Wine Quiz #139 – How Well Do You Know Your Wines?

May 8, 2021 Leave a comment

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #138. Once again, you needed to identify wines (producers) by the fragment of the wine label. Here are the full labels of the wines:

I love each and every wine shown here – but this is not the point, of course. These are all different Rioja wines from Spain, representing 3 iconic producers – CVNE, La Rioja Alta, and R. Lopez de Heredia.

I’m happy to report that Jason Brandt Lewis correctly identified all wines as Rioja, and he got 5 out of 6 wines correctly – thus he gets on honorable mention with distinction (newly minted prize :)). Lynn also was able to figure out that these are all Rioja wines, and she gets honorable mention for correctly identifying 3 out of 6 wines.

Here is a new set of fragments of the wine labels, with the wine producers who should be reasonably familiar, and some even carrying good (excellent?) hints with them:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

Again, there is a common thread between all of the fragments – once you will figure it out, the rest should be a bit easier.

Good luck, enjoy your weekend and your new quiz! Cheers!

Wine Quiz #138 – How Well Do You Know Your Wines?

April 25, 2021 2 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #137. Once again, you needed to identify wines (producers) by the fragment of the wine label. Here are the full labels of the wines:

All of these are well-known producers, all from Australia, and all are mainstream wines.

I’m happy to report that Anthony correctly identified 4 out of 6 wines and he gets on honorable mention – with distinction, shall we say?  I need more of the prizes to go around, maybe it will make more people play 🙂

Here is a new set of fragments of the wine labels, with the wine producers who should be reasonably familiar, and some even carrying good (excellent?) hints with them:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

There is something in common between all of these fragments – once you will figure it out, the rest should be reasonably straightforward.

Good luck, enjoy the week ahead of you and your new quiz! Cheers!

Hey, Rioja, What’s New?

April 20, 2021 2 comments

I love Rioja.

But you already know that.

Well-made Rioja, opened in its due time, is one of the ultimate indulgences wine lovers can experience. I can bet this is also nothing new for you.

So what’s new with Rioja?

Every new vintage of any wine is unique and different, true, but talking about new vintages unquestionably banal. How about then Rioja made from organic grapes? What do you think about classic Rioja made from organic grapes – and timely conversation during April, the Earth Month?

CVNE, Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España, one of the oldest producers in Rioja (CVNE celebrated 140th anniversary last year), requires no introduction to any Spanish wine lover. CVNE produces a number of different Rioja lines – Cune, Viña Real, Imperial, Contino are some of the best known. Now, the Cune line has brand new Rioja to brag about – the first Rioja red wine made with organic grapes. The wine is made out of 100% Tempranillo (not very common) from the vineyards which were organically farmed, from the vintage with an Excellent rating (2019 was rated Excellent by Rioja DOC). The wine is also Vegan certified, and even sports the label produced from recycled materials. Most importantly, this is a simple, and tasty wine:

2019 CVNE Cune Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $15, 100% Tempranillo, organic grapes, Vegan certified, wild yeast fermentation, 4 months aging in oak)
Dark ruby with purple hues
Dark berries and cedar box
Soft, round, good acidity, soft ripe fruit, medium-long finish mostly acidic.
7+, food-friendly, simple, and easy to drink.

Back in 1915, CVNE produced Rioja’s first white wine – Monopole. It was not only the first white Rioja – this was the first white wine produced in Spain.

I had the pleasure of tasting many vintages of CVNE Monopole, and I have to honestly say that this 2020 was by far my favorite Monopole I tasted – I know I said talking about new vintages is banal, and here I am, yeah. Oh well. The wine needed a bit of time to open, but after 20 minutes in the glass, it was absolutely beautiful.

2020 CVNE Monopole Blanco Seco Rioja DOC (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Viura, Vegan certified)
Straw pale, literally clear
Explicit minerality, a touch of gunflint
Crisp, tight, lean, hint of whitestone fruit, explicit minerality.
8+, outstanding.

Bodegas Beronia is much younger than CVNE, founded in 1973 by a group of friends from the Basque country. In 1982, Bodegas Beronia became a part of González Byass’s portfolio, and at that point, Bodegas Beronia wines appeared on the international market.

Bodegas Beronia is known for its innovative approach to winemaking. Rioja wines are traditionally aged in American oak, which gave them a rustic, “traditional” taste profile. Recently, many winemakers switched to using the French oak, which gives the Rioja more of the international, “modern” taste profile, making wines also more approachable at a younger age. Bodegas Beronia pioneered the use of specially made barrels, which use both American and French oak in its construction, to create a unique taste profile, an intersection of tradition and modernity.

In this release of 2017 Crianza, Bodegas Beronia recognized the new realities of 2021, where people have to spend more time by themselves, and added the 375 ml, a half bottle to the portfolio, making it easier for the wine lovers to open a bottle for a solo night.

2017 Bodegas Beronia Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $14.99/750ml bottle, $7.99/375ml bottle, 94% Tempranillo, 5% garnacha, 1% Mazuelo)
Ruby red
Freshly crushed red berries, a touch of barnyard, smoke, earthy
Red fruit, eucalyptus, clean acidity, excellent balance.
7+ at the moment, needs time

There you have it, my friends. A brand new organic wine from Rioja, a superb white Rioja, and a thoughtful Rioja, coming in different formats, all reasonably priced, perfectly suited for life at the moment. Cheers!

Guest Post: The Purpose of Oak Barrels in the Wine Making Process

April 18, 2021 Leave a comment

Today, I’m offering to you a guest post by Rachel Moore who works as a Marketing Manager at Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. Rocky Mountain Barrel Company provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and wine barrels. Rachel Moore loves her combination of nature, wine, and nerdy friends who appreciate her homemade wines.

The long history of wine and oak is worth exploring, mainly because oak barrels are being used in wine aging literally forever. Oak is used as a flavored seasoning to bring aroma and quality to the wine. Whether French, Hungarian, American, or others, Oak contributions leave a lasting impression on the bottled wine.

What Is the Aim of Aging Wines in Oak Barrels?

Before the invention of glass bottles (the 1600s and earlier), most wines were processed and packaged in wooden barrels. In reality, paintings from this era often depict wine barrels strewn about. Although we’ve outgrown the need for barrels to store and ship wine, we’ve developed a taste for it. Oak Wooden Barrels are an essential feature of the modern winemaking process.

What Benefits Do Oak Barrels Have for Wine?

Oak makes three significant contributions to wine:

  • It includes spice compounds such as cocoa, clove, haze, and coconut aromas.
  • It allows for the intake of oxygen, making wine taste a lot more complex.
  • It produces an optimal condition for metabolic processes to occur, which results in creamier-tasting wines.

Let’s see some other advantages of using an oak barrel for the winemaking process.

1. Superior Aging Capability

In general, wines aged in oak barrels have greater aging capacity than those aged in steel tanks (or with alternatives, such as oak chips or oak staves). For example, if you age your red wine in an oak barrel, you are supplying your consumer with a commodity that can mature much more elegantly than red wine processed in a steel tank.

2. Re-Use Used Oak Barrels

First, used oak barrels can be used for the aging and fermentation process of the wine imparting milder flavors compared with brand new oak barrels. Second, oak wooden barrels can be purchased used at a substantial cost. Though bear in mind that the oak can lose the capacity to infuse after a few “cycles,” so pay particular attention to the aroma/flavor profile of your blend to ensure that the oak is strong enough. Moreover, oak barrels can be reused many times, reducing the initial investment.

3. High-End Brands’ Premium Association

It’s a myth that oak barrels are needed for luxury wines; in reality, many high-end wineries are transitioning to steel tanks for white wines and lighter wines intended to be consumed “fresh.”

However, there is no denying that there is a certain cachet synonymous with the use of oak barrels in the wine industry. Wines fermented in steel tanks are frowned upon in some circles. When deciding whether to use oak barrels or steel tanks, remember to think about your audience and how they will respond.

Two oak varieties are used to produce barrels worldwide: White oak from the United States and European oak from Europe. Of course, European oak barrels are not exclusive to European winemakers and vice versa.

Staves, which are broad pieces of oak wood closely fixed along with metal hoops, are used to make wooden barrels. Over a burn, the barrels are toasted to a normal, medium, or dark toast standard. Fresh barrels with a mild toast will have many vanilla and caramel flavors, while a darker toast will have various smokey, charred aromas.

The amount of oak taste transferred to the wine by oak wine barrels is affected by its age and size. Since they make more interaction between the wood and the wine, smaller barrels impart more oak flavor. Oak barrels lose their distinctive flavor compounds with age, necessitating replacement every few vintages.

Fresh oak aging alters the tannin composition of red wines in addition to incorporating oak flavors. Tannins from the wood leach into the wine, giving it a more robust structure. This helps a wine’s age-ability, just how long it lasts in the bottle. The wood also assists in the stabilization of tannins from grape skin, resulting in a silkier finish.

The Various Kinds of Oak Barrels Used in Winemaking

The American oak barrel and the French oak barrel are the two most popular wooden barrels used in winemaking.

As compared to French oak, American oak barrels are less expensive, have a larger grain, and have lower wood tannins. They also have a more substantial impact on the wine’s taste and aromatic ingredients, often imparting vanilla flavors with a much sweeter palate profile than French oak.

On the other hand, French oak is the wine industry’s “gold standard,” with higher wood tannins and tighter wood grains that have a more negligible effect on the aromatics and taste of the wine.

In a Nutshell
Whatever barrel you choose for the winemaking process, be sure it is of high-quality wood, and don’t forget to clean the barrels after use!

These were some of the purposes and uses of using oak barrels in the winemaking process. I hope this article was helpful to you and you select your oak barrels wisely!

Wednesday’s Meritage #157

April 14, 2021 Leave a comment

Meritage time!

Ohh, it’s been two months since the last Meritage issue – well, let’s get to it.

We have 12 months in the year, right? I’m not trying to keep track, but it seems that April is disappropriately loaded in the world of wine. I will let you be the judge – here is what we are celebrating in April 2021:

April is the 2nd annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Month – I was lucky to already celebrate Walla Walla wines in style with brand new wine from Cayuse – Double Lucky #8, but if you need any tips regarding Walla Walla valley wines you can find them here.

April is Sonoma County Wine Month. For celebration tips, use this link.

April is California Wines – Down To Earth Month. Sustainability is a big thing in California winemaking – you can learn more about it here.

April is Michigan Wine Month. I never tasted a wine from Michigan, so I would happily join this celebration – if I would know how (Michigan wines are not sold in Connecticut).

April is British Columbia Wine Month – another region that is very difficult to celebrate here in Connecticut. If the world of wine has mysteries, a complete absence of Canadian wines in the USA (okay – for sure in Connecticut) is one of them.

I think this sums up wine months celebrations, but let’s not forget the grapes! According to the Traveling Corkscrew wine blog, the following grapes are celebrated in April (are you ready?):

April 14 (today) – Tannat Day
April 17 – Malbec World Day
April 27 – World Marselan Day

To ensure you never miss a grape holiday in 2021, here is the link for you for the Traveling Corkscrew post summarizing all of the grape holidays of 2021.

Wine is the product of the Earth – above and beyond all of the wine months celebration, April is the Earth Month, and April 22nd is celebrated as Earth Day since 1970. Here is you can find the history of the Earth Day celebration. If you need any tips for how to celebrate Earth Month 2021, you might find useful this link.

Do you now see that April 2021 is really a special month?

Before we are done for today, I have one more wine story to share with you. Porch.com, an “everything about home” portal, compiled the list of recommendations from wine folks regarding cellaring and enjoying wines at home (a few words from yours truly are included) – you can find this informative post here.

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

Beautiful Simplicity

April 12, 2021 1 comment

Is there a such thing as simple wine?

I really despise controversy. In a world where every word is twisted, turned, analyzed, over-analyzed, then twisted and turned, again and again, I don’t want to be the one to start a new controversy around wine (clean or natural, anyone?).

But really, is “simple” an applicable descriptor for the wine? If I say “simple wine”, can you relate to this as easily as to “tannic”, “acidic”, or “sweet”?

Everything in the wine world is personable. No two palates are the same, no two glasses of wine are the same. And so will be the concept of simple wine – it is highly personal.

There are thought-provoking wines – you take a sip, which triggers an instant process in your brain – analyzing flavors, looking for patterns, digging into memory looking for comparisons. Not every thought-provoking wine equates with pleasure – if we call the wine thought-provoking, it doesn’t always mean that we are craving a second glass. Need an example? How about Frank Cornelissen wines? Nevertheless, we all can relate to the wine we designate as thought-provoking.

Then there are complex wines. The wine presents itself in layers. You don’t need to over-analyze anything, and yet every sip keeps changing, offers you new depth and new impressions every passing moment. Complex is beautiful, wine aficionados love drinking complex wines.

So what is then a simple wine? A lot of people would equate the definition of “simple” with the price. We are trained not to refer to the $10 bottle as “amazing” – even if we enjoy it immensely, we would rather say “it’s just a simple wine”. Leaving the price aside, a simple wine has a very simple effect – take a sip, and your only reaction is “ahh, that’s good”. Simplicity doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the wine – the wine should still give you pleasure, and you should still want a second glass.

Every time you think you know a lot a good bit about your favorite subject, wine, life quickly humbles you, just so you know your place. Ever heard of Mack and Schuhle? I also never have. Meanwhile, they had been in the winemaking and wine distribution business since 1939, and currently have a portfolio of 25 wine brands from around the world – from New Zealand to Italy, Spain, and France to the USA.

When I was offered to review 2 of their wines, Montepulciano and Malbec, I agreed to do that because I was intrigued by the names – Art of Earth and El Tractor. Would you instantly agree to drink something called Art of Earth? For a wine geek like myself, such a name makes the wine simply irresistible. And tasting these wines, which are also very inexpensive, resulted in the diatribe about simple wines. For what it worth, here are my tasting notes:

2019 Art of Earth Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, made with organic grapes)
Dark garnet with beautiful ruby hues
Touch of cherries, a hint of funk,
Bright, pure, beautiful, succulent, tart cherries – fresh of the tree.
8+, delicious. This wine doesn’t have the complexity of Masciarelli, and I don’t believe it will age very well – but it is absolutely enjoyable right now.

2017 El Tractor Malbec Reserve Mendoza Argentina (13% ABV, $14, 12 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, cherries, sweet tobacco
Dark fruit, tobacco, cherries, a hint of smoke, nicely restrained, good acidity, good balance.
8, excellent. This wine is not going to rival Catena, but it is perfectly an old-world style, quaffable, and enjoyable Malbec.

Here you are – two simple wines, good for every and any day – or at least I would be happy to drink them any day. What is your definition of simple wine?

Guest Post: Treat Yourself – How to Spend the Best Solo Wine Night

April 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Today, I would like to offer to you a guest post by Raichelle Carpio, retail assistant manager at Txanton Philippines. She obtained her Sommelier license with WSET2 by late 2018 and has been working in the hospitality industry over the past 10 years. Her exceptional skills have driven her to the top and the truth is she has a real passion for premium gastronomy, beverage, and service.

In the past, drinking alone was frowned upon. Somehow, it’s seen as the gateway to substance abuse. After all, everyone agrees that wine, or any other alcoholic beverages, for that matter, is better shared. Drinking wine, for most people, is ideally a social activity.

But that has changed due to the pandemic. To curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, people had to self-quarantine. No social activities were allowed. As a result, wine-drinking shifted from communal to personal. And no one could be judgy about it. After all, we were all in it together. We were all self-isolating with our precious bottle, constantly reminding ourselves of the health benefits of wine, so we don’t feel guilty about drinking solo.

Still, it’s important to stay level-headed as you push through with your solo wine adventures. Pair it with the activities below, so you do not come off as a potential candidate for alcoholics anonymous.

Experiment with recipes that go well with wine

Even if you’re just a casual wine drinker, surely you know by now that white wine goes with fish or chicken, while red pairs best with red meat. Now, why not take your wine and food pairing knowledge to connoisseur levels?

On your solo wine night, don your apron and experiment in the kitchen. Cook something to pair with whatever bottle you have at hand. If you have a bottle of Barbera, it will go down well with a pasta dish like shrimp puttanesca. Ideally, you have gone grocery shopping before your wine date with your lonesome. Otherwise, you might not successfully pull off the dish simply by relying on makeshift ingredients available in your pantry.

Have around-the-world themed dinners

Take your wine and food pairing to the next level with around-the-world themed dinners. Planning to spend the next six Friday nights at home alone? Come up with a scheduled dinner where you take your palate to different countries with exciting culinary cultures. By the end of your quarantine, you will have traveled across six gustatory destinations.

For example, set the first Friday for Indian food. Curried chicken or vegetables will go well with a Riesling and Pinot Grigio. You may include Mexico, Japan, China, Italy, and Greece in your itinerary too.

Join virtual winery tours

Did you know that wineries host virtual tours? And you might find them enjoyable given your passion for wine. These tours will acquaint you with everything there is to learn about winemaking. From how grapes are harvested to how they are processed and stored, you’ll get up close and personal with your favorite beverage.

Look into brands like Martell, Louis M. Martini, Chateau Montelena, Kendall-Jackson, and Matanzas Creek. They are famous for not just their products but also for hosting virtual tours of their vineyards, production facilities, and cellars.

Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels

Learn winemaking

If you got inspired enough by the virtual winery tours you’ve joined, it’s time to take your passion for wine up a notch. Learn winemaking is what we’re saying. No, you do not need a vineyard to pull this off. You can do this straight from home.

You’ll need some equipment, however. Do not worry because it won’t be expensive. Think fermentation containers and straining bags. You can even improvise.

As for ingredients, that’s where you can splurge. You will need lots of wine grapes, filtered water, granulated sugar, and wine yeast. A quick Google search will clue you in about the relatively graspable process of winemaking.

Wine movies marathon

Maybe you’d rather sit back and relax in front of your laptop instead of stressing yourself out cooking a dish in the kitchen or trying out winemaking. That’s OK too. Consider marathoning movies with lots of wine drinking. That way you won’t feel alone. You’ll see people enjoying the same stuff you’re taking pleasure in at the very moment.

Here you cannot go wrong with the film Sideways by award-winning director Alexander Payne, starring Paul Giamatti and Sandra Oh. Basically, the film’s about self-discovery set along California’s vineyards.

Other movies worth checking out include A Good Year, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, and A Walk in the Clouds.

Look into wine investments

Perhaps while nursing a glass of wine, it dawned on you that it’s time to diversify your financial portfolio. That’s an excellent realization to make while drinking solo. Commit to this realization by looking into potential wine investments.

You need to be a connoisseur to invest in wine successfully. If you have yet to fit the bill, do not fret. You have all the time to learn about all things wine. Once you’re confident with the knowledge you’ve acquired, it’s time to put your money in a, well, bottle. If you play it right, that bottle will earn you a massive profit in a decade or two.

You likely already know that drinking wine has health benefits, whether you’re nursing a glass of Spanish wine, Italian wine, or Costco wine. Wine is rich in antioxidants. It regulates your blood sugar and lowers bad cholesterol. It keeps your memory sharp and your heart healthy. These alone should keep guilt at bay whenever you drink wine solo.

Still, it’s worth noting that you must drink responsibly. Anything in excess is never good for anyone. You do not want to give those naysayers the chance to say, “told you so.”

To keep your wine drinking on the safe side, do it alongside other activities. The ones cited above are notable options you have, but they are by no means exhaustive. Get creative.

Wine Quiz #137 – How Well Do You Know Your Wines?

April 10, 2021 2 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #136. Once again, you needed to identify wines (producers) by the fragment of the wine label. Here are the full labels of the wines:

All of these are well-known producers, all from California, and all are mainstream wines.

I’m happy to report that once again, Zak correctly identified all of the wines and he gets the grand prize of unlimited bragging rights. I also want to mention Suzanne who correctly identified The Prisoner. It’s the game that counts – really you have nothing to lose – just give it a try.

And here is a new set of fragments of the wine labels, with the wine producers who should be reasonably familiar, and some even carrying good hints with them:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

There is something in common between all of these fragments – once you will figure it out, the rest should be reasonably straightforward.

Good luck, enjoy the weekend and your new quiz! Cheers!

In Rhythm With The Earth – Hawk and Horse Wines

April 9, 2021 2 comments

Wine is Art.

Wine is Magic.

Wine is a Mystery.

When you drink wine for pleasure (don’t take it for granted – there are many reasons why people drink wine – to fit into the crowd, to be socially accepted, to show your status – drinking for pleasure is only one of the reasons), mystery, art, magic – call it whatever way you want, but it all comes to a play when you take a sip. Wine is a complete mystery as you have no idea what will be your conscious and subconscious reaction to the experience of that sip – what memories will come to mind? What emotions will take you over? The magic is there, waiting for you in every glass of wine.

The magic and mystery in wine go well beyond that sip. “Well before” might be a better descriptor though. The creation of the delicious bottle of wine is not an exact science. It is an art. It is magic. It is a mystery. Mother Nature, who gifts us grapes, never repeats itself. Every year, every vintage is different. Every day of the growing season never repeats itself. It is up to the craft, the skill of the grape grower and the winemaker to create the wine which can magically transport you. And this magic starts in the vineyard.

I’m about to step into the controversial, really controversial space – the biodynamics. As I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, let me just share the definition of biodynamics from the Oxford Languages. Actually, here are two definitions:

Biodynamics is

1. The study of physical motion or dynamics in living systems.
2. A method of organic farming involving such factors as the observation of lunar phases and planetary cycles and the use of incantations and ritual substances.

It is the second definition that is interesting for us. And it is the last part of that definition, “the use of incantations and ritual substances”, which makes biodynamics so controversial for many people – I’m sure you heard of cow horns filled with manure and buried in the vineyard as part of biodynamic farming. Is that magic or pseudoscience? This is the question I don’t care to answer or get an answer for. Taken out of the context, that might sound strange. But the whole point of biodynamics is in creating a healthy ecosystem of the living things – bacteria in the soil, plants, vines, grapes, animals – everything should co-exist in harmony with each other and the Earth, create a habitat where the problems take care of themselves (magic!). When the vineyard is farmed biodynamically, it simply means that the grapes will be produced in the most natural way with the utmost attention on the health of all the elements of the ecosystem.

Delving into the depth of biodynamics rules is completely outside of the scope of this post – if you want to further your knowledge of biodynamics, there is no shortage of great books, articles, and blogs. My reason to share the excitement about biodynamics is simple – tasty wine.

Source: Hawk and Horse Vineyard

Hawk and Horse Vineyards started as the dream of David Boies, who purchased an abandoned horse breeding farm in Lake County in California. His partners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins planted the first vineyard in 2001 in the red rocky volcanic soil, at an elevation of 1,800 to 2,200 feet. The first wine, released in 2004, was a great success. The 18 acres farm became California Certified Organic (CCOF) in 2004, and biodynamic Demeter-certified in 2008. If you want to have an example of what biodynamic farming is, you can read about the Hawk and Horse Vineyard biodynamic practices here – it will be well worth a few minutes of your time.

Hawk and Horse Vineyard grows primarily Bordeaux varieties. I had an opportunity to taste (sample) 5 wines from Hawk and Horse Vineyard, and I was literally blown away from the very first sip I took (magic!). Here are the notes:

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Franc Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet color
Wild strawberries, mint, mineral notes
Cassis, fresh black berries, sweet tobacco, well-integrated tannins, firm, tight, perfect structure, excellent balance. Worked perfectly with the steak.
Drinkability: 8+, wow

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet
Tobacco, earth, sandalwood
Silky smooth, round, tart cherries, perfect acidity, dark and powerful, perfect balance.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petit Verdot Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 90 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Cherries, eucalyptus
Tart sweet cherries, dark fruit, dry tannins, firm structure. Super enjoyable over 3 days, the addition of tobacco and sweet dark fruit with balancing acidity. Succulent. Superb.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $75, 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 100% French oak (80% new), 1800 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Earthy flavors, eucalyptus, a hint of cassis
Good acidity, well-integrated tannins, the lightest wine so far.
3 days later ( no air pumping, just reclosed)
The nose has a similar profile (cherries, eucalyptus, mint), maybe a touch higher intensity
Delicious on the palate, dark well-integrated fruit, firm tannins, tight core, lots of energy, a hint of espresso, perfect balance, medium-long finish.
This wine can be enjoyed now, especially with food. Or left alone for the next 15 years. Your choice.
Drinkability:8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Block Three Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 100% French oak, 150 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Warm, inviting, succulent cherries, a hint of bell pepper, very delicate. Overall, ripe Bordeaux nose
It took this wine 4 days to fully open up. Bordeaux style, ripe berries with herbal undertones, well-integrated tannins, soft and dreamy.
Drinkability: 8/8+

Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah were absolutely delicious from the get-go. Both of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines, coming from the same vineyard and the same vintage really needed time – I don’t know if the type of oak used can make such a difference, but from my observations, it was clear that using more of the new oak made the wine a lot more concentrated and requiring the time in the cellar.

Here it is, my encounter with [magically], [mysteriously] delicious biodynamic wines. What do you think of biodynamics and biodynamic wines? What do you think of the magic of wines (no, you don’t have to answer that 🙂 ). Cheers!

Beyond Wine? Before Wine? Instead of Wine?

April 8, 2021 Leave a comment

Today, class, we are going to talk about grape juice. The real grape juice.

Am I about to descend into the rat hole of “clear and unclear wine” with this “real juice” statement? Nope. Not at all. Today we are talking about pure, unadulterated, varietal grape juice which stayed in the form of juice without becoming the wine.

When I got an offer to receive a sample of the Castello di Amorosa varietal grape juices, my first reaction was “seriously???”. Juice is juice no matter what it is produced from, right? It is usually cloyingly sweet and not something I generally enjoy. I had a great experience tasting the juice of just-harvested Merlot grapes at Paumanok winery on Long Island, and I still remember how incredibly sweet it was, so I don’t really see it as a product on its own. But then curiosity prevailed, and I asked for the sample to be shipped.

I got three juices shipped to me – Muscat Canelli, Gewurztraminer, and a Sparkling Red blend, all beautifully packaged in the Riesling-style bottles and labeled exactly as the wine would. Muscat Canelli and Gewurztraminer are 100% pure varietal, and red blend consists of 90% Gamay, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Grenache. All juices priced at $14 per bottle and available at the winery or online.

When I first tasted the juices, I really didn’t treat them as wines – I didn’t try to analyze the profile and understand individual flavors, the nose, the palate – I looked at them more as binary “like/don’t like” type of experience. I also made the mistake of judging the “wine” by the first taste – thus I declared Muscat, which was open the first, to be “too sweet”. Gewürztraminer was open second and showed nicely (read: surprisingly) balanced. The sparkling red blend was my favorite – it was barely fizzed (”sparkling” is a big word here) and had a nice tangy mid-palate feel, sort of a burst of the wild berries – really, really delicious.

It is interesting to note that these juices not only taste like wines, they also behave like wines. On the second day, the initial sweetness of Muscat subsided – just a little bit, but it was enough to make the juice appear more balanced and the Muscat instantly became my favorite for the evening.

I had been writing about wines for more than 10 years. While writing about the wine, all the little details – technical details, shall I say – summarized in the tasting notes, published by the wineries for all the wines and all the vintages – are quite helpful. This is where you find the details about the vintage, grape composition of the wine, fermentation, and oak regimen. At least, this is what I typically use in my writing. Talking about wine’s technical details, you can also often find there some of the analytical data – namely, pH and amount of residual sugar. And so in my 10+ years of writing, I literally never paid any attention to pH and residual sugar – it took nothing less than unfermented grape juices to make me look at those. Let me share those details with you:

Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer Grape Juice – residual sugar: 200.9 g/l, pH: 3.19
Castello di Amorosa Muscat Grape Juice – residual sugar: 18.5 Brix (199.12 g/l), pH: 3.35
Castello di Amorosa Sparkling Grape Juice Red Blend – residual sugar: 18.6 Brix (200.28 g/l), pH: 3.25

As you see, all juices have about 200 grams of sugar per liter – for comparison, there are 113 grams of sugar in one liter of Coke. We can also compare these juices with world-famous dessert wines – Sauternes, which typically sport between 80 and 120 grams of sugar per liter, occasionally reaching 160 or even higher. When it comes to pH values, wines are typically falling in the range between 3 and 4, and the lower the pH value is, the more acidic the wine will be perceived (note that pH is not a direct measure of acidity in wine), so as you can tell the pH values of these juices are quite comparable with the wines.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to balance. Everyone’s palate is different, and your perception of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness can perfectly differ from mine, however, balanced wines exist in each one of our personal worlds. So I have to tell you that each one of these juices was perfectly balanced for me, and therefore, I’m aptly impressed by the mastery of the winemakers here. To make my excitement clear – these are unadulterated beverages. There is nowhere to hide. No flavor-enhancing yeasts, no oak, no blending. Nothing. You need to know when to harvest and when to bottle. Nowhere to hide.

As you can tell, I can wholeheartedly recommend these juices. They are perfect on their own. Perfect any time you desire a little sweet fix after the meal. They will perfectly well support a wide variety of dishes. And I have a number of friends who only drink sweet wines with very little alcohol in them – considering the quality of these juices, I would much rather prefer to serve them these juices instead of Bartenura Moscato di Asti or a similar plonk (my apologies).

You know me well, so I’m sure you understand that it is improbable that I wouldn’t have any gripes – of course, I have them. While winery information on the back label is nice to have, I would like to know when these juices were bottled. How they should be stored. For how long they can be stored. How the opened bottles can be stored (I’m presuming in the refrigerator, but still), and how quickly the opened juices should be consumed.

Nevertheless, this was a great surprise and a delicious discovery. We might be looking at the trend here – hard to tell, but I expect that there will be wineries that will follow Castello di Amorosa’s lead. And I personally would be happy to have a few bottles always on hand to delight oneself or a special guest. Next time someone offers you a glass of varietal grape juice, say “thank you” and enjoy. Cheers!

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