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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!

Drink Local, North Carolina Edition – Chatham Hill Winery

December 15, 2017 1 comment

Chatham Hill WineryOnce again, I was on the road. And as you know, if I have the slightest chance, I will look for the local wine. If I can also throw in a winery visit – that becomes a double pleasure.

In these terms, this time around, it was exactly a double pleasure. While visiting Raleigh in North Carolina I managed to squeeze in a short visit to the North Carolina winery call Chatham Hill, located in the town of Cary (about 20 minutes from Raleigh-Durham airport).

I had an opportunity to try North Carolina wines for the first time a few years ago while connecting through the Charlotte airport. I had favorable impressions after the first experience, thus was definitely looking forward to the opportunity to expand my “wine map” of the 50 United States.

The Chatham Hill Winery was founded in 1998. When Chatham Hill Winery opened, it was the 14th winery in the state of North Carolina – today, there are more than 185 wineries and 525 vineyards there. Chatham Hill was also the first urban winery in the North Carolina –  they don’t own any vineyards. The absolute majority of the wines at Chatham Hill are made either from the North Carolina grapes, coming primarily from the Yadkin Valley AVA, or from the grapes shipped from California (Lodi).

Chatham Hill winery produces a good number of different wines, both dry and sweet, with the total production of about 5,000 cases per year. With this production, it is considered a “medium size” winery by the North Carolina standards. I tasted through many wines the winery offers, but took rather scarce notes, so for what it worth, here is a roundup:

Chatham Hill Winery Whites

2013 Chatham Hill Winery Chardonnay Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($18) – a bit unusual, big body, good balance, nice overall

2015 Chatham Hill Winery Riesling Lodi California ($16) – not a traditional style, doesn’t speak Riesling to me, but still quite drinkable

2014 Chatham Hill Winery Perfect Harmony Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($25, unoaked, 70% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier) – dry, playful, tropical fruit notes

Chatham Hill Winery Reds

2012 Chatham Hill Winery Cabernet Franc Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($20) – soft, round, very pleasant

2014 Chatham Hill Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($20) – beautiful, smooth, blackcurrant on the nose and the palate, layered, great extraction, excellent wine overall and lots of wine for the money. Clearly my favorite wine from the tasting.

2013 Chatham Hill Winery Merlot Yadkin Valley North Carolina ($16) – excellent balance of fruit and acidity, dark fruit on the palate, very good overall

2015 Chatham Hill Winery Malbec ($18) – a bit sweeter than previous few wines, but refreshingly light for the Malbec and very pleasant overall.

2015 Chatham Hill Winery Petite Sirah ($22) – good fruit, good acidity

Chatham Hill Winery Muscadine Yadkin Valley North Carolina (11.5% ABV, $15) – Not sure what the vintage was, the wine was just released and not available yet for the public – raisins and dry fruit medley on the nose, touch of Isabella grapey profile on palate, clean acidity – very nice effort

I find trying local wines to be truly a humbling experience, always bringing out great surprises – that Cabernet Sauvignon was just a pure, varietally correct, stand out – would happily drink it again in a heartbeat.

The wine is simply an expression of passion and art, and there are truly no limits to the creativity and obsession wine lovers share, anywhere you go. Drink local, my friends!

 

 

 

Drink Local, Colorado Edition (and Don’t Lose Hope)

August 21, 2017 17 comments

I’m an eternal optimist. Even when I’m worrying about something, deep inside, I still believe that everything will be okay – one way or the other (sometimes we really have to look for this “okay”, but this is a subject for the whole other post).

This “life’s attitude”, of course, reflects on my approach to wines. Particularly, a belief that in today’s world, good wines can be made everywhere and anywhere – not only in a few places we know can produce the good wines. And anywhere I travel, I’m always looking to prove myself right – which I call “drink local”.

This time, my travel took me to Denver, Colorado. Colorado sounds as good as any other state in the US to be able to produce wines, so once I situated at my hotel in downtown of Denver, off I went to the closest liquor store in Denver.

While walking to the store, literally few steps before it, I saw a sign for the “Wild Women Winery” – I couldn’t even believe my luck, to find a city winery short walking distance from the hotel, also with a very cool sounding name. So I walked in and situated at a bar table, looking at the bottles with super-creative, super-colorful labels.

Talking to the bartender, I learned that while the winery is located in the Colorado (downtown Denver, to be precise), they make wines from the grape juice which they get from California Central Valley, as the winemaker believes that local Colorado grapes are too young to produce a good wine. Fine – the proof is always in the glass, right?

I decided to try 3 wines for $5 (happened to be an extremely wise decision, as opposed to trying 7 for $10, you will understand why in a minute).

The first wine was Viognier – a touch of overripe Apple with sage on the nose. Good fruity palate nice acidity, golden delicious apples. Not my favorite, but not bad. Not amazing, but drinkable.

My next choice was Cab/Merlot blend and that wine really threw me off – too sweet all around, no balance, no acidity, just a sweet fruit. Don’t remember when was the last time I disliked the wine so intently.

At that point I realized that all of the wines the winery offers are non-vintage wines, so I tried to discuss it with the bartender, but unfortunately, she didn’t know what “vintage” means, and I had to face the issue that certain basic concepts we, oenophiles, take for granted, are not so easy to explain in the simple terms. Nevermind.

The last wine, Petite Sirah, had a sweet chocolate nose, bitter-sweet type. Sweet fruit compote on the palate, definitely too sweet, but more acidity than the previous wine. Mostly plum notes with the equivalent acidity of just ripe, but not overripe plum. A marginal improvement.

This visit really left me at the feeling of deep disconcert – I see a lot of passion on the labels, but the soulless concoctions inside the bottles were really conflicting with the bright images.

I gladly left the winery and headed over to the liquor store. Here I had another surprise – a sticker shock. I understand that the wine store is located in the downtown of Denver. But Colorado wines aren’t that well-known, aren’t they? There was a good selection of the local Colorado wines present, none of them cheaper than $20 (okay, $19.99 if it makes you feel any better). Really? On my recent trip to Canada, I had a phenomenal selection of tasty wines under $15. Now, especially after the first tasting fiasco, I had to spend $20+ for a bottle which I might just have to pour down the drain?

After going back and forth and trying (unsuccessfully) to obtain an advice of the store clerk (”I tasted only this one wine”, “yeah, yeah”, “huh, you don’t like sweet wines? Really?”), I settled on the bottle which looked the most Colorado-authentic while still staying in the low $20s- Two Rivers Syrah – at least the information on the back label suggested that the grapes were harvested in Colorado.

Two Rivers Syrah Colorado

The wine was definitely an upgrade over the previous experience, but still no cigars. As this was nevertheless a better wine, here are my typical-style notes:

2015 Two Rivers Château Deux Fleuves Vineyards Syrah Mesa County, Colorado (14.1% ABV, $22.95)
C: dark garnet, nice visible legs
N: blackberries, tar, tobacco, sage, medium to high intensity
P: sweet berries, tobacco, good acidity
V: 7-, it is drinkable, but sweetness too prevalent.
7 on my the second day – sweetness subsided a bit, and roasted meat notes showed up. Still, the finish is mostly sweet fruit with a touch of tobacco.

On the last day before leaving Denver, I still had a bit of the free time and decided to give Colorado wines one more try. I found another wine store, still within short walking distance from the hotel, with good reviews on Google, and took 20 minutes walk. This store had a much smaller selection of Colorado wines, but a little bit better prices (by a few dollars, nothing major), and incomparably better, knowledgeable service. I left with the bottle of The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc – The Infinite Monkey Theorem is another city winery – but unlike Wile Women Winery, this one I would be happy to visit if I had more time.

Infinite Monkey Theorem Cab Franc

Remember I told you about eternal optimism? It finally worked, as this Cabernet Franc was well worth of writing home about:

2015 The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc, Colorado (12.9% ABV, $21)
C: dark ruby
N: tobacco, sweet bell peppers, freshly crushed blackberries
P: bright, fresh, freshly crushed berries, intense sweet tobacco, a touch of pepper, clean acidity, vibrant.
V: 8, outstanding. Would gladly drink that every day.

There you have it, my friends – my first real encounter with Colorado wines. I was happy to prove myself right and find a good wine made in Colorado. As a collector of experiences, I was also happy to add another checkmark to the list of states I tried the wines from – if you are like me, feel free to compare your records 🙂 Have you had the wines from Colorado? Express yourself in the comments section below. Cheers!

When in Canada … Drink Local, and Visit LCBO

July 26, 2017 7 comments

tasting Niagara winesTruth be told, I love visiting foreign countries. Ability to do that without flying is a huge bonus. So if you live in the Northeast USA, the only foreign country one can visit without flying is Canada – and if you live in the South of the USA, you better really love driving. However, I start getting off the tangent here, so let’s get closer to what I really wanted to talk about.

I don’t know how many times I visited Canada in the past 20 years – really a lot, as it is so close. I had a lot of business meetings there, which would be typically 2-3 days in and out – those would usually involve flying. I’ve done a lot of vacations and long weekend giveaways. Here comes the strange part – with the exception of one trip, I never bought wine in Canada before (outside of restaurants and duty-free shops, where I would typically buy Scotch and not wine). And that one exception was our vacation a few years ago, when we stumbled across beautiful wine region of Niagara-on-the-Lake (more details here and here), and bought a good number of wines at the wineries – I even broke the Canadian law (unknowingly), which apparently prohibits one from moving the wines across province’s borders.

A recent meeting took me to Toronto, and of course, being a wine geek I am, and remembering great experience of a few years back, I definitely wanted to taste some local wines. If I wouldn’t be a blogger who also like to read other blogs, I’m sure I would be quite oblivious to the ways one can obtain a retail alcohol in Canada – but thanks to my wine blogging friends from Canada, like Bill @ Duff’s Wines, I knew the magic word – LCBO! Whatever the acronym stands for, I understood that this is the key word for one looking to buy a bottle of wine. While walking from the train station to the hotel, I saw the magic word written on the store – and this was the “aha moment” – I’m going to have some fun!

If you are into wine, I’m sure you will understand the “Disneyland for adults” analogy for the wine lover at a wine store – especially when it is as large, brightly lit and spacious as the LCBO store I visited. Aisles and aisles of treasures, some under the glass, but still ohh so visible and attractive – good wine store is the place wine lover has a problem leaving on their own. You really need to have a serious reason to walk out of the wine store – it is so much more appealing to look and look and look.

It was definitely interesting to look at the wine selection and the prices – but my end goal was to get a few of the local wines, which means Niagara Peninsula in this particular case, however without spending much money. I ended up with three wines – the Riesling, as I simply love Riesling, and this is the grape which folks in Canada know very well how to handle right; Pinot Noir from Inniskillin, simply because I love Inniskillin, and I had some good Canadian Pinot Noir wines before; and Cabernet Franc, simply because I love the grape, and I had very good experience with Château des Charmes in the past.

When I started writing this post, I found out that all three wines come from the different sub-appellations in Niagara. Here are my notes:

2015 Reif Estate Riesling  Niagara River VQA (12% ABV, CAD 13.95)
C: Straw pale color
N: Touch of petrol on the nose, honey notes
P: Touch of honey on the palate with cut through clean acidity. Excellent balance, very nice overall
V: 7+, very good wine

2015 Inniskillin Niagara Estate Pinot Noir Niagara Penninsula VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
There is an interesting story with this wine. I was very much looking forward to trying it. When I twisted the cup off, I didn’t hear the traditional crackling noise of breaking of the cup off the ring, and it also opened very easily. My first thought was that the someone opened the wine before, but this was very strange. I poured a little taste, tried it – didn’t like it at all. Decided that somehow wine got opened prior, and obviously it was not drinkable anymore. In two days, just before throwing out the bottle, I decided to taste it one more time – and to my amazement (and delight), the wine came around to a fresh and crisp Pinot Noir – a favorite of this tasting:
C: Garnet
N: touch of tobacco and underripe cherries
P: fresh herbs, tart cherries, touch of smoke, good structure, crisp, medium finish
V: 8-, very enjoyable

2015 Château des Charmes Cabernet Franc Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: Fresh berries, freshly crushed blueberries, open, inviting
P: balanced fresh blueberries on the palate – not overripe, but nicely tart, with good acidity. Tobacco showed up on the second day, still perfectly drinkable, nice wine.
V: 7+

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, here are some of the wines observed at LCBO. It was fun to see lots of high-end wines. Bordeaux selection was definitely better than the Burgundy, and France definitely trumpeted California. But anyway, here you can see it with your own eyes:

Niagara VQA wines

Niagara VQA wines

Canadian wines - cool labels

Canadian wines – cool labels

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Alsace wines - ready for that crab

Alsace wines – ready for that crab

Canadian Rosé

Canadian Rosé

Inniskillin Merlot

Inniskillin Merlot

Canadian wines - more cool labels

Canadian wines – more cool labels

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Latour

Château Latour

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Château d'Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château Chaval Blanc

Château Chaval Blanc

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Marchesi di Barolo

Marchesi di Barolo

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Jewels of Canada - Ice Wines

Jewels of Canada – Ice Wines

Vérité La Joie

Vérité La Joie

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Scotch Selection at LCBO

Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

There you have it, my friends. When traveling, drink local. And yes, when in Canada, go and visit the LCBO – just make sure you have enough time for it. Cheers!

Pleasures of Drinking Local

May 8, 2017 2 comments

I love travel -seeing the world, different cultures, different people, different traditions, and, of course, different food and drinks. Food is given, as we all have to eat, so one way or the other we get to experience local cuisine. But then what I drink is also very important to me, with the same spirit of exploration.

I love drinking local. And, of course, when I say “drinking”, I primarily mean wine. When travel, I always make an effort to find and try local wines. Unknown and obscure? Perfect – the less I know about the wine, the more pleasure it brings. Drinking local wines doesn’t mean I have to visit the wineries. More often than not, my trips don’t include any spare time and any facilities to reach the wineries. But – in many places, and I would even say, in increasingly more places, you can still find local wine at local shops, as long as you willing to look for it.

Templarsky Sklepy St Laurent

It is, of course, the best when you are visiting places where the wine is part of the culture, like most countries in Europe (sorry, never been to Latin America or Australia, but somehow I think I would do fine there as well). If the wine is a part of the culture and tradition, it almost guarantees you authentic wine experiences – and what is very important – without breaking the bank. In the USA, for instance, the wine is still a part of the fashion and not part of the tradition, thus in USA, finding reasonably priced wines is extremely difficult, and finding locally produced and reasonably priced wines is simply a mission impossible. Wait, I didn’t mean for this post to be a rant, so let me get back on track.

This time around, my travel took me to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. I’m sure for many (most?) of people, as soon as they will hear “Czech Republic”, the very next image of the local drink is  – of course – a beer. This makes perfect sense, as Czechs are internationally known for their beer, same as Germany or Belgium, and rightfully so. But – what most of the people don’t know is that Czechs also had been making wines almost forever – okay, starting from approximately the 2nd century – long enough? Czech wine never made it to the levels of fame of French or Italian wines – but that doesn’t decrease the pleasure of drinking Czech wines in any way.

I discovered Czech wines for myself last year, when I had delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris ( you can read about it here). Thus I had no doubts that Czech wine is something I’m going to look for upon arrival.

The hotel I’m staying at is adjacent to the shopping mall, which includes a supermarket, a wine store and some other food stores, all of them selling wines. And mind you – at the prices which make you smile from ear to ear. So far I got the wines from the supermarket, and you will see the prices I paid in the descriptions of the wines, as usual.

I had an easy criterion for selecting the wines. Price – of course, but there was another important requirement  – new grapes. As you can see the grape count in the right column of my blog page, I continue my grape journey, so I’m always on the lookout for the additions to the list. Of course, it is usually not that easy – the name of the grape in the local language might sound new and unique – but once you do the research, you can easily find out that there is nothing new about that grape. For instance, take a look at Rulandské modré – sounds unique, right? Meanwhile, it is only a local name for Pinot Noir. Or Rulandské šedé – must be something indigenous, right? Nope, it is simply the Pinot Gris.

Obviously, that didn’t stop me. I found two new white grapes, and for the red, the name looked so cool (Svatovavřinecké) that  I had to get it, despite the fact that this was the local name for the St. Laurent grape – well, how often do you drink St. Laurent wines anyway?

I started with the red wine, as whites needed some chilling – and 2015 Templářské Sklepy Svatovavřinecké Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5, 100% St. Laurent) didn’t disappoint – light garnet color. Pleasant nose with touch of spices, sage, lavender, tobacco, hint of blueberries. Fresh fruit on the palate, tobacco, pepper, medium body, mouth-watering acidity, light, pleasant. Drinkability: 8-/8, a proof that delicious wine doesn’t have to be a fruit or tannin bomb.

Czech White wines

The whites where new, unique and different. One was made out of the grape called Muškat moravsky, which is a cross between Muscat Ottonel and Prachtraube. The other grape was called Pálava, and it was a cross between Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, first selected in 1953. I’m always a bit concerned with the new white wines (many things can go wrong), but this two were simply a stand out. I guess I was simply lucky. Or may be my palate is cursed. Of well. Here are the notes for the white wines:

2015 Chateau Bzenec Muškat moravsky Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5)
Straw pale color. Perfumy nose, reminiscent of Gewurtztraminer but of a lesser intensity, white peaches, lemon undertones, touch of minerality. Delicious on the palate – succulent fresh whitestone fruit with practically no sweetness, ripe green apple and touch of lemon. Clean, balanced, fresh, excellent acidity. Medium-short finish, pleasure to drink. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8/8+

2015 Vinium Velké Pavlovice Pálava Pozdní Sber Morava Czech Republic (12% ABV, 239 Kč ~ $10)
Light golden color. Very pleasant nose, perfumy, touch of honey, tropical fruit (guava, pineapple), medium intensity. Delicious lip smacking palate – crisp acidity, medium to full body, wine is nicely present, mouth coating, acidity keeps lingering with tart apples underpinning, then some ripe apples showing with addition of white plums. Another excellent wine. Unique and different, perfectly enjoyable on its own, but will play very nicely with the food. Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. When travel, take risk, drink local – your reward will be new experience and lots and lots of pleasure. And if you will not like it – the experience will still be with you. Cheers!

Daily Glass: A Super-Local Pinot

January 9, 2015 8 comments

Cuveé Cellars Pinot NoirWhile talking to a friend on Facebook, she asked: “would like to try a local Pinot Noir”? Care to guess my response? Yeah, a dumb question, you know what I said – “of course” and “yes, please” (insert an appropriate number of exclamation points on your own). Mentioning that she will be sending the wine in a few days, she reiterated again – it will be a local Pinot Noir, or may be even rather a super-local.

As my friend lives in Silicon Valley in California, my thought was – okay, of course it will be a California Pinot Noir, so “local” means produced locally in California. I was of course curios what exact Pinot Noir it will be, but hey, patience is a virtue of a oenophile, isn’t it?

The package arrived, with the bottle of California Pinot Noir in it. 2012 Cuveé Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley (14.9% ABV). Okay, so I’m sure that most of you never heard of Cuveé Wine Cellars – but the wine has Russian River Valley designation, so that’s the whole “local California” story, you ask?

Well, the wine actually is super-local. While the grapes were harvested in Russian River Valley, the wine was made locally in Silicon Valley, in the town of San Carlos, a small town near San Jose, where Cuveé Wine Cellars is located. As it often happens, especially with the urban wineries, the driving force behind Cuveé Wine Cellars is passion – and you can check their story on the Cuveé Wine Cellars web site.

How was the wine? In a few words – delicious with a great aging potential. When I opened it on the first day, the aromatics of Pinot Noir were incredible, one of the most pronounced California Pinot I ever had a pleasure to smell – forest floor, smoke, mushrooms, licorice – all very concentrated. The palate was well supporting the aroma, with silky-smooth, rich texture. Very concentrated (using the word again, sorry), with lots of fruit, chocolate, the same mushroom undertones and good acidity. But honestly, it was a bit too much. Don’t get me wrong – there was no jammy fruit or sharp biting alcohol in this wine – but you know how sometimes you are looking for the subtlety of the favors, for a bit more grace and mystery? My wish was granted on the day 3, when wine still had all the aromatics, but the palate became more mellow and intricate. Drinkability: 8+

That’s my story of the super-local Pinot – and an ode to the great friends. Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Few Restaurant Recommendations for Prague

June 12, 2017 1 comment

@ Pivovarský klubI recently shared my excitement after spending two weeks in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities on this planet – mostly in pictures. Today I want to share with you some of the dining experiences, just in case if you plan traveling to Prague in the near future.

First, let me give you a “thousand feet view” of Prague’s dining scene and Czech cuisine. Prague is a modern city, so as in any modern city, you will find a mix of different cuisines, and the range of dining style options, from the street food to the beer gardens to the bistro and then the world-class fine dining. Prague is a popular tourist destination so you have to expect to find lots of tourist traps, especially around any historical sites.

Talking about Czech cuisine, the best thing to have in Prague is pork. Pork dishes are done in a number of the ways – smoked pork cold cuts, roasted pork shank and anything in between – I spent quite a bit of time dining together with an international group, and pork dishes always were the most popular and generated the most of the “wow” references. Don’t get me wrong – of course, there is lots more to eat than just pork. The game is big in Prague – venison, ostrich, wild boar – you can easily find all of those on the menu, and all at the reasonable prices. Of course, there is chicken, and the fish dishes would also be worth your attention. If you like pickled vegetables, you might find yourself in heaven – everything I tasted was delicious, not overly vinegary and with an excellent crunch. In a number of restaurants I also saw special vegetarian sections on the menu, however, I don’t think vegetarian cooking is as widespread as it is in the USA.

One more quick note before we talk about the restaurants themselves. English menus are generally available, but not everywhere. In a few cases, we had to wait for someone to come and translate the menu for us. One way to avoid it is by using Google Translate app on your phone, where you can just point it to the text on the menu and get your immediate translation. Download extended dictionary as the basic one might not be enough.

Ahh, sorry, another quick general note. In Prague, you should drink local. The beer is excellent, not matter where and no matter which. Local wines, often made from Austrian and German varieties (Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, St. Lauren, Portugieser and more), are generally excellent and you should do yourself a favor and try them while in Prague, as many of those wines are simply not available outside of Czech Republic.

Now, let’s eat! Well, I meant let’s talk about the restaurants. Below are the restaurants which I’m happy to recommend – there were definitely a few I was not thrilled about, but I don’t see a point of bringing them up in this post.

Kampa Park
Na Kampe 8b, 118 00 Praha
Ph: +420 296826102
http://www.kampagroup.com/en/

Let me start with one of the best dining experiences of the trip. Kampa Park was the first fine dining establishment in Prague, opened in 1992. The location is superb, right under the Charles Bridge, so you get the great view of the bridge and the river – definitely hard to beat. Make no mistake – the restaurant can be expensive, pretty much on par with fine dining prices, let’s say in New York ($50+ pp lunch) – but of course, it will depend on what you will order.

Good wine list with a good number of local wines. Food is creative European, lots of good options. We had cream of asparagus soup which was sublime, and then the pork cheek which was super tender and flavorful. The service is top class – attentive and helpful. Overall, for a great restaurant experience and the views, I can’t recommend the restaurant high enough – I think it worth the price.

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Pork Cheeks @ Kampa Park

Terasa U Prince
Staromestské námestí 29, 110 00 Praha-1
Ph: +420 602 462 260
https://www.terasauprince.com/terrace

The restaurant is located on the roof of U Prince hotel. It is notoriously difficult to get in and suggested reservations are two weeks in advance. However, many people manage to talk their way in without any reservations, so you definitely should try your luck.

Most important part of the experience is the view. There is only 1 (one) beer available at the restaurant, and two different wines by the glass (and none of them were Czech), otherwise the drinks menu is extremely expensive. Food is decent, but not amazing. Creme Brulee is supposed to be very good. But again, the views are amazing, so it is worth suffering for one night.

Prague View from Terasa U Prince

Pivovarský Klub
Križíkova 17, Karlín, Praha 8
Ph: +420 222315777
http://www.pivovarskyklub.com

If you like beer, this place is a heaven. As you walk in, you can see the walls all covered in various types of beer. Everything on draft is excellent – I had most of what they offer and all the beers were one better than another. If you don’t want to drink Czech beer, no problems – there is a great offering of Belgium, German, UK, and others. I had 5 AM Saint by the Brewdog, something which is hard to find in the USA, and it was outstanding.

The food is mostly traditional Czech. Good soups, good pickles, cured meats, port, duck. Very reasonable prices. Good location close to the subway station. Definitely recommended.

Arrosto Ristorante
Mikuláše z Husi 1709/9, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 241 405 964
arrostoristorante.cz

Located in the close proximity to Vyšehrad which I highly recommend visiting as a tourist attraction – great place, located close to the subway station with the same name (Vyšehrad).

The restaurant is charming, especially the room in the back where the tables stand around the big tree. From the name of the restaurant, you would expect that the food will be an Italian, and it is to some degree, but definitely with the local flair. Good wine list with a number of local wines to select from. We had buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and then file of sole with pasta – all delicious.

The Bašta Brewery
Sousedský Pivovar Bašta
Táborská 389/49, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 602 295 403
ubansethu.cz/en

This is a true neighborhood restaurant for the locals, despite having the menu in English available (also in a close proximity to Vyšehrad). You sit down at the communal table, and beer starts flowing – fresh, tasty, simple, without any cherry or mango flavors. Then the bread arrives, and then whatever you will decide on. The menu is not large but offers many local specialties. Cold frankfurter sausage with pickled onions was excellent. Duck fat with crackles was just spectacular, home pate outstanding, luscious and tasty. Fresh crispy fries are a must when you drink beer, right? And then the smoked pork (pork belly and pork loin) was just an incredible dish in flavor, you could smell smoke before the dish was even landed on the table.

The whole price of feast was $25 for two – I’d say you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Of course it is impossible to fit Prague’s food scene into the one simple blog post – but I still hope my personal recommendations might be useful.

One more note before we part – I also ate at a number of “fast food” places – Chinese, Oriental, Pizza, Creperie – and pretty much everywhere the food was reasonably priced and tasty. However, yes – be aware of the tourist traps.

I hope your travels will take you to Prague and you will get to enjoy this beautiful city! Cheers!

Experiencing Texas Wines

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve heard [good things] about Texas wines before, but despite being in Texas countless number of times, I never had an opportunity to drink local wines. Thanks to Vino Volo, great wines are available on the go (this is not the first time I’m writing about Vino Volo – previous posts can be found here and here).

This time I was at San Antonio International airport, and I had enough time before the flight to taste some wines. As you know, I would never refuse an opportunity to try new wines, so when I saw “Taste of Texas” flight being available, the decision was very simple.

The flight consisted of three red wines, and all three were very good! The first wine was 2009 Becker Vineyards Claret, Hill County. The wine had nice nose with dark fruit, plums and blackberries, good acidity, rustic, with good tannins. The wine was very Bordeaux in style, but without characteristic bell peppers and greenness ( Drinkability: 7+).

Next wine was 2009 Texas Hill Vineyards Toro de Tejas, High Plains (100% Tempanillo) – the wine had smoke, dark fruit, hint of dark chocolate, very dense. This wine very well complemented chorizo and chickpeas chilli. Best of tasting (Drinkability – 8-).

Last wine in the flight was 2007 Llano Estacado Viviano, High Plains (Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend). The wine had nose of green olives, and it was very nice on the palate, with hint of chocolate, soft tannins  and good balance. Drinkability – 7+.

Overall , all three wines were well done, easy and pleasant to drink – my only regret (actually, two) would be that these wines are not available in Connecticut and also that even in the Texas restaurants, the emphasis is on California, and Texas wines are simply overlooked – definitely a mistake.

That’s all for now, folks. In the next blog post, we will explore the subject of wine fears – cheers!

Daily Glass: Enjoy Your Wine and Play With Your Food – Beyond Meat Food, It Is

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I appreciate winding down Sunday with a good glass of wine and a family dinner. When it is warm outside, such a Sunday dinner typically means grill – and this past Sunday was not an exception (or maybe it even was a bit of an exception as it was dry and pleasantly warm, and not hot at all, compared to mostly hot and humid weather of the last year).

Kids love steak in this house. While shopping for a steak at our local Fairway Market, something caught my eye. Beyond Meat? Really? Both Beyond Meat The Beyond Burger and Beyond Meat Beyond Sausage Original Brat? Wow and double wow!

Let me explain the excitement.

Beyond Meat Burgers and BratwurstsI have plenty of friends and relatives who are vegans and vegetarians, so with the summertime, the question of a good meat alternative is always becoming hot – when someone visits our house, I really want people to feel included and taken care of, no matter what their dietary restrictions are, so the search for a good vegan burger, etc. was always on. A few years ago, I came across the product called Beyond Burger, made by the company with a catchy name Beyond Meat. The description of Beyond Burger, which offered full resemblance of the regular burger, including the blood, sounded a bit suspicious, so I carefully researched all the ingredients and to my dismay, found that all of the ingredients are natural and there was no red paint added to this product. When I decided to try it, further research proved it to be mission impossible – Beyond Burger was available only at the Whole Foods (which I don’t frequent), and the Internet was full of complaints of the people who desperately tried, but failed to find it in their local stores, as the product was always out of stock. I also learned that in addition to Beyond Burger, the same company is offering a new product called Beyond Sausage, which sounded to me too good to be true. Again, this all was taking place 3-4 years ago.

This year, Beyond Meat went public (and mind you, very successfully – while the initial offering was at $25/share in early May, today it is trading at around $168/share, and it is just about a month later). And it appears that they managed to increase their production and distribution – now I saw the actual product instead of just reading about it. Thus, as you can imagine, I simply had to try it, even though it is quite expensive for what it is – $5.73 for two burger patties and $9.99 for four “bratwurst” sausages – you can buy the pack of 14 real bratwurst sausages at Costo for $8.99. Nevermind all the price talk – the question is simple – is it tasty? Would I be happy to serve it to the guests?

What is the best way to compare wines? The blind tasting, of course. What is the best way to compare foods? Well, the concept of “blind tasting” in wine can’t really apply to the food, unless you would actually blindfold someone, or taste your food in one of those dark rooms were waitstaff wears special goggles. So I didn’t attempt to do any sort of the fair comparison, especially as the dinner plan included steak and not the burgers. However, I had some of the Costco bratwursts in the fridge, so battle sausage was definitely on.

Before we talk about the battle food, let me share with you two delicious wines we got to enjoy on Sunday. First, a Chardonnay from … Italy. Yes, Italy makes excellent white wines, and excellent Italian Chardonnay can be found more often than not – but I still get surprised every time at how good it can be. 2015 Maculan Chardonnay Veneto IGT (12.5% ABV) was delicious from the getgo. Beautiful golden color in the glass, a touch of honey and vanilla on the nose. The palate was plump and generous, with white apples, white plums, a touch of honey and vanilla, good acidity and nice weight. The wine might be close to its prime and offers an ultimate indulgence at the moment as it is perfectly balanced. My wife, who generally don’t drink white wines, said “wow” and asked for another glass.

Sunday calls for some special wine, so I decided to go with 1999 Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel Napa Valley (15.8% ABV). In case you are curious what makes this wine special, it is its age. I don’t drink routinely 20 years old wines (I wish I could), so every time I open a bottle of such an age, it constitutes a “special bottle”. Besides, Zinfandel is one of the pet peeves. The wine just jumped from the glass with the ripe blackberries and blueberries, supported by mocha and sweet oak. The palate offered layers and layers of goodness – ripe berries, a touch of blackberry jam, velvety smooth but well present mouthfeel, lots and lots of pleasure. I can also tell you that I noticed alcohol level only on the label, but not in the glass. A very well made, delicious wine.

Now let’s get back to food, as we have the battle to discuss.

Here is how both products looked before the cooking – note the real bratwurst at the bottom of the picture with sausages. Burgers look scarily realistic, and while Beyond Meat sausages look slightly different than the real sausage, they still look perfectly real overall (there are plenty of different sausages of exactly the same color):

Both burgers and bratwurst should be cooked for 3 minutes per side according to the package instructions, which is exactly what I did. Here is the result, again including the real bratwurst for comparison:

As you can see, Beyond Meat products have somewhat of a yellow hue (okay, this are the iPhone pictures, so you might have to take my word for it). Otherwise, both burgers and saysages perfectly held up to the cooking process and were very easy to handle – maybe even easier than the real meat products, considering the there was no fat coming out to cause the flare ups.

Just so you know we didn’t really convert into the vegans, here are few more dishes from our dinner (yes, this are real meat and real scallops):

And now, to the taste.

I made a small mistake of not creating the full experience out of the burger, meaning having it with a bun, tomato, ketchup and so on. On its own, it was quite decent, with some tiny hints of not been made out of the real meat (but then remember that it was not a blind tasting, so I was clearly influenced by the appearance). The sausage, however, was mind-boggling. It literally was identical to the real bratwurst in the taste profile and texture – I would never be able to distinguish it if I would close my eyes. Simply a wow.

If you read my typical wine posts you would know that at any possible occasion, I like to taste the wines over the course of a few days to see how they will change. When it comes to the food, it is not that I like to taste the food on the second or a third day (by the way, some of the soups and stews actually benefit from an extra day in the fridge), but I can’t stand wasting the food, so I usually make an effort to work on the leftovers for as long as possible or needed. What it has to do with this story? Simple. We had leftovers of both Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts. Over the next two days, both perfectly held up to the reheating in the microwave, and both were perfectly on point in taste and texture, resembling its real meat brethren even more than on the first day while freshly made.

There you have it, my friends. The verdict on Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts? Beyond reproach. I will be happy, very happy to serve them to my guests at any gathering. And yes, I hope you enjoyed your Sunday night wines too. Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Bells Up Winery

May 31, 2019 2 comments

Do you know by any chance what “bells up” means? If you do, you can already pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a glass of wine. If you don’t – you can pour yourself a glass of wine and ponder at the question for a bit – the answer will follow.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about the passion, an indelible component of winemaking, possibly even a key ingredient in a delicious wine.

Dave Specter started making wine in the basement of his home back in 2006. By 2009, he realized that passion for winemaking trumpets his (successful!) career of a corporate tax attorney, and Dave decided to let his passion lead the way. In 2012, Dave and his wife Sara found themselves in Newberg, Oregon, purchasing a dead Christmas tree farm in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, where they started planting their estate vineyard. The rest is history – of passion and Pinot, there is.

BellsUp-Pinot Harvest

Bells Up vineyards. Source: Bells Up Winery

Before there was wine, there was music. For more than 20 years Dave had been playing the French horn. In classical music, there is always a moment which needs to be stressed – “Bells up” is the conductor’s instruction to the French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments and produce the sound of maximum intensity. “Bells up” became Dave’s motto in life, and it also gave the name to his winery – now you have your answer in case you are still wondering.

While Pinot Noir was the first grape planted at the newly minted Bells Up winery, the passion also led Dave to plant half an acre of Seyval Blanc, the grape he successfully used back in Ohio. That Seyval Blanc planting became the first in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, and second in Oregon. If you look at Bells Up winery website, you will see that the winery bills itself as micro-boutique and un-domaine – planting Seyval Blanc and not Pinot Gris in Oregon is clearly an un-domaine move. By the way, the “un-domaine” was one of the words which caught my eye while researching the Bells Up winery information. So I took the opportunity to sit down (virtually, albeit) with Dave and listen to him share his passion for wine. Here is what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: What kind of wine(s) did you make in your basement in Cincinnati?
[DS]: In the beginning, when my wife Sara and I started making wine in 2006 as a couple’s activity for our fifth wedding anniversary, we started with kit wines—juice in a bag, essentially. When I moved on to grapes, I sourced from both local and regional vineyards for Seyval Blanc, as well as through a Cincinnati vintners club that would truck in fruit from vineyards in California. From that I made Syrah, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot—even a Pinot Noir, although that fruit was sourced from Lodi, and was completely unlike the Pinot I work within Oregon today. Essentially, it was a hobby that grew out of control.

[TaV]: Why Oregon? As a young winemaker, you had many options – what made you decide to go to Oregon?
[DS]: First, thank you for calling me young. We were a whole lot younger when we started this journey. After that first kit wine, I was hooked on the process and wanted to learn more. Sara graciously let me take over the basement, then the garage, then the dining room. And we started taking wine vacations to “hidden gem” wine regions—Texas Hill Country, Finger Lakes, and finally Oregon in 2008.

We had already visited Oregon briefly in 2004 and loved it. In 2008 we spent two weeks roaming the state, with the last few days in Newberg at a bed and breakfast just 400 feet up the mountain from the property that is now ours. We fell in love with Oregon, the scenery, the climate, the wines, and the intimate experiences tasting wines at the tiniest wineries with the winemaker. We decided then that this was the place for us.

[TaV]: Seyval Blanc is one of the most popular grapes in the Eastern US. But why Seyval Blanc in Oregon?
[DS]: When we moved to Oregon in 2012, we knew we wanted to plant a vine that connected to our story. I’d been working with Seyval Blanc for years in Ohio and when I won two amateur national winemaking competitions in 2011, one was with a 2010 Seyval Blanc. So, it was a great tie-in.

But also, we see an opportunity to differentiate ourselves with a white wine that nobody else has in the Willamette Valley—and only one other winery has in Oregon. Plus, we believed it would grow well here, and after two small harvests that resulted in some beautiful wine, we’re happy to be proven right. Note, however, we didn’t plant a lot of it: only about 250 vines (and not all of them made it—so Sara’s been propagating like crazy ever since for replants). We figured if it was a failure, we could always graft over it.

[TaV]: Any future plans for more mainstream Oregon white grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling?
[DS]: From a business perspective, we’ve taken a really close look at what other wineries in the area are making, and for a 500-ish case production winery like ours it’s best to have just one white wine available for sale at a given time. That’s because we don’t move enough volume and the whites generally don’t age as long as reds.

We currently make Pinot Blanc and we like it quite a bit. It’s a bit rarer in these parts than Pinot Gris or Chardonnay, which again helps to differentiate us. But as for expanding our white wine program, the ultimate plan is to phase out Pinot Blanc for Seyval Blanc and that will be the only white in our line-up. There are a lot of similarities between my Pinot Blanc and my Seyval
Blanc, so the transition from one to the other won’t be as jarring as a shift from another white varietal, such as Chardonnay.

Bells Up Wines in the cellar

Bells Up wines. Source: Bells Up winery

[TaV]: Today you already make white, rosé, and red. Any plans to join seemingly the hottest Oregon trend and start producing sparkling wine?
[DS]: No. I know I keep coming back to the numbers, but I’m a finance guy with an MBA and a corporate tax law career. While we think there’s a place in the market for adding bubbles to still wines, if I made a sparkling wine I’d want to do it the right way (traditional method). That takes time, space and money. And at our volumes, what we’d have to charge per bottle to justify that type of investment is more than what the market would reasonably bear.

[TaV]: Continuing the same question – as you already produce Seyval Blanc, which makes very good dessert wines, any plans for some Late Harvest Seyval Blanc goodness?
[DS]: Don’t give Sara any ideas! Actually, we’ve been so focused on just getting these Seyval Blanc vines established and proving that our concept had legs that we really haven’t thought much farther than straight up Seyval Blanc. Our 2017 harvest yielded 100 pounds and made 23 bottles (yes, bottles)! Our 700-pound 2018 harvest produced 15 cases and we’ve made that available exclusively to our wine club members on a 2-bottle allocation. Give me a few years when I’ve got Seyval Blanc growing out of my ears and I’ll get back to you on a Late Harvest version.

[TaV]: Who are your winemaking mentors (if any)?
[DS]: First and foremost, Joe Henke of Henke Winery in Cincinnati. Joe took me under his wing as a basement winemaking hobbyist. He offered me a position as an unpaid cellar rat but promised he’d teach me everything he knew—open book—and he did. He even showed me his books because he wanted me to understand what he called “the good, the bad and the ugly of being a professional winemaker.” He’s an award-winning winemaker who makes 2,000 cases across roughly 15 different types of wines (including a phenomenal sparkling Chardonnay and an incredible Norton) in the basement of a 100-year-old house in an urban neighborhood with the bare essentials: barrels, a pump, a press, a pallet jack. I learned so much from him about the process of winemaking and the business of winemaking; that you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment to make incredible wines. You just need to do a ton of cleaning. Amazing mentor.

Additionally, I did a harvest internship in the Fall of 2012 at Alexana in Dundee, Oregon under Bryan Weil. It was Bryan’s first harvest there as winemaker and Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars was still working alongside Bryan, as she had been consulting winemaker for the label prior to Bryan coming on board. I soaked up as much as I could about working with Pinot Noir from both of them. Because, at age 39, I was not your typical harvest intern—plus I had three years of time at Henke Winery under my belt—Bryan was gracious enough to build my internship around what I needed to learn. He put me in the vineyard for sampling fruit, for example, something I’d never had the opportunity to do before. He had me set up the lab for him and run lots of testing because I knew how to do it. We’re still very close today and I appreciate everything he was gracious enough to share with me.

As far as winery business mentors, there have been so many people in the Willamette Valley who have generously offered advice and shared their successes and failures that it would be impossible to name them all. But they know who they are.

[TaV]: What is your view on sustainable viticulture, dry farming, organic methods?
[DS]: That’s what we do here in our own vineyard and at the vineyards we source from. We think it’s very important to be good stewards of the Earth—we’re farmers now! It also produces stronger vines that develop more flavorful grapes and ultimately better wines.

[TaV]: How did you choose the music pieces as the names of your wines? What was your thought process, what criteria? What message are you trying to convey with those names?
[DS]: Let me start by explaining the name of the winery. I played French Horn for more than 20 years (I’m horribly out of practice now—Sara says I only make noise) including after business and law schools, so it was a key part of my life. When it came time to name the winery, we wanted to name it something personal that wasn’t our last name (people are terrible at remembering names!) and I really wanted to tie it into the French Horn. Coincidentally, the property Sara found was on Bell Road in Newberg. So that tied in perfectly to the term “Bells Up,” which is a notation by the composer in the score of a piece of music. At a dramatic moment, it directs the French Horns to lift the bells of their instruments to project their sound with more intensity. It’s our time to shine—which is why I say the winery is my #bellsupmoment.

The pieces of music I chose to name each wine are all ones that prominently feature the French Horn, as well as epitomize the wine itself. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” inspired our Pinot Blanc to be named “Rhapsody” because it’s a jazzy, energetic white wine. Gustav Mahler—the French Horn player’s best friend because his pieces tend to be horn-heavy—wrote his Symphony No. 1 in D Major, called “Titan,” and it’s become regarded as his flagship work. Therefore, our Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which we consider to be our flagship Pinot, is “Titan.” And so on. There’s a link at the top of our wines page to a playlist of all the pieces for those interested in hearing them.

[TaV]: Why “un-domaine”?
[DS]: It was a term that came up as we were discussing how to describe our casual tasting room vibe, our keep-it-simple winemaking approach, and our distinctive brand with a good friend who happens to be a wine writer. A couple of years ago after we opened our doors in 2015 there was a trend of new wineries opening in the Willamette Valley with the word “Domaine” in their name. We just aren’t. Our property is humble, our tasting room is a converted pole barn, you won’t find a marble fireplace. While Sara and I enjoy wine, nobody would ever confuse us with wine snobs.

Does “un-domaine” mean we’re not for everyone? Absolutely. There’s no cachet associated with owning or drinking a bottle of Bells Up wine. And that’s perfectly fine with us. We’d much rather be the bottle on your table every day of the week than the one gathering dust in the wine rack because you spent a ton of money on it and are waiting for a special occasion—and friends who will appreciate it—before it’s opened.

[TaV]: Did you have a pivotal wine in your life, the one which changed your wine worldview?
[DS]: Not so much a specific wine but a wine experience I had very early on. I had the pleasure of visiting some friends in Europe after graduating from law school and they took me to Beaune (in the heart of Burgundy) for a weekend. We did a lot of tasting in the touristy cellars, but also in garages and co-operatives where the atmosphere was much more down-to-earth. I knew absolutely nothing about wine prior to that but I was in awe of what I saw, smelled, and tasted. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I was in the heart of a culture that valued wine as an everyday experience—that part really resonated with my soul. Looking back, I’m sure that I would appreciate that experience more fully if I took the same trip now, but that time in Beaune has fueled my passion for wine ever since.

[TaV]: With the exception of your own wines, what are your favorite Oregon wines and /or producers?
[DS]: We truly have an embarrassment of riches here in the Willamette Valley—so many quality producers call this place home that a list of my favorite producers would fill about 3 dozen barrels. With every producer having their own unique style—plus the trailblazing nature of the Oregon wine industry—innovation is happening all the time: new grapes, new techniques, and so on. I think many people assume that a winemaker drinks only his or her own wine at home, but the truth is I almost never drink my own wines outside of the professional setting. I’d much rather be exploring the styles and fresh ideas that other winemakers here are creating and perhaps get inspired to try some of those ideas myself!

[TaV]: What are your favorite wines and/producers outside of Oregon?
[DS]: Again, way too many to answer! The wines I enjoy most are ones where I have a personal connection in some way and I’m fortunate to have so many talented friends in other parts of the winemaking world. Back in Ohio, my mentor Joe Henke at Henke Winery, of course, but also my friends Greg Pollman of Valley Vineyards and Bill Skvarla of Harmony Hill Vineyards make fantastic wines from grapes grown locally and regionally. Up in Woodinville, Washington my friend, Lisa Callan of Callan Cellars is making a name for herself with her Washington-focused program. And up over the border in Naramata, British Columbia my friend Jay Drysdale has founded Bella Sparkling Wines, BC’s only winery dedicated to sparkling wines. I know that some other friends have projects in the works and can’t wait to brag about them in a few years too.

[TaV]: Where do you see Bells Up Winery in 20 years?
[DS]: Not in the grocery store. Our customer base is national, but we have no aspirations for retail distribution. We’re perfectly content to sell direct-to-consumer and to a couple of local restaurants and a wine bar in Downtown Portland. When we hit 1,000-case production, that’s it. We won’t make any more than that annually because we both enjoy and believe wholeheartedly in the micro-boutique winery experience we’ve created. We want to have personal relationships with our customers. We specifically don’t have an online ordering portal because we want to have a conversation with our buyers either by phone or email. Making and maintaining those connections is really important to us, and we hope to grow those relationships over the next 20 years and beyond.

I’m sure you are ready to taste some wine by now. Before I will share with you my notes after tasting 3 of Dave’s wines, I want to bring something to your attention. By now you know that Bells Up wines are named after different musical compositions. In case you want to experience those musical compositions, either by themselves or together with the wine, Dave has a link to Spotify playlist of all the relevant music pieces available on the winery website. And now, here are my notes:

2018 Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.1% ABV, $38, 15 cases produced)
Light golden
Restrained, minerality-driven, touch of gunflint, a touch of fresh green apples
Excellent acidity, Granny Smith apples all the way, crisp, fresh, good texture. Has traits of Seyval Blanc (tropical fruit intent, I would say, like a hint of guava without any fruit notes), but put on a different core
8-, very interesting, thought-provoking and food friendly wine (acidity lingers on the finish for a good couple of minutes)

2018 Bells Up Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains (13% ABV, $22, 126 cases produced)
Light red
Medium plus intensity, distant hint of the barnyard, underripe cranberries, herbal notes
Bone dry, crunchy cranberries, excellent acidity, food-friendly wine, fruit showing up a bit later, excellent balance
8/8+, delicious and dangerous. I can keep drinking it until the bottle will be empty

2016 Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.1% ABV, $40, 12 months in French oak (39% new), 131 cases produced)
Dark ruby
Plums, a hint of smoke, violets
Slightly underripe plums, crisp cherries, sage undertones, good acidity, light to medium body,
8-, light, easy to drink, food friendly. Should improve with time.

Dave Specter conducts Bells Up-Private Tasting

Dave Specter conducts the private tasting. Source: Bells Up Winery

Here you are, my friends. Another story of Passion and Pinot.

To be continued…

P.S. Here are the links to the posts profiling wineries in this Passion and Pinot series, in alphabetical order:

Alloro Vineyard, Ghost Hill Cellars, Ken Wright Cellars, Knudsen Vineyards, Lenné Estate, Tendril Cellars, Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Vidon Vineyard

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