Sunday, January 28, 2007

Wine and Food Matching: Cheese

Another great tasting to give this weekend: Matching wine and cheese. A classic, but a difficult classic as they can actually be quite challenging to match! I picked five wines from different categories and five very different cheeses. The wines were as follows:

1. DO Cava - Bodega Raventos i Blanc - Elisabet Raventos - Reserva - Brut - 2000 - 60% Xarel.lo, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Monastrell - 4 years aging on lees, 6,5g/l residual sugar - 12% - 18 euros

One of my favorite cavas! Very champagne like: elegant toasty fruit and very subtle, fine bubbles. Has some chardonnay which is very trendy in many cavas right now, but also has some Monastrell (Mourvedre), which is very unusual.
This cave is very wine-like, very versatile to match and great value.

2. DO Cava - Bodegas Cordoniú - Cava Rosado Brut - NV - 100% Pinot Noir - 24 months of aging on lees, 6-8g/l residual sugar - 12% - 10 euros

Rosé cava is so versatile with food! This a simple, but very bright cava, with nice strawberry fruit and some little toasty lees notes. For drinking I much prefer the complexity and elegance of the Raventos, but for the cheese matching I have to give it by a league to the Cordoniu! It matched so well with so many of the cheeses.

3. DO Rueda - Bodegas Aura - Aura - 2005 - 100% Verdejo - no oak - 13.5% - 5 euros

This is a great example of what Rueda has to offer: Lemon and gooseberry fruit with great acidity and a refreshingly slight bitterness on the long finish. All that for 5€! I really think Verdejo is a fantastic grape, whether in this un-oaked version or in some of the fantastic oaked version that are becoming all the rage. A high quality, low-priced Rueda is available in every bar in Spain: I love that! This wine was the easiest of the match of the five wines: it went really well with four of the five cheeses.

4. DO Bierzo - Bedegas Dominio de Tares - Cepas Viejas - 2004 - 100% Mencía (a wonderful local grape) - 9 months in French and American oak - 13.5% - 10 euros

This is one of my favorite Spanish wines at this price range…we put the 2003 version in our wedding! The 2004 is even better than the 2003, but last night I was a little disappointed. It seemed overly oaky when matched up with the cheeses….hopefully it was just a phase. Didn't realy match well with any cheeses, other than the goats cheese! Mencía is a fantastic grape and some great wines are coming out of Bierzo.

5. DO Malaga Transañejo - Bodegas Lopez Hermanos - Don Juan Pedro Ximenez - NV - 100% Pedro Ximenez - at least 30 years aging in barrel, 300g/l residual sugar - 17% - 18 euros (375 ml)

I appreciate intellectually the great Pedro Ximenez (PX) wines of Spain, but I actually don't like them that much. They are often too syrupy and cloying for me. Give me a dry 30 year old Oloroso instead any day! But this PX from Malaga is very nice, with a bracing streak of acidity to balance what is still a whoppingly sweet wine. Very nice coffee, fig, and raisin nose. Obviously was fantastic with our blue cheese, but wasn't too bad with some of the other stronger cheeses. In fact, here in Spain, I've discovered that Amontillado sherry matches extremely well with aged Manchego cheese.

For the cheeses I picked a varied international selection…most of the customers were Spanish, and I wanted them to try some new cheeses for them. Spain has wonderful cheeses, around 100, but cheese is not part of the culture here as it is in France. Cheese (almost always Manchego or a similar cheese) is served as an appetizer, usually over-shadowed by the fantastic cured ham products. Some high end restaurants are offering artesanal cheese plates, but most Spanish people are not even familiar with the rich variety of artesanal Spanish cheese, let alone international ones.

1. France: Coulommiers - Ile de France (Paris) - no AOC - raw cows milk - 4-6 week curing period

Nice substitute for Brie de Meaux, which was not available. Virtually identical to Brie, with a wonderful creamy, mushroomy texture and flavor. Customers really appreciated it, though some found it too strong...preferering the snatized supermarket Brie. Matched really well with the rosé Cava and the white Verdejo.

2. France: St Maure - Touraine (Loire Valley) - AOC cheese - raw goats milk with ash rind - 2-8 week curing period

Blew everyone's socks off…it was the majority's favorite cheese of the night! Spanish goat cheese is best in Catalonia, but it can't compete with the Loire goat cheeses. Sharp, acidic goats milk contrasted perfectly with the ultra-creamy texture. It also was the most easily matched cheese, matching weel with almost all the wines.

3. Spain: Idiazabal - Basque Country - DO cheese - raw, smoked sheeps milk - minumum 3 months aging

I wanted to put a smoked cheese and Idiazabal is one of the best. A nice smoke, not excessive, balances with the buttery, nutty flavors of the cheese. Very difficult to match…the best match was the white Verdejo, but it wasn't ideal.

4. Switzerland: Sbrinz - various cantons in central Switzerland - AOC cheese - raw cows milk - minimum aging 16 months, but usually 24 to 30 months

A lovely mellow nutty cheese, that resembles Parmesan, but is less strong in flavor. Quite challenging to match, the rosé cava is the only one that did it for me.
5. Spain: Valdeon - Castilla y Leon (Picos de Europa) - raw mixed milk (cow and gota) - minimum aging of 3 months in caves

I love this blue cheese, an artesanal, very small production blue cheese from northern Spain. It so mellow and complex, earthy, creamy, with only slightly sharp blue notes. It is the perfect blue to convert people to blue, yet also complex enough for cheese lovers. Ideal with the PX wine, not bad with the red and the white too.

Conclusions:

We had a surprising consensus on many of the matches. A lot of the traditional matching rules went out the window. The most matching wines were: the white Verdejo, the rosé cava, and the white cava, in that order. Many people focus on red with cheeses, but in tasting after tasting, I've found aromatic whites and rosés of all types to be the winners. Older cured cheeses are the hardest cheeses to match by far.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wine Rating: Carravalseca Reserva 1996

We usually bring the wine when we go to Miguel's family's house. This time we brought a Gran Elias Mora, a blockbuster wine from Toro. While it was aerating in the decanter, Uncle Constancio offered up an older Rioja. We cleaned out a bunch of old Riojas at Christmas…most of them were way gone…so naturally I was a little dubious.
However this wine is a top end single-vineyard wine from a bodega I know well. It's also from 1996, not as old at the over-the-hill 92s I was drinking over the holidays.
A pet peeve of mine is that people often keep their wines too long...it seems the word reserve on the label encourages it. The beauty of the traditional reserva system in Spain is that the winery doesn't release the wine for many years. It is already ready to drink upon release…yes you can keep a reserve for many more years….but it is only the absolute top wines that are drinking well ten years on.
This wine was still drinking well ten years on! It was fading a little, but still ahd lots of elegant, delicate fruit left. It was a pleasant surprise….

Wine: Carravalseca Reserva 1996
Winery: Bodegas Primicia
Appellation: DOCa Rioja
Alc: 13%
Grape variety: 50% Tempranillo, 50% others (Cabernet Sauvignon)
Oak regime: 27 months in oak
Price: Around 24 euros in Spain

Tasting notes:
Visual: Elegant brick color, very bright
Nose: Lots of terciary aromas: earth, mushroom, tobacco. Some oxidation notes, but some nice delicate cherry fruit still showing nicely.
Mouth: Elegant older Rioja. Great acid and elegant, but fading fruit. Super smooth, tannins all mellow, a little bit of barnyard. Extremely long finish with wonderful dried cherry fruit.
Food: It was very nice with some of the milder appetizers, the tempura veggies, for example. Too delicate to go with stronger flavors.

Retaste: No retaste…

Conclusion: A nice example of an elegantly aging Rioja Reserva. It is on the downward slide but is still drinking nicely. Not for the modern palate, but I would love to taste more of these aging Rioja beauties…unfortunately many of them have not fared so well as this one.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Places: Casa Lucas Wine Bar


Calle Cava Baja, 30 (near Plaza Mayor)
Tel: 91 365 0804

Though there are many great tapas bars in Madrid, there are a few that stand out. This wine bar is one of our favorites. It not only offers a very high quality wine list, but they also offer some amazing tapas. These are not your average tapas: some of them are quite unique.
There 12-14 wines by the glass on a chalkboard, and different wines are rotated in a on a regular basis. If your party is larger, the bottle wine list is quite outstanding. The staff is knowledgeable and can recommend wines with some confidence. Some of the staff speak English, but whoever you get, they are relaxed, friendly, and very helpful. These are the type of guys who remember you after a few visits!
The place is tiny…just a few tables and standing room...and it gets packed! If you want to sit and more comfortably try some of the tapas…go early! Early here means between 8 and 930 PM. They are open for lunch except Wednesdays, but I don't know how the crowd is...probably less.
As all tapas places in Spain…if you take one of the few tables, they expect you to order tapas, not just drinks.

We were in Casa Lucas with some friends last night. We had a couple of our usual tapas and an exciting new one.

The Cariñena tosta:

One of the regular tapas we always recommend is called Cariñena. It is toasted crusty bread topped with caramelized onions and a slice of grilled pork loin. Sea salt tops it off…so simple yet the flavors are perfect together.
This is a tapa you can find in other places…but Casa Lucas makes one of the best!
The pork in Spain is outstanding…very different than most of what we eat in the US. Try both the fresh and cured varieties. One breed of pig, the black footed Iberican pig, offers the best cured hams, as well as fresh pork cuts that are the other red meat! They have the same color as beef and are best cook either rare, or at least pink in the middle: yes pink pork!

Arroz cremoso con boletus, foie y huevo (Creamy rice with egg and foie):

I have yet to taste anything quite like this any where else!
The Boletus infused creamy rice is topped with a slide of fresh pan-seared foie and a soft-poached egg. They are topped by a drizzle of basil oil and a red fruit coulis. To serve you cut up the foie and the egg in little bits and mix it into the rice thoroughly. The combination of flavors is stunning!
Sometimes when we bring new people there, they are initially put off by the foie and egg, but when they taste it…instant converts!
Boletus is a type of wild mushroom that is one of the most expensive and coveted in Spain. It is almost always served alone, apart form other mushrooms, done in a very simple preparation. The flavors are very intense, earthy and smoky...love it!

Carpaccio de pulpo con revolconas y bacon
(Octopus carpaccio with mashed potatoes and bacon):

This was anew one for us…a seasonal offering on the chalkboard…I hope it stays for a while!
This is creamy mashed potatoes with loads of smoky Spanish paprika topped with ultra-thin slices of tender octopus. Over the top, olive oil and fried bacon bits. The combination of flavors, smoky bacon, paprika, with the great texture of the chunky mashed potatoes, was tremendous. The octopus was a subtle, succulent high note.
This original dish is a modern take on a very traditional Spanish dish from Galicia. Pulpo a Feira is sliced boiled potatoes with octopus slices topped with paprika, olive oil and sea salt. Octopus was something I ate with moderation before coming here, but Spanish octopus is so melt-in-your mouth that I eat it whenever I can get my hands on it!

Wine:
The wine we had with all this was a Vallegarcia Syrah 2003. It is a Vino de La Tierra de Castilla wine…in other words: La Mancha. Syrah in Spain is just picking up and I have yet to be impressed. Most of them are quite alcoholic with a simple Mediterranean fruit. This was no exception! Good length, but too simple for such a big wine…big was all that came across!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Crianza vs Reserva: The state of the Spanish palate today!

I gave an interesting tasting on Saturday contrasting crianza and reserva wines. It ended up being a tasting less about the primary theme and more about Spanish wine palates today. The 16 clients were overwhelmingly Spanish, though there was one British girl.

Spanish wine rules 101: Crianza wines must be aged 24 months before they are released, six of which must be in oak. Reserva wines must be held 36 months, 12 of which must be in oak. These are minimums…often the oak portion is much more significant…some Denominations require more.

I served five wines blind in two sets. The first set was three Riojas: two from a winery making classic Riojas, a 2003 Crianza and a 2001 Reserva. The third wine was a Finca Valpiedra 2001 Reserva.

The results of the first set were very interesting: Two of the wines were more evolved in color and nose, showing notes of older wood and very subtle fruit. These were the ones the class guessed as both reservas…they guessed the more fruit driven wine to be the crianza. In fact it was the wine that had a more youthful color and a fruitier nose and palate that was the Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2001. It also turns out it was the Finca Valpiedra that almost the entire class preferred.
Yet if you had asked most of those people before the tasting, they would have sworn Muga was one of their favourite wines. I find many Spanish people are brought up on these traditional style wines and frequently choose them as their top wines. Yet if you offer them a traditional Rioja blind side by side with a more modern Rioja, very often they will choose the modern one.
When I say modern and traditional Rioja…what do I mean? Traditional Rioja is characterised by longer aging in older barrels, often American oak. They are elegant, structure-driven wines that often have a slight oxidized character. Their fruit tends to be lean and elegant, but not very present, having been greatly altered by long oak aging.
Of course, even the most traditional Riojas are modern by standards of old, with shorter aging times, newer oak, and more French oak. But I still find there is a distinctive different between the two styles.
The modern Riojas have shorter aging times in newer oak, often in French oak or a mixture of French and American. They are fruit driven wines, fruit support by a very present oak structure, especially at the reserve level. Though the fruit dominates, they still retain the elegance and balanced acidity that Rioja wines have always offered.
I would not even characterize Finca Valpiedra as a "modern" Rioja…it is sort of a hybrid. But the fruit was so much more present than in either of the Mugas, that it definitely showed its modern stripes in this tasting.

The second set of wines was from Ribera del Duero: Pago de Capellanes Crianza 2004 and Pago de Capellanes Reserva 2002. There was a distinctive difference between the two wines: the Reserva offered much more complexity and a lot of very fine wood, while the Crianza offered a simpler bright fruit on a more subtle oak background. Both were bigger wines than any of the Rioja, offering more intensity but less elegance.
The verdict was clear in this set…a big majority preferred the Reserva.

Most tasters preferred the reserva styles to the crianza ones in both flights, despite a large difference in price….but the more interesting result follows….

The overall winner of the tasting, by a big majority, was the Ribera Reserva….the only other wine of the five that received votes was the Ribera Crianza. Does this mean that the Spanish palate is moving away from the lean, elegant styles of Rioja to the more fruity, oaky (new)…let's say it…international styles than Ribera often represents?

This was only a tiny exercise. I must say that these are not typical Spanish wine consumers...they shop at the international market where I held the tasting...this alone separates them from the more traditional Spanish consumer. Could this type of consumer eventually unseat the monopoly Rioja has held for so long over the Spanish winescape? Check back for more observations…

Friday, January 19, 2007

Wine Rating: Australia Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

An exciting week: I attended a very interesting tasting and presentation at Madrid Fusion on Biodynamic wines. 50 biodynamic wineries from around Europe attended and presented their wines. Nicolas Joly, one of the most passionate proponents of biodynamics, presented his ideas on the matter. It was a fascinating presentation and very timely as the concept is really growing here in Spain. The tasting was fascinating…some really interesting wines, some surprising dispointments too! I hope to post a full report this weekend!

In the meantime…at the office we ordered pizza delivered and I need to pick a cheap and cheerful to go with it. There are tons of cheap and cheerful in Spain, but whenever possible I like to try a foreign wine…so few chances arise!

Many of you in the US and Australia will groan at a tasting note of the ubiquitous Yellowtail, but for me, here, in the total absence of non-Spanish wines...even Yellowtail is exciting!

Wine: Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Winery: Casella Wines
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Alc: 13.5%
Grape variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Oak regime: ????
Price: Around 9 euros in Spain

Tasting notes:
Visual: Nice youthful color
Nose: Intense fruit nose…red berries with a little spice…very jammy. Comes off a little hot despite 13.5% on label. Simple but attractive and very clean. Small touches of oak but the fruit is by far the most dominant feature.
Mouth: Smooth, juicy and simple. Loads of fruit with ridiculously soft tannins…is this Cabernet Sauvignon? Not hot in mouth. Nice jammy fruit lingers for a medium finish.
Food: Excellent with the barbecued chicken pizza.

Retaste: No retaste…we had it all…wouldn't have benefited from air!

Conclusion: Very good pizza wine! Easy to drink…very simple, but tasty. I can see why it's had massive popular success. Could do well in Spain eventually, but 9€ is considered expensive here!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Madeira Series: Henriques & Henriques Sercial Verdelho, Bual

Madeira is a wonderful wine that is often misunderstood, certainly it is little known here in Spain. Whenever I am in Portugal, I try and stock up as it is very difficult to get much here. Recently, I was fortunate enough to taste a series of Madeiras from Henriques & Henriques, one of the top Madeira producers. We tried 3 wines, all 10 yr old single varietal Madeira. The four noble varieties of Madeira are (from sweetest to driest): Malmsey, Bual, Verdelho, Sercial. Wine from the noble varieties must be aged at least 5 years and will indicate the age and grape variety on the label. As with all EU wines, 85% of the contents must be from the designated grape variety in order to put it on the label.

The noble varieties tend to be grown at different altitudes on the island, altitudes that are most suitable for the style of wine they make. For instance, Sercial, which is the driest style, is grown in the highest altitude vineyards.

Many of the blended Madeiras, especially the less expensive are made from a number of lesser varieties that now dominate the vineyards, especially the most planted variety: Tinta Negra Mole.

Madeiras are cooked wines and after being fortified, most are heated for several months in estufas that gently heat the wine. The best wines are left to age slowly in oak barrels on the roof, being naturally heated by the sun. This natural method is a much slower, more natural process that gives fresher, more elegant wines. Due to the oxidative nature of the wines and the heating process, these wines are virtually indestructible. Very old bottles can be bought without fear. The oldest wine I've ever had was an 1865 Madeira…and it was fantastic!! They also stay very fresh for a long time once opened, which makes them an ideal bottle to have open for a pre-dinner or after dinner sip.

Madeira wines are known for a tangy acidity that makes even the sweetest ones refreshing. They are also known for their caramel and orange peel notes that come from the aging process. Estufa-heated wines often have stronger notes of caramel than the naturally heated ones.

I took a bottle of the Sercial home with me after our horizontal tasting and tasted it in detail. My detailed notes on the Sercial are followed by more brief notes on the Verdelho and Bual.

Wine: 10 yr old Sercial
Winery: Henriques & Henriques
Appellation: Madeira, Portugal
Alc: 20%
Grape variety: Sercial
Oak regime: 10 years aging in oak
Price: Around 25 euros in Portugal

Tasting notes:
Visual: Pale amber
Nose: Very intense nose…some volatile acidity, but overall very complex and attractive, with brown sugar, almond, marzipan, and orange peel.
Mouth: Off-dry, very smooth, bracing acidity…these are the first impressions. Very complex, orange peeel with a slight caramel…very tangy. Lingers endlessly in the mouth, with a slight, pleasant bitterness cleaning up the mouth.
Food: This is certainly not a dessert wine…more of an aperitif wine with Spanish jamon and other tapas.

Conclusion: This Madeira is outstanding...complex, yet refreshing. I tasted this with an expert on Spanish sherries and he said the nose was similar to many Spanish fortified wines, but that the bracing acidity in the mouth set it apart. My favorite of the series! Rating: 9/10!

10 yr old Verdelho: Next level up from Sercial in terms of sweetness. Medium amber color. Nuts and orange peel, rubber, and a touch of raisin. Very complex, long mouth…a touch more bitter at the finish than the Sercial. Rating: 8/10

10 yr old Bual: Sweetest of this tasting…only the Malmsey Madeiras are sweeter. Not very sweet overall…I would still not pair this with many desserts. Medium-dark amber color. Raisin notes dominate the nose, also notes of hazelnut and candied orange peel, caramel and coffee notes. All these notes were reflected in a complex, long mouth. Rating: 8.5/10

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wine Rating: VdT Castilla - Finca La Estacada Roble 2004

This winery, Finca La Estacada, has often impressed me with their extremely inexpensive, easy drinking wines. The winery is in La Mancha, but is not in the Denominacion de Origen (DO) area and therefore makes wine under Vino de La Tierra (VdT) de Castilla. The category of VdT is quite trendy at the moment and excellent wines are made under it, especially in Castilla Leon and Castilla La Mancha. Under European law, therefore Spanish law, Vdt is not considered quality wine, but rather falls under table wine. It is equivalent to Vin Pays under the French system. VdT guarantees origin but the wines are subject to much less restrictive regulations with regards to yields, aging, and grape variety etc. VdT is being used by wineries outside the officially designated DO areas, but also by winemakers who want more flexibility in making their wines.

Though I have enjoyed their wines in the past, I was very disappointed in this wine…read on for a negative rating!

Wine: Finca La Estacada 6 meses en barrica 2004
Winery: Finca La Estacada
Appellation: Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
Alc: 13.5%
Grape variety: 100% Tempranillo
Oak regime: 6 months in American and French oak
Price: Around 3 euros in Spain

Tasting notes:
Visual: Medium intensity with quite a lot of brick notes at the rim
Nose: Medium intensity…first impression is green pepper…and not the nice kind! Some good, mature fruit does show through…ripe plum, as well asome black pepper. But the green pepper dominates and leads to a sharp, unpleasant nose.
Mouth: The mouth is not as bad up front…some nice fruit, but in the mid-palate, something funky and dirty kicks in. The fruit fades quickly and a metallic and tannic finish also ends quickly.
Food: No food around!

Retaste: No retaste…wasn't going to get any better!

Conclusion: Really disappointed in this 2004…this wine in 2002 and 2003 was quite nice, especially for 3 euros. I have several of these and will re-taste at a later date. It might be a bottle problem, but there was no obvious defect. It was just a sharp, thin wine. Rating: 1/10

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wine Rating: Toro - Elias Mora Crianza 2003

Before Xmas, we visited the wine region of Toro, NW of Madrid. This is a region that is famous for its potent red wines made from Tinta de Toro, a local variety of Tempranillo. The region has seen a lot of change over the last 5 years…the quality of the wines has improved dramatically, as have the prices! It can still represent good value, especially compared to its neighbour to the east Ribera del Duero! I hope to do a more in depth trip report to post at a later date.

The wines of Toro are intense and hearty, with often quite high alcohol. Just a few years ago, they could be more rustic, but now the wines have a more international profile…the same intense Toro fruit with gobs of new French and American oak! Typical of most Spanish wine regions today, the lower end wines tend to have more American oak, while the top Reserva wines often have 100% new French oak. Mixing the two oaks is the most popular practice of the moment, even mixing in some Eastern European or Russian oak. The main problems with Toro wines still remain sky high alcohol levels and over-ripe fruit in hot years.

Some of the stars of the region include wines quite well known in the export market: Numanthia, Pintia (by Vega Sicilia), and San Roman. The wine I'm rating today is from a small winery run by two dynamic women who are making amazing wines. They are still fairly low profile, but represent the modern, dynamic face of the new Toro.

Wine: Elias Mora 2003
Winery: Bodegas Dos Victorias (named alter the two women!)
Denominacion de Origen (DO): Toro
Alc: 14.5%
Grape variety: 100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo)
Oak regime: aged 12 months in new French and American oak
Price: Around 12 euros in Spain

Tasting notes:
Visual: Opaque, intense ruby with purple notes, very youthful
Nose: Medium intensity. Blueberry and clove with milky/yogurt notes (very common in Spanish wines…not unpleasant). Very attractive…medium complexity.
Mouth: First impression is smoothness…ready to drink! Good balalnce between oak structure and fruit. Some intense tannins kick in at the end, but they are very smooth. Alcohol shows more in the mouth, Thoughthe wine is quite fresh, with good acid levels. Blueberry and sour cherry fruit.
Food: Quite nice with the provoleta I had with it, an Argentinina grilled cheese. The cheese is quite mild, but it had lots of Italian herbs and smoked paprika that stood up to the wine nicely.

Retaste: No retaste…all gone!

Conclusion: Very nice wine…we bought and tasted this at the winery and it didn't disappoint at home. I particularly appreciated that it comes off as an elegant, structured wine in a very hot, difficult year. At about 12 euros it is not cheap for a Toro crianza, but by international, premium wine standards, it is extremely good value. It is quite well balanced to drink now, but will improve more in bottle…the tannins will mellow out a little more. Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Wine Rating: Sherry - Matusalem

My husband's family loves a good dessert wine…so we break one out as often as possible. Often they are not Spanish ones, as the Spanish dessert wine scene can be limiting, but today we had one of our favourite sweet sherries. Pedro Ximenez (PX) is the typical sweet sherry that you see over here. PX is the sweetening grape made after drying the grapes in the sun. The monovarietal wine is thick, syrupy and intensely sweet, especially after long aging. It can be quirt nice but many of them are very cloying. One sip suffices…or it can be used over vanilla ice cream.

I prefer the sweet old Olorosos myself. Dry aged Oloroso is blended with PX to make these wonderful wines. I like them because the nutty, refreshing bitterness of the Oloroso is a perfect counterbalance to the raisiny sweet PX.



A fairly new category of wines under the Denominacion de Origen (DO) is VORS (Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum), which guarantees the wine is over 30 years old. VOS (Vinum Optimum Signatum) guarantees at least 20 years old. These are generally extremely high quality wines!

A quick note on sherry value: sherry remains one of the best value wines in the world. The quality of the wines, from the youngest, freshest Manzanilla to the oldest, most comlex Oloroso, is consistently very high and the prices are amazingly low! This is not so good for the sherry industry but great for us the consumer.

Wine: Matusalem NV
Winery: Gonzalez Byass
Denominacion de Origen (DO): Jerez
Alc: 20.5%
Grape variety: Palomino and Pedro Ximenez
Oak regime: aged for 30 years in oak
Price: Around 30 euros in Spain

Tasting notes:
Visual: Dark amber/brown
Nose: High intensity. Raisins and prunes dominate with notes of honey, cinnamon, nuts. Very alcoholic nose.
Mouth: Sweet and bitter mouth…very complex. Enters sweet, with prunes and raisin fruit, but the finish dries out into a very pleasant and refreshing bitterness. Alcohol less sharp in mouth. Extremely long finish.
Food: Better on it own or with blue cheese, or other cheeses. Not sweet enough for most desserts.

Retaste: 8 hours on… exposed to oxygen…nose more mellow…less alcohol….prunes and almonds. Mouth is almost exactly the same.

Conclusion: Amazing, complex wine! This wine is a wonderful combination of sweet and bitter…not cloying at all. Great value fro such a high quality sweet wine! Points: 9/10!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Wine Rating: Ribera Del Duero - Montecastro 2004

Ribera del Duero produces some of Spain stop red wines, but at a price. By Spanish standard, the region is one of the most expensive. I'm always looking out for a wine that represents quality for price…fairly tricky!

This wine is quite good value:

Wine: Montecastro 2004
Winery: Bodegas y Viñedos Montecastro
Denominacion de Origen (DO): Ribera del Duero
Alc: 14.5%
Grape variety: 100% Tinto Fino (local variety of Tempranillo)
Oak regime: 18 months in oak (50% 1st year, 50% 2nd year)
70% French, 25% American, 5% Lithuanian
Price: Around 12 euros in Spain

I tasted the 2003 of this wine a few weeks ago and found it a little flat in terms of over-ripe fruit and an excess of tannins. The 2004 much better (in line with the better vintage)…it has just been released, so look for it.

Tasting notes:
Visual: Opaque ruby with little rim
Nose: Medium-high intensity. Black cherry with serious oak notes of vanilla and cinnamon. Also some anise and plum. Later typical French barrel pencil shavings.
Mouth: Big, tannic, structured mouth. Nice clean fruit matches nose, but finish dominated by major tannins that need a little bottle time to smooth out.
Food: The tannins were actually tamed by the Duck and Wild Mushroom risotto…really nice combination…surprising for such a big wine. Not as good with the warm lentil salad…too much vinegar!

Retaste: 24 hours on….more liqueur fruit notes in nose, but holding up well. Mouth is mellowed out a little, tannins in better balance.

Conclusion: Definitely will improve with little bottle time…represents very good value. Points: 7/10 (testing out a ten point system…to see if I like it!)