange and straw wine. After his health was restored, he returned three years later and apparently developed his cubist style in Terra Alta. Picasso, innovator and oenophile privy to 21st century thought, knowing that white wines produced with a maceration step contain significantly more health restoring and promoting polyphenols than those produced in a more traditional way. Records show that Garnacha has been grown in Terra Alta dating back to 1647.

Cracking the wonders of #garnatxablanca @lafouceller #concreteegg @doterraalta

Cracking the wonders of #garnatxablanca @lafouceller #concreteegg @doterraalta

Terra Alta’s trump soil card is the panal, with its ability to retain moisture with nary rock or stone encumbrance. There are also soils imbued of limestone richness and a lack of organic material. The mediterranean climate combines abundant sunshine with little rainfall. Of the 6,000 total hectares planted, 1,400 is devoted to Garnatxa Blanca and the average annual production is seven million kg of grapes or, 50 hectolitres per hectare.

The DO “Terra Alta” (DOTA) was recognised provisionally in 1972. Together with Alella, Conca de Barberà, Empordà, Penedès, Priorat and Tarragona it is one of the seven historic denominations of origin of Catalonia. The first label noted as D.O. Terra Alta was 1984 and that wine was white. And so, today there are two symbols of guarantee, one for the D.O. as a whole and the other granted for whites. “SOM Terra Alta Garnatxa Blanca – 100×100.” More than simply a guarantee of 100 per cent Garnatxa Blanca composition, these wines must be deemed to score at least 85 out of 100 points in sensorial quality by the Consell Regulador. “Or you don’t get the sticker,” says proprietor of Altavins Viticultors de Batea Joan Arrufí, current president of the D.O. “Everyone is on board because it is necessary to put Terra Alta on the map.” The credo is “Cuerpo Y Alma,” or in Catalan, “Cos I Anima.” Body and soul.

John, Paul, George and Ringo ready to play @doterraalta #garnatxablanca tunes for #loscanadienses

John, Paul, George and Ringo ready to play @doterraalta #garnatxablanca tunes for #loscanadienses

What is so curious about the White Grenache here is that more than any other Garnacha, red or white, produced in the five D.O’s of Aragon, the Blanca of Terra Alta has proven its ability to age. Arrufí tasted a 2001 the day before we arrived, saying “it’s perfect,” having changed from white fruits (banana, apple, apricot) to frutos secos (nuts), honey and almond flowers.

Winemakers presenting in today’s market are mostly young, the children of the older generation, adding freshness, elegance, new blood and a willingness to embrace technology. Unique to Terra Alta, the new generation is taking over the winemaking. Ask one how to prevent oxidation? Hand-pick, before the sun hits mid-sky, ferment at low temps and protect with lees. Good plan.

Borraja, potato, sauce of peas, Casa Lac, Zaragoza

Borraja, potato, sauce of peas, Casa Lac, Zaragoza

The night before heading out on the long trek to Terra Alta we pre-tasted some of the region’s wines at Ricardo Gil’s Casa Lac in Zaragoza. In Gandesa we met with Joan Arrufí at the offices of the D.O and then travelled to taste with the winemakers at Lafou Celler, followed by another tasting in the restored shell that once housed Corbera d’Ebre‘s destroyed church. It was at this meeting where the most poignant event of the Aragon trip took place.

The art of survival and restoration #corberaderbe #spanishcivilwar #terraalta

The art of survival and restoration #corberaderbe #spanishcivilwar #terraalta

During the Spanish Civil War the Nazi warplanes dropped their bombs and Corbera d’Ebre was completely destroyed at the Battle of the Ebro (25 July–16 November 1938). The upper part, known as Poble Vell (Old Town), including the church were kept. One of the bombs landed in the river, killing a young girl and tossing her brother into the water.

A beautiful gift to #teamcanada @waters_wine @saradamato from #terraalta #manuelalvarez #corberadebre #spanishcivilwar #canadiansoldier #mackenziepapineau

A beautiful gift to #teamcanada @waters_wine @saradamato from #terraalta #manuelalvarez #corberadebre #spanishcivilwar #canadiansoldier #mackenziepapineau

A Canadian soldier from the Mackenzie-Papineau batallion fished him out. That boy, Manuel Álvarez, spent his life looking for the soldier. He finally found him 40 years later, in Vancouver. El Soldado Alto (The Tall Soldier) is the book Álvarez wrote to thank him and keep the story alive. Upon arrival in Corbera d’Ebre the story was recounted to us, Los Canadienses, along with a presentation from Ramón Gironés Julia, treasurer of Associació del Poble Vell, with a copy of the book. The Canadian soldier’s battalion was named after William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau, leaders of the rebellions of 1837 in upper and lower Canada. They sought liberty, social justice and democracy, a spirit which the Canadian volunteers carried to Spain. Our job now, as the next Canadians to visit Corbera d’Ebre, is apparently to save the wines of Terra Alta. We’ll do our best.

Sofía González, Wines of Garnacha and Señor Valiente, Vins de Mesies

Sofía González, Wines of Garnacha and Señor Valiente, Vins de Mesies

After the tasting in the historic village we went for lunch (ending at 6:15 pm) at Nou Moderno in Gandesa. The cooking and service by Rosa & Josep M. Vallespí is something every visitor to Catalunya need experience. We continued to taste the regional wines with Joan and the winemakers. The wines tasted were the following: Ilercavonia, by Altavins; Vallmajor Garnatxa Blanca and Tipicitat by Celler Batea; Edetària Selecció Blanc, by Celler Edetaria; Clos Dalián Crianza and Clos Dalián Crianza Blanco, by Cellers Unió; Mesies Garnatxa, by Ecovitres; Els Amelers, by LaFou; and Vila-Closa Garnatxa Blanca, by La Botera.

Nou Moderno Restaurant, Gandesa, Terra Alta

Nou Moderno Restaurant, Gandesa, Terra Alta

Celler Batea Vall Major Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain (Winery, WineAlign)

With the intent to drink in the first year and quality to price ratio in mind, here the entry to Catalonian Garnacha Blanca. Sees 12 hours of skin contact, stainless steel housing after and with previous attention paid to low fermentation temperatures. Fresh as a brook running through a green spring glade. Pretty flowers, scintillant of acidity, young as a “back up the truck” kind of white. It’s chewy too. Has length of itself, from itself and for itself. Me, myself and I Garnatxa Blanca. From low yields in one of the higher production areas of Terra Alta. Tiny bitters arrive late, but still, that Terra Alta length. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015  @CELLERBATEA1

Los Canadienses taste and talk with the winemakers of Terra Alta at Celler Lafou photo (c) https://www.facebook.com/labotera.satlabotera/?fref=ts

Los Canadienses taste and talk with the winemakers of Terra Alta at Celler Lafou
photo (c) La Botera

Vins La Botera Vila-Closa Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

“It’s also a young wine,” admits Laia, the winemaker. Built on crisp acidity from young vines and more structure from some older ones. Then blended together for a balanced White Garnatxa. The older vines come bound with an increase in altitude. “We play with the two, hand in hand.” This has a deeper, slightly medicinal or tonic inflection. Mostly from Panal soil – so there is richness and citrus, a preserved lemon. Such a different expression – strikes as more complex but at the inconsequential expense of freshness. Approximate price $15.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015  @Bateabotera  @thatslifewines

Vins La Botera Vila-Closa Garnatxa Blanca 2013, DO Terra Alta, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

Tasted in Toronto nearly a year ago. The handpicked Garnatxa Blanca from 35 year-old vines left to develop on the riper side of the equation blended with acidity elevating, younger fruit. Real cold soak plus three months of lees contact in stainless steel. So yes, this is a steely version, very much in the vein of straight-up Chablis. Bottled simplicity, limestone reckoning. Could drink this like water anytime the mercury rises. Approximate price $15.95 CAN. Drink 2014-2016.  Tasted November 2014

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today's master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

To taste again @lafouceller in @doterraalta is today’s master plan @VINOS_ICEX #lovegarnacha #garnatxablanca #crdoterraalta

Lafou Celler Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Ramon Roqueta Segalés, winemaker, soothsayer, visionary, seeker of the Garnatxa Blanca of today from “a narrow valley.” Ramon is very concerned with the valleys, the landscape, the geology, how the wind, the mediterranean climate and the ancient rivers that run through, having left their glacial deposits, all combine for this particular and most important expression of Garnatxa Blanca. Established in 2007, this wine was first released in 2011. Combines old and young fruit, some harvested fresher at a greener stage and others picked later, riper, brought together. Vinified separately, with some skin maceration, looking for fat to surround acidity. Ripe fruit (10 per cent) sees oak, the rest in egg shape concrete tanks with six to seven months of lees contact. Smells like a ripe peach, fresh and without sugar but instead a sprinkling of subterranean, ancient riverbed harvested salt. The tang is layered, variegated, mineral, mastered over and in corralling of oxidation, elaborated with gentle but forceful demand. “We learned that you can get a balance by harvesting and an early and a later stage, sometimes three times.” Finishes with lime, fresh squeezed, sweet tonic and distilled flowers. A wine that has succeeded in “mastering the oxidation process.” Plus the tannic (anti-oxidative) aspects offered in micro-oxygenation from the slightly toasted new oak. Approximate price $28.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted October 2015  @lafouceller  @oenophilia1

Lafou Celler Garnatxa Blanca 2013, DO Terra Alta, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Tasted in Toronto nearly a year ago, the mind’s eye and memory back remember a gorgeous wine, full of salient alkali in zest form, calcified sweet white flowers and the cleanest, most elegantly drawn lines. A prodigy of anti-terse White Grenache statements, so obviously cared for, from healthy vines the mild treatment by lees, wood or common concrete. In a nutshell, worth every penny of its $29 tag. Drink 2014-2023. Tasted November 2014

Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato & @altavins getting serious with @doterraalta #garnatxablanca #joanbautistaarrufi #terraalta #lafou

Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato & @altavins getting serious with @doterraalta #garnatxablanca #joanbautistaarrufi #terraalta #lafou

Altavins “IL” Ilercavònia Garnatxa Blanca 2014, DO Terra Alta, Spain (Winery)

Named for the people in the west of Catalonia, Iberians who lived in Terra Alta and the surrounding areas from the 6th to the 1st century BC. From old vines (up to 46 years) shown cold fermentation and three days of skin contact. Time in 400L oak barrels (five months) on the fine lees. Here the most bronzing of all the White Garncaha we’ve been shown, certainly on the oxidative side. Fine pretty flowers and equally fine bitters on the finish. Fine acidity as well. All of this speaks to the phenolics, all pieces of essential White Grenache, all aligned. Herbal and platinum, in hue forward to sensation. This is the adult expression and a wine that can and will age (2001 was the first and we are told it lives very much still). This is very grown up, another chapter all together. Already showing what it will be – very mineral and yet acidity not the same in any way, as compared to the others. Yet very long. slowly, evocatively, long. Drink 2015-2025.  Tasted October 2015  @altavins

Los Canadienses taste with the winemakers of Terra Alta at Codera d'Ebre<br /> photo (c) La Botera

Los Canadienses taste with the winemakers of Terra Alta at Codera d’Ebre
photo (c) La Botera

Edetaria Selecció White Vinyes Velles 2013, DO Terra Alta, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

From a fourth generation family vineyard in Gandesa, a project that began in 2003. Fully, completely Garnatxa Blanca, from a group of old vineyards, cooled down a degree or two more than the norm for 24-48 hours, with skin maceration. Barrel fermented in small casks for eight months, this also leans oxidative but never gets there, even less than the IL. White flowers, imaginations of futures thickened by honey and glazed in apricot. Possessive of a Riesling-like nose, Sémillon lean and pinpoint accurate clarity. Such a proclivity to seek evolution this alternative custodian of the Garnatxa varietal necessity. Seeker and keeper of tradition and to let the world know what has always been possible. This has acidity. It really has it. Bridges so many philosophies, histories and realities; Alsace Riesling, South African Chenin Blanc, Greek Roditis. Approximate price $39.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2023  Tasted October 2015  @EdetariaCeller

Edetaria Selecció White Vinyes Velles 2012, DO Terra Alta, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Tasted in Toronto nearly a year ago. From the famous panal soil, fossilized sand dunes low in organic material and even lower in yields. Managed in go it alone ways for Terra Alta, with grapes kept gelid at zero degrees during the process and individual plot vinification prepared in 300L oak barrels. Primary aromas are the launching point and the end game. Eight months later a most unique aroma subsists and emits potency, leading to layering. A portent for pure distillation in White Grenache. Approximate price $39.95 CAN. Drink 2014-2021.  Tasted November 2014

Edetaria Garnatxa Blanca 2013 and Mesies Garnatxa 2014

Edetaria Garnatxa Blanca 2013 and Mesies Garnatxa 2014

Ecovitres Vins de Mesies Garnatxa 2014, DO Terra Alta (Winery)

Founded in 2002, Ecovitres stands alone in philosophy meets execution. The organics are a no-brainer in  their minds, in a land where the winds blow and vine disease is less than a deterrent or an issue. Here the producer of the eco-Garnatxa, from lots of cropping and the moving of soils for humidity, Such a soil impart in this Tinto, brimming with cure, natural charcuteries derived from a range of protein and fresh, liquid chalky red fruit.”This is what Red Garnatxa should be,” insists winemaker Señor Valiente. A wine of light colour, of natural yeasts, of freshness and of minimal sulfites. Just a minor pump over to keep the cap wet, from drying out and from letting foreign agents to enter. Very brave for making wine this way, without pre-pioneers. The irony is not lost, on me or Señor Valiente. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015  @VINSdeMESIES

One final wine, tasted at Nou Moderno Restaurant in Gandesa. The day was already 10 hours old, many courses had been consumed and we knew there were many more to come a mere three hours away. So I did not take notes here, but I can say this. Red Garnacha from Terra Alta has the ability to age.

Talking 'bout aged red #garnacha @lafouceller 2009 #terraalta #batea #bodyandsoul #cosianima #cuerpoyalma

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Garnacha covered part three: Somontano

Breath taken away by Jose Antonio's Secastilla #garnacha with altitude @DOSomontano #aragon

Breath taken away by Jose Antonio’s Secastilla #garnacha with altitude @DOSomontano #aragon

This is the third of five instalments concerning the wines of Garnacha from the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlignDiscover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine.  The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – Garnacha covered part two: Cariñena

Our host in Zaragoza was The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. The trip was orchestrated with expertise by Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. Our chaperones were Ignacio, Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral and Roser Mestre, in Zaragoza and on expeditions to the five DO’s that comprise the wines of Garnacha.

Related – We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja

Somontano

The centuries have seen to winemaking in Somontano though it was not until April 30th, 1984 that the protected designation of origin was granted by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. What has transpired, transformed and transmogrified in 31 short years is astonishing.

Canadian journalists in the vineyards of Secastilla, Somontano. Photo (c) Ivo André Alho Cabral

Canadian journalists in the vineyards of Secastilla, Somontano. Photo (c) Ivo André Alho Cabral

The proof lies in a day of Somontano pudding. First a 130 km drive north out of Zaragoza, to the place they call “at the foot of the mountains” and a visit to the D.O office in the regional capital of Barbastro. A perfectly pressed early morning café and an overture of origen by local el presidente Mariano Beroz Bandrés sets the denominational stage. Second, a hike along with viticulturalist José Antonio through the highest bush vines vineyard belonging to Secastilla of Viñas del Vero.

Viñas del Vero's José Antonio in the Secastilla vineyard

Viñas del Vero’s José Antonio in the Secastilla vineyard

Next, a round table presentation, tasting and discussion at cellar door slash naturally lit, modernist Bodega Pirineos. Finally, remedying and restorative lunch at state of the art, colossal tanks and all, wine bottle art gallery installation, architecturally brilliant Vinos Enate.

The Barrel Cellar at @VinosEnate. Muchas gracias for the tour and the hospitality. Para todo @DOsomontano

The Barrel Cellar at @VinosEnate. Muchas gracias for the tour and the hospitality. Para todo @DOsomontano

The DO Somontano region is located at a height of between 350 and 1,000 metres above sea level and from Secastilla’s vineyard the six castles visible on peaks and throughout the Secastilla valley spread across the blue demure of a brilliant mid-autumn day. The view from Enate is nothing special, that is unless you are the kind of person that is moved by the awesome splendour of foothills and peaks fronting the drama of the Pyrenees.

Bodega Enate, Somontano

Bodega Enate, Somontano

After lunch a tour through Enate’s labyrinth of great halls and hallways concludes with a mind’s daydream into a Sean Connery Bond film imagined.

Big tanks of Bodega Enate, Somontano

Big tanks of Bodega Enate, Somontano

In the hills of Somontano low-fertility, brown limestone soil and its soft, permeable underbelly encourages roots to penetrate the earth, to extract just the right amount of limestone. The surrounding mountains protect the vines from the extreme cold and the rain.

Secastilla Valley, Somontano

Secastilla Valley, Somontano

Somontano is planted to 4200 hectares (of a total 205,000, 95,000 of it agricultural). There are 20,000 inhabitants, 43 villages, 424 growers, 31 wineries, 15 varietals, 200 wines and 15,000,000 bottles produced annually. Of that total, 70 per cent sold are domestically. The wide range of grape varieties cultivated are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah, Parraleta, Moristel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Macabeo (Alcañón), Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Red and White Garnacha. Six of these last varietal wines are involved in the Wines of Garnacha program. Mariano Beroz Bandrés talks about the collective approach for their wines. “Market niche, medium-high price, fresh, fruity, touch of oak, for young and innovative consumers.”

Somontano wines at Bodega Pirineos

Somontano wines at Bodega Pirineos

Our hosts from Wines of Garnacha and Garnacha Origen Sofía González Martínez and Ivo André Alho Cabral sat in with Sara D’Amato, Christopher Waters and I to taste the following Garnacha wines: La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha BlancaLa Miranda de Secastilla and Secastilla, by Viñas del Vero; Pirineos Garnacha, by Bodegas Pirineos; Mascún, by Bodegas Osca; Batán de Salas Monovarietal Garnacha, by Batán de Salas.

Restaurante Bal D'Onsera, Zaragoza

Restaurante Bal D’Onsera, Zaragoza

As we did each night previous to five D.O. visits around Aragon, we tasted the following day’s wines while at dinner in Zaragoza. Somontano accompanied Josechu Corella’s Michelen star Bal D’Onsera. Chef Corella’s cuisine is distinctly Aragonese adscititious of quality sea ingredients, to balance out any possible meat overkill on the heels of a Zaragoza week in celebration of the festival of the Pilar. Gastronomy harmonized, magnetized and gathered automatically for the people. Chef’s plates and bowls aligned, as if by invisible connections, to protein, from produce and by molecular touch, in textured attraction, together, without fail. Eleven courses of plentiful exigency chaperoned by the discreet and propitious staff. This amuse bouche was not one of the expected 10.

In the beginning: Oyster, seawater foam, sea algae, citrus teardrops #baldonsera #josechucorella #Zaragoza #amuse #estrellamichelin

In the beginning: Oyster, seawater foam, sea algae, citrus teardrops @baldonsera #josechucorella #Zaragoza #amuse #estrellamichelin

The Somontano wines were tasted at Restaurante Bal D’Onsera, at Bodega Pirineos and over lunch at Bodega Enate.

Viñas del Vero La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2013

Viñas del Vero La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2013

Viñas del Vero La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2013, DO Somontano, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

The first vintage was 2002, from purchased pre-existing vineyards, going back 60 years. The vineyard source is “Pago La Miranda” in the Secastilla Valley. Four months in Allier Forest French Oak. Subdued specs design this white wine; ph of 3.1, even lower sugar at 1.5 g/l and moderate acidity in at 5.38 g/L. These are the specs of balance, restraint and impossible not to discover-achieve elegance. A re-discovery of the rarity here in Garnacha Blanca, replete with a mineral forest of fruit, rock and wood. That acidity rules and combines with texture for variegation. This has foothills brush, herb and citrus running through. It is as far from lean and miles from fat. It travels a river through the middle of a valley. Mediterranean temperament and a bite into olive, almond and caper. Sea brine and lemon that mines like teardrops that burst when bitten. Just as it hits the tongue it pops and releases a zesty, juicy, fresh citrus flavour. Though the clarity to age is yet unclear, at three years it will likely lean oxidative, though that development will appear as slow as an early autumn wind. Approximate retail price of $16 CAN. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @VinasdelVero  @WoodmanWS

Ocean Martini Salad, green pea crème, eco-tomato foam, galician white tuna, cucumber sorbet, violet potato crunch #baldonsera

Ocean Martini Salad, green pea crème, eco-tomato foam, galician white tuna, cucumber sorbet, violet potato crunch #baldonsera

Viñas del Vero La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha 2013, DO Somontano, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Based on vines planted in 1998, beyond youthful in many terroirs but just a baby by Somontano-Secastilla standards. Blended with a minor amount of Syrah (12) plus the native varietal addition of Parraleta (3). Similar specs to the whites with just slightly elevated pH and rS. Vineyards are La Miranda, Prudence, La Mata and La Primade. Eight months in oak. The intent is fruit over savour, freshness beyond herbiage. It lies somewhere in the middle – the middle road trodden, the density is less than laden, the liqueur below a spirited threshold. High quality fruit from a giving vintage with acidity to prop up protein, lactic preparations and La Miranda itself. This Garnacha is focused and fortuitous, coming from solid fruit out of vineyards clearly delineated for their purpose and their capability. Clarity of Garnacha Tinto, with Mediterranean influence, manifested in olive brine and balsam, void of volatility, char and roast. No game, but with game in the name of purity. Elegantly cool, silk threaded and good length. Approximate retail price of $16 CAN. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Somontano winemakers at Bodega Pirineos

Somontano winemakers at Bodega Pirineos

Pirineos Garnacha 2013, DO Somontano, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Presented by Jesús Astrain Losilla, Director Téconico – Enólogo. From 12 year-old vines, located in traditional vineyard areas/sites, mixed with continental largesse in purple Mediterranean flora and snacks, such as almonds, olives, etc. This brings diversity and in combination with dry farming, vineyard selection for Garnacha and vinification, this ’13 goes at it beautiful, modern funky. Has the soil rubber reduction (it’s under screw cap, keep in mind) and the quick vanilla meets lavender impart of French meets American wood. Combines a barrel’s envelope with clay soil’s natural corrective. A lactic, chalky and liquid smoke impart. Chalk and rock, much red citrus. Most north facing vines for Garnacha in all Spain – makes for freshness. Really crushes as tomato just picked as well, with acidity fully intact – so the thought of such a gastronomy pairing would work well. A red wine for the “I only drink white wine” crowd. Reminds me so much of Alsace Pinot Noir, thanks to the little rainfall. This grows on you with complexity, if you give it time. More ease than demand. Does fruit, Garnacha, Somontano as it should and will. A Somontano statement, manifesto, declaration. Structure, structure, structure. Approximate retail price of $14 CAN. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @BodegaPirineos  @TheVine_RobGroh

Batán de Salas de Beroz Garnacha 2011

Batán de Salas de Beroz Garnacha 2011

Batán de Salas de Beroz Garnacha 2011, DO Somontano, Spain (Winery)

Nicolás Brun Aguerri makes the wines at this small bodega, in production of 300,000 kg’s of fruit annually. Pragmatically trying to make wines “for now and up to three to five years.” Here red Garnacha looking for something beyond freshness, working on aromatics, through a staggered harvest and six months in barrel, along with eight per cent Syrah mixed in. This has the deep sense of cure, like charcuterie, of meaty complexity. A solid second vintage and though there is tar, char, salinity, protein and grain, it has readily ranging though integrated acidity. Fresh is not the operative but alive and kicking butt is. Has reached this slight oxidative state and should linger there for two or three years more. A different style, not rebellious by any stretch and a great window in the Garnacha-Somontano potentiality. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015  @Batandesalas

Bodegas Osca Mascun Garnacha 2010, DO Somontano, Spain (Winery)

Produced since 1998, Mascun is always on point with 100 per cent varietal wines. Vines grow at between 350-550m. Mascun comes from the Latin, “house of witches.” After malolactic is completed the cask work is shared for 12 months between French and American oak. The first bottle indicates another slightly oxidative and pretty if verging on potent Garnacha, with a hint of tea. The supernatural Grenache, the witches Garnacha. A second pour is different, with more verve, acidity and fruit that stands out with much more hustle and animation. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015  @BodegasOsca

One of 10 paragons from chef's menu degustation @josechucorella Grilled Galician White Tuna, salted radish, sea algae, sun-dried cherry tomato, sweet onion sauce, smoked olive oil #baldonsera #estrellamichelin #Zaragoza

One of 10 paragons from chef’s menu degustation @josechucorella Grilled Galician White Tuna, salted radish, sea algae, sun-dried cherry tomato, sweet onion sauce, smoked olive oil #baldonsera #estrellamichelin #Zaragoza

Vinas del Vero Secastilla Garnacha 2010, DO Somontano, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Based on vines planted as far back as the 1940’s, from the Guardia, Miranda and Botiguero vineyards. The lost valley, a discovered vineyard and not far from 100 year-old vines. Non-irrigated, poor stony soils, low yield, high concentration all work to fight what oxidative tendency that Garnacha might gravitate towards. Vines at 700m interspersed with almond and olive trees. Ten months in barrel, stabilized naturally. New barrels, for structure and age. Those barrels go to La Miranda after the first year. (Whites come from Chardonnay). Possessive of perfectly complimentary volatility. Very alive and fighting. The lush texture is driven like a stake through a beef heart with the acidity and a fine grain of tannin and line. Approximate retail price of $32 CAN. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Alubias Estafadas and Guindilla, Bodega Enate, Somontano

Alubias Estafadas and Guindilla, Bodegas Enate, Somontano

Bodegas Enate Chardonnay 2011, DO Somontano, Spain (Winery)

An oaked Chardonnay welling in gemstones, butter and salinity. Acidity end energy are set to full throttle. Fruit fills the crooks to brimming. Oak is not shy but rendered in decisive integration. Its reductiveness coupled with some years in bottle make for a showy wine in recognition of its own amour-propre. That ability to flaunt its wares is backed up by a surprisingly most excellent structure from what is not the most well-known Chardonnay region on the planet. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015  @VinosEnate

At the end of a Somontano day we drove further north to take in the medieval village of Alquezar. A bucolic, ancient place only needed be described in images.

"As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on," #alquezar #somontano #pyrenees

“As we gaze out on, as we gaze out on,” #alquezar #somontano #pyrenees

"Looking up, I noticed I was late." #alquezar #somontano #pyrenees

“Looking up, I noticed I was late.” #alquezar #somontano #pyrenees

Good luck wild boar hooves of Alquezar

Good luck wild boar hooves of Alquezar

"In the middle of the road you see the darndest things" #alquezar #pyrenees #somontano

“In the middle of the road you see the darndest things” #alquezar #pyrenees #somontano

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

Facebook

Garnacha covered part two: Cariñena

Cariñena rocks! Autochthonous soils and their stones @DoCarinena @winesofgarnacha #bushvines #aragon #espana

Cariñena rocks! Autochthonous soils and their stones @DoCarinena @winesofgarnacha #bushvines #aragon #espana

This is the second of five instalments for a comprehensive study concerning the wines of Garnacha from the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine.  The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlignDiscover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

Our host in Zaragoza was The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. The trip was orchestrated with expertise by Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. Our chaperones were Ignacio, Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral and Roser Mestre, in Zaragoza and on expeditions to the five DO’s that comprise the wines of Garnacha.

Related – We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja

Restaurante Palomeque, Zaragoza

Restaurante Palomeque, Zaragoza

As we did each evening before heading out the following morning to a particular DO, Sofía, Ivo, Ignacio and Roser introduced the intrepid Los Canadienses travellers to the wines of that DO over dinner in  Zaragoza.  For the wines of Cariñena the matchmaking happened at Restaurante Palomeque, a Zaragozan institution that bridges exemplary regional cooking with 21st century acumen. The dishes at Palomeque were as much exciting as they were down to earth. The cast of Cariñena could not have chosen a more supporting role.

Loganiza de Graus con setas (trompetilla negra) #Palomeque #Zaragoza Somontano sausage filled with black trumpet mushrooms

Loganiza de Graus con setas (trompetilla negra) #Palomeque #Zaragoza Somontano sausage filled with black trumpet mushrooms

Cariñena

What is most glaring about Cariñena is the prevalence of a prairie geography and how it differs in stark contrast to the other DO’s in Aragon and Catalonia. Though mountains (including Moncayo) loom in the distance,  Cariñena’s obvious dissimilitude to other wine growing regions has as much to do with climate as it does with soils. The Cariñena terra is primarily composed of clay and limestone, with very little in the way of slate like you find in Campo de Borja. The ground’s constitution aggregates with a significant absence of altitude, relative to the hills of Somontano, Calatayud and Terra Alta. That said, the are’s best examples of Garnacha are culled from vines that grow at reasonably impressive heights. What all of this essentially translates to is the basic, hard fact that the harvest here is completed earlier. At the point of our visit (October 18-19), the reaping was 90-95 per cent done. The brusque and breviloquent conclusion sees to less acidity and tannin, more elegance and less ageing potential, as compared to (certainly) Calatayud.

The autumn of old #Cariñena bush vines @DoCarinena #garnachaterroir

The autumn of old #Cariñena bush vines @DoCarinena #garnachaterroir

Calatayud is the DO to offer the best compare and contrast with Cariñena, just as a similar distinction can be ascertained with Somontano and Terra Alta. Campo de Borja is the outlier, unique, singular, the brother from another mother. Very important is the increased Mediterranean influence in Cariñena. Calatayud has more extreme seasons, particularly in spring and summer. In Cariñena, some striking, ancient Garnacha bush vines exist (and again, produce the region’s best bottles), but the age of the vines are generally younger. This aspect separates it from all of the other DO’s, especially when the discussion centers around the laying down of Garnacha.

The wine museum of Cariñena

The wine museum of Cariñena

After a brief tour through the wine museum housed in the offices of Cariñena’s DO, Christopher, Sara and I sat down for an extensive and brutally honest tasting with Care winemaker Jorge Navascues Haba.

Wines of Cariñena at Restaurante Palomeque

Wines of Cariñena at Restaurante Palomeque

Bodegas Solar de Urbezo Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery, AgentWineAlign)

From old bush vines (40-66 yrs) with some altitude. A family winery Garnacha with a gravelly feel, not so much rustic as gritty, for Cariñena and with really fine and necessary acidity. Reaches black cherry near ripeness, though being struck by that acidity (from altitude therefore later ripening) but more so from recent changes in winemaking. Judging ripeness has become the catalyst and in 2014 this is a wine of terrific extract, restraint and pinpoint focus. Possessive off Motherwell like brushstrokes, thick swaths of fresh blue-green cool colour and shaded by naturalism, in cure without funk. A good example of “good ripeness.” A lean and direct example. Only three chippy months of oak was used. All in all this is just prime freshness with a minor amount of green tannin. Approximate price $18.95 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015  @UrbezoWines  @bwwines

Bodegas Solar de Urbezo Garnacha 2013, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Carries with it more attitude in 2013, from a vintage that seems to have delivered variable ripeness over the course of the picking weeks. Definitely and devilishly imbued with complexity, from floral, through medicinal by way of bitters and across many angles. Has real garnet, Garnacha tang levied out of vivid acidity, sweet limestone tartness and those ever-bearing fruity bitters. Perhaps more interesting if not as accessible as the follow-up ’14. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted with the Wines of Garnacha, Toronto, November 2014

Menguante Garnacha 2014

Vinedos Y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

From one of the more stated quality terroirs with elevation (between 500-650m) and stony-clay-chalk soils. In almost every and all respects it shies in a subdued, restrained and reserved quality. This quiet repetition and still the phenolics seem optimized, the acidity resolved and the tannins in relative, correct ripeness. Another family project, small and philosophically sound in practices. Working one of the highest and best quality vineyards in Cariñena. “The waning moon,” for a biodynamic outfit, not certified, the old vines in that altitude receiving the most benefits from the Cierzo wind. From this it is easier to cultivate organically and biodynamically because of nature’s pest control. Some 80-year old vines throw wisdom and culled subterranean culture into the mix. A bit of citrus and chalk bleeds on the very fresh finish. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015  @GranViu  @VinexxWine

Vinedos Y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha Selección 2012, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

Two years on and with more oak this is a very different animal than the subdued ’14, integrated but on the other side of the aromosphere. The oak is dominant, vanilla and cocoa are the great waft in what is ostensibly pitch perfect fruit, in bottle on the dark side of the moon. Coconut, vanilla extract and cinnamon. The wood brings layered and sheathed character. Very plush and notes Jorge, “if you come to Cariñena to experience Garnacha, this wine will allow you to discover the wonders of American oak.” The deep fruit and earth melded into and by the barrel makes for a very pleasurable drop. The ’08 released into the Ontario market in November 2014 lends credence to the ageability of this Garnacha. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Vinedos Y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha Selección 2011, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

A grand, beguiling, sensuous, perhaps even pushing the boundaries of voluptuous Garnacha, “a wine that describes THE Garnacha,” according to dining companions in Zaragoza. Velutinous in composure and texture, with an orange skin finish. Here the gap is bridged, from traditional to modish, by nature and into seductive polish. The peeled citrus finish is also one of great mouth-watering acidity, intrigued by l’air de panache and laced by spice. Very well done. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted at Restaurante Palomeque, Zaragoza, October 2015

Vinedos Y Bodegas Pablo Menguante Garnacha Blanca 2014, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

One of the very few white Garnacha from Cariñena and the only example sampled in Aragon, alongside dinner in Zaragoza at Restaurante Palomeque. The mineral skips like a stone across the palate, white Grenache walking on water like a bone of peach skin and the weightlessness of almond paste. So subtle, breathless, atomic and minute. Mineral in ways to mimic Alsace, of low pH and high grape tannin, “the waning moon” is poignant to anti-fruit extreme and yet so refreshing it will, with age, point to honey and petrol. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted October 2015

Lechuza Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery, WineAlign)

The Lechuza “owl” is a collaboration between Valkyrie Selections and local winemaker Ana Becoechea from old vines vineyards just outside the town of Cariñena. This Garnacha Tinto from 45 year-old vines is borne with nature’s funk and an earthy dusting in the way Merlot can be. A chalky grit in distilled, liquid form carries a river of grain marked by the milled smell of warm cereal. Persistent, lengthy and purposed. Smell’s like victory. An excellent pairing to Somontano pork sausage filled with little black trumpet mushrooms at Restaurante Palomeque. Approx. $15 CAN. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Lechuza Garnacha 2012, Cariñena, Spain (WineryWineAlign)

Named for the prevalence of owls, here old vines Garnacha is uncovered out of clay and calcareous soils. You can really smell and taste the natural vineyard funk, thankful to no oak, fresh and unctuous in simultaneous fashion, yet full and yes, lifted. Highly perfumed, and incredible value at $10 US. Impossible actually. Old vines, likely 40-45 years. You can smell the violets for sure. Approx. $15 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Covinca Terrai OVG 2013, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)

From a good-sized cooperative with almost 1.700 hectares of vineyards where native varieties like Garnacha, Mazuela or Cariñena are merged with others such as Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Macabeo, Syrah and Chardonnay. Fruit purity escalated, with just a quick dose of oak, both French and American, more than seemingly good sized barrel, because there is integration and balance. Not the longest Garnacha in the DO but certainly a pleasurable drop. A bit sour-edged and lactic on the backside though a diplomatic red effectively considered. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Terrai OVG 2014

Terrai OVG 2014

Covinca Terrai TLG Torrelongares Old Vine Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)

The vines in here are old by Cariñena stain cards (45 years) and the rich, suave texture brushes the velvet reasoning. Antecedent the median regional perfume and with Mediterranean effect, seen by an increase of the savoury, through briny black olive and caper. The converse flip side slides softer tannin, riper fruit of gregarious behaviour and that savour is a step up from the tart OVG. Accumulation sports a meaty, protein laced sensation. Comparatively speaking, this has more guts and virility. The mix of satin and natural cure matches beautifully with Palomeque’s Foie Gras Migas. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas Prinur Garnacha Vinas Viejas 2013, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)

A family winery with soils gravelly and with (not so common to Cariñena) slate and even more singular with some vines that are 100 years-old or more. Vines sit at altitudes of 600m (Cariñena) and 800m (Consuenda) above sea level. The old vines sports some raisin and prune ripeness with evolution void of the natural cure necessity, “a zombie wine,” notes Jorge. Here it is hard to recognize Garnacha, with age that could be 2009 or 2010, along with a showing of VA. This is a flawed but very curious wine. Sour and tightly tannic on the finish but not long. Very disjointed. Cooked fruit. From such a warm to scorching vintage.  Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015  @bodegasprinur

Gastranomia Zarogazana 101 at #Palomeque...Zamburiñas Gallegas with Paniza Rosé @winesofgarnacha #Zaragoza #aragon #espana #scallops

Gastranomia Zarogazana 101 at #Palomeque…Zamburiñas Gallegas with Paniza Rosé @winesofgarnacha #Zaragoza #aragon #espana #scallops

Paniza Garnacha Rosé 2014, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

The rusty, saline savour stands to be counted in a firm and responsibly, if surprisingly tannic blush. Talc, funk and serious tang but certainly not antiquity. Don’t expect the fruit to jump out and bite you in the behind, nor has it jumped the shark. Quite the structure for $12, sapidity and ping. Wow Rosado. Slightly higher in RS than Provence. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Paniza Garnacha Rose

Paniza Garnacha Rose

Paniza Agoston Grenache and Syrah 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)

From a 50-50 split with elevated sugar and acidity. French and American oak with an absence of restraint, and the oxy modernity of plush and pitch. The Syrah is so dominant in every way. The olives, pepper and bovine syndication is blatant and bullish. “Not a fair fight,” chimes in Jorge, and “that’s the point.” Dark and not so mysterious. “A winemaking wine.” No idea of origin but “a good palate.” Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015

Paniza Garnacha Vinas Viejas de Paniza 2012, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)

From variegated (schist, clay, loam and chalk) soil at the base of the Iberia Mountains at 800m altitude. Has a multi-terroir funk and a level of unctuousness mixed with savour from altitude. Sour but rigid and tempered acidity. Chalky yet cool and with much character and personality. Two oaks give obvious and integrated flavours. Were it not quite so ripe this would be a wine to see what can be done with Garnacha from Cariñena and five plus years. A bit sweet. If it were three instead of six, this would age like it should, low and slow. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Artichokes and clams, Restraurante Palomeque, Zaragoza

Artichokes and clams, Restraurante Palomeque, Zaragoza

Grandes Vinos Beso de Vino Garnacha Rosé 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Here Rosado advances into the glo but stops short of cool thanks to a retreat into warm aridity and salinity. Together they deliver, with strawberry and a bit of Co2. Refreshing, as if blush Vinho Verde. With a briny sea creature like clams or scallops (Zamburiñas Gallegas) it actually accentuates the crustaceous amplification, in both directions. Aprox. $9.99 CAN. Tasted October 2015  @BesodeVino  @GrandesVinos_CA  @Noble_Estates

Grandes Vinos Beso de Vino Garnacha Old Vine 2014, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgentWineAlign)

The Beso de Vino is produced by the third largest cooperative in Spain. It is basic, straightforward, red fruit juicy Garnacha from low altitude, flat clay soils of Cariñena. Character comes in a modern, big box style, more international than regional. There is a dusty component mixed with a chew of Bubbilicious and no shortage of tangy fruit to match with wide ranging cuisine. Simple and effective Garnacha. Has travelled to where it needs to be. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October and November 2015

Grandes Vinos Corona de Aragón Garnacha Special Selection 2013, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgent)

Another commercial wine with a North American market intent. Elevation gives cooler savour and yet it’s volatile and short. Boletus sensation, the sour a bit of a deterrent, but it has savoury interest. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015

Grandes Vinos Anayon Garnacha 2013, Cariñena, Spain (Winery, 424424, Agent, $30.95, WineAlign)

A perched Garnacha, of a kind entrenched in the lush, the stylized, the worked and of smoothed edges. Extreme modernity, of a fast forward prepared cure, with similar fruit to the Corona but different winemaking. The fruit perhaps lags a bit behind the acumen. Possessive of an intriguing wild mountain herb. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery, Agent)

Musty, mushroom and an hour ago tobacco linger, cool modern savoury and pitchy sweet though aromatically, not in taste. High acidity and much cocoa/espresso. High yield Garnacha (50 hL/L). Commercial to be sure. Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015  @bodegasanvalero  @ImportWineMAFWM

Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha 2012, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgent)

Combines Cariñena and Tosos fruit, of the same high yields, with a similar profile with some volatility. Cocoa, chocolate, coffee and liquorice.  Very firm and rigid wine. Not fresh and fruity that’s for sure. Resinous and the long direction taken with wood. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Vinas Centenarias 2014, Cariñena, Spain (WineryAgent)

From 80 plus year-old vines, this has the levels of kirsch and high toned fruit I would hope for in an old vine Garnacha. Still the espresso, the cocoa and the high levels of acidity, more aridity, firm and quite striking. This is a meaty, savoury and mountain herbal expression. Really impressive. Cariñena and Villanueva fruit. Pretty? Sure. Volatile? Yes. Polarizing? Certainly. This is where the style goes with time and this kind of winemaking. Drink 2015-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Care Finca Bancales 2012

Care Finca Bancales 2012

Care Finca Bancales Garnacha Reserva Vinas Viejas 2012, Cariñena, Spain (WineryWineAlign)

The most prized perfumed is found here, standing out among the extensive Cariñena line-up, of oaked violets arranged with aromatic presentation. One of the very few that truly preserve a heightened level of quality and identity for the region. From old (80 year-old vines) up at high altitude. Fashioned with carefully selected fruit and dealt a cool fermentation, followed by one month of maceration. Aged in bigger volume, old and new (300-500l barrels). “We are not pioneers, we are imitators,” admits winemaker Jorge Navascues Haba. What’s special is the size of the barrels and the mixture of oaks. Here Garnacha that should and will certainly live another six to eight years. Shows off enough fruit to match the tannin and the acidity pulsating in full rage. Grainy like few others yet with wooing, seductive, elegant, ripe red fruit. This is the benchmark for Garnacha from Cariñena with ego checked and left at the door. Drink 2015-2022.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas Ignacio Marin Duque de Medina Garnacha 2014, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)

From a family winery (largest in Cariñena) and a wine unlike any other yet in Aragon. Mature, nearly caramelized, nutty and almost desert like. Very low in acidity and tannin. Oxidative. Quick work. Drink 2015.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas Ignacio Marin Old Vines Garnacha 2010, Cariñena, Spain (Winery)

Touched, volatile, nutty to fruitcake, turntable vinyl and vaporizing. A flavour that recalls white cocoa and spun white wool. Once forbidden fruit playing hard to get. Old school, chiseled, locked in. Freshness no longer its number one asset. Drink 2015.  Tasted October 2015

Welcome to the Hotel #Cariñena

Welcome to the Hotel #Cariñena

Good to go!

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We’ve Garnacha covered part one: Campo De Borja

Estación de Delicias de Zaragoza at dusk #CarlosFerrater #aragon #espana

Estación de Delicias de Zaragoza at dusk #CarlosFerrater #aragon #espana

In October of 2015 WineAlign colleague Sara d’Amato and I travelled together with Christopher Waters of Vines Magazine.  The trip’s mission was to discover Spain’s Wines of Garnacha in their natural habitat, the five distinct and allied Denominación de Origen in the regions of Aragón and Catalonia.

Related – For a comprehensive report by Sara d’Amato and I read WineAlignDiscover the Flavours: Wines of Garnacha

Christopher Waters, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Sofía González Martínez and Sara d'Amato in Zaragoza

Christopher Waters, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Sofía González Martínez and Sara d’Amato in Zaragoza

Our host in Zaragoza was The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior, ICEX), the Wines of Garnacha campaign and the office of Garnacha Origen. The trip was orchestrated with expertise by Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio (Nacho) Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro. Our chaperones Sofía González Martínez, Ivo André Alho Cabral, Roser Mestre and Ignacio left no Aragonese or Catalonian stone unturned during a week-long investigation, immersion and intercommunication with the vineyards, winemakers, mayors, restaurateurs, residents and cultures of Aragón and Catalonia.

Rare rain all day in Aragon did not deter Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato #lovegarnacha

Rare rain all day in Aragon did not deter Los Canadienses @waters_wine @saradamato #lovegarnacha

As a rule, the provincial link between traditional varietal and felicitous region gathers together ancient history and existentialist wine culture in the most acute of ways. The racking path from endemic to modernist is trod for the purpose of explaining why this place is an essential source for affordable wines of exceptional quality. This is the crux of what the Aragón and Catalonian vignerons are after. For decades they have been farming century-aged bush-vines, harvesting fruit that sells for one euro per kilo (plant) and seeing their wine demand a paltry $12-15 CAN (often the equivalent of $9.99 US). The lack of congruent nature of the equation and let’s be serious, the undignified injustice of the flow through is something that needs to be addressed. The challenge is one of necessity and immediacy.

The five DO’s of Aragón and Catalonia are heavily populated by cooperatives and very few wine-producing countries or regions (save perhaps for Chablis or Barbaresco) achieve so many positives from that kind of wine-producing philosophy and execution. This weight of such a collaborative culture is not lost on anyone.

Where didn't the Romans build a wall? #citieswithruins #Zaragoza

Where didn’t the Romans build a wall? #citieswithruins #Zaragoza

The argument as to why the wines of Garnacha origin will not command justifiably higher prices defaults to geography and history. This northeastern quadrant of Spain (including Catalonia) has seen a lion’s  share of war, famine, poverty and neglect. The people have suffered and persevered, albeit in a state of relative isolation. Terra incognita within a stone’s throw of (less than two hours to either Madrid or Barcelona) civilization. It is ironic that the wines are perhaps too comfortable, likewise fruit juicy and easy to consume. Global perception would imagine the wines of Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano, Terra Alta and Calatayud as inaccessible, austere and rustic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would contend that the problem is that the wines are not tough enough. Garnacha is supported by all the fight corner help it needs but it’s just too darned soft. The lack of rain, abundance of wind, embarrassment of altitude and slope riches allow for levels of diversity and complexity other wine regions would kill for. Very few pockets of wine growing acreage have any trouble ripening grapes. Day and night temperature fluctuations are constant and in some areas, extreme. Disease is nearly non-existent thanks to the prevailing winds that blow nearly two out of every three days year-round. Soils are chalk full of rocks, stones and vine-affirming mineral. Plants must work hard to penetrate the poor soils. Climate, geography and geology are not the problem.

Why complain about wines that are perfectly ripe? Isn’t that what every farmer wants from his children, for them to complete their phenolic journey and grow up fast? I would argue no, that the grapes need to be picked when the graphing of ripeness and acidity are protracted at the crossroads of their perfect vertices. I would also argue that pressing needs to be done at colder temperatures and for the younger grapes, in certain situations, with some carbonic maceration.

As far as the old vines are concerned, the primary concern is shelf life. Most of the Garnacha produced in this part of Spain carries with it a potential for aging of no more than five years. Many producers keep that maximum goal in mind. A week of tasting through red and white Garnacha reinforced the point but there were a handful of wines that begged to differ. Laying down Garnacha is possible. The winemakers must be willing to take some risks.

Think of this. A producer presents two bottles of Garnacha Tinto, one from younger vines and one from 50-plus year-old bush vines. The first sees only stainless steel fermentation or perhaps three to six months in older oak barrels. The second sees an extended élevage though only a frugal amount (less than 20 per cent) of new wood. They both come in at a maximum 14 per cent alcohol, carry residual sugar numbers of less than 3 g/L and yet both maintain a vibrant acidity number of at least 5-6 g/L. In some cases concrete egg fermenters and/or large foudres are part of the processes. Their pedigree is brimming with history, tradition and physiographic earth sciences. Their agriculture is essentially organic (though they require no formal certification), the fruit is picked early to preserve optimum natural acidity and their fermentations are as wild as the day yeast came to be on this earth.

The young wine if fresh, clean, crisp, pure and full of vitality. It will drink well from now and up to five years. The more serious Reserva-style bottle will have the potential to evolve and develop, though it carries with it that impossible feeling of having already aged right from the start. It will drink beautifully for up got 20 to 25 years. The wines retail in Canada for $18.95 and $34.95, respectively. Which one would you buy? Seeing as how they compliment each other so well, why not both?

Campo De Borja

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

The Empire of Garnacha

Of the five DO’s (Denominación de Origen) that comprise the collective wine growing regions located in Aragon and Catalonia, none walk with a swagger like Campo de Borja. President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda and Secretary José Ignacio “Nacho” Gracia Lopez rule the Empire of Garnacha, a self-proclaimed stewardship for the grape and for Campo de Borja as the centre of its universe.

The Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela

The Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela

The two proud men have reason to state such territorial claim. Campo de Borja will play host to Grenaches du Monde. “The Weekend of Garnachas,” organized by the Roussillon Inter-professional Wine Council of France (CIVR). Grenaches of the World was held in France in its first three years. In 2016, Campo de Borja plays host to the competition.

Monasterio de Veruela

Monasterio de Veruela

The oldest vineyards in Campo de Borja date back to 1145. A visit to the 12th century Cistercian Monasterio de Veruela, home to the offices occupied by the Denominación de Origen, wine shop and wine museum (Museo del Vino), answers the historical query. Marble columns in three-dimensionally sculpted relief show grape leaf craftsmanship dating back to the middle ages.

Veruela was the home of one of the most important Romantic Spanish poets: Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, who lived in the abbey during 1863. He is the author of the following verses, maybe among the most famous pieces in the History of Spanish literature:

Qué es poesía?, dices mientras clavas en mi pupila tu pupila azul. Que es poesía? Y tú me lo preguntasPoesía… eres tú.

What is poetry?, you say. As you fix my eyes with yours of blue. What is poetry!… You ask me that? Poetry… It is you!

Rima XXI, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

In Aragón, diverse soils, altitude, slopes and prevailing winds all contribute to grape growing excellence. Campo de Borja’s trump card is a mountain. Other regions such as Cariñena find benefit from Moncayo, but nowhere does its 2,315m in altitude have an effect on vines as it happens in Campo de Borja.

“Cierzo que almuerza y cent, dura tuna quincena”

Museo del Vino Campo de Borja

Museo del Vino Campo de Borja

More than 2,000 hectares are 30+ yr-old vines. The climate receives an Atlantic influence and above all else there is the famous wind. El Cierzo blows 234 days a year, the “strong wind” blows after the rain, dries out the vines, eradicates disease and elicits increased probabilities for grape concentration. The saying goes “today is raining, tomorrow it will blow.” El Cierzo, as it has been called for 2,000 years, “has lunch and dinner lasts for a fortnight.” No one knows why. Maybe the Zaragozan Virgin of Pilar knows.

Campo de Borja is described as a “homogeneous physical space capable of producing wines with peculiarities.” Much of its viticulture, in kinship with the other four Aragonese DO’s, perpetuates the viñedo en vaso, “vines in a glass,” or bush vines, calculated at 2000 plants per hectare in density with three metres between rows.

The soils of Campo de Borja

The soils of Campo de Borja

Great fluctuations happen in this D.O., located 30 miles west of Zaragoza, where the earliest maturing, lowest section habituates the Ribera del Ebro at 239m and yet other vines are planted up to 1000m. At low altitudes (200-300m) there are finer, lighter soils. In between the vineyards of Ainzon, Borja and Fuendejalon are situated between 450 and 550 metres above sea level, occupied by the terraces of  La Huecha river, a tributary of the Ebro with soils composed of stones and ferrous-clay. The D.O’s top plantations are in the upper reach, Moncayo foothills area of Alta de Ainzon and Fuendejalon, as well as the municipalities of Tabuena, El Buste and Vera. At these higher climes (up to 900-1000m) there is more limestone and iron, so darker soils with obvious increase of mineral.

Yields are quite low (30-35 hL/L), very vintage dependent and in some areas, in certain years it can be as low as 20-25. Yields are the key to understanding the value of wines from Campo de Borja, that and the iron-rich soil minerality.

Vines here see long cycles, with late maturing fruit of soft tannins and high glycerol concentration. Garnacha is a pro at climate and poor soil adaptation. It can be picked well into November and despite the lower tannins, treated properly it possesses the flexibility to develop complexity with short-term aging.

Every Grenache growing region of the world (The Rhone, Australia, South Africa) have their own special aromatic identity, whether it by garrigue, earthy reduction or soil-driven funk. A mountain herb called tomillo (thyme) grows everywhere around Moncayo. In Aragon there is an expression “when it is foggy in the morning there will be walking in the evening” and when it rains there is an all-encompassing scent in the air. That perfume is what gives these wines their special something. The amalgamation of mineral, earth and herb.

Meetings of the minds: Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz, President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda Campo de Borja and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro

Meetings of the minds: Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz, President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda Campo de Borja and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro

Christopher Waters, Sara D’amato and I sat down at the offices of the Campo de Borja for a presentation and a tasting of the D.O. wines with President Eduardo Ibañez Aranda, Secretary José Ignacio Gracia Lopez, Aragón Exterior Managing Director Ignacio Martinez de Albornoz and Head of Wines from Spain (ICEX) Alfonso Janeiro.

The wines tasted were Fagus, Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria and Don Ramón Garnacha Imperial, by Bodegas Aragonesas; Ruberte Trésor, by Ruberte; Santo Cristo Garnacha Selección and Aletta, by Bodegas Santo Cristo; and Pdm, by Pagos del Moncayo.

Garnatxa of Campo de Borja

Garnatxa of Campo de Borja

Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Quebec Agent Ontario Agent, WineAlign)

From a cooperative in the town of Ainzon, a 100 per cent Garnacha distributed by Eurovin (in Quebec) from 30-35 year-old bush vines at 500-600m altitude. Smoking of a deep black cherry, with violets and mild anise giving the feigned attitude of a candied sweetness. Though it’s warm and accented with quite the spice, aridity reigns and folds into the voluminous mouthfeel. This is extreme velvet, approachable and really put together, structurally speaking. Will benefit from two years further in bottle. There is plenty of fruit to support such patience balanced by a char and a density on the long finish. Would retail for approximately $14 CAN. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted October 2015

Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Quebec Agent Ontario AgentWineAlign)

The 2012 vintage of the Ainzon cooperative’s 100 per cent Garnacha is a blend of separately vinified stainless steel tanks. The clean compound works in appendices here and there of liquorice, graphite and pencil lead. The simple, red fruit compounds upon itself in oak-less layers for straightforward, easy pleasure. Would retail for approximately $13.50 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted November 2014

Bodegas Aletta 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Agent, WineAlign)

From vineyards of 15-25 years old in Pozos de Mata and Aliagares at an altitude of 400-500m. A combination of soil types leads to a complexity of dichotomies, drawing from terraced stony, rich organic brown-calcaire and Moncayo mountain more stony, ferrous clay. Low yields (less than two Kg per vine) in this 100 per cent Garnacha seek an ever increasing perfume and aromatics from ripeness, urged on by a skill set of diverse fermentations.  The minerals incite and an increase of tannin is found in this darker, deeper, yet persistently straight-up juicy Garnacha. Pressed straight to tank this is simply all juice and nothing but the juice. Still a highly clean and modern expression that sees no wood. Good length again. Would retail for approximately $14 CAN. Drink 2015-2018.  Tasted October 2015

Blissful Zaragoza comfort food at <a href="https://twitter.com/AuraRestaurante" target="_blank">Aura Restaurante</a> local jamon, mushrooms, astir eggs

Blissful Zaragoza comfort food at Aura Restaurante local jamon, mushrooms, astir eggs

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo Garnacha 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Agent, Winery, WineAlign)

Pedro Aibar was oenologist at Viñas del Vero and El Coto and now crafts wines from Grenache and Syrah plantings in the hills of Sierra del Moncayo. Produced with the Export company Axial, this 100 per cent old bush vines Garnacha from the eco-certified vineyard of La Marga saw 10 months in oak. At 14 per cent alcohol and deep as a cimmerian night it inhales and exhales in balanced Garnacha breaths. The barrel gives vanilla, chocolate and a bit of espresso. This is a nearly massive yet somehow laid back and accessible expression of Garnacha, foot-crushed, traditionally natural, with depth in its meaty cure. There were 70,000 bottles produced in the singular Campo de Borja that reaches for another layer, of earth and mediterranean funk.  Would retail for approximately $20 CAN. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015  @louisgeirnaerdt

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo 2012

Bodegas Pagos del Moncayo 2012

Bodegas Ruberte Tresor 2013, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery)

Made by Susanna Ruberte from 100 per cent Garnacha off of 10+ year-old vines. The winery was founded in 1948. From lower altitude Campo de Borja (350-400m) stony vineyards and of low-production, here is a very perfumed Garnacha, expressing the violet nature of the grape and also a tonality impressed by a touch of SO2. Just a hint of barrel (one month) inflects vanilla and spices, unrelated to fruit surrounded by near-acrimonious acetone. Spiked by an aridity that climbs inside the cheeks. Greatest asset is concentration and depth. Will price in the range of $13-14 CAN. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015  @BodegasRuberte

Solo Rosado Centofolia 2014

Solo Rosado Centofolia 2014

Bodegas Aragonesas Rosado Centifolia Solo 2014, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Garnacha of different plots, “offering unique organoleptic qualities.” So very lithe and pretty, saline but not briny. The fruit is certainly strawberry though low-pitched, the hue a pale complexion from the most fleeting skin contact. A luminescent gemstone pink. Like a slice of strawberry angel short cake. Garnacha grounded by a “pretty pink ribbon” of Moncayo earth, without it would be blown by the Cierzo and “float down to the sea.” Drink 2015-2016.  Tasted October 2015   @B_Aragonesas

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Don Ramón Imperial Roble 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery, Agent, WineAlign)

Aragonesas farms 55 per cent of the total production of the area, largest in Campo de Borja. This 100 per cent Garnacha is culled from various (450-800m) elevations. Another prime example of so much concentration, marked by a push-pull of bright-volatile, with dark fruits and liquorice. A date with American oak for six months brings vanilla and cocoa powder, chalk and grain, tar, char and a faint vinyl rub. Good solid held finish. This has power, presence and persistence. It successfully handles and owns its volatility. Quite the polish. Would price in Canada at $14-15. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Centenaria Coto de Hayas 2014, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (Winery, 94805, $12.95, WineAlign)

Young wine, old vines. A different sort of 100 per cent Garnacha, this time from arid slate soils close to El Moncayo. The scent of jamon, seemingly impossible, but it’s there. Four months in French oak. Vines are between 80-100 year old with drastically low (10-15 hL/L) yields and from 750m altitude. At 14.5 per cent the brightness pounds the volatility into relative submission but it’s still present, there can be no disputing that. Very smooth and silky, coming on the heels of those always in prevail violet and spice aromas. A smoky dash of Aleppo pepper. French oak, used for the higher end wine, gives a candied wood flavour and roasted flesh of a protein push and some sweet salinity to mineral compenium. Possessive of quite the inner vision meets juicing sensation. Drink 2015-2017.  Tasted October 2015

Oh to be back in the truffle again. At Restaurante El Fogón, San Martín de la Virgen de Moncayo #verademoncayo

Oh to be back in the truffle again. At Restaurante Asador “El Molino de Berola” #verademoncayo

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Fagus de Coto de Hayas Selección Especial 2012, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent, WineAlign)

Fagus is “beech tree” from the Latin and Coto de Hayas (small forest) from hillsides of the Cordillera Ibérica range. This ’12 is actually 85 per cent plus 7.5 per cent each from ’11 and ’13, all from 40-50 yr old vines. Yet another Garnacha of yields less than 1kg per vine and a slumber in French oak for 10 months. Fagus sweats the most prominent perfume though its level of volatility lies somewhere in the middle of the Coto de Hayas range. Here the OS is built on a foundation of earthy funk, sprites red citrus and is certainly the sweetest of the group. Like mixed berry play dough. A South African Rhone varietal style comes to mind, in earth meets vinyl. The special elaboration is of selected (toasted) barrels, with a hyperbole of vanilla, in waves, bean scrapes and baking elevation. Liquid chalk oozes on the finish, long and with bitters too. Would retail for between $22 and 25 CAN. Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015

Restaurante Asador "El Molino de Berola" #verademoncayo

Restaurante Asador “El Molino de Berola” #verademoncayo

Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Fagus de Coto de Hayas Selección Especial 2009, DO Campo de Borja, Spain (WineryAgent)

Fagus is “beech tree” from the Latin and Coto de Hayas (small forest) from hillsides of the Cordillera Ibérica range. The 2009 shows the most minor notes of evolution, still in command of fruit and well within the threshold of balance within its generous oak conditioning. A really good example struts forth here, to show what red Grenache can be at midel age for the DO, not too hard and not too soft. Not too cold and not too hot. Just about right.  Drink 2015-2020.  Tasted October 2015

They call it cheesecake at <a href="https://twitter.com/AuraRestaurante" target="_blank">Aura Restaurante</a> but this is something other, extraordinary, ethereal.

They call it cheesecake at Aura Restaurante but this is something other, extraordinary, ethereal.

Good to go!

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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