Unexpected Wines of Macedonia

November 25, 2015 Leave a comment
Macedonia landscape  - View from National Park Galicica

Macedonia landscape – View from National Park Galicica. Source: Wines of Macedonia Web Site

Macedonia (The Republic of Macedonia, to be precise) is a small country right in a middle of Balkan Peninsula in Europe. While it exists under its current name only since 1991, it is one of the oldest countries in Europe, tracing its history for more than 7,000 years. Similar to its neighbors – Turkey, Greece and others – Macedonia also has very long wine history, but still remains “one of the Europe’s last undiscovered wine country”, as stated on Wines of Macedonia web site.

Macedonia has about 62,000 acres of vines planted, split between 3 regions and 16 wine districts. There are 28 grape varietals growing there, equally split between white and red. The climate in Macedonia is a cross between Mediterranean and Continental with warm, dry summer and fall, which definitely helps with wine production.

Okay, enough of the facts – you can read that all on your own. Now let me explain the “unexpected” part of the title. In my mind, Macedonian mostly associated with indigenous grapes, such as Vranec (there are 7 indigenous grapes in Macedonia at the moment). When I was offered a sample of Macedonian wines, I was hoping to find something new and unusual, and may be even advance my grape count.

When the box arrived and was opened, to my surprise I found inside a bottle of Rkatsiteli and a bottle of Merlot. Rkatsiteli to me is a Georgian variety (yes, I heard that it is growing in some of the Balkan countries). And Merlot – don’t think we need to discuss the origins of that. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Merlot and Rkatsiteli definitely surprised me. Both wines came from the region called Tikveš, which is the biggest wine region out of three in Macedonia. Well, of course I tasted the wines, and below you can find my thoughts:

2014 Stobi Rkatsiteli Tikveš, Macedonia (12.3% ABV, $12, 100% Rkatsiteli)
C: Pale straw
N: touch of minerality, white peaches, candied lemon zest, overall very inviting
P: lemony acidity, underripe green apple, nice creaminess, touch of minerality, medium+ body, clean
V: 7+, food wine – fresh seafood, oysters

2009 Bovin Merlot Barrique Tikveš, Macedonia (14% ABV, $N/A, 12 month in Macedonian oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: delicious dark chocolate, ripe fruit, hint of black currant, blueberries
P: medium to full body, baking spices, slightly overripe cherries, short finish.
V: I had this wine over the period of a few days. Here is the conclusion from the initial tasting: 7-, beautiful nose; interesting taste components on the palate, but not coherent together. Two days later, the wine became surprisingly coherent, rounded up and showed an silky dark power and excellent balance, so the final verdict is 7+/8-.

There you have it, my friends – two wines, may be unexpected, but well drinkable. Next time if you see a wine from Macedonia on the shelf – give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!

China Travel Tidbits

November 23, 2015 7 comments

In the previous post, I shared my food and wine experiences in China. In this post, I want to inundate you with pictures, and also share a bit of the first-hand advice. I had certain level of expectations, but those were no match to the actual experiences, hence the post.

One important disclaimer is that while I was traveling on business, I was all on my own, without any arrangements made, outside of having a visa and having the hotel room reservation. I had company for most of the business activities, but overall coming in and out, and moving around for the sightseeing was all by myself. Another important “disclaimer” – I only visited Beijing – your experience in the other cities might be quite different, so keep that in mind.

While in the taxi on the way from airport, I took a pictures of my last “sun sighting” for the week in Beijing

I will not be trying to recount the daily activities, as this would be boring and long, but instead, here are my main takeaways regarding travel to China.

Language barrier: yes, I expected it, but it was much more than I expected. Absolute majority of the people don’t speak or understand English (duh). That includes taxi drivers. Yes, there are signs in English, but it doesn’t help you if your taxi driver doesn’t understand a word of what you are saying. Even in hotels, lots of service personnel don’t speak English. The places which offer welcome relief? Anywhere someone wants to sell you something – from Pearl Market to the little street shops by the Great Wall, all sellers are very proficient with “how much” and “tell me your price”.

What exacerbates the language problem is the sheer size (huge!) of the city and everything in it. Let me explain with the simplest, but probably the most critical for any visitor, example – hotels. New York City has around 470 hotels. Seoul has roughly 430 hotels. Beijing has more than 5,500 hotels. 5,500! Do you think any of the taxi drivers had any idea where Sheraton Great Wall is located? No, they didn’t! Even when you have a special card from the hotel where the address is written in Chinese, and the driver speaks decent English – all I got was a smile and “I don’t know where it is”. Keep that in mind. If you have to, have hotel’s number on a speed dial – the taxi driver at the airport called hotel to find out where to go (works at the airport, doesn’t work that well on the street).

Beijing Sheraton Great Wall (1)

Sheraton Great wall was built about 30 years ago and was one of the very first hotels where foreigners were allowed to stay

Beijing in the morning

A typical morning view from my hotel room

Subway is your friend. I can’t give enough praise to the Beijing subway. Not only it is clean, spacious and all the trains are brand spanking new, but all the signs are bi-lingual. As long as you know where do you need to go, you can buy a ticket from the machine, which can be easily switched into all English prompts with one button. All the fares are distance based, with I think 5 yuan been the most within most areas in Beijing, so it is very inexpensive. Not that the taxi cost a lot – the taxi fares in Beijing are only distance based, independent from the time – which is vital considering insurmountable traffic in Beijing at any time (for sure during the day). The starting fare in taxi is 13 yuan, and you can drive quite a distance before the meter will advance – but then you might be able to walk faster…

Pearl Market in Beijing

Pearl Market in Beijing

Bargaining. Just a little note here, as I really don’t enjoy the process, but bargaining is unavoidable if you want to buy anything on the street or at any of the tourist-focused shops (which are lots). Two small examples. When visiting pearl market (went there with friends), I didn’t need pearls, but wanted to buy two small key chains. I found some little wooden key chains, and lady asked me for 230 yuan (about $40 for two tiny pieces of wood!). I said “20”, and simply started to walk away. The lady screamed at me to come back, and with the face expression showing that I just offended her beyond belief, asked me to give her the money. So I bought 2 key chains for about $3 each, which I think is a fair price (instead of $20 as requested originally). Thus I recommend that 10% is what you need to start from if you want to buy something from the street vendors. One more example – I was looking at the small pendant with the one single pearl in it. The lady asked the same 230 yuan for it (must be the day, huh). Native speaking colleague standing next to me, quickly found exact same pendant for 19 yuan on Ali-Baba – it is all made in China after all, right?

One of the countless ultra modern shopping centers in Beijing

One of the countless ultra modern shopping centers in Beijing

I’m almost ready to talk about sightseeing I was able to do in Beijing, but before we get there, one more important note – a bit out of place, as it concerns my experience at the airport, but I want to mention it as it might save you some aggravation. It appears the Chinese security at the airport has particular admiration for the power charging sticks, a portable batteries in any forms. They request you to take it out of your carry on and put it through the X-ray machine. What they are actually looking for is the capacity (1 Ah, 2.8 Ah, 3.7 Ah, anything of this kind) written on the battery pack. My battery stick, which saved me countless number of times for the last year, didn’t have the capacity written on it, as I got it at one of the conferences as a present, and therefore, it was confiscated. I tried to argue, but you know how much you can argue with airport security, especially in China… Therefore, if you plan to travel to China, check that your power stick has the capacity written on it, to avoid any unpleasant experiences (those little things get you…).

Now, it is the time for a barrage of pictures (almost). I was able to visit Great Wall and Forbidden City, which are probably what any tourist would want to see. There are few locations to get on top of the Great Wall – I chose the place called Mutianyu, which is about 1.5 hours away from Beijing, and it is less crowded than the others. Take a look at the pictures below – while it was extremely foggy, the experience was still magnificent. If you will go there, make sure you would wear something very comfortable, both shoes and clothes – going up and down on the little stairs is quite a strenuous workout.

The Forbidden City, which is located right in the center of Beijing and is the largest wooden structure of this kind in the world, is interesting to see, but I would honestly say that it is not a “must see” type. Colorful, yes, but in the end of the day, it is just a bunch of buildings… Anyway, the rest of my China travel expressions are below in the form of the pictures – I also will include comments where possible. By the way, there is a mini-quiz there – scroll through slowly, so you will see the quiz and the answer should be somewhere there as well. Cheers!

The entrance to the Mutianyu Great Wall complex

The entrance to the Mutianyu Great Wall complex

After you take a ride on the shuttle bus, this is your way up to the cable car

After you take a ride on the shuttle bus, this is your way up to the cable car

Up on the cable car

Up on the cable car

Yep, you are finally there

Yep, you are finally there

The actual entrance to the very top

The actual entrance to the very top

Up and down the Great wall - take a look at the tiny height of the steps - but make sure you pay attention while walking, or else

Up and down the Great wall – take a look at the tiny height of the steps – but make sure you pay attention while walking, or else

The Great Wall

The Great Wall



more of the magnificent views, even in the fog...

more of the magnificent views, even in the fog…

Probably the best shot of the Great Wall I could take

Probably the best shot of the Great Wall I could take

One of the Guard towers

One of the Guard towers

Into the fog...

Into the fog…

The defence view

The defence view

Yep, still on the wall

Yep, still on the wall

Toboggan - the best way down

Toboggan – the best way down. You can also see the ski lift which you can take to get up instead of the Cable Car.

And now, The Forbidden City:

Walk towards the entrance to the Forbidden City

Walk towards the entrance to the Forbidden City

The side wall of the Forbidden City. Love the perspective...

The side wall of the Forbidden City. Love the perspective…

and one more view of the side wall - Forbidden City

and one more view of the side wall – Forbidden City

Forbidden City - just the beginning. I wish you could see how many people carry selfies sticks...

Forbidden City – just the beginning. I wish you could see how many people carry selfies sticks…

From here on - the fragments of beautiful timeless architecture.

From here on – the fragments of beautiful timeless architecture.

Beijing Forbidden City (12) Beijing Forbidden City (14) Beijing Forbidden City (17)

Here is your Quiz - what this urn is for?

Here is your Quiz – what this urn is for?

Beijing Forbidden City (4) Beijing Forbidden City (3) Beijing Forbidden City (2)

Beijing Forbidden City (6)

Beijing Forbidden City (13)

Beijing Forbidden City (11)

Beijing Forbidden City (10)

Beijing Forbidden City (9)

Beijing Forbidden City (8)

Beijing Forbidden City (7)

Beijing Forbidden City (5)

Beijing Forbidden City (1)

Here is your an answer - it is a fire extinguisher...

Here is the answer to the quiz – the urn was a fire extinguisher…

And the sun shined above Forbidden City by the time I was leaving

And the sun shined (okay, as much as it is possible in Beijing) above the Forbidden City by the time I was leaving

Not that this is anything special, but here is the China Airline birdy which took me to Seoul…

Bye bye China

Bye bye China

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! 2015 Edition

November 19, 2015 4 comments

Geoarges Duboeuf Beaujolais NouveauHave you looked in the calendar today? Yes, it is the third Thursday of November, which means that … Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived! All the wine stores around you should carry bottles with the festive labels, and there are multiple events and parties to celebrate the arrival of the new wine, the wine of 2015.

I know that many hard core wine drinkers scoff at the Beaujolais Nouveau wine and the whole celebration, considering the wine to be a plonk and the celebration only a marketing gimmick. Speaking for myself, I love to partake in this celebration, as may be the first wine holiday ever created (now we have ever increasing number of “grape days” throughout the year, to make sure we have enough reasons to open a bottle of wine).

Besides just liking the idea of celebration of the first wine of the harvest, I find that quality of the Beaujolais Nouveau is consistently improving, year after year. Thus I happily ran to the store today at the first available opportunity to get some Beaujolais Nouveau. 5–6 years ago Georges Dubœeuf Beaujolais Nouveau was the only option. Few years back, Joseph Drouhin joined the company. This year, I had a choice of 4 wines to pick from, so I decided to limit my tasting to 3.

I don’t want to give you any overall impressions until you will skim through the tasting notes, so here we go:

2015 Georges Dubœuf Beaujolais Nouveau (13% ABV, $10.99)
C: Dark Garnet, very unexpected
N: restrained, fresh berries with the touch of herbs. Very different from the previous years, a lot less fruity. More reminiscent of a traditional Beaujolais or a nice Chinon
P: outstanding. Fresh, open, perfectly balanced fruit, ripe cherries, medium body, medium-long finish.
V: 8-, very unexpected, would never guess in the blind tasting that this is a Nouveau wine. Not sure what kind of magic Dubœeuf used, but this is a pretty spectacular wine in its own.

2015 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau (13% ABV, $11.99)
C: dark garnet, another unexpected color
N: more traditional nose of freshly crushed berries, still not overboard, with underpinning of spices
P: delicious young wine, nice fresh fruit, finish mostly acidic
V: 7/7+, more in line with expectations of Beaujolais Nouveau – a very well made one, but still

2015 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau (13% ABV, $14.99)
C: dark garnet, one more wow
N: restrained, with acidity and minerality been in the lead, touch floral, may a bit of tart cherries
P: excellent, round, more of classic Burgundy in style, not a hint of “nouveau” on the palate, very fresh with a distant hint of smoke and tobacco on the palate.
V: 8-, outstanding. Again a complete surprise.

What can I tell you? Very impressive. Excellent wines, well made and tasty, and offering great QPR for what they are. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, this might be a great addition to your table. And if you don’t, Beaujolais Nouveau 2015 is well worth your attention. And if this Beaujolais Nouveau is any indication, the 2015 might be (yet again) the vintage of the century. Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! À votre santé!

China Food and Wine Experiences

November 18, 2015 18 comments

For the first time ever, my business took me to China. Not only China, but it was also my first visit to Asia, so definitely a new experience. Of course I read and heard many China food-related stories from people, but as we all know, there is a big difference between the two – “virtual” and “real-life” experiences are vastly different, especially when it comes to something which you put into your mouth.

During the week in Beijing, I had an opportunity to try many different dishes and visit a number of restaurants. One challenge is that for the most of the restaurants I visited, I don’t have their English names or addresses, so what I will share with you will be mostly a collection of impressions, primarily in the pictures, without much useful references for you in case you will be visiting China any time soon. But I hope at least you will get an idea for what to expect, especially if you grew up on mostly European food. I also plan another post which will be just about the “tourist” experiences, for things outside of the food per se.

First restaurant I visited was a “Noodle House” type if I’m not mistaken, and it was located right around the corner from the Sheraton Great Wall hotel where I was staying.

The main dish at Noodle House was of course, the noodles, but before we got to them we also had lots of appetizers. Pork belly with roasted garlic and Quail eggs was particularly tasty, and it became only better with time, as it had its own heat and garlic continued cooking. Noodles were good, but hard to finish after all the food prior. Chicken with peanuts (as opposed to traditional cashew nuts in US) were also very tasty.

Now, I have to mention the first one experience (well, the actual “first” was undrinkable wine at the reception, but that we will skip). When I poured myself a glass of Chinese Chardonnay (at a happy hour), I had no expectations – just curiosity. First sip, and  – wow – not bad at all! 1421 Gold Chardonnay Xinjiang China had a characteristic nose of Chardonnay, with touch of vanilla. The palate had touch of golden apples, vanilla, good acidity – overall, very enjoyable. I like the brand’s description on the 1421 web site: “1421….the year Admiral Zheng He, leading one of the largest fleets ever seen, sailed to many, many parts of the world. Wine much like travel, has served as a link between different cultures, people and countries. Today at the beginning of the 21st century, 1421 follows the same mission as Admiral Zheng He, sharing his spirit for a better world.” – the Chardonnay I had was definitely the wine worth sharing.

My next experience was a first encounter with the traditional Peking Duck, a whole duck seasoned and roasted in the special oven, with its crispy skin been the most sought-after delicacy. The place we went to, Dadong Roasted Duck Restaurant, defines itself as an Artistic Concept Food, and it does it – “Artistic Concept” – very successfully – in ambiance, food presentation, service – all the elements are there, definitely a world-class restaurant.

Of course my encounter with the restaurant started from the wine list, which was something to look at. The list was very substantial, with the wide range of offerings, adequately priced for the “concept restaurant”. I don’t remember which exact Bordeaux wine was that, but it was priced at a measly ¥28,000 (the ¥ symbol depicts Chinese Yuan, often also called RMB), which would translate into roughly $4,800. You could also have Penfolds Grange for only ¥7,200, which would be roughly $1,200 – which is almost reasonable (hope it was not a young vintage).

So after hopelessly scanning the wine list for a few minutes, I finally discovered what I was looking for – a small section of Chinese wines. Luckily, I already was given the name of one of the best wines in China (according to the local sources, of course) – the wine called Changyu, and there it was on the list. There was no vintage listed, but there were three wines offered with different “age” – 1, 3 and 5 years. I’m not sure what it means, but one year old looked as good to me as all others, and at ¥196 ($33) I felt very comfortable with my choice, whether the wine would be good or bad.

Turns out that Changyu was the oldest commercial winery in China, started in 1892, then of course significantly destroyed in 1949 and now getting back to their roots. The only thing I was able to figure out from the label was that the wine was made out of the grape called Cabernet Gernischt, which, according to the article by Jancis Robinson, is actually a Carmenere. I couldn’t figure out the vintage or any other details, but I can tell you that this Changyu Red Wine Blend Ningxia, China was simply outstanding –  delicious nose of black currant with touch of mint, and perfectly balanced body of the classic Bordeaux blend which is ready to drink – nothing green, just cassis, eucalyptus, firm, good structure, welcoming pinch of tannins, good acidity and perfect balance. I got 2 bottles of Changyu at duty free, so probably there will be another post on the subject.

While I was working through the wine list, my host was navigating through much bigger book – here is the look of the menu at Dadong restaurant:

I can only say “kudos to my host” for been able to select anything from the book of that size – I would probably spend half a day flipping through the pages. Anyway, we started our dinner with a couple of exotic appetizers. Both were vegetables, one had sweet sauce and was crunchy, may be some sort of squash, but cooked very lightly? The second one was somewhat reminiscent of pickled mushrooms in texture, but didn’t have pickled taste. Both of course had a beautiful presentation. Then the duck arrived, was quickly presented to us (yes, I forgot to take a picture) and then it was sliced table-side. The only part which made it to the table was duck breast, with maximum skin exposure, as this is the most prized part. I was explained that proper way to eat duck is to take the top part which is mostly skin, dip in the sweet crunchy beans (more reminiscent of a sugar), then sweet soy-based sauce, and then put it in your mouth, where it literally melts – it seriously disappears without much chewing effort. The second way is to take a paper-thin pancake, and assemble a tiny taco if you will, by combining few slices of duck with thinly sliced vegetables and addition of the sauce – and this is how it is mostly consumed.

Once we were done with the main course, first the branch with tiny mandarins appeared, beautifully presented on top of a bowl with ice – when it showed up, it looked like the smoke was coming from the plate. For my dessert, I decided to try a pastry filled with cream made with the fruit called Durian. Durian is known to have the taste which is extremely polarizing to the people – only love/hate with nothing in between. Imagine the taste of raw onion, rather intense pungency of the shallot, mixed with strawberry cream – that would give you an approximation of the taste of that dessert. I personally liked it, but I can easily see how lots of people wouldn’t even touch it.

I’m not planning on give you the daily report on our eating, but I still want to include a a few pictures for probably the best lunch we had – two different dim sum and then a simple shrimp dish:

Next traditional cooking style we experienced was so called Hot Pot. The idea is that you have a special cooking vessel, which looks like a sombrero hat, if you will, with the channel filled with aromatic broth, and the middle section containing burning charcoal, which quickly brings broth to a boil. Technically, the channel is split into two parts, so you can have spicy and non-spicy broth separately – however, no matter what, by the end of the evening it becomes all the same.

You can order very thinly sliced meat (pork, beef, lamb), vegetables and noodles. You cook it all in the broth, and then you have a choice of dipping sauce. To be entirely honest, hot pot is not my thing – the meat, which is cooked for 10-15 seconds, has no flavor and simply becomes the vessel to eat the dipping sauce. Vegetables should be dumped in for the longer time, and then it is really hard to find them in the boiling murky liquid. This is not the worst food I ever had, but still – I had to have it twice, and only marginally enjoyed it both times.

I’m almost done with my China food stories. We experienced one more Roasted Duck restaurant, called Xile Village Roasted Duck Restaurant, located in the brand spanking new shopping mall.

Here the duck was sliced in 3 different ways  – just the skin, top of the breast with skin and meat, and mostly meat pieces. At this restaurant, mustard was also served as a condiment for the duck breast, which was quite tasty. There were lots of dishes before the roasted duck arrived, as it takes 50 minutes for it to cook. My highlights here were delicious shrimp and very very tasty eggplant (one of the best vegetable dishes I had in China). Also, once all the meat was carefully cut off the duck, the carcass was chopped up and deep fried – nothing goes to waste :)

Okay, I hope I didn’t bore you to death – but I’m finally done. There you have it, my friends – my Chinese food and wines escapades. I plan to share some traveling advice regarding China in the next post. If any of these pictures triggered any thoughts – you know where the comment section is. Cheers!

Garnacha from Cariñena

November 13, 2015 2 comments
Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards. Source: Cariñena DOP

Beautiful Cariñena Vineyards.
Source: Cariñena DOP

Today we will be talking about Garnacha, better known around the world under its French name of Grenache.  But the region we will focus on is located in Spain,  so let’s use regionally-appropriate name.

Garnacha is one of the most important grapes of Spain, rivaled only by Tempranillo. It is planted practically in all the regions, and used both solo and as a blending grape, delivering tremendous range of expression.

Let’s narrow down our focus a bit and talk about Garnacha from Cariñena. Cariñena is a region in the central part of Spain, second oldest official DO (protected origin) in Spain and one of the first in Europe, created in 1932. Most of the vineyards in Cariñena are situated on the mountains, from 400 meters to 800+ meters (1300 ft – 2600 ft) above sea level. One of the best known grapes from the region is … Cariñena, which I find quite  confusing considering that this is also the name of the region itself. However, the most planted grape is…yes, Garnacha, which takes 55% of all the grape plantings. Another interesting fact is that Garnacha plantings in Cariñena are some of the oldest in Spain, with age of some vines more than 100 years old.

I will not inundate you here with information which you can find on your own, for instance, on the official D.O.P. Cariñena web site. I recently heard that Andrea Immer Robinson, one of the 18 women Master Sommeliers, and an official Sommelier for Delta Airlines, selected Cariñena Garnacha wines to serve to the Business Class passengers on Delta flights due to its affinity to the high altitude. Obviously I got intrigued with this statement, and I was lucky enough to reach out to Andrea and ask a few questions about it. Here is what I was able to learn:

Q: It sounds like different wines might have different affinity to showing best at the high altitude? Is that really true? Can you elaborate on this a bit?
A: Yes it is true. At altitude your sense of smell is muted and your palate is less hydrated. Consequently, more restrained wine scent/flavor profiles or more intensely tannic wines may not present as well in-flight.

Q: Do you have an example of the wine which is delicious on the ground, and doesn’t taste that well up in the sky?
A: It is less that a wine doesn’t taste well in the sky, and more that it may seem less expressive or flavorful. The subtlety of Italian Pinot Grigio is an example of a style that classically seems muted and less flavorful at altitude. But I did find a great one that belies the broad-brush experience I have had which is exciting.
[TaV comment]: Obviously this is where the limitations of the virtual conversation kick in, as I would love to ask Andrea what was that great Pinot Grigio which she was able to find to serve at the high altitude.

Q: What do you think makes Garnacha from Cariñena good wines to drink at the high altitude? Do you think all Garnacha from Cariñena wines are equally good to drink at the high altitude, or is it only few particular wines?
A: The Garnacha from Carinena is expressive and concentrated and the tannins though present, are soft and ripe – so, the wine shows a lot of character and is not drying to the palate in flight. The particular example that is getting rave reviews presently is a 9 year old Reserva – that extra bottle age gives complexity that customers are going ape over. I don’t thin every wine would garner this type of response–I think the bottle age and complexity of the Reserva level are a big part of it.
[TaV comment]: Yep, here we go again – would love to know what Reserva wine was that…

Q: What are your favorite Garnacha from Cariñena wines, whether on the ground or on the board of the plane?
A: I love the Monasterio de las Vinas Reserva that we are serving on Delta now. I also really love the Castillo de Monserran and the Paniza Vinas Viejas on the ground (haven’t tried them in flight). Perfect as we get into stew season!

I also was able to taste a few of Garnacha from Cariñena wines, and below are my impressions:

2012 Viñas Viejas de Paniza Garnacha Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $18, 100% Garnacha, 6 month in oak)
C: dark ruby
N: lavender, espresso, touch of dark fruit
P: hint of chocolate, cherries, medium body, good acidity
V: 7+

2012 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Old Vine Cariñena DO (14% ABV, $14.99, 100% Garnacha, 14 month in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, whiff of alcohol, dark fruit, raspberries
P: fresh raspberries, open, bright, medium body, herbal undertones, pronounced acidity, short to medium finish, but then tannins come in after a while.
V: 7+ at the moment, needs time. Judging by the acidity and late tannins, this wine needs at least 5 years to develop

2013 Corona de Aragon Special Selection Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV, $14, 50% Garnacha, 50% Cariñena, 5 month in oak)
C: Dark garnet
N: restrained with herbal undertones, pencil shavings (rarely use this descriptor, but it was very deserving here), hint of blackberries
P: fresh, delicious, dark chocolate, cherries, classic Grenache rendition with good acidity and excellent balance
V: 8-, my favorite of the tasting, would happily drink this wine every day – definitely an excellent QPR

Have you had any of the Garnacha Cariñena wines? What are your thought on the wines at the high altitude? Don’t be shy, comment away! Cheers!

P.S. I would like to thank kind folks at Gregory White PR for providing samples and reaching out to Andrea Immer Robinson

Celebrate Tempranillo!

November 11, 2015 2 comments

I hope you are done with that celebratory bottle of Merlot from the last week, as a brand new grape celebration is upon us. This time, it is about the grape which is not as widespread as Merlot, but still a foundation of some of the absolutely best wines in the world – dark skinned grape called Tempranillo. On Thursday, November 12, we will be celebrating International Tempranillo Day, with festivities around the world as you can see at the TAPAS web site.
First and foremost, Tempranillo means Spain – Rioja, Ribera deal Duero, Toro and many other regions in Spain craft world class wines which rival in their longevity wines of Northern Rhône and Bordeaux (but still quite affordable, opposite to the latter).
Of course Tempranillo’s success is not confined to Spain only – Texas makes excellent Tempranillo wines, with some interesting efforts in California (for instance, Irwin Family – delicious!), Washington, Oregon and Australia. Tempranillo also shines in Portugal under the names of Tinta Roriz and Aragonez.
I can spend hours going through my favorite Tempranillo wines and experiences – just search this blog for “Tempranillo”, you will see what I’m talking about. Instead, I want to mention just my most recent encounter with Tempranillo wines from two weeks ago – Ramón Bilbao Rioja.

2011 Ramón Bilbao Rioja Crianza (13.5% ABV, $14, 100% Tempranillo, 14 month in oak) – open inviting nose of the fresh dark fruit with touch of cedar box. Fresh, firm, well structured on the palate, nice core of ripe cherries, eucalyptus, pencil shavings and touch of espresso, good acidity, overall very balanced. A perfect example of wine which is drinkable now, and will gladly evolve for the next 10–15 years. Also at the price – very hard to beat QPR.
What are your Tempranillo experiences? Got any favorites or celebration plans you care to share? Please do so below. And until the next grape holiday – cheers!

One on One with the Winemaker: Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars, Oregon – Part 2

November 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Left Coast Cellars Bottle TopsWelcome back to Oregon – we are continuing the conversation with Luke McCollom, Founding winemaker, Viticulturist and General Manager of one of the largest estates in Oregon, Left Coast Cellars. First part of our conversation was focused on the history of the estate, its name, its logo, and selection of the grapes which comprise 150 acres of the vineyards. Now we are going to talk about growing the grapes, sustainable viticulture, mother nature and some of the personal favorites. Here we go:

Can you elaborate a bit on the sustainable viticulture you are practicing in your vineyards?
We are certified by a third party Audit as LIVE Sustainable.  This is a whole farm approach which uses scientifically proven methods to reduce inputs into the vineyard and reduce impact on our land and environment.  LIVE also monitors the treatment of people, carbon footprint, energy, and water usage.
Both the Vineyards and Winery are certified LIVE sustainable  For example:  we are also certified Salmon Safe…this means we do not spray or use any chemicals which are toxic to or can harm fish.  We do not use chemicals that can run off or enter water ways.  We use a permanent, no-till, cover cropping system in the vineyards which great reduces dust, sediment, and run-off that pollutes our water ways.
We of course are mostly Solar Powered…100% of our irrigation system is powered by Solar.  The irrigation system is also gravity fed with a pond located on top of one of our highest hills.  So, water is pumped up via solar and runs down into the vineyard drip irrigation systems via gravity.  We also collect our winery rinse water into tanks where we can re-use the water for irrigating landscaping.  All of the “grape waste” from the winery is composted on-site and returned to vineyards and gardens.  Our property is shaped like a bowl, so there are no other source of outside contaminates or pollution entering the property.  All of the water in our Lakes comes from our property only.  We also have steelhead and trout in these lakes…so anything we do can and will directly affect our own water source.

Do your sustainable practices also include dry farming and natural yeasts?
All of our vineyards have the ability to be irrigated with their drip systems if needed!?  Of course, we only irrigate vines if and when they need water.  We believe with future changes in our climate that water is one of the most important factors in the quality of our wines.  Our water is sustainably collected in the wintertime from rainfall runoff.  Our 100 acre foot lake is the life blood of the Estate.  With our sustainable methods of using this water our combined peak usage of water and electricity costs $11.70/mo  a typical water and electric bill on an Estate our size would be anywhere from $10,000-$15,000/mo.  This gives an idea of the power of Sustainability and the power of harnessing the sun.  Yes, we use natural yeast and we also use commercially available yeasts to make wine.

Do you have any plans to go beyond sustainable into full organic or may be even biodynamic?
Yes, we would like to eventually have wines bottled as sustainable, organic, and biodynamic so people can taste the comparisons.  We currently spray almost exclusively organic sprays and utilize many biodynamic practices although do not have certifications in either.

I’m sure that some of the hard core Oregon Pinot fans are familiar with Van Duzer effect, but can you give a short explanation of it to those who don’t?
The Van Duzer Corridor is the main path by which cool Pacific Ocean breezes enter the Willamette Valley.  We are in the Heart of where the corridor opens into the Center of the Valley.  We are currently involved with a group working on a “Van Duzer Corridor AVA”.  The effects of these ocean breezes are critical in producing the highest quality Pinot Noir.  On a warm summer day at the Estate, our day time temperatures will reach 90 degrees. In the evening, the Corridor ushers in the cool ocean breezes and our night time temperatures fall to 40 or 50 degrees!  A huge temperature swing!  The result is sort of like a refrigerator…at night, when the vines are not producing sugars, the Pinot grapes are preserved with the cool outside temperatures.  What this means is…the grapes will retain freshness, acidity, and increased wine ageability because they respire less and are preserved with the cool night air.

Out of all Pinot Noir which you produced so far, do you have the most favorite wine from the favorite vintage?
My favorite Left Coast wine is the 2010 Suzanne’s Estate.  This is the first vintage Luke and Joe Wright worked together making wine.  We hand selected small lots of grapes from the vineyards and made them in small batches with minimal influence and impact from Winemaking.  The result is a very cool vintage Pinot with minimal manipulation in the Winery and a 92pts. Wine Spectator rating.  It was very rewarding for me to receive an outstanding rating when the wine was selected in the field and winemaking was at a minimum.

When you are not drinking your own wines, what are the other Oregon producers you would be happy to drink wines from?
We enjoy drinking many of our Neighbors wines including Bethel Heights, Cristom, and Witness Tree just to name a few…

And the same question, only going outside of the Oregon – any favorite wines and producers?
Reaching in and out of Oregon we have always kept an eye on Maison Joseph Drouhin.  Locally, Drouhin of course makes Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot, but from Burgundy continues to offer an incredible range of wines from very affordable negociant blends to very expensive premier and grand crus from individual Domaines.  We believe Drouhin continues to make and blend wines which celebrate classic Burgundy.  Of course this is what intrigued us to try and grow World Class Pinot Noir in Oregon…it was Burgundy!  We wanted to try and replicate the classic Terroirs of Burgundy and now we are trying to beat Burgundy with our classic Terroirs of Oregon and the Willamette Valley!  Viva The Left Coast!

I don’t know about your take, but I think Luke McCollom did an excellent job answering my questions – I had a real feeling of being in the same room with him and looking out at the same vineyard. It is definitely very interesting to learn about sustainable viticulture and how it is done at the Left Coast Cellars – the example with $11.70 monthly electric bill versus potential $10,000+ was extremely impressive.

Of course the proof is in the glass, right? In the previous post, I shared my thoughts on estate’s The Orchards Pinot Gris and Cali’s Pinot Noir. To round up this portion of the interview, I had an opportunity to taste Chardonnay and another Pinot Noir. Before I will talk about the wines, I have to mention the bottles – as the saying goes for the food world “we eat with our eyes first”, same holds true for the wine. Talking about Left Coast Cellar wines, I really enjoyed holding the bottles in my hands – somehow they felt very promising in terms of their content. All four bottles had very nice punt, which would make elegant pouring of the wines an easy job. And the labels are perfectly design and spell “quality” with their look and feel.

Okay, okay – I’m sure you are ready to drink something – here are my notes on the two wines:

Left Coast Cellars Chardonnay and Pinot Noir2014 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: light golden
N: white ripe fruit, intense, touch of vanilla, caramel, touch of flowers
P: unusual, plump, medium to full body, hint of white peach, pear, supporting acidity, Burgundian elegance
V: 8, very unusual Chardonnay, with a style of its own, and overall delicious wine

2013 Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $50)
C: garnet
N: intense, crushed red berries, lavender, sweet plums, vanilla, hint of chocolate, Bing cherries
P: wow, very unusual. Herbal profile with some fruit, initial tannin attack, almost light and effervescent on the palate, but tannins are very assertive. As I don’t have enough experience with red burgundies, my best analogy is wines of ArPePe, which are some of the most elegant Nebbiolo wines in existence. Clean, pure and unadulterated Pinot Noir. Just wow.
V: 9-, truly unique and different

Sustainable viticulture. Passion. Unique and different wines. Simple recipe for success, isn’t it? I can let you in on a secret. Quite often, I don’t finish a bottle of wine on the same day. Especially if I have a few open at the same time. So I happened to drink Cali’s Pinot Noir I mentioned in the previous post over 4 days. Just closing with the same screw top every night. And the wine was delicious, every day. I think folks at the Left Coast Cellars know what they are doing, and their wines are well worth seeking. Follow the passion, my friends. Cheers!


Celebrate Merlot!

November 7, 2015 9 comments

Let me ask you something – what is your relationship with Merlot? Are you still under the influence of Miles?

Believe it or not, but movie Sideways had an impact on consumer’s attention to Merlot – up until two years ago, I couldn’t see Merlot wines on the shelves of my neighborhood wine store – simply for the luck of demand.

But situation is changing, and people are happily asking for and drinking Merlot again. Over the past 2 month, I had at least 4 Merlot or predominantly Merlot wines, which were outstanding, from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Long Island New York and Macedonia:

Merlot deserves an utmost respect as it makes wonderful wines on its own (Petrus or Masseto, anyone?), and it also plays perfectly well in the blends.

November 7th is an International Merlot day, and all you have to do is to find a bottle of your favorite Merlot, open it, [invite your friends over – however, this is entirely optional], and have fun. Better yet, find a bottle of Merlot you never had before, and be surprised. By the way, how are your Merlot skills? Do you think you know everything about black-skinned grape? You can test your knowledge with the Grape Trivia quiz which I used to run every Saturday – here is the one about Merlot.

Merlot is well worth your attention, so please don’t be Miles. And if you got a second, leave a note for me below about your favorite Merlot wine. Cheers!

One on One with the Winemaker: Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars, Oregon

November 5, 2015 3 comments
Left Coast Cellars Label FragmentLet me tell you something – I really liked the concept of my first “one on one” post. Which means that I will try to make it into a feature and a series in this blog. And today I invite you to travel with me to the Oregon, third largest grape-producing state in the US. Our destination is Left Coast Cellars estate, home to one of the largest contiguous vineyards in Oregon, focused on sustainable viticulture and precisely focused wines. I had an opportunity to “sit down” (yes – virtually) with Luke McCollom, Founding Winemaker, Viticulturist and General Manager of the Left Coast Cellars, and ask him whole bunch of questions. I really asked  lots of questions – and I got lots of great answers. I actually will have to split our conversation into two parts, just not to overwhelm you, my reader.

Without further ado, please pour yourself a glass of (Oregon, of course!) wine – here is our conversation with Luke McCollom:

Why “Left Coast Cellars”?
Well, we want to represent and paint a picture of our sense of place.  The “Left Coast” can be seen on our Lewis and Clark Map rendered Labels.  When you’re looking at a Map of the United States… we are on the Left Side!  Also, of course… Left Coast is Family owned and 3 of the Family members running the Estate are Left Handed.  When visiting Left Coast, coming from the closest Major city….The State Capitol Salem, you need to make Left Hand turns to get to the Winery.  The Winery and Tasting room are both on the Left Side of the Drive.  The term Left Coast not only describes our location, but our wholesome, casual style, and creative ability to artistically craft… unique, exquisite, Estate Grown handmade wines.  Not to mention, the heavy “Coast” Influence brought in daily by the Van Duzer Corridor.
[TaV comment: I asked this question rather matter-of-factly, expecting the explanation about Left Coast, but it appears that there is so much more to this name]

Your logo looks very interesting. Is there a story behind it?
The “Sun” Logo is from a large Copper Sculpture which can be seen as you enter the property.  The Sculpture was a gift given to Suzanne by husband Robert for an Anniversary.  It is a beautiful, unique piece created by a Hawaiian artist named Abe Santoro.  Santoro’s work can be seen at places like the Smithsonian.  I believe Santoro is nearly 90 years old and is referred to as a Treasure of Hawaii.
For us it represents the Founders love for each other and the commitment of life partnership which led to a beautiful family, with passion for food, and wine.  The logo is a symbol of the vision created together to Build an amazing Estate in The Willamette Valley.  This “Circle of Life” logo also represents their commitment to Sustainability, the Earth, the Sun and the cycle of every vintage of wine.

When you started the winery in 2003 and purchased the land, were there any vines planted already or did you have to start from scratch?
When the Family purchased the property there were 25 acres of Pinot Noir.  The first vintage crafted from these young Latitude 45 Vines received an 88pts. in Wine Spectator.  This was very exciting because the vines where only 3 years old!  Other than that, there was a large spring fed lake and most of the property was overgrown with poison oak and black berry bushes.  All of the extensive gardens, landscaping, buildings, infrastructure, and design were created by the Family from scratch.  Since then we have also planted another 115 acres of vineyards including 11 different types of Pinot Noir as well as some of the most extensive white wine grape plantings in Oregon.

According to the information on your web site, there are 8 distinct microclimates across your vineyards. Do your wines today already showcase the different microclimates or do you plan to expand on that in the future?
Yes, we constantly strive to showcase our different micro climates and to bottle distinct unique wines.  Probably the best example of this is in the Vineyard Designate Pinot Noirs…(Right Bank Pommard, Truffle Hill Wadenswil, and Latitude 45 Dijon Bottlings).  These Pinot Noirs are planted in locations best suited for their type of micro climate.  Each Vineyard Designate Pinot is hand made in small, open top, French Oak Wine Vats.  Each wine is made using different yeast and different dedicated barrel coopers selected to exemplify the Clone and Micro climate of each wine.  For example, the Truffle Hill is a Swiss type of Pinot Noir, grown on one of our cooler sites (sort of like Switzerland) We use only Swiss Yeast in making the wine to showcase the tradition of the clonal selection and create distinct style and flavor.  The Truffle Hill is aged using specific barrel cooperage which does not dominate the complex nuances of the Wadenswil Selection Pinot Noir.  In the future, we would like to expand our showcasing of different soil types from the property comparing Sedimentary Soils to Our Volcanic Soils.

You grow Pinot Meunier, Syrah and Viognier – how do you use those grapes?
Pinot Meunier is used as a base in our Sparkling wines and is also made into a Field of Dreams Pinot Meunier still red wine.  This year the Meunier was crafted into a sparkling Brut Rose and a couple hundred cases of still red wine.  Meunier of course means “miller” in French like flour miller…because the vines are covered with white fuzz that makes them look like they were dusted with flour.  Meunier is a mutation of Pinot Noir and loks like a “wild” Pinot Noir vine.  The Meunier still wine sort of tastes like a wild pinot noir with it’s firm structure tannins and distinct brambly and pomegranate flavors.
Syrah and Viognier are also made into Field of Dreams Varietal wines for Wine Club and Tasting Room.  The warm 2014 and 2015 vintages are good vintages for perfectly ripe Rhone Varietals in our climate.  These vintages also make good quantity of these varietals for potential availability in the National Market.  For 2015 Look for Left Coasts’ own Left Cote du Rotie…this is a Syrah co-fermented with up to 25% of Viognier.  The Viognier has an enzyme in the skins which creates more extraction of color and flavor in the Syrah fermentation.  Very Cool!  Northern Rhone style wines which pair beautiful with food.  We are a Pinot House, but the 45th parallel where we sit aligns exactly with Northern Rhone…this is why we grow small amounts of these varieties on the Estate.  Another small celebration of Terroir, Microclimate, and Unique sense of place.
[TaV comment: this was a really a “duh” moment for me – and a clear showcase of deficiency of the virtual conversation – I forgot that many wines can be made in such a small quantities that they will be available at  the winery only and never show on the web site, duh…]

to continue previous question – do you have any plans for single varietal Syrah wine?
Our first varietal vintage of Syrah was 2008…we recently opened a bottle to taste and the wine is incredible… still very youthful!
[TaV comment: “duh” moment didn’t stop with the previous question, right?]

It seems that Chardonnay is a rising star in Oregon – I see that you now offer Chardonnay wines for the past few vintages. What do you think of Oregon Chardonnays? What makes them unique? What is your chardonnay style?
Yes, we have committed some of our best land to growing Chardonnay.  We have some of the largest modern plantings of Chardonnay in Oregon.  The reason being, most people were ripping out Chardonnay when we were developing the vineyards, while we were planting it.  We see Chardonnay as going hand in hand with Pinot Noir.  Our 2005 Chardonnay was selected by the Oregon Wine Industry in 2010 as a “World Class Ageable White Wine” by our peers at the Oregon Wine Symposium.
We think this shows the potential of Chardonnay in Oregon and the potential of the Left Coast Estate.  We strive to create a balanced Chardonnay with equal parts acidity, minerality, fruit, and oak.  We believe we hand craft a Chardonnay which is very Oregonian in style meaning a wine which is clean, not oak dominated, will please non-chardonnay drinkers, and of course pairs well with Northwest Cuisine.  For lack of description we try to craft Oregon Chardonnay as somewhere halfway between California and Burgundy.  We love Oregon Chardonnay!!! and often ferment ours half in Stainless Steel Vats and Half in French Oak barrels.  We believe the stainless portion of the fermentation preserves the fruit and acidty and the French Oak fermented portion provides subtle oak flavors with round mouth feel and volume.  These wines are blended, married, and bottled together as one.  We also have an extremely distinct Musque Clone Chardonnay that is concrete fermented and bottled for Wine Club.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need a glass at this point, so here are two of the Left Coast Cellars wines I had an opportunity to try (as samples, courtesy of Donna White PR):Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

2014 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon (14.2% ABV, $18)
C: straw golden
N: fresh flowers, fresh white fruit, candy, bright, exciting
P: nicely restrained of the palate, quite a contrast with the nose. Lemon zest, touch of grass, medium body with nice mid-palate weight, wine is nicely present, tart finish
V: 8-, should develop interestingly with time

2013 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: garnet
N: typical Pinot Noir, sweet plum, violet, touch of licorice and vanilla
P: delicious. Sweet cherries, touch of eucalyptus, medium body, firm, touch of smoke, good acidity, good balance, very (very) long mouthwatering finish
V: 8, dangerous wine – once you start, it is very difficult to stop

That’s all I have for you for today. To be continued…

Month in Wines – September and October 2015

November 4, 2015 4 comments

If there is one neglected topic in this blog, it is the “month in wines” series, which I managed to produce quite regularly during 2014 and before. I will do my best to fix this, so if you see “June Wines” blog post in December, you would know why. This also means that these “caught up” posts will be even longer than usual – but again, now you know why.

There were lots of interesting wines during September and October, so here is a glimpse into what was pouring – well, it is a long “glimpse”, as I’m trying to cover 2 month at once, so please bear with me.

2014 Notte Italiana Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, kosher) – simple and easy, good acidity. 7

2013 Via Semi Sweet Sparkling Wine, Israel (10.7% ABV, kosher, 50% Gewurztraminer, 50% Viognier) – the inner snob said “it will not be good”, and was ashamed. The wine had nice balance of sweetness and acidity, very pleasant and simple. 7+

2013 Fero Vineyards Dry Riesling, Pennsylvania (11.5% ABV) – still need to write a post about visiting Fero Vineyards. In any case, this was nice and classic, good acidity, nice touch of honey and honeysuckle, but just a touch. 7+

2012 Carlisle The Derivative Sonoma County (14.2% ABV, 54% Semillon, 30% Muscadelle, 16% Palomino) – delicious. Bright white fruit on the nose, more of the same on the palate with clean acidity. 8-

2013 Carlisle Compagni Portis Sonoma Valley (13.9% ABV, blend of Gewurztraminer, Trosseau Gris and Riesling) – another delicious Carlisle white. Fresh and bright on the nose, medium to full body on the palate, with an impeccable balance of fruit and acidity. Ahh, and the new grape – Trosseau Gris. 8

2015 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valley Marlboro (13% ABV) – literally summer in the bottle. Fresh, exuberant, a pure delight. And the first wine I had of 2015 vintage. 8

2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.2% ABV) – one would never think to find white wine made out of the red grape outside of Champagne, right? This was a beautiful surprise – fresh, vibrant, crisp, good white fruit, medium body, excellent balance and complexity. 8-

It appears that this is all I had for the whites – note to self – need to drink more white wines… Anyway, the rest are the red wines.

2013 Valcantara Old Vine Garnacha, Cariñena DO, Spain (13.5% ABV) – closeout deal at my local wine store ($7.99) – however the wine is outstanding. Classic Garnacha with plums and dark chocolate. Good acidity and easy to drink. 8-

2013 Alighieri Rubino del Marchese Toscana IGP (12% ABV) – another closeout deal, same price as previous wine. There was an interesting bottle variation as the first bottle was just all about acidity and not much about fruit, but the second bottle was much more balanced. Quite enjoyable, especially at the price. 7

1997 Le Ragose Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore (12.5% ABV) – it showed age, but was still well drinkable. Lots of tertiary aromas, touch of dried fruit, but still with a good core of acidity. 8-

2011 ARFI Gabriel Cabernet Sauvignon Judean Hills, Israel (13.1% ABV, kosher) – not a bad rendition of Cab, but was a bit too sweet for my palate – I would like it to be a bit more balanced. 7

2014 The Crossings Pinot Noir Awatare Valley Marlboro, New Zealand (14% ABV) – very good example of Pinot Noir from Marlboro. Good balance of fruit and acidity, all the Pinot traits. 7+

2005 Viña Real Rioja Crianza (13.5% ABV) – classic Rioja, no sign of age. ‘Nuf said. 8

2005 Block 213 Merlot Oakville Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) – was opened for the “Merlot Month”, and I’m glad I did – it was right at the pick, if not starting to decline a bit. Still quite enjoyable, good body, good amount of fruit, cassis. 8-

2012 Nissley Naughty Marietta Semi-dry Red Wine Lancaster Valley, Pennsylvania (12% ABV) – and again inner snob was ashamed. While the wine shows some level of sweetness, it is perfectly balanced with acidity and tannins, very pleasant wine after all. 7+

2013 Field Recordings Hinterland Vineyard Cabernet Franc Paso Robles (14.1% ABV, $18, 88% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot) – nicely polished and very classic. 8-

2013 Field Recordings Tommy Town Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (14.3% ABV, $18, 100% Cabernet Franc) – a bit rough initially, but came down to its senses after time in the glass. 7+

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only a few more, I promise…

2005 Château Gravat Médoc AOC (13% ABV) – still have one last bottle from the case. Only now, 10 years later, this wine is losing the grip of green chewy branches and starts showing ripe fruit and overall power. Patience is a virtue of the wine lover. 7+/8-

2005 Bodegas Ignacio Marin Barón de Lajoyosa Gran Reserva Cariñena DO, Spain (13% ABV, 50% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo, 10% Cariñena, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – perfectly structured, firm, fresh, dark fruit, delicious. 8-

2009 Wente Vineyards Small Lot Petite Sirah Livermore Valley, California (13.7% ABV, $35) – one of my absolute favorite wines – dark, polished, lots of power and structure, delicious till the last drop. You can get this beauty only at the winery, so if your plans will take you to the Livermore valley, do yourself a favor… 8

2011 Turley Duarte Zinfandel Contra Costa County (15.6% ABV)  – delicious, classic, dark and brooding. 8

2007 Verve Syrah Columbia Valley (14.5% ABV) – spot on – touch of spices, pepper, violet, dark fruit, delicious. This one comes with regret – I should’ve get lots, lots more during Last Wine Bottles marathon… 8

2007 Waterstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $22) – I don’t care whether this wine contains any of the Harlan fruit or not – this is simply delicious, outstanding California Cab which you can’t beat in value. Classic, clean, loads of black currant, perfect balance. 8+

2009 Domaine Fond Croze Cuvée Shyrus Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $29.99/1.5L, 100% Syrah) – delicious rendition of the old world Syrah – pepper, lavender, dark fruit, all intermingled and balanced. 8-

2010 Turley Zinfandel Tofanelli Vineyard Napa Valley (15.8% ABV) – I couldn’t stop smelling this wine for good 10 minutes. I didn’t want to drink it – I wanted for smell to last for as long as possible. Can’t describe it – it had everything the wine lover would want from the glass of wine. There, I said it. Incredible. On the palate, the wine had lots of dark fruit and spices, structure and power. Then is closed up and opened only on the second day. This would definitely evolve – I wish I had another bottle… 8+/9-

2012 Turley Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV) – an opposite to the previous wine. At first, it was practically closed. After a while, it showed all the traits of the great California Cab – black currant, a bit of dust, firm and delicious. 8

2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley (13.5% ABV) – if I would have to name 10 best Syrah producers in US, Zaca Mesa would be definitely in the top half of that list. Perfectly layered, with dark fruit, pepper, spices, smooth, balanced and absolutely delicious. 8+

Believe it or not, but we are finally done. What were your wine highlights as of recent? Cheers!


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