About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bierzo, A Great Little Wine from Spain

When it comes to great bold taste and value pricing, wines from Spain have always been a source for wine aficionados. Grenacha and Tempranillo have dominated the choices for red wine drinkers, albarino for white wine fans and cava for lovers of sparkling wines. Rias Baixas and Rioja and the Douro Valley D.O.’s dominate in most American wine drinkers selections.

There are some other great Spanish D.O.s worth seeking out. Etim and Priorat and Monsant all produce some great wines. For uniqueness and value, there’s also a tiny little D.O. called Bierzo tucked away in the northeastern corner of Castille & Leon. Formerly a part of Galicia, this wine district is the honored home of the indigenous Iberian Peninsula grape, Mencia. Mencia (called Jaen in Portugal) originally was used to produce some very light, pale and fragrant red wines. Producers are now utilizing very old vines (in the 50-80 year range) to bottle some bigger wines capable of body, structure and good ageing characteristics. Mencia’s origins are still somewhat of an unsolved mystery. It was once erroneously thought to be a clone of Cabernet Franc and that confusion may have arisen because a strain of Cabernet Franc introduced to Galicia in the 1800’s was, for a short time, called Mencia.

The Wine Guy had a recent opportunity to enjoy a great representation of Mencia when he gathered with family and friends for a pre-holiday celebration at Postino’s Wine Bar on Central Avenue in Phoenix (see attached photo). Their wine merchant, Brent Karlich, makes an effort to offer some great standards as well as some good interesting wines to explore on his periodically changing wine list at both Postino locations in Phoenix. A great selection of soups, appetizer plates and salads, frequent opportunities for price discounts on wine and good table service also combine to make Postino’s a go-to place for enjoying wine and food.

Our selected wine, a 2007 Bodegas Martin Codax Cuatro Pasos Bierzo, was asterisked as one of Brent’s recommended wines and came highly recommended by our waiter as well. Cuatro Pasos is virtually all Mencia. Some vintages of this wine will occasionally be balanced with a little Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouchet). It yielded about 14% alcohol (at the upper end of the required 11 to 14% for this D.O.) and was aged for 3 months on four different kinds of French and American oak. The Wine Guy found it full of great fruit aromas. There was definite cherry on the nose but that transitioned more to blueberry, raspberry and plum on the palate. Subtle notes of coffee and moist leather were present throughout with very moderate oakiness. The fleshy tannins yielded a lingering chewiness on the finish. It was a thoroughly enjoyable wine and paired well with the Bruschetta assortment and the meat and cheese assortment plate ordered by my favorite foodie, Mrs. Wine Guy.

The background of this wine is almost as interesting as its taste. Cuatro Pasos translates from Spanish as four steps (as in footsteps). It’s label has four bear paw prints, a reference to a legend of four bear footprints once found in an 80 year old vineyard utilized as one of the four vineyards from which grapes were sourced for this Mencia cuvee. “Four Steps” also refers obliquely to the four steps in making good wine: selection of land, care of the vines, suitable climate, and carefulness in vintification. As mentioned before, the wine utilizes four different types of oak in the ageing process. The wine also utilizes grapes from four different Bierzo region vineyards. Their soil content offers low lime and high concentrations of quartz and slate providing great acid and mineral balance to this wine. The winery itself, Bodegas Martin Codox, was founded in the 1980’s by four winemakers and was named for a thirteen century Galician Troubadour whose seven musical poems are the only surviving middle age classical pieces from this region of Spain. Cuatro Paso (Four Steps) is a great name selection and it’s a great value selection in a versatile, affordable Spanish red wine. Try it for yourself!

Note to Grapevine Readers:

If you’re exploring Spanish wines, you may want to enjoy some of my earlier published blogs on this topic. They include:
“Tempranillo, The Little Early One” published on 8/17/09
“Torres: Spain’s First Family of Wine” published on 10/22/09
“A Visit to Freixenet Sala Vie” published on 12/16/09

Look for them in the blog archives or use the title to search.

For more information on either of the Postino’s locations, visit www.postinoswinecafe.com.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A New Latitude Shiraz

Back on September 30, The Wine Guy, in a blog entitled “Que Sera Syrah?”, called this ubiquitous and versatile grape, the “Grand Duke” of red wine grapes.
(Reader’s Note: any of The Wine Guy’s former blogs are accessible in the archive section to the right or by utilizing the search function on this blog site.)
I commented at length about its adaptability for wine producers worldwide. That fact was born out in a recent new Shiraz I tried, which was a gift from my son. (See photo of Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy enjoying a glass of wine with their pride and joy)

Regular readers are aware of Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy’s love of travel, particularly to Mexico. Some of our travel genes must have passed to our son, a resident of Atlanta, Ga. Since first visiting Thailand as part of his completion of an International M.B.A. program, he has returned 3 times. On his last visit he brought back a bottle of Buddhist Era 2550 (that’s vintage 2007 to us) Monsoon Valley Shiraz. Siam Winery, one of six established wineries in Thailand, bottles this wine. It is also the country’s largest wine exporter and a pioneer since 1999 in what is now called “New Latitude Wines.

“New Latitude Wines” (as opposed to Old World & New World wines) are those grown in regions falling between 20 degrees north latitude and 20 degrees south latitude. Among the countries producing exportable and recognizable New Latitude Wines are India, China, Brazil and, of course, Thailand. Siam Winery first became known for their wine coolers and then for their utilization of two unique grape varietals, the red Pokdum and the white Malaga Blanc. These wines were developed specifically to grow in the type of climate found in the Chao Phyra delta. This delta is home to Siam’s Winery’s famous “floating island” vineyards. They have become a unique and well-photographed tourist attraction. These indigenous grapes were also developed for characteristics that pair well with Thai cuisine. The more international and traditional wine varietals (such as the Shiraz in question) are grown in higher elevation of the Pak Chong foothills near the coastal city of Hua Hin (Siam Winery calls this their Hua Hin Hills Vineyard). Offshore ocean breezes combine with the elevation to help offer a Mediterranean-style climate here despite its 13.2-degree north latitude (compared to Bordeaux’s 44.8 degree north latitude). In addition to Shiraz, you’ll also find the French Colombard among the major red varietals grown. Siam Winery produces five other labels in addition to the popular Monsoon Valley brand and you’ll find their wines in over 700 Thai restaurants worldwide including at least 300 in the United Kingdom. That’s no surprise given the very large British ex-patriot community that exists in Thailand. Bangkok, the capital, is home to a very well established wine society that was founded by British ex-patriots and it has been instrumental in helping recognition of Thailand as a leading pioneer in “New Latitude” wines. The Wine Guy has even found Monsoon Valley wines at Thai restaurants in his home state of Arizona.

Monsoon Valley Shiraz 2007 was entered in FBAT (Food & Beverage Association of Thailand) International Wine Challenges in both 2008 and 2009. It garnered Bronze in 2008 and Silver in 2009, indicating it benefits from, and is capable of, additional bottle ageing. The wine was aged twelve months in French Burgundian oak before its initial release and scores a 13.5% alcohol content.

As I tried the wine I noted less of the cracked pepper and a little more fruit forwardness than you’ll typically find in either the Australian or French versions of this varietal. There was nice red plum and raspberry in the fruit characteristics and for spice, there was some light peppery notes laced with a nice hint of cedar. As the wine aired, a subtle coffee aroma was also present. I found it to be a uniquely pleasant presentation that confirmed my admiration for the ability of Syrah (Shiraz) to produce an amazing variety of wines to enjoy.

Monsoon Valley also produces a Podkum/Shiraz blend that is supposed to be a red wine that is particularly well suited to pairing with Thai cuisine. The Wine Guy typically prefers a Nigori Sake’ with Thai food. However, I plan to make an exception the next time I dine at a Thai restaurant with this wine on the menu. Exploration and discovery has always been one of the most wonderful aspects of having wine with food!

If you want learn more about wines from Thailand, begin with a visit to this website: www.bangkokwinesociety.com. You can also visit them on Facebook. If you undertook my suggestion in the 9/30 blog, “Que Sera Syrah”, to explore the versatility of Shiraz/Syrah, add the Monsoon Valley Shiraz to my list of suggested wines to try. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Visit to Freixenet Sala Vie

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, it is the season for great sparkling wine and no one does more sparkling wine than Freixenet. This Spanish based company was born in 1914 following the marriage of a daughter of one of Spain’s oldest winemaking families to the son of a premiere agricultural family. The founder Pedro Ferrar Bosch and his eldest son were killed during the Spanish civil war. His widow Dolores Sala Vie took over and today leadership of the company rests in the hands of her son, Jose and grandson, Pedro. It has grown into the largest producer of sparkling wines in the world distributed in over 150 countries. Serious exporting began in 1941 with their flagship Cava Carta Navada and expanded exponentially in 1974 with their signature Cordon Negro Brut, the brand that Americans are most familiar with. The company expanded to Mexico opening the Sala Vie Winery (named for the foundress) near Ezequiel Montes in 1980. Expansion continued through the 80's with a purchase of the 3rd oldest winery in the Champagne region of France, Maison Henri Avele, in 1985 and the opening of Gloria Ferrar in Sonoma, California in 1986. Expansion and acquisitions of Spanish properties put the company in six different major regions in Spain. Since 2000, they’ve also added facilities in Conwarra, Australia; Bordeaux, France; Mendoza, Argentina and in Chile.

Mrs. Wine Guy and I were recently able to visit Freixenet’s Sal Vie facility in the heart of Mexico's Queretaro wine country. (see photos) As expected, there were great vinos espumosos (sparkling wines) to sample. Their signature Sala Vie Semi Secco, while nicely made, was not quite to my palate. Mr. And Mrs. Wine Guy, along with our Mexican friends Silvestre and Rosaria did enjoy the Petillant Brut. This crisp and refreshing brut utilizes 70% St. Emilion (what the Mexicans prefer to call the Ugni Blanc grape). The remaining 30% is a blend comprised of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Macabeo, one of the standard grapes in Cava. The Petillant Blanc was crisp, refreshing, well balanced and finished smoothly to a very subtle hint of nuttiness.

Of some surprise, given Freixenet’s renown as a sparkling producer, were the still wine offerings. They numbered ten in all, bottled under the brand names of Vivante for their joven (young) wines and Vina Dona Delores (again named for the foundress of Freixenet) for their crianza wines. After passing on their Rosado and their Sauvignon Blanc, we elected to take with us the very satisfying Vina Dona Delores 4 Regiones. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah included grapes grown in four different central Mexican states. They included grapes from Queretaro, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes. The wine was macerated for 95 days, aged in oak barrels for 4 months and then additionally aged in the bottle. The result was a nice complex blend that began with a little of the fruit forwardness you’d expect from a Mexican wine, but broadened into some subtle hints and nuances as the wine aired and opened up. I found it to be an enjoyable blend that I feel would further benefit from some additional ageing.

We actually made two visits to this facility, once during midweek with our Mexican friends as guides. The other was a shorter weekend stop, while returning from a day trip to the magical village of Bernal. Freixenet Sala Vie, on weekends, takes advantage of their large patio area by hosting events to encourage wine sampling and education, particularly to weekend visitors from Mexico City (less than 2 hours away). A number of vendors ring the courtyard offering accessories, souvenirs, snacks and food that even included authentic Spanish paella. They also have their own wine bar, just off the plaza in nearby Tequisquiapan. If you’re planning to visit the state of Queretaro, plan to invest an hour or two at Freixenet or take one of the many wine and cheese tours offered out Tequisquiapan. You’ll have a good time!

If you can read Spanish, visit them online at www.freixenetmexico.com.mx.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More Great Italian Choices in Central Mexico

The very first blog published on Roger’s Grapevine was entitled “Great Italian Food & Wine Just South of the Border”. It dealt with my discovery, during several trips to Mexico, of the preponderance and popularity of Italian food in Mexico. That led to my discovery of many Italian connections and traditions in the Mexican wine industry. Mrs. Wine Guy & I had the opportunity to reconfirm this discovery of great Italian dining during our recent sabbatical in central Mexico.

We managed to revisit some old favorites, including Frascasti’s in Guanajuato. Frascati’s is located in the Hotel San Diego adjacent to the main Jardin (see photo of Mr. & Mrs., Wine Guy at left). We had also planned to dine out at Bella Italia in San Miguel de Allende, a restaurant I had mentioned in that first blog. Bella Italia is located just a block off the Jardin. It not only offers good Italian food and a respectable wine list, but occasional live music, as well. When we discovered our stay didn’t include the one night that week that Doc Severinson was playing, we opted to try something new. (This former Tonight show bandleader now resides in San Miguel). The restaurant also sometimes showcases two talented Latin musicians, Gil Guttierrez and Pedro Cartas who have recorded and toured with Doc. There were two more Italian restaurants in San Miguel that we did experience and add to our “places we’ll return to” list: Mare Nostrum and Antigua Trattoria Romana.

Mare Nostrum is Latin for “Our Sea”, the name commonly given by Italians to the Mediterranean. It is located on Calle Unmaran just a few blocks down from the Jardin and we literally stumbled on it while returning to our B&B after an afternoon of shopping. After visiting with hosts Brenda and Julio, we elected to return later for dinner, having already had our midday meal. That evening we began with an excellent caprese that included some very large and fresh leaves of basil. Our entrĂ©e was delicious ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and sweet potato. We accompanied our meal with a Pedro Domecq Cabernet Sauvignon from Baja Norte. As a sommelier, I was highly impressed by Julio’s nearly perfect presentation and serving of the wine, one of the best I’ve ever encountered in any wine bar or restaurant in Mexico. The quality of food, the graciousness of our hosts and the affordability (modest, even by Mexican standards) made it a delightful and enjoyable dining experience. It struck me as odd that during both our afternoon visit and evening dinner, the patronage at this neighborhood establishment seemed to be almost exclusively ex-patriot. It was only later in our journey that it dawned on me that the Latin name of the establishment may be impacting patronage by Spanish speaking locals who may not have Latin education. The Spanish word for sea is mar but the closest Spanish word to "mare" is "mareo", which implies seasickness or nausea due to motion. Just a guess on my part, but there is no denying that Mare Nostrum is well worth a meal out if you’re in San Miguel de Allende.

Antigua Trattoria Romana is located close to the art institute at the “y” formed by the intersection of Zacateros and Codos streets in San Miguel (see photo of the Wine Guy on front steps). Mrs. Wine Guy and I enjoyed a delightful lunch there enroute to the panteon (city cemetery) for Dias de la Muertos activities. This restaurant has been a San Miguel favorite since its opening in 1989 and its local owner, Fernando, has a love of Italy, especially Siena. We enjoyed sharing memories of this great Tuscan city with Fernando during our visit. Among the decor items you’ll notice inside are two large photos. One is of the owner, Fernando with an Italian restaurant owner, Luciano. The other is a photo of Luciano running ahead of the horses in Siena’s famed Palio held each year on the El Campo or town plaza. However, we'll also remember Antigua Trattoria Romana for their fresh and authentic pasta, which they make themselves. There is a respectable wine list here and Mrs. Wine Guy and I each enjoyed a glass of L.A. Cetto Zinfandel Rose’. I’ve remarked before about my impressions of this Mexican winery’s better wines and I found our choice to be very enjoyable with lunch. It was definitely not the sweeter, fruiter type of white zinfandel that you find from most California vintners but rather, a true rose’ of Zinfandel that let the wine's flavors fully express themselves. It complimented our pasta well. We hope to return here again on a future visit.

From San Miguel, we traveled on to the touristy, but charming and hospitable town of Tequisquiapan and it was there we added a third restaurant to our list of favorites: K’puchino’s Restaurante. This delightful establishment is a favorite among locals and tourists alike (most of the tourists here are from Mexico City on weekends…Tequisquiapan is not yet on most U.S. tourist’s radar but should be, especially with the expansion of the nearby Queretaro International airport). Located just off the main palazzo at #7 Independencia, it offers a very nice wine list, excellent service, live music on the weekends as well as great food. The best meal we had was actually a traditional Mexican arranchera with nopales. That dinner was accompanied by one of The Wine Guy’s favorite Mexican wines: Cetto’s Nebbiolo Riserva. What was most memorable for Mrs. Wine Guy, however, was their fabulous cappuccino. Throughout our stay, she insisted we pay a daily visit there just for the cappuccino (often accompanied by one of their tasty desserts). It will be a must visit on any future stay in Tequis.

As I stated in my first blog on Roger’s Grapevine: if you love Italian food and plan to travel to central Mexico, you’re in for some real treats and surprises. Don’t fail to dine out Italiano when you’re south of the border. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Try a hot wine for the holidays!

How time flies! We’re already a week into Advent, the traditional season for hot, mulled, spicy wines. One of my readers asked me to blog about Gluhwein, one of the most popular hot wines during this time of year. I’m glad to comply and thought I would briefly mention two other traditional hot wines appropriate for the holidays, as well.

Gluhwein (or Glow Wine) is popular in Germany, particularly Bavaria and its popularity has spread here to the U.S. Traditionally Gluhwein is made with a fruit forward red wine accented with mulling spices and served warm to hot with a cinnamon stick. There are numerable recipes on line and most will call for a cabernet sauvignon or a cab-merlot blend. For the less adventurous, many wine retailers will stock and offer some quality ready made Gluhweins from Germany. Schmitt-Sohne makes one of the most popular selling Gluhweins in the U.S. market. Many retailers will also sell the spice mix to which you can add the wine you want to utilize. A complimentary dash of liqueur or brandy is often called for in many Gluhwein recipes and you’re certainly welcome to add per your taste and preference.

Glogg is the Nordic version of the Germanic Gluhwein. It is most popular in Sweden. While ready-made Glogg wines are difficult to find in some areas, the Glogg mix is more common at both food and beverage stores as a seasonal item. It is often combined with fruit juices and heated as a non-alcoholic drink for kids and many hostesses have discovered its value as a holiday potpourri. Putting a saucepan of Glogg mix on the stove at low to medium heat will fill your home with spicy holiday aromas in less than an hour. Again, as with Gluhwein mixes or recipes, the Glogg mixes and recipes work well fruit-forward, somewhat sweeter red wines. Residents in The Wine Guy’s home state of Arizona have turned to Kokopelli Winery’s “Sweet Lucy” as a popular wine of choice for making both Glogg and Gluhwein.

Wassail is another hot mulled holiday beverage associated with this holiday season. Its name derives from an old Middle English phrase, “waes haeil”, which meant “be healthy”. Wassail is typically served hot with mulling spices much as Glogg and Gluhwein but its base is typically mulled cider, beer or mead. Of these mead, or honey-wine, is the most popular in the U.S. A California vintner who makes a quality and often highly rated mead is Chaucer. A packet of mulling spices accompanies their 750ml bottles of mead. Added to the mead, these spices help make a perfect Wassail for your holiday toasting. The wonderful thing about Mead is its ability to be served hot with the mulling spices, at room temperature, or even chilled as an aperitif or dessert wine.

Make it a warm and cozy holiday season. Enjoy a hot wine with family and friends!