Friday, January 24, 2014


Sunset view of Lisbon from the Castelo São Jorge.
In December I took a lovely little trip to Portugal.  I had found an amazing deal for a hotel in Lisbon for a week, though that meant I couldn't hop around to all of the incredible wine regions like the Douro valley, Tejo, Alentejo, Bairrada and Dão, Vinho Verde... well, you get the picture: lots of noteworthy areas to visit in that country!

My home base would be the beautiful city of Lisbon, however, I wasn't flying all the way across an ocean to just walk around and look at pretty buildings (I am a professional Wineau after all) so I figured I'd journey to parts of the nearby Lisboa and Setúbal wine regions, and see what I could find.

Palace of Pena, Sintra
First up, Colares.  Any traveler to Lisbon definitely ought to plan for a day trip northwest to the town of Sintra there; easily accessible by train, this little village is home to a number of fascinating attractions and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  After stopping in at the unbelievable Palace of Pena, I grabbed a taxi for a short gorgeous drive through the trees and hills to the Adega Regional de Colares.  (It is not common for the Adega to receive drop-in visitors, although tours and tastings for larger groups can be arranged in advance.) 

Colares is at the westernmost tip of continental Europe and is therefore subject to a strong Atlantic influence, and the region is primarily known for the unusual Ramisco (rem-ISH-koo) grape which produces very highly-tannic reds.  It grows well on a 500m strip of sandy soil near the water, and was never attacked by Phylloxera, the root louse that devastated European vineyards in the late 1800s.  Because of that, neighboring wineries at the time started saying their wines came from unblemished Colares, and the Adega co-operative was formed to protect the region's reputation.

Historic quotes about Ramisco on the wall above aging barrels.

Ramisco can be a tough sell, as it is not really grown anywhere else (so not many people have even heard of it,) and its inherent structure can make less-quality offerings overly tannic and astringent.  But those who love Ramisco often refer to it as the "Bordeaux of Portugal" and when finessed, it can be unusual and lovely.

For white grapes, Colares winemakers focus on Malvasia, which is a white grape found throughout the Mediterranean.  However, this one is "its own type," as winemaker Francisco Homem de Figueiredo said; giving it distinction from the other Malvasias out there beyond where they're grown and how they are cultivated.

New and Old style Crush/Destemmers
During my visit, I was treated to a lovely tour and tasting with Francisco.  It was a blend of old and new at the winery; rows of stone lagares where workers would tread on the grapes back in the day - located right next to a gleaming steel modern crusher/destemmer.  I was particularly intrigued by a large wooden anfora fermenting vessel (they are usually clay) which was able to pump juice over the cap of solids naturally without human muscle or electricity. 

Classic stone lagares.
Soon it was time to taste!  We began with the 2010 Malvasia which was grown on sandy soil, 90% Malvaisa and 10% other grapes like Arinto that were part of a field blend (basically when random vines grow haphazardly and no one is really sure exactly what is where!)  It had a light gold color with a nose of grassy herbs and something beautifully pungent I like to call 'dirty sock'.  It was quite dry but very tasty, with lemon tartness and a looooooong finish.  A 500ml bottle retails about €10-11, older vintages retail in the US for $30-40.

Late 19th C aging building.
Next we sampled the 2012 Chão Rijo Branco, mostly Malvasia with Fernão Pires, Arinto and Jampal, grown on more inland clay soil.  This was a pale greenish gold, with lemon/lime fruit on the nose.  It was a little zesty, light and fruity, with good bright acidity.  Very quaffable with a medium long length, simple but good.  €3,50-3,60 (2011 US $13).

To the reds!  The 2001 Ramisco was a light garnet color, with a very dusty/musty nose of dried cherries.  It was fairly light with an "interesting ride:" forward fruit, then tannins came through, then the fruit rose to prominence again.  It was high in acid and had very grippy tannins.  Francisco thought this was almost there, "Fifteen to twenty years after the harvest is when it has its best expression." €13-14 (some US vintages around $40.)

I really loved the 2006 Ramisco.  It was a medium garnet color, with an intriguing nose of iodine and cranberry.  There were herb and floral notes as well, and it showed more fruit expression, with Asian spice and pepper on the finish.  Really lovely.  €10-10,50 (some US vintages around $40.)

Finally, the 2011 Chão Rijo Tinto, which was 80% Castelão and 20% Tinta Roriz.  It was a medium ruby color with a berry salad nose, bright acid in the mouth with lots of fruit and very soft tannins on the finish.  At about €3,50 it was an incredible value!  (US 2009 & 2010 ~ $16.)

Adega Regional de Colares wines ready for sale.

After my tasting, I thanked Francisco, who gave me one more wine as a gift - a 2007 Blend of Arinto and Malvasia commemorative bottling (which I served at my New Year's Eve dinner party alongside a portobello risotto recipe from Lisbon's wonderful Cantinho do Avillez restaurant.  It was gorgeous!)

Palacio Nacional, Sintra
After leaving the Adega Regional de Colares, I wandered around looking for a way back to Sintra and finally used my rudimentary Portuguese in a coffee shop where they called a taxi for me and I felt wonderfully immersed in a non-touristy slice of life!  Back in Sintra, I marveled at the Palacio Nacional and had a lovely lunch at restaurant Tulhas.

All in all, it was a perfect day.  And I had another wine trip coming up the next morning... so stay tuned.



Thursday, January 16, 2014


Like many people I know, I took a week's respite from booze and sugar and carbs for a little January detox.  A little bit to fight the post-holiday bloat, a little bit to prep for a photo shoot.  Either way, it was nice to kick off the New feeling refreshed.  But boy, did I miss my vino!

After the photo shoot, I racked my brain... what was the way to properly celebrate returning to the land of the Wineaux?  There was only one answer: BUBBLY.

I marched downtown to one of my fave little Village haunts, the Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar.  The place is so tiny, they can't even fit its name on the door (har har.) With an always very thoughtfully hand-picked selection of wines, I was sure I'd find something to please.

Out of the five or six selections of bubbles by the glass, I chose three tasting pours for $15 so I could decide what style I was in the mood for.

Up first was the 2011 Salina "25 Reasons" from Sonoma.  A little lovely oddball offering: it's a lightly frizzante Sauvignon Blanc, unfiltered, natural, organic, you name it.  It's a bit hazy (totally appropriate for how it was made) and had a nose of honeysuckle, gardenia and candied melon.  On the palate, notes of green olive and some briny elements balanced with tropical fruits "which is SO cool," said my notes.  Sadly, the wonderful flavors dissipate rather quickly in the mouth, although the finish is refreshing and bright.  It pulls you back to it for sure! WM: 89, mostly for its uniqueness. (By the glass, $14.  Retails around $25/bt.)

Next I tried a more traditional sparkling wine, the NV Ricci Curbastro Brut Franciacorta.  I love Franciacorta, Italy's answer to Champagne (< sounds familiar? I use that phrase a lot!)  This was a solid option; light lemon and a little pleasant terroir funk on the nose, with a rich mousse in the mouth, although light in style, with nice depth, minerals, and a bit of brioche.  Very pleasant.  WM: 88. (By the glass, $15.  Retails around $30/bt.)

Finally, the NV Franck Peillot Vin du Bugey-Montagnieu Pétillant Brut, Savoie (France.) With a nose of yellow apple and wet stone, I was immediately intrigued.  It had an intense flavor, but was balanced with a long, steely finish.  Pretty huge personality, but not overblown.  Notes say, "yesss." WM: 91 (By the glass, $15, a 2012 of this retails for $21 in CA.)

While I truly enjoyed the Salina for its compelling individualism, the glass I finally ordered?  The Peillot.  On its own, there was enough going on to keep me interested, and it truly felt like a wine that fit my little celebration.

If you ask me almost any question, BUBBLY will probably be the answer, and it was definitely the perfect way to re-introduce wine after my little respite.  Now off to the sugar and carbs!  Cheers.

Friday, January 3, 2014


First of all, these are the easiest resolutions a gal can make, right; I love wine!!!

Each New Year in my "real life," I don't actually make resolutions - I create a more positive list of things I can accomplish (see this post on my personal blog and you'll get what I mean.) 

But I have to definitely change some things about the way I approach WINE during the coming year, and here they are:

  • Pay for substance.
While I'm a big fan of value wines (have you seen my TOP UNDER $20 of 2013?) I realize that I often defer to my pocketbook over my palate, even when I should know better.  In the year ahead, I will let myself drink better wine even if it costs more than I'm accustomed to paying.

  • Don't drink anything I don't like.
I tell this to my clients who are still trying to discover what styles of wine they prefer, so they don't feel intimidated by sending a glass or a bottle back.  Me, I'm familiar with many different kinds of wine and enjoy many different kinds of wine.  That being said, a lot of bars serve mediocre to bad wine because it's cheap and people don't care.  (Flawed wines are another story.)  This year I will not put up with crap.  There's always whiskey.

  • Finish my book!
I have been working on an intro to wine book, "All You REALLY Need to Know About Wine," for about a year and I'm very excited about it.  It's for people who think "Wine for Dummies" is too much information.  (WfD is a great book by the way, but it is 432 pages.)  However, writing this way is a lot of work and I just need to buckle down and finish it.  ('Cause you guys are dying to read it, right?!?)

  • Help bring Turkish wine to the States.
When I visited Turkey this past May, I discovered not only a beautiful country but also some absolutely amazing wine.  Regular readers will have seen my earlier love letter to Turkish wines, but there is not a lot of information and availability over here, and I truly want to educate consumers and wine professionals alike. 

  • Continue to break down assumptions.
People assume they won't like rosé wine because it's pink so must be sweet, and yet, every wine class or even fancy wine dinner I do that features rosés is a hit.  People assume lots of things about wine, and as I always say, for every 'rule' in wine there are 100 exceptions.  This year I will make sure to open people's eyes more!

  • Bloggety-blog-blog-blog.
Again, regular readers know this blog isn't a series of three-paragraph posts.   I pride myself on crafting articles that educate you and acquaint you with new wines in an easy-going and slightly saucy manner.  2011 was my most prolific year so far, and this year I will not only meet that 15 posts, but I plan on surpassing it.  Dare we go for 20?!

  • Be the best Minx I can be.
 In addition to writing, I want to get out and interact with my public more!  The wine appraisals and consultation and insurance work are all great but I love to actually affect how people drink better wine.  There will be more classes, (like "Wine Minx" on facebook and post suggestions of topics you'd like to learn about!) and more restaurant dinners, and more consulting for clubs and bars, and video blogs where you can taste alongside me, and maybe TV.  I really want to be on "The Chew."

That's it for now - a pretty good start, methinks.  I wish you all the best with YOUR New Years' resolutions, and hope they include drinking more and better wine!  Cheers!