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A Weekend in [Great] Wines

What is a great wine?

Does the wine made by a famous producer make it great? Does a high price make it great?

Wine should give you pleasure. Is there a measurable amount of pleasure to declare wine “great”? 5 units of pleasure? 25 units of pleasure?

Of course, “great” is a subjective definition. The infamous “the truth is in the eye of the beholder”. Every wine lover has their own way to declare wine great, and it is not just one way – there are many ways.

I love the harmony in the wine. The perfect balance of all the components. A unique flavor. A thought-provoking bouquet that makes you want to take a sip, and another sip, and try to understand. Or the wine which makes you disconnect from the world and all of its problems, and just get lost in your own thoughts. I also love the wine which perfectly matches your expectations.

I’m sure “expectations” is yet another loaded term, but if you are into the wine, for sure you have expectations when opening a bottle of wine. You expect to find freshly cut grass and maybe a proverbial “cat pee” on the bottle of Sancerre. I love gunflint on my young Chablis. I expect a good bottle of well-aged cold climate Chardonnay to show honey and apple notes. I want succulent cherries in my Brunello. And I need cassis in my Bordeaux, and gobs and gobs of cassis on my bottle of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t get me wrong – the wine can be great if it doesn’t match expectations at all, but this is the subject for another post.

That is what I want to talk about here – the wines matching expectations. The wines that were simply perfect. And a few others that were maybe not perfect, but still delicious.

The last Sunday was Father’s Day. I usually open a good bottle or a few in honor of the holiday, but this weekend of wines started a few days prior. My sister-in-law, who lives on Cape Cod,  had her milestone birthday recently, and as she loves wine, I wanted to bring a few wines that would be worthy of a moment. She used to love California Pinot, but as of the last few years California Cabernet Sauvignon became the thing, so I grabbed a few bottles of Turley Estate Cabernet, which generally doesn’t disappoint. And of course, a few other bottles, as we had to drink something for 3 days, okay?

Before we got to the reds, there were whites. We started with 2020 Château Montet Blanc Bordeaux AOC (12% ABV, Sauvignon) which was a nice, middle-of-the-road, Bordeaux white wine, offering a hint of freshly cut grass and some Meyer lemons. We also opened a bottle of 2018 Alban Vineyards Viognier Edna Valley (14.9% ABV). It was nicely perfumy and complex on the nose, and quite big and powerful on the palate, with an interesting flavor that I could not discern – on overripe wild plum maybe. I tried this Viognier with the fresh oysters, but this was not necessarily a winning combination. Our last white was 2016 Turley The White Coat California (13.5% ABV, 40% Roussanne, 40% Grenache Blanc, 20% Vermentino) – a full-bodied, elegant white wine, plump and round on the palate, perfectly fresh and clean overall.

Summer asks for a Rosé, even though the weather was rather on the cool side – our choice of Rosé was 2021 Turley Zinfandel Rosé California (12% ABV), which was delicious. Strawberries and cranberries on the nose and on the palate, crisp, clean, refreshing – it had everything you want from Rosé.

And then there were reds. Some were more of the “placeholders”, the wines you open just to drink something before you get to the main program – as was 2021 Field Recordings Nouveau Edna Valley (12.9% ABV, Pinot Noir). Young, fresh, grapey, and tart, as you would expect from the Nouveau. We treated somewhat similarly 2018 Pedra Cancela Winemaker Selection Dão DOC (13% ABV, 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Alfrocheiro, 30% Tinta Roriz), even though this is an excellent wine in its own right – dark fruit, cherries, nice minerality, medium body, fresh acidity, and overall good balance. 2016 Pedra Cancela was wine #7 on my Top 20 of 2020 list – I think I would prefer 2016 over 2018, but I need to try this wine again by itself and not “among others” before I will be able to form an opinion.

Next was the time for magic, so the bottle of 2012 Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV) was open. I have a long history with Turley Cabernet Sauvignon wines, ever since they debuted with the 2010 vintage – this post describes my perception of the 2010 vintage and also provides some details on my initially rocky relationship with this wine. The first 2 vintages were called “The Label”, becoming simply Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon starting from the 2012 vintage. The last time I tasted the 2012 Turley Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly two years ago – you can read the tasting notes here. These 2 years made a difference, and the wine was delicious from the get-go. Cassis on the nose and the palate, layered with soft tannins, generous and powerful. Upon opening, it was varietally correct and simply superb, worthy of a great wine designation.

You take a sip of wine, you think you discovered the perfection, and you are reveling in the happy state. Then you open another bottle, catch a whiff from the glass, take a sip, and wonder how the absolute happiness you experienced a second ago can be toppled? And yet this is exactly what happened when we opened the 2013 Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV). 2013 was almost the same as 2012 – except it was better refined, more elegant, cleaner. Cassis was beautifully pronounced supported by a touch of mint and a distant note of bell pepper. Perfectly on point, perfectly matching the expectations.

The next day I wanted to deviate a bit from the Bordeaux direction with 2015 AR PE PE Grumello Rocca de Piro Nebbiolo Valtellina Superiore DOCG (13% ABV). ARPEPE is an excellent producer in the Valtellina region in Italian Alps in Lombardy, crafting Nebbiolo wines. This wine had a beautiful vibrancy of the fresh cherries, not overripe, but just ripe enough, to offer an “unmistakably Italian” feeling on the first sip. Fresh, lip-smacking cherries, herbs, well-integrated but noticeable tannins – this wine offered a well-needed break from the power of California Cabernet Sauvignon. Unfortunately, a very short break as the bottle was gone in no time.

And then the story repeated itself. We opened 1998 Château Tournefeuille Lalande de Pomerol AOC (12.5% ABV, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc), the wine I knew nothing about. I got this wine from Benchmark Wine Group a few years ago, for $30 or so. I simply got it based on the vintage and the price – the vintage is one of the few I try to collect, and the price was reasonable. First I was pleasantly surprised with the condition of the cork, which was intact – for a 24-year-old wine, this is not always the case. But then the whiff and the sip… Oh my… The precision of cassis was elevated on yet another level – don’t know how is that possible. The wine had pure, pristine cassis on the nose and the palate with a small addition of bell pepper and eucalyptus, a perfect round bouquet, a perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and tannins, just superb. After the first sip, I asked my sister-in-law what does she think about this wine by itself and in comparison with two of the previous bottles of Turley (we still had wine left there on the second day). She said that she really doesn’t want to make me upset, but she really likes it even more than the 2013 Turley Cab – and I’m fully agreeing with her. If I were to rate these 3 wines on my Drinkability scale, Turley 2012 would be an 8+, Turley 2013 is 9-/9, and the Château Tournefeuille is a solid 9 or maybe even 9+, and definitely a memorable experience.

It was not just the wine – the food and the views were quite good, despite somewhat gloomy weather during most of our visit. Local oysters were delicious. I had an opportunity to try the Swiss cheese called Tête de Moine, which also comes with its own special curler. The kabobs were delicious too. And the views of the ocean never get tiring.

We came back home on Sunday, to have Father’s day dinner with the kids. Of course, Father’s Day celebration requires a special bottle of wine. I was thinking about opening the 2005 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Alexander Valley (13.5% ABV) for a while at this point, so I decided that the celebration gives me a good enough reason to pull the cork, which I did. The last time I had this exact wine was in 2018 when I brought a bottle for a special wine dinner in Singapore. At that time the wine showed as overly sweet. 4 years later, the wine lost all of its sweetness, and now was showing as a classic Cabernet Sauvignon with cassis on the palate, but somehow now the wine was showing very lean and underwhelming. I think the wine could’ve further improved over the next 5-10 years, but as this was my last bottle, now there will be someone else who will make the discovery. I had this wine with a special burger from Darien Butcher Shop – I had fried egg, fried onion, and bacon as flavor enhancers with the burger, so the wine didn’t stand a chance to show well, but at least it was not fighting with the food.

That concludes my story of a few great wines. What are great wines in your book?


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  1. January 5, 2023 at 8:53 pm

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