Daily Glass: An [Opportunistic] Bordeaux Discovery and a Case Buy Recommendation

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

If you read this blog regularly, you might have noticed my claim of “rediscovering Bordeaux” after the Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. Now, my  happy feeling about Bordeaux was reinforced further, after a spontaneous Bordeaux tasting.

After somewhat of an extended break, we got together with the friends for dinner. Before we would eat, we were presented with a difficult task – we needed to taste 5 different Bordeaux wines – I hope you see my attempt at humor here.

bordeaux wines

The reason for this “obligatory tasting” was simple. My friend (and our dinner host) frequents a large and well known wine store on Long Island, called Pop’s Wine and Spirit, which routinely offers some legendary deals – I can’t call them any other way as the savings for the wine buyers are quite substantial. So my friend got a recommendation from his trusted sales rep to try few of the Bordeaux wines offering great value, and come back for more if he would like them.

There were 4 Bordeaux wines we needed to try as such – plus one which is my perennial favorite. Three of those Bordeaux wines were coming from the same producer, whose name I never heard before – Denis Durantou, who supposedly is a well known, and the wines we had in front of us were more of the side project for him.

After tasting the wines, which were magnificent and a great value (notes below), I had to do some research and found out that Denis Durnatou is indeed more of a pioneer and the legend, making wines at Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet in Pomerol. Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet is a part of so called “Pomerol Triangle”, which is an area with the best soils in Pomerol, where most of the “Pomerol greats” are located – I hope the names like Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, l’Evangile, Pétrus spell magic for you (yes, all amazing producers).  Denis Durantou was the first to start green harvesting in Pomerol (green grapes are removed at the early stages, to allow remaining grapes to concentrate flavor). He was also a big proponent of thermo regulation in the cellar, which is critical when you ferment the grapes. Actually, I can’t do justice to the Denis Durantou’s work in a few sentences – instead, let me refer you to an excellent article which you can find here.

2014 Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet will set you back at around $180, the futures for the 2015 seems to be closer to the $225. At the same time, all 3 of the “other” Denis Durantou wines we had a pleasure of tasting, were in the range of $17 to $24 (all prices come from Pop’s Wine and Spirit).

Denis Durantou Bordeaux wines

Here are my notes:

2014 Château Montlandrie Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $22, 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) black currant on the nose, classic, clean, mint, wow; perfect Classic Bordeaux on the palate, beautiful fruit, cassis, firm structure, perfect balance, ready now, will evolve. Drinkability: 8+

2014 Château Les Cruzelles Lalande de Pomerol Denis Durantou (14% ABV, $24, 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) green bell peppers on the nose, touch of Cassie , eucalyptus; dusty palate, firm tannins, meaty texture, very round, cherries. Will evolve. Drinkability: 8-

2014 Saintayme Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $17, 100% Merlot) dusty nose, plums, touch of roasted meat; fresh fruit on the palate, delicious, silky smooth, fresh tannins, well balanced. Drinkability: 8

Let’s talk about two more wines.

What I love about Chateau Simard is that they take great care of us, oenophiles. Chateau Simard wines are aged at the Chateau for 10 years, and only then they are released to the public – all at incredibly reasonable prices, at least so far. As you can tell, this wine was perfectly fitting my comment price-wise, and it was delicious:
2004 Château Simard Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, $22, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc) – very funky nose, and lotsr of barnyard, mint, truffles ; sweet fruits on, fresh tannins, nice depth, touch of licorice, cured meat, great balance, delicious wine. Drinkability: 8+

Now, for our last wine, you don’t even have to read this post anymore – just run to the store and get a case of this wine – at least one. You can thank me later. And by the way, I’m not the only one who thinks this wine is great – 2014 vintage got 89 points from Wine Enthusiast magazine.


2015 Château Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Superieur ($8, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) – beautiful smoke on the nose, roasted meat, dark fruit; plums and smoke on the palate, good acidity, nice minerality, savory notes, excellent overall. Drinkability: 8, incredible QPR.

Here we are, my friends – few of my “Bordeaux finds” for you. By the way, I need also to mention that my friend, who kept tasting the leftover wines over a few days, said that they all kept on opening up, especially our QPR star, so I’m serious about that case buy recommendation. I also just realized that 4 of these wines are predominantly Merlot wines, so this post is also perfectly fitting for the October being the month of #MerlotMe!

Have you made any exciting Bordeaux discoveries as of late? How is your Merlot? Cheers!

Obama’s Last State Dinner – Analyzing Wines

October 18, 2016 15 comments

Today the President Obama and the First Lady will be hosting the last (presumably, according to all the notes in the press – but he still has another 2+ months in the office) State Dinner in honor of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini.

Yes, this is not typical for this blog to talk about the state dinners, but you know, I’m always curios about the food, and most importantly, the wines which the most powerful man on Earth chooses to serve at such grand events as State Dinners – not sure if the President of the United States personally decides on the wines, but I’m sure he can weight in on the decision.

As this State Dinner will be honoring an Italian PM, it is very appropriate that the food theme will be Italian. What is even more appropriate that Mario Batali, one of my absolute favorite Chefs, will be in charge of this dinner event, working together with the White House kitchen staff.

So far, the Eater provided the description of the event and it is the only web site which posted the dinner menu, including the wines. I took the liberty of copying the menu from the Eater’s web site, so here it is:

First Course

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Butter and Sage

Wine: 2015 Patina Vermentino “Santa Ynez”

Salad Course

Warm Butternut Squash Salad with Frisee and Pecorino di New York

Wine: 2012 Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese “Napa”

Main Course

Beef Braciola Pinwheel with Horseradish Gremolata and Broccoli Rabe

Wine: 2014 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel “East Bench”


Green Apple Crostata with Thyme Caramel and Buttermilk Gelato

Petit Fours Display:
Sweet Corn Cream and Blackberry Cup
Concord Grape Bittersweet Chocolate Leaf
Orange Fig Slice
Pumpkin Cranberry Tart

Food sounds very delicious, and I’m sure Mario Batali’s work will be flawless. Let’s talk wines now.

Palmina Vermentino 2015 Patina Vermentino “Santa Ynez” – well, to begin with, there is no wine under such name, or at least I was unable to find it. As with my grape explorations, I had to play a “wine sleuth” many times, so in this case, I can only make an assumption that we are talking about the Vermentino wine from Palmina Winery in Santa Barbara county:

2015 Palmina Vermentino “Santa Ynez” ($28?) – the winery doesn’t list 2015 as available vintage yet, and 2014 vintage of Vermentino is sold out. The 2014 vintage is listed on the web site at $28. Overall, Palmina seems to be specializing in Italian varietals, so this should be an interesting wine. Note that the only bottle image available on the web site was from 2013, so this is what I’m using here.

Villa Ragazi SangioveseNext wine comes from another California winery I never heard of – Villa Ragazzi. The web site modestly advertises Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese as the best Sangiovese produced in Napa Valley – may be it is, I will let those who tried it be the judge.

2012 Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese “Napa” ($36) – 2012 vintage is not available at the winery anymore, and according to wine-searcher, there is only one shop in US which offers it at $39. The winery offers 2013 vintage at $36 per bottle – with the total production of 112 cases, I can imagine that this wine is pretty hard to find anywhere.

Ridge ZinfandelThe last wine on the list comes from the one of the most iconic producers in the USA – Ridge Vineyards. Ridge Vineyards needs no introduction to the wine lovers, producing cult Cabernet Sauvignon wine called Monte Bello and the range of Zinfandel wines from the number of appellations in California, plus many other wines.

2014 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel “East Bench” ($25 – $30) – 2014 is the current vintage of Ridge East Bench Zinfandel, so all the information is readily available on the winery web site. According to wine-searcher, this wine can be found in many shops, in the price range of $25 to $30.

There you are, my friends – 3 California wines, hand selected for the State Dinner. I’m curious if the sparkling wine will be served before the dinner, and what would be the choices of dessert wines/drinks, assuming those will be served as well – but at this point we can only speculate about those.

Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of the wines, both on their own and as a choice for the State Dinner event? What do you think of intended pairings? Cheers!




Stories of Passion and Pinot: David Nemarnik of Alloro Vineyard

October 15, 2016 1 comment
Winegrower and Proprietor David Nemarnik and winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick

David Nemarnik and Tom Fitzpatrick. Source: Alloro Vineyard

Let’s say you are looking for the site to plant the vineyard of your dreams. After many years of research, you finally find what you were looking for – it should be perfect. And so the site you find is located on Laurel Ridge, and it has Laurelwood soils. Now assume you have an Italian heritage: how would you call your vineyard? What do you think of “Alloro Vineyard”? Alloro is an Italian for “laurel”, so it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

For sure it did for David Nemarnik, who was born into a Croatian – Italian family, and he was the one who started looking for the good vineyard site in Oregon in the late 1980s and finally purchased one in 1999 – and yes, named it Alloro Vineyard. First Pinot Noir vines were planted in 1999, and the first vintage was 2002. In addition to the Pinot Noir, the varietal line-up today also includes Chardonnay and Riesling.

Alloro Vineyard is a lot more than just a vineyard. Actually, the vineyard occupies only 33 acres out of the 80 acres estate, and the whole estate is a full-blown farm, with cattle, sheep, chicken and gardens. Altogether, it became a holistic habitat, where growing grapes and making wines is simply part of the lifestyle, perfectly attuned to David’s family traditions. The vineyard is sustainably farmed, L.I.V.E. certified sustainable and certified Salmon-Safe. To top that off, David installed solar panels on the property, and now generates 100% of the electricity he needs for all the operations.

I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with David and ask him a few questions, and here is what transpired from our conversation:

Alloro Winery, Chehalem Mountain AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Alloro Winery, Chehalem Mountain AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Source: Alloro Vineyard

TaV: Having Italian roots and memories of winemaking in Italy, have you ever thought of planting some of the Italian varietals? Moreover, Croatia also offers some interesting and unique grapes – how about those?

DN: I grew up with an Italian-American mother and grandmother who were all about family meals, which also  always included wine.  Not the high-end stuff, we are talking Familia Cribari Red Table Wine.  My father was Croatian and born just outside of Triesta Italy.  Family visits to my father’s village  impressed upon me a lifestyle of artisan food and wine production.  There was the home-made prosciutto and sausage, farm raised grain for bread, corn for polenta, and of course wine and grappa.

I love Nebbiolo and the wonderful Barolo and Babaresco wines of Piedmonte.  If I were to plant an Italian varietal it would be Nebbiolo.  I was recently in Piedmonte and observed the grapes were at about the same stage of development as our own Pinot Noir vineyard here in Oregon.  It would be fun to put in an acre or two.  Learning and trying new things is part of what keeps this winegrowing business fun!

TaV: Why Riesling? This is not a very common grape for Oregon – how did you decide to plant Riesling? In a blind tasting with German, Alsatian, Finger Lakes and Australian Riesling, where do you think people would most likely place your Riesling?

DN: Years ago in the mid-nineties I was making wine in my garage for family and friends.  This was mostly Cabernet and Zinfandel.  A friend of mine who was making wine in his apartment bedroom closet finally was given an ultimatum from his wife that led him to join me in my garage.  He turned me on to Riesling.  I really like Riesling’s versatility, dry, off dry, and sweet.  So it was a natural to plant my own Riesling and make an estate wine.

TaV: Any expansion plans for the vineyards? May be some new grapes outside of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?

DN: Well we recently planted a new 5 acre block that is mostly Chardonnay with the balance Pinot noir.  I planted this on the east side of the road for a different exposure and aspect.  We also have our Riesling and a small block of Muscat.  So we currently have 33 acres planted out of 130 acres total.  I’m sure at some point I’ll plant more grapes, perhaps that small block of Nebbiolo.

TaV: You produced your first vintage in 2002, so starting from that year, what was your most difficult vintage for Pinot Noir and why?

DN:  The most difficult vintage for me was 2011.  2011 was the coolest year with the least amount of heat units since I started farming grapes in 1999.  Bud break and bloom were 3-4 weeks later than our average year.  We had a very cool summer and by early October we still had not fully completed veraison and were worried the fruit would not have time to ripen sufficiently.  We did everything we could, thinned to one cluster, pulled leaves on both sides, and prayed.  Thankfully we had an incredible October with dry and sunny weather.  In the end, we made some really nice wine.

Alloro Tuscan Vineyard

Source: Alloro Vineyard

Terrazzaa at Alloro Vineyard

Terrazza view. Source: Alloro Vineyard

TaV:  Continuing the previous question , what was your most favorite vintage and why

DN: My favorite vintage in the cellar is our 2010.  What started off as a cool growing year transitioned to a mostly dry summer with mild temperatures leading to great conditions during that critical month of ripening  prior to harvest.  The wines are elegant and complex with a wonderful balance of red and dark fruit.

TaV: You operate not just a vineyard, but also a farm , a whole habitat with lots of things happening. I’m sure you had plenty of funny stories over the years – do you care to share some of them?

DN: Yes, Alloro is really a sustainable whole farm that includes raising hay for our cattle and sheep, as well as an extensive garden, hazelnuts, and numerous fruit trees.  We compost manure from our cattle barn that is then spread on our fields as a natural fertilizer.  We have a strong food culture that I would say is aligned with the Slow Food and Locavore folks.

One funny story has us picking strawberries in the garden.  My chocolate lab named Abby disappears for a while and then returns with my neighbor’s Chinese runner duck in her mouth.  The duck with its long neck sticking out of Abby’s mouth seems perfectly calm as she proudly brings me the duck.  I carefully take the duck back to her owner’s pen…it never happened…

TaV:  I’m assuming you produce your top of the line “Justina” Pinot Noir only in the best years – how many times have you produced it so far?

DN:  Our Justina is a very special barrel selection.  Although a blend of multiple barrels, it is a barrel equivalent (or 25 cases).  Before any other barrel selections are made, we comb through every barrel looking for the very best of the vintage.  Within the context of the vintage, our Justina has the most weight; the broadest, densest, finest, and most persistent texture; the most complex aromas; and typically a higher percentage of new oak.  We have produced this wine every year since 2010.

TaV:  You get all your power from the solar energy. Was the winery designed like that from the very beginning, or did you install solar panels at some point later on?

DN:  The winery was completed in time for our 2003 vintage.  The solar panels were installed in 2008 as part of the Oregon Business Energy Tax System program.  Our goal was to invest in a green sustainable energy source.

TaV: Which are more difficult to tend for – the vines or your farm animals?

DN:  Oh, by FAR the vines!!

TaV: You produce White, Rosé, Red and Dessert wines. The only one which is missing is Sparkling wines. Any plans to produce your own sparkling wines?

DN: Possibly, if we were to add one new wine to our lineup, this would be it.  We love bubbles!

TaV:  When you are not drinking your own wines, what are your favorites from Oregon or around the world, both for whites and the reds?

DN: To be honest, I wish I spent more time visiting and tasting the many well made wines produced here in our state.  When I go to industry tastings I am always amazed at the overall quality.  I am really excited about Oregon Chardonnay and what seems to be an explosion of well made sparkling wines.   Outside of Oregon, I am a Barolo and Barbaresco fan.

Alloro Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir

Of course our conversation would be incomplete without tasting David’s wine. I had an opportunity to try his estate Pinot Noir and here are the notes:

2014 Alloro Vineyard Pinot Noir Estate Chehalem Mountains Oregon (14.1% ABV, $35)
C: dark Ruby
N: earthy smoky plums with licorice, open, medium intensity
P: sweet red fruit, licorice, touch of sage, espresso and mocca, excellent acidity, nice “meaty” undertones, medium long finish
V: 8, the wine has a lot of finesse, nice Burgundian style. Will evolve.

Source: Alloro Vineyard

Source: Alloro Vineyard

Believe it or not, but our Passion and Pinot journey is almost over. 6 winemakers, 6 stories of Passion – and Pinot, of course. I’m not saying good bye yet – Oregon is one of the hottest winemaking areas today in the USA, and with lots happening, I want to take another look at what we learned here and what might lay ahead. So I’m finishing the post with the rhetorical “stay tuned”… Is it Pinot time yet?  Cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

Craving Bordeaux Again

October 11, 2016 5 comments
visuel selection officielle 2013 des crus bourgeois du medoc

Source: Cru Bourgeois

If you listen to the stories of oenophiles, learning how they become who they are (oenophiles, wine lovers, it is), you will hear often that their world was changed with the first sip of that coveted First Growth (best of the best in Bordeaux wines), or another Bordeaux bottle of the similar pedigree – this might not be the story of millennials, but for sure it is the one for the older generations.

As I started getting into the wines, I developed utmost respect to the Bordeaux wines first by reading all possible books and articles about the Bordeaux greatness – this was well before China put the Bordeaux world upside down. This was also happening around the Vintage of the Century in the year 2000, when each and every magazine was going nuts about the greatness of that said vintage. At that time it was still possible to buy Chateau Latour for about $90, which was completely unthinkable to me as a spending on a single bottle of wine.

My first experience with Bordeaux was $6 or $7 Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superiore AOC wine, acquired at a local supermarket in New Jersey – I’m sure I don’t need to describe to you how those wines tasted like – think green branches, lots and lots of green branches, and don’t add any fruit…

Needless to say that this type of experience, coupled with prices for the better Bordeaux wines increasing faster than disappearing TGV train and discovering that the wine world is bigger than anyone’s imagination with more wines to try than there are days in an average human life, put a damper on my interest to Bordeaux wines. Don’t get me wrong – I was privileged to taste Chateau Margaux 2000, and it was beyond amazing, along with lots of other absolutely delicious Bordeaux wines. But the end result is that you will practically never find me in the Bordeaux aisle at the wine store – I will drink Bordeaux if offered or recommended, but will not proactively seek it on my own.

Until now.

cru bourgeois tasting line up

Back in June, I was lucky to be invited to Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. First of all, that means that I had to drink a lot of Bordeaux wines. Leaving that aside, it was also interesting to find women winemakers behind all of those wines – and practically all of them representing their multi-generational winemaking families.

Before we talk about wines which made me craving Bordeaux again, let’s talk about Cru Bourgeois, as this is not just some random designation.

Origins of the Cru Bourgeois go back to the Middle Ages, so you can imagine that it is impossible to give it due respect in the few lines of the blog post. According to the official Crus Bourgeois description, “The bourgeois were inhabitants of the “bourg” of Bordeaux, a town of merchants and craftsmen. During the period of English rule, they acquired rights and privileges, including exemption from taxes on the sale of the wines from their vineyards both locally (Guyenne) and abroad.

By the fifteenth century, enriched by international commerce, the bourgeois of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest properties in the region, which gradually acquired the name of “Crus des Bourgeois”.”

Cru Bourgeois classification significantly predates the the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification, but it also went through multiple turbulent times affected by French Revolution and later on by the Great Depression of 1929. In the early 19th century, Cru Bourgeois classification included about 300 producers; 248 Crus Bourgeois were listed in 1858 (divided into 3 categories); in 1932, Bordeaux wine brokers designated 444 Crus Bourgeois.


Source: Crus Bourgeois

Fast forward, the latest chapter in Crus Bourgeois history started in 2010, when union of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc finalized its new quality procedures and published its first official selection of the Crus Bourgeois producers. The whole idea behind the Cru Bourgeois classification is to control quality and ensure that the Cru Bourgeois sticker on the bottle gives consumers piece of mind. Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification covers 8 AOCs – Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. If producers from those appellations would like to be listed in the official Crus Bourgeois classification, they have to apply for it, pass the inspection and continue operating within the quality requirements of the classification – otherwise, their status will be revoked. Each bottle from the officially classified Chateaux carries a secure sticker which can be easily scanned to obtain all authentic information about producer, vintage and the wine.

To give you an idea about the process, for the 2013 classification, 251 producers were selected from 400 applications – as you can tell, obtaining Crus Bourgeois status is not guaranteed. Few more numbers – Crus Bourgeois production for 2013 stood at about 20 million bottles, representing about 26% of the total wine production in Médoc. For the past 6 vintages (starting from 2008), total Crus Bourgeois du Médoc production was about 166 million bottles. Well, if you need more facts and numbers, you can continue reading on the official Crus Bourgeois du Médoc web site.

Now, let’s talk about the virtual tasting. It was done in the usual format, over the UStream, with live chat and ability to ask questions, which was, of course, a big part of fun. Seven producers represented seven Crus Bourgeois regions (out of 8 – very nice coverage). Every winemaker had a few minutes to introduce themselves and their wines – I did my best to capture at least a few words coming from each presenter  – this is easier said than done, so below are the results of my efforts together with detailed tasting notes (except one wine – you will see below). Overall, very impressive level of quality.

Here we go:

Virtual Tasting Panel Crus Bourgeois

virtual tasting Crus Bourgeois

Magali Gyuon – the wines should be drunk at the right time – only 2009 ch la Cardonne is available on US market. 2012 is an exception. It is very good At the moment. It will close in 1–2 years, and then it will reopen in about 4 years – I have to say that this is perfectly resonates with my viewpoint on the wines – I truly believe that many wines have their “close up”, “sleeper” periods and if you are unlucky to open wine in such a period, you might not be able to enjoy it at all. This is why you always need to buy more than one bottle🙂
2012 Château La Cardonne Médoc AOC (13% ABV, $25, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: garnet
N: warm, inviting, dark berries, cassis, sage
P: round, supple, touch of green undertones, but good balance overall. Acidity on the finish even on the day two.
V: 7+, rating unchanged on the second day

Armelle Cruse – Château has open door policy. Studied in California, and she wanted to reintroduce the same style in Bordeaux. First women to become a winemaker in the family (out of 5 girls).
2012 Château du Taillan Haut-Médoc (14.5% ABV, $25, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark Ruby
N: fresh fruit, warm, open
P: fruit core, but finish is very tart, almost bitter. Needs time? yes! Much more round and approacheable on the second day; dark concentrated fruit.
V: 7- first day, 8- on the second day – much improved, tannins subsided, fruit appeared

Nathalie Meyre, has B&B at the château, winery in the family for 6 generations
2012 Château Cap Léon Veyrin Listrac-Médoc (13.5% ABV, $30, 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: freshly crushed cherries, touch of the savory notes
P: supple, fresh, good acidity, cherries, touch of white pepper, good balance, excellent spicy aftertaste
V: 8-, excellent wine, this verdict stands on the second day, may be the wine is a bit softer, but still with a good balance.

Pierre Cazeneuve represented his mother, who is the winemaker. Has strong marketing presence on Internet.
2012 Château La Garricq Moulis-en-Médoc (13% ABV, $21, 48% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 12 in French and American oak)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, cassis, eucalyptus,
P: Classic, cassis, green bell pepper, perfect balance, perfect tannin core on the finish – just right.
V: 8, excellent right now and has a great promise of aging; 8+/9- on the second day.

Mélanie Fabre – taking care of the vineyard and also a winemaker, works in partnership with parents. Makes the wine she likes – fruit forward and balanced.
2012 Château Bellevue de Tayac Margaux AOC (13% ABV, $30, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 12-18 mo ageing )
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: roasted meat, smoke, dark, brooding, tar, pencil shavings
P: dark fruit, more roasted meat, good concentration, excellent balance
V: 8, excellent, second day is equally good. Round.

Pascals Peyronie – small property works very hard and can produce wines at the reasonable price ( I have cheaper than the famous neighbors). Society of women in winemaking, 12 members, formed in 1994, first organization in France.
2012 Château Fonbadet Pauillac AOC (13% ABV, $54, 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 16-18 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet
N: borderline corked, can’t evaluate

Violaine Labauge – involved in the marketing of the wine. The Château belongs to the same family for 3 centuries. Wine is made to be enjoyable now but can be cellared for 10–15 years.
2012 Château La Haye Saint-Estèphe AOC (13.5% ABV, $20, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12-14 mo in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: mostly closed, touch of fruit and kitchen spices
P: nice touch of cherries, pencil shavings, soft, round, explicit minerality, good acidity, good balance
V: 7+/8-, rating stands the second day.

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That’s all I have for you for today, my friends. I’m glad to find some great values coming from Bordeaux – I’m sure more is to come. What were your recent Bordeaux discoveries? How often do you drink Bordeaux wines? What do you think of them? Put that comments section to the good use! Cheers!


For the Love of Chowder – 2016 Edition

October 9, 2016 9 comments

Last Sunday I had a pleasure of attending the New England Chowdafest 2016 event at Sherwood Island Park in Westport, Connecticut. The weather forecast was really “meh”, and we had an event to attend in the evening, but remembering a successful 2015 experience, I was determined – the weather will not stop me from sampling 40 delicious chowders (and lots more), no way.

While the weather was not great, it was not terrible either – grey sky but no rain was good enough to walk around for 2 hours trying all the different chowders, soups and lots more (ice cream, cheese, or Bigelow teas). Similar to the last year, all attendees were given a spoon, a ballot with the names of all participating restaurants and asked to rate what they taste on the scale from 7 to 10.5 (0.5 increments). Juggling soup cups, pencils and the charts was somewhat challenging, but it didn’t stop anyone from voting.

This year I was a bit smarter and remembered to take a decent picture of the ballot before I placed it in the box – have to say that someone else thought of it before me, as this course of action was suggested on the ballot itself (“take a picture before depositing this ballot in the box”) so people would be able to compare their own vote with the official results.

Few fun facts about the event (taken from the summary event sent out by organizers). During 4 hours of the event:

  • Over 2,000 gallons of chowder, soup and bisque were sampled (I believe it would translate to more than 100,000 samples given)
  • Over 3,000 ice cream cones were scooped by The Farmer’s Cow and almost 30 gallons of their farm fresh chocolate and whole milk was sampled

All these numbers easily translate into the main takeaway – lots of fun at the event.

Obviously, I didn’t try to write down tasting notes, just taste, rate and move on to the next. To give you an idea about happenings at the event, let me share you with you the results of the competition, as well as the picture report from the event. In the pictures, you will see my ballot so you can compare my votes with the official results. There were a number of very tasty chowders, but to be entirely honest, my favorite soup was the cream of mushroom with black truffles – the only soup I gave the 10.5 rating. I also have to mention a number of different chowders presented by the Stop’n’Shop, local supermarket chain – as the sponsors, they couldn’t compete, but their soups were simply delicious, I’m sure they would do great if they would actually enter the competition.

Same as the last year, Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington won in the category of New England Clam Chowder. Was it really the best chowder? I don’t think so, I think people were simply intimidated by the huge medal display put out by Pike’s Place. Their chowder was good – but put out for the blind taste, I don’t think it would do equally well. Anyway, New England restaurants should prepare better for the next competition which is already announced for October 1, 2017.

Here are the results:

Classic New England Clam Chowder:
1st: Pike Place Chowder – Seattle WA
2nd: 250 Market – Portsmouth NH
3rd; Take Five Cookery – Hartford CT

Traditional Clam Chowder:
1st: Donahue’s Clam Castle (Rhode Island) – Madison CT
2nd: Dunville’s (Manhattan) – Westport CT
3rd: TIE!
Chef’s Table (Rhode Island) – Fairfield CT
Parallel Post (Manhattan) – Trumbull CT

Creative Chowder:
1st: Our House Bistro – Winooski VT
2nd: Gaffney’s – Saratoga Springs NY
3rd: Smithsonian Cafe & Chowder House – North Hampton MA

1st: Crab Shell – Stamford CT
2nd: Old Post Tavern – Fairfield CT
3rd: Sam’s American Bistro – Stamford CT

Congratulations to all the winners!

Now I will leave you with pictures (lots of them!) from the event. And next year, make sure to add it to your busy schedule – the event will be definitely worth your time. Cheers!


One side of the ballot served as a directory


And another side was an actual ballot with instructions – empty at the moment


This would give you an idea of the weather – no sun, but still nice



tasting cups with  are getting ready to be carried around (most times, you had to wait in line, but few participants provided this extra touch

Tasting cups with are getting ready to be carried around (most times, you had to wait in line, but few participants provided this extra touch

Love the way some of the stands were decorated:









Even with the tasting cups, some of the presentations were clearly a standout:



This was the top creative chowder winner from Our House Bistro in Vermont – delicious!


Lots of restaurants offered their recipes/ingredient lists right there:


The recipe was very intriguing, but in my tasting cups was literally only liquid, no rattlesnake, no turkey – they really have to try better next time



img_4602Not only their showders won, but their stand desings were a standout –

Our House Bistro from Vermont:



img_4618and Pike’s Place from Seattle, Washington:


see what I mean by intimidation? When people see this array of medals, can they not vote for them?

See what I mean by intimidation? When people see this array of medals, can they not vote for them?

Yes, there was more than just chowder there:



img_4651I’m done with my barrage of pictures – almost. Here is the ballot with my vote:

img_4641Make sure to mark October 1st, 2017 in your calendars as a fun day. Enjoy your chowder!


One on One with Winemaker: Steve Lutz of Lenné Estate

October 8, 2016 3 comments
Steve Lutz

Steve Lutz. Source: Lenné Estate

For many years, I was trying to start my garden. Every year I would order my tomato plants, some peppers, and some herbs, plant them and then meticulously make sure to water them on the regular basis and hope for the best. Every year my reward would be a nice rosemary and sage (basil would always die) and maybe 10 mediocre tomatoes from 8 or so plants.

This was the story until this year, when I built raised beds, got a perfect top soil, premixed with all the proper organic fertilizers, planted tomatoes and lots more, and still collect (it is October now) a nice daily harvest of tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. The soil is the king, you know – that rich, soft, almost greasy dark goodness of the good dirt.

Don’t worry, this post is not about me and not about my amateur gardening escapades. Talking about wine, do you think the soil is important? Would you want the best possible soil for your vines, the richest and the most nutritious? Or would you believe that someone would purposefully choose the plot with the poorest possible soil, and plant there the vineyard of their dreams? Enters Steve Lutz, who did exactly that.

In the year 2000, after searching for the perfect vineyard site for 8 months, Steve Lutz climbed a steep hill on the outskirts of the town of Yamhill in Northern Oregon, and after an hour of negotiations became an owner of the plot where Lenné vineyard was planted. The chosen site had peavine soil, which is not all that rich in the nutrients. Couple that with the steep slope and no irrigation, and you got the ideal farming conditions, right?

In 2001, 11 acres of Pinot Noir vines were planted, consisting of 3 blocks (one Pinot Noir clone per block). In the first year, Steve lost 35% of his plantings. In 2003, the additional 2.5 acres were planted, only to lose practically all of it to the record heat in the same year. It was only in 2007 that Steve was able to harvest enough fruit to vinify individual Pinot Noir clones. Also in 2007, Steve opened the tasting room, and the rest of it is a history which you can read for yourself on Lenné Estate web site.

lenné vineyard

Source: Lenné Estate

I had an opportunity to [virtually, of course] sit down with Steve and ask him a few questions – here is what came out of our conversation:

TaV: Before you purchased that parcel of land that became Lenné, what made you believe that that soil can produce great Pinot Noir wines?

SL: All great soils for growing grapes have low nutrient value that limits the vines vigor. The soil type I am on is classified as the poorest Ag soil in Yamhill County. I knew the shallow, low nutrient, sedimentary soil would produce smaller clusters and berries with more concentration.

TaV: It took you about 6 years (from 2001 to 2007) to get to any level of commercial success. How many times (if ever) you were ready to declare the project to be a failure?

SL: Well there was too much sweat equity and personal money involved to turn back, but after we planted a 2.5 acre block in 2003 (one of the hottest springs ever) and lost all of it, we came close.

TaV: The soil at Lenné sounds it can produce some other interesting wines – have you thought about planting grapes other than Pinot Noir, let’s say Syrah?

SL: Well, we have grafted some Pinot to Chardonnay and have thought about grafting a little over to Gewurztraminer. The issue is that you can’t do much because it isn’t economically viable. We do have a neighbor that grows syrah which I find interesting but it’s a little like swimming upstream; cool weather Syrah is fascinating with bottle age but a hard sell young.

TaV: Outside of your own wines, what is your most favorite wine what you ever tasted?

SL: Well, years ago I had all the DRC wines about a half a dozen times and those would have to be my favorites.

TaV: Looking at the names of your wines, I’m assuming Jill’s 115 and Eleanor’s 114 are named after your daughters?

SL: No, Jill is my mother in law who lives in England and Eleanor is named after my late mother. We also have a wine called Karen’s Pommard named after my wife.

TaV: Along the same lines, I’m sure there should be a story behind the name of “Kill Hill”?

SL: Yes, that is the most shallow, stressed soil in the vineyard and we had many dead vines when we planted there in spite of burning out a clutch on a tractor trying to keep them watered the first year. I always referred to it as “kill hill” because of all the mortality. When we finally got it established I decided to blend the two clones there (114 and 667) and call it “Kill Hill.”

Lenne Vineyard

Source: Lenné Estate

TaV: You are teaching a class for the wine consumers on Dundee Hills and Yamhill-Carlton District soils, Red and Black, which includes blind tasting. How often do your students identify the wines correctly to the type of soil?

SL: Probably about 70% of the time.

TaV: Do you plan to expand the vineyard in the future?

SL: No, we have planted most of which is plantable.

TaV: If you are to expand the vineyard, would you ever consider planting white grapes, such as Pinot Gris or Chardonnay?

SL: Refer to above.

TaV: I understand that you are using low intervention, dry farming. Do you have any plans to obtain any certifications, such as LIVE, or maybe even going all the way into biodynamics?

SL: We are looking at the LIVE program right and I have thought about experimenting with biodynamics though I think some of the practices are more about marketing than having anything to do with good farming practices.

TaV: I’m really curious about particular significance of “11 months in oak” which seems all of your wines are going through. Why exactly 11 months? Do you ever change the duration of time the wine spends in oak based on the qualities of the particular vintage?

SL: No, not really. The practice is based partially on practicality in that we like to get the wines out of the barrel before harvest. But having said that my philosophy is to get the wines in the bottle as intact as possible. Letting them sit in oak for extended periods of time leads to oxidation. Pinot is very sensitive to oxidation and I would rather put it in the bottle with as much of a reflection of the vineyard as possible and let what happens in the bottle happen. Some vintages could benefit in terms of mouthfeel with extended barrel aging, but they will get that in the bottle and have less oxidation than if you gave them extended barrel age.

TaV: If you would have an opportunity to “do over”, would you choose any other location for your winery, or may be more generally, what would you do differently?

SL: I would do a lot of things differently in terms of the way we started, attention to detail in terms of farming the first year. We were in such a hurry to put the plants in the ground that we didn’t have our farming practices completely dialed in with the right equipment. As far as the site I can honestly say there is not another 21 acre site in Oregon that I would even think about trading my site for. The one thing we got completely right was finding the site.

lenne-pinot-noir-willamette-valleyTime to taste some wine, isn’t it? I had an opportunity to taste Steve’s basic Pinot Noir, and I can tell you that left on the kitchen table, the bottle was gone in no time. Here are my notes:

2014 Lenné Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.2% ABV, $38)
C: Garnet
N: Smoke, lavender, ripe blackberries, medium intensity
P: tart cherries, fresh, vibrant acidity, firm tannins and firm structure, earthiness, excellent balance
V: 8-, very good wine, food friendly, will evolve with time

Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot – now it is all about the soil and believing in yourself. We are not done yet, so until the next time – cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

One on One with Winemaker: Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill Vineyards

September 30, 2016 5 comments
Wayne Bailey Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Wayne Bailey. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

What do you think of biodynamic winemaking? As an oenophile, do you embrace it or shrug it off?

Well, it is easy for us, oenophiles, to have an opinion, informed or uninformed – but then there are people who actually live by it, meaning – practice every day.

Biodynamics was born almost 100 years ago, in 1924, when German scientist, Rudolf Steiner, presented a course of 8 lectures on agriculture. At the core of the biodynamics is a holistic approach to the agricultural work, embracing the whole sustainable, natural ecosystem – akin modern day organic agriculture. However, biodynamics goes further and adds what many perceive as voodoo element – bladders, intestines, skulls and many other “strange” items play role in the full biodynamics approach, and that puts a lot of people on offensive.

I’m sure at this point you are probably looking back at the title of this post and trying to figure out what biodynamics has to do with promised winemaker’s interview? In 2003, Wayne Bailey purchased the vineyard in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, called Youngberg Hill. The Youngberg Hill vineyard was planted in 1989 by Willamette Valley pioneer, Ken Wright, and it produced its first vintage in 1996. When Wayne Bailey was looking for the property to buy, Youngberg Hill was recommended to him as the place which has “good vibrations” – and rest is now a history. These “good vibrations” also set Wayne on the path for the holistic farming, starting with all organic in 2003 and upgrading to biodynamic farming in 2011 – and this is why you had to get the refresher course on what the biodynamics is.

Vineyard Map. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Vineyard Map. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Vineyard View Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Lots of things are happening at Youngberg Hill Vineyards today, but I will let you read about it on your own, as now I would like to share with you my [virtual] conversation with Wayne Bailey:

TaV: First vineyards were planted on Youngberg Hill in 1989. How much did you have to change between then and now?

YHC: Those 11 acres continue to produce and are healthier now than 14 years ago as a result of switching to organic and biodynamic farming practices. We have planted four additional acres of Pinot Noir in 2008 and five acres of Pinot Gris in 2006. In 2014 we grafted over half of the Pinot Gris to Chardonnay.

TaV: 1996 was the first vintage at Youngberg Hill. Have you had an opportunity to taste those wines?

YHC: Yes. The only vintage I have not had was the 1997. I had a few bottles of ’96, ‘98’, ’99 that were part of our purchase.

TaV: What do you think of them?

YHC: They were very good and reflected both the quality of the fruit coming off the hill and the ageability of the wines.

TaV: Are there any of those wines still around?

YHC: I have 1 bottle of ’98 and a few 2000, etc.

TaV: Your first vintage was in 2003. How are those wines aging?

YHC: Only have a few bottles left, but had one only a couple of months ago that was beautiful. Aging very well and was still not showing signs of deterioration.

TaV: You produce Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Youngberg Hill vineyards, and Chardonnay is on the way. Do you have plans for any other grapes (Tempranillo, Syrah,…)?

YHC: No, I am not convinced that we will see global warming impact us to the extent that we can consistently ripen big red varietals in my lifetime. That will be up to my daughters.

TaV: Do you have any plans to expand plantings beyond the 20 acres you have right now?


TaV: You went from traditional (whatever it was) farming to organic and now to biodynamic. How those transitions manifest themselves in wines? Can you taste them?

YHC: Yes. The fruit is much healthier coming out of the vineyard and into the winery, meaning that the fruit is much more balanced and more balanced ripening of the fruit across all parameters of ripeness. That shows up in the wine as higher quality (depth and complexity and balance) and more vibrancy as the wine ages in the bottle.

youngberg hill vineyards aerial photo

Youngberg Hill vineyards aerial photo Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards


Jordan Vineyard Youngberg Hill Vineyards

Jordan Vineyard. Source: Youngberg Hill Vineyards

TaV: Is the day in the life of biodynamic farmer much different from the “traditional” one?

YHC: Yes, in that you spend more time walking the vineyards and knowing each plant more intimately.

TaV: Is going all the way to biodynamic worth the effort for the grapes and wines, or is it just better for the farmer’s soul and the environment?

YHC: All of the above. You grow healthier grapes which are of higher quality, resulting in better wines. At the same time the soil and plants are healthier and will sustain better in the long run and there is no negative effects to the environment.

TaV: Youngberg Hill might be the only winery (to my knowledge) producing Pinot Noir Port. How traditional is your Port in making and style? Would you compare it to any of the Porto wines? Do Pinot Noir grapes accumulate enough sugar to be made into the Port? Lastly, do you produce Port every year?

YHC: Our Pinot Port is slightly lighter in overall structure and a little drier, not because there was not enough sugar accumulation, but because I let primary fermentation go a little longer. The production process is the same and the style is similar except for the varietal characteristics. We do not produce every year. It depends on many factors related to the vintage.

TaV: What were your most favorite and most difficult vintages at Youngberg Hill and why?

YHC: Of past vintages, 2005 and 2010 are two of my favorites for their balance, elegance, and complexity. However, 2005 was significantly reduced in quantity due to mildew; and 2010 was greatly reduced in yield due to the birds. 2015 may become my best vintage to date (currently in barrel).

TaV: When the Youngberg Hill is called a “good hill”, is this more of a gut feeling, or is it more of a specific terroir parameters – soil, climate, wind, temperature range etc.

YHC: Both. It is good from the standpoint that the terroir is excellent for growing Pinot Noir; higher altitude, marine sedimentary and basalt soils, southeast facing slope, altitude change from 500 to 800 feet, coastal breezes coming off the coast, cooler temperatures both day and night, etc. but also the peace, serenity, isolation, aquafer, underground water, and much more “natural” setting also attribute to the “good hill”.

TaV: As a biodynamic farmer I presume you are well attuned with Mother Nature. From 2003 to now, do you see the material effects of the climate change? Do you take this into account with the grape growing and wine production?

YHC: Having been in agriculture throughout my life, I have experienced the 20 year cycle of hot and colder temperatures, so I believe in another couple of years we will see temperatures going down again. However, over the long term (hundreds and thousands of years) the earth is getting warmer and the highs and lows are tending to be more extreme along with weather incidents. Does it impact my grape growing practices? No.

Hope you are still with me, and it is the time for some wine, right?

We have an open conversation among friends here, so I will dare to confess an interesting experience. I opened the bottle of Youngberg Hill Pinot (screwtop), poured a glass. Swirl, sniff, sip – nothing to write home about. Swirl more intensely, another sip – just a touch of acidity and not much else. I closed the bottle, put the wine aside and decided to give it a day. Before I tasted it the second day, my thought was – please, please, please – if the wine the same as the previous day, this post is going to be published without the tasting notes. Luckily, the wine evolved dramatically, so I’m happy to share my tasting notes with you:

2013 Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Cuvée Willamette Valley (13% ABV, $35)
C: dark Ruby
N: lavender, cherries, earth, fresh, open, medium intensity
P: first day was very tight; sweet red fruit showed up on the second day, bright acidity, vibrant, firm structure, good concentration, dark powdery medium-long finish. Still delicious on the third day, so definitely this wine can age.
V: 8/8+, well made wine, needs time to open, can age for another 10+ years

Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot – with rocks, soils and a bit of biodynamics. We are not done yet, so until the next time – cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

Fall in Montefalco: Revisiting Beauty of Montefalco Rosso and Power of Sagrantino

September 27, 2016 6 comments

montefalco-winesHistory of the grapes is full of mistaken identity cases, survival fights, global dominance going nearly extinct – yes, these are the grapes I’m talking about, not people. There are also “lost and found” stories, as in the case of Sagrantino, the Italian grape from Umbria. Sagrantino was a very popular grape for more than 500 years – until it practically disappeared in the 1960s, and made almost miraculous comeback due to the effort of the few passionate winegrowers.

My first meaningful encounter with Sagrantino wines took place 3 years ago, when I participated in the virtual tasting of the wines from Montefalco – Sagrantino’s growing region in Umbria. I don’t want to repeat everything I learned about Sagrantino the last time, so please take a look here for some interesting fun facts about Sagrantino (for instance – did you know that Sagrantino has the highest polyphenol concentration among all commonly used red grapes?).

Two groups of red wines produced in Montefalco. One is Montefalco Rosso DOC, where it is required that the wine would have at least 70% of Sangiovese, up to 15% of Sagrantino and up to 15% of the other red grapes (however, these percentages are changing). The second one is Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, with the wines made out of 100% Sagrantino grapes. Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG also includes production of the sweet Passito wines – as you would expect, after harvest, the grape bunches are left to dry on the mats for at least 2 month, before pressing and fermenting together with the skins. High tannin content helps to alleviate the sweetness of the wines.

Our tasting, very appropriately called “Fall in Montefalco”, was conducted in the virtual format, with the group of 9 winemakers presenting their wines remotely from Italy. Live Q&A discussion was accompanying the tasting via the Ustream channel (take a look at the live feed to the right).

Fall in Montefaclo Virtual Tasting

Fall in Montefaclo Virtual Tasting

Fall in Montefaclo Virtual Tasting

Few interesting facts from this presentation: There are currently 700 hectares (1750 acres) of Sagrantino planted in Montefalco, and there are 70 wine producers in the region. Current production of Montefalco Sagrantino is about 1.3M bottles, and Montefalco Rosso is about 2.2M. Someone asked one of my favorite questions of all the producers in the studio – what is the oldest vintage of Sagrantino you have in your cellars? Going around the room, this is what I was able to capture (as usual, it is hard to follow presentation and chat with people at the same time) – the oldest vintage Custodia has in the cellar is 2003, Arnaldo Caprai still has 1979 Sagrantino; Tabarrini’s oldest is 1996 and then 1999.

Before I leave you with my tasting notes I can say that overall, the wines in the tasting showed nice improvement, comparing with the wines we were drinking 3 years ago – you will also see it in my ratings, which are also higher across the board. Also as you will see from the notes, I have a sweet tooth – and not afraid to show it – Passito was my favorite wine in the tasting. Don’t get me wrong – again, all the wines were excellent, and if I have to use one word common description, the word would be “elegant”.

Here are my tasting notes:

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2013 Broccatelli Galli Montefalco Rosso DOC (13.5% ABV, $19, Sagrantino/Sangiovese blend)
C: dark Ruby
N: cherries, herbs, touch of minerality
P: bright tart cherry, leather, tobacco, cherry pit, medium body, easy to drink
V: 7+/8-, simple and nice, would work well with food

2013 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso (14% ABV, $21, 70% Sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, 15% Merlot)
C: dark garnet
N: beautiful, open, inviting, red fruit
P: warm, spicy, velvety, medium body, front tannins on the finish, leaves surprisingly light perception. Touch of characteristic leather.
V: 8/8+ (definitely 8+ on a second day, very round and elevated)

2012 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso DOC (14.5% ABV, $20)
C: Dark garnet
N: herbs, sage, touch of cherries, restrained
P: medium body, good acidity, leather, cherries and cherries pit, soft, polished, easy to drink, soft tannins, very round overall, medium finish
V: 8, was perfect PnP wine, delicious and makes you crave for more

2013 Tabarrini Boccatone Montefalco Rosso DOC (14.5% ABV, SRP $28)
C: dark garnet
N: intense, sweet plums and cherries, sandalwood, complex
P: complex flavors, lots going on, cherries, earth, nice tart, soft, supple, layered, spicy notes
V: 8/8+, will evolve with time

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2011 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $55)
C: dark garnet, practically black
N: ripe red fruit (restrained), baking spices
P: tart cherries, velvety, firm structure, full weight in the mouth, full bodied, very present, “Rutherford dust”, cherry pit mid palate
V: 8+, delicious powerful wine – if you like powerful wines

2006 Tenute Del Cerro Còlpertone Gold Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (15% ABV, $50)
C: garnet with brick hue
N: cherries, eucalyptus, oregano, intense, balsamic
P: round, layered, earthy, cherries, medium to long finish, powerful, excellent balance, another 10 years to evolve
V: 8/8+, delicious

2010 Tenute Lunelli Carapace Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (15% ABV, $35)
C: garnet
N: earthy, herbaceous, touch of cherries, medium intensity
P: round, fresh, open, cherries, tartness gets a bit in the way, but wine is very enjoyable from the first pour and sip. Long finish.
V: 8+, excellent

2010 Terre De la Custodia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (14.5% ABV, $45)
C: bright garnet
N: barnyard, medium intensity, ripe plums, roasted meat
P: crushed berries, acidity, tannins jump in quickly, very enjoyable but needs time
V: 8/8+, delicious Italian wine, will open up in about 10 years…


2009 Antonelli Passito Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (14% ABV, $49)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: dried fruit, figs, raisins, delicate – not overpowering
P: wow. And another wow. Dried fruit, but perfectly restrained. Cherry pit, tannins, acidity, tartness. Perfect balance, and very try finish.
V: 9, needs time, superbly delicious and enjoyable as it is, but will evolve amazingly…

That was an excellent tasting, I’m glad to be a part of the Fall in Montefalco.

What is your experience and opinion of Sagrantino wines? Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Ghost Hill Cellars

September 25, 2016 15 comments

Wine and mystery go hand in hand, don’t they? How about a little ghost story? Take a sip from your glass, and say it with me: “It was dark and stormy night…” – now take another sip – do you taste the difference between the first one and the second? So here is a little ghost story for you. Legend has it that during the Gold Rush in Oregon (1800s), the miner was on his way to Portland with the load of gold. He decided to set an overnight camp on top of the hill. During the night, someone got into the camp, killed the miner and took his gold. Ever since, the miner (his ghost, of course) is wandering around that hill, looking for his gold; quite appropriately, the hill became known as the Ghost Hill.

Ghost Hill Cellars

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

Ghost Hill Cellars

Source: Ghost Hills Cellars

In 1906, brothers Daniel and Samuel Bayliss purchased about 230 acres of land around that Ghost Hill, and started their farm. That farm is now staying in the family now for 5 generations, with all the cattle, sheep, hay, wheat and clover growing there. Being in the heart of Willamette Valley, it is hardly possible not to catch the Pinot Noir bug. In 1999, the Bayliss-Bower Vineyard was planted with the Pinot Noir. The Oregon wine pioneer, Ken Wright, once asked Mike Bayliss if he would sell the vineyard and how much he would want for it – as you can guess, the answer was “no”.

I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Mike Bayliss and Bernadette Bower, his daughter and 4th generation owner of Ghost Hill Cellars, and ask them a few questions – here is what transpired from our conversation:

TaV: Ghost Hill farm is 234 acres, and the Ghost Hill vineyard today is 16 acres – do you have any plans to expand it?

GHC: At the moment, we have no plans to expand, but we are not ruling out expansion.  We will have to see what the future holds.  We have 90 acres deemed plantable to Pinot Noir.

TaV: How did you come up with the idea of producing Pinot Noir Blanc? Did you see/hear someone else do this (or maybe you even tasted someone else’s wine), or was it a pure moment of bliss?

GHC: Actually, the idea of Pinot Noir Blanc came from our winemaker at the time Rebecca Shouldis.  She was talking to a fellow winemaker from France who suggested a Pinot Noir Blanc for our younger plantings of 115.  He told us that in France, half of champagne is usually Pinot Noir Blanc, so that would be a good white option for us.  We agree, it has been very successful for us.

TaV: You use Pinot Noir to its full capacity, producing white, Rosé and red, all from the same grape. So the only type of wine which is probably missing is sparkling wine, for which Pinot Noir is perfectly suitable. Do you have any aspirations to start producing your own sparkling wine?

GHC: We have discussed it, but we have no plans to start production of a sparkling in the near future.  Again, you never know what the future holds!

TaV: Did you ever meet the ghost of the deceased miner, looking for his gold?

GHC: The presence of the miner has been felt many times. Neighbors have seen and felt the presence of the ghost at dusk while riding horses. They will not ride in that area anymore. When the kids were little, Mike used to tease the kids and tell them he could see the ghost on the hill, but that is as close as we have come.

Ghost Hill Cellars Vineyard

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Grapes

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

harvest at Ghost Hill Cellars

Harvest. Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

Ghost Hill Cellars Grape Leaf

Source: Ghost Hill Cellars

TaV: Do you have any plans to start growing other grapes, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, for example, or do want to stay Pinot Noir all the way at the moment?

GHC: At the moment, we are staying Pinot Noir all the way.   We have been considering Chardonnay for future planting, but nothing has been decided.

TaV: Do you have any plans to convert your vineyards to all organic or biodynamic?

GHC: We will not go to all organic or biodynamic. It takes away too many tools to deal with emergency situations in the vineyard, but we are certified sustainable and salmon-safe, and plan to continue those practices, as sustainability is very important to us.

TaV: On your farm, you grow more than just grapes. Is farming for the grapes much different from all other plants?

GHC: Yes and no.  Some of the same rules apply to farming other crops, but grapes are incredibly labor intensive, much more so than other crops we have grown.  Grapes need your attention all the time.

TaV:Did you ever regret not selling the land to Ken Wright?

GHC: Depends on which day you ask us…  But really, no.  We want to keep the land in the family. 110 years is a long time, we aren’t ready to give that up.  The land holds so many memories for our family, we would feel lost without the farm.

TaV: Your life had been intertwined with the farm pretty much forever. With the grapes or not, but I’m sure you got some interesting stories to tell. Can you share some of your most fun (or most dreadful) moments

GHC: When we were raising beef cattle, the cattle were always getting out and had to be chased. We appreciate that the grapes never escape or have to be chased.  Our daughter will tell you her least favorite day was the morning the cattle got out and she was out chasing them in her pajamas when the school bus went by, full of her friends who were laughing at the whole situation.  Our vet from the cattle days is writing a book and has promised to devote an entire chapter to The Bayliss Farm.

TaV: You use only the very best of your wine to produce the Prospector’s Reserve. Was there a year when you decided not to produce the Prospector’s Reserve, or do you see such a situation possible?

GHC: For the 2013 vintage, we do not have a Prospector’s Reserve as we did not have enough grapes to make a reserve blend. We will only be releasing 2013 Bayliss-Bower.

TaV: When you are not drinking your own wines, what other wines from what producers and what regions do you like to drink?

GHC: Of course, we drink Hamacher.  We are discovering fabulous new Oregon wines all the time, there are so many new producers in the region.

ghost-hill-cellars-pinot-noir-blanc-with-flowersTo tell you the truth, once I heard that Ghost Hill Cellars makes Pinot Noir Blanc, I was really intrigued, so I was happy to try this wine:

2014 Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Blanc Bayliss-Bower Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA (13.9% ABV, $25)
C: light copper, reminiscent of Rosé
N: initially intense, yeasty, Granny Smith apples, citrus, then evolving to the notes of honey and then showing hint of gunflint
P: creamy and round, touch of strawberries, minerality, lemon, green apples, good structure, good acidity, medium long finish, with acidity prevalent
V: 8, very enjoyable

Here we go, my friends. I can’t tell you if the ghost of deceased miner is affecting the wines – you can try to find out on your own, by either visiting the Ghost Hill Cellars or, at least, drinking their wines. And, of course, stay tuned, as more of the Passion and Pinot stories are coming out soon. Cheers!

To be continued…

P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.

Fun #GrenacheDay Celebration on Snooth

September 17, 2016 2 comments

Does Grenache, a.k.a. Garnacha, deserves its own celebration? It used to be the third most planted red grape in the world (in the year 2000), and the most planted red grape in Spain; now it is 5th most planted red grape in the world, and second most planted in Spain. In this particular case, size might not matter (how many of you drunk the wines made from Airen, the most planted white grape in the world?) – what important is that Grenache is an essential part of lots of amazing wines, coming from everywhere in the world – France, Spain, California, Washington, Australia, Italy, there is really no limit here. Grenache is capable of amazing solo performances (think Clos Erasmus, Sine Qua None, No Girls), but more often than not, it is a great team player (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Southern Rhone, Australian GSM and thousands of others).

Yes, Grenache is worthy of a celebration. Grenache wines are quite mendable at the hands of the winemaker, giving you a wide range of expressions. What is even more important, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, even budget level Grenache wines (read: less than $10 a bottle) are very enjoyable, especially when they come from Spain. And don’t forget that under the word “Grenache” there can be three different grapes – Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris (rare), and Grenache (or Garnacha Tinta).

spanish grenache wines

A large group of “winos” assembled last night on Snooth, one of the leading online wine communities, to discuss virtues of Grenache grapes and, of course, to taste some Grenache wines. All the Grenache wines in the tasting came from Spain, two white Grenache Blanc and three of the 100% Grenache reds. Not only the wines were tasty, all of them also represented great value and great QPR, all priced under $14. The discussion was hosted by Master Sommelier Laura Maniec and Master of Wine Christy Canterbury – but to be very honest, the online discussion felt to me more like a wine bloggers conference attendees’ reunion, with lots and lots of familiar “voices” in the chat room, so I had a hard time paying attention to the presentation and was more focused on multiple dialogs taking place at the same time. Either way, it was a great fun, and wines perfectly supported the conversation.

Here are my notes for what we had an opportunity to taste:

2015 Cellers Unio closDalian Garnacha Blanca Terra Alta DO (12.5% ABV, $9, 100% Garnacha Blanca)
C: pale straw
N: intense, aromatic, white stone fruit, citrus
P: white fruit, lemon, herbal undertones, good acidity, fresh
V: 7+, very nice, food friendly (many people in the chat craved oysters)

2013 La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca Somontano DO (13.5% ABV, $14, 4 month in French Oak)
C: light golden
N: intense, vanilla, freshly crushed berries, golden yellow raisins, borderline Riesling profile with touch of petrol
P: plump, good body weight (medium to full), crisp acidity on the finish, round, firm structure – outstanding
V: 8, excellent overall

2015 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha Cariñena (13% ABV, $9)
C: dark Ruby
N: intense, freshly crushed berries, young
P: sweet fruit (restrained, not overly) with surprising structure and good acidity on the finish. Distant touch of earthiness and smoke.
V: 7+, simple and pleasant

2015 Evódia Varietal de Aragon Red Wine (15% ABV, $9, 100 years old vines, high elevation 2400–3000 ft)
C: Dark Garnet
N: very intense pure nose of fresh blueberries and blueberry pie, you don’t even need to be next to the glass
P: layered, soft, velvety, roll-off-your-tongue mouthfeel, fresh black fruit in background
V: 7+, needs time

2014 Coto de Hayas Garnacha Centenaria Campo de Borja DO (14% ABV, $14, 100% Grenache, more than 100 years old vines, 4 months in French oak)
C: garnet
N: lavender, anise, cherries, fresh, intense
P: smoke, earthiness, sage, roasted meat, sweet fruit and tobacco finish, wow; added peppery notes on the second day
V: 8+, outstanding complexity, amazing value

I would like to thank kind folks at Snooth for arranging this fun tasting and providing such an excellent selection of the value Grenache wines.

How did you celebrate #GrenacheDay? What was your most memorable Grenache wine ever – if you have one of course? Cheers!