Tag Archives: Tannat

The Beautiful Umpqua Valley AVA and its Shining Star Winery – Abacela

18 Jun

Abacela

The Umpqua Valley of Oregon is one of the most interesting American Viticulture Areas in the Pacific Northwest.  Winegrowing began here in the 1880’s, and the region became one of the first AVA’s in Oregon.  Of the 23 wineries in the region, several have produced internationally acclaimed wines and, of those wineries, Abacela shines brightest.  With numerous accolades from wine experts (Jancis Robinson, Mario Batali, Wine Enthusiast, etc) and probably the most impressive collection of 90+ wine ratings in Southern Oregon, Abacela is my number one pick of wineries to visit in the Southern Oregon AVA’s.

Abacela’s owners, Earl and Hilda Jones, are as impressive as their wines.  Wine has always been an important part of their lives and the driving force behind many of their travels.  An MD and former Chair of the Dermatology Department at Emory University, Earl applied his prodigious research skills to the subject of wine and specifically Spain’s celebrated red grape of Tempranillo.  With the help of their son who holds a PhD in Atmospheric Science, the Jones made an in-depth analysis of why Tempranillos from the Rioja and Ribera appellations of Spain are markedly superior to any other Tempranillos in the world.  They learned that it primarily boils down to climate and, to make a long story short, discovered that the Southern Umpqua Valley has an almost identical climate to those famed Spanish appellations.

The Jones’ then studied the Valley and narrowed down the best vineyard locations which, for Tempranillo, meant sunny hillsides with rocky soils.  They settled on their current location in the Southern Umpqua Valley and named their new project Abacela, which in old Spanish means “They plant a grape vine”.  (It’s surprising that no other Spanish wine producers had already thought of that!)

When I arrived at Abacela, I was charmed by the beautiful views, the spacious tasting room and the knowledge and friendliness of the tasting staff.  From my prior research, I knew I wanted to try the Tempranillo.  What I was not expecting was the quality of all their other offerings.   Their Albariños, Rosés and several varieties of reds are all excellent and affordable, with collectively the highest QPR’s (Quality to Price Ratio) you are likely to encounter in any one winery.  Some of my favorites:

2017 Albariño.   A Gold medal winner with bracing acidity, floral aromas and a palate of crisp green apples, zesty citrus and a trace of almonds.  9/10, $21

2017 Grenache Rosé. Double Gold winner.  Light berry, watermelon and citrus on the nose and the palate.  Perfect balance between acidity and fruitiness.  9/10, $18

2014 Barrel Select Tempranillo.  Rich dark fruit, with a wonderful background of mocha, spice and smoke.  Velvety tannins and a beautiful finish.  9.5/10, $33

2015 Garnacha.  A bright medium-ruby in the glass, with a light fruity bouquet.  Light and refreshing but complex, with flavors of plum, berry and a touch of sweet spice.  A delicious summer red with light tannins and nice acidity.  9.2/10, $29

2015 Tannat.  This is not a wine seen often in the US, coming primarily from Madiran France and Uruguay.  This version is more fruit-forward than the old-world versions and the tannins are softer, making this wine very drinkable while young (not generally the case for Madiran bottles).  Not only is this varietal delicious, it is one of the healthiest wines out there thanks to very high levels of anti-oxidants!  I tasted dark fruits with hints of pepper and sweet tobacco (one of my favorite red wine flavor notes) backed by a structure of rounded tannins.  9.2/10, $30

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The Wines of Arizona’s Original AVA

31 Dec

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The popularity of wine in the United States has soared since 1976 when California wines won “the judgment of Paris”.   In this Paris blind tasting some of the best whites and reds of France were pitted against those feisty upstarts in California, and by large margins the U.S. won in both categories – Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay against Burgundy’s best and Stag’s Leap’s Cabernet Sauvignon against some of the best houses of Bordeaux.  Since that momentous (for the wine world) event, vineyards and wineries have proliferated across the United States, and now wine is made in every state in the union.

Of course, many of the wines from states other than California, Oregon, Washington and New York are touristy novelties rather than serious high quality wines: usually sweet and many times made from whatever fruits and berries are indigenous to the winery’s home state.  At one time, Arizona wines were considered by many to be novelty wines.  That all changed when much vaunted wine critic Robert Parker, founder of the Wine Advocate, awarded a 1993 red blend from Sonoita’s Callaghan Vineyards with 92 points – a high honor indeed.

Today, there are over 110 wineries in Arizona, and many have won awards and global recognition.  There are two AVA’s (American Viticulture Area) in Arizona: the Sonoita AVA,  established in 1984 and the origin of 74% of all Arizona grapes and, as of Sept 2016, the brand new Willcox AVA.  During my tour of the Sonoita area I sampled wines from four wineries and found that many of the wines, particularly reds, were outstanding.  Sonoita AVA’s latitude is significantly south of the best new- or old-world vineyards, but at almost 5000′ of elevation the nights here are cool and hang time (length of time before harvest) is longer than at most California vineyards.  This hang time and the warm summer days result in grapes of intense flavor.

Of note were the Rhone-based blends of Sonoita Vineyards and Italian varietals of Lightning Ridge Cellars.  Sonoita Vineyards was the first commercial winery in the region, and currently produces about 4000 cases per year from over 60 acres of vineyards.  Tasting room rep Mercé was knowledgeable and informative, and the room was cozy and inviting, with samples of olive oils and wonderful balsamics as well.  The wines:

  • 2013 Buddy D’s ZinGioVe.  A blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Zinfandel.   Light to medium body with red fruit on the palate, good acidity, and touches of pepper and tobacco.  9 out of 10
  • 2013 MeCaSah.  A fruit forward blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv and Syrah, with a light oaky finish.  Very smooth tannins.  8.5
  • 2013 Malbec.  Loads of black fruit with a touch of cigar box on the midpalate.  Delicious!  9
  • 2015 Mission.  Mission grapes were some of the first wine grapes in the new world, brought to us by, you guessed it, missionaries.  Most mission grape vineyards are now long gone, but Sonoita has brought this varietal back, producing a unique semi-sweet red with bright red fruit and cedar spice.  8.5 and very interesting!

Lightning Ridge Cellars was a real treat.  Owners Ann and Ron Roncone established the winery in 2005 and their love for, and dedication to, making fine wines is abundantly evident.  Ron served me some of the best Italian varietal wine I have had in our country.    They do one thing differently than most wineries I have visited:  they sufficiently age the wines before putting them on the tasting menu.  Tasting a red that has seen 3 to 4 years in oak barrels is a much smoother and more balanced experience than is found in most tasting room offerings.   Some highlights:

  • 2011 Dolcetto. This Italian varietal is little known outside of the Piemonte in Northwestern Italy.  Lightning Ridge’s offering is made with grapes sourced from Temecula and is lighter than Italian versions, with smooth tannins (thanks to five years of aging?) and low acidity.  Medium-bodied with plum on the nose and palate, with a light oaky finish.  8.5 out of 10.
  • 2013 Sangiovese.  The classic grape of Tuscany grows well in southern Arizona!  Aged 32 months in oak (50% new), with characteristic notes of sour cherry and dried rose petals.  Medium ruby, very smooth and eminently drinkable.  9.
  • 2012 Montepulciano.  A popular varietal in Tuscany that is rarely grown in the U.S., Sonoita Vineyards brings out the best of the Montepulciano grape.  Probably my favorite of 18 wines tasted so far in Arizona, this 100% estate grown varietal is deep purple with medium to full body and complexity.  Dark fruit, tobacco leaf and a light peppery finish, with a foundation of soft tannins and alcohol level of 15.3%.  A delicious 9.5.

All in all, my impressions of the wines of Sonoita compare quite favorably with those I sampled in Temecula California (described in my post last week) and Santa Barbara.  Next week, I’m off to Arizona’s brand new AVA of Willcox.  Cheers!

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