Thursday, September 13, 2012

Herencia Altés Garnatxa Negra: Noble Enough For Ya?

Every now and then some geek on one of the wine sites will ask people to name or rank their favorite grapes. I'll enter “grenache” and either be ridiculed or dismissed. “Grenache is not a noble grape,” say those In The Know. “It's a blender, it's a workhorse, it's ordinary,” etc, etc. When I have the energy, I point out that the last time I looked Chateau Rayas (100% grenache) was more than $150/bottle, and if that isn't noble enough for anyone else, it's noble enough for me.

Fans of the grape can argue about whether the French or the Spanish do a better job with it. I'll just say Grenache and Garnacha (or Garnatxa) are different, and point to Jancis Robinson's preference for calling it Garnacha since the Spanish grow more of it than anyone else.

Over the past decade, there have been some wonderful garnacha wines coming out of Spain, often at very good prices. Eric Solomon is responsible for many of them (he was the original driving force behind Las Rocas, and its successor, Evodia), but hardly all of them. Click here for some earlier appreciations.

Josh Spurling at TableWine was raving the other day about yet another new garnacha from the Solomon portfolio. Since we have learned that it is good to pay attention when Josh raves, we took a bottle home. (I should add that many others have been raving about this too, including Big Bob.)

This particular wine is made by Nuria Altés, owner and winemaker for Herencia Altés, in the Terra Alta D.O., in the back country of southeastern Catalonia bordering Aragon. The vineyard is at an altitude of 400 and 530 meters. The soil is sandy and chalky. Little rainfall, lots of sun, with wind either out of the northwest or from the Balearic Sea. Among her great skills is that of picking garnacha when it is very ripe, but not so ripe as to be deficient in acidity. (Altés is no beginner--she's also a partner in Bodegas Albanico which operates in Castilla and other locations in Spain.)

2011 Herencia Altés Garnatxa Negra: This opened with aromas of red licorice, fresh prune, and a hint of sweet herb. On the palate, intense flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry, with a note of blood orange at the end. It is not an especially complex wine, but it packs a wallop of flavor. We'll go ahead and call it a fruit bomb. A really great fruit bomb. For $11.99, a super value, and excellent with a dinner of meats and vegetables cooked on the grill. I don't usually think of red wine and vegetable pairings, but this was really good with some of those sweet torpedo onions charred on the Weber.

“Herencia Altès is my dream to put Terra Alta on the map and show the true quality of these wonderful old vines,” says the winemaker. I think she may be on to something.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our New Favorite Pizza Wine

Burger wine. Pizza wine. What next, KFC wine? It's coincidence, honest.

The Montepulciano grape grows almost everywhere in Central Italy (except, of course, in the town of Montepulciano, where Sangiovese is the predominant grape). The ones we like best are from the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC, where the wines are soft and fresh and meant to be drunk young.

Every producer in the DOC owes something to the late Gianni Masciarelli, who more or less single-handedly introduced the Abruzzo region to quality winemaking.

Fortunately, others are following Masciarelli's path, and Antonio Constantini is among them. His winery in Città Sant'Angelo is at the northern end of the DOC, not far from the coastal city of Pescara. The family has been in business since 1910, but Constantini is no traditionalist—his facility is up-to-date with controlled-temperature fermentation in stainless tanks. Recently, he brought in oenologist Riccardo Brighingna, who has done award-winning work for Cantino Tollo.  The grapes are picked by hand. There is some extended maceration to pick up color and tannins. The wine is aged in steel for four months before bottling. Constantini also makes Cerasuolo and a white wine from the Pecorino grape, which we'd dearly love to try some day.

Constantini "Febe" DOC Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2010: This opens with notes of red cherry and just a bit of spice; on the palate, red and black cherry fruit in a framework of unobtrusive tannins. A very gulpable wine, and well-suited to the Chef's white pizza. And the red sauced one, for that matter. The propaganda says serve this at 65° F, but we liked it best at about 50° F; the chill firmed up the fruit and improved the mouthfeel. Besides, it's been so humid lately in our neighborhood...At $11.99 (Asheville Wine Market) this is a pretty good value, and its food-friendliness makes it a credible candidate for house wine status. It is certainly our new favorite pizza wine.

PS: We are not fans of the Colonel, but we do think if you're eating fried chicken, the only appropriate beverage is a nice Gruner Veltliner. As Eberhard Heide at the Wine Market likes to point out, Gruner is made by the same people who invented schnitzel, so of course it's going to be great with fried foods.