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For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

Blogging is all (mostly?) about traditions, isn’t it? I’m talking about topics, things or experiences we like to write about. If you blog for a while, you have a number of posts which can be called traditional, as they cover the same subject – yearly, monthly, weekly, daily? (ouch!). For sure it works this way for me – there is a number of experiences I like to talk about on the regular basis – as those experiences take place.

One of such experiences is the Chowdafest, a fall event dedicated to the humble (or not) soup, generally known as Chowder – if you want a bit of an education on what the chowder is, I can offer you the post I wrote after attending my first Chowdafest back in 2015, which provides a few details on the different types of chowders.

The 2018 event took place at around the usual time (Sunday, September 30th), at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. Even the weather was the usual – sunny, bright and not too cold. However, the summer and early fall in New England saw an incredible amount of rain, so the grounds were unusually wet and people had to be careful walking around.

As we entered, all visitors were given a ballot and a pencil, to mark down their favorites. The back side of the ballot had a map of the event, as in addition to all the competitors, there were lots of vendors (sponsors) offering other tasty treats, so one didn’t have to survive on the chowder alone. Cabot Creamery, Harney & Sons Tea, Ocean Spray, Stop & Shop, Polar Beverages, and many others were serving Mexican and Italian food, ice cream, juice, tea, coffee, sparkling water – you had a lot of fun food options beyond chowder.

 

Same as last year, there were 5 categories were participants were competing for the title of “the best” – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. The participating restaurants this year represented states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Obviously, I’m not going to give you much of a detailed report here about all the chowders I tasted, so here are my overall impressions:

  • For the 4 years that I’m attending the event, I’m happy with the overall quality and variety. It is not boring and once I get out of the food coma at the end of the event, I’m instantly happy to think about next year’s Chowdafest.
  • The overall level of booth decorations in 2018 was less than in the previous years. Many places would just have a serving station and maybe a recipe. It takes away a bit from the “Fest[ival]” experience. Hopefully, in 2019, we can go back to more festive booth settings.
  • A few vendors run out of chowder/soup in the middle of the day. I saw one just pack up and leave, and another one saying “more soup is coming in 30 minutes” – not good for visitors, and really a bad plan for competitors – you can’t win by serving only half of the visitors.
  • I’m still puzzled how Pike’s Place from Seattle always wins the New England Clam Chowder category – I think it is a combination of service – they carry their chowder around so people don’t have to wait in line, and intimidation – they display all their trophies from the past years, and people automatically think “ahh, they must be the best with so many awards” (works the same way as multiple medal pictures on the wine bottles). To me, their chowder is not bad, but for instance, I preferred the one from 250 Market far more than Pike’s Place. Oh well, the people have spoken…
  • I’m happy that at least in one category – Vegetarian – my top choice matched the people’s choice. Truffle Mushroom Bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT was delicious, and it won the category.
  • I’m also happy that Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder from Our House Bistro in Winooski VT took the top spot in Creative Chowder category – their soups are always good, the presentation is excellent with lots of “self-serve” condiments, and the booth is always a pleasure to look at.
  • For the first time, I saw the competition trophies. At first, I didn’t understand the collection of the old ship memorabilia in a middle of the field – until the later when I saw the plaques and realized that those were actually the trophies.
  • Believe it or not, but in the Chowdafest 2018, my favorite soup was not really a chowder at all – it was a Curried Chicken Chowder from Hale & Hearty from Boston, MA – the only soup I gave the top 10.5 rating.

Here is the list of winners in the 5 categories we mentioned before (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, Vegetarian). For the more detailed list, which includes 2nd and 3rd place winners, please use this link.

Pike Place Chowder
Our House Bistro
Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill
Dunville’s
Old Post Tavern

As usual, let me leave you with a copy of my ballot – just to prove that I take the Chowdafest competition very seriously 🙂

You can already mark your calendars for Sunday, October 6th, 2019 – the 12th annual Chowdafest competition.

Before we part, you might want to check out Chowdafest’s sister event – the Great Mac & Chili Challenge, taking place this Sunday, November 4th at 11 AM at the same Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT. The weather should be great! Cheers!

WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 2 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

CLASSIFIED Brunch

October 15, 2018 8 comments

 

United CLASSIFIEDHow many emails do you get per day? I would safely bet that we all get at least 50 emails per day (don’t laugh too hard out there, please – of course, it is on a slow, really slow day).

The real question is – how many of those emails do you open? Speaking for myself, I delete at least 90% of all the emails after just glancing at the subject line and the source. For the rest, I would open them to read at least the first couple of lines and then decide what to do with it. Okay, bear with me, please – it all will make sense in a second.

I’m a frequent flyer with United, so of course, I get emails from them. Most of those emails are deleted right after reading the subject line (sorry, United). When I received the email from United with the subject line “Your invitation to CLASSIFIED”, the mouse pointer quickly advanced toward the “delete” symbol. However, something prompted me to open the email and read through at least a few lines.

The email was inviting me to experience the new secret (!) restaurant in the Newark airport, called CLASSIFIED. Secret restaurant? In Newark? I fly from that airport all the time, and I know of all the restaurants there, I never saw anything called “CLASSIFIED”. “It must be a scam” my thought continued as my hand was directing the pointer towards the big X. Again, something prompted me to stop and do a bit of a research on the internet – and it appeared that yes, there is a secret (semi-secret) restaurant in the Newark airport, which a number of people already visited and wrote about.

I was still puzzled as to what was the criteria for United to send me this invitation – I don’t have such a high status with them – I struggle to make to the “gold” every year, I’m not a million miles flyer, it was really a puzzle. But hey, I’m a foodie, so if you tell me “new restaurant”, “unusual experience” – you definitely got my ear.

So once you are invited, you need to make a reservation. I had to wait a bit to find a good occasion to make a reservation, as I wouldn’t want to come much earlier to the airport if I don’t have to, and if we are talking about the “experience”, I need to allow the sufficient time for a restaurant visit. The opportunity presented itself as I was connecting in Newark and had 5 hours to kill between my flights this past Saturday. I logged into United with my invitation, got to the restaurant website, and after browsing the menus, made the reservation for Saturday brunch. I got the confirmation email which stated the following:

When you arrive at the airport, please make your way to Saison, a restaurant located in Terminal C near Gate C120. After you let the host know that you’re dining at CLASSIFIED, you’ll be escorted to a private entrance and seated at your table. 

After arriving at the Newark airport on a beautiful day

Newark Airport

I did exactly as I was told, and was quickly escorted to an indiscreet section of the wall in the far back corner of the Saison restaurant, which simply happened to be a door. After a short walk in the dimly lit corridor, I entered the small dining room – the CLASSIFIED restaurant.

As I got situated at my table, my excitement started dissipating as soon as I saw the familiar iPad screens, used for food ordering everywhere throughout Terminal C. The waiter confirmed my suspicion when he asked if I know how to use those iPads, which I confirmed with the sigh. Considering that food at CLASSIFIED is priced at the level of New York’s fine dining establishments, I was expecting the real menu. Oh well, the iPad ordering it is.

Just to set your expectations right, this was the last “low-down” I experienced during the brunch.

First, the RosĂ© arrived – the Juliette RosĂ© from Provence, which was delicious, perfect acidity, slightly bigger body than a typical Provence RosĂ© with a touch of residual sugar – very enjoyable, and a great value at $11. It even arrived with a little extra, courtesy of the restaurant.

The next surprise was the appearance of the Amuse Bouche – a White Bean and Tomato Bisque, which was superb – good texture, nice and warming, good seasoning – really a great start.

Then my main brunch dish arrived – Salmon Eggs Benedict with Home Fried Potatoes and  the side of Chanterelle Mushrooms:

CLASSIFIED Eggs Benedict

The eggs Benedict were cooked perfectly – runny yolk, delicious hollandaise with just the right amount of acidity, generous amount of smoked salmon – one of the very best I ever had. Home fried potatoes with some fried onions were outstanding. And chanterelles… I really have no comments – simply outstanding, just the right amount of seasoning, just the right crunch, a mushroom orgasm on the plate (hope you can relate). CLASSIFIED Nice Touch

I was too full to have any dessert, but still, the little box appeared on the table, containing a set of chocolates. Yet another nice touch, which all together, one little detail after another, adds up to what we call “the experience”. A fine dining experience at the Newark airport. Thank you, United, for making flying something you can look forward to.

Note to self – sometimes, it makes sense to read the emails. Cheers!

WBC18: Like A Kid In The Candy Store – Again, or 4 Days in Walla Walla

October 13, 2018 10 comments

walla walla welcome signBack in 2014, I was visiting the state of Washington on business, and my obsession with local wines led me to the small town of Woodinville, about an hour northeast of Seattle. As I parked next to the industrial building and started going door to door, visiting one artisanal winery after another, I really felt like a kid in the candy store – the wines were delicious, and conversations with winemakers and not were even better than the wines – what else the wine lover needs? I was so impressed with that visit that my enthusiasm showed in the blog post, which won one of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenges (we called them MWWC) with the theme “local”.

The timing for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018 (WBC18) was a little strange – for the most of the time, the conferences took place in August, and October is definitely not the ideal month to take time off (I know that many of the regulars couldn’t attend due to the timing). However, my high opinion of the Washington wines and the memories of visiting the Woodinville became the deciding factor, so I was able to find the time for this trip to Walla Walla in Washington.

Boy, was I not disappointed. After a beautiful ride from the Portland airport along the Columbia River (I wish I would record a little video – the amazing scenery must be shared), I arrived at the Walla Walla. Walla Walla is a home to about 30,000 residents, but it is hard to tell from the tiny downtown. However, when it comes to wine, don’t let the small size to full you – Walla Walla downtown hosts 30 something tasting rooms, plus a number of full working wineries located within the city limits (there are 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley overall) – it is definitely a destination for any wine lover out there.

As it always happened so far (this was my fourth WBC), the 4 days of the Wine Bloggers Conference became a non-stop adventure of sipping, spitting and learning, and most importantly, spending time with the fellow bloggers. I can’t tell you how many wines were tasted during these four days – whatever happens at WBC, stays at WBC. But – I will be happy to share with you main takeaways from these 4 days. Here we go:

  1. Washington State produces some magnificent wines (duh) – at least on par with Napa, and often far exceeding the Napa offerings in terms of QPR – and they are predominantly red. All six Bordeaux varieties are doing quite well in Washington, both in the form of the Bordeaux blend and on its own. Merlot might be a king of Washington, but Cabernet Sauvignon can often fight for that royal crown, and quite successfully. The Syrah is definitely a queen, well deserving your attention, following by the other Mediterranean breeds, such as Grenache and even Tempranillo.
  2. Washington whites are much rarer find – but they can be equally delightful as the reds. Rhone varieties do particularly well (Marsanne, Roussanne), but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and even Albarino can deliver a happy surprise. An important reminder – please, please drink Rhone whites at the cool room temperature – they really taste better like that. Make them too cold, and they become indistinguishable and boring.
  3. Unlike California, where you can find 100+ years old [continuously farmed] vineyards, such as Bechtold in Lodi (farmed since 1886), and 150 years old continuously producing wineries, Washington wine industry didn’t survive the prohibition. What was striving in the 1860s, was completely destroyed in 1920s, and had to be rebuilt in 1960s. This information actually doesn’t have any deep meaning outside of being an interesting (and unfortunate) fact.
  4. I don’t believe you need to pay attention to the vintages for Washington wines, unless something ultra-bad happens, like out of blue frost in May. The temperatures are consistent, and so are the general climate conditions – too hot of a summer can be compensated by harvesting earlier. Well, the summers are typically hot, so the “canopy management” is a hot subject in winemaking circles. If the vineyard is managed properly, and winemaker does the job right, there is a good chance for consistency. In other words, don’t ask “how was that vintage”, just get the wine you want to drink. But – the way a lot of wines in Washington are made, especially coming from the small wineries – with utmost respect to the product at all stages – guarantees that the wines will age well. Give them some time, and prepare to be amazed.

I can probably think of more conclusions, but instead, I really want to tell you how my four days unfolded – just in case you wonder what one does at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Look at it more like the set of highlights as opposed to the detailed report. And then my plan is to convert many of this mentions below into the separate posts, to make my report more detailed – oh well, will see how that will work.

Day 1: After the beautiful ride along the Columbia River from Portland, I checked into the hotel, and then my next immediate stop was a tasting at the Seven Hills Winery, located right next to the conference hotel. After tasting at Seven Hills, next stop was the tasting at the GĂĄrd Vintners – with lots of delicious surprises. That tasting was followed with a very short walk back to the hotel to attend the Masters of Merlot session (now part of the official WBC program), presented by two of the Merlot Greats – Duckhorn and L’Ecole No 41 (very appropriate for the October, the #MerlotMe month).

Next was the mingling with the fellow bloggers around so-called Expo, where WBC sponsors poured their wines and offered their products. My last activity for the day was a superb, mind-blowing tasting at the Eternal Wines (more later) in lieu of group dinner. I also skipped all after-hours activities – that was enough for the first day.

WBC18 Walla Walla winemakers panel

WBC18wine influencers panel

Day 2: The actual conference program started. One of the main morning highlights was the panel discussion by the 4 of the Walla Walla winemakers, talking about terroir, canopy management, and stories, their personal, real life stories. I also liked the panel of wine influencers, talking about the wine industry, wine writing, and Dos and Don’ts of wine blogging. During lunch, we had an opportunity to taste wines from the Cascade Valley Wine Country, where one particular wine, WineGirl Wines Red blend left a mark with me – a standout, flawless, round, and beautiful.

After lunch, I went with a group of friends to taste delicious Oregon non-Pinot wines from Troon Vineyards Applegate Valley, as presented by WBC veteran, Craig Camp (I believe Craig didn’t miss a single WBC event). We got back to listen to the keynote by Lewis Perdue, the founder of Wine Industry Insight publication, who was focusing on a seemingly simple concept – Trust – and the tenets of good writing.

Next session was one of my traditional favorites – Live Wine Blogging for red wines, and once that was over, we all left for the dinners at mystery wineries (nobody knew where they are going), with our mystery winery being Canoe Ridge. Do you think this was enough for a day? Wrong. It is never enough – the last part of the program was so-called “after party”, where we tasted lots more wines (attendees are invited to bring wines to share with the others for this late night session). My highlights from this late-night tasting were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone and iOTA Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir vertical (2013, 2014, 2015). Whew, time to sleep.

Maryhill vineyards

Mary Hill winery - soil sample and peach trees

Day 3: The day started from learning about the location of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2019 – Hunter Valley in Australia, October 10-12, 2019. This sounds ultra-attractive – and equally impossible (in my own world). After a few of the breakout session, we went out for lunch at the Walla Walla tasting rooms which we had an opportunity to select the day before – my choice was Otis Kenyon Winery. Next was the session called Bubbles and Bites, a sparkling wine and food pairing lesson presented by Gloria Ferrer. Right after that, we had an in-depth lesson about European Cheeses. Up next was the “Lightning talks” session – 5 minutes presentations by the fellow bloggers with the slides rotating every 15 seconds. Wine Live Blogging session for whites and RosĂ© closed the main conference activities – which left us with the wine dinner with the vintners from Walla Walla. At the dinner, I fell in love with the wines from Revelry Vintners, which were simply stunning, and also enjoyed a few wines from Bergevin Lane. And then … yes, of course, another late night session (someone had to drink all that wine, right?)

fall in Mary Hill vineyards

view from Cathedral Ridge winery

Day 4: The conference was officially closed, but – there were post-conference excursions. I visited Maryhill Winery in Walla Walla, and Cathedral Ridge Winery in Oregon, both offering spectacular views and delicious wines.

The End.

Here it is – my abbreviated report of the WBC18 activities. Speaking strictly for myself, I greatly enjoyed the conference – the place, the wines, people and conversations – everything work together very well to create a memorable experience. If you never attended the conference – do you want to attend one now, after reading my report? If you are a “regular”, what are your thoughts about WBC18 and will we see each other in Australia? Cheers!

Perfection, or When Everything Works Together…

October 1, 2018 11 comments

Il Poggione Rosso and EVOOIf you are into the wine and food (or food and wine, whatever your preferences are), I can safely bet you were looking for that climactic moment of combining the food and wine to reach the new, higher level of pleasure. Yes, I’m talking about that “oh my God” moment when your taste buds experienced that already exceptional bite of food becoming something beyond exceptional in combination with the sip of the wine. By the same token, if you were looking for that moment, I’m sure that more often than not (actually, a lot more often than not) you couldn’t find it – those beautiful pairings are often equally evasive.

Here I want to share with you my account of recent encounter with perfection, that climatic experience if you will.

A few months ago I got a box in the mail (one of the little perks of the wine blogger). Inside, there were a bottle of wine, a bottle of olive oil, a jar of sea salt and a recipe – for Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

Bistecca all Fiorentina is a dish coming from the Tuscany (Florence) and depending on the historical account, it traces its origins either to the 16th or the 19th century – well, the history of Bistecca all Fiorentina is definitely not something we will be talking about here, so let’s move on. I’m sure you understand that “Bistecca” simply stands for the “beef steak”. However, the recipe calls not for any steak, but specifically for the porterhouse or T-bone steak, which should be simply prepared rare or medium-rare over the charcoal. As the recipe is very simple, here it is in its entirety:

Ingredients (serves 4):
2 (1.5″ thick) bone-in porterhouse steaks (3.5 lb)
1/4 cup Il Poggione EVOO
Tuscan sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs rosemary

Get the charcoal ready. The distance between the hot charcoal and steak should be about 4 inches (10 cm). The steak should be at the room temperature before you start grilling (it should be out of the fridge for about 10 hours to get to the room temperature). Grill steak on one side for 5-8 minutes, flip it with tongs (no forks of any kind!), salt the top surface with Tuscan sea salt and pour some olive oil. Cook for another 5-8 minutes, then stand the steaks on the bone and cook for another 5 minutes. Take it off the heat, put it down to rest, salt the other side and put some olive oil on it. After 5 minutes of rest, you can slice and serve your steak. See, can it get any simpler?

Now, it is time to talk about the perfection.

First, the perfection started from the exceptional meat. In addition to what I already described, the box contained a gift card for Pat LaFrieda. The story of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors started at the beginning of the 20th century when Anthony LaFrieda arrived at the USA and opened his first butchery – you can read the rest of the story on Pat LaFrieda website. Whatever the story is, the proof is always in the pudding – or on the fork in this case. I have to honestly tell you that I never had a better a steak than this – the meat was sublime and was simply melting in the mouth – a good start for the perfect experience.

The second element of the perfection was, of course, the wine – 2016 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino (14% ABV, $27, 12 month in large oak barrels). Tenuta Il Poggione is one of the oldest producers in the Montalcino area, started to make Sangiovese wines – now known as Brunello – at the beginning of the 1900s. Today, it is one of the largest wineries in Montalcino, with 1500 acres, out of which more than 300 acres are under vines and 170 acres planted with olive trees (that Il Poggione EVOO in the package was superb).

The wine actually happened to be one of the best Rosso di Montalcino wines I tasted in a long time. The key word to describe this wine is finesse – it had a welcoming nose of the tart cherries, medium intensity, and a hint of the herbs. That profile perfectly continued on the palate, where delicate fresh cherries were joined by sage and rosemary, with clean acidity and excellent balance. Definitely one lip-smacking, delicious wine (8+).

Let’s not miss any details – we are talking about perfect pairing here. As the devil is in the detail, there was one more element  – little, but essential – to this amazing pairing, besides superb meat and outstanding wine. The last element? Tuscan sea salt. This was not some random sea salt – this one was Tuscan Sea Salt from AG Ferrari, listing the following ingredients: “Italian sea salt, fresh rosemary, fresh garlic, sugar, fresh sage, ground black pepper” – this Tuscan Sea Salt became the bridge which connected the flavor of the seasoned meat with the perfectly aligned flavor profile of the Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino, delivering the genius pairing and an amazing experience.

I have to honestly tell you – I tried to replicate this experience two days ago – and failed. I used the same Tuscan Sea Salt, but I had a steak from the local supermarket butcher shop (1/3 of a price compare to Pat LaFrieda), and the wine was 2015 Collosorbo Rosso di Montalcino. The steak was simply not good (happy to be blamed for it as a cook – but I cooked the one from Pat LaFrieda too). The wine was okay, but a lot fruitier than Il Poggione, thus the pairing simply didn’t work. Which once again proves my point about the evasive nature of a great wine pairing.

Did you have any climactic food and wine pairing experiences you care to share with the world? Or maybe you want to recount the worst moments? Will be happy to hear about it either way. Cheers!

Have a Car? Love Wine? Let’s Travel!

September 27, 2018 7 comments

In today’s world, wine advanced its standing far beyond just an alcoholic drink. Yes, we get a lot of pleasure from the glass of a good wine, but leaving that aside for a moment, just think about the source of the wine – the grapes, the vineyards, the wineries. Think about rows of vines, which are always tended to so they look immaculate, with all those perfectly positioned lines. And then think about all the slopes – vines love hills, so think about all those beautiful rows covering the sides of the hills and mountains and ascending into the fog… And how about all those winding roads, where with every turn you keep repeating “oh my, just look there! Did you see it? Did you see it?” Before the liquid in the bottle, the pleasure comes from admiring all that beauty in its simple, natural form.

Want to see and experience that beauty of the vineyards? Most likely, you will need a car. Of course, you can always hire a driver, but then you are not fully in control as to where you will stop, what you will see, and how slow (or fast) you will go. As most of us, wine lovers, have to travel to see the vineyards, a rental car is our friend. So the CarRentals put together an infographic (love infographic as a concept), presenting 8 different wine routes around the world, giving you all the details you need to enjoy your trip. You can read the detailed descriptions of those eight routes in their blog post.

So, where are you going next? Cheers!

wine Country Routes infographic

Source: CarRentals.Com

Restaurant Files: Art of Food And Wine at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington, Delaware

September 2, 2018 2 comments

 

Domaine Hudson Special MenuAlmost for as long as this blog exists, and practically every year around this time, I confess my love of traditions. The reason it happens every year around August is rather simple – this is the time when we typically have our “Adults getaway” – a group of friends going away for a weekend of food, wine, and laughter, an insane amount of laughter.

We always spend time arranging for a special dinner – this year was not an exception. It took a bit of work, but after calling and emailing many places around our destination – Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square in Pennsylvania – we found the place which was willing to accommodate our group and seemed to offer good food and wine options. Typically we try to find the restaurant which will offer a tasting menu and allow us to bring our own wines. It does take a bit of effort to come up with wine pairings for the dishes we never tasted – but usually, we fare reasonably well at that exercise. This year, for a change, we found the restaurant which offered us a tasting menu – and paired all the dishes with wines, so all we needed to do is to come and enjoy (one would hope, at least).

It was not just the fully paired tasting menu which was different this time. Typically, when we select a restaurant, we go by Yelp ratings and close proximity to the place we are staying at. As we usually stay in small towns, the restaurants we find are more of a “local significance”. The story with Domaine Hudson is quite different as the restaurant has Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. There are only about 1200 restaurants with this type of awards in the whole of the United States, so I hope you agree that it builds some level of expectations.

All the planning behind, and finally we arrived at the Domaine Hudson in Wilmington. Once we got situated, the dinner started with the “Chef’s Surprise” (the Amuse-bouche), which became a double-surprise. The first part of the surprise was in the fact that it was not expected, of course. But the second surprise was the dish itself – Deviled Eggs.

Okay, what can be surprising about the deviled eggs, you ask? You see, for people with Russain heritage, deviled eggs is a staple of the party, and I’m very, very particular to how this simple dish is executed. I had deviled eggs on multiple occasions in the restaurants, and don’t mean to offend anyone, but in the absolute majority of the cases the dish could be described simply as “blah”. Not here. At Domaine Hudson, this was one superb deviled eggs – the egg white was smoked, the filling was creamy and perfectly seasoned, and the smoked salmon on top gave the texture and completed the dish. The simply delicious beginning of the evening.

Before we continue, I have a confession to make. Every once in a while, you want to forget all your social media obligations (obsessions?) and just be a normal person on vacation – don’t take pictures, don’t take notes, don’t try to memorize the experience, just relax, have fun and enjoy the moment. This is what I honestly tried to do. I didn’t bring my SLR, I decided not to take any pictures, just enjoy the dinner and the company. After the first sip of wine and bite of food, which were both excellent, all good intentions went out of the window, and the need to “document the story” kicked in, more as an instinct, a muscle memory so to speak. But – I was left with only my cell phone (meaning – mediocre pictures), and any missed picture opportunities are just that – missed picture opportunities. Now, let’s get back to our dinner and the wine pairings.

Duck Liver Mousse (port wine aspic, pickled stone fruit, grilled bread)
Wine: 2015 Rubus Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

Superb is a word. The mousse was delicious – texture, flavor combination with all the condiments – I finished the full ramekin by myself, couldn’t stop until the last morsel. The wine was excellent as well – nice raspberries profile, a touch of fresh fruit, not overbearing, but enough sweetness to perfectly complement the mousse. A successful pairing by all means.

Domaine Hudson Culver Farms Baby Greens salad

Culver Farms Baby Greens (grilled corn, fennel, Marcona almonds, lemon aioli, Pecorino)
Wine: 2017 Gateway Vinho Verde DOC, Portugal

Another delicious dish. Fresh, simple, light, very summer-y, fun to eat with all the different crunch elements. Vinho Verde was fresh, grassy and lemony, just as you would expect, and it obviously played perfectly with the salad. Another successful pairing.

Ricotta Gnocchi (forest mushrooms, hazelnuts, summer truffle cream)
Wine: 2016 Domaine Cornu-Camus Bourgogne Hautes-CĂ´tes de Beaune, France

I love mushrooms, so this dish definitely delivered that – great variety of mushrooms, a perfect textural addition of hazelnuts, truffle cream was very flavorful. The gnocchi, which were supposed to be the star of the dish were too dense, I would definitely prefer for them to be lighter and fluffier. Still, not the dish you can really complain about. The wine was fresh and young, red crunchy berries, great minerality, very firm and structured, with excellent acidity – an excellent young Burgundy. However, the pairing didn’t work. I guess the idea was to pair on the contrast, but that didn’t work for me. But – I definitely enjoyed the wine on its own.

Nordic Halibut (Fava beans, Holland leeks, forest mushrooms, lemon butter sauce)
Wine: 2015 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley

Crispy fish? Check. Fava beans? One of my personal favorites; check. Mushrooms? Check. You got all my happy ingredients, and they worked very well together. Chardonnay was spot on – varietally correct, just a touch of butter, vanilla, apples, fresh, well balanced with good acidity. And a successful pairing for sure.

Domaine Hudson Prime Holstein NY Strip

Prime Holstein New York Strip (fingerling potatoes, Fois Gras butter, braised greens, red wine demi)
Wine: 2013 Three Wine Company Suscol Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Block 5 Napa Valley

Steak and Cab – need I say more? The steak was perfectly cooked, great flavor, juicy, good sauce – nothing else I can say – if you like steak, you would like this dish. But then the wine… This was easily the best Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted in a long time (bold statement for me, I know). This was in-your-face, juicy, powerful, super-extracted, luscious wine only California can produce – imagine having a ripe bunch of cassis in your hand, and just taking a full bite right there – cassis, blackberries, mint, eucalyptus, everything is there – but perfectly balanced, with good acidity and unquestionably dry – wow. I would never guess this wine had 15.3% ABV – it was just perfectly integrated. Bottom line – superb wine and excellent pairing.

Plum Gelato with Sugar Cookie

The meal should have a sweet ending, right? Excellent gelato, light, fresh, good flavor. A perfect finishing touch.

Let’s summarize the experience – in a word, outstanding. The food was very good, and the wine program was excellent, most of the pairings worked, so I have to say that the Best of Award of Excellence has a good merit, and it definitely makes sense to me.

Have you dined at the restaurant with similar distinctions? How was your experience? Cheers!

 

Restaurant Files: Flinders Lane – Visiting Australia in Stamford

August 5, 2018 7 comments

Flinders lane Stamford DecorFor those of us who like to travel, why do we like it so much? More often than not, the travel itself is not fun – the stress of the airport, cramped planes with the seats getting narrower by the minute, airline food – it leaves lots to be desired. But once we arrive, it is the experience that makes all those travel troubles worth it – the culture, the people, food, wine – this is what we are looking for.

Visiting Australia is squarely on my “bucket list” – I’m sure one day I will be able to experience the culture. I had been drinking Australian wines for a long time – this doesn’t replace visiting the winery, but it is as close as it can get. When it comes to food, the only place in the USA which can be associated with Australia is a chain of Outback Steakhouse restaurants – they constantly run the ads on the TV, with supposedly an Australian-accented narration – this is as much of the Australian experience as you can get there (the voice in the ad might be the most authentic part of experience).

And then Flinders Lane Australian restaurant opened in Stamford. Of course, when I was invited to visit, I was excited – not as much as if it would be an actual country, but still. I would guess the name of the restaurant takes its roots from one of the oldest streets in Melbourne, Flinders Lane, which now hosts a variety of little shops and the restaurants.

What authentic Australian food should you expect to find at the Flinders Lane? I actually know very little about authentic Australian food, so let’s see: Kangaroo? Check. Vegemite (have you heard of it?  I will explain later)? Check. That’s about all I know, so let’s just talk about our experience.

You have to start the evening with a cocktail, right? Well, even if you disagree, it is still right – and this is what we did. Fresh Grapefruit Mule (Absolut Elyx Vodka, Cucumber, Grapefruit, Lime, Bundaberg Ginger Beer) was very refreshing. Floral Cucumber Margarita (Blanco Tequila, Elderflower, Cucumber, Thai Chili Tincture, Lime, Agave) was different but equally refreshing. Limoncello Collins (Villa Massa Limoncello, Vodka, Lemon, Club Soda) – just look at that presentation, isn’t it too pretty to drink? Nicely lemony and very tasty overall.

If we are talking cocktails, we have to talk about the wines. The wine list is not very large, but diverse and versatile, with reasonable prices and a good selection of wines by the glass. I also was happy to see the Australian wines on the list (which is not common for the most of the restaurants, but hey – if not at Flinders Lane, the Australian restaurant, where else?). I had prior experience with Hewitson Baby Bush Mourvèdre, and this 2014 was outstanding – soft, round, supple, perfectly balanced – it was an excellent accompaniment to our dinner.

The dinner was divided into the courses, so here is what transpired:

Course 1

We started with Arancini (black garlic mayo, pecorino cheese), which were outstanding, very good texture and flavor. Pork Sausage Rolls (sambal mayo) was more of a traditional Australian style (at least this was my understanding), and a very tasty bite. And Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, Truffle Soy dressing was perfectly presented just for the single bite – and there are very, very few things which are more delicious than a combination of fresh burrata and heirloom tomato. Yum!

Course 2

Next, we had Tuna Tartare (soy mirin dressing, cucumber, plantain chip) – I’m extremely particular about my tuna tartare, and I have to honestly say that this was not bad, but not my favorite. Something was not matching in the flavor profile – for my palate, of course. Pork and Veal Meatballs (ricotta salata, grilled baguette) were delicious, crispy on the outside, but airy enough inside.

Flinders Lane Diver Scalops

Flinders Lane Kangaroo Salad

Course 3

Truth be told, scallops are probably my most favorite choice of protein. If there is a scallop dish on the menu, there is a very, very good chance that that would be the dish I would pick. Diver Scallops (cashew chili relish, hijiki) didn’t disappoint – perfectly cooked, perfectly spicy – very tasty. And then the Kangaroo salad (chili lime dressing, cilantro, crispy garlic) – my first taste of the kangaroo, lean and gamey taste profile, rather as expected, overall quite tasty.

Course 4

Branzino is another one of my favorites, and this Pan-seared Branzino (sesame ginger broth, bok choy) was excellent – delicious, great flavor combination, might be the tastiest dish of the whole dinner. Of course, you have to have the Australian lamb if you are visiting the Australian restaurant – Braised Lamb Gnocchi (tomato, pecorino) had a nice flavor, but very lamb-y in your face, which is generally not my thing, but overall this was not a bad dish.

Vegemite

Okay, now let’s talk Vegemite. First, the disclaimer – Vegemite was not a part of our dinner – this was something I knew as quite famous in Australia (not always in a good sense) and was very much interested in experiencing, so I asked Chef Brad Stewart if we will be able to try it, and he gladly obliged. If you are wondering what the heck is Vegemite, you can read about it here. It is a paste made from yeast, and it has an extremely (my opinion) pungent flavor. It plays somewhat of a role of peanut butter in the Australian school lunches, typically used a spread on a piece of bread or a toast. I made a mistake of not trying it with butter as it was offered to us, and I can tell you – it is not my thing. But – I tried it, that what matters! 🙂

Flinders lane Sticky date Pudding

Flinders Lane Pavlova

Course 5 – Chef’s selection desserts

Do you think Australians eat dessert? Of course they do – and here what had an opportunity to try

We had Lamington (traditional Australian dessert), Sticky Date Pudding (another traditional Australian dessert and Chef Brad’s grandma’s recipe), Carrot Cake (Chef Brad mom’s recipe) and Pavlova – don’t ask me for individual notes, please – they were all one better than the other, absolutely delightful, and a great finish to our dinner.

 

Here you are, my friends, I hope I didn’t make you too hungry – while you are contemplating your trip to Australia, you can come to Flinders Lane here in Stamford to get a little taste of it now. No boarding pass required. Cheers!

Can You Enjoy The Wine In The Can? Yes You Can!

July 28, 2018 10 comments

I couldn’t resist a little fun with the title, but really – what do you think of the wines in the can?

Let me ponder at the subject a bit while you give it a thought.

I’m sure that I qualify as one of the pioneers of the wine in the can. Here is an article in LA Times, talking about wines in the can showing up around the USA, and explaining why those make sense. This article appeared in September of 2015. Here is the link to my own post, titled “My First Can of Wine“, written back in November of 2014. So yes, I can claim some familiarity with the subject.

My first can of wine was produced by Field Recordings, a very unorthodox winemaking company to begin with, offering strange wines, with strange labels, unusual blends, aged in unusual barrels (Acacia wood, anyone?) – but ultimately, unquestionably delicious. I wrote numerous posts about Field Recordings wines, starting from 2011 – you can scroll through a few pages here. Field Recordings went on to create a club dedicated to the wines in the can (suggestively called Can Can Club), and then they even created a whole new company, called Alloy Wine Works. One of the fun parts of that Can Can club membership was to observe the progression of packaging and delivery of club shipments of canned wines – from packing bubble-wrapped cans in the same wine shipping box as the regular bottles (didn’t work too well), to the Fedex Tube:

to the practically a masterpiece of packing:

Okay, I probably got a bit off on the tangent here – this post is not about Field Recordings, but rather about wine in the can as a category, so let’s continue our discussion.

First, I think we need to establish a very simple truth – wines in the can are NOT a reduced, lower quality, cheap leftover junk wines – they are full-blown, legit, properly made wine of the same quality as all other wines made at a given winery, simply presented in the different format – a high quality lined aluminum can. These are the same wines, people, and if you want any takeaway from this post, this is my main point. One more time – these are the same wines, which are simply packaged in cans instead of being packaged in the glass bottles.

Now, why do we need wines in the can? I don’t want to get into the whole “cool factor” and “millennials” discussions – yes, those are important, I know, as they further democratize wine and bring new people to try the wine for the first time. But all of these can be categorized as a marketing gimmick, and I want to look for the actual benefits of the canned wines. Let’s see:

  • On the go: Canned wines are perfect on the go. It is much easier to stuff a can of wine exactly as you would a can of soda into your backpack, and off you go. When you decide you want to drink the wine, it is very easy to open, and you don’t need to look for the glass. And even two cans of wine will be lighter than one bottle of wine, for the most of the cases. As we said – just get it, and go.
  • Safety: Wines in the cans are a lot safer around small children, and generally anywhere where glass is simply a bad idea – like a beach or a pool.
  • Convenience: Standard size for a can of wine is 375 ml, which is half of the bottle. If you want to drink white, and your friend is in a mood for a hearty red, having two different cans is easier than opening two bottles of wine.
  • Experimenting and variety: with the smaller format and different packaging, there is an opportunity to create new types of wines or even go beyond wine. With Alloy Wine Works, I had wines going way beyond white, red and RosĂ© – wines finished with beer hops, wines mixed with coffee, plums, stout and lots lots more.

I’m sure there are other benefits of wines in the can, but – do cans of wine have only a good side without a bad one? As you know, this is never the case in life, so let’s talk about challenges:

  • This is wine, not a beer!: It is important to remember that a can of wine holds half a bottle of wine – not beer. What’s my point, you ask? A typical can of beer contains less than 4% of alcohol. Typical wine – 13% as the least, so that one can of wine is equivalent to at least three cans of beer in terms of alcohol volume – you better remember that. Half a bottle of wine is not something you can easily dismiss.
  • Once it’s open, it’s open: if you just want to have a glass of wine, it is easy with the bottle – open, pour a glass, close the bottle back. It is not going to work like that with the can – once it’s open, it’s open, and there is no going back. This problem has an easy solution – provide a plastic cap which can be used to reclose the can – but so far I didn’t see too many of those sold with the cans.
  • Aging: I don’t think this is a real problem, as I don’t expect much of the aging-worthy wines to show up in the can, but in any case, keep in mind that the wine cans are better not be lost in the cellar.

Here you go – my take on the wines in the can. I didn’t plan to include much of tasting notes in this post, but I can tell you that this year I had wines in the can from California, Oregon, Australia and Long Island, and all of them were well made tasty wines.

At this point you had plenty of time to come up with your opinion about the wines in the can – would you please share it with everyone? Here is an easy poll for you – let us know what you think about canned wines! Cheers!

The Art of Tempranillo

May 24, 2018 7 comments

Source: Vintae.com

I love Tempranillo wines. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I had a wide range of Tempranillo – with the exception of Australia, I believe I tried most of the major renditions – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Toro, most everywhere else in Spain, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington (am I missing something? do tell!). With all the love and respect to all the regions, if I have to put an order of priorities in that “list”, I would put Rioja first, Ribera del Duero very close second, but the competition for the 3rd place would be severe – in my world, of course.

I like wines of Toro, the closest sibling to the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but it would be hard for me to place them higher than some of the beautiful Tempranillo renditions from Irwin Family Vineyards, Duchman, or Fields – considering the Toro wines I had in the past. Compared to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Toro is … well, maybe I need to explain why I keep mentioning Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro together all the time. These are the only three regions in the world where the absolute majority of the red wines is made out of the Tempranillo grapes. Yes, there are Garnacha and Graciano in Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Ribera del Duero, but still – most of the red wines in these three regions are made out of the Tempranillo, hence the constant comparison.

Out of the three regions, Toro is south-most one, with an expressly continental climate, low annual rainfall amounts, and significant range of day-night temperatures – which typically translates well into the flavor. Tempranillo is the grape of Toro, but similarly to Tuscany/Brunello, where you have Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso, Tempranillo in Toro is known as Tinta de Toro, a.k.a Tempranillo de Castilla, a.k.a. Ink of Toro. The grape is a bit smaller, with thicker skin, which coupled with growing conditions typically results, in massive, concentrated wines requiring extensive aging to become drinkable – I still have a memory of trying Alabaster made by Sierra Cantabria, one of the well-known producers in Toro, which was one of the most massive wines I ever experienced. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning, Tempranillo is one of the favorites, so when the opportunity called to try 3 wines from Toro, I was definitely curious – and a bit cautious at the same time.

To ease things up, together with the 3 Toro wines from Bodega Matsu came a bottle of Rioja Reserva from Bodega Classica. While coming from unrelated producers, there is a common link between them – this link is called Vintae – a young company with a serious passion for the Spanish wine for the modern world. Vintae, started in 1999 by the Arambarri family, set on changing world’s perception of the Spanish wine as “boring”. To the date, Vintae unifies a collection of 11 different “projects”, all focused on showcasing the regions and the grapes.

Going back to the wines at hand, let’s talk about Rioja first. The wine comes from Bodega Classica, located in the heart of Rioja Alta. Rioja Alta offers a unique high-altitude setting to produce arguably the best Tempranillo of the whole of Rioja region. Couple that with more than 100 years old vineyards, and you are looking at some tasty opportunities in the bottle, as this Bodega Classica Hacienda LĂłpez de Haro Rioja Reserva was. Here are my notes:

2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda LĂłpez de Haro Rioja Reserva DOCa (13.5% ABV, $16.99, 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, 20 months in French and American oak)
Dark garnet color
Pepper, vanilla, raspberries, mushrooms, nice minerality
Medium body, good acidity, noticeable alcohol burn initially, went away in about 15 minutes, good fruit showed up, characteristic cedar notes, good acidity, round, soft.
8-, nice, just give it a bit of time to soften up at the beginning. The second day continued without changes. Good life expectancy, as expected of Rioja Reserva. And an excellent QPR.

Now, let’s go back to Toro. As I already said, in my prior experience, Toro wines were massive and concentrated, requiring long aging to soften and really show a beautiful expression of Tempranillo. And then there were wines called Matsu.

Bodega Matsu wines

Matsu in means “wait” in Japanese. As we all know, waiting is one of the favorite games of oenophiles. When it comes to the three Matsu wines I had an opportunity to taste, there are many different levels of “waiting”. The wines had been progressively aged for the longer times before the release – 3 months for El Picaro, 14 months for El Recio, 16 months for El Viejo. The grapes were harvested from the vines of different age (again, progressively) – 50-70 years old for El Picaro, 90-100 years old for El Recio, more than 100 years old for El Viejo. See, waiting here is clearly a part of the equation.

And then there are those ultra-creative labels. Not only labels commemorate people who actually worked to create the wines, they clearly identify what you should expect from the wines – in age, in style, and even in price. I conducted a little experiment, first with my kids, and then with the people on Instagram, asking them to identify the most expensive wine – nobody made a mistake, the labels speak very clearly to us.

How were the wines? Surprising. Probably the best Toro wines I ever had – without any regard to the pricing category. Here are my notes, so you can see for yourself:

2016 Bodega Matsu El Picaro Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $13.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 50 – 70 years old vines, 3 months minimum aging on the lees, concrete tanks)
Bright ruby color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation
Young fresh berries, medium+ intensity, a touch of vanilla
Surprisingly light on the palate, pleasant tannins, fresh berries, very quaffable.
8-, might be the lightest rendition of Toro I ever had. The smell is a bit more complex on the second day. Palate nicely evolved, good balance, raspberries, no more impression of the young wine, lots of minerality.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Recio Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $21.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 90 – 100 years old vines, 14 months aging in second use oak barrels)
Garnet color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation too
Sage, fresh raspberries, quite fruity, roasted notes, minerality, distant hint of cinnamon
Underripe plums, blueberries, thyme, nice herbal component, surprisingly light, still noticeable alcohol, needs more time
8-, needs time. Second day: 8/8+, velvety texture, well integrated, excellent balance, a touch of tobacco and espresso on the palate and ripe plums. Outstanding.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Viejo Toro DO (15% ABV, $46.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 100+ years old vines, 16 months in new French oak barrels)
Garnet Color, noticeable legs, rim variation is not extensive, but present
Sweet blueberries and raspberries on the nose, sage, sweet oak
8- first day, waiting for more.
Second day: 8, much evolved, more integrated, velvety texture, dark fruit, round, smooth. Will evolve further.

Here you are, my friends – the Art of Wine, from the label to the glass. Very impressive and thought-provoking wines, definitely worth seeking. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had Toro wines before? Do you have any Tempranillo favorites? Cheers!