Selections from European Cellars
As an importer, Eric Solomon is a champion of indigenous varieties and lesser-known appellations with a knack for discovering seriously delicious wines – including many selections where Grenache plays a major role. Eric continues to seek out “the next big thing” and uncover the many treasures that lay hidden in the European landscape. His portfolio of wines is distributed by Maverick here in Chicago and I had an opportunity to taste through a few selections from his book with Mark Lindzy of European Cellars. Founded in 1989, European Cellars is an importer of wines from France, Spain, and Portugal.
2008 Gramona Gran Cuvee Cava -- San Sadurní d’Anoia, the birthplace of Cava, lies in the Alt-Penedès. Jose Raventós of Codorníu introduced método tradicional sparkling winemaking to Spain in 1872. Cava wines require less time on the lees than Champagne: nine months for basic bottlings, fifteen months for reserva, and thirty months for gran reserva. Bottles of Cava can always be spotted by the mark of a four-pointed star imprinted on the cork. The Batlle Family has been making wines since 1881. Gramona ages all their Cavas for a minimum of 18 months, and an average of 4 years. The Gran Cuvee is Gramona’s entry-level wine and is made from equal parts Xarel.lo, Macabeo and Chardonnay and aged between 24 and 30 months. Pale straw color. Aromas of caramel, green apple, lightly toasted brioche. Moderate+acidity on the palate with tangy green apple, lemon curd and buttered biscuits. High quality for the price and it’s vintage dated.
2010 Jean-Paul and Benoit Droin Chablis Villages – Benoit is the 14th generation of Droins, whose history as winemakers goes back to at least 1620. Benoit’s father put the domaine on the map but Benoit runs a more sophisticated operation from a large modern winery. In the cellar, Benoit moved away from his father’s preference for new oak and wines such as the village level Chablis are fermented and matured in tank. Benoit may employ the use of oak in select premier and grand cru wines. Pale gold color. Aromas of yellow apples, tangy lemon curd, limestone and oatmeal, fresh and clean on the palate with moderate+acidity and a crushed mineral finish. Perfect wine for a clambake!
2011 Pazo Senorans Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain -- Records indicate the Pazo de Senorans dates back to the 16th century. Now converted into a winery, the mansion is a magnificent example of those ancestral Galician houses built in the countryside. Marisol Bueno and Javier Mareque bought this estate in 1979, which already had vineyards planted with the Albariño grape variety. Marisol Bueno is the true pioneer and force of this young appellation. Through her work, the DO was created in 1988, quality thresholds were introduced, and the region began to receive wider worldwide recognition. Three production areas make up the Rias Baixas and the largest is the Val do Salnes sub-zone which is where the Albarino grapes for this wine are grown. Located northwest of Pontevedra, this is where the newer styles of Albarino were pioneered. Pure Albarino wines bear the name of the grape and wine designated as Val do Salnes must be a minimum of 70% Albarino. Pale straw color. Aromas of white flowers, peaches, apricots and grapefruit. Moderate+acidity, fresh yellow apple flavors with a slight pithy bitter finish. It would be excellent with a grapefruit and radicchio salad or a shellfish platter.
2010 Rafael Palacios "Louro do Bolo" Valeorras, Spain -- Rafael Palacios began his wine project in Valdeorras in 2004, purchasing mature vineyards of the indigenous Godello variety from older local growers. His previous experience in the area as a consultant had motivated him to try and recuperate the unique sub-zone of the Bibei Valley in the Municipality of O Bolo. Valdeorras (Golden Valley) is the furthest inland of Galicia’s DO Zones and is the most continental in terms of climate – hot summers, longer autumns and colder winters. The nature of the Godello grape has shown itself to be a good performer under these circumstances. This predominately Godello-based wine was named “Louro do Bolo” after the vineyard district that the grapes were sourced from. Pale gold color. Aromas of grilled pineapple, vanilla, nutmeg, lees and menthol. Five months of barrel aging imparts the wine with a Meursault like nuttiness, moderate+acidity on the palate, slight mintiness with a bright, fresh but rich texture.
2011 Bodegas Mustiguillo "Mestis" Blanco VdT, El Terrerazo, Spain -- This small, charming winery was built on the site of a former stable and has become the star of the Utiel-Requena. In September of 2010, Bodegas Mustiguillo became Valencia's first winery with the 'Vino de Pago' designation - and one of only eleven in the entire country. Mustiguillo is unique in its quest to “rescue” the indigenous Bobal variety, a grape known primarily for rose production, but when handled carefully, can produce reds of remarkable quality. Now the quest is to rescue another one of the indigenous grapes, Merseguera. Merseguera is planted in Valencia and is a mainstay of the Levant. The best examples have pleasant fruit with a little herbiness on the nose. This is a blend of 70% Merseguera, 25% Malvasia and 5% Viognier. Pale straw color. The Malvasia component really comes through with aromas of geraniums, mix of tropical fruits and interesting floral notes. Moderate+acidity, it’s fresh and clean on the palate.
2011 Michel Gassier Cercius Blanc, France -- On the southern edge of the Rhone Valley near the ancient city of Nimes, the legendary mistral winds of Provence sweep over the vines and out to the Mediterranean Sea. The Latin name for these north-northwest winds is CERCIUS – the defining feature and raison d’etre for partners Michel Gassier, Philippe Cambie and Eric Solomon to launch this new project. Made from a blend of 70% Grenache Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc from 25 old vines. Pale straw color. Aromas of green apples, yellow apple skin and honey. Moderate + acidity, slight bitterness on palate. Sauvignon Blanc qualities define the overall fresh structure and flavor. Region is very close to the sea and seafood would be an ideal pairing.
2010 Domaine Roche Cotes du Rhone Cairanne -- Romain Roche (around 30 years old) has inherited the historic 15 ha domaine of his parents. Like many young emerging growers his parents sold all the grapes to the famous negoce. 2009 is his first vintage bottled for his domaine under the watchful tutelage of Philippe Cambie. The vineyards are between 40 and 105 years old with an average age of 60 years. 70%Grenache, 30% Syrah from 60+yr old vines. Red plum color, pink rim. Aromas of black fruits, white pepper and dried Provencale herbs. Clean, fleshy and juicy on the palate. Moderate plus grippy tannins and moderate acidity. Lots of blue fruits on the palate. Cairanne is one of the best Cotes-du-Rhone Villages.
2010 Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueyras -- Domaine La Garrigue takes its name from the wild herbe de Provence and ground cover of Provence called Garrigue, a familiar scent often captured in their bottlings.. 80% Grenache 10% Syrah 5% Mourvedre 5% Cinsault from 70+ year old vines. Black plum color, pink rim. Aromas of animal, leather, black fruits and dried herbs. Juicy on the palate with additional notes of animal, game leather, dried herbs and sweaty saddle.
2008 Jimenez-Landi Pielago Mentrida -- José Benavides Jiménez-Landi and Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi were raised among concrete tanks and old press machines. At the age of 27 they both decided to dedicate their lives exclusively to wine, and in 2004 they restored the old winery introducing new technologies and machinery with the single target of producing maximum possible quality, based in respect to environment and tradition. Mentrida is located south west of Madrid in the Castilla La Mancha. Over-strength and tired wines destined for the bulk blending market were traditional in the region but newer winemakers such as Benavides and Landi are helping to turn this image around. 100% Garnacha (Biodynamic). Dark port color. Aromas of black cherries, figs, raisins and ripasso from Italy. Shockingly high in acid on the palate with moderate+grippy tannins, black fruits, cocoa, raspberry liqueur and chocolate covered cherries. This is a very intense and intriguing wine.
2010 Casa Castillo Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain -- In 1941, Mr. Jose Sanchez-Cerezo acquired the “Propiedad Viticola Casa Castillo” for development of rosemary. In the property was a winery built in 1870 by the French when phylloxera forced them out of their vineyards in France (Jumilla is one of the few places in Spain that successfully resisted the infestation of phylloxera, hence making it an ideal place for this new winery). In 1985, the second generation of the family revived the property with the reconstruction of the vineyard and with the introduction of new varieties. The first wine was launched to the market in 1993. Red plum color, pink rim. Slight funkiness in the nose with aromas of juicy red fruits and spiced figs. Refreshing acidity on the palate, juicy fruit, easy to drink.
2009 Capcanes Costers del Gravet, Montsant -- The name Costers del Gravet translates to “slopes of Gravet,” referring to the sloped vineyards located in Gravet that were selected for this wine. Blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Garnacha, 10% Carinena from 30-60 year old vines. Black plum color, ruby rim. Aromas of mint, menthol, tangy red fruits and crushed minerals. Flavors of red plums, slight leather component, animal and licorice. Moderate acidity, moderate+ grippy tannins. Montsant is located in Tarragona and is often sold as “baby Priorat” since it surrounds that region, producing wines from many of the same grapes and styles. These wines have less pedigree and are considerably more affordable than Priorat.
2007 Izadi Rioja Reserva -- Located in Rioja Alavesa, Izadi aims to produce wines that express the character of the local varieties. The Anton Family founded Izadi in 1987 after years of running vineyards in Villabuena de Alaba. The Antons also own a one star Michelin Restaurant (Zaldiaran) in the hamlet of Vitoria. The word Izadi means Nature. Made from 100% Tempranillo. Red plum color with garnet rim. Aromas of black cherries toasted coconut, dried herbs and American cheese. Moderate acidity on the palate, moderate+tannins, flavors of juicy red fruits.
2011 Gramona Gessami Penedes -- made from a blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc 35% Muscat d’Frontignan 15% Muscat d’Alexandria and 10% Gewürztraminer. Pale straw color. Aromas Juicy Fruit gum, green apples and white flowers. Bone dry on the palate, mango iced tea, moderate+acidity. Very fresh and floral.