For the last tasting of our 24th Anniversary, we figured we should celebrate properly with some fine bubbly. But as we always do, we have to do it with something unexpected that delivers far better quality than usually found at its price point. Bodegas Muga is one of the benchmark Rioja producers, with wines that excel in both traditional and modern styles. In recent years the family has been exploring more and more of the 'modern' side with releases of new projects featuring fresher styled white wines, French influenced dry Rose, and even Cava. This is a 'Cava' by the winemaking process and NOT by location of vineyards or grapes used, as this is 100% Garnacha from Rioja based vines. Perhaps this looks a bit like a gimmick at first, but with the reputation of quality Muga has one will figure out quickly this is built to be some serious juice. Among the many quality-centric steps the winery takes is the extended time aging on the lees in the bottle (aprox. 22 months) before disgorgement, which add a deep yeasty complexity that usually only appears in the better Champagnes and French Cremants, or the occasional Cava.
Soft salmon color in the glass, surprising considering that usually still wines made from Garnacha/Grenache tend to have a deeper cherry red tint to them. The aromas hint at some of the warmer red fruits Garnacha carries, but also shows off lots of citrus and biscuit-y yeasts. On the palate the weight is particularly impressive thanks to the lees aging, delivering great dryness and intensity with lots of dried strawberry and lively red fruits. The acidity is almost startlingly fresh as well, again considering that Garnacha usually makes lower acidity still wines. Consider this experiment an unqualified success, worthy of any celebration or dinner where a dry Sparkling Rose would be useful, and you don't want or need to blow out the budget.
Oak barrels are an important part of wine making, and an integral part of making great Chardonnay. But it should NOT be the primary feature of the wine, or else any distinct character of the vineyard or winemaking talent is lost. It becomes a caricature of itself and the oak looses its purpose, like a tricked out sports car with a 5ft tall spoiler that has no effect on the down force any more. When it is used RIGHT, and in proportion, the wine has the beauty and precision of an F1 race car. For almost every example of a great wine, we can't help but go to Catena Zapata ('The name Catena on the label is a guarantee of quality' states Wine Advocate writer/reviewer Luis Gutierrez). Their 'Alta' series of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec come from several high altitude vineyards the family has been developing since the early 1990s. The top bottlings from these properties are considered among the very best of their varieties in Argentina, and the Historic Rows series blend distinct aspects from these sites into a more affordable presentation.
While a modern New World style wine with an oak presence similar to a Californian Chardonnay, it in no way defines the wine. An intense golden color in the glass, the aromas when first poured are initially a mix of lemon curd and toasty oak, but quickly gain more diverse citrus and warm melon tones. There is also a surprising minerality in the aroma earned from the high altitude of the vineyards and unique soils found there; it should not come as a surprise that the two single site wines that come from the same properties as this wine are called 'White Stones' and 'White Bones', names after their soils. The palate is as rich and round as you may like, but where way too many Chardonnays stop right there this delivers so much more. Vibrant citrus cuts through the mouth coating texture so the wine shows no cloying butteriness or sweetness, at times both rich and wet, seemingly opposite sensations that happen simultaneously. A wine that can potentially age with the elegance of a fine Burgundy or be enjoyed right away, but will over-deliver either way.
While this might be a bit bigger, more bombastic style wine than we would usually do on a 90+ degree day in June, we felt the need to showcase a few things that are a bit more special than usual during our 24th Anniversary month. The Venge family is well regarded in Napa as part of the new evolution of viticulture and winemaking of the 1970s that helped to inspire the modern era of great California wines. Nils was among the leaders of vineyard management for many estates, as well as developing his own winemaking style, and now son Kirk has taken over the winemaking side of the family production. Instead of being a 'brand', their wines come from 100% family owned or managed vineyard sites, where they observe practical dry farming and organic methods. Scout's Honor (named after the winery's long time resident rescue dog) is crafted in the 'California Field Blend' style, primarily Zinfandel with varying amounts of Syrah and Petit Sirah, as well as a generous portion of the rarely used Charbono grape. In Argentina the French/Italian origin grape is known as Bonarda, and for the better part of a century was mistakenly identified as Piedmont's Barbera in California. The use here definitely puts a different and noticeable profile to the wine than usually found in these field blends than usual suspects like Mourvedre, Carignan, or Alicante Bouchet.
Deep and inky in color, the first aromas show off the immediate impact of the Charbono by bringing in some currants and dark fruit tones and taming what would usually be a rich jammy swell of sweet raspberry and red fruits. The cooler dark tones also removes any sense of booziness that can overpower Zins and burn out your nose hairs. The palate is lush and fairly approachable for a young wine, showing no signs of unnecessary new oak flavors or tannins, naturally round and polished with gobs of black fruits. As it sits on the palate the youth starts to show with some emerging tannins that quickly cut through the ripe texture and leave a lingering dusty finish. Definitely a sizable wine, but nowhere near the super-sized over-boozy caricatures that the mass marketed Zin based blends all to often have become.
One of the jewels of Austrian wine is the Loisium facility in the Kamptal region. Completed in 2003, the impressive modern architecture that houses the 'WeinErlebnisWelt' or Wine Experience, has drawn millions of tourists and wine fans to learn about the many elements of the winemaking process, as well as the artistic inspiration of both vine and wine. The venue also serves as a centralized tasting facility for many examples of Kamptal wines as well as others from surrounding Styrian wineries. Steininger has been an integral part of this facility since its origins, and has the distinct honor of crafting wine from the vineyards that surround the Loisium facilities. While it was never intended to be the ne plus ultra version of Kamptal wines (those tend to come from the steeper terraced vineyards closer to the river Kamp) the wines from the property have always been consistently well crafted and offered textbook quality and character. Also, since our good friend and importer Klaus Wittauer has been involved with the winery for nearly two decades, it is and will always be an excellent value for us in Virginia.
Light gold color in the glass, similar to many Loire Sauvignon Blancs, and some of the grassy or stone fruit aromas hint at Sauvignon Blanc as well. As it opens up the deeper, richer citrus stony/soil notes come forward more, a cool temperature fruity character that never gets 'perfume-y' and tries to take over the five feet around the glass, but refreshingly clean and clear every time you put your nose to the glass. The palate is juicy and leesy, providing some staying power and takes the astringent edge off behind the fruit skin and stone fruit flavors that linger on the finish with hints of fennel and subtle herbs. This is a delicious match with baked white meat fish like flounder as it will pick up a lot of the seasoning without overpowering it, and doesn't need a buttery sauce to go with it.
The Best of the Best.
We offering free tastings on these wines in the store every Thursday and Friday, and a 10% discount off the retail price through the duration of the day. Come on by and give them a try!