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Elegant Wines | 1 Wine Dude - Page 11

Posts Filed Under elegant wines

Raiders Of The Lost Art (Tasting Not-So-Recent Releases At La Rioja Alta, S.A.)

Vinted on September 6, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

There’s a scene at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark (please don’t tell me you haven’t seen it… it’s only the greatest action/adventure flick yet made by humans) where an unnamed warehouse worker wheels a large box, presumably containing the Lost Ark of the Covenant (which turns out to be a WOMD) into a massive storage complex, through what appears to be miles of boxes stacked dozens of feet high.

Walking through the enormous barrel storage rooms at venerable Haro producer La Rioja Alta, S.A., anyone who remembers that closing scene from Raiders is bound to experience an eerie sense of déjà vu. Same goes for those strolling through LRA’s underground walkways and barrel storage areas – there are literally millions of bottles of wine slumbering in that quiet earth.

In fact, just about everything at LRA’s Haro location, aside from the tasting room (one of the few Rioja producers who even have one, and one which demonstrates a clear design love affair with high-gloss surfaces at that), feels oversized; from their display cases and production museums, down to the cask rooms and wooden casks themselves. Even their private tasting area has a huge open space smack dab in the center of it, as if a god with a magic iPhone had grabbed the corners of a normally-proportioned conference room and pinched-and-slid it to expand it to three times its normal size.

All of which makes it all the more interesting to a wine geek, weaned on the notion that truly great wine is only made in tiny quantities, that LRA’s large (okay, ginormous) production volume doesn’t get in the way whatsoever of the quality of their wines.

In fact, in tasting the wines from La Rioja Alta, one gets the sense that every hour of their near 125 years of winemaking experience has somehow been put to good use; the lineup includes not only some of Spain’s most long-lived and elegantly complex (and expensive) reds, but also one of Europe’s most stunning red wines bargains

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Modern Wines, Old School Humility, And… Tank Hosing (Tasting Miguel Merino Recent Releases in Rioja Alta)

Vinted on August 30, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines

“In Spain, when you’re fifteen, sixteen years old, you have to decide what you want to study: Science or Humanities,” joked Rioja’s Miguel Merino.

“I chose Humanities… so I can’t let the wine go wrong, otherwise I won’t know what to do to make money!”

The diminutive Merino, who spent twenty years in various aspects of the wine business before deciding to try his hand at his own wines, is like a breath of air that’s fresher than the scent of the roses that line the experimental vineyards in front of his winemaking facility in the Rioja Alta area of Briones. While medieval town and its Moorish architectural influences are thoroughly traditional for this area of Spain, Merino’s wines are made with a decidedly modernist stylistic twist.

But these are not the boorish, overly-extracted oak-monsters that have come to symbolize Rioja’s modern red wine bent – they carry the charmingly poised sense of reverently balancing on the shoulders of Rioja’s best traditions when it comes to winemaking; and their acclaim (Merino now exports to over thirty countries) is, as you will shortly come to read, well-deserved. And it helps that Merino himself is just about as humble, and about as far removed from the overblown, removed sense of self that marks some of Rioja’s biggest modern winemaking stars, as one can get

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Rare By Nature, Rare By Nurture (The Inside View Of Rutherglen Rare Topaque And Muscat)

Vinted on August 2, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, sexy wines, wine review

Geographic isolation engenders resourcefulness. As well as entire rooms that smell like caramel and sultanas.

Let’s start with the resourcefulness.

When Scottish friends George Sutherland Smith and John Banks decided in the 1860s that they couldn’t wait for materials to be shipped in to them to build All Saints, a winemaking property on the bank of the Murray River in Rutherglen’s Wahgunyah, they did what any self-respecting Aussies would do; they did it al themselves. Smith and Banks went ahead and established their own brick kiln so they could make their materials; presumably in a hurry to finish, fingerprints can still be seen in the bricks where Chinese workers laid down the material that had just barely cooled.

The result of their ingenuity is a structure that was once believed to be the largest winery in the southern hemisphere, an imposing building modeled after the their home country’s Castle of Mey (All Saints Estate was purchased in 1992 by the Brown family of Milawa, and Brown descendants Eliza, Angela and Nicholas now run the show), and built “on the back of money made running paddle steamers up the Murray and selling dry goods to miners” according to their PR folks.

The surfeit of caramel and sultanas come to us by virtue of All Saints hosting a tasting of Rutherglen’s now most famous wine export: “stickies” in Aussie slang, fortified dessert wine to the rest of the wine world. For my visit, All Saints had poured, for a comparitive master-class tasting, glasses of nearly every Rutherglen producer’s Topaque offerings, from the simpler Rutherglen level all the way through to what are called “Rare” with good reason: they’re made in tiny quantities, and aged somewhere around thirty years in barrel.

It was the Rares in which I was most interested, because… well, because I’m not above that sort of thing but primarily to tell you what they taste like, even though the chances of finding them stateside are fairly… rare

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Bubbly At 150 (Schramsberg Recent Releases, And Why It’s Okay That California Is Not Champagne)

California sparkling wine has come a long way (baby) since German draft-dodger and later NYC barber Jacob Schram decided that the hot and sunny knolls of Calistoga in the 1860s looked like a suitable place to plant vines like those he’d left behind in his beloved Rhineland (after all, he’d seen hills far steeper – and a lot more difficult to farm – back in Germany).

Schram wasn’t making bubbly back then – that Calistoga climate barely managed the mostly German varietal still wines that he produced there, so much so that he hired Chinese laborers, fresh off work on the railway lines, to dig the site’s now-famous hillside caves in order to protect his wines from the heat (pickaxe marks are still clearly blazoned into the walls). So, Schram would probably be as surprised as anyone by the success that his namesake – Schramsberg – has had in the domestic sparklers department (though Schram was no slouch – by the time of his death due to complications from paralysis in 1905, his winemaking venture was quite successful, and he’d counted among his friends people like Robert Louis Stevenson).

Schram’s son Herman wasn’t so lucky; lacking his father’s passion for the business, he couldn’t overcome the double-fisted body-blows of phylloxera and Prohibition, and tax records form the time suggest that the winemaking family business stumbled mightily by the time it was sold in 1912.

That Schramsberg could again be firing on all winemaking cylinders 150 years later probably seemed just as unlikely in Shcram’s time as any California sparkling wine being able to stand toe-to-toe with some of the best that Champagne has to offer in our time; yet (based on my recent visit this past June), both are clearly happening at this Calistoga hamlet

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