Cava for All Seasons - Raventos i Blanc

Article by Josh Raynolds for Steven Tanzer's IWC

The Cavas I tasted for this year's coverage in the International Wine Cellar were the strongest group I have encountered, which is great news for wine lovers looking for high-quality bubbly at a gentle price this holiday season. But I wouldn't restrict my Cava consumption to a single season. The wide range of Cava styles now available in the US ensures that one could literally serve a different one with every dish in a multi-course meal. With rare exception, prices are comparable to what you'd pay for a middling white wine.

The rising price of Champagne has pushed many wine enthusiasts away in recent years, to the benefit of all other sparkling wine producing regions, and Spain is well positioned to take advantage of the situation. The history of sparkling winemaking here goes back to the mid-19th century, and production is on a massive scale, but most of the wine is of pedestrian quality, and that's what was mostly shipped to the US until fairly recently. As a result, Cava's reputation is a bit sketchy in this market. The fact that pricing has always been mostly low here is to the benefit of savvy buyers who know the best Cava producers and bottlings. Part of Cava's image problem, aside from the mediocrity of too many examples, can be blamed on the fact that most of it is made with indigenous grapes that are rarely grown elsewhere. The dominant varieties for Cava are Xarel-lo, Parellada and Macabeo, which are hardly household names even among wine geeks. There's an earthy, musky quality to most wines made from these varieties, and many wine lovers raised on a diet of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio will be perplexed by the slightly rustic character that they impart. Some Cava producers have made an attempt to appeal to a broader audience by planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and some even make the wines exclusively from those varieties, often with considerable success. But the best Cavas, or the ones with the most character, are those that are made from the native varieties frown in carefully chosen and tended sites, with an eye to quality rather than quantity. The recent explosion of Spanish restaurants in the US and their demand for the best Spanish wines have emboldened a number of importers to dip their toes in the pool of high-quality Cava, and from all reports the market's response has been positive. Indeed, I tasted a number of Cavas this year that bear comparison to very good Champagne, and with rare exception their prices are much, much lower than those commanded by their fancy French cousins. Most of the best Cavas are still being imported in small amounts, though, so some sleuthing will be in order for many of my favorite bottles. But your effort will be rewarded.

Raventos 2008 Reserva Brut Cava IWC 90pts
Raventos 2008 L'Hereu De Nit Cava IWC 91pts

Ata Rangi - Old Vine Pinot in Martinborough

[Article is from Wine Specator's June 2012 issue. Pinot Noir Trail is written by James Laube.]

Old vines, a bootleg clone and a passion for Martinborough give Ata Rangi Pinot Noir its character. Winemaker Helen Masters explains it this way. The 32-year-old vines, ancient by New Zealand standards, have a deeper root system that causes the grapes to ripen more slowly than those on younger vines. That, in turn, gives the wines finer tannins, more texture and greater length.

The Gumboot clone, smuggled to New Zealand from Burgundy in a rubber boot, is a lighter-flowing clone whose grapes take their time to ripen. "They tend not to respond to the fact it's autumn and the sugar accumulation is much slower," Says winemaker Helen Masters.

Ata Rangi was a small sheep paddock in 1980 when Clive Paton bought it. Grapes were unheard of in this tiny crossroad of a town (pop. 1,000) an hour north of Wellington.

Masters, 40, began her career at Ata Rangi at age 18, then worked at vineyards around the world before returning there 2003. "The texture and length of the [Pinots] from Martinborough have always been what has attracted me to the region." she says. "The wines have density without heaviness. That's what led me back to Martinborough."

Ata Rangi 2010 Pinot Noir rated 94pts (2009 currently in stock - rated 92pts WA).

Cocktail of the Week w/Tenneyson Absinthe

The Royale with Ease

Esquire Magazine features this cocktail and highlights the trend of using absinthe as a base spirit and how Tenneyson is the perfect absinthe to use.

"Absinthe is such a popular spirit right now, but most cocktails use absinthe almost as a garnish, as opposed to going whole-hog. It's very impressive to tell your friends, 'Oh, I have an ounce and a half of absinthe in this glass.' It's a conversation-starter, for sure. The great thing about Tenneyson is that it's a nice gateway absinthe. It has more of a softer, citrus-forward flavor. To complement the really sharp licorice/anise flavors, we turn to grapefruit juice. Together they create this crisp, refreshing quality that's great for a hot summer day." —Jessica Sanders, Drink.Well, Austin, Texas

1 1/2 oz Tenneyson Absinthe Royale
1 1/2 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz hibiscus simple syrup*
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz allspice dram
3 dashes Angostura bitters
mint leaves
grapefruit peel

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake. Strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with mint leaves and a grapefruit peel.

*Dissolve 4 cups sugar in 1 quart boiling water. Stir in 1 oz hibiscus flowers (available at specialty grocery stores), then simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and chill.



Drink Ribera

Ribera del Duero showcases the powerfully elegant side of Tempranillo, with structured, round tannins, rich earth tones and sensationally dense fruit. Now 270 wineries strong, the Ribera del Duero DO was created in 1982. Ribera's winemakers and producers are dedicated to quality and value.

Here is a quick assessment of a few Tempranillos by a jury of 12 of Vegas' best palates. (Article found in The Tasting Panel May 2012)

Easy on the Oak - Bodegas Bardo de Piedra 2010 Tempranillo (2009 In Stock)
Working in a prestigious singular district in the western part of Ribera del Duero, Barco de Piedra winemaker Alvaro Trigueros understands that the region already has plenty of tannins, so a minimal of oak aging is what he delivered in making this wine. A great value, this youthful soul comes from limestone and sandy clay soils and moderate temperatures.
"Pomegranates in the distance echo a bright, young red-fruit profile with fresh pink flowers, brooding cranberries and cherry up front." - Chloe Helfand

Modern Ribera - Pingus 2009 PSI (In Stock)
Danish winemaker Peter Sisseck has proved Ribera's potential, but he noticed that local farming practices were often poor. Restoration of soil and improvement of viticulture took both passion and devotion for this master as he set out to engage growers in the community, supplying technical advice and ultimately rewarding them with the ability to gain high prices for their fruit. Using virtually no new wood, Sisseck's new project, named for the Greek letter Y:Psi, sources fruit from multiple growers and utilizes large and small oak casks and cement tanks to create 'early' wines of subtly, delicacy and modest price.
"Brilliant complexity and balance, even with those dark and brooding notes on the nose. Coffee and lavender keep developing throughout the lively palate" - Dean Wachstetter

Garagiste Ribera - Vizcarra Ramos 2009 JC Vizcarra (2008 In Stock)
Juan Carlos Vizcarra is not only considered one of Ribera's top producers, but also a pioneer in the garagiste movement in Spain. Gentle practices, gravity-flow winemaking and careful vineyard work aim toward wines with a softer, rounder character. The fruit comes from high elevations and the restrained use of oak respects the elegance, and super ageability, that Vizcarra always seeks.
"Knock-your-socks-off nose: stunning fresh, juicy fruit. Becomes creamier on the palate with sour-tart cherries and cranberries, finishing with a coffee-pastry note." - Meridith May

Chicago SALTA Summit 2012


 "In Salta, every road is curving, and every few miles the landscape seems to change from one sort of geological formation and color to another…It's a place where vineyards are lined with hills and cacti, and wild goats and horses share the streets with pedestrians and old cars." - Laura Catena

At an elevation of 4,900 to 9,900 feet, compared to a 3,000 feet average in Mendoza, Salta has the highest elevation vineyards in the world. 25 wineries craft wine in this extreme dessert climate with alluvial soils, intense sun exposure and less than eight inches of rain annually. They represent 1% of the total Argentine wine production. Salta is truly one of the most unique wine growing regions on the planet.

On May 21st, from 2:30-5:00pm, we'll have a walk around tasting at the Cream Wine Lounge where you'll be able to discover 20+ wines from the highest vineyards in the world. Five of the top producers (Virgine Rolland, Rafael Domingo, Arnaldo Etchart, Francisco Morelli, Raul (JJ) Davalos) from the region will be in town to discuss with you the impact altitude has on their wines.

This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about this new Argentine region and the wines Salta has to offer.

Tasting is from 2:30-5:00pm
Monday, May 21, 2012
118 N. Peoria, 3rd Floor, Chicago, 60607


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