A Taste of 2013

After seeing or reading about the sports(wo)man of the year, the books of 2013, the most embarrassing TV fragments, several news overviews, much lamenteds and where to buy 2013s best deep-fried solid doughnuts (a somewhat longwinded translation of “oliebol”), I feel compelled to share my “outstanding wines of 2013.” That is what they are: standing out. Presented at random. Happy New Year.

Riesling Grand Cru Vorbourg 2008 (Domaine Muré, Alsace), 12,5%
Well-known winery where the kids (12th generation) just took over. This Riesling was made by René père. Golden-yellow colour. In the nose dried apricot, honey, and a whiff of petrol. Good acidity combined with voluptuousness and minerality. Can age for some more years.

Les Cormiers 2011, Vin de France (Christian Venier, Touraine), 12,5%, € 9,95
A Cabernet Franc that brings a smile on one’s face: redcurrant, wild strawberry, juicy. A perfect wine for a summer’s day.
Christian Venier is a natural wine maker who learned the trade from Thierry Puzelat of Clos du Tue Boeuf but is said to be less experimental (according to his distributor). No filtering, no sulphites, indigenous yeasts.

Viña Gravonia Crianza 2004 (Bodegas López de Heredia, Rioja), 12,5%, € 12 (ad loco)
Golden colour, deep honey-like, sweetish smell, in the mouth dry, full-bodied, complex, honey, sourish apricot, mandarin, almond, freshly-cut herbs (the latter to my astonishment), long aftertaste.
See my earlier posting.

Blanco 2012 (Luis Cañas, Rioja), 13,5%, ca. € 7
A barrel fermented blend of 85% Viura and 15% Malvasía from vines of over 50 years old. Well-balanced, medium-bodied, ripe pear, apricot, minerality. Maybe not spectacular but more than enjoyable till the last sip and rather good value for money. My applauded house white.

Château Lestage-Darquier, Moulis Cru Bourgeois Terra Vitis 2010 (Brigitte and Francois Bernard, Bordeaux), 13,5%, ca. € 13
Soft-spoken, fruity, refined Bordeaux that can age for some more years, but I am not sure it will.


Bye, bye Molinos?

I have a confession to make. In the 1990s Los Molinos, a cheap Spanish red from the local supermarket, was my favourite. I didn’t spend much on wine in those days, couldn’t afford it really, and thought of Los Molinos as a more than adequate and affordable wine. It had a smooth, warm, almost sweet vanilla taste hitherto unknown to me. Though interesting at the beginning, and highly appreciated for some time, I soon grew weary of that surplus of oak. So much so, that I avoided all wine Spanish for almost two decades.

Now rumour had it that Spanish wines had improved, that some producers had reduced the oak, either by shifting from American to French oak or by using older barrels. Though these rumours didn’t make me rush to the shop, they slowly warmed me to the idea of giving Spanish reds a second chance. What better opportunity to do so than in Rioja, during the DWCC, the (not exclusively) European wine blogger’s conference of October 2013?

It was my first conference, my first visit to Spain and an unusually long break away from my working duties, summer holidays aside. I had a marvellous time.

But it’s all about the wine, isn’t it? So what about those Riojas? Still avoidable?

Let me start by saying that I didn’t taste wines of small wineries, but only of a few bigger and quite famous Riojan companies, so I can’t give you an overall view. Having said that, I can assure you that Rioja has a lot to offer. Rich, full-bodied wines, velvety mouth feel, dark red fruit (stewed plum in older Rioja’s), liquorice. They make a great pairing with game (the hairy variety), beef, and sausages. Let me present a few of the red wines I tasted during the conference, in alphabetical order (the whites are a different story altogether, coming up soon).

  • Bodegas Baigorri, Garnacha 2010 (100% Garnacha): My favourite of the quality red wines I tasted during a sumptuous lunch at this intriguing winery. Fruity, harmonious, elegant.
  • Bodegas LAN, LAN a Mano 2009 (80% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo): Dark-purple coloured wine of their own grapes. Full-bodied, round, spicy, dark fruit. Not so good for one’s ecological footprint (ridiculously heavy bottle, “for marketing’s sake”, the winemaker told us), but otherwise uplifting.
  • Bodegas LAN, Culmen Reserva 2007 (85% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano): Dark-coloured wine of 40-60 year-old vines. Sweet attack, dark, ripe fruits, nutmeg, soft tannins, liquorice. Excellent.
  • La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Reserva 2004 (80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha): This traditional Rioja isn’t released every year. 2004 is now available. Dark fruit, almost stewed plum, spicy, soft tannins, smooth. Superb. One of The Telegraph’s picks for Christmas (with pork!).
  • Luis Cañas, Reserva 2007 (95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano): They have of course wines that are older and more full-bodied than this ‘simple’ reserva, but I liked this one best at dinner on the premises of this hospitable winery (we were welcomed with a Basque dance).
  • Marqués de Riscal, Barón de Chirel 2006 (80% Tempranillo, 20% Other): “Other” is Spanglish for Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that, after a period of experimenting, is now forbidden in the Dutch way (i.e., forbidden but tolerated): the grapes of existing vineyards may be used, but not mentioned. Riscal’s experiments with Cabernet Sauvignon and other non-indigenous grapes date back to 1862. This 2006 is a bit alcoholic in the beginning, elderflower berries, plums, chocolate, smooth. After a while the alcoholic note disappears and in comes more fruit, spices. My Riscal favourite.
  • Marqués de Riscal, Finca Torrea 2007 (Tempranillo and Graciano): Modern-style wine. The smell reminded me of fermenting crushed grapes. Smooth, fruity, soft tannins, a little wood. (The 2010 is sharper and a bit alcoholic.)

Not so bad, eh, these Riojas? Quite marvellous, actually. Though I’ll continue to treat them with care (they are not house wine material), red Rioja’s are definitively back on my list of wines to look out for. Still. When tasting, I spit. I have spitted out many a fine wine as you can see, even one of € 240 a bottle (Riscal’s Frank Gehry Selection 2001). The only glass I swallowed during this conference was the one presented to announce next year’s host of DWCC: a Swiss Pinot Noir. Cheers.



Wine&Dine: Viña Gravonia & Partridge

If this is the tasting note:
Golden colour, deep honey-like, sweetish smell, in the mouth dry, full-bodied, complex, honey, sourish apricot, mandarin, almond, freshly-cut herbs (the latter to my astonishment), long aftertaste,
what to eat?

Let me first explain a bit more about the wine. This was one of the first wines I tasted during the DWCC (Digital Wine Communications Conference) in Rioja (on which more in a future post). That day’s programme didn’t permit it really, but we had heard so much about them that we sneaked out and drove to Haro, to Bodegas López de Heredia, better known as Tondonia or Heredia. A traditional winery if ever there was one. Think huge wooden barrels, thick layers of fungi on the walls, and temperature control by opening or closing the windows. Their wines are named after the vineyard and should express the character of that terroir and of that terroir only, (and this is unusual) consistently, year after year.

Tfgravoniahey sure take their time. The wines not only spend years in barrels, the harvesting of the grapes for Viña Gravonia Crianza 2004, the subject of the tasting note above, took 33 days, enabling the harvesters to pick only the grapes that are perfectly mature. No rush after that either, as this Crianza of 100% Viura (12,5% vol) has spent four years in barrels and five years in the bottle.

But what to eat with a wine of such complexity? Rest assured: anything goes, according to the information leaflet: “Perfect with all kind of fish, no matter the way cooked. Grilled seafood. Well seasoned white meat. Also very nice with pasta.”

As I feared the wine might overwhelm a humble white fish, I chose the not so white meat of partridge, this being the game season. A traditional recipe is Perdreau aux Choux, for which one needs one old and one young partridge, the older merely to infuse the cabbage with taste. Alas, old partridges are a thing of the past (don’t ask your supplier for an old bird; I did and was nearly kicked out of the shop).


Partridge with savoy cabbage ‘Spanish style’

Preheat oven at 175 °C. Rinse, dry and season partridges (one p.p.) and brown them on all sides in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Cover them with vine leaves (partridges are delicate) and put them in the oven for about half an hour. (Note: vine leaves can be salty.)
Cut a (piece of) chorizo into small cubes and fry them in a dry pan till the fat has run out. Put the cubes aside and fry a diced onion in the fat. Add savoy cut in small stripes and fry on low heat. Season to taste. You may add a handful of dried cranberries: good for taste, not so good for the Spanish touch.

Now was this a good match? Bird and wine proved to be a happy combination: almost lively, even if that’s an odd thing to say about a dead bird. Bird and cabbage were good too, rubbing each other’s darker sides. Wine and cabbage didn’t do much for each other.

In the Netherlands some wines of López de Heredia are for sale here.

Leser aus der Schweiz, pass auf: Schnäpchen bei Real wines bis zum 30. November.


Making Moor of History

The relevance of history can hardly be underestimated. Still, in wine education, be it in my SWEN 2 text book or various digital or print media, I often wonder why authors bother at all. They usually come up with sentences like ‘The Romans brought the vine grape to [fill in almost any area in France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria]. After the collapse of the Roman empire the church took over. Nothing much changed till in the nineteenth century the Phylloxera blah blah blah blah.’ No real harm is done, but one can do without.

In the case of Spain it’s often even worse. Let me cite my textbook: ‘After the Roman era the Islamic Moors invaded the country. The Moors didn’t forbid winegrowing but they did discourage it. After the last Moors in 1492 had left (…).’ (Michel van Tuil, De wijnwereld, 2011, p. 117 [my translation])

And Wijnbloggers says (in my translation): ‘After the fall of Rome, Spain is occupied by the Moors. Under Moorish rule alcohol is forbidden, but may be used in other products (perfume, cosmetics) and winegrowing comes to a halt, until it starts flourishing again in the Middle Ages with the return of Christian culture in Spain.’

This hurts. After the Roman era/fall of Rome? Islamic? Moors? Left? Forbidden? Halt? Middle Ages? Return of Christian culture?

Let me start by saying that in world history there is only one Moor. His name is Othello and he lived and died in Venice. Furthermore, there are a few centuries between not so much the fall as the crumbling down of the Roman empire and the invasion of the Umayyads in 711. In these seemingly chaotic times (Migration Period) Vandals, Suevi and Visigoths settled in Spain. In time the latter two established kingdoms of which the Visigothic kingdom ruled Spain from 507-711. After 711 all of Spain comes under Umayyad control, except for some smaller kingdoms of indomitable Christians that hold out against the Umayyads. This is more or less the status quo for about 300 years. Then the Berber Almoravids are called in to help the Umayyads against Alfonso VII of Castile. After another hundred years, we’re somewhere around 1170 now, the Almohads, a Berber coalition, take over Andalusia. The Reconquista, the Christian ‘recapture’ of Spain that started in the eleventh century, is said to have come to an end in 1260. Still, Granada remained a flourishing Arabic state until 1492.

So much for ‘After the Roman era the Islamic Moors invaded the country.’ Let’s now focus on ‘Islamic.’

The Umayyads were Muslims alright, but above all they were Arabs, more interested in Arabic culture than in Islamic religion. In the famous lush gardens of their palaces, far away from pious Mecca, Arab courtiers (and some Jews as well) assembled, passing time with politics, gossip, poetry contests and, yes indeed, wine parties. The Almoravids, Berbers, not Arabs, were less worldly. They, for example, made Abū Hārūn Mūsā, a Jewish poet at the court of Granada, flee the city to northern Spain (there lamenting the loss of his cultural home). The Berber Almohads, who were quite puristic, instituted religious persecutions once they occupied Andalusia.

So was Muslim rule bad for business? Not so much in Umayyad times, but wine parties were surely out of fashion from the mid-eleventh century onwards.

I could go on correcting the two cited texts, but I’m not sure you can bear with me that long. Let me instead finish with a poem by Abū Hārūn Mūsā, also known as Mozes ibn Ezra, when he was still at Granada’s court. The translation is Raymond P. Scheindlin’s (in his Wine, Women, & Death. Medieval Hebrew Poems of the Good Life. Philadelphia 1986, p. 65).

Drink up, my friend, and pour for me, that I
May to the cup surrender all my pain.
And if you see me dying, tell the boy,
‘Revive him! Quick! Take up your lute again.’

(Previously published on my blogspot site, May 2013)