Daily Glass: Monday Night Wine

September 12, 2022 Leave a comment

Monday night. The first working day of the week is over. Or it might not be over, who knows. But it is Monday, and the week is just starting. Is there a wine more suitable for Monday than any other day of the week?

Friday night is easy. Friday always means fun and celebration. Friday is already playful, so unless you have serious dinner plans aligned, Friday night wine might be even a cocktail for all I can tell.

I guess Saturday is asking for a serious wine, no matter what. It’s the middle of the weekend which is always special. Thursday… well, I don’t know about Thursday, let’s get back to Monday.

So how do we select the wine for Monday night? Most likely, you are at home. Most likely, it is only you and your spouse drinking. Most likely, you are not in a hurry. Most likely, you can take your time and enjoy that glass for as long as you want. Considering all of these “most likely” circumstances, let’s settle on the thought-provoking wine. The wine which shows its beauty slowly, sniff by sniff,  sip by sip.

Can you think of a wine that would match this description?

While you think about it, I will lead by example and offer to talk about my Monday wine.

2019 Turley Bechtold Vineyard Cinsault Lodi (12.4% ABV). Wine from one of my favorite producers – Turley. Wine from one of my favorite wine regions in California (and not only in California) – Lodi.

Lodi flies under the radar for a lot of wine lovers. Everybody knows Napa and Sonoma. Californian Pinot Noir aficionados probably know Santa Barbara County. Meanwhile, Lodi is where Robert Mondavi went to high school and where his father run the grape-packing business. Lodi is the single largest AVA in North America, and Lodi is where Napa winemakers go to get their grapes. Maybe most importantly, Lodi is home to a number of old, continuously producing vineyards. Of course, everyone likes to lay a claim to the “oldest vineyard” here and there – however, Bechtold vineyard in Lodi was planted in 1886, and oldest or not, 136 years of continuously producing fruit deserves the utmost respect.

Lodi might be best known for its old vines Zinfandels, but our Monday wine tonight is made out of Cinsault, a grape typically used in Rhône and Provence. Cinsault wines typically offer a fruity and floral profile with some pungent undertones.

2019 Turley Cinsault was made using whole cluster fermentation with natural yeast and aged for about 7 months in used French oak barrels. The result was the wine that delivered that thought-provoking Monday night experience we were talking about.

On the nose, the wine offered fresh berries and a hint of the forest floor. On the palate, there was a delicate interplay of raspberries, sour cherries, tartness, and acidity, all packaged together delicately but firmly, and finishing off with sour cherries and cherry pits, long-lasting and offering an opportunity to enjoy a quiet moment. (Drinkability: 8/8+)

That’s how my Monday night wine was (delicious!). How was yours?

Daily Glass: Yin and Yang

September 9, 2022 Leave a comment

Obey your inspiration.

Yin and Yang are too big of a concept to casually use while discussing everyday wines. Black and white. Darkness and light. Night and day. Passive and active. There is a lot of meaning behind the revolving black and white semi-spheres, and we would need a few (4, 5, …) bottles of wine to discuss it. So what gives?

I was drinking a bottle of wine for 5 days. Open, pour a little into a glass, drink, hope to be amazed, close, pump the air out, put aside. Repeat. And then I opened a bottle for a Friday night dinner of homemade tacos, and the wine was delicious and approachable from the moment it hit the glass. Yin and Yang, the brain said. This is a perfect title for the post. Who am I to argue?

Yin is a black portion of the circle of life. 2014 Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Gran Reserva (13.5% ABV, $19.99 at WTSO, $49.99 on the web) was the Yin at the moment.

Bodegas Riojanas was founded in 1890 by the Artacho family which had a long winemaking history prior to that. Unlike many other Rioja’s Greats, who set up their wineries close to the train station in Haro, Bodegas Riojanas winery was built in Cenicero, where the grapes grew. Bodegas Riojanas was among the 13 founding wineries behind the Rioja DOC denomination. Today, Bodegas Riojanas farms 250 acres of vineyards and produces a large number of white, red, Rosé, and sparkling wines.

Bodegas Riojanas Gran Reserva is one of the flagship wines. 100% Tempranillo, aged for 24-30 months in the casks, produced in traditional Rioja style. 2014 vintage was rated “good” in the official Rioja vintage classification – the best years are identified as “Excellent”, then “very good”, and then “good” – so we can say that this was an okay year. Traditional style Gran Reserva wines are typically tight and need time – and so was this wine. For 5 days, as I was tasting it little by little, the wine was opening up ever so slightly. Don’t get me wrong – it was drinkable for someone who likes the power and likes to drink super-structured, super-tight wines. On day 5, there was a glimpse of cherries and a cigar box, which was slowly replaced by the tannins on the finish. This is the wine with promise, but we need to wait until the Yin will turn.

Now, the Yang – 2018 Casa Santos Lima Confidencial Reserva Vinho Regional Lisboa (13.5% ABV, $9.99, 10+ grape varieties, 6 months in the French oak cask).

Casa Santos Lima also has a history that lasts more than 100 years. The company had great success as a producer and exporter at the end of the 19th century. In 1990, the company was restarted, and today 90% of the produced wines are exported to more than 50 countries on 5 continents. Casa Santos Lima produces a wide range of wines in all the regions in Portugal, with a significant focus on providing value.

It is not for nothing this wine is called Confidencial. You might know that I excel and take pride in being a very capable grape sleuth. And nevertheless, as the name says, I was only able to find out that the wine is produced out of more than 10 confidential varieties – nowhere there are any hints on what those grapes might be.

This is not necessarily surprising. Yes, it can be a clever marketing play (humans love mystery), but at the same time, lots of grapes in Portugal are growing as field blends, where the grape grower doesn’t exactly know what grapes are growing in a given vineyard or a given plot – this might be a great idea to simply declare such blend as “confidential”.

Based on my experience with Portuguese grapes varieties, I would think that Touriga Nacional is a part of the blend, with the wild strawberries being a telltale sign. In any case, the wine was delicious with soft and supple wild strawberries and raspberries forming the core, and sage and other garden herbs playing a supporting role. Layered, velvety, and round – perfectly approachable and enjoyable right at this moment. (Drinkability: 8-/8).

Yin and Yang are all about harmony, and things that are changing in life – what was white can become black, and the other was around. The light can bring warmth or it can kill. The darkness can be scary, or it can be comforting.

With time, these two wines can completely change places. The Rioja might become absolutely stunning in 25-30 years., The Portuguese red might be past prime even in 10. The Yin and Yang can swap places. But we don’t know what will happen in the future, and that makes it all fun. Let’s drink to the harmony in life. Cheers!

One on One with Winemaker – Maya Hood White of Early Mountain Vineyards, Virginia

September 8, 2022 Leave a comment

Source: Virginia.org.

Virginia Is For Lovers.

This simple slogan, coined in 1969, became the foundation of one of the best marketing campaigns of all time. It is simple, it gets stuck in your head and once you hear “Virginia” the image of a red heart with the words “Virginia is for Lovers” automatically pops up in your mind.

Virginia is for lovers, but what many people might not realize, Virginia is for Wine Lovers. Virginia is probably the oldest wine-producing state in the USA, where Thomas Jefferson planted vineyards in the last quarter of the 17th Century, way before any wineries were established in New York and California. Virginia’s climate is one of the closest to Bordeaux out of all wine-producing states in the USA. But if you don’t live in Virginia or close by, you might not even know that Virginia produces world-class wines. But Virginia actually does, and we need to rectify this gap in your knowledge, one winery at a time.

Early Mountain is a relatively young winery, founded only 10 years ago, in 2012. However, it was founded by Steve and Jean Case – founders of AOL, the legendary early days Internet provider for millions of Americans. Early Mountain was founded with the vision and mission of representing and promoting the Virginia wine industry. In the Early Mountain tasting room, you can order Best of Virginia wine flights and taste the wines from the 10 vineyards around Virginia – of course, in addition to the full range of wines Early Mountain produces.

The original Early Mountain vineyard which gives the name to the winery was planted in 2006; the Quaker Run vineyard, the second major holding of Early Mountain was planted in 1999. Early Mountain farms about 350 acres of land, out of which 55 are planted under vines. The estate-produced fruit is also complemented by the fruit coming from the local Virginia growers, in an approximately 50/50 ratio.

I had an opportunity to speak with Maya Hood White, Early Mountain’s winemaker over a zoom session, and taste Early Mountain wines. As this was a live interview, below you will find pretty much a transcript of our conversation, not a detailed account that I manage to provide using an email interview format. I still hope you will get enough information, and most importantly, will be curious enough to go and find Early Mountain wines.

Why Early Mountain?
– The name relates to John Early, a historical figure who lived in Virginia in the second half of the 17th century. There is also a historic building on the property that relates to John Early.
What are those curved lines on your wine label?
– It is a topographic map. The lines represent the true topography of the land surrounding the winery.
What does the logo mean?
– These are letters E and M 🙂 (my reaction – duh…)
What is the meaning of the pointer arrow?
– Again, it is a map attribute, a locational arrow.

At this point, we poured our first glass, 2021 Early Mountain Rosé Virginia (11.3% ABV, $26, 72% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah) – Early Mountain site fruit is used to produce this wine. Grapes for Rosé are harvested earlier than the grapes for the red wines. Depending on the year some grapes are co-fermented. Mostly stainless steel but some Acacia barrels were used as well. The wine was beautiful, salmon pink color, leading with strawberries, cranberries, and cleansing acidity. Very present, balanced, and refreshing.

Speaking with the winemaker always offers us, mere mortal oenophiles, a chance to geek out and learn. When you hear about clones, the first thought is always Pinot Noir, maybe a Chardonnay. Maya works with clones of Sauvignon Blanc, and those clones produce dramatically different wines. She also works a lot with and was speaking fondly of Petite Manseng, the grape best known in Southwest France. Petite Manseng is producing excellent wines in Virginia, and it makes one of the flagship wines at Early Mountain. Petite Manseng grapes grow in such tight clusters that Maya prefers to harvest them after the rain, it helps to process the grapes better.

I asked Maya about Viognier, which is considered to be a star in Virginia. First, I learned an interesting fact from her: Viognier looks like a white grape version of Syrah – the same format of clusters, the same shape of leaves – I guess it is not surprising that Viognier is often used in winemaking to play together with Syrah. It appears that Viognier was growing before at Early Mountain, and it was pulled out and replaced – Viognier is a problematic grape that ripens irregularly and sometimes doesn’t ripen at all. It is definitely preferred to work with more reliable grapes.

We continued our tasting with 2021 Early Mountain Five Forks Virginia (12.9% ABV, $27, Petit Manseng 59%, Sauvignon Blanc 38%, Malvasia Blanca 2%, Muscat 1%) – rich and inviting white fruit nose, followed by a crisp, clean, playful bouquet on the palate. I loved the plumpness, roundness of the wine, reminding me of my favorite Roussanne bottles. The wine was perfect cold, and it was very tasty at room temperature – this is my standard hallmark test of good white wine – good white wine is delicious cold or not.

And then there was time to ask more questions:

What is your winemaking philosophy?
– Maya oversees grape growing as well as production. Listening to the vineyard – not set on what should be produced from the specific lot. Sites are closely watched for what they can do best – vines can be pulled and replaced.
What does the line of Young Wines represent?
– Approachable, low-intervention, fruit is sourced from the growers in the Shenandoah Valley. Wines are often made using a whole cluster approach. Also, the wines in the Young Wines line appeal more to younger wine drinkers.
Where do you stand on sustainability/organic?
– The low-touch approach, use biodynamic teas, certain blocks are processed only in an “organic” way. The holistic approach to the overall vine growing – over cropping, etc. low touch is a key.
What is your take on biodynamics?
– There is a lot to learn. Compost teas, herbal teas, oak bark – many things work, but the approach is more “what makes sense” than religious.
What winemaking vessels do you use? Oak barrels, amphorae, concrete tanks, stainless steel?
– I gravitate towards bigger casks; we have concrete egg, which is used primarily for whites. We also work with Northern European oak, Acacia wood

Next, we had two Cabernet Franc wines. Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite grapes and a staple of Virginia winemaking, so I was definitely looking forward to trying the wines.

We started with 2020 Early Mountain Cabernet Franc Shenandoah Valley Virginia (13.3% ABV, $30) – pulled from different sites in Shenandoah Valley. Uses larger size barrels, 500 liters or larger, Northern European oak barrels. 2020 was a rainy vintage, and the wine was rather on the mellow side. When I tried the wine during our zoom session, I was not terribly impressed. While the wine had all the traits of Cabernet Franc – cassis, bell pepper – it was a bit underwhelming. The next day, the wine really came around offering a lot more depth and structure.

My second Cabernet Franc was supposed to be a 2019 Cabernet Franc Quaker Run Vineyard, which Maya was absolutely raving about, defining the 2019 vintage as an epiphany. However, the bottle I got was the 2018 Early Mountain Cabernet Franc Quaker Run Vineyard Virginia (12.5% ABV, $45). 2018 was a very challenging vintage – too much rain, even the road was washed away. I never thought of Cabernet Franc in terms of clones, but it appears that this wine was composed of 2 different clones with different aromatics. Despite the vintage challenges (or maybe thanks to? :)) the wine was superb from the getgo – a good amount of dark fruit, good structure, cassis, eucalyptus, herbal underpinning – this Cabernet Franc was more expressive than a typical Chinon or Saumur, but less fruity than a typical west coast Cabernet Franc. Delicious.

Another interesting note from Maya – there is completely anecdotal evidence that in Virginia, even vintages are lean, and odd vintages give you bigger wines. I will need to pay attention next time I will be drinking Virginia wine, to see if this observation would hold true.

And a few more questions to complete our conversation.

How is the harvest in 2022? What to expect?
– Ha! Harvest is still ongoing, 10 days to 2 weeks later than last year, and some of the white grapes are still on the vine. Rain showers got in the way. Reds have another month. Hard to tell yet. There was a got fruit set, some fruit was dropped, so it is too early to tell.
What’s ahead? Single block wines? New varieties?
– New hybrids are coming from Italy – Merlot Kanthus, Sauvignon Rytos, VCR Tocai, The new grapes will account for about 1%. Will be planted in 2023. These new hybrids are important as they are disease resistant, and with grape diseases, the question is not if, but when. There will be also a new wine made from Petite Manseng which was planted instead of Cabernet Sauvignon.

That concluded our conversation with Maya, the time flew by very quickly.

If you are familiar with Virginia wines already, the Early Mountain can offer an excellent refresher course. And if you are not – what are you waiting for? Virginia wine has lots to offer, start your journey already.

Pure Pleasure, And How To Express It

September 5, 2022 Leave a comment

Does this glass give you pleasure?

You take a sip of wine. The wine is sublime. It is beautiful. It is complex. The wine solicits emotion – it makes you happy. It makes you moan quietly inside your head, you might extort an “OMG” or a “Wow”, and after a pause, you take another sip. You are not in a hurry. You want to extend this pleasure for as long as possible.

Wine is art. Wine doesn’t leave you indifferent. Wine solicits emotion.

Painting is art. Painting doesn’t leave you indifferent. Painting solicits emotion.

Music is art. Music doesn’t leave you indifferent. Music solicits emotion.

We can consider wine to be a form of art, the same as painting, music, poetry, architecture, and many other human creations which invite an emotional reaction. Do you know what makes wine a unique form of art? Your utter desire to share it.

You can quietly stare at a beautiful painting for a long time, slowly uncovering little details and being in the moment. Even if you stand next to someone else looking at the same painting, 99 out of 100 you are simply focused on your own personal moment.

When listening to the music, even if you are in the concert hall surrounded by thousands, the music is being played only for you and this is how you want to keep it. You can buy a recording and listen to it 100 times. Just by yourself, and you are happy about it.

Have you seen an oenophile get excited about wine? The excited oenophile grabs the total stranger by the sleeve, shoves the glass into their face and says “here, here, you must try this!!!” It is very important for an oenophile to be able to share the joy of the experience with others. There is an ultimate pleasure in sharing your excitement with others, as wine is an art that needs to be shared.

Sharing pleasure is easy in person. Have you tasted magnificent, life-altering wines in the group? If you had, you probably noticed the collective “ohh”, rolling the eyes, unprompted nodding, maybe a muttered “oh my god”, and then silence. The silence of the greatness of the moment, slowly settling in.

This in-person sharing of the pleasure is simple, and kind of just happens on its own. The real challenge comes when you decide to share that ultimate pleasure with the rest of the world.

So how can one express pure pleasure?

A typical way to describe the wine is via so-called tasting notes. Such tasting notes are often called “technical notes” as they usually describe the wine in terms of appearance, aroma, bouquet, and finish – using analogies such as “brickish color”, “smell of mushrooms”, or “taste of dark cherries”. The wine is described in the terms which the wine drinker is supposed to relate to – and it is a great review if you can relate to all of the terms used without trying to figure out what is Cascarilla and how it actually smells, or how Jabuticaba tastes like. What is usually not found in the tasting notes is the emotion – how this wine might make you feel; will you scream with joy when you will take a sip? Yes, I get it. Even the aromas and flavors are subjective. The emotion which you will experience while drinking the wine is yours and yours only – the person next to you might not experience the same enlightenment – and nevertheless, even the hope for greatness is worth sharing.

Can wine pleasure be expressed in the words by professional wine critics? You be the judge of it. Here is the collection of tatsing notes for the 1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru. At this link, you will find the reviews from Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, John Gilman, and others. Here is the best excerpt in my opinion. John Gilman: “La Tâche ‘66 is deep, full and opulent on the palate, with a grandiose delivery of thick, perfumed fruit, excellent balance, plenty of power, great focus and finesse, and an incredibly long, softly-tannic and astoundingly complex finish.” This might be the best description out of the six present, but does it convey the emotion?

Does this wine give you pleasure?

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of drinking two wines from the 1997 vintage (1997 is a special year for our family). These two wines really prompted this post. First, I opened the 1997 Château Haut-Piquat Lussac Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc). The wine was somewhat of a recent find at the Wine Exchange – after getting an email offer to buy 1997 Bordeaux for $19.99, I had no option but to get a few bottles. I was happy to see the cork coming out in its entirety with no issues. I was ready with the decanter, but the wine in the glass was quite approachable. After the initial grippy tannins dissipated in 20-30 minutes, what was left in the glass was an absolutely sublime beauty. You see, this is where the challenge lies. Here is the technical description from the Wine Exchange: “a wine that still possesses a youthful charm as there is something to be said for ex-chateau. A beautiful plum/garnet color with very little lightening for its age. This 1997 is full to medium-bodied, showing lots of forest floor, roasted herbs, cedar, tobacco, black cherry, blackcurrant, and new saddle leather. It is opulent and is just entering its plateau of full maturity. The tannins are soft and subtle with an elegant seamless finish. ”

The description is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t help me to express my emotion. The mind singing with every sip. Pure joy in each and every sip. Enough pleasure in every sip to give a nerve enough to tell my wife, who was enjoying the wine with me “this is almost as good as sex”. A personal perspective for sure, but yes, this was the wine.

I didn’t have many expectations for 1997 Chateau Montelena Saint Vincent Red Wine Napa Valley (13.5% ABV, blend of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Sangiovese). Chateau Montelena is absolutely legendary with its role in the Judgement of Paris, especially if you had an opportunity to see the movie Bottle Shock. But Saint Vincent is an eclectic blend, produced only for 5 years from 1995 till 1999, and it is not given that this type of wine can age for 25 years. While very different from the previous Bordeaux in its profile of cherries, eucalyptus, and herbs, it had such a lip-smacking, savory and satisfying bouquet, that every sip was demanding to be followed by another sip.

Do you want a second glass?

I have no idea how to convey the pure pleasure the wine can bring. Maybe emotion is the key. There are lots of good wines out there. The wines you are happy to drink any day every day. Maybe it is the excitement that needs to be measured. Or maybe this is simply in the unyielding desire to share this pleasure with the world. The act of telling the world how amazing the wine was, and hoping that everybody will see it that way too.

Let’s share our little joys with one another. And if you know how to convey this pure wine pleasure, please let me in on that secret.

 

Daily Glass: Winning and Learning

August 29, 2022 Leave a comment

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

You never lose – learning is the opposite of winning – I think this is a better approach to life, would you agree?

I love aging my wines. The popular wine press tells people that 95% of the wines in this world are meant to be consumed shortly after purchasing. “Absolute majority of the wine is not meant to be aged,” the message says. I don’t want to obnoxiously invalidate all the expert opinions, but the subject of wine aging is a lot more complicated than the simple statement portrays.

Lots of factors play a role. The wine itself is probably the most critical factor. White wines generally don’t age too well. To be more precise, percentage-wise, a lesser number of white wines can age well compared to red wines. But this doesn’t mean that all red wines age well. For example, red Cotes du Rhone typically don’t age for longer than 4-5 years.

I wish there was an easy method to tell us, wine lovers, that “this wine will age for 30 years”, but “this one got only 10 more left”. There is no such method, however, so we need to rely primarily on our experiences. I’m not trying to disqualify all of the wonderful advice we receive from the wine critic and publications – but it would be rare to receive an aging recommendation there unless the wine is deemed of a “collector” level – which pretty much means that it will not be really affordable.

At this point, you might wonder why is all this commotion with the aging of the wines. Simple. Wine is a living thing. The evolution of the wine continues in the bottle. It is a general hope that wine can improve with time, evolve, become more complex and multidimensional.But the wine can’t evolve forever – at some point it starts “turning”, losing its delicious, attractive qualities.

It is important that the wine drinker can appreciate the beauty of the aged wine – it is not for everyone. I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way – this is simply a matter of taste. One of my most favorite examples is the blind tasting of a few Champagnes which took place during Windows on the World wine classes. After blind tasting 4 Champagnes, the group was asked to vote for their favorite Champagne. Champagne #4 got almost no votes, it was clearly the least favorite of the group of 100+ people. While revealing the wines, Kevin Zraly, our wine teacher, said “and this is why, people, you should not drink vintage Champagne”. Bottle #4 was Dom Perignon – if people would see the label before voting, you know how that would work (”drink up, honey, it is French”). And Vintage Champagne is nothing more than just an aged wine. It is just a matter of taste. The same story goes for food. For example – I love fresh oysters, and I have friends who wouldn’t put an oyster into their mouth even if this will be required to save their own life. Just a matter of taste.

But for those of us who like aged wines, that elusive quest becomes an obsession. I love the Italian term “vino da meditazione”, which applies to the wines which make conversation stop upon the first sip, and puts the whole group of oenophiles into a quiet, self-reflective state. The silence at the table becomes not deafening, but instead a very comfortable one. The silence nobody wants to break.

Okay, such amazing encounters are possible but truly rare. But the pleasure of drinking the well-aged wine is real, and this is what we are seeking. And as we don’t have the scientific method of predicting the peak of enjoyment for a given wine, we have to rely on our own experience. Which takes us back to winning and learning. When we experienced well-aged wine, we clearly won. And when the wine with age doesn’t deliver the pleasure, this is where we learn.

It is not so binary, of course. The point is that no matter what happened, we learn something. When you taste a random but amazing $10 bottle of California red blend (Toasted Head) with 15 years of age on, you learn that inexpensive wines can age too. When you taste 2002 Barolo (Fontanafredda) 10 years after release, and you see that the vintage chart declares this vintage as literally horrible, but the wine tastes good, you learn that the producer matters more than the vintage. When you taste two bottles from the same producer and the same vintage, but you love one of them and can’t stand another, you learn that bottle variation is real and that you have to always manage your expectations.

This whole rambling about winning, learning and aging was prompted by a few wines I opened last week.

First, the learning part. 12 years ago we did the Pinot Noir blind tasting with friends, with a very unexpected outcome – 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa was the best wine in that blind tasting. I loved the wine so much that I went and got a bottle to keep. Over the years, I made many attempts on the life of this bottle, until the last weekend I decided to share it with a friend. Upon opening the wine was reminiscent of the good Burgundy, with the nose offering some plums, iodine, and smoke. But the wine quickly succumbed to the tertiary aromas of dry herbs and maybe a hint of dried fruit, and while my friend really loved it, this was a complete loss learning in my book.

Then another friend was stopping shortly after his birthday. He always liked the wines, but recently started getting really “more into it”. He was stopping by for the dinner, and when we were talking about wines a few days prior, he mentioned that he started liking the Brunello and Amarone wines. There is no happier moment for the oenophile than to learn what the guest desires to drink – the cellar is instantly paraded in the search for the best and the most appropriate bottle.

I don’t know how I came into possession of the 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, I can only guess I got it as a present. This single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino was absolutely spectacular – beautiful cherries on the palate – not the fresh and crunchy ones, but more subdued, more elegant, eloped in the sage and other herbal aromatics. The wine was spectacular when we opened it, and when I finished the last drop 2 days later (wine was kept in the bottle with the air pumped out), I had a clear feeling of regret as the wine was not gone, but instead was still fresh and even more complex, with a promise of becoming the Vini da meditations in 10 years, same the 1999 Soldera had become for us – alas, I don’t have another bottle…

And then my pet peeve – you know how much I love Amarone. I got a few bottles of the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi Amarone della Valpolicella from WTSO 7 years ago. This was my last bottle, and boy it didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful in its finesse and impeccable balance all the way through. Dried fruit on the nose, powerful, well-structured wine on the palate, with more of the dried fruit, cherries, plums and herbs, and with good acidity, perfect balance and delicious bitter finish. It is not for nothing Amarone means Great Bitter – and there was this pleasant bitterness on the finish, something hard to find in most of the Amarone wines.

Here you are, my friends, my story of winning and learning. Three aged wines, two of them delicious, two that could age for far longer (learning!). One learning experience – but who knows, maybe it was only that particular bottle. Moving on.

What did you win and learn lately?

Drinking With Purpose

August 27, 2022 Leave a comment

Drinking with purpose.

Okay, so what are we talking about here?

First of all, we are talking about wine. Usually, we drink wine for pleasure. Of course, sometimes people drink just for the buzz, to forget, to relax – there are many reasons why people use alcohol, but wine (I hope) stands a bit apart from the rest of the alcohol. Wine helps us to converse with friends, create memories, enhance our food experiences and simply derive pleasure from the simple moment of existence. Then what is this purpose I’m talking about?

Wine is the product of passion. At least this is how we, wine lovers, want to see it. Wine also enables passion. Not even passion, but passions. It solicits passions. Wine is surrounded by desire, obsession, exclusivity, mysticism, glamor, science, greed, mystery, art, and devotion, it evokes all of these and many other feelings and emotions. Wine allows everyone to find their own passion.

One such passion is collecting. Yes, some people are collecting the wine. In a lot of cases, they simply do this to feel superior to others, as they have something which other people want but can’t have. We can leave this aside, as this is a boring aspect of wine. Collecting unopened bottles is not the only thing to collect around wines.

The wine offers lots of artifacts. People collect unique bottles. People collect unique labels (hundreds of thousands of different wines are produced every year around the world – and many labels can change every year – think of an endless potential here). People collect champagne and sparkling wine bottle caps – this hobby even has an official name, placomusophilia. Peope collect corks and screwtops. I collect grapes and experiences.

Many, many, years ago I came across The Wine Century Club. No, you don’t have to be 100 years old or drink 100 years old wines. It is all about grapes. Anyone who tasted 100 different grapes (obviously, in wines) – don’t have to be individual grapes, blends are totally fine – is welcome to apply to become a member of the club. The application is honor-based (well, if you lie, your palate would be cursed forever – who would want to risk that), and you get the certificate sometime after you submit the application. Tasting the first 100 grapes was relatively easy. By the time I was done with the first 100, the club was already offering the 200 grapes level (Doppel), then 300 (Treble), 400 (Quattro), 500 (Pentavini), and now even 600 (Hexavin).

After I passed the 100 grapes level, hunting for the new grapes became an obsession, which I thoroughly documented on this very blog. I had friends reaching out and asking if I already had such and such grape. I spent countless hours looking for the grape information online, trying to figure out what grapes went into this particular wine from this particular vintage. Hunting down new grapes became drinking with purpose. I didn’t care if I would like the new wine or not – if it had the grapes I didn’t taste before, that was all I needed.

As I mentioned before, I collect not only grapes but also experiences. Wines are made in all of the 50 states in the USA. Wines are made at least in 60 countries around the world, maybe more. I have a personal goal to experience (read: taste) wines of all 50 states. I also would love to taste wines made in all the different countries around the world.

This is how I collect the grapes and experiences. And this is how drinking with purpose happens. A wine from the new state or a country – yes, please! The wine with new grapes? Yes, pretty please!

Recently, I managed to find a few wines with grapes I never had before. Not only that but one of the wines was made in the region which was new to me, so the two proverbial birds were killed with one stone – err, bottle. Here are the quick notes on these wines:

First, two wines from Eastern Europe. I never had the wines of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so this was a new country I was able to add to the list. Both wines were tasty, and Tikveš Belo was probably my favorite wine out of these 4. New grapes are marked in bold:

2015 Čitluk Winery Blatina Bosnia & Herzegovina (13% ABV,  100% Blatina)
Brickish red
Plums, dried fruits, medium intensity
Sour cherries, soft, round, medium body, good acidity, soft tannins
7+, not sure how it was stored. It is still nice, simple, and easy to drink, but probably on the decline.
8, on the second day. Interesting transformation – tertiary aromas are gone, plums, cherries and sage on the palate, nice, round, pleasant.

2020 Tikveš Belo Special Selection North Macedonia (11.5% ABV, Smederevka, Riesling, Marsanne, Roussanne)
A light greenish hue
A hint of gunflint, Whitestone fruit, medium intensity but very confident nose
Lemon, a hint of grass, salivating acidity.
8, this is a beautiful food wine, will compliment a wide range of foods.

It is my second time drinking Armenian wines. I was really looking forward to Yacoubian-Hobbs white, but the wines ended up being a disappointment. The Armenian red was quite drinkable. In any case, when you drink with a purpose, you don’t complain.

2018 Yacoubian-Hobbs Dry White Wine Aghavnadzor Vayots Dzor Armenia (14% ABV, blend of Voskehat, Khatuni, Qrdi, Garan Demak)
Golden color
Stewed fruit on the nose
The palate had some stewed plums, it was overwhelming and had no acidity. The wine was devoid of balance.
N/R, Maybe a bad bottle? Cork broke while I was opening the wine using a standard waiter corkscrew. But the wine didn’t seem oxidized, maybe heat damage?

2019 VinArdi Estate Blend Dry Red Wine Armenia (13.5% ABV, 40% Areni, 35% Haghtanak, 25% Milagh)
Dark Ruby red
Wild berries on the nose
Wild berries, dried herbs, medium+ body, good structure, good acidity, excellent balance.
8-, easy to drink

Now you know all about my wine obsessions. And I get to increase the counter you see on the top of the page from 561 to 567. Little by little…

By the way, there is no stopping in sight. While I’m trying to close on 600, there are people in The Wine Century Club discussing the 800 mark. Talk about obsessions… Enjoy your wine. Cheers!

Celebrate Pinot Noir!

August 18, 2022 Leave a comment

Celebrate Pinot Noir!

Another grape holiday is upon us. This time we celebrate none less than Pinot Noir.

None less, huh? Is Pinot Noir so unique and special? Well, you be the judge.

Pinot Noir is the grape behind the world’s most expensive wines. While there are 10 or so major red grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo), the ultimate supremacy crown can only be decided between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, it is bad to use money as a measure of influence, but it is one of the “objective” characteristics of wine in the free market. According to the Wine-Searcher lists of most expensive wines (by the way, there is a new feature on this blog – a new page Most Expensive Wines allows you to see always current list of most expensive wines for a select number of grapes and regions), red Burgundies (made out of 100% Pinot Noir) on average are 12 times (!) more expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon wines

Pinot Noir might be the most versatile red grape out there. Unlike most other red grapes, it produces a full range of wine styles. Let’s see.
White wine? Check. Pinot Noir Blanc is increasingly popular in Oregon and not only. Remember, the juice of Pinot Noir is clear, so it is not a problem to produce white Pinot Noir.
Sparkling wine? Triple check, I guess. Champagne Blanc de Noir is very often made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and needs to introduction to wine lovers.
Rosé? Check. An increasingly popular addition to the repertoire of any Pinot Noir producer, in Oregon, California, and beyond.
Red wine? Well, duh. No check needed – first and foremost, Pinot Noir is a king of red wines.
Sweet/dessert? This is the only category that is still more an exception than the norm, but if you will look, you will have no problems finding late harvest Pinot Noir wines or Port-style Pinot Noir wines.

See – the whole range of wine styles. You can easily pair a whole dinner, from oysters to fish to steak and then dessert with Pinot Noir wines – try that with Cabernet.

One more unique fact about Pinot Noir is that it is practically never blended with any other grapes, with the exception of Champagne/sparkling wines. There can be lots of Pinot Noir clones mixed together – some of the producers grow 20 clones and more – but still, those are just clones. Of course, there are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines out there, but this is far from being the norm.

Pinot Noir is featured frequently on this very blog. As I was preparing this post, I decided to look at some statistics. It appears that Pinot Noir is the second most frequently mentioned red grape on the blog, with 356 posts related to the Pinot Noir (Cabernet Sauvignon is mentioned in 445 posts). It is interesting that Chardonnay is mentioned in the 357 posts, literally identical to Pinot Noir.

But it is not just the mentions – there are many memories associated with Pinot Noir.

I love saying that blind tasting is the best arbiter of the wines – in a blind tasting, it is just you and the liquid in the glass, nothing else influences your impression of the wine. It seems that our Pinot Noir blind tasting took place only yesterday – I was literally shocked to see that this post is 12 years old – the tasting took place in August of 2010. Who couldn’ve thought that 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa would be our group’s favorite wine, beating grand cru Burgundy and cult Californian Pinot? I still have a bottle of that wine and I’m looking forward to experiencing the 12 years of evolution.

Another favorite Pinot Noir memory is the 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir – an accidental $25 buy that ended up being a transcendental experience tasting the 48 years old wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon producer who is absolutely not known for the Pinot Noir wines.

And then there are lots and lots of memories of not only the wines but also of the people, passionate Pinot Noir winemakers, acquired through the work on the Stories of Passion and Pinot, an ongoing series of posts dedicated to Oregon Pinot Noir producers and Oregon Pinot Noir wines.

Did I prove my point? Is Pinot Noir the true King of Grapes? I don’t know. But for sure it is a grape worth celebrating. Cheers!

Making The Same Mistakes

August 11, 2022 Leave a comment

Are we humans prone to repeat ourselves all the time? Good and bad – first we repeat what was done again and again, then wonder why we achieve exactly the same result as before. There is nothing wrong with repeating the good things, except that we might be limiting ourselves – think about bench-pressing 150 lb all the time, without ever trying to increase the weight. That’s a good weight to press, of course, but you need to increase the weight if you want your muscles to grow.

The process of repeating the bad things is far more peculiar. We know that something doesn’t work. We know that we did something in the past and it painfully didn’t work. Should we learn? Should the brain have a mental capacity to remember the bad result of the past and then simply remember not to repeat it? You think? This is so obvious, and yet unattainable at the same time. Why? Really, why?

Case in point. My business trip took me to Anaheim in California. Going to Anaheim, people who travel occasionally would fly to LAX (Los Angeles airport), and then have quite an expensive (and potentially very long) taxi ride to get to Anaheim. People who travel know that the closest airport to Anaheim is John Wayne, a.k.a. Orange County a.k.a. Santa Ana airport. As I belong to the second group (I generally travel for business), I took an early morning flight from Newark, NJ to John Wayne airport, arriving even faster than anticipated and enjoying the easy trip.

When traveling inside the US, ideally you want to take the early flight – outside of mechanical and horrible weather issues, you stand the best chance to arrive at your destination on time and in a happy state of mind. As the day progresses, travel becomes more chaotic, as flight schedules start shifting, and every slight delay aggregates to bigger and bigger ones. See, I know my flying rules. And what I said is 10 times true for the most overloaded (and badly run) airports in the country – Newark, Washington Dulles, Houston, Boston are all stand out in this category – by the end of the day, Newark would typically aggregate about 2 to 3 hours delay – and this is in the best weather throughout the country, God forbid it rains somewhere.

See, I know my traveling stuff, right? Do you think this knowledge helped me? Yep. Of course, you figured out the answer already. No, it did not. Instead of taking 6:30 AM out of John Wayne airport to fly back to Newark, I decided to fly at 12:30. Would you expect me to apply my knowledge? Of course, but I didn’t not. After arriving at the airport about two hours prior to my on-time departure, I spent the next 4 and a half hours (that includes 2.5 hours of an actual delay) literally swearing at myself, at United, at Newark, and back to myself. What’s even worse, I managed to repeat yet another old mistake again.

Insanity – repeating the same thing over and over again, every time expecting a different result

If you like wine, and if you ever traveled through Austin, Portland, San Francisco (and many other) airports, I’m sure you noticed restaurants/bars called Vino Volo. There are more than 50 Vino Volo locations around the country. Everything in Vino Volo revolves around wine. Every restaurant has a great selection of wines by the glass and wines to buy by the bottle – as they are located past security, you can buy a bottle of wine to bring to your destination if you are so inclined.

However, my main attraction at Vino Volo is wine tasting flights. At any given moment, Vino Volo offers 6-8 different tasting flights, red, white, Rosé, each flight typically consisting of 3 wines. Each flight is accompanied by detailed tasting notes. Very often you can find a selection of local wines offered as part of the flights – Oregon wines in Portland, Texas wines in Austin, and so on. When I have time, I never pass on an opportunity to visit a Vino Volo store and taste some new wines.

This brings us back to the subject of repeated mistakes. I know full well that young and expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon wines are undrinkable, 9 out of 10. I generally enjoy Vino Volo flights, with one memorable exception being Californian Bordeaux blend Overture, the second label of Opus, which I didn’t enjoy at all. And now, while at the John Wayne airport, I chose the flight of 3 high-end but young California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, instead of taking one of the other 7 or so. Why? Was a driven by the bad mood due to the flight already being delayed? Was there a hidden, subconscious desire to exacerbate the pain? I don’t know. But this was the flight I ordered. And it successfully exacerbated my pain – which you can see in these tasting notes:

2019 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($83)
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus
Gripping tannins, green notes, black currants, tart finish.
Not enjoyable now.

2018 Vineyard 29 CRU Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena ($84)
Cherries, dust
A bit more balanced than the previous wine, still weaved on the core of green notes, but definitely more approachable and enjoyable than the previous wine. Glimpses of greatness. Maybe decanting for an hour would make a miraculous change.
7+

2018 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley ($82)
Distant hint of black currants and nutmeg
Tart, green, fruit is hiding. Almost flat in terms of soliciting an emotion.

Why do we do these bad things to ourselves? This question is half rhetorical, half actual. If you know the answer – or have a story to tell – please, I’m all ears.

A Refreshing Trip Around The World

August 2, 2022 Leave a comment

Have wine, will travel.

I love saying that.

Have wine, will travel.

While we might be dreaming about all those ways to instantly travel from our living room to Mount Everest, Bora Bora, or Singapore, wine has this magical ability to transpose, to let us be where we want to be in a blink of an eye. It works best with the bottle of wine you are familiar with, especially if you have had a chance to visit the winery and acquired some great memories. But even if you have never visited the winery, a bottle of wine is quite a unique product – every bottle of wine proudly advertises where it was made, right on the front label – when you see “Italy”, it is not difficult to picture Rome or Bologna. France probably would solicit the image of the Eiffel tower. Does Australia bring up an image of a boxing kangaroo? Oops, this can be just me. Anyway, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

So today, let’s take advantage of the instantaneous travel only wine can offer, and let’s go on that trip around the world.

The weather is hot in the Northern hemisphere, so today we will hop onboard of the white wine express.

Our first stop will be in Spain. Thinking about Spanish white wines, what grapes come to mind? To ease up on this question – boy, it is hot outside – what is the first Spanish white wine you can think of? While you are pondering that question, I can give you my answer – Albariño. Of course, you have Viura, Verdejo, Godello, and others, but to me the first association for the Spanish white wine is Albariño.

As you might have suspected already, our first stop is in Rias Baixas, roughly a 3,000 square kilometers region located along the Atlantic ocean’s coast in Galicia, in northwest Spain, where Albariño is the king. Pazos de Lusco winery is farming 12.5 acres of Albariño grapes in the south of the region, 40 km away from the coast. The name of the winery comprises two typical Galician words – “pazo”, which stands for home, usually in the countryside, and “lusco” which defines the beautiful moment between dusk and nightfall.

2021 Pazo de Lusco Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $24.95, Vegan)
Straw pale
Intense aromatics, ripe white fruit, peach, tropical fruit
Nicely restrained palate, crisp, tart, lemon, the wine makes you salivate and want food even if you are not hungry.
8, excellent. Should be great with oysters.

For our next stop, we are staying in Spain but traveling east almost to the French border, to the region called Somontano, where the wine had been produced for more than 2,000 years. In Somontano, there lies the Secastillo Valley (the valley of 7 castles), boasting 100 years old Garnacha vines at 2,100+ feet of elevation and a special Mediterranean microclimate defined by close proximity to Pyrenees mountains. This is where our next wine is coming from, Garnacha Blanca produced at the Pagos de Secastilla:

2020 La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca Somontano DO (13.5% ABV, $18, 4 months in French oak)
Straw pale
Minerality, a touch of gunflint, underripe white fruit
Beautifully playful, fresh white fruit and berries medley, crisp and clean acidity, excellent balance, delicious.
8

As I was deciding when I will taste these wines, the overarching thought came in – oysters. I want fresh oysters. Luckily, we have a new fish monger opened nearby, so procuring a few dozens of oysters was really simple. I tried Albariño and Garnacha Blanca with the fresh oysters, and while the pairing with Garnacha Blanca was not bad, the Albariño and oysters were simply a match made in heaven. Albariño was a perfect chaser, amplifying the delicious salinity of the oyster juice and if you would close your eyes, it was very easy to imagine yourself standing right next to the ocean waves and smelling the salty, fishy water. If you will have an opportunity – spoil yourself, oysters and Albariño are really tasty together.

Now that we are not hungry, we can continue our journey. We are now traveling northeast to the heart of Europe – we are going to Austria. Let me ask you the same question as before – what grape would you associate with Austria first and foremost? I hope your answer will be the same as mine, as mine is rather obvious – Grüner Veltliner.

Grüner Veltliner is unquestionably the most famous Austrian grape, with more than 37,000 acres planted. It appears to originate in Austria and as it was recently established, it is a natural cross between Traminer and St. Georgen (an almost lost grape, only recently rediscovered). Gruner is capable of a wide variety of expressions, depending on the soil types and the yield. But what sets the grape apart in the world of white grapes is rotundone, which is present in the skin of Grüner Veltliner. I only recently mentioned rotundone in the post about Syrah – rotundone is a chemical compound found in the skin of the grape that is responsible for the peppery flavors in the wine. Such peppery flavors are usually attributed to red wines – but Grüner Veltliner can happily join the “peppery family”.

The first mentions of Domäne Wachau go back to the 12th century. Today, this is one of the leading wine cooperatives in the world – 250 vintners sustainably farm about 1,000 acres of vines, and the wines are exported to 40 countries. Talk about Grüner Veltliner – Domäne Wachau produces more than 3 dozens of different Grüner Veltliner wines. As a fun historical fact, I want also to mention that in the 1930s Domäne Wachau was already producing single-vineyard Grüner Veltliner wines. And if you are a wine nerd like me, Domäne Wachau has assembled a wonderful collection of the Nerd Notes on their website, offering in-depth coverage on the terroir, soils, sustainability, cork stoppers, and lots more.

I had an opportunity to taste two of the Domäne Wachau wines – both delicious:

2020 Domäne Wachau Loess Grüner Veltliner Austria (12.5% ABV, $14 1L bottle)
Straw pale
Whitestone fruit, apple, fresh lemon – inviting and bright
Crisp, grassy notes, cut through acidity, fresh, delicious.
8, delicious and outstanding QPR

2021 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen Wachau Austria (12.5% ABV, $18.99)
Straw pale
Tropical fruit, candied lemon, herbal undertones, generous, inviting
Crisp, fresh, lemon, a hint of grass, cleansing and vibrant, perfectly balanced.
8, I should’ve tried it with oysters too – the acidity is pronounced, it could’ve worked well.

Now we will have to travel to the Southern hemisphere for our last stop – Chile.

Chilean wines need no introduction to wine lovers. All classic grape varieties are doing extremely well in Chile, producing world-class wines. But as we are taking the white wine express, that reduces the number of available options. The spotlight today is on the Sauvignon Blanc, produced by one of my favorite, all-organic Chilean wineries – Ritual. I extensively wrote about Ritual before, so instead of regurgitating the information here, I would like to ask you to read that post. Ritual Sauvignon Blanc was exactly as one could expect – delicious:

2019 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $20.99, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Open, inviting, clean, intense, a hint of freshly cut grass and currant leaf
Clean, round, full of energy, uplifting, lemon, freshly cut grass, delicious.
8, outstanding.

This concludes our wine journey around the world. Well, of course, you can continue it on your own. And if you will find something tasty, please share it with the rest of us.

 

Celebrate Syrah!

July 28, 2022 3 comments

Celebrate Syrah Shiraz!

Is it Shiraz or Syrah? The official holiday today is recently enacted “Shiraz Day”, celebrated on the 4th Thursday in July, so it is July 28th in 2022. But Shiraz is simply a typical name of the Australian wine produced from Syrah grapes – it is really Syrah that we should be celebrating here (if you disagree, feel free to express yourself in the comments section).

Syrah is one of the 9 or maybe 10 major red grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel (I live in the US, so don’t mind me) and maybe Nebbiolo. It was recently established that Syrah is an offspring of two obscure grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche, originally appearing somewhere in the southeast of France. Today, Syrah wines are successfully produced all around the world – France, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy, California, Washington, Israel, South Africa, and everywhere in between.

It is difficult (and pointless) to compare the wines based on prices, but the price can be used to measure their relative popularity (your liking of the wine in the glass has no relation to its price). Based on prices, Syrah wines are far behind red Burgundy (no wines can match the level of Burgundy prices – out of the 25 most expensive Burgundy wines, the “cheapest” on the list is $8K a bottle), and they are trailing Bordeaux first growth and California cult Cabernet Sauvignon wines. If you want to see for yourself, here are the lists of the most expensive Syrah and Shiraz wines – Wine-Searcher tracks these two categories separately.

We can also say a few words about the most famous producers around the world. Again, these are not absolute positions – unless you are “deeply in the space”, the names might be meaningless, but nevertheless, it is still a fun exercise. As a nod to the exact name of the holiday, Shiraz Day, we can look into the Australian Shiraz world’s first, where Penfolds (iconic Grange, anyone?) and Henschke are probably lead uncontestedly, with Torbeck, Jim Barry, d’Arenberg, Two Hands, Mollydooker, Tahblik definitely worth mentioning as well.

In France, great Syrah wines are concentrated in Hermitage, Cote Rotie, St. Joseph, and Cornas regions. J.L. Chave, E. Guigal, and M. Chapoutier would be on top of my list, and I don’t drink enough of the Northern Rhone wines to extend this list further.

When it comes to the USA, California, and Washington are by far the top Syrah producers, with some notable successes coming also from Oregon. In California, Sine Qua Non, Alban, and Saxum would probably be the ones I would like to mention first, but there is no shortage of other notable Syrah producers such as Carlisle, Zaca Mesa, Andrew Murray, Beckmen, and many, many others.

And then there is Washington. Syrah might truly be a king of Washington wines, produced literally by each and every winemaker, small and large. In that sea of Syrah, Christophe Baron is standing a head and shoulders above all others with his iconic Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, and Hors Categorie lines.

I didn’t tell you from the beginning, but if you ask me about my favorite wine grape, I will probably have to decide between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, both in their pure, singular, non-blended expression. My favorite two tell-tale properties of Syrah are pepper and barnyard. I recently learned that pepper notes in the wine are caused by the chemical compound called rotundone, found in the grape skins. It is not very clear why the pepper is most often associated with Syrah, it can be found in the other grapes too, but I always equate the significant presence of black pepper with Syrah. And for the barnyard smell… Ohh, I know I can be beaten up for this, as this is considered to be a fault in wine – according to the Wine Spectator, “Brettanomyces, or “brett,” is a spoilage yeast with aromatic elements that are politely described as “barnyard.”“. I can’t argue with the experts, but nevertheless, I often find the barnyard smell in Syrah wines, and yes, I do like it.

To finish our Syrah conversation on a memorable note, how about a memory exercise?

First, pour yourself a glass of Syrah or Shiraz, whatever your heart desires. Take a piece of paper and a pen. Give yourself, let’s say, 5 minutes of time, and write down the names of the most memorable Syrah/Shiraz wines or Syrah/Shiraz experiences you ever encountered.

Done?

We are not going to compare notes (there are hundreds of thousands of wines in this world), but here are some of mine.

My most memorable encounter with Syrah – actually, Shiraz – is Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz. When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was literally blown away by the purity of the black pepper expression. Ever since this is my goto example of the classic Syrah wine. Another one will be a bit unusual, but it was Elephant Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay from New Zealand – again, beautiful black pepper, and my very first encounter with Syrah produced in the land of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Then there is Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah from Applegate Valley in Oregon – organic, biodynamic wine of beautiful clarity and finesse. Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley is a connection to the beautiful experience of visiting Santa Barbara County for my first Wine Bloggers Conference in 2014. Zaca Mesa was my first stop after arrival to Santa Barbara – both hospitality at the winery and the wines themselves created this memory knot, a connection easy to reach out for. Another connection to the same WBC14 was the first encounter with the first (and the only?) AVA dedicated to Syrah wines – Ballard Canyon. The AVA status was just granted to the Ballard Canyon exactly during our visit there, and I attended a session about the Syrah wines of Ballard Canyon where Stolpman Syrah Ballard Canyon for some reason got stuck in my head – another memory connection.

There are uncountably more Syrah wine experiences (just look at the labels in the collage), but hey, the purpose of the exercise was to focus on the few of the first – and this is exactly what I did.

Here you go, my friends – another grape holiday is about to become history. Hope you had something tasty to drink, and if you care to share your most memorable Syrah and Shiraz encounters, this is what the comments section is for.

 

 

 

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