A Quick Trip To Spain

July 28, 2020 2 comments

Hey friends!

Who else is feeling travel-deprived? Who else is dreaming of the airline food and 2-hours long passport control line after 12 hours flight?

I know it is not only me. I know we all do. But we still have to wait until any of that is a reality. For now, travel is just virtual.

Virtual travel has many ways. You can go back to the pictures you took while vacationing. You can go on Instagram or Pinterest, type in “Italy”, “Amalfi Coast”, “Maldives”, “Everest”, or “Machu Pichu”, and get lost for hours, exploring every little angle of the paradise through the eyes of others. You can find plenty to read, from blogs to books to everything in between, making it easy to imagine yourself in a French cafe, on the beach in Goa, or looking at the world while standing on the Great Wall.

Then, of course, there is food. There are many cuisines available within anyone’s reach today, no matter where you live. You can have paella at the Spanish restaurant, Mexican street corn at the Mexican place, black truffle risotto at Italian, or cassoulet at the French restaurant. Will that be an authentic experience that will bring back happy memories? That depends. The food might be amazing, but if you will not get the exact match to your expectations, to what you experienced during the travel, that might end up being a great meal, but not memory-inducing at all. For sure my own experience with paella or cassoulet is always hit and miss.

And then there is wine – of, course, you knew that it will all end up at “have wine, will travel”, right? Remember that proverbial “sense of place”? The sense of place is an indelible part of the wine. Even more importantly, wine can trigger an outpour of memories even before it will be opened and poured. One quick glance at the label is often enough to start the emotions going, to recall, to remember, to re-live. Of course, you can find authentic dishes in restaurants and market places. There are tons of original and authentic foods imported and readily available. It still doesn’t mean that on the moment’s notice you can retrieve that aged Swiss Gruyère, French Raclette, or a Spanish Jamón and have a smile from ear to ear. However, take out that bottle of Brunello, Australian Shiraz, Provençal Rosé, or Spanish Rioja – and watch out for that smile.

Ahh, I just said “Rioja” – remember I promised you a quick trip to Spain? Instead of musing on the subject, how about we will actually take this trip – and we don’t even need to pack a suitcase or wait for a taxi – get a bottle of Rioja, and you can instantly imagine yourself strolling the streets of Barcelona, or maybe admiring the old train station in Haro. Have wine, will travel – who is with me?

The Rioja I would like to bring to your attention today is as classic as it gets – coming from CVNE (Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España), one of the oldest producers in Rioja, who celebrated it’s 140th anniversary last year. CVNE produces a number of distinct lines of Rioja wines, under Cune, Imperial, Viña Real, and Contino labels, but the company is also expanding into areas such as Ribera Del Duero, Valdeorras, and others.

I recently had two delicious samples of the latest offerings from CVNE – you really can’t go wrong with either one of them, and the QPR is absolutely unbeatable:

2019 Cune Rosado Rioja DO (14.5% ABV, $13, 100% Tempranillo)
Cranberry juice color
Fresh cranberries, herbal notes, sage and violets
Fresh, crunchy cranberries, with characteristic acidity and tiny bitter undertones. Bone dry and very present. Balanced and elegant. Un-Provence and proud.
8/8+. If you are looking for Rosé with an umpf, this is your wine.

2016 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $17, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo)
Intense garnet
Eucalyptus, sage, crunchy berries, tobacco
Fresh red fruit, elegant, medium body, good acidity, a touch of sapidity, excellent balance
8, fresh and delightful. Daughter said it was good with an ice cream cake (surprise!)

Where would you like to go next? Cheers!

Playing With Celebrity Wines

July 22, 2020 4 comments

Celebrity wine – is there such a thing?

Of course.

If you will look at this Wikipedia page, you will see the list of 100+ famous people who own vineyards, wineries, or both. Like all of us, some of the celebrities happen to love wine, and they are not shy of associating with what they love.

Every year or so, a new celebrity finds their love of wine and joins the ranks. 2020 had two celebrities (so far) joining the wine club of their own making – singer Post Malone and actress Cameron Diaz brought to the market their wine offerings – which I was eager to try, hence this post.

I’m always curious about celebrity wines. Celebrity status greatly simplifies the marketing of the product, no matter what the celebrity associates with. The celebrity status easily overshadows the product itself – this removes the need for the product to be excellent, as we love our celebrities so much that we are willing to blindly take whatever they are endorsing – and so my inner skeptic always wants to know – how good is the particular product? Is it a real deal or simply a cover up for something mediocre?

I had no idea who Post Malone is until I saw a Netflix movie called Spencer Confidential. Afterward, I learned that Post Malone is actually a popular singer. Then I read an article talking about the upcoming release of Post Malone’s wine, so here it is – a celebrity wine which needs to be tasted. After waiting for almost a month, the wine finally appeared in Connecticut, and I was able to buy my bottle.

When I’m faced with celebrity wine, the celebrity factor goes aside. I’m happy to know that somewhere there is a famous name associated with the wine – but the only thing I care about is the wine itself. Where was it made, what grapes it is made out of, terroir, winemaking, smell, taste, and pleasure – this is what is important. Knowing I’m drinking the wine associated with a famous person doesn’t give me pleasure – tasty, delicious wine does. I always say that the proof is in the glass – that is the only thing that matters. So celebrity wine or not, I treat it exactly like any other bottle.

Avaline and Maison No 9

From that point of view, Maison No 9 represents a mixed bag. When it comes to the wine – it is superb. 2019 Maison No 9 Rosé Méditerranée IGT (12.5% ABV, $24, blend of Grenache, Merlot, Cinsault, Syrah) has a beautiful light pink color, has a nose of fresh strawberries with a touch of lemon, and bursts in your mouth with fresh strawberries and lemon, perfect minerality and raw, vibrant energy – all scrumptiously balanced (Drinkability: 8+). I love the bottle, it definitely stands out with an engraved front label depicting the sword and the rose. However, the problems start as soon as you try to dig deeper.

The website of Maison No 9 has no information about the wine, the vineyards, or the winemaker. All pictures on the web site feature Post Malone, and the only purpose of the website is to make sure you will buy something – either merchandise (T-shirt? Would it make wine taste better?), or the wine. This is in stark contrast with Miraval website, for example – Miraval is clearly a celebrity wine project (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) – where it is all about the land, terroir, and wine. Website or not, but my problem is that the only place with any information about the Maison No 9 wine was this Forbes article. That is where I learned the story behind this wine, or that the wine was made by a well known French winemaker Alexis Cornu, or that the “new wine is named Maison No. 9, a reference to the Nine of Swords tarot card” (by the way, I searched the meaning of Nine of Swords tarot card and seems to be nothing good, but I’m not going to talk about things I have no idea about). So the bottom line here is that the wine is good, but the whole story is lacking. Does it worth $24? If this is your budget for Rosé, yes, but if not – you got options.

The Maison No 9 story, while almost non-existent, is still perfect compared to our next two wines, Avaline, which come with quite a story – and not really a good one. Avaline, which I believe means “bird” in Latin, is a product of the imagination of two long time friends, Cameron Diaz, a famous actress, and Katherine Power, a well-known entrepreneur. The duo decided to come up with a concept of a “clean wine” to advertise their creation, and this was a grave mistake, as it made the professional wine world fuming.

I’m not going to regurgitate any of the articles – just go search “clean wine Avaline”, you will find plenty of “critical acclaim”. The problem with using terms such as “clean wine” is that as soon as you designate your wine to be “clean”, you automatically imply that all other wines are “dirty” because no other wines advertise themselves as “clean”. When someone says on the label “Free from added sugars, artificial colors, concentrates”, I can’t keep my eyebrow from going up as my immediate reaction is “huh”? Really? I can’t speak with confidence about Two Buck Chuck, but I have serious doubts that they use any of these said additives. I don’t know who was advising Avaline on the wine marketing, but to me, this is a complete failure. Forget “clean wine” – another serious problem I have with these wines is that there is no information whatsoever about the wines – who made them, where the wines were made, from what grapes… yes, Wine.com, which sells both wines, has information on the grape composition. But then the white wine is designated as “Product of Spain” – another “huh?” from me as I never saw another wine with such designation, and the Rosé is identified as Vin de France. Another interesting element here (strategy????) is that both wines don’t list the vintage. So when you come to buy the wine in the store, you have no idea for how long the wine was sitting on that shelf… Nice…

So how were the wines? Both wines were actually quite tasty: NV Avaline White Wine Spain (11.5% ABV, $24, blend of Xarel·lo, Macabeo, Malvasia) – white stone fruit on the nose, nicely restrained, fresh flowers, a touch of minerality. Fresh ripe plums, sage, Meyer lemon, clean acidity, medium-long finish (Drinkability: 8, nicely done). NV Avaline Rosé Vin de France (13% ABV, $24, blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Caladoc) – gentle pink color, a hint of sweet ripe strawberries, nicely restrained, candied strawberries and strawberry jam on the palate, good acidity, good balance, not over the top. Short finish, easy to drink (Drinkability: 8-).

While the Avaline are tasty wines, I see a serious problem here, outside of any “clean/dirty” concepts. You are asked to pay $24 for the wines of unknown pedigree, unknown vintage, made by someone somewhere, with a clean (pun intended), but a seriously unattractive label. I can splurge $5 on such a wine if I will get a recommendation – I guarantee you I will pass a wine like that if I will just see it on the shelf.

Here you go, my friends – 3 celebrity wine for your attention. All three are well drinkable, but you seek them at your own peril. Cheers!

Mystique of Mythic Malbec

July 15, 2020 4 comments

A long, long time ago, in a place far, far away, lived a dragon. That dragon was known for the love of all things green. The vast land he called his home was all covered in luscious flowers, bushes, and trees, always perfect and beautiful. He would use his huge wings to keep the plants cool during the hot days, and he would plan his gardens in the most meticulous ways, to make sure all the plants were happy together.

There was one plant that he loved above all, and it was the grapevine. His vineyards always looked amazing, and his hard work was handsomely rewarded by the most perfect grapes you can imagine anywhere. He loved Malbec above all other grapes, as those gapes made him happy. Sometimes, he would make wine out of them, and sometimes, he would just eat them fresh and delicious.

One day, the dragon was just gone. The plants didn’t feel the air moving with the flaps of his giant, powerful wings. But his presence still was felt in a magical way, as all the plants continued to happily grow, and the grapes were always delicious.

The legend has it that this far, far away magical place was in Mendoza, Argentina, and when people discovered it, they could still feel something magical, something mythical while standing between magnificent grapevine rows. So when they decided to create the winery and call it MYTHIC, that felt the most appropriate.

The MYTHIC winery is rather young, formed in 2014, but ambitious. The winery was founded by the same team which is behind the Casarena wines with the idea to showcase the best wines Argentina can produce – but also by going beyond the tradition. You know how you can taste a well made Bordeaux blend from Napa or Washington and be completely sure you are drinking the old world wine? This is what the MYTHIC winemaking team was trying to achieve – make the world-class wines, whether they appear to be Argentinian or not – and judging by my tasting experience, the mission was accomplished with flying colors.

Continuing what the dragon started, MYTHIC farms about 400 acres of the vineyards in Luján De Cuyo area in Mendoza, which is often regarded as the Napa Valley of Argentina. Some of the vineyards are 90 years old, and most of them are located at about 3000 feet elevation. These high altitude vineyards are protected by the Andes, its snow-covered tops being the best source of water for the sustainably growing vines.

Malbec is the star at MYTHIC, used in the majority of wines – there are also multiple levels of wines, from the general to the vineyard, block, and even barrel-specific. The mystique of MYTHIC lies in the ability to show so many different expressions of Malbec, using seemingly negligible variations in the levels of fruit and oak regiment – but the diversity and the range are mind-boggling – or, rather, mythical. Take a look at my notes and see for yourself:

2019 Mythic Mountain Malbec Rosé Mendoza Argentina (12.5% ABV, $11.99)
Light pink
Fresh strawberries, good minerality, a touch of gunflint
Crisp, fresh, underripe strawberries, vibrant acidity, fresh lemon.
8+, perfect heat quencher – and a great value. This wine would successfully compete with any Provencal Rosé in the blind tasting.

2019 Mythic Mountain Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.9% ABV, $11.99, 70% stainless steel, 30% 3nd/3rd use French oak)
Dark garnet
Freshly crushed berries, pencil shavings, tobacco, sweet sage
A touch of vanilla, tart cherries, soft, round, good acidity.
8-/8, easy to drink, perfectly representative of the “soft” Argentinian Malbec qualities.

2019 Mythic Estate Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.9% ABV, $15.99, 4 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Fresh berries, raspberries, blackberries, beets undertone (yeah, I know it sounds strange)
Fresh, open, ripe raspberries, hint of espresso, firm structure, well balanced.
8/8+, delicious on its own, but will be outstanding with the food. The wine clearly presents itself as an old-world wine – I would bet it is Cahors from France in the blind tasting.

2017 Mythic Block Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $34.99, 10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Cherries, herbs, clean, soft. More complex on the second day, a touch of roasted meat, funk, and chocolate
Succulent fruit, clean acidity, crunchy blackberries, earthy notes, perfect balance, silky smooth.
8+, outstanding, delicious wine. This wine is very international – a delicious wine which can be from anywhere.

Four wines made out of Malbec. Four totally different expressions of the grapes, some of them I didn’t know where even possible, such as Provence-style supremely elegant Malbec Rosé, also priced as a borderline steal – an outstanding QPR. Also, having the full old-world impression with the Estate Malbec? Not an easy feat, not for the New World wines.

Was our dragon real? I don’t know. I’m the one who is happy to believe in dragons and sorcerers. But the dragon made it on the labels, and the wines are as real as they can be, also great values in their own categories. The only thing left is for you to find these wines and judge them for yourself. The “thank you” notes can be left in the comments section with no limitations whatsoever.

Versatile Bubbles – Make Any Day Sparkle

July 8, 2020 5 comments

Here is the question, wine lovers: what is your attitude towards sparkling wines? I’m not looking for a “politically correct” answer – “Champagne is for every day”, “bubbles every day” and so on. Yes – in theory, you can drink Champagne or any other sparkling wine for that matter (is there still a winery left which doesn’t make bubbles in some form?) – Champagne, Cremant, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, Sparkling Shiraz or any other bubbles from anywhere else in the world – every day. Yes, you can – but do you?

No matter how much you love wine, I can bet that bubbles are not your average daily choice of beverage. There are many reasons for this. Of course, the price is one issue. Most of the typical Champagne today is pushing $40 per bottle, and this classifies as a “special occasion” type of beverage. This goes well beyond Champagne – all the random sparkling wines nowadays made literally everywhere, will set you back even further. Another reason – once opened, Champagne doesn’t last very long – two days in the fridge is probably okay, but the longer the bottle is open, the fewer bubbles are left. I’m sure there are many other reasons, some more personal than the others – for example, my wife loves red wine, but she would only have half a sip of Champagne if I will force her, so it is obvious that bubbles are not our daily beverage of choice.

It is hard to solve the personal issues, but if we will look at the price as the major issue, we can find some solutions to that. For example, how about some Prosecco? Yes, Prosecco is very different from Champagne – it is made from different grape; it comes from a different place  – the Veneto region in Italy; it is made using a different process. But Prosecco is still a sparkling wine, usually costing about a third of the price of the typical Champagne bottle – and if you are looking to brighten up any day, Prosecco will do the trick (and the day will be even brighter knowing the amount of money you save).

Don’t take Prosecco for granted- it is a number one selling sparkling wine in the world today in terms of volume. Champagne roots can be traced back to the 15th/16th century, and Prosecco origins can also be traced to almost the same time. However, the production method for Champagne, called méthode champenoise was first described in the 1660s, while the production method used for most of Prosecco, Charmat-Marinotti, was invented in 1895. But these are minor technical details. The major difference is that while Champagne was craved by royalties and wannabes around the world for a few centuries, Prosecco first commercially appeared outside of Italy, in the UK, in 1989. And now, mere 30 years later, Champagne has to chase Prosecco’s success.

Okay, let’s stop talking and start drinking. Back in April, I attended a virtual tasting of 5 different Prosecco wines. It was done over Zoom, with 5 winemakers presenting their wines from their homes – but while tasting was virtual, the wines were not. For what it worth, here are my notes on the wines we tasted.

Villa Sandi takes its name from the historical villa, built in 1622. Villa Sandi produces a wide range of still and sparkling wines, including Prosecco from Cartizze, the most prestigious Prosecco vineyard.

NV Villa Sandi il Fresco Prosecco DOC Treviso (11% ABV, $15)
Pale green, fine mousse
Lemon, lemon zest, minerality
Fine bubbles, generous, crisp, fresh, Meyer lemon, pleasant and easy to drink
8-, a perfect summer quaffer or everyday bubbles

History of Bottega goes back to 1635 when Andrea Bottega started cultivating the grapes. Until 1992, Bottega was best known for its Grappa, and then in 1992, Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Spumante was created. Today, Bottega produces a large number of spirits, as well as wines. The range of Prosecco and sparkling wines includes more than 20 different bottlings.

NV Bottega IL Vino dei Poeti Gold Prosecco DOC Treviso (11% ABV, $29.99)
Straw pale, fine bubbles
A hint of apple, tropical fruit
Clean and refreshing mouthfeel, good acidity, lemon, a touch of Granny Smith apples, distant hint of nutmeg.
8-/8, restrained and elegant rendition.

The story of Mionetto started in 1887 when Francesco Mionetto opened the winery in Valdobbiadene, which is now known as the epicenter of Prosecco production. In 1982, Mionetto adopted the Charmat method for productions of the sparkling wines and introduced temperature-controlled fermentation. Mionetto had been leading the way in Prosecco production since then.

NV Mionetto Brut Prosecco DOC Treviso (11% ABV, $12.99)
Straw pale
Hint on peach and apple on the nose
Fine bubbles, crisp, fresh, touch of peach, fresh acidity of Granny Smith apples
8-, perfect everyday bubbles

Well, there is not a lot I can tell you about La Marca, as the winery website is excellent for marketing purposes, but doesn’t talk much about history. If anything, lots of cocktail ideas can be found there – see for yourself.

NV La Marca Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $14)
Straw pale, large bubbles
Ripe peach, guava, pear, nose intense and inviting
Surprising contrast on the palate, dry, crisp, nice textural presence, tart lemon notes, good balance
8-, again- perfect everyday bubbles.

Valdo was founded in 1926 to produce sparkling wines in the areas of Valdobbiadene and Cartizze. Valdo was quickly acquired by the Bolla family and continued producing a wide range of sparkling wines. Right now, Valdo offers 29 (!) different sparkling wine bottlings, including some made using méthode classico and one organic Prosecco. This wine was also happened to be my favorite in this tasting.

NV Valdo Marca Oro Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $13)
Straw pale, fine bubbles
Touch of yeast, toasted bread, and apples.
Fresh, crisp, cut through acidity, lemon, good minerality
8/8+, might be my favorite in the tasting, very reminiscent of champagne.

Here you are, my friends. Summer is here, and Prosecco’s refreshing qualities can brighten up anyone’s day. I’m off to pour another glass. Cheers!

Winemaking: A Step by Step Guide

June 29, 2020 Leave a comment

Today I would like to offer you a guest post by William Reed, who is a passionate winemaker that continues his family’s the age-old tradition of producing quality homemade wine. With respect to
heritage and classic concepts as well as a zesty touch of the modern, William continues to explore the vast world of winemaking all while sharing his thoughts, ideas, and processes on his own personal website at myhomewine.com.

Winemaking or vinification is the process of making wine, from start to finish, which ends up having a lot of detailed steps you should know, so are you ready to begin this long but incredibly rewarding journey?

Some people say it’s easy to make wine but making good and fruity ones is only for the experts – well that’s not entirely true as we’ll see below. Summed up, the major steps on how to make wine are the selection of grapes, their fermentation to alcohol, and, lastly, the bottling. You can make all types of wine but the most common ones are red wine, white wine, or rosé, and even though they are pretty different between, their process is very similar.

Wine has been produced for thousands of years, being almost considered as an art, having an important role in religion and there is even a science that studies wine and winemaking, called oenology. Generally speaking, wine is an alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes with 5.5 – 15.5% alcohol and is a cultural symbol of the European life, changing from a nutritional supplement to a food complimentary beverage, compatible with a good lifestyle. Drinking isn’t safe for everyone and doing it more than moderate amounts can lead to health problems, however, a study from 2018 proved that wine can have great benefits because it contains antioxidants and it promotes anti-inflammatory and lipid-improving effects.

The classification of this beverage can be done according to its origin, methods, vintage, or variety used. Practices can be different in each country and have varied over time to achieve progress. Wine-growing regions all over the world have been improving their conditions with technological innovations to have better hygiene and control over the production process, contributing to the creation of wines suited to the taste of consumers. In fact, global wine consumption has risen with the purpose to enjoy in moderation, as part of a modern, sustainable, and healthy lifestyle. You can also take a look at the following guide in case you want to learn how to make wine at home.

With that said, I will now present you with the process of winemaking, in a thorough but also easy to understand step by step manner:

1 – Choosing the Perfect Grapes

The first step of all is harvesting! It’s one of the crucial stages in this operation, and it’s really easy to understand why – the better grapes you have, the better the product will be!

The moment the grapes are picked from the vineyard will determine their sweetness, flavour, and acidic and tannin levels – now we know why it’s called science. Some of the tracked conditions are the weather, the time of harvest and even the way you pick them – hand picking or mechanical harvesting. Even though there is a lot to consider and to control when it comes to reaching a nice final product, don’t get too scared, as you’ll only reach perfection through trial and error.

2 – Crush!

Once you have the grapes picked up from the vineyard, it’s time to de-stem them and gently squeeze them to liberate their content. This process, in the past or in traditional smaller scale farms, is done by foot. Nowadays, and in bigger wineries, mechanical presses are used to turn grapes into must (pulp) in a much faster and efficient way. Some say this can affect grapes negatively but it’s a more sanitary crushing step and also helps the quality of the final result. Personally, I’d prefer the machines rather than drinking wine crushed by some random farmer’s feet!

What is tapped from the must depends on the type of wine you are making. If white wine is what you want, then the seeds, solids and skins are removed from the grape juice. On the other hand, if red wine is what you prefer, the seeds, solids and skins should stay along with grape juice to offer it more flavour and that beautiful red colour.

3 – Sugar into Alcohol: Fermentation

It’s true, the third step is fermentation and is quickly defined as a transformation from sugar into alcohol – it seems like magic, am I right? It only seems like it, because here is where this process is the longest and most complicated, as it determines the quality of the final result.

As you already know, the product obtained from crushing will ferment because of the present yeasts that transform the sugar, as an energy source, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide. This explains the primary fermentation, which is called alcoholic fermentation, and will last from 5 to 14 days, requiring a lot of careful control (if the goal is a high premium luxurious wine). The second one is called malolactic fermentation, lasts another 5 to 10 days and it characterizes the pH 3,8 of red wines and 3,55 of white wines. Pure science! Temperature, speed and level of oxygen are also extremely important considerations and must be optimized. This whole process can take weeks or even months.

4 – Clarification and Stabilization

After fermentation, it’s time for clarification! This is where pulp, proteins, dead yeast, and other unwanted residues, created during the chemical reactions, are removed from the juice that you can almost call wine at this point. Particles that are insoluble and float, can be filtered and the ones that are soluble but still undesirable, can be centrifuged. Both of these methods need to be optimized to obtain a clear, healthy and appropriate wine. Some natural winemakers don’t clarify because they believe that it diminishes the aroma, texture, and color, so they leave the particles and compounds in red wines for aging – I follow this school of thought.

At this point, you already know that wine can be claimed as a complex mixture built upon microorganisms, and that it can be unstable and reactive depending on the environment and the condition submitted. One of the techniques to stabilize it is cold stabilization and it consists of exposing the wine to low temperatures, close to freezing, for two weeks. The complexity of this whole step is amazing because it enables winemakers to deliver their individual appeal to each wine.

5 – Aging and Bottling

This is the final step but one that is very important in winemaking, because it’s the relocation of the wine into oak barrels (my preferred vessel), stainless steel tanks or bottles.

Wine aging can be defined as a group of reactions that changes the properties of wine and allows it to develop unique flavors over time. Premium wines need to pass through this maturation step to acquire some amazing characteristics like aroma, color, flavour, texture and mouthfeel. Other light and fruity wines don’t need aging and reach their quality peak in a shorter time.

The major considerations in bottling are what kind of bottle to use, type of closure (sealing), (maybe cork), and if you want to add gas or not (not recommended at all for beginners). There are also a lot of kits available for you if you want to experiment making wine at home in a small but very educational manner.

Enjoy it – with Moderation!

Here is every important and crucial step in the winemaking process and you can apply them at your own industry or even at home! Yes, you can make this fruity, incredible juice without leaving your house. If you’re not interested in making your own, you can think about this whole procedure when you’re enjoying it, remembering the magic behind and realizing the work put on it.

Winemaking can be difficult because there are a lot of conditions you need to optimize, starting from picking the grape, to the act of bottling the wine, to the temperature you apply and the cleanliness. Now we can agree that this is almost an art and you have to learn a little bit of science too! Don’t forget that drinking wine in moderation has positive benefits linked to some cardiovascular disease due to the amount of antioxidants, isn’t that great? Thank you for reading and let’s have a glass of wine!

Seeking, Overcoming, and Finding: Amarone for the Father’s Day

June 25, 2020 Leave a comment

Let’s take this step by step, starting with seeking. What am I seeking?

If you read this blog for some time, you know that Amarone is my pet peeve. Ever since falling in love with Le Ragoze Amarone during Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine School session, Amarone has a special place in this wine lover’s heart. I generally would never admit the existence of the pivotal wine in my wine journey, but if I would really think about it, this will be the one. The combination of the dried fruit on the nose with the firm, powerful, impeccably balanced palate really created an everlasting memory. I had this experience about 17 years ago, in 2003, drinking 5 years old wine (1998 vintage) – and ever since I’m trying to replicate it. Which brings us to the next step: overcoming.

We are talking wine here, so what is there to overcome, you say? Fear. Trepidation. An attempt to avoid disappointment – over and over again. While seeking to replicate the amazing experience, over the years I tried many, many Amarone. A few times I managed to get close to that magical Le Ragoze experience – but the majority was really, really far from it. Why? Lack of balance. Let’s make it more precise: severe lack of balance. Often expressed in the form of the alcohol burn.

In the last 20 years, Amarone’s alcohol level progressed from the typical 14.8% ABV to the typical 16.5% ABV. I get it. What makes Amarone an Amarone is an additional step in the winemaking process, which is rarely used with any other wines – drying of the grapes before they are pressed. After the grapes are harvested, they are placed outside (historically, on the straw mats, but now, on specially arranged shelves) to dry under the sun, to literally shrivel into the raisins before they will be pressed – this process typically takes between 3 and 4 months. Drying concentrates sugars (and dramatically lowers the yield, which explains the high prices), and thus you can expect higher alcohol in the resulting wine. Yes, I get it – but still…

At 16.5% ABV, true mastery is required to achieve balance. True mastery is rare – and the real downside here is personal self-doubt. While tasting yet another hot and biting wine, a tiny voice in your head says “what is wrong with you? You really say you like this type of wine? Are you sure you are even remotely qualified as an oenophile? Maybe water should be your drink of choice?” So yes, tasting yet another Amarone requires overcoming this fear – who wants to prove oneself wrong time and time again?

Now, let’s continue to finding.

When I was offered a sample of Zenato Amarone I said (not without fear) “of course, thank you”. Zenato, which started producing wines about 60 years ago, in the 1960s, initially white wines in Lugano, produced its first Amarone in 1988. The grapes for Zenato Amarone wines come from the Valpolicella Classico area, grown in Sant’Ambrogio township.

So what did I found in that bottle? The first sip instantly quelled all the fears and brought back happy memories. What made that Le Ragoze so memorable was the contrast. I know, I already said it – the wine had an intense nose of the dried fruit. I don’t know about you, but I love dried fruit – especially figs and raisins. But dried fruit is sweet, and this is what I expected from the wine to be – only it was not. The wine was dry, absolutely dry, massive, concentrated, and firmly structured. It was also perfectly balanced.

Those were the memories. And 2015 Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG (16.5% ABV, $60, 80% Corvina Veronese, 10% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta and Croatina, 4 months of drying, 36 months in oak) instantly brought them back with the delicate nose of the dried fruit and dry, massive, concentrated, but a perfectly balanced body. Firm structure, a touch of dried cherries, sage – just an excellent wine overall (Drinkability: 8+/9-). Wine is all about the balance. And pleasure. Zenato Amarone delivered both.

As I opened this bottle on Father’s Day, you can see in the picture a dilemma I now will be facing – I got another glass from another kid – now I will be forced to pick and chose the glass and try to avoid playing favorites… Oh well, not the worst problem to have, isn’t it?

Do you have a favorite Amarone that never disappoints? What’s your most memorable wine? Is there a wine out there you always crave?

Wine Opinions, Forming and Changing

June 16, 2020 Leave a comment

Well, this might be a dirty laundry type of post which I might regret later – but sometimes, it is good to look into the mirror, so let’s talk.

How do you form an opinion about the wine? Is it on the first sip? Is it after a glass? Is it based on tasting the wine, let’s say, for an hour or two and slowly deciding if you like the wine or not, sip by sip? Equally important – what other factors contribute to that said opinion? Critic’s 95 rating – would that affect your opinion? Respected friend’s recommendation – how important is that? I’m not even talking about ambiance, mood, food, or any other factors.

Okay, now I have another question.

Your opinion about the wine is formed. What would it take to change it? Is it enough to taste the wine once to change your opinion completely? Or would you need multiple encounters to have your opinion changed completely, doesn’t matter in which direction? Well, actually I think here we need to differentiate here between positive and negative opinions. If your opinion was positive, it will probably take a few unsuccessful encounters with the same wine to decide that you made a mistake the first time. But in case of a negative opinion… it gets more complicated. Would you even be willing to give the wine a second chance in such a case? What would make you pick again the bottle of wine you didn’t appreciate before?

Let’s make it more practical.

Campochirenti Chianti San Nicola and sunset

For a long time, I saw John Fodera, who is an expert in Italian wines, give the highest praise to the wines of Campochiarenti from Tuscany. I had an opportunity to finally taste one of the Campochiarenti wines – 2016 San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi, one of the most basic wines in the Campochiarenti portfolio. Granted, I tasted this wine during the grand festivities of the open house John hosted during the OTBN Saturday – after tasting a variety of Gran Selezione, Super Tuscans, and a magical 1999 Soldera. And in the middle of all that extravaganza, the Campochiarenti Chianti’s appeal was lost on me. I mentioned in the post that the wine was “classic and simple”, but the major point was the price – it was an okay wine for the expected $12 when the wine will finally make it into the USA. Not that I didn’t like the wine, but I didn’t care much for it either – my palate perceived it as too dry and unidimensional.

Erich Russell, who I wrote recently about, has a business relationship with Daniele Rosti, the winemaker at Campochiarenti (Rabbit Ridge soon will be releasing the wine which will be a blend of Italian and California wines), and Erich happened to import a good number of Campochirenti wines to be able to showcase his future joint releases, which he now has available via his website. A few weeks ago, while I was ordering the birthday present for my sister-in-law in the form of the Rabbit Ridge wines, I recalled that she and her husband love Italian wines, so I decide to include a few bottles of the Campochiarenti wines in my order.

This past weekend we visited my sister-in-law who lives on Cape Cod. While deciding on the wine to take with us to see the sunset, I realized that this was a great opportunity to see what am I missing about this 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi – considering the universal love the wine has, I needed to try it again. It only took me one sniff and sip to have my opinion changed completely. The wine was absolutely mindblowing, in both bouquet and the taste, bursting with succulent cherries and offering velvety mouthfeel and impeccable balance. The picture above perfectly summarizes the way I felt about the wine – a double score, an amazing sunset paired with a superb wine.

After coming back and ordering my own case, I can now offer you another case buy recommendation. Visit Rabbit Ridge wine shopping page here, and look for the wine called Danielle – at $15, this wine is an absolute steal. You can also try Campochiarenti Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which supposed to be on par with the Chianti (when ordering, you can specify how many bottles of white and red you want) – I’m waiting for mine to arrive soon.

That is my story of a changed wine opinion. It was very easy for me, one sip and done. How about you? Have you changed your wine opinions and how? Do tell! Cheers!

CASARENA, The Next Level Of Argentinian Wines

June 9, 2020 Leave a comment

The next level of Argentinian wines – I can literally see a “yeah, come on, really???” reaction from many of you. What does that even mean – the next level?

Okay, no need to get all feisty here – let’s talk about it. Argentinean wines require no introduction to any of the wine lovers today. Argentinian Malbec is practically a mandatory element of any bar or restaurant wine list, on equal footing with Cabernet Sauvignon from California. Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends from Argentina also command topmost respect of wine lovers around the world. If the top-level is already achieved, what is the next level above it?

The “next level” here is my attempt to convey the emotion, the excitement of pleasure of tasting the delicious wines. While Argentinian wines are unquestionably the world-class, many of them are hardly distinguishable. The taste of Argentinian Malbec sometimes gets too predictable, and the wines lose their personality. Thus when you discover the wine which doesn’t conform to the “universal profile”, you feel like you are advancing to the next level of the game. I hope my tasting notes will convey my feeling about these wines, but let’s talk about the region first.

I perfectly remember listening to Kevin Zraly explaining the concept of quality of the wines. Imagine the set of enclosed circles. The biggest circle is equated to the big region – let’s say, California. Wines labeled with California as the region can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the state of California. The next circle is a sub-region – let’s say, Napa Valley. Wines labeled as Napa Valley can be produced only from the grapes grown in Napa Valley. That gives us a higher level of confidence in the quality of the wines, as Napa Valley is well known for the quality of the grapes. We can still narrow our circles, and now we are looking at the sub-region of the Napa Valley itself – Howell Mountain, Rutherford, Spring Mountain – there are many. Now your choice of grapes is restricted only to such a sub-region, which often offers a common taste profile coming from the vineyards in that subregion, such as famous Rutherford dust in the Cabernet Sauvignon wines sourced from the Rutherford appellation. And even now we might not be done with our circles, as we can restrict our source of grapes even further to the individual vineyard, such as Beckstoffer To-Kalon, and then even to the individual blocks and plots within the same vineyard. The smaller the circle is, the higher is the quality of the grapes, and that should translate into the quality of the wines.

Let’s now apply our circles to Argentina. We will start in Mendoza, probably the best-known winemaking area in Argentina – think about all the Argentinian Malbecs you are consuming. Continuing narrowing down, let’s now go to the Luján de Cuyo, the region located just south of Mendoza city. Luján de Cuyo is the first officially recognized appellation in Argentina (established in 1993), and home to some of the best known Argentinian wineries such as Catena Zapata and Cheval des Andes. Continuing narrowing down we now need to go to the town of Agrelo, where  CASARENA Bodega & Viñedos is located.

I don’t like to use cliché in my writing. Nevertheless, if I would try to describe what makes Luján de Cuyo (and Agrelo for that matter) a great winemaking region, I feel that I’m doing exactly that – shamelessly using all available wine cliché all the way. See for yourself: Most of the vineyards in the region are located on a high altitude, which increases the sun exposure during the day and also creates a significant temperature drop in the evening – we are talking about significant diurnal temperature variation which slows down the ripening and helps grapes to retain acidity. Close proximity to the Andes creates a desert-like environment as it significantly reduced the rainfall – now we are talking about dry farming. Many vineyards in the region are also located on the rocky soils, forcing the vines to work hard to reach the nutrients. There is rarely greatness without adversity, and the combination of all the factors mentioned above presents exactly the adversity needed to produce excellent grapes – and yes, this unavoidable wine cliché. 

CASARENA Bodega & Viñedos was founded in 2007, with the first officially released vintage being 2009, starting, quite expectedly, with Malbec. After tasting its first commercial success with a slew of good critic ratings, CASARENA continued to narrow down the circles and created 7 single-vineyard wines coming from 4 different vineyards. I had the pleasure of tasting samples of 3 of these single-vineyard wines and was literally blown away by the quality.

Here are my notes:

2017 Casarena Malbec Naoki’s Vineyard Agrelo Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (14.5% ABV)
Dark garnet, very inviting
Dark fruit, cassis, tobacco, pencil shavings, a touch of mint
Medium to full body, succulent red fruit, vanilla, perfect acidity, silky smooth, well-integrated tannins, good minerality
8+, balanced, and delicious. Well refined compared to a typical Argentinian Malbec

2017 Casarena Cabernet Sauvignon Owen’s Vineyard Agrlo Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (14% ABV, 80 years old vines)
Dark garnet, practically black
Day 1:
Nose – dark, funky, concentrated, earth, tobacco
The palate is very contrasting to the nose, classic Cab with Cassis and bell pepper, not very expressive
Day 2:
Nose and palate are similar, more of a Malbec style – vanilla, blue fruit, coffee, dark chocolate.
Day 3:
Nose – Autumn forest, cherries, coffee
Palate – classic Bordeaux, a touch of currant, bell peppers, soft, supple, luscious, the well present core of minerality.
8/8+, excellent. My best analogy for this wine would be Dunn Howell Mountain wines, with the dark power imparted on the wines.

2017 Casarena Cabernet Franc Lauren’s Vineyard Agrelo Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (14.2% ABV, 18 months in new French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black
Coffee, a hint of cherries, minerally-driven
Cassis, cherries, soft, round, goos texture
8+, might be my favorite of the tasting.

These are three wines which would bring any dinner or friends gathering to the next level – I don’t know if you can see my point just by reading, the best way would be to pour a glass of CASARENA wine and take a quick trip to Argentina. Cheers!

Good When Young, Good With Age

June 8, 2020 2 comments

It’s what you crave, people.

And right now, I’m craving Riesling.

Wine cravings are an interesting phenomenon. Or not. I guess food cravings work in exactly the same way. It appears to be all of a sudden, the desire for a certain food – french fries (oh wait, I always crave french fries), fried chicken, steak, scallops, lasagna, broccoli (really, you say? Yep, I can bet someone is craving broccoli right now). Is it really so unprovoked, so out of blue, or is it our subconscious at play here, collecting little cues here and there?

It is getting warm now, but that alone is not the reason to crave Riesling. But what if I read about other people enjoying the Riesling, with food and without – would that count as an invisible cue? I don’t know, but I can clearly imagine myself with a glass of cold Riesling in hand, don’t even need to close my eyes.

In the world of white wine, Riesling is unquestionably a part of “big three” – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. At the same time, if you think about typical wine store, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc would take the prime real estate, the most central position on the shelves – and Riesling would be typically relegated to the far-most corner, with a little “Germany” sign next to it, or maybe in the “other whites” section. And it is a pity because scandalously delicious Riesling is produced practically everywhere – Alsace, Australia (Grosset would be an amazing example), New Zealand, Israel, California (how about some Smith-Madrone), Oregon (Brooks Rieslings are sublime), Washington (Chateau Ste. Michelle does an excellent job), and I’m not even talking about New York state or Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada.

It is not only the hedonistic pleasure that the glass of well-made Riesling readily delivers on its own. Riesling is one of the most versatile food wines – it pairs well with a wide range of dishes and cuisines. And then Riesling has an ability to age not just well, but extremely well. Let’s bring back again the big three. Yes, you can age many of the Chardonnay wines, but rarely for 30, 40, 50 years – I’m sure there are some exceptions, probably in Burgundy, but still, this is not common. Sauvignon Blanc would fare even worse than Chardonnay. But well-made Riesling? 30 years will not be even the age – it will be still youthful and vibrant, with ease.

I didn’t have any 30 years old Rieslings recently, but I got two samples with 4 and 8 years of age, and both fared equally well – while even 8 years might be a stretch for many white wines. 2016 Leitz Eins-Zwei-Dry Riesling Trocken Rheingau (12% ABV) was produced by Weingut Leitz, where the family winemaking traditions go back to 1744; 2012 Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten Riesling Spätlese Pfalz (9% ABV) was produced at the Weingut Müller-Catoir which, interestingly enough, was also founded in 1744.

It is interesting that both wines were produced at the wineries with the 9th generation of winemakers (duh – the wineries were founded in the same year, I know). Both wines are pure Riesling wines, both come from the hillside vineyards with some unimaginable slopes. 2016 Riesling is designated as dry, and 2012 is a Spätlese-level, which means that the grapes had a higher sugar content when harvested.

I’m sure you wonder how were the wines? Well, yes, both were delicious. Both were a characteristic Riesling, with honey, honeysuckle, and a touch of lemon on the nose. Of course, Spätlese was sweeter, but not by much. And it is always the acidity which makes or breaks Riesling – both wines showed perfectly balancing, fresh, vibrant acidity. Bottom line – both were equally delicious and ready to be enjoyed on their own or support any food. As for the age… what age? I will be happy to try both in 10 (or 20)  years – and I’m sure I would enjoy them very much.

What is your take on Riesling? Do you have any favorites wines or regions? Do tell! Cheers!

 

Wednesday Meritage: Where To Get Wine [Values]

June 4, 2020 1 comment

Meritage Time!

This is a bit of an unusual Meritage post, as it is focused on one single subject – how to maximize your hard-earned dollars while continuing to enjoy your beloved beverage. Plus, I want to share with you my case buy recommendation at the end of this post.

The inspiration for this post were the notes I receive via subscription to the blog by Robert Dwyer called Wellesley Wine Press which I had been following for a long time. Robert has a special talent for finding wine deals and discounts, and he shares all that information in his blog, so we can all benefit from that.

In addition to Robert’s finds, I also want to suggest another source of discounts which might or might not work for you – the American Express credit card. If you don’t own the American Express card, you should skip all this Amex talk and advance to the case discount section. For those of you who has the card you can’t leave home without, please continue reading.

When you log into your account at the American Express website, you can find a section of “Amex Offers & Benefits” at the bottom of the page. There are 100 different offers that are available to you on any given day. I believe those offers are targeted, and I’m not sure if everyone will see the exact same set of offers. Today, out of those 100 offers, 12 are wine-related. These are real savings, I used those offers many times in the past and those are real deals, saving you $20, $30, $50. These offers are easy to use – find what you are interested in using, apply the offer to your card, then make a purchase in required amount before the offer expiration date on the American Express card you applied the offer to, and your credit will be posted automatically within a few business days.

Here is the list of the offers which are currently available for my American Express card – I’m also adding the additional discount information which can be found in Robert’s blog:

Wine.com

Spend $100+, get one time $30 credit. Expires 6/30/2020.
You can add to this a $50 off $150 purchase with the code CN50 – see Robert’s post for explanations and additional discount codes. So technically, you can spend $150 on the wine, and with the combination of these two offers, your cost will be only $70. I took this opportunity to get a few bottles of Grosset Riesling from Clare valley – definitely a great deal.

WineaAcess.com/amex

Spend $250+, receive $50 credit. Expires 9/30/2020. Limit of 3 statement credits (total of $150). Wine Access offers many interesting wines – you can read about my experience here.

Parcellewine.com

Spend $100+, get one time $20 back. Expires 9/1/2020

BenchmarkWine.com

Spend $250+, get a one-time $50 credit. Expires 8/22/2020. Benchmark Wine Group is one of my favorite online stores to shop for wine – lots of unique and different finds.

The restaurant at Beringer Vineyards or online at beringer.com

Spend $200, get a one-time $60 credit. Expires 8/28/2020. Beringer Vineyards needs no introduction – and this sounds like a good deal.

Vinfolio.com

Spend $250+, get 5,000 additional Membership Rewards points (one time). Expires 7/31/2020. Considering that American Express points can be valued at about one penny per point, 5,000 membership points would equate $50 – a good deal.

FirstBottleWines.com

Spend $250+, get a one-time $50 credit. Expires 8/23/2020

Benziger.com

Spend $200,  get a one-time $40 credit. Expires 7/20/2020.

Bcellars.com, the restaurant at B Cellars Vineyards and Winery

Spend $300+, get a one-time $90 credit. Expires 8/18/2020.

StagsLeap.com

Spend $200+, get a one-time $60 credit. Expires 7/27/2020. Another coveted winery on the list.

Vinesse.com

Spend $50+, get a one-time $15 credit. Expires 7/3/2020.

WineInsiders.com

Spend $20+, get $20 credit. Expires 10/31/2020. Limit of 3 statement credits (total of $60)

These are all the American Express offers which I found available today for my credit card.

Rabbit Ridge Wines Paso Robles

And now, for the case recommendations.

You see, when I find a good value wine, I’m always a bit hesitant to share that information with the world – what if there will be not enough left for me? Well, yeah, it is really not about me, right? It is all about delicious wine which you can afford to drink any day. What is also unique about these wines is that they don’t come from Spain, Italy, or France, where you can still find great bargains – these wines are made in California – at Rabbit Ridge Winery in Paso Robles.

I recently met winemaker and the owner Erich Russell and his wife Joanne at the virtual event organized by John Fodera. We were going to discuss Rabbit Ridge wines, and I ordered a few bottles for that discussion – 2017 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles Paso Robles (15.4% ABV, $10(!), Rhone blend), 2018 Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel Westside Paso Robles (114.9% ABV, $15), and 2013 Rabbit Ridge Petite Sirah Paso Robles (14.8% ABV, $20).

Opening a $10 bottle of California wine is hardly possible without trepidation – finding great wines at that price is really challenging. And nevertheless, Allure de Robles was delicious – soft, supple, well-present, and perfectly balanced. Would it compete head to head with the wines from Saxum or Alban – no, of course not. Yet this is an excellent, delicious everyday wine in its own right.

$15 Zinfandel is also not an easy find. Rabbit Ridge West Side Zinfandel was superb – the core of raspberries with a touch of smoke. Yep, delicious is the right word.

$20 Petite Sirah, drinkable upon the opening of the bottle – this doesn’t happen often, if ever. Petite Sirah is tricky and finding drinkable one at that price is also quite difficult – again, Rabbit Ridge perfectly delivered dark and firmly structured core, with the fruit leisurely weaved around it.

If these wines are not the case buy recommendations then I don’t know what is.

Here you go, my friends. I hope you will be able to take advantage of at least some of the offers and don’t miss on those Rabbit Ridge wines – nothing lasts forever… Cheers!

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