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The Art of Tempranillo

May 24, 2018 7 comments

Source: Vintae.com

I love Tempranillo wines. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I had a wide range of Tempranillo – with the exception of Australia, I believe I tried most of the major renditions – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Toro, most everywhere else in Spain, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington (am I missing something? do tell!). With all the love and respect to all the regions, if I have to put an order of priorities in that “list”, I would put Rioja first, Ribera del Duero very close second, but the competition for the 3rd place would be severe – in my world, of course.

I like wines of Toro, the closest sibling to the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but it would be hard for me to place them higher than some of the beautiful Tempranillo renditions from Irwin Family Vineyards, Duchman, or Fields – considering the Toro wines I had in the past. Compared to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Toro is … well, maybe I need to explain why I keep mentioning Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro together all the time. These are the only three regions in the world where the absolute majority of the red wines is made out of the Tempranillo grapes. Yes, there are Garnacha and Graciano in Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Ribera del Duero, but still – most of the red wines in these three regions are made out of the Tempranillo, hence the constant comparison.

Out of the three regions, Toro is south-most one, with an expressly continental climate, low annual rainfall amounts, and significant range of day-night temperatures – which typically translates well into the flavor. Tempranillo is the grape of Toro, but similarly to Tuscany/Brunello, where you have Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso, Tempranillo in Toro is known as Tinta de Toro, a.k.a Tempranillo de Castilla, a.k.a. Ink of Toro. The grape is a bit smaller, with thicker skin, which coupled with growing conditions typically results, in massive, concentrated wines requiring extensive aging to become drinkable – I still have a memory of trying Alabaster made by Sierra Cantabria, one of the well-known producers in Toro, which was one of the most massive wines I ever experienced. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning, Tempranillo is one of the favorites, so when the opportunity called to try 3 wines from Toro, I was definitely curious – and a bit cautious at the same time.

To ease things up, together with the 3 Toro wines from Bodega Matsu came a bottle of Rioja Reserva from Bodega Classica. While coming from unrelated producers, there is a common link between them – this link is called Vintae – a young company with a serious passion for the Spanish wine for the modern world. Vintae, started in 1999 by the Arambarri family, set on changing world’s perception of the Spanish wine as “boring”. To the date, Vintae unifies a collection of 11 different “projects”, all focused on showcasing the regions and the grapes.

Going back to the wines at hand, let’s talk about Rioja first. The wine comes from Bodega Classica, located in the heart of Rioja Alta. Rioja Alta offers a unique high-altitude setting to produce arguably the best Tempranillo of the whole of Rioja region. Couple that with more than 100 years old vineyards, and you are looking at some tasty opportunities in the bottle, as this Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva was. Here are my notes:

2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva DOCa (13.5% ABV, $16.99, 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, 20 months in French and American oak)
Dark garnet color
Pepper, vanilla, raspberries, mushrooms, nice minerality
Medium body, good acidity, noticeable alcohol burn initially, went away in about 15 minutes, good fruit showed up, characteristic cedar notes, good acidity, round, soft.
8-, nice, just give it a bit of time to soften up at the beginning. The second day continued without changes. Good life expectancy, as expected of Rioja Reserva. And an excellent QPR.

Now, let’s go back to Toro. As I already said, in my prior experience, Toro wines were massive and concentrated, requiring long aging to soften and really show a beautiful expression of Tempranillo. And then there were wines called Matsu.

Bodega Matsu wines

Matsu in means “wait” in Japanese. As we all know, waiting is one of the favorite games of oenophiles. When it comes to the three Matsu wines I had an opportunity to taste, there are many different levels of “waiting”. The wines had been progressively aged for the longer times before the release – 3 months for El Picaro, 14 months for El Recio, 16 months for El Viejo. The grapes were harvested from the vines of different age (again, progressively) – 50-70 years old for El Picaro, 90-100 years old for El Recio, more than 100 years old for El Viejo. See, waiting here is clearly a part of the equation.

And then there are those ultra-creative labels. Not only labels commemorate people who actually worked to create the wines, they clearly identify what you should expect from the wines – in age, in style, and even in price. I conducted a little experiment, first with my kids, and then with the people on Instagram, asking them to identify the most expensive wine – nobody made a mistake, the labels speak very clearly to us.

How were the wines? Surprising. Probably the best Toro wines I ever had – without any regard to the pricing category. Here are my notes, so you can see for yourself:

2016 Bodega Matsu El Picaro Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $13.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 50 – 70 years old vines, 3 months minimum aging on the lees, concrete tanks)
Bright ruby color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation
Young fresh berries, medium+ intensity, a touch of vanilla
Surprisingly light on the palate, pleasant tannins, fresh berries, very quaffable.
8-, might be the lightest rendition of Toro I ever had. The smell is a bit more complex on the second day. Palate nicely evolved, good balance, raspberries, no more impression of the young wine, lots of minerality.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Recio Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $21.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 90 – 100 years old vines, 14 months aging in second use oak barrels)
Garnet color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation too
Sage, fresh raspberries, quite fruity, roasted notes, minerality, distant hint of cinnamon
Underripe plums, blueberries, thyme, nice herbal component, surprisingly light, still noticeable alcohol, needs more time
8-, needs time. Second day: 8/8+, velvety texture, well integrated, excellent balance, a touch of tobacco and espresso on the palate and ripe plums. Outstanding.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Viejo Toro DO (15% ABV, $46.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 100+ years old vines, 16 months in new French oak barrels)
Garnet Color, noticeable legs, rim variation is not extensive, but present
Sweet blueberries and raspberries on the nose, sage, sweet oak
8- first day, waiting for more.
Second day: 8, much evolved, more integrated, velvety texture, dark fruit, round, smooth. Will evolve further.

Here you are, my friends – the Art of Wine, from the label to the glass. Very impressive and thought-provoking wines, definitely worth seeking. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had Toro wines before? Do you have any Tempranillo favorites? Cheers!

Sequel in Reverse – More About Wines of Southwest France

May 18, 2018 3 comments

What’s up with the “sequel in reverse”, you ask? Easy. All we need to do is flip the timeline. This post is a continuation of the previous post about wines of Southwest France – however, the tasting I want to share with you took place almost 6 months ago, at the end of the last year 2017, hence the “reverse” notion.

Outside of the sequence of the events, the two tastings are perfectly aligned – they are both squarely dedicated to the wines of one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world – Southwest France.

I can’t explain why, but I feel that I need to make a confession. If you look through the pages of this blog – and there are a few here – I’m sure you will come to a conclusion that I primarily drink wines from California, Spain, and Italy, with an occasional sprinkle of everything else. And you will not be wrong. However, truth be told, my true love to wine started from French wines. I read the most about French wine and French wine regions. I was obsessed with trying to find an amazing Bordeaux for less than $10. Côtes du Rhône wines were a staple at the house. I spent countless hours in the France aisles of the wine stores (luckily, I was working in a close proximity of the Bottle King in New Jersey), looking for the next great experience with the wines from the Loire, Rhône, Bordeaux, Chablis, and others. French wines were “it” – unquestionably, a sacred territory. As the time was going by, and Bordeaux and Burgundy prices were going up faster than the weeds growing after the rain, the French wines moved mostly into a category of a rare encounter.

Wines of Southwest France

Last December was not the first time I participated in the virtual tasting about the French wines – but somehow, when I opened the box with these wines, something warm and fuzzy came over, and my first reaction was “ahh, I really, really want to drink these wines!”. There is nothing special about this particular set – no big names (I don’t believe Southwest France has much of “big names” anyway), no flashy, ultra-modern labels – and nevertheless, there was a promise of a great time in their simplicity and authenticity. These wines also perfectly played to my other “wine obsession” – the love to obscure and lesser-known wines, so altogether, I took a great pleasure in anticipation of the tasting.

As this was a virtual tasting, I had both the wines and time at my disposal, so unlike the previous post, here are my detailed notes in the usual format:

2016 Chateau Laulerie Bergerac AOC (12% ABV, $12, 85% Sayvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon)
C: Light gold
N: beautiful, fresh, medium+ intesnsity, honeysuckle, white flowers, peach
P: fresh, crisp, excelllent lemony acidity, white stone fruit, restrained
V: 8-, delicious, will be great with food and without, great QPR

2015 Domaine Elian Da Ros Abouriou Côtes du Marmandais AOC (12% ABV, $23.99, 90% Abouriou, 10% Merlot)
C: dark ruby
N: freshly chrushed berries, leafy notes, cherries, anis
P: ripe plums, sweet tobacco, eucalyptus, medium long sweet tobacco finish
V: 8-, would love to try it with an actual cigar. Needs a bit of time. And a new grape – Abouriou

2015 Domaine du Cros Marcillac AOP (12.5% ABV, $15.99, 100% Fer Servadou)
C: Ruby
N: earthy notes, mint, some medicinal notes (iodine?)
P: beautiful fresh pepper on the palate, tobacco, cherries – that pepper is delicious, love the wines like that
V: 8/8+, delicious, excellent QPR

2014 Château Lamartine Prestige du Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, $17.99, 100% Cot (Malbec))
C: dark garnet
N: vegetative, tobacco, a touch of cherries
P: bright acidity, dark fruit, tart cherries and cherry pit, noticeable tannins.
V: 8-, pleasant, will work great with the steak, but needs time

2011 Château Bouscassé Grand Vin de Madiran (14.5% ABV, $17.95, 60% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, forest floor, a touch of eucalyptus,
P: initial tannins attach, pepper, dark round fruit, excellent extraction, layers of flavor, firm structure
V: 8+, outstanding, powerful, balanced, needs time!

The Southwest France wines are a treasure trove for the wine lovers – they capitalize on tremendous history, experience, unique terroir and unique grapes, offering oenophiles lots of pleasure in every sip. Look for the wines of Southwest France – and you can thank me later.

From Lodi And Provence, With Love

May 12, 2018 3 comments

Provence RoséWe drink wine because it gives us pleasure. Yes, it is that simple (and I didn’t come up with this – I learned it from Kevin Zraly, maybe the best wine educator in the world). We are looking for pure and simple sensual pleasure in every sip of that white, pink or red colored liquid in the glass, and, of course, it makes us happy when we find it.

When it comes to giving pleasure, I have to state that Rosé has an unfair advantage. We start drinking with our eyes, and while white and red have to compete for our attention with creative labels or sometimes even bottle shapes, Rosé takes a lot more simplistic approach – it just stands in front of us – naked. Clear bottle, nothing to hide – here I am, and I know I’m beautiful, so yes, do look at me and feel free to admire.

I don’t know if colors have universal meaning around the world – for instance, red is typically associated with danger or daring in the Western world – and red is the color of luck in China. So the pink color is usually associated with love and happiness in the Western world, and this is why the bottle of Rosé is so good at driving our emotions, no matter what shade of pink it actually boasts.

Acceptance, appreciation, and demand for Rosé stand at all times high today – and it continues climbing to the new “high” every year. Rosé still has a stigma of “summer wine”, but this is slowly changing as people start recognizing how much pleasure every sip of good Rosé packs, and how versatile it is with food – I would dare to say that in its food pairing versatility, it can well compete with Champagne, which is very hard to beat in its pairing range of cuisines from traditional Chinese to fiery Indian, sublime French, or big and bold Texas BBQ.

Today, Rosé is made everywhere – literally everywhere in the world. It is hard to find a winery which didn’t add Rosé to its repertoire. But before Rosé became so fashionable, there was Provence. More than 90% of the wines made in Provence are Rosé, and then they’ve been practicing for about thousand years, so Rosé is really a way of life in Provence, which is easy to see once you take a sip from the glass. I might surprise you with a choice of a close contender to the dominance of Provence – and they are not at all if you will think about the production volume – but when it comes to the taste, Rosé from Lodi in California will easily give Provence a run for the money.

Just look at these colors! Don’t they scream “pleasure”? The Provence Rosé in this picture is only for the color reference purpose, was not part of the tasting

Ever since visiting Lodi in 2016 for the Wine Bloggers Conference, I use every opportunity to confess my love to the region. Lodi might be one of the best-kept secrets in California wine. While a lot of wineries and regions are contemplating their approach to sustainability, Lodi grape growers already developed so-called Lodi Rules (now being analyzed and copied in many regions) for sustainable viticulture, and they have the certification program in place to ascertain that rules don’t just stay theoretical. What starts in the vineyards, continues in the wineries, and the result is simply better wines.

Most of the times Lodi is associated with Zinfandel. Of course, Zinfandel is one of the best known and important grapes in Lodi, but on a big scale, Lodi is a home of the Mediterranean grape varieties – Albarino, Grenache Blanc, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo and many others, made into delicious, perfectly restrained wines. Lodi goes beyond just the grapes – we need to talk ancient grapes here. lodi is home to some of the oldest in the world plantings of Carignan and Cinsaut (Cinsault), original Mediterranean varieties, also planted on its own rootstock (phylloxera doesn’t survive in Lodi’s sandy soils). Definitely another level – and should be a subject of a separate post.

I had a pleasure of tasting 5 different Rosé for this post – two from Lodi and 3 from Provence. One of the Lodi Rosé is coming from Markus Bokisch, truly a master of Spanish (yes, Mediterranean) grape varieties. Second Lodi wine is produced by Estate Crush from ancient vines Cinsaut, from 130 years old vineyard. Provence wines are coming from two estates owned by Provence Rosé Group – two wines from the Château de Berne, the estate tracing its origins back to the 12th century. The last Provence Rosé is from the Ultimate Provence, the experimental estate which combines traditional Provence with urban design. Before we talk about the wines, just look at those Provence bottles – each one is practically the work of art, uniquely appealing beyond just the color.

Here are my notes:

2017 Bokisch Bokisch Vineyards Terra Alta Vineyard Rosado Clements Hill – Lodi (13.6% ABV, $18, 80& Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo)
Beautiful salmon pink color, very delicate
Fresh tart strawberries on the nose, medium intensity, touch of Meyer lemon
Strawberries all the way on the palate, the wine is definitely more present on the palate than any from Provence, a touch of sweetness, medium body, good acidity, very good balance. Refreshing and quaffable. Sweetness significantly subsided on the second day. Outstanding.
Drinkability: 8-, will be perfect with any spicy food.

2016 Estate Crush Rosé of Cinsaut Bechthold Vineyard Lodi (12.5% ABV, $21, 100% Cinsaut, 130 years old vineyard)
Bright strawberry pink
Strawberries and caramel on the nose, even the toffee flavor, sweet condensed milk. Caramel and toffee are mostly gone after first swirl and sip 😦
Nicely restrained palate, a touch of strawberry with very high lemon acidity and Long, acidity-driven finish – I keep salivating for about 30 seconds already. This will compete neck in neck with any Provence wine
Drinkability: 8, excellent. This wine also perfectly passes room temperature test.

2017 Château de Berne Emotion Côtes de Provence AOP (13% ABV, $16, 50% Grenache Noir, 25% Cinsault, 25% Syrah)
Light salmon pink/onion peel
Strawberries on the nose, ripe strawberries on the palate, excellent balance, clean, fresh, easy to drink.
Drinkability: 8, excellent, delicious from the get go (as one would expect from Rosé). Was also excellent with food!

2017 Château de Berne Inspiration Côtes de Provence AOP (13% ABV, $19.99, 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Cinsault, 10% Syrah)
Salmon pink
Delicate nose, lemon notes, minerality, a touch of funk
Pretty rough edges on the palate initially, interesting vegetative undertones.
Drinkability: 7+, might be a food wine.
3 days later, the palate is better integrated, clean and balanced. Totally unexpected. Drinkability: 8-/8

2017 Ultimate Provence Urban Provence Côtes de Provence AOP (12.5% ABV, $22.99, 45% Grenache Noir, 35% Cinsault, 15% Syrah, 5% Rolle)
Delicate light baby pink
Complex nose, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, a touch of flowers, a cheese note (light, disappeared after some breathing time)
Clean, bright, fresh palate, strawberries and strawberry compote, crisp acidity, very refreshing – but all the fruit quicky fading, and the wine doesn’t appear balanced.
Drinkability: 7+, unique and unusual nose. Palate might be too dry after all.
3 days later – 8-/8, round, strawberries and raspberries with white stone fruit undertones, clean, totally different level of pleasure. Another surprise.

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Here you are, my friends – 5 very interesting Rosé to brighten up any day, summer, winter, holiday, and not.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, so you still have time to surprise Mom with your good taste in wine. And if you are a mom reading this – Happy Mother’s Day to you and thank you for everything you do!

 

 

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars

May 11, 2018 1 comment

Wine and passion are indelible. Yes, wine is a business for the most parts, but making a bottle of wine which someone else is desiring to drink is a labor of love, and every such bottle has a bit of the winemaker’s soul invested in it (feel free to call me melodramatic). Thus I’m always happy to talk to the winemakers, trying to understand what moves them, what drives them to do what they do. A lot of my conversations are virtual, and you can find most of them on this blog.

Many of interviews are truly random in terms of profiling the wineries and winemakers. However, about 2 years ago, with a prompt and help of Carl Giavanti, I started a series of posts called Stories of Passion and Pinot, which are dedicated (so far, at least) to the winemakers in Oregon, producing Pinot Noir wines. Winemakers are always passionate about what they do and the grapes they use – but it seems to me that Pinot Noir, being a difficult grape it is, really asking for a special dedication to allow itself to be tamed – hence the name for the series.

My latest addition to the series is a conversation with Tony Rynders, the proprietor and winemaker at the Tendril Wine Cellars, a young winery in Willamette Valley in  Oregon (the winery officially started 10 years ago, in 2008). While the winery is young, Tony is an accomplished winemaker, who started making wine back in 1989, honed his craft at the wineries around the world, including 10 years as a head winemaker at Domaine Serene, one of the best-known wineries in Oregon.

When Tendril Cellars started, it owned no vineyards, which essentially gave Tony a flexibility to bring the best fruit from the Oregon vineyards he was already familiar with. To my surprise, Tendril Cellars only offers one single-vineyard bottling in their line of  5 different Pinot Noir wines – but you will find an explanation below. In 2013, Tendril Cellars planted a 19 acres Maverick vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton district with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – the vineyard already producing the fruit which is going into the Tendril Cellar’s second line of wines, Child’s Play (a creative name for the wine, don’t you think?).

Tony 5 Courses instruction 2

Tony Rynders leading five course tasting

Tony calls his approach to winemaking “low and slow” – letting the nature to do its work. He is also aging all of his Pinot Noir wines for 16-17 months, which I find particularly appealing. And then, how many winemakers do you know who run organized tastings for their customers? That is what Tony does, presenting his wines as a “5-course meal” and explaining the concept of terroir to the wine consumers (after tasting Tendril wines, Tony’s approach to the tasting makes perfect sense to me – but we will discuss it in the next post).

After learning a bit about Tony and Tendril Cellars, I decided that the time came to sit down (yes, virtually) with Tony and ask him a few questions. Here is what transpired.

[TaV]: You started making wine for others in 1989. Was there something which prompted you to start making your own wines in 2010, a pivotal moment, or you simply decided that it is time to make wines “my way”?

[TR]: I have had several opportunities making wine since I began in 1989.  Each one has contributed in some way to influence my approach to making wine.  I can tell you that I am a much different winemaker today than I was when I started.  I think it is critical that we continue to evolve and adapt as the climate, consumers, and wine preferences change.

In fact, I started my own brand, Tendril, in 2008.  I was just coming off a 10-year stint as head winemaker at Domaine Serene.  It was a highly formative period in my career as there was a massive shift toward new, estate vineyards during my tenure. The creative “heavy lifting” took place largely during my watch.  I accomplished everything I set out to and more.  It was time for my next big challenge…creating a portfolio of wines for my own brands from scratch.  And tell a story about Pinot Noir in a way that it had not yet been told.

[TaV]: You worked at the wineries around the world. Are there any winemakers you would consider your mentors, either directly or indirectly?

[TR]: There is one fact in winemaking that I completely embrace: There is no way to learn it all…I will never stop learning, growing and evolving.   Every winemaker I have worked with has mentored me, including but not limited to, Rollin Soles, Ken Wright, Co Dinn, Jean-Francois Pellet and David Forsyth.

[TaV]: Can you explain your “low and slow” approach to the winemaking?

[TR]: Just like the “slow food” movement, I use top quality ingredients (grapes) from attentive, engaged farmers (vineyards) with whom I have a very close relationship.  I have hand chosen each of our vineyards myself and each brings a distinctive flavor profile (like spices) in order to make our signature “five-course meal” of Pinot Noir.

For all the Tendril wines, I over-vintage the wines in barrel (at least 16 months) and then bottle age 12 months or more prior to release.  The wines are then at the front end of their drinkability curve, with the potential for a decade enjoyment ahead of them.

[TaV]: I find it interesting that in your range of Pinot Noir you have only one vineyard-designated bottling – I always think that designated vineyards and even specific plots are better identify with quality of the grapes and the resulting wines – obviously you don’t see it like that?

[TR]: While I love to make single vineyard wines, I find that not every site is able to produce balanced, compelling and complete wines every year.  And that, simply put, is my goal as a winemaker.  So this is how the unique story and line-up of wines for Tendril was born.  When I started Tendril, I knew that I wanted to do something different with my portfolio of wines.  And it took 6 years to complete the lineup (Extrovert 2008, TightRope 2009, Single Vineyard (Guadalupe) 2011, C-Note 2011, Pretender 2013).

The common model that exists for Pinot Noir is the single vineyard model.  Wineries make 5-15 (or more) single vineyard wines in a given vintage.  The problem is that not all of the sites deliver on their promise of distinctiveness every year.  The true test is a horizontal tasting in which all of the wines are evaluated blind.  In a given year, some wines are great, some under deliver and some taste quite similar in a given line-up.  This is not consistent with my goal.

So, I created my own, unique model for Pinot Noir.  Each of my wines is distinctive and complete.  Collectively, they show a progression of flavors that mirrors the progression of dishes in a five-course meal.  My wines gain in intensity, darker fruit character and structure as the “courses” progress.  And each of the wines must re-qualify for their place in the lineup each and every year.

I believe single vineyard wines should be special.  Since all wineries charge more money for them, I think they should be worth it.  So we typically do just one offering per year that is, simply put, the “wine of the cellar” from just one site.  As I had anticipated, it has proven to be rotational (4 vineyards in 7 vintages).  It is like a Christmas present in that you don’t know what it is until you open it.

Tendril Cellars Pinot Noir

[TaV]: Your C-Note Pinot Noir is designated as “whole cluster fermented” – is that a substantial differentiator to make it the “top of the line” wine, or is there something else behind it?

[TR]: Of the Pinot Noir line-up, the C-Note is the most stylized wine yet at the same time requires the greatest amount of restraint.  Whole cluster fermentation of Pinot Noir is a technique that I have only attempted since 2011.  The was the first year I made a wine using 100% whole cluster…and it was so successful that it became our first C-Note bottling.

For C-Note, we use 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Whole Cluster fermentation, and age in 100% new French Oak barrels (air dried 3 + years).  The restraint comes into play in order to reign in the “whole clustery-ness” and tame the oak impact to mimic a wine with half the new oak exposure.  We are extremely gentle with our cap management to control the whole cluster notes and we select the most subtle, elegant barrels coupled with long aging to integrate the oak flavors.  C-Note is all about complexity, texture and mind-blowing length.  I love making wines that surprise and beguile.

[TaV]: You are one of the very few winemakers who conduct organized tastings. Can you explain what you are trying to showcase with your 5-course Pinot Noir approach?

[TR]: Yes, I believe the best way to showcase these wines and share this unique experience is to do seated tastings.  Like a five-course meal, our tasting take time (typically an hour and a half or more).  But people leave here feeling that that have experienced something truly special…and that is pretty rare.  They are shocked that they enjoyed each and every wine they tasted.

I began working in restaurants at a young age.  I cooked for several years and really enjoyed it.  A few years after I started making wines, I realized that I was using the exact same skill set to make wine that I used to cook.  I am truly a “wine cook” and make wine with that sensibility.

I wanted to showcase a diverse range of flavor profiles that can be accomplished on an annual basis with Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley.  Each offering is distinctive, unique and impeccably balanced.  Collectively, they showcase perhaps the greatest range of flavors and textures of Pinot Noir under one brand.

[TaV]: To follow on the previous question, how receptive are your customers (typically) to what you are presenting in the tasting? Do they get your point? Do you offer people to taste the wines blind and to try to identify what they are tasting?

[TR]: The beautiful thing about the “five-course meal” context of our tasting is that EVERYBODY can relate to that experience.  People completely get it and they really get into it.  The wines show a progression of flavors just like a multi-course meal.  They also increase in intensity much like turning up the volume on a radio.

At this stage, the tastings are not blind and are tasted one at a time.  And I don’t have the ability to pair food at this time.  But we have done the “five-course meal” here at the winery a few times. It was a huge success.

[TaV]: Maybe an odd-ball question here – wine is an adult beverage, and nevertheless, you called your line of wines “Child’s Play” (I personally like it very much, especially the labels). Do you think wine consumers might find this controversial? Did anyone ever comment on this wine name?

[TR]: I am a huge fan of the “double entendre”.  Here it is actually triple.  1) My kids playing…my two daughters paintings are the original artwork for all the labels 2) We winemakers are big kids and we get to “play” with offering unique wines (the Pinot Chardonnay is the only still version of Chardonnay and white Pinot Noir in the country…to my knowledge), Zinfandel from WA (a unicorn wine), and a stylistically different Rose of Pinot Noir.  The Pinot Noir is just damn good. 3) Child’s Play implies it’s easy…so easy a kid could do it.  We are taking the pretension out of wine with the packaging and the wines inside.  Great value for money…as it should be.

My customers love it.  The only objection came from the Feds…and a simple paragraph explaining point 3) above got us our label approval.

[TaV]: This one is more of the pet peeve question for me. Your Tendril wines are enclosed with the corks (makes me very happy to see it). The Child’s Play line uses screwtops, so obviously the screwtop idea is not foreign to you. I know that some winemakers in Oregon swear by alternative closures (like Don Hagge at Vidon with the glass stopper), but I personally think that the wine needs a cork to age properly. What is your take on this subject?

[TR]: While I like the idea of cork, the execution of the closure has haunted me for my entire career.  Corks are highly variable in both their flavor impact on the wines as well as the oxygen permeability.  Each one is unique and has an unintended impact on my wine.  I believe natural corks are a huge problem and as such, I no longer use them.  But I do gladly use a cork product in my Tendril wines (looks like a duck and quacks like a duck) that provides consistency of density and very low aromatic impact.  I would be happy to talk to you about this topic some time.  I have researched it for years.

Screw caps are new to me, but I love them in the Child’s Play line to further differentiate the brand from Tendril.  I think the MSRP $30 price point avoids any potential push back on the choice of closure.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are so popular nowadays, almost everyone is making them, and often with very good results. Considering your experience at Argyle, should we expect to see Tendril sparkling wine at some point in the future?

[TR]: Maybe…but I will wait until we have a great sparkling wine vintage (cool and slow ripening) to make that decision.  If you asked my wife (who is a sparkling junkie), the answer would be yes.

I would only do it if it could have the potential to be a truly special offering.

Maverick Vineyard

Maverick Vineyard

[TaV]: What is in the store for your new Maverick vineyard? How are you planning to farm it – sustainable, organic, biodynamic? Out of 19 acres, you have 10.5 allocated for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – what about the rest? Any plans to expand beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – let’s say, Pinot Gris, Riesling, etc?

[TR]: At this time, Maverick is LIVE.  We plan to move towards organic over the next few years.  It is an incredibly well behaved site that is already producing strong personality wines.  I view this as a highly desirable trait for a young vineyard.  The Chardonnay for the Pinot Chardonnay (70% of the blend) is all Maverick.  This is the first bottled wine coming from Maverick.

No plans for other varietals at this time.  But the clonal mix for the Pinot Noir (943, Swan, Calera and Mt. Eden) is pretty unusual.

[TaV]: Oregon is clearly a leader in Pinot Noir, considered by many as simply the best in the world, and it is also getting to the same level of recognition with the Chardonnays. What is ahead for the Oregon wine industry? Is the future bright and sunny, or do you see any clouds on the horizon?

[TR]: To me, the only constant is change.  By that I mean that to continue to succeed as an industry, we need to be engaged (both locally and on a world stage), we need to be adaptive (as our climate continues to change, we are in for more and different challenges), and we need to be more concerned about the sustainability of our environment (both locally and throughout the world).

I believe we will have sun and clouds…and perhaps some rain.   Just the weather we always have in Oregon 😉

[TaV]: When you are not drinking Tendril wines, what are your favorites from the other producers and/or regions?

[TR]: Lately I have been enjoying Graham-Beck sparkling wine from South Africa.

Or give me a good single malt Scotch…

Here we are, my friends. I’m sure you are thirsty at this point, but we will talk about Tendril Cellars wines in the next post.

To be continued…

 

An Evening With Friends – In Singapore

April 6, 2018 10 comments

For years I had been following the Oz’s Travels blog, commenting from time to time on the great wine (and food) experiences described there. Over these years, we built a virtual friendship with Oz (Anthony), the author of that blog, with one recurrent theme “one day you will make it to Singapore, and then…”. As amazing as the life is, that “one day” actually happened about two months ago when my business travel finally brought me to Singapore.

Maybe you saw my very excited post about Gardens of Singapore – but the evening before I experienced all the gardens, I was able to meet, shake hands, and share a few (okay, more than a few) bottles with Oz and his friends.

Oz picked me up from the hotel with his friend Rob and we proceeded to the restaurant, where another Oz’s friend (also Rob), was already waiting for us. Then, there was food, wine, and scotch – but let’s take it all in steps.

First, the restaurant – newly open Garang Grill (a sequel to the already successful Garang Grill at another location). The restaurant allows guests to bring their own alcohol, which we took an advantage of – while restaurant provided glasses and decanters. During the course of our dinner, I  had an opportunity to experience a variety of creative dishes. Skewers of sauteed foie gras were melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Luncheon meat fries (yes! talk about creative!)  were superb with delicious dipping sauce. I since made the same dish at home and everyone loved it. Crab rillette, steak – everything was delicious and tasty. Here is an account of our dinner – in pictures.

And then there was wine. What I love about Oz’s parties is the abundance of wine, and not just any wine, but nicely aged wine – and you know how much I admire the wine with a little (or not so little) age on it. Here is what went down:

1996 André Beaufort Champagne Grand Cru Ambonnay. Never had it and never heard of André Beaufort Champagne before. Meanwhile, this happens to be one of the oldest all-organic grape growers in Champagne. This 1996 was disgorged in 2014. The wine had great acidity, green apples, still perfect fizz, candied apples with a hint of cinnamon showing on the nose. Yeast showed up later. Excellent. That was a real treat.

2008 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling Clare Valley. Australian Riesling is not a simple wine. I remember trying young Australian Rieslings many years ago, and putting them into the category of “I never want to drink this again”. It takes a bit of time to understand the beauty of the wine devoid of any sweetness and instead offering in-your-face acidity and minerality. But once you turn the corner, this becomes the style you crave. This particular wine at hand was, in many ways, an encounter with the legend. You see, Clare Valley is one of the best regions for Australian Riesling. Polish Hill is one of the very best vineyards. And Jeffrey Grosset is a legendary producer, one of the best winemakers in the world. Now you add a bit of age, say, 10 years – and you almost get heaven on Earth – petrol on the nose, restrained palate, minerality through the roof, great acidity, just a pure delight in every sip.

1994 Bodegas Beronia Rioja Reserva. Behind damaged label was an excellent wine – still fresh, good fruit, good acidity, excellent. Still has time to evolve. Based on the color also still young – just starts showing age.

2005 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. This was my contribution to our lineup. Jordan needs no introduction to the Cabernet Sauvignon wine lovers. This wine was very good, typical California Cab. The wine had an interesting amount of sweetness, more than I expected – as it showed no age, I would assume it still needs more time to evolve. I have one more bottle from the same vintage – will have to wait with that one for a bit.

2008 Standish Wine Company El Standito Proyecto Garnacha Tintorera Yecla DO. This is a Spanish wine, of course – produced by Standish Wines from Australia. Yecla is the best known for their Monastrell wines – this wine, however, was made from the grape called Garnacha Tintorera, which is also known as Alicante Bouschet, which can produce massive, dense wines. This wine was no exception – excellent, restrained, good balance, good fruit, good acidity – and still in need 0f at least another 20 years to evolve.

2005 Dr. Loosen Erdner Prälat Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. You can’t finish such an evening without a dessert wine, can’t you? 13 years old Auslese by Dr. Losen – need I say more? The wine was amazing, great balance, a touch of candied plum, great acidity, fresh, simply superb.

This was the end of our dinner, but not the end of our evening. A short taxi ride took us to the unassuming building (well, it was dark, so maybe it is not as unassuming during the day) which happened to be a Rendezvous Hotel, one of the oldest in Singapore. After taking a flight of stairs up, we entered the room where my jaw literally hit the floor. The “room” was called The Auld Alliance – the scotch and whiskey bar (primarily) with more than 1,600 (!) different whiskeys available to taste and purchase. I never saw anything like that in my life, and the selection there was simply beyond words:

In addition to many whiskeys available by the glass, The Auld Association also offers a number of tasting flights – I had the one called “Smoke around the world” and it was definitely fun (I hope you don’t expect my tasting notes after 18 hours of non-stop travel and prior dinner with all the wines).

So this is my account of an amazing evening in Singapore. It was definitely a pleasure meeting Oz and his friends, and the whole evening was simply beyond expectations. Cheers!

Wine News and Updates From Around The World

April 1, 2018 18 comments

I’m happy to live during the times when wine is getting more and more popular – at least if you look at the wineries popping up all over the place, everywhere in the world, new wines coming out from the places where grapes were never planted before, and winemakers everywhere experimenting with new grapes, new tools (when did ceramic egg became “the thing”, huh?), and new styles (bourbon barrel-aged wine, anyone)? There is a tremendous amount of information available to the wine lovers everywhere, so I wanted to bring to your attention some of the latest news and developments in the world of wine which I found the most interesting.

There seems to be quite a bit of research pointing to the health benefits of the moderate wine consumption. More often than not, the health benefit is attributed to the red wine, not so much to the white, Rosé or Champagne. And then we also heard a famous story about Marilyn Monroe taking a Champagne bath (it supposedly took 350 bottles to fill the bathtub). What’s the connection, you ask?  Based on the research conducted at Dartmouth University, it appears that Marilyn Monroe was onto something – the Champagne, with its high acidity and tiny persistent bubbles, has a great refreshing effect on the skin, so the 30 minutes bath is highly beneficial and rival most of the known skin rejuvenation treatments in its efficiency. Moving from theory to the practice, Veuve Cliquot, the leading Champagne producer, teamed up with Elizabeth Arden, leading American cosmetics and skin care company, to start offering Champagne treatments at select Red Door spa locations. The price is set for $10,000 for the 30 minutes, and the first 6 months of the appointments were booked within first 30 minutes of the initial offering. First trials at the spa showed excellent results and produced many happy clients. The only challenge? Someone has to constantly watch over the clients and remind them to drink Champagne only from the glass in the hand instead of taking the “deep dives” with their mouth open. Otherwise, the offering had been extremely successful and Veuve Cliquot is even considering to start offering treatments using  La Grand Dame, but the pricing had not been unveiled yet.

There are no limits to the winemaking innovations today – aging wines in ceramic eggs and old bourbon barrels, mixing wine and coffee, filtering wines with the beer hops – bare mention of any of these would make winemakers and wine lovers cringe merely 10 years ago – but it is the norm today. Taking winemaking innovation to the next level, BrewDog out of the UK, the legendary producer of the world’s strongest beer (Tactical Nuclear Penguin clocks whooping 32% ABV), teamed up with the Australian winemaking legend, Penfolds, to produce the world’s strongest wine. The wine, called Penge Royal, uses the production methods of the Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Penfold’s flagship wine, Penfolds Grange. After aging the wine for 3 years in the old Scotch barrels, it then spends 60 days at the -32°C, and at the end of that period, reaches 70% ABV, beating most of the Absinthe on the market. It seems that the wine nicely preserves the flavor profile of Grange, but packs a substantial punch – as you would expect. The wine initially will only be available at the select markets in Australia and the UK, with the prices set at $5,000 per bottle. There were only 10 cases of 375 ml bottles produced, and they were all sold out immediately upon the offering. Would love to taste the Penge Royal one day, but getting one would not be easy.

I’m sure you heard about the so-called AI – Artificial Intelligence, and the robots, which will replace humans in pretty much everything we, humans, do. Going beyond the robot bartenders turns out that winemaking is also not immune to the automation and robot’s onslaught. The research team at Oxford University was working for the past two years on creating a robot which will be able to inspect the vineyards and decide on the day of the harvest, make all the decisions at the winery (how long fermentation should take, what strain of yeast to use, how and for how long to age wine, and also how to blend the final product). The project ran into an unexpected issue of many (if not most) of the winemakers not willing to share their knowledge, or even deliberately providing wrong information (no, you can’t wait until -10°C to harvest the Cabernet Sauvignon). Also, first results of blending by the winemaking robot were rather disastrous, with the resulting wine been completely not drinkable, not deserving even to be called a “plonk”. Hopefully the situation will change for the better, and the scientist will be able to make some progress, but for now, we will have to continue trusting humans to have a drinkable wine on the table.

If you are a serious wine enthusiast, I’m sure you run into this dilemma an uncounted number of time – I’m going to the dinner, should I wear a perfume? The perfume would interfere with the smell of wine and get in the way of truly appreciating it, both for oneself and for the people around us, right? The designers at Chanel, a leading French fashion house, set out to help all of us, oenophiles, to solve this dilemma and let us feel good about ourselves while going to a party while not disrupting the sensual pleasures of wine. Chanel’s designers created a new line of perfume specifically for the wine lovers, called W by Coco. The 3 years of experiments and hard work which went into the creation of W by Coco resulted in the perfume which offers a refreshing scent of the perfectly balanced wine, helping you to greatly accentuate aromas of the wine you are about to taste. All the Bordeaux First Growth producers supported the research, and as the result, the W by Coco line includes five different fragrances, one for each of the first growth Chateaux – Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion and Château Mouton Rothschild. The fragrances available exclusively at Chanel boutiques in Paris, New York, Singapore and Tokyo and will cost wine lovers $450 for 30 ml. Reportedly, Château d’Yquem, Petrus, and Screaming Eagle all lined up to be included into the second release of the W by Coco line, but the date for the second release had not been confirmed yet.

Capitalizing on the popularity of the wine, literally every self-respecting brand is involved in the wine business, whether it is private label wines, special releases or simply store-branded lines of products – I’m sure you all had Kirkland wines, Trader Joe’s wines, Wine Farmer line at Whole Foods and more – never mind wine retailers such as Total Wines who offers thousands of private label wines in their “Winery Direct” program. Yes, we all know that and are usually not surprised by those private label wines. However, Walmart, the largest in the world retailer of discounted goods, managed to surprise everyone (and I meant it), by unveiling their partnership with none less than Old Rip Van Winkle, the producer of the most thought-after bourbon in the world. It appears that two of the iconic American companies joined forces to offer whiskey aficionados two new bourbons – Old Rip Wal Winkle 10 years old and Wal Winkle Special Reserve. The pricing and availability will be announced later, but it is expected that both whiskeys will appear in Walmart stores in the USA only at the beginning of 2019. Walmart shoppers and whiskey lovers, rejoice!

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: The Beauty of Aged Wine

March 30, 2018 3 comments

Many wine critics and professionals alike insist that majority of the wines should be drunk while young, and only a few, less than 5% of all the wines produced, can be successfully aged. Well, I can’t speak about the percentages here – I’m a wine consumer, not a wine statistician – but I do like the majority of my wines aged.

Why do people age the wines? There are many reasons. Collectors age wines because they might (and many definitely will, if you pick right) increase in price. Well, that is not the type of wine aging which is worth our attention here, so let’s leave it aside. Many people age wine because they have a special memory attached to those bottles – birth year, memory of the trip, given by a special friend, signed by the winemaker – the OTBN was invented specifically for those people (I’m one of “those people” too, never sure if the moment is already right, or if it can become “righter”). And then there are those who believe that the wine might will improve with age, and therefore, willing to put some bottles aside and wait for the right moment, which we often refer to as “wine at its peak”.

When we finally open that aged bottle of wine, we enjoy it more often than not. There are many reasons and many ways in which we enjoy that aged wine – some of those are purely related to the taste, which we expect to change for the better; some of those reasons are purely emotional. Drinking 50 your old wine at your 50th birthday is definitely a moving experience – the wine might not be perfect, but hey, it is as old you are, give it some respect! Drinking the wine brought from the trip to Italy 20 years ago is guaranteed to send you down the memory lane, letting you re-live those special moments and recreate its pleasure. The wine might not even taste that great (yeah, I knew I should’ve spent another $50), but who cares – those were the times! But the best of all is when, after the aging, we actually get to drink the wine which evolved and got to its peak.

Very often we praise the aged wine for how youthful it tastes (it is especially true of the wines under the screwtop, which pretty much don’t age at all while closed). Assuming the wine was tasty from the very beginning, this is great and deserves full respect, but this is not really what we want when we are tasting the aged wine. We are looking for the next level of taste, for the wine at its peak, for the wine which evolved. We want the wine to deliver a truly special tasting experience, we are looking for the whole bouquet instead of just individual aromas, we are looking for the interplay of complexity which young wine can rarely offer. We are looking for the wine which can possibly become a life-changing experience. We are looking for the wine which can be pondered at, which can stop the conversation and just let the wine lovers be.

A few days ago, a friend was coming over, and it was right before her birthday. Of course, when someone is coming to the house for a dinner, my worry is always to have the right wine for the occasion. So I asked my wife what year our friend was born, and when I heard “1986”, my immediate thought was – “hmmm, I think I have a bottle”. Memory served me right, and the desired bottle was retrieved.

So the bottle at hand was 1986 Chateau Cordeillan-Bages Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV, $54.97). After inspecting the cork, I decided to try the regular corkscrew first, before getting out the two-prong opener. It actually worked fine, as you can see. Next was the sigh of relief after a quick sniff – no sign of any faults, and off the wine went into the decanter, both to avoid the sediment and to add to the aesthetics (the wine simply looks grander in the decanter, isn’t it?).

Once in the glass, the first sniff simply extorted the “OMG”. The complexity of the aromas was mind-boggling. Rutherford dust, smoke, roasted meat, cassis, minerality, baking spices, graphite, an incredible bouquet. The palate showed soft dark fruit, clean acidity, fresh, vibrant, graphite, well-integrated tannins, pencil shavings, all with the super-sexy, velvety texture. The 32 years old wine – incredible, and it was a conversation stopper. (Drinkability: 9+).

Trying to understand how and where I got this bottle, I figured that I have to thank PJWine, one of my favorite wine stores in New York, for that. The wine is produced at the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, a tiny property of only 5 acres in Pauillac, planted with 80% of Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% of Merlot. The property is owned by the Cazes family of the Chateau Lynch-Bages fame (5th growth in the 1855 classification), and it also hosts a 2 Michelin star restaurant and a Relais & Chateaux hotel. The Chateau Coreillan-Bages wine is typically only offered at the restaurant, but the Cazes family decided to make a library release to the public, and PJWine buyers were at the right time in the right place – the rest was a history.

Here you are, my friends – a beautiful wine and a special experience. Do you have the aged wine stories of your own? Share them below. Cheers!

One on One With Winemakers: Tasting The Stars

January 14, 2018 2 comments

“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” – whether Dom Perignon said these words or not is not really important – but if you thought that we will be talking about the Champagne, you got it right! Also, plural mention of “winemakers” in the title is not a mistake – today’s “one on one” post is actually a double-feature.

The story of Duval-Leroy Champagne goes almost 160 years back, to 1859, when Edouard Leroy, wine négociant, met Jules Duval, grape grower – the rest is a history which you can read for yourself here. Today Duval-Leroy farms 200 hectares (about 500 acres) of vines, mostly in Premier and Grand Cru appellations, also using sustainable viticulture – Duval-Leroy is known as a pioneer of the sustainable grapegrowing in Champagne.

In 1785, “Heidsieck & Cie” company was founded with one dream – to create a Champagne worthy of a queen. After tasting the stars, Queen Marie Antoinette became the first “brand ambassador” for the Heidsieck Champagne. I don’t want to try to regurgitate here the rich history of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, you would be far better of reading it for yourself, but for all these years, Piper-Heidsieck story always included royal families, fashion designers, and movies. The bottle of Piper-Heidsieck was the first Champagne to ever appear in the movie in 1933. Since 1993, Piper-Heidsieck is an official supplier of Cannes Film Festival, and many actors and producers were recognized with the special Piper-Heidsieck Award at film festivals around the world.

Now, let’s get to that double-feature interview I promised. I’m running this “one-on-one” series of the interviews for about 3 years now. Until now, there was always a unique set of questions, prepared specifically for the particular winery and the winemaker. This time, I decided to play it a bit differently – ask the same set of questions of two winemakers – however, in this case, there is a great “common space” between the subjects of the interview – they both make Champagne!

I had an opportunity to [yes, virtually] sit down with Sandrine Logette, Cellar Master of Champagne Duval-Leroy, and Séverine Frerson, Chef de Caves at Piper-Heidsieck, and here is what transpired:

[TaV]: What is your approach to the blending of Vins Clairs? How many Vins Clairs are typically comprising your most standard NV house blend?

[DL]: It is necessary to first think about the flavor profile you would like to achieve: the aromatic notes with its intensity and its descriptors, its mouthfeel, its volume, its angles, its power and persistence as well as the volume: number of bottles to produce, volume of reserve wines to use and volume of wine to save for future ‘liqueur d’expédition’. The vins clairs are tasted several times (at least twice) after the malolactic fermentation to familiarize ourselves with their characteristics. The first approach to blending is always a minimal concept; which is what I call it my ‘accounting idea’. It is tasted, assessed and compared to our first and last blends of this wine made in previous years. The vins clairs are then improved by modifying only one character at a time. The same improvement is repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the best result. We use about 45 to 55 vins clairs to produce our Champagne Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve.

[PH]: We blend over 100 crus to make Piper-Heidsieck’s NV cuvée: the Cuvée Brut. I think of the vins clairs (base wines) as spices stored in little boxes in her mind and I know exactly which boxes/spices (and proportions) I need to add to create the same taste every year.

[TaV]: Can you describe your “house style”?

[DL]: Our goal is to maintain the quality of our Brut  Réserve NV vintage after vintage:

  • A complex aromatic profile showing fruity notes of yellow peach, damson and subtle red berries along with notes of cocoa powder and toasted bread
  • An integrated, round and generous mouthfeel but yet elegant and fresh.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s wine style is fruity, structured and complex, with lots of deepness. It’s a champagne to treat yourself and to share with your loved ones. Champagne serves as a bridge between people. It triggers and enhances moments of sharing, complicity and joy. And we are the ones who strive to create memorable experiences. It is all truly wonderful!

[TaV]: Somewhat of a continuation of the previous question: I don’t know if you ever experimented with this, but I wonder if a panel of wine consumers (non-experts) would be able to identify your standard NV offering in a blind tasting?

[DL]: We have worked with a panel of French consumers who tasted our Brut Réserve NV. This panel was able to detect the fruity nose without going into details and recognize the roundness of the mouthfeel and the integrated acidity.

[PH]: The goal of our Cellar Masters is to maintain Piper-Heidsieck’s style, and make it recognizable. Our wines are fruity, structured and profound but also well balanced, straight and bright. In the case of the Cuvée Brut, it’s a seductive champagne that you can recognize on your palate right away. What gives it away is its notes of almond and fresh hazelnut that are very lively, subtle and light. It’s a very smooth an pure champagne with notes of fresh pear and apple with a delicate hint of citrus fruits (pomelo). You can also taste the blonde grapes and juicy white fruits that create the lightness of the champagne.

[TaV]: Similar question to the second one, only now for the vintage Champagne – can you describe your house style?

[DL]: Our vintage “house style” is given by the characteristics of that specific year which varies according to the weather, therefore, the quality of the grapes (acid-sugar balance – fruit richness). We do not look for our vintage cuvées to be identical year after year. We make the best vintage with what nature has to offer.

[PH]: The Cellar Masters’ goal when creating a vintage champagne is to put a special year in a bottle. They want to take a snapshot of this particularly great year to keep it as a memory and reward the hard work of our vineyard team without forgetting about the Piper-Heidsieck style. Every vintage is different but they all answer to the Piper-Heidsieck style: wines that are fruity, structured with great depth. Our Cellar Masters took the best grapes from 2008 to put it in our current vintage: Vintage 2008 is a precise, elegant and free-spirit wine that showcases the greatest wines 2008 had to offer.

[TaV]: I would assume all (many?) of the Champagne houses have their “secret stash” of Champagnes which had not been disgorged yet – and the wines are disgorged on one by one basis, maybe for the special clients. Do you have such a “secret stash”? What are the oldest, not yet disgorged wines you have in your cellars?

[DL]: Of course, Duval-Leroy has its secret reserve Champagnes that are not disgorged and waiting in the cellar for that special request. Vintages such as 1979, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990 … are kept in bottles and magnums (not systematically in each cuvée).

[PH]: We do have old cuvées in our Cellars, our “secret library” contains old NV from 1980 to now and different vintages from 1982 and on.

[TaV]: Are the Champagne styles changing to address the consumer demand? For instance, I would expect that people would like to drink more of Brut Nature/zero dosage and Rosé Champagne. What do you think?

[DL]: The Champagnes’ style may slightly vary depending on consumers demand, but not fundamentally change. Champagne is an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which defines production rules and style objectives of quality.
We have seen a greater demand for Champagne Rosé and 5 to 10% sales increase over the past 10 years.
Rosé Champagne is an accessible Champagne, more obvious in terms of taste, festive by its color and more enticing.
The growing demand is also linked to the fact that Rosé Champagne has more personality and a specific identity. It is definitely easier to produce due to warmer weather in recent years.
We find an equally interesting demand for low dosage Champagnes. These low dosages are made possible because of a better integrated acidity naturally due to the wines richness and roundness.

[PH]: We do see some trends in the industry, people tend to be more knowledgeable about what they consume and younger generations like to be more informed. They become more and more wine experts so they ask to question about dosage, disgorgement dates … We have our cuvée Essentiel that works really well with wine experts since they have all the information they need on the label (disgorgement date, bottling date, lot number…) and it’s an extra brut. At Piper-Heidsieck we have a wide range of champagnes to please everyone, we have Rosé Sauvage, Essentiel (extra brut) for wine experts and connoisseurs, our Cuvée Brut, a vintage and Cuvée Sublime (a demi-sec). Our range satisfies all consumers, from non-experts to wine lovers and our entire range has complimentary food pairings.

[TaV]: Champagne seems to enjoy higher popularity overall over the last few years. Do you expect that trend to continue? Are the challenges for Champagne which need to be overcome?

[DL]: Of course we want this trend to continue and Champagne to remain the leader sparkling wine out there. In order to overcome any challenges, the Champagne region needs to continue improving.

[PH]: This trend will continue for sure. As mentioned before, the younger generation tends to be more and more knowledgeable about what they consume, especially for wines. They gain interest and want to develop their palate and their knowledge about wine. With more educated consumers that know the quality of champagne and tend to pair champagne with food more and more often we will keep seeing an increasing popularity in champagne consumption in the upcoming years.

The biggest challenge we will be facing is climate change. The Earth is getting warmer and the climate is changing making it even more difficult for us to ensure the quality of grapes as the years go on. With the unpredictable weather, our vineyard team will have to work even harder to protect our vines and ensure a high quality. At Piper-Heidsieck we already took measures to protect the environment as much as we can with recycling measures, reducing our water consumption and gas emissions. It’s a global concern and a challenge that will affect all industries in one way or another.

Another challenge would be the increasing sales of other sparkling wine, but it’s not too concerning as sparkling wines and champagne are very different products consumed for different reasons. As the consumers are getting more knowledgeable they can tell the difference between sparkling wines and champagne and they consume one of the other at different occasions.

[TaV]: What is your most favorite Champagne you personally or your house overall ever produced and why?

[DL]: My favorite is our Femme de Champagne tête de cuvée and specifically the 1995 and 1996 vintages. Very great vintages with beautiful and precise balance and a great aging potential.

[PH]: I actually don’t have a favorite champagne! It all depends on the moment, when I will open it and with whom! I will choose the Cuvée Brut for a festive aperitif with friends. I love the Vintage 2008 for an intimate dinner and the Rosé Sauvage in the summer with a barbecue.

[TaV]: Champagne rules allow using 7 different grape varieties, yet absolute majority only uses 3 from that list. Have you ever experimented with using any of those 4 leftover grapes? If yes, did you get any interesting results?

[DL]: Since 1998, we regularly vinify one of the old grape varietal of Champagne called ‘petit meslier and produce a specific cuvée: Précieuses Parcelles. Petit Meslier is a white grape varietal that grows well in soils rich in clay (a natural cross between Gouais and Savagnin) in the right bank of Vallée de la Marne.
It is a varietal that struggles to ripen, therefore has a mouthfeel marked by sharp acidity and aromatic notes of rhubarb.
I chose to vinify it in barrels to add some fine oak and spicy notes. Currently, we are working on the 2007 vintage with a low dosage of 4 g / l.
It is a cuvée of curiosity, interesting for its rusticity and for an unusual “Taste” of Champagne.

[PH]: Piper-Heidsieck’s Cellar Masters never experienced with the other grapes, because they only focused on those 3 grapes and developed an expertise in those grapes.

[TaV]: Sparkling wines are produced absolutely everywhere in the world today. Have you tried any of the Methode Classique sparkling wines produced outside of France (Italy, Spain, South Africa, USA,…), and if yes, did you find anything you liked? You don’t have to love them, but maybe you liked just a little, tiny bit? 🙂

[DL]: Fifteen years ago, the Duval-Leroy family contemplated purchasing vineyards in England but decided otherwise. They’d rather stay focused on the terroirs of Champagne.

[PH]: Today sparkling wines are developing, but  Champagne stays the luxurious sparkling wine of reference.
It’s always interesting to discover other regions – for example, I tasted high quality sparkling wines from Italy, Spain and Hungary and even if we are in the sparkling wine category they all had they own style and authenticity!

Time top drink some Champagne, isn’t it?

First, I wanted to try NV Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru (Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend) and NV Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay) side by side, as both are Rosé Champagne. There was a dramatic difference in appearance and taste profile. Duval-Leroy, in a word, was sublime. Delicate pinkish color, just a light salmon pink, whiff of the toasted bread, vibrant acidity on the palate, touch of lemon – seductive, and yes, sublime. Sauvage, on another hand, means “wild” in French – and that exactly how the Piper-Heidsieck was. Strawberry pink in the glass, fresh tart strawberries and a touch of yeast on the nose, and then generous toasted bread, granny smith apples and strawberries on the palate. Truly different and delicious in its own right.

NV Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut (50-55% Pinot Noir, 30-35% Meunier, 15-20% Chardonnay, 10-20% reserve wines) was, in a word, classic – generous, voluptuous, touch of toasted bread and yeast, full mouthfeel, golden delicious apple sweetness, good minerality, very present and excellent overall.

Three Champagnes, three different wines, each delicious in its own right, each worthy to be a star of a special celebratory dinner or a quiet evening for two. And two conversations about the wines, the passion, the style, the stars. We spoke enough today; if you are still reading this, thank you and cheers!

Top Wines of 2017 – Second Dozen

December 31, 2017 1 comment

? It’s that time again! The year is ending, and it is always fun to look back and reflect on the things which are now becoming the past. Of course, there all sorts of memories linked to the year which is about to depart, the bad, the good (hopefully none of the “ugly”, right?). It’s the good things we want to carry with us, and so this is the primary purpose of this post – well, just a reminder – it is the wine we are talking about here.

The “Top Dozen” posts are a tradition here, ever since the blog has started – here are the links for all the past “Top” lists: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. To build these top lists I usually go through my posts and label journals, as the idea is simple – the lists represent the most memorable wines I came across during the year. Some of the wines were written about, in this case I will offer you a link to the original post. Some of the wines never made it into the posts, but they are still well worthy of being on this list. Also, I can rarely contain myself to the one dozen of wines – in most of the cases, I have to split the wines into the first and second dozen and have two separate posts.

The year 2017 was very happening wine year, full of great discoveries, and thus warranting the two posts. We will start with the second dozen, and then the top dozen post will be coming out shortly. The order of the wines on the list is somewhat random, with the exception of the Top Wine. And yes, building up such a list is never easy – but you derive lots of pleasure along the way. Okay, enough of the introductions – let’s talk about the wines now.

25. 2016 Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali DOC ($22.99) – I don’t know if “typical” Pinot Grigio exists anymore – you know, the one which resembles more water than wine – but this is not your typical Pinot Grigio. This wine had excellent aromatics and lots of depth on the palate. I also managed to pleasantly surprise some people at a dinner in a restaurant when I ordered this wine. A perfect all occasion white.

24. 2011 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Douro Valley, Portugal ($45) – when it comes to Portuguese red, my preference is at the Reserva level – this is not a random word on the label. The reservas typically offer a much higher concentration of the flavor, and this wine was not an exception – lots and lots of layers on the palate, delicious now, and can age for a long, long time.

23. 2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin South Africa  ($20) – fresh grass with lots of complexity. This wine is not “in your face”, it opens up slowly in the glass (and can stay for a while in a bottle), and it offers way more than just grass and grapefruit. Classic Sancerre level of complexity, perfect on the sunny deck or by a cozy fireplace.

22. 2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($35) – cassis berries and leaves combined – does it get any better? Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon are relatives, having a common parent, Cabernet Franc. In this wine, which is a blend of these two grapes, both perfectly contribute their best varietal characteristics, resulting in layered, luscious, velvety smooth wine. Most highly recommended – if you can find it.

21. 2016 Paul Mas Rosé Aurore Pays d’Oc ($8) – Best Rosé ever, eh? For sure when it comes to the QPR, as for measly $8 you get a 1L of a delicious wine, which can brighten up any day, summer or not. Simply delicious – let me leave it at that.

20. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe ($15) – This wine keeps surprising me. It is 23 years old, it doesn’t come from any of the ” x growth” chateaus, and it is simply delicious Bordeaux which still can age for longer – it shows fresh and delicious, literally no sign of tertiary aromas yet. Outstanding.

19. 2016 Troon Riesling Whole Grape Ferment, Applegate Valley, Oregon ($20) – Craig Camp keeps on making unique and different wines. His whole line of wines at Troon Vineyards in Oregon deserves another post, but for now, I want to single out this Riesling which I tried at wine bloggers conference this year. This is what technically people call an “orange” wine, considering the color the white wine would obtain if left in contact with the skin for an extended period of time. “Whole Grape Ferment” in the name of the wine signifies exactly that – and the wine is totally unique. It is a bit closer to sherry than to the regular wine, but at the same time, it still has the bright fruit and perfect acidity. I would happily pair this wine with the steak (I didn’t have the pleasure), as I’m sure it will be delicious. And it will beat most of the wines next to cheese. Find it, let’s talk later.

18. 2007 Salabka Le Diamant Praha Czech Republic (€25) – talk about surprises. Very small vineyard and winery, right in Prague – and a world-class sparkling wine, méthode classique? Yes! I never wrote a post about that visit (which I’m not happy about), but the wine was a pure standout. Vanilla, toasted bread, apples, generous, voluptuous, fresh, and crispy. Outstanding. No chances of finding this wine in the US, but if Prague, which is a beautiful city, is part of the travel destination, don’t miss unique experience at Salabka vineyards and winery.

17. 2015 The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc, Colorado ($21) – my Colorado wine experience was not going great – and then I found this wine, and everything was right with the world. Blackcurrant all the way, excellent acidity, clean, lip-smacking – just an excellent example of the Cabernet Franc capabilities and good winemaking. And that label…

16. 2016 Bodega Javier Sanz V Malcorta Rueda D.O. ($26) – discovered during the Rueda wines seminar at Spain’s Great Match event this year. I couldn’t stop smelling this wine while others already finished drinking it. It had great complexity, the herbs, the flowers, the fruit and the spices (ahh, nutmeg) – this was a type of wine I can smell literally forever. Clean and delicious on the palate too – outstanding.

15. 2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($50)  – this is not the first time Turley The Label makes the top list. I had a few bottles of 2011  throughout the years, and it continues to evolve, literally getting better and better. This year, the wine was a textbook Cabernet Sauvignon – cassis, mint, eucalyptus – in a perfect, velvety envelope. Delicious and perfectly on par with the very best wines Turley produces.

14. 2014 Shiloh Mosaic Israel ($55) – was literally blown away by the first sip. Israeli wines are unquestionably world class – but this wine was also Mevushal, which means it was pasteurized one way or the other. Typically, you would expect pasteurization to affect the flavor one way or the other, but this was not the case here. Spectacular Bordeaux blend – this is when after the first sip you say “mmmm!” and you don’t put down the glass until it is empty. Then quickly ask for a refill. Superb is the word.

13. 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Barbara County ($35) – let me be brief – this is the wine to be experienced. I discovered Sandhi wines this year, and while I was initially skeptical because of the whole IPOB juggernaut (I believe the balance can be found equally in wine at 11% and at 17% ABV), this wine was real – sublime interplay of Chardonnay flavors, with vanilla, apple and a touch of butter been in a perfect harmony. Delicious – definitely look for it.

I don’t try to “engineer” my lists in any way (this is not a paid publication, and I have zero vested interest in promoting any of the wines above) – but just take a look at the happenstance diversity here. The wines represent 9 different countries (Italy, Spain, France, USA, South Africa, Czech Republic, Chile, Israel, Portugal), 13 different regions, a bunch of different grapes and the price range from $8 to $55. Can’t wait to see how the top dozen will fare – and that list is coming up soon. Stay tuned…

Usual Grapes, Unusual Places – The Oenophile Games

December 17, 2017 5 comments

I love blind tastings. I’m talking about totally non-intimidating blind tasting, done in the relaxed atmosphere, where the goal is only to have fun – in other words, not when it is part of the test. The blind tasting as part of the test is really not fun – as Kirsten the Armchair Sommelier eloquently put it in a tweet “Nothing intimidates quite like a brown paper bag!!” – as a WSET diploma candidate, I’m sure she knows what she is talking about first hand.

So I’m talking about fun blind tasting here. Blind tasting removes all sources of bias, as only minimal information is available about the wine you are about to taste, depending on the theme of the tasting, and you can’t be influenced by the pretty label, by the big name or by the well-known place (ahh, this is the wine from Napa, it is definitely better than this one from New Jersey, right?). You are one on one with the liquid in the wine glass, and your only goal is to decide whether you like the wine or not and whether you like it more than the one you had before, or if you still like it more than the one which you had after. Of course, you can make things a lot more interesting by trying to guess the grape, the origin, the vintage and whatever else you would desire, but the beauty of the informal blind tasting is that you free to do as much or as little as you want.

The best accompaniments for the wine are good food and a good company. We started wine dinners with the blind tastings with friends more than 7 years ago. Our first blind tasting was about Pinot Noir, then we had one about Sparkling wines (the thought of this one still gives me shivers as it was utterly confusing), also Chardonnay, Mourvedre, Barolo and many, many others. We decide on the theme, set the rules (how many bottles, price limits or not, what wines can be considered, what wines will not fit and so on). The bottles are put in the brown bags, the numbers are randomly assigned to the bags, the wines are poured and off we go. We usually try to figure out group’s favorite, which sometimes easy, and sometimes it is not. The results are always most unexpected, and everybody gets a chance to say “I can’t believe it”.

The theme for this tasting was “usual grapes, unusual places“. Today, the mainstream grapes are totally international. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in Bordeaux, in Napa Valley, in New York, in Argentina, Virginia, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Czech Republic and other hundreds of places. Same is true about Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Grenache – and even Tempranillo and Sangiovese are not an exception. Now the question is – can we still recognize Cabernet Sauvignon from Uruguay as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir from the Czech Republic as Pinot Noir?

To play the game, the group of 10 wines was assembled. I couldn’t make up my mind on what to bring literally until the day before the tasting – kept changing my preferences. Nevertheless, we got together, the table was set and the wines were poured. As everybody was set on bringing the red wines, I decided to make things more interesting and brought two of the white wines to start the tasting with. Here are my notes and guesses on the 10 wines we tasted (obviously I knew what I’m tasting in the first two whites):

Wine 1 – beautiful nose, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, restrained palate, green, touch of pepper, contrast with the nose, interesting

Wine 2 – beautiful nose, plump, velvety, beautifully soft, silky smooth, outstanding, vanilla, delicious.

Wine 3 – typical Bordeaux blend on the nose. Tremendous salinity on the palate. Then acidity. Bordeaux blend from NJ. After 30 minutes – Barbera?

Wine 4 – Grenache nose, smoke and tobacco on the palate. My guess is Rhone varietal, but most likely Grenache

Wine 5 – Rutherford dust on the nose, touch of black currant, chipotle on the palate, herbal, unusual, very nice. Bordeaux varietal. Going for Carmenere.

Wine 6 – beautiful nose, Bordeaux-style, lots of smoke on the nose. Somewhat sweet on the palate. Core Bordeaux? or Syrah blend? Cab Franc dominant blend.

Wine 7 – smoke, dark fruit, beautiful tannins, cherries, beautiful. Bordeaux blend? Somewhat of extreme tannins.

Wine 8 – muted nose, mint, anise, Rutherford dust. Good acidity, soft, round. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 9 – fresh, open, clean vanilla, dark fruit, excellent. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 10 – beautiful nose, but a bit astringent. Interesting. Bordeaux varietal?

Before the wines can be revealed, we had to figure out group’s favorite. Everybody was allowed to vote for one of the two white wines, and then two votes for the favorites among 8 reds. Here are our votes (out of 8 people):

Wine 1 – 4
Wine 2 – 4
Wine 3 – 2
Wine 4 – 0
Wine 5 – 0
Wine 6 – 6
Wine 7 – 5
Wine 8 – 2
Wine 9 – 0
Wine 10 – 1

As you can tell, both whites fared equally well with the group clearly splitting the decision. Also for the reds, there was a clear winner and a clear runner-up, with the rest of the wines not faring that well – wine number 6 was preferred by the most, and wine number 7 was the second favorite. Now, the most anticipated part of the blind tasting – the reveal:

Wine 1: 2016 Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca Suisun Valley, CA (12.6% ABV)
Wine 2: 2007 Krupp Brothers Black Bart Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley (14% ABV)
Wine 3: 2004 Bodegas Carrau Vilasar Nebbiolo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, 100% Nebbiolo)
Wine 4: 2014 Chateau Famaey Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, 100% Malbec)
Wine 5: Changyu Cabernet Sauvignon China (Cabernet Sauvignon?)
Wine 6: 2012 Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste New Mexico (13.5% ABV, 50% Barbera, 50% Merlot)
Wine 7: 2014 McManis Barbera Jamie Lynn Vineyard California (13.5% ABV, 100% Barbera)
Wine 8: 2015 Cantele Primitivo Salento IGT (13.5% ABV, 100% Primitivo)
Wine 9: 2014 Macedon Pinot Noir Macedonia (13.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir)
Wine 10: 2014 Agnus Merlot Serra Gaúcha Brazil (14% ABV, 100% Merlot)

Let’s look at these results. First, let me talk about the wines I contributed for the tasting. For the whites, they were both excellent – I got this Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca from Jeff The Drunken Cyclist as part of our Secret Santa fun, and the wine was delicious. The second white, Krupp Brothers Marsanne was a rare closeout score a few years back. Sadly, it was my last bottle, but the wine needs to be drunk, so I’m glad I had it in a good company – I consider that to be one of the best California white wines, for sure for my palate. Now, the red which I brought was another story – it was the Changyu from China, for which I terrorized my Chinese-speaking friend trying to ensure that it was Cabernet Sauvignon and trying to figure out the vintage or ABV (fail). Well, the worst part was that many people not just disliked it, they literally hated it – and I had other reds from Changyu while in China with much higher success. Oh well.

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The winning wine Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste was made out of the New Mexico grapes by the winery located in Arizona, with one of the grapes being Barbera – talk about rare and unusual. McManis Barbera, second favorite, was also quite unexpected – but looking at my notes and having tasted few of the California Barbera wines, I made a wrong guess with somewhat right descriptors. As you can tell, almost everything tasted to me like a Bordeaux blend – clearly, I don’t do well in the blind tastings, but one way or the other, this was lots of fun! And just think of the range of wines we tasted – Malvasia Blanca, Marsanne and Barbera from California, Nebbiolo from Uruguay, Merlot from Brazil, Pinot Noir from Macedonia, Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Merlot and Barbera from New Mexico – wow. The Malbec and Primitivo didn’t really belong on one side – but then on another side they kind of fit the bill too as Malbec from France is literally unknown to the wine consumers, and Primitivo is pretty much in the same boat, for sure in the USA. All in all, we clearly accomplished our goal of tasting usual grapes from unusual places.

Then, of course, there was food – lots and lots of delicious food, which everybody contributed to – I will just give you a quick overview in pictures, and that really only a fraction of what we had (at some point you get tired of constantly taking pictures of food…

We also drunk more wine, and this one was a standout. An unassuming California blend from Marietta in Sonoma – NV Marietta California Old Vine Red Lot Number Twenty. This is non-vintage, field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Gamay, now, wait for it … which should be about 40 years old??? Current wine is called Lot Number 66, so if this was the Lot number 20, then we are simply making an assumption here… The wine was delicious – yes, it was mature, so showed the layer of delicious dried fruit and ripe plums – but it still had a perfect amount of acidity for everyone to say “wow”. I plan to write to the winery, so hopefully will be able to figure out the age of this wine, but this was clearly another amazing example of California wines which can age – and patience well rewarded.

Great fun and great learning experience, hands down. For anyone who is into the wine, the blind tasting is an endless source of enjoyment. If you love wine and never participated in the blind tasting, you really should fix it – get your friends together and have fun! If you need any “logistical support”, please reach out – will be very happy to help.

Ahh, and by the way, there is something even more intimidating than a paper bag – a black glass. But then your friends may start hating you, so tread gently. Have fun, my friends. Cheers!