You know, when the winter is like the one we had in New England, you get to the point when you sort of stop believing that the spring will come. You wake up in the morning, your thermometer shows 20F, and your mind doesn’t even comprehends the concept of spring, flowers, grass – no, those leftovers of the snow are going to stay forever. Only a few days ago I was explaining to my daughter about the flowers called snowdrop in English, which are usually showing up as soon as snow melts, and I was lamenting that this year we probably will see no snowdrops as the winter was so brutal here.
Then today was the first official day of spring, and while it was still cold outside, it was definitely more palatable (read: warmer), and the snow was almost gone. And walking around the house all of a sudden I saw… flowers! It was simply magic, the magic of life happening right here, right now. No matter how brutal the winter is, the spring will come no matter what – and I was looking at the proof. Don’t know if this is exactly a snowdrop or simply a similar flower, but I was definitely happy to see it.
Okay, so spring is here. And for the instant gratification part? Easy. Here I’m talking about wine (wow – total surprise, huh?). You know, I can define the instant gratification as a sequence of a few very simple steps – twist, pour, sniff, say “ahh”, sip, roll your eyes towards the ceiling – have a moment of bliss. The wine which gave me this moment of blissful instant gratification – 2006 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir Central Otago, New Zealand. I wanted to have a good glass of wine, and as I only have a vague idea of what wines are in the cellar, I was simply looking through the wines on one of the shelves – and when I saw this bottle Mt. Difficulty, I thought – yes, that will do it – and it delivered. Beautiful classic Pinot Noir on the nose – a little smoky, a little earthy – and perfectly fresh, full of juicy cherries and herbs, harmonious palate. You know, the one which gives you an instant gratification. I loved that wine so much that I simply had to connect the first flowers with this wine – as you can see it in the picture below:
The spring is here! Let’s drink to Life! Cheers!
A few days ago I was challenged to create a list of 20 wines under $20 which I can recommend. I generally shy away from this type of exercise, due to many reasons – I buy a lot of exotic wines (rare grapes, natural wines, old wines, etc.), and I also have my specific way of buying the wines (mailing lists, WTSO, Last Bottle, BinEnds, closeouts at my local store), so there is a good chance that my recommendations will be useless for majority of the people. But then I thought – no, I can actually do it. In my oenophile years, I accumulated a number of safe choices – I might not be buying those wines myself all that often, but nevertheless, there is a number of wines I tasted throughout the years, and they are consistently good, vintage into a vintage, and they are under $20. One problem though - there is no way this list can be limited by 20 wines. If you have seen any of my Top Dozen Wines of the Year lists, you know that they include not the dozen, but rather a two dozens and then some. So 20 under $20 simply sounds good, but then More Than 20 under $20probably sounds even better, right?
Okay, without further ado, here is my list of More Than 20 under $20. Just to make it clear, this is how the list is built:
1. The wines are generic and widely available, can be found at many wine stores. As much as I love Fiction by Filed Recordings, which is generally under $20, the wine is almost impossible to find and thus will not make it into this list.
2. To the best of my knowledge, the wines are priced under $20, at most of the regular wine stores and/or supermarkets – yes, if you will buy the same wine at the convenience store in Vegas or a pharmacy in Miami, you might pay a lot more than $20, and sorry, I can’t help you with that.
3. Private label wines are not included, even if they are great and under $20 – sorry Trader Joe’s, Costco and Stew Leonard’s.
4. The list is not sorted, not rated and not prioritized in any way. These are all solid wines, vintage into a vintage – thus vintage is not specified either. I will provide brief descriptions as to why I like the wine – or may be no description at all. Also, some recommendations are general group recommendations, not for a specific wine.
5. The list is organized into Sparkling, White, Red and Dessert. I honestly wanted to include some Rosé, but quickly realized that I will not be able to do that.
Here we go.
Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux, France – one of my all time favorite French sparkling wine. Dry, pleasant, refreshing. Typically around $11.99, unbeatable QPR at that price.
Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, California – just love the depth of expression on this wine.
Domaine Ste Michelle Blanc de Blancs Columbia Valley, Washington – perfectly refreshing and outstanding value at around $10
Mionetto Prosecco, Italy – not the most mind-boggling sparkler, but very consistent and very reasonably priced.
Segura Viudas Brut Cava, Spain – both white and Rosé versions are very good, with great QPR. Sometimes, you might even get lucky, and find their flagship Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava, but this wine generally is a touch out of our range at around $22 (but still worth it).
Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – a perfect example of Sauvignon Blanc from California, very delicious, and one of the most reasonably priced California Sauvignon Blanc on the market.
Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand – yes, I know it is a broad recommendation – but NZ Sauvignon Blanc is generally priced well under $20, and it is generally hard to go wrong with any of them – as long as you like grapefruit notes in your bright and invigorating wine.
Sauvignon Blanc, Chile – another general recommendation, yes – but again, it is hard to go wrong with Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, as long as you prefer a bit more lemon/gooseberry profile as opposed to grapefruit profile.
Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, France - one more broad category recommendation – these wines are extremely food friendly, generally very well priced and will keep you refreshed with their cutting-through acidity. Look for the words “Sur Lie” on the label for the added complexity.
Botani Moscatel Seco, Malaga DO, Spain – every time I taste this wine, it puts a smile on my face. Delicious, with perfect QPR.
Bodegas Shaya Shaya Verdejo Old Vines Rueda, Spain – perfect Chardonnay-rivaling complexity, delicious wine. Excellent QPR. If you are in a mood to splurge (at around $26), try its older brother – Shaya Habis.
St. Urbans-hof Riesling, Mosel, Germany – I like this producer, with many wines reasonably priced under $15, widely available and generally well balanced in terms of sweetness and acidity.
Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah, California – generally at around $11.99, this wine is literally impossible to beat in the QPR – dense and powerful, well balanced and round. Pretty much full Bogle product line is good and well priced, but Petite Sirah is a standout. Also, for a bit more money, but still under $20 ($17.99 or so) , try Bogle Phantom – big and decadent, with lots of ripe fruit, but still well balanced.
The Magnificent Wine Co. “House Wine” Red, Columbia Valley, Washington – nice, simple and consistent, very quaffable, vintage to a vintage.
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – finding good Cabernet Sauvignon under $20 is a serious challenge, I’m glad Louis M. Martini consistently delivers.
Georges Dubouef Beaujolais Nouveau, France – yes, you read it right, I actually recommend Beaujolais Nouveau – Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau gets better and better every year – and sports great QPR.
E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Red, France – E. Guigal makes lots of great wines, this Côtes-du-Rhône not been an exception
Delas Côtes-du-Rhône Red, France – same as the previous wine, Delas is a great producer and these wines are very consistent
Catena Zapata “Catena” Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina – soft, simple, easy to drink – also a versatile choice at the restaurant
Bodegas Volver Tempranillo La Mancha, Spain – power and delight. ‘Nuf said, go try for yourself.
Bodegas Carchelo Carchelo “C” Jumilla, Spain – exuberant and exciting.
Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Tres Picos, Spain – one of the best expressions of Grenache at the great QPR.
Bodegas Lan Rioja Crianza, Spain – consistently good Rioja, bright and cheerful. Once you try it, you can’t believe how little you paid for what you got.
Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Colli Senesi Monrosso, Italy – it is actually pretty difficult to find mainstream Italian wines to recommend in the under $20 range – Monsaanto Chianti is a good exception – excellent, supple and round wine at a great price.
Cono Sur Pinot Noir, Chile – simple, but surprisingly classic Pinot Noir, Chilean or not.
Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto – a classic.
Late Harvest Wines, Australia – yes, a wide category, but generally very inexpensive and delicious
Late Harvest Wines, South Africa – same as above
That’s all I have for today for you in this group of more than 20 under $20. Of course there are hundreds and hundreds of wines under $20, which are consistently good – but you have to draw the line somewhere. What are your favorite wines under $20? What do you think of the wine sin my list? Cheers!
Disclaimer: this blog post is not an attempt to create the new rating system. It is rather an account into the emotional escapades of the oenophile tasting wine.
Here I’m again with the super-indescriptive descriptor – beautiful wine. I wonder if the phrase “beautiful wine” gives you a mental image. I’m not talking about the exact image of an object shaped in the form of a bottle, but rather a mental anchor you can relate to “ahh, I understand”. Let me deconstruct this “beautiful wine” term as the following:
1. The wine is perfectly balanced – fruit, acidity, tannins, texture, structure – all together.
2. Drinking this wine is a pleasure
3. The wine is memorable
4. “Beautiful wine” designation is totally spontaneous and emotional. It usually happens after the first sip and the subsequent uncontrollable “wow”.
When it comes to the term of “interesting wine”, that happens when I’m puzzled, like “hmmm, interesting, I’m not sure what to think of it”. Please understand that it is very different from “ouch, it needs time”, “what is it???”, “crap” and “this is disgusting”. “This is interesting” simply means that I can’t put a handle on what I’m tasting, where, for instance, the initial sensation of round and silky is followed by something harsh and unbalanced. “This is interesting” usually ends up being extended into “hmmm, this is interesting, let’s give it some time”. From this point on, the wine can be put aside to be drunk at another day, or it might go into the decanter if I feel that it would be sufficient to change it.
Here are the few wines we had last week, some beautiful and some are … interesting.
2011 Field Recordings “Neverland” Red Wine Grassini Vineyard Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (15.1% ABV, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot. Aging: 50% new French barrels, 25% new American barrels, 25% seasoned French for 18 month) – believe it or not, but every time I open a bottle of Field Recordings wine (which is easy – just twist off the screw top), I have a moment of trepidation – will it be as good as everything else I tasted before from Field Recording? You could’ve noticed in this blog that I have a lot of happy reviews of the Field Recordings wines, thus it creates that uneasy moment with each new bottle opened. Luckily, this bottle of “Neverland” didn’t deviate from the trend at all – beautiful nose of cassis and blueberries, open, bright and concentrated, followed by more of cassis, sweet oak and blueberries – but nothing over the top, soft and delicious fruit with perfectly refreshing acidity, soft tannins and overall impeccably balanced. This was a beautiful wine – and equally dangerous (“dangerous wine” = disappears before you notice it). Drinkability: 8+
2012 Cane and Fable 373 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.9% ABV, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Tempranillo, 5% Petit Verdot. Aging: 225L oak barriques, 25% new, 12 month) – this wine is the result of collaboration of Field Recordings’ Andrew Jones and Curt Schalchlin of Sans Liege fame. Different presentation of the bottle (yes, I know, that giant cricket on the label can be off-putting), and the bottle is enclosed with the actual cork and not the screw top as all of the Field Recordings wines. The nose was more restrained than the previous wine, but still showing cassis with some earthy overtones. On the palate, this was that exact “interesting wine”. It was showing nice fruit and structure, but was somewhat fluctuating on an off in terms of being round, or not. So this was an interesting wine to put aside, which I did. As you can take a hint from the cork enclosure, this wine is intended to age – and on the second day it came together, showing cassis with the addition of espresso and earthiness – I think that Tempranillo was holding it away from becoming Bordeaux-like, so this was the wine on its own, well balanced, restrained, and craving for food. I have another bottle and I definitely intend to give it a few years to see what it is capable of. By the way – a mini quiz for you – care to guess what 373 stands for in the name of this wine? Drinkability: 8-
2010 CVNE Monopole Rioja DOC (13% ABV, 100% Viura) – the oldest white wine brand of Spain, produced since 1915. Fresh citrus and herbs on the nose, impeccably balanced and restrained on the palate, with the notes of lemon and green apple, clean acidity, very pleasant to drink. I have a few more bottles, and I’m keeping them. Drinkability: 8
2012 Colline de l’Hirondelle Cocolico, France (15% ABV, 60% Chenançon Noir, 25% Grenache, 15% Syrah) – Another case of the interesting wine, this time due to a number of factors. First of all, this wine contains a new grape – Chenançon Noir from France. Second of all, the initial impression from this wine was more reminiscent of the big body, brooding Spanish Grenache – Shatter by Dave Phinney or Alto Moncayo come to mind – and it was not round enough and was asking for decanter – which was provided. After about 40 minutes, it showed plums and ripe sweet cherries, still powerful and big bodied, but more round and balanced then from the get go. Considering the price of $15.99, if you like big and powerful wines, this might be the one for you. Drinkability: 8-
And that concludes my post. Any beautiful or interesting discoveries you care to share? Comment away! Cheers!
Not only this is an OTBN post (not every day you get to drink the Tokaji Essencia), but this is also a great into into the world of Tokaji wines and Furmint grape. Enjoy!
Originally posted on The Armchair Sommelier:
Last Saturday was the annual Open that Bottle Night (OTBN). If you’ve never heard of it before, OTBN sounds like a Myers-Briggs personality type, but it’s actually a reason to open a bottle of wine. OTBN is the brain child of Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. And the idea is a simple one — instead of waiting for that perfect reason to open that special bottle of wine, OTBN is the reason. Quit thinking about it and just open it.
Earlier this summer, my husband bought me a bottle of 1993 Château Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia for my birthday. Esszencia is one of my bucket list wines. And I’ve been staring at it for months now, salivating, just waiting for the right occasion to open it (because apparently, my birthday wasn’t it).
Enough waiting. It’s time.
Once called the Nectar of the Tsars, Esszencia is…
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Last Saturday, February 22nd, was the Open That Bottle Night – the movement started by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, the wirters of the Wall Street Journal Tastings column. I this is a great way to help oenophiles to open that special bottle in their cellars without really waiting for the moment which might never come. To support the OTBN idea, I’m going to reblog all of the OTBN posts which I will see from my fellow bloggers. Below is the one written by Jeff, better known as The Drunken Cyclist. Enjoy!
Originally posted on the drunken cyclist:
I started thinking about what to have for OTBN at least a few weeks ago, knowing that I would change my mind at least 37 times before actually pulling a cork. A…
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We do drink wine mostly every day, thus we do have fun with wine every day. But then every so often, we are lucky to get together with the other wine
crazy people aficionados, usually to celebrate some sort of occasion (Birthday, etc. ), and this is when from everyday simple fun we advance to the area of “serious fun”.
What makes the wine fun “serious”? It is age and pedigree for the most of the cases, where just a quick glance at the bottle makes your heart race. “Wow, this is so cool” the brain sings, and you literally start to salivate even though it will be a long time until dinner will be served and the wine will be opened. If you will look at the lineup in the picture, you will easily get my point.
We started our evening with the 2013 Paumanok Chenin Blanc North Fork of Long Island, New York (11% ABV) – it had a nice nose of white fruit, white stone fruit on the palate, fresh acidity and overall very uplifting character with residual sweetness on the finish. Drinkability: 7+
The next wine was quite unique and different, at least for me – it was Sauternes, but – it was a dry Sauternes. 2007 Chateau Suduiraut S de Suduiraut Blanc Sec, Bordeaux (70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, some oak aging) was definitely an interesting wine. I’m still trying to understand if this wine was already past prime, or was simply in its slumber. It is unfortunate that the Chateau Suduiraut’s web site lists no technical information about the wine, only implies that it underwent the oak aging. The wine was showing as full bodied and plump. At the same time, the fruit was very muted and initially the wine showed a hint of oxidation on the finish, which disappeared as the wine was breathing. I think this wine left all of us puzzled – it was not bad by all means, but it was not great either. It would be interesting to try the same wine maybe in 5 years – not sure it will be easy to do as it is quite rare. Drinkability: 7
And then there were reds. We opened both 1994 Tignanello and 2001 Quilceda Creek, and Tignanello was exhuming the pleasure, while Quilceda Creek was clearly asking for decanter – which was provided. Meanwhile, another fun and rare bottle was opened. I’m sure you know Bollinger. Yes, the Champagne producer. But – according to Champagne AOC rules, even Champagne producers are allowed to make … yes, still wines! 2002 Bollinger Ay Rouge La Cote Aux Enfant Coteaux Champenois was a bit tight first in the glass, but after about 10 minutes, it opened up into a luscious, complex goodness. Dark garnet color in the glass with some orange hue, an earthy nose of mature fruit with just a touch of characteristic Pinot Noir smokiness. Soft, supple and round on the palate, good amount of dark fruit, well integrated tannins and balancing acidity. Definitely a very interesting wine and experience. Drinkability: 8
1994 Antinori Tignanello (80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon) didn’t even show any signs of age! Dark ruby color in the glass, intense nose of dark cherries with a touch of leather and herbs. Fresh fruit and fresh acidity on the palate, cherries, leather and sage, perfectly balanced and ohh so enjoyable! I believe I tasted Tignanello before at some of the trade shows, but this was my first one on one encounter with this wonderful wine, with the ability to slowly enjoy and savor every sip. Drinkability: 9-
2001 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Washington (14.9% ABV, 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 22 month in New French oak) spent about two hours in the decanter – but even that was not enough. Dark, brooding, concentrated, powerful – but not yielding much of the fruit, all closed up behind that power. After a first glass, we decided that we were simply wasting this wine, and we moved on to the another bottle.
1999 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red Oakville, a classic Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Dark ruby red in the glass, blackberries and blueberries on the nose. Powerful and concentrated on the palate, with black currant, eucalyptus and espresso notes on the palate, soft tannins, very balanced with the medium long finish. Drinkability: 8
And last, but not least – dessert! Yes,the liquid dessert. 1977 Grahams Port. The first challenge was to get the cork out – this is where I regretted not having the Port Tongues available. The cork was pulled out almost completely, with a few little crumbles going back into the bottle, so we used a little mesh to pour the wine. The Port was beautiful – fragrant, fresh, with good acidity, palate full of not overly sweet dried fruit – dried cherries and may be dates come to mind. Perfectly balanced and very very enjoyable. Drinkability: 8+.
And the drop of Scotch to finish the meal properly – very unique and different, Bruichladdich 14 Years The Italian Collection Sassicaia French Oak – the scotch was beautifully mellow, well integrating a touch of traditional Bruichladdich peatiness with round and polished, almost sweet finish imparted by Sassicaia French Oak casks.
That concludes my “drool report” for now – well, life is an interesting thing, so it seems that couple of upcoming weeks will lead to more of the “great wine” reports.
Whether you had or had not any of the wines I’m talking about here, your comments are most welcome! Cheers!
Wine triggers emotions. Emotions become memory knots. Sometimes, just one quick look at the bottle is enough to unleash the memory flood – where, what, how, the images and thoughts are just start coming in. Wine triggers the memory of the moment in the past, and we remember what was happening. But how often do we remember the wine itself? How often do we remember the smell and the taste? Take the wine out of the context of the memorable event, just bring it back to the regular Monday night, just an average, uneventful night – how many Monday (or any other regular weekday or weekend) night bottles can you recall?
And then there are wines which require no memorable setting to be memorable on their own. The wines which don’t bring the memories of the moment, but rather memory of itself. Those wines are rare, few and far in between. But they exist. And from time to time, we are lucky enough to encounter one more. My latest encounter? 2011 Turley The Label.
2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (13.4% ABV) was released in the late fall of 2013, and came out in its traditional simple bottle. Dark garnet color liquid went into the glass. Swirl, another swirl, sniff… OMG. What is it? What is this wonderful aroma, which doesn’t let you put the glass down – nor take a sip – the first smell commands another… and another … and another. At first, you are not even looking for the right words to describe what you smell, you just keep enjoying the aroma. Then the brain starts moving impatiently – “I know this smell, I know this smell, come on, come on”. All of a sudden, the realization comes in – yes, I do know the smell. It is black currant. Bot not the berries. It is the leaves. It’s those meaty, big green leaves on a hot summer day – that’s what it is – and the smell is incredible.
Similar to the fresh meadows of Fiction, or gunflint of Frédéric Gueguen Chablis, those fresh black currant leaves of Turley The Label create an unforgettable image – really a memorable wine in its own right. The magnificent smell was followed by the dark supple fruit on the palate – blackberries and black currant, with firm tannins. It took the wine three days to open up and to actually show what it is capable of, when dark chocolate and espresso joined the profile of much brighter fruit, well structured with supple tannins, good acidity and overall perfect balance. Definitely a great wine which will need about 10 years to really come to its best. Drinkability: 8+
What are your most memorable wines? I would love to hear your stories. Happy Monday and cheers!
A few weeks ago, Jeff, a.k.a. the drunken cyclist, came up with the idea – how about making whole bunch of people happy and excited, just in time for the holidays, by exchanging a few bottles of wine – in secret. As the typical “secret Santa” game goes, we (all participants) have to send one or two bottles of wine to someone – of course nobody has any idea who is sending wine to whom, as all the recipients are set at random. We also were asked to include a little note about ourselves and how did we chose what wine to send – for all detailed rules and regulations you can look here.
I really liked the idea from the very beginning – being able to share the wine with someone and an anticipation of the surprise of the wine someone have chosen for you was definitely exciting. As the idea was discussed further, both in Jeff’s blog and in the e-mail, the main problem surfaced. Legally, you have to have a liquor license in US in order to send wine to someone. The creative ideas were exchanged – ask winery or a store to ship the wine you selected to your recipient; print the label at home and drop the box at UPS or FedEx – they will not ask the questions; ship the wine via US mail – but don’t tell them you have anything liquid inside (this is what I did). With this main problem out of the way, the next key question was: what to send?
Choosing the wine for such a secret mission is very far from simple (sorry, laugh all you want – we, wine snobs, like to complicate things). You want the wine to match the preferences of your recipient. Okay, so may be I’m complicating things for no reason – most of the participants should have a blog, and in that blog they probably talk about wine, so it should be not that difficult, right? Hmm, let’s see.
Finally I got the e-mail – my recipient was Chef Mimi. I went to Chef Mimi blog, which boasts beautiful pictures of food (I’m a sucker for the beautiful food pictures) and tons of recipes. I read the About section, I searched for the word “wine” in the Chef Mimi’s blog – and I couldn’t find any clues to what she might like! So I put my thinking cap on (just kidding – no cap – I just stare blindly into the computer screen). I went through Chem Mimi’s blog posts, thinking – what would I pair with this or that dish? Finally – yes, I got it – Riesling would be one, because it would perfectly pair with these sliders, and, and, and … a Merlot, middle-of-the-road-and-often-great red wine? I have a few bottles of this great Riesling, of course with the name only Oliver can pronounce, 2007 Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (I talked about Spatlese from the same producer in this post, but I chose to send a Kabinett). And for the Merlot – as I live close to Long Island, and I recently was on the trip there and immensely enjoyed 2005 Estate Merlot from Jamesport, this was kind of a no-brainer decision for the wine which is unique and different. Done and done. The rest is history – you can read about it in the Chef Mimi’s post.
A few days after, my wines arrived.
Inside the box, there was a handwritten note from @NewfD90, explaining the preference for the Italian wines hence the selection sent to me – Sangiovese from California and Primitivo from Salento “just for fun”, as the note said.
I decided to start with 2010 Menhir Salento Quota 31 Primitivo Salento IGT (14% ABV). I have a limited experience with Primitivo wines. While Primitivo is a close relative of Zinfandel, and Zinfandel makes some of my most favorite wines, the Primitivo wines I taste in the past were nothing close to the Zinfandel, and shall we say it, not that great. So you can imagine that my expectations were not that high. Open the bottle, pour, sniff, swirl, sip – wow, this is great! I have to honestly say that this was the best Primitivo I ever tasted – and outside of the Primitivo category, this was simply an excellent wine. Ripe raspberries profile on the nose, dark dense fruit on the palate, with more raspberries and blackberries, good round tannins, overall very balanced. Medium to long finish. A very pleasant wine overall.
Cosentino is the well known producer from Napa Valley in California, making a wide range of wines from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel. This was my first experience with Cosentino Sangiovese. This 2011 Cosentino Sangiovese Il Chiaretto Napa County (15.5% ABV) opened up nicely with the nose of leather and smoke, generally resembling Pinot Noir a lot more than any Sangiovese wines I tasted in the past. On the palate it showed touch of tobacco and licorice, with a bit too much of a sweet fruit and then black pepper in the back. It also showed some noticeable tannins. What this wine was lacking was balance and harmony – all the components stuck out on their own. I decanted some amount of the wine, but 3 hours in decanter didn’t help it. I really tried to fall in love with this wine, by tasting it little by little over the next four days – to no avail. While the wine was changing day to day, and it was still drinkable on the day 4, it didn’t come to greatness. I had much better Sangiovese wines from Temecula valley, where the grape quite popular, so may be Napa Valley is just not the place for this grape to shine. But – tasting new wines is always a fun challenge, so I”m glad I had this experience.
That concludes the Secret Wine Santa report. This was definitely fun, so I would like to thank Jeff for coming up with the idea and I’m already looking forward to the next year’s Secret Wine Santa project. Hmmm, that’s a long wait, isn’t it? May be we need to extend the idea to the Secret Wine Admirer? That would be awesome! Cheers!
Here we are again, on the subject of Top Wines of 2013. You already saw my second dozen (and some), and the time has come to present the top list. In case you missed my lengthy explanation about the logic of this list, let me reiterate the main point – these are my most memorable wines of 2013. May be the word “wine” is even a bit limiting – these are the most memorable wine experiences of 2013. These are the wines which are so easy to recall – when you are talking about wines, these are the wines you use as an example. These are the wines which serve as memory links, easily allowing you to re-live the moments of your life. These are the wines which give you an ultimate pleasure. Let’s go:
12. 2008 Seresin Chardonnay Reserve Marlboro New Zealand – one of the best Chardonnays of the whole year – impeccable balance of apples, vanilla, butter and toasted oak, all I want in Chardonnay, nothing more and nothing less.
11. 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Willamette Valley Oregon – probably the best Rosé I ever had. May be even calling it a Rosé is simply a mistake. It was spectacular wine, complex, living in the glass, changing from mouthful of strawberries to tart raspberries and mouthfeel of a balanced red wine. An experience.
10. 2009 Tua Rita Redigaffi Toscana IGT – Tua Rita Redigaffi is listed in my “must try wines” list – need I say more? One of the best in the world renditions of Merlot. It was a pure pleasure – both the wine and the experience.
9. 2009 Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve Franschhoek South Africa – mind-blowing. Exuberant. Over the top. Spectacular. I’m out of words. If you want rediscover Pinot Noir, go find this wine and taste it.
8. 2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – truly a humbling experience and a life lesson. If you think you know everything about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, try this wine. You can thank me later.
7. 2007 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone “Campo dei Gigli” – when I’m saying that I don’t have my most favorite wine, I’m lying. Amarone is the one. But for the past 5 years or so, practically every bottle of Amarone I touch becomes a huge disappointment. Not this one. This was a pure delight and the discovery of the year. Nose of dried fruit and perfectly balanced, round, dry and silky smooth mouthfeel. Thinking about this wine makes me smile.
6. 2005 Henry’s Drive Dead Letter Office Shiraz, South Australia – If anyone remembers Tastings column at Wall Street Journal, this wine was rated “Delicious!”, which was the highest rating. When I tasted this wine, it all made sense – absolutely delicious, round, plush, silky smooth and powerful at the same time, with plenty of blackberries and blueberries which only the best Shiraz can demonstrate. I was planning the whole post dedicated to the Dead Letter Office vertical tasting, but 2008 was only okay, and 2006 and 2009 turned out to be a complete disappointment, so no post. But if you can find this 2005 anywhere, get it – I promise you lots and lots of pleasure.
5. 2010 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria – the only wine in Italy which received highest ratings in 2013 from all three wine rating publications. Once you will try this wine, you will understand why. The balance and complexity is nothing short of spectacular. Stop reading this blog, go find the bottle for yourself.
4. 2002 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Gewurztraminer Alsace – I know that Zind-Humbrecht is considered one of the best producers in Alsace. I tasted this wine a few years back, and I was definitely underwhelmed. This year, this wine magically turned around, showing perfect balance of exotic fruit, lychees, honey, candied apricot and everything else you can to look for in Gewurztraminer, with perfectly balancing acidity. An ultimate treat.
3. 2009 Casa Burmester Reserva Douro DOC – talk about “oenophile defining moments”. I had excellent Portuguese wines before I tried this wine, but the very first sip of this Casa Burmester Reserva made me go “what? seriously? wow!!!”. In a blind tasting, this wine would stand up to the best of the best of California Cabernet – beautiful fruit, texturally present, firm, powerful and impeccably balanced and elegant.
2. 2005 Frédéric Gueguen Chablis Les Grandes Vignes – I remember almost making fun of someone else using the word “gunflint” in the wine description. And here I am, taking a first sniff of this wine with the first word coming to my mind … gunflint! That sensation of gun powder-like smell, the smoke was incredible – and it was very pleasant at the same time. Tremendous minerality, lemony notes and some apples, clean and vibrant acidity and perfect balance. This wine was definitely an experience.
1. 1970 Quevedo White Port - even people in Portugal are not aware of the aged white Port – I witnessed a few surprised looks when talking to the people about white Port which is aged. This wine might be never bottled, as I’m sure it is hard to create a category from pretty much a single barrel of wine. Nevertheless, the ultimate complexity of this wine, coupled with the visual snapshot of tasting it in the Quevedo Port cellar (cue in all the aromatics and mysterious atmosphere), makes for an ultimate experience which will stay in memory forever.
By the way, did you notice that 3 out of my 4 top wines (even though I’m trying no to prioritize the list outside of the wine #1) are the white wines? Quite fascinating. Do you find this list too emotional? May be, but isn’t it the purpose of wine, to solicit emotion? Anyway, for what it worth, this completes the list of my best wine experiences of 2013. What were yours? Cheers!
“Best wines I had in a year”, “my best restaurant experiences”, “top gadgets of the year” – as the year is winding down, the “best of the best” lists are being produced all of the blogosphere and traditional media. Of course, your truly is not an exception – this is the forth year in the row I would like to summarize, share, and maybe even re-live (just a little bit, okay?) the best wine experiences of 2013. And in case you are curious, here are the links for the 2010, 2011, 2012 second dozen and 2012 top dozen.
I really like writing this “Top Wine” posts, as it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the past year in wine and bring back the memories. In a typical year, we are probably going through a few hundred bottles of wine – if I would add all the wines tasted as part of the different events, winery visits, dinners, etc., this number will easily get close to the couple of thousands. How do you select most favorite 20 -something bottles out of all of those wines? I actually have a two-pass approach here. In the pass number one, I simply push my memory to produce the names of the wines which are on top of my mind – and write down those names. The second pass involves going through the label journals. When faced with the bottle of wine, taking the label off, putting it in my journal and adding the notes is my topmost priority. To refresh the memory, I simply go through that journal(s) with the mission of finding most memorable wines. Yes, it is possible that I gave the wine a high rating, but if looking at the label doesn’t trigger the reaction, such wine most likely will not be included into the consideration for the Top Dozen list.
Similar to 2012, I didn’t even try to limit my top list to only 12 wines. The list is split into the first and second dozens, and I think the “dozen” will be treated a bit loosely here – let’s say, a dozen and a few. The actual Top Dozen includes the most memorable (read – easiest to recall) wines of 2013, and the second dozen includes the wonderful wines which I feel I must mention. I will have the Top wine of the year, but otherwise, both lists are not prioritized – this is way too much work to decide that I like the wine #3 a 0.0001% more than the wine #4, thus please don’t look at this list as sorted – this is just the random list of my most memorable wines of 2013.
And now, without further ado, let me present to you Talk-a-Vino Second Dozen+ of wines of 2013.
27. 2011 Haute Cabrière Unwooded Pinot Noir Franschhoek South Africa – light, tangy, refreshing, thirst-quenching, crowd-pleasing wine. It is a quintessential Pinot Noir, with all the smoke, violet and cranberries, packaged in a delicate, effervescent frame.
26. 2005 Jamesport Vineyards Merlot Block E, Long Island, NY – one of the very best Long Island can produce. Powerful, concentrated and dangerous – you just don’t want to put the glass down. A pure delight.
25. 2010 Montesco Passionate Wine Parral, Tupungato, Mendoza – the wine with the soul. The passion, which s part of the name of this wine, is showing in every sip. Powerful and delightful.
24. 2008 Paritua Riesling Central Otago New Zealand - perfectly delightful or delightfully perfect? Clean, balanced, refreshing, light and delicious – all in one package.
23. NV Boroli Barolo Chinato, Piedmont - I think adding aromatic herbs to the Barolo is a stroke of a genius. Yes, it is more of an after dinner drink than the wine, but you can’t stop smelling your glass, the aromatics are just incredible. Definitely one of my personal discoveries of 2013.
22. 2011 Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma County – beautiful Pinot Noir – clean and perfect. Do I need to say more?
21. 2010 Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso DOC - I had to include at least one of the beautiful Montefalco winesinto the Top list, as Montefalco wines (both Sagrantino and Rosso) where another personal discovery of 2013. Le Cimate was a love from the first sip – powerful, concentrated, lip smacking cherries – delicious.
20. 2007 Mount Palomar Charbono Temecula Valley, California - I probably managed to hit the sweet spot – this wine was definitely at its peak. Layered fruit, concentrated, silky smooth and perfectly balanced.
19. 2012 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury, New Zealand – pure, beautiful and classic. An excellent rendition of Pinot Noir – delicate, but present, elegant, round and perfectly balanced.
18. 2004 Coume Del Mas Quintessence Banyuls Red Dessert Wine – may be a single best (definitely one of the very best) red dessert wines I ever had. Supple dried fruits – prunes, figs – supported by balancing acidity. Outstanding.
17. 2001 Nino Negri ’5 Stelle’ Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG – I love the contrast of the sweet dried fruit on the nose, which you often get from grapes dried under the sun before they are pressed, and full and powerful body of wine. This wine had it all – sweet dried fruit on the nose, and perfectly balanced, perfectly dry palate, tons of pleasure in every sip. Yes, I would gladly repeat the experience again.
16. 1974 Quevedo Colheita Tawny Port – What can beat the taste of 40 years old port? Well, may be a 50, but I can’t tell firsthand. This was absolutely delicious, complex and still fresh, as only the old port can get. Wines of that level make the whole table to go quiet for a moment (or two), and just reflect on life.
15. NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, Ambonay – This wine restored my love and appreciation for the fine Champagne. Somehow, for the most of the year, I was in the mode “Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sparkling Shiraz – who cares, they are all the same” (okay, may be except the sparkling Shiraz) – the first sip of this wine put a “wow” back into the glass of Champagne for me. This was perfectly complex, with every sip making me crave another one.
14. 2005 Domaine Laleure-Piot Pernand-Vergelesses AOC, Burgundy – it is the wine like this which makes you say “boy, this is the wine I want to drink every day”. Round, supple, yet effervescent – vanilla, sweet oak, fresh apples – all painted with the light touch, everything is in the perfect balance, everything is present, but so perfectly weaved together, you can only think of this wine a whole. Ouch, I need a sip of it right now…
13. 2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco – this wine should probably be called a “perfect pick me up”. If you are in a bad mood, after a long day, after your boss was the usual jerk, have a glass of this wine. Your body will straighten itself, automatically assuming the perfect posture after the first sip. After the second sip, all the problems will go away, and you will be ready to face a new day or whatever is that you need to face. Delicious.
There you have it – an extended second dozen of Top wines of 2013. Tried any of these wine? Didn’t try but have something to say? Comment away! Cheers!
To be continued…