It’s Hot And We’re Tasting Wines

Spring is trade fair season when many, many new wines are combed through and discovered. Entering summer, the sifting begins. Samples are catalogued and orders are placed to ready for the long road into fall when the majority of retail wine sales happen.

We have to find a way to pass the time in this heat. Last night we sat outside at midnight in 95°F weather trying to hold our heads up over the straw that was our lifeline to the cool tinto de verano we were sipping.

Heat Wave, Valladolid, Spain June 30, 2015

We started with some samples of solera wines this morning. We discovered Pérez Barquero at FENAVIN, the Spanish National Wine Fair in early May. They’ve been written up by Eric Asimov in the Times and have loads of Parker and other points, but are little known outside of Spain, probably because they are not within the boundaries of sherry production. Their appellation, D.O. Montilla-Moriles, is much further inland than the manzanilla-dominated coastal sherry triangle that includes Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera.  Here in Montilla, just south of Córdoba, the pedro ximénez grape thrives on super chalky soils. It passes through neutral barrels at various levels of criadera on its way to making Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado, and Dulce versions of itself.

We also embraced a house-style vermouth casero full of clove and cardamon. We embraced it right into a home-brewed Moroccan spearmint iced tea I made with honey. The combination was divine on a day where highs will reach into the low 100s F.

Here we can see that PX can be enjoyed with canned peaches and aged Zamoran sheep's cheese. I would like to stress can. Although I think Miguel was on to something.

Here we can see that PX can be enjoyed with canned peaches and aged Zamoran sheep’s cheese. I would like to stress can be. Although I think Miguel was on to something.

We are also drinking–

Vivaz Prieto Picudo

Vivaz Prieto Picudo 2014. Have two glasses and then say that three times fast. The indigenous grape varietal from the D.O. Tierra de León, I can only ever get various versions of strawberry(macerated, baked with cream, fresh-picked, dried, candied, etc.) in the bouquet. The zippy acidity and freshness makes it an obvious summer drinking wine that I’ve enjoyed, but profile is a bit limited. It won’t get me to switch from my Cigales tempranillo rosados.

Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie de Gascogne 2014Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie de Gascogne 2014

Harmonie de Gascogne 2014. It was raining cats and dogs on our way into Villandraut on the D-824 so we stopped in Mont-de-Marsan and ducked into a pizzeria close to midnight. The guy was cranking out homemade pizzas and listening to great electro. He had the above wine by the glass. It was a deep purple color with thick tears and plum and blackberry on the nose. The tannins were nice and present but soft and had a long finish –not bad wonderful for a local IGP wine by the glass. It went nicely with the veggie pizza. I’ll be ordering from them. It seems they are best known for their Armagnac. €11, 12.5% abv

Baloiro godello, doña blanca, jerez

Baloiro Blanco 2014. If you needed more of a reason to drink godello, it is godello with a splash of the more obvious doña blanca, and much more obvious jerez, or palomino. You might think muscat but here in this part of Spain, there are 17% plantings of jerez and 2,4% of the doña. Muscat is not permitted in the D.O. Bierzo. White blossoms and stone fruit dominate and the godello contributes to traces of minerality and the medium finish. Very nice, easy drinking wine from Bodega Luzdivina Amigo. €13

Sete Bois Albariño 2013

Sete Bois 2013 Albariño. Stone fruit, med+ acidity. Classic summer quaffer. €7.70, 12.5% abv

Los Pedregales Godello 2014, D.O. Bierzo


Los Pedregales 2014. Nice structured godello from D.O. Bierzo. Hand-picked vines at 550 meter above sea level. Top yield is around 1,500 kg/hectare (very, very low). €10


Genio Y Figura Albariño 2013


Genio y Figura 2014 Albariño. An excellent example of a slightly more serious albariño. A lot of stone fruit, melon even. €14


Lar de Paula Merus 2010

Wine is clear with a medium intensity. Medium ruby color with cherry rim. Cherry pie and a touch of nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla in the nose and ripe redcurrant, plum and raspberry on the palate. The finish is medium and the tannins soft and sweet, not mouth-drying with light minerality and earth that is typical of Rioja Alavesa. We enjoyed this red with steamed vegetables, cured lomo and a few slices of parmesan. At 13.5% alcohol, it won’t knock you out but it will put you down for a nice long siesta. From Lar de Paula winery. 100% tempranillo.

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You have to try these! 4 Port wines for 2015

I am stealing an idea forthright from the brilliant NYT wine critic Eric Asimov. I’ve been following his Wine School series since it was initiated last year. Mr. Asimov introduces a topic, anything from Champagne to St.-Joseph and then readers buy the wines he recommends and are invited to comment.  In a follow-up article, he shares readers’ tasting notes and includes an expert analysis of the wine along with food pairings. It is a reading club of sorts, but with booze, and I love it.

I am going to try it with Harris Wine Merchant. In my own edition, you will all of course be able to purchase the recommended wines on my website…just as soon as it launches mid-February.

Today’s lesson in booze begins with Port wine. Port wine has mystified. Is it a spirit? A wine? How can there be so many styles? For centuries it has been a part of British culture: Port and Stilton. Port and Cigars. Half the lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia are English names. The Americans are catching up even if it is as a mixer on a Brooklyn cocktail menu. Slow but steady, we know a good thing when we drink it. In fact, port is due to overtake sherry by 2020.

To get us started I selected the following four port styles. If you can’t find the exact brand, it is not a problem, but try the different styles to understand the full range. I’ll post a write up toward the end of February with an Asimovesque follow up. Below the selections is a brief primer on port wine.

  1. Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port
  2. Warre’s Heritage Ruby Port
  3. Dow’s 1991 Vintage Port
  4. Ferreira’s Branco Lágrima

Red grapes (mainly touriga nacional, tinta barroca, touriga franca, and tinta roriz):

  • Influenced more by cask ageing: a.k.a. wood ports are fruit-forward and full bodied to mellow and rich. Casks do not impart oak aromas to port as in still wines. Purpose of aging in cask is to allow a broad surface for micro-oxygenation to happen and encourage the oxidative, nutty aromas we associate with some ports.
    • Ruby styles
      • Ruby port: vinified for immediate consumption after bottling. The youngest port, ruby is a blend of wines between three to five years. Look for primary, red berry fruit-forward aromas and youthful ruby color. Great for poaching pears or a port reduction.
      • Reserva/premium ruby port: a sturdier ruby with more color and depth from the blending of several vintages (average ages five to seven years). Has replaced “vintage character” name as it is a misnomer having no character in common with vintage port. Classic pairing, port and Stilton, is meant for this fresh, fruity red port to accompany the blue-veined stinker.
      • Late Bottled Vintage ports: as the name infers, from a single harvest, bottled within four to six years of harvest. Aged in large oak tonnels that at 40+ years, the barrels do not impart any oak.
        • filtered (and fined) LBV port: to be drunk upon release. Easier to handle as no decanting is necessary, but may lose their luster as wines start to die when their food (sediment) is removed.
        • unfiltered LBV port: can be laid down for five to 20 years or consumed right away. Expect depth like in an authentic vintage port.

Warre's Heritage Ruby Port

Taylor'S LBV


  • Tawny styles:
    • Tawny port: This is for your Cohiba-smoking set. We learned a ruby port is fresh and fruity. A tawny has a nutty aroma and an amber or, ah hah, tawny tone from longer oxidation. The French enjoy this style as a before-dinner libation in the afternoon. The Brits take it in the evening after the meal with dessert or cheese. The Americans mix it with everything and drink it anytime.
    • Aged indicated tawny (10-, 20-, 30-, 40-year-old): Like sticking your head into a bag of great trail mix with toasted almonds, dried figs, exotic spice and caramel. They are easy to drink and sweet but with high acidity. And much less heady than a vintage port. It has more spirit complexity the longer it ages. The number of years listed on the label is the average age of the blend. Focus should be on the characteristics of the age indicated. These are wines that would likely have been vintage ports had they been harvested in a declared year; very high quality. Mind the date of bottling as these won’t keep forever. Surprisingly, once opened, should be consumed within a few days as freshness turns to staleness. Best served chilled.
    • Colheitas: a tawny port, made with grapes from a single year (colheita). Expect characteristics of classic tawny with nuances from stated year’s harvest. Label will include date of harvest. Best served chilled.

Influenced more by bottle ageing: wine starts in oak and then is quickly bottling without filtration. Don’t be capricious, this beverage can’t start to be appreciated until 20 and 30 years after bottling.

  • Vintage styles:
    • Vintage Port: crème de la crème of port wine. Aged in wood for two or three years and bottled unfiltered so that the solids can percipitate and the taste and aromas can continue to set up in bottle. Only made in years when harvest is declared excellent after a perfect growing season by the IVDP (see below) and shipper’s determine that quantity matches demand. These ports come along about 2.5 times in a decade. Should be aged for minimum 30 years and once opened, recommended to enjoy within 24-48 hours. Bottoms up!
    • Single Quinta port: brilliant scheme to sell top-quality port in undeclared years. All grapes from a single parcel (quinta) are aged two or three years and then bottled without filtration.
    • Crusted Ports: meant to attract vintage port fans though beware as it is not a vintage port. A crust or sediment is deposited into the bottle as these wines are not usually filtered before bottling. Will go on the market only three years after bottling. For a full-bodied, dark red port wine at a great value, look no further.
    • Garrafeira: Try saying that three times fast. These ports are aged for a minimum SEVEN years in glass demi-johns. My generation will have to look up glass demi-john here. These bad boys then clean up their act by decanting heavily and are rebottled back into 750 ml bottles. There is a lot of paperwork involved; the label must include the date of harvest, date wine was transferred to demi-john, and date wine goes into its new, smaller receptacle.


White grapes (mainly gouveio, malvasia fina, and viosinho)– the mashing of juice to skins, known as maceration, from white grapes during fermentation is kept to a minimum. Great for cocktail wizardry or served simply with a splash of tonic over ice. The dry version (seco) is actually quite sweet and meio seco is sweeter than sweet. Straw color with intense lusciousness layered with white stone fruit. For below port wine, the viscosity of high glycerol content inspires the name lágrima for tears that run down the side of the glass.

Straw color with intense lusciousness layered with white stone fruit. The viscosity of high glycerol content inspires the name lágrima for tears that run down the side of the glass. Quirky fact: Quality classifications of port wine were created to control surplus. The very official Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto (Douro Port Wine Institute, or IVDP) gives points based on 12 physical attributes like gradient, site, and aspect of the parcel. If the winery in a given year cannot accumulate enough points, they receive an F and are allowed only minimum quotas to make fortified wine. Those qualifying with an A or B score have much more flexibility and are granted permission to fortify greater quantities of must.  If only the rest of the world were so organized.


Two Red Wines And A Tuna Empanada

The bar downstairs from where I live has a great collection of wines by the glass and excellent homemade tapas. The place is small and run by sole proprietor, Iñaki, a jovial man who fills out the same XXL purple dress shirt every day.

Pensioners circulate in and out of his bar complaining about the smoking ban that has been in effect for six months now.  Sometimes their wives come in to collect them, hustling them upstairs to where they might have to help with some chore like hanging the giant white undergarments that obstruct my otherwise nice terrace views.  Back inside, the music varies between sappy American love songs from the 80s and 90s. When asked if he could change the music, Iñaki blames a lost remote. Alas, no change and we’re left permanently stuck in the soundtrack to Molly Ringwald’s life.

Here are my tasting notes for my two favorite wines downstairs.

Bodega Viña Vilano 2010. 100% Tempranillo. D.O. Ribera del Duero. 13.5% alcohol. It is a young tempranillo with all the best components: brillant deep cherry color with purple rim, wide, intense red fruit and flower aromas, which the label identified as violet. Good mouthfeel without being too sweet . Persistent finish. Went perfect with my tuna empanada!

Bodega Heras Cordon 2007 Crianza.  Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo from vines outside of ElCiego, Laguardia, La Rioja. French and American oak, 12 months. Unfiltered. Rich color, capa media-alta with a cherry rim. Smells of vanilla, plum, black cherry, ripe black fruits and bittersweet chocolate. Structured, balanced tannins. Hints of minerality. Long finish. Excellent, excellent. 90 points Robert Parker.

Volvoreta: the Ecological Wine

Week IV, December 2, 3, 4, 2010

Volvoreta, a family-run winery (,  is about a 15-minute drive from the center of Zamora. It falls within the protection of D.O. Toro and sources Tinta de Toro grapes, which are basically Tempranillos that grow on D.O. Toro soil, hence the name. In 2008, Robert Parker awarded Volvoreta Probus 91 points pushing the vintage into the excellent category (90-95 points). Mr. Parker is like the Anna Wintour of the wine industry. Just as Ms. Wintour wields her magic, haute-couture wand launching careers with the abracadabra of a Vogue fashion spread, Mr. Parker can make a winery’s whole vintage disappear off the shelf with one excellent awarding. He is the head honcho you have probably never heard of. I assume because I only just heard of him recently. In Spain he does not do the reviews himself. That position belongs to his wino-in-crime Jay Miller. More on him later.

Maria and her father, Antonio, carefully selected and numbered 8,000 bottles of the Protus.  They gave us a tour of the 15 hectares of vineyard surrounding the small winery. The family manages the ecological zone very carefully while still employing modern technology. The University of Barcelona has taken a special interest in studying the ecological vines from this plot. Among other things, they have tested for and verified elevated levels of antioxidants than those found in traditional red wine. Right away we notice the unusual amount of grapes still on the vine just after harvest. Antonio and Maria emphasize the floral and fauna necessary to sustain the life cycle of an ecological vineyard. The grapes that are not up to snuff (below) are left on the vine because this is the only food that the birds in the area have to eat. Without this fruit, the birds would leave and not eat the vine-destroying bugs and pests that creep into the vineyard in the spring and summer.

Wine tourism on two wheels

After our chilly walk through the country, we went back to taste some wines. Unfortunately we did not get to try the Probus, but we were treated to the Volvoreta by Maria. It is true to what D.O. Toro is all about: beautiful, deep violet color; rich, dark berry flavors, slightly fruity with a serious (possibly coffee?) finish that will linger in your mouth. We were also treated to the local Zamoran chorizo, extra virgin olive oil, country bread and Volvoreta’s own grape jam. They really spoiled us. It was heaven.

International Wine Tasting Day (sorry for the blurriness)

It was so cold inside the winery. We had to warm the glasses with our hands because the red wine was too cold to drink.

Plate of grape jam licked clean

Highly recommended

As we wandered around the area, I could feel my curiosity creeping up. I wondered about Spanish and European certifications for organic products. Why did I not see more of them in Spain? How differently were these types of products handled than in the states? As an Oregonian, I know a bit about organic and ecological. As a Portlander who grew up in the restaurant business, I could tell you a thing or two about the food and drink scene. Though I think IFC’s Portlandia in the clip titled “Is it Local?” nailed it. Check out below to get a brief (albeit slightly extreme) primer of what we are dealing with.

When I can afford it, I prefer to buy organic and support Colin and his chicken friend’s plight to run around freely in the sun eating indigenous hazelnuts and getting drunk on sheep’s milk. Alas, at half the price, I am more likely to buy his caged-in cousins. But now that I live in Spain, I rarely have to make that choice as I am normally limited to one choice of chicken by teeny tiny “supermercados” around my house. At about a fifth the size of their American counterparts, they are not so super really. These stores–or Elderly Leisure Centers as I call them because of the roaming elderly that meet to chat and wait for the latest bargains to be posted–are devoid of most of the processed food that exists in the States, leaving the consumer with food that needs to be prepared. The dried garbanzo beans are to be soaked, the fresh fish salt and peppered, the oranges squeezed. All of this takes time. That’s why Spaniards, especially outside the big cities of Madrid and Barcelona, go home in the afternoon for lunch. The fish cannot cook itself!

But things are changing. Spain currently has the third-highest rate of childhood obesity in the world and processed foods are indeed swelling the aisles at the Americanized supermercados on the outskirts of town. Still here in Spain the Slow Food movement is nowhere to be found (because is that not the answer to all our inorganic problems?). Is that because here they already practice slow food–uncapitalized and without a movement? Maybe it will take many more years of fast food consumption to reach an apex when the public health alarm bell sounds and people start looking for an alternate lifestyle–all capitalized and with movement.  Maybe not. I have taken many road trips in Spain and it is difficult to find any food after 10 p.m. Why? Because the kitchen is closed; what other time are they supposed to make the gazpacho for the following day?

Europeans have a long history with the land on which they grow food. They are proud of their products and vehemently protect them. For example, Parmigano-Regiano cheese can only be called such if it comes from one of the clearly defined regions Emilia-Romagna and Mantova in Italy.  If it is produced one degree to the north or west, it legally cannot be called Parmigano-Regiano. The impostor is known by its pseudonym Parmesan. The real McCoy is registered as a protected designation of origin at the EU cheese headquarters in Brussels. It sounds absurd but if the purpose is to preserve the traditional methods of producing whatever product is in question, I say send out the product police. Parmesan from the Szechuan province does not have the same ring to it anyway.

Soy Partidaria de Parmigiano

I do find some comfort in knowing that Colin may have grown up on a smaller farm as industrial farming is not as common in Spain. Still, in a country that kills bulls for sport, I cannot expect too much.  Next time maybe I will look for pollo de corral in support of my free-range friends. Now while I go to learn more about organic farming in Spain, please, have a glass of Volvoreta.

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