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2 Regions, 3 Glasses, 1 Wine Geek

May 28, 2022 Leave a comment

The assignment was simple. Compare 6 Cabernet Sauvignon wines from 2 famous winemaking regions in Chile. Find differences. decide on a favorite.

As with any assignment, let’s start with the theory.

Cabernet Sauvignon is unquestionably a king of Chilean wines – it is the best-known Chilean wine worldwide and it is the most widely planted red grape variety in Chile. It accounts for about 20%+ of all vineyard plantings in Chile, covering an area of about 99,000 acres, stretching through the entire country from north to south. At the same time, 97% of the Cabernet Sauvignon plantings are located in the Central Valley, spread between O’Higgins, Maule, and Metropolitan Region.

Narrowing it down to the wine-producing DOs, we are looking at the Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley, two of the best-known Cabernet Sauvignon areas in Chile. These are also the two regions that are the subject of our assignment.

Maipo Valley is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Chile, with its terroir shaped by the Maipo River, which begins at the Maipo volcano, creating a patchwork of valleys at the elevation of 2,500 feet above sea level. Some of the areas in Maipo Valley see a minimal number of sunny days required for the red grapes to fully ripen, with a climate somewhat similar to Bordeaux.

Colchagua Valley lies about 80 miles south of the city of Santiago. Parts of the valley are crisscrossed by the Tinguinirica River, taking its roots from the volcano crater in the Andes, and descending from about 2,000 feet to the 360 feet of elevation above sea level. Colchagua Valley generally offers much warmer daily temperatures compared to the Maipo Valley.

Here are some of the views of the beautiful regions:



I’m purposefully avoiding descending into the discussion about the different soil types throughout both regions but of course, alluvial soils, colluvial soils, gravel, clay are all intermixed around both regions. I don’t believe I can intelligently speak to the effect of a given soil type as it comes to the resulting taste profile of the wine, but our main difference between the wines from the two regions should be driven by the warmer versus cooler climate and some differences in the elevation.

I hope this is enough of the theory and it is time to get to practice – the lab portion of our assignment.

This is where the inner geek came out guns blazing – and this is where everything all of a sudden became muddy and complicated.

I decided that the challenge of comparing the 6 wines is insufficient, and to make things more fun, I decided to was possessed to try each wine from three different glasses: Glass 1- Riedel Universal tasting glass (this is the one typically offered at all of the wine tastings), Glass 2 – Chef & Sommelier Open’Up glass, one of most aesthetically pleasing glasses for the daily drinking, and Glass 3 – Riedel Radical Cabernet glass (my favorite glass for the Bordeaux varieties).

The wines I tasted all come from well-known producers. I was familiar with some prior to this tasting (Los Vascos, TerraNoble, Maquis) and I had a lot of Los Vascos and TerraNoble Cabernet wines in the past. Regardless, this was quite a respectful selection of the wines, expectedly illustrative to represent the two regions. Three of the wines were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3 had Cabernet Sauvignon as a dominant component.

To explain in more detail what I did: on the first day, I poured each one of the 6 wines into the 3 glasses – non-blind, one by one. I then tasted each wine from those 3 glasses – you will see the notes below, describing my perception of the same wine in each of the 3 glasses. The glasses had their effect, even though Radical Cab and Open’Up glasses offered mostly similar experiences. Open’Up glass required the bottom section to be sufficiently filled or the nose of the wine was becoming lost. All of the second and third day tastings were done only using the Universal tasting glass. Below you can see all of the tasting notes, from which it is very easy to conclude that I was unable to come to any meaningful conclusions and find any meaningful, region-conforming differences between the wines.

Here we go:

Team Maipo Valley:

2017 Lázuli Cabernet Sauvignon Valle del Maipo (14.5 ABV, $45, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Garnet

Glass 1: dark fruit, concentrated, iodine, forest underbrush, pyrazine
Interesting. Quite restrained. Not a lot going on.

Glass 2: much less expressive, just a hint of pyrazine
It is showing better. No idea how. Crunchy berry, soft tannins, still not very expressive

Glass 3: dark fruit, more focused than glass 1, a hint of bell pepper
Similar to glass 2. Dark fruit, baking spices, lots of minerality. Not very much Caberneish if you ask me.

Day 2: not good

Day 3: Fruit showed up. Fresh berries and eucalyptus. Is this a Cab? Not sure. Is it drinkable? Sure, on the third day.

2018 Miguel Torres Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Especial de Les Andes Valle de Maipo (14% ABV, $20, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Concentrated ruby with bright hues

Glass 1: very similar presentation to the first wine. Dark fruit, a hint of bell pepper, very distant hint, a touch of eucalyptus.
Definitely a Cabernet profile, more explicit than the previous wine. Eucalyptus, cassis, bell pepper practically non-existent.

Glass 2: this glass requires much higher pour to get to the aromatics.
The wine appears more refined and elegant on the nose than glass 1, more focused on eucalyptus and cassis.
Delicious, earthy cab. Good acidity, cassis, earthy and restrained.

Glass 3: interesting. Almost gets to the barnyard space. Definitely more earthy than glass 2.
The best experience. Dark fruit, cassis, pencil shavings, crisp tart finish.

Day 2: good

Day 3: excellent. Dark fruit, eucalyptus. Round tannins, good structure, dark and supple.

2016 Echeverría Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Edition Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $25, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Carménère)
Dark Garnet

Glass 1: very concentrated. Dark fruit, sapidity, earthiness, a hint of eucalyptus. Interestingly enough, all 3 wines so far are really similar.
The nice initial appearance of the fruit is instantly replaced by tannins. Serious French Oak tannins, front of the mouth is locked.

Glass 2: a much more elegant appearance than Glass 1. A hint of eucalyptus and bell pepper.
Fruitier than the previous 2 wines, nice load of dark berries, and then it is all tannins. Again, the wine appears to be more elegant.

Glass 3: similarly elegant to glass 2. Eucalyptus, bell pepper, and a touch of black pepper.
Berries, eucalyptus, and tannins. Should be outstanding with the steak.

Day 2: Excellent

Day 3: very good, open fruit – but not very much of the cab? I liked it more on the day 2

Overall notes: all 3 wines are very similar on the nose, showing differently on the palate. Earthy, concentrated wines. All need time to open.

Now, team Colchagua Valley:

2018 Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $20, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Carmenere, 1% Petit Verdot)
Garnet

Glass 1: bright and clean aromatics, cassis, eucalyptus, a hint of bell pepper
Plums, a touch of cherries, not a textbook Cabernet Sauvignon

Glass 2: interesting. Volcanic undertones, gunflint, almost a hint of sulfur, fresh crisp berries
Better showing, brighter fruit, some bitter undertones appeared (whole cluster?)

Glass 3: somewhat similar to the glass 2, but a bit more restrained
Amazing how much glass matters. This is almost at the expected level of Cabernet Sauvignon – a hint of cassis, mint. Still very restrained.

I’m so confused that I had to wash the glass.

Re-taste: it is not bad, but didn’t make a difference. Still, dry restrained, with some bitter notes on the finish.

Day 2: tight and closed

Day 3: definitely better. Bitter notes are gone. But the whole presentation is plum/cherry, not so much of the Cab Sauvignon

2018 Los Vascos Cromas Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14.5% ABV, $22, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Carmenere)
Concentrated ruby

Glass 1: dark berries, a hint of cassis, vanilla, bell pepper might be a product of my imagination
Delicious. Fresh, open, clean, dark berries, cassis, bell pepper, eucalyptus. A pretty classic cab if you ask me. Best of tasting so far.

Glass 2: Cassis and mint, medium intensity
Delicious. Very similar to glass 1, somehow with a bit more intensity of the flavors.

Glass 3: very restrained, cassis, bell pepper, a touch of tobacco
Delicious. Exactly as two previous glasses. Happy to drink every day.

Day 2: not good. Tight, closed.

Day 3: lots of tobacco and smoke on the nose. Dark fruit, borderline bitter. I don’t get this wine

2018 TerraNoble Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Valle de Colchagua (14% ABV, $20, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Garnet color

Glass 1: dark berries, eucalyptus
Delicious. Open, bright, good acidity, ripe fruit, not necessarily a textbook cab, but fresh and delicious.

Glass 2: dark berries, sapidity, earthy, a hint of bell pepper
Fresh, delicious, crisp berries, a touch of cherries, a bit of dark chocolate.

Glass 3: a hint of bell pepper, dark fruit, earthy
Bright, open, good structure of tannins. A cab? Maybe…

Day 2: good

Day 3: beautiful, supple, good tannins, good structure, open fruit, good finish.

On the day 2, my preferences were with these three wines:

And then there were two. On the third day, I had two wines as my favorites – and they represented two regions.

For the final decision – Torres versus TerraNoble.

Wine geek at work

Nose: advantage Torres – dark chocolate, a hint of bell pepper. TerraNoble mostly closed

Palate: slight advantage Torres – better structure and better precision. Dark and concentrated. Will continue improving.

The winner: 2018 Miguel Torres Cordillera Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Especial de Les Andes Valle de Maipo

So we can conclude that Maipo Valley won this strange competition, at least with a margin of error.

The assignment is complete. So what did we learn?

  1. Don’t play with your glasses, unless this is actually a goal of your exercise. Wine glasses matter and wine glasses can will confuse you.
  2. Hey, wine glass matters.
  3. I probably should’ve done the blind tasting instead
  4. Chilean Cabs need time. Practically all showed better on the second day.
  5. I was unable to find the real differences between Colchagua and Maipo wines

Oh well. Play with your wine. Have fun. One way or the other, experience is still an experience, and as long as you desire, there is always something to learn.

Do you have a favorite Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon? Care to share? Cheers!

American Pleasures #6: A Tale of Two Cabs

January 4, 2022 2 comments

Wine should give you pleasure – there is no point in drinking the wine if it does not. Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines, that were the delicious standouts – one after another, making me even wonder if someone cursed my palate. I enjoyed all of those wines so much that I decided to designate a new series to them – the American Pleasures. 

California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Magical words for any wine connoisseur. Out of more than 100 grape varieties used in wine production in California, I would safely bet that Cabernet Sauvignon clout exceeds that of Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, and even including Pinot Noir in this list is a stretch. Cabernet Sauvignon is The One of California wines (if you are willing to disprove this with actual numbers, I will be happy to publish a correction, but until someone will step forward, this stands as unquestionable truth).

While we can agree that California Cabernet Sauvignon is an object of craving for uncounted many, it also should be recognized as an object of controversy. How do I mean it? Easy. There are probably 50 or so producers whose wines are impossible to get, due to both availability and pricing – you have to be on the mailing list with a waiting list stretching for 20 years or so, and once you get there you should be willing to pay $500++ per bottle of wine you will need to wait for another 10-15 years to enjoy. Alternatively, you need to be prepared to pay an upward of $500 per bottle and scour the internet daily looking for those special bottles.

On the flip side, you can join most of us walking into the wine store asking (begging?) for a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $20, trying not to notice the poorly hidden smirk on the face of the salesperson, who knows that we are on the quest for the impossible. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon and not buying those wines from your expense account, I’m sure you can relate to the experience firsthand. Even $50 per bottle doesn’t come with any guarantees. But – that number gives us hope. Yes, folks, it is possible to find a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $50. Let’s talk about it.

Lots of my wine learning and discoveries are linked to unimitable wine educator Kevin Zraly and his Windows on the World Wine School. I remember one of the lessons where we were talking about California Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the wines was particularly good, and I remember Kevin remarking that the wine was produced by Louis M Martini, who doesn’t charge nearly enough for the quality of the wines they produce. That reference got engraved in my memory literally forever, and Louis M Martini became somewhat of the safe bet when looking for reasonably priced and consistent California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Louis M Martiny winery was founded in 1922 when Prohibition was already in full swing. It was actually known as L.M. Martini Grape Products Company and was focused on the production of sacramental wines and concentrate for home winemaking. In 1933, expecting that Prohibition will end, the new winery building was constructed north of the town of Napa. This was the actual beginning of the Louis M Martini winery and pioneering role of the Martini family in the Californian wine industry, helping to establish Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1943, being one of the first to use wind machines to prevent frost in the vineyards, and being one of the first to bottle varietal Merlot in 1970.

Louis M Martini offers a substantial range of wines today, going way beyond standard Sonoma and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon offerings, including Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the best regions in Napa Valley such as Stagecoach Vineyard and Howell Mountain, as well as a number of Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel wines – unfortunately, most of those are priced well beyond the $50 we are talking about today. Sill, there is Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which can be found at around $15, and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon around $35. The Napa Valley bottling I tasted was simply outstanding with or without any regard to the price:

2016 Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (15.1% ABV, $40)
Garnet
Cassis, eucalyptus, baking spices
Roll of your tongue smooth, velvety, fresh cassis, perfectly ripe fruit but over, firm structure, long finish.
8+/9-, excellent, classic California Cabernet Sauvignon

If Louis M Martini can be called an iconic winery, then our next winery can be only referred to as the most iconic winery in Napa Valley. Charles Krug winery, established in 1861 in Napa Valley by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug was the very first winery in Napa Valley, the 540 acres estate which Charles Krug received via marriage. In 1943, an immigrant family from Italy, Mondavi, purchased the Charles Krug estate which had been run by the family now in 4th generation.

Charles Krug winery also offers a good number of wines, including Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Zinfandel, and others, with Cabernet Sauvignon still being a flagship offering, including clonal selections (one of the Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon wines is called X Clone as it is produced as a blend of 10 Cabernet Sauvignon clones). I always wanted to try the Charles Krug wines, and finally, I was able to do so:

2017 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $39, 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Petite Sirah)
Dark garnet
Blueberry, blueberry jam, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco
A touch of nutmeg and cloves, much crispier on the second day, firm tannins, firm structure, good acidity.
8-/8, definite improvement on the second day.

Comparing these two Cabernet Sauvignon wines, Louis M Martini was a perfect pop and pour example, which is ultra rare among California Cabernet Sauvignon, where Charles Krug bottling definitely needed time.

Here you are, my friends. If you are looking for a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $50, there is still hope!

A Quick Trip To California With Chalk Hill Estates

December 21, 2021 Leave a comment

Have wine, will travel!

Let’s start with the question – equally eternal and pointless, but always fun – does size matter? Yes, of course, it does.

Now, a follow-up question – is bigger always better? Remember, this is still a wine blog, so please have the right perspective here.

While you are thinking about it, let me share what I learned from one and only Kevin Zraly during his Windows on the World Wine School class.

Kevin asked everyone to imagine a circle – let’s say, it would be California. Now let’s imagine a smaller circle inside of this one – let’s say, now it is Napa Valley. The wines from Napa Valley are better than the wines from the whole of California (I’m not doing any particular comparisons, just a general bottle of California appellation wine versus a general bottle of Napa Valley wine – there always will be exceptions, but this is not what we are concerned with right now).

Next, let’s place even a smaller circle inside of the Napa Valley – how about Oakville, one of the best appellations in Napa. Oakville designated wines should be (on average) better than Napa Valley designated wines, would you agree? But how about nesting next smaller circle inside – To-Kalon Vineyard, one of the most coveted vineyards in the whole of California? To-Kalon designated wines are some of the most sought-after wines in California, so the tendency is clear – the smaller circles get, the better wine should become. We don’t even have to stop at the vineyard level – we can continue to the blocks and plots, but I think you got the point.

So now, what is your answer to the question? Yes, when it comes to the wine appellations, smaller is usually better – but of course, don’t apply this logic when someone is asking if you would prefer a standard bottle of Screaming Eagle as your present, or if you would prefer a Jeroboam.

The Chalk Hill AVA (AVA is an abbreviation for the American Viticultural Area) is a tiny sliver of land located in the northeast corner of Russian River Valley AVA on the border with Alexander Valley AVA. The area is so small that it was first discovered by Fred Furth from his plane, while he was flying over the Russian River. Fred started the Chalk Hill Estates winery in 1972, and in 1983, the Chalk Hill area received the status of the AVA.

Chalk Hill’s name comes from the white chalk volcanic soils prevalent in the area. While Chalk Hill is a sub-appellation of the Rissian River Valley, it is warmer and has a lesser amount of fog, but more of the cooling breeze. Chalk Hill AVA is best known for its classically Californian grapes – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Malbec, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel are also successfully growing there.

Chalk Hill Estate is a 1,300 acres property, with 350 acres of vineyards, planted vertically on the valley slopes. Chalk Hill Estate was acquired in 2010 from its original owner, Fred Furth, by Bill Foley, a successful financier turned vigneron, who smartly and successfully amassed a good number of famous California wineries under his Foley Family Wines brand. Actually, after the acquisition, Chalk Hill became home for the Foley family. Courtney Foley, the youngest daughter of Bill and Carol Foley, grew up surrounded by the beauty of Chalk Hill Estate, where now she became a winemaker working together with her dad.

Chalk Hill Estate vineyards are sustainably farmed, with a focus on soil and water conservation. Lots of work had been done in the vineyards to research how well different clones grow in the different sections of the vineyards, with particular emphasis on Chardonnay clones. To demonstrate the results of the study, Chalk Hill even produces a special Chalk Hill Clonal Collection set of wines.

I had an opportunity to try two of the Chalk Hill Estate latest release wines:

2019 Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay Chalk Hill AVA (14.9% ABV, $45, 11 months in French oak, 40% new)
Light golden
A hint of gunflint, lemon, herbs
Butter, vanilla, good acidity, bitter undertones
7+, over-extracted for me, but I’m sure someone might like the raw power

2018 Chalk Hill Estate Red Chalk Hill AVA (15.5% ABV, $70, 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Malbec, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Carménère, 21 months in French oak, 61% new)
Dark garnet
Cassis, pure cassis
Beautiful crunchy cassis, cherries, eucalyptus, a hint of espresso, well noticeable but not overbearing tannins, good balance, full-body, long finish.
8+, excellent

Somehow, the Chalk Hill Chardonnay is not made for me (this is not my first encounter with the wine, but the results are identical every time). The Estate Red was a pure delight, though.

And now it is time to conclude our trip. I hope you enjoyed a brief visit to the beautiful Chalk Hill Estate – next time, I’m sure it is worth a hands-on experience. Cheers!

Of Hydrangeas, Ocean, Sunsets, and Wine

July 13, 2021 8 comments

I’m sure this cryptic title leaves you wondering what are we going to talk about in this post, right?

Yeah, a lame attempt at self-humor.

And as you can see I want to talk about some of my most favorite things – flowers, waves and sand, sunsets, and, of course, wine. Mostly in pictures – except the wine part.

We just came home after a weekend in Cape Cod, and if you ever visited The Cape as it is typically called, I’m sure you noticed the abundance of hydrangeas. There is rarely a house that doesn’t sport a beautiful hydrangeas display.

Hydrangeas come in many colors, which can be also influenced by what you feed the flowers. They typically bloom the whole summer and deliver non-stop pleasure – at least in my world. Let me share some of my favorites with you:

Our next subject is the ocean. Cape Cod is a special place, where you can find huge swathes of water only a few inches deep, or simply a wet send that goes for miles and miles during low tide. The water and the sky magically connect, creating an ultimate rhapsody in blue – see for yourself:

The sunsets were challenging this time around. Two days out of three that we spent on The Cape, the weather was not good at all – rain, wind, and more of the rain and wind. Nevertheless, the weather was taking a break in the evening to present a beautiful sun setting imagery, which we enjoyed from the comfort of the deck – with a glass of wine in hand:

And this brings us to the last subject of today’s post – the wine. This was a vacation, and I was absolutely not interested in taking any sort of formal notes. But somehow, the majority of the wines we had were so good (with the exception of some sort of homemade wine from Moldova, which we had to pour out) that I can’t help it not to share the pleasure. Here are my brief notes.

We started with 2020 Hugues de Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet AOP (14.1% ABV) – fresh, clean, well balanced. The wine offered a touch of the whitestone fruit and was a perfect welcome drink after 4 hours of driving. It is also very well priced at about $12 at Total Wines in Boston, which is almost a steal at that level of quality.

2019 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Galilee (13.5% ABV) offered a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc rendition with a hint of freshly cut grass and beautiful creaminess. This wine was more reminiscent of Sancerre than anything else – an excellent effort out of Israel.

2016 Sonoma Mountain Steiner Vineyard Grüner Veltliner (14.1% ABV) – one of the perennial favorites (I’m very disappointed when my Carlisle allocation doesn’t include Gruner Veltliner). Beautiful fresh Meyer lemon, grass, clean acidity – in a word, delicious.

The last white wine we had was 2016 Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé AOP (13% ABV). Another Sauvignon Blanc – plump, creamy, delicious. Nicely restrained and round. It is definitely a fun wine as long as the price is not taken into the consideration – otherwise, at about $40, both Yarden (under $20) and Picpoul wines would give it a great run for the money.

Our Rosé was fun 2020 Samuel Robert Winery Pinot Noir Rosé Vineyard Reserve Willamette Valley (13% ABV) – the Oregon Rosé is just not very common. This wine had nice strawberries all around – on the nose and on the palate. I would probably want it to be a tiny bit less sweet, but the wine was still quite enjoyable.

2017 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi (14.5% ABV) is one of my favorite wines to surprise friends and even myself with. It starts as a solid Chianti would – cherries, tobacco, leather, iodine. But in a few minutes of breathing, it magically evolves to add sandalwood, nutmeg, and exotic spices. An incredibly heart-welcoming sip.

And to top of everything else, the 1997 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valey (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc) was thrown into the mix by my brother-in-law. This wine was a testament to California Cabernet Sauvignon; a simple proof that well made California Cab might be the best wine on Earth. This wine had no – none – signs of aging. Fresh, young, concentrated, cassis and cherries with a touch of mint and coffee, beautifully layered and well structured. This wine was not yet at its peak – I wonder how many more years it would require to reach the top…

And now, an absolute surprise – 2000 EOS Tears of Dew Late Harvest Moscato Paso Robles (10.5% ABV) – a late harvest wine from Paso. Beautiful orange color, and nose and palate loaded with ripe apricots – a hedonistic pleasure on multiple levels.

Now that is the whole story I wanted to share. What is your favorite flower? Have you tasted any amazing wines lately? Cheers!

 

 

Seeking Cabernet

June 1, 2021 2 comments

Now, this is frustrating.

At the recent dinner with friends at Knife Pleat restaurant (amazing food!), I assumed my role of designated Wine Guy and was going through 20+ pages of the wine list. 1970 Solar di Samaniego Rioja Gran Reserva caught my eye – at $200, it represented an amazing value for a 51-year-old wine. After confirming with the Somm that the wine is still well drinkable, only more delicate than powerful, I had to wriggle an approval for spending $200 on a bottle (I was not paying).

After the wine made it into the glasses, it appeared that everyone was really enjoying the nose, which was complex and spectacular. The first sip of the wine, served at the cellar temperature, was met with more than subdued enthusiasm – let’s be honest here, it was rather a sigh of disappointment. There was nothing wrong with the wine, but it was well closed and at least needed the time to open up.

After a few attempts to enjoy the wine, my friend asked “can you recommend any big, round, smooth, and velvety wines”? It turns out a few years back when she just arrived in Irvine, she got a bottle of wine at the local store. The wine was on sale for about $20 a bottle, and all she remembers was Cabernet Sauvignon and that she really enjoyed the wine – but she has no idea about the producer, the vintage, or any other essential elements.

Have you been in a situation where a simple question can lead to literally complete paralysis while trying to answer it? This might be a situation where your knowledge becomes your big handicap, as you try to hastily dissect the complexity of such a simple question.

Basically, the question asks “can I recommend an amazingly good California Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable price to someone who is not a wine aficionado, but just want to occasionally enjoy a good glass of wine?” – how easy this should be to answer for the Wine Guy? For yours truly Wine Guy, not so easy.

Good California Cabernet Sauvignon might be one of the best pleasures on Earth. I’m talking about the wine which unequivocally extorts “oh my god” from the red wine lover after the first sip. Of course, this is a simple idea – but not so simple to provide a recommendation. We need to take into account price, availability, and readiness to drink. BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve might be amazing with proper age, but with the price of $100+ per bottle and pretty much undrinkable upon release, this is not the wine I can recommend. The same story would be with Kamen, one of the most amazing Cabernet Sauvignon wines I ever tasted. Textbook, Turley, or Waterstone would offer more reasonably priced options (under $50), but still, I don’t know how amazing these wines are upon release. Suggesting non-winos to decant will not work. Asking them to keep the wine in the cellar until it reaches perfection will not be received very well. That leaves us with only one option – we need to find a Cabernet Sauvignon which is delicious upon release.

In an attempt to rehabilitate me after (almost) an epic failure at the restaurant, I decided to look for the simplest solution – the wines from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s wines rarely disappoint; they are light on the wallet and don’t require cellaring or decanting to be enjoyed.

Trader Joe’s offers a good selection of Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Choosing the wines was a combination of prior experience and just good-looking labels – Justin makes outstanding wines in Paso Robles; you can’t go wrong with or beat the prices of the Bogle wines);  I had MOONX wines before, and have good memories of them.

Here are the Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Trader Joe’s I offered to my friend to taste (notes are mine, of course):

2018 Paso Dragon Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
sage, blackberries, red and black fruit
Blackberries, herbs, medium body, clean acidity, nice finish with a touch of pepper
7+, a bit too weak for the Cab, but easy to drink wine. Can’t really identify as Cabernet Sauvignon.

2018 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $24.95)
Ruby
A touch of eucalyptus and mint, blackberries; second day – earthy and complex, a hint of gunflint.
A distant hint of cassis and tobacco
Second day: Classic cab is coming through, cassis and mint, clean acidity, crisp tannins.
8/8+, this wine needs at least 5, better yet 10+ years in the cellar to shine.

2018 Boggle Cabernet Sauvignon California (14.5% ABV, $7.99)
Light garnet
Bell peppers, a hint of cassis
Blackberry preserve with tobacco and a touch of coffee. More herbaceous than anything else.
7+, it is a drinkable wine, but might be the least Cabernet of the group.

2019 Moonx Cabernet Sauvignon California (13% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
A touch of cassis, berries compote, a hint of bell pepper
Lodi fruit presentation, a hint of cinnamon, warm spices, sweet tobacco, berries preserve, a touch of fresh tannins, medium finish.
8-, easy to drink, good balance, pleasant, great QPR.

My friend’s favorite on the first day was Paso Dragon. MOONX was a favorite on the second day. She declared Justin “not bad” on the second day. And she was unmoved by Bogle on either day.

From my point of view, only Justin was worthy of Cabernet Sauvignon designation – give it time, and it will be a spectacular one. MOONX was very good too, but it didn’t necessarily scream Cabernet Sauvignon. We need to remember though that my friend’s love and desire for Cabernet is simply based on the good prior experience with the wine named Cabernet Sauvignon, but was that a classic Cab nobody would ever know.

There you go, my friends. Let’s go on the quest to find the best, varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly drinkable upon release, at a price that leaves 401k intact. Ready to offer recommendations? Be my guest…

CASARENA, The Next Level Of Argentinian Wines

June 9, 2020 2 comments

The next level of Argentinian wines – I can literally see a “yeah, come on, really???” reaction from many of you. What does that even mean – the next level?

Okay, no need to get all feisty here – let’s talk about it. Argentinean wines require no introduction to any of the wine lovers today. Argentinian Malbec is practically a mandatory element of any bar or restaurant wine list, on equal footing with Cabernet Sauvignon from California. Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends from Argentina also command topmost respect of wine lovers around the world. If the top-level is already achieved, what is the next level above it?

The “next level” here is my attempt to convey the emotion, the excitement of pleasure of tasting the delicious wines. While Argentinian wines are unquestionably the world-class, many of them are hardly distinguishable. The taste of Argentinian Malbec sometimes gets too predictable, and the wines lose their personality. Thus when you discover the wine which doesn’t conform to the “universal profile”, you feel like you are advancing to the next level of the game. I hope my tasting notes will convey my feeling about these wines, but let’s talk about the region first.

I perfectly remember listening to Kevin Zraly explaining the concept of quality of the wines. Imagine the set of enclosed circles. The biggest circle is equated to the big region – let’s say, California. Wines labeled with California as the region can be made from grapes grown anywhere in the state of California. The next circle is a sub-region – let’s say, Napa Valley. Wines labeled as Napa Valley can be produced only from the grapes grown in Napa Valley. That gives us a higher level of confidence in the quality of the wines, as Napa Valley is well known for the quality of the grapes. We can still narrow our circles, and now we are looking at the sub-region of the Napa Valley itself – Howell Mountain, Rutherford, Spring Mountain – there are many. Now your choice of grapes is restricted only to such a sub-region, which often offers a common taste profile coming from the vineyards in that subregion, such as famous Rutherford dust in the Cabernet Sauvignon wines sourced from the Rutherford appellation. And even now we might not be done with our circles, as we can restrict our source of grapes even further to the individual vineyard, such as Beckstoffer To-Kalon, and then even to the individual blocks and plots within the same vineyard. The smaller the circle is, the higher is the quality of the grapes, and that should translate into the quality of the wines.

Let’s now apply our circles to Argentina. We will start in Mendoza, probably the best-known winemaking area in Argentina – think about all the Argentinian Malbecs you are consuming. Continuing narrowing down, let’s now go to the Luján de Cuyo, the region located just south of Mendoza city. Luján de Cuyo is the first officially recognized appellation in Argentina (established in 1993), and home to some of the best known Argentinian wineries such as Catena Zapata and Cheval des Andes. Continuing narrowing down we now need to go to the town of Agrelo, where  CASARENA Bodega & Viñedos is located.

I don’t like to use cliché in my writing. Nevertheless, if I would try to describe what makes Luján de Cuyo (and Agrelo for that matter) a great winemaking region, I feel that I’m doing exactly that – shamelessly using all available wine cliché all the way. See for yourself: Most of the vineyards in the region are located on a high altitude, which increases the sun exposure during the day and also creates a significant temperature drop in the evening – we are talking about significant diurnal temperature variation which slows down the ripening and helps grapes to retain acidity. Close proximity to the Andes creates a desert-like environment as it significantly reduced the rainfall – now we are talking about dry farming. Many vineyards in the region are also located on the rocky soils, forcing the vines to work hard to reach the nutrients. There is rarely greatness without adversity, and the combination of all the factors mentioned above presents exactly the adversity needed to produce excellent grapes – and yes, this unavoidable wine cliché. 

CASARENA Bodega & Viñedos was founded in 2007, with the first officially released vintage being 2009, starting, quite expectedly, with Malbec. After tasting its first commercial success with a slew of good critic ratings, CASARENA continued to narrow down the circles and created 7 single-vineyard wines coming from 4 different vineyards. I had the pleasure of tasting samples of 3 of these single-vineyard wines and was literally blown away by the quality.

Here are my notes:

2017 Casarena Malbec Naoki’s Vineyard Agrelo Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (14.5% ABV)
Dark garnet, very inviting
Dark fruit, cassis, tobacco, pencil shavings, a touch of mint
Medium to full body, succulent red fruit, vanilla, perfect acidity, silky smooth, well-integrated tannins, good minerality
8+, balanced, and delicious. Well refined compared to a typical Argentinian Malbec

2017 Casarena Cabernet Sauvignon Owen’s Vineyard Agrlo Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (14% ABV, 80 years old vines)
Dark garnet, practically black
Day 1:
Nose – dark, funky, concentrated, earth, tobacco
The palate is very contrasting to the nose, classic Cab with Cassis and bell pepper, not very expressive
Day 2:
Nose and palate are similar, more of a Malbec style – vanilla, blue fruit, coffee, dark chocolate.
Day 3:
Nose – Autumn forest, cherries, coffee
Palate – classic Bordeaux, a touch of currant, bell peppers, soft, supple, luscious, the well present core of minerality.
8/8+, excellent. My best analogy for this wine would be Dunn Howell Mountain wines, with the dark power imparted on the wines.

2017 Casarena Cabernet Franc Lauren’s Vineyard Agrelo Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (14.2% ABV, 18 months in new French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black
Coffee, a hint of cherries, minerally-driven
Cassis, cherries, soft, round, goos texture
8+, might be my favorite of the tasting.

These are three wines which would bring any dinner or friends gathering to the next level – I don’t know if you can see my point just by reading, the best way would be to pour a glass of CASARENA wine and take a quick trip to Argentina. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Another Day, Another Enigma

March 8, 2020 Leave a comment

It was just another Sunday. It could’ve been any day in the oenophile’s house. You know, when you open a bottle which you think will be enough for the evening, but then people come over, and you open another, and another, and another. Yes, it doesn’t matter if it was Sunday or not. Just another day.

The important point here – wine is an enigma.

e·nig·ma
/iˈniɡmə/

noun

a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand

This is not the first time I have to evoke the enigmatic virtue of wine – I had quite a few puzzling experiences, with the wines going amazing – undrinkable – amazing (here is one example), or with the wines needing 4-5 days to become drinkable after they had been open. The element of mystery of not knowing what you are going to find once the cork is pulled out of the most familiar bottle is definitely a big part of the excitement, but some times it becomes too much excitement, in my opinion. Anyway, let’s talk about that Sunday, shall we?

Guardian Cellars is a small produced in Woodinville, Washington. I visited the winery in 2014, and tasted through a bunch of wines which were one better than another (here is my excited post about that visit). I brought back with me a bottle of 2011 Guardian Cellars The Informant Wahluke Slope – 97% Syrah, 3% Viognier – and every time I would pull it off the shelf, I would put it back – you know how it is with single bottles, it is very hard to find the right moment to pull that cork. By the way, this bottle was simply stored in the wine cage standing in the room with temperature fluctuating around 70F and no direct sunlight – but not in the wine fridge or a cellar. Don’t really know what prompted me to finally get this bottle out, but I did. And it was delicious. Not a hint of age, dark garnet color, intense nose of blackberries, perfectly balanced dark berries, pepper, and crushed rocks on the palate. This was simply an excellent bottle – not the one which prompted my “enigma” outburst. And that note about storage conditions? People, don’t be afraid to keep your wine, even if you don’t have a cellar, wine fridge or a basement. If you do it right, you might be rewarded handsomely – well worth the risk.

I thought we might be able to get by with just one bottle, but then my daughter arrived with her friend who is “in the biz”, so the next bottle had to be special too. Another single bottle found its proper fate – 2006 Sequoia Groove Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (this one was stored in the wine fridge in case you are wondering). There was nothing enigmatic about this wine – well, except maybe how quickly it disappeared. The wine was an absolutely delicious, succulent example of Napa Valley greatness – still dark garnet, black currant, mint, and eucalyptus on the nose, ripe berries, currant leaves, touch of anise, good acidity, firm structure – a delight all in all.

So the Sequoia Groove was gone, what next? After short deliberations, 2013 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley was pulled out. I really like Neyers wines, enjoyed many of them in the past, including the bottles from the same vintage. The bottle was opened with no issues, poured in the glass, and this is where the strange things started. The wine was too sweet. The nose was fine, but on the palate, it was just sugar, sugar, sugar. Okay, let’s decant. 30 minutes later, 1 hour later, 2 hours later, the wine stayed the same – a sugary concoction.

No wine can be wasted in this house, so the content of the decanter went back into the bottle. The next day it was the same. Two days later, the sugar significantly subsided, and the wine started to resemble a lot more a classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon as one would expect.

So what was that? I know the wine is a living thing and transformation still continues in the bottle. Still, how one can know when the wine is drinkable, and when it is not? Was this a fluke, an issue with a particular bottle? Maybe. Over the years I noticed a significant bottle variation in Neyers wines overall, so this would support a theory of “just a fluke”. Or was it just a state of this 7 years old wine? Maybe. There is no good way to tell. However, I have two more bottles of the same wine, and they are not getting opened for a while.

Going back to our evening, just for the fun of sharing some pictures, our dinner menu included some BBQ chicken skewers – while I don’t have pictures of food, I have a couple pictures of burning charcoal which I’m happy to share 🙂

While Neyers was declared undrinkable, I had to entertain my guests with something else, so I pulled a bottle of 2015 Wind Gap Mi-Pente Pinot Noir Sonoma County, one of my latest Last Bottles finds. Wind Gap is best known as Syrah specialist, so I was surprised to even find Wind Gap Pinot Noir (I’m not even sure Wind Gap brand exists anymore – it used to be run by talented Pax Mahle, who now went back to his own brand Pax – this story definitely deserves its own post). The wine was delicious – crunchy cherries and smoke, firm structure, lots of energy – this was an excellent finish to the good Sunday evening.

Here you are, my friends. Wine is an enigma. Who else thinks that wine is an enigma? Raise your hands glasses.

Daily Glass: Cab And The Whole Nine Yards

January 24, 2020 2 comments

I’m sure you are well familiar with the phrase “The whole 9 yards” – technically translating into “lots of stuff”. You know what the fun part is? Nobody knows where this expression came from. There is a lot of research, a lot of “true origin” claims and an equal amount of disparaging remarks about the other side not knowing a squat about the subject (which seems to be the sign of times, sigh). We are not here to research or discuss the expression – my intention is to talk about a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, but I will also give you the whole nine yards of related and unrelated “things”.

Everything started with a simple task – I was in need of the present for a friend’s birthday. My typical present is a bottle of wine of the birth year vintage (1977). However, it is getting more and more difficult to find the wine of such an old vintage at a reasonable price or even at all. After spending some time with Wine-Searcher and Benchmark Wine website, and finding nothing but a few bottles of the vintage Port, I decided that it is the time for the plan B, which means simply finding an interesting bottle of wine.

Next problem – where should I look for an interesting bottle of wine? Online seems to be the most obvious choice – but just to make things more interesting, I have to tell you that my gift recipient owns two liquor stores – yep, surprising him is not a trivial task.

Do you have an American Express credit card? Of course, you are wondering what it has to do with our story? It is most directly related. If you have the American Express credit card (AMEX for short), and if you ever looked at your account online, you probably saw the section called Amex Offers & Benefits. In that section, you can find 100 special offers, allowing you to earn additional points or save money on different items you can buy with the AMEX card. I have a good experience with these offers, these are real savings, so I have a habit of periodically logging into the account and scrolling through the offers. One of the offers I saw quickly attracted my attention – save $50 on a $150 purchase at WineAccess. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a very good deal for me.

I was not familiar with Wine Access, so I got to the website to see if I can actually put this offer to good use. First thing I saw on the site is that $120 or 6 bottles purchase includes shipping, and if you are buying wine online, you know that shipping cost is one of the most annoying elements of the wine buying experience, so this made deal even sweeter – in case I can find something interesting.

I can’t tell you why and how, I first decided to search for Grosset, one of the very best Australian Riesling producers, and to my surprise and delight, I found Grosset Riesling available. So now I needed to add something else to reach my target number – $150.

I found an interesting Bordeaux, and next, I noticed a red blend from the Three Wine company in Napa, one of my favorite producers. My excitement happened to be premature, as once I started the checkout process, created an account and set my shipping address in Connecticut, I found out that I can’t complete my purchase as Three Wine red blend can’t be shipped to Connecticut (don’t you love US wine laws?).

I had to restart my search, and now I noticed Napa Cabernet Sauvignon called Idiosyncrasy – never heard of it, but Oakville Cab for $25 (this was a 50% discount off a standard price of $50) – why not to try one? I got two bottles, one for me, and one for my friend – done and done.

Once the order was placed I decided to check what exactly I just bought. I did a search for the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet online. I didn’t find too many references, but I did find a post which was very critical of the wine, saying that it was thin, and under-extracted Cabernet Sauvignon, absolutely no worthy of $43 which author paid for the wine. I also learned that this wine was specially produced for the Wine Access wine club by the well-known winemaker.

Truth be told – I don’t like wine clubs. What I learned about the wine, didn’t add confidence to my decision. Oh well – now I just had to wait for the shipment to arrive.

I didn’t have to wait for a long, the box showed up on the doorstep in a few days. Upon opening, I found not only 6 bottles which I ordered, but also neat, well-designed information cards – you can see it here:

Each card offered the story related to the wine, pairing suggestions, ideal drinking window put on the bottle tag which could be easily separated from the page and hang on the bottle in case you store it in the cellar. The back of the info card offered space for personal notes. Again, very well designed – would make any oenophile happy.

I read the story of the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon – it was written from the first person, as winemaker talked about his experience and how he came to the creation of this wine specifically for the Wine Access wine club. While the winemaker mentioned his work at Quintessa, Lail, Dalla Valle, and Purlieu, his latest adventure, his name was not found anywhere on the page. I had to figure out that his name was Julien Fayard by visiting Purlieu website.

Nice paper and story are important, but the truth is in the glass. Remembering the bad review, I poured the glass of 2016 Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley (14.9% ABV), ready to be disappointed. To my delight, I was not. The keyword to describe this wine would be “elegant”. Varietally correct nose with touch cassis and mint. On the palate, the wine was rather of Bordeaux elegance – less ripe but perfectly present fruit, a touch of bell pepper, firm structure, perfect balance (Drinkability: 8/8+). Was this the best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever tasted? It was not. Was it the wine I would want to drink again? Absolutely, any day. Was it a good value at $25? This was a great value at $25, and even at $50, it would still be a good value.

Here you go, my friends – a story of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the whole nine yards. Cheers!

American Pleasures – Part 2, Peju Napa Valley

December 9, 2019 3 comments

A few weeks ago I shared with you my view on [strictly wine] American pleasures – some of the wine samples which I had a pleasure to taste recently. Yes, it is the pure hedonistic pleasure we are talking about here – the wines which have a magical power of making you want another glass even before the first one is empty. Today I want to continue that conversation and talk about Peju Province Winery in Napa Valley.

The story of Peju Province Winery is simple and similar to many others – it started from a dream. Tony Peju had a drawing of the winery with the tower two years prior to the first Peju grape been harvested. Tony found early success in Los Angeles as a horticulturist, using his landscaping skills in the real estate, improving and reselling the houses. But his dream was to own the farm.

After his search for the farm land led him up north to the Napa Valley, he was able to find the location of his dreams – a 30 acres Stephanie vineyard in Rutherford, located next to Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu vineyards, growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombard vines, some 60 years old or maybe even older. Tony and his wife, Herta, purchased Stephanie vineyard in 1983. At first, Tony and Herta were only selling the grapes, however taking advantage of Tony’s green thumb, improving the vineyard and learning what it is capable of. They identified the section of the vineyard, about 5 acres in size, which produced the best Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The vineyard, which was renamed into HB in honor of Tony’s wife, Herta Behensky, was replanted using cuttings from that best section grafted on the phylloxera-resistant rootstock. The time has come to start making Peju’s own wine.

Peju Province Winery Grounds. Source: Peju Province Winery

Tony went on to get a degree in enology from UC Davis, and the rest was history. Well, there is one interesting hurdle worth mentioning. If you remember, Tony had a full drawing of the winery done in 1981, two years before HB vineyard was even found and purchased. Once they had the land and were ready to convert dreams into reality, in order to fund the project, Tony and Herta started selling wine out of their garage converted into the wine tasting room. This, however, was against Napa County’s rules, which required all the wine sales to be made from the legitimate winery building. However, California law allowed winegrowers to sell the wines in the place where the grapes were grown, so the issue ended up in the court. The judge sided with Peju, agreeing that if Tony is growing the grapes, he should be allowed to sell the wine. This became a pivotal case that significantly changed the landscape of the Napa Valley.

Peju went on to build the impressive 50-foot tall tower in the French Provencal style, using Brazilian cherry wood, beams from old Midwestern farm buildings and 1906 antique stained glass window. Way before that new winery building was complete, Peju acquired 350 acres of land at the 2000 feet elevation in the nearby Pope Valley section of Napa, which they named Persephone Vineyard, after the goddess of Greek mythology. In 1997, 120 acres of that land was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (using HB Vineyard clone), as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. In 2007, Rutherford HB vineyard became certified organic, and today all three of Peju vineyards are using sustainable viticultural methods. In 2009, Peju Province Winery was certified as a Napa County Green Winery and Bay Area Green Business. Also in 2006, Peju started installing solar panels on 10,000 square feet of winery roof and generating 35% of all electricity consumed at a winery.

Okay, so now you learned a lot about the winery, so let’s talk about the wines, as a proof is always in the glass. I had an opportunity to try 6 wines from Peju, and I was literally blown away by what I tasted. To be entirely honest, these wines were one of the most inspirational coming up with the title for this series – American Pleasures. 6 out of 6 delicious wines, one better than another – I taste enough wines during the year to tell you that this is not given. Below are my notes:

2018 Peju Province Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.8% ABV, $25)
Straw pale, practically clear
A touch of freshly cut grass, white flowers, maybe a distant hint of cat pee – only because I want to find it there?
Layers of flavors. Crisp lemony acidity first, then a hint of plums and slightly underripe melon, unusual plumpness for the Sauvignon Blanc, the wine rolls off your tongue like a nice Marsanne.
8, excellent, a unique and different Sauvignon Blanc.

2015 Peju Province WineryCabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot, 18 months in French and American oak, 45% new)
Dark garnet
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus, sweet oak
A beautiful mix of black currant and cherries on the palate, a touch of herbal notes, good minerality, firm texture, vibrant acidity, medium+ finish
8/8+, the first sip says “I’m a Napa Cab”. Delicious.

The next wine is one of the few in “Nostalgia Series”, where every label depicts a moment in Peju’s history.

2015 Peju Province Winery Nostalgia Series The Farm Napa Valley (15.2% ABV, $80, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 18 months in oak)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark fruit, eucalyptus, restrained, mineral undertones
Perfectly balanced fresh fruit, soft, luscious, black currant, tar pencil shavings, perfect balance, delicious.
8, delicious wine

2016 Peju Province Winery Merlot Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $48, 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot, 18 months in oak)
Garnet
Sweet licorice, eucalyptus, underbrush
Coffee, tart cherries, cherry pit, minerality
8-, probably need more time. The finish is a bit astringent, however, it plays well with savory food (cheese and crackers)

Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite grapes – this wine was truly a Cabernet Franc experience.

2013 Peju Province Winery Petit Trois Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $75, 100% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in oak, 333 cases produced)
Deep Garnet
Cassis, licorice, mocha, a hint of sweet tobacco
Cassis, mint, gently present tannins (after a few hours), firm structure, sweet oak, unmistakably California
9-, wow, tons of pleasure in every sip. Needs decanting. Outstanding on the second day.

This wine has its own story. It is the result of the barrel experiments run by Peju winemaker, Sara Fowler. For the 2017 vintage, she worked with 37 different barrel tasting styles and 22 coopers, then discussed the effects of the oak regimen with the group of the fellow Napa Valley winemakers. To have all new-oak, effectively a young wine, to be ready to drink from the get-go is something really incredible in my opinion.

2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $100, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak, 100% new, 1075 cases produced)
Dark garnet
An “Oh my god!” nose – Black currant, eucalyptus, pure, intense
Wow, supple black currant, mint, eucalyptus, silky smooth tannins, good minerality, all delivered in layers. Clean acidity, impeccable balance, and immense pleasure.
9/9+, wow. An exemplary Napa Cab

There you have it, my friends – some incredible wines. Of course, these are not inexpensive wines, but in my opinion, the $100 bottle which gives you lots of pleasure is worth splurging for the right moment. Cheers!

 

Shiraz, Shiraz, Cabernet

September 27, 2019 3 comments

Shiraz, Shiraz, Cabernet.

If it is Shiraz, it is from …

Most likely, Australia. South Africa often uses the same name, and sometimes you can find it in the USA and Israel, but my first reaction would still be Australia.

Cabernet Sauvignon can be from …

Anywhere. Really. The most planted grape in the world. From China to Australia to Lebanon and Israel, France, Italy, South Africa, USA, and everywhere in between.

But today we will be talking about Australian wines, so our Cabernet Sauvignon has to come from Australia.

I have to say that I don’t drink a lot of Australian wines – can’t tell you why. Maybe because they are typically located on the back shelves at most of the wine stores. Maybe because they are rarely featured on the flash sale sites, such as WTSO and Last Bottle Wines. Or maybe because I’m still burned from the years of over-extracted, overdone, heavy wines (I called my impression of those wines “burnt fruit”) supported by overinflated Robert Parker ratings – this stuff gets stuck in your head, even though these are 15-20 years old impressions – preconceived notions, here we go. No matter. This is just a fact.

But then I’m always open to taste the new wines – how else can you learn – especially if those are offered as a sample.

And so we will be talking today about the wines produced by the Two Hands Wines, the Australian winery celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

This is not the first time Two Hands Wines make an appearance on these blog pages – here you will find tasting notes for the same three wines as we will discuss today, only from the 2014/2015 vintage, and here you will find a few more posts covering one of the Shiraz wines). But I can tell you that my impressions are consistently improving, which is either a good sign or a sign of degradation of my palate – I would rather go with the first option.

Two Hands Wines was born in 1999, a product of imagination and conviction of two friends – you can find the full story here. The goal of Two Hands Wines was to showcase different regions in Australia, and of course, make good wines. They succeeded with the flying colors, becoming the only Australian winery (or maybe even the only winery in the world) featured for 10 years in the row in the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines list. From the beginning, the winery set out to showcase Australian Shiraz. Out of 21 wines produced today under Two Hands label, 14 are Shiraz wines. While the first wines represented the different regions – Barossa, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Clare Valley, Heathcote, Two Hands also added single-vineyard wines to its repertoire, highlighting best capabilities of each region.

The three wines I had an opportunity to taste belong to so-called Picture Series, as each bottle label features a picture related to the name of the wine. As promised, these are two Shiraz wines and one Cabernet Sauvignon, representing some of the best-known regions in Australia – Barossa and McLaren Vale. Above you can see the labels, and below you can find my notes:

2018 Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz McLaren Vale (14.2% ABV, $33, 14 months in 12% new American oak hogsheads)
Dark purple
Dark fruit, tar, eucalyptus, blackberries
Blackberries, good mid-palate weight, well present, velvety texture, good acidity, good balance.
8, lots of pleasure, better on a second day.

2018 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz McLaren Vale (13.8% ABV, $33, 12 months in French oak, 13% new)
Dark garnet
Eucalyptus, sweet tobacco, anise, blackberry jam
Silky smooth, blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb, bright acidity, medium-long finish
8/8+, excellent. Smooth and delicious. Definitely 8+ on a second day, delicious, complex wine with a perfect balance

2018 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale (14.2% ABV, $33)
Dark garnet, practically black
Black currant, a touch of coffee
More black currant on the palate on the second day, a touch of cherries, a touch of pepper, clean acidity, fresh and vibrant. Dark fruit-driven finish, with a touch of coffee.
8-, even a bit better on the second day – black currant more pronounced.

As you can tell, I liked the wines quite a bit, with Gnarly Dudes been a favorite. But I have to add a bit to these notes. It is so happened, that I tasted the wines over two days, with some slight evolution on the second day. Then I simply had to put these wines aside – and these are the screwtop wines, so I didn’t even pump the air out – then we left the house for the 4 days. After coming back, I decided to try the wines before simply pouring them out – and the wines were perfectly drinkable! I wouldn’t say that they evolved, but still, they were perfectly good to continue drinking them instead of becoming an undrinkable plonk. Screwtop wines remaining drinkable for a week. Not one, but three different wines. I don’t know what to think of it, as I’m merely reporting on my experience. If this is something you ever experienced, please comment.

So, my friends, how often do you drink Australian wines? I guess the time has come to do it more often? Cheers!

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