As the wine growing in popularity all over the United States (still does, I hope), we witness the “wine countries” appearing everywhere – not just singular wineries, but the actual aggregations of the wineries, often presented as “wine trails”. While Napa and Sonoma definitely paved and continue leading the way to what the “wine country” is, you can find wineries all over the country offering not only wine tastings, but live music, concerts, dinners, special events and lots more.
Long Island wine country is the one closest to the New York City, making the wines for about 40 years by now. There is a very good chance, however, that even if you live in the USA, you never tasted Long Island wines – same as it is practically impossible to find the wines from Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona or Michigan anywhere outside of those states. So if I will tell you that Long Island makes world class Riesling, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Merlot, you will probably have to take my word for it.
Over the past 10 years or so, visiting Long Island wineries on more or less a regular basis, I witnessed those wineries perfectly learning from Napa – both the good and the bad. On the good side, more and more knowledge is accumulated as to which vineyards and grapes do best, which individual plots do best, and the winemaking becoming more precise and resourceful. The bad side is in the fact that as the wines are getting better and better, it is less and less possible to enjoy the wines in the wine country itself, as it becomes more and more touristy – and visitors often get this “tourist special” treatment… Oops – no, we are not going into the rant, nope. Let me get to what I actually wanted to talk about.
When I was offered to taste some of the wines produced by Lieb Cellars, I had to do a bit of a research first. It turned out that despite visiting Long Island wineries every year, I never made it to Lieb Cellars and was pretty much unfamiliar with their wines. Therefore, I was looking at the best case – the wine country was coming to me, without any additional tourist distractions, yay!
Now, I would like to finally explain the title of this post (after almost falling for a rant, yeah). When the wines arrived and I started taking them out of the box, the first thought was “wow, I love these labels!”. There is really nothing special about those labels, except that they are very clean and simple, and all of them use bright, cheerful colors. We eat with our eyes first – everybody know that – and it works for me the same with the the wine labels. Of course, what’s inside the bottle is far more important than the label itself, but good label makes you anticipate good wine – works for me every time.
In case of Lieb Cellars wines, the happiness-inducing labels were also perfectly supported by what was in the bottles, as you can tell from my tasting notes below. Few comments before I will leave you with them.
Lieb Cellars produces two different lines of wines. The first line, Lieb Cellars, is being produced since 1992. You can see those wines identified on the labels as Lieb Cellars, and today those are the Reserve wines made only from the estate-produced fruit. In 2004, Lieb Cellars started new line of wines called Bridge Lane – named after the farm road adjacent to one of the Lieb vineyards. While Bridge Lane are called a “second label” wines, there is nothing “second” about them – sustainably farmed, small crop, hand harvested wines, available in 3 different formats – standard bottle, 3L box and 20L kegs – whatever size your heart desires. You can even see those three available sizes pictured on the Bridge Lane labels.
Time to talk about the wines – here are my notes:
2016 Bridge Lane Chardonnay New York State (12.5% ABV, $15, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: lemon with distant hint of rosemary
P: lemon, tropical fruit, mango, Granny Smith apples
2016 Bridge Lane Rosé New York State (11.9% ABV, $15, 49% cabernet Franc, 29% Merlot, 16% Malbec, 4% Pinot Noir, 2% Petit Verdot)
C: light onion peel
N: strawberries all the way, ripe strawberries, clean, inviting, fresh, touch of yeast Inessa which makes you smell it for a long time
P: strawberries on the palate, clean lemony acidity, firm and present. It would happily compete with any Provence Rosé
V: 8, wow, what a treat!
2016 Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc New York State (12.0% ABV, $15, 100% Sauvignon Blanc)
C: literally non-existent, straw pale extra light
N: fresh cut grass, medium intensity
P: lemon, tart fruit, cut through acidity. More of a Sancerre style – less fruit than California, less intensity than NZ. Clean acidity on the finish.
V: 8-, very enjoyable.
2011 Lieb Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs North Fork of Long Island, New York (12.5% ABV, $30, 48 months on the lees, 100% Pinot Blanc)
Appearance: Light golden color, fine mousse
N: touch of Apple, touch of yeast, delicious, open
P: touch of acidity, apples, lemon, restrained
V: 8/8+, the bottle can be gulped in one sitting
2015 Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc Reserve North Fork of Long Island, New York (11.9% ABV, $20, 98% Pinot Blanc, 2% Riesling)
C: straw pale
N: white stone fruit, nice sweetness
P: beautiful, plump fruit, generous, delicious
V: 8, outstanding.
2015 Lieb Cellars Reserve Cabernet Franc North Fork of Long Island, New York (12.8% ABV, $30, 10 month in Hungarian oak, 85% Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot)
C: dark ruby
N: mint, hint of mushrooms, touch of tobacco
P: fresh, open, blackberries, silky layers,
The wines give us pleasure. It is not simple to convey that in words, but I hope I managed to share at least a glimpse of a pleasure brought by these Lieb Cellars wines. If anything, let me give you only one advice – find ’em and drink ’em. Cheers!
Would anyone argue that holidays are better with Ferrari? Both of eponymous Italian hallmarks of quality would greatly enhance one’s holiday, but one of them – the car – is a bit less accessible to the general populace, so let’s talk about the one which is – sparkling wine from a beautiful region in the Italian Alps – Trento.
More than 100 years ago, Guido Ferrari recognized the potential of the green slopes to grow world-class Chardonnay. While Chardonnay is an undisputed star of the still white wine, its swan song might be delivered best with the bubbles. Champagne comes only from Champagne, but Méthode Champenoise is successfully used around the world to produce sparkling wines easily rivaling Champagne in quality.
This is what Guido Ferrari set out to do in 1902 – produce world-class sparkling wines – the task which he completed successfully. As Guido Ferrari had no direct heirs, in 1952 he sold the winery and vineyards to the Bruno Lunelli, a friend and wine merchant. Now in the third generation, Lunelli family proudly continues Ferrari traditions into the 21st century.
Earlier in the year, I had a virtual conversation with Marcello Lunelli, a winemaker at the Ferrari winery – you can find that post here. Then during summer I had an opportunity to meet, talk to and taste the wines together with Camilla Lunelli, Managing Partner at Ferrari, who visited New York on the occasion of attending The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony, where Ferrari was sponsoring The Art of Hospitality Award (it went to Madison Eleven restaurant in New York city). As we combined conversation with the tasting of the wines, I want to share here my brief notes about both the winery and the wines we tasted.
Today Ferrari is producing about 2 million bottles per year. They are working in close cooperation with the network of 500 growers and employ 8 agronomists who work literally around the clock to ensure the quality of the grapes. All Ferrari vineyards are certified organic, which is something not to be taken lightly – think about the work required to convince 500 growers to change their ways, to adapt Best Practices developed by Ferrari and get certified (it took most of the growers between 3 and 5 years to change). Talking about the vineyards, an interesting side note: Trento is a mountainous region, and all Ferrari vineyards are located on the slopes which provide for large temperature shifts between day and night, which is significant for the development of the Chardonnay grapes.
Italy is the biggest market for Ferrari sparkling wines. However, when I asked which market is the next big one after Italy, I got a surprising answer – it is Japan! (Yeah, I knew it is not the US, as Ferrari wines are hard to find in the US stores).
I also asked what would be an interesting food pairing for the Ferrari sparklers, and Camilla recommended Rosé sparkling wine with Pizza (yes, I can see it) and then bubbles with the BBQ, which is something I will need to try.
Okay, let’s get to the wines now, shall we?
NV Ferrari Brut Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $25, 100% Chardonnay) – Delicious. Perfect acidity, lightly yeasty, refreshing, clear acidic finish.
2007 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – complex nose, minerality, complex palate with musk undertones, full bodied and refreshing
2009 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – we didn’t taste this wine with Camilla – I recently got a sample of 2009, so it was a good opportunity to include it here. On the nose, fine fizz, mostly closed nose with just a touch of an apple. The palate showed toasted bread notes, restrained, good acidity, tart, very clean and austere. Perfectly reminiscent of a good Champagne, however, too astringent for my personal enjoyment. I would definitely prefer 2007.
2008 Ferrari Perlé Rosé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $59, 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) – Delicious nose, hint of strawberries, yeast, great concentration, complex, toasted bread, refreshing.
2008 Ferrari Perlé Nero Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $79.99, 100% Pinot Nero) – great nose, plump, open, full-bodied, lots of fruit on the nose, fresh baguette, not just yeast or toasted bread, toasted caramel, butterscotch
2006 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $56, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from the single area around Villa Margon. This wine is aged in neutral Austrian oak casks. Excellent, seriously complex nose, with a touch of tropical fruit; tremendous palate – roasted meat, super-complex, delicious.
2004 Ferrari Riserva del Fondatori Giulio Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $120, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from a single high altitude vineyard called Maso Panizza. The wine has the classic nose, great acidity, it just screams “classic vintage Champagne” all the way.
Here you are, my friends – a full range of beautiful sparkling wines, worthy of any celebration you will have. I wish they would be a bit easier to find in the US, but these are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!
What do most people do at the age of 69? Retire, or at least, semi-retire, right? Humans live longer than ever before, and many still have enough energy and desire to continue doing what they are doing. But let me rephrase the question a bit – how many people do you know who would start a totally new business at the age of 69? Might be a difficult question, I understand. Sure it would be for me, but now I can proudly say that I know at least one person like that. Let me introduce to you Don Hagge.
So what does rocket scientist (with degrees from UC Berkeley in physics and business from Stanford), whose resumé includes Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Centre d’Etude Physiques Nucleare in Paris, Apollo Mission at NASA and Silicon Valley high-tech industry, upon retirement? Of course, starts his own winery! Well, it sounds radical, but considering that Don grew up on a farm in North Dakota, and had an opportunity to live in France and experience wines of Burgundy, maybe it is only logical?
Vicky and Don Hagge started Vidon Vineyard in 1999 in Willamette Valley, in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of Oregon (you can probably figure that name of the winery, Vidon, is made up after Vicky and Don). Fast forward to today, Vidon Vineyard produces primarily Pinot Noir, plus small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo. Vidon Vineyard is sustainable, LIVE and Salmon-safe certified, and practices minimal intervention winemaking. Don Hagge not only makes wines, he also plays a role of a handyman when it comes to various winemaking tools and equipment. Plus, he is very opinionated about the use of glass enclosures instead of corks…
I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Don Hagge and ask him a few questions, so here you can find our conversation:
TaV: For many years, you had been living and working in California. Why have you decided to build a brand new winery in Oregon and not in California?
DH: I was recruited to Oregon by a venture capitalist as the CEO of a startup semiconductor company. During this time, I biked in the Willamette Valley regularly and loved the vineyards. Since I lived in France some time ago, Pinot Noir has been a favorite wine. I grew on a farm and decided to make a career change and what could be better than buying land, planting a vineyard and learning how to make wine? Oregon was gaining a reputation for Pinot Noir so here I am.
TaV: Your very first wines were made in 2002. Do you still have any of those bottles left? If you do, how do they drink today?
DH: Unfortunately, the 2002 vintage is gone. I made only 40 cases and didn’t label it, only for friends and personal use. We just had a 2006 vintage this evening which is fantastic.
TaV: During all the years of Vidon Vineyard existence, what was the most difficult vintage for you and why?
DH: Probably the 2007 vintage. This was the first year I used my own winery so many things were new. I saw the forecast for heavy weather, got a crew and pulled in 16 tons on September 25th. Before we finished cleaning the equipment it started raining and didn’t stop for a month. Most people suffered through the rains and the vintage got a bad rap in the press. We were lucky – it’s still a beautiful wine!
TaV: For how long do you typically age your Pinot Noir wines in French oak Barrels?
DH: Most of my wine carries the 3-Clones label and gets 11 months in French oak barrels which are on average 30% new. I’m not a fan of big oak in any wine.
TaV: You are an enthusiastic proponent of glass enclosures instead of traditional cork. When did you start using glass enclosures? Also, did you ever try to bottle the same vintage both with glass enclosures and traditional corks and then compare the results of the aging?
DH: Until the 2008 vintage I used corks and usually quite expensive ones. However, I determined that no matter what they cost, they still taint wine because of TCA and pre-oxidize occasionally. Therefore, in 2008 I began using Stelvin screw caps. In 2009 I started using Vinoseals for the Single Clone labels. No, I’ve never done a comparison of cork vs Vinoseal glass closures. It’s not necessary, I know what corks do and Vinoseals and screw caps don’t do. I don’t understand why anyone uses a closure that ruins a percentage of their wines when there are alternatives that don’t.
TaV: Today, you are producing a number of different white and red wines. Do you have any plans (if not plans, may be at least some thoughts) about starting to produce Rosé and/or Sparkling wines?
DH: I made Rosé for two vintages and one was a great, I was told. I’d like to do a Sparkling but my winery is too small given what I’m now doing. That’s not to say I’m not dreaming of a winery expansion and interested in trying more and different wines.
TaV: Outside of your own wines, which are your favorite Pinot Noir producers in the world?
DH: Good Bourgogne wines are what I like to emulate. The 2004 vintage was the nearest to a great Bourgogne that I’ve made.
TaV: If you would have an opportunity to start your winery again, would you do something different?
DH: Given the resources I had, not much. Perhaps I’d build a better winery instead of an expensive house, but I have a wife. 🙂
TaV: You describe your approach in the vineyard as “minimal intervention”, and your winery is LIVE Certified. Do you have any plans to become certified organic or biodynamic winery?
DH: I’m a scientist and Biodynamic winemaking isn’t scientific. Many of their practices are good, how they treat the land, etc. But I don’t believe in VooDoo. I don’t’ believe that Organic Certification results in better wine or land management than what we do in the LIVE program.
TaV: I understand that you have built your own bottling line wine dispenser for the tasting room. What are the other technological tools which you built at your winery?
DH: I don’t think I’ve built anything for winemaking that any good farm boy couldn’t have. I’m always trying to find ways to simplify tasks and become more efficient in using time and material. I have an idea about saving wine and labor in barrel topping but haven’t implemented it yet. My use of Flextanks to replace some barrels is already saving wine and labor by eliminating barrel topping while producing wine that’s equivalent to that from barrels.
TaV: You already work with quite a few grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Cab Franc, Syrah). Do you plan to add any other grapes in the vineyard?
DH: No more varieties. No more land to plant. However, I do hope to plant a small plot of Coury clone Pinot Noir next year. Planting of the clone date back 50 years to the original plantings.
TaV: What drives your passion? You started Vidon vineyards at the age when most of the people are happily retiring, so there must be some deep reason for you to engage in such a – of course, a labor of love – but hard labor?
DH: I like to live. I’m not ready to “stop” and watch TV. I think having a ToDo list every morning and a little anxiety and stress about getting things done will result in a longer life. To have no challenges is pretty dull and boring. When one is doing things that one enjoys, it’s not labor.
What do you say, my friends? This interview continues our Stories of Passion and Pinot series, and I think it is a perfect sequel to the conversation with Ken Wright – Don Hagge exudes the same righteousness, passion, and confidence in everything he does.
And you know what supports Don’s ways and means? His wines! I had an opportunity to try his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and in a word, I can tell you – what a treat! Two stunning, perfectly balanced and perfectly Burgundian in style – made with passion and care in Oregon.
2015 Vidon Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon (12.9% ABV, $35)
C: golden color
N: initially, very restrained, mostly minerality. After 2 days in the fridge, honey and vanilla, quite spectacular
P: initially tight, minerally and acidic. Two days later – exuberant, golden delicious apples, perfect acidity, vanilla, medium finish. Every sip leaves you craving for more
V: 9, simply outstanding, delicious.
2013 Vidon Vineyard 3 Clones Pinot Noir Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon (14.3% ABV, $40)
C: bright Ruby, cranberry undertones
N: inviting, intense, touch of smoke, lavender, red fruit
P: nicely restrained, minerality, crushed red fruit, mouthwatering acidity, fresh, elegant, lots of finesse
V: 9-, outstanding wine, Burgundian style
Here you are, my friends – another story of Passion and Pinot. And I have more for you, so until the next time – cheers!
To be continued…
P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.
Yet 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.
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.
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…
I love Spanish wines. Never tried to hide it, so no, there is nothing to look for in the closet.
Spain is one of the so called “Old World” wine countries, with biggest grape area plantings in the world and one of the highest volumes of the wine production. But of course this is not the reason for my high sentiment towards Spanish wines. What is important, however, that if we will take 10 random wines produced in any country, in about the same price range, I will find the most of the wines to my liking out of those hypothetical 10 among Spanish wines – compare to any other region. Another equally important point for me is the value – Spanish wines offer one of the best values in the world; not only that – they are possibly the best QPR wines in the world. For example, if you will compare 1964 Rioja, which is still perfectly drinkable today and still can be found for less than $150, to majority of the wines of the similar age but from the other regions, most of them will not come anywhere close in the amount of pleasure they deliver, never mind the cost.
And then we have to talk about innovation and drive forward. Spanish wines are not standing still. Styles are changing, wine quality is improving, new and unexpected grapes are made into delicious wines. To make this conversation more practical, let me share with you some of my recent Spanish wine encounters.
Today, Albariño needs no introduction. The star white grape of the Rias Baixas region in Northern Spain is known to produce wines with explosive acidity and profile of salinity, which makes them an ideal companion to oysters and anything seafood for that matter. While Albariño wines are generally very good, there is one word I would rarely associate with them – finesse. Or at least I was not, until I had an opportunity to try these two Albariño.
2014 Bodegas LA VAL Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12% ABV, SRP $17, 2 month sur lie) had greenish/straw pale color; intense and open nose of minerals, wet stone and lemon. On the palate, the wine was plump with invigorating acidity, intense lemon finish, crisp, fresh – excellent overall (Drinkability: 8).
2014 Viña Moraima Albariño Rias Baixas D.O. (12.5% ABV, SRP $19, 7 month sur lie) had light golden color. Nose was very unusual, with candied lemon, intense, tropical, guava notes. On the palate, the wine showed remote hint of sweetness, full body, round and layered with hint of salinity, good acidity. This was definitely the next level of Albariño, thought provoking and different. (Drinkability: 8)
As you can see, Albariño is really starting to deliver on the next level, and I can’t wait to see how far it can go. What is interesting, however, is that all of the best Spanish white wines – to my knowledge, of course – are made from the indigenous varieties – Albariño, Godello, Verdejo and Viura would be the “major four”. The situation is slightly different for the reds, where the local stars, Tempranillo and Garnacha, are joined by the international best, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Going back to the whites, outside of some experimental plantings, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are nowhere to be found in Spain, yes? Well, that would be my statement as of the month ago, but not anymore.
Enters Hacienda de Arínzano. Having tasted recently Hacienda de Arínzano Rosé, which was outstanding, I know that Pago de Arínzano, first Pago (highest denomination of quality in Spain) in Northern Spain, can produce excellent wines. Still, this 2014 Hacienda de Arínzano Chardonnay Pago de Arínzano DOP (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Chardonnay. 12 month French oak barrels – 30% new) far exceeded my expectations. From the first smell the wine in the glass was screaming “Chardonnay” – touch of vanilla, hint of golden delicious apples, just classic Chardonnay. The palate reaffirmed the “classic Chardonnay” impression – fresh, open, creamy, with perfectly balanced white fruit, vanilla, distant hint of butter, perfect amount of acidity – a delicious world-class Chardonnay which I would be glad to drink at any time – and almost a steal at this price. Drinkability: 8+.
We talked about new wines and new styles. Let’s talk about quality now – well, not the quality per se, but let’s talk about changing mindset. If you would ask me “should I open 5 years old Rioja Reserva”, my immediate answer would be “absolutely not – give it at least another 5 years to enjoy it fully”. By law, Rioja Reserva has to spend at least 1 year aging in the barrel, and most of the producers age it for much longer, so the resulting wines typically should be given ample time in the bottle to evolve. But once again I was proven wrong. I opened the bottle of 2011 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva (14% ABV, SRP $21, 94% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano, 2% Mazuelo, 18 month in barrel, 20 month in the bottle) and was absolutely blown away. Concentrated nose of dark fruit, cigar box and eucalyptus was supported by bright, dense, perfectly structured palate, with dark fruit and touch of sweet oak. This was definitely one of the best PnP (Pop ‘n Pour) wines I ever experienced, and a nice surprise. Drinkability: 8+
I want to mention one more beautiful Rioja wine – this one with a bit more age on it. I like it when I have a reason to open a nice bottle of wine, which otherwise would be still laying down and waiting for the “perfect moment”. The special reason was my son’s high school graduation, and as he was born in 1998, this was the first 1998 bottle I pulled out of the wine fridge (well, I’m not telling all the truth – this was the one I knew the exact location of).
To begin with, I was impressed with the state of the cork on this 18 years old wine – it was perfect, showing literally no age on it whatsoever. 1998 Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva (13% ABV, 100% Tempranillo) still had enough freshness on the nose, with the notes of ripe plum, and the palate had ripe fruit with the distant hint of sweetness without any tertiary aromas, good acidity, medium to full body and excellent balance. I’m sure this wine would go on happily for many years. Drinkability: 8+
Okay, we are done here. Do you think I explained my passion for Spanish wines well enough? Great wines, great values, great QPRs, and lots and lots of pleasure – what is not to love? If you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I would love to know your opinion. Until the next time – cheers!
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.
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.
Welcome back to Oregon – we are continuing the conversation with Luke McCollom, Founding winemaker, Viticulturist and General Manager of one of the largest estates in Oregon, Left Coast Cellars. First part of our conversation was focused on the history of the estate, its name, its logo, and selection of the grapes which comprise 150 acres of the vineyards. Now we are going to talk about growing the grapes, sustainable viticulture, mother nature and some of the personal favorites. Here we go:
Can you elaborate a bit on the sustainable viticulture you are practicing in your vineyards?
We are certified by a third party Audit as LIVE Sustainable. This is a whole farm approach which uses scientifically proven methods to reduce inputs into the vineyard and reduce impact on our land and environment. LIVE also monitors the treatment of people, carbon footprint, energy, and water usage.
Both the Vineyards and Winery are certified LIVE sustainable For example: we are also certified Salmon Safe…this means we do not spray or use any chemicals which are toxic to or can harm fish. We do not use chemicals that can run off or enter water ways. We use a permanent, no-till, cover cropping system in the vineyards which great reduces dust, sediment, and run-off that pollutes our water ways.
We of course are mostly Solar Powered…100% of our irrigation system is powered by Solar. The irrigation system is also gravity fed with a pond located on top of one of our highest hills. So, water is pumped up via solar and runs down into the vineyard drip irrigation systems via gravity. We also collect our winery rinse water into tanks where we can re-use the water for irrigating landscaping. All of the “grape waste” from the winery is composted on-site and returned to vineyards and gardens. Our property is shaped like a bowl, so there are no other source of outside contaminates or pollution entering the property. All of the water in our Lakes comes from our property only. We also have steelhead and trout in these lakes…so anything we do can and will directly affect our own water source.
Do your sustainable practices also include dry farming and natural yeasts?
All of our vineyards have the ability to be irrigated with their drip systems if needed!? Of course, we only irrigate vines if and when they need water. We believe with future changes in our climate that water is one of the most important factors in the quality of our wines. Our water is sustainably collected in the wintertime from rainfall runoff. Our 100 acre foot lake is the life blood of the Estate. With our sustainable methods of using this water our combined peak usage of water and electricity costs $11.70/mo a typical water and electric bill on an Estate our size would be anywhere from $10,000-$15,000/mo. This gives an idea of the power of Sustainability and the power of harnessing the sun. Yes, we use natural yeast and we also use commercially available yeasts to make wine.
Do you have any plans to go beyond sustainable into full organic or may be even biodynamic?
Yes, we would like to eventually have wines bottled as sustainable, organic, and biodynamic so people can taste the comparisons. We currently spray almost exclusively organic sprays and utilize many biodynamic practices although do not have certifications in either.
I’m sure that some of the hard core Oregon Pinot fans are familiar with Van Duzer effect, but can you give a short explanation of it to those who don’t?
The Van Duzer Corridor is the main path by which cool Pacific Ocean breezes enter the Willamette Valley. We are in the Heart of where the corridor opens into the Center of the Valley. We are currently involved with a group working on a “Van Duzer Corridor AVA”. The effects of these ocean breezes are critical in producing the highest quality Pinot Noir. On a warm summer day at the Estate, our day time temperatures will reach 90 degrees. In the evening, the Corridor ushers in the cool ocean breezes and our night time temperatures fall to 40 or 50 degrees! A huge temperature swing! The result is sort of like a refrigerator…at night, when the vines are not producing sugars, the Pinot grapes are preserved with the cool outside temperatures. What this means is…the grapes will retain freshness, acidity, and increased wine ageability because they respire less and are preserved with the cool night air.
Out of all Pinot Noir which you produced so far, do you have the most favorite wine from the favorite vintage?
My favorite Left Coast wine is the 2010 Suzanne’s Estate. This is the first vintage Luke and Joe Wright worked together making wine. We hand selected small lots of grapes from the vineyards and made them in small batches with minimal influence and impact from Winemaking. The result is a very cool vintage Pinot with minimal manipulation in the Winery and a 92pts. Wine Spectator rating. It was very rewarding for me to receive an outstanding rating when the wine was selected in the field and winemaking was at a minimum.
When you are not drinking your own wines, what are the other Oregon producers you would be happy to drink wines from?
We enjoy drinking many of our Neighbors wines including Bethel Heights, Cristom, and Witness Tree just to name a few…
And the same question, only going outside of the Oregon – any favorite wines and producers?
Reaching in and out of Oregon we have always kept an eye on Maison Joseph Drouhin. Locally, Drouhin of course makes Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot, but from Burgundy continues to offer an incredible range of wines from very affordable negociant blends to very expensive premier and grand crus from individual Domaines. We believe Drouhin continues to make and blend wines which celebrate classic Burgundy. Of course this is what intrigued us to try and grow World Class Pinot Noir in Oregon…it was Burgundy! We wanted to try and replicate the classic Terroirs of Burgundy and now we are trying to beat Burgundy with our classic Terroirs of Oregon and the Willamette Valley! Viva The Left Coast!
I don’t know about your take, but I think Luke McCollom did an excellent job answering my questions – I had a real feeling of being in the same room with him and looking out at the same vineyard. It is definitely very interesting to learn about sustainable viticulture and how it is done at the Left Coast Cellars – the example with $11.70 monthly electric bill versus potential $10,000+ was extremely impressive.
Of course the proof is in the glass, right? In the previous post, I shared my thoughts on estate’s The Orchards Pinot Gris and Cali’s Pinot Noir. To round up this portion of the interview, I had an opportunity to taste Chardonnay and another Pinot Noir. Before I will talk about the wines, I have to mention the bottles – as the saying goes for the food world “we eat with our eyes first”, same holds true for the wine. Talking about Left Coast Cellar wines, I really enjoyed holding the bottles in my hands – somehow they felt very promising in terms of their content. All four bottles had very nice punt, which would make elegant pouring of the wines an easy job. And the labels are perfectly design and spell “quality” with their look and feel.
Okay, okay – I’m sure you are ready to drink something – here are my notes on the two wines:
2014 Left Coast Cellars Truffle Hill Chardonnay Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: light golden
N: white ripe fruit, intense, touch of vanilla, caramel, touch of flowers
P: unusual, plump, medium to full body, hint of white peach, pear, supporting acidity, Burgundian elegance
V: 8, very unusual Chardonnay, with a style of its own, and overall delicious wine
2013 Left Coast Cellars Latitude 45 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, $50)
N: intense, crushed red berries, lavender, sweet plums, vanilla, hint of chocolate, Bing cherries
P: wow, very unusual. Herbal profile with some fruit, initial tannin attack, almost light and effervescent on the palate, but tannins are very assertive. As I don’t have enough experience with red burgundies, my best analogy is wines of ArPePe, which are some of the most elegant Nebbiolo wines in existence. Clean, pure and unadulterated Pinot Noir. Just wow.
V: 9-, truly unique and different
Sustainable viticulture. Passion. Unique and different wines. Simple recipe for success, isn’t it? I can let you in on a secret. Quite often, I don’t finish a bottle of wine on the same day. Especially if I have a few open at the same time. So I happened to drink Cali’s Pinot Noir I mentioned in the previous post over 4 days. Just closing with the same screw top every night. And the wine was delicious, every day. I think folks at the Left Coast Cellars know what they are doing, and their wines are well worth seeking. Follow the passion, my friends. Cheers!
Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #118 – What Is It?
In that quiz, you were given a picture of the bird (an owl), and the request was to identify the connection between the bird and the wine world.
I have to say that a number of people had very good answers, suggesting that owls are used to protect vineyards against various kinds of rodents, obviously in a natural way. However, this was not the answer I was looking for. The particular type of owl is called Tawny Owl, and it is the color of its feathers that gave the name to the Tawny Port. As the Tawny Port ages, the color of the wine becomes reminiscent of the Tawny Owl coloring, hence the name.
I’m glad to report that we have two winners: Margot from Gather and Graze and Gwain609 of Oz’s Travels – they both identified the owl as a Tawny Owl and suggested that “Tawny” is the key word we are looking for here. They both get the usual price of unlimited bragging rights. Well done!
Now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and the web!
First of all, I want to remind everyone that Monthly Wine Writing Challenge number 17 (#MWWC17) with the theme “Epiphany” is in the full swing! There had been a number of entries submitted, and everyone who didn’t submit one yet (you know who you are!) is very much encouraged to participate. For all the official rules and regulations please use this link.
Next, we got a few of the grape and wine region holidays to celebrate – I’m sure you don’t need a reason to open a bottle of wine, but those holidays solve the problem of choice. Today, I got 3 of them for you. Tomorrow, May 21st, is a Chardonnay Day! Chardonnay needs no introduction – the grape is successfully grown all over the world, a hallmark of Burgundy, Champagne, California and practically any other wine growing country and the region. You should have no problems finding the good bottle to open, and then sharing your thoughts in the social media using the hash tag #ChardonnayDay.
Next we have two distinct regions celebrating its heritage in May – May is an Oregon Wine Month and also an Aussie Wine Month! Oregon today is a lot more than just a Pinot Noir, and Australia is a lot more than just a Shiraz – lots of wonderful wines are made in both places, so you will have no issues finding excellent authentic wines to drink for the next 10 days.
Last but not least for today – the new danger for your wallet had just became a reality. Well, no, I’m not talking about some elaborate wine scam or a new series of emails with unbeatable business proposals from Africa. Last Bottle Wines, one of my favorite purveyors of the fine wines at the value prices, finally joined the 21st century and announced availability of the Last Bottle App for the iPhone – here are the details. Now you can be notified of all the new offerings and will have a better chance to react to them. If you are still not a customer of Last Bottle Wines, I will be glad to be your reference – yes, I will get a $20 credit after your first purchase, and you will get $5 credit on that same purchase – but then you will be able to sign up your friends. And, of course, to thank me again and again. You can click here to sign up for the Last Bottle Wines account.
And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way! Cheers!