All wine reviews, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, France, Red wine

To wait or not to wait? Château Haut-Vigneau

Produced by: Château Haut-Vigneau, owned by Eric Perrin

Region: Pessac-Léognan, Graves

Grape varieties: 30 % Merlot, 70 % Cabernet Sauvignon

This property, situated in the commune of Martillac, was once part of the Baron de Montesquieu’s estate.

Today, the 20 hectares estate belongs to Mr. Eric Perrin. The Perrin family also owns Château Carbonnieux. New owner invested in a vast land clearing and plantation in the 1980s, to recreate the unique vineyards, filled with Günz gravel,  from scratch.

When I recently opened 2005 vintage of Château Haut-Vigneau, it reminded me that sometimes it pays off to wait. How many times did I hear people, who admire wine, saying that Bordeaux just “does not do it” for them. That those wines are too harsh, acidic or coarse. Let’s ignore the fact that generalizing so many outstanding, and completely different parts of Bordeaux is, at least, unwise. In most cases the problem lies somewhere else.

These wines need time. As simple as that. Some devoted Bordeaux lovers wouldn’t touch their bottles unless they are at least 10 years old. I don’t go that far, mainly because my wine collection is not as large, and I easily become impatient, but I still give it at least five years. The biggest charm of Bordeaux wines is its ability to age for a really long time. But that also carries an adverse element – they are really unfit to be drank young.

2005 vintage was considered one of the best in decades for the Bordeaux. The prices of their top wines went through the roof. The company, I worked for, actually invested money years up front, to secure the best and the most respectable production for our customers. Yet, I remember how my heart sank when a customer, one of the best steakhouses, called me that they sold out everything they purchased of that vintage. Just few months after those wines were released. I know, I should have been excited, it was a sign of great business, but I was sad. It’s hard to expect the restaurant investing significant amount of money into cases of wine, and then keeping them in the cellar for years. Yet, there are few that do just that, and I applaud them for it.

Why spend several hundred dollars for a bottle of wine that isn’t nearly ready to be drank? Knowing many great winemakers personally, I know how proud they are of their carefully nurtured wine. It must hurt to learn that many of their consumers never actually get to know their wines at its best glory. We want it now, we don’t want to wait.

I can compare, since I first tasted this wine as soon as it was released. It was approachable then, but I knew it will develop even better in the bottle. Seven years later, Château Haut-Vigneau  was a silky, medium body wine, with smooth tannins and perfectly balanced acidity. Lots of fruit reminded me of ripe plums and black currant, with tiny bit of smoke, white pepper and all spice. A superb, contemporary wine of amazing value (it sells under $20).

Grapes for Château Haut-Vigneau were harvested by hand, and underwent a temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel vats. It then aged in barrels for 15 months and was fined with egg-whites before bottling.

Yeah, some things are definitely worth to wait for.

All wine reviews, Red wine, Ribera del Duero, Spain, Tempranillo

Barco de Piedra 2009

photo: Friederike Paetzold

Last year, during my Spanish wine classes, we had a very unique opportunity to taste several Tempranillo wines, from different regions of Spain, in the row. As you might know, Tempranillo is one of the best grapes to express its terroire. Although I enjoy classic Tempranillo from Rioja region, I am always excited to taste a difference, coming from variety of soils and elevations. One of my new favorite Tempranillo expressions from this wine tasting was quite special Barco de Piedra 2009 from Ribera del Duero.

Quite special? Here are just few reasons why it stands out:

* As there is a lot of effort these days to create “universally loved” big, bold reds, some of Tempranillo wines coming from Spain suffer from its winemaker’s tendency to fit in that category. How? By adding unnecessarily too much of oak which sometimes results in masking the true, unique style of Tempranillo based wines.

photo: Friederike Paetzold

The founders of Bodegas Barco de Piedra – business partners Alberto Orte and Patrick Mata, together with Borja Osborne, decided to go the exact opposite direction.Their goal was to let the grape variety, grown on the hillside of the Quiñón Estate, shine on its own. The partners and its winemaker, Alvaro Trigueros, were well aware of the fact that Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero shows enough tannins and power on its own – so why would you over perfume and over power it with an additional prolonged oak aging?

photo: Friederike Paetzold

The weather conditions (the cool nights and hot days) at their vineyard, located in the western area of Ribera del Duero, result in Tempranillo grapes (called here Tinto Fino) with thicker skin, translated into wines with much more intense and concentrated color and flavors, than anywhere else in Spain. No need to put heavy makeup on already beautiful girl!

* Ribera del Duero became a very sought after region lately, and it’s quickly becoming as popular as perhaps Rioja or Priorat. Unfortunately, with that fame usually comes unpopular side effect – higher prices of wines. Here, too, Bodegas Barco de Piedra goes the other way, against the flow. This superb, small production, single vineyard full of organically grown 25 years old vines, seriously over-delivers for its $15 price tag!

* All the effort, invested in the labor intensive vinification of this wine, usually results in much more expensive wine in the bottle. As the winery publishes, only the best bunches from three different sites are selected during the harvest. All clusters are then carefully  de-stemmed and crushed. The not yet fermented juice mixes with the skins for 2-3 days and after that, cold fermentation takes an additional 11 days. Extended post-fermentation maceration is carried out for another 8 days.

Fermentation and malolactic fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wine is finally ages for just 5 months (!) in 300-liter 85% French and 15% American oak barrels. All that work for about 5000 cases of wine. There are much more expensive wineries, calling themselves boutique, producing 20+ thousand cases per vintage. But Bodegas Barco de Piedra is truly boutique, organic and pretty much hand made wine!

* All the effort to pay attention to every little detail results in an incredible red wine, a true showcase of the superb Ribera del Duero wine region. Yes, their Tempranillo tastes completely different than the one from Rioja or perhaps from La Mancha. But that’s how it is supposed to be! That’s what I love about it. Despite the short time spent in the oak, Barco de Piedra charms with deep color, beautiful aromas of dark fruit and spices and enough concentrated flavors to satisfy even the “full flavors, big reds” lovers. I appreciate the notes of dark plums, spices and earthy flavors in this wine. The complexity and balance promises an aging potential for another few years.

Now tell me, where you can get all that for 15 bucks?

All my wine blogs, Borja, Garnacha, Rose wines, Spain

Borsao Rosé 2011

When I saw this year’s new release of Borsao Rosé on the shelf, I could not resist. How could you go wrong with a rosé wine from the famous Garnacha region (Campo de Borja), that only costs $6.99 a bottle?

I am a big fan of Borsao wines – and it’s not just because I was lucky enough to visit their vineyards and the winery few years back.

I already enjoyed their wines before that, for years. But when you are given the opportunity to meet the winemaker, to see the soil, vines and people involved in all that labor, the love for the brand gets another vibes.

Old vines Garnacha (Alto Moncayo Mountains,  Borja
Old vines Garnacha (Alto Moncayo Mountains, Borja

It’s is mainly because their wines are consistently really good. From the cheapest (or better said inexpensive) line of bottles such as Monte Oton, Borsao Tinto – that range around $5-8 retail, to their incredible Tres Picos, unbelievable value for under $20. Not to forget about their newest project, Borsao got involved in, the superb Alto Moncayo wines.

Therefore I am familiar with the taste of Garnacha wines coming from this winery, especially the old vines with their very typical spice, sweetness and a very concentrated dark fruit flavors. Credit to those attributes goes to the high quality old vines (the winery doesn’t have records on some of their oldest vines, to figure out how old they really are), and the very unique soil of red clay (rich in iron), mixed with red slate, that they were planted in. The Borsao vineyards are located high in the Alto Moncayo mountains (I still remember how sick I felt when Inigo Alberto drove us, very fast, up and down those mountains, on the dirt roads, in his little car.)

Our guide Inigo and Jose Luis - the Borsao's winemaker
Our guide Inigo and Jose Luis – the Borsao’s winemaker

So how was the Borsao rosé? Lovely, rich salmon pink color, as the Garnacha grape gives it a lot of color from its thick skin. Refreshing, fruity scent of raspberries and dark fruit. At the first sip, it felt like – OK, lovely, not particularly exciting wine, nice for summer (and great for that price, right?). A lot of fruit, I missed the acidity to balance it out, it almost felt  (as my husband put it), a little flat. Still, much better than many rosé wines I tasted lately, for a much higher price. Don’t forget, for years I am being spoiled by Muga Rosé, that I consider one of the best Rosé wines made in Spain. So balanced, so rich, simply delicious.

But then we took a bite into our turkey sandwich, I prepared with sweet roasted peppers, lightly drizzled with hot Sriracha. The other sip of Borsao rosé was very surprising.

Hey – the wine’s true colors showed up! The heat of the sauce brought up the spices in the rosé, suddenly it felt balanced much better, it was vibrant, it woke up all our senses. I loved it – and must say, it’s a damn great bottle of rosé for that price!

I just hope that since my last visit, my new Spanish friend Inigo finally got his desired hummer that I strongly  advocated for with his bosses!

All wine reviews, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Red wine, Sonoma

2006 Moon Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Produced: Moon Mountain
Grape: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot
Region: Sonoma County, California

From vineyards, located in the Mayacamas Mountains, on the western side of Mt. Veeder – this wine could be considered as one of the best values known.

Moon Mountain vineyards, spread high above the fog line, (at nearly 2,000 ft elevation) are overseeing Sonoma Valley. It would be fair to say that they have some of the most difficult wine growing conditions in California.  Vines are growing on the steep, south-facing slopes, in a very unique soil punctuated by volcanic rock outcroppings, consist of thin, well-drained soils derived from volcanic ash and lava.

The combination of soils and more than generous sunshine stresses the vines to produce small crops of superbly concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. Vines are farmed organically and get as much personal attention, as possible.

Grapes are harvested by hand, in early morning hours, before the heat kicks in to preserve the rich flavors. After crushing the whole berries it underwent a hot fermentation to better extract color and rich tannin from the skins.

The wine was aged for 18 months in small, medium toast American and French oak barrels deep in the winery’s caves. It’s constant temperature of 60°F and very high humidity enhance the concentration of fruit flavors.

Tasting notes:
One of my colleagues used to call wines like this PRETTY. That’s what came to my mind, when I first tasted Moon Mountain. Wine, that makes you smile.

A beautiful dark ruby color in the glass, and sweet aroma of ripe dark berries. In my mouth it was a superb, impressive but silky wine, full of concentrated rich flavors.

It reminded me of sweet black currant, my mom grew in our backyard. The rich fruit flavors were gently dusted with cocoa and light spices of the oak. I loved the sweet mouthfeel of this wine, with never ending, generous finish.

I would say this is a very unique Sonoma Cabernet that would impress a lot of wine lovers. Approachable right now, but it can also improve with 3-5 years in the bottle.

No, this wine is not a collectible, it wouldn’t last for 10-15 years (my guess), but it also doesn’t cost $80-$100 per bottle. You can get this superb Cabernet Sauvignon for around $15 or less. Isn’t that an incredible value!

I just recently learned that Moon Mountain winery operates under the new management. I only hope that they will take full advantage of that unique place high in the mountains, and keep producing the same high quality, amazing wine.

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $15.00

Suggested food pairing:
Not so Greek Musaka,Beef Brisket with roasted grapes, Flank steak with shitakee sauce, Pistachio crusted leg of lamb, Beef Bourguignon and many more

All wine reviews, Mencia, Red wine, Spain, Valdeorras

Avanthia Mencía 2009

Winery: Bodegas Avanthia
Winemaker: Amy Leigh Hopkinson from Australia
Grape: 100 % Mencía
Region: D.O. Valdeorras, Spain

See other wine produced by this bodega:

Avanthia Godello
This is a new project between the Bodegas Godeval and Jorge Ordóñez.

I am guessing that for the most wine drinkers (including me) the Spanish native grape Mencía is less known variety. It is often stylistically compared to Cabernet Franc.

Grapes for this wine came from estate owned, south facing hillside vineyards, one planted in 1938 and the other one planted in 1923. The vineyards are located in altitude of 1,804 ft above the sea level. Perhaps the special soil, composed from quartz and decomposed black slate may have an influence on the very pronounced, concentrated flavors of these old vines.

The grapes were hand harvested, using small baskets to prevent bruising and underwent another careful table selection at the winery. Just the healthiest grapes made the cut. Grapes were then hand basket pressed with fermentation in new French oak barrels and aged for 14 months.
Wine was then bottled unfiltered.

When I tasted this wine for the first time, it was also my first time with Mencía grape variety. Read my “Love affair with Avanthia” here. Since then, I have tasted more wines made from this grape. In my opinion, Avanthia is showcasing Mencía expression at its finest. It is at the category of its own.

Tasting notes:

Great aromas of dark fruit, cacao and oak hit my nose first, promising a gourmet experience. I wasn’t disappointed! This is an exceptional wine, full body yet not overpowering, with clean notes of dark and red fruit, spices and dust of bitter cacao.

Perhaps slightly more bitter than some well known big reds. That made it even more interesting for me. Velvety tannins are noticeable but not disturbing the enjoyment. As the wine opens up, you realize that one glass is not going to be enough. At least for me it wasn’t.

Long, seductive finish, returning the mouthful of bright, clean feel of fruit till the end. Beautiful, elegant and unique style of wine. It is already enjoyable while young, but it will age gracefully probably for at least a decade. Not like anything else I tasted before.

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $45.00

Ideal food pairing:

I loved this wine on its own, but also successfully paired it with Spanish Jamon and Manchego cheese. Any beef, lamb or venison based dishes would pair well with this wine.