Portuguese wine experience…

A few days in Lisbon is all it takes to convince anyone that Portugal is indeed a distinct and different country than the rest of Europe.   From a wine perspective Portugal is especially blessed with a broad variety of native grape varietals – all of which are able to be pressed into fine and enjoyable table wines, and some are definitely worth cellaring for later enjoyment.   Grape names like Alvarinho, Aragonez, Castelao and Touriga Nacional to name a few.   In the first 24hrs of my Portuguese visit, I’ve been fortunate enough to taste several Portuguese high quality ‘food’ wines, all of native varieties, and all extremely affordable (restaurant pricing equivalent to under $15 dollars each!).   Details to come in the next few days – and let’s not forget PORT!!!

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Domaine de la Solitude Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 – Big Wine!

This wine is not at all small.   The 2007 Southern Rhone vintage was a big one across the board and this wine is no exception.   The exceptional aspect of this wine is the value to the consumer at this price point.  For people with a taste for a truly big wine at an affordable price (compared to other Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines which commonly sell for more than $50), this Domaine de la Solitude (at approximately $45) will not disappoint.   As a note about Domaine de la Solitude – while much has been made of the overall 2007 vintages for Châteauneuf wines, I have tasted the less expensive Cotes du Rhone wines from this maker and feel comfortable purchasing them as an everyday wine for myself no matter the reports on the overall vintages – sometimes the vineyard and winemaker are more important than the vineyard (at least to me!).   The Lancon family has been in the Southern Rhone for over 700 years, with the earliest relations having moved to Avignon in 1264 to serve the Pope.   The wine label shows family history elements including three bees (said to be a medieval family weapon), the hats of two bishops and a pope, and a medal, said to be from service to Napoleon at Waterloo.   Current generations of the Lancon family, Jean and Michel Lancon carry on the wine making traditions with great care, and Michel’s son Florent Lancon is taking some responsibility as well.

This wine, like many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, is dark purple and nearly opaque, indicating a very dense wine to come.  The blend of this vintage is reported to be 55% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 15% Mourvedre, a typical Southern Rhone blend.   If not decanted and allowed to breathe a while, there is alcohol on the nose, mixed with more pleasant berry and herb notes.  After some breathing however, the wine opens up – flavors are dense and virtually explode on the palate with broad layers of spicy fig, plum and raspberry, even hints of herby, savory meat.   The mouth feel is intense yet very smooth, savory and luscious with a finish that stays a long time.  It is always a treat to find a wine of this much power but with finesse as well – if you can find it, I am sure you will enjoy it.

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International Wines and Cheeses

After several wine and cheese cruises along Pittsburgh’s three rivers (for those unfamiliar, the rivers are: Allegheny, Monongahela and the Ohio), there is no waning of interest.  To stoke the enthusiasm even more, our cheese expert David Bennett (I refer to him as a ‘cheese-ist’) invited his colleague “Dearheart” the top cheese-monger from one of the most popular and high volume cheese markets in Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company.   These efforts brought a very enthusiastic crowd of attendees, all with an interest and passion for what we presented – which makes our hard work all the more rewarding.   Below are some notes on the wines and cheeses.

Pacific Rim White Flowers Sparkling Riesling – Washington State.    Beautiful floral nose of light citrus fruit, this Riesling is fermented with the skins to add weight and texture.  The palate includes flavors that start rich and hinting at sweetness, then finish dry, clean and crisp.    Brillat-Savarin is a decadent cow’s milk cheese named after the 18th century French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. An extraordinary cheese, one of the world’s best. Rich and creamy, sophisticated and delicious.

Faustino VII – Rioja, Spain.   This wine is light-bodied, super clean, and traditional Rioja Tempranillo.  Flavors of subtle red fruits with a velvety mouth feel, complemented by balanced fruit and vanilla notes.  This wine spends 10 months in American oak, sourced from PA and WV!!!   Drunken Goat – Goat’s milk cheese made in Jumilla, Murcia, Spain. Submerged in Doble Pasta wine (Mourvedre grapes) for 72 hours.  Delicate wine taste, fruity, with a sweet finish.

Domaine de Piaugier Les Ramieres – Southern Rhone, France.   A big mouthful of clean fruit, this wine is sourced from 45 year old vines in the Vauclouse region of Southern Rhone.  A blend of mostly Grenache, with smaller amounts of Syrah and Mourvedre.  Flavors of red berry, strawberry and herbs – no oak in this wine – all dark fruits with lingering finish!   Fiore Sardo – Sardinian sheep’s milk, made from an ancient tradition that predates the Roman conquest of Sardinia. Milk is from the descendants of wild sheep that still roam the island. Wonderful complexity and flavor. Remarkable cheese!

Bogle Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – California.   Cabernet Sauvignon is a strong and hearty grape that requires a long season of heat and sun to ripen, but then reveals a wonderfully complex reward for the taster.  A fine example of ‘new world’ cabernet, with cherry, plum and currant flavors backed by some notes of spicy tobacco, leather and oak.   Beemster Extra Aged – Intense flavor with a marvelous sweet finish, a tradition in the Netherlands for more than 800 years.  Aged for 18 months. Amazing bursts of flavor and complexity. A taste of honey, caramel, butterscotch.

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South American wine and Argentine Food River Cruise

A full river boat on a hot evening turned into a cool event.   Local Argentine Caterer “La Mendocina Catering” (http://www.lamendocina.com/) provided flavorful food including grilled vegetables, antipasto and owner Monica Aveni-Ranii’s signature (awesome in my opinion) Argentine Empanadas.  The attendees were all passionate about wine and gave great feedback, splitting their favorites evenly between the Sauvignon Blanc and the Chardonnay, then nearly even between the Chilean Cabernet blend and Argentine Malbec.  Overall the Cono Sur Cabernet/Carmenere seemed the most polarizing wine of the evening, as some people were truly turned off by it, while many chose it as their favorite of the evening.  I look forward to meeting everyone again at a future event!

Terranoble Sauvignon Blanc Classic Chile 2009   This Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is light yellow color with aromas of tropical fruits and an undercurrent of lime and grapefruit.  Due to complete stainless steel fermenting and ageing the wine stays fresh and crisp through the bottling.   The result is a very fresh wine that includes flavors of citrus and lime with herbal notes lead to a crisp, clean finish.

Gouguenheim Chardonnay Mendoza Argentina 2009   Argentina is known for making super-heavy chardonnays, and this Gouguenheim Chardonnay is not short on flavor.  However, the flavors are well integrated and not over-the-top.  This high-altitude (3,600ft) chardonnay starts with aromas of citrus, butter and oak, with balanced flavors blending apple, tropical fruits and oak, followed by a clean finish.

Cono Sur Cabernet Carmenere Organic Colchagua Chile 2008   Made completely organically and transported to international markets maintaining a, claimed, 100% carbon net zero status, this wine is earthy and dark, with dry fruit flavors with notes of black cherry and plums.   The mouth feel of this wine is concentrated and earthy, with fleshiness owing to the minority component of Carmenere in the blend.  The finish includes some herbal and spicy notes integrated nicely with the light oak flavors.

Graffigna Centenario Malbec Reserva San Juan Argentina 2008   Malbec, originally from France, but generally rare in its homeland, has become the signature grape of Argentina.  This dark grape thrives in the stressful, desert-like Argentine conditions, producing lush, fruity, full-bodied wines the wine world has discovered and loved.  This dark wine has a spicy nose with generous, round fruit flavors finishing off with a slight tannin and oak nuance.

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