Let’s say you have a bottle of an excellent wine. Do you know how to make it better than it is? I guarantee you this works every time, so listen carefully. You share it with a friend. Yes, that makes any excellent wine into an amazing one. Works like a charm.
Saturday, February 25th was Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) – the night when there is no bottle in your cellar which is off limits. If you are not familiar with OTBN, you can read more here. What made my OTBN twice as special was the visit by Oliver and his wife Nina.
For me, the decisions around wine are never easy. I typically buy wine in the single bottle quantities (okay, maybe four at the most, when I need to get a free shipping from WTSO) – thus any bottle can qualify as a special one. As an exception to my long and almost painful decision process, for this OTBN I had a very clear idea – 1982 Olga Raffault Chinon, of which I had a single bottle. The bottle out of the wine fridge and ready for the prime time.
This is what I was looking at after cutting the top foil:
As you can tell, this is not very encouraging. However, if you like older wines and get an opportunity to open them, you know that the state of the top of the cork is nothing to fret about. More often than not, behind most terrible looking mildew there is a delicious wine.
As this was 35 years old wine, I didn’t want to take any chances and used the two-prong opener to pull the cork out. This turned out to be an unnecessary precaution – while cork looked red throughout, it was perfectly firm and came out as a single piece without any crumbling – here is our OTBN corks collection, the red one is the one I’m talking about:
And for the wine… what can I tell you… This 1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon, Loire looked perfectly fresh in the glass – not a sign of losing color. Here are the two glasses, one is with 1982 Cabernet Franc, the second one is with 2014 – care to guess which glass contains 1982?
Yes, the one on the left is with 1982 wine, but I believe you would agree that the color shows perfectly young. The nose and the palate were an incredible study in Cabernet Franc flavor profile 101. The wine opened full of bell pepper – both on the nose and the palate. In about 10 minutes, the bell pepper was gone – and what was left was pure, unadulterated black currant – stunning, full flavorful black currant, also known as cassis if we want to use traditional French terminology. The wine had perfect structure, firm, with fresh acidity, almost crisp – and loads and loads of black currant. This was truly a treat.
We followed with a beautiful rendition of Ruchè – 2012 Poggio Ridente Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG San Marziano (organic grapes). Ruchè is a little known red grape, cultivated in the Monferrato region in Piedmont, capable of making very concentrated wines. This particular bottle, brought by Oliver and Nina directly from Italy, was fresh and open, with nicely restrained palate with mostly herbal flavors, and a twist – dried mango undertones. Nina was the one to identify the dried mango, while I was desperately trying to figure out what that strange flavor was – but that was a spot-on descriptor. An outstanding wine by all means.
Our next wine was 1989 Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. No issues with the cork (makes me happy). Still fresh, clean light golden color (28-years old wine!). The nose and the palate were singing in unison here, and the music was simple – peaches and apricots. Slightly underripe peaches and fresh, plump apricots. The balance of sweetness and acidity was impeccable – the wine was fresh and alive, without any sign of age. Wow.
As an added bonus, the grapes for this wine were harvested in November of 1989 – the year and a month when Berlin Wall was demolished – and this is what the label of this wine commemorates.
Our OTBN night didn’t finish there. You would expect us to go to something nice and sweets after such a beautiful Riesling, right? In the conversation, it came out that Oliver doesn’t like Tempranillo wines. Being a Spanish wine buff, I had to fix that immediately, so I had to pull out the big guns. 2001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva Especial was absolutely beautiful from the get-go – cedar box and eucalyptus on the nose, soft and gentle cherries on the palate, fresh, round. I hope I made Oliver a convert – but will see about that the next time we will meet.
There you are, my friends. A stunning OTBN with great wines and great company. Hope you enjoyed your OTBN as much as we did – feel free to share your OTBN stories below. Cheers!
Today, class, we will be talking about things obscure. Yes, things obscure, but not in the whole entire world, of course, but in the world of wine.
In your opinion, if we use the word “obscure” in conjunction with the word “wine”, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? For starters, let’s think about the meaning of the word itself. Here is how New Oxford American Dictionary defines “obscure”:
Now that we are clear on the meaning, let’s go back to our original question: “obscure + wine” – is it good or bad?
Reading wine’s description, have you ever come across the words “obscure grapes”? I’m not talking about the stuff you read on the back label, as there you will rather find the words “indigenous grapes”, “traditional grapes”, or maybe, “local grapes”. But if are reading blogs, or any of the “peer reviews”, I’m sure you’ve encountered the “obscure grapes”. I get it – “obscure” often implies that we got something to hide in a bad way – but not in this case. Referring to the definition we just saw, “obscure” here simply means “not discovered or known about”. Need examples? How about Trepat, Bobal, Gros Manseng, Khikhvi – heard of those grapes?
My favorite part is that obscure often translates into pleasure – lots of pleasure for the oenophile. Unlike most of the other food and drinks humans consume, wine taste is largely perceived. We have expectations for how Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay should taste, and when we don’t find that taste while drinking one of the “well known” wines, we often get disappointed. But when presented with the “obscure bottle”, all those preconceived notions are largely thrown out of the window, and we take wine for what it actually is – which gives us a great chance to enjoy something we wouldn’t otherwise.
It is not only wine drinkers who get more pleasure from the obscure grapes – when using those little-known grapes, winemakers are also not bound by any “customer expectations”, which gives them more freedom to express themselves. From the personal experience, I found that more often than not, I truly enjoy those obscure wines, and quite honestly, I like hunting down those unknown wines and grapes because of the pure mystery in the glass.
By the same token, lesser known wine regions (read: obscure) have the same advantage for both oenophiles and winemakers. What do you expect when you see Czech Republic, Georgian Republic, Mallorca or Valle d’Aosta written on the bottle? Most likely, you wouldn’t know what to expect, and thus you would take the wine for what it is. However, when you drink Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Spanish Rioja, you have a set of expectations in your head, and you always are ready to say “ahh, this doesn’t taste anything like Napa Cab”. Presented with the Czech Pinot Noir or Chinese Cabernet Sauvignon, you have no choice but to try it and decide whether you like it or not. Same as in the case of the obscure grapes, winemakers get an opportunity to freely create without the need to comply with a given set of expectations.
What we need to keep in mind though that the concept of “obscure” is very personal. For someone who lives in the Republic of Georgia, Georgian wines are very far from obscure. For someone who grew up in Conca de Barberà region in Catalonia in Spain, Trepat might be a perfectly familiar grape. But looking at the big picture, all of us, wine lovers, have our own, personal obscure territories – and this is where we might discover great pleasure. What makes it even more interesting is that the more we learn about the wine world, the more we understand how still little we know. And so we can keep on that road, shedding the light on obscure and making it (if we are lucky) dear and familiar, one discovery at a time.
I wish you all, oenophiles, lots of pleasant encounters with obscure sides of the wine world – as this is where the pleasure is hiding. Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC30), with the theme of “Obscure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory
Would anyone argue that holidays are better with Ferrari? Both of eponymous Italian hallmarks of quality would greatly enhance one’s holiday, but one of them – the car – is a bit less accessible to the general populace, so let’s talk about the one which is – sparkling wine from a beautiful region in the Italian Alps – Trento.
More than 100 years ago, Guido Ferrari recognized the potential of the green slopes to grow world-class Chardonnay. While Chardonnay is an undisputed star of the still white wine, its swan song might be delivered best with the bubbles. Champagne comes only from Champagne, but Méthode Champenoise is successfully used around the world to produce sparkling wines easily rivaling Champagne in quality.
This is what Guido Ferrari set out to do in 1902 – produce world-class sparkling wines – the task which he completed successfully. As Guido Ferrari had no direct heirs, in 1952 he sold the winery and vineyards to the Bruno Lunelli, a friend and wine merchant. Now in the third generation, Lunelli family proudly continues Ferrari traditions into the 21st century.
Earlier in the year, I had a virtual conversation with Marcello Lunelli, a winemaker at the Ferrari winery – you can find that post here. Then during summer I had an opportunity to meet, talk to and taste the wines together with Camilla Lunelli, Managing Partner at Ferrari, who visited New York on the occasion of attending The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony, where Ferrari was sponsoring The Art of Hospitality Award (it went to Madison Eleven restaurant in New York city). As we combined conversation with the tasting of the wines, I want to share here my brief notes about both the winery and the wines we tasted.
Today Ferrari is producing about 2 million bottles per year. They are working in close cooperation with the network of 500 growers and employ 8 agronomists who work literally around the clock to ensure the quality of the grapes. All Ferrari vineyards are certified organic, which is something not to be taken lightly – think about the work required to convince 500 growers to change their ways, to adapt Best Practices developed by Ferrari and get certified (it took most of the growers between 3 and 5 years to change). Talking about the vineyards, an interesting side note: Trento is a mountainous region, and all Ferrari vineyards are located on the slopes which provide for large temperature shifts between day and night, which is significant for the development of the Chardonnay grapes.
Italy is the biggest market for Ferrari sparkling wines. However, when I asked which market is the next big one after Italy, I got a surprising answer – it is Japan! (Yeah, I knew it is not the US, as Ferrari wines are hard to find in the US stores).
I also asked what would be an interesting food pairing for the Ferrari sparklers, and Camilla recommended Rosé sparkling wine with Pizza (yes, I can see it) and then bubbles with the BBQ, which is something I will need to try.
Okay, let’s get to the wines now, shall we?
NV Ferrari Brut Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $25, 100% Chardonnay) – Delicious. Perfect acidity, lightly yeasty, refreshing, clear acidic finish.
2007 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – complex nose, minerality, complex palate with musk undertones, full bodied and refreshing
2009 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – we didn’t taste this wine with Camilla – I recently got a sample of 2009, so it was a good opportunity to include it here. On the nose, fine fizz, mostly closed nose with just a touch of an apple. The palate showed toasted bread notes, restrained, good acidity, tart, very clean and austere. Perfectly reminiscent of a good Champagne, however, too astringent for my personal enjoyment. I would definitely prefer 2007.
2008 Ferrari Perlé Rosé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $59, 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) – Delicious nose, hint of strawberries, yeast, great concentration, complex, toasted bread, refreshing.
2008 Ferrari Perlé Nero Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $79.99, 100% Pinot Nero) – great nose, plump, open, full-bodied, lots of fruit on the nose, fresh baguette, not just yeast or toasted bread, toasted caramel, butterscotch
2006 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $56, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from the single area around Villa Margon. This wine is aged in neutral Austrian oak casks. Excellent, seriously complex nose, with a touch of tropical fruit; tremendous palate – roasted meat, super-complex, delicious.
2004 Ferrari Riserva del Fondatori Giulio Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $120, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from a single high altitude vineyard called Maso Panizza. The wine has the classic nose, great acidity, it just screams “classic vintage Champagne” all the way.
Here you are, my friends – a full range of beautiful sparkling wines, worthy of any celebration you will have. I wish they would be a bit easier to find in the US, but these are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!
Drinking wine is fun (if you disagree, you shouldn’t read this blog). There are many things which we, oenophiles, self-proclaimed wine aficionados, can do to maximize that fun. We age wines, we decant wines, we use fancy openers and pourers, we play with temperature and glasses of different forms and sizes.
One of ultimate fun exercises oenophiles can engage in is a blind tasting. Blind tasting is a “truth serum” for the wine lovers, it levels the playing field for all. Blind tasting eliminates all “external” factors – price (ha, I paid $300 for this bottle, beat that), prestige, winemaker’s pedigree, weight of the terroir (ahh, Bordeaux, it must be amazing), cute and elaborate labels, critics and friends opinion – and leaves your palate one on one with the content of the glass. Don’t say “I hate Chardonnay and I never drink it”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Don’t say “I don’t like Australian wines”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Anyone who ever played the game of the blind tasting can surely attest to what I’m saying here. If you never experienced fun and joy of the blind tasting, you are missing and you are missing a lot – but it is easy to fix.
Our tradition of wine dinners goes back more than 5 years, and most of the wine dinners include blind tasting part (here are the posts for some of the past events – Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay). A few weeks ago, we managed to align everyone’s schedule for a wine dinner and a blind tasting with a simple and non-pretentious subject – Cabernet Sauvignon :).
Remember the dialog at the beginning of this post? I have friends who know my obsession with the wine, and always try to surprise me with various oddities. One of such oddities was a bottle of tomato wine which they brought from Canada. I didn’t want to drink that wine by myself, so the wine dinner was an excellent opportunity to share it with friends. As guests were arriving, I decided to play a role of the mean host (okay, not too mean). Outside of the friend who knew about the tomato wine, the rest were presented with the pour of the white wine and the request to guess what grape that might be. Literally nobody wanted to believe that this was a tomato wine – I had to show the bottle as a proof.
Have I tasted this wine blind, I’m sure I would be in the same boat as all of my friends – this 2013 Domaine de la Vallée du Bras OMERTO Vin Apéritif de Tomate Moelleux Québec (16% ABV) was fresh, with good acidity, touch of raisins on the nose, medium to full body and notes of the white stone fruit on the palate – for me, Vouvray (Chenin Blanc from Loire) is the one which comes to mind to give you the best analogy. This wine is produced from the locally grown heirloom tomatoes – and it is also a vintage – I’m seriously impressed (find it and taste it).
And to the blind tasting off we went. 10 wines were wrapped in the paper bags, opened and randomly numbered (my daughter usually does the honors), then poured into the glasses. The only thing we knew that all the wines will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon – no price or region limits.
Below are my notes, in our tasting order, both with my initial impressions and some updates over the next few days as I tasted leftover wines. And by the way, don’t think of this tasting of some stuck-up, snotty process – we openly exchange our thoughts, but each person’s individual palate is an ultimate purveyor of truth here:
C: almost black
P: bright fruit, pronounced tannins, delicious.
P: 2nd day – outstanding, firm structure, eucalyptus, dusty profile, tannins are still fresh.
V: 2013/2014, new world , considerably improved by the end of the tasting!
N: blueberry pie notes
P: beautiful, bright, cassis, blueberry pie with tobacco undertones on the second day, excellent
P: crispy, fresh, great fruit
P: 2nd day – firm structure, perfect balance, dark cocoa, cassis. Truly an enjoyable wine
V: nice finish,
N: strange, rotten cabbage, musty cellar
N: 2nd day: an improvement, tobacco with touch of barnyard on top of cassis
P: nice, bright,
P: 2nd day: great improvement, very enjoyable, shouting a bit of mature fruit with bright acidity and touch of fresh plums.
N: coffee, mocca, dust, excellent
N: 2nd day: coffee and roasted meat
P: nice fruit, bright, spicy
P: 2nd day: palate shifted towards savory too much meat. Probably perfect with the steak, but craving more balance on its own.
V: nice, young
N: blueberry pie, nice
N: 2nd day: pure candy on the nose, more of a lollipop quality, or may be stewed strawberries.
P: sour cherry, wow
P: sour cherries continuing, albeit more muted than yesterday
V: nothing from Cab, but nice. An okay wine.
N: nice balance, good fruit
P: great, dusty palate, firm structure, excellent, precision
N: nice dusty nose,
P: crispy, tart, limited fruit
V: not bad, but not great.
V: day 2 – past prime 😦
N: nice, classic
N: 2nd day: added perfume and explicit anise notes
P: beautiful, excellent, mint, classic
P: 2nd day: dark, powerful, compressed, espresso, a lot more dense than the day before.
V: 2nd day: less enjoyable than the day before, closed up, lost the finesse.
N: young berries, same on the day 2 but a bit more composed.
P: young crushed berries
P: 2nd day: a bit more restrained. Young berry notes without supporting structure. Not my wine, but might have its audience.
P: 5th day: the sweetness is gone, and the classic Cab showed up, touch of cassis and mint, excellent
V: 1st day – it’s ok, 5th day – very impressive
During the tasting, we decide on two of our favorite wines. After tasting is done, we take a vote, with each person allowed to vote for two of their favorite wines. These are just two favorites, without prioritizing between the two. Below are the results of the vote for our group of 11 people:
#1 – 1
#2 – 1
#3 – 7
#4 – 1
#5 – 0
#6 – 2
#7 – 4
#8 – 1
#9 – 4
#10 – 1
As you can tell, the most favorite wine was wine #3 (7 votes out of 11), and the second favorite was a tie between wines #7 and #9, each of them getting 4 votes out of 11. Now, drumroll please – and the most favorite wine of the blind Cabernet Sauvignon tasting was … 2006 Staglin family Cabernet Sauvignon! Staglin Family Cab is definitely not a slouch in the world of cult California wines, and the group clearly fell for it. Here is the full lineup, in the order of tasting:
#1: 2012 KRSMA Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Hampi Hills Vineyard, India (13.5% ABV)
#2: 2013 LangeTwins Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, California (14.4% ABV)
#3: 2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa Valley (14.9% ABV)
#4: 2002 d’Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia (14.5% ABV)
#5: 2014 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon WO Robertson, South Africa (14% ABV)
#6: 2015 Vinca Minor Cabernet Sauvignon Redwood Valley California (12% ABV, 1 barrel produced)
#7: 1995 Château Clerc Milon Grand Cru Classé Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV)
#8: 2000 Château Lanessan Delbos-Bouteiller Haut-Médoc AOC (13% ABV)
#9: 2009 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Regaleali Cabernet Sauvignon Sicilia IGT (14.5% ABV)
#10: 2014 Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon California (13.5% ABV)
10 wines, 6 countries, 10 different regions, $7.95 – $150 price range, 1995 – 2015 vintage range – I think we did pretty well in terms of diversity. Staglin Family being the favorite wine is not that surprising (but still interesting, considering that it is the most expensive wine in the lineup at $149). My biggest surprises, though, were super-solid KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon from India (India? really?), an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon from Sicily (who would’ve thought!), and the cheapest wine in the group, Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.95), which opened up magnificently 5 days after the bottle was opened – of course, nobody has a desire to wait that long for the wine, but forgetting a few bottles in the cellar might be a right move.
The dinner quickly followed the tasting (after 110 glasses were safely removed from the table). I don’t have much in terms of pictures, but we had Russian Meat Soup (recipe here) and beef roast as the main dish. The deserts were pretty spectacular and paired very well with Cabernet wines:
And that concludes my report about our great fun with Cabernet Sauvignon wines and the blind tasting. Now is your time to share your blind tasting and odd wines stories – and if you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I want to know your opinion about them.
Lastly, if you never experienced the pleasures of the blind tasting, you must fix it as soon as possible. Cheers!
More than 3 years ago, an interesting tradition was born in the world of wine blogging (a brainchild of The Drunken Cyclist, with the help of the supporting cast of characters) – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Every month or so, wine bloggers en mass subject themselves to the masochistic practice of taking a random word and creating a soulful connection from that word to the beloved world of wine – all of it on a tight deadline.
Writing a post for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC for short), I always want to put out a regular post, and then at the end, simply state “and by the way, this was written for the MWWC, ha”- just to show how easy it was. Of course, this practically never happens – like today, with the theme of our epistolary exercise been “Bubbles“, and my writing taking place during the very last hour (sigh).
When oenophile hears the word “bubbles”, the first reaction it triggers is “Champagne!”. It gives us such a pleasure to write about the world of “Sparklers” – the ingenuity of Dom Perignon, the resourcefulness of Widow Cliquot, the battles of I-was-the-first-to-make-my-wine-sparkle.
There are many other connections of the bubbles to the world of wines – think about bubbles you see on the surface of the juice during fermentation – those are some bubbles! Or think about simple, tiny bubbles of oxygen, making it through the cork and allowing the wines to age gently and gracefully – these bubbles are critical. And then there are maybe bubble issues for the wine collectors? Will that price of DRC or Petrus ever come down?
Yes, I will take my own, different course, and will not write about Champagne or Sparkling wines. For sure.
Do you believe me? Who said “no”? How did you guess?
Banal or not, but I have a good reason to write about sparkling wines – Prosecco, to be more precise. A few weeks ago, I was offered to review some Prosecco wines. At first, my reaction was “I’ll pass”. But reading the email more carefully, my interest piqued. I always thought of Prosecco wines made from 100% of grape called Glera (yes, there are few exceptions, like Bisol, but just a few). These three Prosecco wines were all blended – Processo DOC rules allow up to 15% of other grapes in the blend – and the blends were all unusual, so the intrigued brain said “why not”?
As we are talking about Prosecco, I need to share some fun facts with you – who doesn’t like statistics, right?
French Sparkling wine and then Champagne had been around for a bit less than 500 years. Prosecco’s history is only a bit longer than 100 years, and only in 1989 (27 years ago!) Prosecco made it for real outside of the Italy (here is the link to my post about it, in case you are interested in history). However, according to Nielsen report, Prosecco sales in US in 2015 grew by 36% (Champagne – 8%). In 2015, Italy produced its largest Prosecco crop ever with 467 million bottles – that is triple of only 7 years ago; out of this amount, 48 million bottles were exported to the US – and still US is only #3 importer of Prosecco behind UK and Germany.
Moving right along, let me decipher a cryptic title of this post for you (not that you cared much, right?).
Zonin family got into the wine business in 1821, almost 200 years ago. Now in the 7th generation, the family manages about 5,000 acres of vineyards, mostly in Italy. Zonin had been making Prosecco for the very long time, but considering the ever growing interest, they decided to offer a new line of Prosecco wines, called “Dress Code”, suitable for different mood and a company. The “Dress Code” colors include white, grey and black, so you can wear a different color every day. Of course, these are only colors of the bottles, nobody added squid ink to the wines… yet? Hmmm, note to self…
Here are the notes for the wines I tasted:
Zonin Prosecco White Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 91% Glera and 9% Pinot Bianco cuvée): simple overall. On the nose, touch of white fruit. Good creaminess on the palate, touch of white fruit, very restrained, good acidity, but again, overall is a very muted expression. 7/7+, Decent everyday glass of bubbly.
Zonin Prosecco Grey Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 87% Glera and 13% Pinot Grigio cuvée): white stone fruit on the nose, white flowers. Palate: light, creamy, effervescent, refreshing, distant hint of sweetness, round, good acidity. 8-, nice upgrade from the “white”.
Zonin Prosecco Black Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 90% Glera and 10% Pinot Noir cuvée): promising touch of fruit with lemon and rocky minerality on the nose. Perfect acidity, elegance, finesse on the palate, touch of white stone fruit, lime and noticeable nutmeg. Most elegant out of three, a “little black dress” if you will. 8/8+, one of the most elegant Prosecco I ever had.
So, what color are your bubbles? My favorite was black. Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC27), with the theme of “Bubbles”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude
As wine is a daily beverage at our house, the supply of it should be regularly renewed, to support that [tasty] habit. I really make an effort to stay in under $15 range for that daily enjoyment (yep, I’m a cheap bastard like that), so this is how most of the wines are acquired.
But then, of course, the are special occasions (like Monday, for instance – it happens only once a week, right? – okay, kidding), which require special wines, so I’m always on the hunt for the interesting wines, whether through the mailing lists (for those that you must have, like Turley or Carlisle), specials at the store or online (thank you, Universe, for the WTSO and Last Bottle). Those special wines disappear inside the wine fridge, and I have lots of fun trying to remember where is what, as I have no record keeping system of any sort, to ensure maximum frustration when looking for a specific bottle.
And then there are days when it is really appropriate to jolt that memory, and moreover, force oneself to make a decision about what bottles deserve to be opened, to celebrate the occasion.
We had a good occasion to celebrate very recently, with the group of close friends, so the bottles were pulled, opened and savored. And memories were created.
Here is what we drunk, more or less in this order:
2013 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain – Carlisle is one of my absolute favorite wine producers in California, who makes a range of single vineyard Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah wines, all representing an outstanding value (most of the wines are under $40). Best way to acquire Carlisle wines is to be on the mailing list (you can sometimes get lucky with the store, but this is quite difficult). While most of the Carlisle wines are red, they also produce few of the whites, which are delicious. I had the same 2013 Grüner last year, and it was great. With another year of age, it became amazing – yes, the star Austrian white grape can grow in California, and very successfully. The wine showed a backbone of herbaceous flavors, but elevated with the bright white fruit and perfect balance. Can’t find you a generic reference, as the wine was rather unique – but if you will ever see a bottle at the store, don’t miss your chance.
Next up was 2010 Peter Michael Belle Côte Chardonnay Sonoma County – what can I tell you? Peter Michael is one of the most coveted producers in California. Just to give you an idea, Peter Michael wines were served at the White House dinner when Queen of England was visiting – not a bad reference, what do you think? To say that the wine was delicious would be an understatement. Fragrant, tongue-coating, luscious and layered. Layers were intertwining, going through all classic Chardonnay elements of vanilla, golden delicious apples, very distant hint of butter, and back to vanilla. This is definitely a special occasion wine – it also manifests in the price ($90) – but then there is always that special moment worth it, you know?
You can’t have a party today without Rosé, can’t you? Of course not. And that Rosé must be special too. Which is easy with 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé Oregon. I came across Antica Terra after tasting their Phantasy wine at a restaurant (it was my wine of the year in 2012). Antica Terra is a very interesting winery in Oregon, with the winemaker honing her skills under none other than Manfred Krankl of the Sine Qua Non. If only Antica Terra wines would be a bit cheaper… Well, let’s go back to that Rosé. It was a full power wine – there was nothing subtle there – but instead there was a perfect parade of the fresh, juicy cranberries and ripe strawberries, with spices and mineral notes – outstanding.
Remember I thanked Universe for Wine Til Sold Out (WTSO)? Had a reason to thank them again after opening the bottle of 2005 Domaine des Monts Luisants Les Genavriéres Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru. Technically, I have an insatiable thirst for the Burgundies – but the problem is that most of the inexpensive ones rather disappoint – and expensive ones – well, I don’t get to drink those. This is where WTSO comes to the rescue – I got this bottle for $50 – of course this is not cheap, but it is special occasions we are talking about here – and this is much better than its retail of close to a $100 or so. The wine was absolutely stunning – bright, sweet, ripe and savory cherries, whole bouquet of herbs, firm structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. A wow wine for sure.
And then there was Leviathan. If you are a wine geek, that name might have a meaning for you. In case it doesn’t, let me try another approach. Ever heard of Screaming Eagle? The most cult out of all cult California Cabernet Sauvignon wines? Until a few years ago, Screaming Eagle wines were made by Andy Ericsson. Leviathan was actually one of Andy Ericsson’s own projects, which was considered for a while to be a second label of Screaming Eagle – which is incorrect, as the second label of Screaming Eagle is the wine called Second Flight. This 2007 Leviathan California Red was outstanding – dark, brooding, with classic flavors of cassis and mint, layered and complex. I decanted it for an hour, which was the right move – but still, this wine is just a baby and needs to rest for a while. Luckily, I do have a second bottle, and even luckier, I have no idea where it is hiding from me, so it is safe for a while.
I hope you see a clear progression here – Grüner, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Rosé, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – we are increasing the depth and concentration with every next wine. So what would you continue this line up with, just for the finishing touch? I’m sure there are few options here, but my decision was … California Zinfandel.
Not just any Zinfandel, but Carlisle – which means lots of dark power. This 2012 Carlisle Zinfandel Montafi Vineyard Russian River Valley was almost a natural continuation of Leviathan – dark berries, sage, round and smooth – it is amazing how Carlisle wines don’t give out the alcohol level of 15.9% – you don’t even think about it until you look for it on the label. Delicious.
And now, to round up the evening? Port! Last year I was lucky to visit Quinta do Tedo, a winery in Douro valley which was founded by the Bouchard family of Burgundy fame. I brought back a few wines, and this 2010 Quinta do Tedo Late Bottled Vintage Porto was one of them. The wine was perfectly delicious – sweet fruit but not a tad hair over the balance – you have a mouthfeel of garden fresh berries, with their natural sweetness, and nothing extra. This was a beautiful finish for our special evening.
I’m glad we have special days in our lives, so we can have such memorable celebrations. I had a bit of time to reflect on this stupendous group of wines, and I figured that I actually had a favorite – that Burgundian wine was simply flawless – I don’t know if the wine was at a peak, will it further evolve or will it start to decline – but what I had was spectacular.
I would like to leave you with this, my friends. What were your memorable wines as of late? Cheers!
Solitude. An interesting word, isn’t it? Is it something good or is it something bad? Let’s see what the dictionaries think of solitude:
If we think of solitude as a feeling of isolation, this clearly doesn’t sound good. We, humans, are social creatures. We want to connect, communicate, love, laugh, interact. Feeling isolated is really opposite to feeling connected and engaged, so let’s leave it as that – feeling isolated is not what we want, so this is not the solitude we want to talk about.
Let’s then talk about solitude as the “state in which you are alone usually because you want to be“. Every once in a while, our connected sensors become overloaded. Too many things to do, too many tasks to finish. The new things which must be done arrive without any regard to the things which we are still doing. We are going somewhere all the time, without even understanding the direction, or what is even worse, without understanding of why we are going there.
Solitude is our way out. Have you ever been up in the mountains, where there are no other sounds outside of gentle murmur of leaves and muted whisper of wind? How does it feel? Or may be instead of the mountains, you prefer to stand by the ocean, listening to the dreamy sounds of the slowly pulsating waves? With every wave gently crawling up the sand line, the tension becomes less, the mind becomes clearer, and our energy replenished.
The challenge is that unless we are a lucky few, most of us can’t just magically happen to be by the ocean or up in the mountains when we need it the most. And to take things further to the dark side, most of us now live in the constant state of over-socializing. Think about all the tweets we have to respond to, facebook statuses and instagrams to like, snapchats and periscopes to watch. If we thought we were overloaded before, how can we describe our state now? The state of solitude, which we need for our own well-being, is more ephemeral than ever before. Yes, it is literally unattainable.
While we are talking about life, this is a wine blog after all. Tell me the truth – you knew that I will turn it all to the wine, didn’t you?
How does the wine relates to the solitude, you ask? To begin with, think about the wine while it is being made. We are seeking solitude by the ocean or up in the mountains – but have you ever stood between the rows vines on a quiet day, without talking or looking at your phone? Did you feel relaxed and restored just by standing there?
Or have you ever stood in the middle of the dimly lit cellar, breathing the wine smell and admiring the silence, thinking about the wines, quietly and patiently laying there? The wines spend month and month in that perfect solitude, left to themselves, to age and mature, before they will see you again.
And then there is may be the best and easiest moment of solitude any wine lover can experience at any time. Yes, wine is meant to be shared, and it is wonderful when you are in the company of the people who share you passion. But think about that moment when you take a sip of wine, and for that exact moment, the world stops, it doesn’t go anywhere, it becomes quiet. You are left one on one with that wine. You ponder at it. You reflect. You are one on one with yourself, in your moment of solitude, brought to you by that sip of wine.
I remember being in the Rioja seminar, and listening to our guide talk about his experience sharing the bottle of 80 years old Rioja (from 1922) with the group of friends (also wine professionals). He said that they poured the wine and had a sip, and the table was quiet for the next 5 minutes. Nobody wanted to say anything. Everybody were transposed. And they were in their moment of solitude.
Let me leave you with that. Have you ever found your moment of solitude in the glass of wine? I hope you did, and if not – don’t worry, it will come. Just give it time.
This post is an entry for the 26th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC26), with the theme of “Solitude”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel
Let’s say you are given a glass of wine. Can you tell if this is a good wine or not? Before you will jump on the obvious, let me clarify this question a bit – the wine is in the perfect condition – it is not corked, it is not cooked, it is not oxidized – there are no common faults of any kind, this is just a well made bottle of wine. So, is it good or not?
Is this question even makes sense? Can such a question be answered? Let’s talk about something more common first – food. Imagine you are in a restaurant for dinner, with friends and family. The dishes start arriving, and here is a side of french fries. There is a very good chance that if the fries are executed properly – good color, nice consistent cut, crispy and not soggy, with the right amount of salt, tasting fresh – everybody at the table would universally agree that “the fries are good”, and you can only hope that there were enough fries ordered for everybody to share. What also important here is that nobody would be shy to slam these very french fries if something is not up to snuff – too much salt, fried in the old oil etc – everybody is confident in their ability to judge french fries to be universally good and tasty, or not.
Stepping up from the side dish, let’s take a look at the main dishes ordered around the table. Someone got steak, someone got lobster, someone is enjoying vegetarian lasagna. Now, it would be much harder to build taste consensus around the table for all these dishes. One person likes steak rare, and the other one only eats it well done – it will be very hard for these two to agree what is good and what is not. Someone might be allergic to a shellfish – there is no way they can even touch the sauce from that lobster dish to attest to your “this is sooo good” claim. So yes, it is hard to build a consensus here, but people are confident in their own right about the dishes they ordered to be able to judge good or not. If steak doesn’t have the right level of doneness, it will be sent back. If lobster is not seasoned right – well, not sure about “sent back”, but I’m sure the problem with the dish will be stated and discussed at the table. And of course if one states that their dish is delicious, then the whole table must try at least a tiny bit to experience “the goodness” (at least this is how it works in our family).
Now, arriving at a wine, the situation is different, and often dramatically. Unlike french fries, the wine still has an aura of mystery, of a special knowledge required to be able to understand and appreciate it, and to claim if it is good or not. The same people who are very confident to send underdone or overly salty (to their personal taste!) steak back to the kitchen, will be very shy and even afraid to say anything if the wine is obviously corked – they will take it as their own inability to properly understand the wine, and therefore will not say anything. Of course the situation is not as consistently dramatic as I present it here – wine today is very popular, and increasing number of people feeling confident enough around it to state what they like and not; however, step out of the oenophile circle, and go dine with people who drink wine occasionally, and I guarantee you will hear “ahh, I don’t know anything about wine” as an answer to the question if they like the wine or not.
In reality, making a personal “good/not good” decision about the wine is as easy as in the case of french fries. I took the “Windows on the World” wine school back in the day, which was taught by Kevin Zraly – Kevin is single-handedly responsible for teaching tens of thousands of people to understand and appreciate the wine. Of course, the question “is this a good wine or not” was one of the most important questions people wanted to get an answer for in such a course. Kevin’s explanation was very simple: “Take a sip of this wine. If this wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine”. You can look at it as overly simplistic, as there are many factors affecting the perceived taste of wine – where we are, who we are with, the label, the story behind the label, the temperature, the mood, yada, yada, yada. Of course this all matters. But still, for majority of the cases, we are looking for pleasure out of drinking the glass of wine – the way it smells, the way it tastes, with all the little discoveries we make as we let the wine open up and change in the glass (“ahh, I taste blueberries and chocolate now”) – all those little pleasant moments we experience with every sip, it gives us a pleasure of enjoying a glass of wine; if we are getting the pleasure, this is a good wine. Yep, I said it was simple.
Very often pleasure is simplistically associated with erotic and sex, or at least that would be the very first thing which will come to the mind of many once they hear the word “pleasure” – oh no, I see your condemning look, of course I’m not talking about you, you are wired differently. Meanwhile, we derive pleasure from everything which surrounds us, and from everything we do – and if we don’t, we work hard to fix it. Every waking moment of our day is a perfect illustration to this. If we start our day from a walk or maybe a meditation – it is a pleasure of being one on one with yourself, deep in your own thoughts. Think about the pleasure of hugging that morning cup of coffee or tea and smelling the aroma. We look at the watch on our hand – it doesn’t have to be the Rolex or Philippe Patek to be admired and to create a feeling of pleasure. We put on a shirt or a blouse, look in the mirror – and we are pleased with the way we look (okay, fine, we might not be – but again, then we get to work hard to fix it). After the day at work, we come home to be welcomed by a wagging tail and a scream “mommy is home” followed by a huge smile and a hug – tell me that this is not what defines pleasure. No, not everything we do gives us pleasure – but those little bits and pieces of pleasure are what we seek, every time, every day.
Wine is simply a complementing part of our lives. Today we are in the mood for the white shirt, tomorrow – for the blue with yellow stripes; similarly, today you might want the glass of Pinot Noir, tomorrow it can be Tempranillo. We are constantly changing, and so do the things which we will get the pleasure from. People go from carnivores to vegetarians to vegans and back to carnivores – as long as we find pleasure in the way we are at the moment, that is all that matters. No matter what is in your glass, if it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. It really doesn’t matter what the experts said about the wine you are drinking. It really doesn’t matter what your friends say. If this is White Zinfandel in your glass, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is massive, brooding Barolo, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is big, oaky, buttery California Chardonnay, and it gives you pleasure, this is a good wine – don’t let anyone who says that Chardonnay should be unoaked and acidic to persuade you otherwise. It is okay to have your own, individual taste – we do it with everything else, and wine shouldn’t be any different.
If the wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine.
This post is an entry for the 24th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC24), with the theme of “Pleasure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New.