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500! Now Official

February 1, 2016 28 comments

As many of you know, I got the bug of The Wine Century Club for the endless quest to try wines made from as many different grapes as possible  – yes, you can call me a grape geek, I don’t have an issue with that.

Back in August of last year I wrote a post about reaching the 500 grapes milestone and submitting my application for Pentavini level at The Wine Century club. Two days ago, I got a suspiciously promising envelope in the mail, and there it was:

The Wine Century Club Pentavini CertificateWell, it is nice to get an acknowledgement for your geekiness in the form of this cool paper; it also reinforces desire to continue the quest. You can see my grape count in the right column of this blog page – yes, I got a long way to go to get to the next level, but it is a fun journey. At this point, The Wine Century Club doesn’t have a designation for the 600 grapes level – but it doesn’t make the process any less fun.

To look at things seriously, this is nothing more than a form of an adult fun, just another way to collect the experiences. There is no need to congratulate with this achievement, really. But I will be happy to be a source of encouragement for all the grape aficionados out there; if you want to leave comment, tell me about your own journey in the Wine Century Club quest, no matter how many grapes you tried so far. Grape geeks, rejoice! 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!

Valentine’s Day Wine Experiences

February 19, 2015 15 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

 

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