Archive

Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Of Hydrangeas, Ocean, Sunsets, and Wine

July 13, 2021 7 comments

I’m sure this cryptic title leaves you wondering what are we going to talk about in this post, right?

Yeah, a lame attempt at self-humor.

And as you can see I want to talk about some of my most favorite things – flowers, waves and sand, sunsets, and, of course, wine. Mostly in pictures – except the wine part.

We just came home after a weekend in Cape Cod, and if you ever visited The Cape as it is typically called, I’m sure you noticed the abundance of hydrangeas. There is rarely a house that doesn’t sport a beautiful hydrangeas display.

Hydrangeas come in many colors, which can be also influenced by what you feed the flowers. They typically bloom the whole summer and deliver non-stop pleasure – at least in my world. Let me share some of my favorites with you:

Our next subject is the ocean. Cape Cod is a special place, where you can find huge swathes of water only a few inches deep, or simply a wet send that goes for miles and miles during low tide. The water and the sky magically connect, creating an ultimate rhapsody in blue – see for yourself:

The sunsets were challenging this time around. Two days out of three that we spent on The Cape, the weather was not good at all – rain, wind, and more of the rain and wind. Nevertheless, the weather was taking a break in the evening to present a beautiful sun setting imagery, which we enjoyed from the comfort of the deck – with a glass of wine in hand:

And this brings us to the last subject of today’s post – the wine. This was a vacation, and I was absolutely not interested in taking any sort of formal notes. But somehow, the majority of the wines we had were so good (with the exception of some sort of homemade wine from Moldova, which we had to pour out) that I can’t help it not to share the pleasure. Here are my brief notes.

We started with 2020 Hugues de Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet AOP (14.1% ABV) – fresh, clean, well balanced. The wine offered a touch of the whitestone fruit and was a perfect welcome drink after 4 hours of driving. It is also very well priced at about $12 at Total Wines in Boston, which is almost a steal at that level of quality.

2019 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Galilee (13.5% ABV) offered a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc rendition with a hint of freshly cut grass and beautiful creaminess. This wine was more reminiscent of Sancerre than anything else – an excellent effort out of Israel.

2016 Sonoma Mountain Steiner Vineyard Grüner Veltliner (14.1% ABV) – one of the perennial favorites (I’m very disappointed when my Carlisle allocation doesn’t include Gruner Veltliner). Beautiful fresh Meyer lemon, grass, clean acidity – in a word, delicious.

The last white wine we had was 2016 Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé AOP (13% ABV). Another Sauvignon Blanc – plump, creamy, delicious. Nicely restrained and round. It is definitely a fun wine as long as the price is not taken into the consideration – otherwise, at about $40, both Yarden (under $20) and Picpoul wines would give it a great run for the money.

Our Rosé was fun 2020 Samuel Robert Winery Pinot Noir Rosé Vineyard Reserve Willamette Valley (13% ABV) – the Oregon Rosé is just not very common. This wine had nice strawberries all around – on the nose and on the palate. I would probably want it to be a tiny bit less sweet, but the wine was still quite enjoyable.

2017 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi (14.5% ABV) is one of my favorite wines to surprise friends and even myself with. It starts as a solid Chianti would – cherries, tobacco, leather, iodine. But in a few minutes of breathing, it magically evolves to add sandalwood, nutmeg, and exotic spices. An incredibly heart-welcoming sip.

And to top of everything else, the 1997 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valey (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc) was thrown into the mix by my brother-in-law. This wine was a testament to California Cabernet Sauvignon; a simple proof that well made California Cab might be the best wine on Earth. This wine had no – none – signs of aging. Fresh, young, concentrated, cassis and cherries with a touch of mint and coffee, beautifully layered and well structured. This wine was not yet at its peak – I wonder how many more years it would require to reach the top…

And now, an absolute surprise – 2000 EOS Tears of Dew Late Harvest Moscato Paso Robles (10.5% ABV) – a late harvest wine from Paso. Beautiful orange color, and nose and palate loaded with ripe apricots – a hedonistic pleasure on multiple levels.

Now that is the whole story I wanted to share. What is your favorite flower? Have you tasted any amazing wines lately? Cheers!

 

 

Seeking Cabernet

June 1, 2021 2 comments

Now, this is frustrating.

At the recent dinner with friends at Knife Pleat restaurant (amazing food!), I assumed my role of designated Wine Guy and was going through 20+ pages of the wine list. 1970 Solar di Samaniego Rioja Gran Reserva caught my eye – at $200, it represented an amazing value for a 51-year-old wine. After confirming with the Somm that the wine is still well drinkable, only more delicate than powerful, I had to wriggle an approval for spending $200 on a bottle (I was not paying).

After the wine made it into the glasses, it appeared that everyone was really enjoying the nose, which was complex and spectacular. The first sip of the wine, served at the cellar temperature, was met with more than subdued enthusiasm – let’s be honest here, it was rather a sigh of disappointment. There was nothing wrong with the wine, but it was well closed and at least needed the time to open up.

After a few attempts to enjoy the wine, my friend asked “can you recommend any big, round, smooth, and velvety wines”? It turns out a few years back when she just arrived in Irvine, she got a bottle of wine at the local store. The wine was on sale for about $20 a bottle, and all she remembers was Cabernet Sauvignon and that she really enjoyed the wine – but she has no idea about the producer, the vintage, or any other essential elements.

Have you been in a situation where a simple question can lead to literally complete paralysis while trying to answer it? This might be a situation where your knowledge becomes your big handicap, as you try to hastily dissect the complexity of such a simple question.

Basically, the question asks “can I recommend an amazingly good California Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable price to someone who is not a wine aficionado, but just want to occasionally enjoy a good glass of wine?” – how easy this should be to answer for the Wine Guy? For yours truly Wine Guy, not so easy.

Good California Cabernet Sauvignon might be one of the best pleasures on Earth. I’m talking about the wine which unequivocally extorts “oh my god” from the red wine lover after the first sip. Of course, this is a simple idea – but not so simple to provide a recommendation. We need to take into account price, availability, and readiness to drink. BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve might be amazing with proper age, but with the price of $100+ per bottle and pretty much undrinkable upon release, this is not the wine I can recommend. The same story would be with Kamen, one of the most amazing Cabernet Sauvignon wines I ever tasted. Textbook, Turley, or Waterstone would offer more reasonably priced options (under $50), but still, I don’t know how amazing these wines are upon release. Suggesting non-winos to decant will not work. Asking them to keep the wine in the cellar until it reaches perfection will not be received very well. That leaves us with only one option – we need to find a Cabernet Sauvignon which is delicious upon release.

In an attempt to rehabilitate me after (almost) an epic failure at the restaurant, I decided to look for the simplest solution – the wines from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s wines rarely disappoint; they are light on the wallet and don’t require cellaring or decanting to be enjoyed.

Trader Joe’s offers a good selection of Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Choosing the wines was a combination of prior experience and just good-looking labels – Justin makes outstanding wines in Paso Robles; you can’t go wrong with or beat the prices of the Bogle wines);  I had MOONX wines before, and have good memories of them.

Here are the Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Trader Joe’s I offered to my friend to taste (notes are mine, of course):

2018 Paso Dragon Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
sage, blackberries, red and black fruit
Blackberries, herbs, medium body, clean acidity, nice finish with a touch of pepper
7+, a bit too weak for the Cab, but easy to drink wine. Can’t really identify as Cabernet Sauvignon.

2018 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $24.95)
Ruby
A touch of eucalyptus and mint, blackberries; second day – earthy and complex, a hint of gunflint.
A distant hint of cassis and tobacco
Second day: Classic cab is coming through, cassis and mint, clean acidity, crisp tannins.
8/8+, this wine needs at least 5, better yet 10+ years in the cellar to shine.

2018 Boggle Cabernet Sauvignon California (14.5% ABV, $7.99)
Light garnet
Bell peppers, a hint of cassis
Blackberry preserve with tobacco and a touch of coffee. More herbaceous than anything else.
7+, it is a drinkable wine, but might be the least Cabernet of the group.

2019 Moonx Cabernet Sauvignon California (13% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
A touch of cassis, berries compote, a hint of bell pepper
Lodi fruit presentation, a hint of cinnamon, warm spices, sweet tobacco, berries preserve, a touch of fresh tannins, medium finish.
8-, easy to drink, good balance, pleasant, great QPR.

My friend’s favorite on the first day was Paso Dragon. MOONX was a favorite on the second day. She declared Justin “not bad” on the second day. And she was unmoved by Bogle on either day.

From my point of view, only Justin was worthy of Cabernet Sauvignon designation – give it time, and it will be a spectacular one. MOONX was very good too, but it didn’t necessarily scream Cabernet Sauvignon. We need to remember though that my friend’s love and desire for Cabernet is simply based on the good prior experience with the wine named Cabernet Sauvignon, but was that a classic Cab nobody would ever know.

There you go, my friends. Let’s go on the quest to find the best, varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly drinkable upon release, at a price that leaves 401k intact. Ready to offer recommendations? Be my guest…

In Rhythm With The Earth – Hawk and Horse Wines

April 9, 2021 2 comments

Wine is Art.

Wine is Magic.

Wine is a Mystery.

When you drink wine for pleasure (don’t take it for granted – there are many reasons why people drink wine – to fit into the crowd, to be socially accepted, to show your status – drinking for pleasure is only one of the reasons), mystery, art, magic – call it whatever way you want, but it all comes to a play when you take a sip. Wine is a complete mystery as you have no idea what will be your conscious and subconscious reaction to the experience of that sip – what memories will come to mind? What emotions will take you over? The magic is there, waiting for you in every glass of wine.

The magic and mystery in wine go well beyond that sip. “Well before” might be a better descriptor though. The creation of the delicious bottle of wine is not an exact science. It is an art. It is magic. It is a mystery. Mother Nature, who gifts us grapes, never repeats itself. Every year, every vintage is different. Every day of the growing season never repeats itself. It is up to the craft, the skill of the grape grower and the winemaker to create the wine which can magically transport you. And this magic starts in the vineyard.

I’m about to step into the controversial, really controversial space – the biodynamics. As I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, let me just share the definition of biodynamics from the Oxford Languages. Actually, here are two definitions:

Biodynamics is

1. The study of physical motion or dynamics in living systems.
2. A method of organic farming involving such factors as the observation of lunar phases and planetary cycles and the use of incantations and ritual substances.

It is the second definition that is interesting for us. And it is the last part of that definition, “the use of incantations and ritual substances”, which makes biodynamics so controversial for many people – I’m sure you heard of cow horns filled with manure and buried in the vineyard as part of biodynamic farming. Is that magic or pseudoscience? This is the question I don’t care to answer or get an answer for. Taken out of the context, that might sound strange. But the whole point of biodynamics is in creating a healthy ecosystem of the living things – bacteria in the soil, plants, vines, grapes, animals – everything should co-exist in harmony with each other and the Earth, create a habitat where the problems take care of themselves (magic!). When the vineyard is farmed biodynamically, it simply means that the grapes will be produced in the most natural way with the utmost attention on the health of all the elements of the ecosystem.

Delving into the depth of biodynamics rules is completely outside of the scope of this post – if you want to further your knowledge of biodynamics, there is no shortage of great books, articles, and blogs. My reason to share the excitement about biodynamics is simple – tasty wine.

Source: Hawk and Horse Vineyard

Hawk and Horse Vineyards started as the dream of David Boies, who purchased an abandoned horse breeding farm in Lake County in California. His partners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins planted the first vineyard in 2001 in the red rocky volcanic soil, at an elevation of 1,800 to 2,200 feet. The first wine, released in 2004, was a great success. The 18 acres farm became California Certified Organic (CCOF) in 2004, and biodynamic Demeter-certified in 2008. If you want to have an example of what biodynamic farming is, you can read about the Hawk and Horse Vineyard biodynamic practices here – it will be well worth a few minutes of your time.

Hawk and Horse Vineyard grows primarily Bordeaux varieties. I had an opportunity to taste (sample) 5 wines from Hawk and Horse Vineyard, and I was literally blown away from the very first sip I took (magic!). Here are the notes:

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Franc Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet color
Wild strawberries, mint, mineral notes
Cassis, fresh black berries, sweet tobacco, well-integrated tannins, firm, tight, perfect structure, excellent balance. Worked perfectly with the steak.
Drinkability: 8+, wow

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet
Tobacco, earth, sandalwood
Silky smooth, round, tart cherries, perfect acidity, dark and powerful, perfect balance.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petit Verdot Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 90 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Cherries, eucalyptus
Tart sweet cherries, dark fruit, dry tannins, firm structure. Super enjoyable over 3 days, the addition of tobacco and sweet dark fruit with balancing acidity. Succulent. Superb.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $75, 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 100% French oak (80% new), 1800 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Earthy flavors, eucalyptus, a hint of cassis
Good acidity, well-integrated tannins, the lightest wine so far.
3 days later ( no air pumping, just reclosed)
The nose has a similar profile (cherries, eucalyptus, mint), maybe a touch higher intensity
Delicious on the palate, dark well-integrated fruit, firm tannins, tight core, lots of energy, a hint of espresso, perfect balance, medium-long finish.
This wine can be enjoyed now, especially with food. Or left alone for the next 15 years. Your choice.
Drinkability:8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Block Three Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 100% French oak, 150 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Warm, inviting, succulent cherries, a hint of bell pepper, very delicate. Overall, ripe Bordeaux nose
It took this wine 4 days to fully open up. Bordeaux style, ripe berries with herbal undertones, well-integrated tannins, soft and dreamy.
Drinkability: 8/8+

Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah were absolutely delicious from the get-go. Both of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines, coming from the same vineyard and the same vintage really needed time – I don’t know if the type of oak used can make such a difference, but from my observations, it was clear that using more of the new oak made the wine a lot more concentrated and requiring the time in the cellar.

Here it is, my encounter with [magically], [mysteriously] delicious biodynamic wines. What do you think of biodynamics and biodynamic wines? What do you think of the magic of wines (no, you don’t have to answer that 🙂 ). Cheers!

Beyond Wine? Before Wine? Instead of Wine?

April 8, 2021 Leave a comment

Today, class, we are going to talk about grape juice. The real grape juice.

Am I about to descend into the rat hole of “clear and unclear wine” with this “real juice” statement? Nope. Not at all. Today we are talking about pure, unadulterated, varietal grape juice which stayed in the form of juice without becoming the wine.

When I got an offer to receive a sample of the Castello di Amorosa varietal grape juices, my first reaction was “seriously???”. Juice is juice no matter what it is produced from, right? It is usually cloyingly sweet and not something I generally enjoy. I had a great experience tasting the juice of just-harvested Merlot grapes at Paumanok winery on Long Island, and I still remember how incredibly sweet it was, so I don’t really see it as a product on its own. But then curiosity prevailed, and I asked for the sample to be shipped.

I got three juices shipped to me – Muscat Canelli, Gewurztraminer, and a Sparkling Red blend, all beautifully packaged in the Riesling-style bottles and labeled exactly as the wine would. Muscat Canelli and Gewurztraminer are 100% pure varietal, and red blend consists of 90% Gamay, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Grenache. All juices priced at $14 per bottle and available at the winery or online.

When I first tasted the juices, I really didn’t treat them as wines – I didn’t try to analyze the profile and understand individual flavors, the nose, the palate – I looked at them more as binary “like/don’t like” type of experience. I also made the mistake of judging the “wine” by the first taste – thus I declared Muscat, which was open the first, to be “too sweet”. Gewürztraminer was open second and showed nicely (read: surprisingly) balanced. The sparkling red blend was my favorite – it was barely fizzed (”sparkling” is a big word here) and had a nice tangy mid-palate feel, sort of a burst of the wild berries – really, really delicious.

It is interesting to note that these juices not only taste like wines, they also behave like wines. On the second day, the initial sweetness of Muscat subsided – just a little bit, but it was enough to make the juice appear more balanced and the Muscat instantly became my favorite for the evening.

I had been writing about wines for more than 10 years. While writing about the wine, all the little details – technical details, shall I say – summarized in the tasting notes, published by the wineries for all the wines and all the vintages – are quite helpful. This is where you find the details about the vintage, grape composition of the wine, fermentation, and oak regimen. At least, this is what I typically use in my writing. Talking about wine’s technical details, you can also often find there some of the analytical data – namely, pH and amount of residual sugar. And so in my 10+ years of writing, I literally never paid any attention to pH and residual sugar – it took nothing less than unfermented grape juices to make me look at those. Let me share those details with you:

Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer Grape Juice – residual sugar: 200.9 g/l, pH: 3.19
Castello di Amorosa Muscat Grape Juice – residual sugar: 18.5 Brix (199.12 g/l), pH: 3.35
Castello di Amorosa Sparkling Grape Juice Red Blend – residual sugar: 18.6 Brix (200.28 g/l), pH: 3.25

As you see, all juices have about 200 grams of sugar per liter – for comparison, there are 113 grams of sugar in one liter of Coke. We can also compare these juices with world-famous dessert wines – Sauternes, which typically sport between 80 and 120 grams of sugar per liter, occasionally reaching 160 or even higher. When it comes to pH values, wines are typically falling in the range between 3 and 4, and the lower the pH value is, the more acidic the wine will be perceived (note that pH is not a direct measure of acidity in wine), so as you can tell the pH values of these juices are quite comparable with the wines.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to balance. Everyone’s palate is different, and your perception of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness can perfectly differ from mine, however, balanced wines exist in each one of our personal worlds. So I have to tell you that each one of these juices was perfectly balanced for me, and therefore, I’m aptly impressed by the mastery of the winemakers here. To make my excitement clear – these are unadulterated beverages. There is nowhere to hide. No flavor-enhancing yeasts, no oak, no blending. Nothing. You need to know when to harvest and when to bottle. Nowhere to hide.

As you can tell, I can wholeheartedly recommend these juices. They are perfect on their own. Perfect any time you desire a little sweet fix after the meal. They will perfectly well support a wide variety of dishes. And I have a number of friends who only drink sweet wines with very little alcohol in them – considering the quality of these juices, I would much rather prefer to serve them these juices instead of Bartenura Moscato di Asti or a similar plonk (my apologies).

You know me well, so I’m sure you understand that it is improbable that I wouldn’t have any gripes – of course, I have them. While winery information on the back label is nice to have, I would like to know when these juices were bottled. How they should be stored. For how long they can be stored. How the opened bottles can be stored (I’m presuming in the refrigerator, but still), and how quickly the opened juices should be consumed.

Nevertheless, this was a great surprise and a delicious discovery. We might be looking at the trend here – hard to tell, but I expect that there will be wineries that will follow Castello di Amorosa’s lead. And I personally would be happy to have a few bottles always on hand to delight oneself or a special guest. Next time someone offers you a glass of varietal grape juice, say “thank you” and enjoy. Cheers!

Chasing DRC

March 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Only yesterday I told you about some of the unicorns I’m chasing (the special breed, those made out of wine). And now I want to talk about the ultimate unicorn, the unicorn of unicorns if you will – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, usually called by its abbreviated name – DRC.

Life is a series of random events. Sometimes we think we are in control, and sometimes we really are – but more often than not, things are just happening, and they are happening whether we are there to observe, learn, and experience, or not. While the events might be random, it is up to us to look for the patterns or the objects we desire. Once we know what we want, our subconscious is programmed to look for it any time all the time.

I had been following The Wellesley Wine Press blog for a very long time. Robert Dwyer, who is writing it, not only shares his opinion about wines but also has a great talent for finding amazing wine deals, all sorts of special discounts and promotions by credit cards, wineries, and wine merchants. When I got an email about Robert’s new post, “Domaine Romanée Conti meets Sonoma Coast: 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir [$37]”, my fingers were clicking the link even before I finished reading the title of the post, literally a reflexive reaction to detecting the words “Domaine Romanée Conti”.

You see, DRC might be the most coveted wine in the world. If it is not the one, maybe it is one of three or five of the most sought-after wines in the world. It is produced in minuscule amounts, and it is prohibitively, really prohibitively expensive for most of the mere mortals. DRC produces a number of wines, so to give you an example, there were a bit more than 2,000 cases produced of DRC La Tâche 2017, each bottle priced at $4,000+. And I honestly don’t care about owning a bottle, I just want to experience such wine at least once in a lifetime – so yes, the unicorn of unicorns.

You can imagine that opportunity to taste something even remotely related to DRC would trigger an immediate reaction. Skimming through Robert’s article, I learned that Vivier Pinot Noir is produced by Stephane Vivier, who was the winemaker for Hyde de Villaine, DRC’s joint venture in California, who started producing his own wines under the Vivier label. And at $37, this is the closest I can get to DRC without second-mortgaging the house. The same post also explained that the wine is available at Wine Access, the site I already had a good experience with – the rest was a no-brainer.

The wine quickly arrived, and I had to literally hold myself from opening the bottle while the UPS truck barely left the driveway. While I was admiring the simple design of the label, I really liked the description I found there: “Stéphane Vivier is a lazy winemaker. He watches. He waits. He plans. All the while letting the vineyards, the fruit, and “le climat” do the heavy lifting. So when you taste his wine, you taste what created it, not who“. That prompted me to take a look at the Vivier Wines website, where I learned that Stéphane Vivier was born and raised in Burgundy, where he also obtained a degree in viticulture and enology. He started working as a winemaker for Hyde de Villaine in 2002, and in 2009 he started making wines under the Vivier label with his wife Dana.

So how was the 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (12.8% ABV)? Upon pouring into the glass, the first thing to notice was the beautiful, perfumy nose – fresh berries, violets, a touch of strawberries. On the palate, the wine was a typical, well-made Californian Pinot Noir, round, elegant, and polished – but unmistakably Californian, with a good amount of sweetness coming through. I can’t tell you what I was looking for, but I wanted to find something unique, something I didn’t experience in Californian Pinot Noir yet – but that didn’t happen.

On the second day, the wine changed its appearance. Both the nose and the palate pointed directly to Oregon. the nose became more earthy and less perfumy, and on the palate the wine was significantly more restrained, with iodine and earthy notes coming through a lot more noticeably. While the wine on the first day was good, I much more preferred how it was showing on the second day (Drinkability: 8-/8).

There you have it, my friends. Did I find DRC in California? Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to tell, as I have no frame of reference. Did I discover a tasty Californian Pinot Noir? Absolutely. In 5, or maybe 10 years, it might become even amazing. Chase your dreams, my friends. Cheers!

 

A Perfect Perfection

February 15, 2021 8 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?

%d bloggers like this: