Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Hola! Let's Learn About Wines From Spain

Today we are going to visit a very familiar and dear country to me: Spain. Those that know me, know that I worked for many years at the Spanish Embassy and 5 of which, I spent at Wines from Spain. 

Spain is truly like a second home to me, it's true that in my home country: Argentina, I was exposed to Malbec by my father from an early age, but Spain was the country where I really had the opportunity to learn about wine and from there, off went La Wina to expand her horizons and to continue learning about the competition, basically the rest of the wine producing countries in the world.

So, what is so special about Spain? The first thing that comes to mind, is that Spain has more hectares dedicated to vine growing than any other country in the world, to be exact 967,000 and this translates into a huge variety of wines. Spain is a source of great quality wines, at every price, with an impressive selection at the value level. Spain is also extremely diverse, it produces all styles of wines: reds, whites, sparkling or Cava , fortified or Sherry you name it! click on the links on the words highlighted in blue on this post, so you can re-read older posts that I wrote about different Spanish regions and grapes.

Spain has in my opinion, a few problems though, for example brand names that are very difficult to pronounce by English speakers, yet their true challenge for those that are not familiar with Spain, is that most of their wines are made from native varieties, and that requires, all of you, to study, research and learn the different styles and familiarize yourself, not only with new regions but also new grapes. But hey! You did it with Italy, you did it with Portugal, why not Spain? I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Following European law, Spain has a similar set of regulations regarding viticulture, vinification and geographical origin like those found in other European countries, such as France, Italy or Portugal. This means, it will be kind of difficult to find the name of the grape on the label (with a few exceptions), instead producers list the name of the appellations/regions. In an effort to make things easier for you, I created a chart (see below) that matches grapes with regions and wine styles, hoping it will provide a bit of clarity. 

Regarding quality, the top tier and best wines are the D.O.C., that means Denominación de Origen Calificada, this is similar to the Italian DOCG, followed by the D.O. wines, or in other words the Denominación de Origen, which is similar to the French AOC. Then we have the V.T. or Vinos de Tierra, which equals to the French Vin de Pays and lastly the Vinos de Mesa or table wines (which are at the very bottom of quality and not really imported to the US). Above all these categories, we have the Pagos Calificados appellations, Pagos Calificados mean single vineyards in Spanish, or Grand Cru in French, these are just a handful of appellations granted to what is considered the very best vineyards in Spain.

There are about 70 D.Os in Spain. Below, I will give you a brief intro to the most important appellations and grapes. Don't be afraid to give them a try! as I say to my students we should always make an effort to drink other things besides Napa or Bordeaux.

The most important Spanish red variety is Tempranillo (also known as Tinta de País, Tinta del Toro, Cencibel, Ul de Llebre and Tinta Roriz as it is known in Portugal) followed by Garnacha. Other important red native varieties are Monastrell (known elsewhere as Mourvèdre), Bobal and Mencía. There are also many plantings of international varieties and some producers make very good wines from those too, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir. For the whites, my two favorites are Verdejo and Albariño, but we can find also Viura, Godello, Moscatel and Airén, which by the way is the most planted variety in Spain. It's normally used to make brandy and light neutral table whites.  Spain makes great whites from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and other French varieties. Most of the French varieties are planted in appellations such as the Penedès, Somontano and Navarra.

Except for the area of Galicia and el País Vasco (Basque Country) in the north,  where it is cool and wet; most of Spain enjoys plenty of sun and warm temperatures, so ripeness and alcohol levels are not difficult to obtain. However, the contrast, the style differences happen due to factors such as the proximity to the sea (Atlantic or Mediterranean) the proximity to rivers such as the Ebro, Guadalquivir and the Duero, but most of all, to the altitude of the vineyards. Spain is, after all, a big "meseta" or elevated plateau, with vineyards located at different altitudes some of which can reach above 3,000 feet. There are many mountain systems in Spain spread all over the country, such as the Iberic, Cantabrian, Sierra Morena and Central, which will provide different expositions, soils, and most importantly a marked diurnal temperature variation that will aid slow ripening. The south of Spain is very hot as well as the Mediterranean coast, which creates ideal spots for Syrah, Grenache or GarnachaMonastrell and Cariñena, all of these thrive in a hot climate, and some of them are usually blended with French varieties.

Regarding Tempranillo, it is Spain's flagship red, it is a super versatile grape that can produce light everyday reds like most Rioja Joven or Crianzas to big bodied reds like the powerful reds from ToroRioja produces in my opinion the most elegant Tempranillos of all. While, Ribera del Duero produces Tempranillo “on vitamins”, meaning they usually have bigger bodies than any Rioja and are so worthwhile. If you like Southern Rhone wines, then try a Priorat or Montsant, both regions produce big reds (Powerbombs) made of Garnacha and Syrah, which are the very best from Spain. 

Regarding whites, Albariños, are not only delicious, but also very affordable, and Ruedas (Verdejos) are some of the most flavorful whites from Spain, feel free to revise my posts about these two styles of whites written last year. The sparkling wines in Spain are known as Cava with most important producers based in the Penedès region, following the example of Champagne, these are wines made with a second fermentation in the bottle and aged on their lees (dead yeasts). They are made with their Spanish native varieties: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, though some may add Chardonnay or Pinot Noir to the blend. Spain is also a great source of wonderful rosados (rosé wines) usually made from Tempranillo or Garnacha, DO Navarra is very well known for this specialty, though DOC Rioja also produces some of these too. Prices are also very affordable, starting at $15 and up.

See below your cheat sheet table to the top regions in Spain:

D.O. or D.O.C.
Type of Wines
DOC RiojaTempranilloMedium to big reds
DO Ribera del Duero Tinta del Pais (Tempranillo)Medium to big reds
DO  Toro Tinta del Toro (Tempranillo)Big reds
DOC Priorat & DO Montsant Garnacha and SyrahBig reds
DO PenedèsCabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, etc.Medium to big reds according to the blend or grape
DO Jumilla & DO YeclaMonastrell, Bobal, SyrahMostly big reds
DO Rías BaixasAlbariñoLight to medium white
DO RuedaVerdejo, Sauvignon BlancLight white
DO CavaMacabeo, Parrellada and Xarel-loSparkling

Map courtesy of ICEX and Wines From Spain.

These are 4 great examples of Spanish wines! so do give them a try.

Lagar de Cervera Albariño 2020, $18.99

Marques de Caceres Crianza 2017, $14.99

Protos Crianza 2016, $24.99

El Cortijo Blanco 2017,$14.99

So, there you have it! a concise tour through Spain, stay tuned for future posts, where I plan to explore the wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero coming soon to your inboxes. Until then, Cheers! or as they say in Spain: Salud! Silvina. 

#thoughtsoflawina #Spanishgrapes #Spanishwines #WineWednesday

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Top Italian Appellations: Chianti Classico DOCG

Though wine is produced all over the Italian peninsula, the first wine that comes to mind when talking about classy Italian reds is Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico is made from Sangiovese, the most planted red variety in Italy, with the addition of native Canaiolo, Mammolo or Colorino and/or French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. 
Historically, the blend wasn’t always like this, past versions had a different formula that included white grapes such as Malvasia and Trebbiano. Unfortunately the abuse of adding so much white juice to the blend, ended up diluting the wines; which affected quality and decreased sales.  Luckily, starting in the 1970's a new movement led by star wine producer Marchesi Piero Antinori took the necessary steps to elevate and restore the reputation of the region. One of these measures was to include French varieties in the blend, something that was not actually allowed by law and a fact that helped create the Super Tuscans category. The second measure was to remove the white grapes from the formula for good. All of these practices became law officially in 2006.  At the same time, there was a wide spread modernization in the vineyards and wineries, which improved the overall quality of Chianti Classico and transformed it into the elegant and delicious wine that it is today.  


Chianti Classico is located in the heart of Tuscany in central Italy, expanding for 71,800 hectares and comprising the area between the cities of Florence in the north and Sienna in the south. It covers 4 important communes: Greve, Radda, Gaiole and Castellina.

It’s important that you don’t confuse Chianti Classico with generic Chianti or with any of the six Chiantis subzones (Rufina, Montespertoli, Montelbano, Colli Aretini, Colline Pisani or Colli Senesi), which are outside of the Chianti Classico region. These are a good source of inexpensive Sangiovese, though never reaching the high quality of Classico.

When in doubt about what Chianti you are about to purchase, always make sure that the bottle has the black rooster image (see left), which is the official symbol/logo of the Chianti Classico appellation. 

The most important geographic influence in Chianti Classico are the Apennines mountains that start in the NW, by Liguria and continue south across the peninsula ending in Calabria, located to the SW. The proximity to the mountains as well as the proximity to the Tyrrhenian sea will provide coolness to the vineyards that usually enjoy a very warm, Mediterranean climate during the day. The topography of Chianti Classico is indeed very hilly with most vineyards planted on undulating terrains or small mountains that face South or SW. There are two types of soils here, the most important is the Galestro which is a rocky, schistous and clayey soil and the second one is the Albarese, which is a rich limestone and marl soil. Both of these soils will help tame the vigor of Sangiovese that needs to be kept in check to produce high quality wines.

Maturation is determined by law and it can happen in botti (large casks made from Slovakian oak) or in small French barriques. The entry level (Chianti Classico) must spend a minimum of 12 months of aging, then a step up in quality are the Riserva wines which are aged for 24 months minimum, 3 which should happen in the bottle. The last and most important category are the Gran Selezione, these are superb wines that are aged for 30 months minimum and are made from fruit from single vineyard locations.

It’s important to note that though the law allows French varieties in the blend to up to 20%, most producers opt to make 100% Sangiovese wines, keeping the participation of the French varieties to a minimum (less than 5%), which allows Sangiovese’s elegant personality to shine through.

Stylistically, Chianti Classico is a dry, medium to medium plus body red, with high acidity and solid tannins. Chianti Classico displays a lovely character featuring sour cherries, red currants, plums, plus some herbaceous notes such as dry oregano or tomato leaf, an ideal match to all tomato sauce based dishes and classic Italian fair (pasta, pizza, beef bistecca, etc). With age, Chianti Classico displays meat, mushroom, espresso, smoke, exotic spices and leather notes. Bodywise, plain Chianti Classico is usually the lightest style, expect the wine to be bigger when you deal with Riserva and Gran Selezione wines.

Drink or keep samples of Chianti Classico and Riserva for up to 7 years. Best samples of Gran Selezione can last much longer, and up to 20 years.

My Wine Recommendations: 

After 15 months of zero in-person tastings due to Covid 19, my first return to the rodeo was an event coordinated in NY by the Chianti Classico Consorzio. Of course there was too much wine to taste in only two hours, and I couldn’t taste them all... However, I must admit  that the very best wines (for me) were those made from 100% Sangiovese or Sangiovese in combination with Merlot. I feel Cabernet Sauvignon tends to make Chianti beefer, so if this is what you like, be my guest, but I prefer Chianti Classicos that are lighter in body, yet juicy and fresh. Here are some of my favorites from this tasting:

Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $27

Bibbiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, $37

Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2017, $43

Capraia Effe 55 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016, $33

Castello di Volpaia, Volpaia Chianti Classico 2019, $24

Castello di Volpaia Coltassala Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, $77

Dievole Vigna di Sessina Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016, $58

Felsina Berardenga 2019, $24

Felsina Rancia Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $58

Istine Levigne Chianti Classico Riserva 2017,$47

Istine Levigne Chianti Classico Riserva  2015, $47

Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Riserva 2017, $27

Le Fonti Chianti Classico 2017, $22

Le Fonti Chianti Classico Riserva 2016, $30

Marchesi Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico 2019, $24

Marchesi Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $44

Marchesi Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018 $54

Riecine Chianti Classico 2019, $27

Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva 2018, $28

Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2016 $68

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 $28

Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Strada Al Sasso Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2018, $41



As they say in Italy: Alla salute di tutti! Cheers, Silvina

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#chianticlassico #blackrooster #Italianwines #gallonero


Many thanks to the Chianti Classico Consorzio for allowing the use of the map and logo images, and also for the invitation! 


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Chilean Whites!

To make white wines with elegance and finesse, we need plenty of sun and dry weather but cool to moderate temperatures, so that grapes can develop their fruit flavors slowly, yet keeping their refreshing acidity.

One of the biggest problems in the new world is that sometimes producers plant white grapes in appellations that are too hot for them, so they end up getting overripe fruit and sometimes flabby wine. This is not the case of Chile, which was blessed with a combination of maritime and alpine influences that made it possible for them to produce fantastic whites in several of their appellations. 

Back in February I wrote a post about Chilean reds, so in this second part, I decided to visit Chile’s white wine appellations. 

Reviewing what I said back in the winter, Chile is a very narrow and long country that extends for 2600 miles and has many coastal regions. These coastal regions are influenced by the cooling Pacific Humboldt current, which provides breezes, fogs and even salty/iodine notes. If you read my post about Napa, you will notice, that this similar phenomenon happens also in California, especially in the appellations closer to San Pablo’s Bay.  Besides the cool Pacific’s influence, Chile has an alpine influence, with temperatures going down as we go further up the mountains. There are two important mountain systems, one is the Entre cordilleras or Coastal range, (this mountain system is located between the Pacific ocean and the Andes) and the other is the Andes themselves, where altitudes may reach up to 13,000 feet.  Finally, white wine production happens also in appellations located in southern Chile, which is naturally cooler.  

Though most Chilean production is basically red wine, 36% of their production is white. The most important white variety in Chile is Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Chardonnay, Muscat or Moscatel, and Riesling.  The style of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is very much from the new world: more fruity and less mineral like in the Loire Valley, and closer to New Zealand’s style. These are medium bodied wines with plenty of acidity, fresh citrus (grapefruit, lime) passion fruit and green peppers flavors. Chardonnays are made in the Burgundy style, and like in Burgundy, Chile has plenty of limestone soils, so the styles vary from mineral, citrusy and elegant similar to Chablis to rounder and fat, featuring pear, apricots and pineapple notes with a touch of oak and in some cases aging on its lees, similar to the Côte d’Or burgundies. Chardonnay is also used to produce sparkling wines. 

Following the map (courtesy of wines of Chile), our tour of the appellations should start in the north, where we find the Huasco Costa and Huasco Alta appellations, where fine samples of mineral Chardonnay are produced, as well as elegant Sauvignon Blancs and Pajarete, which is a sweet and aromatic wine made from a blend of moscatel grapes. Continuing south we find the Elqui and Limarí valleys, both regions are influenced by the Pacific breezes. Elqui is known for its distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc, while Limarí , also known as Chile’s green north, specializes in Chardonnay.  Then, come the important white wine appellations: Casablanca Valley, located about 60 miles west from Santiago, where the Chilean cool climate wine revolution started in the 1980s led by Pablo Morandé, the San Antonio and the Leyda Valleys, located about 70 miles southwest from Santiago. All three produce racy Sauvignon Blancs that showcase minerality, citrus and tropical fruits and Chardonnay from vines that grow on granitic, sand and limestone soils. See some of my recommendations below.

Further south, Sauvignon Blanc has found a home in the Curicó valley, an appellation that attracted investors like famous winemaker Miguel Torres. The Alto Maule is also known for its award winning Sauvignon Blancs, though Maule doesn't have any maritime influence, it is affected by the alpine influence from the Andes.  Finally, In the south, we find regions like the Bío Bío, Malleco and Osorno Valleys, where the protective effects of the coastal range are felt less. These regions are cooler and wetter and produce fabulous Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Rieslings grown in volcanic and sandy soils.

Below my Chilean wine recommendations: many thanks to Wines of Chile and Chilean producers and importers for sending samples. These were just delicious, and are widely available in the US.

Sauvignon Blancs

De Martino Parcela 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Casablanca Valley,$29.99

Calcu Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2020, Colchagua Valley, $12.99

Albamar Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Casablanca Valley, $12

Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Colchagua Valley, $11.99

Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Casablanca Valley, $11.99

Montes Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Aconcagua Coast, $11.99


Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2018, Aconcagua Valley, $21.99

Miguel Torres Cordillera Chardonnay 2019, Limarí Valley, $20.99

De Martino Legado Chardonnay 2017, Limarí Valley, $19.99

Escudo Rojo Chardonnay 2019, Casablanca Valley, $19.99

Veramonte Chardonnay 2019, Casablanca Valle, $11.99

Cheers! Silvina.

#drinkchile #chileanwhites #whitewines #thoughtsoflawina

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