With a French Twist: The Wines of Alta Vista and Altamana

Patrick d'Aulan and Mattieu GrassinDel Frisco’s in Chicago was the setting for my luncheon with two most interesting gentlemen: Patrick d’Aulan, owner of Alta Vista and Altamana wineries in Argentina and Chile respectfully, and Matthieu Grassin, Director of Winemaking at Alta Vista. Along with Erin Draper, District Manager at Kobrand Wine and Spirits, and another writer, I relished this opportunity to learn more about these born and bred Frenchmen and the two wineries that are consistently producing award winning wines. And naturally I was enticed by those seven wines sitting predominantly on the table!

Patrick d’Aulan, humble and approachable, is from a family that produced wine for 150 years in France and until 1989 owned the famed Champagne house, Piper Heidsieck. Although his father had been producing sparkling wine in Argentina, Patrick felt the need to “do something different…with a challenge.” After traveling the globe in search of a premium locale for winemaking, in 1998 he founded Alta Vista now recognized as one of Argentina’s top producers. Situated between 3200 and 3609 feet in elevation, the vineyards are located in Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo where some of the finest wines in Mendoza are cultivated. In 2001, d’Aulan pioneered the creation of single vineyard Malbec at Alta Vista; they are now “considered to be benchmarks of Mendoza’s old Malbec terroir wines.” Alta Vista’s Torrontes is from Cafayate in Salta where vineyards are the highest in the world, between 6560 and 7550 feet in elevation. All vineyards feature ungrafted, original root stocks and grapes are handpicked.

In 2012, after extensive research, Altamana was founded in the historic wine region of Maule, Chile. d’Aulan’s goal in this endeavor was to “resurrect century old Malbec vines planted by the pioneers of the Chilean wine industry” who brought the vines from France when they emigrated. Located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, vines thrive with a coastal influence that lends protection from excessive heat during the day and offers cool temperatures at night. Altamana is the “first Chilean winery of French pioneers specializing in south Chilean historical Malbec.” The unique 100% Malbec single vineyard wines from Altamana truly reflect the terroir of southern Chile; old vines with low yields provide quality fruit. Patrick d’Aulan feels that both Alta Vista and Altamana are in locations “gifted with nature” and I encourage you to check out their websites for more information.

Assisting Patrick d’Aulan at Alta Vista is Matthieu Grassin who has been the winemaker since 2007. After having studied Agronomist Engineering with specialization in viticulture and enology in Angers, France, Grassin arrived in Argentina ins 2000 to work on his thesis, Terroir Effect in Mendoza. He subsequently received a master’s degree in viticulture and enology from the University of Cuyo, Argentina.

Gregarious and enthusiastic about the viticultural process, their “Terroir Management” system, and the wines produced at Alta Vista, Grassin was excited to share (from his smartphone!) infrared photographs used to make detailed maps of the various vineyards. The information from the maps assist Grassin and the winemaking team in adapting growing methods and harvest dates specific to each vineyard. The team at Alta Vista has made a strong commitment to sustainability in viticulture and winemaking practices and both d’Aulin and Grassin agreed that technology is of paramount importance in this mission.

Wines from Alta Vista and Altamana
As we were learning about the regions and wineries while enjoying our delicious lunch, the wines were poured. Our first, Alta Vista’s Torrontes 2012, was aromatic, crisp and refreshing with a creamy mouthfeel and complexity (in my opinion, not often found in Torrontes) thanks to having been aged on the lees for three months and three months in the bottle. Next the full bodied Terroir Selection Malbec 2009, was a blend from four vineyards, offering ripe red fruit aromas on the nose and palate with food friendly acidity, balance, and a perfectly satisfying finish. These selections were a lovely way to continue the conversation…

Tastings of the others followed with two single vineyard Malbecs from Alta Vista. The first was the Single Vineyard Malbec Serenade 2011, round and rich that displayed ripe, red fruit aromas and earthy, almost meaty notes on the palate woven with chewy tannins. The Single Vineyard Malbec Temis 2009 was aged in new French oak for twelve months and six months in the bottle. I found spice, fresh fruit, and balance leading to a lingering finish.

Our final wine from Alta Vista was Alto 2007, a blend of 70% Malbec and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. High quality grapes from small vineyards with low yields were aged for fourteen months in new French oak and at least twelve months in the bottle. I loved the elegance and complexity of this wine; its black fruit aromas and flavors of cocoa, spice, and more juicy fruit were absolutely mesmerizing…as were its silky smooth tannins and brilliant, lasting finish.

Having never tried wines from the Maule region of Chile, I looked forward to tasting those with limited production from Altamana. Dry farmed, Single Vineyard Constanza Old Vine Malbec 2012, was complex all the way from the nose to the rich, long finish. This wine with its dark cherries, fresh picked blackberries, and sweet spice was incredibly balanced with a fruit forward yet dense profile. Finally, the Grande Reserve Old Vine Malbec 2013, was intense in the glass and on the palate. Aged in French oak for nine months, the Grande Reserve is unfined and unfiltered in order to maintain its unique character. I found notes of red berries with integrated tannins and a rich finish…a delicious example of a wine from this historic region.

Altamana Grande Reserve Old Vine Malbec 2013

And the French twist? After having spent two hours chatting about and tasting wine with Patrick and Matthieu it would appear that their French expertise in wine coupled with the unique terroirs of Argentina and Chile result in a memorable, delicious, and award winning pairing. 

Cheers~ Cindy

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Wine Quiz: The People Behind the Wines

It’s time for a wine quiz! My last quiz focused on food and wine pairings  written about on Grape Experiences. But this is different.  The simple multiple choice test of your knowledge focuses on winemakers, winery owners, and others profiled on the site in the last few months.  Need help?  The number before each question is linked to the full article where you can find the correct name and even more information about these interesting people.  The answers are under the last picture.  Good luck!

Wine Quiz

1.  Who, from Château Gruaud LaRose in Bordeaux, was the Guest of Honor at the Chicago Lyric Opera’s Wine Auction 2015?

a.  David Launay     b.  Julien Moreau     c.  Simone Bellevue     d.  Benoit Walter

2.  Who is the winemaker at Cooper’s Hawk Winery?

a.  Richard Thomas     b.  Bob James     c.  Rob Warren     d.  Wesley Rooney

3. Now retired, who do I consider the Renaissance Man from Bouchaine Vineyards in Napa?

a.  Matthew Newport     b.  Michael Richmond     c.  Samuel Young     d.  Patrick Henderson

4. Who is a member of the fifth generation of a winemaking family in California that is continuing the family legacy as well as being mindful of the wine lover?

a.  Anthony Scotto III     b.  Paolo Benedetto II     c.  Dominic Bucaro     d.  James Brandonisio

5. Who, along with his brother in law, is the owner of Uncorked Ventures, a wine club offering high quality wines from boutique wineries?

a.  Bob Arthurs     b.  Lawrence Schmidt     c.  Jeffrey Pederson     d.  Mark Aselstine

6.  His winery engages in dry farming and other sustainable, organic, and biodynamic methods in Chile.

a.  David Hess     b.  Aurelio Montes     c.  Pepe Tomassino     d.  Luis Salvatore

7.  Who is the winemaker originally from Burgundy and currently at Oregon’s Van Duzer Vineyards?

a.  Martin Adams     b.  Antoine DuVal     c.  Charles Rouen      d.  Florent Merlier

8. Who has helped make the wines of Bodegas Emilio Moro in Spain one of that country’s most loved?

a.  Roberto Alvarado     b.  Peter Chavez     c.  José Moro     d.  Vincent Ferrer

Wine Quiz

1. a     2. c     3. b     4. a     5. d     6. b     7. d     8. c

Cheers! ~ Cindy

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José Moro of Bodegas Emilio Moro: Reaching the Pinnacle

josemoro“The idea of wine is to reach the pinnacle of winemaking”, stated José Moro of Bodegas Emilio Moro winery.   Located in Pesquera del Ribera in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain, Emilio Moro wines have consistently received 90 points and higher from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Wine and Spirits, and Wine Advocate.  During a recent Twitter chat, enthusiastic wine bloggers were introduced to José Moro and his wines.  Each invited participant received three bottles to sample, share tasting notes, and learn more about this interesting man and Emilio Moro winery.  And what did he mean about the “pinnacle of winemaking”?  Read on.

José Moro is from a family that has been making wine for three generations.  As a child, Moro and his brother accompanied their father in the vineyards and cellars to engage in the daily winemaking process.  He feels that “the education that my father gave me is my inspiration and my passion-it has been my whole life.” After attending university, he returned to the family’s vineyards and entered the world of commercialized distribution. By 1988 José Moro invested in the family wine cellars “to produce wines from the unique Moro family clone of Tempranillo”, thus establishing the brand, Emilio Moro, now one of the most prominent in Spain.

On each wine label is a family photograph, a clear indication of tradition that is of paramount importance.  Yet Moro explained that innovation is essential.  The brand has research partnerships with universities; winemakers are consistently striving to excel in their knowledge of the land, the vines, and the process of winemaking so that each wine clearly expresses the terroir “and the best of Pesquera del Duero”.  With the 2008 inception of the Emilio Moro Foundation, the winery engages in social responsibility and gives 100% of its proceeds from their Clon de la Familia wine to charity.  The Moro family is active in charities related to art, “wine for water” initiatives, and more.

The wines sent to me for the Twitter chat and reviewed below are 100% Tinto Fino and reflect the distinct terroir of Ribera del Duera.  Located at the highest altitude in Spain, the combination of contrasting diurnal temperatures and soil variations (chalk, rock, and clay) offer special qualities to these wines.  The Tempranillo grape, especially the Emilio Moro family’s clone, has “amazing potential for longevity, complexity, and potential in the region”, stated José Moro.  He believes “Tempranillo to be such a noble grape that we have chosen to work only with this variety.”

Named after the historic vineyard planted in 1932, the year of Emilio Moro’s birth, Finca Resalso 2014, our first wine, was fresh and young with aromas of intense red fruits.  From the youngest vines, 5 to 12 years, this wine was aged for four months in American and French oak.  On the palate, notes of mulberry, raspberry, licorice, spice and minerality were balanced with medium acidity and integrated tannins.  Mellow and tender, this easy drinking wine had a perfectly satisfying, long finish.  Pair the Finca Resalso 2014 with tapas, jamon, or chorizo. Cost is $14.99.

Emilio Moro Finca Resalso 2014
The Emilio Moro 2012, named after its creator, is a blend of barrels aged in American and French oak for twelve months.  Tinto Fino grapes were harvested from 12 to 25 year old vines planted on chalky soil.  Rich aromatics with depth and intensity led to luscious tastes of ripe black fruit, spice, and minerality, which Moro feels is “the soul of the wine”.  This wine was absolutely lovely. Cost is $24.99.

Emilio Moro 2012
Our last wine, Malleolus 2011, is from vines between 25 and 75 years old in their oldest vineyards. The word “Malleolus” means majeulo, or small vineyard, and refers to the vineyards in Pesquera de Duero.  José Moro shared that this wine exhibits the “most authentic quality of our wines” with character and personality.  Serious aromas of earth, spice, balsam, and black fruit were intense in the glass.  On the palate, I found more intense fruit, body and balance, tannic character and elegant acidity, complexity and expression.  Featuring a picture of José Moro’s father, this excellent wine is $44.99.

Malleolus 2011

The phrase “pinnacle of winemaking” to some may indicate, simply, the ability to produce an outstanding wine.  But I’m thinking that José Moro defines the “pinnacle of winemaking” as not only creating wine from the family’s unique clone that reflects the terroir, but engaging in authentic innovation and social responsibility.  In his words, “we believe our wine, like life, to be a full experience.”

Cheers! ~ Cindy


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Under $20 Wines from France and Argentina

red and white wineAs I talk to friends both old and new, young and “mature”, they share the same plea: help us find affordable, delicious wine. These wine lovers are like you and me.  We love to sip and savor wine with good friends, while reading a book or cooking a meal, when lounging by the pool, or while chatting with neighbors across the fence.  We like to have a nice bottle of wine at the ready when friends drop by unexpectedly or when a lovely dinner is planned.  And we simply don’t want to spend a fortune unless that wine is “really good”!  This week I have the pleasure of recommending a white blend from the Cote du Rhone and a Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina, both under $20 and lovely to drink at any occasion.  Enjoy!

2013 Les Dauphins Reserve White Cotes du Rhone – Just as memorable as the label on the bottle is this wine, a delightful white blend of 65% Grenache, 15% Marsanne, 10% Clairette, and 10% Viognier from the Cote du Rhone in the Rhone Valley.  With appealing, almost transluscent color of straw in the glass, fresh and light aromas of stone fruit, herbs and flowers led me down the the path to tastes of citrus and melon with bright acidity and zesty minerality. You may want to pair the Les Dauphins Reserve with fresh fish, a savory cheese platter, or the traditional bistro dish, croque monsieur.  Cost is $13.

Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Reserve
2012 Trivento Amado Sur Malbec – From Mendoza, Argentina, the 2012 Amador Sur is 70% Malbec, 18% Bonarda, and 12% Syrah, a delicious combination if you haven’t yet tried it.  In the glass, the Malbec, tempered with small amounts of Bonarda and Syrah, was a rich, dark color of purple ink.  Aromas of red fruit, vanilla, chocolate, moss and earth enticed me to have that first sip.  On the palate I found plenty of sweet spice, red cherries and dark chocolate. Balanced with integrated tannins, medium acidity, and a pleasant finish with lingering notes of vanilla, this wine is a steal for $15.00.  Pair the Amado Sur Malbec with any selection coming off your grill.

Amado Sur Malbec 2012

Let the weekend begin!!


Cheers~ Cindy

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Celebrate Bastille Day with Wines from the Centre-Loire

Bastille DayThe summer I spent as an exchange student in Paris was incroyable;  I visited my first French wine country, the Loire Valley, and watched the Bastille Day parade in the City of Light. You can probably guess what my July 14 tradition is…pop the cork of a wine from the Loire Valley and celebrate all things French!

How timely that I attended a Master Class Seminar at Kinmont Restaurant in Chicago just weeks before Bastille Day.  The Centre-Loire Wine Board gathered sommeliers, distributors, importers, and wine writers for an educational presentation, luncheon, and tasting of ten wines from the region led by Benoit Roumet, Director.   What a wonderful day spent learning while sipping and savoring such special wines along with delicious fare.

Roumet reminded us that the Loire Valley includes four regions: Nantes, Anjou and Saumur, Touraine, and Centre-Loire, each producing wines specific to their terroir, which is, in my opinion, the foundation of each wine’s profile.  You may find aromatic, crisp Melon de Bourgogne, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc, fruit forward Pinot Noir and Gamay, earthy Cabernet Franc and Côt, or rosé from Cabernet Franc, Grolleau, and more from this expansive, beautiful region of France.

Loire Valley wine regions map
But Roumet  was invited to walk us through the vineyards of the Centre-Loire  located in the geographical center of France.  He shared that the Centre-Loire is the “most extensive, diversified, most original vineyards of France.” It is the home of Sauvignon Blanc produced in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, areas that “set the international standard for the grape”. Wonderful examples of Sauvignon Blanc are found in the other areas of the Centre-Loire, too, such as Menetou-Salon, Quincy, Reuilly, and Coteaux de Giennois.  Delicious reds and rosé from Pinot Noir are produced in Sancerre, Menetou-Salon and Reuilly while Coteaux du Giennois and Chateaumeillant produce reds and rosés from Pinot Gris, Gamay and Pinot Noir blend.  Rarely is oak used resulting in wines with a fresh, crisp profile and mouthwatering acidity. Confused?  Refer to the website of the Centre-Loire, check out the map below, find your nearest wine shop, and begin tasting!! And read on…

Centre-Loire wine regions map
To help make learning about the Central-Loire a bit easier, following are a few facts (I know someone will be interested in the climate and soil due to their impact on the wines) that may give you more insight into this fascinating area and will guide you to making choices for the perfect addition to your next dinner party, casual gathering on the porch, or pre-dinner sipping while you create the loveliest of French dishes for Bastille Day.

*All areas of the Central-Loire are located in a climate zone with continental characteristics of cold winters and hot summers; some areas are more temperate than others.  Rainfall averages around 32 inches per year yet there is a relatively dry growing period.  Frost is a threat in some areas.

*Soils consist of clay, flint, limestone, schist, white chalk, marl, sand, gravel, Kimmeridgian clay or a combination.  Vineyards in the eastern most region are atop soils from the Jurassic period; oyster traces are found.

*White Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc, remember?) pairs well with goat cheese, shellfish, and sushi, reds (Pinot Noir) pair with grilled salmon, roast chicken, and savory mushroom pizza, and a rosé pairs with charcuterie and a Nicoise salad with anchovies and more.

*Pouilly Fumé/Pouilly-Sur-Loire produce white wines of Sauvignon Blanc only.  Blanc Fumé is the local name for Sauvignon Blanc.  Fumé is French for smoke; there are smoky notes found in aromas of wine from flinty soil found in the area.  Pair the interesting wines from Pouilly Fumé with grilled fish, grilled scallops, roast pork, goat and Edam cheeses and those from Pouilly-Sur-Loire with fried shrimp, charcuterie, and pasta salads.

*Located directly southwest of Sancerre is Menetou-Salon, a small area which has seen growth in the last twenty years and produces reds, whites, and rosés.  A white will be lovely with a potato-goat cheese tart, a rosé with ceviche, and a red from Menetou-Salon will be that much more luscious with roast chicken with shitake mushroom sauce.

*Quincy was the first appellation created in the Loire, after Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  This region produces only white wines exclusively from Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp whites from Quincy pair well with spaghetti carbonara or whole fish with potatoes and thyme.

*Known for its refreshing Sauvignon Blanc is Reuilly which also produces reds from Pinot Noir and rosés from Pinot Gris.   Pair a white with a fried fish sandwich, a red with grilled vegetable pasta with cumin or a rosé with a Boston lettuce salad with mint and garlic dressing.

*Coteaux du Giennois, found at the eastern edge of the Loire Valley, northeast of Sancerre, produces white and red wines with a small amount of dry rosés.  Delicious pairings include asparagus with goat cheese sauce with a white, mixed mushroom stroganoff with a red, and Thai spare ribs with a rosé.

*Vines have been grown in tiny Châteaumeillant since the 5th century but it was granted AOC status in 2010.  Specializing in reds and rosés, you may pair a red with salmon steak with red wine butter and a rosé with grilled shrimp with chili, cilantro, and lime.

If you aren’t yet salivating for a glass of wine from the Centre-Loire paired with one of the incredible dishes, perhaps you will after reading this!  The Kinmont created a delectable three course luncheon to pair with ten wines from the region.  After the amuse bouche of bright, fresh raw oysters, we were treated to a smooth lobster burrata salad with sweet miso vinaigrette, savory linguini and clams with mussels, prawns, scallops, and uni butter, then rich roasted pheasant with bone marrow stuffing, black truffle-confit, and pheasant risotto.

Central-Loire at the Kinmont
If you are ready to start tasting wines from the Central-Loire, you may want to try a few of my favorites from that lovely day at the Kinmont.  If you can’t find any of these choices, ask the expert at your wine shop to suggest wines from that area that are similar. And have a fabulous Bastille Day!

Domaine Delaporte “Cul de Beaujeu” Sancerre Rouge 2012 – 100% Pinot Noir with light, cherry aromas and earth, herbs, cherry, and spice on the palate leading to a long finish.

Domaine de Reuilly, Pinot Gris Rosé 2014 – Light in color, tart, light citrus were apparent on the nose and palate. This was a fabulous pairing with the raw oysters.

Sylvain Bailly, Quincy Beaucharme 2014 – Subtle aromas of grapefruit and citrus with bright acidity on the palate was a “wow” pairing with the mussels, prawns, scallops and uni butter.

Domaine Cherrier, Sancerre 2014 – Grassy, grapefruity, and tart with mouthwatering acidity, herbal notes, and a long finish, I could drink this fabulous wine on any occasion!

Chavet Fils Menetou Salon, Exception Blanc 2012 – I loved the herbs on the nose and palate.  Combined with flint like minerality and a lasting finish, I can’t wait to find this wine in my neighborhood wine shop.

Centre-Loire wines

Cheers to wine from the Centre-Loire ~ Cindy






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One Response to “Celebrate Bastille Day with Wines from the Centre-Loire”
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  1. Wow, how exciting to have been in France for Bastille Day. I love being in a particular area when they are celebrating something special. To be able to be part of that is so amazing. And thank you for adding the terroir information, I was very much interested in it!

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