Articles in Drinking
With fall approaching and colder months on the horizon, it’s time to switch from ice cold bottles of beer, glasses of crisp chardonnay, salt-rimmed margaritas and minty mojitos. On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York, James Ouderkirk, general manager at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge introduced me to a cocktail he thought perfect to celebrate the change of seasons: a gin cocktail flavored with apricot preserves and burnt orange peel.
Like many cities in the Northeast that prospered during the early part of the 20th century, Syracuse suffered when heavy industries declined in the 1970s. Now enjoying a resurgence, a revitalized downtown centered on Armory Square is home to new restaurants, bars and shops. One of those is Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge.
A trip back in time
The bar’s storefront has served many masters. Once a beauty school and then a cigar store, as Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge the space was transformed into the kind of bar my grandfather would have visited in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The walls are painted bordello red or built out of weathered bricks. Besides the front area, there are several rooms, one filled with overstuffed upholstered sofas and chairs. Another has a pool table. Yet another is filled with arcade style video machines.
With a large plate glass window facing South Clinton Street and a two-story-high ceiling, the main room is focused on a 35-foot wooden bar behind which the floor-to-ceiling shelves are filled with an encyclopedic collection of spirits curated locally and from around the world.
A custom cocktail to suit your mood
Unlike many bars serving craft cocktails, Al’s does not have a cocktail menu. According to Ouderkirk, the philosophy of the bar is that patrons should describe how they are feeling and which spirits they enjoy, then the bartender will make a drink that will make them feel better.
On the night we met, I was tired. I very much needed a cocktail that would improve my mood. I wasn’t certain what I wanted to drink. I had one specific request: I wanted him to use a local product.
Discovering hard cider in the Finger Lakes
For the past several days I had been traveling through the Finger Lakes region, visiting orchards that distilled their apples, pears, peaches and plums into spirits.
On the trip, I tasted hard apple ciders with an effervescence as light as champagne at Embark Craft Ciderworks in Williamson and at the Finger Lakes Cider House in Interlaken. At Apple Country Spirits, I sampled brandies made from apples, pears, peaches and plums as good as any eau-de-vie I enjoyed in France and Switzerland. The biggest news for me on the trip was the fact that in the region apples were being used to create premium vodkas and gins.
Local sourcing for gin and other spirits
Tree Vodka is produced from apples grown in the Apple Country Spirits orchards in Wayne County close to Lake Ontario. 1911 Vodka and 1911 Gin are produced from apples grown at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette. Different from vodka and gin flavored with apples, these distillations are mellow with a clean flavor.
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Ouderkirk suggested he make a cocktail using 1911 Gin. With a portion of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a splash of soda water and a hint of freshly squeezed lime juice, he quickly mixed the drink. After he placed a piece of burnt orange peel on top, I gave it a taste. The cocktail had a light summer freshness. The aromatic gin anchored the flavors while the apricot preserves and burnt orange peel hinted at the fall.
To accompany the cocktail, Ouderkirk platted a selection of local cheeses and charcuterie. Sitting in the darkened room, sipping my cocktail, half listening to conversations at the bar and sampling Camembert, goat cheeses, cheddar and salami, I forgot entirely how tired I had been after my very long road trip.
1911 Gin, Apricot, Lime and Burnt Orange Peel Cocktail
As with all cocktails, the best and freshest ingredients will yield better results. Use a quality gin, apricot preserve and farmers market citrus.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 cocktail
1 3/4 ounce 1911 Gin (or a gin of your choice)
3/4 ounce St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Dash of freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon apricot preserve
Splash unflavored soda water
2-inch-by-1-inch orange peel, unblemished, washed
1. Mix together all the ingredients except the orange peel. Shake well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.
2. Hold the orange peel against the flame of a lighter or a gas stove burner until the peel lightly burns but does not blacken.
3. Place the burnt orange peel atop the cocktail and serve icy cold.
Main photo: Gin Cocktail with fresh lime and burnt orange peel at Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt
Three cheers for the nationwide revival of the all-but-lost American hard cider tradition! This renaissance is an outgrowth of spreading interest in locally sourced products and farm-to-table cuisine. Where there were perhaps a dozen artisanal hard cider makers in 2000, today there are 400, with new farm-to-bottle cideries opening every day.
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» Skip the bubbly and ring in 2015 with hard apple cider
» Cheering the revival of artisanal hard cider
» Polar vortex got you down? Ice cider will lift your spirits
» Apple cider gets dressed up for holiday parties
Tom Wark, a longtime wine industry publicist, launched “The Cider Journal” last year to track artisanal cideries and give vent to his passion for the movement. “These are complex, interesting drinks that are worlds away from the sweet, artificial tasting stuff I used to think was hard cider,” he says. “There is a growing band of dedicated craft cider producers across the country. Some have been at it for years, others not so long. But all of them are artisans.”
From the vast apple orchards of the Northwest to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, here is Zester’s look at some of our favorites.
Main photo: The Rev. Nat West, right, an ordained minister, preaches the gospel of good cider and is renowned for exploring the boundaries of cider making, starting from his basement and now flowing from 12 taps at his northeast Portland, Oregon, taproom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Zester Media
Winemaker Judy Chan can still recall the initial challenges when her father, C.K. Chan, handed her the reins of Grace Vineyard.
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A former human-resources analyst, Judy Chan faced not only tough competition from imported wines and the three giant Chinese labels — Dynasty, Great Wall and Changyu — but being new to the business, she didn’t know how to price, market or package the wine produced from the vineyard.
“The first bottle label looked like a soy sauce bottle,” she said of her early days in the business.
I was introduced to Grace Vineyard wines and Judy Chan three years ago in Hong Kong, where the young vintner is based. I returned home from a recent trip to Hong Kong with two bottles of Grace Vineyard’s wines with the intention of conducting an informal tasting of made-in-China Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay with California wines.
Putting Grace Vineyard wines to the test
I gathered together a few winemaker friends for a casual wine tasting, using brown bags to wrap the selected bottles: the 2011 Grace Vineyard Deep Blue (a Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wine with some Merlot) and the 2010 Babcock Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Barbara County’s Happy Canyon, both in the $45 price range, as well as two Chardonnays in the $25 price range, Grace Vineyard’s 2011 Tasya’s Reserve and 2011 Saintsbury from Napa Valley’s Carneros district.
In evaluating appearance, aroma, texture, aftertaste and overall impression, Grace’s Deep Blue rated higher than the Babcock. In the white category, Saintsbury topped Grace’s Tasya’s Reserve.
For the group, it was an interesting introduction to the Chinese wine industry, which, although relatively new on the international wine map, is producing noteworthy wines.
Taking over the helm
Judy Chan departed from Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong in 2002, when her father asked her to take over a 296-acre vineyard in Shanxi, China, about 370 miles west of Beijing, and an additional 163-acre property in Ningxia, China, 865 miles west of Beijing.
At the time, she knew nothing about wine making, but her father was introduced to the fine wines as an international dealer, trading raw materials such as coal from Shanxi to France. “People associate Shanxi with coal and pollution, so he wanted to contribute environmentally,” Judy Chan said of her father’s decision to plant vineyards in 1997.
The senior Chan selected Shanxi’s Taigu County, known for deep, sandy loam soil. During summers, the warm days (about 95 F) are followed by cool nights when temperature drops to about 60. White grape varietals are harvested at the end of August, with the red grapes following in the middle of October. Winters in the region are harsh and challenging, so vines have to be buried in the ground, Judy Chan said.
A focus on quality over quantity
With Gerard Colin on board as the winemaker, initial plantings included Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay, vines imported from a nursery in Bordeaux, France. The first vintage in 2001 of 1 million bottles has grown to 1.5 million bottles annually. “It’s a decision we made,” Judy Chan said of the annual production figures. “I want to grow in quality not quantity.”
She said the current portfolio for Grace Vineyard includes 16 wines crafted by winemaker Ken Murchison. Varieties planted in Shanxi include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and the new additions of Marselan and Aglianico. In Ningxia, vineyards include the three Bordeaux varieties as well as Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
How are the flavor profiles different between the two regions?
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are dramatically different, Judy Chan said. The Shanxi wines show black fruit character with hints of spice and pepper producing softer wines than those from Ningxia, which are bolder in character with red fruit flavors and higher in alcohol levels.
Identifying a market
Retail prices for Grace Vineyard’s wines range from $9 for the entry-level Vineyard series, a fruit-forward everyday wine, to $76 for the high-end Chairman’s Reserve, a complex Bordeaux-style blend aged in French oak. The cellar-worthy wine garnered an 85-point rating from wine guru Robert Parker. A newer label, the People’s series, serves as a mid-range wine targeted to the young crowd and marketed in Shanghai and Hong Kong’s hip restaurants and hotels.
This year, Grace is set to release some new wines — Shiraz, Aglianico and Marsalen — as well as a sparkling wine.
Grace has come a long way over the past decade, branding itself as a boutique family-run winery with success in local markets as well as export markets including Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Judy Chan said building a winery from scratch has been an invaluable experience.
“My dream is to build small wineries in different parts of China, each with its own identity,” she said.
Main photo: Grace Vineyard’s Chairman’s Reserve. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Grace Vineyard
Maine lobsters. Peanut butter. Graham crackers. Old Bay Seasoning. Citrus fruits. Craft brewers are dumping out-of-the ordinary ingredients into their tanks to create newfangled beers. “Anything is fair game these days because of the innovation going on among craft brewers,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association.
What better time to try something new or offbeat than during the waning days of summer? We cast a wide geographic net to find anything unusual, surprising or particularly delicious. The results were diverse, from Choc Lobster (Maine lobsters and cocoa powder) from Delaware-based Dogfish Head, to Helluva Caucasian (based on a White Russian cocktail and using peanut butter) from Colorado’s Living the Dream Brewing Co.
These 12 beers represent new or uncommon brews. Like summer, some are fleeting and available for a limited time. Others are available in a limited geographic area, while others are more widely available.
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Main photo: Cape May Brewing Co. makes a beer with cranberries and lemonade called The Bog. “We have a hard time keeping it in stock,” lead brewer Brian Hink says. Credit: Copyright 2015 Frank Weiss Photo
If you’re like me, you love wine but you might not have the benefit of deep pockets or space for a well-stocked cellar. And you’ve probably run into this scenario: It’s a Wednesday night and you’ve just slapped a filet on the grill or tossed some shrimp to sauté and you dash to your diminutive wine fridge to discover that you don’t have anything to pair with the meal.
Your options include settling for a mismatch, a mad dash to the supermarket to buy some mass-produced wine or maybe tapping into that fancy bottle of Barolo you smuggled back from Italy wrapped in your dirty socks and were planning to save for your anniversary. You could always skip the wine for the evening, though that really isn’t any kind of option at all.
If this has happened to you more than once, it’s a pretty good indication that you’re in need of a personal wine program. Restaurants put a lot of thought into making sure they always have the right wine at the right time. And while they manage their wine programs on a whole different level from a cash-strapped wine aficionado, the goals are the same: providing a great experience while keeping an eye on the bottom line.
So here are a few ways you can approach your personal wine supply like a savvy restaurateur.
Tap an expert
Restaurants that are serious about wine hire a sommelier or a wine director to help them make their wine-buying decisions. Private consultants abound, but there’s also a lot free advice out there. Your local wine shop is a great place to start. Jerry Larson, owner of Wineopolis in Corvallis, Oregon, is my go-to expert for quick advice. He is happy to suggest budget buys that still balance quality.
“Go to Europe for the $10 bottles,” says Larson, who carries wines from around the world that express the places where they are grown, rather than those that are blended and crafted to a certain style or taste. While he proudly sports an entire wall of excellent Oregon wines, he’s eager to help you work with your budget goals. “The New World isn’t as good at $10 wines that are vineyard driven.”
Larson offers free tastings every Saturday to help customers tune their palates and test-drive some of the entry-level wines he stocks.
Match your menu
“A wine director should be in constant communication with the chef,” says David Speer, sommelier and owner of Ambonnay, a Champagne bar in Portland. He also consults on establishing wine programs for restaurants and private collectors.
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That communication might seem easy to do at home when the wine director and head chef will probably be the same person. But it’s not as easy to accomplish when storage space is at a premium and wine purchases are made with a different part of the brain from the one that plans the menu.
I’ve tended to collect and save a lot of bigger, age-worthy reds, but when I stopped to look at what we cook and eat week to week, I noticed a disconnect. Our personal menu features lots of Northwest seafood, spicy Asian-influenced dishes and fresh salads and vegetables. Mineral-driven whites with bright acidity fit the bill much better than the epic red wines. Thinking about the menu objectively totally changed my wine-buying habits.
Keeping a close eye on your grocery cart will also allow you to adapt your wine program throughout the year. If you like to cook with local produce and shop at farmers markets, your menu will probably change over time. “Base your wine on what you eat, and think seasonally,” says Larson, whose shop abuts the Saturday market, allowing him a ringside seat to a parade of local produce.
“Remembering that your tastes will most likely change over time, don’t invest too heavily into one grape, region or producer. Spread it out,” says Speer, who suggests buying two to six bottles at a time to keep your supply nimble. “A case can be a bit much.”
The evolution of your tastes and palate is part of the adventure of wine. So saving a few slots for something new is a good idea.
Flexibility could also save you money. The wine market is constantly in flux. A good wine director will always keep an eye on the trends and bargains in case there’s ever a discounted wine that can be substituted for another option on the list.
Stock some exceptions
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find great wines, but it’s still a good idea to have a few special bottles on hand. I live in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and there are some amazing wines available, especially at higher prices. It would be a shame not to occasionally connect with the best the region has to offer.
Speer often sees restaurants making this very mistake.
Don’t forget the bubbles
Champagnes and sparkling wines aren’t only for weddings and celebrations. For Speer, whose passion for bubbles led him to open Ambonnay, it’s a no-brainer. “Your cellar should be 95 percent Champagne,” he says, only half-joking. “I think people don’t drink enough Champagne, and they forget that it’s really something you can enjoy more often, not just pop open with some friends and then move onto a ‘real’ wine.”
It’s a great time to begin exploring bubbles. There is an exciting movement away from big-production Champagnes to more single-vineyard, small-allotment vintages, and the range of options is growing. And there are sparkling wines from around the world that provide even more choices at great prices.
Speer recommends looking to Spain: “I’m most excited about Cava; there are some really cool, family-run places that are making great bubbles in the $15 to $20 range.”
Delicious, thoughtful wine and meal pairings are what make great restaurant experiences, but there’s no reason you can’t create the same synergy at home. You just need to think about the wines you buy a little more like a sommelier. So fire up the stove, pull a cork and create something special. And if you like what you taste, don’t forget to compliment the chef and tip a little extra for your somm.
Main photo: Sommelier David Speer recommends buying three to six bottles of a wine rather than a case; your tastes and menu will change over time and you want to remain flexible. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker
It is extraordinary to consider that about 20 years ago Priorat was an unknown name in the roll call of Spanish wine regions. Today, much has changed. Priorat is now one of just two regions with a designated DOCa classification, a step up from plain DO, the other being Rioja.
A band of friends
It began in the late 1970s, when René Barbier bought land outside the village of Gratallops, the estate that was to become world famous as Clos Mogador. The first wine was made in 1989 and Barbier was joined by what he calls a band of copains, friends who had worked or studied together and went on to develop their own estates, such as Alvaro Palacios from Rioja. However, Priorat has always been a wine area, with vineyards run by the priory of Scala Dei, the ruins of which nestle at the foot of the dramatic cliffs of Montsant. In 1835, the Spanish government confiscated all church property, and then the region suffered badly from the phylloxera (the aphid that was imported into Europe on American vines and ultimately destroyed most of the vineyards of Europe, until the remedy of grafting European vines onto American rootstock was discovered). The aphid blight resulted in a drop in the vineyard land from 10,000 hectares (nearly 25,000 acres) of vines to barely 2,000 hectares (almost 5,000 acres) today.
The landscape is dramatic and viticulture is tough. You look at steep slopes and narrow terraces and realize how the lure of urban life in nearby Barcelona or Tarragona was irresistible for many of the farmers who had been scraping a living from their vines. But today there is a new appreciation of the quality of Priorat, based on wonderful old vines, Grenache Noir and Carignan, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. For white wine, there is Grenache Blanc, Macabeo and Pedro Ximenez, and more recent introductions, such as Chenin Blanc and Viognier.
A special soil among the slopes
So what accounts for the typicity of Priorat? There is no doubt the wines convey a strong sense of place. The intensity of the flavors conjures up the steep hillsides, with alarming gradients — a vineyard tour is an exhilarating experience, and certainly not for the faint-hearted without a head for heights. The vineyards follow the contours of the land, so the aspect changes and the altitude varies considerably. Then there is the soil, the characteristic llicorella, which is a type of schist, some 300 million years old. It is this schist that separates Priorat from adjoining DOs such as Montsant and Terra Alta and gives freshness to the wines, balancing the sometime heady alcohol levels that result from the warm summers.
Barbier set the pace at Clos Mogador and others have followed. At the end of the 1980s there were six wineries; today, there are 104, such has been the breathtaking rate of growth. However, the vineyard area has not grown significantly. Vineyards have changed hands and where once grapes were delivered to the village cooperative they are now vinified by new owners, or by people taking a new look at their land.
From experiment to winery
David Marco from Marco Abella in the village of Porrera is one such example. His family have had vineyards in the area for centuries. He had worked as an engineer in telecommunications and his wife was a lawyer, and they had increased the family vineyard holdings with the idea of simply selling the grapes. However, in 2004 they decided to make some wine as an experiment, and they were so pleased with it that they took the dramatic decision to give up their jobs and build a winery. I was lucky enough to taste that first wine and delicious it was too, fully justifying the career change.
Marco now makes three at least reds, Loidana from younger vines, from equal parts of Grenache and Carignan with 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with elegant red fruit, well-integrated oak and a fresh finish. He explained that the influence of the Mediterranean is important, giving a good difference between day and nighttime temperatures. Mas Mallola comes from old Grenache Noir and Carignan, as well as a little Cabernet Sauvignon, from a particularly dramatic vineyard with a 200-meter difference in altitude between the top and the bottom. In the best years, he also makes separate cuvées of Grenache Noir and Carignan from the same vineyard. And then there is Clos Abella, which is predominantly Carignan, with sturdy fresh fruit. Carignan has often been decried, but tasting Priorat certainly prompts a drastic reconsideration of the quality and potential of this grape variety. White Olbia is a blend of Viognier and Grenache Blanc, with a little Pedro Ximenez and Macabeo, with some rounded textured fruit on the palate and well integrated oak.
A $4 taste led to a vineyard
Christopher Cannan is an Englishman who discovered Priorat in the early 1980s in San Francisco, where he happened to drink a bottle from Scala Dei that cost just $4, and it was delicious. He has long been a friend of René Barbier, and when Barbier told him in 1997 that there was a vineyard going for a song, 10 hectares (about 25 acres) for £30,000 (about $46,500), Cannan succumbed to the temptation. He made his first wine at Clos Figueras in 2000. He now owns 18 hectares of land, 12 of vines, with olive trees as well, and rents an additional four or five hectares, to make a range of finely crafted wines.
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The white wine, Font de la Figuera was an accident. They had ordered Cabernet Sauvignon vines and did not realize that they had been sent Viognier until the vines were well established. It seemed a pity to pull them up. Blended with some Chenin and Grenache Blanc, the wine has delicate peachy fruit. Serras del Priorat, from 60% Grenache, 20% Carignan, with some Syrah and a little Cabernet Sauvignon, has ripe fresh fruit, with a little oak. Font de la Figuera also comes from the same four grape varieties. The Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for less than 5% of the blend, but it gives backbone and structure, and the wine is dense and rich, but always with a fresh finish, even if the alcohol level is nudging 14.5%, even 15%.
The flagship wine Clos Figueras comes from 60-year-old Grenache Noir and even older Carignan — records were lost in the Civil War — with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, fermented and aged in barriques. It was ripe but elegant. And our tasting finished with Cannan’s first wine, 2000 Font de le Figuera, enjoyed over lunch in the welcoming winery restaurant on the edge of the village of Gratallops. It was deliciously mature, and as Cannan put it, “still at cruising altitude,” with some leathery maturity, a touch of minerality and a fresh finish, illustrating convincingly that Priorat amply deserves its newfound reputation.
Main photo: Once unknown among Spanish wines, Priorat is enjoying a newfound appreciation today. Credit: Courtesy of Clos Figueras SA
The best summer cocktails are light and refreshing and reflect the flavors of the season. Across the United States, bartenders are turning to summer herbs to add bright, fresh flavors to their drinks. Here are 10 easy ways to add your favorite herbs to your own cocktails.
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Main photo: Give your summer cocktails a summer kick with basil, rosemary, thyme and other herbs. Credit: Copyright Josh Wand
Rioja is one of the five great wine regions of the world, its wines celebrated both for their great longevity and for their extraordinary value. Only here do the terms Reserva and Gran Reserva carry the weight of law: To qualify as the former, a wine must be aged in oak for a minimum of one year and spend two years in bottle before release, while the latter ages in oak for at least two years and in bottle for three. (Crianza requires a year both in oak and in bottle.) So the wines come pre-aged — and for prices that make Bordeaux or Tuscany seem exorbitant.
Today, winemakers such as Juan Carlos de Lacalle of Artadi and Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri are arguing passionately that Rioja’s terroirs are as complex as Burgundy’s and that its wines should therefore be classified by village cru rather than length of time in barrel. But it will take a generation for such revolutionary change to occur in Spain; meanwhile, there is a panoply of styles to be savored, from the French oak-aged lusciousness of Roda’s Sela to the seamless classicism of La Rioja Alta’s 904. For complexity, longevity and value, not to mention sheer enjoyment, no red-wine region in the world can compete with Rioja. Olé!
CVNE Viña Real Reserva 2005
A delicious wine from CVNE, one of the old aristocratic bodegas of Rioja. Very sweet red fruit on the nose — first strawberry, then raspberry and ripe cherry, with hints of balsamic and molasses. Dense, ripe juicy tannins; lovely, lengthy notes of earth and dry bark. Around $40.
Artadi Viñas de Gain 2011
Juan-Carlos de Lacalle of Artadi is among Rioja’s radicals, his mission to highlight the region’s great microterroirs. This wine has superb bright fruit, a hint of leather on the palate, along with sour damson plum and briar, textured tannins, and a fine juicy finish. About $26.
Ysios Reserva 2008
Ysios is one of Rioja’s most arresting bodegas, its wavelike façade designed by the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava to echo the peaks of the sierra in the distance. Equally impressive is this dense, restrained yet powerful modern Rioja, showing scrumptious blackberry fruit, minerality, smooth tannins and mouthwatering acidity. “We look for concentration, softness and energy,” winemaker Roberto Vicente says. Quite. About $26.
Marqués de Murrieta Capellania Reserva Blanco, 2010
Rioja’s whites have a reputation for oakiness, but winemakers such as Murrieta’s Maria Vargas march to a different beat. This 100% Viura (the grape known as Macabeo in France) is full-bodied, certainly, but it’s balanced by dancing acidity, the aromas of roast almonds and white fruit, and a delicate, creamy finish. Delicious. About $20.
Remelluri La Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri Blanco, 2007
Is this offering from Remelluri the best white wine in Spain? Telmo Rodriguez’s field blend of Viura, Albariño and half a dozen other varieties makes the blood sing in your veins. White flowers on the nose precede a rounded palate with stone fruits such as peach, exotic spice and honey, pierced through with bracing acidity and fine mineral length. Balanced, luscious, triumphant. Around $25.
Ramón Bilbao Viñedos Altura 2011
Riojanos can be snobbish about Garnacha, considering Tempranillo the only true noble grape of the region. Ignore them. The 50% Garnacha in this blend from Ramón Bilbao allows it a perfumed freshness, with lifted raspberry on the nose and juicy blackcurrant on the palate as well as a textured, tannic finish. Mouthwatering. About $20.
Marqués de Cáceres Excellens Reserva 2009
Though established in the 1970s, Caceres is known as one of the most conservative of the great estates. That image may change somewhat with Excellens, a new range from small, high-altitude vineyards; the Reserva’s expressive, cool spearmint nose with salted caramel leads to a palate with fresh blackcurrant and sour plum. Ultramodern, international style with soft tannins enlivened by tart acidity. Good. Around $16.
Marqués de Riscal Barón de Chirel 2010
Established in 1858, Riscal is one of Rioja’s oldest bodegas, but with its titanium-clad hotel it rivals Ysios for modernist cool. Wines like this one, however, are classic. Lovely briar and licorice nose with a salty, river-mud stink, plus white pepper and fresh linen. Superb bursts of juice on the palate are balanced by lovely acidity, notes of snapped nettle stalk and polished tannins. Dense and compelling. About $50.
Contino Reserva 2009
A single-vineyard wine from the CVNE stable, made by the brilliant Jesús Madrazo. Very fine, deep briar and black-cherry aromas open to ripe soft tannins and mouthwatering acidity; the pitch-perfect palate of blackcurrant and blueberry hints at sweeter red berry fruit. Sharp, juicy balsamic finish. Long and opulent, it would be perfect with rack of spring lamb. About $35.
Ontañón Vetiver Rioja Blanco 2013
Another fine, dry, mineral white Rioja in the modern style, courtesy of Ontañón. Very pure with sharp, bright acidity, a hint of florality on the nose and a textured pear-skin palate. Defined, structured, brisk and intense — a food wine. About $12.
Luis Cañas Gran Reserva 2001
Bright, smooth, leathery nose, with some smoke and sun-warmed wood. Powerful sour plum and spice notes on the palate, along with intense linear tannins. There’s nothing big or brash about this wine from Luis Cañas — it’s got a superbly fresh, zesty length, yet it’s very austere and elegant. Excellent. Hard to get hold of but worth searching out as an example of just how well Rioja can age. About $40.
La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 2004
Pinot-like lightness of hue; earth, compost and potpourri on the nose. Ripe blueberry-fruit palate with hints of leather; round, soft tannins. Very restrained with subtle length — a fine and delicate classic brought to you by La Rioja Alta. About $50.
Gómez Cruzado Reserva 2008
Voted champion in the United Kingdom’s 2013 Wines from Spain awards, Gómez Cruzado’s fine Rioja has an oak-sweet nose with vanilla and white pepper; ripe black fruit; and a powerful, dry length. Very fine. About $25.
Finca Allende Rioja Tinto 2007
A modern style from Finca Allende, aged in French oak. Autumnal briar and hedgerow nose with hints of herb, followed by a midpalate loaded with fine dark fruit; smoke; leather; and rich, old cigar box. Luscious, elegant, complex. About $26.
Bodegas Roda Sela 2011
Established in 1987, Roda produces, from its stunning winery in Haro, some of Rioja’s most compelling reds. Don’t miss the magnificent Cirsion, but start with the entry-level Sela, with its voluptuous nose of violet-scented black fruit, velvety tannins and palate of dark cherry and plum. Modern Rioja at its best. About $33.
More from Zester Daily:
» Rioja on the cusp
» A Spanish spring value
» Spain’s Montrasell wine seduces under a French alias
» Trouble with Grenache
Main photo: The barrel cellar at Marqués de Cáceres. Credit: Copyright 2015 Marqués de Cáceres