Considered one of the world’s great wine regions, France’s Alsace has long been a player on the international stage with its exceptional still and sparkling wines. With 12 generations at the helm, the Cattin family has been at the center of this region’s wine production since 1720.
France, you say, has many wine regions, so what sets Alsace apart? While France does boast a large number of regions devoted to making wine, most are warm climate areas where red wines dominate. Alsace, with its moderate climate and northerly geographic position next to Germany, is known for its production of white wines, and so holds a special place in the often-complicated world of French winemaking. Let’s take a closer look.
Domaine Joseph Cattin (www.cattin.fr) is the largest independent family-owned winery in Alsace and is located in the small village of Voegtlinshoffen, just South of Colmar. Now run by husband-wife family members, Jacques and Anaïs Sirop Cattin, the winery makes wines across the full spectrum of what Alsace offers, with particular emphasis on Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and their self-professed specialty, Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine – all of which are widely available in the U.S.
The family currently owns just over 160 acres of vines throughout the area, and like a majority of Alsace producers, farms their vineyards organically. “We’ve been farming this land for 12 generations,” said Anaïs Cattin, “by farming our vineyards sustainably, we have a better chance to ensure this winery will produce for the next twelve generations.” Cattin’s wines, all certified vegan, by the way, are produced in two separate wineries, one for still wines , the other dedicated exclusively to the production of Crémant d’Alsace.
Cattin’s whites are textbook Alsace wines, with each expression showing true varietal character whether made as AOC classified wine or coming from specific “Cru d’Alsace” vineyards – those next level properties showing unique terroir that are designated as the best vineyards in Alsace. A hallmark of Alsace wines is their beautiful compatibility with food. “While they can be consumed anytime, these are food wines,’ said Jacques Cattin, “their weight, acidity, and depth of flavor all condone pairing with not just the local cuisine of Alsace, like our famous choucroute, but with a variety of other foods, including cheeses, meats, and even fish.”
Crémant d’Alsace, sparkling wines made in the Méthode Traditionelle, are vinified in the same way as Champagne, but utilize the grapes varieties of Alsace in addition to those traditionally used for making champagne. The most popular styles are Brut, usually made with local white grapes but can also include Chardonnay; and Brut Rosé, which can only be made with Pinot Noir.
“Alsace’s dry climate and cool evenings during the growing season create the perfect combination for giving our grapes the acidity needed to make excellent sparkling wines,” said Jacques of his family’s Crémant d’Alsace. “And not having to rely exclusively on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two of the industry’s most expensive grape varieties, allows us to make wines of individuality and also keep costs in check, which in turn allows us to provide wines of great value for the price.”
With most Crémant d’Alsace wines priced at under $25, it’s a win-win in our opinion, and helps make Crémant d’Alsace Brut and Rosé some of France’s best sparkling wines.
Cattin wines we tasted; all available in the U.S.A. Imported by T. Edwards Wines.
Riesling AOC Alsace 2018, SRP: $17. Appearance: bright and pale yellow with green reflections. Nose: mineral with citrus flowers. Palate: fresh, dry and mineral, with grapefruit flavors. Pairings: sushi, choucroute, goat cheese.
Gewurztraminer AOC Alsace 2017, SRP: $18. Appearance: clear, pale gold. Nose: perfumed nose with lychee and mango aromas and a delicate touch of rose water. Palate: ripe exotic fruits with floral notes; well-balanced between spiciness and freshness; a long-lasting finish. Pairings: curries, chicken or vegetable chili, strong cheeses (e.g., real Munster cheese from Alsace).
AOC Crémant d’Alsace Brut, SRP: $22. Appearance: bright pale gold; fine bubbles. Nose: fresh; green apple and white flowers. Palate: fresh and dry palate; lively acidity balanced with fruitiness of green apple and lemon; fine and creamy bubbles. Pairings: apertif, fish, white meats.
AOC Crémant d’Alsace Rosé, SRP: $20. Appearance: clear; elegant salmon pink; abundant and dynamic bubbles. Nose: fruity especially red fruits such as cherry and black currants. Palate: refreshing and creamy with fruity aromas such as strawberries and lemon. A clean and long lasting finish. Pairings: spicy Asian dishes, fruit desserts.
Grand Cru wines are the cream of the crop in regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but here’s a tip: Alsace also makes outstanding grand cru wines, and they deliver exceptional quality for value.
We visited with Georges Lorentz, seventh generation of family-run Domaine Gustave Lorentz and winery president. Established in 1836, Gustave Lorentz is located in the heart of Alsace’s Grand Cru wine country near Altenberg de Bergheim. The winery is the essence of Alsace: historic, decidedly French and welcoming to visitors.
While we were familiar with the fact that 90 percent of Alsace wine production is white, we learned a few key points during our discussion with Lorentz:
Alsace has a unique micro-climate
Located in northeast France bordering Germany and Switzerland, Alsace is a small region with big secret Lorentz shared with us: “Alsace is protected by the Vosges Mountains and has a unique micro-climate that delivers drier and warmer temperatures, ideal growing conditions. In fact, Colmar is considered the second driest town in France.” Most producers practice organic and biodynamic farming. Gustave Lorentz has farmed organically since 2012.
Alsace Grand Cru wines are a rare find
While Alsace produces seven grape varieties, only Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat are permitted in the Grand Cru regions of Kanzlerberg and Altenberg de Bergheim near Gustave Lorentz. Here, vineyard plots are small, with concentrated plantings and lower yields in soils that are mainly clay and limestone, producing exceptional grapes. The wines deliver more complexity and can age well. Lorentz told us, “Alsace Grand Cru wines represent only five percent of production, so they are a rare find and exceptional value.” Most average $35/45/bottle.
Alsace Is a top sparkling wine region
Alsace is the oldest and largest producer of crémant, sparkling wines made in the traditional method. One can find crémants made from blends of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is also permitted to make Crémantd’Alsace. These wines are elegant and refined, delivering great value as well, averaging $30 bottle.
Alsace vs. Germany- Styles
Historically, Alsace has bounced between French and German occupation. However, the heritage, culture, and wines are very much French, as Lorentz explained: “Both Alsace and Germany used the same seven different grape varieties; but Alsace’s vinification style is decidedly French. Germans tend to enjoy drinking wine outside their meals so vinify their wines accordingly, making wines lighter in body, alcohol and style, and also sweeter with less acidity. Conversely, Alsace wines a made to enjoy with food and therefore made with more body, higher alcohol and also drier with better acidity.”
We were impressed with the finesse of the Gustave Lorentz wines we tasted:
Riesling Reserve2017, 100% Riesling with white floral and citrus notes, fresh acidity and a hint of minerality. The finish is dry and fresh. A nice aperitif wine or paired with seafood, white meat chicken or a classic Alsace Choucroute (pork and sauerkraut).
12.3% ABV SRP $21
Pinot Gris 2018, 100% Pinot Gris, that, while white, shows more like a red wine in structure. Creamy texture and underlying yet distinct backbone of acidity, it shows notes of pear and quince with a subdued smokiness in the finish. A beautiful wine that pairs well with roasted chicken, venison, or cheeses like Comté or Parmesan. 13.5% ABV, SRP $24.
Crémant d’Alsace Brut, 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Blanc, 33% Pinot Noir. Made in the méthode traditionnelle to bring a refinement to the bubbles. Zesty and crisp with notes of lemon rind and a hint of red berry. Made our mouths water for a plate of smoked gouda and country ham, or a plate of grilled shrimp. 12% ABV, SRP $26
Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, a 100% Pinot Noir made in the méthode traditionnelle. Pale salmon pink in color, this crémant is lovely to look at as well as to sip. Fresh and fruity with flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry, softer palate and more roundness. 12 % ABV SRP $25 Enjoy with a heartier dish like roast pork, pasta with tomato sauce or to complement a light fruit dessert. 12% ABV, SRP $25
The Beaujolais region in France has been designated a “Paie d’art et d’histoire,” recognizing its centuries-old heritage, picturesque villages, historic sights and many wine estates. Nearly 200 wineries are open to the public.
The official Beaujolais Wine Route covers roughly 85 miles. To the south are the larger regions of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. Moving north you’ll find the 10 smaller crus. Like the wines themselves, each appellation has a unique character based on its climate, altitude and diversity of soils which include an indigenous pink granite, clay, schist and limestone.
Here’s a snapshot, of the Beaujolais Wine Route:
Comprised of 72 villages, AOC Beaujolais, the southernmost appellation, is three times larger than neighboring Beaujolais-Villages, to the east. While reds made from the Gamay grape dominate, one can experience vibrant rosés and white wines made with Chardonnay. Whites from the Beaujolais appellation can carry hints of peach and apricots ,while Beaujolais Villages whites can have aromas of pear, fresh almond and tropical fruit and a touch of almond and vanilla.
Here are some fun facts about these two areas: In AOC Beaujolais, Les Pierres Dorées, which translates to “golden stones,” refers to a cluster of picturesque villages dotted with large golden stones that can be quite spectacular in the sunlight. In fact, this area has earned the nickname “Little Tuscany,” thanks to its steep hills and gorgeous landscape. One example is the hilltop town of Oingt ( oh-engt), which is named one of the most beautiful villages in France.
For a nice introduction to the region, visit the historical capital of Beaujeu (BO-JU), located in Beaujolais-Villages. The Beaujolais Museum has information on the region’s viticultural history.
Venturing northward lie the 10 Beaujolais crus. Cru wine styles change thanks to geology and climate. One can try Beaujolais wines that are softer like Brouilly, Fleurie and Chenas to more supple and structured like Julienas, Morgon and Moulin A Vent.
Brouilly and Côte-de-Brouilly are the southernmost crus. Brouilly wines are more fruity- plummy with some minerality. Côte de Brouilly wines are slightly fuller bodied. This is due to soils and elevation. This area has a mixture of four soil types: pink granite (unique to Beaujolais), limestone marl, river rocks and clay.
Mount Brouilly straddles the two AOCs -Brouilly at the base and Côte-de-Brouilly on the mountain slopes where vineyards grow in rocky, volcanic soils, some dating to Roman time. At the summit of Mt Brouilly is Notre- Dame- aux Rayzin (The Chapel of Our Lady of the Grapes). It was built in 1857 to protect the vineyards.
Venturing north, Régnié is a small cru spread over just one square mile with pink granite, mineral-rich terrain. Grapes are grown on hillside around 1,150 feet above sea level. Régnié produces aromatic wines with notes of raspberry, red currant, blackberry and a touch of spice.
Morgon is the second largest Cru after Brouilly with 250 producers in 4.5 square miles. It is named after the local hamlet of Morgon. The soil in Morgon is rich in iron oxide with traces of manganese and volcanic rock. Morgon wines are fuller-bodied with a deep garnet color and favors of ripe cherry, peach, apricot and plum.
Chiroubles has been called “the most Beaujolais of all the crus.” This region has a higher altitude, 1,475 above sea level and cooler temperatures Wines are ruby red with light floral votes of violet and peony.
Fleurie, a northern cru, covers just three-square miles. The soil here is almost entirely made up of the pinkish granite unique to this part of Beaujolais. Fleurie produces softer, aromatic wines with floral and fruity essences of iris, violet, rose, red fruit and peach.
The highest rated of all the Beaujolais crus, Moulin-à-Vent is ruby to dark garnet in color with lush floral and fruit aromas. It’s a wine that evolves and becomes more complex with age, delivering more earthiness and spice. Moulin a Vent means windmill, a nod to the giant windmill located in the town of Romaneche-Thorins
Chenas in a small cru located in a mountainous area that was once a dense forest before King Phillippe V ordered the trees be repaved with vines. Chenas is considered one of the finest crus, whose garnet-ruby red wines can be aged for a few years. Chenas wines were a favorite of King Louis XIII.
Moving northwest in Beaujolais, Juliénas produces earthier wines with a deep ruby red color and strawberry, violet, red currant and peony characteristics. Juliénas are powerful wines with essences of vanilla and cinnamon laced into the red fruits. The name, Julienas is taken from Julius Caesar; many vines here date to the Gallo-Roman period.
Beaujolais’s northernmost cru is called Saint-Amour. Wines can range from soft, fruit and floral to spicier, with notes of cherry kirsch. Saint-Amour is known as the most romantic Beaujolais. In fact, 20 to 25 percent of Saint-Amour sales occur in February around Valentine’s Day.
Now that we took you on a snapshot tour, we hope you are ready to taste. For more information on Beaujolais and its wines visit www.beaujolais.com
We’re fans of Virginia wines and the region itself and made our third visit to explore the state in October. The weather was perfect and fall foliage was just starting. We spent three nights staying at the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, located in Central Virginia’s Monticello AVA.
This was our first visit to Barboursville, and we produced a live show with general manager and winemaker, Luca Paschina, who shared the estate’s history over a dinner he prepared for us with a selection on Barboursville’s wines.
Barboursville’s America-Italy Connection
Barboursville was the 19th century estate of Virginia’s Governor, James Barbour, a colleague and good friend of Thomas Jefferson. The two were practically neighbors- in rural Virginia that can mean several miles away which many may still say is “up the road a ways.” Jefferson’s historic home, Monticello, is about a 20- minute drive near Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.
Historically, Barboursville was a farming estate for sheep. Like many centuries-old farms, it changed hands over time. In 1976 Italian vintner, Gianni Zonin, acquired the estate to create Barboursville Vineyards, the only winery for the Zonin family outside Italy. This was a bold move for the Zonins, whose family dates back seven generations, and it marked a major milestone in then-sleepy Virginia wine history. The Zonins happen to be the largest privately family-run wine company in Italy. By selecting Virginia over locales like Napa and New York’s Finger Lakes to start a U.S. winery, the Zonins made quite a splash in the wine news world.
Luca Paschina has served as general manager and winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards since 1990. Paschina is from a Piemontese winemaking family and is doing some amazing things with Italian varietals in this area of Central Virginia, notably Fiano, Vermentino and Nebbiolo. Barboursville’s selections also include Viognier and Cabernet Franc, which both flourish in this area. Most well-known of the estate’s wines is Octagon, Barboursville’s signature Bordeaux style blend.
There is also an onsite grape drying facility to make passito.
The inn itself also offers some smaller houses. When we were there it was quiet aside from two or three other couples staying on-site. However, the tasting rooms, inside and out, were busy with day trippers enjoying wines and a light lunch from the on-site Palladio restaurant. The tasting room team did a great job managing safe social distancing. Throughout our Virginia winery visits, everyone was incredibly careful about this.
Paschina noted that the tasting room is open every day except three holidays, and one can visit the property and the ruins of Barbour’s house, which was designed by Jefferson. Sadly, the house was destroyed in a Christmas Day fire in 1884. The estate also has some stunning gardens and a patio to relax with a glass or two of wine and gaze at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
On our final day at Barboursville, harvest ended as we were saying our goodbyes. Vineyard manager, Fernando Franco made the final “victory lap” through the vineyards and up to the tasting patio in the big blue harvester. Out came the cameras and a bottle of Barboursville sparkling wine which Franco sabered. Glasses were raised in celebration to toast the end of a harvest that, many local vintners admitted to us, has its challenges thanks to a frost in May which had everyone scrambling to protect the buds. Paschina made a speech and thanked his team for their hard work. What a special moment to capture and savor in the vineyards among friends!
The Connected Table Live at Barboursville with Luca Paschina.
Here are the show notes and link. You can also hear it anytime on your favorite podcast platform.
Photos not provided by Barboursville Vineyards were taken by The Connected Table.
Greetings from “Roam.” That is our current state of being….wherever we roam on an indefinite road trip. In August we sold our house in the Hudson Valley, which we referred to as “Camp David.” That is one reason you have not heard from us in several weeks. Selling your home and most of your possessions and packing what is left into a 16 x 10 -foot storage Pod is a job unto itself. Watching the Pod leave our driveway August 11 to rest somewhere in upstate New York until we plot a permanent move was emotional. But seeing an “open road” ahead is exhilarating!
We kept a few key things for our #TheConnectedTableRoadTrip culinary survival kit: Riedel glassware, utensils, cooking knives, cookware and spices. Our handy VinGardeValise® wine suitcase is packed with select bottles. And we have our computers and radio equipment to write and broadcast from the road. What more do we need? Oh, right, the dog… Yes, @sazeracsays is with us and posting as we #roamNewYork.
Currently we have been spending time upstate in the beautiful Finger Lakes region having just returned from a visit to the Niagara region and Buffalo, where David’s family settled some two centuries ago. We visited Ransomville (named for the family) and David was able visit the town historical society which had a section dedicated to his ancestors.
Dubbed the Queen City of the Great Lakes back at the turn of the last century, Buffalo’s stunning architecture and Frederick Law Olmstead-designed parks impressed. We also visited David’s grandparents’ (Ransom) home, now occupied by a law firm which has an appointed “house historian” named Amanda who was thrilled to meet an original Ransom!
Buffalo restaurants are starting to serve inside – safely socially distanced- and continue to offer patio, takeout and delivery options. We visited Dobutsu, which serves an Asian-Pacific menu, and tried the lobster ramen and the spicy rice with pork. Owner/Chef James Roberts also owns Toutant, which focuses on specialties from Louisiana. Roberts resettled in Buffalo after Hurricane Katrina. www.dobutsubuffalo.com www.toutantbuffalo.com
The other was Marble & Rye, where the menu was gastropub with a twist. Standout dishes for us were the spinach ricotta dumplings with pan-fried smelts tossed in a spicy puttanesca sauce, Asian noodles in peanut butter sauce and sea scallops ceviche with rice crackers. The beverage program, overseen by bar manager Megan Lee, would rival any in the country, and as the establishment’s name suggests, there is a strong focus on Rye spirits.
Of course, David enjoyed the classic Buffalo sandwich, Beef on Weck (thinly sliced roast beef on a kummelweck roll (sometimes spelled kimmelweck) served with horseradish and beef jus) and Buffalo chicken wings. While The Anchor Bar can lay claim to inventing this spicy dish, good wings can be found all over the city, and there is considerable debate on who makes the best. Our pick? Let’s just say that those in the know head to Gabriel’s Gate in the Allentown neighborhood for theirs. www.gabrielsgate.page.tl
Western New York is known for its stone fruits, and the bag of fresh peaches we bought were some of the juiciest we have tasted. We also purchased some gorgeous mushrooms and vegan burgers at the Elmwood Village Saturday farmer’s market. We also stopped in at several wineries (will report on that separately) and visited Niagara Falls.
Taking the Maid of the Mist boat ride practically into Horseshoe Falls – and getting seriously misted in the process! – was a bucket list experience for both of us. We stayed on the New York side since Americans currently cannot travel to Canada due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Also, not to miss is a visit the to Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This home, built in the early 1900s, belonged to Larkin Soap executive, Darwin D. Martin, at the time one of Buffalo’s wealthiest citizens (he moved into the home in 1905). The design is Lloyd Wright’s “prairie style” with expansive. lean horizontal lines and open room layout. The Treesof Life glass windows are masterpieces in glass art design; we even saw one on display st the Corning Museum of Glass Design.
We want to give a special shout out to Karen Fashana at Visit Buffalo Niagara for sharing tips on what to visit and where to dine www.visitbuffaloniagara.com and to Jennifer Redmond, General Manager at the Residence Inn by Marriott in downtown Buffalo, who arranged our spacious room, complete with a kitchen that offered real wine glasses and coffee mugs. Working on the roam, this hotel provided us what we needed both to relax and to work, and it is pet friendly! This hotel is located across the street from the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historical Site and is convenient to many attractions.
Sazerac, our Maltese pup, gave the Residence in Buffalo 4 tail wags!
Located in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania The Lehigh Valley is one of this state’s five AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). There are more than two dozen wineries in the Lehigh Valley; most are family owned. An early autumn visit in 2019 arranged by the Pennsylvania Wine Association and Discover Lehigh Valley associations introduced us to the appellation and a few of its producers.
Pennsylvania is the nation’s fifth largest wine producing state.
But you need to visit to taste most of the wines. By law, Pennsylvania wines are mainly sold by state-run wine and spirits retailers, or in restaurants. Wineries can also sell direct to consumer, and many welcome visitors to their tasting rooms. It’s a great reason to plan a wine destination road trip to Pennsylvania, especially now if you are into driving trips on the East Coast.
Besides, the area is beautiful; picture rolling farmland dotted by red barns. We learned the Pennsylvania Dutch, descendants from Germany who settled in the region, had an affinity for the color red which is a symbol of love. The red paint was also used to seal in heat to endure the harsh winters.
Many of the grapes cultivated here are heartier to withstand the temperamental weather which includes very cold winters and hot, humid summers. Lehigh Valley’s southeast location has a longer growing seasons; soils are limestone and shale which allow for excellent drainage. Both vitis vinifera and French American hybrids are cultivated.
Among the European varieties we tasted and liked include the whites, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay, Reds include, but are not limited to, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Lemberger (also known as Blaufränkisch ) and Syrah.
The Chambourcin hybrid is the most widely planted red in the Lehigh Valley. We tasted wines from this variety ranging from dry and supple to off dry, both still and sparkling. Baco Noir and Noiret, both with a Cabernet character, are also prevalent here. Hybrid whites include Sevyl Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Traminette and Vignoles.
All the wines we tasted during our brief visit were a pleasant surprise. We look forward to returning to Pennsylvania to spend more time in other viticultural areas.
Lehigh Valley wineries to visit:
Galen Glen Winery. Galen Troxell, formerly a chemical engineer, and wife, Sarah, a chemist, left their corporate careers to take of his family’s 200- year- old farm, located on a hill overlooking a valley (a.k.a. the “glen”). They established the winery in 1986. Sarah serves as chief winemakers, now joined by daughter, Erin.
Most are vitis vinifera plus a little Chambourcin and Cayuga, another white hybrid. Galen Glen was the first Pennsylvania winery to plant Grüner Veltliner and also the second in the U.S.A. to do so. Sarah was inspired to plant this variety after reading an article in Food & Wine Magazine about how well it pairs with vegetables. Grüner is definitely a standout here, but we also enjoyed Galen Glen’s Gewürztraminer and Fossil Riesling, notably the library wines we tasted. www.galenglen.com
Clover Hill Winery
This winery was formerly a Christmas tree farm when John Skrip, a physician, and his wife, Pat, acquired it in the 1970s. Initially thy planned to grow grapes and make wine as a hobby but friends and locals wanted more of their wine. In 1986, it became a licensed winery and now producers around 400,000 cases. John Skrip, Jr, serves as winemaker now and works with his sister, Kari, who oversees marketing.
During our visit, we tasted several Clover Hill wines paired with a selection of pierogi made by a local family, a nod to the German influence in the Lehigh Valley. If you visit, try the sparkling Vidal Blanc wine and the Chambourcin Port, both unique to this winery and the area. We also enjoyed Clover Hill’s Pinot Noir but sadly they are ripping out the vines that were damaged from storms. If you see one of their Pinot Noirs at a store, buy it! www.cloverhillwinery.com
Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery
Established in 1974, Vynecrest is the oldest winery in the Lehigh Valley and one of the founding members of the AVA. Its facilities are housed in an 18th century barn. Also family-run, Vynecrest is owned by John Landis and wife, Jan. Our visit took place during harvest, and it was all hands-on deck for John’s sons.
Of the wines tasted, we enjoyed the white Traminette 2016, a Gewürztraminer hybrid and the Lemberger 2017. Landis’ son told us “Lehigh Valley is mainly a white wine region that does red really well.” www.vynecrest.com
We did not visit Stony Run Winery or Tolino Vineyards but we tried their wines at our welcome dinner and would suggest trying more (we want to!). We tasted Stony Run’s delightful sparkling brut cuvée made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, made in the Charmat method. Tolino Vineyards’ barrel aged Cabernet Franc (2017) was elegant and underscored why we are fans of east coast Cabernet Franc wines. www.stonyrunwinery.comwww.tolinovineyards.com
Further afield: Maple Springs Vineyard
This stunning piece of property may be pushing the Lehigh Valley borders and it took a while to find but, but it was well worth it! Maple Springs Vineyards is owned by Marianne Lieberman, whose work in her family’s airport advertising business in Manhattan. In 1995, she acquired the farm and named it “Maple Springs” in memory of Marianne’s grandmother, Helen Maple Doern.
The “Springs” are a nod to the underground springs on the property. Lieberman planted Chardonnay vines in 2008 and two years recruited winemaker, Jeb Stebben, who worked in California at Opus One and Carneros Creek. The Maple Springs Chardonnay is a stunner as was the Pinot Noir. www.maplespringsvineyard.com
If you visit Lehigh Valley
The city of Allentown offers plenty to see and places to dine. For something a little more “away” and romantic, consider the Glasbern, an historic on 150 acres of farmland with walking trails. Our king bed room came with a spacious seating area and large hot tub that overlooked the heated pool. The restaurant serves as fabulous breakfast and a small, seasonal dinner menu. Special event facilities and a spa are also on-site. www.Glasbern.com
Listen to our podcasts on The Connected Table LIVE with these Lehigh Valley producers:
Sarah Troxell, Galen Glen Winery (2nd segment on this show episode)
Winemaker Sarah Troxell and husband, Galen, own Galen Glen Winery (est 1995) in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Galen Glen was the first winery to plant Grüner Veltliner on the East Coast and second overall in the U.S.
Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley is home to nine family-run wineries. Siblings Kari & John Skrip are second generation family members managing Clover Hill Vineyards & Winery, one of the region’s oldest wineries.
Established in 2016, AOC Cairanne is the newest of the Côtes du Rhône’s 17 crus. Located on the left bank of the Rhône River thirty minutes from Avignon, the village of Cairanne is perched on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by vineyards. In the distance one can see the craggy peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
Considered a gateway to the southern Rhône Valley, Cairanne’s climate is Mediterranean- dry and sunny with frequent gusts from the mistral winds which cool and purify the air, an ideal setting to cultivate healthy vines. Many vines in this region are more than 50 years old.
Red wines make up 96 percent of Cairanne’s production. AOC guidelines require that the reds be a minimum of 40 percent Grenache, blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, but no variety can exceed 30 percent of the total blend. The end result are red wines that display sultry spice, fresh red fruits, smooth tannins, and elegant finesse.
Though only four percent of total production, Cairanne whites, also follow stringent AOC guidelines, comprised mainly of Clairette, Grenache Blanc or Roussanne. Bourboulenc, Picpoul. Viognier or Marsanne may be used in smaller amounts. The whites are all aromatic with a bright balance of floral, fruit and spice.
Conservation is important in Cairanne where 26 percent of planted areas are organically farmed, and sulfites are kept to extremely low levels. Most of the vines are gobelet-trained to safeguard against the wind and to preserve the freshness of the fruit. Cairanne is divided into three growing areas. To the west near the Aygues River, vineyards are planted on steep terraces with extremely stony topsoil over calcareous clay. The hilly slopes just north of the village are alluvial clay and silt with limestone. In the flat southern region, the vegetation is shallow scrubland, known in the Rhône Valley as les garrigues. Each contribute to the consistent style and character of Cairanne wines which producers unanimously refer to as more “refreshing and elegant.”
Cairanne is a winemaking community consisting of 50 independent vignerons, 35 négociants and seven cooperatives. Locals talk about a youthful vitality in Cairanne; after all, it is the newest Cru in the Côtes du Rhône. The reference is also a nod to the region’s younger winemakers who are working together with an eye on preservation, sustainability, and recognition for AOC Cairanne in the global wine market.
Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers:
Domaine Alary. Jean-Etienne Alary is one of Cairanne’s young winemakers whose families have been producing wine in the region for many years. Domaine Alary has existed since 1692. Jean-Etienne represents the 11th generation. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)
Domaine André Berthet-Rayne. André Berthet-Rayne’s great grandfather started with 15 acres; his father, Paul expanded it substantially. Today the winery is run by André with daughter, Alexandra, taking on winemaking duties. (Santa Armosa NY)
Domaine Boisson. Sixth generation winemaker, Bruno Boisson, studied and worked in Burgundy for several years, which is why the wines have a Burgundian flare to them, notably the barrel-aged white, L’Exigence (Verity Wines)
Domaine Le Grand Bois. An estate founded in 1920 by Albert Farjon now run by his descendent, Mireille Farjon, and her husband, Marc Besnaudeau, who worked as a sommelier in Paris before joining his wife’s family business. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)
Learn more about AOC Cairanne. Listen to The Connected Table SIPS. Each podcast is 12 minute.
Cairanne, a pretty hill town in the Côtes du Rhone, has a winemaking community committed to producing elegant wines with an eye on sustainability and authenticity. A cru appellation since 2016, AOC Cairanne requires vines to be hand-harvested and sulfite levels kept to a minimum. 26% of all vineyards are organic. Jean-Etienne Alary, 11th generation family member at Domaine Alary, discusses Cairanne’s different soils and how young winemakers are working to support each other. www.vins-rhone.com
AOC Cairanne, the youngest of the Côtes du Rhone’s 17 crus, is located on the left bank of the Rhône River in the Vaucluse. Cairanne’s dry, sunny climate, cooling mistral winds and three distinct soil types provide the perfect setting for producing the region’s complex, lush grenache-based red wines and “rising star” aromatic whites blended from local grapes. Producer and negociant, Jean-Marie Amadieu, discusses Cairanne’s setting and styles of wine. www.vins-rhone.com
One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations (established in 1947), AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s gem. The wines were prized among European nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 18th century, local magistrates in Roquemaure started to authentic the origin of Lirac wines by branding the casks with “C.d.R.” Lirac wines were the first in the region to use the term “Côtes du Rhône.” Today, Lirac wines continue to draw a strong following among sommeliers and other wine aficionados.
Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white, and smaller amounts of rosé wines. AOC guidelines require all to be blends, mainly using indigenous varieties. Red wines, which comprise 85 percent of Lirac’s production, must contain a minimum of 40 percent Grenache. The remaining amounts are usually Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre or Cinsault (the latter is popular for rosés). Around 10 percent of production is white. Clairette is the superstar white variety in Lirac followed by Bourboulenc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and, to a smaller degree, Picpoul and Ugni Blanc. The white wines lean toward aromatic with balanced acidity. While overshadowed by the reds in the global market, Lirac’s whites are well worth seeking out.
During our visit in early March 2020 (thankfully before the travel shutdown), a robust mistral blew in, practically knocking us over. The locals are used to the mistral wind which average 180 days of the year. Lirac’s climate in the southern Rhône Valley is Mediterranean, but a mistral can have you reaching for scarves and jackets even under a brilliant sunny sky.
These winds, unique to this part of France, combined with more than 220 days of sunshine, play a key role in shaping Lirac’s terroir. They help purify the air to keep humidity low, chase away pests and nurture healthy vines.
Another key factor are Lirac’s three soils. Alluvial river soils scattered with large round stones, known as galets roulés, produce intense red wines with dark fruit and savory spices, offering long aging potential. Limestone soils deliver minerality and aromatics, a hallmark of the whites which are fruit and floral with balanced acidity. Sandy soils produce fresh lighter wines, low in tannins, ideal for Lirac’s fruitier style of rosés
Avignon serves as a great base to visit both Lirac and Tavel, its next -door neighbor which only produces rosé wines. If you stay in Avignon, a visit to the Palais du Papes (the Popes’ Palace) is a must, and allow plenty of time (advanced reservations are suggested.). We had the chance to spend a Sunday in Avignon where locals and tourists gather at the covered market for casual Sunday dining or to pick up provisions. It’s great people watching!
We visited with several Lirac producers during our trip. When asked how they would define “Lirac style,” they all underscored “freshness and lush” as a backbone of the wines and what they refer to as “the Rhône Valley’s “right bank style.” In contrast, left bank wines, such as those in Chateauneuf-du-Pape just across the river were described as “concentrated and more intense.” A number of producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, have invested in vineyards in Lirac.
Lirac is home to many independent wineries; many are family-run Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers.
Château de Ségriès. This historic winery is one of the first in the appellation. by Count Henri de Régis de Gatimel inherited Château de Ségriès in 1940 and was one of the first to replant vines in the region. The Count was the first to petition that Lirac be awarded AOC status, which occurred in 1947. (U.S. importer: Kysela Pere & Fils).
Château de Montfaucon. The center piece of this estate is a lovingly restored fortress dating to the 12th century owned by a noble family. Proprietor Rodolphe du Pins showed us a pre-phylloxera vineyard dating back 140 years. (Winebow)
Domaine La Lôyane. Started by a family of growers dating back four generations, the winery is run by Romain Dubois and his wife, Laure. Organically run, this winery is home to five vineyards including one whose Grenache vines are 150 years-old! (Elixir Wine Group)
Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine The Lafond family has been making wine in the Rhône Valley since 1780. “Roc-Epine” was established in 1970 and started to bottle wine in 1978. The name commemorates “Roquepine,” a famous horse race. (Skurnik Wines)
Château Mont-Redon. The original name, “Mourredon,” dates to 1344, when the property was part of the Pope’s land; it was recognized as a vineyard in the 18th century. Today this winery, is owned by the largest landowner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape who saw the potential in making wine in Lirac. (F. Wildman)
La Maison Ogier. In 800 A.D. with “Ogier the Dane” fought with Charlemagne’s soldiers and settled in the area. The family entered the wine business in 1859. Ogier was founded in 1948. Today it is a leading negociant in the Rhône Valley. (Folio Fine Wine Partners)
Listen to The Connected Table Sips. Discover Lirac!
AOC Lirac on the Rhône River’s right bank is a small cru appellation producing lush reds and aromatic whites. Lirac has an ideal terroir: over 200 days of sun, purifying mistral winds and three different soils: rocky galets, calcareous and sandy, with most vineyards organically farmed. AOC Lirac Co-President Rodolphe de Pins is owner of Château de Montfaucon, where some vineyards date back 140 years. He discusses how Lirac’s different soils shape the character of its wines. www.vins-rhone.com
One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations since 1947, AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s rare gem, just northwest of Avignon. Lirac wines were prized among Europe’s nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th century. Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white and smaller amounts of rosé wines made from blends of mainly indigenous varieties. Château de Montfaucon’s Rodolphe de Pins, AOC Lirac Co-President, discusses the region and styles of wine. www.vins-rhone.com
Our August 14 edition of The Connected Table LIVE comes with a southern drawl and a discussion about food that left listeners (and us) drooling, courtesy of Virginia Willis, author of "Secrets of the Southern Table" and southern food chronicler.
The South is a delicious hodgepodge when it comes to its culinary heritage and it is one of the most fascinating places to visit because of it. Many customs are rooted in traditions that blend diverse cultures: Irish, Scottish, English, French, African, Hispanic, Vietnamese and Greek, just to name a few. In fact, the upcoming Les Dames d'Escoffier International Conference October 24-27 in Nashville has a seminar focused on sorghum and honey and another on the culinary influence of immigrants past and present in the state of Tennessee. Diversity is the fabric of the south, and it's delicious. Hopefully this unique cultural heritage will endure and achieve greater appreciation.
In Secrets of the Southern Table (Houghton Mifflin), Willis introduces us to the farmers, producers and fisherman who supply the foods many of us enjoy at the restaurants throughout the south. Some are multi-generational families; others are (relatively) newer enterprises born from the dedication of immigrants who settled in pockets of the south. It’s a culinary tour that runs the gamut from sweet potatoes and grits to gospel birds and game birds to sweet shrimp and sausages. Throughout the book you can’t help but ponder about what truly defines “heritage” in the new south. It’s a richer place today thanks to the many cultures you find there. We should never take that for granted.
Willis has written cookbooks covering everything from single subjects (okra and grits) to the complete southern table with Bon Appetit Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all. And then after filling us all up with rich delicious recipes, she taught us how to “Lighten Up Ya’ll” with a tailored approach to preparing southern dishes. - trimming the fat without losing the taste. Her articles and recipes can also be found at her "Cooking with Virginia" column in Southern Living magazine.
Home to some of the world’s most sought after wines including Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, and Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont is regarded as one of Italy’s great wine regions. Michele Chiarlo Wines, founded by Michele Chiarlo and now run with the help of his sons Alberto and Stefano, has been a leader in the region since 1956.
Always family owned and operated, Michele Chiarlo owns vineyards in three of Piedmont’s most important growing regions: Langhe, Montferrato, and Gavi, and focuses exclusively on making single vineyard wines. Their vineyard in Cerequio, in the heart of Barolo, is considered one of the finest plantings of Nebbiolo in the region and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. The same is true for La Court, the Chiarlo Vineyard in Barbera, which also caries the UNESCO moniker.
Purists at heart, the Chiarlo family creates their wines exclusively from indigenous grape varieties including Barbera, Cortese, Nebbiolo, and Moscato, and over the years has helped lead Piedmont’s quality revolution in both winemaking and farming practices in through leadership, innovation, and dedication to their craft. “Preserving this land for the future is vey important to us,” says Stefano Chiarlo, who oversees wine production, “therefore we helped establish standards of quality for the DOC winemaking laws in Piedmont, and spearheaded green harvest practices, for all of Italy, in 1984.”
Never comfortable to rest on their laurels, The Chiarlo family is constantly working to find the next big wine and as such has heavily invested in the region’s new Nizza DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italy’s highest level of quality for wine), in order to build that new winemaking appelation’s reputation for quality in the marketplace.
The following selection of Michele Chiarlo wines are a good way to get to know this iconic brand, which is imported into the United States by Kobrand Wine & Spirits.
Le Marne Gavi DOCG: Made in the Gavi region, and area known for its white wine production from the Cortese grape variety, Le Marne shows citrus and mineral notes and jumps on the palate with lively acidity. A perfect white to pair with food. SRP: $19.99
Cipressi Barbera Nizza DOCG: Grown at Le Court, the Chiarlo estate in Barbera, this 100% Barbera wine is shows classic notes of ripe cherry and red fruit through a lush, yet elegant palate. A perfect wine for lighter meats and pasta dishes. SRP: $29.99
Tortoniano Barolo DOCG: 100% Nebbiolo from Piedmont’s pre-eminent wine region, the Tortoniano Barolo spends 2 years in barrel and one year in bottle prior to release. A highly structured wine, yet also quite approachable at an early age, this wine is a wonderful food wine perfect for pairing with meats, pastas, and aged cheeses. SRP: $59.99
Listen to The Connected Table SIPS with Stefano Chiarlo. Click this image and stream:
Costières de Nîmes was a pleasant discovery for us, far from the more heavily visited areas of Provence to the east. The Rhône Valley’s southernmost wine region sits on a plateau that stretches north from the Camargue delta region 50 kilometers to the south. From some hilltop vineyards, one can see Arles and an outline of the Frank Gehry-designed The Luma Arts Foundation complex, which has turned that ancient Roman city in Provence into a contemporary arts destination.
Vines have been cultivated in Costières de Nimes since the days of Ancient Greece. The area was also occupied by the Romans after they conquered Egypt during the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The region and its namesake city, Nîmes, display the imagery of a crocodile tied to a palm tree, from the pavement to street signs and a few whimsical sculptures positioned here and there. The crocodile represents Egypt, and the palm tree is the Roman symbol of victory.
Winemaking began to flourish in Costières de Nîmes during the Middle Ages, and the region’s wines became the preferred selection of the 14th century Papal Court when it occupied nearby Avignon. A boost to the viticultural economy occurred in the 20th century with the construction of both Pierre-Paul Riquet’s Canal du Midi and Philippe Lamour’s Canal du Bas-Rhone which facilitated transportation from the region.
An AOC since 1986, Costières de Nîmes‘ production is red wines (55%), rosés (40%) and whites (5%). Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah are the dominant red varieties (80%); Carignan and Cinsault are also used. Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussane are the three main white grapes, followed by Bourboulenc, Clairette, Vermentino and Viognier. The reds are sultry and juicy with dark blackberry and raspberry notes; the whites are aromatic with a touch of salinity thanks to the region’s proximity to the sea and the soil. The climate is classic southern France – Mediterranean Sea breezes mixed with cool mistral winds from the north and more than 200 days of sunshine.
Our first visit was Château L’Ermitage. Owner Jérôme Castillon took us on a bumpy open-air Land Rover ride through the hilly vineyards to shows us the rocky terrain covered with garrigue, a particularly herbaceous Mediterranean brush that contributes to the earthy herbal character of the wines. Thanks to the proximity to the Rhône River, the soils are alluvial with many large pale pebbles, called galets.
In the evening, we had dinner in Nîmes at the Museum of Roman History (Musee de la Romanate. This is a newer addition to the city of Nîmes. It’s a large modern edifice with a rooftop garden and panoramic views. We read in this article that the architect, Elizabeth de Portzamparc, was inspired by a Roman toga. We’re not sure we get that, but we did get – and enjoyed -the wines we tasted during our meal at museum’s on-site restaurant, La Table du 2 Brasserie by Michelin Star-rated Chef Franck Putelat. The producer was fourth generation vintner Fanny Boyer, Château Beaubois.
If you visit the region, seeing Nimes is a must. It’s filled with history and is nice for strolling and spotting crocodile and palm tree imagery. Among the many sights of historical note, two include the giant ancient amphitheater that now serves as a performance space and the Maison Carrée, a completly preserved the ancient Roman. More on visiting Nimes here.
A note on where we stayed…We loved our two nights at Domaine des Clos, a boutique apartment-hotel with spacious grounds and very good food (we had three meals there- breakfast, lunch and dinner). Owners Sandrine and David Ausset, both native to the region, left their corporate jobs in Paris to spend years renovating this abandoned 18th century wine estate. Sandrine is passionate about ayurvedic health and offers special retreats.
An early spring visit to Utiel-Requena in eastern Spain provided an immersion experience in Bobal, a voluptuous grape that makes full-bodied red wine and refreshing rosés.
We stayed in the historic part of Requena, the center of the Utiel-Requena wine route. The old town is a quiet maze of small plazas lined with cafés and shops and crooked, narrow streets, barely navigable by car. Notable sites include the large fortress, landmark churches (Iglesia Santa Maria and Iglesia de El Salvador are both national monuments), a wine museum located in the 15th century Palacio del Cid, and a silk museum (Casa del Arte Mayor de la Seda). Requena and nearby Valencia used to be a center for silk production. We stayed in the Hotel Doña Anita, which has a small café and is well-located for exploring the local attractions by foot.
Utiel-Requena: Ancient Wine Roots and Wine Route
Utiel-Requena is located on a high plateau between 1,950 and 2,950 feet above sea level and 70 kilometers from the coast of Valencia (which is both a province as well as a city). The hyphenated name Utiel-Requena represents the region’s two principal municipalities; there are nine in total. Most vineyards are located between two rivers, the Turia and Cabriel; the climate is Mediterranean with a continental influence due to the higher altitude. When I was there in late March it was chilly and windy with bright sun.
The D.O. Utiel-Requena was established in 1932; however, wine production dates to 7th century BC, more than 2,700 years ago, according to archaeologists who discovered fragments of Phoenician amphorae in the Iberian village of Villares de Caudete (also known as Kelin). Other evidence of early wine making can be seen at Las Pilillas, where ancient stone ruins remain from wineries dating back to 1 BC. Walking the paths, one may still find shards of small shards of amphorae.
The closest big city is Valencia which is worth a few days’ visit. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain and a major port. It’s also the center for enjoying of one of Spain’s most well-known dishes, paella, which was brought over by the Moors from Africa when they invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 A.D.
Bobal: A Voluptuous Grape
The name Bobal refers to a “bull’s head” which resembles the shape of the grape clusters. I couldn’t help but compare the word to “bulbous,” which the grape is. It is the third most widely planted grape in Spain after Airen and Tempranillo. Seventy-five percent of grape production in Utiel-Requena is Bobal; the varietal is also cultivated in the D.O.’s Alicante, Manchuela, Murcia and Valencia. Its cousin is Bovale, cultivated in Sardinia, and Nieddera in France. Bobal is a hearty grape that can grow well in poor soil, usually on bush vines or trellis. Thanks to Utiel-Requena’s higher altitude, this area had numerous pre-phylloxera vines. More than 50 percent of the vineyards have vines that average at least 40 years, and some more than 100 years-old. We were there weeks before bud break, and the low, gnarly vines resembled wizened hands stretching out from the soil, which is predominantly alluvial and clay with limestone.
Bobal is less reductive than Tempranillo and contains high tannins and polyphenols. It is harvested later than Tempranillo around the same time as Cabernet Sauvignon. The red wines are usually full-bodied with dark cherry, blueberry and cacao notes, with hints of clove and thyme. Bobal contains no pyrazines, a compound which can add a slight vegetal character to some red wines. Eighty percent of the Utiel-Requena’s Bobal wines are exported. Interestingly, Japan is a large market for Bobal wines. Many are available in the U.S.
Bobal: The wines
There are two key designations for Bobal wines. “Bobal Alta Expression” is reserved for single varietal wines, with or without oak aging. Under this designation, the vineyards must be at least 35 years with lower yields, and no irrigation is allowed. “Bobal with Specific Mention” is for rosé wines and other 100 percent Bobal wines. One may find “Aged,” “Reserva,” “Gran Reserva,” “Superior,” “Early Harvest,” and “Barrel-Aged” with mention of Utiel-Requena on any rendition of the wines.
During our visit, we tasted many expressions of the Bobal grape including a sparkling Blanc de Noir from Pago de Tharsys, the first and only winery to make a sparkling Bobal wine.
Here is a rundown of the wineries we visited and some observations:
Bodegas & Viñedos Ladrón de Lunas: The name of this winery which translates to “moon thief” is tied to its underground caves lined with giant amphorae, the traditional ways the wines have been made. Fernando Martinez, sixth generation winemaker, shared the story behind the name “Ladrón de Lunas” which, just a hint, involves love, a promised kiss, a broken heart and murder. I enjoyed the the Ladrón de Lunes Exclusive LDL. www.ladrondelunas.com
Pago de Tharsys: Founded in 2002, the winery is a Pago, which indicates “wines of unique character.” We started with an organic barrel-fermented Chardonnay called Ana Carlota Suria 2017, named after the owner’s wife. I loved this wine lemony-verbena notes and slight creaminess due to the two months of aging in French oak. I also enjoyed the sparkling “Único Brut Reserva” a blanc de noir made from 100 percent Bobal, made in the methode traditionelle style. We tasted three vintages; a 2015 aged 36 months in bottle before disgorging; a 2014 Brut Reserva aged 48 months in bottle before disgorging; and a 2013 Brut Reserva aged 40 months in bottle before disgorging and then another 24 months in bottle before release. All had soft Asian pear apple essence and crispness and more toasty characters with aging. www.pagodetharsys.com
Bodegas Vibe: The owner of this winery runs a catering business and restaurant named Contrapunto in Valencia. Naturally the focus is making food-friendly Bobal wines. We also had the chance to taste a delightful aromatic white wine named Parsimonia made from the Tardana grape, which is also native to Utiel-Requena. This grape ripens late; thus, the name which is derived from the Spanish word for late – tarde. Our tasting in a private home was led by Raúl Vincent Bezjak, son of the owner, and winemaker, Juan Carlos Garcia. The 2017 100 percent Bobal was silky and spicy with intense plum, blueberry and cacao notes. www.bodegasvibe.com
Bodega Cherubino Valsangiacomo: Marta Valsangiacomo, fifth generation family member led our tour. The family was from the Italian side of Switzerland where they started a winery in 1831 in the canton of Ticino. It grew into a larger wine production and export company. In 1997, the family relocated facilities and headquarters to Utiel-Requena. Its San Juan vineyards, located on a plateau 750 meters above sea level, have vines averaging 40 to 60 years old; however, we also saw some 100-year-old vines. www.valsangiacomo.es
Chozas Carrascal: This winery, opened in 2002, is surrounded by large bronze wine-themed sculptures. It contains an impressive collection of more than two million wine labels from around the world carefully cataloged in its museum-like lobby. Chozas Carrascal’s wines are 100 percent certified organic. Winemaker Julián López Peidro, grandson of the founder, led us through a tour and tasting, noting that Chozas Carrascal is the first winery in the region to produce its wines in concrete (since 2003). I was partial to the lush Los Ochos, a blend of eight grapes: Bobal (30%) then percentages of Monastrell, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. www.chozascarrascal.es
Dominio de la Vega: This winery is run by a father and son, Emilio and Daniel Exposito, who worked as grape growers for many years before establishing their own winery in 1992 in an 18th century estate. They produce wines from three vineyards. We started off with a delightful sparkling wine made from Sauvignon Blanc aged 13 months before moving into the Bobal wines. The Mírame 2018 rosé was a spicier style made from Bobal and Pinot Noir. We tasted several vintages of Finca La Beate 100 percent Bobal, including a 2016, 2012 and 2006, demonstrating how nicely wines made from this varietal can age. www.dominiodelavega.com
Coviñas: Established in 1965, Grupo Coviñas is the largest winery in the Utiel-Requena region representing a cooperative of 3000 farmers. Our host, Manolo, compared Bobal to “a mix between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, noting it is a wine that doesn’t check you out.” Our tasting, held in the bell tower at the Fortress included a variety of wines. I was taken by the Aula Rosé made from 100 percent Bobal, for it refreshing melon notes. Another pleasant easy drinking wine was the oak-aged 2018 Authentico 100 percent Bobal. www.covinas.com
Marqués de Atrio: This winery was founded by the Rivero family in the late 19th century and is now majority-owned by Changyu, a Chinese corporation. The family also produced wines in Rioja, Navarra and Rías Baixas. This tasting rook place in another underground cellar by candlelight. The best-selling wine is called Faustino, a blend of 90 percent Bobal and 10 percent Tempranillo, aged in French oak for 15 months. I was partial to the 2013 Faustina Reserva. www.marquesdelatrio.com
Bodega Sierra Norte: Tasting these wines in the vineyard under tree on a brilliant sunny day was the perfect finale to our tour. The vineyards had some of the rockiest soil I had ever seen, which we all navigated delicately as we walked through them to the tasting led by winemaker, Manolo Olmo, and Export Director Ricardo Calatayud. Bobal was first planted in 1914, and the winery was one of the first to produce certified organic wines. I was particularly intrigued by this winery’s Pasión rose, www.bodegasierranorte.com
This trip was hosted by the Consejo Regulador for D.O. Utiel-Requena.