I met Michael and Anne Dashe in San Francisco, a few weeks ago, at the ZAP conference — Zinfandel Advocates and Producers — cards were exchanged, and they sent me a couple of samples. Their Dashe Cellars winery does not occupy a facility on a vine-covered hillside in Napa Valley or Sonoma County, where sheep might graze and rabbits cavort, but a warehouse in Oakland. Mike Dashe, the winemaker and co-owner with Anne — she’s originally from a town on the coast of Brittany — makes wine from selected vineyards over which he exerts final control over farming techniques and harvesting practices. Our Wine of the Day is the Dashe Cellars Les Enfants Terribles Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel 2016, from a new AVA, Eagle Peak, in Mendocino County. The vineyard is certified organic and biodynamic. The wine is made, at least partially, by the method of carbonic maceration, a process in which a portion of whole grape clusters is placed in a large barrel or tank and then, as in this case, the rest of the uncrushed grapes are piled on top. Sealed under a blanket of carbon dioxide, the grapes begin to produce fermentation inside themselves and releasing juice as the weight of the grapes on top crush the grapes below. The chemical transformations involved and the possible variations are far more complicated than this simple — or simplistic — explanation implies, but the result, anyway, is a fresh, bright red wine. You can understand why the process is popular in Beaujolais. Les Enfants Terribles 2016 is certainly bright and fresh, with its seductive, spice-infused black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors, but there’s a glittering edge of graphite, too, and dusty, fine-grained tannins for a structure both succulent and lithe. Five to six months in 900-gallon oak Burgundian barrels give this highly drinkable wine shape and firmness, all these elements contributing to a real sense of grip and traction on the palate. From mid-range back, the wine gains woodsy, raspy qualities of raspberry leaf and briers, with the finish a supple wreathing of fruit, spice, acid, tannin and a subtle mineral-floral character. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’21. Lovely, with a serious aspect. Production was 491 cases. Excellent. About $28.

The label image is one vintage behind.

We touch on several regions today on this brief survey of sauvignon blanc wines: Lake County, Monterey, Napa and Sonoma in California, the poetic Horse Heaven Hills in Washington, the North Fork of Long Island, and New Zealand’s Marlborough appellation. The wines range for tasty little quaffers to products that display great tone, character and dignity. As usual in this series, I eschew data of the technical, historical, geographical/geological and personal for quick, incisive reviews, ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks, designed to whet your palate and pique your interest. Enjoy, but in moderation.

These wines were samples for review.
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District 7 Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Monterey. 13.5% alc. Pale gold hue; a hit of pure lime peel, celery seed, lemongrass and gooseberry, hay and thyme; very dry but juicy, displaying taut acidity and flint-like minerality and a pleasing silky texture. Very Good+. About $16.
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Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa County 64%, Sonoma County 36%. From Quintessa Estate. With 9% semillon. Pale straw-gold color; green, leafy and gingery; notes of grapefruit and pea shoot, lime peel and lemongrass; unfolds touches of lilac, lemon balm and almond blossom, with the pleasant slight bitterness of almond skin; crisp, resonant acidity and a talc-like texture with a glaze of oak, dry, lithe and supple. Impressive tone and character. Excellent. About $50.
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Kontokosta Sauvignon Blanc 2015, North Fork of Long Island, New York. 13.9% alc. 582 cases. Medium straw-gold; at first, pure lime peel and grapefruit; then, thyme and tarragon, notes of green tea and lemongrass, peach and pear; lovely silky texture with tart acidity; finish of quince, melon and limestone. Excellent. About $25.
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McBride Sisters Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. Very pale straw gold; lively elements of grapefruit, pea shoot and lime peel with notes of gooseberry and freshly-mown hay; bright, pert, tart and sassy; unfurls touches of smoke and heather. Very Good+. About $17.
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Mercer Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold; slightly leafy and grassy, with notes of lime peel and grapefruit, tarragon and fennel and an undertone of celery seed; brisk acidity keeps it lively, while a texture poised nervily between lush and lithe makes a pleasing impression on the palate. Very Good+. About $15.
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Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; lemongrass, hay and lilac; lemon and pear, celery feel and fennel; very crisp and pert, with seashell-iodine salinity and minerality, yet a soft unfolding texture; hints of fig and a green leafy quality on the finish. Excellent. About $18, marking Real Value.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley. 13.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit; green tea, fennel, and thyme; quite dry but juicy with stone-fruit flavors and a leafy-figgy element; a soft haze of oak lends a touch of smoke and spice; lively, animated, suave. Excellent. About $24.
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Sidebar Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, High Valley, Lake County. 13% alc. Light, bright gold hue; lemongrass and fennel, notes of grapefruit pith and apple skin; heather and dried thyme; a fluent braiding of zinging acid with spiced pear and peach flavors and piquant notes of limestone and flint; lovely supple texture with intriguing traction at mid-palate. Excellent. About $22.
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Sidebar Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Limpid pale gold color; roasted lemon, acacia and heather; fig, grapefruit and almond skin; quite lively, spicy and engaging; a sleek, suave, lithe texture that borders on elegance, with a fine edge of limestone-flint minerality. Excellent. About $34.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Aveta” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Limpid pale gold hue; subtle notes of lemongrass and green tea, lime peel and heather, tangerine and just a tinge of mango; very pure, clean and fresh, with lip-smacking acidity; lithe and supple on the palate; hints of gun-flint and talc, with a finish that builds in intensity. Lots of character. Excellent. About $26.
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Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc 2016, California. 13.6% alc. With 6% French colombard. Very pale straw-gold; very dry; generic but pleasant; notes of green apple, pear and grass, lime peel and lemon; touch of fig; good acidity and a prominent flint/limestone minerality. Very Good+. About $15.
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Yount Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Pale straw-gold; roasted lemon and spiced pear, fig, thyme and tarragon; hints of lime peel, pea shoot and lemongrass; sleek, slightly talc-like texture riven by vibrant acidity; close to dense and chewy, a note of gardenia on the finish. Just lovely. Excellent. About $38.
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The Saarstein Riesling 2013, Mosel, falls into the Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) category of German wines, meaning “quality wine from a specified region,” in this case, the Mosel, as indicated on the label. The grapes for this wine derive from younger vines, and at this level, the names of vineyards and villages are not listed. And yet what a shining, golden riesling this example is, drinking beautifully at about four years old and certainly with several years of pleasure left to impart. The color is pale, shimmering light gold; aromas of ripe peaches, pears and quince are infused with a strain of apricot nectar, opening to notes of lychee, jasmine and honeysuckle. Slightly honeyed stone-fruit flavors are carried by a texture that’s half lush, half lithe, and brightly animated by brisk acidity; modestly sweet and juicy on the entry, the wine slips into dry mode from mid-palate back through a finish dominated by flinty minerality and a touch of bracing salinity. 9.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. We happily drank this bottle with swordfish marinated in lime juice, soy sauce and olive oil with a minced ginger-garlic rub, seared in a cast-iron skillet. Excellent. About $16, representing Fine Value.

Imported by Valckenberg International, Tulsa, Okla. A sample for review.

Tupungato is the northern-most area of the Uco Valley, itself a sub-region of Argentina’s well-known Mendoza appellation. Vineyards here, lying in the foothills of the immense Tupungato volcano, average 4,200 feet above sea-level. Located in the volcano’s rain shadow, this grape-growing area is arid and chilly, especially at night, when the diurnal swing extends its reach. The soil is stony, alluvial and well-drained. Drip irrigation is employed in most vineyards, drawing on pure Andean water sources.

Our pair of wines today comes from Domaine Bousquet, owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Anne Bousquet and Labid Al Ameri. Anne Bousquet’s father, Jean, sold all his property, including the family winery near Carcassonne, in order to buy, in 1998, against prevailing wisdom, about 1,000 acres in the desolate region. Domaine Bousquet is farmed on sustainable and organic principles, a philosophy that extends to the surrounding infrastructure of access roads, housing for workers, micro-loans for education and other benefits.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Domaine Bousquet Gaia Tupungato White Blend 2016, Mendoza, is a combination of 50 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot gris and 15 percent sauvignon blanc; 40 percent of the wine aged six months in French oak barrels. The color is medium yellow-gold; winsome aromas of pear and quince, with notes of bee’s-wax and peach, heather and hawthorn draw you in, while a sleek, silky texture is animated by bright acidity and a crystalline element of limestone minerality; the wine is quite dry yet emboldened by a certain honeyed aspect that encompasses lightly caramelized mango and grapefruit. The finish brings in delicate herbal and saline qualities. 12.5 percent alcohol. A lovely effort, for drinking through 2020. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.
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The blend of the dark ruby-hued Domaine Bousquet Gaia Tupungato Red Blend 2015, Mendoza, is 50 percent malbec, 45 percent syran and five percent cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 10 months in French oak barrels. It’s a robust and rustic red wine, perfectly suited to lamb, pork and goat roasted over open fires — or a bacon cheeseburger from your favorite dining spot. Notes of black and red currants and plums are infused with forest and underbrush, leather and loam and dusty graphite, opening to hints of bell pepper and cedar; stalwart yet velvety tannins are permeated by a chiseled granitic element, though the wine’s texture is soft, flowing and appealing; lip-smacking acidity keeps it lively and vibrant on the palate. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020. Very Good+. About $20.
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Every year, starting in October, I and probably every other wine-writer and blogger in the country receive bulletins from enthusiastic marketers encouraging the consumption of zinfandel wines with Thanksgiving dinner, based on the premise that zinfandel is the “All-American grape” or the “American heritage grape.” Let’s consider that notion.

Though widely planted in California from the middle of the 19th Century and a workhorse of the industry, the zinfandel grape’s origins were shrouded in mystery. Its rustic nature precluded it from status with other, so-called “noble” European grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir, yet its versatility made it supremely attractive and profitable. The advantage of zinfandel is that it flourishes in warmer climates, its abundance also being one of its disadvantages. Another disadvantage is the tendency toward uneven ripening, so the same cluster may simultaneously harbor perfectly ripe grapes along with unripe grapes and others ripening all the way to a raisin state. The point is that zinfandel must be carefully managed in the vineyard and picked carefully at harvest, factors that mitigate against the cheapness of the prices it fetches compared, particularly, to cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Even the grape’s name — not French, not Italian, sort of German but not quite — seems ambiguous.

Where the heck did it come from?

Charles L. Sullivan, the noted historian of the Golden State’s wine industry, through meticulous research, traced the grape’s journey from Vienna to Boston and then to northern California, in his book Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine (University of California Press, 2003). Apparently, cuttings from the emperor’s hothouses in Austria were brought to New England in the 1820s, and during the 1830s, in Boston, the grape was grown in nurseries for table consumption. Zinfandel cuttings traveled west to California during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, where they proliferated in newly planted vineyards. If prospectors didn’t strike it rich — and most didn’t — they generally became farmers.

In the 1880s and ’90s, Italian immigrants planted what we call field blends, primarily in Sonoma and Amador counties, vineyards that contained many grape varieties, dominated, perhaps, by zinfandel but including as many as 20 or 30 other red grapes. Some of these vineyards remain, still producing grapes from their gnarly old vines and considered treasures of the state’s agricultural history and heritage. Still, no one really knew where zinfandel originated or what it really was.

The link between zinfandel and a largely unknown grape from Italy’s Apulia region called primitivo, a producer of rough and ready quaffing wines, came in the 1960s, though it took the advent of DNA testing in the 1990s to make the identification solid. DNA testing provided some surprises. Winemakers in Chile, for example, were astonished to discover that what was assumed for decades to be vineyards filled with merlot vines actually held an obscure grape from Bordeaux called carmenere, now touted as the country’s signature grape. Still, while the research may have linked zinfandel definitively to the Old World, it still didn’t explain the grape’s origin.

Matters get a bit confusing here, but thanks to the efforts of the determined Carole Meredith of UC Davis and scientists at the University of Zagreb in Croatia, the mystery was finally unraveled in 2001. It seems that zinfandel-primitivo is one of the parents of a Croatian grape variety called plavac mali. Motivated by the connection to Croatia, researchers made extensive expeditions through the vineyards of the Dalmatian coast and found nine surviving examples of crljenak kaštelanski vines, which turned out to be identical with zinfandel.

Does it matter that these connections have been made? Only, I suppose, if history means anything to you. For my part, I like knowing that the story behind the zinfandel wine I might be enjoying takes it back to what used to be known as the Balkans, where it was cultivated at least since the 15th Century, that the grape was taken to Apulia in the mid 18th Century and mutated into primitivo — implying “the first to ripen” — and that a link between zinfandel and primitivo was established. A story in every bottle, n’est-ce pas?

On the other hand, though zinfandel was among the first European grapes to be brought to this country, we should hardly honor it with the label “the All American grape.” After all, grapes thrived in the New World long before European explorers and settlers arrive on these shores. European wines grapes belong to the species Vitis vinifera. Native American grapes occur in several species, including Vitis labrusca (catawba, cayuga, Concord) and Vitis rotundifolia (muscadine, also known as scuppernog). Wines made from these grapes and other native American vines tend to be metallic and foxy, and while they may be of regional interest, as table wines they’re not commercially viable. The point, however, is that if any grape should be known as the “All American” or the “American heritage,” it’s one of these. Not that I’m trying to dethrone zinfandel from its rightful place as a European pioneer in America and a significant marker in the history of the California wine industry. After all, zinfandel arrived in the New World nearly 200 years ago. Anyone whose ancestry on this continent goes back that far deserves every honor and acclaim.

In a few days, I’ll post an entry about issues in zinfandel wines, primarily ripeness and alcohol level, based on about 100 examples I tasted at the annual ZAP conference, held in San Francisco last week. ZAP is an acronym for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. The non-profit organization encourages research into the history and implications of the grape and the preservation of old vineyards.

Image of zinfandel grapes from lodiwine.com.

Notice that the title of this post is “a perfect match,” not “the perfect match.” Most foods or dishes benefit from pairing with a variety of wines in a vinous spectrum that might bring out different but completely legitimate nuances in both food and the accompanying wine. It’s annoying when the wine editor of an online or print food publication assigns one exact wine to a recipe, as if that pairing were etched in stone. Better is the approach of Eric Asimov, wine critic for The New York Times. When he is working with a recipe in the newspaper’s Dining section, he offers a range of wines, even sometimes mentioning beer or cider as an alternative. It’s a reminder that we need to be open and eclectic in choosing wines to drink with a dish, that the world of wine is generous and multiform.

That said, we experienced one of those moments of perfection last night with a risotto with Italian sausage, parsley and parmesan — from Sunday’s New York Times Magazine — with which I served the Two Shepherds Mourvèdre 2014, from California’s El Dorado AVA, a region of high-elevation vineyards in the Sierra Nevada foothills three counties to the east of Napa. It was chilly last night in our neck o’ the woods, and this hearty risotto went a far piece toward warming the cockles of our hearts, an expression often used by my late father, though I can’t exactly place the anatomical location of said cockles.

Owner and winemaker William Allen employs native yeasts in the fermentation of these mourvèdre grapes and uses only neutral French oak in aging the wine. Neutral oak — that is, often-used barrels — has the advantage of not imparting to a wine the character of new oak in the form of vanilla and toasted coconut, instead lending a subtle power that gives the wine a sense of shape and purpose without being overbearing.

Now friends, there is no particular virtue in heavily extracted wines, those fermented with the aim of producing deep, dark opaque colors and auras of impenetrable intensity and concentration. The color of the Two Shepherds Mourvèdre 2014 is a ravishing, totally transparent medium ruby that shades to an ethereal magenta rim; wine in heaven must display such a hue. Notes of raspberry and black cherry are permeated by hints of cherry stem and raspberry leaf, with a gradual infusion of something slightly and delicately exotic: rose hip tea, cloves, lilac, orange zest. Lithe, sinewy and supple in texture, this wine’s bright acidity cuts a path on the palate, while a whisper of graphite denotes a thoughtful, gently rigorous mineral element. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of foresty-woodsy herbs and flowers, contributing to a package that is complex, vibrant and resonant altogether. Notice the alcohol content: a very comfortable and rational 12.7 percent. William Allen produced a whopping 87 cases of this wine, so I suggest a call to the winery or a visit to its website to obtain a bottle or two. Excellent. About $32.

By the way, as I write this entry, I’m feasting on a bowl of the leftover risotto from last night and sipping an inexpensive Spanish garnacha. Guess what? It’s just fine, thank you very much.

A sample for review.

The Oak Farm Vineyards Tievoli Red Blend 2016, Lodi, is a combination of zinfandel, primitivo, barbera and petite
sirah grapes. Only in California would you see such a blend. The name looks Italian, but it actually spells “I love it” backwards. Information on the oak regimen is not available, even on the winery website. The color is dark ruby that shades to a glowing magenta rim; it’s a black and blue wine, by which I mean blackberries, black currants and blueberries predominate in the nose and on the palate, these elements infused by notes of graphite, licorice, loam and bittersweet chocolate, with just a hint of dried meadow herbs and flowers. The wine is quite dry, but juicy and tasty on the palate, this effect borne by bright acidity and foresty tannins; the finish brings in more of the flinty mineral character. 14.5 percent alcohol. This one is a definite advantage paired with burgers and steaks, red sauce pastas and pizzas, meat loaf and pork chops. Drink through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $18.

Tasted at the ZAP conference in San Francisco last week. That’s Zinfandel Advocates and Producers.


One of the gratifying aspects of writing about wine and receiving samples from wineries, importers and marketing companies is the occasional surprise in the form of a product made from a grape I never encountered in a career that extends now to 33 and a half years. Such a case is the Olho de Mocho Reserva 2014, a white wine fashioned from the antão vaz grape in Portugal’s province of Alentejo, more specifically, the sub-region of Vidigueira. The estate of Herdade do Rocim consists of 70 hectares — 53 to red grapes, 17 to white, a proportion that reflects the area’s general ratio of a production of 20 percent white wines. Olho de Mocho Reserva 2014 aged nine months in French oak barrels. The color is very pale gold, and indeed the wine itself seems glowing and golden; aromas of hawthorn and yellow plums are infused with quince and spiced pear, with lingering whiffs of spare minerals and oceanic elements: flint, sea-salt and marsh grass. A talc-like texture is riven by bright acidity, and the flint-limestone element comes up as a scintillating tide, all at the service of an elegant and subtle array of spiced and macerated flavors: peach, quince and mango. 13.5 percent alcohol. A revelation. A few years should lend this wine even more burnish and character; drink through 2020 or ’21 with a variety of roasted or grilled sea-creatures. Excellent. About $30, and Worth a Search.

Imported by Langdon Shiverick, Los Angeles. A sample for review.

The weather outside may be frightful, but to sip a rosé wine is still delightful. These six examples can chase the mid-winter blues, not only with their delicate and elegant character but some with their savory elements of fruit compote, spice and earthiness. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew notations about history, geography and technical matters for the sake of quick and incisive mentions ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks. Enjoy.
These wines were samples for review.
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Apaltagua Reserva Carmenere Rosé 2016, Maul Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Very pale coral-pink; delicately floral, delectably fruity (peach, strawberry), a fine-spun fabric of bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element; slightly earth finish. Delightful. About $13, representing Good Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Calif.
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Chateau D’Esclans Rock Angel 2016, Côtes de Provence. 13.5% alc. 85% grenache, 15% rolle (the Italian vermentino). Very pale coral-pink hue; quite fresh, spare and elegant; strawberries and red currants, seashell, chalk and flint minerality; dried Mediterranean herbs; touches of tangerine and peach; throbbing acidity for crisp liveliness. Lots of character. Now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Shaw-Ross International, Miramar, Fla.
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The Larsen Projekt Grenache Rosé 2016, North Coast. 14.3% alc. 140 cases. Medium salmon-coral hue; strawberry and raspberry, cloves and cinnamon, orange rind and crystallized ginger; an earthy and spicy rose, medium in body, full-throttle in intensity; very dry, opens a tide of limestone minerality; white pepper and graphite in the finish. A highly individual and quite evocative rose. Drink through 2019. Excellent. About $18, and Worth a Search.
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Onward Hawkeye Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County. 12.1% alc. 324 cases. Radiant copper-coral hue; ripe and fleshy, with blood orange, tangerine and a hint of peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of rose-hip tea, graphite and red currant; the epitome of delicacy and ethereal radiance, yet with a solid grounding in steely minerality. Excellent. About $22, and Worth a Search.
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Sanford Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbera County. 13% alc. Pale salmon-coral hue; blood orange, tangerine, hint of peach; redolent of dusty Mediterranean herbs and damp roof tiles; very intense yet with a silky, ethereal texture; quite dry, with burgeoning flint-like minerality; a touch of raspberry leaf in the finish. Excellent. About $23.
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Smoke Tree Rosé 2016, California. 12.5% alc. Majority grenache with an unusual blend of zinfandel, mourvedre and tempranillo. Medium onion skin-copper color; delicate and expressive; raspberry with a hint of rhubarb and pomegranate, then cherry compote takes over; notes of raspberry leaf and boxwood; opens to bright acidity and a fine flinty edge; lovely tone and presence. Excellent. About $21.
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It’s snowing in Memphis as I write this post, so let’s contemplate a summery wine. La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2015, from Spain’s Somontano region, is an absolute sweetheart of a quaffer that goes down like a golden meadow in a glass. I don’t want to oversell it; this is basically a simple and appealing wine that conveys an aura of authenticity. Aged four months in second-year French oak barrels, this garnacha blanca — what the French call grenache blanc in the Rhone Valley — offers a pale straw-yellow color and attractive aromas of bee’s-wax and lemon balm, cloves and camillia, with touches of spiced pear and heather and, just at the end, a shivery fillip of petrol. It’s sleek and silky on the palate, with flavors of yellow fruit animated by sun-bright acidity and a note of limestone minerality. If you happen to be braising cod tonight — there was a recipe in The New York Times a few days ago — La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2015 would be a perfect match. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2018. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.

Imported by Gonzalez Byass USA, Chicago. A sample for review.

Somontano is a small vineyard and winemaking region in northern Spain, just under the shadow of the Pyrenees; the name means “under the mountain.” The name “Secastilla” on the label refers to the seven castles that stand as a ring of sentinels around the region.

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