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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!

Celebrate Syrah!

July 28, 2022 3 comments

Celebrate Syrah Shiraz!

Is it Shiraz or Syrah? The official holiday today is recently enacted “Shiraz Day”, celebrated on the 4th Thursday in July, so it is July 28th in 2022. But Shiraz is simply a typical name of the Australian wine produced from Syrah grapes – it is really Syrah that we should be celebrating here (if you disagree, feel free to express yourself in the comments section).

Syrah is one of the 9 or maybe 10 major red grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel (I live in the US, so don’t mind me) and maybe Nebbiolo. It was recently established that Syrah is an offspring of two obscure grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche, originally appearing somewhere in the southeast of France. Today, Syrah wines are successfully produced all around the world – France, Australia, Chile, Argentina, Italy, California, Washington, Israel, South Africa, and everywhere in between.

It is difficult (and pointless) to compare the wines based on prices, but the price can be used to measure their relative popularity (your liking of the wine in the glass has no relation to its price). Based on prices, Syrah wines are far behind red Burgundy (no wines can match the level of Burgundy prices – out of the 25 most expensive Burgundy wines, the “cheapest” on the list is $8K a bottle), and they are trailing Bordeaux first growth and California cult Cabernet Sauvignon wines. If you want to see for yourself, here are the lists of the most expensive Syrah and Shiraz wines – Wine-Searcher tracks these two categories separately.

We can also say a few words about the most famous producers around the world. Again, these are not absolute positions – unless you are “deeply in the space”, the names might be meaningless, but nevertheless, it is still a fun exercise. As a nod to the exact name of the holiday, Shiraz Day, we can look into the Australian Shiraz world’s first, where Penfolds (iconic Grange, anyone?) and Henschke are probably lead uncontestedly, with Torbeck, Jim Barry, d’Arenberg, Two Hands, Mollydooker, Tahblik definitely worth mentioning as well.

In France, great Syrah wines are concentrated in Hermitage, Cote Rotie, St. Joseph, and Cornas regions. J.L. Chave, E. Guigal, and M. Chapoutier would be on top of my list, and I don’t drink enough of the Northern Rhone wines to extend this list further.

When it comes to the USA, California, and Washington are by far the top Syrah producers, with some notable successes coming also from Oregon. In California, Sine Qua Non, Alban, and Saxum would probably be the ones I would like to mention first, but there is no shortage of other notable Syrah producers such as Carlisle, Zaca Mesa, Andrew Murray, Beckmen, and many, many others.

And then there is Washington. Syrah might truly be a king of Washington wines, produced literally by each and every winemaker, small and large. In that sea of Syrah, Christophe Baron is standing a head and shoulders above all others with his iconic Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, and Hors Categorie lines.

I didn’t tell you from the beginning, but if you ask me about my favorite wine grape, I will probably have to decide between Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, both in their pure, singular, non-blended expression. My favorite two tell-tale properties of Syrah are pepper and barnyard. I recently learned that pepper notes in the wine are caused by the chemical compound called rotundone, found in the grape skins. It is not very clear why the pepper is most often associated with Syrah, it can be found in the other grapes too, but I always equate the significant presence of black pepper with Syrah. And for the barnyard smell… Ohh, I know I can be beaten up for this, as this is considered to be a fault in wine – according to the Wine Spectator, “Brettanomyces, or “brett,” is a spoilage yeast with aromatic elements that are politely described as “barnyard.”“. I can’t argue with the experts, but nevertheless, I often find the barnyard smell in Syrah wines, and yes, I do like it.

To finish our Syrah conversation on a memorable note, how about a memory exercise?

First, pour yourself a glass of Syrah or Shiraz, whatever your heart desires. Take a piece of paper and a pen. Give yourself, let’s say, 5 minutes of time, and write down the names of the most memorable Syrah/Shiraz wines or Syrah/Shiraz experiences you ever encountered.

Done?

We are not going to compare notes (there are hundreds of thousands of wines in this world), but here are some of mine.

My most memorable encounter with Syrah – actually, Shiraz – is Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz. When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was literally blown away by the purity of the black pepper expression. Ever since this is my goto example of the classic Syrah wine. Another one will be a bit unusual, but it was Elephant Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay from New Zealand – again, beautiful black pepper, and my very first encounter with Syrah produced in the land of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Then there is Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah from Applegate Valley in Oregon – organic, biodynamic wine of beautiful clarity and finesse. Zaca Mesa Syrah Santa Ynez Valley is a connection to the beautiful experience of visiting Santa Barbara County for my first Wine Bloggers Conference in 2014. Zaca Mesa was my first stop after arrival to Santa Barbara – both hospitality at the winery and the wines themselves created this memory knot, a connection easy to reach out for. Another connection to the same WBC14 was the first encounter with the first (and the only?) AVA dedicated to Syrah wines – Ballard Canyon. The AVA status was just granted to the Ballard Canyon exactly during our visit there, and I attended a session about the Syrah wines of Ballard Canyon where Stolpman Syrah Ballard Canyon for some reason got stuck in my head – another memory connection.

There are uncountably more Syrah wine experiences (just look at the labels in the collage), but hey, the purpose of the exercise was to focus on the few of the first – and this is exactly what I did.

Here you go, my friends – another grape holiday is about to become history. Hope you had something tasty to drink, and if you care to share your most memorable Syrah and Shiraz encounters, this is what the comments section is for.

 

 

 

Cabernet Franc – Well Worthy of a Celebration

December 4, 2021 4 comments

Cabernet Franc.

Let’s talk about it.

Cabernet Franc is a parent. Like most parents, Cabernet Franc is often overshadowed by the achievements of its kids – especially when its kids are none less than Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, some of the most famous in the wine world. It is interesting that Cabernet Franc is often described as “blending grape” – while it is true that Cabernet Franc is a popular choice in Bordeaux blends around the world (it typically ripens at a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, so it offers winemakers an “insurance policy” of sorts), it also excels just by itself. As a blending grape, Cabernet Franc is typically used with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, adding something important to the resulting wine. Meanwhile, the majority of single-grape Cabernet Franc wines have nothing else in the blend – just pure, unadulterated Cabernet Franc.

Today, we are talking about this pure Cabernet Franc. It grows successfully in the absolute majority of the winemaking regions – Bordeaux and Loire Valley in France, Italy, Argentina, Australia, Chile, Eastern Europe, Canada, New York, Virginia, New Jersey, California, Washington, Oregon, …. Pure Cabernet Franc wines typically happen to convey the terroir much better than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. With Cabernet Sauvignon, no matter where it is coming from, everyone is trying to achieve the “golden standard” of Bordeaux or Napa Valley expression, even if the wine is made in Italy, Argentina, or Long Island, New York. Cabernet Franc typically conveys a sense of place first and foremost – lean, clean, and minerally driven from Chinon, tart and herbaceous from New York, round and luscious from California. Same grape, unlimited number of expressions.

Celebrating the range of expressions of Cabernet Franc I can simply offer you a few of my experiences from this year. Back in April, I had 2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Franc Red Hills Lake County California, a biodynamically produced rendition that offered pristine beauty of cassis elegantly framed with the core of the well-integrated tannins. And then there was 2019 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc Gualtallary Vineyards, minerally driven Cabernet Franc from the Argentinian dessert. Then there was the 2018 Terra Pacem Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley experience in Eugene, Oregon, offering pure Chinon-inspired, bell pepper and cassis rendition. And I can’t forget the 2011 Gran Enemigo Cabernet Franc Single Vineyard Gualtallary Argentina, again a high elevation desert beauty, which after the unimpressive start, opened up into an intricate interplay of iodine, cherries, cassis, and herbs (this one will definitely be on my 2021 top dozen list).

My most interesting Cabernet Franc wine discovery of this year came in the form of the bottle of Cabernet Franc from Bel Lago winery in … Michigan! My excitement comes from the fact that not only I got to taste the wine I never had before, but it also came from the region I had no prior experience with (so I got to update my Wines of 50 United States table the second time this year). And I also got to learn about winemaking in the new state.

2021 is an important year for the Michigan wine industry, as its oldest winery, St. Julian Winery, celebrates 100 years. Today, Michigan has 5 viticultural areas – Fennville, Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula, and Tip of the Mitt. About 200 wineries operate in Michigan today, most of them located within 25 miles radius of Lake Michigan.

The Vitis Vinifera grapes were introduced in Michigan about 45 years ago, and today traditional cool-climate varieties, such as Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Franc are doing very well there, and even Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot, Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay had been successfully introduced. Michigan is particularly proud of its Cabernet Franc and even held its first Cabernet Franc Challenge in 2009, where 18 Michigan wineries and one of the French wineries from Chinon competed for the top prize (no, Chinon didn’t win it).

Bel Lago Winery (Bel Lago means Beautiful Lake in Italian) was founded in 1992 and opened its tasting room in 1999. The winery cultivates 100 grape varieties on 37 acres of land and produces between 17,000 and 20,000 cases per year. Bel Lago also produces fruit wines (Cherry wine is very popular) and a number of ciders.

2017 Bel Lago Cabernet Franc Leelanau Peninsula Michigan (13.5% ABV, $48, 87.5% Cabernet Franc, 12.5% Merlot, 34 months in French and American oak barrels) was a beautiful wine – currant leaves and anis on the nose, with a touch of tobacco.  Restrained with good cassis expression and herbal notes on the palate with cut-through acidity. Definitely an enjoyable Cabernet Franc rendition, again with its own character, easy to drink, and delicious.

Here it is  – new winemaking region and new Cabernet Franc experience. How was your #CabFrancDay experience? Did you learn something new or find a new Cabernet Franc wine that you like?

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! 2021 Edition

November 18, 2021 2 comments

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!

It is the third Thursday in November, and that means that the time has come to celebrate this year’s harvest – Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived at the wine store next to you (at least I hope it did, but if you want to get it, you might have to hurry as there is a good chance there is not much of it available).

I had been proactively keeping track of this celebration since this blog has started in 2010 – you can find the full retrospective here, mostly in chronological order. I keep saying that every year Beaujolais Nouveau gets better and better – and this year was no exception – I really enjoyed the 2021 Beaujolais in my glass.

Nevertheless, this year was an exception. Ever since I started writing about Beaujolais Nouveau, there was never a year when I only had one Beaujolais Nouveau wine – for example, last year I had 3 Beaujolais Nouveau wines and one Nouveau from Oregon. Most of the years I had at least 3, and a few years there were only two. But this year there was only one, and even that has limited availability and most likely will not last even until Thanksgiving, at least at the store where I bought it. Yep, you knew this already – supply chain issues. There might be more of the Beaujolais Nouveau showing up later on, but it is not very clear what and when.

Few more interesting Beaujolais Nouveau-related tidbits I never thought of before. First, according to the Burgundy Report, this year there were only 100 different Beaujolais Nouveau wines produced in France, which is significantly down from the last year’s number of 160. I was sure that there are many Beaujolais Nouveau wines produced in France, but I didn’t expect the number to be that high.

While searching for the information online, I came across the article where I learned about the Georges Duboeuf First Wine of the Harvest sweepstakes! Each cork of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau wine carries a unique number (who knew!), which can be entered on the First Wine of the Harvest website, and you will be instantly notified if you won something (I have no idea what you can win, and I won nothing). Apparently, this is not the first the sweepstakes are played, but if I wouldn’t read about it online I would still have no idea it existed.

Finally, let’s talk about the wine. According to the same Burgundy Report I mentioned before, Beaujolais regional Marketing board defined the vintage as “combative” – frost in April, and summer of rain and hail are not exactly the ideal grape-growing conditions. Relatively calm and cool September offer some relief, and while overall yield was significantly down, it was possible to preserve the quality of the harvest.

2021 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau AOP (12.5% ABV, $12.99) has a bright ruby color, a restrained nose of the freshly crushed fruit, and copious amounts of fresh raspberries and cherries on the palate with good acidity on the finish. While the wine is perfectly drinkable at room temperature (68°F), it is showing the best slightly chilled at around 58°F – 60°F.

Back in 2017, Georges Duboeuf started the “Artist Collector Series” of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine labels, where the public is given an opportunity to vote for the favorite design which will be then printed on the label. This year’s Beaujolais Nouveau label features work by the artist Felice Kite called “For The Love Of Flowers”.

Before I conclude my Beaujolais Nouveau 2021 report, I want to offer you a fun exercise – below is the collection of the Beaujolais Nouveau labels from 2010 until 2021 (note that I came across two distinct labels in 2015). I want you to choose a favorite (or 3, or 5) and share your opinion in the comments. I guarantee you that you will get no prize for participation in this exercise, but hopefully, it will be fun.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2021 has arrived, it is definitely worth your attention, it will be perfect with Thanksgiving turkey if you will be so inclined – but you can’t procrastinate if you want to try it. Cheers!

 

Celebrate Life! Celebrate Champagne!

October 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Is it only me or did the time accelerate for everyone? How come the store shelves are full of baking supplies and turkey condiments? It is still really warm here in Connecticut – did the summer end already? Does it mean that the holidays are coming?

Oh yes, the holidays!

I’m ashamed to admit but I believe I missed all or most of the wine holidays this year. Surprised with a large number of references to Champagne on social media, I decided to check the calendar, and yes – I almost missed yet another wine holiday – Champagne Day!

In victory you deserve it, in defeat you need it

It doesn’t matter who really said that (Napoleon, Churchill, or anyone else), but whoever said it, was right – in life, there is always a place for a glass of Champagne.

There are lots and lots of praise-worthy bubbles produced around the world – the rest of France outside of Champagne, Italy, Spain, Australia, California, Oregon, Georgia, and every place in between – but today it is all about Champagne.

Champagne had a tough time with the pandemic and other events, such as absolutely moronic labeling laws introduced in Russia, but nevertheless, people around the world are ready to celebrate, and Champagne sales are getting back to the pre-pandemic levels.

My celebratory Champagne of choice today is NV Marquis de la Mysteriale Brut Cuvée Grand Espirit (12.5% ABV) – perfectly suitable for every day, showing toasted bread notes on the nose, and crisp and refreshing on the palate. There is nothing spectacular about this wine, but for $20 (WTSO price), it is perfectly “good enough” to simply celebrate life, one day at a time. This was also the first time (I think) I had Champagne designated as MA – “Marque d’ Acheteur – A brand name owned by the purchaser, such as a restaurant, supermarket or wine merchant.”

A big part of Champagne fun is the process of opening the bottle using typically a special sword – so-called sabrage. Last year, I shared with you a little compilation of the sabrage gone wrong – very wrong. This year, I have a video collection of the amazing success of sabrage done with absolutely random objects, including tablespoon, iPhone, teaspoon, and even the high-heel shoe (and many others – see for yourself):

Here you are, my friends. Open a bottle of Champagne and celebrate life! Cheers!

Celebrate Cabernet Franc!

December 4, 2020 2 comments

What do you think of Cabernet Franc? Is that a grape worthy of its own, special celebration?

If I can take the liberty of answering my own question, it is an enthusiastic “yes” from me.

I don’t know if wine lovers realize the grand standing of Cabernet Franc. The grape is essential as part of the blend, in French Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends from anywhere in the world. At the same time, Cabernet Franc is perfect on its own, making delicious single-varietal wines literally everywhere – Argentina, Australia, California, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Africa, Washington, and everywhere in between.

While classic Cabernet Franc taste profile evolves around Black Currant ( a.k.a. Cassis), the overall expression varies from lean and dry in the wines coming from Loire Valley in France (Chinon, Saumur) to opulent, bigger-than-life renditions from Argentina and California. Another essential taste element of Cabernet Franc is bell peppers, which are typically most noticeable in the Loire wines but can be completely absent in the Californian wines, where bell peppers flavors often considered highly undesirable.

I talked about the history of Cabernet Franc in some of the older posts, so I’m not going to repeat it here. Instead, we can just get to the subject of today’s celebration and taste some wines.

#CabFrancDay holiday was invented about 5 years ago by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines, a passionate Cabernet Franc producer out of Paso Robles in California and a tireless champion of her beloved grape. To celebrate the Cabernet Franc, I tasted two samples of the Cabernet Franc wines which I never had before, so let’s talk about them. We can even make a competition out of this tasting, a California versus Washington match.

Let’s start in California, at Vinum Cellars in Napa Valley. As soon as I saw a bottle of 2016 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet Franc El Dorado (15.18% ABV, $35, 26 months in 2-year-old French Oak) I realized that I have a lot of questions. Who and why is depicted on the bottle? What the mysterious number on the top of the bottle? Is there any reason to use grapes from El Dorado for the Napa-based winery? To answer these questions, I reached out to Maria Bruno, whose cousin, Richard Bruno, is the co-founder and co-winemaker at Vinum, where Maria helps with the winery’s social media and digital marketing efforts. Here are the answers to my questions which give you an excellent introduction to the winery and the wine:

1. Why the wine is called The Scrapper?
A scrapper is essentially a fighter and we call our wine that because Cabernet Franc is a varietal that has quickly been forgotten in the shadows of the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon. Our wine is made for the open-minded, the adventurous, and those who root for the underdog.

2. What is behind the image on the wine’s label?
The image on the front of the bottle is Gene Tunney. He was the 1926 Heavyweight Champion of the World, however, most modern day people have never even heard of him. But have you heard of Jack Dempsey? I’m sure you have. A little history lesson here: Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey for the 1926 crown, and it was the second time he defeated the more popular fighter (no one else ever did that). So to complete the metaphor, if Gene Tunney is Cab Franc, and Jack Dempsey is Cab Sauv we then ask you, which is the better varietal? Because we know who the better boxer was…

3. On top of the foil capsule it says BW 6334. What is the meaning of that?
That’s our California Bonded Winery number. In 1997 we financed our own winery on credit cards and utilized the custom crush space at Napa Wine Company (they are Bonded Winery number 9! Literally, the 9th bonded winery in the state and currently the only single-digit bonded winery still in existence). We sold our first vintage, all 960 cases, out of the trunks of our cars, and here we are over 20 years later… still going strong!

4. Why El Dorado? What makes Cab Franc from El Dorado a special wine?
We source our Cab Franc from a hillside, red dirt soil single vineyard at an elevation of 1,600 feet within the Sierra Mountains in El Dorado County. The grower, Ron Mansfield, has a degree in renewable agriculture and has organically farmed this vineyard (though not certified) using sustainable practices for over 35 years. Ron also grows tree fruit such as peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears We have produced Cabernet Franc grown by Ron for over 20 years, and the 2016 vintage was our 19th. The entire vineyard only produces about 500 cases a year but it’s worth it (because it’s so good). The vineyard is 25 years old and is head-trained allowing more sunlight into the canopy and therefore a reduction in Pyrazines which are responsible for green and vegetal aromas and flavors.

How was the wine? Please allow me to introduce Damsel Cellars first, and then we will discuss the wines side by side.

Damsel Cellars is located in Woodinville, Washington. Just seeing Woodinville on the wine label puts a huge smile on my face, as it instantly brings back the happiest memories of discovering Woodinville some years back. Walking from one winery door to another, and tasting one delicious wine after another, I was hoping to replicate the experience a few months back as I was supposed to have a business meeting in Seattle, but you know how 2020 travel looks like…

Mari Womack, owner and winemaker of Damsel Cellars, got into the wine only 10 years ago, but tasting her wines you would never think so. After working at a number of Woodinville wineries, she started Damsel Cellars, with the sixth vintage on the way now.

The Grapes for 2017 Damsel Cellars Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc Yakima Valley (14.6% ABV, $36) come from the Boushey Vineyard in Yakima Valley, located on the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. The first vines were planted there in 1980, and the last plantings took place in 2003. The vineyard is located on slopes from 700 to 1200 feet elevation, so the grapes can enjoy a cooler and drier climate.

Now, how did the wines compared? Both wines are 100% Cabernet Franc, which I find quite typical for any wines bearing the Cabernet Franc name. Both wines were similar in the pure black currant expression, and both wines didn’t offer any of the bell pepper undertones. Both wines required at least an hour to come to their senses. Vinum Cab Franc stayed perfectly powerful and polished over the course of 4 days, black currant all the way, a touch of dark chocolate, full-body, a roll of your tongue smooth, and perfectly balanced. Damsel Cab Franc’s power on the first day manifested in black currant notes weaved around expressive minerality, which I usually call “liquid rock” (this is one of the common traits I find among many Washington wines), perfectly balanced and delicious. On the second day, however, the ultra-distant touch of the bell pepper appeared, the fruit gently subsided, and the wine magically transposed into the old world – a perfectly balanced old world wine. In a blind tasting, I would put this wine squarely into the Loire Valley and would be very proud of my decision.

The verdict? I don’t have one. Yep, seriously, These are unquestionably Cab Franc wines, unquestionably delicious, and unquestionably different. Oh well. If I would be really hard pressed to chose one, I would go with Damsel Cab Franc – if anything, for the old world nostalgic emotions – I really drink very little of the old world wines, so I’m always excited to experience them again.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How is your Cabernet Franc celebration going? Let me know what Cab Franc made you excited. Cheers!

Champagne, Champagne, Champagne for Everyone!

October 23, 2020 1 comment

Yes, I issued the call for Champagne. And no, it is not because of the Friday night, lottery winning, huge job promotion, or an official ending of the COVID-19. Today, October 23rd, 2020 is the official celebration of the bubbles that became synonymous with success and life’s happy moments – today we celebrate Champagne, a quintessential celebration itself.

My appreciation for Champagne came long after wine became an obsession. I grew up drinking sweet bubbles of unknown pedigree under the name of “Soviet Champagne” – who would care about naming rights back then. So the first encounter with crisp, tiny, and ultra-acidic bubbles was not love at first sight. It is interesting that how I can’t name a pivotal wine, but I can easily name a pivotal Champagne – Krug Vintage, I don’t remember if it was 2002, 2003, or 2004, but that encounter with greatness during PJ Wine grand tasting in New York absolutely changed my perspective on the Champagne. And if you care to know, I even have my favorite Champagne of all times – 2002 Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill – pure magic.

Today, sparkling wines are produced everywhere. All countries, all types of grape (sparkling Tannat? no problems. Sparkling Shiraz? of course!), and literally all wineries. There are absolutely stunning bubbles produced in Italy (Franciacorta, Trentodoc), Spain, and the USA (if you ever had Roederer L’Ermitage or late disgorged Gloria Ferrer, you know what I’m talking about). But today, it is all about Champagne, in its pure form.

Champagne also has the capability of bonding the memories – as it is often linked to the special moments, just seeing that bottle of Perrier-Jouët, Cristal, Dom Perignon, or Bollinger can trigger the onslaught of happy thoughts. True, any wine can do this, but Champagne has some special powers.

In recognition of the holiday, I’m offering you a collage of some of my Champagne experiences:

I also can’t miss an opportunity to mention the sabering – opening of the Champagne bottle with a special sword, the saber (hence the name). Sabering has some ground rules and requires basic skills – it can be done with the saber, but it is even more fun to use a random object, such as a wine glass, a stapler, or an iPhone – but this should be a conversation for another time. Sabering or not, but the opening of the Champagne bottle often goes wrong – and I want to leave you today with a little compilation of such, well, accidents.

One of my favorite quotes of all times is not about Champagne, but about life – in the words of the singer Pitbull, “every day above ground is a great day”. Don’t wait for a special occasion – open that Champagne bottle today – as the present should always be celebrated.

Cheers!

Celebrate Sauvignon Blanc!

May 1, 2020 Leave a comment

Here we go again – another grape holiday is upon us – Sauvignon Blanc Day it is.

I’m sure most of you don’t need a reason to open a bottle of wine. And the grape holiday doesn’t mean that one must drink wine made out of celebratory grape on that holiday. However, it is a good reason to talk about the grape we are celebrating.

Sauvignon Blanc is unquestionably one of the best known and most widely used white grape. While many of the red grapes can be included in the battle for supremacy, when it comes to whites, there are only 3 top contenders – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

Sauvignon Blanc is growing everywhere – and while some of the traits, such as freshly cut grass undertones can be generally common, it demonstrates a wide range of expression depending on where the wine was made. The birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc is generally considered to be in Sancerre which is situated in Loire Valley. Sancerre might be a birthplace, but boy, did Sauvignon Blanc spread around nicely – it is used all over the Loire Valley, it is a very important grape in Bordeaux, especially in Entre-Deux-Mers; it plays a supporting role in Sauternes and Barsac. It is one of the best-kept secrets in Italy. Sauvignon Blanc is often part of the blend in Rueda in Spain, and it can shine on its own in Catalonia and La Mancha. Then, of course, let’s not forget the winemaking region which literally took the Sauvignon Blanc world domination crown away from Sancerre – venerable New Zealand, home to in-your-face delicious Sauvignon Blanc wines. Moving along, we cannot forget the USA where Sauvignon Blanc wines are made everywhere, from California to Washington to Long Island and many other states. Oh wait, South Africa makes some sublime Sauvignon Blanc renditions, not to be outdone by Chile, Argentina, Israel, and every other winemaking country.

Sauvignon Blanc Collage

No matter what tickles your Sauvignon Blanc fancy – cat pee in Sancerre, unidentifiable aromatics of the Cloudy Bay, succulent lemons in Honig or Hanna, or sublime complexity of Ornellaia and Gaja – there is a Sauvignon Blanc wine out there for everyone.

Pour yourself a glass of whatever, and enjoy your quiet moment of reflection. Cheers!

High Altitude Malbec for the World Malbec Day Celebration

April 17, 2020 Leave a comment

Cafayate desert. Image by gabrielgcossa from Pixabay

Do you like Malbec? If you do, great – you have a perfect reason to celebrate one of the world’s most popular grape on its holiday, World Malbec Day, always celebrated on April 17th. If you don’t  – great, as you can taste a lot of wines in order to eventually find Malbec which you will enjoy.

Malbec is one of the unique grapes in the wine world, with a long history full of ups and downs. Malbec history can be traced almost a thousand years back. It used to be one of the most popular and most planted grapes in France. Wine from Cahors, a small region just south of Bordeaux, was famous for its dark and brooding qualities and was very much welcomed by the royals as early as the 1200s (well, the grape is not called Malbec in Cahors – it is known as Côt or Auxerrois). However, as Bordeaux started developing its own brand, it started blocking Cahors wines from reaching its intended destination, as most of the trading routes had to pass through Bordeaux before reaching the wine consumers.

Malbec used to be widely planted in Bordeaux, but this thin-skinned and disease-prone grape was difficult to work with, and it became anything but literally extinct today. Of course, Malbec is still the main grape in Cahors, where it is made into delicious, long-living wines – if you can find them in the wines stores, of course. However, the real fame of Malbec is related to its second motherland – Argentina.

Malbec was brought to Argentina in the mid-19th century and higher elevation vineyards with mostly dry climate happened to be a godsend for the moody grape. From there on, Malbec went on the path of becoming the most famous Argentinian grape. I guarantee you if anyone will ask what is in your glass, and you will say “Malbec”, 99% of the people will have no doubts that you are drinking Argentinian wine – yes, this is a good example of fame. Malbec’s success in the new world didn’t stop in Argentina, as it is successfully growing today in Australia, Chile, California, Texas, and many other places. But it is still the Argentina which rules the Malbec world today.

Altura maxima vineyard. Source: Bodegas Colome

Altura maxima Vineyard. Source: Bodegas Colome

When it comes to Argentinian wine, Mendoza is the first area that comes to mind. It is hardly surprising, as 2/3 or Argentinian wine comes from Mendoza. But it is not Mendoza we are talking about today – we are going higher, much higher – to Salta (Mendoza vineyards are typically located at the 1,800 – 3,400 feet altitude, and in Salta altitude ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 feet). Salta is home to the highest vineyard in the world, Altura Maxima (elevation 10,200 feet/3,100 meters). It is also home to one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, Bodegas Colomé, which was founded in 1831.

I already wrote about the wines of Bodegas Colomé in the past (you can find this post here), as well as the wines from Amalaya, a 10 years old project by Bodegas Colomé in Cafayate desert. It was very interesting to try the same wines only from a different vintage. I can say that there is a noticeable improvement in the quality of the Amalaya – 3 additional years make a lot of difference. The Colomé Estate Malbec was more or less on par with its older brethren – but I certainly like the new label design, the bottle looks more elegant.

Here are my notes for the three of the Malbec wines I was able to taste:

2018 Amalaya Malbec Salta Argentina (13.9% ABV, $16, 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Inviting, eucalyptus, blackberries, crushed berries, baking spices
Fresh berries, coffee, bright, easy to drink, good structure, good acidity, good balance.
8, simple and delicious. Needed a couple of hours to open up.

2017 Colomé Estate Malbec Valle Calchaquí Salta Argentina (14.9% ABV, $25, grapes from vineyards at 7545 to 10,200 feet elevation)
Dark garnet
Vanilla, baking spices, restrained fruit
Vanilla, blueberries, tar, firm structure, very restrained, appears more as an old-world than anything else.
8, excellent.

2018 Colomé Auténtico Malbec Valle Colchaquí Salta Argentina (14.5% ABV, $30, high altitude vineyard ~7000 ft)
Practically black
Vanilla, blueberries, baking spices, inviting
Blueberries, coffee, good acidity, silky smooth, layered, ripe fruit but still balanced.
8, classic and tasty – but needs time. Really opened up only on the day 3

What do you think of Malbec wines? Do you have a favorite producer? How did you celebrate World Malbec Day? Until the next time – cheers!

How Do You Albariño?

August 24, 2019 6 comments

Albariño winesQuick – name the most popular Spanish white wine (and grape). Yes, Verdejo, Viura (Macabeo), Godello are all good candidates, but the crown unquestionably belongs to Albariño, the white grape predominantly grown in Rias Baixas in Galicia, in the Nothern Spain.

As it often happens with grapes, nobody can tell for sure where Albariño originated. The leading theory is that the Albariño grape was cultivated in the Rias Baixas area for a few thousands of years. But again, similar to many stories we hear today, things got real with Albariño once the growing zone was designated by the Spanish law in 1980. While initially it was an area designated to the Albariño grape itself, once the EU rules got into the play, the same area became known as Rias Baixas DO (Denominación de Origen), and this is where the absolute majority of Spanish Albariño wine is produced.

In most of the cases, Rias Baixas Albariño is unoaked wine (there are few producers, such as La Cana, who make oaked versions, but this is rare). I don’t like generalizing about the taste of the wines from the specific region, but to me, most of the Albariño wines have a core of salinity and Meyers Lemon. If you think about the location of Rias Baixas, right on the coast of Atlantic Ocean, it makes perfect sense that the most prominent wine from the region perfectly compliments the seafood dishes which one would expect to find in the coastal region. Albariño is easy to drink, works perfectly with and without the food, and it is typically priced under $20, which makes it an excellent white wine choice overall.

It is also worth noting that slowly, but surely, Albariño wines are fine-tuning their identity. What started about 40 years ago as one single region, Rias Baixas, now comprise 5 sub-regions – Ribeira do Ulla, Val do Salnés, Soutomaior, Condado do Tea, and O Rosal. You can’t always find the sub-regions listed on the labels yet, but I’m sure this is just a matter of time.

Make no mistake – the appeal of Albariño is not lost on the rest of the world. Today you can find excellent Albariño wines produced in California (Lodi makes some amazing renditions, such as Bokisch), Oregon, and Washington – and then Texas, lest not forget about Texas. Australia is also churning out some outstanding versions of Spanish classic (don’t think those wines can be found in the USA, though).

Beginning of August saw a slew of events celebrating Albariño – International Albariño Days took place from August 1 through 5; during the same days, Albariño was celebrated at The Albariño Festival, which is the second oldest wine Festival in Spain, taking place in the city of Cambados in Rías Baixas and attracting more than 100,000 visitors.

It is important to remember that Albariño is not just for summer – it is a versatile white wine, capable to elevate any evening, with or without a seafood dinner in tow. For the past two years, I attended virtual tastings on Snooth, each including a good selection of Albariño from the different sub-regions in Rias Baixas – here you can find the detailed descriptions of the 2017 and 2018 tastings. This year, I was offered an opportunity to try a couple of samples – here are my notes:

2018 Nora Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $18)
Very light golden
A hint of tropical fruit, white flowers, a touch of pineapple, medium-plus intensity, inviting
Clean, fresh, minerally forward, green apples, lemon, round, perfectly balanced.
8, perfectly refreshing for a hot summer day.

2018 Señoro de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18)
Light golden
Restrained, minerality, salinity, underripe green apple
Bright, fresh, touch of white plum and lemon, zipping acidity
8-, refreshing, but craves food (oysters!)

What do you think of Albariño? What is your go-to white wine, especially when it is hot outside? Cheers!

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