Thanksgiving 2021

November 29, 2021 Leave a comment

My love for Thanksgiving is a bit bittersweet – while this is one of the most favorite holidays of the year, its arrival also means that the year entered the finishing stretch and the four weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year will disappear literally with a blink of an eye. Is the ending of 2021 something to regret? Not really, not compared with any other year except its predecessor, 2020 – but so far we have not much hope for 2022 to be any better, so let’s count our blessings.

This year, Thanksgiving had a glimpse of normal. We managed to celebrate with the family in person at our house (yay!), and then we went to Boston to celebrate with our close friends, again in person (double yay!). So with the exception of the need to wear a mask here and there, and not materialized fears of celebrating with chicken instead of a turkey, this was a pretty standard Thanksgiving holiday.

As far as food goes, we managed to experience turkey 2 ways. First, at our house, we did a simple roasted turkey in the bag. I got the pre-brined turkey from Trader Joe’s, and it perfectly cooked in less than 4 hours, using the bag and convection bake in the oven. Then in Boston, we had a Turducken (turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with chicken), but instead of making it ourselves, it was prepared at the butchery with the exception of roasting the final product. With perfect seasoning, this was definitely a standout. Of course, we had a bunch of appetizers, sides, and desserts, most of which simply was a repeat from the past years – roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes, green beans sauteed with onions, acorn squash roasted with hazelnut butter, homemade cranberry sauce (using the recipe from Bobby Flay), Nantucket cranberry pie.

And then, of course, there were wines. A few weeks before Thanksgiving I got a note from Field Recordings offering two of the Nouveau wines, Rosé and Pinot Noir – as it is Nouveau wines, both were from the 2021 vintage. That gave me an idea to pair the whole Thanksgiving dinner with Field Recordings wines. I really wanted to have a Chardonnay at the dinner, but I had none from the Field Recordings, so I had to settle for their Chenin Blanc wine, from Jurassic Park vineyard. For the red, I decided to open one of my most favorite Field Recordings wines – actually, the wine which made me fall in love with Field Recordings – Fiction, with some nice age on it.

Let’s talk about these wine choices.

2021 Field Recordings Rosé Nouveau Edna Valley (10.9% ABV, blend of Grenache and Cinsaut from Morro View Vineyard in Edna Valley in California). The wine was a bit temperature-sensitive but overall outstanding. I served it slightly chilled, and the wine was tart with the strawberries profile, maybe ever slightly unbalanced. Chilling it another 4-5 degrees down magically transformed the experience into the fresh crunchy cranberries territory, with lots of cranberries in every sip – a pure delight.

2021 Field Recordings Pinot Noir Nouveau Edna Valley (12.9% ABV, Greengate Vineyard in Edna Valley in California) was quite similar to the classic French Beaujolais Nouveau, offering nicely restrained notes of fresh, young, just-crushed berries. This wine was also showing better with a higher degree of chill, being more composed with a more present body.

2018 Field Recordings Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (11.3% ABV, 6 months in the hosch fuder 1000L) offered a glimpse of fresh apples and a hint of honey on the palate, all with crispy acidity. While this was not Chardonnay, the wine offered quite a bit of similarity and fit very nicely into my craving for Chardonnay, while being well reminiscent of a nice classic dry Vouvray.

The last bottle was unquestionably a bold move on my part.

2012 Field Recordings Fiction Paso Robles (14.9% ABV, 40% Zinfandel, 13% Tempranillo, 12% Petite Sirah, 11% Touriga Nacional, 10% Mourvedre, 8% Grenache, 6% Cinsault). This wine was the one that connected me with Field Recordings more than 10 years ago – I wrote a post about 2010 Fiction, and it was my 2011 Top wine of the year as well. I love those original labels a lot more than clean and rather boring labels currently in use at Field Recordings – and not only the label itself but also the text on the back label, talking about the early days of Andrew Jones, who was first and foremost grape grower before he started Field Recordings – you can read it for yourself.

9 years old wine under the screwtop and stored at room temperature – what would you expect? The wine was definitely showing the age, with an abundance of tertiary and dried fruit aromas (figs, cherries), but it still had some fresh fruit left together with the zipping acidity. I think if anything, this would be the wine that would actually turn into vinegar, give it another 4-5 years. But – it was still perfectly enjoyable now, and it was my second favorite of the evening together with the Nouveau Rosé.

There you go, my friends – my Thanksgiving 2021 escapades.

Oh, and before I forget – the last day of Thanksgiving weekend was also the first day of Hanukkah, so I simply had to make potato pancakes – thus this is the image I want to leave you with.

Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate!

 

Daily Glass: There is Nothing Wrong with Kirsch!

November 24, 2021 Leave a comment

Let me make this clear – this is not the post about Kirsch, a brandy made out of [originally] morello cherries. This is rather self-talk as I’m answering my own comment made a few days ago on Twitter.

About a month ago, right before Halloween, Last Bottle Wines, one of my favorite sources of great wines at reasonable prices, run their Mystery Cases event. I participated in this fun event last year, got a $144 mystery case with 12 bottles, and loved every one of them. I would be happy to get again a 12 bottles case, but I missed it, so I decided to try a $150 mystery case – except this was a 6 bottles case. I had a $30 credit with Last Bottle wines, thanks to someone signing up with Last Bottle Wines using my link, so that brought the deal to $120 for 6 bottles, which translates into about $20 per bottle – not a bad deal in my book.

On Monday, I received the wine. Inside, there were 6 bottles, all red, 5 wines from California, and one from Italy. I read the enclosed description of the wines, and two of them had the word “Kirsch” used in the description, and one was also mentioning “blueberry pie”.

I have to admit – I don’t drink a lot of Kirsch. Heck, I just don’t drink Kirsch. So in my memory from maybe 10 years ago, Kirsch is something sweet, and I don’t like my wines sweet unless it is strictly a dessert wine. I shared my frustration on Twitter, also asking if anyone knew anything about these wines, but it appears some folks were only familiar with the Italian wine, but not with any from California.

As I started prepping for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, I needed to drink something. After deciding that I don’t want to touch any samples as I have a whole wine program already planned for tomorrow, I decided that it might be a good idea to pop one of the latest arrivals. Pinot Noir seemed like something I wanted, so I pulled this bottle of 2016 PARO Pinot Noir Hogan’s Run Vineyard Russian River Valley (14.5% ABV).

I never heard the name of the producer so I had to do some research. PARO name is made out of the names of two friends, Patrick Murray and Rob Scherer, who came to the winemaking after successfully crafting many batches of beer.

After some successful experiments, Patrick decided to embrace winemaking professionally, got an enology degree from the state university in Fresno California, and after graduation started working at Field Stone Winery as an assistant winemaker. One wine that was not made at the winery was Pinot Noir, and Patrick always had a passion for the grape. In 2004, he asked for permission to make Pinot Noir, and this was the beginning of PARO.

Today PARO makes a number of Pinot Noir wines (6 according to the list on the website at the moment of writing) which are available either directly from the winery, via the wine club, or in a few select restaurants.

So how about that Kirsch?

Here is the Last Bottle description of the wine: “Kirsch, plums, and strawberry, with Asian spices and good medium-weight texture. Simply delicious”. After the very first sip, I realized that Kirsch is not the enemy – I rather should drink more Kirsch if it tastes that good. And I can wholeheartedly sign under “simply delicious”. Beautifully constructed, fresh wine with lots of energy, Kirsch:), crunchy, crisp cherries brimming with acidity, a touch of the forest floor, medium finish. A pure delight (Drinkability: 8+).

I want to also mention the label of the wine. Each vintage of PARO is paired with a specific painting that finds its way on the wine’s label. The 2016 vintage was paired with the work by the artist Susan Reid called Unwind.

My last year’s mystery case was 12 out of 12 successful. I like how this case already looks promising and hoping once again to reach a perfect 6 out 6 score. Until the next time – cheers!

Categories: wine

Spain’s Great Match, 2021 Edition

November 21, 2021 2 comments

Spanish wines are some of my most favorite wines in the world.

Spain’s Great Match event in New York is one of my most favorites wine events of the year, always offering an opportunity to discover something new.

And I had not been to New York City in the past 18 months – lots of good reasons to be excited, would you agree?

For the second time in a row, Spain’s Great Match event was held at Mercado Little Spain, a Mecca of Spanish cuisine in one of New York’s hottest new neighborhoods, Hudson Yards. I was able to attend the walk-around tasting and two of the seminars, so here I want to share my impressions.

Before we get to the event, just a few facts about Spain’s wine industry. Spain has the biggest grape planting area in the world – more than 2.9 million acres. Spain today (2021) is the second-largest wine producer in the world after Italy. There are more than 600 grape varieties grown in Spain (only about 20 are used to produce the majority of the wines though). Spain has more than 130 defined wine-growing areas.

Now, let me share my observations.

First, Spanish wines are popular. Duh? I can’t argue – I’m starting with the most banal conclusion, but let me explain. Spanish wines were always regarded as the best-kept secret among wine professionals – whatever the general public likes to drink is fine, but the wine professionals would most often resort to the Spanish wines to share amongst themselves and with friends. I don’t know how many people attended the consumer portion of the event in the evening, but the trade event was incredibly busy, also with a significant number of MS and MW in the audience – I never saw these many Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers attending this event. It might be just me not seeing it before, or it might be a testament to the growing popularity of Spanish wines. I think this popularity is also reflected in the increased prices of the Spanish wines – don’t know if supply issues are muddying things up, but otherwise, it seems that the prices are inching higher.

The trend of “internationalization”. Spanish Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines, the keystones of Tempranillo expression, always had its unique taste profile, driven by well-integrated tannins, minerality, and spicy undertones. This character was largely defined by the use of American oak which was traditional in Rioja. I didn’t taste each and every Rioja wine presented at the event, but based on what I managed to taste, it seems that there is a shift towards using the French oak, which completely changes the presentation of the wine, leading with grippy, mouth-drying tannins which completely lock the front of your mouth for a few minutes after the sip. Barolo used to be like that, and it became much better with tannins lately. Now Rioja is offering this internationally indistinguishable style which becomes borderline boring. If I want to drink a grippy powerful wine, I got plenty of choices outside of Rioja – I understand that this might be a trend with young wine drinkers, but it will be very difficult to maintain individuality and build a following if you are simply “one of many similar ones”.

Where did the Godello go? I saw a very little presence of Godello wines, which was surprising. I always thought that this white grape has an excellent future – this might still be the case, but this was not obvious with 3 whites ruling the show – Rioja Blanco, Albariño, and Verdejo Rueda.

Jerez is absolutely delightful. My love of Jerez is back, and the wines we tasted during the seminar (more details forthcoming) were simply superb.

Don’t forget Spanish bubbles. I tasted a bunch of Cavas, and none of them were mediocre. Fresh, clean, approachable, and reasonably priced – great QPR wines for every day.

Now, here are the wines I tasted during the event (with the exception of the seminar wines). Everything which is mentioned below was well drinkable, and the specific favorites are marked (bold) as such.

2020 Santiago Ruiz Santiago Ruiz D.O. Rias Baixas ($25)
2017 Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza D.O.Ca. Rioja ($18) – probably my favorite from the Bodegas LAN selection. The most approachable and balanced from this group.
2015 Bodegas LAN Rioja Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($24)
2017 Bodegas LAN D-12 D.O.Ca. Rioja ($25) – single vineyard
2017 Bodegas LAN Xtreme 2017 D.O.Ca. Rioja ($25)
2015 Bodegas LAN Viña Lanaciano D.O.Ca. Rioja ($30)
2018 Bodegas LAN Edicion Limitada D.O.Ca. Rioja ($55)
2015 Bodegas LAN Culmen D.O.Ca. Rioja ($70)

2016 Vins el Cep Gelida Brut Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($20)
NV Bodegas Llopart Brut Reserva Rosé Corpinnat ($28)
2020 Bodegas Vatán Nisia Las Suertes D.O. Rueda ($32)
2018 Bodegas La Caña Navia D.O. Rias Baixas ($32)
2019 Bodegas Avancia Mencía Old Vines D.O. Valdeorras ($35)
2018 Bodegas Breca Garnacha D.O. Calatayud ($16) – clean, simple
2018 Bodegas Vatán Tritón Tinta de Toro D.O. Toro ($20)
2018 Bodegas Vatán Tinta de Toro D.O. Toro ($45)

2018 Bodegas Muga Flor de Muga Blanco D.O.Ca. Rioja ($50) – my favorite wine white of the event – clean, round, fresh, elegant
2014 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($100) – surprisingly ready to drink
2011 Bodegas Sierra Cantabria Gran Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($40)
2014 Bodegas Alvear Alvear Fino en Rama D.O. Montilla Moriles ($22) – outstanding. It is very rare to find dry sherry made from 100% Pedro Ximenes grapes.
2016 Sierra Salinas Mira Salinas D.O. Alicante ($18, Monastrell) – Elegant, fresh, perfect acidity
2016 Ramirez de la Piscina Ramirez de la Piscina Reserva D.O.Ca. Rioja ($22)

2018 Rafael Cañizares Bodegas Volver Tempranillo Single Vineyards D.O. La Mancha ($20)
2020 Rafael Cañizares Bodegas Volver Paso A Paso Tempranillo Tierra De Castilla ($35) – excellent, elegant, open

All three were excellent:
2013 Agustí Torelló Mata Cava Agustí Torelló Mata Brut Nature Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($26)
2017 Agustí Torelló Mata Cava Agustí Torelló Mata Brut Reserva D.O. Cava ($21)
2011 Agustí Torelló Mata | Cava Kripta Brut Nature Gran Reserva D.O. Cava ($85) – unique and different, would make a perfect geeky present

2019 Bodegas San Valero S.Coop Cabeza Casa D.O. Cariñena ($11, Garnacha) – elegant, round, excellent QPR
2018 Bodegas San Valero Celebrities Syrah D.O. Cariñena ($11)
MV Bodegas San Valero 801 D.O. Cariñena ($20, blend of 2014 Cabernety Sauvignon, 2015 Merlot, 2016 Syrah) – very good, unusual, multi-vintage
2019 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha D.O. Cariñena ($12)

Now, the seminars. The Jerez seminar was superb, offering lots and lots of knowledge about the fascinating world of sherries. Three white grapes – Palomino Fino, Pedro Ximenez, and Moscatel – are behind the tremendous range of wines, all with unique characters and tastes ranging from absolutely bone dry (sugar content less than 5 g/l) to the syrup level with more than 300 grams of sugar per liter. Another fascinating element of Sherry is the Solera production method, where the resulting wine might technically have trace amounts of 200+ years old wines. Lots and lots of care and attention go into the Sherry production. During the “Spotlight on Sherry” seminar, led by incomparable César Saldaña, General Director of the Jerez Control Board, we learned a lot about sherries and tasted through the outstanding flight of 8 wines (with the exception of the last 2 which I didn’t enjoy that much).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here are my notes regarding the 8 wines we tasted:

Bodegas Hidalgo Manzanilla La Gitana
4 years Solera
Almonds, hazelnut, sage, brioche
Crisp, dry, fresh, hazelnut, pecorino cheese, sapidity, dusty palate
Excellent, perfect aperitif, and perfect for food

2021 Tio Pepe Fino Tio Pepe en Rama-Saca
Unique and different, blend of selection of 82 butts of Tio Pepe Solera
Bottled unfiltered
Beautiful floral nose,
Crisp, clean, elegant, mostly lemon and 0 sugar, chalky note – typical for this type of wine.
Great complexity, elegant

Valdespino Jerez Fino Ynocente
Single Vineyard in Pago Macharnudo
50 years old Palomino Fino vines
Fermented in cask
10 years Solera, Criaderras Solera
Very elegant, apples, lemon
Chalk, lemon, sapidity, 0 sugar

Williams Humber Amontillado Don Zoilo
Solera 12 years
Biologically aged until the full absence of flor
Butterscotch!
Crisp, fresh, herbaceous

Lustau Almagenista Oloroso Pata de Gallina
Almagenista: Juan Garcia Jarana
38 casks, aged on average 15 years
Butterscotch, caramel
Crisp acidity, sapidity, great complexity, hazelnut

Osborne Palo Cortado Capuchin VORS
Solera was founded in 1790! Potentially, there were traces of 230 years old wine!
5 criaderas
Average age 30 years
Tobacco, mint, basil
Pepper, tobacco, caramel, complex, long finish.
Superb

Bodegas Tradicion Cream Tradicion VOS
Blend of 30 years Oloroso (70%), 6 years old Pedro Ximénez (30%)
Average age 25 years
Dry fruit
Concentrated sugar, not great.

Barbadillo Pedro Ximénez la Chila
Solera system average 5 years
Amazing nose – raisins, figs,
Pure liquid raisins on the palate. I would like more acidity.

 


Finally, I attended the seminar called “Essential Spain in 8 Glasses”, presented by Laura Williamson, MS, and Evan Goldstein, MS.

If the country is the second-largest wine producer in the world, cultivating about 600 different grape varieties, is it even fathomable to present such a complex wine world in the format of 8 wines? While it is not easy, you can get reasonably close. I think the presenters made a good effort by including Cava, Albariño, Verdejo, Mencia, Rioja, Priorat, Garnacha, and Ribera del Duero.

2012 Pere Ventura Gran Vintage Brut Paraje Clasificada Cava DO ($55)
Yeasty nose, fresh dough
Crisp, yeasty, yeasty, yeasty, yeasty – not my wine

2020 Condes de Albarei Albariño ($16)
Tropical fruit nose
Acidic, Whitestone fruit, crisp, simple

2020 Bodegas Ordoñez Nisa Verdejo Old World Rueda ($32)
Intense nose with a hint of freshly cut grass, flowers
Rich, caramel component, overdone

2015 Ole Imports a-Portela Mencia ($29)
Very nice nose, fresh, open, fresh berries
Beautiful herbal/gamey component, but then very bitter on the palate – whole cluster not done right?

2014 Imperial Gran Reserva Rioja ($85)
Outstanding. Delicious all around.

2017 Clos Martinet Priorat (65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 4% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Smoke, roasted notes
Red and black fruit, perfect balance, great acidity, a touch of chocolate

2018 Also Moncayo VERATON ($35, Garnacha)
Plums, cherries,
Good acidity, fresh, cherries, crisp, great finesse

2018 Pago de Carraovejas Ribera Duero ($39)
Chalk, a hint of cherries,
Cherries, dark concentrated fruit, restrained. Very nice.

Last but not least – there was food! The food was carried around in all the different forms – I didn’t have much time to enjoy it, so I was mostly grabbing pieces of Jamon and Manchego between the tastings – these are the pictures I will leave you with.

This concludes my report. Have you had any Spanish wine discoveries as of late? What are your thoughts about the new wines and new styles?

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! 2021 Edition

November 18, 2021 2 comments

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!

It is the third Thursday in November, and that means that the time has come to celebrate this year’s harvest – Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived at the wine store next to you (at least I hope it did, but if you want to get it, you might have to hurry as there is a good chance there is not much of it available).

I had been proactively keeping track of this celebration since this blog has started in 2010 – you can find the full retrospective here, mostly in chronological order. I keep saying that every year Beaujolais Nouveau gets better and better – and this year was no exception – I really enjoyed the 2021 Beaujolais in my glass.

Nevertheless, this year was an exception. Ever since I started writing about Beaujolais Nouveau, there was never a year when I only had one Beaujolais Nouveau wine – for example, last year I had 3 Beaujolais Nouveau wines and one Nouveau from Oregon. Most of the years I had at least 3, and a few years there were only two. But this year there was only one, and even that has limited availability and most likely will not last even until Thanksgiving, at least at the store where I bought it. Yep, you knew this already – supply chain issues. There might be more of the Beaujolais Nouveau showing up later on, but it is not very clear what and when.

Few more interesting Beaujolais Nouveau-related tidbits I never thought of before. First, according to the Burgundy Report, this year there were only 100 different Beaujolais Nouveau wines produced in France, which is significantly down from the last year’s number of 160. I was sure that there are many Beaujolais Nouveau wines produced in France, but I didn’t expect the number to be that high.

While searching for the information online, I came across the article where I learned about the Georges Duboeuf First Wine of the Harvest sweepstakes! Each cork of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau wine carries a unique number (who knew!), which can be entered on the First Wine of the Harvest website, and you will be instantly notified if you won something (I have no idea what you can win, and I won nothing). Apparently, this is not the first the sweepstakes are played, but if I wouldn’t read about it online I would still have no idea it existed.

Finally, let’s talk about the wine. According to the same Burgundy Report I mentioned before, Beaujolais regional Marketing board defined the vintage as “combative” – frost in April, and summer of rain and hail are not exactly the ideal grape-growing conditions. Relatively calm and cool September offer some relief, and while overall yield was significantly down, it was possible to preserve the quality of the harvest.

2021 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau AOP (12.5% ABV, $12.99) has a bright ruby color, a restrained nose of the freshly crushed fruit, and copious amounts of fresh raspberries and cherries on the palate with good acidity on the finish. While the wine is perfectly drinkable at room temperature (68°F), it is showing the best slightly chilled at around 58°F – 60°F.

Back in 2017, Georges Duboeuf started the “Artist Collector Series” of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine labels, where the public is given an opportunity to vote for the favorite design which will be then printed on the label. This year’s Beaujolais Nouveau label features work by the artist Felice Kite called “For The Love Of Flowers”.

Before I conclude my Beaujolais Nouveau 2021 report, I want to offer you a fun exercise – below is the collection of the Beaujolais Nouveau labels from 2010 until 2021 (note that I came across two distinct labels in 2015). I want you to choose a favorite (or 3, or 5) and share your opinion in the comments. I guarantee you that you will get no prize for participation in this exercise, but hopefully, it will be fun.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2021 has arrived, it is definitely worth your attention, it will be perfect with Thanksgiving turkey if you will be so inclined – but you can’t procrastinate if you want to try it. Cheers!

 

Expect the Unexpected?

November 15, 2021 Leave a comment

Wine is meant to go with food.

Food is meant to go with wine.

Together, food and wine are supposed to give you a much better experience than two individually.

You already know all of this.

And yet this is theory. When met at the table, sometimes food and wine actually work together and deliver a heavenly, memorable experience. Sometimes, food and wine just coexist without interfering. And sometimes they clash, ruining the experience completely.

The food and wine pairings typically work in one of two cases:

  • Food and wine are professionally paired. The chef and sommelier work together, adjusting the flavors of the dish to work with the wine which was selected as a pairing.
  • Food and wine come from the same place and had been playing together nicely for centuries. Think about Beef Bourgogne paired with Bourgogne wine – I think we can trust this combination, don’t we? Or would you ever question Chianti with the pasta with nice red sauce?

Now, for most of the time, we are not traveling and we are not eating at the high-end restaurant, yet we still should be able to enjoy the elevated food and wine experience at home – the rules are simple, right?

Maybe the rules are simple indeed, but we need to tread carefully. Beef Bourgogne is made with Bourgogne wine, and all Bourgogne reds are made from Pinot Noir. So what would happen if we will make the dish with actual Bourgogne, and then try pairing it with a nice big Pinot from California? There is a good chance that you will not enjoy that combination, not at all.

Chianti is made out of the Sangiovese grape (predominantly) – but don’t try to pair your pasta with the Sangiovese from California – again, there lies a great opportunity for disappointment.

I’m not saying that Beef Bourgogne will never work with the California Pinot – find a more restrained version, such as Sanford Pinot Noir, for example, and you might be fine – or better yet, simply cook the dish using the same wine you want to drink. Similarly, there are some California Sangiovese that might perfectly complement and elevate your favorite spaghetti dish, such as Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese – but you should expect some trial and error on the road to perfection.

I love Georgian wines. I would gladly drink Georgian Saperavi on any day. I love Georgian cuisine – properly made, the flavors are incredible and so is the pleasure you will derive out of each and every dish. And considering that wine is an indelible part of the Georgian lifestyle literally for thousands of years, it is rather logical to assume that Georgian wines should work perfectly with Georgian dishes.

While I love Georgian cuisine, this is not the food I would generally try to make on my own, I prefer to defer the cooking to a few of the Georgian restaurants which we have in reasonable proximity, even though the experience is typically a mix of hit and miss. However, when my sister in law sent me the video with the recipe of the Georgian dish called Odjakhuri, the video looked so good that I decided that I must make the dish as soon as possible, considering that the main ingredients are near and dear to me from the childhood – meat and potatoes.

Back in 2015, we visited a winery in Pennsylvania called Fero Vineyards. In addition to all of the traditional east coast wines, the winery also was making the wine out of my beloved Georgian grape, Saperavi. I tried the wine during our visit, liked it very much (Fero Saperavi made it to the 2015 edition of my annual Top Dozen wines of the year list as #12), and brought home a bottle. After I decided that I will make an Odjakhuri for the Friday night dinner, I realized that I have no Georgian wines on hand – but then I remembered that I had a bottle of Fero Saperavi which I had been looking for a good reason to open for quite some time – and what can I be a better reason than trying it at a family dinner with Georgian dish?

To tell you the truth, I had no idea how it is going to work. First, the bottle I had was the 2013 Fero Saperavi. Who knows if the wine from Pennsylvania can age for 8 years? The wine might be gone already, way gone. But even if the wine is not gone, would Saperavi from Pennsylvania work with the flavors of the dish? Local wines work with local dishes because they went through a slow process of alignment over hundreds of years – well, maybe that is one of the reasons. And here we have a dish with the supposedly proper flavor profile, and proper grape from totally different terroir – everything is possible…

When I was opening the bottle of Fero, I had no expectations. Let me take that back. When I was opening the bottle of Fero, I was expecting that the wine will be past prime. And even if it will be still drinkable, that it will not work with the dish, not for a second. And I’m glad I didn’t make any bets with anyone because I lost on both counts.

The wine was perfectly fresh. It had a ruby color, not hinting at any age. On the nose, there were cherries and herbs, nicely restrained. On the palate, the wine showed a hint of cherries, sage, gamey undertones, tobacco. Perfectly live, perfectly fresh, excellent acidity, medium-plus finish.

The wine also perfectly complemented the dish, enhancing and elevating the flavors and creating a better experience.

Was this pure luck on both counts? The wine was perfectly drinkable and it complimented the dish very well? I don’t have an answer, I’m just reporting on the experience, and raising the question – where are the wine and food pairings created?

This pretty much ends my story about expecting the unexpected, but before we part, I want to leave you with the recipe for this simple and delicious dish.

Disclaimer: Odjakhuri in translation from Georgian means “family”. So as a family meal, I’m sure there are tons of “correct” recipes for this dish. The recipe which I’m sharing is exactly the one we made, thus this is the one I recommend.

Apology: I would love to share a video with you, but an actual video that I have is in the Russian language. Still, I believe it will be useful even without understanding the language, so here it is:

Odjakhuri – Georgian meat and potatoes family dish

Ingredients:

  • Meat (pork, beef, chicken) – 2 lb
  • Potatoes (Russet would work the best) – 4 lb
  • Red onion, medium size, sliced – 4
  • Garlic, chopped – 4 cloves
  • Cilantro (can be replaced with parsley), chopped – 2 tbsp
  • Hot pepper, sliced – 1
  • Coriander, ground – 1 tsp
  • Sweet paprika – 1 tsp
  • Cayenne pepper – 1/2 tsp
  • Dill (dried) – 1/2 tsp, optional
  • Black pepper, ground – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt, by taste
  • Olive oil

Steps:

  1. Potatoes: Preheat oven to 375F. Peel potatoes and slice them into the pieces about 1 inch in size. Put into a large bowl. Add olive oil (you can use any oil you like for roasting), coriander, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, dill (if using). Mix everything together. Line roasting pan with parchment paper and arrange potatoes preferably in a single layer. Roast for 45-50 minutes – check readiness, potatoes should be crispy but shouldn’t be overlooked. Once ready, get it out of the oven and put it aside.
  2. Meat. Meat should be prepared as it would be for a kebab. Ideally, it should be sliced into 1-inch cubes and marinated overnight. You can, of course, just roast the meat without marinating it, but marination will add to the flavor of the dish. In our dish, we used bone-in pork loin, I just cut the meat off the bone. If you will be using pork, look for darker meat, it is less prone to drying up while frying.
  3. Once you put potatoes in the oven, you can start on the meat. Heat a small amount of oil on medium-high heat in the cast iron dutch oven, and fry the meat until ready. If meat is not marinated, use salt, pepper, and any other spices you would like. When ready, get the meat out of the pan. make an effort not to overcook the meat.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low, add 3 sliced onions and sauté them slowly, pay attention not to burn them. When almost ready, in about 12 minutes, add garlic and let it cook for another 3 minutes. Now it is time to assemble the dish.
  5. Reduce heat to low. Return meat to the dutch oven, add roasted potatoes. Add fresh cilantro (or parsley), sliced hot pepper, and last sliced onion, mix everything lightly (try not to crush the potatoes). Let the dish heat up, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, to let the flavors meld. In 10 minutes, turn off the heat, serve and enjoy!

There you have it, my friends. If you don’t have Saperavi on hand, try it with any wine you’d like, and expect the unexpected. Cheers!

So Long, Catarratto. Welcome, Lucido

November 14, 2021 2 comments

Catarratto grapes. Source: Sicily DOC website

It is a mouthful of the title, isn’t it?

“So long, Catarratto, welcome Lucido” – a bunch of strange words lumped together seemingly without any purpose, right?

Okay, I get it – some explaining is due.

Catarratto is the most planted white grape in Sicily and the second most planted white grape in Italy. Sicily has about 75 acres of Catarratto vines between two of its clones, Catarratto Bianco Comune and Catarratto Bianco Lucido, which represents 30% of the whole vineyard area in Sicily. Catarratto production increased from 17,300 bottles in 2012 to 730,000 bottles in 2020. And it is one of the historical varieties, growing forever on the island, producing fresh, round, and well-balanced wines. Sounds great, right? I would assume that you sense that the “but” is coming. So what is the problem with this picture? The name, Catarratto, is the problem.

Catarratto – pronounced “kah-tahr-rat-to”. Say it a few times, just for fun. Think if you will be comfortable ordering it in the restaurant, while just calling it by name instead of pointing with your finger on the line in the wine list saying “this”, “I want this”.

As Catarratto was growing in popularity, its name became a barrier. People don’t want to be embarrassed. And saying the word you don’t know how to pronounce requires a lot of courage. When Sicilian wines were presented at the seminar in China 10 years ago, there was enough of the anecdotal evidence collected in the form of videos with attendees struggling greatly while trying to pronounce the word Catarratto. And so it was well understood by the Sicilian winemakers that if they want to be successful with the wine which actually well deserves such success, something needs to be done.

Lucido is the name of one of the clones of Catarratto, and it is the name that often was used in ancient times. While Catarratto Bianco Lucido has a slightly different appearance compared with Catarratto Bianco Comune with Lucido grapes being shiny (hence the name), genetic research showed that both grapes are completely identical (speaking of genetics – another Italian grape, Garganega, is considered to be one of the parents of Catarratto, but then nobody knows where Garganega came from… ).

Sicilian DOC Consortium took this grape renaming task to the heart and after 2 years of lobbying, on November 21, 2018, the national Ministry issued a decree allowing the name Lucido to be used for any of the Catarratto wines produced in Sicily.

There are about 530 native grape varieties in existence in Italy, so it is obvious that setting up the precedent with renaming the grape variety was not taken lightly. But in the case of Catarratto/Lucido, it became very clear that considering the volume of production and possibilities of increased international demand, the hard-pronounced name of the grape variety became a gating issue of the wine’s success, and the right decision was made.

While Sicilian winemakers definitely appreciated the opportunity to change the name, it doesn’t mean that in mere 3 years you will see the name Lucido appear on all the wine labels. While we might think that the picture should look like this:

the 3 samples which I received looked like this:

Well, whether Catarratto is difficult to pronounce or not had no bearing on the wines, as I loved all three of them:

2020 Cottanera Barbazzale Catarratto Sicilia DOC (12.5% ABV)
Straw pale
A hint of tropical fruit, lemon, herbs
Round, beautiful, Golden delicious apples, lemon, good acidity, clean and fresh.
8/8+, outstanding.

2020 Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Midor Catarratto Sicilia DOC (12.5% ABV, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Generous nose with a hint of vanilla, honey, and gunflint
Crisp, clear, precise, elegant, beautiful acidity, lemon, more gunflint, and Granny Smith apples.
8+, can be easily confused for a Chardonnay. Wine with finesse.

2019 Alessandro di Camporeale Benedè Catarratto Sicilia DOC (13% ABV)
Straw pale
Lemon, steely minerality
Crisp, tart, lemon, expressive minerality, clean acidity. Very refreshing
8, excellent food-friendly wine

I wouldn’t lie to you – Midor Catarratto was my most favorite wine, and I really admire its tile-styled label.

Catarratto’s name served the eponymous grape well, but the change is coming. It is a slow change, but as long as it is just the change of the name, and we will still get to enjoy the wine inside the bottle, it is the change that will help this wine to deliver pleasure to more wine lovers around the world.

And for you, my wine friends, Catarratto or Lucido – go find this wine and expand your wine vocabulary.

Welcome, Lucido.

P.S. For the grape geeks out there: as I was working on this post, I came across this article, which identifies Mantonico Bianco as the second parent (along with Garganega) of Catarratto. The article is from 2017, so it should be old news, but at least the Wikipedia article on Catarratto has no mention of it…

 

Celebrate Versatility of Sherry

November 12, 2021 2 comments

Sherry. Jerez. Xerez.

I’m sure you’ve seen the name, at least one of the three. But when was the last time you actually had a sip of sherry? While you are trying to recall, let’s talk about it.

The winemaking area where the eponymous wine is produced, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, is located in the south of Spain and is one of the oldest winemaking areas in Spain and in the world, producing wines since 1100 BC. Nowadays, Sherry is known as a fortified wine – meaning that a neutral spirit was added during wine production to stop the process of fermentation. However, the fortification of Sherry is relatively a young phenomenon, developed in the 17th-18th centuries – until then, Sherry was simply known as a high-quality wine. After developing its unique style as fortified wines aged typically for 8 years using the solera method (the wine is partially taken from the barrel for bottling, and the barrel is topped off with the wine from the new vintage, repeating the process for many years), Sherry became one of the most popular Spanish wines, competing for the crown with Rioja. Phylloxera infestation at the end of the 19th century delivered a lethal blow to the Sherry wine industry, from which it never fully recovered.

Sherry wines are unique and even mysterious. Only three grapes – Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel, are used in the production of sherries. Actually, Palomino is used in the production of about 95% of all Sherry wines. Five different styles of dry Sherry – Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado, and Oloroso, are produced from the same palomino grape, each one with its own unique characteristics. Then you have a range of Cream sherries, typically combining one of the Palomino-based dry sherries with Pedro Ximénez, to achieve various degrees of sweetness. Last but not least would be Pedro Ximénez (typically abbreviated as PX) and Moscatel sherries, delivering oozing sweetness – but, when done properly, offering balancing acidity, and becoming heavenly nectar.

I discovered the world of Sherries more than 10 years ago, and really enjoyed that discovery for a while. Until for some mysterious reason (there is a mystery in Sherry, I’m telling you), I stopped enjoying most of them with the exception of PX. I was a bit confused as to why and how it happened and even shared my frustration and the attempted comeback in this post. Then a few months back, I poured myself a little glass of Oloroso from the leftover bottle from the past tasting (the beauty of Sherry – it can keep almost indefinitely after opening, don’t try that with wine), looking for the pre-dinner drink – and I was back in love. Pure mystery, but I’m not complaining.

Considering its range of styles, Sherry is one of the most versatile wines out there. You can pair it with your mood, as the expressions of the dry sherries are literally unmatched in the world of wine offering non-fruity complexity (nuttiness, salinity, herbaceousness, crisp acidity, and more); sweet sherries simply bring you into the world of hedonistic indulgences. You can also perfectly pair a whole dinner with Sherry, starting with a simple aperitif, as I did with the aforementioned Oloroso, and ending with PX, either by itself (good enough) or with a dessert (even better).

Oh yes, the dessert. This week, November 8 – 14, 2021, is designated as Sherry Week (#SherryWeek2021), a worldwide celebration of this unique wine. As part of the festivities, I received samples of the Sherry wines produced by González Byass, one of the purveyors of the fine Sherry wines. Moreover, the sherries were accompanied by dessert, and suggested pairings! I got a selection of pies from Tiny Pies to pair along with the Gonzalez Byass Sherries as follows:

  • Apple Pie with Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso 
  • Pecan Pie with Harveys Bristol Cream
  • Texas Two Step (a pecan and chocolate brownie pie) with Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Cream
  • Cherry Pie with Gonzalez Byass Néctar Pedro Ximenez

Let me say first a few words about Tiny Pies. Tiny Pies company was born in 2010, in Austin, Texas, with its history starting from a simple question – quoting from the Tiny Pies website in the words of one of the founders, Amanda: “One day in 2010, my son, Andrew, innocently asked why he couldn’t take a piece of apple pie to school. I tried explaining to him that it wouldn’t be easy to eat. Andrew then suggested that we make a pie he “could eat with his hands””. The rest is history- today Tiny Pies operate 4 locations in Austin, and they also ship their pies countrywide, and yes, you can eat them with your hands.

Now, the sherries. Out of the four sherries I received, I was well familiar with 3 – Oloroso, Harveys Bristol Cream, and Néctar – instead of repeating my notes, you can find them in this post. González Byass Solera 1847 Cream Dulce (18% ABV, $17/375 ml, 75% Palomino, 25% Pedro Ximénez) was a new wine for me. At first, I got very excited about 1847 in the name, as I thought that maybe this is when the original solera was started and maybe it is still going (which would make it a 170 years old wine, not bad, right? :)). I asked the publicist this question, and the answer was a bit more prosaic but still worthwhile: The founder of González Byass, Manuel Maria González, founded the winery in 1835. His son turned 1 in 1847, so he decided to name the Sherry after the year he turned 1. Otherwise, the wines spent 8 years in solera, and each barrel is used for approximately 30 years. So one way or the other, but 1847 is not a random number.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, I tasted the wine by itself, and it was delicious – dark amber color, complex and herbaceous nose. The palate was full of dried fruit, chocolate, and figs, with good acidity and perfect balance.

And now, to the pairing!

I obviously went along with the recommendations – here are my notes:

Apple Pie with Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso:
Interesting. Some contrasting notes, but not great. Best pairing – Pedro Ximenez. Worked perfectly, matching the cinnamon profile of the apple pie.

Pecan Pie with Harveys Bristol Cream:
Very nice. Excellent match on the nuttiness. Not so good with Cream 1847. Harveys complements perfectly and refreshes the palate after the bite.

Texas Two Step (a pecan and chocolate brownie pie) with Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Cream
Very good, pairing by the contrast. Sherry perfectly cuts through the sweetness.

Cherry Pie with Gonzalez Byass Néctar Pedro Ximenez
Not good. Néctar flavors clashed with the Cherry pie. Tried with all the sherries, and the only working was Harveys Bristol Cream, as it complimented the flavors of the cherry pie.

This was definitely a fun exercise – it is interesting to note that at least one of the 3 sweet sherries paired perfectly with the dessert – however, the Oloroso pairing with dessert was lost on my palate.

While I’m sharing my experience here, I’m really hoping that this would spark at least a little interest in you, my readers, to seek and try a sherry. Sherry wines are not gimmicks, they are versatile, inexpensive, and give you almost unlimited time to finish that bottle. No need to wait for Sherry Week 2022 to experience Sherry – visit your favorite retailer and give it a try. And then let’s compare notes…

Magnificent Rioja: CVNE Deep Dive

November 8, 2021 7 comments

It is no secret that I have a special relationship with Rioja – I happily admitted it many times. When asked about my favorite wine, I always say that I don’t have one. And every time I give this answer, deep inside there is a bit of the uneasy feeling, the one you get when you know you are not lying, but somewhat flirting with the truth, as Rioja is probably “the one”.

What would make the Rioja so special for me? For one, it was a pivotal experience at the PJ Wine Rioja seminar, where I tasted through an incredible lineup, including a 45 years old Rioja, and it was still absolutely beautiful (later on I tasted 65 years old Rioja which was, again, superb). Also, when it comes to Rioja, I can easily give you a bunch of producer names, whose wines I would wholeheartedly recommend to a friend and also would be excited to drink at any time myself – come to California, I might have to pause for a moment while looking for the favorites to recommend – I hope it tells you something.

Speaking about favorite Riojas, I want to talk to you today about CVNE, also known as Cune due to a typesetting mistake. In 1879, the Real de Asúa brothers arrived in Haro for the reason not related to wine. Nevertheless, that’s how the story of Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (C.V.N.E.), one of the most prominent Rioja producers, has begun. During its 140 years, CVNE remained a hallmark of quality and creativity. In 1915, CVNE introduced the very first White Rioja wine, Monopole. In 1973, CVNE founded Vinedos del Contino, the very first single-vineyard Rioja. Now in its 5th generation, CVNE continues to be a family winery and continues its advancement, now venturing even outside of Rioja, into Ribera del Duero and Valdeorras.

CVNE Rioja wines are produced at 5 wineries. First, there is the original Cune, which is simply a misspelled word for the CVNE, founded in 1879. In 1920, CVNE started production of Viña Real and Imperial Riojas. Viña Real was envisioned to be a more modern rendition of Rioja (in the 1920s), and Imperial was specifically produced for English markets. Imperial went on to become one of the most coveted Rioja wines, even becoming the wine #1 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list in 2013.

In 1973, Viñedos del Contino was created to become the first single-vineyard Rioja wine. In 1994, CVNE started its latest Rioja project, Real de Asúa, to honor the founders of the winery and create the most modern rendition of Rioja, using grapes from high altitude Villalba vineyards in Rioja Alta area.

Each one of these Riojas has its own, unique style. But can we taste the differences? I had a perfect opportunity to try answering this question. I got samples of 3 of the CVNE Rioja Reserva wines – Cune, Viña Real, and Imperial, all from 2015,. I also happened to have a few bottles of 2015 Contino Reserva and altogether this set out a perfect stage to try 4 different Rioja wines from the same vintage and technically, the same producer.

Before we get to wines, let’s say a few words about the vintage. Production of Rioja wines is strictly regulated by its governing body, Rioja Consejo Regulador, to ensure quality, and subsequently, the reputation of the Rioja wines around the world. All the vintages in Rioja have their official vintage ratings – Excellent, Very Good, Good, Medium, Normal. 2015 was officially designated as Very Good (not Excellent, such as 2001, 2004, or 2010, but still Very Good), which should still set a good level of expectations. 2015 vintage had a couple of unique characteristics, though. 2015 had the earliest harvest in the history of Rioja, starting early in September. It was also a very short harvest – typically, the harvest in Rioja takes about 2 months, with the feast of Virgen del Pilar usually taking place on October 12th, to celebrate the peak of the picking season. In 2015, the harvest was completed in 4 weeks so by October 12th all the picking was pretty much complete. How does any of this manifest in wines? I’m honestly not sure, that would require actually a vertical tasting – which I would be happy to conduct if I would have an opportunity.

So how were the wines? In a word – amazing. All four wines were absolutely gorgeous, delicious right now, and will continue to be delicious for the many years ahead. Here are my notes:

2015 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $37, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo)
Dark Garnet
Dark fruit, tobacco, espresso, expressive
Red and black fruit, cedar box, herbs, forest underbrush, firm, good structure
8/8+, lip smacking goodness. Delicious. If you are looking for a massive, earth-shattering wine, such as Walla Walla or California Cab, this is not the wine for you. But if you are looking for the wine which seduces and sings to you, give this wine a try.

2015 CVNE Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $29, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano, and Mazuelo)
Dark garnet, almost black
Dark, brooding, minerality, cedar box, funk
Dark fruit, plums, explicit tannins, firm structure, fresh, good acidity.
8/8+, excellent, comforting, powerful, impossible to stop drinking.

2015 Contino Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $46, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo and Garnacha)
Dark garnet, almost black
Plums, cigar box, sweet tobacco
Complex, multilayered, earthy, dark fruit, clean acidity, lots of energy
8/8+, This is very early for this wine, but it is very enjoyable now, and it will be amazing with age

2015 Imperial Reserva Rioja DOCa (14% ABV, $50, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, Mazuelo, and Garnacha)
Dark Garnet
Earthy, spicy, red and black fruit, medium-plus intensity
Dark fruit, cigar box, firm, perfectly structured, delicious.
8+/9-, outstanding, lots of pleasure.

Believe it or not, but Imperial Rioja was my accidental pairing with BBQ chicken pizza, and the wine worked perfectly with it.

So now the secret is out. I’m lying when I’m claiming that I don’t have a favorite wine, and Rioja is the one. Well, I’m quite happy with my choice of affection – but do you have enough courage to name your favorite wine? Oh yes, with the coming holidays, any one of these Riojas would make a perfect present – to a friend, or to yourself. Go ahead, find it – everyone deserves a tasty Rioja. Cheers!

 

New England’s Fall Colors, 2021 Edition

October 25, 2021 1 comment

And here we are again in my favorite season – fall. It is still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors lightly clothed; running the air conditioning is no longer a necessity to survive indoors. And the colors, the abundance of colors – every season has its beauty, but fall offers the most profound expression of it.

This 2021 fall season is interesting (it is not over yet). It is still continuously warm, and so the leaves are still mostly green – it is occasional branches and individual leaves which all of a sudden offer a full brilliant display of red, golden, and orange. In this traditional New England fall post, I usually share pictures from my neighborhood walks, a tiny circle of two streets next to the house. Yesterday we wanted to get out of the house, and so we took about an hour drive to New Milford up north in Connecticut to visit Lover’s Leap State Park. We spent there about an hour, slowly walking the narrow path covered with fallen leaves, and admiring, or rather indulging, on absolute silence, crisp fall air, and views of the Housatonic River.

Absolute silence is a rare treasure – somehow, in the middle of the park you are far enough from the road, and maybe we just got lucky, but it was really an amazing feeling – not being disturbed by anything. It is hard to convey the silence and the smell of the autumn leaves through the words – so I have pictures for you – many, many pictures. Yes, pictures also don’t do justice to the perfect fall day outdoors but let me at least try…

Without further ado, here they are for your viewing enjoyment:

 







Here are more of the river views:

The trail:

Few of the random tree mushrooms:

And now, the color display:

The Next World Class Wine Frontier: Desert Wine

October 23, 2021 1 comment

Can you think of a desert? Even if you never visited one, and only saw them in the movies or read about them in the books, I’m sure the image readily jumps to the head. Sand. Heat. Hot air. Wind. More sand. More heat. More wind. Maybe a half-dried cactus. I’m sure that the luscious greens of a healthy vineyard are not part of that image.

Meanwhile, every desert has an oasis. If there is water, nothing stops beautiful greens from prospering in the desert. Desert doesn’t mean only heat. It is hot during the day, but cold during the night – and the diurnal shift – the difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures during the day – is beneficial for all the plants. If you are into the wine, I’m sure you heard of the importance of the diurnal shift to help build flavor in the grapes. And if we are talking about grapes, let me mention yet another benefit of the dry, arid air – it helps to avoid many diseases in the vineyard, such as mildew.

Let me ask you another question. Have you tried desert wines? The wines produced in the vineyards surrounded by desert? Before you will be quick to say “no”, I will ask you to think again. If you had wines from Argentina or Chile, there is a very good chance those wines came from the desert vineyards – Leyda Valley and the Atacama in Chile are nothing but desert; Uco Valley, Salta and overall large portions of Mendoza in Argentina are nothing but the desert. So yes, I believe you have. And today I want to bring to your attention yet another example of desert wines, these ones coming from the US – Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Aridus (Latin for dry or arid) started from purchasing 40 acres of land on Turkey Creek in the southeast corner of the Arizona state in the foothills of Chiricahua Mountain, at an elevation of 5,200 feet.

In 2012, Aridus opened its cellar doors, after refurbishing an old 28,000 sq. ft. apple warehouse (it was done so well that in 2014 Aridus was honored with the Design Excellence award for sustainability). The Aridus wines were made with the grapes brought from the vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California; the cellar also served as a custom crush facility. Interestingly enough, this is not my first encounter with Aridus – back in 2014, while attending my first wine bloggers conference in Santa Barbara, I had 2013 Aridus Viognier presented during the speed tasting session, which was my first time tasting a wine from Arizona – and it was a very impressive wine.

Aridus started planting white grapes at its estate vineyard in 2015, with the first estate harvest taking place in 2017. The red grapes were planted from 2017 through 2020, and Aridus is planning to gradually increase the proportion of the wines made exclusively from the estate fruit every year. The plantings currently include Malvasia Bianca, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, Petite Verdot, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano, Petite Sirah, and Malbec, so nobody needs to worry about the range of Aridus estate wines.

Lisa Strid, who just celebrated her 5th year as the Aridus winemaker, definitely appreciates the unique challenges of working at the desert winery. Finding rattlesnakes, owls, roadrunners, hawks, and javelinas on the crash pad might be the least of her problems. Monsoons, strong rains and winds which run seasonally from mid-June through mid-September, represent a much bigger issue, as they have the potential to inflict a lot of damage on the grapes, especially when rain also comes with the hail.

But – it might be all well worth it as long as you can produce good wines. Based on the two wines I tasted, these desert vineyards deserve the full attention of wine lovers.

First, I was blown away by the Sauvignon Blanc – here are my notes:

2020 Aridus Sauvignon Blanc Arizona (12.6% ABV, $28)
Straw pale
White peach, guava, intense, round, inviting
Beautiful bright tropical fruit on the palate, fresh, crisp, good acidity, generous
8, this is summer in the bottle. New World Sauvignon Blanc “in your face”. “I’m bright, I’m beautiful, and you know that”.

Then the Aridus Malbec was perfectly on point:

2019 Aridus Malbec American (13.6% ABV, $36, 95% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 15 months in French oak barrels, New Mexico fruit)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cassis, a hint of bell pepper, iodine, a touch of minerality
More cassis on the palate, both berries and leaves, soft, velvety, crisp acidity, long finish
8, excellent

Thinking about analogies, both wines are perfectly New World in style, without going overboard and losing their balance. The Sauvignon Blanc was somewhere between Californian and Chilean renditions with all of its bright fruit – yes, if you are craving the restraint of Cloudy Bay, this is not your wine – but if you want to simply brighten up your day, that would be a perfect pick.

And the Aridus Malbec was reminiscent of the best mountain desert Malbecs from Argentina – Amalaya, Casarena, and many others, again, fresh and well balanced.

Will the desert wines be the next rave? I’m bad at predictions, so I really can’t tell you that. But you are welcome to try answering this question on your own simply by finding the bottle of Aridus wine and giving it a try. Once you do, let’s compare notes. Cheers!

%d bloggers like this: