Tuesday, September 19, 2023


I first tasted and learned about Vermouth/ Vermut, through my paternal family. When I was growing up, my grandmother Rosa, known to her grandchildren as grandma Tota, drank Vermouth everyday right before lunch, she used to mix some Gancia, with a bit of seltzer water and ice and served it with cheese, olives and salami as an aperitif. Of course, my father picked up this habit soon enough, and drank Vermouth every noon himself, since enjoying vermouth hour was indeed very common in the 70’s and 80’s, a tradition copied from Spain, Italy and France, countries where this ritual continues today.

Vermouth or Vermut (in Spanish) comes from the German “wermut” which means wormwood, these are the bark/ bitters used to flavor Vermouth and Absinthe. Historically, it was the monasteries that in the middle ages, used to infuse spirits and wines with botanicals to treat different types of human ailments and illnesses. Now, the actual birth of Vermouth happened much later, in 1786, when an Italian bar owner named Antonio Carpano, created his first Vermouth made from a blend of Muscat wine with local botanicals and started serving it to his customers. As you may imagine, what started in a small bar in Turin became a huge success and pretty soon, many of the important brands emerged, names like Gancia, Cinzano, Martini and Campari. This inspired the French to create their own version, which included more bitters in the recipe and therefore creating a drier style. The French took a step further and founded the first Vermouth Appellation Controlée in Chambéry in 1932. 

But, what is Vermouth? Vermouth is a fortified wine, similar to sherry and port. It starts its life as a dry table wine, to which distilled alcohol is added to about 19% ABV. This alcohol usually comes from grape or beet based spirits.  The difference here is that Vermouth is aromatized/infused, similarly to Gin, by macerating the base wine with barks, herbs, fruits, spices and botanicals. 

Most common Vermouth come in two colors, white and rosso (red), though rosé and golden versions also exist. Red vermouth or Rosso, follows the Italian recipe and is always sweet while white can be either sweet (also known as Bianco) or dry (usually labeled as extra dry). The different flavors/ aromas of Vermouth come from each producer’s own proprietary recipe, and may include spices, such as cinnamon, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, saffron, anise, cloves; fruits especially citrus peel from lemon, lime, orange and bergamot; green herbs like marjoram, chamomile, juniper, hyssop, ginger, sage, oregano and most importantly barks including wormwood (the key element of Vermouth), but also juniper, angelica root, licorice root and quinine. The taste varies according to the ingredients and according to the different levels of sweetness, which is added at the end, in the form of sugar syrup and/or grape juice concentrate, also known as mistelle.  

The base wine for Vermouth can be made from any grape variety and most producers use what is widely available to them, some of the most common grapes are Clairette Blanche and Piquepoul for French Vermouth and Catarratto, Trebbiano and Muscat grapes for the Italian versions. 

Stylistically Vermouth is full-bodied and mostly spicy, featuring herbal or leafy aromas, depending on the ingredients, vermouth can also be floral, or fruity, with citrus notes, but always with a hint of bitterness and tartness, that gives the wine an extra kick! 

The best of all is Vermouth’s longer shelf life, once opened, it can last up to 3 months in your refrigerator. 

Here are my recommendations: 

Boissiere Vermouth Extra Dry was originally developed in France in 1857, but the producer moved to Turin, Italy in the 70’s. This delicious, floral vermouth features rose petals and orange blossom aromas and is infused with a blend of botanicals that includes elderflower, chamomile and coriander.   This is a true value, costing only $10.99 a bottle.

Vermouth Mata Blanco and Vermouth Mata Tinto are produced in Bierzo, Spain. The Blanco is made from 100% Godello grapes and is aged for 40 days with a blend of roots and botanicals that includes anise, saffron, mint and thyme. Their red version on the other hand, is a blend of 90% Mencia with 10% Godello grapes and is macerated for 18 month with a blend of roots, flowers and botanicals that include anise, cloves, saffron, turmeric, bitter orange and sage.The importer of these vermouths (Patrick Mata) uses his own family’s recipe that dates back from the 1880’s. $21 each.

Vermut Flores Red and Rosé are originally from Uruguay, and are made with the most important red grape variety there,Tannat. These artisanal vermuts are infused with a blend of over 27 flavorings featuring wormwood, gentian, quina bark, rosemary and coriander and 4 flowers (rose, hop, elderflower and chamomile). $19 each.

Caperitif Lot 11 is an  extra dry vermouth/aperitif from the Cape, South Africa, featuring a base wine made from Chenin Blanc, Muscat and Bukettraube grapes. To this base, they add 35 to 45 flavorings that include flowers, grapefruit, herbs, bitters and spices, grown locally in the Cape Floral region. A portion of this vermouth is aged in old oak casks, adding even more punch to the recipe. This fancy vermouth is very dry, almost reminiscent of fine gin. $43

Chazalettes Vermouth di Torino Rosso is made using a recipe that dates from 1876 featuring: wormwood, artemisia, marjoram, angelica, coriander, lemon balm, ginger, bitters, cinchona bark among other enticing flavorings. It was named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, who in 1907 granted the Chazalettes the rights to bear the Real House emblem on their bottle labels. $29.99

And finally, Lustau Vermuts, which are different from the rest of the samples I tasted, as they have a sherry base. The Lustau Rojo is made from a blend of Amontillado and PX sherries with botanicals that include wormwood, sage, orange peel and coriander. The Lustau Vermut Rosé features a blend of Fino and Moscatel Sherries with Tintilla de Rota wine, the recipe includes chamomile, vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom and wormwood. $19 each.

As you may see, Vermouth/ Vermut offers a huge variety of flavors for you to experience, whether you choose to drink it, with ice and seltzer water like I do, or in a cocktail such as the Manhattan, Negroni or Martini.  Cheers! Silvina.

Thank you to Ole Imports, Broadbent Wine Selections, Palm Bay Imports, Europvin and Global Vineyard for sending samples to me.


#thoughtsoflawina #vermut #vermouth #aperitif #drinkupamerica #fortifiedwines.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

New End of the Summer Favorite: Lambrusco!

Emilia Romagna, located in north-central Italy is the home of many food delicacies, including Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma ham, Mortadella (known in the US as Bologna) and my favorite salad staple: Modena Balsamic Vinegar. It is also the home of a very special wine I’m drinking this summer: Lambrusco.

Made from clones of the variety of the same name, Lambrusco wines were a huge success during the late 1970s and 1980s. Back then, Riunite Lambrusco was one the most imported and consumed wines in the US. As the years went by, Americans chose to move to other styles, yet,  Lambrusco still has a fandom of consumers who love its fruitiness, its frothy style, crisp acidity and off-dry sweetness.  Above all, Lambrusco is a fun and refreshing frizzante wine to have in warm weather, I normally put it in the same category as Brachetto d’Acqui or Beaujolais Nouveau, in the sense that all of them are fruity reds that are served chilled.

Lambrusco is mostly produced by cooperatives located to the west of the city of Bologna, specifically in the provinces of Modena, Reggio nell’ Emilia and Parma. Most of its vine plantings are spread on the fertile plains of the Po river valley, but serious Lambrusco come from vines planted at the many hills (colli in Italian) of the Apennines, located to the south of Emilia-Romagna. Mass produced Lambrusco is usually sold as IGT Emilia, yet there are a few DOCs in the area too. As always, if what you want is quality, choose the DOC wines, coming from these appellations: DOC Modena, DOC Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, DOC Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro and DOC Reggiano

What to expect when tasting a Lambrusco?

First of all bubbles, these come from their second fermentation in pressurized tanks, using the Martinotti (Charmat) method. On the nose and the palate expect red fruits such as watermelon, strawberry, cherry and raspberry but also floral notes such as roses or violets.  Dryer versions will show mushroom, mineral, herbal and even vegetal notes. Above everything Lambrusco is a lot of fun, and quite affordable too! Expect also high acidity that will counterbalance both fruitiness as well as sweetness. It’s this acidity that cleanses your palate and makes Lambrusco wines a perfect match to all kinds of foods. 

Lambruscos are usually a blend of some of the more than 12 native clones, the most important are Lambrusco di SorbaraLambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Marani and Lambrusco Montericco grapesEach of these will yield a different wine style: 

*Lambrusco di Sorbara is the lightest and most elegant of all Lambruscos, not only in body, but also in color. It features aromas of watermelon, orange blossom and cherries. It’s also very floral, featuring violet notes. Match these with spicy cuisine, such as Asian or Indian.

*Lambrusco Grasparossa is the biggest style of all the wines, in body, tannins, alcohol and color. It features deep purple tones and often shows black fruits, such as blueberries, plums and black currants. Match these with grilled sausages, barbecue and creamy pasta.

*Lambrusco Salamino is made from cylindrical grapes that look like salami (hence its name), this variety is also the most planted variety of Emilia-Romagna. It has the aromatics of Lambrusco di Sorbara with the structure and color of the Grasparossa. Ruby red in color, these wines show fruitful notes of raspberry, cherry and strawberry.  Match these with hamburgers, charcuterie, and cheeses.

Lambrusco also comes in different levels of sweetness, from dry to slightly sweet, so check your label for these terms: secco (dry) semi secco (semi dry) and dolce (sweet); as always, when in doubt, ask your wine sales person to point you to the right style. Ideally consume Lambrusco chilled, and within 2-3 years from vintage, while their fruit is still vibrant and super fresh.

My recommendations:

I have tasted and loved the wines of Cleto Chiarli for years, these are just three of their classic line up, that received awards in the 2023 Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Wine Guide:

*Cleto Chiarli Vecchia Modena Premium Lambrusco di Sorbara Brut Frizzante 2022, $20

*Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco del Fondatore Lambrusco di Sorbara 2021, $22

*Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Cialdini Lambrusco Grasparossa Di Castelvetro 2021,$20

Hoping you will give these a try soon, cheers! Silvina
















picture courtesy of Cleto Chiarli. 


 #thoughtsoflawina #lambrusco #italianwines #italy #CletoChiarli

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Bodegas Otronia, Wines from the Very End of the World

Most of us are very familiar with the great Malbec wines that Argentina successfully produces and exports, but today I would like to direct your focus further south, to the province of Chubut, where very interesting wines are coming into shape.

This province of Chubut, in the Argentinean Patagonia, is located 2,000 km from Mendoza (the Napa of Argentina), its location at 45º latitude south puts this province at the very limit where viticulture is still possible. The province as we can see in the map below, is surrounded by the Andes in the west and the Atlantic in the east.

Here, near the town of Sarmiento and facing Lake Munster, is the location where Bodegas Otronia, a certified organic wine producer, planted 50 hectares of vines divided in two distinctive plots.

Of course, every great wine is the result of the perfect combination of a unique soil and climate. The climate in Chubut is very cold but also very dry and sunny, with an average yearly temperature of only 56º Fahrenheit and less than 200 mm of rain per year. Frost is often an issue, sometimes arriving in the middle of the growing season, and then, there are the raging winds, some as strong as 100 km/h coming from the Pacific Ocean that are truly felt in the vineyards. This happens, because the Andes that act as a barrier in Mendoza, where they reach well above 6,000 meters, reach only 700 meters in Chubut, allowing the winds to come through. In an effort to protect the vines from these fierce winds, Bodegas Otronia planted poplar trees all around their vineyards to shield them.  And then, there is the soil, a magic combination of 4 different ones, as the plots are located on what used to be the riverbed of a lake, featuring Lacustrine (lake clay) eolian sands, alluvial loams and fluvial and gravelly deposits from the Senguer river.












Location of the vineyards, photo courtesy of Bodegas Otronia.


During his visit to New York a week ago, Enologist Juan Pablo Murgia presented three of his wines, and explained in detail the uniqueness of the terroir behind them and how this translates into very focused wines with purity of fruit and elegant acidity.  A believer in minimum winemaking intervention, he ferments certified organic grapes with native yeasts in concrete egg- shaped containers, and ages his wines in untoasted French oak foudres that can contain 2,500 and 5,000 liters for 12 to 20 months. 

My 3 recommendations are the wines shown by Bodegas Otronia during their presentation. By the way, the winery’s name Otronia, means “land of Otron” which is the name that the natives used to give to Lake Munster.

*Otronia 45 Rugientes Corte de Blancas 2020, $39.95

Refined white made from a blend of 48% Chardonnay, 27% Gewurztraminer and 26 % Pinot Grigio. Murgia explained what each variety contributed to this blend, Chardonnay provides the texture and weight, Gewurztraminer the delicious floral notes and Pinot Grigio its vivid acidity. Very elegant indeed! A fragrant and crisp wine that boasts attractive jasmine floral notes, with citrusy lime and grapefruit nuances. Glossy on the palate with a mineral finish.

*Otronia Block I Pinot Noir 2020, $89.95

Ethereal red, featuring plush raspberry and bright red cherry notes with forest floor tones and super silky and spicy tannins. Memorable and delicious, made from fruit planted in Block I, where clay soils predominate.

*Otronia Block III and IV Chardonnay 2020, $89.95

Classy! This wine shows zesty acidity, a characteristic of fine cool climate whites, featuring juicy white peach and green apple peel with thyme and chamomile nuances. Simply delicious and mouthwatering with a persistent smoky finish. Very much reminiscent of fine Chablis and my fave of this trio. Cheers! Silvina


#thoughtsoflawina #drinkupamerica #Chubut  #winesofargentina #bodegasotronia

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Four European Rosés to Beat this Summer's Heat!

In all 30 years that I have lived in the U.S. I have never experienced a hot summer like this one, the humidity of last week alone was just too much to bear! And what is better to drink to chill us up on dog days like these? an appetizing glass of rosé! Rosé is and will always be a summer staple, here are 4 delicious European samples sent by Taub Family Selections. All available nationwide and at $21 or less. 

Saget La Perrière “La Petite Perrière” Rosé 2022 (750ml/$13.99):
The same family that crafts outstanding and flinty Sauvignon Blancs, also produces this juicy and precise rosé from 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the Loire Valley. Fresh from start to finish, it features delicious red fruit notes that include cranberry and red cherry, combined with mouthwatering acidity and a touch of minerality.

Jean-Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2022 (750ml/$15.99): Jean Luc and Anne Colombo, famously known for their superb Rhone (Cornas) reds make this savory Provençal rosé! It showcases a blend of 67% Syrah with 33% Mourvèdre. Elegant and very fruit forward, this medium-bodied wine shows watermelon, fresh strawberry, and pineapple candy notes, with a hint of sweet spice. Appetizing, with a long, pleasing finish.

Bertani Bertarosé 2022 (750ml/$17.99): Bertarose is made from the classic Valpolicella/ Amarone blend that includes Corvina, Molinara, Corvinone, and Rondinella grapes. This flavorful medium-bodied wine features the right balance of fruit and acidity, boasting plenty of white peach, sweet persimmon, and ripe raspberry notes. Vibrant with lovely length.

And finally, my fave, Planeta Rosé 2022 (750ml/$20.99): a Sicilian crisp Rosé, made from a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Nero d’ Avola grapes. Delicious and expressive, this medium-bodied wine shows ripe wild strawberries, meringue and rose petal notes. Intense, it simply invites you to keep on sipping it, ideally under the stars! 

Happy Summer to everyone! Cheers, Silvina.

#rosewine #rosesummer #thoughtsoflawina #drinkupamerica #drinkrose

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

When in London, Drink Gin!

I still remember when I was only 10 years old and my mother took me to my first English class. Back then in Argentina, all the language institutes taught British English, so I learned by listening to tapes that my teacher played on a large boombox and tried really hard to repeat what we were reading in our books. All the stories took place in London, and as I read about the Big Ben, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Tower Bridge, and other tourist sites, I promised myself to visit one day. Last month, I finally did it, and as I was researching information about places to go and things to do during my visit, I thought about going to a Gin distillery (Beefeater) to learn more about Gin.

Let me start by saying that though the UK would like to claim that Gin was created there, Gin was truly born in the Netherlands. Gin is indeed a derivation of the word Genever, which means Juniper in Dutch. Juniper berries are the most important ingredient in any Gin’s recipe, giving Gins their special aromatics and flavor. 

But, what is Gin and how is it made? Gin is a neutral spirit that has been infused with botanicals, which must include Juniper berries but also other flavorings, such as seeds like Caraway and Coriander, spices like Angelica root or Licorice, Citrus peel, and or different herbs. The different blends of botanicals is what will differentiate one Gin from another, and here, pretty much the sky's the limit, since one can flavor Gins with any type of combination of flavorings obtaining a different product each time.

   Botanicals used at Beefeater's distillery to make their gins.

The exact date that Gin was created is not known but there is evidence of many Juniper flavored spirits in the Netherlands starting in the 13th century.  Gin landed in the UK, after William of Orange married Mary II and became King of England in 1689. Not only he brought Juniper flavored spirits to the English court but he also promoted their commercialization by lowering the taxes on Gin, and by imposing taxes on Gin’s competitors such as French wine and Cognac. Pretty soon, these policies influenced the British drinking habits and Gin became very popular and the favorite choice of the masses. By 1720, the UK experienced what is known as the "Gin Craze", not only people drank Gin all day long but also a quarter of houses produced homemade Gins. Those were also the days when a pint of Gin was cheaper than a pint of beer, and drunkenness in London was a big problem. Pretty soon things got so out of hand, the government was forced to intervene and they did so with the first Gin act, whose objective was to slow down production and consumption. The government raised taxes on Gin, and raised the cost of the licenses to produce it and sell it, as well as paying informants to bring illegal Gin producers to justice. Of course this was not easily accepted by the masses, and London experienced all kinds of riots and protests. At the same time London saw a multiplication of illegal distilleries that produced Gins that were very toxic for human consumption and that included turpentine and sulphuric acid, considered then flavor enhancers. Yet, consumption continued heavily until 1751, after that many distilleries closed down and consumption finally decreased. Gin was then replaced by another drink that is extremely popular in the UK today: beer.

Now, how is Gin made? The basis of Gin is a neutral spirit, which can be based on grains, potatoes, sugar cane or beets. The base spirit is obtained by passing the fermented juice through a continuous still.  The science behind distillation is very simple, because alcohol boils at 78ºc, a lower temperature than water, which boils at 100º c, this will allow us to make a distilled spirit by simply heating out the base. Alcohol then evaporates leaving all water behind, then it’s a matter of collecting those vapors, which are cooled down by condensation. This process is how all spirits are made, with most going through two or more distillations. The more times you distill the liquid, the more neutral the spirit will be and the higher the final alcohol in your product.  Once you have the neutral spirit or base, then comes the most important part in Gin, the infusion with the botanicals, which can happen in different ways. Traditionally, botanicals were infused by heat (similar to making tea), yet some producers also do a cool infusion, and others a vapor/ steam infusion that will provide lighter, more elegant flavors. The variation in the infusion style, as well as the botanicals’ secret recipes, is what gives each Gin their own personality. 

There are several styles of Gin, but the classic in the UK is known as London Dry Gin, which is used to make most cocktails. It is dry, light in body and very aromatic, with plenty of Juniper berry and citrus flavors. No sweeteners, botanicals or flavors can be added after the distillation is complete, only water is added to cut it down. Though labels include the word London on them, this is a reference to their style and not the location where the Gins are made, actually some London Dry Gins are made outside of London. Navy Strength Gins are made like regular London Dry Gins, but they contain higher alcohol, these Gins must have a minimum of 50% ABV vs 37.5% in London Dry Gins. They tend to be flavorful, as they contain less water and therefore are in a way more concentrated. Old Tom Gins, on the other hand, are sweeter styles thanks to the addition of simple syrup, licorice, or even honey. Contemporary Gins are Gins that feature other flavors than Juniper berries, such as vegetables like cucumbers, rosemary, thyme, etc and finally Fruit Flavored Gins are Gins infused with specific fruit flavors and in certain cases color, which is added after their distillation. Beefeater has a full line of these, featuring flavors that include: strawberry, cranberry, rhubarb, blackberry, etc.  

Most Gins are not aged, yet some producers have experienced aging some of their products in wood in an effort to offer a spin on the classic flavor.

My recommendations are two Gins I tasted at the distillery, which are also available in the US:

Beefeater London Dry Gin, $29.99
A classic staple, made in London following the same recipe created by founder James Burroughs in 1863. It features 9 botanicals that include  Juniper, Coriander seed, Angelica root, Angelica seed, Orris root, Licorice root, Seville Orange peel, Lemon peel and Almonds.

Beefeater 24 Gin, $39.99

A sophisticated recipe inspired by modern London. It features a blend of 12  botanicals (as shown as in London Dry Gin), plus the addition of exotic teas that include Japanese Sencha and Chinese Green tea. 

Sadly the other two samples I tasted during my visit: Beefeater London Garden and Beefeater Monday’s Gin are only available in the UK. If you are interested in paying them a visit, you can book your tour through their website.

Before I leave you, let me share another historical fact about the famous “Gin & Tonic” drink recipe and how it came to be. This well known drink originated out of necessity and in the navy, when it was discovered that the only remedy to fight Malaria was the consumption of Quinine. Quinine, the key element in Tonic Water, didn’t taste good on its own, so in order to make it more appealing to consumers, or I should say patients, it ended up being blended with some Gin. Here is the classic recipe:

Gin and Tonic:
1 part of your favorite London Dry Gin
2 parts preferred Tonic water
Lemon and orange wedges to garnish. 

Blend the gin, with the tonic water, add some ice, and a wheel of lemon or of orange, and give it a stir. Yum!!! so delicious and refreshing for summer. 

Until the next one, drinkupamerica! Cheers, Silvina

#thoughtsoflawina #gin #drinkupamerica #london #beefeaters #londondrygin.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Celebrity Wines

Once upon time, when I was just starting in the wine biz, one of my instructors told me that having/ owning a winery requires so much money that in order to do this, you basically needed to be rich or have received a huge inheritance. The truth is we are talking millions of dollars here, considering the money you will need to buy grapes or own vineyards, to purchase all of the machinery, hire staff to do the work, plus the money you need to spend to promote and market your brands, I'm sure you get the picture! It’s no surprise to me to see so many celebrities, who have the $$$$ to invest, venturing into making their own wine and spirits.

Now to the consumer, a celebrity’s name on the label doesn't always guarantee quality! but it does, in the case of the wines I recommend below, and this is mostly because of the celebrity’s commitment to make a great product.
In some cases, some celebrities are truly wine connoisseurs themselves and know exactly what they want in a wine and how to sell it, participating not only in the marketing of their brand, but also in the blend selection helping to determine their flavor profile. Others have retired from Hollywood for good, to become vine growers and producers themselves, embracing and promoting what every wine producer does, the terroir behind each of their wines and the love of the land. In any case, for the wine biz this is a win/win situation, not only a celebrity’s endorsement will sell the wines very well, but oftentimes their partnerships with local winemakers benefits entire appellations and countries too.

So, here are some celebrity wines that I have tasted lately and that I liked:

Sarah Jessica Parker
Known for playing Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s Sex and The City and Divorce, Sarah launched her own wine line: Invivo X SJP in 2019, a collaboration with 2 New Zealand winemakers: Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron. 

Sarah’s line includes two wines: Invivo X SJP Sauvignon Blanc and Invivo X SJP Rosé, made in the south of France with the partnership of Vins Chevron Villete. My favorite is, of course, their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2022, which retails for $20. Zippy and super refreshing, it features delicious notes of grapefruit, passion fruit and lime. Rounder, compared to other Marlborough wines, yet so fruit forward and intense, a wine to impress others for sure!

Brad Pitt
From Thelma and Louise, to Interview with the Vampire to the many Ocean 11 movies, Angelina Jolie’s ex ventured into the world of wine in 2012, when together the then couple, bought Chateau Miraval and its vineyards, in the south of France. The Jolie-Pitts joined forces with winemaker Marc Perrin, producer of renowned Rhone red Chateau Beaucastel, to make a very impressive lineup of Provence rosé and white wines. My recommendation is the entry level Chateau Miraval Rosé  2022, that costs only $26. It’s a blend of Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache and Rolle. This is a super elegant rosé  that showcases raspberry and wild strawberry notrd with ethereal minerality. They also sell Muse, a super rosé  that retails for $400.
After their much talked divorce, Angelina sold her shares to the owners of Stoli vodka, but Brad Pitt decided to keep his stake at the company.

Sam Neil
Famous for his role in the Jurassic Park movies, among many other films. Sam Neil has owned an organic winery in Central Otago, New Zealand since 1993. His brand Two Paddocks produces wines from two varieties: Pinot Noir and Riesling. Sam is very involved in the winemaking of his wines, as he was exposed to wine from a young age, because his parents and grandparents were wine and spirits merchants. He became a Pinot Noir enthusiast after tasting Burgundy while visiting France and soon after, he started collecting, when he resided in London. He makes an entry level wine called Picnic, and my favorite, which happens to be the winery’s flagship: Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2021 $55, a medium bodied red that displays red currant and black cherry aromas, with earthy (truffle) and smoky notes. He also makes fancier single vineyard wines, but only in exceptional vintages.

Other celebrities making wines include Sting, Jon Bon Jovi, Francis Ford Coppola, Cameron Diaz, etc, too many for me to recommend. But as I tell my students, the only way to know about wine is to keep on tasting, as much as possible and as often as possible. So don't be afraid to give them a try, until next one! Cheers, Silvina.


 #thoughtsoflawina #celebritywines #drinkupamerica #invivosjp

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Wines of Argentina: Malbec and Torrontés

"Mi Buenos Aires querido, cuando yo te vuelva a ver, no habrá más penas ni olvidos…" says one of my favorite tangos by famous singer Carlos Gardel… what a way to start my post about wines of Argentina.

For a very long time, I wanted to write a post about my country, not only because these are the wines that my father, a true wine connoisseur, used to drink while I was growing up, but also because my family reads my blog, and though they may like and laugh at my stories and occasionally get bored reading about the technical side of wine, it will be good for them to finally be able to purchase some of the wines I recommend.

What to tell you about Argentina? The land of Tango, the land of asados (barbecues), of meat so tender you can cut your filet Mignon with your own fork. The land of dulce de leche and mate and of course, the land of Maradona and Messi, (we are the world champions after all!) but most importantly the land of Malbec and Torrontés.
Argentinians know their wines very well, they produce and drink plenty of it; Argentina is the 5th world producer and wine consumption is estimated to be about 36 liters of wine per person per year. Sadly, the wine we consumed in the past was not always of great quality; for a long time, we were very happy drinking simple quaffs, like Valmont tinto or Toro Viejo (per their website, it is still the second most popular wine in Argentina). But everything changed in the 1980s, when Nicolas Catena revolutionized winemaking in Argentina.  Nicolas Catena is our star winemaker, he was so convinced that Argentina had everything it needed to produce wines to compete with the very best in the world, he started a movement to improve the quality of the wines, by using stainless steel tanks and small French barriques for example, but he also experimented a lot in the vineyards, lowering the yields to obtain more concentration, planting Malbec at higher altitudes to attain more elegance and even creating his own Malbec clones. Today, his amazing work continues with his daughters Laura and Adrianna and with the Catena Institute, where they investigate soils, climates and techniques to produce the finest of Malbecs.

Of course to make great wine, you need to be blessed with ideal conditions. Over 225,000 hectares of vineyards are spread among 12 Argentinian provinces. But 2 of them are the most important, the first one is Mendoza of course! Located on the eastern side of the Andes mountains. Mendoza is the place to make wine in Argentina (our Napa), with more than 1,000 producers specializing in Malbec.  
The key element in Mendoza is the Andes that act as a barrier, providing extremely dry weather with very few rains (only 225 ml per year), good to prevent fungal diseases and have naturally healthy vines. Luckily, irrigation is allowed, with plenty of water coming in the form of melted snow from the Andes, but also some via drip irrigation or transported via channels.  Most of the vineyards are planted at high altitude, some of which can reach from 3,000 to 6,500 feet above sea level, keeping average temperatures between 60-70ºF, this allows sunny loving Malbec a long and slow growing season. Mendoza also has a variety of soils that includes: sand, gravel, clay and limestone, all well drained, poor and infertile, helping to keep yields low.  Also, of note is the pre-phylloxera clones, meaning that Argentinian Malbec clones were brought before phylloxera decimated the vineyards of Europe, this means these vines still have their vitis vinifera original rootstocks. 

There are five zones in Mendoza, the two most important are: Primera zona (1st zone) where the first Argentine vineyards were planted and home to some of the oldest wineries. It includes the subzones of Maipú and Lun de Cuyo. The second zone is the Uco Valley, in the south, that includes subregions such as Tupungato, Tunuyán and San Carlos, home to famous enclaves such as La Consulta and Paraje de Altamira. One of the things Malbec fans love the most is its delicious spicy dark fruit and supple texture, and the way it expands and coats your palate with its sweet and smooth tannins and natural fleshiness. So delicious, indeed!

The second most important wine province is Salta, located in the north west of Argentina. Though here, beautiful and sturdier reds are produced, the star of Salta is a white grape: the Torrontés Riojano, a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla grapes. Torrontés produces a very floral, concentrated and refreshing dry white (featuring similar notes found in Gewurztraminer and Muscat), showing flavors of rose petal, peach, lemon Meyer, citrus zest and geranium. Torrontés wines usually feature a medium to medium plus body with balanced acidity and high alcohol that goes between 13-14,5º %. Surprisingly and in spite of their sweet and floral aromatics, most Torrontés wines are dry and are best consumed when young and fresh. Now, the climate in Salta is even drier than in Mendoza, with very limited rains that keep yields low and  grape skins thick, a result of the extreme conditions. And guess what? The vineyards are even higher here than in Mendoza, featuring elevations up to 10,000 + feet, producing truly wines of altitude. The best vineyard plots are located in the Cafayate and Calchaquí Valleys. Besides Torrontés, Salta also produces wines from other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot, Tannat, Malbec, Bonarda, Barbera and Tempranillo. 

Because Mendoza and Salta are so dry and sunny, one may fear of overripeness but this is where altitude helps, bringing elegance. With the years Argentinean producers learned to identify the best spots for Malbec and Torrontés and to give them the proper treatment at the winery, so that the wines express their true terroir. Their hard work and dedication is what keeps their quality getting better and better.

My Wine Recommendations: nothing gives more pleasure than to be able to recommend wines from my country, as there are so many good ones! Here are just some of new releases, I tasted lately:

Bodegas Colomé Torrontés 2022, Salta $14. This Torrontes comes from some of the highest vineyards in the world with altitudes that go from 5,000 to 11,000 feet. It’s full bodied with delicious acidity and very aromatic notes of rose, geranium and grapefruit. Refreshing, and ideal for Spring.

Tilia Malbec 2022, Mendoza $11. Committed to sustainability, Bodegas Tilia produces this 100% Malbec that shows delicious notes of blackberry marmalade, aromatic violet, and bitter chocolate notes. Medium in body with velvety tannins from brief aging in oak.

Tercos Malbec 2021, Mendoza $15. Medium bodied red showing stewed dark cherry and blackberry notes. Super silky tannins give away seductive notes of vanilla and cedar.

Bodegas Caro Aruma Malbec 2021, Mendoza $21. A joint venture of two wine titans: Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and Nicolás Catena yielded this super round and creamy red with satin tannins and unctuous cassis, blueberry and plums notes. So inviting!

Susana Balbo Signature Malbec 2020, Mendoza $28. A classic from the top female winemaker in Argentina: Susana Balbo. This full bodied red displays ripe blackberries and blueberries blended with sweet tobacco notes. Very elegant with ultra fine tannins and juicy acidity.

Ben Marco Malbec 2020, Mendoza $22. Big and dense tinto showing opulent, sweet plum and black cherry notes, with a touch of dry herbs spiciness and a superb mineral finish. This is also produced by Susana Balbo. 

Ricardo Santos Gran Malbec 2018, Mendoza $34. Chewy and beefy Malbec, featuring prunes and plum aromatics with a touch of black pepper and balsamic hints.  This wine was aged for 24 months in French oak.  Very flavorful!


 Happy Malbec World Day to all! Cheers, Silvina

#winesofargentina #thoughtsoflawina #torrontes #malbec #internationalmalbecday

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Marqués Casa Concha: 4 Single vineyard wines from Chile!

Founded in 1976, Marqués de Casa Concha is a premium line from Chilean producer Viña Concha y Toro, owners of iconic Don Melchor, Amelia, and best seller Casillero del Diablo brands. This line up includes several varieties, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, a rosé based Cinsault, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the flagship variety in Chile: Carménère Back in November, I was lucky enough to receive samples of four of these wines, that I had the pleasure to taste with the winemaker (Marcelo Papa) through a very informative zoom presentation. 
Marcelo Papa started his talk by confirming that he sources fruit from some of the best terroirs in Chile. One of these appellations is Limarí Valley, known, as one of the best regions for growing cool climate varieties. In the case of both the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, the fruit comes from a 65 hectare single vineyard named “Quebrada Seca”, located just 21 miles from the coast, an area very much influenced by the cool Pacific ocean and the Humboldt currents. The Marqués de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2020, was completely harvested by hand, fully whole bunch pressed and barrel fermented and aged for 12 months in second hand French oak. The result is a very fresh and mineral white, emulating the best European Chardonnays, featuring crispy acidity, fresh pear, almond and flinty notes.  The Marqués de Casa Concha Pinot Noir 2019 was completely hand harvested, partially destemmed, and vinified with a brief cold maceration and whole bunch fermentation in open tanks. This wine was aged for 11 months in French oak, of which 22% was new.  The result is a very expressive and supple red that reveals charming layers of red fruits, especially red cherry and raspberry, with a touch of licorice and very soft and delicate tannins. According to Marcelo Papa, the clay and limestone soils of the Limarí appellation provide the tension, texture and vibrancy we find in his Pinot.

The Marqués de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 features fruit from the very heart of the Maipo region, closer to the Andes’ foothills, an area that is warmer and sunnier than the Limarí, but with Alpine influences. It also features gravel and sandy soils, better to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon. 60% of the fruit of this blend comes from the Puente Alto sub-appellation, which usually yields a more muscular style of Cabernet, while the other 40% comes from the Pirque sub-appellation, yielding a more feminine and elegant style. The blend has also a tiny percentage (10%) of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot
, sourced from the Maipo too. This characterful red displays typical aromas of crème de cassis, black plums and dark cherry notes, with very sweet/ ripe tannins and fresh yet balanced acidity. So smooth and easy to drink, It was very hard for me to put it away. This wine was aged for 18 months in French oak, of which 28% was new.

And finally the Marqués de Casa Concha Carménère 2020, from the Peumo Valley, located in Rapel, just 200 km south from Santiago, the capital of Chile. Sunnier and warmer, Peumo valley is protected by hills and enjoys a mediterranean climate, influenced by the Rapel lake and the Cachapoal river. Here, Carménère enjoys one extra month of ripening (compared to the Cabernet vines in the Maipo region). This refined Carménère, like the other 3 wines, is also a single vineyard and features a small percentage (10%) of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in its blend. So round and creamy! it showed a nose saturated with blueberry and ripe plum notes, displaying delicious dark chocolate and herbal hints too. This wine was aged for 12 months in French oak, of which 27% was new.
Widely available in the US, all four wines have a suggested retail price of $20-$25 per bottle, they are a fine example of Chilean winemaking and ideal for your Easter holiday dinner! Cheers, Silvina.

 #thoughtsoflawina #drinkchile #drinkupamerica #Marquéscasaconcha.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Vertical Tastings

Attending wine tastings is possibly one of my favorite things in the whole world, and I always make sure to attend as many invitations to wine events as my schedule allows. However, not all wine tastings are created equal, as there are different kinds of wine tastings. There is the horizontal tasting, which basically consists of tasting wines from the same region from the same vintage, these tastings help you to compare what wineries made on a particular year; there is what is known as a Vertical Tasting, which consists of tasting different vintages of the same wine to be able to assess how the wines have aged through the years, and finally, there is your typical tasting where you taste new wine releases from different producers and regions, which can be thematic or not. Of all these three, Vertical Tastings are the cream of the crop, since  producers usually open up bottles that are no longer sold in the market or are available in very limited quantities, some only via wine auctions. 

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to two wonderful vertical tastings of wines from Rioja, a vertical tasting of Bodega Montecillo Gran Reservas and a vertical tasting of Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reservas. Before, letting you know my favorites, I think it’s important to say a few things about Vertical Tastings, as not only ageability is assessed during a Vertical Tasting, but most important are the effects that time has on the different wine elements, including tannins, that usually become smoother with time; on the fruit, which may fade or not; or on the aromas and how a wine that tasted fruitier upon release develops a delicious aged bouquet of leather, ink, meat, forest floor, spice, mushroom, garrigue herbs and many other descriptors used to express their complex, layered and truly incredible aromatics.

A Vertical Tasting will also help you assess global climate change and how it has affected a particular region. In my case, I was able to see how Rioja wines from 30 years ago, have less alcohol and more pronounced acidity than most recent vintages. A Vertical Tasting will allow you to see and compare side to side the differences between the vintages, the differences in winemaking, as winemakers continue to experiment year after year in an effort to surprise us, this may include changing blends or percentages of grape varieties in a blend, changing types of oak, as producers choose to experiment with French, American or a blend of both, therefore enhancing a wine’s flavor profile.
Once again, acidity and tannins are extremely important, as they will provide wines with the structure and support they need to age and improve through the years. As I tasted bottles from 1973, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2016, I discovered that even the older vintages had a lot of lively fruit, freshness and elegance, allowing me to assume that some of these bottles will continue to improve with further aging.

My wine recommendations:

From Bodegas Montecillo, I tasted a selection of fine Gran Reservas that included these vintages: 1970,1973, 1982, 1985,1994, 2001 and 2005 (which was the special 150th anniversary edition). Of all of these, I truly loved the 1973, a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and 15% Mazuelo, that features ripe red cherry and cranberry notes meshed with leather and mineral hints. The 1994 was made from a 100% Tempranillo, which reminded me of the many wines I tasted in the early 2000s, still very fruit forward, it has a ripe and powerful blackberry nose, complemented by delicious balsamic and herbal notes, yet my favorite of the line up was the 2001 vintage, by far the best Rioja vintage in years, also made from 100% Tempranillo and showcasing ripe black fruits: blueberry and blackberry, tobacco and licorice notes. A very intense and concentrated 22 year old wine!

From Rioja Alta, I tasted a fine selection of their top Reserva Viña Ardanza, including the following vintages: 1989, 1994, 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2016, which is their latest release. My favorites again were the 1994, a blend of 75% Tempranillo with 25% Garnacha, showing black cherry, dark plums with cedar and bark notes, the 2001, which is a blend of 80% Tempranillo with 20% Garnacha, was powerful and layered, featuring delicious ripe blackberry, vanilla cream and allspice notes and the 2016, their latest release, a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha, featuring a perfumed floral nose (rose) with raspberry preserves and clotted cream notes. Rioja Alta is a producer well known for making classic and super elegant wines, and elegance and balance shone through the whole line up. 

Current releases of these two wines have a suggested retail price between $40-50. Older vintages, if you find them, can cost up to $200, for sure a treat we can give ourselves occasionally. Until next one! Cheers, Silvina.

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 #thoughtsoflawina #verticaltasting #Rioja #Montecillogranreserva #Riojaalta #Vinaardanza 

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Perfect Match for Your Valentine: Chocolates and Port!

I have something to confess, every year when Valentine’s day arrives, I go to the nearest drugstore and buy myself a big heart full of chocolates! Of course guilt makes me share them with my friends at the office, but I can’t help it! There’s nothing better to open the box and to try the different flavors. What is even better is to have them with a glass of sweet Port, for me the perfect match for my bonbons and one of my favorite drinks to have on cold February nights.

But what is Port? Port is a fortified sweet/ dessert wine, fortified means that it is a wine to which  brandy/ alcohol was added, increasing its final alcohol percentage, to anywhere between 18º to 23º. 

Ports are very similar to sherries, they are, after all, both fortified wines, but the big difference is that in Port, the alcohol/brandy is added before the fermentation ends and to stop it, leaving some residual sugar in the wine. In the case of Sherry, the base wines are usually fermented to complete dryness, and the addition of brandy/alcohol, color and sugar happens later, well after their fermentation is complete. 

Port was created in 1678, in the Douro region in Portugal, and once again, the British played a very important role. History tells us that two British wine brokers were looking for wines to sell in the UK and after trying the wines from Vinho Verde (in the north of Portugal), they decided that they were too acidic for their taste and continued farther south to the Douro region. There, they met a monk at a monastery in Lamego, who poured them a wine they truly loved! and so the story of Port began. The success of Port was such that pretty soon many British merchants settled down in the Douro and started making the wine themselves. This is the reason why, when you go to your favorite local wine store, you find ports with Portuguese names: such as Fonseca, Quinta do Noval, Ramos Pinto, etc and next to them, many with English last names such as Croft, Sandeman, Warre, Graham, Churchill’s, etc. 

Most ports are a blend from Portuguese indigenous varieties such as Sousao, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao, Tinta Roriz also known as Tempranillo, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional. The last two are very important since they provide perfume, tannins and concentration to the wine.

Most vineyards are located on both sides of the Douro river. This river originates in Spain and from there, it crosses to the west to Portugal, ending its journey on the Atlantic by the city of Porto.  The Douro appellation is divided into 3 important subzones: the Lower Corgo, located closer to the Atlantic, where it’s cooler, the Upper Corgo (in the middle) and the Douro Superior, located to the west and near the border with Spain. 

Map courtesy of WineTourism.com

Thanks to the work of the Marquis of Pombal, all the Douro vineyards were classified in 1757, in a scale that goes from A to F, implementing a similar system like the ones in Grand Cru Burgundy or Champagne.  As imagined all fruit that comes from the A vineyards, is supposed to be the best and is only used to make the best quality ports. 

Some of the many factors required to be in the “A” group are: the altitude of the vineyard, the type of soils, their orientation towards the sun, the climate, the vine age, the varieties, the density of planting and the yields. Everything of course is very much regulated by Portuguese wine law.

The climate in the Douro changes depending where you are. In the Douro Superior, located to the west, it is very hot, with temperatures well above 100º F during the growing season. Temperatures become cooler on the vineyards of lower Corgo which are closer to the Atlantic. Vineyards are usually planted on steep terraces (see pic below) around the river, that are rich in schist and granite, both soils are very friable, allowing the vine roots to go deep in search of nutrients. Tradition indicates that after the wines are vinified in the Upper Corgo and Douro Superior, they are transported later to a cooler location in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, where the blending and aging of the different styles takes place. 

                           Beautiful Vineyard terraces overlooking the Douro River.

There are many styles of ports but most can be divided in two categories according to their aging: 

1) Those with most of their aging, happening in oak casks, which can be drunk as soon as they are released. These ports usually have a brown/ amber color because the wine was exposed to oxygen in the casks and feature aromas of toffee, caramel, nuts, brown sugar and vanilla.

And 2) Those aged very briefly in cask, but aged for a long time in a bottle, Vintage and Single Quinta Vintage ports are examples of these. These wines have a deep red or ruby color and feature notes of black cherry, plum, chocolate, cloves, spices and plenty of tannins. They are usually bottled unfiltered, so they need to be decanted to remove the sediments before serving. They require cellar aging and will reach their peak usually 20 years from their vintage.

Let’s take a look now at the most well known Port styles in ascending order of quality. 

Ruby is the simplest and most affordable type of Port, these are fruity wines with less than 3 years of aging (usually in stainless steel or concrete vats to preserve color and fruitiness). They are usually blends from different vintages. These wines are ready to be drunk, after fining and bottling. Now, the Ruby Reserva, is a bit better in quality, and is usually aged for longer, up to 5 years. Most of their fruit comes from the Lower Corgo subzone.

LBVs or Late Bottled Vintage is similar to the Ruby Reserva, but it is made from grapes from only 1 vintage and aged for longer between 4-6 years in cask. It will have plenty of ripe fruit but a heftier body than Ruby and Ruby Reserva.

Tawny ports are known for their brownish color, which they acquire by oxidative aging in casks, which happens for a minimum of three years. The best Tawnys are aged for longer and have an indication of age on the label: they can be 10, 20, 30 or 40 years old. The age on the label is an average of the vintages blended, and much depends on the stock that producers have. They do not need to be decanted, and are best consumed cool.

Colheita Tawnys are single vintage Tawnys. They need to be aged for a minimum of 7 years in oak, but most producers age them for longer. 

Vintage and Single Quinta Vintage Ports are the best ports of all, truly the crème of the crop! For starters, Vintage ports are not produced every vintage but only in the best years. A vintage is declared by producers an average of 3 times in 10 years, something that is decided by each winery. These wines are made with grapes from the best vineyards (classified as A), they are aged for a very short time, no more than 2 years in oak, and then, they are bottled without filtration. They have high levels of tannins, and intense fruit flavors, sweetness and alcohol. They can be drunk young but it is advisable to age them for at least 20 years or more, to see their true potential. The bottle aging will soften the wine and change it thanks to the reductive aging (without oxygen). They will show notes of stewed fruit, coffee, spices and leather. Because they are unfiltered, they need decanting to remove their sediments. Best vintages were: 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011 (exceptional), 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019.

The Single Quinta wines are made following the same process of Vintage ports, but are made with grapes from one vineyard, (vintage port is a blend from grapes of different vineyards) Single Quintas are made mostly on years that a vintage is not declared. They are usually ready sooner than vintage ports and are also less expensive. 

Finally, there’s also a White port category, made from white grapes, these could be dry or sweet, and are aged in wood from 2-3 years. Unfortunately, not much of it is available in the US. The Portuguese drink them as an aperitif on ice.

Store your ports in a cool and dark room, away from vibration. Open bottles of Port will last at least 2 months in the fridge. Vintage port last less so make sure you drink those right away.

My Recommendations:

Broadbent Ruby Port, $17
Seductive and ready to drink port, showing ripe currant and black plum notes, fleshy and very rich with a spicy finish. Have this with dark chocolate filled with strawberry or raspberry cream or other fruity fillings.

Taylor Fladgate LBV 2017 Port, $ 25
Succulent port with plenty of red fruit that include maraschino cherries and strawberry preserve notes. Shows a beautiful balance of oak aging and refreshing acidity. Delish! Have this with dark chocolates filled with almond nougat, coffee filling or dark chocolate filled with toffee.

Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old Tawny, $33.99
Very polished and rich tawny featuring toffee, honey and hazelnut notes. Nicely integrated acidity lifts the long finish. Refined! Have this with milk chocolate filled with pecans, walnuts or toffee. Also good with black chocolate truffles filled with white chocolate. 

Ramos Pinto Quinta do Bom Retiro 20 Year Old Tawny, $82
Exquisite and luscious tawny delivers orange peel, marzipan, vanilla cream and caramelized walnut notes. So dense, with a viscous/ velvety texture and ample balancing acidity. Outstanding! Have this with marzipan covered with dark chocolate or milk chocolate salted caramels.

Broadbent Vintage Port 2011, $65
Superb port for one of the best vintages, (99 points), shows dark fruit: blackberry and plum, combined with chocolate and licorice notes. Backed by solid tannins that offer structure to the smoky finish. Have this with 70 % dark chocolate bonbons or black truffles filled with ganache.

As always, many thanks to all the suppliers that provided samples for me, and especially to: Broadbent Wines Selections, Kobrand Wines and Spirits, Vineyard Brands and Ramos Pinto. Cheers! Silvina.

#thoughtsoflawina #winewednesday #drinkport #drinkupAmerica #port

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