Thanks to the boys over at redteeth.com there has been some more in depth info discovered about the touriga nacional that I had written about recently. Pardon me as I wipe my brow but, phew. This wine was hard to research. I always love a challenge but this one was a doosey. Now that you can put a label to the name by clicking on the link check this bottle out it is solid and unique. And if you get a chance checkout redteeth.com. They are doing good things for the wine world by creating a huge database of reviews that are approachable and down to earth. Also Damien’s blog where he often connects life experience with wine is always a good read. Thanks guys!
I have been searching unofficially for this little grape for some time now. I read about it last year and have always kept my eye open for it as I ran around tasting all different kinds of wines and giving in to my short attention span. The grape is called mencia and is found in the Bierzo region located in the Provence of Leon in northwestern Spain. Until now this area and this grape have not really been talked about too much but here and there people have been voicing their quiet opinions about it and those opinions are positive.
I love southern Italian wine not on only because it is amazing but because of the history of the southern Italian varietals. Their story is of renaissance. Grapes like falanghina, aglianico, Fiano, and Greco di tufo were almost winked out of existence until people realized (Thank you Mastroberadino) just in time the greatness of these vines and brought them back to life. Here we are thirty or forty years later and they are winning awards and being seen more and more in wine shops and wine bars across the country. This is what is happening to the mencia grape. It has always been around and it wasn’t necessarily almost extinct it just wasn’t being taken care of and so it was placed in the after thought category of the wine world. People actually thought it was a strand or relative of the cab franc grape and maybe that is why they just ignored it. Oh it’s just a cab franc in a bad area. It shouldn’t have been brought there in the first place. Well, DNA testing at some point proved this to be false and that it indeed is a varietal indigenous to the Bierzo region. Enter the renaissance. Once the people of Leon realized this they (quite recently) re-reworked their approach to the process and started planting vineyards in more optimal locations (such as hillsides) and taking better care of the vines and the berries. As a result of their efforts people such as Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson have talked about mencia and I have seen it in a couple of places at pretty high end prices.
High end is cool and all but I wanted to find one not-so-high-end example because that’s my focus. It is fun searching out the “twenty and unders” that are really good. It is very gratifying. So, Mr. Wolff and I found ourselves in this new little wine shop in the East Village after lunch one day called Tinto Fino. WOW! This place is awesome. It is located on First Avenue between fifth and Sixth Street on the west side of the avenue. If you blink you’ll miss it so keep your eyes peeled, you won’t be sorry. Tinto Fino is about as big as my junior one bedroom apartment. Yes I said junior one bedroom. I would like to say “one bedroom” but when a person in the “know” saw our little quaint East Village pad they affectionately blurted out, “Oh, what a cute little junior one bedroom.” And you know what? It makes sense. And I am cool with that. As long as it fits my wine “cellar” we are all sittin’ pretty. Any way, Tinto Fino is tucked away in the middle of the block with a sober yet really neat silhouette sign hanging a little ways above the front door. It’s a bit hard to see this sign among all of the stores around it proclaiming their existence but it’s quietly there swinging back and forth in the NYC breeze.
Mr. Wolff and I walked through this magnificent little gem of a shop in jaw droppin’ awe. The selection was so focused and professional. Tinto Fino has maybe over fifty wines in the entire store. Which is perfect. They have high-end tempranillo and rioja as well as a shelf dedicated to sherry and other labels that I didn’t recognize but can’t wait to try. They even sell perrones, a traditional Spanish decanter/carafe/pitcher for communal wine drinking. I have heard they are not used as much now a days but there is a market for them nonetheless. They look a little bit like a decanter but there is a cork in the top and as the neck falls into the base of the glass there is a long thin glass-blown spout that protrudes at an angle. What you do is pour the wine into the perron, pop the cork into the open top, raise it in the air, tip the spout towards your mouth and a thin stream of wine comes at you with all it’s gravitational fervor. Sounds fun right? I’ll be buying one soon to see how easy it really is. Something tells me I should wear a shirt I don’t mind staining before I attempt such a bacchanal venture.
After speaking with the owner for less than a minute or so I was ready to trust her with any wine in the store. I am not sure but with her confident musings on every single bottle I asked about she must do the buying her self. And that is so cool. We were talking to the person that chose all of these wines. As I walked over to the front of the store where I thought I had seen a label with Bierzo on it I looked back to see if Mr. Wolff was okay. He was more than okay. Mr. Wolff loves all things Spain. He has traveled there and speaks the language. He is also an amazing jazz musician and sometimes I believe incorporates his love for flamenco into his songs. This may be a shameless plug but his music is great and deserves to be heard. The name of the band is The Patrick Wolff Trio. It is well worth checking out. So, needless to say our boy Wolff was drooling over a label he knew well and was probably reminiscing about the day it was consumed.
This next moment for me was very exciting. I was holding a bottle of mencia that I would soon purchase and devour with glass and pen and paper. Why was I so excited? Well, this wasn’t the first time I had come across this grape. But this is the first time I had come across this grape and the bottle was only thirteen bucks. I have seen mencia for fifty, sixty even seventy bucks around the city and the places that have carried it have looked down upon me when I asked if they have any under the twenty-dollar mark. “Out of stock.” they would grumble and walk away leaving me confused and swearing to never come back. But here I was in a place of respect and maturity. Here I was as confident about the bottle as the owner was. I have never tasted this wine but when I asked her about it and she gave me her tasting notes with no pretense I was in. We were three wine geeks chatting away as I purchased my new exciting and promising bottle of mencia.
I regret to say that Mr. Wolff could not attend the tasting. So Gal and myself popped the bottle. The wine is a 2004, one hundred percent mencia from Bodegas Pucho. It’s always exciting popping a new bottle that we are going to enjoy and ponder. I hear that slight pop of the cork and my mind starts racing with all the wines I have tasted before and my database starts juicing up. What was even more exciting about this wine and other wines that are new to me is that I didn’t know from where I would draw my comparisons. I love uncharted territory. We poured the taster and swirled our glasses. The wine really coated the sides of the glass showing signs of a full-bodied wine. The nose was nice and tight with good, ripe fruit concentration and I could see right away why it was once thought to be cab franc because underneath the fruit was that lingering herbaceous aroma that cab franc is known for. Also, as I swirled a little bit more a pepperiness came out to mix with the herbal tones. The wine was opening nicely and we hadn’t even taken our fist sip yet. It was time to taste.
The fruit concentration on the nose came through on the palate along with the well-balanced spice that was the herbs and pepper mingling together. The tannin structure was smooth and silky and constantly flirting with the fruit. As it opened all of these components began to mellow into each other giving this wine a nice medium to full bodied flavor. The finish was lingering but not aggressive. I ate this wine with some lamb and it was great but I couldn’t help thinking of some sort of pork dish with this one. What is nice about this wine is that it has a depth that lasts all the way to the end of the bottle keeping the tannin in check. The vines that this bodega harvests are between forty and eighty years old which explains the continuous fruit concentration. Also this wine was aged in stainless steel so all this balance comes from whatever the fruit has to offer with minimal manipulation. Great wine. I can see why people thought it was cab franc but I have had some bottles from the Loire and they tend to be lean sometimes lacking the under current of fruit that this wine has. I have also had some one hundred percent cab francs from Italy and they have great depth in the fruit category but this sometimes-uncomfortable intensity in the peppery herbal tones. Mencia kind of takes the best of both worlds and puts them together. Well at least this producer does. And it was only thirteen bucks. It has deep fruit characteristics with a nice tannin structure that helps carry the herbal tones of the wine.
I will be going back to Tinto Fino to purchase another one of these bottles to share with Mr. Wolff because I know he would really dig this one. I am also ready to try a higher end mencia to see what more this grape can give. But I must say that I really enjoyed this bottle and I wonder how much better it can get. I am sure it would be a bit silkier and Probably see a bit of oak. Until then please check this one out. The Bierzo is an up and coming area and you will be seeing it more and more. Pick it up because it’s new and its fun and…well…it’s really good. Pop the cork, let it breath a bit, cook some pork chops in a mild mustard sauce with a side of baked and cubed butternut squash or some sort of roasted red pepper salad, contact Mr. Wolff through his myspace and grab his CD, put it on, sit back and enjoy the flavors and the music. Cheers!
Mr. Wolff was telling me recently about a certain Portuguese wine that he had quite enjoyed. My interest was peaked when he said, “Get this,” And proceeded to roll off the components of a quite extensive blend. What got me was out of a blend of four or five varietals I only recognized one. And that one was alicante, an ancient name for cannonau in Sardegna. It isn’t even used anymore (the name not the grape). Now I’m not saying that I should know these grapes. I am no expert. I am saying that this was most exciting because as a wine geek finding a new treasure trove of varietals is the beginning of a very fun adventure. Mr. Wolff gave me the details of the wine and off I went searching for a bottle. Tinto Fino was the first place that came to mind but I realized She only Does Spanish wines. Tinto Fino has, if you don’t yet know, one of the most concentrated selections of amazing Spanish wine I have seen yet in the city. That’s probably because all they carry is Spanish wine. It is a small selection but man is it great. I will be posting a few words on the mencia grape from the Bierzo region next week that Tinto Fino helped me discover. So I went to visit my friends at Astor Wine and Spirits.
They politely directed me to the small cornered selection of Portuguese wine and after a good once over (which didn’t take too long) I wasn’t seeing the Wolff’s recommendation. So I just sat there staring with confusion and excitement. Which one do I try? I had a Portuguese wine once and it was medium and well balanced. I knew it was a blend but I was at a restaurant and the sommelier was not very informative and I wasn’t sure what was in it but I remember liking it. Although the options were few the prices varied widely. There were a few in the thirty to forty dollar range (one at fifty), one or two in the eighteen to twenty dollar range and the rest (about six or so) were all under ten bucks and of those mostly three or four dollars. What was I to do? Door number one, two or three? I chose door number two. For this blog I don’t like going over twenty and I wasn’t so confident and adventurous about the low end. Not yet. Let’s do some middle ground experimentation.
The bottle I chose had the title SO’. After some exhaustive research I cannot find out whether this is the producer or simply the title of the wine. What I do know is this: The wine is made from one hundred percent touriga nacional, which is one of the almost five hundred indigenous varietals or castas in Portugal. It is a 2001 and has a designation of vinho regional, which I believe is, in comparison to Italian wine laws, somewhere between the vini di tavola and IGT (in Portugal IGT is called IPR). And part of this designation is the Terras Do sado, which is located just south of Lisbon. This wine is from the Terras Do Sado. Something else interesting is that touriga nacional is not known for making regular red wine (vinho tinto). It is actually famous for its use in the fortified port wine. Actually, I read that it is hard to find a port without this grape in the mix. Talk about some new territory.
Mr. Wolff unfortunately could not attend the tasting so Gal and I popped this puppy open and went at it. The initial nose was full of concentrated fruit and had a prominent musty, earthiness to it. It seemed to me right away that this was probably aged in American oak. Underneath the fruit and the must was a hint of pepper and spice that just wanted to come out. We swirled and thought and sniffed and thought and finally got around to the first sip after about five minutes or so of just letting the wine open. The palate was, in my opinion, great. It was medium to full, more on the medium side because I realized that it was still a bit tight. Speaking of tight, one of the things I liked about this wine is that it was balanced when tight with a seamless tannin structure running through it but not overwhelming. Sometimes when a wine is tight I find that one characteristic or another is right on top and as the wine opens everything comes together. It had a mild lingering finish and the body of the wine coated the palate which I believe is a result of the American oak. It was an almost sweet coating but restrained and balanced. It actually added to the smoothness of the wine. After opening a little bit the spices came out more along with hints of bitter chocolate and cinnamon. The tannin increased but not overwhelmingly and because of this wine’s nice acidity it went great with a risotto sautéed with some white wine and porcini mushrooms.
All in all I was very impressed with this wine. The oak was used with restraint, which is nice because American oak can yield some overly buttery, vanilla characteristics. There was a nice balance to it from beginning to end. Gal didn’t have too much input for this bottle but what he did say was that he enjoyed it because it was totally different than any other wine he has had yet. I agree. This wine is very unique and has a hybrid feel to it. Almost like a cross between a cannonau and a cab franc with more depth and color. It is definitely a food wine and I can see why it is so popular for port with its fruit concentration. I am going to try some of door number three just to compare and contrast. Until then if your feeling adventurous and want to try something different but not pay an arm and a leg this is a good one for eighteen bucks. And I’d like to give a shot out to Mr. Wolff for peaking the interest. I am still on a quest for that blend. Cheers!
Happy New Year!!! Wow. It has been too long. I have been on a bit of a hiatus for the holiday season. Got a little too busy and lost all sense of time. It was definitely a whirlwind of holiday cheer and I gotta say I had a lot of fun. We ate sumptuous food and drank special wines. We ran around Manhattan buying gifts and rewarding ourselves with a nice dinner here and there. We traveled to the south to visit family, made homemade pasta and also enjoyed the ease of a catered meal. I visited local wine shops and found good juice that I am currently looking for here in NYC. We had a twenty-five dollar amarone that was really on par with its more expensive namesakes. We took a tour of a cellar in a restaurant tucked away in some southern wildlife preserve. We ate at a Thai restaurant that rivals some of the best Thai we have had here in the city as well as a nice Riesling to boot. We gave and received and relaxed and played. JFK was crazy and flights were canceled and over booked. Somehow during the storm of travel my wife and I obtained complimentary tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. and have already planned our trip to California wine country.
But man was it nice coming back to the one, the only, New York City. I hope all of your New Year’s Eve plans worked out accordingly and I hope that you had at least some decent sparkling bubbly whether it be champagne, American sparkling, cava, prosecco, or the infamous Asti. My wife and I started the evening with dinner at Azul on the corner of Suffolk and Stanton with our friends August and Lauren. I had been wanting to go to this place for a long time and just never got around to it. What an amazing place. The steak is prepared wonderfully and when you ask for a certain temperature you get it. August and I had the sirloin grilled to perfection with just the right amount of rosemary, sliced and served on a sizzling skillet with a side of fresh cut fries and some of the best homemade chimichurri I have had yet in the city. My wife and Lauren both had the skirt steak cooked medium rare. I honestly can’t remember what was served with it because of my almost total concentration on the dish in front of me. I did ,however, manage to get a bite of the skirt and the quality of the beef was apparent immediately. Excellent steak. My sirloin was a little too good. I couldn’t help but pause after every bite and savor the experience before sipping the really nice wine that we chose. The wine was a blend form Argentina. I wish I could remember all the information that I love to give out before I talk about a wine but I was not in wine geek mode that night. The geek was there but just chillin in the background letting the rest of my brain enjoy the night without thinking to hard on the wine. I mean I thought about the wine after every sip and enjoyed it opening up and seamlessly pairing with the food but the urge to break out a pen and paper and take the fun notes never crept up. I just enjoyed the experience and that is what wine and friends are all about.
Speaking of wine and friends that is how this New Year’s ended up for my wife and I. At midnight we were surrounded by some of our closest friends drinking prosecco and sounding the noisemakers. We all hugged and I kissed my wife at midnight. We even celebrated a New Year’s Eve birthday. Happy Birthday Angus!!!! I have some pretty cool pics yo. Anyway, I just wanted to reconnect with everyone and rant and ramble for a bit on what this blog is all about: wine, food and life. I love writing this blog. I also love that you guys actually take the time to read what I have to say and for that I thank you. I plan on keeping this thing going throughout 2007 and in the process we can explore more wines together. When I write about a wine I am not an expert on that particular bottle. I am experiencing it for the first time, taking it all in and researching it. I am learning with you and that for me is one of the most exciting parts of this blog thing. Please keep coming back to see me. And thank you again for all of your support. Happy 2007!!!!