Behind The Label

September 18, 2017 12 comments

We eat with our eyes first – everybody knows that. We drink in exactly same way. While looking for the wine to buy, we always start from the label. Of course, sometimes we might be looking just for the specific producer’s name – but way more often than not, wine consumer is lured by the appearance of the bottle before anything else. We let the bottle speak to us.

Wine producers always knew the effect of the bottle appearance, and always tried to design attractive and appealing labels – think about Château Mouton Rothschild, for example, which started their “Artist” wine label series back in 1945. 20-25 years ago, the design, and most importantly, production capabilities were limited both in style and the cost. But not today- there are literally no limits to how creative the wine bottle design can get in today’s world. It is hard to tell what exactly makes the wine label instantly attractive, but we all can recognize that special label when we see it. I shared my fascination with the creativity of the wine labels on the multiple occasions in this blog – here is one example for you.

You don’t have to agree with me, but I see creative wine labels as objects of art. Art at large is a form of the human expression. Art takes lots and lots of different forms – beautiful building, successful surgery, a sublime glass of wine, a flower, a painting. I’m sure there are countless studies written on the subject, and I will not even try for the slightest bit to delve into it, but I’m convinced that art as a final expression always has its source, the origin, it is inspired – and this leads to the fundamental question – what inspires the art? I will leave you to ponder at that, and meanwhile, let me turn our conversation towards the … wine, of course.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava When I saw the label of Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé, my first reaction was “wow, this is a beautiful bottle”. The next question was – what does it mean? Yes, I read the description connecting Vilarnau Trencadís Edition cavas to the work of famous architect Antoni Gaudí, but I still wanted to understand the true inspiration behind this label. I reached out to the winery, and asked a few questions – here is our short conversation:

[TaV]: Vilarnau produces Cava since 1949. When Trencadís labels were used on Vilarnau Cava for the first time?
[V]: We launched the Trencadis labels at the end of 2014.

[TaV]: What was the inspiration behind the Trencadís labels?
[V]: This form of mosaic is very famous in Catalunya, Spain. Inspired by the Park Guëll in Barcelona and the famous artist Gaudí. Vilarnau is the “Barcelona Cava” and we felt it was fitting to use such an iconic design to decorate the bottles.
Trencadís’ is a type of mosaic used in Catalan modernism, created from broken tile shards. The technique is also called ‘pique assiette’. The mosaic is done using broken pieces of ceramic, like tiles and dinnerware. The Catalan architects Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Pujol used trencadís in many projects, among which Barcelona’s Parc Güell is probably the most famous. Vilarnau being so close to Barcelona (not only geographically, but also with heart and soul), it was natural to pick up this typical artistic theme for our winery.

[TaV]: Are the Trencadís Cava target the specific market, or do they sell equally well world-wide?
[V:]: We are currently exporting this label to almost 30 markets (principle markets being the USA, UK, Germany, and Belgium) and the number is growing as consumers love the design and the wine.

[TaV]: Do you have plans to add any new wines to the Trencadís series?
[V]: When we first launched we only had the Brut Reserva NV in the trencadis design but we have added the Rosado Reserva to the range two years and the Brut Nature Vintage and Demi-Sec last year

[TaV]; Do you have plans for any other “creative label” designs under Vilarnau name?
[V]: Barcelona is a constant inspiration to us and we are full of ideas, however, we have so much to do with the Trencadis design that we probably won’t launch anything new for the next 2 years or so.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava glasses

The beautiful label is very important, it sets the expectations and makes you anticipate more from the wine. But – the content of the bottle is better to support the beauty of the label, or the joy of wine drinking will quickly dissipate.

I’m happy to say that the NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Trencadís Edition Rosé D.O. Cava (12% ABV, SRP: $15, 90% Trepat and 10% Pinot Noir, 15+ month in the bottle) didn’t disappoint. Beautiful intense pink color, classic Sparkling nose, with a touch of yeast and toasted bread on the nose, supported by fresh tart strawberries and lemon notes on the palate, crisp, succulent and invigorating. A perfect sparkling wine by itself, and at a price – almost an unbeatable value. (Drinkability: 8-/8).

What do you think of Art of the [wine] Labels? Do you have some favorites? Cheers!

Time to Celebrate Grenache – 2017 Edition

September 15, 2017 4 comments

This year, I managed to miss lots of the “grape day” celebrations. Well, life takes precedence. But – we have enough grapes to celebrate, and I’m glad to partake in festivities in honor of one of my most favorite grapes – Grenache, a.k.a. Garnacha, and sometimes a.k.a. Garnatxa (hmmm, should I also mention Cannonau?).

Grenache is one of the most versatile grapes I know, and the word “versatile” here truly has multiple meanings. Grenache does perfectly in the “old world”, producing delicious wines in France (think Southern Rhone and Languedoc), all over the Spain, and Sardinia in Italy. It reaches incredible heights in the “new world”, producing cult level wines in Australia and the USA (Sine Qua Non, anyone?). Grenache wines are delicious in its purity, made out of the 100% of the grape; Grenache also performs splendidly in a band, often known as GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blend, where it can play multiple roles, from leading to minor and supportive. Yes, it is one versatile grape.

Grenache from Carinena

When it comes to Grenache, especially on its special day, province of Aragon in Northern Spain deserves special mention. It is widely considered that the Kingdom of Aragon was a birthplace of Grenache, and from there the grape took on to Italy and France, before conquering the rest of the world. In Aragon, 4 wine regions – DOs of Cariñena, Somontano, Calatayud, and Campo de Borja – produce what we can call a “classic Grenache” (I guess “classic Garnacha” would sound more appropriate), boasting some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world.

We can’t celebrate with an empty glass, can’t we? For this special day, I would like to share with you the notes for 3 of the “classic Garnacha” wines, coming exactly from the DO Cariñena in Aragon:

2015 Paniza Garnacha Rosé Cariñena DO (13% ABV)
C: deep pink
N: fresh strawberries, berries and leaves
P: fresh strawberries all the way, succulent, generous and round. Perfect presence in your mouth.
V: 8-/8, delicious wine

2014 Bodegas San Valero Particular Garnacha Cariñena DO (14%ABV)
C: garnet
N: fresh plums, mocha, eucalyptus, inviting
P: tart cherries, clean acidity, fresh present tannins, touch of blackcurrant, a bit of white pepper
V: 8-, perfectly playful, very good wine.

2014 Corona D Aragon Old Vine Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV)
C: very dark garnet, practically black
N: sandalwood, spices, dark chocolate, touch of roasted meat
P: medium body, good acidity, touch of cherries, fresh, hint of dark chocolate
V: 7+/8-, nice rendition

What is in your glass? How do you celebrate the noble grape? Happy Grenache Day! Cheers!

Guest Post: 5 Wonderful Reasons Why Should Go a Culinary and Wine Vacation for Your Next Travel Getaway

September 7, 2017 2 comments

Today I want to offer to your attention a guest post by Lystia Putranto,  a personal & professional development blogger for BookCulinaryVacations.com. Lystia is a lover of travel, a self-professed foodie, and an amateur cook who admittedly spends way too much time surfing the web.

As the last quarter of the year is around the corner, many of us are taking advantage of this time to plan our next great adventure. If you happen to be a food and wine lover and you’re on the hunt for travel ideas, there’s no better way to indulge in your passions than by going on a culinary and wine focused vacation!

For starters, did you know that by 2015, 77% of leisure travelers can already be classified as culinary travelers? This trend has continued to rise and is predicted to rise even higher in the coming year. So, if you have yet to join in this exciting (and not to mention delectable) bandwagon, it’s about time that you do so.

As a lover of travel, food, and wine, I can personally attest that there’s much to gain and experience through this unique type of holidays. But if you’re not yet convinced, on this post, I’m sharing with you five of the many wonderful reasons why you should sign up for a culinary vacation too:

1.      You’ll Discover New & Exciting Flavors

In order to truly make the most of our travels, keep in mind that we can only grow and enrich our lives by doing something we have yet to try. So instead of setting yourself up for yet another touristy sight-seeing trip, why not try (and taste) something different for a change?

With a new destination comes plenty of delicious local eats & drinks. Through culinary holidays, you’ll get an amazing opportunity to explore a variety of new and exciting flavors through its delicacies and locally produced beverages – and yes, in many sought after destinations such as France, South Africa, Chile, and California, this certainly includes a whole lot of wine!

As you already know, food is almost always much more delicious and authentic when we enjoy it in the country or place of origin. You’d also be interested to know that some local dishes and ingredients are extremely rare and would not be easily found anywhere else in the world so this the time to take full advantage of it.

2.      You’ll Expand Your Knowledge

Looking to deepen your culinary and/or wine knowledge? During a wine vacation, for example, you won’t only be tasting the various wine that the winery produces, you’ll get to learn all about wine far beyond what you would learn in a wine tasting event such as how to harvest grapes as well as the steps of the entire wine production right up to its bottling process.

3.      You’ll Learn How to Prepare Authentic Delicacies

Image credit: Alila Manggis Bali

What makes culinary vacations stand out from the usual “run-of-the-mill” vacations or food tours is that you also get the opportunity to prepare them from scratch yourself! This way, you can learn to recreate them back home. That is the simple yet powerful beauty of a hands-on cooking experience.

As a self-professed foodie, I adore all type of cuisines – but I must admit that Thai food is amongst my top 3 favorites. So, on my last trip to Thailand, I decided to sign up for a cooking class in Bangkok to learn how to prepare authentic Thai dishes such as Tom Yum Goong and Pad Thai.

In the end, not only did I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, thanks to the warm guidance of the school’s professional instructors, I was also genuinely impressed how fun and easy it all was!

As an added bonus, some cooking vacations may include visits to the local markets where you get to purchase the ingredients for your meal or even pick your own fresh produce straight from their own farm. In this case, it’s not uncommon that everything you make is farm-to-table ready, making your holiday that much more special.

4.      You’ll Make New Friends

Image credit: Porto Club Travel Services

Whether you prefer traveling solo, with a partner or in a group, through a cooking vacation, you are bound to meet plenty of new people. This includes both locals as well as other travelers from all corners of the globe. This is your chance to cultivate a better understanding of the diverse culture and languages of the world. Who knows? Perhaps some of the people you meet on your trip may just end up becoming (new) lifelong friends!

5.      You’ll Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture

Image credit: Cris Puscas

They say that travel is the only thing that one can buy that makes us richer. I personally believe this to be true. It allows us to learn more about what our beautiful world has to offer. And there’s no better group of people that will be able to teach us a destination’s local culture than the locals themselves.

Culinary travel allows you to center your trip on cultural immersion – meeting the locals, sampling local cuisines and beverages, and indulging yourself in the local ways of life. It’s an experience that will not only tantalize your taste buds but also one that will open your eyes and mind to a whole new perspective of seeing the world.

For The Love of Chowder – October 1, 2017 – Be There Or Else

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

chowdafest logoSo the time has come to put your chowder face on … wait, is there such thing as a “chowder face”? I know there is a “game face” and a “poker face”, but “chowder face”? Okay, don’t want to make it too complicated – if you like chowder, then happy face with an ear to ear smile is all you need, as 10th annual ChowdaFest is coming up in mere 3 weeks!

On Sunday, October 1st, starting at 11 AM, at the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, 40 restaurants (click for the list) will compete for YOUR vote to become Chowda Champions! I attended two of the past competitions, in 2015 and 2016, and I can tell you from the experience – you don’t want to miss this event. Chowdafest is an incredible amount of fun, good time and good food.

This year, the participants will compete in 5 categories:

  • Classic New England Clam Chowder
  • Traditional Chowder (Rhode Island and Manhattan)
  • Creative Chowder
  • Soup/Bisque (think Lobster Bisque)
  • Vegetarian (new category for 2017!)

2017 Chowdafest will go way beyond Chowder – you will also be able to sample artisan bread and sauces, salsas and chips, farm fresh ice cream, yogurts, cheeses, and lots more.

Just to give you an idea of what was happening in the past years, here is a brief summary:

Chowdafest collage

Everybody get a spoon, a pencil, and a voting chart – you can rate all the chowders on the scale from 7.0 to 10.5, and the best restaurant in each category will be tallied up shortly after the event will end. In case you are curiuous, here you can find the list of the past winners of the Chowdafest.

That’s all I wanted to tell you, my friends. Mark your calendars, cancel whatever non-essentiall activities you had for that day, and just be there, with your family and friends, briging a good appetite and the desire to have fun. You can get your tickets on the Chowdafest website – the link is here for your convenience (note that AAA members get a good discount).

For the love of Chowder – cheers!

Travel Diaries: Few Days in Malmö, Sweden

August 29, 2017 2 comments

About a month ago, I shared with you, mostly in pictures, my experience of a few hours in the Copenhagen. Copenhagen visit was a lucky detour, but the actual destination of that trip was the city in the Southern Sweden called Malmö.

Okay, I’m not going all of a sudden talk about the history of Malmö, the capital and largest city of the Swedish county of Scania – everything you want to know you can find in the Wikipedia or other sources. I was there for long and grueling week-long meetings and really didn’t have time to freely roam around – most of my sightseeing was done during the lunch breaks. Nevertheless, I have tons of pictures, thanks to a very capable camera which is now in the pockets of most of the people all the time (yes, that would be an iPhone for you, Apple-loving people) – and I have my impressions from walking the streets and interacting with people.

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

I can summarize my impressions of 5 days in Malmö in 3 simple words: “I loved it”. That’s all I need to say, really. The streets, the city views, the people, the hotel, the food – that is truly a full summary.

I know that everyone’s perception is different, and more often than not, we get lucky in our endeavors (unfortunately, we often take it for granted, but this is not the subject of this post). Yes, my impressions are based on spending time in the area adjacent to the Malmö Central train station, in the radius of 20–25 minutes walking from that train station. Is life very different in the areas which are located an hour away from the train station and city center of Malmö or elsewhere in Sweden? Quite possible, but I will let you find out.

 

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

 

Streets of Malmo

Anyone wants to play while waiting for the train?

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo Streets of Malmo

I loved the way the town is architected. The old and authentic looking houses and buildings are perfectly intermixed with the new houses and buildings. The style of the new construction is modern and clean (it is Scandinavia, after all), but the old and the new work very well together.

Bicycles are everywhere. Lots and lots of bicycles are parked along the streets, there are lots of people riding them, and an absolute majority of the sidewalks have designated “lane” for bicycles where pedestrians are not allowed.

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

HSB Turning Torso – a marvel of engineering

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

And then people. Anyone I talked to had perfect English. Young and old, at the restaurants or on the streets, at the train station or a supermarket – people had no issues switching to a perfect English in a heart bit. I wouldn’t claim any special traveling prowess but having been to a few countries outside of the USA, I have some basis for the comparison – this experience was definitely unique and ultimately comforting (you can truly relax knowing that you will be understood if need to ask a question).

I stayed at Marriott Renaissance, and this was one of my absolutely favorite hotel experiences – very comfortable room, nicely appointed, with the temperature which can be easily adjusted – those who stay at the hotels, will understand my excitement, I’m sure; good size bathroom and everything in the working order. Nicely appointed interior throughout the hotel, and – all the service staff were a pleasure to talk to. Again, if you travel, you will understand my excitement. Excellent breakfast buffet, which appears small but has an outstanding variety of everything you need for a good breakfast (I suggest you will get it included in your room rate).

If I have a gripe with my trip, it would be food and, especially, the wine. Not the quality or quantity, no, not at all – but the price. You can’t find a bottle of wine at a restaurant which will be cheaper than $50 (most of the prices start from $60). Most of the beers will be $8+ per glass, and cheapest glass of wine (hard to find) will be around $12. When you look at the prices of the hard liquors, they look perfectly reasonable, until you understand that the prices are given for the 10 centiliters – there are about 3 centiliters in an ounce, and standard pour in the USA is 2 ounces, so what looked super-cheap at $4 or even $6, doesn’t look that attractive at $18 for the half of your typical pour. Food is also not cheap, so keeping your dinner at least around $60 with one glass of wine is not simple at all. But – pretty much everything we ate was very tasty, so I really don’t have a good reason to complain. And I have to say that if you chose to skip the full-service restaurants, there are plenty of inexpensive dining options – for instance, lots of small restaurants inside the train station, serving tasty food (this is where we had most of our lunches).

Here are the restaurants I’m happy to recommend if your travel will take you to Malmö:

Espresso House
Espresso House is a chain, similar to the US Starbucks – there are no Starbucks in Sweden. It is similar to Starbucks in the selection of the drinks, but beyond just that, also has very similar issues. Let me explain. I visited the Espresso House located on the plaza next to the Renaissance hotel. First, the barista made me wait for at least 5 minutes, just keep doing and doing something without paying any attention to my presence in front of the counter (the place is small, so yes, she saw me). Then, there was a list of various coffees available to order – from 4 or 5 different countries of origin – when I asked to explain me the differences, was quickly told to ignore the list as Brazilian coffee was the only one available anyway.
But – the ambiance of the sitting area on the second floor was very nice, and the whole place had a charm, so the service part was quickly forgotten as I was enjoying my cup of coffee and a pastry.

Hamnmästaren
Bagers plats 1
211 18 Malmö, Sweden
Ph: +46 72-865 96 68
Who would’ve thought that Malmö is a place for an American barbecue? And so it actually is! We stumbled across this little place, located close to the train station, in the old house on the Port Supervisor. The restaurant offers a good selection of beer and all the bbq “usual suspects” – pork, brisket, chicken. I ordered chili to start with and pulled chicken sandwich. Big mistake. The chili was huge in size and was mostly pulled pork with beans, generous and delicious. And when it came to the pulled chicken sandwich, I never saw more overstuffed sandwich in my life (keep trying to understand my logic of not taking any pictures; sigh) – and this was probably the very best smoked chicken I ever had too. Beware of the portion sizes – and this place is definitely worth a visit.

La Brasserie
Skomakaregatan 10
211 34 Malmö, Sweden
+46 40 12 21 00
A French style restaurant, as you can tell by the name. The reasonable selection at around $50 per bottle – my gripe is that those wines are mostly around $7 – $8 in retail (outside of Sweden, of course), but nevertheless. We had a bottle of Cotes du Rhome and a Corbieres, both from 2014 vintage and both nicely drinkable.
I asked for waitress’ recommendation for my main dish, deciding between steak tartar and a seafood soup, technically a bouillabaisse. She confidently replied: “seafood soup” (I wonder what was her criteria to suggest it).
The soup had a total of 3 mussels in it, and random pieces of fish, in somewhat heavy broth. Again, I’m not sure what was the basis for the recommendation for this dish, but I definitely found it underwhelming. Nevertheless, you might give it a try, may be seafood is not their specialty.

Bastard
Mäster Johansgatan 11
211 21 Malmö, Sweden
Ph: +46 40-12 13 18
French flair restaurant. Reservations are definitely recommended – it was almost a miracle that we got in on Wednesday, there were lots of people sent away.
Good list of beer and wine. I had nice French cider first, then a glass of house Rosé, very tasty.
The restaurant offers a tasting menu, which has to be shared by the table, which was what we took. The tasting menu is not predefined, it is basically “whatever chef feels like today”.
The charcuterie was very tasty and steak tartar was outstanding. The followed by the two salads, both were simply a standout – Panzanella salad with boquerones, and then tomato and feta salad – the tomatoes were so succulent – I don’t know when was the last time I tasted tomatoes like that. Squash pizza was unusual and tasty and our last dish, individual servings of ham with mashed potatoes and fresh peas – was delicious to the last morsel.  A very tasty experience.

Drumbar Scottish Pub & Tavern
Lilla Torg 9,
Hedmanska gården
211 34 Malmö, Sweden
+46 40 799 90
An English pub with outstanding selection of beer and scotch. I wish I realized that the word “drum” in the Drumbar relates to the actual “drum”, the whisky. The selection of drums was just spectacular – which I saw only as we were leaving. Yeah…
Had Innis & Gunn an IPA style beer on draft, but with more citrusy notes and not as biting as traditional IPA, and fish and chips for dinner (we are in the pub, right?) – may be the best I ever had – huge piece of cod, lightly fried, delicious sauce – outstanding. My colleague had pork shank which was absolutely perfect – rich, flavorful, fall-off-the-bone with crispy skin – another standout. An excellent place well worthy of anyone’s attention.

That’s all I wanted to share, with you, my friends. If your travel will take you to Malmö, I hope you will find these notes useful. If you’ve been to Malmö recently, I would be glad to compare the notes. Cheers!

Drink Local, Colorado Edition (and Don’t Lose Hope)

August 21, 2017 14 comments

I’m an eternal optimist. Even when I’m worrying about something, deep inside, I still believe that everything will be okay – one way or the other (sometimes we really have to look for this “okay”, but this is a subject for the whole other post).

This “life’s attitude”, of course, reflects on my approach to wines. Particularly, a belief that in today’s world, good wines can be made everywhere and anywhere – not only in a few places we know can produce the good wines. And anywhere I travel, I’m always looking to prove myself right – which I call “drink local”.

This time, my travel took me to Denver, Colorado. Colorado sounds as good as any other state in the US to be able to produce wines, so once I situated at my hotel in downtown of Denver, off I went to the closest liquor store in Denver.

While walking to the store, literally few steps before it, I saw a sign for the “Wild Women Winery” – I couldn’t even believe my luck, to find a city winery short walking distance from the hotel, also with a very cool sounding name. So I walked in and situated at a bar table, looking at the bottles with super-creative, super-colorful labels.

Talking to the bartender, I learned that while the winery is located in the Colorado (downtown Denver, to be precise), they make wines from the grape juice which they get from California Central Valley, as the winemaker believes that local Colorado grapes are too young to produce a good wine. Fine – the proof is always in the glass, right?

I decided to try 3 wines for $5 (happened to be an extremely wise decision, as opposed to trying 7 for $10, you will understand why in a minute).

The first wine was Viognier – a touch of overripe Apple with sage on the nose. Good fruity palate nice acidity, golden delicious apples. Not my favorite, but not bad. Not amazing, but drinkable.

My next choice was Cab/Merlot blend and that wine really threw me off – too sweet all around, no balance, no acidity, just a sweet fruit. Don’t remember when was the last time I disliked the wine so intently.

At that point I realized that all of the wines the winery offers are non-vintage wines, so I tried to discuss it with the bartender, but unfortunately, she didn’t know what “vintage” means, and I had to face the issue that certain basic concepts we, oenophiles, take for granted, are not so easy to explain in the simple terms. Nevermind.

The last wine, Petite Sirah, had a sweet chocolate nose, bitter-sweet type. Sweet fruit compote on the palate, definitely too sweet, but more acidity than the previous wine. Mostly plum notes with the equivalent acidity of just ripe, but not overripe plum. A marginal improvement.

This visit really left me at the feeling of deep disconcert – I see a lot of passion on the labels, but the soulless concoctions inside the bottles were really conflicting with the bright images.

I gladly left the winery and headed over to the liquor store. Here I had another surprise – a sticker shock. I understand that the wine store is located in the downtown of Denver. But Colorado wines aren’t that well-known, aren’t they? There was a good selection of the local Colorado wines present, none of them cheaper than $20 (okay, $19.99 if it makes you feel any better). Really? On my recent trip to Canada, I had a phenomenal selection of tasty wines under $15. Now, especially after the first tasting fiasco, I had to spend $20+ for a bottle which I might just have to pour down the drain?

After going back and forth and trying (unsuccessfully) to obtain an advice of the store clerk (”I tasted only this one wine”, “yeah, yeah”, “huh, you don’t like sweet wines? Really?”), I settled on the bottle which looked the most Colorado-authentic while still staying in the low $20s- Two Rivers Syrah – at least the information on the back label suggested that the grapes were harvested in Colorado.

Two Rivers Syrah Colorado

The wine was definitely an upgrade over the previous experience, but still no cigars. As this was nevertheless a better wine, here are my typical-style notes:

2015 Two Rivers Château Deux Fleuves Vineyards Syrah Mesa County, Colorado (14.1% ABV, $22.95)
C: dark garnet, nice visible legs
N: blackberries, tar, tobacco, sage, medium to high intensity
P: sweet berries, tobacco, good acidity
V: 7-, it is drinkable, but sweetness too prevalent.
7 on my the second day – sweetness subsided a bit, and roasted meat notes showed up. Still, the finish is mostly sweet fruit with a touch of tobacco.

On the last day before leaving Denver, I still had a bit of the free time and decided to give Colorado wines one more try. I found another wine store, still within short walking distance from the hotel, with good reviews on Google, and took 20 minutes walk. This store had a much smaller selection of Colorado wines, but a little bit better prices (by a few dollars, nothing major), and incomparably better, knowledgeable service. I left with the bottle of The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc – The Infinite Monkey Theorem is another city winery – but unlike Wile Women Winery, this one I would be happy to visit if I had more time.

Infinite Monkey Theorem Cab Franc

Remember I told you about eternal optimism? It finally worked, as this Cabernet Franc was well worth of writing home about:

2015 The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc, Colorado (12.9% ABV, $21)
C: dark ruby
N: tobacco, sweet bell peppers, freshly crushed blackberries
P: bright, fresh, freshly crushed berries, intense sweet tobacco, a touch of pepper, clean acidity, vibrant.
V: 8, outstanding. Would gladly drink that every day.

There you have it, my friends – my first real encounter with Colorado wines. I was happy to prove myself right and find a good wine made in Colorado. As a collector of experiences, I was also happy to add another checkmark to the list of states I tried the wines from – if you are like me, feel free to compare your records 🙂 Have you had the wines from Colorado? Express yourself in the comments section below. Cheers!

New Ways To Buy Wine From Wines ‘Til Sold Out

August 19, 2017 4 comments

Wine is an expensive passion, we all know that. Of course, passions and hobbies are generally expensive, and if someone’s passion is Swiss watches or sports cars, that is a totally different level of expense. Nevertheless, if you like to have a good glass of wine every day, your wine budget allocation will quickly add up to some scary amounts.

I don’t remember when I discovered Wines ‘Til Sold Out, commonly referred to as WTSO – at least 8 years ago, or possibly even longer – but it was really an eye-opening experience. When I saw the wines offered at 30%, 50% or even 70% off, with free shipping, my first thought was “is that even real”? First, second, tens orders proved that all is for real – the wines, the prices, the shipping, the service  – all were there, and the space in my cellar started to diminish at a rapid pace – but this is not a subject of today’s post.

Wines ‘Til Sold Out is a fine specimen of what is called a “flash-sale” website – the product (in this case, wine) is offered for sale at a greatly reduced price, until it will be sold out (sometimes in minutes), with a free shipping if you meet minimum required purchase quantities. In case of Wines ‘Til Sold Out, such sales are typically announced through an email, a tweet or an app on the smartphones, and you typically need to react quickly if you want to get it – sometimes you don’t even have time to research the wine online, as by the time you are done, there will be nothing left to buy. And what I really appreciate about Wines ‘Til Sold Out is that their typical offering will keep you under $100 for the total order – I’ve seen a few exceptions, but those are very, very rare.

In addition to having wines offered for the “flash sale”, Wines ‘Til Sold Out also runs a series of so-called Marathons. I’ve seen WTSO experiment a bit with the format of those, but a Marathon is typically a whole day event (starting at 9 AM Eastern and lasting until midnight), where the new wines are offered every 15 minutes or faster (if current offer sells out), all wines at a very good price and sometimes even without minimum quantities to buy (you can read more about WTSO marathons here).

Both regular format and marathons are a great way to get good wines at amazing prices. But everything in this world has two sides, isn’t it? So what is the issue, you ask? Simple. Quite often, the wines are moving simply too fast. I had been in the situations where by the time I decide to buy the wine, it is all gone. Marathons are the worst – I had been clicking like a mad man to get to the “confirm order” button, and by the time I press this button, the sad message would appear to inform me that the wine is no longer available.

If you ever been in a similar situation, I have a good news for you. Wines ‘Til Sold Out recently introduced the new way to buy the wine – Bonus Offers. Once you would come to the Wines ‘Til Sold Out web site, look for the “Bonus Offers” in the top menu – when you will click it, you will be presented with the offering of up to 9 different wines – you can buy any or all, no minimums to get free shipping. The wines will be always grouped by a certain theme – one time it can be wines from Napa Valley, another time it can be Cabernet Sauvignon around the world – there is always an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

The new set of Bonus Offers wines will be typically announced via email, and it will last until the wines will be sold out or there will be a time to offer new selection. It is entirely possible that new wines will be added to the current Bonus Offer to replace sold out ones, but this will not be communicated via email, so you pretty much have no choice but to visit the web site and check the Bonus Offers page from time to time. Yesterday, the Bonus Offers page looked like this:

and today Bonus Offer already looks differently – but what else do you expect when the wines are simply getting sold out?

There you have it, my friends. Same great wines at great prices, now with the opportunity to sweat less and simply get what you wnat when you want it. In the world of wine, I’m always happy to drink to that. Cheers!

 

Wing’s Castle – Love, Genius and Perseverance

August 9, 2017 11 comments

“I want you to marry me. And I will build you a castle”. These were the words of 23 years old Peter Wing back in 1970, when he proposed to Toni Ann, standing in a middle of an empty green field in Millbrook, New York. Peter was born and raised a farm boy, and had no idea about construction, never mind building medieval castles, but a promise is a promise.

Wing's Castle

Of course, today you can task trusted Google with getting you all the instructions for DIY castle building enthusiasts. However, in 1970 Google was not even conceived. That didn’t stop Peter – book by book, rock by rock, piece of scrap after piece of scrap, the dream was coming along. Peter and Toni didn’t have money to simply go and shop at the “all for castle builders” aisle at the local Home Depot. Instead, they got whatever pieces they could from the demolitions sites, from houses to buildings to the roads. If you look at the castle rooftops, they look perfectly authentic, similar to what I saw recently in Copenhagen – you will have to do some serious sleuthing to see that those can be old copper sinks and bathtubs – and same goes for most of the parts which together equate to a beautiful castle.

Peter had to conquer many professions to build the house of his dreams – bricklayer, carpenter, plumber, blacksmith – but the castle was growing. When we met Peter about 8 years ago, he was already famous – Wing’s Castle was featured on the Discovery channel and was well known as a unique attraction (the way the castle was built, with lots of small corridors and tight corners, it was also an ideal Halloween destination). Peter had plans for opening a Bed and Breakfast as part of the castle, which would make his and Toni’s life easier.

Last weekend we visited the Wing’s Castle again for a tour with a group of friends, which was run by Toni – we learned that Peter died in the fatal car crash about 3 years ago. The Bed and Breakfast is mostly operational now, with Charles, Peter and Toni’s son, finishing construction of the last guest suite, which will complete the Wing’s Castle – well, or not. I’m sure there will be always ideas to make the castle just a little bit better, don’t you think?

Take a look at the pictures below – look at all the little details and think about all the love and perseverance which went into this lifetime of work. This is the genius of the humankind, the never ending desire to create – forever and ever.

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

View of the valley from Wing's Castle Single Stone Picnic table at Wing's Castle

Outdoor decor at Wing's Castle

Let’s take a look inside:

And a few moer:

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Let’s go shoot some targets?

 

Wing's Castle

 

Peter Wing's Autoportret at Wing's Castle

Peter Wing, self-portrait

Wing's Castle

 

Wing's Castle

Beautiful mosaic…

The latest addition, B&B Guest Suite:

B&B Guest Suite Wing's Castle

B&B Guest Suite Door Wing's Castle

B&B Guest Suite at Wing's Castle

 

 

Wing's Castle

Find the drill bit

And now my favorite – rooftops:

Rooftops of Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Rooftops of Wing's Castle There you have it, my friends. If you are are visiting the area, Wing’s Castle well worth your attention, simply as a proof that people can achieve whatever they will set their mind to. Do you have your favorite love story to share?

Memories of the Oenophile

August 1, 2017 7 comments

If you search the Internet, you will find plenty of references to the medical benefits of the moderate wine consumption – for your heart, blood pressure, cholesterol level, and among other things, memory. It seems that jury is still out on the wine and memory – some say it helps, some say it works the opposite way – I guess it depends on who pays for the research and researcher’s personal view on alcohol – oops, let’s avoid the rant trap, and so let’s leave all the medical stuff aside.

Wine and memory are connected on many different levels. In the most direct terms, mastering the world of wine will greatly tax your memory. Yes, anything humans do connects to memory. But think about thousands and thousands of producers in each and every wine region – the more names you remember, the easier it is for you to make a choice at a restaurant or in the wine store. And this is a simple scenario, as we build this memory step by step when we drink different wines, one producer at a time.

And then there are those (very few) who have to know the names of about 6,000 German villages in order to pass the Master Sommelier exam – and this is something you simply have to memorize as there is no way for you to try the wines from all those villages to create some sort of mental connections.

Think about next level of connection between wine and memory – when you smell and taste the wine. Have you ever smelled the wine, looking for all those blueberries, baking spices and Chinese Cinnamon, so exquisitely described on the back label of the wine? In this case, you need to memorize smells, not the words and there is such a fine line between blueberries and wild blueberries, for instance – it is definitely not an easy task to recall all the aromas (a perception of?) which exist only in our heads, and no wonder most of us struggle so much trying to dissect those escaping flavors – excelling at the blind tasting is so much more difficult compared to memorizing wine regions and producers.

Beyond all the scientific and direct relationships between wine and memory lays something which is far more important than all the technical knowledge and abilities – our experiences. Wine is an ultimate connector and facilitator. It helps us to create memories which stay with us forever. It helps to retain those little moments which comprise life, and bring them back, one by one. Some of those little moments are very personable, often relating to the personal discoveries, especially as we are learning our ways in that vast world of wine. Some of them connect us with our friends and families.

I don’t have that “pivotal bottle experience” which was a starting point of journey for many oenophiles. Instead, I can relate to the singular learning experiences.

Growing up, the wine was never “a thing” in my family. We had some of the home made sweet plum wine, which I developed the taste for at the age of 14 or 15, taking random sips of the sweet liquid from time to time – but this was, of course, for the love of sugar and had nothing to do with learning about wine. In 1989, I was visiting the Czech Republic for work, and I brought back a bottle of white wine, Tokaji – we had it with friends and I thought that it was delicious (I don’t remember any details, but I think it was dry). Next year I visited Bulgaria and brought back the bottle of wine which had the same “Tokaji” written on the label. I still remember my grand disappointment after tasting that wine and finding it to be totally different (in a bad way) from the previous wine under seemingly the same name. The big question in my head was “how is that possible – same name, Tokaji, and such a different taste – what is wrong here???” Of course, I had no idea about regions, producers, vintages – wine was one monolithic “thing” – and that feeling of total surprise became an everlasting memory.

The absolute majority of my wine memories are happy memories – I guess this is how humans are wired, we don’t like to keep bad stuff around for too long. One of the worst memories for the oenophile probably connects to the faulty, spoiled bottles – corked, cooked, oxidized. I had my share of the spoiled wines, however – knock on wood, of course – not anywhere near some statistical averages, to the best of my knowledge. However, the majority of my corked wine experiences would involve a heated exchange with the service staff at the restaurant at the most, but no memories of high-end spoiled bottles (lucky, right?!).

But when it comes to the happy wine memories, the sky is the limit. The discovery of Amarone, tasting of magnificent 1964 Rioja for the first time. First encounter with Krug Vintage, Chateau Margaux, Vega Sicilia Unico and the wines of Lopez de Heredia. The list can go on and on, and on.

And then there are people experiences. Tasting freshly fermented Chenin Blanc at Paumanok winery with Ursula Massoud, right from the fermentation tank. Experiencing 1970 white port in the cellar at Quevedo Port house with Oscar Quevedo, poured directly from the barrel – the wine which most likely will never be bottled. Tasting magnificent Franciacorta sparkling wines right in the cellar, listening to Stefano Camilucci explaining the effect of music on the aging of the sparkling wines, talking to the passionate producers and seeing sparkling wine hitting the ceiling to demonstrate the effect of 6 atm of pressure in the bottle. Such experiences will stay forever with us, conveniently available at any time happy memory is desired.

I really had fun with this trip down the memory lane. How about you? What are you happiest wine moments?

Ahhh Long Island Wine Country

This post is an entry for the 34th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC34), with the theme of “Memory”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory, Obscure, Faith, Translation, Once Upon A Time

And if you really like this post, please vote for it here: #MWWC34

When in Canada … Drink Local, and Visit LCBO

July 26, 2017 7 comments

tasting Niagara winesTruth be told, I love visiting foreign countries. Ability to do that without flying is a huge bonus. So if you live in the Northeast USA, the only foreign country one can visit without flying is Canada – and if you live in the South of the USA, you better really love driving. However, I start getting off the tangent here, so let’s get closer to what I really wanted to talk about.

I don’t know how many times I visited Canada in the past 20 years – really a lot, as it is so close. I had a lot of business meetings there, which would be typically 2-3 days in and out – those would usually involve flying. I’ve done a lot of vacations and long weekend giveaways. Here comes the strange part – with the exception of one trip, I never bought wine in Canada before (outside of restaurants and duty-free shops, where I would typically buy Scotch and not wine). And that one exception was our vacation a few years ago, when we stumbled across beautiful wine region of Niagara-on-the-Lake (more details here and here), and bought a good number of wines at the wineries – I even broke the Canadian law (unknowingly), which apparently prohibits one from moving the wines across province’s borders.

A recent meeting took me to Toronto, and of course, being a wine geek I am, and remembering great experience of a few years back, I definitely wanted to taste some local wines. If I wouldn’t be a blogger who also like to read other blogs, I’m sure I would be quite oblivious to the ways one can obtain a retail alcohol in Canada – but thanks to my wine blogging friends from Canada, like Bill @ Duff’s Wines, I knew the magic word – LCBO! Whatever the acronym stands for, I understood that this is the key word for one looking to buy a bottle of wine. While walking from the train station to the hotel, I saw the magic word written on the store – and this was the “aha moment” – I’m going to have some fun!

If you are into wine, I’m sure you will understand the “Disneyland for adults” analogy for the wine lover at a wine store – especially when it is as large, brightly lit and spacious as the LCBO store I visited. Aisles and aisles of treasures, some under the glass, but still ohh so visible and attractive – good wine store is the place wine lover has a problem leaving on their own. You really need to have a serious reason to walk out of the wine store – it is so much more appealing to look and look and look.

It was definitely interesting to look at the wine selection and the prices – but my end goal was to get a few of the local wines, which means Niagara Peninsula in this particular case, however without spending much money. I ended up with three wines – the Riesling, as I simply love Riesling, and this is the grape which folks in Canada know very well how to handle right; Pinot Noir from Inniskillin, simply because I love Inniskillin, and I had some good Canadian Pinot Noir wines before; and Cabernet Franc, simply because I love the grape, and I had very good experience with Château des Charmes in the past.

When I started writing this post, I found out that all three wines come from the different sub-appellations in Niagara. Here are my notes:

2015 Reif Estate Riesling  Niagara River VQA (12% ABV, CAD 13.95)
C: Straw pale color
N: Touch of petrol on the nose, honey notes
P: Touch of honey on the palate with cut through clean acidity. Excellent balance, very nice overall
V: 7+, very good wine

2015 Inniskillin Niagara Estate Pinot Noir Niagara Penninsula VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
There is an interesting story with this wine. I was very much looking forward to trying it. When I twisted the cup off, I didn’t hear the traditional crackling noise of breaking of the cup off the ring, and it also opened very easily. My first thought was that the someone opened the wine before, but this was very strange. I poured a little taste, tried it – didn’t like it at all. Decided that somehow wine got opened prior, and obviously it was not drinkable anymore. In two days, just before throwing out the bottle, I decided to taste it one more time – and to my amazement (and delight), the wine came around to a fresh and crisp Pinot Noir – a favorite of this tasting:
C: Garnet
N: touch of tobacco and underripe cherries
P: fresh herbs, tart cherries, touch of smoke, good structure, crisp, medium finish
V: 8-, very enjoyable

2015 Château des Charmes Cabernet Franc Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: Fresh berries, freshly crushed blueberries, open, inviting
P: balanced fresh blueberries on the palate – not overripe, but nicely tart, with good acidity. Tobacco showed up on the second day, still perfectly drinkable, nice wine.
V: 7+

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, here are some of the wines observed at LCBO. It was fun to see lots of high-end wines. Bordeaux selection was definitely better than the Burgundy, and France definitely trumpeted California. But anyway, here you can see it with your own eyes:

Niagara VQA wines

Niagara VQA wines

Canadian wines - cool labels

Canadian wines – cool labels

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Alsace wines - ready for that crab

Alsace wines – ready for that crab

Canadian Rosé

Canadian Rosé

Inniskillin Merlot

Inniskillin Merlot

Canadian wines - more cool labels

Canadian wines – more cool labels

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Latour

Château Latour

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Château d'Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château Chaval Blanc

Château Chaval Blanc

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Marchesi di Barolo

Marchesi di Barolo

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Jewels of Canada - Ice Wines

Jewels of Canada – Ice Wines

Vérité La Joie

Vérité La Joie

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Scotch Selection at LCBO

Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

There you have it, my friends. When traveling, drink local. And yes, when in Canada, go and visit the LCBO – just make sure you have enough time for it. Cheers!