“Do you like wines?”
I turned around, faced the source of the voice and answered, “I’m here, aren’t I?” with an admittedly wicked grin.
Pardon the snark, but questions like that at 10:30 in the morning in one of the biggest wine expositions in the world (I’m talking about Vinexpo 2016, of course) are just… Unnecessary.
The dude seemed to figure out his little faux pas, laughed, and with a heavy accent said, “Would you like to attend a seminar on Spanish white wines?”
Now THAT’S the best question to be asked. Wine tasting that early in the morning, featuring an unusual “genre” of wines?
I was THERE.
See, one of the top reasons to go to something as massive as Vinexpo is to learn about wines, especially hard to find ones.
Here are some of my favorite discoveries:
The first things that come to mind when someone says “Spanish wine” are gorgeous, earthy Tempranillo-based reds; or crisp, bubbly Cava.
Nobody really talks about Spanish white wine, which is a shame… In fact, during the seminar, I’ve come across a few notable ones:
Roqueta Origen Abadal Picapoll 2015 – I have never heard of Picapoll before that morning. This grape, which thrives in Pla de Bages (North East of Spain close to Barcelona), makes slightly citric white wines that have notes of green apples and pears, with enough acidity to cut rich Asian food (think food with hoisin sauce).
Clos Pons Sisquella 2014 – Produced in Costers del Segre (a neighbor of the famous Spanish wine region of Priorat), this (pricey!) Garnacha and Alabriño blend is rustic with mineral notes, balanced out by hints of white flowers, stone fruits, and oranges. I’ve had Albariño before, but never as a minor blend for a white… This wine surprised me for its versatility: It can be drunk alone, but I could totally imagine it paired with some Panda Express Orange Chicken (I know it’s a bit blasphemous, but it’s something I’m willing to experiment on in the near future).
Viña Muriel Blanco 2010 – Confession: I hate writing about Viura. Viura is an alias used for Macabeo in Rioja… And frankly, apart from being a great complement for the Malvasia grape, it’s boring. The Viña Muriel, however, surprised me with its long finish, pronounced citrus notes offset by stony characteristics. Not. Boring. At. All.
East Coast Wines
Name me a supplier of East Coast wines in Manila, and I’ll be grateful.
Problems like these have an awful drawback on my end: I know about the wines in theory, but I couldn’t be fully committed when it comes to discussing them. Wines to me are a sensory experience… Reading about them just wouldn’t do.
Thankfully, there were more than enough east coast wines during the Vinexpo to merit an objective research (or a happy afternoon of drinking). In fact, I had the pleasure of being shown around by the president of the multi-awarded winery Thirsty Owl, Jonathan C. Cupp.
He taught me about the key differences of the major wine producing regions in the East Coast: Finger Lakes, and Hudson River Region.
Unsurprisingly (given the name), Finger Lakes is flanked by several large bodies of water (lakes, if you will), making that area cooler than its eastern counterpart.
What winemakers have discovered is that it’s the perfect area to cultivate grapes normally found in warmer parts of the world, making their wines incredibly well balanced and subtle.
My favorites included the Thirsty Owl Riesling (a Riesling with enough acidity to keep it from being cloying, and adding a certain elegance to the taste and structure), and one of the most unusual wines I’ve ever had to date: the startlingly red Thirsty Owl Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine. Ice wine is normally white, and the more common iterations would be incredibly saccharine. This one, despite being fruit-forward, has enough astringency from the raspberry notes (from the Cabernet Sauvignon) to keep the wine from being nauseatingly sweet.
Representing wines from the Hudson River is Brotherhood Winery, deemed America’s oldest winery (they’ve been making wines in the sleepy area of Washingtonville since 1839!). They have so much wine to choose from, but to compare: Their take on a Riesling is fruitier than their Finger Lakes counterparts, but without losing sophistication. Their very grounded version of a Merlot (from their Premium Selection line) blew me away with its lean, refined texture.
Wines from Oregon
Die-hard fans of the film Sideways know that it’s actually adapted from a novel of the same name, and that there’s a sequel to the novel called Vertical. The second book involves the same loveable winos traveling to Oregon for a Pinot Noir festival.
Indeed, that is Oregon’s claim to fame: Amazing Pinot Noir that has placed them in the forefront of winemaking.
The thing is, as with my initial sentiment with East Coast wines, I couldn’t find one in Manila that would really qualify as “research material”.
This was, of course, remedied by the presence of Oregon exhibitors in Vinexpo.
I shyly approached a formidable-looking gentleman and requested for a little “wine education”.
The gentleman, Howard Rossbach of Firesteed, was exceedingly gracious to oblige. He helped me make a few discoveries: First, that Oregon wines are as beautifully sophisticated as I’ve read in books.
Second, that his wine Firesteed is a far cry from the explosion of fruits one would expect from a lot of new world winemakers. Sure, his take on the Pinot still has the expected notes of ripened raspberries and black cherries, but wonderfully anchored by notes of cinnamon and cocoa.
Third, that his wine Citation is his top of the line take on a Pinot Noir. This one is amazingly full-bodied, without losing the necessary fruit-forward characteristics needed from a proper Pinot Noir; or the supple, refined texture of the wine.
I’ve endlessly been fascinated by wines from ancient regions. I’ve tried wines from places that have been making wine since biblical times: Macedonia, Georgia, and Lebanon (a personal favorite of mine, whose rosés blew me away).
During the Vinexpo, Thomas Kanstmann of Greek Wine Cellars treated me to a little journey on Greek wines.
I was surprised to learn that their white wines are so refreshing. I could easily imagine myself lounging in a terrace in Santorini with a bottle. For that purpose, I particularly loved Agean Islands and Rhoditis.
The reds were so rich and begged for food; they made me want to go out for lamb souvlaki. The Kouros is multi-awarded and breathtaking, and Black Swan is equally food-friendly.
They have fascinating dessert wines too, like their red Mavrodaphne of Patras (which reminded me of raisins), and the white Muscat of Samos (with notes of orange peel and honey).
But here’s the ultimate Greek piece de resistance: Retsina has been around for centuries, and is legendary for tasting like pinewood. It doesn’t sound appetizing, but I personally appreciated the centuries of tradition that went into making the drink (and the fact that it makes the wine truly, uniquely Greek).
As always, the best way to learn about wine is to sample them from the source… If geography is an issue (though I’m totally up for traveling to Greece and Oregon ASAP), expos and seminars are a great way to go about it too. Most winemakers are very open about getting people to understand their wines.
Here’s to further exploration and more of my wine questions, answered. Cheers!
*Special thanks to Ms. Margaret Bray for giving me all the information I need regarding Oregon wines. I hope to see your lovely region soon. Cheers!