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Daily Glass: The More I Drink, The Less I Understand?

February 20, 2019 2 comments

Wine is an enigma.

But you already know that.

The wine had been a serious object of obsession for more than 20 years for me. I went through multiple education programs. Read an uncounted number of wine books and articles. Most importantly, drunk a lot of wine – from the bottles, from the barrels, the juice of freshly harvested grapes and the juice which only had been fermented for a few days. Two days old wine and 80 years old wine. I taste roughly thousands of wines every year (with the help of trade tastings). Yes, the wine is an object of obsession. And yet, I would never say that I figured it out, that I fully understand it.

Wine is an enigma.

Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria AustraliaThe curse of wine is rather simple – until the cork is pulled (or unscrewed), you don’t know what to expect. A lot of wine bottles look ultimately attractive outside – bottle’s shape and weight play an important role, and then you got the label which, when properly done, is an ultimate seduction device. But once the cork is out, it is only the content that matters – and here we learn that not all the beauty from outside can be found on the inside. The worst part? Until the first sip, we have no way of knowing what we will find, even if we tasted and loved the wine before! Sadly, this is a classic case of any investment prospectus disclaimer – “past performance is no guarantee of the future results”. It is quite possible that you tasted and loved the wine before – nevertheless, every new bottle is a perfect screw up (or a beautiful surprise) opportunity. The wine is an enigma.

Back in 2014, I tasted 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV, $14.99) and was blown away by the beautiful purity of that Shiraz. The wine had a clean, herbs-driven profile full of freshly ground pepper – you really had to taste it to believe it. I was so impressed with that wine that it became wine #4 on my Top Dozen list in 2014. I got 6 bottles or so (at $14.99, a great QPR) and was slowly enjoying it over the years. But not always. I remember trying to impress a friend with this wine when I found it available in a restaurant in Florida by the glass. That simply did not work – the wine was flabby and mostly insipid. Then I had opened a bottle last year, only to be able to say “what just happened???”. The wine had just some single note fruit, no pepper, limited acidity, and in a word, was not fun. I was further put down with this wine last year after tasting the current vintage release at the trade tasting – that wine was insipid, cherry cough medicine style.

When I pulled my last bottle from the shelf a few days ago, the thought was – yeah, whatever, let’s just free up some space. Unscrew, pour, sip – oh, my, everything was back as when I fell in love with this wine – fresh pepper, sage, rosemary, intensely herbal with tasteful addition of ripe black plum – as wow wine as it can be. Don’t ask me for explanations or theories – as I said, the more I drink, the less I understand.

Wine is an enigma.

Tallulah Cabernet Sauvignon

The second story is less unusual, but still in line with what we are talking about here. I got the 2009 Tallulah MD1 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $75) after reading the skillfully crafted sales pitch by the folks at Benchmark Wine Company. What’s not to like there? Excellent winemaker, Mike Drash; beautiful label, great story of naming the wine after winemaker’s daughter, and maybe most importantly, the cult grape from the cult region – Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The first experience with the wine was at the “ohh” level – tight, closed, by all means not ready. The next time I had the same wine was back in 2014, it fared better – I gave it 8- rating, but mostly for the potential, not so much for the actual pleasure delivered by the wine back then.

Looking for the wine to drink last Saturday with the steak (looking for the wine is a physical process of moving the shelves of the wine fridges in and out – I don’t have any record-keeping in place), I saw the bottle top with the characteristic “T” on it. Similar to the wine we discussed before, the thought was “well, why not – I need to free some space anyway”. The first sip solicited an instant “oh, wow” – a Cabernet perfection in the glass, vibrant cassis, eucalyptus, touch of cherries, sweet oak, perfect mid-palate weight, clean acidity, impeccable balance – the wine Napa Valley is so famous for was right there – in my glass.

While working on this post I looked for my previous notes on this wine, and I only found a short reference in the post about “Month in wines”, written precisely 5 years ago, in February of 2014. To my big surprise, in that post, I found the following line: “…definitely needed more time, let’s say, at least 5 years…” – the fact that I randomly pulled this MD1 bottle exactly 5 years after and the wine evolved beautifully – well, I guess, this is just a happenstance…

Wine is an enigma.

But that what makes it an ultimate fun.

Lists Worth Waiting For

January 24, 2019 6 comments

Once again, one of my all-time favorite subjects – lists. This time, however, these are the lists with a twist – these are the lists you probably want to know about.

Let’s talk about wine collecting.

I have to say that I don’t consider myself a wine collector. I will gladly identify under multiple “wino” categories. I can identify as wine snob – I have my [strong] preferences and if I’m not careful, they will either slip off my tongue or will be readable off my face as in the open book. I’m definitely a wine geek – wine from the barrel, 2-days fermented juice, obscure grape varieties, wine in the can, wine in the plastic bottle – bring it on, I will happily try it all. I’m a wine lover, oenophile – all of these identities are just fine. Wine collector – I would never present myself as such. I love aged wine – this is the main reason for me to have a “collection” – I buy the wines which I believe (hope?) will improve with time, and I store them to give them time to evolve. In my mind, to be qualified as a wine collector, you need to have more or less an unlimited budget – you taste a good wine, you like it, you say “I’ll take a case” – all of it without paying attention to the price. You are definitely free to disagree with my approach, but this is not what this post is all about.

Collector or not, but I’m passionate about wine. I’m paying attention to what I taste. I’m paying attention to what critics have to say. I’m paying attention to what fellow bloggers and writers are saying. Yes, I’m paying attention to the recommendations, reviews, and suggestions – but the trick is to convert the recommendations into the actual wine. You need to be able to find the wine which is so highly recommended – otherwise, the wine will remain only a “fiction”.

If you think that getting the wine everyone wants to drink is easy, you are probably just starting your oenophile journey. Getting the “desired” wine is not even a question of money. Yes, some of these wines are impossible to find and very expensive. But this is not always the case. For example, 2014 Carlisle Syrah Papa’s Block, 96 rating by Wine Spectator, was priced on release at $44. According to Wine-Searcher, it is available only at one single store in the USA. I’m sure you can afford it – but you can’t really find it. And this is just one example. Theoretically, any wine can be acquired from the wine store. In practice, lots and lots of the wines which built their reputation, are not available in the store, neither “brick and mortar” nor online.

This is exactly what I want to share with you today – where and how to find the wines everyone wants to drink. Before we get to it, one important note – everything I will be talking about here is relevant only for the wines in the USA. It is entirely possible that some winery around the world has the same mechanisms in place, but I’m not aware of those wineries – with the exception of Bordeaux En Primeur however, this is not something I want to talk about today. 

Now, how can you reliably get the wines everyone wants to drink? You will need to learn few key terms – “allocated wine“, “allocation” and “mailing list“. The gist of the process can be summed up in one sentence – in order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Sounds simple, isn’t it? Let’s take this summary in pieces.

Highly allocated wine” simply means that the desirable wine is produced in the limited quantity – 100 cases, 200 cases, whatever the number is – but it is given that demand greatly exceeds supply, and so the wine becomes allocated.

A mailing list is a form of the winery membership which is very different from the typical winery wine club. In the wine club, you say how much you are willing to spend, and the winery will decide what they will send you (yes, you have an option of ordering more, but this is beside the point). Mailing list membership gives you access to desired wines the winery produces, but you still have no guarantee that you can get any wine you want.

Every member of the mailing list receives their allocation – how many bottles of what wine they can buy. Allocation is uniquely tailored to your buying history, position on the mailing list and other factors. Even when you get your allocation, life is still not necessarily perfect – some allocations are guaranteed, and some are offered on “first come, first serve” basis – yes, you have an allocation for the wine, but unless you are buying as soon as you receive the email, the wine you wanted might be already gone – experienced this scenario with Peter Michael and Turley many times.

Lastly, you need to keep in mind that your allocation will not necessarily include all the wines which winery included in so-called Release – some of the wines in the release might not be a part of your allocation. Ahh, and one more thing – in order to be on the mailing list, you need to continue buying the wines. I don’t know if there are minimal quantities, and I know that some of the wineries will allow you to skip one or a few of the mailing list offers and will still keep you on the list. Some wineries, however, warn you in a very direct fashion – if you will not order wine from this offer, you will be taken off the mailing list.

So that’s it, now that you understand how the system works, the rest is easy, right? Let’s find the wines we want, go sign up for the mailing list and start receiving the wines – easy! Not so fast. There is one more term I need to make you familiar with. This is the scary term – it is called “waiting list“. Remember I gave you the gist of the buying process for the highly desirable wines in one sentence? We need now to use a few sentences to fully explain the process:

In order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Before you will get on the mailing list, you will first join the waiting list for that mailing list, as the mailing list has limited capacity.

What’s so scary about the waiting list? You have no idea how long will it take for you to transition from waiting list to the mailing list. I was on the waiting list for about seven years in order to get on Cayuse mailing list. I’m waiting for more than seven years now to get on Saxum and Sine Qua Non mailing lists with no end in sight. So yes, if you want access to the wine, you will have to learn to wait.

That’s about all there is to the allocated wines and mailing lists. I would like to make it clear – mailing list is one of the sources of allocated wines – but it is the only option if you want to be fully in charge of what you will be buying. Wine distributors in the USA also hold positions on various mailing lists and they get access to the allocated wines exactly as individuals do. However, their allocations are also limited,  and different stores have different access to those wines. Yes, you can definitely rely on the stores as your source of the allocated wines – for example, Wades Wines in California offers an amazing selection of the allocated wines – but you still have to hunt down the wines you want to drink.

At the beginning of this post, I said that we will be talking about wine collections. So far I explained how you can get wines for your collection – but as someone who had been hunting down collectible wines for a while, I would like to give you a number of suggestions for the wines I consider of being worthy of anyone’s collection – and worth hunting them down and waiting on the lists. Or at least, worthy of most anyone’s collection – for instance, if you don’t like Zinfandel wines as a category, Turley and Carlisle might not be wines you will be interested in. I’m not going to recommend any individual wines – below are the wineries I suggest you will get on the waiting lists for mailing lists, including a short explanation as to why I’m recommending them. I’m also including links for your convenience. The list sorted alphabetically without implying any preferences.

Alban Vineyards

Rhône-style specialist located in Edna Valley in California. Produces both whites and reds. Alban Syrah is a riot, and Alban Viognier might be the best in the country – among other wines. One release per year.

Carlisle Winery

Zinfandel and Syrah specialist. Produces also a number of white wines (Gruner is amazing) and few of the red blends. The wines are released twice a year. Allocations are typically guaranteed until the expiration date of the offer. Majority of the wines are under $50. Wines can be ordered as individual bottles.

Cayuse Vineyards

One of the very best wineries in the country, located in Walla Walla, Washington. Produces predominantly red wines – Syrah and Grenache rule, but Cabernet and Bordeaux blends supposed to be outstanding. Didn’t have a pleasure of tasting the Cayuse wines yet, but have high expectations. The wines are sold in the 3-packs, so 3 bottles is the smallest quantity you can buy. One release per year.

Horsepower Vineyards

The winery takes its name from the fact that all the heavy work in the vineyards is done using horses. Another winery from Washington and closely affiliated with Cayuse through Christophe Baron, the winemaker at Cayuse. Produces only Syrah and Grenache. If you like Syrah, Horsepower Syrah is amazing. One release per year, 3-pack offering only.

No Girls Wines

yet another project of Christophe Baron. Syrah, Grenache, and Tempranillo from Washington. Delicious, terroir-driven wines. One release per year, all wines are available as 3-packs only.

Peter Michael Winery

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon specialist out of Napa. The wines are simply outstanding. Two releases per year. Wines are available in single bottle quantities. Allocations are not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

Saxum Vineyards

the winery, located in Paso Robles in California is focused only on 3 varieties – Syrah, Grenache and Mataro (they prefer to use the popular Australian name for Mourvèdre grape). Their wines supposed to be amazing – I’m still waiting (for 7 years now) to find out how amazing.

Sine Qua Non

the legend. I should really stop right here and not even try to describe this winery. Might be the most cult winery in the United States – it’s either Sine Qua Non or Screaming Eagle. These wines are impossible to get (unless you have a spare $1000 – then run to Benchmark Wine website, they have one bottle available at that price). Sine Qua Non makes supposedly amazing wines in California (the winery calls Santa Barbara home), each wine in each vintage having a unique name and unique label. I’m waiting for about 7 years already and will continue to do so.

Turley Wine Cellars

best known as Zinfandel and Petite Sirah specialists from Paso Robles. Turley produces 47 wines from 50 vineyards. When it comes to Zinfandel, Turley is often considered a hallmark of Zinfandel expression. In addition to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Turley produces a small number of whites, plus a number of red blends. A few years ago Turley even started making their own Cabernet Sauvignon wines, called The Label. Most of the wines are priced under $50, with a few exceptions. Two releases per year, plus separate end of the year release for The Label. All wines can be acquired in the single quantities. Your allocation is not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

There you go, my collector and future collector friends – my explanations about inner workings of the desirable (allocated) wines, and the list of the wines I find worth waiting for. I’m sure many of you have your own take on wine collecting and wines worth hunting down – use the comments section to share your opinion with everyone.

Hope you will find this useful. Cheers!

An update: After this post was published, I received a number of suggestions for the lists worth waiting for. I have very little knowledge of most of these wines, but as they came recommended, I will list them here so you can do your own research and make your own decisions: Abreu Vineyards, Aubert Wines, Brand, Hourglass, Quilceda Creek Winery, Scarecrow Wine, Schrader Cellars, Vérité.

 

Tale of Two Reds – Are All Wine Lovers Eternal Optimists?

January 14, 2019 8 comments

Let’s talk about red wines. And optimism. The connection between the two? You will see – give me a few minutes.

Let’s start from a simple question – how many chances do you give to a bottle of wine? Fine, let’s rephrase it. You open a bottle of wine. It is not corked, or if you think it is, you are not 100% sure. You taste the wine. The wine is not spoiled, but you don’t like it – doesn’t matter why, we are not interested in the reason – the bottom line is that it doesn’t give you pleasure. What do you do next?

Of course, breathing is the thing. You let the wine breathe – you pour it into a decanter, and let is stand – few hours, at least. You taste it again – and it still doesn’t make you happy. Your next action?

Let’s take a few notes here. First, we are not talking about the wine you feel obliged to drink – it is not a $200 bottle, it is not a first-growth Bordeaux – it is an average bottle of wine, let’s say, of $20-$40 value. Second, it is a quiet evening – let’s say, it is you and your spouse, and you have a luxury of opening another bottle of wine to enjoy.

As we said, two hours in decanter didn’t do anything. And another 4 hours didn’t help either. Or maybe you didn’t use the decanter, as you only wanted a glass, and dealing with moving the wine in and out of decanter was not your priority, so the wine was standing in the open bottle. In any case, it is the end of the day, and it is time to go to sleep – and the wine is still not what you want to drink. What is next?

At this point, you got a few options – leave the bottle on the counter, dump it into the sink, put it aside into the “to cook with” section, or pump the air out and see what the next day will bring. Let’s assume you’ve chosen the latter option, but the next day didn’t improve the situation – for how long will you keep trying?

While I’m sending you on the trip down the memory lane (or maybe not), let me share with you my most recent experience. On December 31st, I opened the bottle of 2012 Codice Citra Laus Vitae Riserva Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP (14% ABV, $32). I had very high expectations of this bottle for a few reasons. First, the bottle itself is a BAB (for the uninitiated, it stands for Big Ass Bottle – a heavy, thick glass, pleasant to hold, bottle), which always creates high expectations for me. Second, I have high respect to the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – was surprised with the quality more often than not. Third, I just tasted through the samples of a new line of wines from the same producer, Codice Citra (the line is called Ferzo), four delicious wines, more about it in a later post – obviously, all of this added up to the expectations. Only the first sip delivered nothing but disappointment.

I took a sip of the wine, all ready to say “wow”, and instead the first thought was – “heat damage”? Most prominent note on the palate was stewed fruit, which is definitely a problem for the 6/7 years old wine, clearly meant to have a long cellar life. What happened? Was the wine stored improperly? No way I can pour this to my guests, so put the cork in, pump the air out and let’s see what will happen.

Every day from there on, I would pull the cork out, pour a glass, taste, and sigh. Still, the stewed fruit in various amounts – day three seem to show some improvement only to go back on day 4. Can you see me winding up the drama? What do you expect happened on day 5?

January 4th, I’m pouring another glass, not expecting anything good, but willing to finish the “experiment”, and subconsciously still surprised that BAB didn’t deliver. The first sip extorts “wow” and the thought of “what just happened”? The core of pure, ripe, tart cherries with a touch of a cherry pit, the hallmark of good Montepulciano, is laughing at me. Firm structure, fresh tannins, balancing acidity – the transformation couldn’t have been more dramatic. I thoroughly enjoyed every last drop of that wine, still utterly amazed at how little I understand in the mystery of the wine.

The second wine, which I happened to open a day later, but played with in parallel to the Montepulciano, worked in a very similar fashion. I got the bottle of 2014 Ernesto Catena “Tikal Amorio” Malbec Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, $30) as the present from Chuck Prevatte of Food, Wine, Beer, Travel blog as part of the “Secret Wine Santa” fun originated and run by Jeff Kralik, a.k.a. The Drunken Cyclist. Chuck sent me a bottle with the message that Malbec is his favorite wine, and he was hoping that I will also enjoy his selection.

Okay, so here is another gaping hole in my “I don’t discriminate against any wine” adage – Argentinian Malbec is not my thing. I will gladly jump at Cahors, but given an option, unless I perfectly know the producer and the wine, I will avoid Argentinian Malbec as a generic category (as an example Broquel, Kaiken, Achaval-Ferrer, Trapiche are all on the “good list”). Yes, I will still try the Malbec I don’t know (someone has to eat the broccoli, right?), but only if asked. If you are interested in the reason, it has something to do with the flavor profile – I had a lot of Argentinian Malbecs which lack acidity and have too much of the overripe fruit and baking spices – interestingly enough, that exact flavor profile often wins the “easy to drink” praise among wine consumers.

Anyway, the Tikal Amorio Malbec had a very attractive label and sounded good from the description – the wine was created for the love of the grape and represented a blend of Malbec grapes from 3 different vineyard sites in Mendoza. Besides, it was recommended, so as I was opening the bottle, the thought was a happy “what if…” The first sip, however, brought (I’m sure you guessed it) the “this is why I don’t like the Argentinian Malbec” sigh – flabby fruit, very little acidity, and lots of baking spices. Ooh. I will spare you the day by day description – not much changed over the three days. But on the 4th day… The first sip brought in perfectly ripe blueberries with the core of acidity – nothing flabby, perfect structure, firm, fresh “pop in your mouth” blueberries with undertones of tobacco. The wine beautifully transformed (another mystery), and similarly to the Montepulciano, was gone in no time.

Here it is, my friends, a tale of two reds – and an ode to the optimism, don’t you think? Have you been in a similar situation? What do you do when you discover the wine you don’t like at first sight? How many chances would you give it? Cheers!

Double the Holiday Fun With Vilarnau

December 17, 2018 4 comments

Vilarnau Reserva Brut Who doesn’t like the holidays? Of course, it is easy to complain about how overwhelming the holidays can be when we feel obliged to please lots of people in seemingly irreconcilable ways with food or with gifts. But let’s not go there – holidays genuinely are about the happy state of mind, so let’s focus on it.

Here I come, with an offer to double your holiday fun and enjoyment – are you at least a little bit curious how am I going to be able to deliver on that?

Here is how. First, I want to recommend you a good wine. Wine is an indelible part of any celebration – any holiday, any birthday, any achievement. There are lots and lots of wines to chose from, and really not enough time to learn about all of them. Thus the wine recommendation means that you can save time for some other important tasks, and have one less thing to worry about. Check.

Now, how can I double the fun? Easy. How about the wine in a beautiful package? When you bring the bottle to someone’s house, or you put it out in front of your guests, isn’t it nice to hear “wow, what a beautiful bottle!”. We are visual creatures; not only we eat with our eyes first, but we drink with our eyes first too. Instead of explaining the bottle with the gray words-covered label “it comes from the great producer, really” or “the guy at the store said I would love it”, isn’t it better to just put the bottle on the table which makes a statement with its own appearance “here, look how beautiful I am”?

So here it is, my recommendation for the double fun for the holidays – Cava, Spanish Sparkling wine from Vilarnau, all wrapped in the beautiful, Gaudí-inspired packaging.

Vilarnau estate had been growing vines since the 12th century. The first Cava at Vilarnau was produced in 1949, and from there on, Vilarnau moved on to become one of the prominent Cava producers in Spain.

Vilarnau has a diverse portfolio of the sparkling wines, out of which the Trencadis series wines stand out beautifully. To explain the Trencadis concept, let me simply bring an explanation from the Vilarnau website:

What is Trencadis?

“Trencadís” is a kind of mosaic that was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia, created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or crockery. The technique is also known as “pique assiette”, in French. The Catalan architects Antoni GaudÍ and Josep MarÍa Pujol used “trencadÍs” in many of their designs, the most famous probably being “Parc Güell in Barcelona. Vilarnau’s proximity to Barcelona (not just geographic but also spiritual) means it was natural for this artistic resource used by the winery. As a result some of our cavas are dressed as follows.”

Vilarnau Trencadis Barcelona Cavas

Just take a close look at those bottles, how closely they resemble the actual mosaic pieces with all the grout in between? Don’t you think these bottles are beautiful? If anything, they will make for a perfect conversation starter at any gathering – and now you can also explain to people what exactly are they looking at.

So what is behind the beautiful packages? Equally beautiful Cavas, which are also stylistically very different. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine produced in so-called Classic Method, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, exactly as it is done in the production of the French Champagne.

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva DO Cava (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo, 15+ months in the bottle)
Beautiful mousse
Classic Champagne nose – toasted bread, a touch of yeast, white apples, a touch of lemon
Same classic profile continues on the palate – freshly baked bread, a touch of yeast, golden delicious apple, fresh, exuberant, perfect acidity
8, delicious

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Delicat DO Cava (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Grenache, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle)
Beautiful mousse
A touch of toasted bread with the addition of strawberries and cranberries
Toasted bread, strawberries, a touch of cranberries, bitter orange, crisp, tart, cut-through acidity
8, excellent example of a sparkling Rosé

I hope you find these bottles as beautiful as I do, and I hope you will like the wines too. At this price level, Vilarnau Cavas will stand easily against a lot of Champagne, so go ahead, make your friends and guests happy. Cheers!

Impromptu Evening With Friends? A Bottle of Golden Bordeaux is All You Need

November 26, 2018 6 comments

You just came home from work. It was a hard day. The boss [again] didn’t get your idea, and you didn’t get much support from your coworkers either. All you want to do is to crawl into the old trusted chair with your feet, open the book, and get lost in its pages. Tomorrow will be another day, and all the problems will magically solve themselves. Or you will force them to solve themselves. No matter what, but “me evening” is about to begin.

The doorbell rings. Really? The doorbell? What the heck? You sure didn’t invite anyone over. Get the sleepers on, let’s see, maybe it is just a late package. Ahh, it is not a package. It is your friend. And she just had a rough day at work, and she needs at least an ear, and hopefully not a shoulder.

Walk her in, get her situated on the couch. Then you get this burning feeling – something is amiss. Oh yeah, of course – there is nothing on the coffee table, and your friend sheepishly confirms that she is really “not that hungry”, and your perfectly know what it means – while nobody is looking for a 5-course meal, a little something would be great.

You didn’t shop for a while, and all you got is some crackers, some chips, salami and a bit of cheese. And of course, you need to bring a bottle of wine, which is a must for the free-flowing conversation, but what wine would pair well with such an eclectic spread of crackers and salami?

So let’s stop here, as I’m not writing a fiction novel, and let’s analyze the situation. We got chips, crackers, cheese, and salami – what would pair well with it? I’m sure you have your own take on this, but let me give you mine – how about some Golden Bordeaux to pair with this eclectic mix?

If you are curious what Golden Bordeaux is, I’m sure you can easily guess it – heard of Sauternes? Have you ever seen a bottle of Sauternes? Yes, it typically looks like a liquid gold, hence the reference to the Golden Bordeaux.

The term “Sauternes” here is used rather generically, and Golden Bordeaux might be more suitable than just Sauternes – however, while the Golden Bordeaux makes sense, I’m not sure how common the term is.

Of course, first and foremost, Bordeaux is known for its reds (anyone who experienced Bordeaux whites from Pessac-Léognan would easily disagree, but still). However, Bordeaux is a lot more than just the reds. On the left bank of the Gironde river, which splits Bordeaux in half, lies the region called Graves. Inside of Graves resides the small region of Sauternes with its neighbors Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac, as well as Barsac which is a sub-region of Sauternes. Together, all these regions are the source of the Golden Bordeaux, the unique white wine made from the partially raisined grapes due to their contact with so-called Noble Rot. It is common to describe Sauternes as sweet, dessert wines – but the flavor profile of these wines goes way beyond just sweet, offering layers of complexity, and therefore suitable for a lot more than just a dessert course.

A few weeks ago, a group of wine aficionados got together for the virtual tasting of the Golden Bordeaux, hosted and guided by the kind folks from Snooth. This tasting went beyond just a standard format of tasting and discussing the wines – we also had an opportunity to experiment with the variety of savory and spicy snacks, which included Sweet Potato and Beet Crackers from Trader Joe’s, Sriracha Cashews, Jalapeno Chicken Chips, Gusto by Olli Calabrese Spicy Salami, and Jack Link Sweet & Hot Jerky. Spicy and sweet, as well as sweet and salty are well-known combinations for anyone who likes pairing wine and food. However, these Golden Bordeaux wines go beyond just sweet, often adding a layer of forest mushrooms and herbs to their taste profile, which helps to complement the ranges of savory dishes.

I had a few surprises and personal learnings in this tasting. I never paid attention to the mushroom undertones in the Golden Bordeaux, so this was definitely an exciting discovery. I also never thought that those wines need some breathing time – and I was wrong, as you can see in the notes below – another little memory knot is in order. I also found out that not all food can be good for the tasting – the Chicken Jalapeño crackers were so spicy for me, that I had my lips burning for an hour in the tasting. It would be fine if this was a pairing and conversation with a friend, but for the next time around, I plan to taste the wines first, and only then try it again with spicy food.

Now, here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Château Manos Cadillac (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 95% Semillon, 2.5% Sauvignon Blanc, 2.5% Muscadelle)
Light golden color
Peach, honey, beautiful nose, very inviting
Delicious palate, peach, candied peach, caramel, good acidity 8/8-
Very nice with beets crackers from Trader Joe’s

2014 Château du Cros Loupiac (13% ABV, $12, 90% Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
Golden color
Complex nose of caramel and herbs, a touch of spicy notes, great complexity
Beautiful concentration on the palate, candied fruit, golden raisins, perfect balance. 8+
Amazingly elevates sweet and hot beef jerky, wow

2016 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet Loupiac (13% ABV, $17, 90% Sémillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc)
Light golden color
Sweet apples, herbs. Later on: truffles!
First reaction: Sweet apples on the palate – need more acidity
After 20 minutes: good acidity, mushroom, forest floor. 8-
Excellent with hot beef jerky

2011 Château Dauphiné Rondillon Loupiac (13.5% ABV, $28, 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc)
Golden color
Honey, plums, candied plums
First reaction: Burned sugar, then medicinal. Ouch
After 20 minutes been open: sugar plums, white plums, good acidity showed up. 7+/8-
Later on – mushrooms on the nose (really a discovery for me), caramel. Savory caramel on the palate. Interesting – definitely a food wine.
Very good with salami and sweet potatoes crackers

2015 Château La Rame Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (13% ABV, $22, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Very restrained, a touch of tropical fruit, distant hint of honey, gasoline added after 20 minutes
First reaction: Candied fruit, really sweet, can use more acidity. 7
After 20 minutes: vanilla, cookies’n’cream, light, good acidity. 8-/8
Tried with hot beef Jerky – not bad

2016 Château Lapinesse Sauternes Grand Vin de Bordeaux (14% ABV, $20, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Lemon, lemongrass, touch of honey, white plums
Candied fruit, apples, good acidity. 8
Didn’t make much difference with spicy salami

2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes (14% ABV, $90, 99% Semillon, 1% Sauvignon Blanc)
Dark gold color
Honey, candied lemon, touch of caramel
Beautiful palate, fresh caramel, butterscotch cookie, good acidity. Very rich. 8-
Very good with beef jerky, also with jalapeño chicken strips

Here you are, my friends – Golden Bordeaux and eclectic snacks. Get a few bottles on hand – the wines are versatile, and can be enjoyed in many ways – especially when the late night friend pops in.

The Golden Bordeaux wines are definitely underrated – here is the great opportunity to surprise yourself and your friends. And you can thank me later. Cheers!

Sent with Writer

Full Force of Colors – New England Fall 2018

November 10, 2018 8 comments

Everything has its silver lining – at least this is what we, optimists, think. The “Fall Foliage” is one of the most famous attractions of New England – travel agencies offer special tours and people literally from around the world are happy to come to experience the abundance of color, which typically takes place during the month of October. Only last year (2017), the real abundance of colors never really arrived – of course, trees changed colors and leaves fell down – but it was rather a boring fall instead of a typical color festival.

The 2018 overall was one of the wettest years I remember. It rained non-stop the whole summer, and it was hot. The fall was simply a continuation of the same – we still had to run the A/C in October, and it was raining every couple of days. All the trees were still practically summer-green well into the second half of October. And then the silver lining showed up – Mother Nature magically turned on the color, and the streets and roads became anything but boring – amazing, amazing sight anywhere you look, every day bringing more colors and more joy with it.

As I had done it many times in the past (here are a few posts: 2012, 2013, 2015), I took a few pictures while walking around my neighborhood – with iPhone in your pocket, taking pictures had never been that easy – and now I want to share these beautiful New England fall colors with you. This year we visited for the first time Mark Twain’s museum (mansion) in Hartford, so I included a few pictures here as well.

Hope you will enjoy the beautiful colors as much as I do. Cheers!

WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 2 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

Blending Art and Wine – Galer Estate in Eastern Pennsylvania

September 8, 2018 2 comments

Galer Estate groundsDo you like surprises? It depends, you say? Okay, let me rephrase: do you like pleasant surprises? Of course, you do – and so do I.

What’s up with this “surprises” prelude? Simple – was prompted by the recent experience in Eastern Pennsylvania – at Galer Estate Vineyards and Winery.

With the fear to sound obnoxious (feel free to stamp “snob” and stop reading), I have to say that East Coast wineries are a hit and miss experience. I’m sure this is not just an East Coast phenomenon, but here I experienced it enough to state it. When visiting the winery, I’m looking for the “full experience”. I want the winery to have an ambiance, to have a soul. To me, the wine is a thing of comfort, and this is what I want to experience when I come to taste the wine. I don’t care for glitz and glamor, I don’t care for all the little “look how many cool and utterly useless things you can buy here”. The winery to me is all about a comfort and pleasure, and, most importantly, the real, good, tasty wine.

Oh, and one more thing to add – a conversation, conversation with the person who pours the wine into your glass. I don’t want to be pontificated upon (recent experience at Akash winery in Temecula was beyond terrible), I don’t want to be ignored (“I don’t know anything, I’m just here for a weekend job, here is your wine”). I want a person who pours the wine to share their passion and pride – it makes wine tasting a lot more enjoyable.

I’m happy to say that we had this exact “full experience” on the recent visit to Galer Estate. While the winery, located just a stone throw away from the Longwood Gardens (actually, while driving to the winery, I thought I made a mistake and will simply get inside the gardens instead of the winery), started only about 10 years ago, it looks like it had been there for centuries. It is rustic, it perfectly blends into the surroundings, and it is beautifully decorated – I’m sure the fact that Lele Galer, the co-owner of the winery, is an artist, comes to play here.

Galer Estate tasting Room

Galer Estate tasting Room

The doors of the tasting room had been brought from France, some of the panels are from Italy, stained glass windows are from the midwest USA. The view of the Chardonnay vineyard from the tasting room is beautiful, and all those little details together create the right ambiance for the tasting.

The Galer Estate owns two vineyards, and when necessary, they bring grapes from other vineyards, but all the grapes are still local, coming from the vineyards within 30 miles radius, all located in the Chester County. The selection of grapes is quite eclectic – it was my first time trying Grüner Veltliner and Albariño from the East Coast. Here is what we tasted:

2017 Galer Estate Grüner Veltliner Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – fresh nose, beautiful grassy palate, great acidity. 8-, excellent effort.

2017 Galer Estate The Huntress Vidal Blanc Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – Excellent, restrained, nice balance of white fruit, good acidity, elegant. 8, one of the best renditions of Vidal Blanc I ever had.

2016 Galer Estate Red Lion Chardonnay Chester County Pennsylvania ($18) – gunflint on the nose, crisp, green apples, lemon, clean. 8, excellent wine. I’ll take a gunflint on my Chardonnay at any time, and was literally ecstatic to find it here.

2017 Galer Estate Albariño Chester County Pennsylvania ($35) – excellent, varietally correct, touch of perfume on the nose, mineral lemon notes on the palate. 7+, Unique and different – East Coast Albariño, not the wine you can expect to find here.

2015 Galer Estate Chardonnay Reserve Chester County Pennsylvania ($32) – not my favorite – I’ll leave it at that. May be a “sleeper” bottle?

2017 Galer Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Chester County Pennsylvania ($30) – practically no color in the glass. I would prefer a Rosé with more extraction. Not my favorite

2016 Galer Estate The Huntress Red Blend Chester County Pennsylvania ($30, blend of Cabernet Franc, Carmine, Petit Verdot) – excellent, clean, cassis on the nose, cassis and raspberries on the palate. Soft, good balance. 8-, an added bonus – a new grape, Carmine – the grape (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan) was specifically designed to withstand the cold of the East Coast.

We had a great time while tasting, as our host was knowledgeable and engaging. It was also great to have lunch right in the cellar room – it was too hot to sit outside, so after the view of the vineyards, the view, and mostly the smell,  of the tanks might be the most exciting for the wine lovers.

And of course we had an opportunity to snap some pictures of the vines and grapes:

Here you are, my friends. If you are visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is one of my most favorite places, put aside some time to visit the Galer Estate. Considering the full experience, this was one of the very best East Coast wineries I ever visited. And even if you have take a special trip over, you will not regret it. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Art of Food And Wine at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington, Delaware

September 2, 2018 3 comments

 

Domaine Hudson Special MenuAlmost for as long as this blog exists, and practically every year around this time, I confess my love of traditions. The reason it happens every year around August is rather simple – this is the time when we typically have our “Adults getaway” – a group of friends going away for a weekend of food, wine, and laughter, an insane amount of laughter.

We always spend time arranging for a special dinner – this year was not an exception. It took a bit of work, but after calling and emailing many places around our destination – Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square in Pennsylvania – we found the place which was willing to accommodate our group and seemed to offer good food and wine options. Typically we try to find the restaurant which will offer a tasting menu and allow us to bring our own wines. It does take a bit of effort to come up with wine pairings for the dishes we never tasted – but usually, we fare reasonably well at that exercise. This year, for a change, we found the restaurant which offered us a tasting menu – and paired all the dishes with wines, so all we needed to do is to come and enjoy (one would hope, at least).

It was not just the fully paired tasting menu which was different this time. Typically, when we select a restaurant, we go by Yelp ratings and close proximity to the place we are staying at. As we usually stay in small towns, the restaurants we find are more of a “local significance”. The story with Domaine Hudson is quite different as the restaurant has Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. There are only about 1200 restaurants with this type of awards in the whole of the United States, so I hope you agree that it builds some level of expectations.

All the planning behind, and finally we arrived at the Domaine Hudson in Wilmington. Once we got situated, the dinner started with the “Chef’s Surprise” (the Amuse-bouche), which became a double-surprise. The first part of the surprise was in the fact that it was not expected, of course. But the second surprise was the dish itself – Deviled Eggs.

Okay, what can be surprising about the deviled eggs, you ask? You see, for people with Russain heritage, deviled eggs is a staple of the party, and I’m very, very particular to how this simple dish is executed. I had deviled eggs on multiple occasions in the restaurants, and don’t mean to offend anyone, but in the absolute majority of the cases the dish could be described simply as “blah”. Not here. At Domaine Hudson, this was one superb deviled eggs – the egg white was smoked, the filling was creamy and perfectly seasoned, and the smoked salmon on top gave the texture and completed the dish. The simply delicious beginning of the evening.

Before we continue, I have a confession to make. Every once in a while, you want to forget all your social media obligations (obsessions?) and just be a normal person on vacation – don’t take pictures, don’t take notes, don’t try to memorize the experience, just relax, have fun and enjoy the moment. This is what I honestly tried to do. I didn’t bring my SLR, I decided not to take any pictures, just enjoy the dinner and the company. After the first sip of wine and bite of food, which were both excellent, all good intentions went out of the window, and the need to “document the story” kicked in, more as an instinct, a muscle memory so to speak. But – I was left with only my cell phone (meaning – mediocre pictures), and any missed picture opportunities are just that – missed picture opportunities. Now, let’s get back to our dinner and the wine pairings.

Duck Liver Mousse (port wine aspic, pickled stone fruit, grilled bread)
Wine: 2015 Rubus Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

Superb is a word. The mousse was delicious – texture, flavor combination with all the condiments – I finished the full ramekin by myself, couldn’t stop until the last morsel. The wine was excellent as well – nice raspberries profile, a touch of fresh fruit, not overbearing, but enough sweetness to perfectly complement the mousse. A successful pairing by all means.

Domaine Hudson Culver Farms Baby Greens salad

Culver Farms Baby Greens (grilled corn, fennel, Marcona almonds, lemon aioli, Pecorino)
Wine: 2017 Gateway Vinho Verde DOC, Portugal

Another delicious dish. Fresh, simple, light, very summer-y, fun to eat with all the different crunch elements. Vinho Verde was fresh, grassy and lemony, just as you would expect, and it obviously played perfectly with the salad. Another successful pairing.

Ricotta Gnocchi (forest mushrooms, hazelnuts, summer truffle cream)
Wine: 2016 Domaine Cornu-Camus Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, France

I love mushrooms, so this dish definitely delivered that – great variety of mushrooms, a perfect textural addition of hazelnuts, truffle cream was very flavorful. The gnocchi, which were supposed to be the star of the dish were too dense, I would definitely prefer for them to be lighter and fluffier. Still, not the dish you can really complain about. The wine was fresh and young, red crunchy berries, great minerality, very firm and structured, with excellent acidity – an excellent young Burgundy. However, the pairing didn’t work. I guess the idea was to pair on the contrast, but that didn’t work for me. But – I definitely enjoyed the wine on its own.

Nordic Halibut (Fava beans, Holland leeks, forest mushrooms, lemon butter sauce)
Wine: 2015 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley

Crispy fish? Check. Fava beans? One of my personal favorites; check. Mushrooms? Check. You got all my happy ingredients, and they worked very well together. Chardonnay was spot on – varietally correct, just a touch of butter, vanilla, apples, fresh, well balanced with good acidity. And a successful pairing for sure.

Domaine Hudson Prime Holstein NY Strip

Prime Holstein New York Strip (fingerling potatoes, Fois Gras butter, braised greens, red wine demi)
Wine: 2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley

Steak and Cab – need I say more? The steak was perfectly cooked, great flavor, juicy, good sauce – nothing else I can say – if you like steak, you would like this dish. But then the wine… This was easily the best Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted in a long time (bold statement for me, I know). This was in-your-face, juicy, powerful, super-extracted, luscious wine only California can produce – imagine having a ripe bunch of cassis in your hand, and just taking a full bite right there – cassis, blackberries, mint, eucalyptus, everything is there – but perfectly balanced, with good acidity and unquestionably dry – wow. I would never guess this wine had 15.3% ABV – it was just perfectly integrated. Bottom line – superb wine and excellent pairing.

Plum Gelato with Sugar Cookie

The meal should have a sweet ending, right? Excellent gelato, light, fresh, good flavor. A perfect finishing touch.

Let’s summarize the experience – in a word, outstanding. The food was very good, and the wine program was excellent, most of the pairings worked, so I have to say that the Best of Award of Excellence has a good merit, and it definitely makes sense to me.

Have you dined at the restaurant with similar distinctions? How was your experience? Cheers!

 

The Art of Tempranillo

May 24, 2018 7 comments

Source: Vintae.com

I love Tempranillo wines. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I had a wide range of Tempranillo – with the exception of Australia, I believe I tried most of the major renditions – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Toro, most everywhere else in Spain, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington (am I missing something? do tell!). With all the love and respect to all the regions, if I have to put an order of priorities in that “list”, I would put Rioja first, Ribera del Duero very close second, but the competition for the 3rd place would be severe – in my world, of course.

I like wines of Toro, the closest sibling to the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but it would be hard for me to place them higher than some of the beautiful Tempranillo renditions from Irwin Family Vineyards, Duchman, or Fields – considering the Toro wines I had in the past. Compared to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Toro is … well, maybe I need to explain why I keep mentioning Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro together all the time. These are the only three regions in the world where the absolute majority of the red wines is made out of the Tempranillo grapes. Yes, there are Garnacha and Graciano in Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Ribera del Duero, but still – most of the red wines in these three regions are made out of the Tempranillo, hence the constant comparison.

Out of the three regions, Toro is south-most one, with an expressly continental climate, low annual rainfall amounts, and significant range of day-night temperatures – which typically translates well into the flavor. Tempranillo is the grape of Toro, but similarly to Tuscany/Brunello, where you have Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso, Tempranillo in Toro is known as Tinta de Toro, a.k.a Tempranillo de Castilla, a.k.a. Ink of Toro. The grape is a bit smaller, with thicker skin, which coupled with growing conditions typically results, in massive, concentrated wines requiring extensive aging to become drinkable – I still have a memory of trying Alabaster made by Sierra Cantabria, one of the well-known producers in Toro, which was one of the most massive wines I ever experienced. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning, Tempranillo is one of the favorites, so when the opportunity called to try 3 wines from Toro, I was definitely curious – and a bit cautious at the same time.

To ease things up, together with the 3 Toro wines from Bodega Matsu came a bottle of Rioja Reserva from Bodega Classica. While coming from unrelated producers, there is a common link between them – this link is called Vintae – a young company with a serious passion for the Spanish wine for the modern world. Vintae, started in 1999 by the Arambarri family, set on changing world’s perception of the Spanish wine as “boring”. To the date, Vintae unifies a collection of 11 different “projects”, all focused on showcasing the regions and the grapes.

Going back to the wines at hand, let’s talk about Rioja first. The wine comes from Bodega Classica, located in the heart of Rioja Alta. Rioja Alta offers a unique high-altitude setting to produce arguably the best Tempranillo of the whole of Rioja region. Couple that with more than 100 years old vineyards, and you are looking at some tasty opportunities in the bottle, as this Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva was. Here are my notes:

2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva DOCa (13.5% ABV, $16.99, 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, 20 months in French and American oak)
Dark garnet color
Pepper, vanilla, raspberries, mushrooms, nice minerality
Medium body, good acidity, noticeable alcohol burn initially, went away in about 15 minutes, good fruit showed up, characteristic cedar notes, good acidity, round, soft.
8-, nice, just give it a bit of time to soften up at the beginning. The second day continued without changes. Good life expectancy, as expected of Rioja Reserva. And an excellent QPR.

Now, let’s go back to Toro. As I already said, in my prior experience, Toro wines were massive and concentrated, requiring long aging to soften and really show a beautiful expression of Tempranillo. And then there were wines called Matsu.

Bodega Matsu wines

Matsu in means “wait” in Japanese. As we all know, waiting is one of the favorite games of oenophiles. When it comes to the three Matsu wines I had an opportunity to taste, there are many different levels of “waiting”. The wines had been progressively aged for the longer times before the release – 3 months for El Picaro, 14 months for El Recio, 16 months for El Viejo. The grapes were harvested from the vines of different age (again, progressively) – 50-70 years old for El Picaro, 90-100 years old for El Recio, more than 100 years old for El Viejo. See, waiting here is clearly a part of the equation.

And then there are those ultra-creative labels. Not only labels commemorate people who actually worked to create the wines, they clearly identify what you should expect from the wines – in age, in style, and even in price. I conducted a little experiment, first with my kids, and then with the people on Instagram, asking them to identify the most expensive wine – nobody made a mistake, the labels speak very clearly to us.

How were the wines? Surprising. Probably the best Toro wines I ever had – without any regard to the pricing category. Here are my notes, so you can see for yourself:

2016 Bodega Matsu El Picaro Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $13.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 50 – 70 years old vines, 3 months minimum aging on the lees, concrete tanks)
Bright ruby color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation
Young fresh berries, medium+ intensity, a touch of vanilla
Surprisingly light on the palate, pleasant tannins, fresh berries, very quaffable.
8-, might be the lightest rendition of Toro I ever had. The smell is a bit more complex on the second day. Palate nicely evolved, good balance, raspberries, no more impression of the young wine, lots of minerality.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Recio Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $21.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 90 – 100 years old vines, 14 months aging in second use oak barrels)
Garnet color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation too
Sage, fresh raspberries, quite fruity, roasted notes, minerality, distant hint of cinnamon
Underripe plums, blueberries, thyme, nice herbal component, surprisingly light, still noticeable alcohol, needs more time
8-, needs time. Second day: 8/8+, velvety texture, well integrated, excellent balance, a touch of tobacco and espresso on the palate and ripe plums. Outstanding.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Viejo Toro DO (15% ABV, $46.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 100+ years old vines, 16 months in new French oak barrels)
Garnet Color, noticeable legs, rim variation is not extensive, but present
Sweet blueberries and raspberries on the nose, sage, sweet oak
8- first day, waiting for more.
Second day: 8, much evolved, more integrated, velvety texture, dark fruit, round, smooth. Will evolve further.

Here you are, my friends – the Art of Wine, from the label to the glass. Very impressive and thought-provoking wines, definitely worth seeking. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had Toro wines before? Do you have any Tempranillo favorites? Cheers!

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