Rethink Tequila – A Reintroduction to the Mexican Spirit

In my ongoing quest to go from amateur to expert in the world of wine, beer and spirits, I’ve attended tastings, taken classes, visited wineries, breweries and distilleries and made countless visits to liquor stores. Even as I’ve delved more into spirits, I never really paid much attention to tequila. Blame it on some not so pleasant experiences in the past — wild nights out with friends when doing a shot (or several) of the throat-scorching liquid seemed like a great idea after several other rounds of drinks.

Though I may have stayed away over recent years, I couldn’t ignore tequila’s popularity. In the past few months I’ve heard many people rave about tequila. Even Chef Eric Ripert said he enjoys sipping the Mexican spirit.

Curious to see what I’d been missing out on, I decided to give tequila another taste.

For my reeducation I couldn’t have picked a better teacher: Heriberto Oviedo, Tequilier at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne’s Cantina Beach restaurant. Think of him as a sommelier for tequila — Heriberto oversees the 85 plus tequilas at the oceanfront Mexican-inspired restaurant, offering recommendations and pairing suggestions to guests. Heriberto, who honed his knowledge in Mexico, is the only Tequilier in South Florida and, to my knowledge, the country.

On the warm and sunny afternoon with the ocean as our backdrop, Heriberto started with a brief overview on how tequila is made.

As he explained, there are more than 100 different kinds of agave plants in the world but tequila can only be made from agave azul, or blue agave, native to Jalisco, Mexico. This state, plus parts of four other Mexican states, are the only regions where tequila can legally be produced; otherwise the liquor may not be called tequila.

The agave plant grows for 7 to 12 years before it is ready for harvest. Once fully grown the leaves are chopped off, leaving the core of the plant called the piña. The piña is cut up and baked for up to 72 hours. After resting for another 8 hours, the agave goes through machines that shred the plant and extract the juice. About 45% of this juice is sugar, which is converted to alcohol during fermentation. After fermentation the tequila is distilled twice (some producers distill it three times), and it may be aged in oak barrels.

Besides barrel aging, tequila gets its flavor from where the agave is grown. Tequila made from agave grown in the lowlands has more of a tropical and fruity flavor because the plants are surrounded by tropical fruit trees. Tequila produced in the highlands has more mineral qualities because of the volcanic and rocky soil.

With that introduction, it was time to taste the first tequila: Casa Noble Crystal, a blanco tequila. Blanco, meaning white, is one of three main classifications of tequila. These tequilas are clear in color and not aged, which makes for a clean, citrus flavor that is stronger than aged tequilas — “the pure essence of the plant,” as Heriberto described it.

He told me the best way to appreciate tequila is not to shoot it but instead sip it at room temperature; let the tequila play on my palate to see what flavors I could appreciate.

I took my first sip of the Casa Noble Crystal. Far from being the shot of fire I recalled from past experiences, this tequila was quite pleasant. Sure it felt hot in my mouth because of the high alcohol content, but this triple-distilled tequila was also clean and smooth, with citrus and lime flavors and a hint of bell pepper on the warm, crisp finish.

Heriberto served the blanco with ceviche. It is an ideal pairing because the citrus flavors in both play off each other.  Heriberto also brought me a sangrita, a chilled tomato-based shot reminiscent of gazpacho. It is a blend of tomatoes, tomato juice, cilantro, jalapeño, lime juice, salt and a splash of grenadine and cranberry juice, meant to cleanse the palate between sips of the blanco.

The two other main classifications of tequila are reposado and añejo. Reposado, meaning rested, is aged in oak barrels between two months and a year. Añejo, meaning aged, can stay in barrels between one and three years.  Most barrels are made from American white oak, which imparts flavor and a golden color.

We then moved on to reposado with Casa Noble Reposado, which spends one year in French white oak barrels. Right away I noticed a more sophisticated palate in this tequila due to the barrel aging. Along with citrus notes, the tequila had nice flavors of orange peel, vanilla and caramel.

The Casa Noble Reposado was served with Cantina Beach’s delicious pork carnitas. The pork ribs were cooked for around two hours, resulting in tender meat that slid off the bone. The sweetness of the sauce helped bring out the tequila’s sweeter notes. Heriberto recommends pairing reposados with grilled or fried meat and fish.

For another take on reposado, I got to taste Gran Centenario Rosangel. It is made from reposado that spends two months in Port barrels, giving the tequila a lovely sunset-pink color. The tequila is then infused with the subtly sweet flavor of Hibiscus flowers. I never thought I’d describe a tequila as elegant, but Rosangel is just that. It is smooth and gentle with floral notes and flavors of ripe citrus and dried apricots. Though I really enjoyed this tequila on its own, it was also great in Cantina Beach’s Rosangel Margarita.

Excited about my new appreciation for reposado tequilas, it was time to graduate to añejo. For this Heriberto brought out a taste of Reserva de la Familia from José Cuervo. As I learned, Cuervo owns a handful of tequila brands that differ in quality. Reserva de la Familia is a special tequila, aged in oak barrels for an average of three years with a final blend that includes tequila that is more than 30 years old.

Reserva de la Familia is a tequila you definitely want to enjoy on its own, not in a cocktail like a margarita. My favorite yet of the tasting, it was rich and full with flavors of caramel, vanilla, almond and milk chocolate, with a hint of smoke at the end.

Heriberto recommends serving añejo tequilas in snifters and pairing them with steaks and other grilled meats. The Reserva de la Familia went really well with my flank steak.

Next we took a brief departure from traditional tequila with Agavero, a tequila liqueur. It is a blend of reposado and añejo tequilas that are infused with Damiana, a flower native to the mountains of Jalisco. The tequilas are separately aged in specially charred French oak barrels. Thicker and sweeter than an añejo but with similar flavors of barrel-aged tequila, the Agavero makes for a great after dinner drink.

After a variety of tequila (and three delicious courses), I was so impressed by Heriberto’s selection and knowledge. But he wasn’t done yet.

Heriberto brought over a wooden box to the table and opened it, revealing a beautiful crystal bottle. It was Herradura Seleccion Suprema, one of Cantina Beach’s highest quality tequilas.

Heriberto poured the tequila into a snifter and handed me the glass. I took a small sniff, then a sip. Simply put, this tequila blew me away. Had I not known it was tequila I would have sworn it was Cognac. From the deep amber color and the creamy yet silky texture, to the warm flavors of caramel, hazelnut, toffee and vanilla, I was hooked.

It’s no wonder why so many people enjoy sipping tequila. When aged and nurtured this liquor can taste really, really good.

Heriberto said he often recommends guests enjoy a glass of the Herradura Seleccion Suprema with a nice cigar. I thought it was perfect with flan for dessert.

I came away from the tasting wanting to stock my home bar with blanco, reposado and añejo tequilas. Since some of the tequilas I tasted were on the expensive side, Heriberto recommended Partida, Chinaco, 7 Leguas and Corazón as good value brands.

At the beginning of the tasting, Heriberto told me he hoped as a Tequilier to educate people about tequila, so they give it a little more respect. I can emphatically say I have that new respect.

Tequilier Heriberto Oviedo offers free tequila tastings every day from 6pm to 6:30pm at Cantina Beach for diners and hotel guests. He also offers customized tequila flights.

Cantina Beach is located at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Drive in Key Biscayne, Florida (305) 365-4500.

photos of Heriberto and agave plants from the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne

Praising the Lard at COCHON 555

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in downtown Atlanta a congregation rose to its feet, lifted glasses of Pinot Noir and exclaimed, “Praise the Lard!”

The reason: COCHON 555, a 10 city tour bringing together 5 chefs, 5 pigs, 5 winemakers and hundreds of pork fans to celebrate and raise awareness for heritage breed pigs.

As the clever expression from creator Brady Lowe might indicate, COCHON 555 was a sinfully fun way to end the weekend.  With more than 750 pounds of pork, more than a dozen wines and two beers to taste, the sin of gluttony certainly comes to mind.

But how could you not want to pig out?  The five chefs, selected because of their support of local agriculture and ranches, had prepared a sumptuous spread with their own take on the other white meat.  With so many different dishes I wanted to try them all!

Last year’s “Prince of Porc” Chef Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun’s in Atlanta looked like he could take the title again.  Guests swarmed his table to get a taste of his Berkshire pork flan and dumplings; they were so popular that they were gone in just over an hour.

Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston was also a hit from the start.  He had a host of pork dishes that disappeared almost as soon as they were placed on the table.  From a spicy pork sausage to chicharrones, to the rich and creamy pork liver (my favorite), Chef Brock made great use of his Ossabaw/Berkshire cross.

Chef Mike Lata of FIG Restaurant (Food Is Good) joined his fellow Charleston chef in presenting a variety of dishes using his Tamworth pig.  His ten tasty offerings included pork skin polenta, pork belly with watermelon pickles, lard crackers with pimento cheese, corn “hogs” with rhubarb ketchup and bourbon lard caramels.  Considering the impressive spread, I was surprised to find out that Chef Lata only has two pork items on his menu; it’s the restaurant’s fresh fish and vegetable dishes of which he’s most proud.  On a side note, chatting with Chef Lata made me want to plan a trip to his restaurant right away.

Considering the recent pork belly craze, I asked Chef Lata what he thought the next pig trend will be.  His answer: pigs’ trotters.  They’re in low demand from local farms which makes them easier to get, and taste great when slow-cooked.  Chef Lata says diners love FIG’s crispy pork trotters.

Besides promoting heritage breed pigs, COCHON 555 aims to promote family-owned farms.  It’s a sentiment all the chefs support.  As Chef Todd Mussman of Muss & Turner’s in Atlanta handed me his dish that he called an “entire pig in a bowl” (pancetta di porchetta over smoked pork consommé with a bitter herb salad and ham jerkey), he told me he’s been serving local produce and proteins for ten years and won’t serve food unless it is fresh.

The participating wineries at COCHON 555 are also family-owned.  I was really impressed by the wines I tasted — I can’t recall another recent tasting when I’ve enjoyed every single wine.

I started with the crisp and refreshing Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle blend from Buty Winery in Walla Walla.  It made a great pairing with Chef Kelly English’s dish.  The chef from Restaurant Iris in Memphis served a pork tamale sandwich that combined Latin American and Vietnamese flavors.  I also enjoyed Buty’s two red wines: the elegant 2007 Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend and the rich and spicy 2006 Columbia Rediviva, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

I had a hard time picking my favorite Pinot Noir among the wines from Domaine Serene and Anne Amie Vineyards from Oregon and Hirsch Vineyards from Sonoma.  The 2006 Evenstad Reserve (served earlier in the VIP lounge) and the 2007 Yamhill Cuvée from Domaine Serene were lush and complex with nice acidity that went well with some of the more savory pork dishes.  Anne Amie’s Pinots were supple and bursting with flavor, with notes of cherry, plum, cola, toffee and thyme.  I would be thrilled to enjoy a bottle of any of Hirsch Vineyards’ four Pinots, each spicy and intense with well balanced fruit and acidity.  I was glad to find out that all of these wines are available in Atlanta.

As I snacked and sipped it was neat to watch Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats butcher an entire Berkshire pig.  I had never seen a pig breakdown before so it was interesting to watch Ryan’s skills and learn more about the various cuts of meat.  When I asked Ryan about his favorite part of the pig, he said he enjoyed the cheek and neck which become really tender when slow-cooked.  I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for those on restaurant menus.

Before the winner was announced it was time for dessert — more pork!  An entire roasted pig that had been injected with ham hock butter was rolled out and carved by Nick Melvin, the Executive Chef at PARISH.  Guests were able to dive right in, enjoying the meat with a tasty sauce or putting it on sandwiches.

With appetites sated and votes tabulated it was time to reveal the winner.  The title of Atlanta’s 2010 Prince of Pork went to Chef Sean Brock, who impressed with his assortment of delicious dishes.  He will compete against the nine other Princes and Princesses of Porc in June at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where the winner will be crowned King or Queen of Porc.

What a way to honor the protein.

Click here to see more photos from COCHON 555 Atlanta

Earlier: Pig Out Sunday at COCHON 555


It’s Time for Wine: Petit Verdot – The James Dean of Wine

Kind of dark. Brooding. Powerful without being overpowering. Perhaps not for everyone’s taste. Such are the descriptors used by entertainment writers over the years for a number of distinctive actors, but the one that comes most immediately to mind is James Dean (though in Rebel Without a Cause Sal Mineo was the darkest character – too dark). Dean, on the other hand, met the criteria above, and further, like a good wine, he could also show off range, style, and an ability to attract an ultra loyal fan base.

Every so often we do something at our home in South Florida that has not (as far as we can determine) been done before. In years past we have amassed almost all of the Charbonos and all of the Pinotages produced in California, and had them tasted by a qualified panel of judges. This week we did the same with the increasingly popular Petit Verdot, which possesses all the characteristics ascribed to James Dean (we just wish we had come up with the connection between the two, but that honor goes to Dine Magazine’s Patrick Sullivan).

Wine lovers are usually aware that Petit Verdot is one of the modern five red “Bordeaux Varietals,” just as they are aware that generally it is used in small amounts to blend in some power and structure to other wines, such as Merlot or Cabernet Franc. Truth be told, however, there are more than five Bordeaux varietals (Carmenère – a sixth – is making a comeback in the New World). Petit Verdot, currently out of favor in France due to its long ripening season coupled with France’s poor late season weather, is now being bottled as a single varietal in many areas of the western hemisphere and Australia.

The impetus behind Petit Verdot being bottled on its own, or having added to it a small quantity of Merlot or Cab, most certainly comes from the American psyche that includes creativity, invention and ingenuity, and an American way of life that declines to impose winemaking rules merely due to tradition. Winemakers here are rarely satisfied with the “status quo” and constantly search out the newest envelope pushing techniques and products. Thus came single varietal Petit Verdot not so many years ago, and, to the surprise of almost everyone you ask now, there are over 30 being made in California, over a half dozen in Virginia, and more in Australia, Canada, and other countries.

As mentioned, everyone knows a good Petit Verdot should be strong on tannins, deep purple in color, and possessed of some spices that will enhance whatever wine to which it is added. On its own, however, one might ascribe to the wine the following descriptors in varying combinations: blackberry, pencil shavings, tar, cedar or other woods, cigar box, vanilla, oak, and leather.

OK – to our Florida tasting of last week. Participants included four writers, a sommelier, the leading independent retailer in South Florida, two collectors with top palates, and a restaurateur who maintains an award winning wine list. Each wine was judged as to whether, hypothetically, a medal should be awarded, and, if so, which one. They were also ranked as they compared to each other in the minds of the judges, with each rank being worth designated points. Ultimately we ended up with a result that mirrored the comments of the judges pretty closely.

After the formal blind tasting and ranking, we then took the five wines with the top scores and for fun blindly tasted them again and ranked them next to each other. Kind of like the NCAA “March Madness” where teams have a ranking before the tournament, and then usually have a different ranking after head to head competition.

As far as we know, all wines made in California were included in this tasting except Mazzoco (declined to participate), Homewood (the vintner listened and never called back), Carmody-McKnight and Goosecross (these 2 did not even have the courtesy to answer 2 emails, 2 phone calls, and a fax), Martin-Weyrich (they actually sent a bottle but with their present troubles we did not include the wine), Ledson (they called 3 times to say they would participate but never sent anything), and James Cole (they donated, but the particular bottle we received was defective so we did not rate it – we will retaste and comment in a future article). Because of the relative few Petit Verdots being produced, we put all of them in side by side competition regardless of vintage.

General Conclusions:
-The vintage did not seem to matter when these wines were tasted next to each other. It may have been to a great degree because the panel was made up of professionals who could often identify whether the vintage was fresh or had been around a few years. Nevertheless, the wide range of vintages among the top ranked wines pretty much obviates this factor as a consideration when buying Petit Verdot.
-The location was clearly important insofar as imparting structure and complexity. This tasting was performed blindly by the entire panel, and so no undue subconscious influence can be charged. When one views the results, it really is no surprise that Napa would far and away lead the preferences for a Bordeaux varietal. Six of the seven Gold medal wines were from Napa, and the last five in line were from outside the Napa Valley.
-The price of the wines could be correlated to conclude that one does in fact need to spend more than a nominal sum to buy the better Petit Verdots. The upper echelon wines were all $45 and above, while the lowest scoring 10 wines all had price tags of $35 or less (except Lange Twins, which asks $45).
-Value, on the other hand was a completely different story. Reminding you that the judges on this day are all well familiar with wine prices, it was the general consensus that the prices being asked for many of these wines are more related to the present panache of the varietal than the actual quality of the wine. While almost everything we tasted was pleasant and enticing, almost all of them lacked the complexity one looks for in an expensive wine. To pay $125 (Anderson’s Conn Valley), or $105 (Briar Rose), or $75 (Frazier), or even $68 (Bourassa), one would have to find far more in the glass than did this panel, even though we appreciated all four of the wines enough to assign three gold medals and one silver, Clearly upon looking at the results, you can find top of the line Petit Verdots from $40 – $60, the range where our panel felt comfortable in recommending them if one was seeking quality and value.
-The biggest surprise was the showing of Briar Rose Winery from Temecula. We were stunned to see their Website, with wine prices as high as $1300 per bottle (this is, after, all Temecula), and the asking price for the Petit Verdot is way out of line at $105 in our opinion. However, when you talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk, and this winery did exactly that in this tasting by garnering a Gold medal and high rankings.

Our special congratulations go to Stonegate and Bourassa for earning the most points to tie for first place in the tasting, and also to Trinchero Family for winning the head to head competition among the top five scorers.

Perhaps all that is left is to actually show you the full results. If we have missed a producer, please let us know. It is never too late to taste and at least write about what we find. Maybe a bottle that will remind us of this generation’s James Dean – Johnny Depp.

Rank and Hypothetical Medals from April 11, 2010, Petit Verdot Tasting at the home of Monty & Sara Preiser:

1.    2004 Stonegate ($60) – Gold (Napa)
1.    2005 Bourassa ($68) – Gold (Napa)
3.   2005 William Hill ($45) – Gold (Napa)
4.   2007 Trinchero Family Central Park West ($50) – Gold (Napa)
5.   2004 Briar Rose ($105) – Gold (Temecula)
6.   2006 St. Supery ($50) – Gold (Napa)
7.   2005 Ehlers Estate ($45) – Gold (Napa)
7.   2004 Frazier ($75) – Gold (Napa)
9.   2006 Jarvis ($44/375ml.) – Silver (Napa)
10. 2005 Sawyer ($54) – Silver (Napa)
10. 2006 Imagery ($39) – Silver (Sonoma)
10. 2007 Ferrari-Carano ($38) – Silver (Sonoma)
13. 2005 Trahan ($35) – Silver (Napa)
13. 2006 Stryker Rockpile ($45) – Silver (Sonoma)
15. 2005 Murphy-Goode ($28) – Silver (Sonoma)
16. 2006 Ballentine ($38) – Silver (Napa)
17. 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley ($125) – Silver (Napa)
18. 2005 Markham ($40) – Silver (Napa)
19. 2006 Heitz ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
20. 2005 Truchard ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
21. 2005 Rutherford Hill ($35) – Bronze (Napa)
22. 2006 Mietz ($30) – No Medal (Sonoma)
23. 2007 Grands Amis ($25) – No Medal (Lodi)
24. 2006 Lange Twins ($45) – No Medal (Lodi)
25. 2007 Linden ($28) – No Medal (Virginia)
26. 2007 Justin ($39) – No Medal (Paso Robles)
27. 2006 Crystal Basin ($28) – No Medal (El Dorado County)

“PLAY-OFF” OF THE TOP 5

1.   2007 Trinchero Family Central Park West ($50) – Napa
2.   2005 William Hill ($45) – Napa
2.   2004 Briar Rose ($105) – Temecula
4.   2004 Stonegate ($60) – Napa
5.   2005 Bourassa ($60) – Napa

It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November.  Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

AG Pick Under $15: 2007 Matchbook Cabernet Sauvignon

Looking for a bold red wine to add a little spark to your weekend?  Pick up a bottle of the 2007 Matchbook Cabernet Sauvignon.

The name and the singed label hint at the smoke flavors in the wine, though it was owner John Giguiere’s pyromania as a child that actually inspired both.  Besides Cabernet Sauvignon, Matchbook produces Chardonnay, Syrah, Tempranillo and a red blend called Tinto Rey.

The 2007 Cabernet is from California’s Lake County and is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Sirah and 5% Syrah.  After fermentation the wine spent time in 25% new French oak barrels and 75% older French and American oak barrels.

Deep ruby red in color, the wine has intense aromas of black fruit and spice.  Initial flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and plum give way to leather and herbal notes, with hints of cedar, tobacco and smoke adding complexity.  It’s velvety smooth in the mouth with a long and satisfying finish.

This wine makes a nice accompaniment to steak, burgers, lamb and other grilled red meats.

A bottle of the 2007 Matchbook Cabernet Sauvignon costs $14.99.

Wine Tasting in Catalonia

By Maxine Howard

Over the past few years, my husband and I have combined our two loves, travel and wine, for some delightful experiences.  When we plan trips now we try to incorporate local winery visits into our itineraries.  So when we decided to see Barcelona and its surrounding towns in Spain, I went in search of nearby wineries.

Pares BaltaYou have probably heard about different wine regions in Spain — Rioja being the most famous.  But Catalonia itself has perhaps ten different DOs including Priorat, Emporda and Alt Penedes which are less familiar to Americans.  We tasted wines from these and other local DOs, and they were all spectacular.

We concentrated our winery visits in Alt Penedes, a region about one hour south of Barcelona.  Unlike in the U.S., you cannot just drive up and ask for a tasting.  You have to reserve a tour and tasting beforehand.  Luckily, with the internet, this is simple.

The Alt Penedes is best known as the home of Cava — Spain’s sparkling wine.  Fittingly, our first stop was Codorníu, the world’s largest producer of Cava.  On our tour of the gorgeous grounds we were introduced to the history of Cava Codorniuproduction as well as some of the local grape varieties: Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada.  We were driven around the underground cellar in a tram, which dramatized the extent of the caves that hold millions of bottles of bubbly.

Of course, the highlight was tasting two contrasting Cavas.  The first, Gran Plus Ultra is a blend of Chardonnay and Parellada.  This was a pale yellow color with beautiful small bubbles.  It was quite dry and fairly simple.  Refreshing, but not exciting.  The second, however, was love at first sight.  The Pinot Noir Rosé Brut was a beautiful pale apricot color in the glass, with fabulous flavor from the Pinot grapes.

From Codorníu, we went to one of the area’s largest producers of still wines in the Alt Penedes: Torres.  The Torres family has been making Torreswine in this region since the 17th century.  It has an enormous variety of wines — its catalogue lists 27 different table wines plus a dessert wine and three brandies.  We tasted perhaps 10 different wines.  Among our favorites was a white wine called Gran Vina Sol.  A mix of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Parellada, it was straw-colored and full-bodied with a complex taste of ripe peaches and a hint of vanilla.

Our favorite red was Mas La Plana.  This Cabernet Sauvignon was a beautiful dark red in color, with wonderful rich fruit flavors and a smoky finish.  We also enjoyed the dessert wine called Floralis.  Made from Moscatel, the wine had a wonderful floral scent and fruit flavor without being too sweet.

Our most amazing find though was a small producer I found through an internet search.  We had an appointment for a tour in English at Pares Balta, and when we arrived we discovered we were the only ones on this “tour.”  Our guide, Marc Pichon, does marketing for the winery and seemed genuinely excited to share the Pares Marc at Pares BaltaBalta story with us.  He took us into the field to explain the philosophy of the winemaker and to make clear that all grapes are organically grown without irrigation.  After a brief tour of the facility we were ushered into a small tasting room where Marc opened bottle after bottle to share with us.

We started with a Garnatxa Cavas — a wine that was still a year away from release, but already clearly a pink-tinged, delicious, dry wine.  Although we loved all eight wines we tasted, one of the standouts was a 2007 Hisenda Miret.  One hundred percent Garnatxa (called Garnacha elsewhere in Spain and Grenache throughout the world), the wine is well integrated with a very smooth taste.  Unfortunately, I have not found anywhere to buy the wines of this wonderful producer in the United States.

At the end of our visit Marc brought out a bottle of Gratavinum, the company’s own olive oil.  We soaked it up with some wonderful bread and left totally satisfied.

AG Pick: 2006 Trimbach Gewurztraminer

I can’t think of a better wine to toast the arrival of spring than the 2006 Trimbach Gewurztraminer.  Its beautiful and aromatic floral notes evoke thoughts of the first flowers of the season starting to bloom, and it is sure to make you smile after your first sip.

I first tried a Gewurztraminer from the Alsace winery in February at a seminar on sweet and fortified wines at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.  Their 2000 Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles, a late harvest wine, was the highlight of the tasting.  It was so fragrant I felt like I was sticking my nose in a bouquet of roses.  Unfortunately at more than $200 a bottle, it was a wine I don’t think I’ll get to enjoy again any time soon.

The experience led me to seek out other wines from Trimbach, at a more wallet-friendly price.  The 2006 Gewurztraminer is much more affordable at $22 a bottle (Trimbach also produces Riesling, which you can find for less than $20 a bottle).

This Gewurztraminer is bright golden yellow in color, with aromas of white flowers, peach and sweet lemon.  On the palate is an explosion of flavor with honeysuckle, apricot, peach, lychee, wildflower honey and a slight hint of cinnamon and spice on the finish that lingers for quite some time.  It’s elegant and supple in the mouth, with well-balanced acidity and alcohol (13.5%).

After my first few sips I was hooked.  This is the kind of wine that grabs you right away and is impossible to put down.

The Trimbach Gewurztraminer can be served with seafood, spicy Asian dishes or fruit.  Or enjoy it on its own — this wine pairs perfectly with sunshine and is sure to brighten up a cloudy day.