Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Navarra Uncorked: What is "Vino de Pago"?

The "Vino de Pago" designation is one that is no way given lightly. In fact it's the highest honor a winery can obtain in Spain. A designation that means so much more than similar designations you can find here in the states.

As you may already be familiar many wineries here in the U.S. will label some of their bottles as a "Single-Estate" wine. But it's not the equivalent of or should it be confused with "Vino de Pago" certification [not that it would be] as some wine books will give you the sense that they are the same or similar, which is NOT the case at all.

So what is it? Vino de Pago, is the highest geographic recognition in Spain and is superior to a DO. Which only designates singular wines that come from a specific area with distinct climatic and soil condition. Only a few of the top estates have been granted the Denominacion de Origen de Pago status and are allowed to put in on their labels.

This Spanish wine category not only demands, but requires the most strict requirements on wine quality to achieve Vinos de Pago. There are only 13 wineries in all of Spain with that special "status" and three of them are in Navarra. Check out the list here. Just to wet your appetites a bit, we sampled wines from all three with that designation and one of them is still a review I need to write about my experiences at Arinzano, but more on that later.

I interviewed Eduardo Ruiz Cortés the export area manager from Bodegas Chivite, who was the very gracious host and tour guide at Arinzano, where I asked him about Vino de Pago certification and what it mean from his perspective. His voice is a little on the soft-side so pump-up the volume.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Navarra Uncorked: A visit with Bodegas Ochoa

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark. For me I woke-up each day not feeling as a stranger in a strange town, but as a welcomed sojourner on the path to understanding, acceptance and exploration. Armed only with my rudimentary Spanish speaking skills I've learned as a life-long San Diegan, along with basic gesturing skills [that some call pointing]; I navigated the tightly knit, guest welcoming streets of Pamplona. All of which helped me on more than one occasion put away my fare share of Pintxos which are very similar to Tapas, only better.

Our [the Navarra Five] jumping off point each day started in the famed [Running of the Bulls] city of Pamplona. A wondrously beautiful city which effortlessly  blends both the past and the future in vivid colors and patterns, on the one hand giving you a firm sense of its history, while its citizenry generously embraces the modern world seemingly just outside its doorstep.

Our first day of the adventure one of the wineries we stopped by was family-run Bodegas Ochoa who were very prepared and excited to receive our visit. We were greeted by key members of this family run business; given a quick tour of the facilities and then we quickly dug into the tasting. We tasted through eight different wines; all with excellent price points and quality ranges.

It would seem that for many garden-variety vino-sapiens when it comes to Spanish wine; many think of strawberry scented and savory red-fruited Riojas. Ah-yes that can be quite true; but there is far more to the Spanish wine scene than Rioja. Thus you have the fam--trip sponsored in part by the Navarra DO for the purpose of reminding folks of the wonderful wines coming from the Navarra wine region in northern Spain. Speaking of very tasty juice; Bodegas Ochoa produces many traditionally aged wines with extended periods in oak and bottle aging prior to release, fine wines of full of rich complexities and nuances which are emblematic of savvy winemaking techniques.

But in today's review I want to focus in on what could be considered their value-line. They have three different wines in that line-up which I thought were just superb and I know those are two words that on the cusp; seem at odds. But stick with me, as you'll will be hard pressed to find wines at these prices points which over-deliver on quality, taste and substance.

The even better news is; that these wines are available now here in the U.S. and are all selling for under $10. These wines get my coveted, "Drink now and Drink often" recommendation. The three wines in this line-up [pictured above] are a 100% Grenacha Rosada,  the Red-Blend [60% Tempranillo and 40% Garnacha] which I have dubbed the "Navarra Nouveau" and their Blanco-Blend of 70% Viura and 23 % Chardonnay; it may also include Muscat 7%.

2010 Blanco Blend: A vivid yet lightly hay colored core, the nose was very engaging, a waft of orange blossom, peaches and drop of minerality. On the palate a round mouth-feel, nearing ripeness of white peaches, gentle acidity, very floral flavors folded into a light bodied wine that would make pinot-grigio fans very happy. A great food pairing wine that would meld effortlessly with many seafood and fish-type dishes or just a easy going wine to sip with friends before dinner. [$9.99]

2010 Rosé Garnacha: Wow a rosado for this price with so much substance, impressive. In the glass a shimmering slice of ripe watermelon. On the nose a waft of dried rose petals and baking spices. After the first slurp; a sumptuous bite of ripe summer strawberries bursting with flavor, mouth-watering acidity, great depth and nice structure. I gave this little stunner a clean, refreshing 90 points of yumminess. Great alternative to heavier reds to pair with barbecued cuisine or to just sip pool-side on a hot day and watch the clouds float by. [$9.99]

2010 Navarra Nouveau: While I have given it a new name; it's simply referred to on their web-page as Red Garnacha & Tempranillo. Either way; this wine is dressed to impress right out of chute, a real no-brainer. This is a great wine for new wine drinkers looking to turn it up a notch from their usual sweet wines; who may want to explore a walk on the red side [uber-approachable]. In the glass a brilliant violet colored core. An easy going wine with a boat-load of dried blackberry aromas escaping easily from the glass. On the palate this wine is plush, a bit of rich tobacco, very mellow tannins and balanced acidity plays nicely with the red and dark fruits that dance on your tongue, with just a touch of black and blue berry jam on the sumptuous finish. Great pairing partner with hamburger and fries. [$9.99]

These are great everyday wines that you should be on your own wine-shopping short list. The style of wine that really give the credence to the phrase;"The intersection of where great wine meets reasonable prices". This review folks is just the tip of the iceberg of amazing wine discoveries I encountered, while on this wine-soaked journey through the Navarra Wine Scene, so please stay tuned for more. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Navarra Uncorked: Navarra DO iPhone App

Do you want to get a handle on the wines of Navarra? Okay, great because there is an "app" for that. If you have been following my adventures here in the Navarra D.O., you undoubtedly know how excited I am to share my thoughts on what has been a wine-soaked journey of enlightenment. I've come to know many of the producers in the Navarra DO, who are making some really great juice which is currently available state-side, wines that will wow you as they have me, in more ways than one.

But before I get that, I wanted to bring to your attention a very cool app for IPhone that I discovered via my friend Jordi V. Ragout from the Navarra Wines D.O. [thanks Jordi]. It's a very helpful tool in discovering the wines of Navarra yourself. Let's say you went into a store and wanted a specific bottle from a specific producer; well not so easy as you attempt to recall the name of the bottle of or of the bodegas. But with this nifty Navarra-App downloaded to your Apple iPhone you can cruise right into your favorite wine store or even a local wine-bar and ask for that wine because each wine has an easily identifiable label associated with each type of wine from the different producers.
In addition to having the picture of the label each wine on the app has the full details about it. Whether you want to know the barrel regiment and which type of oak used or perhaps you're looking for the ABV, you have the information you need at your finger-tips. By the way, not to worry, with one click of the button; everything is automatically translated into English and probably the best news is that it's a free app as well. My time in Navarra has been great and unfortunately is drawing to a close for me and the rest of the Navarra Five tomorrow [sad-face]. But with everything that I've learned here and all the new friends I've made, I'm much richer for the experience and really can't wait to tell you so much more. Until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On the Road to Navarra: Rioja-Alta Vina Alberdi Crianza 2005

I flew in late afternoon yesterday to a small sliver of an airport in Bilbao, a fall rain had just wet the runway, how different the climate is here in northern Spain compared with that of Madrid. I was a bit weary from the long flight [all the way from San Diego] but was revived as I drove into a great looking city so full of the life's hustle-bustle infused with beautiful architecture, while still respecting their vivid history.

Last night, was the first I spent in the wonderful Bilbao, Spain. A  wondrous bee-hive of activity in the city center last night; I mean the place was really jumping. I thought to myself how anyone could be home, as the fresh rain soaked streets pulsed with the excitement of the weekend.

As I explored this fascinating city I came across a bust of one the American founding fathers and I thought; "huh, this is odd" until I read the inscription just underneath taken from a book entitled "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the USA", where Adams was expressing his admiration for the Basque people: "This extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government and customs unchanged, more than any other nation in Europe" after he spent five days in Bilbao exploring ideas for the creation of a new government in what was the colonies at the time. So yeah, all that 1776 stuff in America found some of its inspiration here in Bilbao, geez who knew [but I'm not surprised].

Meanwhile back at the wine review your hero finally made his way to a local bar and restaurant Markina [great wine list] where I dined on some oxtail stew and some potato "thingy" [a technical term] blended with fried eggs and saffron, quite tasty. My meal paired wonderfully with the suggested wine the Rioja-Alta Vina Alberdi 2005 Crianza from the fine folks at La Rioja Alta SA

In the glass a faded garnet leaning toward a near watery rim. The nose full of stewed plum and strawberry, mingled with fresh earth. On the palate baked pale blackberry, strawberry and plum all danced together nicely with the vineyard dust blended in and with a piece of unsweetened black licorice; leading to the sexy-dirty finish. A great food wine, weighing at a mere 12.5% abv, it sells for 9 euros for the half bottle. That was my first evening here in the Navarra region and I'm so excited to continue to explore, so until next time my friends sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Talking Grape: Wine Spectator Video Contest

The Talking Grape is a fantastically funny video entry by my friend Lisa Mattson; the writer and producer of the Jordan Journey, which is an awesome wine blog. She is also the Communications Director at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Sonoma. She has entered a video in the 2011 Wine Spectator Video Contest and of course it has been selected as one of the finalist [congrats].

According to the rule the official winners of third, second and grand prize will be based entirely on quantity of votes. So I hope you join with me and give Lisa a lot of Vote-Support. Click here to watch her video entry and cast your vote. I have included the YouTube version of her video, which is included below;  but the only place that voting will be allowed is at

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rioja Buzz: Campeo Viejo 2003 Grand Reserva

Time to uncork another wine of the week and in this week's spotlight is the 
Campo Viejo 2003 Grand Reserva [hello Rioja]. This is a wine that oddly enough reminds of my boot-camp days and you may be thinking, "huh, I don't get it" but hold on because here comes the explanation.

When I was in boot-camp which was just a few years ago [ha] I was assigned to Equine Echo; where I learned that raw [undisciplined] power was a recipe for disaster, but focused and carefully harnessed it's powerful tool for good things. In this case producing fantastic wine that over-delivers on quality with out the heavy hit on the wallet.

So it's with this quote; Meekness isn't weakness; it's just strength under control" ~ Otis Lockett I want to commend to you this fantastically wonderful juice for your consideration. It took me a few years to reach this conclusion; but this is what I love about Spanish wines and why you should as well.

This wine folks demonstrates power under control; it's has tremendous structure for further development and yet is stunningly approachable in the here and now. In a word the tannins are nothing but SILK, you could easily drink the whole bottle without even thinking about it. This is the kind of wine that makes me wish I could jump inside the empty bottle with a straw to get every last drop. This is the kind of wine that not only gets my highly coveted "drink now and drink" often recommendation, but also is the winner of the "highly coveted run, don't walk" buy a case recommendation. 

In the glass a brilliant garnet colored cored, slightly dulled with age like a broken in baseball glove. This wine sports nuanced meaty-strawberry and ripe plums flavors and aromas and a lively acidity that is really refreshing. For the foodies out there, looking for a perfect food wine that does not get in the way, but enhances the experience this wine delivers that and more. For the score keepers in the audience; I'm giving this wine a solid 94 points. This wine demonstrates the premise of my blog; you can pay more but you won't get more!

Probably one of the best things about this wine is that it sells for a near paupers prices of $21 [SRP] and cash strapped wanna-be winos every where rejoice [applause]. You'll most likely find it for a bit less in some retail locales, making this wine a QPR champ. Until next time folks sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Wines of Navarra: Navarra Uncorked

"It has been said; that "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes" ~ Marcel Proust

It is with that in mind that I and few other fellow bloggers will be on our way to the Kingdom of Navarra in just a couple of days now. As for me, it will be as Steve Miller sings so eloquently "ridin' along on this big ol' jet plane, but not thinking about my home, Friday night no tears in my eyes, ya know I got to be moving on, big ol' jet airline is gonna take me far away, over to see Navarra, it's gonna be a winetastic day" [ha, something like that].

It's with "new" eyes that I hope to see some of the things most folks easily pass-by and never give it another thought. It's new thoughts and insights that I hope to be bringing to the pages of this blog as I and few other fellow wine-writers set off to truly discover the Kingdom of Navarra; it past, it's present and the future as it not only relates to wine and the vine, but also its connection to our everyday lives. Wine is not just an something to drink; it something that really connects us all in ways I don't think any other beverage has or ever will.

Navarra's unusual past and diverse topography has surely made it an attraction for "off the beaten path" travelers whose love of food and zealous fasination with all things vino like myself. Most folks may not know that the old Kingdom of Navarra [autonomous region in northern Spain] has preserved its royal nobility and rich traditions of food and wine; which makes it an ideal place for the wandering wino to visit today.

Every year in Pamplona, a province within the borders Navarre has a event that many know as the famous "running of the bulls" or the Fiesta de San Fermin going on each and every year in July. And of course that event brings an abundance of traditional media focus on this area; it would be a shame not to find a way link these subjects together in the future. So once on the ground I hope I have the opportunity to learn of a way to link this highly publicized event in future posts with the Navarra Wine Scene [no-bull], while I am on my own wine-soaked journey in Spain. 

You may still find some stories about the "Kingdom of Pink" that was posted by the GMR. In it he speculates that perhaps Navarra wines had an identity crisis. That was possibly feuled by folks with different agendas for the region. That story line is now in the past. So what has changed? They have decided to work together to rebuild that lost identity with a renewed sense of vision for the future, while remembering and honoring their past. Navarra is far more than just "pink" wines and that is a perception I hope to change.

So enter the Navarra Five; a group of wine writers whose mission it will be to bring this region to life; to give insights and tell the story about their renewed focus on producing quality juice. To hopefully introduce to a world thirsty for superbly made wines of reasonable prices [I'm all in on that count]. The Wines of Navarra would like to invite you to "like" them on their FB fan page to you can follow the exploits of the Navarra five [click here] or get to know them better through their website. 

While I am there, depending on my ability to get online I will attempt to post a story each day about new discoveries; via pictures and or video or perhaps a few thoughts and impressions. Until next time sip long an prosper, cheers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pick me, Crush Me, Make me Wine: Terra Blanca Winery

Ah yes the summer has begun to let go of its hot-grip on the sun-baked vineyards on Red Mountain which overlook Benton City in Washington State.

The name comes from the red-hued native grasses which are abundant in the area. Hard to believe it's September, but even the most casual observer can see that the harvest approaches.

Grapes have turned color, the neat vineyard rows are laboring under the heavy weight of low hanging fruit. The birds and squirrels are growing restless, waiting for the right opportunity to get their share [despite the netting] and some say that only the deer really know the day and time for the optimum time to pick the grapes, something I've heard over the years [feel free to scoff].

It is not because the touch of genius has roused genius to production, but because the admiration of genius has made talent ambitious, that the harvest is still so abundant. ~ Margaret Fuller

If you have ever dropped by a vineyard during harvest; you can usually see the hustle and bustle in the vineyards, fork-lifts full of ripe fruit rushing about, picking-teams working the rows, these are some of the scenes you can take-in from the tasting-room parking lot.

But what you can't see from that limited perspective are the winemakers in the vineyards attempting to determine or in some case divining "phenolic ripeness" counterbalanced by "physiologically ripeness". Yep there's a certain amount of chemistry which needs to be determined before you can run willy-nilly picking grapes and just hoping the wines will turn out the way you want them to, they are making executive type decisions everyday and getting the grapes picked is just one piece of the pie.

The winemaker is many times like a field-general; working with the weather, getting the pick teams in place, deciding when to pick Syrah or Merlot or taking the gamble on a pick-hold. It's precisely these various pieces of the pie I want to shine a spotlight on in my own grape-to-glass experience. An experience I want to invite you my readers along with me on the wine-soaked journey [pick me, crush me, make me wine].

As many of us [vino-sapiens] know harvest and subsequent crush are the busiest times of the year at wineries around the world; on Red Mountain it's no different. But this year there will be one difference; a winery there called Terra Blanca has invited me to participate in their harvest, to see first hand what really goes on behind the scenes in the berry-to-bottle or grape to glass action that many folks rarely get to see, let alone the even more rare opportunity to actually participate in the action.

If you're not familiar with Terra Blanca Winery located on Red Mountain; they were one of the winners at last years Red Mountain vs. Paso Robles Smack-Down Challenge hosted by the San Diego Wine Mafia. If you have not seen the story pop on over to the La Jolla Mom page and get all the juicy details on the blind tasting.

This year's harvest at Terra Blanca will be reported on live in and in person by "yours-truly". Yes, I will be getting my hands dirty, possibly even breaking a sweat, while I get up close and personal with this years harvest. In fact I will be recording a video each and everyday I am on "location" [embedded with the crush crew] and uploading it to my channel on YouTube, so please stay tuned [start looking for this daily coverage to begin on October 2nd]. Watch this wine blogger get crushed, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, September 9, 2011

About San Diego: Truly Fine [German] Wine

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well" ~Virginia Woolf 
I can't think of a better quote to make my point about one of the wine worlds most misunderstood and under appreciated wines; German Riesling.

If you consider yourself a foodie; than you simply cannot dine well unless you have German Riesling in your cellar;at the ready to help punctuate the certain dining experiences.  

Once a hugely misunderstood white wine that had trouble shaking it's white-nun habit; today's savvy wine consumer has put German wines back in its rightful place as one of the great food pairing wonders of the world. These wines make excellent pairing partners with recipes that include pork, spicy dishes, schnitzel and even sweet ingredients such as fruit.

The wines of Germany are nearly unique in the world-of-wine; German wines are light in body, alcohol and have just a touch of sweetness [clean, light and graceful]. There is also a movement afoot to replace many of the off-dry styles with more dry-as-a-bone styles of Riesling and they're really beginning to make a splash on wine store shelves. Thus many folks are starting to recognize and embrace it as an ideal wine for social occasions, as brilliant choice as an aperitif as well as a fantastic food pairing partner. 

That said, where in San Diego do you go to get a great bottle of German Wine? Good question and one I answer for you today in my "About San Diego" segment. The place I go is kind of tucked away in a small business park, a place many San Diegans drive-by on their way to the Costco on Morena Blvd, if you blinked too fast you'd drive right by it. In my mind it's my go-to destination for getting my German Wine fix and after a visit I think it will become yours as well. 

It's a great little shop called Truly Fine Wine. Importers, Wholesale and also retailers of fantastic age-worthy German wines. They have a great selection of German wines, whether you want it sweet or you want it bone-dry they have something for everyone and all occasions. Stop by and talk with Damon, he's a great guy; extremely knowledgeable about German Wines and all wine in general. If you do stop by, please let them know that Mr.Cuvee sent you. Until next time folks sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wine of the Week: Cupcake Prosecco

Time to uncork another wine of the week; with the heat on in a big way this week in San Diego. I thought it would be a great time crack-open a bottle of bubbly.
A fun and festive thirst-slaker full of happy bubbles waiting to please even the fussiest winos among you.

This wonderfully lively bubbly is from my friends at Cupcake Vineyards who were kind enough to have a sample sent for the review process.

I know many of you are huge fans of this brand and I think Adam Richardson [traveling-winemaker] really hit this one out of the park; producing a very lively Prosecco making a nice splash our shores here all the way from Veneto, Italy.

A sparkling white wine, I like to think of as a uncomplicated version of Champagne. This wine really is the perfect match for dog-days of summer as the ultimate summer-quaffer. Just give it a nice chill via a pool-side ice-bucket; carefully remove the cage, grasp the cork, exert a bit of pressure, gently remove cork and you are on your way to bubbly-nirvana.

Once in the glass an explosion of bubble feels the bowl; the aromas escaping from the glass evoke memories of fresh-cut honey crisp apples, laying next to a ripe slice of summer peaches. I'd grab some groovy tunes to accompany that bubbly splashing about in your flute; a real head-bobbing number Minor Swing.

Once you throw back a few slurps; an immediate sense of subtle sweetness, crisp apples, fresh peach; built upon a blaze of vibrant mouth watering acidity; aiding in the palate punctuating finish. You'll find this bubbly will pair with a large variety appetizers; I paired the sample I opened with home-made bruschetta, it was delish [happy-dance]. 

The low alcohol weighing in at just 11% ABV will keep you coming back for more and the low, low price makes party planning a snap. I've seen it selling most places for just under $9.99 but you savvy shoppers out there can find if for a couple dollars less. I give this bubbly a score of 90 points and give it my drink now and drink often buy recommendation.

Just in-case you wanted to know how I prepare Bruschetta here's the recipe. In fact it is so easy an vino-sapien could do it, yes even you guys. Honestly this is one the easiest things ever to prepare; it just has the appearance of fancy. So with no further ado, here it's enjoy.

· 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil

· 6 vine-ripe tomatoes, hand cut
· 3 cloves minced garlic
· Fresh cut Italian parsley
· Have EVOO standing by to drizzle
· 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
· 1/4 cup fresh cut basil, stems removed
· Non-salted Butter
· 1/4 teaspoon salt
· 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper [pepper-mill]
· 1 French baguette [I get mine from Costco: 2 for $4]
· 2 cups shaved Parmesan cheese [Costco: $16]
Okay, so now you have the ingredients; here is the "how" of what I call a quick appetizer master-piece. You take the cut tom's, some evoo, balsamic, garlic, salt and pepper into a bowl to mix togehter. Then whip out a big frying pan and heat on medium until most of juice is evaporated, add the cut sundried toms and then set it aside.
Once that is done use the same frying pan and throw down a hefty slab of no-salt butter. Heat on high, once it bubbles carefully add the baguette slices and cook till it browns. Now add the parsley and sweet basil to the tom-mix. Now top the baguette slices with the tom-mix, drizzle evvo and top with the Parmesan cheese. I guarantee this recipe will melt your face off, it's that good. Until next time sip long and prosper.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Carmenere and Curry Spice it up Recipe Contest

The only sure thing about luck is that it will change. ~Wilson Mizner

Perhaps, your luck could change as well just because you read this blog. I think it's a safe bet for the most part that folks who stop by these purple stain pages are folks who consider themselve vino-sapiens or maybe just a wandering wino and perhaps just an explorer of new grape varietals.

Perhaps you find yourself tired of the same old song and dance when it comes to wine and area ready to give your palate a "new" sensory experience. If so, stay tuned there's a great opportunity to be part of a great "live" wine-tasting which is coming up this October, taking place on the 13th and starting at 8PM Eastern time.

Each one of my readers is invited to channel your inner foodie, to come up with a great Curry inspired recipe and submit said recipe by the September 15th dead-line to  [you must reference my blog in your entry] and you maybe potentially joining the rest of us wine bloggers and winemakers as we sip and slurp our way through what is now known as Chile's signature grape, Carmenere as part of a "live" discussion.

Now I would luv-it if everyone could be part of this tasting; but only one lucky reader will chosen, from among the many other wine blogs readers and the reader who submits the best curry recipe by the September 15th, as judged by culinary expert Nissa Pierson, will be the winner.

She will choose the best recipe and the winning recipe will be featured in the media tasting kit and reproduced during live tasting. The chosen winner will also receive a  Carmenere and Curry [recipes] Tasting-Kit from some of Chile's best producers. If you win you may want to invite some friends over, cook up that great recipe to pair with the wine and make a party of it.

So do you think your recipe has got game? If so bring it on and now is the time to get your entry in, as you have just 9 days before the dead-line. I wish you all luck and until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!
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