Thursday, October 31, 2013

Winery visit with Bodegas Gomez Cruzado (Rioja, Spain) -- #DWCC13

After checking in at the Hotel Arrope and placing our luggage in our rooms, we repaired to the hotel courtyard to meet the team members who had traveled to Haro on their own and to get relevant instructions from Robert McIntosh (Our intrepid Tour Director). After a brief meeting we set off on foot to Gomez Cruzado which, according to Robert, was only 10 minutes away.

Hotel Arrope (Source:

Gomez Cruzado is located in the Station District of Haro, an area around the old train station which is home to the majority of the region's centenarian wineries (over 100 years old) and which was initiated with the founding of Viña Tondonia in 1877. As we passed Viña Tondonia, we stopped at their loading dock to watch overall-clad workers unloading grapes brought to the winery by tractor  and housed in ancient rounded, tapered, open-top barrels.

Gomez Cruzado is located just across the street from Tondonia. We were welcomed at the winery by Noemi Arenzana Ruiz and a colleague (during the course of the visit, technical experts flowed in and out as needed with Juan Martinez and David Marcos (enologist and viticulturist, plus operations and strategy setting) staying for the duration post their initial contact with the group) and they proceeded to give us some background.

Gomez Cruzado, at 200,000 bottles annually (capacity at 400,000), is the smallest winery in the region. It was founded in 1886 by D. Ángel Gómez de Artache, Duke of Montezuma, and was subsequently acquired by D. Angel and D. Jesus Gomez Cruzado in 1911. In 1991, the then Public Limited Company (since 1951) was purchased by four partners who sold it in 2003. The most recent transaction occurred in 2012 when the winery was purchased by a Mexican family.

Gomez Cruzado does not currently own any vineyards. Rather, they buy grapes -- 50% of which is procured from small, family-owned vineyards -- that are grown on over 100 separate plots. They assist in the management of the plots from which their grapes are sourced -- especially in the month prior to harvest -- and establish the harvesting criteria and schedule. To positively impact the quality of the grapes, leaf-thinning and green harvesting are practiced. Gomez Cruzado prefers later-maturing grapes with hard skins (as a protection against botrytis). All grapes are hand-picked and are selected from the lower portion of the bunch. The tendency is to pick on attainment of brown pips as well as taste.

Wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks. The preferred style of wine is a classic Rioja with fruit that is approachable earlier. Grapes are de-stemmed, cold-soaked, and then subjected to an 18- to 20-day alcoholic fermentation using natural yeasts. The wine is blended prior to oak aging.

Wines are stored in the cellar between 1 and 5 years, the first 5 to 6 months of which is in oak vats. The Crianza is aged for 12 months in (average) 2.5-year-old American oak (oak barrels are generally used for 5 years). The Reserva spends 18 months in oak and 18 months in bottle. The Gran Reserva spends 24 months in oak and 36 months in bottle. The winery produces a Crianza Reserva Special Selection where the wines are aged in barrels and then blended prior to bottling.

Most of the Gomez Cruzado wines are Tempranillo-Garnacha (cool-climate) blends of grapes sourced from Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. The strategy team is looking to move the winery deeper into terroir-based wines.

Of the 200,000 bottle production, 85% is destined for the export market with the UK and Mexico very important destinations. There is currently no US distribution.

At this time we concluded the winery tour and moved inside for the tasting and a light lunch. The lunch consisted of various hams and breads and (heavenly) large chunks of morcilla. The wines were tasted as we ate.

The first wine on offer was the 2009 Crianza. On the nose plum, rose, vanilla, coffee, red pepper, cinnamon, and clove. It says Rioja. On the palate succulent, clean, and persistent. Clean. Easy drinking, but not simple.

The 2007 Reserva was aged in American and French oak for 18 months. Vanilla and clove on the nose. Promise on the nose but does not deliver. The tannins and acid are overtaking the fruit at this time. Weighty on the palate but light finish. Unbalanced. Not yet fully integrated.

The Honorable 2007 is 100% Tempranillo. On the nose red fruit, baking spices, and red pepper. Deep in color but light on feet. Persistence and balance with long finish. The 2010 Honorable exhibits black fruit and a spicy nose. Needs another year in bottle.

The Vendemia Seleccionada 2012 is a Tempranillo/Garnacha blend which is aimed at recapturing the youth market. The wine spends 6 months in new French oak and then those barrels are used for the Honorable wine. The aging regime used for this wine is non-compliant with the official directives. This wine is dark in color. Austere nose with meaty undertones and hints of darker fruit, pine, spice, and a creaminess. Balanced. Concentrated in glass and on palate.

The 2011 Pancrudo is the first vintage of this wine. It is 100% Garnacha made with grapes sourced from Sierra, one of the most important terrors in the region for grape production. This is a special terroir and a special grape. It is fermented for 14 days with malolactic fermentation in new French oak. It is matured in French oak for one year after which it is transferred to bottle and aged for an additional 6 months. Production is currently at 2000 bottles. Red fruit on the nose, black fruit on the palate. Citrus, burnt orange rind. Silky smooth with medium tannin and alcohol. Easy drinking, fresh, round, and balanced.

This is small winery, as the staffers are quick to point out. There are a total of 7 employees so everyone has to wear a number of hats and work very hard. On a number of evenings I saw the two principals grabbing a coffee at the hotel either very early in the morning or late at night as they planned production activities or supervised late night harvesting/winemaking activities. It was a pleasure to watch the level of cooperation between the two leaders as they have taken on joint responsibility, not only for production of the wines, but, also, the strategic direction of the winery as an entity. The level of interaction and cooperation is, again, refreshing.

This winery is not giving up on the youth market. While many sit around and wail that the young folks prefer spirits, beer, or water, this winery is experimenting with product that could appeal to these "wayward" youngsters. They are also pursuing terroir-based wines, one of the areas in which Rioja has lagged behind the rest of the Old World. Gomez Cruzado is not allowing its size -- or lack of same -- get in the way of pursuing initiatives which keeps the winery among the vanguard of Rioja wine producers.

In closing I would like to thank the entire team at Gomez Cruzado for their hospitality, kindness, and openness, hallmarks, as I came to find out, of winemaking in Haro.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The road to Haro (Rioja, Spain) -- #DWCC13

One of the key aspects of the annual Digital Wine Communications (formerly European Wine Bloggers) Conference is the press trip (formerly pre- and post-conference trips) and the announcement of locales and details are eagerly anticipated by conference attendees. There were three press trips in 2013 (Rioja (Spain); Porto, Vinho Verde, and Douro Valley (Portugal); and Priorat and Montsant (Spain)) and, due to the fact that it was focused specifically on Haro, the heart of Rioja, I opted for the Rioja trip.


As initially detailed, the trip would commence with a vineyard and winery tour and dinner at Bodegas Ramon Bilbao on October 22nd; continue with visits to CVNE and RODA on the 23rd; and conclude with a vineyard and winery visit, inclusive of lunch, to Bodegas Muga on the 24th. After lunch at Muga, we would travel to Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco where we would link up with the larger conference group for a winery and museum tour. In addition to the foregoing, DWCC was also able to secure a winery tour and late lunch at Bodegas Gomez Cruzado on the day of our arrival in Haro.

The team participating in the Haro trip was 13-persons strong and would be led by Robert McIntosh, DWCC co-founder and himself a former Dinastia Vivanco employee. We were initially supposed to meet at 10:30 am on Tuesday morning at Logrono airport but, after some back and forth, the decision was made to meet at 11:30 am at the Guggenheim Museum coach parking lot instead. This arrangement did not include those who had come in earlier and made their way to Haro on their own or Doug Frost MS/MW, who was coming in later that day and for whom alternative arrangements were being made.

I took a taxi from my hotel to the Guggenheim and arrived approximately 10 minutes before our scheduled departure. I located the bus and was welcomed with a warm smile by the driver -- warm that is, until he saw the size of my suitcase. He shook his head, mumbled something under his breath, and muscled that monstrosity into the rear cargo area. I had not made a friend that day.

I left and went to take a few pictures and by the time I returned, a number of people were already seated. A lively conversation was ongoing as I entered. It seemed that a few of these people had met at previous conferences. Or maybe wine bloggers are just naturally garrulous. It was now about 11:40 am and the bus driver had a querulous look on his face. He was short two people. Did we know them? Did we know where they were? We took a roll call but that only told us who was on the bus. We could not determine who was missing because we did not know who had traveled to Haro on their own.

After a series of walks around the bus and the parking lot, and some hurried phone calls to god knows whom, the driver stepped onto the bus, took his seat, closed the door, cranked the engine, and eased slowly out of his parking space. We were on our way. Sans two members of the team. Time would reveal their identities. The emailed directions had been clear so anyone not on the bus had only themselves to blame.

We wended our way out of Bilbao and were cruising pleasantly along the motorway -- which ran along narrow valleys framed by conifer-robed mountains -- when the driver suddenly pulled into a park just off the roadway. What was the matter? Did the Riojans decide that harvesting their grapes really was the most important thing at that moment and withdrawn their invitation? What could I do in San Sebastian with two whole days on my hands? Nope. Our missing team members had been located and they were going to take a taxi and catch up with us. If we were going to wait, we would do so outside the bus so we all disembarked and began taking pictures.

Suddenly the driver began beckoning us back onto the bus. From what I understood, some other arrangements had been made to get the laggards to Haro. We could continue on.

With the banter on the bus, the trip went quickly and very soon we pulled off the highway and into a a town where images on a page suddenly came to "life" for me: Muga, Roda, Tondonia, and La Rioja Alta lay close to each other and dominated the environment (Can you locate Gomez Cruzado in the pictures below?).


We had arrived. We made our way to the hotel (Hotel Arrope), connected with Robert and the team members who were already there, and checked in. We were ready to embark on our adventure.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chateau Musar tasting with Serge Hochar

On Tuesday, October 15th, I got an opportunity to see a living legend when Stacole Fine Wines hosted Serge Hochar, of Chateau Musar, for a tasting of his estate's wines. The event was held at Luma on Park (Winter Park, FL) and was aimed at area wine retailers and restaurateurs. Before describing the tasting I would like to take a step back in order to place Serge and Chateau Musar into their proper places in the wine firmament.

Chateau Musar's vineyards are located in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and that statement is in and of itself a testament to the grit and determination of Serge Hochar. You have heard of conflict diamonds; these are "despite-conflict" wines.

The Bekaa Valley is a 75-mile (65-km) long, 10-mile (16 km) wide, 3000-feet (1000 m) high strip of land located about 19 miles (30 km) east of Beirut between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains (which serve as shields against the deserts to the east and the rains from the west). The valley experiences long, gentle summers, wet winters, and 240 days of sunshine annually and is well irrigated by the waters that flow from the mountain peaks. The soils of the region are primarily clay limestone.

The first vineyards in the valley were planted in 1857 by Jesuit Christians and, today, over 90% of Lebanese wines are produced in the region. Red wine grapes include Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. White wine grapes include Ugni Blanc, Clairette, and Chardonnay.

Chateau Musar's red and white wine grapes are grown in distinctly separate environments. The red wine grapes -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan -- are planted in the southern portion of the Bekaa Valley on soils that are gravel over limestone. These old vines yield between 30 and 35 hl/ha. The white varieties are the indigenous Obaideh and Merwah which are planted in high-altitude (1500 m ) vineyards. Grape growing is organic and, at harvest, the berries are hand-picked by Bedouin tribespeople and trucked over the mountain to the winery which is 2.5 hours removed.

Grapes for the red wines are fermented by varietal in cement vats and then racked into French oak barriques after 6 months (In the tasting, Serge indicated that he had tried stainless steel fermentation but that it had "destroyed" the wines. He now uses stainless steel for some of the younger-generation wines but exclusively uses concrete for the Hochar and Musar wines.). The barrique wines are blended after 12 months of initial residence and then returned to the barriques for an additional 12 months. The mature wine is then bottled unfiltered and aged for 3 - 4 years before being released to the market.

The white wines are fermented in French oak for 6 - 9 months before blending and bottling and are then stored in the Musar cellars for an additional 6 years prior to market release.

Now back to the tasting. The wines were tasted in the order presented below and, surprisingly to me, we tasted the reds prior to the whites. Serge said that we would understand the ordering in due time. The tasting was called to order by Brian Koziol MS of Stacole and he then turned the microphone over to Serge after a brief introduction. Serge made a few remarks and then proceeded to walk us through the wines.

The 2009 Hochar exhibited plum and berry characteristics along with minty herbal notes and an earthy minerality. The wine was brisk and persistent with red pepper tones and a long finish. Serge said that this wine was simpler when compared to the Chateau Musar because it was designed to be more approachable. He called it his "fruit juice" wine.

The 2005 Chateau Musar is a blend (as are all Musars) of 1/3 each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault. According to Serge, it took him 17 years of trial and error to come up with the final blend. In relating the wine to a human, he sees the Cabernet Sauvignon as the skeleton, the Carignan as the flesh and muscles, and the Cinsault as the skin. The wine had notes of jasmine, plum, and mints to go along with an herbaceousness and a flinty-stony minerality. This medium-bodied wine was bright with supple tannins and a richness and persistence that was apparent on both the palate and the finish.

The 2002 Chateau Musar was redolent with jammy berry flavors along with mint, eucalyptus, pepper, coffee, smoke, and petrol. Firm, drying tannins with medium body and excellent length of finish.

The 1999 Chateau Musar showed cherries and strawberries along with mint, cedar, truffle, and mushrooms. This medium-bodied wine had elements of rust on the palate and is balanced with a long finish. This wine needs more time. Serge said that his wines can be drunk after 15 years but require a minimum of 25 years to be truly enjoyable.

The final red was the 1977 Chateau Musar. This wine exhibited dark fruits, pineapple, tarragon and mint. It had tar notes reminiscent of a Barolo. Additional aromas included blackpepper, iodine, coffee, dried blood, and iron. The finish was moderate in length and the wine appeared tired to this taster.

The first white tasted was the Blanc 1998. This wine had a golden color and, validating Serge's decision re the tasting order, was more powerful than any of the reds. This wine exhibited citrus, stone fruit, fresh herbs, tea, thyme, honey, beeswax, white pepper, and a certain nuttiness. Vibrancy on the palate. Racy acidity with some structure and a long, thin finish. This wine, believe it or not, still needs time. The nose started out with faint aromatics but gained complexity in the glass.

The Blanc 2000 had a floral component but was more endowd with rust, stone, and white pepper. Grippy green tannins accompany a moderate length finish.

The Blanc 2004 had similar characteristics to the 2000 except for additional citrus and grassy notes. This wine was lighter in body than the prior two, was metallic on the palate, and had a short, drying finish. This wine is unimpressive at this time but, given the characteristics of Hochar wines, may need more time in bottle to reveal its swan-ness.

There was much more variation around the red wines once you got beyond consistent mint and spice characteristics. Some exhibited red fruit, some black, and some both. There were distinct mineral elements ranging from flinty to stony to earth. The wines north of 1999 need more time in bottle. There was consistency in the whites with vintage-related amplification. All of these wines are long-lived.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scope of the blending discussion and some noteworthy blends

New World winemakers have mostly conquered the production and marketing of their varietal wines and many of them are now pursuing improved quality and new customers by increasing the number of blended wines in their portfolio.  The considerations in wine blending are depicted below.

- Cabernet Sauvignon -- firmness, structure, perfume, multi-berry palate
- Cabernet Franc -- savory layers, complex dried herb notes, perfume, freshness, length
- Merlot -- fleshiness, softens up Cabernet Sauvignon, palate-broadening
- Petit Verdot -- freshness, firmness, palate length
- Malbec -- soft tannins

Bordeaux Blanc:
- Sauvignon Blanc -- aromatics, acidity
- Semillon -- textural breadth and depth
- Muscadelle -- florality

- Red or white
- Made from a minimum of two of the varieties used in the production of Bordeaux red and white wines
- No varietal must exceed 90% of blend

- 13 varieties

- Grenache -- alcohol, jam, spice, dried fruits
- Syrah -- pepper, leather, smoke
- Mourvedre -- color, acid, tannins

Rhone Whites:
- Viognier -- peach, apricot, honeysuckle
- Roussanne -- bouquet, delicacy, finesse
- Marsanne -- color, body, weight, scented fruit
- Grenache Blanc -- sweet honeysuckle, apricot
- Clairette -- alcohol, peach, apricot

- Tempranillo -- spicy red fruit, herbaceousness, minerality
- Garnacha -- enhance texture, widen palate, rich and peppery red fruit, cinnamon notes
- Mazuelo -- structure, longevity, fresshness, vigor
- Graciano -- Tobacco, licorice, acidity

Rioja Blanca:
- Viura -- floral aromas
- Malvasia -- floral aromas, grapefruit aromas, structure
- Garnacha Blanca -- sweet honeysuckle, apricot

- Sangiovese -- acid, tannin, fruit flavors
- Canaiola -- fruitiness, softness

Penfolds Grange
- Cross-Region Shiraz blend -- dense fruit flavors, pepper, leather, smoke

- Parrellada -- delicacy, aroma
- Macabeo -- soft wildflowers, bitter almonds
- Xarel-lo -- body, acidity, alcohol

- Palomino
- Pedro Ximinez
- Moscatel de Alejandria

- Chardonnay -- stone fruit, apple, citrus
- Pinot Noir -- berry fruit
- Pinot Meunier -- florality, red fruit

- Furmint -- finesse, structure
- Harslevelu -- aromatics
- Zeta -- creamy structure, tropical fruit notes

- Touriga Nacional -- raspberry, cassis, mulberry, violets, high tannin
- Touriga Franca -- red fruits, blackberries, florality
- Tinta Roriz -- mulberry, cherry, jam, spicy nose, blackberry, high tannins
- Tinta Cao -- pepper, spice, sweetness, floral notes
- Tinta Barroca -- high tannins

- Chardonnay -- fruit and flower aromas, full body, crispness
- Pinot Nero -- body, longevity
- Pinot Bianco -- body, elegance, acidity, fresh-bread aroma

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, October 7, 2013

No knives at this gunfight

A little over a year ago, Mr and Mrs @thewinebarn had the Siegels, my wife, and me over for dinner but were dissatisfied with the way that things flowed. They wanted a "do over." We gave them that opportunity last Saturday night. And it was a blast. I knew that it was going to be a big night because Ron had emailed me a pic of the wines that he was bringing. I was not going to be bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The evening began with light-hearted chit chat supported by a sideboard of cheeses (goat, cows milk finished with Calvados, and triple cream from Burgundy), gluten-free crackers, toast, and olives accompanied by a 100% Pinot Noir Champagne from Desnon and Lepage, a new, artisanal Champagne House. This Champagne also served as the accompaniment to the wild river sturgeon caviar (Ohio and Arkansas) that followed hard on the heels of the sideboard.

The chef for all of the delicious preparations of the evening was Andrew, Mr @thewinebarn himself. Andrew's next offering was a delightful fresh Maine lobster concoction in a hard-boiled egg white half, paired with Jacques Selosse Initiale Champagne. The filling for the egg-white half was fresh Maine lobster, white fish, classic aioli mayo, and Cayenne pepper. The rich spiciness of the Cayenne contrasted beautifully with the blandness of the egg white and the Selosse enriched the concoction.

The third course was a traditional cold potato salad (Called Ensalada Rusa in Spain, according to Andrew). The constituent elements were canned Albacore tuna, potatos, beets, green beans, peas, home-made mayo, and salmon roe. The salad was paired with a 2007 Chateau Y, a white Bordeaux, which exhibited starfruit, papaya, mango, and Kiwi on the nose. Dried orange rind and grapefruit on the palate. The wine's bright acidity facilitated a long, bone-dry finish.

During our consumption of the early courses, Andrew would get up from time to time to keep an eye on a Paella that was cooking on a wood fire outside on the patio. This black squid ink Paella required three hours of cooking and, in addition to the tentacles and rings, included wild-caught Gulf shrimp (with the heads on) and carmelized onion tomato base. The paella was paired with a 1989 Ravennau Chablis. The wine had a rich saline character, grapefruit and pineapple on the nose and bright acidity, citrus, sweet grapefruit, and tangerine on the palate. This wine did not have the knife-edge character of a traditional Chablis. Rather, it was rich and this rendered it less than a perfect pairing for the rich paella. Surprising and disappointing for us all. The wine drank well on its own but was not suited to the meal.

At this time we took an inter-course break to taste some wine pairs. The first pairing was a 1996 Drouhin Chambertin Grand Cru and a 1999 Dujac Echezeaux Grand Cru. This was a pairing of contrasting styles of great Burgundy wine. The Drouhin was the more powerful of the two with an oily richness and tea on the nose. The initial feel was more Barolo than Burgundy with tar, tannin, rose petal, earth, and high acidity. As the wine evolved in the glass it transitioned to iron, blood, game, and more traditional cherry and strawberry notes. The Echezeaux was elegant and silky with strawberries, beef broth, leather, game, and a slight spiciness on the nose. This wine was perfectly balanced with lightness of feet on the palate and a lengthy finish.

The second pairing was a 1982 Beychevelle and a 2000 Clos l'Eglise. The Beychevelle had black olives, dill, smoke, vanillin, sweet tobacco, and cigar box on the nose. Drinking beautifully with bright red fruit and a long, sour finish. Probably another 15 years of life ahead of it. We found the Clos l'Eglise to be uncharacteristic of a Pomerol. It exhibited shoe polish, red fruit, exotic ripe fruit, and kirsch liqueur on the nose. Opulent, powerful. Tamarind on the palate. Long, drying finish.

At this time the penultimate course of the evening was served. It was a Grade 6 Australian Wagyu with homemade chimichurri. The meat was perfectly prepared and was the perfect capper to a night of wonderful taste sensations (Andrew has a future in a kitchen someplace). The dish was paired with two wines: a 1989 Jean-Louis Chaves Hermitage and a 1999 Chapoutier L'Ermite. The Hermitage showed mint chocolate, pine needles, cedar, and a lot of weight on the palate. The L'Ermite showed spruce, graphite, and silky tannins. Powerful but balanced.

The final pair of wines tasted was a 1990 Haut-Brion and a 1995 Masseto. The Haut-Brion had coffee, dill and black olives on the nose and tar and black olives on the palate. This wine is still young.  (This wine bottle is captured in the full monty). The Masseto exhibited aromas of licorice and coffee. Harmonious and complex.

The dessert course was Brazilian "Brigadeiro" chocolates and Salted Caramel Gelato with Arequipe. Ron had brought a 1990 Chateau Suduiraut to pair with dessert but we opted for Champagne instead. By this time we were all feeling pretty so we decided to repair outside and practice our Champagne-sabreing techniques. This is something you probably should do at the beginning of the evening rather than at the end. All's well that ends well however.

The nights full lineup is shown below.

All in all a wonderful evening. The @thewinebarns restored their reputation as Class A hosts, we had great food and wine, and Ron successfully negotiated a late-night sabreing escapade.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme