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.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Discovering Vino Vilcabamba.. a mixed review.

During an August getaway, the ever fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I decided to spend a few days in Vilcabamba in Loja province.  This quiet area in nestled in a high valley in the southern Andes roughly 150 or so miles south of my current resident city of Cuenca, Ecuador. It is a gorgeously scenic area and is known as the "Valley of Longevity".  It makes for a great quiet and relaxing getaway.

The Wine Guy in Loja Province, Ecuador outside Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba.
Always on the lookout for something new to try in the world of wine, we stumbled upon a tienda just off the main square called "Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba". What I had expected to be a typical Ecuadorian licoria turned out to be something entirely different.  Typically, the average liquor store in Ecuador offers a modest selection of wines and lots of beer.  You will also find the ever present Zuhmir plus a variety of other hard liquor, mostly rum and tequila.   This was different,  however, a boutique shop offering only one single brand "Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba".  Within the single brand was a plethora of choices.  There were dozens of wines made from many of the fruits grown in Ecuador, ranging from uvas (grapes) to mora (blackberry).  There were also several varieties of flavored liquors.  
The Wine Guy and Pilar
with three selections!

The label
Everything had an identical bottle and label with the only difference being a descriptive line of simple identification of the contents (vino de uva, vino de mora, licor de cafe, etc).  There was no information as to fruit varietals utilized nor date of production, methods of aging, etc. No tastings were offered either and with my limited Espanol (the personable proprietress, Pilar, spoke virtually no English), there wasn't much opportunity to inquire as to flavor profiles, so we decided to guess and gamble on a few selections.  Everything was identically priced at a very reasonable seven dollars a bottle so we settled on three choices:  a grape wine (vino de uva), a blackberry wine (vino de mora) and a coffee liquor (licore de cafe).  Suspecting that we may have purchased a pair of fruit bombs and some alcohol infused coffee beverage, we thanked our hostess, paid for our purchases and went on our way.

Back at our hosteria, Mrs. Wine Guy and I elected to open and sample the Licore de Cafe, figuring that, as a liquor,  it could probably best stand being opened for the couple of days before our return home to Cuenca.  It turned out to be more than just alcohol infused coffee so it somewhat exceeded our expectations.  It did fall short of being a full-fledged Kaluha and certainly wasn't Mrs. Wine Guy's favorite liquor, a Tia Maria.  However, since both of those, in Ecuador, cost at least six times our purchase, we congratulated ourselves on discovering a "poor man's Kaluha".     

Regular wine cork along side the
suspect Vino Vilcabamba cork
It was after our return home that we got the opportunity to sample the wines.   The vino de mora was first and it turned out to a real disappointment because it had turned bad.  A distinctive odor that I often describe as highly overcooked raisins and a very dark amber color strongly suggested the contents had been oxidized.  That indeed was the case.  Despite some vague lingering hints of fruit, and a ton of residual sugar, it hard to tell that this was made from mora and the entire bottle was undrinkable.  I had briefly noted that the cork seemed unusually short on opening but the soured contents prompted a closer examination.  I discovered a rough edge to one surface suggesting a whole cork had been cut in two.  The cork was very cracked along its length and that (along with some possible lack of rotation in inventory) had led to aging and oxidation of what may very well have a nice sweet fruity wine in its beginning.

After declaring the vino de mora a loss, we proceeded to the vino de uva.   The cork was similar to the previous bottle with the same tell tale rough edged, half cork size, somewhat supporting my hypothesis that the bottler was cutting regular corks in half  in order to seal more bottles at a lower cost.  The vino de uva was better but also showed some signs of early oxidation particularly on the finish.   It had not, however, progressed to the point of making the wine undrinkable.  With a little additional chilling, we utilized it as an after dinner dessert, still enjoying some of its apparent sweetness and fruitiness.

A possible vineyard and winery site?

While Mrs. Wine Guy and I will likely return to this beautiful area, but it is probably unlikely we will gamble again on a selection from Vinos y Licores Vilcabamba.  That's a shame, because what was detectable underneath the oxidation and as well as the acceptable taste of the liquor de cafe suggests that at the time of bottling, these may have been very viable products but short cuts in corkage and perhaps lack of care in storage have made the entire product line suspect.  We can only hope that might change.   The Wine Guy thinks Ecuador can and should have some potential in wine production, especially in the lower Andes ranges such as Vilcabamba.  In fact we spotted what we thought was a great site for a vineyard and winery there.    
The Wine Guy 

Here's hoping you have great results and make some exciting discoveries as you do your own explorations in the wonderful world of wine.  Sainte!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Vino de Consagrar fron the Monasterio del Carmen de la Asuncion:

A recent Wine Guy purchase
in Cuenca, Ecuador
An order of Discalced Carmelite Nuns has existed in Cuenca, Ecuador since 1682.  By 1730, the order's monastery was part of a complex that included the Sanctuario Mariano, a beautiful white baroque church nearly adjacent to the Nuevo Catedral in Cuenca and home of a very popular flower market on the plaza in front.  In the corner is a lobby where the cloistered nuns have non visual interaction with the public via a turnstile where they vend among other things, soap, dulce de leche and wine.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The wine is a traditional vino de consagrar and has been approved for use as a sacramental wine by the archbishop of Cuenca.  Vino de Consegrar by traditional and church regulation utilizes concentrated must of white grapes and then is aged in large oak barrels.  Concentrated grape must is the unfiltered squeezings that comes from the crushing of grapes to produce juice.  Being produced from must insures a high concentration of sugars so it is a very sweet wine.  This aging imparts a golden bronze coloration and concentration of flavors giving most of these wines a rich fig and raisin aroma and flavor.  While many must-produced wines are often in single digits for alcohol content,  Vina Florida offered by the Carmelite Sisters of Cuenca comes in at 11%.  That's not particularly high for wine, but the combination of double digit alcohol content with a good deal of residual sugar can lead to a pretty rapid "buzz" if consumed too quickly.  Because your body burns sugar first, then later metabolizes alcohol, the combination of the two together will simply lead to a quicker concentration of blood alcohol content.
Santuario Mariano in Cuenca
Photo courtesy of Rich and Nancy's blog:

Recently Vina Florida has become available at retail here in the Wine Guy's new hometown of Cuenca. (I secured my bottle at a local co-op market).  It's at a higher price than what you will pay through the vendor turnstile at the Monasterio del Carmen de la Ascuncion but it is still affordable, particularly by Ecuadorian standards.   If you are looking for a sweet treat to sip at sunset or to share with your dinner guests,  you may want to try a bottle of Vina Florida. It may satisfy those who have moved here and miss their former availability of late harvest wines.

While Mrs. Wine Guy and I normally prefer bold, dry red wine wines, we did enjoy straying over to the sweeter side in trying this locally available wine.