When in Spain…

December 1, 2022 2 comments

My last trip to Europe was in September 2019. Next were the 3 strange years (you know what I’m talking about). And then suddenly I had to come to Europe for work meetings for 2 straight weeks – first week in Spain, then in France. It honestly felt very strange, visiting Europe after such a long break, but I’m afraid I will start sounding very stupid if I will continue complaining…

Before we talk about Spain – I love sunsets and sunrises around the planes – I’m sure you know that there will be quite a few pictures in this post, so here you go…

So what one does do upon arrival to Spain? Okay, I have no idea what people actually do when they come to Spain. And my course of action is largely independent of the destination – I need to find sparkling water for my hotel room, as this is the form of water I always prefer. And of course, being in Europe, I need to check the prices of wine and probably get a bottle or two for the room.

Arriving in Malaga on Sunday didn’t really help with things. Why? I don’t know if this is very typical of Spain (I suspect so) or just for Malaga, but no matter what Google says the absolute majority of the supermarkets are closed (as well as most of the regular stores). I made 2-3 attempts to rely on Google’s recommendations only to find places closed. I almost gave up but decided to give it one more try. This walk was successful, and I ended up with 3 bottles of wine, 3 bottles of seltzer, and some other provisions to make hotel room life more fun (glad I had a little fridge in the room).

Of course, the point of the excursion was not just to get the wine, but also to see the prices and selection. A good number of wines were priced in the range which doesn’t exist in the USA, no matter what and where you are buying – from €2.50 to €4. You can also see a variety of “Tetrapak” wine options, priced extremely reasonably, barely a €1 for a liter and similar prices for the six-packs. Definitely beats “wine-in-the-can” prices in the US which can easily exceed an obnoxious $10 for a can and more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Later in the week I managed to get to a supermarket, so you can see the price observation in the pictures below. It is interesting the Albariño wines were priced almost at the level of the prices in the US – while many of the wines were available for a “buck fifty” or so. Go figure…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anyway, I settled for two bottles of red and one white, each under €4.

After getting back to my room, I happily enjoyed both of the reds, which both happened to be Tempranillo wines. I did like 2017 Félix Solís Winery Viña Albali Reserva Valdepeñas DO (13% ABV) a bit more as it was perfectly approachable from the get-go, with elegant dark fruit and spices. The 2019 Bodegas Los Llamos Señorio de Los Llamos Tempranillo Valdepeñas DO (12.5% ABV) was a bit more restrained and needed more time to open. Both wines lasted pretty much through the entire week by just putting the cork back. The 2021 Sitial Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV) was opened a few days later, and it was a perfectly happy Verdejo rendition with a touch of freshly cut grass and lemon, fully matching the expectations.

After my colleagues arrived in the evening, we took a little stroll to the historical town, where in addition to the very enjoyable walk and pleasant sightseeing I came across one of the tastiest discoveries of the entire trip – roasted chestnuts.

Before you say “duh”, let me explain. Of course, I read many times that roasted chestnuts are “the thing”. I tried to roast them at home in the oven – never happy with the result. Yes, it might be me, might be the chestnuts we get in the US, might be the method. Nevertheless, the chestnuts were in my “I don’t get it” book.

Walking in Malaga, first I noticed the smell. The delightful smell of food and smoke. And then we saw the street vendors, roasting chestnuts in the little stands, looking similar to the hot dog stands in Manhattan. That aroma in the air… absolutely dreamy…

But what’s more important is that the taste was sublime. You take this warm chestnut in your hands, break the thin shell and enjoy the crumbly, slightly sweet and barely starchy “nut” which falls apart in your mouth. I’m salivating as I’m writing this – that food experience pretty much beats Jamon in my book.

This was my first time visiting Spain, so of course, it was nice to see the words of others materialize in the Jamon abundance everywhere – little stores, restaurants, everywhere. I love how those sandwiches are presented – it is really hard to walk by and not get one.

Speaking of food, I found an unexpected dish to be interestingly widespread – Russian Salad. We had it with the catering during lunches and I saw it on the menu of a number of restaurants and even in the eateries at the airport.

I don’t know if this dish is popular only in Malaga or in Spain overall – Malaga used to be very popular among Russian tourists, and this might have something to do with this dish. Anyway, if I was able to dissect correctly, the salad consists of boiled potatoes, eggs, salmon, and mayo. It was quite tasty on a few occasions I had it.

Now, let’s talk more about wines. We had an event dinner at the restaurant in the old town. The wine was simply offered by the color – white or red – with a sheepish comment by the waiter “ohh, the red is local”. I decided to start with the white and to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my choice would be an understatement. This 2021 Bodegas Barbadillo Castillo de San Diego Palomino Fino (13% ABV) had a deep inviting nose of whitestone fruit with minerally undertones, and the palate had a great depth of white plums and sage with the roundness and plumpness which I typically observe on the best renditions of the Roussanne. Outstanding.

Then, of course, I asked to try the red, not having much of an expectation remembering the shy enforcement.

 

 

Wow! I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was supposedly drinking local Malaga wine which I know nothing about, but we are in Spain – how come this wine tastes like a perfectly round, exuberant, in-your-face Bordeaux at its peak? What is this all-around beautiful cassis doing in the local Malaga wine? Something happened to my palate? When I got a chance to look at the back label of this 2012 Bodegas Excelencia Los Frontones Crianza Sierras de Málaga DO (13.5% ABV), things got back to normal – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, and Syrah. I did a bit of the reading afterward and it appears that the Malaga area had a lot of French winemaking influence, hence the use of Bordeaux varieties. For the 10 years old, this wine was absolutely in its prime and absolutely enjoyable.

Later during the week, I had another enjoyable encounter with local Malaga wine – 2018 Bodegas Pérez Hidalgo Vega del Geva Sierras de Málaga DO (14% ABV), a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A bit tighter than the previous wine, but still very much cassis and eucalyptus forward, round, layered, and delicious.

My last evening in Malaga was full of pure, hedonistic pleasure – but this deserves a post on its own.

Here you are, my friends. I have to declare my first visit to Spain a success, and I truly hope to be back in the near future.

Guest Post: How to Enjoy a Glass of Wine By Yourself

November 28, 2022 Leave a comment

Today, I’m offering you a guest post by Darshan Somashekar, a serial entrepreneur. He previously founded Drop.io, which was sold to Facebook, and Imagine Easy Solutions which was sold to Chegg. He recently started Solitaired, to connect brain training to classic games.

Having drinks with your friends is great! But have you ever enjoyed a glass of wine by yourself?

People often see drinking alone as a cry for help or a way to escape life. Honestly, that’s the case most of the time.

But it doesn’t have to be – especially if the drink is sophisticated, like a bottle of wine. Wine is one of those things you can enjoy on your own without feeling weird about it – if you know what you’re doing.

Feeling inspired? Read on to learn some tips for enjoying wine by yourself like a pro.

1. Enjoy your glass of wine with some music

Source: Pixabay

The type of music I’m referring to here is not that record you’ve listened to over a thousand times. Find a playlist that speaks to you and play it in the background while you enjoy a glass of your favorite red or white varietals.

For example, while enjoying a Château Subercaseaux Bordeaux Rouge 2014, I’d play a classic like “The days of wine and roses” by Bobby Darin. Enjoying a glass of Casillero del Diablo Rosé? Then you’d listen to “Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood. “How does the wine taste” by Barbra Streisand is perfect for enjoying a Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon.

As you sip, feel the music and the flavors come together harmoniously, allowing the two to engulf your senses. You’d be surprised how doing this can improve the taste of the wine.

2. Savour the flavors

Source: Pixabay

This time, without the music, take tiny sips from your glass to really taste each flavor as it hits your taste buds. Don’t drink the wine out of the bottle before it’s had a chance to open up. Then, bring your glass to your nose and take a whiff, breathing in the smells that waft up from the glass. What aromas are you getting? Do you smell fruit? Earth? Citrus? Tropical Fruit? The smell can tell you a lot about what you’ll taste next. Now you’re ready to drink!

3. A special delicacy

Is there a recipe you’ve always wanted to try? Perhaps there is a dish that has been on your menu list, but you’ve been putting off ordering it.

A lovely time to satisfy your cravings for that special meal would be while sipping a glass of wine on your own – it’s the perfect way to treat yourself. Some awesome classic wine and food combos include champagne and Oysters, Cabernet Sauvignon & Steak, Sauternes & Foie Gras, Provence Rosé & Niçoise Salad, Chianti & Lasagna Bolognese.

Plus, a glass of wine can take away any unappetizing tastes that the dish may have left in your mouth. Yeah, a wine glass can really come in handy.

4. Play a game

I am definitely not talking about a drinking game like quarters on a pool table. Come on, a glass of wine is too sophisticated for that. Think chess, checkers, or even a classic game of cards like the Solitaire game, and now they even come with a customized deck featuring wine selections. How fun is that!

These games are entertaining and can occupy your mind while you sip a nice glass of red wine or a full-bodied white varietal.

5. Spend time in nature

Source: Pixabay

Imagine this…..you are on your patio in your backyard or at a park bench, sipping your favorite white wine and enjoying the sound of the birds chirping around you.

Everything is quiet except for the soft murmur of conversation from other people in the park nearby or the rustling of the leaves in the trees above you. You can’t beat that ambiance.

6. Giving yourself some TLC ( Tender Loving Care)

Source: Pixabay

Another brilliant idea for enjoying a glass of wine by yourself is to treat yourself to a period or two of self-love. Run a bath, light some candles, and pour yourself a glass of wine. Slip into the tub and feel yourself relax as the warm bubbles envelope your body.

Sip your wine as you soak in your bath. The wine will make you warm and fuzzy, while the bath will make you feel melty and soft.

Then, you can doze off to sleep after the bath cleanses your body of toxins and release all your stress. Enjoy!

7. Watch Netflix and Chill

Can you tell we love Netflix? We watch it all the time – with wine, of course! You get a certain satisfaction from watching a good TV series while sipping a glass of your favorite white or red wine. Why not do that – with yourself? We strongly suggest you watch episodes of Master of None or Aziz Ansari’s stand-up specials while sipping a glass of Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir!

One more tip for you: change the routine now and then! Drinking wine alone can get stale if you keep doing the same thing over and over.

So, switch it up! Add a new flavor to the mix, step into nature, listen to new music, play a game, or change venues. There is no end to the possibilities – enjoy!

 

Beaujolais Nouveau 2022 Edition

November 21, 2022 3 comments

I would typically start this post with Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! and go out of my way to have the post out on the third Thursday in November when Beaujolais Nouveau is officially released. As this is posted a few days after the third Thursday in November, it is a bit late to announce its arrival.

As luck would have it, I was in France on that third Thursday. While at the hotel restaurant in Toulouse, I asked the waitress if they had Beaujolais Nouveau available – and the answer was a short “no”. When I mentioned that we were supposed to celebrate the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau, I got a shoulder shrug back, clearly stating “I have no idea what you are talking about”.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a multifaceted phenomenon. Firstly, it is the wine of a new harvest. Secondly, it should be an indicator of the quality of the vintage. Thirdly, it is a celebration of the new harvest, universally supported throughout the world in the past years. And fourthly, many consider Beaujolais Nouveau a marketing gimmick and simply refuse to get anywhere near that bottle.

I like traditions. As such, I’m happy to celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau on the regular basis, simply celebrating the wine of the new harvest. How far back this tradition goes and whether it was really created as a marketing ploy to sell mediocre wine is not something that concerns me. We always need more things to celebrate in our lives, and Beaujolais Nouveau offers this perfect celebration opportunity.

2022 Beaujolais Nouveau seems to stand out in a few different ways. On the positive side, I like the label – it is different from the previous years and I find it very elegant. On the negative side, we have price and availability.

I just went through all of the Beaujolais Nouveau notes from the past years – practically every year I had 2, 3, or sometimes 4 wines to taste. From 2010 until 2020, Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau was priced from $8.99 to $10.99. In 2021, it cost $12.99. In 2022 it became $15.99. I always buy my Beaujolais Nouveau wines at the same store, so the pricing is consistent. I understand the inflation, but a 30% increase from the last year? That is a little obnoxious. And there was only one Beaujolais Nouveau available this year. If this wine is a harbinger of the things to come, it doesn’t make me feel very good.

So how was the wine, you ask?

2022 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau AOP (13% ABV, $15.99) had a dark garnet color, very concentrated. Bright and inviting nose of the freshly crushed fruit. The palate was exuding fresh raspberries and blackberries, all tightly packaged with a good amount of energy and supported by crisp acidity. Unlike some of the previous years, I didn’t experiment with the temperature, and the wine was perfectly drinkable at room temperature over the 3 days after it was first opened.

I checked my notes from the previous years, and almost every year I see in my notes “this might be the best Beaujolais Nouveau ever”. This year will not be an exception – once again, this might be the best Beaujolais Nouveau I ever tasted. Drinkability: 8.

Here you can compare the 2022 label with the labels from the previous years. While least colorful, this might be the most elegant label ever – but you be the judge of it. If you care to share your impressions, I would love to hear what you think.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2022 has arrived, It might be a precursor of the harvest of the century. It might be the most interesting Beaujolais Nouveau ever. Let’s wait until Beaujolais Nouveau 2023 to find out. Cheers!

Study in Sustainability: Lugana DOC

November 5, 2022 4 comments

If you like wine and read about it from time to time, I’m sure you can easily identify all the buzzwords – organic, biodynamic, sustainable, clean, natural, and there are probably a few more I’m missing. Some of these terms are well defined and well understood, such as organic (even though the meaning of “organic wine” differs in Europe and the USA). Some of those terms are unquestionably controversial, such as “natural”, and don’t even think about discussing “clean” wines. And while I like the “organic” concept, and “biodynamic” sounds whimsical, I believe sustainability is the most important word here.

If we will check the Oxford Languages definition, sustainability is defined as “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”. The second definition is a bit closer to our subject of farming (growing grapes is just one of the farming applications, of course) – “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance” – I’m stressing the word “balance” here, Balance is the name of the game. We get what we want (grapes and wine) without destroying the source, so those who will come after us will have enough left for them, and once they are gone, there will be enough left for yet the others. Primitive drawing skills I have, no doubt, but I’m sure you got the picture I’m trying to paint.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Lugana is one of the oldest designated wine-growing areas in Italy, after obtaining its DOC status in 1967, the first in Lombardy, with about 1,000 acres under the vines. Lugana is also one of the few unique DOCs in Italy, spanning two regions and two provinces – the province of Brescia in Lombardy and the province of Verona in Veneto. Most of Lugana’s 5,500 acres of vineyards are adjacent to Lake Garda, which creates a unique, mild microclimate, atypical for Northern Italy. Most of the wine produced in Lugana is white, made out of a local indigenous grape called Turbiana. For a long time, Turbiana was erroneously considered to be Trebbiano di Lugana, until DNA analyses had shown that Turbiana is its own, unique variety.

As in most of Italy, the history of winemaking in Lugana goes back to Roman times, with the wines from the area praised on multiple occasions throughout the times. Lugana managed to stay a best-kept secret for a long time in the 20th century, with its wines being best known to the tourists flocking to the picturesque villages surrounding the lake. Slowly, the quality of the wines prevailed and the wines became thought after around the world, in part due to their excellent aging ability. In 2018, there were 17.5 million bottles produced in Lugana, 70% of which were exported around the world, with the US being Lugana’s 4th largest market.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Sustainability is definitely a trend among the wineries in Lugana. The winemakers want to preserve their land, their farms, and their vineyards for many generations to come and do everything in their power to make this happen. I wanted to give you a first-hand account of sustainability and virtually sat down with the kind folks at 6 wineries, who answered the same group of questions. Grab a glass of wine (or two), and hear it for yourself.

Source: CITARI

Source: CITARI

CITARI:

CITARI winery was founded in 1975, and today is farming about 90 acres of vineyards, producing about 300,000 bottles of wine annually. CITARI takes advantage of the close proximity of the winery to the vineyards, ensuring that the grapes are processed in the shortest time after the harvest, preserving aromatics and minimizing oxidative processes. CITARI had been recognized as a “Low Environmental Impact Farm” and won the “Verallia Ecofriendly Company” award over a number of years.

Here is our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
Wine producers, as farmers, are the guardians and keepers of a territory. Sustainability is necessary.
It also helps to obtain a superior quality product, and to maintain this high quality over time.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
Sustainability helps us to preserve the soil, the area, the quality.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations?
About 6 years ago

– How long did it take to achieve your goals?
We are still working on improving the best practices

– Was it worth it?
Of course!

– Would you do it again?
Yes, but better planning first all the costs, even in terms of time spent and bureaucracy.

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after?
The sustainable agricultural method we use (reductions of treatments and products used, regular controls on soil and plants) respects the soil, the plants and give us a healthier product. We do not have direct feedback from customers about it, but customers are increasing and they like our wines very much!

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
We are thinking about adding green manure to preserve bees and other “good” insects.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
It is not easy, but it is necessary, be prepared!

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Le Morette:

Azienda Agricola Valerio Zenato Le Morette was founded in 1955, and today farms about 75 acres of vineyards. Sustainability is at the core of operations at Le Morette, and here is how the winery describes this work: “In the vineyard, Le Morette Agricultural Company has chosen precise working methods aimed at a sustainable agriculture, favoring those natural processes that allow to preserve the “environmental resource”, with great attention to the use of water, favoring blooms and proliferation of numerous species of insects useful for the vineyard ecosystem, maintaining the biodiversity of flora and fauna.

Here is what transpired in our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
To respect the environment is the key factor for us and means to deeply know every single aspect of it: sustainability, habitat and knowledge represents the focus to carry on a conscious development in the vineyard and in the winery. For us to produce “healthier wine” is a choice, not a constriction.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
To be Sustainable we follow the “Three E” rules:
1. ECONOMICS: Sustainable means to salvaguard the Companies’ income via the use of techniques with a low environmental impact and measures to avoid wasting water and other natural resources. Costs have to be affordable to be sustainable on a long term basis. Only when the winemaker is earning properly, he’s able to think and develop a proper Environmental and Social Sustainability.
2. ENVIRONMENT: Sustainable winegrowing conserves natural resources, improves air and water quality, and protects ecosystems and wildlife habitat. Sustainability is good for grapes and wine, as well: winegrowing requires in-depth attention to detail and continuous improvement resulting in high quality wine grapes and wine.
3. EQUITY (SOCIAL): Sustainable winegrowing promotes stewardship of natural and human resources, as per eg. supporting internships and education programs for young employees or carrying on healthcare classes and social charity events, contributing to our community culturally and socially.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
We’ve always been following sustainable principles since 1960, when our business started with the first few hectares along the Frassino Lake bank in San Benedetto di Lugana, a natural protected site recognized by the European Community. We began as vinenursers and still we are after three generations. Our roots and knowledge of the indigenous variety Turbiana design our path.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
Sure, when you have an inner green soul you have to stay stuck with it. It’s a heritage we’ve received from our grandfather Gino Zenato and is part of our identity. It’s inevitable to be in tune with Nature for us and we are proud to respect our environment every day with a set of concrete approaches and practices to preserve and improve this legacy.

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
We received the official Biodiversity Certificate in 2020 from the WBA (World Biodiversity Association) but we’ve always applied sustainable principles since the beginning. We don’t have any difference, then: it belongs to our philosophy.

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
Our next step is to improve and protect biodiversity in our ecosystem. We already do it but we want to do more, with the belief that a Biodiversity is the key choice for a healthier process whole based on sustainable principles.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
To set up some virtuous practices, essential to advocate biodiversity in the vineyard. Biodiversity is the first pillar for sustainability and whoever wants to start this journey, has to be conscious that being sustainable is not only an ideal choice, but a set of concrete actions that you have to put into practice on a daily basis.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Famiglia Olivini

Famiglia Olivini was founded in 1970, and today is farming 80 acres of vineyards. With the utmost focus on sustainability, Famiglia Olivini registered a brand called Agricoultura Regionata. In the words of the winery, “Agricoltura Ragionata identifies our working method during the entire vinification process: starting from the seed, soil, vine ending with bottled product. Our main goal is to act in a reasonable (ragionata) and thoughtful way, starting from the work we do in our fields, into the winery and then reflected with how our staff treats the product. We take all these actions in order to insure we avoid any invasive and harmful practices to agriculture (agricoltura).”

Here is what transpired in our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
Sustainability for us is not just a philosophy, a way of thinking and talk about our daily taking care of the land but is truly a way of working passed down for generations by our founder it is an approach that preserves the territory, the lands, and ultimately shows in all of our products

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
Being sustainable is our working method starting from the seed, soil, vine ending with the bottled product and in every process of the business. The essence of sustainability for us on each of this aspect is ‘keep everything in balance’.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
We have conceived our sustainable viticulture in our own registered brand which is Agricoltura Ragionata (Reasonable Agriculture). Before that, our vineyard were already sustainable certified. It did not take much because since ever our ‘best practices’ were naturally considered sustainable.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
Even after the certification, we did not ‘spent’ any logo on the label. Talking about sustainability and Agricoltura Ragionata brand is part of our storytelling. But we have noticed that more and more people are interested to this and like to know that the wines they are drinking are coming from a sustainable viticulture

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
Once again, for us the sustainable certification was not a ‘conversion’ but just a certification of our everyday practice in the field. So, we did not see any impact in the quality of the wine. We think people likes to know and be informed about sustainability but not really interested in looking for a difference in the products.

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
For us it will be nice to make Agricoltura Ragionata a shared brand about sustainability, involving other producers in the use of this brand and practices

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
Find your real way before finding a protocol. Sustainability can’t be just a set of rules, must be your way of thinking your land, winery, wines.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Marangona

Maragonia was founded in 1970, and today farming about 75 acres of land. Some of the vines are 50 years old. Today Marangona is an Organic Farm and uses cement tanks and amphorae in production.

Here is what transpired during our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
None of us have zero impact on the environment. We all have to do our best to minimize that impact. A careful farm has a big difference compared to a not careful one.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
Commit day by day to try to make the best decisions to make environment and profit coexist

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
My sister and I are the new management of the family business, since 2007. Initially in low environmental impact, since 2012 in organic conversion, since 2017 fully certified, both vineyards and cellar.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
Of course,

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that true sustainability can be achieved.
I believe more about limiting the impact to the minimum possible.
For me the difference is a lot.
For some customers too, for others nothing changes.
So there are no contraindications

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
At the moment we are certified organic and from a bureaucratic point of view it suits us well, We don’t think we want to increase the amount of paper and documents.
I find the next step of the Biodynamics to be a very remote possibility in our production area. Not all areas and varieties are predisposed to such a strict philosophy.
So for now the goal is to continue learning new things about our vineyards to reduce the environmental impact to a minimum while keeping the qualitative objective we want to have very clear.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
Advice none.
Comparisons on how to deal with different problems certainly as often as possible.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Montonale

Motonale is the oldest winery we are discussing today, founded in 1911. The winery went through a turbulent history, starting from cleaning 3+ acres of land only with a shovel. In the 60s, the winery expanded to more than 150 acres, only to shrink to harvesting 10 rows in 1998. Two years later, a great-uncle got involved and that became a second birth for the winery. which is now solely focused on sustainability, using manual harvest and local indigenous yeast among many other things.

Here is our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
Sustainability is important to us because our wines are Mother Earth’s products. We owe her respect, because we do not have to think only about us, but also about the future generations.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
At Montonale, sustainability is understood as an all-round attitude, all aspects of the production chain are involved. I bring a very topical practical example, considering the critical issues we are experiencing in Europe in terms of energy: the roof of our cellar is entirely covered with photovoltaic panels and to make the most of them we concentrate consumption during the day. A winning choice, because once again this year we will close the winery’s energy consumption balance.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
The conversion began 10 years ago with the fourth generation. Our main goal for the next 10 years is to reach a zero-carbon footprint.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
It was obviously worth it and we would do it again. We must preserve our heritage which is connected to the Earth, to the weather and to the environment.

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
We have seen and also perceived the difference in tasting our wines, since the process of their production was respectful to the environment where they were born.

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
As previously mentioned, our main goal is to reach zero CO2 emissions.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
Do it before it is too late, there is no planet B.

Sguardi di Terra

Societa Agricola Sguardi di Terra is the youngest and smallest in our group, founded in 2015 and having around 17 acres under vine. From the moment the winery was formed, the focus was on sustainability and organic viticulture.

In lieu of Q&A, Sguardi di Terra offered the following sustainability information:

Our winery is organically certificated since we bought the vineyards in 2016. This also means that every year deducted audit bodies check that we respect the rules for organic viticulture and every year renew our certificate.

Our company does not have a cellar, we cooperate with Giovanni Pasini winery which is organic too and reflects our values. So we bring them our grapes and then we follow each step of vinification in their cellar.

The decision to buy organic vineyards wasn’t accidental. We truly believe in respect for the environment, by limiting the exploitation of natural resources and contributing to the preservation of biodiversity. Moreover, drinking organic wines is a way to prevent the accumulation of harmful residues in the body. Drinking organic wines = respecting nature + your body.

The advice that we would offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now is:

Believe in an ethical approach at every stage of the wine production chain. This is something you must feel inside, not because of the trend. Organic farming is not regarding only the present. It’s about the future too. We should choose organic farming to leave better soil for posterity than we have found.

Are you still here? This is definitely the longest post ever at Talk-a-Vino, and we didn’t even get yet to the wines.

I had an opportunity to try the wines from these 6 wineries (provided as samples), so here are my notes:

2021 Marangona Lugana DOC (12.5% ABV, organic grapes)
Brilliant straw pale
Beautiful, inviting, a touch of lemon, very fresh
Clean, crips, mellow and round. Mayer lemon, perfect acidity, delicious.
8, outstanding

2021 Famiglia Olivini Lugana DOC (13% ABV)
Straw pale, almost clear
A touch of honey, tropical fruit, lemon undertones
Clean, crisp, a hint of honey presence without the sweetness, round, delicious
8-

2021 Citari Conchiglia Lugana DOC (12.5% ABV)
Light straw pale, practically clear
Herbaceous nose, restrained
A hint of tropical fruit, good acidity, clean, refreshing, short to medium finish
8-

2021 Valerio Zenato Le Morette Mandolara Lugana DOC (12.5% ABV)
Straw pale
Hint of Whitestone fruit, very restrained
Peach, herbal undertones, round, plump. Short finish.
8-

2021 Sguardi di Terra Scapüscia Lugana DOC (13% ABV)
Very light golden
Complex nose, honey, spices, open and inviting
A touch of honey, herbs, freshly cut grass.
8-

2021 Montonale Montunal Lugana DOC (13.5% ABV)
Straw pale
Complex, Whitestone fruit, precise
white stone fruit, a touch of honey, good acidity, round, fresh, plump
8, excellent

Here you are, my friends – the story of sustainable viticulture in Lugana.

Hey, and there is more!

Starting on November 7th, Destination Lugana will be celebrated in New York City:

Destination Lugana is a full week of celebration of Lugana DOC wines, during which 28 producers will offer their latest vintages to 13 restaurants in Manhattan. Each location will create a special menu to enhance the qualities and main characteristics of these wines. The project is made possible by the Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C, which has been monitoring, defending, and promoting Lugana D.O.C. wines since 1990.

You will find more information at the official website: https://www.destinationlugana.com/, Here you will also find the list of 13 restaurants in Manhattan that will create special menus.

And we are done. Now it is your chance to discover the beautiful wines of Lugana. Cheers!

American Pleasures #7: Barra of Mendocino

October 31, 2022 Leave a comment

Wine should give you pleasure – there is no point in drinking the wine if it does not. Lately, I have had a number of samples of American wines, that were delicious standouts – one after another, making me even wonder if someone cursed my palate. I enjoyed all those wines so much that I decided to designate a new series to them – the American Pleasures. 

One of the great pleasures of drinking wine is a surprise factor. When you open a bottle you know nothing about – maybe you recognize the grape, and maybe you have an idea of the place, but you never heard of the producer, you never had this wine before – there lies the best mystery. This mystery is the best because you don’t need to work too hard to come upon it. Mystery makes life fun, especially when this mystery is as safe, simple, and innocent as opening a bottle of unknown wine, unlike wondering over a dark path in the forest, not knowing if you are in a way of a raccoon or a bear.

Of course, the surprise can work both ways – you might not be happy about your discovery, you might not be happy at all. But when you take a sniff, which is magnificent, then take a sip that fully matches your initial expectations, you can’t help but have an ear-to-ear smile on your face. And instantly pour yourself another glass. There, this is the surprise and the mystery I’m talking about – a simple pleasure available to you on any day you desire one.

Don’t take it for granted – it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes, you don’t want another glass, and simply move on. But when you are in luck, it is not just a pure hedonistic pleasure that is offered to you. It is also an opportunity to learn something new, to discover something which will serve you well for a long time.

At this point you already know that this conversation is not theoretical – we will be talking about my recent discovery. As the subject of this discovery is the wine made in California, I thought it perfectly falls into the American Pleasures series.

Bella Colina Vineyard. Source: BARRA of Mendocino

Please meet Barra of Mendocino.

The history of Barra of Mendocino started in 1954 when Charlie Barra purchased Redwood Valley Vineyards, which today boasts 256 acres of organically farmed vines. Original Redwood Valley Vineyards was planted with “standard” grapes suitable for making table wines. Over the course of a few years, Charlie recognized the potential of varietally-specific wines, and he started working with Karl Wente, Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, and other pioneers of varietally-specific vine-growing and winemaking to move in that direction.

From the beginning, Charlie Barra was focused on organic farming – no pesticides or herbicides, no synthetic fertilizers – just the natural habitat, allowing Mother Nature do her best. While banal, here is an interesting tidbit – before World War II, agriculture was all organic. Now we have to pay dearly for simply returning to how it should be. Nevertheless… Redwood Valley Vineyards was one of the early officially certified organic properties in California, obtaining its certification in 1989. Mendocino County appellation, home to the BARRA of Mendocino vineyards, today has close to 25% of all vineyards certified organic.

Today, BARRA of Mendocino organically farms more than 350 acres of vineyards, growing Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah grapes. It is also home to the 2.8 million gallons CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certified custom crush facility.

I had an opportunity to taste 2 wines from the Barra family – as you can tell, I was sufficiently impressed to add this post to the American Pleasures series.

First, Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc. All Girasole Vineyards (Girasole means sunflower in Italian, hence the label) wines are not only organic they are also vegan-friendly. Pinot Blanc is not a grape typically associated with California. Alsace, Germany – of course, maybe even Oregon – but Californian Pinot Blanc was a bit of a concern to me. Which dissipated instantly with the very first sip of the wine.

2021 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc Mendocino County (13% ABV, $15, vegan)
Straw pale
Whitestone fruit, herbs, lemon, distant hint of the gunflint
Wild apricots, Whitestone fruit, plump, round, perfect mid-palate weight, good acidity, perfect balance, delicious.
8+, excellent. Hallmark of quality – very tasty at room temperature.

Petite Sirah can be safely called a signature grape of California. Okay, okay – it is not Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, and it is not even a Pinot Noir. Nevertheless, Petite Sirah is very popular among those who know, and if you need confirmation, don’t look further than Turley, Carlisle, Retro, Stag’s Leap, Ridge, and many many others. At the same time, Californian Petitte Sirah is one of the most challenging wines for wine lovers, because more often than not Petite Sirah wines are massive, and require 10-15 years in the cellar to even start opening up. Thus you can imagine that I approached Barra Petite Sirah with a good dose of trepidation, even though it subsided somewhat after tasting the delicious Pinot Blanc.

2019 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah Mendocino (14.8% ABV, $26, 89% Petite Sirah, 11% Zinfandel, 18 months in 25% new French oak, balance in neutral barrels)
Dark garnet
Dark fruit, fresh and succulent, blackberries, espresso
Polished, elegant, voluptuous. Beautiful supple dark fruit coupled with salivating acidity and roll-of-your-tongue texture. Layered and sophisticated.
9-, truly outstanding.

Two outstanding wines from California – certified organic, super-reasonably priced (both $15 and $26 are almost a steal and offer an insane QPR), and most importantly – absolutely delicious, pop’n’pour wines. A rare treat for sure.

Besides, these wines can be a jewel of your Thanksgiving wine program. Yes, you can thank me later. Until then – cheers!

I Still Don’t Understand…

October 29, 2022 6 comments

This is not really a rant. I guess this can classify as rambling. Or “asking for a friend” might be the best way to classify this post.

Nevertheless, let me share my frustration.

The question is as simple as it is proverbial. When you take a sip of wine (you can make it a glass, doesn’t matter), do you judge the wine at that moment?

Hold on, while you ponder this, let me add a few layers.

You read the description of the wine. The wine sounds great. The wine sounds like something you want to buy and you want to drink, so you buy it.

Some time later (let’s say, 10 months later), you open a bottle. You remember it came with the recommendation, so you are full of anticipation – or not, maybe you even forgot the raving review. But this bottle is in your cellar, as you had a reason to buy it. So it is rightfully expected to be a good bottle of wine.

You pour a glass. You take a sip. The wine is perfectly fine, no faults, all is good, but the wine gives you nothing. Forget pleasure – the wine is flat and pedestrian, it doesn’t deliver anything, doesn’t cause any emotion. Just flat and boring. You let it breathe for an hour or even two, and still, there is nothing. Does this story sound familiar? Can you picture yourself in this situation?

So here is the first part of the question. How do they do it? The people who reviewed the wine and called it “Killer Bourgogne Rouge” – how come you can’t see an eye to eye with them? I get it when the wine solicits emotion and it is not your wine – this I understand. I remember Robert Parker raving about Ball Buster Shiraz, and the wine was incredibly overdone to my taste, I couldn’t enjoy it at all, but at least that wine didn’t leave me indifferent. But this is not my point. Let’s continue.

While I was not happy  – I rarely get to drink Burgundy, so I really want every Burgundy experience to be special – I still did what I always do. Pumped the air out and left the bottle on the counter.

The next evening, I poured another glass to decide on the fate of the half bottle which was left. I took a sip, and couldn’t believe that I’m drinking the same wine that was flat and boring the day before. The wine opened up, it had depth, the fruit, minerality, forest underfloor, hint of smoke, acidity  – all were at a beautiful interplay. The wine instantly went into the “delicious” category, and that half a bottle didn’t last for too long.

This brings us to the second part of the question. How do they do it? The wine critics and professional reviewers – are their palates so much more sophisticated than mine? There is no way they wait for the wine for a day or two to open up. Where I see “flat”, they can really see the full beauty? Or is there something I miss?

Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure is one of the oldest in Burgundy, tracing its roots back to 1552. The property spreads over 3 appellations – Pommard, Volnay, and Beaune, allowing wines to be produced in each one of those applications. The domain practices sustainable viticulture; the grapes are harvested by hand, and the wines are aged in 17th-century cellars in partially new oak for 14-18 months.

The wine I’m talking about here was 2019 Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure Cuvée de Maison Dieu Bourgogne (13.5% ABV, $26.98 at Wine Exchange), and after giving this wine time to open, I have to fully agree with “Killer Bourgogne Rouge” definition. Yet I know that I couldn’t enjoy this wine from the get-go.

So what can you tell me? Is this simply my personal handicap, or is there something fundamental I’m missing?

Whatever you want to say, I’m all ears…

Celebrate Champagne Day With Champagne Lanson

October 28, 2022 Leave a comment

Ooh, another wine holiday I almost missed – Champagne Day, celebrated on the 4th Friday in October. Not that I need a reason to open a bottle of wine, but a wine holiday offers an opportunity to reflect on a specific wine subject, which is always a fun exercise.

My personal Champagne journey was long and rocky (still going). Growing up on a sweet concoction called “sovertskoe shampanskoe” (still have no idea if it is made out of grapes), the profound acidity with no sweetness is not something that one can quickly and gleefully embrace. And the price… And then the French obnoxiously insisting that Champagne can only come from Champagne, phew… Lots of things to get over…

I had a few key learning experiences along the way. First, about 20 years ago, there was a blind tasting of the Champagnes during Windows on the World wine classes, where I learned that liking Dom Perignon, or any other vintage Champagne when you are not influenced by the label is not obvious. Then about 12 years ago, there was PJ Wine Grand tasting in New York, where the first taste of vintage (and even non-vintage) Krug became a proverbial nail on the head and a pivotal moment of discovering the true pleasure of Champagne. And I have to mention an encounter with 2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Champagne about 6 years ago (the wine ended up being my 2016 wine of the year) – I spent about 10 minutes simply enjoying the aroma of the wine before even daring to take a sip. Yes, I can safely say that I love Champagne.

Okay, let me be careful here. I love Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I love Rioja. Yes, I love Champagne. However, this is not a blanket statement. I love the category but within the category, the “love” concept is very particular. There are 10-12 specific Rioja producers and brands that I love, and the rest of the Riojas don’t excite me even for a second. It is the same story with Champagne – there are a few producers that I love and respect, and then there are quite a few I don’t care for. But I’m always willing to learn, taste, and discover something new.

Talking about discovery, I need to share with you my latest Champagne discovery – Champagne Lanson.

Founded in 1760, Champagne Lanson is one of the oldest Champagne Houses. From the moment it was created, Lanson’s focus was always on foreign markets. By the late 19th century, Lanson was supplying champagne by royal appointment to the courts of the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Japan. It still remains the main Champagne supplier to the British royal family. It is also official champagne of Wimbledon tennis tournaments since 2001. Today, Lanson Champagne is exported to 80 countries.

Lanson has close relationships with the growers, having access to more than 100 vineyards throughout Champagne, 50% of which are Grand Crus and Premier Crus. Lanson also cultivates more than 140 acres of its own vineyards, out of which 40 acres are farmed organically and biodynamically.

What I’m looking for in Champagne is precision. My ideal champagne has perfectly persistent energetic bubbles, toasted bread aromas on the nose maybe with a touch of yeast and even gunflint, the same toasted bread notes on the palate, maybe a hint of an apple, and a perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and structure on the palate. Balance is a king for any wine, Champagne not excluded.

I had an opportunity to try 3 of the Lanson Champagnes, and they all didn’t disappoint.

NV Lanson Le Black Label Brut Champagne (12.5% ABV, $50, 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier) had perfectly persistent fine mousse, toasted bread aromas on the nose, and crisp, precise and refreshing palate. Some of the best bubbles have this captivating effect – once you take a sip, you can’t wait to take another – this was this Champagne Lanson.

NV Lanson Le Rosé Champagne (12.5% ABV, $70, 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier) showed very similarly on the nose, with toasted notes and a hint of floral undertones. On the palate, it was a bit more feminine than the previous wine, still crispy, but softer and more round, with the addition of a touch of strawberry. Absolutely delightful.

And yet NV Lanson Le Green Label Organic Champagne (12.5% ABV, $75, 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay) was my favorite of the 3. Precision and energy. Vibrant and raw, this Champagne simply over-delivered – ultra-precise bubbles, energy, finesse and balance. Superb.

Talking about precision – Champagne Lanson eliminates the need for you to guess. Take a look at these back labels:

Harvest year, disgorgement date, all the technical details if you care to know them – everything is presented, simply and clearly. You don’t need to guess for how long that bottle of Champagne had been waiting for you on the shelf? With Lanson, just take a look at the back label, and you already know.

Here is my offering to you – beautiful Lanson champagne which now will join my “favorites” ranks. The Champagne that will make any celebration seem brighter.

Have you had Champagne Lanson before? What are your favorite Champagnes? Happy Champagne Day! Cheers!

And A Little Bit Of Cognac

October 16, 2022 8 comments

– I’m tired of drinking scotch. Next time, can we try something else? How about cognac, for example?

– Cognac? Why not? Next time, we will drink cognac.

This was a conversation with my high-school friend earlier this year. She visits a few times a year, and it is customary for us to taste 10-15 different whiskeys during one of the nights during her visit. This is easy to do, as, after the wine, whiskey (primarily scotch or equivalents, such as Japanese whiskey) is my next favorite type of alcohol. At any given moment I have probably 20+ bottles opened – unlike wine, once opened, whiskey can still last forever, so I have no issues opening a bottle, even for a tiny sip. Whiskey tasting on short notice? No problem, let’s do it. But cognac?

I like cognac as well. Totally different bouquet compared with whiskey, the pleasure of eloping the brandy sniffer and letting the aromatics charm you as the amber liquid gently heats up in your hand… Love cognac – however, I still prefer whiskey on an average day. As a result, if I can find 20+ open whiskey bottles on a given day, I would only have 1, 2, or maybe 3 cognac bottles on hand – that doesn’t make it an interesting tasting by any means.

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about cognac first. Same as scotch is a type of whiskey, cognac belongs to the broader spirits category called brandy. Brandy is defined as the hard liquor (35% – 60% alcohol by volume) produced from wine, which can be a grape wine or a fruit wine, by the process of distillation. Cognac is the most famous type of brandy, produced in France in the Cognac region – as you might expect, Cognac name is protected and Cognac can only come from the Cognac region in France.

There are a few classifications that are important for Cognac. The first one is geographic – not any different from any wine classifications. Cognac can be sub-divided into 6 growing areas, or crus – Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires (you can find all the detailed explanations and a map in this excellent blog post). These crus are always identified on the label if the appellation’s requirements are satisfied – but the majority of the cognacs are simply identified as “cognac”, meaning that the grapes can be coming from any vineyard within the Cognac region. There is one more classification that is not precisely geographically delimited – Fine Champagne, which allows mixing grapes from Grand Champagne (at least 50%) and Petite Champagne regions. Of course, there are single vineyard options, but those are rare.

Another classification that potentially has higher prominence for cognac lovers is the age of the liquid in the bottle. Upon distillation, future cognac is clear. All of the beautiful amber colors are acquired during aging in the oak barrels. The age classifications are typically depicted on the bottles in the form of the following abbreviations:
VS (Very Special) – aged at least 2 years in the barrel
VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) – at least 4 years
XO (Extra Old) – at least 10 years
There are other age classification types – XXO, Napoleon, Extra, Réserve – but I would like to offer you another excellent article if you are interested in learning more. While the price of cognac will depend on age, it is not the only dependency – the producer’s name and geographic region need to be taken into account to understand the pricing. You can often find an XO cognac from an unknown producer to cost less than a simple VS from a well-known one, so the age statement alone doesn’t identify the price.

One more note before we get back to our tasting. Approximately 150 miles southeast of Cognac lies another famous french brandy region – Armagnac. Armagnac is also made out of grapes and has its own geographical and aging classifications we are not going to get into here. While there are aromatic and stylistic differences between Cognac and Armagnac, it is important to know that Armagnac is typically cheaper than cognac at the same level of quality. Also, lots of Armagnacs specify the year they were distilled, which makes them an amazing birthday present…

And then, of course, there are brandies, which sometimes can be amazing, and sometimes … just not. Unlike Cognac or Armagnac, brandies are typically not regulated, which means that you need to know what you are buying. Some of the brandies can be amazingly tasty – my favorite brandy when vacationing in Mexico is 10 years old Torres – easily beats all of the big names lifeless VS…

Now, let’s get back to our cognac tasting story. As you might imagine, I decided not to limit the selection to the Cognac alone, and include brandy and Armagnac as it would be possible – however, talking about the prep to the tasting, I would generally use the term “cognac” while talking about my quest.

As I promised the cognac tasting I had to actually find what we will be tasting. And it is much easier said than done. Go to your neighborhood liquor store and compare the size of the cognac and whiskey sections (if your store doesn’t have the cognac section at all, don’t get upset). A typical cognac selection at the store is very limited – and it gets very expensive very quickly,

Okay, so I will be very smart about it, I thought. I need to look for the miniature bottles (50 ml, sometimes 100ml), and tasting sets.

While working on this post, I decided to look at the “popularity” of cognac through the sales numbers. According to this article, cognac sales increased substantially, not only in value but also in volume, comparing 2021 sales with 2020 and even with 2019. As theoretical numbers, it is easy to accept, especially with the value – the average price for the XO cognac almost doubled over the past 5 years. In practical terms, the cognac shelves at most of the wine stores I visited are very short and sometimes even not existing. What’s even worse, finding the miniatures (50 ml) of cognac was mission impossible, with some stores having only one type, and many having none. Our local Total Wine in Norwalk offered a breakthrough – I was able to pick up 6 cognacs and brandies at once.

My friend Zak was able to find me a tasting set from cognac Tesseron, which included 4 different bottlings of XO-level cognac. The set contains 4 different cognacs – Lot No 90, Lot No 76, Lot No 53, and Lot No 29, where the number gives you an approximate year(s) when the cognac was distilled – in 1990 – 1991, 1976, 1050-1952, and 1930s. Lot 29 contains a third of the cognac from the 1906 vintage – it is not every day you get to drink alcohol at such an age. Lot 29 also received 100 points from Robert Parker (not that it matters, but still).

I found the second set on the Cognac-Expert website – Park Cognac Mizunara cognac, a set of 3 Park cognacs from Bordieres finished in Japanese oak called Mizunara. Note of advice – if you like cognac, cognac-expert might be a site for you.

With this, we were all set for tasting. Finally, my friend arrived at the end of September, and we were able to get to it.

Below are my notes from the tasting. The notes are similar to any wine notes I would put out in this blog. Does it make sense for the cognac? Maybe yes, maybe no, but this is the best I can do. As a bare minimum, you will get an idea. During the tasting, we also decided which cognacs/brandies would be worth re-tasting (round 2) and then we rated all the cognacs to decide on our top favorites. Without further ado, here are the results:

E&J V.S. Brandy
Sweet fruit on the nose
Caramel candy on the palate, just caramel.

E&J V.S.O.P. Grand Blue Brandy
Sweet fruit on the nose, dry fruit
Burnt sugar on the palate, pure milk chocolate candy with fruit preserve. Horrible.

Paul Mason Grande Amber Brandy
Dark red fruit, herbs
Touch of sweetness, good restrained, good balance

Hennessy Very Special Cognac
Dry fruit on the nose
Wooden notes, a touch of sweetness, lacks excitement

Courvoisier V.S. Cognac
Oak notes on the nose
Nice restraint, but mostly flat

A. De Fussigny Sélection Fine Cognac
Beautiful nose, sandalwood, nice perfume
Disjointed on the palate, needs more balance

Paulet VS Cognac
Nice complexity on the nose
Good fruity palate, perfectly integrated, excellent balance.
Very good, perfectly elegant, round 2 – final verdict #3

ABK6 Family Reserve XO Single Estate Cognac
Beautiful nose, you can smell the grapes
Perfect complexity, wild apricot, wild apricot pit, a hint of sweetness, but dry finish
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict #6

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish
Wow. Cigar box, medicine box, great complexity
Amazing complexity, perfect balance, cigar box, apricot, one of the very best
Wow. Round 2 – final verdict – #1, best of the tasting

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish Single Cru 10 years aged
Very complex nose
On the palate, effervescent, but not as impressive as the second one
Very good, round 2 – final verdict #11

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish Unique Single Cask Edition Distilled 2004
Amazing nose, very complex
Very complex, spicy oak, delicious
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict #9

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 90 XO
Wow, spicy pepper nose, sweet fruit, amazing
Great complexity, fruity notes, excellent balance
Round 2 – final verdict – #5

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 76 XO Tradition
Dry fruit, wild flowers
Interesting complexity, but not harmonious
Round 2, final verdict – #10

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 53 XO Perfection
Very feminine on the nose, delicate, perfumy, plums, vanilla
Floral complexity, elegant, delicious
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict – #8

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 29 XO Exception
Beautiful nose, complex, round
Herbal notes, plums, spices, perfectly balanced.
Very good, round 2 – final verdict #7

Saint-Vivant Armagnac AOC
Lemon and herbs on the nose
Touch of oak, good acidity, a touch of herbs.

Pierre Ferrand 1er Cru de Cognac Reserve Grand Champagne AOC
Fruity, elegant
Beautiful fruit on the palate, plums, a touch of chocolate, perfectly balanced
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict – #4

1966 Darroze Bas-Armagnac
Very complex, Forrest underbrush, spices, white pepper
Dark chocolate, dried fruit, perfectly restrained
Superb, round 2 – final verdict – #2

As you can tell, Cognac Park Mizunara Borderies AOC was our top choice, followed by the 1966 Darroze Bas-Armagnac and then Paulet VS cognac ($25 at Total Wine, winery direct program).

Here you go, my friends – an account of the cognac tasting. With the exception of E&J, which humans should not drink, this was a great tasting.

What do think of cognac? Do you like drinking it? Any favorites?

Daily Glass: Monday Night Wine

September 12, 2022 Leave a comment

Monday night. The first working day of the week is over. Or it might not be over, who knows. But it is Monday, and the week is just starting. Is there a wine more suitable for Monday than any other day of the week?

Friday night is easy. Friday always means fun and celebration. Friday is already playful, so unless you have serious dinner plans aligned, Friday night wine might be even a cocktail for all I can tell.

I guess Saturday is asking for a serious wine, no matter what. It’s the middle of the weekend which is always special. Thursday… well, I don’t know about Thursday, let’s get back to Monday.

So how do we select the wine for Monday night? Most likely, you are at home. Most likely, it is only you and your spouse drinking. Most likely, you are not in a hurry. Most likely, you can take your time and enjoy that glass for as long as you want. Considering all of these “most likely” circumstances, let’s settle on the thought-provoking wine. The wine which shows its beauty slowly, sniff by sniff,  sip by sip.

Can you think of a wine that would match this description?

While you think about it, I will lead by example and offer to talk about my Monday wine.

2019 Turley Bechtold Vineyard Cinsault Lodi (12.4% ABV). Wine from one of my favorite producers – Turley. Wine from one of my favorite wine regions in California (and not only in California) – Lodi.

Lodi flies under the radar for a lot of wine lovers. Everybody knows Napa and Sonoma. Californian Pinot Noir aficionados probably know Santa Barbara County. Meanwhile, Lodi is where Robert Mondavi went to high school and where his father run the grape-packing business. Lodi is the single largest AVA in North America, and Lodi is where Napa winemakers go to get their grapes. Maybe most importantly, Lodi is home to a number of old, continuously producing vineyards. Of course, everyone likes to lay a claim to the “oldest vineyard” here and there – however, Bechtold vineyard in Lodi was planted in 1886, and oldest or not, 136 years of continuously producing fruit deserves the utmost respect.

Lodi might be best known for its old vines Zinfandels, but our Monday wine tonight is made out of Cinsault, a grape typically used in Rhône and Provence. Cinsault wines typically offer a fruity and floral profile with some pungent undertones.

2019 Turley Cinsault was made using whole cluster fermentation with natural yeast and aged for about 7 months in used French oak barrels. The result was the wine that delivered that thought-provoking Monday night experience we were talking about.

On the nose, the wine offered fresh berries and a hint of the forest floor. On the palate, there was a delicate interplay of raspberries, sour cherries, tartness, and acidity, all packaged together delicately but firmly, and finishing off with sour cherries and cherry pits, long-lasting and offering an opportunity to enjoy a quiet moment. (Drinkability: 8/8+)

That’s how my Monday night wine was (delicious!). How was yours?

Daily Glass: Yin and Yang

September 9, 2022 Leave a comment

Obey your inspiration.

Yin and Yang are too big of a concept to casually use while discussing everyday wines. Black and white. Darkness and light. Night and day. Passive and active. There is a lot of meaning behind the revolving black and white semi-spheres, and we would need a few (4, 5, …) bottles of wine to discuss it. So what gives?

I was drinking a bottle of wine for 5 days. Open, pour a little into a glass, drink, hope to be amazed, close, pump the air out, put aside. Repeat. And then I opened a bottle for a Friday night dinner of homemade tacos, and the wine was delicious and approachable from the moment it hit the glass. Yin and Yang, the brain said. This is a perfect title for the post. Who am I to argue?

Yin is a black portion of the circle of life. 2014 Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Gran Reserva (13.5% ABV, $19.99 at WTSO, $49.99 on the web) was the Yin at the moment.

Bodegas Riojanas was founded in 1890 by the Artacho family which had a long winemaking history prior to that. Unlike many other Rioja’s Greats, who set up their wineries close to the train station in Haro, Bodegas Riojanas winery was built in Cenicero, where the grapes grew. Bodegas Riojanas was among the 13 founding wineries behind the Rioja DOC denomination. Today, Bodegas Riojanas farms 250 acres of vineyards and produces a large number of white, red, Rosé, and sparkling wines.

Bodegas Riojanas Gran Reserva is one of the flagship wines. 100% Tempranillo, aged for 24-30 months in the casks, produced in traditional Rioja style. 2014 vintage was rated “good” in the official Rioja vintage classification – the best years are identified as “Excellent”, then “very good”, and then “good” – so we can say that this was an okay year. Traditional style Gran Reserva wines are typically tight and need time – and so was this wine. For 5 days, as I was tasting it little by little, the wine was opening up ever so slightly. Don’t get me wrong – it was drinkable for someone who likes the power and likes to drink super-structured, super-tight wines. On day 5, there was a glimpse of cherries and a cigar box, which was slowly replaced by the tannins on the finish. This is the wine with promise, but we need to wait until the Yin will turn.

Now, the Yang – 2018 Casa Santos Lima Confidencial Reserva Vinho Regional Lisboa (13.5% ABV, $9.99, 10+ grape varieties, 6 months in the French oak cask).

Casa Santos Lima also has a history that lasts more than 100 years. The company had great success as a producer and exporter at the end of the 19th century. In 1990, the company was restarted, and today 90% of the produced wines are exported to more than 50 countries on 5 continents. Casa Santos Lima produces a wide range of wines in all the regions in Portugal, with a significant focus on providing value.

It is not for nothing this wine is called Confidencial. You might know that I excel and take pride in being a very capable grape sleuth. And nevertheless, as the name says, I was only able to find out that the wine is produced out of more than 10 confidential varieties – nowhere there are any hints on what those grapes might be.

This is not necessarily surprising. Yes, it can be a clever marketing play (humans love mystery), but at the same time, lots of grapes in Portugal are growing as field blends, where the grape grower doesn’t exactly know what grapes are growing in a given vineyard or a given plot – this might be a great idea to simply declare such blend as “confidential”.

Based on my experience with Portuguese grapes varieties, I would think that Touriga Nacional is a part of the blend, with the wild strawberries being a telltale sign. In any case, the wine was delicious with soft and supple wild strawberries and raspberries forming the core, and sage and other garden herbs playing a supporting role. Layered, velvety, and round – perfectly approachable and enjoyable right at this moment. (Drinkability: 8-/8).

Yin and Yang are all about harmony, and things that are changing in life – what was white can become black, and the other was around. The light can bring warmth or it can kill. The darkness can be scary, or it can be comforting.

With time, these two wines can completely change places. The Rioja might become absolutely stunning in 25-30 years., The Portuguese red might be past prime even in 10. The Yin and Yang can swap places. But we don’t know what will happen in the future, and that makes it all fun. Let’s drink to the harmony in life. Cheers!

%d bloggers like this: