Thursday, May 9, 2019

Aged Spanish Wine Dinner in Jacksonville, FL

North and Central Florida are underserved when it comes to serious wine tastings; and the paucity increases when one strays from the "Napa Cab" lane. So I treated a WJ invitation to an aged-Rioja wine tasting at his home in Jacksonville with the respect that it warranted: immediate acceptance followed by regular email reviews to ensure that he had not changed the date, time, beverages, or my attendance.

The home is in a gated community, set a ways back from the guard gate. I rather enjoyed the scenery as I took the twists and turns until the GPS told me I had arrived and (I swear) that my destination was on the right.

I pulled into the driveway, parked, and reached into the back to retrieve my jacket and the bottle of wine that I had brought. Another car pulled up in the meanwhile and a lovely young couple exited and made their way towards the front door. I followed closely on their heels and shook their hands in the foyer. I raised my head and looked out into the the space beyond this couple and saw between six and eight perfectly (casually) coiffed couples. I walked in deeper and began shaking hands. I was becoming a little concerned though, because (i) this was supposed to have been a stag dinner and (ii) I was expecting a more mature group (not that there is anything wrong with successful, well-groomed young people).

I asked, hesitantly, "Am I at the right place?" One of the burnished young faces asked "Who are you looking for?" "WJ," I said. "Oh, he lives across the street." I was mortified. Luckily I had not grabbed a drink so I could slink out without having to look for a place to rest my glass. I drove across the street and was relieved when I saw WJ coming out of the house to welcome me. I did not mention a word as to what had happened until much later in the evening when the alcohol flowing through my veins loosened my tongue. We all had a hearty laugh. WJs daughter Elizabeth (the official photographer for the night's event) reassured me that the people whose party I had inadvertently crashed "are nice people."

I was among the early arrivals and one of the first things I noted upon entry was the large number of empty glasses on a couple of tables in a hallway off the sitting room. As only eight of us would be dining, it was clear that each attendee would have a dedicated glass for each wine of each flight. That is great because it provides the opportunity to continually revisit wines after the initial flurry. This was serious stuff.

We were all aware of the architecture of the tasting as WJ had kept us updated by email as things evolved. There was to be a "Cava Pop" at 6:30 pm, followed by a five-course dinner paired with wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, in turn followed by a cheese course paired with Madeiras. The food would be prepared by Chefs Herman Muller (Executive Chef, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club) and Erik Osol (Resort Chef de Cuisine and Head Chef of both the Seafoom Room and Seahorse Grill at the resort.

At 6:30 our Sommelier Brandon Boudreau began pouring the 2007 Mas Del Serral. I have posted on this wine, motivated partly by the impression it made on me and partly based on Brandon's encyclopedic knowledge of the wine. The hor d'oeuvres shown below accompanied the wine. Their freshness and fullness of flavor were the opening salvos in what would prove to be an epic night.

Brandon Boudreau was our Sommelier for the
night. His full-time job is Sommelier in the
Georgian Room at Sea Island Resort

Seared Scallop Ceviche

Razor Clams 

Blinis with Smoked Cobia

At the conclusion of our "Cava Hour," we were ushered into the dining room to commence our dinner.

The first course was a Sauteed Escargot (shown in the second picture below) and it was accompanied by the 1981 and 1985 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonio Tintos.

The 1981 was perfumed and floral with red fruit, bramble, baking spices, and coconut on the nose. Smooth and elegant on the palate with strawberry, citrus, burnt orange, and leather. The 1985 was broader on the nose with coconut and red fruits apparent. Bright red fruit on the palate and higher acid levels. Coal tar. Lead pencil finish.

Parsnip Parsley Veloute, Sauteed Escargot,
Oven-Fried Morel Mushrooms

Chef Erik Osol, Chef de Cuisine at Ponte Vedra
Inn and Club as well as Head Chef at both its
Seafoam Room and Seahorse Grill

1981 and 1985 Tondonias

The second course was a Seared Black Bass accompanied by the 1962 and 1964 Vega Sicilia Unicos.

The 1962 had a slight green character with coconut, leather, baking spices and red fruit on the nose. Concentrated but less alive than I would have hoped. This wine still has a long life ahead. The 1964 showed some funk on the nose along with spice, mint, and red fruits. More open than its compatriot. Full round mouthfeel with a cherry liqueur note. Balanced. Lengthy finish.

Seared Black Bass, White Gazpacho, Summer

1962 and 1964 Vega Sicilia Unicos

A Roasted Duck Breast was the core of the third course and it was paired with a 1978 CVNE Imperial Reserva and a 1982 Marquès de Murietta Ygay.

The CVNE showed rose petals tobacco, baking spices, vanilla, and a metallic note. Layered on the palate with tobacco and a cupric character coming through from the nose. Engages the entire palate. An excellent wine. The Ygay showed spice, faded rose petals and strawberry, and a nuttiness on the nose. Flat and unyielding on the palate.

Roasted Duck Breast, Buttered Radish, Currant
Poultry Nage, Fava Beans, Pickled Blueberries,
Baby Turnips, Pickled Ramp

1978 CVNE and 1982 Marquès de Murietta Ygay

The Venison course was accompanied by the Lopez de Heredia Bosconia 1954, 1961, and 1968.

The Bosconia wines were all darker than any of the wines that had gone before. The 1954 showed waxy dark fruit, spice, nutmeg, leather truffles, and licorice. On the palate medium-bodied with sweet dark fruit. Lengthy finish. The 1961 displayed stewed dark fruit, wax, coconut, and spice. Bright on the palate. The 1968 was elegant. Earth, bramble, and dark fruit on the nose. Lengthy, bitter finish.

Seared Venison Loin, Burnt Sweet Onions,
Pickled Juniper Berry,
Hand-Shucked Garbanzo Beans, Demi-Glace

1954, 1961, and 1968 Lopez de Heredia
 Bosconia Tintos

We did a very European thing and closed out with a salad. The salad was paired with the 1964 and 1973 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonio Blanco.

The 1964 was a beautiful wine. Notes of honey and burnt orange. Nutty with massive minerality. Palate cleansing and palate pleasing with a never-ending finish. The 1973 was disappointingly slow out of the gate. It was less lively, and appeared older, than the 1964. It was also lighter-bodied. With some residence in the glass it lifted its head off the floor but it was truly outclassed.

Marigold, Pea Shoots, Lemon Palm, Red Oak,
Herb Greens, Yellow Beet Puree,
Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

1964 and 1973 Tondonia Blancos

We had three separate Madeiras accompany the cheeses and a fairly lengthy and in-depth presentation on the wines by the owner.

The 1851 Leacock Boal Solera was rich with orange, dried herbs, oxidative note, and nuttiness on the nose. Dried fruits, orange, figs, caramel and nuttiness on the palate. Acidity balances out the sweetness. Persistent finish. The 1877 Camara de Lobos Torre Bella showed caramel, beeswax, nuttiness. Hazelnuts and caramel on the palate. The 1891 Barbeito Ribiero Real Bual was rich with spice, orange, and cherry liqueur. Great acid level. Long, tangy finish.

Local and Imported Cheeses to include:
Wainright Cheeses, Magnolia Ash Blue,
Parmesan, Rabiola

1851 Leacock Boal Solera, 1877 Camara de
Lobos Torre Bella, 1891 Barbeito Ribiero
Real Bual

The full lineup of dinner wines is shown below.

At the conclusion of the formal dinner we sought to cleanse the palates with a few bottles of Champagne.

This was an excellent tasting. It was well architected, curated, and staged. I must first of all thank WJ for putting this together and providing the wines that formed the core of the tasting.

Brandon Boudreau, our Sommelier, did a phenomenal job. He opened, tasted, and served each and every bottle of wine, working alone for the most part. His staging of the glasses allowed him to pour the wines away from the table and deliver ready-to-drink portions to the table in a just-in-time manner.

The chefs outdid themselves. Resort chefs are not known for delivering this level of inventiveness and innovation in this custom setting but these guys came through with flying colors. Each dish was on point.

I really enjoyed tasting with the group. I was the newbie but these guys are all wine lovers and foodies and the quality of the food and wines provided fertile ground for some truly interesting dialogue.

The wines showed well with my favorites being the Tondonia Tintos, the 1964 Vega Sicilia, the 1978 CVNE, and the 1964 Tondonia Blanco. Of course I also liked the 2007 Mas Del Serral.

A night to remember.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The 2007 Mas Del Serral from Raventós i Blanc

On Saturday last I tasted the 2007 Mas Del Serral, easily the best Cava I have had to date and, but for want of a little more freshness, would be numbered among the best zero dosage champagnes I have had.

2007 Mas Del Serral
Mas Del Serral is a project of Raventós i Blanc (Raventos), the estate which I have identified as being the first to leave DO Cava because of quality and branding concerns. Raventos has been farming the same 97 ha since 1497 (between Christopher Columbus' second and third voyages to the New World) and is currently managed by Pepe Raventos, the 21st generation to have done so.

The farm is located in the municipality of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in an unofficial region that the estate calls Conca del Riu Anoia: "a small geographic area centered around the Riu Anoia Basin between the Catalan Pre-Coastal and Coastal Ranges."

The climate in the region is characterized by mild winters and hot, dry summers and is modified by the Anoia River, Lake Can Codorniu, two streams, and a hill known as Turó del Serral. Further (
  • The proximity to the sea reduces thermal variation
  • The Catalan Coastal Range protects the area from excess humidity
  • The Serra d'en Compte and Montserrat mountain ranges protect the region from the cold wind blowing down from the Pyrenees.
Tectonic activity 20 million years ago dislodged Corsica and Sardinia from Europe and created the Vallès-Penedes depression which lay beneath the Mediterranean Sea until approximately 16 million years ago. During its subterranean period the skeletal remains of sea life built up in layers in the depression, forming a limestone bedrock. Rivers poured into this estuary, depositing continental detritus onto this formation. Five million years ago, The Messinian Salinity Crisis caused a drop in the level of the Mediterranean Sea and the Anoia River went from depositing material into an estuary to scouring away layers of the exposed bedrock. A number of these depository and "destructive" periods are visible in the fossil record.

Raventos i Blanc operates as a self-sufficient estate wherein both agriculture and livestock rearing are key business components and wooded areas contribute to the biodiversity that the estate seeks and promotes. Grapes are grown in seven named vineyards which are, in turn subdivided into a total of 44 distinct plots.

The vineyards are planted to indigenous varieties only (Xarel-lo, Macabeu, Parellada, Monastrell, Bastard Negre, and Xarel-lo Vermell) and are farmed according to biodynamic principles (Demeter-certified since 2014). The soils composition and variety distribution by vineyard are shown in the figure below.

Raventos practices biodynamic farming because of a "strong desire to maintain a sustainable and self-sufficient estate, with a wide-ranging biodiversity of flora and fauna and a rich underground life that gives a living and structured soil." A key component of the biodynamics program is compost which, in Raventos' case is secured from the pigs cows, donkey, horses, sheep and hens on the farm. The vineyard activities underpinning the biodynamic farming are shown in the figure below.

Mas del Serral is made from grapes grown on a 1.92 ha plot within the Clos del Serral vineyard. This plot was inter-planted in 1954 to Xarel-lo and Bastard Negre at 3500 vines/ha. The plot faces north/northwest at elevations ranging between 170 and 185 m elevation. Vines are Gobelet-trained and experience a cool and moist microclimate.

Growing conditions for the 2007 vintage included a relatively warm winter, rain in the spring, and a mild summer. Hydric stress, brought on by the lack of water during the summer, shortened the growing cycle by one week. Late August rain provided some late-season relief.

The grapes were hand-picked into 15 kilo baskets and transported to the cellar where they were subjected to secondary selection. They were whole-bunch pressed (pneumatic press at low pressure) and then fermented with indigenous yeasts in a mix of stainless steel and concrete tanks. The wines were aged in the tanks for 9 months prior to bottling. They were aged on lees for 100 months prior to disgorgement. Zero dosage. All grapes used in the construction of this wine were from the 2007 growing season.


This was the first time that any of us had had this wine and we were all looking at each other, seeking affirmation. The dedicated Champagne drinkers were not jumping up and down; and I got why. But this wine was, as I stated in the opening, so close. It had flecks of gold in the color. The nose showed yeast and dried toast along with dried apricots. Slightly austere on both the nose and palate. Loved the lack of sugar on the palate but would have appeared leaner and finish would have been lengthier if the acid level was higher. That acid deficiency was most likely the result of the 2007 growing season, with hydric stress being visited on the grapes.

I will continue to seek out this vintage because of its classiness and the drinking pleasure that it brought. And will keep my eye open for future vintages to see the effects of different growing conditions on the wine.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A proposal for forestalling the Balkanization of Cava

DO Cava and "renegade" producers seeking to disassociate from a wounded brand are at the beginning of a journey that potentially leads to disaster for all involved. I propose an approach for disaster-avoidance.

There are two models for producer success in the wine world: (i) be a producer in a well-known wine region (not a guarantee for success but gets your feet in the door) or (ii) build a product brand (of course one can build a brand in an established region -- DRC in Burgundy, for example).

In the first instance, I can point to famous regions such as Burgundy and Piedmont (known for their terroir-based, varietal wines), Bordeaux (known for its stellar Cab- and Merlot-based blends), Tokaj (kingly sweet wines), and Champagne (the pinnacle of sparkling wines). In the second instance, I can point to wineries such as Sassaica, Ornellaia, and Grattamacco which downgraded to a regional classification so that they could make the quality and style of wine that they wanted to. They ultimately were successful and built their individual brands. But, also, because they were located in Bolgheri, they were eventually able to elevate that region also.

For the most part, recent producer activity has revolved around branding your terroir/style first and then using that as a lever with which to lift all boats. In the sparkling wine space we see the region-promotion efforts of the Franciacorta Consorzio; we see the Piedmont sparkling wine producers coming together under the Alta Langa banner; and we see the British sparkling wine producers casting about for an umbrella name under which they can launch their assault on Champagne.

Within the context of the foregoing discussion, then, the fractured approach being undertaken by the various Cava factions will only lead to Balkanization of the region. The Corpinnet group, for example, will be focused on building a brand, an exercise which has to first tie that brand to a territory then, subsequently, tie that construct to quality. That would take a lot of time and money; and with no guarantee of success.

Balkanization of Cava
I propose herein a more holistic approach. First, it is crazy to have a single brand named Cava covering sparkling wine made all over the country. The regional variation in quality, grapes used, etc., are not a recipe for customer retention. Rather, I propose that Spanish sparkling wine made outside of a core zone be associated with the region wherein it is made. This occurs in France where sparkling wine made outside of Champagne is called Crémant (Crémant de Bordeaux, for example). There are a fixed set of quality requirements under which these wines are made but grape variet(ies)y are not uniform. I propose that the word Cava remain associated with these non-core sparkling wines (Cava del Rioja, for example).

I then look at Champagne for the model for the organization of the central sparkling wine area. In that the name Cava would now be associated with the non-core zones, a new name would have to be surfaced; and it probably should be a known geographic area.

There would be sub-zones within the defined area and named vineyards within those sub-zones. Sub-zones would be demarcated based on soil and/or climate characteristics but the production characteristics would be similar across the region. Further, the production requirements within the core zone would be stricter than would be the case for the outlying areas.

If a single producer -- or a group of producers -- wanted to establish higher standards, they would be free to do so; and could tout that in their marketing materials. They would not, however, be allowed to place any group-specific material on the label.

DO Cava and the producers are playing "small ball" here. The problem confronting them requires a "big-picture" solution before everyone gets locked into intractable positions. The solution I have proposed here may mean decentralization of the sparkling wine authority down to the regional DOs -- loss of power for DO Cava -- but it would be in furtherance of a good cause.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme