New England’s Fall Colors, 2021 Edition

October 25, 2021 Leave a comment

And here we are again in my favorite season – fall. It is still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors lightly clothed; running the air conditioning is no longer a necessity to survive indoors. And the colors, the abundance of colors – every season has its beauty, but fall offers the most profound expression of it.

This 2021 fall season is interesting (it is not over yet). It is still continuously warm, and so the leaves are still mostly green – it is occasional branches and individual leaves which all of a sudden offer a full brilliant display of red, golden, and orange. In this traditional New England fall post, I usually share pictures from my neighborhood walks, a tiny circle of two streets next to the house. Yesterday we wanted to get out of the house, and so we took about an hour drive to New Milford up north in Connecticut to visit Lover’s Leap State Park. We spent there about an hour, slowly walking the narrow path covered with fallen leaves, and admiring, or rather indulging, on absolute silence, crisp fall air, and views of the Housatonic River.

Absolute silence is a rare treasure – somehow, in the middle of the park you are far enough from the road, and maybe we just got lucky, but it was really an amazing feeling – not being disturbed by anything. It is hard to convey the silence and the smell of the autumn leaves through the words – so I have pictures for you – many, many pictures. Yes, pictures also don’t do justice to the perfect fall day outdoors but let me at least try…

Without further ado, here they are for your viewing enjoyment:

 







Here are more of the river views:

The trail:

Few of the random tree mushrooms:

And now, the color display:

The Next World Class Wine Frontier: Desert Wine

October 23, 2021 1 comment

Can you think of a desert? Even if you never visited one, and only saw them in the movies or read about them in the books, I’m sure the image readily jumps to the head. Sand. Heat. Hot air. Wind. More sand. More heat. More wind. Maybe a half-dried cactus. I’m sure that the luscious greens of a healthy vineyard are not part of that image.

Meanwhile, every desert has an oasis. If there is water, nothing stops beautiful greens from prospering in the desert. Desert doesn’t mean only heat. It is hot during the day, but cold during the night – and the diurnal shift – the difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures during the day – is beneficial for all the plants. If you are into the wine, I’m sure you heard of the importance of the diurnal shift to help build flavor in the grapes. And if we are talking about grapes, let me mention yet another benefit of the dry, arid air – it helps to avoid many diseases in the vineyard, such as mildew.

Let me ask you another question. Have you tried desert wines? The wines produced in the vineyards surrounded by desert? Before you will be quick to say “no”, I will ask you to think again. If you had wines from Argentina or Chile, there is a very good chance those wines came from the desert vineyards – Leyda Valley and the Atacama in Chile are nothing but desert; Uco Valley, Salta and overall large portions of Mendoza in Argentina are nothing but the desert. So yes, I believe you have. And today I want to bring to your attention yet another example of desert wines, these ones coming from the US – Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Aridus (Latin for dry or arid) started from purchasing 40 acres of land on Turkey Creek in the southeast corner of the Arizona state in the foothills of Chiricahua Mountain, at an elevation of 5,200 feet.

In 2012, Aridus opened its cellar doors, after refurbishing an old 28,000 sq. ft. apple warehouse (it was done so well that in 2014 Aridus was honored with the Design Excellence award for sustainability). The Aridus wines were made with the grapes brought from the vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California; the cellar also served as a custom crush facility. Interestingly enough, this is not my first encounter with Aridus – back in 2014, while attending my first wine bloggers conference in Santa Barbara, I had 2013 Aridus Viognier presented during the speed tasting session, which was my first time tasting a wine from Arizona – and it was a very impressive wine.

Aridus started planting white grapes at its estate vineyard in 2015, with the first estate harvest taking place in 2017. The red grapes were planted from 2017 through 2020, and Aridus is planning to gradually increase the proportion of the wines made exclusively from the estate fruit every year. The plantings currently include Malvasia Bianca, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, Petite Verdot, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano, Petite Sirah, and Malbec, so nobody needs to worry about the range of Aridus estate wines.

Lisa Strid, who just celebrated her 5th year as the Aridus winemaker, definitely appreciates the unique challenges of working at the desert winery. Finding rattlesnakes, owls, roadrunners, hawks, and javelinas on the crash pad might be the least of her problems. Monsoons, strong rains and winds which run seasonally from mid-June through mid-September, represent a much bigger issue, as they have the potential to inflict a lot of damage on the grapes, especially when rain also comes with the hail.

But – it might be all well worth it as long as you can produce good wines. Based on the two wines I tasted, these desert vineyards deserve the full attention of wine lovers.

First, I was blown away by the Sauvignon Blanc – here are my notes:

2020 Aridus Sauvignon Blanc Arizona (12.6% ABV, $28)
Straw pale
White peach, guava, intense, round, inviting
Beautiful bright tropical fruit on the palate, fresh, crisp, good acidity, generous
8, this is summer in the bottle. New World Sauvignon Blanc “in your face”. “I’m bright, I’m beautiful, and you know that”.

Then the Aridus Malbec was perfectly on point:

2019 Aridus Malbec American (13.6% ABV, $36, 95% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 15 months in French oak barrels, New Mexico fruit)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cassis, a hint of bell pepper, iodine, a touch of minerality
More cassis on the palate, both berries and leaves, soft, velvety, crisp acidity, long finish
8, excellent

Thinking about analogies, both wines are perfectly New World in style, without going overboard and losing their balance. The Sauvignon Blanc was somewhere between Californian and Chilean renditions with all of its bright fruit – yes, if you are craving the restraint of Cloudy Bay, this is not your wine – but if you want to simply brighten up your day, that would be a perfect pick.

And the Aridus Malbec was reminiscent of the best mountain desert Malbecs from Argentina – Amalaya, Casarena, and many others, again, fresh and well balanced.

Will the desert wines be the next rave? I’m bad at predictions, so I really can’t tell you that. But you are welcome to try answering this question on your own simply by finding the bottle of Aridus wine and giving it a try. Once you do, let’s compare notes. Cheers!

Celebrate Life! Celebrate Champagne!

October 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Is it only me or did the time accelerate for everyone? How come the store shelves are full of baking supplies and turkey condiments? It is still really warm here in Connecticut – did the summer end already? Does it mean that the holidays are coming?

Oh yes, the holidays!

I’m ashamed to admit but I believe I missed all or most of the wine holidays this year. Surprised with a large number of references to Champagne on social media, I decided to check the calendar, and yes – I almost missed yet another wine holiday – Champagne Day!

In victory you deserve it, in defeat you need it

It doesn’t matter who really said that (Napoleon, Churchill, or anyone else), but whoever said it, was right – in life, there is always a place for a glass of Champagne.

There are lots and lots of praise-worthy bubbles produced around the world – the rest of France outside of Champagne, Italy, Spain, Australia, California, Oregon, Georgia, and every place in between – but today it is all about Champagne.

Champagne had a tough time with the pandemic and other events, such as absolutely moronic labeling laws introduced in Russia, but nevertheless, people around the world are ready to celebrate, and Champagne sales are getting back to the pre-pandemic levels.

My celebratory Champagne of choice today is NV Marquis de la Mysteriale Brut Cuvée Grand Espirit (12.5% ABV) – perfectly suitable for every day, showing toasted bread notes on the nose, and crisp and refreshing on the palate. There is nothing spectacular about this wine, but for $20 (WTSO price), it is perfectly “good enough” to simply celebrate life, one day at a time. This was also the first time (I think) I had Champagne designated as MA – “Marque d’ Acheteur – A brand name owned by the purchaser, such as a restaurant, supermarket or wine merchant.”

A big part of Champagne fun is the process of opening the bottle using typically a special sword – so-called sabrage. Last year, I shared with you a little compilation of the sabrage gone wrong – very wrong. This year, I have a video collection of the amazing success of sabrage done with absolutely random objects, including tablespoon, iPhone, teaspoon, and even the high-heel shoe (and many others – see for yourself):

Here you are, my friends. Open a bottle of Champagne and celebrate life! Cheers!

Daily Glass: Two Wines and The Sunset

October 19, 2021 Leave a comment

Oenophiles are mysterious and easily influenced.

There.

Prove me wrong.

Here is the story of my weekend.

First, the “easily influenced” part, taking place on Saturday. My twitter wine friend Le Bov Vin #inmyglass likes to play a game – post a picture of a glass of wine with the description, asking everybody to guess the wine in the glass. Saturday’s post described the wine as “Redcherry.Blackfruit n strawberry,vanilla,licorice,hints of wood,smokedmeat Veryfresh,wellbalanced, polishedtannins,lingering finish“. My first guess was Pinotage, the second guess was leading to Washington Syrah/Grenache, but something here was also suggesting Spain, so I put all of these guesses into a tweet. After getting a confirmation that Spain is the right place, my first inclination was Ribera del Duero or Toro, as Rioja rarely would offer smoked meat notes – could’ve been something from Priorat, of course, but I decided to go with the first idea – and somehow I managed to hit it – the actual wine in the glass was Bodega Tinto Pesquera, one of the most classic producers from Ribera del Duero.

That made me crave Ribera del Duero wine, but somehow, while I always have a good amount of Rioja on hand, Ribera del Duero is a rare bird in my cellar. At this particular moment, it was as rare as none – but I recalled that I have a few bottles from Toro, the area down south from Ribera del Duero, producing densely concentrated and powerful renditions of Tempranillo, so I decided to obey my crave with 2015 Elias Mora Descarte Toro DO.

I wrote about this wine at the beginning of the year, when I called it Vinous Vino. Unlike the last time, I decided not to wait for the wine to come around slowly, and the wine went directly into the decanter upon opening. This definitely worked, as after about an hour in the decanter the wine showed massive and powerful, but also approachable enough to be enjoyed already, with dark cherries, espresso, and herbs-loaded profile.

Then there was Sunday, and the weather was noticeably cooler, one of the first cold days this fall so far. I wanted to sit down outside with a glass of wine, which obviously begged the question “what to open”. While going through the options inside my head, my inner voice insistingly proclaimed “Chardonnay”. I tried to argue – why Chardonnay, we can do Albarino, Chenin, Viognier, Riesling – but most importantly – why should it even be the white wine? It is cold enough to crave red! But the inner voice was unyielding – it has to be  Chardonnay, there is nothing to discuss.

I don’t have a huge selection of Chardonnay, so the 2013 Lynmar Estate Chardonnay Russian River Valley (14.5% ABV) was almost the easiest choice. Boy, what a good choice it was… After a few minutes in the glass, the wine was singing with a core of vanilla with supporting voices of butter and green apples, all in perfect harmony. I don’t know if the wine was at its peak, or if it had another 10 years of life left – but it was perfect at the moment, no matter what mystery possessed me to open the bottle of Chardonnay.

And then there was the sunset. I love taking pictures of the sunset, one of my most favorite types of photography. I often can take a decent picture of sunset right from my backyard – not all of those worth sharing though. But this Sunday sunset happened to be really special. A little rain started all of a sudden in the evening, forcing me to seek cover under the umbrella on the deck. The rain was very short, maybe 5 minutes or less. Once the rain didn’t look bothersome anymore, I stepped out from under the umbrella to go sit in the chair in the backyard – and then I saw THIS:

It appears that rain before the sunset creates some truly magical conditions for the sunset – some of the most memorable sunset experiences all took place after the rain. Once I saw this sunset, I spent the next 15 minutes taking pictures, with the glass and without, every moment being special and really worth capturing. Below are some of those pictures, I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did while talking them:

 

My failed attempt to catch the reflection of the sunset on the glass

That’s all I have to share for now. How was your weekend?

Leading The Charge: From Sustainable to Organic

October 17, 2021 Leave a comment

Sustainability is the trend. A global trend, across countries and across industries. We, humans, want to make sure that there will be some inhabitable Earth left for future generations.

When it comes to grape growing and winemaking, sustainability is a major trend, with many winemaking countries and regions adding new sustainable vineyards and wineries at double-digit annual percentage rates.

For New Zealand wineries and vineyards, sustainability is done and over with – New Zealand wineries started sustainability journey in 1995. In 2016, 98% of New Zealand’s vineyard area (about 89,000 acres) was sustainable winegrowing certified, which is based on the data collected from 1,918 vineyards and 254 wineries (the data is based on the 2016 New Zealand winegrowing sustainability report). Sustainability certification is based on a number of key aspects, such as land management, water consumption management, pest and disease management, treatment of the people, business practices, and many more (you can find all the information in the report).

The forward movement doesn’t stop in the New Zealand winemaking industry. Next frontier – organic grape growing and winemaking. Organic grape growing imposes further restrictions on what can and can’t be used to produce healthy grapes, and it takes on average 3 years to convert from sustainable to organic methods, but New Zealand winemakers are used to the challenge.

At the end of September, the New Zealand organic winemaking was celebrated via the Organic Wine Week, consisting of a series of tastings and presentations by New Zealand’s vignerons. I attended one of the events (virtual, of course), where we could learn about the development of organic winemaking in New Zealand. Just to share some numbers, there are currently 45 fully organic certified wineries, plus another 7 which produce wines mostly from organic grapes, offering a total of 102 organic wine labels. There are a bit more than 6,000 acres of organic and biodynamic certified vineyards, including about 1,000 acres in conversion (as we mentioned before, it takes about 3 years to convert vineyard from sustainable to organic). If you are interested in learning more details about New Zealand organic wine production, I would highly recommend checking this dedicated website of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand –  I have to honestly say that when it comes to the well-presented, comprehensive winemaking region information, New Zealand wine associations do by far the best job out there – you need to check this for yourself.

If you ever looked at the labels of organic wines sold in the US, you probably noticed that many bottles say “made with organic grapes”, instead of simply been “organic”. I was curious to understand the significance of such wording, and it was perfectly explained during the seminar. It appears that based on the US organic labeling laws, to be just called “organic wine”, it is not enough to just use the certified organic grapes – the winemaking processes have a number of additional restrictions, particularly the use of sulfites is not allowed. It is very difficult to make good wine without the use of sulfites, thus most of the winemakers prefer to simply use a statement “made with organic grapes” instead of going the full circle and sacrifice the quality of their wines. I was happy to finally learn about this designation, as I tasted lots of “made with organic grapes” wines this year and always was wondering about such a specific wording.

As part of the seminar, I was also happy to receive samples of the New Zealand organic wines, which were packaged in tiny bottles. Definitely an interesting concept – and I understand the logic behind it – however, I’m really curious if such a format can negatively affect the taste of wine – take a look at my notes below particularly for the Chardonnay.

Here are the extended tasting notes for the wines – as a side note, all of these wines are vegan-friendly:

2019 Pyramid Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (13% ABV)
Straw pale color.
Clean, restrained nose with a touch of freshly cut grass, mineral notes
Restrained palate, crisp, acidic, uncharacteristic for the Sauvignon Blanc wine, more Muscadet-like

2019 Millton Chenin Blanc Te Arai Vineyard Gisborne (12% ABV, Demeter certified biodynamic)
Light golden color
A touch of gunflint and barnyard.
Whitestone fruit, unripe apricot, a hint of honey, medium to full body, granny smith apples over the long finish. “Te Arai” roughly translates to “the place where you pause before going on toward the land of eternal sunshine.”

2020 Te Whare Ra TORU Marlboro (13.4% ABV, 67% Gewurztraminer, 22% Riesling, 11% Pinot Gris, 1150 cases produced)
Very light straw color, almost like water
Playful floral nose, tropical fruit, intense
Well-balanced palate, honey, honeysuckle, round, plump, viscous, stays with your palate.
Unusual
Toru means “three” in Maori – the wine is made out of 3 grapes. All grapes are co-fermented at the winery.

2019 Greenhough Chardonnay Hope Vineyard Nelson (13.85% ABV)
light golden color
Heavy nose of gunflint, a touch of barnyard, nothing else is coming through.
A touch of vanilla, bitter on the palate, all covered in acidity. Chardonnay profile is coming through. Very acidic finish, really not enjoyable overall

2019 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert Central Otago (13.5% ABV, biodynamic)
Brilliant Ruby color
Intense nose of sweet plums, licorice, graphite
Light, spicy, creamy, red fruit, underbrush, tart cherries came later, good finish, delicious.

2016 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay (13% ABV, 110 cases produced)
Dark purple ink, almost black
Fresh, red and black fruit, fresh lacquer (I know it doesn’t sound right)
Black pepper, clean, intense black fruit, perfect balance, medium to full body, liquid black pepper.
Impressive wine. Selection of the best barrels from the vintage. Vines planted in 1984

As you can see, Sauvignon Blanc and TORU were two of my favorite whites. I love Central Otago Pinot Noir, and Felton Road is one of my perennial favorites, so I’m happy that the wine was as good as I was expecting it to be. New Zealand Syrah is still not a “thing” here in the USA, but the rendition presented in the tasting (Stonecroft) was outstanding – I would be happy to drink such a wine on a regular occasion.

Organic winemaking is good for the Earth, and it is good for the people. New Zealand is leading the way towards organic viticulture, but the other regions are definitely catching up – for example, Chile is rapidly advancing its sustainable and organic winemaking (we will talk about Chilean sustainable and organic wines in the next few posts). And this is something I’m happy to raise my glass to. Cheers!

 

 

Daily Glass: Uncomfortable Wine

October 11, 2021 4 comments

“Uncomfortable wine”??? What utter nonsense, right? Did the author had one too many glasses while writing this post?

The wine can be spoiled. The wine can taste bad. We can call it plonk, we can pour it out. But uncomfortable?

Shoes can be uncomfortable. The dress can be uncomfortable. The shirt’s collar might be too tight. Not knowing how to start a conversation with an attractive stranger might be uncomfortable. Not knowing how to answer a live interview question for the position you dreamed of your entire life is uncomfortable. Many, many things can be uncomfortable. But wine?

When I refer to wine as an art, the typical association in my mind is painting. As an art form, I imply that there are similarities between the bottle of wine and the painting on the wall. But maybe a book would be a better art form to compare?

Reaction to painting is instantaneous – you can, of course, spend hours looking at elaborate details and discovering new elements even if you saw the painting a thousand times before – but your first impression is unlikely to change, it might only deepen as time goes on. But with the book, first we see the cover, then we start reading, and if we found the book which speaks to us, by the time we reach the second page, nobody cares about that cover anymore.

When it comes to the wine, the bottle and the label matter – until we take the first sip. If we found “our wine”, the same as 300 pages book can be obsessively consumed within a few hours, a good bottle of wine will be gone in no time. And while you will be enjoying it, most likely you wouldn’t even remember how the label looked like.

What’s with this interlude and our comfort/uncomfort discussion you ask? Don’t worry, this is all connected.

So what can be uncomfortable about wine? Actually, many things. Remember – in the wine world, it is all about perception – except the taste, the pleasure, and your desire to have a second glass – of course, if you chose to be honest with yourself. Otherwise, perception is everything. Enjoying a glass of 2 buck chuck is uncomfortable. Bringing a $5 bottle of wine to your friends’ house is uncomfortable – knowing that it is an amazing bottle of wine without any regard for a price doesn’t make it less uncomfortable. Enjoying the glass of wine while your best friend hates it is uncomfortable. And then there are labels.

Okay, call me “captain obvious”, but this is where I was leading you all the way – the label can make you uncomfortable. There are enough wines in this world that have, for example, sexually suggestive or simply offensive words or images on the label. Ever saw the bottle of If You See Kay? This is a perfect example of suggestive language on the label – the book cover – for a perfectly delicious wine produced by Jayson Woodbridge. And there are wines that don’t even use suggestive language anymore – like the Little Fuck Malbec from Cahors.

When a friend sent me a picture of this label a few days ago, my first reaction was literally WTF – how can such a label be even approved (Jayson Woodbridge had lots of trouble getting his If You See Kay label approved 9 years ago)? But as the wine was available, I decided that I would not judge the book by its cover, and actually try reading it – and so I got the bottle.

I have to say that as soon as I got a hold of the bottle my negative impressions instantly started to diminish. This is hard to explain, as I don’t know if all the oenophiles feel the same way, but there are bottles that express “comfort” with its shape, weight, and overall feel in your hands. Once you take such a bottle in your hands, you can’t help yourself but say “oh, this is nice”. This was precisely the bottle. Outside of the wine name and the image on the label, the bottle was very comfortable and really created the anticipation – “oh yeah, I do want to open that bottle”. Even the label looked well designed in its shape and size and added the overall “comfort” feeling.

The wine didn’t disappoint – 2020 Vellas Père Et Fils Little Fuck Malbec Cahors AOP (14% ABV) was unapologetically a New World Malbec – big and brooding – and in a blind tasting I would confidently place it into Argentina, but never into the old world. The wine was full of raspberries, smoke, and sweet tobacco – on the nose and on the palate. Big, full-bodied, and powerful, but also well balanced and delicious – a very unapologetic Malbec I might be ashamed to bring to the acquaintance’s house but would be happy to drink at home or with close friends.

I’m really curious about the backstory of this wine. I don’t believe the name and images are random. Nicolas Vellas is a vigneron in the 4th generation at Vignobles Vellas, farming 300 acres of vines and producing a wide range of wines in the South of France. If this would be the only wine produced at the winery, yes, we could dismiss it as a gimmick. But this is simply one of many and the only one with such a unique label, so I truly believe there is a story for this wine, which is not easy to figure out – I even sent a message to the winery asking them to share the story if they can, but I’m not very hopeful. Well, actually lots of Vignoble Vellas wines have very creative labels – you can see them here, but I don’t know if there are any more of the “uncomfortable” ones.

Here you go, my friends. Uncomfortable wine which also happened to be delicious. Yeah, I’m okay with that. I’ll take delicious any day. And comfort? It comes after delicious.

Daily Glass: For The Love Of Appassimento

October 10, 2021 3 comments

Appassimento is an Italian word that means “drying”. Thus very appropriately, appassimento is the process where after the harvest, grapes are dried for some time (from 3 weeks to 6 months) before being pressed and fermented. Now, the question to the audience: name any wine (just type, no need for producer) which is made from such dried grapes?

If you said Amarone della Valpolicella, Passito di Pantelleria, Recioto di Soave, or Recioto della Valpolicella, you can definitely give yourself a high five. While this method of wine production originated in Greece, Italy produces most of the appassimento wines in the world. Drying of the grapes increases the concentration of flavors and sugars and changes the structure of the tannins, bringing an extra layer of complexity to the wine.

While getting more complexity is great for any wine, it also comes at a cost. Drying of the grapes requires additional space, whether inside with good ventilation, or outside under the sun. There is additional time required to dry the grapes. And while drying, grapes lose moisture, thus you need to use a lot more grapes to get that same bottle of wine – no wonder Amarone is usually an expensive wine – but if you ever experienced good Amarone, or Passito, Recioto, Sfursat (Sforzato di Valtellina), Vin Santo, you know that it was well worth it.

Making wines from partially dried grapes is not limited only to Italy – I had delicious Australian Shiraz made from partially dried grapes (Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz from South Australia), Pedro Ximenez Sherry from Spain. Overall, the wines from dried grapes are produced in most of the winemaking regions – Eastern Europe, Germany, Greece, USA, and others.

The appassimento wine which I would like to bring to your attention today is produced in Italy, but it is far from common. Nero d’Avola is known to produce big, well-structured Sicilian reds. But when you take Nero d’Avola grapes from four of the areas in Sicily where Nero d’Avola is known to grow best, then you dry the bunches of the grapes for 3 weeks in fruttaia (well-ventilated rooms) and then continue to make wine, you end up with delicious, round, perfectly approachable wine in its youth.

2019 Cantine Ermes Quattro Quarti Nero d’Avola DOC Appassimento (14% ABV, 100% Nero d’Avola, 4 months in 500l oak barrels) is produced by Cantine Ermes we spoke about earlier this year – the coop of 2,355 producers, farming 26,000 acres across a number of provinces in Sicily. The wine was ready to drink from the get-go, offering beautiful dark berries medley with sweet oak, herbs, and a hint of dried fruit, exactly as one would expect when appassimento is involved – soft, layered, comforting, and dangerous – the bottle was gone very quickly, not being able to put the glass down.

This was a perfect example of the appassimento wine – yes, it didn’t have the power of Amarone, but it also didn’t need any cellaring time, offered instant gratification, and it is a lot more affordable. Definitely the wine worth seeking.

Now, what are your favorite appassimento wines – Amarone and not?

Daily Glass: While I Was Out

September 28, 2021 Leave a comment

This September probably was my worst blogging month ever. Whatever the frustrating reasons are, this is not the self-reflection blog (it is, of course, but only for wine, food, and life-related matters), so one thing we are not going to do is an analysis of that “dry period”. However, it was dry only for the words, but not for the wines, so let me share a few of the recent delicious encounters with you.

Let’s start with the 2009 Alban Vineyards Reva Estate Syrah Edna Valley (15.5% ABV), which I opened to celebrate our anniversary. Alban makes some of the very best Rhône-style wines in the USA, and this Reva Syrah didn’t disappoint – beautiful fruit on the nose with a touch of barnyard, layers of red and blue fruit on the palate with spicy, peppery underpinning. Delicious.

Next, we continue with a number of Field Recordings wines. It is no secret that I’m biased toward Field Recordings wines, ever since I discovered them more than 10 years ago (this is the only wine club I belong to). Field Recordings wines don’t cease to amaze with Andrew Jones’ talent to find one-of-a-kind vineyards to make one-of-a-kind wines.

2020 Field Recordings Domo Arigato (Mr. Ramato) Skin Contact Pinot Grigio Central Coast (12% ABV, $25, 52 barrels made)  is skin contact Pinot Grigio, made in Ramato (copper) Italian style. A beautiful complexity on the nose without going overboard, fresh fruit and herbs, clean and unctuous on the palate – when the friend stopped over, we finished the bottle without even noticing. This wine is a blend of Pinot Gris from two sites on the Central Coast, each of which spent a month on the skins and then was aged in the neutral oak barrels.

2019 Field Recordings Festa Beato Farms Vineyard El Pomar District (11.5% ABV, $25, 100% Touriga Nacional, 12 months in Neutral American oak barrels, 6 barrels produced) really surprised me. Touriga Nacional is not the grape California is known for. Also, from my experience with Portuguese wines, Touriga Nacional from the Douro definitely benefits from a long time in oak (I much prefer Douro Reserva over the regular wines), so I opened the Californian rendition without much of the expectations.

Wow. Festa actually means Party in Portuguese, and what a party it was! Wild berries on the nose – wild blueberries and wild strawberries. The same fresh, crunchy, crispy, fresh wild berries on the palate, but well supported by the medium to the full body of the wine and perfectly balanced in and out, creating one delicious mouthfeel. Another wine you can’t stop drinking once you start.

Let’s take a short break from the Field Recordings wines and let’s go visit Washington with the help of 2013 Brian Carter Cellars Byzance Red Wine Blend Columbia Valley (14% ABV, 53% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise, 3% Cinsault). I got this wine at one of the Last Bottle marathons, going strictly by the region, age, and price – never heard of the producer before. Turns out that Brian Carter had been making wines in Wahington since 1980, and he has a passion for blending – which this wine perfectly demonstrated. In my experience, 8 years is not an age for many Washington wines, so I opened the bottle not without trepidation. To my delight, the wine was simply superb – fresh cherries and blackberries on the nose, ripe cherries, mocha, and dark chocolate on the palate, soft, round, perfectly balanced, exciting, and delicious. And I didn’t need to wait for it even for a second. Pop, pour, enjoy. This is the wine that brings an instant regret with the first sip – why, why I didn’t buy a full case??

This next wine I want to talk about might surprise you, and this is something I very rarely discuss in this blog – it is Sake I want to share with you. As we planned to have sushi for dinner, the family requested sake to drink with it. I stopped at the wine store on my way to pick up sushi, and this Hananomai Sake Jun-Mai-Ginjo (15%-16% ABV) was recommended. What a great recommendation it was! I almost got the point of regretting buying only one bottle, as everyone couldn’t stop drinking it – nicely perfumed, light fruit notes on the palate, delicate and balanced – it perfectly complemented our eclectic selection of the sushi rolls.

And now, back to Field Recordings.

2018 Field Recordings Happy Accident Alicante Bouschet Vignoble Guillaume Jean Paso Robles (11.1% ABV, 10 months in stainless steel, 5 barrels produced) is another atypical California wine – made from the Alicante Bouchet grape. This is one of the few so-called teinturier grapes – red grapes which have not only red skin but also red flesh, thus producing red juice when pressed, without the need for skin contact (famous Georgian Saperavi is another example of the teinturier grape). Alicante Bouschet is a cross between Petit Bouschet and Grenache, and it was widely planted in California during Prohibition and lately increasingly planted in France, as well as in Spain and Portugal. The name of the wine has its own story, which I simply quote from the description I got with the wine club offering email: “Many things can go sideways in the cellar as we are ushering the fermentation along. In most wineries, a surprise visit from brettanomyces to your cellar could be a curse, but in this situation we are celebrating it. The funky wild yeast that is popular in the beer world brings out a signature funk. This signature funk, though, took 5 barrels of Alicante to another level.  As a famous painter once said, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents.

The wine offered an inviting nose of the fresh berries, continuing with tart, the dry mouthfeel of red and black fruit, and medium to full body. I think this wine would well benefit from another 3–4 years in the cellar, but it was quite enjoyable as is right now.

And that concludes our daily glass ride – hope you had some tasty wine discoveries lately!

A Weekend With Friends

September 27, 2021 1 comment

Here I am, going over the options in my head. I can just start this post like everything is cool. Or I can start it with a little whining about the past. Like the life as we knew it before 2020. The year which didn’t exist. Which continues “not existing” well into this very 2021. Anyone has a time machine to go and fix it all? We don’t need to go far…

Yes, I strive normal. The life as it was. And this past weekend, this is exactly what I had.

For the past 10 years, we have had a tradition with friends – adults’ getaway. It was born out of the need to get away from the kids, to feel ourselves the adults without the need to constantly taking care of someone. Visit a winery, have a great dinner, play some games until everyone is really tired, have more fun the next day, come home recharged. Simple.

Last year was the first time in 10 years when we felt that adults’ getaway was not in the cards. But this year, the spontaneous decision was made not to lose another year to the stupid crap, and the getaway was planned.

We always go to the small towns around the east coast, trying to stay within 3 hours of driving distance from Stamford, CT. As I started writing this post, I decided to check what places we visited over this years. It turns out that this was our 10th trip, skipping 2011 (if 2011 was not skipped, I have zero records of that), and 2020. In 2010, this all started in Milford, Pennsylvania. In 2012, we continued to Grafton, Vermont. In 2013, we stayed in Palenville, New York, with the visit to Hudson Distillery being an absolute highlight. In 2014, it was Norfolk, Connecticut, and then we continued on to Cooperstown, New York in 2015, Greenville, New York in 2016, Lenox, Massachusetts in 2017, then Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania in 2018, and West Yarmouth on Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 2019 (as you can tell by the absence of the links, I failed to properly document some of our adventures).

That brings us to the year 2021, where our spontaneously decided destination was once again the Berkshire mountains region of Massachusetts, and our home base for the weekend been at Harbour House Inn and B&B in Cheshire, Massachusetts. But our first stop on the way was at the Balderdash Cellars winery in Richmond, Massachusetts. It was a random pick – the winery was conveniently located along the way, about 30 minutes away from our final destination, but then it was definitely a lucky strike.

The note on Balderdash Cellars website said that reservations are unnecessary and not taken – this sounded really good especially with the latest trend where you can’t just walk into the winery for a tasting (I get the business side of it, but I’m not a fan). Another interesting thing about the winery is that Balderdash Cellars brings the grapes from California (grapes, not juice), and then they make their wines right on premises, including all of the aging (some of the reds age for 2 years).

We arrived pretty much by the time the winery just opened its tasting room (at noon), and we were the first there. You can get a tasting flight of 5 wines, a glass of wine, or a bottle, all from the current selection. The tasting flight is prepared for you in the neat tiny vessels, and then you can seat anywhere you like and taste at your own speed.

All the wines we tasted greatly exceeded my expectations. 2020 Balderdash Cellars Bao Bao Sauvignon Blanc (13.6% ABV, $29, 100% Stainless steel for 5 months, Napa Valley fruit) was perfectly on point – a touch of freshly cut grass, bright acidity, lemon notes, perfectly refreshing and delicious. 2017 Balderdash Cellars Til Death Do Us Part Viognier (14.3% ABV, $29, 75% French Oak, 25% stainless steel for 8 months, Paso Robles fruit) was possibly even more surprising. Viognier is a very tricky grape, you really need to do it right, especially when it comes from the warm climates. This wine was outstanding – beautiful perfume on the nose, tropical fruit, nicely plump and balanced palate.

2017 Balderdash Cellars Joyride Pinot Noir (14.4% ABV, $39, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Edna Valley fruit) was good, maybe a bit too sweet for my palate. However, 2019 Balderdash Cellars Invincible Cabernet Sauvignon (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 2 years, Napa Valley fruit) was simply outstanding – cassis and bell peppers on the nose, classic, unmistakable Cab with a lot of restraint, continuing with the same finesse on the palate – more cassis and bell peppers, all well balanced and harmonious. I would be happy to drink this wine at any time. Last but not least in the flight was 2019 Balderdash Cellars Brakelight Syrah (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Sonoma fruit), which was also perfectly classic – beautiful black pepper all around, on the nose and on the palate, the nice core of the black and red fruit, delicious.

We also had a bonus taste of the 2020 Balderdash Cellars Kill Joy Late Harvest Viognier (12% ABV, $27, 100% neutral French oak, Edna Valley fruit) which was just outstanding – fresh ripe tropical fruit supported by clean lemon acidity, the element which makes or breaks any dessert wine, and this one was definitely made right.

I really wanted to try Truth Serum Petite Sirah as just the name sounds soooo intriguing, but the wine was sold out, unfortunately.

After tasting we moved from inside of the tasting room to find a nice sitting outside. The winery has stacks and stacks of red Adirondack chairs, my favorite type of chair, and we had no problems assembling a very comfortable sitting. We got a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon to continue, while we were waiting for the food truck to arrive at 1 pm (the winery offers different food options on the weekends). I also want to mention how professional the staff was at the winery – water was added to the ice in the bucket to chill our Sauvignon Blanc better. The foil was cut completely from the bottle before pulling out the cork – these are the little things that make your wine experience simply more enjoyable.

While the winery doesn’t offer vineyard views, they have rows of flowers instead. I love seeing all of the pictures of sunflowers from all the people around, but never really had an opportunity to take sunflower pictures before – until now. This flower field was boasting the sunflowers of more colors ever thought are possible in the sunflowers. Hence let me inundate you a bit here with these beauties:

Three hours later, we left now a very crowded winery to get to our destination – Harbour House Inn B&B. If I would have to describe Harbour House Inn in a few words, that would be “clean, large, spacious, and hospitable”. Hospitable is truly a keyword here – let me explain.

Saturday night dinner is the major attraction for our adults’ getaways, pièce de résistance if you will. We always put a lot of care into finding a restaurant that would be willing to accommodate our group and create a special tasting menu which we would pair with our own wines. On most of the trips we were able to create the arrangements like this, and a few times we were unable to bring our own wines and had the tasting dinner fully arranged by the restaurant. This time around, we couldn’t find a restaurant that would be willing to work with us in creating a tasting menu, and not everybody was even willing to accommodate our whole group for dinner. This is where our hosts, Brandi, Darrell, and Billie came to the rescue, allowing us to get the take-out from the restaurant, set up the dinner table with all the plates and glasses, and thus still have an experience of our traditional wine dinner.

When we arrived, the table was already set with the wines glasses and plates, and there was a fridge where we could stuff all of our white wines.

And here is the same table all set to start the dinner:

Those popocers… Yummmm!

We brought our dinner from the Mario’s Restaurant in New Lebanon, New York (about 30 minutes drive) which also exceeded our expectations. We arrived at 5 PM to pick up all the food. Everything was ready to go, no waiting at all, and all the food was piping hot, just made. The restaurant even included lots of delicious bread and top it all off, popovers, which were simply spectacular – I’m not a big fan of the popovers in general, but this was just something else – I would eat 5 of those by myself and have no regrets.

Now, let’s talk about wine and food. Our first dish was Prince Edward Isle Mussels (Pancetta, leek, roasted garlic, white wine, EVOO, crostini) which we paired with 2020 Bisol Jeio Millesimato Prosecco Rosé DOC. Prosecco Rosé is a hot category right now. As I’m mostly ambivalent to the Prosecco, this new category is also lost on me. However, when I was looking for the wines to pair with the dinner, and I wanted to start our dinner with bubbles, that bottle of Jeio Rosé looked very good – an opportunity to try a new (hot!) type of wine made by the reputable producer (I’m not ambivalent to Bisol wines – these are Prosecco wines in its own category). The Rosé didn’t disappoint – crisp, clean, tart, fresh – anything else you want from the sparkling wine? Yep, I thought so. It paired very well with the mussels which were a riot – lots and lots of flavor, delicious broth – I lost count to the amount of bread I consumed with the mussels.

Next, we had Rustic Beef and  Veal Grande Meatballs (San Marzano sauce, pesto, crostini) and Mushroom Beignet (Caps stuffed with garlic butter, dipped in a beignet batter, baked and topped with hollandaise sauce) which we paired with 2020 Notorious Pink Grenache Rosé Vin de France (100% Grenache). The meatballs were absolutely delicious, as well as the mushroom beignet. As far as the wine is concerned, we already had this Rosé at one of the previous dinners, and looking into my past notes I was equally unimpressed.

Next, we had Baby Arugula Salad (Farm fresh peaches, garden tomatoes, burrata, toasted pistachios, white balsamic vinaigrette) paired with 2019 Ninety Plus Cellars Aligoté Bourgogne AOC. Aligoté is yet another rave of the moment, gaining in popularity as an affordable white Burgundy. The wine was round and creamy and worked quite well with the salad.

For our “intermezzo” we decided to try something new and different – a “pasta” of zucchini – Zucchini “Noodles” (Roasted wild mushrooms and tomatoes, sweet corn, burrata, cheese, white wine, and garlic) paired with 2019 Thevenet & fils Les Clos Bourgogne AOC. The zucchini “noodles” were an absolute standout – amazing flavor and texture, delicious. The red Burgundy was very tart and light – while it was kind of okay with the dish, the pairing was not anything to write home about.

Then there were the entrées. First, we paired Pan Seared Sea Scallops (Risotto alla Milanese, sweet corn, chive beurre blanc) and Grilled Faroe Island Salmon (Maple and mustard glaze, hash of roasted potatoes, English peas, carrots, and scallions, fresh horseradish) with 2013 Montecillo Rioja Reserva DOC. Scallops and salmon were delicious in their own right, each dish being succulent and flavorful. The Rioja was simply superb – dark fruit, cedar box, herbs, perfectly balanced, round and velvety in the mouth – this was another most favorite wine of the dinner (the first one was Prosecco Rosé).

Last we had Pan Seared Duck Breast and Leg Confit (Chive mashed, cherry & port wine reduction, grilled asparagus) – melt in your mouth delicious, and succulent, generous, flavorful Red Wine Braised Short Rib (Roasted summer vegetables, chive mashed, red wine jus). These two dishes were paired with 2015 d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier McLaren Vale, which didn’t meet my expectations. Maybe the wine needed some time, but it really didn’t do anything for me.

The dessert was good, but after all of the food, nobody really cared about the dessert…

My next day started from the quiet early walk in the fog. Fog has a special ability to underscore the silence. And there is no better time of the day than a cool and quiet morning with a cup of hot coffee in your hand and the knowledge that the whole day is fully ahead of you.

Our breakfast (it is a B&B, remember?) consisted of freshly baked blueberry muffin, fresh fruit, and eggs Benedict casserole – an unusually creative dish, resembling the eggs Benedict without the need to properly poach the eggs for the large group of hungry guests.

We always like to include at least a bit of the hiking into our trips, so our first stop after we left the Inn was at the old marble quarry repurposed into the nature park. Lots of steps and some beautiful views:

We then went to the cheese shop along Berkshire cheese trail where we were hoping to taste some cheese – unfortunately, this was a cheese shop at the functional dairy farm, but no cheese to taste, only to buy.

We ended our day with a late lunch at Pera Mediterranean Bistro in Williamstown before starting the drive home.

Here we are – another adults’ getaway became history, but I’m already craving the next one.

 

While In Texas …

August 27, 2021 3 comments

August was an eventful month – two trips back to back, something I didn’t experience in the past 18 months.

After a trip to Oregon to attend the Wine Media Conference and visit some of the wineries in Willamette Valley, I spent two days at home and got on the plane again, this time to attend a work event in San Antonio in Texas. This was a short but quite intense 4 days trip, so I really didn’t plan to look specifically for any local wines as I like doing during any of my trips. Until I walked into the Riverwalk Wine and Spirits.

You see, I was only looking for sparkling water, as this is what I prefer to drink, so buying wine was not a part of the plan (who am I kidding). But being in Texas, I had to look at the shelf with the local wines – located, as one would expect, in the far corner of the store. What do you think happened next? Of course… I love Marsanne and Roussanne wines, and the bottles were simply looking at me saying “yeah, we know you want us…”. I grabbed the bottle of Becker Claret to keep the whites company, and we happily left together.

I’m familiar with Becker wines, had them a few times before – they also have quite memorable labels. But I don’t believe I ever tasted any wines from Lost Draw Cellars, so let’s talk about them first.

Lost Draw Cellars traces its origin to 1936 as a family business. The grapes were planted on the Lost Draw Vineyard site in 2005, and in 2012, Lost Draw Cellars bottled its first vintage. Today, Lost Draw Cellars produces a wide range of wines, focusing primarily on the Mediterranean varieties growing on the number of vineyards in Texas High Planes AVA – Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and many others.

The two white wines I tried were, in a word, excellent.

2017 Lost Draw Cellars Roussanne La Pradera Vineyard Texas High Plains (13.2% ABV, $14.99)
Golden color
A touch of tropical fruit and gunflint, herbal notes
Fresh, round, lemon notes, complex, great acidity, good balance, good minerality
8, I would drink this wine any day

2018 Lost Draw Cellars Marsanne Timmons Estate Vineyard Texas High Plains (13.2% ABV, $14.99)
Light Golden
Butter, vanilla, nose reminiscent of Chardonnay
Vanilla, pronounced honey note, round, plump, creamy, good acidity, good balance
8+, superb.

The story of Becker Vineyards started when the Becker family decided to look for the log cabin to make it into a country getaway. They found their perfect cabin in 1990, along with 46 acres of land. Owning the vineyard was a long-time dream, so the first vines were planted in 1992, following by the first harvest in 1995. That humble beginning today became a 100,000 cases operation with numerous honors and accolades – for example, Becker wines were served at the White House on 7 different occasions.

I have to honestly say that I was very happy with my choice of red wine at the store – after the first sip, it was hard to wipe the smile off my face:

2015 Becker Vineyards Claret Les Trois Dames Texas (14.1% ABV, $14.99, 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 12% Petite Verdot, 10% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc)
Garnet
Coffee, mocha, cassis, bell pepper
Cassis, bell pepper, eucalyptus, good acidity, soft tannins, perfect balance
9-, spectacular. Just pure pleasure in every sip. The wine is at its peak and it is an absolutely delicious rendition of classic French claret.

This was my second time tasting Becker Claret – the first time I had it in 2011 at Vino Volo at the airport. It was a 2009 vintage, thus I was tasting 2 years old wine. This time, it was a 6-year-old wine, and it definitely shined to its fullest.

That is my short story of finding delicious wines in Texas (at a great price too). Texas Hill County was one of the suggested locations for the next Wine Media Conference 2022 – for once, I would be absolutely ecstatic if that would be an actual choice – I would just need to bring a few of the wine suitcases with me…

We are done talking about wine, but there is something else I want to share with you. While in San Antonio, I stayed at Marriott Riverwalk hotel, in a room with a beautiful city view. Yes, it means pictures – I want to share with you that city view, taken at different times – together with a few flowers.

And now we are done. If you will be visiting Texas, make sure to drink Texan wines – you don’t even need to thank me.

 

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