Making The Same Mistakes

August 11, 2022 Leave a comment

Are we humans prone to repeat ourselves all the time? Good and bad – first we repeat what was done again and again, then wonder why we achieve exactly the same result as before. There is nothing wrong with repeating the good things, except that we might be limiting ourselves – think about bench-pressing 150 lb all the time, without ever trying to increase the weight. That’s a good weight to press, of course, but you need to increase the weight if you want your muscles to grow.

The process of repeating the bad things is far more peculiar. We know that something doesn’t work. We know that we did something in the past and it painfully didn’t work. Should we learn? Should the brain have a mental capacity to remember the bad result of the past and then simply remember not to repeat it? You think? This is so obvious, and yet unattainable at the same time. Why? Really, why?

Case in point. My business trip took me to Anaheim in California. Going to Anaheim, people who travel occasionally would fly to LAX (Los Angeles airport), and then have quite an expensive (and potentially very long) taxi ride to get to Anaheim. People who travel know that the closest airport to Anaheim is John Wayne, a.k.a. Orange County a.k.a. Santa Ana airport. As I belong to the second group (I generally travel for business), I took an early morning flight from Newark, NJ to John Wayne airport, arriving even faster than anticipated and enjoying the easy trip.

When traveling inside the US, ideally you want to take the early flight – outside of mechanical and horrible weather issues, you stand the best chance to arrive at your destination on time and in a happy state of mind. As the day progresses, travel becomes more chaotic, as flight schedules start shifting, and every slight delay aggregates to bigger and bigger ones. See, I know my flying rules. And what I said is 10 times true for the most overloaded (and badly run) airports in the country – Newark, Washington Dulles, Houston, Boston are all stand out in this category – by the end of the day, Newark would typically aggregate about 2 to 3 hours delay – and this is in the best weather throughout the country, God forbid it rains somewhere.

See, I know my traveling stuff, right? Do you think this knowledge helped me? Yep. Of course, you figured out the answer already. No, it did not. Instead of taking 6:30 AM out of John Wayne airport to fly back to Newark, I decided to fly at 12:30. Would you expect me to apply my knowledge? Of course, but I didn’t not. After arriving at the airport about two hours prior to my on-time departure, I spent the next 4 and a half hours (that includes 2.5 hours of an actual delay) literally swearing at myself, at United, at Newark, and back to myself. What’s even worse, I managed to repeat yet another old mistake again.

Insanity – repeating the same thing over and over again, every time expecting a different result

If you like wine, and if you ever traveled through Austin, Portland, San Francisco (and many other) airports, I’m sure you noticed restaurants/bars called Vino Volo. There are more than 50 Vino Volo locations around the country. Everything in Vino Volo revolves around wine. Every restaurant has a great selection of wines by the glass and wines to buy by the bottle – as they are located past security, you can buy a bottle of wine to bring to your destination if you are so inclined.

However, my main attraction at Vino Volo is wine tasting flights. At any given moment, Vino Volo offers 6-8 different tasting flights, red, white, Rosé, each flight typically consisting of 3 wines. Each flight is accompanied by detailed tasting notes. Very often you can find a selection of local wines offered as part of the flights – Oregon wines in Portland, Texas wines in Austin, and so on. When I have time, I never pass on an opportunity to visit a Vino Volo store and taste some new wines.

This brings us back to the subject of repeated mistakes. I know full well that young and expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon wines are undrinkable, 9 out of 10. I generally enjoy Vino Volo flights, with one memorable exception being Californian Bordeaux blend Overture, the second label of Opus, which I didn’t enjoy at all. And now, while at the John Wayne airport, I chose the flight of 3 high-end but young California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, instead of taking one of the other 7 or so. Why? Was a driven by the bad mood due to the flight already being delayed? Was there a hidden, subconscious desire to exacerbate the pain? I don’t know. But this was the flight I ordered. And it successfully exacerbated my pain – which you can see in these tasting notes:

2019 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($83)
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus
Gripping tannins, green notes, black currants, tart finish.
Not enjoyable now.

2018 Vineyard 29 CRU Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena ($84)
Cherries, dust
A bit more balanced than the previous wine, still weaved on the core of green notes, but definitely more approachable and enjoyable than the previous wine. Glimpses of greatness. Maybe decanting for an hour would make a miraculous change.
7+

2018 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley ($82)
Distant hint of black currants and nutmeg
Tart, green, fruit is hiding. Almost flat in terms of soliciting an emotion.

Why do we do these bad things to ourselves? This question is half rhetorical, half actual. If you know the answer – or have a story to tell – please, I’m all ears.

A Refreshing Trip Around The World

August 2, 2022 Leave a comment

Have wine, will travel.

I love saying that.

Have wine, will travel.

While we might be dreaming about all those ways to instantly travel from our living room to Mount Everest, Bora Bora, or Singapore, wine has this magical ability to transpose, to let us be where we want to be in a blink of an eye. It works best with the bottle of wine you are familiar with, especially if you have had a chance to visit the winery and acquired some great memories. But even if you have never visited the winery, a bottle of wine is quite a unique product – every bottle of wine proudly advertises where it was made, right on the front label – when you see “Italy”, it is not difficult to picture Rome or Bologna. France probably would solicit the image of the Eiffel tower. Does Australia bring up an image of a boxing kangaroo? Oops, this can be just me. Anyway, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

So today, let’s take advantage of the instantaneous travel only wine can offer, and let’s go on that trip around the world.

The weather is hot in the Northern hemisphere, so today we will hop onboard of the white wine express.

Our first stop will be in Spain. Thinking about Spanish white wines, what grapes come to mind? To ease up on this question – boy, it is hot outside – what is the first Spanish white wine you can think of? While you are pondering that question, I can give you my answer – Albariño. Of course, you have Viura, Verdejo, Godello, and others, but to me the first association for the Spanish white wine is Albariño.

As you might have suspected already, our first stop is in Rias Baixas, roughly a 3,000 square kilometers region located along the Atlantic ocean’s coast in Galicia, in northwest Spain, where Albariño is the king. Pazos de Lusco winery is farming 12.5 acres of Albariño grapes in the south of the region, 40 km away from the coast. The name of the winery comprises two typical Galician words – “pazo”, which stands for home, usually in the countryside, and “lusco” which defines the beautiful moment between dusk and nightfall.

2021 Pazo de Lusco Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $24.95, Vegan)
Straw pale
Intense aromatics, ripe white fruit, peach, tropical fruit
Nicely restrained palate, crisp, tart, lemon, the wine makes you salivate and want food even if you are not hungry.
8, excellent. Should be great with oysters.

For our next stop, we are staying in Spain but traveling east almost to the French border, to the region called Somontano, where the wine had been produced for more than 2,000 years. In Somontano, there lies the Secastillo Valley (the valley of 7 castles), boasting 100 years old Garnacha vines at 2,100+ feet of elevation and a special Mediterranean microclimate defined by close proximity to Pyrenees mountains. This is where our next wine is coming from, Garnacha Blanca produced at the Pagos de Secastilla:

2020 La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca Somontano DO (13.5% ABV, $18, 4 months in French oak)
Straw pale
Minerality, a touch of gunflint, underripe white fruit
Beautifully playful, fresh white fruit and berries medley, crisp and clean acidity, excellent balance, delicious.
8

As I was deciding when I will taste these wines, the overarching thought came in – oysters. I want fresh oysters. Luckily, we have a new fish monger opened nearby, so procuring a few dozens of oysters was really simple. I tried Albariño and Garnacha Blanca with the fresh oysters, and while the pairing with Garnacha Blanca was not bad, the Albariño and oysters were simply a match made in heaven. Albariño was a perfect chaser, amplifying the delicious salinity of the oyster juice and if you would close your eyes, it was very easy to imagine yourself standing right next to the ocean waves and smelling the salty, fishy water. If you will have an opportunity – spoil yourself, oysters and Albariño are really tasty together.

Now that we are not hungry, we can continue our journey. We are now traveling northeast to the heart of Europe – we are going to Austria. Let me ask you the same question as before – what grape would you associate with Austria first and foremost? I hope your answer will be the same as mine, as mine is rather obvious – Grüner Veltliner.

Grüner Veltliner is unquestionably the most famous Austrian grape, with more than 37,000 acres planted. It appears to originate in Austria and as it was recently established, it is a natural cross between Traminer and St. Georgen (an almost lost grape, only recently rediscovered). Gruner is capable of a wide variety of expressions, depending on the soil types and the yield. But what sets the grape apart in the world of white grapes is rotundone, which is present in the skin of Grüner Veltliner. I only recently mentioned rotundone in the post about Syrah – rotundone is a chemical compound found in the skin of the grape that is responsible for the peppery flavors in the wine. Such peppery flavors are usually attributed to red wines – but Grüner Veltliner can happily join the “peppery family”.

The first mentions of Domäne Wachau go back to the 12th century. Today, this is one of the leading wine cooperatives in the world – 250 vintners sustainably farm about 1,000 acres of vines, and the wines are exported to 40 countries. Talk about Grüner Veltliner – Domäne Wachau produces more than 3 dozens of different Grüner Veltliner wines. As a fun historical fact, I want also to mention that in the 1930s Domäne Wachau was already producing single-vineyard Grüner Veltliner wines. And if you are a wine nerd like me, Domäne Wachau has assembled a wonderful collection of the Nerd Notes on their website, offering in-depth coverage on the terroir, soils, sustainability, cork stoppers, and lots more.

I had an opportunity to taste two of the Domäne Wachau wines – both delicious:

2020 Domäne Wachau Loess Grüner Veltliner Austria (12.5% ABV, $14 1L bottle)
Straw pale
Whitestone fruit, apple, fresh lemon – inviting and bright
Crisp, grassy notes, cut through acidity, fresh, delicious.
8, delicious and outstanding QPR

2021 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen Wachau Austria (12.5% ABV, $18.99)
Straw pale
Tropical fruit, candied lemon, herbal undertones, generous, inviting
Crisp, fresh, lemon, a hint of grass, cleansing and vibrant, perfectly balanced.
8, I should’ve tried it with oysters too – the acidity is pronounced, it could’ve worked well.

Now we will have to travel to the Southern hemisphere for our last stop – Chile.

Chilean wines need no introduction to wine lovers. All classic grape varieties are doing extremely well in Chile, producing world-class wines. But as we are taking the white wine express, that reduces the number of available options. The spotlight today is on the Sauvignon Blanc, produced by one of my favorite, all-organic Chilean wineries – Ritual. I extensively wrote about Ritual before, so instead of regurgitating the information here, I would like to ask you to read that post. Ritual Sauvignon Blanc was exactly as one could expect – delicious:

2019 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $20.99, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Open, inviting, clean, intense, a hint of freshly cut grass and currant leaf
Clean, round, full of energy, uplifting, lemon, freshly cut grass, delicious.
8, outstanding.

This concludes our wine journey around the world. Well, of course, you can continue it on your own. And if you will find something tasty, please share it with the rest of us.

 

Celebrate Syrah!

July 28, 2022 3 comments

Celebrate Syrah Shiraz!

Is it Shiraz or Syrah? The official holiday today is recently enacted “Shiraz Day”, celebrated on the 4th Thursday in July, so it is July 28th in 2022. But Shiraz is simply a typical name of the Australian wine produced from Syrah grapes – it is really Syrah that we should be celebrating here (if you disagree, feel free to express yourself in the comments section).

Syrah is one of the 9 or maybe 10 major red grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel (I live in the US, so don’t mind me) and maybe Nebbiolo. It was recently established that Syrah is an offspring of two obscure grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche, originally appearing somewhere in the southeast of France. Today, Syrah wines are successfully produced all around the world – France, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy, California, Washington, Israel, South Africa, and everywhere in between.

It is difficult (and pointless) to compare the wines based on prices, but the price can be used to measure their relative popularity (your liking of the wine in the glass has no relation to its price). Based on prices, Syrah wines are far behind red Burgundy (no wines can match the level of Burgundy prices – out of the 25 most expensive Burgundy wines, the “cheapest” on the list is $8K a bottle), and they are trailing Bordeaux first growth and California cult Cabernet Sauvignon wines. If you want to see for yourself, here are the lists of the most expensive Syrah and Shiraz wines – Wine-Searcher tracks these two categories separately.

We can also say a few words about the most famous producers around the world. Again, these are not absolute positions – unless you are “deeply in the space”, the names might be meaningless, but nevertheless, it is still a fun exercise. As a nod to the exact name of the holiday, Shiraz Day, we can look into the Australian Shiraz world’s first, where Penfolds (iconic Grange, anyone?) and Henschke are probably lead uncontestedly, with Torbeck, Jim Barry, d’Arenberg, Two Hands, Mollydooker, Tahblik definitely worth mentioning as well.

In France, great Syrah wines are concentrated in Hermitage, Cote Rotie, St. Joseph, and Cornas regions. J.L. Chave, E. Guigal, and M. Chapoutier would be on top of my list, and I don’t drink enough of the Northern Rhone wines to extend this list further.

When it comes to the USA, California, and Washington are by far the top Syrah producers, with some notable successes coming also from Oregon. In California, Sine Qua Non, Alban, and Saxum would probably be the ones I would like to mention first, but there is no shortage of other notable Syrah producers such as Carlisle, Zaca Mesa, Andrew Murray, Beckmen, and many, many others.

And then there is Washington. Syrah might truly be a king of Washington wines, produced literally by each and every winemaker, small and large. In that sea of Syrah, Christophe Baron is standing a head and shoulders above all others with his iconic Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, and Hors Categorie lines.

I didn’t tell you from the beginning, but if you ask me about my favorite wine grape, I will probably have to decide between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, both in their pure, singular, non-blended expression. My favorite two tell-tale properties of Syrah are pepper and barnyard. I recently learned that pepper notes in the wine are caused by the chemical compound called rotundone, found in the grape skins. It is not very clear why the pepper is most often associated with Syrah, it can be found in the other grapes too, but I always equate the significant presence of black pepper with Syrah. And for the barnyard smell… Ohh, I know I can be beaten up for this, as this is considered to be a fault in wine – according to the Wine Spectator, “Brettanomyces, or “brett,” is a spoilage yeast with aromatic elements that are politely described as “barnyard.”“. I can’t argue with the experts, but nevertheless, I often find the barnyard smell in Syrah wines, and yes, I do like it.

To finish our Syrah conversation on a memorable note, how about a memory exercise?

First, pour yourself a glass of Syrah or Shiraz, whatever your heart desires. Take a piece of paper and a pen. Give yourself, let’s say, 5 minutes of time, and write down the names of the most memorable Syrah/Shiraz wines or Syrah/Shiraz experiences you ever encountered.

Done?

We are not going to compare notes (there are hundreds of thousands of wines in this world), but here are some of mine.

My most memorable encounter with Syrah – actually, Shiraz – is Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz. When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was literally blown away by the purity of the black pepper expression. Ever since this is my goto example of the classic Syrah wine. Another one will be a bit unusual, but it was Elephant Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay from New Zealand – again, beautiful black pepper, and my very first encounter with Syrah produced in the land of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Then there is Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah from Applegate Valley in Oregon – organic, biodynamic wine of beautiful clarity and finesse. Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley is a connection to the beautiful experience of visiting Santa Barbara County for my first Wine Bloggers Conference in 2014. Zaca Mesa was my first stop after arrival to Santa Barbara – both hospitality at the winery and the wines themselves created this memory knot, a connection easy to reach out for. Another connection to the same WBC14 was the first encounter with the first (and the only?) AVA dedicated to Syrah wines – Ballard Canyon. The AVA status was just granted to the Ballard Canyon exactly during our visit there, and I attended a session about the Syrah wines of Ballard Canyon where Stolpman Syrah Ballard Canyon for some reason got stuck in my head – another memory connection.

There are uncountably more Syrah wine experiences (just look at the labels in the collage), but hey, the purpose of the exercise was to focus on the few of the first – and this is exactly what I did.

Here you go, my friends – another grape holiday is about to become history. Hope you had something tasty to drink, and if you care to share your most memorable Syrah and Shiraz encounters, this is what the comments section is for.

 

 

 

Anatomy of Flavor

July 22, 2022 4 comments

Anatomy of Flavor???

The author clearly goes on a tangent here. Everyone knows what anatomy means, and it has nothing to do with the wine. And nevertheless, let’s take a look at some definitions and see if we can actually analyze the anatomy of flavor.

Webster’s dictionary defines anatomy in a few different ways:

 

Definition number five describes anatomy as

structural makeup especially of an organism or any of its parts

Anatomy explains to us how living things are constructed. How do they move, jump, roll, smile, and cry.

Of course, the flavor is not a living being – but it is amorous, it changes, it morphs, it is perceived, and it is perceived differently every time, depending on many, many, many factors that we can spend days and days discussing.

I like definition number three more, as it is more appropriate for our purposes:

the art of separating the parts of an organism in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function

Anatomy offers a firm structure – can we apply the same to flavor and understand how our perception of it works? Mostly, and luckily, no – we can’t. We have no idea how we will perceive the flavor of the particular wine once it is open – of course, we have expectations, but this is only one of the subjective factors in our perception of flavor, one of many. Instead, I can offer you to look at how the flavor is being built.

There is also definition number six:

a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination

Anatomy explains to us how our muscles work and how they grow. Let’s see if we can take a similar look at the flavor of the wine.

We can’t do this with any random wine – if someone makes single-grape Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir wines, all those wines are not connected to each other, they are unique and different – we can not taste Syrah and make expectations about Pinot Noir (assuming these are good quality wines) – as they have nothing in common. Most importantly, they better taste differently. But – there are wines which are perfectly suitable for our exercise. Do I have an example? Of course, glad you asked, but before we talk about particular wines, let’s take a look at the region they are coming from. Let’s go to Northern Italy, to the region called Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is a winemaking region east of Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, which is in turn located in Veneto. The region is influenced by the Alps to the north, Lake Garda to the west, and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Valpolicella received its DOC status in 1968, and Amarone and Recioto received the DOCG status in 2009. In terms of DOC wine production volume, Valpolicella is the second region in Italy after Chianti.

There are a few types of wines produced in the region – Valpolicella DOC, light wines considered to be similar in style to Beaujolais, Valpolicella Superiore, which should be aged at least one year, Valpolicella Ripasso, and, the most coveted wines, Amarone and Recioto.

It is not exactly known when winemaking started in Valpolicella. Still, it is typically associated with the ancient Greeks who were famous for making sweet wines made from partially dried grapes. That tradition of drying grapes before pressing is also a requirement for both Recioto and Amarone wines – this converts grapes to almost raisins and concentrates flavors. A lot of attention is also paid to preventing any sort of rot setting on the grapes as this imparts undesirable flavors.

Talking about red grapes, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara are considered the main winemaking grapes, even though many winemakers are trying to avoid Molinara as of late. Corvina should constitute between 45% and 95% of the blend – but up to 50% of Corvina can be substituted with Corvionone, which was identified as a distinct variety and not a clone of Corvina only in 1993. Out of all Val[policella wines, Ripasso stands aside as quite unique – it is made by macerating the Valpolicella wine with the pomace (grape skins) left after making Amarone and Recioto wines, which enriches the flavor of the wine – Valpolicella Ripasso is often referred to as “baby Amarone” (or “poor man Amarone” – you take your pick).

Of all wines made in Valpolicella (most of them are red), Amarone stands apart as the most sought-after. The grapes have to dry for anywhere between 3 and 4 months before they can be pressed to make Amarone. Those dried fruit flavors are retained by the final wine, assuming it is well made. The combination of the dried fruit aromas and powerful, dry, usually high-alcohol wine creates really a unique experience – if you have not had Amarone before, this is something that needs to be experienced by any wine lover.

Also going back to our “premise” with this post – to take a deeper look at the build-up, the anatomy of the flavor, Valpolicella wines offer an almost unique opportunity. Most of the Valpolicella wines are made from the same set of grapes, sometimes even used in the same proportions. The winemaking process is what creates the difference. Base Valpolicella wine can be aged for a year to get to Superiore designation. The same base wine can be macerated with Amarone pomace to become the Ripasso. The same grapes that are used for basic Valpolicella can also dry for 3-4 months, and then become an Amarone.

Let’s go one level deeper and look at some practical examples, shall we?

Tedeschi family ancestors purchased vineyards in Valpolicella four centuries ago, in 1630. The modern history of the Tedeschi winemaking family started 200 years ago, in 1824 when the family winery was established by Niccolò Tedeschi. Today the winery is operated by the fifth generation of the family, continuing the winemaking traditions.

Tedeschi estate is located in the village of Pedemonte di Valpolicella, with 75 acres of vineyards planted on the 200 acres estate. Tedeschi firmly believe that good wines are made in the vineyard, and they focus not only on showcasing the terroir but also conduct studies to understand the soil composition in the vineyard. Another important winemaking element is the use of not only the main 3 Valpolicella grapes (Corvine, Covinone, Rondinella) but the full range of grapes including Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, and Forselina. They also produce all types of Valpolicella wines – Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto.

For our “anatomy” exercise, I had an opportunity to taste 3 of the Tedeschi wines – Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicela. All three wines are made from the identical set of grapes, used in the same proportions, so the difference is only in the winemaking techniques. Below are my notes with some additional information about the wines.

2019 Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore DOC (13.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 1 month, 1-1.5 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark ruby
Captivating nose of earthy dark fruit, tobacco, rocks
Beautiful fruit, blackberries, cherries, cherry pit, tart, focused, perfectly structured, perfectly balanced – lots of pleasure.
8/8+. Delicious.

2018 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC (14.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, alcoholic fermentation on the marc of Amarone and Recioto for 8-10 days, 1/2 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet
A hint of dried fruit, toasted nuts
Round fruit, cherries, soft, approachable, earthy undertones, well-integrated tannins, a hint of tobacco on the finish.
8/8+, delicious.

The name Marne 180 is a nod to the marl soils where the vineyard is located and 180 is degrees of exposure, from south-east to south-west. Source: Tedeschi

2018 Marne 180 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (16.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 4 months, 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Dark, concentrated, forest underbrush
Dried fruit, cherries, intermingled layers, powerful, well structured, delicious.
8+

Can we conclude anything from our flavor research? The wines share some similarities, but this is probably all I can say. I don’t see a clear progression from one wine to another, they are simply tasty wines, each one in its own right. Does it mean that we can’t talk about the anatomy of the flavor? I think we still can, but it is definitely more complicated than it seems.

The important outcome of this research project is three tasty wines from Tedeschi which I’m happy to recommend to you for your daily drinking pleasure. And this is the best conclusion we can make. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage #161

July 20, 2022 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

I’m soooo behind on my posts it is not even funny. Probably good 15+ posts behind, and it is not a good feeling. Not being a professional writer, I never developed a habit of just writing no matter what. Not having such a habit definitely gets in the way. Oh well, such is life.

Today’s Meritage is once again mostly focused on this very blog. Of course, a lot is happening in the wine world, but nothing really caught my eye as worth repeating. Even the record heat wave in Europe doesn’t have much coverage as it relates to the vineyards. I checked to see if I can find anything worth sharing about extreme heat in Europe and vineyards, and only found plenty of articles from 2019, but none from 2022. It will be really interesting scary like hell to see the effects of this extreme heat on the 2022 wines in a few years, but yes, we will have to wait a bit.

For the local “news”, outside of the fact that I’m grossly (understatement of the century) behind on my writing and my postings, I spent some time cleaning up and updating references on the front page of the blog.

On the right side of the screen (assuming you are using a PC – it will be all different on a mobile), there are links grouped into 4 categories – social media, blogroll, wine buying, and wine travel. I went over all of the links in these sections and removed all of the dead ones. In the blogroll, some of the links will connect you to the sites which had not been updated for years – but as long as the link is not dead and you can actually reach the content, I left those links in place.

I also realized that I’m missing some of the references I actually should have. I added a few blogs I’m reading semi-regularly (I won’t tell you what they are though :)). I also added a few links to the wine buying section.

Wine.com was a notable absence from the wine buying section, as I was not a fan. I gradually changed my opinion – I wouldn’t say that Wine.com is my only or even preferred source of wine buying, but they have plenty of interesting and unique wines (Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, for example, or Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Reserva), which are also priced at an “average retail” level, which I’m okay with (I despise with passion overpaying for wine). I also like the extensive information provided on Wine.com on all the wines, whether they are in stock or not.

Same with the Wine Exchange – I gradually warmed up to their e-mails and even bought a few interesting wines based on their suggestions. They also carry a good inventory of well-aged wines at reasonable prices – for example, there you can find Chateau Lestage from the Listrac-Medoc, 2000 (legendary!) vintage for $39.98, or Shiraz from Barossa Valley from 2004 vintage (18 years old wine) for $29.99.

The last addition to the wine buying section is not even about the wines – it is about a close relative, cognac. I came across the Cognac Expert website as I was looking for interesting cognac tasting sets to share with a friend who was supposed to visit. There is a tremendous Cognac selection on the website, plus every cognac has a very extensive description of its history, tasting notes, and more. They also charge reasonable shipping rates (I think) for the cognacs delivered from France, so if you like cognac, this is definitely a site to visit.

Okay, just to step outside of my blog’s realm, a few more news items:

There are 5 days left to enter the Web Wine Writing competition conducted by the Hungarian Wines organization. I know this is not enough time, but in case you wrote about Hungarian wines recently, this might be a great opportunity for you. Details can be found here.

International Shiraz Day is the next grape holiday, coming up on July 28th. Shiraz or Syrah, Australia, France, Italy, or Washington – I’m sure it is not difficult to find a tasty bottle and enjoy it in honor of one of the major red grapes.

And the month-long wine celebration is almost upon us – August is Washington Wine Month. From Bordeaux blends and GSM to the world-class, cult quality, single vineyard Cab, Syrah, Grenache, and everything in between – folks in Washington know how to wine. Just get a bottle of your favorite Washington wine and you are ready to celebrate.

That’s all I have for you for today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Trapiche: Beautiful Perfection

July 17, 2022 Leave a comment

Over my lifespan as a wine lover and especially, as a blogger, I tasted tens of thousands of wines. This is not a bragging statement, but purely statistical. Also, out of all those wines, every year a few hundred wines are covered in this blog.

Out of all these wines, there are probably 50 or so that are near and dear to my heart, These are my reference wines. These are the wines I would reach out to illustrate the comparison or simply deliver the message. For example, Bogle Petite Sirah is my favorite example of a budget-priced (typically around $9.99), delicious, consistently drinkable wine. Of course, I occasionally come across wines which equally or even tastier and cost even less, but Bogle is still the wine that is ingrained in my memory, and hence it is my ready-to-use reference.

I always think that all of my reference wines are already covered on the blog – 50-60 wines is not a high number spread out over the 12 years of blogging, and yet from time to time I engage in a futile search for the articles about some of these reference wines, only to say to myself “really?”.

When it comes to Argentinian Malbec, my reference wine is Trapiche Broquel Malbec. Malbec definitely came of age lately, especially with a dramatic increase in popularity over the last few years. While I tasted lots and lots of absolutely delicious renditions of Argentinian Malbec, it is still generally not my go-to wine. But if presented with the Trapiche Broquel Malbec, nobody would need to ask me twice to have a glass or a three.

There are 145 posts in this blog that include the word “Malbec” (not including the one you are reading now). None of these posts talk about my reference wine, Trapiche Broquel Malbec. Well, this is not entirely true – in a few posts, Trapiche Broquel Malbec is used precisely as I presented it here – as a reference. Nevertheless, there are no posts discussing any particular vintages of this wine or presenting any tasting notes.

And so will not be the post you are reading at the moment. But – at least this post is about two of the Trapiche wines I had an opportunity to taste (but none of them are Broquel Malbec).

It is so interesting when you think that you know something, and then it appears that no, you really don’t. I knew the Trapiche name and had a number of their wines over the years, but I had no idea that Trapiche is the biggest winery in Argentina. Founded in 1883, the winery stayed in the family for a long time, transitioning from father to son, until it was acquired by the Grupo Peñaflor, one of the 10 largest wine producers in the world, exporting its wines to more than 90 countries.

 

Trapiche vineyards span throughout Mendoza, the most famous winemaking region in Argentina from the Andes mountains to the Atlantic ocean around the town of Chapadmalal. Trapiche is using biodynamic farming methods and is very much focused on farmland diversity and sustainability. Trapiche’s hard work and dedication didn’t go unnoticed, acknowledged by multiple international awards, such as the “50 Most Admired Wine Brands” selection by Dinks International (the only winery in Argentian to get on that list 5 times over 5 different vintages), or Wine Enthusiast’s “The New World Winery of the Year” in 2019.

I had two bottles of Trapiche wines to try – 2020 Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza (14% ABV, $14.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 months in oak barrels) and 2019 Trapiche Gran Medalla Malbec Mendoza (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Malbec, 18 months in new French oak, 1 year in the bottle). I have to tell you that I opened the bottles not without trepidation. I never had either one of these wines, I really like Broquel Malbec, and I really wanted to avoid disappointment…

First I opened Cabernet Sauvignon. The initial nose was not the one typical of the Cabernet Sauvignon – it did smell like a typical Argentinian Malbec would. I wanted to compare the nose side by side, so I quickly opened and poured in the glass the Malbec. The smell was practically identical – the vanilla, warm herbs, plums, with the Malbec bottle offering a bit more intensity. While I appreciate this nose on Malbec, I like the Cabernet Sauvignon to be a bit more traditional.

But the palate of the Cabernet Sauvignon didn’t disappoint, showing cassis with a wallop of dark cherries, a touch of bell peppers, and eucalyptus. As the wine was opening up, it transitioned through a few stages, making cassis more explicit and then adding up the level of acidity on the finish. A very good rendition with an excellent QPR (Drinkability: 8-).

The Gran Medalla Malbec was produced to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the winery, and it is sourced from the best Trapiche vineyard parcels in Uco Valley. And boy, did this wine delivered… This was Malbec like no other. The was the wine that stops you in your tracks; you want the time to stop so you can enjoy that perfect flavor in your mouth endlessly. The wine had the perfect amount of ripe, succulent dark cherries, sweet oak, and sage, weaved around a perfect core of smooth tannins, delivering layers upon layers of pure pleasure. This was the wine that you always dream of drinking, but it is so hard to find. Thinking about the $25 suggested retail price, this wine has great QPR and it is literally a steal if you will be able to find it. (Drinkability: 9-).

There you are, my friends – a case of wine’s beautiful perfection. Which also doesn’t need you to break the bank. Cheers!

 

 

A Weekend in [Great] Wines

June 27, 2022 Leave a comment

What is a great wine?

Does the wine made by a famous producer make it great? Does a high price make it great?

Wine should give you pleasure. Is there a measurable amount of pleasure to declare wine “great”? 5 units of pleasure? 25 units of pleasure?

Of course, “great” is a subjective definition. The infamous “the truth is in the eye of the beholder”. Every wine lover has their own way to declare wine great, and it is not just one way – there are many ways.

I love the harmony in the wine. The perfect balance of all the components. A unique flavor. A thought-provoking bouquet that makes you want to take a sip, and another sip, and try to understand. Or the wine which makes you disconnect from the world and all of its problems, and just get lost in your own thoughts. I also love the wine which perfectly matches your expectations.

I’m sure “expectations” is yet another loaded term, but if you are into the wine, for sure you have expectations when opening a bottle of wine. You expect to find freshly cut grass and maybe a proverbial “cat pee” on the bottle of Sancerre. I love gunflint on my young Chablis. I expect a good bottle of well-aged cold climate Chardonnay to show honey and apple notes. I want succulent cherries in my Brunello. And I need cassis in my Bordeaux, and gobs and gobs of cassis on my bottle of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t get me wrong – the wine can be great if it doesn’t match expectations at all, but this is the subject for another post.

That is what I want to talk about here – the wines matching expectations. The wines that were simply perfect. And a few others that were maybe not perfect, but still delicious.

The last Sunday was Father’s Day. I usually open a good bottle or a few in honor of the holiday, but this weekend of wines started a few days prior. My sister-in-law, who lives on Cape Cod,  had her milestone birthday recently, and as she loves wine, I wanted to bring a few wines that would be worthy of a moment. She used to love California Pinot, but as of the last few years California Cabernet Sauvignon became the thing, so I grabbed a few bottles of Turley Estate Cabernet, which generally doesn’t disappoint. And of course, a few other bottles, as we had to drink something for 3 days, okay?

Before we got to the reds, there were whites. We started with 2020 Château Montet Blanc Bordeaux AOC (12% ABV, Sauvignon) which was a nice, middle-of-the-road, Bordeaux white wine, offering a hint of freshly cut grass and some Meyer lemons. We also opened a bottle of 2018 Alban Vineyards Viognier Edna Valley (14.9% ABV). It was nicely perfumy and complex on the nose, and quite big and powerful on the palate, with an interesting flavor that I could not discern – on overripe wild plum maybe. I tried this Viognier with the fresh oysters, but this was not necessarily a winning combination. Our last white was 2016 Turley The White Coat California (13.5% ABV, 40% Roussanne, 40% Grenache Blanc, 20% Vermentino) – a full-bodied, elegant white wine, plump and round on the palate, perfectly fresh and clean overall.

Summer asks for a Rosé, even though the weather was rather on the cool side – our choice of Rosé was 2021 Turley Zinfandel Rosé California (12% ABV), which was delicious. Strawberries and cranberries on the nose and on the palate, crisp, clean, refreshing – it had everything you want from Rosé.

And then there were reds. Some were more of the “placeholders”, the wines you open just to drink something before you get to the main program – as was 2021 Field Recordings Nouveau Edna Valley (12.9% ABV, Pinot Noir). Young, fresh, grapey, and tart, as you would expect from the Nouveau. We treated somewhat similarly 2018 Pedra Cancela Winemaker Selection Dão DOC (13% ABV, 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Alfrocheiro, 30% Tinta Roriz), even though this is an excellent wine in its own right – dark fruit, cherries, nice minerality, medium body, fresh acidity, and overall good balance. 2016 Pedra Cancela was wine #7 on my Top 20 of 2020 list – I think I would prefer 2016 over 2018, but I need to try this wine again by itself and not “among others” before I will be able to form an opinion.

Next was the time for magic, so the bottle of 2012 Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV) was open. I have a long history with Turley Cabernet Sauvignon wines, ever since they debuted with the 2010 vintage – this post describes my perception of the 2010 vintage and also provides some details on my initially rocky relationship with this wine. The first 2 vintages were called “The Label”, becoming simply Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon starting from the 2012 vintage. The last time I tasted the 2012 Turley Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly two years ago – you can read the tasting notes here. These 2 years made a difference, and the wine was delicious from the get-go. Cassis on the nose and the palate, layered with soft tannins, generous and powerful. Upon opening, it was varietally correct and simply superb, worthy of a great wine designation.

You take a sip of wine, you think you discovered the perfection, and you are reveling in the happy state. Then you open another bottle, catch a whiff from the glass, take a sip, and wonder how the absolute happiness you experienced a second ago can be toppled? And yet this is exactly what happened when we opened the 2013 Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV). 2013 was almost the same as 2012 – except it was better refined, more elegant, cleaner. Cassis was beautifully pronounced supported by a touch of mint and a distant note of bell pepper. Perfectly on point, perfectly matching the expectations.

The next day I wanted to deviate a bit from the Bordeaux direction with 2015 AR PE PE Grumello Rocca de Piro Nebbiolo Valtellina Superiore DOCG (13% ABV). ARPEPE is an excellent producer in the Valtellina region in Italian Alps in Lombardy, crafting Nebbiolo wines. This wine had a beautiful vibrancy of the fresh cherries, not overripe, but just ripe enough, to offer an “unmistakably Italian” feeling on the first sip. Fresh, lip-smacking cherries, herbs, well-integrated but noticeable tannins – this wine offered a well-needed break from the power of California Cabernet Sauvignon. Unfortunately, a very short break as the bottle was gone in no time.

And then the story repeated itself. We opened 1998 Château Tournefeuille Lalande de Pomerol AOC (12.5% ABV, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc), the wine I knew nothing about. I got this wine from Benchmark Wine Group a few years ago, for $30 or so. I simply got it based on the vintage and the price – the vintage is one of the few I try to collect, and the price was reasonable. First I was pleasantly surprised with the condition of the cork, which was intact – for a 24-year-old wine, this is not always the case. But then the whiff and the sip… Oh my… The precision of cassis was elevated on yet another level – don’t know how is that possible. The wine had pure, pristine cassis on the nose and the palate with a small addition of bell pepper and eucalyptus, a perfect round bouquet, a perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and tannins, just superb. After the first sip, I asked my sister-in-law what does she think about this wine by itself and in comparison with two of the previous bottles of Turley (we still had wine left there on the second day). She said that she really doesn’t want to make me upset, but she really likes it even more than the 2013 Turley Cab – and I’m fully agreeing with her. If I were to rate these 3 wines on my Drinkability scale, Turley 2012 would be an 8+, Turley 2013 is 9-/9, and the Château Tournefeuille is a solid 9 or maybe even 9+, and definitely a memorable experience.

It was not just the wine – the food and the views were quite good, despite somewhat gloomy weather during most of our visit. Local oysters were delicious. I had an opportunity to try the Swiss cheese called Tête de Moine, which also comes with its own special curler. The kabobs were delicious too. And the views of the ocean never get tiring.


We came back home on Sunday, to have Father’s day dinner with the kids. Of course, Father’s Day celebration requires a special bottle of wine. I was thinking about opening the 2005 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Alexander Valley (13.5% ABV) for a while at this point, so I decided that the celebration gives me a good enough reason to pull the cork, which I did. The last time I had this exact wine was in 2018 when I brought a bottle for a special wine dinner in Singapore. At that time the wine showed as overly sweet. 4 years later, the wine lost all of its sweetness, and now was showing as a classic Cabernet Sauvignon with cassis on the palate, but somehow now the wine was showing very lean and underwhelming. I think the wine could’ve further improved over the next 5-10 years, but as this was my last bottle, now there will be someone else who will make the discovery. I had this wine with a special burger from Darien Butcher Shop – I had fried egg, fried onion, and bacon as flavor enhancers with the burger, so the wine didn’t stand a chance to show well, but at least it was not fighting with the food.

That concludes my story of a few great wines. What are great wines in your book?

 

Wine, Beer, and Road Trip

June 21, 2022 Leave a comment

Some road trips require long planning. Some are just spontaneous. The road trip we took two weekends ago was somewhat in between, more on the spontaneous side. I had a Marriott certificate expiring by the end of the month, and I couldn’t let it go to waste. Balancing places I would like to visit with the low value of this certificate, travel madness ensuing in the country, and the desire to stay within a 3-hour driving radius from home narrowed down the search. The town of Reading in Pennsylvania offered a reasonable combination of all the factors I mentioned above, so this is where we decided to go.

There are many advantages when traveling by car, such as ultimate flexibility of the schedule. The ability to bring your own bottle of wine to the hotel is another big one. This is exactly what we did.

I don’t know what possessed me to bring 2016 Saxum as the wine of choice, but this is what I did. By the time we settled in the room and were ready to have a glass of wine, the day reached my favorite “Kodak moment” – the sunset. I obviously couldn’t miss such a beautiful sky painting – at the same time, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to include the bottle of Saxum in the picture. First the bottle, then the glass.

You know how they say “no people/animals/objects were damaged during the filming of this video”, right? This was not a video, just a picture. And no animals were hurt. No people were hurt either (I think?). As for the objects… Well, the glass didn’t survive my adventurous stupidity. This was a standard wine glass, which can’t really stand on top of the wine bottle. It almost felt, and I was lucky enough to catch it before it went down. Someone with a better belief in the laws of statistics would take this “almost fall” as a fair warning. But not this guy. I put the glass back and continued taking pictures, trying to get the wine label into the picture. Until glass finally met the ground (ground – 1, glass – 0), giving my wife and me an opportunity to dance next to the window sill for the next 20 minutes trying not to cut ourselves with the tiniest remnants and also remove wine traces from surrounding surfaces. Felt like an idiot for the next 2 days. Oh well – maybe I will learn? Or not…

On the positive side, the 2016 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles Willow Creek District (15.9% ABV, 72% Syrah, 10% Mataro, 9% Graciano, 6% Grenache, 3% Roussanne) was absolutely surprising and spectacular. The surprising part was that this 6-year-old wine from California was perfectly drinkable upon opening – I would never expect it. The spectacular part was in the layers and gobs of fresh, succulent fruit, unending pleasure of interplay of blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and sweet oak, balancing acidity and full-bodied power each sip was offering. The wine was even better on the second day, becoming a touch more mellow. The same wine perfectly complemented the cigar on day 4. I’m sorry about the glass, but I’m really happy with my first Saxum experience.

Then there was beer. Clearly, I drink a lot less beer than wine. Nevertheless, I have a full appreciation for a glass of well-made beer (about 25 years ago I was one of the first members of the Beer Across America club, at the very beginning of the American craft beer revolution). Even more than a glass of beer, I like the opportunity to experience a tasting flight – which we found at the Chatty Monks Brewery in West Reading.

The Chatty Monks brewery binds itself as a “nano-brewery”. I have no idea what that means, I can only assume that they are implying that their production is much less than the microbrewery (microbrewery in itself is a highly contested term – for a long time Samual Adams defined itself as a microbrewery, while their volumes were clearly not at the “micro” level). Anyway, let’s leave the size aside and talk about the taste.

A tasting flight at Chatty Monks includes 4 beers which you can select from the list of beers available on tap. Out of the 14 available beers I went with Alondra which was a stout – the only dark beer available and I prefer dark beer whenever I can; Split Face which is defined as Pretzel-Style amber lager (no idea what pretzel-style means); Pray for More, a New England IPA, and Tree Trimming, which is described as “winter warmer” – again, no idea what that means.

Of these 4, we absolutely loved 3, which were each delicious in their own way. The beer lovers will have to forgive the wine lover trying to describe the beer experience, but Alondra, Split Face, and Pray for More were perfectly balanced and round, each in their own category. I rarely perceive the bitterness of the stouts, including Guinness, and the Alondra was just rich, creamy, coffee-like, and delicious. Split Face was fresh and bright, with enough body to complement fried foods. And Pray for More was probably the most exciting IPA I ever tasted – while it had the characteristic bitterness, it was complemented and leveled by bright citrus, and orange notes – altogether making it irresistible. We loved the beers so much that even got all 3 to bring home – except that Pray for More was sold out in the standard cans so we got one big 32 oz can which was made for us right on the spot. If you are ever in the area – this is the beer to crave.

We talked about wine. We talked about beer. Now, the last part – the road trip. We had more or less one full day for all of the explorations. Luckily, we had been to this part of Pennsylvania many times, so exploring Amish villages, lifestyle and museums was not on the itinerary. In addition to immensely enjoying driving around green pastures with cows, sheep, and horses, going up and down little hills on the narrow country roads, we visited a couple of places we had not seen before. One was Reading Pagoda, a fully authentic rendition of a traditional Asian structure, enacted first in 1908. Apparently, this is the only pagoda in the world with a fireplace and a chimney – which we were unable to see as the building itself was closed. But we were able to fully enjoy the views of the town of Reading, from the south end of Mount Penn where the pagoda is located. You can also see it through the lens of my trusted iPhone:

Another stop we made was to see the covered bridge called Wertz’s Covered Bridge, one of the covered bridges located in the Berks County – also the longest single-span covered bridge in Pennsylvania at 204 feet across. It was really fun imagining all of those carriages traversing the creek since 1867 when the bridge was built. You can close your eyes and hear the sound of the horseshoes hitting the wood pavement as carriages are slowly pulled through the bridge… Well, here are a few pictures, I’m sure you can add the horses as you see fit…

That makes it a full account of the wine, beer, and road trip experiences. Next, we will talk about some fun wine experiences on Cape Cod. Stay tuned…

Wine Reflections on the Go, and Cognac Ramblings

June 10, 2022 1 comment

While in San Diego for work, I was on a very strange quest. I wanted to find cognac in miniature bottles (50 ml). Strange and dumb, you say? No problems, I accept the criticism. It is strange, but not criminal or immoral by any means, so let me continue my story.

I don’t know if you drink cognac, but if you do, you could’ve noticed that it is generally in a short supply, and often absurdly priced. Some stores carry no cognac at all. Some stores have a very limited selection, incomparable with other liquors – look at a typical tequila or bourbon selection – the ratio would be 10 to 1.

Why cognac all of sudden? A dear friend is coming over in a few weeks, and we always do a serious tasting of scotch/whiskey with her. What does “serious” mean? At any given moment I have 15–20 (or more, I honestly have no idea) bottles of whiskey open – some might be for 10 years – unlike wine, whiskey doesn’t care, nothing can change in the 46% – 70% ABV weather – as long as the bottle is closed well. This time around, the said dear friend said that she doesn’t want to do a scotch tasting, and would much prefer that we would change the subject – for example to the cognac.

While I love cognac, I prefer scotch for my occasional hard liquor sip. It is much more difficult to find a palatable, never mind tasty cognac which one also can afford – delicious whisky can still be acquired for less than $30, but drinkable cognac in that prices range is mostly a dream.

Okay, so back to that tasting. I set for myself a goal to have at least 15 different cognacs to taste, without spending a small fortune. I probably have 2 or 3 open. I procured two tasting sets (they are very hard to come around), and found one miniature of Courvoisier to include in the tasting, but that’s about it. So I went on the mission to find at least the main brands (Martell, Hennessy, Courvoisier, Remy Martin) and maybe some others – but seemed to be mission impossible in Connecticut and even in New Jersey.

Wine Reflections, as promised

Which brings us to the wine store in San Diego. I honestly went to the wine store creatively called The Wine Bank to look for my cognac miniature bottles. Who goes to the store called The Wine Bank to buy cognac? Happy to be ostracized again, but if I would be looking for tequila, bourbon, or even gin believe me I wouldn’t leave the store empty-handed. But cognac? Nowhere to be found in any size.

The store was “much bigger on the inside” with a huge basement filled with wine shelves. So what should the wine lover do when he encounters wine heaven? At least take a look, right? Just a look. No touch. I promise. I was well behaved. But would you believe me if I would tell you that I left the store called The Wine Bank without buying a bottle? Even if you are naive, my reader(s?), don’t trust the wine lover visiting the wine store.

I was looking for something interesting, yet inexpensive. Interesting means I don’t readily have it at home and would love to drink often but drink rarely. And so I found my beloved Chinon (Cab Franc) and a white blend from the Rhône, $17 and $16 respectively.

I really like Chinon wines, a classic, cold climate, old world renditions of Cabernet Franc. This wine was from the 2017 vintage, so it had 5 years of age on it. I previously had an amazing experience with Chinon wine from Olga Raffault, so now seeing the same name (Raffault family had been cultivating vines in Chinon for 14 generations!) together with the reasonable price has given the rationale for the decision.

I rarely drink white Rhône wines because there are very few of them available at most of the wine stores, and finding tasty ones is not an easy task as well. However, seeing 60% Roussanne on the back label – and Roussanne might be my favorite white grape – together with a reasonable price again made it an easy decision.

2017 Jean-Maurice Raffault Les Galuches Chinon AOC (13% ABV, $16.99, Les Galuches is the name of the vineyard, had been organically farmed since 2016) was interesting. When I just opened it, it had a beautiful classic nose with a touch of bell pepper, and an almost jammy load of the black currants on the palate, very generous. On the second day, the nose was somewhat closed, and black currants were still pleasant though somewhat scarce. On the third day the wine pretty much closed and offered mostly bell pepper and tart acidity. I don’t believe the wine turned – it should be either consumed upon opening or left alone for 10+ years to enjoy it later.

2019 Chateau L’Ermitage Auzan Blanc Costieres de Nimes AOP (13% ABV, $15.99, 60% Roussanne, 20% Grenache, 20% Viognier) was even more interesting. I chilled this wine first overnight in the fridge. When I opened it, I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t. It was disjointed, with fruit and acidity randomly poking in different directions. As the wine warmed up, it became a lot more palatable and enjoyable, but the magic didn’t happen.

I left the wine bottle on the table overnight. When I tried it in the morning, I literally slapped myself on the forehead – this wine is 60% Roussanne, and Roussanne wines are showing much, much better at the room temperature or gently chilled compared to the full-blown “wine from the fridge”. The wine had gunflint on the nose, and boasted powerful, fully textured, plump, and round white stone fruit on the palate. A beautiful, classic, full-bodied Roussanne rendition.

Here you go, my friends – my wine (and cognac) reflections [directly and figurately] on the go. Drink well, whether you travel or not.

One on One With Winemaker: Lucio Salamini of Luretta

June 2, 2022 Leave a comment

If you call yourself a wine lover, you definitely have an affinity for Italian wine. I have yet to meet a wine lover who doesn’t like Italian wine – there is such a range of wines coming from Italy, everyone can find at least something which speaks to their heart and palate.

By the same token, I’m sure that the knowledge of Italian wines is quite widespread among the wine-loving public. So let’s play a simple game. There are 20 administrative regions in Italy. I will give you the name of the region, and you will tell me one, the most famous wine associated with that region. Let’s start with Tuscany – what wine do you associate with Tuscany? Of course, you are correct, it is more than one – Chianti, Brunello, super-Tuscan. How about Piedmont? You are right again – Barolo and Barbaresco come to mind first. Veneto? Yes, correct – Valpolicella, and if you said Amarone, you get an extra point (I’m a sucker for a good Amarone).

Now, how about Emilia-Romagna? Are you drawing a blank? I can help you – a large region in northern-central Italy, right above Tuscany? Still nothing? If someone said “Lambrusco”, congratulations, it is actually the most famous wine coming out of Emilia-Romagna, but it is absolutely not the only one.

The winemaking region of Colli Piacentini is located in the western part of Emilia-Romagna, with winemaking history in Colli Piacentini going back to 2000 B.C. Colli Piacentini DOC covers about 9,000 acres of vineyards with various microclimates defined by mountains, hills, and river valleys. There are 16 DOCs within Colli Piacentini, with grape varieties ranging from the typical Italian varieties such as Barbera, Croatina, Malvasia, and Trebbiano to the international stars – Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and others. It is interesting that Colli Piacentini DOC rules allow putting the name of some of the grape varieties on the front label, quite unusual for the old world.



After spending some time in France and learning local agricultural traditions, Felice Salamini, a cattle breeder, came across the Castle of Momeliano, a fortress almost 1,000 years old, nestling in the hills of Emilian valley. This seemed to be an ideal place to grow grapes, make, and age wines, and in 1988 Luretta was born.

Luretta vineyards occupy 123 acres, surrounding Castle of Momeliano on the hill from 800 to 1,650 feet elevation. From the beginning, Luretta started using organic viticulture, with no herbicides, no synthetic fertilizers, and no irrigation. In 2000, Lureta obtained Italian certification for sustainable practices. Many of the French varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petitte Verdot, Pinot Noir – are growing there among the indigenous varieties – Barbera, Malvasia, Trebbiano, and many others.

Lucio Salamini. Source: Luretta

Lucio Salamini, the second-generation owner of Luretta, is now leading the charge at the winery, working together with winemaker Alberto Faggiani, the longtime enologist at Jermann, overseeing the annual production of about 300,000 bottles. Each white, red, and sparkling wine produced by Luretta has its own unique story, showcasing the diversity of Colli Piacenti terroir. I had an opportunity to virtually sit down with Lucio and ask him a few questions – here what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: Let’s start with your website, which I find very interesting. Each wine has its own set of images associated with it on the website – how do you come up with those images?

[LS]: We really enjoy creating personalized and evocative image for the company. Usually we draft drawings that can create mental associations to get closer to the wine, that recalls its history, flavors, and characteristics, and then we embed them in our labels and throughout the website. We have always been believers of ‘mental’ pairings, so to create a match not just between a wine and a dish, but also a song, a climate, a mood, a season, a moment in the day or a moment in life. These drawings are vehicle for those impalpable connections.

[TaV]: One more question related to the same subject. Each wine also has a quote associated with that specific wine.  How do you come up with those? What is the message you are trying to convey?

[LS]: It is a quote I like from a song, a book or a movie. These mental associations help me get deeply into the mood of that specific wine.

[TaV]: You have been farming organically since 2000. Have you ever considered biodynamic farming? What is your take overall on biodynamics? 

[LS]: The company has been organic since almost the beginning of its practice, since the early 1990s. Then in 2011, Europe introduced the regulation of Organic Wine and we aligned to sustainable practices also for what concerns the processes in the cellar. However, we do not follow the Steiner philosophy of biodynamic agriculture. I do not often approve it but admire it as a whole concept and I think that this movement is too often carried followed in a superficial way that does not deserve. Biodynamic farming is a way of cultivating the land and making wine aimed to preserve nature and what people drink. It is an all-embracing philosophy and, as such, it should concern the whole lifestyle of the producer and his vision of the world. In this light, for me is not coherent to ship the wine on a boat or a plane to sell it on the other side of the world. But maybe let’s leave this controversy alone!

[TaV]: You have quite an international selection of the grapes – Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. What made you plant international varieties in the first place? Do you find your terroir particularly conducive to the international varieties?

[LS]: We were pioneers in this area of Piacenza. We had to experiment first in order to understand better. Thus, planting International varieties was a part of a whole pioneristic phase that informed our practice since the beginning. Often, but not always, this has proved us right. Indeed, it is an area that is well suited to international vines as well as, of course, traditional vines.
Besides the drive to try and experiment, we also have a pure deep passion for international varieties.

[TaV]: In a blind tasting, if your Cabernet Sauvignon would be placed together with super-Tuscan, which wine do you think might win? 

[LS]: In the autumn of 2021, there was this tasting by the famous critic Daniele Cernilli ( Dr. Wine ) where my cabernet came out very well, despite costing on average a third of the other bottles. And I was very proud of that, of course! In general, though, I believe that parallel tastings should not be done to see who wins but rather to understand and enjoy the differences between the various territories.

[TaV]: The same question as before, but let’s replace super-Tuscan with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – how do you think your wine would fare against those?

[LS]: I would say that whether the super Tuscans and Napa wines focus on food, power, softness and low acidity, my wine has more tertiary hints of evolution such as spices, aromatic woods, pepper, balsamic, and then, instead of looking for softness, it pushes towards a tannic acid balance in the mouth, underlining the sapid and mineral notes of Colli Piacentini, our soils.

[TaV]: Do you have any plans for additional international varieties – Syrah, for example?

[LS]: I have experimented over the years with plantings of Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. But they have not been successful. And the vineyards were either grubbed up or replanted, proving that not all varieties can adapt to these soils.

[TaV]: You are farming 123 acres of estate vineyards. Have you identified vineyard plots that perform better/different from the others? Do you have any plans for single-plot wines in the future?

[LS]: The map of the single vineyards with names, varieties, altitudes and soil differences will be ready in September. It is a project we have been working on since January. Broadly speaking, we have the autochthonous vines planted up to an altitude of 820 ft above sea level, characterized by the “Terre rosse antiche” (old red soils in English) soil, loaded with red clay.
The international vines, on the other hand, are planted in vineyards ranging from an altitude of 800 ft to 1400 ft above sea level, in the lands of lower Apennines, characterized by a greater concentration of limestone. Most of the vineyards are located within the small Val Luretta – which gives the name to the company- characterized by a temperate microclimate, protected from either spring frosts, summer heat waves and large concentrations of humidity thanks to a lucky flux of air that constantly blows in our lands.

Wine time!

I had an opportunity to taste 2 of Luretta’s wines.

2019 Luretta Boccadirossa Colli Piacentini DOC (13.5% ABV, $30, 100% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica) had beautiful golden color. A beautifully perfumed nose of wild flowers and tropical fruit was supported by the body which was plump and crisp at the same time, with white plums and lemon and a perfectly acidic finish. Overall, solid and delicious.

2018 Luretta Superiore Gutturnio DOC (14.5% ABV, $25, 50% Barbera, 40% Croatina, 9 months in wood) was as quintessential Italian as only the Italian wine can be. The nose of leather and cherries followed by the exquisite palate of sweet cherries, leather, and a hint of tobacco, layered, generous, earthy, and complex.

Here you are, my friends – unexpected, unconventional, and well worth seeking Italian wines, waiting to be discovered by wine lovers around the world. Cheers!

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