A tradition of hard work brings good news for lovers of Spanish wines

April 9, 2018 Comments off
Wineopenrs Zagarron-vineyards_B

The farmers of Bodegas Zagarrón use both the traditional style of goblet or bush vines in the windswept plateau region of southeast Spain as well as using espalier (or cordon) viticulture. Photo courtesy Bodegas Zagarrón.

Bodegas Zagarrón in Mota del Cuerva, Spain, isn’t a single winery or vineyard, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s a cooperative of around 780 families farming more than 5,000 hectares (about 12,400 acres) in the windmill-dotted high plains of southeast Spain.

Mota del Cuerva is in the heart of La Mancha, about halfway between Madrid and Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s a land of windswept plateaus cut by steep river gorges, and its elevation of more than 900 meters (3,000 feet) produces relatively mild winters and hot summers.

With the proximity of Valencia, most of the Coquense, as the locals are known, speak both Spanish and Catalan. Winemaking in the region goes back 200 years or more, but it wasn’t until after 1948, when local winemakers decided to pool their efforts, that the area has become internationally known.

Carles Moltó Domínguez

Carles Moltó Domínguez, the personable American sales representative for Bodegas Zagarrón, says his current favorite is the Sauvignon Blanc. Photo and story by Dave Buchanan

“The wines we produce in the bodega represent the traditions of our city and our people,” said Carles Moltó Dominguez, the Zagarrón representative. “Our city is very old (founded by the Muslim Arabs in 714) and it has had a culture of wine and working with grapes for more than 200 years.”

I met Dominguez in early March at VinExpo 2018, held at the Javits Center in New York.

He explained that pooling resources allowed winemakers to modernize their winery and share the costs of production, shipping and marketing. A massive modernization of the facilities in 2005 brought state-of-the-art technology and this dynamic gathering has helped the forward-thinking Bodegas Zagarrón win more than 60 award in international wine competitions.

But the past isn’t forgotten, Dominguez assured me.

“The people of Cuenca have a long tradition of hard work and working with wines and we want to reflect and honor this tradition in our wines,” said Dominguez. “We believe these wines are a result of that long tradition of hard work” in the vineyards.

The main varieties produced include such classic Spanish grape varieties such as Tempranillo, Airén, Macabea, Verdejo and Sauvingnon Blanc.

Today, the modern, high-volume winery produces well-made wines retailing for under $12 a bottle, all carrying the La Mancha DO (Denominación de Origen).

We tasted though Zagarrón’s selection of Tempranillo-based red wines, including a 100 percent Tempranillo, a Tempranillo/Petit Verdot blend and a Tempranillo/ Syrah blend.

When I mentioned I was partial to the Termpranillo Syrah blend, with its smooth tannins and deep flavors of red and black fruits, Carles Moltó Dominguez smiled.

“It’s very nice, isn’t it? Very food friendly,” he said.

And when pressed, he held out the 2017 “Garbeo” Sauvignon Blanc.

“This is my favorite, at the moment,” he said.

The elegant, well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc sparkled light gold under the harsh lights of the convention center, offering a nose of citrus and floral notes. In the mouth, the wine’s distinctive personality came out, revealing hints of citrus and tropical fruit, admirably offset by a gentle touch of grassiness and wet-stone minerality.

When it was mentioned the wine probably could command a higher price, Dominguez laughed and shrugged.

“You have to remember this is Spain, and a Spaniard knows very well how to enjoy the smaller things in life and how to be happy with very little,” he said. “While we obviously like money in Spain, it’s not the most important thing to us. Our prices reflect this philosophy.”

 

It’s time for a change, but is it spring or another blast of winter?

March 20, 2018 Comments off
190318 FD wine plum blossoms blossoms

Early heralds of the season to come, these plum blossoms may or may not survive to produce fruit, depending on the weather. Some fruit growers in western Colorado say they get plums and apricots about one year in 10. Story, photos by Dave Buchanan

A change is coming to the high desert of western Colorado. Observant hikers already have noticed miniscule blossoms poking out from desert shrubs, including such early bloomers as shadscale and saltbush.

In the city, winter-weary eyes are greeted by puffy blossoms of plum, apricot and serviceberry, glowing popcorn-white against winter-dark wood.

For fruit growers, however, this means restless nights, knowing it won’t be long until their sleep is broken by the roar of wind machines keeping the frost at bay.

Meanwhile, the vineyards sleep on. Even as eager gardeners eye emerging crocuses and dig into the cool soil as if spring were buried there, the vines wait unperturbed.

The vines are not fooled.

“Everything is still pretty much asleep,” noted Horst Caspari, state viticulturist at the CSU Orchard Mesa Research Station. “They don’t wake up very quickly. Each week they lose some of their cold-hardiness and each week they get closer to waking up.”

Caspari let his eyes wander to the apricot and pluot trees outside his window at the research station near the northwest corner of B and 32 roads on Orchard Mesa. He doesn’t harvest the fruit; the trees are there for decoration and to act as Nature’s calendar of seasons.

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Winemaker Guy Drew of Guy Drew Vineyards in McElmo Canyon near Cortez in southwestern Colorado checks some early bud development in his grape vines. Growers regularly monitor bud growth and survival, looking for hints of the crop to come.

“Once the trees and vines get to bud break, all the cold hardiness changes,” he said. “Look at the apricots. I’d expect we’ll see the first flowers in the valley this week but if it drops to 29 degrees, you’ll lose them.”

Bud break, when nascent buds emerge from the protective cover and show themselves to the world, is when spring really arrives in the Grand Valley, no matter what the calendar or the thermometer says.

When a visitor remarked that his plum tree was “thisclose” to flowering, Caspari laughed.

“Well, you probably won’t have any plums to pick up this fall,” he said.

Records suggest that the last spring frosts are coming come earlier and the first fall frosts arriving later, adding a few days on each end of the Grand Valley’s growing season.

Caspari, who refers to killing frosts below 30 degrees, said that in the 54 years of records the Research Station has kept, the median date for the last frost (below 30 degrees) is April 25 while the first fall frost comes around October 23.

That’s not absolute, he emphasized.

“In 2016, we got hit pretty hard when we had 19.8 degrees on Nov. 16,” he said.

In those years, the same records indicate the valley has picked up “about a week” of frost-free (i.e., not a killing frost) growing, Caspari said.

A few days in the spring and about the same in the fall.

“We definitely have changed in the fall,” he said.

Of course, the changes are not limited to western Colorado.

NASA reports the average global temperature has increased about 0.8-degree Celsius (1.4-degrees degrees F) since 1880.

Two-thirds of that, says NASA, has occurred since 1975, just about the time U.S. wines broke onto the world’s stage at the famed Judgment of Paris.

During the 2017 Vinexpo in Bordeaux, France, growers and winemakers alike voiced concern about a warming climate and its effect on winemaking.

“Vines are very sensitive plants,” Gaia Gaja, co-owner of the 159-year old Gaja Winery in Barbaresco, Italy, told the French Press Agency. “They’re like a thermometer. They register every little variation that there is around them.”

Which brings us to spring of 2018, where things are bit behind last year.

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Late March still is too early in the Grand Valley for grape tendrils but it won’t be long until delicate leaves such as these add a shade of green to brown vines.

“I keep track of the budding time of my flowers, my bulbs, and it’s been pretty fascinating,” winemaker Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards said recently. “It has not been unusual historically for me to have crocuses bloom in the middle of February and this year my crocuses are just blooming right now.”

She said the warm days have been balanced by nights dipping into the low 30s “and that’s keeping things pretty dormant.”

Caspari also noted that the spring so far is about two weeks behind 2017.

“Last year we had bud break in the second week of March and we don’t normally get bud break in Chardonnay until the fourth week in April,” he said.

One way to look at the spring re-awakening, said Caspari, is to envision a circle, with winter cold at the bottom and spring warmth at the top. Does the temperature rise gradually, following the arc of the circle, or is there a sudden bottom-to-top jump, bridging the gap and going quickly from winter to spring?

“That changes how you think about what you have to do to have a crop,” Caspari said.

Most grape growers are busy pre-pruning, getting ready for that last flurry of cutting and shaping when the growing season finally arrives. Will it come with a rush or will western Colorado sink back into another spell of winter, delaying the bud break and pushing development later into fall?

Nancy Janes gazed out of her winery at the still-sleeping vineyard sloping away to the north. A few clouds could be seen drifting far over the Bookcliffs in the pale, late-winter sky.

“So far, it’s been a very nice winter for us,” she said. “And you know, grapes aren’t fooled easily. They know when things are ready.”

What’s in The Glass: #5 – 2018/Bonterra Organic Vineyards

March 3, 2018 Comments off
Bonterra vineyard hill-copy

Bonterra Organic Vineyards In Mendocino County, Cal., has produced organic and biodynamic wines since 1992. The winery’s three ranches are certified Biodynamic® by Demeter. Photo courtesy Bonterra Organic Vineyards.

There might still be some people who question why a winery would go through the effort to produced organic or biodynamic wines. Working without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and chemicals requires more effort on the part of grapes growers and winemakers but the once you taste the purity and elegance of Bonterra Organic Vineyard’s lineup of wines, you’ll understand.

According to Bonterra’s founding winemaker Bob Blue, who got his jump into organic winemaking 31 years ago when he apprenticed under cult-status California winemakers Paul Dolan and Dennis Martin, “The key for making good wine is to have really healthy grapes.”

“We had the idea that if we farmed organically, we might make better wine,” Blue says in one of the winery’s promotional videos. “When we do organic, we get that balance in the vineyard.” The result, he says, is “the purest expression” of the grape.

It wasn’t easy at first, since even in the late ’80s few California winemakers understood the why or how of organic grape farming. Consumers, too, had to stretch their vision of what wine should be.

Today, “the consumers really appreciate what we do,” Blue muses in the video. “And we’ve achieved wines that are interesting and fun to drink.”

In 2017, Bonterra was recognized as American Winery of the Year at the annual Wine Star Awards ceremony hosted by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Bonterra 2016 Pinot Noir –  $18 SRP (media sample) Made with grapes sourced from home vineyards and from contract organic growers across Mendocino County,  this firm-textured, fruit-forward wine offers initial aromas of strawberries, red currants and red raspberries and followed by flavors of more red fruits with a touch of oak, spice and vanilla.

Bonterra 2016 Viognier – $16 SRP (media sample). An initial  flood of apricot and wine peach aromas are followed by flavors of more apricot, peach, green apple and orange blossoms. Fermented in both stainless (70%) and oak (30%) with another eight months in oak to add a bit of vanilla spice, this wine is sleek, firm and vibrant.

 

 

 

Bob Blue,,founding winemaker first wines in 1992

By then, Bonterra Organic Vineyards already had ben producing organic wines,

Today, Bonterra will be recognized as American Winery of the Year at the annual Wine Star Awards ceremony hosted by Wine Enthusiast magazine in Miami, Florida. It will be the first time the American Winery of the Year award is bestowed on a vintner dedicated to organic farming, and signals the blossoming acclaim and popularity of this once-niche segment of the wine landscape.

we’ve done so because we feel that organic grapes truly make the best wines,” said Jeff Cichocki, Bonterra Winemaker. “We were pioneers at the beginning of the organic movement, and we continue to evolve and lead with research into best practices for organic farming.

Why bio wines:  more structural balance and require less manipulation during the vinification proces

Advice from the wise: Older wines? ‘Grip ’em and rip ’em’

February 21, 2018 Comments off
Bonotto 1959

Holding on to wines in hopes they improve with age is a gamble. Pictured are 1959 Raboso from Antonio Bonotto in Tezze delle Piave, Italy. Photos and story by Dave Buchanan.

I recently posted about the joys of finding and drinking older wines. In this particular case, it was regarding a wine from 2006, which really isn’t old as far as wines goes but as I pointed out,  the wine was totally unexpected to be as delightful as it was after 11 years under my benign care.

The point I was trying to make is that older wines can offer insights into a winemaker’s thoughts during the original production. And, more key to the post, that you might come across an older wine, forgotten in a rack or in the case, and find yourself learning first-hand how a wine ages and the benefits a few years of patience can offer.

Curiously, a few days later, writer Michael Franz said in a post at Wine Review Online that holding a wine too long for wine can be a mistake. I’ve known (or better, known of) Franz since a trip to Italy in 2007 and have always enjoyed and appreciated his insights about wine and all the circus fuss that often accompanies it.

In this case, Franz makes several keys points. One, “there’s no way to know whether you’ll be catching the wine at the optimal point of maturity until you’ve pulled the cork”; and two, “And if it seems like you’ve waited too long, there’s no undoing the damage of an overly delayed opening.”

A sort of vinous “buyer’s regret,” I suppose. You buy a wine you think might be better in a few years and then you forget you have the wine or you spend years mentally relishing how nice the wine will have aged, only to find once it’s opened you missed the window of opportunity.

So what does Franz (the editor of WRO and a highly respected wine judge and critic)) recommend?

“After years of wrestling with the issue, I now find it quite easy to advise (owners of older wines), and I invariably advise them to get over their reverence and just drink the damned things,” he says succinctly.

In the case of the 2006 wine (a Grand Mesa blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from Plum Creek Winery), I wasn’t being patient so much as forgetful. I simply forgot I had the wine. And, yes, I got very lucky to find winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eton intentionally made this vintage to be shelved and opened years after bottling.

“For me, reserve status is carried all the way through fermentation,” Jenne recently emailed in response to my query. “Reserve wines were made with the idea that they needed to age in the bottle, so I was looking for different aspects through the fermentation process.

“Those that appreciate or recognize this evolution of the wine are the ones that buy cases of it to cellar and look forward to opening bottles with more bottle-aging time,” she wrote.

But, a Franz points out, maybe you should just drink that wine instead of forcing it to be something it might never be. Too many times you simply wait too long for something that isn’t going to happen. And, after all, you have an entire world of wine from which to choose for the next bottle.

“… a truly revolutionary diffusion of technology and expertise over the course of the past generation has now transferred potential excellence so widely across the globe that there’s no such thing as a bad year,” Franz states.

So the next time you pull out a surprise from that dusty box hidden behind the skis and the long-forgotten VCR, remember what Michael Franz suggests: “… grip ’em and rip ’em (because) even the luckiest person isn’t guaranteed another day, and you can’t drink your treasured wine tomorrow if you get hit by a bus today.”

 

 

 

 

Late bloomers: Wines that share their secrets only when they are ready

February 14, 2018 Comments off
Old wines on racks

You can’t judge wine by its bottle. Proper storage, which doesn’t always include regular cleaning, is one key factor in making sure a wine will improve with age. Here, a cellar in Spain shows its age and its promise. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

What is it about older wines that attracts us, like moths to a flame?

Maybe it’s akin to the daring of an older lover, or the mystique of yet-to-be-revealed secrets, or simply the call of the unknown and unexpected.

Opening a bottle of wine older than, say, five years, which really doesn’t make it old except under today’s standards of winemaking, shouldn’t be such a risk.

There are many people tonight who are opening wines bottled before they were born and, sure, some bottles won’t pan out.

But that’s OK, because the people seeking older wines have learned that wine can improve with age and with that the need to hold the reins on one’s expectations.

Today’s wines rarely are aimed at being around for 15 years or more. It’s certainly not true in all cases but many wines – luscious fruit bombs with soft tannins and little acidity –  are made to be consumed while young, aged no longer than the drive home from the liquor store.

This is due to several reasons, not the least of which are today’s consumer wants fruity, easy drinking wines to please a sweeter palates and to ease the trials of waiting a decade to drink a wine they might not like anyway.

But once in a while, even while searching for a “tonight” wine, you come across a vintage that dares to ask – Drink me now or wait for me?

Patience, grasshopper.

If you purchase and open a recent bottling of a good Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo or any of several other varieties, you’ll likely find it a bit stringent, short on fruit and long on tannins and acidity.

Come back in 10 years (or more) and it’s mellowed, with intense fruit, rounder tannins and a depth unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. These wines, and wines like them – subtle, nuanced, complex – were made to age, unready to share their secrets until time was on their side.

Recently, the Grand Valley received some welcome publicity from a national wine magazine. The article touched on the many wonderful attributes the Grand Valley offers to visitors (and locals) and mentioned the local Grand Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), unfortunately overlooking the nearby West Elks AVA along the North Fork Valley.

But some of us reading the article had the same feeling we get when someone asks us, “You mean they actually grow grapes in Colorado?” Read more…

What’s in the Glass – #4-2018

February 2, 2018 Comments off
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Tome Gore sums up his winemaking philosophy quite simply: Letting the character of the fruit shine through his well-balanced wines. Photo courtesy Tom Gore Vineyards. 

A popular bumper sticker in my farm-to-table part of the country reads “Know farmers, know food.”

Take that a step farther and Tom Gore might say, “Know farmers, know wine.”

Gore prides himself on being a second-generation grape farmer in Sonoma County who several years decided to meld his love of farming with a vision of true-to-nature wines and began his self-named line of affordable, well-balanced wines.

His website recounts his farming and winemaking philosophy: “Great wines start with the work of a farmer” and Gore describes his lineup as “farm to glass” wines.

Here are the latest samples I’ve enjoyed:

Tom Gore 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – $13. Aromas of dark cherries, currants and a hint of leather greet your nose while the mouth is filled lots of dark red fruits, dried red plums, sour cherries and black currants.

Soft tannins bolster the wine to a long finish of hints of faint cedar, dark chcolate and dried cherries and currants.

Tom Gore 2015 Chardonnay – $11. Fermented 60 percent in oak and 40 percent in barrel, this lively Chardonnay carries the best traits of both: a light oak styling brings depth to the fruit (a mix of yellow apple, pear and guava) while the stainless steel adds the right amount of tautness to balance the creamy underside of the oak.

What’s In The Glass – #2-2018

January 20, 2018 Comments off
bovin winery

The Bovin Winery in the Tikvesh region of Macedonia. Photo courtesy of Bovin Winery.

Another in our continuing (albeit irregular) contributions about new openings. All prices are averages seen online or in local wine shops:

Bovin 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, $12 – The Bovin winery is in the Tikvesh wine district of Macedonia, properly the Republic of Macedonia which formed after the 1991 breakup of Yugoslavia.

Winemaking goes back at least 4,000 years in the region and recently Macedonia’s wine industry has been pushing to gain more recognition.

Bovin has the capacity to produce 1.5-million bottles per year, which means producing various levels of wine to reach both regular and high-end consumers. I enjoyed the former and am intrigued about the latter.

I sampled the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon made of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grown 80 percent on winery owned vines and the rest sourced from regional growers. Full-bodied wine with an herby/earthy nose, lots of dark fruit (currants, blackberries and cherries) and soft tannins.

There also is a line of barrique-aged wines and a line labeled Superior, including (among other varieties) a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrique and a Cabernet Sauvignon Superior. More info on the website.

Imagery Chardonnay 2016, $16 – This pleasing blend of California-grown Chardonnay (95 percent) and Chenin Blanc (5 percent) is from Imagery’s new California tier of wines. The wine offers hints of apple and lime and pear with just enough oak to add some body and mouthfeel. The Chenin Blanc added some fullness for a fine mid-winter white wine.