During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed and even web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.
Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…
After spending some time looking at hard-to-find-but-worth-seeking wines (Jerez and Madeira posts can be found here and here), let’s go back to the “hidden secrets” series. We agreed at the beginning that in this “secrets” series, we are looking for great wines which will bring a lot of pleasure – but will not require one to dip into pension savings to enjoy them pretty much every day. We talked about Rioja, second labels, French Sparkling wines and wines of Languedoc. Where should we go now?
If anything, we are living through a wine renaissance period right now. Wine is very popular as a beverage among people of all ages and all walks of life, everywhere in the world. Wine is also made nowadays almost everywhere in the world – from China and India to downtown Chicago (I’m serious – you can read about it here). Does it mean that you can universally enjoy wines made anywhere in the world? Of course not (not yet? May be, but I can’t predict the future). Taking out of equation exotic wines made in exotic regions, what are we left with? There are a number of well know wine making regions – Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Rhone in France, Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy, Germany (as one big Riesling-making region), Rioja, Ribera Del Duero and Priorat in Spain, Porto in Portugal, Australia and New Zealand (often taken as a whole), United States with Napa and then Sonoma being most prominent, and hopefully Washington and Oregon being also well known outside of the US, and Chile and Argentina, as still relative newcomers in the wine world. How did I come up with this list? Before someone gets upset for his or her favorite regions not being mentioned, or all 70+ regions of Australia not being accounted for, let me explain the logic here – it is simple. Each of the regions listed above (even with the whole country lumped as one) makes tens or may be hundreds of the wines which are in a high demand. How can we estimate the demand? When wine is in demand, it typically starts going up in price. Each one of the above mentioned regions has many wines priced in the hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle (anyone who wants to check is welcome to look for Screaming Eagle, Chateau Petrus, Krug Champagne or Vega Sicilia on wine-searcher).
Yes, you are absolutely right – not all the wines produced in Bordeaux or any other famed region cost hundreds of dollars, there are many which cost between $10 and $20. True, but in many cases consistency of those wines might be in question – meaning, you never know what you are getting for your ten or twenty dollars. Of course probability of finding very good and reasonably priced wine is getting better and better in today’s world – but you can even further improve it by stepping out of familiar circle and looking for wines from under-appreciated regions.
So what are those under-appreciated regions? As you can imagine, there are lots of them. Again, all the exotic places aside, for each famous wine region, the same countries have tens of “under-appreciated” regions, consistently making good wines for hundreds of years, with majority of those wines being also reasonably priced. In France, great wines are made in Loire, Provence, Jura, Languedoc-Roussillon (we already talked about them) and many other places. In Italy, excellent wines are made in Umbria, Sicily, Lombardy, Marche and again in many other regions. Rias Baixas, Bierzo, Jumilla and La Mancha in Spain; Long Island, Virginia and Texas in United States, South Africa, Israel, Lebanon, Greece, Georgia and Hungary… There is no limit to the places where now we can look for consistently good wines.
As usual, time to open a bottle, right? Let me give you a few examples from the regions which I believe are under-appreciated.
Let’s start in Italy, in the region called Marche, which is located on Adriatic coast of Italy, near Ancona. There are a number of great wines produced in that region, which is still staying off the radar for the most of the wine lovers. Particularly, white wines made out of the grape called Verdicchio, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio di Matelica are excellent white wines, with balanced acidity and fruit, perfect for summer day. The red wines are made mostly out of Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes. This particular 2006 Casal Farneto Rosso Conero IGT is made of the blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, and it is an excellent red wine with lots of layers and luscious red and black fruit on the palate (think of blackberries and sour cherries), perfectly balanced.
Let’s move from region Marche in Italy to France. Here is our first wine, coming from Vouvray region in Loire valley. Loire is home for many different wine regions, all producing interesting but lesser known wines, may be with an exception of Sancerre (I might be really stretching this “may be”). Vouvray wines are made out of the grape called Chenin Blanc, which produces wide range of wines from very dry to very sweet. This particular 2009 Domaine de Vaufuget Vouvray AOC is very nice and pleasant, showing some sweetness (probably equivalent to Spatlese Riesling). It is easy to drink and should be great accompaniment to many summer meals.
Last but not least for today is red wine coming again from Loire Valley, from the region called Chinon. As many other red wines in Loire region, Chinon wines are made out of the Cabernet Franc grape, with an addition of some other grapes. Cabernet Franc is typically used as a blending grape in Bordeaux and California, but it also produces great wines on its own, in all the different regions throughout the world. This 2007 Epaule Jete Chinon required extensive time to open up, but after three days, finally became drinkable, showing earthiness, fruit and acidity, all in harmonious balance.
Not sure if I was convincing enough, but next time you are in a wine store, look for unfamiliar wines from unfamiliar places – it is possible that you will make a great discovery. As subject of under-appreciated wines is almost endless, I will give you many more examples of great wines from no-so-well-known places. Until then – let’s drink to fearless wine tasting and great discoveries.
Do you know how old tavern smells? The one were thousands of wine bottles were opened, and wooden tables soaked up all the spills and drops of the wine during many tens or may be even hundreds of years? I don’t know about you, but for me this smell means “hello, vino was here!”. This is what you get when you pour this 2007 Epaule Jete Catherine and Pierre Breton Bourguiel in the glass. You get the most vinous nose you can imagine – not a hint of sweetness, not a hint of berries – only a noble smell of the ageless wine with the whiff of acidity. On the palate you get earthiness, minerality and more acidity, all delicately balanced by the early sour cherry kind of fruit.
Once I tasted this wine, one of the first thoughts was – it reminds me of a recent experience. It was so light and transparent (noted after tasting: 12% alcohol) that it brought back memories of the natural and biodynamic wine tasting at the PJ Wine (here is the link to that post). Similar to the wines in that tasting, this Cabernet Franc wine also let the Terroir to shine through, unadulterated. After checking the web site for Domain Breton – voila, it appears that this wine is also natural, organic and biodynamic!
All in all this was a great experience – I’m not sure it will be easy to repeat it, as it was the only bottle I had (I got in Lavinia wine store in Geneva). Oh well – this wine is worth seeking and experiencing, so talk to your favorite wine store guy – I will certainly talk to mine. Cheers!
Celebrate Two Noble Grapes in One Day – What Are You Drinking Tonight? #CabernetDay and #TempranilloDay
I’m honestly puzzled, but somehow September 1st had being declared an international #CabernetDay and #TempranilloDay – it feels like there are not enough days in the calendar to properly celebrate all the grapes? Anyway, it is what it is, right? And the celebration is on, which means … oh boy… you have a reason to have a glass (or two or …) of wine tonight!
To celebrate Cabernet Day, all you need to do is to open a bottle of your favorite (or better yet, the one you never had) Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc wine (and of course Cabernet blend will do quite well too), and then tell the world how great it was (if you will only tell your neighbor, that will also count). With abundance of choices from Bordeaux, California, New York, Washington, Australia, Canada, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Israel and pretty much everywhere else, you will have no problems finding a good bottle of Cabernet to enjoy. And instead of giving you any particular recommendations, I would like to simply reflect on some of the past experiences:
Next, we definitely should acknowledge Tempranillo, a noble grape of Spain. While this grape is slowly trickling into other winemaking regions, it is a true star in Spain, where it shines in Rioja and Ribero del Duero regions, making some of the most beautiful (and age-worthy) wines in the world. You can also find it producing good results in Portugal, however, under the names of Aragonez and Tinta Roriz. Again, no particular recommendations as to what wine to open, just some reflections here for you:
Whatever bottle you will end up opening, the routine is not new – all you need to do is to enjoy it. And if you will be kind enough to leave a comment here, I will be glad to enjoy it together with you. Cheers!
Coming back to the memories of “ahh-so-distant-by-now” our Canada vacation (it’s being almost a month!), I need to share my wine experiences with you. You might remember two earlier posts (you can find them here and here), which I prefer to refer to as “picture reports”, which gave you visual expression of the food and some of the wines in Canada. However, we had an opportunity to spend some time in one of the Canadian wine countries, surrounding small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake – and it was an eye opening experience for me.
Until this trip, my idea of Canadian wines was very simple – Icewine. I knew for a while that Canada makes some really famous Icewines, which compete with German and Austrian Icewines. Outside of Icewine, my only reference were wines of Finger Lakes region in upstate New York (general direction of Canada). While I wouldn’t claim that I visited mass amount of wineries in Finger Lakes, in a few places we visited the only drinkable wines were Rieslings, and all the red wines were plain bad. Therefore, these were my expectations for the Canadian wines.
I decided to start from the winery with the name at least I heard of – Inniskillin, and of course the only wine I knew “of fame” there was an Icewine. As a side note I want to mention that the winery had a playroom for kids – which is very important factor in letting adults to enjoy a wine tasting, even during family vacation. The first wine we tried was 2010 Two Vineyard Riesling – very clean, good tropical fruit expression, all paired with beautiful acidity, nice finish. This was a great start of the tasting. The next wine completely blew me away – 2009 Legacy Series Pinot Gris. First, I didn’t expect Pinot Gris to be produced in Canada. But is not the main factor. Very complex, with explicit minerality and spicy bouquet on the palate, this wine still puts a smile on my face when I think about it.
After having a great start with the whites, my level of expectations increased for the reds – and rightfully so. 2009 Montague Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir was very nice, varietally correct with precise expression of smokiness and red fruit. Again, I would never expect to find a Pinot Noir of such clarity at a winery located so high up North – but I did. 2009 Shiraz Cabernet had perfect acidity, good minerality, just a right balance of dark fruit. 2009 Cabernet Franc was simply my favorite red wine – perfect, very balanced, with clearly expressed green peppers and explicit minerality (you might think that I’m abusing the term – but minerality was one of the key characteristics of all the Inniskillin wines we tasted, so I can’t help myself but to call it out).
As you might expect, sweet wines were next. We are not talking about some arbitrary late harvest wines – we are talking about Icewines, which have the highest sugar concentration out of all sweet wines, as the grapes are ripening on the vines until the frost reaches –8°C (about 17F) – then the grapes are harvested while being frozen and pressed right away – which yields tiny amount of super-concentrated grape juice – this is why the wines are called Icewine (also such a low yield explains high price of the Icewines). First we tried 2010 Sparkling Vidal Icewine, which was very light and delicate. 2007 Cabernet Franc Icewine was a real star though. I have to mention that Inniskillin was the first winery to produce Icewine from the red grape. Also, Inniskillin worked together with Riedel, leading wine glass maker in the world, to produce a specially shaped Icewine glass which enhances aromatics of the Icewine.
Going back to Cabernet France Icewine, it was incredible, one of the best ever dessert wines I ever tried. Why am I saying that? Balance. Ultimate Balance was first and foremost characteristic of this wine. Beautiful balance, perfect lingering acidity and literally unnoticeable sweetness – great wine. All in all, it was an outstanding line up of wines at Inniskillin, I can’t recommend high enough each and every wine I tried.
Next stop we made at the Cattail Creek Family Estate winery. One of the reasons to pick that particular winery was the fact that they have a few wines with the grapes I didn’t have before, like Chardonnay Musque, or different Riesling clones. I’m glad we stopped by, as we found more great tasting wines, plus most of the wines are made in a very small quantities, so many are available only at the winery itself. First, we tried 2008 Catastrophe White, which was perfectly refreshing, with good acidity and good amount of the white fruit. Then we tried 2009 Catastrophe Red, which had very good balance, nice red and black fruit expression, soft and pleasant. It is interesting to note that Catastrophe wine series labels depict real cats who lived at the winery. Last but not least was 2009 Chardonnay Musque – very nice, with good acidity, good reflection of what Chardonnay is, good subtle tropical fruit expression, more as a hint. This was yet another great experience.
Our last stop was Chateau des Charmes. This winery had the most impressive building of all:
The wines here were also very impressive. We started with 2007 ‘Old Vines’ Riesling (I wanted to experience “old vines” Riesling) – and to my complete surprise, this Riesling had a Petrol nose! I was always under impression that Petrol nose is a property of only German Rieslings – and here we go, Riesling from Canada with full classic German Riesling expression. In addition to Petrol nose, it also had very good fruit, medium body and perfect balancing acidity. Next were more of the very impressive Pinot Noirs. 2007 Pinot Noir had a beautiful nose, and lots of tannins on the palate – it was unusually muscular for the Pinot Noir, probably in need of a few years to open up, but still, it was very good. 2007 ‘Old Vines’ Pinot Noir was also very big and powerful, with very clean smoky nose, but also needing time as the previous wine.
Last but not least was 2008 Gamay Noir ‘Droit’, which happened to be a clone of Gamay and therefore it accounted for an additional grape for my “counting grapes” project. This wine had very unusual herbaceous nose, and was nice and light on the palate – definitely a food friendly wine.
That concludes the Canadian wine story, as we didn’t have time to visit more places. But even based on this experience, if before I knew of only Icewines from Canada, now all the Canadian wines are squarely on the “to find and drink” list for me – and I highly recommend that you will make an effort to find them and try them as well. The challenge is – I didn’t see that many Canadian wines on the shelves of the wine stores here in Connecticut. Oh well, hopefully we can change that. Cheers!