Archived entries for Monastrell

Five Texas Writers, Three Days of Paso Robles … The Adventure Starts Here

 Texas Media In Action

It felt a little like a Real World episode from the late 80’s.  Five writers, all from Texas, most who didn’t know the others, were brought together on a media trip.  At first glance, we were a diverse group – different ages, different religions and different ethnicities.  We ranged from career journalists to social media mavens to luxury publications to an occasional blogger like me.  And our interests were different – food, lifestyle and wine, but we shared a love for storytelling.

The View From My Room

Christopher Taranto, Communications Director, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brought us all together to experience the Paso Robles region.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance is the collective voice of what makes Paso special.  The organization focuses on both growers and vintners and has approximately 500 members.  As we sat in the majestic lobby of the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, we knew we were in for some life moments ahead.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest and most diverse wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

 

We started our trip with dinner at Cello Ristorante and Bar, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a focus on the gardens, farms and vineyards of the region.  A group of legendary winemakers joined us and shared what makes Paso Robles special.  Don Brady, Winemaker of Robert Hall, talked about the dramatic growth of the region and how he decided to make his career there.  He was a splendid dinner companion and I had a blast talking about every subject under the sun.

Doug Beckett, Peachy Canyon Winemaker

Doug Beckett, Founder of Peachy Canyon Winery, kept us rolling with laughter and shared an inspiring story about his evolution from a home winemaker in San Diego, to one of the industry’s gurus.

Ben Mayo, the newly-named Winemaker for San Antonio Winery, which is known as the oldest winery in California, talked about his journey to taking his new position.

Steve Peck, the Winemaker for J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, talked about coming to the region because “it was the place where everything was happening and it represented the opportunity to realize the American dream.”

I found that like many regions, I could instantly decipher the Paso personality.  It’s a serious place for winemaking but with a collegial, family and a place willing to take a chance on grapes, varietals and the process of making wine.


One Night In Bierzo: The Spanish Trip Finale

And just like that – we were on our last region and the trip had almost come to an end.  We explored Bierzo, a Spanish Denominación de Origen (“DO”) for wines located in the northwest of the province of Leon.  In getting there, we went actually drove through snow flurries.  The DO covers 23 municipalities, has 72 wineries and dates back to Roman times where wine and gold were the two thriving businesses. 

Due to phylloxera in the 19th century, production almost came to a screeching halt.  In 1989, Bierzo Denominación de Origen was established.  The climate in this region is unique with lots of humidity and rainfall, but there is also a hot and dry climate.  Water conservation is not an issue here.  The soil is dark and chock full of quartz and slate.

The region is known for mencia, alicante bouschet and godella although tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, dona blanca, palomino, malvasia, chardonnay and gewürztraminer are also grown.

The Bodegas Estefanía started in 1999 when the family decided to restore an old dairy located in the village of Dehesas. 

At this time they planted vineyards and began to develop the techniques that were developed in other parts of Europe.  The wine Tilenus gets its name from the god of war named “Teleno” combined with the Roman name “Mars”.  The Tilenus Mars label shows a Roman coin that was found in the vineyards.

Bodegas Estefanía focuses primarily on the Mencia grape, but it makes a fine Godella as well.  About 15 to 20 percent of the grapes are sourced from the same grower.  The vines are older – in general between 60-90 years – and the soil used to be glacial, so you can find sand and stones.  The production is around 200,000 to 250,000 bottles using the same gravity techniques, French wine barrels and regulated temperature, humidity and light as the other MGW wineries we visited.

Pablo Frias, General Manager

We had a chance to sit down the Carlos Garcia, the winemaker, and Pablo Frias, the general manager of the winery where we started with a four-wheel drive journey to parts only accessible with a truck and a jeep.  Our little Mercedes bus caravan had no chance making it up to the vineyards that we visited.  The weather wasn’t cooperating so we spent time at the oldest vineyard, La Florida.

After our tour, we went to the winery to tour and drink wine.  We tried the following wines:

2013 Tilenus Godello – lots of floral, minerality, pear, stone fruit, lemon curd and a nice nuttiness. I really enjoyed this wine and absolutely would buy it in masse at $15 when it comes to Dallas.

2014 Tilenus Vendimia – nice structure, earthiness, raspberry, lavender and notes of bay leaf.  This wine is an awesome deal at under $14.

2011 Tilenus Encreicida en Rolle – this was more earthy with notes of cinnamon and spice, herbs, raspberry and a touch of mocha.  Another great deal at $10.

2010 Tilenus Encreicida en Rolle – this wine was a totally different comparison.  It was more fruit-forward, less herbal and had more minerality.

2008 Tilenus Encreicida en Rolle – this tasted like blackberry pie with notes of molasses. 

2008 Tilenus La Florida – I tasted gingerbread, all spice and it had a meatiness that I didn’t find in the others. 

2006 Tilenus Pagos de Posada – this was a very concentrated wine that tasted of bramble pie, dried plum, peppercorns and earth.  There was a lot of complexity in the glass that opened up over time.

2007 Tilenus Pagos de Posada – this was almost port-like with notes of menthol, chocolate, fig, sage and molasses.  This wine reflected “100 years of wine with sand and soil.”

Our grand finale at lunch was the 2002 Tilenus Pieros, appropriately named “the phantom” because there is so little left in the market with only 220 bottles made. 

What I ate (allergic to pork)

We lunched at Casa Coscolo and enjoyed a variety of local specialties.

We drove back to Madrid that night and discovered the joy of a really good gin and tonic followed by lots of wine and a late night game of Cards Against Humanity.  At that point, it was time to say goodbye to my friends and the closure of an incredible Spanish wine experience.    

 


Spanish Wine Trip: My Time in Bullas – Day Three

On day three, with 5,000+ calories in our system and a workout underneath my ever tightening belt, we packed up on our road trip with our fearless guide, Eduardo Ruiz.  Eduardo is the export manager of MGW Group and drew the short straw of driving us all over the region … or watching us sleep after consuming copious amounts of wine and more food that should be allotted for a small country. Bullas is a Spanish Denominacion de Origen (DO) for wines located in the region of Murcia and covers the territories of eight different municipalities and focuses on the Monastrell grape. 

Like Alicante, Bullas has existed since ancient Roman time and evolved from a Moore influence to Christian influence over time.  The region changed from a producer of bulk wines in the 1980s to an official DO in 1994.  The landscape is also limestone and has numerous valleys with unique microclimates with mountains to the west.  The weather is challenging with very hot summers and very cold winters.  

As part of MGW Group’s mission to create unique wines from organically grown grapes, Bodegas Lavia was created.  Bodegas Lavia is a boutique winery focused on balancing the fruit that is yielded with expressing the unique terroir in their wines.  The winery was built in 2003 and is located in Venta del Pino, an area known for great wines and a focus on the Monastrell grape.   

Bodegas Lavia’s production is concentrated on preserving the maximum expression and concentration of the grapes. Bodegas Lavia focuses on the same tenants as Sierra Salinas – temperature and gravity control.  The wines are over 40 years old and are grown 800 meters above sea level in an appellation – a higher appellation than yesterday – that is 2,400 hectors.  The soil is clay-based with gravel and the grapes are cultivated in a Mediterranean climate and planted diagonally. 

Sebastien took us through the winery and vineyards on a rainy day.  We learned that only 50,000 bottles are produced in the winery today because they want to keep the quality of the production at a high level.  These wines are produced in a Burgundian style and water is more of a natural source.

We tried three of the Lavia wines – Lavia, Lavia+ and Finca Paso Malo.  We started with a vertical of the Lavia wines and it was eye opening how different the vintages were in this representation.

2006 Lavia – it was rust colored and tasted of tomato confit (not in a bad way), asphalt and red fruit.  This was a really interesting evolution but different than anything that I’ve tasted.

2004 Lavia – this was the first vintage, but was surprisingly bright and drinkable with notes of leather, rose and red fruit.  I really like the smoothness of this wine and was a deal at $17 retail.

2009 Lavia+ — It had notes of spice, cherry, cedar, pepper and a nice nuttiness.  2006 Lavia+ — this was also delicious and ended up coming home with me.  Big notes of cherry, petrol and a nice minerality. 

2012 Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo – Only 2,000 bottles were made of this stellar single vineyard wine.  I tasted cranberry, spice, earth, rosemary, tobacco and a nice nuttiness that tied the wine together.  I really enjoyed this wine.

We then went into the winery and tried two blends directly from the barrel.  The 2013 Lavia+ and the 2017 vintage that just went into the tank.

After our wine tour, we had an amazing lunch at Restaurante Borrego.

Our next stop was the Museo del Vino Bullas, the region’s wine museum where we learned all about everything from the terroir to the way wine was stored to the grapes of the region. 

We ended our day with an exquisite dinner at La Nyora, which was my favorite dinner of the entire trip with a focus on the region’s seafood.  And of course some late night drinking and walking of the city by the #olewinos.   


MGW Wine Experience: My Time In Alicante

Our next day was spent at Sierra Salinas in Alicante.  Alicante is a Spanish Demoninacion de Origen (DO) located in the province of Alicante in Valencia, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary.  There are two sub-zones: Vinalopó, which is the Southern area of the province known for Monastrell, which we visited.  The other sub-zone is known as La Marina in the Northern area of the province.  Alicante’s grape growing and wine production traces back to the Romans.  The soil in the region is comprised of lime and sedimentary rock with a sandy consistency.  Vinalopó is known for Mediterranean temperatures that tend to shift to frequent frosts in the Winter creating extreme temperatures ranging from day to night.

Ramon Castano Santa is the original visionary behind the winery.  Ramon has been involved in the wine business since 1950 when the family built its first winery in Yeda, a small city near Villena,.  The family acquired Sierra Salinas vineyards in the beginning of 2000 and built the winery,  Bodagas Sierra Salinas, which is named after a mountain range.   The winery was up and running in 2006.  The Castano family made a bet on Monastrell (a red wine grape variety), and wanted to balance the legacy, quality and technology to make the best wine possible.  The production of Sierra Salinas will never pass 200,000 bottles because the family believes that the wines need to show the authenticity of the soil, terroir and the people.  In 2013, MGWines Group acquired the property.

We met with Winemaker Sebastien Boudon, who came to Spain from France because he was excited about the opportunities in the region.  He took us through the winery and showed us the unique temperature control system designed to manage the extreme temperatures as well as the gravity system the winery uses to avoid pump racking.  The grapes are processed on three levels of the building – the vinification plant is one the first floor; the grapes are pressed on the second floor and the bottling occurs on the third floor.  The grapes are hand picked and harvested in small batches to make sure the best fruit is used, but no fruit is sold in bulk.  The wines are stored in French Oak barrels.

We also walked through the vineyards, which are located 650-680 meters above sea level and we saw the dry irrigation of vines.  The winery is organic and planted on limestone, which is dry farmed.  There are 42 hectares of Monastrell and 10 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet and Petit Verdot, trained with trellis and goblet systems.  We saw two different vineyards – which had terroir that changed from clay to stones and with older vineyards.

We then went into the tasting room and had the opportunity to try seven wines.  Here was our line-up:

2013 Puerto Salinas – a blend of 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Moscatel, which had lots of jasmine and floral notes with white stone fruit and mineral notes.  A great deal under $10.

2012 MO Salinas Monastrell – lots of juicy cherry, berry, spice and very fruit forward.  The price tag here is $8.99 making it a hell of a deal and it matched my purse.

2010 Puerto Salinas – this had some age and more complexity.  You could taste the blackberry, spice, liquorice, beef jerky, balsamic and black pepper.  This one was a great deal at under $15.

2011 Puerto Salinas – it was fun to taste the difference that a year of age can make.  This had notes of floral (violets and roses), graphite and lots of spice. It was very silky and was easy to drink.  Same price range as above.

2010 Mira Salina –this one had notes of maple, vanilla and a deep berry.  The balance on this wine was great and I really enjoyed this more between the vertical.

2011 Mira Salina – this had earthier notes of licorice, berry, hazelnut and coffee.

2009 Salinas 1237 – this was an amazing and intense wine.  I tasted notes of currant, toffee, blood orange, balsamic and earth.  This wine was elegant, long lasting and a wonderful special occasion wine.  I made sure to bring a bottle of this home with me.  Sebastien talked about how this wine takes the best of the landscape with both the terroir and the grapes.  We ended with the Dulce dessert wine, which I didn’t have enough time between notes and pictures to truly savor.

We then moved to a delicious paella lunch at Restaurant La Despensa and ate our weight in paella and dessert.  At that point, we needed to walk the city so it was time for me and my partners in crime, Thea and Liza to explore the city.  Then another night at a great restaurant and another food coma.


MGW Group: My Introduction to the Wines of Alicante, Bullas and Bierzo, Day One

James Melendez (James the Wine Guy), Ward Kadel (Vinopanion) and me

I was invited by MGW Group, a new group of the top-of-the-line wineries from different appellations or denomination of origin (DOs) in Spain, to attend a U.S. wine bloggers trip to visit three wine regions – Alicante; Bullas and Bierzo – three terroirs where the weather couldn’t be more different and spanned from South to the North. 

The MGW Group focuses on boutique wineries that produce no more than 500,000 bottles per year that truly focus on the terroir of each region.  These are incredible value wines and the range and depth of what I tried impressed upon me that I need to do everything in my power to get them to Texas.  Distributors, take heed.

The trip started with a bang – after holding my breath from being number one on the American Airline’s upgrade list – I got the announcement that “Weazy was movin’ on up” to business class.  I knew that two of my fellow bloggers, James Melendez and Ward Kadel were flying through Dallas, but we didn’t meet up until the flight was delayed.  At that point my three million miles and American Express platinum card (membership has its privileges) allowed us to grab a quick glass of wine at the Centurion Lounge at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport and catch up.  We were having so much fun that we looked down to realize the delay wasn’t quite what we originally thought.  The mad dash for the plane was on and we made it with barely time to spare.

James, Ward and Mike

We were met by Mike from Kraynick & Associates, who served as our cruise director, with patience, humor and a passion for the region.  He was unflappable when our two compadres were delayed in Paris, he found a way to take make sure they were taken care of and had details on how to catch the later train. 

We had the opportunity to walk the city of Madrid and begin our journey of eating for ten each meal.  We started at Gastrobar Larumbe with a preview of several of the wines that we would discover – the Tillenus, the Lavia + and the Puerto Salinas white, which I’ll talk about in more detail in futureposts.  The meal, which consisted of multiple tapas was delicious and substantial.  I soon discovered this was our “light meal” of the trip.  The two remaining bloggers pulled a stunt straight out of the show “Amazing Race” and made the train even though we thought they’d be several hours after us.  We didn’t figure this out, of course, until ten minutes before the train pulled into the Alicante station.

After a badly needed shower, we met for dinner and walked through the city of Alicante stopping for tapas and wine along the way.  There was a futbol match of Barcelona against Real Madrid, which a few of our group wanted to see, so we found a pretty authentic place to experience the game.

At this point, with our stomach’s full of great food and wine, the #olewinos probably made the last smart decision of the trip and retired to be fresh for tomorrow’s adventure. 




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