Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Wines of Portugal (non Fortified)

How did I become familiar with the wines of Portugal
Well here goes a bit of my history.... Once upon a time, about 12 years ago, I  worked for a PR agency (Dunn and Robbins) that promoted wines of Portugal. I used to hold in-store tastings twice a week, every other weekend and got familiar with all the Portuguese indigenous grapes. 

Of course for the beginner, learning about wines of Portugal can be overwhelming. Portugal has over 250 native varieties, some of which only grow there. But, Portugal also grows French varieties too: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Viognier are some that are used in blends with native varieties or on their own. It's also important to know that some of the native varieties are found in neighboring Spain, though with different names; for example Tinta Roriz is the Spanish Tempranillo from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Alvarinho is the Albariño from Rías Baixas and Jaen is the Spanish Mencía, etc. 

For me Portugal, like Spain, offers plenty of quality at a very reasonable price. Of course if you want to spend a lot of cash, you can find expensive wines here too! but if you are looking for very affordable wines, @ less than $25 a bottle, Portugal is definitely your destination.

Slightly bigger than Bordeaux, Portugal has 190,000 hectares dedicated to vineyards. Climatically, the north of Portugal is cooler than the south which is drier and hotter. We can easily divide Portugal in three sections; appellations on the west coast, facing the Atlantic, enjoy cooling sea breezes, abundant rainfall and moderate temperatures. To the east, on the border with Spain, the climate changes to continental: cool at night but very hot during the day, much dryer, with lower rainfalls. Finally, in the south we have the Mediterranean influence, mild winters but dry and hot summers. There are many soils in Portugal; granite in Vinho Verde, Douro, Alentejo and Dao. Schist in Douro and Alentejo; clay, sand and limestone in Bairrada, Tejo, Peninsula de Setúbal and Lisboa. As you imagine it is the perfect combination of climate, soil, grape varieties and exposure that allows Portugal to produce unique styles of wines. 

Like every country in Europe, wine production is super regulated in Portugal and has a quality system copied from the French. The top wines are known as DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) equivalent to the French AOC/ AOP, then comes the IPR (Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada), similar to French VdP (Vin de Pays) and finally the Vinho de Mesa category or table wine. If you want quality, always stick to DOC wines.

Map of Wine Appellations, courtesy of Wines of Portugal

There are 11 regions in Portugal, these listed below are just my favorites. I opted to list regions, following the system of the old world, I'm including the grape varieties there too, though they don’t usually appear on labels. I am also including descriptions of all the wine styles, this will be important for all of you, who are not familiar with these varieties, and to give you something you can relate to. 

Vinho Verde: located to the north of Portugal and facing the Atlantic, Vinho Verde is usually a blend of several aromatic varieties that include Alvarinho, Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto, Avesso, etc. Vinho Verde is a very refreshing white with piercing acidity, usually low in alcohol, light body, and a bit of fizz. On the nose will show citrus: fresh orange peel, lime and grapefruit but also green apple notes. Wines from the Monção appellation are usually 100 % Alvarinho and a bit more serious. 

Douro: Yes! the same wineries that produce port, also make superb, dry table wines, and not just any red wines; Douro reds are some of the most flavorful/ beefy reds around! I consider them a powerbomb, because they feature a big body, big fruit, high alcohol (14% is the usual) but soft tannins. On the nose, they have nice black fruit (black cherries and plums), tobacco, cloves and other spices. The main grapes here are those used to make Port: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Cao,Tinta Amarela and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Some will be produced as a blend or as varietal.  Quinta Do Crasto is one of my favorite producers here, see more recommendations below.

Dão: is another source of delicious softer reds than those from the Douro valley. Made mostly from Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Jaen (Spanish Mencía) & Baga. Dao also produces flavorful whites, which can be medium to full bodied from the Encruzado grape. 

Bairrada: is a source of sparkling wines made with Maria Gomes grapes, Arinto, Cersial and even Chardonnay. But the star of Bairrada is a red grape: Baga. It yields a very rich, tannic red with high acidity, a big red that requires aging to tame its strength! it usually features flavors of black plums, coffee, tobacco and smoke. We can find plenty of wines from international varieties here too, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot etc. 

Alentejo: is a source of fruity and easy to drink reds that are offered in many cafes and restaurants.  Aragonêz (AKA Tempranillo from Spain) is the most popular variety here, but also, Alicante Bouschet, Alfrocheiro, Castelao (Periquita) and Trincadeira, all yield elegant reds.  And of course there are blends of Aragonêz with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, usually sold as Vinho regional Alentejano. 

Setúbal: is known for its Muscat of Alexandria fortified wine (Moscatel de Setúbal), which is a rich, exotic dessert wine featuring notes of oranges, molasses, and caramel.   
The Pamela DOC appellation produces wines from Castelão grapes, sometimes blended with Tempranillo (Aragonêz), Cabernet Sauvignon, Trincadeira and Syrah. Castelão yields fresh reds full of red currants and plum flavors, similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, but with riper tannins and balanced alcohol.

So, what do you think? should we give Portugal a try? 
Below my recommendations: many thanks to Broadbent Selections, Ole & Obrigado, Vineyard Brands and Herdade do Esporao for providing me with samples.

Broadbent Vinho Verde NV, $11.99
Known for his wonderful selection of Madeiras and Ports, Bartholomew Broadbent has added a full line up of still Portuguese wines. His mouthwatering Vinho Verde is a blend of 50 % Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Pederna. This light and spritzy white shows elegant lime and grapefruit notes and lively acidity. Comes in a rosé version, too.

Broadbent Dao White 2019, $14.99
If you are looking for a different white you have reached the right spot! made from a blend of Encruzado, Malvasia Fina, Bical and Gouveio, this firm, medium white offers white peach, slivered almonds with herbal (tarragon and fennel) notes, ending smooth and creamy!

Broadbent Douro Reserva 2018, $24.99
Polished red featuring a blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, aged for 12 months in oak. Elegant combination of ripe black cherry and blueberry compote with layers of clove and vanilla notes that frame a lovely finish.

Nortico Alvarinho 2019, (Vinho Regional Minho) $14.99
Made from 100 % Alvarinho grapes sustainably grown, this light, refreshing white showcases nice yellow apple and grapefruit notes and an elegant touch of white stone minerality. 

Macanita Douro 2018$29.99
Velvety red featuring Touriga Nacional old vines (some over 80+ years old) and Sousao grapes. This wine is aged for 12 months in a blend of new and old French oak and features abundant plum and blueberry preserves aromas combined with scented floral notes. 

Herdade Do Esporao Monte Velho Red 2019 (Alentejo) $9.99
An everyday red with substance, made from 40% Aragonêz (aka Tempranillo), 35% Trincadeira, 20% Touriga Nacional, and 5% Syrah. It delivers fresh red cherry and vanilla notes, subtle tannins tune up the finish.

Altano Douro White 2019 $14.99
A blend of organic grown Malvasia fina, Viosinho,Rabigato and Moscatel Galego. Tropical Pineapple and peach notes on this floral and bright white. Delish!

Altano Douro Red 2018 $12.99
Suave red made from a blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca. This tinto offers plum, glazed cherries and licorice notes that mark the spicy peppery finish.

Quinta do Ataide Douro Red 2015 $25.99
Concentrated red made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cao and Tinta Barroca. Aged for 10 months in French oak. It features prune sauce and brambly notes that complement the interesting fleshy finish. Cheers! Silvina

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#portuguesewines #portugal #thoughtsoflawina #tryadifferentredtonight

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

WineFunding: Crowdsourcing for wineries

What if you could invest in a winery and not only get your money back but get your return in bottles of wine? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

For a wine lover like me it is! and I think it’s a great idea to help producers with their expenses, especially for those that are new, or are expanding; and at the same time supplying their investors with bottles of wines and other wine perks from the winery as we may see. 

In order to do this, comes a company I recently discovered: WineFunding. 

WineFunding is a unique platform, that allows producers who need cash to connect with individuals that have that cash, usually wine fans/lovers who want to invest in wine estates. Before WineFunding existed, most wineries, went to banks to get their loans or had to have a small fortune to be able to own a part of any wine venture. 

CEO Maxime Debure had this wonderful business idea and opened his offices in the epicenter of the French wine world: Bordeaux and Burgundy. Together with his team, Maxime examines an average of 450 different wine projects a year, before selecting only the top 25. You can explore all of them on their website. But let me warn you, because this is a French company, most of the wineries at the time of my post, are based in France, though his plan is to extend geographically to fund projects all over the world. I can easily see myself funding a winery in Burgundy for sure or in my home country: Argentina.

WineFunding has created 3 basic models, and depending on your choice you will receive different gains from your “investment”. 

Pay back in Wine: this model is from small projects, wineries that are trying to get between 10,000-30,000 Euros.  Your contribution can be from 100-1000 Euros, the duration is 1-5 years, in exchange for your funds, the winery agrees to pay you, your investment in wine. Normally it will be the same amount of bottles spread on the duration of your loan. From the point of view of the wine founder, this option is similar to an "en primeur" sale of these wines. (where you buy wines before they are released). Let's say you invest $300 Euros, in 5 years you will receive a case of wine per year until the producer pays you what he/she owes you.

Wine Bond: this is where it gets really interesting and for me is the best offer, the principal is paid in capital (so you will get all your money back) but the interest is paid in wine.  This is used for medium sized projects that are trying to get between 30,000-300,000 Euros.  The investor’s contribution could be anywhere between 1,000-10,000 Euros, the contract lasts between 2-5 years. The payment of the capital is divided according to the duration of the contract, and is usually returned to the investors in increments of 20 to 25% per year and the interest, usually 8%, is paid fully in cases of wine.

Equity: This is for big projects, since here wineries are looking to raise more money, from 100,000 to 10 million Euros. The contributions could be anywhere from 1000 to 1 million Euros.  Here you become a  shareholder of the wine estate, so you will own equity. As a shareholder, you will receive dividends and/or capital gains, but also many other perks: special discounts for wine purchases, tastings, and free lodging at the wineries, tax incentives (though these are only available to French nationals), etc.  

Interested in becoming a Wine founder? take a look at some of their exciting projects. I was told by Maxime, that in the case of wine founders located in the US, the company works with a series of importers/distributors, to make sure their investors can receive their wines at home, according to US wine regulations. Plus, some of the estates will allow you to taste their wines beforehand (you will be buying a set of wines from them, through their website) and participating in live tastings with your producer/ winemaker, which will help potential investors to learn more about the wine estate/ future investment. 

Sounds fun!, isn't it? Cheers! Silvina.

#winefunding #crowdsourcing #winebusiness #winepartners

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Wine Science Behind Champagne

With only a few more days to Christmas in what became the craziest of years! I decided that I was not going to allow COVID19 to ruin my holiday spirit. And with this thought in mind I dedicated a few posts to sparkling wines. 

One question that my students ask quite often, is how do producers create the fancy bubbles? So, let’s start from there, there are three basic ways to create bubbles in sparkling wines:

A)The Method Champenoise or Traditional (where the bubbles are created by a second fermentation that happens inside the bottle). This is the method used for the best quality sparkling wines: Champagne, Cava, Crémants, etc. B)The Charmat Method (with the second fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in a tank, then the sparkling wine is transferred to the bottles), like in Prosecco and Sekt. and C) by the addition/injection of C02 like they do with commercial sodas (also happening in a tank).

Today’s post is about one of my favorite wines in the world: Champagne! where the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle.  The Traditional or Champenoise method, is a sparkling wine method created by an English man called Christopher Merret, but perfected by a French monk named Dom Pérignon…. Yep! the same name, as in the super expensive Champagne by Moët Chandon. See in wine, most things happen by accident, the truth is, wine itself was an accident. History tells us that monks in the past, besides praying all day, made a lot of wine for sacramental purposes. Dom Pérignon’s intention was to make a dry still wine, but it seems his wines were not very chemically stable, and soon he discovered that his wines started refermenting again, after being bottled.  What probably happened was that, in the cold cellars of Champagne, fermentations stopped before the yeasts had an opportunity to eat all the sugar. 

Dom Pérignon must have believed that the fermentation had finished and went ahead with the bottling of what he thought to be a finished still wine. Later on, when temperatures rose up again in the cellars, the yeasts inside the bottles became active once more, generating CO2 that was now trapped in the bottle, and voila! we had sparkling wine. Poor Dom Pérignon! He tried to prevent these from happening several times, but didn’t have the technology, winemakers have today to halt and control fermentation. So, after many tries, he tasted the wine and liked it. Dom Pérignon was also a very skilled wine blender and the first to make white wine from black grape varieties. Later on, Champagne became so popular that was the drink of choice in Louis XV’s court, and a staple in many French coronations that happened in the city of Reims (located in the very heart of the Champagne AOP). 

Now, according to European regulations, true Champagne may come only from one place in the whole world, from the Champagne AOP district in France, located about an hour NE of Paris. This appellation comprises the following 4 subzones: The Montagne de Reims,The Côte des Blancs et the Côte de Sézanne, The Vallée de la Marne and The Côte des Bar. 

See map above, courtesy of CIVC, regulatory council that controls all production of Champagne.

A whopping 34,000 hectares are dedicated to vineyards for Champagne production. These are distributed within 319 villages/crus, among them 17 Grand Cru and 42 Premier Cru. Like in Burgundy, location is very important here, but in Champagne, this is tied to the village and not to the vineyard. Yet, a Champagne made solely with fruit from a Grand Cru village, not only will have the best quality fruit in it, it should also say so on the label. 

Now, what makes this appellation so special? Of course and like in every region, the viti and the vini. The viticulture which includes climate, soils and topography, all of which will provide optimal fruit, and then the vinification, the winemaking intent and the process, which is very special in Champagne, as I will explain in detail below. So, let’s start by saying that the Champagne appellation is located very northerly, exactly between the 48º and 49º parallels, in what we know is a marginal climate for growing grapes. The climate of the region is continental with an average temperature in the summer of 51º Fh (or 11º Celsius), this translates into cool summers. Frosts in winter and spring can be a problem, as well as the freezing of the vines, uneven pollination and flowering too. Most vineyards are planted on hillsides/gentle slopes to increase sunlight exposure, altitudes here average 300 m. The soils are rich in porous limestone (chalk) which will provide minerality to the wines, and at the same time good drainage, some of this limestone contains clay, marl, sand and marine fossils from the mesozoic era.

Seven grape varieties are allowed in the region, including Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, yet the most important are the basic 3, all key elements of NV Champagne, which are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Pinot Noir, covers 38% of all plantings, and is mostly found in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar subzones. Pinot Meunier, covers 32 % of the plantings, mostly located in the Valley de Marne and Chardonnay covers 30% of the plantings, mostly located in the Côte des Blancs and Sézanne. 

Now, every Champagne starts its life as a light table, high acid white wine. So, once the grapes achieve the correct levels of sugar and acidity, the grapes are harvested, by hand to prevent crushing and accidental early fermentation. The date of the harvest will be decided each year by the CIVC or Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, who will also determine the amount of grapes allowed to be used for AOP production, the minimum alcohol of the wines and yields (10 hl/ha for 2019) all of which vary every year. 

Upon harvesting, the wines will be pressed immediately. The pressing of the grapes must be fine and gradual, in full clusters with stems, avoiding any skin contact, unless you are making Rosé Champagne (we will see how we get the color for this special type later on). Producers can only extract a maximum of 102 liters of must per 160 kg of fruit. Usually fruit from different villages are pressed, kept and fermented separately, according to the village, and also by variety. Juice extraction is measured in marcs or press loads, each marc is the equivalent to 4,000 kg of fruit. 

The pressings are divided in fractions, the best juice is known as the cuvée, and represents 2,050 L and the second is known as the taille or tails, representing 500 L. Each one is different. The cuvée is the free run juice, rich in sugar and  tartaric and malic acids. The taille or tails is also rich in sugar, but with less acid and more mineral content. The leftovers from the pressing (pomace) are sent to distilleries to make a spirit similar to Italian grappa. Earlier on, all pressing used to be done manually in vertical presses, nowadays, these are being replaced by pneumatic presses that are controlled via computer. After the Débourbage or settling/clarification of particles and pulp of the fresh must. The wine is then transferred to stainless steel vats or used oak vats (depending on the producer), protected with S02 to avoid oxidation and inoculated with special yeasts to start fermentation. If necessary, producers may decide to chaptalize by adding sugar from beets or sugarcane. They may decide whether to allow malolactic fermentation to happen or not, depending if they want a rounder, less acid wine or not. 

Up until here, this process is similar to any white wine fermentation, then comes two important parts in Champagne, one is the blending of the wines and the other is the creation of the fine bubbles. See, Champagne is not only a blend of grapes but also of wines from different vintages, the idea here is for the master blender to keep the house style year after year. Any NV Champagne is usually a blend of at least 3 different vintages, some producers can even include up to 10 vintages of reserved wines. In a typical NV Champagne, each grape variety will contribute something different to the blend, Pinot Noir will provide backbone and structure, Pinot Meunier will provide roundness and fruitiness and Chardonnay will provide elegance, minerality, floral notes and acidity. Once we have the base wines, they will be transferred to the bottles where they will be sold (which means, the second fermentation will happen there, no matter the size of the bottle). Here, the magic of creating the bubbles will take place with the addition of the liqueur de tirage, a blend of wine, yeast, sugar (about 20-24 grams/litre, enough to obtain a pressure of up to six bars/ atm) and additives that will assist with the remuage process (riddling). 

The bottle will be then sealed with a crown cap. During the next to 6-8 weeks, the yeasts will eat all the sugar, causing the second fermentation inside the bottle and creating the bubbles. Because they don’t have anywhere to go, the bubbles will “marry”  or integrate with our wine. Here it is important to note the size of the vessel where the second fermentation takes place, since the tinier the vessel, the finer the resulting beads, and the more elegant the wine. But the creation of the bubbles is one part of the process, the other important part is the aging with the lees or autolysis. Once the yeasts eat all the sugars, they die, creating a white sediment that producers will need to remove to have a bright, clear looking product. The autolysis is the process where the dead yeasts break inside and give the wine their bready typical aromas, you know, the notes of brioche, croissant, biscuit, that we find in most champagnes. This maturation happens in the cellars underneath the appellation of Champagne, usually at 12º Celsius or 53º fh for a minimum of 15 months for NV wines and 3 years for Vintage wines. Remember, that most producers usually age wines for much longer than that. Extra time on the lees will also give the wines more complexity and cremosity. 

Now, when the time for bottling has arrived, it will be time to remove the dead sediments first, this is known as degorgement. In order to do this, producers used to put, the bottles in a pupitre, see picture on your left, where the bottles are tilted neck down and are rotated by a remuager (a riddler) that normally can rotate 40,000 bottles per day. The bottles are rotated in little increments to force the sediments gently into the neck. This process can be accelerated by using machines called gyro palettes. Now, once you have all the dead yeasts at the neck, comes the actual degorge or expelling of the sediments. Producers will freeze the neck of the bottle to -37º Celsius and with the pressure of the bubbles, the yeast pellet will fly out, and with it some of the wine. Next, the producer will add more wine to top up the bottle, known as dosage. At this moment, he /she will decide to add sugar to the wine, depending on the style of sweetness he/she wants to create. And these could be:Brut Nature (driest of all styles) will contain 0-2 gr of sugar, Extra Brut 0-6 gr, Brut 0-12 gr, Extra Dry 12-17 gr,Dry 17-32 gr, Demi Sec 32-50 gr or Doux (sweetest of all) with more than 50 gr.

Once we added the dosage, the final step is to cork the wine with closures capable of tolerating the pressure inside the bottles.  This pressure could get up to 6 atm or 70 to 90 pounds per square inch, equaling two to three times the pressure of a car tire.  Also note, that to withstand the pressure inside, we will need thicker and heavier bottles than those used for still wines, normally most Champagne bottles can withstand 20 atms of pressure.

Most NV Champagne is an equal blend of the basic 3: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.  But there are other styles of Champagne, the Blanc de Blancs for example, it’s  a Champagne made only from white grapes (Chardonnay).  The Blanc de Noirs, it’s a Champagne made from black varieties such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. There’s of course, Rosé Champagne, that can be made with the Saignée method, or by blending white and red wines. In the case of Saignée, a short contact with the skins is what will give the light salmon color to these wines. Then, we have the Prestige Cuvées, these are the best Champagnes in the world, normally they are also vintage Champagnes (made with fruit from a single vintage/ harvest).  Usually produced by the Big Champagne houses, with the best quality fruit. Here are some of them: Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Moët Chandon Dom Pérignon, Louis Roederer Cristal, Krug Clos de Mesnil, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. (If you have the money, I strongly advise to spend your bucks here, at least for a special occasion). 

Remember to serve your champagne in a tulip glass, where you can see and can keep the fine beads that have required so much work to achieve. Champagne should be served chilled at 8-10º C 46-50º fh. Depending on the styles, Champagne can show different aromas, showcasing white flowers, citrus (grapefruit, lemon), tropical fruits (litchi, pineapple). Also a flinty, chalky character that is typical of wines from these terroirs. Black de Noirs featuring Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes will showcase notes of yellow fruits (peach, apricot, plum), soft berry fruits (strawberry, cherry, sometimes with a hint of blackberry or blueberry), citrus (mandarin, orange) and exotic fruits (mango and passion fruit).  Rosé Champagne may offer fresh aromas of red fruits such as wild strawberries, ripe red berries, and with age, dried fruits and spices.

My Champagne recommendations: many thanks to Vineyard BrandsEuropvinPalm Bay Imports and Taub Family Selections for this beautiful selection of Champagnes. 

Pommery NV, $45.99

The perfect blend of 33% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, aged for 3 years on the lees. Classy and refined.

Champagne Boizel Brut Reserve NV $49.99

A blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. White peach,

apricots and brioche. Delish with a full body.

Champagne Vollereaux Rosé de Saignee Brut NV $54.99

Made from 100% Pinot Noir and aged for 3 years on the lees. Ripe strawberry, pastry and vanilla nose. Rich and mineral champagne.

Pommery Rosé Brut NV $65.99

Slightly fermented with the Pinot Noir skins to obtain its beautiful color. Also a blend of equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It features the perfect balance of berry and spice. Well knitted and superb.

Delamotte Champagne NV $65.99

A blend of 55% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. Impressive nose full of citrus,white flowers and green apples. Delicate and elegant.

#thoughtsoflawina #winewednesday #champagne 

Happy New Year!, My Dear Winos! Cheers, Silvina. 

As always, remember to subscribe to continue receiving Thoughts of La Wina in your inbox. For more wine recommendations, follow me on Instagram @silvinalawina and Linkedin.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Sparkling World of Cava

Cava is the sparkling wine from Spain. It is made using the method Champenoise or Traditional, with the second fermentation that creates the bubbles, happening in the bottle. Cava by law, can be produced in many provinces of Spain, including Valencia, Aragon, Navarra, Rioja, Basque Country and Catalunya. But Catalunya is by far, the most important location in Cava production, since most of wineries are located here.

These fantastic wines are a very good choice if you want to save $$$ when choosing a sparkling. Cava is more affordable than Champagne, though in some cases as we shall see, is made from other grape varieties, usually found only in Spain. The quality of these wines has been increasing considerably in the last 20 years, and now we find very good samples that see aging on lees and longer maturations similar to top Champagne.

The first Cava was created by Josep Raventós, owner of Codorníu, who after traveling in Europe, visited the Champagne region and decided to replicate this wine at home. He did this in 1872 with great success, it was known then as Champaña. After Spain entered the European Union in 1986, producers were forced to stop using this name, since true Champagne can only come from France, so they started using the name Cava for this category instead, which means cellar in Catalan.

In the 1880s when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Catalunya, a lot of the dead vines were uprooted and replaced with varieties grown especially to make Cava. Most of the Cava production takes place in what is known as the capital of Cava, Sant Sadurni D’ Anoia, located 27 miles southwest of Barcelona, in the Penedès region. The area is influenced by the Mediterranean sea nearby, the presence of the Montserrat mountains provides altitude and coolness. Most vineyards are planted between 200-800 meters. 

By law, Cava can be made from the following white varieties: Parrellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo. In the 1980s, Chardonnay was also allowed and Subirat (which is not very much used). Red varieties are used to make Rosé Cava, Garnacha Tinta (Grenache), Pinot Noir, Monastrell and Trepat. Rosé Cava is made by allowing some skin contact with the juice, using the Saignée method, because the blending of white and rosé wines (like in Champagne) is not allowed by law.

Most white Cavas are a blend of the basic three: Parellada, Xarel-lo and Macabeo. Parellada adds finesse to the blends and is usually planted next to Chardonnay in the coolest sites. Xarel-lo adds body and acidity to the blend, while Macabeo (also known as Viura in other parts of Spain) adds fruitiness and aromatics. 

The first Cava to include some Chardonnay in its blend was Anna de Codorníu in 1981, since then some producers make 100% Chardonnay Cavas (also known as Blanc de Blancs). 

There are several differences with Champagne. In Cava they don’t normally use red varieties to make white sparkling wines. Another big difference with Champagne is the location and the weather, Catalunya is located farther south, and in general warmer than Champagne, requiring early picking to preserve acidity in the fruit. Cavas, as I said at the beginning, are made using the same method as Champagne, but they are aged on their lees for shorter times. Cava like Champagne can be non vintage or vintage. 

Laws regulating Cava changed this year, on July 15 2020.The purpose of this change was to promote the terroir of the appellation, something that they didn’t have before. They especially established differences according to locations, soils and climates.  The new law delimited a three level system that includes four zones: Comtats de Barcelona Valle del Ebro, Almendralejo and Altos de Levant. Several subzones that include: Valls d’Anoia-Foix; Serra de mar; Conca del Gaia. Alto Ebro; Valle del Cierzo, among others and eight paraje calificados or single vineyards: Can Sala, Vallcirera, La Fideuera, La Pleta, El Tros Nou, La Capella, Can Bas & Can Prats

According to their sweetness/residual sugar, Cava can be classified as: Brut Nature: sugar is less than 3 g/l. • Extra Brut: sugar is between 3-6 g/l. • Brut: 6-12 g/l. • Extra seco (extra dry): between 12-17 g/l. • Seco (dry): between 17-32 g/l. • Semi-seco (semi dry): between 32-50 g/l and Dulce (sweet): more than 50 g/l.

According to their aging on the lees/dead yeasts, Cava is classified as follows:

Cava de Guarda with a minimum aging of 9 months. Cava de Guarda Superior for Cavas with 18 months plus aging: this includes Cava Reserva (minimum 18 months, raised from previous 15 months) and Gran Reserva (minimum aging 30 months) and finally the Cava de Paraje Calificado/ Single Vineyards: these are aged for a minimum of 36 months.

Cava Reserva, Gran Reserva and Cava de Paraje Calificado can only be made in a dry style (extra Brut, Brut and Brut Nature). 

Stylistically, Cava will feature notes of almonds, yellow apple, lime and quince, honeysuckle complemented by brioche and yeasty notes from autolysis. The higher up you go in quality, like Gran Reserva or Cava de Paraje Calificado, the better the quality of the fruit, the quality of the wines, and closer to a good Vintage Champagne. 

Here are some new releases to enjoy for the upcoming holidays! A special thanks to Vilarnau, HB Merchants, Broadbent Selections, Taub Family Selections, Palm Bay ImportsCodorníu Cavas Pares Balta and Vineyard Brands for sending this beautiful selection of bubblies. Map, courtesy of the CRDO Cava.

Casas del Mar Cava NV, $10.99

A classic blend of Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo, this cava is aged for 18-24 months on its lees. Fun and a true value!

Codorníu Rosé  Cava, NV, $11.99

This cava de Guarda is made from Monastrell, Garnacha and Trepat and aged for 9 months on its lees. A Classic for Christmas in all Spain.

Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain Brut NV, $14.99

Colorful packaging for this Cava, featuring 45% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo and 15% Parellada. It was aged for 12-15 months on its lees. Fresh and crispy.

Marqués de Caceres Cava NV, $14.99

Mostly Xarel-lo (50%) here, complemented by Macabeo (30%) and Parellada (20%) grapes. Soft and briochy.

Montsarra Cava NV, $16.99

A traditional blend of mostly Macabeo (60-70%) and the rest Xarel-lo and Parrellada. Refined and elegant.

Pere Ventura Tresor Brut Reserva 2016, $16.99

A vintage Reserva Cava aged for 24-30 months. It features a blend of 40% Macabeo, 40% Xarel-lo and 20% Parellada. Very enticing.

Vilarnau Rosé Reserva  NV, $18.99

Aged between 15-24 months on the lees, features a blend of Garnacha and Pinot Noir. Beautiful packaging reminds you of Gaudi's and Miro's art. Refreshing.

Parés Balta Blanca Cusiné 2011, $40

Organic and vintage Cava, features a blend of mostly Xarel-lo (78%) with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Aged on its lees for 80 months. Superb!

There you have it! your evisit to the sparkling world of Cava! Cheers, Silvina. 

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

French Appellations: Beaujolais!

Two days from the date of this post, we will see all wine stores full of signs that will read "Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est arrivée" (Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived). This year, it will arrive on 11/19. It is the first wine of this vintage (2020), made 7-9 weeks after the harvest, usually arriving in wine stores every year in time for Thanksgiving. 

The appellation of Beaujolais is located to the south of Burgundy and to the north of the Rhone. It is a 35 mile long enclave where crafted winemakers make a light, delicious red wine from Gamay Noir, the child of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc.

There are 12 appellations here, Beaujolais which comprises 50% of all wine production (half of this in the form of Beaujolais Nouveau), Beaujolais Villages (25%) and 10 Grand Cru where the most serious wines are made, and these are: Côte de Brouilly, Brouilly,  Regnie, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin A Vent, Chenas, Julienas and Saint Amour.

98% of all wine production in Beaujolais is red wine, the other 2% is white wine (Beaujolais Blanc) made from Chardonnay that grows in limestone soils, yielding a similar style like the wines of Macon, in the south of Burgundy. 

Beaujolais, though geographically located closer to Burgundy, enjoys a different climate and soils. In Beaujolais, the climate is continental, with cold winters and warm summers, much warmer than Burgundy. The soils can be divided into two groups, the soils in the north are mostly granitic and schist (poorer soils), and in the south are mostly clay, rocks and sand. These two differences are key, since the best and most complex wines come mostly from the north where all the crus are located. Most vineyards are planted to the west of the river Saone on undulating hills. Some of top vineyards have altitudes that can reach up to 1,000 ft. 

See map courtesy of the Beaujolais Campaign/Sopexa.

But the most special thing about Beaujolais is their fermentation/ vinification known as Carbonic Maceration. All of Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages are made with this technique (either completely like in Nouveau or partially, meaning the wine will start up with the carbonic maceration and eventually it will continue with the traditional fermentation). While wines from the Crus are mostly made with the traditional/ conventional fermentation. 

The Carbonic Maceration basically consists of full grapes (not crushed) that are hand harvested and introduced in vats with some CO2 (carbon dioxide), this will cause fermentation to start intracellularly, meaning inside the whole grapes that eventually will explode. After maceration (usually as short as 3 days for Nouveau but longer for the other styles), the cru wines will see some aging in oak for a few months to a year. 

The fact that grapes are not crushed but fermented whole, yields a young wine that is very fruity and very low in tannins, featuring banana, bubble gum and pear drops flavors. In ascending order the wines will get more interesting, gaining body and seriousness. Basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages are not as fruity as Nouveau, and yet, still they are light reds. Things will get better with the Cru wines, the lightest styles are those that come from Brouilly, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Regnie and St Amour, are usually perfumed and charmy. Julienas, Chenas, Morgon,Côte de Brouilly and Moulin a Vent make the beefiest wines that can age and are more intense and generous, similar to a Pinot Noir in style.

Most Beaujolais Crus feature aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blackberry, with some oak aging: vanilla, smoke, minerals and leather. These wines will show refreshing acidity, soft tannins, light to medium bodies and balanced alcohol.

Indeed! Beaujolais can be a great start for those that are not familiar with red wines and want something that is easy to drink and uncomplicated. This is why, I often recommend Beaujolais to have with turkey at Thanksgiving, since this light red will be a perfect match for the bird. Remember to stick to the crus if you want/need more substance in your wine. Other pairings with Beaujolais will be cold cuts, chicken, veal, pasta, vegetable tarts, burgers, etc.

Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed within six months from its release, remember the new vintage coming in two days is the 2020. Slightly chill it to pop up its fruity flavors. Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages (the current vintages are 2019 and 2018) can be drunk up to 2 years from release and crus between 3-10 years, (the current vintages are 2018 and 2017). Moulin a Vent wines, which have the biggest bodies can last up to 10 years.

All Beaujolais wines offer a great value with most samples costing you between $16-30. Exceptionally you can also find wines from a top producer at $50. 

My wine recommendations:
Thanks to Europvin, Taub Family Selections, Quintessential Wines, H Mercer Importers and Vineyard Brands for donating samples.

Yohan Lardy Beaujolais Villages Blanc Les Bruyéres 2018 $21

Alexander Burgaud Beaujolais-Lantignié 2018 $23

Georges Duboeuf Jean Ernest Descombes Morgon 2018, $25

Château de La Chaize Brouilly 2017 $28

George Duboeuf Fleurie 2018, $29

Thibault Liger-Belair Beaujolais-Villages Les Jeunes Pousses 2016 $30

Happy Thanksgiving and Cheers! Silvina.

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