I’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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
Today 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: firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
The 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.
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.