Category Archives: wines

Women In Wine: An Interview With Maria Elena Jimenez from Pares Balta in Penedes

I didn’t post this on a Friday so I am reposting to keep in line with my women in wine series. Enjoy the holiday weekend and remember to think about what Memorial Day actually means, Say hello and thank you to a sailor if in NYC during Fleet Week.



Today I am posting an online conversation I had with Maria Elena Jimenez, one of the winemakers at Pares Balta.

1. How did you get into the wine business?

Although it may seem sappy, love was the reason for everything. My husband, by then just my boyfriend, was the one to introduce me to wine and make me fall in love with wine along with him. I am a chemical engineer, and in those days working as a consultant, when my husband proposed me to return to the university to study enology in order to work together in the family business.
And all the tiny pieces began to fall in its right place after that, wine , love, family, children, passion till reaching the point where I am nowadays, managing the cellar altogether with Marta

2. What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in…

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Filed under Memorable Events, Penedes, spain, wines, Women in Wine, Women in Wine Fridays

Wine Wednesday: Domain Pushang Marselan, Ningxia (China)

Last summer I had the good fortune to attend a seminar on wines from Ningxia, China’s premier wine region. The seminar was taught by Houghton Lee and Tommy Lam, wine educators. They were fascinating, informative and prepared with a 60-slide presentation. Houghton is the Hong Kong Liaison for the Society of Wine Educators and Tommy has the same title for China. This was my first real foray into Chinese wines. Apparently Ningxia is a young and dynamic region. There are roughly 6.3 million people in the region which they compared to the state of Tennessee. They also mentioned the Hui minority group, a Muslim community as making up 1/3 of the area and that it is 25,000 square miles or about the size of West Virginia. They point out that Ningxia, like France and Italy is between the 30th and 50th parallels. China has begun producing a lot of wine but their drinking per capita has not changed all that much.

China is a very ancient wine producing country. In fact, the title of their seminar was “Old World or New World or Unique.” In 15BC, the Qin Dynasty emperor built an advanced irrigation network in the Helan Mountain foothills. During the years 620-900 AD, there were vineyards in the Tang dynasty. However, the first international varieties were brought to Ningxia’s Yuquanying Farm. In 2003, the first Geographical Indication Protection (GIP) status was approved for Helan Mountain East Foothills. There are five subregions in the GIP and one additional subregion in Ningxia for a total of 6 subregions.

David E Henderson began Dragon’s Hollow winery in Helan Mountain in 2003 and in 2011, the Jiabeilan Grand Reserve 2009 won the International Trophy for Red Bordeaux Varietals at Decanter World Wine Award. These two dates are pretty significant for the Chinese wine community and I heard the same facts this past week when attending another seminar on Chinese wines in New York City. There were 100 wineries operating last summer.

Apparently wine tourism is a huge business in China and chateaux are being created specifically to host tourists.

In terms of the topography in Ningxia, Houghton said that “the whole country is like steps going down from west to east and suggested looking at the direction of yellow river. The river flows North rather than South. The Helan Mountains are also a huge factor in the area as they block the harsh and cold winds. The highest peak in the mountain chain is 3556m (11,666ft) and the range extends for 200 km (138mi). Most of the vineyards in the area are located at very high altitudes, 3600ft-4260ft (1100-1300m). According to Houghton’s presentation, this puts the range somewhere between Valle d’Aosta and Rioja Alavesa in terms of altitude of vineyards. The climate is dry continental and the soils are alluvial fans or a gravel, sand and clay texture from the mountains. There are more stones as vineyards get closer to the mountains. Frost is an issue both early and late in the season. The area is very arid although they do have a short rainy or Monsoon season.

The Helan mountain range also has 30 or so passes and these allow currents of air to get through to the vineyards thereby created notable thermal excursion, hot desert air during the day and cooler temperatures at night.

In terms of the grapes, they have a host of international varieties planted as one might expect and also a couple of Chinese varieties: Bei Mei and Bei Hung which I had never heard of before. They are the local hybrid of Muscat Hamburg and Vitis Amurensis – both are cold-resistant. Interestingly, they grow also grow Marselan, a red French wine grape variety that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache created in the 1960s that you usually see in the Languedoc in France and in a few other places such as California and in Girona, Spain. I used to work with a producer who makes wines with Marselan. I am a fan and that is why today’s wine of the week is Marselan driven.

One of the most fascinating aspects of viticulture in this area is the practice of “banking” or burying the vines to protect them from the harsh cold. It can be -7oF (-22oC) in January. They bury the vines in October-November and unearth them in March-April. They also bury them to prevent dehydration. The practice of burying the vines also leads to different trellising techniques. They use something called a single Dragon backbone and a Chang system which looks like one of the Chinese characters or an inclined Cordon de Royat which is said to give growers flexibility in terms of height and canopy placement.

The whole area is a very complex and somewhat inhospitable so those who work that land seemed to have a pioneering attitude, sort of like the one from Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come…

My wine of the week, Domain Pushang Marselan 2014 is made from 90% Marselan and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It ages in oak, 30% American and 70% second use barrels for 12 months. They make 40,000 bottles and have 16 acres. Their first vintage was 2013. The winery is owned by a young couple and is in the subregion of Yinchuan The wife is the enologist. Surprisingly, at least to me, a lot of the winemakers were women at the wineries and at the winery I was introduced to last week as well. This was quite unexpected. I have in my notes that the wine had black and red fruit, pepper, juicy tannins, minerality and a rich, full finish.

I also liked another wine at the tasting from Kanaan winery Pretty Pony 2013 that was 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot with aging in French and Hungarian oak. That one had a lot of eucalyptus prazyne and oak notes.

The wine from Jiabeilan was also interesting and elegant. Made by another female winemaker, Helen Zhang, also made in the subregion of Yinchuan, it was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot (40%). Black and red fruits, oak, pepper, dusty undertones and chocolate lifted off the palate. Acidity and alcohol were also nicely balanced.

Gaoyuan Silver Heights also had a female winemaker, Emma Gao. Also from the subregion of Yinchuan, it was a Cabernet/Merlot blend, 65%, 35%. It was the first of the wines to show a floral note

For longer and more complete tasting notes on all of the wines, please read these two posts I found while looking for the winery’s website: on Vintrinsic by Roger C. Bohmrich MW and by Dwight Furrow at Food and Wine Aesthetics. A real treat, I am happy to have revisited this tasting today.

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Filed under China, Society of Wine Educators Conference Seminars, Wine of the Week, Wine Wednesday, wines

Remembering Giovanni Falcone

Giovanni Falcone

Every year May 23 is a day that I mark in some way. It is the anniversary of the murder of a famous judge in Italy named Giovanni Falcone. His picture is on my refrigerator along with those of my family and Bruce Springsteen. Falcone was a hero in my world, a crusader for justice. He was also a man who was murdered with his wife and members of his “scorta” or protection detail by the Mafia. He was someone who was trying to do the right thing and make living in all parts of Italy, a country I love, better and freer for all. It’s hard to believe it has been 25 years since his death, an event I remember perfectly.

Anti-Mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone was murdered together with his wife Francesca Morvillo and three of his bodyguards on May 23, 1992. It was a day I will never forget. My boyfriend and I lived in a cute apartment in Florence near the Boboli gardens.

I had moved to Florence the summer before. My Italian wasn’t great at that point and I learned it partly through reading the newspaper, specifically stories about the Mafia and the heroic judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who fought to put the bosses and their cohorts in jail. I was and remain fascinated by Italian politics and the struggles that went on.

The day Falcone was murdered I remember feeling ill and shocked. They blew up a entire part of the highway in what came to be known as the “Strage di Capaci” or the rampage at Capaci. Paolo Borsellino was murdered in front of his mother’s home on July 19, 1992, just two months later.

I can’t believe so much time has gone by. Those responsible for these murders have been arrested long ago but the work those judges began continues today. Falcone and Borsellino’s murders will forever remain ingrained in my mind.

I am happy to see that a very important priest Don Ciotti and an organization he works with has been able to confiscate much property from the Mafia. It is part of an association called “Libera” or free.

I had first noticed these products when shopping in a store in Milan that I love called “Altromercato.” They sell a host of things using rules of fair trade.

It’s one of my favorite stores and an obligatory stop on all my Italian trips. A number of my friends have gotten wedding gifts there and the proceeds always go to things I believe in. I often buy products there too and found this wine called Centopassi.

Centopassi was the name of a movie I saw many years ago about the life of a young political activist and radio host called Peppino Impastato. Peppino was murdered by a Mafia boss.

Apparently, centopassi was the number of steps between Peppino’s home and that of the boss that killed him. It is a reference to how difficult it is to fight your neighbors and how entrenched the Mafia is in Italy. The wines made from lands confiscated from the Mafia are called the Centopassi line. They are dedicated to victims of the Mafia, among them Pio La Torre, Peppino Impastato, and Placido Rizzoto.

This catarratto that I tried was a nice wine as an aperitivo or with a light first course. I especially enjoyed giving money to a good cause and drinking to the memory of these special people.


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Filed under Mafia, Sicily, wines

Women In Wine: An Interview With Maria Elena Jimenez from Pares Balta in Penedes


Today I am posting an online conversation I had with Maria Elena Jimenez, one of the winemakers at Pares Balta.

1. How did you get into the wine business?

Although it may seem sappy, love was the reason for everything. My husband, by then just my boyfriend, was the one to introduce me to wine and make me fall in love with wine along with him. I am a chemical engineer, and in those days working as a consultant, when my husband proposed me to return to the university to study enology in order to work together in the family business.
And all the tiny pieces began to fall in its right place after that, wine , love, family, children, passion till reaching the point where I am nowadays, managing the cellar altogether with Marta

2. What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in terms of gender issues, if any?

Even when I have been fortunate to have the backing of the family, public trust and prestige does not come easily for women, just after years of consistent work does it arrives, whenever men achieve it more naturally.

3. What trends and changes have you seen since you started? What do you see happening in the next 5-10 years in your sector of the business?

Talking about wine, I saw the rise and decline of the “thick” wines (red full-bodied wines you could nearly cut with a knife or smoky barrel branded whites) in favor of a much more elegant and balanced style.

In the last few years, it has appeared a new trend that looks for a much more natural approach to winemaking, in favor of a more artisanal way. Decreasing or avoiding the use of sulfites and technological manipulation, favoring traditional local varieties and accepting wines out of the mainstream taste.

At Parés Baltà we are traveling along this road, searching for the maximal expression of our vineyards and our soil. Organically and biodynamically certified, we try to respect our environment, our heritage and bring them to our customers.

4. What do you see happening in the Spanish wine world in the coming years?

I am not a wine guru neither I pretend to be a visionary so I leave this role to others who are more involved in the end market development.

But as far as there appears to be an increasing interest in different grapes, tastes…, new opportunities seem to open for Spanish wine apart from the well-known good-for-their-price Riojas.

5. Are people interested in different varietals? International varietals?

As I was just telling you in your prior question there is an increasing interest in local varieties, unknown by the general customer, who nowadays is looking for different wines and tastes from the mainstream chardonnays ,cabernets and Riojas.

6. What wines from Spain are truly interesting to people in the US these days?

Following with the same argument, there would be two sort of wines that would be interesting.

On the one hand, we find the good value reds and whites that provide easy drinking and lovable wine for an affordable price.

On the other hand, there are that many different wines that bring new experiences for the more mature palates tired of always the same old taste.

That gives an opportunity to other wine regions from Spain with an incredible variety of grapes and styles since now invisible for the US market.

7. What do you think about the level of wine education in general in the US about Spanish wines?

Spain is still a country to discover for the Americans. Its culture, gastronomy, differences and of course, wines.

8. Who is the average wine drinker today? What do they care about?

There are many kinds of drinkers today, interested in different kinds of wine. Uncomplicated wines to enjoy in a relaxed way, exotic wines for the curious, natural, organic… wines for the more concerned ones. The customer spectrum is becoming broader and new market niches appear every day.

9. Where are women going to be in the industry in the next 10 years?

The presence of women will be increasing in the end of the process, not so much in the winemaking in such a short term, unfortunately. I am not seeing an improvement in the fight for the equality between men and women.

10. What secrets can you share about pairing Spanish wines with food?

Due to the incredible variety of grapes, regions, styles. There is always a perfect, or many of them, pairing for any food you may think.
Rich in acidity or mature, dry, sweet, full bodied or light, oaked or non, white, rose, whites, dessert wine. Flavorful or delicate. Anything you may need.

Cava with everything, especially iberico Ham.
Xarel·lo as our Calcari and oysters

There are endless possibilities.

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Filed under spain, winemaker interviews, wines, Women in Wine

Wine Wednesday: Falesia Chardonnay from D’Amico Winery

This week’s wine Wednesday is dedicated to one I tasted a while back but have not been able to forget. It’s the Falesia chardonnay from D’Amico Winery located at the confluence of Umbria/Lazio/Tuscany. I met the couple during a lunch in New York at Marea organized by the lovely Tony DiDio. I had never heard of the winery and was intrigued. The couple made their mark in other industries and started their winery out of a passion for the vine in 1985. The winemaker is quite young and french which was a further twist. Their winery is located in the Calenchi valley on volcanic soil which brings lots of minerality to the wines.


Vaiano, is a UNESCO protected area on the border between Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria.
It is said to be the birthplace of the Etruscan culture. The exciting and moonlike landscape is a result of water passing over tufa stone which led to these amazing cliffs.


I have never visited the property but it looks very interesting and the cellars apparently have been excavated underneath the vines and the hanging gardens, attempting to recreate an Etruscan cellar that was found on the property.

We tried a number of wines that day, both reds and whites. Like many others, I tend to be a little less enthusiastic when I try an international varietal from Italy rather than an indigenous one, of which they have so many,  but I decided to suspend my usual thinking and was richly rewarded throughout the tasting. I really enjoyed the Calanchi and Falesia Chardonnay wines. The latter particularly as it was made from 30 year old vines. I even got some petrol notes on the Falesia which were unexpected The wines also both spent time on their lees and this creamy texture came through on the palate as well. According to the winemaker, they have a regime of using a low level of sulfites. Lees can also do the job to protect the wines from oxygen, the winemaker said. Commenting on the high level of acidity, he noted that volcanic soil helps to maintain freshness and acidity in wines.

Vaiano, Private Property (, Italy

We also tried a wine called Noe which was a blend of Grechetto, Pinot Grigio and Trebbiano. It was very aromatic and fresh. I am sure on a hot day like today, more than one bottle would be poured at my table.

The Falesia which was my pick for today had a bit of everything I like, great minerality, white fruit notes of apple, pear and some herbaceous notes. as well as a creamy texture from the lees. It reminded me a lot of some of the Antinori chardonnay I have tasted from Italy. The volcanic soils also brought sapidity to all of these wines, another characteristic I favor.

The winery also makes a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Franc which we tasted and were inviting. I’m in love with Cabernet Franc as a grape so I will write about that one as well. The Cabernet Franc had just the right amount of pepper and spice and elegance that I look for with that grape together with great mineraity, something I love to find in a red wine. I hope to see more of these wines on various lists in the city. I know you can find them both at Marea and at the Lincoln. You can also find some of the wines in these places on wine-searcher. A winery to watch, I hope to visit on a future trip to Italy.

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Filed under Grechetto, Italian regions, lazio, Tuscany, Umbria, Wine Wednesday, wines

Italian Producers Beef Up Sparkling Offering

Italian Sparkling Wine

Italian sparkling wine is an ever expanding category these days. In addition to the traditional regional wines from the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia of Prosecco, Trento DOC from Trentino-Alto Adige, Asti Spumante from Piedmont, Franciacorta and Cruasé  from Lombardy, and Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna, producers throughout Italy are making sparkling wines from indigenous varieties to complete their range.

Part of this growth can be attributed to the amazing sales of Prosecco throughout the last 5-10 years. Everyone has tried to get on the Prosecco train. Additionally indigenous varieties are now considered more interesting  and thus people are extending and combining the two trends.

As a lover of Sparkling wine, I think this is a fantastic addition to the Italian wine scene but not everyone agrees. Of the wines that I have had, some of the best sparklers are made from indigenous white grapes such as Vermentino in Liguria and Sardinia, Grechetto in Umbria, and Passerina in Le Marche. I have also had sparklers made from Ribolla Gialla that were interesting.

In terms of red grapes, I had had sparkling wines made from Sangiovese in Toscana, Cannonau in Sardinia and even from Nebbiolo. Some have been inspiring while others are forced into a role that isn’t theirs. A similar trend is happening with Rosé.

Another recent trend is for producers to have sparkling wines made in other parts of the country that they offer in their agriturismi as their own. I have seen this often in Toscana. I am told that clients like to have a sparkling wine at the agriturismo as well as typical Tuscan wines.

A further reason this seems to be happening, is that people are now drinking sparkling wine with the entire meal rather that just at the end of the meal. This is also pushing producers to offer options. Most of the newer sparklers are made using the charmat method rather than the traditional method with secondary refermentation in the bottle but not all of them.

Whether indigenous varieties or not, newer sparkling wines in Italy are here to stay and on the whole, I think that’s a great trend. Looking forward to today’s Twitter chat at 1100 ET on #Italian about sparkling wines.

Here are the rest of my fellow bloggers look into sparkling Italian wines.  Check them out!
Jennifer Gentile Martin at Vino Travels with “There is Prosecco and then there is Valdobbiadene Prosecco”
David Crowley of Cooking Chat  finds for us examples of “Italian Sparkling Wine Beyond Prosecco”
Lauren Walsh the Swirling Dervish will teach “Why You Should Learn to Love Lambrusco”
“Pink Bubbles, Paté, and Pecorino” is the topic from Camilla Mann of  Culinary Adventures with Camilla
Mike Madaio of   Undiscovered Italy   offers up “One Great Bottle: Fiamberti Oltrepò Pavese 2012”
Italian Producers Beef Up Sparkling Offering is the offering from Susannah Gold of avvinare.
Rosina Wilson of Drink Wine With Dinner may be joining us for the first time too with a post about Metodo Classico Spumante Brut, Lugana DOC.
Here at Wine Predator we have “Three Trento Sparklers with Seafood Risotto for #ItalianFWT”

Please join us for the twitter chat (#ItalianFWT) about Italian sparkling wine on Saturday May 6 from 11-12pm EST and check out our blogs!


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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Malvasia Nera Lunga


This week’s variety is called Malvasia Nera Lunga and hails from Piedmont. It grows in the provinces of Asti and Turin. It is a grape with a long shape hence the name. It is a hard and vigorous grape. It can lose acidity relatively quickly so the picking date for these grapes is key before the alcohol and acidity gets out of balance. It works well as a dessert grape as well for its particular characteristics. The grape is often compared and contrasted with Malvasia di Schierano. Malvasia Nera Lunga is an earlier ripener that Malvasia di Schierano and it has less acidity traditionally. It is also heartier and more vigorous. Often Malvasia Nera Lunga is made into a mono-varietal wine or blended with Malvasia di Schierano. In the wine known as Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco DOC which I wrote about a few weeks ago, the rules call for 85% min. Malvasia di Schierano and/or Malvasia Nera Lunga.

This is my penultimate post on Malvasia. It has been wonderful finding out about so many versions of this amazing grape and all of the places it is grown in Italy. Both the white and the red versions of Malvasia are very interesting. This one can make a rich, full-bodied still wine and can also make beautiful sweet wines.

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Filed under Italian indigenous varieties, Piedmont, Sweet Wines, wines