Work “World Tour of Wine” Tasting

For those of you who are Facebook fans, you already know that, at the end of May, I was working on a wine tasting for work.  After having put together a Spanish wine tasting for coworkers during our April slow period, one of my colleagues talked to The Big Boss about my wine experience and about our staff bonding event.  He was thrilled, and, as a wine lover himself, thought it would be fun to have a wine tasting for the staff in both of his DC offices.  The tasting was held the Tuesday before Memorial Day.

Half of the people attending the wine tasting were at my Spanish wine event, so I decided that instead of doing a second Spanish-focused tasting, this one would be a “World Tour of Wine.”  As the fun part of a tasting is being able ­to try new wines and broaden wine horizons, I wanted to focus on wines that moved away from the typical Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, and Chardonnays by presenting varietals that are easy to find in wine stores, but that many inexperienced wine drinkers might shy away from buying.  Additionally, since I was expecting 30+ people at the event, I wanted to make sure that I covered a range of wine styles.

With all of that in mind, I decided to begin the tasting with a traditional French Champagne—Montaudon Extra-Dry (snooth).  The palate cleansing & revitalizing sparkler was followed by two white wines—a 2008 Paul D Grüner Veltliner (winery, snooth) from Austria and a 2009 Spy Valley (winery, snooth) from New Zealand.  Following the lighter white wines were a South African Pinotage—2008 Painted Wolf (winery, snooth)—and a California Zinfandel blend—2008 Orin Swift’s “The Prisoner” (winery, snooth).  The tasting finished with a Spanish Sherry—Nectar by González Byass (winery, snooth).

Everyone enjoyed the Champagne, which was no surprise to me or to them.  However, the other wine that received the most questions and the most refill requests was Orin Swift Cellers’ The Prisoner, followed closely by Paul D’s Grüner Veltliner.  The wine that received the most mixed reviews was González Byass’ Nectar, although everyone was happy to have tried it as almost everyone mentioned that it was not a wine they would have tasted on their own.

The Big Boss was very happy with event, particularly as he found a new wine that to enjoy.  My coworkers tasted some wines that they loved, as well as some wines that they didn’t like, but there was a lot of conversation about those wines, as the likes and dislikes varied greatly.  All in all, it seemed like everyone had a good time and that the tasting was a huge success.

***As a note, while the wines above are the ones I planned to offer and prepared tasting notes for, the wine store was actually sold out of the Spy Valley on the day of the tasting.  Therefore, I used a 2009 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (winery, snooth) as a fallback.  I will do a separate review for the Oyster Bay, but wanted to keep the Spy Valley as part of this tasting, as I thought it was a slightly better wine.

Endings to the Spanish Wine Course

The last regions we covered before taking our exam on the final day of the The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course were Condado de Huelva, Málaga & Sierras de Málaga, and Montilla Moriles. After going over the slides on each area, we had our final two tastings.

Tasting #3 on Day 3
(sorry that there are no pictures!)

3 Corks

2006 Veleta Tempranillo VdT (winery)
90% Tempranillo, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot
Ruby with purple flecks
Medium-to-high Acid
Medium body

2006 Veleta Cabernet Sauvignon (winery, snooth)
Very ruby
Ripe cherries and plums
Medium tannins and acid
Medium body

2006 Veleta Nolado’s (winery)
40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tempranillo
Ruby with flecks of purple
Strawberry, blackberry, fennel, and rose petals on the nose
Violets, Strawberry, and blackberry in the mouth
Low-to-medium tannins and acid

2005 Finca Moncola Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah (winery)
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah
Ruby with a purple tinge
Strong green and black olive aromas, followed by black plums, black currant, and spices on the nose
Lots of olives and black fruits in the mouth
Medium tannins, low-to-medium acidity

Tasting #4 on Day 3

2008 Botani Moscatel Seco (winery, snooth)
Grapy, floral, blossoms, & rose petals
Bitter on the finish

Toro Albalá Fino Eléctrico (winery, snooth)
Pale gold
Almonds and something bitter on the nose
Almonds and salt in the mouth
Not as elegant as the Sherry

2006 Jorge Ordóñez & Co Selección Especial (winery, snooth)
Bright, medium lemon with gold flecks
Orange blossoms, dried apricots, honey, lemon peel, and nectarines on the nose
Very Sauterne-like
Honey, white flowers, and nectarines in the mouth
Nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity
Full-bodied, a little syrupy
Long finish

Toro Albalá Cream PX (winery)
Brown with an amber rim
Raisins, prunes, brown sugar, toast, toffee, and caramel on the nose
Raisins, prunes, nuts, and burnt sugar in the mouth
Not too thick
Good balance

1982 Don PX Gran Reserva (Bodega Toro Albalá) (winery, snooth)
Very dark mahogany with an amber rim
Raisins, prunes, coffee, chocolate, licorice, soy sauce, and molasses on the nose
Burnt sugar, raisins, and prunes with a hint of chocolate and licorice in the mouth
Sweet with very high acidity
Body is think and syrupy

Sherry, Sherry Baby, Sherry

The second Sherry tasting on the final day of the The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course was comprised of sweet, complex wines. Unlike the first tasting, where most of the Sherry were not my style, each Sherry in this tasting was more delicious than the next. In fact, the last one we tasted (the Nectar PX 7 Years Old) left me wondering what it would taste like poured over warm French toast.

Tasting #2 on Day 3

Apostoles Palo Cortado Muy Viejo (winery, snooth)
VORS (at least 30 years of aging)
Palomino and Ximénez
Medium brown with an Amber rim
Flan, toasted caramel, vanilla bean, with a touch of raisins and prunes on the nose
Almonds, hazelnut, caramel, with a touch of raisins in the mouth
Very complex

Matusalem Oloroso Dulce Muy Viejo (winery, snooth)
VORS (at least 30 years of aging)
Medium-to-dark brown with an amber rim
Pronounced aromas—almonds, raisins, and prunes
Almonds and raisins in the mouth
Sweet, with a slight bitterness on the long finish

Nectar PX 7 Years Old
Deep Mahogany with amber rim
Pronounced aromas—strong raisin, fig, and prune with hints of caramel and brown sugar
Dried apricots, raisins, and prunes with a hint of caramel and brown sugar in the mouth
Like drinking liquid velvet
Very long finish

Oh, Sherry

The third, and final, day of The Wine Academy of Spain’s Spanish wine course was particularly intense because there was an exam looming over all of us. After 6 ½ hours of class, we had an hour to complete our Spanish Wine Educators and Andalusia Wines exam. The exam included blind tasting 8 wines and answer 5 questions about each wine (including identifying the wine), followed by 50 multiple-choice questions. It felt like Extreme Spanish Wine.

Before the exam, though, we went through an introduction to Andalucía, which included a fascinating history of the region, before learning about the history of Sherry and the viticulture and vinification practices.

For those who might be unfamiliar with Sherry, it is a fortified wine from Jerez, Spain. To make Sherry, winemakers start with a base wine, which is then fortified by adding pure grape spirit. The level of fortification determines the aging process, as the lighter Fino Sherry allow for the development of a film of yeast (called flor), which protects the wine from oxidation, and the darker Oloroso Sherry are heavier, darker, oxidized wines. There is a 3-year minimum aging requirement for Sherry, and the aging system (the Solera system) that is used to blend and age Sherry is very important.

Jesus had a wonderful slide that explained exactly how the Solera system works. While the slide only had three levels of botas (the special barrels used to age the Sherry), there are generally 4 levels. A portion of wine is taken from the bottom bota and bottled, leaving space for an equal amount of wine to be transferred from the 3rd level of botas. Once the wine is taken from level 3, there is space for wine from the 2nd level of botas to be added. After the wine from the 2nd level is transferred, the wine from the 1st level of botas replaces it. This leaves space in the 1st level of botas for the addition of new wine.

Tasting #1 on Day 3

Tio Pepe Fino Muy Seco (winery, snooth)
Pale, lemon yellow
Pronounced smell
Almonds, green apples, toast, and salt on the nose
Salt, nuts, and granny smith apples in the mouth
Very dry
Very bitter
Long finish
Could pair with ham, almonds, cheese, asparagus, artichoke, and calamari
Not my style

Viña Ab Amontillado (winery, snooth)
Medium, liquid gold
Stone fruits, nuts, and spices on the nose
Nuts, caramel, and dried apricots in the mouth
Very dry
Not my style

Alfonso Oloroso Seco Palomino 10 years old (winery, snooth)
Amber color
Nuts, dried apricots, vanilla, and cinnamon
Dry, but smooth
Long finish
Might pair nicely with gamey foods
Not my style

Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce (winery, snooth)
Medium brown with amber rim
Raisins, prunes, figs, walnut caramel, burnt sugar, and candy licorice on the nose
Raisins, burnt sugar, and toffee in the mouth, with a very nutty finish
Sweetness is balanced nicely by the acidity
Very nice!

The Not So Impossible Dream—Wine from La Mancha

Once we finished the Catalonia wine tasting marathon, The Wine Academy of Spain’s instructor turned to Castilla-La Mancha before giving us an hour and a half lunch break.

Castilla-La Mancha
is located towards the middle of the Iberian peninsula and is home to the
Great Plain of La Mancha. Even more famous than its wines are the windmills, which were brought to the world’s attention in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. However, La Mancha is incredibly important to the winemaking world. It’s Spain’s largest wine region, and up until July 2009, it was the largest wine appellation in the world (The Upper Mississippi Valley AVA just claimed that title from La Mancha).

On the whole, the
Castilla-La Mancha wines that we tasted in class were very inexpensive, with 3 out of the 5 wines averaging a retail price of under $10 and with the most expensive of the 5 wines averaging a retail price of $15. That said, the La Mancha wines were also the weakest of the group, so it was a slightly disappointing finish to the morning session.

Tasting #6 on Day 2
Castilla-La Mancha

2.5 Corks

2006 Altozano (winery, snooth)
65% Tempranillo, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon
Ripe, jammy fruits on the nose
Cherries with a touch of spice and smoke in the mouth
Medium tannins and high acidity

2007 Tapeña Garnacha (winery, snooth)
Purple with blue flecks
Red currant, white pepper, and violets on the nose
Red fruits and violets in the mouth
Low acidity, which may have contributed to the wine tasting flat

3 Corks

2008 Viña Albali Tempranillo from Valdepeñas
Medium purple
Herbaceous, fruity, and fatty
Medium tannins and acidity
May benefit from being chilled slightly

3.5 Corks

2002 Viña Albali Gran Reserva (snooth) from Valdepeñas
Ruby with a touch of garnet on the rim
Licorice, leather, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of vanilla on the nose
Berries, vanilla, cedar, and smoke in the mouth
Medium tannins and acidity

2007 Volver (snooth)
100% Tempranillo
Dark, inky purple
Red fruits, smoke, cedar, and ground coffee
A little high in alcohol
Medium-to-high tannins and acidity with a full body

…and after the tasting we took a 1 ½ hour lunch.