2003-01 January 2003 Newsletter

January 2003 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 194 Rejected: 176 Approved: 18 Selected: 2

This month we feature two outstanding imports. The Abrazo from Spain has as interesting a history as it does flavor. We don't think of the Middle East as a wine region, but it really did start it all, although a few thousand years ago.
We thought Abrazo was one of the best values we've tasted in years. Too many of the wines from this area featured inferior grapes. This Garnacha is head and shoulders above the rest. The spicy, grand fruit flavors are perfect for winter stews and roasted meats.
The Villa Cieri was to be our selection last November, but got here a little late. We couldn't let it go. This is what Pinot Grigio should taste like and what it should cost. Light and lovely, it's a perfect beginning to a meal with appetizers or a delicate sea bass dish.

Import Selection

Our selection comes from the town of Carifiena in Northeastern Spain. It was named after the prevalent grape of the time, Carignan, but now that grape has been replaced by the finer Grenache. Wine has been made here since the Roman times when they controlled the area.
Oddly enough, wine became popular during the Arab occupation in the 3rd century. The Arabs brought skillful farming techniques that aided in the development of grape growing. The Arabs stayed when the area became Spanish and continued to produce wine throughout the Middle Ages until they were ordered to convert to Christianity or be expelled. They chose expulsion. Fortunately, however, the wine stayed.
Today, Carifiena is one of the up and coming wine producing areas in Spain. By favoring Garnacha, the noble grape of the Rhone, particularly Chateauneuf du Pape, over the less stellar Carignane, the wines have blossomed into lovely and exciting food wines.
Abrazo is made by the Bodega Covinca, a cooperative of 700 growers who farm a total of 950 acres. This may sound large, but in reality, it isn't. To put into perspective, they make about 1/10 the amount of wine of many of the larger California wineries like Fetzer.
Covinca's size allows it to carefully select the best lots for it's premium brand, our Abrazo, and guarantee the consistency from year to year. They continue to expand both technically and viticulturaly while keeping their prices at a very attractive level.
Grenache is one of the oldest grapes ever made into wine. It was first cultivated in the Middle East and moved north and west into Europe. Here it garnered its finest triumphs in the Rhone and Spain. This is one of the best we've tried from Spain and hope it signals a renaissance for this superb grape.
Gar-natcha Ahh-brotso
Lovely crimson color. Engaging spice and cherry in the nose with a hint of earth. Full in the mouth with a soft finish. Perfect with the lamb recipe on page 6.
Beautiful now, but will complex further in another 1-2 years. Serve cool, about 30 min. in the fridge.

Import Selection 2

For 80 years, amidst the gently rolling hills of Abruzzo on the eastern side of Italy, a family of dedicated winemakers has been quietly developing almost 500 acres of their family-owned vineyards. Nicola Cieri (who died in 1988 at the age of 99), along with his son Enrico, and his sons Paolo and Lucio, built and are continuing the tradition of making fine wines.
Long known for wines made from the traditional grapes of the area, Montepulciano and Trebbiano, the family has added Merlot, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. The vineyard plots for each varietal have been painstakingly chosen to maximize the inherent flavors for each grape. Every one of Cieri's wines are a striking example of forward-looking agronomy and viniculture, placing them in the forefront of 21st century winemaking in Italy.
The Cieri family have been producing and selling their wine only in Italy until now. They focused on wines of incredible quality that reflect centuries-old tradition while still using the benefits of modern technology. Even more incredible is the fabulous value the finely crafted Villa Cieri wines represent.
Pinot Grigio is the ubiquitous white grape of Italy. In the better areas, it produces a light, delicate wine with a racy, citrus edge that is a pleasure to have with lighter fare and appetizers. To preserve the buoancy of the wine, fermentation occurs in steel at controlled temperature of 50 degrees for 16 to 20 days. The wine is then kept in steel tanks for 5 months before it is bottled.
These are normally fresh, fruit-driven offerings that are never better than the day they are released. This one is no exception. At the current rate of out of sight prices on this popular wine, Villa Cieri also offers an incomparable bargain.
Pinot Grigio, 2001.
Villa Cieri
Pee-no Gree-gio Villa See-airy
Bright, straw-colored wine with a piquant scent of apples and pear blossom. Lovely flavors in the mouth and a seductive finish. Great with sea bass recipe on page 6.
Great now and for the next year. Serve slightly chilled, about 2 hours in the fridge.

Member Inquiry

Paul, "What does 'best now' mean and how long will it last?"
B.H., Seal Beach, CA
Usually, that means that it is a wine that is not meant for long aging. By that, I mean no more than a year or two and, even then, the aging potential is based on your storage conditions. If the wine is stored in a place that is very consistent in temperature, it will survive longer than if the temperature varies greatly from summer to winter. We're talking an area that might be 80-90 degrees in summer and 50-60 degrees in winter. Not too many wines can withstand that kind of fluctuation and survive no matter how good they are to begin with.
And, most importantly, it's not a quality issue. In other words, just because a wine isn't meant to age, doesn't mean it's not as good as a wine which ages well. It's just different. We must pick wines as to the appropriateness of the occasion, food and company, not their ageability or lack thereof.
The benefit of aging a wine (on its side so that the cork is in full contact with the wine to avoid air getting in and wine getting out) is the coming together of all the components from discreet and separate flavors into one complete whole. The vineyard, vintage, type and length of time in oak, the acid and tannin levels, malolactic, etc. will be apparent when the wine is young. As the wine ages, these components meld together to present one united front of complex flavors with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Each component ages at a slightly different rate and each has its own dominance in the blend of flavors.
As the wine ages, the flavors of the grape(s), the soil, vintage, winemaker's hand, etc. all combine to re-arrange what you taste down the road. The small amount of air space between the cork and the bottle is all that is needed for this "reductive" transformation to take place. The interaction of acids, tannins, coloring agents and other compounds interact with the oxygen and change both the color, smell and taste of the wine. In most cases this is a positive occurrence. Depending on your individual preference, you might enjoy a red wine after a year or two of age while someone else may prefer it after 10 years.