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Of Hydrangeas, Ocean, Sunsets, and Wine

July 13, 2021 7 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!

 

 

Made With Organic Grapes: Find Your Ritual

June 9, 2021 Leave a comment

The world of wine is full of eternal questions. Here is one of the most prolific ones: where is the wine made – in the vineyard or at the winery?

Many would argue that, of course, the wine is made in the vineyard. To make good wine you have to start with good grapes. You need good, healthy, properly ripened grapes to make good wine. “Good grapes” might seem obvious as a concept, but it actually entails a lot of hard work, love, and care, from the moment the first bud will appear on the vine (and even before that) until the moment when harvested grapes are reaching the winery. “Good grapes” are not defined by the taste alone – it is important how the grapes were growing, were any pesticides used, were all the methods organic, or better yet, sustainable? “Good grapes” for sure means a lot of work.

Then some might argue that no matter how good the grapes are if the winemaker will not take good care of the grapes from the moment grapes arrived at the winery, the good grapes will not result in good wine. How the grapes were manipulated from the very beginning – sorting, cleaning, de-stemming, pressing, fermenting, aging, storing – each of these steps has to be performed properly, as even the very best grapes will not convert themselves into the good wine.

Source: Ritual Winery

Source: Ritual Winery

The folks at Ritual winery in Chile clearly don’t want to answer this eternal question. Or rather their answer is “both”. Estate vineyards in the eastern part of the Casablanca Valley in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean are surrounded by 6,000 acres of the native forest, creating a unique biome. All the vineyards are certified organic. Estate uses its own compost, made out of the pomace and manure of the local animals. Sheep help mow the grass and fertilize the vines.

The grapes are hand-harvested early in the cool morning at the first sunlight. After sorting, the grapes are fermented in the open-top tanks, using basket press and native yeast. To achieve desired characteristics, 4 different vessels are used for the aging of the wines: Oak Barrels to enhance the structure, Concrete eggs for the texture, Stainless steel Drums elevate freshness, and Stainless steel Tanks help with aromatics.

Below are my tasting notes, where you can also see all the different vessels used to produce particular wines:

2018 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (14% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, 8 months in stainless steel, concrete eggs and neutral barrels)
Light golden
Very complex, white stone fruit, good minerality, fresh herbs
Round and velvety, creamy texture, a hint of vanilla, even butter, nice lemon core, clean and crisp finish
8+/9-, outstanding. A different and delicious Sauvignon Blanc. Borderline a Chardonnay experience.

2019 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, fermented and aged for 8 months in concrete eggs, neutral oak, and stainless steel)
Light golden color
The nose is not very expressive, minerality, a hint of whitestone fruit
On the palate, a full spectrum, changing as the wine warms up – starting from steely Muscadet-like acidity, adding a bit of the creaminess after a few minutes in the glass, and then showing Chardonnay-like fuller-bodied notes and expressive minerality.
8/8+, Delicious

2018 Ritual Chardonnay Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $20.99, aged in concrete eggs and French oak barrels)
Light Golden
Characteristic touch of vanilla and apple on the palate, a whiff of honey
Vanilla, apple, a hint of butter in the palate, perfect balance, crisp acidity, wow, a superb rendition of Chardonnay. Give it 5–10 years, and it will rival the white burgundy.
8, Outstanding

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $21.99, aged 11 months in French oak barrels)
Dark Ruby
The dusty nose of fresh plums with a touch of vanilla
Plums, violets, a touch of mocha, good acidity, fresh, excellent balance
8+, delicious from the get-go

Tasting Ritual wines will not help us to find an answer to our eternal question – these wines are clearly made both in the vineyard and at the winery. Have you tried any of these wines? If you did, I guess you already found your Ritual, if not – well, here is your chance.

Celebrate Sauvignon Blanc!

May 1, 2020 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Sauvignon Blanc Collage

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

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

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!

 

American Pleasures

November 7, 2019 3 comments

Yes, you read it right – we will be talking about American pleasures.

But don’t worry – this is still a wine blog. Yes, we will be talking about wine. And as the title suggests, we will be talking about wines made in the USA. As for the pleasures – this is what the wine is for. The wine should give you pleasure. If it does not, I don’t know what is the point of drinking it. For sure I don’t see it for myself – if I’m not enjoying the glass of wine, I’m not drinking it. It is the pleasure we, wine lovers, are after.

Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines sent to me. Mostly California wines, to be precise. And to my big surprise, I enjoyed all of them. I’m not implying that the wines I tasted were better than I expected, hence the surprise. While I pride myself with the willingness to try any and every wine, it doesn’t mean that I equally like any and every wine – I’m rather a picky (read: snobby?) wine taster. At a typical trade tasting, my “likeness” factor is about 1 out of 10 or so. And here, wine after wine, I kept telling myself “this is good!”, and then “wow, this is good too!”. Is my palate getting cursed or just old and tired? Maybe. But, as I still trust it and as I derived pleasure from every sip of these wines, I would like to share my excitement with you, hence this post, or rather, a series of posts. Let’s go.

First, let’s talk about the old. “Old” is a very respectful word here, as we will be talking about the winery which had been around for more than 40 years in Napa Valley. Back in 1976, Ron and Diane Miller purchased 105 acres vines on in Yountville, which is now known as Miller Ranch. Two years later, they acquired 226 acres in Stags Leap District, which was the vineyard called Silverado. Initially, the grapes were sold to the other wineries, until in 1981 the winery was built and the first harvest was crushed – the was the beginning of Silverado Vineyards as we know it. Today, Silverado Vineyards comprise 6 vineyards throughout Napa Valley, all Napa Green certified, which is an established standard for sustainable farming. Silverado Vineyards wines are exported to 25 countries and have won numerous accolades at a variety of competitions – and Silverado Vineyards garnered quite a few “winery of the year” titles along the years.

Two wines I tasted from Silverado Vineyards were Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé. I like California Sauvignon Blanc with a little restraint, not overly fruity, and with a good amount of grass and acidity – Honig Sauvignon Blanc and Mara White Grass would be two of my favorite examples. California Rosé is somewhat of a new category, still scarcely available in the stores on the East Coast – this is mostly wine club or winery tasting room category at the moment. Again, for the Rosé, restraint is a key – nobody needs to replicate Provençal Rosé in California, but the wine still should be light and balanced.

Silverado Vineyards perfectly delivered on both – here are my notes:

2018 Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc Yountville Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $25)
Straw pale
Beautiful, classic CA Sauvignon Blanc – freshly cut grass, a touch of lemon, all nicely restrained. Nice minerality.
An interesting note of salinity, lemon, lemon zest, a touch of pink grapefruit, just an undertone with some bitterness. This is a multidimensional wine, with a good amount of complexity.
8-/8, a thought-provoking wine. Great with manchego cheese and Hungarian salami.

2018 Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $25, 100% Sangiovese)
Light Pink
A touch of strawberries, light and elegant
Strawberries and lemon on the palate, elegant, balanced, good textural presence, very refreshing.
8, and excellent Rosé overall, with its own character. And I have to tell you – I’m duly impressed with Californian Sangiovese, for sure when it is made into a Rosé – seems to be a complete winner here.

Another wine I want to talk about here, is definitely from the “new” camp – only 5 years ago, Oceano winery was not even an idea. The winery has a great story, which you better read on the winery website. The story has everything – the love at first sight, the encounter with the seahorse, a wine label drawn on the napkin.

Oceano wines are made from the fruit coming from Spanish Springs Vineyard in San Luis Obispo – the vineyard which is closest to the Pacific Ocean not only in the Central Coast appellation but in entire California. Cool climate helps Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to mature slowly and to accumulate great flavor. Not only Spanish Springs Vineyard provides ideal conditions for the grapes, but it is also SIP (Sustainable in Practice) Certified vineyard, which is considered a higher status than Organic due to the stringent requirements throughout the whole process of winemaking up to the point of bottling of the wine.

I had an opportunity to taste the second release of Oceano Chardonnay, and was simply blown away:

2017 Oceano Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard San Luis Obispo County (13.6% ABV, $38)
Light golden
Vanilla, a hint of honey
Vanilla, a touch of butter, hint of almonds, nice golden apple and brioche, let’s not forget the delicious, freshly baked brioche – with tons of acidity on the long finish, tons and tons of acidity.
9-, outstanding rendition of the Chardonnay, worked perfectly well with a variety of foods – beef roast from Trader Joe’s, Brie, Spanish Cheeses (Manchego and San Simone) – this was totally an unexpected surprise. If you are looking for a delicious and versatile Chardonnay, this might be the wine you are looking for. It might easily be a star of your Thanksgiving wine program.

Here you are, my friends. These wines delivered lots and lots of pleasure, and these are the wines worth seeking. We are done for today, but we are very far from done seeking more wine pleasures. To be continued…

A Quick Trip To Chile

August 22, 2019 2 comments

Have wine, will travel.

Today our destination is Chile. As our travel is virtual, we need to decide on the wine which will help us to get to Chile, hence the question to you – what wine would you associate with Chile?

If you would ask me this question about 20 years ago, my answer would be quick – Cabernet Sauvignon. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon has an unmistakable personality with a core of bell pepper – one sip, and you know where you are heading. Then, of course, you got the Carménère – the mysterious grape of Chile, long mistaken for Merlot – for a long time, Carménère was considered the ultimate Chilean grape, its unique flagship.

How about white wine? Again – 20 years ago, it would be a Chardonnay. Actually, that would be for no specific reason outside of remembering the shelves of the wine store full of Concha y Toro Chardonnay right by the entrance to the store – the most imported wine brand at a time. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, that Chardonnay was not particularly recognizable or memorable.

About 5 years ago, I started running into the wines which I never associated with Chile before. When I was offered to try the Chilean Pinot Noir, to say that I was skeptical would be an understatement – yep, I didn’t believe that Chilean Pinot Noir is a “thing”. Those first tastings made me believe that Pinot Noir is possible in Chile – but they were not at the level to really make me a convert. Yet.

And then, of course, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc – exuberant wine, nothing subtle about it – bright grapefruit, tons of freshly cut grass and crips lemon – very un-Sancerre. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is truly a polarizing wine, not any less than New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – both categories have plenty of haters. But let me not get on the tangent here.

A few days ago I was offered a sample of Chilean wines I never heard of before – Kalfu, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I’m always happy to expand my wine universe, so yes, please. This happened to be a wise decision.

Kalfu is a project by Viña Ventisquero, focused on showcasing cool climate coastal wines. In case you are wondering, as I did, what Kalfu means, here is what the website says: “Kalfu means “Blue” in Mapudungun, the language of the aboriginal Mapuche people of the region. It represents the color that provides a myriad of sensations: blue, like the Pacific Ocean’s intense blue; and blue, like the free sky, acting as an accomplice of and witness to the mysterious origins of life.”

Under Kalfu, there are three lines of wines, representing different regions – Molu from Casablanca Valley, Kuda from Leyda Valley, and Sumpai from Huasco – Atacama Desert, all three names representing different sea creatures. As the wines I tasted were from the Kuda line, let me tell you what Kuda means, again taking from the web site:  “Kuda – in the case of the seahorse or hippocampus, the female lays her eggs and then the male takes care of them until the new seahorses emerge fully developed. Unlike other sea creatures, sea horses are delicate and unique, so they need to be cherished. ”

Kalfu wines

The wines were, in a word, beautiful. And maybe even surprising.

2018 Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley (12.5% ABV, $19) was currant-forward. It didn’t really have the characteristic fresh grass, nor grapefruit – it had fresh black currant leaves and loads of Meyer lemon. It was a well present wine without going overboard, with a perfect balance of fruit and acidity. And yes, every sip wanted you to take another one. Drinkability: 8+

2017 Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir Leyda Valley (14% ABV, $19) was even more surprising. For this wine, I can use two words. Frist would be finesse. The second word – Burgundian. The wine offered smoke, black cherries, violet, a touch of pencil shavings, good minerality – nothing over the top, none of the extra sweetness, but perfect, elegant balance. For $19, this is lots and lots of wine. Drinkability: 8+/9-

Here you are, my friends. Two beautiful wines worth seeking. And now I have my new favorite Pinot Noir which I will be happy to drink at any time. Where did you travel lately? Cheers!

 

 

Navarra, Surprising and Not

June 2, 2019 2 comments

It is commonly known that Spanish wines are some of the best-kept secrets of the wine world. An oxymoron, you say? Not necessarily. I’m not implying that you need to know the secret knock on the unsightly door in order to acquire Spanish wine. The “secret” simply means that consumers still often overlook Spanish wines as a category, despite the fact that those wines possess some of the best value, the best QPR you can ever find – try a $30 Rioja (for example, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia) and you will see what I mean.

Spanish wine regions. Source: Navarra Wine US

Turns out that even secret wines have deeper secrets, such as Spanish (of course!) wines from Navarra, a northern province known for its unique climate (influenced by Mediterranean, Continental, and Atlantic climates). A long history of a close relationship with France (going back to medieval times) also led to Navarra sporting rather an interesting mix of grapes, with plantings of Garnacha and Tempranillo intermixed with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  For a long time, Navarra was known as the “land of Rosé” – today you can find a full selection of white, Rosé and red coming from this small region.

By the way, here is the fun fact for you – in case you are a Game of Thrones fan, you might be interested to know that season six of the popular show was filmed in Navarra, in Bardenas Reales desert – here, you can impress your friends already.

If you are interested in a quick set of numbers (I know I always am) – Navarra has about 27,000 acres of vineyards, located on an average altitude of 1,300 feet (400 meters) above sea level. Annual production is about 70M liters of wine. Most planted grapes are Tempranillo and Garnacha, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 90% of the wine production are red and Rosé (Rosé is 1/3 of this production), and 10% are white wines. Okay, done with numbers, let’s continue.

With this “secret of secrets” designation, you can probably figure that Navarra wines do not occupy central shelves of the liquor stores – but maybe it is for the better? Of course I mean it in our own, selfish interest – more for us, for the people “in the know”.

I had a pleasure of drinking Navarra wines before – for example, Tempranillo from Bodegas Ochoa is an excellent rendition of one of my most favorite grapes. However, this is where my exposure to the wines of Navarra mostly ends. Thus when I was offered to try a sample of Navarra wines, I quickly agreed.

Navarra Wines Sample

The surprises started upon arrival of the wines. Once I opened the box, finding a bottle of Garnacha made perfect sense. However, not finding a bottle of Rosé was rather surprising – I was sure Rosé would be included in the sample of Navarra wines. And the biggest surprise for me was finding the bottle of … Sauvignon Blanc! No argument here – Spain is often associated with red wines, but it makes excellent white wines – Albariño, Verdejo, Godello, Viura – but 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Spain is not something I see often (Rueda might be an exception, as Sauvignon Blanc is used there too, but mostly for blending).

The surprises continued as I opened the bottle of 2018 Bodegas Inurrieta Orchidea Sauvignon Blanc Navarra (13% ABV, $12). I have to admit, before the first sniff, I was skeptical. The first whiff of the aroma immediately cured all of my worries as the wine was simply stupendous. In a blind tasting, I would instantly place this wine into California – the wine was round and powerful, on the level of Honig or Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc. A touch of freshly cut grass and currant leaves were unmistakable, supported by golden delicious apple, lemon, and complete absence of grapefruit. Perfectly refreshing, delicious wine – and at the $12 price point, the word “steal” comes to mind. (Drinkability: 8+)

Then there was Garnacha. Garnacha, a.k.a. Grenache is a very interesting grape. Garnacha has a tremendous range of expression, from ultra-powerful likes of Alto Moncayo Aquilon and No Girls Grenache to light and ephemeral Cote du Rhone and Bodegas Tres Picos. The 2016 El Chaparral De Vega Sindoa Old Vines Garnacha Navarra (15% ABV, $15) showed rather in the “ephemeral” category, despite the 15% ABV (I only noticed this high ABV when I was writing this post but not when I tasted the wine). Two main descriptors for this wine are raspberries and pepper. The wine was light, it was playful, full of fresh, ripe, but perfectly crunchy raspberries. Each one of those raspberries had a dash of black pepper on it. Ephemeral, surreal, or simply tasty – I will happily go with either descriptor. Again – excellent, excellent value at $15. (Drinkability: 8+).

Here you go, my friends. You can’t go wrong with either of these wines – not in price, not in the taste, not in the pleasure. Look for the wines of Navarra – you might be on a cusp of your next great wine discovery. Cheers!

Discover Wines of South Africa

December 1, 2017 10 comments

South African white winesLet me start with a question: when was the last time you had South African wine? You can take a few minutes to ponder at it – but I would bet that if you are a wine consumer in the USA, there is a very good chance that the answer will be “hmmm, never”. But if “never” or “many years ago” is your answer, we need to change that.

The winemaking history in South Africa goes back to the 17th century, when immigrants from Europe brought the vine cuttings with them, as they’ve done in all other places. South African wine story somewhat resembles most of the Europe, as it also includes the phylloxera epidemic and replanting of the vineyards. Unfortunately for South African winemakers and the rest of us, the wine story of South Africa also had heavy political influence, with apartheid, KWV monopoly, and resulting boycott from most of the countries for the majority of the 20th century (here is an article on Wikipedia if you want to learn more). The new chapter for South African wines opened up in the 1990s, with the end of apartheid and subsequent changes in all areas of life, winemaking included.

In the past, South Africa was best known for its Chenin Blanc wines, which was also called Steen. Another grape South Africa was famous for was Pinotage – dinking of the Pinotage wines was likened by some wine critics to the drinking of the “liquified rusty nails”. On much brighter note, while talking about the past, I want to mention Klein Constantia Vin de Constance – the nectar of gods (don’t take my word for it  – find it and try it), made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes and favorite wine of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was buying it by the barrel (legend has it that it was Napoleon’s deathbed wish wine).

Today South Africa offers lots more than a typical wine consumer would expect. The South African wines are often described as “old world wines masquerading as new world wines”, and this is perfectly showing in the wide range of the wines. You really need to try for yourself South African Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and don’t skip the Chenin Blanc, especially if it is an FMC by Ken Forrester. You shouldn’t skip even Pinotage, as it dramatically evolved compared to the old days.  The old world winemaking foundation really shows through many of the South African wines today, and they are always ready to surprise a curious wine drinker.

Case in point – our recent virtual tasting on Snooth. We had an opportunity to taste 6 white wines, well representing South African grapes, styles and regions. The tasting included 3 out of the 4 most popular white grapes in South Africa (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) – the second most planted grape, Colombard, is used primarily in the brandy production. Another interesting fact for you  – until 1981, there was no Chardonnay planted in South Africa, which makes it all more impressive (read my notes below). Two of the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc from the tasting were simply stunning, and the rest of the wines were perfectly suitable for the everyday drinking. What is even better is that you don’t need to rely on my notes if you want to discover what South Africa is capable of – Snooth offers that exact set of 6 wines for purchase, at a very reasonable price of $79.99 for the whole set.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Glenelly Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay WO Stellenbosch (13.5% ABV, $20, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: Beautiful, vanilla, touch of guava, fresh, medium+
P: good acidity, granny smith apple, crisp, maybe a bit too restrained now, lemony acidity on the finish
V: 8, excellent now, but I definitely want to see it evolve.

2016 De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay WO Robertson (14% ABV, $16, 100% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: complex, vanilla, popcorn, medium intensity. Nose clears up as the wine breathes. Golden delicious and honeysuckle appeared. Delicious nose.
P: quite restrained, touch of Granny Smith apples as opposed to the golden delicious. Perfect acidity, vanilla, fresh.
V: 8, will evolve. Definitely an interesting wine.

2016 Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc Swartland WO Steen (12.5% ABV, $15, Chenin Blanc with a sprinkling of Palomino and another secret grape)
C: straw pale
N: interesting, yeast, touch of white stone fruit
P: crisp, restrained, mostly lemony, acidic notes
V: 7, too simple and single-dimensional

2016 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded WO Stellenbosch (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Chenin Blanc)
C: straw pale+
N: inviting, medium plus, minerality, hint of peach
P: clean acidity, interesting touch of pear and white plum with acidic finish
V: 7+, interesting wine, by itself and with food.

2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin (13% ABV, $20)
C: light golden
N: lots of minerality, touch of gunflint, touch of grass (distant hint), white stone fruit as the wine is opening up – doesn’t resemble SB at all
P: crisp, clean, lemon acidity, very restrained, mineral-driven, limestone. Almost astringent. Needs food.
V: rated it first 7+/8-, noting “will be interesting to see how the wine will open up”. More playful after 30 min in the open bottle. Interesting. After two days, this clearly became 8/8+ wine

2016 The Wolftrap White WO Western Cape (13.5% ABV, $12, Viognier 42%; Chenin Blanc 37%; Grenache Blanc 21%)
C: light golden
N: lemony notes, grass
P: a little too simplistic, mostly lemony notes. Drinkable, not great
V: 7, too simple, might work better with food

South African wines are definitely here, at the world-class level. If you pride yourself as a wine lover, they are all ready for your undivided attention.

One on One With Winemaker: Phil Rose of Wairau River, New Zealand

July 15, 2017 2 comments

It just happened to be that once again, we will be talking about New Zealand wines. Once again, we are going to visit Marlborough. And once again, we are going to meet with a pioneer.

Wairau River Vineyards

Source: Wairau River

Wairau River Wines‘ story started in 1978 when Phil and Chris Rose became grape growers (Phil was a farmer since the childhood, so the transition was not that dramatic). In 1991, they also became winemakers, producing their first wine. Today, Wairau River vineyards span 550 acres, making it one of the biggest family owned wineries in New Zealand. And it is all truly in the family, as Phil and Chris’ two sons and three daughters are all working at the winery.

Wairau River Wines produces two lines of wines. The Estate collection includes all of the usual suspects, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay, but you can also find some oddballs there, such as Albariño. The Reserve line also includes Syrah and Viognier, as well as late harvest botrytized Riesling.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Phil Rose (albeit, virtually), and inundate him with questions – here is what transpired.

[TaV]: You started growing grapes in 1978. Was there a pivotal moment which got you into the grape growing? Were grapes a long-time passion before you started, or was there an event which brought you into the world of the wine?

[WR]: The oil shock in the 1970’s meant we looked for an alternative away from the farming of beef and sheep plus the growing of Lucerne and other crops. However due to a rural council district scheme rule, grape growing was prohibited on land north of old Renwick road. 
We were required to apply for permission to establish a vineyard, which we did but the application received 56 objections and not one single vote of support. There were a number of reasons for the objections. Forestry owners were concerned they would no longer be able to use sprays like 2.4.5.t because of its impact if grapes were nearby. Local farmers were also concerned their normal farming methods would be threatened. There was also the moral opposition such that no one should be able to grow a product that could be turned in to alcohol. 
Unfortunately the council denied our application, so we appealed. But things moved even slower back then than they do now – and it took 18 months for the independent tribunal to take place. 18 months where we worked hard to try and convince the powers that be and our own neighbors that grape growing in the Rapaura area of Marlborough had huge merits. 
Finally in 1978 we got a unanimous decision from the tribunal which gave us the permission we needed to become contract grape growers. As a result, the council had to change the district plan and open the Rapaura area up to grape growing.

[TaV]: Can Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc age? What was the oldest Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc you ever tried? What is the oldest Sauvignon Blanc you have in your cellars?

[WR]: Of course the wine will age well although the wine takes on different characters with age as do all wines. Most sauvignon blanc now though is consumed in its youth as its fresh, crisp and lively style that have become hallmarks of our success. 1991 was our first vintage and we still have a few bottles of that in the cellar.

[TaV]: Did you ever experiment with cork versus Stelvin closures? Obviously, all your wines use the screw tops, but I wonder if you ever tried to create a control batch with the conventional corks and see how the wines would compare.

[WR]: We bottled our first wine in screwcaps in 2002. Prior to that we were 100% cork but never really happy with the closure. We felt that cork was tainting, oxidising and affecting the delicate aromas of sauvignon blanc in particular. 
Wairau River was part of the New Zealand screwcap initiative that was formed in 2001 and we did many trials in the early days – all of them showing that wine under screwcap was far better in terms of consistency and quality than corks. 
Today we are 100% screwcap for all of our wines.

[TaV]: It seems that Wairau River is truly a family operation top to bottom. Do you ever have any work conflicts? If yes, how do you resolve them?

[WR]: Yes we now have the whole family and some their partners involved in running the business across vineyards, winery, cellar door and restaurant. It is not often there are any issues but having a voice and opinion is important and so we all listen and work through this and will always achieve a result that works for everyone. We also have a board of directors which meets regularly which helps with accountability and offers independent advice.

[TaV]: The question I always like to ask: what was the worst vintage you remember at Wairau River and why? 

[WR]: I think 1995 will long be remembered as the toughest vintage we have had. It rained and rained

[TaV]: And the second question I always like to ask: what were your most favorite vintage years and why? 

[WR]: Actually there are many years we look back and think that was one of the best vintages however we never like to look backwards for too long. We are always striving to improve our wines each year so lately it seems every year we are getting better results across all varieties.

[TaV]: How would you differentiate Sauvignon Blanc from Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley? Are the pronounced differences there? Do you think Marlborough needs further subdivision?

[WR]: There are quite big differences between the 2 valleys in terms of flavor profiles however strategically the Rose family have chosen to focus in the Wairau Valley and then within that a tight area surrounding our home vineyard and winery. 
Further sub regions like Rapaura or Dillons Point will develop with time however Marlborough as an overall region will still be the key to our success and the protection of that is paramount.

Wairau River Wines

[TaV]: It seems that your wine portfolio is very diverse and includes a wide variety of grapes as well as styles (white, rosé, red, dessert) – the only notable absence nowadays is Sparkling wine – do you plan to fix it?
[WR]: haha – always a good topic of conversation…..we are happy with what we are doing at the moment, however we have a rule of never saying no to anything so who knows what the future will bring – perhaps the next generations may want to make sparkling wine.

[TaV]: Sauvignon Blanc and then Pinot Noir squarely put New Zealand on the world wine map. Is there a next big white and/or red grape for the New Zealand?

[WR]: We consider Pinot Gris to be the next big thing especially from Marlborough. It has a certain style that resonates well with wide variety of cuisines and will help those drinkers that are looking for NZ wine and want to try an alternative to our Sauvignon Blanc.
In the reds perhaps the wines from Hawkes Bay may make a statement but this will also be limited by smaller production.

[TaV]: Outside of New Zealand and your own wines, do you have any other favorite producers or regions for Sauvignon Blanc?

[WR]: We are lucky enough to travel the world selling wines and meeting customers so we are exposed to a number of different wine areas and styles.
In all honesty I think we produce a world class Sauvignon Blanc that is hard to beat however I do quite enjoy wines from Sancerre in particular Domaine Vacheron.

[TaV]: Same question as before, but only for the Pinot Noir – any favorites outside of New  Zealand?
[WR]: Of course, we enjoy Jim Clendenen wines at Au Bon Climat.

[TaV]: What are your next big plans at Wairau River? Any exciting projects you have started or about to start? 

[WR]: We are comfortable with where we are at in terms of our vineyard ownership and winery capabilities – our challenge is to grow sales and return better margins in all markets as we have wines that are in high demand but with limited availability. 
Gaining recognition for our other varieties such as Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir will be a key focus. Ros sales have become very hot lately so this will also be a focus going forward.

[TaV]: Last question: as you run winery as a family, I’m sure you had some funny moments in your daily wine business. Anything you care to share?

[WR]: We work extremely hard throughout the year and don’t often come together as a whole family outside of the work environment. Although I can’t pick one particular moment we have a lot of fun with the family when we gather to celebrate Christmas in the Marlborough sounds with our 5 children, their partners and 12 grandchildren there is always something happening that creates some funny occasions and a great laugh.

I’m sure you are thirsty by now, so let’s taste some wine, shall we? Here are the notes for a few Wairau River wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2016 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand (13% ABV)
C: white pearl, pale
N: intense, currant, touch of grass, bright, fresh
P: herbaceous, nicely restrained, fresh, bright, touch of grapefruit on the finish.
V: 7+/8-, an excellent example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

2015 Wairau River Pinot Gris Marlborough New Zealand (13.5% ABV)
C: light golden
N: medium intensity, minerality, limerock
P: white stone fruit, nice minerality, salinity, crisp, refreshing
V: 7+

2015 Wairau River Pinot Noir Marlborough New Zealand (13% ABV)
C: bright ruby
N: freshly crushed berries, cherry, plums
P: cherries, fresh fruit, plums, touch of smoke, medium body
V: 7+, nice, traditional Marlborough Pinot Noir

Passion and perseverance rule in the wine world – we all know that, but it is always fun to listen to the stories. Pour yourself another glass – you deserve it. Cheers!

Exploring Wines Of New Zealand – With Villa Maria on Snooth

July 8, 2017 6 comments

Wines of New Zealand need no introduction – for sure to the oenophiles. Winemaking started in New Zealand in the 1850s, but it really flourished in the second half of the 20th century, when jet travel allowed much easier access to the future winemakers to get educated and experienced in Europe. Since the 1990s, New Zealand greatly embraced sustainability and … screw tops. I’m definitely very happy about the first – sustainable farming always leads to the better wines and happier environment. The screw tops – they are fine, I’m not convinced though that they are the best for aging the wines properly. However, I don’t want to convert this post neither into a rant, nor into a debate, so let’s just move on.

Villa Maria WinesThe story of Villa Maria winery is easily an exemplary story of realizing the “American Dream” – only in this case, it is, of course, have to be called a “New Zealand dream” (I hope such a concept exists).

George Fistonich started in 1961, at the age of 21, with one acre of vines in Auckland. In 1962, he harvested the grapes and produced the wines under the name of Villa Maria. That was the beginning of the journey of one man, who had the passion, vision, perseverance and enough obsession to make it. Villa Maria was a one man operation through the 60s, hiring its first staff in the early 70s, and now employing 250 people and exporting their wines to the 50 countries. As a perfect proof of making it, George Fistonich became Sir George Fistonich, receiving the first knighthood in the country for the services to New Zealand’s wine industry.

Villa Maria today has vineyards located in Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough regions. The grapes range from the New Zealand’s staples such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to such an obscure varietals as Arneis and Verdelho. Villa Maria became a cork-free zone in 2001. And I can tell you, they really treat sustainability seriously – the Villa Maria bottles were some of the lightest wine bottles I ever came across, which I’m sure greatly affects the carbon footprint.

A week or so ago, I was a part of the big group of winelovers tasting Villa Maria wines together in the virtual tasting organized by Snooth (no worries, the wines were real). Here are my notes from tasting and also, re-tasting of the wines.

First, two of the Sauvignon Blanc wines. First one was called “bubbly” as it was lightly carbonated – and it was definitely a fun wine, perfect for a summer picnic, fresh and delightful. And the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was simply a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, done with a perfect restraint:

2016 Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $15)
C: literally non-existent
N: touch of grass and currant, a classic SB, restrained.
P: nice, touch of bubbles, touch of sweetness, black currant, nice and round, refreshing.
V: 8-/8, definitely nice

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $13)
C: straw pale
N: pure cassis, beautiful, freshly cut grass, classic
P: excellent balance, acidity, currant and a touch of grass. Nice and pleasant.
V: 8, I can drink this at any time, excellent wine

Now, the Rosé and then Chardonnay. The Villa Maria Rosé is predominantly Merlot. It is light and simple, but it has enough finesse to pass one of my personal tests – I particularly like the white and Rosé wines which are well drinkable when they are a bit warm – it is annoying to maintain the wines at the ice cold level (at home, for sure). The Rosé was delicious and drinkable even at the room temperature, so it definitely passed that test. And as for the Chardonnay – I know that I will be in the tiny minority from our tasting group, but I found it to be just okay. It had all the classic Chardonnay traits, but, somehow, didn’t hit the home run for me…

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé Hawkes Bay (12.5% ABV, $14)
C: Pink
N: strawberries and strawberry leaves, round and pleasant
P: strawberries, touch of sweetness, could use a touch more acidity, but still, nice and delicate
V: 8-, definitely improved the next day, more delicate, better balance

2015 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $45)
C: straw pale
N: creamy, vanilla, freshly baked brioche buns with a touch of butter on them
P: Granny Smith apples smothered in butter, good acidity, excellent midpalate weight, nicely plump, but clean. Nice cleansing acidity on the finish.
V: 7+, needs food.

Now, the reds. Pinot Noir was unusual compared to what I typically expect from the Marlboro Pinot Noir. It was heavier than I expected, and on the day 3, it became a lot closer to the powerful Oregonian Pinot (which is a good deal at $26, right? ). The Merlot blend was an enigma. It opened up beautifully as I just opened the bottle, but then it went back into its shell and never came out of it, even on the day 3 …

2014 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $26)
C: bright ruby
N: touch of sweet cherries, violet
P: tart cherries, tart acidity, touch of tobacco
V: 7, 7+ on the day 3 – showed a lot more fruit on the palate, Oregonian notes of dark power, espresso, mocha, with sweet core of cherries and plums.

2013 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Hawkes Bay (13.5% ABV, $20, 70% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: medium intensity, baking powder, vanilla, sweet mocha
P: black currant, ripe and sweet, touch of espresso, tar, dark fruit, dry, tannic finish
V: 7, unusual experience …

Have you had any of these wines? What are your thoughts? Cheers!

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