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Finding Peace with Chappellet and 2007 Napa Vintage

April 14, 2017 2 comments

Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Vintage. An essential word in the wine lovers’ lexicon. “How was the vintage” often is a defining question, something we certainly have to find out and then store in the brain compartment for important wine facts. Depending on the stated greatness, some vintages might keep their recognition almost forever, like 1949 or 1982 Bordeaux, and 1964 or 2001 Rioja. The vintage by itself is no guarantee of quality of the particular wine from a particular producer, but it is generally considered that in the better vintages, there are more good wines available across the board.

2007 was lauded as a truly outstanding vintage in Napa Valley in California. According to the Wine Spectator vintage charts, 2007 [still] is the best vintage since 1999, with the vintage rating of 97. When the first 2007 Napa wines appeared, I was very eager to taste them – only to be disappointed for the most cases. In my experience, the wines were lacking finesse and balance, they were often devoid of fruit and had demonstrably attacking and astringent tannic structure. My main thought tasting 2007 Napa wines was “it needs time, and a lot of it”.

Chappellet is one of the famous producers in Napa, making wines for more than 40 years, now in the second generation of the family; their wines are highly regarded by consumers and critics alike. Some time back in 2010 I scored a few bottles of 2007 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Napa Valley (14.9% ABV, Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 46%, Malbec 1%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Petit Verdot 1%). My first taste was also one of the early posts in this very blog, and nothing short of disappointment (read it here). Continuing tasting throughout the years, I was still missing that “aha moment”, an opportunity to say “ahh, I like it”. It particularly applies to the 2007 vintage of Chappellet, as in 2014 I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 vintage of the same wine (Mountain Cuvee), and the wine was quite pleasant.

A couple of days ago I was looking for the wine to open for dinner and the last bottle of 2007 Chappellet caught my attention. Well, why not? 10 years is a good age for the California wine – let’s see how this wine is now ( even though I have not much of a hope based on the prior experience). Cork is out, wine is in the glass. The color, of course, shows no sign of age, still almost black. But the nose was beautiful – fresh, intense, inviting, with a touch of cassis and mint. The first sip confirmed that the wine completely transformed – open, rich, succulent fruit, cassis and blackberries, supported by the firm structure of the tannins without any overbearing, eucalyptus and touch of sweet oak, clean acidity. Perfectly powerful, but also perfectly balanced with all the components been in check. Now this was the “ahh, this is so good” wine which I would be glad to drink at any time. (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

This delicious experience prompted this post. I’m glad to find it with my own palate, that “needs time” is not a moniker for the “crappy wine”, but a true statement. I’m sure this is not universally true – some wines are simply beyond the help of time – but this definitely worked for this particular wine and for the 2007 Napa vintage. I don’t have any more of this 2007 Chappellet, but I have other 2007 Napa wines, and I just upped my expectations significantly.

Have you had similar experiences? How would you fare 2007 Napa vintage? Cheers!

Precision of Flavors – Tasting the Wines of Achaval-Ferrer

March 26, 2017 3 comments

Achaval Ferrer CorkDrinking wine is a pleasure – for sure it should be, and if you don’t feel like it, maybe you shouldn’t drink it at all. At the same time, there are multiple ways to look at one and the same thing.

A pleasure of drinking of the glass of wine may be just as it sounds, very simple  – take a sip of the liquid in the glass, say “ahh, it tastes good”, and continue to the next sip or with the conversation, whatever entices you the most at the moment.

Then there are many of us, wine lovers, who, professionally or unprofessionally, can’t stop just at that. Yes, we take pleasure in every sip, but then we need to dig in. We feel compelled to put on the Sherlock Holmes hat and play the wine sleuth, figuring out exactly what we are tasting in that very sip. What was that flavor? Was that a raspberry? Hmmm, maybe not. And that whiff of something? It is so familiar! Why can’t I put a name on it? Grrrr.

Everyone who engaged in that wine tasting exercise I’m sure can relate to what I’m saying. But every once in a while, we do get a break, when the flavor simply jumps at you, pristine and obvious. And the best twist here is when the flavor is matching to what is expected to find in the wine, like fresh cut grass in Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Cabernet Sauvignon, or pepper in Syrah – don’t we love those pure and precise flavors?

Achaval-Ferrer winery is only about 20 years old, built on the passion and vision of a group of friends in Mendoza, Argentina. In those 20 years, Achaval-Ferrer accomplishments are nothing short of enviable. Achaval-Ferrer wines earned multiple Decanter magazine 5-star ratings (the highest). There are 29 wines from Argentina rated as “Classic” by Wine Spectator (95-100 ratings) – 13 out of those 29 wines are Achaval-Ferrer wines; the flagship Malbec Finca Altamira consistently getting 96 points rating year after year.

In addition to passion, vision, hard work and perseverance, the success foundation of Achaval-Ferrer is its high altitude vineyards, located from 700 to 1100 meters above sea level (2,300 – 3,600 ft). Three out of four main vineyards of Achaval-Ferrer are also about 100 years old, and boast pre-phylloxera vines, as Phylloxera simply can’t survive in those high mountains conditions. Now all left to do is to take the beautiful fruit those vineyards produce and make it into equally beautiful wines – the Achaval-Ferrer does it quite successfully.

Here is what triggered my “precision of flavors”  opening. I had an opportunity to taste a sample of Achaval-Ferrer wines recently, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. While Malbec was a very good wine, but clearly needed time to mature, Cabernet Sauvignon was stunning, with flavors and aromas just jumping at your right away from the glass, with easy to relate to, textbook-correct cassis – also intensifying its purity with the time. This was a perfect example of why Argentinian wines are so popular and deserving of all your attention. And at a price of $24.99, the Cabernet Sauvignon offer an outstanding QPR, easily beating many classic Napa Cabs which would also cost you at least three times as much.

Here are my detailed notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: very intense, dark roasted fruit, cassis. The roasted fruit intensity diminishes as the wine breathes.
P: beautiful cassis, clean acidity, soft tannins, lots of layers. As the wine breathes, the tannins show better and more pronounced. Pure clean black currant after a day.
V: 8+, outstanding, wow. Will evolve.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Malbec)
C: practically black
N: roasted meat, smoke, tar, intense, baking spices
P: dark fruit, bright acidity, mint, alcohol burn in the back?, succulent, lavender, spicy. Blueberries showed up on the second day.
V: 8,  needs time, but perfectly delicious on the second day.

Here you are, my friends. Achaval-Ferrer definitely makes wines worthy of oenophile’s attention – and the QPR makes these wines worth seeking. Cheers!

 

Of Cabs and Tomatoes, or Having Fun with a Blind Tasting

November 29, 2016 7 comments

“By the way”, my friend texted me, “your text says “tomato wine” – was that an autocorrect”? My response was “Nope. You’ll see”.

Drinking wine is fun (if you disagree, you shouldn’t read this blog). There are many things which we, oenophiles, self-proclaimed wine aficionados, can do to maximize that fun. We age wines, we decant wines, we use fancy openers and pourers, we play with temperature and glasses of different forms and sizes.

One of ultimate fun exercises oenophiles can engage in is a blind tasting. Blind tasting is a “truth serum” for the wine lovers, it levels the playing field for all. Blind tasting eliminates all “external” factors – price (ha, I paid $300 for this bottle, beat that), prestige, winemaker’s pedigree, weight of the terroir (ahh, Bordeaux, it must be amazing), cute and elaborate labels, critics and friends opinion – and leaves your palate one on one with the content of the glass. Don’t say “I hate Chardonnay and I never drink it”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Don’t say “I don’t like Australian wines”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Anyone who ever played the game of the blind tasting can surely attest to what I’m saying here. If you never experienced fun and joy of the blind tasting, you are missing and you are missing a lot – but it is easy to fix.

Our tradition of wine dinners goes back more than 5 years, and most of the wine dinners include blind tasting part (here are the posts for some of the past events – Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay). A few weeks ago, we managed to align everyone’s schedule for a wine dinner and a blind tasting with a simple and non-pretentious subject – Cabernet Sauvignon :).

wine tasting readyRemember the dialog at the beginning of this post? I have friends who know my obsession with the wine, and always try to surprise me with various oddities. One of such oddities was a bottle of tomato wine which they brought from Canada. I didn’t want to drink that wine by myself, so the wine dinner was an excellent opportunity to share it with friends. As guests were arriving, I decided to play a role of the mean host (okay, not too mean). Outside of the friend who knew about the tomato wine, the rest were presented with the pour of the white wine and the request to guess what grape that might be. Literally nobody wanted to believe that this was a tomato wine – I had to show the bottle as a proof.

Have I tasted this wine blind, I’m sure I would be in the same boat as all of  my friends – this 2013 Domaine de la Vallée du Bras OMERTO Vin Apéritif de Tomate Moelleux Québec (16% ABV) was fresh, with good acidity, touch of raisins on the nose, medium to full body and notes of the white stone fruit on the palate – for me, Vouvray (Chenin Blanc from Loire) is the one which comes to mind to give you the best analogy. This wine is produced from the locally grown heirloom tomatoes – and it is also a vintage – I’m seriously impressed (find it and taste it).

And to the blind tasting off we went. 10 wines were wrapped in the paper bags, opened and randomly numbered (my daughter usually does the honors), then poured into the glasses. The only thing we knew that all the wines will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon – no price or region limits.

Below are my notes, in our tasting order, both with my initial impressions and some updates over the next few days as I tasted leftover wines. And by the way, don’t think of this tasting of some stuck-up, snotty process – we openly exchange our thoughts, but each person’s individual palate is an ultimate purveyor of truth here:

#1:
C: almost black
N: restrained
P: bright fruit, pronounced tannins, delicious.
P: 2nd day – outstanding, firm structure, eucalyptus, dusty profile, tannins are still fresh.
V: 2013/2014, new world , considerably improved by the end of the tasting!

#2:
N: blueberry pie notes
P: beautiful, bright, cassis, blueberry pie with tobacco undertones on the second day, excellent
V: Lange

#3:
N: savory,
P: crispy, fresh, great fruit
P: 2nd day – firm structure, perfect balance, dark cocoa, cassis. Truly an enjoyable wine
V: nice finish,

#4
N: strange, rotten cabbage, musty cellar
N: 2nd day: an improvement, tobacco with touch of barnyard on top of cassis
P: nice, bright,
P: 2nd day: great improvement, very enjoyable, shouting a bit of mature fruit with bright acidity and touch of fresh plums.
V: India?

#5:
N: coffee, mocca, dust, excellent
N: 2nd day: coffee and roasted meat
P: nice fruit, bright, spicy
P: 2nd day: palate shifted towards savory too much meat. Probably perfect with the steak, but craving more balance on its own.
V: nice, young

#6:
N: blueberry pie, nice
N: 2nd day: pure candy on the nose, more of a lollipop quality, or may be stewed strawberries.
P: sour cherry, wow
P: sour cherries continuing, albeit more muted than yesterday
V: nothing from Cab, but nice. An okay wine.

#7:
N: nice balance, good fruit
P: great, dusty palate, firm structure, excellent, precision
V: outstanding

#8:
N: nice dusty nose,
P: crispy, tart, limited fruit
V: not bad, but not great.
V: day 2 – past prime 😦

#9:
N: nice, classic
N: 2nd day: added perfume and explicit anise notes
P: beautiful, excellent, mint, classic
P: 2nd day: dark, powerful, compressed, espresso, a lot more dense than the day before.
V: excellent
V: 2nd day: less enjoyable than the day before, closed up, lost the finesse.

#10:
N: young berries, same on the day 2 but a bit more composed.
P: young crushed berries
P: 2nd day: a bit more restrained. Young berry notes without supporting structure. Not my wine, but might have its audience.
P: 5th day: the sweetness is gone, and the classic Cab showed up, touch of cassis and mint, excellent
V: 1st day – it’s ok, 5th day – very impressive

During the tasting, we decide on two of our favorite wines. After tasting is done, we take a vote, with each person allowed to vote for two of their favorite wines. These are just two favorites, without prioritizing between the two. Below are the results of the vote for our group of 11 people:

#1 – 1
#2 – 1
#3 – 7
#4 – 1
#5 – 0
#6 – 2
#7 – 4
#8 – 1
#9 – 4
#10 – 1

As you can tell, the most favorite wine was wine #3 (7 votes out of 11), and the second favorite was a tie between wines #7 and #9, each of them getting 4 votes out of 11. Now, drumroll please – and the most favorite wine of the blind Cabernet Sauvignon tasting was … 2006 Staglin family Cabernet Sauvignon! Staglin Family Cab is definitely not a slouch in the world of cult California wines, and the group clearly fell for it. Here is the full lineup, in the order of tasting:

cabernet wines from the blind tastingHere are the details for all the wines:

#1: 2012 KRSMA Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Hampi Hills Vineyard, India (13.5% ABV)
#2: 2013 LangeTwins Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, California (14.4% ABV)
#3: 2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa Valley (14.9% ABV)
#4: 2002 d’Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia (14.5% ABV)
#5: 2014 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon WO Robertson, South Africa (14% ABV)
#6: 2015 Vinca Minor Cabernet Sauvignon Redwood Valley California (12% ABV, 1 barrel produced)
#7: 1995 Château Clerc Milon Grand Cru Classé Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV)
#8: 2000 Château Lanessan Delbos-Bouteiller Haut-Médoc AOC (13% ABV)
#9: 2009 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Regaleali Cabernet Sauvignon Sicilia IGT (14.5% ABV)
#10: 2014 Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon California (13.5% ABV)

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10 wines, 6 countries, 10 different regions, $7.95 – $150 price range, 1995 – 2015 vintage range – I think we did pretty well in terms of diversity. Staglin Family being the favorite wine is not that surprising (but still interesting, considering that it is the most expensive wine in the lineup at $149). My biggest surprises, though, were super-solid KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon from India (India? really?), an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon from Sicily (who would’ve thought!), and the cheapest wine in the group, Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.95), which opened up magnificently 5 days after the bottle was opened – of course, nobody has a desire to wait that long for the wine, but forgetting a few bottles in the cellar might be a right move.

The dinner quickly followed the tasting (after 110 glasses were safely removed from the table). I don’t have much in terms of pictures, but we had Russian Meat Soup (recipe here) and beef roast as the main dish. The deserts were pretty spectacular and paired very well with Cabernet wines:

And that concludes my report about our great fun with Cabernet Sauvignon wines and the blind tasting. Now is your time to share your blind tasting and odd wines stories – and if you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I want to know your opinion about them.

Lastly, if you never experienced the pleasures of the blind tasting, you must fix it as soon as possible. Cheers!

Chilean Wines at Its Best – World-Class Wines of Viña Maipo

November 28, 2016 5 comments

Two weeks ago, I shared with you a conversation with Max Weinlaub, the winemaker for the Viña Maipo winery in Chile. While our Q&A session was mostly virtual, the Viña Maipo wines were not – I had an opportunity to taste 6 wines presented by Max during the session in New York. And I can sum up my impressions about Viña Maipo wines in one simple word – delicious.

I have to honestly admit that even opening of the box was pleasant – I love it when the bottles are wrapped, it gives an oenophile an additional moment of play, an additional source of enjoyment.

Viña Maipo winesOf course, the nice wrapping is better be supported by the substance in the bottle – and it was, loud and clear, as you will see from my tasting notes.

By the way, if you would read my interview with Max Weinlaub, you will find that one of the questions I asked was about Viña Maipo’s selling wines in China. If I would look at the wines more carefully, I wouldn’t need to ask that question – take a look at the back labels below:

Here are my notes:

2016 Viña Maipo Vitral Sauvignon Blanc Reserva (12.5% ABV, SRP $11) – 2016 was one of the best vintages for white wines.
C: straw pale
N: grassy, lemon, touch of tobacco, white fruit
P: restrained, lemongrass, fresh lemon, perfect acidity, vibrant
V: 8-, nice and refreshing, will be perfect with seafood. Excellent QPR

2016 Viña Maipo Vitral Chardonnay Reserva (13.5% ABV, SRP $11)
C: light golden
N: vanilla, golden delicious apple, touch of honey, herbaceous undertones
P: Crisp, fresh, nice acidity, lemon, very restrained, green apples, good palate weight
V: 8-, very drinkable now, and should evolve. Great QPR

2013 Viña Maipo Gran Devocion Carmenere DO Valle Del Maule (14.5% ABV, SRP $25, American oak is used only for Carmenere, better showcases the wine, Carmenere 85%, Syrah 15%)
C: Rich garnet, wine looks very inviting in the glass
N: Characteristic mint and herbs ( hint of), dark red fruit, pepper
P: peppery, spicy, dark fruit, earthy, delicious, powerful, full bodied
V: 8, excellent, powerful wine

2012 Viña Maipo Syrah Limited Edition DO Buin Valle del Maipo (14.5% ABV, SRP $35, 86% Syrah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 months in French oak)
C: bright garnet
N: bright, open, blueberries, herbal notes, touch of barnyard
P: pepper, black fruit, blackberries, spicy, firm structure, mouth-coating, velvety
V: 8+/9-, stand out, beautiful wine

2013 Viña Maipo Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon Valle del Maipo (14.5% ABV, SRP $50, 30-35 yo vines, very low yield, Cabernet Sauvignon 97%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Syrah 1%, Petite Verdot 1%, 20 months in French oak )
C: dark garnet
N: green bell pepper, mint, classic cabernet nose, eucalyptus
P: beautiful, round, open, cassis, mint, firm structure, delicious
V: 8+, outstanding, beautiful Cabernet

2012 Viña Maipo Alto Tajamar DO Buin Valle del Maipo Chile (14.5% ABV, SRP $110, Syrah 92%, Cabernet Sauvignon 8%, 30 months in French oak)
C: Bright garnet
N: espresso, tar, pepper, hint of barnyard, black fruit
P: Blackberries, tart cherries, espresso, spices, dark power, brooding, full bodied
V: 8+/9-, outstanding, a treat which needs time

I had an opportunity to taste all of these wines over the course of a few days, and I have to say that literally all of them kept getting better and better.  Viña Maipo Syrah wines are unquestionably a world class, but so are the Cab and Carmenere, and I would gladly drink both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay every day – overall, one of the most successful tasting lineups I ever had.

Have you ever had Viña Maipo wines? Have you ever had Viña Maipo Syrah or any Chilean Syrah for that matter? If you did, what do you think of them? Cheers!

Daily Glass: An [Opportunistic] Bordeaux Discovery and a Case Buy Recommendation

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

If you read this blog regularly, you might have noticed my claim of “rediscovering Bordeaux” after the Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. Now, my  happy feeling about Bordeaux was reinforced further, after a spontaneous Bordeaux tasting.

After somewhat of an extended break, we got together with the friends for dinner. Before we would eat, we were presented with a difficult task – we needed to taste 5 different Bordeaux wines – I hope you see my attempt at humor here.

bordeaux wines

The reason for this “obligatory tasting” was simple. My friend (and our dinner host) frequents a large and well known wine store on Long Island, called Pop’s Wine and Spirit, which routinely offers some legendary deals – I can’t call them any other way as the savings for the wine buyers are quite substantial. So my friend got a recommendation from his trusted sales rep to try few of the Bordeaux wines offering great value, and come back for more if he would like them.

There were 4 Bordeaux wines we needed to try as such – plus one which is my perennial favorite. Three of those Bordeaux wines were coming from the same producer, whose name I never heard before – Denis Durantou, who supposedly is a well known, and the wines we had in front of us were more of the side project for him.

After tasting the wines, which were magnificent and a great value (notes below), I had to do some research and found out that Denis Durnatou is indeed more of a pioneer and the legend, making wines at Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet in Pomerol. Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet is a part of so called “Pomerol Triangle”, which is an area with the best soils in Pomerol, where most of the “Pomerol greats” are located – I hope the names like Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, l’Evangile, Pétrus spell magic for you (yes, all amazing producers).  Denis Durantou was the first to start green harvesting in Pomerol (green grapes are removed at the early stages, to allow remaining grapes to concentrate flavor). He was also a big proponent of thermo regulation in the cellar, which is critical when you ferment the grapes. Actually, I can’t do justice to the Denis Durantou’s work in a few sentences – instead, let me refer you to an excellent article which you can find here.

2014 Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet will set you back at around $180, the futures for the 2015 seems to be closer to the $225. At the same time, all 3 of the “other” Denis Durantou wines we had a pleasure of tasting, were in the range of $17 to $24 (all prices come from Pop’s Wine and Spirit).

Denis Durantou Bordeaux wines

Here are my notes:

2014 Château Montlandrie Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $22, 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) black currant on the nose, classic, clean, mint, wow; perfect Classic Bordeaux on the palate, beautiful fruit, cassis, firm structure, perfect balance, ready now, will evolve. Drinkability: 8+

2014 Château Les Cruzelles Lalande de Pomerol Denis Durantou (14% ABV, $24, 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) green bell peppers on the nose, touch of Cassie , eucalyptus; dusty palate, firm tannins, meaty texture, very round, cherries. Will evolve. Drinkability: 8-

2014 Saintayme Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $17, 100% Merlot) dusty nose, plums, touch of roasted meat; fresh fruit on the palate, delicious, silky smooth, fresh tannins, well balanced. Drinkability: 8

Let’s talk about two more wines.

What I love about Chateau Simard is that they take great care of us, oenophiles. Chateau Simard wines are aged at the Chateau for 10 years, and only then they are released to the public – all at incredibly reasonable prices, at least so far. As you can tell, this wine was perfectly fitting my comment price-wise, and it was delicious:
2004 Château Simard Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, $22, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc) – very funky nose, and lotsr of barnyard, mint, truffles ; sweet fruits on, fresh tannins, nice depth, touch of licorice, cured meat, great balance, delicious wine. Drinkability: 8+

Now, for our last wine, you don’t even have to read this post anymore – just run to the store and get a case of this wine – at least one. You can thank me later. And by the way, I’m not the only one who thinks this wine is great – 2014 vintage got 89 points from Wine Enthusiast magazine.

chateau-roc-de-levraut

2015 Château Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Superieur ($8, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) – beautiful smoke on the nose, roasted meat, dark fruit; plums and smoke on the palate, good acidity, nice minerality, savory notes, excellent overall. Drinkability: 8, incredible QPR.

Here we are, my friends – few of my “Bordeaux finds” for you. By the way, I need also to mention that my friend, who kept tasting the leftover wines over a few days, said that they all kept on opening up, especially our QPR star, so I’m serious about that case buy recommendation. I also just realized that 4 of these wines are predominantly Merlot wines, so this post is also perfectly fitting for the October being the month of #MerlotMe!

Have you made any exciting Bordeaux discoveries as of late? How is your Merlot? Cheers!

WBC16: Overwhelmed Even Before The Day One

August 19, 2016 19 comments

Zinfandel grapesYet another ambitious plan goes nowhere. While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 in Lodi, I had a great idea of posting a recap of the prior day in the morning. No need to start checking for the missing posts from me – none of it happened. Every day was so packed from dawn to dusk that what seemed to be a great idea didn’t survive the test of the reality. Yes, I probably could muscle a few lines in, but it would come at the expense of the great time talking to the fellow bloggers, which was the trade off I didn’t want to make.

So here we are, the conference is over, so now I will do my best to share my perspective of the events as they took place. Here we go.

I took a flight early morning on Thursday to arrive to San Francisco. After getting the rental car, my first stop was in Napa, at Oxbow Public Market, where I met for lunch Danielle Irwin and her husband Derek. Oxbow Public Market is a very interesting place, conceptually somewhat close to the Chelsea Markets in New York, only built in modern, contemporary style, with lots of small artisan shops and restaurants, offering food and wine, fresh produce, coffee and whatever else your heart desires. Great place to stop by if you are looking for a break during your winery visits.

It was a great pleasure to meet Danielle and Derek face to face. I had been virtually talking to Danielle for a while – she is writing her blog Danielle Dishes The Vineyard Dirt at Naggiar Vineyards in Sierra Foothills, where her husband Derek is the winemaker. Derek is a vigneron who is involved in a lot of vineyard and winery projects, and he also produces his own wines under Irwin Family Wines label. I had a pleasure of tasting his Tempranillo, which was the first California Tempranillo I ever tasted. Conversation with Derek was an excellent introduction into the Lodi wines, as he gave me some ideas for what to expect there.

A hour an a half later, after a ride along route 12 which I wouldn’t call pleasant (lots of stop and go traffic, not a fun ride) I arrived to the Hampton Inn in Lodi, which became home outside of home for the next 3 days.

The first event of the night was the conference opening reception at the Mohr Fry Ranch, sponsored by Lodi Wine. With that reception came my first real encounter with Lodi wines.

LoCA wine glasses

Until coming to Lodi, I only knew it as a source of many Zinfandel wines. And then there was a perception of hot, high alcohol wines, based on the tasting of occasional Cabernet Sauvignon with Lodi regional designation. Yep, that’s all I had on Lodi in my head.

The very first taste of the Lodi wine broke that perception. By the end of the tasting, it was shattered completely and didn’t exist anymore.


I stopped at the table of the Fields Family Wines, and the very first white wine I tasted was 2015 Fields Family Wines Clay Station Vineyard Grenache Blanc Lodi. I never tasted Grenache Blanc from California, let alone the fact that it is coming from one of the hottest regions (yep, sense my fear?) – yet the wine had clean acidity, touch of minerality, restrained fruit – a great start.

You know what – now I’m afraid to bore you away with all this “acidity and restrained fruit”, but this was the trait of literally every Lodi wine I had an opportunity to taste – there were no fruit bombs, there were no hot wines, there were delicious, well made world-class wines, made with love and care. I just have to tell you this, as it was really an overarching impression over the three days of tasting, so now I will [try to] avoid repeating myself all the time.

Have to be honest – the next red wine I approached with trepidation (huh, like the previous one I did not, right). Tempranillo from Lodi? I already told you that I had good experience with Irwin Family Tempranillo from Napa, but it was one particular wine, which doesn’t guarantee anything in a long run. And if you are reading this blog for a while, you know my passion for the Spanish Tempranillo wines – and now in my mind I was facing a clear opportunity to be disappointed. First sip of this 2010 Fields Family Wines Tempranillo Lodi put all my doubts to rest – the wine had a nose of black fruit and spices, and it was dark and brooding on the palate, with those espresso notes so characteristic in the wines of Toro in Spain. An outstanding rendition by all means, and I would love to see it in a blind tasting against the actual Toro wines.

2010 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi was an excellent example of the cold climate Syrah – touch of roasted meat, dark fruit, spicy with clean acidity – great rendition of another one of my favorite grapes. 2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi added more complexity and more roasted meat, all with perfect balance. 2010 Fields Family Wines Petitte Sirah Lodi was simply outstanding, offering silky smooth, velvety texture, supple ripe black and blue fruit with enough acidity in the core to make the wine perfectly balanced. As you can tell, Fields Family Wines provided a splendid introduction into the wines of Lodi.

Harney Lane Winery

My [now exciting] Lodi wine deep dive continued at the next table. Successful first experience should’ve really put me at ease – and still, an Albariño on the label triggered a subconscious alarm – Lodi doesn’t leave the impression of the Rias Baixas (not that I visited Spain, unfortunately, but just a mental image of coastal region), so “just in case, prepare for the worst”, the concerned brain said. This happened to be really a needless worry. 2015 Harney Lane Albariño Lodi had a a nose of white fruit and excellent acidity on the palate, which is the typical characteristic of the Spanish Albariño. 2013 Harney Lane Tempranillo Lodi was a bit lighter than the Fields Tempranillo version (it was also 3 years younger), but still preserving the core of dark fruit and good acidity. 2013 Harney Lane Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vines Sinfandel Lodi was as classic as Lodi Zinfandel can be – blueberries, blackberries, spices – very tasty.

I could continue tasting Lodi wines as there were many more winemakers present. However, there is something you need to know about Wine Bloggers Conference. In addition to all of the program events, there are always lots and lots of activities taking place somewhere around the WBC space. Call them private tastings or what, but this is something to pay attention to. Thus we left the reception, and after a short drive arrived at a house where Troon Vineyards tasting was taking place.

Troon Vineyards started in Southern Oregon in 1976 (vines were planted in 1972). I’m sure that when you hear “Oregon wine”, your first thought is Pinot Noir – nevertheless, Troon Vineyard doesn’t produce any Pinot Noir wines, and instead focuses on Mediterranean grape varietals (and Zinfandel). Another interesting fact is that many of the Troon wines (especially the whites) are co-fermented, meaning that different varietals are fermented together at the same time, as opposed to fermenting separately and blending afterwards.

I tried a number of Troon wines, with the two favorites been 2015 Troon Blue Label Longue Carabine, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon (blend of Vermentino, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) – touch of perfume on the nose, medium to full body with expressive minerality and good acidity. 2013 Troon Black Label M*T Reserve, Applegate Valley, Souther Oregon (blend of Malbec and Tannat) had nose of black fruit with dark core and good structure, medium to full body and good balance.

The last stop of the long day (remember, I left the house at 5 am in the Eastern time zone) was at the Rodney Strong Vineyards party, which was luckily taking place right at the hotel.

Rodney Strong winery had been producing wines in Sonoma for more than 50 years and would well deserve its own post to talk about their long history (the oldest vineyard at Rodney Strong was planted in 1904) and their achievements. But for the sake of this post, let me just talk about few of their wines I had an opportunity to enjoy.

2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Charlotte’s Home, Northern Sonoma was excellent – grassy nose, fresh, crisp and restrained palate, with just a touch of grass and lemon – delicious and very refreshing. 2009 Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast was a stand out (no wonder Ramey Chardonnay was one of Decanter magazine’s 10 best Chardonnay wines in the world outside of Burgundy) – classic intense vanilla nose, vanilla apple and pear on the palate, excellent balance and excellent overall. As an extra bonus, the wine was poured from double-magnum (3L) bottle. In case you are wondering about connection here, David Ramey is a consulting winemaker at Rodney Strong.

The reds of Rodney Strong provided an amazing finish to the very long but very exciting day. 2013 Davis Bynum 2013 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 115 Russian River Valley was a classic California Pinot Noir – with plums and smoke, soft and round. 2010 Rodney Strong Symmetry Meritage Alexander Valley is one of the very best Bordeaux blends from California – again, classic, classic, classic – cassis, green bell pepper, mint, perfect structure, absolutely delicious wine. The last three reds were flagship single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines – 2009 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, 2013 Rodney Strong Rockaway Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and 2013 Rodney Strong Brothers Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Considering the end of a very long day, I’m not going to give you any details on the notes other than that all three were classic Cabernet wines, pure, varietally correct  and delicious – I would love to drink those at any day.

If you are still with me, aren’t you tired reading this post? I’m tired even writing it – but we are done here. My first WBC16 report is over – and more to follow. Cheers!

To be continued…

How Do You Spell “Delicious” in Italian? Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Might be a Good Answer

December 12, 2015 6 comments

Virtual tastings are always fun. For sure for the conversation and learning part. And of course the best part is while your conversation is virtual, tasting of the real wines. As always with wines, you like some, and some you don’t (OMG, I let the cat out of the bag!!!). And sometimes you are simply blown away.

The tasting of wines of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi was the latter. As a young oenophile, I heard about the wines of Machesi de’ Frescobaldi, a 700 years old winemaking family, for the first time in the early 2000, when I read an article in Wine Spectator, profiling Italy’s “big three” – Antinori, Banfi and Frescobaldi. However, until a few days ago, I wouldn’t claim that I had any real encounter with Frescobaldi wines.

Marchesi de'Frescobaldi Cru Wines

I guess there was a certain element of luck that my acquaintance with Frescobaldi wines started from their single vineyard, or so called “CRU” wines. Nevertheless, to be literally blown away by 4 wines out of 4 in the tasting is not something which happens often. I had plenty of single vineyard and high-end wines which left me simply indifferent. These 4 wines of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi had me say “wow” every single time I had a sip.

I will not inundate you with the history of the winery or any other facts – you can read that at your leisure at the winery’s web site. However, each wine we tasted is unique in its own ways – and this is something I want to share with you here. Below are my tasting notes, including the interesting facts I pondered across. Here we go:

2012 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Benefizio Riserva DOC (13% ABV, $45, 100% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: classic – light touch of butter, vanilla, apples, delicious and inviting
P: delicious. Golden Delicious apple, touch of vanilla, touch of lemon, crisp acidity on the finish, perfectly lingering.
V: 8+/9-, a treat. Would compete with any white Burgundies in elegance, and has great aging potential
Interesting wine notes: Chardonnay was planted by Frescobaldi in 1855. In 1878, Pomino was awarded Gold medal at Paris Exposition. Benefizio was produced in 1973 from the vineyard with elevation 700 meters (2,200 feet), and it was the first barrel-fermented wine in Italy.

2011 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Mormoreto Toscana IGT (14.5% ABV, $79, 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26 % Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot)
C: dark garnet
N: dark fruit, plums, eucalyptus, hint of dark chocolate, intense, warm and inviting
P: spectacular. Firm, structured, black currant, chewy tannins, soft and powerful at the same time. Medium-long finish.
V: 8+, a “wow” wine. Would easily go up against any Bordeaux
Interesting wine notes: The vineyard of Mormoreto started in 1976 (while Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot had been growing there for 150 years), with the first harvest in 1983. The name “Mormoreto” means “murmur” in Italian – the constant breeze from the valley makes vine leaves to move all the time, creating soft and gentle “murmur” sound. The wine is only produced in most favorable years.

2011 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Giramonte Toscana IGT (14.5% ABV, $150, Merlot and Sangiovese)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: beautiful, refined, restrained black berries, distant hint of dark chocolate
P: wow! Powerful, restrained, beautifully refined, dark fruit, fresh tannins, perfect balance, elegant, elegant, elegant. Long finish
V: 8+/9-. A wine in its own class. A clear nod to Italian heritage, weaved into a very modern, I-am-the-best, work of art.

2009 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Ripe al Convento di CastelGiocondo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG (15% ABV, $138, 100% Sangiovese)
C: dark ruby
N: plums, lavender, sweet oak, open, intense
P: complex, sweet plums, violets, nice herbal profile, delicious overall – perfectly ready to drink
V: 8+, delicious. One of the very best Brunello wines I ever had, period.

Four wines, one delicious tasting. Yes, these are not inexpensive wines, and for many people these can’t be everyday wines. However, any of these 4 wines are truly worth experiencing, so if you pride yourself with being an oenophile, put these wines on your “must try” list. Okay, you can thank me later. Cheers!

Many thanks to the kind folks at Colangelo PR for including me in the tasting and providing samples.

From Marche to Mendoza, With Vine

December 5, 2015 5 comments
Rutini Vineyards

Rutini Vineyards. Source: Rutini Wines web site

In 1884, Felipe Rutini arrived to Mendoza area in Argentina. Continuing family traditions from the early 1800s when his father, Francisco Rutini, started making wine in the area known as Le Marche in Italy, he planted grapes and started making wine now in Argentina. Don Felipe, as he became later known at, was 19 years old when he founded La Rural winery in the district of Coquimbito. In 1925, Rutini family continued pioneering traditions of Don Felipe by planting first vines in the Tupungato area of the Uco Valley, a high altitude home to some of the very best vineyards in Argentina.

Today Rutini family is one of the biggest wine producers in Argentina, making about 9.5 million bottles of wine per year and exporting it to the 40 countries. You might be well familiar with the line of wines under a common name of Trumpeter, which include Chardonnay, Torrontes, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and a number of others – Trumpeter is one of the 6 different ranges produced by Rutini Wines. Recently, Rutini Wines started introducing a new “Classic Series” line of wines in the United States, and I wanted to share my impressions from few of the wines in this line which I had an opportunity to taste.

But before we talk about the wines, let’s talk a bit more about Rutini family wine business today. Once again, I got together – well, yes, virtually, same as few times in the past – with Mariano Di Paola, head winemaker for Rutini Wines and one of the top winemakers in Argentina, and I had an opportunity to ask him a few questions. Here is what we talked about:

Q: Rutini family started making wines in Italy. Is there still a connection today at the Rutini Winery back to the traditions and customs of Region Marche?
A: No there are no direct links, but we still try to use the original Rutini winemaking influence today. Felipe Rutini was a visionary man who believed in Argentina’s winemaking capabilities, planting the first vines in Mendoza, and generations after we still work hard to maintain his legacy.

Q: If I understand correctly, Rutini is introducing its Classic Collection wines in the US. For how long had you been producing the Classic Collction wines? What were the main markets for it until now?
The Rutini collection was first released in Argentina with the 1996 Malbec, followed by Merlot and Gewürztraminer. It has been available in the U.S.: NY, TX, FL, MD, DC, MA, RI, and CA since the end of 2013.

Q: What are the oldest vines growing at Rutini vineyards?
A: Select Malbec vines in La Consulta date back over 100 years.

Q: What was the source of inspiration for the Rutini Sauvignon Blanc?
A: We wanted to create a well- balanced Sauvignon Blanc that spoke to the true characteristics of this varietal and represented the best quality of this wine.

Q: Sauvignon Blanc is really not the grape Argentina is known for. Do you think Argentinian Sauvignon Blanc has its own style and will become a wide movement?
A: Yes, Argentine Sauvignon Blanc has its own style which is heavily dictated by the particular growing region. Our continental climate, highly influenced by the Andes, and high altitude provide us with optimal grape growing conditions. Sunny day and dry summer conditions allow us to harvest fully ripened grapes. The cool evening temperatures and controlled irrigation serve to prolong hang time and to create a good balance between sugar and acidity. As there is more interest to try other Argentine varietals, there will be more Sauvignon Blanc production. Our Sauvignon Blanc style of course offers really good acidity, lemongrass aromas, floral aromas, but we also focus on producing a mineral style.

Q: Malbec is unquestionably a star red grape of Argentina. Is there a next great Argentinian Grape on the horizon, or is it going to be Malbec for a while?
A: We are always experimenting with different varietals, and while the native varietal Torrontes produces an exceptional and distinct white wine, Malbec will always shine when grown in this region, and it really speaks for the tradition and future of winemaking in Argentina.

Q: Do you use any of sustained, organic or biodynamic methods in production of your wines?
A: In our vineyards we do not practice organic or biodynamic methods, due to the health and hygiene of the plants themselves and the nobility of our soils, all of which , the use of pesticides that may eventually affect the vineyard is not necessary.

Q: It seems that most of the Rutini wines made from the grapes coming from the multiple vineyards. Do you have any plans to produce single vineyard or even single plot wines?
A: Yes, we do have plans to produce single-vineyard wines. At the moment wines are in the aging process and will launch in the market soon. ( Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon ).

Q: Probably a very unexpected question 🙂 – I understand that Rutini wines are sold in China. How big and/or important that market for Rutini family wines? What wines sell best in China?
China is a very important market for Rutini. As of 2013, the U.S. and China represented 50% of our sales, with the Rutini collection being the most popular brand sold. Chinese consume mostly red wines /red blends and for Argentina they prefer of course Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sparkling also sells well in this market.

So, what do you think? I think it was a very interesting conversation, albeit virtual. But now, I’m sure you are thirsty, so let’s have some wines. Here are my notes on the 3 Rutini wines form the Classic collection which I tasted:

2012 Rutini Wines Rutini Sauvignon Blanc Mendoza Argentina (12.5% ABV, $25, 3 month in oak, 50% new, 50% 2nd and 3rd use)
C: light golden
N: minerality, Chablis-like nose, very restrained
P: plump, creamy, delicious. I would never identify this as Sauvignon Blanc – Marsanne, Roussane or Chardonnay come to mind. The wine was also not over-chilled, just chilled slightly. This wine is an enigma – coming straight from the fridge, it shows more of a restrained sweetness, somewhat between New Zealand and California style
V: 8-, unique and interesting. The price looks somewhat high, but then this wine clearly aims at a nice Sancerre, so this provides rationale behind it

2012 Rutini Wines Rutini Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14% ABV, $35, 12 month in oak, 80% new French oak, 20% new American oak)
C: dark garnet
N: licorice, touch of tobacco, dark chocolate, blackberries, very inviting
P: fresh berries, touch dark chocolate, raspberries and blueberries, very smooth, medium body
V: 8-. I have to be very honest – this is not exactly my type of wine – however, there is large category of wine drinkers who will be ecstatic about this wine because of its smoothness.

2012 Rutini Wines Rutini Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14% ABV, $35, 14 month in oak, 50% new oak, 50% second use oak)
C: dark garnet
N: touch of mint, fresh berries, black currant, touch of barnyard, very interesting
P: surprisingly light and smooth, medium body (very unusual for the Cab), blackberries, vibrant acidity, good balance. Shows firmer structure after 10–15 minutes in the glass.
V: 8-, lighter style with lots of pleasure, this wine would definitely appeal to the people who prefers their reds to be not too heavy

Have you had any of the Rutini Wines, Classic Series, Trumpeter or any other? What are your thoughts?

I would like to thank kind folks at Gregory White PR for helping with the virtual interview and for providing the samples. Cheers!

Wagyu and Wine

October 22, 2015 9 comments

Wagyu and Wine at Capital GrilleWagyu burger, anyone? How about glass of Cab with it? Or may be a Pinot? Luckily, it is easy to solve that dilemma – as long as you have Capital Grille restaurant close by. Until November 22, Capital Grille has a special offering on the menu – 2 styles of Wagyu burgers, which you can pair with either 2012 Justin Isosceles Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles or 2013 Landmark Overlook Pinot Noir, California, all for a fixed price of $25, which I think is a great deal for a lunch with a glass of nice wine.

It is so happened that my wife had a day off in a middle of the week – despite the fact that we both work in the same small town, our schedules never align for two of us to have lunch together during the week. As soon as I found out that she will be off on Wednesday, the plan was ready – lunch at Capital Grille it is!

Before we talk about pairings, let me talk about the wines. 2013 Landmark Overlook Pinot Noir, California was a perfect example of California Pinot Noir – touch of smoke, ripe fruit with good acidity, ripe plums, perfect balance – definitely an excellent wine. 2012 Justin Isosceles Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles (15.5% ABV, 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc) was over the top delicious, ripe, exuberant, showing a touch to sweet to my liking, but still delicious and very palatable wine.

And the burgers arrived. The Cheeseburger was served with Fried egg and crisp onions, and the other burger was served with Gorgonzola and black truffle ( this was my choice, and while I ordered it medium-rare-plus, somehow it had a very limited flavor – don’t know why…). So which wine do you think worked better with which burger?

The result of the pairing was very interesting. Landmark Pinot Noir ended up perfectly complementing either one of the burger, and unfortunately, Justin Cab was somewhat fighting with both. No, there was no competition – but Landmark Pinot Noir still won as a pairing choice.

Or at least it did so for me, so you should use your chance to find out. Head over to the Capital Grille, and let me know which pairing will work for you. Not in the mood for a burger? Go find those wines, as they were delicious. Cheers!

How About Some Cabernet Franc for the #CabernetDay?

September 3, 2015 2 comments

The time has come again to celebrate #CabernetDay. I’m really curious – when you hear the words Cabernet Day, what is the first wine (or grape) which comes to mind – is it Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc? I would bet that at least two third of the people (if not more) would associate Cabernet Day with Cabernet Sauvignon – and can you blame anyone? While the most celebrated grape in the world comes from Bordeaux, most of Bordeaux wines are blends, so it is really California wine industry which brought Cabernet Sauvignon to such a star status in the wine world, making it an object of crave and desire.

I looked through my past #CabernetDay posts – most of them talk about Cabernet Sauvignon. Meanwhile, Cabernet Franc, a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, deserves its own praise. You see, the success of Cabernet Sauvignon, especially the California Cabernet Sauvignon, created certain image, certain collective expectations of any wines which happened to have the name Cabernet Sauvignon on the label – we expect power, we expect concentration, we expect big body and silky layers. When it comes to Cabernet Franc, we still accept the wide range of expression – from spicy and light Loire or US East Coast renditions to the powerful and concentrated Bordeaux (rare) and California wines.

Cabernet Franc is still allowed to be different, without demand to adhere to the “international standard” based on the name. You can find a lot of green bell peppers, earthiness and even tree brunches in the Loire (Bourgueil, Chinon, Saumur-Champigny) or US East Coast Cabernet Franc, of course often emanating that wonderful black currant, (a.k.a. “cassis”). On another end of the spectrum are California renditions of Cabernet Franc, which try to eliminate the green bell pepper and make the wine more similar to traditional Cabernet Sauvignon. Either way, Cabernet Franc provides a bigger variety compare to Cabernet Sauvignon – I never said it is better, though.

Field Recordings Cabernet FrancFor today’s #CabernetDay celebration I’ve chosen a Cabernet Franc from California. Well, by accident, it happened to be Cabernet Franc for the second day in the row, and for both days it is a Cabernet Franc from one of my favorite producers – Field Recordings. 2013 Hinterland Vineyard Cabernet Franc Paso Robles (14.1% ABV, $18, 88% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot), and 2013 Tommy Town Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (14.3% ABV, $18, 100% Cabernet Franc) – two beautiful wines, celebrating a noble grape. The Hinterland Vineyard version was a bit more polished and round, and the Tommy Town Vineyard needed for the alcohol to blow off before it would show itself properly, but both wines had nice, long black currant-loaded finish, and I would gladly drink either one again (those were my only bottles…).

How did you celebrate the #CabernetDay? What was in your glass? Cheers!