Bernabeleva - Navaherreros Grenache 2009

Tucked in the hills of San Martin de Valdeiglesias, a region just southwest of Madrid, the Bernabeleva estate is blessed with a perfect climate and ideal soils for growing grapes – especially Grenache grapes.

The estate was acquired in 1923 by a Madrid doctor named Vincente Alvarez-Villamil, who dreamed of making wines of exceptional character in this idyllic setting.

It turned out that this land also had something of a mythical past. Indeed, the property is dotted with large, ancient Celtic carvings of bears. Vincente named his estate Bernabeleva, or “the bear’s forest,” and the image of the goddess of hunting riding a bear became the estate’s logo – as you can see on the label.

Unfortunately, the Spanish Civil War put an end to Vincente’s dream, and it would not be until 2006 that it would be resurrected, under the aegis of two of his grandsons.

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Dominio de Pingus-PSI 2009

With vineyards at 2,500 ft above sea level, a relatively short growing season, extremely varied soils – and the constant threat of spring frost – Ribera del Duero, in northwestern Spain, might not look like the easiest place to grow grapes. Yet this region turns out some beautifully concentrated, savory, intensely colored red wines.

The great temperature variation between hot summer days and cool nights and the high-altitude sunlight and dryness are in fact ideal conditions for growing grapes.

A handful of wineries, like the iconic Vega Sicilia, have been making stellar wines in Ribera del Duero for decades, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the region exploded with new vineyards, and became known as “the modern red wine miracle of northern Spain,” according to The World Atlas of Wine.

The grape that established the region’s fame is Tinto Fino (also called Tinta del Pais), a local variant of Rioja’s Tempranillo.

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Porter Creek 2008 Fiona Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir

As we drove towards Porter Creek Vineyards, the first thing I noticed was a small canary-yellow sign above the winery’s banner that read: “Organic farm, do not spray.” I smiled.

My husband Marc and I were visiting Sonoma for a much-needed rest. I didn’t want our trip to turn into an endless stream of winery visits and wine tastings. But under no circumstance did I want to miss Porter Creek.

We’d first tasted Porter Creek’s wines three years earlier, at Peter Lowell’s restaurant, a mecca for local food in nearby Sebastopol. It was the Carignane Old Vine that we’d swirled in our glasses. The wine was so memorable that I’ve been a fan of Porter Creek ever since.

Now here we were, in Porter Creek’s tasting room and I could hardly wait to try the new vintages.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Cinsault (also spelled Cinsaut), especially old-vine Cinsault.

A native of Southern France, this black grape variety is similar to Grenache in that it delivers soft, fruity, aromatic reds. It’s most often used in blends or to make perfumed all-Cinsault rosés. But old-vine Cinsault can produce distinguished reds all on its own.

The 2009 Cinsault from Bonny Doon Vineyard proves the point. It’s made exclusively from Cinsault, but blended from two different sites. The Ca’ del Solo vineyard, near Monterey, accounts for 60% of the blend, while the old-vine Woock vineyard in Central California contributes 40%.

“In 2009, the Ca’ del Solo vineyard gave us a restrained, elegant Cinsault, while the 100-year-old vines of the warmer-climate Woock vineyard, in Lodi, yielded a wine with tremendous concentration,” says winemaker Randall Grahm.

All in all, the 2009 Cinsault is an absolutely gorgeous wine.

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Last Thursday, Markus Stolz invited me to attend a tasting of Xinomavros, followed by a dinner at Bar Boulud in New York City. The invite came on the heels of my latest blog post about a magnificent Xinomavro from Thimiopoulos Vineyards. This was my chance to taste more than a dozen wines from the region of Naoussa and to meet some of the winemakers. Needless to say I awaited the event with great anticipation.

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