Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hung Juries, New Friends, and a Rare Spanish White

I’ve been absent from my blog for several weeks now. It’s been murder … and I mean that literally. After postponing my call to jury duty earlier last year, I chose the week before Thanksgiving to report in, thinking no judge would hold a trial during the holiday season. At worst, I’d do my one day of waiting to be called to the bench, I wouldn’t be selected, and I’d be done for a year. Was I ever wrong.  Since that week and up until New Year’s Eve, I was embroiled in a sordid murder trial that consumed all of my time and all of my thoughts. It was enough to drive me to drink!

Speaking of which, I recently rang in a slightly belated new year with a dear friend and a bottle of wine that I’ve been holding onto since last summer. It turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had of the vino variety in quite some time.

The wine is Les Brugueres Vi Blanc 2011, a Grenache Blanc (White Grenache) from the Scala Dei estate. This wine hails from the Priorat region of Spain, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite wine regions in the world. Spain continues to amaze me, producing many excellent wines of extreme value in today’s market. 

Priorat, located in the Cataluña region of northeastern Spain, has been producing wine since the 12th century when the Carthusian monks established a priory there – hence the name of the area. Old wine regions like Priorat (pronounced Priorato in Spanish) typically have low yields from the very old vines, but what is produced is often spectacular. The area also has a unique “terroir” of black slate and quartz soil, known as llicorella, which contributes to the distinctive quality of the wine.

Beginning in the 1990s, a new wave of wine makers began improving the production of the vineyards in Priorat, introducing more modern wine production techniques, including aging in new French oak barrels. Wine production increased substantially since the 1990s, however only about 4% of it is white.

So I was extremely intrigued by the Les Brugueres White Grenache as it is kind of rare. It has a creamy mouth feel that gives it a depth and character beyond most whites, thanks to the French oak. But it also has a lightness and fruitiness that makes it a great as an aperitif or with food. I enjoyed this as the former, savoring every drop while watching a movie. It was divine. At about $29 a bottle (available at www.winehouse.com), it’s not an everyday wine, but it’s worth buying for a special occasion.

I found a less expensive California Grenache Blanc blend that offered similar qualities at the Los Angeles Wine Co. (www.lawineco.com). The Tensley (www.tensleywines.com) 2012 Blanc, $22, is a mix of 65% Grenache Blanc and 35% Roussanne. While not quite as elegant as the Les Brugueres, it offered a similar luxurious mouth feel, some nice minerality, and fresh notes of green apple and tropical fruits. It paired beautifully with a roast pork loin.

Grenache Blanc is more popular in France than in Spain, particularly the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south, where it is often blended with other whites. It is also a component in the white wine of the most important estate of the southern Rhone region of France, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 

Other tasty California Grenache Blancs I’ve tried this past year include Tercero Wines (www.tercerowines.com), $25 (the grapes are sourced from the same vineyard as Tensley) and Two Shephards Vineyards (www.twoshephardsvineyards.com), $25.

I’m looking forward to many more pleasant wine surprises in the coming year as I continue my wine studies and explorations.

And, in case you were wondering, my jury was hung … very disappointing to me, as the vote was 11-1 (I was one of the 11). However, I made some new friends on that jury, and this week we all gathered and shared some wine and spirits. That is a very good start to 2014!

Until next time, Cheers and Happy New Year!

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