I really love Catavino – it’s such an informative and innovative source of information on Spanish & Portuguese wines. The food of the region is key, but it’s just as vital to know about the great wines available too. This is the place to find out!
Jose Pizzaro http://www.josepizarro.com

Summer Break – So what did we drink when not in Iberia?

Painted BarrelsSummer is here, and Spain for all intensive purposes, is closed. Walk down any of the myriad of residential streets of Barcelona, or Madrid, and you might think that the swine flu had a more successful run. Your voice echoes off the heavy metal gates, with weathered handwritten signs saying, “closed until the 28th”, that is, unless you live in a seaside hamlet.

If this is the case, you will most likely be under the deluge of camera happy foreigners, all imbued with aromas of suntan lotion. August is the time of year when phone calls go to voicemail, emails have a 1 month delay and your mailbox is empty no matter what may be sitting down at the main office in your local town. During our first three years, we fought against this, trying desperately to maintain a work routine. Nowadays, my daily siesta quota rises from 1 to 2, and the drinks get poured a few hours earlier, thus leading to a hot grill even sooner than expected. Life is grand.

This month, we’ll be taking a short break up the coast with some family. Gabriella has a small contingent in from Chicago, and the prescription is poolside finos, siestas on the beachside, and maybe, a winery visit or two – stealth, so that we can enjoy the samples.

But we don’t want to leave you hanging, with nothing to chew on while we’re gone. No instead, we’d like to offer up some of wine highlights from last months trip to the USA. Various treats that made us smile, or provided some enjoyment and mental stimulation. Let’s do a top ten of sorts. 10 wines we fell in love with, without ranking, and often without a note.

  • The tastings at the WBC were often crowded and difficult to find a quiet spot to reflect on a wine in peace. That said, a major highlight was to taste La Cigare Volant 2005 with none other than Randal Grahm himself. I have loved this wine from the very moment I fell in love with wine back in the late 90′s. Elegant, never over the top, and rarely scoring very high in the “points world”, this is a wine made with passion. Plus, having the winemaker himself pour it only made the moment even more enjoyable. Wine is a conversation, and this neither obvious nor complex wine created a whirlwind of discussion.
  • Alan Baker’s podcast, CellarRat, was started back in the dark ages of wine blogging, and was an inspiration for me to get started. As random acts happen, I stumbled into Alan at a poolside “off the main route” tasting, where his very own Cellar Rat Syrah 2005 was being poured. Made in conjuction with his former employer, Crushpad, the Cellar Rat Syrah 2005 is not only Alan’s first experimental wine, but is now a great example of future vintages to come.
  • Of course, we cannot forget our trip to the home of the famous wine blogger, El Jefe! Twisted Oak Winery is not only famous for their quirky winery blog, but also for their penchant for latex farmyard fowl which has led to the worldwide migration of flightless birds. On the second night of our USA journey, we drank The Spaniard 2005 alongside the Twisted crew. The wine is robust and expressive, a perfect addition to an Iberian portfolio, making it the ideal Cali-Iberian wine. Gabriella was also the winner of a bottle of The Spaniard 2007, which we plan to guard for a few years to come.
  • Random wines of the trip! Palmaz winery was not on our list of places to visit, but we typically find that the best treasures are rarely planned. A chance encounter with the San Diego based video blogger, Prince of Wine, led us to a short tour and tasting with the owner. Gabriella and I tasted: an exciting Napa Riesling, a few delicate and lightly oaked Chardonnays, and finally, two Bordeaux blends with astounding elegance. After a slew of “monster” wines we tasted during the week, the Palmaz were refreshing, vibrant and clean – breathing much needed life onto our palate. The 05 Gaston was full of dusty red fruit with light touches of wood, which curved through the palate leaving a sexy and refined lingering, finish. Sadly, I believe they only make 5 or six bottles ;) The 2007 Reisling is an elegant off dry wine that took us so completely by surprise, we skipped the spitton.
  • The best part of this trip was meeting the faces behind the blogs and even the comments. Jack (renowned in the wine blog world by his first name) happens to be one of the first blog readers, and most definitely one of the first commenters on any new and upcoming blog of promise. He is not without opinion, and has acted as editor in chief to most of the longer lived wine blogs at one point or another. His love for wine, natural wine in particular, is legendary, and we were humbled and honored to have dined at his house where we drank some amazing and unique wines hidden in the recesses of his impressive cellar. We were introduced to “orange wines” (the color, not the fruit) and tasted at least two California wines with more than 14 years of age. The Porter Creek Chardonnay 1995 showed an amazing nose where the wood beautifully blended with the lightly oxidized citrus notes, embedding our noses in the glasses. With good complexity, and great acidity, this was exciting wine to have experienced. The Jordan 1978 Cabernet was perfumy with bright acidity, mature tannins and touches of soy. With time, the wine expressed notes of coffee and mocha, with an underlying delicate fruit character. Not surprisingly, we savored every last drop! Thanks Jack and Joanne for the fun time!
  • Moving East we were ecstatic to hang out with our long time friend Lenn Thompson, his wife, Nena, and adorable kid, Jax – a highlight in our blogging careers. Granted jet-lag after a long red eye led to slurred words as we drove home from LI vineyards, but the wines were nonetheless impressive! Our first stop was Shinn Estate Vineyards where we marched through a long line up of wines. This was our first opportunity to taste LI wines, and would love to find anyway possible to drink them on a more regular basis. Light and fragrant, they were generally marked by a strong acidity that came off as elegant and delicate rather than an elbow in the gut. At Shinn we both fell in love with the ’06 Wild Boar Doe and the Cabernet Franc of the same vintage. Additionally, their sparkler and ’08 Coalesence were both spot on refreshing wines, and we would have bought a case of if it weren’t for our lack of luggage space. This winery is almost 100% biodynamic, and with a property that is both stunningly beautiful and has an obvious passion for what they do, I have to say, we’ll be stopping back the next time we’re in town.
  • A fact: One wine in Long Island is made from Chenin Blanc. Only one. Having tasted it, we’re perplexed why more producers aren’t planting it? Paumanok 2008 Chenin blanc is truly a great wine. Sexy. Clean. Delicate. It maybe have been the jet lag, but I’m lost as to why more winery’s aren’t following suit. Granted, it’s a bit overpriced at 23$, when it’s worth around 17$, but I doubt it would stop me from enjoying a bottle.
  • Our last stop was hands down the most surreal. Alice Feiring is perhaps one of the most controversial wine writers today. Seeing eye to eye with Gabriella, physically, if we had stayed any longer, I would have needed to get a back brace to support myself from the perpetual bending at the waste to hear their whispered conversations. Alice was kind enough to offer up her 5th floor apartment (sans elevator) to store our luggage on the last day of our NYC stay, which we graciously accepted. To say our day was fun is an understatement. We enjoyed the best pastrami ever at Katz deli, and bantered back and forth about natural wines. At the end of which as Alice was running off to a tasting of orange wines (the theme continued), she left us with a bottle of Avanti popolo – Le Temps des Cerises 11.5%, a wine that not only is competely natural with a touch of spritz from the lack of sulpher addition at time of bottling, but also happened to be one of the most exciting things we tasted in a long time. I have a theory that wine should be rated against the role it plays in the scheme of wine drinking. This wine is not meant for heavy meals or deep thoughts, but rather a wine that sits like a liquid backdrop to a lazy conversation. It’s light, delicate, and yet full of character, the underspoken supporting role. This wine is the ideal treat for your lazy afternoon. Thank you Alice for introducing us.
  • We had the chance to offer up 2 Portuguese wine tastings, while in NY and Sonoma. Now most of the wines were familiar to us, and with only a few exceptions, they were all great values and stunning examples of Portugal’s potential as an international wine player! And more importantly, people loved these wines, a validation that Portugal makes great wines!!! Combine this with the chance to give away two trips to the EWBC in October, sponsored by ViniPortugal and we were as proud as new parents to see people engage so passionately with these wines.

So there you have it, 9 great wine experiences! Wait, I was shooting for 10…Hmm, well tough, we’re on vacation. Why don’t you tell us. What has been your best wine experience this summer? Let us know. We won’t be posting much this week, and here’s your chance to be a contributor to Catavino. Either leave a story in our comments, or send us an email, and we’ll post our favorite stories of yours. Anything wine, and as you would expect bonus points to anyone who includes an Iberian wine tale. We hope to hear from all of you, and remember they don’t have to be long complicated or profound, just honest.

Cheers from a lounge chair, with a cooler of ice cold sherry near by!

Ryan and Gabriella Opaz

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  • Justin Roberts

    Oh I like the sound of poolside finos!

  • Bill

    Two comments:

    I remember how good the ’78 California Cabs were. It was my initial foray into the world of fine red wine and I cellared quite a few cases (alas, the ’74s were either sold through or too expensive by then).

    I would have loved to meet Alice Feiring. I thoroughly enjoyed her latest book and am impressed by her passion (not to mention her take no prisoners attitude with regards to terrior and natural wine producing techniques).

    Enjoy your downtime!!

  • http://www.forkandbottle.com Jack Everitt

    You’re welcome and what a great evening we had together!

    Btw, the orange wine we had was the 2004 La Stoppa Ageno. Too bad you missed the orange wine tasting dinner I went to in SF about 11 days later.

  • http://insiderioja.wordpress.com Tom Perry

    Sounds like you had fun! I’m glad you met Alice. She’s a great lady.

  • http://www.grapefan.blogspot.com Colin Smith

    You asked for highlights from the summer.

    For me it was my visit to Chateau Franc Mayne in St Emilion. The welcome was warm, the guide informative and the whole setup very impressive with a well equipped winery and stunning limestone cellars.

    And the wines we tasted were very good!

  • http://www.corxwinebags.com Keivn Cohen

    Thank you for your article. :)

    Per your last bullet point, I have really enjoyed the quality and uniqueness of the wines coming out of Portugal.

    I had the 2006 Quinta De Roriz Prazo. At less than $20, it is great juice. I have tried many others, but cannot remember them…

    Would love to hear your recommendations from Portugal.

    Cheers!
    -Kevin

  • http://www.uncorkedventures.com/wine_of_month_club.html Wine of Month Club

    As always thanks for the review and cultural info. I had forgotten that the entire country basically closed during August. My wife’s schedule at one point made it impossible to go to Europe in that period, but now it makes the most sense and going to an empty city takes away a lot of the fun.

    I can’t understand many of the decisions that the Long Island producers make…they generally don’t make sense!