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Department 66: Taking Old Vine Grenache To The Extreme

15 Oct

Ten years after buying vineyards in Maury, France (the Roussillon appellation), winemaker Dave Phinney’s release of his latest venture, called Department 66 , has finally hit the USA. These are wines that don’t taste like Phinney’s previous winemaking undertakings; to his admission they are small cluster, tiny yield (only one-half ton per acre!!) and most of the vines are from 60-100 years of age- which delivers a concentrated mouthful of flavor! 

I can hear you thinking: ok JvB, let’s get to the wines! And away we go…

Department 66’s “Fragile” 2017 Rosé of Grenache, with small amounts of Syrah and Carignan. Maury, France. 15% ABV, SRP $18/bottle.

Color is pale pink with just a hint of orange. The nose is of fresh spring strawberries. The palate is a pleasing shot of young, tart strawberry up front, showing bright acidity with a hint of bitterness on the back palate. Heat sings across the top palate from the high ABV, which I only noticed because I was looking for it- others won’t mind, as the tongue is too busy enjoying the dancing red berries and tangerine rind on the front palate. I poured this for several neighbors who, like myself, were simply enchanted by the wine on their very first sip. Best served cold due to the high ABV.

This is the rosé you didn’t think you were going to love until it hits your mouth. It is so “not Provence” that I want to call it an Anti-Rosé. If you like grenache (aka garnacha) and GSM blends, your mouth just might thank you. It is a delicious, decidedly different approach to a different peak, with an entirely different view of what it means to be a rosé. 

 

 

 

 

Department 66’s “Others” 2015 Grenache (with Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre) Catalan Red Wine Blend; Maury, France. 15.2% ABV, SRP $25/bottle.

 

Color is a dark, opaque magenta. The nose offers juicy red plum and chrysanthemum. On the palate, a mixture of dark fruit: cassis, black plum, blueberry with blackberry jam with a touch of forest floor. On the extended finish there are notes of floral herbs, oak, saddle leather, granite, and schist. A monster mouthful of juice that wants to run down your mouth like berries so plum they explode on contact.  

This is a big, full-bodied grenache that is best served just under room temperature and is perfect for smoked and grilled meats, or other powerful flavors that will stand up to bold tannin and structure.  Cabrales cheese, spicy sausage, or savory dishes with heavy sauces could be alternate pairings. The Spanish influence is quite apparent, and if tasted blind I would have suggested Northern Spain, not France. This wine possesses big and bold flavors in a way that juicy California blends have never imagined. 

 

Dave tells his story of Dept. 66 here: 

 

Dave Phinney’s wines have mesmerized me since my first taste of The Prisoner many years ago. He plays by his own set of rules, making delightful wines outside of the standards of the big winemakers, and without corporate constraint. Department 66 is a decidedly different beast, by Phinney’s own admission. He has matured, learned, and this is a new venture, seemingly a personal aspiration. I am fascinated to see what Phinney does next! 

 

To find out more about these wines, click on: https://www.department66.com/

 

#WIYG? Share with me! 

 

à votre santé!

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Ah-So Rosé – In the Can!

11 Jun

Ah-So Rosé of Garnacha, Navarra, Spain. 12.5%ABV. SRP $19/four pack, or approx $5-6/can, street price. 

 

The Ah-So tool is the strange-looking, two-pronged wine opener that sommeliers use to open older wines or wines with damaged corks. The Ah-So Rosé Wine is cute in that you don’t need any corkscrew or wine opener, the pop-up top allows you to drink it direct from the can or to transfer it to a glass.

“Ach-So!” is also a phrase my great-aunt Tante Anna used in her broken English at  many points in conversation to shift focus, meaning “Ah, now I see”. Her other highly useful phrase when directing the conversation was simply “So” before starting another idea. Speaking of other ideas, let’s get to the wine!

 

The color is fuscia; the nose is of fresh garden greenery and a hint of watermelon. On the palate, muted young raspberry and citrus fruit with solid acidity. Crisp, clean, refreshing, and best served cold. Food pairing is more easy than usual: the delicate flavor and strong acid level make it a good palate cleanser and refreshing wine, so the greatest success is with simpler, cafe or bar-style food. In an easy-to-carry can, it is designed for the beach, boating, the golf cart or poolside. Where a traditional container poses issues, this is an easy-to-use packaging. Sold in four-packs of 250ml each (about 8.2 ounces).

 

L-R: An Ah-So koozie showing the Ah-So Tool, a glass of Ah-So Rosé, and a can of Ah-So Rosé. 

 

Ah-So is a joint operation founded by the duo of third generation winemaker Carlos Lopez de Lacalle and hospitality industry veteran Dustin Chiappetta. The vineyards are made up of 15-45 year old vines, planted in clay and limestone soil. Only organic viticulture takes place, without any herbicides, and grapes are entirely hand picked and sorted from 100% garnacha clusters which are pressed by gravity over a five hour period. Only 100% free-run juice is used for Ah-So Rosé and the vinification is done entirely in stainless.

Ah-So made Food & Wine’s Top 20 Wines Under $12, and to my knowledge is the ONLY Spanish wine currently available in a can. Now you can pile these up in your Yeti Cooler when you’re off to the July 4th party.

Drinking rosé all day just got a little easier!

 

#WIYG?

 

à votre santé!

El Chaparral De Vega Sindoa Old Vine Garnacha

10 Jun

El Chaparral De Vega Sindoa 2015 Old Vine Garnacha, by Bodegas Nekeas, Navarra, Spain. 14.9% ABV, SRP $14/bottle.

Color is garnet with ruby edging. The nose offers young raspberries and green cuttings. On the palate the fruit is red plum, raspberry and boysenberry. Notes of black pepper, aged wood, granite and clay on the long finish. Bold flavors with a solid, matching tannic backbone: this a nicely balanced, medium-bodied wine that is certainly suited with grilled meat or game. I opened this and tried it with strong cheeses where it paired well, but the next day I fired up the grill and paired this with steak and the wine sang so beautifully in that pairing! I sipped it after the meal, enjoying the silky texture and full mouthfeel with the same level of satisfaction, and would pick this bottle up again in a heartbeat. This 100% old vine garnacha has the fruit profile of a cab with the texture of pinot. At this price, you’d be foolish not to pick some up for the summer! A terrific value, this is a wonderful alternative to cabernet sauvignon for grilling or tapas and drinks like a $30 bottle with a price tag less than half that on the street.

#WIYG?

à votre santé!

Three Garnachas Not To Miss!

23 Sep

I had a blast on #GarnachaDay, and if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might have seen the carnage! (You still can if you hit these sites and search for “#garnachaday jvbuncorked” . An early afternoon master class in Garnacha was followed by tapas and 25 more Garnacha wines. Only hours later, I joined a live, Online Snooth Garnacha Tasting with two very smart, highly respected sommeliers, Laura Maniec and Christy Canterbury, both accredited Masters of Wine.

What a day of wine tasting! Of the featured wines, all were great, solid, and terrific values, many under $15/bottle. Two wines have great potential but would be better with age. Three of the ten wines from these tastings really grabbed me personally.  So here they are, my gold medal winners:

 

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La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2013. 13.5% ABV, Available locally and online for as little as $8/bottle! 

Pale straw in color, with a nose of herbs, freshly cut grass, lychee and banana. On the palate, a lovely balance of citrus, savory melon, and a matching acidity that pushes the flavors from the side and rear palate up to the top. Notes of herbs du Provence, spice and vanilla bean on the finish. The decadence in this wine makes me want to serve it to my fellow chardonnay lovers to remind them how stunning the rest of the world’s wines are. At this price point, it is mind-blowingly good, and stayed delicious for a week in the fridge so I could dole myself out a half ounce each night to see if I still really loved this wine. I did.

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Coto De Hayas Garnacha Centenaria, 2014. 14% ABV, I found this wine locally for $12/bottle and online as low as $10/bottle.

Color is deep ruby and the nose shows fresh, lively red fruit. On the palate it starts simply but grows in complexity. Like a concerto, gentle and delightful red cherries begin. Slowly they are joined by allspice, black pepper, stone and clay. With a triumphant swirl into the apex of the movement, notes of rose bush, red pepper, leather, and spice box emerge. Medium long finish, high satisfaction. Very nice by itself, but terrific with food. A crowd-pleasing wine.

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Last but not least, Particular Garnacha 2012 Viñas Centenarias de San Valero. 14.5% ABV, MSRP $26, found online for $18/bottle. 

This wine shows historic Burgundian winemaking features, so it is of no surprise it won me over. Deep maroon in color,  delicate, perfumed nose and flavors. Blue fruit on the palate; balanced, gentle, and reserved, with a luxurious mouthfeel. A beautifully feminine wine. Age-worthy and concentrated, with a long, ethereal finish.  This is Garnacha via Coco Chanel and Harry Winston: Classic style and elegance.

 

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I hope you spend the time to find these or other garnacha wines to taste. They offer quality and value beyond the price tag. As we like to say, the proof is in the glass!

à votre santé!

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