Wine Review: Cava Vilarnau Gran Reserva 2010

When I start writing a review, I try to do some research on the wine and on the producer to get a feel for a the story. I love a good wine combined with a good story. And I think I am not alone with this as almost every producer, old and young, have some lines on where they have come from and what their philosophy is on their website. Yes, it’s more interesting to buy a wine that has been picked, pressed and mixed by a person/ persons than, let’s say, comes from a mass production line. Who would say: this bottle is one of millions produced, mixed for the taste of the mass consumers and a pair of hands has barely touched the product before it is lifted on the boutique shelves. No, at least to me, wine should have a story; a passionate winemaker or a well thought out production. For me it’s a part of the experience of drinking wine. I don’t like blind tastings either, so what can I say, I’m a sucker for good marketing.

About Vilarnau: I set out to do my research and to my disappointment, the web pages, that were supposed to be in English, were not. Well some pages were, like the ones with facts about the wines. But not the ones introducing the producer. But thank’s to Google Translate, everyone is a linguist these days. The house of Vilarnau is located in Sant Sadurni de Anoia, the capital of Cava. There is a family history, but I must say, google translate does not produce 100% reliable text, and it all sounded pretty boring so I’m not going to write about it. Today Vilarnau is owned by the Gonzales Byass Group, one of Spains most known Sherry producers. They own 20 hectares of vineyards growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the cava trio: Xarello, Parellada and Macabeo. They also grow some Trepat that is often used for making Rose Cava. Sounds pretty standard but that of course doesn’t mean that the wines themselves wouldn’t be great. My impression from Cavatast, where I tasted Vilarnau cavas the first time, was pretty good.

The Gran Reserva 2010 is the premium product from the Vilarnau family of Cavas. It is a Brut Nature (less than 6g of residual sugar per liter), 35% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 30% Chardonnay, and it is aged for 36 months.  On the Vilarnau website it is described as golden yellow, but I must say the color looked pretty pale yellow to me (I cannot argue what it looks like under the Spanish sun, as Sweden has not seen the sun in months). We started of tasting the wine at 11 degrees (as that is the temperature of our wine fridge), but soon discovered that the instructions recommend a clearly cooler temperature, 6-8 C. So into the ice bucket it went, and my oh my did that make a difference. I am used to a warmer temperature contributing to the taste, but this time the wine gained body with cooling. The nose of the wine was of peaches and apricots and the taste very dry, even slightly sour, with yeast and high acidity of fruit. After a marathon of champagnes over Christmas, I was refreshed by the familiar taste of a good, well made Cava.

This particular Gran Reserva is not available in Sweden (we brought this bottle from Barcelona), and I am not sure if it’s value for money with a price of 20,85 € in Spain. Yes, I liked the Cava but I can get a better bottle for 30% cheaper. However, I noticed that the Monopoly has the Vilarnau “standard” Brut in their special order selection for 79 SEK (equivalent to around 10 EUR). Perhaps that could be something to try, as one can see from the Gran Reserva that the House of Vilarnau do know how to make a good Cava.

All in all, I will probably be visiting the Vilarnau stall again next October when it is time for Cavatast again. They are an interesting producer to follow. I give this wine 4 stars for overall quality (excluding the influence of price) and 2.5 stars for “value for money”.(4/2.5). That is a pretty steep drop, but I really think that over 20 € in Spain is overpriced. Spain is a pretty cheap country when it comes to wine, so I don’t even want to imagine what the Monopoly would charge for it.

Wine Review: Champagne Drappier Brut Nature NV

Another find from the Monopolys special-order selection; Champagne Drappier Brut Nature NV ticks all (most of) the boxes for me. It is a 100% Pinot Noir, Zero dosage (no added sugar) and goes in the wonderful price range of under 300kr bottles. All the characteristics for a good Friday champagne.

Reading up on the producer really sparked up my interest. The House of Drappier has a rich history. It was founded over 200 years ago in 1808 in the city of Urville. They grow not only classic grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, but also rare varieties such as Petit Meslier, Blanc Vrai and the extremely rare Arbane. You might recall Arbane from my review on Oliver Horiot, who also uses the classic grapes in combination with Arbane and Pinot Blac for his Ancient Variety Champagne 5 Sens. The cellars where Drappier store the wine are among the oldest and most extensive in Europe and also were the only cellars that weren’t damaged during the two world wars or the fires that raced through the area in the 1950s. Drappier also specializes in using very low amounts of sulfur in their production. 0,002% as opposed to 5% used by various other champagne houses. After all this information, Drappier is definitely bookmarked for a visit next summer (hope they take visitors).

The Brut Nature NV comes with a stylish, classic label. It felt nice and festive when opening the bottle. The nose and taste are definitely classic champagne toasty with a hint of sweetness. And I don’t mean sugary sweetness, more like sweetness from fresh fruit. There is also a taste of apple and yeast and an interesting residual bitterness. The price of this wine was “only” 259 SEK at the Monopoly. All in all it is not a surprising wine, but I am very happy with the quality/cost ratio.

I have actually found it challenging to give wines only one rating. Many of the wines that I have tried are nothing earth shattering, but I am then torn when I take into account the price. I appreciate a price tag that is affordable but also recognize that some of the better wines can be “a bit” more expensive. It’s not only about brands and marketing (*vague smile*). I am beginning to understand why the 1-100 points system is needed. So, starting from this review, I will start rating the quality of the wine and then value for money separately. For example, as a wine, the Drappier deserves a 3.5. When the price is taken into account the score goes up to 4 stars. So my rating looks something like this: 3.5/4.

Wine Review: LaVis Simboli 2012 Marzemino

To start the wine-review, I would like to take the opportunity to write a little bit about the grape: Marzemino. Marzemino is found in Northern Italy, mainly in Trentino but also in the Lombardia, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine regions. Its mostly used as a blending grape together with Barbera, Merlot and Sangiovese; but it makes a wonderful wine on its own. It requires a long growing season, ripens late and produces light wines with plummy flavors and lively acidity.

When grown in cooler climate flavors can be light, hints of grass and cherry notes. In some ways it reminds of some of the Pinot Noirs grown in cool climates. As we have a Pinot-lover in this house, it was no wonder M fell in love with the grape the first time he tried it. It think it was one of those “where have you been all my life”-moments. Although quite known in Italy, and appreciated by the locals, it is not widely available in the Nordics. The Monopoly carries only one Marzemino in their special-order selection. Marzeminos susceptibility to fungal disease has not helped its popularity.

Now about Lavis Simboli 2012. Slightly violet in color, the wine looks light and fresh in the glass. You get soft aromas of red berries and almond and a sweet and balanced taste. It made us think of game as the perfect food pairing, but I must say, an Iberico-steak was not bad match either. Not bad at all! This wine was among the samples brought from Italy a few weeks back. Nothing expensive, perhaps about 6€, so wonderful value for money. I think this wine is worth 3,5 stars, maybe even 4 if you take into account the great price.

So all you winecurious out there, especially the Pinot-fans, do not walk past a Marzemino without giving it a shot. Especially if you visit Northern Italy, you should check out the local wine-shops for some great value for money.

Wine Review: Champagne Oliver Horiot Seve

Now for something a bit less main stream. The first time I tasted a Oliver Horiot Champagne was this fall at one of my favorite restaurants Kitchen Table (London). It was after a long, unclear babble of a description of what we liked that the Sommelier suggested to try “5 sens”, Oliver Horiots Ancient variety champagne. Ancient variety means that the Champagne is made with an “old” mix of grapes, that was more common a few hundred years ago than it is nowadays. In the case of 5 Sens this includes the use of Pinot Blanc and Arbanne together with today’s common mix of grapes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It was wonderful, tasteful, minerally, I remember my mouth watering when drinking it. But this is not a review of the 5 Sens, wish it was, but that one is not easy to find with only around 8000 bottles produced a year. This is a review of Horiots other Champagne “seve”, which to my delight, was in box no 5 of the Wine calendar.

Seve is a Blanc de Noirs, so 100% Pinot Noir, and boy was that apparent from the color. A light ruby colored champagne with even a bit of a brownish tone. Look-wise it was mainly the bubbles that distinguished the champagne from a red wine, however it had a fresh look to it, so not as thick as a Lambrusco. This goes perfectly in line with what other writers say about Horiot, that he is more interested in making still wines than he is at making champagnes. But I am really pleased that he has decided to make bubbly, as his wines are always very different from what I expect from Champagne, in a positive way I mean.

At first sniff, you get a very dry scent of wood and rose. When taking the first sips I am a bit disappointed. I was expecting this flavorful, mouthwatering and minerally experience as with the 5 Sens. The Seve has much more “red wine” notes of ripe red berries to it than I would expect of a champagne (I am really not a fan of Lambrusco). It was not bad, not at all, but definitely not as great as I expected. So we put the bottle back in the fridge after one glass and moved on to some red wine that evening. Hmm, but the next day, as we opened the bottle again for a pre-dinner aperitif (I might be a bit of a wine-snob, but I will not throw away good alcohol) the taste had developed. The airing had made it much more flavorful and round with notes of marzipan, vanilla and hints of almond. I always foolishly expect the first sips of a wine to be the best, but this one just required a bit of patience to get to its full potential. I have run into this experience with some older champagnes before, and some of them are definitely worth airing for a while even with the expense of losing some bubbles. Seve is also a vintage champagne (this is advertised only in the back label), in this case 2007, so I could imagine that there is some development from year to year. So perhaps I need to get an annual subscription.

As with the 5 Sens, the Seve is nothing main stream, it is a wonderful rebel to the have in the mix. I just wish stocking up on Horiot’s would be a bit easier. After prying about how M had come across this wine, I heard that getting it through the Monopoly’s private import was not a walk in the park. The service, that is supposed to partly justify not having a free market here in Sweden, took over 3 months and a lot of pushing (calls to the Monopoly) from M to deliver. So if you come across a Horiot and feel adventurous, do not hesitate one minute, buy it! The price for a bottle is around 400 SEK through the monopoly private import; or for those of you in London the Sampler often have this or some other champagne from Horiot on the shelf. A Horiot Champagne will not rob you blind and is definitely worth the extra effort to find. All in all, I give the Seve 4 stars.

Wine Review: Agusti Torello Mata Gran Reserva 2008 Barrica Brut Nature Cava

Agusti Torello Mata is one of the more known Cava-producers in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, the capital of cava, just 30 minutes west from Barcelona. What distinguishes this cava-house from some other large producers, for example Freixenet and Codorniu, is that they produce only Reserva and Gran Reserva Cavas aged minimum 15 and 30 months. Good comparisons to think about when considering the aging of a sparkling wine is that the minimum time required for a product to use the name Cava is 9 months. A champagne is always aged at least 36 months.

The first time I tasted this Cava (not sure which vintage) was a few years back at Bar Nombre. I was sold after the first sip. What makes it a little bit different is that 40% of the wine is aged 8 months in oak. Yes, oak and Cava sounds a bit strange, but I very much like it. I think the key with this wine is that it is very low in sugar, only 0,5g per liter; so the oak is not mixed with too much sweetness. It is made of 100% Macabeo and the alcohol content is 12%.

At first when I opened the bottle and poured the Cava into a glass, I was surprised. The copper-tone of the bottle gives the impression that the Cava would have a slight red and gold color to it, however, it is very yellow, even light when comparing with expectations. You can smell the oak, but also some balsamic with notes of baked fruit and vanilla. The taste is creamy, yet dry (oxidized), with hints of honey and sherry. The wine is well-balanced and there is a long, nutty after taste. I know, sounds wonderful, right? Perfect winter-appetizer.

This specific bottle was among the treasures we brought back from our last Barcelona trip, but now I can see that it is also available at the monopoly in the special order selection. This must be a recent addition. However, I would say 252 SEK for the bottle is a bit on the high side. I was much more happy with the 16 EUR that we paid for it in Barcelona.

All in all, I give the wine 4.5 stars. Half a star extra coming from being a bit unique, and half a star short of a full five for being expensive. Well, not really expensive, but pricey for being a Cava. But if you compare to some of the champagnes that cost significantly more, this is a bargain. If you run across this wine somewhere, I recommend picking up a bottle and giving it a try.