Tag: tempranillo

A winery my mother would have loved

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Vineyards at Marimar Estate

My wife and I have been visiting Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery in the Sonoma County town of Graton for quite a few years now.  Founded by Marimar Torres, a member of the prominent Torres winemaking family in Spain, Marimar Estate produces very high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Spanish varietals such as Albariño and Tempranillo.  Although she hated all California wines, I’m certain my mother would have loved Marimar Estate wines, Marimar Torres herself, and the great food-based events that they hold throughout the year.

My mother was born and raised in Spain and lived there until she was over thirty years old.  By the time she passed away, she had lived more than half of her life outside of her native country, most of those years in the United States.  Nevertheless, throughout her life she maintained a strong identify as a Spaniard and loved the food and wine that she grew up with.  My brothers and I all have memories of Mom’s food – Spanish tortilla, croquetas, bacalao, the giant blocks of Manchego cheese she would bring when she visited.  Without question, though, Mom had a signature dish – paella.  Every time she visited she would make many of her delicacies but alway would make at least one paella.  Coupled with the paella?  Red wine of course.  What kind of red wine?  Red wine from Rioja, Spain.

Over the course of my adult life I tried to impress my mother by taking her to fancy restaurants that purported to make good Spanish food.  All of these efforts ended in failure and, occasionally, disaster. As soon as the paella was placed on the table my mother would begin her meticulous inspection and quickly find something wrong with it:  it was too watery (“this is soup, not paella”); or had the wrong ingredients (“you don’t put this in paella”); it lacked the saffron necessary to turn the rice yellow; or it was seasoned improperly.  On one occasion in a Spanish restaurant in Hollywood my mother even called for the chef to come out and asked him a single question: “Does this paella have cilantro?”  “Yes!” the chef replied enthusiastically.  “This isn’t paella, then,” she answered, and proceeded to explain to him how paella should be made.  He attempted to defend himself by saying the paella was “his take” on the classic dish and, admittedly, had some more Mexican and South American influences.  “It’s just rice, then,” she concluded, and did not take a second bite.  This scene repeated itself in different forms, but equally embarrassing (for me) moments, many times.

We have visited Marimar Estate many times for regular tastings as well as their “big events” such as their library tastings and their paella dinners.

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Marimar knows how to throw a party

I can say confidently that Mom would have loved both the wines and the food and would have seen a lot of herself in Marimar.  No, my mother did not make wine, but she had an energy and spirit that I see in Marimar Torres each time we visit the winery.  Growing up in Spain during the rule of dictator Francisco Franco, both my mother and Marimar experienced a Spain where women were not equal to men and certainly not encouraged to pursue their own careers.  Certainly when Marimar was a young woman in Spain the notion of a female winemaker or winery CEO would have been almost unimaginable.  Despite the expectations that society and family had for her, Marimar had big plans.  For starters, she obtained a degree at the University of Barcelona – in economics and business!  After graduating she was able to convince her father to permit her to sell their wines abroad, including in the United States.  It was during her time in California that she fell in love with Sonoma and found the parcel that would become the estate property for her vineyards and winery.

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Marimar Torres toasting her guests

The Marimar Estate is located close to the town of Sebastopol on the top of a hill with amazing views of the Sonoma Valley (facing east).  On the estate property there are 60 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes; this property is called Don Miguel Vineyard, an homage to Marimar’s father.  About four miles west, closer to the Pacific Ocean, is Doña Margarita Vineyard named after Marimar’s mother.

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All of the grapes on the Don Miguel estate are farmed organically and Marimar powers her winery with solar power.  We really appreciate this commitment to the environment and the results are evident in the wines:  whenever we share them with friends they tell us how “clean” the wines taste.  Our favorite Marimar wines include the several Pinot Noir offerings as well as the Tempranillo.  Although my mother mostly refused to drink anything other than Tempranillo from Rioja, I know she would have enjoyed Marimar’s Pinot for its full-bodied flavor, balance and sophistication.  She would also have enjoyed the paella.

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The sign of a real paella? A real paella pan.
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Marimar’s paella being prepared

We assure you that this paella was 100% authentic and did not contain cilantro!  On this visit our 19-year old daughter came and ended up serving as designated driver so that we could enjoy all of the fantastic wines. She did, naturally, enjoy multiple servings of the paella.  If anyone was counting, they would have noticed that after finishing the first plate I went back for seconds.  And thirds.

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Good enough for Mom

We toasted to Mom while we enjoyed the paella and wished that we had found Marimar earlier so we could have taken her to the winery and one of their paella dinners.

John & Irene Ingersoll

January 17, 2017

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Pinot Noir? Pinot Nowhere.

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Troon Winery in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley

As we rolled up to our final winery of our Oregon visit, we might be forgiven for expecting to enjoy one more glass of Pinot Noir before returning to California.  Certainly, the Willamette Valley, where we spent the beginning of our Oregon wine sojourn, is best known for Pinot Noir:  over 70% of vines are planted to Pinot Noir.  Our final winery, however, is a trend setter of sorts and is carving out an approach and style all its own.  Troon Vineyards is located in the Rogue Valley AVA about a 15 minute drive from the I-5 freeway that connects Canada to Mexico.

When we left the Willamette Valley that same morning, the temperature was in the 60’s and it was raining.  By the time we arrived at Troon, the sky was a perfect blue and the dashboard temperature monitor showed an outside temperature approaching 100°.  Nestled between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges, the Rogue Valley benefits from what is referred to as a “rain shadow effect”:  the mountains create a barrier against moisture that results in a very dry climate.   Situated near Medford and Grant’s Pass, Troon has a climate that more closely resembles California’s Central Valley that it does Willamette Valley or Coastal Oregon.

We arrived at Troon around 1:30 in the afternoon and were met by Craig Camp, one of our virtual friends from Twitter whom we have been following for the past several months.  Craig recently moved to Troon from Napa Valley where he was General Manager at Cornerstone Cellars. Our first pour of wine established the uniqueness of the varietals planted at Troon:  it was the only Vermentino that we consumed in Oregon.  In fact, it was our first Vermentino we have ever consumed anywhere. It turned out to be the perfect companion for walking around the large estate on a scorching day in early Fall.  Craig showed us the breadth of the vineyard plantings and the impressive number of varietals currently being farmed – upwards of twenty if we recall correctly.  Not a single planted vine was Pinot Noir.  Paraphrasing Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”:  “Toto, we are not in Willamette Valley anymore.”

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Vermentino vines at Troon Vineyards
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Old-vine Zinfandel at Troon Vineyards

Many of Troon’s vines were planted nearly 45 years ago, qualifying them as true “old growth” vines. The winery’s founder, Dick Troon, has a pioneering spirit and a keen sense of curiosity.  He wanted to figure out what would thrive in the hotter southern part of Oregon and experimented with a number of different varietals, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon among them.  In addition, Troon planted Malbec, Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Syrah, Carignane, Vermentino, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.  We may even be forgetting some varietals!

If you read any of Craig Camp’s articles, blog posts or Tweets, you’ll understand the philosophy that he and the entire team at Troon are attempting to fulfill:   follow sustainable farming practices, create a healthy environment for the vines to thrive, and do as little as possible to the grapes before they go into the bottle.  Consistent with this approach, Troon hand-picks its grapes, rather than harvest them by machine as some other wineries do.  More impressively, they crush their grapes the old-fashioned way, by stepping on the grapes and allowing the juice to come out without the aggressive pressure from machine crush.  During fermentation, Troon allows the wine to ferment in the grape’s native yeast rather than adding commercial yeasts into the mix; fermentation is done in mostly neutral oak to minimize the addition of aromas and flavors that result from the use of new oak.  Craig also mentioned that rather than blend some of their wines (where two different varietals are fermented separately and then blended together), Troon is doing co-fermentation: the grapes are harvested and then fermented together. Blending is the more common technique as grape varietals often require different practices during fermentation, which makes co-fermentation a bit trickier.  But co-fermentation also yields a different result than blending, since the individual varietals have been together since before crush.  The difference has been described as similar to making a stew:  if you cook all of the ingredients together from the beginning, the flavors come together to form something different than if the potatoes and meat were cooked separately and mixed together at the end.

During our visit to Troon, we tasted every single wine currently in release – all of the reds and the whites.  We really enjoyed the Vermentino on the white side, as well as the Rosé; of the reds, our favorites were the Zinfandel (both the blue label and the red label) and the Sangiovese.  We purchased several bottles and Craig sent us home with some complimentary bottles as well (which we appreciate but have not influenced this review).  Living in Napa Valley, we have grudgingly accepted the rising cost of wine in our area.  It is not uncommon for Cabernet Sauvignon to exceed $100 or even $150.  Chardonnay routinely costs $50-75.  Zinfandel and Merlot from Napa and Pinot Noir from Sonoma County regularly cost $60 or more.  Thus, when we saw the Troon prices we were very pleasantly surprised:  all of the white wines were under $30, with most closer to $20.  Their most expensive red wine is $50, but almost all of the rest of the reds are $35 or less.  The Troon “red label” Zinfandel, which we think is a very drinkable wine, sells for $20.  These price points are extremely competitive and we encourage fans of sustainable, quality wines to give Troon a try.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 17, 2016

Rioja, Oregon

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No, this is not Rioja. Yes, this is Southern Oregon.

The mother (and mother-in-law) of this blog-writing duo was born and raised in Spain and did not come to the United States until she was thirty years old.  She brought with her a fierce pride of her homeland; nowhere was this fierceness more evident than in her preferred beverage: red wine from Rioja.  She refused to drink white wine at all (“Why would I drink a white wine when I could be drinking Rioja?”).  In her later years, she also refused to drink any wine that was not from Rioja.  For many years, finding Rioja in the U.S. was no easy task as the volume of imported Spanish wine was relatively low.  “You know, there are some good California wines,” we would tell her.  She would screw up her face with outrage and say, “Oh please!”  We cannot even imagine what she would have said if we suggested she try Oregon wine; or, worse yet, an Oregon Tempranillo, which is the dominant grape varietal in red Rioja wines.

Over the past 10-15 years, the importation of Spanish wine has increased significantly, both from Rioja as well as other wine regions such as Ribera del Duero, Penedés and Rías Baixas.  Today, store shelves have many Spanish options, led by a number of labels from Rioja.  Similarly, wines from Spain appear on restaurant menus across the country.  Americans have become more familiar with and are embracing the unique aroma and flavor profile of Tempranillo.

Around the same time Mama was bemoaning the virtual absence of Rioja wines at her local liquor store and supermarket, Earl and Hilda Jones had a similar question:  why aren’t Rioja and Tempranillo part of the American premium wine scene?  Living on the East Coast at the time, the Joneses wondered why Tempranillo and other Spanish varietals were not being planted domestically.  Earl and Hilda dedicated several years to understanding the ideal growing conditions for Tempranillo and other Spanish grapes.  Ultimately, they identified the Umpqua Valley in Oregon as a suitable location; after more exploration they found the site where they would plant their vines and build their winery.  The climate in the Umpqua Valley is very similar to Spain, which may come as a surprise to those that have visited Oregon.  However, the Umpqua Valley is in the southern part of Oregon, about 3 1/2 hours driving distance from Portland, and has a decidedly different climate than the northern part of the state.

The Joneses planted their first vines in the Umpqua Valley in 1995 and made their first wine in 1996.  They named their winery Abacela, a derivation of an old Spanish and Portuguese word meaning “to plant a grapevine.”  Since then, Abacela has grown in reputation for its Spanish varietals, earning international acclaim both for its Tempranillo and its Albariño.

At the end of September we were driving from Willamette Valley back to our home in California, roughly a 7 1/2 hour drive.  We asked our B&B hosts if they had any recommendations for winery stops on the way home, and they enthusiastically recommended that we stop for a bit of wine and food at Abacela.  When we input the winery address into our GPS, it indicated that we would be driving by at exactly lunch time, which felt like fate!

We arrived at Abacela hungry and thirsty (for wine). They offered a number of food pairing and wine tasting options.  Because we wanted to have a “Rioja-type” experience, we opted not to try any of their international varietals (Merlot, Malbec, Syrah) and instead stick with the traditional red varietals from Spain. In our flight we had Graciano, Garnacha, and a couple different Tempranillos.  We paired the wine with a traditional platter of Spanish meats and cheeses.

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Queso and Jamon platter at Abacela

At the risk of Mama putting a spell on us from above, we have to say the wine was very tasty.  In Rioja, red wines are generally aged in American oak barrels, which tends to impart a sweeter flavor (vanilla) and a creamier texture.  At Abacela, the winemaker uses both French and American oak, including some new oak, which historically was not done in Rioja (older wineries often used the same barrels for decades).  We mention this not as a criticism, simply an observation for those that care about things like this.  The end result at Abacela, for all the wines we tasted, was a nice, balanced wine – nice fruit aromas and flavor with minerality and earthiness.  We took home several bottles of Abacela and look forward to doing a side-by-side tasting of their Tempranillo and some Spanish Rioja that we have at home.  In a future post we’ll share those results.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 14, 2016