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
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.
Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardia is a region of rolling hills, medieval villages, majestic and vast stretches of vineyards earning it the moniker, the “Tuscany of the North.” Oltrepò means “beyond the Po,” a reference to the region’s location on the southern shore of the Po River in the province of Pavia. Oltrepò Pavese benefits from cool breeze from the north and a location on the 45th degree parallel, where some of the world’s great wines are produced. The appellations was granted DOCG status in 2007. Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) is the key grape variety cultivated, and region is recognized for its outstanding Blanc de Noir sparkling wines.
Castello di Cigognola, a 12th century castle with landscaped gardens surrounded by vineyards, is one of the most stunning and historical properties in Oltrepò Pavese. Decorated by master architect, Renzo Mongiardino, Castello di Cigognola been designated an Italian National Trust World Heritage site.
Castello di Cigognola is owned by the renowned Moratti family. Gianmarco Moratti is a successful entrepreneur; his wife and Letizia Moratti, is a businesswoman who has served as the mayor of Milan. Their son, Gabriele Moratti oversees vineyard management with Gian Matteo Baldi, Castello di Cignonola’s CEO.
We visited with Gian Matteo Baldi to a record aSIPS podcastfor The Connected Table (stream it below) and taste three expressions of the Moratti metodo classico blanc de noir cuvées. We were impressed by how fresh and clean they tasted on our palates and the finesse of the bubbles. While we have had the chance to taste metodo classico sparkling wines from other well-known regions in northern Italy, notably Franciacorta and Trentodoc, we were struck by the exceptional character of these Oltrepò Pavese blanc de noir wines.
Here is what we tasted:
Moratti Blanc de Noir Pas Dosè. For no dosage sparkling wine lovers, this selection will delight. The wine remains 18 to 24 months on the lees and has a clean, crisp
Moratti Cuvée More Blanc de Noir is a blend of Pinot Noir with a touch of Pinot Meunier. The wine is aged 18 to 24 months on the lees, depending on the vintage
Moratti Cuvée Dell’Angelo 2012 was the only vintage sparkling wine in the trio we tasted. Grapes are sourced from select vineyard plots, and the wine remains 72 months on the lees. This is a gastronomic blanc de noir that we enjoyed with our salmon and roasted vegetables.
Throughout the U.S.A. the hospitality and foodservice community needs our support in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs have served as community gathering places for centuries. They are first to open their doors and service their communities in times of need and a place where we celebrate special occasions from graduations to anniversaries.
We recall how the restaurant community in New York City and throughout the world united to support citizens and first responders and raise funds to help families who lost loved ones during the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Now in the wake of the coronovirus pandemic, our restaurant community needs our support more than ever, especially with so many service workers laid off due to temporary closures and reduced staffing.
In the spirit of support, we are compiling and sharing lists of reliable resources and articles that can help industry workers. Since this is a developing situation, we will continue to update and post resources on our Facebook Page and Twitter.
Journalist Andrea Strong has compiled a list of local and nationwide resources (U.S.A.) to provide relief for laid-off workers for Food & Wine and continues to update it. Read and Share This List
Also by Strong, here is an article in Food & Wine on supportive charitable efforts. Read; Share; Donate
The nonprofit Restaurant Workers Community Foundation has started a COVID-19 emergency relief fund.Read, Share, Donate
SupportRestaurants.org is a collective of restaurant industry professionals who have set a national initiative in motion to get funds into the hands of restaurants, even if they are temporarily closed. A Dining Bond works like a savings bond, where you can purchase a "bond" at a value rate to be redeemed for face value (for example, a $100 bond for $75) at a future date. Read more here
The U.S. Bartenders Guild (USBG) has a charitable foundation to provide aid to bar industry workers in need. Info
Many people who work in the industry lack the benefits of full-time employed workers, such as sick pay, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. The nonprofit Gig Workers Collective has published this state-by-state list of resources to help. Read, share
Other ways to support: Order takeout. Buy a restaurant gift card. Stock up on wine.
Restaurants in New York and elsewhere may be closed to the public, but many are offering takeout and deliveries. Under a recently announced initiative to help businesses, restaurants in New York can also deliver wine, beer and cocktails. Read this Eater.com article for more info and guidelines.
Other initiatives to support businesses are happening throughout the U.S. but it is still in an unfortunate catch-up mode for those facing job losses. The National Restaurant Association is providing special industry-specific guidance on its website. www.restaurant.org
The above is a shortlist and continues to evolve. It is also specific to the U.S.A. We know many of our readers and listeners are in Europe. We want to let you know, we stand with you in solidarity throughout the world.
This week's edition of The Connected Table LIVE addresses ways to support our industry. We also discuss food safety when cooking at home. We will resume with scheduled guests on March 25. Click lunk below to listen and stream.
An invitation to a guided tasting of Bordeaux wines with artisanal chocolates from one of France’s top chocolatiers is a welcome treat. The tasting and discussion was one of the daylong activities hosted by the the Bordeaux Wine School. Founded in 1989 (yes, celebrating 30 years!) the Bordeaux Wine school educates more than 85,000 people each year through its global network of over 250 accredited instructors. Classes are taught both at the school’s center in Bordeaux City and online around the world, offering courses in multiple languages. There is also a mobile app.
Master of Wine Mary Gorman McAdams, an accredited Bordeaux Wine School instructor, teamed up with Pierre -Antoine Bollet of Maison du Chocolat. The duo had conducted rigorous tastings beforehand to select the wines and chocolates for the session which started with an historical overview and a discussion about the commonalities of both Bordeaux wines and chocolates.
Grapes and Cacao Beans: Similarities
Just as wine is made from varieties of grapes, chocolate is made from different types of cacao beans grown. Terroir plays an important role in cultivating both grapevines and cacao trees. Cacao flourishes in tropical climates; over 70 percent is grown in Africa and 16 percent in Latin America.
Dark chocolate must be made with 43 percent minimum cacao, and milk chocolate is a minimum of 30 percent cacao. White chocolate has no cocoa powder (a heated form of cacao) and is 20% cacao butter and 14% milk. Technically, it is not chocolate. Cru chocolates, like wine, are sourced from single estates.
Both wine and chocolate contain tannins and (red wine) are rich in resveratrol, flavonoids and polyphenols. Both can be good for heart health when enjoyed in moderation. Chocolate contains caffeine, so be careful consuming large quantities at night.
Bordeaux & Chocolate: Three Key Elements to Consider
Gorman McAdams and Bollet explained that fruit flavored chocolate brings out acidity, and wines usually pair best with bittersweet and dark chocolate (with a higher percentage of cacao). They underscored three key elements to consider when pairing wine and chocolate:
Acidity, sweetness, astringency
Light / delicate
Rich / dense
Fruity, herbal, smoky, nutty, earthy,
The pairing included one wine with two types of chocolate. The first misconception that went out the door was thinking it’s all about pairing red wine and chocolate. One of the best pairings was a Clos Floridene, Graves 2016 with a dark chocolate ganache with lemon cream and zest (“Andalousie”) from the South of France.
The experience was palate opening and generated an enthusiastic response among attendees. Second helpings, anyone?
What we tasted
Clos Floridene, Graves, 2016
Andalousie: dark chocolate ganache with lemon cream and zest from South of France
Akosombo: Chocolate Bar with 68% cacao
Comment: The Graves with the ganache with lemon cream left us ready to try more white wines with chocolate.
Château Bourgneuf, Pomerol, 2015
Extreme Chocolat: dark chocolate ganache, perfect balance between the acidulous character and bitterness of pure cocoa
Salvador: dark chocolate ganache with raspberry pulp
Comment: The consensus in the room was mixed as to which paired better. We were partial to the dark chocolate ganache with raspberry with the plushness and deep tannins of this wine.
Château Fonbadet, Pauillac, 2016
Noir de Cassis: dark chocolate ganache with cassis
Quito: bittersweet dark chocolate ganache
Coro: Chocolate Bar with 100% cacao
Comment: Hands down the winning pairing was the Noir de Cassis, proving how well tannic wines can balance out creamy ganache.
Château de Cérons, Cérons, 2009
Maracuja: dark chocolate ganache with passionfruit pulp and juice
Comment: We initially thought this pairing would be overly sweet, but to the contrary, it was a nice balance.
Bordeaux is one of the world’s most renowned wine appellations with more than 6000 producers. For 30 years, the Bordeaux Wine School has been the premier education source for learning about Bordeaux. Located in Bordeaux City and online, the school educates more than 85,000 people annually through its global network of over 250 accredited tutors. Master of Wine Mary Gorman McAdams discusses the Bordeaux Wine School’s curriculum for both wine professionals and consumers. www.bordeaux.com
Chef Marc Murphy has one of the most eclectic bios we’ve ever read. First, he’s a nationally recognized chef whose restaurants have included Landmarc and Ditch Plains, each with two locations in New York. Second, he is a regular judge on The Food Network’s wildly popular “Chopped” shows in their various renditions. But there’s much more to his story than what people see on screen and read in media.
Dig deeper and you learn that this devoted husband to wife, Pamela Schein Murphy, and father to Callen and Campbell, has a little international man of mystique about him. A few examples:
Before the age of 12 he’d lived in Milan, Paris, Villefranche, Washington DC, Rome and Genoa, and he is fluent in four languages. His parents live in Monaco and, get this, Prince Albert was his babysitter! He is still a dual citizen of the United States and France.
He originally wanted to be a race car driver but switched gears (literally) because he didn’t have the money to buy a car. Instead, he decided to become a chef and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). He still loves and rides motorcycles. Melanie once road down the FDR Drive on the back of his Ducati after an event.
He is a fan of opera, the ballet, classical music and hip hop equally. Between jobs in the 1990s, he worked with the choreographer, Jerome Robbins. He believes good scotch should be serve with one ice cube and all meals should be served in the company of good wine and great company.
He was opening chef at Cellar in the Sky at Windows on the World, so having him join us on September 11 is particularly poignant. He later was recruited uptown to serve as executive chef for La Fourchette. Former New York Times Restaurant Critic Ruth Reichl awarded the restaurant two stars, writing that Marc has an “open desire to transform food [so that] in his hands, even a simple green salad … Looks like a ruffled hat in a painting by Renoir.”
In 2012 Marc joined the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Culinary Partnership, where he takes part in public diplomacy programs that engage foreign audiences abroad as well as those visiting the United States. He has traveled to Italy, China and Turkey as part of this program.
Marc is also involved with numerous industry and charitable organization. He is the President of the Manhattan chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, both a board member and Food Council member of City Harvest, and a member of the Food + Finance High School’s Industry Advisory Board. He sits on the Leadership Council for Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and has been a national spokesperson for Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry initiative.
Marc has been a friend who was delighted to offer a supportive blurb for Melanie’s debut book, Getting Things Off My Chest which she wrote after surviving breast cancer. As high as his star has risen since we first came to know Marc as a young, motorcycle-riding, hotshot chef, as humbled and grounded he has remained as a caring father, husband and community citizen. We’ve celebrated many occasions at Marc’s various restaurants and are delighted to spend time with him September 11 on The Connected Table LIVE!
Listen to The Connected Table LIVE with Marc Murphy- Click below.
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.
Attention importers and wine and food companies and the talented people who work with them. Let us help you spotlight your brands and programs this Fall and beyond through custom podcasts on The Connected Table SIPS on iHeart Radio and more.
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Nicola Thornton grew up in the U.K. but fell in love with Spain after attending university there. She moved and entered the wine industry. We first met Thornton when she was working for a well-known producer in Toro. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and were delighted to spotlight Thornton in two podcasts for The Connected Table SIPS.
The first podcast discussed the expert set up called Spanish Palate. Thornton says she looks for independent producers that are “magical little gems with great stories,” giving them a voice and introducing them to international markets. Working with a largely female team, Thornton has helped over 100 wine producers from 20 different regions in Spain find their place in over 40 countries, al in under three years. www.spanishpalate.es Facebook/ Instagram: spanishpalate
But that’s just the start of Thornton’s efforts. While working the business she said she became acquainted with local grape growers and aware of the hardships they faced. She created Botas de Barro (named after the farmers´muddy boots) to help give them renewed hope and support, encouraging them to continue to nurture their low-yield, ancient vineyards, many over 100 years old. Grapes are sourced from small independent grape growers throughout Spain to produce its portfolio of wines. www.botasdebarro.com. Facebook: botasdebarro
This podcast is part of our special series recognizing women in wine and spirits. A donation has been made to Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization to supporting women in the fine food and beverage industry through education and advocacy www.ldei.org . For information on featuring a dynamic women for this series, contact email@example.com.
For anyone who’s ever visited California wine country, one of the of the most popular places to stop and taste is Domaine Carneros Winery, which is recognized for its méthode traditionelle sparkling wines, estate vineyards and breathtakingly beautiful château. Domaine Carneros was founded in 1987 by Claude Taittinger of the Champagne Taittinger family. Located entirely within the Carneros AVA, between Napa and Sonoma, Domaine Carneros comprises six vineyards on 400 acres. The château is inspired by the 18th century Château de la Marquetterie, the Taittinger family residence in the Champagne region.
To oversee management and production of its first méthode champenoise wines in the U.S.A. Taittinger tapped sparkling wine specialist Eileen Crane to be CEO and Founding Winemaker. Crane, who holds a degree in enology and viticulture from University of California Davis, as well as a master’s degree in Nutrition from University of Connecticut, had been working as winemaker and vice president at Gloria Ferrer since 1983, and prior to that at Domaine Chandon.
We visited with Crane on The Connected Table SIPS to discuss her approach to making sparkling wines in cool-climate Carneros, as well as what the visitors can expect when they visit the winery. Crane underscored that Domaine Carneros is all about delivering an exceptional tasting experience and offers a selection of wine and food pairings and settings to enjoy them.
We’ve had the pleasure of tasting wines at Domaine Carneros when we visited in 2017 and most recently with Crane for our SIPS podcast. Here’s what we tasted:
Domaine Carneros 2015 Brut Cuvée – Made from Chardonnay 51%, Pinot Noir 47% and Pinot Gris 2%, an elegant wine with notes of key lime, honeycomb and lemon curd on the nose and baked pear, lime blossom and lemon meringue on the palate for a creamy, long finish.
Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour – This sparkling rosé is named for Madame la Pompadour, paramour to French King Louis XV, who reportedly said, “Champagne is the only wine a woman can drink and remain beautiful.” Made from 100% Pinot Noir using the rose de saignée method, allowing the grape must and skins to macerate for a several days, after which a small amount of Pinot Noir wine is added to enhance the color, which is a deep salmon. Pair with roasted salmon or duck or even fresh berries for dessert.
Domaine Carneros 2012 Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs – Made from 100% Chardonnay, this tête de cuvée represents Claude Taittinger’s dream (rêve in French) to make one of America’s finest sparking wines, which it has been frequently named. La Rêve has notes of white flowers, Meyer lemon, poached pear and a touch of grilled grapefruit and a fresh, long palate that opens to honeysuckle and crème brûlée. Pair with delicate seafood dishes such as poached scallops, cracked crab or Dover sole, or with double or triple crème cheeses.
Hear more from Eileen Crane. Listen to this edition of The Connected Table SIPS on iHeart.com. Click image below:
This podcast is part of our special series recognizing women in wine and spirits. A donation has been made to Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization to supporting women in the fine food and beverage industry through education and advocacy www.ldei.org . For information on featuring a dynamic women for this series, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Imagine being diagnosed with cancer at the height of your career. How do you manage to run a restaurant while undergoing an aggressive schedule of chemotherapy treatments? More people than you may realize have lived this experience (including me), but few have opened up about it as frankly as individuals like Chef Steve McHugh. We’re glad McHugh is now in remission from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and thriving as the owner of the San San Antonio restaurant, Cured at Pearl, located in the city’s custling culinary center, also home to the Culinary Institute of America’s southwest campus.
Opened in 2012, three years after McHugh’s cancer diagnosis, Cured’s name not only reflects his new lease on life but also his daily selection of cured meats. The gastro-pub style menu focuses on using ingredients sourced from local farms and fisherman.
McHugh was raised in a large farming family in Wisconsin. He flipped burgers at a local restaurant to earn money and took up playing the saxophone. He was talented enough, in fact, to earn a jazz saxophone scholarship to college. But food became his calling, and he ended up changing plans and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America.
An externship landed him in New Orleans where he easily settled in the restaurant scene after graduation, working for with Creole Chef Chris Brown of Metro Bistro and for restaurateur, Dickie Brennan. In 2009, McHugh was planning a move San Antonio to open a restaurant for a New Orleans hospitality group when he was diagnosed with cancer.
McHugh says, “the cancer treatment really kicked my ass,” and he kept working straight through it all. But, it also can kick your ass in gear and make you commit to make healthy changes. Today, McHugh is in good health, with a successful restaurant and a culinary foundation dedicated “gastronomic giving” to support several charities. www.curedatpearl.com
Here are some healthy foods McHugh recommends adding to your diet:
Fermented foods, such as pickles, are shown to increase our body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Raw fermented foods are rich in healthy enzymes and flavor. These enzymes help the body properly balance healthy bacteria for improved digestion.
Black Pepper and certain legumes and nuts [such as pecans] contain anti-inflammatory properties. For example, Pumpkin and Pepper Salad with Smoked Pecans, Preserved Celery, and Goat Cheeseis a great combination.
Mussels are a lean source of protein with roughly 18 grams of protein per serving. Garlic, onions, and shallots [commonly used in mussel dishes] each contain anti-inflammatory properties.
At Cured, McHugh has forged tight bonds with both his purveyors and his community, ” Good, solid relationships are important to me, and provide great value in my life. Not only with my staff, but also the farmers with whom we work. We use vegetables grown within the city limits and pigs from a farm nearby. It provides great balance and perspective to get to know the people growing the food you serve and eat. Having a strong sense of community in San Antonio is a great part of my life.”
Listen to our show with Chef Steve McHugh from January 30, 2019
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