Barnett Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District (Napa Valley) – purchased for $65 in January 2008 at the winery. This wine was smooth with integrated tannins. An enjoyable and solid Napa cabernet that we would buy again.
Schrader 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard (Napa Valley) – purchased for $95 from the winery upon release. This wine had a wonderful nose (barrel room!); great balance, tannins and finish. This was a tasty and impressive bottle of wine.
Bryant Family 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – purchased for $400 from the winery upon release; our 2015 Christmas dinner wine. A smooth and silky wine with a nose of blackberries and cassis; sweet tannins with a long finish. This was a wonderful and delicious wine!
Mendel Unus 2004 (Lújan de Cuyo, Argentina) – purchased in 2007 for $39.99, but still available at that price; a blend of cabernet sauvignon and malbec. Black currants, plums and figs on the nose and palate, smooth and round tannins. This was a terrific wine with a rib eye. If you are a cabernet fan, a malbec fan, or both, you will enjoy this wine.
My latest Wine of the Week is going to focus on the three very old and special Tokaji Aszús that Charlie and I tasted while we were in Budapest a couple of weeks ago. While we tasted 8 Tokaji Aszús that particular evening, and all were exceptional sweet wines, the oldest we tasted were the 1972, 1975 and 1956 Aszús. While the 1956 is not the oldest wine Charlie and I have ever tasted (that distinction belongs to a 1952 Dalva Golden White Port), the rarity of an outstanding Aszú during this period of time in Hungary’s past, makes this wine very special. These Aszús were all from Oremus, and all were 5 puttonyos. (To read a full description of how an Aszú is made, and what 5 puttonyos means, click here).
Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner 2013 Gaisberg (Kremstal, Austria) – apricots, good acidity, long mineral finish, creamy
Franz Hirtzberger Riesling 2002 Singerreidel Smaragd (Wachau, Austria) – more mineral than fruit, a long finish, rich and complex, a very nice wine
Johann Donabaum Riesling 2013 Offenberg Smaragd (Wachau, Austria) – floral on the nose, some apples and honey, good acidity, a very nice wine
Tegernseerhof Riesling 2013 Kellerberg Smaragd (Wachau, Austria) – full bodied, intense, peaches, apricots, spicy
Rudi Pichler Riesling 2009 Kirchweg Smaragd (Wachau, Austria) – poured from magnum, good mineral and fruit flavors, some citrus, good mouthfeel, a very nice wine
Nikolaihof 2013 Elizabeth Tradition (Wachau, Austria) – a blend of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Weissburgunder [pinot blanc], floral nose, delicate acidity, apples, pears, some honey
Pichler-Krutzler Grüner Veltliner 2014 Klostersatz (Wachau, Austria) – easy drinking, refreshing, “not too fancy,” some peaches, a very nice wine
Emmerich Knoll Grüner Veltliner 2014 Ried Loibenberg Smaragd (Wachau, Austria) – good acidity; fresh, easy drinking, some apples and citrus, a very nice wine
Jamek 2007 JJJ 90 Zweigelt (Wachau, Austria) – mellow, easy drinking, cherries, soft tannins
Kracher 2000 Scheurebe No. 5 Zwischen den Seen (Burgenland, Austria) – a beautiful golden color, dried apricots, sweet with good acidity, long finish, silky
Esterházy 20120 Leithaberg Blaufränkisch – we didn’t drink this particular wine, but I think the label is great (the goose with the red feather bonnet), so I had to add it to my wine label collage
In August and September 2015, Charlie and I visited Austria and Hungary, visiting the wine regions of the Wachau, Kremstal and Burgenland in Austria, and the Tokaj, Sopron, Etyek and Pannonhalma in Hungary. This post covers our stay in Austria; click here to read about our stay in Hungary.
We flew into Vienna, and spent a few days there walking around the city. Vienna is a beautiful city with many amazing palaces and museums. For the first full day in Vienna, we had a private tour guide (http://www.my-vienna-guides.at/start.html?L=4), and using Bettina Mandl to introduce us to Vienna proved to be an excellent way to get a good overview of the city.
After Vienna, we rented a car and drove to the wine regions of the Wachau and Kremstal to spend the next five days. The Wachau is a beautiful part of the world!
Prior to traveling, I had made appointments at several weinguts (wineries), and we enjoyed every visit and tasting. Everyone gave us a warm welcome, and everyone was generous with his or her time and their wines. Charlie and I had only limited experience with the wines from the Wachau and Kremstal, but we found the Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings to be exceptional. We will certainly be drinking more Austrian wines in the future!
After our stay in the Wachau, we drove back to Vienna where I had arranged with Taste Hungary (http://tastehungary.com/) to pick us up and drive us to Budapest, stopping in the Burgenland (Austria) and Sopron (Hungary) along the way. Our two visits in Burgenland are described below.
If you have read my prior blogs, you know that I am not the best describer of wines. So, I have provided you with my overall impression, and whether I would buy the wine – my best recommendation. Additionally, if a comment about the wine is in quotes, the comment is from the person pouring the wine (winemaker, family member, etc.). More importantly, my notes should give you a good idea of what to expect if you visit. Further, for those of you not familiar with Austrian wines, white wines from the “Wachau Winegrowing Area” can be designated by members of the Vinea Wachau as a Steinfeder (the lightest style, with no more than 11.5% alcohol), Federspiel (alcohol level between 11.5% and 12.5%) or Smaragd (wines with at least 12.5% alcohol). A good description of the differences between these wine designations can be found here: http://austrianwineusa.com/2012/01/31/austrian-wine-words-steinfeder-federspiel-smaragd/.
Finally, most non-German speaking wine drinkers would hesitate to ask for Austrian wines in a wine store or restaurant because of the difficulty in pronouncing the names. But, do yourself a favor – try these wines!
Now on to our visits –
In the Kremstal –
Weingut Geyerhof located in Oberfucha (http://www.geyerhof.at/) – visit and tasting with Maria Maier. The Maier family owns Geyerhof, and Maria is married to Josef Maier, the current winemaker and the son of Ilse and Josef Maier. Maria is heavily involved in managing Geyerhof’s organic vineyards and the Wildwux project (a joint venture with Burgenland winemaker Brigit Braunstein) (http://www.wildwux.at/). Maria was very personable and informative, and she was generous with the wines. Charlie and I really enjoyed our visit to Geyerhof, and Maria set a high bar for the remainder of our visits!
Wines tasted were:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Rosensteig (cellar price of 7,80 €) – crisp, easy drinking, good acidity
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Hocher Rain (cellar price of 8,80 €) – green apple, spicy, per Maria, a “typical grüner veltliner”
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Wildwux (cellar price of 12,70 €) – delicate minerality, rich, good acidity; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2013 Gaisberg (cellar price of 16,50 €) – this wine is designated as an erste lage (from one of the designated first growth vineyards in the Kremstal, Kamptal, Traisental and Wagram wine regions) apricots, good acidity, long mineral finish, creamy; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2007 Gutsreserve (cellar price of 28 €) – elegant, good structure and finish
Riesling 2014 Sprinzenberg (cellar price of 10,50 €) – crisp, good acidity, fresh, easy drinking; buy
Riesling 2014 Johannisberg (cellar price of 13,50 €) – crisp, good acidity, more feminine/elegant than the Sprinzenberg, balanced; buy
Riesling 2011 Kirchensteig (cellar price of 20,50 €) – an erste lage wine, crisp, good acidity, apricots, some honey
Riesling 2012 Goldberg (cellar price of 22 €) – an erste lage wine, more complex, good acidity, would pair very well with food; buy
Weisser Burgunder 2013 Ried Zasen (cellar price of 11,50 €) – the weisser burgunder grape is a pinot blanc, just a neutral taste
Weisser Burgunder 2009 Ried Zasen Süß (cellar price of 16 €) – this is a sweet pinot blanc with good acidity; buy
Rosé Zweigelt 2012 (cellar price of 7,60 €) – a very nice dry rosé; buy
Zweigelt 2012 Ried Richtern (cellar price of 9,50 €) – a solid red wine
In the Wachau –
Domäne Wachau in Dürnstein (http://www.domaene-wachau.at/en/start/) – we did not have an appointment, but just dropped in to the Vinothek one afternoon. Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Terrassen Federspiel (cellar price of 8,60 €) – fruity, easy drinking, a good pool wine
Riesling 2014 Loibenberg Federspiel (cellar price of 10,90 €) – fresh, fruity, easy drinking; buy
Zweigelt Rosé 2014 Himmelstiege Federspiel (cellar price of 8,90 €) – light pink, crisp, good fruit, strawberries, easy drinking; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kellenberg Smaragd (cellar price of 23 €) – good minerality, Charlie liked; I didn’t
Riesling 2014 Achleiten Smaragd (cellar price of 23 €) – more body, a nice wine that would stand up to food; buy
We also tasted the Marillen-Nektar, a non-alcoholic apricot nectar (cellar price of 7,40 €) – this was really good. Throughout our stay in the Wachau, a common aperitif was apricot nectar mixed with an Austrian sparkling wine, or with sparkling water, or with a grüner veltliner. Highly recommended!
Weingut Franz Hirtzberger in Spitz (http://www.hirtzberger.com/) – visit and tasting with Franz Hofbauer; a very nice visit and tasting. Like most all of the weinguts we visited, Franz Hirtzberger is a family run winery that have been winemakers for generations. The current family members are Franz Hirtzberger (I’m not sure what number) and his son, also a Franz. Franz Hofbauer is the third Franz working in the winery, and he is often described as the “non-family member Franz.” Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Donaugarten Steinfelder (cellar price of 12 €) – this is their entry level grüner, easy drinking, refreshing; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Rotes Tor (cellar price of 16 €) – a little more body; per Franz (and others throughout our trip), 2014 was a difficult vintage especially with the enduring rains from the first of August through mid-September; per Franz, because of the rain, the grapes did not fully ripen, and as a result, this wine was chaptalized (sugar was added)
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Honivogl Smaragd (cellar price of 50 €) – more minerality, concentrated nose
Steinporz-Weissburgunder 2014 Smaragd (cellar price of 25 €) – weissburgunder is the pinot blanc grape, easy drinking
Steinporz-Weissburgunder 2011 Smaragd – very different than the 2014 in both smell and taste
Riesling 2014 Steinterrassen Federspiel (cellar price of 16 €) – this is their entry level riesling, crisp, nice
Riesling 2014 Hochrain Smaragd (cellar price of 34 €) – creamy, concentrated; per Franz, all of the 2014 Rieslings are “shy at the moment” and need some age
Riesling 2013 Hochrain Smaragd– softer, better than the 2014
Riesling 2002 Singerreidel Smaragd – more mineral than fruit, a long finish, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2009 Beerenauslese (cellar price of 43 €) – raisin, orange, a very nice sweet wine; buy
The youngest son of Franz (the older Franz) – Mathias – has started his own wine label (since his older brother, Franz (the younger Franz) will take over Weingut Franz Hirtzberger when the older Franz retires, which according to Franz Hofbauer, will be in the near term. So, if you followed all of that, we also tasted Mathias’ wines:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Treu Federspeil (cellar price of 14 €) – just ok
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kollmütz Smaragd (cellar price of 30 €) – just ok
Riesling 2014 Zier Federspiel (cellar price of 14 €) – the best of the three; according to Franz Hofbauer, Mathias’ style is leaner, more modern
Johann told us that his parents had originally started out as a heuriger (wine tavern), but with over 200 people drinking and eating each weekend day, and his mother doing all of the cooking, it became too much and they scaled back. With 1996 being his first vintage, Johann took over the winemaking and operations from his father, Johann (there is a definite trend in this region of naming the first born son after the father!), and he started taking the weingut to new heights, catching the eyes and tastes of the likes of Jancis Robinson. Johann said his break out years were 1999/2000. Now, he sells between 50,000-80,000 bottles per year, and there is a small B&B on the property that his mother runs. This was a very enjoyable visit and tasting. Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Johann Federspiel (cellar price of 8,40 €) – fresh with good acidity
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Point Federspiel (cellar price of 10 €) – more body than the Johann, nice fruit on the nose, could stand up to food
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Spitzer Point Smaragd (cellar price of 24 €) – a creamy taste, good acidity, a nice wine; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kirchweg Smaragd (cellar price of 21 €) – honey on the nose, then grassy
Riesling 2014 Bergterrassen Federspiel (cellar price of 11,40 €) – I thought this wine was dull and flat
Riesling 2013 Offenberg Smaragd (cellar price of 21,50 €) – floral on the nose, good acidity, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2014 Setzberg Smaragd (cellar price of 25,50 €) – floral nose, acidic, but after it warmed up, much better
Tegernseerhof in Unterloiben (http://www.tegernseerhof.at/) – owned by the Mittelbach family for five generations, and Martin Mittelbach is the current winemaker. Unfortunately (for us, not Martin!), Martin was vacationing in Umbria, so we did not get to meet him. So, our visit and tasting was with Eva Scharnagl. Eva manages the business side of Tegernseerhof, and she was a wonderful host for our tasting. As an interesting side note, Eva’s sister is a sommelier at Le Bernardin in New York. Eva generously gifted us a bottle of the 2014 Grüner Veltliner Loibenberg Smaragd when we left. A really enjoyable visit and tasting! Wines tasted:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Durnsteiner Steinfeder (cellar price of 9 €) – crisp, refreshing, good acidity; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kreutles (T-26) Federspiel – creamy with minerality, some saltiness
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Loibenberg Federspiel – good body, tannins and structure, a very nice wine; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2012 Höhereck Smaragd – lots of minerality
Riesling 2014 Terrassen Federspiel – floral nose, but bone dry, peaches, apricots; buy
Riesling 2013 Steiner Pfaffenberg – flinty mineral, peaches, opened up as it good warmer
Riesling2013 Steinertal Smaragd – flinty, smooth, a nice wine; buy
Riesling 2013 Loibenberg Smaragd – pineapple, spice, a very nice wine; buy; per Eva, 2013 was one of the best vintages in 20 years, but “buy and forget for 10 years”
Riesling 2013 Kellerberg Smaragd – full bodied, intense, peaches, apricots, spicy; buy
Weissenkirchner 2013 Zwerithaler Smaragd – a field blend of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, almonds, floral; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2007 Loibenberg – this was a “late release” from the winery, having just been released in March 2015, grassy on the nose, more developed and nuanced, mellow; buy
Pinot Noir 2012 – cherries and pepper, a nice pinot
Blauer Zweigelt 2012 – deep purple, fruit driven, a really nice wine; buy
Weingut Rudi Pichler in Wösendorf (http://www.rudipichler.at/en/home/)– visit and tasting with Rudi and his daughter, Theresa. Rudi is an articulate and passionate winemaker, although he prefers the term “wine caretaker.” He emphasized that the “basis for our wines are our stones.” Charlie and I very much enjoyed the time we spent with Rudi and Theresa, and the wines we tasted were excellent.
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Federspiel – the most basic wine from this weingut, fresh, good acidity, spicy, good for every day drinking; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kollmütz Smaragd – from 1000 year old terraces, these “terraces have a deep impact of minerality,” almost smoky
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Hochrain Smaragd – minerality, “wet stones”
Weissenkirchner 2014 Achleiten – “most delicate minerality”
Grüner Veltliner 2012 Kollmütz Smaragd – “positive tannins”
Grüner Veltliner 2008 Hochrain Smaragd – Rudi thought this was just now opening up, rich, good acidity, a very nice wine; buy
Weissburgunder 2014 Kollmütz Smaragd – pinot blanc made from old vines, good fruit and acidity, would pair well with food; buy
Riesling 2014 Kirchweg Smaragd – “charming,” elegant, good minerality, some lemon on the nose, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2014 Hochrain Smaragd – flinty, salty
Riesling 2014 Achleiten Smaragd – some lemon and orange, “again, charming”
Riesling 2009 Kirchweg Smaragd – from magnum, good mineral and fruit flavors, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2012 Hochrain Smaragd – from magnum, good minerality, a very nice wine; buy
Riesling 2011 Achleiten Smaragd – from magnum, “this is a mineral-pure Riesling,” a very nice wine; buy
Note that all of the wines were served in Zalto “Rudi Pichler” glasses (http://www.rudipichler.at/en/rudi-pichler/wine-glass/). Rudi designed these glasses for Zalto, and in addition to using these wine glasses to serve Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, Rudi thought they were great to use for Champagne. So, of course, we had to find them in a wine store in Spitz, and buy 6 of them!
Nikolaihof in Mautern (http://www.nikolaihof.at/en) – owned by the Saahs family, and Christine Saahs is the sister of Ilse Maier of Weingut Geyerhof. Nikolaihof has been practicing biodynamics since 1971, and became certified as biodynamic in 1998.
This visit started off strangely. I had arranged for a tour and tasting, followed by dinner at the Wine Tavern. However, when we arrived at the designated time, we were told the reservations were for dinner only, but that we could buy wines “by the glass” at half price for a tasting. The very nice waiter suggested Charlie and I each try four
different wines, so collectively 8 different wines. We did so, started tasting, and then ordered dinner consisting of a charcuterie plate and farm-fresh fried zucchini to accompany the wines. Of the 8 wines tasted, my favorite was the 2013 ElizabethTradition (a blend of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Weissburgunder), while Charlie’s favorite was the 2012 Steiner Hurd Riesling. During the meal, Mrs. Saahs came by and talked with us awhile about her wines and biodynamics. As it turned out, our visit to Nikolaihof was very nice.
Pichler-Krutzler in Oberloiben (http://www.pichler-krutzler.at/) – this weingut was started in 2006 by the husband and wife team of Elisabeth Pichler-Krutzler and Erich Krutzler. Elisabeth is the daughter of F.X. Pichler, and Erich is from a winemaking family in Burgenland (which is why a Blaufränkisch makes its way into their wine portfolio). Pichler-Krutzler doesn’t designate their wines as Seinfelder, Federspiel or Smaragd, because Erich believes the vineyard, or terroir, is more important than the alcohol level (which can fluctuate from year to year because of the weather). Our tasting was with Erich in their home’s backyard garden (the home is also the home of F.X. Pichler and his wife). This visit and tasting was one of Charlie’s and my favorites, and the Pichler-Krutzler wines were among the best we tasted.
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Klostersatz – easy drinking, refreshing, “not too fancy,” a very nice wine; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Supperin – from 50-80 year old vines, more minerality and body, spicy with some saltiness; buy
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Kellerberg – the taste and aroma of wet stones, good body, complex; buy
Riesling 2014 Pfafffenberg – “one of the best sites for Riesling,” “very transparent, very distinguished,” refreshing, some citrus on the back palate, a very good wine; buy
Riesling 2014 In der Wand – yellow fruit, juicy good acidity; buy
Riesling 2013 Loibenberg – good acidity and ripeness, “juicy tasting Riesling,” buy
Riesling 2013 Kellerberg – a later harvest from this single vineyard, so a little more sweet, balanced, “much too young, in 10 years will be great;” buy
Grüner Veltliner 2012 Fab No.43 – named after the cask number, grapes from Kellerberg, unfliltered, oak on the nose, nice
Blaufränkisch 2012 Weinberg – from 30 year old vines in the Burgenland, “can age 10 to 15 years,” good tannins and structure; buy
Weingut Emmerich Knoll in Unterloiben (http://www.knoll.at/) – Knoll wines are easily recognized by their distinct label that depicts an ornate image of St. Urban, the patron saint of wine growing. This label has been on the Knoll wines since 1962. A very nice visit and tasting with Emmerich III, the current winemaker.
We tasted several wines, but I didn’t write all of them down. I do have notes on the following wines:
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Ried Kreutles Federspiel – good acidity, juicy, young
Grüner Veltliner 2014 Ried Loibenberg Smaragd – good acidity; fresh, a very nice wine; buy
Loibner 2014 Traminer Auslese – a sweet wine with good acidity; buy
Now on to the Burgenland –
Esterházy in Trausdorf (http://esterhazywein.at/) – this visit was a recommendation from Taste Hungary, and the visit and tasting (with food produced from the Esterházy farms) was very nice. Plus, they have two of the best labels I have ever seen (see them below)! Esterházy recently completed a large, modern winery (the most modern winery we saw during our stay), and its current production is over 500,000 bottles. We tasted several wines, the best of which were:
2013 Zweigelt (cellar price of 8 €) – a light red wine with cherries on the nose and palate, a very nice wine for the price; buy
2011 Tesoro (cellar price of 45 €) – this is the winery’s flagship wine, smooth, good tannins, a nice wine; buy
Kracher in Illmitz (http://www.kracher.at/en/) – Charlie and I had never tasted Kracher’s wines, but I had read a great deal about them. So, I asked Gábor with Taste Hungary to try to set up a tasting with Gerhard Kracher. Gábor was successful in setting up a really great visit and tasting. Gerhard is a personable and, from my impression, fun-loving guy. The tasting room had an almost party like atmosphere, and I think that was in large part because Gerhard was there pouring his wines. The tasting included bleu cheese with wine jellies, and “little, spicy sausages” that Gerhard said we had to try. They were great with the sweet wines!
Also, for those of you who are not familiar with Kracher wines, the trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines are numbered (e.g., No. 3, No. 7, No. 12). The higher the number, the sweeter the wine. Also, the TBA wines can be fermented and matured in either stainless steel (Zwischen den Seen) or new oak barrels (Nouvelle Vague). So, look at the top of the front labels for these words. Wines tasted:
Brut Rosé – an Austrian sekt (sparkling wine) made from chardonnay, pinot blanc and zweigelt, light pink, a good sipping sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise
Cuveé Auslese 2012 – a blend of chardonnay and welschriesling, sweet with good acidity
Cuveé Beerenauslese 2012 – a blend of welschriesling and chardonnay, sweet, orange marmalade, papaya
Zweigelt Beerenauslese 2012 – a very nice wine, “nice for chocolate desserts;” buy
2012 Scheurebe No. 3 (Zwischen den Seen) – more fruity, sweet, but good acidity, a very nice wine; buy
2005 Traminer No. 3 (Nouvelle Vague) – caramel on the nose and palate, a wonderful wine; buy
2000 Scheurebe No. 5 (Zwischen den Seen) – a beautiful golden color, dried apricots; buy
2012 Welschriesling No. 7 (Zwischen den Seen) – more dried apricots; buy
2010 Auslese No. 11 – nearly 400 g/L of sugar, one of the thickest wines I have ever seen, but it had good acidity and was quite good; buy
Notable lodging and restaurants during our stay in Austria –
While in Vienna, we stayed at Hotel Sans Souci (http://www.sanssouci-wien.com/en/index.html). We stayed at the Hotel Richard Löwenherz in Dürnstein (http://www.richardloewenherz.at/en/) while in the Wachau. I would highly recommend both of these hotels.
While in Vienna, we ate dinner at Steirereck (https://www.steirereck.at/en/restaurant/). Charlie and I both selected the 7 course tasting menu with wine pairings (although we selected different items for some of the courses).
Steirereck is considered one of the top restaurants in the world, and while we enjoyed the meal, and the wine pairings were excellent, neither of us thought our dinner was outstanding. And, despite what the Michelin guide says, Steirereck is not air conditioned!
On the other hand, while we were in the Wachau, we did have one of the best dinners we have ever eaten in the world at Landhaus Bacher in Mautern (http://www.landhaus-bacher.at/home/). Charlie and I both had the 6 course tasting menu with wine pairings, and the meal was outstanding!
We also had some nice lunches while in the Wachau. The best lunch (a great duck dish) was at Loibnerhof in Unterloiben (http://www.loibnerhof.at/). This restaurant is owned by the Knoll family, and serves a wide selection of (only) Knoll wines. We also had a very nice lunch at Hofmeisterei in Wösendorf. This restaurant is affiliated with Weingut Franz Hirtzberger, so it serves a wide selection of (only) Franz Hirtzberger wines. Finally, we had a nice lunch at Restaurant Jamek in Joching (http://www.weingut-jamek.at/restaurant.php?id=13). This restaurant is owned by Weingut Jamek, and we had a really nice bottle of their 2007 Zweigelt (the JJJ 90).
We rented our car in Vienna from Sixt, a German car rental agency. We were originally going to take the high-speed train from Vienna to Budapest and back. But, we changed our plans after reading the Taste Hungary web site, and our choice proved to be a good one. Not only because the drive with Virág and Tibor (guide and driver from Taste Hungary) was most enjoyable, but also because of the problems at the Budapest train station during our stay.
You should be aware that there is a speed trap outside of Wösendorf (on the Dürnstein side). We had never encountered a true speed trap in Europe before this trip, but this was about an obvious of a trap as you will ever see. So, don’t exceed 50 km/h in this area!
Heurigers (wine taverns) are plentiful in the Wachau. If you see a straw wreath (or what looked to us like a straw ship’s wheel), it means the heuriger is open.
I have seen several American web sites that state that “Wachau” is pronounced VOC aw. However, throughout our stay, the emphasis was on the second syllable, or va COW. Similarly, I always pronounced Grüner Veltliner as GREW ner VELT lee ner. However, when I said this grape/wine for the first time to an Austrian, she didn’t know what I was saying. Say [GREW ner] va LEEN ah, or vet LEEN er (but always with the emphasis on the second syllable).
While you are in Austria, try an Almdudler, a non-alcoholic drink that is really good and refreshing (especially on those hot days in Vienna)!
To continue reading about Charlie’s and my trip, and it’s conclusion in Hungary, click here
This is a continuation of our trip that started in Austria. Click here to read about our visit to that country.
After our stay in the Wachau, we drove back to Vienna where I had arranged with Taste Hungary (http://tastehungary.com/) to pick us up and drive us to Budapest, stopping in the Sopron wine region along the way. Taste Hungary is owned by Gábor and Carolyn Bánfalvi, and both were great in making sure Charlie and I had a wonderful first visit to Hungary. Our stay in Hungary included a great visit to Tokaj, where Gábor led the way in our visits to three pincészets (or wineries; you will also see “pince” or “birtok” to describe a winery). Gábor also arranged an “old Aszús” tasting at his wine shop in Budapest – the Tasting Table (http://tastehungary.com/tasting-table-shop/). Upon returning to Vienna, we stopped in the Etyek and Pannonhalma wine regions in Hungary. Our guide to and from Vienna and Budapest, and while in Budapest, was Virág Lastóczki. Virág is a great, personable and knowledgeable guide. Charlie and I highly recommend you contact Gábor if you are interested in the wines from Tokaj and the other wine regions in Hungary, and we highly recommend Taste Hungary and Virág to lead you through Budapest and Hungary.
Budapest is a vibrant city with some beautiful buildings and vistas. We enjoyed our stay in Budapest and Hungary, and when you think that the roads and modern infrastructure were practically all built after 1989, the progress is amazing.
While in Budapest, we took one of Taste Hungary’s Culinary Walks with Virág, and that is a great way to experience the food culture of Budapest. The highlight of our visit to Budapest was the private Danube river cruise (really a nice-sized speed boat) that Taste Hungary had arranged for us one evening. To cruise and speed along the Danube in the evening, and then at night – with all of the buildings lit up – was remarkable.
Now on to our wine tastings –
In the Sopron wine region –
Our first stop in Hungary was in the Sopron wine region where we visited Jandl Borászat [Jandl Winery] in Fertőrákos (http://www.jandl.hu/). Our visit and tasting (with a cheese and charcuterie plate) was with owner/winemaker Kálmán Jandl (or Jandl Kálmán in Hungarian, as the last name is always written first). The Jandl family has been making wine in Sopron for six generations. Wines tasted:
2014 Kékfrankos Rosé – the Kékfrankos grape is called the Blaufränkisch grape in Austria, salmon colored, nice, smooth, the best wine we tasted; buy
2013 Kékfrankos – a simple wine
2013 Missio – a Soproni Kékfrankos, or selection of the best grapes, dry, ok
2012 Cabernet Franc – much more robust, but dryer on the palate
2012 Soproni Shiraz – the vines came from the Côte-Rôtie, but when I asked Mr. Jandl why he called this wine a Shiraz, not a Syrah, his answer was that this wine was more fruity, jammy than a typical syrah; this wine was more like a shiraz
2012 Sorproni Merlot – just ok
In the Tokaj –
To understand the wines of Tokaj (Tokaj is the region, and Tokaji is the wine produced in the region – both pronounced “Toe kye”), you have to understand the history of Hungary. By the end of the 17th century Tokaji was considered one of the world’s greatest wines. Royal decrees were issued to safeguard quality, and the first ever known system of classified growths was devised in Tokaj in the mid-17th century. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the wines from Tokaj reach their greatest height. Imperial courts throughout Europe and Russia purchased and drank Tokaji. King Louis XIV called the sweet wines of Tokaj – vinum regum, rex vinorum – wine of kings, king of wines.
Yet, after such a glorious past, the region was decimated by two World Wars and the advent of communism. Under communism, winemaking was centralized into a single state-owned holding, and quantity, not quality, became the objective. When communism fell in 1989, the winemakers of Tokaj had to build their vineyards and their winemaking from scratch. As several people told us, when you lose 40-50 years of history, you don’t just lose years, you lose the link to your past and the knowledge that is passed from generation to generation.
The year 1989 saw the beginning of a vigorous renaissance in the Tokaj. With the influx of substantial money from foreign investors, the replanting of vineyards and the building of new facilities started. Tokaj began its path back to its past glory. We visited three pincészets in Tokaj, and each one is helping shape the future of this region.
But, before I describe our visits, a short introduction to the wines of Tokaj might be helpful. Sweet Tokaji wines are typically a blend of Furmint, Hárslevelű and Sárga Muskotály grapes. A base dry white wine is first made (usually with Furmint grapes), then this base wine is mixed with Aszú berries (botrytised, shriveled grapes that are picked berry by berry). During harvest, it can take up to 30 passes in the vineyards to pick the botrytised gapes at the optimal time. These botrytised grapes were originally picked and placed into 20 liter wooden tubs called puttony. Traditionally, the concentration (sweetness) of the Tokaji wines was defined by the number of puttony added to the base. Today, the “puttonoys” is based on the amount of the residual sugar in the final wine. The higher the puttynos, the higher the sugar concentration. The top Aszús are 5 or 6 Puttynos.
Szamorodni wines are made from grapes picked at the end of the harvest. Whole clusters (not the berry by berry picking done for Aszús) are used to make szamorodni, and the quantity of botrytised grapes in the cluster will determine the sweetness of the wine. There can be a dry szamorodni if the whole clusters do not have many botrytised grapes.
Eszencia (or Essencia) is the richest and rarest of Tokaj’s sweet wines (although it cannot technically be called a wine because of its low alcohol level). Eszencia is made from the free run juice of the Aszú berries. The sugar concentration of Eszencia typically ranges from 500-700 g/L, but in certain years can be as high as 900 g/L.
Now on the our visits –
Demeter Zoltán in Tokaj (http://www.demeterzoltan.hu/) – I had asked Gábor to see if he could arrange a visit with István Szepsy and/or Zoltán Demeter. Remember last names are written first in Hungarian, but for my blog, their given names are first (but the name of Zoltán’s pincészet, and the name on the wine label, is Demeter Zoltán). Mr. Szepsy could not meet with us, but Gábor was successful in arranging a visit with Zoltán.
As Zoltán said “even though we had 500 years of history in making wine in Tokaj, we had to rediscover the vines, the wine and the quality.” Zoltán appears to be in large part, a one-man show. Zoltán told us that he wants to have control over every aspect of his winemaking, because only he is accountable for the wine, only he fully understands the vision for his wines. Zoltán is widely regarded as one of Hungary’s most accomplished winemakers. Zoltán and István Szepsy were the first ones to make quality dry white wines from the traditional grapes used to make the famous and historical Tokaji sweet wines. Throughout our stay in Hungary, Charlie and I very much enjoyed the dry Furmints, and if you have never tasted this wine, try one and see what you think!
2013 Veres – a dry Furmint, crisp, refreshing, but bone dry, closure is a glass stopper (the closure used by Zoltán on all of his dry wines), good concentration; buy
2013 Oszhegy – made with the Sárga Muskotály (or yellow muscat) grapes, some spice and saltiness
2013 Boda Vielles Vignes – a dry Furmint made from 100 year old vines, pears, some stone fruits
2010 Eszter – a Tokaji cuvee (a főbor; called a szamarodni by other Tokaj pincészets) made with 60% Hárslevelű and 40% Sárga Muskotály, per Zoltán “a beautiful wine,” honey with some citrus, dried apricot, good acidity; buy
Tokaji Aszú 2007 Holdvolgy (6 puttonyos) – a single vineyard aszú, 215 g/L of residual sugar, cinnamon, dried apricots, sweet but a good level of acidity
Tokaji Aszú 2008 (6 puttonyos) – 305g/L of residual sugar, honey colored, dried apricots, good acidity; buy
Hudácskó Pincészet in Bodrogkisfalud (http://hudacsko-pince.hu/index-en.html) – we had a wonderful visit with Anita Hudácskó that included a home-cooked traditional Hungarian meal paired with Hudácskó wines. Anita made the best roasted potatoes that Charlie and I have ever eaten!
Anita Hudácskó in the cellars of Hudácskó Pincészet
We drank several wines with our lunch, but our favorites (buy wines) were:
2013 Hárslevelű – a little sweet with good acidity; buy
2013 Lapis dűlő (or vineyard) – a late harvest wine, sweet with good acidity, very enjoyable; buy
2006 Szamorodni – another very nice sweet wine with good acidity; buy
2007 Aszú (6 puttonyos) – honey on the nose and palate, good acidity; buy
We also drank the 2013 Sárga Muskotály, 2007 Szamorodni (dry), 2013 Furmint Sátorhegy, 2013 Furmint Lapis, 2013 Katalin Cuvée and 2003 Eszencia.
Erzsébet Pince in Tokaj (http://erzsebetpince.hu/eng/) – a wonderful visit and tasting with Hajnalka (Hajni) Prácser. Hajni is the daughter of the winery’s founder, Erzsébet Prácser, and together with her brother, Miklos, now run Erzsébet Pince. Of special interest are the cellars that were built in the 1700’s, and that formely served as the fermenting and aging cellars for the tsars and tsarinas of Russia. I had originally asked Gábor to arrange a tasting of Erzsébet Pince’s full portfolio of dry wines, as well as a vertical tasting of their Aszús (11 dry wines and 7 aszús). I don’t know what I was thinking! We wisely decided to scale back on the dry wines.
2011 Zafír dűlő (vineyard) – tight as first, but opened up with some air and warmth, elegant but with good structure
2011 Betsek dűlő – made with 95% hárslevelű, per Hajni “very harmonious, together,” “great character, great minerality,” good structure and acidity, a very nice wine; buy
2013 Király dűlő – a dry furmint, more aromatic, peaches
2012 Király dűlő – I preferred the 2013
2013 Aszú (6 puttynos) – honey, concentrated
2010 Aszú (6 puttynos) – sweet with good acidity, floral, good balance, concentrated; buy
2008 Aszú (5 puttynos) – the oak comes through
2002 Aszú (5 puttynos) – softer, per Hajni “more sauternes style,” “in a perfect state, harmonious;” buy
2003 Aszúeszencia – this category has more than 6 puttynos, but no longer exists; spicy, tangerine, dried apricots; buy
1999 Aszú (5 puttynos) – sherry colored, with a sherry nose, dry finish
1993 Aszú (5 puttynos) – their first vintage, dark like a madeira, good acidity, some smokiness, spicy as opposed to sweet; buy
In the Etyek wine region –
Hernyák Birtok in Etyek (http://www.hernyak.hu/eng.html) – a very nice visit and tasting (with a cheese and charcuterie plate) with Valéria Hernyák. We tasted several wines, but our favorite (buy) wine was the 2014 Cuvée 2091 (2091 is the city code for Etyek).
In the Pannonhalma wine region –
Pannonhalma Abbey Winery (Apátsági Pincészet) (http://www.pannonhalmibor.com/) and Viator restaurant (http://viator.co.hu/en/) in Győr – we had a fantastic lunch at Viator, paired with 5 wines (4 whites and1 red) made by the Abbey. Viator is housed in a very modern building at the base of the Abbey, and takes a modern approach to Hungarian food and ingredients. This was the best meal we had in Hungary, and we would highly recommend it!
Special Tastings in Budapest –
As I mentioned earlier, Charlie and I had a fantastic adventure on the Danube one evening. Since we were not able to meet with István Szepsy, I had asked Gábor to select some Szepsy wines for our Danube River cruise. Gábor selected the 2013 Úrágya (a dry furmint), the 2013 Szent Tamás (a dry furmint), the 2009 Szamorodni and the 2007 Aszú (6 puttonyos). All four of these wines were great, and all four were buy wines! After drinking his wines, it is clear why Szepsy wines receive the very highest accolades.
Our final – and spectacular – tasting in Budapest was a special “old Aszús” tasting that Gábor put together for Charlie and me at his wine shop, the Tasting Table. This tasting (with foie gras, bleu cheese and charcuterie) included single vineyard and single varietal Aszús, as well as a 1956 Aszú from Oremus. Wine tasted:
2001 Hétszőlő Azsú Hárslevelű (5 puttonyos)
1999 Hétszőlő Aszú Muskotalyos (6 puttonyos)
2002 Disznókő Aszú Hetedik Zeta (6 puttonyos)
1992 Disznókő Aszú (5 puttonyos)
1975 Oremus Aszú (5 puttonyos)
1972 Oremus Aszú (5 puttonyos)
1956 Oremus Aszú (5 puttonyos)
My favorites were the 1972, 1956 and 1999. Gábor used the Coravin to pour these 7 old Aszús, so we were able to pack the bottles after the tasting, and bring them home to enjoy over the next few months. If you are ever in Budapest, check out the Tasting Table, as all of these old Aszús, as well as a wide selection of other Hungarian wines, are available to purchase.
We stayed at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace in Budapest (http://www.fourseasons.com/budapest/), and I would highly recommend it.
The traffic in Budapest can become a huge traffic jam. Roads and bridges (including the Chain Bridge) can be closed for the day, with little or no notice. So, what should be a short taxi ride can turn into a very long taxi ride.
Although Hungary is in the European Union, its currency is not the Euro. Rather, Hungary’s official currency is the Forint, designated as Ft or HUF.
Tommasi 2001 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (Veneto, Italy) – purchase price $62, deep purple in color, a little barnyard at first, but that blew off quickly, black cherry and currants on the palate, medium to full bodied, paired well with a grilled steak, a solid Amarone, but not the best I have tasted
Costers del Siurana 2004 Miserere (Priorat, Spain) – purchased in 2010 for $70, blend of 27% cabernet sauvignon, 27% garnacha, 26% tempranillo, 10% merlot and 10% carinena, decanted for about an hour, red and black fruits, smooth tannins, easy drinking; buy again
Looking for something to go with pizza, we decided to open an older zinfandel. Our pick was surprisingly good, reminding us how well zinfandel goes with pizza. So, I am going to add a second “wine of the week.”
DeLoach 2004 Forgotten Vines Zinfandel (Sonoma County) – purchased at the winery in 2006 for $24, a velvety mouthfeel, long finish; buy again
Charlie and I have traveled to many wine regions around the world. So far we have been to the following wine regions and appellations:
United States – Napa Valley (numerous times), Sonoma County (numerous times), Carneros, Monterey County, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County, Temecula Valley and Willamette Valley
Argentina – Lújan de Cuyo and Valle de Uco
Australia – Hunter Valley, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills and Yarra Valley
Austria – Wachau, Kremstal and Burgenland
Chile – San Antonio Valley, Maipo Valley, Cachapoal Valley, Colchagua Valley, Curico Valley and Aconcagua Valley
England – Devon
France – Champagne, Rhône (Condrieu, Côte Rôtie, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Vinsobres, Côtes du Rhône), Provence (Bandol), Loire (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Pouilly-sur-Loire, Vouvray, Menetou-Salon, Savennières)
Hungary – Tokaj, Sopron, Etyek and Pannonhalma
Italy – Piemonte and Toscana
New Zealand – Marlborough, Waipara and Auckland
Portugal – Douro and Vinho Verde
South Africa – Constantia, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch
Spain – Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Getariako Txakolina, Penedès and Priorat
For most of my posts, I have included a section at the end on “Practicalities” (information about airports, driving, the TGV, restaurant reservations and winery appointments). I have also included my recommendations for restaurants and lodging in the wine regions we have visited.
I hope you enjoy!
Charlie and I spent September 2004 in South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. The majority of our stay was in the camps of Wilderness Safaris (http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/) (Mombo Camp and Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana, and the River Club in Zambia). The last part of our trip was spent in South Africa, with Charlie driving us down the Garden Route from George to Cape Town (and stopping along the way in Hermanus). While in Cape Town, we took a day trip to the Cape Winelands, and visited a few wineries in Constantia, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. This trip is Charlie’s and my all time favorite vacation.
I don’t have any tasting notes from this far back, only some nice photos.
Practicalities: We flew into Johannesburg, South Africa, and then flew in and out of Johannesburg several times (to Botswana, from Zambia, to/from Malelane, South Africa [to play golf at the Leopard Creek Golf Club and visit Kruger Park], and to George, South Africa). We rented a car in George (and stayed at the Fancourt to play golf), and later drove down the Garden Route to Cape Town. Our car was picked up at our hotel in Cape Town (the Cape Grace). We flew back home from Cape Town.
A word of caution about the Johannesburg airport. Upon arriving from Amsterdam, one of our checked bags was the last bag to come out. We discovered why after we got to our hotel. One or more of the baggage handlers had stolen several items, including Charlie’s brand new hiking boots. We were told by KLM and others that theft at the airport is a frequent occurrence.
In January 2007, Charlie and I, plus our good friends Terry and David, spent 2+ weeks in Chile and Argentina. The objective of our trip was to visit top flight wineries, meet with the winemakers when possible, and taste the best wines each of these wineries had to offer. The trip was arranged through Brian Pearson of Santiago Adventures (now Upscale Travel) (http://upscapetravel.com/our-experiences/food-wine/). We had a private guide and driver for Chile (Jean Albert Rauld/Bernardo), as well as for Argentina. You should contact Brian if you are planning a trip to either of these countries, as we had a fantastic trip!
We flew into Santiago, and started our journey from there. While in Chile, we also visited Valparaiso and Viña de Mar.
Below are the wineries and wines we tasted, and my notes (albeit brief) on each of these wines. I have indicated my favorite wines with a “buy” following the wine’s description.
CHILE (But, if you want to read about Argentina first, click here).
Casa Marin (http://www.casamarin.cl/) in the San Antiono Valley; great visit and tasting with the winemaker, Carola Vasquez. Wines tasted:
Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Laurel Vineyard – crisp, with good acidity; very nice as an aperitif; buy
Pinot Noir 2003 Litoral – very oaky/smokey (Carola thought the new barrels had overwhelmed the fruit, so poured a 2004 pinot to show us the difference)
Pinot Noir 2004 Lo Abarca – this was a very nice pinot; red fruits on the nose and palate; buy
Sauvignon Gris 2006 Estero Vineyard – very crisp, spicy; very nice as an aperitif; buy
Matetic (http://matetic.com/) in the San Antonio Valley; very nice visit and tasting with the winemaker, Paula Cardenas. Wines tasted:
EQ 2005 Sauvignon Blanc – very nice, mellow; long finish; would go best with food; buy
EQ 2005 Pinot Noir – sort of smokey, but not overwhelming; a little pepper on the nose and palate
EQ 2005 Syrah – tasted very tight and closed; did get better with some air
Viñedo Chadwick (http://www.vinedochadwick.cl/) in the Maipo Valley; this was a fabulous visit and tasting with Mercedes Espindola and Margarita Aguilera at the Chadwick home. Wine tasted:
Chadwick 2002 – this is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and was a very, very good wine, on the nose, concentrated fruit, and on the palate, very well balanced, smooth and elegant, full mouth feel with a lingering finish; buy
Almaviva (http://www.almavivawinery.com/) in the Maipo Valley; a vertical tasting of the 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004:
1999 – herbaceous nose, but blew off with a little time in the glass; smooth and elegant
2000 – ripe tannins; smooth and elegant on the palate
2001 – again, a little herbaceous on the nose; dark chocolate and plums on the palate
2004 – same herbaceous nose; red and black fruits on the palate, with a hint of cinnamon on the back palate
After Almaviva, we had a wonderful lunch at Fundacion Origen (http://fundacionorigenchile.org/eng/), an organic agricultural school in Pirque. This was a recommendation from Brian that I was somewhat skeptical about. However, we were treated like royalty by all of the staff, and we could not have enjoyed our visit and lunch more.
Concha y Toro (http://www.conchaytoro.com/?lang=en_us) in the Maipo Valley; a vertical tasting of the Don Melchor 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 2004 with Francisca Hederra, sommelier for Concha y Toro. Wines tasted:
1989 – mature; menthol on the nose (we were repeatedly told that this is a common characteristic of the Maipo Valley cabs, because of the large number of Eucalyptus trees near the vineyards)
1991 – menthol on the nose, livelier than the 1989, a hint of soy sauce on the palate
1993 – not much to say about this wine
1995 – pepper and leather on the nose, mellow
1997: bitter chocolate on the nose, nothing else really to say
2004 (we were supposed to have the 2003, but they said they had none to pour) – almost vanilla on the nose; smooth, nice tannins, certainly the best of the vintages we tasted
Antiyal (http://antiyal.com/) in the Maipo Valley; fantastic visit with Marina Espinoza; Marina’s husband, Alvaro, is the winemaker, and both own this small organic, biodynamic winery. We are now experts on biodynamic farming thanks to Marina!
Kuyen 2004 – cabernet sauvignon/syrah blend; smooth, good fruit; buy
Antiyal 2004 – carmenere/cab/syrah blend; very smooth; dark fruit on the nose and palate; long finish; buy
Altair (http://altairwines.com/en/tabs/our-state/) in the Cachapoal Valley; this a beautiful winery overlooking the Cachapoal Valley. We also had lunch here, with wine pairings. A great visit and lunch. Wines tasted:
Altair 2002 and 2003 – cabernet sauvignon/carmenere/merlot blend (also syrah and cabernet franc in the 2003), good structure and concentration, full bodied, red fruits on the nose and palate, long finish; both buy
Sideral 2002 and 2003 – primarily a cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend, very nice wine, black currant on the nose and palate; both buy
Casa Silva (http://www.casasilva.cl/home) in the Colchagua Valley; we tasted some of their wines, but nothing really stood out. We did stay several nights at Casa Silva, and I would highly recommend it for lodging.
Montes (http://www.monteswines.com/en/our_history_the_beginning_of_our_adventure.php) in the Colchagua Valley; visit included a jeep ride up to the mirador on the hillside overlooking winery.
Sauvignon Blanc 2006 classic series – crisp, with good acidity, very nice aperitif; buy
Chardonnay 2005 Alpha – strong herbaceous nose, nothing but oak on the palate
Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Alpha (includes 15 percent merlot) – black pepper on the nose, black currant on the palate, a very good QPR wine; buy
Alpha M 2003 (cabernet sauvignon/merlot/cab franc/petit verdot) – smooth, black cherries, buy
Folly 2004 (syrah) – powerful, but smooth, blackberries and mocha; buy
Viu Manent (http://www.viumanent.cl/?login=ok) in the Colchagua Valley; a vertical tasting of the Viu 1 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004, a malbec/cabernet sauvignon blend; also lunch and a carriage ride through the vineyards. Wines tasted:
1999 – nose of forest and truffles, smooth; buy
2001 – leather on the nose, very different nose and taste than the 1999
2003 – plum and blackberry on the nose, smooth mouth feel, some spice, long finish; buy
2004 – cassis and black cherry on the nose, smooth, long finish; buy
Casa Lapostolle/Clos Apalta (http://en.lapostolle.com/) in the Colchagua Valley; wines tasted:
Cuvee Alexandre 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry and fig, a pretty nice wine
Sauvignon Blanc 2005 – not much to this wine
Clos Apalta (vertical of 2002, 2003, 2004) – I don’t know if my palate was tired, or what, but I found the 2002 to be terrible and the 2003 and 2004 to be just ok
Miguel Torres (http://migueltorres.cl/en/miguel-torres.php) in the Curico Valley. Wines tasted:
Cordillera 2001 (carignane/syrah/merlot) – this is a very nice wine for about $20, raspberries and ripe fruit; buy
Manso de Velasco 2003 (cabernet sauvignon) – black currant and fig, very enjoyable; buy
Conde de Superunda 2003 (a tempranillo blend) – black currant and dark chocolate; a nice wine, but not worth the $50+ price tag
Echeverria (http://www.echewine.com/home.html) in the Curico Valley; a very nice visit and tasting with the winemaker, Matias Aguirre. Wines tasted:
Carmenere 2006 – fruity and simple
Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Limited Edition – a little menthol on the nose, black cherries, well balanced, very drinkable
Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2005 – very nice nose, orange peel, nice taste
Altacima (http://altacima.cl/home_english.htm) in the Curico Valley; tasting with the assistant winemaker, Juan Pablo Carro Coronado. This was a fantastic visit, tasting and lunch at the Schroeder family home! Wines tasted:
Chardonnay 2005 – fresh, not oaky; butterscotch on the nose, a very pleasant chardonnay
Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer 2006 – orange blossoms on the nose and on the palate
6.330, vintage 2003 (cabernet sauvignon/syrah/merlot/petit verdot) – very pleasant nose, good tannins and mouth feel, a very nice wine; buy
Errazuriz (http://www.errazuriz.com/?q=en/frontpage) in the Aconcagua Valley; joining our tasting and lunch was Ricardo Grellet Almerighi, who we were told was one of the finest sommeliers in Chile. Ricardo was at the winery to train the staff. This was another wonderful visit and tasting, and in honor of our visit, the winery flew the US flag at the front of the winery. Our guide was Maria Eugenia Pavez; wines tasted:
Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Casablanca single vineyard – fresh and very pleasant, better with food (Ricardo suggested serving with a white fish with a light sauce, also scallops); buy
Sangiovese 2004 single vineyard -herbaceous nose; a little black pepper on the palate (Ricardo suggested wild game)
Carmenere 2004 single vineyard – the best 100 percent carmenere we tasted; wonderful nose, fruit forward (Ricardo suggested red meat with a red wine sauce); buy
La Cumbre 2004 (shiraz) – nice nose, smooth (Ricardo suggested goat or maybe lamb, both simply prepared with salt and pepper); buy
Don Maximiano Founders Reserve 2002 (cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc) – this was a very good wine, some alcohol on the nose, but still a pleasant, smooth; long finish (Ricardo suggested rabbit [apparently fairly common in Chile] or a mushroom risotto); buy
Sena 2003 (mainly cabernet sauvignon and merlot) – this is a post-Mondavi joint venture wine, an excellent wine, chocolate on the nose and palate (Ricardo suggested serving this by itself after dinner, or with a dish with black truffles at dinner); buy
While we were in the Aconcagua Valley, we stayed at the Hotel Termas de Jahuel (http://www.jahuel.cl/2013/index.php#!/pageHome). During our stay, Brian had arranged a tasting of wines from von Siebenthal (http://vinavonsiebenthal.com/visit_us.html). Since the winery was closed for a pre-harvest holiday, Brian had the wines brought to the hotel. We tasted the Parcela #7 2004, Carmenere 2005, Carabantes 2004 and Montelig 2004, and all were enjoyable.
Alta Vista (http://www.altavistawines.com/home.php) in the Lújan de Cuyo; wines tasted:
Torrontes Premium 2006 – very aromatic and fruity nose (despite some postings about Torrontes being a wine that Argentina should market, I thought this wine was disappointing; it has a great nose, but what you expect from the nose, doesn’t deliver on the palate)
Malbec Premium 2005 – very tannic, dry and astringent
Cabernet Sauvignon Premium 2004 and Malbec Grande Reserve 2004 – nice enough wines, but nothing to seek out
Achaval Ferrer (http://achaval-ferrer.com/) in the Lújan de Cuyo. I expected this to be a great visit and tasting, based on my direct communications with Santiago Achaval and Patricia Lambert. I was very much disappointed. A relatively new tourism person gave the tour and we tasted primarily barrel samples of some of the components of the 2006 Quimera, as well as a barrel sample of the 2006 Mirador and 2006 Altamira (all while standing in a small barrel room). The only bottled wines we tasted were the Mendoza Malbec 2005, Quimera 2004 and the 2004 Dolce. I did think the 2004 Quimera was excellent.
Viña Alicia (http://www.vinaalicia.com/bodegaIng.php) in the Lújan de Cuyo; a great tasting with Gustavo Arizu, Alicia’s middle son. Wines tasted:
Malbec 2003 and Cuarzo 2004 (petit verdot/carignan/grenache noir) – both of these wines were excellent, and were wines I immediately sought out to purchase upon returning home. We also had the Cuarzo 2003 at Cabana Las Lilas on the last day we were in Buenos Aires, and like the 2004, it was excellent. I highly recommend these wines!
Catena Zapata (http://www.catenawines.com/) in the Lújan de Cuyo – We were supposed to taste the Luca, Angelica and Alta, but that didn’t happen. This is a very commercial operation. Wines tasted:
Bonarda – this wine was so bad that I didn’t even look at the bottle to get the details
Estiba Reservada 2002 (a “poncho” bottle) – a nice nose and red fruit on the palate, however it didn’t make my “buy” list
An interesting footnote to our visit happened a few years later. Laura Catena was a guest poster on the Robert Parker bulletin board, and I wrote her and told her what a poor visit we had. Laura was most gracious, and had her local distributor hand deliver to me a bottle of the Zapata Nicolas Catena 2006. This wine was very, very good, and one that I would buy.
Miguel Escorihuela Gascon 2002* (malbec blend): we had this with dinner at Mallman’s 1884 (http://1884restaurante.com.ar/) restaurant in Mendoza. We called ahead and had the restaurant decant the wine for an hour before we arrived. This was an excellent dinner, with an excellent wine.
Viña Cobos (http://www.vinacobos.com/en) in the Lújan de Cuyo; a wonderful tour and tasting with Andrea Marchiori, one of the owners/winemakers. Paul Hobbs winery had arranged for Andrea to meet with us, and it was a great visit. Viña Cobos was building its own winery, but the winery was not yet complete. As such, Andrea had us taste several barrel samples of the 2006 chardonnay, merlot, malbec (from 2 different/distinct regions) and cabernet sauvignon.
Terrazas de los Andes (http://www.terrazasdelosandes.com/index.cfm?) in the Lújan de Cuyo; our tasting was on the veranda of the guest house, which looked to be a great place to stay. Wines tasted:
Chardonnay 2005 – soft, not too oaky
Malbec Afincado 2004 – pleasant nose, red fruit on the palate, good tannins
Cabernet Sauvignon Afincado 2002 – good nose, red fruit; smooth with good tannins; buy
Cheval des Andes 2002 (cabernet sauvignon/malbec) – this was a very enjoyable wine, smooth with very good tannins; buy
Carlos Pulenta (http://www.pulentaestate.com/en/index.php) in the Lújan de Cuyo (our tasting was at lunch at La Bourgogne which is located at the winery). We started off with 4 different wines (2 whites and 2 reds) from the Tomero line, and they were all unremarkable. We also had the Vistalba Corte B, which was also unremarkable. We then had the Vistalba 2004 Corte A (cabernet sauvignon/malbec/bonarda), which was a very nice wine, silky and elegant with good tannins; buy.
Bodega Benegas (http://www.argencyhosting.com/benegas2016/eng/index.php) in the Lújan de Cuyo; a trip highlight was the tour of the renovated winery with Carmen Benegas and the tasting with both Federico and Carmen Benegas. Wines tasted:
Malbec 2005 – this was a very nice wine, black cherries and blackberries on the nose and palate; buy
Sangiovese 2002 – the story that Federico told about this wine, including consultant Michel Rolland’s comments, were priceless. Terry and David, who love Sangiovese, thought this wine was great.
Benegas Blend 2001 (cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc/merlot) – this was one of my favorite wines on the trip, balanced and smooth, good tannins and finish; buy
Lynch Meritage 2002 (cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc/merlot/petit verdot) – another favorite, black pepper and red fruits on the nose and palate, great body with sweet tannins; buy
Cabernet Franc 2003 – another favorite, chocolate on the nose, soft with sweet tannins; buy
Kaiken (http://www.kaikenwines.com/ingles/index.html) in the Lújan de Cuyo; very nice tasting with the winemaker, Cristobal Undurraga. We tasted both the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, and the 2004 CS Ultra and Malbec. The Ultra wines are great QPR wines (about $18).
Salentein (http://www.bodegasalentein.com/en/bodega/acerca/salentein.html) in the Valle de Uco; this winery is spectacular (and includes an art gallery).
Pinot Noir 2003, Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 and Merlot 2002 – all are great QPR wines (around $18)
Primus Malbec 2003 – ripe fruit and violets on the nose, a very smooth and elegant Malbec; buy
Adeluna (http://www.andeluna.com.ar/site/en/) in the Valle de Uco; lunch with wine pairing; brief meeting with Rodrigo Reina Rutini, one of the owners. Wine tasted:
Pasionado 2003 (malbec/cabernet sauvignon/merlot/cabernet franc) – this was an excellent wine that we enjoyed with lunch at the winery (a spicy cabrito was the entrée); buy
O. Fournier (http://www.ofournier.com/) in the Valle de Uco; nice tasting with the
winemaker, Jose Mario Spisso. Wines tasted were the B-Crux and A-Crux (both are tempranillo blends); they were nice wines, but nothing I would buy.
We also had the following wines at a wine tasting at a wine shop in Mendoza- Chandon Cuvee Reserva Pinot Noir, Septima Codorniu Santa Mari, Dominio del Plata Crios 2006 Torrontes; Enrique Foster 2003 Malbec Reserva, Renacer Punto Final Reserva 2004, Chanarmuyo 2005 Malbec, Tempus Alba Pleno 2003, Nieto Senetiner 2005 Bonarda and Monteviejo 2003 Vale de Flores. None of these wines were remarkable. I expected the Monteviejo (which we were originally supposed to visit, but then suddenly closed for a holiday) to be great, and it wasn’t. This could be another example of a very tired palate.
While in the Mendoza area, we also had nice lunches at Bodega Ruca Malen (http://bodegarucamalen.com/)and Almacen del Sur (which unfortunately is now closed). Except for the first night (when we stayed at the Park Hyatt), we stayed at the Finca Adalgisa (http://www.fincaadalgisa.com.ar/finca-adalgisa-dup/finca-adalgisa-hotel.htm) while visiting the wineries around Mendoza. As it turns out, not all of their rooms had air conditioning, and we had to flip a coin with Terry and David as to which of us got the air conditioned room.
From Mendoza, we flew to Buenos Aires for a few days. While in BA, we met with Alex (who had helped arrange our visit at Bodega Benegas). Alex is the owner of the Terroir wine shop (http://www.terroir.com.ar/index.php), and he welcomed us with a tasting at his wine store. Terroir is a beautiful, well organized wine shop, and I would highly recommend meeting with him if you ever go to BA. Alex is a great host! The wines we tasted included the Nieto Senetiner Reserva Bonarda (the best Bonarda we had, but the bonarda varietal is not my cup of tea), Terrazas Afincado Petit Manseng (a very nice dessert wine; buy) and the Trapiche Medalla 2003 (cabernet sauvignon/malbec/merlot that was very good; buy).
Practicalities: We flew into Santiago, Chile (SCL), and had a guide and driver throughout our stay in Chile. Jean Albert and Bernando drove us over the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina. We had a different guide and driver while in Mendoza. We then flew from Mendoza (MDZ) to Buenos Aires (EZE). Given that practically every driver in BA thinks a stop sign or stop light is a mere suggestion (the driver simply flashes his lights and plows on through the intersection), I would never rent a car in BA!
In October 2009, we decided at the last moment to join a tour with Roy and Mario with For the Love of Port (http://www.fortheloveofport.com/). While Charlie and I prefer to travel on our own or with our friends, the offer that Roy made to us was too good to pass up. As it turns out, this was a wonderful trip. We met owners and winemakers, and drank copious amounts of Port and Portuguese table wine. If you want to visit Portugal – and you should, you can’t go wrong with one of the For the Love of Port‘s trips. Finally, of all the wine regions we have visited to date, I would say that the Douro is the most beautiful. The Douro is a spectatuclar region to visit.
Because we tasted so many Ports and table wines, for this post, I am not going to list the Ports and table wines we tasted, but rather, just point out the highlights of our visit and any Ports and table wines that really stood out to me, or I would buy. Overall, Charlie and I were very impressed with the Portuguese red table wines. And while we enjoyed the Ports, we drank enough Port during this trip to last us a lifetime!
For those who are Port novices (like me before the trip!), I thought a basic primer on Port would be helpful. Port is made from indigenous grapes, primarily Touriga Nacional, Tourgia Franca, Tinta Roriz (tempranillo in Spain), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. Traditionally, the grape varieties used in Port were field blends (whatever combination of grape varieties that occurred in the source vineyard). Today, the grapes types are segregated by block planting. Port is fortified; that means that during fermentation, when about half of the sugar has turned to alcohol, Aguardente (a brandy made specifically for the Port producers), is added to stop the fermentation. This raises the alcohol level to between 19-21%, and leaves a good deal of residual sugar in the Port. The Port is then transferred to stainless steel or large wooden tanks or casks to age for a minimum of two years. An overview of what happens next, and the various Ports, are described below. During our trip, we drank each of these different types of Port.
Ruby Port is a blend of several vintages. It is the lightest, simplest Port; typically wood aged 3-5 years. This is the entry level Port, and meant to be consumed upon release.
Reserve Ruby Port is a blend of several vintages and wood aged 5-7 years, and because of the additional time spent in cask, has more complexity and structure than a Ruby Port. Meant to be consumed upon release.
Late Bottled Vintage Port (LBV) is produced from grapes of a single harvest, and bottled between the 4th and 6th years after harvest. Meant to be consumed upon release.
Crusted Port is a blend of two or more vintages; aged in wood for up to four years and then in bottle for up to another three years. The year you see on the bottle is the year the Crusted Port was bottled. Crusted Ports are unfiltered, and need to be decanted to remove the sediment (crust). A Crusted Port can be aged 10-20 years.
Vintage Port is the so-called King of Ports. A Port declaration occurs when the producer believes that the vintage is exceptional, and the declaration has been approved by the IVDP, Port’s governing body. A Vintage Port is a blend of grapes from several Quintas that the producer owns or buys from. A Vintage Port is wood aged for at least two years, and then bottled between the second and third year after harvest. A Vintage Port will age for 30+ years. Note that historically, a vintage was “declared” three times per decade. However, that has not been the case since 2000, where the vintages of 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 were declared. Further, not all producers“declare” the same vintage. Also, one thing we learned on the trip is that Vintage Port should be decanted.
Single Quinta Vintage Port (SQVP) is a variation of a Vintage Port, but unlike a Vintage Port, a SQVP has grapes from one specific property (and from one single vintage). Note that a producer may not declare a vintage, but may declare a single quinta.
Tawny Port usually starts off like a Ruby Port, but spends an extended time in wood to soften and round its character. The large oak casks (pipes) that are used to age these Ports are somewhat porous and as a result, oxidation occurs. As the oxidation takes place, the color of the wine turns from purplish red to an amber or reddish brown.
Tawny Port with an indication of age – there are only four types approved in this category, i.e., 10 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old and 40 years old. These are a blend of many years where the average age of the bottle is at least 10 years, 20 years, 30 years or 40 years old. Tawny Ports with an indication of age were my favorite Ports tasted during the trip.
Colheita is a single vintage-dated Tawny Port. Grapes are from a single vintage, and must be aged in cask at least seven years.
White Port is a blend of indigenous white grapes that are fortified like other Ports; can be aged in tanks or wood. Drank as an aperitif, or mixed with tonic and lemon.
Now for the visits and other highlights of our trip –
Day 1 in Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto:
Churchill’s (http://www.churchills-port.com/) – visit, tasting and lunch with owner Johnny Graham. Stand out wines were the 1985 Vintage Port, Crusted Port (bottled in 2002), 20 Years Old Tawny Port and Quinta da Gricha 2007. This was a great visit!
Dinner was followed by a wonderful tasting at Vinologia (http://www.vinologia.pt); stand out wine was the 1952 Dalva Golden White Port.
Day 2 in Vila Nova de Gaia:
Dow/Warre’s Port Lodge and Graham’s Port Lodge (https://www.symington.com/who-we-are) – visit and tasting (in the board room at Graham’s) with Paul Symington (the Symington Family Estates owns these Port houses, as well as Gould Campbell, Smith Woodhouse and Cockburn’s); Rupert Symington also joined us for part of the tasting. Stand out wines were the 1977 Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port, 1994 Gould Campbell Vintage Port, 2007 Graham’s Vintage Port, 2007 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port and 1966 Graham’s Vintage Port. An outstanding visit!
Porto Vasconcellos – visit and tasting with Jorge; nothing special about this visit (in fact, the only visit on the trip that was poor).
Day 3 in Vila Nova de Gaia and then a drive to the Vinho Verde wine region:
Offley Cellars (http://eng.sograpevinhos.com/marcas/Offley) – Offley is owned by
Sogrape Vinhos, and our visit and tasting was primarily with Luis Sotomayor, head of Sogrape’s winemaking team (or, as he said, the “chief winetaster”). Our visit included a really fun blending competition, with each of us blending our own 10 Years Old Tawny Port; stand out wine was the 30 Years Old Tawny Port. A really great visit!
Quinta de Aveleda in Vinho Verde (http://www.aveledaportugal.pt/index.php?id=77) –Aveleda is owned by the Guedes family, and our visit and tasting was with António Guedes, director of viticulture, and also António Mendoza, commercial director. This is a beautiful estate; and the wines that I enjoyed were the Aveleda Vinho Verde 2008 and Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Rosé 2008. Another really nice visit.
Dinner was at Artemísia in Porto, where we enjoyed some really nice wines with our meal, including the Quinta Vale D. Maria 2001 (a Douro red).
Day 4 in the Douro Valley –
Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha (http://www.symington.com/vineyards/symington-familys-vineyards#viewGallery/0) – owned by the Symington Family; our visit and tasting was with winemaker Miles Edlmann and Dan Carbon, director of marketing for Symington Family Estates. Stand out wines were the 1984 Quinta da Cavadinha, 1986 Quinta da Cavadinha and 2005 Quinta da Cavadinha. Another great visit!
Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim (http://www.symington.com/vineyards/symington-familys-vineyards#viewGallery/0) – visit, lunch and tasting with winemaker João Pedro Ramalho (Miles Edlmann and Dan Carbon also joined us for lunch). Stand out wines were the Altano Douro Red 2007, 1987 Quinta do Bomfim and 1996 Quinta do Bomfim. Another fantastic visit!
Dinner at LBV 79 in Pinhão, joined by Cristiano van Zeller, owner of Quinta Vale D. Maria and van Zellers & Co. ; a very enjoyable evening.
Day 5 in the Douro Valley –
Quinta do Crasto (http://www.quintadocrasto.pt/) – owned by the Roquette family (Jorge and Leonor Roquette, and sons Miguel and Tómas) we spent the entire day at Quinta do Crasto, including walking the vineyards, tastings of tables wines and ports, lunch and dinner with the Roquette family, drinks by the poolside and a boat ride (on Miguel’s boat) on the Douro River. Stand out wines were the Crasto 2007 (a Douro red), Crasto 2008 (a Douro white), Reserva Old Vines 2004 and 2007, Vinha da Ponte 2007, Vinha Maria Teresa 2006, Touriga Nacional 2001 and 2003, Tinta Roriz 1997 and 2000 Vintage Port. A truly fantastic day!
Day 6 in the Douro Valley –
Quinta da Romaneira (http://www.quintadaromaneira.pt/en/) – visit, tasting and lunch at Redondo (at the time, Quinta da Romaneira had a beautiful hotel and restaurant) with Joel Fonseca Tibéro (an enolgist, who was the sales director). The lunch with wine pairings was great! My favorite wines were the Rosé 2008 and Verdelho 2007. This was a really nice visit. As a footnote, I stayed in touch with Joel Tibéro after our visit, and Joel helped me with visits in other countries.
Quinta de Nápoles (Niepoort) (http://www.niepoort-vinhos.com/en/process/) – visit and tasting of cask samples with winemaker Luis Seabra. Luis later joined us for dinner, and he brought many bottles of table wines and Port. Luis is a charming and knowledgeable winemaker.
Dinner at Restaurante DOC in Folgosa (http://www.docrestaurante.pt/); a wonderful dinner. Stand out wines were the Niepoort 30 Years Old Tawny Port and Niepoort 1959 Colheita.
Day 7 in the Douro Valley –
Quinta do Mourão (http://www.quintadomourao.pt) – visit, tasting and
lunch with owner/winemaker Miguel Braga. Tasting included a 1972 vintage cask sample and a cask sample that was “around” 50 years old (for both of these, the cask sample themselves were exceptional). Stand out wines were the 2004 Rio Bom Colheita (bottled July 2009), S. Leonardo 30 Years Old Tawny Port and S. Leonardo 40 Years Old Tawny Port. A really wonderful visit!
Dinner at Terra in Porto (http://www.cafeina.pt/pt/terra#_=_) – a very nice dinner; stand out wines were the Niepoort Robustos 2004 (a Douro red) and Chryseia 2001 (a Douro red).
A few last comments. We flew into Porto the day before the tour started with For the Love of Port, and had dinner that night at Foz Velha. This was a really enjoyable meal. Finally, we had a very early flight out of Porto the next day after the tour concluded, and we met our driver outside our hotel at around 5:00 a.m. When we stepped outside of the hotel, we were amazed to see hundreds, if not a thousand, people in the streets around our hotel. Our driver told us that these were people still up and partying from the night before; something that happened every Saturday night in Porto!
In September 2010, Charlie and I spent three weeks visiting five wine regions of Spain – Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Txakoli, Penedes and Priorat. We also spent some time in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona. I arranged the trip through Cellar Tours, http://www.cellartours.com/, and working with Cellar Tour’s owner Gen was a pleasure. We had a driver (or as his card says “transportation captain”!), Jose Maria (“Pepe”), for the entire trip, and he was fantastic. If you want a first rate trip, contact Gen at Cellar Tours, and be sure to ask for Pepe.
Every bodega we visited was welcoming. We met wonderful people and drank great wines. This trip really opened our eyes as to how good the red and white wines of Spain are. The wines were so good that when we returned home I looked into setting up a distributor company for Spanish wines (which unfortunately didn’t work out). This was a great trip! For those who have followed my posts, you know that my wine descriptions are succinct. But, if I say “buy,” that is my strongest recommendation for a wine. I have also included some of the restaurants and sites that stood out during our trip.
We arrived in Madrid and spent a few days there While in Madrid, we had a “Spanish Wine Masterclass” (wines from regions that we weren’t visiting) with Mary and Miguel, the owners of Planeta Vino (http://planetavino.net/). Gen had suggested this for a Sunday evening, and the tasting, accompanied by tapas, was great. Although we expected excellent Spanish red wines throughout our trip, this tasting really first opened my eyes as to how good the Spanish white wines could be. The wines we tasted were:
Telmo Rodriguez Gaba do Xil 2009 godello – fresh, easy drinking white wine, some minerality, buy
Adega Eladio Piñeiro Frore de Carme Solo 2006 albariño – an excellent white wine, buy
Bodega Belondrade Belondrade y Lurton 2007 verdejo – a barrel fermented white wine, ok
Bodegas Julian Chivite Gran Feudo Rosado 2008 (tempranillo, grenache, merlot blend) – very dry; light and delicate, buy
Bodegas Viñas del Vero Secastilla 2005 – lean, no real body
Cortijo Los Aguilares Tadeo 2007 (petit verdot, syrah blend) – good fruit, good acidity; a very nice wine, buy
Bodegas Raúl Pérez El Pecado 2009 mencia – floral nose, violets on the nose; excellent, buy
Bodegas El Nido Clio 2007 (monastrell, cabernet sauvignon blend) – very fruit forward, smokey
Bodegas Teso La Monja Victorino 2007 tempranillo – subtle, very nice, buy
Fernando de Castilla Antique Amontillado NV (sherry made with palomino fino grapes) – very, very dry
Olivares Monastrell Dulce 2006 – a nice dessert wine
After Madrid, we headed to the Ribera del Duero –
Our visits/tastings in the Ribera del Duero were:
Emilio Moro (http://www.emiliomoro.com/en/) – tour and tasting with Helian; wines tasted:
Cepa21/C21 Hito 2008 – very nice, good fruit, buy
Finca Resalso 2009 – 100% tinto fino, good fruit, meant to drink young
Emilio Moro 2006 – 100% tinto fino, very nice, balanced, good acidity, soft, buy
Malleolus 2006 – 100% tinto fino, very nice, balanced, a little smokey
Malleolus d Valderramiro 2007 – 100% tinto fino, could taste a little oak
Malleolus de Sancho Martin 2007 – 100% tinto fino, really enjoyed, the best wine we tasted, chewy, good acidity and balance, buy
Following this visit, we had lunch at Convento la Claras (http://www.hotelconventolasclaras.com/es/restaurante-asador-conde-lucanor.php) in Peñafiel. The meal, served with a 2006 Vina Sastre Crianza, was very good.
Abadia Retuerta (http://www.abadia-retuerta.com/tours-en.html) – tour and tasting with Maria Martin Escudero; wines tasted:
Seleccion Especial 2007 – blend of tempranillo, cabernet, merlot; had a somewhat bitter taste
Cuvee Palomar 2004 – blend of tempranillo, cabernet; green on the nose, but much better than the Seleccion
Pago Graduna 2006 – syrah; nice, smooth, tastes better than it smells
Pago Negralada 2006 – tempranillo, ok, but better with some air
Aalto Bodegas y Viñedos (http://www.aalto.es/?lang=en) – tasting with enologist Jose Carlos Garcia Vega; this was a very nice visit; wines tasted: barrel tasting of the three 2009’s, then the 2006 Aalto PS. The Aalto PS was excellent; buy. Jose gifted us with a bottle of the Aalto 2007 in OWB when we left.
Viñedos Alonso del Yerro (http://www.vay.es/index.php/en/our-family/about-us) – tasting with winemaker Lionel Gourgue; wines tasted:
Alonso del Yerro 2008 – young, good fruit, smooth but with a back palette kick; funky nose
Alonso del Yerro 2007 – enjoyed much better than the 2008, buy
Maria 2008 – good fruit, smooth, soft, very good, buy
As a footnote, I stayed in touch with Lionel after the trip, and he helped with some visits in other countries.
Bodegas Hermanos Pérez Pascuas (Viña Pedrosa) (http://en.perezpascuas.com/) – tasting with Pilar (if you owned a winery, Pilar is someone you would want in your tasting room!). We also visited with Manuel Pérez Pascuas (one of the three brothers who started this winery). Wines tasted:
Viña Pedrosa Finca La Navilla 2005 -100% tempranillo, nice, smooth, good fruit
Viña Pedrosa Reserva 2005 – blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon, ok
Pérez Pascuas Gran Seleccion 2003 – 100% tempranillo, a little smoke on the palate
This was really a nice visit, with Pilar giving us the three bottles that she had opened for our tasting. Although none of the wines made my “buy” list, this bodega is worth a visit.
Now, on to Rioja –
Finca Valpiedra (http://www.familiamartinezbujanda.com/valpiedra/index.php?idc=20&ln=1) – tour and tastng with Leticia Villegas; this tasting included pairings with chocolates from around the world – really enjoyable! Wines tasted:
Finca Antigua Blanco 2009 – 100% viura, floral aroma, also cut hay; fresh; would be good w/ seafood or by itself; buy
Cantos de Valpiedra 2007 (their second label) – a tempranillo, smooth, easy drinking, vanilla and pepper on the nose, and then with some time in the glass, almost chocolate on the nose; buy
Finca Valpiedra 2001 – a blend of tempranillo, graciano, cabernet sauvignon; a little dill on the back palate, but better with some air
Finca Valpiedra 2005 – much better nose than the 2001; smooth and silky, a little sweet (in a good way); buy
Moscatel 2009 – 100% moscatel morisco; peaches on the nose; an excellent sweet wine, buy
Marqués de Vargas (http://www.marquesdevargas.com/en/) – tasting with Eva; also included visit to the family home; tasting included tapas with the wines; a very nice visit; wines tasted:
Pazo San Mauro 2009 – albarino, mineral with citrus; served with salmon spoon and an anchovy/caviar spoon; a nice wine, buy
Conde de San Cristobal 2006 – blend of tinto fino, cabernet sauvignon, merlot; served with jamon w/ peppers; this wine was overpowered by the food
Marques de Vargas Riserva 2005 – blend of tempranillo, mazuelo, grenache, graziano; served with cheese and the jamon/pepper spoon; very nice, went well with the tapas; buy
Lunch afterwards was at La Galeria (http://www.restaurantelagaleria.com/home.htm) in Logrono, wines served were the Copa de cava Agusti Torello and Azpilicueta Reserva 2005. An enjoyable meal!
Marqués de Riscal (http://www.marquesderiscal.com/storyeng.php?id=29) – tasting with Carlos Ulibarri Echevarria. I had a contact that was supposed to open the door for us to taste some older reservas, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we tasted:
Reserva 2007 – tasted “green”
Reserva 2006 – barnyard aroma (and for those who know me, you know that I hate barnyard)
Reserva 2005 – barnyard
Baron de Chirel 2005 and 2006 – this wine is produced from old wines and only in the “best vintage years” – I don’t have any notes on these two wines, so I probably wasn’t impressed
The bodega is next to the Frank Gehry-designed Marqués de Riscal Hotel. The hotel is very impressive looking and stands in stark contrast to anything else in the region.
R. López de Heredia (http://www.lopezdeheredia.com/indexgb.html) – tour and tasting
with Natalia (only a group tour was available); this winery looks like you stepped in a time machine and went back to over a 100 years ago (complete with mold-covered cellars). Then, even stranger, there is this ultra modern visitors’ center and wine shop in front of the bodega. This was not one of our favorite visits. Wines tasted:
Viña Tondonia 1992 Blanc Reserva – after the first taste, this was a nice wine
Viña Tondonia 2000 Reserva – nice, but missing something
Viña Tondonia 2002 Rosé – dry, apricot color, more like a dry white wine
Bodegas Roda (http://www.roda.es/en/) – tour and tasting with enologist Vega Angula Roig (note that many of the Spanish wineries have multiple enologists; one may be technical and responsible for complying with the strict regulations of the region, while one may be the winemaker); a great visit and tasting! Wines tasted:
Sela 2008 – primarily tempranillo, with a small amount of graciano; fresh, easy to drink, good fruit; somewhat off smelling at the beginning, but blew off
Roda I 2005 – tempranillo; more complex; strong, but elegant; silky; this was my favorite wine; buy
Cirsion 2006 – tempranillo; notes of tobacco, chocolate & coffee; complex; per Vega, drinking well now, but then wait 10-12 years to drink again; buy
After the wine tasting, we did an olive oil tasting. One olive oil was the Dauro (a blend of three olive varieties), and the other was the Aubocassa (100% arbequina olives). We really enjoyed the Dauro olive oil. At the end of the visit, Vega gave us a bottle of Roda I 2005 and a bottle of the Dauro olive oil in OWB.
Lunch afterwards was at Las Duelas in Haro. Lunch was served with the restaurant’s two house wines, the Bodega Ibaiondo Blanco and the Bodega Ibaiondo Crianza. A very nice lunch.
Bodegas Remírez de Ganuza (http://www.remirezdeganuza.com/eng-index.html) – tasting with Luis Martinez, export manager. Tasting included cheese and jamon. This was one of our favorite visits! Wines tasted:
Erre Punto Blanco 2008 – a blend of viura and malvasia; floral, crisp, but with body; would be great with seafood; buy [Erre Punto is “R.”; the son of the owner Fernando Remírez de Ganuza is an artist, and he signs his paintings with “R.”]
Remírez de Ganuza Reserva 2004 – mostly tempranillo with a little graciano; smooth and easy drinking; a very nice wine; buy
Trasnocho 2006 – mostly tempranillo with a little graciano; an elegant wine; silky tannins, a great wine; buy
Fincas de Ganuza – mostly tempranillo with a little graciano; more rustic and more tannins; Luis said this was a typical Rioja with oak and leather
Next up was San Sebastian, with a tasting in the Getariako Txakolina region along the way –
Talai Berri (http://www.talaiberri.com/ing/historia.php) – tasting with owner/winemaker Bixente Eiagirre Aginaga; a great visit on their deck overlooking the vineyard (Charlie and I can still hear the squawking scarecrow that keeps the birds away from the vines). Wines tasted:
Talai Berri 2009 – mostly hondarribi zuni; Bixente told us to pour this wine from 4-5” above the glass in order to get the most bubbles; fresh, effervescent; small bubbles; Bixente served this with tuna, and the wine matched perfectly; buy
Finca Jakue 2009 – a more rounded white Txakoli
Talai Berri Red Txakoli 2009 – a red Txakoli made with the hondarribi beltz grape; not my favorite
Afterwards, we had lunch at Elkano (http://www.restauranteelkano.com/) in Getaria. We had a perfectly grilled whole turbot, along with a Txakoli, the Txomin Etxaniz 2009; an excellent lunch.
While staying in San Sebastian, we had a really nice dinner at L’Auberge Basque (in the Pays Basque in France) (http://www.aubergebasque.com/en/), and an exceptional lunch at Akelaŕe (https://www.akelarre.net/en).
We also visited the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, which we really enjoyed.
Next up was the drive east to the Penedès region –
While in the Penedès and Priorat regions, we stayed at the Can Bonastre (http://www.canbonastre.com/en/) in Penedès, had a picnic on the grounds one night, and a wine tasting of their own wines one evening; highly recommended!
First up in Penedès was Can Rafols dels Caus (http://www.canrafolsdelscaus.com/en/); tasting with Amanda, joined by owner Carlos Esteva. I had been referred to this winery by a wine journalist from Madrid (who I had contacted through the Robert Parker bulletin board), and the journalist said to use his name as a reference. Gen did so in setting up this visit. However, Senyor Esteva thought we were good friends with this journalist, and treated us accordingly. Charlie and I just sort of nodded when he asked about our “good friend.” Undoubtedly, because of the (mis)understanding, Senyor Esteva made sure we had a great visit and tasting. Wines tasted:
Gran Caus Blanc 2007 – blend of xarel-lo, chardonnay, chenin blanc; good acidity, good mouth feel, some citrus; buy
El Rocallis 2005 – 100% manzoni (pinot blanc and reisling); a mineral edge
Gran Caus Rosado 2009 – 100% merlot; raspberry in color; smooth and silky; tasted great; one of the best rosés we have ever had; buy
Gran Caus 2001 – a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon; smooth, licorice and black fruit; very nice; buy
Ad Fines 2006 – 100% pinot noir; nice, but a touch of barnyard
Caus Lubis 1999 – 100% merlot; initially a green nose and taste, but that blew off, and the wine evolved to become very smooth and nice
Gran Caus Cava 2004 – a blend of xarel-lo, macabeo, parellada made in the method champenois; white fruit, toasted almonds; buy
Gran Caus Rosé Cava Reserva 2004 – 100% pinot noir; a sherry nose
After this visit, we had a great al fresco paella lunch at Fragata (http://www.restaurantefragata.com/), in the seaside town of Sitges. Highly recommended!
Parés Balta (http://www.paresbalta.com/our-history/) – tour and tasting with Marc Picon, export manager (including a 4-wheel drive tour of the property); we also spent some time with owner Joan Cusiné Carol; served some really good manchego cheeses with our wine tasting; this was an epic wine tasting; wines tasted:
Cava Selectio- blend of xarel-lo, macabeo, parellada, chardonnay; mellow, yeasty, easy drinking
Blanc de Pacs 2009 – primarily parellada; easy drinking, floral, peach; a solid everyday wine
Calcari 2009 – 100% xarel-lo; would be good with seafood
Electio 2008 – 100% xarel-lo; minerality, touch of fennel, more complex Radix 2009 – a rosé made with 100% syrah; strawberries and red fruit, fruity
Cava Rosé – 100% pinot noir; deep salmon/orange in color, strawberries and raspberries; I loved this sparkling wine, buy [I tried to find this wine in the US when we returned, but I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I contacted the importer. The importer told me that this wine was not imported because he thought the color would turn off most American buyers. Americans are missing out on a really good cava!]
Indigena 2009 – a grenache; very nice
Hisenda Miret 2007 – a grenache; smooth, good tannins and fruit; buy
Absis 2003 – blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah; dark and brooding, complex, spicey
Dominio Romano RDR 2006 – this is wine from a sister winery in Ribera del Duero; 100% tinto fino; concentrated, but elegant, good tannins, easy to enjoy; buy
Gratavinum 2∏R 2007 – this is wine from a sister winery in the Priorat; a blend of grenache and carignan; a very nice wine, good fruit; buy.
We also tasted the olive oil from Gratavinum, but we enjoyed Roda’s olive oil better.
Jean Leon (http://www.jeanleon.com/en/) – tasting with Anna; wines tasted:
Petit Chardonnay 2008 – a touch of oak
Merlot 2006 – good fruit and acidity
Zemis 2003 – blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot; good acidity and tannins, smooth, buy
Gran Reserva 2000 Vinya La Scala- cabernet sauvignon; smooth, silky, spicy, very nice; buy
Now we are off to Priorat –
Clos de l’Obac/Costers del Siurana (http://costersdelsiurana.com/) – a very nice tasting with owner/winemaker Carles Pastrana; wines tasted:
Kyrie 2006 – a blend of white grenache, macabeu, xarel-lo, muscat; dried fruit on the nose, good acidity
Miserere 2004 – a blend of grenache, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, merlot, carinena; smooth, silky, very nice; buy
Clos de l’Obac 2002– a blend of grenache, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, carinena; austere, but complex, good fruit and tannins; buy
Dolc de l’Obac 2005 – grenache with some cabernet sauvignon; enjoyable
After leaving Clos de l’Obac, we saw a winery, and decided to check it out. It turned out to be Clos Mogador (http://www.closmogador.com/index.asp?idioma=EN), and René Barbier was pouring wines for a couple in the business, and invited Charlie and I to join them. For those of you who don’t know, René Barbier is credited with reviving Priorat, and bringing it world recognition. I didn’t realize the gentleman pouring the wines was Mr. Barbier, but when he introduced himself, I said “oh, you’re famous” (which still makes Charlie laugh). The wines we tasted were:
Manyetes 2008 – blend of carinena, grenache, cabernet sauvingnon, syrah; very nice, smooth, good fruit; buy
Clos Mogador 2008 – a blend of grenache, carinena, cabernet sauvignon, syrah; smooth, good fruit and tannins
Nelin 2009 – primarily white grenache; ok
Mas Martinet (http://masmartinet.com/) – we were supposed to meet with the owner, Sara Perez, for our visit, but she was out of the country during our visit. Sara arranged to have Rachel Ritchie, who gives specialized tours in Priorat, conduct the tasting. The wines we tasted:
Martinet Bru 2008 – grenache and syrah blend; barnyard aroma, did not like the smell or taste
Els Escurcons 2006 – grenache and syrah blend; ok
Clos Martinent 2006 – blend of grenache, carinena, syrah, cabernet sauvignon; ok
Camí Pessoroles 2007 – grenache and carinena blend; good fruit, smooth, best of the wines tasted
Charlie and then spent the next few days in Barcelona, a city we had visited before. While staying in Barcelona, one morning Gen had arranged a tapas and wine tasting at Vila Viniteca (http://www.vilaviniteca.es/en/who_are_we). While we had drank plenty of wine on our trip, this tasting, led by Jordi, was exceptional, and I would highly recommend it.
Finally, we ate dinner at Cinc Sentits in Barcelona (http://cincsentits.com/en/food/) and had a fabulous meal. Cinc Sentits is a Michelin one star, family-run restaurant. We were well taken care of by Amèlia Artal, whose brother Jodi is the chef, and their mother serves as hostess. Very highly recommended!
JCharlie and I, plus our friend Terry, visited Piemonte, Lago Orta and Liguria in May 2012. This was a fantastic visit – we ate great food, drink great wines and met wonderful people. This was Charlie’s and my first visit to the area, but it won’t be our last time to Piemonte and Liguria. While in Piemonte, we stayed at Villa La Meridiana in Alba (http://www.villalameridianaalba.it/), and it was a great place to stay.
We enjoyed every meal we had in Piemonte. The restaurants we ate at included the following (all lunches):
Osteria La Liberia in Alba (http://www.lalibera.com/en/) – good food and service; the best dessert we had during the entire trip. Wine with the meal was the Mauro Veglio 1997 Barolo Vigneto Rocche, which was very good.
Bovio outside of La Morra (http://www.ristorantebovio.it) – good food and service;
beautiful views. We enjoyed Bovio so much, we went back for another lunch. Wine with the first meal was the Giuseppe Mascarello 2004 Monprivato; an excellent wine. Wine with the second lunch was the Aldo Conterno 1996 Riservera Gran Bussia Barolo; another excellent wine.
Antinè in Barbaresco (http://www.antine.it/) – excellent food and service; a wonderful way to spend 3 hours for a Saturday lunch. Wines with the meal were the Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barbaresco (very good) and the Moccagatta 2006 Barbaresco Bric Balin (more oak than the Giacosa, but a nice wine).
Trattoria della Posta in Monforte d’Alba (http://trattoriadellaposta.it/) – very good food and service. Wine with the meal was the Giacomo Conterno 2004 Barolo Cascina Francia, another excellent wine.
La Ciau del Tornavento in Treiso (http://www.laciaudeltornavento.it/ita) – very good food, beautiful restaurant and views. Wine with the meal was Roberto Voerzio 2000 Barolo La Sera; again, another excellent wine.
La Luna nel Pozzo in Neive (http://www.lalunanelpozzo-neive.it/eng/index.html) – very good food and service. Wine with the meal was the Elio Grasso 2001 Barolo Runcot; excellent wine.
The wineries we visited (with my “buy” wines marked) were:
G.D. Vajra (http://www.gdvajra.it/) – this azienda was started by Aldo and Milena Vaira, and Aldo is the winemaker. Part of the visit was with their son, Giuseppe Vaira. Wines poured were the Dolcetto d’Alba 2010, Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2008 (buy), Barolo Brico Delle Viole 2008, and the Barolo Luigi Baudana Ceretto 2006.
Luciano Sandrone (http://www.sandroneluciano.com/)- visit and tasting with Barbara Sandrone, daughter of Luciano. Barbara is a wonderful ambassador for Sandrone, and we very much enjoyed our visit. Wines poured were the Dolcetto d’Alba 2011, Barbera d’Alba 2010, Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore 2006, Barolo Le Vigne 2008 (buy) and the Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2008 (buy).
Roberto Voerzio (http://robertovoerzio.com/en/roberto-voerzio-winery/)- all of my
correspondence prior to the trip was with Davide Voerzio, son of Roberto. Davide was fantastic, and he even helped me with a couple other visits. Unfortunately when we visited, Davide was out of town, but Cesare proved to be an excellent replacement. Cesare was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. We also had the pleasure of meeting Roberto Voerzio, who kindly and generously gifted us a bottle of the 2007 Barolo Cerequio (buy). Wines tasted were the Barolo Cerequio 2008 (buy), the Barolo Brunate 2006, and the DaViva Merlot 2007 (buy). This was a great visit!
Elio Grasso (http://www.eliograsso.it/en/)- met initially with Marina Grasso (Elio’s wife), but Elio did the tour and tasting. We also had the pleasure of speaking with Gianluca, Elio’s son. This was another great visit. Wines poured were the Langhe Nebbiolo 2011, Barbera d’Alba 2009 and the Barolo Runcot Riserva 2006 (buy). Upon leaving, Elio gifted us with a bottle of the 2006 Barolo Runcot Riserva (buy). Signore Grasso’s hospitality was generous and warm.
La Spinetta (http://www.la-spinetta.com/) – owned by the Rivetti brothers; visit and tasting with Manuela Rivetti, daughter of Giorgio (Giorgio is the winemaker). We very much enjoyed our visit. Wines poured were 2008 Chardonnay Lidia, the 2009 Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bionzo 2009, Monforte Rosso Pin, Barbaresco Vigneto Bordini 2008, Barbaresco Vigneto Valerano Varsu 2007, the 2008 Barolo Vigneto Garetti (buy), and the 2011 Moscato d’Asti Bricco Quaglia (buy).
Contratto (http://www.contratto.it/indexenglish.html) – La Spinetta had recently purchased this winery, and Manuela suggested we visit this ‘metodo classico’ sparkling wine maker; visit and tasting was with Luca. Sparkling wines poured were the Brut Mellesimato 2007, the For England Pas Dose 2007 (buy), the For England 2007 Rose, and the Blanc de Blancs 2009. Luca also poured the Moscato Asti Spumate 2009.
Giuseppe Mascarello (http://www.mascarello1881.com/)- tasting with Maria Teresa, wife of Mauro Mascarello. Wines poured were the Dolcetto d’Alba 2010, Barbera Scudetto Superiore 2007 (buy), Freisa 2006, the 2007 Barolo Villero, the 2007 Barolo Santo Stefano (buy), the 2007 Monprivato (buy), the 2006 Barolo Santo Stefano (buy), the 2004 Ca’ d’ Morissio and the 2003 Ca’ d’ Morissio (buy). This was a very generous tasting, but it was difficult to tell how long the bottles has been opened (as they were sitting opened and partially empty when we arrived), and what impact that had on the wines. I have read the outside of this winery described as an old auto repair shop. That is an accurate description!
Vietti (http://www.vietti.com/en/) – owned by the Currado family; Luca Currado is the winemaker; visit and tasting with Luciana Currado (matriarch of the Currado family). Signora Currado was generous with her time and stories about the history of her family and the wines. Wines poured were the 2011 Roero Arneis, the 2009 Barbera d’Alba Scarrone, the 2008 Barbera d’Asti La Crena (buy), the 2009 Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, the 2009 Nebbiolo Perbacco (buy), the 2008 Barolo Castiglione (buy), the Barolo Lazzarito (buy), the 2008 Barolo Brunate (buy) and the 2011 Moscato d’Asti. A really nice visit.
Giacomo Conterno (http://www.conterno.it/) (Email firstname.lastname@example.org) – cask tasting with Roberto Conterno. Roberto was very generous with his pours from the casks, but I didn’t have a chance to write down what we tasted. No bottled wines were poured.
Elio Altare (http://www.elioaltare.com/)- visit and tasting with Silvia Altare, Elio’s daughter. Silvia is great. Elio now has a vineyard in Cinque Terre, so Silvia poured his 2009 Campo Grande. The Elio Altare wines Silvia poured were the 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba, the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo, the 2007 Barbera Larigi (buy), the 2007 L’Insieme, the 2007 Barolo buy), the 2006 Barolo (buy) and the 2005 Barolo (buy). This was yet another really nice visit!
Sottimano (http://www.sottimano.it/en/)- visit and tasting with Elena Sottimano. Wines poured were the 2009 Barbera d’Alba Pairolero (buy), the 2009 Barbaresco Cotta, the 2009 Barbaresco Pajore (buy) and the 2008 Barbaresco Cotta (buy).
A couple of final notes on some other restaurants we visited during our stay. We stayed and ate at Villa Crespi in Lago Orta. The hotel is really beautiful, and the hotel staff is very efficient and friendly. However, everything about this hotel is pricey, and our dinner was less than stellar. While the food was very good, the wait staff was mediocre at best. We would not return to the hotel or restaurant.
We also ate dinner at Combal Zero in Torino (http://www.combal.org/). Our dinner was great, but the wine pairings were mediocre at best.
Finally, while staying in Imperia in Ligura (where we also had great pizza on two evenings at La Piazzetta),we drove over to Menton, France and ate lunch at Le Mirazur (http://www.mirazur.fr). This was one of the best meals we have ever had in the world!
Practicalities: We flew in and out of the Milano (MXP), and we rented a car at the airport (through Europe Car). Terry had a TomTom GPS which proved to be invaluable (so much so that Charlie and I purchased one ourselves and have used it on subsequent trips). We did have an issue from time-to-time with the TomTom telling us to travel a certain route, because our car (a small Renault station wagon) was too wide to pass through a certain road or tunnel that TomTom wanted us to travel. Charlie thought you should be able to key in the type of auto, so the GPS would factor that in for driving directions! Also, if you do use a GPS, pay attention to the traffic camera alerts (or you WILL get a ticket in the mail upon your return home), and pay attention to the ZTL (zona traffico limitato) signs (a red circle with white in the center). A ZTL is mainly a pedestrian area, and again, if you drive into the restricted area (past the sign), you WILL get a ticket in the mail upon your return home. Finally, I made all of our winery appointments and restaurant reservations via email (at least 30 days in advance).
Charlie and I visited Champagne in May-June 2013, following 5 days in Paris. We met some wonderful people and tasted some great champagnes. Brad Baker (http://www.champagnewarrior.com/) was terrific in helping me plan our trip and deciding which growers and houses to visit. It was very evident during our visits that Brad is highly thought of in Champagne. Jiles Halling (http://www.mymaninchampagne.com/) was tremendous in setting up our visits and tastings. Although we did not utilize Jiles’ tour services, meeting Jiles and speaking with people who did tour Champagne with Jiles, I would highly recommend you contacting him if you want some special visits and tastings. Thank you Brad and Jiles for great visits and tastings. Finally, for the first 5 nights, we stayed at Les Molyneux, a B&B in Verzy owned by Jiles and his delightful wife, Yvonne.
If you have read my prior posts, you know that I am not the best describer of wines. So, I have provided you with my overall impression, and whether I would buy the champagne (i.e., my best recommendation). My notes will also give you a good idea of what to expect if you visit. The growers and houses we visited were:
Champagne Godmé in Verzenay; visit and tasting with Sabine Guillame. Sabine is the sister of Hugues Godmé. [At the time of our visit, Champagne Godmé was a joint effort of Sabine and Hugues. However, in 2015/16, they separated their interests, and the location we visited is now Champagne Sabine Godmé (http://www.champagne-godme-sabine.fr/site.php). We tasted the:
Brut Blanc de Blancs – 100% chardonnay, dosage of 8 grams, disgorged 1/13, fresh, with a long taste, this is an excellent aperitif, buy;
Brut Blanc de Noirs – 100% pinot noir, dosage of 6 grams, disgorged 1/13;
Extra Brut Grand Cru – 40% chardonnay/60% pinot noir, blend of the 2004/05/06 harvests, disgorged 1/13, dosage of 4 grams, very good, buy;
Brut Millésimé 2003 – 100% pinot noir, dosage of 5 grams, another very good champagne, buy;
Les Alouettes Brut Millésimé 2005 – 100% chardonnay, dosage of 3 grams;
Brut Millésimé 2004 – 60 percent chardonnay/40% pinot noir, another very good champagne, buy; and
Les Romaines Millésimé 2005 – 100% pinot noir, buy.
Vilmart & Cie (http://www.champagnevilmart.fr/en/) in Rilly la Montagne; visit and tasting with Laurent Champs, chef de cave, 5th generation. We tasted the:
Grande Reserve – 70% pinot noir/30% chardonnay, blend of the 2009/10 vintages, disgorged 9/12, a very nice champagne with good fruit and acidity, buy;
Grand Cellier – 70% chardonnay/30% pinot noir, blend of the 2008/09/10 harvests, disgorged 9/12, fresh with lemons and grapefruit, smooth, buy;
Grand Cellier d’Or 2007 – 80% chardonny/20% pinot noir, toasty, buy; and
Coeur du Cuvée 2002.
Pierre Gimonnet & Fils (http://www.champagne-gimonnet.com/home_uk/page_gimonnet_uk.html) in Cuis; visit and tasting with Nathalie. We tasted the:
Brut Blanc de Blancs – 100% chardonnay, blend of 5 harvests with 2010 as the base;
Rosé de Blancs Brut – 88% chardonnay/12% pinot noir,
Cuvée Gastronome 2002 – 100% chardonnay, dosage of 7 grams, very good, buy;
Cuvée Fleuron 2006 – subtle, elegant, buy; and
Cuvée Extra Brut Oenophile 2005 – very nice.
Champagne DeSousa (http://www.champagnedesousa.com/en/) in Avise; visit and tasting with Charlotte DeSousa. We tasted the:
Brut Tadition – blend of chardonnay/pinot noir/pinot meunier from the 2006/07/08 harvests, disgorged 10/12, dosage of 7 grams;
Brut Reserve Grand Cru – 100% chardonnay, base wine is 2008, dosage of 7 grams;
Cuvée 3A – 50% chardonnay/50% pinot noir, named after the 3 grand cru villages of Avize, Ay and Ambonnay, where the vineyards are located;
Rosé Brut – 90% chardonnay/10% pinot noir, disgorged 4/13, dosage of 7 grams, fresh with a hint of rosé, buy;
Cuvée des Caudalies – 100 percent chardonnay, 50% reserve wines, long after taste, rich, buy; and
Cuvée des Caudalies Rosé – 90% chardonnay/10% pinot noir, disgorged 6/12, smooth, good, buy.
Pehu Simonet in Verzenay; visit and tasting with David Pehu. David was kind enough to host Charlie and I after Laherte cancelled our visit on short notice. We tasted the:
Selection Brut – 70% pinot noir/30% chardonnay, 2010 harvest and 30% reserve wines, disgorged 9/12, good acidity, refreshing, aperitif, buy;
Cuvée Transparence – 20% chardonnay/80% pinot noir, 2008 base with 40%
reserve wines, disgorged 2/13, dosage of 3 grams;
Cuvée Blanc de Noirs – 2009 base with 60% in barrel, disgorged 1/13, dosage of 8 grams, more fruit, more round, buy;
Selection Rosé – 20% pinot noir/80% chardonnay, 2010 base with 10 % reserve wines, dosage of 8grams, disgorged 1/13, and
Cuvée Speciale 2005 – 50% pinot noir/50% chardonnay, dosage of 10 grams, crisp but round, long finish, buy.
Penet-Chardonnet (http://www.lamaisonpenet.com/index.php?p=selection) in Verzy; visit and tasting at the home of Alexandre and Martine Penet, tasting with Adrien Asselin, and a visit of the garden and caves with Martine. This was a very special tasting, and every champagne we tasted was a “buy”. We tasted the:
Alexandre Penet Extra Brut Cuvée – 40% chardonnay/30% pinot noir/20% pinot meunier, 2009 base with 20% reserve wines, dosage of 5 grams, dosage 6/12. Note that the Alexandre Penet label uses all purchased grapes.
Alexandre Penet Brut Nature Cuvée Grand Cru – 70% pinot noir/30% chardonnay, 2007 base wine;
Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Reserve Extra Brut – 70% pinot noir/30% chardonnay, dosage of 3 grams, base wine is 2009, disgorged 9/12, fresh, complex, excellent; and
Penet-Chardonnet Rosé Grand Cru Extra Brut – 70% pinot noir/30% chardonnay, base wine is 2009, 0 dosage, disgorged 5/12, excellent.
Krug (https://www.krug.com/the-house) in Reims; visit and tasting with Mylène Soulas. Mylène discussed the relatively new “Krug ID” included on each of their bottles, and containing information about the wine and the disgorgement date, and for the Grand Cuvée, the base year and reserve wines included in the blend. See https://www.krug.com/en/krug-id for more details. We tasted the:
Vintage 2000 – very close to the taste of the Grand Cuvée, but not as lemony, and more biscuity; and
Vintage 1998 – this was oaky to me; enjoyed the 2000 more.
Pierre Péters (http://www.champagne-peters.com/en/home) in Le Mesnil sur Orger; visit and tasting with Rodolphe Péters. We tasted the:
Cuvée de Reserve Blanc de Blancs – chardonnay with a litte pinot noir, 2010 base with 40% reserve wines, a pure style, elegant, buy;
Cuvée Extra Brut – not a vintage declaration on the label, but always from a single year and from the same 4 parcels, this is 2009, dosage of 2 grams, buy;
L’Espirit de 2008 – citrus, sweet spices, tart, balanced, buy;
Les Chetillons 2006 – per Rodolphe, this the best expression of terroir, very good, buy; and
Rosé – 35-38% saignée method and 62-65% mixed red and white wines, dosage of 8 grams, excellent, buy.
Bollinger (http://www.champagne-bollinger.com/en_UK/welcome) in Ay; visit and tasting
with Christian Dennis. We tasted the:
Special Cuvée – 60% pinot noir/25% chardonnay/15% pinot meunier, rich mouthfeel, biscuity, very good, buy; and
Rosé – “this is a white wine with a little red fruit”, good.
Philipponnat (http://www.philipponnat.com/) in Mareuil-sur-Ay; visit and tasting with Nicoletta de Nicolo. We tasted the:
Royale Reserve Brut – 65% pinot noir/30% chardonnay/5% pinot meunier, dosage of 8 grams, 2008 base with 28% reserve wines, disgorged 3/12;
Royal Reserve Rosé – 75% pinot noir/20% chardonnay/5% pinot meunier, 2007 base with 24% reserve wines, dosage of 9 grams, very good, buy;
Grand Blanc Brut 2005 – 100% chardonnay, 30% of grapes from Clos des Goisses, disgorged early 2013, elegant, fresh;
Cuvée 1522 Brut Millésimé 2004 – 70% pinot noir/30% chardonnay, complex, powerful, long taste, buy;
Clos des Goisses 2003 – 65% pinot noir/35% chardonnay, disgorged 8/12, dosage of 4 grams, smooth, like a fine white Burgundy, buy; and
Cuvée 1522 Rosé 2006 – 65% pinot noir/35% chardonnay, dosage of 5 grams, disgorged 6/12, a rosé for food, buy.
Chartogne-Taillet (http://chartogne-taillet.com/) in Merfy; visit and tasting with Alexandre Chartogne. Jiles went with us on this vist, as he had not previously met Alexandre. This was a wonderful tasting! We tasted the:
Sainte Anne Brut – 50% chardonnay/50% pinot noir, disgorged 2 weeks prior. Alexandre’s objective for this wine is to reflect all of soil types of Merfy – sand, limestone, clay and chalk, “each vine tells its own story”. fresh, good acidity, an aperitif, buy;
Chemin de Reims 2008 – chardonnay;
Rosé 2009 – 60 % chardonnay/40% pinot noir, dosage of 6 grams;
Les Barres 2008 – pinot noir, dosage of 3 grams; and
Les Alliées 2008 – pinot noir, dosage of 3 grams.
We also tasted several vin clairs with Alexandre, specifically the pinot noir from Les Alliées in cement, the pinot noir from Les Beaux Sens in cement, the Chemin de Reims in oak, and the chardonnay from Couarres in oak. We also tasted the not-to-be released Les Alliées in bottle.
René Geoffroy (http://www.champagne-geoffroy.com/en/accueil.html) in Ay; visit and tasting with Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy. We tasted the:
Expression Brut – 50% pinot meunier/40% pinot noir/10% chardonnay, 2008 and 2009 harvests;
Empreinte 2007 – 76% pinot noir/13%chardonnay/11% pinot meunier, fresh, good fruit, buy;
Volupté 2006 – 80% chardonnay;
Rosé de Saigné – good red fruit, good balance, buy; and
Blanc de Rose 2010 – macerates pinot noir and chardonnay grapes on their skins together, “unique”, dosage of 2 grams.
Finally, we stayed our last night in Champagne at Hotel Les Avises (http://www.selosse-lesavises.com), hoping that by doing so, we could arrange a visit and tasting with Anselme Selosse. While we enjoyed the hotel (which is quite pricey) and dinner that night, staying at the hotel does not get you an invitation for a visit or tasting. We did enjoy a bottle of the Selosse Substance and a bottle of the Selosse Rosé for dinner at the hotel. We really enjoyed the Selosse Rosé.
We also ate dinner at both Le Parc in Les Crayères (http://www.lescrayeres.com/#/le-parc/) and L’Assiette (http://www.assiettechampenoise.com/). We enjoyed both meals, but we would give the edge to L’Assiette for both food and ambience.
As a footnote, while in Paris, we ate at Goust (dinner) (http://www.enricobernardo.com/WEB/index.php/en/gousthome), Guy Savoy (lunch) (https://www.guysavoy.com/en/), La Régalade Saint Honoré (dinner) (email at email@example.com) and Le Cinq (Sunday lunch) (http://www.restaurant-lecinq.com/en/). We enjoyed all of our meals in Paris, but our meal at Le Cinq was our favorite (although mostly walking back from the Le Cinq to our appartment on the edge of the 7th – because of a city-wide demonstration that prevented the taxis from getting through – was not fun). We also did a walking culinary tour of the Left Bank with Wendy Lyn of the Paris Kitchen (http://www.thepariskitchen.com/), which we really enjoyed.
Practicalities: Charlie and I rented an apartment in Paris (through VRBO), and then took the TGV from Paris EST to Champagne-Ardenne in Bezannes (the trip takes 40 minutes). Jiles had suggested the Champagne-Ardenne station, and it was very easy to get in and out of. We rented a car while in Champagne (Avis is located right outside the Champagne-Ardenne train station), and a week later returned to Paris via the TGV. We own a TomTom GPS that we use while driving in Europe. All of our restaurant reservations were made at least 30 days in advance, and were done via email. We also purchased our TGV tickets on-line before we left the US.
In May/June 2014, Charlie and I traveled to Toscana. While the trip did not focus on visiting with winemakers/owners and tasting wine, I did make arrangements beforehand to visit a few wineries. Our favorite part of the trip was our stay on the coast. If I could do our trip over again, we would have spent more time on the coast, and less time in the southeastern part of Toscana (near Umbria). I also wish I would have done more preplanning for Umbria, because our brief forays into Umbria were uneventful, and I know they could have been better.
We landed in Firenze, and having visited the city before, we headed straight to Chianti from the airport. We stayed at Villa Vignamaggio in Greve in Chianti (http://www.vignamaggio.it/). We opted to stay in one of their apartments, and really enjoyed our stay there, including dinner one night and dessert another. We also enjoyed an al fresco lunch at Ristoro di Lamole (http://ristorodilamole.it/en/) where the food, wine (a Castello de Ama Chianti Classico Riserva) and views were excellent.
While in Chianti, the wineries that we visited were:
Querciabella (http://www.querciabella.com/) – visit and tasting with Daniela; wines tasted:
Batar 2011 – a blend of chardonnay and pinot blanco; this is a wine made in the style of “its Burgundy cousins”, but we thought it was very oaky and didn’t really enjoy
Mongrana 2010 – a blend of sangiovese, merlot, cabernet sauvignon; just ok
Camartina 2006 – a blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese; smooth, good tannins and fruit, very nice; buy
Palafreno 2008 – 100% merlot; smooth, nice fruit, very good; buy
Chianti Classico 2009 – 100% sangiovese; a very nice and easy drinking wine; buy
Badia a Passignano (http://www.osteriadipassignano.com/en#osteria) – after reading about this option beforehand, we arranged for a tour of Badia a Passignano, and then
lunch at the Osteria a Passignano accompanied by Antinori wines (Chianti Classico Riserva Badia a Passignano 2008, Tignanello 2011, Guado al Tasso 2011, Brunello di Montalcino Pian delle Vigne 2009 and Solaia 2010), preceded by an olive oil tasting and followed by a tasting of two Vin Santos. The lunch was fantastic! And, all of the wines were “buy” wines! If you visit Chianti, this is well worth the money and time! [A word of caution if you use your GPS to locate Osteria a Passignano. Our GPS could not figure out how to get to the Osteria, and it kept sending Charlie and me in circles. So, look for the signs to Passignano.]
We also had a lunch with wine pairings at Ristorante Badia a Coltibuono (http://en.coltibuono.com/restaurant), where the the lunch was good, but there was nothing special about the wines. One afternoon, we also dropped in to the tasting room for Il Molino di Grace (http://www.ilmolinodigrace.com/), but nothing stood out for us.
We then headed to the Tuscan coast via Siena and San Gimignano. A word of caution when driving from Chianti to San Vincenzo, if your GPS tells you to take the “white road” over the mountain – don’t!!
Charlie and I stayed at Poggio ai Santi (http://www.poggioaisanti.com/) while we visited the coast,and had dinner there one night. This hotel is fantastic! We just wished we had stayed here more days.
While on the coast, we ate lunch at La Pineta in Marina di Bibbona (http://www.lapinetadizazzeri.it/LaPineta/Home.html). While you wouldn’t know it from the outside of the building, this was one of the best meals Charlie and I have ever eaten. If you are ever on the Tuscan coast, go to La Pineta! We also had an enjoyable lunch at Enoteca Tognoni in Bolgheri (http://www.enotecatognoni.it/page3.htm).
The one winery we visited on the coast (Bolgheri) was Ornellaia (http://www.ornellaia.com/). The tour includes visits to the vineyards, and the wines we tasted were:
Le Volte 2012 – a blend of merlot, sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon; fruity, ripe cherries and prunes
Le Serre Nuove 2011 – blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot; more complex, spicey, a very nice wine; buy
Ornellaia 2011 – a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot; very smooth, very good; buy
Varia Zioni in Rosso 2011 – primarily cabernet franc, with some merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot; no other notes on this wine
We also tasted the 2013 olive oil (peppery) and Eligo dell’Orneallai Grappa Riserva (which just tasted of alcohol)
After staying on the coast (for too few days), we headed back inland to the home of Brunello di Montalcino. Two lodgings interested me, and since both looked appealing, we stayed at two different places while visiting this area. The first was La Bandita, and the other was Le Traverse (http://www.letraverse.it/); both in Pienza. While La Bandita gets rave reviews, Charlie and I were not impressed with the lodging and location (although we very much enjoyed our two dinners there). We were impressed with Le Traverse, and Pinuccia, the owner, is wonderful. If you travel to this part of Tuscany, stay at Le Traverse!
We had some good meals in this area, including lunch at Boccon Divino in Montalcino (http://www.boccondivinomontalcino.it/boccondivino/), but the very best was lunch at Ristorante Silene in Seggiano (https://www.ilsilene.it/silene/). At Ristorante Silene, we asked owner/chef Roberto Rossi to cook what he wanted for us, and this meal was one of the best we have ever had! Chef Roberto also selected our wine, a 1988 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, and this wine was excellent. Charlie and I enjoyed this meal so much that we stayed longer than we expected, and had to move an appointment we had to another day.
We visited a few wineries in this area:
Valdipiatta (http://www.valdipiatta.it/eng/pag/visite.htm) – the wines we tasted were:
Nibbiano Toscana 2012 – floral, easy drinking, a good wine while sitting by the pool, but not available in the US
Pinot Nero 2006 – fresh, light bodied, nice
Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 – light bodied, very nice, a good everyday house wine; buy
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010 – smooth, good fruit and tannins, very good; buy
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Vigna Alfiero 2004 – dark ruby, complex and w/ depth, very good; buy
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2005 – strong tannins, but still smooth; Charlie liked this wine better than the Vigna Alfiero
Trincerone 2003 – a blend of canaiolo and merlot; smooth, nice; buy
Trefonti 2000 – a blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, canaiolo; a nice wine; buy
Vin Santo 2006 – this was the best vin santo we had tasted on the trip, but still not something we would buy
Stella di Campalto (http://stelladicampalto.com/en/) – we had a barrel tasting with a friend of Stella’s. There were no bottled wines offered for tasting. We did buy a bottle of her Brunello di Montalcino 2007, which we enjoyed latter on during our trip.
Our last visit was to Avignonesi (https://www.avignonesi.it/en) where we took a group tour (a group that included Charlie, me and many Belgians), and then had an excellent lunch with wines from the estate. The wines we had at lunch were:
Il Marzocco Chardonnay 2013 – oaky
Grifi Toscana IGT 2010 – a blend of sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon; so-so
Desiderio 2010 – mostly merlot with some cabernet sauvignon; so-so
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Grandi Annate 2007 –smooth, good tannins and fruit, very good; buy
50 & 50 Toscana IGT- a blend of merlot and sangiovese; an enjoyable wine; very good; buy
Vin Santo 1999 – thick and sweet
Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo 1999 – very thick and syrupy
We then headed southeast towards San Casciano dei Bagni for a few days. While in this area, we stayed at Casa Fabbrini. Casa Fabbrini is an out of the way, but beautiful, place. However, this is not a lodging we would recommend.
Finally, we headed to Rome for our flight home. We stayed overnight near the airport at the Al Porticciolo Hotel in Fiumicino (this hotel doesn’t have its own website, so you need to book through booking.com, or a similar site). This is a nice place to stay if you have an early morning flight, because the restaurant at this hotel is wonderful.
Practicalities: We flew into the airport at Firenze (FLR), and rented a car (Hertz through Auto Europe). We own a TomTom GPS, and that has proven to be invaluable on our drives throughout Europe. We flew home out of the Rome airport (FCO). As I said in my Piemonte post, set your GPS to give you speed camera alerts, and pay attention to these alerts. Also, while driving in a city, look for ZTL signs. It is not uncommon (in fact, it is very common) to receive a ticket or tickets upon your return home for driving past a ZTL sign and into the restricted zone, or speeding. I made all of our winery appointments and restaurant reservations via email (at least 30 days in advance).