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A Perfect Perfection

February 15, 2021 6 comments

Yes, I know. “Perfect Perfection”. The English language offers more than 170,000 words, and this “writer” can’t even come up with a decent title for the post. Shame on me.

And nevertheless, I insist on my choice of words. Let me tell my tale to see if this will make sense to you too.

Valentine’s Day is a very personable holiday, loved by some, and hated by others. Many years ago, we decided that it will be simply a family holiday for us (no restaurant Prix Fix menus and back to back sitting), which translates into an opportunity to cook and  – it is a special holiday, after all – open a special bottle of wine.

A special bottle of wine means a special selection process. “Special selection process” usually means trouble – going from a wine fridge to a wine fridge, opening the door, pulling the shelf, looking at the bottles, pulling another shelf out, still not finding anything appropriate, and repeating until full exhaustion. For this dinner, however, a choice of the main dish greatly simplified the process.

In this house, special dinners are often associated with the steak. Such was this Valentine’s Day – New York strip was acquired and ready to be cooked. Many wines can play well with the steak, but in simple terms, steak needs Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet Sauvignon blend. With that in mind, choosing the wine was almost easy and straightforward – California Bordeaux-style blend with a nice age almost popped into my hand on its own.

I never had this wine before. While looking for the 1998 wines to buy (birth year of my son) at the Benchmark Wine, I came across this 1998 Reverie Special Reserve Meritage as it was described. At $30, 22 years old unknown wine from California sounds like a risk I was willing to take (so far, I didn’t miss  – “knock on wood” – even a single time buying aged wines from Benchmark Wine, everything was tasty and perfectly drinkable). In the wine fridge, this wine was laying on one of the first shelves I pulled out, and the inner voice quickly said “this is it” – I decided not to argue.

I had the wine warm up a bit before opening it. About an hour and a half before our decided dinner time, I carefully pulled out the cork – I had quite a few corks crumbled almost to the dust on me lately, so was extra careful pulling this one out. To my delight, the cork came out in a perfect shape, practically intact.

The first whiff of this 1998 Reverie Special Reserve Diamond Mountain (13.5% ABV, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot, aged in 100% new small French oak barrels) simply suggested taking a sip immediately. The wine had aromas of cassis and mint, a pure, classic, beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon profile. The palate followed almost in the impossibly perfect way. Cassis, mint, and eucalyptus, all in pristine, perfect, form. There was nothing extra in that sip – it was perfectly round, perfectly smooth, with just enough acidity, with just enough of the tannins, with just enough of the fruit. A perfect, perfect, perfect balance, an absolute harmony which is not easy to find – the one which puts a stupid smile on your face. Yep, that’s how good the wine was.

Our impressions seemed to match perfectly with what the back label said: “we only designate the blend made from the best lots of the traditional Bordeaux varietals as Special Reserve when we believe the wine is extraordinary. We believe this wine is worthy of that designation. We are incredibly proud of this very limited release wine and know you will also enjoy it immensely. A wine this fine should be saved for a special occasion and enjoyed with the finest cuisine and good friends”. It is rare to find a back label to be spot on describing the wine – but in the case of this special Reserve, this was a complete success.

I don’t think my pan-seared steak belonged to the finest cuisine category – but at least it was not burnt and raw at the same time – and it paired very well with the wine. We also made special potatoes in the air fryer and oven-roasted asparagus came out super-tasty (from now on, this might be the only way I will cook asparagus).

This is my story of the perfect wine experience – truly at the level which will be hard to replicate. What are your “perfect wine” stories?

Of Beautiful Things

January 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Beauty is an interesting concept. It seems to be simple and universal. And nevertheless, the declaration of beauty might dramatically differ, even for the people going through the same experience. Take flowers, for example – if someone doesn’t like daisies, looking at the field of daisies will solicit no emotional response, but the same person might spend an hour admiring an orchid.

Whatever we see as “beautiful” solicit the emotion, it gives us a tiny burst of positive energy, it makes us happy. But the proverbial “truth in the eye of the beholder” is fully in control – everyone decides on their own concept of beauty.

Photography is one of the best and simplest tools to capture the beauty of the moment and convert it into a tangible memory, something you can get back to. For sure I’m the one who heavily relies on photography for doing so. If you look at the pictures on my phone, you will have no problems figuring out that I consider wine, flowers, and sunsets as the most beautiful things in this life – well, this is not an absolute truth, but we can go with it for this post. Of course, sunsets and flowers are exactly what they are, but the wine bottles in the pictures simply represent the memory knots, the real beauty is inside the bottle, no matter how pretty the labels are.

Garden at Calla Lily. Source: Calla Lily Winery

Calla Lily Estate & Winery is a project of renowned California winemaker, Cary Gott, and a group of business partners out of Hong Kong, who together started Calla Lily in 2013. Calla Lily is a 95 acres estate in the Pope Valley section of Napa Valley, with the first vines planted in 1995. The estate’s vineyards comprise 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 acres of Petite Sirah, 1 acre each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Calla Lily is not a random name. You can see the beautiful flower appear on the label of Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is both the name and the symbol. Calla is a type of lily flowers, which is taking its name from the ancient Greek word “Kallos” which means “beauty”. Calla Lily had been around a few thousand years, and have a lot of symbolism associated with the flower in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures, as well as in Christianity overall. You can read about Calla Lily symbolism further here, but I also can’t resist quoting the same source in regards to the meaning of the color of the Calla Lily flowers: ”

  • White Calla Lilies: Purity and innocence.
  • Yellow Calla Lilies: Joy and growth.
  • Pink Calla Lilies: Appreciation and admiration.
  • Red Calla Lilies: Intense passion.
  • Blue Calla Lilies: Femininity and refined beauty.”

As you can see, red Calla Lily is depicted on the label of the Calla Lily wine, and after tasting the wine, I have to agree to the “intense passion” suggestion.

After talking about beautiful flowers, let’s talk about beautiful wines, as I had an opportunity to sample two of the Calla Lily wines.

2016 Calla Lily Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 26 months in 40% new French oak) was an interesting experience. While the nose was intense with red and black fruit, the wine on the palate was way too powerful for me to really enjoy it as “pop and pour”. The wine kept gradually improving over the next 4 days, finally offering soft rounds of cassis and mint, over the velvety texture. You need to wait for some beautiful things in life – for example, for a flower to fully open up from a tiny bud – this wine is beautiful, but you might need to wait for it – or decant it well in advance (Drinkability: 😎

2015 Calla Lily Audax Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $120, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 27 months in 50% new French oak) is yet another interesting wine. “Audax” in Latin means “bold”, and this barrel-reserve wine is a tribute to the audacity of the pioneer winemakers, many of whom settled in the Pope Valley. Somewhat unexpectedly, the wine was more approachable from the get-go than the previous one – beautiful nose of cassis, and more cassis on the palate, accompanied by mint, pencil shavings, espresso, and cherry pit. Lots of beautifully balanced power with a firm, dense structure. (Drinkability: 8)

Here is the story of the two beautiful things in life – flowers and wine. Beautiful things well worth seeking. What brings beauty into your world?

Retrospective: 11 Years of Top Wines

January 5, 2021 2 comments

While I was working on the Top Wines list of 2020, it almost hit me – 2020 was the 11th year the list of the top wine experiences of the year was produced.

In every Top Wines post, I make an effort to explain my approach to the creation of the top wines list – it is all based on emotions solicited by the wine. The easier it is to recall the wine and relive the moment, the better it is.

I often state that the order of the wines is not so important (this is how I want it to be, but it is usually not the case – the order has meaning) – with the exception of wine #1. Wine #1, the Top Wine of the Year, is always the most memorable. For a few years, I even had difficulties deciding on just one top wine, so I had multiples of wine #1. Strange, I know – but I always have a simple excuse – this is my blog…

All of the Top Wines lists can be found via the Top Wine Ratings menu on the top of this page. However, what do you think of taking a look at the top wines from these past 11 years, just for fun? I would like to enjoy those memories again – and see if I still have them as vivid as I like to think. Let’s see:

2010: 

2007 Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45) – I can attest that this was one of the best California Pinot Noirs I ever tasted. I still have a bottle each of Mara Pinot Noir 2007 and 2008 (2008 was a complete opposite to 2007, very lean and green) – should make it for an interesting evening one day.

2011: 

2010 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – this was my first discovery of the Field Recordings wines, and that Fiction was unbeatable, it offered an incredible experience. I also loved the label and the story on the back label of that wine, which, unfortunately, disappeared in the later vintages.

2012:

2010 Antica Terra Phantasi Oregon White Wine ($100, Magnum price in the restaurant) – Definitely a memorable wine, a blend of Rhone varieties – I can close my eyes and imagine the taste of this wine in my mouth. While this is one of the most memorable Top wines, the wine in the second place was not any less memorable – 1947 Rioja Imperial. Also, it appears that I didn’t even include another wine from the same dinner when we experienced the Phantasi, 1998 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon in the Top Dozen list, which is a huge oversight…

2013:

1970 Quevedo White Port – tasting 43 years old elixir together with the winemaker, in the old cellar, directly from the barrel? It rarely gets any more memorable than that.

2014:

1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir ($NA) – I found this bottle at the store in Chicago. As this is my birth year, I couldn’t resist getting this bottle for a whopping $25. To my absolute surprise, the wine was perfectly drinkable and delicious. And the label is just purely nostalgic…

2015:

2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley Chile ($35) – ordered this wine at the restaurant without any knowledge, mostly going by the price – OMG. This is one delicious wine.

 

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2016:

2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Champagne ($230) – one of the most memorable top wines. While I loved the taste, I could smell this wine indefinitely. Really, I have no need in drinking it, but I can’t let go of the aroma…

2017:

1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon Loire ($85?) – this was unquestionably great – one of my most favorite grape varieties (Cab Franc), legendary vintage (at least in Bordeaux), great producer. The sad part? This is one of the few “Wine of the Year” wines I can’t recall the sensation of taste, smell, or the setting …

2018:

2008 Zenato “Sergio Zenato” Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG ($100) – Amarone is one of my most favorite wines in general – but I have exactly the same issue here as with the Olga Raffault – no detailed memories. I’m sure it was a good wine as it made it to the alternative #1 winner.

2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley ($60) – One of the very best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever tasted. We had this wine during tasting dinner at the restaurant during one of our traditional “adult getaways”. This was round and supremely delicious.

2019:

2013 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve Spring Mountain ($225) – Smith-Madrone makes beautiful wines. This wine can be described in one word – Pure. Pure indulgence, and pure, unadulterated pleasure.

2016 Tara Red Wine 2 Syrah Atacama Chile ($40) – I have a sad habit of not being able to write a post after a great winemaker dinner, as was the case with Tara wines. Magnificent Syrah, coming from the vineyards which in reality shouldn’t have existed because of the incredible salinity of the soil. As I say in such cases, this is the wine to be experienced.

2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley ($100) – a prolific Napa Valley jewel. Power and balance, or balance and power – whatever description suits you more.

2020:

1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($NA) – Meditazione vino. The whole group meditated over this wine, as it was simply a gift from gods. Incredible. If wine is not “just another beverage” to you, you would understand. And I wish for you to experience meditazione vino at least once in your life…

Here we are  – 11 years of top wines. This was definitely an interesting exercise – while I enjoyed recalling each and every one of these wines, this was also a great opportunity to think about my Top Wines process. I’m reasonably pleased with top wine selections during these years, but ideally, I would like to do better – every wine on such a list should solicit a memory and an emotion. Oh well, we should call this “the room for improvement”, right? Cheers, my friends!

 

The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia – A Must Have For A Winelover

November 19, 2020 5 comments

Do you like wine books?

Better question: do you read wine books?

Wine book is the next best “wine thing” after the wine itself – assuming you drink wine for pleasure, and not for the effects of alcohol. Reading the wine book gives you the pleasure of learning about your favorite subject, it is available to you any time you want it, and you don’t have to limit your consumption. There is also an ultimate pleasure of nesting in the favorite chair with a book in your hands, and turning off all the annoyances of the world at least for some time.

Only who reads the books today, right?

We live in the times when Google knows all the answers, or at least it pretends that it does, so we can search, find, read, and instantly forget whatever information we obtained. Depending on your luck, that information might be totally wrong or irrelevant, but that can be a subject for the whole other conversation. But when we reach out to Google, we think that we are saving time and doing ourselves a favor by simplifying our lives – all of it instead of opening the book and actually reading to learn and understand. But oh, who has time to read. Hey, google…

Today I want to bring your attention to the book which you don’t have to read. Yep, you heard me right. You don’t really have to read it. But you must have it. Makes no sense? Oh yes, it does.

You want to have “The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia” by Tom Stevenson edited by Orsi Szentkiralyi because this is not some general book, this is an encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is a tool. You use it when you need an answer to a question. You use it when you want to deepen your knowledge of a particular subject, be it history of winemaking, wines of Fitou AOC, differences between Cordon de Royat and Geneva Double Curtain vine training systems, or what to do if your wine smells like burnt rubber.

 

This is not a pocket-size book, but this is what makes it great. 800 beautifully illustrated pages (the book is published by the National Geographic, so great imagery is rather expected). This is a sixth edition of the book, containing more than 400 photographs, 120 National Geographic maps, and there is hardly a wine subject or a wine region that escapes the attention of the author.

It was interesting for me to see is a difference in the coverage of the different wine regions – to illustrate what I mean, see the picture below:

If you will look at clips from left to right, the first and the biggest set of pages is covering France, the next small section is dedicated to Italy, the next, even tinier, is Spain, and the last a bigger one is wines of the United States. But really, no wine region is left uncovered, even including such exotic winemaking destinations as China, India, and Japan.

My favorite part might be the last section of the book, called Micropedia. This section is a collection of wine terms and abbreviations. Yes, you can find many of these terms with the help of Google, but it might not be that easy. For example, the very first term explained in the Micropedia is ABC. If you search for “wine ABC” online, the first page which will come up will most likely be dedicated to the ABC wine store (it was for me, at least) – while the ABC used in the wine speak typically means Anything But Chardonnay or Anything But Cabernet. So if you want to know what ABC stands for, or agrafe, rondelle, or uvaggio for that matter, The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia will save you lots of time and effort (don’t take my word for it, go search for those terms).

Whether you want to learn about appellation you never heard of, the history of winemaking, or see the map of wine regions in Slovenia, this is the book which you will find the most helpful, no matter what your question is. You can find this book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and you can thank me later for the advice. I’m off to read about Madeira. Cheers!

The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia was provided to me as a sample, free of charge. Opinions are my own. 

Daily Glass: Unlimited Pleasures

October 29, 2020 Leave a comment

I opened the bottle.

The wine was delicious. I will be happy to drink it again.

The end.

Simple story, right? Boring too, I guess, but – it doesn’t always work like that. Quite an opposite – I opened the wine. It was okay. I don’t want to drink it again. The end. But this is not the story anyone wants to talk about.

Let’s go back to the delicious wine.

If you read this blog for any extended period of time, I’m sure you already know: I love aged wines. Contrary to what typical wine articles advocate – stating that the absolute majority of the wines should be consumed young and should never be aged – I absolutely believe that a significant number of wines, especially reds, not only can age but also improve with age. The evolution of the wine in the bottle is what we are after. Young wine can be perfect and deliver lots of pleasure to the drinker. Well-aged wine delivers lots and lots more – it is not just pleasure, it is often the whole experience. My latest proof and case in point (wish you were there) – 1999 BV Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you like drinking aged wines, and share my view that many wines can age, the good news is that you don’t always have to personally buy the wine and wait for 20 years before drinking it. I found this wine while browsing the Benchmark Wine website. Benchmark Wine Group buys collections and then sells the wines at the market price without an auction. “Collection” doesn’t necessarily mean only DRC and Petrus – collections also include wines suitable for everyday drinking. Those “everyday wines” represent great value, as aging is included, and often it doesn’t cost you anything – I paid $30 for this exact 1999 BV Rutherford – and I can get the current (2016) vintage of the same wine in New York area for $29.99. Yep, I rest my case.

BV, which is short for Beaulieu Vineyard, is one of the iconic California wineries, founded in 1900. This is where André Tchelistcheff, often referred to as Maestro, honed his winemaking craft, completely changed winemaking at BV, and tremendously influenced winemaking in California ever since his arrival to Napa in 1938. It is impossible to talk about André Tchelistcheff within a short blog post, and I’m sure you can find hundreds of articles and books talking about his legacy. André Tchelistcheff retired from the active winemaking duties in 1973 – and I read somewhere that the last great vintage from BV was 1972. I wish I could compare 1999 which I had with 1972, but for my palate, even 1999 completely over-delivered.

The wine opened up with an intense nose of eucalyptus and mint – you could tell from a distant corner of the room that this was classic California Cabernet Sauvignon in the glass. The palate followed with layers upon layers of black currant, eucalyptus, mint, bell pepper, all interwoven in complete harmony. A perfect balance of fruit, acidity, tannins – every sip was repeating that full performance over and over again.

At the end of the evening, the wine showed a bit of the plum and dried fruit and made me think that I was lucky to catch the wine at its peak. On the second day, the wine showed a bit more restrained, somewhat losing great energy it had the previous evening. On the third day, the wine changed again, bringing back the same black currant and eucalyptus, however this time in much leaner, classic Bordeaux fashion, and really showing up young, full of energy and promise.

Not only this was a delicious, well-aged wine, but it was also [expectedly] a memory catalyst. I had an instant flashback of memories of a wonderful visit we had at BV about 8 years ago, tasting not only multiple vintages of Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, but also unique clonal Cabernet Sauvignon wines. It is amazing in how many ways you can enjoy a simple sip of delicious wine.

That is my story, friends. Well-aged wines are amazing – can you tell yours?

A Weekend Of Wine Experiences

August 11, 2020 3 comments

What makes the wine experience for you?

If you drink wine pretty much every day, is that every glass an experience? Is that even possible?

The experience should be something memorable, something you can bring up in your thoughts on the moment’s notice. The experience is not always positive – I well remember some bottles I had to pour down the drain – luckily, it doesn’t happen all that often. The experience triggers the emotion – pain or pleasure – and this is what makes us remember.

During our recent Cape Cod visit with the family, in addition to the ocean, flowers, and sunsets, we also had lots of wine. While some wines were good and simple – and not necessarily memorable – some were just at the level of creating a lasting memory. Let me present my case.

I try not to associate the color of the wine with the weather, but fresh and crisp white wine always brightens up a hot summer day better than a big red. Both wines we had were somewhat of an experience. 2018 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley (13.2% ABV) was a reminder for how much I love this wine, which I consider one of the best California Sauvignon Blancs in general – fresh, citrusy, with plenty of the freshly cut grass and vibrant acidity. A sip of such wine makes you say “ahhh”, and immediately go for another.

The second wine was rather an unexpected disappointment – it had nothing really to do with the wine itself, I guess it was a self-inflicted disappointment, but this is how it will be remembered. 2016 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) didn’t offer much anything in the glass. It was a white wine without a sense of place or much in terms of the expected taste profile. It had no obvious faults, just the taste of “some white wine”. Maybe it was supposed to be consumed two years ago (my wife got it as a present from a coworker and then it was forgotten on the bottom shelf of the cellar). Maybe it was in a “sleeper mode” at the moment. No idea, but this was definitely not something I expected from the Duckhorn.

I continue to surprise myself with an inability to find a bad tasting Rosé nowadays. Either something is wrong with my palate, or I don’t drink enough, or everybody simply mastered the art of Rosé to its fullest, but I like every Rosé I have an opportunity to taste. 2018 Etude Rosé Santa Barbara County (13.2% ABV) was excellent, strawberries all the way, both on the nose and the palate, very elegant and round. Etude is a Pinot Noir specialist, so this was a Pinot Noir Rosé. Santa Barbara designation also brought back lots of happy memories of my first Wine Bloggers conference in 2014. The second Rosé, 2017 Baron de Fumes Rosé Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV) was a bit lighter but sharing mostly the same strawberry profile with a bit more acidity – still every drop delicious. This was also a great value at $8.99 at my local wine store – I now have a few bottles in the fridge ready to be open on any hot day.

Time to move to reds – and to elevate the experience.

Everyone’s cellar has bottles that appeared out of nowhere. You know how this works – you host a party, someone walks through the door with a bottle. You say thank you, hastily put a bottle aside as you are rushing to meet another guest. The bottle is never opened as you had enough wine prepared, and after the party, it is just put away and you have no memory you ever saw it. This was my story with the bottle of 2008 Cantine Lonardo Coste Taurasi DOCG (14.5% ABV, 100% Aglianico). I have no memory of how the bottle made it into the wine fridge. I saw this bottle many times looking for the wine to open – as I’m not familiar with this wine and never bothered to research, I would always skip opening it just on the basis of the vintage – too young, next time, too young, next time. This time around, as our family on The Cape loves the Italian wines, I decided that the time has come to open it.

As we arrived Thursday evening, this was the first bottle we opened. Oh my… As soon as the wine made it to the glasses, the aromatics stopped everyone in their tracks. I can’t even describe it. Mature Italian wine at its peak literally gives me shivers. You can’t put down the glass, you don’t want a sip – you just want another smell, and then another one. Succulent cherries, eucalyptus, tobacco, iodine, ocean breeze – the bouquet delivered such an interplay of flavors that you simply forget the time. When you finally decide to take a sip, you are blown away anew – juicy cherries with herbs, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, and impeccable balance – just a divine experience (am I going to far? Can’t tell you. Wish you were there…). Hands down, this wine is an excellent contender for the top wine of 2020, rivaling Soldera experience (Drinkability: 9/9+).

As I had no idea about Coste, I decided to bring a couple of big guns – two of the Christophe Baron wines – No Girls and Cayuse. I knew that I’m committing a crime by opening 3 years old Cayuse – but this was my very first taste of Cayuse wine, after finally making it on the mailing list, so I decided to take my chances. 2010 No Girls Syrah La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.8% ABV) was as good as I expected it to be – a little bit of funk, black fruit, black pepper, full body, good structure and concentration, excellent balance – definitely a very enjoyable wine. 2017 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV), however, was a disappointment. I knew I’m opening the wine prematurely (the one can only hope. I wonder how Sassicaia does it, making their wines perfectly drinkable upon release), but I still expected the wine to come to its senses at least on the second day, and especially with the help of decanter.

The decanter didn’t help, even on the second day. The wine had some amount of fresh crunchy cherries in it, but that was the maximum excitement. The wine never demonstrated the body I would expect from the Washington Syrah, nor the depth of flavor and the textural experience on the palate. Again, this was not a bad wine, just not enjoyable for me. As this was my very first experience with Cayuse, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions – maybe the wine will completely change in a few years, or maybe the wine is just meant to be like this – I anticipate that the wine will need at least another 7-10 years before it will become fully enjoyable, but we will see. And if it just supposed to taste like that, this will be a serious disappointment, especially considering the price of this wine (around $100).

One more wine I want to mention here – 2017 Domaine La Font de Notre Dame Lirac AOC (14.5% ABV, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre). This wine was opened to compensate for the Cayuse not being very drinkable – and this GSM blend didn’t disappoint – perfectly drinkable and enjoyable from the moment the cork was pulled out. Bright fruit, medium to full body, good minerality, and perfect balance. The wine has limited availability, unfortunately, but if you can find it, it should set you back for less than $20 and this can be your perfect every day red for any time of the year.

There you go, my friends. This is how experiences form into the memories. The pleasure of drinking Coste will stay long in the memory – this was one of the most exciting wines this year. The absence of pleasure in my first sip of Cayuse will also become a long-lasting phenomenon. What are your strongest memories associated with wine?

An Open Letter To The Wine Lover Visiting Prague

May 24, 2020 Leave a comment

How often do you have regrets in your life? For how long do they last?

Not a simple question to answer, right? When you don’t listen to your wife and don’t wear a scarf on a cold and windy day, this will be a very short-living regret – I’m sure you will happily make the same mistake in a week. If you ignore a friend’s request to join him in the startup, and then 2 years later startup make a $1B exit – this is the regret you might have to live with for the rest of your life.

Once you become a passionate blogger, almost everything you see and experience becomes an opportunity for the new post, especially if the experience is a great one. You quickly start imagining that post in your head, you literally feel the happiness you would feel once the blog post is out. Then life gets the way, and 3 months later, you still remember that you wanted to write this post. 6 months, 10 months, a year – every time you start a new post, the regret of unfinished work gets to you first. Then the feeling becomes numb, and you finally forget.

I was looking for a bottle to open, and you know how it gets – not now, later, not ready, need a company – a ton of decisions to make regarding every single bottle. I finally decided on the bottle of 2013 Salabka Tes Yeux Neronet from the Czech Republic. After the very first sip, the happy smile came. Next came the crushing regret – I never wrote long thought though and thoroughly enjoyed, in the head, post about an amazing time we had at Salabka winery, top-notch dinner, and amazing wines. I was remembering about this for more than a year, and still never wrote it – and one sip of this Neronet wine brought all this back – the happy memory of our time in Prague and the regret of not fulfilling my own plans.

Most of the people would associate Prague and Czech Republic overall with beer. And those people would be right – kind of. Yes, the beer in Prague is an absolute standout. I’m not a beer guy, and yet I would happily drink beer in Prague at any occasion. But wine is a big deal there either. In the Moravia region alone there are more than 1,200 small, artisan, often moms and pops, producers. The wines there are made both from indigenous and international varieties, and the winemaking history goes back thousand years – I wrote about Czech wines in the past, you can find that post here.

In 2017, I was lucky to spend more than 2 weeks in Prague as I had two back to back events there. The city of Prague is absolutely amazing, boasting history on every corner – I shared some of my favorite highlights here. We also had a lot of amazing restaurant experiences, and some of them I shared here – but I let the brightest highlight, the visit to Salabka winery, to become a regret. And one sip of that Neronet wine forced me to say nope, not happening. Of course, it is not the same as writing about the experience while every sensation is fresh and vibrant. But I still have the pictures, so never mind the 3 years – I will still be able to share the experience with you.

Salabka is a city winery, located right in the middle of Prague, on the right bank of Vltava River. The vineyard is about 11 acres, and the winery produces about 10,000 bottles every year, with a full focus on the quality. There are only two red grapes grown at the winery – Pinot Noir and Neronet, local indigenous variety, and quite a few whites (Riesling, Müller Thurgau, Scheurebe, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay). Every bottle of wine produced at Salabka has a picture of the vineyard on the back label, also with an indication of the exact parcel where the particular grapes were growing.

Salabka is more than just a winery – they also have apartments for rent on the property, and most importantly, a restaurant that specializes in modern cuisine – including the molecular gastronomy.

Considering that our visit took place three years ago, I can’t give you a detailed account of the dishes – but I have pictures which clearly show the creative cuisine we were able to experience.

We started with the tour of the vineyards and the cellars, with a glass of delicious Chardonnay in hand, seeing bud breaks on the vines and beautiful views of the red roofs of Prague.

Then we had a tasting dinner, with all dishes paired with different wines, with foam and other molecular gastronomy elements being present almost in every dish. 2007 Salabka Le Diamant Blanc de Blancs was excellent, and I can still remember 2016 Salabka La Coquine Chardonnay with its Chablis-like gunflint and apple flavor (La Coqine Chardonnay was wine number 12 on my 2017 Top Wines list). I liked both wines so much that I even had to bring them back home, together with the red, made out of the Neronet grape.

It was that 2013 Salabka Tes Yeux Neronet wine which prompted this post. One sip of this peppery, acidic, herbs forward wine instantly brought back the memory of that trip. One sip of this wine instantly transports you to the old cellar, where wine was made, spilled, and stored for hundreds year – any oenophile can close their eyes and easily imagine themselves in such a cellar. The time and space travel machine is not invented yet, but properly made wine can easily replace it, and this Neronet certainly did.

So here it is, wine lovers. If you will be visiting Prague, remember that delicious wines are waiting for you. And if you are looking for a pleasure-filled evening, Salabka might be just the place. Cheers!

Chemistry of Wine

April 6, 2020 Leave a comment

I don’t want to mislead you – if you are expecting to see any scientific chemical analysis and/or formulae of the wines – you came fo the wrong place. The chemistry I’m talking about here is the one which usually sparkles between the people, creating instant attraction and inability to let go. You know how it is – you meet a person for the first time, and after two sentences, you feel that you knew the person forever and you can now talk endlessly, for hours and hours, and still wanting to talk more. “It’s chemistry” we often say in such cases – and it is the chemistry we want to talk about here, only not between the two persons, but rather a person and the wine.

This chemistry is something hard to explain. It is unexpected. It is a mystery. You don’t know when the chemistry will engage. You meet a person for the first time. You never met the person before. You have no idea as to what to expect. You are careful and reserved. But some words are exchanged, body movements are observed, and the next thing the conversation flowing and 3 hours later you think it was only 15 minutes which have passed, and you want to spend just another 15 minutes with your new friends.

It works exactly the same with the wine. You open a bottle. You pour, swirl, sniff, and sip. You take another sip, murmur something to yourself, and sip again. Next thing you are looking at the two fingers worth of wine left in the bottle and you ask yourself “what just have happened? Was someone else here drinking the wine with me?”. We can call it chemistry. I also like to call this a “dangerous wine” – this is the wine you casually enjoy so much that you lose the sense of time – and measure, of course.

I recently encountered such chemistry with not one, but 3 wines. All three were Italian. All three were dangerously delicious. It was hard to stop replenishing the glass, one sip after another. Do I have a special chemistry with Italian wines? I don’t think so. This has happened in the past, with wines from many regions. But the point of the matter stands – this was an encounter with three delicious wines, which happened to be made in Italy. So let’s talk about them.

Before we talk about individual wines, let’s touch on the common theme which ties them all together – Frescobaldi family. There are more than 700 years of Tuscan wines connected to the Frescobaldi family, Today, Frescobaldi family holdings are spread through the 7 estates in Tuscany (Ammiraglia, Castelgiocondo, Castiglioni, Nipozzano, Perano, Pomino, Remole), plus some of the best of the best in Italian wines – Ornellaia, Masseto, and a few others.

Attems‘ name is associated with winemaking in the Friuli Venezia Giulia for almost a thousand years. Since 2000, Attems is the part of Frescobaldi family holdings. I had Attems wines in the past, such as Attems Ramato, an “orange” wine made out of Pinot Grigio, and I really enjoyed that wine. This time around, I was able to try Attems Pinot Grigio, and I was really happy with what I discovered:

2018 Attems Pinot Grigio Friuli DOC (12.5% ABV, $20)
Straw pale
Lemon, herbs, earthy profile, welcoming
Soft white fruit profile, plums, some tropical fruit, good acidity, nicely present.
8-/8, dangerous, so easy to drink.

Tenuta Castiglioni had been at the center of the Frescobaldi wine story from the very beginning. Owned by the family since the 11th century, the estate takes its history from the Romans who built it along the strategic path connecting northern Tuscany with the city of Rome. I don’t believe I had Tenuta Castiglioni wines before, so this was my first and delicious encounter:

2017 Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti DOCG (13% ABV, $16)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, vanilla
Soft, round, tobacco, succulent cherries, layered, inviting.
8+, delicious, outstanding, dangerous. Really, really easy to drink.

Tenuta Luce (“luce” means “light” in Italian) is a unique product of the imagination of two of the wine world’s greatest – Vittorio Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi. After meeting in the nineties, the two men decided to build a new estate in one of the most coveted areas in Tuscany – Montalcino, home to Brunello di Montalcino wines. What makes Tenuta Luce unique is not just the partnership between Frescobaldi and Mondavi, but surely a bold move of planting the Merlot grapes in the land of Sangiovese Grosso. While Tenuta Luce produces Brunello, the flagship wine is called Luce and it is a Merlot/Sangiovese blend. I tasted Luce before and really enjoyed it. This time around, I had an opportunity to try Tenuta Luce second wine, again a Merlot/Sangiovese blend called Lucente – yet another delicious wine:

2017 Tenuta Luce Lucente Toscana IGT (14% ABV, $30, Sangiovese/Merlot blend, 12 months in old and new barriques)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark cherries, fennel, violets
Cherries, coffee, leather, perfectly structured, crisp acidity, perfectly integrated and balanced tannins.
8, delicious, and hard to stop.

As you can tell from the notes above, I really liked all three wines. Not just liked – after the first glass, there was an unconscious craving for another. And another. And another. It would be quite safe to call this a chemistry – I don’t know if I have a special bonding towards the Italian wines, but these three wines were drinking more like an obsession rather just some other tasty wines. And as it works in human relationships, chemistry is a good thing between the man and the wine. Have you found yours? Cheers!

Weekend in Wines

March 26, 2020 2 comments

Are we losing the sense of time? The weekend was always a special time, and I don’t mean in a TGIF way – most of the time, I’m happy with Friday evening, and I’m happy with Monday morning. But the weekend usually meant different types of activities – going somewhere, meeting with friends, maybe going to the city for a leisure stroll and a dinner – you name it. Now, as we have to be pretty much confined to your house due to the virus, the days are becoming mostly all the same, and the weekend simply means “huh, it is Saturday” (note the absence of exclamation mark).

My last weekend, however, was still a bit different, and it translated into some interesting bottles being opened.
On Friday, we had a family dinner. I always ask if anyone wants to drink wine, which defines which bottle will be opened. I got absolutely unexpected “yes, I would like some wine” which sent my heart racing for a second and caused near panic stall. You know how it is – when someone asks oenophile for a glass of wine on short notice, there is an instant desire to please, which translates into an attempt to identify the right bottle in a split second, thus you need to mentally flip through the content of all your wine cabinets (shelves) in the shortest amount of time, as nobody will be patiently waiting for you to perform the shelf dance for 20 minutes while the meat is getting cold.

I can honestly tell you that in a situation like that, the end result almost always ends up the same – I pull a bottle of Turley. Turley literally never disappoints, pretty much without any regard to the age, unlike many other amazing wines which simply can’t be appreciated until at least 10–15 years in the bottle. So the bottle I opened was 2014 Turley Zinfandel Cedarman Howell Mountain (15.6% ABV). There is a no bigger reward for the oenophile’s heart than to hear from someone you are trying to please “ohh, this is such good wine!” – and it really was. Rich, opulent, bursting with smokey blackberries and blueberries, you know that succulent and generous fruit you can’t just put down – the wine was stunning in its open generosity – and perfect balance.

The next day was my daughter’s 18th birthday, so needless to say that the appropriate bottle(s) had to be open. First, I always try to open a bottle of vintage matching the birth year. I don’t have a lot of 2002s laying around, unfortunately, so my decision fell on 2002 Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia Rioja DOC (12.5% ABV). Lopez de Heredia is one of the very best (and one of my most favorite) Rioja producers, so I’m always happy to open their wines. Lopez de Heredia white Rioja is legendary – white Riojas are still rare, and not all of them can age. This wine was an excellent example – it had a tremendous interplay of flavors in the glass, moving from succulent white plums, then showing tropical fruit undertones, then bristle with acidity to the point of young Chablis and ending with a beautiful oxidative profile of classic Jura Savagnin. If you like mature white wines, this is a delight for sure.

For the aged red, I decided to open the bottle of 1998 J. Kirkwood Merlot Napa Valley (13% ABV). I got a few bottles from the Benchmark Wine company last year at a great (incredible?) price of about $20 – I never heard of J. Kirkwood, so I really was going by the combination of age and price when ordering this wine. Boy, what a treat. Forget everything you know of and everything you think Merlot is. This wine was loaded with smoke, tar, and spices. Yes, there was a core of fruit, but not your typical aromatic cassis, more of the crunchy blackberries, smothered in exotic spices. Dense, brooding and delicious would be the right way to describe it – as long as I will not try comparing it with our last wine.

I’m sure you’ve been in the same situation. You have a special bottle of wine. You know it is not ready. You are 200% sure it is not ready. But then you simply get fixated on the idea that you want to open the bottle, especially when there is anything (anything!) to celebrate. And so my daughter’s birthday was a perfect reason to open the bottle of 2016 Andremily Wines Syrah No 5 California (15.5% ABV).

First I heard about Andremily wines after I signed up for the waiting list for the mailing list of Sine Qua Non, one of the most coveted wineries in the USA. While waiting to get on the mailing list (still waiting), one of the emails from the winery mentioned new projected, Andremily, related to the Sine Qua Non by way of the Jim Binn, who was working as a cellar master at Sine Qua Non. Jim started Andremily in 2011 with his wife Rachel, and the winery was named after their two kids, Andrew and Emily.

My first attempt to sign up for the Andremily list was also unsuccessful, but I finally got invited a few years after.

I have to tell you that opening that bottle was a mistake, but it was one mistake which I don’t regret. The note from the winery mentioned that it is recommended to decant the wine for 2–3 hours prior to drinking. I did that, and I have to say that 3 hours in decanter had no effect on the wine. Black color (not kidding), the wine was impossible to describe. It had an incredible aromatics of dark berries, ink, cola, iodine, a touch of barnyard. The palate was not tannic, but the power of this wine was beyond imagination – dense, chewy, ultra-concentrated, with dark fruit, tar, iodine, herbs, and sunny meadows, all attacking your senses at once. This was definitely not an enjoyable wine despite the 3 hours in the decanter.

I poured the wine back into the bottle, pumped the air out and tried it the next day. And the next day. And the next day. On day 3, it finally gave up and showed its true and beautiful character. Dark, succulent, tart cherries, sweet oak, pepper, sage, all mellowed down and started to sing together in a round, harmonious way. This wine needs patience, and the patient will be rewarded handsomely. For sure a memorable wine and experience.

These are not the happiest times we are living through, but still, there is plenty to enjoy (well, I always said that we, oenophiles, having it easier than all). What were your recent memorable wine encounters?

What a night! Notes from OTBN 2020

March 14, 2020 11 comments

Open That Bottle Night is the best wine holiday out there. It is nice to celebrate all the individual grapes – Chardonnay Day, Albarigño Day and the likes – but that can’t compare with an opportunity to open a special or the most special bottle you have in your possession, and most importantly, share it with fellow oenophiles, the people who appreciate and respect that special bottle.

I’ve been lucky for two years in the row to be invited to someone’s house to celebrate OTBN – last year Jim VanBergen of JvBUncorked fame was our host, and this year John Fodera of the Tuscan Vines hosted of amazing wine night.

John did a great job organizing this memorable night for the group of people most of whom he never met face to face (yours truly included – we had been following each other for close to 10 years, but managed to avoid any face to face contacts until now) – he developed a loyal group of followers as Italian wines expert, and I’m sure everyone was happy to finally meet him in person.

John managed to come up with a great program. After the round of Lambrusco bubbles (which is the rave nowadays) we started the evening with two blind tastings. We had 2 groups of 3 wines each, trying to identify at least a place and type of wine, and ideally even the producer. We also voted for the group’s favorites. I generally suck at blind tastings, so I did poorly (as expected). I also decided not to use the external factors in the tasting (I.e., John is Italian wine guy, so we should simply expect all the wines to be Italian; another guess would be that as John’s blog is called Tuscan Vines, all the wines will be from Tuscany).

Here are my notes for the first flight:

Wine 1: Touch of mint, full-body, good structure, a touch of black currant – super Tuscan?

Wine 2: great concentration, dark fruit, layered, silky smooth – Montepulciano di Abruzzo?

Wine 3: nice fruit, bright, good structure. Super Tuscan? New World?

Needless to say that I was absolutely wrong with all three. Again, I could’ve used a bit of psychology and figure out that John would be pouring only Tuscan wines, but I deliberately refused to do so. The wines were perfectly polished and complex, all three, without screaming “I’m Chianti” with the appearance of leather, tobacco, or tart cherries. To make a long story short, all three wines happened to be Chianti Classico Gran Selezione from 2016 vintage, provided to John by Chianti Classico Consortium. In the order of appearance, these were the wines:

2016 Fèlsina Chianti Classico Colonia Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 100% Sangiovese)

2016 Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot)

2016 Fontodi Vigna Del Sorbo Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG ($NA, 100% Sangiovese)

I want to add that the second wine, Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano, won a popular vote with 5 votes out of 10 – this was also my favorite wine.

The next flight consisted again of three wines. Here are my notes:

Wine 1: dark fruit, eucalyptus, crushed berries, green tannins – Bordeaux blend, can be from anywhere

Wine 2: Roasted meat, plums, salami, plums on the palate – Grenache/GSM? Can be from anywhere

Wine 3: too aggressive, green tannins, black currant. Bordeaux blend, can be from anywhere.

Again, I should’ve expected another line of Italian wines, but I thought John could play some tricks, so I didn’t go with an obvious idea of Super Tuscans. And I was wrong. All three wines were well known Super Tuscans (these three wines were courtesy of Kobrand Wines):

2017 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno Toscana IGP ($75, 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot)

2016 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto Toscana IGP ($54, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot)

2016 Lodovico Antinori Tenuta di Biserno Il Pino di Biserno Toscana IGP ($70, Cabernet Franc with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot)

I really didn’t appreciate the tannic nature of wines number one and number three, and those tannins were not only aggressive but literally biting. Oh well. Wine #1, Oreno, was the crowd’s favorite (7 votes out of 10). This time around my vote didn’t match the majority, as I went with the wine #2, Guidalberto, as this was the only drinkable wine for my palate.

After finishing the tasting and discussing the results, it was time to eat. First, there was pasta bolognese, which John masterfully prepared:

And then there was meat. John decided to spoil the group with 2.5” porterhouse steaks, to make Bistecca Fiorentine:

We went to work the grill which was an interesting adventure, mining the grill to prevent flare-ups on a cold night. We actually had to make two attempts to get the steaks right, as they were still mooing after the first pass. But we managed to produce something delicious in the end and not ruin the amazing steaks.

Now, time to meditate. Nope, this was not an organized food prayer session. What happened was that the bottle of Soldera Brunello di Montalcino was poured out of the decanter. Mike Giordano brought a bottle 1999 Soldera Brunello de Montalcino in completely unassuming, low key, way. Gianfranco Soldera was a legend, who bought a property called Case Basse in Montalcino in 1972, with an aim to produce the best Brunello wines. By 1990s Soldera wines reached cult status, coupling impeccable quality with small production. Talking about Gianfranco Soldera and his wines would be best suited for a separate dedicated post, as controversy completely surrounded him; I have to say that I never expected to taste his wines – until this memorable OTBN.

Just look at this color…

1999 Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino DOCG was truly a meditation wine. “Meditation wine” might not be a simple term to explain in words, but if you like wines, there is a chance that you experienced it one time or the other. The nose, the aroma, the bouquet of this wine were simply magical. Taking the whiff from the glass, the time was stopping – no need to try to analyze the amazing palette of flavors to come up with individual descriptors – this wine should be described purely on the sensory level, as every smell was bringing a pure, hedonistic pleasure. I didn’t care for food, I didn’t care for talking – I just wanted to take another smell, and another, and another. When I finally took a sip, the wine was magnificent on the palate too – a perfect balance of plums, cherries, textural layers, structure, sage, rosemary – a perfect harmony of flavors. It is quite possible that this was my wine of the year 2020 – I know it is only March, but this was an experience that is seriously hard to beat. I don’t feel that I should even try rating this wine, but if I would dare, this would be my second ever 10- (don’t ask me why not 10, I have no idea what my perfect 10 wine should smell and taste like).

After the meditation session, just a few words on the dinner. In addition to the delicious meat, John made a couple of side dishes – the sautéed white beans were an absolute hit, adored by all literally as much as the beef. John actually promised to share a recipe – you can find the recipe in this post.

This was not the end of our wine program. We also had 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi – Campochiarenti is a producer John is always raving about in his posts, so it was definitely interesting to finally taste this wine (Campochiarenti wines at the moment are not imported into the US, but available directly from the winery). The wine was classic and simple, and for about $12 (if it will be imported into the US, this is expected retail price) it will be definitely a great value. I brought a bottle of 2010 No Girls Grenache from Walla Walla in Washington, which was very tasty but radically non-Italian, so I don’t think it was well-received. I also brought one of my recent finds – 2016 Pedro Cancela Selecção do Enólogo from Dão, which was an old world and a lot closer to the overall theme, and an amazing QPR at $9 per bottle at the local Bottle King store. 2010 Capanna Brunello Di Montalcino was delicious, but it was a tough call to get everyone excited after experiencing the Soldera. Lastly, we had 1999 Natale Fantino Nepas Nebbiolo Passito Piedmont which was interestingly dry and light, but not necessarily my favorite.

That gives you more or less a full picture. We also had a wonderful spread of Italian desserts, and truth be told, for the first time ever I tasted cannoli which I liked. It appears that the good cannoli should be filled with cream at the moment of purchase and not before – now I will know.

And now we are done. How was your OTBN 2020? Cheers!

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