Ever since I missed the 25 Grapes (you’ve never heard of) tasting at Solano Cellars back in late March I had the date for the Port4lio Tasting circled on my calendar. The event brings together 4 importers; Blue Danube Wine Company, Return to Terroir, Siena Imports and Vinos Unico, that more or less bring you the best of the best from across Europe. To put in perspective what had me so excited about this event let me just share this tidbit: “There will be over 125 wines made with 90 different varietals from over 9 different countries!” For those that know me this is the equivalent of taking a six year old to Disneyland. And like children do to their parents I stayed for the very last ride, tasting nearly 70 wines by the time they showed me the exit. My intention was to try and visit all of the importers but as I was amazed at all the new varietals and interesting wines that I never made it beyond my first two stops: the tables of Vinos Unico and Blue Danube. While I could talk forever about this tasting (still even though it was more than a month ago) I’ll share a few highlights from each:
o A load of affordable and refreshing white wines from Portugal. Just about everyone I tasted was less that $12 and a perfect pick for any summer afternoon. As matter fact with the temperature approaching 90 degrees here today I wish I had some handy! Here were some of my top picks:
- 2009 Trajarinho Vinho Verde – An unoaked blend of 65% Alvarinho and 35% Trajadura this one clean and crisp with nice lemon flavors and a bit of spritziness on a very refreshing finish. At $9 everyone should have a bottle of this in their fridge.
- 2009 Muralhas Vinho Verde – Another offering from the same cooperative (Adega Cooperativo Regional de Monçao) this one is again unoaked but with 70% Alvarinho and 30% Trajadura. A little heavier in the mouth , no fizz here, more expressive citrus flavors and a firm acid backbone.
- 2009 Quinta de Soalheiro – This one isn’t as friendly to the wallet ($20+) but was certainly worth the price of entry. Unoaked and 100% Alvarinho this one is made from aged vines (35 years). Beautiful on the nose show great fruit. Fuller in body than I would expect but perfectly balanced with lemon, citrus notes on a mineral backbone with a crisp, racy acidity.
- 2009 Quinta de Cabriz Colheita – A blend of 40% Encruzado, 20% Bical, 20% Cerceal and 20% Malvasia Fina this is a refreshing wine full of tangerine fruits and peach stones on the palate.
- 2009 Luis Patos Maria Gomes – Unoaked and 100% Maria Gomes if I had to describe this one in a word it would be “playful”. And by playful I mean there is a lot going on here for a wine in this price range. Some lemon here, floral notes there with almond flavor peeking through. This one is medium bodied with a nice, crisp acidity and a juicy finish. I look forward to spending an afternoon with it sometime soon! Luis Patos also makes some excellent reds as well.
o A few nice red values.
- 2008 La Nevera Garnacha – Unoaked and 100% Garnacha this one is dark in color with a palate of wonderful bing cherries and a bit of creaminess on the finish. An easy drinking fruit forward wine that is sure to please.
- NV Urbanite Cellars Redart – Another great offering this one is 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 20% Zinfandel and was made to be an easy drinking table wine and it certainly fits the bill! I already snuck out and bought a bottle of this one. Here were my notes: Big juicy blackberry fruit up front on a creamy vanilla backbone with enough acidity to balance and manage the plush, rich fruit. A smooth, pleasing wine with a warm, toasty finish that linger on nicely. Nice depth/complexity for the price point!
o Meeting the Robledo Family
- The story behind this family run winery is so compelling I dare not to try and tell it better. Here is a concise version from the Sonoma Index-Tribune regarding Reynaldo Robledo recent attendance at a recent White House state dinner honoring Felipe Calderon: “Immigrant, uneducated farmworker, dirt-poor but field-smart, works his way up to manage whole vineyards, then starts a vineyard management company, then starts his own family winery, wins countless awards, hosts the president of Mexico at his Sonoma Valley estate and, two years later, is invited to a White House state dinner.” And there wines make the story even better. My favorite was the 2006 Red Hills Lake County Cab. I sent off a query to ask President Obama his but have to hear back. If I do you’ll be the first to know!
o Learning more about Gruner Veltliner
- I’ve had a few but this was certainly my deepest dive to date and I can certainly appreciate their snappy, refreshing minerality. It has certainly earned a place in my summer rotation. While I enjoyed many my numbering system failed me during this portion of the tasting so can’t share any specific notes. Generalizing my notes I see as expected they showed clean, pure wines with citrus and stone flavor profiles with a snappy, refreshing acidity on the finish. Each had their own complexities from floral notes, smoky and spice. This grape can express itself in any number of ways and I am looking forward to exploring it further. I’ll get you specifics as I taste them. Let me know if you have any favorites in the comments below.
o A bunch of surprising whites from Hungary. Beyond sweet Tokaj, my experience here was limited to a single encounter with the Szõke Irsai Oliver last summer and it was compelling. That said I didn’t realize that there was such a bounty of them available and at great prices to boot! Here are a few I’ll be seeking out again:
- 2009 Hilltop Cserszegi Füszeres – Another new variety for me this one showed a bit of lemon spritz on a clean, stony backbone with a nice mineral acidity on the finish. I look forward to pairing this one with a hot summer afternoon sometime soon.
- 2007 Szõke Királyleányka – A sibling offering of the Irsai Oliver I mentioned above this one shows pleasing lemon flavors but driven by floral and mineral components. The structure and body on this wine show quality well beyond the price point.
- 2008 Patricius Yellow Muscat – My wine of the day and none other than Randall Grahm agreed. Apparently him mentioning it made this wine hard to come by as I was just recently able to track down a bottle. My notes from the tasting had this to say: “very fragrant. I could smell this wine for hours. A star from the first sip. Beautiful lemon custard flavors while remaining dry and crisp throughout.” Can’t wait to open this one up!
- 2007 Pfneiszl Kékfrankos – Okay you caught me (if you are still reading) this one is actually a red. This one shows a light barrel touch, light in body and very easy to drink with dark berry flavors and a spicy pepper finish. A perfect match for a summer barbeque.
o Being introduced to the wines of Croatia and Slovenia. Earlier this year I had my first wine from Croatia, the Bibich Riserva, and was impressed and eager to explore more. I think what excited me about these wines is much the same as what excited me about the wines of Greece and the Kékfrankos above, they are all lighter in body, weight and alcohol. This has many benefits that start with pairing with a wider variety of foods and finishing with being able to have an extra glass at the end of the night. My exploration yielded two more whites and a red:
- 2009 Crnko Jarenincan – My first love from Slovenia is not exactly indigenous. A blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, this one comes in a liter bottle delivering tangerine and lemon flavors with a light spritz on the palate and a refreshing mineral acidity on the finish. Fuller bodied than expected at 11%. Crisp throughout this wine is a steal at the price point, perfect for any occasion.
- 2008 Šipun Zlahtina – Another white from the Island of Krk in Croatia this time this varietal can be found nowhere else. Medium bodied with a floral backbone this is a wine that doesn’t reveal itself in a taste. At least not for me. Stone fruit flavors with a touch of nuttiness on the finish I would enjoy spending an evening figuring this one out.
- 2007 Dingac Plavac Mali – Great juicy, red berry fruit at the front of the palate that turn dry and floral with a lively acidity on the finish. A playful wine this is not one to pair with a steak dinner but make a salad out of it and this would be a perfect mate.
Phew, that was a lot of wine talk! In closing this is going to cost me a lot of money as I continue to explore these wines but I am sure to enjoy every penny of it. In the Bay Area (and Hollywood) we are lucky as K&L Wines seems to stock a solid number of these offerings. That said I know both of these importers and they are more than willing to help you track them down no matter your whereabouts. Also for good measure as I dive into these I will officially begin maintaining my application for the Wine Century Club. Who wants to go along for the ride? What is your favorite varietal or country from off the beaten trail?