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Daily Glass: An Australian Score

October 29, 2017 3 comments

I pride myself with very wide wine horizon. I scout wines from literally everywhere in the world – China, Japan, Croatia, Bulgaria or Hawaii – bring it on, the more obscure, the better, I will be happy to try them all.

Nevertheless, a majority of my daily drinking evolves around Italy, Spain, and California, with a little injection of France. The rest of the wine regions make a very sporadic appearance at our house – without any prejudice or malicious intent – just stating the fact.

Nevermind China and Japan, which are still going through an adolescence as wine producing countries – let’s talk about Australia instead. About 20 years ago Australia was leading wine imports in the USA. As you would enter a wine store, you were greeted with countless Australian wine selections.

Today, Australian wines are relegated to the back shelves, and they are definitely not on top of the wine consumer’s mind (in the USA for sure). Ups and downs are hard to analyze in the wine world (think of the devastating effect of the movie Sideways on Merlot consumption), and such an analysis is definitely not the point of this post, no matter how interesting such a discussion could’ve been.

As I stated before, Australian wines are rare guests at our table, and this is not deliberate – I enjoyed lots and lots of excellent Australian wines, and have an utmost respect to what this country can deliver. I’m always ready to seize an opportunity to try an Australian wine, especially if it comes with a recommendation.

Such recommendation can present itself in lots of different ways – a friend, a magazine, an Instagram post, a tweet – or an offer from the Last Bottle Wines, especially during the Last Bottle’s infamous Marathon events. During the Last Bottle Marathon, you can buy the wines in single bottle quantities, which I like the most as you can create your own tasting collection quickly and easily.

If the wine is offered for sale by the Last Bottle, it definitely serves as an endorsement for me. The folks at Last Bottle know the wines – if they offer something, it means the wine really worth trying. During the last Marathon, the 2015 Gemtree Uncut Shiraz McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) attracted my attention. I don’t know what made me click the “buy” button –  the name “Gemtree” (sounds interesting, isn’t it?), or the word ‘Uncut” (again, this somehow sounds cool to me as well), but I did click that button quickly.  You see, you only have a split second to get the wine – you blink, you lose – and I scored the bottle of this Australian Shiraz.

I pulled the bottle from the wine fridge, twisted the top and poured into the glass. Dark ruby color, a whiff of the blackberries. The palate had a tremendous amount of salinity over the crunchy blackberries – I guess this was an effect of drinking this wine at a cellar temperature. But it was still attractive. While admiring the simple label I saw the word which made me very curious – “Biodynamic”, and then the back label provided lots more information about how this wine was made. To me, “sustainable” is a very important wine keyword, and whatever extras “biodynamic” entails, the biodynamic wine is always a sustainable wine – and it is definitely important for me.

After warming up, the wine became generous, layered, showed soft tannins and perfect crunchy backbone of dark fruit with some dark chocolate notes and touch of a spicy bite – all perfectly balanced and delicious (Drinkability: 8+). The name “Gemtree” kept me intrigued, and the picture on the label was very attractive in its simplicity, so I went to the Gemtree Wines website to learn a bit more. I rarely quote from the winery websites, but I think in this case this is quite appropriate (here is the link to the source):

This is our Gemtree story…

There was once a tree. Not the tallest tree, nor the oldest tree, but a tree that had put its roots in just the right part of the paddock. Here the soil was deep and layered – sometimes hard and rocky, elsewhere soft and sandy – and the wind had just enough room to move, and even the rain – when it was kind enough to visit – would fall evenly and gently.

Because of its favoured position, the grasses grew tall against its trunk, and the wild flowers were easily encouraged to grow closely around it, and the insects and birds that looked to trees for shelter and for vantage, eagerly moved in.

One day a farmer approached the tree and wondered: “You do not grow the strongest, nor the fastest, so why is it that you grow the best fruit?”

The tree let the answer whisper through the wind in its branches: “If I am shown a patient mind and a gentle hand, if I am left to follow the rhythms of my seasons – to rest in Winter; to revive in Spring; to make busy in Summer; and to provide in Fall – then I can offer fruit that tastes not just of the ground upwards, but also of the sky downwards, and of everything around me.”

The farmer thought to himself: “This is truly a Gemtree – it takes only what it can give back to the land, it contributes to its surroundings, and it provides for those that live around it.”

This is the heart of the Gemtree story: growing better wine ~ naturally.

Here you are, my friends. I don’t know how often you drink Australian wines, but Gemtree is definitely the name to keep in mind for your next round of wines from down under – I think you will be happy with your score. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Monday Night Escapades

October 17, 2017 2 comments

Is there a special wine fitting every day of the week? I would guess that for many, Friday and Saturday are considered special nights, as it’s the weekend, and people think of drinking something better (higher end). Sunday is still the weekend, so the higher calling might still be in order.

But what about Monday? Does your choice of wine for Monday depend on your general outlook on life? “I love Mondays” … said not that many people, but isn’t it great that it is the first day of the week and we have the whole new week ahead of us, with lots of things to do, places to visit and people to meet? I guess one’s personal take on Mondays does depend on one’s take on life, so I will leave it for you to ponder at and if you have any words of wisdom to share, please do so after the beep  … err in the comments section below.

I have two wine-related experiences from Monday which I want to share. First, I finally got to open the Field Recording’s Can Club shipment. What’s a big deal, you ask?

Field Recordings is one of the most innovative wineries I know. Small winery in Paso Robles, California, a brainchild of Andrew Jones, a vigneron, who started his career as a grape grower, first and foremost. Ever since I tried his Fiction Red, I became a passionate fan and I’m religiously following everything Filed Recordings does.

A few years ago, Field Recordings started experimenting with the wine in the can. Going beyond just the wine in the can, they also finishing their wines with the beer hops which creates truly a different experience. As soon as the “Can Club” was opened, I joined it. The wines were always good, but the shipments themselves went through a number of changes in the format, and pretty much every shipment had some little (and different) issues associated with them. Until now.

Once I opened the box, my very first reaction was “wow”. In my humble opinion, Field Recordings, under their Alloy Works brand, achieved perfection in the packaging of the canned wine. Simple, elegant, sturdy, economical, easy to handle – unpacking this shipment was absolutely a delightful experience. Ask any oenophile, the first thing which gets everyone excited is the opening of those boxes. With this delivery, Field Recordings Can Club achieved shipping nirvana – I hope they will continue it moving forward.

I can’t tell you much about the wines, as they needed to get chilled and went straight into the fridge;  I can only mention that this shipment included 2 cans each of Weissland, sparkling dry hopped Chardonnay; Martian Galaxy – a dry-hopped, sparkling rose, a blend of Gamay and Mourvedre Martian Vineyard in Los Alamos; and Sangria, a blend of freshest, cold-pressed juice cocktail of cranberry, blood orange and lemon from Yes Cocktail Company mixed with Zinfandel from Old Potrero Vineyard. I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited to try these wines – and will report on the experience afterward.

2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyNow, let’s talk about that Monday night wine. Outside of special events, I never know in advance what am I going to open. Deciding on the bottle of wine is somewhat of a frustrating experience (first world problems, I know). Numerous bottles get touched and looked at, then rejected for a myriad of reasons. Finally, one is pulled out – usually for no other reason than “oh well, maybe this will do”. This time around the bottle happened to be Turley Cabernet Sauvignon called The Label.

Turley is not known as the Cabernet Sauvignon powerhouse – it is a coveted and well sought-after Zinfandel producer for the most. A few years ago, Turley finally got into the Cabernet Sauvignon wines and produced the wine which was called “The Label” – named after the words of Larry Turley, the proprietor at Turley Winery, who always said that Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers simply “drink the label”.

I  don’t know if this should be considered funny or strange, but it appears that 2011 Turley The Label already was my choice of Monday wine – almost 4 years ago, in January of 2014 (here is the post). I really loved the wine then, but it evolved much further this time around. From the get-go, this 2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (13.4% ABV) showed a beautiful medley of the succulent berries, both on the nose and the palate – blackberries, blueberries, and black currant, tastefully accompanied by mint and eucalyptus and supported by clean acidity (Drinkability: 9-). It was reminiscent of a perfect Turley Zinfandel, fresh and playful – with a character of its own. Last time I said I want to taste this wine in 10 years. After almost four we are going in the right direction – I should have one more bottle somewhere so I will have to be careful to avoid any Monday blues prompts to open this wine until its due time.

What is your perfect Monday wine? Cheers!

Daily Glass – Pinot Grigio To Ask For By Name

July 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Terlato Pinot GrigioBlind tasting is probably the most difficult part of any of the Guild of Sommeliers examinations. It is one thing to memorize the names of the hundreds of the German villages producing Riesling. It is an entirely different thing to be able to distinguish, let’s say, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and identify a possible region, vintage and even a producer.

As with anything humans do, blind tasting also has its own set of “tricks” associated with it. Some of them perfectly legitimate – for instance, Nebbiolo wines (Barolo, Barbaresco, etc) typically have red brick hue in the glass, even when young, so this is a great “giveaway” for the blind tasting. Or the fact that the tannins from the American oak are perceived more in the back of the mouth, versus the French oak, which comes in front.

But then some of the “tricks” have nothing to do with the characteristics of the wine. Here is one, a statement by the Master Somms running the exam: “we will never pour Pinot Grigio for your blind tasting”.  Pretty good hint, right?

To a degree, Pinot Grigio became a victim of its own success. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio became an overnight sensation in 1979, driving demand for the Pinot Grigio wines in the USA. That, in turn, led to the appearance of the great number of “imitations”, Italian Pinot Grigio which had no bouquet or a flavor but was very easy to drink and affordable. Fast forward on, and Italian Pinot Grigio became the “wine to ignore” for any self-respecting oenophile, next in line to White Zinfandel.

But let’s not forget that Pinot Grigio is simply an Italian name for the grape known throughout the world as Pinot Gris. As soon as one hears Pinot Gris, I’m sure Alsace comes to mind first, and then, of course, the Oregon. Alsatian Pinot Gris is extremely well respected among wine lovers, beautiful when young and amazing with some age on it. Oregon Pinot Gris is beautifully crisp, clear and flavorful, and as such, a popular choice for the wine consumers as well. So why can’t Italian Pinot Gris, err, Pinot Grigio be a well respected and delicious wine?

Well, it can. There are many producers who make Italian Pinot Grigio a wine worth seeking and drinking – for instance, how about Elena Walch or Livio Felluga – if you never had their Pinot Grigio, this is a mistake which you need to correct ASAP. And here is one more Pinot Grigio which you need to ask for by name – the one made by Terlato.

Terlato is a very well respected wine importer – and by the way, Tony Terlato was responsible for the overnight success of Santa Margherita, creating that Pinot Grigio phenomenon in the USA. Terlato Family also goes beyond just importing, producing the wines under their own label around the world. The wine I suggest you will look for is Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio from Friuli. It is very different from the mainstream – in Terlato’s own words, “First we pioneered Pinot Grigio. Now we’ve revolutionized it”.

Friuli region is nestled in the foothills of the Alps, in a close proximity to the Adriatic sea, which creates great winegrowing conditions. Add to that poor soils and hillside vineyards with 20-30 years old vines, harvested by hand in the small plots, and you’ve got an excellent foundation for making a delicious wine.

Here are my notes from the tasting of this wine:

2016 Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali DOC (13% ABV, $22.99)
C: light golden
N: intense, minerally, touch of honeysuckle, white stone fruit and fresh brioche, very promising.
P: crisp acidity, touch of gunflint, pronounced lemon, touch of freshly cut grass, medium body softly coating the mouth. Great complexity.
V: 8/8+, wow, very impressive.

Here you are, my friends. Next time you are looking for a bottle of wine, you might want to include Pinot Grigio into your shopping list. Trust the producer, and you might uncover something new to enjoy. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Will It Merlot?

March 23, 2017 8 comments

2002 Robert Green Cellars Merlot NapaYes, the title of this post is a play on the theme of some of the Good Mythical Morning episodes, where Rhett and Link are trying to figure out how far they can take the usual food items in the unusual directions, calling those episodes “Will It …” (if you are not watching the show, you really should, here is the link for you). But this is where the connection with the popular show ends.

And yes, we are talking about Merlot. But that also not very important, as the bottle was not opened just because I wanted to drink Merlot.

The vintage was the culprit – 2002 – as this is the year when my youngest daughter was born. And as I’m sure many of you, oenophiles, out there do, I love opening proper vintages to celebrate birthdays.

So the question was whether this 2002 Robert Green Cellars Merlot Napa Valley (14% ABV) would be still drinkable in 2017.

I presented this question to a few of the twitter winos, and the consensus was cautiously optimistic, presuming the wine was properly stored (the bottle actually never left wine fridge from the moment it got into the house). Wine Spectator rated 2002 Napa vintage at 89, and “Drink Recommendation” column had gloomy “Past peak” reference. I wanted to learn a bit more about the wine from the producer’s website, but the link on the back label was non-functional, and google didn’t offer much help searching for “Robert Green Cellars”.

Done with theoretical research – the proof is in the pudding wine glass anyway. The cork pulled out in a perfect condition. The wine is in the glass, and the first whiff had nice fruit in it, but the wine tasted a bit off. But – never judge the wine by the first sip, right? This rule is very important when it comes to the young wine, but this is even more important when it comes to the aged wines. 10 minutes in the glass brought this wine together – a perfect core of the dark fruit, maybe a touch of black currant, mint, firm structure, definitely a nice glass of wine.

About an hour and a half after the bottle was opened, it opened up even more, but somewhere in the distance, more on the finish than anything else,  tertiary aromas started to appear – this is when I tweeted to the same group that the wine was perfect but at its peak. Another 30 minutes later, the wine started closing back, but only in a good sense – acidity came to the forefront, fresh young black and red fruit came to dominance – I was clearly looking at a young and delicious wine, not more than 3-4 years of age. Then, of course, the bottle was empty.

This was definitely a fun bottle of wine, with the self-attached “first world problems” – would the wine be still good or not. Believe it or not, but there was even the next level of fun associated with that wine. The little pictogram of the flute player, known as Kokopelli, which you see on the front label and the cork itself, most often is associated with fertility. What I didn’t know that Kokopelli also can be credited with the arrival of the spring. I have other 2002 bottles but somehow decided to open this particular one on the second official day of Spiring (the Spring in the USA started on March 20th). Oh well, as I said before, first world problems.

I think this wine Merlot perfectly, and I can only wish you same success and fun with your older bottles. I also want to leave you with the text from the back label of this bottle, as I think it perfectly finishes this post:

“The Joy Bringer” “This flute playing character is often credited with bringing the change of winter to spring, melting the snow and bringing about rain for a successful harvest. He is believed to represent the fertility of the untamed spirit of nature. Perhaps this joyful traveller’s greatest lesson is showing us that we shouldn’t take life so seriously. We hope the spirit of Kokopelli shines through in our wine and that it brings you as much joy and pleasure as it was for us to make. Enjoy the moment. Robert and Sue.”

Daily Glass: Ah, Pinot!

December 12, 2016 11 comments

Nothing is simple around wine for us, oenophiles, right? We need to meticulously arrange proper experiences – perfectly match wine with food, with the company, with the mood, with the moment. If we don’t, we question ourselves to eternity – what would’ve happened if I would’ve open that other bottle I had in mind; should’ve I just plan it all differently?

But every once in a while, we let our guards down, and let things just happen. When we think about it right after, we realize – wow, totally random, and totally delightful. Yay!

That “random and delightful” was my experience yesterday. My plan was to open a bottle of wine from 1998, and I have a very small selection of those, so the one I picked happened to be a Burgundy. So that one was a special bottle, waiting for the evening and the decanter.

I can’t cook without the wine, so of course, the bottle had to be opened. The “before Thanksgiving” shipment from Field Recordings contained more than one interesting bottle – the one I told you about already was Pét Nat from California. Another bottle I never saw before had a bold Nouveau word printed across shiny, golden label:

I’m an avid fan of the “Beaujolais Nouveau” phenomenon. But I have to admit that a few years back, I tasted few of the attempts by California wineries to join the Nouveau movement, and those were widely unsuccessful.

So how would Field Recordings’ Nouveau rendition fare? Actually, spectacularly. As the label says, the grapes for this wine were hand-harvested only 74 days prior to the bottling. And nevertheless, the wine had all the finesse you expect from the perfectly balanced California Pinot Noir. This 2016 Field Recordings Nouveau California (12.1% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir) had lean, uplifting nose of fresh fruit, but less fruity than typical Nouveau, nothing grapey. On the palate, unmistakably Californian, touch of smoke with fresh plums and a bit of mint. Good acidity, more round than a typical French Nouveau version, perfectly drinkable. 8+. Outstanding, in a word. Would happily drink it again any day.

Remember I told you this was one of the days when things are just happening? I have a good number of bottles in the cellar, but absolute majority of the bottles are in the single amounts – just one bottle of particular wine from particular vintage, and that’s it. Thus sometimes, I spend good 20 minutes trying to select a bottle (in the fear of missing on what it can evolve into) and end up pouring myself a splash of Scotch instead. But yesterday, I had enough courage to grab a bottle of the wine which might be the only bottle in the US – unless someone also has good friends in Switzerland.

This wine was made by the family producer in Vaud region in Switzerland, Henri Cruchon, who I had pleasure meeting about 6 years ago. What makes it special is that this wine, called Nihilo, is not filtered, made from organic grapes, and doesn’t have any added sulfites. To preserve the wine better, the cork is covered in wax. And to be entirely correct, the wine goes beyond organic, as the back label sports Demeter logo, which means that the winery is certified biodynamic.

It is great to know that the wine is non-filtered and organic – but the ultimate verdict is in the glass. This 2015 Henri Cruchon Nihilo La Côte AOC Switzerland (13.5% ABV, blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Gamaret) had a spectacular nose, very complex – iodine, anise, crunchy cherries, mint. The palate was equally spectacular with sweet cherries, pepper, roasted notes, peppermint, crispy, fresh blackberries – once you start, you can’t stop. 8+/9-, outstanding wine.

And then there was 1998 Patrick Lesec Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes (13% ABV) – an 18 years old Burgundy wine, as Pinot Noir as it can be.

Patrick Lesec Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes18 years shouldn’t be an age for Burgundy, but I still was a bit concerned. Decided to decant the wine, to avoid sediment and let it breathe a bit, for about an hour. I’m clearly abusing the word “spectacular” in this post, but this is what this wine was. Touch of barnyard on the nose, on the palate – gunflint, smokey cherries, roasted meat, lots of herbs – oregano, mint, sage – every sip was a “wow” experience. By the end of the evening, the wine mellowed out and started showing more of the sweet cherries, still perfectly balanced with acidity. A pure treat for sure. Drinkability: 9.

There you have it, my friends. An accidental and hugely enjoyable Pinot Noir deep immersion – from California to Switzerland to France – very different wines holding one common trait – delivering lots and lots of pleasure. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Not Your Mother’s Pinot Grigio

July 4, 2016 17 comments
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Pinot Gris grapes. Source: Wikipedia

Of course I don’t know your mother, and of course I don’t know her wine preferences. But assuming a general motherly image, cue in a hot summer day, I would make a pretty safe bet that refreshing beverage in the glass in her hand is a white wine. Continuing playing it safe, I would expect that white wine to be very easy to drink, unoffensive and simple, so traditional Pinot Grigio (think Santa Margherita) would perfectly fit the bill.

Now, what do you think would happen if after crushing the grapes, the juice will be left in the contact with skins for, let’s say, 24 hours? Yes, of course Pinot Grigio is a white wine, at least typically it is. But to give you a little hint, take a look at the picture of the grapes – this are not random grapes, these are exactly the Pinot Grigio grapes – or as they are known throughout the most of the world, Pinot Gris. Gris here stays for “gray”, this is how we can perceive the color of these grapes.

With this little hint – what do you think now about that juice left in contact with the skins for 24 hours? If you said that you expect it to gain some color, you are absolutely right. Here is an example of an end result for you:

Attems Pinot Grigio RomatoIsn’t it beautiful? The 24 hours of skin contact gave this wine this orange hue, which technically makes this wine a part of the “orange wines” craze. I don’t have an intention of getting into the “orange wine” debate, but I can tell you that it is not only the color which is different here. Before we talk about the taste of this 2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato Venezia Giulia IGT (12.5% ABV, $18, 100% Pinot Grigio, stainless steel and barriques), let me give you a short explanation about the name of the wine and its color, from the winery’s web site: “Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato continues a tradition of the Republic of Venice, since “ramato,” or coppery, was the term that referred to Pinot Grigio in contracts. A special vinification practice led to the use of this term: the must remains in contact with the skins for 24 hours and this practice gives the wine a very distinctive coppery hue“.

It was not only the color which was different. The wine had a nose of intense honey, but the palate was dry and crisp – if anything, reminding a lot more of a great Provence Rosé with a hint of strawberries and an onion peel. An excellent and thought provoking wine, whether for the hot summer day or for any day when you crave a nice glass of wine. Drinkability: 8.

That’s all I have for you for today, my friends. White, Rosé, Orange, Red – enjoy whatever is in your glass and happy Independence Day for those in the USA. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Buy By The Name, Remember By The Taste

February 27, 2016 2 comments

Winemakers must be some of the most creative people in the world. It is not enough to make a tasty wine (well, at some point it is – it is not easy to reach that point though, not at all) – but the wine also have to make it into a consumer’s hands – yep, someone have to buy it. Selling the wine is not easy, as you need to differentiate from hundreds and hundreds of seemingly indistinguishable bottles. To get there, winemakers have two primary choices of weapons – the label and the name.

I’m a sucker for a good wine label, but right now I just want to talk about the name. Have you ever heard the name of the wine and said “this is it, I must try it”? I had, a number of times. And the wine I want to talk about was exactly such a case.

When I saw the name “Rhapsody En Blu”, somehow, it was speaking to me. I didn’t care what kind of wine was that, what grapes it was made of or what region it came from. The name alone was enough to incite the desire. I don’t remember when did I see this wine name for the first time, but ever since I did, I was on a lookout for it. So when I saw it at the last Last Bottle Wines “everything must go” marathon, my fingers were moving really, really fast – and I got the bottle.

I was tempted a few times to open it, and then Friday night seemed to be a good enough occasion (or may be it was the fact that it was an eve of OTBN). The cork is pulled out, wine goes into the glass. I take a sniff and “oh my god” was the only thing I could say (my wife can attest to this).  The smell was exuberant without going overboard – crushed berries, crushed rocks, underbrush, spices, all together warm, inviting and – harmonious.  The taste perfectly supported the aroma – gentle ripe fruit, plums, smoke, roasted meat, touch of pepper – perfect acidity, good structure, good power, and once again, perfect balance and – perfect harmony.

According to the Wikipedia,  “a rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.” Tasting this wine, that “spontaneous inspiration” and “improvisation” were very easy to relate to.

This wine, 2012 R Squared Wine Company Rhapsody En Blu Red Rhone Blend, Santa Barbara County (14.1% ABV, 42% Grenache, 38% Carignan, 20% Mourvedre) is produced by the R2 (R Squared) Wine Company which makes both blends and single varietal wines from multiple appellations in California. If you care to know, my Drinkability  rating for this wine is 8+.

I don’t know if the great match between the name and the wine itself was the accident or a prophecy, but I can tell you that I strongly regret buying only one bottle of this wine. Not sure if you can find it (total production was only 475 cases), but if you will, don’t repeat my mistake.

There is also one more bonus which comes with this wine – it is very easy to pair with music. And the matching pairing should be … yes, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue! If you can’t find the wine, you can at least enjoy the music. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: 17 Years Old Beauty

December 22, 2015 5 comments

Dutschke St. Jakobi Shiraz Barossa ValleyAbsolute majority of the 17 years old are beautiful. Well, at least when it comes to the people. With the wines, this can be a different story. 17 years old in the wine terms is quite an age – some of those 17 years old are slender and muscular, and some are flabby, tired, and barely stand on their feet. And the beauty of the wine is that you can’t know how the wine will be – until you get the bottle opened.

I have to admit that I had no expectations before opening this bottle of 1998 Shiraz from Australia. Aged Australian wines are hard to come by in US, thus I have very little experience with that class of wines. And having no expectations around the wines is generally good, as it often saves you from disappointment. However, I’m sure that you deduced from the title of this post that there was nothing disappointing about my experience.

Dutschke family owned the parcel of land with a few vineyards on it in Barossa valley in Australia since the end of the 19th century. In the late 1900 the grape plantings increased, with most of the grapes been sold to the other wineries. The first wines under the Dutschke name were produced only starting in 1990. Which makes the wine which I opened today one of the early wines produced at the winery.

As I opened the bottle of the 1998 Dutschke St. Jakobi Shiraz Barossa Valley (15% ABV, $25?), the first nice observation was perfect condition of the cork – not a sign of age. The color was very dark garnet – again, not a sign of age. And the smell – wow – concentrated fresh berries, lavender, sandalwood – bright and uplifting. Then the best part – the wine needed no breathing time. Pour, sip and enjoy the exuberance of the fresh berries, savory herbs, dark power, perfect structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. If I wouldn’t check the label, I would’ve never known the wine was 15% ABV – overall, it was perfectly integrated and perfectly enjoyable (Drinkability: 8+/9-). And then the wine just was.

Wish you lots of small pleasures this holiday season. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Red with Dessert

September 12, 2015 11 comments

When ordering wine with dinner, especially eating by myself, I practically never think of wine and food together. I usually look for the wine which would be interesting and affordable, without regard to the color or style. As last night was probably my 4th dinner of the trip at the same hotel restaurant, I knew that my choices were limited – I already had some (didn’t want to repeat), and some where just out of my price range. After scanning the list back and forth multiple times, I finally settled on 2013 M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage AOC (€7.20 per glass at the restaurant).

That choice combined together a few of the favorites. First, Crozes-Hermitage is an appellation which encircles the famous, but tiny Hermitage, and the wines in both areas are made from the same grape – Syrah, one of my absolute favorites – with Crozes-Hermitage been a lot more affordable. Second, this wine was made by Michel Chapoutier, one of my favorite producers, who I had a pleasure of meeting (and still have a blog post about it in the works 😦 ). The wine was just absolutely delicious – expressive nose of lavender and red fresh berries, touch of smoke, luscious, velvety palate with perfect black pepper and red fruit core, clean acidity and perfectly balanced.

M. Chapoutier Petite Ruche Crozes-Hermitage

I was very happy with the wine just by itself, but it also perfectly matched the main course, which I was contemplating for almost the whole trip, somehow not finding the right moment for – Steak Tartar. I don’t know when and how it became one of my favorites – I still like to recount the story of my horror when I ordered it for the first time at one of the Paris restaurants (8 years ago), and the plate with simply chopped raw beef appeared in front of me. After mixing the beef up with all the condiments, I found it absolutely delicious, and I do ever since. You can find steak tartar in US restaurants, but for some strange reason served already mixed, so I was definitely happy to have the classic version where I’m in control. And yes, the wine was working with the dish just fine.

Steak Tartar at Cafe Novotel

As I loved the wine very much, I was in the mood for another glass, which quickly appeared on the table. Now it was the dessert time, and all of a sudden I was on the mission to find a good pairing. Desserts and dry wines are a tricky combination – more often than not you can end up having sweetness fighting with structure and tannins of the wine. I didn’t feel like cheese (also pairing of cheese and wine is greatly overrated – it is actually very difficult to create matching combination). My only option seemed to be a chocolate cake, but with that I was a bit concerned that chocolate might overpower the wine which was luscious, but quite light. Thus I decided to ask for the advice of my waiter. I found his recommendation a bit surprising – a modern dessert which combines fresh raspberries with almond tartlets and vanilla cream. However, he had a point, suggesting that the fruity core of the wine (same raspberries) would match well with the fruit in the dessert. Well, why not?

Raspberry Dessert at Cafe Novotel

The dessert arrived, I took the first bite and the sip of wine – and couldn’t hold a smile. The dish and wine worked together like a charm, perfectly complementing each other and blending together, with the peppery notes of wine adding an interesting twist.

There you have it – a story of successful red wine and dessert pairing, something I would be skeptical of before – but now I know. Love all this learning opportunities the world of wine holds for us – and may your glass never be empty. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Pleasures of a Simple Côtes du Rhône

September 7, 2015 7 comments

What do you think of Côtes du Rhône wines? Côtes du Rhône (I like to call them CdR for short) are some of my favorite home wines. A “little brother” of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they often offer similar, may be a bit less expressive taste profile, usually at a fraction of a price. They are also quite versatile with food, offering a wide pairing range, from lamb to game to cheeses.

I was reminded today of how good these simple CdR wines can be. While traveling (I’m in south of France at the moment, near Nice), I asked for the local red wine at the restaurant. Red Provence (that would be a true local wine) are made in a very minuscule quantities, so it is not surprising that restaurant at a small hotel didn’t have any. I was offered to look at the wines from the neighboring territories, such as Côtes Du Rhône, and I ended up picking the cheapest wine on the menu. It so happened that 2013 Antoine Ogier Artesis Côtes du Rhône AOC (14% ABV, €21 at a restaurant) was an excellent choice. The wine had red fruit on the nose with a touch of lavender, very soft tannins on the palate, soft and silky profile, plums, touch of minerality and excellent acidity, overall very balanced. After about 30 minutes the wine also showed tobacco and touch of pepper on the palate – a very classic profile overall. Drinkability: 8-

Antoine Ogier Côtes du Rhône

What was even better than just a nice glass of wine was that wine worked perfectly with food – this was an accidental success, as I didn’t think about the wine at all while ordering the food. The wine paired spot on with the Rabbit Pate, elevating each bite. It did the same thing with Grilled Veal with Creamy Mushroom Sauce. Believe it or not, but it was not even disturbed by an interesting dessert – a Pineapple Carpaccio (called on the menu “raw marinated pineapple”) with Lime Sorbet. All I can say that this was probably one of the most versatile wines I ever had – kudos to the winemaker for crafting such food friendly wines – I guess 155 years of history mean something.

Before we part, I want to live you with a couple of curiosities. Below you will see the back label of that bottle of wine, providing sulfates warning in 21 languages (I already shared that on Twitter). I find this interesting and a bit ridiculous (sorry – wine always contains sulfates, and no, they don’t cause the headache). The second picture shows an extremely thoughtful presentation of the condiments. I shared this on Twitter too, noting that I like the classy presentation, something which French mastered perfectly, only to be ridiculed by someone asking me if ketchup is a French food. Of course it is not, but think about how many times you were presented with the bottle of ketchup at a restaurant, only to think “where should I put it to – on the plate or directly on the fries” – by the way, both are equally uncomfortable choices? In this case, the problem is solved in the best possible way – here is your personal bottle, and you don’t need to deal with any puzzles, just enjoy your food.

Voilà! I’m done with my “notes from the road”. If you are in US, happy few last hours of the Labor Day holiday weekend. Until the next time – cheers!