Wine On The Go, Spectacular Pairing, and Some Life Ramblings

January 28, 2015 14 comments

Charlotte airportLife is an interesting thing (wow, what a deep opening thought, huh?). I was supposed to depart at 6 am on a direct flight from New York to Miami to attend the conference. Thanks to much-hyphed-but-never-really-happened blizzard, my flight was cancelled and I was automatically re-booked, now on the flight with the stop, connecting through Charlotte. Charlotte. You know, there are some strong emotional words which I’m striving to avoid, whether conversing or writing. One of such words is “hate” – and I will explain the connection in a second.

Grenache! Grenache? Grenache!, Few Rare Grapes and a Recipe

January 27, 2015 19 comments

Grenache tastingWhat’s up with Grenache? One of the most planted grapes in the world, a star of Spain, and often a foundation of greatness in the wines of Australia, France, California and Washington. A grape with the range of expression from light, fruity and frivolous to the dark, firm, brooding and confident. Yep, Grenache is well worth an oenophile’s attention. And a special wine dinner.

The theme was set, and then the dinner’s day arrived. This time around, we were a small group (6 adults), so we decided to skip the usual formal blind tasting with the multiple glasses, and instead simply integrate the tasting (still blind) into the format of the dinner. Each couple brought a bottle of Grenache wine, wrapped in  paper bag. The wines were numbered at random and then poured one by one. All in all, quite simple.

But before we got to the Grenache, I wanted to share two special bottles. Don’t get all jumpy at the word “special” – it means different things for different people. Your idea of special bottle might be Chateau Latour, Penfolds Grange or Amarone from Quintarelly – well, if you want to share any of those with me, I’m available any day of the week. However, my idea of special is often limited to something simply unique and different, such as “rare grapes”, for instance – an opportunity to add to my grape count and reach the coveted Wine Century Pentavini (500 grapes).

Along these lines, the first “special” was the white wine from Spain, which was made mostly from Roussanne, but also contained the grape called Albillo2011 Navaherreros Blanco de Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid DO (14.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Roussanne, Albillo, Macabeo and other varieties) had beautiful golden color, inviting nose of white fruit, touch of vanilla. Full bodied, creamy, luscious on the palate, touch of earthiness and baking spices, touch of vanilla, good acidity. (Drinkability: 8). This was definitely a delicious way to start the evening.

The next wine was Rosé. It was not just some generic Rosé – it was actually made form the grape which is practically impossible to find, at least in US – and it was on my “target” list for the very, very long time. Just to explain – if you will look at the original Wine Century Club application, you will find 186 grapes listed there, so we can consider those 186 to be a mainstream. In that list, there are still 6 grapes which I never tasted. Well, let me take that back – now there are 5.

There is a good chance that you heard of or even tasted the wine called Picpoul de Pinet, a light, crisp white wine from Rhone made from the grape called Picpoul Blanc. Picpoul Blanc has a cousin, a red grape called Picpoul Noir, which is literally impossible to find. During one of my countless searches online, I found that Picpoul Noir Rosé was available in one (!) single store in US in San Francisco – and luckily, I had a friend there who was kind enough to get it for me. Here is what I thought of the Rosé made out of this super-rare grape: 2013 Julie Benau Pink Poul Rosé Vin de France (12.5% ABV, $17, 100% Picpoul Noir) – restrained nose with a hint of strawberries. The same restrained profile continues on the palate – limited fruit expression, medium to full body, good acidity, food friendly. (Drinkability: 7+)

Okay, now we can finally talk Grenache, which I mentioned 3 times in the title of this post, right? I think when it comes to the range of expression among 7-10 most widely known red grapes, Grenache offer the most versatility, competing may be only with Syrah. From over the top dark chocolate, tar and sweet cherries to the soft, earthy and even acidic, Grenache can showcase quite a range of winemaking styles and terroirs. Thinking more about our tasting, it served exactly as a confirmation to this statement.

The first Grenache we had was that exact over the top style – dark, concentrated, firm, loaded with sweet pleasure in every sip. The second Grenache couldn’t be more different than what we experienced – smoke, mushrooms, forest floor, earthiness, herbs – a restrained beauty which I would never even think of as Grenache – but it was. And the last bottle was all too shy and closed at the beginning, showing again differently from the first two – but as it opened up, it became a younger brother of the first wine – same traits, only dialed down. The 3 bottles we chose completely at random managed to demonstrate that tremendous Grenache range. When we removed brown bags, we learned that we traveled from Spain to Washington and then to France – a very interesting journey.

Here are a bit more formal notes for the the wines, in the tasting order:

2007 Vinyes Doménech Teixar Garnatxa Vella Montsant DO, Spain (14.5% ABV, $75) – Delicious! Dark chocolate on the nose, very intense, ripe red fruit. The same continues on the palate – firm texture, dark chocolate, touch of plums, earthiness, perfect balance and long finish. 8+/9-

2008 No Girls Grenache La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.2% ABV, $65) – very interesting. Both nose and the palate show a profile of concentrated Oregon Pinot Noir. Smokey fruit, earthiness, very concentrated, touch of coffee, licorice, raspberries, sage and lavender. Very unique. 8

2012 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $16) – closed nose, similarly closed palate. Opened up after a while, just enough to show some dark fruit (plums, cherries) and a touch of chocolate on the palate. 7+

Okay, enough about wines. Now, this was a dinner, and I promised you the recipe, remember? The dish I made, and the recipe I would like to share will perfectly pair with the cold weather, and it is one of the ultimate comfort dishes ever – braised short ribs. Starting from the ease of cooking and the simplicity of the recipe, and then admiring the goodness of the smell during the long, slow cooking – this is definitely one of the ways to properly spell the word comfort.

Braised short ribs

Doesn’t it say “comfort”?

Here is the recipe:

Braised Short Ribs

Prep time: about 1 hour. Cooking time: 4-5 hours

Yield: 10 servings of two ribs each

8-10 lb beef short ribs – I don’t go specifically by the weight – I generally like to cook considering 2 ribs per person

1 bottle of red wine – Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

5 medium yellow onions

8 sticks of celery

4 large carrots

BBQ/Grilling spices – I use Penzeys spices

4 tbsp Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Serve with: mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.

First of all, decide on what spices you want to use. I generally combine different Penzeys spices, but really – feel free to use anything you have:

Penzey spices

Next, take the meat out of the fridge and line it up on the prepping board, then sprinkle with the spices on both sides, add salt and pepper as needed:

Let meat warm up to the room temperature. Preheat over to 325ºF. While the meat is warming up, you can start working on your “trifecta”. Dice the onions and start sauteing them in the skillet or dutch oven with 2 tbsp of olive oil on the medium heat. Dice carrots and celery. Once onions become soft and translucent and then start gaining color (usually takes about 20 minutes), add carrots and celery and sauté all together for another 10 minutes, then set aside.

roasted carrots, onions, celeryNow, put remaining olive oil into the dutch oven, and heat it up to the high heat. Start searing the short ribs, meaty side down first. You might have to work in the batches, as you want all of the ribs to be nicely seared on both sides:

Roasted short ribsOnce all the ribs are seared, combine them all in the dutch oven, then add the onions, carrots and celery:

short ribs are doneAdd a bottle of wine, cover, put it in the oven and forget it for the next 4-5 hours (you really don’t want to rush this process). When done, you probably will find something like this:

short ribs are doneAs you can imagine, hearty Grenache is a perfect pairing for such a hearty, homey dish – but of course this shouldn’t be your only choice.

Here we are, my friends. A few rare grapes, an amazing range of Grenache wines, and winter-storm-alleviating-ultimately-comforting dish. Stay warm and drink well. Cheers!

 

Discovering Texas Vineyards

January 25, 2015 10 comments

Glasses at Duchman WineryAbout 10 years ago, one of the people I was working with was living in Texas, and I remember he mentioned in one of the conversations – Texas makes world-class wines. I said – really? He insisted that he knew some people visiting from France who were literally raving about the Texas wines. This stuck in my head – but I had no way of verifying that claim – no Texas wines can be found in the stores in Connecticut.

About two years ago, during one of the business trips to Austin, it suddenly downed on me – I will be in a close proximity to the Texas wines – I just need to make an effort to find them (you know how those business trips work – airport/hotel/meeting/airport – to step outside of the routine actually requires determination). I found some addresses on Internet, for what I thought were the wineries and drove there only to find myself in a middle of a small business park, with no wineries in sight.

Luckily, at that time I already had my blog, through which I met Alissa, a wine blogger at SAHMmelier, who lives in Austin. You know, if you ask me – what is the best part of the blogging – it would be an easy question. The best part of blogging is meeting passionate, interesting people and making new friends – this was my case with Alissa. So Alissa helped me to literally plunge into the Texas wines head first, by bringing me into the wine tasting event called Texas versus the World – we tasted whole bunch of Viognier wines both from around the world and from Texas (you can read about that tasting here). So yes, I tasted Texas wines, but still didn’t make to the wineries yet.

This time around, as I knew I will be coming to Austin, I reached out to Alissa and asked if she can help me to visit some of the wineries, in a short few hours which I had free after my meeting was over. Alissa came back with the long list of options, for which my answer was simple – surprise me, please.

Finally, I was done with my meeting and met up with Alissa. Short 30 minutes ride, and here we are – Duchman Family Winery. Clean, non-presumptuous building, reminiscent of an Italian villa. Not surprisingly so, as absolute majority of the grapes grown at Duchman are Italian varietals. Turns out that when the Texas wine industry was starting, the first desire for many was to grow the mainstream French varietals – only to understand later that Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay don’t work all that well in the Texas climate. But what does is Sangiovese. And Trebbiano. And the number of other grapes, some perhaps even more surprising, which you will see in the tasting notes below.

Different format bottles at Duchman WineryBy luck or by knowledge (Alissa – it is your call, but thank you!), but Duchman Winery happened to be a great place to get acquainted with the Texas wineries. They were the first winery to bring in the Aglianico, the staple of Campania and Basilicata in the … south of Italy, of course, pretty much at the bottom of the boot. An interesting side note – while working on this post, I read that some call Aglianico a Barolo of the South – not a bad designation, right?! Going back to Duchman Winery – not only they were the first to bring the grape into the US, but they also have single biggest planting of Aglianico grapes outside of Italy!

We had the great time at the Duchman Winery. Jeff, the winery manager, took us on a tour. We saw the cellar, full of wines in the making. We even saw something sad – a full 2013 harvest of all white grapes (Trebbiano, Vermentino, Viognier), aging in one (single) medium-sized stainless steel tank. Yep, that is what happen when mother nature doesn’t cooperate. But then we tasted 2014 Sangiovese Rosé right from the tank, and it was stunningly delicious. We saw the lab and the bottling line – Duchman makes about 20,000 cases of the wine a year, so it makes sense to own the bottling line. All in all, we had a great time at the winery and learned a lot. But yes, of course –  we got to taste the wines, and below are the notes for all the wines we had an opportunity to taste:

2012 Duchman Trebbiano Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (13% ABV, $14) – nice nose, white fruit, lemon peel. On the palate, crisp acidity, very refreshing. Drinkability: 7
2012 Duchman Vermentino Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (14.4% ABV, $18) – muted white fruit on the nose, touch of minerality. Lemon notes on the palate, clean acidity, nice balance. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Duchman Viognier Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (14.8% ABV, $18) – intense nose of caramel and baked apples. On the palate, lemon zest, nice bite, touch of minerality. Drinkability: 7
2012 Duchman Dolcetto Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (15% ABV, $25) – On the nose, tobacco, earthiness and dark fruit. Light and elegant on the palate, with touch of tobacco and roasted notes. Drinkability: 8-
2011 Duchman Montepulciano Texas High Plains (13.9% ABV, $30) – red fruit on the nose. Palate is somewhat unexpected, more of a Northern Rhone style with dark roasted fruit, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Duchman Tempranillo Bayer Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (13.5% ABV, $34) – on the nose, classic open Tempranillo, cedar box, touch of plums. On the palate – excellent fruit, but the finish is a bit astringent, needs time. Drinkability: 7
2011 Duchman Aglianico Texas High Plains (14.2%, $30) – nose of the roasted meat and fresh, dense, dark fruit.On the palate, outstanding! Delicious, touch of sweet fruit, tobacco, clean acidity, perfect balance, very complex. Drinkability: 8
2012 Duchman Nero d’Avola Texas High Plains (winery only) – On the nose – amazing complexity, raspberries, tar, roasted notes. On the palate, bright and balanced fruit, excellent acidity. Drinkability: 8-

NV Duchman Texas Rosso Texas High Plains (Dolcetto/Montepulciano) – traditionally produced as Dolcetto/Sangiovese blend, but new edition is produced with Dolcetto and Montepulciano grapes. Pinot Noir – like nose with a touch of smoke and mushrooms, very expressive, nice balanced fruit on the palate. Drinkability: 7
2014 Duchman Sangiovese Rosé (barrel tasting) – outstanding. Beautiful sweet nose, delicious full body. Might be a bit too sweet on the palate, but excellent overall. Drinkability: 7+

We also tasted one more Texas wine which Alissa very kindly brought with her:
2012 Kuhlman Cellars Roussanne Texas High Plains  – Touch of almond on the nose, lychee. On the palate, nice plumpness (typical of Roussanne), some salinity, good balance. Drinkability: 7+

We spent close to an hour and a half at Duchman family winery (you know how it works when you have fun), so we really didn’t have much time left to drive too far – but luckily, we didn’t have to. Our second stop was at the Salt Lick Cellars tasting room, about 15 minutes drive from Duchman. Salt Lick Cellars produces a number of wines from their own vineyards, but also in their tasting room they offer a number of wines from the other Texas wineries, which makes it a great “one stop shop”. A side note – adjacent to the Salt Lick Cellars there is a Salt Lick BBQ – very simple and very traditional Texas BBQ restaurant, where you can have all the barbeque favorites – ribs, brisket, sausages and more, made right there in the huge barbeque pit. And you can chose the wine you want to drink at the dinner right at the Salt Lick Cellars tasting room – a complete experience.

Here is what we tasted at the Salt Lick Cellars:

2013 McPherson Les Copains Brother’s Blend White (13.1% ABV, $24, Grenahce Blanc/Roussane/Viognier) – what a great start of the tasting. Bright and oily nose, elegant, white stone fruit on the palate, perfect balance. Drinkability: 8
NV Salt Lick Cellars BBQ White ($20, Trebbiano, Pinot Grigio, Orange Muscat) – Gunfling on the nose, very much reminiscent of Chablis. A bit too sweet on the palate. Should be fine as a summer BBQ wine. Drinkability: 7
NV Salt Lick Cellars BBQ Red ($20) – excellent – simple, soft, warm, or rather even heart warming, with perfect balance. Drinkability: 7+
2014 McPherson Tre Colore ($24, Cinsault/Carignan/Viognier) – Great acidity, soft and approachable, nice fruit, excellent overall. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Wedding Oak Winery Tioja Texas High Plains ($35, 80% Tempranillo, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Fire pit on the nose, smokey, plums, vibrant acidity, perfect balance. Drinkability: 8-
2012 Salt Lick Cellars Hill County Blend ($29) – very unusual nose of freshly fermented apples, a touch of root beer, lots of tannins, a bit off on the palate. Drinkability: 7-

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2011 Brady Vineyard Petite Sirah Paso Robles ($36) – Outstanding. nice power on the nose, soft fruit and good structure. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Fall Creck GSM ($48) – great nose, but slightly overdone on the palate. Needs time. Drinkability: 7
2011 Fall Creek Tempranillo ($42) – nose of fermented apples, palate is off. Dense, astringent, tannic and overdone. Drinkability: 7-
2012 Dotson Cervantes Gotas de Oro ($29) – a dessert wine. Nice sweetness on the nose, but flat on the palate, needs a bit more sugar and more acidity. Drinkability: 7-

Here you go, my friends – a wonderful deep dive into the Texas wines. While Texas wine industry is still young, the passion for the land and for the vine really works as a great matchmaker for the grapes and terroir. I think the Mediterranean varieties are really showing the best results, and this is only he beginning of the journey. If you are into wines, I highly recommend you will make an effort to find and to taste Texas wines (can someone finally fix all the demented, archaic, draconian alcohol shipping laws in US, please?) – Texas makes lots of wines worth of any oenophile’s attention.

Before we part, I want to again thank Alissa for arranging this great Texas wine experience. Cheers!

Traditions of Wine

January 21, 2015 26 comments

Wineries of New England: Connecticut Winery Trail

January 17, 2015 14 comments

Passport to Connecticut Farm WineriesI was back and forth on this post for a while. One one side, an experience is an experience, and it is worth sharing in the blog, as this is what it is for. On another side, what if the experience was not on par? Not on par with your expectations, not on par with what you thought it should’ve been – is that something worth sharing? Or is it not? I’m talking about an experience which was not bad – in general, bad experiences are worth sharing as you might help others to avoid repeating them, or at least you can shout to the world and feel better.  The tough case is when the experience was simply mediocre, just an okay type – what do you do then?

Well, I only have two options here – keep the internal debate going, or write the post and share the experience for what it was. Considering that you are reading this post, you already know what route I took, so let’s get to it.

I live in Connecticut for more than 20 years. I’ve caught the wine bug at least 12 years ago. All these years, while I knew that wines are made in Connecticut, I never visited a Connecticut winery – and was actually kind of ashamed of it. During the summer of 2014, the opportunity presented itself, and I was very happy to finally get acquainted with the Connecticut wines at the source.

It appears that modern winemaking started in Connecticut in 1975. Haight Vineyards, now known as Haight-Brown Vineyards, was the first winery to open, and the first vineyard in Connecticut to successfully grow Chardonnay and Riesling. From there, the industry had grown to about 37 wineries in the state in 2014. While Connecticut is not a large state by all means, the wineries are located all over it, so you can only visit a handful of wineries in one day.

Before we talk about wines and wineries, I want to mention an interesting program, called “Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries”, which is a very smart way to get people interested in visiting more wineries than they otherwise would. The Passport is a small booklet which lists participating Connecticut wineries and allows you to collect special stamps from all the wineries you visited. In case you are wondering, this Passport booklet can be picked up at any participating winery. New “Passport” is issued every year, and it is sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. However, it is worth noting that to be listed in the Passport, each winery have to pay an X amount of money ($2,400 in 2014), and some of the wineries simply skip on participation as they don’t find that worthwhile.

As you collect the stamps at the wineries you visit, you have an option to turn the Passport in by the certain date (it was November 16th in 2014). If you happened to collect all the stamps in the Passport booklet (i.e., visited all the wineries listed, 33 of them in 2014), you will be entered into a drawing to win a two week long trip for two to Spain. With less than a hundred people accomplishing it every year, your chances of winning are quite high. Also, if you will visit 16-32 wineries, you can still participate in the drawing for many interesting prizes. Prizes are good, of course, but even the sheer idea of collecting the stamps makes people to visit more wineries (works on yours truly as a charm).

Okay, now – let’s talk wineries. We only explored 4 wineries during our trip in August, all located in the north-west corner of the state. As a generic note, most of the wineries in the Northeast grow mostly an American hybrid grapes (Vidal Blanc, Cayuga, Marechal Foch, Chambourcin and so on), with the addition of the traditional staples such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also, most of the wineries we visited charge $10 – $12 for the tasting ($12 tasting also includes the winery logo glass), which is not that bad.

Our first stop was Hopkins Vineyard, one of the oldest in the state – it was founded in 1979, as the result of conversion from the dairy farm to the vineyard. I was very excited to start my discovery of the Connecticut vineyards – but somehow, that enthusiasm was quickly extinguished with the cold and indifferent demeanor of our host. The guy who was running the tasting for us, couldn’t care less about the group. He was not interested in conversation. He barely answered questions, with his whole attitude been “I’m so tired of you people”. And the wines themselves were not helping. For what is worth, below are my brief notes:

2011 Hopkins Vineyard Duet Estate Bottled ($14.99, Chardonnay/Vidal Blanc) – nice acidity, good white fruit, medium-long finish. Drinkability: 7
2012 Hopkins Vineyard Vineyard Reserve Estate Bottled ($14.99, Seyval Blanc/Traminette) – nice nose, flat palate. Not recommended.
2013 Hopkins Vineyard Lady Rosé Estate Bottled ($15.99, Dornfelder/Lemberger/Pinot Noir) – nice, strawberries on the nose, crisp, but acidity is overbearing. Not recommended.
2010 Hopkins Vineyard Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled ($21.99) – excellent nose, green bell pepper, nice earthiness, good earthy palate. Drinkability: 7+

NV Hopkins Vineyard Red Bard Red ($14.50, Corette Noir and other hybrid grapes) – nice, young, simple, fresh fruit, touch of spices, raspberries and blackberries. In addition to the fact that this was one of the better wines in the tasting, Corette Noir was also a new grape! Drinkability: 7+
NV Hopkins Vineyard Sachem’s Picnic ($14.50, Boca Noir, Dechaunoc) – touch of sweetness, nice for Sangria. Drinkability: 6+

As you can see, this was not a very exciting beginning of the discovery of Connecticut wineries. The actual highlights of this first stop were found outside of the winery in the form of the beautiful sunflowers:

Our next stop was a Haight-Brown Vineyards – the winery I already mentioned as the very first in Connecticut, opening its doors in 1975. The winery was known as the Haight Vineyards until 2007, when it was acquired and renamed into the Haight-Brown Vineyards.

Haight-Brown Vineyards WineryHere we received a better reception, and things started to look up a bit compare to the first visit. Still, no revelations and really no wines which would leave any memory marks. I’m also curious why none of the tasting notes list any vintages for any of the wines. You would think that the notes are reprinted for every new wine, so it shouldn’t be very difficult to add the vintage there – however, none of the wineries we visited had this information on. Another interesting note was a proud mention of the 15% ABV for the Big Red wine (none of the other notes have ABV listed) – it was almost shown as a point of achievement, which was really mind boggling to me. In addition to the wines, you can buy different olive oils at the Haight-Brown tasting room. And, most importantly, Haight-Brown offers meat and cheese boards, which came in very handy as the group was ready to eat. For what it worth, below are the wine notes:

Haight-Brown Vineyards Chardonnay ($16.98) – Chablis nose, restrained, green apple, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+
Haight-Brown Vineyards Railway White ($14.98, Seyval Blanc) – tropical fruit and lychees on the nose, nice creaminess on the palate, ripe golden delicious, good acidity. Drinkability: 7-
Haight-Brown Vineyards Riesling ($16.98) – Finger Lakes fruit. Nice nose, but needs more acidity. Drinkability: 7-
Haight-Brown Vineyards Picnic Red ($15.98, Foch/Dechaunoc) – simple, nice, open grapey nose, the same on the palate. Drinkability: 7
Haight-Brown Vineyards Morning Harvest ($19.98, Ruby Red Cabernet) – green bell pepper nose, classic, light and balanced Cabernet palate with a touch of sweet oak. Drinkability: 7+
Haight-Brown Vineyards Big Red ($19.98, 15% ABV, California Cabernet Sauvignon) – Classic, big flavors, nice green notes, okay balance. Drinkability: 7-

Our next stop was at the Sunset Meadow Vineyards, which probably was the highlight of the day – for sure in the terms of very friendly service. And then the wines were a bit better than at the previous two wineries. Interestingly enough, the Shades of Risqué Sparkling Wine, simple and unassuming, was my personal favorite.  Here is what we tasted, with the notes:

Sunset Meadow Vineyards Riesling ($21.99) – interesting, acidic, light. Drinkability: 7
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Cayuga White ($16.99) – beautiful nose of pear and apple, good acidity, good balance. Drinkability: 7+
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Vidal Blanc ($18.99) – nice residual sweetness, good balance. Drinkability: 7+
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Blustery Blend ($16.99, Cayuga/Seyval Blanc/Chardonel) – nice nose, palate too sweet. And new grape – Chardonel! Drinkability: 7
Sunset Meadow Vineyards St. Croix ($24.99, 24 mo in oak) – nice earthy nose, a bit astringent on the palate with some salinity. Drinkability: 7-
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Merlot ($18.99, 24 mo in French oak) – tobacco and green pepper on the palate, overall missing the balance. Drinkability: 6+
2012 Sunset Meadow Vineyards New Dawn ($22.00, Landot Noir/Frontenac/Petit Verdot/Merlot) – astringent, sharp, spicy. Drinkability: 7-
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Shades of Risqué Sparkling Wine ($16.99) – round, simple, good balance. Drinkability: 7+
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Root 63 ($16.99) – nice and round, good balance. Drinkability: 7+

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To be entirely honest, we also stopped at the Miranda Vineyards, but – I don’t have any notes to share. I remember tasting the wines (no standouts), and I remember taking the pictures – I even have a stamp in the Passport book – but no notes. So here are a few pictures for you:

There you have it, my friends – my first encounter with the Connecticut wineries. Not a great experience – but still an experience, which will leave a memory mark. I would think that 40 years should be a good time period to figure out what works, what doesn’t, what grows well, and then make interesting wines – but it was not really the case. Yes, there are more wineries in Connecticut, and so there is a hope for the memorable wines to be found close to home. And by the way, if you visited wineries I mentioned, and had a different experience – let me know – may be it was a root day after all. Cheers!

Daily Glass: A Super-Local Pinot

January 9, 2015 8 comments

Cuveé Cellars Pinot NoirWhile talking to a friend on Facebook, she asked: “would like to try a local Pinot Noir”? Care to guess my response? Yeah, a dumb question, you know what I said – “of course” and “yes, please” (insert an appropriate number of exclamation points on your own). Mentioning that she will be sending the wine in a few days, she reiterated again – it will be a local Pinot Noir, or may be even rather a super-local.

As my friend lives in Silicon Valley in California, my thought was – okay, of course it will be a California Pinot Noir, so “local” means produced locally in California. I was of course curios what exact Pinot Noir it will be, but hey, patience is a virtue of a oenophile, isn’t it?

The package arrived, with the bottle of California Pinot Noir in it. 2012 Cuveé Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley (14.9% ABV). Okay, so I’m sure that most of you never heard of Cuveé Wine Cellars – but the wine has Russian River Valley designation, so that’s the whole “local California” story, you ask?

Well, the wine actually is super-local. While the grapes were harvested in Russian River Valley, the wine was made locally in Silicon Valley, in the town of San Carlos, a small town near San Jose, where Cuveé Wine Cellars is located. As it often happens, especially with the urban wineries, the driving force behind Cuveé Wine Cellars is passion – and you can check their story on the Cuveé Wine Cellars web site.

How was the wine? In a few words – delicious with a great aging potential. When I opened it on the first day, the aromatics of Pinot Noir were incredible, one of the most pronounced California Pinot I ever had a pleasure to smell – forest floor, smoke, mushrooms, licorice – all very concentrated. The palate was well supporting the aroma, with silky-smooth, rich texture. Very concentrated (using the word again, sorry), with lots of fruit, chocolate, the same mushroom undertones and good acidity. But honestly, it was a bit too much. Don’t get me wrong – there was no jammy fruit or sharp biting alcohol in this wine – but you know how sometimes you are looking for the subtlety of the favors, for a bit more grace and mystery? My wish was granted on the day 3, when wine still had all the aromatics, but the palate became more mellow and intricate. Drinkability: 8+

That’s my story of the super-local Pinot – and an ode to the great friends. Cheers!

Daily Glass: The Wine That Begs The Eternal Question

January 8, 2015 6 comments

Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon McMahon VineyardEternal question, you say? Which one of them? Wine is a well known suitor of the Eternal, so yeah, a few questions are lurking for a while…

The one I’m talking about is akin “chicken and egg” case, with a spin. Is the wine made in the vineyard or at the winery? Is it winemaker or the grape? Well, rest assured – I’m not trying to jump on this subject just for the sake of conversation. It just happened that the wine I opened yesterday made me ponder at that exact question.

What wine? 2012 Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon McMahon Vineyard Paso Robles (14.9% ABV, $29, 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Tempranillo, 16 month in 89% new French oak, 11% new American oak). What made me to think of the terroir versus winemaker? The aromatics. The wine had not a glimpse of Cabernet Sauvignon characteristic aromas – no cassis, no bell peppers, no eucalyptus. But on the nose there were plenty of spices. There was a hint of a forest floor, mushrooms, a touch of barnyard. There was also a smoke, and plenty of it. There was pepper. And there was tar and pencil shavings. So, what do you say – was that a winemaker talking, or the vineyard?

The palate, unfortunately, didn’t fully support the excitement. There was lots happening (still no cassis or anything else reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon), but there was lots of fruit, and vibrant acidity. At times, the wine was borderline jammy, only to be cleansed with the subsequent punch of acidity. I was looking for more balance, and it didn’t happen. Drinkability: 7

So in the end, I got no answers and more questions. Was that a bad wine? I don’t think so, as aromatics brought in lots of pleasure, and it was thought provoking on the palate. Did I open this wine too early? Yep, I’m quite convinced I did. Was that wine made in the vineyard or in the winery? I have no idea, so yes, the floor is yours… Cheers!

Month in Wines – December 2014

January 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Feels a bit strange when we are already in 2015, and I’m writing about the wine highlights from the month which belongs to the last year. Well, but then it is just a calendar, after all, and another month is just another month.

December 2014 was not super-eventful when it came to wines – but some of the wines stood out. Here are the most interesting wines of the December 2014:

2007 Ferrari Perlé Trento DOC, Italy (12.5% ABV, $35, 100% Chardonnay) – Delicious. Perfectly round, with all the undertones of a great sparkling wine. 8+

NV Rivarose Brut Rosé Provence  – Unexpectedly delicious. Never had Provence Sparkling until now, and this was an excellent wine, clearly reminiscent of Provence Rosé, but with the addition of toasted bread and yeast. 8

2011 Bodegas Volver Volver La Mancha DO (15% ABV, $27/Magnum) – One of my all times favorite Spanish wines. Dark, dense and powerful – good amount of fruit, but also lots of spices, espresso and pencil shavings in every sip. Also pretty much an unbeatable value. 8-

1998 Ceretto Monsordo Langhe DOC (13% ABV, $NA) – This was my last bottle. Sigh… It doesn’t show as a young wine, but at the same time the fruit is well present, coupled with excellent tannins and acidity. 8+

2010 Chateau Saint-Pierre Tradition Cotes de Provence, France – While Provence is famous for their Rosé,  this was an excellent red wine. An old world profile, blackberries, spices, touch of pepper, very elegant and restrained. 8

2004 Tenuta Friggiali Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Italy (13.5% ABV, $30?) – Unmistakably Italian. Fresh acidity, leather, earthiness, well present tannins with good astringency, kitchen spices, tart cherries, medium to long finish. Needs food. 8-

2011 Barton & Guestier Bistro Pinot Noir 2011 Pays d’Oc IGP (12% ABV, $9) – Simple, but without any flaws, which makes it a great every day wine (look at the price). Fresh fruit, good acidity, touch of lavender. 7+

2009 Chateau Roland La Garde Blaye-Cotes de Bordeaux AOC (14% ABV, $17) – Good Bordeaux, especially at a price. Warm, inviting, touch of cassis and bell peppers, eucalyptus, blackberries, good acidity and good balance. 7+

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2007 Erba Mountainside Vineyards Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $55) – Delicious, textbook quality Bordeaux blend from California. Perfectly round, supple, luscious, heart-warming with every sip. 9-

2011 Cuveé Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley (14.9% ABV, $28) – Another textbook classic from California, this time – a textbook California Pinot Noir – warm, dense and concentrated. Let me leave it at that. 8+

Graham’s 20 Years Old Tawny ($45.99) – delicious complexity of the aged Port – dried fruits, nuts, good amount of sweetness and fragrant lightness which shows in a well made, well aged Port. 8

Blandy’s Malmsey 10 Years old Madeira ($23.99) – A depth of flavor only Madeira can show – lots of dried fruits and nuts with a dash of salinity. Very elegant, good acidity makes it quite refreshing. 8

And we are done here. If you had any of these wine, let me know what do you think. If you tasted any great wines in December – please share. Cheers!

Happy New Year 2015! Also Wine Quiz Answer and #MWWC14 Theme

January 3, 2015 8 comments

New Year's SheepHappy New Year 2015! I wish you all Happy, Healthy and Peaceful year! I think if we can have just these three elements (our own and ours happiness, our own and ours health and peace in this fragile world), everything else will just fall in place.

While I’m a bit tempted to analyze the past year and to talk about the plans for the this year, I will not go there. 2014 was a very good year with lots of great experiences, and I can only wish for 2015 to be at least as good as the previous year. But what I actually plan to do over the next few weeks is to create a number of posts which will be still talking about the events of 2014 – the events which still hold personal relevance and cause a burning feeling of incompleteness as they were thought through probably a thousand times. So yes, this is something which you should expect.

Now, let me give you the answers for the last wine quiz #117, where you were supposed to guess the names of the wines based on the pictures of the top foil. Here are the pictures, now with the names of the wines:

When it comes to the answers, a number of people were able to properly name one of the wines. I would like to acknowledge Zak (no web site) who properly named 3 wines out of 5.  And I saw a number of comments promising to pay more attention to the bottle foils, which I’m glad to hear. There will be more of the quizzes like this, but I need to come across some new wines first.

Next up I want to bring to your attention that Monthly Wine Writing Challenged #14 ( dubbed #MWWC14) is in the full swing with the theme “Tradition“, as announced by the winner of the last round Bill of Duff’s Wines. You can find all the rules and regulations in this post, but the most important date you need to know is the submission deadline date, which will be Monday, January 26th. Get out of the holidays food coma and get your creative juices flowing!

The last note for today. For those of us who writes the blogs, we want our content to be found. At the same time, there is lots of content created everyday, so to be found, the content have to stand out. I recently came across an interesting article called How To Make User-Friendly (And Search-Engine Friendly) Scannable Content which I want to share with you, as it offers some of the good advice to all the writers. I also added this link to my Best Blogging Tips page so it will be easy to find in the future.

And that’s all I have for today. Enjoy your first weekend of 2015 and cheers!

 

Top Twelve of 2014

December 31, 2014 5 comments
1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir

1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir

And here we are – Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen of [most memorable] wines from 2014. I already presented to you the second half of the top list (here is the link), together with all the explanations regarding rationale and all the dos and don’ts, so instead of repeating myself, let me jump directly to the wines. If you still need explanations, use the link above.

12. 2005 Domaine Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin La Chamade Ploussard, Jura, France ($50) – To a degree, this wine was representative of a great Jura tasting I attended. As most of Jura reds, it had an impression of lightness masking a great level of complexity – fruit, herbs, minerality, sapidity – a very impressive package. It is not easy to find, but worth looking for.

11. NV Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur ($32) – one of my very favorite Champagnes. It has everything I want in the Champagne – yeastiness, toasted bread, apples, clean and vibrant acidity – with all the elements coming in the “just enough” amount. A perfect Champagne sip every time – try it for yourself.

10. 2012 Centanni Rosso Di Forca Rosso Piceno DOP, Italy ($19) – I was familiar with the wines of Marche region in Italy for a while – but my preference was always with the Marche whites – until I tasted this wine. Luscious, layered, with impeccable aromatics and complexity – delizioso!

9. 2010 Marco Sambin Marcus Veneto IGT ($NA) – A soulful wine – is that a good enough description?

8. 2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($125) – Stunning California Cabernet Sauvignon – restrained and tightly weaved, as you would expect from the mountain – side fruit, and then balance, balance, balance.

7. NV Foggy Ridge Serious Cider, Virginia ($16) – discoveries, discoveries, discoveries – 2014 was anything but short on those. Who knew that cider (just think about the word – somehow, the mental picture doesn’t equate to “greatness”) can be so amazing? Phenomenal acidity, coupled with such a firm structure and effervescent lightness that you say “wow” and pour yourself another glass. Seek hard cider, people, as it has greatness!

6. 2012 Mark Ryan The Dissident Columbia Valley ($34) – yet another wine chosen to represent a great discovery of 2014 – wines of Washington state. This wine was a quintessential representation of Cabernet Sauvignon blends I tasted during the visit, with a pure cassis expression and impeccable balance. Yes, I’m abusing the “balance” descriptor, nevertheless – a beautiful wine.

5. 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling, Somló, Hungary ($25) – yet another discovery: there is lots more to the Hungarian wines than Tokaji and Egri Bikavér (red wine also called Bull’s Blood). It appears that Hungary has lots of volcanic soils, and the winemakers there can bring it on (yep, the famed “terroir”) to the forefront of your glass. This wine was complex, mineral driven with the pure gunflint notes, and simply delicious.

4. 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia ($14.99) – you could see my raving mentions of this wine in a many posts throughout the year. Sorry, but I can’t help it – this wine is so unique and different, with such a purity of the peppery expression of Syrah – you can’t help it but to say “wow” with every sip.

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3. 2012 Willis Hall Viognier Columbia Valley ($22.99) – may be the best Viognier I ever had. If not The Best (this is a very hard nomenclature when it comes to wines), but definitely one of the very best. Perfumy nose and elegant, silky smooth body. Simply delicious.

2. 2007 Pago Marqués de Griñon Emeritus, DO Dominio de Valdepusa ($75) – until I tasted this wine, yes, I knew that Spain produces good wines from the international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. But at such level? This wine was a true revelation – classic Cabernet Sauvignon with cassis, mint, eucalyptus and finesse.

1. 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir ($NA) – I had no expectations when I opened the bottle of the 48 (!) years old wine. To be more precise, I was not expecting anything good. What I found in my glass was simply mind blowing – still fresh, still elegant, perfectly recognizable as Pinot Noir and delicious! This was the first wine ever to receive a 10 rating from me – I hope it tells you something.

And we are done here, my friends – the last post of 2014! I wish you happy, healthy, joyous and peaceful 2015, full of amazing discoveries!

Happy New Year 2015!

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