Araex, Superheroes of Spanish wines.

When I received the press tasting invitation, I had no clue who was Araex wine group. Even when I was living in Spain, I never heard about the company. By doing a bit of digging, I discovered, they are driving force of some of my favorite Spanish wines.

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In a sort of way, Araex remind me of one my favorite comical superhero teams, the justice league. In 1993, Javier Galaretta brought together a band of talented from Rioja Alavesa to spread the good word of Rioja domestically and abroad. Later, other winegrowers joined forming one of the most important independent wine associations in Spain. Araex exports in 70 countries and sells more than 11 million bottles in the international market.

Araex is the poster child for the Spanish wine industry. In 2001, they were named best export company by the Ministry of Agriculture in Spain and in the same year, another sister company was created to accommodate more members: Spanish fine wines. In 2013, they did it again by creating The Grand Wines Premium to accommodate new product lines and innovation.

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Sebastien Richard, export manager of Araex

If every wine domaine would follow the mision and values of Araex, Spain would be ahead of Italy and France in the fine premium market. The country has everything going for themselves: good prices, excellent terroir and climate. This was a good part of the discussion that I had with Sébastien Richard, the export manager of Araex in his recent passage in Montreal. The invitation was a courtesy of their Quebec importer LBV International

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I tasted a fantastic quartet of Spanish whites that demonstrate the potential that the country has in the category. A Val de Vid Verdejo 2016 ( SAQ # 12260281, $14.80 ) from Rueda: pure, delicious green apple and orchard fruit. On the mouth, straigthfoward, fresh. Nothing complicated about this wine with a ridicolous price. Please, bring me a bowl of steaming clams to have with it!!!. 

Rias Baixas is one hottest places to make whites in Spain. This Pazo de Senorans Valdosares 2016 ( SAQ #  00898411, $23.45) excites me with its vibrant tropical fruit notes. Round and crisp with a good lenght. Harmonious with subtle mineral nuances. I will have anytime a seafood risotto with this wine. A different character, the Val de Vid Verdejo 2016 was richer and riper with a creamier and floral side. A fleshier and longer wine, this could be the wine that I have been loking for to have with grilled halibut and braised cippolini onions.

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The Pazo de Senorans Seleccion de Anada 2009 ( Private Importation, $74.00. Case of 6) was something very special. I have never had an Albarino aged in wood. Its something out of the twilight zone. Marked by apricot jam, membrillo and barlett pear, it is super dry and structured. Very tight with a ravishing acidity, it took for a ride in the palate with its pockets of bursting fruit. I can have this wine anytime with poultry cream based dishes.

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Moving on the with the reds of the portfolio, I had a magnificent Ribera Del Duero. Valtravieso Esencia 1 2015 ( SAQ # 12886849, $19.50) has a magnificent complex nose bringing to mind spices, dry black fruit with subtle roasted herb nuances. The structure and flavor profile brings to me mind a left bank Bordeaux from St-Estephe. Fleshy, nervy with a tarry tannic expression. Hard to believe that under $20, we can find Ribera del Dueros at this quality.  Wood is very well integrated. On a chilly day, I will have this wine with an oxtail stew.

The Valtravieso Crianza 2015 ( Private Importation, $24.95, Case of 12) shows the greatness that Ribera del Duero can obtain. Pronounced aromatic complexity. Leather, smoke with cinnamon, licorice and mineral dust. Great palate. Powerful, yet fine tannins and very balanced. This wine echoes a Valbuena Vega Sicilia. Buy this wine by the case and aged it for a least 15 years. Should be great with braised beef ribs.

Moving on with the Riojas we had the wines of Baigorri. I had a crianza 2014 ( Private Import, $27.61. Case of 12). Too powerful for my taste, it had a very pronounced wood nose with extracted jammy black fruit. However, on the palate, it had a good acidity and the finale show a bit of drying tannins. Maybe, it needs some time in the cellar to come all together. For sure, it will please the fans of modern Riojas. A wine of this caliber, needs sanguine meat cuts grilled on a charcoal BBQ.

We finish off with the Baigorri Reserva 2009 ( Private Import. $34.75, Case of 6). Very deep and profound with  hardcore notes of wild black fruits, spices, and new wood. Showing a bit of evolution, it was mindblowing with flavors bringing to mind summer truffle, blackcurrants, dried leaves and tamari sauce. Hard tannins but a  great balance. Would have this wine anytime with pulled beef sandwiches.

 

 

Protos Reserva 2011-Undervalued Ribera del Duero?

When it comes to wine, seldom we find undervalued wine bottles, specially from very famous wine areas. Ribera del Duero is no exception to the rule. Top Ribera will set you $50 at least and if you want to drink the elite bottles expect to pay a handsome amount in the $100+.

The first week I went to Spain, Protos was one of the first Spanish wines that I came to recognize. In every Jamon joint in Madrid, they had a bottle tucked in with a Serrano or Pata Negra in the window shelf. Even my taxi driver, who was not versed in wine was talking to me about this wine.

With time, I discover Protos and fell in love with this great Ribera del Duero Classic. A great Ribera made along the old school style of the appellation with a very appropiate price.

Originally known as the Cooperativa de Pañafiel,  Bodegas Protos winery was founde in 1927. It was the first winery of the Ribera del Duero. This project started with the union of some of the best Spanish winemakers at the time and through their efforts and perseverance, they became one of Spain greatest wineries.

The name “Protos” derives from Greek to mean “first.” This name brings back the fact that they were the pioneer estate  of Peñafiel, Spain, founding the winemaking of the Ribera. The incredible growth of the Bodegas Protos winery led them to expand nationally and internationally, and thanks to the classical  wines they have  created, this winery was able to construct their new facilities in the surrounding mountains.

Protos Reserva Ribera del Duero 2011. SAQ # 13321541. $35.00

2011 was a great harvest in Ribera del Duero which was heralded by the Spanish and International wine press alike. Tempranillo vines had an extended growing period which allowed for a healthy and slow maturation.The climate provided ideal conditions for a uniform harvest that resulted in great wines for many estates.

Protos is aged for 18 months mostly in new french oak with 20 % american type. The wine ages a furthet 18 months in bottle. 

A powerful wine with a deep core of  black fruits  and nice toasty notes, Spicy, and very complex. The palate is racy with lots of flavours and round tannins. Great acidity with a good backbone and a lingering finish. A slight passage in a carafe for 30 minutes will be perfect if you want to drink it now. By experience, it can age well for a decade and even more. Great with roasted game dishes and also with lamb stews.

Drinking wine out of the ordinary

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Train Station Jumilla

Apologies for those who read this blog on a regular basis. Coming back from vacation, it could be a difficult endeavour. It is tedious to get back to the routine, especially when you have a 3-year-old and your wife is also on a summer sabbatical. September will bring a type of normality, I hope and will be posting more or less on a regular basis.

The ninth month of the Gregorian calendar also marks the beginning of the school year, and the end of summer holidays. In keeping up with the academic spirit, why not make the time to take a wine course or drinking some wines from less familiar areas. Put Rioja and Ribera del Duero aside for a bit and venture into others places such as Yecla or perhaps Jumilla per say?

About two weeks ago, I had the chance to visit the Festival Vins Terrebone. Outside Montreal, this is one of the most important wine festivals in Quebec. It has been kind of a tradition for me to go. I have been going for the last 9 years or so.

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In this year edition, I had the chance to discover some hidden gems coming from Jumilla. Represented by Le Grand Cellier, an upcoming Quebec Agency, these two wines bring down the misconception that Jumilla can only produce rustic and macho wines. Both of these wines are made by Bodegas Bleda. Definitely, Jumilla should be on your wine map, if you are looking to expand your knowledge of Spanish wines this coming fall.

Bodegas Bleda went into the wine business in Jumilla in the early years of the XX century. At the beginning they were grape and olive growers selling in bulk until Antonio Bleda Gracia took over. He was the pioneer in bottling and exporting Jumilla wines

Not long after, the winery was winning international accolades with their wines. For instance Oro Viejo won Gold medal at the Barcelona International wine fair of 1929. This bit of history came to me as an unexpected surprise. You see me too, i was haunted with misconceptions that Jumilla can only produce campesino wines

Believe or not Jumilla is blessed with an optimal climate for winegrowing in the world. The combination of sunny and warm summer days with little rain result in low yields.Next is the altitude which brings considerable differences in diurnal and nocturnal temperatures.  Jumilla is situated at 650 meters above sea level and the thermometer varies between 14 and 36 C between night and dayThis contribute to the aromatic richness of the wine.

Pinodoncel Black 2016  ($21.95, case of 12)is a fantastic blend of Monastrell, Syrah and Petit Verdot. The wine spends 5 months in oak, so is considered a vino joven.  Lovely nose bringing to mind cherry and spices. Round and unctuous with a very long finale. Will buy this wine with my eyes closed by the case for weekend drinking with a nice chop on the BBQ or other noble piece of meat.

Castillo de Jumilla 2016 ($18.95, case of 12) is a predominant blend of Monastrell with some Tempranillo. With attractive black fruit aromas, this is a generous wine with that makes shine the roundnessof the Monastrell grape. It is well-balanced with pleasant sweetness and a long finale. Perfect with wild mushroom based dishes, now starting to be season in this part of the world.

 

A nice Cava for the holidays

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Like many of you, I am on holidays with my family. We are working up our way in the Gaspé Peninsula, spending a good 10 days to d a comprehensive tour of the region.

For some time now, me and my wife were planning this trip. Both of us are food and nature enthusiasts and thats why Gaspesie was such a good fit for us.

The Gaspé Peninsula ( 250 km long and 100-140 kilometers wide) reaches into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, making it indepedent from the rest of Quebec. 

Inland, Gaspésie is a mountainous, woody wilderness, but one of the major attractions of the peninsula is its pretty rugged coast and their excellent cuisine. Gaspé is a paradise for fish and seafood lovers. Here you can find first grade local produce such as lobster and crab. Also it is easier to find quality scallops and halibut from neighboring New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

One of our favorite meals during the meal was the simplest but tastiest one. In Carleton sur Mer, we picked up some fresh halibut and scallops and decided to do a BBQ facing the beach.  A very rustic elegant meal. The halibut meat had a fleshy texture and delicate flavours. The piece of resistance was the scallops. They had a soft buttery texture with the most sweetest taste. A very delicate flavor bringing to mind halzenut.

 The Villa Conchi Cava ( SAQ # 12956456, $14.95, LCBO # 386979, $14.95)  was a perfect match for this vacation. Light and refreshing, it had a wonderful palette of flavors bringing to mind pear and lemon curd. Fruit foward, its medium size bubble was the perfect refreshing agent for the smoky impregnated flavors of the meal. For under the $15, it is an outstanding value in the cava category. The best wines are the ones that are enjoyed along with your family members.

Villa Conchi is sourced from selected vineyards in the heart of Catalunya. The vines benefit from the mountain protection range of Montserrat. Harvesting is done by the night and there is a percentage of Chardonnay added to preserve the fruit aspect of the wine.  Not only this cava is perfect with grilled fish but also with salads as well. 


Revisiting an old friend: Alejandro Fernandez wines.

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Alejandro Fernandez created Pesquera in Ribera del Duero and forever changed the face of Ribera del Duero. By the early 80’s, Pesquera persuaded the top wine government organizations and Ribera del Duero was granted status in 1982. And you know the rest of the history…the ascension to stardom of Pesquera and the appellation.

Alejandro Fernandez Condado de Haza may be less famous than its sister winery, Pesquera, but it also produces terrific wines that are classically built Ribera del Dueros. Less powerful than his big brother, but with more restraint and elegeance, this monovarietal Tempranillo wine comes from vines originally planted in 1989 on an ideal, south-facing slope of calcareous clay soil, with some gravelly sections as well as a vineyard slope downward towards the Duero river.

 

 The Condado de Haza 2012 (  SAQ #00978866, $26.85) , exhibits an amplifying nose of crushed blackberry, plum,currant, cedar, and more. It, also, possesses a rich, savory feel in the mouth to counteract  its considerable structure and ripe tannins. It is firm, full-bodied, and full of flavor.Aged 15 months in oak barriques, this sophisticated but intense wine offers plenty to enjoy now, yet it will continue to improve in bottle for a decade or more. Clearly, the 2012 Condado de Haza is one of the finest Tempranillo wines from Ribera del Duero

Alejandro Fernández and his wife Esperanza Rivera, after setting up Tinto Pesquera and Condado de Haza in their native Ribera del Duero, continued expanding their horizons afield in the Spring of 1998, purchasing  Dehesa La Granja bordering the Guareña River in the province of Zamora, in the heart of one of Spain’s earliest-recognized wine regions.

Known in the  20th century as “La Granja Valdeguareña de los Moleros”, the 1800-acre ranch had been developed  by the Moleros brothers to the breeding of fighting bulls, still in operation at the time of purchase. However, from the 17th through 19th centuries the estate had a strong tradition of winemaing During that time the local wine producing area was known throughout Spain and Europe as Tierra del Vino.

Alejandro quickly  set to work reconverting the estate to wine production, with 525 acres of old-clone Tempranillo planted by late 2000. House and ranch compound were renovated and a modern winemaking facility installed, directly over the 17th- century cellars. Meanwhile, Alejandro discovered plots ungrafted old Tempranillo vines in the Guareña River Valley which have formed the basis for concentrated red wines beginning with the 1998 harvest.

Meanwile, Alejandro found ungrafted old Tempranillo vines in the Guareña River Valley which have formed the basis for concentrated red wines beginning with the 1998 harvest.

 The Dehesa La Granja 2012 ( SAQ # 11896691, $22.20)   has smoky dark fruit, toasty oak and dark chocolate aromas on the nose, with an impressive structure and muscular tannins of this terrific Spanish red wine made from Tempranillo grape.  Like a Pesquera but cheaper in your pocket.

El Vinculo was Alejandro Fernandez quest to demonstrate that La Mancha could produce greatest wines. Like its predecessors, the 2012 El Vinculo ( SAQ #11896691, $22.20)  brings out a contagious charm with beautiful aromatics and plush juicy flavors. Blackberry and currant nuances and flavors mix with hints of sandalwood, Asian spices and touches of new oak to delight the nose and the palate. One discovers deep down flavors and power as well as subtle complexity in this El Vinculo.

 

Riojas, Toros and what to drink with strawberries in season.

At a glance, the title of my blog post, may not make sense to you. However, you may be having these items in no particular order. Let me put it in plain words: BBQ meats with Riojas and Toros and desserts based with strawberries.

If you are in Ontario, the latest vintage LCBO Catalog ( available from July 8th), offers some interesting Spanish Goodies. Interesting wines to try include the Rioja Bordon from Bodegas Franco Espanolas and Pruno Finca Villacreces.

Bodegas Franco Espanolas

This bodega goes  back to the immigration to Rioja by a group of French wine producers  looking for new sources for grapes to meet France’s demands. This was the end of the XIX century, after phylloxera devastated the French vineyards.

The result of the quest for sourcing new grapes ended in 1890 when Frederick Anglade Saurat, a Bordeaux negociant, formed a joint venture with winegrowers and investors from Spain to create Bodegas Franco Espanolas. The partnership ended in 1922 when the Spanish owners bought out their French partners.

Today, the bodega is owned by the Eguizabal. They have turned this company into a well-respected winery that caters to all price ranges.

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During la Grande Degustation of Montreal, I had the chance to taste their 2008 Reserva. By law, a reserva must be aged in barrel for two full years and held in bottle for another two before release . This is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, and 5% Mazuelo. It spends that two years in medium-toast American white oak, with racking from barrel to barrel every six months. It is quite elegant with brooding black and  light-cured tobacco leaf undertones. On the mouth, is quite round and harmonious with flavors bringing to mind  toffee, marzipan, sage, and anise. Their 2011 is retailing for $19.95. LCBO #194753.

Globetrotter Francois Lurton.

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Francois Lurton was in Montreal, in early June to present his wines.

Working with Michel and Dany Rolland, Lurton founded the original Campo Eliseo estate in Toro 16 years ago.  This was his introduction into the Spanish wine industry.

After mastering the reds, now Lurton wants to make one of the best whites of Spain. It is an ambitious project but Francois is well aligned to make this happen.

Francois commented to me that Rueda has become a big business focusing on volume and bland wines. His vision for Rueda is to create a super growth that will  pull up the appellation all together. Although his production of his verdejo is an eye raising 250,000 bottles, he is able to combine the best of both worlds: quantity and quality.

His Rueda is impressive ( for my tasting note, see my previous post on Vinos and Paella). Lurton picks ripe the Verdejo  and ages in less to give its creamy texture.  The Verdejo ferments at low temperatures and in a mix of vessels such as barriques, stainless steel and concrete egg fermentation tasks.  This system allows the wine to gain an increased depth in complexity in the aromas and texture in the palate.

Tasting the wines of Lurton from Spain

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El Albar Barricas Tierra de Leon 2012. SAQ # 10358006. $22.05

Predominant nose of toasty aromas. Cacao,  Ethiopian coffee dark beans with strawberry, raspberry jam and balsamic condiment. Structured and  tannic but overall with a sense of balance and harmony.

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Campo Eliseo 2009 ( Presented at La Grande Dégustation de Montréal 2015). ( Private Import QC, Vins Fins)

Modern nose. Lots of new wood with wild blackberries. On the mouth, fleshy with lots of tannins and concentration. Seems unbalanced at the moment but will need a few years in the cellar to come all together.

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Campo Alegre Toro 2012 ( Presented at La Grande Dégustation de Montreal 2015). ( Private Import QC, Vins Fins)

On an international style, yet very appealing. Very dark ripe blue fruits with an incredible depth of spice. Full body, dense with lots of chocolate and coffee nuances. Long finale.

Sweet accords: Strawberries and wine?

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A perfect pairing of strawberries with the appropiate wine can be so amazing that it’s worth putting the effort to get it just right. Stay away from rosados (still or sparkling), as any wine without a decent dollop of residual sugar will taste  sour and horrible next to the sweet fruit. But if you overdoit with very rich dessert wines, and you threaten to overwhelm the relative delicacy of this sublime berry fruit.

I definitely would go with a sweet muscat. Muscat produces good versatile dessert wines. They are juicy and fresh-tasting, even when they come from a warmer region and are bold tasting  and weighty in texture. Think apricots, oranges, a drop of caramel. And think affordable. Moscatels from Valencia in Spain are extraordinarily well priced and fit the bill to go with strawberries.

I recently tasted  the Dona Dolça Moscatel Valençia ( SAQ # 11096618, $14.55) with a strawberries and zabaglione cream and it was a hit!!!. A Moscatel de Alejandría, it display notes of honey, nougat with peach and citric undertones. On the mouth, it was well-balanced. Not too sweet with a refreshing acidity complementing well the nature of the dessert.

 

 

Time for Vinos y Paella

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Finally the temperatures have started to rise and the rain is wearing off in this part of Quebec where I live. As we enter deep in the summer, all i want to do is cook and drink outside. One of the dishes that I love do in the summer is a big Paella.

For me paella is the ultimate Spanish dish for the summer weekends. When I used to live in Spain, I had it good restaurants in Madrid and also being a guest in some of my friends  homes back there in those golden yet far remote times.  It is a very intimate and friendly dish.

As a child growing up in Venezuela, I also had fond memories of eating Paella with my family and friends. Back in those times,  my grandparents were friends with a lovely couple from Spain that also resided in Venezuela. They nicknamed, the coquis, don’t ask why, I had no idea. Their names were Paco and Mara

When i was 8 or 9, in an easter holiday, we spent some time with them in Higuerote, a coastal city, not far away from Caracas.  The coquis were a pair of bon vivants. They knew their food and drink inside out. They had a beach chalet where they used to go on the weekends

On good friday while I took off with my aunts to the beach, Paco and Mara prepared the Paella, outside the backyard of their house. It was a seafood paella, stunning. Up to this day, I remember the fragrant aromas of the spiced rice with sofrito and saffron with the flavors of the seafood. It was a very familiar affair.

 

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Since Paella is a very relaxed meal, you want to drink easy-going wines, to stimulate conversation. A paella party is not the proper time to open a big expensive Ribera del Duero or a luxurious Priorato.  Stick with modest whites, rosados and light reds. The regions that you should be looking for include Rueda, Rioja and Navarra.

The drinks that you will have before the Paella are as important as the wines that you will have during the main meal. While preparing the Paella, you want wines to go with Tapas. Basically, you are looking for an aperitivo that will stimulate your appetite.  Some of the tapas that you will customary will see include Jamon, patatas bravas or cheese.

 

Cava works best. However, it is always handy to have a nice vermouth in case some of your guests don’t appreciate sparkling wine. Paco used to like to drink Johnnie Walker black label, a custom that he adopted from the Venezuelan natives. However, avoid having any spirits before, otherwise you will be drunk by the time you eat the Paella.

Here is my personal suggestions, on the wines you should have with paella:

Wines to have while making the Paella

Parés Baltà Blanca Cusiné Penedès 2010. SAQ Code # 12591021. $35.25

Delicate notes of honey, nougat with toasty notes of hazelnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts. On the mouth, very fine with a silky texture and smooth bubble bringing to mind white fruits and ripe fruits. Long and tasty finale.

Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth Rouge.  SAQ Code # 13137647. $24.35

Lovely aperitivo starting on blood oranges with hints of clove and cinnamon. On the palate, it is sweet but not overdone. Flavors bringing to mind Italian Chinotto. Light, minty and very balanced.

Wines to have while eating the Paella

Whites:

Compania de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez. Basa Rueda 2016. SAQ # 10264018. $16.20

Broding yellow fruits, mountain herbs such as  chamomille, Fresh and zesty. elegant and quite balanced. Drinking very easy and dangerously.

Hermanos Lurton Rueda 2015. SAQ #  00727198. $15.60

Zesty with a nectarine-peach character on the nose. On the mouth, crisp and  subtle with a round almost creamy texture. Flavors bring to mind fennel and white orchard fruit. Very elegant with a long finale bringing to mind tropical fruits. 

Reds:

Rioja Cune Crianza 2012. SAQ # 13087248. $15.25

Delicious tones of black fruits such as cherry, c assis and prunes. Well spiced bouquet bringing to mind paprika, cofee bean. Fresh and ample in the mouth with generous tannins.

El Albar Barricas Toro 2000. ( Private Import, $26.95, vins fins)

 If your Paella has spicy chorizo or rabbit, this aged Toro could be a wonderful partner. On the nose, sultana raisins, cacao, black truffle with lots of floral undertones. Quite elegant, and round with mature tannins.

After the paella, with a bowl of vanilla ice cream and balsamic vinegar condiment:

Pedro Ximenez de añada 2013. SAQ # 12653869. $21.80

Nose on the typical  Pedro Ximenez variety bringing to mind raisins and plums. Lovely orange peel (evolving towards marmelade) and a hint of apple blossom. Some candied tangerine and hints of fresh corinth grapes develop with time in the glass. The mouth is very sweet, bringing to mindcaramel and brown sugar flavours. Also dominant  notes of membrillo, the quince jelly they make in Andalucia. Very long with an aftertaste that brings to mind sweet almond paste.