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Neyen, The Spirit Of Apalta

December 23, 2022 Leave a comment

What do you think of Chilean wines? Have you had Chilean wines which took your breath away?

While you ponder that, let’s talk about Chilean wines.

Nobody can question today’s grandstanding of the Chilean wines in the world. According to Wikipedia, Chile is 7th largest wine producer in the world and 5th largest exporter – the ranking positions change every year, but there is a clear growth trend for Chilean wines, both in terms of volume and value. And Chile is one of the worldwide leaders in sustainable and organic viticulture, setting a clear example for the rest of the wine-producing world.

Not changing the subject, but what do you think of organic wines? I remember that 10-12 years ago, organic wines were few far and between, and those proudly displaying “organic” on the labels were largely undrinkable. The situation changed, mostly unnoticeably, and I can say that today at least 25% of the wines I get to drink during a year are made with organic grapes, and this number is definitely higher if we are talking about the samples I receive for the reviews.

If we are touching memory lane, who remembers Chilean flagships, Fronterra and Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay available for around $10 in 1.5L size? Those were the stars of any party, taste being much less important than the price. And again, slowly but surely this all changed, and Chilean wines now commend the full respect of wine lovers around the world, on the level of prized Bordeaux, Napa Cabs, and Brunellos.

Now, the reason behind this little Chilean wine excerpt is my recent encounter with pure pleasure – you know how much I value that element of wine drinking – the wine should give pleasure, otherwise, what is the point of drinking it. The wine I want to share with you today is the 2017 Neyen Apalta Estate Chile (13.5% ABV, $64.99, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Carmenere, 14 months in 225L French oak barrels, 6 months in 3,000L foudres).

Neyen is a unique estate, a parcel of land situated between the Andes Mountains and the Coastal Range. Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted there in 1889, joined by Carmenere in 1936. Soils at this organically farmed, low-intervention vineyard provide good drainage, and the semi-arid climate allows for the slow ripening of the grapes, maybe with the assistance of the Neyen, the Spirit of Apalta. Grapes are harvested by hand at the first light, sorted, destemmed, and subjected to the magic of winemaking. In most of the years, the blend stays at a consistent 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Carmenere, even though in some of the years different proportions are used.

When I opened the bottle and poured the first glass, I was really unconvinced. The wine was drinkable but didn’t incite any “oh my god” reactions which I expected at least based on the price. I pumped the air out and put the bottle aside for the evening.

The next day, I pulled the stopper out, poured a glass and the very first whiff brought the sacred “oh wow”. The cassis and eucalyptus were enveloping the senses, making it impossible to put the glass down and promising a lot more to come with the sip. Wine requires time to be enjoyed, you can’t hurry it. Finally, after a minute or so of just enjoying the aroma, I went for a sip. To my delight, the aromatic experience continued in full force on the palate. More cassis, more eucalyptus, layers of dark fruit, and silky, soft tannins were making the taste buds dance. The experience was taking me precisely between the worlds – the precision and structure of the old world Bordeaux was perfectly coupled with the youthful exuberance of the new world Napa Cab. Don’t get me wrong – this wine doesn’t need Bordeaux or Napa references, this wine perfectly exists in a class of its own, a perfect combination of ungrafted French Cabernet Sauvignon from 130 years old vines and Chile’s own Carmenere. (Drinkability 9-)

Here you are, my friends.  A superb Chilean wine that is sure to bring a smile to your face. With holidays or without, winter or summer – this wine has a lot to give. Magic of the Neyen, the Spirit of Apalta? I will let you find the bottle and decide on your own.

By the way, how about the question I asked you at the beginning? Can you name some Chilean wines that took your breath away?

Daily Glass: Unexpectedly Stunning

December 16, 2022 3 comments

Expect the unexpected.

When people hear that beaten up “expect the unexpected”, I’m sure in at least 80% of the cases, the expectations are negative. “Expect the unexpected” generally implies that one should always be prepared to deal with seemingly unexpected and often hostile circumstances.

In the wine world, we might want to adjust the “expect the unexpected” ever so slightly. By its nature, wine is always unexpected. Bottle variations, spoiled wine (think corked, for example), serving temperature, ambiance, food, company – everything affects the taste of wine – and I’m not even talking about root and flower days. Every bottle is a mystery – even if you had that same wine from the same producer and the same vintage 100 times before, when you are looking for pleasure you should open the bottle with trepidation. Every bottle is a mystery, and you never know what you will find inside.

I already had this exact wine before. 1998 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon High Trellis McLaren Vale was number 16 on my top 20 wines of 2020 list. 1998 is one of the special years in my book, so I’m always on the lookout for affordable 1998 wines. I came across this specific wine at the Benchmark Wine Group wine store, and at $19 per bottle, it was well worth the risk. Of course, d’Arenberg is an excellent producer and I trust their wines – but aging the wine changes a lot of things and nobody can truly predict what would happen with wine as the result of the aging.

When it comes to aged wines, when everything works well, the expectations are resembling the bell curve. In the optimal case, we expect the wine to gradually improve, then stay at its peak, and then gradually decline. But every bottle has its own bell curve associated with it – how long will it take for the wine to reach the top of the peak, for how long the wine will stay at the peak, when the wine will start declining – every bottle has its own story, and nobody can predict how a particular bottle of wine would behave. This makes drinking aged wines great fun – you never know what you will find behind the cork. This also makes drinking the aged wines a source of frustration – until you successfully pull the cork out, take a sip, and smile happily, the frustration lingers.

You are unquestionably doubling this frustration when you are opening the aged wine you already enjoyed before. In general, before you open the wine, you base your expectations on the reputation of the producer, the region, the winery, and maybe on the vintage. Once you tasted the wine, you acquire the frame of reference, so when you will be opening the bottle of the same wine as you already had, your expectations are based on your prior experience – “ahh, I liked it before, I hope the wine will be as good as it was the last time”.

The last Sunday, we had a good reason to open a bottle from the 1998 vintage, so this was the bottle I decided on – for no particular reason, the decision formed in the head by itself. I used the ah-so to gently extract the cork, only to find out that I had no reason to worry, and the regular corkscrew would do just fine – the cork was in very good shape.

Once in the glass, the color increased the hopes for the enjoyable experience – dark ruby, not a hint of brickish color which old reds might acquire. And the first whiff from the glass put absolutely all the worries away. Ripe cassis, eucalyptus, a touch of sweet oak – the aroma was beautifully enticing, seducing you only as the Cabernet Sauvignon can. And the palate… The palate completed this mesmerizing experience, offering ripe dark fruit, cassis, still fresh and firm structure, a beautiful herbal bouquet, and a perfect balance. Not to try to take anything from the Australian wines, this was a Napa Cab-like experience. (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

I pumped the air out and couldn’t get to the wine for the next two days. On the third day, I poured a glass, this time expecting that the wine is gone. To my total surprise, the wine closed up, now more resembling the young Brunello, perfectly firm, dense, and cherry-forward. The fact that the wine was perfectly fine 3 days after being opened gives me hope that the wine will be good at least for another 15 years – and this time around yes, I have another bottle.

Here is my story of the sudden pleasure. Do you like aged wines? Are you intimidated by aged wines? Do you also expect the unexpected? Let me know what you think.

Until the next time – cheers!

When in Spain…

December 1, 2022 4 comments

My last trip to Europe was in September 2019. Next were the 3 strange years (you know what I’m talking about). And then suddenly I had to come to Europe for work meetings for 2 straight weeks – first week in Spain, then in France. It honestly felt very strange, visiting Europe after such a long break, but I’m afraid I will start sounding very stupid if I will continue complaining…

Before we talk about Spain – I love sunsets and sunrises around the planes – I’m sure you know that there will be quite a few pictures in this post, so here you go…

So what one does do upon arrival to Spain? Okay, I have no idea what people actually do when they come to Spain. And my course of action is largely independent of the destination – I need to find sparkling water for my hotel room, as this is the form of water I always prefer. And of course, being in Europe, I need to check the prices of wine and probably get a bottle or two for the room.

Arriving in Malaga on Sunday didn’t really help with things. Why? I don’t know if this is very typical of Spain (I suspect so) or just for Malaga, but no matter what Google says the absolute majority of the supermarkets are closed (as well as most of the regular stores). I made 2-3 attempts to rely on Google’s recommendations only to find places closed. I almost gave up but decided to give it one more try. This walk was successful, and I ended up with 3 bottles of wine, 3 bottles of seltzer, and some other provisions to make hotel room life more fun (glad I had a little fridge in the room).

Of course, the point of the excursion was not just to get the wine, but also to see the prices and selection. A good number of wines were priced in the range which doesn’t exist in the USA, no matter what and where you are buying – from €2.50 to €4. You can also see a variety of “Tetrapak” wine options, priced extremely reasonably, barely a €1 for a liter and similar prices for the six-packs. Definitely beats “wine-in-the-can” prices in the US which can easily exceed an obnoxious $10 for a can and more.

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Later in the week I managed to get to a supermarket, so you can see the price observation in the pictures below. It is interesting the Albariño wines were priced almost at the level of the prices in the US – while many of the wines were available for a “buck fifty” or so. Go figure…

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Anyway, I settled for two bottles of red and one white, each under €4.

After getting back to my room, I happily enjoyed both of the reds, which both happened to be Tempranillo wines. I did like 2017 Félix Solís Winery Viña Albali Reserva Valdepeñas DO (13% ABV) a bit more as it was perfectly approachable from the get-go, with elegant dark fruit and spices. The 2019 Bodegas Los Llamos Señorio de Los Llamos Tempranillo Valdepeñas DO (12.5% ABV) was a bit more restrained and needed more time to open. Both wines lasted pretty much through the entire week by just putting the cork back. The 2021 Sitial Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV) was opened a few days later, and it was a perfectly happy Verdejo rendition with a touch of freshly cut grass and lemon, fully matching the expectations.

After my colleagues arrived in the evening, we took a little stroll to the historical town, where in addition to the very enjoyable walk and pleasant sightseeing I came across one of the tastiest discoveries of the entire trip – roasted chestnuts.

Before you say “duh”, let me explain. Of course, I read many times that roasted chestnuts are “the thing”. I tried to roast them at home in the oven – never happy with the result. Yes, it might be me, might be the chestnuts we get in the US, might be the method. Nevertheless, the chestnuts were in my “I don’t get it” book.

Walking in Malaga, first I noticed the smell. The delightful smell of food and smoke. And then we saw the street vendors, roasting chestnuts in the little stands, looking similar to the hot dog stands in Manhattan. That aroma in the air… absolutely dreamy…

But what’s more important is that the taste was sublime. You take this warm chestnut in your hands, break the thin shell and enjoy the crumbly, slightly sweet and barely starchy “nut” which falls apart in your mouth. I’m salivating as I’m writing this – that food experience pretty much beats Jamon in my book.

This was my first time visiting Spain, so of course, it was nice to see the words of others materialize in the Jamon abundance everywhere – little stores, restaurants, everywhere. I love how those sandwiches are presented – it is really hard to walk by and not get one.

Speaking of food, I found an unexpected dish to be interestingly widespread – Russian Salad. We had it with the catering during lunches and I saw it on the menu of a number of restaurants and even in the eateries at the airport.

I don’t know if this dish is popular only in Malaga or in Spain overall – Malaga used to be very popular among Russian tourists, and this might have something to do with this dish. Anyway, if I was able to dissect correctly, the salad consists of boiled potatoes, eggs, salmon, and mayo. It was quite tasty on a few occasions I had it.

Now, let’s talk more about wines. We had an event dinner at the restaurant in the old town. The wine was simply offered by the color – white or red – with a sheepish comment by the waiter “ohh, the red is local”. I decided to start with the white and to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my choice would be an understatement. This 2021 Bodegas Barbadillo Castillo de San Diego Palomino Fino (13% ABV) had a deep inviting nose of whitestone fruit with minerally undertones, and the palate had a great depth of white plums and sage with the roundness and plumpness which I typically observe on the best renditions of the Roussanne. Outstanding.

Then, of course, I asked to try the red, not having much of an expectation remembering the shy enforcement.

 

 

Wow! I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was supposedly drinking local Malaga wine which I know nothing about, but we are in Spain – how come this wine tastes like a perfectly round, exuberant, in-your-face Bordeaux at its peak? What is this all-around beautiful cassis doing in the local Malaga wine? Something happened to my palate? When I got a chance to look at the back label of this 2012 Bodegas Excelencia Los Frontones Crianza Sierras de Málaga DO (13.5% ABV), things got back to normal – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, and Syrah. I did a bit of the reading afterward and it appears that the Malaga area had a lot of French winemaking influence, hence the use of Bordeaux varieties. For the 10 years old, this wine was absolutely in its prime and absolutely enjoyable.

Later during the week, I had another enjoyable encounter with local Malaga wine – 2018 Bodegas Pérez Hidalgo Vega del Geva Sierras de Málaga DO (14% ABV), a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A bit tighter than the previous wine, but still very much cassis and eucalyptus forward, round, layered, and delicious.

My last evening in Malaga was full of pure, hedonistic pleasure – but this deserves a post on its own.

Here you are, my friends. I have to declare my first visit to Spain a success, and I truly hope to be back in the near future.

And A Little Bit Of Cognac

October 16, 2022 8 comments

– I’m tired of drinking scotch. Next time, can we try something else? How about cognac, for example?

– Cognac? Why not? Next time, we will drink cognac.

This was a conversation with my high-school friend earlier this year. She visits a few times a year, and it is customary for us to taste 10-15 different whiskeys during one of the nights during her visit. This is easy to do, as, after the wine, whiskey (primarily scotch or equivalents, such as Japanese whiskey) is my next favorite type of alcohol. At any given moment I have probably 20+ bottles opened – unlike wine, once opened, whiskey can still last forever, so I have no issues opening a bottle, even for a tiny sip. Whiskey tasting on short notice? No problem, let’s do it. But cognac?

I like cognac as well. Totally different bouquet compared with whiskey, the pleasure of eloping the brandy sniffer and letting the aromatics charm you as the amber liquid gently heats up in your hand… Love cognac – however, I still prefer whiskey on an average day. As a result, if I can find 20+ open whiskey bottles on a given day, I would only have 1, 2, or maybe 3 cognac bottles on hand – that doesn’t make it an interesting tasting by any means.

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about cognac first. Same as scotch is a type of whiskey, cognac belongs to the broader spirits category called brandy. Brandy is defined as the hard liquor (35% – 60% alcohol by volume) produced from wine, which can be a grape wine or a fruit wine, by the process of distillation. Cognac is the most famous type of brandy, produced in France in the Cognac region – as you might expect, Cognac name is protected and Cognac can only come from the Cognac region in France.

There are a few classifications that are important for Cognac. The first one is geographic – not any different from any wine classifications. Cognac can be sub-divided into 6 growing areas, or crus – Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires (you can find all the detailed explanations and a map in this excellent blog post). These crus are always identified on the label if the appellation’s requirements are satisfied – but the majority of the cognacs are simply identified as “cognac”, meaning that the grapes can be coming from any vineyard within the Cognac region. There is one more classification that is not precisely geographically delimited – Fine Champagne, which allows mixing grapes from Grand Champagne (at least 50%) and Petite Champagne regions. Of course, there are single vineyard options, but those are rare.

Another classification that potentially has higher prominence for cognac lovers is the age of the liquid in the bottle. Upon distillation, future cognac is clear. All of the beautiful amber colors are acquired during aging in the oak barrels. The age classifications are typically depicted on the bottles in the form of the following abbreviations:
VS (Very Special) – aged at least 2 years in the barrel
VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) – at least 4 years
XO (Extra Old) – at least 10 years
There are other age classification types – XXO, Napoleon, Extra, Réserve – but I would like to offer you another excellent article if you are interested in learning more. While the price of cognac will depend on age, it is not the only dependency – the producer’s name and geographic region need to be taken into account to understand the pricing. You can often find an XO cognac from an unknown producer to cost less than a simple VS from a well-known one, so the age statement alone doesn’t identify the price.

One more note before we get back to our tasting. Approximately 150 miles southeast of Cognac lies another famous french brandy region – Armagnac. Armagnac is also made out of grapes and has its own geographical and aging classifications we are not going to get into here. While there are aromatic and stylistic differences between Cognac and Armagnac, it is important to know that Armagnac is typically cheaper than cognac at the same level of quality. Also, lots of Armagnacs specify the year they were distilled, which makes them an amazing birthday present…

And then, of course, there are brandies, which sometimes can be amazing, and sometimes … just not. Unlike Cognac or Armagnac, brandies are typically not regulated, which means that you need to know what you are buying. Some of the brandies can be amazingly tasty – my favorite brandy when vacationing in Mexico is 10 years old Torres – easily beats all of the big names lifeless VS…

Now, let’s get back to our cognac tasting story. As you might imagine, I decided not to limit the selection to the Cognac alone, and include brandy and Armagnac as it would be possible – however, talking about the prep to the tasting, I would generally use the term “cognac” while talking about my quest.

As I promised the cognac tasting I had to actually find what we will be tasting. And it is much easier said than done. Go to your neighborhood liquor store and compare the size of the cognac and whiskey sections (if your store doesn’t have the cognac section at all, don’t get upset). A typical cognac selection at the store is very limited – and it gets very expensive very quickly,

Okay, so I will be very smart about it, I thought. I need to look for the miniature bottles (50 ml, sometimes 100ml), and tasting sets.

While working on this post, I decided to look at the “popularity” of cognac through the sales numbers. According to this article, cognac sales increased substantially, not only in value but also in volume, comparing 2021 sales with 2020 and even with 2019. As theoretical numbers, it is easy to accept, especially with the value – the average price for the XO cognac almost doubled over the past 5 years. In practical terms, the cognac shelves at most of the wine stores I visited are very short and sometimes even not existing. What’s even worse, finding the miniatures (50 ml) of cognac was mission impossible, with some stores having only one type, and many having none. Our local Total Wine in Norwalk offered a breakthrough – I was able to pick up 6 cognacs and brandies at once.

My friend Zak was able to find me a tasting set from cognac Tesseron, which included 4 different bottlings of XO-level cognac. The set contains 4 different cognacs – Lot No 90, Lot No 76, Lot No 53, and Lot No 29, where the number gives you an approximate year(s) when the cognac was distilled – in 1990 – 1991, 1976, 1050-1952, and 1930s. Lot 29 contains a third of the cognac from the 1906 vintage – it is not every day you get to drink alcohol at such an age. Lot 29 also received 100 points from Robert Parker (not that it matters, but still).

I found the second set on the Cognac-Expert website – Park Cognac Mizunara cognac, a set of 3 Park cognacs from Bordieres finished in Japanese oak called Mizunara. Note of advice – if you like cognac, cognac-expert might be a site for you.

With this, we were all set for tasting. Finally, my friend arrived at the end of September, and we were able to get to it.

Below are my notes from the tasting. The notes are similar to any wine notes I would put out in this blog. Does it make sense for the cognac? Maybe yes, maybe no, but this is the best I can do. As a bare minimum, you will get an idea. During the tasting, we also decided which cognacs/brandies would be worth re-tasting (round 2) and then we rated all the cognacs to decide on our top favorites. Without further ado, here are the results:

E&J V.S. Brandy
Sweet fruit on the nose
Caramel candy on the palate, just caramel.

E&J V.S.O.P. Grand Blue Brandy
Sweet fruit on the nose, dry fruit
Burnt sugar on the palate, pure milk chocolate candy with fruit preserve. Horrible.

Paul Mason Grande Amber Brandy
Dark red fruit, herbs
Touch of sweetness, good restrained, good balance

Hennessy Very Special Cognac
Dry fruit on the nose
Wooden notes, a touch of sweetness, lacks excitement

Courvoisier V.S. Cognac
Oak notes on the nose
Nice restraint, but mostly flat

A. De Fussigny Sélection Fine Cognac
Beautiful nose, sandalwood, nice perfume
Disjointed on the palate, needs more balance

Paulet VS Cognac
Nice complexity on the nose
Good fruity palate, perfectly integrated, excellent balance.
Very good, perfectly elegant, round 2 – final verdict #3

ABK6 Family Reserve XO Single Estate Cognac
Beautiful nose, you can smell the grapes
Perfect complexity, wild apricot, wild apricot pit, a hint of sweetness, but dry finish
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict #6

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish
Wow. Cigar box, medicine box, great complexity
Amazing complexity, perfect balance, cigar box, apricot, one of the very best
Wow. Round 2 – final verdict – #1, best of the tasting

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish Single Cru 10 years aged
Very complex nose
On the palate, effervescent, but not as impressive as the second one
Very good, round 2 – final verdict #11

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish Unique Single Cask Edition Distilled 2004
Amazing nose, very complex
Very complex, spicy oak, delicious
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict #9

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 90 XO
Wow, spicy pepper nose, sweet fruit, amazing
Great complexity, fruity notes, excellent balance
Round 2 – final verdict – #5

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 76 XO Tradition
Dry fruit, wild flowers
Interesting complexity, but not harmonious
Round 2, final verdict – #10

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 53 XO Perfection
Very feminine on the nose, delicate, perfumy, plums, vanilla
Floral complexity, elegant, delicious
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict – #8

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 29 XO Exception
Beautiful nose, complex, round
Herbal notes, plums, spices, perfectly balanced.
Very good, round 2 – final verdict #7

Saint-Vivant Armagnac AOC
Lemon and herbs on the nose
Touch of oak, good acidity, a touch of herbs.

Pierre Ferrand 1er Cru de Cognac Reserve Grand Champagne AOC
Fruity, elegant
Beautiful fruit on the palate, plums, a touch of chocolate, perfectly balanced
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict – #4

1966 Darroze Bas-Armagnac
Very complex, Forrest underbrush, spices, white pepper
Dark chocolate, dried fruit, perfectly restrained
Superb, round 2 – final verdict – #2

As you can tell, Cognac Park Mizunara Borderies AOC was our top choice, followed by the 1966 Darroze Bas-Armagnac and then Paulet VS cognac ($25 at Total Wine, winery direct program).

Here you go, my friends – an account of the cognac tasting. With the exception of E&J, which humans should not drink, this was a great tasting.

What do think of cognac? Do you like drinking it? Any favorites?

Daily Glass: Monday Night Wine

September 12, 2022 Leave a comment

Monday night. The first working day of the week is over. Or it might not be over, who knows. But it is Monday, and the week is just starting. Is there a wine more suitable for Monday than any other day of the week?

Friday night is easy. Friday always means fun and celebration. Friday is already playful, so unless you have serious dinner plans aligned, Friday night wine might be even a cocktail for all I can tell.

I guess Saturday is asking for a serious wine, no matter what. It’s the middle of the weekend which is always special. Thursday… well, I don’t know about Thursday, let’s get back to Monday.

So how do we select the wine for Monday night? Most likely, you are at home. Most likely, it is only you and your spouse drinking. Most likely, you are not in a hurry. Most likely, you can take your time and enjoy that glass for as long as you want. Considering all of these “most likely” circumstances, let’s settle on the thought-provoking wine. The wine which shows its beauty slowly, sniff by sniff,  sip by sip.

Can you think of a wine that would match this description?

While you think about it, I will lead by example and offer to talk about my Monday wine.

2019 Turley Bechtold Vineyard Cinsault Lodi (12.4% ABV). Wine from one of my favorite producers – Turley. Wine from one of my favorite wine regions in California (and not only in California) – Lodi.

Lodi flies under the radar for a lot of wine lovers. Everybody knows Napa and Sonoma. Californian Pinot Noir aficionados probably know Santa Barbara County. Meanwhile, Lodi is where Robert Mondavi went to high school and where his father run the grape-packing business. Lodi is the single largest AVA in North America, and Lodi is where Napa winemakers go to get their grapes. Maybe most importantly, Lodi is home to a number of old, continuously producing vineyards. Of course, everyone likes to lay a claim to the “oldest vineyard” here and there – however, Bechtold vineyard in Lodi was planted in 1886, and oldest or not, 136 years of continuously producing fruit deserves the utmost respect.

Lodi might be best known for its old vines Zinfandels, but our Monday wine tonight is made out of Cinsault, a grape typically used in Rhône and Provence. Cinsault wines typically offer a fruity and floral profile with some pungent undertones.

2019 Turley Cinsault was made using whole cluster fermentation with natural yeast and aged for about 7 months in used French oak barrels. The result was the wine that delivered that thought-provoking Monday night experience we were talking about.

On the nose, the wine offered fresh berries and a hint of the forest floor. On the palate, there was a delicate interplay of raspberries, sour cherries, tartness, and acidity, all packaged together delicately but firmly, and finishing off with sour cherries and cherry pits, long-lasting and offering an opportunity to enjoy a quiet moment. (Drinkability: 8/8+)

That’s how my Monday night wine was (delicious!). How was yours?

Pure Pleasure, And How To Express It

September 5, 2022 1 comment

Does this glass give you pleasure?

You take a sip of wine. The wine is sublime. It is beautiful. It is complex. The wine solicits emotion – it makes you happy. It makes you moan quietly inside your head, you might extort an “OMG” or a “Wow”, and after a pause, you take another sip. You are not in a hurry. You want to extend this pleasure for as long as possible.

Wine is art. Wine doesn’t leave you indifferent. Wine solicits emotion.

Painting is art. Painting doesn’t leave you indifferent. Painting solicits emotion.

Music is art. Music doesn’t leave you indifferent. Music solicits emotion.

We can consider wine to be a form of art, the same as painting, music, poetry, architecture, and many other human creations which invite an emotional reaction. Do you know what makes wine a unique form of art? Your utter desire to share it.

You can quietly stare at a beautiful painting for a long time, slowly uncovering little details and being in the moment. Even if you stand next to someone else looking at the same painting, 99 out of 100 you are simply focused on your own personal moment.

When listening to the music, even if you are in the concert hall surrounded by thousands, the music is being played only for you and this is how you want to keep it. You can buy a recording and listen to it 100 times. Just by yourself, and you are happy about it.

Have you seen an oenophile get excited about wine? The excited oenophile grabs the total stranger by the sleeve, shoves the glass into their face and says “here, here, you must try this!!!” It is very important for an oenophile to be able to share the joy of the experience with others. There is an ultimate pleasure in sharing your excitement with others, as wine is an art that needs to be shared.

Sharing pleasure is easy in person. Have you tasted magnificent, life-altering wines in the group? If you had, you probably noticed the collective “ohh”, rolling the eyes, unprompted nodding, maybe a muttered “oh my god”, and then silence. The silence of the greatness of the moment, slowly settling in.

This in-person sharing of the pleasure is simple, and kind of just happens on its own. The real challenge comes when you decide to share that ultimate pleasure with the rest of the world.

So how can one express pure pleasure?

A typical way to describe the wine is via so-called tasting notes. Such tasting notes are often called “technical notes” as they usually describe the wine in terms of appearance, aroma, bouquet, and finish – using analogies such as “brickish color”, “smell of mushrooms”, or “taste of dark cherries”. The wine is described in the terms which the wine drinker is supposed to relate to – and it is a great review if you can relate to all of the terms used without trying to figure out what is Cascarilla and how it actually smells, or how Jabuticaba tastes like. What is usually not found in the tasting notes is the emotion – how this wine might make you feel; will you scream with joy when you will take a sip? Yes, I get it. Even the aromas and flavors are subjective. The emotion which you will experience while drinking the wine is yours and yours only – the person next to you might not experience the same enlightenment – and nevertheless, even the hope for greatness is worth sharing.

Can wine pleasure be expressed in the words by professional wine critics? You be the judge of it. Here is the collection of tatsing notes for the 1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru. At this link, you will find the reviews from Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, John Gilman, and others. Here is the best excerpt in my opinion. John Gilman: “La Tâche ‘66 is deep, full and opulent on the palate, with a grandiose delivery of thick, perfumed fruit, excellent balance, plenty of power, great focus and finesse, and an incredibly long, softly-tannic and astoundingly complex finish.” This might be the best description out of the six present, but does it convey the emotion?

Does this wine give you pleasure?

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of drinking two wines from the 1997 vintage (1997 is a special year for our family). These two wines really prompted this post. First, I opened the 1997 Château Haut-Piquat Lussac Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc). The wine was somewhat of a recent find at the Wine Exchange – after getting an email offer to buy 1997 Bordeaux for $19.99, I had no option but to get a few bottles. I was happy to see the cork coming out in its entirety with no issues. I was ready with the decanter, but the wine in the glass was quite approachable. After the initial grippy tannins dissipated in 20-30 minutes, what was left in the glass was an absolutely sublime beauty. You see, this is where the challenge lies. Here is the technical description from the Wine Exchange: “a wine that still possesses a youthful charm as there is something to be said for ex-chateau. A beautiful plum/garnet color with very little lightening for its age. This 1997 is full to medium-bodied, showing lots of forest floor, roasted herbs, cedar, tobacco, black cherry, blackcurrant, and new saddle leather. It is opulent and is just entering its plateau of full maturity. The tannins are soft and subtle with an elegant seamless finish. ”

The description is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t help me to express my emotion. The mind singing with every sip. Pure joy in each and every sip. Enough pleasure in every sip to have the nerve enough to tell my wife, who was enjoying the wine with me “this is almost as good as sex”. A personal perspective for sure, but yes, this was the wine.

I didn’t have many expectations for 1997 Chateau Montelena Saint Vincent Red Wine Napa Valley (13.5% ABV, blend of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Sangiovese). Chateau Montelena is absolutely legendary with its role in the Judgement of Paris, especially if you had an opportunity to see the movie Bottle Shock. But Saint Vincent is an eclectic blend, produced only for 5 years from 1995 till 1999, and it is not given that this type of wine can age for 25 years. While very different from the previous Bordeaux in its profile of cherries, eucalyptus, and herbs, it had such a lip-smacking, savory and satisfying bouquet, that every sip was demanding to be followed by another sip.

Do you want a second glass?

I have no idea how to convey the pure pleasure the wine can bring. Maybe emotion is the key. There are lots of good wines out there. The wines you are happy to drink any day every day. Maybe it is the excitement that needs to be measured. Or maybe this is simply in the unyielding desire to share this pleasure with the world. The act of telling the world how amazing the wine was, and hoping that everybody will see it that way too.

Let’s share our little joys with one another. And if you know how to convey this pure wine pleasure, please let me in on that secret.

 

Daily Glass: Winning and Learning

August 29, 2022 1 comment

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

You never lose – learning is the opposite of winning – I think this is a better approach to life, would you agree?

I love aging my wines. The popular wine press tells people that 95% of the wines in this world are meant to be consumed shortly after purchasing. “Absolute majority of the wine is not meant to be aged,” the message says. I don’t want to obnoxiously invalidate all the expert opinions, but the subject of wine aging is a lot more complicated than the simple statement portrays.

Lots of factors play a role. The wine itself is probably the most critical factor. White wines generally don’t age too well. To be more precise, percentage-wise, a lesser number of white wines can age well compared to red wines. But this doesn’t mean that all red wines age well. For example, red Cotes du Rhone typically don’t age for longer than 4-5 years.

I wish there was an easy method to tell us, wine lovers, that “this wine will age for 30 years”, but “this one got only 10 more left”. There is no such method, however, so we need to rely primarily on our experiences. I’m not trying to disqualify all of the wonderful advice we receive from the wine critic and publications – but it would be rare to receive an aging recommendation there unless the wine is deemed of a “collector” level – which pretty much means that it will not be really affordable.

At this point, you might wonder why is all this commotion with the aging of the wines. Simple. Wine is a living thing. The evolution of the wine continues in the bottle. It is a general hope that wine can improve with time, evolve, become more complex and multidimensional.But the wine can’t evolve forever – at some point it starts “turning”, losing its delicious, attractive qualities.

It is important that the wine drinker can appreciate the beauty of the aged wine – it is not for everyone. I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way – this is simply a matter of taste. One of my most favorite examples is the blind tasting of a few Champagnes which took place during Windows on the World wine classes. After blind tasting 4 Champagnes, the group was asked to vote for their favorite Champagne. Champagne #4 got almost no votes, it was clearly the least favorite of the group of 100+ people. While revealing the wines, Kevin Zraly, our wine teacher, said “and this is why, people, you should not drink vintage Champagne”. Bottle #4 was Dom Perignon – if people would see the label before voting, you know how that would work (”drink up, honey, it is French”). And Vintage Champagne is nothing more than just an aged wine. It is just a matter of taste. The same story goes for food. For example – I love fresh oysters, and I have friends who wouldn’t put an oyster into their mouth even if this will be required to save their own life. Just a matter of taste.

But for those of us who like aged wines, that elusive quest becomes an obsession. I love the Italian term “vino da meditazione”, which applies to the wines which make conversation stop upon the first sip, and puts the whole group of oenophiles into a quiet, self-reflective state. The silence at the table becomes not deafening, but instead a very comfortable one. The silence nobody wants to break.

Okay, such amazing encounters are possible but truly rare. But the pleasure of drinking the well-aged wine is real, and this is what we are seeking. And as we don’t have the scientific method of predicting the peak of enjoyment for a given wine, we have to rely on our own experience. Which takes us back to winning and learning. When we experienced well-aged wine, we clearly won. And when the wine with age doesn’t deliver the pleasure, this is where we learn.

It is not so binary, of course. The point is that no matter what happened, we learn something. When you taste a random but amazing $10 bottle of California red blend (Toasted Head) with 15 years of age on, you learn that inexpensive wines can age too. When you taste 2002 Barolo (Fontanafredda) 10 years after release, and you see that the vintage chart declares this vintage as literally horrible, but the wine tastes good, you learn that the producer matters more than the vintage. When you taste two bottles from the same producer and the same vintage, but you love one of them and can’t stand another, you learn that bottle variation is real and that you have to always manage your expectations.

This whole rambling about winning, learning and aging was prompted by a few wines I opened last week.

First, the learning part. 12 years ago we did the Pinot Noir blind tasting with friends, with a very unexpected outcome – 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa was the best wine in that blind tasting. I loved the wine so much that I went and got a bottle to keep. Over the years, I made many attempts on the life of this bottle, until the last weekend I decided to share it with a friend. Upon opening the wine was reminiscent of the good Burgundy, with the nose offering some plums, iodine, and smoke. But the wine quickly succumbed to the tertiary aromas of dry herbs and maybe a hint of dried fruit, and while my friend really loved it, this was a complete loss learning in my book.

Then another friend was stopping shortly after his birthday. He always liked the wines, but recently started getting really “more into it”. He was stopping by for the dinner, and when we were talking about wines a few days prior, he mentioned that he started liking the Brunello and Amarone wines. There is no happier moment for the oenophile than to learn what the guest desires to drink – the cellar is instantly paraded in the search for the best and the most appropriate bottle.

I don’t know how I came into possession of the 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, I can only guess I got it as a present. This single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino was absolutely spectacular – beautiful cherries on the palate – not the fresh and crunchy ones, but more subdued, more elegant, eloped in the sage and other herbal aromatics. The wine was spectacular when we opened it, and when I finished the last drop 2 days later (wine was kept in the bottle with the air pumped out), I had a clear feeling of regret as the wine was not gone, but instead was still fresh and even more complex, with a promise of becoming the Vini da meditations in 10 years, same the 1999 Soldera had become for us – alas, I don’t have another bottle…

And then my pet peeve – you know how much I love Amarone. I got a few bottles of the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi Amarone della Valpolicella from WTSO 7 years ago. This was my last bottle, and boy it didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful in its finesse and impeccable balance all the way through. Dried fruit on the nose, powerful, well-structured wine on the palate, with more of the dried fruit, cherries, plums and herbs, and with good acidity, perfect balance and delicious bitter finish. It is not for nothing Amarone means Great Bitter – and there was this pleasant bitterness on the finish, something hard to find in most of the Amarone wines.

Here you are, my friends, my story of winning and learning. Three aged wines, two of them delicious, two that could age for far longer (learning!). One learning experience – but who knows, maybe it was only that particular bottle. Moving on.

What did you win and learn lately?

Celebrate Pinot Noir!

August 18, 2022 Leave a comment

Celebrate Pinot Noir!

Another grape holiday is upon us. This time we celebrate none less than Pinot Noir.

None less, huh? Is Pinot Noir so unique and special? Well, you be the judge.

Pinot Noir is the grape behind the world’s most expensive wines. While there are 10 or so major red grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo), the ultimate supremacy crown can only be decided between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, it is bad to use money as a measure of influence, but it is one of the “objective” characteristics of wine in the free market. According to the Wine-Searcher lists of most expensive wines (by the way, there is a new feature on this blog – a new page Most Expensive Wines allows you to see always current list of most expensive wines for a select number of grapes and regions), red Burgundies (made out of 100% Pinot Noir) on average are 12 times (!) more expensive than Cabernet Sauvignon wines

Pinot Noir might be the most versatile red grape out there. Unlike most other red grapes, it produces a full range of wine styles. Let’s see.
White wine? Check. Pinot Noir Blanc is increasingly popular in Oregon and not only. Remember, the juice of Pinot Noir is clear, so it is not a problem to produce white Pinot Noir.
Sparkling wine? Triple check, I guess. Champagne Blanc de Noir is very often made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and needs to introduction to wine lovers.
Rosé? Check. An increasingly popular addition to the repertoire of any Pinot Noir producer, in Oregon, California, and beyond.
Red wine? Well, duh. No check needed – first and foremost, Pinot Noir is a king of red wines.
Sweet/dessert? This is the only category that is still more an exception than the norm, but if you will look, you will have no problems finding late harvest Pinot Noir wines or Port-style Pinot Noir wines.

See – the whole range of wine styles. You can easily pair a whole dinner, from oysters to fish to steak and then dessert with Pinot Noir wines – try that with Cabernet.

One more unique fact about Pinot Noir is that it is practically never blended with any other grapes, with the exception of Champagne/sparkling wines. There can be lots of Pinot Noir clones mixed together – some of the producers grow 20 clones and more – but still, those are just clones. Of course, there are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines out there, but this is far from being the norm.

Pinot Noir is featured frequently on this very blog. As I was preparing this post, I decided to look at some statistics. It appears that Pinot Noir is the second most frequently mentioned red grape on the blog, with 356 posts related to the Pinot Noir (Cabernet Sauvignon is mentioned in 445 posts). It is interesting that Chardonnay is mentioned in the 357 posts, literally identical to Pinot Noir.

But it is not just the mentions – there are many memories associated with Pinot Noir.

I love saying that blind tasting is the best arbiter of the wines – in a blind tasting, it is just you and the liquid in the glass, nothing else influences your impression of the wine. It seems that our Pinot Noir blind tasting took place only yesterday – I was literally shocked to see that this post is 12 years old – the tasting took place in August of 2010. Who couldn’ve thought that 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa would be our group’s favorite wine, beating grand cru Burgundy and cult Californian Pinot? I still have a bottle of that wine and I’m looking forward to experiencing the 12 years of evolution.

Another favorite Pinot Noir memory is the 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir – an accidental $25 buy that ended up being a transcendental experience tasting the 48 years old wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon producer who is absolutely not known for the Pinot Noir wines.

And then there are lots and lots of memories of not only the wines but also of the people, passionate Pinot Noir winemakers, acquired through the work on the Stories of Passion and Pinot, an ongoing series of posts dedicated to Oregon Pinot Noir producers and Oregon Pinot Noir wines.

Did I prove my point? Is Pinot Noir the true King of Grapes? I don’t know. But for sure it is a grape worth celebrating. Cheers!

Making The Same Mistakes

August 11, 2022 Leave a comment

Are we humans prone to repeat ourselves all the time? Good and bad – first we repeat what was done again and again, then wonder why we achieve exactly the same result as before. There is nothing wrong with repeating the good things, except that we might be limiting ourselves – think about bench-pressing 150 lb all the time, without ever trying to increase the weight. That’s a good weight to press, of course, but you need to increase the weight if you want your muscles to grow.

The process of repeating the bad things is far more peculiar. We know that something doesn’t work. We know that we did something in the past and it painfully didn’t work. Should we learn? Should the brain have a mental capacity to remember the bad result of the past and then simply remember not to repeat it? You think? This is so obvious, and yet unattainable at the same time. Why? Really, why?

Case in point. My business trip took me to Anaheim in California. Going to Anaheim, people who travel occasionally would fly to LAX (Los Angeles airport), and then have quite an expensive (and potentially very long) taxi ride to get to Anaheim. People who travel know that the closest airport to Anaheim is John Wayne, a.k.a. Orange County a.k.a. Santa Ana airport. As I belong to the second group (I generally travel for business), I took an early morning flight from Newark, NJ to John Wayne airport, arriving even faster than anticipated and enjoying the easy trip.

When traveling inside the US, ideally you want to take the early flight – outside of mechanical and horrible weather issues, you stand the best chance to arrive at your destination on time and in a happy state of mind. As the day progresses, travel becomes more chaotic, as flight schedules start shifting, and every slight delay aggregates to bigger and bigger ones. See, I know my flying rules. And what I said is 10 times true for the most overloaded (and badly run) airports in the country – Newark, Washington Dulles, Houston, Boston are all stand out in this category – by the end of the day, Newark would typically aggregate about 2 to 3 hours delay – and this is in the best weather throughout the country, God forbid it rains somewhere.

See, I know my traveling stuff, right? Do you think this knowledge helped me? Yep. Of course, you figured out the answer already. No, it did not. Instead of taking 6:30 AM out of John Wayne airport to fly back to Newark, I decided to fly at 12:30. Would you expect me to apply my knowledge? Of course, but I didn’t not. After arriving at the airport about two hours prior to my on-time departure, I spent the next 4 and a half hours (that includes 2.5 hours of an actual delay) literally swearing at myself, at United, at Newark, and back to myself. What’s even worse, I managed to repeat yet another old mistake again.

Insanity – repeating the same thing over and over again, every time expecting a different result

If you like wine, and if you ever traveled through Austin, Portland, San Francisco (and many other) airports, I’m sure you noticed restaurants/bars called Vino Volo. There are more than 50 Vino Volo locations around the country. Everything in Vino Volo revolves around wine. Every restaurant has a great selection of wines by the glass and wines to buy by the bottle – as they are located past security, you can buy a bottle of wine to bring to your destination if you are so inclined.

However, my main attraction at Vino Volo is wine tasting flights. At any given moment, Vino Volo offers 6-8 different tasting flights, red, white, Rosé, each flight typically consisting of 3 wines. Each flight is accompanied by detailed tasting notes. Very often you can find a selection of local wines offered as part of the flights – Oregon wines in Portland, Texas wines in Austin, and so on. When I have time, I never pass on an opportunity to visit a Vino Volo store and taste some new wines.

This brings us back to the subject of repeated mistakes. I know full well that young and expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon wines are undrinkable, 9 out of 10. I generally enjoy Vino Volo flights, with one memorable exception being Californian Bordeaux blend Overture, the second label of Opus, which I didn’t enjoy at all. And now, while at the John Wayne airport, I chose the flight of 3 high-end but young California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, instead of taking one of the other 7 or so. Why? Was a driven by the bad mood due to the flight already being delayed? Was there a hidden, subconscious desire to exacerbate the pain? I don’t know. But this was the flight I ordered. And it successfully exacerbated my pain – which you can see in these tasting notes:

2019 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($83)
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus
Gripping tannins, green notes, black currants, tart finish.
Not enjoyable now.

2018 Vineyard 29 CRU Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena ($84)
Cherries, dust
A bit more balanced than the previous wine, still weaved on the core of green notes, but definitely more approachable and enjoyable than the previous wine. Glimpses of greatness. Maybe decanting for an hour would make a miraculous change.
7+

2018 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley ($82)
Distant hint of black currants and nutmeg
Tart, green, fruit is hiding. Almost flat in terms of soliciting an emotion.

Why do we do these bad things to ourselves? This question is half rhetorical, half actual. If you know the answer – or have a story to tell – please, I’m all ears.

Anatomy of Flavor

July 22, 2022 4 comments

Anatomy of Flavor???

The author clearly goes on a tangent here. Everyone knows what anatomy means, and it has nothing to do with the wine. And nevertheless, let’s take a look at some definitions and see if we can actually analyze the anatomy of flavor.

Webster’s dictionary defines anatomy in a few different ways:

 

Definition number five describes anatomy as

structural makeup especially of an organism or any of its parts

Anatomy explains to us how living things are constructed. How do they move, jump, roll, smile, and cry.

Of course, the flavor is not a living being – but it is amorous, it changes, it morphs, it is perceived, and it is perceived differently every time, depending on many, many, many factors that we can spend days and days discussing.

I like definition number three more, as it is more appropriate for our purposes:

the art of separating the parts of an organism in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function

Anatomy offers a firm structure – can we apply the same to flavor and understand how our perception of it works? Mostly, and luckily, no – we can’t. We have no idea how we will perceive the flavor of the particular wine once it is open – of course, we have expectations, but this is only one of the subjective factors in our perception of flavor, one of many. Instead, I can offer you to look at how the flavor is being built.

There is also definition number six:

a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination

Anatomy explains to us how our muscles work and how they grow. Let’s see if we can take a similar look at the flavor of the wine.

We can’t do this with any random wine – if someone makes single-grape Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir wines, all those wines are not connected to each other, they are unique and different – we can not taste Syrah and make expectations about Pinot Noir (assuming these are good quality wines) – as they have nothing in common. Most importantly, they better taste differently. But – there are wines which are perfectly suitable for our exercise. Do I have an example? Of course, glad you asked, but before we talk about particular wines, let’s take a look at the region they are coming from. Let’s go to Northern Italy, to the region called Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is a winemaking region east of Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, which is in turn located in Veneto. The region is influenced by the Alps to the north, Lake Garda to the west, and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Valpolicella received its DOC status in 1968, and Amarone and Recioto received the DOCG status in 2009. In terms of DOC wine production volume, Valpolicella is the second region in Italy after Chianti.

There are a few types of wines produced in the region – Valpolicella DOC, light wines considered to be similar in style to Beaujolais, Valpolicella Superiore, which should be aged at least one year, Valpolicella Ripasso, and, the most coveted wines, Amarone and Recioto.

It is not exactly known when winemaking started in Valpolicella. Still, it is typically associated with the ancient Greeks who were famous for making sweet wines made from partially dried grapes. That tradition of drying grapes before pressing is also a requirement for both Recioto and Amarone wines – this converts grapes to almost raisins and concentrates flavors. A lot of attention is also paid to preventing any sort of rot setting on the grapes as this imparts undesirable flavors.

Talking about red grapes, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara are considered the main winemaking grapes, even though many winemakers are trying to avoid Molinara as of late. Corvina should constitute between 45% and 95% of the blend – but up to 50% of Corvina can be substituted with Corvionone, which was identified as a distinct variety and not a clone of Corvina only in 1993. Out of all Val[policella wines, Ripasso stands aside as quite unique – it is made by macerating the Valpolicella wine with the pomace (grape skins) left after making Amarone and Recioto wines, which enriches the flavor of the wine – Valpolicella Ripasso is often referred to as “baby Amarone” (or “poor man Amarone” – you take your pick).

Of all wines made in Valpolicella (most of them are red), Amarone stands apart as the most sought-after. The grapes have to dry for anywhere between 3 and 4 months before they can be pressed to make Amarone. Those dried fruit flavors are retained by the final wine, assuming it is well made. The combination of the dried fruit aromas and powerful, dry, usually high-alcohol wine creates really a unique experience – if you have not had Amarone before, this is something that needs to be experienced by any wine lover.

Also going back to our “premise” with this post – to take a deeper look at the build-up, the anatomy of the flavor, Valpolicella wines offer an almost unique opportunity. Most of the Valpolicella wines are made from the same set of grapes, sometimes even used in the same proportions. The winemaking process is what creates the difference. Base Valpolicella wine can be aged for a year to get to Superiore designation. The same base wine can be macerated with Amarone pomace to become the Ripasso. The same grapes that are used for basic Valpolicella can also dry for 3-4 months, and then become an Amarone.

Let’s go one level deeper and look at some practical examples, shall we?

Tedeschi family ancestors purchased vineyards in Valpolicella four centuries ago, in 1630. The modern history of the Tedeschi winemaking family started 200 years ago, in 1824 when the family winery was established by Niccolò Tedeschi. Today the winery is operated by the fifth generation of the family, continuing the winemaking traditions.

Tedeschi estate is located in the village of Pedemonte di Valpolicella, with 75 acres of vineyards planted on the 200 acres estate. Tedeschi firmly believe that good wines are made in the vineyard, and they focus not only on showcasing the terroir but also conduct studies to understand the soil composition in the vineyard. Another important winemaking element is the use of not only the main 3 Valpolicella grapes (Corvine, Covinone, Rondinella) but the full range of grapes including Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, and Forselina. They also produce all types of Valpolicella wines – Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto.

For our “anatomy” exercise, I had an opportunity to taste 3 of the Tedeschi wines – Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicela. All three wines are made from the identical set of grapes, used in the same proportions, so the difference is only in the winemaking techniques. Below are my notes with some additional information about the wines.

2019 Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore DOC (13.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 1 month, 1-1.5 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark ruby
Captivating nose of earthy dark fruit, tobacco, rocks
Beautiful fruit, blackberries, cherries, cherry pit, tart, focused, perfectly structured, perfectly balanced – lots of pleasure.
8/8+. Delicious.

2018 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC (14.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, alcoholic fermentation on the marc of Amarone and Recioto for 8-10 days, 1/2 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet
A hint of dried fruit, toasted nuts
Round fruit, cherries, soft, approachable, earthy undertones, well-integrated tannins, a hint of tobacco on the finish.
8/8+, delicious.

The name Marne 180 is a nod to the marl soils where the vineyard is located and 180 is degrees of exposure, from south-east to south-west. Source: Tedeschi

2018 Marne 180 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (16.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 4 months, 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Dark, concentrated, forest underbrush
Dried fruit, cherries, intermingled layers, powerful, well structured, delicious.
8+

Can we conclude anything from our flavor research? The wines share some similarities, but this is probably all I can say. I don’t see a clear progression from one wine to another, they are simply tasty wines, each one in its own right. Does it mean that we can’t talk about the anatomy of the flavor? I think we still can, but it is definitely more complicated than it seems.

The important outcome of this research project is three tasty wines from Tedeschi which I’m happy to recommend to you for your daily drinking pleasure. And this is the best conclusion we can make. Cheers!

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