Torre Oria Cava Brut Reserva NV
There is too much good, affordable Cava in the world, since in our search for the best daily bottles out there we frequently come up with new, especially noteworthy examples that demand to be in your club bag. So what’s so exciting about this one?
It’s not entirely that it’s made from 100% macabeo — they call it viura in Rioja where it’s used to make legendary wines — but that doesn’t hurt. A lot of the fun of wine, and especially wine clubs like this, is novelty, and since as far as my research indicates there is no other producer making 100% macabeo Cava, that’s the very definition of novel. That’s not to say that the other traditional Cava grapes, xarel-lo and parellada, are trash, but nobody even bothers growing those anywhere else, let along making them into wines like López de Hereda Viña Tondonia Rioja.
It’s not all because rather than being grown up north in Penedès like most Cava, it’s from Utiel-Requena, in Valencia, where there are still pre-phylloxera vines. Phylloxera is a louse that nearly wiped out the European wine trade in the 1850s before it was discovered that, like many Europeans, they hate anything American, and so it wouldn’t devour vines once they were grafted over to American rootstock. It can’t survive in Valencia’s sandy soils, though, so the vines are not only generally older, they’re a rare glimpse into wine the way it tasted over 150 year ago.
It’s not even the extended aging (15 months, like real Champagne) that puts it in a class by itself, because that’s not terribly uncommon among better Cava producers. Torre Oria makes better use of that longer tirage, with faint nut and brioche aromas making the crisp golden apple and roasted lemon flavors stand out even more, and OK, that’s nice. The luxurious, longer lasting bubbles emphasize the strong saline mineral cut rather than obscure it – no complaints here. Marrying all those flavors and textures in a particularly vinous manner that makes this complement a huge variety of foods including paella, grilled fish with olives, savory Cantonese food, and especially a nice hunk of butter roasted New York strip steak is cool, I agree, but is all that a reason to add this Cava to your rotation? I mean, not really.
The real reason this ought to be your Cava for the fall is that of all of the Cavas in the world, I chose this to serve at my wedding. It stands out that much. You’ll see.
Quinta da Raza Vinho Verde Rosé 2017
You know that three day stretch sometime around the third week of October right after you’ve put away your grill and shorts for the season when all of a sudden the spitting rain stops and the sky clears to the kind of gorgeous warm, sunny days you wish you had during the summer? OK. When that happens this year, get the grill back out, go snag some grillables, throw this in the freezer, grill the grillables, and when this is as cold as you can get it without freezing it (about 25 minutes seems to be the magic number), drink it with those burgers and sausages and zucchini that somebody gave you because they have too much and it’s a shame to waste it so you just grill it off and eat what you can. Oh, and grab some potato salad too, because while this summery tropical-meets-strawberry wine with a fizzy little buzz is fruity buzz is just the thing for grilled red meats and vegetables, it’s really good with potato salad.
San Matteo Gavi DOCG 2016
Ah, Italy, land of millennia of winemaking traditions and history, like the esteemed Piedmont producer San Matteo who’ve been making handcrafted, organic Gavi since…1999? Historic they ain’t, and given the declining demand for Gavi around the world smart may not be an accurate description of them either, but tradition is not only something they have in spades, it’s the whole reason they started this project not even 20 years ago.
Gavi these days doesn’t enjoy much of a reputation either good or bad, partially because stylistically and quality-wise it’s now all over the map, and also because it takes a back seat to Piedmont’s much more prestigious reds like Barolo and Barbaresco. In the past, though, it was made with enormous care and held up as possibly the greatest white wine of Italy. As modern winemaking took hold, vineyard and winemaking standards fell and Gavi became a commodity wine, with Bolla’s horftastic grocery store example being somehow simultaneously the best known Gavi and a notorious shelf gargoyle that nobody bought.
San Matteo ain’t having that. They rehabbed a legendary vineyard to low-yielding organic viticulture, hand picked only the best fruit, and let it mature at its own pace rather than blasting it with industrial turbo yeasts that cranked the stuff out at a firehose pace like everybody else. The result is a crisp, mineral-driven wine of dazzling purity, but full-bodied enough to present oodles of golden apples, Bartlett pears, yellow flowers, and even a little fresh fennel in a pleasing, comfortable, easy way; the grape from which Gavi is made, cortese, is Italian for “courtesy” for a reason, after all. Pair this up with a radicchio, olive, and Parmigiano-Reggiano salad to see it really do its thing, but it’s more than fine with any roasted poultry, beurre blanc-napped halibut, or firm and sharp cheeses.
Varnum Vintners Chardonnay, Zolnikov Vineyard, Willamette Valley 2016
Do not get used to seeing 32 year old, own-rooted, ambient-fermented, single vineyard Willamette Valley chardonnay in this club. I mean, we are good, we know, but this is all thanks to Weekday Wine Club proprietor Hannah being nicer and far more likeable than me, and thus making friends who do abnormally nice favors like this.
I’ll let Hannah tell the story: “Cyler and I met at a nerdy wine industry tasting group. He made a horrid joke about his name starting “with a soft C.” I didn’t like him at all. As my ego allows me to recognize my mistakes, Cyler and I built a friendship. He’s flat out good people. He humors me by allowing me to pick his grapes on occasion, and if I’m being really nice I get to help squish and sort the fruit. I’m hoping that our friendship will reach the point where he’ll let me pressure wash something. Cyler, even though he’s fairly new to making wine, has been in the industry for ages. What resonates with me is his knack for coaxing artistic impressions out of his wines. His ‘style’ is unique to Oregon but reminiscent of other now very famous Oregon winemakers in Oregon, specifically one that rhymes with Schmergstrom.”
But how’s the wine? Well it made our cut, so you hopefully surmised that it’s good, but stylistically it avoids easy pigeonholing. The nose is like fruitier Chablis, with green apple, lemon peel, and flint coming across softer than that often vegetal and chalky wine. There’s more of the same green apple and lemon on the palate, but the more focused flavors and lighter body combined with the depth that comes from aging in neutral oak have more in common with ethereal Jura, or even the Willamette Valley if you can believe that, than anything from Burgundy or especially California. Chicken, whether prepared in a lemon cream sauce, or stir-fried with bok choy and lemongrass, are your go-to pairings here, but don’t hesitate to drink it by itself chilled, but not cold.
Viña Ijalba Rioja Livor 2016
While we’re certainly partial to the old standard bearers of the old world, more and more these days it’s the young upstarts who hew closer to tradition than their forebears. In a rapidly and tragically modernizing region like Rioja that’s a particularly noteworthy and positive development, and Viña Ijalba is taking the lead on it.
Though only around since 1991, Viña Ijalba made reclaiming the best of traditional Rioja their aim right from the start. They planted in the old Rioja Alta, the finest and most expensive of the three Rioja sub-appellations. They planted not just tempranillo, but also graciano, mazuela, and other endangered old Rioja grapes. Most strikingly, and this seems hard to believe, they were the first Rioja producer to be certified organic. While none of that guarantees great wine, it shows a dedication and attention to detail that gives them a leg up on the others, and not even 30 years later it’s time to start considering Viña Ijalba alongside institutions like CVNE and La Rioja Alta, because the wines exhibit all the quality of the work put into them.
This particular bottling is their most unadulterated and immediately accessible wine. 100% tempranillo, totally destemmed, raised in stainless steel, and bottled with an eye toward early drinking. It’s not unusual in its flavors – which it shouldn’t be for a traditionalist Rioja producer – it’s unusual in how well and completely it expresses them. Vivid raspberry fruit has a slightly macerated quality that goes perfectly with the pungent thyme and faint spice. These bright but rounder aromatics jive beautifully with the slightly plump palate that carries all the aromatics over from the nose nearly exactly, rocketing into a long and surprisingly crisp finish with a rising acid cut. Really nice all by itself with a gentle chill, it only gets better with grilled salmon, a plate of young Manchego and olives, or even pizza. Strong candidate for the Thanksgiving table as well, if you’re the patient type.
Casale del Giglio Cesanese, Lazio 2016
So Rome is Italy’s most famous city, but its wines are among the country’s most obscure. So what the hell is going on? Anyone who’s been there has had wines from Lazio, the appellation around Rome, and loved them. They’re vastly better, on the whole, than the much more famous wines of the Marche, a place even Italians don’t visit. Plus they’ve been making wines there since, uh, Roman times, which I’ll grant you is somewhat less impressive sounding when we’re talking about wines from Rome itself, but damn it, that’s still a long time for a well known region to make great wines to little or no attention. So I’m trusting y’all to do something about that after tasting this and their bianco we gave you a while ago. These are both intense but charismatic wines made by a standout producer and should appeal as much to the most timid wine drinkers as they would to the pickiest highfalutin fatuous blowhards who actually refer to themselves as oenophiles. With a straight face. In public. There are seriously people like this.
Cesanese is a cool grape, too. A later ripening cultivar, picked in late October, it has thick skins that give it plenty of tannin and acid that have the time to integrate in their long time on the vine before going into the bottle. Casale del Giglio exploits that strength by letting it naturally ferment and stay on the skins for almost two weeks, slowly extracting every last bit of flavor and texture. So it hits hard with black cherry, black pepper, black earth, and, yes, smarty pants, even the violets are black. That makes the soft but sturdy and fulsome palate even more surprising as it wavers between black cherry and macerated blueberry while a lively acidity keeps it afloat and gives the herbal and floral subtleties room to poke through. Serve it right around 65˚ and keep it simple with the food, as the Romans would do. Beef stew or chili if you’re keeping it homey and comforting, bucatini all’Amatriciana if you want to get authentic with it (and you should), or richer dishes from Katie Parla and Kristina Gill’s excellent Tasting Rome cookbook of Ancient Jewish-Roman food.