As my husband and I have gotten into wine over the years, the number of “collectable” bottles we have acquired as gifts, in our travels, and off our wish list has increased to the point that one night, a couple months ago, we were in a quandry that didn’t have anything to drink. Well, let me rephrase that. We didn’t have anything other than a hundred-odd bottles of what I call “special occasion” wine. We were not willing to touch any of them for a whimsical weeknight hankering. What to do? We had a beer in this last ditch situation.
Well, since then, we have made sure we have lots of our house favorites for weeknights, those lovely non-committal wines in the US$10-15 range. We also decided to turn Saturday night into a bit of date night and start enjoying some of these special babies. After a temperature scare in the cellar (two corked bottles), I had a mini meltdown and decided to rearrange and organize the jumble of cases, wooden boxes, tissue paper, and bottles everywhere. And I finally put Cellartracker to work. In the process of organizing, I came across a lot of wines that had been aged or put aside that suddeny were on my radar and I wanted to drink them. So we got to it!
The last three weekends, a natural theme of Pasta y Vino emerged, which was not totally not planned, and seems to have coincided with the colder turn in the weather. And, as the Italians know, pasta and vino are totally tit for tat. Below are some of the inspiring pours we have had—well worth seeking out anywhere.
El Principal, Memorias 2000, Alto Maipo, Chile
El Principal is one of the Maipo Valley’s best kept secrets. It is one of those wineries making wines for serious collectors, people in the know, and what I refer to as “terroir junkies”. El Principal was first born of a joint venture between Jean-Paul Valette, then owner of Chateau Pavie in St. Emilion, with Jorge Fontaine in Chile. Using the exact same methodology to create his grand vins in France, he selected the best terroir and planted 54 hectares of high density Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, and Cabernet Franc in the stony foothills of the Andes. As life ironically would have it, Jean-Paul died before seeing the fruits of his labor and his son, Patrick, an esteemed winemaking consultant, oversaw the production of the first vintages. Today, Patrick lives in Chile and is the palate behind projects (full of finesse) like Neyen, Chocalan, Quebrada de Macul, J. Bouchon, and Santa Rita’s top wines.
El Principal has since been sold to a German shipping company, Dohle Latinamerika S.A., although the winemaking has continued without altering the nature of the wine. We went to visit El Principal’s winemaker, Gonzalo Guzman, a couple years ago on a rainy Tuesday. The hills were emerald and shrouded in a low fog. The vineyards rolled along the sloping, rippled incline. A beautiful setting, the vineyard closest to the Andes, with otherworldly wines. Memorias is one of those wines that in a couple sips transmits everything in a subtle, almost subliminal, way. The Valette family, who crafted this vintage, managed to capture and express this corner of the Maipo so perfectly. Made from Cabernet and Carmenere, now at 9 years old, its elegance shined through with a rounded maturity and a flicker of youth with firm tannins and vivacious fresh fruit. We thought this wine would easily hold for several more years! The pleasure quotient with this wine was maximum and, for me, it reaffirmed that winemaking and artistry are never separate. Totally recommendable.
Retail: US$25, in Chile you can find it at the Vinoteca.
Pairing: Homemade sauteed potato gnocchi, fresh garlic-basil tomato sauce, arugula and grated goat cheese
Bouza, Albariño 2008, Canelones, Uruguay
We visited and lunched at Bouza on a grand tour of Uruguay’s most excellent vineyards in January 2009. Bouza is a new, boutique property producing world-class wines. Seriously, keep an eye on these guys, they are going to trail blaze for Uruguay. Nestled 20 kilometers inland from Montevideo with an ocean breeze, the winery is in Melilla although the Albariño comes from their other property, Las Violetas, only 20 kilometers away. The heavy hitters at Bouza are the Tannats from selected lots, but this Albariño, which we carted home as a “why not?” bottle, was a huge revelation.
Generally speaking, Albariño is finally getting the attention it deserves. I was turned onto this grape a few years by a Spanish friend from Galicia, now a caterer in Napa, Oscar Riveiro, who shared some of his most delicious findings from Rias Baixas. This is the first New World version from South America I have come across and to be honest, I would say it easily ranked along the Spanish varieties.
Dry and aromatic with a grapefruit, pear, and honey-laden nose, in the mouth the wine was deliciously seca and delivered more pear and mineral notes. The wine was perfectly balanced: great acidity backed by ample structure (it felt lush) and easily held the 14.5% alcohol without you noticing it. We loved this wine. Our only regret? We only brought home one bottle! Argh! I would easily stock several of these with all the seafood we eat! Thankfully, my next trip to Uruguay isn’t too far away.
Pairing: Turmeric-flavored linguine tossed with finely diced and roasted peppers, shallots, and zucchini. We finished the dish with a machas, razor clams, sauce reduced with white wine, garlic, merkén, and a sprinkle of chives and dusting of aged goat cheese.
O. Fournier Alfa Spiga 2003, Ribera del Duero, Spain
O. Fournier’s motto, labeled on all their bottles, is “Cult Grapes”. With wines like Alfa Spiga under the company’s wing, it is a easy to understand why. Run by Wharton Grad, José Manuel Ortega, O. Fournier is a total wine success story with vineyards in Chile (Maule), Mendoza (Uco), and Spain (Ribera del Duero). It is also fascinating to drink O. Fournier wines because although each terroir has its own characteristics, there is an editorial line, a common thread, that spans the style and personality. They also are some of the best value wines I know of—from the basic Urban line to the Alfa premium. Each time I drink any of their wines though, they always make me remember José Manuel with their intensity and pizazz. Most certainly, his wines are his “children” and a mirroring of his own intensity and passion.
We decanted Alfa Spiga over an hour before dinner. Although a young wine, nothing could tame, nor tone down, the barrel. It was closed as tightly as a baby’s fist. We sensed that it needed time so, naturally, we let it decant overnight and continue the tasting at lunch the next day. Major improvement with 12+ hours decanting. One word to describe this wine: fleshy. Other words that also spring to mind: Concentrated, chocolatey, dark fruit, vanilla, earthy, intense. However, in all that adjective hoopla, there was something very straight forward about this wine that defied being pigeon-holed. It had the power of a big player but was subdued, a little austere, and very sincere. By the time the bottle was done, finally it had opened. If you do decide to open this, to avoid committing infanticide, definitely give it 12-16 hours of breathing. Gorgeous.
Pairing: Multi-grain lasagna with turkey bolognese sauce, herbed ricotta, and roasted eggplant.