WBC16: Day 1 – Speed Tasting, White and RosĂ©

August 27, 2016 3 comments

One of my favorite sessions at Wine Bloggers conference is one hour of pure madness, called Live Blogging, or Speed Tasting. Everybody sit at the round tables, 8 people per table. Each table has a number. There are winemakers with their wines, and typically there are more winemakers than there are tables. Each winemaker gets exactly 5 minutes to pour and present their wines. Each blogger has this exact same 5 minutes to taste, write notes, take pictures and do whatever else they are pleased. At the end of 5 minutes, each winemaker has to move to the next table – no exceptions.

This session usually has love/hate reception from bloggers. I personally love it, and I take that “live” part of this speed tasting very seriously🙂, twitting about each and every wine as we get to taste them. Now I would like to present to you the recap of this session, so here are all the wines and all of the tweets as this session was evolving in the real time – you can read my notes as part of the tweet:

1st wine – NV J Vineyards Brut RosĂ© Russain River Valley – delicious start, don’t you think? One of my favorite Californian sparkling wine producers

Next wine: 2014 Concannon Vineyard Asemblage Blanc Reserve Livermore Valley (Sauvignon Blanc and SĂ©millon blend):

Wine #3: 2014 Peirano Estate Vineyards “The Other” Lodi  (65% Chardonnay, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Viognier)

Wine #4: 2014 Kenefick Ranch Pickett Road White Napa Valley Calistoga (75% Grenache Blanc, 20% Maarsanne, 5% Viognier) – the winery describes this wine as “possibly the best food wine on the planet” – considering the acidity, they might not be too far off. Plus, look at the varietals used in the wine – very interesting.

Wine#5: 2015 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Oregon – had an opportunity to taste this wine before – 100% Pinot Noir and 100% White, delicious:

Wine #6: 2015 Troon Vineyard Longue Carabine Applegate Valley Southern Oregon (blend of Vermentino, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne)- I already wrote about this wine, so here was the second encounter🙂

Wine #7: 2015 Corner 103 Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley

Wine #8: NV Oak Ridge Winery OZV Rosé California (blend of Zinfandel and Chardonnay):

Wine #9: 2014 Peirano Estate Vineyards Chardonnay The Heritage Collection Lodi – very classic and an excellent value at $14.99 (mentioned in the tweet):

Wine #10: 2001 The Lucas Winery Chardonnay Lodi – this wine deserves its own post, and I wish I had time to visit the winery. This 15 years old California Chardonnay was absolutely mind blowing, deserving the highest praise. The balance and freshness on this wine were just spectacular. Might be easily the best California Chardonnay I ever had (okay – too bold – one of the best for sure):

And we are done here – 10 wines, 60 minutes, lots of fun. The red wines speed tasting took place on the Day 2, and the report is to follow.

Until the next time  – cheers!

Hudson Valley Escapades

August 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Clermont WineryLast week I was talking about Fero Vineyards, which was a part of our traditional August getaway in 2015. As I don’t want to wait until 2017 to tell you about our adult’s getaway 2016, let’s talk about it now.

This year we happened to go back to the upstate New York, similar to the trip we took in 2013 when we had an amazing time at the Hudson Distillery. This year, we started our weekend with the lunch at Clermont Vineyards and Winery in Clermont (Germantown), New York.

Clermont Vineyards and Winery was started in 2014 by Tony Trigo, with the vineyards planted about 6 years prior. Before we talk about the wines, we need to talk about breathtaking views you get from the tasting room and surrounding decks. Better yet, let not talk – take a look at these pictures:

View from Clermont winery deck

Vineyards at Clermon winery

View from Clermont Vineyards deckThe winery primarily focuses on a traditional New York varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Seyval Blanc), but as Tony explained to us, last two winters were brutal, with temperatures dropping very low, so he lost about 3/4 of the Chardonnay vines. As the result, he is adding now hybrid varietals such as Aurore and Arandell, which were created specifically to withstand upstate New York winters – particularly Arandell, selected locally at Cornell University, can successfully survive temperatures of -19ÂşF, which definitely comes in handy. Having Portuguese roots, Claremont Vineyards also imports few of the Portuguese wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Unfortunately, number of wines at Claremont Vineyards were sold out, so here are the notes for what we were able to try (just for your information, tasting of 5 wines costs $5 per person):

2015 Grambeira White Douro DOC Portugal (blend of CĂłdega do Larinho; Rabigato and Viosinho) – nice, simple, clean, good body and good acidity
2015 Clermont Vineyards Chardonnay Columbia County New York – excellent, good fruit, bright, hint of sweetness
2014 Clermont Vineyards Aurore Columbia County New York – nice, clean, touch of sweetness – a new grape for me!
2014 Clermont Vineyards Arandell Columbia County New York  – Nice touch of sweetness, unusual, strong herbal component. This wine can be polarizing, like Norton. The grape itself is selected to sustain cold winters and is also disease resistant – and this is another new grape for the collection
2011 Grambeira Red Douro DOC Portugal (blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, 11 months in oak, 8 months in the bottle) – outstanding, Great density, dark, brooding core of spices.

Grape Leaf with water drops

Grapes in progressAll in all, very nice place with priceless views, so it would worth even a special trip if you’d like. We also had a long and relaxing 2 hours lunch at a big communal table which Tony graciously set up for us (we brought food with us) – if you plan a group outing, Clermont Winery is a great place for it, but make sure to call ahead.

Our next stop was Tousey Winery, about two miles down the road from Clermont Vineyards. We visited the winery back in 2013, and liked many of their wines, so we were definitely excited at the opportunity to taste their new releases. This is where things took a bittersweet turn. We showed up as a large group (16 people), and 8 of us wanted to taste the wines. We were nicely accommodated on the outside porch, and were told that the tasting would cost us $5 per person, and we are allowed to taste any 5 wines from the list. The owner was doing the tasting for us, and yes, we asked quite a few questions (which I truly hope should be expected – the conversation with the customers is an integral part of the wine tasting, don’t you think?); I had a feeling that our questions were perceived as annoying (as the owner was not a winemaker – her husband makes wines – some of the questions were probably a bit challenging). One person from our group wanted to taste a few more wines, for which she grudgingly agreed. When the time came to pay, all of a sudden we were told that the tasting was $15 and not $5 anymore, with the reason that we were a group and she had to pour us more than 5 wines (to one person, 3 extra tastings!!). This is not the issue with $15 versus $5, the problem is simply that you can’t treat people like that. When we tried to argue about it, the response was very irritated – as we were all in the vacation mood, nobody wanted to fight over an extra $10, it was easier to pay and just leave.

What the winery owner doesn’t understand that the winery’s tasting room is a hospitality business, and you have to respect your customers – or face the consequences. It is a pity – Tousey makes delicious Chardonnay, very clean, mineral and crisp, Chablis-style; their Pinot Noir is outstanding as well – restrained, smokey, well balanced – but no wines worth the abuse you have to subject yourself to for the pleasure of trying those wines. We will not be back…

Last stop before we went to our Inn was at Hudson Valley Distillers – and what a pleasure it is to talk to the nice and friendly people (see, we humans need so little to be happy). I like how this distillery is describing itself –  “formed by two families sharing a dream“. I like whiskey, thus first thing I wanted to try was their Chancellor’s Imperial Whiskey. I was a bit disappointed to learn that it was produced not from the crushed and fermented barley, but rather by distilling the beer. But the proof is in the pudding, right? Err, the glass, of course.

I like clever presentation of that malt whiskey, where you get an opportunity to taste the product before and after. To do that, you get a taste of both beer – which is locally produced nearby – and the final malt whiskey, which was excellent – nice touch of sweetness, herbs, soft and round. The Hudson Valley Distillers also produces gin (very tasty), vodka from apples, and plans to start producing their whiskey directly from the malted barley. We also tasted a few of the cocktails which were super delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day. Add here live music (which was, of course, playing right there), and you have a recipe for a perfect summer weekend.

Our next stop was the Inn, and then the dinner – another post is to follow. Cheers!

Last Bottle Wine Harvest Marathon Madness 2016 – August 25-26

August 24, 2016 Leave a comment

LastBottleWinesMarathonHarvest 2016 is under way in many wine regions in the Northern hemisphere, causing lots of people to lose their sleep until every last grape will make it onto the processing belt. Not to be outdone, in their typical fashion of the last second (seriously) announcements, the Last Bottle, a purveyor of fine wines at a great value, just announced their Harvest Marathon Madness 2016.

For the next two days, Last Bottle will be offering lots of value-priced fine wines at their web site, changing in the rapid succession (some deals might be there only for a few seconds). The event will start at 9 AM Pacific time, and will continue for two days or until they will run out of wines. There are no minimums to buy to get the free shipping (that is what I like the most – you can try lots of wines). All orders will ship few weeks later.

I can’t resist the urge to quote the description from the Last Bottle Wines web site:

This REALLY is our biggest, best, craziest and most absurd Marathon ever. We know: “you say that every time!” but it really is true. Why? Because every month, every year, we keep getting bigger (literally and figuratively, ha ha). That means more selection, more opportunities for us to score killer deals, and WAY more small batches of things we’ve been saving for just this event!!! *** And yes, back by popular demand from the hardcore collectors, we WILL be having an EXTRA-SPECIALHour of Power” from 1-2pm PST!! ***

Starting tomorrow at 9AM sharp (Napa time), we are embracing the madness of harvest and HAVING OUR BIGGEST BLOWOUT EVER — HUNDREDS, POSSIBLY THOUSANDS, of unbelievable bargains from every corner of Planet Earth. Seriously – more BURGUNDY, cult Cabs, and Bordeaux than ever, not to mention large formats, older vintages, and hot-off-the-press goodies…all at market-crushing prices. Plus, FREE GROUND SHIPPING on ALL ORDERS (contiguous states)! TRUE Madness.

You should have an account to buy wine at the Last Bottle. If you don’t have one yet, make sure to sign up before the event will start. Better yet, I will be glad to be your reference – you will get $5 credit during your first purchase, and yes, I will make money on you – I will get $20. Once you are signed up though, you will be able to earn money the same way, by signing up your friends.

Here is the link you can use to sign up with the $5 bonus:

http://www.lastbottlewines.com/invite/4618917ef4f90628fb70367611992bc630d41515.html

Have fun and happy [great wine great value] hunting! Cheers!

Remembering Last Summer – Fero Vineyards in Pennsylvania

August 20, 2016 3 comments

Fero Vineyards GlassDoes it make sense to write about a winery visit a year after? Well, I will leave you to ponder at that question, and will just go ahead with my post.

We have a tradition which we keep going for many years now – adults getaway. One weekend in August, we all get together for the two days of food, wines, laughter and simply enjoying each other’s company. These trips usually take place within reasonable driving distance (3 hours or less) for all people in the group (we all live in a close proximity to the New York city), and winery is always a good choice for the first stop.

Lucky for us, oenophiles, the wine bug caught up everywhere in the US, so there is no shortage of interesting wineries to visit along the East Coast of the United States. Our choice last year was the winery in Central Pennsylvania, called Fero Vineyards and Winery. The choice was not random – one of the grapes they use in the wine production is Saperavi. This is definitely not a common choice  – however, a rapidly (I think) growing trend among Eastern USA winemakers, in Finger lakes and other regions. Having been exposed to many amazing Georgian wines, where Saperavi is a king, I was very intrigued at a perspective of tasting the local rendition of such wines.

Had all the arrangements made to meet with Chuck Zaleski, a winery owner and winemaker at Fero. Chuck was taking time for this off his busy schedule, as he was participating in the town fair where he was pouring his wines.

Just curious – do you think everything is going boringly well, or do you expect a twist in this story?

So yes, the twist happened – in the form of a flat tire. About 70 miles down the road, the familiar sound appeared – anyone who had a flat tire knows what I’m talking about; if you never had one – keep it this way. Not a problem, I thought – while the spare tire is very awkwardly located in Toyota Sienna, under the cabin floor, right in a middle – at least I knew where it was. Next ten minutes of jumping around the car ended up in a grim realization – the spare tire was not there. Angry call to the dealer (luckily, it was Saturday) lead to a discovery – all wheel drive Toyota Sienna cars don’t have a spare tire as there is no space for it – instead, they are equipped with run-flats. To make long story short, after arriving with the smoldering tire to the closest dealership and waiting for about 3 hours, we were able to get on our way (of course I fully realize this was still a very lucky outcome).

As we were at least 3 hours behind the schedule, the decision had to be made – should we visit Fero (Chuck, of course, was not there) or forget it all together, just drive to our B&B and relax after such an ordeal. I’m glad the love of wine prevailed and we decided to stop by the Fero Vineyards first.

Fero Vineyards Sign

Fero Vineyards If you will look at the line up of the Fero Vineyards wines, you would find the closest match in Germany or Austria – of course with the addition of Saperavi. Despite the fact that we didn’t manage to meet with Chuck, he still took care of us, by leaving a bottle of Saperavi for us to taste, as the winery was sold out of their last vintage. We tasted through almost a complete portfolio of Fero wines, so here are the highlights for what I liked the most (as usual, there were too many wines, too little time):

2013 Fero Vineyards GrĂĽner Veltliner Pennsylvania – dry, crisp
2013 Fero Vineyards Dry Riesling Pennsylvania – German style, nice minerality, good fruit
2013 Fero Vineyards Pint Noir Pennsylvania – dry, classic nose, crisp, very nice
2013 Fero Vineyards 1812 Lemberger Pennsylvania – crisp, crushed red fruit, pepper
2012 Fero Vineyards Pinot Gris Pennsylvania – nice, simple
2014 Fero Vineyards Pinot Noir RosĂ© Pennsylvania – residual sweetness, light, balanced, excellent overall
2014 Fero Vineyards Semi-dry Riesling Pennsylvania – excellent, nice touch of sweetness
Fero Vineyards Concord Pennsylvania Table Wine – yes, this is rather sweet, but if you like Concord, this was a classic, restrained and delicious

2013 Fero Vineyards Pinot Gris Pennsylvania – crisp, minerality, excellent
2013 Fero Vineyards Estate Lemberger Pennsylvania – roasted fruit, good concentration, excellent
Fero Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling Pennsylvania – nice touch of petrol, good touch of sweetness, excellent overall
2013 Fero Vineyards Saperavi Pennsylvania – excellent, nice concentration, tannins, crushed blackberries, pepper notes

I’m definitely intrigued by this Saperavi wine. Fero Saperavi has a character of its own, as you can see from my tasting notes above. I would love to taste it side by side with its Georgian counterparts, of course blind. And let’s keep in mind that Saperavi grows in the Balkans (never tasted it), Finger Lakes (also never tasted it), and probably some other places I can’t even think of. Can someone please put together an exciting blind tasting? Or this might be a great subject for the #winestudio session…

Well, I still have a few bottles of Fero wines left, including 2013 Saperavi (courtesy of Chuck, yes) – but I want to give it at least a few more years. See, this is how oenophiles build their excitement…

And we are done here. If you are looking for the great East Coast wines, Fero Vineyards must be on your short list. And who knows, may be you will be lucky enough to taste their Saperavi. Cheers!

WBC16: Overwhelmed Even Before The Day One

August 19, 2016 16 comments

Zinfandel grapesYet another ambitious plan goes nowhere. While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 in Lodi, I had a great idea of posting a recap of the prior day in the morning. No need to start checking for the missing posts from me – none of it happened. Every day was so packed from dawn to dusk that what seemed to be a great idea didn’t survive the test of the reality. Yes, I probably could muscle a few lines in, but it would come at the expense of the great time talking to the fellow bloggers, which was the trade off I didn’t want to make.

So here we are, the conference is over, so now I will do my best to share my perspective of the events as they took place. Here we go.

I took a flight early morning on Thursday to arrive to San Francisco. After getting the rental car, my first stop was in Napa, at Oxbow Public Market, where I met for lunch Danielle Irwin and her husband Derek. Oxbow Public Market is a very interesting place, conceptually somewhat close to the Chelsea Markets in New York, only built in modern, contemporary style, with lots of small artisan shops and restaurants, offering food and wine, fresh produce, coffee and whatever else your heart desires. Great place to stop by if you are looking for a break during your winery visits.

It was a great pleasure to meet Danielle and Derek face to face. I had been virtually talking to Danielle for a while – she is writing her blog Danielle Dishes The Vineyard Dirt at Naggiar Vineyards in Sierra Foothills, where her husband Derek is the winemaker. Derek is a vigneron who is involved in a lot of vineyard and winery projects, and he also produces his own wines under Irwin Family Wines label. I had a pleasure of tasting his Tempranillo, which was the first California Tempranillo I ever tasted. Conversation with Derek was an excellent introduction into the Lodi wines, as he gave me some ideas for what to expect there.

A hour an a half later, after a ride along route 12 which I wouldn’t call pleasant (lots of stop and go traffic, not a fun ride) I arrived to the Hampton Inn in Lodi, which became home outside of home for the next 3 days.

The first event of the night was the conference opening reception at the Mohr Fry Ranch, sponsored by Lodi Wine. With that reception came my first real encounter with Lodi wines.

LoCA wine glasses

Until coming to Lodi, I only knew it as a source of many Zinfandel wines. And then there was a perception of hot, high alcohol wines, based on the tasting of occasional Cabernet Sauvignon with Lodi regional designation. Yep, that’s all I had on Lodi in my head.

The very first taste of the Lodi wine broke that perception. By the end of the tasting, it was shattered completely and didn’t exist anymore.


I stopped at the table of the Fields Family Wines, and the very first white wine I tasted was 2015 Fields Family Wines Clay Station Vineyard Grenache Blanc Lodi. I never tasted Grenache Blanc from California, let alone the fact that it is coming from one of the hottest regions (yep, sense my fear?) – yet the wine had clean acidity, touch of minerality, restrained fruit – a great start.

You know what – now I’m afraid to bore you away with all this “acidity and restrained fruit”, but this was the trait of literally every Lodi wine I had an opportunity to taste – there were no fruit bombs, there were no hot wines, there were delicious, well made world-class wines, made with love and care. I just have to tell you this, as it was really an overarching impression over the three days of tasting, so now I will [try to] avoid repeating myself all the time.

Have to be honest – the next red wine I approached with trepidation (huh, like the previous one I did not, right). Tempranillo from Lodi? I already told you that I had good experience with Irwin Family Tempranillo from Napa, but it was one particular wine, which doesn’t guarantee anything in a long run. And if you are reading this blog for a while, you know my passion for the Spanish Tempranillo wines – and now in my mind I was facing a clear opportunity to be disappointed. First sip of this 2010 Fields Family Wines Tempranillo Lodi put all my doubts to rest – the wine had a nose of black fruit and spices, and it was dark and brooding on the palate, with those espresso notes so characteristic in the wines of Toro in Spain. An outstanding rendition by all means, and I would love to see it in a blind tasting against the actual Toro wines.

2010 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi was an excellent example of the cold climate Syrah – touch of roasted meat, dark fruit, spicy with clean acidity – great rendition of another one of my favorite grapes. 2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi added more complexity and more roasted meat, all with perfect balance. 2010 Fields Family Wines Petitte Sirah Lodi was simply outstanding, offering silky smooth, velvety texture, supple ripe black and blue fruit with enough acidity in the core to make the wine perfectly balanced. As you can tell, Fields Family Wines provided a splendid introduction into the wines of Lodi.

Harney Lane Winery

My [now exciting] Lodi wine deep dive continued at the next table. Successful first experience should’ve really put me at ease – and still, an Albariño on the label triggered a subconscious alarm – Lodi doesn’t leave the impression of the Rias Baixas (not that I visited Spain, unfortunately, but just a mental image of coastal region), so “just in case, prepare for the worst”, the concerned brain said. This happened to be really a needless worry. 2015 Harney Lane Albariño Lodi had a a nose of white fruit and excellent acidity on the palate, which is the typical characteristic of the Spanish Albariño. 2013 Harney Lane Tempranillo Lodi was a bit lighter than the Fields Tempranillo version (it was also 3 years younger), but still preserving the core of dark fruit and good acidity. 2013 Harney Lane Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vines Sinfandel Lodi was as classic as Lodi Zinfandel can be – blueberries, blackberries, spices – very tasty.

I could continue tasting Lodi wines as there were many more winemakers present. However, there is something you need to know about Wine Bloggers Conference. In addition to all of the program events, there are always lots and lots of activities taking place somewhere around the WBC space. Call them private tastings or what, but this is something to pay attention to. Thus we left the reception, and after a short drive arrived at a house where Troon Vineyards tasting was taking place.

Troon Vineyards started in Southern Oregon in 1976 (vines were planted in 1972). I’m sure that when you hear “Oregon wine”, your first thought is Pinot Noir – nevertheless, Troon Vineyard doesn’t produce any Pinot Noir wines, and instead focuses on Mediterranean grape varietals (and Zinfandel). Another interesting fact is that many of the Troon wines (especially the whites) are co-fermented, meaning that different varietals are fermented together at the same time, as opposed to fermenting separately and blending afterwards.

I tried a number of Troon wines, with the two favorites been 2015 Troon Blue Label Longue Carabine, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon (blend of Vermentino, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) – touch of perfume on the nose, medium to full body with expressive minerality and good acidity. 2013 Troon Black Label M*T Reserve, Applegate Valley, Souther Oregon (blend of Malbec and Tannat) had nose of black fruit with dark core and good structure, medium to full body and good balance.

The last stop of the long day (remember, I left the house at 5 am in the Eastern time zone) was at the Rodney Strong Vineyards party, which was luckily taking place right at the hotel.

Rodney Strong winery had been producing wines in Sonoma for more than 50 years and would well deserve its own post to talk about their long history (the oldest vineyard at Rodney Strong was planted in 1904) and their achievements. But for the sake of this post, let me just talk about few of their wines I had an opportunity to enjoy.

2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Charlotte’s Home, Northern Sonoma was excellent – grassy nose, fresh, crisp and restrained palate, with just a touch of grass and lemon – delicious and very refreshing. 2009 Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast was a stand out (no wonder Ramey Chardonnay was one of Decanter magazine’s 10 best Chardonnay wines in the world outside of Burgundy) – classic intense vanilla nose, vanilla apple and pear on the palate, excellent balance and excellent overall. As an extra bonus, the wine was poured from double-magnum (3L) bottle. In case you are wondering about connection here, David Ramey is a consulting winemaker at Rodney Strong.

The reds of Rodney Strong provided an amazing finish to the very long but very exciting day. 2013 Davis Bynum 2013 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 115 Russian River Valley was a classic California Pinot Noir – with plums and smoke, soft and round. 2010 Rodney Strong Symmetry Meritage Alexander Valley is one of the very best Bordeaux blends from California – again, classic, classic, classic – cassis, green bell pepper, mint, perfect structure, absolutely delicious wine. The last three reds were flagship single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines – 2009 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, 2013 Rodney Strong Rockaway Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and 2013 Rodney Strong Brothers Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Considering the end of a very long day, I’m not going to give you any details on the notes other than that all three were classic Cabernet wines, pure, varietally correct  and delicious – I would love to drink those at any day.

If you are still with me, aren’t you tired reading this post? I’m tired even writing it – but we are done here. My first WBC16 report is over – and more to follow. Cheers!

To be continued…

Wednesday’s Meritage – WBC16, Up and Coming in this Blog and more

August 10, 2016 4 comments

Meritage Time!WBC16 logo

First and foremost – Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 (WBC16) is starting this Thursday, August 11th in Lodi, California. Most importantly – I’m flying Thursday morning to attend it! While wine is of course an important part of the event, what I’m really looking forward to is connecting with fellow bloggers. Being around of wine blogosphere for 6 years allowed me to make many friends. While I met some bloggers in person, many are still only virtual, and based on registration list I hope to add some faces to the names.

I’m also looking forward to learning more about wines of Lodi, which I have rather a limited exposure to. And the so called “Speed Tasting/Live Blogging” sessions are something I enjoyed very much at WBC14, so I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again. I will do my best to report on the WBC16 escapades, but it will not be easy, as an event gets quite overwhelming. In any case, if you are attending WBC16, I hope to meet you face to face.

Now, I need to tell you – lots of Pinot Noir is coming to this blog in the near future. I just finished working on the series of interviews with Oregon winemakers, and we all know that Oregon is a Pinot Noir capital of the United States. There is lots of passion, wit and hard work, which I can’t wait to share with you all – along with some tasting notes. Expect to see this series posted throughout September/October time.

Talking about blogging plans, we will be also talking about Italian wines. And not just Italian wines in general, but one of my most favorite Italian wines – Amarone. Cesari Vineyards, a family-owned winery in Veneto, was one of the Amarone pioneers, formed in 1936. To celebrate 80 years of producing great wines, Cesari Vineyards reached out to the group of wine bloggers, so look for the blog posts, tweets and pictures coming out under the hash tag of #IAMarone.

And we are done for today. The glass is empty – and it takes a lot more time for the refill to arrive nowadays – but the refill is still on the way. Cheers!

 

 

Restaurant Files: Catch That [Food] Truck – Cheesy Gourmet of Melt Mobile

July 31, 2016 15 comments

Melt Mobile Classic Grilled Chsses in the makingWho likes cheese, raise your hands! And now, who likes grilled cheese sandwich, raise your hands! Well, even if you didn’t raise your hand, as you think that grilled cheese is for the kids only, I will then appeal to your inner kid. You can try denying it, but I know that presented with crunchy, ooey, gooey, melty goodness, most of us can’t resists it.

As a foodie, one thing you usually do is follow the other foodies and listen to their stories. This is how you learn about what is going on, what are the latest trends, what are the hottest restaurants – all in all, you are in the know. Living in Stamford, Connecticut, I heard about Melt Mobile for the long time – a food truck with a fame of taking a homey simplicity of the grilled cheese and converting it into the object of rave and desire. Interestingly enough, visiting a hot (pun intended) food truck might be even harder than a restaurant – you always know where the restaurant is, so you can align the visit to your schedule. The food truck, on another hand, can appear and disappear in a whiff, making long term planning, well, rather hard. So as you can deduce from the above, I was only reading about it, but never tasted Melt Mobile’s food.

Thus when I had an opportunity to finally taste the Melt Mobile fare together with the blogging friends, I couldn’t let it pass.

Metl Mobile’s story started about 4 years ago, when two long time friends Darlene Anderson and Diana Hall combined business prowess and cooking skills, and realized that there might be a melted cheese in their future. Darlene and Diana appeared on the “3 Days to Open with Bobby Flay” episode on Food Network, where they had lots of fun and not so fun challenges thrown at them. Fast forward to today, with two of the Melt Mobile food trucks in operation, and franchising opportunity being in the high demand, I would say they are doing great – and retaining very humble and super-friendly attitude.

Melt Mobile Darlene and Diana

Diana and Darlene

During our dinner, I had an opportunity to taste through the most of their menu, as well as many specialty dishes, and I have to tell you – grilled cheese sandwich is a dangerous thing. Same as the concept of a “dangerous wine” – the wine so tasty you can’t stop drinking it – these seemingly simplistic grilled cheese sandwiches are so tasty, it is literally impossible to stop eating them. If you stop random people on the street and ask them to describe grilled cheese sandwich, I’m sure majority will stay with simplicity of golden bread, melted cheese and may be a side of tomato soup. Diana’s unbound imagination really took this comfort food to the next, fully gourmet level, as you will see in a second. Fair warning – if you are hungry, stop reading right now, go feed yourself and only then come back. I accept no responsibility for any fainting or nervous breakdowns caused by the pictures of the ooey gooey goodness below. Yep, consider yourself warned.

We started with Original Melt with Bacon (Bacon, Vermont Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Mozzarella and Gruyere on Country White Bread) and Jalapeño Popper Melt (Vermont Cheddar, Cream Cheese on Cheddar Crusted Country White) – both very tasty, Jalapeño melt delivering a nice kick.

Melt Mobile Original Bacon

Melt Mobile Jalopeno Melt

Melt Mobile Jalopeno Melt 1Next up were The Pork-U-Pine (Tillamook Cheddar, BBQ pulled Pork, caramelized Onions, and sliced Dill Pickles on buttery grilled Country White) and Short Rib Melt (Braised Beef Short Ribs, Caramelized Onions on an Original Melt – Vermont Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Mozzarella and Gruyere on Country White Bread). Pork-u-Pine was very generous and tasty, and Short rib melt was simply outstanding – you know that goodness of the slow roasted meat, combined now with melted cheese? Don’t think I need to talk further.

Melt Mobile Pork-u-Pine

Melt Mobile Short RibWith such a tasty  food, I even developed a courage to ask if I can pick inside the kitchen (yes, in the food truck) to snap a few quick pictures – and I was actually allowed to do so:

The next two sandwiches were beyond spectacular. I unquestionably love mushrooms in any form. Mushrooms with cheese are even better than just mushrooms. Add a drop of truffle oil? Heaven on Earth, period. That is how the White Truffle Melt (Mascarpone Cheese, Fontina, Truffles and Mushrooms on Tuscan bread) was – amazing flavor, a absolute delight for any mushroom aficionado. And Meatball 3 Cheese Squeeze (Diana’s Meatballs in Marinara, Fresh Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano and Fresh Basil on Tuscan Bread)? I don’t even know how to describe it. Take the absolutely best Italian meatball – soft, fluffy, generous, flavorful – best you can imagine – then multiply the flavor by ten and put it between two slices of golden crusted bread a add a bit of the melted cheese. Just amazing. Might start drooling as I write this.

Melt Mobile White Truffle

Melt Mobile Cheese Goodness

Melt Mobile MeatballsMeat sounds as a natural companion for the grilled cheese sandwiches, but seafood is also not a slouch in this game – Blackened Shrimp Melt (Blackened Shrimp with Guacamole and Tomato on an Original Melt) and
Maryland Melt (Panko Crusted Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Lemon Caper Aioli, Micro Arugula on an Original Melt) were simply superb – great favor, great texture – delicious.

Melt Mobile Shrimp Avocado

Melt Mobile Shrimp Avocado 1

Melt Mobile Crab Cake

Melt Mobile Crab Cake 1Do you think dessert can be grilled? If you said “yes”, you are absolutely right – we had a pleasure of trying The Fluffernutter (Caramelized Bananas, Marshmallow Fluff, Belgian Chocolate and Peanut Butter on crunchy Tuscan Bread dusted with powdered Sugar) and Cheesecake Melt (Creamy NY Cheesecake, Sandwiched between grilled Marble Pound Cake dusted with Powdered Sugar) – I can’t even tell you if I had a favorite,  this was really a super-delicious ending to the great evening.

Melt Mobile Grilled Desserts

Melt Mobile Cheescake

Melt Mobile Dessert

Melt Mobile NY Cheesecake

That’s all I have for you, my friends. I can make a fair assumption that I made you hungry after reading this. If you live somewhere in the lower Connecticut or New York, you can use some of the Melt Mobile’s social media handles listed below to see where you can find them. For the rest of you? Come on over, this food worth a special trip! Cheers!

Melt Mobile
Stamford, CT
Ph: (203) 667-1971
Web: Melt Mobile
Facebook: MeltMobile
Twitter: @Melt_Mobile
Melt Mobile Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Files: Omakase Experience at Nobu Las Vegas

July 23, 2016 4 comments

As a bona fide foodie, I heard the word “omakase” many times. I had a vague idea that this is the term for the Japanese multi course meal, but that was all I knew about it.

During recent trip to Las Vegas, I stayed at the Caesars Palace, and had to walk every day past Japanese restaurant called Nobu. Nobu is a restaurant empire of the world renowned Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, so temptation was building – and I succumbed to it.

I had no reservation, of course (getting reservation for many Las Vegas restaurants is mission impossible), but as in most of the Japanese restaurants, you can often score seat in the sushi bar – exactly where I ended up.

In absolute majority of cases, I prefer to taste lots of different dishes at the restaurant instead of having a lot of one – thus going for the tasting menu was a natural choice. I decided on Nobu Signature Omakase, which consisted of the 8 different courses. And to make the experience complete, I also took the suggested sake pairing course, so every dish was accompanied by a different sake.

Now, there was a bit of a challenge for a foodie. As I was sitting at the sushi bar, all the dishes we handed over by the array of sushi chefs. Each dish had a long list of ingredients, and between the overall noise (high), the pronunciation and the fact that all those chefs were busy, I couldn’t possibly capture the names of the dishes, nor the ingredients. Practically same thing was happening with the sake – names and descriptions were given very quickly, and short of asking to spell out the names, there is a limit to how many times one can repeat “excuse me, what did you say is the name of it”?

As the result, I had to play an internet sleuth, looking for pictures and using my rough notes, trying to figure out what exactly I was eating and drinking. While doing this, I found an interesting reference for many Sake terms – here is the link. Below you will find an overview of my experience – mostly in pictures, with some slivers of the names of the dishes and some of my impressions. Here we go:

Very first dish, handed down to me very quickly, was Deep Fried Fish Salad, served with Onigoroshi sake, aged for 10 years with the sounds of classical music (supposedly helps sake to mellow out)- nice, crisp, very refreshing. Salad was tasty, however not amazing.

Fried fish salad at Nobu

Fried Fish Salad

Next up was Sashimi Salad with Lettuce Handrolls, which was served with a bit of a sweeter sake (nope, no idea about the name) . Vegetable roll was a masterpiece of flavor, I would eat it at any time. Tiny fried shrimp – wow. Salmon – spectacular.

Sashimi Salad with Lettuce Handrolls
Next dish was Chef’s Sushi Assortment, which was served with with Hokusetsu Onigoroshi “Devil Killer” sake (with a bit of a spicy finish).
What I appreciated about the dish is that all the sushi pieces already had soy sauce and wasabi – exactly in the amount as Chef intended. Tuna was phenomenal. Picked ginger – wow. Great flavor on everything. Fried crunchy rice with caviar – delicious.
Assorted Chef Sushi

Next course was a Chef’s Sashimi Assortment, served with Hokusetsu Junmai sake. A pure wow dish, start to finish. Green ball you see in the picture is pickled Japanese peach – used to clean the palate, and it was delicious. Perfect sake. Toro Tartar with Wasabi Miso Sauce was divine – just give me a bowl and leave me alone. Yep, close the door, I said. All in all, one spectacular dish.

Assorted Chef Sashimi

This was the end of the “appetizer” round, and the next two dishes were rather en entree style.

First, Black Cod Miso, which was served with Nobu ‘The Sake’ TK 40 sake from Nobu’s private stock. The sake was super complex and delicious. The cod was full of flavor and was melting in the mouth. Great dish.

Black Cod Miso

Black Cod Miso

Next dish was Beef Toban Yaki, with beef sautĂ©ed in sake in ceramic cooking vessel (Toban). It was an okay dish – large sprout-like mushroom was a bit difficult to chew. However, the meat meat was tender and tasty.

Beef TobanyakiLast dish was Miso Soup, served in traditional Japanese style without a spoon. I was a bit surprised with the soup served in a standard black and purple plastic jar, commonly used at any simple Japanese restaurant. Soup was good, but again, nothing stood out about it. And yes, I didn’t think I should take a picture of it.

I was unable to capture the name of the dessert, nor the name of the dessert sake with fruit which was served together with it. Both were delicious, so the Omakase experience was finished on the high note.

There you go, my friends. A delicious, truly delicious experience, which I would be happy to repeat at any occasion. If you would have an opportunity to experience Omakase dining at Nobu, I can’t recommend it high enough. Cheers!

Nobu (at Caesars Palace)
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Ph: (702) 785-6628
http://www.noburestaurants.com/las-vegas-caesars-palace/experience/

Nobu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Few Memorable Wines

July 21, 2016 5 comments

As wine is a daily beverage at our house, the supply of it should be regularly renewed, to support that [tasty] habit. I really make an effort to stay in under $15 range for that daily enjoyment (yep, I’m a cheap bastard like that), so this is how most of the wines are acquired.

But then, of course, the are special occasions (like Monday, for instance – it happens only once a week, right? – okay, kidding), which require special wines, so I’m always on the hunt for the interesting wines, whether through the mailing lists (for those that you must have, like Turley or Carlisle), specials at the store or online (thank you, Universe, for the WTSO and Last Bottle). Those special wines disappear inside the wine fridge, and I have lots of fun trying to remember where is what, as I have no record keeping system of any sort, to ensure maximum frustration when looking for a specific bottle.

Few memorable wines

And then there are days when it is really appropriate to jolt that memory, and moreover, force oneself to make a decision about what bottles deserve to be opened, to celebrate the occasion.
We had a good occasion to celebrate very recently, with the group of close friends, so the bottles were pulled, opened and savored. And memories were created.

Here is what we drunk, more or less in this order:

2013 Carlisle GrĂĽner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain – Carlisle is one of my absolute favorite wine producers in California, who makes a range of single vineyard Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah wines, all representing an outstanding value (most of the wines are under $40). Best way to acquire Carlisle wines is to be on the mailing list (you can sometimes get lucky with the store, but this is quite difficult). While most of the Carlisle wines are red, they also produce few of the whites, which are delicious. I had the same 2013 GrĂĽner last year, and it was great. With another year of age, it became amazing – yes, the star Austrian white grape can grow in California, and very successfully. The wine showed a backbone of herbaceous flavors, but elevated with the bright white fruit and perfect balance. Can’t find you a generic reference, as the wine was rather unique – but if you will ever see a bottle at the store, don’t miss your chance.

Next up was 2010 Peter Michael Belle CĂ´te Chardonnay Sonoma County – what can I tell you? Peter Michael is one of the most coveted producers in California. Just to give you an idea, Peter Michael wines were served at the White House dinner when Queen of England was visiting – not a bad reference, what do you think? To say that the wine was delicious would be an understatement. Fragrant, tongue-coating, luscious and layered. Layers were intertwining, going through all classic Chardonnay elements of vanilla, golden delicious apples, very distant hint of butter, and back to vanilla. This is definitely a special occasion wine – it also manifests in the price ($90) – but then there is always that special moment worth it, you know?

You can’t have a party today without RosĂ©, can’t you? Of course not. And that RosĂ© must be special too. Which is easy with 2011 Antica Terra Erratica RosĂ© Oregon. I came across Antica Terra after tasting their Phantasy wine at a restaurant (it was my wine of the year in 2012). Antica Terra is a very interesting winery in Oregon, with the winemaker honing her skills under none other than Manfred Krankl of the Sine Qua Non. If only Antica Terra wines would be a bit cheaper… Well, let’s go back to that RosĂ©. It was a full power wine – there was nothing subtle there – but instead there was a perfect parade of the fresh, juicy cranberries and ripe strawberries, with spices and mineral notes – outstanding.

Remember I thanked Universe for Wine Til Sold Out (WTSO)? Had a reason to thank them again after opening the bottle of 2005 Domaine des Monts Luisants Les GenavriĂ©res Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru. Technically, I have an insatiable thirst for the Burgundies – but the problem is that most of the inexpensive ones rather disappoint – and expensive ones – well, I don’t get to drink those. This is where WTSO comes to the rescue – I got this bottle for $50 – of course this is not cheap, but it is special occasions we are talking about here – and this is much better than its retail of close to a $100 or so. The wine was absolutely stunning – bright, sweet, ripe and savory cherries, whole bouquet of herbs, firm structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. A wow wine for sure.

And then there was Leviathan. If you are a wine geek, that name might have a meaning for you. In case it doesn’t, let me try another approach. Ever heard of Screaming Eagle? The most cult out of all cult California Cabernet Sauvignon wines? Until a few years ago, Screaming Eagle wines were made by Andy Ericsson. Leviathan was actually one of Andy Ericsson’s own projects, which was considered for a while to be a second label of Screaming Eagle – which is incorrect, as the second label of Screaming Eagle is the wine called Second Flight. This 2007 Leviathan California Red was outstanding – dark, brooding, with classic flavors of cassis and mint, layered and complex. I decanted it for an hour, which was the right move – but still, this wine is just a baby and needs to rest for a while. Luckily, I do have a second bottle, and even luckier, I have no idea where it is hiding from me, so it is safe for a while.

I hope you see a clear progression here – GrĂĽner, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir RosĂ©, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – we are increasing the depth and concentration with every next wine. So what would you continue this line up with, just for the finishing touch? I’m sure there are few options here, but my decision was … California Zinfandel.
Not just any Zinfandel, but Carlisle – which means lots of dark power. This 2012 Carlisle Zinfandel Montafi Vineyard Russian River Valley was almost a natural continuation of Leviathan – dark berries, sage, round and smooth – it is amazing how Carlisle wines don’t give out the alcohol level of 15.9% – you don’t even think about it until you look for it on the label. Delicious.

And now, to round up the evening? Port! Last year I was lucky to visit Quinta do Tedo, a winery in Douro valley which was founded by the Bouchard family of Burgundy fame. I brought back a few wines, and this 2010 Quinta do Tedo Late Bottled Vintage Porto was one of them. The wine was perfectly delicious – sweet fruit but not a tad hair over the balance – you have a mouthfeel of garden fresh berries, with their natural sweetness, and nothing extra. This was a beautiful finish for our special evening.

I’m glad we have special days in our lives, so we can have such memorable celebrations. I had a bit of time to reflect on this stupendous group of wines, and I figured that I actually had a favorite – that Burgundian wine was simply flawless – I don’t know if the wine was at a peak, will it further evolve or will it start to decline – but what I had was spectacular.
I would like to leave you with this, my friends. What were your memorable wines as of late? Cheers!

Solitude: In Quest for Unattainable?

July 19, 2016 8 comments

Solitude. An interesting word, isn’t it? Is it something good or is it something bad? Let’s see what the dictionaries think of solitude:

definitions of solitude

If we think of solitude as a feeling of isolation, this clearly doesn’t sound good. We, humans, are social creatures. We want to connect, communicate, love, laugh, interact. Feeling isolated is really opposite to feeling connected and engaged, so let’s leave it as that – feeling isolated is not what we want, so this is not the solitude we want to talk about.

Rock cairnLet’s then talk about solitude as the “state in which you are alone usually because you want to be“. Every once in a while, our connected sensors become overloaded. Too many things to do, too many tasks to finish. The new things which must be done arrive without any regard to the things which we are still doing. We are going somewhere all the time, without even understanding the direction, or what is even worse, without understanding of why we are going there.

Solitude is our way out. Have you ever been up in the mountains, where there are no other sounds outside of gentle murmur of leaves and muted whisper of wind? How does it feel? Or may be instead of the mountains, you prefer to stand by the ocean, listening to the dreamy sounds of the slowly pulsating waves? With every wave gently crawling up the sand line, the tension becomes less, the mind becomes clearer, and our energy replenished.

The challenge is that unless we are a lucky few, most of us can’t just magically happen to be by the ocean or up in the mountains when we need it the most. And to take things further to the dark side, most of us now live in the constant state of over-socializing. Think about all the tweets we have to respond to, facebook statuses and instagrams to like, snapchats and periscopes to watch. If we thought we were overloaded before, how can we describe our state now? The state of solitude, which we need for our own well-being, is more ephemeral than ever before. Yes, it is literally unattainable.

While we are talking about life, this is a wine blog after all. Tell me the truth – you knew that I will turn it all to the wine, didn’t you?

Vineyards

How does the wine relates to the solitude, you ask? To begin with, think about the wine while it is being made. We are seeking solitude by the ocean or up in the mountains – but have you ever stood between the rows vines on a quiet day, without talking or looking at your phone? Did you feel relaxed and restored just by standing there? wine cellar

Or have you ever stood in the middle of the dimly lit cellar, breathing the wine smell and admiring the silence, thinking about the wines, quietly and patiently laying there? The wines spend month and month in that perfect solitude, left to themselves, to age and mature, before they will see you again.

And then there is may be the best and easiest moment of solitude any wine lover can experience at any time. Yes, wine is meant to be shared, and it is wonderful when you are in the company of the people who share you passion. But think about that moment when you take a sip of wine, and for that exact moment, the world stops, it doesn’t go anywhere, it becomes quiet. You are left one on one with that wine. You ponder at it. You reflect. You are one on one with yourself, in your moment of solitude, brought to you by that sip of wine.

I remember being in the Rioja seminar, and listening to our guide talk about his experience sharing the bottle of 80 years old Rioja (from 1922) with the group of friends (also wine professionals). He said that they poured the wine and had a sip, and the table was quiet for the next 5 minutes. Nobody wanted to say anything. Everybody were transposed. And they were in their moment of solitude.

Let me leave you with that. Have you ever found your moment of solitude in the glass of wine? I hope you did, and if not – don’t worry, it will come. Just give it time.

This post is an entry for the 26th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC26), with the theme of “Solitude”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel

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