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Samples Galore: Few Wines For The Fall

November 8, 2017 4 comments

Are there different wines for the different seasons? In general, the answer is no. And for sure, in theory, the answer is no. The wines should be paired with food, with mood, with the company, and the actual season should have no effect on your desire to drink Champagne, or Rosé, or ice cold, acidic white or a full-bodied, massive red. Nevertheless, as the temperatures are sliding down, our desire to drink bigger wines proportionally increases. Thus, instead of fighting the trend let’s talk about few wines which would perfectly embellish any cooler autumn night.

So you think we will be only talking about red wines? Nope, we are going to start with the white. Cune Rioja Monopole requires no introduction to the wine lovers – one of the pioneering white Riojas, produced in 1914 for the first time. If you tasted Cune Monopole recently, I’m sure you found it fresh and crips. Turns out, this was not always the style. The traditional, “old school” Monopole was produced as a blend of white grapes (not just 100% Viura), with the addition of a dollop of Sherry (yep, you read it right), and was aged in the oak (read more here). To commemorate 100 years since the inaugural release, Cune produced 2014 Cune Monopole Clásico Blanco Seco (13.2% ABV, $20 ) which is a blend of Viura and other white grapes. After fermentation, a small amount of Manzanilla Sherry from the Hidalgo Sanlúcar de Barrameda was added, and the wine aged in the used Sherry casks for about 8 months. This wine had a great added complexity while remaining fresh and vibrant. Drinkability: 8. You should definitely try it for yourself – if you can find it.

Let’s stay in Spain now for the red. What do you think of the wines from Castilla y León? Castilla y León region is home to some of best of the best in Spain, such as Vega Sicilia and Pingus, both located in Ribera del Duero sub-region. But there are plenty of outstanding wines which are simply designated as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León. Vino de la Tierra is considered a lower quality tier than DO or DOC – but some of the winemakers prefer VdT designation as it gives them a lot more freedom to experiment with the wines.

Case in point – Abadia Retuerta winery. Historical roots of Abadia Retuerta go back almost thousand years when Santa María de Retuerta monastery was built on the banks of Duero River, and the first vines were planted. Today, Abadia Retuerta exercises modern approach to winemaking, which they call “plot by plot” – the winery identifies 54 unique parcels of land, each one with its own terroir – no wonder they find DO rules too limiting for the wines they are creating. Here are my [more formal] notes for 2013 Abadia Retuerta Sardon De Duero Selección Especial Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León – Sardon De Duero (13.5% ABV, $30, 75% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and other red varieties such as Merlot and Petit Verdot):
C: dark garnet
N: inviting, bright, ripe cherries, mint, roasted meat, very promising, cedar box
P: wow, smooth, layered, luscious, fresh fruit, ripe, cherries, sweet oak, excellent balance
V: 8, lots of pleasure

Now, let’s quickly jump to the other side of the Earth – to Australia, it is. If we are talking about Australia, you probably expect the subject of the discussion will be Shiraz – and this is a perfect guess. The story of Two Hands winery started in 1999 when two friends decided to start making world-class wines showcasing capabilities of different Australian regions, starting with Barossa. Gnarly Dude is one of the wines made by Two Hands, and the name here comes from the way the old Shiraz vines look like. Here are my notes for the 2016 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.8% ABV, $35, 100% Shiraz)
C: dark ruby
N: fresh blackberries, baking spice, tobacco
P: more blackberries, pepper, save, savory notes, medium to full body, good acidity, good balance
V: 7+, very nice overall

Let’s go back to Europe – to Italy to be more precise. Italy is home to lots and lots of world-famous producers, but there are still a few which have more of a “legend” status. One of such producers is Gaja – anyone who is into the wine would immediately jump off the chair at the slightest opportunity to drink Gaja wines.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino (1)Gaja is most famous for their Piedmont reds – Barolo and Barbaresco. It appears that in addition to the first two Bs (Barolo and Barbaresco), the third “B” group of wines is not foreign to Gaja – if you thought “Brunello”, you were right. Gaja acquired Pieve Santa Restituta estate in Montalcino in 1994, its first venture outside of Piedmont. A “Pieve” is a parish church, and the estate was named after the church which is still present on site – the winemaking history of the estate can be traced all the way back to the 12th century.

In 2005, Gaja produced the first vintage of non-vineyard designated Brunello di Montalcino wine from Pieve Santa Restituta estate – the wine is a blend of Sangiovese Grosso grapes from 4 different vineyards. I had an opportunity to taste 2012 Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (15% ABV, $75, 100% Sangiovese Grosso, 12 months in barrel, 12 months in Botti). I have one single word which would be enough to describe the experience – and the word is “Superb”. The wine had an intense welcoming nose which was unmistakably Italian – ripe cherries and leather. The palate? Where do I start… velvety, perfectly extracted, dense, firmly structured, ripe cherries, lavender, sweet oak, impeccable balance. And dangerous, very dangerous – once you start, you can’t stop (nevermind the 15% ABV). Drinkability: 9

What are your favorite wines to enjoy in the Fall? Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: An Australian Score

October 29, 2017 3 comments

I pride myself with very wide wine horizon. I scout wines from literally everywhere in the world – China, Japan, Croatia, Bulgaria or Hawaii – bring it on, the more obscure, the better, I will be happy to try them all.

Nevertheless, a majority of my daily drinking evolves around Italy, Spain, and California, with a little injection of France. The rest of the wine regions make a very sporadic appearance at our house – without any prejudice or malicious intent – just stating the fact.

Nevermind China and Japan, which are still going through an adolescence as wine producing countries – let’s talk about Australia instead. About 20 years ago Australia was leading wine imports in the USA. As you would enter a wine store, you were greeted with countless Australian wine selections.

Today, Australian wines are relegated to the back shelves, and they are definitely not on top of the wine consumer’s mind (in the USA for sure). Ups and downs are hard to analyze in the wine world (think of the devastating effect of the movie Sideways on Merlot consumption), and such an analysis is definitely not the point of this post, no matter how interesting such a discussion could’ve been.

As I stated before, Australian wines are rare guests at our table, and this is not deliberate – I enjoyed lots and lots of excellent Australian wines, and have an utmost respect to what this country can deliver. I’m always ready to seize an opportunity to try an Australian wine, especially if it comes with a recommendation.

Such recommendation can present itself in lots of different ways – a friend, a magazine, an Instagram post, a tweet – or an offer from the Last Bottle Wines, especially during the Last Bottle’s infamous Marathon events. During the Last Bottle Marathon, you can buy the wines in single bottle quantities, which I like the most as you can create your own tasting collection quickly and easily.

If the wine is offered for sale by the Last Bottle, it definitely serves as an endorsement for me. The folks at Last Bottle know the wines – if they offer something, it means the wine really worth trying. During the last Marathon, the 2015 Gemtree Uncut Shiraz McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) attracted my attention. I don’t know what made me click the “buy” button –  the name “Gemtree” (sounds interesting, isn’t it?), or the word ‘Uncut” (again, this somehow sounds cool to me as well), but I did click that button quickly.  You see, you only have a split second to get the wine – you blink, you lose – and I scored the bottle of this Australian Shiraz.

I pulled the bottle from the wine fridge, twisted the top and poured into the glass. Dark ruby color, a whiff of the blackberries. The palate had a tremendous amount of salinity over the crunchy blackberries – I guess this was an effect of drinking this wine at a cellar temperature. But it was still attractive. While admiring the simple label I saw the word which made me very curious – “Biodynamic”, and then the back label provided lots more information about how this wine was made. To me, “sustainable” is a very important wine keyword, and whatever extras “biodynamic” entails, the biodynamic wine is always a sustainable wine – and it is definitely important for me.

After warming up, the wine became generous, layered, showed soft tannins and perfect crunchy backbone of dark fruit with some dark chocolate notes and touch of a spicy bite – all perfectly balanced and delicious (Drinkability: 8+). The name “Gemtree” kept me intrigued, and the picture on the label was very attractive in its simplicity, so I went to the Gemtree Wines website to learn a bit more. I rarely quote from the winery websites, but I think in this case this is quite appropriate (here is the link to the source):

This is our Gemtree story…

There was once a tree. Not the tallest tree, nor the oldest tree, but a tree that had put its roots in just the right part of the paddock. Here the soil was deep and layered – sometimes hard and rocky, elsewhere soft and sandy – and the wind had just enough room to move, and even the rain – when it was kind enough to visit – would fall evenly and gently.

Because of its favoured position, the grasses grew tall against its trunk, and the wild flowers were easily encouraged to grow closely around it, and the insects and birds that looked to trees for shelter and for vantage, eagerly moved in.

One day a farmer approached the tree and wondered: “You do not grow the strongest, nor the fastest, so why is it that you grow the best fruit?”

The tree let the answer whisper through the wind in its branches: “If I am shown a patient mind and a gentle hand, if I am left to follow the rhythms of my seasons – to rest in Winter; to revive in Spring; to make busy in Summer; and to provide in Fall – then I can offer fruit that tastes not just of the ground upwards, but also of the sky downwards, and of everything around me.”

The farmer thought to himself: “This is truly a Gemtree – it takes only what it can give back to the land, it contributes to its surroundings, and it provides for those that live around it.”

This is the heart of the Gemtree story: growing better wine ~ naturally.

Here you are, my friends. I don’t know how often you drink Australian wines, but Gemtree is definitely the name to keep in mind for your next round of wines from down under – I think you will be happy with your score. Cheers!

Daily Glass: 17 Years Old Beauty

December 22, 2015 5 comments

Dutschke St. Jakobi Shiraz Barossa ValleyAbsolute majority of the 17 years old are beautiful. Well, at least when it comes to the people. With the wines, this can be a different story. 17 years old in the wine terms is quite an age – some of those 17 years old are slender and muscular, and some are flabby, tired, and barely stand on their feet. And the beauty of the wine is that you can’t know how the wine will be – until you get the bottle opened.

I have to admit that I had no expectations before opening this bottle of 1998 Shiraz from Australia. Aged Australian wines are hard to come by in US, thus I have very little experience with that class of wines. And having no expectations around the wines is generally good, as it often saves you from disappointment. However, I’m sure that you deduced from the title of this post that there was nothing disappointing about my experience.

Dutschke family owned the parcel of land with a few vineyards on it in Barossa valley in Australia since the end of the 19th century. In the late 1900 the grape plantings increased, with most of the grapes been sold to the other wineries. The first wines under the Dutschke name were produced only starting in 1990. Which makes the wine which I opened today one of the early wines produced at the winery.

As I opened the bottle of the 1998 Dutschke St. Jakobi Shiraz Barossa Valley (15% ABV, $25?), the first nice observation was perfect condition of the cork – not a sign of age. The color was very dark garnet – again, not a sign of age. And the smell – wow – concentrated fresh berries, lavender, sandalwood – bright and uplifting. Then the best part – the wine needed no breathing time. Pour, sip and enjoy the exuberance of the fresh berries, savory herbs, dark power, perfect structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. If I wouldn’t check the label, I would’ve never known the wine was 15% ABV – overall, it was perfectly integrated and perfectly enjoyable (Drinkability: 8+/9-). And then the wine just was.

Wish you lots of small pleasures this holiday season. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Humbled By The Wine (Again)

March 14, 2015 11 comments

The inner snob (unsilenceable). The charade of expectation. All together in a conundrum. Yeah, I know I’m not making sense. Please allow me to explain myself.

Just came back after a small party at a friend, who doesn’t drink much, but always makes sure he has an ample wine supply for the guests. He stores wines in the dark, cold room in the basement, so the conditions are good. But the wines sometimes get lost there. Not in any bad sense – they simply might stay there for years.

When he brought up a magnum of 2004 (!) Rosemount Shiraz/Cabernet Sauivignon South Eastern Australia (53% Shiraz, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% ABV), the inner snob made a quick assessment  – “oh, sh!t”, he said. I just recently had bad experience with 2005 Shiraz, which was supposed to be magnificent, but was not, and with 2012 Shiraz of a [supposedly] high pedigree, so you have to excuse that little snob guy. Rosemount is a well known producer from Australia, but it is a mass-producer, and this Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon from a current vintage can be acquired today for a whooping $7 on average, according to the wine-searcher. So $7 wine, aged for 11 years – what would you expect? I would assume you see the conundrum now.

Well, there is only way to find out – the truth is in the glass, right? The wine is poured, and it is … delicious. Inviting nose of the dark fruit, nothing extra. On the palate – plums, blackberries, touch of spices, sweet oak, soft tannins, very present acidity and overall, very balanced wine. The wine was delivering lots of pleasure, and as one glass was finished, the next one was desired almost immediately. Drinkability: 8-

So here is the story, of the humbled snob and exceeded expectations (greatly exceeded). Is there a moral here? I think there is, and it is rather simple: give the wine a chance. You never know what is in the bottle – whether it is $7 or $107 bottle of wine, you still don’t know it. Yes, you have expectations, but the ultimate truth is inside of your glass. Stay humble, my friends, but expect the best. Cheers!

What To Drink During #ShirazWeek

February 21, 2015 10 comments

ShirazWeekYep, another wine holiday is upon us. This time, it is a week-long holiday, so you will surely get your opportunity to celebrate. What holiday, you ask? #ShirazWeek. Yep, the whole week dedicated to the Shiraz wines.

As we know, Shiraz is just a different name for the grape called Syrah, one of the most popular red grapes in the world. Today Syrah is literally growing everywhere – France, Spain, Italy, even Portugal, United States, Chile, Israel, South Africa, Australia and many others. But – what is the first country which comes to mind when you hear the word Shiraz? For me, the answer is simple – Australia.

Australia is one and only wine making country where you will not find wines called Syrah (well, may be you can, but with extreme difficulties). South Africa is probably next – most of South African Syrah wines are called “Shiraz”. For the rest of the world, Chile is often uses the name Shiraz, and you can find some of US wines called Shiraz as well (quite rare – Syrah prevails by a huge margin), and then it is Syrah all the way.

Shiraz is most popular red grape in Australia, with the plantings been second largest in the world after France. A quick question for you – do you know where the oldest, continuously producing Shiraz vines are located? Well, yeah, I’m sure it was easy to figure out in the context – yes, in Australia, in Barossa Valley, planted in 1847, now reaching a tender age of almost 170 years. Over the years Shiraz had its ups and downs, with the vineyards ripped out, including the old vines, with overproduction and quality problems – but it still remains Australia’s darling, and a world-class wine on its own, well worthy of a celebration. Shiraz is produced everywhere in Australia, but Barossa, Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Hunter Valley, Margaret River and McLaren Vale are probably the most famous regions for that wine.

Now, let’s talk about what to drink in honor of the #ShirazWeek. Of course I don’t think you should be drinking Shiraz for the whole week – but then you should do whatever you think is right – I’m merely here to provide some suggestions. As a self-made oenophile, I went through lots of Australian wines the bargain aisle has to offer – I had my fair share of Yellow Tail, Rosemount, Wolf Blass and Lindeman’s – the wines that comprise the glory and the curse of the Australian wine industry. But – I’m sure you don’t need my advice with that group. Let me instead suggest some names which I think would be worthy of your attention. The list below has no particular order – but these are all the producers I can related to, one way or the other. While some of these wines will be more expensive than the others, I don’t expect you to need to break the bank to taste any of them, so don’t be concerned.

d’Arenberg – very well known producer in McLaren Vale, with many family generations involved in the winemaking. Footbolt Shiraz (under $20) and Dead Arm Shiraz (around $70) both worth your attention.

Jim Barry – Jim Barry is a well known producer in the Clare Valley. While they make a number of wines, the one I particularly recommend is Jim Barry McRae Wood ($50), a single vineyard Shiraz – very focused and delicious.

Two Hands Wines – their wines are exuberant, over the top, and never shy in alcohol – but they also manage to achieve an impeccable balance. Try whatever you can get your hands on. The wines are generally priced in the $30 – $100 range.

Mollydooker Wines – a wonderful producer in McLaren Vale. I love the way their wines are named – Carnival of Love, Blue Eyed Boy or Two Left Feet, for instance. Again, try anything you can get. Similarly to the Two Hands, their wines are priced in the $25 – $100 range.

Henry’s Drive – a producer in Padthaway in South Australia. I came across their Dead Letter Office Shiraz as a recommendation from Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, writers of the Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column, where 2005 Dead Letter Office Shiraz was rated as Delicious!, a highest honors in the Tastings column. I had an opportunity to taste and concur – and according to the Wine-Searcher, the 2005 is still available online at $26.

Pirramimma – a producer in McLaren Vale. I have to be honest – I never tried their wines, but – the 2005 Shiraz was listed in that exact same Tastings column with exact same Delicious! rating, hence my recommendation. I have a bottle of this wine, and will probably follow my recommendation soon.

Elderton Wines – another great producer from Barossa. I had an opportunity to try 2002 Elderton Command Shiraz, and this wine was simply stunning. It will set you back about $90 or so – but in that price category, it is well worth every penny.

M. Chapoutier – best known for their French Syrah wines, M. Chapoutier started producing Shiraz in Victoria, Australia in 2002. Tasting 2011 Domaine Tournon Mathilda Shiraz was literally a mind-blowing experience and it was one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the last year (here is my post). At less than $15, this might be the best Shiraz you can ever taste at a price.

There are lots and lots more Shiraz producers in Australia – as I said before, the list above only includes wines I can relate to, so feel free to suggest your favorites.

And just in case money are no object, I would like to suggest two Shiraz wines I didn’t have the opportunity to taste, but they should be able to provide a holistic experience, at least based on the price ($600+) and according to the people who tasted them. I’m talking about Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill Of Grace Shiraz Eden Valley – both wines should be absolutely magnificent – but I will let you confirm or deny it in case you had the firsthand experience.

Now you are ready to celebrate the #ShirazWeek – and don’t forget to share your experiences on the AussieWine web site. Drop me a note too – I want to know what is in your glass and how do you like it. Cheers!

 

Month in Wines – April 2014

May 4, 2014 4 comments

April was a good month for the good wines, with some of the gems worthy of Top Dozen consideration. Syrah and Pinot Noir were probably the biggest stars, but not the only stars. I already wrote about some of the wines before, so I will not inundate you with the repetitive details, and instead will simply give you the reference to the prior post. All the wines are rated on the 10 points scale, with + and – adjustments. These summary posts only include the wines with the ratings of 8- and higher – in the very very rare cases, I might include 7+ wines if I feel that the wine was simply unique.

Let’s go!

2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Oregon (14% ABV, $45) – dark and delicious, and will age well for the next 10-12 years. 8+

2010 Renieri Invetro Rosso Toscano IGT (14% ABV) – delicious Super-Tuscan, powerful, round, a pure joy. 8+

2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV, $14.99) – simply spectacular. A clear pepper profile on the nose and the palate. A stunning beauty. 9

2003 J.L. Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph, France (13.5% ABV) – Barnyard, touch of spice (pepper), dark and delicious. 8

2005 Domaine Philippe  Bornard Arbois Pupillin La Chamade Ploussard (12.8% ABV) – beautiful, powerful, multi-layred. Pleasure in every sip. 8+

2012 J Wrigley Estate Pinot Noir Proposal Block McMinnville AVA (14% ABV, aged 10 Month in French oak, 250 cases produced. $45 SRP) – chocolate, mocha, a bit of mushrooms. Nice and balanced, and will age well. 8-

2010 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (SRP: $47.99) – perfect Claret, if you will. This wine would rival many top California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, which would also cost at least 2-3 times as much. 8

2007 La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Rioja Riserva, Spain (SRP: $19.99) – Perfect balance of fruit, structure, power and earthiness which only Rioja possess. Beautifully round and delicious. 8+

2001 La Rioja Alta 904 Rioja Gran Riserva, Spain (SRP: $47.99) – Mature and delicious, with lots of subtle nuances. A thought provoking wine. 8+

2009 Shiloh Legend Judean Hills, Israel (14.2% ABV, 45% Shiraz, 40% Petite Sirah, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Merlot, each grape vinified and oak-cask aged separately for 8 month, then blended and aged for another 8 month) – round, velvety, delicious, with dark fruit core and firm structure. Perfect balance of power and concentration. 8

2012 Tousey Chardonnay Estate, Hudson River, New York (12% ABV) – a Chablis on Hudson would be a good way to define this wine. Chablis style minerality and hint of gunflint on the nose, creamy and round on the palate, with subtle apple and vanilla notes. Delicious Chardonnay. 8-

2012 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes des Bila-Haut White Côtes-du-Roussillon (13% ABV, $13.99, blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu) – in a word, delicious. Bright white fruit on the nose, fresh lemon, some earthiness. Perfect balance on the palate, each sip makes you crave for another. 8+

2004 Bodegas Ondarre Rioja Reserva Rioja DOC (13% ABV) – dark fruit on the nose, with the hint of eucalyptus and cigar box. Palate full of dark fruit with earthy profile, supple tannins and bright acidity, very balanced. 8-

2010 Chapelle-St-Arnoux Côtes du Rhône  AOC (13.5 % ABV, $10.99) – nose of inviting dark fruit, the same on the palate with addition of dark chocolate notes and rounding acidity. Very dense and well structured for Côtes du Rhône. A steal for the price (sorry, it was some sort of closeout). 8

2010 Les Trois Chemins Côtes du Rhône AOP (13% ABV, $8.99) – fresh red fruit on the nose, blackberries and cherries, more of the same on the palate, coupled with bright acidity. Simple and elegant, and beyond steal at the price (again, a closeout of sorts). 8-

That concludes my report on the April wine highlights. Did you taste any of these wines? What were your best wine experiences of the month? Cheers!

Syrah – Nice and Spectacular, Plus a Case Buy Recommendation

April 20, 2014 13 comments

Syrah wines have a special status in our house – this is my wife’s most favorite type of wine, so I’m always trying to keep some on hand. With the status of “favorite”, it is customary for us to open a bottle of Syrah for different celebratory occasions. Sometimes, Friday feels like a special occasion (I’m sure you can easily relate to that), so yes, Syrah it was.

I was thinking about opening this wine for a while. As I don’t employ any cellar organization systems, neither software nor paper, I simply have a general idea of the wines I have, and then I get more opportunities to touch many bottles in the search of one to be opened. I noticed that particular Syrah bottle during few of the recent searches, so I was mentally getting ready to part with it (most of the bottles I have are in the single bottle quantities, so yes, I need some mental prep to deal with that). Thus when the Friday came, it was an easy decision – it will will be a Syrah Friday (well, to be entirely honest, Syrah Friday decision was made on Thursday, but I don’t think it matters here all that much).

Saint Joseph Offerus

2003 J.L. Chave Offerus Saint-Joseph, France (13.5% ABV), a 100% Syrah from Northern Rhone appellation. Just to give a you a bit of the reference, J.L Chave (Jean-Louis Chave) represents the latest generation of the winemaking family from Northern Rhone. Their first Hemitage wine was produced in 1481. Try to remember J.L. Chave name next time you are looking for the Rhone wines, you can’t go wrong with their wines.

Talking about this 2003 Syrah – no sign of age on the color – dark, concentrated garnet ruby. On the nose, the wine had a whiff of the barnyard, which I personally find very attractive, and some dark fruit. The palate was showing more of the dark fruit, plums and blackberries, with a touch of minerality and clean acidity. Elegant, round, perfectly structured, full bodied, with spicy kick in the back and long finish. The bottle disappeared without a trace. I think “restrained elegance” would be the best descriptor for this wine. Drinkability: 8

And then there was another Syrah. About a week ago, I got an e-mail from PJ Wine,  one of the best wine stores in New York, describing “secret” Shiraz. That wine was made by an excellent French producer, Michel Chapoutier (a seventh generation winemaker himself), in Australia, and it had 94 rating by Robert Parker, while priced under $12. I generally don’t buy the wines based on ratings, and I also consider that we have a “palate misalignment” with Mr. Parker, but 94 points and $12 is definitely something to think about. When I saw the wine in my local Cost Less Wines, I simply had to get it (it was $14.99 here in CT).

Tournon Shiraz

2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV) – screw top is off, wine is poured. Bright ruby color in the glass. First smell and the very first reaction – what is it? Really? Pepper? Wow! Yes, peppery notes are the signature of the Syrah grape – but I’m used to finding it after the sip, not in-you-face once you smell the wine. Here it was – bright, fresh black pepper, as I was smelling the pepper mill instead of a glass. The first sip extends the “wow” moment even further – it is a rare luck in my experience, when there is a full match between the smell and the taste. Here is was – freshly ground black pepper, perfectly present without overpowering the taste. The black pepper was elegantly weaved into a core of red plums and tart cherries – delicious, sip after sip. This was definitely an exciting wine – clean, elegant, alive, sexy and vibrant. The grapes for this wine were macerated for 2-3 weeks in stainless steel and cement tanks for the better tannins extraction, and then aged for 12 month in stainless steel and cement tanks (no oak!). A pure expression of a beautiful Syrah. This is the wine to be experienced – and to buy by the case. It is gone at PJ Wine, unfortunately, but according to the wine-searcher, it is still available in the number of other stores find this wine. I don’t say it too often, but I feel this is very appropriate now – this is the wine to buy by the case! Drinkability: 9

That concludes the tale of two Syrah wines. While Offerus was very classic old world version, the Tournon Mathilda was definitely an eye-opener for me – if you can find this wine, you should experience it just to get acquainted with Syrah in its pure expression – it was a very delicious encounter for me. And I guess I need to look for more Robert Parker recommended wines – either his palate is changing, or may be its mine… Cheers!

 

Screw Top Versus Cork – The Jury Is Still Out

June 10, 2013 10 comments

d'Arenberg The Footbolt ShirazDSC_0317Inadvertently, I run an experiment of cork versus screw top, and the results were interesting enough to discuss them here.

About a week ago, I pulled out of the cellar (which is actually a wine fridge) the bottle of 2004 d’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz MacLaren Vale from Australia (14.5% ABV). As I confessed in my blogging addiction in the recent post, before the bottle is open, in addition to just regular anticipation of wine experience itself, now I have added anticipation of the possible blog post which can be written based on the wine experience.

Or not. There are many possible was for the experience not becoming a blog post. Too many things to write about, too little time. Or you just hit the “writer’s block”. Or the experience is not worthy of being captured. Which was the case with this Shiraz.

d’Arenberg is a well known Australian winery, which just celebrated 100 years last year, producing substantial range of typical Australian wines, such as Shiraz, Grenache, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and more. I had pleasure of meeting Chester Osborn, d’Arenberg’s winemaker in third generation, and even have couple of bottles with his signature in my cellar (by the way, what do you do with those signed bottles? I should make a separate post to discuss this interesting question).

Now, I didn’t know what to expect from this bottle of Shiraz. The Footbolt is one of the introductory level Shiraz wines from d’Arenberg, but that doesn’t mean anything. Cork is out (regular cork, just keep reading to see why it is important), and judging by the color alone, this wine didn’t reach its prime yet – dark ruby in color. But the nose and then the palate were inconclusive. Acidity would jump up and down with every sip, and while the wine had enough fruit, it was simply not getting together, definitely lacking the balance which is all so important for me in the wine. So, based on this wine alone, the blog post was not born.

And then yesterday I pulled out another bottle of d’Arenberg wine from the same vintage:

d'Arenberg Shiraz Grenache

d’Arenberg Shiraz Grenache

2004 d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) – a blend of 50% Shiraz and 50% Grenache . With the screw top. That was an “aha” moment. Same vintage as the previous wine – but wit the screw top – how different the experience will it be?

No “pop” of the pulled cork. Just a quiet “tsk-tsk-tsk” of unscrewing the top. In the glass, this wine looked like it was made yesterday – dark ruby, very concentrated color. From the get go, the wine showed beautiful fruit on the nose, ripe plums, equally supported on the palate with fresh fruit and energetic acidity.

About 45 minutes or so later, when I poured another glass, the wine tasted almost sweet – the thought was “what happened”? This was a totally a different wine compare to the way the wine started. Another half an hour or so – and we were presented with the new wine again – dark concentrated fruit, firm structure, tannins and acidity all summing up into a gorgeous balanced wine.

Wine ageing in the bottle is typically associated with the tiny inflow of oxygen through the cork. In case of screwtop, the oxygen doesn’t get to the wine at all. Thus my theory is that once you open a bottle under the screwtop, the very quick ageing process starts off, which takes the wine through the different “taste stages” in the rapid succession. Then at the same time, the wine is changing its taste in the glass no matter what, so may be that rapid taste changing has nothing to do with the way the bottle was closed.

Ideally, of course, I would love to compare two identical bottles (same wine, same vintage), only one closed with the screwtop and another one with the regular cork (I believe I actually read about some producers who are doing that). In this experiment, the Shiraz Grenache under the screwtop was a clear winner, but it is hard to tell what it has to do with the screwtop versus regular cork versus the two wines being just differently made.

I guess I can end this report with the words “to be continued…” – and I would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Ageing of California Cabs, Is 0.05 an answer?, and more

May 29, 2013 9 comments

Meritage time!

As usual, we are starting with the answer to the wine quiz #58, Grape Trivia – Syrah. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about Syrah, a.k.a. Shiraz.

Q1: Where is Shiraz?

A1: Shiraz is a town in Iran (previously Persia) where supposedly Syrah was originated.

Q2: Which white grape often plays a role of blending companion for Shiraz?

A2: Viognier is often added to both Syrah (Côte-Rôtie) and Shiraz. In many cases you can see Shiraz Viognier written on the labels of Australian wines.

Q3: One of the appellations below can be removed from the list – can you tell which one and why? For the answer to count, “why” explanation is required

A. Cornas, B. Côte-Rôtie, C. Crozes-Hermitage, D. Hermitage, E. Saint-Joseph

A3: Cornas. While Syrah is the only red grape allowed to be used in all of the appellations above, all appellations except Cornas also allow addition of white grapes (Viognier or Marsanne and Roussanne) to the final wine.

Q4: About 100 years ago, Syrah was a popular addition to the wines of one well known region – now this practice is totally illegal by the appellation rules. Do you know what region was that?

A4: Bordeaux. Syrah was a popular addition to Bordeaux wine, providing the structure and flesh. Of course the practice is illegal according to Bordeaux AOC rules, but it is still quite popular in the other regions, such as Australia, where you can often find Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz wines.

Q5: Where do you think are the oldest in the world continuously producing  Syrah vineyards are located? Can you guess the approximate age of the vines?

A5: Australia. It is very difficult to figure out who was first and who was not, as in the wine world, there are always multiple claims to the “first” and “oldest” bragging rights. Based on the information I came across in this forum discussion, the oldest Shiraz vines had being planted in 1846 in the Jacobs Creek area, and Schild Estate is producing the wine called Moorooroo Shiraz from those old vines.

And the winners are… The Drunken Cyclist (I think for 5 times in the row!). He got all 5 questions correctly – great job, Jeff! Very close right behind him (with 4.5 out of 5 points – very close in the area for Shiraz, but named a different country – is Barbie from Blindly Guessing Grapes. If you are not familiar with her blog – check it out, she is constantly challenging herself to taste and learn about different grapes, definitely worth your attention. Honorable mention goes to Red Wine Diva, who correctly answered 3 out of 5 questions. Great job all, enjoy your bragging rights!

And now, to the interesting stuff around the vines and the web!

First I want to mention an interesting post by Steve Heimoff, where he is talking about change in perception of what ageable California Cabernet Sauvignon is, from 1970s to today. Steve’s point is that back in the 70s, to be considered age-worthy, Cabernet was supposed to taste bad on the release – where this is definitely not the point now. Read it for yourself, and as usual, don’t forget to read through the comments section, as it contains a lot of interesting information.

Next subject is currently widely discussed in many alcohol-related blogs – NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) recently came up with recommendation to lower allowed alcohol blood limit to 0.05 (down from 0.08 which is currently the limit). Both Steve Heimoff and W. Blake Gray wrote blog posts about it, which you can read here and here, advocating the idea that just lowering of the alcohol blood level will not be the solution for DUI-related accidents.  They both covered the subject quite well, so I’m not going to repeat all of their arguments – but I recommend that you will read their posts, as in the end of the day, this relates to all of us and our ability to have a glass of wine with the meal in the restaurant.

There is also something else I want you to think about here. My friend Emil sent me a very interesting link tot he blog post titled “Survivorship Bias“. The post is very (very!) long and has nothing to do with wine – it is however a very (very!) worthwhile reading. This post is talking about the fact that when we analyze the problem, we tend to focus on successful outcome only, and we forget to carefully look on all the failed results and dead-end paths (it is impossible to give you a good summary in one sentence, you will be better off reading the post). The connection here? I believe that most of drunk-driving accidents were caused by the people whose blood alcohol level was far exceeding 0.08, forget 0.05. Majority of the people involved into DUI accidents never thought of what the allowed blood alcohol level is  – 0.08, 0.05 or whatever, so lowering the limit will only allow to collect more fines and get in the way of more people’s lives – but it is not going to address the problem itself and reduce the number of drunk-driving related accidents. By no means I advocate or promote drunk-driving, this is definitely a serious problem which needs to be solved – but in order to solve this problem, it should be analyzed properly first, and this is what I believe this 0.05 recommendation is lacking.

And this is all I have for you for today. I think you are looking at lots of interesting reading, and if you want to discuss any of this “news”, this is what the comments section is for.

The glass is empty – but refill is on the way. Until the next time – cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #58: Grape Trivia – Syrah

May 25, 2013 15 comments
Shiraz grapes from Wikipedia

Shiraz grapes. Source: Wikipedia

Welcome to the weekend! To start your weekend right, it is the time for our traditional grape and vine exercise.

We are continuing the grape trivia, and today’s subject is … Syrah, or as they call it in Australia, Shiraz.

Syrah is a red grape with thick black skin, capable of producing full-bodied, big and powerful wines. Primary aromas associated with Syrah are usually of blackberry and black pepper, but as the wine ages, it shows a number of very diverse flavors, such as leather, tobacco, chocolate and more. Syrah is known under the name of Shiraz in Australia and South Africa. France, United States (California, Washington, Oregon) and Australia are typically considered to be the source of the best in the world Syrah wines, but Spain, Italy, Chile and Argentina are all producing very interesting Syrah wines as well.

Now, let’s move on to the quiz. As before, the quiz consists of 5 questions, and the answers will be provided next Wednesday.

Q1: Where is Shiraz?

Q2: Which white grape often plays a role of blending companion for Shiraz?

Q3: One of the appellations below can be removed from the list – can you tell which one and why? For the answer to count, “why” explanation is required

A. Cornas

B. Côte-Rôtie

C. Crozes-Hermitage

D. Hermitage

E. Saint-Joseph

Q4: About 100 years ago, Syrah was a popular addition to the wines of one well known region – now this practice is totally illegal by the appellation rules. Do you know what region was that?

Q5: Where do you think are the oldest in the world continuously producing  Syrah vineyards are located? Can you guess the approximate age of the vines?

Enjoy your weekend, good luck and cheers!