Saturday, May 22, 2021

Learning Spain - Aragon's Four Wine Regions: Carinena, Somontano, Calatayud, and Campo De Borja Through Eight Wines #WorldWineTravel

Al Gairen Selection Sommelier's Garnacha Blend from Carinena with a Grilled Steak
Spain will be opening up to US tourists in June for post COVID 19 pandemic travel. People, who are itching to resume wine tourism, for just a little bit longer, will continue to have a bit relief on the virtual #WorldWineTravel to Spain. Wendy Klik from A Day in the Life on a Farm invited the bloggers to explore the wine regions of Aragon, an underrated wine region that produces quality wines at  great price points. Although Aragon may not be everyone's top places to visit in Spain, there are many sight-seeing spots in the capital, Zaragoza and nearby towns to explore, plus the bonuses of its diverse wine and food scenes

Photo Credit:

Aragon, which is located in the northeast of Spain, consists of four wine DOs (Denominación de Origen): Carinena, Somontano, Campo de Borja, and Calatayud. The climate in Aragon wine region is considered as moderate continental, but changes drastically from one end to another because of the mesoclimates (i.e., in-between macroclimate and microclimate) created by the terrains around and in-between the Pyrenees mountains in the north and the Iberic mountains in the south. The eastward-flowing Ebro River and the large Ebro Valley area lie in the middle of Aragon, sandwiched by the mountains.

North: Pyrenees mountains, South: Iberic mountains, Middle: Ebro River and Ebro Valley; Photo Credit:
Although the temperature can drop drastically in the areas closer to the Pyrenees, the areas that are closer to the Monegros desert could have an unbearable heat spike. Given the wide range of grape-growing conditions attributed by the altitude spectrum, vineyards that are affected by the various mesoclimates, yield a diverse portfolio of wines in spite of all being under the overarching wine producing region, Aragon. The most typical grape in the region nowadays is Garnacha, due to market demand and strong adaptability of the grape to the local growing conditions. Other popular varieties grown in the region include Aragon-indigenous grapes like Carinena, Parraleta, Macabeo, Alcanan, Moscatel, as well as non-Aragon natives like Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Gewurztraminer. 


The majority of Carinena's vineyards are situated at relatively high altitudes, between 1,300ft and 2,600ft. The continental climate is coupled with extreme seasonal and daily temperature fluctuations - namely the the cold northerly winds and warmer summer temperatures. The climate builds intensity to the local grapes, especially the indigenous Carinena grape, which gives the name to the town. Garnacha, which is today's most flavored grape there, also expresses big flavor and intensity due to the landscape. Carinena is a black-skinned wine grape variety and has become a common grape for blending in other other Spanish wine regions like Rioja and Priorat or in France. While Carinena vines can usually produce very large yields, it’s somewhat vulnerable to damages caused by mildew and rot.  Wines produced from old vines of Carinena are of much higher quality than the ones made from young vines.  

Carinena grape clusters; Photo Credit:

Being in the mountain range, many mesoclimates emerge in Somontano due to the variation of altitudes. Vineyards that are located on high-altitude slopes benefit from intense summer daytime heat and low night-time temperatures, allowing their grapes to strike a balance of residual sugar and acidity. Vineyards at the foothills are cooled by winds traveling down from the mountains, but are also affected by the heat from the hot summer day temperatures that can climb up to 95 Fahrenheit. Unlike the rest of Aragon, Somontano is greener and lusher due to the more frequent and heavier rainfall and an abundance of rivers and creeks intertwined in the region. Enriched soils consists of clay, sandstone and reddish brown soil. Somontano is famed for rustic reds made of Moristel, Parraleta, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Syrah. Its whites, Gewurztraminer, Macabeo, and Chardonnay are also fancied by wine lovers.


The climate in Calatayud is continental, with extremely hot and dry summers. This effect, nevertheless, is moderated by the high altitude of vineyards that are situated on the south-facing slopes of the Sierra de la Virgen mountain range. Some of these vineyards reach 2625 ft above sea level. Frosts in extreme winters can set in for months, damaging the vines. Most vineyards sit on loose, rocky soils, and limestone, with naturally good drainage. Due to the harsh climate, yields are typically very low, which adds to the scarcity and quality of the wines. Calatayud is renowned for its big and bold red wines, mostly made from Garnacha grapes. Garnacha represents more than three-quarters of vineyard plantings in this region. Tempranillo and Mazuelo are the other main red varieties, while the region's fresh crisp whites are made of Macabeo, Malvasia and Chardonnay. The Garnacha-based rosado (rose) is also popular in this region.


Campo de Borja's altitude shapes the characteristics of the wines. Vineyards around Pozuelo de Aragon and Magallon, which are low-lying between 1150ft and 1500ft, have Garnacha ripened early and produce structured wines which have higher alcohol. Most of the vines, which are at middle-elevation between 1500ft and 1800ft, are planted on mild slopes with high exposure to the sun, producing juicier and intense wines. The highest vineyards, on the slopes of the Moncayo at elevations of up to 1800ft, are at the coolest climate, and produce wines that are delicate, leaner, and balanced. Rain is scarce throughout Campo de Borja. The vines are susceptive to damages from spring frosts and cold northerly winds. The soils of Campo de Borja, which all provide good drainage and nutrients to the vines, drive its wine styles. The low-lying areas have brown limestone soils. The middle areas' soils are made up of deposited stones and iron-rich clay. The highest elevations, in the Moncayo foothills, are rocky and rich in iron and lime. 


SRP: $10
Grape: red blend, mainly Garnacha 
Palate: Aromas of smoky wood, pencil lead, spice, lavender, black berries, structured, medium-bodied.  
Overall: a table wine that you get the best bang for your buck. It's ideal with a simple red-meat dish such as grilled steaks, beef stir-fried or cubed lamb skewer. 
SRP: $50
Grape: 60% Garnacha, 20% Vidadillo, and 20% Carinena, sourced from a single 100-year-old vineyard 
Palate: black cherry, cinnamon, clove, leather, black licorice, firm tannins, and bright acidity.
Overall: This is a serious red wine that will please a lot of wine lovers. 

SRP: $15
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: mineral, white pepper, lavender, and cherry, excellent depth and grip, and impeccable balance.
Overall: A serious wine at a bargain price 

SRP: $39
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: ripe black fruits, black licorice, smoky wood, and violets, full-bodied, concentrated, and opulent on the palate, a great long finish
Overall: A memorial wine that represents the bold reds of the region 
SRP: $12
Grape: Chardonnay
Palate: apple, peach, fennel, guava, passion fruit, with a tad minerality, fruity, and a long crisp clean finish.
Overall: A unique Chardonnay that pairs well with lightly spicy Asian dishes 

SRP: $16
Grape: Cab Sauvignon
Palate: dark berries, hint of vanilla, bright and vivid acidity despite of the vintage, toasty notes, medium tannins, long and persistent finish
Overall: A wine that goes well with aged cheese will be a crowd pleaser among red wine drinkers

SRP: $14
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: rich, abundance of raspberry, earthy, slightly smoky, a punctuating finish
Overall: A big and flavorful Grenache that goes well with meat stews

SRP: $24
Grape: Garnacha
Palate: cherry preserve, balsamic notes, cocoa and toasty flavors, oaky, rich, velvety, and balance
Overall: A great Grenache that expresses the style of wines from the region 

Let's travel with the rest of the #WorldWineTravel and see where in Aragon they are heading to 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

All Things #PureChablis with an Assortment of Seafood Snacks #Winophiles

2019 Vintage: Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis Vieilles Vignes, Domaine De La Cornasse La Chablis,
and Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis

What can sound better than pure Chablis in spring? Pure wines, imaginatively and visually, allow us to relate to white or rose wines that are crystal clear and clean. Chablis, which has prominent minerality and acidity, are the Chardonnays that are uniquely produced in Chablis, France. 'Pure' and 'Chablis', when combined, symbolizes a clean-start, a relaunch, and simply leaving the old and weighty behind. Jill Barth from L'OCCASION invited the French #winophiles bloggers to sip Chablis this spring and, I'm going to share some seafood snacks that will pair well with the #PureChablis 
2019 samples: Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis Vieilles Vignes, Domaine De La Cornasse La Chablis, and Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis.   
Chablis and Seafood Snacks Board


The Chablis wine region, which is famed around the world to produce unique Chardonnays, is in the northern part of the Burgundy region between Paris and Beaune, bordering the Champagne region in France. 
Photo Credit: Pure Chablis

There are four sub-appellations (AOCs), namely Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru in the wine region. Like all the regions of Burgundy, Chablis has a legally restrictive hierarchy that's driven by the quality of wines from the distinctive land and soil and scarcity of production. As a quick price reference point, a Chablis Grand Cru, the top-tier Chablis, retails for USD$65 or above, and a Premier Cru goes for around $45. A Petit Chablis or a Chablis averages $25 in retail.
Chablis Pyramid. Photo Credit: Pure Chablis


The Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2019 is produced on the flatter grounds with soils from the Upper Jurassic period (i.e., Kimmeridgean oil) for all their plots in Chablis. Their Petit Chablis is characterized by its purity, freshness, and minerality. The wine is aged in its natural lees for eight months in stainless steel tanks to preserve the purity and freshness before bottling in the Bernard Defaix Estate located in the village of Milly. Given the great structure, strength and thus cellaring potential, this Petit Chablis offers an excellent value for wines of this appellation. 
Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2019 (SRP$28) and Seafood Snacks


The Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2019 continues to speak to the unique terroir of Chablis and is a true expression of the soil. The Brocard, which is located in village of Préhy, is built atop the Chablis' famed Kimmeridgian soil, which was formed through the sediment of the sea during the Jurassic era. The visible seashells in rocks and grounds of Chablis are a perfect testimonial why the Brocard Chablis has the typicity of structure, minerality, power and complexity. The cool climate of Chablis produces Chardonnays with more acidity and less-fruity flavor than any other Chardonnays produced in warmer climates.

Location, location, location - the soil memory in vines is the heart and soul of Chablis. Photo Credit: Pure Chablis 

The Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis is lemony and white flowers on the nose. It has velvety and plump texture, and fuller body. There are notes of buttery macadamia nuts, apricot, and a long and saline finish. This is a vibrant Chablis that can go further than seafood - maybe a roasted chicken or a shepherd's pie in pairings!
Brocard Sainte Claire Chablis 2019 (SRP$25) - Certified Organic


An unusual early spring frost with sub-zero temperate has devastated some of France's vineyards in Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Champagne, and southeast regions in April this year. To deal with the unpredictability and adversity brought by Mother Nature, the Chablis vineyards have lit thousands of small fire in canisters to warm up the air surrounding the grapes at night. Some growers have sprayed water in the vineyards in the morning, creating an icy coating like small igloos over the grapes, in hope of protecting the crops. Some damages to this year's harvest is likely, but the extent of it is still unknown. One thing for sure remains is the resilience to countermeasure and bounce back.
Small fire was lit in Chablis vineyards as measures to fight the unexpected early spring frost. Photo Credit: Pure Chablis


Domaine de la Cornasse Chablis is an expressive wine that's rich and ripe with neutral oily and flower notes on the nose. As you are sipping the wine, the texture is weighty due to its slightly oily, and pronounced mineral and flint characters. The finish is long and saline, and has a lot of 'chews' to it. 
Domaine De La Cornasse Chablis 2019 (SRP$25)


To enjoy Chablis, the many ready-to-eat seafood snacks have come to my mind. The acidity of Chablis cuts through the oily fish or oyster and complements the saline taste of all these treats. Putting a seafood snack board together is pretty effortless. I did go to a couple grocery stores to acquire the snacks. 
Top left - right: smoky baby oysters, sardines in olive oil, inky calamares
Bottom left - right: fried small fish with roasted peanut, roasted eels, and fried small croakers

Another good news is that each snack costs around $3 to $4 so putting this snack board together to entertain crowds won't break the bank.
Seafood Snacks

Let's see what we've got here:
  • Roasted eels can be found in Asian grocery stores. It is roasted in rich Teriyaki sauce, sweet and salty but not too oily. One quick tip here...the eels are also perfect for making eel sushi at home. 
  • Sardines are one of my favorites to pair with the Chablis. They are lightly salty and have the strong fish taste to them, going particularly well with the lemony, green apple and seashell notes of all these Chablis. 
  • Smoked baby oysters are must-haves for the pairing as the smokiness brings out the 'fresh mushroom' element of a couple of these wines.
  • Inky calamares are an unusual find when I visited the Asian grocery store. I bet you can find them in regular grocery store as well.
  • The fried small croakers, found in Asian grocery stores, are super tasty with Chablis. Without much oil, the fish is crispy and seasoned with spicy salt. 
  • The small fried fish with roasted peanuts provide the nice crunchy texture to the board. 
Fried small croakers (left) and fried small fish with roasted peanut and chili flakes (left)

Disclosure: the wines in this post are samples. The ideas of the post are mine.

Check out other fellow #winophile bloggers' Chablis journey and find out what they pair the wines with...

My Amazon Picks

Friday, May 7, 2021

Drinking Serious Wine from Israel's Domaine du Castel and Eating Causal Israeli Food #WinePW

Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2016 and Shakshouka

The #WinePW bloggers are invited by Wendy Klik from A Day in the Life on the Farm to write about pairing Middle Eastern foods and wines in May. I'm particularly thrilled that this invitation makes me break the seal of the Domaine du Castel Grand Vin 2016 Jerusalem - Haute Judee, a high-end wine that I thought I should reserve for special occasions. While the wine is serious, I want to prepare some causal food that I identify with Israel. Let's have a disclaimer upfront. What I do here is not so much about precise pairing the wine to the food per se, but if you are like me, eating the food, drinking the wine, not necessarily side-by-side, and repeat the sequence, I bet you'd have a lot of fun too.


Castel Grand Vin is Domaine du Castel’s first red wine. It is produced from the winery's 40 hectares estate situated at Yad Hashmona, west of Jerusalem. It's located at the renowned mountainous Judean Hills appellation with an altitude of 700 meters.
Castel Grand Vin 2016 (SRP$79)
The grapes, planted in high density and for small yields, are hand-picked at harvest and, after fermentation, are aged in new French oak for 20 months. The wines are estate-bottled to ensure quality and compliance with kosher requirements. 2016 was a perfect vintage, "where everything came nicely together… weather, phenolic maturation and bud size", which is a Wine Advocate quote from Domaine du Castel's owner Eli-Gilbert Ben-Zaken. 
Castel Grand Vin 2016: Cabernet Sauvignon 74%, Merlot 15% and Petit Verdot 11%
The clean oak smell of the Castel Grand Vin 2016 encapsulates the nostrils of the nose, shortly opening up to the fragrance of cedar. The palate features a concentrated and complex bouquet of blackberries, spices, and Bing cherries. The velvety smoothness still allows the tannin to peek through, leaving an extraordinarily balanced and sophisticated red wine drinking experience to reckon with. The taste of the wine was lifted if it is aired for half an hour. What a memorable wine it is that needs a WSET systematic analysis! 
Castel Grand Vin 2016 extracted through a Coravin
Appearance: deep ruby color
Nose: clean oaky, cedar 
Palate: dry, subtle oaked, blackberries, Bing cherries, spices, earthy, medium-bodied, medium-high tannin, long finish with hints of graphite and Bing cherry
Conclusions: smooth, elegant 


When I want to go easy on the food prep but don't want to detour from the Israeli theme, I think about Shakshouka, Dolma, and Tahini sauce. 
Shakshouka is a dish that poaches the eggs in the tomato sauce, with added ingredients such as chopped onion, red bell pepper, garlic, parsley, and spices such as cumin, chili powder, chili flakes, and paprika.

Shakshouka Recipe


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 chopped red onion
  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flake
  • 3 eggs 

  1. Heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Stir and cook in the garlic, onion, red bell pepper, spices until the onion and pepper have softened and turned translucent.
  2. Add the crushed canned tomatoes in the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  3. Crack 3 eggs onto the simmering tomato stew and cook for another 10 minutes.
  4. Garnish with parsley and serve it with pita bread.

Castel Grand Vin and Dolmas

Trader Joe's Dolmas Vine Leaves Stuffed with Rice is my favorite dolmas as it's lemony but not overly harsh. The rice inside the dolmas is soft and juicy. Dolmas are the perfect finger food that retains their taste no matter how long they are left at the party table. 

Finally, I'm adding tahini (sesame seed paste) to my honey quick-oat smoothie for a cold dessert drink. The tahini sauce and blended oatmeal form a hearty drink that seems to help recover from hangover.

Tahini added to quick-oat smoothie

These Israeli foods may not pair side-by-side that cohesively with the wine. But if you follow the flow to have Shakshouka for breakfast, Dolmas for light lunch, tahini smooth for dessert, and intertwine Castel Grand Vin sipping in-between, I bet you'll have a super fun day of food and wine experience...anywhere you are.

For more Middle Eastern food and wine pairings, check out my #WinePW friends' blogs: