Daily Glass: Textbook Precision

March 19, 2018 3 comments

Once you fully embrace the wine world, one of the important lessons you learn is rather simple – “there are no guarantees”. The bottle of wine can perfectly say “Cabernet Sauvignon” – there are absolutely no guarantees that Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington, California, and Chile will have any smell and taste similarities, never mind Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Czech Republic, and Moldova. And this is okay, we can all accept it – at the end of the day, the only thing which matter is whether we like the wine or not.

Despite all the differences, when it comes to the major grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and so on, we usually know how the “classic” wine should taste like – especially if we take any formal wine education or make enough effort to study the wine, pay attention to what we drink and make it a lesson to learn. Yes, there might be a bit of our perception in it too, but still, we usually have that “classic profile ” idea in the mind.

What prompted this post was a lucky happenstance, an encounter with two classic, textbook wine profiles for two nights in the row.

First, there was Pinot Noir. When it comes to Pinot Noir, there are probably four classic profiles – Burgundy (of course!), with lots of dark fruit power and a little bit of funk (especially with age, but drinking young Burgundy is almost like killing a baby, right?). Then you have New Zealand, which usually can be identified by the pronounced acidity. Oregon Pinot Noir often screams minerality, mocha and dark chocolate. And then you got California, with luscious smokey plums and silky, seductive texture.

So the wine I had a pleasure of experiencing was a textbook, unmistakable California Pinot Noir – 2015 Field Recordings Derbyshire Vineyard Pinot Noir San Luis Obispo County (13.1% ABV, $28, 20% whole cluster fermentation, foot tread in open top bins, 12 month in French oak) – smokey plums on the nose, bright cherries and plums profile on the palate with a perfect balance of acidity, velvety layers – tremendous amount of pleasure in every sip. Drinking this wine evokes comparisons with other California classics such as Siduri. It doesn’t reach the ultra-luxurious texture of Sandhi, but if you have any experience with classic California Pinot, one sip of this wine will perfectly put you in the right place.

Now, talking about classics, let’s talk about the grape which is not a relative of Pinot Noir, but more often than not, a closest friend and neighbor – Chardonnay. What is interesting about Chardonnay, in my opinion, is that good Chardonnay is a lot more cosmopolitan than a Pinot Noir. With the exception of Chablis, which often can be recognized by the gunflint on the nose, the classic Chardonnay profile includes vanilla, apples and a touch of butter. You can often differentiate Burgundy from California by the amount of butter (California usually offers lots more) and acidity (that’s what you will get with the young Burgundy), but still, Chardonnays from Australia, Burgundy, Chablis, and California have quite a bit of similarity.

Oregon, which is definitely an established world leader when it comes to Pinot Noir, lately also started to show its Chardonnay provenance. Two years ago, I was blown away by the perfection of Vidon Chardonnay. This time around, the 2016 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay Dundee Hills (13.5% ABV, $45) made me say “wow” many, many times. Perfect nose of vanilla and golden delicious apples with a distant hint of butter and even honey (honey is usually showing up in Chardonnay after some aging) was supported by the same profile on the palate – vanilla, apples, butter – all perfectly mended together in cohesive, sublime package resting on the vibrant core of acidity. This was definitely a textbook Chardonnay for me, and the one which I would love to see aged, at least for another 5-7 years.

Here you go, my friends – a textbook experience with two classic grapes. What are your textbook wine experiences? Cheers!


Open That Bottle Night – 2018 edition

February 25, 2018 10 comments

We all have THAT bottle. How I mean it, you ask? Simple. We all have bottles which have special meaning for us. This one was brought home from the vacation 5 years ago. That one was given by a generous friend with the recommendation to wait for a special moment to drink it. Those in the corner came from the parent’s cellar.  Ahh, these I found on a garage sale  – would you believe it? Oh yes, and those I got during a great sale – yes, one of each, as I couldn’t afford to buy any more of them.

Wine is a perfect vehicle for creating special moments. Maybe the best there is. But this also is a problem in itself. We get attached to those special bottles, always doubting if this is the right moment to open them and keep waiting and waiting for a perfect one. Yes, the wine improves with age, but nothing is forever. There is always a chance that at the proper moment, the wine might not be there for us anymore, and we might not be there for the wine.

To help people with THAT bottle dilemma, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, the journalists behind Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column at a time, created a special event which they called Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) back in 1999, celebrated always on the last Saturday in February. Now, almost for 20 years, OTBN helped wine aficionados around the world to ease the pain of parting with those special bottles and actually enjoy the wine in its prime time (or at least that is the intent and the hope). 

The OTBN is truly all about the wine, so the oenophile gets its chance to agonize about the impossible choice, going from one bottle to another bottle and finding the reasons why this is not yet the time to claim for it to be THAT bottle. I went multiple times through all my wine fridges, joyfully finding and immediately grudgingly rejecting my choices. Three days later, I just grabbed two bottles which jumped to my attention and said “this is it! no more!”.

Let’s talk about our OTBN wines – there should be at least some reason for the wines to be “it”, right? So the white wine was interesting in many ways. First, it came to our house via the Secret Wine Santa exchange, courtesy of inimitable Drunken Cyclist. The wine is made out of the rare grape (Malvasia) which is absolutely uncommon for California; the wine is Skin Fermented, which seems now to be a popular term for what was known before as “orange wine” – the grapes are fermented in contact with skin, which is not typical for the white wine. Lastly, the wine comes from the Suisun Valley, which seems to be an up and coming region in California – for example, Caymus, a California wine powerhouse,  recently released the new wine called Grand Durif (Durif is original French name for Petite Sirah), made from the grapes grown in the Suisun Valley.

2015 Onward Skin Fermented Malvasia Suisun Valley (12.8% ABV)  – light golden in the glass (nothing says “orange wine”), beautiful tropical fruit on the nose – guava, passion fruit. On the palate, initially showed light fizz which went away in about 15 minutes. Cut through acidity, peppery spiciness, white underripe fruit, there is a touch of funk or maybe rather oxidative notes which hint at extended skin contact; overall – different and delicious (Drinkability: 8). Also much rounder on the second day. Probably requires food.

Now, the red doesn’t really have a story. I have no idea how did it make it into our house. Yes, it is a Brunello, which is generally good (one of the 3 big Bs of the Italian wines – Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello); Argiano seems to be a good producer even though I don’t know much about them. Lastly, the wine has good age on it, however, it is not much of an age for any of the big Bs. Oh yes, and it was my only bottle, which squarely puts it into THAT category.

2003 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (14% ABV) – needed a bit of help from the decanter to open up (about an hour) – dark concentrated garnet color, no hint of age, deep tobacco and roasted meat on the nose, leather, cherry, cherry pit and a touch of plums on the palate. Right after opening, the wine seemed that it was either at prime or maybe already even past prime – after 3 hours in the decanter and a glass, the wine started closing, with fruit disappearing and fresh, young tannins taking its place. This wine would probably last for another 10 years – but I stand no chance to find out as this was my one and only bottle. Still, the verdict is simple – delicious (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

That sums it up, folks. I love OTBN, as the wine is meant to be drunk, and OTBN helps us to get THAT bottle out and experience it before its too late. How was your OTBN? Cheers!

Weekly Tasting with Wines Til Sold Out – The Wines

February 17, 2018 3 comments

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new feature from the unimitable Wines Til Sold Out – a Weekly Tasting. Every week, there is a new set of 4 wines available for you with all the extra fun information – history, stories, pairing recommendations and more – like your personal sommelier visits the house for a fun and entertaining evening. I didn’t have a chance to taste the wines as I was living for a business trip, so I only introduced the concept – now it is time to talk about the wines.

The set which I got was really right up my alley – I love all of the lesser known grapes and appellations.

White grape Furmint is a star – but only in Hungary, and mostly in the world-famous dessert wines called Tokaji. Dry Furmint is difficult to produce, as most of the plantings are very susceptible to the noble rot due to the climatic conditions.

Another white grape, Picpoul de Pinet, is only growing in France, and it is quite rare even in that same France. Zweigelt is not necessarily rare, but definitely a lesser known grape from Austria, capable of delivering superbly playful wines. And Mencía is currently in the search of an identity, which usually makes it fun to taste – you never know what you will find.

For what it worth, here are my notes:

2014 Patricius Tokaj Furmint (12% ABV)
C: light golden
N: touch of petrol and honeysuckle, guava, medium intensity
P: more petrol, lemon zest, nice green undertones, almonds, pear, excellent minerality, good acidity
V: 8, very playful with nice complexity.

2016 Charisse Picpoul de Pinet Blanc AOP (12.5% ABV)
C: straw pale, green undertones.
N: Apple, perfume, white peach, jasmine flowers.
P: restrained, touch of herbal notes, good minerality, pomelo, crisp acidity
V: 8-/8, very nice, food-friendly, will complement a wide range of dishes.

2015 Pfaffl Zweigelt vom Haus Niederösterreich Qualitätswein aus Österreich (12.5% ABV)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: eucalyptus, blackberries, forest underbrush
P: clear black pepper backbone, more blackberries, touch of sapidity. Unusual
V: 8-, needs time to open ( was much better on the 2nd and 3rd days).

2015 Vega del Cúa Tinto Mencía Bierzo DO (13.5% ABV)
C: dark garnet
N: tobacco and barnyard, both are very pronounced.
P: sweet cherries, hint of tobacco. Very unusual profile as the fruit is initially perceived as sweet, and then it quickly subsides without acidity kicking in. Very short finish.
V: 7, not my favorite – but it might need more time…. 7+ second day, more of an 8- after 5 days (using air pump to preserve the wine). A lot more integrated after 5 days, showing nice pepper notes and much longer finish.

Here you are, my friends. Furmint was definitely a favorite, but I truly can’t complain about this set of wines – this was definitely a fun tasting. Kudos to Wines Til Sold Out for bringing up yet another great service for the wine lovers. Get your weekly tasting set today, invite your friends over, and go have some fun! Cheers!


Cooking as an Ultimate Expression of Love, or Early Valentine’s Day Experiences

February 13, 2018 12 comments

I’m always happy to admit that Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Of course this is a personal statement, and of course, I perfectly understand that I’m lucky to be able to say it wholeheartedly, as this is not a universal truth.

Outside of presents (which is fun), overpriced flowers and cheesy cards (nevermind all the heart-shaped chocolates, I don’t even want to mention those), Valentine’s Day is all about food and wine. Many years ago, we ditched the tradition of oversubscribed and underdelivering restaurants, offering strictly timed moments of celebration in favor of homemade dinners, which also include the whole family.

Valentine’s Day dinners at home offer a lot of pleasure in itself – you get to contemplate and select the menu, and you have an opportunity to touch lots and lots of bottles until you grab the one which somehow, magically, will become “it”. And then you get to cook that dinner, and most importantly, if everything works as you are hoping it will, you get an extra dose of happiness looking at the happy faces around the dinner table. By the way, if you need any wine recommendations for the Valentine’s Day, I wrote a few of them in the recent years – here and here are two of my favorite ones.

This year, Valentine’s Day dinner came in early – we will be leaving for vacation exactly on the February 14th, thus in order to maintain the tradition of family celebration, the dinner had to take place earlier – on Sunday before the Valentine’s Day. And so the next idea was – why don’t we start early on Sunday, let’s say with a nice breakfast?

What is your favorite celebratory breakfast meal? Eggs Benedict is definitely one of my favorites, so that was an easy decision. Smoked salmon is one of my favorite choices for the eggs benedict, so the prep for the breakfast started two days prior, first by making smoked salmon (you can find the recipe here).

This is Valentine’s Day dinner, so we need to up the game, right? What can elevate breakfast better than some crispy bacon? Yep, bacon it is!

Traditional Eggs Benedict are served on top of the English muffin. Truth be told, I don’t like English muffin – not with eggs benedict, not by itself. So my choice of bread? A fresh biscuit. I have friends who can easily whip a batch of biscuits on a moment’s notice, but I have my limits – thus buttermilk biscuits by Pillsbury work just perfectly for me.

Next, we need to make the Hollandaise sauce. It is somewhat of a tedious process, involving a double-boiler and some serious skills – unless you have a recipe from Suzanne, which is very simple and guarantees a perfect result – as long as you follow it precisely. The Hollandaise came out perfect, both taste and texture, so last prep step was to poach some eggs. All you need to do is to get hot water with vinegar to borderline boil (it shouldn’t be actively boiling, so take your time to adjust the heat) in a deep skillet, then carefully crack the eggs, set the timer and voilà. To my shame, I have to admit this is where I failed – I set the timer for 10 minutes (this is what I read in one of the recipes online), and this was a mistake – I completely overcooked the eggs. I believe the right time would be 5 minutes at the most.

Another important step – let the eggs cool off after cooking (ice bath recommended) – I didn’t do it, and as the result, Hollandaise was not covering the eggs properly – oh well, it was still really tasty. So the last step was to assemble the Eggs Benedict – the biscuit on the bottom, then smoked salmon, bacon, egg, and Hollandaise.

Now it is time to make dinner. More often than not, simplicity is your friend when it comes to food. Going the simple route, our Valentine’s Day dinner plan was simple – steak and potatoes.

For the potatoes, we have a recipe where potatoes are thinly sliced on the mandoline, then slices are stacked at the little angle and fried – it is a great recipe except that my fingers and mandoline are not great together, but love requires sacrifices, right?

And for the steak – you can’t beat the simplicity of the pan-fried filet mignon:

Where there is steak, there is also wine. As I mentioned, after spending good 20 minutes going through the different shelves of the wine coolers, I pulled out the bottle which happened to deliver an insane amount of pleasure – 2005 Neyers AME Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

I like to know critics scores for the wines, but only out of curiosity – my buying decisions are not based on those scores at all. Besides, my own take on the wine rarely correlates with the critic’s opinion. Except for this wine – when I read Robert Parker’s description, to my surprise and delight, it was well aligned with the way I perceived it – so here is Robert Parker’s take on this 2005 Neyers AME:

” 93 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

The finest 2005 is the Ame (which means “soul” in French), a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon cuvee fashioned from a parcel of the estate vineyard in Napa’s Conn Valley. Perhaps because of that, it possesses more minerality along with licorice, black currant, and cedar wood notes. Dense, full-bodied, rich, and impressively endowed, with good acidity, tannin, and extract, this 600-case offering will be at its best between 2009-2018. Range: 91-93“.
I would only disagree on one point – “best between 2009 – 2018” – it is 2018, and while the wine was perfect, it will go on for at least another 10 years before it will show any sign of age – but I will not be able to prove it to you as this was my last bottle. Nevertheless – spectacular wine, impeccably balanced. This is the type wine which makes people say “OMG, from now on, I’m not going to drink anything else”.
We need to finish dinner with the dessert, right? So what comes to mind when you look at the egg whites left after you make Hollandaise sauce? Egg whites omelet? Sure, but this is pedestrian. Meringue? Yes, now you are talking! So our dessert of choice was Pavlova of sorts, which is, as I learned, one of the national desserts of New Zealand!
Here you are, my friends – our early Valentine’s Day dinner experience. Happy Valentine’s Day! Cheers!

Gardens of Singapore

February 6, 2018 15 comments

I don’t really have a “bucket list” (thinking about the etymology of the expression, it doesn’t even sound all that appealing). Instead, I have a “dream list” – places I truly want to visit and things I want to experience.

Believe it or not, but I can’t tell you how my “dream list” is formed. It is usually an article or pictures, which get stuck in the head, and then all of a sudden show up on that list. Such is the case with Singapore, and I can’t even tell you if it was any particular article or any pictures – all I know is that Singapore was definitely a dream destination for me for a long time. And then finally, the dream was realized – a business meeting brought me down to Singapore, with an open day for the sightseeing.

Singapore was definitely a place I wanted to visit – but I really didn’t know what to expect. So I’m not sure I can say that Singapore exceeded my expectations, but instead, I would have to say that I was blown away by what I saw. I felt that was living through the movie which was part beautiful science fiction, part thriller taking place in the Asian city (with all the little spots you really have to know about) – surreal is the word. No, I didn’t experience anything adverse, but the overall feeling was surreal.

Gardens by the Bay SingaporeSingapore is located 1 degree north of the equator – yes, that would definitely place it in the tropics. In turn, that also means that Singapore is really green – and it is happy to show it. On one side of the city-state, you can find Singapore Botanical Gardens, 159 years old tropical gardens, spanning 185 acres with many thousands of plants. It also hosts a National Orchid Garden with about a 1000 different orchard species. On another side of the town, you can find Gardens by the Bay, a $650 million project – 250 acres of land, hosting more than 250,000 different plants. Gardens by the Bay look nothing short of alien site landing, worthy of any science fiction movie – an absolutely stunning testament to human creativity.

This is the wine blog, yes – but I love photography, and flowers are some of my most favorite subjects. Hence let me inundate you with the beauty I was able to embrace last week. Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. Cheers!

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay SingaporeCloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

under the leaf…

National Orchid Garden Singapore National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore


How To Expand Your Wine Horizon – With Wine Til Sold Out Weekly Tasting

January 29, 2018 10 comments

WTSO weekly tastingIf you followed this blog for a while, you know that Wines Til Sold Out is one of my most favorite sources of the great wines at the value prices. Wines Til Sold Out (often referred to as WTSO), was the originator of so-called wine flash sale sites, where you can find an excellent range of wines at equally great prices. Not only the prices are great, but the wines are typically shipped free if you hit the minimum required number of bottles for the free shipping (usually any number from 4 to 1, depending on the price per bottle). There are also other ways to buy wines from Wines Til Sold Out, such as so-called marathon events, which I covered a numerous number of times in the past.

About a year ago, Wines Til Sold Out started a new service, called Bonus Offers, where every month there is a new theme, and the wines are offered according to that theme – and there are no minimum quantity requirements to get free shipping, which takes fun to the whole new level.

WTSO weekly tasting

And now, continuing the tradition of innovation for the benefit of the wine lovers, the Wines Til Sold Out came up with the new concept – weekly tasting, which even has its own dedicated website. Each week, WTSO’s sommeliers create a new 4-pack of wines, priced at $69.99 including shipping. The wines are offered with introductory tasting video describing the wines, and information cards which describe each wine in detail, offer fun facts about wine and the grapes and even recipes and/or suggestions for the dishes to pair with the specific wine. If this is not a fun wine education, I don’t know what is!

I got my tasting pack right before I was leaving for a two-week-long trip, so I only had an opportunity to open the box, say “wow”, take the pictures and leave. But finding such gems as dry Furmint (Hungarian grape used in the production of famous Tokaji dessert wine) and Austrian Zweigelt, definitely makes an oenophile happy. So next time, I will tell what I think about the wines, but for now, I will enjoy them in the exact same way as you do – vicariously.

WTSO Weekly tasting info card

If you are like me and always looking to expand your wine horizon – check out this new feature from Wines Til Sold Out – and you can thank me later. Cheers!

One on One With Winemakers: Tasting The Stars

January 14, 2018 2 comments

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” – whether Dom Perignon said these words or not is not really important – but if you thought that we will be talking about the Champagne, you got it right! Also, plural mention of “winemakers” in the title is not a mistake – today’s “one on one” post is actually a double-feature.

The story of Duval-Leroy Champagne goes almost 160 years back, to 1859, when Edouard Leroy, wine négociant, met Jules Duval, grape grower – the rest is a history which you can read for yourself here. Today Duval-Leroy farms 200 hectares (about 500 acres) of vines, mostly in Premier and Grand Cru appellations, also using sustainable viticulture – Duval-Leroy is known as a pioneer of the sustainable grapegrowing in Champagne.

In 1785, “Heidsieck & Cie” company was founded with one dream – to create a Champagne worthy of a queen. After tasting the stars, Queen Marie Antoinette became the first “brand ambassador” for the Heidsieck Champagne. I don’t want to try to regurgitate here the rich history of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, you would be far better of reading it for yourself, but for all these years, Piper-Heidsieck story always included royal families, fashion designers, and movies. The bottle of Piper-Heidsieck was the first Champagne to ever appear in the movie in 1933. Since 1993, Piper-Heidsieck is an official supplier of Cannes Film Festival, and many actors and producers were recognized with the special Piper-Heidsieck Award at film festivals around the world.

Now, let’s get to that double-feature interview I promised. I’m running this “one-on-one” series of the interviews for about 3 years now. Until now, there was always a unique set of questions, prepared specifically for the particular winery and the winemaker. This time, I decided to play it a bit differently – ask the same set of questions of two winemakers – however, in this case, there is a great “common space” between the subjects of the interview – they both make Champagne!

I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with Sandrine Logette, Cellar Master of Champagne Duval-Leroy, and Séverine Frerson, Chef de Caves at Piper-Heidsieck, and here is what transpired:

[TaV]: What is your approach to the blending of Vins Clairs? How many Vins Clairs are typically comprising your most standard NV house blend?

[DL]: It is necessary to first think about the flavor profile you would like to achieve: the aromatic notes with its intensity and its descriptors, its mouthfeel, its volume, its angles, its power and persistence as well as the volume: number of bottles to produce, volume of reserve wines to use and volume of wine to save for future ‘liqueur d’expédition’. The vins clairs are tasted several times (at least twice) after the malolactic fermentation to familiarize ourselves with their characteristics. The first approach to blending is always a minimal concept; which is what I call it my ‘accounting idea’. It is tasted, assessed and compared to our first and last blends of this wine made in previous years. The vins clairs are then improved by modifying only one character at a time. The same improvement is repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the best result. We use about 45 to 55 vins clairs to produce our Champagne Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve.

[PH]: We blend over 100 crus to make Piper-Heidsieck’s NV cuvée: the Cuvée Brut. I think of the vins clairs (base wines) as spices stored in little boxes in her mind and I know exactly which boxes/spices (and proportions) I need to add to create the same taste every year.

[TaV]: Can you describe your “house style”?

[DL]: Our goal is to maintain the quality of our Brut  Réserve NV vintage after vintage:

  • A complex aromatic profile showing fruity notes of yellow peach, damson and subtle red berries along with notes of cocoa powder and toasted bread
  • An integrated, round and generous mouthfeel but yet elegant and fresh.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s wine style is fruity, structured and complex, with lots of deepness. It’s a champagne to treat yourself and to share with your loved ones. Champagne serves as a bridge between people. It triggers and enhances moments of sharing, complicity and joy. And we are the ones who strive to create memorable experiences. It is all truly wonderful!

[TaV]: Somewhat of a continuation of the previous question: I don’t know if you ever experimented with this, but I wonder if a panel of wine consumers (non-experts) would be able to identify your standard NV offering in a blind tasting?

[DL]: We have worked with a panel of French consumers who tasted our Brut Réserve NV. This panel was able to detect the fruity nose without going into details and recognize the roundness of the mouthfeel and the integrated acidity.

[PH]: The goal of our Cellar Masters is to maintain Piper-Heidsieck’s style, and make it recognizable. Our wines are fruity, structured and profound but also well balanced, straight and bright. In the case of the Cuvée Brut, it’s a seductive champagne that you can recognize on your palate right away. What gives it away is its notes of almond and fresh hazelnut that are very lively, subtle and light. It’s a very smooth an pure champagne with notes of fresh pear and apple with a delicate hint of citrus fruits (pomelo). You can also taste the blonde grapes and juicy white fruits that create the lightness of the champagne.

[TaV]: Similar question to the second one, only now for the vintage Champagne – can you describe your house style?

[DL]: Our vintage “house style” is given by the characteristics of that specific year which varies according to the weather, therefore, the quality of the grapes (acid-sugar balance – fruit richness). We do not look for our vintage cuvées to be identical year after year. We make the best vintage with what nature has to offer.

[PH]: The Cellar Masters’ goal when creating a vintage champagne is to put a special year in a bottle. They want to take a snapshot of this particularly great year to keep it as a memory and reward the hard work of our vineyard team without forgetting about the Piper-Heidsieck style. Every vintage is different but they all answer to the Piper-Heidsieck style: wines that are fruity, structured with great depth. Our Cellar Masters took the best grapes from 2008 to put it in our current vintage: Vintage 2008 is a precise, elegant and free-spirit wine that showcases the greatest wines 2008 had to offer.

[TaV]: I would assume all (many?) of the Champagne houses have their “secret stash” of Champagnes which had not been disgorged yet – and the wines are disgorged on one by one basis, maybe for the special clients. Do you have such a “secret stash”? What are the oldest, not yet disgorged wines you have in your cellars?

[DL]: Of course, Duval-Leroy has its secret reserve Champagnes that are not disgorged and waiting in the cellar for that special request. Vintages such as 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990 … are kept in bottles and magnums (not systematically in each cuvée).

[PH]: We do have old cuvées in our Cellars, our “secret library” contains old NV from 1980 to now and different vintages from 1982 and on.

[TaV]: Are the Champagne styles changing to address the consumer demand? For instance, I would expect that people would like to drink more of Brut Nature/zero dosage and Rosé Champagne. What do you think?

[DL]: The Champagnes’ style may slightly vary depending on consumers demand, but not fundamentally change. Champagne is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which defines production rules and style objectives of quality.
We have seen a greater demand for Champagne Rosé and 5 to 10% sales increase over the past 10 years.
Rosé Champagne is an accessible Champagne, more obvious in terms of taste, festive by its color and more enticing.
The growing demand is also linked to the fact that Rosé Champagne has more personality and a specific identity. It is definitely easier to produce due to warmer weather in recent years.
We find an equally interesting demand for low dosage Champagnes. These low dosages are made possible because of a better integrated acidity naturally due to the wines richness and roundness.

[PH]: We do see some trends in the industry, people tend to be more knowledgeable about what they consume and younger generations like to be more informed. They become more and more wine experts so they ask to question about dosage, disgorgement dates … We have our cuvée Essentiel that works really well with wine experts since they have all the information they need on the label (disgorgement date, bottling date, lot number…) and it’s an extra brut. At Piper-Heidsieck we have a wide range of champagnes to please everyone, we have Rosé Sauvage, Essentiel (extra brut) for wine experts and connoisseurs, our Cuvée Brut, a vintage and Cuvée Sublime (a demi-sec). Our range satisfies all consumers, from non-experts to wine lovers and our entire range has complimentary food pairings.

[TaV]: Champagne seems to enjoy higher popularity overall over the last few years. Do you expect that trend to continue? Are the challenges for Champagne which need to be overcome?

[DL]: Of course we want this trend to continue and Champagne to remain the leader sparkling wine out there. In order to overcome any challenges, the Champagne region needs to continue improving.

[PH]: This trend will continue for sure. As mentioned before, the younger generation tends to be more and more knowledgeable about what they consume, especially for wines. They gain interest and want to develop their palate and their knowledge about wine. With more educated consumers that know the quality of champagne and tend to pair champagne with food more and more often we will keep seeing an increasing popularity in champagne consumption in the upcoming years.

The biggest challenge we will be facing is climate change. The Earth is getting warmer and the climate is changing making it even more difficult for us to ensure the quality of grapes as the years go on. With the unpredictable weather, our vineyard team will have to work even harder to protect our vines and ensure a high quality. At Piper-Heidsieck we already took measures to protect the environment as much as we can with recycling measures, reducing our water consumption and gas emissions. It’s a global concern and a challenge that will affect all industries in one way or another.

Another challenge would be the increasing sales of other sparkling wine, but it’s not too concerning as sparkling wines and champagne are very different products consumed for different reasons. As the consumers are getting more knowledgeable they can tell the difference between sparkling wines and champagne and they consume one of the other at different occasions.

[TaV]: What is your most favorite Champagne you personally or your house overall ever produced and why?

[DL]: My favorite is our Femme de Champagne tête de cuvée and specifically the 1995 and 1996 vintages. Very great vintages with beautiful and precise balance and a great aging potential.

[PH]: I actually don’t have a favorite champagne! It all depends on the moment, when I will open it and with whom! I will choose the Cuvée Brut for a festive aperitif with friends. I love the Vintage 2008 for an intimate dinner and the Rosé Sauvage in the summer with a barbecue.

[TaV]: Champagne rules allow using 7 different grape varieties, yet absolute majority only uses 3 from that list. Have you ever experimented with using any of those 4 leftover grapes? If yes, did you get any interesting results?

[DL]: Since 1998, we regularly vinify one of the old grape varietal of Champagne called ‘petit meslier and produce a specific cuvée: Précieuses Parcelles. Petit Meslier is a white grape varietal that grows well in soils rich in clay (a natural cross between Gouais and Savagnin) in the right bank of Vallée de la Marne.
It is a varietal that struggles to ripen, therefore has a mouthfeel marked by sharp acidity and aromatic notes of rhubarb.
I chose to vinify it in barrels to add some fine oak and spicy notes. Currently, we are working on the 2007 vintage with a low dosage of 4 g / l.
It is a cuvée of curiosity, interesting for its rusticity and for an unusual “Taste” of Champagne.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s Cellar Masters never experienced with the other grapes, because they only focused on those 3 grapes and developed an expertise in those grapes.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are produced absolutely everywhere in the world today. Have you tried any of the Methode Classique sparkling wines produced outside of France (Italy, Spain, South Africa, USA,…), and if yes, did you find anything you liked? You don’t have to love them, but maybe you liked just a little, tiny bit? 🙂

[DL]: Fifteen years ago, the Duval-Leroy family contemplated purchasing vineyards in England but decided otherwise. They’d rather stay focused on the terroirs of Champagne.

[PH]: Today sparkling wines are developing, but  Champagne stays the luxurious sparkling wine of reference.
It’s always interesting to discover other regions – for example, I tasted high quality sparkling wines from Italy, Spain and Hungary and even if we are in the sparkling wine category they all had they own style and authenticity!

Time top drink some Champagne, isn’t it?

First, I wanted to try NV Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru (Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend) and NV Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay) side by side, as both are Rosé Champagne. There was a dramatic difference in appearance and taste profile. Duval-Leroy, in a word, was sublime. Delicate pinkish color, just a light salmon pink, whiff of the toasted bread, vibrant acidity on the palate, touch of lemon – seductive, and yes, sublime. Sauvage, on another hand, means “wild” in French – and that exactly how the Piper-Heidsieck was. Strawberry pink in the glass, fresh tart strawberries and a touch of yeast on the nose, and then generous toasted bread, granny smith apples and strawberries on the palate. Truly different and delicious in its own right.

NV Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay, 10-20% reserve wines) was, in a word, classic – generous, voluptuous, touch of toasted bread and yeast, full mouthfeel, golden delicious apple sweetness, good minerality, very present and excellent overall.

Three Champagnes, three different wines, each delicious in its own right, each worthy to be a star of a special celebratory dinner or a quiet evening for two. And two conversations about the wines, the passion, the style, the stars. We spoke enough today; if you are still reading this, thank you and cheers!

Top Wines of 2017

January 5, 2018 Leave a comment

And here are my top most memorable wines of 2017. A few days ago, I published the first part of the top wines list, and now the time has come to look at the most memorable wins of 2017. The logic behind the list is explained in the post about the second dozen of the top wines of 2017, so let’s just proceed.

12. 2016 Salabka LA COQUINE Chardonnay Praha Czech Republic (€25) – we finished the second dozen list with Chardonnay, and we are starting this one with  Chardonnay, however, of a very different character. This was yet another surprise during Salabka winery visit in Prague – bright and upbeat, excellent core of acidity surrounded by tropical fruit and apples with a tiny touch of vanilla – a pure delight in a glass.

11. 2010 La Rioja Alta Viña Alberdi Reserva ($16) – I have an unquestionable love to La Rioja Alta wines – didn’t find yet the one I didn’t like. This 2010 Viña Alberdi is a classic, generous Rioja – red and black berries, cedar box, mint, sweet oak, rounded by clean acidity and delicious finish. It was literally my “go to” wine this – I took a number of bottles with me in my travels and the reaction everywhere was the same – “wow, this is a good wine!” – including the dinner at the wine bloggers conference this year.

10. 2011 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – Field Recordings is one of my most favorite producers. Fiction red was also one of my “convert” or maybe rather a “discovery” wines – tasting the 2010 Fiction made me fall in love with Field Recordings wines. The 2010 Fiction was my Top Wine in 2011.  This 2011 Fiction was almost a revelation this year – I didn’t expect much from the 6 years old screwtop wine, meanwhile – it evolved dramatically, showing delicious berry medley elevated with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a slimmer of sage on top. A wow wine.

9. 2007 Marchese Antinori Tenuta Montenisa Contessa Maggi Riserva Franciacorta ($50+) – drinking this wine at the old and authentic Montenisa Estate definitely had some effect – regardless, the wine was outstanding, boasting vintage sparkling wine qualities, freshly toasted, yeasty bread, plenty of fruit and beautiful acidity. A treat.

8. 1967 Fratelli Giacosa Barolo DOCG ($65 at Benchmark Wine) – 50 years old wine deserves respect, isn’t it? Still was drinkable with characteristic Barolo plums and lavender. It was showing a bit of an age, but still was going strong. Great example of excellent winemaking and a testament to Barolo’s longevity.

7.  NV Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage Champagne ($50) – Sauvage means “wild” in French, and this is a perfect name for this champagne. Exuberant, in-your-face, fully loaded with fresh succulent strawberries – there is nothing subtle about this wine, it is very present in every sip you take – but it is unmistakably Champagne, delivering lots of pleasure. Will be definitely looking for this wine again – it will brighten up any occasion.

6. 2012 Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($75) – if I will say that this was Gaja Brunello – would that be enough of the description for you? Supremely delicious from the get-go, Brunello from one of the best producers in Italy, from one of the best vintages for Brunello. The wine was beautifully showing, fully extracted and powerful, but nevertheless perfectly balanced. Outstanding.

5. 2013 Sandhi Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills ($35) – Sandhi Chardonnay was mentioned in the second dozen of top wines for 2017, but it was this Pinot Noir which made me say “wow” while discovering Sandhi wines. Unmistakably California Pinot Noir with gentle red fruit in the leading role and violets and sage supporting the bouquet. Luscious, silky smooth, perfectly dense and balanced – the wine which needs to be experienced.

4. 2014 Unionville Vineyards Amwell Ridge Cabernet Franc New Jersey ($28?) – It is interesting how many wines on this top list represent “surprises” ( but then, of course, the surprise factor is what makes the wine memorable, right?). This wine tremendously exceeded my expectations and showed a classic, perfectly balanced, new world Cabernet Franc – blackcurrant, a touch of mint, medium body, perfectly balanced with clean acidity. An excellent wine worth seeking.

3. 2011/2012 La Valle Brut Rosé Franciacorta DOCG ($45) – visiting La Valle winery in Franciacorta and meeting charismatic Stefano Camilucci was definitely one of the main highlights of our trip to Franciacorta. On top of that, this Rosé sparkling wine was yet another highlight – from beautiful presentation of the bottle to the delicious, perfectly clean and balanced, playfully effervescent liquid inside. 2011/2012 is not a mistake – most of the Franciacorta wines are vintage wines; I had both vintages, and they are both excellent. Yet another wine I recommend most highly.

2. 2015 Nevada Sunset Winery Syrah El Dorado County ($20) – I love surprises, and this was a big one! Tiny city winery, officially opened only two months prior to my visit, and then the wine which can be a crown jewel for any winery’s portfolio. Definitely a new world Syrah, but impeccably balanced. Intense dark fruit with chocolate and espresso on the nose, and the same matching profile on the palate with the addition of a touch of pepper – silky smooth, full-bodied, and – did I say it already – impeccably balanced. Wow.

1. 1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon, Loire ($85?) – for any Cabernet Franc aficionado, Olga Raffault is “the name”, Chinon is “the place”, and 1982 was really a legendary vintage in France (for sure in Bordeaux, don’t know if this can be reciprocated to the Loire, but still). Tasting this 35 years old wine was a pure delight – no sign of age, cassis all the way, complex bouquet, great balance – what else can you wish for in wine?

Here we are, the Top wines of 2017. I could easily double the number of wines here, as lots and lots of well worthy wines were not included – ah, well… Let’s look at the “diversity” as we did for the second dozen. Out of 12 wines, 5 countries, 11 different regions, some of them I bet you never had the wines from such as Nevada and New Jersey – I believe it is an interesting mix and well on par with diversity in the wine world today.

As everything works in life, one list is finished, and the new one is starting right after. Happy wine year 2018! Cheers!


Happy New Year 2018!

January 1, 2018 9 comments

Want to wish my readers and their families happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 2018, with lots of great experiences, new discoveries, exciting moments, love and laughter with family and friends, and lots and lots of delicious, memorable wines!


Top Wines of 2017 – Second Dozen

December 31, 2017 1 comment

? It’s that time again! The year is ending, and it is always fun to look back and reflect on the things which are now becoming the past. Of course, there all sorts of memories linked to the year which is about to depart, the bad, the good (hopefully none of the “ugly”, right?). It’s the good things we want to carry with us, and so this is the primary purpose of this post – well, just a reminder – it is the wine we are talking about here.

The “Top Dozen” posts are a tradition here, ever since the blog has started – here are the links for all the past “Top” lists: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. To build these top lists I usually go through my posts and label journals, as the idea is simple – the lists represent the most memorable wines I came across during the year. Some of the wines were written about, in this case I will offer you a link to the original post. Some of the wines never made it into the posts, but they are still well worthy of being on this list. Also, I can rarely contain myself to the one dozen of wines – in most of the cases, I have to split the wines into the first and second dozen and have two separate posts.

The year 2017 was very happening wine year, full of great discoveries, and thus warranting the two posts. We will start with the second dozen, and then the top dozen post will be coming out shortly. The order of the wines on the list is somewhat random, with the exception of the Top Wine. And yes, building up such a list is never easy – but you derive lots of pleasure along the way. Okay, enough of the introductions – let’s talk about the wines now.

25. 2016 Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali DOC ($22.99) – I don’t know if “typical” Pinot Grigio exists anymore – you know, the one which resembles more water than wine – but this is not your typical Pinot Grigio. This wine had excellent aromatics and lots of depth on the palate. I also managed to pleasantly surprise some people at a dinner in a restaurant when I ordered this wine. A perfect all occasion white.

24. 2011 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Douro Valley, Portugal ($45) – when it comes to Portuguese red, my preference is at the Reserva level – this is not a random word on the label. The reservas typically offer a much higher concentration of the flavor, and this wine was not an exception – lots and lots of layers on the palate, delicious now, and can age for a long, long time.

23. 2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin South Africa  ($20) – fresh grass with lots of complexity. This wine is not “in your face”, it opens up slowly in the glass (and can stay for a while in a bottle), and it offers way more than just grass and grapefruit. Classic Sancerre level of complexity, perfect on the sunny deck or by a cozy fireplace.

22. 2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($35) – cassis berries and leaves combined – does it get any better? Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon are relatives, having a common parent, Cabernet Franc. In this wine, which is a blend of these two grapes, both perfectly contribute their best varietal characteristics, resulting in layered, luscious, velvety smooth wine. Most highly recommended – if you can find it.

21. 2016 Paul Mas Rosé Aurore Pays d’Oc ($8) – Best Rosé ever, eh? For sure when it comes to the QPR, as for measly $8 you get a 1L of a delicious wine, which can brighten up any day, summer or not. Simply delicious – let me leave it at that.

20. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe ($15) – This wine keeps surprising me. It is 23 years old, it doesn’t come from any of the ” x growth” chateaus, and it is simply delicious Bordeaux which still can age for longer – it shows fresh and delicious, literally no sign of tertiary aromas yet. Outstanding.

19. 2016 Troon Riesling Whole Grape Ferment, Applegate Valley, Oregon ($20) – Craig Camp keeps on making unique and different wines. His whole line of wines at Troon Vineyards in Oregon deserves another post, but for now, I want to single out this Riesling which I tried at wine bloggers conference this year. This is what technically people call an “orange” wine, considering the color the white wine would obtain if left in contact with the skin for an extended period of time. “Whole Grape Ferment” in the name of the wine signifies exactly that – and the wine is totally unique. It is a bit closer to sherry than to the regular wine, but at the same time, it still has the bright fruit and perfect acidity. I would happily pair this wine with the steak (I didn’t have the pleasure), as I’m sure it will be delicious. And it will beat most of the wines next to cheese. Find it, let’s talk later.

18. 2007 Salabka Le Diamant Praha Czech Republic (€25) – talk about surprises. Very small vineyard and winery, right in Prague – and a world-class sparkling wine, méthode classique? Yes! I never wrote a post about that visit (which I’m not happy about), but the wine was a pure standout. Vanilla, toasted bread, apples, generous, voluptuous, fresh, and crispy. Outstanding. No chances of finding this wine in the US, but if Prague, which is a beautiful city, is part of the travel destination, don’t miss unique experience at Salabka vineyards and winery.

17. 2015 The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc, Colorado ($21) – my Colorado wine experience was not going great – and then I found this wine, and everything was right with the world. Blackcurrant all the way, excellent acidity, clean, lip-smacking – just an excellent example of the Cabernet Franc capabilities and good winemaking. And that label…

16. 2016 Bodega Javier Sanz V Malcorta Rueda D.O. ($26) – discovered during the Rueda wines seminar at Spain’s Great Match event this year. I couldn’t stop smelling this wine while others already finished drinking it. It had great complexity, the herbs, the flowers, the fruit and the spices (ahh, nutmeg) – this was a type of wine I can smell literally forever. Clean and delicious on the palate too – outstanding.

15. 2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($50)  – this is not the first time Turley The Label makes the top list. I had a few bottles of 2011  throughout the years, and it continues to evolve, literally getting better and better. This year, the wine was a textbook Cabernet Sauvignon – cassis, mint, eucalyptus – in a perfect, velvety envelope. Delicious and perfectly on par with the very best wines Turley produces.

14. 2014 Shiloh Mosaic Israel ($55) – was literally blown away by the first sip. Israeli wines are unquestionably world class – but this wine was also Mevushal, which means it was pasteurized one way or the other. Typically, you would expect pasteurization to affect the flavor one way or the other, but this was not the case here. Spectacular Bordeaux blend – this is when after the first sip you say “mmmm!” and you don’t put down the glass until it is empty. Then quickly ask for a refill. Superb is the word.

13. 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Barbara County ($35) – let me be brief – this is the wine to be experienced. I discovered Sandhi wines this year, and while I was initially skeptical because of the whole IPOB juggernaut (I believe the balance can be found equally in wine at 11% and at 17% ABV), this wine was real – sublime interplay of Chardonnay flavors, with vanilla, apple and a touch of butter been in a perfect harmony. Delicious – definitely look for it.

I don’t try to “engineer” my lists in any way (this is not a paid publication, and I have zero vested interest in promoting any of the wines above) – but just take a look at the happenstance diversity here. The wines represent 9 different countries (Italy, Spain, France, USA, South Africa, Czech Republic, Chile, Israel, Portugal), 13 different regions, a bunch of different grapes and the price range from $8 to $55. Can’t wait to see how the top dozen will fare – and that list is coming up soon. Stay tuned…