Friday, August 30, 2019

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Marques de Murrieta Rioja

Finally, a little chill in the air.

Here at our new pad in The Pennsylvania, we’ve been dealing with some of the joys of home ownership that inevitably come with buying a home that’s considered vintage. We’ve gone from our old place in Newport to our State College mid-century modern, built in 1951. The place has been (thankfully) refurbished a couple of times over the years – most recently in the late 90’s.

Alas, the late 90’s seems to have been the last time that our air conditioner was seriously serviced, so, of course, the compressor decided to go to the Scrapyard in the Sky during a particularly warm stretch here. We got a new unit installed – just as the heat broke, of course. But with that break came the first taste of fall, cool evenings, and bracing for our first Football Weekend in State College.

Wait, this is supposed to be about Rioja, isn’t it?

Anyway…autumn is just around the corner, which means that we’re sliding into the time of year when, for most of us (except for you, Uncle Alan), bigger, more powerful reds start coming back in vogue.

Along those lines, We had a chance to sample a new Spanish offering last week as we enjoyed some of the cooler weather. The Marques de Murrieta 2015 Rioja Reserva was on our table the other evening as we took some much needed solace from the sweat of the previous weeks.

Before I talk about this particular bottle, though – a little background. First off, Rioja is not a grape. Following the naming conventions of most European wines, Rioja is named for the region in northern Spain where it’s produced. Rioja reds are primarily blends, made up of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan), and Graciano.

Rioja reds are typically built to age for a long time, and they’re often held in barrel for years. This same winery – Marques de Murrieta – finally released their 1942 Gran Reserva in 1983. If a wine is labeled “Reserva” – as the one I tried is, it must be aged for a minimum of three years, with a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels.

As with many potentially long-lived wines, Rioja improves a great deal with decanting. Because of the tannic structure, they really need some air to smooth out and let the flavors broaden. This wine was no different. The tech notes say to give it 20-30 minutes, but I found that the wine continued to develop over the course of hours, even into the next day. Seriously, decant this mother.

Experience-wise, I thought this wine had a gorgeous nose once it had opened up. A lovely bouquet of vanilla, violets, and cherries jump up quickly. The body had rich spice notes, dark fruit, and leather flavors quite evident. The tannins, predictably, were big – but they were really nicely balanced. (The SPinC, who basically doesn’t drink anything heavier than Pinot Noir these days, thought it was smooth enough for her to handle.) The finish is lasting and grippy, ending with a graphite and dark cherry double feature that really builds after a couple of sips.

Rioja is one of the more food-friendly “big” wines that you can find, in my experience. The notes say that it pairs with “baked red snapper…and lamb chops with buttermilk.” That’s a pretty broad range! Personally, I love to pair Rioja with the mean pan of paella I’ve been known to make Given I hadn’t made one since we moved to The Pennsylvania, I had to throw down. So glad I did. Made for an absolutely worthy pairing.

This was a pretty sexy wine, I have to say. It’s a bit of a splurge at $30, but if you’re looking for a really nice bottle to take to a dinner – this will be a crowd pleaser.

Have a good Labor Day weekend, everyone.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Dog Lover Tries “9 Lives”

Anyone who’s spent time around this little shabeen of mine knows that the Sweet Partner in Crime and I love our pups. One of the real stress points for us in our recent move to State College was worrying how our critters would adjust to living in The Pennsylvania.

We had some tense moments when we got here. Even though we have a fenced-in backyard at our new place, our dear girl Rosie is every bit the beagle – and she exploited every opening she could find. She escaped four times in the first two weeks, but managed to find her way home each time – although once, apparently, she made a visit to an open sewer first. She’s gotten much better. The Charles Dog has had no such inclinations. He just wants to snuggle.

So, when across the wires came the opportunity to try a couple of Chilean wines tagged with the moniker “9 Lives,” I hoped that my natural bias towards canines wouldn’t mess with my ability to be objective about what we were going to be tasting. I did my best.

The 9 Lives wine line comes from Viña San Pedro, a Chilean producer. As you know, I’ve long espoused losing the notion that most South American wine is cheap plonk. While there are some hastily made, one-note wines from below the Equator, there are also many affordable, well-made wines that regularly make their way north. I think these two offerings – a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet Sauvignon certainly fall into that category.

The wine’s name stems from a black cat that would appear in the winery vineyard. The first winemaker at the place put a charm with the number nine around the cat’s neck – and the cat has never left.

Both these wines hail from Chile’s “Central Valley” – but, truth be told, that’s like saying that a domestic wine is “from California.” The Central Valley wine region is one of the largest in South America – with so many subregions and microclimates that just seeing “Central Valley” won’t tell you much about the wine style. These wines are also labeled “Reserve,” but that doesn’t have a particular meaning.

I can tell you, however, that they’re both quite decent. Each retails for right around ten bucks, so you’d be getting a pretty solid value, in my estimation.

Viña San Pedro 2018 “9 Lives” Sauvignon Blanc – Very light and refreshing. The tropical fruit flavors of Sauvignon Blanc certainly are in evidence, although the body feels much more like a well-made pinot grigio or a stainless-tanked Chardonnay. I thought it was nicely aromatic, with plenty of lemon and orange blossom on the nose. The body is crisp and dry, with lemon and pineapple flavors edging over a nice minerality which simply doesn’t exist in many contemporary SauvBlancs. The finish is crisp – reminiscent of the grapefruity finish on a vinho verde. Also really improves with a little bit of air. For warm weather, a real winner at the price.

Viña San Pedro 2017 “9 Lives” Cabernet Sauvignon – When I did my informal study on wine perception many moons ago, I made the observation that the more expensive someone thinks a wine is, the better they’ll usually think it tastes. Here, I’m trying a Cabernet that’s under $10 – so I had very moderate expectations. The wine blew right past those. Whatever magic that cat brought to the vineyard, it’s reflected in a very solid Cab. There are actual vanilla and tobacco aromas on the nose to go with the common red berries, and the flavors are really nicely balanced between dark red fruit, leather, and a very nice smoky tannin. The finish is the only place where things trail off a bit – it’s a bit soft on the end and the tannins don’t linger, but for ten bucks, I mean – whaddya want? If you’ve got grilled meat or big cheeses, set it and forget it.

I can appreciate cats, you know. In my days hanging with the Wizard of Covington, I had to overcome my allergies and was able to get along with critters of the feline persuasion. But nothing will replace the unconditional love of my pups – who are finally making the adjustment to this place, as you can see…

Charlie and Rosie, chillin'.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Miss Me?

Hello, friends!

Yes, the Naked Vine is still alive and well -- just transplanted! There's been a lot going on in VineLand over the last several months. The Sweet Partner in Crime traded in her UC Bearcat red and black for the navy and white of the Penn State Nittany Lions. We've been spending a great deal of recent time getting ourselves set up in our new place here in State College.

As any of you who have ever uprooted and headed for a new town know -- moving can be insanely stressful, and moving in the summer means dealing with many days in the warmth. Not to be overly predictable -- but summer means rosé, and a bottle of pink Italian goodness showed up at the homestead recently.

Except, to my surprise, what I had in my hand wasn't technically rosé. Instead, I found myself with a wine style called Ramato -- the Attems 2018 Pinot Grigio Fruili DOC Ramato, to be precise.

What is it? Ramato is a specific term for a rosé-style wine made from Pinot Grigio grapes. The name "Ramato" is from the Italian word for "copper." Pinot Grigio grapes, when ripe, are a greyish-purple, hence their name (and a major differentiation from their cousin Pinot Noir). When pinot grigio pressings are macerated on the grape skins -- which is the process that turns rosé pink -- the resulting juice can turn anywhere from a pale pink to a deep orange, depending on how long the skin contact goes on.

The resulting wine has a different profile than most rosé. There are typically more spice and floral notes on the nose -- and the flavor tends to have more of a stone fruit character.

We popped the Attems while flopping on our deck chairs after a long day of home setup logistics. The bouquet of this wine hit me right out of the box. Many rosé have noses that are so light and delicate as to be almost unnoticeable, but that's certainly not the case here in this glass smelling of peach, grapefruit, and baking spice. The flavor is where the delicacy lies with this wine -- the strawberry and cherry flavors are bounded by minerals. I thought it was incredibly well-balanced and pleasant to drink. The finish had a bit of a peppery note that I found really interesting.

The tech notes on this said it was a "perfect partner" to sweeter cured meats and prosciutto, both of which we happened to have in the fridge, along with some Manchego cheese and marcona almonds. We assembled a little charcuterie tray and went to town. They weren't lying -- this was a great aperitif/appetizer wine.

While most Ramato is Italian in origin, many domestic winemakers who grow Pinot Grigio have been trying the style -- which is certainly worth looking out for as you're wandering down the pink aisle of your local wine shop. (Side note: Central PA can't hold a candle to the wine stores we had in the 859...)

The Attems retails for around $16. A very decent bottle if you're looking for something refreshing.