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A Piece of South America in Shaw!

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We love when our space bustles with the sounds of intrigued guests chatting with talented wine producers. When it happens, you practically feel the knowledge and passion pumping through the air.

Friday was one of those times.

From 11am until 8:38pm (give or take), some of Chile’s most forward thinking, adventurous, and hardest working winemakers made Grand Cata their homebase for the release of Descordachos. For those of you unfamiliar, Descorchados is the preeminent guide to understanding South American wines. First published in 1999 with 600 wine’s reviewed (all from Chile), the 2018 edition highlights over 4,500 wines from Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and, of course, Chile.

To celebrate the US release of the book, we broke the day into two events. In the morning, from 11am until 3pm, we allowed members of the wine industry and press in the DC area to come discover some of the best wines and producers the book covers. Then for a few hours, we were open as normal, until 5pm, when we reshuffled the producers and opened the event to the public.

Before we get into our highlights, we want to thank everyone who came to the event for two reasons. First, for trusting in Grand Cata to introduce you to the types of South American wines that will change even the most skeptical drinker’s mind about the continent’s ability to produce world-class wines. And second, for creating such an inviting and engaging atmosphere for the winemakers that made the trip to our shop. They had been all around the globe, and all around the country, and each one of them told us afterwards that Grand Cata brought out the most interested and open-minded crowd they experienced on the entire tour. After nearly a month of jet-setting and trying to get people to drop their biases about Chilean wines, it was a welcome surprise to them to have the opportunity to pour their wines for people who needed no such convincing. Thank you!

Here are (some) of our highlights. We could easily wax poetic about each and every wine that was poured last Friday. If you had a favorite we didn’t cover here, don’t think it’s because we didn’t also love it!

Apaltagua Carmenere-Syrah Rose - We chose their rose because a) it was the only one there and b) it stole the show. Made up of almost entirely carmenere, with a touch of syrah, the wine exuded a freshness and zip that made it irresistible. Think grapefruit, tangerine and a touch of strawberry all steeped in fresh mountain spring water.

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Meli Riesling - This has been a favorite of ours at the shop for a while now. Lovers of Alsacian riesling will love this bone dry beaut. It has just the right level of the classic “old pickup truck” aroma counterbalanced by apricot and lemon zest.

Meli Dueño de la Luna - This wine is great, but it’s the story behind it that got everyone talking. It’s one you couldn’t make up if you tried!

After the first moon landing, a Chilean man petitioned the Chilean government to claim that he owned the moon. At the time, legally, the government had to visit the land to determine whether or not any claim of ownership was valid. Needless to say, they couldn’t make it to the moon, so they had to legally recognize his claim! At least in the eyes of the Chilean government, he was literally “El Dueño de la Luna,” or “The Owner of the Moon.”

Garage Wine Co. in General - Picking one of Garage’s wines over another is a pretty futile activity. They are all so incredible, so expressive, and so unique, that to claim one is “better” than the other is kinda silly. So you know what? We won’t! Instead, we’ll shed some light on some secrets behind their killer wines.

Derek Mossman Knapp, the winemaker and the one who made the trip for the event, pointed out a very interesting approach they take. Instead of thinking in terms of percentages, they instead think in terms of barrels. As an example, if a batch of wine wine fills 15 barrels, they break that down into the different types of barrels used, what wine with what characteristics went into each, and so on. They also have a fascinating practice of removing any barrels they describe as “too loud in the crowd.” In other words, barrels that are just too different from the rest. This ensures the batch as a uniformity and balance to it.

Instead of wasting them, though, they take all these “loud” barrels from different batches and combine them into a solera-like system at the back of their winery they call “la perversidad.” Sadly, the wines they bottle from this system don’t make it to the US. Derek blames the American public for being too prude for a wine called “Perversity.”

P.S. Garcia (again, in general)

All three of the wines from these guys can best be summed up as “wow.” The Bravado is big, loud, intense and fun. In musical terms, it’s like raging at a rock concert. The Facundo, on the other hand, is cerebral, harmonious, and precise, like listening to Chopin performed by a transcendent concert pianist. And the Vigno? Almost too complex and ever-evolving for the venue of a tasting. Drinking a bottle would be like reading a great novel.

All of the wine made with País - No grape represents the “New Chile” wines better than país. After spending 150 years being shunned as a fine wine grape, producers over the last decade have discovered just how fresh, elegant, funky, fun, drinkable and down-right delicious wines made with país can be.

We couldn’t get enough of the Las Veletas País-Cinsault blend. The definition of elegant, this is not an outspoken wine. To truly appreciate it’s flavors, you need to serve it chilled and drink it by the pool with a good book.

Equally as delicious, though quite different wines, were the Las Escaleras País and País Viejo. The name “Escaleras” refers to the ladders necessary to harvest the grapes, which wrap around trees in the vineyards, rather than being trellised. This practice was once quite common in Europe, but today you see it almost nowhere. The resulting wines were wild, refreshing, slightly smokey and a touch spicy, with flavors of wild berries and crab apple.

Again, thank you to everyone that came out and made the Descorchados release party so incredibly fun and informative. If you have any questions about anything you tried that day, please reach out! Chao!

 

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Wine Club Anniversary Edition!

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Can you believe we’re about to hit two full years of our Wine Club! Of all the programs we now run at Grand Cata - from our Classes on Demand to our #DailyCata - the Wine Club has a special place in our hearts. Maybe not all of you know this, but the idea for the Wine Club predates Grand Cata the store by several years. We built the store, in part, because we couldn’t find an existing retail store that understood our vision. We knew it would work, but we didn’t dream it would work this well.

As a thank you to all our Wine Club members, we’ve picked two very special wines that epitomize the basic pillars of the project.

First, they are exceptional, and of exceptional value.

Second, and our most favorite, we had to literally leave the country to go find these wines. We like to think of our Wine Club as a way for you to travel through the wines we pick to the amazing places they come from. Some of you have actually come to us for suggestions on where to visit because of wines you’ve had in Wine Club. It’s this piece, this element of place, that underpins so much of what we do at Grand Cata. So with the 2nd Anniversary release party just around the corner, we present to you two wines that Pedro and Julio found on two separate trips they both made in the last three months.

 

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Julio’s Trip: Rio Grande do Sul, Pinto Bandeira, Brasil, Brazil; "the Champagne of South America"

Julio came back from his trip to Brazil nearly shaking with excitement and anticipation over sharing this wine. He also came back convinced that within the next two or three years, the Pinto Bandeira DO in Brazil will be known throughout as the “Champagne of South America.”

Why does he believe this? In a word: terroir. "The Champagne Method of making sparkling wine may be widely adopted in South America, but very few places have the combination of soil type, weather, and temperature necessary to allow for the perfect type of ripeness while still keeping acidity in the grapes" Julio explains. 

Julio’s Wine: Familia Geisse, “Cave Amadeu” Chardonnay-Pinot Noir based blend (12) month of aging, non vintage 

It’s time for a blind tasting.

Seriously, grab a bottle of respectable Champagne and blind taste it against this wine. It has it all: the ripping acidity, the yeasty sourdough and brioche notes, green apple (with a nice touch of gala apple as well), perfect bubbles, engrossing energy...just try it!

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Pedro’s Trip: Ribera del Duero, Spain

While Julio decided to explore the unknown, Pedro took a deep dive into one of the best wine regions known the world over. Ribera del Duero is a special place to grow grapes, fostering a clone of tempranillo they call “tinto fino.” Most of the vines in the region were planted two generations before anyone who works at Grand Cata was even born! This means their roots have found their way into multiple layers of soil types and nutrient sources. The resulting wines have depth of character few places can match.

Pedro's Wine: Protos Tinto Fino Rosado, 2017

Despite visiting a well known place, Pedro threw a wicked curveball with this one. He came back with a rosé! Though from a producer we love and work with often (Protos), this wine was not available in the US. Pedro pulled a few strings and showed enough passion for the wine that he was able to get just enough here for the Wine Club. 

Pedro was impressed with what he saw and tasted there. "As a historic, well known wine region, Ribera del Duero was created just recently in 1982 as a regulated Denomination of Origin (D.O.) and just now they are fully understanding the complexity of the terroir, different expressions of tinto fino due to the altitude and amazing all natural old vine field blends that focus on the quality of fruit and not the oak treatment." 

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The rosé is perfect. Ridiculously easy to drink, though not one dimensional, it’s proof that a good rose is the best pairing for all but the heaviest of dishes. Not too fruity, completely dry, and full of minerals, you can also find yourself two bottles deep fairly easily. Drink it with friends, for you own good!

We can’t stress enough how important your support of Grand Cata has been. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more so than the success of the Wine Club. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and here’s to two more years of new wine discoveries!

 

 

 

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The Difference Between Piscos!

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Pisco hails from either Peru or Chile, and represents a bit of a cultural and historical debate between the two countries. As a result, it’s best to discuss each separately, because each has different philosophies driving their production, and different laws governing how the spirit gets made. Its origin stretch back to the Spanish conquistadors that created a single origin brandy called Pisco (also a port city in Peru). They also planted vines in the regions of the Ica Valley in Peru and the Elqui and Limari Valleys in Chile (which are part of the driest dessert in the world, the Atacama). Most of Pisco production today still comes from these places.

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Peru

Peruvian Pisco can be made from 8 different varieties of grapes: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Uvina, and Mollar, which are non-aromatic, and Moscatel, Torontel, Italia, and Albilla, which are very aromatic.

Pisco’s classification in Peru stems from which grapes are used, how many different types, and how dry or sweet the wine is before distillation. When made with drier wine of a single varietal, the Pisco takes the name “Puro.” A sub classification of “Puro” is “Aromatica,” meaning the single varietal used is one of the aromatic ones. When made with dry wine from a blend of grapes, the Pisco takes the name “Acholado.” Finally, when made from fully sweet wine, the Pisco gets classified as “Mosto Verde.” This last style has grown tremendously in recent years, with most considering it the highest quality.

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The Ica, Lima, Arequipa, Moquegua or Tacna valley regions, all along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, have special climates. As such, Pisco must be made from grapes grown in some combination of these sites. The cold water along the coast to the west and the Andes mountains to the east leaves these regions with little rain and clouds, perfect conditions for growing very sweet grapes. The sweetness of the grapes is very important, because by law producers can only distill Pisco once, and without enough sugar to turn into alcohol, this would be impossible.

As hinted at above, Peruvian Pisco must be made from actual wine, not the leftovers from the winemaking process, which is the case for many other Brandys. Grappa, for instance, almost always comes from this excess of the winemaking process. The reason Pisco has to come from wine boils down to what is true for most things: the better the ingredients you start with, the better the product you end up with.

Pisco speaks to the soul of South America. It’s a flexible spirit to use for many citrus/tropical driven cocktails. I love a Latin take on a Negroni (swapping gin for pisco) and for sipping, yes, sipping, especially the Mosto Verde that uses double of the amount of grapes to produce one liter. It’s soft, creamy and delicious
— Our Co-founder Pedro Rodriguez after his visit to Perú last December. The quality and flexibility of the Pisco there blew him away.

To finish up, let’s touch on one final important rule regarding Pisco production: oak. Peruvian Pisco may not, under any circumstances, spend any time in oak. This puts it in stark contrast with many other famous Brandys, such as Cognac, which derives most of their flavors from barrel ageing. It does, however, need to spend at least 3 months in a neutral vessel. The traditional vessel is an elongated clay pot called a botija. Other common vessels include glass jars and stainless steel tanks.

Chile

Chile is internationally recognized as a wine power house producer, often referred to as the “Bordeaux of South America.” Peru, while it does have a domestic wine industry that has some gems, is much better known for its Pisco than wine.

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Chile’s (slightly) laxer regulations allow for a level of innovation and experimentation that has some stunning results. As an example, many Chilean producers do age their Piscos in oak, which gives them an added layer of flavors that complement nicely the fruit tones that Pisco naturally exudes.    

However, even if we just compare Piscos intended to highlight what the wine, and therefore the grapes, bring to the party, Peruvian and Chilean Piscos are distinct from each other. To get a clearer picture, let’s investigate the regulations that Chile does impose.

For starters, Chile actually allows fewer varietals to be used, and they can only come from either the Atacama or Coquimbo regions in the valleys of Elqui and Limari. These grapes are Pink Muscat, Muscat of Alexandria - which are very fragrant - and Pedro Jiménez, Moscatel de Asturia and Torontel - which are subtle, but still more fragrant than the non-aromatic set of grapes Peru uses. If nothing else, this means that Chilean Pisco is either more aromatic, or nearly as aromatic, as any Peruvian counterpart. Another fun fact: Chile, produces, exports and consumes the most Pisco in the world. They do so either in the world famous Pisco Sour (Created in 1920's Lima by an American from San Francisco), or traditional Piscola...yes, Coca-Cola with Pisco. 

Second, Chile has 4 designations based on proof:

  • Corriente o Tradicional, 30% to 35% (60 to 70 proof)
  • Pisco Especial, 35% to 40% (70 to 80 proof)
  • Pisco Reservado, 40% (80 proof)
  • Gran Pisco, 43% or more (86 or more proof)

Finally, producers must grow their own grapes, meaning that on top of being master distillers, they need to be excellent farmers, because growing grapes is no joke.

In the end, it’s best to consider Peruvian Pisco and Chilean Pisco as cousins, not siblings, and especially not the same thing. Chilean Pisco often appears sweeter and rounder, with intense aromatics, while Peruvian Pisco has a larger variety of fundacional expressions, but fewer innovative outliers. And always keep in mind when you enjoy this (usually) chyrstal clear spirit, you are literally imbibing history. 

For a great place in DC to go for an opportunity to grasp the differences between the Pisco of each country, and individual producers themselves, check out China Chilcano, also on 7th street, near the Mall. And if you're interested in a deeper dive into the flavors and uses for Pisco, check out our installment of Understanding Cocktails where we focus on it.

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