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A Perfect Perfection

February 15, 2021 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Beautiful Things

January 22, 2021 Leave a comment

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

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

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

Garden at Calla Lily. Source: Calla Lily Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate Cabernet Franc!

December 4, 2020 2 comments

What do you think of Cabernet Franc? Is that a grape worthy of its own, special celebration?

If I can take the liberty of answering my own question, it is an enthusiastic “yes” from me.

I don’t know if wine lovers realize the grand standing of Cabernet Franc. The grape is essential as part of the blend, in French Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends from anywhere in the world. At the same time, Cabernet Franc is perfect on its own, making delicious single-varietal wines literally everywhere – Argentina, Australia, California, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Africa, Washington, and everywhere in between.

While classic Cabernet Franc taste profile evolves around Black Currant ( a.k.a. Cassis), the overall expression varies from lean and dry in the wines coming from Loire Valley in France (Chinon, Saumur) to opulent, bigger-than-life renditions from Argentina and California. Another essential taste element of Cabernet Franc is bell peppers, which are typically most noticeable in the Loire wines but can be completely absent in the Californian wines, where bell peppers flavors often considered highly undesirable.

I talked about the history of Cabernet Franc in some of the older posts, so I’m not going to repeat it here. Instead, we can just get to the subject of today’s celebration and taste some wines.

#CabFrancDay holiday was invented about 5 years ago by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines, a passionate Cabernet Franc producer out of Paso Robles in California and a tireless champion of her beloved grape. To celebrate the Cabernet Franc, I tasted two samples of the Cabernet Franc wines which I never had before, so let’s talk about them. We can even make a competition out of this tasting, a California versus Washington match.

Let’s start in California, at Vinum Cellars in Napa Valley. As soon as I saw a bottle of 2016 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet Franc El Dorado (15.18% ABV, $35, 26 months in 2-year-old French Oak) I realized that I have a lot of questions. Who and why is depicted on the bottle? What the mysterious number on the top of the bottle? Is there any reason to use grapes from El Dorado for the Napa-based winery? To answer these questions, I reached out to Maria Bruno, whose cousin, Richard Bruno, is the co-founder and co-winemaker at Vinum, where Maria helps with the winery’s social media and digital marketing efforts. Here are the answers to my questions which give you an excellent introduction to the winery and the wine:

1. Why the wine is called The Scrapper?
A scrapper is essentially a fighter and we call our wine that because Cabernet Franc is a varietal that has quickly been forgotten in the shadows of the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon. Our wine is made for the open-minded, the adventurous, and those who root for the underdog.

2. What is behind the image on the wine’s label?
The image on the front of the bottle is Gene Tunney. He was the 1926 Heavyweight Champion of the World, however, most modern day people have never even heard of him. But have you heard of Jack Dempsey? I’m sure you have. A little history lesson here: Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey for the 1926 crown, and it was the second time he defeated the more popular fighter (no one else ever did that). So to complete the metaphor, if Gene Tunney is Cab Franc, and Jack Dempsey is Cab Sauv we then ask you, which is the better varietal? Because we know who the better boxer was…

3. On top of the foil capsule it says BW 6334. What is the meaning of that?
That’s our California Bonded Winery number. In 1997 we financed our own winery on credit cards and utilized the custom crush space at Napa Wine Company (they are Bonded Winery number 9! Literally, the 9th bonded winery in the state and currently the only single-digit bonded winery still in existence). We sold our first vintage, all 960 cases, out of the trunks of our cars, and here we are over 20 years later… still going strong!

4. Why El Dorado? What makes Cab Franc from El Dorado a special wine?
We source our Cab Franc from a hillside, red dirt soil single vineyard at an elevation of 1,600 feet within the Sierra Mountains in El Dorado County. The grower, Ron Mansfield, has a degree in renewable agriculture and has organically farmed this vineyard (though not certified) using sustainable practices for over 35 years. Ron also grows tree fruit such as peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears We have produced Cabernet Franc grown by Ron for over 20 years, and the 2016 vintage was our 19th. The entire vineyard only produces about 500 cases a year but it’s worth it (because it’s so good). The vineyard is 25 years old and is head-trained allowing more sunlight into the canopy and therefore a reduction in Pyrazines which are responsible for green and vegetal aromas and flavors.

How was the wine? Please allow me to introduce Damsel Cellars first, and then we will discuss the wines side by side.

Damsel Cellars is located in Woodinville, Washington. Just seeing Woodinville on the wine label puts a huge smile on my face, as it instantly brings back the happiest memories of discovering Woodinville some years back. Walking from one winery door to another, and tasting one delicious wine after another, I was hoping to replicate the experience a few months back as I was supposed to have a business meeting in Seattle, but you know how 2020 travel looks like…

Mari Womack, owner and winemaker of Damsel Cellars, got into the wine only 10 years ago, but tasting her wines you would never think so. After working at a number of Woodinville wineries, she started Damsel Cellars, with the sixth vintage on the way now.

The Grapes for 2017 Damsel Cellars Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc Yakima Valley (14.6% ABV, $36) come from the Boushey Vineyard in Yakima Valley, located on the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. The first vines were planted there in 1980, and the last plantings took place in 2003. The vineyard is located on slopes from 700 to 1200 feet elevation, so the grapes can enjoy a cooler and drier climate.

Now, how did the wines compared? Both wines are 100% Cabernet Franc, which I find quite typical for any wines bearing the Cabernet Franc name. Both wines were similar in the pure black currant expression, and both wines didn’t offer any of the bell pepper undertones. Both wines required at least an hour to come to their senses. Vinum Cab Franc stayed perfectly powerful and polished over the course of 4 days, black currant all the way, a touch of dark chocolate, full-body, a roll of your tongue smooth, and perfectly balanced. Damsel Cab Franc’s power on the first day manifested in black currant notes weaved around expressive minerality, which I usually call “liquid rock” (this is one of the common traits I find among many Washington wines), perfectly balanced and delicious. On the second day, however, the ultra-distant touch of the bell pepper appeared, the fruit gently subsided, and the wine magically transposed into the old world – a perfectly balanced old world wine. In a blind tasting, I would put this wine squarely into the Loire Valley and would be very proud of my decision.

The verdict? I don’t have one. Yep, seriously, These are unquestionably Cab Franc wines, unquestionably delicious, and unquestionably different. Oh well. If I would be really hard pressed to chose one, I would go with Damsel Cab Franc – if anything, for the old world nostalgic emotions – I really drink very little of the old world wines, so I’m always excited to experience them again.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How is your Cabernet Franc celebration going? Let me know what Cab Franc made you excited. Cheers!

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!

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