International Wine Regions

Paul Mas Chateau

(c) Courtesy of PaulMas.com

Earlier this year I decided to get a certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) to add to my credentials. I had mixed feelings about it because I believe wine knowledge is best gained by practical experience: I also knew that I had gaps in my knowledge that could be best addressed (initially) with a course or two.  My major gap was French wines.

I made the decision years ago to specialize in New World wines (what I call re-emerging markets*).  The reasons for my decision: 1) Napa, Sonoma and surrounding areas are my backyard; 2) I’m attracted to the Southern Hemisphere countries; 3) French wine knowledge is unfortunately yet irrefutably an affectation associated with wine snobs; and 4) I find mavericks more interesting than traditionalists.

In three months of classes, I got a crash course in French wine regions that required memorization to pass the test, their history of winemaking, a few cool anecdotes about monks and best of all, that there is an inkling of modernism in the French wine market and I must go there to fully understand it.  (I’ve been to Paris but that’s another story.)

Right after I graduated, Michelle McCue, a Burbank, CA publicist sent me three bottles of Paul Mas’ French wines to try.  Paul Mas, a recipient of many international accolades, could be the poster child for my point of view–take old vines, history, winemaking integrity, and deliver balanced, approachable wines that can be enjoyed now.  Go one step further (which he does) and print the grapes on the back label so wine lovers do not have to know every Château and region in France to know what’s in the bottle.  My review of his wines.

 

*My definition of re-emerging wine markets is regions that have hundreds of years of wine making history but are just now getting positive attention from the mainstream global wine market.

**The picture is Château de Conas in Pézanas where the Mas family still lives. It was originally built over 1,000 years ago.

 

 

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 Clos de Savignac

 

“It’s fine to say, I like this wine or I don’t, just be able to tell me why.”  New York Times Wine Critic, Eric Asimov

Wine professionals are taught the language of wine evaluation and a systematic approach to tasting. When I judge a wine (professionally or at my own table), I’ve found that I have two favorite questions, “is this wine balanced?” and “do I know I want another sip?”

Three French wines were recently sent to me to sample and they each passed my tests with flying colors. When I sniffed, swirled and sipped they continued to impress me with lovely smells, attractive flavors, and long finishes.  To me, that’s all that is required of a wine.

The bottles were from Jean-Claude Mas, a winemaker from Southern France whose family tended vines and made wine in the Languedoc region even before the French Revolution. (European wine history is pretty cool.)  The winery is Domaines Paul Mas.

Domaines Paul Mas is growing quickly under Jean-Claude’s leadership and at the time of this writing, I see ten different brands on the website.  The wines I tasted were all single vineyards; the links to the winemaker’s notes are below:

Domaines Paul Mas, Chateau Paul Mas – Clos de Savignac, Gres de Montpellier 2011  (A blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache.)

Domaines Paul Mas, Chateau Paul Mas - Malbec, Gardemiel Vineyard 2010

Domaines Paul Mas, Paul Mas Estates – Pinot Noir, St. Hilaire Vineyard

The literature sent to me included this quote, When consumers sip his wines, Jean-Claude’s goal is to create a moment of pure pleasure.  When I read that after I tasted these wines, I thought, wow, he nailed it.  In addition to insisting that his wine taste good, he is a proponent of premium quality from grape to bottle, environmental stewardship, modern equipment and incorporating New World innovation with century-old expertise. (Thank you Jean-Claude for listing the grapes on the back label!)

The distributor is Palm Bay and while the entire Domaines Paul Mas portfolio isn’t available in the states yet, you can give this article to your favorite wine store and tell them to order it.  I’m going to be sending this right over where I shop in Sonoma, Valley Wine Shack.

 

 

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Chile Cabernet Sauvignon

Many of us have a hobby.  I have friends who love deep sea fishing, searching for plants in the woods or doing puzzles. A hobby brings out childlike curiosity and pure enjoyment in a person.  It releases us from the mundane chores of life and noise of the day.

This wine’s unique label is like a map to understanding my wine hobby.  The brand name, Terroir Hunter could be a movie title.  The place is Alto Maipo, a higher elevation (Alto) wine growing region in Chile.  I see a local viticulturist in old boots, with a walking stick in his hand, exploring acres of dirt and rocks in the Andes.   He looks up at the side of a mountain and sees the outline of natural terraces caused by water draining through rocks and layers of sediment.  Just like the label, his footprints stop and he marks the spot in his mind, “this is the place I’ll plant Cabernet Sauvignon.” He can imagine a mature vineyard and smell the ripening grapes.   Years later, this bottle of wine is shipped across a continent to California, and his dream is shared with me.

Wine Enthusiast Magazine has a wonderful article about Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon. Reading about a region, or better yet, visiting, is part of a wine hobbyist’s activities.

Winemaker’s Notes: Undurrage TH Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is from Pirque, an area in Maipo Alto with an exalted reputation for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is made from a small lot that yields very little fruit. Grapes are carefully sorted to find only the best berries.  The wine underwent cold maceration under anaerobic conditions for five days.  Fermentation took place at 28° – 29°C for 14 days, with three to four daily pump-overs.  The wine was left on its lees and skins for an additional 12 days to further its structure.  It was then racked into French barrels, 25% new where the wine was aged for 14 months.

The 2011 vintage in Maipo, especially in Pirque is considered a cool vintage. The same was true in 2010, which was one of the best vintages in recent times. The sugar, tannin and acidity levels were in balance by the third week of April, only one week earlier than in 2010. 

 

 

 

 

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If you have ever been wine tasting, you have experienced tasting five wines in one sitting.  Now imagine this at every lunch and every dinner for eight days.  The trick of course is to not drink full glasses.  Eat small amounts and sip a bit of wine with each bite.  Wine writers don’t normally use dump buckets during meals but I have been in situations where I have left the table and dumped my glass if we have several wines to get through and I don’t like a wine enough to finish it.  I only have so much room for wine, food or alcohol and it’s better to admit it than not enjoy myself.

As would be expected, in Spain, Cava producer, Segura Viudas served sparkling wines with meals.  I’ve always enjoyed sparkling wines but I rarely served them with meals.  I was serving sparkling wine only when it was the main event.  I would pair appetizers with it, but the food was chosen to complement the wine. With our hosts, I had the opportunity to taste sparkling rosé and white wines with various courses and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. The wines are light, refreshing and lower in alcohol.  I learned that the right (dry not sweet) Cava pairs quite well with various foods. There’s a special bubbly stopper that you can buy to keep an open bottle fresh.

I am still a habitual still wine person preferring lower alcohol white wines and well-balanced reds (if a red has higher alcohol, as long as I can’t taste it, I don’t mind). During my tripSegura Viudas Creu de Lavit was served at most meals.  It’s a still white wine made from a Spanish grape called Xarel-lo.  It’s imported to the states and part of their excellent Heredad Collection.

On a side note, while I expected to be happy when a still red wine was served, I found that it made me much sleepier than the other wines.  My trip to Spain has fundamentally changed my perspective on pairing wine and food, what a surprise!

 

 

 

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304 Tapas

I just made up the number 304, but I think it could be the number of “tapas” I ate in 8 days in Spain.  The very first night, our host, Toni, who is a marketing and p.r. guy for Freixenet, explained to our group that a few pre-selected tapas would be served and then if we wanted we could have a main course.  We had to decide before we saw the tapas and thank goodness I had declined the main course.  Each of us was served three tapas the size of the pictures above.  Five courses (3 tapas, main and dessert) was the smallest meal we had the entire trip.

The pictures above are not from that meal, I picked each one for different reasons.

Spanish Style Prawns over rice.  I’m not even sure if calling these “prawns” is correct.  I looked on this website to find the name but still not sure.  This type of dish was on many menus…very common and delish.

Fresh Pea Soup.  This is one course of a 9 course meal and while all of the courses were delectable, I was quite taken with the pure freshness of the peas. It reminded me of what chefs in California are all trying to achieve–farm to table freshness.

Arugula and Tomatoes over Linguini.  This was my “main dish” in a three course meal I enjoyed following a Spanish guitar concert at Church of Santa Ana in Barcelona. I booked the concert and dinner for the Saturday night I was on my own in Barcelona. I chose this picture to share how easy it is to enjoy fabulous flavors in a healthy meal. It was dressed with Balsamic vinegar and oil. (Spanish olive oil is my favorite, I suggest looking for olive oil from the Siurana region.)

Blue Cheese Stuffed Pancake. This was a simple dish that was more about flavor than presentation. I took a picture because I appreciated that the chef didn’t feel compelled to serve only “pretty” dishes. I loved the flavor and would like to learn how to make it.

Vanilla Ice Cream on Berries.  We were served ice cream on fruit at several meals. I like a small, fresh and refreshing dessert.  Funny thing, often this was the first dessert course followed but yet another one!

Our pairings included lots of young Cavas and white wine which I will write about in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

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When I return from a wine trip, I arrive with hundreds of pictures, fabulous memories to digest and various ideas about how to share the experience with others.  Whether for business or pleasure, travel is part of my pleasurable life. My life at home is enhanced by the opportunity to plan a trip, fly away and to live among another culture for a few weeks. Working in the wine and food world gives me the opportunity to discover and learn about those subjects around the world.

On my own, I have other interests that I indulge.  It has become my habit to read literary fiction about the place I am visiting.  This time, a few weeks before my trip, I picked up a book called, Driving Over Lemons, An Optimist in Spain by Chris Stewart (a former drummer for the band Genesis).  It’s about an English guy (Stewart) and his wife who buy a derelict farm in the mountains of Southern Spain. His book did exactly what I like, it gave me a good sense of a place.  I didn’t go to that part of Spain of course, but it doesn’t matter, the idea of reading literature before I travel is to get a glimpse of a culture in an honest and entertaining way.  The premise of cultural opposites (English and Andalusian) learning about each other is perfect. I just learned that Chris has turned this book into a trilogy, so I’m excited to immerse myself in his world again.

 I would love to write a very long post detailing the week I spent with my hosts from Segura Viudas and the two days I added in Barcelona, but like most bloggers, I have a job (as an independent Communications Specialist for wineries) and a family, so as soon as I land, my responsibilities compete with my writing time. My webmaster, Erin, and I are working on GirlwithaGlass 3.0, so one day soon I’ll have some cool app installed that will show you a slideshow with my notes. But for now, in the interest of time, I’ve chosen some pictures that instantly remind me of my experience of Spain which I will post with a few sentences each.  It’s the only way to get the job done and perhaps I’ll learn how to write less, too.  I hope you enjoy! Please comment or write to me if you are so inspired.

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I had no idea that Northern Spain was so fabulous until Segura Viudas, a wine company owned by Freixenet, Inc. invited me to visit as their guest.  The first thing I learned is I landed in Catalonia; (also spelled Catalunya) an autonomous community within Spain.  Catalonia has it’s own language, customs and culture.  According to our hosts, Catalans speak Catalan and Spanish and many also speak English and French.  Catalonia’s history is fascinating, dating back to pre-Roman times.  As is my custom, I added a few personal days to the trip so I could see some sites.  I was especially interested in Barcelona’s  History Museum because in the basement there are Roman remains of the city of Barcino (Barcelona today) including a wine making area. (I’ll be publishing a post about that soon.)

Segura Viudas makes some of the best sparkling wines in the world. They use the traditional Méthode Champenoise, which means they make it the same way they do in Champagne, France. In Spain, sparkling wine is called Cava, which is a controlled protection term referring to sparkling wine made in the traditional method from a specific region in Spain.  The winery building, located in the major grape growing region, Penedès, dates back to the 11th century. It’s last life prior to becoming a winery was that of a masia, a traditional Catalan country house.  I enjoyed the feeling of being in an ancient home (albeit the size of a palace).  Don Manual Segura Vallejo started making wine there in the 1950′s but did not market his wines until 1969.  One of his three sons, Manuel Segura Viudas was responsible for managing the winery.  Manuel’s high standards and interest in hiring top experts in grape growing, winemaking and technology has paid off for Segura Viudas which has been well-known for decades for impressive attention to detail and innovation.  

I was lucky to meet the head winemaker, Gabriel Suberviola Ripa who has held the position since 1998.  I’ve met many winemakers and the best ones, like Gabriel, instantly share an unbridled enthusiasm for talking about grapes, harvest, vintages and enjoyment of the final product.  Our small group had two days of classes ending in a blending exercise where we tried to emulate or best Gabriel’s blend.  Gabriel was the judge and I was very happy to receive third place, behind two well-seasoned wine buyers.  Gabriel’s philosophy is in alignment with my own: 1) “…wines should be less concentrated and more refined, subtle and drinkable. (2)…aromatic wines are more highly favorable…but don’t let aromatics become excessively sharp. (3) …the wine world needs to use understandable language…people shouldn’t need a degree in oenology to understand what we are talking about!”

On that note, go enjoy some Segura Viudas wine.  They are lovely, well-priced and pair well with food.  (Look for posts soon about our multi-course paired meals!)

 

 

 

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Segura Viudas Reserva

My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day. I like it better than New Year’s Eve or Christmas. It’s better than New Year’s Eve because I prefer intimacy to crowds and it’s better than Christmas because it doesn’t require so much planning. For me, celebrating Valentine’s Day focuses on enjoying a great meal and great wine. My only problem is choosing from the many wonderful options.  

My first option includes this beautiful bottle of Spanish Cava. It’s made by the famous and popular Freixenet (“fresh-eh-net”) Group. I’ve always been a fan of Spanish sparkling wine which is called Cava; it was part of my Valentine meal in 2010 and a musing in 2008.

Gloria Ferrer, located 20 minutes from my house, is part of this company’s portfolio of wineries too. It’s fascinating to take their tour in Sonoma County and learn that it is a Spanish-owned company making bubbly in a traditional way while producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay still wines that are all about expressing the terroir of their location–Carneros. Highly recommended for a visit.

I am a big fan of Cava and encourage you to try it. If you can’t find it locally, try wine.com. The tasting notes there are right on as well.

PS: I will be a guest of Segura Viudas in Spain in March and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

 

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Ventisquero Wine from Chile

 

Vina Ventisquero, located in the gorgeous Maipo Valley  is 25 miles from the Chilean coast and 100 miles from Santiago. According to our guide, the climate changes every 40 miles (I was there in early 2011).  It reminds me of where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it can be 50°F in northern San Francisco and 85°F at my home 22 miles north.  This winery has several brands and grows grapes  in Maipo Valley, Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Peralillo, Casablanca Valley, Lolol, Rapel Valley, and Leyda Valley.

Although their output is huge by American standards, their young staff is dedicated to making vintage specific, terroir-driven wines.  Their brand Grey caught my fancy.  Grey is the Andean word for glacier meaning purity, beauty, harmony, character and impressiveness. That same philosophy runs through the entire organization.  They hire innovative, environmentally-sensitive, caring, gutsy youngish folks (the founder was only 35 when he started the winery) and on their website, they use the words, “positive energy” to describe their philosophy.  I’d say that they “walk the talk” as I met a lot of  talented, happy, friendly people there.

Gray is considered a premium Chilean brand.  They are striving to create benchmark wines, ones that represent the terroir and the grape in Chile.  I find them to be highly-competitive fine wines and I’m planning on buying different vintages to see how they age.  The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking especially fine. At only $25 USD ($270 a case) it’s a no-brainer for folks interested in collecting. It’s a wine that will hold up against $300 bottles of vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. My problem will be keeping it out of my sight so I don’t drink it.

 

 

 

 

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NOVAS

I’ve been writing this blog for several years now and I’ve have a great time just cruising around sharing my discoveries. travels and food & wine pairings with you. The only way I can keep track of wines I like is to write about them here. I used to write them in a database but I’ve gone public.  I hope you find my notes helpful and interesting.

This is Novas, a Chardonnay from Emiliana, a brand I’ve written about before.  I met them at an industry tasting years ago when one of their representatives peaked my curiosity about their mission to care for the environment and people. At that time I had not studied Chilean wine or visited Chile.  I found the idea of a large organic, sustainable company promoting it’s wines with great pride and outspokenness, refreshing.  With this company, there is a notable absence of defensiveness that I get from some organic brands.  As well, Emiliana’s brand doesn’t come across as pompous because it’s organic; instead their brand exudes confidence like it’s the most “natural thing in the world” to approach wine and business that way.  And most important, their wine tastes good and is well-made.

The 2010 Limited Selection Novas Chardonnay is clean and reminds me of a cool sea breeze.  I am very picky about Chardonnay and I’ve found that some very nice ones are being grown and made in Chile. When I visited Chile’s coastal region in 2010, I learned about the Humboldt current and how vintners were being lured to this area to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Since then I have sought out wines from these areas. Emiliana delivers consistently nice wines that I am proud to serve to my friends.  I’m glad that they are widely available and well-priced at around $15. Additionally, they have a terrific website for folks who want to learn more about a biodynamic and organic winery; it even includes an interactive vineyard.

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