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Torres Vina Esmeralda 1999
Known for bold reds, crisp whites, and distinctive sparkling and fortified wines, Spain has embraced international varieties and wine styles while continuing to place the primary emphasis upon its own native grapes. Though the country’s climate is diverse, it is generally warm to hot. In the center of the country lies a vast, dry plateau known as the Meseta Central, characterized by extremely hot summers and frequent drought. Because of its location on the Iberian Peninsula, many of Spain’s wine regions are located on or near the milder coast, either of the Bay of Biscay to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest, or the Mediterranean sea to the south and east. Each of these regions has its own unique soil, climate, and topography, as well as principal grape varieties.
In the cool, damp northwest region of Galicia, refreshing white Albariño and Verdejo dominate, though elsewhere the most popular wines are generally red. Rioja is Spain’s best-known region, where earthy, age-worthy reds are made from Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache), as well as rich, nutty whites from Viura. Ribera del Duero produces opulent, fruity, top-quality wines from almost exclusively Tempranillo. Priorat, a sub-region of Catalonia, blends Garnacha with Cariñena (Carignan) to make bold, full-bodied wines with a hint of earthiness. Catalonia is also home to Cava, a sparkling wine made in the traditional method but from indigenous varieties. Sherry, Spain’s famous fortified wine, is produced in a wide range of styles from dry to lusciously sweet at the country’s southern tip in Jerez. Since the 1990s, international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc have been steadily increasing in importance in several regions.
Singularly aromatic, often sweet, and always enjoyable, Muscat never takes itself too seriously. Muscat is actually an umbrella name for a diverse set of grapes, some of which are genetically related while others are not. The two most important versions are Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Muscat of Alexandria, the former being of considerably higher quality. Both are grown throughout the world and can be made in a wide range of styles, from dry and aromatic wines to sweet and richly perfumed dessert wines. It is well known in Italy's Piedmont region for Moscato d’Asti, a slightly sparkling semi-sweet wine that is refreshing and low in alcohol.
In the Glass
Muscat wines possess intense aromatics of peaches, rose petals, geranium, orange blossom, and lychee, often with a hint of sweet spice, and always with a uniquely grapey character that is uncommon in other wines.
Thanks to its naturally low alcohol levels, Muscat is a perfect match for spicy Asian cuisine, especially when the wine has a little bit of residual sugar. Off-dry Muscat can work well with lighter desserts like key lime pie and lemon meringue, while fully sweet Muscat-based dessert wines are enjoyable after dinner with an assortment of cheeses.
Muscat is one of the oldest known grape varieties, dating as far back as the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Pliny the Elder wrote in the 13th century of a sweet, perfumed grape variety so attractive to bees that he referred to it as uva apiana, or “grape of the bees.” Most likely, he was describing one of the Muscat varieties.