16 November, 2015

#Franciacorta - Let the festivities begin

Franciacorta is a Denominazione di Origine Controllate e Garantita (DOCG) in Italy's Lombardy region.  Famous for delicious sparkling wine, the grapes used are primarily Chardonnay and Pinot nero, which we know better as Pinot Noir.  Some examples will also include pinot bianco  or Pinot Blanc
Franciacorta produces sparkling wine using the traditional method, which is similar to the one used in Champagne, France. The result is sparkling wine with a taste of place as well as a stylish flair.  Enotourism is a focus here.  To make your region a tourist destination, you need gorgeous landscapes, great wine and friendly people.  Franciacorta scores the trifecta here.  With the Alps in the background and delightful producers in the foreground, Franciacorta is definitely on my travel bucket list.  However, closer and easier armchair travel is almost as enjoyable with these complex and yummy wines in my ice bucket. 

As the holiday season starts in earnest, be prepared with some Franciacorta on hand.  Sparkling wine is always the best way to start a meal, fancy or homey.  What hostess wouldn't be delighted by a gift of versatile wine?  My tip is to bring it chilled already as the ultimate incentive to get your hosts to serve it right away.  I can never wait

Check out this video of dancing bubbles:Franciacorta Barone Pizzini perlage

November 16th at 4 pm Pacific, @BrixChick_Liza (me) will be participating in a Twitter tasting.   Join us on Twitter to read the notes at #Franciacorta

1) Franciacorta Brut, Barone Pizzini Animante (SRP $35)
2) Franciacorta Brut, Le Marchesine (SRP $27)
3) Franciacorta Rose, Contadi Castaldi (SRP $25)
4) Franciacorta Rose Vintage,  Villa Franciacorta Boke ($25)

These wine were provided as samples, but the unbridled enthusiasm is all mine

08 September, 2015

From the Ashes of Deliciousness - DOC Etna and Planeta Wines

Alessio Planeta has as light a touch with his presentation style as he does with his delicious wines.  He kept us laughing and furiously taking notes when he visited San Francisco and hosted an informative lunch at SPQR, as perfect a spot for Planeta's interesting wines as you could ask for.

Alessio became Planeta's chief winemaker in 1998.  Since then he has been creating and marketing Planeta's wines.  I could hear his passion for the land:
"Sicily is special.  Dotted with places with varieties of soil and of culture.  The jewel is the volcano."

He means Etna. Volcanic soils exhibit much diversity, despite common ideas that all volcanic soil is lava.  He told us that  Etna is more like an island, since it  rose from the sea like mushroom 700,000 years ago.  Its land was formed by matter escaping from up from bottom border and rising above the sea, rather than by a blowing top and cascade of lava.
Credit: Planeta

It's still an active volcano today.  Every few years ash blows out to fall on existing land, which continually transforms the lava stones. After all these  years, ash is now a main component of the soils. Vineyard sites must be flat as soils are powdery, so man made terraces are a common feature.  The soil ranges from ancient to younger more organic soils.

Much as the conversation fascinated me, the best thing about  DOC Etna is that it's a place where history, geology and viticulture combine to produce delicious wines.

Alessio wins more awards and says the whites in general are of better quality.  This is especially true of the Eruzione 1614 Carricante.  Carricante is the leading white grape Planeta produces in Etna.  It pulls from the soil a fresh and lively mineral quality underpinned by a floral note.  Alessio's  "secret ingredient"  10% Riesling, makes all the difference,  Riesling grown surrounded by the Carricante, blends and reinforces floral notes and acidity.   As much as Alessio is skilled with the white wines, he roots for his reds

Photo Credit Planeta: Nerollo Mascalese
My favorite wine from the lunch was the Eruzione 1614, which was made from the area's  leading red grape: Nerello Mascalese.  Nerello in the name comes from the grape's dark, almost black, color.  Vinification includes aging with a touch of wood to fix color and flavor.  Used French oak and a careful barrel protocol are used to be gentle with the grapes, preserving that sense of place. This results in a lighter, fresher ready to drink wine laden with exotic spices and autumnal red fruit.  It has bright splashes of cherry, anise cookies, balsam and sap in the aromas.  A blast of cherry with a hint of postage stamp are also in the flavors and finish. You may still be wondering why in the fullness of time of 700,000 years,  did Planeta land on 1614 as a name for their wines?  That was the year a 10 year eruption and lava flow started which stopped nearly at the border of the Sciara Nuova vineyard

Photo Credit Planeta:Feudo di Mezzo Vnyd
These wines came from a lovely winery in the middle of vineyards nearly 10km square on each side.  The winery itself is in the middle of natural stone garden which gives the place a unique appeal.

Sicily is an area that delivers a diverse range of wine from Marsala to Nero d'Avola.  Lots of influences that contribute including culture, grapes and climate.

I love ordering wines from Etna when I see them on wine lists because I have found them to be an excellent value, delicious with many foods and exotic.  I think about all the inherent challenges in viticulture and wine making, and then throw in an active volcano.

If you see Planeta wines on your wine list, please do try them.  You won't be disappointed.

Many thanks to Bethany Burke of  Palm Bay International who hosted me at this lunch

03 August, 2015

#Bubblesandbikes Prosecco in my glass this summer

#BubblesandBikes was the hashtag @wineharlots and I used, when we were lucky enough to be guests of the Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC at the World Superbike Races at Mazda Speedway in Laguna Seca, near Monterey, CA.

Laguna Seca races are events that are generally half hiking and half roasting if you, like me, want to see the lightning fast, thunder loud motorcycles racing.  However, for this event, we were VIP and got to enjoy the races in  a cozy, sparkler-splashed aerie, where we could enjoy delicious Valdo Prosecco along side hot and cold running snacks.

We also got to visit, thanks to our hostess Claire Hennessy of Colangelo Partners, backstage where we got to meet Miss Prosecco and take a Pit Walk. When you see the race bikes up close, they look like steel skeletons.  Those highly modified bikes give new meaning to the phrase "Zoom Zoom" as they clock in at speeds upwards of 152 mph.  With nothing between themselves and the asphalt but some brightly colored leathers and some serious derring do, racers roar around the track.  It's hard to imagine all the things that have to go right just to survive, let alone win.  So, no wonder when all the heats are over, the winners celebrate with Prosecco.

As refreshing as a Prosecco shower might be, I still think it is best in a glass.

Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from a grape called Glera.  It is made using  a method called "Charmat" (named for its inventor, Eugene Charmat) where still wine, in this case from Glera grapes, undergoes its second fermentation in a large pressurized tank.  This is different from méthode champenoise in which this process occurs in the bottle as is done in Champagne.  Charmat  is a quicker and more economical way to get this delicious and festive wine to the market.

Proseccos come from the north of Italy; think, the cuff of the boot.  There are both DOC and DOCG areas, as pictured on the adjacent map.  Many delicious examples come from both regions. 

While we gobbled up breakfast, lunch and snacks--all that excitement gives you an appetite--we drank copious amounts of straw bright, refreshing Valdo Prosecco DOC Brut.  The wine had small, tight bubbles.  With aromas of apples and white peaches and a nice acidity, it was a great pair for all the snacks.  We toasted the winners as they zipped past us.  

The evening before, we had enjoyed a delicious bottle of 
Zonin Prosecco DOC Brut, which is one of the most popular brands of Prosecco.  We found it very tasty.  So tasty in fact, that it was gone before our starters arrived.  To make the wine, Zonin gently presses 100% Glera grapes to obtain must.  Half the must undergoes an initial fermentation at a controlled temperature of 64°F while the remaining unfermented must is stored at 32°F.  Then, they combine the two and transfer it into pressurized stainless steel tank, where the Charmat method is employed  to finish the wine.

10 seconds more...
All that Prosecco reminded me of my visit to the Friuli region.  A highlight of the trip, was dinner with an amazing producer, San Simone. Not only were Anna Brisotto and her husband two of the most glamourous people I have ever seen up close, but Anna's passion for the wines and her family's commitment to excellence in wine making was fascinating. Had I the foresight to set my camera to sports action mode, I would have captured better snaps.  Their wines were all delicious, but my favorite was the  Perlae Naonis San Simone Prosecco DOC Brut.  A long name for a lovely wine they nicknamed " Si".  Lovely pale yellow with tiny bubbles and a bright and delicious taste, it was paired with a starter of Sformato, or cheese mousse, that started off our dinner with a bang.  After several days of serious snacking and sipping, this wine's sparkling personality shone through and was memorable.  A great story like that of  Anna's family, which has nearly a hundred years of wine making helps.  Their commitment to sustainability was impressive.  As well, the stylish bottle with the tactile shape and the embossed "Si", made you want to say yes.  If you find yourself at the Ritz Carlton in Miami, order up and you will be delighted.
Delicious Prosecco? Si!

Make time this summer for this affordable and festive wine.  Prosecco pairs with many foods. It is known for fruity aromas and an easy lightness.   The classic Bellini is Prosecco with white peach puree and goes great with brunch.  A lively sparkle will pair well with summer salads.  And for dinner, what could be more versatile than a sparkling wine that pairs well with courses from shrimp to dessert?

Many thanks to Colangelo Partners who hosted me for the races! And special thanks to Claire Hennessy who made the trip so fun!

21 May, 2015

Happy #ChardonnayDay

#WenteChard and Mac-and-Cheese from Home Room, Oakland
May 21st is Chardonnay day.  A day to celebrate one of the world's most popular grapes.  Grown all over the world, Chardonnay makes its mark very comfortably close to home in the Livermore Valley.

As early as 1889, wine from the Livermore Valley,won the Grand Prix at the International Paris  Exposition.  In 1936, Wente bottled the first varietally labelled Chardonnay in Livermore.  So there is a lot of precedence to delicious Chardonnay here, especially from Wente.

 For people visiting San Francisco, there is a tendency to go right to more famous appellations, as there are many nearby.  However don't  skip Livermore.  It's close and convenient and best of all the wine is yummy.

Set your GPS for Wente Vineyards.  The Wine Maker's Studio is a lovely destination where you can advance your knowledge of wine in a fun, tasty way. More information on classes here

Cure for Homesickness in Paris
Announcing this Chardonnay Day is a white wine blending session as well as an Umami class.  As people drink and celebrate #Chardonnayday, a lucky few are enjoying the festivities where it all started:  Wente Vineyards. But even if you can't get to the winery, Wente's Chardonnays are easy to find.  I was lucky enough to get samples and can vouch for their excellent value and good taste.

First 2013 Morning Fog Chardonnay ($15) This is a wine that is made with care to express the Livermore fruit well, even adding in 2% of Gewurztraminer for a dash of spice.  A combination of barrel and stainless fermenting as well as seven months on the lees and monthly battonage, produces a soft mouthfeel with a snap of acidity.  I got a nice vinous edge to the aromas as well as citrus notes and apple.  It is carried all over the world as I snapped a photo of it at the Nicholas Wine shop on the Rue Cler in Paris.  Way to represent the USA Wente!

2013 Riva Ranch Chardonnay ($22) This is made from Monterey County fruit. It had a warmer gold color and was very food friendly. 3% Gewurtz here. More oak gave this a broader touch of vanilla, which was nice with pineapple and mango in the flavors  It was delicious with the Mac and Cheese.  Without descending into "Cougar Juice", the more persistent creamy notes of this wine stood up to and complemented the insanely delicious Home Room macaroni and cheese. Home Room is an Oakland purveyor of over the top rich, buttery, cheesy goodness #Cardiologists avert your eyes.

2014 Eric's Chardonnay Small Lots ( $25) I am a sucker for Unoaked Chardonnay.  I thought this wine made a great aperitif.  It had a crisp, refreshing texture that was perfect for peeling off the stress of that last concall.  Flavors and aromas were subtle but shifting clouds of peach, lemon, bay leaf, pineapple and savory vinous notes.  Stainless steel is the perfect backdrop to make the most of hand harvested premium fruit.  This is a great introduction and representation of the Livermore Valley and how tasty this place can be

Whereever you choose to spend #Chardonnayday, I hope you lift a glass of Wente to taste California history in a glass. When I finish my work, my final and my commute, I plan to toast Livermore!

These wines were provided as samples

12 May, 2015

Clif Family Bruschetteria - Wine, Snacks and Respite in St Helena

You've probably had Clif Bars on your hiking, biking or outdoor adventures.  You're good like that.  I recently discovered a  Clif Family offering that  lets even slothful  couchpotato indoor cats like me enjoy the genius of Gary and Kit and the amazing Clif Family team.

LusciousLushes Thea and I sampled the Bruschetta Trio and their wine pairings and came away thoroughly addicted.

Exec Chef John McConnell
Addiction is how the idea started when on a cycling trip, Gary and Kit (Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, founders of the Clif Bar Company) ate bruschetta at Rifugio Samsara in Bassano del Grappa, Italy.  When they returned home, a craving for those flavors sparked the idea to bring that deliciousness back to California.  Enlisting the aid of Executive Chef John McConnell and a food truck tricked out in that epicenter of cuisine on wheels, PDX, they are now rocking it all over the Napa Valley.  Since you can also try their delicious wines at their location in St. Helena, Velo Vino, I suggest that as your best bet.

For the winning hand, choose three pairs or the Bruschetta trio and the matching paired wine selections:

First, Clif Family Chardonnay, Oak Knoll, Napa 2012 was paired with a Porchetta Bruschetta.  Porchetta, for the uninitiated, is a juicy (read: glistening with fat) stuffed and roasted pork dish.  Here, the roast meat is pulled and then enhanced with chopped herbs, fresh from their garden, and a shimmering aioli.  The Chardonnay has just the right amount (50%  French) of oak for smoothness and a backbone of acid. Combine a perfectly balanced Chardonnay with porchetta and you have a delightful introduction.  Citrusy notes in the wine made a perfect match for the herby richness of the pork dish, which was my favorite.

Next,  Clif Family Kit's Killer Cab,  2011, Napa was paired with a Pomodoro Brucshetta.  Kit's Killer Cab is made from two parcels of  Howell Mountain fruit grown on their estate.  The first, Cold Springs Vineyard, produces fruit that is  masculine but gentlemanly.  Also used is Croquet Vineyard, which is described as feminine and elegant. Combined, it shows juicy, but structured, red and black fruit and was easy to drink.  This elegant wine is also completely at home at a casual lunch.  The Pomodoro Bruschetta had melted tomatoes mixed with tangy goat cheese and garlicky elements.  The sweetness of the tomatoes went perfectly with the structure of the wine.

Batting cleanup was the Clif Family Gary's Improv Zin, 2011, Napa Also made with estate fruit in this case zinfandel, the wine was bold with spices, dark fruit and a lovely finish.  Paired with Funghi Bruschetta it was the best pair.  The bold spice of the wine meshed perfectly with the savory mushroom and fontina cheese of the dish.

Yum!  Such a fun experience More info on how you can make plans to visit here

When Executive Chef John McConnell came by, I quizzed him and learned a lot about the philosophy and ingredients.  First since cycling was the inspiration and many cyclists come by, he strives to make things delicious, but also nutritious. Two accompaniments to our bruschetti, were salads.  One, Fagioli e Grano ws an Italian inspired side dish made with farro, Fregola Sarda, broccoli rabe, ricotta and heritage beans.  Fregola Sarda is a pasta shaped like a grain that was as toothsome as it was delicious.  Both Lina Sisco Bird's Eye and Eye of the Goat beans were incorporated into the dish.  All together it formed a harmonious taste and delivered enriching satisfaction.  The Tre Colori salad, whose three colors come from arugula, romaine hearts and radicchio was similarly satisfying.  What lifted the salad's  flavor was a combination of lemon scented bread crumbs and pecorino.  Chef John gave us a tip for home cooks.
The leftover ends of your baguettes can be roughly cut, then left to dry for a few days.  After that, grate in a food processor .  Quickly saute those crumbs in a pan with garlic and a little olive oil.  Perfect to jazz up your salads. More great tips here:

Many thanks to the Clif Family team who hosted us for lunch.  Everyone there took such good care of us,  answered all our questions and delighted us with dessert: Tiramisu, Chocolate Budino and a perfect espresso. Expect a wonderful experience when you visit as the staff all rock collectively and individually!  You cannot ask for a better place to while away some hours of glorious Napa sunshine with comfortable, nourishing al fresco wining and dining.  

Make plans to visit:
Where: 709 Main Street, St. Helena, CA
Drop ins welcome, but for elevated pairing, make a reservation here:

I was hosted by the Clif Family for this lunch

09 May, 2015

Bodegas Estefania: The Wine or #olewinos Find Magic In Mencia

Can you tell we loved the wine at Bodegas Estefania?  The Tilenus brand surprised and delighted me with a new-to-me variety:Mencia. After seeing the terrain it prefers and understanding its inherent challenges, I appreciated more the efforts of the winery along with management advice from the MGW Group

Press with feet explains Pablo Frias
Bodegas Estefania's brand is Tilenus which produces five red wines from Mencia grapes.  They are able to grow 80% of their fruit, but source  20% from traditional growers who  maintain their terrenos  or small farms.  Bodegas Estefania started with zero land and are acquiring small parcels as they become available.

They strive to vinify gently.  Native yeasts have been effective.  They even accomplish manual piegage.  Their barrel program includes thoughtful use of used French Oak.  It must be gentle,  so it doesn't overpower the Mencia.  The desire is to enhance not to strip the tannins or acids.  Using Bordelais sized barrels completes the spice rack.  Raul Perez is winemaker who manages the selections to get what he wants

.Careful treatment of the wine includes "nap time".  After bottles are filled, they go to a sleeping room to age after a time, which lets the corks expand.  This room is light, sound and temperature

When they are ready, they are released to surprise and delight the rest of you.

Tilenus Godello.  Yes, one white wine is made from a regional variety: Godello.  Aromas of stone fruit with mineral notes in nose. An interesting  floral note like violet gum. Nuttiness in flavors with medium acidity

Tilenus Vendimia
100% Mencia, this wine shows a vinous nose with a touch of violets, blue and red fruit,  bay leaf, and cinnamon aromas.  The texture was pleasant with graceful tannins.  Vinous led flavors with a finish of violets and bay leaf

Tilenus Roble 2011
The hotter year of 2011 produced  a wine with aromas of black raspberries, touch of violets,  cinnamon and thyme.  Well integrated flavors of  black and red fruits. More elegant tannins with a mouthfeel like vintage linen napkins

Tilenus Roble 2010 Expressed a darker garnet color.  Raspberry and carnation aromas.  Well integrated flavors

Tilenus Roble 2008
Yummy aromas of blackberry pie and molasses taffy.  Extra time smooths out tannins, which developed a silky texture.  Baking spice in flavors and finish.  Lovely acidity lent freshness to finish that persisted with a vinous edge touched by cinnamon

Tilenus La Florida 2008

Red fruit and touch of aged meat in aromas.  Lovely rich flaovors of dark fruit.  Persistent tannins.  Long finish kissed with baking spice and gingerbread .

Tilenus Pago de Posada 2006
Aromas of blackberry, cigar box, and plum.  Flavors of same with coffee and Santa Rosa plums Smooth but grippy tannins.  Nice acidity  in finish. Small berries influence concentration

Tilenus Pieros, 2007
This flagship wine from the oldest parcel leaped out of the glass. An inky, rich color it had aromas of  dried figs,  honey, and a touch of menthol .  The tannins were smooth and well integrated but clings to your teeth.  Flavors to match .Long finish of more dark fruit, menthol, coffee and vinosity.  Smooth with moderate plus acidity

Tilenus, 2002 Pieros
Known as the "Phantom" vintage because nature refused to cooperate in 2002. The weather was bad and so the harvest was miniscule.  Wouldn't you know from these difficult conditions, a wine of finesse and ageability ensued?  As honored guests, the #OleWinos were treated to a bottle of this.  Fresh,  Expressive.  We left with no doubt that Mencia can age

A fitting end to our overview of the MGW Group and the delicious wines they are producing in Alicante, Bullas and Bierzo.

Eduardo Ruiz/photocredit DallasWineChick
I can't thank the team enough for introducing me to such wonderful wines and the dedicated people who produce them.  MGW Group Director, Sergio Sachnovsky-Raevskey joined us and regaled us with his wit and expertise.  And Eduardo Ruiz , took time away from the Four P's of Marketing and dedicated several days to the Five #OleWinos.  Many thanks for answering all our questions, enduring our twittering like chipmunks everytime we got in WiFi range, and for driving us all around. I am so glad they enjoy their work; their hospitality only added to the deliciousness of the experience.

If you can find these delightful wines, buy them!

07 May, 2015

Bodegas Estefania: The Land or #olewinos Visit The Bierzo DO

Pliny the Elder mentioned Bierzo in his writing.  Notable then, it's still in business today in the Castile-Leon region of Northwest Spain. Bierzo, a Spanish Denominacion de origen (DO),  has natural beauty, history and delicious wine. Ancient influences are still visible via the Celtic fortresses, in Spanish, castros, that sit below the skyline above wise old vines.  

Expect to find many wonderful features of architecture and art from the Romans, the Celts and the Moors.

We stayed in Ponferrada.  A lovely city where residents live their lives in the shadows of old castles, stone walls and the lovely mountains that capture the lavender twilight and bewitch you. 

Ponferrada is along the route of the Pilgrimage of Santiago, so you will see people on foot or bicycle making their peregrinations along the steep twisty roads that connect the areas.  You wonder as you see them what favor they need or what absolution they require that drives them to traverse, carless, this rugged terrain.

Bierzo has one flat plain and the rest, is composed of mountains and small valleys.  There are many ways to go from Point A to Point B.  The prettiest way is not always the fastest as we found out when our journey to lunch felt like a peregrination.  After a 45 minute ascent we later found out there is another route that is a quick 15 minute zip zip zoom on the freeway.  No matter.  #OleWinos have plenty to expiate.
#OleWinos explore Bierzo

Celtic Fortress

Looking up to La Florida
The vineyard holdings of Bodegas Estafania were great examples of the small valleys ringed by mountains that are characteristic of the DO.

We looked up to the Celtic fortress in one direction, and up to the Pieros parcel of the La Florida vineyard in another.

In addition to Bodegas Estefania's  estate holdings, they source fruit from growers.  Bierzo is like Burgundy where great fruit can come from from traditional Vigernons.  Northern Spain had Napoleonic inhertitance laws called mini fundio where ever smaller parcels become the result of property passing from parents to children.  At the beginning there were three very large cooperatives.  Their role was integral to maintaining old vines. But their role was also as viticulturists first, which has such different goals from that of creating lovely estate wines of quality.  MGW Group is helping by driving acquisition activity when vignerons want to sell.. The region is growing with 72 wineries today.  There were less than twenty in 1999 when this winery started.

Bodegas Estfania was founded 15 yrs ago in 1999.  From an old dairy, the Frias family  built up the winery production facility.  They worked with Raul Perez, whose dedication to Mencia helped guide the winery's direction.  In 2014 they teamed up with the MGW Group.  At 250k bottle production it is comfortably midsized.

What's not to love?
The Bodega Estefania team looked for a good winemaker.  They were told told Mencia was not suitable for aging.  Winemaker Carlos Garcia and General Manager Pablo Frias are proving everyone wrong with wonderful Mencia vinified with a French oak protocol that gets better and better with age.  They invest in true Pagos, which are special single vineyard estate holdings.  Their Pagos de Posada bottling under the Tilenus brand is a wine that leaves you wanting more of this unique and special expression of place.  More later on the wines themselves.

Bierzo's production is  dependent on weather as to  how much quality yield they can get.  The space is limited by the mountains.  The Bodegas Estefania team is said to be :
"In love with vines because when  you work with 80 yo vines, it can only be done with love"

The soil types of the holdings are sandy clay or slatey clay. Prehistoric Bierzo was full of water so they often find marine fossils in this glacial zone. La Florida vineyard is in the elevated land with slate in the soil and old vines.  Pieros is a parcel with the oldest vines at some  80+ years

Vines were planted when horses were the newest technology "machines" so harvest must be accomplished with SUVs and trailers.  Lots of sweat equity goes into each harvest.  When clay is solid and dry, it's  hard for vines to get water, so they break up the soils manually. The newer plantings are spaced wider. Wide swaths of grass reduce erosion.  Vineyard workers re compost all the cuttings, though the process takes three years to produce usable nutrients.

Mencia is a tenacious grape.  Its taproots can go down for meters, while its regular  roots only go down 3-4 cm.  The old vines can produce as little as one kilo per vine.  In addition to the space constraints, harvesting also adds to the cost as the berry selection process must be done carefully and by hand.  Mencia, while delicious,  can  be a fractious variety with expert care needed to balance acids, tannins and create harmonious balanced wines.
Luckily for us, through the teamwork of the Frias family and the MGW Group, delicious ageable wine is being produced from this interesting and lovely DO.

Many thanks to the MGW group for hosting us at this wonderful region where the land supports this unique grape variety.  Bodegas Estefania is making great things happen and I appreciated the opportunity to learn and try in situ something so special

Also to Kraynick and Assoc for organizing it all,  and making it fun!
James the Wine Guy and DallasWineChick interacting with local art

05 May, 2015

Bodegas Lavia Winery - The magic of Monastrell blended with Syrah, Bullas DO, Spain

The next stop for the #OleWinos was the Lavia Winery in the Bullas, DO.  Here, Monastrell is vinified with Syrah to make a sheer wine with flavor impact.  First a little about Bullas.  Located between the town of Murcia and the border with Andalusia, it is an area of very little rainfall and extremes in temperature.  The winds that blow in with rainstorms are so strong they splash windows with raindrops as well as a fine layer of silt from the neighboring North Africa's dust.  On the road to the winery, I experienced a total "I'm not in Kansas, anymore" moment when a road sign in Arabic flashed by.  The region has a colorful backstory.

Bullas Wine Museum
Wine making goes back 2500 years to Roman times, but Bullas was not established as a DO until 1988.   Between that wide gap, the region contended with Spain's shifts in history.  Finally, in the 1980's wine making became privatized again and people began to invest in making wines of quality. The main grape variety grown is Monastrell and dominates the plantings.  However Tempranillo, Garnacha, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are also allowed.  Bodegas Lavia has delectable Syrah that it blends

Of Bodegas Lavia's twelve hectares, two are planted with Syrah, and the other ten, Monastrell.  Syrah is 16 year old vines  on trestles The rest are Monastrell vines about 35 years old and planted about 750 m higher than Bodegas Sierras Salinas. The climate is different because of the mountain range.  Here in Bullas, pine trees hold humidity.  The vineyards in the Alicante DO saw about 55 hL of rain.  The Lavia vineyards got only 35 hL.  Luckily the humidity in Bullas is higher so holds moisture better.   They have two brooks within 100m, which even during the drought continue to run.  This confirms water tables are high still.  In the four days before (and during) our visit, more rain fell than all last year.  Timing is perfect because flowering is imminent and the vines will need the water.  Since 2009,  all the vineyards are certified organic (leaf).  Healthy organic practices allow the vines to go deeper.  No residue  allows the wine to be more expressive. vineyards are harvested by hand.

Similar to Bodegas Sierra Salinas, very gentle treatment of the hard won fruit is employed to make the wine.   Monastrell from Bodegas Lavia is unique.  The land here produces a grape that lends itself more toward a Burgundian style of vinification.  The goal is a fresh and elegant wine that speaks of its own place. The production facility is set up to use gravity to gently move the juice.  The production is small allowing them to use manual pigeage. With all that hand (and foot) work, the Bodegas Lavia people from all departments form a close knit team, where everyone pitches in to do what is needed, whether that is marketing, stomping or swabbing.

Native yeast start the fermentation.  Cold fermentation is done at 8 celcius to preserve color and aroma, and also to minimize the extraction of tannins.  Balancing all these is important to all wines, but especially to this interesting blend of Monastrell and Syrah.  Some of the high end wines are fermented in big wooden  foudres or tuns.

Barrel room. Just add growler #ready
Sebastien carefully monitors the oak treatment so it doesn't overpower the wine. Among the techniques he uses are older barrels with light toast,  20% barrel turnover and bigger (500L) barrels.  Barrel protocol is important because alcoholic fermentation is done in barrel.  Some of the higher end wines see 20-22 months in barrel, while others are out in 12-14 months.  Current production is about 50,000 bottles.  The winery has more capacity, but they are building slowly to maintain quality and will not go over 100k

Bodegas Lavia is a relatively recent purchase for the MGW Group.  While we wait for Sebastien Bouton's wines to be released, we were treated to the current selections and well as a preview of upcoming wines in the barrel room.

Built in 2003, Bodegas Lavia is named for the nearby mountain. Lavia started as a passion project meant to produce very small lots of very  high quality wines as a hobby.  This laser focus on quality was perfect for MGW Group's goals and so they acquired it. The property is lovely and modern and one of the best appointed tasting rooms I have ever seen.  With a view of the grapes from all the windows and personal sinks for all, there is no need for a spit cup, though the wine is so delicious only the desire to retain my faculties to better appreciate the wine made me spit. Although for full disclosure, I wasn't that successful.Does it taste good though?  Answer is most definitely yes!

Lavia 2010
80% Monastrell and 20% Syrah.  The fruit for this wine comes from deep soil with rocks and stones. This produces fruit with thinner skins, less color and tannin, and more aromatic notes of black cherry and raspberry.  It has a lovely perfumey nose balanced with with more vinous elements.  Complex flavors that confirm the nose.  Tasty.

Lavia +,  2006 ,
Plus is 100% monastrell.  More brick in color and aromas of red fruit along with  tomato confit and an interesting element of postage stamp.  Sprightly acidity, which  is an important part of aging.  Flavors led by vinous elements. Mouth feel had texture of rustic linen to its tannins.  The briary finish had a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Photo Credit MGW Group
Lavia + Finca Paso Malo. 2012
Only made in good years, this luxury wine ($50-60) showed gorgeous bright garnet color, delicious blackberry flavors and had a  pleasant grip to its tannins.  The lovely finish has touch of smoke. The Finca Paso Malo is a single vineyard named for a dry creek bed with old rep for flash flood danger. This vineyard is 50 years old with sturdy clay soils that can hold up even a blogger who's been wine-and-snacking-24x7 for several days weeks ever
Finca Paso Malo Vineyard
You can see the magic of Bodegas Lavia's team in the difference between their viticulture practices and their neighbors.  The Bodegas Lavia vines are planted in a marco real 2.5 x 2.5 square configuration.  This uses soil better so every vine has enough space for its roots.  You can also see their attention to detail in the difference between their cover crops and the bare landscape of the adjacent vineyards.  These first flowers after a hard winter are intentionally lush so as to call the bees to their first meal. This vegetation is  also good for the other fauna that eat bad bugs.

El Mago de Monastrell making magic in the vineyards
Bodegas Lavia has a unique and delicious expression of the land and of the Monastrell variety.  Blending with Syrah created a wine that was at once complex and ethereal.  It was wonderful to get a chance to try both the current releases as well as get a preview of the upcoming wines from the barrel samples.  I have to say, I have never tried barrel samples that were so ready.  I only wish I had a Star Trek transporter and a growler so I could import some magic to California.  You can tell we had an enormously enjoyable day with Sebastien, who we deputized as an honorary #OleWino.  We also met so many wonderful team members who together make the magic happen at this wonderful place.  Many thanks to our hosts,  Kraynick and Assoc represented by photog Mike Matilla and the amazing team at MGW Group who made our visit possible
#OleWinos (L2R) DrXeNo, JamesTheWineGuy, Sebastien Boudon,LusciousLushThea, DallasWIneChick, BCL