Wine Quiz #132 – How Well Do You Know Your Wines?

January 16, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Welcome your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #131. In that quiz, you were given a series of questions related to our favorite festive beverage – Champagne.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Question 1:  A typical pressure inside of the Champagne, and for that matter, most of the Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wine bottles, is 6 atmospheres (this is why you need to take special care while opening the bottle of Champagne). However, some of the wines produced under the same Méthode Traditionnelle are deliberately made to have a lower pressure of 5 atmospheres – can you find this wine in the list below?

  1. Trentodoc
  2. Cava
  3. Cremant de Jura
  4. Franciacorta Satèn
  5. Méthode Cap Classique

Answer 1:  Franciacorta Satèn (Satèn means “silk” in Italian, and it is a trademarked term), while made using Méthode Traditionnelle, were created to offer silkier (pun intended) mouthfeel compared to traditional Champagne/sparkling wine, so they are bottled at 5 atmospheres to achieve that gentler experience.

Question 2: You know that to remove the cork from a Champagne bottle, you need to untwist the wire (which is called Muselet). While untwisting, how many turns do you have to make:

  1. 3
  2. 4
  3. 5
  4. 6
  5. 7

Answer 2: You always have to make 6 twists, no matter where this Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wine is coming from. For more info, click here.

Question 3: Riddling (remuage) is a process where the bottles of Champagne are turned little by little, also with the change of an angle, while inserted upside down into the vertical “table” called Pupitre, to gradually force the sediment to concentrate in the neck of the bottle for easy removal. Do you know who is credited with the invention of the Pupitre?

  1. Dom Perignon
  2. Dom Ruinart
  3. Madame Clicquot
  4. Claude Moët

Answer 3: Madame Clicquot. For more information, please click here.

Question 4:  The foil covering the top of the Champagne bottles was originally intended to:

  1. Hold cork in its place
  2. Just for looks and marketing
  3. To protect the cork from a variety of insects and rodents while wine is in storage
  4. To cover wire cage imperfections

Answer 4: To protect the cork from a variety of insects and rodents while wine is in storage. Here is a Wine Spectator article offering some insight.

Once again, we didn’t have a lot of players, but Lynn answered all 4 questions correctly, so she gets the prize of unlimited bragging rights! Well done!

Our today’s quiz is one of the “classic” ones here. Below you will find the pictures of the tops of the bottles (foil capsules for most of the cases). You need to identify the producer based on those images.

Let’s go:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

These are reasonably well-known producers from around the world, with maybe some exceptions – not sure I can give you more of the hint.

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

Retrospective: 11 Years of Top Wines

January 5, 2021 2 comments

While I was working on the Top Wines list of 2020, it almost hit me – 2020 was the 11th year the list of the top wine experiences of the year was produced.

In every Top Wines post, I make an effort to explain my approach to the creation of the top wines list – it is all based on emotions solicited by the wine. The easier it is to recall the wine and relive the moment, the better it is.

I often state that the order of the wines is not so important (this is how I want it to be, but it is usually not the case – the order has meaning) – with the exception of wine #1. Wine #1, the Top Wine of the Year, is always the most memorable. For a few years, I even had difficulties deciding on just one top wine, so I had multiples of wine #1. Strange, I know – but I always have a simple excuse – this is my blog…

All of the Top Wines lists can be found via the Top Wine Ratings menu on the top of this page. However, what do you think of taking a look at the top wines from these past 11 years, just for fun? I would like to enjoy those memories again – and see if I still have them as vivid as I like to think. Let’s see:

2010: 

2007 Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45) – I can attest that this was one of the best California Pinot Noirs I ever tasted. I still have a bottle each of Mara Pinot Noir 2007 and 2008 (2008 was a complete opposite to 2007, very lean and green) – should make it for an interesting evening one day.

2011: 

2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – this was my first discovery of the Field Recordings wines, and that Fiction was unbeatable, it offered an incredible experience. I also loved the label and the story on the back label of that wine, which, unfortunately, disappeared in the later vintages.

2012:

2010 Antica Terra Phantasi Oregon White Wine ($100, Magnum price in the restaurant) – Definitely a memorable wine, a blend of Rhone varieties – I can close my eyes and imagine the taste of this wine in my mouth. While this is one of the most memorable Top wines, the wine in the second place was not any less memorable – 1947 Rioja Imperial. Also, it appears that I didn’t even include another wine from the same dinner when we experienced the Phantasi, 1998 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon in the Top Dozen list, which is a huge oversight…

2013:

1970 Quevedo White Port – tasting 43 years old elixir together with the winemaker, in the old cellar, directly from the barrel? It rarely gets any more memorable than that.

2014:

1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir ($NA) – I found this bottle at the store in Chicago. As this is my birth year, I couldn’t resist getting this bottle for a whopping $25. To my absolute surprise, the wine was perfectly drinkable and delicious. And the label is just purely nostalgic…

2015:

2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley Chile ($35) – ordered this wine at the restaurant without any knowledge, mostly going by the price – OMG. This is one delicious wine.

 

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2016:

2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Champagne ($230) – one of the most memorable top wines. While I loved the taste, I could smell this wine indefinitely. Really, I have no need in drinking it, but I can’t let go of the aroma…

2017:

1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon Loire ($85?) – this was unquestionably great – one of my most favorite grape varieties (Cab Franc), legendary vintage (at least in Bordeaux), great producer. The sad part? This is one of the few “Wine of the Year” wines I can’t recall the sensation of taste, smell, or the setting …

2018:

2008 Zenato “Sergio Zenato” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG ($100) – Amarone is one of my most favorite wines in general – but I have exactly the same issue here as with the Olga Raffault – no detailed memories. I’m sure it was a good wine as it made it to the alternative #1 winner.

2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley ($60) – One of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever tasted. We had this wine during tasting dinner at the restaurant during one of our traditional “adult getaways”. This was round and supremely delicious.

2019:

2013 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve Spring Mountain ($225) – Smith-Madrone makes beautiful wines. This wine can be described in one word – Pure. Pure indulgence, and pure, unadulterated pleasure.

2016 Tara Red Wine 2 Syrah Atacama Chile ($40) – I have a sad habit of not being able to write a post after a great winemaker dinner, as was the case with Tara wines. Magnificent Syrah, coming from the vineyards which in reality shouldn’t have existed because of the incredible salinity of the soil. As I say in such cases, this is the wine to be experienced.

2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley ($100) – a prolific Napa Valley jewel. Power and balance, or balance and power – whatever description suits you more.

2020:

1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($NA) – Meditazione vino. The whole group meditated over this wine, as it was simply a gift from gods. Incredible. If wine is not “just another beverage” to you, you would understand. And I wish for you to experience meditazione vino at least once in your life…

Here we are  – 11 years of top wines. This was definitely an interesting exercise – while I enjoyed recalling each and every one of these wines, this was also a great opportunity to think about my Top Wines process. I’m reasonably pleased with top wine selections during these years, but ideally, I would like to do better – every wine on such a list should solicit a memory and an emotion. Oh well, we should call this “the room for improvement”, right? Cheers, my friends!

 

Wine Quiz #131 – Champagne!

January 2, 2021 2 comments

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

Welcome to the New Year 2021 and your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #130. In that quiz, you were given a series of questions where you were supposed to figure out what connects the items on the list and which one of the items doesn’t belong.

Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Question 1: Below is a list of wines. One of those wines shouldn’t be listed, but to find out which one doesn’t belong, you will need to understand first what connects all those wines:

A. 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot
B. 2016 Chateau Leoville Barton
C. 2012 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz
D. 2012 Peter Michael ‘Au Paradis’ Cabernet Sauvignon
E. 2015 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia
F. 2013 Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Answer 1: This was definitely a difficult question. The correct answer is C, 2012 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz. All wines on this list are Wine Spectator top wines of the year throughout the different years, with the exception of 2012 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz, which was wine #2 in 2014.

Question 2: Below is the list of names – one of them doesn’t belong to the list. Can you find out which one:

A. Cayuse
B. No Girls
C. Andremily
D. Horsepower
E. Hors Categorie

Answer 2: C, Andremily. All of these wines are produced by or closely affiliated with Christophe Baron, the famous Washington Walla Walla winemaker – with the exception of Andremily, which is also a highly allocated wine produced by former Sine Qua Non assistant winemaker Jim Binns.

Question 3: Below is the list of vintages. One of them shouldn’t be on the list. Do you know which one?

A. 2011
B. 2010
C. 2005
D. 2004
E. 2001
F. 2000

Answer 3: The correct answer is F, 2000. All other years achieved a perfect rating for Rioja wines by Rioja Consejo Regulador, Excellent, but year 2000 was rated only Good, which is the 3rd rating from the top.

Sadly, we had no takers for this quiz, so I will have to keep all the lucrative prizes to myself.

Now, to the new quiz. It is the beginning of the year, and I definitely still in Champagne mood, so this is the subject for our new quiz.

Here we go:

Question 1:  A typical pressure inside of the Champagne, and for that matter, most of the Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wine bottles, is 6 atmospheres (this is why you need to take special care while opening the bottle of Champagne). However, some of the wines produced under the same Méthode Traditionnelle are deliberately made to have a lower pressure of 5 atmospheres – can you find this wine in the list below?

  1. Trentodoc
  2. Cava
  3. Cremant de Jura
  4. Franciacorta Satèn
  5. Méthode Cap Classique

Question 2: You know that to remove the cork from a Champagne bottle, you need to untwist the wire (which is called Muselet). While untwisting, how many turns do you have to make:

  1. 3
  2. 4
  3. 5
  4. 6
  5. 7

Question 3: Riddling (remuage) is a process where the bottles of Champagne are turned little by little, also with the change of an angle, while inserted upside down into the vertical “table” called Pupitre, to gradually force the sediment to concentrate in the neck of the bottle for easy removal. Do you know who is credited with the invention of the Pupitre?

  1. Dom Perignon
  2. Dom Ruinart
  3. Madame Clicquot
  4. Claude Moët

Question 4:  The foil covering the top of the Champagne bottles was originally intended to:

  1. Hold cork in its place
  2. Just for looks and marketing
  3. To protect the cork from a variety of insects and rodents while wine is in storage
  4. To cover wire cage imperfections

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

Happy New Year 2021!

January 1, 2021 6 comments

Whatever doesn’t break you makes you stronger. 2020 became an ultimate test for humankind, and I hope we will all emerge in 2021 stronger and a little bit wiser.

I really appreciate each and every one of you, my readers – and I want to take a moment to wish you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and peaceful New Year 2021!

And … needless to say … lots and lots of exciting wine discoveries.

To the new beginnings! Cheers!

Categories: Holidays, Life Tags:

Wednesday’s Meritage #153

December 30, 2020 Leave a comment

Meritage time!

This is the last Meritage issue of 2020, so let’s get to it.

I would like to start with the virtual wine event which I plan to attend next year – Oregon Wine Symposium. The event will take place over four days, February 16-19, 2021, in a browser next to you. The event will offer excellent educational and networking opportunities, and if you register before January 15th, you can save 25% off the registration cost. The event is definitely geared towards wine professionals, but I’m sure some of the sessions would well worth any wine lover’s attention.

Next, I would like to once again get back to the subject of the Top 100 Wines lists. James Suckling just made all of the Top 100 Wines reports available for free on JamesSuckling.com. You can use this link to access a large collection of Top 100 reports – Top 100 Wines of the Year, Top 100 wines of Argentina, Austria, Australia, France, Italy, Chile, Spain, Germany, and the United States. A very impressive collection with some eclectic choices, like Alsace wines in the #1 and #2 positions of the French Top 100, or Rieslings taking the first 4 positions in the list of Top Austrian wines. Have fun analyzing those – I’m sure you will make some interesting discoveries.

Not to be outdone, I published the Top 20 of 2020 list of the top wines of 2020. This year’s list takes a step aside from the traditional “top dozen” format and is heavily skewed towards red wines with only 3 white wines, 1 Rosé, and none of the sparkling wines included. Definitely a reflection of 2020 drinking habits.

Here an interesting article from Wine Spectator, talking about Heitz Cellars’ owner and CEO’s quest to preserve some of the historic Napa Valley vineyards. The duo just acquired Stony Hill Vineyard, one of the first wineries built in Napa Valley after the repeal of Prohibition. You can read the full story here.

And the last one for today, really an unexpected one for me. According to this article in Wine Spectator, “a recent study conducted at Iowa State University has found that consuming more wine and cheese over time could help bolster cognitive health as we age.” – isn’t this statement the best music for the winelover’s ears? None of us, wine lovers, needs to be asked twice to double down on wine and cheese consumption, especially if this can help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Is that the best news to finish the year, or what?

That’s all I have for you today. Until we meet next year, the glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Top 20 of 2020

December 29, 2020 1 comment

It is that special time of the year. Time to reflect. Time to conclude. Time to decide. It is Top Wines of The Year time.

I happily engaged in this Top Wine selection process for the past 10 years. What is a better way to reflect on your year in wines than thinking about all the wine experiences of the year, and deciding on the most memorable ones? Good wine should solicit an emotion – this is the main criteria for the wine to be included in this top list. The wine should be memorable, one way or the other, even if it was not the highest-rated wine of the year. If I can easily re-live the moment of tasting the wine, then the wine belongs to the top list.

Making decisions is not my forte in general. Making decisions about wines is even worse – a real pain. When I created my very first Top List in 2010, I wanted to create a Top 10 list. I quickly realized that Top 10 is not going to happen, then the Top Dozen was born. 2010 and 2011 both had a single Top Dozen list, actually consisting of 12 wines. In 2012, I realized that I can’t fit into one dozen anymore, the two dozen lists were born. In some years, even the 2 dozens were not enough and the lists were reaching 25, 26, and even 27 wines.

2020 presented truly a unique challenge. Every year until 2020, there were many opportunities to find the wines worth inclusion into the top wines lists – dinners with friends, samples, trade tastings, dinners with winemakers, and of course, all the wines casually consumed at home. 2020 completely changed that, and outside a few of the dinners with friends and trade tastings at the beginning of the year, the only sources of the wine experiences were a few samples and wines opened at home. As the end result, I was unable to come up with two dozens of wines for the top wines list. However, I still had more than a dozen wines that I really enjoyed and which would be easy to remember. Thus a compromise was needed, so the Top 20 seemed to be just the right number for the best wine experiences of 2020.

Without further ado, let me present to you the Top 20 of 2020.

20. 2016 Shelter Winery Spätburgunder Baden ($28) – While Germany has 3rd largest plantings of Pinot Noir in the world (which was a total surprise for me), I didn’t encounter an enjoyable German Pinot Noir yet – until this wine, which was classically old world, perfectly drinkable and enjoyable.

19. 1997 Burgess Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($NA) – Twenty three years is a good amount of time to render many wines non-drinkable. This, however, was a delicious California Cabernet in its prime. This wine could still evolve for a few more years, and it supported quite an enjoyable evening.

18. 2017 Shiloh Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) – Israeli wines are underappreciated by wine lovers – maybe it is for the better for those of us who already discovered them? A classic Cabernet Sauvignon, with cassis and eucalyptus, just as you want your Cab to be, and perfectly balanced. Balance in the wine is a canvas for pleasure and this wine fully delivered.

17. 2006 Bodegas Emilio Moro Ribera Del Duero ($25) – One of the perennial favorites. This is one of the introductory level wines from the Emilio Moro universe, showing no signs of aging at the 14 years mark. Superb fresh fruit with a dark core of herbs. Drink Ribera del Duero wines, my friends.

16. 1998 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon High Trellis McLaren Vale ($19 @ BWG) – First, I have the utmost respect for d’Arenberg wines – great producer. Second, I’m always on the lookout for the wines from the 1998 vintage, as this year is special in my book (birth year of my son). Third – when you see d’Arenberg 1998 wine at $19 at the Benchmark Wine website, you just grab it instantly. Fourth – you open the bottle, say “ahh” and enjoy it. The wine was perfectly delicious, still young, fresh, and memorable.

15. 2018 Cecchi Sangiovese Toscana IGT ($12) – This wine was just a revelation. While Cecchi offers a great range of Sangiovese-based wines, with different levels of power and complexity, this simplest bottling brought literally an unexpected joy of the unadulterated beauty of Sangiovese, an open wine with the perfect balance of fruit and acidity. A memorable simplicity.

14. 2017 Alit Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($33.64 | $18.50 Alit Collective) – Polygons. Basalts. Volcanic soils. Site-specific wines even if the whole site is only two and a half rows of vines. Alit, together with its sibling Rose and Arrow, are on the quest to discover the Oregon Grand Crus, and I’m happy I was able to join that quest. The wine is a quintessential Oregon Pinot Noir. Try it for yourself.

13. 2016 Château Vincens Prestige Cahors ($13.99) – I guess 2020 was my year of rediscovering Malbec, from both new and old worlds. This wine was simply spectacular, an unmistakable old-world jewel, magically transporting you to the old cellar, holding hundreds of years of tradition. Pure pleasure.

12. 2017 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles Paso Robles ($10) – Respect. Erich Russel bottled this wine in the spring of this year, under the first, crazy quarantine, while the world was crumbling and nobody knew what to do. He bottled the wine so people would have something to drink. This might be the best damn $10 wine the money can buy. And without any regard to price, this is simply delicious, approachable, perfectly balanced Californian wine, ready to drink from the moment you pull the cork. Thank you, Erich.

11. 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi (€11) – I tasted this wine for the first time during an amazing night of Gran Selezione Chiantis and Brunellos, so I was not impressed at all and couldn’t understand everyone’s rave. A few months later, I had a sip of this wine, and my instant reaction was “oh my god”, that is stunning. Beautiful, generous, succulent Italian wine – the price is great, but the qualities of this wine extend well past any price category.

10. 2016 Domaine Anderson Estate Chardonnay Anderson Valley California ($40) – A brilliant wine. The Chardonnay done perfectly right – just the right amount of apple and vanilla, on a beautiful core of acidity. Powerful, delicious, and utterly balanced – one of the very best California Chardonnays I ever tasted.

9. 2013 Cecchi Coevo Toscana IGT ($129.99) – I tasted this spectacular wine during lunch with Andrea and Giulia Cecchi in New York City at the beginning of the year. There was some wine left in the bottle, which I was generously offered to take home – I gladly obliged. In the evening, we went to see friends, and after a few bottles of random simple wines, mostly from California, we poured Coevo. Upon the first sip, my friend’s reaction was priceless – “huh, why you didn’t tell us that brought serious wine” was the question. The depth and complexity of this wine are simply superb.

8. 2018 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay Sonoma County ($27) – Another perfect California Chardonnay score. It is similar to Domaine Anderson with maybe a bit more power, but still perfectly balanced and fresh. Pure pleasure.

7. 2016 Pedro Cancela Selecção do Enólogo Dão Portugal ($10) – I discovered this wine during the Dão wine dinner at the beginning of the year. Portuguese wines are famously inexpensive, but QPR on this wine is just mind-boggling. This wine is hard to find in the US, but if you will be able to find it, I guarantee you an incredible amount of pleasure per dollar.

6. 2019 Mythic Mountain Malbec Rosé Mendoza Argentina ($11.99) – another delicious discovery of this year. Fragrant, effervescent, end elegant, this Malbec Rosé definitely exceeded my expectations. Outstanding QPR, and yes, I’m repeating myself – pure pleasure.

5. 2018 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Chile ($19.99) – Some years ago I discovered Italian Sauvignon Blanc wines from Gaja and Ornellaia, which were superb, rather unexpectedly. This Ritual Sauvignon Blanc carries a similar level of surprise. It doesn’t have any of the grapefruit or sweet lemon notes but offers instead a touch of butter, and crisp, mineral elegance. If Italian Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t work for you, think Cloudy Bay from New Zealand. Yep, that good and that different.

4. 2016 Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($40) – a California in the bottle. Imagine a powerful, fruit-forward Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, loaded with cassis, eucalyptus, mint, layered, silky smooth, and incredibly seductive, not leaving you a chance to resist its charm. Got the image? Now imagine that this California Cab is just freshly released. What are your chances of enjoying it as soon as you will open the bottle? Quite low, right? It is rather expected that after the first sip you will put it aside with the words “it needs to breath”, or you might reach out for a decanter. Now, imagine the perfectly seductive California Cab without the need to wait even a moment, just sip and enjoy. Yep, that would be this bottling of Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfect from the get-go.

3. 2008 Cantine Lonardo Coste Taurasi DOCG ($NA) – If the previous wine was quintessentially California, this wine was quintessentially Italian. I have no idea how I came in possession of this bottle, so I had no expectations when I brought this bottle to Cape Cod during summer to enjoy with the family during the visit. Wow. “Mind-blowing” doesn’t even describe it. the combination of fresh cherries, tobacco, leather, cherry pit, supremely balanced – everything you might want in Italian wine was present in this bottle. An absolute wow.

2. 2011 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard Walla Walla Valley ($130) – Power. Raw power. Granite. I imagine this is how liquified granite tastes. The wine of impeccable finesse and pleasure, but also an incredible power. This wine is a beast, but it is a well-tamed beast. Did you see the movie “Venom”? Yep, that type of beast.

1. 1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($NA) – And then there are wines which can make the whole room go quiet. Meditazione. Yes, it is an Italian word, same as the wine, but I’m sure you don’t need a translation. Once we were done sniffing this wine, which took good five minutes, everyone got quiet and lost in thoughts. A meditation wine. Wine of next level. The wine that instantly becomes an experience. Forever. There is no way I can describe it. As we are about to celebrate the New Year, I can only wish that you will be able able to experience it.

And we are done here – the presentation of the Top 20 of 2020 is now finished. What were your top highlights of the year?

Wednesday’s Meritage #152 – Top 100 Lists

December 16, 2020 2 comments

Meritage time!

Yes, it is the top time again. A time for the tops? Whatever. A Top 100 time – that’s what time it is.

Today’s Meritage is all about numbers and wines. By now most of the wine publications released their Top 100 wine lists of the year and being a number junkie, I want to ponder at them – analyze might be a bigger, but better-suited word. On one side all the Top 100 lists seem to be fun and games – on another side, there is serious business associated with those lists. Of course, they all have different carrying power, but Wine Spectator Top 100 is a serious selling tool – as soon as this list is published, the wine stores go out of their way to get as many as possible of the wine on that list, as wine consumers ask for those by name. So let’s play the game, shall we?

For this post, I took 3 Top 100 wine lists to analyze – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020 list, James Suckling Top 100 of 2020 list, and Wine Enthusiast Top 100 of 2020 list.  All lists are based on tens of thousands of wines tasted by publications’ wine reviewers throughout the year – all the specifics of the process for each publication can be found using the links provided above.

Let’s look at the Wines of the Year first – the cream of the crop so to speak.

Wine Spectator’s wine of the year is 2010 Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial ($139, WS96) – I had some other Castillo Ygay wines in the past, but not this one. I’m sure it is a well-deserved recognition for this wine – but this choice doesn’t strike me as anything out of ordinary. James Suckling’s wine of the year, on another hand, is something quite unique in my book – 2018 Chacra Pinot Noir Patagonia Treinta y Dos Argentina (wine-searcher $123, JS100). This does strike me as an interesting choice – yes, I had good Pinot Noir wines from Argentina, but considering the price, and the fact that this wine was selected ahead of such heavyweights as Chateau Margaux, California Bryant and Abreu, or Australian Henschke and Torbreck, this must be one hell of the wine. I would love to try it, but I’m sure the wine will have zero availability for the next number of years. Wine Enthusiast choice for the wine of the year was 2017 Lail Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($80, WE97) – never heard of this wine, but you can’t go wrong with Napa Cab, can you?

Comparing the wine lists in their entirety, we can see some interesting differences. James Suckling’s list clearly stands out in ratings, region representation, and prices of the wines. All 100 wines at James Suckling’s list are rated either 98, 99, or 100 – with 99 being the median value. At the same time, Wine Spectator’s list has wines rated from 90 to 97, with a median rating of 93; Wine Enthusiast’s ratings range from 90 to 99, also with a median value of 93.

Price-wise, James Suckling’s list is the most expensive – only 9 wines are priced under $50, and another 30 under $100 – the rest (70!) is priced in excess of $100, and 13 most expensive wines priced above $300. The most expensive wines are California cults – Bryant Family and Abreu ($688 and $685, respectively). I have to note that Suckling doesn’t provide release prices – each wine is listed with the link to Wine-Searcher, which complicates things a bit, with some of the listed vintages not even yet available. The average price of wine on this list is $173, with a median value of $123.

Wine Spectator’s list priced a lot more reasonably (based on the release prices), with Top 10 being some of the most expensive wines, with only one out of ten priced less than $90. The most expensive wine on Wine Spectator’s list is Ridge Monte Bello at $230. The average price of wine on Wine Spectator’s list is only $50, with a median value of $35.

Wine Enthusiast’s list is priced even better than the WS’s list, with the most expensive wine being Brovia Garblèt Suè Barolo at $92, the average wine price on the list at $34, and the median value of $28.

Last but not least we can look at the regions represented in the three lists. To simplify the comparison, I created a little table for you:

Region JS WS WE
Argentina 9 4 3
Australia 19 3 4
Austria 3 1 4
California 9 18 19
Canada 1
Chile 6 2 4
France 12 20 17
Germany 17 2 3
Greece 1
Hungary 1
Israel 1 1
Italy 20 19 16
New York 1 1
New Zealand 4 3
Oregon 1 7 5
Portugal 1 1 7
South Africa 3 1
Spain 2 9 5
Uruguay 1
Washington 1 3 5

Here you can see that James Suckling’s list is uniquely standing out with the number of Australian and German wines far exceeding those in the other lists. I happy to see a good coverage of my beloved Spanish wines in the Wine Spectator’s list, and I would like to commend Wine Enthusiast for giving appropriate attention to the Portuguese wines. For any further insight, I will let you continue peeking at these numbers on your own.

Here you go, my friends. There are lots and lots more of the Top 100 lists available today, but I limited my analysis to these 3. You can definitely continue the analysis on your own, but for me, it is the time to work on my own Top Dozen list.

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

 

Wine Quiz #130 – Which One Doesn’t Belong?

December 13, 2020 1 comment

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

Welcome to your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #129. That quiz was dedicated to the Beaujolais Nouveau, in honor of the recent 2020 release. Below are the questions, now with the answers:

Question 1: True or False: Beaujolais Nouveau wines can age

Answer: False. Beaujolais Nouveau wines should be consumed by the May of the following year.

Question 2: The ideal serving temperature for Beaujolais Nouveau is

  1. 46°F to 50°F (8°C to 10°C)
  2. 50°F to 54°F (10°C to 12°C)
  3. 54°F to 57°F (12°C to 14°C)
  4. 57°F to 61°F (14°C to 16°C)

Answer: 2, 50°F to 54°F (10°C to 12°C)

Question 3: True or False: During the first half of the 20th century, Beaujolais Nouveau was released and celebrated in December instead of November.

Answer: True. In 1951, the Beaujolais Nouveau release date was moved to the 15th of November, and in 1985, the date changed to the third Thursday in November.

Question 4: True or False: Nouveau wines (the wines of new harvest) are produced only in the Beaujolais region in France, and not anywhere else in the world.

Answer: False. Over the last 10 years or so, Nouveau releases became popular with winemakers around the world. You can see an example of delicious Nouveau from Oregon in this post.

We didn’t have a lot of players, but Lynn answered correctly 3 questions, and while she had a different answer for question #2, wine serving temperature is not cast in stone and allows a difference of opinions, so Lynn is the winner of the quiz #129 and she gets unlimited bragging rights!

Now, for the new quiz, I didn’t come up with any better ideas than another “which one doesn’t belong”. Below is a set of 3 questions – in each one, you need to understand the connection between the items in question and decide which one (or more) shouldn’t be on that list. Here we go:

Question 1: Below is a list of wines. One of those wines shouldn’t be listed, but to find out which one doesn’t belong, you will need to understand first what connects all those wines:

A. 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot
B. 2016 Chateau Leoville Barton
C. 2012 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz
D. 2012 Peter Michael ‘Au Paradis’ Cabernet Sauvignon
E. 2015 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia
F. 2013 Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Question 2: Below is the list of names – one of them doesn’t belong to the list. Can you find out which one:

A. Cayuse
B. No Girls
C. Andremily
D. Horsepower
E. Hors Categorie

Question 3: Below is the list of vintages. One of them shouldn’t be on the list. Do you know which one?

A. 2011
B. 2010
C. 2005
D. 2004
E. 2001
F. 2000

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and the rest of your weekend! Cheers!

Alit Wines – Follow The Flow. Lava Flow

December 9, 2020 1 comment

Here is a question which can never be answered: where the wine is made, in the vineyard or in the cellar?

There are many arguments towards the vineyard being The Place where the wine is made. Mother Nature offerings are everchanging – they change every year, never repeating themselves. But it is not only the climate that never repeats itself – the land which seems to present itself as chunks of sameness is very far from it. Only identifying different pieces is the work of art – the mastery of the winemaker.

Alit Wines is a very young winery, by all means – it was founded only about 5 years ago, in 2016. You would not think that once you taste their wines, which come through elegant and mature – but we need to keep in mind that Alit is only one piece to a bigger story.

Oregon is often compared with Burgundy – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are stars in both regions, and both regions produce well ageable wines of finesse. Burgundy is built on the concepts of terroir and soils – I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of Burgundian vignerons going any distance to protect their soils from erosion and any sort of loss. The whole concept of Crus is based on terroir differentiation, and it took Burgundy centuries to find their best of the best parcels which earned the right to be called Grand Crus.

If you ever listened to the Oregon winemakers, they often talk about soils, first in monolithic terms, in terms of big blocks. But with every subsequent harvest, they start seeing differences between different plots in the vineyards, and those become specific plot-designated wines. This is Oregon’s path towards finding their Grand Crus.

We probably shouldn’t speak for the whole of Oregon, as Alit’s approach to this Grand Cru quest is different. Let’s get back to our “bigger story” around Alit. We usually think that wines are all about grapes, but they are actually all about people – people who stand behind those wines. In the case of Alit, the first person we need to mention is Mark Tarlov. After leaving his first successful wine project, Evening Land (a unique enterprise, if you ask me, making wines under the Evening Land label both in Burgundy and Oregon), Mark continued his wine endeavors with Chapter 24 Vineyards, which he started in 2012. Chapter 24 wines are extremely terroir focused – if you will look at the Chapter 24 Vineyards website, you will see that it produces only two wines –  one called The Fire which comes from the volcanic soils, and The Flood, with the grapes coming from vineyards planted in riverbed soils.

In 2015, Chapter 24 Vineyards opened the “last chapter” as it is called – Rose and Arrow winery, as well as the subsequent (2016) “sister” operation  – Alit. In case you are curious, the “About” page explains the Rose and Arrow name: “The “rose” and “arrow”, innately connected yet conflicting, each defined by the existence (or absence) of the other. Our favorite wines make us appreciate the harmony of opposites: acid/sweet, simple/complex, solid rock/sprouting vine. The latter is where our narrative begins, as every great wine is ignited by unique tensions in the rock of its origin.“. Also in 2015, Mark Tarlov was joined by Chilean winemaker Felipe Ramirez, who became the winemaker for Chapter 24, Rose and Arrow, and Alit wines, working together with consulting winemaker Louis Michel Liger-Belair.

Remember, we need to follow lava flow, as these wines are all about soils, basalt soils, rich in unique nutrients. Enters Dr. Pedro Parra, who wine writer LM Archer called Terroir Whisperer. Dr. Parra is one of the leading soil specialists in the world. Explaining Dr. Parra’s methodology would require a long, very long, and dedicated post, so instead, you should read Lyn’s article where she does a great job explaining what Dr. Parra does – but in essence, he is capable of identifying microsites, some can be 0.5 acres or less, capable of producing wine with very specific characteristics – all of it based on soil and climate analysis before (!) the vineyards are planted. To make it all practical, one of the first projects at Rose and Arrow was the vinification of about 100 wines harvested from such microsites – this is what makes Rose and Arrow wines unique.

When you think of “vineyard plots”, what image comes to mind? My imagination stops at squares or rectangles – but in our case, a correct answer is a polygon. Chapter 24/Rose and Arrow/Alit all operate with polygons, where the shape of microsites can be very complex. Here is the snapshot from our zoom call with folks from Alit where Felipe Ramirez shows the map of one of the sites (sorry that you can’t see Felipe):

How these microsites are identified? Using a method called electrical conductivity. Measuring the electrical conductivity of soil allows to create maps – this is exactly what the folks from Alit and Rose and Arrow are doing. Once you have a map, the rest is easy 🙂 now it is all about mastery of the winemaker – harvest each microsite (polygon) separately, vinify separately – and create the magic.

Now that we understand how the road to the Oregon Grand Crus looks like, let’s discuss the role Alit is playing in this quest.

Talking about Alit wines, we need first mention the Collective. Alit Collective is similar to the wine club, but it is very different from the typical winery club. To become a member of the Collective, you need to pay a $100 annual membership. After that, you can buy Alit wines at a cost – however, it is you who decide what to buy and when. To give an idea of the cost, Alit Pinot Noir (2015) costs $15.10 for Collective members and $27.45 for non-members – this means that once you buy 8 bottles, you will recoup your $100 investment, and every bottle afterward gives you great savings. How does selling at cost makes sense, you probably wonder? It wouldn’t if Alit would be on its own, but in conjunction with Rose and Arrow, it does make sense, as it helps to finance the overall operation.

What else can I tell you? Ahh, the wines, let’s not forget about the wines!

We tasted two of the Alit wines, Rosé (of Pinot Noir, of course), and Pinot Noir.

2019 Alit Rosé Willamette Valley (13% ABV) had a salmon pink color. Gunflint (volcanic soils!), strawberries, and onion peel on the nose. Nice touch of fresh strawberries and lemon, crisp, refreshing, nicely restrained, and well balanced with lemon notes on the finish (Drinkability: 8) – unquestionably delicious any time you want a glass of light, refreshing wine.

2017 Alit Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.6% ABV, native yeast fermentation, 10-12 months in oak) – beautiful bright ruby color – it is seldom for me to see a red wine of such a beautiful color. Beautiful nose, herbal, open, inviting, with mint, cherries, and a touch of the barnyard. Now, I have to say that the palate made me work for it. During the tasting, with the freshly opened bottle, the wine showed light, with red and blue fruit, good acidity, fresh, food-friendly, and restrained – we can even say “under-extracted” (Drinkability: 7+/8-). Over the next two days, the wine opened up, it obtained body, became round and supple, and became an object of pleasure (Drinkability: 8+). Definitely needs time, either in the cellar or in the decanter if you are in a hurry.

Alit Wines and Rose and Arrow enterprises are definitely something to watch. Mark Tarlov believes that sometime around 2030, it will be possible to understand if his quest for the Oregonian Grand Cru was successful. As for me, I practically always enjoy the journey more than the destination, so I will be happy to tag along, and yes, actually enjoy the journey with Alit wines – hop on, we can follow the lava flow together.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2020 Edition

December 5, 2020 1 comment

Yes, I know – we are ending the first week in December, and it’s been more than 2 weeks since Beaujolais Nouveau was released, so if anything, this is not a timely post. And I acknowledge your critique, as you can see in the title – my typical Beaujolais Nouveau post announces “Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!”, but hey, life takes precedence…

I know that many wine lovers dismiss Beaujolais Nouveau as a gimmick. The beauty of wine is that everyone is perfectly entitled to their opinion, but for me tasting the very first wines of the vintage is always fun. Ever since this blog started more than 10 years ago, I didn’t miss a single Beaujolais Nouveau release – you can check all the previous years here – and I have two main observations. First, the labels are always beautiful and creative. Second, the wines are getting better and better. Well, for sure on the labels – and keep talking about improved wines almost every year, so I guess they had been good for a while.

For 2020, I something interesting for you in the store – errr, on the blog. It appears that it will be the first time I will include a non-Beaujolais “nouveau” wine in this post. I know I had other new vintage wines before, released at about the same time as traditional Beaujolais Nouveau – I can only guess I was never happy enough about those to include them into this special coverage. But this year, the non-Beaujolais nouveau wine was excellent, and hence I’m including it in the group.

I’m not trying to drum up the drama – here you can see the full set of Nouveau 2020 wines I was able to find at my local wine store: All the wines were in the range of $10 – $13, thus I didn’t write down prices for each wine. Here are the tasting notes:

2020 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais Nouveau AOC (12.5% ABV)
Dark ruby
Fresh berry, cherry cola
Fresh raspberries, a touch of lemon, crisp, crunchy, acidic.
7+

2020 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau AOP (13% ABV)
Garnet
Raspberries and blueberries on the nose, a touch of mint
Fresh raspberries, round, clean, less acidic than the previous wine, very pleasant.
8-/8, can be consumed without regards to the Nouveau designation. Long finish full of pure raspberry joy.

2020 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau AOC (13% ABV)
Ruby
Complex nose with herbs and cherries
Slightly tart raspberries, crisp acidity, acidic finish.
7+/8-, not bad, but the previous wine gives more pleasure.

2020 Union Wine Co Underwood Pinot Noir Nouveau Oregon (13% ABV)
Bright ruby color.
The nose of freshly crushed berries
succulent raspberries on the palate, nice minerality, lots of pleasure
8, excellent

As you can see, Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and Underwood Pinot Noir Nouveau wines were my favorites, and both clearly win the best label contest (can’t decide which one do I like more):

It seems that Georges Doboeuf is pretty consistent with very good Nouveau wines for many years already. Drouhin is pretty consistent too – the wines are not bad, but not super-exciting at the same time. I had Domaine Dupeuble 5 years ago, and I liked it more back then. If I have one gripe it is with the Underwood – nowhere on the bottle the vintage can be found, which is bad – next year, nobody would know how Nouveau is that Nouveau, unless Union Wines will change the label.

As you can tell, this was a good group of wines. Was this tasting fun? For sure. Is the quality really improving? Probably not – but it still stays up, so we have nothing to complain about.

Did you taste any Beaujolais Nouveau this year? Any favorites?

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