Asheville’s Best Free Wine Tasting
Menade Rueda Verdejo
Rueda is experiencing an identity crisis. At home in Spain, and abroad it has earned a reputation for cheap, crisp and somewhat neutral white wine – the Marlborough SB of the Iberian peninsula. This reality has resulted in industrial farming practices, frightfully high yields, and the removal of old bush vine Verdejo in favor of Sauvignon Blanc planted so it can be harvested by machine. There is precious little risk taking or innovation as the appellation seems intent on driving prices down along with its reputation.
The cliché that states that it is always darkest before the dawn may be an overstatement in regards to Rueda but there are some glimmers of hope as a younger generation begins the hard word of restoring the reputation of Rueda. One such project is Menade.
Three Sanz siblings are behind Menade: Marco, the viticulturalist, Richard, the winemarker and Alejandra, who manages sales and communications. If the Sanz name sounds familiar it is because one cannot throw a bunch of grapes in Rueda without hitting a winemaker named, or related to this large, extended family. Marco, Richard and Alejandra are not content to rest on anyone’s laurels however, nor are the interested in what Rueda has become, rather they are driven by what it is capable of becoming. To this end, Marco has converted the property to organic farming, and Richard has traveled all around the world learning his trade – an experience which has taught him that the future of Rueda lies in championing the indigenous Verdejo grape, the necessity of old vines and the importance of natural yeast fermentations to create complex and satisfying wines.
The decision to convert to organic farming at Menade was made with the understanding that it resulted in better wines by reducing yields. With greater competition for resources (primarily water and nitrogen) the vines responded by setting smaller clusters with smaller berries – high in natural anti-oxidants and native yeasts. The quality of the fruit at Menade has allowed Richard to dispense with SO2 during fermentation allowing the indigenous yeasts to do their thing with the wine being protected from oxidation by a layer of natural and recycled CO2.
Menade farms 160 hectares of vines in Rueda located mainly in the northern part of the DO near the Duero river. Of this, 120 are planted with Verdejo including an ancient, ungrafted, 30 hectare parcel of bush vines. The soils are sandy clay, with a high chalk content, and topped with gravel. Their newer plantations of Verdejo are between 20–30 years old and were selected for their clonal diversity and ability to adapt to organic farming.
In addition to their green-label Verdejo, made with a blend of young and old vine fruit, Menade also is experimenting with making and bottling wine entirely without added SO2, called Nosso (no sulfur.) The obsession with native yeasts and fermentation has also carried over to brewing with a Pale Ale called La Burra – as crisp, complex and refreshing as their wines.
Dominico Negro Unfiltered Arneis
A historically significant winery whose origins date back to 1670. In this year, two of the estate’s most important vineyards—Perdaudin and Prachiosso—were first planted. With some of the most desired vineyard sites in Roero, Negro is one of the indisputable legends of the region. Giovanni Negro, the estate’s present owner, produced the first dry Roero Arneis on record in 1971. Following tradition, the winery in Monteu Roero now boasts a stunning lineup of Arneis as well as an impressive range of Roero Nebbiolo. Today, Negro observes organic practices while managing a staggering 64 hectares.
Pale yellow color with green reflections attenuated by veiling due to the presence of natural yeasts.
Bouquet is characterized by a pleasant hint of peach that merging with lychees leaves room for a fresh hint of grapefruit. Palate has a attack immediately full and voluminous, well supported by
a pleasant sour note, reminiscent of the yellow apple. Important mineral notes, typical expression of the Roero land
Espelt Corali Rosado
Warm, sunny places where mountains meet the sea are always popular holiday destinations for the sun-starved, northern tourists who flock to the beaches of the Costa Brava for their yearly dose of vitamin-D and fresh seafood. The local DO supplies many of them with plenty of lubrication in the form of abundant, inexpensive and simple wine of a pinkish hue that matches their sun-burned skin. Like many destination DOs, the quality of the wine is in inverse proportion to the number of hotel bookings so there are few truly remarkable estates. Those farming steep hillsides in the back-country and focusing on indigenous varieties are usually the best bet.
One such property is owned by the Espelt family, who for centuries have grown grapes in Empordà. In the early 2000s they built a cellar and began bottling wines under their name. Headed Anna Espelt, the inheritor of generations of grape growers in Empordà, the farming is certified organic by ECOCERT, not only because it makes better wines, but because the vineyards are located on a mix of sandy granite, limestone and slate in and around several nature preserves in the area. Indigenous varieties and styles are promoted at Espelt from their fresh, crisp whites to their mineral and spicy reds before finishing on a pair of delectable fortified wines.
The vineyards at Espelt are planted in four uniquely different sites from the foothills of the Pyrenees to near the coast of the Mediterranean. At the highest elevation is Rabós, nestled in the mountains northwest of the winery. Here, on slate soils, Anna farms mainly old-vine Carinyena with a small amount of Lledonner which producer dense and powerful wines. Near the cellar are two sites called the Mountain and the Plain, or Pla. The Mountain is a young vineyard planted by Anna between 1998 and 2002 as part of her master’s thesis in viticulture. Long abandoned this granitic site in the hills behind the cellar was re-terraced and reclaimed by Anna who planted Syrah, Garnatxa, Mourvedre and Carinyena there. A short distance away is Pla which surrounds the cellar. This was the original vineyard on which Espelt was founded, and where they grow Garnatxa Blanca, Garnatxa and Macabeu. Finally there is Mas Marés, which as the name would suggest, is located close to the coast of the Mediterranean. Encircled by the Cap de Creus National Park, Mas Marés was where Anna first experimented with organic farming practices and where the combination of farming, granitic soils and thermal breezes from the Mediterranean make for fresh, lively and elegant wines.
Coming from the vineyards surrounding the cellars, Coralí comes from Garnatxa Negra, locally known as Ledoner, grown on sandy, granitic soils. After a short maceration of 5 hours the wine is pressed resulting in a delicate salmon color with aromas and flavors of roses and red-berries.
Gravel Bar Winery Cabernet Sauvignon
For more than twenty centuries, torrential floodwaters from melting ice-age glaciers sculpted eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley leaving in their wake deep deposite of sandy, rocky, alluvial soils. Today, framing the Columbia River, broad plains of ancient sediment constitute one of the world’s finest wine grape growing regions. This Cabernet is delicious with flavors of black cherry flambé, mocha, mushroom, and plum. The finish is subtle and elegant, complex and concentrated.
*tasting free with purchase of $10 or more per guest