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Pure Pleasure, And How To Express It

September 5, 2022 Leave a comment

Does this glass give you pleasure?

You take a sip of wine. The wine is sublime. It is beautiful. It is complex. The wine solicits emotion – it makes you happy. It makes you moan quietly inside your head, you might extort an “OMG” or a “Wow”, and after a pause, you take another sip. You are not in a hurry. You want to extend this pleasure for as long as possible.

Wine is art. Wine doesn’t leave you indifferent. Wine solicits emotion.

Painting is art. Painting doesn’t leave you indifferent. Painting solicits emotion.

Music is art. Music doesn’t leave you indifferent. Music solicits emotion.

We can consider wine to be a form of art, the same as painting, music, poetry, architecture, and many other human creations which invite an emotional reaction. Do you know what makes wine a unique form of art? Your utter desire to share it.

You can quietly stare at a beautiful painting for a long time, slowly uncovering little details and being in the moment. Even if you stand next to someone else looking at the same painting, 99 out of 100 you are simply focused on your own personal moment.

When listening to the music, even if you are in the concert hall surrounded by thousands, the music is being played only for you and this is how you want to keep it. You can buy a recording and listen to it 100 times. Just by yourself, and you are happy about it.

Have you seen an oenophile get excited about wine? The excited oenophile grabs the total stranger by the sleeve, shoves the glass into their face and says “here, here, you must try this!!!” It is very important for an oenophile to be able to share the joy of the experience with others. There is an ultimate pleasure in sharing your excitement with others, as wine is an art that needs to be shared.

Sharing pleasure is easy in person. Have you tasted magnificent, life-altering wines in the group? If you had, you probably noticed the collective “ohh”, rolling the eyes, unprompted nodding, maybe a muttered “oh my god”, and then silence. The silence of the greatness of the moment, slowly settling in.

This in-person sharing of the pleasure is simple, and kind of just happens on its own. The real challenge comes when you decide to share that ultimate pleasure with the rest of the world.

So how can one express pure pleasure?

A typical way to describe the wine is via so-called tasting notes. Such tasting notes are often called “technical notes” as they usually describe the wine in terms of appearance, aroma, bouquet, and finish – using analogies such as “brickish color”, “smell of mushrooms”, or “taste of dark cherries”. The wine is described in the terms which the wine drinker is supposed to relate to – and it is a great review if you can relate to all of the terms used without trying to figure out what is Cascarilla and how it actually smells, or how Jabuticaba tastes like. What is usually not found in the tasting notes is the emotion – how this wine might make you feel; will you scream with joy when you will take a sip? Yes, I get it. Even the aromas and flavors are subjective. The emotion which you will experience while drinking the wine is yours and yours only – the person next to you might not experience the same enlightenment – and nevertheless, even the hope for greatness is worth sharing.

Can wine pleasure be expressed in the words by professional wine critics? You be the judge of it. Here is the collection of tatsing notes for the 1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru. At this link, you will find the reviews from Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, John Gilman, and others. Here is the best excerpt in my opinion. John Gilman: “La Tâche ‘66 is deep, full and opulent on the palate, with a grandiose delivery of thick, perfumed fruit, excellent balance, plenty of power, great focus and finesse, and an incredibly long, softly-tannic and astoundingly complex finish.” This might be the best description out of the six present, but does it convey the emotion?

Does this wine give you pleasure?

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of drinking two wines from the 1997 vintage (1997 is a special year for our family). These two wines really prompted this post. First, I opened the 1997 Château Haut-Piquat Lussac Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc). The wine was somewhat of a recent find at the Wine Exchange – after getting an email offer to buy 1997 Bordeaux for $19.99, I had no option but to get a few bottles. I was happy to see the cork coming out in its entirety with no issues. I was ready with the decanter, but the wine in the glass was quite approachable. After the initial grippy tannins dissipated in 20-30 minutes, what was left in the glass was an absolutely sublime beauty. You see, this is where the challenge lies. Here is the technical description from the Wine Exchange: “a wine that still possesses a youthful charm as there is something to be said for ex-chateau. A beautiful plum/garnet color with very little lightening for its age. This 1997 is full to medium-bodied, showing lots of forest floor, roasted herbs, cedar, tobacco, black cherry, blackcurrant, and new saddle leather. It is opulent and is just entering its plateau of full maturity. The tannins are soft and subtle with an elegant seamless finish. ”

The description is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t help me to express my emotion. The mind singing with every sip. Pure joy in each and every sip. Enough pleasure in every sip to give a nerve enough to tell my wife, who was enjoying the wine with me “this is almost as good as sex”. A personal perspective for sure, but yes, this was the wine.

I didn’t have many expectations for 1997 Chateau Montelena Saint Vincent Red Wine Napa Valley (13.5% ABV, blend of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Sangiovese). Chateau Montelena is absolutely legendary with its role in the Judgement of Paris, especially if you had an opportunity to see the movie Bottle Shock. But Saint Vincent is an eclectic blend, produced only for 5 years from 1995 till 1999, and it is not given that this type of wine can age for 25 years. While very different from the previous Bordeaux in its profile of cherries, eucalyptus, and herbs, it had such a lip-smacking, savory and satisfying bouquet, that every sip was demanding to be followed by another sip.

Do you want a second glass?

I have no idea how to convey the pure pleasure the wine can bring. Maybe emotion is the key. There are lots of good wines out there. The wines you are happy to drink any day every day. Maybe it is the excitement that needs to be measured. Or maybe this is simply in the unyielding desire to share this pleasure with the world. The act of telling the world how amazing the wine was, and hoping that everybody will see it that way too.

Let’s share our little joys with one another. And if you know how to convey this pure wine pleasure, please let me in on that secret.

 

Daily Glass: Winning and Learning

August 29, 2022 Leave a comment

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

You never lose – learning is the opposite of winning – I think this is a better approach to life, would you agree?

I love aging my wines. The popular wine press tells people that 95% of the wines in this world are meant to be consumed shortly after purchasing. “Absolute majority of the wine is not meant to be aged,” the message says. I don’t want to obnoxiously invalidate all the expert opinions, but the subject of wine aging is a lot more complicated than the simple statement portrays.

Lots of factors play a role. The wine itself is probably the most critical factor. White wines generally don’t age too well. To be more precise, percentage-wise, a lesser number of white wines can age well compared to red wines. But this doesn’t mean that all red wines age well. For example, red Cotes du Rhone typically don’t age for longer than 4-5 years.

I wish there was an easy method to tell us, wine lovers, that “this wine will age for 30 years”, but “this one got only 10 more left”. There is no such method, however, so we need to rely primarily on our experiences. I’m not trying to disqualify all of the wonderful advice we receive from the wine critic and publications – but it would be rare to receive an aging recommendation there unless the wine is deemed of a “collector” level – which pretty much means that it will not be really affordable.

At this point, you might wonder why is all this commotion with the aging of the wines. Simple. Wine is a living thing. The evolution of the wine continues in the bottle. It is a general hope that wine can improve with time, evolve, become more complex and multidimensional.But the wine can’t evolve forever – at some point it starts “turning”, losing its delicious, attractive qualities.

It is important that the wine drinker can appreciate the beauty of the aged wine – it is not for everyone. I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way – this is simply a matter of taste. One of my most favorite examples is the blind tasting of a few Champagnes which took place during Windows on the World wine classes. After blind tasting 4 Champagnes, the group was asked to vote for their favorite Champagne. Champagne #4 got almost no votes, it was clearly the least favorite of the group of 100+ people. While revealing the wines, Kevin Zraly, our wine teacher, said “and this is why, people, you should not drink vintage Champagne”. Bottle #4 was Dom Perignon – if people would see the label before voting, you know how that would work (”drink up, honey, it is French”). And Vintage Champagne is nothing more than just an aged wine. It is just a matter of taste. The same story goes for food. For example – I love fresh oysters, and I have friends who wouldn’t put an oyster into their mouth even if this will be required to save their own life. Just a matter of taste.

But for those of us who like aged wines, that elusive quest becomes an obsession. I love the Italian term “vino da meditazione”, which applies to the wines which make conversation stop upon the first sip, and puts the whole group of oenophiles into a quiet, self-reflective state. The silence at the table becomes not deafening, but instead a very comfortable one. The silence nobody wants to break.

Okay, such amazing encounters are possible but truly rare. But the pleasure of drinking the well-aged wine is real, and this is what we are seeking. And as we don’t have the scientific method of predicting the peak of enjoyment for a given wine, we have to rely on our own experience. Which takes us back to winning and learning. When we experienced well-aged wine, we clearly won. And when the wine with age doesn’t deliver the pleasure, this is where we learn.

It is not so binary, of course. The point is that no matter what happened, we learn something. When you taste a random but amazing $10 bottle of California red blend (Toasted Head) with 15 years of age on, you learn that inexpensive wines can age too. When you taste 2002 Barolo (Fontanafredda) 10 years after release, and you see that the vintage chart declares this vintage as literally horrible, but the wine tastes good, you learn that the producer matters more than the vintage. When you taste two bottles from the same producer and the same vintage, but you love one of them and can’t stand another, you learn that bottle variation is real and that you have to always manage your expectations.

This whole rambling about winning, learning and aging was prompted by a few wines I opened last week.

First, the learning part. 12 years ago we did the Pinot Noir blind tasting with friends, with a very unexpected outcome – 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa was the best wine in that blind tasting. I loved the wine so much that I went and got a bottle to keep. Over the years, I made many attempts on the life of this bottle, until the last weekend I decided to share it with a friend. Upon opening the wine was reminiscent of the good Burgundy, with the nose offering some plums, iodine, and smoke. But the wine quickly succumbed to the tertiary aromas of dry herbs and maybe a hint of dried fruit, and while my friend really loved it, this was a complete loss learning in my book.

Then another friend was stopping shortly after his birthday. He always liked the wines, but recently started getting really “more into it”. He was stopping by for the dinner, and when we were talking about wines a few days prior, he mentioned that he started liking the Brunello and Amarone wines. There is no happier moment for the oenophile than to learn what the guest desires to drink – the cellar is instantly paraded in the search for the best and the most appropriate bottle.

I don’t know how I came into possession of the 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, I can only guess I got it as a present. This single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino was absolutely spectacular – beautiful cherries on the palate – not the fresh and crunchy ones, but more subdued, more elegant, eloped in the sage and other herbal aromatics. The wine was spectacular when we opened it, and when I finished the last drop 2 days later (wine was kept in the bottle with the air pumped out), I had a clear feeling of regret as the wine was not gone, but instead was still fresh and even more complex, with a promise of becoming the Vini da meditations in 10 years, same the 1999 Soldera had become for us – alas, I don’t have another bottle…

And then my pet peeve – you know how much I love Amarone. I got a few bottles of the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi Amarone della Valpolicella from WTSO 7 years ago. This was my last bottle, and boy it didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful in its finesse and impeccable balance all the way through. Dried fruit on the nose, powerful, well-structured wine on the palate, with more of the dried fruit, cherries, plums and herbs, and with good acidity, perfect balance and delicious bitter finish. It is not for nothing Amarone means Great Bitter – and there was this pleasant bitterness on the finish, something hard to find in most of the Amarone wines.

Here you are, my friends, my story of winning and learning. Three aged wines, two of them delicious, two that could age for far longer (learning!). One learning experience – but who knows, maybe it was only that particular bottle. Moving on.

What did you win and learn lately?

Anatomy of Flavor

July 22, 2022 4 comments

Anatomy of Flavor???

The author clearly goes on a tangent here. Everyone knows what anatomy means, and it has nothing to do with the wine. And nevertheless, let’s take a look at some definitions and see if we can actually analyze the anatomy of flavor.

Webster’s dictionary defines anatomy in a few different ways:

 

Definition number five describes anatomy as

structural makeup especially of an organism or any of its parts

Anatomy explains to us how living things are constructed. How do they move, jump, roll, smile, and cry.

Of course, the flavor is not a living being – but it is amorous, it changes, it morphs, it is perceived, and it is perceived differently every time, depending on many, many, many factors that we can spend days and days discussing.

I like definition number three more, as it is more appropriate for our purposes:

the art of separating the parts of an organism in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function

Anatomy offers a firm structure – can we apply the same to flavor and understand how our perception of it works? Mostly, and luckily, no – we can’t. We have no idea how we will perceive the flavor of the particular wine once it is open – of course, we have expectations, but this is only one of the subjective factors in our perception of flavor, one of many. Instead, I can offer you to look at how the flavor is being built.

There is also definition number six:

a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination

Anatomy explains to us how our muscles work and how they grow. Let’s see if we can take a similar look at the flavor of the wine.

We can’t do this with any random wine – if someone makes single-grape Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir wines, all those wines are not connected to each other, they are unique and different – we can not taste Syrah and make expectations about Pinot Noir (assuming these are good quality wines) – as they have nothing in common. Most importantly, they better taste differently. But – there are wines which are perfectly suitable for our exercise. Do I have an example? Of course, glad you asked, but before we talk about particular wines, let’s take a look at the region they are coming from. Let’s go to Northern Italy, to the region called Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is a winemaking region east of Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, which is in turn located in Veneto. The region is influenced by the Alps to the north, Lake Garda to the west, and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Valpolicella received its DOC status in 1968, and Amarone and Recioto received the DOCG status in 2009. In terms of DOC wine production volume, Valpolicella is the second region in Italy after Chianti.

There are a few types of wines produced in the region – Valpolicella DOC, light wines considered to be similar in style to Beaujolais, Valpolicella Superiore, which should be aged at least one year, Valpolicella Ripasso, and, the most coveted wines, Amarone and Recioto.

It is not exactly known when winemaking started in Valpolicella. Still, it is typically associated with the ancient Greeks who were famous for making sweet wines made from partially dried grapes. That tradition of drying grapes before pressing is also a requirement for both Recioto and Amarone wines – this converts grapes to almost raisins and concentrates flavors. A lot of attention is also paid to preventing any sort of rot setting on the grapes as this imparts undesirable flavors.

Talking about red grapes, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara are considered the main winemaking grapes, even though many winemakers are trying to avoid Molinara as of late. Corvina should constitute between 45% and 95% of the blend – but up to 50% of Corvina can be substituted with Corvionone, which was identified as a distinct variety and not a clone of Corvina only in 1993. Out of all Val[policella wines, Ripasso stands aside as quite unique – it is made by macerating the Valpolicella wine with the pomace (grape skins) left after making Amarone and Recioto wines, which enriches the flavor of the wine – Valpolicella Ripasso is often referred to as “baby Amarone” (or “poor man Amarone” – you take your pick).

Of all wines made in Valpolicella (most of them are red), Amarone stands apart as the most sought-after. The grapes have to dry for anywhere between 3 and 4 months before they can be pressed to make Amarone. Those dried fruit flavors are retained by the final wine, assuming it is well made. The combination of the dried fruit aromas and powerful, dry, usually high-alcohol wine creates really a unique experience – if you have not had Amarone before, this is something that needs to be experienced by any wine lover.

Also going back to our “premise” with this post – to take a deeper look at the build-up, the anatomy of the flavor, Valpolicella wines offer an almost unique opportunity. Most of the Valpolicella wines are made from the same set of grapes, sometimes even used in the same proportions. The winemaking process is what creates the difference. Base Valpolicella wine can be aged for a year to get to Superiore designation. The same base wine can be macerated with Amarone pomace to become the Ripasso. The same grapes that are used for basic Valpolicella can also dry for 3-4 months, and then become an Amarone.

Let’s go one level deeper and look at some practical examples, shall we?

Tedeschi family ancestors purchased vineyards in Valpolicella four centuries ago, in 1630. The modern history of the Tedeschi winemaking family started 200 years ago, in 1824 when the family winery was established by Niccolò Tedeschi. Today the winery is operated by the fifth generation of the family, continuing the winemaking traditions.

Tedeschi estate is located in the village of Pedemonte di Valpolicella, with 75 acres of vineyards planted on the 200 acres estate. Tedeschi firmly believe that good wines are made in the vineyard, and they focus not only on showcasing the terroir but also conduct studies to understand the soil composition in the vineyard. Another important winemaking element is the use of not only the main 3 Valpolicella grapes (Corvine, Covinone, Rondinella) but the full range of grapes including Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, and Forselina. They also produce all types of Valpolicella wines – Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto.

For our “anatomy” exercise, I had an opportunity to taste 3 of the Tedeschi wines – Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicela. All three wines are made from the identical set of grapes, used in the same proportions, so the difference is only in the winemaking techniques. Below are my notes with some additional information about the wines.

2019 Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore DOC (13.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 1 month, 1-1.5 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark ruby
Captivating nose of earthy dark fruit, tobacco, rocks
Beautiful fruit, blackberries, cherries, cherry pit, tart, focused, perfectly structured, perfectly balanced – lots of pleasure.
8/8+. Delicious.

2018 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC (14.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, alcoholic fermentation on the marc of Amarone and Recioto for 8-10 days, 1/2 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet
A hint of dried fruit, toasted nuts
Round fruit, cherries, soft, approachable, earthy undertones, well-integrated tannins, a hint of tobacco on the finish.
8/8+, delicious.

The name Marne 180 is a nod to the marl soils where the vineyard is located and 180 is degrees of exposure, from south-east to south-west. Source: Tedeschi

2018 Marne 180 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (16.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 4 months, 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Dark, concentrated, forest underbrush
Dried fruit, cherries, intermingled layers, powerful, well structured, delicious.
8+

Can we conclude anything from our flavor research? The wines share some similarities, but this is probably all I can say. I don’t see a clear progression from one wine to another, they are simply tasty wines, each one in its own right. Does it mean that we can’t talk about the anatomy of the flavor? I think we still can, but it is definitely more complicated than it seems.

The important outcome of this research project is three tasty wines from Tedeschi which I’m happy to recommend to you for your daily drinking pleasure. And this is the best conclusion we can make. Cheers!

Wine, Beer, and Road Trip

June 21, 2022 Leave a comment

Some road trips require long planning. Some are just spontaneous. The road trip we took two weekends ago was somewhat in between, more on the spontaneous side. I had a Marriott certificate expiring by the end of the month, and I couldn’t let it go to waste. Balancing places I would like to visit with the low value of this certificate, travel madness ensuing in the country, and the desire to stay within a 3-hour driving radius from home narrowed down the search. The town of Reading in Pennsylvania offered a reasonable combination of all the factors I mentioned above, so this is where we decided to go.

There are many advantages when traveling by car, such as ultimate flexibility of the schedule. The ability to bring your own bottle of wine to the hotel is another big one. This is exactly what we did.

I don’t know what possessed me to bring 2016 Saxum as the wine of choice, but this is what I did. By the time we settled in the room and were ready to have a glass of wine, the day reached my favorite “Kodak moment” – the sunset. I obviously couldn’t miss such a beautiful sky painting – at the same time, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to include the bottle of Saxum in the picture. First the bottle, then the glass.

You know how they say “no people/animals/objects were damaged during the filming of this video”, right? This was not a video, just a picture. And no animals were hurt. No people were hurt either (I think?). As for the objects… Well, the glass didn’t survive my adventurous stupidity. This was a standard wine glass, which can’t really stand on top of the wine bottle. It almost felt, and I was lucky enough to catch it before it went down. Someone with a better belief in the laws of statistics would take this “almost fall” as a fair warning. But not this guy. I put the glass back and continued taking pictures, trying to get the wine label into the picture. Until glass finally met the ground (ground – 1, glass – 0), giving my wife and me an opportunity to dance next to the window sill for the next 20 minutes trying not to cut ourselves with the tiniest remnants and also remove wine traces from surrounding surfaces. Felt like an idiot for the next 2 days. Oh well – maybe I will learn? Or not…

On the positive side, the 2016 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles Willow Creek District (15.9% ABV, 72% Syrah, 10% Mataro, 9% Graciano, 6% Grenache, 3% Roussanne) was absolutely surprising and spectacular. The surprising part was that this 6-year-old wine from California was perfectly drinkable upon opening – I would never expect it. The spectacular part was in the layers and gobs of fresh, succulent fruit, unending pleasure of interplay of blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and sweet oak, balancing acidity and full-bodied power each sip was offering. The wine was even better on the second day, becoming a touch more mellow. The same wine perfectly complemented the cigar on day 4. I’m sorry about the glass, but I’m really happy with my first Saxum experience.

Then there was beer. Clearly, I drink a lot less beer than wine. Nevertheless, I have a full appreciation for a glass of well-made beer (about 25 years ago I was one of the first members of the Beer Across America club, at the very beginning of the American craft beer revolution). Even more than a glass of beer, I like the opportunity to experience a tasting flight – which we found at the Chatty Monks Brewery in West Reading.

The Chatty Monks brewery binds itself as a “nano-brewery”. I have no idea what that means, I can only assume that they are implying that their production is much less than the microbrewery (microbrewery in itself is a highly contested term – for a long time Samual Adams defined itself as a microbrewery, while their volumes were clearly not at the “micro” level). Anyway, let’s leave the size aside and talk about the taste.

A tasting flight at Chatty Monks includes 4 beers which you can select from the list of beers available on tap. Out of the 14 available beers I went with Alondra which was a stout – the only dark beer available and I prefer dark beer whenever I can; Split Face which is defined as Pretzel-Style amber lager (no idea what pretzel-style means); Pray for More, a New England IPA, and Tree Trimming, which is described as “winter warmer” – again, no idea what that means.

Of these 4, we absolutely loved 3, which were each delicious in their own way. The beer lovers will have to forgive the wine lover trying to describe the beer experience, but Alondra, Split Face, and Pray for More were perfectly balanced and round, each in their own category. I rarely perceive the bitterness of the stouts, including Guinness, and the Alondra was just rich, creamy, coffee-like, and delicious. Split Face was fresh and bright, with enough body to complement fried foods. And Pray for More was probably the most exciting IPA I ever tasted – while it had the characteristic bitterness, it was complemented and leveled by bright citrus, and orange notes – altogether making it irresistible. We loved the beers so much that even got all 3 to bring home – except that Pray for More was sold out in the standard cans so we got one big 32 oz can which was made for us right on the spot. If you are ever in the area – this is the beer to crave.

We talked about wine. We talked about beer. Now, the last part – the road trip. We had more or less one full day for all of the explorations. Luckily, we had been to this part of Pennsylvania many times, so exploring Amish villages, lifestyle and museums was not on the itinerary. In addition to immensely enjoying driving around green pastures with cows, sheep, and horses, going up and down little hills on the narrow country roads, we visited a couple of places we had not seen before. One was Reading Pagoda, a fully authentic rendition of a traditional Asian structure, enacted first in 1908. Apparently, this is the only pagoda in the world with a fireplace and a chimney – which we were unable to see as the building itself was closed. But we were able to fully enjoy the views of the town of Reading, from the south end of Mount Penn where the pagoda is located. You can also see it through the lens of my trusted iPhone:

Another stop we made was to see the covered bridge called Wertz’s Covered Bridge, one of the covered bridges located in the Berks County – also the longest single-span covered bridge in Pennsylvania at 204 feet across. It was really fun imagining all of those carriages traversing the creek since 1867 when the bridge was built. You can close your eyes and hear the sound of the horseshoes hitting the wood pavement as carriages are slowly pulled through the bridge… Well, here are a few pictures, I’m sure you can add the horses as you see fit…

That makes it a full account of the wine, beer, and road trip experiences. Next, we will talk about some fun wine experiences on Cape Cod. Stay tuned…

Slow, Sustainable, Delicious

February 27, 2022 Leave a comment

“Slow forward”.

Is slow forward good or bad? In a world where instant gratification is a king, moving forward should be fast, right? We all want progress to accelerate, move faster, aren’t we? So slow is not good, right? Well, actually wrong.

Maybe “slow forward” is something we all need to adapt. Move forward, but take our time to enjoy the process of moving forward, instead of constantly being under stress for “not enough hours in a day” – moving fast, but not necessarily forward.

For sure, Herdade de Esporão embraces this “slow forward” process, as this is their motto. Not only motto – it is a principle of operation and the lifestyle, which they would like more people to embrace. Sit down, slow down, have a glass of wine and read their Slow Forward Manifesto, and see if you agree with what it says. Also, note that the slow movement is much bigger than just the one at Herdade de Esporão – you can learn more about it here.

Herdade de Esporão was founded in 1973, when José Roquette and his partner bought the historical Herdade do Esporão estate, located in Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC in Alentejo and tracing its roots back to 1267. The first red wine was produced at the estate in 1985. Fast forward to today, there are more than 40 different grape varieties growing at the estate, along with 4 different types of olive trees, all farmed organically. Conversion of more than 1,300 acres of vineyards and olive groves to all-organic farming started in 2008 and took 11 years to complete. Now Herdade de Esporão is helping growers they are working with to convert to all-organic viticulture as well.

In addition to the 40 grape varieties cultivated in the vineyards, Herdade de Esporão is home to Ampelographic nursery where 189 grape varieties and clones are planted to study the effects of climate change and find ways to adapt to it.

There is a large variety of soils at the estate – enough to hire a geologist to create a soli map. The grapes from the different plots are fermented separately in small batches after the majority of the grapes are crushed by the foot at the winery (yep, slow forward, remember?).

Herdade de Esporão is a big business (one of the largest wine businesses in Portugal) owning a number of wineries in Portugal and selling both in Portugal and around the world, exporting to more than 50 countries. At the same time, Herdade de Esporão is a family company, inspired by the land and respect for the environment. For Herdade de Esporão it is all about environmental, cultural, social, and personal sustainability, adhering to its own principles of Slow Forward lifestyle.

That slow forward lifestyle and respect to the land and the environment translate very well into the wines. I had an opportunity to taste 4 different wines from Herdade de Esporão (samples), and all the wines were absolutely delightful:

2020 Herdade de Esporão Branco Colheita Alentejo (13.5% ABV, $18, 30% Antão Vaz, 30% Viosinho, 30% Alvarinho, 10% other varieties, 4 months on the lees)
Light golden
Beautiful, inviting, open, a hint of tropical fruit, honeysuckle
Round, creamy, explicit minerality, crisp, fresh, a touch of fruit, but overall very dry, good acidity, excellent balance, medium-long finish
8-, excellent, can be confused with lightly oaked Chardonnay.

2020 Herdade de Esporão Branco Reserva Alentejo (13.5% ABV, $20, 30% Antão Vaz, 30%, Arinto, 30%, Roupeiro, 10% other varieties, six months in stainless steel tanks and in new American and French oak barrels)
Straw pale
Fresh meadows and honeysuckle, beautiful
Clean acidity, light representation than the Colheita, lip-smacking acidity, clean, crisp and fresh, excellent balance
8, pure delight. Can be easily confused with Chardonnay.

2018 Herdade de Esporão Tinto Colheita Alentejo (14.5% ABV, $18, 30% Touriga Nacional, 25% Aragonez, 20% Touriga Franca, 15% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 months in concrete tanks)
Dark garnet
Earthy, a touch of chalk, dark fruit, warm spices
Open, clean, raspberries, warm spices, good minerality, good structure, a cut-through acidity, medium body, medium-long finish
8-/8, outstanding

2018 Herdade de Esporão Tinto Reserva Alentejo (14.5% ABV, $25, 25% Aragonez, 20% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Trincadeira, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 5% Syrah, 6 months in concrete tanks)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, earth, a hint of raspberries, dark, concentrated
Cherries, pomegranate, clear minerality, layered, firm structure, fresh and food-friendly
8/8+, outstanding, ready to drink now, great with food (Odjakhuri)

Here you are, my friends – organic, sustainable farming, 4 delicious wines. You don’t need to break the bank to be able to drink them at any time you want, and even more importantly, you can pop, pour and enjoy – almost a rare beauty nowadays.

Slow down and enjoy. Cheers!

Open That Bottle Night Eve, 2022

February 25, 2022 2 comments

And just like that, Open That Bottle Night 2022 is upon us.

Considering the current state of the world, I’m really not in the mood to write about wine when people are dying because of some egomaniacal fucking moron… but based on my inability to do much anything about it, let’s still talk about Open That Bottle Night.

The Open That Bottle Night, or OTBN for short, created by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, Wall Street Journal wine writers back in 1999, is always celebrated on the last Saturday in February. OTBN was created to help people to part with that special bottle while it still might taste great. Over the years, it became literally a holiday celebrated all around the world, with people reporting on all the amazing wines, and most importantly, amazing experiences of getting together with friends (here are my reports from the last 3 years – 2019, 2020, and 2021, plus many special reports from 2016).

This year, we had been invited to celebrate a birthday of a dear friend on that exact Saturday of the OTBN, so I have no options but to celebrate the night before or after, or maybe even both (this friend doesn’t care about wine, so combining the birthday celebration with OTBN is not an option). Thus I’m sitting here the night before the OTBN, sipping my OTBN wine and enjoying every little drop of it.

Deciding on the wine worthy of OTBN is always incredibly hard. I love aging wine, so I have a good selection, but it doesn’t mean that deciding on the bottle is easy. There are bottles that I determined to share with friends (actually, all of them, but I have to make exceptions, especially considering the lockdown life of the past 2 years). There are bottles which I don’t want to open too early. There are bottles I’m still not ready to part with. I’m telling you, people  – it is difficult.

I don’t have any wine record-keeping system. I have a loose idea of the bottles I have, but I’m always ready to be surprised. Tonight, I opened one of the wine fridges, and pulled out the bottle which I had completely forgotten about – and as a bonus, this bottle also comes with a story.

Let me tell you the story first. Take a look at the label – you can see that it looks crooked and dinted. So the rips in the label are from the shelves in my wine fridge, and they are not so interesting. But otherwise, the appearance of this label has a reason. Alban wines are allocated and are hard to get. When I got my allocation some time back, I only wanted to take 2 bottles, so the friend asked if she can have the rest. She filled up the form in her name, got the full allocation, and then shipped my two bottles back to me – a bottle of Patrina Syrah and this bottle of Roussanne. For some mysterious reason, she decided to reuse the inflatable packaging which is sometimes used to ship the wine instead of cardboard or styrofoam. The problem with that air-pumped enclosure is that it is not really reusable and not that reliable. When I got the box, the red liquid was slowly sipping through – you can imagine the fate of Patrina… At least the bottle of Roussanne was intact, with the exception of the label…

Pulling this bottle out from the bottom shelf was a moment of happiness. I love Roussanne, one of my favorite white grape varieties, and for some reason, I had been really craving Roussanne lately. So seeing this bottle which I completely forgot about was a moment of joy – this was IT. A perfect bottle for OTBN.

What can I tell you about this 2013 Alban Roussanne Edna Valley outside of the fact that it offers immense pleasure? We can start with a beautiful golden color. The nose of gunflint and honey at such intensity that you simply don’t want to put the glass down. Sniff, swirl, sniff, swirl, ahh. Gunflint, honey, salinity, and sapidity on the palate. This wine is fresh. This wine is alive, with a cut-through acidity on the long, long finish. This wine is viscous, roll-off-your-tongue goodness – after taking a sip, my wife said “ooh, this wine is fat!”. This wine is perfectly OTBN worthy. Not only that – this wine is perfectly Top 10 wines worthy.

So here is my OTBN story. Even if you don’t feel like celebrating, life is now. It is happening, and no moment will repeat itself. Pull that special bottle. Open that bottle – the special moment has arrived, it is now. Cheers, my friends.

I Know Nothing. Notes From The Desk of Puzzled Oenophile

January 28, 2022 1 comment

I know nothing.

Of course, I’m aware of the proverbial circle of knowledge. When your knowledge is represented by the tiny dot, it seems that the surrounding unknown is equally tiny. As your circle of knowledge increases in size, you get to understand that the surrounding unknown is vast and grows together with your knowledge.

Nevertheless, today’s wine lesson proved that I know nothing about wines. Or maybe I am just bad at predicting the future.

A long time ago I attended a wine tasting event to celebrate the anniversary of The Wine Century Club. The event was hosted in New York by the folks from Snooth with the idea that everybody should bring a bottle or a few of the wine(s) made from rare grapes. I have no memories of the wines I brought – I believe one of them was a blend with lots of different grapes in it, but this is really not important for our story. My absolute highlight of that get-together was a bottle of Loire white wine, made from the grape called Romorantin coming from the Cour-Cheverny AOC, which I never heard of before (both grape and appellation). If I’m not mistaken this event took place in 2008, and this bottle of Romorantin was from 1998 vintage. The wine was amazing in its youthfulness and brilliance, vibrant lemon and honey, crisp and fresh. Again, if I can still trust my memory, the person who brought wine said that he (or she) got the bottle at one of the Manhattan wine stores for around $50. I made a note to myself that I want to find this wine and age it – as you know, I’m a super-fan (read: geek and zealot) of aged wines.

I think literally next year I got lucky – I found 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC available at my local wine shop, for about $15 per bottle. I got 6 bottles and prepared to happily and patiently wait for the right moment to open this wine.

I don’t remember when I opened the first bottle of this, maybe 2-3 years later, and the wine didn’t wow – it was acidic all the way, without much salvation.

My next attempt to replicate the amazing experience of the first encounter with Romorantin, was made in 2014. Here are my notes:

2014

2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC (12% ABV, 100% Romorantin) – bright white stone fruit on the nose, citrus (lemon) notes on the palate, medium to full body, zinging acidity. It is getting there, but needs another 4-5 years to achieve full beauty and grace. 8-

As you can tell we are moving in the right direction but still far from the destination. Another year, another attempt – again, a copy and paste from the previous post:

2015

This is a rare French white wine made from 100% Romorantin grape. I remember a few years back trying this wine at 10 years of age – and I remember being simply blown away by the exuberant beauty of this seemingly unassuming wine (new vintages retail at around $15 – the QPR is through the roof on this). The nose of that 2007 was amazing, with fresh white fruit, guava, mango, honeysuckle, lemon, and lemon zest. On the palate, behind the first wave of Riesling-like appearance with a touch of sweetness and tropical fruit notes, there were layers and layers of acidity and minerality. After about 10 minutes of breathing time, the wine was almost bone dry, very crisp, and refreshing. I still have 3 bottles of 2007, and now the trick will be to keep my hands away from them, as they still benefit from time.

It is quite possible that this was this wine at its peak? The next attempt was much less successful, despite the fact that we are passing 10 years mark now. I brought the bottle to Jim Van Bergen’s (JvBUncorked) house to celebrate Open That Bottle Night 2019. I was really hoping for a “wow”, or at least an “omg” from the group, but this definitely didn’t happen:

2019

2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC
Why: This is one of my favorite wines. When it was 10 years old, was literally blown away
How was it: Underwhelming. A touch of petrol, clean, good acidity, bud no bright fruit. Still delicious in its own way – I would gladly drink it any time. But – lucking the “umpf” which was expected… Still have 2 more bottles – will open them later on and see.

Underwhelming was the word. Okay, down to the two bottles.

At the virtual OTBN2021, I made another attempt to experience greatness. Here’s how it went:

2021

The miracle didn’t happen, and the white wine didn’t become suddenly magical. If I need to describe this 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC in one word, the word would be “strange”. At some moments, it was oxidative and plump. In other moments, it was acidic. It never showed that amazing lemon and honey notes I was expecting. I still have one more bottle, but now I really need to forget it for as long as possible and see if the miracle will happen.

And now we are down to one, my last bottle.

I was feeling blue, and I needed a “pick me up” bottle. Considering my loving relationship with wine, a “pick me up bottle” is nothing specific – it can be something very different every time. This time I wanted a white wine with some age on it. Marsanne/Roussanne would be ideal, but I had none of those. A have a few bottles of Peter Michael with a nice age on them, but this would be a bit too lavish and still not fitting the mood. And then I saw my last bottle of Romorantin, and the thought was “yeah, I can appreciate some oxidative notes right now”

The bottle is out of the wine fridge. Cork goes out in one piece with no issues. I poured wine into the glass to take a picture. Beautiful color, between light golden and golden – remember, this is 15 years old white wine.

The first whiff from the glass was clean, with lemon and minerality, an impression of a young, confident white wine. The first sip simply confirmed that first impression – whitestone fruit, crisp, minerally-driven, vibrant, and refreshing. A distant hint of petrol showed up on the nose, very faint, and a touch of honey. The wine was alive, the wine was fresh, the wine was perfect.

The wine continued its finesse on the second day (it was a heroic act of not polishing the whole bottle on the first day), behaving as young and fresh white wine of the new harvest. In a blind tasting, I would be completely sure that his wine is one or two years old at the best.

Anyone cares to explain this to me? I stored all 6 bottles the same way. Maybe the wine was strangely not ready in 2019 (sleeping stage), and last year’s bottle simply had an issue of cork? Maybe what I tasted in 2015 was actually a peak, and so this vintage needed only 8 years and not 10? Why 1998 was amazing at 10 years of age, and 2007 was amazing at 8 and 15? Vintage variations? Change in winemaking between 1998 and 2007? Wine Spectator vintage charts consider 2007 Loire wines past prime. Wine Enthusiast’s vintage rating for 1998 is 86, and 2007 is 92. And none of it helps.

If you have any ideas, please chime in.

I know nothing. But I will continue learning.

 

Sangiovese Games and Power of Words

January 11, 2022 6 comments

Okay, folks, this might be the scariest post I have ever written. This might lead to unsubscribes, unfollows, ostracism, and public shaming. Well, it is what it is.

Here it comes, my confession.

I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Here, I said it. You heard me right, and I can repeat. I do not know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Still here? Okay, then I would like to ask for a chance to explain.

I know how Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like. Whether it is produced in Bordeaux, California, Australia or Tuscany, I still expect to find cassis, maybe eucalyptus, maybe mint, maybe bell peppers.

I know how Pinot Noir tastes like. No matter whether it comes from Burgundy, South Africa, Oregon, New Zealand, or California, I still expect to find cherries, maybe plums, maybe violets, maybe some smoke.

I can continue – I know how Chardonnay tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Riesling tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Sauvignon Blanc tastes like (from anywhere). I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

While we are talking grapes, we are also talking about the power of words. As soon as we hear Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, we have an instant mental image, set our expectations, and the first sip of wine is judged against that mental image. Of course, we make regional adjustments – Pinot Noir from Oregon might offer dark chocolate, espresso, and mocha in addition to the cherries, but cherries will be there. Bordeaux (okay, it is usually a blend, so this might be a bad example) is expected to be leaner that’s California Cab, but it will still show that cassis core. And I still have no clue how Sangiovese should taste like.

I know how Brunello tastes. It is 100% Sangiovese, but it has its own unique taste profile with layers of tart cherries and cherry pits framed by oak notes and firm tannins. I know how Vino Nobile de Montepulciano tastes. It is also 100% Sangiovese, with tart cherries usually weaved around a core of acidity. I know how Chianti typically tastes. It has to be at least 80% Sangiovese, plus other grapes, and it will have the cherries usually surrounded by leather and tobacco.

Brunello, Vino Nobile, Chianti are renditions of Sangiovese, but they are references only to themselves. When I hear any of these names, I know what to expect. But I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

I don’t know if you ever had a chance to experience Shafer Firebreak. This wine used to be made from California Sangiovese (92%) with the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon (8%), the percentages are representative of the last vintage which was in 2003 (Sangiovese plantings were removed after that). This wine had nothing in common with any of the Italian Sangiovese renditions, but instead had a smoke, espresso, and powerful dark fruit. A very memorable rendition of Sangiovese – but not referenceable.

You might be annoyed at this point by me constantly repeating “I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like” and wondering where I might be going with that. So this post was triggered by a few events. Last year, I got a few samples of Sangiovese from Castello di Amorosa. When I tasted them, they were reminiscent of Chianti, and I even had to open a bottle of Cecchi Chianti, which is an outstanding producer making Sangiovese wines with exemplary regional expressions, to compare. I also tasted a bottle of California Sangiovese which had only a name of Sangiovese, but really tasted more like a fruit compote mixed with a fruit cake. As the end result I realized that I have no idea how Sangiovese actually should taste like – and here I am, pondering at the subject with you, my dear reader (I hope someone is still reading this, eh?)

So let me take you a bit further with a few of the tasting notes and references.

First, I have to say that I probably found what can be considered a reference Sangiovese. Two years ago I had an opportunity to taste a range of wines from Cecchi, and one of the wines was called Sangiovese Toscana IGT. It was not Chianti of any kind, it was pretty much an unadulterated rendition of a pure Sangiovese from the motherland, from Tuscany, which was not even aged in oak, only 2 months in the bottle. Here are the notes:

2018 Cecchi Sangiovese Toscana IGP (13% ABV, $10)
Dark ruby
Cherries, coriander, sage
Light, bright, fresh cherries, crisp acidity, sweet basil, refreshing.
8+, can be perfect even on a summer day, but I can’t complain on a winter day either. Unique and different.

The wine was absolutely spectacular in its pristine beauty and an absolute steal for the money. Ever since I tasted this wine it became my reference for how pure Sangiovese might take like.

Now, the peculiar California Sangiovese I mentioned before was the 2017 Seghesio Venom. 100% Sangiovese from Rattlesnake Hill in Alexander Valley, 14.9% ABV, $55. Seghesio is a Zinfandel specialist, and they are good at that. If this wine would be called Zinfandel, I would have no issue with it. But under Sangiovese name, it makes me only wonder what possessed Seghesio to make a wine like that. A fruit compote with a bit of a structure doesn’t equate to Sangiovese in any shape and form. And at the price, if you just want to drink a California wine, it might be fine, but if you are looking for Sangiovese, just look elsewhere.

Well, you don’t need to look too far. Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley is really focusing on bringing their Italian heritage to wines they craft in California. Yesterday I talked about their range of Pinot Noir wines, which was excellent. Their California Sangiovese can probably be called a glorious success as I even had to open a bottle of classic Chianti to compare the notes.

I tasted two Sangiovese wines from Castello di Amorosa (for the history of the Castello, which is very fascinating, I would like to refer you to the link I included above).

2017 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $36)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, baking spices
Plums, tart cherries, light tannins, medium body, good structure, a hint of leather.
8-/8, it is reminiscent of the Chianti, nicely approachable, but will improve with time, judging by the late tannins on the finish on the second day.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Voyager Vineyard Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $45, single vineyard)
Dark garnet
Smoke, granite, gunflint, tobacco, dark fruit, Very promising.
Tobacco, baking spices, cut through acidity, medium body. Very unusual. Needs a bit of time.
Tart cherries, a hint of vanilla, bright acidity. Reminiscent of Chianti, but not as earthy
8-

And then I opened a bottle of Cecchi Chianti and was pleasantly surprised how successful Castello di Amorosa was with their Californian Sangiovese rendition.

2017 Cecchi Chianti DOCG (13% ABV, $14)
Dark garnet
Herbs with a hint of cherries
Tart cherries, good acidity, fresh berry profile, medium body. Was earthy upon opening, but mellowed out after a few hours in the open bottle.
8-, easy to drink, nice.

As you can tell, the wines are similar, and I would call it a very successful effort.

Well, I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, because this is all in the words. Unless we taste blind, we are bound by the power of words, and therefore our excitement and disappointment are fully dependent on those words. Was the Venom a bad wine? No, but it is an utter disappointment when called a Sangiovese. Thanks to Castello di Amorosa successfully offering a saving grace. While I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, I’m willing to continue the quest for the tastiest rendition.

If you are still with me – thank you for reading and cheers.

Looking Back and Looking Forward, 2022 Edition

January 5, 2022 2 comments

Ahh, the self-reflection time.

The bad, the good, the ugly.

New Year resolutions.

Yada Yada Yada.

Okay, I know. Not the most enlightening post if I ever even write anything in that category. But hey, it is my blog. I write for myself, first and foremost. So as I get to set the rules here, I like to take a look back at the year which passed and get a little pleasure of re-living some of the best moments of otherwise not the brightest year.

New Experiences:

More often than not, I like to call myself a “collector of experiences” – I love those non-material things which you can add to your personal “been there, tried that” collection. While in absolute numbers these “achievements” sound dismal, under circumstances they are perfectly sufficient in my book.

Visiting new wine region

I visited Oregon on a number of occasions, and wrote about Oregon wines in this blog many times  – but it was only 2021 when I set foot in the vineyard in Oregon, thanks to the Wine Media Conference 2021 held in Eugene, Oregon. Not only I visited a number of wineries in Oregon, but I also saw veraison for the first time, and tasted lots and lots of delicious wines, as reflected [dis]appropriately in the list of Top Wines of 2021 (more about it below).

Wine from the new state in the US

When I say that I’m collecting experiences, I mean exactly that – I keep track of how many wines from how many states I tasted, and in how many states I visited wineries. While Oregon was added to the list of states I visited the wineries at, I also tasted the wine from Michigan for the first time, and it was an excellent Cabernet Franc from Bel Lago. I keep my progress noted in this table in case you are interested.

Wine from the new country

Same as the wines of 50 United States, I also keep track of wines from different countries that I had an opportunity to taste. This year I added one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world to the list, after tasting the wines from Armenia. The wines were outstanding and Keush sparkling even made it into the Top Wines list. Same as with the 50 states, here is the table where I mark my progress.

More rare grapes

Ever since I had been bitten by The Wine Century Club bug, I had been hunting down rare grapes. This year I made possibly the slowest progress ever, but this journey is not getting any easier at this point. I only added 6 new grapes to the count (Cabernet Pfeffer, Voskehat, Khatouni, Areni, Yapincak, Ciass Negher), which now stands at the grand total of 561.

Top Wines 2021:

Same as every year, this was a fun project to go through the list (big word here – there is no such thing) of all the wines I tasted in 2021, and select 26 to be split into Second (generous) Dozen and the Top Dozen. Considering that visit to Oregon to be the biggest highlight of the year, it is not surprising that the top list is heavily skewed towards Oregon wines – still, it offers quite a bit of diversity as it is. My list of 26 is an easy one to analyze compared to all of the Top 100 lists I processed this year, so here is my distribution of the wines in the top list: Oregon – 8, California – 7, Spain – 5, Italy – 2, Argentina – 1, Armenia – 1, Pennsylvania – 1, Texas – 1. As you can see, France makes a notable absence, but the list clearly reflects my wine drinking habits – and I stand by all of my choices.

The year of Organic Grapes:

Made with Organic Grapes was one of the hot subjects in the blog (check the posts for yourself). In 2021, I tasted and wrote about multiple organic wines from multiple producers from Argentina, Chile, Italy, New Zealand, Spain – and I’m sure I will write about a lot more organic wines this year.

Catching up:

Much to my chagrin, I was really late with many of the posts, writing about events and tastings some of which were more than 2 years old. I really made an effort in December to clear up the backlog, turning it into one of the most prolific blogging months ever with 21 posts – in my almost 12 years of blogging there were very few months with 21 posts, and even fewer with 22. Catching up is not fun, but remembering about things you didn’t deliver is even less fun. There is more catching up to do, so I definitely hope I will be able to continue the streak.

What’s in the store for 2022:

My New Year resolution is not to have any New Year resolutions, so I can’t tell you really what’s ahead. Last year, I was keen on continuing the Wine Quiz and Wednesday Meritage series of posts, only to run out of steam somewhere in the middle of the year. So the plan for 2022 is to use a more opportunistic approach – there is no shortage of wine subjects worth writing about. I also need to up my wine game by paying more attention to French, Australian, and South African wines – I want to fill that gap for the 2022 Top Wines rendition.

* * *

Here we are, my friends. A quick revisit of 2021, and mostly hope for the good year 2022 with good surprises. I know that hope is not a strategy, but if I learned anything from my years of blogging, it would be proverbial “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. So how was your 2021? Any plans for 2022? Cheers!

 

2021 Top Dozen

December 31, 2021 1 comment

Here we go – a culmination point of the year in wine. Whatever 2021 was, it had no shortage of amazing, memorable wines.

Yes, my wine experiences were a little skewed, as you will see from the list, but hey, it just happened to be so.

You can click on any and all the wine names below if you want more information about the wines – I’m only offering brief impressions in this post.

Let’s dive into it, shall we?

12. 2018 Lenné Estate Cinq Élus Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA ($85) – Superb Pinot Noir from Oregon. Lots of power, but amazingly balanced now, and has great aging potential. A world-class wine.

11. Osborne Palo Cortado Capuchin VORS ($90?) – This was my favorite sherry from the recent Sherry seminar in New York. Dry fruit, salinity, sapidity, ultra-complex with every little element perfectly in check.

10. 2020 Field Recordings Domo Arigato (Mr. Ramato) Skin Contact Pinot Grigio Central Coast (12% ABV, $25) – I’m a big fan of skin-contact wines (call them orange if you want), and this wine was somehow magical – two of us finished a bottle while talking, and when the bottle was empty, we both shared most sincere amazement – how is that empty? Was someone invisible quietly helping us? Just wow.

9. 2013 Lynmar Estate Chardonnay Russian River Valley (14.5% ABV, $30?) – a perfectly Californian, with a good amount of vanilla and butter, in your face and unapologetic. Beautifully capable to match the mood and deliver what you crave.

8. 2004 Zýmē Kairos Veneto IGT ($NA) – sigh. My last bottle. The closest I got so far to Quintarelli. I opened this bottle to celebrate OTBN (Open That Bottle Night) 2021 – a stunningly beautiful concoction. I’m sure it had at least another 10 years of life left, but hey, no regrets.

7. 2018 Terra Pacem Tempranillo Rogue Valley (14.2% ABV, $34) – This wine spurred a discussion with a fellow wine writer, Jeff Burrows – how should unadulterated Tempranillo taste? Typical Spanish Tempranillo is rarely made without oak. This wine seemed to be pristine and clean, and we agreed that this might perfectly be a textbook Tempranillo example.

6. 2019 Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah Applegate Valley ($35) – Speaking of unadulterated grape expressions – this Syrah was exactly as I always imagine it to be – complex, earthy, and perfectly peppery. Organic, biodynamic, and precise. A pleasure.

5. 2015 Youngberg Hill Vineyards Nicolette’s Select Pinot Noir McMinnville AVA (14.1% ABV, $85) – Pinot Noir overload in the Top Dozen? Impossible. There is never enough of the wines of such pristine beauty. This wine has everything you expect from Pinot Noir – plums, cherries, violets, a firm frame, and finesse, lots of finesse.

4. 2018 Le Cadeau Vineyard Chardonnay Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $45) – Le Cadeau was probably the best Oregon Chardonnay I tasted this year, even though deciding on this wine for the Top Dozen list was not simple. It really represents a world-class level of Oregon Chardonnays which now offer outstanding consistency – you can count on vanilla, apples, a hint of honey, and an impeccable balance. A pure joy.

3. 2007 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($NA, $289 for the 2017 vintage) – in a word, amazing. This was California Cabernet Sauvignon which everyone wants to drink. Classic cassis intertwined with hedonistic pleasure.

2. 2011 Gran Enemigo Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard Gualtallary Argentina ($93) – if I would call this wine “bloody brilliant”, would that make me a vampire? Upon opening, this wine was really unmoving. On the second day, this wine was a God’s nectar, bold, concentrated, layered. Incredible.

1. 2019 Battle Creek Cellars Amphora Series Carbonic Red Blend Oregon ($75) – pure, clean, unadulterated pleasure. Oh yes, I already used these words before. You can call me a bad writer, I will be okay with that. But I experienced the joy this wine delivers – and there is a good chance that you did not. Find it, try it – then we will see it an eye to eye.

Here you have it – Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen Wines of 2021.

What were your top wines of 2021?

And Happy New Year 2022!!!

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