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One on One with Winemaker: Aurelio Montes of Montes Winery, Part 2

January 19, 2016 2 comments

As promised, here is the continuation of our conversation with Aurelio Montes Sr – Founder and Chief Winemaker of Montes Winery. You can find first part of the interview here.

Montes Alpha winesWhile the first part offered insight into unique (and unexpected) areas such as using of Feng Shui principles and Gregorian Chants at the Montes winery, this second half of the interview is also full of  interesting details about present and future of Chilean winemaking. Here we go:

Q7: Do you use natural yeast in production of your wines?

A: Not for white varieties, although we have made Chardonnay trials in coastal areas, but in most cases result in that we obtain a very slow and long fermentation, which jeopardizes the final quality of the wine.

We prefer to use selected yeasts in white varieties, which ensure us a good rate of fermentation, working at low temperatures and retaining maximum aromatic potential of the wine.

In the case of reds it is different. We love to work with natural yeast when possible. They tend to express terroir better than the selected ones. However, much will depend on the conditions of the season, that is, if the season was very warm and the fruit arrives to the winery with a very high potential alcohol, we then prefer to use selected yeast that will ensure a good end fermentation. In the case of very rainy seasons, where the grapes arrive at the winery in bad conditions with some presence of fungi, we prefer to don´t take any risk and use selected yeast as well.

Under normal harvest of red grapes, without rain during maturity or heat peak’s that can cause an exaggerated increases in sugar content, we can then use natural yeast, maintaining important regimes of oxygen during fermentation and also moderated temperatures, in order to not stress these yeasts that behave in some cases very sensitive when the conditions are adverse during fermentation.

Q8: Montes Alpha had been a pioneer in many areas of winemaking in Chile. Particularly, it was the first winery to produce Syrah wines. How would you describe your Syrah compare to Northern Rhone, California or Australian wines?

A; Our Syrah, because of the natural conditions, and some winemaking policies, is different to Rhone or Australian Syrah. Ours is midway between the two mentioned valleys. It is ripe but not as jammy as the Australian one…is austere but still far more friendly and approachable than the Rhone style. This puts us in a perfect position, in terms of quality, and in fact my opinion is that the best New World Syrah comes from Chile

Q9: What was your most favorite vintage of Montes Alpha Syrah and why?

A: I think the 2006 vintage was a very good harvest, where this wine was well known. But I feel that the 2012 was even better. We had a very good season in terms of absence of spring frosts, an accumulation of rain water which enabled us to reach harvest with a low level of risk, and also a free of summer rains and reasonable temperatures. In particular, our Syrah from Apalta that comes from mountain grown fruit behaved very well, controlling a balanced amount of clusters per vine, allowing us to concentrate fruit color and body. Elegance and aromatic complexity found in the Apalta Syrah is really incredible. From this estate also comes the Syrah that goes to our Icon Folly made 100% out of Syrah.

Q10: In the wine world, there is always a conversation of the “next big grape”, which is usually country and region specific – like Sauvignon Blanc in Argentina, for instance, or Chardonnay in Oregon. Is there a “next big grape” for Chile?

A: I like to believe that the Carmenère can be our “next big grape”. But we struggled to position it, despite the efforts the sector makes. Chile has a high level of quality in this variety, considering various valleys and different heights, in the central and even coastal areas of Chile. After this many years of experience we must remain vigilant and continue working and learning in order to deliver the best quality Carmenère in the world.

I would like to add that recently Chile also has been making quite some noise on varieties such as Pais, Cinsault, Muscat, Grenache, Carignan, etc. In this last varieties with very good results.

In our case we crafted the Outer Limits line, which allows us to be more adventurous, dreamers, and let our imagination fly to experiment;

However I believe that the Cabernet Sauvignon is still the king of varieties that Chile has. Not only well renowned for the great quality but also because it represents the productive power and essence of the Chilean wine.

Q11: Does Montes Alpha have plans for the new grapes to be planted? Anything you are experimenting with right now?

A: We are not closed to the possibility. We are always looking for new things, but today to plant new surface is a sensitive issue. Chile is going through a time of overstock of wine, which forces us to be cautious about increasing our production. In the northern hemisphere the situation is similar, which puts us at a critical point.

Without adding the irrigation problem that the viticulture is facing around the world, which forces us to be very astute at this point. Today, more than planting new varieties on new surfaces, we are willing to replace those varieties and vineyards that do not meet our expectations, and replace this to try some new things.

For example, we have had very good reviews on our Tempranillo and Tannat 2015, after years of testing and harvesting dates, and exploring winemaking forms. Maybe we can do something about those varieties in the near future.

We are also touring various new areas as Cachapoal Valley, in search of a distinctive variety with unique quality and expression. Is under this inspiration that we have found and made quite interesting things, such as Pink Moscatel from Curtiduría, or a Pais from Lolol and other interesting projects that currently are still in the oenological kitchen … but this strategy of seeking other wine realities has given us many satisfactions to myself and the team.

Q12: when you are not drinking Chilean wines, can you give me a few examples of your favorite wines, regions and producers?

A: In terms of wines, if I were to pick an outstanding wine I would choose an Ornellaia Masseto. And if I could delight and reward myself with another, it could be an old vintage of Pétrus.

And we are done with the interview. It is time to take a look at another two Alpha Montes wines I tasted:

2012 Montes Alpha Syrah Colchagua Valley, Chile (14.5% ABV, $25)
C: very dark garnet, almost black
N: blueberries, violet, sage, fresh, touch of tobacco
P: silky smooth, round, roll-of-your-tongue, restrained, nice minerality, balanced fresh berries, touch of spice, touch of sweet licorice, excellent overall balance
V: 8, easy to drink, will greatly evolve

2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina (14.5% ABV, $25)
C: dark garnet, practically black
N: concentrated, dark fruit, plums, violet, tar, tobacco, very, very inviting – super sexy, first analogy
P: wow, concentrated fruit, luscious, polished, layered, round, balanced, great dark power, well integrated tannins
V: 8+, outstanding, wow and dangerous (and sexy! – I rarely designate wines like this, but … of well, I will wait for you to try it)

And we are finally done here. I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did, and may be even learned something new. Until the next time – cheers!

One on One with Winemaker: Aurelio Montes of Montes Winery

January 13, 2016 13 comments

Montes AlphaThings in life often connect in most unexpected ways. Few years ago I read an article about the ways music affects the winemaking. I was unable to find that article or much references ever since. Many times I came across the wine with an interesting label and somewhat peculiar name of Montes Alpha – but I never tasted one.

Few weeks ago I got a note about wine samples from the winery called Montes Alpha from Chile. That note also mentioned Gregorian Chants and Feng Shui been essential elements in wine production at that very winery. This was enough to send my curiosity through the roof and ask for more information – and talk about the way things connect in life, right?

Who can better answer questions wine and winery questions if not the winemaker? I gladly used an opportunity to [yet again] sit down (yes, virtually) with the winemaker and send the barrage of questions his way. I have to tell you that all my questions were answered well in depth – and I think you will find this conversation interesting too. Here is our dialog with Aurelio Montes Sr – Founder and Chief Winemaker of Montes Winery.

Q1: I understand that your winery was built using Feng Shui principles. Are there any specifics in using Feng Shui specifically for the wineries? Do you have any followers from other wineries who came to learn from Montes Alpha experience?

A: We seek to apply the principle of balance and harmony of space in our winery. If you live and / or work in nice balance places, the energy will continue their natural rhythms and will lead to welfare in all its aspects.

It is in this sense, it was incorporated as a fundamental principle in the early stages of design and construction of our winery, the inclusion of all basic elements such as water, metal, wood, stone, etc., in accordance with the principles of this Asian discipline, to ensure this harmony and above all a positive atmosphere.

For example at the entrance to the building is the wooden bridge over a small lagoon, whose water flows toward the building. A fundamental principle of Feng Shui is that prosperity will only come if the water, which represents energy, flows into the center of the building, rather than away from it.

I understand that no other winery has incorporated the Feng shui principle.  In our case, one of our founders, Douglas Murray, was always fascinated with this concept and idea of building a harmonious winery and wine with our environment, therefore we hired the advise of an expert in this field to introduce the principles of feng shui in the foundations of our construction.

Q2: Did you apply or can you even apply Feng Shui principles in the design of the vineyards?

A: Feng shui is related to harmonize spaces. In our case it was considered to harmonize the spaces between the vineyards, winery and of course, our people. To get, as a result, the best wine we can possibly achieve. I believe that in a balanced environment, all pieces come together to perfectly to achieve a greater result.

I am not an expert on the subject though, and not sure how Feng shui can be applied to the vineyard. However our vineyards are planted according to quality policies, soil conditions, variety, etc. I believe that the harmony in the management of our vineyards is the result of the best possible quality grapes we can achieve, keeping always in mind the sustainable conditions.

Q3: I heard about Gregorian chants at the winery. How and where do you use them?

A: The Gregorian chants play constantly in the icon barrel room of our winery at our La Finca de Apalta Estate. The wine seems to enjoy it and I love it. In my opinion, besides the physical effect on wine, it does have an important effect on people’s moods and they work with more happiness and confidence. It keeps us calm in the cellar.

Montes Alpha wines

Q4: Did you try to test the effect of Gregorian chants on aging of the wines by creating a “control group” of same exact wine from same exact vintage and aging it under regular conditions (no music), and then comparing the two wines in the blind tasting?

A: For long now I have been interested in the effects of music in wine. I am happy to share with you a study we funded at Heriot Watt University about the effect of background music in wine tasting.

In terms of wine tasting the “control” with no music at all had a score 20% lower than the tasting held in presence of music.

Q5: Did you experiment with impact of music on the grapes in the vineyard? I remember reading about some of the experiments in that area, and I wonder if you have any information you can share here

A: Not yet and I don’t know of anyone that has done it. I presume there are so many uncontrollable variables such as temperature oscillation, different weather conditions, etc that would make it difficult to assess the particular influence of music in the vineyards.

Q6: Montes Alpha is certified Sustainable winery. Do you have any plans to become an organic or may be even biodynamic winery?

A: From our beginnings, our philosophy has been to produce wines of the highest quality, always concerned with the care of the environment, developing a sustainable viticulture in all stages of winemaking.

We believe sustainability covers a broader spectrum and a larger concept than being only an organic or biodynamic winery. It not only concerns the caring of our vineyards and the environment that surrounds it, but also the legacy that we leave for the next generations. We are very careful with our habitat, natural resources and above all improving conditions for the community.

Being sustainable also takes care of the social aspects of our workers – having a profitable operation permitting us to offer a stable place to work.

We also minimize our use of energy and treat our waste-water to reuse it in the irrigation of our vineyards.

Having said all the above we still have some plans to develop a line of biodynamic wines in a few years.  We have also moved forward in improving our carbon footprint, becoming one of the few carbon neutral wineries in Chile. We have not only traveled to improve our carbon footprint but also to significantly reduce the use of pesticides and replace them with more friendly environmental agents.

No, we are not done yet with the interview, but I don’t want to overload you with an information. I can also bet you are thirsty now, so let me present to you two of the Montes Alpha wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2012 Montes Alpha Montes Twins DO Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $15, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Malbec)
C: very dark garnet, almost black
N: a bit of funk, herbs, blackberries, hint of black currant, inviting
P: good dark fruit, chalk, firm structure, pencil shavings, tart acidity on the finish, restrained. Next day the wine acquired some umami complexity with notes of tobacco.
V: 8-/8, an excellent wine hiding under simplistic packaging; outstanding QPR

2012 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $25, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: cedar, cassis, classic
P: cassis, dark fruit, clean, round, soft
V: 8, outstanding, round, easy to drink

Here you go, my friends. Do you use Feng Shui in your life? What do you think of wine and music? And of course, did you have any of the Montes Alpha wines? I have two more wines to talk to you about, and continuation of our conversation with Aurelio Montes Sr. to share, so stay tuned.

To be continued…

Looking Back and Looking Forward

January 8, 2016 14 comments

VineyardsI’m sure you guessed from the title and the timing of this post that I want to talk about past year 2015 and freshly minted 2016. Yep, I’m predictable like that, you are correct.
So how was 2015 for 2015 for Talk-a-Vino in my own eyes? Great, but challenging. Very challenging. 2016 will be equally difficult, with great potential to be even more challenging, a lot more.
Sure, I will explain. Nothing happened with my love of wine or passion for blogging – both are as strong as ever. What I had (and will have) a problem with is time – my main line of work (the one which pays the bills, you know) is incomparably busier than two years back, and finding quiet time for the labor of love is now not easy at all. No, I’m not complaining, just explaining the change in cadence of the posts coming out.
Talking about 2015, there were few new things which I started doing. During the year, I was offered a few opportunities to meet with the winemakers, and was unable to find time – this is how the concept of virtual interviews came to life. I realized that even when I can’t sit down with the person in the same room, I can still ask questions – and get great answers. I also offered to profile wine apps for any of the app producers who would be interested, and so far had 3 posts in that series – by the way, the offer still stands if anyone is interested.
From the things which I didn’t like so much, but they still happened in 2015, was stopping the series of the Saturday wine quizzes. I had lots of fun creating those, but reached the point when it became very difficult to create challenging, but fun questions, so I had to stop the series, at least for the time being.
What should you expect in 2016? I definitely will continue the virtual interviews – as a matter of fact, one of them is coming out very shortly. I also have good number of posts which I really should’ve written last year, but did not. There were wine dinners, there were tastings, there were winery visits which never made it into the posts. However, the subjects are still worth taking about, so you should expect to see some of those “posts from the past”. I don’t know if I will make a series out of those posts (as an engineer, I like to organize things, may be even more than necessary), add short intro to those posts, or simply put them out without any regards to the “past” – no matter, they will still appear on Talk-a-Vino pages.
2016 is on, so let’s raise the glass to all the fun things which are ahead of us. Cheers!

Categories: Blogging, Life, wine Tags: , , ,

My Favorite Wine?

December 27, 2015 6 comments

Once people establish that I’m a wine snob [connoisseur, aficionado, oenophile – please insert one more appropriate], very often I hear one of the most dreadful, intimidating, difficult questions an oenophile can get – “so tell me, what is you favorite wine?”. When I shrug the question off and say “sorry, I don’t have one”, the usual continuation is “oh, come on, you must have one”.

It is hard to explain that my answer is not a coyly, flirting attempt to exaggerate my self-worth, but I think it would be true for any oenophile – it is impossible to name one wine and to say “this is it, this is my only favorite wine”. I’m not even talking about one specific wine from one specific producer, and it is not even one specific grape – either way you spin it, oenophile is always ready to give you a short and concise list of favorite 100 wines. Note that the longer the conversation will be, the longer the list will become. It should be much easier to answer question about the dream wine – the wine one obsessively wants to try – of course there always many on that list too, but at least for me it is easy to single out one dream wine – DRC (yes, I know that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti makes more than one wine, but I’m not picky, you know…).

It is really hard to pick the favorite wine as the more you taste, the wider your “circle of knowledge” becomes – and you are bound to find gems in every little cornier of the vast winemaking world, with hundred thousands new wines produced every year. To top that diversity off, even for one and the same person taste of wine is very subjective, affected by mood, weather, company and myriad of other factors. No, it is an impossible question.

Now, I want to offer you something instead. At the end of every year I make an effort to reflect on the wines I had a pleasure experiencing, and to summarize it in “Top Wines” post. So far I produced 5 such posts, which I call “Top Dozen”. I managed to keep those posts to a dozen only in 2010 and 2011, and then 2012 – 2014 all included two dozens of the top wines. As it is time to write the same for the 2015, let me reflect a bit on the past posts and give you a list of Top 10 wines from 2010 – 2014. While I always state that those top lists are given in random order, the wine #1 is always thought through, so those choice are not random. Lo and behold, here are the Top 10 Talk-a-Vino wines of 2010 – 2014:

2010

2. Rozes Over 40 Years Old Port ($90). My best port ever. I can close eyes and imagine the smell and taste of this wine – multiple layers, tremendous complexity and great opportunity to reflect on life when the finish lasts for 15 minutes. Find this wine and experience for yourself.

1. Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley ($45). Incredibly balanced, silky smooth wine, very powerful and round. Alcohol content is 15.6%, and it can’t be noticed unless you read the label. Great wine now, will improve with some cellar time. Find it if you can.

2011

2. 2001 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($130) – this was an Amarone I’m constantly looking for and can’t find. Stunning nose of the raisined fruit, a dried fruit extravaganza – with powerful, structured and balanced body – not a glimpse of overripe fruit which is so common in the nowadays Amarone. Truly beautiful wine for the special moments.

1. 2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – First and foremost, it is a smell which doesn’t let you put the glass down. Fresh flowers, meadows, herbs, fresh summer air – it is all captured in the smell of this wine. On the palate, this wine shows bright red fruit, like raspberries and cherries, all perfectly balanced with a great finesse. Any time you want to experience beautiful summer day, reach out to that wine.

2012

2. 1947 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja ($400)65 years old wine  – still bright and youthful. This was one amazing experience – tasting the wine of such an age, and finding that you can really like it without looking for any  age discounts. Fruit was still bright, all wrapped into cedar box and eucalyptus notes, with soft tannins and fresh acidity.

1. 2010 Phantasi Oregon White Wine ($100, Magnum price in the restaurant) – wine geeks, rejoice! This is your wine! If you read this blog for a while, you already know that I’m self-admitted wine snob. But – you probably also know that compare to the wine snob, I’m somewhat of a 100-fold wine geek. I would try absolutely any wine and I purposefully seek odd and unusual bottles.

When this wine was offered to us in the restaurant $100 for a magnum, this was an offer I couldn’t pass by. And what the wine it was! This is 100% Roussanne wine from Oregon, made by Antica Terra – unfortunately, you can’t even find any information about this wine on the winery web site.

The wine was served at the room temperature. Deep, pungent, concentrated – in the blind tasting (actually blind, so you would not be able to see the color in your glass) I’m sure this wine would be easily identified as red. Good acidity, good balance, very food friendly – and very unique.

2013

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.

2014

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.

Producing this Top Dozen list is somewhat of a daunting task, as the opportunity to second guess oneself is truly boundless – but then this exercise becomes a source of great pleasure as you get to re-live the whole year.

I understand you still don’t know what my favorite wine is (that makes at least two of us), but with the list above you know at least a bit more, don’t you? In case you are interested in seeing complete TaV “Top Dozen” lists, here are the links for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Keep in mind that whether you consider yourself an oenophile or not, creating a top ten (insert your number) list is always fun,  so take piece of paper, pour yourself glass of wine, and get to re-live the year through the wines and all the memories connected to them. Yes, the wine is an emotional connector. Happy reflections!

Unexpected Wines of Macedonia

November 25, 2015 4 comments
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 Food and Wine Experiences

November 18, 2015 19 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!

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!

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!

5 Highlights and Hundreds of Wines

October 1, 2015 10 comments

Copain Syrah Les Voisins Yorkville HighlandsLast weekend I attended a trade wine tasting – my first and pretty much the last for this year. My schedule simply didn’t align to do more, but may be it is even for the better?

I’m sure that most of the people see it very simply – “wine tasting = fun”. I tried many times to explain in this blog that “wine tasting  = hard, tiring work” – no doubts 9 out of 10 people point to this statement and start laughing – but this is totally fine with me.

The tasting was organized by one of the Connecticut wholesalers – Worldwide Wines, to showcase all the new arrivals from the wineries and importers they represent in the state. According to the invitation, about 1,000 wines, beers and spirits were offered in the tasting. Duration of the event? 3.5 hours. Which simply means, if you want to taste them all, you have to move at a speed of roughly 5 wines/beers/spirits per minute. Yep, 5 per minute, 12 seconds each.

Of course nobody is trying to taste them all – you have to come with the plan. As I’m not operating a retail business, my plan was simple – to taste best of the best, simply based on the names. I mean no disrespect, but it means that Heitz takes precedence over Castle Rock, same way as Gaja would go over Cavit. This year, I managed to complete my plan quite successfully – you will see tasting notes below. At the end of these 3.5 hours I was really, really tired – but hey, it was worth it.

I managed to try close to 200 wines (including some spirits – no beer though), out of which I will share with you a bit more than a 100 – the wines which I really liked (yep, there were a lot). As this will be a very long list, I will first try to come up with 5 main highlights, before leaving you with bunch of wines to scroll through. But even before we get there, I can tell you that pretty much anything we tasted from California from 2012 vintage was excellent; there were 3 Gaja wines present in the tasting, and they were delicious, with Gaja Chardonnay, Rossj-Bass, being off the charts; for the first time I tried line of Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Nickel & Nickel, and they were very good; also for the first time (consistently missed it from a year to a year), I tried Darioush line of wines, and they were excellent. Now, for the promised 5 highlights, here we go:

  1. California Chardonnays are back! Well, this is a personal statement, of course. Over the past 4-5 years, I developed a tendency to avoid California Chardonnays in any tastings – I find all that  “unoaked” stuff boring. I’m not looking for the “oak bombs” as they were called in the past, but I like my Chardonnays with vanilla, touch of butter and some weight on the palate. This year, out of the 10-12 Chardonnays which I tasted, there was not a single one I didn’t like. Of course I had some preferences, but still, as a group, they were outstanding. You will see the list of all Chardonnays I had a pleasure of tasting in the list below.
  2. There were lots and and lots of red wines I tasted at the event, many of them of the cult status – Sassicaia, Heitz, Shafer, Joseph Phelps and others. They were all excellent wines, but still, my absolute favorite red wine of the tasting was Copain Les Voisins Syrah Yorkville Highlands ($24.95) – the wine had stunning clarity of the Syrah, with pepper and restrained earthy profile.
  3. My top pick for the white wines might be even more surprising – Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer Pfalz, Germany ($10.49!!). I personally consider Gewurztraminer a very difficult grape to do right, for sure for my palate – this wine had such a beautiful balance of spiciness, fruit and acidity, it was simply a perfect sip in the glass. There is yet another highlight which goes to the white wines. Talking about a “group”, 5 white wines from Abbazia di Novacella in Alto Adige in Italy, where literally one better than another – every sip got a “wow” reaction – Kerner, Gruner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc – one better that the other, literally. Abbazia di Novacella Alto Adige
  4. Not a revelation for me anymore, but still something to ponder at – there are amazing spirits made in the USA. Case in point – St. George Spirits from Alameda, California. You know, I don’t drink vodka at all, as it has no taste, and here I absolutely loved Green Chile Vodka from St. George. And then there was Gin, Absinthe, Coffee liquor  – one “wow” after another. I want to include here their motto, as written on the web site: “We don’t distill to meet your expectations, we distill to exceed your imagination“. Yep.
  5. Last highlight is more of a note to self – “don’t drink Port in a middle of tasting”. For sure if it is a Heitz Ink Grade Port. Okay, let me explain. Generally people have a tendency to leave tasting of the sweet wines “for later”, just to make it easier for the palate. Problem is that by the time you decide to go back to those dessert wines, the tasting is way over. When it comes to the Heitz Ink Grade Port, I heard that it is amazing, but equally powerful, so it is better to leave it “for later” – thus I never tasted it before. This time around, I said “that’s it – I’m tasting it now”. Boy, what a mistake. The Heitz Port is a very interesting wine, made from 6 noble Portuguese grapes, typically used in production of the Port – of course this time growing in California, at one of the Heitz vineyards. This Port was delicious, but it had tremendous power of tannins, multiplied by the factor of the sweet dried fruit, all together shutting down your palate for good. I was desperately searching for the chunk of Parmesan, as I don’t think anything else can restore your palate in such a case. So yes, it was delicious – but I’m not drinking it again in a middle of the tasting…

As promised, those were my highlights. From here on, prepare to be inundated with my brief notes on lots and lots of wines. I used the “+” system for rating, and I didn’t include practically any wines with the “++” rating (there might be one or two). Also, lots of wines were absolutely exceptional, so they got the “++++” ratings. Last explanation: the price in the brackets is so called Connecticut minimal bottle price – the state of Connecticut dictates minimum price at which the wine can be sold to the consumers – retailers are not allowed to go any lower than that “min bottle” price. Therefore, it is likely that prices in many stores in Connecticut will be higher than what I included here. It is also quite possible that you can find lower prices in other states. Lastly, I tried to group the wines mostly by the grape type and/or type, to make it easier for you to navigate. Hope you will find this list useful.

Here we go:

Sparkling Wines:
NV Charles Heidsieck Brut ($55.99) – ++++, yeasty!!
NV Champagne Barons de Rothschild Rosé ($99.99) – +++, excellent
NV Champagne Duval Leroy Premier Cru ($45) – +++1/2, perfect balance
NV Champagne Duval Leroy Rosé ($59.99) – +++

Chardonnay:
2013 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay ($19.99) – +++
2013 Laetitia Chardonnay Estate, Arroyo Grande ($15.49) – ++++
2013 Copain Tous Ensemble Chardonnay Anderson Valley ($18.99) – ++++, beautiful
2013 Darioush Signature Chardonnay Napa Valley ($37.99) – ++++
2013 Far Niente EnRoute Chardonnay ($39.99) – +++, very nice
2013 Flanagan Chardonnay Russian River Valley – +++
2014 Heitz Wine Cellars Chardonnay ($24.99) – +++, great acidity
2014 FARM Napa Valley Chardonnay ($18.99) – +++, nice, bread notes
2014 Hooker “Breakaway” Chardonnay Knights Valley ($14.99) – +++, great QPR
2013 Merryvale Chardonnay Napa Valley ($24.99) – ++++, wow! classic!
2014 Crossbarn Chardonnay Sonoma ($21.99) – +++, perfect
2013 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River ($38.99) – ++++, beautiful, vanilla, wow!

2013 Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Blanc Vieilles Vignes ($18.99) – ++++, Chablis-like, great minerality and gunflint

2013 Gaja Rossj-Bass Langhe ($77.99) – ++++

Cabernet Sauvignon and blends, California:
2012 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($99.99) – ++++, beautiful
2012 Darioush Signature Merlot Napa Valley ($45.99) – ++++, excellent
2012 Darioush Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – +++1/2
2012 Darioush Signature Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($46.99) – ++++, excellent

2012 Nickel & Nickel CC Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – ++1/2, tannic
2012 Nickel & Nickel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – +++, clean, excellent
2012 Nickel & Nickel Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99) – +++, excellent

2012 Flanagan Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($68.99) – +++, nice

2010 Heitz Wine Cellars Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.99) – +++1/2
2009 Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($63.99) – ++++, clean, excellent
2006 Heitz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($59.99) – ++++, excellent
2010 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($174.99) – ++++, powerful
2009 Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($174.99) – ++++, beautiful

2012 Honig Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($35.99)- +++1/2
2012 Honig Bartolucci Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($62.49) – ++++, beautifully refined

2012 Hoopes Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) – +++, nice

2012 Joseph Phelps Insignia ($189.99) – +++
2012 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon ($55.99) – +++

2011 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon, Hillside Select, Stags Leap District ($178.49) – +++1/2, excellent

2012 Hooker “Old Boys” Cabernet Sauvignon Na[pa Valley ($29.99) – +++, nice

2013 Venge Scout’s Honor Proprietary Red, Napa Valley ($31.99) – +++1/2, delicious!
2013 Venge Silencieux Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($36.49) – ++++, beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($49.99) – +++, very good

2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ($94.99) – +++1/2
2011 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Dr Crane Beckstoffer ($128.99) – ++++, wow!

2013 Pine Ridge Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) – +++1/2, very clean

2012 Hanna Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($29.99) – +++, herbal

Pinot Noir:
2013 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir ($24.99) – +++1/2, very nice
2012 Calera deVilliers Vineyard, Mt Harlan Pinot Noir (34.99) – +++1/2, nice balance
2012 Calera Ryan Vineyards, Mt Harlan Pinot Noir ($36.99) – +++

2013 Laetitia Pinot Noir Estate, Arroyo Grande ($19.99) – +++
2013 Laetitia Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine (32.00) – ++++

2013 Copain Tous Ensemble Pinot Noir Adderson Valley ($23.99) – ++++, wow
2012 Copain Les Voisins Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($28.99) – ++++, delicious, elegant!

2012 Wild Ridge Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($40) – +++, wow! concentrated!

2011 Merryvale Pinot Noir Napa Valley ($29.99) – +++1/2, classic CA Pinot

2012 Foley Pinot Noir, Rancho Santa Rosa Estate ($32.99) – +++1/2

2013 Siduri Willammette Valley, Oregon ($24) – +++, excellent
2013 Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir ($35.99) – ++++, beautiful
2012 Archery Summit Red Hills Estate Pinot Noir ($59.99) – ++++

2011 Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes ($18.99) – +++
2011 Maison Roche de Bellene Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes ($38.99) – +++1/2

White Wines:
2014 Heitz Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($16.49) – +++1/2, excellent, clean
2014 Honig Sauvignon Blanc ($15.49) – +++, delicately balanced
2013 Honig Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc ($19.99) – +++, nice, complex
2013 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($19.99) – +++, beautiful!

2013 Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris ($18.99) – +++, nice

2014 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow! acidity!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Veltliner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Sauvignon Blanc Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2014 Abbazia di Novacella Sylvaner Alto Adige ($19.99) – ++++, wow!
2013 Abbazia di Novacella Praepositus Kerner Alto Adige ($25.99) – ++++, wow!

2012 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica 750ml 2012 12 $144.00 $12.99
2012 La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica Mirum 750ml 2012 12 $224.00 $19.99

2013 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris Pfalz ($11.99) – ++++, wow! clean
2014 Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer Pfalz ($10.49) – ++++, wow! beautifully balanced!

2012 Maximin Grunhause Riesling Feinherb Mosel ($15.99) – ++++, petrol!
2014 Dr Loosen Riesling Kabinett Blue Slate Mosel ($14.99) – ++++, beautiful, bright fruit

Red Wines:
2012 Copain Tous Ensemble Syrah Mendocino County ($18.51) – +++, nice, a bit too simplistic
2011 Copain Les Voisins Syrah Yorkville Highlands ($24.99) – ++++, oustanding

2012 Shafer Relentless, Napa Valley ($84.99) – +++, very good

2012 St. Francis Reserve Merlot ($39.99) – +++
2012 St. Francis Reserve Old Vines Zinfandel ($39.99) – +++1/2

2014 Lawer “Knights Valley” Syrah Rosé ($17.99) – ++++, outstanding
2010 Hooker “Blindside” Zinfandel California ($13.99) – +++, good
2011 Hooker “Home Pitch” Syrah Knights Valley ($12.99) – +++

2012 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia ($174.99) – +++, clean, balanced, wow
2013 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto ($44.99) – +++, beautiful Cabernet-like

2010 Tenuta di Biserno ($149.99) – +++
2012 Tenuta di Biserno Il Pino di Biserno ($59.99) – +++, herbal profile

2012 Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove Bolgheri ($50.99) – +++1/2

2012 Gaja Ca’Marcanda Magari Bolgheri ($69.99) – +++
2010 Gaja DaGromis Barolo ($71.99) – ++++

2008 Masi Riserva di Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella ($51.00) – +++
2008 VAIO Serego Alghieri Amarone della Valpolicella ($69.99) – +++, outstanding
2006 Masi Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella ($116.00) – ++, somewhat disappointing for the single-vineyard Masi

2008 Marchesi di Fumanelli Amarone del Valpolicella ($54.49) – ++++, delicious, sweet fruit
2007 Marchesi di Fumanelli Octavius Amarone del Valpolicella Riserva ($100.99) – +++, nice

2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso, Umbria ($19.99) – +++1/2, powerful
2013 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($22.99) – +++, simple, nice
2012 Feudo Maccari Saia Nero D’Avola ($26.99) – +++, great minerality

2012 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Chile ($16.99) – +++
2012 Los Vascos Carmenere Reserve Chile ($16.99) – +++

2011 Antigal UNO Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.99) – +++, nice, classic

2009 Elderton Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa, Australia ($57.99)- ++++, beautiful
2009 Elderton Command Shiraz Barossa, Australia ($73.95) – ++++, beautiful, roasted notes
2013 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia ($29.99) – +++, perfect

2008 Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande, Douro, Portugal ($14.99) – +++1/2 – delicious
2012 Crasto Old Vine Reserva, Douro, Portugal ($34.99) – +++

2012 Chateau Musar Jeune Rouge, Lebanon ($15.99) – +++1/2, excellent
2007 Chateau Musar Rouge, Lebanon ($N/A) – +++1/2, beautiful

2012 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau ($17.99)- +++
2012 Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard Chateauneuf du Pape ($49.99) – +++, green
2013 M. Chapoutier La Bernardine ($39.99) – +++

2011 Chateau Moulin de Duhart Pauillac ($38.99) – +++
2009 Chateau La Grave a Pomerol ($55.99) – +++
2009 Blason de L’Evangile Pomerol ($74.99) – ++++

2012 Perrin Cotes du Rhone Nature Organic ($9.99) – ++1/2, an outstanding QPR for an organic red wine
2012 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge ($79.99) – +++

2011 Rust en Vrede Estate Stellenbosch, South Africa ($32.99) – +++1/2
2010 Anthonij Rupert Optima Western Cape South Africa ($26.99) – +++1/2

Dessert wines:
2013 Donnafugata Ben Rye ($30.99) – +++, very nice
NV Heitz Wine Cellars Ink Grade Port ($27.99) – ++++, wow!

Spirits:
St. George Green Chile Vodka ($22.49) – flavor is stunning, with clear presence of Jalapeño and other green earthy peppers. Sipping
St. George California Citrus Vodka ($22.49) – another wow flavor, smooth and delicious
St. George Botanivore Gin ($27.25) – mellow with super-complexity. May be the best gin I ever tasted. Definitely sipping quality
St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur ($27.25) – good morning, sir. Here is your coffee, extra strong.
St. George Absinthe Verte ($22, 200 ml) – find it and try it, as I can’t describe it. This is first absinthe produced in US after Prohibition. Would gladly drink it at any time.

Towards More Sustainable Viticulture

August 13, 2015 Leave a comment

grapesToday I’m offering to your attention a guest post which is a bit unusual for this blog – it is a lot more technical then we usually get here, on the pages of Talk-a-Vino. This blog post is written by Urška Krajnc (email: urska@eviti.co), Business developer of eVineyard, a vineyard management solution (and an App), helping viticulturists to grow better grapes. Hope you will find it interesting. Your comments and questions are definitely encouraged. Enjoy!

Agricultural production is one of the most important economic activities on Earth. The majority of human food originates from land, which must perform over time in a consistent manner and produce huge quantities of output. To meet the demands of the world’s growing population, farmers have to increase crop production and availability of food. This is nowadays achieved through the standardization of crops, genetic changes of plants, growth hormones and excessive use of pesticides. Many argue that changes in agricultural production are not going into the right direction. Therefore initiatives for more economical, environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture have emerged.

An important problem of the agriculture production are pesticides, which have negative impact on human health and environmental pollution. While inappropriate use of pesticides is literally directly threatening human lives in certain (usually less developed) areas of the world, it also counts for many indirect harmful effects on human health, ecosystem changes, etc. Pesticide spraying, for example, has a huge impact on the bee population in the country-side, while bees are the main pollinators of certain species of plants. In certain areas, the bee population has reduced by as impressive amounts as 30%. All this is leading to large environmental imbalances – as the pollination reduces, the flora will not flourish as it should anymore, and soon fauna will follow. And we’re a very part of that, even though we may not see it.

Similar story exists with water organisms, which are being killed by the over-usage of pesticides, drifted from the spray targets to the water flows. Pesticides affect human health also through the  residues left in food, that can be toxic to humans. Grapes are believed to be among fruits with the highest level of pesticide residues. Not only in table grapes, but also in wine, several pesticides can be found, especially when the conventional production methods of wine are followed. Therefore in certain regions of the world, more sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural production methods have developed to a larger extent. Alternative methods for large-scale growing are becoming feasible through the latest technology. The fact is that the food production needs optimization, and research has shown that an optimization can be only achieved if the resources that farmers use, are applied in a knowledgeable way.

Some of the countries are already taking steps towards the reduction of pesticides usage. France, for example, decided to reduce the amount of pesticide spraying by 50% in the time between 2008 and 2018. But even though there are national directives, and common sense leading more and more people to move away from pesticides, there are still situations where spraying is seen as necessary – and maybe in some cases it actually is, in order to avoid larger pollution later on, and to sustain the production that feeds our world today. However, a French winegrower from Burgundy probably wouldn’t agree, and would rather go to jail for a few weeks than to spray his grapevines with a pesticide that would consequently poison his soil for the generations to come. Even more, the first real cases against the corporations providing pesticides, are starting, as some people die of cancer which was clearly the consequence of long-term pesticide usage.

endless_vineyards_1The fact is that some of the pesticides are originating from military chemicals and the vast majority of them includes synthetically originated chemical compounds, developed to kill certain pests. Even here, the things are changing through the development of the natural fungicides, which don’t harm non-target pests, but work on fungus. Big steps were done also by science in predicting the disease outbreaks according to the environmental conditions, and using those predictions to spray selectively in order to prevent the diseases at the optimal time, instead of routine spraying. This scientific research is nowadays manifesting in practice through cost-effective solutions, based on sensors and data about the weather, and is targeted at the crops which are classically produced with large amounts of pesticides, like grapes.

Several wine producing countries – France, Spain and Italy under the EU agricultural policy, as well as Australia and United States of America, are systematically reducing the use of pesticides on grapevines for the last 15 years. The practical measures are taken to reduce pesticide residues and environmental pollution via usage restrictions of several dangerous pesticides and introduction of Integrated Pest Management approach. This approach has proven to reduce pesticides residues not only in wine, but also in the other agricultural products. Australian winegrowers have reduced the usage of pesticides through the use of technological solutions for strategic spray timing and through the use of more naturally produced pesticides. In the United States of America, the reduction of pollution is achieved through banning of several harmful pesticides and through the introduction of sustainable wine-growing practices, supported with the sensors and information technology, used to optimize other processes, such as irrigation. Similar practices are used throughout the Europe, which has seen a big increase in pesticide use in post World War II time, which is now decreasing.

Mountain vineyards view (Ridge)

In many European countries, the “Denomination of Origin” policies don’t allow irrigation and some other kinds of terroir manipulation in order to get the “DO” sign. But systems for smarter plant protection are always welcome and are already in place in most of the countries by big growers, with the adoption of technology now being done by smaller growers as well. Some winegrowers around the world went even a step further and applied organic wine production principals, due to the changes in market demands, led by the conscious consumers. In EU, 6.6% of the grape-growing area is treated as organic, from which one third of organic grape-growing area is in Spain. Unfortunately, on the other side of the world, in China, with rapidly growing grape production, a production and usage of pesticides is increasing.

A lot of solutions exist – we can spray very selectively by using sensors and computers that take into account the existent knowledge. We can completely avoid spraying in some cases, and in the other cases, we may use the natural fungicides that don’t harm the organisms, which were not targeted as harmful, like bees. It will take some time for all those solutions to become mainstream, but some parts of the world are already moving in that direction. It’s our, humanity’s, turn, to make healthy and sustainable future a reality. We’re not left with many other options anyway.

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