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Daily Glass: Unlimited Pleasures

October 29, 2020 Leave a comment

I opened the bottle.

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

The end.

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

Let’s go back to the delicious wine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunting Down The Value

October 5, 2020 2 comments

Wine and value – isn’t that a topic that is near and dear to every wine lover’s heart?

In the world of wine, “value” has lots of meanings – and to make it even more complex it also depends on a personal perspective. In the majority of the cases, value is relative. And while value concept is important and it is something we seek, it is the pleasure we are really after. We want to drink wine which gives us pleasure. Talking about value, we often refer to the concept of QPR  – Quality Price Ratio – instead of just the value, as QPR simply stresses what we are looking for, the pleasure, the best possible experience for the money. In other words, we equate quality and pleasure. Maybe we should introduce a new concept – PPD – as in Pleasure Per Dollar? Hmmm… maybe not.

I was trying to find an example of absolute value in wine, and I don’t believe such a thing exists. Is $4.99 bottle a value? Unless you enjoy that wine, it is really not – if you don’t enjoy that $4.99 bottle, it is wasted $4.99. Is $200 bottle of wine is value? “Are you nuts???” I would expect a typical reaction being to such a price. Well, if this $200 bottle of wine is on the huge sale, and that wine typically sold, let’s say, at $300 – and this is something you will enjoy, and most importantly, can afford? Of course, it is a value. Then if you can easily afford it but don’t enjoy – this is again a waste of money.

There is another spin in our discussion of relativity of the wine value, where the value is not expressed directly in the money amount, but in comparison to the wines of similar styles. For example, I would say that an Israeli wine, Shiloh Mosaic, an [almost] Bordeaux blend in style, which retails around $60, can be easily compared to the $200+ Bordeaux blend wines from California, such as Vérité. At $60, Shiloh Mosaic is not an inexpensive wine, but nevertheless, if my comparison would hold true for you, it will become a great value in your eyes too.

And yet one more important detail about value – value is often defined in the categories – either price or wine type categories. I’m sure you heard quite often the wine is defined as a “great value under $30”, or a “great value for Pinot Noir under $100”. This simply means that someone who tasted a group of wines priced under $30, found that that particular wine tasted the best in that group. Don’t forget our general relativity of the value though – if you don’t drink Chardonnay, the best value Chardonnay under $30 has no bearing in your world.

We can easily continue our theoretical value escapades, but let me give you an account of my recent encounter with great values, courtesy of Wines Til Sold Out. I’m sure most of you in the US are well familiar with WTSO, possibly the best wine flash sale operator. In addition to the standard offerings which change as soon as the current wine is sold out, WTSO offers so-called last chance wines, premium selection, and occasional offers of the wines at $9.99 – all of which can be acquired in single bottle quantities with free shipping. Two of my last value finds were $9.99 wines, and one of them (Cahors) was from the last chance wines selection, at $13.99.

All three of these wines were simply outstanding, especially considering the price. 2012 Casa Ermelinda Freitas Vinha Do Rosário Reserva Peninsula de Setubal (14% ABV, 70% Castelao, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 12 months in French oak) had a core of red fruit, good acidity, dark earthy profile a touch of coffee. Think about it – 8 years old wine, $9.99, delicious – is that a great value or what?

The 2017 Pure Bred Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County (14.2% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) was an absolute surprise. At first, I got just one bottle, as Cabernet Sauvignon from California for $10 can’t be good apriori. On contrary to my expectations, the wine was generous and balanced, not jammy at all, with good undertones of the classic Cab – cassis and eucalyptus, and a pleasant herbaceous finish. Was if the best California Cabernet Sauvignon in absolute terms? Of course not. But at this price, it would give a perfect run for the money for many California Cabs priced under $30 – $40. I would say taste it for yourself, but WTSO is sold out of this wine at the moment.

Last but not least – 2016 Château Vincens Prestige Cahors (14.5% ABV, 80% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 10-15 months in French and American oak). This was just supremely delicious – earthy, with the core of dark fruit, densely and firmly structured, with a dollop of sweet tobacco on the finish – dark and powerful wine. I don’t know if Cahors wines returned yet to their old glory, but this is the wine I’m willing to enjoy on any day.

Here you have my excursion into the world of wine value, also known as QPR, and maybe in the future, as PPD? Hope I didn’t bore you to death. And by the way, what are your thoughts on wine values? Any great discoveries to brag about?

Daily Glass: Meeting The Expectations

June 2, 2020 3 comments

Expectations are essential in any area of human life. We find great joy when our expectations are exceeded, no matter what those expectations apply to – service, conversation, book, a dish at a restaurant, final grade – truly anything and everything. We are equally disappointed when our expectations are not met – subpar service, empty talk, boring book, bland dish, a B grade instead of an A. Believe me, works every time. Expectations are important, as they function as gates to happiness.

In theory, having low expectations is a perfect path to happiness – a solid guarantee that expectations will be easily exceeded and we will feel happy. Well, it is easier said than done. More often than not, the expectations are set on a subconscious level. When you read the test question, the brain instantly jumps in “I know the answer!” – left unchecked, the test grade might not meet the expectations. Or think about one of my favorite sources of disappointment while visiting the restaurant – the dish description which doesn’t meet your expectations. If the dish described as “spicy” it is better actually be spicy and not dull…

Expectations work exactly like that in the world of wine. One quick glance at the label unleashes a slew of instant impressions – ahh, Turley, yes, had this last year, maybe a different vintage, I think this is a great year, should be delicious, maybe need some time to breathe, ahh, and I remember not liking that wine at first, yeah, I still remember that… can I pull that cork already? Yep – one quick glance is quite enough.

Exceeding expectations is great, but, more often than not, meeting them is quite enough – especially if your expectations are already high enough. Here is my account of two wines perfectly meeting my expectations.

Peter Michael Winery requires no introduction to the wine lovers, producing some of the best Chardonnays, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines in California for more than 30 years. Turley Wine Cellars had been around for 27 years, and it is best known as producer of some of the most coveted Zinfandel wines. It is interesting that both wines I’m talking about here are sort of the oddballs for both producers – Peter Michael is not really known for its Sauvignon Blanc, and Larry Turley, the proprietor at Turley wines, was anti-Cabernet Sauvignon for a long time, so I’m not sure if wine lovers are even fully aware that Turley produces Cabernet Sauvignon for the past 5 years.

Both wineries are well known for their quality wines, and when you see their names on the label, you do expect to taste that quality in your glass. 2012 Peter Michael L’Aprés Midi Knights Valley Sonoma County (15.6% ABV) was superb from the get-go – a whiff of the fresh-cut grass, whitestone fruit, round mouthfeel, and clean acidity. The wine was really uncalifornian in its presentation – I would think I’m tasting Sancerre if I would taste this wine blind. The utmost elegance – and 8 years old fresh and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc is not an easy fit.

2012 Turley Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Cellars (14.1% ABV) also tasted as expected. As I opened the bottle, it was not the wine to drink – for sure not for my palate. Big, brooding, jammy, with a lot of semi-sweet dark chocolate and dark fruit. It was quintessential Californian and over the board. I’m sure it doesn’t sound great to many of you, but this is within the expectations, as Californian Cabernet Sauvignon are rarely pop’n’pour wines, and at 8 years of age, they are way too young. However, exactly as expected, the wine became magnificent on the second day. Cassis showed up, smothered with mint, eucalyptus, and a touch of anise. The medley of fruit and herbs was delicious, with perfect balancing acidity and velvety, roll-of-your-tongue, texture. Just the wine I would expect Turley to produce.

How often do you find the wines which meet your expectations? Better yet, how often your wine expectations are exceeded?

American Pleasures #4 – Gratus Vineyards

May 22, 2020 Leave a comment

Wine can be many things to many people. Wine can connect people. Wine can bring back memories. Wine can bring back a unique experience, change one’s mood, and help solve a problem.

The wine is also often an expression of gratitude.

Those of us who love wine also love to offer it to others as an expression of our gratitude. We take great care in carefully selecting the wine to express what we feel – it makes us ecstatic when the gift recipient acknowledges our choice.

And then there are those who make wine to express their gratitude – sometimes, they even call their winery to show that, as would be the case for GRATUS Vineyards.

Gratus is Latin for gratitude, and this is exactly what Thomas Wargovich was trying to express by naming his Napa Valley winery GRATUS Vineyards – gratitude to the family, gratitude to his grandparents who came to the USA as millions of others in search of the better life.

Source: GRATUS Vineyards

GRATUS Vineyards is a 27 acres parcel in Pope Valley, the small strip of land adjacent to the famed Howell Mountain. GRATUS Vineyards is not just a winery. While 10 acres are planted with vines, the rest of the parcel constitutes a complex nature habitat, an arboretum with more than 300 rare and endangered species of conifers, trees which bear cones, among other plants. It makes GRATUS Vineyards a unique place with its own soul and personality.

The first vintage at GRATUS Vineyards, 2012, consisted of 75 cases. Current production is about 600 cases, with the wines ranging from the Rhone varietals to the classic California Cabernet Sauvignon and blends. Red wines at GRATUS Vineyards are typically aged for about 22 months in oak.

I had an opportunity to taste GRATUS Vineyards wines and was very much impressed with the consistency of the full range I was able to experience. Here are my notes:

2018 Gratus Vineyards White Blend Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $39, blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Picpoul Blanc)
Light golden
Whitestone fruit, plums, a touch of lemon, refreshing and inviting
Round, medium-plus weight, noticeable texture, green apple, lemon, good acidity
8-/8, thought-provoking

2018 Gratus Vineyards L’ovey Rosé Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $23)
Beautiful salmon pink
Light and refreshing strawberries, very inviting
Tart strawberries and cranberries on the palate, crisp, fresh, definitely a bigger body than Provence, and perfectly balanced.
8+, delicious.

2016 Gratus Vineyards Malbec Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $70)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark berries, mint, sweet basil, overripe plum
Dark berries, ripe blueberries, and blackberries, iodine, dark chocolate, medium-plus body, smooth, good acidity, good balance, medium finish
8, tasty now, will evolve.
8+ on the third day. The wine lost sweetness and developed dark magic

2015 Gratus Vineyards Red Blend Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $90, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petite Sirah)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark chocolate, mocha, cherries, anise
Lip-smacking, cherries, coffee, eucalyptus, full-body, supple, generous.
8, excellent on the 2nd day. It definitely needs time, but has good potential.

2016 Gratus Vineyards Red Blend Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $80, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark garnet, practically black
Black currant, sweet tobacco, a touch of mint
Black currant, cherries, good minerality, fresh, firm structure, good acidity, excellent balance, medium finish.
8/8+, delicious.

2016 Gratus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $120, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (clone 15))
Dark garnet, practically black
Day 1: not a lot to report. The wine is massive and closed.
Day 2 notes:
Vanilla, dark chocolate
Dark chocolate, big, brooding, pencil shavings, iodine
8-, an interesting contrast with day 1 – need to wait for the day 3

As you can see, most of the reds are in the “needs time” category, but this is pretty much a signature of the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. Hopefully, you got the patience, and the space int he cellar. Cheers!

Weekend in Wines

March 26, 2020 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Glass: Another Day, Another Enigma

March 8, 2020 Leave a comment

It was just another Sunday. It could’ve been any day in the oenophile’s house. You know, when you open a bottle which you think will be enough for the evening, but then people come over, and you open another, and another, and another. Yes, it doesn’t matter if it was Sunday or not. Just another day.

The important point here – wine is an enigma.

e·nig·ma
/iˈniɡmə/

noun

a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand

This is not the first time I have to evoke the enigmatic virtue of wine – I had quite a few puzzling experiences, with the wines going amazing – undrinkable – amazing (here is one example), or with the wines needing 4-5 days to become drinkable after they had been open. The element of mystery of not knowing what you are going to find once the cork is pulled out of the most familiar bottle is definitely a big part of the excitement, but some times it becomes too much excitement, in my opinion. Anyway, let’s talk about that Sunday, shall we?

Guardian Cellars is a small produced in Woodinville, Washington. I visited the winery in 2014, and tasted through a bunch of wines which were one better than another (here is my excited post about that visit). I brought back with me a bottle of 2011 Guardian Cellars The Informant Wahluke Slope – 97% Syrah, 3% Viognier – and every time I would pull it off the shelf, I would put it back – you know how it is with single bottles, it is very hard to find the right moment to pull that cork. By the way, this bottle was simply stored in the wine cage standing in the room with temperature fluctuating around 70F and no direct sunlight – but not in the wine fridge or a cellar. Don’t really know what prompted me to finally get this bottle out, but I did. And it was delicious. Not a hint of age, dark garnet color, intense nose of blackberries, perfectly balanced dark berries, pepper, and crushed rocks on the palate. This was simply an excellent bottle – not the one which prompted my “enigma” outburst. And that note about storage conditions? People, don’t be afraid to keep your wine, even if you don’t have a cellar, wine fridge or a basement. If you do it right, you might be rewarded handsomely – well worth the risk.

I thought we might be able to get by with just one bottle, but then my daughter arrived with her friend who is “in the biz”, so the next bottle had to be special too. Another single bottle found its proper fate – 2006 Sequoia Groove Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (this one was stored in the wine fridge in case you are wondering). There was nothing enigmatic about this wine – well, except maybe how quickly it disappeared. The wine was an absolutely delicious, succulent example of Napa Valley greatness – still dark garnet, black currant, mint, and eucalyptus on the nose, ripe berries, currant leaves, touch of anise, good acidity, firm structure – a delight all in all.

So the Sequoia Groove was gone, what next? After short deliberations, 2013 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley was pulled out. I really like Neyers wines, enjoyed many of them in the past, including the bottles from the same vintage. The bottle was opened with no issues, poured in the glass, and this is where the strange things started. The wine was too sweet. The nose was fine, but on the palate, it was just sugar, sugar, sugar. Okay, let’s decant. 30 minutes later, 1 hour later, 2 hours later, the wine stayed the same – a sugary concoction.

No wine can be wasted in this house, so the content of the decanter went back into the bottle. The next day it was the same. Two days later, the sugar significantly subsided, and the wine started to resemble a lot more a classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon as one would expect.

So what was that? I know the wine is a living thing and transformation still continues in the bottle. Still, how one can know when the wine is drinkable, and when it is not? Was this a fluke, an issue with a particular bottle? Maybe. Over the years I noticed a significant bottle variation in Neyers wines overall, so this would support a theory of “just a fluke”. Or was it just a state of this 7 years old wine? Maybe. There is no good way to tell. However, I have two more bottles of the same wine, and they are not getting opened for a while.

Going back to our evening, just for the fun of sharing some pictures, our dinner menu included some BBQ chicken skewers – while I don’t have pictures of food, I have a couple pictures of burning charcoal which I’m happy to share 🙂

While Neyers was declared undrinkable, I had to entertain my guests with something else, so I pulled a bottle of 2015 Wind Gap Mi-Pente Pinot Noir Sonoma County, one of my latest Last Bottles finds. Wind Gap is best known as Syrah specialist, so I was surprised to even find Wind Gap Pinot Noir (I’m not even sure Wind Gap brand exists anymore – it used to be run by talented Pax Mahle, who now went back to his own brand Pax – this story definitely deserves its own post). The wine was delicious – crunchy cherries and smoke, firm structure, lots of energy – this was an excellent finish to the good Sunday evening.

Here you are, my friends. Wine is an enigma. Who else thinks that wine is an enigma? Raise your hands glasses.

Daily Glass: Cab And The Whole Nine Yards

January 24, 2020 1 comment

I’m sure you are well familiar with the phrase “The whole 9 yards” – technically translating into “lots of stuff”. You know what the fun part is? Nobody knows where this expression came from. There is a lot of research, a lot of “true origin” claims and an equal amount of disparaging remarks about the other side not knowing a squat about the subject (which seems to be the sign of times, sigh). We are not here to research or discuss the expression – my intention is to talk about a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, but I will also give you the whole nine yards of related and unrelated “things”.

Everything started with a simple task – I was in need of the present for a friend’s birthday. My typical present is a bottle of wine of the birth year vintage (1977). However, it is getting more and more difficult to find the wine of such an old vintage at a reasonable price or even at all. After spending some time with Wine-Searcher and Benchmark Wine website, and finding nothing but a few bottles of the vintage Port, I decided that it is the time for the plan B, which means simply finding an interesting bottle of wine.

Next problem – where should I look for an interesting bottle of wine? Online seems to be the most obvious choice – but just to make things more interesting, I have to tell you that my gift recipient owns two liquor stores – yep, surprising him is not a trivial task.

Do you have an American Express credit card? Of course, you are wondering what it has to do with our story? It is most directly related. If you have the American Express credit card (AMEX for short), and if you ever looked at your account online, you probably saw the section called Amex Offers & Benefits. In that section, you can find 100 special offers, allowing you to earn additional points or save money on different items you can buy with the AMEX card. I have a good experience with these offers, these are real savings, so I have a habit of periodically logging into the account and scrolling through the offers. One of the offers I saw quickly attracted my attention – save $50 on a $150 purchase at WineAccess. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a very good deal for me.

I was not familiar with Wine Access, so I got to the website to see if I can actually put this offer to good use. First thing I saw on the site is that $120 or 6 bottles purchase includes shipping, and if you are buying wine online, you know that shipping cost is one of the most annoying elements of the wine buying experience, so this made deal even sweeter – in case I can find something interesting.

I can’t tell you why and how, I first decided to search for Grosset, one of the very best Australian Riesling producers, and to my surprise and delight, I found Grosset Riesling available. So now I needed to add something else to reach my target number – $150.

I found an interesting Bordeaux, and next, I noticed a red blend from the Three Wine company in Napa, one of my favorite producers. My excitement happened to be premature, as once I started the checkout process, created an account and set my shipping address in Connecticut, I found out that I can’t complete my purchase as Three Wine red blend can’t be shipped to Connecticut (don’t you love US wine laws?).

I had to restart my search, and now I noticed Napa Cabernet Sauvignon called Idiosyncrasy – never heard of it, but Oakville Cab for $25 (this was a 50% discount off a standard price of $50) – why not to try one? I got two bottles, one for me, and one for my friend – done and done.

Once the order was placed I decided to check what exactly I just bought. I did a search for the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet online. I didn’t find too many references, but I did find a post which was very critical of the wine, saying that it was thin, and under-extracted Cabernet Sauvignon, absolutely no worthy of $43 which author paid for the wine. I also learned that this wine was specially produced for the Wine Access wine club by the well-known winemaker.

Truth be told – I don’t like wine clubs. What I learned about the wine, didn’t add confidence to my decision. Oh well – now I just had to wait for the shipment to arrive.

I didn’t have to wait for a long, the box showed up on the doorstep in a few days. Upon opening, I found not only 6 bottles which I ordered, but also neat, well-designed information cards – you can see it here:

Each card offered the story related to the wine, pairing suggestions, ideal drinking window put on the bottle tag which could be easily separated from the page and hang on the bottle in case you store it in the cellar. The back of the info card offered space for personal notes. Again, very well designed – would make any oenophile happy.

I read the story of the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon – it was written from the first person, as winemaker talked about his experience and how he came to the creation of this wine specifically for the Wine Access wine club. While the winemaker mentioned his work at Quintessa, Lail, Dalla Valle, and Purlieu, his latest adventure, his name was not found anywhere on the page. I had to figure out that his name was Julien Fayard by visiting Purlieu website.

Nice paper and story are important, but the truth is in the glass. Remembering the bad review, I poured the glass of 2016 Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley (14.9% ABV), ready to be disappointed. To my delight, I was not. The keyword to describe this wine would be “elegant”. Varietally correct nose with touch cassis and mint. On the palate, the wine was rather of Bordeaux elegance – less ripe but perfectly present fruit, a touch of bell pepper, firm structure, perfect balance (Drinkability: 8/8+). Was this the best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever tasted? It was not. Was it the wine I would want to drink again? Absolutely, any day. Was it a good value at $25? This was a great value at $25, and even at $50, it would still be a good value.

Here you go, my friends – a story of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the whole nine yards. Cheers!

If Grapes Would Fight

January 22, 2020 Leave a comment

The Duel.

How human. Or inhumane. Whatever way we want to spin it.

Yes, duels are the thing of the past. You walk on the street. You lightly bump into someone. You apologize. But the other man says that you didn’t hurt his shoulder. It was his honor which was hurt. And the only way to alleviate that pain is through the duel. Choose the day, the time, and the weapon – pistols are fine, or maybe you prefer the Épée. And be there, or else.

You and your witnesses show up at the agreed time in the agreed place. Your opponent will probably be there already with his suitors. Both of you line up, someone gives the command, you fight. One of you most likely will die. But this was expected. The honor will be cleared and not in pain anymore – for whoever will survive, that is. The end.

Oh, did I mention that those duels were not very legal for the most part even when they were very popular?

Now, imagine if those pistols would shoot grapes instead of bullets, and the only choice of weapon would be the type of grape? Let’s say, you will shoot with Cabernet Sauvignon, and your opponent with Petite Sirah, or maybe you will choose a Zinfandel and your opponent will load up with Syrah? I have no idea how the honor will be defended, but I’m sure nobody would die, and such a duel will be so much fun! I’m sure you have a good imagination – imagine the fully ripened grape hitting one of the opponents on the forehead, and splattering the juice all around, in the slow motion – that would be something to remember!

Okay, so grape shooting pistols are not on the market (yet?), but the grapes can duel all they want – if the winemaker desires.

Cue in Dueling Pistols – the wines weaved around the mystery of two men, raising guns at each other at the dawn. We don’t know how they ended up there, or how shootout ends, but it is not important, as we should rather pay attention to wines.

The two Dueling Pistols wines represent 50/50 blends of the grapes that meet each other only after the fermentation is done separately. In one wine, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah fight for supremacy; in the second wine, Zinfandel battles Syrah.

Never mind all this fight and battle talk. The wine is all about harmony – you want all the elements of the wine to be in full balance, playing together to deliver an amazing experience. So how these two wines did?

2016 Dueling Pistols Red Blend Dry Creek Valley (15% ABV, $49.99, 50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel, 18 months in French oak, 30% new)
Dark Garnet
Very intense nose, tar, tobacco, roasted meat, mint
Crisp acidity, tart fruit, much lighter on the palate than expected based on the smell, sour cherries, significant herbal component
7+ initially, needs time
8- on the second and third days, the wine is softer and showing more fruit.

2016 Dueling Pistols Red Blend Paso Robles (15.5% ABV, $49.99, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Petite Sirah, 18 months in French oak, 30% new)
Dark Garnet
Inviting nose of cherries and chocolate, with a hint of vanilla and licorice
The palate is smooth and gentle, well extracted, lip-smacking acidity, layers of flavor, velvety texture which makes you crave another sip even before you finished the first.
8/8+, very enjoyable

Here you are. A duel of grapes and even duel of wines. But – nobody got hurt, which is a great outcome of any duel, right?

Judging this fight, I have to say that Cabernet/Petite Sirah won this fight, at least in my corner. But you know what they say? YMMV, so go ahead, stage your own duel and have fun with it. Cheers!

P.S. These two wines were samples provided by Terlato Wines.

American Pleasures, Part 3 – Murrieta’s Well

January 3, 2020 3 comments

How often do you drink wines from Livermore Valley? Not trying to offend, but do you even know where the Livermore valley is?

If you guessed that Livermore Valley is an area in California, or if you simply knew it, yes, of course – Livermore Valley is located a bit north and west of San Francisco and can be considered one of the little wine world secrets for the people in the know. While Napa and Sonoma are the regions everyone is looking up to, Livermore Valley is located a stone throw from both, and in most cases offers a lot more fun in the tasting room for much less money.

Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard is located in this exact Livermore Valley and yes, we can consider it as one of the hidden gems. The estate has a rich history, going back to 1884. This is not the first time Murrieta’s Well wines are making an appearance in this blog, so instead of repeating all the historical references, I would like to direct you to my previous post on the subject. Same as the last time, the wines were provided as a courtesy of Snooth, for the virtual tasting – you can find the video recording of that tasting here.

This series is not called American Pleasures for nothing. This is the third post in the series, following the posts about Silverado and Oceano wines and Peju. As I explained in the introduction to the series, I simply had a great number of wines which were surprisingly consistent – wine after wine, they delivered a great deal of pleasure. You can expect to equally enjoy two wines from a good producer; 4 wines in the row is not typical; 6 wines is seriously unexpected. The 4 wines I tasted from the Murrieta’s Well were perfectly consistent and unquestionably enjoyable, offering loads of pleasure. Yes, all four. And what is even more interesting, if you will compare my ratings from 2017 tasting versus 2019, you will see that I rated all the wines higher. It appears that the process is going in the right direction, to the joy of all of us, oenophiles.

Let me share my notes:

2018 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Dry Orange Muscat Livermore Valley (14.6% ABV, $38, 100% Orange Muscat)
Light golden color
Plums, guava, tropical fruit
Bright acidity, an undertone of sweet tobacco, bright acidity on the finish
8, fresh, excellent

2018 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé Livermore Valley (13.5% ABV, $32, 42% Counoise, 33% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre)
Medium intensity pink color
Underripe strawberries
Tart fresh strawberries, good acidity, clean, vibrant, perfect balance, long finish
8, an excellent wine.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Merlot Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $48, 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark garnet
Touch of cassis, eucalyptus
Cassis, blackberries, nicely tart, a touch of coffee, good acidity, good structure
8+, excellent.

2017 Murietta’s Well The Spur Livermore Valley (14.5% ABV, $35, 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petite Sirah, 13% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot)
Dark Garnet
Smoke, tar, roasted meat, blackberries
Succulent blackberries, tobacco undertones, good acidity, medium to full body, good balance
8-, excellent

Here you go – 4 excellent wines, 4 sources of the great American [wine] pleasure. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had wines from the Livermore Valley? Cheers!

American Pleasures – Part 2, Peju Napa Valley

December 9, 2019 2 comments

A few weeks ago I shared with you my view on [strictly wine] American pleasures – some of the wine samples which I had a pleasure to taste recently. Yes, it is the pure hedonistic pleasure we are talking about here – the wines which have a magical power of making you want another glass even before the first one is empty. Today I want to continue that conversation and talk about Peju Province Winery in Napa Valley.

The story of Peju Province Winery is simple and similar to many others – it started from a dream. Tony Peju had a drawing of the winery with the tower two years prior to the first Peju grape been harvested. Tony found early success in Los Angeles as a horticulturist, using his landscaping skills in the real estate, improving and reselling the houses. But his dream was to own the farm.

After his search for the farm land led him up north to the Napa Valley, he was able to find the location of his dreams – a 30 acres Stephanie vineyard in Rutherford, located next to Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu vineyards, growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombard vines, some 60 years old or maybe even older. Tony and his wife, Herta, purchased Stephanie vineyard in 1983. At first, Tony and Herta were only selling the grapes, however taking advantage of Tony’s green thumb, improving the vineyard and learning what it is capable of. They identified the section of the vineyard, about 5 acres in size, which produced the best Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The vineyard, which was renamed into HB in honor of Tony’s wife, Herta Behensky, was replanted using cuttings from that best section grafted on the phylloxera-resistant rootstock. The time has come to start making Peju’s own wine.

Peju Province Winery Grounds. Source: Peju Province Winery

Tony went on to get a degree in enology from UC Davis, and the rest was history. Well, there is one interesting hurdle worth mentioning. If you remember, Tony had a full drawing of the winery done in 1981, two years before HB vineyard was even found and purchased. Once they had the land and were ready to convert dreams into reality, in order to fund the project, Tony and Herta started selling wine out of their garage converted into the wine tasting room. This, however, was against Napa County’s rules, which required all the wine sales to be made from the legitimate winery building. However, California law allowed winegrowers to sell the wines in the place where the grapes were grown, so the issue ended up in the court. The judge sided with Peju, agreeing that if Tony is growing the grapes, he should be allowed to sell the wine. This became a pivotal case that significantly changed the landscape of the Napa Valley.

Peju went on to build the impressive 50-foot tall tower in the French Provencal style, using Brazilian cherry wood, beams from old Midwestern farm buildings and 1906 antique stained glass window. Way before that new winery building was complete, Peju acquired 350 acres of land at the 2000 feet elevation in the nearby Pope Valley section of Napa, which they named Persephone Vineyard, after the goddess of Greek mythology. In 1997, 120 acres of that land was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (using HB Vineyard clone), as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. In 2007, Rutherford HB vineyard became certified organic, and today all three of Peju vineyards are using sustainable viticultural methods. In 2009, Peju Province Winery was certified as a Napa County Green Winery and Bay Area Green Business. Also in 2006, Peju started installing solar panels on 10,000 square feet of winery roof and generating 35% of all electricity consumed at a winery.

Okay, so now you learned a lot about the winery, so let’s talk about the wines, as a proof is always in the glass. I had an opportunity to try 6 wines from Peju, and I was literally blown away by what I tasted. To be entirely honest, these wines were one of the most inspirational coming up with the title for this series – American Pleasures. 6 out of 6 delicious wines, one better than another – I taste enough wines during the year to tell you that this is not given. Below are my notes:

2018 Peju Province Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.8% ABV, $25)
Straw pale, practically clear
A touch of freshly cut grass, white flowers, maybe a distant hint of cat pee – only because I want to find it there?
Layers of flavors. Crisp lemony acidity first, then a hint of plums and slightly underripe melon, unusual plumpness for the Sauvignon Blanc, the wine rolls off your tongue like a nice Marsanne.
8, excellent, a unique and different Sauvignon Blanc.

2015 Peju Province WineryCabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot, 18 months in French and American oak, 45% new)
Dark garnet
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus, sweet oak
A beautiful mix of black currant and cherries on the palate, a touch of herbal notes, good minerality, firm texture, vibrant acidity, medium+ finish
8/8+, the first sip says “I’m a Napa Cab”. Delicious.

The next wine is one of the few in “Nostalgia Series”, where every label depicts a moment in Peju’s history.

2015 Peju Province Winery Nostalgia Series The Farm Napa Valley (15.2% ABV, $80, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 18 months in oak)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark fruit, eucalyptus, restrained, mineral undertones
Perfectly balanced fresh fruit, soft, luscious, black currant, tar pencil shavings, perfect balance, delicious.
8, delicious wine

2016 Peju Province Winery Merlot Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $48, 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot, 18 months in oak)
Garnet
Sweet licorice, eucalyptus, underbrush
Coffee, tart cherries, cherry pit, minerality
8-, probably need more time. The finish is a bit astringent, however, it plays well with savory food (cheese and crackers)

Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite grapes – this wine was truly a Cabernet Franc experience.

2013 Peju Province Winery Petit Trois Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $75, 100% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in oak, 333 cases produced)
Deep Garnet
Cassis, licorice, mocha, a hint of sweet tobacco
Cassis, mint, gently present tannins (after a few hours), firm structure, sweet oak, unmistakably California
9-, wow, tons of pleasure in every sip. Needs decanting. Outstanding on the second day.

This wine has its own story. It is the result of the barrel experiments run by Peju winemaker, Sara Fowler. For the 2017 vintage, she worked with 37 different barrel tasting styles and 22 coopers, then discussed the effects of the oak regimen with the group of the fellow Napa Valley winemakers. To have all new-oak, effectively a young wine, to be ready to drink from the get-go is something really incredible in my opinion.

2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $100, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak, 100% new, 1075 cases produced)
Dark garnet
An “Oh my god!” nose – Black currant, eucalyptus, pure, intense
Wow, supple black currant, mint, eucalyptus, silky smooth tannins, good minerality, all delivered in layers. Clean acidity, impeccable balance, and immense pleasure.
9/9+, wow. An exemplary Napa Cab

There you have it, my friends – some incredible wines. Of course, these are not inexpensive wines, but in my opinion, the $100 bottle which gives you lots of pleasure is worth splurging for the right moment. Cheers!

 

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