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Seeking, Overcoming, and Finding: Amarone for the Father’s Day

June 25, 2020 Leave a comment

Let’s take this step by step, starting with seeking. What am I seeking?

If you read this blog for some time, you know that Amarone is my pet peeve. Ever since falling in love with Le Ragoze Amarone during Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine School session, Amarone has a special place in this wine lover’s heart. I generally would never admit the existence of the pivotal wine in my wine journey, but if I would really think about it, this will be the one. The combination of the dried fruit on the nose with the firm, powerful, impeccably balanced palate really created an everlasting memory. I had this experience about 17 years ago, in 2003, drinking 5 years old wine (1998 vintage) – and ever since I’m trying to replicate it. Which brings us to the next step: overcoming.

We are talking wine here, so what is there to overcome, you say? Fear. Trepidation. An attempt to avoid disappointment – over and over again. While seeking to replicate the amazing experience, over the years I tried many, many Amarone. A few times I managed to get close to that magical Le Ragoze experience – but the majority was really, really far from it. Why? Lack of balance. Let’s make it more precise: severe lack of balance. Often expressed in the form of the alcohol burn.

In the last 20 years, Amarone’s alcohol level progressed from the typical 14.8% ABV to the typical 16.5% ABV. I get it. What makes Amarone an Amarone is an additional step in the winemaking process, which is rarely used with any other wines – drying of the grapes before they are pressed. After the grapes are harvested, they are placed outside (historically, on the straw mats, but now, on specially arranged shelves) to dry under the sun, to literally shrivel into the raisins before they will be pressed – this process typically takes between 3 and 4 months. Drying concentrates sugars (and dramatically lowers the yield, which explains the high prices), and thus you can expect higher alcohol in the resulting wine. Yes, I get it – but still…

At 16.5% ABV, true mastery is required to achieve balance. True mastery is rare – and the real downside here is personal self-doubt. While tasting yet another hot and biting wine, a tiny voice in your head says “what is wrong with you? You really say you like this type of wine? Are you sure you are even remotely qualified as an oenophile? Maybe water should be your drink of choice?” So yes, tasting yet another Amarone requires overcoming this fear – who wants to prove oneself wrong time and time again?

Now, let’s continue to finding.

When I was offered a sample of Zenato Amarone I said (not without fear) “of course, thank you”. Zenato, which started producing wines about 60 years ago, in the 1960s, initially white wines in Lugano, produced its first Amarone in 1988. The grapes for Zenato Amarone wines come from the Valpolicella Classico area, grown in Sant’Ambrogio township.

So what did I found in that bottle? The first sip instantly quelled all the fears and brought back happy memories. What made that Le Ragoze so memorable was the contrast. I know, I already said it – the wine had an intense nose of the dried fruit. I don’t know about you, but I love dried fruit – especially figs and raisins. But dried fruit is sweet, and this is what I expected from the wine to be – only it was not. The wine was dry, absolutely dry, massive, concentrated, and firmly structured. It was also perfectly balanced.

Those were the memories. And 2015 Zenato Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG (16.5% ABV, $60, 80% Corvina Veronese, 10% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta and Croatina, 4 months of drying, 36 months in oak) instantly brought them back with the delicate nose of the dried fruit and dry, massive, concentrated, but a perfectly balanced body. Firm structure, a touch of dried cherries, sage – just an excellent wine overall (Drinkability: 8+/9-). Wine is all about the balance. And pleasure. Zenato Amarone delivered both.

As I opened this bottle on Father’s Day, you can see in the picture a dilemma I now will be facing – I got another glass from another kid – now I will be forced to pick and chose the glass and try to avoid playing favorites… Oh well, not the worst problem to have, isn’t it?

Do you have a favorite Amarone that never disappoints? What’s your most memorable wine? Is there a wine out there you always crave?

Wine Opinions, Forming and Changing

June 16, 2020 Leave a comment

Well, this might be a dirty laundry type of post which I might regret later – but sometimes, it is good to look into the mirror, so let’s talk.

How do you form an opinion about the wine? Is it on the first sip? Is it after a glass? Is it based on tasting the wine, let’s say, for an hour or two and slowly deciding if you like the wine or not, sip by sip? Equally important – what other factors contribute to that said opinion? Critic’s 95 rating – would that affect your opinion? Respected friend’s recommendation – how important is that? I’m not even talking about ambiance, mood, food, or any other factors.

Okay, now I have another question.

Your opinion about the wine is formed. What would it take to change it? Is it enough to taste the wine once to change your opinion completely? Or would you need multiple encounters to have your opinion changed completely, doesn’t matter in which direction? Well, actually I think here we need to differentiate here between positive and negative opinions. If your opinion was positive, it will probably take a few unsuccessful encounters with the same wine to decide that you made a mistake the first time. But in case of a negative opinion… it gets more complicated. Would you even be willing to give the wine a second chance in such a case? What would make you pick again the bottle of wine you didn’t appreciate before?

Let’s make it more practical.

Campochirenti Chianti San Nicola and sunset

For a long time, I saw John Fodera, who is an expert in Italian wines, give the highest praise to the wines of Campochiarenti from Tuscany. I had an opportunity to finally taste one of the Campochiarenti wines – 2016 San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi, one of the most basic wines in the Campochiarenti portfolio. Granted, I tasted this wine during the grand festivities of the open house John hosted during the OTBN Saturday – after tasting a variety of Gran Selezione, Super Tuscans, and a magical 1999 Soldera. And in the middle of all that extravaganza, the Campochiarenti Chianti’s appeal was lost on me. I mentioned in the post that the wine was “classic and simple”, but the major point was the price – it was an okay wine for the expected $12 when the wine will finally make it into the USA. Not that I didn’t like the wine, but I didn’t care much for it either – my palate perceived it as too dry and unidimensional.

Erich Russell, who I wrote recently about, has a business relationship with Daniele Rosti, the winemaker at Campochiarenti (Rabbit Ridge soon will be releasing the wine which will be a blend of Italian and California wines), and Erich happened to import a good number of Campochirenti wines to be able to showcase his future joint releases, which he now has available via his website. A few weeks ago, while I was ordering the birthday present for my sister-in-law in the form of the Rabbit Ridge wines, I recalled that she and her husband love Italian wines, so I decide to include a few bottles of the Campochiarenti wines in my order.

This past weekend we visited my sister-in-law who lives on Cape Cod. While deciding on the wine to take with us to see the sunset, I realized that this was a great opportunity to see what am I missing about this 2016 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi – considering the universal love the wine has, I needed to try it again. It only took me one sniff and sip to have my opinion changed completely. The wine was absolutely mindblowing, in both bouquet and the taste, bursting with succulent cherries and offering velvety mouthfeel and impeccable balance. The picture above perfectly summarizes the way I felt about the wine – a double score, an amazing sunset paired with a superb wine.

After coming back and ordering my own case, I can now offer you another case buy recommendation. Visit Rabbit Ridge wine shopping page here, and look for the wine called Danielle – at $15, this wine is an absolute steal. You can also try Campochiarenti Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which supposed to be on par with the Chianti (when ordering, you can specify how many bottles of white and red you want) – I’m waiting for mine to arrive soon.

That is my story of a changed wine opinion. It was very easy for me, one sip and done. How about you? Have you changed your wine opinions and how? Do tell! Cheers!

Chemistry of Wine

April 6, 2020 Leave a comment

I don’t want to mislead you – if you are expecting to see any scientific chemical analysis and/or formulae of the wines – you came fo the wrong place. The chemistry I’m talking about here is the one which usually sparkles between the people, creating instant attraction and inability to let go. You know how it is – you meet a person for the first time, and after two sentences, you feel that you knew the person forever and you can now talk endlessly, for hours and hours, and still wanting to talk more. “It’s chemistry” we often say in such cases – and it is the chemistry we want to talk about here, only not between the two persons, but rather a person and the wine.

This chemistry is something hard to explain. It is unexpected. It is a mystery. You don’t know when the chemistry will engage. You meet a person for the first time. You never met the person before. You have no idea as to what to expect. You are careful and reserved. But some words are exchanged, body movements are observed, and the next thing the conversation flowing and 3 hours later you think it was only 15 minutes which have passed, and you want to spend just another 15 minutes with your new friends.

It works exactly the same with the wine. You open a bottle. You pour, swirl, sniff, and sip. You take another sip, murmur something to yourself, and sip again. Next thing you are looking at the two fingers worth of wine left in the bottle and you ask yourself “what just have happened? Was someone else here drinking the wine with me?”. We can call it chemistry. I also like to call this a “dangerous wine” – this is the wine you casually enjoy so much that you lose the sense of time – and measure, of course.

I recently encountered such chemistry with not one, but 3 wines. All three were Italian. All three were dangerously delicious. It was hard to stop replenishing the glass, one sip after another. Do I have a special chemistry with Italian wines? I don’t think so. This has happened in the past, with wines from many regions. But the point of the matter stands – this was an encounter with three delicious wines, which happened to be made in Italy. So let’s talk about them.

Before we talk about individual wines, let’s touch on the common theme which ties them all together – Frescobaldi family. There are more than 700 years of Tuscan wines connected to the Frescobaldi family, Today, Frescobaldi family holdings are spread through the 7 estates in Tuscany (Ammiraglia, Castelgiocondo, Castiglioni, Nipozzano, Perano, Pomino, Remole), plus some of the best of the best in Italian wines – Ornellaia, Masseto, and a few others.

Attems‘ name is associated with winemaking in the Friuli Venezia Giulia for almost a thousand years. Since 2000, Attems is the part of Frescobaldi family holdings. I had Attems wines in the past, such as Attems Ramato, an “orange” wine made out of Pinot Grigio, and I really enjoyed that wine. This time around, I was able to try Attems Pinot Grigio, and I was really happy with what I discovered:

2018 Attems Pinot Grigio Friuli DOC (12.5% ABV, $20)
Straw pale
Lemon, herbs, earthy profile, welcoming
Soft white fruit profile, plums, some tropical fruit, good acidity, nicely present.
8-/8, dangerous, so easy to drink.

Tenuta Castiglioni had been at the center of the Frescobaldi wine story from the very beginning. Owned by the family since the 11th century, the estate takes its history from the Romans who built it along the strategic path connecting northern Tuscany with the city of Rome. I don’t believe I had Tenuta Castiglioni wines before, so this was my first and delicious encounter:

2017 Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti DOCG (13% ABV, $16)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, vanilla
Soft, round, tobacco, succulent cherries, layered, inviting.
8+, delicious, outstanding, dangerous. Really, really easy to drink.

Tenuta Luce (“luce” means “light” in Italian) is a unique product of the imagination of two of the wine world’s greatest – Vittorio Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi. After meeting in the nineties, the two men decided to build a new estate in one of the most coveted areas in Tuscany – Montalcino, home to Brunello di Montalcino wines. What makes Tenuta Luce unique is not just the partnership between Frescobaldi and Mondavi, but surely a bold move of planting the Merlot grapes in the land of Sangiovese Grosso. While Tenuta Luce produces Brunello, the flagship wine is called Luce and it is a Merlot/Sangiovese blend. I tasted Luce before and really enjoyed it. This time around, I had an opportunity to try Tenuta Luce second wine, again a Merlot/Sangiovese blend called Lucente – yet another delicious wine:

2017 Tenuta Luce Lucente Toscana IGT (14% ABV, $30, Sangiovese/Merlot blend, 12 months in old and new barriques)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark cherries, fennel, violets
Cherries, coffee, leather, perfectly structured, crisp acidity, perfectly integrated and balanced tannins.
8, delicious, and hard to stop.

As you can tell from the notes above, I really liked all three wines. Not just liked – after the first glass, there was an unconscious craving for another. And another. And another. It would be quite safe to call this a chemistry – I don’t know if I have a special bonding towards the Italian wines, but these three wines were drinking more like an obsession rather just some other tasty wines. And as it works in human relationships, chemistry is a good thing between the man and the wine. Have you found yours? Cheers!

Tre Bicchieri 2020: A Mixed Bag

March 4, 2020 3 comments

Tre Bicchieri is the highest distinction awarded to the Italian wine by the popular Italian wine guide, Gambero Rosso. About 45,000 wines are reviewed annually by the team of wine professionals, and about 1% of those wines (465 in 2020) receive the right to put coveted sticker depicting three wine glasses (Tre Bicchieri) on their wine bottles – if they so desire, of course.

Every year these best wines are presented around the world in the series of wine tasting events. I attended Tre Bicchieri tasting in New York which was one of the stops in this annual extravaganza.

I always make an effort to attend the Tre Bicchieri tastings – it is a great opportunity to taste the wines which at least someone considers to be the best Italy can produce. This tasting is typically quite overwhelming with more than 200 wineries, some of them presenting not 1, but 2 or even 3 wines, 4 hours, and a very constrained space with lots of people roaming around. 2020 event included 204 wineries – even with 1 wine per winery, you would have to taste one wine per minute to be able to taste them all – and this is only assuming that all wineries show only one wine, which is mostly not the case.

I always complain about the organization of this event – instead of grouping the wineries by the region, they are all grouped by the distributor. I’m sure this simplifies the logistics for exhibitors, but this doesn’t help attendees even for a bit. Another gripe is that you are given one single glass to use during the tasting, and you have no options of changing is once it becomes sticky and such. Of well… maybe one day organizers will read this blog? … yeah…

This year I decided to use a different navigation tactics – instead of trying to go sequentially from table 1 to table 204, or trying to frantically scavenge the show guide which is only available upon entering the event, and trying to find who you want to see by running through a 200-strong list, I decided first just to walk around, look for familiar names and taste what I want to taste first. Using this method, my first sip at Tre Bicchieri 2020 was 2016 Sassicaia, which provided a perfectly elegant opening to the event. Once I was done with a first walk, I took a pause to now look through the show guide and identify who did I miss and then go again and revisit.

Tre Bicchieri 2020 – busy as always

Thinking about the experience of Tre Bicchieri 2020, I’m not sure I can easily give you a simple and coherent summary of the event. One interesting observation was a noticeable number of Rosato wines represented at the event. I missed Tre Bicchieri tasting last year, but from the previous years, I don’t remember seeing much, if any, Rosé. I also tried to do the Amarone run (meaning: taste as many Amarone as I could), and it was not successful. With the exception of the Pasqua Amarone, which was not amazing but at least drinkable, the most of the rest simply were way too tannic and lacking any pleasure – I really don’t understand what was a rationale of awarding the coveted Tre Bicchieri to the insipid wines, outside of just recognizing the pedigree of the producers.

There were some excellent whites (Italian white wines still grossly underrated on the global scale), excellent sparkling wines (Giulio Ferrari, anyone?), and amazing values (like stunning $9 Sangiovese again from Ferrari), so, all in all, it was a good tasting, but overall I felt a bit underwhelmed. Anyway, here are my “best of tasting”, “worst of tasting” (if it’s okay to be so obnoxious), and notes on other wines I found worth mentioning. I’m using my “plus” ratings here, with “+++” meaning “excellent”, and “++++” being better than excellent :). With the exception of one wine, no wines with less than +++ are included in the list.

Tre Bicchieri 2020 Show favorites:
NV Barone Pizzini Animante Extra Brut Franciacorta – ++++, superb
NV Ruggieri & C. Cartizze Brut Veneto – ++++, outstanding, dry, clean
2008 Ferrari Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore Trento – +++, excellent
2018 Elena Walch Alto Adige Pinot Grigio Vigna Castel Ringberg – ++++, outstanding
2017 Leonildo Pieropan Soave Classico Calvarino – ++++, excellent
2018 Donnafugata Sicilia Grillo SurSur – ++++, excellent
2016 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, beautiful, perfect balance
2016 Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso Bolgheri Tuscany – ++++, 100% Cabernet Franc, excellent, perfectly drinkable

Sparkling:
2014 Bellavista Franciacorta Brut Teatro alla Scala Lombardy – +++, superb
2011 Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Dossagio Zero Bagnadore Riserva – +++, excellent
2018 Ruggieri & C. Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Giustino B. – +++, excellent
2018 Andreola Valdobbiadene Rive di Refrontolo Brut Col Del Forno – +++, excellent

White:
2016 Il Colombaio di Santachiara Vernaccia di San Gimignano L’Albereta Riserva – +++, excellent, clean
2018 Rosset Terroir Spraquota 900 Valle D’Aosta – +++, Petite Arvine grape
2017 Ottella Lugana Molceo Riserva – +++
2018 Ottella Lugana Le Creete – +++, excellent
2018 Elena Walch Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Vigna Kastelaz – +++, amazing aromatics, excellent

Rosé:
2018 Varvaglione 1921 Idea Rosa di Primitivo Puglia – ++-|. I was told that it was an attempt to create a Rosé for the red wine drinkers. I’m not sure it was ultra-successful, but it was drinkable.

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Red:
2018 Corte Sant’Alda Valpolicella Ca’ Fiui – +++, high acidity
2013 Corte Sant’Alda Amarone della Valpolicella Valmezzane – +++, not bad but too tannic
2013 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera Riserva – +++
2016 Donnafugata Etna Rosso Fragore Sicily – +++, tart, clean
2017 Pasqua Passimento Rosso Veneto – +++, excellent, approachable, excellent value (sold at Trader Joe’s)
2015 Pasqua Amarone della Valpolicella Famiglia Pasqua – +++, excellent
2011 Paolo Conterno Barolo Ginestra Riserva – +++, excellent
2018 Montalbera Ruché di Castagnole M.to Laccento – +++
2018 Montalbera Ruché di Castagnole M.to la Tradizione – +++, nice, needs time
2016 Ferrari Tenuta Podernovo Auritea (Cabernet Franc) Toscana IGT – +++, excellent
2017 Ferrari Tenute Lunelli Montefalco Rosso Ziggurat – +++, excellent
2011 Bertani Amarone della Valpolicella Classico – +++, very good
2015 Bertani Tenuta Trerose Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Simposio Riserva – +++
2016 Planeta Noto Nero d’Avola Santa Cecilia – +++, excellent
2018 Elena Walch Alto Adige Schiava – +++, easy to drink, light
2015 G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole – +++, excellent
2016 Varvaglione 1921 Primitivo di Manduria Papale Linea Oro – +++, good

Dessert:
2016 Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé Sicily – +++, good

Amarone run:
Tenuta Sant’Antonio (burnt finish, the real impression of a burnt wood), Allegrini (too much oak), Speri (too much oak), Masi single vineyard (too much oak), Corte Sant’Alda (too much oak), Pasqua single vineyard (too big, too tannic), Monte Zovo (too much oak)

This is my story of visiting the Tre Bicchieri 2020 in New York. Have you attended any of the Tre Bicchieri events? What is your take on those? Salute!

An Evening With Friends

January 7, 2020 Leave a comment

What is your favorite part about wine? Is it the taste? The buzz? The sheer appearance of the bottle sometimes resembling the work of art? The joy of owning an exclusive object? The coveted status symbol?

My answer will be simple. My favorite part about wine is the ability to share it. Take a sip, reflect, have a conversation, preferably a slow-paced one. Friends are the best pairing for wine. Opportunity to share the experience, pleasure, and joy. Sharing makes it all worth it.

New Year celebration (the main holiday for anyone with the Russian upbringing) is a multi-step process for us. We like to celebrate the arrival of the New Year as many times as possible – the evening before the New Year, a midnight Champagne toast, the New Year’s day dinner, and more dinners shortly after (this is when the bathroom scales are the worst nemesis). Some or all of these dinners have to include friends – and it is the best when friends share your wine passion.

Such was our dinner on Saturday, bringing together a group of friends who truly enjoy what the wine world has to offer. We all contributed to the evening, both with food and wines, to make it fun and interesting. Below is the transcript of our wine extravaganza, with highs, lows, and surprises.

While we were getting ready to start our dinner, our first wine was something unique and different – how many of you know what Piquette means? It appears that Piquette is yet another type of sparkling wines. The story of Piquette goes back to 18th century France when the whole wine industry was in full disarray. Piquette is literally made by converting water into the wine – using water to rehydrate grape skins left after the wine production. We had 2019 Field Recordings Tang Piquette Central Coast (7.1% ABV, Rehydrated skins of Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc) which was made using this exact process – grape skins were hydrated in well water for a week, then pressed, after which a little bit of the table wine was added, and the wine was bottled with leftover yeast and sugar to continue fermenting right in the bottle. To me, the wine was reminiscent of cider – light fizz, fresh apple notes, cloudy appearance of a nice unfiltered cider. Would I drink this wine again? On a hot summer day – yes, why not, but this is not the wine I would actively seek.

It is difficult to assess the “uniqueness” of the wines. There can be many reasons for the “unique” wine designation – small production, wine not produced every vintage, the wine which is no longer produced. There are, of course, many other reasons. How about spending 10 years to finally make about 200 (!) bottles of a drinkable wine? Don’t know about you, but this is unquestionably unique in my book. And so there was 2017 Olivier Pittet Les Temps Passés Vin de Pays Romand Switzerland (14.2% ABV, Arvine Grosso). Petite Arvine is a popular white grape in Switzerland, producing nice, approachable white wines. On another hand, Petite Arvine’s sibling, nearly extinct thick-skinned Arvine Grosso (or Gross Arvine), is a nightmare to grow and to work with. This was the Arvine Grosso which took about 10 years to restore the plantings and achieve a drinkable result. The wine needed a few minutes to open up – then it was delicious, fresh, with a touch of underripe white plums, bright acidity and full-body, similar to Marsanne/Roussanne. I wish this wine would be a bit easier to procure and not just through a friend who lives in Switzerland…

I was happy that Stefano brought a bottle of 2008 Berlucchi Palazzo Lana Satèn Riserva Franciacorta (12% ABV) – I love Franciacorta sparkling wines, they always offer a playful variation of the classic Champagne. Berlucchi is the founder of the Franciacorta sparkling wine movement. This wine was also a Satèn, a unique Franciacorta creation, which is specifically made to be a bit gentler than a typical Champagne with the lesser pressure in the bottle. The wine was soft, fresh, delicate, and admired by the whole table enough to disappear literally in the instance.

The next wine was as unique as only inaugural vintage can be. Christophe Baron is best known as Washington Syrah master, with his Cayuse, No Girls, and Horsepower lines. But Christophe’s roots are actually in Champagne, so it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that he decided to embrace his heritage. The first bottling, with a promise of many more, was as unique as all Christophe Baron’s wines are – pure Pinot Meunier, vintage, and bottled only in magnums – 2014 Champagne Christophe Baron Brut Nature Les Hautes Blanches Vignes Charly-Sur-Marne (12.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Meunier, 1613 1.5L bottles produced). I made a mistake of slightly overchilling the wine, but it came to its senses shortly after it was opened. The wine was nicely sublime, with all the Champagne traits present – the acidity, brioche, apples – everything balanced and elegant. This was definitely an excellent rendition of Champagne, but to be entirely honest, at around $300 it costs considering tax and shipping, I’m not sure it was unique enough to justify the price. Oh well… definitely was an experience.

Before we move to the reds, a few words about the food. The New Year celebration is a special occasion, which is asking for a special menu. Our typical New Year dinner menu is heavy with appetizers and salads. Our staple salads are “traditional” – Olivie and “Herring under the fur coat”. For the appetizers, we had red caviar, bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed Belgium endives, different kinds of cold cuts and cheeses, tiny prosciutto/pecorino sandwiches, and I’m sure some other stuff. Tea-smoked duck and delicious lasagna comprised the main course, then finishing with loads of baked goods and candies. Yeah, don’t even think about dragging me onto a bathroom scale.

Let’s get back to wine.

The next wine belongs to the “interesting” category. NV Channing Daughters Over and Over Variation Twelve Long Island (12.5% ABV, Merlot, Dornfelder, Syrah, 208 cases produced), a multi-vintage wine which is produced using Ripasso and Solera methods. The name “Over and Over” is emblematic of the production method of this wine – there are many manipulations which I will not even try to describe – you better read it here. I’m all for the fun and complexity, but my problem is that I tasted the standard vintage Channing Daughters red wines which were literally identical to this Over and Over wine. It is great to play with your wine, no questions – but only if the end result is different, and better than the individual parts. The wine showed very youthful, with fresh crunchy fruit and cut through acidity – but it was lacking complexity. It is not a bad wine, but I was not moved by it.

Next up – 1996 Château Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc AOC (12.5% ABV) – this was a happy wine. The cork came out easily in one piece, and the wine was perfect from the get-go. The perfect minty nose of Bordeaux with a touch of cassis, some hints of mature fruit on the palate, but only the hints – still good acidity, solid core, excellent balance – the wine to enjoy. Yep, was gone in no time.

Of course, the duck on the menu is calling for the Pinot Noir, and what can be better than the Burgundy? 2007 Louis Jadot Grands Echézeaux Grand Cru AOC (13.5% ABV) was our designated match for the duck. The wine opened up beautifully, with succulent plums and a touch of smoke, a delicious, classic Burgundy. However, the joy lasted in the glass for about 10 minutes or so – next, all the fruit was gone, and while you know you are drinking wine, this wine had no sense of place of origin. I don’t know what happened – the wine closed up, needed more time, or was already at the last stretch of its life? Don’t know, and don’t think I will ever find out. Well, there is always another bottle, right?

Now, let’s talk about surprises. No, not the Chateau d’Yquem, which you would assume should qualify as a surprise – the 1999 Finca Villacreces Crianza Ribera Del Duero (13% ABV) was a real surprise. I heard the name of Finca Villacreces as one of the venerable Ribera del Duero producers, but I never had it before. When I was able to score this wine at the Benchmark Wine, I was very excited. The New Year’s celebration seemed to be a perfect opportunity to open it, especially as nobody had it before and we were all looking forward to getting acquainted.

The cork came out easily, in one piece with no sign of any issues. Once I poured the wine into the glass, on the first whiff, the scary thought instantly showed up – the wine might be corked. I tasted the wine, and it seemed just a touch off – it didn’t feel unquestionably corked, but the fruit was not coherent and the wine had sharp, raspy undertones which in my experience are associated with the corked wine. We moved the wine into the decanter and continued tasting it throughout the evening – it stayed practically unchanged.

This was not some random bottle I can get replaced at any store, so I really couldn’t just pour it out. And I’m an eternal optimist. So I used plastic wrap to cover the top of the decanter and left the wine standing there overnight. The next day, about 22-23 hours since the wine was opened, I decided to check on it. Oh my god. The wine completely changed. The hint of the musty cellar was gone. The mighty fruit appeared on the palate, layered, present, velvety and powerful, covering your whole mouth and making you extort “ohh, this is good”. I thoroughly enjoyed the wine after 24 hours in the decanter, and even the next day the tiny leftover was still drinkable. How is this possible? What has happened? I don’t have any answers, but if you have any ideas, please share.

We finished the dinner on the high note – 1988 Château d’Yquem Lur-Saluces Sauternes AOC (13.5% ABV). I’m you sure you don’t need any introductions here – Château d’Yquem is the Bordeaux legend, an absolute hallmark of the Sauternes region, with every other Sauternes wine simply measured against the Château d’Yquem. A perfect pop of the cork from this bottle was music to my ears. The nose and the palate of this wine were in full harmony – it was all about apricots. Fresh apricots, dried apricots, candied apricots – the taste kept moving round and round. The apricots were supported by clean acidity, which became more noticeable as the wine had an opportunity to breathe. Well, this was a short time window in any case, as this half bottle was simply gone in the instance. This 32 years old wine was truly an experience and a perfect finish to our great evening with friends.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How 2020 started for you? What did you have a chance to discover over the last few days? Cheers!

Alie Ammiraglia – The Rosé Experience

September 17, 2019 3 comments
Livia le Divelec

Livia le Divelec introducing Alie Rosé

Rosé Every Day – is that your wine motto?

Okay, that might be a bit much – occasionally, we would like to drink white and red too, don’t we? How about this:

Rosé is For Every Day – would you be able to subscribe to that?

It amazes me that today it still requires courage for an average wine consumer to happily say “I love Rosé” and stop right there without adding any “buts” – “only in the summer”, “only when it is hot outside”.

It is a given for us, wine aficionados and geeks, but an average wine drinker is still afraid that they are simply not supposed to like Rosé, and openly admitting your “Rosé love” in public is akin to loudly proclaiming “ohh, I have no taste in wine, no class”. This is mindboggling as we truly are living through the Rosé wine revolution.

Ten years ago, Rosé was strictly for summer, and the only Rosé you would find available during the winter months was the one from Tavel from the southern Rhône in France – only found in better wine stores or adventurous restaurant wine lists (Rosé is the major, if not the only type of wine produced in Tavel), or whatever ended up in the discount bins as not been sold during the prime season. Today, Rosé can be found at most of the wine stores throughout the whole year, no matter what season it is. It is also not surprising that literally every winery in the world, big and small, added Rosé to their repertoire. Actually, it might be still difficult to find Rosé at the wineries – it is usually produced in the small quantities and thus sold out in no time at all.

As we mentioned before, Rosé often considered an afterthought – while the winery is starting to make the red wine, whatever juice will bleed from the harvested grapes would be good enough to make Rosé – or whatever grapes are not good enough for the main wine still can be used for Rosé.

This, however, was never the case in Provence in France, where Rosé is The Main Product and never an afterthought. In Provence, the grapes were and are purposefully grown for the Rosé, and harvested at its proper ripeness to be made into Rosé – the best possible Rosé. But – “the best Rosé” crown is heavily contested today – literally, the whole wine world is after it.

Let me share with you an encounter with a perfect contender – Alìe Ammiraglia, an Italian Rosé produced by Frescobaldi family in Tuscany.

View from Polynesian Rooftop bar

At the end of July, I attended an event in New York City, where the new vintage of Alìe Rosé (in case you are wondering about the name, Alìe is “a figure from Greek mythology, a sea nymph and a symbol of sensuality and beauty”) was presented in style.

Let’s compact the whole experience into one very long sentence, just for fun: Alìe Rosé, made out of Syrah and Vermentino specifically grown for this Rosé wine, was presented at the event in New York City in the hottest setting of a roof-top bar, poured strictly from magnum and double-magnum bottles into the glasses specifically designed to enhance the qualities of the Alìe Rosé, accompanied by delicious bites of Polynesian cuisine on a hot summer day.

How about this long sentence?

Now, let’s repeat it, but a bit slower.

2018 Tenuta Ammiraglia Alìe Rosé Toscana IGT was introduced by Livia le Divelec, Frescobaldi Brand Ambassador and winemaker. 2018 is the fifth vintage of Alìe Rosé. The wine is made out of Syrah and Vermentino grapes grown at Tenuta Ammiraglia vineyards in Maremma, the region best known for the super-Tuscan wines. Maremma is a coastal region in Tuscany, thus the climate, soil, and terroir overall have a lot of maritime influence, hence the name and various sea-life elements of the design – the label, the glass. The bottles for Alìe Rosé are specifically designed in Mediterranean style, again to stress the origins of the wine.

The event took place at The Polynesian, bar and restaurant located at the Pod Times Square hotel and offering a roof-top seating. What can be better than sipping on a glass of beautiful Rosé, overlooking New York’s busy life from above on a warm summer afternoon? Well, let’s cue in delicious appetizers of Polynesian origin, harmoniously supporting the delight of Rosé – and now you got the whole picture.

Oh, wait, let’s not forget about the wine glasses! The wine glasses were specifically designed by German company Rastal for Alìe Rosé to accentuate qualities of the wine, both organoleptic (aroma, taste, …) and visual, with the glasses serving as another reminder of maritime-influenced origins of Alìe.

Well, I guess I still didn’t tell you how was the wine – got carried away with a beautiful setting of the roof-top bar, seductive bottles, and designer wine glass. Never mind all these accents – the wine was a real star, otherwise, I wouldn’t be talking about all this. Beautiful fresh strawberries on the nose, strawberries with a hint of Meyer lemon on the palate, crisp and fresh. Delicious cold, and still delicious even at room temperature – my litmus test for a quality white and Rosé. I would drink that wine any day, and any season. Remember, Rosé all day!

That concludes my brief. What is your Rosé of the Year? Cheers!

 

 

How To Cool Yourself Off On A Hot Summer Day

June 29, 2019 2 comments

The heat is rising.

Photo by Quốc Bảo from Pexels

This is not a metaphor – the summer is here, the temperatures are pushing up to the “beyond comfort” level, and the question is real – how do you cool yourself off?

Of course, there are lots and lots of solutions – from very low-tech fans, powered by one’s own hand, to the battery operated misters, neck braces and more – but this is the wine blog, remember? Thus we will not be talking about any gadgets, neither low-tech nor high-tech. We are going to proceed with our simple, you can even call it simplistic, approach – “wine is the answer, what is the question?”

To tame down that heat, we are going to ask for the help of mountains, called the Dolomites, or Dolomiti in Italian. The Dolomites are the mountain range located in northern Italy; they are a part of the Italian Alps, and overall they are located in the Alto Adige region. The Dolomites are known for its striking beauty and intense contrasts. The whole area is considered the world’s treasure and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009.

Alto Adige is one of my favorite Italian wine regions, especially when it comes to white wines. The mountain climate, soil, vineyard elevations – everything which we know as terroir, all take part in producing the wines of character. Thus when I was offered a couple of wines from the region for the review, I gladly said “yes, please” – with or without a summer, Alto Adige, Trento, and all of the sub-regions, such as Vigneti delle Dolomiti, always promise to surprise you, and generally, in a good way.

Terra Alpina wines tops

The history of Alois Lageder started in 1823, first as a wine merchant business in Bolzano. Next generations of Lageder family started acquiring vineyards and experimenting with making the wine, and in 1934, Alois Lageder III purchased wine estate in Alto Adige, which became the starting point of the modern period for Alois Lageder Estate. With attention to the quality becoming paramount since the 1970s, today Alois Lageder’s 125 acres of the family estate are farmed biodynamically. You can visit the winery’s website for more information – it is not only the information, you will also find some stunning photographs there.

In addition to producing more than three dozens of different wines, Alois Lageder is also involved in the number of special projects. One such project is called Terra Alpina and it is dedicated to the striking beauty of Dolomites, it is an attempt to convey that beauty in the liquid form – take a look at this picture:

Source: Terra Alpina by Alois Lageder website

The wines in the Terra Alpina project produced via the partnership with local grape growers and winemakers in the Vigneti delle Dolomiti area. Currently, there are two wines produced under the Terra Alpina label, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio – these were the wines I received for the tasting.

When the wines arrived, at first I even thought I got two bottles of the same wine – they looked very similar. After a few seconds, I figured out that this was not the case, and those were actually different wines. While the bottles looked similar on the outside, once I opened the wines, there was no question of similarity – the wines were beautifully and distinctly different, with Pinot Bianco strongly minerally-driven, and Pinot Grigio showing a perfectly noticeable, but the well-balanced amount of fruit – you can see my notes below.

Were these wines capable of delivering on the “cooling off” promise? Perfectly so. While different, both were fresh and bright, dropping a few degrees off a summer heat with every sip. The wines would be perfect on its own, but they would also play very well with food. And please make no mistake – while the wines offer a welcome relief to the summer heat, these are excellent, year-around, versatile wines, which offer a great value, and perfect for any day, and every day.

Terra Alpina wines with glasses

2018 Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Bianco Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (12.5% ABV, $15)
Straw pale
Touch of sweet apples, lemon, minerality
Crisp but buttery, noticeable salinity, minerally driven, dry, refreshing, lemon, lemon finish.
7+/8-, very nice

2018 Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (12.5% ABV, $16)
Light golden, a shade darker than Pinot Bianco
Intense, tropical fruit, guava, candied lemon, honeysuckle
Crisp, also a bit buttery and round, fresh lemon, vibrant, refreshing, delicious.
8-/8, excellent, passes room temperature test with flying colors

Here is my summer cooling off story. What’s yours? Cheers!

Your Wish Is My Command

May 22, 2019 2 comments

Oenophiles are very generous people.

I’m not speaking in general terms here – we are only talking about the wine. But when it comes to wine, we are ready to share. We want to share the experience. We want to share the joy of what we consider a great sip of wine with the whole world. It doesn’t always work – what tastes amazing to you, might be unimaginable plonk for someone else – everyone’s palate is different. But when it works, the experience is priceless. When the person takes a sip of the wine and says “OMG”, this is the best feeling in the world. Been able to help someone to share your joy and discover something new is incredible, and I can’t really describe it – I just truly hope you get to experience it at least once.

And then there are some key words which spur oenophile into the action. “I always wanted to try that wine”. “I never tasted the wine from that region”. “Trying this wine was always my dream”. “If I can ever find that wine”. All of these are the phrases which should be used very carefully around oenophiles, as these are the trigger phrases. They make an oenophile jump of joy and immediately devise the plan on mediating the issue in whatever way possible. If you consider yourself an oenophile, I’m sure you can relate. If you are not – I hope you know at least one.

Recently at the birthday party, an old friend said: “I always wanted to drink aged wines, but I don’t know how to find them, they are probably expensive, and I don’t know anything about them”. Can you imagine my ears perked up as soon as I heard it? Oenophile’s joyous moment, an opportunity to share the wine – yes! I gave her advice as to where she can find some aged wines (Benchmark Wines, for instance), but the brain already was put to the task. When we decided to get together for dinner, the first thing I said was “I’m bringing the wines”.

Aged Wines

After some deliberation, I came to an agreement with oneself regarding the wine program – you can see the whole program in the picture above. I was happy that I had a reasonably aged sparkling wine – Guido Ferrari. I wrote about Ferrari wines many times, these are definitely some of my favorite sparkling wines. 2005 is still a baby, as this is a current vintage, but still – this is an excellent sparkling wine, and it was a sample so I had to open it in any case – sharing with friends makes me very happy.

I definitely wanted to have a Rosé as part of the repertoire, but the absolute majority of Rosé is not made for aging – and those which age well, are either impossible to find, or very expensive, or both. So yeah, no Rosé. For the white, I decided to go with another one of my favorites – barrel-aged Verdejo, 2009 Shaya Habis. 10 years is not that much in terms of wine age, but most of the white wines don’t age that well, and I didn’t have a nice Burgundy, Chablis or white Rhone to offer instead, so I think 10 years old Verdejo should be interesting enough.

Red wines generally can age. I decided to go with “middle-aged” wines, even though the “middle” varies dramatically between the wines and the regions. My selection – 1995 Estancia Meritage, a Bordeaux style blend from California, 1995 Quinta do Poço do Lobo from Portugal (one of my top dozen wines of 2018), and 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot from California. I saw that the folks on Cellar Tracker considered Estancia to be past prime for a while so this will be an interesting experience, no matter what. And the 1998 Merlot I never had before, so this is an excellent opportunity to try it. 2007 Sauternes for dessert? 12 years is not much of age for the Sauternes, but this was one of the few older dessert bottles at my disposal so this would have to do.

The above part of the post was written before the tasting. Now, it is time to tell you how the wines actually fared.

Vintage-designated sparkling wines with some age are not a simple thing for uninitiated wine lovers – many say that Dom Perignon is amazing only because they know how much it costs, not because they enjoy it. This 14 years old, 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory was outstanding in my opinion – fresh, complex, elegant, it was truly a beautiful, minerality-driven Chardonnay, enframed with some fine bubbles. You know what was the best part? To hear my friends say “wow” and “I really like it”. Mission accomplished.

1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander ValleyWe continued with 2009 Shaya Habis Rueda (100% old vines Verdejo, barrel aged). This wine is one of my favorite Verdejo renditions, typically offering lots of complexity – but I never had it with 10 years of age. The wine was still young and crisp, with minimal fruit expression and tons of minerality, tons. Again, I consider this wine a success as one of my friends literally hugged the bottle and kept drinking this wine, repeating every few minutes “wow, and I even don’t like the whites!”.

Now, it was not without trepidation that I opened 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc), taking into account the negative sentiment on the CT. But – my fears were unfounded. The wine was a perfect example of the nicely aged California wine – yes, it mellowed down and was tertiary aromas-driven, but it stayed that way during the whole evening, and it was a perfect example of what aging does to the wine – simply the next dimension. The aromatics which you can enjoy endlessly, an abundance of lip-smacking plums, touch of eucalyptus, good acidity – a great experience. And yet another “yes” vote in our wine program – everyone liked the wine. Were they simply polite? I don’t know. I hope they actually liked the wine, as I wholeheartedly did.

2007 Haut Charmes SauternesThe next wine I brought simply as a “safe bet”, just in case Estancia would not work out. While Estancia was fine, I was happy to open this wine, if anything, at least, to compare two of the wines from the same vintage – of course, from very different wine regions. 1995 Caves São João Quinta do Poço do Lobo Reserva from Bairrada in Portugal didn’t change its standing “you are drinking me too early” even for a bit (the wine was only released last year, and I was raving about it before) – elegant, restrained dark fruit and herbs – two of these 1995 wines couldn’t be any more different than they were. Again, I think people liked this wine too – but it was too far into the evening to keep track. In any case, I’m glad I still have a few more bottles left.

We didn’t open the 1998 Kirkland Merlot – will have to wait for another occasion – but 2007 Haut Charmes from Sauternes was delightful and all apricots, both the nose and the palate. Ripe apricots, candied apricots, apricot jam – all of it was in every sip – oh yeah, don’t worry, all apricots were supported by acidic core. I don’t know if this was a common expression for the aged Sauternes, but there was a lot of pleasure in every sip of that wine.

This is my story of helping friends to experience aged wines. If you ask me, this was a complete success as people got to enjoy something new and different. Have you had any of these wines? What would you open for your friends to try? Cheers!

 

Patches of Goodness – Introducing Ferzo

April 25, 2019 2 comments

In Italian, Ferzo is a patch of fabric that is stitched together with others to create a sail. Let’s sail together into the world of wine.

Wine lovers are some of the happiest people in the world.

Don’t jump to any conclusions – the happiness starts before the bottle is open, not after the wine is consumed.

How I mean it? Let me explain.

I personally believe that travel is one of the best things people can do as a pastime. You get to experience a different culture, people, food, and lots more. Travel typically requires planning – money, time off work, finding someone to sit with your three dogs, water plants, feed goldfish … you get the picture. A successful trip requires one’s full, undivided involvement, from start to finish – and then it usually ends with happy memories.

Wine lovers, on another hand, have it easy. It is enough to take a bottle of wine in your hands, and you are instantly transported. Your trip starts with the first look at the label, and then it is only limited by your imagination. The more you learn about the world of wine, the easier such travel becomes. You can instantly immerse into the culture, imagine visiting the vineyard, talking to the people, sitting in the tiny cafe with a glass of wine, just observing life as it happens. Sounds good? Can I take you on a trip right now, right at this moment? Of course, I know you are ready. I’m inviting you to visit Italy, the region called Abruzzo.

Abruzzo is a region in Central Italy, located along the Adriatic Sea coast. The territory of Abruzzo is about half of the size of the US state of New Jersey. However, the region boasts the biggest number of forests and parks compared to any other region in Italy, and thus sometimes it is referred to as “the lungs of Italy”.

There is nothing unique about winemaking in Abruzzo – it is only about a few thousand years old, on par with the rest of Italy. Well, jokes aside, the Abruzzo region is enclosed in the Apennines mountains, which historically provided natural defenses to the people living in the region – as well as ideal conditions for the winemaking.

Abruzzo wines became known internationally in the 17th century, largely thanks to the Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes, who praised the high quality of the region’s white wine, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – however, today Abruzzo is first and foremost known for its red wine, Montepulciano di Abruzzo, produced from the grape called Montepulciano (try not to confuse it with the wine made in the Montepulciano village in Tuscany, which is made out of Sangiovese).

The wine is made is all four provinces of Abruzzo, however, the province of Chieti has the highest production of the four. While Montepulciano is a “king” of Abruzzo, the white grapes always played an essential role in the region. Today, the focus is shifting past the traditional Trebbiano towards until recently forgotten varieties, such as Pecorino, Passerina, and others.

Codice Citra is the largest winegrowing community in Abruzzo, uniting 3,000 winegrowing families from 9 different communes (wineries), collectively farming 15,000 acres of vineyards. Formed in 1973, Codice Citra had been making wines from the autochthonous varieties – Montepulciano, Trebbiano, Pecorino, Passerina and Cococciola.

With bottling capacity of 20,000 bottles per hour, you can imagine that Codice Citra produces quite a bit of wine. But this is not what we are talking about here. When you make wine year after year, you learn what works and what doesn’t. Little by little, you can identify the parcels of the vineyards, the patches, which produce different, maybe better grapes, year after year. And at some point, you decide – this patch is something special, maybe it deserves to be bottled on its own?

And that’s how Ferzo was born. Single grape wines, made from the plots with the vines of at least 20 years of age, representing the best Abruzzo has to offer – Montepulciano, Pecorino, Passerina and Cococciola. I had an opportunity to taste the line of Ferzo wines, graciously provided as samples by Donna White, and I was utterly impressed with the quality and the amount of pleasure each wine had to offer. Here are the notes:

2017 Ferzo Cococciola Terre di Chieti IGP (13% ABV, $26)
Light golden
A touch of honey, golden delicious apple, a hint of tropical fruit, distant hint of petrol
Crisp tart apples on the palate, restrained, lemon, cut through acidity, very refreshing.
8, summer day in the glass. Perfect by itself, but will play nicely with food. An extra bonus – a new grape.
2017 Ferzo Passerina Terre di Chieti IGP (13% ABV, $26)
Light golden
Whitestone fruit, summer meadows, a touch of the ripe white peach, guava
Nice minerality, underripe white peach, a touch of grass, clean acidity. Clean acidity on the finish.
8, delicious, refreshing, long-lasting finish.
2017 Ferzo Pecorino Terre di Chieti IGP (13% ABV, $26)
golden
Herbs, distant hint of the gunflint and truffles, a touch of butter. The wine changes in the glass rapidly
Very complex, a hint of butter, young peaches, silky smooth, roll-of-your-tongue mouthfeel, unusual. Medium plus body, good acidity.
8+/9-, an enigma. Very interesting wine.
2016 Ferzo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP (13.5% ABV, $26)
Dark garnet, practically black
Complex, Grenache-like – dark chocolate, blueberries, baking spice, sweet oak, medium plus intensity
Wow. Great extraction, medium to full body, silky mouthfeel, noticeable tannins without going overboard, very restrained, tart cherries
8+, a modern style old world wine – higher intensity old-world taste profile
Here you are, my friends. Look for these simple labels, there is a lot of pleasure hinding behind them. Discover new side of Abruzzo with the Ferzo wines, and you can thank me later. Cheers!

 

Valentine’s Day Experiences

March 1, 2019 2 comments

Valentine's Day RosesCooking is the ultimate expression of love. This is always true, but even more though on Valentine’s Day, as the whole holiday is all about love – the holiday which exists since about the 5th century – it is really fun to celebrate something so deeply rooted in history.

Our personal love story was simple – yet, probably, equally uncommon – the love at first sight. It took three days since the moment we saw each other for the first time until everything was decided. So you can imagine that Valentine’s Day was always an important holiday for us. At first, we tried to follow to common path, working hard to score coveted restaurant reservation – until the dinner at one of the most expensive, and supposedly, best Italian restaurants in Connecticut, which we left asking each other “what was that???”. That was the end of our “eating out” Valentine’s Day celebrations, and the beginning of the “eat in” tradition.

One of the advantages of “eat in” celebrations is a much better wine program. You don’t need to desperately comb through the pages of the wine list, finding that you can’t afford any of the wines by the bottle you want to drink, and common sense preventing you from getting any of the wines by the glass which can be classified as a “seemingly affordable rip off”. Instead, you can spend hours combing through your own wine shelves, looking for the bottles which you will deem worthy of a special celebration –  and which will also work with the menu you have in mind.

Valentiens Day wines

Martinelli Syrah which you see in the picture was a backup wine in case anything will be wrong with the Pinot. Now it is back in the cellar, waiting for its turn.

Last year’s celebration was about steak and Cab – obviously, I couldn’t repeat myself, so the search was on to find an appropriate protein replacement. Somehow that resulted in the duck breast – and what wine does the duck breast call for? Of course, the Pinot Noir!

Before we talk Pinot we need to talk bubbles. Bubbles don’t have to exclusively narrow down to Champagne. Champagne is a wonderful sparkling wine, perfectly appropriate for any celebration – but the world of wine moved up tremendously over the past 15-20 years. I don’t have any stats to prove this objectively, but I have a feeling in the USA at least a third of all wineries if not half of them produce sparkling wine – if not for the wide distribution, then at least for the wine clubs and tasting room visitors.

I also have to say that ever since I visited the Franciacorta region in Lombardy, Italy, Franciacorta sparkling wines became my go-to choice of bubbles for any special celebrations. In my mind, Franciacorta wines are very consistent, and today, as they honed their production methods to perfection, this translates into the “you can’t go wrong with” Franciacorta wines in general. La Valle was one of my top highlights of that Franciacorta trip and the La Valle Rosé really hit the cord then – and it continues to do now. This 2011 La Valle Brut Rosé Franciacorta was superb – fine mousse, delicious strawberries on the nose with the hint of the toasted bread, and more strawberries on the palate – a perfect opener for our evening.

Now, the Pinot time. Similar to the bubbles, Pinot Noir also enjoys quite a universal appeal around the world nowadays. There some regions, however, which do a better job than the others – and California Russain River Valley is definitely one of them. I tried 2007 Charles Mara Pinot Noir for the first time back in 2010. It was silky smooth and powerful at the same time. I was so impressed with this wine that it became the top wine of the inaugural Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen Wines list. I still had a bottle of 2007, and I decided that it would be a perfect choice for our Valentine’s Day dinner – and the wine didn’t disappoint. Now, 9 years later, this 2007 Mara Laughlin Road Ranch Pinot Noir Russian River Valley became even more round and less “in your face”. Characteristic California Pinot plums and smoke on the nose, succulent dark fruit on the palate with a hint of violets, perfect acidity, perfect balance, lots and lots of pleasure. And it also worked perfectly with the duck.

Let’s talk about the duck. I had it a number of times before, either made by friends or at the restaurant – but duck is rarely my go-to dish. The form of duck I cooked before was either duck legs as part of the Cassoulet or the whole duck as part of the Turducken. I never attempted cooking the duck breast before, so obviously was concerned with the outcome. After studying a number of recipes, I was concerned even more, as a number of commentators complained about rendering duck inedible even after repeated attempts, so I was really not sure about my own success.

I don’t know if it was a quality of the ingredient, Moulard Duck Magret, which I got at our local Fairway Market, or the cast iron pan, a combination of the above, or the beginner’s luck, but the duck breast came out perfectly. I also made a Port (you saw it in the picture above) and berries reduction, which elevated the nicely gamey taste of the duck breast and was a bridge to connect it all to Mara Pinot Noir – all in all, a delicious dinner. Nevermind the paper plate in the picture – everything in life has a story, but this is not the story for this blog post.

There you go, my friends – not a timely share, but still an experience worth sharing. If you still remember, I’m curious to know how was your Valentine’s Day dinner. Cheers!

 

 

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