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Daily Glass: For The Love Of Appassimento

October 10, 2021 3 comments

Appassimento is an Italian word that means “drying”. Thus very appropriately, appassimento is the process where after the harvest, grapes are dried for some time (from 3 weeks to 6 months) before being pressed and fermented. Now, the question to the audience: name any wine (just type, no need for producer) which is made from such dried grapes?

If you said Amarone della Valpolicella, Passito di Pantelleria, Recioto di Soave, or Recioto della Valpolicella, you can definitely give yourself a high five. While this method of wine production originated in Greece, Italy produces most of the appassimento wines in the world. Drying of the grapes increases the concentration of flavors and sugars and changes the structure of the tannins, bringing an extra layer of complexity to the wine.

While getting more complexity is great for any wine, it also comes at a cost. Drying of the grapes requires additional space, whether inside with good ventilation, or outside under the sun. There is additional time required to dry the grapes. And while drying, grapes lose moisture, thus you need to use a lot more grapes to get that same bottle of wine – no wonder Amarone is usually an expensive wine – but if you ever experienced good Amarone, or Passito, Recioto, Sfursat (Sforzato di Valtellina), Vin Santo, you know that it was well worth it.

Making wines from partially dried grapes is not limited only to Italy – I had delicious Australian Shiraz made from partially dried grapes (Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz from South Australia), Pedro Ximenez Sherry from Spain. Overall, the wines from dried grapes are produced in most of the winemaking regions – Eastern Europe, Germany, Greece, USA, and others.

The appassimento wine which I would like to bring to your attention today is produced in Italy, but it is far from common. Nero d’Avola is known to produce big, well-structured Sicilian reds. But when you take Nero d’Avola grapes from four of the areas in Sicily where Nero d’Avola is known to grow best, then you dry the bunches of the grapes for 3 weeks in fruttaia (well-ventilated rooms) and then continue to make wine, you end up with delicious, round, perfectly approachable wine in its youth.

2019 Cantine Ermes Quattro Quarti Nero d’Avola DOC Appassimento (14% ABV, 100% Nero d’Avola, 4 months in 500l oak barrels) is produced by Cantine Ermes we spoke about earlier this year – the coop of 2,355 producers, farming 26,000 acres across a number of provinces in Sicily. The wine was ready to drink from the get-go, offering beautiful dark berries medley with sweet oak, herbs, and a hint of dried fruit, exactly as one would expect when appassimento is involved – soft, layered, comforting, and dangerous – the bottle was gone very quickly, not being able to put the glass down.

This was a perfect example of the appassimento wine – yes, it didn’t have the power of Amarone, but it also didn’t need any cellaring time, offered instant gratification, and it is a lot more affordable. Definitely the wine worth seeking.

Now, what are your favorite appassimento wines – Amarone and not?

Beyond ABC – Wines of Southern Italy

July 7, 2021 Leave a comment

Source: Sud Top Wine

I know, ABC is a loaded acronym. Outside of all the proper uses, it is “Anything But C…”, like it would be in Anything But Chardonnay sentiment. Today, however, let’s give Chardonnay a break, this is not the angle I would like to pursue. ABC here is just a homemade abbreviation, and it simply identifies some of the best-known Italian wines – those which everyone wants to drink.

I’m sure you can decipher this acronym with ease. A in Italian wines would stand for … Amarone, of course! Amarone is one of the most coveted Italian wines, and the best Amarone wines have simply a legendary following.

B is even easier than A. B should be really upgraded, as it is not just B, but rather BBB – Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello. Some of the most thought-after wines from Piedmont and Tuscany.

And C, of course, is as straightforward as it gets – I know you got it already. Yes, C stands for Chianti, possibly the most famous Italian wine out there.

But today we are leaving our ABCs alone, and traveling down to the Southern part of Italy, hoping to discover some of the local wine treasures. To assist in our quest, we will enlist the help of the Sud Top Wine competition, organized by the Italian food and wine publication Cronachedigusto.it.

Sud Top Wine competition is in its second year, and it covers the wines produced in the Southern regions of Sicily, Sardinia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, and Apulia. It is not only the climate that makes Southern regions unique, it is also the grapes that are typically not grown anywhere else in Italy (every rule has an exception, but this is not important at the moment). When it comes to the white grapes, you should expect to find Grillo, Greco di Tufo, Catarratto, Vermentino. For the reds, we are talking about Aglianico, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Moscalese, Primitivo, Cannonau (a.k.a. Grenache).

I had an opportunity to taste some of the top awarded wines (samples) from the 2020 competition, so below are my notes:

2018 Cantine Terranera Greco di Tufo DOCG (13% ABV, Sud Top Wine 2020 1st Place)
Light Golden
Whitestone fruit, a touch of honeysuckle
A touch of sweetness, good acidity, nice depth and structure, lemon notes with a hint of candied lemon, excellent balance
8, excellent white wine

2017 Pietre a Purtedda da Ginestra Centopassi Rosso Sicilia DOC (14% ABV, Nerello Moscalese, bio certified, Sud Top Wine 2020 Winner)
Bright ruby
Fresh cherries
Tart cherries, fresh, crisp, succulent, medium body, medium finish, nicely present tannins
8-

2014 Chiano Conti Rosso Faro DOC (13.5% ABV, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio, Nero d’Avola, Nocera, Sud Top Wine 2020 1st Place)
Red currant, herbs, earthiness, tobacco
Tart cherries, underbrush, light and earthy
7+, it’s okay, not exactly my style

2016 Quartomoro VRM Memorie di Vite Vermentino di Sardegna DOC (13.5% ABV, Sud Top Wine 2020 Winner)
Light Golden
Intense nose with gunflint, white stone fruit, a touch of vanilla
Beautiful, full-bodied, plump, round, white plums, Meyer lemon, good acidity, good balance
8, delicious.

2019 Baguio del Cristo di Campobello Lalùci Grillo Sicilia DOC (13.5% ABV, Sud Top Wine 2020 Winner)
Straw pale
Complex nose of granite, gunflint, whitestone fruit
Crisp, fresh, a touch of gunflint, fresh lemony acidity, delicious
8+, superb

As you can tell, I really preferred the whites over the reds – but your experience might be different. If you will come across any of these wines, give them a try – you might be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!

Everyday Bubbles

June 17, 2021 Leave a comment

Do you have an everyday wine? An everyday wine is a wine you are happy to open on any day that has a name ending with “y”, like Monday, without any second thoughts. For the wine lover, there is always a ritual to choose the proper wine for each and every occasion (read: an evening after work), so the everyday wine is the wine allowing to circumvent that ritual, just open a bottle, get a glass, pour wine, and instantly feel better.

I would bet that for the majority of the wine lovers, the everyday wine would be a still wine – white, red, maybe a Rosé, but a still wine. There is an aura surrounding the sparkling wines – you can’t open bubbles without a special occasion, and “just another Monday” might not be it. There are many reasons the sparkling wines not considered appropriate for a casual evening. Sparkling wines have the whole celebratory mindset attached to them – “if I’m drinking sparkling wine I have something to celebrate”. Sparkling wines are usually more expensive than quality-comparable still wines. And so it is somewhat difficult to find a sparkling wine that can be designated as an “everyday wine”.

Difficult, but not impossible. Well, yes, it all depends. If you insist on drinking only Champagne, an “everyday Champagne” might be a challenge – at least a financial one. But if you are willing to look outside of Champagne, then Cava, Cremant, and Prosecco offer some good options. I want to bring two of such “everyday bubbles” to your attention.

First, Prosecco. Prosecco, produced in Northern Italy, is a sparkling wine that had been around almost as long as Champagne – with the only difference that it became internationally known only about 30 years ago (you can read the story here). But today, Prosecco is everywhere, and it offers lots of great options to consider for everyday bubbles. As, for example, Ca’ Di Prata, produced by Latentia Winery, and distributed by Mack and Schuhle I already wrote about a few months ago. Ca’ Di Prata takes its name from the town of Prata di Pordenone in Friuli, one of the epicenters of Prosecco production. I had an opportunity to try a few of the Ca’ Di Prata Prosecco wines (samples), and below are my notes:

Ca’ Di Prata Brut Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $15.99)
Practically clear, nice tangy mousse
Touch of tropical fruit, a hint of honey
Refreshing, Meyer lemon, good acidity, mellow, good volume, a hint of sweet apples
8, very good, easy to drink, simple. Quaffable on its own, but should be perfect for cocktails (Mimosa, anyone?)

Ca’ Di Prata Rosé Extra Dry Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, $16.99, 85% Glera, 15% Pinot Nero)
Light pinkish color, abundant bubbles
Hint of strawberries
Strawberries all the way, a touch of lemon, creamy, inviting, a touch of sweetness, very well balanced.
8-, perfect everyday bubbles

Ca’ Di Prata Extra Dry Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG (11% ABV, $17.99)
Almost clear with a greenish hue, good amount of bubbles
Distant hint of an apple and flower petals, refreshing
Green apple, fresh, crisp, initially had a hint of sweetness which subsided, a touch of lemon.
8-, excellent for what it is – easy bubbles.

And then, of course, there is Cava – another perfect candidate for everyday bubbles. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine, produced in exactly the same way as Champagne (secondary fermentation in the bottle) in Penedes in Catalonia. Cava is currently trying to change its image of simple, inexpensive, and often mediocre quality wine by introducing new categories and new subzones in the region – but this should be a subject for a separate post.

The Cava which I want you to consider for the everyday wine is one of my favorites, both aesthetically and taste-wise – Vilarnau Barcelona. I already wrote about Vilarnau at length before, so for the history, I would like to offer you this link. For this post, I tasted two wines (samples) from the beautifully appointed, Gaudi inspired bottles – here are my notes:

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Cava DO (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel Lo, 15+ months in the bottle)
Light gold
Herbal, earthy, apple, lemon
Fresh, clean, apples, creamy, good body
7+, perfect for every day

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Cava DO (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Garnacha, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle)
Salmon pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of gunflint
Fresh strawberries, crisp, clean, energetic,
Delicious.
8, excellent

What do you think? Would you make any of these wines your everyday wine? Cheers!

Made With Organic Grapes: Red, White, and Rosé

June 3, 2021 2 comments

Have you looked attentively at the wine labels lately? I don’t know about you, but “made with organic grapes” is something I see on more and more wine labels. Red, white, Rosé, bubbles – no exception. As winemaking methods are advancing, organic viticulture is almost becoming a new norm.

While “organic” and “sustainable” are not the same, organic designation is often a stepping stone toward sustainable and biodynamic viticulture. Sustainability seems to be the word of the day, not only in the viticulture but all areas of human activities – but this is a wine blog, so let’s just stay with our beloved subject here.

A few weeks ago, I shared my impressions of the organic wines of Viñedos Veramonte from Chile. As I believe we are looking at the trend, let’s continue our search for organic grapes, and let’s take a quick trip to the old continent – Italy, to be more precise. Once we are in Italy, let’s go to Sicily, where Cantine Ermes had been producing wines since 1998.

Cantine Ermes is a coop-type winery. The numbers behind Cantine Ermes are quite impressive – 2,355 associates, 9 cellars, more than 25,000 acres of land under vineyards, and about 12M bottles annually are sold in 25 countries. Despite its sheer size, Cantine Ermes practices organic and sustainable farming and has tight control over all steps of wine production.

Two wines I tasted brilliantly represented Sicily, made from the local grapes:

2019 Cantine Ermes Vento Di Mare Nerello Mascalese Terre Siciliane IGT (13.5% ABV, $13)
Ruby red
The nose of freshly crushed berries, cherries, and eucalyptus.
Playful on the palate, a touch of fresh cherries, intense tobacco, minerality, medium body, clean acidity, good balance.
8-/8, perfect on its own, but will play well with food.

2019 Cantine Ermes Vento Di Mare Grillo Sicilia DOC (12.5% ABV, $13)
Light Golden
Fresh lemon, Whitestone fruit, medium+ intensity, inviting
Crisp, clean, fresh lemon, nicely present body, a touch of white plum, good minerality, a hint of sweetness
8/8+, superb, delicious white wine all around.

We are continuing our organic grape quest by going west and leaving the old continent and arriving at Mendoza in Argentina. Earlier this year I discussed sparkling wines of Domaine Bousquet – the product of the obsession of the French winemaker Jean Bousquet, who fell in love with the raw beauty of Gualtallary Valley in Mendoza. Interestingly enough, two sparkling wines I was talking about before were also made from organic grapes – I guess I simply didn’t see it as a trend yet.

Gaia Rosé is the inaugural vintage of the wine made from 100% Pinot Noir, from the vineyards in the Uco Valley located at the 4,000 feet/1,200 meters elevation. The wine takes its name from Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth and an inspiration for the Bousquet family. Just take a look at this beautiful bottle and tell me that you will be able to resist the urge to grab this bottle off the shelf at the first sight.

Here are my thoughts about the wine:

2020 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Pinot Noir Rosé Gualtallary Vineyards Mendoza Argentina (13.1% ABV, $20, vegan friendly)
Light salmon pink
Complex, onion peel, a touch of strawberries
Fresh Strawberries, grapefruit, bright acidity, a touch of sweetness, firm, present
8, delicious. Unusual

Here you are, my friends. Red, white, and Rosé from around the world. made from organic grapes, delicious, affordable, with a great QPR. What else should wine lovers want?

Pleasures of the Obscure – New Discoveries

March 23, 2021 2 comments

If you follow this blog for some time, you might (or might not) know that I identify as an obsessed wine geek. There is definitely more than one trait that would allow such an identification, so the particular one I want to talk about here is the love of obscure grapes.

I was bitten by The Wine Century Club bug more than 15 years ago, and since then I’m on the quest to seek the most unusual wines made from the most obscure grapes. The Wine Century Club offers to wine lovers a very simple proposition – for every 100 different grapes you taste, you get to the next level in the club. With more than 1,300 grapes used in wine production today, this shouldn’t be very difficult, shouldn’t it? Yet, of course, it is, as an absolute majority of the wines readily available today in the supermarkets, wine stores, and even from the wineries direct, are made from 50–60 mainstream grapes – the rest requires quite a bit of work of procuring as most of the wines made out of the rare grapes are produced in minuscule quantities and not sold anywhere outside of the immediate area of production.

So if finding those rare and unusual wines is that difficult, why bother you may ask? I can give you a few reasons. One – I can simply tell you that I tried 555 grapes at the time of writing this post, so it kind of “mine is bigger than yours” type of reason. Yep, lame. Let’s leave it.

The better reason is the fact that every bottle of wine made from grapes one never heard of before is an opportunity to experience great pleasure. The grape is unknown, so we have no expectations whatsoever. While drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, that simple little piece of information – the name of the grape you are well familiar with – has a tremendous effect on how you perceive the wine. The level of pleasure will depend on how well the particular wine matches your expectations. It might be the best ever for you in the blind tasting, but in the non-blind setting, you are instantly influenced by your prior experience and thus your level of pleasure is limited by your expectations.

When you pour yourself a glass of Bobal, Trepat, or Hondarrabi Zuri, you are presented with a blank canvas – you can draw any conclusions you want. You will decide if you like the wine not in comparison but simply based on what is in your glass and if it gives you pleasure, or not. Simple, straightforward, easy.

Here, let me share with you my latest encounter with obscure grapes.

Let’s start with the white wine – 2017 Paşaeli Yapincak Thrace Turkey (12% ABV, 100% Yapincak). Yapincak is a native variety of Şarköy – Tekirdağ region in Northern Turkey. The grapes for this wine, produced by Paşaeli winery in Turkey, come from the single vineyard located at about 500 feet elevation, 35 years old vines. Upon opening the wine showed some oxidative notes, I even thought it might be gone already. A few hours later, it cleared up, and presented itself as a medium to full-bodied wine, with fresh lemon and a touch of honey notes, crisp, fresh, easy to drink. This can be a food wine, but it doesn’t have to be, quite enjoyable on its own. (Drinkability: 8-/8)

My rare red wine was really a special experience, as it brought back really special memories. I got this 2014 Agricola Vallecamonica Somnium Vino Rosso (12.5% ABV, 100% Ciass Negher) 4 years ago, during a press trip to the beautiful region of Franciacorta. As we were the guests of the Franciacorta consortium, we were mainly focusing on the Franciacorta sparkling wines. During one of our lunches, I noticed this wine and had to bring it home, albeit only one bottle. This wine is made out of the ancient grape called Ciass Negher in the local dialect, used in the winemaking by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, and resuscitated by Alex Belingheri in his vineyards at Agricola Vallecamonica.

This wine was absolutely unique – as you would expect considering its rare pedigree. I perceived this wine as something in a middle between Pinot Noir and Chianti/Sangiovese. A touch of Pinot Noir’s sweetness, smoke, and violets, with the undertones of leather and tobacco, and a little funk. Each sip was begging for another – easy to drink, perfectly balanced, and delightful. If this would be my everyday wine, I would be perfectly happy about it. (Drinkability: 8+)

Here you are, my friends. The wine pleasures are everywhere – you just need to look for them.

Open That Bottle Night 2021 – What A Night!

March 10, 2021 7 comments

Traditions, traditions, traditions.

Traditions need wine. Wine needs traditions. Makes sense? If not, express your disdain with a flaming comment. But if you are an oenophile (wine aficionado, wine snob, wine geek, …), you understand and can easily relate.

Open That Bottle Night, or OTBN for short, is one of the shortest living traditions of the wine world, where thousand years might be a good measure for some – OTBN was first celebrated in 1999 when it was created by the wine couple – Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers behind the “Tastings” column in Wall Street Journal. The OTBN was created to help wine lovers part with the special wine bottles which might otherwise become a waste.

There are two parts to any wine tradition – the first is a special wine itself, always carefully selected to match the tradition, and the second is sharing – sharing of that bottle with the world. Not with the whole world at once, but with the friends.

Let’s talk about finding and sharing.

Finding a proper bottle is never easy – and it might be even worse for the holiday such as OTBN, which was created specifically to help us part with the special bottle, the bottle which has a special meaning for us – no matter why and how, but special in whatever way. Sharing is typically not a problem – unless it is 2021 and the world is still mostly in lockdown – and that includes all of one’s wine friends.

I was lucky for the past many years to have wonderful celebrations of the OTBN with the friends, sharing the most amazing wine experiences (here is the first-hand account for 2017, 2019, and 2020). The only possible way to share OTBN 2021 was the one using for the majority of the gatherings during 2020 and 2021 – the virtual one. I’m not complaining – I’m grateful that at least we have the technology with allows us to spend time with each other face to face, no matter how physically distant we are. So sharing portion was rather easy, and now let’s talk about finding.

Finding is not even the right word. Finding is easy – but selecting is not. OTBN asks for that special bottle. Deciding on what makes one bottle more special than the other, when your cellar is full of unique bottles all present in the quantity of 1 (one), is the hard part. After some amount of deliberations, which included pulling numerous wine fridge shelves back and forth, back and forth, I settled on these four bottles:

Let me explain my selection logic so you will see why it is such a daunting process for me.

First, the white wine, as I’m a big proponent of the balanced diet. 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC might be called my unicorn wine, at least when it comes to whites. The first time I tried a different vintage of this exact wine when it was 10 years old and this wine became one of the brightest memories for me – the beauty and interplay of bright fruit, honey, and acidity were simply unforgettable. When young, this wine from the Loire, made out of the rare grape called Romorantin, is a single note acidic. With age, it develops into an absolute beauty. When I opened the bottle of this wine back in 2015, the wine was superb. When I brought it to Jim’s house for the OTBN 2019, 4 years later, it was “interesting” but absolutely not exciting. I was hoping for redemption, so this was an easy choice.

My next selection was 2008 Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage AOC. When I see Hermitage written on the label, you can literally hear me sigh. Hermitage to me is synonymous with the Syrah, and I love classic Syrah. And so does my wife – Syrah is her favorite grape. I have very few Hermitage wines in my cellar – and this one was calling my name for a long time (meaning: it was pulled off the shelf and placed back many times). Considering that 2008 had a rainy growing season and the vintage has low ratings (WS86, for example) and “Drink now” recommendation, this was an easy decision – no point in waiting any longer.

How many unicorns can one have? Well, having a unicorn would be nice, but I guess I’m talking about chasing them. So how many unicorns can one chase? Clearly, it seems that I’m chasing many. Good Amarone is the wine I’m always chasing. Giuseppe Quintarelly Amarone is more of an ephemeral dream for me, considering the price and availability – and it is definitely one of those unicorns I’m talking about. With 2004 Zýmē Kairos Veneto IGT, I’m getting as close to that unicorn as I can. This wine is produced by Celestino Gaspari, the winemaker for Giuseppe Quintarelli. As the label says “Produced from 15 varietals of grapes of Verona, it is a reflection and interpretation of our soil and the culture of its terroir”. In case you are curious, the 15 grapes are Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, SauvignonBlanc, Chardonnay, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, CabernetSauvignon, CabernetFranc, Merlot, Syraz, Teroldego, Croatina, Oseleta, Sangiovese, and Marzemino. This was my last bottle, and I scanned the pages of this very blog for a good 20 minutes last night as I couldn’t believe that I could’ve never written about this wine before – apparently, I have not. Anyway, I was afraid that it might be the time for this wine, thus it was added to the OTBN group. By the way, another interesting tidbit about this wine is that the name “Kairos” means “timely”, “appropriate”, and “the perfect moment”.

Every good plan A needs plan B, right? The backup. Have you ever went to a friend’s house with a bottle of wine, while another bottle stayed in your car just in case the first one would be corked? Yep, that’s the plan B we are talking about. 2004 Vaucher Pere et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin was my plan B. I don’t have a lot of Burgundies, so opening one is always a special moment. 2004 vintage was so so, with WS88 rating and “drink” recommendation, so this bottle was rightfully on the OTBN list, should the need and opportunity come.

Now you know all about selecting, and I want to say a few more words about sharing. Sharing wine is one of the best pleasures of drinking wine. The approving, understanding nod from the fellow wine lover after he or she is taking the sip from the bottle you brought really fills you up with joy. It might be even more satisfying than your own enjoyment of the same wine. Yet in today’s world, sharing the wine face to face is literally impossible, OTBN or not. To at least share the moment, I reached out to the technology which seemed to save the world from going mad – a virtual get-together over video. Zoom is my tool of choice, so after sending the invites to the group of bloggers, we got together at 7 pm on the OTBN Saturday.

We were not a big group – even in the virtual world, people are busy and have their own plans. But I’m really grateful to everyone who was able to spend that special Saturday time together – some for the whole 2 hours, some for 20-30 minutes, talking about wines, sharing life stories and experiences, and most importantly, having fun. You can scroll through the pictures below, I’m sure you will see some familiar faces.

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So how was my OTBN? In other words, let me tell you more about the wines.

The miracle didn’t happen, and the white wine didn’t become suddenly magical. If I need to describe this 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC in one word, the word would be “strange”. At some moments, it was oxidative and plump. In other moments, it was acidic. It never showed that amazing lemon and honey notes I was expecting. I still have one more bottle, but now I really need to forget it for as long as possible and see if the miracle will happen.

The Hermitage was … superb. First of all, opening it was a breeze – cork was perfectly intact, regular waiter’s corkscrew worked just fine. Drinking this 2008 Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage AOC was a great pleasure – a touch of pepper, a distant hint of a barnyard, round and delicious fruit. The wine was just right – perfectly balanced, round, and smooth. I don’t have a lot of experience with Hermitage, but this wine was clearly one of the best renditions of Syrah I had in a long time. “Elegant” would be the single word descriptor I would use.

The Kairos was the bottle I was concerned about the most. It could’ve been gone by now, especially considering such an eclectic blend of grapes. When I started opening this 2004 Zýmē Kairos Veneto IGT, first I decided to use the regular corkscrew, which worked perfectly fine for the Hermitage. Looking at the way the screw was going in, the cork seemed to be too soft, so I decided that it was the job for Ah-So – I’m glad this decision was not an afterthought I usually have after the cork is already broken in half – Ah-So worked perfectly well and the cork came out with no issues.

And the wine… The wine was magical. Dark fruit with a hint of dried fruit on the palate, perfectly firm and structured, powerful and elegant, with clean acidity and an impeccable balance. The wine was delicious on Saturday, and I also enjoyed that over the next two days. So now I regret not having any more bottles left – but I’m glad I had this special experience. Magical would be the word.

As two bottles of red had no issues whatsoever, the Burgundy was left aside and now will be waiting for its special moment to be opened and enjoyed.

And that, my friends, concludes my OTBN 2021 report. While the sharing was virtual, the experience and pleasure of the wine and the company were real, and it will stay in my memory as yet another great OTBN night. Hope you had fun too. Cheers!

Hey French – Drink Italian

November 12, 2020 Leave a comment

I mean no disrespect.

The title of this post is only suggesting that you should drink Italian wine. A particular Italian wine. And it doesn’t mean that French people should drink Italian wine – even though they will not regret if they will. Everybody can (should?) drink this Italian wine – Hey French.

The Pasqua brothers started Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine winery almost 100 years ago, in 1925 near the town of Verona in Northern Italy. Now with the family’s third generation at the helm, the winery continues and advances its traditions. I came across Pasqua wines for the first time almost 10 years ago – I found Pasqua Amarone at Trader Joe’s in Boston, and it was as good as Amarone under $20 can be. Then I discovered (also at Trader Joe’s) PassimentoSentimento, a tribute to the most famous Italians from Verona – Romeo & Juliet. At the beginning of this year, 2020, I had the pleasure of tasting Pasqua Famiglia Amarone at the Gambero Rosso event in New York. And then I was offered to try a sample of the latest addition to the Pasqua portfolio – maybe even a winner of the longest wine name contest – Hey French. You Could Have Made This Wine But You Didn’t.

This wine is definitely unique. To begin with, the wine is identified as “multi-vintage”, which is not a typical term in the wine world. The standard term is non-vintage, it is typically applied to Champagne and some other sparkling wines. And of course, a typical Champagne is a blend of multiple still wines from multiple vintages – however, it is rare to find a non-vintage still red or white wine. Hey French is deliberately identified as multi-vintage and it takes its inspiration from Champagne (hence Hey French in the wine’s name). The wine is made out of the grapes coming from the 4 best vintages of the decade – 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, from one of the best vineyards in the area, Monte Calvarina, and 3 grapes – primarily Garganega (the grape used for the production of Soave Classico), with the addition of Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc. A total of 18 wines were used to produce Hey French Edizione 1.

How was the wine? In a word, delicious.

Multi-vintage Pasqua Hey French You Could Have Made This Wine But You Didn’t Edizione 1 Veneto Bianco IGP (13.5% ABV, $40, blend of best 4 vintages of last decade)
Intense gold
Vanilla, apples, plums, Chardonnay-like
Fresh, lip-smacking, precise, clean acidity, whitestone fruit, granny smith apples, a hint of nutmeg, a hint of butter, round, plump, herbs, perfectly dry, delicious.
8/8+, superb.

Based on my experience with Pasqua wines so far, the company is accustomed to making bold moves (drinkable Amarone under $20 at Trader Joe’s clearly is a good indicator). This multi-vintage wine should also be categorized as such – $40 still wine without vintage designation with a playful label (designed by the celebrity Cuban-French artist CB Hoyo) might not be an easy sell. Once you try this wine, which is an absolutely solid, world-class wine, you would be happy to drink it again and again, but you know how preconceived notions work with wine…

The bottom line is simple – find this wine and try it. Additionally, offer it to your friends to taste blind, and then watch for the surprise on their faces once you reveal the wine – life’s little pleasures. Cheers!

A Weekend Of Wine Experiences

August 11, 2020 3 comments

What makes the wine experience for you?

If you drink wine pretty much every day, is that every glass an experience? Is that even possible?

The experience should be something memorable, something you can bring up in your thoughts on the moment’s notice. The experience is not always positive – I well remember some bottles I had to pour down the drain – luckily, it doesn’t happen all that often. The experience triggers the emotion – pain or pleasure – and this is what makes us remember.

During our recent Cape Cod visit with the family, in addition to the ocean, flowers, and sunsets, we also had lots of wine. While some wines were good and simple – and not necessarily memorable – some were just at the level of creating a lasting memory. Let me present my case.

I try not to associate the color of the wine with the weather, but fresh and crisp white wine always brightens up a hot summer day better than a big red. Both wines we had were somewhat of an experience. 2018 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley (13.2% ABV) was a reminder for how much I love this wine, which I consider one of the best California Sauvignon Blancs in general – fresh, citrusy, with plenty of the freshly cut grass and vibrant acidity. A sip of such wine makes you say “ahhh”, and immediately go for another.

The second wine was rather an unexpected disappointment – it had nothing really to do with the wine itself, I guess it was a self-inflicted disappointment, but this is how it will be remembered. 2016 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) didn’t offer much anything in the glass. It was a white wine without a sense of place or much in terms of the expected taste profile. It had no obvious faults, just the taste of “some white wine”. Maybe it was supposed to be consumed two years ago (my wife got it as a present from a coworker and then it was forgotten on the bottom shelf of the cellar). Maybe it was in a “sleeper mode” at the moment. No idea, but this was definitely not something I expected from the Duckhorn.

I continue to surprise myself with an inability to find a bad tasting Rosé nowadays. Either something is wrong with my palate, or I don’t drink enough, or everybody simply mastered the art of Rosé to its fullest, but I like every Rosé I have an opportunity to taste. 2018 Etude Rosé Santa Barbara County (13.2% ABV) was excellent, strawberries all the way, both on the nose and the palate, very elegant and round. Etude is a Pinot Noir specialist, so this was a Pinot Noir Rosé. Santa Barbara designation also brought back lots of happy memories of my first Wine Bloggers conference in 2014. The second Rosé, 2017 Baron de Fumes Rosé Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV) was a bit lighter but sharing mostly the same strawberry profile with a bit more acidity – still every drop delicious. This was also a great value at $8.99 at my local wine store – I now have a few bottles in the fridge ready to be open on any hot day.

Time to move to reds – and to elevate the experience.

Everyone’s cellar has bottles that appeared out of nowhere. You know how this works – you host a party, someone walks through the door with a bottle. You say thank you, hastily put a bottle aside as you are rushing to meet another guest. The bottle is never opened as you had enough wine prepared, and after the party, it is just put away and you have no memory you ever saw it. This was my story with the bottle of 2008 Cantine Lonardo Coste Taurasi DOCG (14.5% ABV, 100% Aglianico). I have no memory of how the bottle made it into the wine fridge. I saw this bottle many times looking for the wine to open – as I’m not familiar with this wine and never bothered to research, I would always skip opening it just on the basis of the vintage – too young, next time, too young, next time. This time around, as our family on The Cape loves the Italian wines, I decided that the time has come to open it.

As we arrived Thursday evening, this was the first bottle we opened. Oh my… As soon as the wine made it to the glasses, the aromatics stopped everyone in their tracks. I can’t even describe it. Mature Italian wine at its peak literally gives me shivers. You can’t put down the glass, you don’t want a sip – you just want another smell, and then another one. Succulent cherries, eucalyptus, tobacco, iodine, ocean breeze – the bouquet delivered such an interplay of flavors that you simply forget the time. When you finally decide to take a sip, you are blown away anew – juicy cherries with herbs, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, and impeccable balance – just a divine experience (am I going to far? Can’t tell you. Wish you were there…). Hands down, this wine is an excellent contender for the top wine of 2020, rivaling Soldera experience (Drinkability: 9/9+).

As I had no idea about Coste, I decided to bring a couple of big guns – two of the Christophe Baron wines – No Girls and Cayuse. I knew that I’m committing a crime by opening 3 years old Cayuse – but this was my very first taste of Cayuse wine, after finally making it on the mailing list, so I decided to take my chances. 2010 No Girls Syrah La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.8% ABV) was as good as I expected it to be – a little bit of funk, black fruit, black pepper, full body, good structure and concentration, excellent balance – definitely a very enjoyable wine. 2017 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV), however, was a disappointment. I knew I’m opening the wine prematurely (the one can only hope. I wonder how Sassicaia does it, making their wines perfectly drinkable upon release), but I still expected the wine to come to its senses at least on the second day, and especially with the help of decanter.

The decanter didn’t help, even on the second day. The wine had some amount of fresh crunchy cherries in it, but that was the maximum excitement. The wine never demonstrated the body I would expect from the Washington Syrah, nor the depth of flavor and the textural experience on the palate. Again, this was not a bad wine, just not enjoyable for me. As this was my very first experience with Cayuse, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions – maybe the wine will completely change in a few years, or maybe the wine is just meant to be like this – I anticipate that the wine will need at least another 7-10 years before it will become fully enjoyable, but we will see. And if it just supposed to taste like that, this will be a serious disappointment, especially considering the price of this wine (around $100).

One more wine I want to mention here – 2017 Domaine La Font de Notre Dame Lirac AOC (14.5% ABV, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre). This wine was opened to compensate for the Cayuse not being very drinkable – and this GSM blend didn’t disappoint – perfectly drinkable and enjoyable from the moment the cork was pulled out. Bright fruit, medium to full body, good minerality, and perfect balance. The wine has limited availability, unfortunately, but if you can find it, it should set you back for less than $20 and this can be your perfect every day red for any time of the year.

There you go, my friends. This is how experiences form into the memories. The pleasure of drinking Coste will stay long in the memory – this was one of the most exciting wines this year. The absence of pleasure in my first sip of Cayuse will also become a long-lasting phenomenon. What are your strongest memories associated with wine?

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 1 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!

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