Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (#WBC14), Day 2

July 22, 2014 5 comments

Yet another ambitious project hitting the dust. I was determined to write blog post updates in the morning of the very next day of the Wine Bloggers Conference – and as you can see, it didn’t happened – I’m back home in Connecticut (nope, not even that – I’ actually on vacation in Cape Cod, and Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 is fading in the metaphorical rear view mirror. Nevertheless, I will finish this the way I initially envisioned – as a series of the blog post about WBC14. Let’s get to it…

WBC14 sponsor logosFriday was the first full day of Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (WBC). My impressions in a few words? Overwhelmed. Is there a word for “more than overwhelmed”? The pace of learning, connecting, tasting, analyzing, networking, mingling and tasting more, more and more was incredible. Here is what was happening throughout the day  - brunch (yep, a 10 AM brunch) with Portuguese wines and dishes from Brazil, India, Japan and Portugal – 11 wines and 12 different dishes. Then the opening of the conference and a keynote by Corbett Barr. A panel session with Santa Barbara County winemakers (rather founding fathers of the winemaking in Santa Barbara). Speed tasting of the 10 white wines in 50 minutes (very intense). A breakout session called “How The Pros Taste”, which included both the Pros and the wines. An excursion to the mystery destination (yes, with more wines). The Wine Tourism in North America Expo (yep, with more wines to taste), an unofficial before-party in one of the hotel suites before the actual official after-party, and then finally (oh yes, the  best for last!), an official after-party, hosted by Jordan and J Wineries. So, how is that for a day for you? Pretty full schedule, huh? I will leave speed tasting and our mystery excursion for the separate posts, but for the rest of the program, here are my quick impressions.

Brunch with Portuguese food and wine was the very first in our day’s program. As I wrote a few times about Portuguese food and wines before, I would definitely agree that both Portuguese wines and cuisine are well worth the attention. At the brunch, we had an opportunity to experience 11 different wines (both white and red), as well as 12 different dishes. If you take a historic perspective on Portugal, hundreds of years ago, Portuguese influence was spread all over the world. To show that world-wide influence, the dishes in the brunch we coming from the different regions which came into a close encounter with Portuguese culture – namely, the dishes from Brasil, India, Japan and Portugal itself (of course!) were part of our brunch. I will not inundate you with all the details of the dishes and wines (despite taking the detailed notes) – I just want to mention two of my favorite wines. For the whites, 2012 Julia Kemper Branco Dão DOP  was delicious, with touch of grass and flowers, very interesting nose, light and simple on the palate. As an added bonus, this wine also added one more rare grape to my collection, Encruzado. From the reds, 2010 Quinta do Romeu Colheita Douro Tinto was my favorite, with very nice dark fruit, medium body, open and round, and good balance. And for the rest of it – here are the pictures of the wines and dishes.

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Next up – the conference officially opened with the keynote from Corbett Barr. Listening to Corbett Barr, an entrepreneur whose business, Fizzle,  was built starting from the blog, was very relevant at the wine bloggers conference – if not as a role model, definitely as a success model his talk was reaching to the heart and soul of all the attendees (and if someone would tell me that it was not, I would question your premise of being at the bloggers conference). Corbett BarrAfter telling his personal story, Corbett offered a number of do’s and dont’s for building the successful blog and converting it to the business. In short, here are the main ideas:

  1. Character Trumps Credentials – your passion is more important than many technical accolades and certifications you can achieve. Yes, the certifications are important, but it is passion, will and tenacity which will be a foundation of your success.
  2. Be different. Stand out. Don’t blend in. Yes, you have to find your own way, don’t be “one of many”.
  3. Find what works. Don’t repeat exact same thing over and over again, expecting that magically what was not working 100 times, will work on 101st. If something doesn’t work, looks for what will – but keep going.
  4. Hope is not a marketing strategy. Find where your readers are and figure out how to get in front of them.
  5. Your blog is not your business. Understand what your business is. The blog is just a tool to help your business, but not the business by itself.
  6. Keep going, constantly evolving. If you will continue looking for what works and improve all the time, you will [almost magically] leapfrog at some point to your success.
  7. Mastermind 101 – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn. Talk to the people who “get it”. If you will talk to “achievers”, you will [at some point] becoe one yourself.

This is a very lose approximation of what Corbett Barr had to say, but I hope I was able to give you at least the basic idea. And for more information, head over to his web site and read, read, read.

Our day continued with the panel session of Santa Barbara winemakers. Session was moderated by Larry Shafer, the winemaker behind the Tercero label, and it brought together the people who were instrumental in starting and growing Santa Barbara wine industry - Richard Sanford, Ken Brown, Rick Longoria and Bob Lindquist. We learned about the Santa Barbara wine region which started in 1968 with the Santa Barbara Winery, and had grown into the prominent producer of Pinot Noir and Rhone-style wines. 40 different grape varieties are growing today in Santa Barbara area, and a lot of Santa Barbara grapes are shipped to Paso Robles and Napa and used in the coastal blends. Passion, friendship and love to the beautiful Santa Barbara wine region is something which was clearly showing through the words of all the winemakers.

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Our next session was the speed tasting of white wines and Rose, which I will be talking about separately – I can only tell you that it was a fun exercise.

You know what else is great about the wine bloggers conference? You get to taste the wines which are not necessarily are even yet available to the general public. Case in point – a unique Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane blend from … Argentina - 2012 Hand of God Fingerprint Series Sobremesa Vineyard VRM White Blend. The wine is in the process of being brought to the United States, and nevertheless we had an opportunity to taste this aromatic, big and well structured white wine, which was simply poured by the winemaker while we were walking from one session to another.

The last session of the day was a so called breakout session, where we had to chose between three different sessions running in parallel in the different rooms. I decided to go and learn “How the Pros Taste”. This session was a panel discussion led by Steve Heimoff, the wine writer who is now the Director of PR for Jackson Family wines, Joe Roberts, a.k.a. 1 Wine Dude, and Patrick Comiskey, senior editor for Wine & Spirits magazine. The idea of the panel was to discuss the ways of the professionals tasting tens of thousands of wines every year, and issues they are facing – and I think the panel did the fine job with issues and challenges. Talking about the “ways” was a bit less successful – I would expect the panelists to explain more of a “how to”, their methods for assessing the wines in the mass quantities – which didn’t take place. And then we tasted 4 wines, 3 of which we selected by the panelists, and one “double blind”, unknown even to the panelists. The selected wines were supposed to represent the unique view point of each panelist, the wines which are “best of the breed” and emotionally engaging. Considering that, I would highly question the rationale of including very obscure wines in this “representative” tasting, but this is mostly what happened. The 2012 Yves Leccia Patrimonio Blanc, a Vermentino wine from Corsica, had nothing but the acidity and didn’t speak to me at all. It didn’t create nor demonstrated any emotional connection. 2013 Poet’s Leap Riesling Washington, while might be typical for Washington, didn’t deliver much pleasure either, and it didn’t connect with the Washington Rieslings as I know them from the Chateau St. Michelle or Snoqualme. Again, I would highly question inclusion of such a wine as “exemplary”. The red wines fared a lot better. 2011 Cambria Clone 4 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley was quintessentially Californian, with beautiful nose of smoked cherries, exemplary palate full of forest floor, gentle fruit and perfect balance. Our double-blind wine surprised everybody, including the esteemed panel – clean cherries and acidity were pointing in the direction of Montepulciano from Italy, and the wine happened to be an Yangarra Grenache McLaren Vale from Australia – but it was a very tasty wine. All in all, this was an interesting session, but I would like to see it done differently, more focused on classic methods and classic wines (definitely for the whites).

And then we had a mystery bus excursion. I will keep it a mystery until the next post (trust me, it was good enough for the separate post). When we came back in the evening, we still faced … yes, you guessed it – more wine! The Wine Tourism Throughout North America expo was focused mostly on California wines (or may be I was too tired to notice anything else). I tried a few wines, out of which 2010 Mad Hatter Napa Valley was clearly a stand out – dense and concentrated, with layered fruit, it had a lot of dark power (similar to its color), very drinkable now, but holding also a great promise to evolve. This wine was made by the famed Andy Ericsson (Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Favia and many others). Few other interesting wines were 2007 Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, very clean and classic. 2011 Steven Kent Vinery Cabernet Franc Livermore Valley was perfectly on the mark with beautiful cassis undertones, and 2012 Vasco Urbano “Norm” Grenache Livermore Valley was luscious and delicate, with nice fresh fruit on the nose and the palate.

The “before-Party” for after party was generously hosted by Banfi folks in one of the hotel suites, and the highlights were mostly Italian wines with the few of the wines from Washington state. The 2013 Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc Yakima Valley was perfectly balanced and had an excellent fresh white fruit, a bit of mineral notes and rounding acidity. The Sartori di Verona Ferdi Bianco Veronese IGT was very unique and unusual, an Amarone-style wine (100% Garganega grapes, dried for 40 days on straw mats), with big fruit notes, full body and somewhat sharp acidity. 

And last, but not least – an offical after-party, hosted by J Vineyards and Jordan! Both J and Jordan are some of my favorite wines in general, and what a treat it was! Probably unsurprisingly, I was a bit tired after such a day, so I didn’t take too many pictures. But the wines were outstanding. J were pouring both of their sparklers, the White and Rose, as well as the Pinot Noir. And Jordan… How about a full vertical of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley from 2002 until the 2008, including 2005 and 2006 in both 750 and magnum sizes! All the wines, including 2002, tasted fresh and delicious – again, no detailed notes (if you want to blame me for the luck of attention, be my guest). I was especially happy to see that 2002 showing absolutely no signs of age, and 2005 being delicious with still powerful tannins – I have a few bottles of 2005 in the fridge and it seems that I have no reason to touch the for a good while. Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon For what it worth, this was an attempt to give you an idea of the happenings in the first day of Wine Bloggers Conference (two more posts will be coming). Hope you are still reading this, and if you are, I want to thank you for your patience. Just one question, if I may – after reading this post, did it make you want to come to the #WBC15, or stay away from it as far as possible? Let me know! Cheers!

P.S. For some reason, this was one of the most difficult posts I ever wrote for this blog… But I’m glad I finished it. 

Weekly Wine Quiz #109: How Well Do You Know Your Wines, Part 4

July 19, 2014 13 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing the “bottle top” series, where you need to recognize the wine/producer based on the picture of the top of the bottle. Below you will find the pictures of the 8 different bottle tops – let me know what do you think those wines are (suggestion – click on the pictures to zoom for more details):

1. DSC_0074

2. DSC_0541

3. DSC_0549

4. DSC_0552

5. DSC_0547

6. DSC_0554

7. DSC_0984

8. DSC_0544

Hint – the wines above represent Argentina, California, Spain and South Africa. Few of the producers are well known, and some are not so much. Even if you recognize only one wine – don’t be shy, comment away!

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Modern Classic or Classic Modern? Carl Anthony Trattoria in Monroe, CT

July 18, 2014 8 comments

Restaurant Ready for serviceWhen it comes to the Italian cuisine, or probably any cuisine for that matter, what constitutes a “classic cuisine” for you? Old familiar dishes, which stay unchanged for many many years (if it works, don’t touch it)? And then another question is what is the “modern cuisine”? You change the recipe all the time, just to make sure you use ingredients which are “in vogue” (like pork belly or Brussels sprouts today)? Or do you take the familiar dish and put a spin on it? If you ask me, I’m all for the “tasty” – I’ve had classics such as fried calamari or mozzarella sticks done in many unusual ways, so I generally don’t trouble myself with classification “classic versus modern” – if it tastes good, that’s all I want (okay, it is definitely a bonus when food also looks good).

Let me explain why I am taking about this classic/modern relationship. Few weeks ago we visited restaurant called Carl Anthony Trattoria in Monroe, Connecticut. The restaurant had been around for 15 years, and while it has a decidedly Italian flair, the menu represents that exact combination of classic and modern dishes I’m talking about here. You know what – forget this classic and modern – creative is the right word – and I think you will agree with me when we will be talking about food. But – let’s start with cocktails and wine.

The cocktail list was very creative (aha, see, I used that word again) – and here are some of the cocktails we tasted: Mambo Italiano (Averno Amaro, muddled mint and lemons, ginger ale), Black Cherry Mojito (Cruzan Black Cherry Rum, muddled mint and cherry), Cucumber Gimlet (Pearl Cucumber-fresh basil, lemon and lime juice on the rocks) and Clementine Caipirinha (Leblon Cachaça, St. Germain, clementine, orange & lime). Caipirinha was nice, but not necessarily my favorite – I simply prefer more lime.

The highlight of the cocktail extravaganza was the concoction called Campfire (graham cracker glass rim drizzled with chocolate syrup, Smirnoff Fluff Vodka, Baileys, flaming marshmallows). While I didn’t taste it, I captured it in the making:

When it comes to the wine, we didn’t really get a chance to look at the wine list, the wine were preselected for our dinner. The choice of red was 2011 San Giuseppe Pinot Noir Veneto IGT (12% ABV). I’m yet to find a Pinot Noir (or a Pinot Nero as it is typically called) from Italy which I would like – this was definitely not the one. This wine was flat and boring – it was drinkable, but really had no life in it (Drinkability: 7- ). The white wine, 2012 Donnachiara Fiano de Avelino DOCG Montefalcione (13% ABV) was very good – sweet fruit on the nose, plump, open, with touch of minerality and fresh cut grass, nice acidity (Drinkability: 8- ).

And now, to the food!

We started with the two appetizers: Bleu Chips (hand-cut potato chips, gorgonzola fonduta, fig jam, bacon) – a delicious combination, and besides – who can say no to the potato chips? And then the “Original” Balsamic Calamari – the name says it all – it is fried calamari, drizzled with the balsamic reduction – a somewhat unexpected, but a very tasty combination.

Our dinner continued with more appetizers. First, Heirloom Tomato Salad Bruschetta, where you could actually taste a difference in the tomatoes (many times I bought so called heirloom tomatoes in the store which tasted exactly the same as regular tomatoes). Next dish, Charred Hierloom Carrots (straciatella cheese, cilantro-honey citronette) was one of my favorites, as it was simple, yet delicious (I since made the carrots on the grill in the same style, and everybody loved them). Kobe Meatballs (tomato sauce, garlic bread) were very nice, but not necessarily better or worse many other well-made meatballs ( which to me means that they shouldn’t be too dense, and these were just fine). Burrata (bacon jam, pepperoncino) was traditionally delicious, but my very favorite appetizer was Fig & Beet (baby greens, goat cheese ricotta, onion, wildflower honey toasted oats, marcona almonds, Vincotto) – I’m very impartial to the beets salad in any shape and form, and the flavor combination of the beets, marcona almonds and figs was just spot on.

Next we had two entrees family style. “Loaded Baked Potato” Gnocci (hand-made potato pasta pillows, smoked bacon, broccoli, Italian cheddar) was can’t-stop-eating-this delicious and incredibly satisfying. I would even say “homey”, but – this is a descriptor for the next dish. Italian “Ramen” (hand-made noodles, chicken broth, local egg, parmigiano, pepperoncino) had such a surprising simplicity to it, nevertheless the whole table went “wow” after the first sip. I don’t know if chef Sam used some kind of magic potion on this soup, but despite the hot day, this soup was literally warming up the whole body and soul, and this dish alone will definitely worth a separate trip as the temperatures will stop dropping. Our  last entree was served on individual plates, and consisted of Pig Roast (slow roasted “Porchetta alla Romana”, broccoli rabe, pickled farm stand tomato) and Wild Ivory King Salmon (spicy spinach, Sultana raisin vinaigrette, walnut romesco aioli). The Pig Roast was perfectly done – meat was falling apart, while the skin was delightfully crisp. And the Ivory King Salmon? Wow. This was my very first encounter with the white salmon – delicious, mild flavor profile, again, very comforting and satisfying.

Believe it or not, but we still got dessert after such a meal. Blueberry Upside-down cake was every morsel delicious. Then Coffee & Doughnuts. I can tell you that in general, I’m not a fan of doughnuts. But this cappuccino/chocolate semifreddo sauce was beyond delicious, it was divine – together with the doughnut, it was one incredible flavor combination. And the Quattro Crème Brûlée? You must love this dish for the presentation alone – and as a bonus, it was outright delicious.

As usual, we had an opportunity to talk to the Executive Chef and Owner Sam DeVillis:

Executive Chef Sam DeVillis

and of course we thanked him wholeheartedly for the spectacular meal.

There you have it, my friends. I can’t tell you if our dinner was more of a classic or modern, but it was top notch creative, and in and out delicious. As Carl Anthony Trattoria celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, I can only wish Chef Sam and his team best of luck to continue satisfying all the demanding foodies for many many years ahead. Cheers!

Disclaimer: I visited the restaurant as a guest of the management. All opinions are my own.

Carl Anthony Trattoria
Clocktower Square
477 Main St
Monroe, CT 06468
(203) 268-8486

http://www.carlanthonys.com/index.htm

Carl Anthony's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Science of Taste, #WBC15 coming to Finger Lakes, World’s Best Restaurant Wine Lists

July 16, 2014 2 comments

Meritage Time!

I’m still trying to get into my regular posting rhythm, but the Wine Bloggers Conference, which I just attended this past weekend, while was a great experience, became also an issue. Too many experiences worth sharing, and the posts are not easy to put together quickly, yet in the meaningful manner. While I’m working on that, I decided to at least go back to some of the “programming staples”, such as Wednesday’s Meritage and weekly quizzes. Thus I’m starting with the answer to the last weekly wine quiz #108, where you were supposed to identify 7 wines by the image on top of the bottle cap or a capsule. Below are the pictures, now with the answers:

Yes, this was a hard quiz, but I was told by a number of people that they enjoyed it, so we will have another round this coming Saturday. We don’t have a winner in this round, but I would like to acknowledge next stop: tbd and SAHMmelier who both properly identified Silver Oak. Well done!

Now, to the interesting news around the web and the vine!

First, an article on the subject of … taste of wine. What factors affect the taste of wine, can we distinguish expensive wine from inexpensive in the format of a blind tasting, how do we taste – this well-researched article in The New Yorker discusses all of these questions. This is interesting how many scientists are researching and analyzing the ways we taste wine (I’m sure the food too) – what I don’t fully understand is an actual goal of such a research. Is it to facilitate creation of the wine which will taste universally good for everybody? Or is it to find out how to maximize the profits by changing of the look and feel of the bottle? Or how to decorate a wine bar so we will gladly pay $50 for a glass of wine? Or may be it is all just in the name of science? Read the article for yourself, and then I will be really interested in your opinion.

Now, fresh after the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014, I’m glad to tell you that Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 will be taking place on the East Coast! Yay! And not just anywhere on the East Coast, but namely in the Finger Lakes region, in the town of Corning! Based on my #WBC14 experience, I would highly recommend that if you are into the wine blogging, then put August 13-16, 2015 on your calendar, and start making arrangements to attend the conference – this is your best opportunity for learning and networking in the group of like-minded people. Here is the announcement which provides all of the details.

Last interesting article for today is this post by Dr. Vino, where he talks about the results of the ranking of the wine lists at the different restaurants world-wide, conducted by The World of Fine Wine magazine. The  ranking is done similar to the Michelin 3 star rating of the restaurants, assigning 3 star ratings to the best restaurant wine lists. Overall, 750 restaurants received at least one star rating, and out of this amount, 224 restaurant got the highest honors – 3 stars. It appears that city of New York is in the unquestionable lead with 36 highest ranked restaurants in the world – the next comes London, will less than a half of the amount of the 3-star rated restaurants at 17. Still, the best wine list in the world belongs to the hotel restaurant in Vienna, Austria, called Palais Coburg Residenz. The Hearst restaurant in New York has the best wine list in the United States. For more interesting information please visit Dr. Vino’s post.

And we are done for today. The glass is empty – but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (#WBC14), Day 1

July 11, 2014 19 comments

View at Fess ParkerI’m attending the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 in Santa Barbara, California, and what I will try to do is to give you a brief round up of my daily experiences. This is my only hope to have some level of concise picture of what was happening at the conference – there are way too many wines to taste and way too many experiences to have – unless I do this daily, it will all blur together next week.

In case you are not familiar with the event, Wine Bloggers Conference is exactly what the name says – an event where wine bloggers, wine writers and wine producers get together and discuss all the aspects of the “wine media”. Now in its 7th year, the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC for short) is taking place in different locations, generally related to the wine production, and this year the location is Santa Barbara county. This is my first WBC event (had been contemplating for a while), so many things are new to me. That’s all I have for the intro, if you are interested in more details, please take a look at the WBC web site.

Here is what I managed to do on my first day. I started the trip early in the morning (at about 3:30 AM) to get from New York to Santa Barbara. The two hours delay, thanks to United (my beloved airline with love/hate relationship), didn’t help, but still didn’t derail may plans, only made me to move a bit faster. Arrived, got a car (with additional unexpected delay now courtesy of Hertz) and then started driving to the Zaca Mesa winery, my first destination. Took the wrong turn, ended up on the beautiful mountain-side drive, so things started to turn to the better.

I managed to visit three wineries which we were on my list for Santa Ynez Valley – Zaca Mesa, Fess Parker and Andrew Murray. I will not give you full details of the tastings now (will reserve for the separate post), but I can tell you that all three wineries had some absolutely outstanding wines (outstanding enough to force me to break my resolve not to buy any wines during this trip). Syrah was a star at Zaca Mesa, Pinot Noir was outstanding at Fess Parker, and I was blown away by the rendition of all the Rhone varietals (Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah and Viognier) at Andrew Murray Vineyards – here is one picture for you:

Andrew Murray Rhone Line-up

After the tour of the wineries, I arrived to the hotel, and later on went for the expo and reception, where we had an opportunity to taste wines (surprise) and look at some innovative products.

As with any conferences and expos, we were offered a number of giveaways. Here is the most thoughtful one – bottle of water with attached travel pack of advil, for the “morning after”:

Water and Advil, how thoughtful!

Water and Advil, how thoughtful!

Before I wil present the highlights of the tasting, let me tell you about couple of interesting product presentations. First, there was a Sonic Decanter – the device which subjects the bottle of wine to the sound energy for about 35 minutes, which completely changes the taste profile of wine. First I wanted to dismiss it as a simple gimmick, but after tasting the wine before and after, I found out that it actually works and changes the taste. If this is a good thing or a bad thing, I will let you decide after the separate post.

Sonic Decanter

NomacorkAnother interesting presentation was given by Nomacork, a producer of the engineered cork. This cork is made out of the real cork tree, but it is not just a piece of the bark, it is made out of the actual cork tree material, and it can be engineered to allow different levels of oxygen exposure to the wine. To show how it works, the folks at Nomacork had a tasting of the same wine, 2012 Viognier, bottled at the same exact time with two different corks, allowing different levels of the oxygen penetration. The wine which was allowed more oxygen was showing considerably better, so this definitely works. The advantage of Nomacork is consistency, as it eliminates bottle variation, ability to control oxygen intake and the fact that it is still made from the natural material (versus Stelvin screw top, for instance) – and it is the cork which you will have to pull out and not just screw off. The disadvantage to me – I like the natural cork, and I like bottle variation, that mystical element in wine. But – as anyone else, I don’t like tainted wine… So I really can’t make up my mind on this.

And now, few of the wine highlights. Here is what I liked during the tasting – I can only give you “best memory effort” notes, as there were no paper handouts of any sort, so I had to rely only on my camera and the memory. Still, these are the wines which stood out.

2012 Ken Brown Chardonnay Nielson Vineyard Santa Maria Valley – beautiful, classic Chardonnay, with all the flavors being present and in balance – vanilla, butter, toasted bread, perfect acidity.

2013 Tercero The Outlier Gewurztraminer Santa Barbara County – I was very impressed – Gewurztraminer is one of the most difficult grapes to achieve balance, and this wine had it – touch of spice, touch of floral notes, creamy and round – an excellent wine.

2011 Alta Maria Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley – classic California Pinot Noir, good concentration, very well balanced.

2010 Baehner Fournier Vineyards Solus Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley – classic, concentrated, hint of green bell peppers, delicious overall.

2011 Santa Barbara Winery Primitivo Joughin Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley – another surprise – excellent, balanced wine, muted raspberries and good concentration, good acidity. Very solid effort.

2010 Ken Brown Pinot Noir Rancho La Vina Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills – excellent California Pinot Noir – dark power and finesse.

2012 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills – another excellent California Pinot Noir – perfect fruit and perfect balance.

2011 Longoria Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley – and yet another surprise. Excellent Tempranillo, more on the level of Toro than Rioja or Ribera del Duero – powerful, dense, but well balanced and not over the top. I’m happy do discover more of the old world grapes perfectly executed on the US soil.

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That concludes my report about the first day of the conference. Stay tuned, as we are only getting started : ). Cheers!

Daily Glass: World Cup-Appropriate Wine

July 9, 2014 6 comments

As I didn’t have time to look for the interesting news and articles for the traditional Meritage post, I will skip it and will give you the quiz answers next week. And for today, let’s just talk about an interesting wine find.

Literally days before the World Cup started (even if you are not following the World Cup 2014, I assume you are aware of the soccer’s (it is football for the world outside of the United States) main tournament, taking place in Brazil), I got an e-mail from the Last Bottles Wine, offering the wine with the picture of the soccer ball on the label.

Leo Malbec

How appropriate, I thought, I definitely should get this wine, especially considering the price of $18 per bottle – and so I did. Not only this wine has a picture of soccer ball on the label, it is also associated with one of the best known names in the soccer today – Leo Messi, the star of the Argentinian team and one of the very best players in the world.

Same as Leo Messi, the wine hails from Argentina, and yes, it is a Malbec (star player to star grape), and it is produced by the Casa Bianchi, an excellent Argentinian winery which makes a wide range of wines, from simple everyday wines to the ultra-premium, cellar-worthy bottles. The connection between the wine and Leo Messi? Simple. As the back label says, “collaborate with the Leo Messi Foundation in long lasting commitment to building projects focused in health-care and educational developments for children with social disadvantages”.

Leo Malbec Back Label

Let’s talk about the wine – 2011 Casa Bianchi Premium Leo Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (15% ABV). It was definitely World Cup game -worthy. Dark garnet color in the glass. Beautiful nose of supple fruit, herbs and spices – a touch of eucalyptus, a bit of the dark chocolate – very promising. On the palate, the wine opened up very dense, balanced and smooth, then showing some spicy spikes as it was breathing in the glass. On the second day the wine showed more of that spicy nature, with some acidity and tannins not always dancing together. I believe it will come around in another 3-4 years, it is a bit too young at the moment to show its full potential. Drinkability: 8-

That’s all I have for you – go back to the game and wish Leo Messi all the luck – he and his team will need it. Cheers!

How Do You Describe Coffee Smell In Words – Visiting Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters

July 7, 2014 14 comments

DSC_0814Seriously, I really mean it as a question – how do you describe coffee smell? I’m asking here the people who cherishes or may be even worships the good cup of coffee – how one can describe that “pick-me-up” goodness when you walk into the room and smell freshly brewed, real, delicious coffee made with love? It is hard, right? You can describe the effects of that smell (invigorating, uplifting, awakening…), but not the smell itself. But – if you are into the coffee, it is enough to say “the wonderful smell of fresh coffee”, and we understand each other. And let me throw in a few pictures for the good measure…

When I walked into the shop of Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters in Trumbull, CT, I felt like a kid in the toy store. It was all about coffee – the smell, the coffee makers, huge bags of coffee beans – it was all coffee, coffee, coffee. Shearwater Coffee Roasters has a very simple mission – to let people experience the best possible single origin organic coffee, one small batch at a time. This is a loaded sentence, so let me explain it in a few more words.

Let’s start with “organic“. All the coffee roasted at the Shearwater is USDA certified organic. The coffee comes from all of the world, from Guatemala., Colombia, Ethiopia, Costa Rica and other places, but only from the producers which had being certified by USDA as organic. USDA Organic requirements cover full lifecycle of the coffee production, from the soil and trees handling until the green coffee beans will be packaged for shipping. That organic certification also includes the Fair Trade Certification, which means that the people who grow the coffee are treated properly. Additionally, the Shearwater production process and the whole facility had being also certified by the USDA, so the final product which goes into the little yellow bags is in and out USDA Certified Organic.

Now, a few words about “single origin“. The best way to explain the concept is in the analogy with wine – this is the wine blog after all! Single Origin is really an equivalent of the appellation, or in some cases it can equated to the estate or even single vineyard.  Same as grapes, the coffee is a product of mother nature – it exist in multiple varieties, and its taste will be affected by the soil type, the climate, the amount of water, the altitude – yes, you can call it a “coffee terroir” – and if coffee beans are treated properly from the bud breaking until it will make it into your cup, you will be able to taste it.

Now, the “small batch“: that simply means that coffee is processed (i.e., roasted) one small batch at a time. How small? 20 pounds to be exact. 20 pounds of fresh coffee beans are roasted at a time. That’s it – only 20 pounds. Working in the small batches, you have much better control over the process, and you can ensure that all the beans are roasted uniformly. And you can also make each batch to taste individually different. Which gets us to the last term I want to explain – “best possible”.

The “best possible” coffee combines everything which we talked about before – the organic, single origin, the small batch – but it is also a process of Artisan Coffee Roasting. At the heart of the Shearwater operation, supporting the passion of Ed Freedman, the Head Roaster, is the highly efficient machine called Diedrich IR-12, an infrared coffee roaster. This machine allows very efficient control of the temperature during the roasting cycle (which is very short – takes about 14 minutes to produce medium roast coffee), and the roasting process can be fitted exactly for each and every varietal and type of coffee, to allow it to achieve its fullest potential! How about that for the “best possible” coffee? As I said, I’m fully relying on pictures to share my excitement, so here is the machine:

The machine is controlled manually, but it allows full recording of the process (time/temperature changes ) on the computer, so for each batch it is known precisely how it was produced and how the process can be adjusted if and when necessary. On the pictures below you will see Ed Freedman explaining what happens during different stages of the roasting process and how it is recorded on the computer:

The process starts from the green coffee beans been loaded inside, and the temperature gradually increased until you hear coffee to start crackling, pretty much like popcorn. Once you hear that noise, depending on the type of roast you are producing (light, medium, French etc.), you will have to decide for how much longer to continue the process. Also you can all the time have the visual of the progress:

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Once you are done, the coffee goes out of the roasting chamber and now it should be cooled off very quickly, to make sure it is not going to roast any more:

Once the coffee is cooled off, it goes into the bin to rest – the coffee needs to rest at least for 2 days before it can be packaged and sold:

DSC_0856That’s it! Short 14 minutes, 20 lb of the green coffee beans become 17 lb of the wonderful roasted coffee, and you have a room full of delicious invigorating smell as a an added bonus. And you can also check what kind of roast did you achieve, using this simple set of the colored circles (of course you can buy a machine for $10,000 which will do that for you, but Ed feels quite happy with the circles : ) ):

That concludes my story about the Shearwater Coffee Roasters. They are located in Trumbull, Connecticut, so if you live close by or visiting the area, that might be a good place for you to visit (they sell all the coffees and coffee makers right at the shop). If you are not local, but still want to experience Artisan single origin organic coffee at its best, you can order directly from Shearwater web site.

I hope I managed to make your Monday morning – no, I can’t deliver the smell, but I hope I gave you enough coffee pictures so you can add the smell on your own. Oh yes, the cup of fresh coffee sounds divine – time to make one. Cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #108: How Well Do You Know Your Wines, Part 3

July 5, 2014 16 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend (for all of us in US – welcome to the second day of your Independence Day long weekend) and your new wine quiz!

I’m still undecided about the grape trivia series, but I didn’t want to leave you without a quiz this weekend, so I decided to do a sequel to the quizzes #86 and #87, where you were required to recognize the wines by the pictures of the foil capsule tops. Below you will see the pictures of 7 different foil tops – you will need to identify the wine producer behind each one of those tops (note – click on the pictures to zoom):

1. DSC_0068

2. DSC_0071

3. DSC_0066

4. DSC_0069

5. DSC_0075

6. DSC_0982

7. DSC_0077

I can give you a little hint – the wines above represent Australia, California, France and Italy. Few of the producers are quite famous, and few are less so. Even if you recognize only one – don’t be shy, comment away!

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

Month in Wines – June 2014

July 3, 2014 5 comments

Quite expectedly, with the arrival of the consistently warm weather, June saw an increase in the Rosé wine appearances – luckily, those were good Rosé. There were also a number of great Cabernet Sauvignon wines worth mentioning, including some candidates for the Top Dozen list of 2014. And some Syrah – rather magnificent. And other great wines. Anyway, for what it worth, the list is below. As usual, most of the wines were rated at 8- or higher, with some exceptions (and explanations) for the lower ratings.

Here we go:

2013 Rocher de La Garde Cinsault Vin de France (12.5% ABV, $9.99) – beautiful light pink color, inviting nose of fresh strawberries, more strawberries on the palate. Well balanced with nice acidity, refreshing, easy to drink and very pleasant. A perfect summer day quaff. 8

2013 Temperamento Bobal Rosé Utiel-Requena DOP (12% ABV) – Beautiful in and out. Perfectly pink in the glass. Strawberries on the nose, ripe strawberries on the palate. Round, balanced, together, very good overall. 8-

2012 Albero Bobal Rosé Utiel-Requena DOP (12.5% ABV, $5.99 at Trader Joe’s) – simple and delicious. Beautiful pink color, refreshing, good acidity, strawberries profile. Unbeatable QPR. 8-

2013 14-18h Dry Rosé Wine Agiorgitico, Peloponnisos PGI, Greece (13% ABV) – beautiful intense pink color. Delicious, concentrated, cranberry laden wine. My perennial favorite for the past 7 -8 years. Never disappoints. 8

2013 La Gordonne Billette Bouquet de Provence Cuvée Tradition, Côtes de Provence (13.5% ABV) – it’s no wonder this wine is one of the best selling Rosé in France – light, clean, refreshing, each sip having enough substance to hold on to, and perfectly balanced at the same time. 8

2013 Les Lauzeraies Tavel, France (13.5% ABV) – I love Tavel wines any time of year – but they feel especially appropriate during summer. Beautiful, concentrated pink color. Nose of cranberries and rose petals. Cranberries and herbs on the palate, medium bodyu, concentrated, excellent balance. 8-

2006 Selbach-Oster Schmitt Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Auslese Mosel Saar Ruwer QmP, Germany (8.5% ABV) – Delicious. Slightly viscous, layers of sweet fruit (apricots, peaches), honeysuckle. Perfect acidity. 8-

2013 Bodegas Shaya “Shaya” Old Vines Verdejo, Rueda, Spain – one of my all times favorite white wines. Delicious complexity in the plump, mouth-coating, round package – this wine can rival any Chardonnay any day. If you never had it, make it your next wine. 8+

2011 Org de Rac Cuvée La Verne Blanc de Blancs Brut, Swatrland, South Africa (12.5% ABV) – classic and delicious. Hint of yeast and bread on the nose, fine mousse on the palate, clean and crisp acidity, perfect body weight mid-palate. Excellent sparkling wine overall. 8-

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2010 St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.6% ABV)  – amazing Cabernet Sauvignon, from nose to the palate. On the nose, the wine showed cassis, a hint of blueberries and a touch of espresso. On the palate, this wine was powerful and dense. Dark fruit, perfectly restrained, thick, practically chewy mouthfeel, perfectly structured and dry, layered and silky smooth at the same time.  9-

2003 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon Neyers Ranch Conn Valley,  Napa Valley (14.5% ABV) -  Sheer exuberance. On the nose, beautiful dark fruit, fresh berries and the touch of barnyard. The palate was even better than the nose – lots of stuff happening, eucalyptus, herbs, sage, bell peppers, cassis, blueberries, truffles, dark chocolate, espresso – just beautiful, beautiful wine.  9

2011 Michel Chapoutier Marius Red, France IGP (13.5% ABV) – Touch of barnyard on the nose. Nicely restrained on the palate. Touch of spiciness, black pepper, dark fruit, good balance. Very pleasant overall. 8-

2008 Alban Vineyards Patrina Estate Syrah Edna Valley (14.7% ABV) – My first taste of Alban wines, a cult Rhone-style wine producer in California. Beautiful dark fruit, dense, earthy, plums, velvety texture, perfect balance. Every sip was a pleasure. 9-

2011 Abacela Fiesta Tempranillo Umpqua Valley, Oregon (13.6% ABV) – very respectful rendition of Tempranillo – savory, well structured, with good amount of power typical for Ribero del Duero wines. 8-

2009 Bodegas Ochoa Finca Santa Cruz Tempranillo Crianza Limited Edition, Navarra, Spain (13.5% ABV) – another excellent Tempranillo, this time from Spain – round, ripe, deliciously layered with incredible textural complexity, tobacco, smoke, perfect balance. 8

NV Molo 8 Lambrusco Mantovano DOC (8.5% ABV) – simple and delicious! Perfectly in check, balanced, good acidity, fresh red fruit on the palate, pleasant fizz. 8-

2007 Burgess Cellars Merlot, Napa Valley – dark fruit on the nose and the palate, hint of dark chocolate, cassis, raspberry and sweet blueberry undertones on the palate, good balance. 8-

2004 Club de Sommeliers Chateauneauf-du-Pape Red, Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC , France (14.5% ABV) – a very solid effort for the France supermarket wine – it aged nicely, good open red fruit, touch of spices, good balance. 7+

2010 Celler de Capcanes Costers del Gravet Red Wine, Montsant DO (14.5% ABV, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Garnacha, 20% Samso) – dark power, focused, concentrated, starts from the classic Cabernet profile with layered and open support from Grenache. Full body, yet perfectly balanced between fruit, tannins and acidity. Delicious wine. 8+

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That completes the report on the June wine highlights. Did you have any of these wines? What were your best wine discoveries of the last month? Cheers!

International Tempranillo Face Off – USA Fares Well

July 1, 2014 9 comments

DSC_0504Thinking about Tempranillo, what wines come to mind first? Rioja is an unquestionable champion, with its bright fruit expressions packaged into eucalyptus laden cigar box. Ribera del Duero is definitely next, with its perfect, firm structure, and then Toro, with layers upon layers of power. Tempranillo has one of the most synonyms, most of which point back to the different areas in Spain, so it is given that outside of three regions we just mentioned, the grape is very popular all around Spain. And then… well, there is not much outside of Spain. Portugal, where Tempranillo is known under the names of Aragonez and Tinta Roriz, is the only internationally renown source of Tempranillo wines outside of Spain – even then mostly using Tempranillo as a part of the blend. Australia and a few other countries also experiment with the grape – but I’m not sure they produce something worth bragging about.

And then, of course, there is the USA. Tempranillo made it into the California at the beginning of the 20th century, but really didn’t find much success there as a single varietal wine. You can find some of the Tempranillo made in the southern California, in places like Temecula Valley, but those wines are little known outside of the wineries which produce them. On a big scale, Texas probably is having the biggest success with Tempranillo in USA, where the grape is considered a signature state grape, and Tempranillo wines produced by many wineries. But our conversation today will not be about Texas Tempranillo – we are going a lot further North on the map, to the state of Oregon.

No, Oregon is not an internationally renowned source of Tempranillo wines, not yet anyway. However, while I was recently participating in the #winechat about Oregon Pinot Noir, someone mentioned Tempranillo as one of the grapes in Oregon which might have a bright future. As I’m very partial to the Tempranillo wines with the great love of Rioja, that piqued my interest. Tempranillo? From Oregon? Really? How good can that be? I was told that Abacela winery in Oregon produces excellent Tempranillo wine. I reached out to the winery, and – got the bottle to taste. But – I didn’t want to taste this wine on its own – I wanted to create some frame of reference. Yes, I would love to get the Texas Tempranillo, but – that would take a lot of time. Of course the best available source of Tempranillo wines is Spain, so I decided to get a few different wines from Spain. I purposefully avoided Rioja – those wines are rarely 100% pure Tempranillo, and the winemaking style is very specific to Rioja, so it wouldn’t be a good reference. Ribera del Duero wines also might be a bit too specific for this exercise, and Toro wines pack way too much power. I looked for generic Tempranillo renditions in my local wine store, and came up with two bottles from Spain – one from Navarra and one from La Mancha.

Before we talk about our “face off”, let me say a few words about our competitor from USA – Abacela winery. According to the winery’s web site, Abacela name comes from “an ancient and now almost obsolete verb, ‘abacelar’ common to three Iberian languages-Spanish, Galician and Portuguese-and which means “to plant a grape vine.”” Abacela winery started in 1992, when Earl and Hilda Jones purchased a 19th century property in Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon. This purchase was the result of a very long and intense research on the climate, soil and landscape, to find the place ideally suited to produce a Tempranillo wine on par with the best Spanish Tempranillo. If you are interested to see how the pursuit of passion looks like, read the section called Story on Abacela web site – I wish the other wineries will give you even half of the information about their wines and vineyards.

Our tasting, which I proudly called Face Off, was very simple – I sat down with my wife to try these three wines. We tried the wines in the exact order as you will see it below.

Here are the detailed notes:

2010 Venta Morales Tempranillo La Mancha, Spain (13.5% ABV, $7.99)
Color/visual: Dark garnet, almost black. Very substantial legs
Nose: Baking spices, ripe plums, touch of earthiness
Palate: Prunes, touch of figs, nice acidity, slight imbalance at midpalate
Verdict: Shows slightly “overboard”. Drinkability: 7

2011 Abacela Fiesta Tempranillo Umpqua Valley, Oregon (13.6% ABV, 17 months in barrel, $23)
Color/visual: Garnet, noticeable rim variation as well as legs
Nose: dark chocolate, herbs
Palate: Very elegant, nice fresh fruit, good acidity, very noticeable cherries, present tannins, medium to long finish
Verdict: overall very nice wine. Should be able to stand up against Ribera del Duero. Drinkability: 8-

2009 Bodegas Ochoa Finca Santa Cruz Tempranillo Crianza Limited Edition, Navarra, Spain (13.5% ABV, aged 1 year in American oak, $15.99)
Color/visual: Garnet color, very slight rim variation, noticeable legs
Nose: Touch of sweet fruit, sweet cherries, eucalyptus
Palate:Elegant, perfectly balanced, soft sweet fruit, tobacco, smoke, incredible textural complexity, touch of dust
Verdict: An outstanding Tempranillo, one of the very best I ever tried. Drinkability: 8

As you can see, Abacela Tempranillo definitely worth its salt soil, and I would highly recommend it (if you can find it). I also want to note that Abacela Fiesta is only an introductory Tempranillo – they produce another 3 wines out of Tempranillo, plus a full range of very unusual for the Oregon (or even USA) wines, such as Tannat, Dolcetto and Tinta Amarela – full list looks very impressive and tempting.

As for my little Tempranillo competition, we are done here. Have you ever had an “unusual” Tempranillo wine? Have you ever tried Abacela Tempranillo or any of their wines? What do you think?  Cheers!

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