All my wine blogs, Spain, Valdeorras

My secret affair with Avanthia

Years back, I was once running a horse riding place. I loved horses, but didn’t know much about them. I learned on the way, and surrounded myself with experts, yet I still had to know what I was doing.

Once we went for a buying trip. I had my head trainer with me (because who am I to pick a horse that would be good for competitions). At the same time, I couldn’t let him see that I, his boss, didn’t really have a clue.

Illustrative photo

So I was watching horses, as they were presented to us, and suffered. I pretended I was looking with an expertize, but in reality, I was secretly watching my trainer’s face to get a hint. All those horses were nice, but how do I tell which one could be an exceptional?

I will never forget the AHA moment when suddenly, after many horses that didn’t catch my attention at all,  this ONE came out. It was the way she carried herself, the proud posture, the beautiful walk, some kind of aura that felt very elegant, the eyes – there was something about that horse! I couldn’t take my eyes of her. This was my favorite!

To my surprise, my trainer agreed. We ended up buying that horse, and when looking for the name starting with letter P (after her mother) I named her Philadelphia. It was such an aristocratic horse, it deserved a special name. I have never been in Philadelphia, but I heard it was one of the most beautiful cities in U.S.A. Most importantly, I loved the sound of that name.

OK, now you must think that I have lost my mind: Why, in the world, do I write about horses in my wine blog? I know, and apologize. If you stayed with me so far, here is the reason:

I like to believe that every one of us had a similar experience, in any field, at least once. Everything seems to be the same, until something stands out. One never forgets such an experience.

Avanthia MenciaFor some reason this memory came to me, when I first opened a bottle of Avanthia. To be precise, Avanthia Mencía. Mencía, the grape variety, I didn’t know anything about, except the fact that it was native Spanish.

Sure, I could have gone on-line and try to find any reviews or info available. But I don’t like to read someone else’s opinions before I form my own. I also don’t like to know the price of particular wine I am tasting, because it sometimes tends to influence the judgment.

So I just opened this wine, received as a gift, not knowing what to expect at all. And surprised I was. The aroma was overwhelming. The combination of dark fruit with cacao and oak hit my nose, and brought me back to time I spent in Spanish wine cellars. Yes, that hint of oak that is just perfect and never too much. (Oh did I ever tell you that I am obsessed with wine aromas? I am able to sniff wine 10 times before I take a first sip).

But the taste was something else. I found it surprisingly bitter but full of fruit at the same time. I couldn’t quite put the hand on it. There was something about this wine that made it special. With the second sip, I could taste more of the fruit, spices and dark bitter chocolate. The more it was opening up, the more it was irresistible. I tried to imagine the earth it grew on and the wild flowers that might have surrounded the vineyard and perhaps influenced some of the sensational parts of the whole wine composition.

It made me feel like somebody threw super soft, yet firm and large cashmere scarf all over my body. First I felt all the soothing fruit on my tongue, than a tiny bit of spice and velvety tannins. As the wine was warming me up overall, I acknowledged a big, yet not overpowering body. And the finish… hmmm, that finish, you don’t want to ever end. Impressive, bright, introducing the richness of the fruit to my palate over and over again. Oh, so sensational.

I wanted to open a special bottle for our 2012 New Year’s celebration. We decided to spent it with my husband, watching movies and enjoying the comfort of our home. I didn’t pick Brunellos that I have. I didn’t go for great Bordeaux wines that I have. I passed some superb Californian reds. Instead, I reached for Avanthia again. Especially when I learned that my husband prefers to sip on mulled wine whole evening. Great! Selfishly, I didn’t complain.

Yes,  Avanthia Mencía was my companion during the New Year Eve. We had a secret love affair. This wine fitted my mood and senses. We enjoyed each others company very much. I still didn’t figure out what exactly it is, that makes it so special, but just like someone said: “Wine is like opera. You can enjoy it even if you do not understand it!”.

It might not be the wine for everybody. Also, I realize that it is still young. I am only excited to see what is going to develop in this heavy bottomed bottle in few more years. If I dare wait so long. If I could only resist. Congratulations, Jorge Ordóñez, for such a beauty!

Read my review and more technical details about this wine    

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.

White wines

How we traveled through the Spain… (Class I.)

That September Wednesday was pouring rain when I was bringing all my stuff to the Spanish restaurant Costa del Sol. Great start, I thought. I specifically worried about carrying the beautiful map of Spain and not to get it wet. But somehow we managed and the first class could started.

We were still missing one couple – that came slightly later. They were trying to harvest their own grapes before the rain starts and came tired and upset. All that hard work whole year, and now this rain destroyed almost everything! What wasn’t taken care of by the weather, racoons finished. Oh well, they certainly could use to sit down and share some good wine!

Our first of total three Spanish wine classes started by talking a little bit about history of Spain and its wine making. Why the Spanish wine heritage goes back to at least 3,000 years, yet we really started to notice some Spanish production here in United States in the late 70-tees, beginning of 80-tees?

We talked briefly about the Spanish wine laws and requirements for D.O. (Denominacion de Origen), and what must and doesn’t have to be on the Spanish wine label. Much easier than perhaps in Bordeaux!

Did you know that Spain is the number 1 country in the world with the most land planted with vines? Before Italy and France? That there are only 2 D.O.C. so far registered throughout the Spain, but many new, exciting wine regions are being discovered recently?
After the introduction of the whole course, the slideshow was leading us through different native Spanish grape varieties, their specifics, about different types of soil, climates and conditions in which vines grow.
That brought us to the introduction of “liquid geography”. (I talked about it in more details at the first part of this blog).
(Stay tune if you are interested in tasting notes for each wine, I will be adding them as we go).

The very first wine we tasted was Txomin Extaniz Txakoli 2010, owned by the Chueca family. Txakoli. Probably some of the driest white wines I have tasted so far came from the smallest appellation on Spain, located at Getaria in the Bosque region.

Grapes for this wine grew on the high hillsides on top of the Atlantic Ocean. Great, quite unique, crisp white wine made from both  white and red variety of Hondarrabi. Fun coincidence was that Mila, our server, came from that same region herself and Txakoli was her favorite wine!

From there, we took a sharp turn all the way to the west peak of the Spain, Rias Baixas, where the vines also grow on top of the Atlantic Ocean. This region is mostly famous for Albariños, and I have chosen La Caña Albariño (new project of Jorge Ordoñez in cooperation with local growers).

Oro de Castilla, spectacular Verdejo, introduced us to Rueda, a region between Toro and Ribera del Duero. Are white wines produced in Rioja? Absolutely! Although Rioja white wines make just 10% of total production, Muga Blanco  represented a lovely blend of Viura and Malvasia from one of the most known regions of Spain.

Portal Blanco introduced us to the region of Terra Alta – on the eastern part of Spanish map. Terra Alta neighbors with another famous Spanish wine region, Priorat. This wine is made from Garnacha Blanca (I tasted this grape for the first time as well), Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Viognier. Another successful white from our wine class portfolio.

From Terra Alta we “traveled” west to visit Madrid. Not the capitol, but the vineyards surrounding Madrid, that many Spaniards don’t even know about. Yet, it is a significant wine producing region with many valuable old Garnacha vines. We will later visit Madrid again for its red wines, this time we tasted Zestos Blanco, wine made from Spanish native grape variety Malvar.

To the south of Madrid is a region of La Mancha. Mainly internationally known for the story of the famous Spanish novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Although La Mancha is a windswept, battered plateau, with a very unusual sandy soils – it remains a symbol of the Spanish culture with its vineyards, sunflowers, mushrooms, oliveyards, windmills and Manchego cheese.

This large, flat region is comprised of five provinces. Highly agriculturally oriented, wine-production has been an essential part of life here for centuries; so much so that it is considered the largest vineyard on Earth.

I love red wines from La Mancha for their very distinguish characteristics that comes from its unique terroire. And yes, we will taste red wines from there in our other classes. But this time, we tasted Paso a Paso Verdejo, probably one of not many 100% Verdejo wines from this part of Spain. And, what is also interesting to note, probably one of the best priced Verdejo wine from all Spain.

To finish the line of white wines, we crowned it by a true jewel. It came from the Andalusian region of Spain, highly elevated vineyards overseeing hot Málaga. History of this beautiful city goes back 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Not many people know that Málaga is a birthplace of famous Pablo Picasso, since he lived most of his productive life in France.n.

Photo: Jorge Ordonez & Co.

Botani, outstanding white wine (the only dry wine of the winery) is made from Moscadel De Alejandria, grape that is mainly used for production of raisins in this region.

This wine to me is one of the best miracles of winemaking – just like in Germany, where you can make delicious dry wines from sweet Riesling grapes. This project started in 2004 as a join venture between Jorge Ordoñez,  one of the most prominent importers of Spanish wine into the US, and the late Alois Kracher, whose son Gerhard succeeded him as technical director in 2008.

One of Botani’s dessert wines (made by the traditional drying of the grapes) Jorge Ordoñez, No.3 Viñas Viejas 2006 just recently won the regional price for the Best organic wine in the world by Decanter magazine! 2010 was the first vintage made by New Zealand’s Oenologist Alistair Gardner, who was invited to this project to oversee the dry wine production.

Barco de Piedra, Photo: Friederike Paetzold

The first wine class was finished with the first 2 reds – coming from the region of Ribera del Duero. Both wines were made from Tempranillo (aka Tinto Fino), yet both had completely different character.

The grapes for Vizcarra Roble grew in predominantly sand, clay, limestone and gravel soil, while Barco de Piedra’s vineyard is located in slightly lower altitude, with the soil composed of river stones on top with limestone subsoil. Both wines spent a very limited time in the oak – to showcase their true fruit character.

The Spanish tapas, prepared by Costa del Sol’s chef Javier matched perfect  our selected wines. Not a big fan of whites and still think that you didn’t miss much? Wait till we get to reds next week….

All my wine blogs

A true friend

A true friendAll of us might come up with a different definition if we were asked to specify what the term “true friend” means to us.

When you think about it, it meant different things in different stages of our life. When we were young, the true friend would be somebody who held our hand when we were afraid. Or maybe somebody who stood next to us when we were in trouble.

Later on it might have been someone who you tried your first cigarette with, someone who never betrayed you. Perhaps true friend to you was a good listener and someone you spent hours on the phone with, discussing all the important issues of your life. How do you describe the true friend today?

Is it somebody who is always there for you? Is it somebody who brings you food when you are sick, who makes you smile when you are sad and who shares your values and success with you proudly? Does your true friend care when nobody else does? Is he someone who doesn’t judge you when you failed and offers a shoulder to cry on instead? Is he someone who will always have a helping hand for you even at times he needs one himself?

I must say, I feel blessed to have a few true friends in my life. The closest ones are of  Italian heritage, French Canadian, Spanish and Polish. They are a substitute for my own family that lives far away. They have always been there for me. When we were moving few years ago, they came to help us for several days, sacrificing their own time, driving hundreds of miles not to mention working like dogs, so we can get back to normal as soon as possible. When I think about it, there are not many people throughout my life that would have done more for me than my friends already did.

A true friendWe spent this Labor weekend with a couple of my friends. We have shared our passion for food, wine and fun with them on every occasion we had.

This couple came to almost each of my wine events to support me. They would bring their friends along. They even joked that I spoiled their palate – so now they can’t go back, drinking wines they once used to like.

When times were not so good, they were there again, helping, praying, checking on me, and offering a hand. I never took it for granted. I am not sure if I ever told them that but I hope they know. Lately, they were even considering putting their own house at risk to help me to pursue a dream to open my own business. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that thought anyway, but that’s just the kind of friends they are.

 A true friend

We have laughed a lot this last weekend (which I needed really badly), ate a lot – although I decided to prepare all kinds of finger food – tapas to accompany our “special wines” – we ended up eating much more than if we just had a regular dinner. (I was fixing my stomach later at night with Fernet-branca – what a good medicine that is). But most importantly, we have opened some spectacular wines together.We took our time to enjoy it – started slowly with Cava and whites, so by the time we got to “the real stuff”, the reds were just about ready for us. You probably know that opening a special bottle with the wrong company can spoil the enjoyment for you. I think we all have done that mistake before. But when the opposite happens, it is a pure heaven. This weekend will most likely be very hard to beat (although we can always try) and this is how they changed my prospective on a true friend definition:
The true friend is someone, who lets you spoil their palate. Someone, who trusts you enough to let you hook them on wines you adore yourself and now they adore them with you.

Someone who allows you to turn proud Italians into Spanish food and wine enthusiasts. And when the times are not so great, the true friend will go out, buy that special bottle (when you can’t do it yourself) and brings it over to your house to enjoy it together. The bottle they have never tasted before. The bottle they only heard you bragging about.

A true friendSo this weekend, our wine list sustained of Segura Viudas Brut, Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc (Californian exception), couple of bottles of Muga Blanco, a bottle of Alto Moncayo Veraton, and we finished this Spanish dream with a bottle of Clio.

For a desert we have opened a bottle of Jorge Ordoñez Victoria, an outstanding sweet Moscatel from Malaga and yes, we have finished the whole thing. There you have it! We loved every drop of it!

It tasted so much better when shared with people that appreciated it as much as we do. Life is good when you have true friends. I am really grateful for that. Believe me, that’s the kind of true friends you want in your life. I truly appreciate to have them in mine.

Old vines, Red wine, Spain, Tempranillo, Toro

Triton 2008

Winemaker: Amy Leigh Hopkinson
Grape: 100% Tinta del Toro (a local clone of Tempranillo)
Region: D.O. Vino de la Tierra de Castilla-Leon, Spain

Read my blog Another star is born? about this wine

A brand new wine project is a partnership of Jorge Ordonez, Enrique Busto and the Gil family, directed by Amy Leigh Hopkinson, a talented enologist from New Zealand. The winery is located in historic area of the small village of Villanueva de Campean (near the city of Zamora) which should have been included in D.O. Toro, but didn’t quite make it.

Yet the conditions for growing wine are quite similar to Toro. Highly elevated vineyards have the same type of sandy soils mixed with gravel and substrata of clay (6-9 feet below the surface). Bodegas Triton owns total of 123.5 acres of mainly old vines, planted between 1904 and 1965. The grapes sourced for Triton came from 25 vineyards and 51 separate plots, with about 84 acres located directly within D.O. Toro. (the home of famous Numanthia and Termanthia).

The already extremely low yield helps to produce a very impressive, concentrated flavor of the local Tinta del Toro grape. The harvest is done manually and grapes are carefully sorted at the winery. Each plot is vinified separately. Wine aged 15 months in new French oak high quality barrels, from a boutique coopers.

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby red, rich color and beautiful aroma of dark fruit, cocoa and spice. On the palate it surprised me with a notes of black pepper, nutmeg or cloves, mixed with great expression of fruit. Dusty notes reminded me of dark chocolate or great Italian Amarone.

Concentrated and well balanced. It shouldn’t surprise me that this red had an impressive long finish. Sexy and opulent red that is approachable right now. The quality of Triton and its beautiful packaging makes it a serious steel for the money. Although first vintage, this wine made quite an entrance and it’s definitely going to shine. I can’t wait for the first professional ratings.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 18.00

Ideal food pairing:
Prime rib, Fillet Mignon, Beef Bourguignon, baby ribs, anything off the grill like Lamb burgers with relish mayoBeef Chorizo, Flank steak fajitas,