Love, New York and a one night stand.

food pairing, Lopez de Heredia, NYC, Spanish Wine, Wine Blog

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to kid about how Sutter Home White Zin was the wine that started this great love affair. But it’s not really true. No, White Zin–along with just about every other wine I indiscriminately placed in the cart– was just that wine I had late night rendezvous with, the one that looked ‘good enough’ when my beer goggles were fully in place. The cheap, available vino that made me feel temporarily good (if I plugged my nose) and absolutely awful the next day. It was just something that tasted better than beer and liquor, to be honest.

It wasn’t until I was well into undergrad, maybe twenty years old, that it was less about getting loaded with my friends (a very brief phase thankfully) and more about appreciating wine itself. And as I got more into cooking, wine pairing naturally became a great hobby. I met a few wines with great personalities, but seldom went out with the same one twice. I was a player. I wanted to know them all! It seemed silly to grab the same wine when there were thousands out there. I still feel this way. I had never taken a formal wine class, but I would pore over the labels, note which I liked more than others and flip through a Speculator if I was at a magazine rack. It was just so much information. Navigation was daunting. How does one ever really get into this?

Then one evening, in our teeny apartment for four (I literally slept in the closetless family room for a year and a half…for $1k a month), we crammed about twenty people inside to listen to our friend discuss Spanish wines. He worked a Sherry-Lehmann, a well respected shop in the city. I could scarcely follow his instruction, but I could tell I was way more interested than the other twenty-somethings. As they slugged down their garnachas and albarinos, I struggled to fight the urge to grab my notebook. I sipped slowly, so as to really understand the nuances he described. And for the first time, it honestly made a little bit of sense. The subregions, soils and styles were just a lot to take in all at once. The wines became a blur, and the night took on the jovial, antique hue of a lifelong memory.

It was this night that I was introduced to Lopez de Heredia–the whites and reds, various vintages and vineyards. I had absolutely no clue what I was sipping. It was unlike anything I had ever had. I was not familiar with aged wines, let alone one that was simply dripping with terroir and history. I was enamored… It was the first wine that proved my one night stand theory for wine wrong, for it became true love for life. I have enjoyed Lopez many times since then. Those wines may be the reason I fell so hard for this career in the first place. Wine is so mysterious, so enchanting and so utterly dynamic in its geographical versatility, personality and overall capacity for prose.

So what is the point, anyhow? The topic of true love from a one night stand is very relevant for me as I board this plane to New York City for the weekend to celebrate two dear friends as they embark on that fabulously challenging journey called Marriage. I lived with one, I worked with the other. I introduced the two one hazy pub crawl kind of a night. The next day, he was making coffee in my kitchen. I smiled politely, went back to bed and proceeded to text my friend: wtf? Several months later, they shacked up. About a year later, they were engaged. And now, I get to witness one of the more curious miracles ever: how the one night stand became a vow for lifelong love.

This weekend is particularly special to me, as I return to the City that parallel miracles have happened for me. It was the scene of my first love: New York City itself. I had never stepped foot on NYC until I moved there. It was the place that brought me to my first sip of Lopez, still my favorite wines in the world. It was here that I had my first date with Jonathan… two years ago, hand in hand and all smiles as we bopped around the Village (I know what you’re thinking…and no, don’t draw TOO many parallels. Dirty minds. Shame…). It was here I shrugged so much of my girlish naivety, shed some tears but ultimately crafted my adult sensibilities and armour.

I am returning to a place so familiar. A place that is so inextricably linked to my person. I am returning to me for a few days. The place where I got to know her best. And luckily, a place that let me take the important parts of her with me when I left.

godello… on its ‘leaves.’

Spanish Wine, Wine Education

In the western part of Spain, within the lush region of Galicia, lies a little isolated sub-region noted for its singular dry, warm climate—unlike Galicia but akin to most other wine regions in Spain.  It lives in the rain shadow of the Sierra de Larouca range.  The Godello grape, a native to Galicia, was almost abandoned altogether in the ‘70’s.  Luckily, it was maintained and now provides some of the most complex whites in Spain, as it can often handle more than just stainless steel fermentation.  It has the strength and structure to withstand oak, lee-aging and bottle time. 

The 2008 Benaza Godello, however, while seeing steel tank fermentation, allowing for a brighter, more youthful interpretation of the grape, does sees a couple months on its lees.  ‘On its lees’ it a phrase you hear quite a bit in the wine business, but it is not something that is often explained to the public.  People walk around wondering what this means?  I even had someone in the industry the other day say to me, “I feel so embarrassed… what does it mean to ‘sit on leaves?’  So don’t feel out of the loop if you’re unsure what it means… or if you have never heard this term ever before! 

‘Sur lie’, or ‘on lees’, simply refers to the dead yeast cell deposit that remain on the bottom of the vat once fermentation has occurred.  Winemakers decide then if they want to keep the wine sitting on those lees, allowing for a creamier texture.  Or, they ‘rack’ the wine by putting the liquid in another ageing vessels and leaving the lees behind.  This gives the wine a cleaner, crisper mouthfeel. 

What I really like about this wine is the importer: it is a Jose Pastor Selection wine.  What this translates to for me, as a buyer, is quality.  JPS does not allow anything that slips below the line of the finest quality.  The winegrowers are often longstanding families who practice organic farming methods.  He likes to acknowledge and celebrate Spain’s indigenous grapes in a world when so many new, foreign vines are being planted.  And he stresses lower yields in production.  This wine was one bottle of 2,000 cases in 2008.  To give you some perspective, at the same price, Kendall Jackson Chard is 2.3 million cases per year! 

Godello is definitely on the radar.  All the cool kids seem to be buzzing about this grape.  So hear it is… Best understood with seafood and fried apps.  

Tasting a memory: a night with Lopez.

Lopez de Heredia, Spanish Wine

Have you ever actually felt the mechanics of a memory in the making?  Like a photograph mid-click, you can already sense that this is one you will want to keep in your wallet and return to for decades to come.  I am quite certain that these moments hold so much weight, because they are, quite literally, one of life’s rare instances when all the senses are saturated.  To see, hear, smell, touch, and taste so intensely—so much so that each sense falls into the next— is indescribably profound.

Such was the other night.  The night for Lopez.

Lopez de Heredia wines are, undoubtedly, my favorite wines from Spain.  As I have prattled on about in previous posts, this family-run estate has been playing with grapes since the 1870’s, when everyone was leaving phylloxera-infested Bordeaux in favor of growing some roots next door.  From then until now, little has changed about how Lopez makes their wine.  They craft their own barrels in their cooperage, store their wines for what seems like an ungodly amount of time, at which point they release them to the public when they feel they are truly ready to meet…to socialize with peoples’ palates, so to speak.

Most wineries do no have the luxury of time.  They must move their wine and make money.  As a result, the choice to age a bottle falls on the consumer.  And let’s face it.  Most of us are too impatient for such self-discipline and patience.

That’s why I love Lopez wines.  They get it.  They don’t take for granted their ability to age wines until they are ready for the public.  For them, it preserves the integrity of the wine—the integrity of the sale.

Last night, my lips were introduced to the oldest wines yet: the 1947 Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva, 1974 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Red, and the 1957 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva White (amongst other geeky wines that are whole blogs unto themselves: 1988 Salon, 2000 Cantemerle, and the 1994 Eysler Huxelrebe Beerenauslese to name a few).

The ’47 Viña Bosconia, was by far the most shocking.  It was remarkably youthful—in color, smell, and flavor.  Around the room, whimpers of half-belief stared at the liquid, searching for an explanation, as though written on the rim. “Oh my God,” one person murmured, “It’s still a teen.”

Damp, mossy earth, a patch of wild mushrooms, were the first to say hello, followed by softer, sweeter notes of sweet cherry and pie spice.  As air worked its way in over the hour, allowing cocoa dust to have its say.  The palate was generous, full, and…so young!  I can’t say this wine has even seen its peak yet.  Incredible to think this sixty-three year old wine will easily live longer than most human beings, likely into its hundreds were what most of us predicted.

The ’47 Viña Tondonia, though from the same year and their best vineyard, did not seem quite as resilient as its neighbor Bosconia, who lives just a bit higher up on the land, and whom, coincidentally, does not regularly profit from the River Ebro that the flagship Tondonia vineyard borders upon.   The ’47 Tondonia was quite hazy and lighter in color than the impossibly rich Bosconia.  In terms of grapes, this one saw a bit more Garnacha, a little less Tempranillo, and a touch more Graciano.  I am no chemist.  But I can observe along with you.  The acid seemed a little waning comparatively as well.  But the minerals… well, it won there.  It blew a sea breeze saltiness to the nose that inspired salivation in a way the physical acid failed to produce.

Whether back vintages or new, someone remarked that I was consistent in my comparisons of the two vineyards.  While most people find the Bosconia fuller and fleshier, those I tasted with did not.  I disagreed.  So I suppose in going against the grain, I was actually taking a stand for popular opinion, ironically…  I found the Bosconia deep, spicy, powerful but still elegant—like a hearty Gevry-Chambertain.  The Tondonia, on the other hand, I perceived as more focused, leaner, less fruity, and marked with more minerality—perhaps like a Graves Rouge, to extend the metaphor.  The framework seemed more raw… more skeletal but sturdy.  We all agreed ‘bigger’ was a slippery term with wine.  More structure versus more body and fruit both fall under ‘big’ wine characteristics.  So I suppose they both are ‘big’ in different ways.

And finally, the one I lost my heart to that night: the 1957 Viña Tondonia white.  I held the glass with so much apprehension.  I could not bring my nose to the rim for minutes.  I just sat and swirled, gazing at the beautiful golden hue.  Mid-swirl, a fellow taster stole my attention.  Within seconds, I habitually raised the rim to my nose.  Shocked, I stopped what I was saying, and put the glass down on the table with a wide-eyed expression on my face.  What was that?  When the frozen look began to melt, I actually gave out a nervous giggle.  I was instantly self-conscious, for I was clearly geeking out.  Once I restored myself, I courageously grabbed the glass, gave it another swirl, and took it in for real this time.

My eyes got a bit misty.  Fine.  A little more than misty.  But I didn’t full-on weep.

I know.  It’s embarrassing to admit.  I wanted to be alone.  I turned bright red.  Please no one look at me, I thought, fearing paranoia might taint the wine.  But I couldn’t help it.  I felt a temporary loss of air.  It was, quite simply, the best thing I had ever smelled in my life.  Every sense—sight, sound, touch, taste, smell—was intoxicated with perfection for a moment.

Wines like this are difficult to describe.  But it was something like this from my notes: honeyed citrus (like Tokaji), marmalade on palate, a kind of saline minerality, a golden tea-like color, brown sugar aromas, the finish lasted minutes.  Paired with a cave-aged gruyere, I nearly stopped breathing altogether.  Everything I had just smelled and tasted became louder with a bite of this semi-soft cheese.

But all silly scribblings aside, this wine was spellbinding.  It was the best white wine I have every consumed.  Not only for the wine itself, but the history, the winery, the company with which it was shared.  It was truly special.

And so, there I was tonight, frozen with nine others, swallowing history, sipping on some stupid good wine, and saying ‘cheese’ to the camera of my mind.

european scribblings no. 1: buenas dias barcelona.

Spanish Wine, Wine Blog, Wine Travel

Though I wish I could have sent what you will find to be a series of scribblings from my time abroad these past couple weeks actually from there in real time, I have kept close records and wanted to share them with you now over the course of the next month.

My trip began in Barcelona…well, literally.  I flew in there but quickly found myself in Girona, about one hour north of Barcelona—in the northeast region of Catalunia.  Some of the more famous wine regions in and around this area include Priorat, Emporda, and Penedes—home to Spain’s infamous bubbly: Cava.

I wasted no time.  The first wine that hit my lips was only hours upon landing over lunch at the adorable little villa where I was staying in the countryside appropriately was from my favorite Spanish producer: R. Lopez de Heredia—a ’99 Tondonia rojo.  That familiar musky scent met my nose, along with dried flowers, herbs and cherry tobacco.  Fantastic now, but confident acidity assured me this wine had fantastic ageing potential.  Dependable and well-integrated, this Rioja made me so grateful for the opportunity to actually live and breath Spain for the next few days.  It was hot as all get out, so a slight chill on the bottle (a custom I noticed was quite common in the summertime here) was a refreshing way to approach this otherwise cool-weather red.

That evening saw a dinner at Las Plasas, a cozy, romantic stone restaurant tucked far into the country.  Elaborate gardens greeted one at the entrance.  I began with white anchovies—a recommendation I received far more than once during my preparations.  Situated upon a crustini with a layer of red pepper compote, the fish paired quite well with a Merlot rose from Penedes—a weightier rose from spending time on its lees.

We then moved onto red: a tempranillo from DO Tierra de Leon, a subregion of Castilla y Leon, which sits between Galicia and Rioja.  Tierra de Leon is one of nine DOs in this region, alongside more famous Ribero del Duero, Bierzo, and Rueda.  It is considerably higher in elevation than the others, containing somewhat challenging clay-like and alluvial soils that are poor in organic matter.  The bouquet was evident of dark forest fruit but it had a hint of minerality on its breath.  The fruit got a bit more dominant with time, and a fennel component came to the fore.  It was very modern in style, a crowd pleaser that night.  In the end, a surprisingly nice choice when trying to pair everything from lamb and pigeon to duck and dorado.

To finish, we enjoyed a glass from nearby Emporda: Sinols Garnatxa to be exact.  A nose of dried apricots and a mouthfeel that was satisfying albeit understated.  It met its end rather quickly and did not dare an encore finish on the back palate.  Nonetheless, it was delicious in its own right.  Sweet ending to a sweet first day in Spain.

1998 rosé?

Lopez de Heredia, Spanish Wine

Is that even possible?

Oh, yes it is.

Thankfully, there is a winery like R. Lopez de Heredia in Rioja, Spain to deliver such a rare, provoking possibility.  Before today, I had only tasted the reds and whites from the Lopez line, which are divine to say the least.  But this legendary rosé, composed of Tempranillo (30%), Garnacho (60%), and Viura (10%), was what I had been after since day one.  Even Asimov is smitten with the impossible harmony that is to be found in this pale piece of paradise.

To be honest, though, what has driven my curiosity the most is my incurable weakness for paradox.

Rosés, as a rule of thumb, are typically meant to be consumed young and fresh.  They embody that stage just before loss of innocence, as they dance to a tune that hasn’t quite assumed a tone of melancholic irony just yet.  They are fun, simple, and easy-going.

Not the Lopez Rosé.

For one thing, this rosé isn’t fresh off the bloom.  It doesn’t wear a true pink hue.  Rather it slips on a gown that appears antique, a rusty salmon shade that harkens twilight.  Take one sniff and you are summoned to concentrate if you care to get to know this alluring liquid.  There is the distinct outline of oxidation but an interior that seems to melt into minerals and sherry-like qualities.  On the palate, this wine will excite you with its sturdy acidity, it will woo you with its complex unraveling of flavors.  You may catch some citrus (orange?), a touch of the tropical, a meandering of mineral…but don’t get too hung up on the flavor profiling.  You are tasting a lost art.

When Don Rafael  Lopez de Heredia came to Rioja during the French phylloxera outbreak, in the middle of the 19th century, he was meant to stay.  He fell in love with the region and became one of the three houses who first established wine in Rioja around 1877.  One hundred-thirty-two years later, Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia has taken over as winemaker and continues to produce wine that reflects the passion and love that originally attracted her family to the vineyards.  They remain traditional in style, which Maria explains, “We mention tradition, not as an idea meaning immobility, opposition to chance, but as a dynamic and aesthetic concept in maintaining principles and criteria that remain eternal.”

This rosé is a product of that philosophy.  Aged for four and a half years (racked twice a year) in barrels that are crafted in their very own coopery, this rosé evolves into something that is highly complicated and distinctive.  This is the only Gran Reserva Rosé in the world.  It is a rare gem.  It is enlightening.

Whether you are a rosé fan or not, this is one you simply must experience.