Winter in Europe Part 2 – The Spanish Road Trip

After the gastronomic delights of Northern Italy we headed to Spain to catch up with our current suppliers, to see how the current vintage is progressing and to catch the latest trends in the Spanish food and wine scene.  Was it to be as good as Italy? With 1 spare bottle of Barolo we headed off.

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Touching down in Barcelona we headed south to the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anola in the Penedés region – the centre of Cava production in Spain and where our Torre del Gall Cava comes from.   The winery was originally established by the Moet Chandon group who came to Spain to produce champagne, so where better than the centre of the Spanish bubbles industry.  The Chandon people planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in an effort to make a “Spanish Champagne”.   Their experiment did not work and they sold their facility.  There was nothing spared in the build and the winery is now making a great example of Cava.        Tastings over and I must say that the current vintage is drinking very well.  As well as the Torres de Gall range we also tried the Elyssia Gran Cuvee Brut – Pinot Noir / Chardonnay and can report that it drinks very well – more on this wine in the later posts.

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After the visit we stopped at the Frexinet Head office for some Tapas.  As many times as I have been to this winery I am still amazed by the sheer scale and professionalism of the operation.  Whilst on dessert, we were lucky enough to sample the excellent Malvasia 2009, a DESSERT CAVA, a definite wine to try if you get the chance.-As we left Freixenet we could not but help notice the Australian Flag – we are claiming this as a nice touch to honour our visit….

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From Penedés we set the GPS for Cariñena.  Cariñena is approximately 350 km from Barcelona and just outside the major centre of Zaragoza. Despite not featuring in most conversations about Spanish wine, Cariñena, is one of the oldest DO’s in Spain. Cariñena is surrounded by vineyards stretching across a plateau that rises from 400m to 800m and ends at the snow-capped Sierra de la Virgen mountains. We both commented that as spectacular as it is in Winter it would look amazing in Spring. The Cariñena DO, was created in 1932 and in the early 19th century the region’s Garnacha wines had developed a reputation for excellence. Unfortunately, due to the area’s favourable growing conditions many of the wineries fell victim to producing bulk low quality wines.  Currently there are no DO rules and this combined with some of the smaller wineries pursuit of excellence is resulting in some extremely good wine.   The main grape types are Garnacha tinta, Carignon – or Mazuelo and Tempranillo. Growers in the region are also experimenting with other international varieties such as chardonnay. This trip our top picks from the area are a  Rosé, the Garnacha and a beautiful reserve blend.

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Next stop was Rioja, the oldest and most well known DO in Spain. Our main call here was to see Vanessa who is the winemaker behind the Vazza range and see how the latest wines are showing – I am happy to report that even at an early age they are drinking very nicely and the recently released Vazza Reserva is sensational. I particularly like the profile of the the Vazza wines that Vanessa is producing, ruby red, fruit driven and without the big American oak influences of classic Rioja .

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The winery is located at the base of the township of Laguardia in the Rioja Alavesa. This was Mrs Traveller’s first trip to the area so a visit to the town of Laguardia was a must. The town which sits on top of a hill in between the mountains and the river was built in Roman times to guard against Moorish advances. The original Roman wall is still standing with only 5 gates to allow people to walk into the town.  As part of the the defensive nature of the town, during the construction an extensive tunnel network was under the town, these where later to become the region’s  wine cellars. DSCN0844.jpg

From Laguardia we headed 20mins down the road to the town of Haro. Being the rail head Haro has the cellar doors of all the traditional big names in Rioja wine – Ramon Bilbao, Mugga, Cunne, La Rioja – all of which deserved a visit.

San Sebastian is our next stop as it gives me the opportunity to see what wines are being served with food at the progressive restaurant and Pintxos (Basque version of tapas) of San Sebastian. San Sebastian also gives us the opportunity to sample the latest wines from the up and coming area of Navarra.  Whilst it is a bit out the way San Sebastian is a leader in Spanish food and it’s worth the trip to see what wines they are favouring.  Currently still predominantly Rioja and Ribera Reds, Rosado from numerous places and a few whites from Galicia.

 

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Our next stop is the Asturias region and we travel as far west as Cudillero on the coast. This area is known for Cheese and seafood. This is one of the larger areas in Spain that does not produce their own wines, but with abundant fresh produce, seafood, cheese the food here is excellent and once again interested to look at their food / wine pairings. Reds are mainly Joven and Crianza’s from Rioja and the whites predominantly from Galicia. Worth noting is that the food is amazing

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From Oviedo we leave the coast and head over the mountains to León.  León was founded as a Roman military camp around 29 BC and in 1188 hosted the first parliament in European history.  Located on the high plateau in central northern Spain, León neighbours the vast wine region of Castile and once again is a great town to sample a cross section of Spanish wine and food.

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Our last stop this trip is Galicia, the area that occupies the North Western corner of Spain. Our focus here is Rías Baixas and our partner who makes the “La Fontana” Albariño.  Rías Baixas is made up of numerous small vineyards, there are more than 6,500 growers and 20,000 individual vineyard plots that are located in the river estuaries that run into wide inlets that mark the intersection with the Atlantic ocean. Standing on the Winery veranda we both comment that the view is strikingly similar to the one from the terrace of the Coal Valley winery in Tasmania The climate is wet and damp with an average temperature of 14°C and the thick skinned Albariño grape is one of the few that can resist the potential rot from the damp weather.

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The winery is located in the Val do Sanés near the historic township of Cambados and with the Atlantic coastline dominating the valley the wine often has a slight saltiness to it and traditionally high acidity the latter due to the difficulty in getting the grapes to ripen due to weather conditions.

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Winter in Piemonte

Winter 2015/2016 in Piemonte – The Road Trip

All indications where for a great trip – flights on time and all connections made. After the 30hr trip from the land of Oz we where greeted with a morning landing into Malpensa Airport – where the sun was only just coming over the horizon and the temperature was a clear clean -3C .

Next was the big test for Australians coming to Europe– driving on the right side of road, to me if you can get out of the car park at Malpensa the rest is easy. Car park cleared and only the Autostrada 130km speed limit and around 2 hours to Piemonte.

With Mrs Traveller in tow we had timed our arrival for Saturday morning so that we could visit the Asti Markets – These are the biggest markets in Piemonte so we wanted to visit. At first we thought that the markets are mainly clothing and bric a brac and very extremely disappointed as we had made this stop to see and taste the local produce that the region is famous for, then we found the rest of the stalls – all round a great market. Markets done a quick espresso and some freshly roasted chestnut and we set the GPS for Alba.

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Once in Alba we headed straight for their small organic market . These markets are a small organic market and offer a good selection of local bread, cheese, salamis & Truffle. October & November is Truffle season in Alba and it seemed as though every second shop had the obligatory selection of Black and White truffles. We where later informed by one of our winemaker friends that due to the very hot summer this year, the Piemonte region produced minimal truffles and most have been bought in from other places such as Romania.

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If you are here in December the other market worth a look is the Christmas festival in Govone. This is a collection of 80 Xmas huts and an assortment of traditional xmas trinkets, mulled wine, nativity scene and of course Santa’s house that is setup in the local Castle.

So three markets done and in need of some food and drink so we head into Alba to check out Voglia De Vino. This wine bar has an incredible selection of wines by the glass and a couple of nice wine flights that showcase the various wines of the region. The wine flights and various cheese and meat plates remind me why I love this part of Italy – stunning fresh, stylish food, and great wine.

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If the food is glorious then the scenery is stunning. When the fog – Nebbia – clears it reviles the langhe hills, tight folded landscape covered with vineyards with small towns dating back to the Romans with it seems every hilltop crowned with either a church or Castle, all of which are overshadowed by the snow covered Alps to the north and west.

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Typical wines from Piemonte

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Moscato – A flowery white that is best drank young. Moscato is usually low in alcohol, around 6%, refreshing “Frizzante” and with fruity sweetness. The better examples are being produced under the label Moscato d’Asti. The same grape is also used to make the local fizz – Asti Spumante

Roero Arneis – The perfumed Roero Arneis is becoming more fashionable and produces a dry white that is best when young and fresh.

Barbera – Barber is high in acid and low in tannin and has traditionally been used to produce a tart, quaffing wine. Recently perceptions of Barbera have been changing with the use of French oak for barrel aging for the better grapes producing some serious wines. Barbera D’Asti Superior designates that the wine has been aged in oak

Nebbiolo – Taking its name from the local fog or nebbia this is the red grape that make the famous Barolo and Barbaresco. Slow ripening, colour poor like Pinot Noir yet more tanic than Cabernet Nebbiolo. Barolo has long been know as Italy’s king of wines and with the Langhe hills with their differing altitudes and orientations can produce quite different wines. Wines from around La Mora tend to be lighter and more open than those of the other regions.

Over the next week we where busy at work visiting wineries and talking with Wine makers.

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I must confess that every time I come back to Piemonte my love affair with Barolo starts again.

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This trip we visited – (individual reviews to follow)
Ponte Fratelli Vini ( Gorzano )
Sergio & Celso Abbona – ( Dogliani )
Azienda Agricola Giorgio Scarzello ( Barolo )
Azienda Agricola Montaribaldi Roberto & Luciano Taliano ( Barbaresso )
Deltetto Carlo – Roero (Canale)
Ettore Germano (Serralunga d”alba)
Damino Francesco (Barolo) ..

Thank you Mr Bond

Just when you start to think business is getting in the way of enjoyment a couple of great weeks come along.   To celebrate the launch of the latest 007 movie, Bollinger have launched a special brew,  “Champagne Bollinger ‘Spectre’ Special release 2009 Vintage”  – $280/ bottle.  Even better was my offer to attend a Bollinger Master Class.

So how do champagnes taste?   Bollinger think of themselves as a wine house first then a sparkling house 2nd and after tasting through the range the reason is obvious.  This is a range of champagnes that shows why wine industry types fall in love with wines from so call excellent years, “Bolly” is a seriously good drop that if you have the money is the best bubbles that I have tasted.

Glassware for Champagne

The trend amongst good champagne producers is to show their stronger champagnes in wider bowled glassware.   The traditional champagne flute is OK if all you want to show is a nice stream of bubbles but it is too narrow and restricted that aromas too much to let you really taste the “wine.”  If you buy one of these wines DO NOT use the traditional narrow champagne flute.  Bollinger recommend that you use a  ‘tulip’ shaped champagne glass to let the aromas intensify as a minimum and for their more complex product the use of a white wine glass is their recommendation.   Personally I find the Zalto universal glass a great option.

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My key thoughts 

  1. Across the range:-
    1. Higher levels of Pinot Noir than others – up to 68% and most are a Pinot / Chardonnay blend.
    2. Mousse is fine with great mouthfeel.
    3. Extra time on Lees develop a slightly honey yellow in colour for all bar the Special Curvée – as well as impressive length.
    4. NO astringency on the back palate just beautiful toasted notes from the oak barrel aged chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming through.
    5. Minimal dosage yet exceptionally well balanced and they drink sweeter than the dosage would suggest.
    6. Serve at 12°c ….
  2. Drinking more complex bubbles from a white wine glass – these champagnes definitely benefited
  3. ‘Bolly’ grows 60% of their own grapes – Ensures the quality and supply of grand cru grapes
  4. Bollinger tends to age more than most and averages twice as long on Lees
  5. If you are after that special sparkling and you have never tried Bollinger – buy some.
    1. Little know trivia – Bollinger sells the tartaric acid crystals that they scrape of the barrels to Chanel for use in their exfoliant

A Brief summary of the Champagnes

  • Special Curve NV -$86/bottle – Value
    • Beautiful and smooth with lingering palate.  This is their entry level champagne and I enjoyed it better than most that  I have drunk
  • Rose NV
    • Light bright, elegant and dry
  • La Grande Année Rosé 2005 $270 / bottle  – Great
    • 70% Pinot 30% Chardonnay – 5% red wine, 7% dosage, 8 years on lees
    • Deep salmon in colour with a fine delicate mousse, bright fresh with spices & toasted notes coming through with a very well balance long finish
  • La Grande Année 2005- $209/bottle -WOW.   Beautifully fine mousse smooth slightly buttery with truffle tones.  Once again the length of the beautiful finish stunned and impressed.
  • The ‘Spectré special release 2009 -$280/bottle –  Crisp & light with incredible length that just wanted some sashimi.

Wine of the Night – RD 2002 

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RD(recently disgorged ) 2002 – $380 / bottle – absolutely glorious, “Please can I have some more?”

  1. Wine making – 12 years on Lees in old oak barrels, disgorged 2014.   60% Pinot Noir 40% Chardonnay . Dosage 3-4 Grams
  2. Nose -slight buttery notes
  3. Colour – Light honey yellow
  4. Mouthfeel – Beautiful very fine mousse that seems to enhance rather than distract.
  5. Palate – Fresh, bright and slightly acidic, toasted & floral notes with some sweetness on the back palate !!  Amazing

Bond’s Favourite Bolly 

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 RD 1988 Magnum in Special Handblown Spectre’ Saint Louis Crystal ice bucket 

 $9,000 for the set.

 

 

To Hedge or not to Hedge that is the $$

This has been a great week and we now have what we at  Winetraveller  call a “liquidity issue”  –  liquid sitting in ships on water ….

A well timed currency purchase 

We have taken the strategic position that in the short term hedging the Australian dollaris not in our best interest.  Irregular purchase pattern and an $Aus and Euro spead that is not changing greatly means that hedging may cost us more than not.  Well it was time to pay our Italian friends  so it was shear brilliance (read luck) that we managed to pay for our Italian wine during the day that $Aus peaked against the Euro.  We are not experts but currency trading graphs and staying abreast of global trends helps us to minimise the final price that we have to charge for international wine in Australia

A great Corporate Wine Tasting.

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One of the activities that we really enjoy at the winetraveller is hosting winetasting events.  The events give us a chance to show some of our lucky customers some truely great wines from around the globe.

As well as great wine we also bring the full range of the fantastic Zalto Glasses not only for people to look at but to try and truely experience the difference drinking out of a quality glass makes.   I still enjoy watching the reaction of people drinking the same wine from a standard tasting glass and then a Zalto glass only to be blown away by the  increased taste and enjoyment of the wine from the Zalto.

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At this weeks tasting we compared a selection of red and white wines

The whites where a mixture of Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio from Italy , Spain and Australia, whilst the Reds where some great blends from Côtes du Rhône – France, Rioja- Spain and our own Barossa Valley.

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Drinking this week

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Eliza spent a few days in Valenica this week and came across a great little local Rosado (Rosé),  produced by Vicente Gandía.  The Hoya de Cadenas Rosado is a local specialty being made from the local “Bobal” grape.   Situated on the slopes of the Sierra de la Bicuerca this vineyard boasts 200 hectares under cultivation and has been  voted in the top 50 wineries globally – put this Bodegas down to visit when you are near Valencia

Italian Harvest is underway and looking good & the Barolo is on its way to OZ

Busy Busy Busy

People often ask what do I do and my elevator speach is quite easy – “I import wine.”  The normal response is “wow how good is that !”   I have to agree I really enjoy it.  But the downside is that is is often very hectic with often not enough hours in the day.

  • Tasting and selecting wines
  • monitoring  Forex Rates
  • organising international shipping
  • Watching this years Spanish and Italian harvests

Italian Harvest 2015

It has been a busy few weeks at The Winetraveller – selling wine during the day and keeping up with the European harvest.   Despite a summer heatwave in Europe our Italian producers are confident that the recent rain has left the grapes in very good condition. Early indications are that this years harvest will be a good one with the Harvest being bought forward only a few days.

2015 Barbera D’Asti  grapes

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At our producers vineyards it has been all hands on deck picking the grapes – NO machines here only care.

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Following picking the grapes are destemed then processed prior to fermentation

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2011 Barolo on its way

A big focus for us over the preceding weeks has been in getting our 1st shipment of wine from our producer in Barolo.  As this is our first shipment out of Italy we have been working hard to ensure that it arrives in the land OZ in great shape

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We will be shipping Barolo, Nebiolo and Barbera D’Asti Superior.

While we are really excited about the quality of the wine – What we are really excited about is that a few months of meetings and planning has paid off and we have been able to achieve some great prices for refrigerated shipping of the wine from Italy to Australia.  The benefit of this is that with the way the  Australian Taxation system this will save about $6- $10 off the retail price of the wine – win for us and our customers

Spanish Wine and a new CEO

So with sales targets set and with a 3-4 week lead times to get wine from Europe – especially as they are on summer holidays –   it is time to order some more wine.

Spanish Wine

Over the last few months Greg has been in discussion with José Maria after sampling his familie’s wines during his last trip to Spain.   JM’s family produces Rioja, Albarino and some very nice bubbles.  After a tasting session with the panel in Australia, an order is placed for a selection that represents a cross section of typical Spanish wine.

Albarino from Rias Baixas

Tempranillo from Rioja

Tempranillo from Castilla

Cava from the South.

With the enjoyable times of wine selection behind them the work begins and Greg and JM work through the process

  • Wines & Quantities
  • labels
  • Freight

An exciting time and the new back labels look great

Contra La Fontana Australia

The New CEO turns up 

At the weekly coffee catchup, the progress of the order is discussed.  As she had a cold and and had to cancel her normal routine the youngest member of the team turned up to lend her wisdom – the joys of parenthood and small business.

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And then there was coffee

Day 1 and the enterprise is away.  So even though the business needs to have some flexibility both have agreed that a plan is essential so the corporate training kicks in and a business planning session is underway.

How does the Website function

Market segmentation

Critical success factors

Product

Pricing

Place

Promotion

Tick all done with the help of a few double ristretto at the our favourite

coffee bar.

The boys have their tasks for week 1 and they are away.   IMG_2083

Hello Winetail is the story of two self styled lads 1 from Oz and the other a “swampy “

So what it is that Greg and Steve are trying to do?

Well  Greg went on holidays and despite being firmly committed to all things Australian found that some countries produce wine and food that is …. well quite good really.

Steve came from the UK and though he started to enjoy Ozzie vino really still enjoyed a good Bordeaux .

So their mission to bring the wines of the world – including Australia – to the Australian public.