Wine of The Week: 2001 La Rioja Alta “904” Gran Reserva #TempranilloDay

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  My Wine Of The Week is the 2001 La Rioja Alta “904” Gran Reserva

The Winery

La Rioja Alta, S.A. was founded in 1890 when five Riojan and Basque families who shared a passion for wine, founded the ‘Sociedad Vinícola de La Rioja Alta’. According to importer Michael Skurnik, “Few dispute that La Rioja Alta S.A. is the leading quality orientated producer in the Rioja. With more than 50,000 casks and 6.4 million bottles stored at any one time, the equivalent of about 8 years sales, La Rioja Alta S.A. is unique in its ability to supply large quantities of fully mature wines of world-class quality“.

La Rioja Alta rose to prominence at a time when vineyards in France were ravaged by phylloxera, and wine lovers were looking elsewhere for fine wine.  La Rioja Alta was one of the wineries in Rioja  that capitalized on the opportunity.

The Bodega’s first winemaker was a Frenchman, Monsieur Vigier, and the first wine he produced was what is today known as “Gran Reserva 890”, their flagship wine.

They will celebrate their 125th anniversary next year!

I was discovered La Rioja Alta a couple of years ago when I read some of the reviews about the 2001 Viña Ardanza.  I picked up a couple of bottles.

So often in a situation where a wine is hyped up, it’s not unusual for one to be let down because expectations have been built up.

Not so for the 2001 Viña Ardanza.   It lived up to the hype and delivered for me.

My other experience with La Rioja Alta was when I traveled to Spain last year.  When we arrived at our hotel –  Los Augustinos Hotel, we were starving.  The first thing we did was grab a bite to eat.  They was a special on a combination cheese plate and a bottle of Viña Alberdi Crianza.  What a great introduction to the wine and cheese of Rioja!  It was such a memorable meal! The wine and the cheese were perfectly matched.

Fast forward to this year.  When I saw my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants had a nice selection of wines from the 2001 vintage – one of the strongest vintages in Rioja in recent memory, it was a “no-brainer” for me to pick up a couple of bottles of this wine because I’ve had great experiences with other wines from La Rioja Alta.

The Wine

In 1904, La Rioja Alta absorbed Bodegas Ardanza, which was owned by Don Alfredo Ardanza.  This wine commemorates this important milestone in the company’s development.  Originally referred to the “Reserva 1904”, it is now known as the “904”.

These wines offer a wonderfully complex bouquet, rich flavours, a seductively smooth texture, and are all ready to drink on release.

The “904” is a blend of Tempranillo and Graciano. The base grape is Tempranillo (90%) from vines over 40 years old grown in the municipalities of Briñas, Labastida and Villalba, perfectly complemented with 10% Graciano from our Melchorón I and II vineyards in Briones and Rodezno.

After fermentation, the wine was aged 4 years in custom-made American oak barrels, that were racked twice a year, and then further aging in bottle.

12.5% alcohol $50 Retail


My tasting notes follow:

Slightly bricking tawny color with alluring baked cherry, balsamic, tobacco, vanilla, spice and sweet floral aromas. On the palate, light-medium-bodied with a freshness that belies its 13 years.  It’s  shows great finesse, concentration and is impeccably balanced with tart raspberry, cherry, vanilla, spice and mineral flavors. Long finish. [Note: I aerated the wine for 90 minutes]  >>Find this wine<<

Rating: A; Highly recommended!

Pair with: Grilled lamb chops with Patatas a la Riojana, or Chorizo and lentil stew with Morcilla (Spanish blood sausage)

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail
Other posts you might enjoy:

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

A Taste of Bodegas Contino

Last fall, my wife and I spent 17 glorious days in Spain.  It was the trip of a lifetime. Our itinerary included Barcelona, San Sebastian (amazing food), Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla, and Granada (The Alhambra is a must – simply awesome!).  Of course, being the winos, we also squeezed in some time in La Rioja.  Our trip to Rioja was facilitated by Bodegas y Viñedos del Contino (“Contino”) Winemaker Jesús de Madrazo Mateo, and his wife Maria Alvarez, CEO of Fine Wines Connection.

I met Jesus last year at a tasting of “ “C.V.N.E.” (Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España) and Contino (click here for details of one of the most amazing tasting I’ve EVER been too!) at K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City.  I mentioned to him that my wife and I were planning  a trip to Spain, and he was kind enough to extend an invitation to Contino.

He and Maria are most gracious hosts. They helped us with hotel (Los Augustinos in Haro – highly recommended!) and restaurant reservations (the fabulous Rekondo in San Sebastian!), and made recommendations various restaurants, and bars. But the highlights of our time in Rioja was dinner at their home , and our visit to Contino.

A Taste of Contino

The picturesque 200 year-old farm house at Contino

About Contino

Contino makes single-estate Riojas from their 62 hectares of vineyards located just outside the town of Laguardia in Rioja Alavesa.   It is owned 50/50 by CVNE and the Perez Villota family, and their wines are distributed by CVNE

The estate, situated on the northern bank of the river Ebro, includes a farmhouse that dates back 200 years alongside their state-of-the-art wine-making facility.  It is planted primarily to Tempranillo, but you’ll also find some of the oldest vines of Graciano in Rioja on the estate,  along with limited amounts of other grapes such as Mazuela  and Garnacha.  Graciano is an indigenous Spanish grape variety used in the estate wines, and Contino also produces an excellent 100% bottling of Graciano.

In the times of the Reyes Catolicos (Ferdinand of Aragon and Elisabeth of Castille) the distinction of ‘Contino’ was conferred on each of the continuation of the Life Guards who protected the monarchs and their family. The Contino Pedro de Samaniego was rewarded with the estate of Laserna from which the Contino estate derives its name.The Contino labels show a figure of Saint Gregory, founder of the Benedictine monastic order and the patron saint of vine growers.

A Taste of Contino

Jesús de Madrazo Mateo explaining the unique terroir of the Contino Vineyards which is situated in a meander of the Ebro river, with a land rise at the opposite end, and sun exposure east to west across the vineyards.

Jesús de Madrazo Mateo is a fifth-generation member of the Real de Asua family. They founded and still own a controlling share of CVNE.  His father, Jose Madrazo Real de Asua, who was on the CVNE board of directors and GM of Viña Real brand, conceived the idea of creating the first single estate Bodega in Rioja, and founded Contino in 1973.

Jesús studied viticulture at Madrid’s prestigious University of Agriculture, and is an Agricultural Superior Engineer. He started training at CVNE in 1988, and took his first paid position in 1995 in the CVNE technical department as an assistant winemaker.  He’s been the head winemaker for Contino since 1999.

A Taste of Contino

This outstanding blend of Viura and Grenache Blanc with a floral, green apple, and mineral character was a most refreshing start to our wine tasting!

After Jesus gave us a very in-depth tour of the winery we settled in for tasting through five wines selected by Jesús….


My tasting notes on the wines follow:

  • 2009 Bodegas y Viñedos del Contino Garnacha Rioja – Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alavesa, Rioja – Promising strawberry, cherry, spice and a hint of dried rose aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and bright with medium acidity. It shows charming strawberry, cherry, and spice flavors, and a lingering finish. Aged for 12 months in second use barrels (soaked in wine with white 2007) and then aged 12 months in oak casks. (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Bodegas y Viñedos del Contino Rioja Contino Reserva – Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alavesa, Rioja – Expansive black and red fruits, smoke, leather, and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied with supple tannins, well integrated oak, and a bit of minerality with black cherry, strawberry and spice flavors, and a lingering finish. Raised in French and American oak. (91 pts.)
  • 2005 Bodegas y Viñedos del Contino Rioja Contino Gran Reserva – Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alavesa, Rioja – Appealing black cherry, plum, anise, leather, cedarwood and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied and well structured, and polished with a silky texture. It shows black cherry, red plum, caramel, and spice flavors, and a long sweet finish. Blend of 70% Tempranillo and equal parts Garnacha and Graciano. Should continue to get better with further cellaring. From magnum (only format available) (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Bodegas y Viñedos del Contino Rioja Contino Variedad Graciano – Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alavesa, Rioja – Alluring blueberry, cassis, white pepper, dried herb, warm spice, and floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied, and well structured with bright, focused fruit, very good acidity and chewy tannins. It shows blueberry, black currant, and spice flavors. Long finish. (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Bodegas y Viñedos del Contino Rioja Viña del Olivo – Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alavesa, Rioja – Exuberant, very appealing black fruit, warm spice, and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied, harmonious, and masculine, yet refined with youthful tannins and blackberry, black cherry, warm spice, mineral flavors. Long finish. Blend of Tempranillo (88%) and Graciano (12%) grapes aged for 17 months in 70% French, 20% American, and 10% Hungarian oak barrels. The hand-harvested grapes are grown around a 800 year old olive tree – hence the name. (92 pts.)

After tasting through the wines, we settled in for a splendid and most memorable al fresco Riojan lunch.

While Spanish cuisine varies tremendously across the different regions, they all have one thing in common: the use of fresh, local flavors with plenty of olive oil and garlic. And that’s why I adore Spanish food!

Check out a few of my favorite things…

A Taste of Contino

Queso de Cabra and Queso de Roncal

These stuffed peppers were to die for and paired wonderfully with the Contino Garnacha

A Taste of Bodegas Contino

I don’t know what it’s called…but it was scrumptious!

Another Rioja classic dish that is a match made in heaven  with Rioja is lamb chops grilled over vine cuttings.

A Taste of Contino

Sweet, succulent baby lamb chops grilled over grape-vine cuttings

Put simply, our visit was an unforgettable vinous and gastronomic delight!

Related post you might like:


Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.


#DrinkPink Rosé of the Week; 2013 Bodegas Ostatu Rosado

Rosé season is in full bloom, although truth be told, it’s Rosé season for me pretty much year-round for me!  With that in mind, I’m cranking up my annual series of weekly “Drink Pink!“ Rosé tastings.  It’s my quest for the best Pink Porch Pounders for $20 or less!  This week’s rosé is the 2013 Bodegas Ostatu Rosado.

The Winery

Bodegas Ostatu is a family winery located in the heart of the Rioja Alavesa region in La Rioja, Spain.

The winery is owned and operated by the Saenz de Samaniego family, who have been in the area for many generations.  Most of that time they grape growers who sold their grapes to other wineries. But in the late 60s Doroteo Asunción made the decision to make and sell his own wines rather than selling his grapes on to other wineries.

The Sáenz de Samaniego Family Photo by Steven Alexander

The Sáenz de Samaniego Family
Photo by Steven Alexander

The vineyards, which are protected by the Sierra de Cantabria range, are composed of ochre coloured chalky clay soil, with an average age of 50 years. The estate is composed of over forty hectares of vines located in and around the town of Samaniego.

According to importer De Maison Selections Inc, until recently, all Ostatu wines were produced using the carbonic maceration process. Such wines are made to be consumed young and are popular with many locals.  However that philosophy changed when Frenchman, Hubert de Bouard de Laforest of Chateau Angelus saw the unique potential of the terroir of Ostatu vineyards. As a result, wines are now produced using traditional fermentation, and yields in the vineyards have been reduced in order improve the quality of the Ostatu wines.  As a result Ostatu is able to produce wines which live up to their full potential.

The Wine

This wine is one of Ostatu’s latest projects.  Fruit for the wine was sourced from some of Ostatu’s oldest and highest elevation vineyards, this wine is a blend of 70% Tempranillo, and 30% Garnacha (Grenache Noir). It was fermented in stainless steel vats.

13% alcohol | Retail – $14

photo (40)

My tasting notes follow:

Deep pink color with generous watermelon, raspberry and wet stone aromas. On the plate it approaches medium bodied, and is dry, lively and refreshing with tart cherry, raspberry, and subtle spice flavors underscored by an appealing minerality. Medium finish. 

Rating: B+ This has everything you want in a Pink Porch Pounder.  It’s clean, crisp, fruity, dry, and food friendly. And  the price is right at under $15. Recommended! >>Find this wine<<

Pair with: I enjoyed this with Spinach, smoked turkey and burrata salad!

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:
(A+) – 95-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 92-95/Outstanding
(A-) – 89-91/Very Good to Outstanding
(B+) – 86-88/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail

Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Wine of the Week; 2001 La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2001 La Rioja Alta Rioja Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial.

The Winery

La Rioja Alta is one of the most renowned producers of traditional Rioja wine. Their history dates back to 1890 when it was founded as the Sociedad Vinicola De La Rioja Alta by five viticultural family’s from both Basque and Rioja regions of Spain.  No long thereafter the name was changed to La Rioja Alta.

The company owns two wineries with the original building located in Haro.  The second, modern winemaking facility was built in 1996 at Labastida just 1.5km to the north-east.   The estate covers 360 hectares of vines with parcels in much of the best parts of the Rioja Alta subregion of Rioja.  The estate is planted primarily to Tempranillo, along with small amounts of Graciano and Mazuelo, along with 63 hectares of Garnacha (Grenache) vines in the Rioja Baja subregion.

The winery has its own cooperage producing barrels from oak imported from America and dried for two years.

The Wine

The Viña Ardanza Reserva has been elaborated by La Rioja Alta since 1942! it is named after one of the founding families. It is only produced in the best years, and  the 2001 vintage was rated “Excellent” by Rioja Control Board.  La Rioja Alta thought so highly of this wine that it called it Reserva Especial, only the third time one of its wines has earned that designation, along with 1964 and 1973.

The wine is made up of 80% Tempranillo from thirty year old vines from their vineyard in Fuenmayor, and 20% Garnacha coming from very old, goblet-pruned vines 600 meters above sea level in Rioja Baja. The Tempranillo spends 36 months in American oak. The Garnacha spends ‘only’ 30 months in oak to preserve its freshness.  The  components are blended and bottled. The wine receives a further four years  of  bottle aging. Aging wines this long in American is virtually unheard of!

You can find this wine here.  The wine was produced in 2002, or 2003 the current release is the 2004.  I’m definitely going to check that out.  I’m also going to seek out some other wines from the monster 2001 vintage!

Wine of the Week; 2001 Vina Ardanza

My tasting notes follow:

Dark brick garnet color with intriguing earthy, leather, smoke, dried red fruit, fresh meat, vanilla, cedar wood and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s light-medium bodied,  wonderfully complex, balanced and fresh with a silky texture, smooth well-integrated tannins and tart-ish cherry, vanilla, spice oak, and leather flavors. Long finish, clean finish.  13.5% alcohol.

Rating: A-; Great value in a mature Rioja at $30, and a superb example of traditional Rioja wine.  If you’re looking to drink aged wines that won’t break the bank look to Rioja!

Pair with: An excellent wine to accompany charcoal-grilled meat, roasts, small game, medium-aged cheeses, Iberian cured sausages, etc.

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:

(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Seafood Gumbo and Wine Pairings for Soul Warming #SundaySupper

This week’s #SundaySupper theme is all about soul warming foods.  You know, those soups, chili, stews, and other soul warming treat we seek when the weather turns cold.

When I first saw the theme, my first thought was of “Soul Food”. I’d  bet that “Soul food” is one of those phrases that if you ask 10 people what it means, you’d get 10 different answers!  Soul Warming foods and Soul food are one in the same to me, and when I think of Soul food, the first dish that comes to mind is Gumbo!  We have a tradition in our family of making Gumbo each New Year’s day, but it’s  a soul-satisfying meal whenever there’s a chill in the air.

Since I’m a Wino with latent foodie tendencies, I decided let my foodie nature rise up, and do a dish, and wine pairings this week!

Here’s my Seafood Gumbo (we …OK make that “I”, call it “Yumbo” – lame right?..but I like it!)

Seafood Gumbo

Seafood Gumbo

For me, there are two things you’ve got to get right to make a gumbo – the “roux” (I prefer mine to be dark brownish), and you must have stock that is chock full of flavors.  Sure you could take a short-cut, and go with store-bought (I’ve done that for a  ” quick and dirty” version of this dish, but the flavors are not as complex and intense for me. If you get those couple of things “right”, it’s clear sailing thereafter!

Seafood Gumbo and Wine Pairings for Soul Warming #SundaySupper
Recipe type: Stew
Cuisine: Cajun
Serves: 10-12
Adapted from Emeril's Classic Seafood Gumbo recipe
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups finely chopped onions
  • ¾ cup finely chopped green bell peppers
  • ¾ cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • One 12-ounce bottle amber beer
  • 6 cups Shrimp and Crab Stock
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 small Dungeness crabs
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon Emeril's Original Essence
  • 2 cups shucked oysters with their liquor
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chopped tender green onion tops
  1. Follow directions for cleaning and prepping crab to be cooked (click here, except remove crab legs and claws. Follow directions for Shrimp and Crab stock, except add crab shell and crab butter (roe) along with shrimp.
  2. Place an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, and add the oil. Allow the oil to heat for about 5 minutes, then add the flour to the pot. Stir the oil and flour together with a wooden spoon to form a roux. Continue to stir the roux for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the color of milk chocolate. Add the onions, bell peppers, and celery to the roux and stir to blend. Stir the vegetables for 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds before adding the beer and Shrimp and Crab Stock to the pot. Season the gumbo with the thyme, bay leaves, crabs legs, Worcestershire, salt, and cayenne. Bring the gumbo to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer the gumbo for 1 hour, skimming the foam and any oil that rises to the surface.
  3. Season both the shrimp with 1½ teaspoons Essence. Stir the shrimp into the gumbo and cook for 2 minutes. Add the oysters to the pot and cook, stirring often, for an additional 5 minutes. Taste the gumbo and season if necessary.
  4. Garnish with the parsley and green onions and serve in shallow bowls over white rice.
Recommended Wine Pairings - I paired this with the Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker, a blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. It would also pair well with Viognier, a dry Rosé, or White Zinfandel. If you elect to go with a less spicy version try a Pinot Noir!


Take a look at the culinary cornucopia the #SundaySupper team has put together for this week’s gathering around the #SundaySupper table! My recommended wine pairings (click on the name of the wine to find out where to purchase) are italicized.

Main Entrees: 

Pair these main dishes with Pinot Noir.  Look for the 2010 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir. It’s a silky smooth Russian River Valley Pinot Noir with a core of raspberry  and spice aromas and flavors, with caramel edge. Why it works: Pinot goes with just about everything.  It’s a white wine, in red wine clothing, which makes it incredibly flexible with dishes and methods of prep.  Pinot is sublime with poultry, and complements foods that are slow roasted, or braised.

I recommend a Chardonnay for these dishes.  Look for the 2009 MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Sonoma Coast. It’s a medium-full bodied Chardonnay that’s undergone malolactic fermentation, that’s moderately oaked.  The oak aging brings vanilla and caramel notes to the party to go along with its ripe apple, tropical fruit and lemon cream character.  Why it works: The texture, and weight of wine complement the dish, and it has enough acidity to “cut” the dish a bit and prepare the palate for the next mouthwatering bite.

Pair this dish with a Tempranillo from Rioja Spain.  I really like the 2007 Viña Eguia Reserva. It’s shows great balance between oak and fruit with a cherry, dried herb, spice, leather and vanilla character.  Why it works: Tempranillo is an underrated food pairing partner.  It’s tends to be a light-medium bodied earthy red wine. It’s between a Pinot Noir and Cab.  It’s fruity with moderate tannins, and acidity making it a good fit for somewhat spicy fare like Spanish, Mexican and similarly spiced fare.  

Pair this classic Italian dish with Sangiovese.  Try the 2010 La Mozza I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano. It’s a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah, 5% Alicante, plus a couple of other indigenous Italian grape varieties from Tuscany  It shows juicy red and black berries, with some licorice and spice notes supported by soft dusty tannins.  Why it works: The food of a place and the wine of a place is always a good place to start when pairing wine and food.  On top of that, its high acidity, together with its medium-bodied character enable it to stand up to more substantial dishes.  Sangiovese is a wine that loves dished prepared with fresh herbs, rich thick soups, mushrooms and tomato based dishes

Pair this dish with an Edelzwicker, a blend of the “noble” Alsatian varietals of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris.  Look for the 2011 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker. It’s an aromatic white wine with a stone fruit, spice, and hint of citrus character. Why it works:  The spicy character of the wine, along with some sweetness (spicy likes sweet) and acidity make a great match!


Pair these hearty dishes with Cabernet Sauvignon.  One of my favorites is the 2010 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon “H3”  It’s from Washington State, and is a bold wine that delivers delightful floral, dark fruit, cocoa aromas followed by plum, black cherry, vanilla and cocoa flavors. Why it works: Cab works well with red meats, dishes with earthy, herbal elements.  This youthful wine has plenty of fruit which make it a nice complement to longer cooked meats and stews.

Try these dishes these with a Cru Beaujolais (not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau hitting the store shelfs soon), a wine from France made from the Gamay grape. Look for the 2010 Georges Debœuf Moulin-à-Vent with a wild red fruits, and white pepper character that a juicy easy drinker.  Why it works: Like Pinot Noir, the Gamay grape is naturally high in acidity, and is light-medium bodied with low tannins. It pair well with dishes with veggies,earthy flavors. Great picnic wine too! Er..but I digress;-)

Syrah is a good match for these hearty flavorful dishes.  I like the 2009 Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Shiraz from Australia. It’s has a fruity core of black cherries, plums, baking spices, and vanilla that balanced by some oak.  Why it works: Syrah is an ample full-bodied wine that likes thicker, fuller dishes like slow braises, stews (especially tomato-based), and one-dish meals.

Pair these dishes with the Sangiovese noted above:
Pair these dishes with the Pinot Noir noted above:
Pair this dishes with the Tempranillo from Rioja noted above:


Pair these soul-warming soups with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Pouilly-Fumé region of the Loire Valley in France. Look for the 2011 Patient Cottat “Le Grand Caillou” Sauvignon Blanc.  It has a lovely tropical fruit, citrus, spice and mineral character with a tangy acidity.  Why it works: Sauvignon Blanc with its “green” (gooseberries, lime, green olive, papaya character and a mineral component attributable to the terroir of the Loire Valley make this a good match for vegetarian soups, spicy (hot) fare, dishes with acidic ingredients.  It’s a very versatile food pairing partner in that it work nicely as a complement or a contrast.

Pair these satisfying soups with Pinot Gris.  I recommend the 2011 King Estate Pinot Gris Signature Collection from Oregon. It has juicy lemon-lime, stone-fruit, green apple, pineapple and spice character.  Why it works: Pinot Gris likes ethic foods, especially coconut-milk based curries. 

Pair the rest of the soups with the aforementioned wines as noted in parentheses:


Pair this Hot Fudge Pudding Cake (That Skinny Chick Can Bake) with the Terra d’Oro Zinfandel “Port”, a dessert wine made for chocolate! I like the what the Wine Enthusiast says about it…”The first duty of a Port-style wine is to be dazzlingly rich and sweet yet balanced in acidity, and this bottling is all that. Waves of blackberry jam, cassis and dark chocolate are brightened with zesty acidity

  • White Hot Chocolate with Orange – GirliChef

Join on us on Twitter throughout the day during #SundaySupper.  And join us at 7pm EST, for our live weekly #SundaySupper chat.   All you have to do is follow the #SundaySupper hashtag or you can follow us through TweetChat.

And be sure to check out the #SundaySupper Pinterest board. We’d love to feature your Sunday Supper Soul Warming Recipes and share them with all of our followers.

Wine of the Week: 2008 Cypher Winery “Cypher” Paso Robles Eclectic Red

My wine of the week for April 21-April 27 is the 2008 Cypher Winery “Cypher” Eclectic Red.

The Winery

If you haven’t been to Paso Robles in a couple of years, you may not be familiar with Cypher Winery.  It’s the latest venture of Christian Tietje, and his partner Susan Mahler.  It used to be known as Four Vines.  Tietje started Four Vines in 1994.  They made a name for themselves selling full-throttle hedonistic Zinfandel and Chardonnay.  They were acquired by Purple Wine Company in 2010.   Tietje remains on with Four Vines as a consulting winemaker.

Cypher offers an interesting collection of wines including the “Freakshow” line of wines, with names like “Anarchy”, “Heretic”, and “Peasant”.  On a recent trip to Paso Robles, I tasted through their lineup, and found the wines to very good to excellent.  This was my favorite.

Cypher Winery is co-located with Farmstand 46.  It’s a great place for lunch! They dish healthy gourmet foods, including fantastic sandwiches, and wood fire oven pizza, made from locally grown organic ingredients some of which are sourced from their “estate” produce.  The co-location with Cypher is no accident, Tietjethe winemaker for Cypherwas a chef in Boston before he was a winemaker, and is part of the joint venture that owns the place.

The Wine

Eclectic indeed!  This wine is composed of 12 varieties of grapes – Teroldego (15%), Petite Verdot (14%), Souzao (13%), Petite Sirah (13%), Carignan (9%), Alicante Bouschet (9%), Syrah (6%), Tinta Cao (5%), Tinta Roriz (a.k.a. Tempranillo-5%), Tannat (5%), Touriga Nacional (4%), and Zinfandel (2%).

According to the Cypher website here’s how the wine came to be:

6 years in the making… the quest to create “Cypher” originated from a Portuguese wine tasted by Christian that was big, tannic, and monstrous with a sexy mouth feel. “Cypher” is Christian’s version of the temptation he once tasted

Wow! 12 different varieties of grapes…

Cost: $40

Alcohol: 15.5%

513 Cased made

This is a well-made seriously fun wine with lots of personality.  My tasting notes follow:

Inky violet color with dark fruit, slightly earthy, and spicy aromas.  On the palate it’s big, and full-bodied with intense, bountiful ripe blackberry, blueberry, plum and vanilla spice flavors.  Medium finish. 

Pairing with food

This one screams grilled T-Bone, or some smoked baby back ribs to me….but who needs food?  This one would be just fine on its own!

Value Alert! – Crazy Good Spanish Gem For $11!

I picked up this wine, the 2010 Celler Piñol Terra Alta Ludovicos, from the Wine Mine in Oakland.  It’s a great wine shop with a knowledgeable proprietor and staff, a diverse collection of wines from around the world, and good prices.  Their tag line is “The Wine Mine – Wine Gems, Rock Bottom Prices”.  So far, I’ve found that to be the case as I’ve gotten a few good recommendations including a crazy good Nero D’Avola, and an excellent Sparkling Rosé from Sicily (click here for my blog post) The owner, David Sharp was recently voted “Best Wine Guru” in the East Bay Express – Best of the East Bay 2011.  They do weekly wine tastings for $1! And that’s how I discovered this wine…

2010 Cellar Pinol Ludovicus

Here’s the wine geek stuff:

Where it’s from: SpainCatalunyaTarragonaTerra Alta

The grapes: 40% Garnacha, 20% Syrah, 15% Carignan, 15% Tempranillo, 10% Merlot

Aging: Four months in French and American oak barrels

Cost: $11

Alcohol: 14%

Here’s my tasting notes:

Deep dark garnet color with very aromatic dark fruit, earth and faint tobacco aromas. On the palate, it’s satiny, and medium-bodied with well-integrated tannins, and blackberry, blueberry, vanilla, and a hint of tobacco flavors. Medium-long finish. Great QPR for $11!

As noted above, the wine is produced from grapes sourced in the Terra Alta region, which is the most southerly of Catalonia’s wine regions.  It’s a region with which I wasn’t familiar.  It achieved D.O. status relatively recently, in 1985. It is a part of the Catalunya (Catalonia) wine region, which is best known for its diversity of wine styles.  The two most well-known styles being Cava, and its still reds produced from a wine range of grapes including Grenache, Tempranillo, Syrah, Carignan, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

This is going to be a repeat purchase for me!  I highly recommend! Click here to find the wine

Value Alert – 90pt Gem From Spain for $12!

Several months ago, I attended a La Mancha tasting in San Francisco.  I blogged about it in a post entitled Is La Mancha Ready For Primetime?  Of course, most of us are familiar with La Mancha thanks to the famous book by Miguel de Cervantes entitled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (or perhaps for the less literary types such as myself, the Broadway musical The Man of La Mancha) 

These days La Mancha is trying to make a name for itself with its wines.  Here’s the 411 on La Mancha:

  • Part of the Castilla-La Mancha autonomous community
  • Largest of 9 DOs in Castilla-La Mancha, which is the largest continuous vine-growing area in the world
  • Climate – According to a local proverb – “nine months of winter and three months of hell
  • Authorized red grapes: Cencibel (a.k.a Tempranillo, Grenache, Moravia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah
  • Authorized white grapes: Airén (pronounced “Aye ran”), Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Chardonnay, Verdejo, Moscatel de grano menudo, and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Achieved DO status in 1976
  • There are  5 wine classifications rather than 3 typically found in Spain.  In addition to the traditional Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva classifications, La Mancha also has Young (Jóven), and Traditional classifications. The wines classified as “Joven” typically see no oak.  And according to, the Traditional is “Made with the traditional system, reinforced by the latest technological advances. They keep a distance and equilibrium point between the young and aging wines.”  In other words, it’s a New World style.
  • Known for producing wines with great price/quality ratio, and formerly known for producing bulk wines

The orange tag indicates this is classified as a "Tradicional" wine (click to enlarge image)

2009 Bodegas Volver La Mancha Single Vineyard – $11.99 at Costco

2009 Bodegas Volver La Mancha Single Vineyard

My tasting notes follow:

Inky purple-black color with black fruit, clove, allspice, and tobacco aromas. On the palate medium- full bodied, and smooth with well-behaved tannins, and with vibrant black cherry, plum, a touch of black currant fruit and spice flavors. Medium plus finish.  – 90pts

This wine,  which is  classified as “Tradicional,” is a fine example of a wine that can win over New World palates and put La Mancha on many a wine lover’s map, particularly if seeking great price/performance.   It’s 100% Tempranillo.  The grapes were sourced from a 72-acre vineyard planted in 1967.  It’s fermented in barrel and aged 14 months in new French Oak.   Rated 92pt by Wine Advocate.   I’ll be buying more, and highly recommend you give it a shot!   I purchase the wine at Costco.  But it’s widely available.  Click here to find.

Is La Mancha ready for Primetime?

Last week, I attended my first wine event as a member of the “trade”.  The event was hosted by “Wines of La Mancha“.  Since it was my first such event as a member of the trade,  I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than Spanish Wine – which I enjoy, having had wines mostly from the La Rioja, Castilla y Leon, Aragon, and Galicia regions.  It was a walk-around tasting with 11 wineries represented.

It turned out to be a top shelf event at Robert Fountain Studio in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in San Francisco.  In particular, the food served was remarkable, with whole roasted pig being the centerpiece of a bounty that included a wonderful assortment of Spanish tapas-style small plates.

Click images to enlarge

I must confess I knew little about the La Mancha DO.  While doing some “discovery”, I noted little (The Concise World Atlas of Wine), or nothing ( The Wine Bible) was said about La Mancha – thus the event; to heighten awareness of this wine region which lives in the shadows of more renown wine regions in Spain like La Rioja, Catalonia  (Priorat),  Castilla and Leon (Ribero del Duero), and Andalusia, from which Sherry hails.

Here’s the 411 on La Mancha:

  • Part of the Castilla-La Mancha autonomous community
  • Largest of 9 DOs in Castilla-La Mancha, which is the largest continuous vine-growing area in the world
  • Claim to fame – The stomping grounds of the famed literary figure Don Quixote
  • Climate – According to a local proverb – “nine months of winter and three months of hell”
  • Authorized red grapes: Cencibel (a.k.a Tempranillo, Grenache, Moravia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah
  • Authorized white grapes: Airén (pronounced “Aye ran”), Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Chardonnay, Verdejo, Moscatel de grano menudo, and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Achieved DO status in 1976
  • Known for producing wines with great price/quality ratio, and formerly known for producing bulk wines
One of the things I found interesting about La Mancha, is that they have more than the 3 classifications used to designate the ageing of wine common to Spain (Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva).  In addition to the three aforementioned classifications, La Mancha wines are also classified as “Young” (Vino Joven) wine, and Traditional.  The Young and Traditional wines see no oak.  In fact, the Young wines are intended to be comparable to famous (or infamous depending on one’s tastes) Beaujolais Nouveau from France.

It’s always fun for me to try new grape varietals.  I tried Airén, and Macabeo, on a standalone basis, for the first time.  And there were some wines I really enjoyed, and/or found interesting.

My favorites whites:

Anil Macabeo – 100% Macabeo. Tropical fruit, herb nose.  Tropical, citrus palate.  Juicy light-medium mouth feel.  Short finish – 87pts

Allozo Verdejo – 100% Verdejo.  Grassy, citrus, faint vanilla nose.  Stone fruit, citrus palate.  Light bodied with crisp acidity, and slightly bitter on back palate.  Short finish – 86pts

My favorite reds were:

La Villa Real Reserva – Aromatic nose of black currant, oak, and spice.  Black currant, dark cherry, chocolate palate.  Med-long finish – 88pts

Casa Antonete  Gran Reserva – Black currant, oak, leather nose.  Cherry, coffee palate, and smooth tannins.  Long finish – 90pts

Casa Antonete Crianza – Intense cherry/black currant liqueur nose.  Vibrant cherry palate. Balanced. Medium finish – 89pts

Torre de Gazate Reserva – 50/50;Cencibel/Cab blend. Tobacco, cherry, oak nose.  Currant, cherry, spice palate.  Medium finish – 87pts

I was also pleasantly surprised at the prices for the higher quality wines. Most of the wines lived up to their great price/quality reputation.

On the other hand, I found the majority the whites I tasted to be a bit austere for my tastes.  And quite a few of the reds, too tannic for my tastes (And i like a wine with some grip).  I also found that I didn’t care much for the Young wines I tasted. But, I also think the wines may have been served too warm, and I look forward to trying a Young wine again served at a cooler temperature.

The verdict? For me, I enjoyed the wines, though not as much as comparable wines I’ve had from Rioja, Ribero, or Priorat.  However, it’s clear to me that La Mancha is a full participant in the Spanish wine revolution that’s bringing modern wine making techniques, experimentation with other than traditional grape varietals, and new plantings/re-plantings to Spain.  While it’s “not there yet” La Mancha is on the rise, and on my radar!

Start the car….I gotta steal!

Just a few short years ago, before the Great Recession, there were many wine lovers, and just plain showoffs who seemed to revel in telling anyone who would listen, or pretend to listen, how much they paid for a bottle of wine.  Well, the tables have turned.  Now, it seems it’s cool to tell folks how little you paid for a bottle of wine!  Even if I were well heeled enough to afford to pay hundreds of dollars or more for a bottle of wine, it’s not my style to to tell folks how much I paid for a bottle of wine, but I’m more than happy to add my voice to “Guess what, I only paid…” chorus!  So…

Guess what, I only paid $10 for what I consider to be an outstanding (90 Points) bottle of wine from Spain. It’s  the 2006 Bodegas LAN Crianza.  It made with  is 100% Tempranillo that spent 12 months in French and American oak by Bodegas LAN, a  traditional Rioja house that makes good-quality wines all along the Rioja spectrum. With 200,00o case produced, this wine should be widely available.  I picked up a bottle at my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants.  After I tried it, I promptly went out and bought a half case! Click here to see my detailed review on Cellar Tracker!.  While you’re there you may check availability and pricing in your area clicking on $$ FIND THIS WINE on WINE-SEARCHER.COM $$ )

If you’re not familiar with Spanish wines here’s a quick primer…

Spain has more land under vineyard acreage than any other wine growing region in the world. It’s also one of the worldwide leaders for producing  “value” wines – wines prices at $15, or less of very good quality.

Like France, Spain has rigid wine laws called Denominacion de Origen (DO) which define and protect specific geographic areas.  There are fifty-four DOs.  In addition, Rioja is the only Demoninacion de Origen Calificada (DOC), or Qualified Denomination of Origin.  To qualify as a DO, or DOC a wine region must meet rigid requirements around specific viticultural, and wine making standards.

Spanish wines are classified based on the quality of grapes and how long the wines are aged.  The hierarchy includes crianza, reserva, and gran reserva.  The red crianza wines are required to be aged at least two years, one of which must be in oak barrels,  reserva wines must be aged at least three years, one of which must be in oak barrels, and gran reserva must be aged at least five years, two of which must be in oak barrels and the remaining three must be in the bottle.  While the law dictates the aforementioned minimums, in practice many are aged much longer, particularly in Rioja, and at the gran reserva level.

Crianzas tend to be easy drinking wines with vibrant flavors.  Reservas are made from better grapes from better sites, and tend to be more lush and concentrated than crianzas, and Gran reservas are only made in exceptional years and come from the very best vineyards.

Rioja has historically been considered Spain’s greatest wine region, and is especially renown for red wine made from the indigenous Tempranillo grape.  Wines from Rioja are aged longer before release than any other wines in the world. The other major wine regions of Spain are Ribero Del Duero, Priorato, Penedes, Rias Baixas, and Jerez (the home of sherry).

So far, Spain has been the source of the international “value” wines I’ve enjoyed the most.  Stay tuned for more on Spanish wines, because I’ll definitely be drinking more!  I hope you’ll try some too!  And if you already have some favorites from Spain, please do share!