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Discovering Armenian Wine

May 17, 2021 2 comments

I love wine.

I’m a collector.

Based on these two statements, how easy it is to assume that I’m a wine collector? No brainer, right?

And nevertheless, I don’t see myself as a wine collector. The only reason I have a wine cellar (a bunch of wine fridges, rather) is that I like to drink aged wines – not for any bragging or financial reasons.

So what am I collecting then?

Experiences. I love to collect experiences. Tasting the wines I didn’t taste before (an easy one – every year, I should have what, 500,000 options?) Tasting the wines made from the grapes I never tasted before. Tasting the wines from the new places.

Growing up in the 80s in the USSR, I knew about Georgian wines – those were the most famous (Georgia was one of the 15 republics in the former Soviet Union). I also knew about Georgian cognac (yeah, should be called brandy, but do you think anyone cared there about the trademarks?) – but those were not the best. The best cognacs (okay, okay, brandies) were coming from Armenia (another republic then) though. Not being really into wines and grape growing, I never thought of a possible connection between the wine and cognac (both are made from grapes), thus I never thought that it is entirely possible that Armenia might be also making wines if they already got the grapes.

Turns out that it would be an excellent guess to connect the dots err, grapes, as it appears that wine had been made in Armenia for the past 6,000 years or so. I’m not here to debate the crowning of the “cradle of winemaking” title – whether it is Armenia, Georgia, or Turkey is all fine by me, please accept my sincere gratitude for bringing wine into this world.

Armenian Wine Regions. Source: Storica Wines

As we said, Armenia is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, which had been shown through the archaeological excavations, discovering the wine production facility located in Areni cave complex and dating back to around 4000 BC. Considering such a long history, it is safe to say that wine is an indelible part of the Armenian lifestyle.

In more recent days, during the Soviet rule, Armenia was producing wine and brandy, but the majority of the wine was produced in the Sherry style (it is interesting to note that similar to the wines of the Sherry region in Spain, Armenian “Sherry” wines can also develop a thin protective layer (flor) on the surface. Needless to say that production of fine wines was never encouraged during the soviet era.

Armenia’s terroir is conducive for the production of fine wine – predominantly volcanic soils, rich in nutrients, and high vineyard elevation (2,000 – 5,000+ feet above sea level) help to produce good quality grapes. About 30 indigenous grape varieties also help to produce wines of unique flavor profile and character.

I had an opportunity to sample two of the Armenian wines, courtesy of Storica wines, an importer and online retailer of Armenian wines in the USA.

The first wine I tried was traditional method sparkling wine produced by Keush. Keush winery was established in 2013, however, they use 100–120 years old vines, growing at the 5,200 feet elevation above sea level, some of the highest vineyards in Armenia. This classic method sparkling wine was produced from the indigenous grape varieties, and I have to honestly admit that the wine greatly exceeded my expectations.

The second wine I tasted was produced by one of the youngest wineries in Armenia, Zulal (the word means “pure” in Armenian). The winery produces about 10,000 cases per year, focusing on Areni and Voskehat grapes sourced from about 40 villages from Aghavnadzor, Rind, Arpa Valley, and Vayots Dzor regions.

NV Keush Origins Brut Methode Traditionelle Armenia (12% ABV, $25.99, 60% Voskehat, 40% Khatouni, at least 22 months on the lees, Lot 08.15)
Light golden color
Beautiful nose of toasted bread, a touch of yeast, clean, inviting, classic
Beautiful minerality, fresh, toasted notes, vibrant, clean acidity, fine creamy bubbles coating your mouth.
Outstanding, 8+

2018 Zulal Areni Reserve Vayots Dzor, Armenia (13% ABV, $32.99, 100% Areni, 12 months in Caucasian and French oak barrels)
Dark garnet
Not an expressive nose, underbrush, herbal undertones, a touch of fresh berries
Black pepper, wild berries, dried herbs, soft, clean, easy to drink
8, simple, quaffable, easy to drink, perfect for the conversation

As a wine drinker, I’m very happy with my discovery. Keush sparkling was outstanding, both delicious and a great QPR. Zulal Areni was also quite delightful. As a collector, I’m also very happy, as I get to add 3 new grapes, plus a checkmark to the list of the winemaking countries I had an opportunity to taste the wines from. Most importantly, I had an experience of drinking the wines made in the country which is an indelible part of the world’s winemaking history.  All in all, a good day.

Have you ever had Armenian wines? If you had, what do you think of them? If you didn’t, are you ready to rectify things? 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!

Double Lucky Number 8

April 5, 2021 3 comments

Luck.

An interesting term.

Luck is extremely subjective, personable, and relative. There are many definitions of luck, starting with the cliche one “when preparation meets opportunity” – not sure how that would apply for example, in the case when the brick is accidentally falling off the roof of the building and missing your head by the quarter of an inch. Or when you win the lottery. When you miss your train and meet the love of your life – what kind of luck is that? Okay, let’s not get hung up on the research of the true meaning of “luck” as this is not the goal of this post.

Last year, 2020, can hardly be called a “lucky” year. Quite on contrary, for 99.9% of people living today, this was probably the unluckiest year of their lives to date (who knows what the future hold). Or was it? Yes, we lost the ability to travel, eat out, enjoy the concerts, and socialize with friends. And yet many of us who kept our jobs managed to pay off debt (Americans paid off the record of $83B in credit card debt), invest into their homes (the price of lumber doubled in certain markets in the USA, due to very high demand), and even get well on the path to early retirement. And those of us obsessed with wine even got access to the wines we couldn’t dream of before (thanks to the restaurants not buying those wines anymore), and meet lots and lots of winemakers who happily visited our houses – via zoom. Everything has its silver lining.

A few months ago I got an email from Cayuse, saying that I will be getting a bottle of wine called Double Lucky #8 – a free sample, plus there will be a special zoom with the winemakers to introduce the new wine. Cayuse, and all of the “sister” wines – No Girls, Horsepower, Hors Categorie – are super-allocated (never mind expensive), so the free bottle sounded very lucky.

The wine arrived a few days ago. A beautiful bottle that solicited an array of thoughts. Cayuse wines are better with age – 2017 is clearly too young to be enjoyed now. Also, I love sharing the wine – so what should I do – to open or not to open? I decided that as this will be a unique opportunity to taste this wine together with the winemakers, I should just open the bottle and go with the flow. But also do it in a smart way – open a few hours in advance and decant it – which I did.

I remember reading an article by W. Blake Gray, the wine writer and a critic I respect very much, who mentioned that Cayuse wines might be the best wines made in the USA. Ever since then, tasting Cayuse wines became a dream, which required more than 10 years of waiting to get on the mailing list. Obviously, meeting Christophe Baron was a similar dream, which materialized thanks to pandemic and zoom.

Our zoom session was moderated by Owen Bargreen, the wine critic from Washington, with Christophe Baron and Elizabeth Bourcier, the winemaker, talking about all of the wines produced by Cayuse – well, that is not exactly correct. As introduced by Christophe Baron, it is all the wines produced by Bionic Wines, the new overarching brand, which includes Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, Hors Categorie, and Champagne Christophe Baron.

It is all about the rocks (Cayuse is derived from Cailloux which means stones or rocks in French). If I would give you a cliff note on what Christophe Baron does, it would sound something like “he finds the great location, establishes new vineyard, and makes new wine” – really, this is the story behind various Cayuse wines, No Girls, Horsepower…

Everything at Cayuse is done in full respect and harmony with nature – all the vineyards are farmed biodynamically since 2002 – the only biodynamic winery in Washington. As Christophe put it eloquently during the webinar, Mother Nature is the Master, and we are all her servants – it is Mother Nature who produces the grapes, and the winemaker needs to covert those into the wine, hence the utmost respect and attention to producing the wines in full harmony with nature.

We talked about all the wines under the Bionic wines umbrella, how they came to being (remember, new vineyard – new wine), and what is the philosophy behind them all. Almost at the end of the session (the time flew unnoticed, all thanks to the incredible energy and enthusiasm of Christophe), we finally talked about 2017 Double Lucky #8, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo, the same three varieties which comprise No Girls offering. Double Lucky is Elizabeth Bourcier’s project, from start to the finish – her idea, her execution. She wanted to create the wine similar to Cotes du Rhône – simple and approachable from the get-go, a sort of Cotes du Walla Walla if you will. Was she successful? Let’s talk about it.

When I poured the wine at first, it literally jumped out of the glass. I call Cayuse wines “liquid rocks” – Double Lucky was no exception, with granite, iodine, and smoke being prevalent both on the nose and on the palate. The wine was definitely drinkable, though not for the faint at heart – if you like massive wines, you would be pleased. 2 hours in a decanter made the wine more mellow, shifting the balance towards some cherries and herbs. For my palate, the wine continued up and down until it was gone.

Elizabeth shared her winemaking philosophy, which includes whole cluster fermentation and use of the stems, as stems “give the wines freshness” in her own words. I’m rather cautious about both – I guess my palate is overly sensitive to the tannins extracted from the stems – I perceive them as “green” tannins, which are unpleasantly bitter, and thus I’m generally not a fan. So I don’t have a strong opinion on Double Lucky #8, and while the wine is influenced by Cote du Rhône, it will last for the next 10–20 years, unlike Cote du Rhône wines, which typically have only a few years to be enjoyed, so I would definitely mark it as “needs time” right now. One more parallel with Cote du Rhône – those wines are usually inexpensive – and Double Lucky will be the cheapest wine in Bionic Wines portfolio, at $44 when it will be officially released next winter as part of the No Girls wines release. While the wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo, there are no exact proportions, as the blend will change every year. I can only guess Grenache makes the majority of the blend, given Elizabeth’s propensity for use of Grenache as she does in her own sought-after wine, La Rata.

I have to tell you that while the zoom is exceptional, it is hard to keep attention all the time. As the result, I don’t know if it was just me, but I didn’t really get the real story behind the intriguing name (Double Lucky) and the meaning of #8. Was that the blend #8 which became the winning one? Was the idea behind this wine associated with some lucky moment? I would love to know, but I have no idea. Hopefully, someone will be luckier than me and we will learn the story behind the name.

Was that a lucky break drinking Double Lucky and listening to Christophe Baron? Oh yes, it was. I wish all of us lots and lots of luck, whether we are prepared for it or not.

A Week In Cancun

March 30, 2021 3 comments

For many, travel is still a virtual concept. We broke that notion two weeks ago and ventured to Cancun – or to be more precise, Iberostar Paraiso Maya resort in the Riviera Maya area. I already shared my impressions as a week in sunrises, but as you can imagine, I have a lot more pictures to share.

We like active vacations where you live hotel in the morning and you come back at night, happy from all the new experiences, but incredibly tired. We also like relaxing vacations, where your whole day runs a small sequence of events in a circle – food, sand, waves, cocktail, food, sand, pool, food, cocktails, sleep – that’s it. There is pure joy in doing nothing, just enjoying the sunshine, as long as you can take your mind under control and tell it to relax together with the rest of the body.

Our week in Cancun was exactly like that – relaxing. This also means taking lots and lots of pictures – whoever invented digital photography – thank you very much. And thus I have the pictures to share with you.

I used to travel with my trusted Nikon and a few lenses. The iPhone camera doesn’t replace the Nikon, but it has a “good enough” advantage. Comparing the advantages of the DSLR versus the simplicity of the single device to carry around, if you are okay with “good enough” and not looking for perfection, your phone camera is all you need.

I love the versatility of the iPhone camera, where you can have both zoomed-in and ultra-wide pictures, as well as the capability to build a panorama. I’m not good at taking panoramas, as it requires you to hold your phone absolutely still while you are turning around – nevertheless, I made an effort to take sunrise panorama shots every morning together with the pictures of the sunrise. Here are the panorama sunrise pictures which I found to be good enough to share:

The resort we stayed at is called Paraiso Maya, and its main building is shaped as a Mayan pyramid. It is very well lit and changes colors at night:

Here are a few more pictures from the resort:

A few flowers:

And, of course, the food. We ate at a buffet and at 5 restaurants, out of which only the Italian restaurant was really good. We also found a new favorite wine – 2014 Oscar Tobias Roja Reserva – the wine was outstanding, with dark fruit and cedar box notes, fresh, and vibrant as only Rioja can be.

 

And last but not least – sand and waves:

Here you are, my friends. If you still can’t travel, I hope these pictures will help you cope.

You will travel soon.

Open That Bottle Night 2021 – What A Night!

March 10, 2021 7 comments

Traditions, traditions, traditions.

Traditions need wine. Wine needs traditions. Makes sense? If not, express your disdain with a flaming comment. But if you are an oenophile (wine aficionado, wine snob, wine geek, …), you understand and can easily relate.

Open That Bottle Night, or OTBN for short, is one of the shortest living traditions of the wine world, where thousand years might be a good measure for some – OTBN was first celebrated in 1999 when it was created by the wine couple – Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers behind the “Tastings” column in Wall Street Journal. The OTBN was created to help wine lovers part with the special wine bottles which might otherwise become a waste.

There are two parts to any wine tradition – the first is a special wine itself, always carefully selected to match the tradition, and the second is sharing – sharing of that bottle with the world. Not with the whole world at once, but with the friends.

Let’s talk about finding and sharing.

Finding a proper bottle is never easy – and it might be even worse for the holiday such as OTBN, which was created specifically to help us part with the special bottle, the bottle which has a special meaning for us – no matter why and how, but special in whatever way. Sharing is typically not a problem – unless it is 2021 and the world is still mostly in lockdown – and that includes all of one’s wine friends.

I was lucky for the past many years to have wonderful celebrations of the OTBN with the friends, sharing the most amazing wine experiences (here is the first-hand account for 2017, 2019, and 2020). The only possible way to share OTBN 2021 was the one using for the majority of the gatherings during 2020 and 2021 – the virtual one. I’m not complaining – I’m grateful that at least we have the technology with allows us to spend time with each other face to face, no matter how physically distant we are. So sharing portion was rather easy, and now let’s talk about finding.

Finding is not even the right word. Finding is easy – but selecting is not. OTBN asks for that special bottle. Deciding on what makes one bottle more special than the other, when your cellar is full of unique bottles all present in the quantity of 1 (one), is the hard part. After some amount of deliberations, which included pulling numerous wine fridge shelves back and forth, back and forth, I settled on these four bottles:

Let me explain my selection logic so you will see why it is such a daunting process for me.

First, the white wine, as I’m a big proponent of the balanced diet. 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC might be called my unicorn wine, at least when it comes to whites. The first time I tried a different vintage of this exact wine when it was 10 years old and this wine became one of the brightest memories for me – the beauty and interplay of bright fruit, honey, and acidity were simply unforgettable. When young, this wine from the Loire, made out of the rare grape called Romorantin, is a single note acidic. With age, it develops into an absolute beauty. When I opened the bottle of this wine back in 2015, the wine was superb. When I brought it to Jim’s house for the OTBN 2019, 4 years later, it was “interesting” but absolutely not exciting. I was hoping for redemption, so this was an easy choice.

My next selection was 2008 Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage AOC. When I see Hermitage written on the label, you can literally hear me sigh. Hermitage to me is synonymous with the Syrah, and I love classic Syrah. And so does my wife – Syrah is her favorite grape. I have very few Hermitage wines in my cellar – and this one was calling my name for a long time (meaning: it was pulled off the shelf and placed back many times). Considering that 2008 had a rainy growing season and the vintage has low ratings (WS86, for example) and “Drink now” recommendation, this was an easy decision – no point in waiting any longer.

How many unicorns can one have? Well, having a unicorn would be nice, but I guess I’m talking about chasing them. So how many unicorns can one chase? Clearly, it seems that I’m chasing many. Good Amarone is the wine I’m always chasing. Giuseppe Quintarelly Amarone is more of an ephemeral dream for me, considering the price and availability – and it is definitely one of those unicorns I’m talking about. With 2004 Zýmē Kairos Veneto IGT, I’m getting as close to that unicorn as I can. This wine is produced by Celestino Gaspari, the winemaker for Giuseppe Quintarelli. As the label says “Produced from 15 varietals of grapes of Verona, it is a reflection and interpretation of our soil and the culture of its terroir”. In case you are curious, the 15 grapes are Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, SauvignonBlanc, Chardonnay, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, CabernetSauvignon, CabernetFranc, Merlot, Syraz, Teroldego, Croatina, Oseleta, Sangiovese, and Marzemino. This was my last bottle, and I scanned the pages of this very blog for a good 20 minutes last night as I couldn’t believe that I could’ve never written about this wine before – apparently, I have not. Anyway, I was afraid that it might be the time for this wine, thus it was added to the OTBN group. By the way, another interesting tidbit about this wine is that the name “Kairos” means “timely”, “appropriate”, and “the perfect moment”.

Every good plan A needs plan B, right? The backup. Have you ever went to a friend’s house with a bottle of wine, while another bottle stayed in your car just in case the first one would be corked? Yep, that’s the plan B we are talking about. 2004 Vaucher Pere et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin was my plan B. I don’t have a lot of Burgundies, so opening one is always a special moment. 2004 vintage was so so, with WS88 rating and “drink” recommendation, so this bottle was rightfully on the OTBN list, should the need and opportunity come.

Now you know all about selecting, and I want to say a few more words about sharing. Sharing wine is one of the best pleasures of drinking wine. The approving, understanding nod from the fellow wine lover after he or she is taking the sip from the bottle you brought really fills you up with joy. It might be even more satisfying than your own enjoyment of the same wine. Yet in today’s world, sharing the wine face to face is literally impossible, OTBN or not. To at least share the moment, I reached out to the technology which seemed to save the world from going mad – a virtual get-together over video. Zoom is my tool of choice, so after sending the invites to the group of bloggers, we got together at 7 pm on the OTBN Saturday.

We were not a big group – even in the virtual world, people are busy and have their own plans. But I’m really grateful to everyone who was able to spend that special Saturday time together – some for the whole 2 hours, some for 20-30 minutes, talking about wines, sharing life stories and experiences, and most importantly, having fun. You can scroll through the pictures below, I’m sure you will see some familiar faces.

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So how was my OTBN? In other words, let me tell you more about the wines.

The miracle didn’t happen, and the white wine didn’t become suddenly magical. If I need to describe this 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC in one word, the word would be “strange”. At some moments, it was oxidative and plump. In other moments, it was acidic. It never showed that amazing lemon and honey notes I was expecting. I still have one more bottle, but now I really need to forget it for as long as possible and see if the miracle will happen.

The Hermitage was … superb. First of all, opening it was a breeze – cork was perfectly intact, regular waiter’s corkscrew worked just fine. Drinking this 2008 Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage AOC was a great pleasure – a touch of pepper, a distant hint of a barnyard, round and delicious fruit. The wine was just right – perfectly balanced, round, and smooth. I don’t have a lot of experience with Hermitage, but this wine was clearly one of the best renditions of Syrah I had in a long time. “Elegant” would be the single word descriptor I would use.

The Kairos was the bottle I was concerned about the most. It could’ve been gone by now, especially considering such an eclectic blend of grapes. When I started opening this 2004 Zýmē Kairos Veneto IGT, first I decided to use the regular corkscrew, which worked perfectly fine for the Hermitage. Looking at the way the screw was going in, the cork seemed to be too soft, so I decided that it was the job for Ah-So – I’m glad this decision was not an afterthought I usually have after the cork is already broken in half – Ah-So worked perfectly well and the cork came out with no issues.

And the wine… The wine was magical. Dark fruit with a hint of dried fruit on the palate, perfectly firm and structured, powerful and elegant, with clean acidity and an impeccable balance. The wine was delicious on Saturday, and I also enjoyed that over the next two days. So now I regret not having any more bottles left – but I’m glad I had this special experience. Magical would be the word.

As two bottles of red had no issues whatsoever, the Burgundy was left aside and now will be waiting for its special moment to be opened and enjoyed.

And that, my friends, concludes my OTBN 2021 report. While the sharing was virtual, the experience and pleasure of the wine and the company were real, and it will stay in my memory as yet another great OTBN night. Hope you had fun too. Cheers!

Snow In New England – 2021 Edition

February 20, 2021 3 comments

One of the pleasures of living in New England is having 4 seasons. Every year those seasons are different – we might have only 2 weeks of the spring, or the winter without any snow (I think we had only 1 snowfall last winter), but this is all in Mother Nature’s hands, not something we control.

Snow can be devastating, especially coupled with the strong wind and a bit of the freezing rain, as we experienced it here in New England on multiple occasions – but when it is not, when it is just a beautiful dance of the snowflakes slowly descending from the sky, it is really a thing of pleasure (of course, not for everyone – if you despise the snow, you can safely skip this post). Sunny sky, crisp air, and fresh snow is yet another pleasure in itself which New England offers all of us here – without going overboard – I’m not sure I would equally love snow if I would be living in Minnesota or Alberta, Canada.

About 2 weeks ago, we had a pleasure of a beautiful snowfall – there was worrying wind afterward, but luckily, the power stayed. I want to share with you the beauty of the snow – we took a little drive around and really enjoyed the show. And then the sun showed up and made everything even better. Enjoy!

Let Your Palate Lead The Way

October 19, 2020 1 comment

Wine can be intimidating.

Scrap that.

Wine is intimidating.

I’m always the first to disagree with the exact words I just wrote, but go watch the movie Somm, and tell me if you agree. Don’t have time to watch the movie? Go read about the German wine quality system, and then try to explain it to someone. Yes, wine is intimidating.

And no, it is really not.

If you are on a quest for the world’s most coveted wine expert title, such as the Master Sommelier – thinking of wine will keep you up at night. But if you want to casually enjoy a glass of wine, there is nothing intimidating about it.

Wine is simple. Wine is binary. You either like it or not. There is nothing else to it.

All you need to learn about the wine is to … trust your palate. Let your palate lead the way. It can be unnecessarily difficult, as humans generally are easily intimidated and influenced – “everyone likes it!”, “I paid $100 for this bottle”, “the experts said it was the vintage of the century”, “there were only 500 bottles produced”, yada, yada, yada. And nevertheless, the wine is personable, the wine is individual, it is only you who can tell if you like the wine or not – no matter what anyone else thinks or says. If you will learn to trust your palate, the intimidation will be gone out of wine at that very moment.

The best (and possibly the only) way to deal with this intimidation is through the blind tasting. When you are presented with a random glass of wine, you have no options but just to form your own opinion – swirl, sniff, sip, spit, repeat – say whatever you want, but all the external influences are out. It will be your own palate which will tell you “yeah, can I have more, please”, or “never again”. The value of the blind tasting goes even further than just conquering the wine intimidation – it also helps to deal with preconceived notions. Do you have a friend who keeps saying at every occasion “boy, I hate Chardonnay, how much I hate it”? Now imagine that person praising the delicious wine in their glass, only to find out that that was that exact Chardonnay they thought is the worst wine ever? In the wine world, blind tasting is the ultimate judge and jury, and your palate is all you got to rely on – and thus you have to simply trust it, as you are you.

Learning with and about your palate is not necessarily simple. Yes, you can go to the store, get a bunch of wine and create your own blind tasting – but it might be difficult not to cheat, right? How about leaving that arrangement to the professionals? Cue in the Palate Club.

Palate Club offers an opportunity to learn about your palate through the blind tasting – and then use that knowledge to find the wines which might better match your preferences. The way it works is this. You start by ordering a tasting kit. You can start with the red or white wines, and the cost of the kit at the moment of this writing is $49. The kit arrives neatly packed in the box, with 4 half-size bottles (375 ml) wrapped and numbered.

The next thing to do is to download the Palate Club app on your phone, install it, and create your profile. Once you have done that, you are ready to discover your palate’s wine preference. After you taste the bottle, you need to rate it using the app. The process is very simple as you have to rate the wine between the 1 and 5 stars. Once you rate the wine, you get a page with all the information about that particular wine. Once you will rate all four wines in your set, you will get your initial wine palate profile.

In your palate profile, you will find characteristics such as oak, fruitiness, acidity, and other – along with explanations for the numbers in your palate profile. Every time you will rate another bottle, the values in your profile will change accordingly – what you see below in the picture, are the new values after I rated the wine number 5. Right on your profile page, you will also receive recommendations for the wines to try. As palate Club is a wine club, you can also sign up for the regular wine deliveries which will be based on your preferences.

Blind tastings are always fun – and I never do too well in them. For what it worth, below are my notes and the names of actual wines – you can see that I got ways to go to work on my blind tasting skill:

#1: California Pinot? Plums, smoke, medium to light body. Touch of an alcohol burn (wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Carneros)

#2: Not sure. syrah? Clean acidity, nice round fruit, Rutherford dust, good power. California Cab? (wine: 2015 Côtes du Rhône Réserve)

#3: Chianti? Nice cherries, needs a bit more body. I would rate it 3.5… why is that never a thing? (wine: 2014 Chianti Classico)

#4: California Cab or Cab blend? Dark fruit, baking spices, good acidity, round tannins. A touch of the alcohol burn, similar to the first wine (wine: 2015 Mendocino Zinfandel)

Now, let’s go back to the major point of this post – trusting your own palate to avoid intimidation by the bottle of wine. Would the Palate Club help you reach this goal? In my honest opinion – yes. Of course, the profile which you create has limited value outside of the Palate Club, as outside of the Palate Club nobody rates fruitiness and tannins of the wine on the 100 points scale. However, the fact that you can get your friends together and play with your wines and learn your wine liking and not liking is really something to appreciate and enjoy. Blind tasting holds the ultimate wine truth, and with the palate Club’s help, you can uncover it – and learn a thing or two about your own palate. I think this is a win-win. What do you think?

Serene Beauty of Cape Cod

September 18, 2020 8 comments

The Cape Cod always was one of my favorite places to visit – I make no secret out of it. This year, it became literally the only place for us to visit to escape the maniacal joy of virtual confinement – and I have no complaints about it.

Mere three and a half hours ride and you are in the world which offers a chance to relax, unwind, and clear up your mind. Clearing up of the mind requires one to disconnect from the moment, to forget that reality exists. I can only envy people who can do this through meditation – I had a friend who would not even hear the doorbell ring once he was in his deep meditation. This is not me, unfortunately – I tried many times, but never was really able to disconnect from all the daily chatter. Thus I need the help of Mother Nature when looking for tranquility.

The three options which would work for me in that quest for tranquility would be the trees, the mountains, or the ocean.

Talking about the trees, I need a clean and open forest, full of 150 feet Eastern white pine trees – beautiful Redwoods would do the trick either. Have you had the pleasure of laying down on the thick layers of long pine needles, looking at the tall, impeccably vertical arrows touching the clouds far, far away? That is the feeling I’m talking about, but there is no place to experience it where I live.

Have you ever experienced the deafening quietness of the mountains? When the time stops, leaving you one on one with the universe, offering you an opportunity to get lost in your dearest thoughts and dreams? I have, on Mount Evans in Colorado – but this is 2,000 miles away.

That leaves us with the ocean. The closest beach is only 7 miles away from where we live, but to call that setting tranquil in any shape and form would be a huge exaggeration. The Cape, especially in the off-season, is offering unlimited amounts of tranquil bliss – just come and get it.

The Cape Cod is a narrow swath of land, extended into the Atlantic ocean – in no time you can move from one side of The Cape to another one, as the distance between the “coasts” ranges between 1 and 20 miles. We have family living in the town of Dennis, so this is where we stayed, the same as in the previous trips this year. In 3 days, we visited 5 or 6 different beaches – it appears that the town of Dennis (population under 14,000) offers a total of 20 (!) beaches on both sides of the Cape. While the beach is the beach at the end of the day, they all still have different charm – and some would even allow you to bring your car directly on the beach.

Combination of off-season (tourists are practically gone after the Labor Day weekend), warm weather, and low tide allowed us to enjoy hourlong walks with only sand and water in sight. A perfect place and time for self-reflection and pondering at life.

The only way I can share this experience with you is through the pictures, so here you have it, my friends.

A little flower intermezzo:

More of the water and sand:

This is not the beach, obviously, but beautiful morning on the backyard:

And a few words about wines, as the wine was an unquestionable part of the daily routine. The 2014 Turley White Coat was an absolute delight, offering Chardonnesque complexity and layers of acidity and fresh fruit. 2010 Diadema Rosso Toscana, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, was offering a lot more than just a pretty bottle – plums, cherries, tobacco, mouthwatering acidity – delicious, nicely mature Italian wine treat. We also enjoyed the line of Terra Noble delicious renditions of Chilean Carmenere, which I just tasted before leaving for the Cape Cod over the virtual tasting (this will be a subject of the separate post).

And here is more of the Cape Cod beauty for you:

A Weekend Of Wine Experiences

August 11, 2020 3 comments

What makes the wine experience for you?

If you drink wine pretty much every day, is that every glass an experience? Is that even possible?

The experience should be something memorable, something you can bring up in your thoughts on the moment’s notice. The experience is not always positive – I well remember some bottles I had to pour down the drain – luckily, it doesn’t happen all that often. The experience triggers the emotion – pain or pleasure – and this is what makes us remember.

During our recent Cape Cod visit with the family, in addition to the ocean, flowers, and sunsets, we also had lots of wine. While some wines were good and simple – and not necessarily memorable – some were just at the level of creating a lasting memory. Let me present my case.

I try not to associate the color of the wine with the weather, but fresh and crisp white wine always brightens up a hot summer day better than a big red. Both wines we had were somewhat of an experience. 2018 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley (13.2% ABV) was a reminder for how much I love this wine, which I consider one of the best California Sauvignon Blancs in general – fresh, citrusy, with plenty of the freshly cut grass and vibrant acidity. A sip of such wine makes you say “ahhh”, and immediately go for another.

The second wine was rather an unexpected disappointment – it had nothing really to do with the wine itself, I guess it was a self-inflicted disappointment, but this is how it will be remembered. 2016 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) didn’t offer much anything in the glass. It was a white wine without a sense of place or much in terms of the expected taste profile. It had no obvious faults, just the taste of “some white wine”. Maybe it was supposed to be consumed two years ago (my wife got it as a present from a coworker and then it was forgotten on the bottom shelf of the cellar). Maybe it was in a “sleeper mode” at the moment. No idea, but this was definitely not something I expected from the Duckhorn.

I continue to surprise myself with an inability to find a bad tasting Rosé nowadays. Either something is wrong with my palate, or I don’t drink enough, or everybody simply mastered the art of Rosé to its fullest, but I like every Rosé I have an opportunity to taste. 2018 Etude Rosé Santa Barbara County (13.2% ABV) was excellent, strawberries all the way, both on the nose and the palate, very elegant and round. Etude is a Pinot Noir specialist, so this was a Pinot Noir Rosé. Santa Barbara designation also brought back lots of happy memories of my first Wine Bloggers conference in 2014. The second Rosé, 2017 Baron de Fumes Rosé Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV) was a bit lighter but sharing mostly the same strawberry profile with a bit more acidity – still every drop delicious. This was also a great value at $8.99 at my local wine store – I now have a few bottles in the fridge ready to be open on any hot day.

Time to move to reds – and to elevate the experience.

Everyone’s cellar has bottles that appeared out of nowhere. You know how this works – you host a party, someone walks through the door with a bottle. You say thank you, hastily put a bottle aside as you are rushing to meet another guest. The bottle is never opened as you had enough wine prepared, and after the party, it is just put away and you have no memory you ever saw it. This was my story with the bottle of 2008 Cantine Lonardo Coste Taurasi DOCG (14.5% ABV, 100% Aglianico). I have no memory of how the bottle made it into the wine fridge. I saw this bottle many times looking for the wine to open – as I’m not familiar with this wine and never bothered to research, I would always skip opening it just on the basis of the vintage – too young, next time, too young, next time. This time around, as our family on The Cape loves the Italian wines, I decided that the time has come to open it.

As we arrived Thursday evening, this was the first bottle we opened. Oh my… As soon as the wine made it to the glasses, the aromatics stopped everyone in their tracks. I can’t even describe it. Mature Italian wine at its peak literally gives me shivers. You can’t put down the glass, you don’t want a sip – you just want another smell, and then another one. Succulent cherries, eucalyptus, tobacco, iodine, ocean breeze – the bouquet delivered such an interplay of flavors that you simply forget the time. When you finally decide to take a sip, you are blown away anew – juicy cherries with herbs, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, and impeccable balance – just a divine experience (am I going to far? Can’t tell you. Wish you were there…). Hands down, this wine is an excellent contender for the top wine of 2020, rivaling Soldera experience (Drinkability: 9/9+).

As I had no idea about Coste, I decided to bring a couple of big guns – two of the Christophe Baron wines – No Girls and Cayuse. I knew that I’m committing a crime by opening 3 years old Cayuse – but this was my very first taste of Cayuse wine, after finally making it on the mailing list, so I decided to take my chances. 2010 No Girls Syrah La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.8% ABV) was as good as I expected it to be – a little bit of funk, black fruit, black pepper, full body, good structure and concentration, excellent balance – definitely a very enjoyable wine. 2017 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV), however, was a disappointment. I knew I’m opening the wine prematurely (the one can only hope. I wonder how Sassicaia does it, making their wines perfectly drinkable upon release), but I still expected the wine to come to its senses at least on the second day, and especially with the help of decanter.

The decanter didn’t help, even on the second day. The wine had some amount of fresh crunchy cherries in it, but that was the maximum excitement. The wine never demonstrated the body I would expect from the Washington Syrah, nor the depth of flavor and the textural experience on the palate. Again, this was not a bad wine, just not enjoyable for me. As this was my very first experience with Cayuse, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions – maybe the wine will completely change in a few years, or maybe the wine is just meant to be like this – I anticipate that the wine will need at least another 7-10 years before it will become fully enjoyable, but we will see. And if it just supposed to taste like that, this will be a serious disappointment, especially considering the price of this wine (around $100).

One more wine I want to mention here – 2017 Domaine La Font de Notre Dame Lirac AOC (14.5% ABV, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre). This wine was opened to compensate for the Cayuse not being very drinkable – and this GSM blend didn’t disappoint – perfectly drinkable and enjoyable from the moment the cork was pulled out. Bright fruit, medium to full body, good minerality, and perfect balance. The wine has limited availability, unfortunately, but if you can find it, it should set you back for less than $20 and this can be your perfect every day red for any time of the year.

There you go, my friends. This is how experiences form into the memories. The pleasure of drinking Coste will stay long in the memory – this was one of the most exciting wines this year. The absence of pleasure in my first sip of Cayuse will also become a long-lasting phenomenon. What are your strongest memories associated with wine?

Cape Cod – Ocean, Sunsets and Flowers

August 7, 2020 9 comments

Oh, for the love of travel… What would you give for an opportunity to get on the plane, worry-free, and fly somewhere for a week, or even for a few days? I’m sure if this is a real question, many of you would answer “anything”. For all of us feeling travel-deprived, even the thought of a trip anywhere further than our own backyard is extremely comforting. Never mind an actual opportunity to go anywhere.

One of my favorite sayings in life is “count your blessings”. And for that, I can tell you that we are very lucky. We live in close proximity to Cape Cod, which is one of my most favorite places not only in the USA but also in the world. On a normal day, it is only a 4 hours drive to most any place on The Cape as it is lovingly referred to by many New Englanders. In addition to the reasonable driving distance, we also have family living on the Cape, which greatly simplifies the logistics of such a trip. So yes, I’m acutely aware of all the blessings.

Last weekend we visited The Cape and spent 3 days walking around the beaches and neighborhoods, admiring beautiful flowers which can be considered an essential lifestyle element of the Cape living. We also caught a magnificent sunset – 10 minutes of pure bliss, an incredible spectacle of the sun setting down into the ocean, with all the unimaginable color combinations no camera can ever capture properly.

In the times when we have to travel vicariously, here is my trip report – of course, in pictures. As this is the wine blog, I have to mention the sacred subject – there was plenty of wine consumed, with some bottles being nothing short of magnificent – but this deserves a separate post.

Get ready to be inundated.

Let’s start with the ocean:

Now, flowers:

And the sunset:

Hope you enjoyed it!

 

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