2013 Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado, DO Bierzo, Spain

Yes, you knew that it would only be a matter of time and a ridiculously inexpensive, wonderful Spanish Rosado would show up in my blog… And you also knew that it would be a little bit different, from a grape and region with which you are probably less familiar.

Bierzo is a delimited wine producing area (Denominación de Origen) in the northwest province of Léon (Castile y Léon) Spain. The region is relatively small and contains a mix of both mountainous (Alto Bierzo) and lowland plains (Bajo Bierzo) geography. The name of the region is derived from the pre-Roman city of Bergidum and it is from the Romans that the area inherited its culture of viticulture. Grape growing and wine making continued to flourish, with the Cistercian monasteries exploiting the viticultural capabilities of the region during the Middle Ages. The region became very popular in Galician and Asturian markets, but the invasion of the phylloxera root louse destroyed the vineyards completely. Further economic issues caused many people to leave the area and it wasn’t until recent times and the advent of rootstock grafting that the region began a rebirth. The DO was granted in 1989 and since then, continuous growth has brought Bierzo back from extinction.

The climate and soil of Bierzo are particularly well suited to grape growing, which in turn leads to fine wine production. The climate is a mix of both Galician and Castilian climates, combining humidity and rainfall with a hot, dry climate. The grapes achieve peak ripeness quickly, allowing them to retain acidity, promoting good balance and structure. The soil is a mix of loess with fine quartz and slate throughout, possessing a high degree of natural acidity.

The grapes allowed in Bierzo are Mencia and Garnacha Tintorera for reds and Doña Blanca, Godello and Palomino for whites. Any other varieties can only be used in Crianza and Reserva wines up to 15%. Various styles of wine are produced in the region ranging from young White, Rosado and Red wines to Reserva wines. Wines considered Crianza must be aged a minimum of 6 months in oak, plus an additional 18 months in bottle, while Reserva wines must be aged a minimum of 12 months in oak, plus an additional 24 months in bottle.


Armas de Guerra is part of the Vinos Guerra Empire, a large international export company that specializes not only in Galician wine, but also in anisette, brandy and a peculiar brand of Bierzo Coca Cola. Vinos Guerra recently joined the relatively young cooperative of Vinos del Bierzo. The cooperative was founded in 1963 and utilizing the best technology and equipment from France, undertook the mission of increasing the sales of Bierzo wines, which would directly contribute to the preservation of Bierzo’s ancient vineyards. The cooperative represents about 40% of total wine sales for the region and through continuous reinvestment, promotes quality improvements across all of its members.

The Armas de Guerra Mencia Rosado is a beautiful rosé wine made from 100% Mencia grapes harvested from 45 – 55 year old vines. The soil is primarily clay and slate with a relatively cool growing climate that promotes retention of the grape’s highly aromatic character. The wine sees no time in oak, so the purity of the varietal comes through loud and clear. At an average, pre-discount price of $9.99 per bottle, you cannot go wrong with this wine.

My tasting note:

Lively, red berry aromas with sweet floral and wet stone hints – very pretty. Medium-bodied with firm acidity – good balance. Soft, fruity palate with raspberry, strawberry and light citrus notes. Moderate length – clean and crisp – bright and refreshing – lovely. Drinking well – not for aging. Great value.


2011 Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage, Central Coast

Sterling Vineyards has a long wine making history, for California standards, founded in 1964 by British international paper broker and Financial Times writer Peter Newton. Like many Europeans, Newton discovered that the climate and soil of America’s west coast had great potential for making fine wine, so he bought an established 50-acre parcel outside Calistoga. Through the end of the 1960’s, Sterling Vineyards continued to acquire property in the Napa and Sonoma area, eventually bottling California’s first vintage dated Merlot in 1969. The 1970’s marked a period of development and growth at Sterling, with the construction of their Italianate winery, complete with aerial tramway for visitors, as well as the continued acquisition of prime Napa property – the Rutherford and Diamond Mountain Ranch vineyards. Sterling’s growth sped up in the 1980’s and 1990’s, especially with the implementation of a six-phase plan to increase production efficiency and improve quality, all designed to meet the exploding demand for fine, west coast wines. The culmination of the program led to the launch of the Vinter’s Collection line of Sterling wines in 2000, representing over one million cases annually across nine varietals, sourced primarily from Central Coast, Monterey and Paso Robles vineyards. Further winery renovations, including an all new visitor center were completed in 2002 and a dedicated facility to produce the Sterling Reserve wine label was added in 2008.

Throughout all of its history, Sterling has tried to remain true to the founding philosophy of producing the best wine that California can offer at reasonable prices that your average wine lover can afford. The Central Coast Meritage that I tasted recently is a good example of this philosophy. Crafted from the five varietals allowed to produce red wine in Bordeaux, the Meritage is a pleasing example of easy drinking, Californian sunshine. A blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, Sterling’s Meritage is a very ripe, almost plump version of its Gallic cousins. Loaded with fruit, the wine is the consummate expression of the west coast’s easy-drinking style. Don’t buy this wine expecting any of the common markers you find in Bordeaux, though, for while it shares the same grape varieties, their emergence from vineyards in California’s Central Coast is like a richly tanned, buff surfer emerging from the waves… wonderful in the moment, but probably not built for the long term.


And that’s okay – I found my bottle locally for $8.99 (Marked down from $14.99), which is a great price for a BBQ-friendly wine. OBTW – The Sterling website indicates that the wine is SOLD OUT through their channels, so scoop it up fast, if you’re so inclined.

My tasting note:

Lively, jammy nose with fresh cherry, red berry and explosive floral hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and soft, supple tannin – good balance. Dark fruit core with loads of black cherry, blackberry jam and tarry, chocolate notes – very juicy. Moderate length with a smooth, simple, infinitely quaffable finish. Drinking well – not for aging… at all. Great value, at the marked down price, less so at its full retail price.


2013 Couly Dutheil René Couly Rosé, Chinon

In the right place, at the right time, Cabernet Franc can be magical. And, in the Loire, in 2013, as a rosé, this Cabernet Franc is superb. As summer approaches, my attention has turned towards the bounty of dry, light rosé wines that only a few years ago were non-existent in most wine shops. Mention pink wine to one of my classes five years ago and the only comment made was something about the aberration that was White Zinfandel.

Let’s fast forward, shall we. Past the aisles of sweet, cloying White Zin that litter the jug wine department of most wine shops… Right into the veritable birthplace of real rosé wines, Southern France. Okay, but this review is about a Loire Valley region called Chinon… yes, true, but nothing would be pink in France were it not for the masters of pink wine, the vignerons of Provence… Now that we’ve paid credit where credit is due, let’s focus on the subject at hand.

Chinon is a well-known wine making region in the central Loire Valley along the Vienne River. Known primarily for its Cabernet Franc-based red wines, Chinon is very similar to the region of Bourgueil, only lighter in character. A similar trait is the predominant limestone overtones, derived largely from the limestone soils that dominate the area. Because I have a natural affinity for the unusual, I was drawn to this rosé Chinon.


Couly Dutheil was established in 1921 by Baptiste Dutheil, and was subsequently developed by René Couly (who married Madeleine Dutheil). The winery has remained a family-owned affair with third and fourth generation Coulys in control. The family sources grapes from 130 hectares (316 acres) of vineyard land in Chinon, of which, 90 (218 acres) hectares are directly owned by the family. Most of their production stays in France, with only about 15% (15,000 cases) making it to the export market. Given that most of their production is red wine, this rosé is fairly rare, but it is definitely worth seeking out.

Based on the fact that their wines are shipped primarily to the better restaurants in France, finding the René Couly Rosé locally was a real treat and at an average bottle price of $14.99 pre-discount, represents a real value.

My tasting note:

Fresh, fruity nose with strawberry, rose petal and slate hints. Medium-bodied with firm acidity – well balanced. Soft, seductive palate with lovely red berry and floral notes. Moderate length – smooth with a crisp, clean finish. Drinking well now – not for aging… Perfect for summer quaffing! Good value.


2013 Le Fraghe Rodòn, Bardolino Chiaretto

I have less than spectacular memories of Bardolino… Unfortunately, these memories are a result of receiving one too many wooden gift boxes of Bolla Wines around the Christmas holiday season… All the more reason, when I find a Bardolino that is NOT Bolla, nor is a wooden box, I pounce at the chance to have the wine redeem itself.

Bardolino is a region in the Veneto that produces medium-bodied red wines from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes – the grapes that go into Valpolicella. Yes, that same region that brings you Vino di Ripasso and Amarone wines… need I say too much more?

In addition to red wines, producers in the region make Bardolino Chiaretto, a beautiful rosé wine from those same grapes. The wines are reminiscent of those lovely rosés from the south of France and are truly captivating. Given that it is that time of year when rosé wines become de rigueur, this wine is especially relevant.


Le Fraghe, helmed by Matilde Poggi, is a classic producer in Cavaion Veronese. The property has been producing grapes for many decades, but most were sold off to other winemakers, until 1984, when Matilde produced the first vintage from estate-owned grapes. Matilde produces a number of wines (several Bardolinos, a Garganega and a Cabernet Blend), all of which are a true expression of her passion for the land of her ancestors. The Bardolino Chiaretto, Rodòn, is truly a masterpiece. Composed of a blend of Corvina and Rondinella grapes from relatively young vines (12 years old), the wine sees a light maceration to extract enough color to impart a beautiful pink-salmon hue. The cool fermentation temperature aids in the retention of the delicate, floral and red berry aromas, while preserving the crisp, bracing acidity. This wine is pure summer in a bottle…

Based on the quality of this offering, I will definitely seek out Matilde’s other wines. The Rodòn is a great wine with a value-conscious average bottle price of $13.99 pre-discount.

My tasting note:

Bright, lively nose with raspberry, strawberry, fresh cherry and floral hints. Light-to-medium-bodied with firm acidity – well balanced. Light, red berry palate with sweet Bing cherry notes – lovely. Moderate length – smooth with a crisp finish – infinitely quaffable! Drinking well now – not for aging. Good value.


2011 Grifalco Aglianico del Vulture

I tend to root for the underdog… Maybe it was years of growing up with the Red Sox and the pre-Belichick Patriots that firmly ingrained this attitude… I follow a similar track with wine, supporting those lesser-known, underdog regions and grapes. Not too many years ago, Aglianico was certainly one of those grapes and Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata was clearly a lesser-known region. Fast forward a few years and Aglianico is fast becoming the little darling of Italian wine.

The Aglianico grape is a dark-skinned, small berry grape that is found primarily in the southern hills of Italy. Aglianico is a grape that is native to Greece and was brought to Italy by colonizing Greeks before the time of Roman domination. The grape is late ripening, with harvests extending into October and November. Under the right conditions, Aglianico displays tremendous potential, even rivalling the exalted wines of Nebbiolo and Brunello. Those conditions include being planted in the high altitude vineyards on the slopes of the now dormant volcano, Mount Vulture. The volcanic soils, sunny exposures and strong diurnal patterns all combine to produce fruit that is well balanced with great depth of flavor and complexity. When yields are closely managed, the result is truly amazing wine.


When I look for Aglianico, I head straight for Aglianico del Vulture. There are other areas that recognize the power of the grape (Taurasi in Campania, for example), but the grape possesses magical qualities when grown on volcanic slopes. Aglianico del Vulture achieved DOC status in 1971 and in 2011 was finally awarded the coveted DOCG honor. It is the only DOCG in Basilicata, its larger parent region.

Grifalco is a producer of Aglianico del Vulture that is owned by a former Tuscan wine family, the Piccins. The Piccins decided that Basilicata has better potential for fine wine than Tuscany… That is saying a lot…


They produce three wines from the region: “Gricos,” “Grifalco,” and “Damaschito.” The Gricos is a 100% Aglianico produced from four different vineyards with an average vine age of 15 years. The wine is purposefully made to be more forward and drinkable younger. Production is limited to 2500 cases.  The Damaschito is a single vineyard bottling where the average vine age is 40 years old. Extended maceration and long term aging in Slavonian oak makes for an age-worthy, impressively flavored wine. Production is again limited to 2500 cases.

The Grifalco is considered their mid-tier wine with grapes sourced from four different vineyards with an average vine age of 30 years. Extended maceration and aging in a combination of stainless steel and medium-size oak barrels translates to a wine with good depth of flavor with moderate aging potential. Production is limited to 2500 cases.

I have not seen the Gricos or Damaschito around the Boston area, but the Grifalco is available and is a stunning example of Aglianico del Vulture, especially at an average bottle price of $15.99 pre-discount. With enough aging potential to warrant buying a case…

My tasting note:

Dark, intense nose with black cherry, cedar, mineral and spice hints. Medium-to-full-bodied with moderate acidity and firm, dry tannin. Well balanced. Black cherry and blackberry palate with vanilla, black pepper and eucalyptus notes. Very seductive. Long, smooth finish with layers of complexity evolving. Awesome example of Aglianico grown on volcanic soils. Drinking well and should improve with 3 to 5 years in bottle. Good value.


2012 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem, Pays d’Herault IGP

The back label of this wine calls it “the essence of Southern France.” Having never been to the Languedoc (yes, it’s on the list…), I can neither confirm, nor deny this assertion. That said, when I taste this wine, the images formed in my mind are of the rugged, stony vineyards of the region, bathed in beautiful sunshine… a la Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.

I have been all afire lately about the values one can claim on the Iberian Peninsula… and then, when you least expect it, a stunning little number like this wine shows up, again reinforcing my Euro-centric palate.

The history of viticulture in the Gassac valley claims to be rooted in the time of Charlemagne, around 780 A.D., presumably under the auspices of Saint Benedict of Aniane. Sounds reasonable from what I know of Gallic history. The Mas de Daumas Gassac label was establish in more modern times, around 1970 by Véronique and Aimé Guibert, who were smitten with the ruins of an old farmhouse beside the Herault and Gassac rivers. In the characteristically romantic way, vines were planted, noted winemakers (Professors Enjalbert and Peynaud) visited and advised, and over the course of several decades a string of impressive wines were produced. The Moulin de Gassac label, the second label of Mas de Daumas Gassac, is actually more of a “cooperative-based” wine, culling the grapes from over 7,000 individual parcels grown by over 800 vignerons. The label is a partnership that was designed to save many of the indigenous varietals slated for removal through the failed Brussels Subsidies, which were an attempt at enticing local grape growers to rip out less “glamorous” grapes to replant more “globally accepted” varietals. A noble mission, I must say…


The Guilhem red is a splendid little wine made from 40% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 15% Carignan and 20% Mourvèdre, the “usual suspects” in most of the red wines from this region. Easy drinking, the wine is the perfect weight for summer quaffing with noticeable spice to make it an ideal partner with fare from the grill. At an average retail price of $9.99 per bottle before the discount, you can’t go wrong with putting a case of this in the cellar!

My tasting note:

Ripe, fruity nose with black cherry, allspice and wildflower hints. Medium-bodied with moderate-to-firm acidity and supple tannin – good balance. Youthful with a juicy, lively palate – sour cherry, dried herbs and floral notes. Moderate length with a smooth, simple finish. Some hint of spice and pepper shows on the aftertaste. Drinking, or should I say quaffing, well – not for aging. Although, the wine is closed via Stelvin, so I would expect the wine to remain fresh and lively for a few years to come (the web site says drink within 3 years). Great value.


Provo Liquors in Norfolk, MA

As a follow-up to my posting about our recent Scotch Whisky tasting, I thought I should let people in on a little local shop who seems to have an endless selection of whisk(e)y.

When we first moved to this neck of the woods, I made the rounds of all the local wine and spirit shops. I found a handful that I really liked and unfortunately, many that I felt were just not up to snuff. That was 15 years ago. I have since visited a few of the new shops that have opened, as well as a few of the original shops. My visits usually turn out to be one of two types – either very brief or fairly lengthy, the latter being a sign of good things to come.

Well, recently I stopped back at Provo Liquors in Norfolk, MA and ended up spending the better part of an hour chatting with the amiable and ever helpful owner, Bruno Formato. Hot off of my Scotch Whisky tasting, I was in search of a few special bottles and happily Bruno had them in stock. One he did not, but he thought he would be getting it soon.

I had to compliment Bruno because his selection and assortment of whisk(e)y was nothing short of amazing. The only other store that I’ve been in recently that has a more exhaustive selection is Julio’s in Westboro. Provo is less than 10 minutes from my house. Julio’s is about 35 minutes… You know where I will run to first the next time I am in search of some arcane whisk(e)y.

Bruno and I also chatted about our very consistent philosophy about wine making and we found ourselves agreeing on the high value of most European wines, especially those from Spain and Portugal. We’re both Italians that grew up with wine on the table at almost every meal. For us, wine is not an adjunct to the meal, it is essential part of the meal, like another food. We agreed that the new term being coined in the industry, “cocktail wines,” is an unfortunate reflection of how most Americans view wine.

Bruno also graciously shared a plate of his home made prosciutto – wow, was it delicious! Just the right amount of salt with a nice subtle, yet complex flavor profile.

So, I urge you, if you are in the area, or want to make the trip, to drop by Provo Liquor on Dedham Street in Norfolk, MA. Make sure you tell Bruno that I sent you over!

And, for other great places to shop check out my web site at: http://www.musingsonthevine.com/tips_shop.shtml


Scotch Whisky

I recently hosted a very nice Scotch whisky tasting for some very dear friends. The selection of Caledonian beauties was not exhaustive, but broad enough to showcase the incredible diversity that is Scotch.

The whisky was tasted blind over the course of a two hour period. Spring water was on hand to appropriately loosen the noses and palates of our “distinguished subjects.”

However, before I relate the findings of our little gathering, a brief digression into the basics of Scotch whisky is in order…


What is Whisky?

Whisky (Scottish), or whiskey (Irish), refers to a broad category of alcoholic beverages that are distilled from fermented grain mash and aged in wooden casks (generally oak).

Different grains are used for different varieties, including: barley, malted barley, rye, malted rye, wheat, and maize (corn).  Whisky derives from the Gaelic word for “water” (uisce or uisge), and is called in full uisge-beatha (Scotish) or uisce beatha (Irish).  The full term means “Water of Life” and it is related to the Latin aqua vitae, also meaning “water of life.” The term is always Scotch whisky, and Irish whiskey.


A Brief History of Whisky

The first written record of whisky comes from 1405 in Ireland, where it was distilled by monks.  Legend states that Saint Patrick had brought the art of distilling to Ireland in the 5th Century, but this has not been substantiated.

Another legend suggests that the art of distillation was brought back to England, Ireland, Scotland and Europe in general, by monks returning from their service in the Crusades. It is widely known that the Muslims invented, practiced and refined the art of distillation, not for the production of alcohol, but rather for the production of perfumes and other medical elixirs. Over many decades of crusading, Christians and Muslims co-mingled and it is believed that Muslim practitioners taught Christian monks the secrets of distillation. The time frame for their return is early in the 14th century, which ties-in nicely with the written evidence of distillation in both Ireland and Scotland.

Whisky is first mentioned in Scotland in 1494 in the king’s ledger: “4 bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.”  Four bolls of malt equal fifteen hundred bottles, so it is likely that distillation existed in Scotland long before 1494 and was quite popular.  The ledger entry also underscores the fact that whisky production was clearly an exclusive activity of the monastic orders in Scotland.

All of this changed when King Henry VIII of England formed his own church, the Church of England, seized Catholic Church land holdings, closed the monasteries and literally fired all of the monks.  The unemployed monks took their talent for distilling and moved into small villages throughout Scotland and began to distill Whisky independently.  Business was brisk because farming, storing and transporting grain was a difficult endeavor in the 16th Century.  An enterprising farmer could convert a field of grain into Whisky, which was worth more than the grain itself and was much more easily transported.  The practice of having a few skalks before harvest didn’t hurt anyone either.  The term skalk applies to an early morning drink of whisky that literally translates as “a sharp blow to the head.”

Distilling Whisky became a very popular pastime, which the government tried to regulate unsuccessfully over the next few hundred years.  The Scottish didn’t much enjoy being under the control of a foreign government.  In 1707, England formally incorporated Scotland into the United Kingdom and financed the affair through a tax on Whisky.  This proved to be a significant mistake for the English, which fueled a patriotic rebellion of sorts.  Scottish “patriots” took to illegally distilling and smuggling Whisky throughout Scotland, openly defying the few bands of excise officers sent to collect the Whisky taxes.  The 18th Century proved tumultuous and bloody, with England sending troops to quell the various Whisky riots that broke out in protest of even higher taxes.  Eventually King George IV brought sanity to the situation.  On a state visit in 1822, the king tasted the Whisky produced in Glenlivet and pronounced it the official royal toasting drink.  In addition, King George IV restored previously banned Gaelic customs to Scotland and created a sensible tax structure for Whisky in 1823.  This event led to the establishment of legal distilleries and eventually the illegal stills and smugglers were replaced by a network of legally bonded Whisky distilleries.

The legitimacy of Scotch whisky allowed distillers to focus on improving quality, which was achieved primarily through aging in oak barrels.  Up to this time, Whisky had never been purposefully aged, which meant that the beverage was very rough on the palate.  The implementation of oak aging transformed Whisky from a rustic, farmers drink into a respectable beverage of the upper class.  Queen Victoria fell in love with Scotland and its native drink, which further elevated Whisky’s popularity.  To keep up with demand, the distillers began to blend the strongly flavored single-malt whiskies with the lighter grain alcohols being produced at the time and blended Scotch was born.

The growth of Scottish whisky was further aided by the advent of the phylloxera vine louse, which destroyed most of the vineyards of Europe during the end of the 19th Century.  This tragedy had the connected effect of destroying the then burgeoning Cognac/Brandy industry.  Cognac and Brandy are grape products, so with the vineyards in ruin, the Cognac industry lost its raw materials, which forced it to forfeit its market.  Scottish whisky was only too happy to step in and fill the breach, which catapulted Whisky into a whole new level.  Growth continued unchecked until the 1890’s when a series of distillery scandals, followed by grain shortages in WWI finally cut the number of Scottish distilleries (161 in 1899) in half by 1924.  Further damage was dealt to the industry when the American Temperance movement, led by Carrie Nation succeeded in winning the passage of the 18th Amendment in the US, otherwise known as Prohibition.  Given the history of illicit Whisky production and smuggling, the Scottish distillers were really only inconvenienced by Prohibition and the flow of illegal Whisky into the US at this time was significant.  Prohibition also forced Scotland to seek other markets, like the Japanese, to bolster demand.  As a result, Scottish whisky was less-traumatized than the Irish and American whiskey industries.

Scotch Whisky Types

There are two basic categories of Scotch whisky: Malt whisky, which is made primarily from malted barley that has been dried over smoking peat fires and Grain whisky, which is made from un-malted  wheat or corn.  Both whiskies are aged in used wooden Bourbon, Sherry or other wine barrels for a minimum of three years, although five to ten years is the general practice. International laws require anything bearing the label “Scotch” to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks or bear a quality equal to that expected of produce from that region.  All Scotch malt whiskies are double or triple distilled in pot stills, while Scotch grain whiskies are made in column stills.  Whiskies do not mature in the bottle, only in the cask, so the “age” of a Scotch is the time between distillation and bottling. This reflects how much the cask has interacted with the Whisky, changing its chemical makeup and taste. Whiskies that have been in bottle for many years may have a rarity value, but are not “older” and will not necessarily be “better” than a more recently made whisky matured in wood for a similar time.

Single Malt Scotch Whisky is a whisky made entirely from malted barley and distilled in an onion-shaped pot still at one distillery.  It may be a mix of malt whiskies from different years, in which case the age statement on the bottle label gives the age of the youngest spirit in the blend.  The barley malt for Scottish whisky is first dried over peat-stoked fires.  The peat smoke adds a distinctive smoky tang to the taste of the malt whisky.

Vatted Malt Scotch Whisky is a blend of malt whiskies from different Scottish distilleries. If a whisky is labeled “pure malt” or just “malt” it is almost certain to be a vatted whisky. These whiskies are also sometimes labeled as “Blended Malt” whisky.

Scotch Grain Whisky is made primarily from wheat or corn with a small percentage of malted and un-malted barley included, usually in a continuous “patent” or “Coffey” still. Until recently grain was only used in blends — but there are now some “Single Grain” Scotches being marketed.

Blended Scotch Whisky is a blend of grain and malt Scotch whiskies.  A whisky simply described as Scotch Whisky is most likely to be a blend in this sense.  A blend is usually from many distilleries so that the blender can produce a flavor consistent with the brand, and the brand name (e.g. Bell’s, Chivas Regal) will usually not therefore contain the name of a distillery.

Scotch Whisky Regions

The Highlands consist of the portion of Scotland north of a line from Dundee on the North Sea coast in the east to Greenock on the Irish Sea in the west, including all of the islands off the mainland except Islay.  Highland malt Whisky covers a broad spectrum of style, which are generally aromatic with smooth, medium-bodied palates. The following are sub-regions of the Highlands: Speyside, North East,West Highland, the Orkney Isles, and the Western Isles: Arran, Jura, Mull, Skye.

The Lowlands encompass the entire Scottish mainland south of the Highlands, except the Kintyre Peninsula where Campbeltown is located. Lowland malt Whisky is light-bodied and relatively sweet and delicate.

Islay is an island off the west coast of Scotland. Typical Islay malt Whisky is intensely smoky and pungent with distinct iodine, or medicinal notes, generally taken from the sea salt that permeates the local peat that is used for drying the barley malt.

Campbeltown is a port located on the tip of the Kintyre Peninsula on the southwest coast of Scotland.  Campbeltown malt Whisky is quite distinctive with a spicy and salty tang.



Our Tasting

Now let us return to our little gathering…. Over the course of the evening we tasted eight Scotch whiskies. All of them showed exceptional character and individuality. At the conclusion of the evening, the votes were tallied and the whisky was thus rated. The following is the list, ranked from highest to lowest score:


Auchentoshan 12yr (Lowland) (Founded 1800) – 17 points


Glenmorangie 10yr (Highland) (Founded 1843) – 15 points


Glenfiddich Monkey Shoulder (Triple Speyside) (Founded 1887) – 14 points


Lombard Old Master’s (Blend) (Founded 1962) – 12 points


Ardbeg 10yr (Islay) (Founded 1815) – 10 points


Compass Box Whisky Asyla (Blend) (Founded 2000) – 9 points


Highland Park 15yr (Orkney) (Founded 1798) – 7 points

Sheep Dip Scotch

Sheep Dip (Vatted Malt) – 6 points


**As a note, scoring was based on points awarded for first, second and third place votes. First place votes receiving three points, second place receiving two points and third place receiving one point. Like anything as subjective as this exercise, personal preference becomes the rule of the day. Therefore, the scores above should be characterized not as absolute indications of quality or betterment, but instead represent the personal biases of the tasting panel present.

Wine Tasting @ Sweet Basil in Needham, MA – Sunday May 4, 2014 from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Our last Wine Tasting in March was so well received, Needham Community Education is offering another installment!

At this time there are still (9) seats available!!

Wine-Tasting class at Sweet Basil
942 Great Plain Ave. Needham 02492

Join us for a fun and relaxing afternoon of wine tasting
as one of Needham’s most popular restaurants, Sweet
Basil, opens its doors for this class only. You will
learn more about the complex and fascinating world
of wines, savor delicious tapas-style appetizers, and
sample a variety of wines. You will learn about where
and how wine is produced, how to classify it into
broad types, how to buy, order, serve and store it, and,
of course, how to enjoy it. Sweet Basil will provide
appetizers carefully chosen to complement the wines
you’ll sample. So sign up alone, with a significant
other, or with a group for a special afternoon! A wine
fee of $15 per person is payable in class. Limited to

Code: 10601.3
Sunday, May 4th, from 2-4pm
Paul Malagrifa, Certified Wine Educator, Instructor
Fee: $69 (with additional wine fee of $15 payable in class)
An array of appetizers will be served to complement wines being tasted!
Call Needham Community Education to register: 781-455-0400 x223 or 235

2012 Salzl Seewinkelhof Zweigelt, Burgenland Austria

Bear with me folks, before I chat about the Salzl, I thought I would brain dump on Austrian wine history, regions and laws… If you must, then scroll to the bottom for my thoughts on the 2012 Salzl…

Austria – Wine Making History

Like the wines of Germany, the wines of Austria are frequently misunderstood by the general wine drinking populace. The confusion is further compounded by the fact that in 1985 the industry was plunged into turmoil by a national scandal that overnight virtually eliminated Austria’s export wine market. The scandal involved wine brokers adding di-ethylene glycol (antifreeze) to wines to improve body and sweetness. The “silver lining” to this disaster was the establishment of new, stricter rules governing the production, bottling and exportation of Austrian wines.

Archaeological evidence suggests that grape growing was present in Traisental about 4000 years ago. Evidence of more organized grape cultivation for wine production dates to around 700BC, not unlike most of Europe. In fact, bronze wine flagons of the Celtic La Tène culture dating to the 5th century BC have been found at Dürrnberg in Salzburg. Viticulture thrived under the Romans, once Probus (Roman Emperor 276–282) had overturned the ban on growing grapes north of the Alps. Both Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling appear to have been grown around the Danube since Roman times.

The fall of the Roman Empire hurt viticulture, but the influence of Christianity in Europe post fall saw a reemergence of strengthening viticultural activity. Wine boomed during the early 16th Century, but was sporadically interrupted during the economic turmoil and warfare of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The 19th Century saw the onset of numerous biological factors, culminating in the near total destruction of most European vineyards at the hands of the phylloxera root louse. At first deemed a catastrophe, the infestation actually became helpful by allowing wine makers to replace vineyards of lesser-quality grapes with higher-quality, more desirable varietals.

Following World War I, Austria was the third largest producer of wine in the world. Most of the production was going to Germany as bulk wine for blending purposes. The 20th Century saw the industrialization of Austrian wine, as more focus was placed on producing bulk blending wines for Eastern European consumption. This focus on quantity over quality led to the eventual downfall of the industry, when in 1985 the “antifreeze” scandal broke. The scandal effectively collapsed the export markets for all Austrian wines and forced a complete overhaul of industry standards.

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board was created in 1986 as a response to the scandal, and Austria’s membership of the European Union has prompted further revisions of her wine laws, notably the new DAC system of geographical appellations launched in 2002.

Austria – Wine Regions

  • Niederösterreich:
    • Carnuntum, Donauland, Kamptal, Kremstal, Thermenregion, Traisental, Wachau, & Weinviertel
  • Burgenland:
    • Mittelburgenland, Neusiedlersee, Neusiedlersee-Hügelland, & Sudburgenland
  • Steiermark:
    • Südoststeiermark, Südsteiermark, Westststeiermark
  • Wien


Austria – Wine Laws

Three Quality Hierarchies

1) National Classification

  • Tafelwein – Table wine from more than one region in Austria
  • Landwein – Table wine from a single region in Austria
  • Qualitätswein – Fine wine from a single district within a region of Austria

         Kabinett: Light wines; medium-dry; 7-10% alcohol

  • Prädikatswein – Fine wine with additional notes of distinction

         Spatlese: “Late Harvest”; dry-to-sweet; 9-11% alcohol

          Auslese: “Select Picking”; dry-to-medium dry; 9-14% alcohol

          Beerenaulese (BA): “Berries Select Picking”; rich, sweet dessert wine

          Ausbruch: Sweet dessert wine made from grapes affected by noble rot.

          Eiswein: “Ice Wine”; BA-level intensity; frozen grapes

          Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA): “Dry Berries Select Picking”; noble rot; honey-like dessert wines


2) Wachau Classification (Vinea Wachau Nobilis Districtus) – Three categories, all for dry wines:

  • Steinfeder (‘Stone feather’ – named after a grass, Stipa pinnata, that grows in the vineyards) – Light, quaffable wines
  • Federspiel (named after a falconry device) – Similar to Kabinett wines
  • Smaragd (named after an ’emerald’ lizard that lives in the vineyards) – Some of the best dry whites in Austria.

3) Controlled District of Austria (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) (DAC) – A new geographical appellation system equivalent to the French AOC or the Italian DOC. There are now 6 DACs:

  • Weinviertel DAC – (for Grüner Veltliner)
  • Mittelburgenland DAC – (for Blaufränkisch)
  • Traisental DAC – (for both Riesling and Grüner Veltliner)
  • Kremstal DAC – (for both Riesling and Grüner Veltliner)
  • Kamptal DAC – (for both Riesling and Grüner Veltliner)
  • Leithaberg DAC – (for Grüner Veltliner, Weißburgunder, Chardonnay, Neuburger and Blaufränkisch, beginning September 2010)

Austria – Grape Varieties

Whites: Reds
Gruner Vetliner (36% of all vineyards) Blauer Zweigelt
Müller-Thurgau (Riesling cross) Blaufränkisch
Welschriesling Blauer Portugieser
Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir)
Chardonnay Blauer Zweigelt
Grauer Burgunder  


The Salzl – My interest is always piqued when I see interesting red wines from Austria. This is especially the case when the varieties are out of the ordinary, like this Zweigelt.

Zweigelt is the eponymous creation of one Fritz Zweigelt, who, in 1922 developed the grape at the Federal Institute for Viticulture in Klosterneuburg, Austria. Zweigelt is a red grape that is a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. It is the most widely-grown red grape variety in Austria, as well as having some presence in Canada’s vineyards on the Niagara Peninsula. Like most Austrian red grapes, the wines they yield are fruity, lightly tannic with nice crisp acidity.

Salzl is an older Austrian producer (circa 1840) located in the heart of Burgenland on a corner of Lake Neusiedl. The picturesque surroundings provide an ideal climate for grape growing, with red grapes especially benefitting from the moderating lakeside effects. The vineyards are located on an interesting mix of clay, slate and limestone soil, which imparts a strong mineral quality to the wines. Very traditional, but with a fresh, lively character, the Zweigelt is a real pleasant find. At $14.99/per bottle before the discount, the wine is a solid value.

And how many of you can say you’ve had Zweigelt before?

My tasting note:

Red berry nose with lilac and wet stone hints – very pretty. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and moderate, well-integrated tannin – good balance. Sour cherry palate with red currant, dried herb and dried raspberry notes. Moderate length – crisp and clean with a bright finish. Drinking well now – not for aging. Bottled under Stelvin, so the freshness should be nicely preserved for a few years. Good value.



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