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Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers, 2016 Edition

December 21, 2016 Leave a comment

bottle_wine_presentsIf there is one overarching theme for my 2016 posts, it can be expressed with one word: “late”. No matter how useful my advice will be, the major present-buying holiday takes place in mere two days, so yes, it is truly late. But – the comforting thought is: if you got a wine lover, an oenophile in your life, wine is always, always an excellent present. Or anything related to the wine for that matter. Except for the 5th identical book – oh well, nothing wrong with re-gifting, right?

Now, when it comes to the presents for the wine lovers, I already covered the subject quite extensively over the past few years. I checked what I wrote before, and was happy to realize that all or practically all of my advice still stands – thus, allow me to simply give you a reference to the older posts – if you are still looking for the present, you might find my suggestions helpful.

Back in 2014, I wrote a series of posts on the subject of wine gifts which I called “Practical and Pragmatic Guide”. It is practical and pragmatic, as I not only tell you what to buy but also provide recommendations for the gifts I wouldn’t buy – definitely practical and pragmatic. The series consisted of 3 parts:

Part 1 – Wine gifts – this post provides a general introduction for “practical and pragmatic”, and it is talking about various wine gifting options.

Part 2 – Wine Accessories – openers, pourers, decanters and lots more – what makes sense, what doesn’t.

Part 3 – Wine Education – books, classes, experiences – everything the wine lover might really appreciate.

Here is also a post on the same subject from 2011 – while it will not give you much new information conceptually, it has more recommendations as to where to buy the wine.

Before we part I want to mention that I created now a collection of useful wine gift items on Amazon. All the books there are personal recommendations and all the accessories are split into different categories to simplify navigation.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Better late than never, eh? Happy Holidays and happy last minute gift hunting! Cheers!

Lodi Thanksgiving – Wine Notes (There Was A Turducken Too)

December 10, 2016 8 comments

Yeah, I know – it’s been more than two weeks since Thanksgiving… Well, okay – let’s still talk about it.

I gave you some ideas about the Thanksgiving wines and food with my earlier post, so let me just start with the “prep” picture again:

thanksgiving prepAll the birds you see in this picture were converted into a Turducken – chicken inside the duck inside the turkey, all fully deboned except the legs and wings of the turkey. The dish was conceived in the 1980s in the South, popularized around the country in the mid-1990s, and now freely available for order most everywhere (or at least this is my impression).

Deboning takes a bit of a skill, but nothing impossible. There are different schools of thoughts as to how to assemble the birds and what to put between the layers – I used two different types of sausages – you can see them in the picture above. Overall, I tried to follow the recipe on Serious Eats, which is one of the very best “turducken how to” instructions you can find – “tried” is the best way to put it, as I made a few essential mistakes (not cooking the chicken fully first), which led to slightly overcooked dish – nevertheless, it was very tasty, and I would gladly do it again, despite the need to put in the work. Here are my “step-by-step” pictures, from the deboned chicken to the final dish:

There was plenty of other dishes at the table, but turducken was a star.

Now, let’s talk wine. As you can imagine, Thanksgiving gathering is a not the right place to take detailed notes on the wines. Therefore, I’m sharing here my general impressions.

The day before Thanksgiving the Fall shipment arrived from Field Recordings, and the first bottle which caught my attention was a California Pét Nat:

Pét Nat is a short for Pétillant-naturel, a sparkling wine made with méthode ancestrale, when the wine is bottled before the first fermentatoin is finished – very different from traditional méthode champenoise, where the sparkling wine is made with secondary fermentation in the bottle, done with addition of yeast and sugar. Pét Nat are typically fresh, unfiltered and unpredictable, which makes them even more fun than traditional Champagne. This 2016 Field Recordings Pét Nat Arroyo Grande Valley (100% Chardonnay) was delicious – fresh, creamy, with aromas of toasty bread and fresh apples – an outstanding rendition of Chardonnay.

This wine was the only deviation from Lodi. Our next wine was 2015 LangeTwins Estate Grown Sangiovese Rosé Lodi (12% ABV). While cold, it was crisp and loaded with cranberries, perfectly delicate, without any excess of sugar. As it warmed up, the strawberries took over, mellowing the wine out and making it slightly bigger in the body – and delicious in a whole new way. In a word, a treat.

I can’t describe 2013 Borra Vineyards Heritage Field Blend Lodi (14.5% ABV, 70% Barbera, 10% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Alicante Bouschet) with any other word but riot – tar, tobacco, roasted meat, herbs, dark, muscular, yet round – unique, different and irresistible  – the bottle was gone in no time.

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Graciano Lodi (14.5% ABV) was yet another treat – bright, clean, with a good amount of red fruit, herbal underpinning and firm structure. I’m very particular to Spanish grape varietals, and this Graciano rendition was definitely a world class, reminiscent of the best classic versions of the same from Rioja.

NV Lucas Late Harvest Zinfandel Lodi (15.8% ABV) happened to be an enigma. When I tasted the wine at the winery, the wine was mind boggling – rich, concentrated, and perfectly balanced. This wine is quite unique as it is made using the appasimento process, with the grapes partially dried under the sun for a few weeks to concentrate the flavor, before pressing. The bottle which I brought home, was a poor relative of the one I had at the winery – it was not bad, but was completely lacking the opulence and depth of the one I had at the winery. Oh well – this is still one of the pleasures of the wine drinking – you never know what you will find in the bottle.

That essentially concludes the report from our main Thanksgiving celebration. Next day, however, we left to see our close friends in Boston, and at their house, we had two unique wine encounters. One was 1993 (!) Nissley Fantasy Sweet Rosé Wine Lancaster County Pennsylvania (made out of Concord grape). The expectation was that the wine already turned into a vinegar, but instead, we found a port-like wine, with lots of sweetness and also some acidity, so well drinkable overall.

The last surprise was 2006 Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz Australia (14% ABV), which was still well drinkable, with good concentrated dark fruit, touch of spices, good balance and full body. Well-drinkable 10-years old red wine shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – but this was actively ridiculed by all the aficionados “creature label” wine, which is not expected to last that long. The bottom line – this wine still delivered lots of pleasure.

Now we are fully done here – this is the story of my Thanksgiving celebration. Did you have any memorable wines this last Thanksgiving? Any unique and interesting dishes? I would love to know. Cheers!

Lodi Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016 14 comments

Thanksgiving is definitely one of my most favorite holidays – maybe because it is so centered on the food. Of course it is about families and friends getting together, and giving thanks for many many things which comprise our lives – we all have a lot to be thankful for. Nevertheless, the food on Thanksgiving is essential, it is a canvas of gathering, and even more importantly so if you are hosting the gathering.

lodi wines

For many years we visited our close friends to celebrate Thanksgiving together with them. This year we are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, which gave me a pleasure of doing a boatload of cooking, and – I’m sure you expected that – to select the wines for the dinner.

Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, so choosing to serve the American wines comes easy and logical. But then America is all about freedom, so of course, you can drink whatever you feel like, I’m just talking about my personal choices. About a month ago I visited Lodi region in California (my second trip there, after Wine Bloggers Conference back in August), and while I was tasting through the line of delicious wines at Bokisch Vineyards, it dawned on me – this year, we should celebrate Thanksgiving with wines from Lodi. Now, as it is almost time to get to the table, this is exactly what we are doing.

Lodi is somewhat under the radar (and believe me – I would love to keep it like that, for it to stay the best kept secret for a few oenophiles only), but totally unique and totally unexpected region, which produces unique and delicious wines. Lodi is a California appellation, yet it produces the world class wines absolute majority would never associate with California. Look at the wines I’m planning to open. Sangiovese Rosé from LangeTwins – yes, an Italian star, Sangiovese, right out of the Central California. Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards – yes, Graciano, the unique grape from Rioja in Spain – this was the wine which prompted this whole “Lodi Thanksgiving” idea. Or how about Borra Vineyards Heritage, a field blend (!) of Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet – here is another core Italian varietal, Barbera. I don’t have a Lodi white wine, this is where Turley White Coat should do, as it contains Grenache Blanc and Verdelho from Lodi. Unique grapes, unique and, most importantly, delicious wines – this is what makes Lodi wines such an easy choice for me.

The Thanksgiving dinner will include the infamous “3 in 1″ bird, the Turducken, and lots of the side dishes – you can see some of the key components in the picture below.

thanksgiving prep

I have an ambitious plan to report on the dinner right after its completion – that might never happen, but I will try. By the way, do you care to guess what wine is hiding behind the wrap? Maybe name the grape, and maybe even the producer? How are you going to celebrate? With what wines? Is there a dish you are looking forward to making or, at least, eating? Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers!

3 Sensual Reds For Your Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2016 12 comments

As the Valentine’s day is getting closer, I want to succumb to the popular trend and offer you some wine recommendations for that special overcommercialized-pink-hearts-everywhere-please-buy-at-least-something holiday.

Any day is what we chose to make out of it – including the holidays. What I like about Valentine’s day is that if anything, it is a celebration of love – and that I support wholeheartedly.

Are there special wines which are better suited to celebrate love and romance? Of course, however, I don’t have in mind any wines with special aphrodisiac qualities, or anything which will make one magically more desirable after staffing oneself with 32 oz of hearty porterhouse stack. Instead, I want to talk about sensual wines.

What is a sensual wine? First of all, this is the wine of impeccable balance and harmony – fruit, acidity and tannins are perfectly present and well noticeable, but everything is precisely weaved together, nothing sticks out, you just want to say “wow” after each and every sip. It is the wine which has luscious mouthfeel, it rolls of effortlessly, offering layers and layers of pleasure. But every sip still holds a mystery which makes you want to know “what is next”, it is like work of an artist which gives you just enough curves to let your imagination go wild. It is so easy, effortless to drink that you simply can’t put the glass down, as every sip leaves you desire for more. A beautiful foreplay, if you will.

Of course the truth is in the eye of the beholder, and if you tired of me talking nonsense, feel free to click away. However, if you will allow me, I will be glad to recommend three of such wines to extend the pleasure of your Valentine’s Day. As an added bonus I want to mention that you will not need to break the bank to get either one of these wines.

Let me start with 2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina. When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was blown away by the silky layers, succulent fruit and perfect balance; I couldn’t find better way to describe this wine than to call it “sexy” – this is a perfect example of the sensual wine.

Sensual wine number 2 is 2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley, Chile. Very similar to the previous wine, it is velvety, smooth and layered. And mind-blowing. The fruit is bright and clean, and delivered with a tight core of round tannins; overall, a perfectly playful wine.

Third sensual wine I want to recommend is 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon. Of course Oregon is a world power when it comes to Pinot Noir. Talking about Oregon Pinot, I would typically use terms such as “powerful”, “thought-provoking”, of course “elegant” is quite appropriate too. However, “sensual” would be a perfect descriptor for this Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot. Abundance of the fruit and berries which are rarely found together in one glass – cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, all clean, vibrant, layered, polished and practically effervescent. Ultimately seductive, as you can’t put the glass down until every drop is savored out of that bottle. As sensual as the wine can be.

Here we go, my friends – a few recommendations to make your Valentine’s Day even more romantic and yes, sensual. Cheers!

Presidents’ Day Wine Recommendations

February 10, 2016 4 comments

Wine recommendations for the Presidents’ Day? Which also falls on Monday? In the other words, wine recommendations for Monday? Really?

I can see that you might be surprised, but why not? Monday is as perfect day for a glass of wine as Sunday. Or Saturday. Or Friday. I hope you are okay with wine on Monday, so let’s move on.

First of all, especially if you don’t live in the United States, let’s me briefly explain the holiday. Presidents’ Day commemorates birthday of the first president of United States, George Washington, and it is always celebrated on the third Monday in February. While the original holiday was linked to the actual birthday of George Washington on February 22nd, some states also celebrated birthday of Abraham Lincoln (February 12th), and some even add Thomas Jefferson (third President) to the mix, thus the holiday is collectively called Presidents’ Day (if you are interested in exploring the subject further, here is the link to Wikipedia article). Presidents’ Day is an official Federal holiday, which means that all the branches of the US government are closed – however, it is typically a regular work day for most of the companies.

Now, let’s talk about wine choices for the holiday which always falls on Monday. Does Monday calls for a special bottle of wine? Well, it is the first day of the week, which often is difficult enough in itself, so may be we need a bottle of wine on the lighter side? I happened to come across the wine which I think would be perfect for any Monday, but it is incredibly fitting this special Monday – and I will tell you why in a second.

Let me introduce to you The Federalist – the winery in California, founded in 2007 with the goal to commemorate our Founding Fathers. The first wine produced by The Federalist was called Visionary Zinfandel, and it is dedicated to Alexander Hamilton, who pioneered The Federalist Party. Currently winery offers 5 different wines, all of them dedicated to the people who defined The United States of America.

Now, for the holiday at hand, I would like to offer you two wines – Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Lodi in California. Zinfandel is dedicated to … very conveniently, I have to say … George Washington, the first President of the USA and the man who’s birthday we are celebrating on the Presidents’ Day. The Cabernet Sauvignon bears the picture of Benjamin Franklin – while I’m sure many of you are familiar with Ben Franklin as the man who’s face emboldens the $100 bill, Ben Franklin is often called The First American for advocating unity of the colonies, and he was one of the key participants in drafting The Declaration of Independence.

The Federalist Wines

Here are my notes on the wines:

2014 The Federalist Zinfandel Lodi, California (14.5% ABV, SRP $17.76, 93% Zinfandel, 7% Syrah, 12 months in 25% new American Oak)
C: dark ruby
N: fresh, open, medium intensity, blackberries, ripe raspberries
P: delicious, clean, round tobacco and raspberries, perfectly clean Zinfandel profile, smooth, clean, perfect balance
V: 8-, outstanding rendition of Zinfandel, good for everyday drinking with this QPR

2014 The Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, California (13.9% ABV, SRP $17.76, 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Syrah, 1% Sangiovese, 15 months in 35% new Oak)
C: garnet
N: eucalyptus, cassis, restrained
P: bright, fresh, delicious, red currant, cranberries, crisp acidity, medium body.
V: 8-, quite atypical of traditional California cab – much lighter style, but very delicious

So, have I convinced you to raise the glass to honor first American Presidents on Monday? I hope I did, so grab a bottle of The Federalist and let’s celebrate! Cheers!

Happy New Year 2016!

January 1, 2016 10 comments

I would like to wish you and your families wonderful, healthy, happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year 2016, full of new experiences and great little moments which comprise life. I wish you to have just enough failures so you can grow and move forward in your life. And as this is the wine blog, I wish you lots of wonderful, life changing and emotional wine moments.

Year of the Monkey 20162016 is the year of the Monkey – in the Chinese calendar, of course, so it will actually start on February 4th. it is also a year of the Fire Monkey – but the monkey you see above was the only I had handy for this picture (and I really don’t know how fire monkey should look like). The wines you see in the picture is what will be opened over the next few days – I will tell you later on what I think of them.

Happy New Year and let’s raise a glass to life! Cheers!

 

How About Some Cabernet Franc for the #CabernetDay?

September 3, 2015 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

[May Not Be The Best In The World But] Great Gifts For Dad

June 12, 2015 11 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project was closed and  even the web site is down, but as I still like the posts I wrote, I decided to re-post them in this blog. To tell you the truth, if I would write such a “Father’s Day Gifts” post today, I would write it differently. But I can always write it differently some other time, and for now – here is the original.

Note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Considering that Father’s Day is rapidly approaching, let’s talk about gifts for Dad. Even if Father’s Day is not celebrated in your country, remember – any day is a great day to get a present for your hard-working Dad.

This is the wine blog, so of course our gift suggestions will be related to the wine. And while I’m sure everybody wants to buy the best gift ever, not all of us can afford that ideal present, so let’s look for a few options in different price categories. Let’s start.

Under $15:

You think it is impossible to get a great bottle of wine under $15? Think again. Here are two suggestions:

What: Bodegas Volver La Mancha DO, Spain

Why: This is a serious man’s wine. There is nothing wimpy about this wine. It has super-broad shoulders, it is bone dry, and it has strong tannins grip, strong as dad’s handshake. At the same time, it is very balanced and elegant, and if you will try it with a mildly sharp cheese with some fig jam on top of it, you might find heaven on earth.

Bodegas Volver

What: Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny, Loire, France

Why: Same as the one before, this is the wine for a real man. Brighter than sun acidity, supported by good fruit, very balanced. Another trait which many dads possess – it needs patience, as it will greatly improve with age. Give it 10-15 years and prepare to be amazed.

Cour Cheverny 2007

Under $100:

A different game, seems to be lots of choices, but it is not always the case. Let’s look at some suggestions.

What: Peter Michael Chardonnay (there are many options, but either one will do).

Why: When Dad will try this wine, he will experience [very strong] emotions. Who knows, he might even cry. This wine will remind him of his true love – wife, if he is happily married, and his dreams – if he is not. Incredibly balanced, with all components (fruit, acidity, vanilla, toasted oak, tannins) being in perfect harmony. Once Dad will experience this wine, it will be one and only Chardonnay he will be willing to drink.

Peter Michael Chardonnay

What: Adrien Camut Calvados 6 years old

Why: It is reminiscent of a Dad in a tuxedo. Calvados is a cognac’s relative, only made out of apples. Calvados has the same alcohol content as cognac, but it is not aggressive at all compare to many cognacs which are. It is pure elegance and class, exactly as a man in tuxedo feels like.

Camut Calvados

What: Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal

Why: Because it will make Dad to think of adventure. May be he will finally go to safari, after dreaming about it for more than 20 years. May be Dad will recall the warmth of campfire under an open starry sky. Pleasant roughness paired with deep smoke flavor – it will make dad’s heart to pump faster and happier.

Mezcal Del Maguey 

Unlimited, or at least above $3000

This is the category for those who has everything – but even when you have everything, something is probably still missing… Let’s look for some options – and I guarantee you, it will not be easy to find.

What: Taylor-Fladgate Scion Very Old Port

Why: Because I want one for myself? Okay, but on a more serious note, this port is made out of the pre-Phylloxera grapes in approximately 1855, so this wine is about 160 years old! It is awe-inspiring for any wine lover, and to say it has limited availability would be an understatement. But – if you can afford it, make an effort, find it – and Dad will thank you profusely.

What: Domaine De La Romanee-Conti La Tache, Burgundy, France

Why: Because I want this one too? Domaine De La Romanee-Conti, or DRC for short, makes literally the most amazing wines in the world. These wines are literally impossible to find, so it you will present such a bottle to Dad, I’m sure he will really appreciate the sacrifice(s) you had to make to get it for him.

DRC La Tache

Our session is over – hope I was able to help! Good luck with all the presents, and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!

Valentine’s Day Wine Experiences

February 19, 2015 15 comments

Valentine's Day wine line upLast week I gave you some recommendations for the wines to serve on Valentine’s Day. Now, let’s see if I followed my own recommendations.

Of course the plan was to start the evening with the Champagne – and then there was a … but. I recently got my hands (told you many times before  – I love my friends) on the very interesting sparkling wine from UK. What was the most interesting for me even before I tried the wine is that it contains one of the extremely difficult to find, rare grapes called Schönburger. As I mentioned last time regarding my quest to complete all the grapes in the original Wine Century Club application, Schönburger was one of those “last standing”, extremely difficult to find grapes – and the Carr Taylor Brut was the only wine containing Schönburger, which Wine-Searcher was able to find pretty much anywhere. In case you are curious, Schönburger is a rose grape created in 1979 in Germany as a cross of Pinot Noir, Chasselas and Muscat Hamburg, As an added bonus, the Carr Taylor Brut contained another grape I never heard of, another cross from Germany called Reichensteiner.

Okay, now that I provided a full disclosure, let’s talk about the wines. NV Carr Taylor Brut Sparkling Wine, England (12% ABV, $35) was an excellent start for the evening. Fine bubbles, very intense, very reminiscent of Champagne. Hint of toasted bread on the nose and may be a touch of almonds. The palate had all the toasted and yeasty notes, packaged together in compact but bright way – the wine had no sweetness, but nevertheless was perceived as a fuller body than a typical Champagne. I would gladly drink this wine again any time – if it would be available in US. Drinkability: 8-

Now it was the time for Champagne – Pierre Peters “Cuvée de Réserve” Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne (12% ABV, $55) – very classic, a hint of brioche on the nose, and nice toasted notes on the palate. Quite honestly, after the first sparkling wine, I wanted a bit more life in the glass – this was clean and fine, but more of the usual. Drinkability: 7+

Our next wine was a white Burgundy. Considering my limited experience with Burgundy, I was concerned if 10 years old wine would hold well (all of you, Burgundy buffs, please stop laughing out there – I’m still learning), so the Valentine’s Day seemed to be quite a good occasion to find out. This 2005 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard La Romanee, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, France (13.5% ABV, $65) was outright delicious – beautiful nose of fresh apples, and then apples and honey on the palate – full bodied, supple, with perfect lingering weight in the mouth – this was really a treat. Too bad it didn’t last – but this was definitely an excellent wine. Drinkability: 8

Time for the reds, don’t you think? Remembering the pleasure of the Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir (here is the post in case you missed it), I wanted to try another Pinot Noir from Antica Terra – this time it was 2011 Antica Terra Botanica Pinot Noir Willamete Valley (13.2% ABV, $75). The nose was very similar to the Ceras – cranberries, touch of forest floor, lavender, bright and intense. On the palate, this wine had much bigger shoulders than Ceras. Ceras Pinot Noir need no breathing time – it was ready to drink from the moment the bottle was opened. Botanica needed a bit of time. After about 20 minutes in the glass, it showed its structure, dark concentrated fruit, touch of coffee, earthiness, all with a perfect balance, and again, finesse. Drinkability: 8

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And then there was Opus One. 2001 Opus One Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $250). Quite honestly, when I learned that we will be opening Opus One, I was a bit concerned. Yes, this is one of the legendary California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and yet when I tasted it before, I was not blown away. And when you are not visually excited about $250 bottle of wine, you feel that something is wrong with you, don’t you think? Bottle is opened, and wine is poured in the glass. Based on the color, the wine looks like it was bottled only yesterday – dark, very dark garnet. On the nose, the wine was somewhat muted but pleasant – touch of black fruit and eucalyptus. On the palate, the wine was simply closed – and aggressively tannic, with a touch of green brunches on the finish. Well, to the decanter, of course. After about an hour in decanter, the wine definitely changed for the better, showing touch of cassis and coffee notes on the palate – the tannins still stayed, but reduced, and the finish became spicy, peppery if you will – still not leading to the “wow” which you want to find in the bottle like that. Oh well. Drinkability: 7+

As we were waiting for Opus One to come around, another bottle was pulled out – 1996 Robert Sinskey Vineyards RSV Stag’s Leap District Claret Napa Valley  (13.9% ABV, $55). This wine amply compensated for the Opus One shortcomings – in a word, it was delicious. Perfectly young appearance in the glass was supported by the fresh fruit on the nose. And the palate had cassis, touch of mint, mocha, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, perfectly layered and perfectly balanced. This was Napa Valley Cabernet at its peak, and it was not afraid to show it. Drinkability: 8

Logically (Valentine’s Day!) we had to finish on a sweet note. This was my first experience with Austrian dessert wine, and it was also a first experience with Kracher – I only heard the name before, but never tasted the wines. 2011 Kracher Auslese Cuvée Burgenland, Austria (12% ABV, $22) had everything you want in the dessert wine and nothing you don’t – delicious light honey notes, lychees, vibrant acidity, lemon peel – it was an outstanding way to finish the evening. Drinkability: 8

That is the story of our Valentine’s Day wine experiences. Well, I can’t leave with the wines alone – the food was delicious too, so let me at least share some pictures – I spent time working on them, you know. Here we go:

And we are done here. So, what were your Valentine’s day wine highlights? Cheers!

 

What To Drink On Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2015 18 comments

BollingerI generally avoid holiday-related wine posts, and I do it for a number of reasons. First of all, every information source on the planet considers it to be their duty to produce some piece of writing with wine recommendations. And then for someone who drinks wine all the time, the holidays are not so much of a special occasion to have a reason to open a bottle of wine. Oh well – somehow I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the wines for the Valentine’s Day, hence this post…

Pink. Red. Extreme. Commercialized beyond belief, still increasingly so year after year. Heart-shaped to the point of insanity. There are many things which turn people away from the Valentine’s Day, and I can understand that. However, I take this holiday as an extra opportunity to celebrate love and life. All you need to do is to find your way – ignore pink paraphernalia, ignore meaningless cards, ignore conveyer belt – style experience at the restaurants – and celebrate love and romance as a pure meaning of this holiday.

Let’s agree that we will celebrate love and romance in our oenophile’s way, and let’s talk about wine – without wine on the table, celebration is … just another boring dinner, right? By the way, when I said “felt compelled” in the opening of this post, this was not entirely true. I also had a pleasure to be a guest at the Off the Vine Radio Show, talking with Benita and Latisha about … you guessed it – Valentine’s Day wines – thus as you can imagine, I gave some thought to the subject (and then yes, “felt compelled”). In case you have a bit of time, you can listen to that episode here.

What can I tell you about wines for the Valentine’s Day? First of all, if you have a plan already, it doesn’t matter what I have to say. If you have some specific celebratory dish in mind, and have a pairing ready – it doesn’t matter what I have to say. But if you are still thinking how to make this holiday special, then let me share my thoughts with you. But remember – drink what you like. The wine for the Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be pink, and it doesn’t have to be sweet. It has to be something which will give you pleasure – as simple as that.

The wine for the Valentine’s Day should have balance and it should have finesse. While thought provoking is good for the wine, on Valentine’s Day you should focus on romance and not on deciphering the complex flavors. Go after balance, finesse and simplicity. This is why I would never suggest, for instance, the natural wines of Frank Cornelissen or Jean-Pierre Robinot, or the dark magic of Randy Dunn with his Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – those wines will drain you emotionally, and it is a wrong angle for the Valentine’s day. Thus let’s talk about balance and finesse.

First wine I want you to consider is Champagne. As the very least, it can be an Italian Sparkling wine from Franciacorta or Trento, or some of the California sparklers. Prosecco, Cava and many other sparklers are simply not consistent enough, so for the Valentine’s Day, go with classic – remember – balance and finesse. For the Champagne, my choice would be Bollinger, as I think it is one of the finest non-vintage Champagnes, with lots of finesse. Ferrari from Trento and Bellavista from Franciacorta in Italy would definitely my next choice. But – I don’t want to forget California – Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, Schramsberg Rosé, J Cuvée 20 or any of the Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines would live you with a happy smile.

Moving on, let’s talk white wines. As we are looking for the balance and finesse, I have a few recommendations for you – and you might be surprised with these. For this holiday, I want you to step outside of your “usual circle”. My first recommendation is for the white wines of the Rhône valley in France. Yes, Rhône is mostly known for their reds, but the white wines there are equally stunning. For instance, try to find Domaine Saint Préfert Cuvée Speciale – I called this wine once “a symphony in the glass”. But in general, look for the Clairette or Grenache Blanc wines from Southern Rhône, or Marsanne/Roussanne from the North – those wines are often not easy to find, but they will deliver lots of balance, finesse and pleasure. 

Let me give you a few more suggestions – equally difficult to find, but worth looking for. Viognier from Washington is a white wine worthy of celebrating love and romance with. Look for Mark Ryan or Willis Hall – their Viognier is nothing short of stunning. To close on the whites, here are 3 more rare beauties. First, 2 Sauvignon Blanc from … Italy: Gaja Alteni di Brassica and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia – stunning balance and finesse. And the last one – Ken Forrester The FMC. You can’t go wrong with either one of these wines – go, start looking, you don’t have lots of time.

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Now, we arrived at the red wine junction. Looking for the balance and finesse will dramatically reduce our choices. I would say, let’s go for Pinot Noir. I will limit my recommendations to this one grape only – and here is why. We are looking for the balance and finesse, right? Think about Cabernet Sauvignon from California – what would be the first word or words you would use to describe those wines – probably “big and powerful” – and this is not what I’m looking for suggesting the wines for the Valentine’s Day. Same goes for many Merlot, Syrah and Grenache wines – never mind the Petite Sirah. Even with my beloved Rioja – there are few wines, which will deliver that exact balance and finesse – La Rioja Alta Reserva Especiale would be definitely the one – and I highly recommend it. But for the Rioja – and then for Barolo, Brunello and even Super-Tuscan –  as a general class, the probability of running into “big and powerful” is a lot higher than finding “balance and finesse”.

Talking about Pinot Noir, I wish I would recommend some of the classics to you – yes, the Burgundy – but unfortunately, my exposure to the Burgundy is way too limited, so you will need to ask your trusted wine merchant for the advice. Next up – California and Oregon. For the most of the time, California Pinot Noir will deliver exactly that – balance and finesse. To give you a few names, go look for Siduri, Loring Wine Company, Calera, Drew, Copain, Laetitia – but there are many others and it is hard to go wrong with California Pinot Noir. Oregon would be also a perfect choice – look for Adelsheim, Chehalem, Antica Terra, Evening Land – finesse is a middle name for the Oregon Pinot, so you will not be disappointed. And last but not least – don’t forget the New Zealand! Pinot Noir from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough are typically well balanced and round, perfectly fitting our quest for finesse. Look for the wines from Craggy Range, Mt. Difficulty and Amisfield among the others.

Dessert time! People often underestimate how bad the dessert wines can be – one sip of the cloying, single-sugar-note wine would ruin the experience of an amazing dinner. You really have to put a lot of care in selecting the dessert wine which will have balance and finesse. Of course I would like to recommend Sauternes and Barsac wines for you, but again, my personal experience is very limited. I’m sure you can’t go wrong with Château d’Yquem – if you can afford it, go for it! What would be a bit easier to find (and afford) is a Port. Not just any Port – balance and finesse, remember – so go for a nicely aged Tawny, 20-, 30- or 40-years old. As Port ages, it loses power, and becomes fragrant and sublime, guaranteed to deliver lots of pleasure. Look for Rozes, Graham, Quinta do Noval – lot’s of excellent choices. Then of course, the king of the dessert wines – Riesling. For the special experience, I would only recommend to go to the BA and TBA levels – you know, the stuff which always comes in the small bottles. You see, it is very hard to mass-produce BA or TBA level Rieslings – you can’t harvest enough grapes at those sugar levels – thus it is hard to go wrong with BA or TBA Riesling from any producer. And the last recommendation for today – an Icewine. Not any Icewine, but I want to recommend my personal favorite – Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine. This wine is vibrant, perfectly balanced and has lots of finesse – I guarantee you will finish your Valentine’s Day dinner on a high note with this wine.

Here you go, my friends – in the quest for the balance and finesse, these are some of my personal recommendations to enhance you Valentine’s Day experience. Let me know what do you think about my suggestions and feel free to provide your own. Happy Valentine’s Day and cheers!

 

 

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