Sun and Waves

February 22, 2020 2 comments

Everybody needs a vacation.

Everyone’s idea of a vacation is different.

While I love active vacations, my favorite winter-time vacation is the one where I need to do nothing – just turn from one side to another to prevent the sunburn. Yep, somewhere warm, sunny, with an unlimited supply of good drinks. All-inclusive resort somewhere in the Caribbean in February usually does it for me.

We just came back from Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar, the resort located 25 minutes away from Cancun airport in Mexico, where we had all of these components – sun, water, drinks – everything. Plus an opportunity to take an unlimited number of pictures, especially those of sunrises.

Sunsets and sunrises offer equal magic of observing the day just starting or ending. Sunrises are a bit easier for me to catch, as the evenings are hard to time, to be in the right place at the right time – it is much easier in Cancun in February, especially as the sun comes up after 7 am.

Once a photographer accumulates lots of pictures, the next logical step is to … share them, yes! Below is an account of our recent trip to Cancun, with some additional comments. Hope you will enjoy!

This is some random plane leaving Newark airport

Our first vacation view

First sunrise (I think)

We met some friends:

Valentine’s Day was well acknowledged:

And more friends:

More sunrises:

Of course there was wine:

And there were cocktails:

Of course we enjoyed these simple views:

More friends visited:

We greatly enjoyed our surroundings:

And more sunsets:

And a few more:

Daily Glass: Scotch for Every Day

February 7, 2020 5 comments

Yes, Scotch. Yes, Talk-a-Vino is a wine blog – mostly, anyway.

When I was looking for the name for this blog, my first choice was Grapes and Grains – unfortunately, the domain was taken, and of course, you know the end result of this search. But this is not important. The important fact, the truth of the matter, is that in the making of this snob/aficionado, Scotch was there before wine.

Unlike many wine lovers, I never had my pivotal wine – many wine lovers can refer to a specific bottle which was a revelation and a turning point for them to become faithful wine lovers – however, this was not my case. At the same time, when it comes to the world of scotch, my story was different.

I tried to find my love in scotch for a while, but nothing worked – I couldn’t derive pleasure from a sip of this dark yellow liquid – whatever I tried was too harsh for my palate. And those were not necessarily Dewar’s, Cutty Sark, or J&B – standard staple single malts, such as Glenlivet 12, Balvenie 12 and similar – nothing was working for me.

One day in the liquor store, looking helplessly at the great selection of the beverage which was not singing with me, my eye stopped at Cardhu – a 12 years old single malt from Speyside (there are five main regions in Scotland producing distinctly different scotch – Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown, plus a number of islands, such as Orkney and Skye). It was reasonably inexpensive at $27 (this was in the mid-1990s, today the same bottle is $40+), and I decided to try it. The first sip of Cardhu was a turning point – it was mellow, playful, and elegant – enough to make me an instant convert.

For Cardhu’s revelation to happen, I can only guess that my palate was ready at that time by all the previous attempts – this is what we call an acquired taste. I had a similar scotch revelation in 2005 when I all of a sudden fell in love with Talisker, peaty and medicinal tasting scotch from the Isle of Skye – until that evening, I couldn’t stand Talisker’s iodine and smoke loaded profile. An acquired taste again, yes. Anyway, this is my scotch lover’s story.

When drinking for pleasure, scotch is a perfect drink (once you acquire the taste, of course!). Today, you can buy a bottle of good scotch for $50 – $60. You can spend a little less, and you can spend a lot more – as with the wine, the sky is the limit. While $60 sounds expensive, versus, let’s say, a $25 bottle of wine, let’s look at the things in perspective. $25 bottle of wine means 5 glasses, so each glass is $5, and you can only keep the wine bottle open for so long. Good scotch is a sipping beverage, so one ounce of that is perfectly good enough to enjoy (if your idea of drinking scotch is by doing the shots, you reading the wrong post for a while). $60 for 25 ounces means less than $2.50 per drink. Plus, you can take your time drinking that bottle – I have some bottles at home which had been open for a few years – they are still perfectly enjoyable as on the day when I opened them. I hope you can see my point that scotch makes a perfect drink for every day.

Recently I got two bottles of Speyside scotch for review. The idea was to write a post before January 25th, to celebrate Robert Burns’ 261st birthday. Born in Scotland in 1759, Robert Burns was one of the most celebrated poets, who also happened to mention whisky (scotch) in many of his poems, so it makes perfect sense that his birthday is best celebrated with a glass of dram. Well, that blog post didn’t happen on time, but the scotch I received was simply delicious, and this is what I want to share with you.

Source: Speyburn Speyside Distillery

Source: Speyburn Speyside Distillery

If you will read the stories of the different distilleries in Scotland, you will find one common theme in those – the water. Distillery’s unique water source is often cited as the foundation of the “distinct character” particular scotch has.

Speyburn Distillery was founded by John Hopkins in the 1890s when he “discovered the Granty Burn – an untouched stream hidden in a secluded Speyside valley”. The first Speyburn whisky was distilled in 1897 to celebrate Queen’s Jubilee – it was not a simple task, and you can read more about the challenges on distillery’s website.

The making of whisky at Speyburn distillery starts with the best quality malted barley, and of course, the water. The barley is crushed, and then it is sprayed with hot water for 4 hours to convert starches into the sugars. The next step is fermentation which is done in stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels made out of Douglas fir. Once fermentation is finished, the liquid goes through the double-distillation process which results in the production of alcohol. It is only now the most important part – aging – starts, using bourbon and sherry casks. 10 (15, 18, …) years later, we get the golden liquid which we can then enjoy.

I had an opportunity to taste two different scotches from Speyburn. Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($30) was beautifully mellow, with playful herbal aromatics on the nose, and citrus, honey, and spice on the palate. It is perfectly smooth and easy to drink. I have to mention that in today’s world, this scotch offers an insane QPR.

Speyburn Arranta Casks Single Malt ($44) (Arranta means “intrepid” and “daring” in Gaelic) takes your taste buds to the next level. On the nose, it offers more of the vanilla and butterscotch profile, adding honey, mint, lime and a touch of white pepper on the palate. Beautifully round and complex, with a long playful finish – this scotch really lingers, going and going for the next 3-4 minutes after the sip. Delicious, and again an excellent QPR.

There you are, my friends. If you like scotch, Speyburn perfectly represents Speyside and offers a tremendous value for every day enjoyment – but it will also play perfectly well for any special occasion you might have in mind. Cheers!

 

Pleasures of Obscure: Enjoying the Journey

February 6, 2020 2 comments

Many moons ago I got bit by the bug of collecting the … grape experiences. Back in 2007 or so, I discovered The Wine Century Club. The word “century” here is used for its exact meaning – a 100. In order to become a member of the Wine Century Club, one has to fill up the application and specify how many grape varieties he or she had tried – as soon as you hit the 100, you can send the application to the designated email address, and your membership certificate will be mailed to you.

The club works on the complete honor system, but there is a legend that if you will lie on your application, your palate will be cursed forever – I don’t know if anyone tried to play the system, but I definitely don’t want my palate to be cursed, so I never tried.

When I started this blog back in 2010, I was at the 200 grapes level – so-called Doppel. I carefully documented my journey to the 300 mark (a Treble Member) under the category of Treble Journey. Since that time I managed to reach the 500 level (called Pentavini) back in February of 2016 (exactly 4 years ago) – and this was the last post on the subject of The Wine Century Club – however, I continued documenting my “rare grape” discoveries throughout the posts (that is yet another category in here), and I still hope to reach the 600 mark (called Hexavini) in my lifetime, even though the process became considerably slower at this point. There are more than 1,300 grapes used in the winemaking today, but it doesn’t mean that wines made out of those grapes are readily available, easy to find, and inexpensive.

While reaching the highest possible number of grapes tasted is the goal, my main joy is in the journey itself. There are multiple fun aspects of that journey. First, you get to drink unique and different wines. When taking a sip of Kharkuna or Prunelart, you have no preconceived notions. You can’t say “ohh, it doesn’t taste like Cabernet”, because it is not Cabernet. You now have to decide if you like or don’t like this specific wine in your glass – you have nothing to compare it to and be disappointed by comparison (“ohh, this $30 Cabernet tastes like crap compared to $20 bottle I had last week”) – you have to make a simple, binary decision – 1. I like it. 2. I don’t like it.

Secondly, you get to play a part of the wine sleuth – you need to find information about the grape, you need to find out if Ull de Liebre is a new grape for you, or if it is simply another name for Tempranillo, and you need to verify and compare your sources – lots and lots of fun, I’m telling you.

Ultimately, the list of grapes you tasted is yours and only yours, and you have to make some decisions – for example, will you count clones or not? Is Sangiovese Grosso the same as Sangiovese? Is Ink de Toro identical to Tempranillo, or should it be considered a different grape? What are you going to do about all of the Pinot Noir clones, which many producers, especially the ones in Oregon, love to tell you about? The journey of every grape geek is unique and different – and fun.

As I mentioned before, my last post on the subject of The Wine Century Club was 4 years ago. At that time, my “grape count” which you can see on the top of the blog, was standing at 518. During these four years, I managed to add another 37 varieties, now reaching the 555 total.

Here is another interesting tidbit for you. Only a month ago, I managed to finally complete the original (!) Wine Century Club table, by adding Arvine Grosso (original table, which you can find on the top of the page here,  had 184 varieties listed and had both Arvine and Petite Arvine) to the roster, so this was one of the triggers to this post.

I’m honestly not a hurry, I really enjoy this journey. I have another 3-4 wines made out of unique grape varieties, waiting to be open. Will I ever reach 600? I can’t tell. But I can tell you that I’m thoroughly enjoying each and every rare grape encounter – yes, you can call me a grape geek.

In case you are wondering, below is a full list of all 37 new rare grapes added to the collection over the past 4 years. Have you ever been bitten by the grape bug? Cheers!

Read more…

Big Game and Numbers

January 30, 2020 Leave a comment

As someone who was not born in the USA, it took me a while to warm to the idea of the Super Bowl. One of the “warming” factors was the need to be aware of the super bowl ads, as critical business communication element (of course it is easy now – you can educate yourself quickly and easily online, often even before the event itself) – the Super Bowl ads were easy conversation starter for good 2–3 weeks after the event. Another factor was … come on, you can easily guess it … yes, food. I realized that Super Bowl is simply another opportunity to express your love to your family and friends via cooking, and therefore, it is definitely my type of fun day.

Contrary to what you might expect, I don’t see alcohol as an essential Super Bowl experience element. So much is happening on the screen, between the game itself, the ads, the half-time show that serving a serious, thought-provoking wine would rather become a detractor. I guess this is why beer or a mixed drink makes a better accompaniment for the big game – take a bit of food, often spicy, wash it down with whatever in your glass, preferably something neutral-tasting (don’t think serious craft beers would rate too highly either).

So what are the most popular drinks during Super Bowl? It really depends on where do you live. The folks at Postmates, the largest on-demand delivery network for food, drinks, and groceries, processed some interesting stats which you can find below:

Source: Postmates.com

In this post, you can find a lot more numbers. For example, you can learn that an estimated $14 billion are spent on the Super Bowl celebration every year (no, this is not just food). Or you can find out that Shake Shack was the most popular chain in New York, with 400 orders placed for ShackBurger during Super Bowl night in 2019, and cheese fries were the most popular item in Chicago, with over 2,660 orders placed. Anyway, I will leave to ponder at the numbers on your own. Enjoy!

Daily Glass: Cab And The Whole Nine Yards

January 24, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m sure you are well familiar with the phrase “The whole 9 yards” – technically translating into “lots of stuff”. You know what the fun part is? Nobody knows where this expression came from. There is a lot of research, a lot of “true origin” claims and an equal amount of disparaging remarks about the other side not knowing a squat about the subject (which seems to be the sign of times, sigh). We are not here to research or discuss the expression – my intention is to talk about a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, but I will also give you the whole nine yards of related and unrelated “things”.

Everything started with a simple task – I was in need of the present for a friend’s birthday. My typical present is a bottle of wine of the birth year vintage (1977). However, it is getting more and more difficult to find the wine of such an old vintage at a reasonable price or even at all. After spending some time with Wine-Searcher and Benchmark Wine website, and finding nothing but a few bottles of the vintage Port, I decided that it is the time for the plan B, which means simply finding an interesting bottle of wine.

Next problem – where should I look for an interesting bottle of wine? Online seems to be the most obvious choice – but just to make things more interesting, I have to tell you that my gift recipient owns two liquor stores – yep, surprising him is not a trivial task.

Do you have an American Express credit card? Of course, you are wondering what it has to do with our story? It is most directly related. If you have the American Express credit card (AMEX for short), and if you ever looked at your account online, you probably saw the section called Amex Offers & Benefits. In that section, you can find 100 special offers, allowing you to earn additional points or save money on different items you can buy with the AMEX card. I have a good experience with these offers, these are real savings, so I have a habit of periodically logging into the account and scrolling through the offers. One of the offers I saw quickly attracted my attention – save $50 on a $150 purchase at WineAccess. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a very good deal for me.

I was not familiar with Wine Access, so I got to the website to see if I can actually put this offer to good use. First thing I saw on the site is that $120 or 6 bottles purchase includes shipping, and if you are buying wine online, you know that shipping cost is one of the most annoying elements of the wine buying experience, so this made deal even sweeter – in case I can find something interesting.

I can’t tell you why and how, I first decided to search for Grosset, one of the very best Australian Riesling producers, and to my surprise and delight, I found Grosset Riesling available. So now I needed to add something else to reach my target number – $150.

I found an interesting Bordeaux, and next, I noticed a red blend from the Three Wine company in Napa, one of my favorite producers. My excitement happened to be premature, as once I started the checkout process, created an account and set my shipping address in Connecticut, I found out that I can’t complete my purchase as Three Wine red blend can’t be shipped to Connecticut (don’t you love US wine laws?).

I had to restart my search, and now I noticed Napa Cabernet Sauvignon called Idiosyncrasy – never heard of it, but Oakville Cab for $25 (this was a 50% discount off a standard price of $50) – why not to try one? I got two bottles, one for me, and one for my friend – done and done.

Once the order was placed I decided to check what exactly I just bought. I did a search for the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet online. I didn’t find too many references, but I did find a post which was very critical of the wine, saying that it was thin, and under-extracted Cabernet Sauvignon, absolutely no worthy of $43 which author paid for the wine. I also learned that this wine was specially produced for the Wine Access wine club by the well-known winemaker.

Truth be told – I don’t like wine clubs. What I learned about the wine, didn’t add confidence to my decision. Oh well – now I just had to wait for the shipment to arrive.

I didn’t have to wait for a long, the box showed up on the doorstep in a few days. Upon opening, I found not only 6 bottles which I ordered, but also neat, well-designed information cards – you can see it here:

Each card offered the story related to the wine, pairing suggestions, ideal drinking window put on the bottle tag which could be easily separated from the page and hang on the bottle in case you store it in the cellar. The back of the info card offered space for personal notes. Again, very well designed – would make any oenophile happy.

I read the story of the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon – it was written from the first person, as winemaker talked about his experience and how he came to the creation of this wine specifically for the Wine Access wine club. While the winemaker mentioned his work at Quintessa, Lail, Dalla Valle, and Purlieu, his latest adventure, his name was not found anywhere on the page. I had to figure out that his name was Julien Fayard by visiting Purlieu website.

Nice paper and story are important, but the truth is in the glass. Remembering the bad review, I poured the glass of 2016 Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley (14.9% ABV), ready to be disappointed. To my delight, I was not. The keyword to describe this wine would be “elegant”. Varietally correct nose with touch cassis and mint. On the palate, the wine was rather of Bordeaux elegance – less ripe but perfectly present fruit, a touch of bell pepper, firm structure, perfect balance (Drinkability: 8/8+). Was this the best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever tasted? It was not. Was it the wine I would want to drink again? Absolutely, any day. Was it a good value at $25? This was a great value at $25, and even at $50, it would still be a good value.

Here you go, my friends – a story of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the whole nine yards. Cheers!

If Grapes Would Fight

January 22, 2020 Leave a comment

The Duel.

How human. Or inhumane. Whatever way we want to spin it.

Yes, duels are the thing of the past. You walk on the street. You lightly bump into someone. You apologize. But the other man says that you didn’t hurt his shoulder. It was his honor which was hurt. And the only way to alleviate that pain is through the duel. Choose the day, the time, and the weapon – pistols are fine, or maybe you prefer the Épée. And be there, or else.

You and your witnesses show up at the agreed time in the agreed place. Your opponent will probably be there already with his suitors. Both of you line up, someone gives the command, you fight. One of you most likely will die. But this was expected. The honor will be cleared and not in pain anymore – for whoever will survive, that is. The end.

Oh, did I mention that those duels were not very legal for the most part even when they were very popular?

Now, imagine if those pistols would shoot grapes instead of bullets, and the only choice of weapon would be the type of grape? Let’s say, you will shoot with Cabernet Sauvignon, and your opponent with Petite Sirah, or maybe you will choose a Zinfandel and your opponent will load up with Syrah? I have no idea how the honor will be defended, but I’m sure nobody would die, and such a duel will be so much fun! I’m sure you have a good imagination – imagine the fully ripened grape hitting one of the opponents on the forehead, and splattering the juice all around, in the slow motion – that would be something to remember!

Okay, so grape shooting pistols are not on the market (yet?), but the grapes can duel all they want – if the winemaker desires.

Cue in Dueling Pistols – the wines weaved around the mystery of two men, raising guns at each other at the dawn. We don’t know how they ended up there, or how shootout ends, but it is not important, as we should rather pay attention to wines.

The two Dueling Pistols wines represent 50/50 blends of the grapes that meet each other only after the fermentation is done separately. In one wine, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah fight for supremacy; in the second wine, Zinfandel battles Syrah.

Never mind all this fight and battle talk. The wine is all about harmony – you want all the elements of the wine to be in full balance, playing together to deliver an amazing experience. So how these two wines did?

2016 Dueling Pistols Red Blend Dry Creek Valley (15% ABV, $49.99, 50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel, 18 months in French oak, 30% new)
Dark Garnet
Very intense nose, tar, tobacco, roasted meat, mint
Crisp acidity, tart fruit, much lighter on the palate than expected based on the smell, sour cherries, significant herbal component
7+ initially, needs time
8- on the second and third days, the wine is softer and showing more fruit.

2016 Dueling Pistols Red Blend Paso Robles (15.5% ABV, $49.99, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Petite Sirah, 18 months in French oak, 30% new)
Dark Garnet
Inviting nose of cherries and chocolate, with a hint of vanilla and licorice
The palate is smooth and gentle, well extracted, lip-smacking acidity, layers of flavor, velvety texture which makes you crave another sip even before you finished the first.
8/8+, very enjoyable

Here you are. A duel of grapes and even duel of wines. But – nobody got hurt, which is a great outcome of any duel, right?

Judging this fight, I have to say that Cabernet/Petite Sirah won this fight, at least in my corner. But you know what they say? YMMV, so go ahead, stage your own duel and have fun with it. Cheers!

P.S. These two wines were samples provided by Terlato Wines.

Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Wine Regions – Vinho Verde

January 11, 2020 4 comments

Vinho Verde.

Let me ask you, wine lovers – when you hear the words “Vinho Verde”, what are the two things which are instantly come to mind? Let me guess – it should be “green” and “summer” – am I correct?

Let’s leave “green” aside for a minute and let’s talk about “summer”. Do you insist on pairing wine with the season? Of course, rich and opulent California Cabernet Sauvignon or tantalizing Barolo might not be the ideal choice of beverage for the pool party in the middle of summer. But then would you say that white wines should be only drunk when it is hot outside? Even if you will insist, I would have to disagree – the white is simply a color, and white wine can be equally enjoyed during any season. And to prove my point, let’s talk about Vinho Verde.

Oh, and let’s address the “green” thing – there nothing green about Vinho Verde. “Verde” here refers to the young wines – Vinho Verde wines are typically released 3-6 months after the harvest.

Here are some interesting facts about Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Portugal, producing wine for the past 2,000 years. It is also the most northern wine region in Portugal, and the largest, with 51,000 acres planted. There are 19,000 grape growers and 600 wine producers, making over 85 million liters of wine, out of which 86% are white wines, and the rest is divided between Rosé, red and sparkling wines.

45 indigenous grape varieties are growing in Vinho Verde, out of which 9 are recommended – Alvarinho, Avesso, Azal, Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura for the whites, and Espadeira, Padeira, and Vinhão for the reds. Vinho Verde region subdivided into the 9 sub-regions named after rivers or towns – Monção, Melgaço, Lima, Basto, Cávado, Ave, Amarante, Baião, Sousa, and Paiva. It is also interesting to note that while Vinho Verde is identified as a DOC (top quality designation, similar to French AOC/AOP), the region called Minho Vinho Regional, completely overlaps Vinho Verde territory, however, its designation is similar to French Vin de Pays (lesser quality requirements).

Vinho Verde wines are typically low in alcohol and pair well with a wide variety of food. Quite often, Vinho Verde whites are also exhibiting very light fizz, this is really a hallmark of the region.

I had an opportunity to taste (samples) 3 whites and one Rosé from the region, here are my notes:

2018 Encosta do XISTO Vinho Verde DOC (12.5% ABV)
Straw pale with greenish hue
Vegetative nose, a touch of grass, sweet basil, restrained
A touch of fizz, lime, a hint of grapefruit, lots of minerality, fresh
8-

2018 Vercoope Pavāo Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho  (12% ABV, $8)
Light golden
Tropical fruit, candied lemon, sage, tobacco
Guava, a touch of honey, candied fruit, a touch of pink grapefruit. Good acidity.
7+/8-

2017 Seaside Cellars Rosé Vinho Verse DOC (11% ABV, $8, 40% Vinhão, 30% Borraçal, 30% Espadeiro)
Wild salmon pink
Nice minerality, whitestone fruit, a typical nose of white wine if there is such a thing
Underripe strawberries, good minerality, a distant hint of fizz, mostly on the finish.
7+/8-, fuller body than most of Rosé, not sweet at all despite low ABV. It also gives me two new rare grapes (Vinhão and Borraçal), which is always a nice bonus.

2018 Quinta da Calçada Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho (13% ABV)
Light golden
Intense fresh lemon, a touch of grapefruit, noticeable minerality
Tart lemon, a touch of grapefruit, dry, intense, medium to full body, good minerality, good textural presence.
8, perfect any time you want a glass of dry white.

As you can tell, I liked all the wines. No, these wines are not mind-blowing, of course not. But considering the price, often less than $10, these wines offer an excellent, hard to beat QPR.

Here you go, my friends. No need to wait for the hot summer days. Just pick up a bottle of Vinho Verde, and enjoy it by itself, or pair it with good food and good company. You can thank me later. Cheers!

An Evening With Friends

January 7, 2020 Leave a comment

What is your favorite part about wine? Is it the taste? The buzz? The sheer appearance of the bottle sometimes resembling the work of art? The joy of owning an exclusive object? The coveted status symbol?

My answer will be simple. My favorite part about wine is the ability to share it. Take a sip, reflect, have a conversation, preferably a slow-paced one. Friends are the best pairing for wine. Opportunity to share the experience, pleasure, and joy. Sharing makes it all worth it.

New Year celebration (the main holiday for anyone with the Russian upbringing) is a multi-step process for us. We like to celebrate the arrival of the New Year as many times as possible – the evening before the New Year, a midnight Champagne toast, the New Year’s day dinner, and more dinners shortly after (this is when the bathroom scales are the worst nemesis). Some or all of these dinners have to include friends – and it is the best when friends share your wine passion.

Such was our dinner on Saturday, bringing together a group of friends who truly enjoy what the wine world has to offer. We all contributed to the evening, both with food and wines, to make it fun and interesting. Below is the transcript of our wine extravaganza, with highs, lows, and surprises.

While we were getting ready to start our dinner, our first wine was something unique and different – how many of you know what Piquette means? It appears that Piquette is yet another type of sparkling wines. The story of Piquette goes back to 18th century France when the whole wine industry was in full disarray. Piquette is literally made by converting water into the wine – using water to rehydrate grape skins left after the wine production. We had 2019 Field Recordings Tang Piquette Central Coast (7.1% ABV, Rehydrated skins of Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc) which was made using this exact process – grape skins were hydrated in well water for a week, then pressed, after which a little bit of the table wine was added, and the wine was bottled with leftover yeast and sugar to continue fermenting right in the bottle. To me, the wine was reminiscent of cider – light fizz, fresh apple notes, cloudy appearance of a nice unfiltered cider. Would I drink this wine again? On a hot summer day – yes, why not, but this is not the wine I would actively seek.

It is difficult to assess the “uniqueness” of the wines. There can be many reasons for the “unique” wine designation – small production, wine not produced every vintage, the wine which is no longer produced. There are, of course, many other reasons. How about spending 10 years to finally make about 200 (!) bottles of a drinkable wine? Don’t know about you, but this is unquestionably unique in my book. And so there was 2017 Olivier Pittet Les Temps Passés Vin de Pays Romand Switzerland (14.2% ABV, Arvine Grosso). Petite Arvine is a popular white grape in Switzerland, producing nice, approachable white wines. On another hand, Petite Arvine’s sibling, nearly extinct thick-skinned Arvine Grosso (or Gross Arvine), is a nightmare to grow and to work with. This was the Arvine Grosso which took about 10 years to restore the plantings and achieve a drinkable result. The wine needed a few minutes to open up – then it was delicious, fresh, with a touch of underripe white plums, bright acidity and full-body, similar to Marsanne/Roussanne. I wish this wine would be a bit easier to procure and not just through a friend who lives in Switzerland…

I was happy that Stefano brought a bottle of 2008 Berlucchi Palazzo Lana Satèn Riserva Franciacorta (12% ABV) – I love Franciacorta sparkling wines, they always offer a playful variation of the classic Champagne. Berlucchi is the founder of the Franciacorta sparkling wine movement. This wine was also a Satèn, a unique Franciacorta creation, which is specifically made to be a bit gentler than a typical Champagne with the lesser pressure in the bottle. The wine was soft, fresh, delicate, and admired by the whole table enough to disappear literally in the instance.

The next wine was as unique as only inaugural vintage can be. Christophe Baron is best known as Washington Syrah master, with his Cayuse, No Girls, and Horsepower lines. But Christophe’s roots are actually in Champagne, so it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that he decided to embrace his heritage. The first bottling, with a promise of many more, was as unique as all Christophe Baron’s wines are – pure Pinot Meunier, vintage, and bottled only in magnums – 2014 Champagne Christophe Baron Brut Nature Les Hautes Blanches Vignes Charly-Sur-Marne (12.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Meunier, 1613 1.5L bottles produced). I made a mistake of slightly overchilling the wine, but it came to its senses shortly after it was opened. The wine was nicely sublime, with all the Champagne traits present – the acidity, brioche, apples – everything balanced and elegant. This was definitely an excellent rendition of Champagne, but to be entirely honest, at around $300 it costs considering tax and shipping, I’m not sure it was unique enough to justify the price. Oh well… definitely was an experience.

Before we move to the reds, a few words about the food. The New Year celebration is a special occasion, which is asking for a special menu. Our typical New Year dinner menu is heavy with appetizers and salads. Our staple salads are “traditional” – Olivie and “Herring under the fur coat”. For the appetizers, we had red caviar, bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed Belgium endives, different kinds of cold cuts and cheeses, tiny prosciutto/pecorino sandwiches, and I’m sure some other stuff. Tea-smoked duck and delicious lasagna comprised the main course, then finishing with loads of baked goods and candies. Yeah, don’t even think about dragging me onto a bathroom scale.

Let’s get back to wine.

The next wine belongs to the “interesting” category. NV Channing Daughters Over and Over Variation Twelve Long Island (12.5% ABV, Merlot, Dornfelder, Syrah, 208 cases produced), a multi-vintage wine which is produced using Ripasso and Solera methods. The name “Over and Over” is emblematic of the production method of this wine – there are many manipulations which I will not even try to describe – you better read it here. I’m all for the fun and complexity, but my problem is that I tasted the standard vintage Channing Daughters red wines which were literally identical to this Over and Over wine. It is great to play with your wine, no questions – but only if the end result is different, and better than the individual parts. The wine showed very youthful, with fresh crunchy fruit and cut through acidity – but it was lacking complexity. It is not a bad wine, but I was not moved by it.

Next up – 1996 Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc AOC (12.5% ABV) – this was a happy wine. The cork came out easily in one piece, and the wine was perfect from the get-go. The perfect minty nose of Bordeaux with a touch of cassis, some hints of mature fruit on the palate, but only the hints – still good acidity, solid core, excellent balance – the wine to enjoy. Yep, was gone in no time.

Of course, the duck on the menu is calling for the Pinot Noir, and what can be better than the Burgundy? 2007 Louis Jadot Grands Echézeaux Grand Cru AOC (13.5% ABV) was our designated match for the duck. The wine opened up beautifully, with succulent plums and a touch of smoke, a delicious, classic Burgundy. However, the joy lasted in the glass for about 10 minutes or so – next, all the fruit was gone, and while you know you are drinking wine, this wine had no sense of place of origin. I don’t know what happened – the wine closed up, needed more time, or was already at the last stretch of its life? Don’t know, and don’t think I will ever find out. Well, there is always another bottle, right?

Now, let’s talk about surprises. No, not the Chateau d’Yquem, which you would assume should qualify as a surprise – the 1999 Finca Villacreces Crianza Ribera Del Duero (13% ABV) was a real surprise. I heard the name of Finca Villacreces as one of the venerable Ribera del Duero producers, but I never had it before. When I was able to score this wine at the Benchmark Wine, I was very excited. The New Year’s celebration seemed to be a perfect opportunity to open it, especially as nobody had it before and we were all looking forward to getting acquainted.

The cork came out easily, in one piece with no sign of any issues. Once I poured the wine into the glass, on the first whiff, the scary thought instantly showed up – the wine might be corked. I tasted the wine, and it seemed just a touch off – it didn’t feel unquestionably corked, but the fruit was not coherent and the wine had sharp, raspy undertones which in my experience are associated with the corked wine. We moved the wine into the decanter and continued tasting it throughout the evening – it stayed practically unchanged.

This was not some random bottle I can get replaced at any store, so I really couldn’t just pour it out. And I’m an eternal optimist. So I used plastic wrap to cover the top of the decanter and left the wine standing there overnight. The next day, about 22-23 hours since the wine was opened, I decided to check on it. Oh my god. The wine completely changed. The hint of the musty cellar was gone. The mighty fruit appeared on the palate, layered, present, velvety and powerful, covering your whole mouth and making you extort “ohh, this is good”. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine after 24 hours in the decanter, and even the next day the tiny leftover was still drinkable. How is this possible? What has happened? I don’t have any answers, but if you have any ideas, please share.

We finished the dinner on the high note – 1988 Château d’Yquem Lur-Saluces Sauternes AOC (13.5% ABV). I’m you sure you don’t need any introductions here – Château d’Yquem is the Bordeaux legend, an absolute hallmark of the Sauternes region, with every other Sauternes wine simply measured against the Château d’Yquem. A perfect pop of the cork from this bottle was music to my ears. The nose and the palate of this wine were in full harmony – it was all about apricots. Fresh apricots, dried apricots, candied apricots – the taste kept moving round and round. The apricots were supported by clean acidity, which became more noticeable as the wine had an opportunity to breathe. Well, this was a short time window in any case, as this half bottle was simply gone in the instance. This 32 years old wine was truly an experience and a perfect finish to our great evening with friends.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How 2020 started for you? What did you have a chance to discover over the last few days? Cheers!

American Pleasures, Part 3 – Murrieta’s Well

January 3, 2020 3 comments

How often do you drink wines from Livermore Valley? Not trying to offend, but do you even know where the Livermore valley is?

If you guessed that Livermore Valley is an area in California, or if you simply knew it, yes, of course – Livermore Valley is located a bit north and west of San Francisco and can be considered one of the little wine world secrets for the people in the know. While Napa and Sonoma are the regions everyone is looking up to, Livermore Valley is located a stone throw from both, and in most cases offers a lot more fun in the tasting room for much less money.

Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard is located in this exact Livermore Valley and yes, we can consider it as one of the hidden gems. The estate has a rich history, going back to 1884. This is not the first time Murrieta’s Well wines are making an appearance in this blog, so instead of repeating all the historical references, I would like to direct you to my previous post on the subject. Same as the last time, the wines were provided as a courtesy of Snooth, for the virtual tasting – you can find the video recording of that tasting here.

This series is not called American Pleasures for nothing. This is the third post in the series, following the posts about Silverado and Oceano wines and Peju. As I explained in the introduction to the series, I simply had a great number of wines which were surprisingly consistent – wine after wine, they delivered a great deal of pleasure. You can expect to equally enjoy two wines from a good producer; 4 wines in the row is not typical; 6 wines is seriously unexpected. The 4 wines I tasted from the Murrieta’s Well were perfectly consistent and unquestionably enjoyable, offering loads of pleasure. Yes, all four. And what is even more interesting, if you will compare my ratings from 2017 tasting versus 2019, you will see that I rated all the wines higher. It appears that the process is going in the right direction, to the joy of all of us, oenophiles.

Let me share my notes:

2018 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Dry Orange Muscat Livermore Valley (14.6% ABV, $38, 100% Orange Muscat)
Light golden color
Plums, guava, tropical fruit
Bright acidity, an undertone of sweet tobacco, bright acidity on the finish
8, fresh, excellent

2018 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé Livermore Valley (13.5% ABV, $32, 42% Counoise, 33% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre)
Medium intensity pink color
Underripe strawberries
Tart fresh strawberries, good acidity, clean, vibrant, perfect balance, long finish
8, an excellent wine.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Merlot Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $48, 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark garnet
Touch of cassis, eucalyptus
Cassis, blackberries, nicely tart, a touch of coffee, good acidity, good structure
8+, excellent.

2017 Murietta’s Well The Spur Livermore Valley (14.5% ABV, $35, 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petite Sirah, 13% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot)
Dark Garnet
Smoke, tar, roasted meat, blackberries
Succulent blackberries, tobacco undertones, good acidity, medium to full body, good balance
8-, excellent

Here you go – 4 excellent wines, 4 sources of the great American [wine] pleasure. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had wines from the Livermore Valley? Cheers!

Top Wines of 2019

December 31, 2019 2 comments

And now, it is the time for the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2019. In a bit of broken logic, most of the explanations to the Top Wines list can be found in the 2019 Second Dozen post – here we are continuing where we stopped before – from the wine #12 all the way to the wine #1 – or, maybe, it is wines?

12. 2015 Field Recordings Foeder Old Portero Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley ($32) – we started the second dozen with the Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon (in the can). By the pure accident (feel free not to believe me, but I just realized what happened as I started to write this post), we open the Top list with another wine from the Field Recordings. This wine is a blend of 50% Syrah, 35% Zinfandel, and 15% Mourvèvedre. In the best traditions of the Field Recordings wines, the aromatics of this wine are simply stunning – luscious, dense and layered liquid can make one salivate just at a thought of it.

11. Channing Daughters “Orange” style wines Long Island, New York ($25 – $42) – here comes trouble – it is not one wine, it is actually 5 of them. We visited Channing Daughters Winery on the South Fork of Long Island in October, and our host, Steve, was kind enough to run our group through the most of the Channing Daughters’ portfolio. The winery makes 5 “orange” wines – Ramato, Ribolla Gialla, Research Bianco, Meditazione and The Envelope – each wine is stunning in its own right. These wines might not be crowd-pleasers, but if you are seriously into the wines, or identify as a wine geek, these are the wines to seek.

10. 2017 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve Dundee Hills Willamette Valley ($70) – Knudsen Vineyards is one of my most favorite producers in Oregon. I had the pleasure of tasting Knudsen wines from the last three vintages, and outside of the fact that these are textbook Oregon Pinot Noir, dark, powerful, and concentrated, I love to see the progression. As the vines are aging, the wine gains a bit more complexity, year after year. These are the wines to watch, for sure.

9. 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory Metodo Classico Trento ($140) – One of the very best sparkling wine producers in the world, Champagne included. Giulio Ferrari is just a perfection of the vintage sparkling wines – beautifully complex and perfectly fresh and bright at the same time. No, this is not the wine for everyday consumption (unless you have an expense account and then I beg your pardon), but next time you want to celebrate something in your life, maybe skip the obvious (move over, Dom Perignon) and try to find this bottle.

8. 1995 Navarro Correas Coleccion Privada Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza ($15) – a total surprise of the tasting  – an unknown (to me, at least) 24 years old red wine, showing no age and perfectly presenting itself as a varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon. It definitely makes me want to try a current vintage.

7. 2018 Tenuta Ammiraglia Alìe Rosé Toscana IGT ($20) – delicious wine, presented in a beautiful setting (check the link). Rosé is made everywhere, but this wine definitely stands apart is perfectly memorable. Special bottle and special glass make the wine ever more enjoyable, but then the wine itself has a perfect combination of beauty and presence, and easily get stuck in your head.

6. 2006 Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT ($60) – Not all white wines can age with grace. This wine was a perfect example of white wine that can age. It only gained complexity, this bouquet of apricot, apricot pit, vanilla, and spices, all wrapped in a tight and almost a full-bodied package. I can close my eyes and imagine the taste of this wine in my mouth – not a simple fit.

5. 2015 Bodegas LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza Rioja DOC ($15) – I love Rioja. At the same time, I’m very particular about the Rioja and what I like and what I don’t like – the word “Rioja” on the label doesn’t mean anything to me unless I know the producer – or I’m willing to give a new wine a try. While I know of Bodegas LAN, I never heard of Xtrème, and I never tasted before Rioja made with organic grapes. This wine was almost a revelation, it had everything I like about Rioja, with the lip-smacking acidity, fresh cherries, and cigar box, but it also had layers and layers of delight. Great wine, and at a price you will be really challenged to find something which would taste better.

4. 2018 Regueirón Éntoma Godello Valdeorras DO ($50+) – lately, I find myself using the expression “beyond categories” more often. I can’t find a better way to present this wine, as it is truly in a league of its own. This is one of the single-vineyard wines from the new project of Victor Urrutia of CVNE fame. This tiny production Godello presents itself as a grand cru Chablis, with the gunflint, minerality and all of the classic Chardonnay characteristics – but it also has an energy of the tightly wound spring, ready to jump out of your hand. It will not be easy to find this wine, but boy, if you will, you are into lots of pleasure.

3. “This line was intentionally left void” – keep reading, you will see why.

2. “This line was intentionally left void” – see below:

This year I have a problem [again]. I can’t decide on wine #1. Below are my three top wines – interestingly enough, even those three had a “sibling” contender which could literally take their spot. At the rate the wine is evolving around the world, it might be even more difficult to decide on the top wine in the coming years. But you know what? I will gladly accept the challenge. For now – here are the three top wines of 2019:

1. 2013 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve Spring Mountain ($225) – this might be how you spell “phenomenal”. This wine was a pure pleasure. Pure, hedonistic, unadulterated pleasure. This is the wine at the level of magic – you take a sip, you whisper “wow”, you quietly reflect on what is happening, immersing into the moment. Then you take another sip and repeat. Yes, magic.

1. 2016 Tara Red Wine 2 Syrah Atacama Chile ($40) – this wine should be experienced to believe it. This is the wine from the place where the vine is not supposed to grow. Atacama desert. Nevermind the desert. But the salinity of the soil is such that nothing should be growing there. But these vines do. And these 6 years old vines (vineyard planted in 2010) produce the wines of complexity which requires no oak (the wine was not aged in oak) to stop you in your tracks after the first sip. A textbook (ohh, sorry, I like this word a little too much, I know… but still) Syrah – pepper, dark fruit medley, lavender. Seriously, this is one incredible wine.

1. 2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley ($100) – talk about mindblowing. There is something in the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I already talked about magic in this post, and maybe it simply appears so for my palate – but the perfection of this wine is nothing short of “wow”. Again “textbook”? Yes, you can say so. Black currant, licorice, a touch of mint. The fruit is succulent, and it appears in full harmony with tannins and acidity. Balance, balance, balance. This wine is truly unique as it is 2 years old, aged in the new oak – and nevertheless, is perfectly drinkable from the get-go. Did I say “wow” already?

Here you are – the presentation of the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2019 is now complete.

What were your most memorable wines of 2019? Embrace the power of happy thoughts… Cheers!

 

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