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Zoom Rhymes With Wine

May 17, 2020 4 comments

Zoom rhymes with wine. Nonsense, you said? Of course, silly, they don’t. Not in a traditional poetic sense for sure. Maybe only in a haiku?

Sun setting down
Zoom glimmers seductively
Pour the wine

Well, if this was the worst thing you ever read, feel free to disavow me. But for those who want to talk, let’s have a conversation about wine and technology? Or maybe just today’s life?

While wine is my passion, it is my hobby. Obsessive? Maybe. But still a hobby. My daytime job is in the computers and technology field, and if you will allow me to be even more precise, it is IP communications technologies, which cover almost everything from the internet to videoconferencing and to your toaster conspiring against you with your microwave (don’t worry, it is early and they still can be stopped). In this technology space, I was lucky to meet Jeff Pulver, who was a pioneer and a visionary, and not only in the space of technology but also in social media.

Before Twitter was even a concept, Jeff came up with a concept of a social breakfast. You see, many of the technologists are socially very conservative, and when those people get together, the hardest thing is to start a conversation. Every attendee of Jeff’s breakfast was given a few stickers to either tag oneself or a person they were talking to with random “identifiers” you would come up with during conversation, such as “wine”, “music”, “VC”, “video” – as you move around the room, those tags were easy conversation starters. If someone has a tag “garden”, you don’t need to think about what to ask that person, you can simply ask about that tag.

The attendees also had to come up with the tagline which would describe them in a short sentence. Mine was “I like wine and technology that works” – again, you don’t need to think hard about your first question when presented with an opener like this.

Believe it or not, but the technology part in my tagline above is more relevant to today’s world than the wine. How so? The company I was working for was in the videoconferencing space. And in those days (the early 2000s), the technology was subpar at the best – typical video conferencing call inflicted a lot of pain and suffering on all the participants, and every 10-15 minutes you could talk without significant quality degradation or a call simply dropping, was almost a reason to celebrate. And all that technology was really expensive and available only to businesses with deep pockets.

The situation is dramatically different today. There is a gazillion of platforms offering video communication capabilities, either streaming (Facebook live, Instagram live, Youtube live, …) or interactive video for two or more people (skype, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, Google hangouts and then serious commercial ones such as Zoom and Microsoft teams) – and nevertheless, the video was not really a tool in the wine world.

Even in the early days, the wine industry realized the value of social media and the “word of mouth” opportunity it offered to educate wine consumers and promote wine producers, wine brands, and individual wines. As the internet was becoming more accessible and easier to use, at first there were the wine blogs. Twitter quickly became a social media darling of the wine world, offering not only the ability to reach anyone with the twitter handle, no matter how famous those people were, but also becoming an enabler of the group conversations, better known as the twitter chats.

Over the years, I participated in lots of different twitter chats, run under #winechat, #winestudio, #WiningHourChat, and the others. Twitter chats were always fun exercises that were difficult to follow – try to have 10 conversations at once, all with your hands, also trying to taste wine at the same time – not that easy. There were also a few of the video wine presentations, where winemakers would get together and present their wines (Montefalco Sagrantino presentation was one of the most memorable for me), with the audience running the discussion via chat – Snooth also conducted quite a few of those. But through all the years, I attended only one or maybe two tastings at the most which were done in the interactive video format, where all the participants were able to discuss the wines among themselves and talk to the winemakers and presenters – winemaker lunches and dinners were unquestionably much better venues. Until the virus happened.

The appearance of the COVID-19 has put everyone’s world upside down. With all the people stuck in homes, video communication became a lifesaver. Literally. It allowed people to reduce the pain of isolation. It gave us the ability to share our experiences, even if we were drinking different wines – but we were still able to do it together. Many winemakers embraced the opportunity which new world order had offered to meet their customers face to face – the tasting rooms became virtual, but luckily, the wines were not. Remember my tagline – “technology that works”? Zoom is a perfect example of that – it simply works. The level of communication experience which Zoom provides was not yet possible even 5-6 years ago. And today, we can have as many live video conversations as we want – for as long as we want them. I’ve been myself on the few calls which were not expected to last even for an hour, and instead, they lasted for 3 – all of it without a glitch. Yes, color me impressed. very impressed. And do you see now my point that zoom rhymes with wine?

The most interesting question for me if this newly found love between wine and video communications is here to stay. Once the world goes back to normal (yes, it will), will we have the time for 3 hours zoom call on a moment’s notice? I would argue that yes, the video-enabled virtual tasting room will become a newfound convenience – but it will not replace the actual clinking of the glasses around the table.

What do you say? Does zoom rhymes with wine for you? Cheers!

Stay At Home Resources for Wine Lover

April 15, 2020 2 comments

Since our world was flipped upside down a few months ago, and home is now one and only place for everything, including all winery visits, wine tastings, wine events, and festivals, I thought I would compile a list of items that might be useful for the wine lovers under the lockdown. I plan to make continuous updates to this list as new resources will come to my attention, so you might even want to bookmark this post.

Buying wine:

This might be a big question for many wine lovers – where to buy wine. Most of the wine stores are closed for in-person visits, and ordering wine via the phone requires you to know exactly what you want. Buying wine online can be done at one’s own pace and allows for thorough research if one desires. Now, as I love value, my two favorite places to buy wine are:

WTSO – this is a flash sale site. Typical WTSO sale is the wines that are priced reasonably well but require a minimum number of bottles to get free shipping. However, WTSO now offers case buys of the wines of your choice for $120 per case, shipping included. WTSO also offers Last Chance Wines, where you can buy wine in single quantities, and still have free shipping.

Last Bottle – another flash sale site; the model is similar to WTSO with a minimum number of bottles required to purchase to get free shipping.

Both WTSO and Last Bottle offer periodic Marathon events where wines can be acquired in the single bottle quantities – but those run once in 3 months or so.

If the price is not a concern and you want premium selection, take a look at Benchmark Wine Group – here you can find DRC at $10K, but you can also find a perfectly aged, 20 years old California Merlot at $20, and it will be still delicious.

Of course, these are not the only sources of wine. You can buy wine from other online retailers such as Wine.com, where you can always get additional discounts (American Express often runs specials for Wine.com, such as $30 off $100 purchase, or you can find other discount codes such as $50 off $150 purchase with the code “CIQ50” (in effect on the date of writing).

Directly from wineries – the absolute majority of wineries today offer flat rate shipping for their wines, sometimes with a minimum purchase required. Shipping can range from $0 to $15. If you have a favorite winery, this is a great option, as it also feels good knowing you are helping a business to stay afloat.

Wine Education:

This might be a perfect time to further your wine education. There is plenty of free educational wine content available everywhere. For example, web sites such as Rioja Wine and Wines of Portugal offer a wealth of information to any wine lover desiring to learn – without the need to spend even a penny. Just use your browser to type in whatever it is you want to learn – and your lessons will start.

Virtual tastings – this might sound like a misnomer at first – what is the point of watching winemaker tasting and talking about the wines if you don’t have the same wines in front of you – but then there is a possibility of doing it correctly. For example, Tablas Creek, one of the Rhone-style pioneers from Paso Robles, is offering a special virtual tasting pack of 4 half bottles – now you can actually follow along and learn. Tablas Creek is not the only winery which found the right way to do the virtual tasting – a quick search in Google for “virtual tasting pack” yielded names such as Clos Du Val, Benovia Winery, Rutherford Hill Winery, Project M Wines, Pindar Vineyards, and Stony Hill Vineyard, all offering specially designed packs for your next virtual tasting.

Wine Books – there are myriads of the wine books, of course. Here is the compilation of the wine books I personally like which you can buy off Amazon. I can offer you also another list – these are the books recommended by Wine Spectator magazine, well worth your attention.

Wine Entertainment:

Movies – movies are probably the most popular form of entertainment and considering the popularity of the wine, there is plenty to look for. You can look up the old movies, such as Sideways or the Bottle Shock. You can also watch the SOMM (available on Amazon Prime), or some of the most recent movies such as Uncorked on Netflix, or The Wine Guys again on Amazon Prime.

Wine Blogs – there are thousands and thousands of wine blogs. A lot of them are entertaining, and a lot of them are not – you will need to find what speaks to you. To help you with that, here is the list of Top 100 wine blogs according to the Feedspot. Also, this very blog you are reading (and I want to thank you for that), had been around for more than 10 years – there are many of the posts here which you might find interesting and entertaining, such as a series of the April 1st posts, winemaker’s interviews, or wine and grape quizzes.

Wine communities:

Last but very far from least is the issue of self-isolation. It is not easy to be stuck between four walls, without knowing when the life will restart. It definitely helps to have a community of sorts, just to be able to talk to other like-minded human beings. Videoconferencing today helps you greatly to solve this problem. You can use Facetime, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, skype to talk to your friends one on one. You can also get a free account on zoom.us, and your world will become a little, tiny bit more comfortable. Another option might be to join one of the existing wine groups on Facebook, such as #Winelover (more than 26.5K members) or Friends Who Like Wine In The Glass (more than 10K members) – or you can start your own wine group on Facebook – it is really easy.

The self-isolation will pass. The virus will pass. Use this time as an opportunity to self-reflect, learn and grow. It’s all going to be alright.

Latest Wine News and Updates

April 1, 2020 4 comments

Of course, it would be too much to say that wine is in the center of everyone’s attention – but it is a beloved beverage for hundreds of millions, and some tens of millions are involved in wine industry one way or the other, so the wine news definitely gathers some attention.

From time to time, I share in this blog some of the interesting tidbits of what’s going on in the wine world, so here is the latest round of newsworthy happenings around the globe.

When you hear Chateau d’Yquem, what do you think of first? Of course, the quintessential Sauternes, the magical elixir not even produced in all the years. But – do you know that Chateau d’Yquem also produces dry white wine? It is called “Y”, and it is a tasty blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Last month, Chateau d’Yquem announced that they will be expanding their portfolio and adding … wait for it … a red wine which will be called Y Not. It appears that 5 years ago, Chateau d’Yquem replaced some of their Sauvignon Blanc plantings with the Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, and now it is ready to produce the first vintage. The 2019 Y Not will be released in 2022. The price had not been disclosed at the moment, but considering the total production of 300 cases, you can imagine that it will not be inexpensive.

We are not done with Chateau d’Yquem yet. It leaked to the press that venerable Harlan Estate from Napa Valley, one of the topmost cult wine producers in the USA, enlisted the help of Chateau d’Yquem to start production of the dessert wine! The wine will be produced from the late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon. It is expected that the wine will be aged for at least 2 years in the mix of old and new French oak barriques, and probably 1 year in the bottle. The wine will be called Sweet Baby Harlan, and the 2020 vintage will be offered to the mailing list members at one 375 ml bottle per customer with the starting price of $1,100. Considering the tiny production, this wine will be impossible to get for a while.

Our next news is really bazaar. It’s been reported in The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Massachusetts that a number of Market Basket supermarkets experienced a little mayhem in the bottled juice section of the stores – the juice bottles (narrowed down to the grape juice bottles only after the few incidents) started to blow up at random, covering customers in sweet and sticky liquid. The culprit was traced to the popular brand of grape juice – Welch’s. Welch’s recalled all of the grape juice bottles sold in Massachusetts supermarket and opened the investigation into the incident. Based on the initial analysis, it appears that the yeast was added to the bottles at the final steps of the production, and as you know, the combination of yeast and sugar is how the wine is made, so blown up bottles come at no surprise. Apparently, some of the customers who managed to get the unexploded bottle to the homes were pleasantly surprised with the bubbly version of the popular grape juice, and some are even planning to start a petition to Welch’s to make this new type of grape juice a new product, possibly using some reinforced bottles.

It is not a secret that Australian winemakers are always eager and willing to step away from traditions and try the pioneering technologies, no matter how unorthodox they are. A simple example is a so-called screw cap, also known as Stelvin, which was developed in the late 1960s, and Yalumba winery in Australia become one of the early adopters introducing new bottle closure in 1973. Now another Australian wine producer, Penfolds, maker of the legendary Grange, decided to step in with a brand new solution for reducing the carbon footprint of the wine, which the wine industry is constantly grilled for. With the help of scientists at The University of Adelaide, Penfolds developed a brand new plastic bottle that is completely safe for storing the wine. Not only it is lightweight, but it is also made from the recycled materials and – get this – biodegradable. The bottle is guaranteed to fully disintegrate in 5 years’ time. The only culprit? The bottle will disintegrate in 5 years no matter what, so it will not be any time soon that we will see Penfolds Grange offered in this form of packaging. But for all the regular wines, which should be consumed as they are acquired, this will be a perfect vessel. Just don’t “leave and forget” such a bottle in your cellar – or you will remember it for a long time…

While the wine industry is squarely rooted in traditions, it is never shy to enlist the latest technology to help to advance its cause – helping people to enjoy their life a little bit more. Knowing when to open the bottle of wine to ensure the best possible experience is one of the most difficult problems of any oenophile, whether he or she is a Master Sommelier or an occasional drinker consuming two bottles of wine a year. Some of the most technologically advanced companies in the wine industry, world-famous specialty glass producer, Riedel, and Coravin Wine Systems, maker of the popular wine dispensing solution, teamed up to create a product which they called Smart Bottle. Seemingly indistinguishable from the regular glass bottle, the Smart Bottle is equipped with the array of sensors which constantly monitor the state of the wine inside the bottle, and will inform the owner when the bottle reached the ideal consumption phase via embedded Wi-Fi transmitter directly to the owner’s phone. While working on the design of the Smart Bottle, both companies filed about 25 patents. Apparently all leading wine producers in the world – DRC, Petrus, Chateau Latour, Screaming Eagle, Sine Qua Non and many, many others already lined up to get the Smart Bottle as soon as it will be released. An important and attractive feature of the Smart Bottle is the ability for producers to set up the proper aging profile specific to their particular wine, as it is clear that ideal indications, let’s say for DRC and Sine Qua Non will be quite different. Riedel and Coravin reported that they are finishing field trials and the production is slated to start in 2021.

That’s all the latest news I have for you, my friends. Until the next time – cheers!

Daily Glass: Cab And The Whole Nine Yards

January 24, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m sure you are well familiar with the phrase “The whole 9 yards” – technically translating into “lots of stuff”. You know what the fun part is? Nobody knows where this expression came from. There is a lot of research, a lot of “true origin” claims and an equal amount of disparaging remarks about the other side not knowing a squat about the subject (which seems to be the sign of times, sigh). We are not here to research or discuss the expression – my intention is to talk about a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, but I will also give you the whole nine yards of related and unrelated “things”.

Everything started with a simple task – I was in need of the present for a friend’s birthday. My typical present is a bottle of wine of the birth year vintage (1977). However, it is getting more and more difficult to find the wine of such an old vintage at a reasonable price or even at all. After spending some time with Wine-Searcher and Benchmark Wine website, and finding nothing but a few bottles of the vintage Port, I decided that it is the time for the plan B, which means simply finding an interesting bottle of wine.

Next problem – where should I look for an interesting bottle of wine? Online seems to be the most obvious choice – but just to make things more interesting, I have to tell you that my gift recipient owns two liquor stores – yep, surprising him is not a trivial task.

Do you have an American Express credit card? Of course, you are wondering what it has to do with our story? It is most directly related. If you have the American Express credit card (AMEX for short), and if you ever looked at your account online, you probably saw the section called Amex Offers & Benefits. In that section, you can find 100 special offers, allowing you to earn additional points or save money on different items you can buy with the AMEX card. I have a good experience with these offers, these are real savings, so I have a habit of periodically logging into the account and scrolling through the offers. One of the offers I saw quickly attracted my attention – save $50 on a $150 purchase at WineAccess. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a very good deal for me.

I was not familiar with Wine Access, so I got to the website to see if I can actually put this offer to good use. First thing I saw on the site is that $120 or 6 bottles purchase includes shipping, and if you are buying wine online, you know that shipping cost is one of the most annoying elements of the wine buying experience, so this made deal even sweeter – in case I can find something interesting.

I can’t tell you why and how, I first decided to search for Grosset, one of the very best Australian Riesling producers, and to my surprise and delight, I found Grosset Riesling available. So now I needed to add something else to reach my target number – $150.

I found an interesting Bordeaux, and next, I noticed a red blend from the Three Wine company in Napa, one of my favorite producers. My excitement happened to be premature, as once I started the checkout process, created an account and set my shipping address in Connecticut, I found out that I can’t complete my purchase as Three Wine red blend can’t be shipped to Connecticut (don’t you love US wine laws?).

I had to restart my search, and now I noticed Napa Cabernet Sauvignon called Idiosyncrasy – never heard of it, but Oakville Cab for $25 (this was a 50% discount off a standard price of $50) – why not to try one? I got two bottles, one for me, and one for my friend – done and done.

Once the order was placed I decided to check what exactly I just bought. I did a search for the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet online. I didn’t find too many references, but I did find a post which was very critical of the wine, saying that it was thin, and under-extracted Cabernet Sauvignon, absolutely no worthy of $43 which author paid for the wine. I also learned that this wine was specially produced for the Wine Access wine club by the well-known winemaker.

Truth be told – I don’t like wine clubs. What I learned about the wine, didn’t add confidence to my decision. Oh well – now I just had to wait for the shipment to arrive.

I didn’t have to wait for a long, the box showed up on the doorstep in a few days. Upon opening, I found not only 6 bottles which I ordered, but also neat, well-designed information cards – you can see it here:

Each card offered the story related to the wine, pairing suggestions, ideal drinking window put on the bottle tag which could be easily separated from the page and hang on the bottle in case you store it in the cellar. The back of the info card offered space for personal notes. Again, very well designed – would make any oenophile happy.

I read the story of the Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon – it was written from the first person, as winemaker talked about his experience and how he came to the creation of this wine specifically for the Wine Access wine club. While the winemaker mentioned his work at Quintessa, Lail, Dalla Valle, and Purlieu, his latest adventure, his name was not found anywhere on the page. I had to figure out that his name was Julien Fayard by visiting Purlieu website.

Nice paper and story are important, but the truth is in the glass. Remembering the bad review, I poured the glass of 2016 Idiosyncrasy Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley (14.9% ABV), ready to be disappointed. To my delight, I was not. The keyword to describe this wine would be “elegant”. Varietally correct nose with touch cassis and mint. On the palate, the wine was rather of Bordeaux elegance – less ripe but perfectly present fruit, a touch of bell pepper, firm structure, perfect balance (Drinkability: 8/8+). Was this the best Cabernet Sauvignon I ever tasted? It was not. Was it the wine I would want to drink again? Absolutely, any day. Was it a good value at $25? This was a great value at $25, and even at $50, it would still be a good value.

Here you go, my friends – a story of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the whole nine yards. Cheers!

Wine Discovery Pack

November 19, 2019 Leave a comment

My relatives, a young couple, are getting into the wine. In search of what they like, which they still have to determine, they are starting the process of discovery – taking notes, making records of what they like and don’t like – something which will definitely lead them to the right path.

I wanted to help them, so I decided to create a special wine set, which I called the Discovery Pack – 6 wines which can help the beginners to identify their preferences – yes, it takes a lot more than 6 wines to figure the wine world out, but still, it is a guided start as opposed to the pure trial and error.

While working on putting together a good learning set of wines, I came up with the following criteria to decide on what wines to include:

  • The wine should be reasonably priced, so I set the limit at $20 per bottle. Yes, you can find well drinkable wines under $10 – but finding such wines is quite difficult. Yes, I could go higher, but a lot of expensive young wines are simply not drinkable, they need to age, and besides, expensive wines might not be what the young family might be excited about.
  • The wines should be mainstream wines – there should be no problems finding these wines anywhere in the US. It doesn’t make sense to offer someone an amazing bottle of wine which will be impossible to find, as the idea is to help with finding the favorites, and then being able to buy the wines again with ease.
  • The wines should be representative of their region or styles. It is easily possible to find unique and amazing wines in any price range – however Bobal, Trepat, Teroldego, or Schiava, no matter how tasty, are hard to find and always a hit or miss exercise. Once you are a bona fide wine lover, you do as you pleased, but when you are just learning, missteps might have long term consequences – once someone decides “oh, I don’t like this type of wine”, it might take a very long (if ever) time to reverse that sentiment.

Okay, so the playing field is set. Let’s see how I managed to address my own requirements.

First, I decided that it will be all red wines set. A typical wine lover’s evolution is sweet – red – white – dessert, so red is a good starting point. There is some sort of uniformity between major red grapes, at least texturally – any whites will be all over the place (think of a range of expressions of Sauvignon Blanc: Sancerre – Italy – New Zealand – California – Chile). Red wines are easier to deal with. Secondly, I wanted to offer a trip around the world – not necessarily easy with only 6 bottles, but I tried.

My first selection was the easiest for me – Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah California ($10-$12). This wine is a solid, you-can’t-go-wrong choice in the $9.99 – $11.99 price range. The recommendation here is not the style or the region so much as the particular wine. It typically has good amount of fruit, nicely restrained and perfectly drinkable upon pulling out the cork. Always a safe choice when in doubt; will work perfectly with a casual Friday dinner or a Saturday BBQ. On a wider scale, California Petitte Sirah is a good grape to be familiar with – yes, you can always find renditions that require long aging, such as Retro or Runquist, but on the other hand, you might get lucky with Turley or Quivira.

Wine #2 is another favorite which first and foremost represents itself – Original House Wine Red Blend ($9.99). The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and other red grapes. In the older days, the wine was designated as Columbia Valley, Washington – now it seems to be saying just “American wine” on the website, however, the back label indicates Walla Walla, Washington. In any case, at around $9.99, this is an excellent wine – supple, fruity, bold – but not overboard. You can build upon this wine as it can be an introduction into the well-made blends, and it can be also a nice introduction into the Washington wines.

Wine #3 – Las Rocas Garnacha Catalayud Spain ($15). If you are familiar with this blog, you could easily predict that Spanish wine will be on the list – but you probably were expecting to see Rioja or Ribera del Duero wine. I went with Garnacha, known outside of Spain as Grenache because, in the under $20 price range, both Rioja and Ribera del Duero are hit and miss. Yes, I can find drinkable examples of Rioja under $20, but there are so many insipid Rioja wines in that price range that it will not do anyone any good. Garnacha is a much safer choice – there is a good level of consistency in this price range. Las Rocas Garnacha is a good example, with  a core of red fruit over the medium body. Easy to drink and at around $15, nobody needs to break the bank to enjoy another Monday night. This wine is selected to be more of a representative of style, grape, and the region, so you can continue trying a variety of Garnacha wines, maybe eventually graduating with Alto Moncayo Aquilon or even Clos Erasmus.

Wine #4 – Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone France ($15). There is absolutely no way France can be left outside of such a discovery portfolio. When it comes to France, the most obvious options are Bordeaux or Burgundy, however, Burgundy just doesn’t exist in under $20 price category, and Bordeaux will be extremely inconsistent. Besides, I wouldn’t recommend Bordeaux and Burgundy to the beginner wine drinkers. However, Cote du Rhone is an entirely different story. Cote du Rhone wines, which are typically a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (so-called GSM blend) in various proportions, are easy to drink. They are soft, simple, loaded with tasty cherries and plums smothered over medium body. Saint Cosme, which is a very good producer, simply represents the region here. Delas, M. Chapoutier, Guigal, Perrin, and many others offer reliable choices in the same price range. GSM blends can be found everywhere throughout the Rhone, so after you establish your palate with Cote du Rhone wines, you can graduate to Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and then slowly embrace the Northern Rhone.

Wine #5 – Ciacci Collosorbo Rosso di Montalcino Italy ($19.99). The Discovery pack must include Italian wine, isn’t it? Choosing one Italian wine based on the 3 criteria set here is very far from easy. To stay under $20, Chianti, Salice Salentino, Montepulciano represent far better options than most other Italian regions. However, Chianti and Montepulciano can be hit and miss, and with Salice Salentino you will be limited to 1-2 choices your wine store will offer – if you are lucky. The original plan was still to go with Cecchi Chianti Classico, highly recommended by John Fodera – however, the wine didn’t make it into the stock, so I decided to go with the so-called baby Brunello. Rosso di Montalcino as a category is well approachable, offering wines which are unmistakably Italian with all of the cherry, leather, and tobacco notes – and easy to drink while young, without the need to cellar them. I might be bending the rules on this wine just a bit because while I got it at $19.99 here in Stamford, it might be a bit more expensive in many places. Well, it should be possible to find Rosso di Montalcino wines under $20, so we are okay here. And then the Rosso offers a graduation pass to the Brunello di Montalcino, and then maybe a jump to the Super Tuscans.

Wine #6 – Alamos Malbec Selección Mendoza Argentina ($16.99). There were multiple contenders for the last spot in our discovery set – Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa. Australia, Chile, and South Africa don’t offer consistency in this price range, and while New Zealand reds can be available under $20, it really doesn’t offer much of the selection. I decided to go with Malbec, as it is usually something most of the beginners can appreciate, with its soft dark fruit and vanilla notes. There is also a level of consistency associated with Argentinian Malbec, and $15 – $20 range allows for the higher quality wines such as this Alamos Malbec Selección or Trapiche Broquel.

Here you go – my 6 wines discovery set. Now, I have a question for you, wine buffs, snobs, and aficionados – what would you offer for the beginner wine drinkers as a learning introduction into the world of wines, also based on the three principals I outlined? Don’t be shy – comment away! Cheers!

 

June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures

July 10, 2019 1 comment

The Vessel Hudson YardsJune might be my favorite month of the year. There are many reasons for me to say that. For one, it is the very beginning of summer. It is like a Friday night when the whole weekend is still ahead – the same thing with June, the summer is just starting. Then it is the month of my birthday and Father’s Day, which means I get to celebrate a few holidays which are related to me. Throw in the end of school celebration and occasional graduation, and you can clearly tell June brings a lot of reasons to be happy.

This June of 2019 went particularly overboard with all the goodness. At the beginning of the month, I got invited to so many wine tastings and dinners that I had to simply decline the number of invitations. Those which I managed to attend were an absolute standout. Tasting of South African wines was small, but superb, with lots of simply delicious wines. Right after the South African wine tasting, I met with Stefano Ruini, the winemaker for Bodegas Luce, tasted through yet another excellent set of wines and finally realized that Luce, the wine I tasted and admired before, is a Merlot Sangiovese blend produced in the heart of the land of Brunello.

The last event of the same day was a dinner with Michael Benedict and John Terlato of Sanford and Benedict Winery, a pioneer of California Pinot Noir, which took place at the spanking new Hudson Yards, at the Wild Ink restaurant, overlooking freshly minted The Vessel.

My next day was even more memorable, with two hours of the pure joy of talking to Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery in Napa Valley, and tasting (a better way to put it: been blown away by) Stu’s wines, which were simply a standout.

That eventful week ended with the L’Ecole 41, iconic Walla Walla producer’s lunch and vertical tasting, where I finally discovered for myself what is all the fuss about Ferguson.

Then there was Father’s Day, with all the cooking fun and an opportunity to open a special bottle of wine – it is always easier to pull a better bottle when you have a good reason to do so.

My cooking fun was more of the usual – BBQ. However, I experimented with the way the meat was prepared. The chicken breast was marinated overnight in the onion juice if this is a thing – simply a big Vidalia onion pulverized in the blender and then used as a marinade – with the addition of the bbq spices. The lamb was marinated overnight in the buttermilk also with the addition of rosemary, sage, and the spices. The result was outstanding – both chicken and lamb came out juicy, tender, and delicious.

The wine story started with the 2018 Field Recordings Morro View Edna Valley (13.9% ABV, 100% Grüner Veltliner) – fresh undertones of grass, Meyer lemon, bright, crisp acidity – a perfect sip for the summer day.

Two of the Martinelli wines joined the party. Martinelli is most famous as the grape growers, however, they also produced a number of wines under their own name, albeit those are rare. First, we had 2009 Martinelli Syrah Zio Tony Ranch “Gianna Marie” Russian River Valley (15.4% ABV), which took a bit of time to open up into the a delicious, blackberries and pepper concoction, firm and supple.

I only had two bottles of Martinelli so I had no plans to open both on the same occasion. However, when my oldest daughter came and said “Dad, I can have a glass of wine over the next two hours and I want California Pinot Noir” (she has medical condition which generally prevents her from enjoying any type of alcohol), the only wine my brain could think of was 2010 Martinelli Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (15.5% ABV), as I saw this bottle in the fridge the day before. This was a classic California Pinot Noir, which I generally describe as “plums and smoke” – soft, layered, good amount of fruit without going overboard, delicious long finish – an excellent example of the California Pinot Noir – and by the way, perfectly balanced – 15.5% ABV was absolutely unnoticeable.

The last wine I had high hopes for … well, didn’t work out. Back in 2012, I had 2004 Retro Petite Sirah, which was one of my top dozen wines of 2012. This time I opened 2007 Retro Petite Sirah Howell Mountain (14% ABV), hoping that 12 years is enough for this wine to at least start opening up. Nope, no such luck. The fruit was nowhere to be found, the wine mostly had sapidity, coffee and roasted meat notes on the first day, despite being decanted. It slowly improved day by day and showed some glimpses of the fruit on the third day, but still, it didn’t deliver the pleasure I was hoping for.

Well, let’s stop here. I will tell you about the rest of June in the next post – with lots (lots!) more pictures.

To be continued…

Wednesday Meritage – Festivals Galore

June 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

It seems that June is everyone’s favorite month for wine and food events. I guess it makes sense – the schools and colleges just finishing the year, the weather is generally great, and the vacation season didn’t fully start yet – so all the event organizers are trying to pack as much as they can into that one month. No matter what the reason – the end result is an abundance of choice when it comes to the different events focused on food and wine lovers.

I wanted to share with you three of the events which look interesting. Two of the events fall on the same weekend, so you will have to make some decisions, but having a choice is better than having none, right?

Let’s start with the event which will be taking place around the country – a Black Truffle Festival 2019. Who doesn’t like truffles? Well, actually, I know some people who don’t, but outside of those few, the majority is easily excited at the prospect of having a dish – pasta, risotto, steak – all covered with generous shavings of black truffles and exuding the aroma which alone makes you hungry. From June 14th until June 23rd, top chefs in New York, Miami, and San Francisco will help you celebrate the prized mushroom. By the way, until I started working on this post, I had no idea that truffles can also come from Australia – it appears that truffles are not limited to Piedmont only. See, I already learned something – check the information at the link above to see how you might enjoy some pungent beauty.

June 22nd, which falls on Saturday this year, is known as Summer Solstice – the day with the longest duration of the daytime and shortest night. The summer solstice is an important day in the biodynamic viticulture, where the sun’s cycle plays a key role in the whole program. Thus it is only appropriate that Summer Solstice 2019 will be celebrated with the Natural Wines Festival. Hosted at the Burnt Hill Farm in Maryland, the Natural Wine festival will have 25 wineries from Maryland, Virginia and DC pouring more than 100 wines – of course, the food, art, and music will be a part of the festivities as well. For more information and tickets, please click here.

Now, you can follow that Summer Solstice celebration with more wine the very next day. On Sunday, June 23rd, wines from the Côtes du Rhône region in France, which includes Côtes du Rhône Villages, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, Rasteau, Saint-Joseph, Condrieu, and Cornas will take over Manhattan. Okay, this might be an exaggeration, but still, Côtes du Rhône Wine Festival will take place right in the middle of Manhattan. The festival consists of both press/trade portion, and consumer portion. In addition to all the wines, the festival (expectedly!) will offer food, music and lots more. For more information and tickets, please click here.

That’s all I have for you for today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

Rosé All Day

June 10, 2019 6 comments

On Saturday we celebrated yet another one of the “National” days – the National Rosé Day (it is always celebrated on second Saturday in June). I don’t know if you actively participated in the celebration or not, but I wanted to use it as an opportunity to ponder at the state of Rosé in the USA (don’t know if this can be extended to the wine consumers worldwide).

I had been writing this blog for almost 10 years. When I started, Rosé was not a “thing”. It was a highly seasonal beverage – appearing in the wine stores at the beginning of summer, and disappearing with the end of the warm weather. If you crave a glass of Rosé in the winter – tough luck, unless you could find some Tavel – Rosé is the only wine produced in that Rhône appellation. Even as recent as 4 -5 years ago, wine aficionados and bloggers would typically lament that people still don’t get the concept of Rosé as simply another type of wine, same as sparkling, white, red or desert, which is not just an occasional summer beverage, but which has its own place and can be consumed any day of the year, whether thermometer says 10°F or a 100°F.

Rosé wines auto collage

It seems that all this writing, nudging, lamenting, complaining, and most importantly, convincing and educating, resulted in something which can be simply called a “Rosé revolution”. Today, there is hardly a winery left which didn’t add Rosé to its repertoire, both around the world and particularly, in the USA. The Rosé might be produced in the quantity of 10 cases and available only in the winery’s tasting room or to the club members, 1 bottle per year, but nevertheless, Rosé became a staple of attention and it became important. Maybe even too important – some of the wines, such as Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva used to be available at under $30 and was mostly demanded by the wine geeks. Today, you can’t even find this wine anywhere, and if you will find it, it will set you back for close to $300.  Today, while the selection of Rosé in the stores would go down in the winter, there still will be a reasonable selection available all year around. And maybe most importantly, the quality of Rosé has dramatically improved, no matter where in the world it is made or what grapes it is made out of.

It only seems that Rosé is a simple wine and it is easy to make – I guess the bottles with a spectrum of a very happy pink give this impression. In reality, making good Rosé very much on par with proverbial Chef’s test, when the Chef is asked to prepare an omelet and a chicken dish – anyone who had a pleasure of consuming burnt, crunchy eggs and rubber-shoe-dry chicken breast, can easily relate to what I’m talking about here. Rosé is all about balance, and it doesn’t offer too many chances to correct the shortcomings, which can be done for the red and even white wines, using different types of oak barrels and more. With Rosé, it is better to be done right from the very beginning, or else.

I have to honestly tell you that when I’m in the restaurant, especially by myself, Rosé is my typical drink of choice by the glass. It is usually reasonably priced and works well with a wide range of foods, due to the high acidity and gentle fruit expressions. There is typically only one or two different Rosé available on the restaurant’s wine list, which makes the selection process very easy.

Rosé is really not any different than any other wine. Beautiful color notwithstanding, it is all about the balance and it is all about the pleasure. So, what do you think – is Rosé here to stay or is it just a fad which will pass soon? Cheers!

 

Your Wish Is My Command

May 22, 2019 2 comments

Oenophiles are very generous people.

I’m not speaking in general terms here – we are only talking about the wine. But when it comes to wine, we are ready to share. We want to share the experience. We want to share the joy of what we consider a great sip of wine with the whole world. It doesn’t always work – what tastes amazing to you, might be unimaginable plonk for someone else – everyone’s palate is different. But when it works, the experience is priceless. When the person takes a sip of the wine and says “OMG”, this is the best feeling in the world. Been able to help someone to share your joy and discover something new is incredible, and I can’t really describe it – I just truly hope you get to experience it at least once.

And then there are some key words which spur oenophile into the action. “I always wanted to try that wine”. “I never tasted the wine from that region”. “Trying this wine was always my dream”. “If I can ever find that wine”. All of these are the phrases which should be used very carefully around oenophiles, as these are the trigger phrases. They make an oenophile jump of joy and immediately devise the plan on mediating the issue in whatever way possible. If you consider yourself an oenophile, I’m sure you can relate. If you are not – I hope you know at least one.

Recently at the birthday party, an old friend said: “I always wanted to drink aged wines, but I don’t know how to find them, they are probably expensive, and I don’t know anything about them”. Can you imagine my ears perked up as soon as I heard it? Oenophile’s joyous moment, an opportunity to share the wine – yes! I gave her advice as to where she can find some aged wines (Benchmark Wines, for instance), but the brain already was put to the task. When we decided to get together for dinner, the first thing I said was “I’m bringing the wines”.

Aged Wines

After some deliberation, I came to an agreement with oneself regarding the wine program – you can see the whole program in the picture above. I was happy that I had a reasonably aged sparkling wine – Guido Ferrari. I wrote about Ferrari wines many times, these are definitely some of my favorite sparkling wines. 2005 is still a baby, as this is a current vintage, but still – this is an excellent sparkling wine, and it was a sample so I had to open it in any case – sharing with friends makes me very happy.

I definitely wanted to have a Rosé as part of the repertoire, but the absolute majority of Rosé is not made for aging – and those which age well, are either impossible to find, or very expensive, or both. So yeah, no Rosé. For the white, I decided to go with another one of my favorites – barrel-aged Verdejo, 2009 Shaya Habis. 10 years is not that much in terms of wine age, but most of the white wines don’t age that well, and I didn’t have a nice Burgundy, Chablis or white Rhone to offer instead, so I think 10 years old Verdejo should be interesting enough.

Red wines generally can age. I decided to go with “middle-aged” wines, even though the “middle” varies dramatically between the wines and the regions. My selection – 1995 Estancia Meritage, a Bordeaux style blend from California, 1995 Quinta do Poço do Lobo from Portugal (one of my top dozen wines of 2018), and 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot from California. I saw that the folks on Cellar Tracker considered Estancia to be past prime for a while so this will be an interesting experience, no matter what. And the 1998 Merlot I never had before, so this is an excellent opportunity to try it. 2007 Sauternes for dessert? 12 years is not much of age for the Sauternes, but this was one of the few older dessert bottles at my disposal so this would have to do.

The above part of the post was written before the tasting. Now, it is time to tell you how the wines actually fared.

Vintage-designated sparkling wines with some age are not a simple thing for uninitiated wine lovers – many say that Dom Perignon is amazing only because they know how much it costs, not because they enjoy it. This 14 years old, 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory was outstanding in my opinion – fresh, complex, elegant, it was truly a beautiful, minerality-driven Chardonnay, enframed with some fine bubbles. You know what was the best part? To hear my friends say “wow” and “I really like it”. Mission accomplished.

1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander ValleyWe continued with 2009 Shaya Habis Rueda (100% old vines Verdejo, barrel aged). This wine is one of my favorite Verdejo renditions, typically offering lots of complexity – but I never had it with 10 years of age. The wine was still young and crisp, with minimal fruit expression and tons of minerality, tons. Again, I consider this wine a success as one of my friends literally hugged the bottle and kept drinking this wine, repeating every few minutes “wow, and I even don’t like the whites!”.

Now, it was not without trepidation that I opened 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc), taking into account the negative sentiment on the CT. But – my fears were unfounded. The wine was a perfect example of the nicely aged California wine – yes, it mellowed down and was tertiary aromas-driven, but it stayed that way during the whole evening, and it was a perfect example of what aging does to the wine – simply the next dimension. The aromatics which you can enjoy endlessly, an abundance of lip-smacking plums, touch of eucalyptus, good acidity – a great experience. And yet another “yes” vote in our wine program – everyone liked the wine. Were they simply polite? I don’t know. I hope they actually liked the wine, as I wholeheartedly did.

2007 Haut Charmes SauternesThe next wine I brought simply as a “safe bet”, just in case Estancia would not work out. While Estancia was fine, I was happy to open this wine, if anything, at least, to compare two of the wines from the same vintage – of course, from very different wine regions. 1995 Caves São João Quinta do Poço do Lobo Reserva from Bairrada in Portugal didn’t change its standing “you are drinking me too early” even for a bit (the wine was only released last year, and I was raving about it before) – elegant, restrained dark fruit and herbs – two of these 1995 wines couldn’t be any more different than they were. Again, I think people liked this wine too – but it was too far into the evening to keep track. In any case, I’m glad I still have a few more bottles left.

We didn’t open the 1998 Kirkland Merlot – will have to wait for another occasion – but 2007 Haut Charmes from Sauternes was delightful and all apricots, both the nose and the palate. Ripe apricots, candied apricots, apricot jam – all of it was in every sip – oh yeah, don’t worry, all apricots were supported by acidic core. I don’t know if this was a common expression for the aged Sauternes, but there was a lot of pleasure in every sip of that wine.

This is my story of helping friends to experience aged wines. If you ask me, this was a complete success as people got to enjoy something new and different. Have you had any of these wines? What would you open for your friends to try? Cheers!

 

Celebrate Malbec!

April 17, 2019 Leave a comment

While performing the traditional morning ritual – checking in with all the social media sources, something caught my attention – ohh,  I almost missed the Malbec Day, or to be even more precise, the World Malbec Day. So not to miss a celebration of one of the 10 major red grapes, let’s talk Malbec.

Today, when you hear “Malbec”, people instantly think “Argentina”. Yes, Argentina is the best-known source of the Malbec wines at the moment. However, Malbec story originated in France, where it was known initially under the name of Cot – this is the name which is still used in the wines of Cahors, the region in South of France, where Malbec was really a star for a long time. In Cahors, the wines were and still are required to contain at least 70% of Malbec – while popular in most of the other regions in France, there Malbec typically played a supporting role in the blends, such as Bordeaux, for example.

It was Argentina where Malbec really flourished starting at the end of the 19th century and became the star it is today. However, the popularity of Malbec goes way beyond Argentina, with excellent Malbec and Malbec-based blends coming from Australia, Chile, Israel, many regions in the USA, and other places. In Argentina, where Malbec is by far the most planted red grape (with more than 106,000 acres planted), the viticulture dramatically evolved over the years, with high altitude, ultra-premium bottlings being the latest craze.

Over the years, Malbec was always present on the pages of this blog. Want to test your knowledge of Malbec? Here is the Malbec wine quiz for you. Looking to add some sensuality to your evening? How about Kaiken Malbec? Do you think you know Malbec? How about a blind taste challenge from one of the best in the business, Achaval-Ferrer? Everyone love Argentinian Malbec but don’t ignore the classics – Southwest of France can deliver amazing Malbec renditions, and I had a pleasure of tasting them more than once. Do you have a favorite Malbec bottle? The one which you are always happy to see in the store or a restaurant wine list? I can tell you that mine is Trapiche Broquel, which never disappoint.

Well, it is time to round it up and proceed with celebration. Do you have a favorite Malbec wine or wines? Feel free to share it with the world. Cheers!

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