Tag Archives: Tempranillo

Mount Majura Vineyard – Capital Wines from Australia’s Capital District

28 Dec

Mount Majura Vineyards, CanberraAustralia is a prolific wine producer and exporter, shipping over 1 billion bottles per year to the international market.  Most wine-lovers are familiar with the Barossa Valley, Australia’s best-known wine region, with world renown wineries such as Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek.  Beyond Barossa, other broadly popular wines include the Rieslings of Clare Valley and the bold reds of McLaren Vale.  But perhaps one of the least familiar wine regions of Australia is the Canberra region.  This region within the Australian Capital District (analogous to our Washington DC) has been creating distinct Australian wines for over 160 years, receiving numerous accolades for high-quality value-priced wines, but attracting little notice in the United States.

The region’s vineyards cover a large range of altitudes, averaging from 1000 to 2700 feet. The extremely varied temperatures, vineyard elevations and soil types create a diverse palette of characteristically distinct vineyards and even sub-plots within vineyards.  Varietals such as Sangiovese, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz and (especially) Tempranillo all thrive here and exhibit a strong sense of terroir.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Mount Majura Vineyard, which lies near the top of the Majura Valley just north of the city of Canberra. The valley floor here is too frost-prone in Spring for winegrapes, but on the sun-facing slopes of the valley the cold air drains away, with a wide diurnal temperature range allowing for ripe, fruity grapes that retain vibrant acidity: perfect for wine.

Mount Majura’s vineyard totals just 9.3 Hectares (about 23 acres) which was originally planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a field-blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  More recently, grapes of Spanish origin have been proven to thrive and produce wines of great character.  These newer, Iberian varieties including Graciano, Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo.  The flagship grape here is Tempranillo, which makes sense considering the similarities in elevation and climate here to the Rioja Alta region of Spain.

Winemaker Dr. Frank van de Loo has managed the vineyard since 1998 and is producing some of the most terroir-driven and complex wines in the region.  All the wines I tasted were very good to excellent, and all are quite affordably priced:

The Silurian 2017.  Made in the traditional Champagnoise method, this sparkling blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is delicious.  Fresh acidity, light and refreshing.  90

Riesling 2018.  Crisp and pure, a floral and lemon zest bouquet with a long finish.  90

Lime Kiln Red 2017.  A blend of Shiraz, Mondeuse and Touriga, lighter than might be expected but juicy with a light spiciness and short to medium finish.  88

Shiraz 2016.  Dark and rich fruit, soft tannins and a touch of sweet smokiness with an underlying zing of acidity.  89

TSG 2016.  Tempranillo, Shiraz and Graciano. Delicious!  Dark fruit and black pepper on the nose, complex flavors (including a touch of Eucalyptus) with a medium-long finish.  91

These wines underscore the reputation for which Australia is famous: great wines at very affordable prices!


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

18 Jun


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

An Afternoon of Texas Boutique Wines

11 Feb


In January 2017 Texas appellation wines were awarded 158 medals at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  These medals included an unprecedented seven “Best in Class” awards as well as dozens of double-golds, golds, silvers and bronzes.  And it was just five years ago that Texas earned its very first double-gold!  The impressive showing last month did not surprise me – over the past few years I have written a few blog posts on Texas wines, and it seems that every time I return they get better.

This year, with 6 weeks to spend visiting wineries (and barbecue joints!) I am taking my time and delving deep into Texas-style food and wine.  Last week I found two off-the-beaten-track family owned estate wineries.  In both cases the owners are knowledgeable of wine and viticulture and have planted varietals that thrive in the hot, dry terroir of the Hill Country.

Hill Country Cellars Winery, owned by a former Navy aviation tech and his customer-service pro wife, offered a deep plum colored Malbec with layers of red fruit, plum and vanilla oak on a foundation of soft tannins.  Rich and smooth, I would have guessed this was produced in Mendoza.  And the price, less than $20/bottle, was very attractive.  Their Rosé of Shiraz was fruity and silky, but lacked the acidity of a refreshing French rosé.  The Chardonnay was surprisingly good given the warm climate.  Very pale gold in color and made in the Burgundian style, fermented in stainless steel tanks with zero malolactic fermentation, the tropical fruit flavors of a warm-climate Chardonnay are allowed to shine through.  A clean fruit finish.  Again, the price point is surprisingly low, at under $20.

Almost hidden on the scenic Highway 90 just east of Hondo, Vines on the Rocks is a boutique vineyard specializing in Tempranillo and Black Spanish (Lenoir) grapes (perfect fits for the local hot climate and rocky terroir).  Owner Mike Brawley skillfully manages his vineyards which surround the winery, and makes Tempranillo in the style of Rioja, with lush dark fruit and a hint of cigar box.  This year’s vintage (2015) is called Toreador’s Temptress, with beautiful dark plum up-front and hints of chocolate and cedar.  Snacks are offered in the tasting room and selected offerings from other Texas wineries are available as well.  Mike had deep knowledge of the local terroir and vineyard management, and it was a pleasure learning from him while sipping the delicious Toreador’s Temptress.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be visiting many more Texas wineries and am sure to find more delicious bargains!toreadors-temptress