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We be jamm'n

Last Saturday night I visited with friends in Providence as part of a larger weekend of festivities featuring - dum, da, dee, dum! - attending the Newport Folk Festival together on Sunday. Naturally I would bring some wine for dinner. My best friend has an affection for Spanish reds; she and her husband are also fabulously hyper-local, urban farmers, so something from a sustainable or organic producer would be bonus. While I find it is always good to have some kind of direction, this time I was actually at a loss about what would fit my general criteria. And then, just in the nick of time, last Friday afternoon my colleague and I happened to uncork the Honoro Vera Monastrell to evaluate it. Dan had discovered this new project (made from Organic grapes and hailing from Jumilla, Spain!)  from the folks at esteemed producer Juan Gil while I was away at Pinot Camp; it had just arrived on the premises, so he was particularly excited about it - and eager for me to give it a taste. I was excited that he was excited. It doesn't happen like that everyday.

Made from 100% Monastrell grapes, the wine was opulent with succulent black plum, boysenberry and bramble fruit. It stopped me in my tracks. It was as juicy as it was accented with turned black soil, mushroomy earth and spice. Its silky smooth texture (my ultimate vinous pleasure) prompted an immediate high-five to Dan for "finding" it.

Over the weekend my friends were also "Wow'd". (Gotta love when you hit the nail on the head.)

Then, the next day while we were at the Festival grooving to the sound of Brown Bird, my work caught up with me in the best possible way: I nudged my BFF, smiled and said I know I'm a wine nerd, but these guys sound like last night's wine - his voice is rich, seductively smooth and thrilling; hers is the gorgeous, clean-cut note of acidity that brings it on home.

Heads bobbing, we wished we had another glass in hand.

Pairing: Garliky chopped sauteed kale and green beans; Grill-charred Salmon (with grilled sausage accompaniment optional)



Tasting and traveling - and the two in tandem

Wondered where I've been? March was largely spent downtown or throughout Cambridge at various venues set up for trade folks to taste hundreds of wines, both those entirely new to market and also and equally important, newly released vintages of old friends. It was a more rigorous spring tasting season on "the circuit" (as we wine professionals call it) than last year, I hate to admit it. Meanwhile, I was preparing for my trip (now in motion...) to Spain, where I have been visiting what I call Cava Country, more formally known as Penedes, and also the Priorat.

My travels began a couple of days ago with Marc Picon at Pares Balta, which  proved more than I could have imagined, even knowing in advance that this is a fourth-generation run estate that has embraced organic viticulture since The Beginning, well before it was of interest or marketable to do so. They also operate in what is now a national Park.

When I arrived, Marc, my congenial on-sight host and the estate’s Export Manager, explained that Pares Balta's main priority isn’t showcasing the “music” behind their work in the winery when they are introducing people to Pares Balta (and yes, they make many, many different wines); rather they are focused on the land. I smiled and nodded a bit when he said this, because if you’ve taken a trip to any winery worldwide, I’m sure you, too, have heard the owner, winemaker or staff talk about the importance of terroir. Not to undermine their work or the sincerity of these statements, but I have to say, Pares Balta really does relish the earth and the natural course of things in an extreme way (and the result is extremely tasty!).

To explain better, Marc and I jumped in his SUV and began our “15 minute” journey up into the mountains where the Pares Balta vineyards are located, as I mentioned, now in a National Park. Yes, it is that serious. And yes, the ride was even more colorful than one of those Super Bowl SUV ads where you see trucks bouncing along easily over fallen logs, up cliffs and over boulders. If I could have taken a picture of it, I would have – but we were literally bouncing too much for me to capture the moment and video would have made any viewer nauseous.

Our first “stop” up the vigorous terrain was to the Pares Balta beehives. A costly undertaking, no doubt, PB has a beekeeper on staff to further support cross-pollination of the vines of course, but not just so they flourish; rather, so that the entire community flourishes, imparting natural, enhanced flavors in the wine. For example, the rosemary bushes growing alongside the trail flower. This flavor profile is gently communicated to the vines as the bees carry out their natural work. Brilliant. Nature helping nature help us.

Marc employed a terrific approach to best share both the Pares Balta way and what makes Penendes unique. We didn’t just bound up the mountain and look out the window. Instead, we stopped at various, specific vineyard sites to taste certain wines alongside the river in one case, and at the top of the mountain, in another. At each stop you could literally feel the change in climate, the quality of “freshness” in the air, the amount of (or lack of) wind, etc.. What makes Penendes so special was poignant and palpable: the varied terrain (a vivid mix of plots of clay literally across the path from plots of chalk) and microclimates.

What was perhaps most compelling to me was the hands off/hands on approach PB employs. They fully embrace what nature delivers on its own, and yet they don’t hesitate to employ (or encourage nature along?) either. Case in point, they use pheromones at the edge of the vineyards site as a natural ‘turn off’ to butterflies (the wind carries the "off-putting" scent down the rows), encouraging them to go ‘play’ in someone else’s vineyards. It’s one way to avoid pesticides and let the fruit mature unhindered by pests.

Tasting through many of Pares Balta’s wines was its own experience. Their range is from traditional Cavas, to rare single varietal bottlings that capture both the essence of the grape and also, critically and as expected, of the vineyard site’s terroir and aspect. As a case in point, Marc enthusiastically offered me a tasting of one of their rarest wines, a dry Gewurtztraminer. It was possibly the most varietally expressive Gewurtz I have ever experienced. (Yes! This grape is incredibly rare to Spain and more often found in Europe’s Germany and Alsace; the spice in the wine literally poked at my taste buds! But no, their production is ever-so-small, and therefore will never reach our New England shores.)

In addition, Marc enthusiastically designed a taste-off between two pairs of wines. The first was of two Garnacha’s from two different vineyard sites. Their flavors were of like family, but certainly of distinct breeding: 2008 Hisenda Miret, a more rugged, gamey beast that tamed willingy as it opened; and the 2008 Indigena, a fruit forward, approachable Garnacha with the flare of a rosey-cheeked flamenco dancer.

The second taste-off was between two Tempranillos hailing from two different clones, one wine was made from the local Penendes grape Ull de Lebre, and the other from a Pares Balta project in a much farther region, Ribera del Duero. The Absis is a Tempranillo-based wine that delivered a surprising helping of stewed plumbs, golden raisin, orange rind, blackberry and brighter raspberry fruits, with intense herbs and purple flowers, while the Ribera wine showed more masculine muscle, wet soil, fine dried herbs and baker’s chocolate flavors.

Long story short, I could have stayed all day! But appointments in the equally world-reknowned Priorat region beckoned….



back to Alto Adige - with glee!

I've never traveled to Italy for the purpose of wine tasting and so have yet to experience the Alto Adige region personally. Perhaps just through tasting wines from this region I believe it to be one of the most romantic places on earth. The area is uniquely situated between the North and the South, benefiting from the cool air of the Alps and the warm Mediterranean sun. Micro-climates and unique soil types abound throughout. It is a situation that is set up for greatness. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining a few colleagues out to dinner at Upstairs on the Square. My direct colleague and I remember enjoying our respective meals, but really we found ourselves fixated on our wine experience thereafter. And so we did everything we are lucky to be empowered to do: we bought the wine we enjoyed so much and put it on our shelves.

Naturally, as diligent professionals, we hem and haw a bit before we bring in just about any wine. There are only a couple of  'slam dunks' that cross our path every month. And, in the case of our dinner wine,  we're talking about a selection that retails for $50.  This price point is an entirely different playing field. We have to be WOWed. And wowed we were! The Lageder "Krafuss" Pinot Noir is an exceptional wine, and one that I'm happy to fork over the bigger bucks for with some regularity - well, given the right company or occasion as wines of this caliber should be shared.

Last night I had a really good excuse to open Krafuss once again: my best friend's birthday. He had duck with a prune Port gastrique and I had scallops with black quinoa, prosciutto and a citrus salad.  Both worked quite well with the wine, in part because our respective meals complemented different notes in this delightfully complex wine.

Smooth and supple, it delivers a perfumed nose of roses, slightly smoked meats, and a mixture of sweet citrus, ripe cherry, cranberry and mascerated strawberry fruits - and a hint of dried ones as well. The palate translates directly, with a slight accent of orange rind and an underpinning of turned earth coming through as well. It was interesting to see how my meal with the savory prosciutto (smoked meats), citrus salad (orange rind) and black quinoa (turned earth) directed my attention to these notes particularly well in the wine while my friend experienced the dried fruits, including dates, apricots and prunes, in a more pronounced way (prune Port gastrique).

Once again Lageder's Krafuss delivered a true wine experience. It is a wine you keep coming back to, putting your nose in it, tasting it thoroughly as it continues to open and re-deliver happiness. It is one of those rare wines I have no problem pacing myself on, because the experience of it overtime, with food and without, continues to enrapture; I don't want to sacrifice one moment of it!

A few additional fun facts: Lageder has been up to such good for 175+ years. They are wholly committed to letting nature do the hard work, using modern techniques only if  they will further impress the flavor of the terroir and grapes in each of their offerings. And whatever your beliefs, this outstanding vin is also organic and biodynamic. It is part of the Tenutae Lageder line, which gathers fruit solely from their own estate.



Biodynamic wines

Biodynamic agriculture care of: a summer respite of sorts, this Monday we find ourselves concluding the Pour Favor series on eco-friendly wines with a discussion on Biodynamics. It’s the topic that “mindbottles” people the most. But I happen to find it the most fascinating – and so have saved the best for last! Head on over to Wicked Local today for some insight on the goodness...

Do you pay much attention to Biodynamic wines? What's your impression?



The skinny on ecofriendly wines. Part two: organics

The Organic Wine Connection: market for organic produce has really picked up steam in the last few years. Consumers looking for organic wines, however, are often confused by what the labels really mean - and the deal with sulfites, for that matter. Yeah, it's true, there are different laws and standards depending which country is producing the wine. But at the end of the day you can break things down pretty simply.  Head over to Wicked Local today to get the here's what and how of it all!

Do you seek out organic wines? What is your impression of them on the whole?



food & wine, a river, a park, some bands and a good cause

Romance is half the fun in the world of wine. Every movie is chalk full of great imagery, enticing viewers to hit the riviera and sip a cool glass of rose, picnic on a hilltop overlooking the vineyard below, or dance around barefoot in a great big vat of grapes. Music and terroir are always part of the equation, too. If you thought you couldn't live a romantic food/wine life in the Boston suburbs of Medford/Somerville, here's your chance to test the theory! This Saturday from noon to seven the Mystic River Music Festival will bring together all the necessary ingredients for a fabulous afternoon - and all the proceeds from your snacking and imbibing will go towards a great cause, the Mystic River Watershed Foundation.

I spoke with Brian Lamb, full-time owner of Our Glass Wine Co. on Route 1 and part-time mastermind behind this great event. It seems that the Condon Shell (a Medford mini Hatch Shell venue, if you will) was the inspiration behind the event. A long-time lover of the site, Lamb approached Mayor McGlynn with the idea to use the Condon Shell for an afternoon of entertainment. McGlynn was more than happy to get on board. The Shell had been recently re-acquired by the city of Medford and McGlynn had hoped to bring music and the arts back to Medford. This was a perfect opportunity.

The event will feature music from local bands, grilled fare provided by Whole Foods, crafts by local artists, and other local vendors committed to all things Green. Perhaps most noteably (from my perspective), the wines on offer will all be organic selections.... and there are some TRULY phenomenal ones in the mix.

Here's a quick preview of just three of the many wines available on Saturday:

2007 Jelu Torrontes ~ Everyone knows Argentine Malbec. Well... Torrontes will have the same U.S. following as the leading white wine varietal coming from that part of the world soon enough! Not bitter at all (as some Torrontes can be) this wine is the PERFECT summer sipper. It offers gorgeous ripe fruits, healthy acidity and a nice medium body allowing it greater food pairing versatility. A welcome treat. The Cafe Europa team is responsible for bringing this little number to the event's wine roster.

2007 Mas de Gourgonnier Rose ~ If you've tasted the standard red Mas de Gourgonnier (in the crazy, 'fat' bottle with the long neck) you know you're in for a treat with this rose. This vineyard has been making organic wines before organic was "in". And this rose is one of the best out there. It offers fabulous summer strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavors, but is refreshingly crisp and dry (as all great rose should be). A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault and Cab, it can hold up to serious BBQ magic, too. Ideal Wine Imports are responsible for bringing this to a store near you and will be donating this selection to the event.

2005 Vinos Pinol Sacra Natura ~ This is a red wine blend from the Terra Alta region of Spain (near Priorat, south of Barcelona) where the soil lacks optimal nutrients; this causes the vines to 'work harder' and results in fewer bunches but more concentrated fruit. The Sacra Natura in particular hails from a vineyard boasting 95 year old vines (read: even more concentrated fruit). A robust blend of Cariñena, Merlot, Cab Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo, this wine does not hold back. Ole Imports & Ruby Wines will be donating this bad boy.

Rain or shine, the Condon Shell should be your local event stop this weekend!

So, what are you waiting for? Do you plan to be 'romanced' in Medford?