Blending Art and Wine – Galer Estate in Eastern Pennsylvania

September 8, 2018 2 comments

Galer Estate groundsDo you like surprises? It depends, you say? Okay, let me rephrase: do you like pleasant surprises? Of course, you do – and so do I.

What’s up with this “surprises” prelude? Simple – was prompted by the recent experience in Eastern Pennsylvania – at Galer Estate Vineyards and Winery.

With the fear to sound obnoxious (feel free to stamp “snob” and stop reading), I have to say that East Coast wineries are a hit and miss experience. I’m sure this is not just an East Coast phenomenon, but here I experienced it enough to state it. When visiting the winery, I’m looking for the “full experience”. I want the winery to have an ambiance, to have a soul. To me, the wine is a thing of comfort, and this is what I want to experience when I come to taste the wine. I don’t care for glitz and glamor, I don’t care for all the little “look how many cool and utterly useless things you can buy here”. The winery to me is all about a comfort and pleasure, and, most importantly, the real, good, tasty wine.

Oh, and one more thing to add – a conversation, conversation with the person who pours the wine into your glass. I don’t want to be pontificated upon (recent experience at Akash winery in Temecula was beyond terrible), I don’t want to be ignored (“I don’t know anything, I’m just here for a weekend job, here is your wine”). I want a person who pours the wine to share their passion and pride – it makes wine tasting a lot more enjoyable.

I’m happy to say that we had this exact “full experience” on the recent visit to Galer Estate. While the winery, located just a stone throw away from the Longwood Gardens (actually, while driving to the winery, I thought I made a mistake and will simply get inside the gardens instead of the winery), started only about 10 years ago, it looks like it had been there for centuries. It is rustic, it perfectly blends into the surroundings, and it is beautifully decorated – I’m sure the fact that Lele Galer, the co-owner of the winery, is an artist, comes to play here.

Galer Estate tasting Room

Galer Estate tasting Room

The doors of the tasting room had been brought from France, some of the panels are from Italy, stained glass windows are from the midwest USA. The view of the Chardonnay vineyard from the tasting room is beautiful, and all those little details together create the right ambiance for the tasting.

The Galer Estate owns two vineyards, and when necessary, they bring grapes from other vineyards, but all the grapes are still local, coming from the vineyards within 30 miles radius, all located in the Chester County. The selection of grapes is quite eclectic – it was my first time trying Grüner Veltliner and Albariño from the East Coast. Here is what we tasted:

2017 Galer Estate Grüner Veltliner Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – fresh nose, beautiful grassy palate, great acidity. 8-, excellent effort.

2017 Galer Estate The Huntress Vidal Blanc Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – Excellent, restrained, nice balance of white fruit, good acidity, elegant. 8, one of the best renditions of Vidal Blanc I ever had.

2016 Galer Estate Red Lion Chardonnay Chester County Pennsylvania ($18) – gunflint on the nose, crisp, green apples, lemon, clean. 8, excellent wine. I’ll take a gunflint on my Chardonnay at any time, and was literally ecstatic to find it here.

2017 Galer Estate Albariño Chester County Pennsylvania ($35) – excellent, varietally correct, touch of perfume on the nose, mineral lemon notes on the palate. 7+, Unique and different – East Coast Albariño, not the wine you can expect to find here.

2015 Galer Estate Chardonnay Reserve Chester County Pennsylvania ($32) – not my favorite – I’ll leave it at that. May be a “sleeper” bottle?

2017 Galer Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Chester County Pennsylvania ($30) – practically no color in the glass. I would prefer a Rosé with more extraction. Not my favorite

2016 Galer Estate The Huntress Red Blend Chester County Pennsylvania ($30, blend of Cabernet Franc, Carmine, Petit Verdot) – excellent, clean, cassis on the nose, cassis and raspberries on the palate. Soft, good balance. 8-, an added bonus – a new grape, Carmine – the grape (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan) was specifically designed to withstand the cold of the East Coast.

We had a great time while tasting, as our host was knowledgeable and engaging. It was also great to have lunch right in the cellar room – it was too hot to sit outside, so after the view of the vineyards, the view, and mostly the smell,  of the tanks might be the most exciting for the wine lovers.

And of course we had an opportunity to snap some pictures of the vines and grapes:

Here you are, my friends. If you are visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is one of my most favorite places, put aside some time to visit the Galer Estate. Considering the full experience, this was one of the very best East Coast wineries I ever visited. And even if you have take a special trip over, you will not regret it. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Art of Food And Wine at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington, Delaware

September 2, 2018 Leave a comment

 

Domaine Hudson Special MenuAlmost for as long as this blog exists, and practically every year around this time, I confess my love of traditions. The reason it happens every year around August is rather simple – this is the time when we typically have our “Adults getaway” – a group of friends going away for a weekend of food, wine, and laughter, an insane amount of laughter.

We always spend time arranging for a special dinner – this year was not an exception. It took a bit of work, but after calling and emailing many places around our destination – Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square in Pennsylvania – we found the place which was willing to accommodate our group and seemed to offer good food and wine options. Typically we try to find the restaurant which will offer a tasting menu and allow us to bring our own wines. It does take a bit of effort to come up with wine pairings for the dishes we never tasted – but usually, we fare reasonably well at that exercise. This year, for a change, we found the restaurant which offered us a tasting menu – and paired all the dishes with wines, so all we needed to do is to come and enjoy (one would hope, at least).

It was not just the fully paired tasting menu which was different this time. Typically, when we select a restaurant, we go by Yelp ratings and close proximity to the place we are staying at. As we usually stay in small towns, the restaurants we find are more of a “local significance”. The story with Domaine Hudson is quite different as the restaurant has Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. There are only about 1200 restaurants with this type of awards in the whole of the United States, so I hope you agree that it builds some level of expectations.

All the planning behind, and finally we arrived at the Domaine Hudson in Wilmington. Once we got situated, the dinner started with the “Chef’s Surprise” (the Amuse-bouche), which became a double-surprise. The first part of the surprise was in the fact that it was not expected, of course. But the second surprise was the dish itself – Deviled Eggs.

Okay, what can be surprising about the deviled eggs, you ask? You see, for people with Russain heritage, deviled eggs is a staple of the party, and I’m very, very particular to how this simple dish is executed. I had deviled eggs on multiple occasions in the restaurants, and don’t mean to offend anyone, but in the absolute majority of the cases the dish could be described simply as “blah”. Not here. At Domaine Hudson, this was one superb deviled eggs – the egg white was smoked, the filling was creamy and perfectly seasoned, and the smoked salmon on top gave the texture and completed the dish. The simply delicious beginning of the evening.

Before we continue, I have a confession to make. Every once in a while, you want to forget all your social media obligations (obsessions?) and just be a normal person on vacation – don’t take pictures, don’t take notes, don’t try to memorize the experience, just relax, have fun and enjoy the moment. This is what I honestly tried to do. I didn’t bring my SLR, I decided not to take any pictures, just enjoy the dinner and the company. After the first sip of wine and bite of food, which were both excellent, all good intentions went out of the window, and the need to “document the story” kicked in, more as an instinct, a muscle memory so to speak. But – I was left with only my cell phone (meaning – mediocre pictures), and any missed picture opportunities are just that – missed picture opportunities. Now, let’s get back to our dinner and the wine pairings.

Duck Liver Mousse (port wine aspic, pickled stone fruit, grilled bread)
Wine: 2015 Rubus Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

Superb is a word. The mousse was delicious – texture, flavor combination with all the condiments – I finished the full ramekin by myself, couldn’t stop until the last morsel. The wine was excellent as well – nice raspberries profile, a touch of fresh fruit, not overbearing, but enough sweetness to perfectly complement the mousse. A successful pairing by all means.

Domaine Hudson Culver Farms Baby Greens salad

Culver Farms Baby Greens (grilled corn, fennel, Marcona almonds, lemon aioli, Pecorino)
Wine: 2017 Gateway Vinho Verde DOC, Portugal

Another delicious dish. Fresh, simple, light, very summer-y, fun to eat with all the different crunch elements. Vinho Verde was fresh, grassy and lemony, just as you would expect, and it obviously played perfectly with the salad. Another successful pairing.

Ricotta Gnocchi (forest mushrooms, hazelnuts, summer truffle cream)
Wine: 2016 Domaine Cornu-Camus Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, France

I love mushrooms, so this dish definitely delivered that – great variety of mushrooms, a perfect textural addition of hazelnuts, truffle cream was very flavorful. The gnocchi, which were supposed to be the star of the dish were too dense, I would definitely prefer for them to be lighter and fluffier. Still, not the dish you can really complain about. The wine was fresh and young, red crunchy berries, great minerality, very firm and structured, with excellent acidity – an excellent young Burgundy. However, the pairing didn’t work. I guess the idea was to pair on the contrast, but that didn’t work for me. But – I definitely enjoyed the wine on its own.

Nordic Halibut (Fava beans, Holland leeks, forest mushrooms, lemon butter sauce)
Wine: 2015 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley

Crispy fish? Check. Fava beans? One of my personal favorites; check. Mushrooms? Check. You got all my happy ingredients, and they worked very well together. Chardonnay was spot on – varietally correct, just a touch of butter, vanilla, apples, fresh, well balanced with good acidity. And a successful pairing for sure.

Domaine Hudson Prime Holstein NY Strip

Prime Holstein New York Strip (fingerling potatoes, Fois Gras butter, braised greens, red wine demi)
Wine: 2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley

Steak and Cab – need I say more? The steak was perfectly cooked, great flavor, juicy, good sauce – nothing else I can say – if you like steak, you would like this dish. But then the wine… This was easily the best Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted in a long time (bold statement for me, I know). This was in-your-face, juicy, powerful, super-extracted, luscious wine only California can produce – imagine having a ripe bunch of cassis in your hand, and just taking a full bite right there – cassis, blackberries, mint, eucalyptus, everything is there – but perfectly balanced, with good acidity and unquestionably dry – wow. I would never guess this wine had 15.3% ABV – it was just perfectly integrated. Bottom line – superb wine and excellent pairing.

Plum Gelato with Sugar Cookie

The meal should have a sweet ending, right? Excellent gelato, light, fresh, good flavor. A perfect finishing touch.

Let’s summarize the experience – in a word, outstanding. The food was very good, and the wine program was excellent, most of the pairings worked, so I have to say that the Best of Award of Excellence has a good merit, and it definitely makes sense to me.

Have you dined at the restaurant with similar distinctions? How was your experience? Cheers!

 

Versatility of Paso

August 31, 2018 7 comments
Paso Robles Wine Map

Source: Pasowine.com

When a typical wine consumer hears the words “California wine” what is the first thing which comes to his or her mind? I would bet that in 9 out of 10 cases, the first thought is: “Is this wine from Napa?”.

Yes, Napa Valley is the king, but the California wine landscape is a lot bigger. Today, I want to talk about a different California wine region – one of the oldest, and probably, the most versatile – the region originally known as El Paso de Robles, “The Pass of the Oaks”, which today is typically called Paso Robles, and sometimes passionately abbreviated just as “Paso!”.

At the beginning of the 1880s, Zinfandel plantings appeared in Paso Robles. For a while, Zinfandel was really “it”, adding some of the most famous vineyards, such as Dusi and Pesenti at the beginning of the 1920s. At the beginning of the 1960s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir arrived to the region, followed by first plantings of Syrah in the whole state of California in 1970s. From there on, the region (Paso Robles AVA was established in 1983) moved forward to collect numerous accolades of Wine Region of the Year, Best Vineyard in the world and others. Today, Paso Robles has 11 sub-appellations, more than 40,000 acres of vineyards and more than 200 wineries, growing more than 40 grape varieties, from Bordeaux greats to Rhone and to Spanish varieties – and did we mention Zinfandel yet?

“Versatility” is really the key word when it comes to Paso. First, there is a great diversity of the terroirs, with 11 well-defined sub-appellations (you can see them on the map), stretching from just 6 miles away from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the mountains on the east – and let’s not forget that while only 40,000 acres are under vineyards, the whole Paso Robles appellation is more than 600,000 acres, which is about three times of size of Napa Valley AVA. Such a great diversity of microclimates is very conducive to the wide variety of grapes made into the world-class wines all around the AVA. Let’s see how many times you will nod when I will mention some of the Paso Robles greats: Saxum Vineyards, making some of the best in the world Syrah; how about Zinfandel from Turley and Carlisle, some of the best of the best in the world of Zin; Tablas Creek – one of the Rhône pioneers in the area; Justin Winery, with their delicious Bordeaux blends – Isosceles, anyone?; Dracaena Wines – Cabernet Franc fanatics; Field Recordings – truly a personal favorite, making everything from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to Chenin Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Valdiguié – and all deliciously well. So, how is this list to you?

Paso Robles winesLet me take this conversation one step further and share with you some of my latest discoveries from Paso Robles:

2015 Halter Ranch Grenache Blanc Paso Robles Adelaida District (13.3% ABV, $28, 80% Grenache Blanc, 14% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Roussanne, 2% Viognier)
Light golden color
Medium intensity lemon nose, hint of jasmine flowers and lots of granite with a touch of gunflint lots of minerality – on the nose, it is minerality driven wine.
The palate is acidity-driven, fresh, crisp, bright, lemon, a touch of grass, and a distant hint of plumpness – the wine will show differently as it will warm up.
Drinkability: 8, delicious from the get-go, lots of energy

2014 J. Lohr Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.8% ABV, $35, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in 60% new French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black
Licorice, sage, dark chocolate, coffee, roasted meat, minerality on the nose
The palate is savory, bright acidity, blackberries, more licorice, coffee, medium plus body, lots of energy in every sip, dark and concentrated.
Drinkability: 8-/8, softer and rounder next day, showing up some cassis.

2014 Treana Red Paso Robles (15% ABV, $45, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 17 months in French oak, 70% new)
Dark garnet with a purple hue
Concentrated cherry pit and some funk initially, noticeable green bell pepper – or was it corked?
The bright palate, good amount of savory fruit with licorice, blueberries and cassis, noticeable sapidity, medium to full body, good acidity, nice balance
Drinkability: N/R. This was not a bad wine, but there was an annoying component in the taste profile, which gave a borderline corked impression and was adding sharpness to the wine – also it didn’t subside. I need to try this wine again to have an opinion.

2014 Aaron Petite Sirah Paso Robles (15.6% ABV, $48, 88% Petite Sirah, 12% Sirah, 22 months on lees in 50-60% new oak)
Black color. Just black with a touch of dark garnet hue on the rim.
Nose most reminiscent of a nice espresso, with a touch of vanilla. Swirling opens up some blackberries and massive, colored legs (I always thought the color in the legs is the trait of Syrah, but apparently, Petite Sirah has the same).
The palate is dense, concentrated, roasted meat with some coffee and blueberries, nice pronounced acidity, velvety texture. Massive wine, but surprisingly approachable.
Drinkability: 8, would be amazing with the steak.

2015 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $22, 78% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 7% Alicante, 2% Tannat, 2% Syrah, 16 months in 30% new oak barrels)
Dark garnet
Pleasant aromatics, medium plus intensity, Chinese five spice
A touch of tobacco, good acidity, expressive tannins. Needs time
3 days later – wow, dramatic difference. I simply put this wine aside with a cork, without pumping the air. Significantly improved aromatics, tobacco, blackberries, hint of caraway seed. The bright and round palate, cherries, great interplay of acidity. I never thought I would say this, but it seems a lot more of an Italian Primitivo style also with the back end minerality. Happy wine for sure – I can finish the bottle by myself. Drinkability: 8 (day 3)

2015 Eberle Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah Paso Robles (14.8% ABV, $28, 100% Syrah, 18 months in 50/50 American/French oak)
Dark garnet
Closed nose from the get-go, the palate shows some dark fruit, a touch of vanilla, but not much more. Second day (just re-closed without pumping the air out) – what a difference! Dark fruit on the nose, supple berries on the palate, a touch of pepper, round, medium to full body, good acidity, overall delicious.
Drinkability: 8 (second day)

What do you think – did I prove my point about the versatility of Paso Robles? What are your favorite Paso producers and wines? Cheers!

Drink Local: Texas, Georgia, Walmart

August 27, 2018 10 comments

Whenever I travel, whether for work or leisure, I always love to try local wines – adding an occasional winery visit is a cherry on top, for sure.

Drinking local had been a habit for a long time (here are some posts if you are interested in my past discoveries), and I have to say that more often than not, the curiosity is rewarded handsomely, with tasty, unique and different wine discoveries.

At the end of June, I was in Texas, and of course, I wanted to taste the local wines. I didn’t have time to visit a supermarket, so to my delight, I found a full line of Texas wines at the happy hour at the Residence Inn hotel where I was staying. All the wines where from the winery called Messina Hof, which, according to the website, is a very prolific producer, offering 70 different wines – well, everything is bigger in Texas, right? Here is what I had an opportunity to try:

Messina Hof Red Wines

2017 Messina Hof GSM Texas (14%ABV, 52% Syrah, 35% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache) – earthy aromas, cherries, good acidity, tart blackberries, good structure, excellent overall. 8-

2016 Messina Hof Reflections of Love Private Reserve Texas  (13.5% ABV, Merlot based blend?)
Touch of eucalyptus and dark fruit on the nose
Perfectly clean, varietals correct Bordeaux with cassis, well integrated tannins, crisp structure, excellent overall. 8

2016 Messina Hof Pinot Noir Private Reserve Texas (13.5% ABV) cherries on the nose, good cherries and and plums on the palate, well integrated, well balanced, medium plus weight, round, smooth. Not necessarily a traditional Pinot Noir rendition, but well enjoyable. 7+.

The only supermarket I managed to find the time to visit while in Texas was the one at Walmart. There was no Texas wine there (sad, but rather expected), but I couldn’t leave empty-handed, couldn’t I? I settled on two wines, both of which I picked solely on the basis of a cool label (yes, sorry, you can make as much fun of me as you want – I did like that critter label with the duck) and the price. I have to tell you that I actually got lucky, and ended up with two very decent wines:

NV Lucky Duck Shiraz South Eastern Australia (13% ABV, $3.99) – yes, simple, but very clean and nicely balanced. Good but not overbearing amount of red and black fruit, good acidity, warm spices. Medium body. Pleasant and easy to drink, outstanding QPR. 7+

2016 Prophecy Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (12.5% ABV, $8.99) – unquestionably a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, while surprisingly restrained. Fresh, Crisp, cassis undertones, touch of tropical fruit and fresh cut grass, Meyer lemon notes, clean acidity. Excellent QPR. 8-

At the end of July, I had an opportunity to spend a weekend in Atlanta. I didn’t have much time, but still managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the local Total Wines, which, to my delight, carried the selection of the local wines:

Local Selection at Total Wines Marietta

Local Selection at Total Wines Marietta

Local Selection at Total Wines Marietta

Many of the wines were either fruit wines or pointedly sweet wines, however, I managed to find the Château Élan wines, which promised to be dry, and were priced in the category I consider “reasonable” (at $19.99). Here are the notes for the wines I got:

2015 Château Élan American Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Georgia (13% ABV, $19.99)
Light golden
Touch of gunflint on the nose, herbal profile
Very unique and different on the palate compare to most of the Sauvignon Blanc wines. Green apple, tart lemon acidity, clean, fresh.
8-, more reminiscent of Chardonnay than Sauvignon Blanc – well drinkable and delicious overall.

2016 Château Élan American Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Georgia (14.5% ABV, $19.99)
Dark garnet, almost black
Classic Cabernet all around – nose is open and inviting, with a touch of casis and mint
same on the palate – dark fruit, cassis, fresh cherries, medium+ body, soft tannins, good acidity and overall good balance.
8-, very quaffable

I wish I had an extra few hours to visit the winery, which I understand is located about an hour away from Atlanta, but this will have to wait until the next visit. In any case, I get to update my “wines of 50 United States” page with one more check-mark :).

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Any local discoveries you want to share? Cheers!

Seeking Pleasure in Bordeaux

August 16, 2018 5 comments
Cotes de Bordeaux map

Source: Cotes de Bordeaux website

Let me take a safe guess: if you consider yourself a wine lover (oenophile, wine aficionado – you can choose your own designation), the word “Bordeaux” is sacred for you. Even if you hadn’t had a glass of Bordeaux in five years, I would safely bet that there was a period in your oenophile’s life when Bordeaux was “it”, the wine to admire and worship, and you would never pass a glass of a good Bordeaux if an opportunity will present itself – and if you ever had that “glass of a good Bordeaux”, you will happily attest to that.

Of course, the clout of Bordeaux is often linked to the so-called First Growth chateaux, 5 of the most famous producers in Bordeaux and in the world, and a few others having a similar level of influence, such as Chateau Petrus. However, for the most of oenophiles, First Growth and other wines of the same caliber are mostly a dream – you can never find them, and even if you will find them, you can’t afford them. However, Bordeaux, being one of the largest wine regions in France, both in terms of the size of vineyards and a volume of wine production, is so much more than just the First Growth – there are lots and lots of Bordeaux wines worth seeking.

Case in point – Côtes de Bordeaux appellation – approximately 1/10th of the Bordeaux appellation, both in size of vineyards and wine production. In exact terms, Côtes de Bordeaux consists of 6 sub-appellations (Côtes de Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux and Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux). However, based on the old adage of “rising tide floats all boats”, the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux was created in 2007 and it united all sub-appellations under the single AOC Côtes de Bordeaux, which was launched in 2009. The individual sub-appellations are still indicated on the label under their names (Blaye, Cadillac and so on) to signify differences in the terroir, but we all know the power of the brand marketing…

Leaving all the technical details aside, the beauty of the Côtes de Bordeaux is in its artisanal wine producers, many of whom are certified organic and biodynamic, and more and more producers embracing sustainable methods – which all translates into the quality of the wines. Also, considering that most of the producers don’t have big brands to support, the wines also deliver great QPR.

Let’s move from the theory to practice – yes, you got me right – let’s taste some wines. I had an opportunity to taste 2 white and 2 red wines from the region and was literally blown away by these beautiful wines and the value they delivered. As usual, I also played a bit with the wines to see how they will evolve – you will see it below in the notes.

2015 Château Puyanché Blanc Sec Francs Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (14% ABV, $14, 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Semillon, 7 months in 30% new oak)
Light golden color
Ripe white stone fruit, vanilla, touch of butter.
Ripe white fruit, minerality, round, mellow, touch of butter, beautiful
8+, lots of pleasure

2016 Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux (13%, $20, 50% Sauvignon, 50% Sémillon, Vin Demeter)
Light golden color
White stone fruit, apricot, tropical fruit notes
Beautiful ripe white fruit, vanilla, apples, butter, clean acidity, can be easily mistaken for Chardonnay
8+/9-, superb, just wow. Lots of pleasure.

2014 Château Cap de Faugères Castillo Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (14% ABV, $17, 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark Garnet, almost black
Mint, eucalyptus, green bell pepper, touch of underripe berries
Underripe blackberries, tart, crisp, firm, mouthwatering acidity. Finish extends mostly into mouthwatering acidity with a touch of tannins and slight alcohol burn.
7, needs time. Might work well with food, but on the first day, not tremendously enjoyable on its own.
Day 2: 8-, cassis, ripe fruit, good power good balance
Day 3: 8-/8, soft, layered, full body, great aromatics on the nose, voluptuous and generous. Great transition.

2015 Château Peybrun Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (13% ABV, $18, 80% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in thermo-regulated tanks)
Dark garnet
Green bell pepper, baking spices, intense, distant hint of barnyard, touch of nutmeg
Pepper, tart cherries, noticeable acidity, medium-light body, well noticeable tannins on the medium-long finish.
7, needs time.
Day 2: 8-, dark fruit, soft, round
Day 3: 8-, great aromatics, touch of roasted meat, licorice, sweet cherries. Eucalyptus and cherries on the palate, touch of iodine, soft, well integrated, good balance.

As you can tell, the reds were excellent, and the whites were stunning (which is great considering that only 3% of the total wine production in the region are whites – 97% are red). If you will take into account the prices, these wines represent simply some solid and unbeatable deals (yep, a case buy, if you will).

Côtes de Bordeaux common message is Bordeaux, Heart & Soul – after tasting these wines, I have to agree. If you are seeking pleasure in Bordeaux wines, maybe you don’t need to look any further. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Flinders Lane – Visiting Australia in Stamford

August 5, 2018 7 comments

Flinders lane Stamford DecorFor those of us who like to travel, why do we like it so much? More often than not, the travel itself is not fun – the stress of the airport, cramped planes with the seats getting narrower by the minute, airline food – it leaves lots to be desired. But once we arrive, it is the experience that makes all those travel troubles worth it – the culture, the people, food, wine – this is what we are looking for.

Visiting Australia is squarely on my “bucket list” – I’m sure one day I will be able to experience the culture. I had been drinking Australian wines for a long time – this doesn’t replace visiting the winery, but it is as close as it can get. When it comes to food, the only place in the USA which can be associated with Australia is a chain of Outback Steakhouse restaurants – they constantly run the ads on the TV, with supposedly an Australian-accented narration – this is as much of the Australian experience as you can get there (the voice in the ad might be the most authentic part of experience).

And then Flinders Lane Australian restaurant opened in Stamford. Of course, when I was invited to visit, I was excited – not as much as if it would be an actual country, but still. I would guess the name of the restaurant takes its roots from one of the oldest streets in Melbourne, Flinders Lane, which now hosts a variety of little shops and the restaurants.

What authentic Australian food should you expect to find at the Flinders Lane? I actually know very little about authentic Australian food, so let’s see: Kangaroo? Check. Vegemite (have you heard of it?  I will explain later)? Check. That’s about all I know, so let’s just talk about our experience.

You have to start the evening with a cocktail, right? Well, even if you disagree, it is still right – and this is what we did. Fresh Grapefruit Mule (Absolut Elyx Vodka, Cucumber, Grapefruit, Lime, Bundaberg Ginger Beer) was very refreshing. Floral Cucumber Margarita (Blanco Tequila, Elderflower, Cucumber, Thai Chili Tincture, Lime, Agave) was different but equally refreshing. Limoncello Collins (Villa Massa Limoncello, Vodka, Lemon, Club Soda) – just look at that presentation, isn’t it too pretty to drink? Nicely lemony and very tasty overall.

If we are talking cocktails, we have to talk about the wines. The wine list is not very large, but diverse and versatile, with reasonable prices and a good selection of wines by the glass. I also was happy to see the Australian wines on the list (which is not common for the most of the restaurants, but hey – if not at Flinders Lane, the Australian restaurant, where else?). I had prior experience with Hewitson Baby Bush Mourvèdre, and this 2014 was outstanding – soft, round, supple, perfectly balanced – it was an excellent accompaniment to our dinner.

The dinner was divided into the courses, so here is what transpired:

Course 1

We started with Arancini (black garlic mayo, pecorino cheese), which were outstanding, very good texture and flavor. Pork Sausage Rolls (sambal mayo) was more of a traditional Australian style (at least this was my understanding), and a very tasty bite. And Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, Truffle Soy dressing was perfectly presented just for the single bite – and there are very, very few things which are more delicious than a combination of fresh burrata and heirloom tomato. Yum!

Course 2

Next, we had Tuna Tartare (soy mirin dressing, cucumber, plantain chip) – I’m extremely particular about my tuna tartare, and I have to honestly say that this was not bad, but not my favorite. Something was not matching in the flavor profile – for my palate, of course. Pork and Veal Meatballs (ricotta salata, grilled baguette) were delicious, crispy on the outside, but airy enough inside.

Flinders Lane Diver Scalops

Flinders Lane Kangaroo Salad

Course 3

Truth be told, scallops are probably my most favorite choice of protein. If there is a scallop dish on the menu, there is a very, very good chance that that would be the dish I would pick. Diver Scallops (cashew chili relish, hijiki) didn’t disappoint – perfectly cooked, perfectly spicy – very tasty. And then the Kangaroo salad (chili lime dressing, cilantro, crispy garlic) – my first taste of the kangaroo, lean and gamey taste profile, rather as expected, overall quite tasty.

Course 4

Branzino is another one of my favorites, and this Pan-seared Branzino (sesame ginger broth, bok choy) was excellent – delicious, great flavor combination, might be the tastiest dish of the whole dinner. Of course, you have to have the Australian lamb if you are visiting the Australian restaurant – Braised Lamb Gnocchi (tomato, pecorino) had a nice flavor, but very lamb-y in your face, which is generally not my thing, but overall this was not a bad dish.

Vegemite

Okay, now let’s talk Vegemite. First, the disclaimer – Vegemite was not a part of our dinner – this was something I knew as quite famous in Australia (not always in a good sense) and was very much interested in experiencing, so I asked Chef Brad Stewart if we will be able to try it, and he gladly obliged. If you are wondering what the heck is Vegemite, you can read about it here. It is a paste made from yeast, and it has an extremely (my opinion) pungent flavor. It plays somewhat of a role of peanut butter in the Australian school lunches, typically used a spread on a piece of bread or a toast. I made a mistake of not trying it with butter as it was offered to us, and I can tell you – it is not my thing. But – I tried it, that what matters! 🙂

Flinders lane Sticky date Pudding

Flinders Lane Pavlova

Course 5 – Chef’s selection desserts

Do you think Australians eat dessert? Of course they do – and here what had an opportunity to try

We had Lamington (traditional Australian dessert), Sticky Date Pudding (another traditional Australian dessert and Chef Brad’s grandma’s recipe), Carrot Cake (Chef Brad mom’s recipe) and Pavlova – don’t ask me for individual notes, please – they were all one better than the other, absolutely delightful, and a great finish to our dinner.

 

Here you are, my friends, I hope I didn’t make you too hungry – while you are contemplating your trip to Australia, you can come to Flinders Lane here in Stamford to get a little taste of it now. No boarding pass required. Cheers!

Guest Post: Why You Need to Drink Wines From Victoria, Australia, and Where to Try Them

August 3, 2018 4 comments

Today I want to offer you a guest post by Lucia Guadagnuolo who is a tour host and blogger for Wine Compass. When she’s not traveling or indulging in the fried delights of Southern Italian cooking, Lucia enjoys discovering the ever-changing food and wine scene in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. She’s also recently completed the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines.

Becoming well regarded in the wine world for its cool climate expressions, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise of an Australian wine region. Warm sunny beaches and rugged Australian outback is what we’re used to seeing, and big bold Shiraz is probably what you’re used to drinking. While this might be true for the majority of Australia’s wine producing regions, Victoria, which is located in the South-East of the continent, experiences quite a cool to moderate climate. This, of course, is due to its latitudinal position, but also the cooling breeze from the Southern Ocean. So what does all this mean for those of us interested in exploring more of the wines from Australia? It means subtle, but varied expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The two most planted varieties in the region, in both Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, where most plantings of these varieties are found.

Australia has somewhat of a more relaxed approach to winemaking than some of the more traditional, old world countries. This means winemakers have the freedom to experiment and create wines from many different varieties that rival those of France, Italy and Spain combined. This same creative nature and desire for something different extends to the cellar door experience. Smaller boutique wineries, producing premium wines, are offering an intimate experience for visitors. You’ll often find the winemakers themselves pouring you a tasting, and giving you first-hand knowledge about the wine in your glass. It really doesn’t get much better than that!

So now you know why you should be drinking wines from Victoria, let’s find out the best places to try them…

Yileena Park – Yarra Valley

Carved into a hillside at the base of the Christmas Hills in the Yarra Valley, Yileena Park offers a unique and homely cellar door experience. They make premium wines that really highlight the great quality fruit being grown in the region today. Most of the wines at Yileena Park are aged for a minimum of four years before release, the reserve range is aged for 6 years, and the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 8 years before it’s available at the cellar door for purchase and tasting.

While you enjoy your wine, you get to experience endless views of the Steels Creek mountain range and devour a platter of smoked olives, cheeses, nuts and olive oil – all produced using the very barrels that their wines are matured in. Owners Bob and Diane are also always on hand to chat about the current vintage, and those gone by.

Pimpernel Vineyards – Yarra Valley

This quiet little cellar door in the heart of the Yarra Valley, is making a lot of noise in the wine industry, undoubtedly producing some of the best premium wines in Victoria. If you love your Pinot Noir, then you’ll be spoiled for choice with a significant range available and open for tasting. You can even compare different Pinot clones and the different winemaking techniques used to produce wines from each one. They also produce some outstanding Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Shiraz, as well as some amazing blends.

Quealy Winemakers – Mornington Peninsula

A true testament to the Australian spirit of doing things a little bit differently, Quealy Winemakers on the Mornington Peninsula have set the standards in the region for growing unique varieties. The first to plant Pinot Grigio in the region and sell Friulano commercially, they have a range not often seen on the Peninsula. Pioneer winemaker Kathleen Quealy is often on hand at the cellar door to give you an insight into their winemaking techniques, and is always willing to give guests a private tour of the winery. Also, one of the few producers using terracotta amphora to mature their wines, which you’ll be lucky enough to sneak a peak at when you stop by for a tasting.

Ocean Eight – Mornington Peninsula

Set on a beautifully manicured garden landscape, this winery and cellar door really is picture perfect. In fact, the only thing better than the surrounds, are the wines. Not for sale anywhere else in the world outside of this very cellar door, you absolutely must visit Ocean Eight when on the Mornington Peninsula. Their premium range includes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Not a huge offering, but what they do, they do extremely well. Enjoy a tasting in their underground cellar, you won’t regret it.

Wine Compass are the Victorian wine country specialists and offer private guided tours of both the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, with bespoke itineraries specifically tailored to you.

 

Thinking About Albariño, or Notes from Albariño Deep Immersion with Snooth – 2018 edition

August 1, 2018 2 comments

Luckily, Albariño doesn’t need an introduction to the wine lovers anymore (if you think I live in lalaland, please speak up). Albariño is the best known white grape of Spain, making crisp, dry, minerally-infused, refreshing white wines, perfectly suitable to support any seafood dish, as they always had in their native Galicia region. As with most of the white wines, Albariño is typically associated with summer, but it is a versatile wine all year around – and typically very reasonably priced.

Albariño tasting 2018

For the second year in the row, I had a pleasure of participating in the virtual tasting of Albariño wines, organized by Snooth, one of the largest online wine communities. I will not delve into the technical details of the region, as I had an extensive coverage in last year’s post, and instead, I will simply share my notes for the wines we tasted.

Here are the notes, sorted by the sub-region of Rias Baixas:

Sub-region: Val do Salnés:

2016 Condes de Albarei Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13.5% ABV, $15)
Light straw
Lemon, lemongrass, hint of peach
Lemon, good minerality, medium body, good mouthfeel, mostly acidity on the finish
8-, good balance, round

2017 Pazo Señorans Albariño Val do Salinés Rías Baixas DO (13.5% ABV, $25)
Straw color
Rich citrus – lemon, grapefruit, orange
Clean acidity, lemon, thyme, good minerality, vibrant, fresh
8-, excellent

2017 Nai e Señora Albariño Val do Salnés Rías Baixas DO (13% ABV, $15.57)
Straw pale
Tropical fruit, white flowers
Round, clean, good balance of fruit and acidity
8, definitely one of the favorites.

2017 Paco & Lola Albariño Rías Baixas DO (13% ABV, $21.99)
Lightest color of all, straw pale
Lemon, mint, nice minerality
Fresh, crisp, cut-trough acidity, lemon grass
8-, round and extremely refreshing

Sub-region: Contado do Tea:

2016 Fillaboa Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $20)
Light golden
Candied lemon, vanilla, touch of butter, medium+ intensity, inviting
Crisp acidity, fresh, touch of salinity, fresh lemon, steely notes, vibrant
8-/8, excellent

2017 Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18)
Straw pale
Sage, lemon, hint of overripe white peach
Good acidity, lemon finish, Meyer lemon notes
7/7+, Needs more vibrancy.

2017 Bodegas As Laxas Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18)
Light straw color
Lemon, touch of minerality,
Minerality, forthcoming acidity, hint of grapefruit, Mayer lemon, good balance
8-, very good, balanced wine

Sub-region: O Rosal:

2017 Valmiñor Albariño Rías Baixas DO (13% ABV, $18.99)
Light gold
Fresh white plums, intense, pineapple, very inviting
Crisp acidity, lemon notes, fresh
7/7+, nice, simple, varietally correct

2016 Don Pedro Albariño De Soutomaior Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $18.99)
Light gold
Touch of honeysuckle, white flowers, hint of peach
Crisp acidity, pure lemon, vibrant, clean, lots of minerality, good midpalate weight
8-, steely goodness of the young Chablis, excellent, lots of pleasure. This wine will dramatically evolve over the next 5-7 years.

2017 Altos de Sorona Rosal Rías Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $20, blend of Albariño, Caiño, Loureiro)
Straw color
Lemon, sea air, minerality
Lemon, crisp acidity, good weight, fresh, vibrant.
8-, excellent balance, can be had by itself as a summer day thirst quencher, or with some oysters (would work beautifully)

2017 Terras Garuda O Rosal Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $23.99, 70% Albariño, 10% Loureira, 20% Caiño Blanco)
Light golden color
Tropical fruit, guava, candied lemon, vanilla
Rich, generous, hint of watermelon and pineapple, crisp acidity, fresh, vibrant
8-, excellent

If you want to see the recording of the tasting, you can find it here. If you want to try the wines we tasted, most of them are still available on the Snooth website, also at a great price – take a look here.

I have to say that the quality was excellent across all the wines we tasted, with some of the standouts, such as Nai e Señora Albariño. Is Albariño a part of your standard wine routine? Do you have any favorites? Cheers!

P.S. Procrastination sometimes offers benefits – this tasting took place in May, but today (August 1st, 2018) is International Albariño Day, so I guess the post about Albariño is quite appropriate.

Can You Enjoy The Wine In The Can? Yes You Can!

July 28, 2018 10 comments

I couldn’t resist a little fun with the title, but really – what do you think of the wines in the can?

Let me ponder at the subject a bit while you give it a thought.

I’m sure that I qualify as one of the pioneers of the wine in the can. Here is an article in LA Times, talking about wines in the can showing up around the USA, and explaining why those make sense. This article appeared in September of 2015. Here is the link to my own post, titled “My First Can of Wine“, written back in November of 2014. So yes, I can claim some familiarity with the subject.

My first can of wine was produced by Field Recordings, a very unorthodox winemaking company to begin with, offering strange wines, with strange labels, unusual blends, aged in unusual barrels (Acacia wood, anyone?) – but ultimately, unquestionably delicious. I wrote numerous posts about Field Recordings wines, starting from 2011 – you can scroll through a few pages here. Field Recordings went on to create a club dedicated to the wines in the can (suggestively called Can Can Club), and then they even created a whole new company, called Alloy Wine Works. One of the fun parts of that Can Can club membership was to observe the progression of packaging and delivery of club shipments of canned wines – from packing bubble-wrapped cans in the same wine shipping box as the regular bottles (didn’t work too well), to the Fedex Tube:

to the practically a masterpiece of packing:

Okay, I probably got a bit off on the tangent here – this post is not about Field Recordings, but rather about wine in the can as a category, so let’s continue our discussion.

First, I think we need to establish a very simple truth – wines in the can are NOT a reduced, lower quality, cheap leftover junk wines – they are full-blown, legit, properly made wine of the same quality as all other wines made at a given winery, simply presented in the different format – a high quality lined aluminum can. These are the same wines, people, and if you want any takeaway from this post, this is my main point. One more time – these are the same wines, which are simply packaged in cans instead of being packaged in the glass bottles.

Now, why do we need wines in the can? I don’t want to get into the whole “cool factor” and “millennials” discussions – yes, those are important, I know, as they further democratize wine and bring new people to try the wine for the first time. But all of these can be categorized as a marketing gimmick, and I want to look for the actual benefits of the canned wines. Let’s see:

  • On the go: Canned wines are perfect on the go. It is much easier to stuff a can of wine exactly as you would a can of soda into your backpack, and off you go. When you decide you want to drink the wine, it is very easy to open, and you don’t need to look for the glass. And even two cans of wine will be lighter than one bottle of wine, for the most of the cases. As we said – just get it, and go.
  • Safety: Wines in the cans are a lot safer around small children, and generally anywhere where glass is simply a bad idea – like a beach or a pool.
  • Convenience: Standard size for a can of wine is 375 ml, which is half of the bottle. If you want to drink white, and your friend is in a mood for a hearty red, having two different cans is easier than opening two bottles of wine.
  • Experimenting and variety: with the smaller format and different packaging, there is an opportunity to create new types of wines or even go beyond wine. With Alloy Wine Works, I had wines going way beyond white, red and Rosé – wines finished with beer hops, wines mixed with coffee, plums, stout and lots lots more.

I’m sure there are other benefits of wines in the can, but – do cans of wine have only a good side without a bad one? As you know, this is never the case in life, so let’s talk about challenges:

  • This is wine, not a beer!: It is important to remember that a can of wine holds half a bottle of wine – not beer. What’s my point, you ask? A typical can of beer contains less than 4% of alcohol. Typical wine – 13% as the least, so that one can of wine is equivalent to at least three cans of beer in terms of alcohol volume – you better remember that. Half a bottle of wine is not something you can easily dismiss.
  • Once it’s open, it’s open: if you just want to have a glass of wine, it is easy with the bottle – open, pour a glass, close the bottle back. It is not going to work like that with the can – once it’s open, it’s open, and there is no going back. This problem has an easy solution – provide a plastic cap which can be used to reclose the can – but so far I didn’t see too many of those sold with the cans.
  • Aging: I don’t think this is a real problem, as I don’t expect much of the aging-worthy wines to show up in the can, but in any case, keep in mind that the wine cans are better not be lost in the cellar.

Here you go – my take on the wines in the can. I didn’t plan to include much of tasting notes in this post, but I can tell you that this year I had wines in the can from California, Oregon, Australia and Long Island, and all of them were well made tasty wines.

At this point you had plenty of time to come up with your opinion about the wines in the can – would you please share it with everyone? Here is an easy poll for you – let us know what you think about canned wines! Cheers!

Sabering with a Steak Knife

July 10, 2018 9 comments

When I’m opening a bottle of sparkling wine, my first desire is always to saber it. Sabering is a lot more fun than just twisting out the cork. Opening sparkling wine in the standard way, by twisting a bottle out of the cork, should produce no sound, maybe just a little “sigh”. When the bottle is sabered, the loud pop is expected, and the sparkling wine siphons out of the bottle – I hope you agree, this is lots more fun.

In the act of sabrage, the bottle is open with a small sword appropriately called the saber. This is how the typical saber would look:

I don’t believe I ever used the proper saber before, but considering the weight of it, it should be a pretty easy exercise – I used the chef’s knife successfully a number of times, works perfectly on the properly chilled bottle of Champagne or similar classic-method sparkling wine (it is all about high pressure of the liquid in the bottle).

Instead of a saber, it is a lot more fun to try random objects for the sabrage. My sabering attempts are not anywhere as prolific as Jeff The Drunken Cyclist’s (here is his latest success with the “espresso thingy”), but I had my own documented successes with the wine glass, and failures with the stapler and even with the knife.

This time around, I was opening the bottle of Cava, and encouraged by the Jeff’s latest success, I wanted to use some random object for sabering – so the steak knife was something I grabbed.

This is my beloved Laguiole steak knife, which is perfect for slicing the meat, beautiful and nicely balanced – however, it is very light. I was positive this will not work, but this is part of the fun! My first two strikes led to the glass starting to chip off around the neck, which lowered my confidence even further, but you can see this all for yourself here (apologies for the format of this video – a rookie mistake with the iPhone after not making videos in a while…):

 

As you can tell, it worked! Next time you will be opening a bottle of Champagne – have some fun with it. Cheers!