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Hold The Pizza – I Just Want The Wine: Masciarelli Villa Gemma

October 24, 2017 4 comments

At the age of 20, Gianni Masciarelli was helping with the harvest in Champagne. At the age of 26, in 1981, he started making his own wines in the Italian region called Abruzzo. 1984 was the first release of the Villa Gemma Rosso wine, truly a different take on the Montepulciano wines.

Montepulciano is the main grape of Abruzzo (not to be confused with Montepulciano in Tuscany, which is the name of the village where the wines are made from Sangiovese grape). Late in the 20th century, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo became one of the most exported Italian wines – it was dry, it was simple, it was quaffable and, of course, good for pizza.

Masciarelli Villa Gemma wines

Gianni Masciarelli had his own, pioneer view on how the Montepulciano wines should be made. He introduced Guyot training system for the vines in Abruzzo. He was the first to start using French oak barrels in the production of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, showing the world that Montepulciano can go way beyond just a “pizza wine” qualities. Today, Masciarelli estates are run by Marina Cvetic Masciarelli, late wife of Gianni Masciarelli; the vineyards spawn 350 acres and produce about 1.1M bottles of wine across 5 different lines.

Recently, I had an opportunity to taste few of the wines from the Villa Gemma line, and here are my notes:

2016 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Blanco Colline Teatine IGT (13% ABV, $17.99, 80% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, 15% Cococciola, 5% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: touch of fresh grass, hint of white stone fruit, hint of gunflint, medium intensity
P: crisp, refreshing, crunchy, touch of lemon, slightly underripe peaches, very clean, medium finish
V: 8-, craving food, excellent overall. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Cococciola also extended my grape hunting collection

2016 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Cerasuolo D’Abruzzo DOC (13.5% ABV, $14.99, 100% Montepulciano)
C: intense, ripe strawberry pink
N: pure strawberries, fresh, succulent strawberries
P: fresh, tart, restrained, lightweight, clean strawberry profile, good overall balance
V: 8, simply delightful. An excellent Rosé for any time of the year

Masciarelli Villa Gemma wines

2007 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC (14.5% ABV, $89.99, 100% Montepulciano, aged 18-24 months in oak barriques, total 36 months))
C: Dark garnet
N: fresh cherries, anis, mint, blackberries
P: soft, generous, round, fresh acidity, touch of leather, cherries and cherry pit, generous tannins on the finish.
V: 8, excellent wine, unmistakably Italian, supremely delicious.

These wines were absolutely delicious in their own right. I seriously don’t know about pizza – you can probably pair anything with pizza, from two buck chuck to the Screaming Eagle and Petrus – but you really don’t have to. These three wines from Masciarelli Villa Gemma would perfectly complement any dinner – appetizers, salads, and mains – these wines pack a serious amount of pleasure. Don’t take my word for it – try them for yourself. The pizza is entirely optional. Cheers!

Discovering Portuguese Wines, One Winery at a Time – Esporão

June 27, 2017 2 comments

Portuguese wines used to be an oenophile’s best secret. Portugal is rather a small country with very good climate for grape growing, lots of slopes and poor soils to force the roots to go deep in search for nutrition. People in Portugal heavily relying on their own agriculture – very little of the food products are imported, and the wines were for the long time produced mostly for the consumption inside the country. Add here a long and successful winemaking history (thousand years give or take a few) and lots of indigenous grapes (actually, the most of them are), and you have a recipe for excellent wines which are hardly known anywhere.

In today’s global economy, where love to the liquid grapes has no boundaries, it is hard to keep something like this as a secret. All of us, lucky travelers, who manage to visit Portugal and haul the wines back by suitcases and boxes, are obviously only helping for this secret to be … well, much less of a secret. And thus today let me contribute to the secrets-free wine world and talk about Portuguese wines produced by the company called Esporão. (take a look at their website to see beautiful viewcams of the vineyards and olive tree orchards).

Herdade do Esporão boundaries were established in 1267, which definitely gets it in the group of some of the oldest estates in Europe, in the region of Alentejo, about 100 miles southeast of Lisbon. The estate remained virtually unchanged until it was purchased by José Roquette in 1973. It is now run by his son João Roquette, who upholds his father’s winemaking traditions. In 2008, Esporão expanded into the Douro Valley with the purchase of the Quinta dos Murças estate which traces its history back to 1714. Quinta dos Murças vineyards are located on the slopes with the elevations of 262 – 1312 feet above sea level, in the Cima Corgo sub-region which is one of the most coveted in the Douro.

Esporão Quinta dos Murças wines

While I would love to talk about many different wines produced by Esporão, today our focus is on the Esporão wines from Quinta dos Murças. Here is what I had an opportunity to taste:

2016 Quinta dos Murças Assobio White Douro Valley, Portugal (12.5% ABV, $13, 30% Viosinho, 25% Verdelho, 25% Rabigato, 10% Gouveio, 10% Códega do Larinho)
Straw pale. Touch of lemon and white stone fruit on the nose, touch of grapefruit zest, medium+ intensity. Good crispy acidity on the palate with round, almost plump body, touch of green apple. Drinkability: 8-

2015 Quinta dos Murças Assobio Red Douro Valley, Portugal (13.5% ABV, $13, 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 30% Touriga Franca)
Dark garnet, restrained nose, crunchy raspberries, sweet oak undertones, very serious tannins on the palate, French oak, excellent balance, round, very tasty. Drinkability: 8+, best QPR in the tasting

2015 Quinta dos Murças Minas Douro Valley, Portugal (14% ABV, $25, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão)
Dark garnet color, fresh jammy cherries, baking spices, medium intensity, touch of barnyard, restrained palate, tart cherries, good acidity, excellent balance, Drinkability: 8. Added Bonus – new grape, Tinta Francisca

2011 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Douro Valley, Portugal (14% ABV, $45, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barocca, Sousão)
Almost black. Medium intensity, black fruit medley on the nose, eucalyptus, sage, wow – delicious.
Round layered palate, spices, dark fresh fruit, good acidity, outstanding. Drinkability: 9-

Have you tasted Esporão wines? What is your opinion of Portuguese wines? Do you have any favorites? Cheers!

Pleasures of Drinking Local

May 8, 2017 2 comments

I love travel -seeing the world, different cultures, different people, different traditions, and, of course, different food and drinks. Food is given, as we all have to eat, so one way or the other we get to experience local cuisine. But then what I drink is also very important to me, with the same spirit of exploration.

I love drinking local. And, of course, when I say “drinking”, I primarily mean wine. When travel, I always make an effort to find and try local wines. Unknown and obscure? Perfect – the less I know about the wine, the more pleasure it brings. Drinking local wines doesn’t mean I have to visit the wineries. More often than not, my trips don’t include any spare time and any facilities to reach the wineries. But – in many places, and I would even say, in increasingly more places, you can still find local wine at local shops, as long as you willing to look for it.

Templarsky Sklepy St Laurent

It is, of course, the best when you are visiting places where the wine is part of the culture, like most countries in Europe (sorry, never been to Latin America or Australia, but somehow I think I would do fine there as well). If the wine is a part of the culture and tradition, it almost guarantees you authentic wine experiences – and what is very important – without breaking the bank. In the USA, for instance, the wine is still a part of the fashion and not part of the tradition, thus in USA, finding reasonably priced wines is extremely difficult, and finding locally produced and reasonably priced wines is simply a mission impossible. Wait, I didn’t mean for this post to be a rant, so let me get back on track.

This time around, my travel took me to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. I’m sure for many (most?) of people, as soon as they will hear “Czech Republic”, the very next image of the local drink is  – of course – a beer. This makes perfect sense, as Czechs are internationally known for their beer, same as Germany or Belgium, and rightfully so. But – what most of the people don’t know is that Czechs also had been making wines almost forever – okay, starting from approximately the 2nd century – long enough? Czech wine never made it to the levels of fame of French or Italian wines – but that doesn’t decrease the pleasure of drinking Czech wines in any way.

I discovered Czech wines for myself last year, when I had delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris ( you can read about it here). Thus I had no doubts that Czech wine is something I’m going to look for upon arrival.

The hotel I’m staying at is adjacent to the shopping mall, which includes a supermarket, a wine store and some other food stores, all of them selling wines. And mind you – at the prices which make you smile from ear to ear. So far I got the wines from the supermarket, and you will see the prices I paid in the descriptions of the wines, as usual.

I had an easy criterion for selecting the wines. Price – of course, but there was another important requirement  – new grapes. As you can see the grape count in the right column of my blog page, I continue my grape journey, so I’m always on the lookout for the additions to the list. Of course, it is usually not that easy – the name of the grape in the local language might sound new and unique – but once you do the research, you can easily find out that there is nothing new about that grape. For instance, take a look at Rulandské modré – sounds unique, right? Meanwhile, it is only a local name for Pinot Noir. Or Rulandské šedé – must be something indigenous, right? Nope, it is simply the Pinot Gris.

Obviously, that didn’t stop me. I found two new white grapes, and for the red, the name looked so cool (Svatovavřinecké) that  I had to get it, despite the fact that this was the local name for the St. Laurent grape – well, how often do you drink St. Laurent wines anyway?

I started with the red wine, as whites needed some chilling – and 2015 Templářské Sklepy Svatovavřinecké Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5, 100% St. Laurent) didn’t disappoint – light garnet color. Pleasant nose with touch of spices, sage, lavender, tobacco, hint of blueberries. Fresh fruit on the palate, tobacco, pepper, medium body, mouth-watering acidity, light, pleasant. Drinkability: 8-/8, a proof that delicious wine doesn’t have to be a fruit or tannin bomb.

Czech White wines

The whites where new, unique and different. One was made out of the grape called Muškat moravsky, which is a cross between Muscat Ottonel and Prachtraube. The other grape was called Pálava, and it was a cross between Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, first selected in 1953. I’m always a bit concerned with the new white wines (many things can go wrong), but this two were simply a stand out. I guess I was simply lucky. Or may be my palate is cursed. Of well. Here are the notes for the white wines:

2015 Chateau Bzenec Muškat moravsky Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5)
Straw pale color. Perfumy nose, reminiscent of Gewurtztraminer but of a lesser intensity, white peaches, lemon undertones, touch of minerality. Delicious on the palate – succulent fresh whitestone fruit with practically no sweetness, ripe green apple and touch of lemon. Clean, balanced, fresh, excellent acidity. Medium-short finish, pleasure to drink. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8/8+

2015 Vinium Velké Pavlovice Pálava Pozdní Sber Morava Czech Republic (12% ABV, 239 Kč ~ $10)
Light golden color. Very pleasant nose, perfumy, touch of honey, tropical fruit (guava, pineapple), medium intensity. Delicious lip smacking palate – crisp acidity, medium to full body, wine is nicely present, mouth coating, acidity keeps lingering with tart apples underpinning, then some ripe apples showing with addition of white plums. Another excellent wine. Unique and different, perfectly enjoyable on its own, but will play very nicely with the food. Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. When travel, take risk, drink local – your reward will be new experience and lots and lots of pleasure. And if you will not like it – the experience will still be with you. Cheers!

Hudson Valley Escapades

August 25, 2016 1 comment

Clermont WineryLast week I was talking about Fero Vineyards, which was a part of our traditional August getaway in 2015. As I don’t want to wait until 2017 to tell you about our adult’s getaway 2016, let’s talk about it now.

This year we happened to go back to the upstate New York, similar to the trip we took in 2013 when we had an amazing time at the Hudson Distillery. This year, we started our weekend with the lunch at Clermont Vineyards and Winery in Clermont (Germantown), New York.

Clermont Vineyards and Winery was started in 2014 by Tony Trigo, with the vineyards planted about 6 years prior. Before we talk about the wines, we need to talk about breathtaking views you get from the tasting room and surrounding decks. Better yet, let not talk – take a look at these pictures:

View from Clermont winery deck

Vineyards at Clermon winery

View from Clermont Vineyards deckThe winery primarily focuses on a traditional New York varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Seyval Blanc), but as Tony explained to us, last two winters were brutal, with temperatures dropping very low, so he lost about 3/4 of the Chardonnay vines. As the result, he is adding now hybrid varietals such as Aurore and Arandell, which were created specifically to withstand upstate New York winters – particularly Arandell, selected locally at Cornell University, can successfully survive temperatures of -19ºF, which definitely comes in handy. Having Portuguese roots, Claremont Vineyards also imports few of the Portuguese wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Unfortunately, a number of wines at Claremont Vineyards were sold out, so here are the notes for what we were able to try (just for your information, tasting of 5 wines costs $5 per person):

2015 Grambeira White Douro DOC Portugal (blend of Códega do Larinho; Rabigato and Viosinho) – nice, simple, clean, good body and good acidity
2015 Clermont Vineyards Chardonnay Columbia County New York – excellent, good fruit, bright, hint of sweetness
2014 Clermont Vineyards Aurore Columbia County New York – nice, clean, touch of sweetness – a new grape for me!
2014 Clermont Vineyards Arandell Columbia County New York  – Nice touch of sweetness, unusual, strong herbal component. This wine can be polarising, like Norton. The grape itself is selected to sustain cold winters and is also disease resistant – and this is another new grape for the collection
2011 Grambeira Red Douro DOC Portugal (blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, 11 months in oak, 8 months in the bottle) – outstanding, Great density, dark, brooding core of spices.

Grape Leaf with water drops

Grapes in progressAll in all, very nice place with priceless views, so it would worth even a special trip if you’d like. We also had a long and relaxing 2 hours lunch at a big communal table which Tony graciously set up for us (we brought food with us) – if you plan a group outing, Clermont Winery is a great place for it, but make sure to call ahead.

Our next stop was Tousey Winery, about two miles down the road from Clermont Vineyards. We visited the winery back in 2013 and liked many of their wines, so we were definitely excited at the opportunity to taste their new releases. This is where things took a bittersweet turn. We showed up as a large group (16 people), and 8 of us wanted to taste the wines. We were nicely accommodated on the outside porch and were told that the tasting would cost us $5 per person, and we are allowed to taste any 5 wines from the list. The owner was doing the tasting for us, and yes, we asked quite a few questions (which I truly hope should be expected – the conversation with the customers is an integral part of the wine tasting, don’t you think?); I had a feeling that our questions were perceived as annoying (as the owner was not a winemaker – her husband makes wines – some of the questions were probably a bit challenging). One person from our group wanted to taste a few more wines, for which she grudgingly agreed. When the time came to pay, all of a sudden we were told that the tasting was $15 and not $5 anymore, with the reason that we were a group and she had to pour us more than 5 wines (to one person, 3 extra tastings!!). This is not the issue with $15 versus $5, the problem is simply that you can’t treat people like that. When we tried to argue about it, the response was very irritated – as we were all in the vacation mood, nobody wanted to fight over an extra $10, it was easier to pay and just leave.

What the winery owner doesn’t understand that the winery’s tasting room is a hospitality business, and you have to respect your customers – or face the consequences. It is a pity – Tousey makes delicious Chardonnay, very clean, mineral and crisp, Chablis-style; their Pinot Noir is outstanding as well – restrained, smokey, well balanced – but no wines worth the abuse you have to subject yourself to for the pleasure of trying those wines. We will not be back…

Last stop before we went to our Inn was at Hudson Valley Distillers – and what a pleasure it is to talk to the nice and friendly people (see, we humans need so little to be happy). I like how this distillery is describing itself –  “formed by two families sharing a dream“. I like whiskey, thus first thing I wanted to try was their Chancellor’s Imperial Whiskey. I was a bit disappointed to learn that it was produced not from the crushed and fermented barley, but rather by distilling the beer. But the proof is in the pudding, right? Err, the glass, of course.

I like the clever presentation of that malt whiskey, where you get an opportunity to taste the product before and after. To do that, you get a taste of both beer – which is locally produced nearby – and the final malt whiskey, which was excellent – nice touch of sweetness, herbs, soft and round. The Hudson Valley Distillers also produces gin (very tasty), vodka from apples, and plans to start producing their whiskey directly from the malted barley. We also tasted a few of the cocktails which were super delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day. Add here live music (which was, of course, playing right there), and you have a recipe for a perfect summer weekend.

Our next stop was the Inn, and then the dinner – another post is to follow. Cheers!

Expanding My Wine Map

June 18, 2016 6 comments
Czech wine regions. Source: Wikipedia

Czech Republic wine regions. Source: Wikipedia

We all have our own versions of the wine maps. This is how we learn about wine, and this is what makes it easier to understand it. “Oh yes,of course – France makes famous wines. California? Absolutely, yes, very famous. Italy? Bellissimo! Spain? Yes, I had a few of those. Australia? I heard about Yellow Tail, right?”. I’m simplifying, no doubts, but I’m sure the picture I’m presenting here is quite fitting lots of wine consumers (no, I’m not talking about you, wine geeks and bloggers).

My wine map would be a bit wider than that – I’m not bragging, but I seek new and different grapes all the time, and with this you are destined to try the wines from Turkey, Greece, Georgia, Croatia and many, many other not-so-well-known places. Nevertheless, my wine map has also plenty of white spaces, and I’m glad to use any opportunity to fill those up.

Last week the opportunity presented itself in the form of the tasting at my favorite local wine store, Cost Less Wines. I was told to stop by to taste the wines made in the Czech Republic. You see, to me, “wine” and “Czech Republic” in one sentence sounded almost like a misnomer. A while back, I visited the Czech Republic (which was known as Czechoslovakia back then), and I can tell you that beer is the very first thing which comes to mind when I think about the Czech Republic – Pilsner, anyone? Well, but it is a free tasting, so after all – why not?

The first wine which was poured was 2014 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Gris. I have to honestly admit that I became a convert after the very first sip – creamy, medium bodied, clean, well structured, with perfect balance of white fruit and acidity – it was on par with the best Oregon Pinot Gris wines, which is my personal hallmark of quality for the Pinot Gris. With such a great start, I was really eager to listen to the explanations.

It turns out that the wine had been produced in Moravia – this is how the area is called – from the beginning of the last millennium! Moravia is centrally located in Europe, for the Romans to use it as their base – and of course wine was part of the culture for them. Templar Cellars proudly shows 1248 on their label – this is when the actual cellars had been built, and this is where winemaking traditions are taking their roots. The wine, of course, is perfectly modern, but I love the medieval look of the labels and even the bottle design – you can read more about Templar Cellars here.

As you can see on the map above, the wine production in the Czech Republic is concentrated in the area down south – that is the Moravia we were just talking bout. Bohemia, up north, also has a bit of the winemaking activity, but it is of course known as a beer capital. Despite the seemingly unimpressive size of winemaking area in the Czech Republic, do you care to guess how many wineries it has? I will give you a little time to think, but whatever you think, take it higher. Yep, and higher.

What if I would tell you that the Czech Republic has about twice as many wineries as we have in the US, would you believe me? Well, it appears that the Czech Republic has about 18,000 wineries. Yes, many of those are simply “Mom’s and Pop’s” operations, but still, they are the independent wineries. Don’t know about you, but I was duly impressed with what I heard.

I was even more impressed after trying two of the red wines. 2013 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Noir was clearly a cold climate Pinot Noir with juicy cranberries at the core and perfect acidity. It is very different from a Pinot Noir from California or Oregon, much lighter, really crispy and crunchy, but with enough body weight to stand up to a powerful cheese or some spicy fish.

2009 Vino z Czech Ludwig Cabernet Moravia was even more interesting. Cabernet Moravia is its own grape, first created in Moravia (hence the name) in 1975, and it is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Zweigelt. It tasted like a classic Cabernet wine, with cassis, mint and eucalyptus, but also with an oversized herbal component. I actually like this line from the official description: “it incorporates all of Cab Franc’s leafy herbaceousness and Zweigelt’s tart, cranberry flavors in a refreshing wine”. Of course as an extra bonus, I’m adding a new grape to my collection.

There you go, my friends – a new region and new delicious wines. I truly love the endless learning opportunities the world of wine is offering to us. Have you ever had wines from the Czech Republic? What were your recent wine discoveries? Cheers!

500!

August 18, 2015 26 comments

century_club_seal_smallHere we are – another post about stats, right??? Before you click away, can I ask for a minute to explain myself? 500 has nothing to do with views, followers or any other blog statistics, no, not at all. These 500 has a bit more interesting meaning (dare I suggest so). It is actually not even 500 but 517 to be precise (but I think 500 looks cool in the title), and if you didn’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about the grape counter which appears in the right column of this blog, and it is also related to The Wine Century Club.

This post is well overdue – I submitted my Pentavini application back in March (didn’t hear anything yet). I was planning to write a few more posts explaining in greater detail how I finally got to cross the 500 grapes boundary before I would write this very post. One post was supposed to be about a great Hungarian wine tasting last June (2014) where I picked up 5 new grapes – that post never happened, unfortunately.

Finally I gave up on trying to catch up on all the “shoulda, coulda”, and moved right to this post.

When I started the Wine Century Club journey about 8 years ago, I couldn’t even imagine that I will get hooked on it so well; even when I crossed 300 grapes mark, I didn’t see it possible to get to the 500. Nevertheless, here I am, at 517, and I’m sure there will be more.

I know that many of my readers are participating in The Wine Century Club. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, you can find all information here. The Wine Century Club is a free and open “self-guiding” group of “grape enthusiasts” (yes, you call us geeks) – people who obsess themselves with looking for and tasting as many grapes as possible – and of course having fun while doing that.

The grape hunting becomes an obsession when you scour the back label, producer web site and everything else possible on Internet to find information about the grapes used to make that bottle of wine. Once you figure out the grapes (if you are lucky enough to do it for the given wine and given vintage), your job is not done – you still have to figure out if you didn’t have already the same grape under a different name (simple example – Grenache and Garnacha), or may be this is still the same grape, only with a slightly different spelling. Once all the checks pass successfully, you can add the grape to you collection.

Today it is a lot easier to “collect the grapes”, compare to the time when I just started with the Century Club. Information is more readily available, and also there are lots more grapes which were almost extinct, but now reborn, replanted and becoming tasty differentiators for the winemakers. And more often than not, these obscure wines are a pleasure to drink. They often offer surprising depth of flavor and nuances which make this grape journey really a pleasant experience. I had wines made from Pigato, Pugnitello, Coda di Volpe, Bobal, Trepat, Listan Negro and many others, and they were delicious – what else do you need from a bottle of wine?

If you will get hooked on this Wine Century geekiness, you should know that there are some shortcuts you can take. Well, there is one shortcut which is legal – Giribaldi Cento Uve wine from Piedmont in Italy, which is made out of 152 varietals (though 50% of grapes in that wine are Nebbiolo, and the other 51% comprise 151 varietals) – however, you need to have at least the first level (100 grapes) to make this shortcut legal. I did took it, and you can read about it here.

Second shortcut exists, but it is illegal (The Wine Century Club rules prohibit using of it). Another Italian wine, Vino Della Pace Cantina Produttori Cormòns Vino Blanco, is made out of the whopping 855 varietals. This wine is produced from the experimental vineyard called The Vineyard of the World, where all those 855 (or more) varietals are growing together. Most of the information about this wine is available only in Italian, but if interested, search for it by the name, you will be able to find some bits and pieces (here is one reference for you). If you are curious to see the list of grapes, I got it for you here – you can count on your own. I have a bottle of this wine, but as usual, I don’t know what would be the right moment to open it (hopeless, I know).

Last piece of advice in case you will embrace this fun journey or you are already in, but stumbling: pay attention. Yes, pay attention to the back labels and wine descriptions. During recent Provence tasting I found out that there is a grape called Tibouren which is very often used in Provence Rosé – I would guess that I had it before, but never paid attention to. Another example – Turley Petite Sirah Library Vineyard. This particular wine is a treasure trove for the grape hunters. Here are the grapes which can be found in that bottle: Red – Petite Syrah, Peloursin, Cinsault, Syrah, Mission, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir, Carignan, Grenache, and Zinfandel; White – Muscat Alexandria, Muscadelle, Burger, and Green Hungarian. 14 different grapes in one bottle of wine, and many of them are very rare – not bad for a bottle of wine. And by the way, Turley Petite Sirah Library Vineyard is one delicious wine.

In case you might find it helpful, I recently updated the page which contains information about all the grapes I tried for The Wine Century journey, together with the names of the wines which I had. I have to admit that there are still 3 grapes from the original table (the one which I downloaded when I just started with the Wine Century Club) which I still was unable to try – Arvine Grosso, Irsai Oliver and Plavac Mali – they are extremely hard to find in the US. Well, the journey is not over…

What can I leave you with? Go get a bottle of wine made from the grapes which you never had before – there is a good chance you will enjoy it. The grape journey is one of the most fun journeys you can take – let’s drink to the never ending pleasures of discovery! Cheers!

Rare and Beautiful

July 11, 2015 19 comments

Wine Regions of SpainIf you read this blog even on a semi-regular basis, you probably noticed that I’m a sucker for the obscure grapes. So let me just proclaim it in the simple and direct way – I love rare grapes. The more obscure, the lesser known the grape, the better it is.

What I like about rare grapes is a complete mystery in the glass. As the grape is unknown, nothing gets in the way of perceiving it exactly for what and how it is. The closest thing to this experience is a blind tasting, but even then you have some knowledge for what you might be tasting, so instead of been focused on just what is in the glass in front of you, your brain is also trying to place it into some potential brackets, fit it into something familiar – but not in case of the unknown and rare grape. Tasting the unknown grape is an open book without any restrictions – you can write there whatever you want.

In addition to the mystery element, I have to say that most of of my “rare grape” encounters so far were quite pleasant. Of course there were some wines I didn’t care for, but still, the majority were interesting and thought provoking. If anything, my only gripe with the rare grapes is that the respective wines are equally rare – the production is usually very small, and even smaller quantities are imported (for sure in U.S.), which makes those wines very hard to find.

Now you understand that when I was asked if I would be interested to participate in the virtual tasting of rare Spanish grapes, I enthusiastically said “yes, of course!”. I’m a big fun of the Spanish wines in general, and now the rare grapes? That doubles the fun on the spot!

The wines arrived, and then the day of the tasting. The tasting was done in the virtual format, with Lucas Payà presenting over the ustream TV, and all the bloggers and media asking questions through the social media channels (Twitter, primarily). Lucas Payà is a well known figure in the wine industry – particularly, he worked for 5 years as head sommelier for acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, and he was definitely a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Spain’s lesser known wine regions and rare grapes.  I will not be trying to recite here an hour long presentation – if you have a bit of time, the recording is available here. Instead, I will give you my thoughts and tasting notes on the 8 excellent wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Here we go:

2014 Baron de Ley Rioja White (12% ABV, SRP $10.99, 90% Viura, 10% Malvasia) – out of 123,000 acres of vineyards in Rioja, less than 10% is planted with white grapes (11,000 acres), so it is given that white Rioja wines are rare. This wine was simple and well quaffable.
C: pale straw
N: touch of the candied fruit, white peach, expressive
P: intense fresh white fruit, good acidity, short finish
V: dangerous wine, too easy to drink 7+

2013 A Coroa Godello Valdeorras DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $23, 100% Godello) – Valdeorras region is located in Galicia, and it is a part of so called Green Spain – a territory with wet and cool climate. Godello grape was nearly extinct with only 400 vines remaining in 1980. Today Godello is starting to compete with Albariño in popularity, and it is capable of a great depth of expression.
C: light yellow
N: white stone fruit, touch of vanilla, spices
P: fresh, light white fruit, lemon, grapefruit, clean
V: good, 7/7+, finish is a bit sweet

2013 Raventós i Blanc Silencis Xarel-lo Penedes DO (12% ABV, SRP $21, 100% Xarel-lo) – Penedes region is best known for its sparkling wines, Cava, and Raventós is the oldest producer of Cava. Xarel-lo, difficult to pronounce grape (listen to it here), is one of the main components of Cava, but increasingly it is bottled as a dry still wine, and I would say it is  worth seeking.
C: light straw, almost invisible
N: hazelnut, vanilla, touch of tropical fruit
P: creamy, intense, plump, green apple, good acidity, reach
V: 8-

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2013 Guímaro Tinto Ribeira Sacra DO (13% ABV, SRP $18, 100% Mencía) – Ribeira Sacra is another region classified as Green Spain (cool and wet), and this is second region focused on the indigenous Spanish grape called Mencía. The first region is Bierzo, where Mencía makes powerful, concentrated reds. Here in Ribeira Sacra, Mencía shows totally different, with the emphasis on fresh, fruity profile.
C: garnet red
N: bright, fresh fruit, gamay-like
P: beautiful! Pepper, dark fruit, touch of smokiness, earthy, bright, delicious
V: 8-

2013 Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes Valle de la Orotava DO Tenerife (Canary Islands) (13% ABV, $22, blend of Listán Negro, Tintilla) – Canary Islands, and Tenerife in particular, have a lot of unique climatic zones – and unique grapes. The two grapes used in production of this wine – Listán Negro and Tintilla – are the new grapes for me, adding up to the count. The volcanic soil influence is spectacular, and this wine is a treat for any wine geek.
C: ruby red
N: smoke, mushrooms, forest, dark intensity
P: smoke, forest floor, campfire, spice, beautiful
V: 8

2012 Bodegas Margón Pricum Primeur Tierra de León DO (13.5% ABV, SRP $28, 100% Prieto Picudo) – another indigenous grape, Prieto Picudo, coming from the vineyards which are 60  – 100 years old. Truly special wine, definitely worth seeking.
C: dark garnet red
N: slightly vegetative, touch of plums, earthy, unusual, chocolate
P: texture, velvety, silky, good dark fruit, very round
V: 8, excellent

2012 Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva Viños de Madrid DO (15% ABV, SRP $25, blend of Garnacha, small quantities of Albillo, Macabeo) – Garnacha is definitely not a rare grape in Spain, but here it has yet a different expression compare to Priorat or Borsao. The grapes for this wine come from the 40 – 80 years old vineyards, and the wine itself is a perfect rendition of Garnacha.
C: bright garnet red
N: dark chocolate, fruit, open, nice, touch of blueberries
P: dark chocolate, good acidity, good fruit, clean and excellent
V: 8, excellent

Lustau Palo Cortado Península Jerez (19% ABV, SRP $22, 100% Palomino Fino) – Sherry (Jerez) is grossly under-appreciated wine as a category, which allows wine aficionados to enjoy unique taste without having to spend a fortune.
C: dark golden yellow
N: mint, herbs, caramel, hazelnuts
P: perfectly balanced, touch of salinity and expressive acidity, begging for some aged cheese
V: 8-

There you have it, my friends – a unique experience of the rare grapes and regions, and beautiful wines which I would be happy to drink every day. Are you familiar with any of these wines, grapes or regions? When presented with an opportunity to try the new and unknown grape, would you gladly go for it, or would you ask for Pinot Noir instead? Comment away! Cheers!

Top Highlights From Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2015

March 18, 2015 5 comments

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri logoAt this point, you most likely already read a number of reviews from Gambero Rosso 2015 (here are the links for the John and Stefano posts, the two that I know of), so it will be difficult for me to add much there. Considering that lots of hard work is already done by the others, I will take an easy path and this year will limit my post only to the 10 (or so) of the personal highlights. But before we will get to those, a couple of notes.

First of all, just in case you didn’t read the other posts and in case you are not familiar with Tre Bicchieri, let me explain what Tre Bicchieri is all about. In 1986, an Italian food Italian Colorsand wine magazine was created under the name of Gambero Rosso (in translation from Italian it simply means “red shrimp”, and it comes after the name of the tavern in Pinocchio). Starting in 2002, the magazine introduced the rating of the Italian wines using the symbol of glasses (Bicchieri), with 3 glasses (Tre Bicchieri) being the highest rating. This rating proved to be successful and demanded, and since then the Gambero Rosso created a special event, called Tre Bicchieri, to celebrate all those best wine Italy has to offer. Tre Bicchieri events take place around the globe, and the event I attended was in New York (it was the third Tre Bicchieri event I attended in the past 3 years, all in New York).

For the next note, here comes the rant. Yes, Tre Bicchieri is a great event which gives an opportunity to taste some of the best Italian wines. But in terms of the overall organization, this is one of the worst wine tastings I ever attended. I have two major problems with the event. Just so you understand the size of the event – there were 185 producers showing between 1 and 3 wines each, which would roughly equate to 350 wines. First problem is that all the producers were not organized by the region. And they were not organized alphabetically by the producer, oh no, that would be too logical, right? Instead, the tables were arranged in the alphabetical order of the … distributors! So the wine from Tuscany stands next to the wine from Sicily. What makes it even worse is that the numbering of the tables is not straightforward, so the table #142 can be next to the table #50; to make matters even more interesting, some of the distributors who pour the wine, don’t have enough people to cover all the separate tables, so some of the tables had been simply “pulled in” to have #122 to be nested between #42 and #43 – makes it easy to find, eh?

This story was the same for the past 3 years I attended the event – but I still can’t get used to it and still find it very annoying.

The second problem was probably even more annoying, and for all I remember, it is getting worse, year after year. The problem can be expressed with one word (okay, two) – wine glasses. Puzzled? Let me elaborate. When you arrive to the event and show your registration, you get a little piece of paper, which is your coupon for the wine glass (! only at Gambero Rosso!). You come to the counter and exchange your coupon for the glass. All is good so far. Now, you start tasting, which means that white, red and even dessert wines get to be poured into the same glass – after 50 – 60 pours, the glass has traces of wine all over it, inside and outside, and what you can do at the regular wine tasting is to put your glass aside and go get a fresh glass. Makes sense, right? But not at the Tre Bicchieri. They bring best wines of Italy for a special tasting – but they can’t procure enough glasses for the people who would want to get a fresh glass to be able to do so. Believe me – I tried, was almost screamed at. I don’t remember having this problem 2 years ago; I was able to get a clean glass with the organizers intervention last year, but this year – no, was told to go away by the multiple people. Of course I appreciate been invited to the event where you can taste the best Italian wines, yes, for free – but I just think that organizers must make an effort to match the level of the wines with the overall level of the event.

Okay, I vented, so it is the end of the rant. Now let’s talk about the wines.

As you tell from the title, I want to mention here only the highlights. Before we talk about those, a few general notes.

  1. No, I didn’t taste all 350+ wines. May be someone did, but no, that was not me.
  2. There were lots and lots of truly spectacular wines, as you would expect at an event like Tre Bicchieri, where only the best wines are presented. But don’t assume that I found all wines to be spectacular. Some were just good, some were just okay, and a few I regarded in my personal notes as “terrible”. Taste is personal, and that’s okay.
  3. I want to reiterate it again – while there were lots of wines and wineries worth mentioning, I’m purposefully limiting this post only by 10 – they might not be all around the best, but they were the most memorable. Oh yes, these are not the wines – these are rather 10 wineries – yep, guilty as charged.
  4. As usual in the overwhelming tastings like this, I’m using the “plus” ratings. “+++” should stand for Excellent, but trust me, I had more than a fair share of “++++” spectacular.

Okay, now we are ready – here we go.

I want to start with one of my favorite wines which I was very happy to find at the Tre Bicchieri event – Podere Il Carnasciale Caberlot from Tuscany. This wine is made out of unique, “self-created” but officially recognized grape called Caberlot, which came to being as a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. First time I tasted this wine was 2 years ago, and it was a love at first sight, errr, taste. The wine is produced in minuscule quantities and only made in magnums – and needless to say, very hard to find. We tasted the following wines:

2012 Poderel Il Carnasciale Carnasciale, Tuscany – +++. excellent, old world style
2010 Poderel Il Carnasciale Caberlot, Tuscany – ++++, wow! classic Bordeaux blend, spectacular taste profile
2011 Poderel Il Carnasciale Caberlot, Tuscany – ++++, similar to the 2010, only with more tannins

There were lots of other great wines coming from Tuscany ( just think about all the super-Tuscans), so I had to limit myself in what to include in this post. Here is one more winery where  I was literally blown away by the quality – Azienda Agricola I Luoghi:

2010 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Campo al Fico, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, wow!
2011 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Ritorti, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, beautiful, clean
2011 Azienda Agricola I Luoghi Fuori Solco, Bolgheri Superiore – ++++, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, wow!, precision!

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Moving from Tuscany up north to Piedmont, Michele Chiarlo was perfectly representative of the area. Yes, there were other Barolo present in the tasting, but some were boring, and some where plain undrinkable due to the tannin attack (not just attack, a juggernaut rather). This wine was just perfect.

2010 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio, Piedmont – ++++, outstanding, clean, lavender, herbs

Continuing to explore the Northern Italy, we are now moving to Trentino, where we can find one of my favorite Italian Sparkling wines, Ferrari. While Ferrari wines are very hard to find in US, they are well worth seeking. Ferrari had 3 wines presented at the Tre Bicchieri, one better than another:

2004 Ferrari Trento Brut Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore – ++++, spectacular, notes of fresh dough, bread, yeast
2006 Ferrari Trento Brut Lunelli Riserva – ++++, very unique sparkling wine, undergoing maturation process in the oak casks, silky smooth palate
2007 Ferrari Trento Brut Perlé – ++++, beautiful!

Representing Campania, a few delicious wines. First, a beautiful white:

2013 Pietracupa Fiano di Avelino, Campania – ++++, fresh fruit on the nose, perfect palate with lemon and tart apples

And then the red and the white from the Fattoria Alois:

2011 Fattoria Alois Trebulanum Casavecchia, Campania – +++, rare grape, powerful tannins
2013 Fattoria Alois Pallagrello Bianco Caiati, Campania – +++, nice, acidic, clean, with some oily notes, unique and different. Plus, a new grape – Pallagrello Bianco.

A few wines from Puglia:

2012 Torrevento Castel del Monte Rosso Bolonero, Puglia – +++-|, fruity, open, beautiful ripe raspberries
2012 Torrevento Primitivo di Manduria Ghenos, Puglia – +++-|, playful, notes of tobacco and cedar

and

2012 Tenute Eméra Sud del Sud Salento IGT – +++, very good, soft approachable, reminiscent of Gamay, chocolate mocha notes
2013 Tenute Eméra Qu.ale Salento IGT – ++++, spectacular, great palate – not only this wine was outstanding, it was also a part of the very interesting project called Wine Democracy, which is all about making great affordable wines for the people and taking care of our little planet. Great cause, great wine.

Now, I need to mention another one of my favorite Italian producers – Jermann. Jermann wines represent Friuli Venezia Giulia, and I think these are some of the most thought-provoking Italian wines you can find. And as a side benefit, many of Jermann wines will age extremely well.

2012 Jermann W…. Dreams…. Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – +++-|, spectacular, Chablis nose, light palate
2012 Jermann Vintage Tunina Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – ++++, complex, delicious
2013 Jermann Pinot Grigio, Friuli Venezia Giulia IGT – +++

We are already at 9, and there are yet a few more wines I have to mention.  I guess I’m really bad at math and self-control. Oh well, I hope you are still with me – here are few more wines, wineries and regions.

A very interesting wine from Lazio:

2012 Principe Pallavicini Casa Romana Rosso Lazio IGT – ++++, outstanding claret, perfectly classic

And then an excellent wine from Veneto. Of course Veneto is best known for its Amarone. And those who can’t afford Amarone, should settle for the Valpolicella, often made from the same set of grapes (Corvina/Molinara etc.). I generally not a big fun of Valpolicella, as I hadn’t been successful in finding the Valpolicella wines which would speak to me. Until now.

2012 Musella Valpolicella Superopre DOCG – ++++, simple, clean, with dried fruit on the palate, excellent! Wine is produced biodynamically, and probably the most amazing part is cost, at about  €5! For the price, this is simply a stunning wine.

I would feel bad if I wouldn’t have at least one wine to mention from Sicily, where volcanic soils produce unique minerally-driven wines.

2013 Cantine Rallo Beleda Alcamo Catarratto, Sicily – ++++, spectacular, touch of sweetness, full body

And we are going to finish with some sparkling wines from Emilia-Romagna. There were lots of sparkling wines at the tasting, and many of them were outstanding. However, these wines really stood apart for me, as they were produced from the grape which generally commands  very little respect – Lambrusco, and they were pretty much on par with any classic Champagne.

2013 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Sorbara Rimosso, Emilia-Romagna – +++, excellent, fresh, crisp
2010 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Brut Rosé, Emilia-Romagna – ++++, classic Champagne nose
2010 Cantina Della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Brut, Emilia-Romagna – +++, excellent!

Yep, this is the end of my report. As I said before, this is only a small excerpt from a great selection of spectacular wines – but I have to draw the line somewhere. I’m curious in your opinion if you had any of these wines. Cheers!

Valentine’s Day Wine Experiences

February 19, 2015 13 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grenache! Grenache? Grenache!, Few Rare Grapes and a Recipe

January 27, 2015 20 comments

Grenache tastingWhat’s up with Grenache? One of the most planted grapes in the world, a star of Spain, and often a foundation of greatness in the wines of Australia, France, California and Washington. A grape with the range of expression from light, fruity and frivolous to the dark, firm, brooding and confident. Yep, Grenache is well worth an oenophile’s attention. And a special wine dinner.

The theme was set, and then the dinner’s day arrived. This time around, we were a small group (6 adults), so we decided to skip the usual formal blind tasting with the multiple glasses, and instead simply integrate the tasting (still blind) into the format of the dinner. Each couple brought a bottle of Grenache wine, wrapped in  paper bag. The wines were numbered at random and then poured one by one. All in all, quite simple.

But before we got to the Grenache, I wanted to share two special bottles. Don’t get all jumpy at the word “special” – it means different things for different people. Your idea of special bottle might be Chateau Latour, Penfolds Grange or Amarone from Quintarelly – well, if you want to share any of those with me, I’m available any day of the week. However, my idea of special is often limited to something simply unique and different, such as “rare grapes”, for instance – an opportunity to add to my grape count and reach the coveted Wine Century Pentavini (500 grapes).

Along these lines, the first “special” was the white wine from Spain, which was made mostly from Roussanne, but also contained the grape called Albillo2011 Navaherreros Blanco de Bernabeleva Vinos de Madrid DO (14.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Roussanne, Albillo, Macabeo and other varieties) had beautiful golden color, inviting nose of white fruit, touch of vanilla. Full bodied, creamy, luscious on the palate, touch of earthiness and baking spices, touch of vanilla, good acidity. (Drinkability: 8). This was definitely a delicious way to start the evening.

The next wine was Rosé. It was not just some generic Rosé – it was actually made form the grape which is practically impossible to find, at least in US – and it was on my “target” list for the very, very long time. Just to explain – if you will look at the original Wine Century Club application, you will find 186 grapes listed there, so we can consider those 186 to be a mainstream. In that list, there are still 6 grapes which I never tasted. Well, let me take that back – now there are 5.

There is a good chance that you heard of or even tasted the wine called Picpoul de Pinet, a light, crisp white wine from Rhone made from the grape called Picpoul Blanc. Picpoul Blanc has a cousin, a red grape called Picpoul Noir, which is literally impossible to find. During one of my countless searches online, I found that Picpoul Noir Rosé was available in one (!) single store in US in San Francisco – and luckily, I had a friend there who was kind enough to get it for me. Here is what I thought of the Rosé made out of this super-rare grape: 2013 Julie Benau Pink Poul Rosé Vin de France (12.5% ABV, $17, 100% Picpoul Noir) – restrained nose with a hint of strawberries. The same restrained profile continues on the palate – limited fruit expression, medium to full body, good acidity, food friendly. (Drinkability: 7+)

Okay, now we can finally talk Grenache, which I mentioned 3 times in the title of this post, right? I think when it comes to the range of expression among 7-10 most widely known red grapes, Grenache offer the most versatility, competing may be only with Syrah. From over the top dark chocolate, tar and sweet cherries to the soft, earthy and even acidic, Grenache can showcase quite a range of winemaking styles and terroirs. Thinking more about our tasting, it served exactly as a confirmation to this statement.

The first Grenache we had was that exact over the top style – dark, concentrated, firm, loaded with sweet pleasure in every sip. The second Grenache couldn’t be more different than what we experienced – smoke, mushrooms, forest floor, earthiness, herbs – a restrained beauty which I would never even think of as Grenache – but it was. And the last bottle was all too shy and closed at the beginning, showing again differently from the first two – but as it opened up, it became a younger brother of the first wine – same traits, only dialed down. The 3 bottles we chose completely at random managed to demonstrate that tremendous Grenache range. When we removed brown bags, we learned that we traveled from Spain to Washington and then to France – a very interesting journey.

Here are a bit more formal notes for the the wines, in the tasting order:

2007 Vinyes Doménech Teixar Garnatxa Vella Montsant DO, Spain (14.5% ABV, $75) – Delicious! Dark chocolate on the nose, very intense, ripe red fruit. The same continues on the palate – firm texture, dark chocolate, touch of plums, earthiness, perfect balance and long finish. 8+/9-

2008 No Girls Grenache La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.2% ABV, $65) – very interesting. Both nose and the palate show a profile of concentrated Oregon Pinot Noir. Smokey fruit, earthiness, very concentrated, touch of coffee, licorice, raspberries, sage and lavender. Very unique. 8

2012 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $16) – closed nose, similarly closed palate. Opened up after a while, just enough to show some dark fruit (plums, cherries) and a touch of chocolate on the palate. 7+

Okay, enough about wines. Now, this was a dinner, and I promised you the recipe, remember? The dish I made, and the recipe I would like to share will perfectly pair with the cold weather, and it is one of the ultimate comfort dishes ever – braised short ribs. Starting from the ease of cooking and the simplicity of the recipe, and then admiring the goodness of the smell during the long, slow cooking – this is definitely one of the ways to properly spell the word comfort.

Braised short ribs

Doesn’t it say “comfort”?

Here is the recipe:

Braised Short Ribs

Prep time: about 1 hour. Cooking time: 4-5 hours

Yield: 10 servings of two ribs each

8-10 lb beef short ribs – I don’t go specifically by the weight – I generally like to cook considering 2 ribs per person

1 bottle of red wine – Pinot Noir or Beaujolais

5 medium yellow onions

8 sticks of celery

4 large carrots

BBQ/Grilling spices – I use Penzeys spices

4 tbsp Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Serve with: mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.

First of all, decide on what spices you want to use. I generally combine different Penzeys spices, but really – feel free to use anything you have:

Penzey spices

Next, take the meat out of the fridge and line it up on the prepping board, then sprinkle with the spices on both sides, add salt and pepper as needed:

Let meat warm up to the room temperature. Preheat over to 325ºF. While the meat is warming up, you can start working on your “trifecta”. Dice the onions and start sauteing them in the skillet or dutch oven with 2 tbsp of olive oil on the medium heat. Dice carrots and celery. Once onions become soft and translucent and then start gaining color (usually takes about 20 minutes), add carrots and celery and sauté all together for another 10 minutes, then set aside.

roasted carrots, onions, celeryNow, put remaining olive oil into the dutch oven, and heat it up to the high heat. Start searing the short ribs, meaty side down first. You might have to work in the batches, as you want all of the ribs to be nicely seared on both sides:

Roasted short ribsOnce all the ribs are seared, combine them all in the dutch oven, then add the onions, carrots and celery:

short ribs are doneAdd a bottle of wine, cover, put it in the oven and forget it for the next 4-5 hours (you really don’t want to rush this process). When done, you probably will find something like this:

short ribs are doneAs you can imagine, hearty Grenache is a perfect pairing for such a hearty, homey dish – but of course this shouldn’t be your only choice.

Here we are, my friends. A few rare grapes, an amazing range of Grenache wines, and winter-storm-alleviating-ultimately-comforting dish. Stay warm and drink well. Cheers!