Monday, June 24, 2013

Spanish Varietals in California: Organic Among Them

The TAPAS tasting in San Francisco Sunday (June 23, 2013)
Yesterday's TAPAS tasting at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio was the perfect way to spend an unseasonally rainy June Sunday afternoon and an excellent way to showcase the California (and southwest) vintners devoted to Spanish wine varietals.

It's worth noting that these wines are perfectly suited to our current climate - and are likely to also be the right choice for the warmer world ahead.

The tasting featured two wineries that make organically grown Spanish varietal wines - Verdad Wines, from southern California, which is 100% organic (and biodynamic on its own Edna Valley estate) and Bokisch Vineyards, located in Lodi, which has some organic estate vineyards and some vineyards which are not organic. (See my previous blog about Bokisch here.) I also found one additional wine that appears to be sourced organically - the Quinto Cruz's Graciano - which also comes from the Bokisch vineyard.

Highlights - Great Values, New Flavors

The insider's wisdom has always been that Spanish wines are underpriced, relative to France, and I would say the same applies to the California Iberians as well. You'll find fair prices on the whites, and great values on the reds.

The other great reason to consider these wines is that they get you "out of the box" that too often, especially in California, consists of Cab, Zin, Chard and Sauvignon Blanc.

I especially fell for the Graciano (and I am not the first to do so) - which is sort of secret varietal, as it is not often bottled on its own. But I'd now go all out on it and order a few cases. It's a special medium-bodied red that is just beautiful on its own - a very versatile, food friendly choice.


Louise Sawyer Lindquist of Verdad
with her 2009 Tempranillo, the only
organically grown tempranillo in the U.S.
Verdad Wines, run by winemaker Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, specializes in Iberian varietals and has long had a reputation for fine wine making.

Verdad's wines are solely sourced from their certified biodynamic estate in the Edna Valley, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, and from the certified organic Ibarra Young Vineyard, in Santa Ynez Valley, has a decades long relationship with the Lindquists.

Verdad shared a tasting room with Qupe in Los Olivos. (Qupe is run by Louisa's husband Bob Lindquist, who is a renowned Syrah producer.)

The couple is notable not only for their incredible wines but also for being organic and biodynamic on their estate vineyards, a rarity in the Edna Valley and Santa Barbara County region.

Their wines are bottle labeled with their Demeter biodynamic certification for their grapes (which means they are also certified organic.)


Liz Bokisch with the Bokisch Graciano
Up and coming Bokisch Vineyards is run by the husband and wife couple of Liz and Markus Bokisch. Markus is of Spanish heritage, worked in Spanish wineries and spent time in Napa at Joseph Phelps before he and Liz bought their first vineyards in Lodi and moved there.

Bokisch is one of the few Lodi vineyards that is certified organic.

Their ties to the wider wine world continue and they sell grapes to many high quality vintners, including garagiste Mark Herrold in Napa as well as Neyers and Turley.

Markus also runs a vineyard management company Bokisch Services.

For Mark's latest take on Lodi vineyards, see his 2012 report on the web site.

• Albarino

This white wine varietal is always a crowd-pleaser whenever I bring it to social events. It's a refreshingly different flavor from the usual Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc - with a unique nose of apricot and peach. It's also a wonderful summer sipper. 

Verdad's Albarino ($22) (various vintages)

This wine comes from the certified biodynamic Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in Edna Valley. A previous vintage won an LA Times Wine of the Week - where the competition for wine critic Sherry Virbilia's attention is extremely high. This is a great honor - and a great pick.

Planted in 1999, in Lodi's Mokelumne River AVA, the Las Cerezas vines are grown from cuttings from Spain. Only 85 cases are made. Bokisch also makes another Albarino from its Terra Vista vineyards that is about 95% organic grapes.

• Graciano 

This traditional "spice box" grape is typically used in Spain as a blending grape, but here in the U.S. single varietal bottlings are growing more popular. It's not that easy to grow, so there's not much of it. But it deserves a lot more attention.

Yesterday was the first time I tasted it and I have to admit, it made a very favorable impression. It's definitely one you should put on your "must try" list. I recommend ordering some from each of these handful of vintners. This is a wine that has much to offer - a bit more than a grenache, and less than a tempranillo, it fills the medium red category well.

And right now these wines are incredibly affordably priced:

BEST BUY - Quinto Cruz 2009 Bokisch Vineyard Graciano ($28)

This wine, sourced from Bokisch's vineyard in Lodi, won a Gold Medal at the SF Chronicle 2012 wine competition and has been a sort of underground top pick for a few years now among wine aficionados looking for a deeply satisfying and nuanced red in this price category. (Wine blogger and judge Blake Grey called it out in the 2010 SF Chronicle Wine Competition as well - as an outstanding value.)

Only 225 cases made - I would grab some before they are gone.

BEST BUY - Bokisch 2010 Graciano ($21)

Winner of a bronze at the Sunset Wine Competition in 2012, only 215 cases are made. Bokisch says it was the first to bottle it as a single varietal in the U.S.

My advice: take advantage of this wine's low price before it gets discovered.

BEST BUY - Verdad 2011 Graciano ($22)

Aged three years in Hungarian oak puncheons. Again - only 75 cases made. Online retailers are offering it for $19.95. Go for it!

• Rose

Verdad 2012 Rose ($18)

I have to admit - Verdad's Rose is my summer house wine. I buy it by the case every year - and recently found it at my local market for the incredible price of $12.99. That's pretty amazing for a biodynamically grown rose of grenache. (At this price point, I hope the people who buy those $7 French rose's at TJ's will take note and convert - why not support your local biodynamic producer?)

But neither the price point nor the farming practices would sell me on it - basically this is just a fabulous rose with rose and strawberry on the nose and strawberry and watermelon on the palette.

Goes with: pretty much everything.

• Tempranillo

Amazingly (to my knowledge) this is the only organically grown tempranillo in the U.S.:

Verdad's 2009 Sawyer Lindquist Tempranillo ($35)

This wine comes from the certified biodynamic Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in Edna Valley and is a blend of 84% tempranillo, 8% grenache, and 8% syrah. It's aged for 24 months in barrel; 40% of that is in new French oak.

Verdad also has a Santa Ynez Valley tempranillo that is made from (94%) organically grown grapes  blended with a small amount of nonorganic syrah. The Santa Ynez tempranillo, primarily grown at Ibarra-Young vineyards, retails for $19.

There's so much more to discover in the world of Spanish wines. I hope you'll find your way to these wines in particular to see what else California has to offer - deliciousness ahead.

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