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American Pleasures #4 – Gratus Vineyards

May 22, 2020 Leave a comment

Wine can be many things to many people. Wine can connect people. Wine can bring back memories. Wine can bring back a unique experience, change one’s mood, and help solve a problem.

The wine is also often an expression of gratitude.

Those of us who love wine also love to offer it to others as an expression of our gratitude. We take great care in carefully selecting the wine to express what we feel – it makes us ecstatic when the gift recipient acknowledges our choice.

And then there are those who make wine to express their gratitude – sometimes, they even call their winery to show that, as would be the case for GRATUS Vineyards.

Gratus is Latin for gratitude, and this is exactly what Thomas Wargovich was trying to express by naming his Napa Valley winery GRATUS Vineyards – gratitude to the family, gratitude to his grandparents who came to the USA as millions of others in search of the better life.

Source: GRATUS Vineyards

GRATUS Vineyards is a 27 acres parcel in Pope Valley, the small strip of land adjacent to the famed Howell Mountain. GRATUS Vineyards is not just a winery. While 10 acres are planted with vines, the rest of the parcel constitutes a complex nature habitat, an arboretum with more than 300 rare and endangered species of conifers, trees which bear cones, among other plants. It makes GRATUS Vineyards a unique place with its own soul and personality.

The first vintage at GRATUS Vineyards, 2012, consisted of 75 cases. Current production is about 600 cases, with the wines ranging from the Rhone varietals to the classic California Cabernet Sauvignon and blends. Red wines at GRATUS Vineyards are typically aged for about 22 months in oak.

I had an opportunity to taste GRATUS Vineyards wines and was very much impressed with the consistency of the full range I was able to experience. Here are my notes:

2018 Gratus Vineyards White Blend Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $39, blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Picpoul Blanc)
Light golden
Whitestone fruit, plums, a touch of lemon, refreshing and inviting
Round, medium-plus weight, noticeable texture, green apple, lemon, good acidity
8-/8, thought-provoking

2018 Gratus Vineyards L’ovey Rosé Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $23)
Beautiful salmon pink
Light and refreshing strawberries, very inviting
Tart strawberries and cranberries on the palate, crisp, fresh, definitely a bigger body than Provence, and perfectly balanced.
8+, delicious.

2016 Gratus Vineyards Malbec Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $70)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark berries, mint, sweet basil, overripe plum
Dark berries, ripe blueberries, and blackberries, iodine, dark chocolate, medium-plus body, smooth, good acidity, good balance, medium finish
8, tasty now, will evolve.
8+ on the third day. The wine lost sweetness and developed dark magic

2015 Gratus Vineyards Red Blend Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $90, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Petite Sirah)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark chocolate, mocha, cherries, anise
Lip-smacking, cherries, coffee, eucalyptus, full-body, supple, generous.
8, excellent on the 2nd day. It definitely needs time, but has good potential.

2016 Gratus Vineyards Red Blend Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $80, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark garnet, practically black
Black currant, sweet tobacco, a touch of mint
Black currant, cherries, good minerality, fresh, firm structure, good acidity, excellent balance, medium finish.
8/8+, delicious.

2016 Gratus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $120, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (clone 15))
Dark garnet, practically black
Day 1: not a lot to report. The wine is massive and closed.
Day 2 notes:
Vanilla, dark chocolate
Dark chocolate, big, brooding, pencil shavings, iodine
8-, an interesting contrast with day 1 – need to wait for the day 3

As you can see, most of the reds are in the “needs time” category, but this is pretty much a signature of the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. Hopefully, you got the patience, and the space int he cellar. Cheers!

Wine in Numbers

May 14, 2020 Leave a comment

Who likes the numbers? I know that I do. Measuring is important as if you are not measuring, you are getting lost. And getting lost is no fun…

Numbers in wine are always interesting – how many cases were made, bottles sold – not that it is always important to know (unless this is your business), but it is still an interesting exercise.

Today, let’s talk about wine production and import. The folks at the House of Townend in the UK collected and analyzed open source wine production data from 2018, and even converted that data into the graphical form – yep, it is wine infographics we are talking about!

First, here is the world-view of wine production:

You can see that in 2018, Italy was the world leading wine producer with 54.8 million hectoliters (1 hectoliter is equal to 100 liters), following by France (49.1 million), Spain (44.4M), USA (23.9M) and so on.

However, if you will look at the wine production per capita, the picture is changing quite a bit – Spain is becoming an unquestionable leader with 95 liters per capita, followed by Italy and France. Okay, this is not that much different – together, these three European countries produce 51% of the wine in the world.  However, the USA moves down from the 4th place to the 12th, and Portugal moves from the 12th place in the total wine production to the 5th when the calculation is done per capita.

Let’s now see who drinks the wine:

Germany is the world leader in the wine imports, with 14.5 million hectoliters of wine imported in 2018, followed by UK (13.2M), and the United States (11.5M). After spinning the data in a different way – per capita – the situation becomes dramatically different – Belgium is becoming the number one wine importer with 26.31 liters per person, followed by the Netherlands (24.4 liters). The US moves down to the 7th place with 3.08 liters per person, and Japan makes a surprise appearance in the 9th spot with 2.05 liters per person.

There you have it, my friends – a few numbers to ponder at. Best with a glass of wine in hand. Cheers!

Celebrate Sauvignon Blanc!

May 1, 2020 Leave a comment

Here we go again – another grape holiday is upon us – Sauvignon Blanc Day it is.

I’m sure most of you don’t need a reason to open a bottle of wine. And the grape holiday doesn’t mean that one must drink wine made out of celebratory grape on that holiday. However, it is a good reason to talk about the grape we are celebrating.

Sauvignon Blanc is unquestionably one of the best known and most widely used white grape. While many of the red grapes can be included in the battle for supremacy, when it comes to whites, there are only 3 top contenders – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

Sauvignon Blanc is growing everywhere – and while some of the traits, such as freshly cut grass undertones can be generally common, it demonstrates a wide range of expression depending on where the wine was made. The birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc is generally considered to be in Sancerre which is situated in Loire Valley. Sancerre might be a birthplace, but boy, did Sauvignon Blanc spread around nicely – it is used all over the Loire Valley, it is a very important grape in Bordeaux, especially in Entre-Deux-Mers; it plays a supporting role in Sauternes and Barsac. It is one of the best-kept secrets in Italy. Sauvignon Blanc is often part of the blend in Rueda in Spain, and it can shine on its own in Catalonia and La Mancha. Then, of course, let’s not forget the winemaking region which literally took the Sauvignon Blanc world domination crown away from Sancerre – venerable New Zealand, home to in-your-face delicious Sauvignon Blanc wines. Moving along, we cannot forget the USA where Sauvignon Blanc wines are made everywhere, from California to Washington to Long Island and many other states. Oh wait, South Africa makes some sublime Sauvignon Blanc renditions, not to be outdone by Chile, Argentina, Israel, and every other winemaking country.

Sauvignon Blanc Collage

No matter what tickles your Sauvignon Blanc fancy – cat pee in Sancerre, unidentifiable aromatics of the Cloudy Bay, succulent lemons in Honig or Hanna, or sublime complexity of Ornellaia and Gaja – there is a Sauvignon Blanc wine out there for everyone.

Pour yourself a glass of whatever, and enjoy your quiet moment of reflection. Cheers!

Have Grenache, Will Travel

April 24, 2020 Leave a comment

“Have wine, will travel” is one of my favorite openings for a post about wine because this is exactly what wine does – even before you take a sip, just a glance at the label is often sufficient to let your imagination run wild and yes, imagine yourself instantly somewhere 5,000 miles away from where you are now. But never in my scariest, horror-filled dreams, I would imagine that wine, along with pictures, might become the only way for us to travel, even for a day. Sigh.

So today I want to offer you a quick trip with the help of one of the most versatile, most widely planted grape in the world – Grenache, also known as Garnacha.

Grenache is a versatile grape on many different levels. First, it is widely planted. While supremacy of Grenache can be debated between France and Spain, literally every other winemaking country – Australia, Argentina, Chile, Israel, Italy, South Africa, USA, New Zealand – all have significant plantings of Grenache. Next, when we say Grenache, we typically assume red grape and red wine, of course – but Grenache family also includes Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. Grenache is capable of an ultra-wide range of expressions – from light and simple, such as Borsao Tres Picos or Delas Côtes du Rhône to bombastic, tremendously concentrated expressions, such as Clos Erasmus, Horsepower and Sine Qua Non. Last but not least is pricing versatility. It wouldn’t surprise anyone that $100 bottle of wine drinks well – any grape can do this. But in under $10 range, very few grapes can excel – but Grenache is one of them, for example, in the form of Honoro Vera.

Today our journey will not be too long, but we are going to make two stops in the countries which can be designated as “classic” Grenache – France and Spain. To help with our travel we can even enlist the help of the website put together to promote European Grenache and Garnacha – you can find the link here.

Our first stop is in the south of France, in the small region called Maury, which in turn is a part of the Roussillon wine region. Winemaking in that area goes back a few thousand years. Maury located on the border with Spain, and it became a part of France only after 1659, so even today there is a lot of Spanish influence in the region. Grenache is the main grape used in the production of Maury wines, and it is considered to be one of the best in France. Maury is best known for its fortified wines, produced in the style similar to port, with the addition of the spirits in the middle of fermentation, which kills the yeast and leaves the sugar level high in the resulting wine. However, it is not the Maury AOC wine I want to offer to you today, but Maury Sec, which is a designation for the dry wines produced in the same region. Our first wine is produced by Jeff Carrel, and it is predominantly Grenache with the addition of Syrah:

2016 Jeff Carrel Le Grenache dans la Peau Maury Sec AOP (15.5% ABV, 80% Grenache / 20% Syrah)
Dark ruby
High Intensity, sweet cherries, cherry compote, tobacco, sweet basil
Sweet cherries, unexpected astringency, good acidity. High alcohol is surprisingly unnoticeable.
7/7+ on the first day, 5 minutes after opening.
8-/8 second day, much more balanced and round, adds a touch of pepper, astringency is gone, excellent.

Now, let’s go to Spain. As we are now in Spain, let’s switch to the proper name for our grape – now it is Garnacha to you. Once here, how about some Garnacha Blanca? The wine had been made in Somontano, an area up north close to the French border for more than 2000 years. Garnacha Blanca is one of the permitted and popular varieties in Somontano. Once in Somontano, we are going to visit Secastillo, the valley which takes its name from the seven castles overlooking it.

Vinas del Vero vineyards in Secastilla. Source: Gonzales Byass

Viñas del Vero produces the wines here, sourcing the grapes from 100 years old Garnacha vines, growing mostly at the elevation of 2,100+ feet.

2017 Secastilla La Miranda Garnacha Blanca Sonomontano DO (14% ABV)
Straw Pale
Lemon, fresh grass, lemon zest
Whitestone fruit, Meyer lemon, clean acidity, nice and refreshing
7+/8-, very good

Let’s continue our trip going a bit more down south. Now we are in Catalonia, in Terra Alto DO (Terra Alta means High land), where Cellers Unió had been producing wine from the beginning of Terra alto DO been formally established in 1982 (Cellers Unió is a conglomeration of cooperatives which operates across 5 DOs, 11,000 acres of vineyards and includes 20,000 families of growers across 186 cooperatives). Now it is time to drink some classic Garnacha:

2016 Cellers Unio Clos Dalian Garnacha Tinta Crianza Terra Alta DO (13.5% ABV)
Dark Garnet
Cherry Coolaid, sweet cherry, candy
Cherries, fresh sour cherries, wow. Touch of tobacco, earthy undertones, perfect balance, soft and round.
8, excellent

Our trip is over, unfortunately – but see how easy it was? I wish you many great journeys, all enabled with the power of wine glass in your hand. Until we travel again – cheers!

High Altitude Malbec for the World Malbec Day Celebration

April 17, 2020 Leave a comment

Cafayate desert. Image by gabrielgcossa from Pixabay

Do you like Malbec? If you do, great – you have a perfect reason to celebrate one of the world’s most popular grape on its holiday, World Malbec Day, always celebrated on April 17th. If you don’t  – great, as you can taste a lot of wines in order to eventually find Malbec which you will enjoy.

Malbec is one of the unique grapes in the wine world, with a long history full of ups and downs. Malbec history can be traced almost a thousand years back. It used to be one of the most popular and most planted grapes in France. Wine from Cahors, a small region just south of Bordeaux, was famous for its dark and brooding qualities and was very much welcomed by the royals as early as the 1200s (well, the grape is not called Malbec in Cahors – it is known as Côt or Auxerrois). However, as Bordeaux started developing its own brand, it started blocking Cahors wines from reaching its intended destination, as most of the trading routes had to pass through Bordeaux before reaching the wine consumers.

Malbec used to be widely planted in Bordeaux, but this thin-skinned and disease-prone grape was difficult to work with, and it became anything but literally extinct today. Of course, Malbec is still the main grape in Cahors, where it is made into delicious, long-living wines – if you can find them in the wines stores, of course. However, the real fame of Malbec is related to its second motherland – Argentina.

Malbec was brought to Argentina in the mid-19th century and higher elevation vineyards with mostly dry climate happened to be a godsend for the moody grape. From there on, Malbec went on the path of becoming the most famous Argentinian grape. I guarantee you if anyone will ask what is in your glass, and you will say “Malbec”, 99% of the people will have no doubts that you are drinking Argentinian wine – yes, this is a good example of fame. Malbec’s success in the new world didn’t stop in Argentina, as it is successfully growing today in Australia, Chile, California, Texas, and many other places. But it is still the Argentina which rules the Malbec world today.

Altura maxima vineyard. Source: Bodegas Colome

Altura maxima Vineyard. Source: Bodegas Colome

When it comes to Argentinian wine, Mendoza is the first area that comes to mind. It is hardly surprising, as 2/3 or Argentinian wine comes from Mendoza. But it is not Mendoza we are talking about today – we are going higher, much higher – to Salta (Mendoza vineyards are typically located at the 1,800 – 3,400 feet altitude, and in Salta altitude ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 feet). Salta is home to the highest vineyard in the world, Altura Maxima (elevation 10,200 feet/3,100 meters). It is also home to one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, Bodegas Colomé, which was founded in 1831.

I already wrote about the wines of Bodegas Colomé in the past (you can find this post here), as well as the wines from Amalaya, a 10 years old project by Bodegas Colomé in Cafayate desert. It was very interesting to try the same wines only from a different vintage. I can say that there is a noticeable improvement in the quality of the Amalaya – 3 additional years make a lot of difference. The Colomé Estate Malbec was more or less on par with its older brethren – but I certainly like the new label design, the bottle looks more elegant.

Here are my notes for the three of the Malbec wines I was able to taste:

2018 Amalaya Malbec Salta Argentina (13.9% ABV, $16, 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat, 5% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Inviting, eucalyptus, blackberries, crushed berries, baking spices
Fresh berries, coffee, bright, easy to drink, good structure, good acidity, good balance.
8, simple and delicious. Needed a couple of hours to open up.

2017 Colomé Estate Malbec Valle Calchaquí Salta Argentina (14.9% ABV, $25, grapes from vineyards at 7545 to 10,200 feet elevation)
Dark garnet
Vanilla, baking spices, restrained fruit
Vanilla, blueberries, tar, firm structure, very restrained, appears more as an old-world than anything else.
8, excellent.

2018 Colomé Auténtico Malbec Valle Colchaquí Salta Argentina (14.5% ABV, $30, high altitude vineyard ~7000 ft)
Practically black
Vanilla, blueberries, baking spices, inviting
Blueberries, coffee, good acidity, silky smooth, layered, ripe fruit but still balanced.
8, classic and tasty – but needs time. Really opened up only on the day 3

What do you think of Malbec wines? Do you have a favorite producer? How did you celebrate World Malbec Day? Until the next time – 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.

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Utopia Vineyard

April 11, 2020 2 comments

Pinot Noir excites passion. All grapes do, of course, and good winemakers are always passionate, often to the point of obsession. But some of the most desired wines in the world are made out of Pinot Noir, and Pinot Noir is notoriously finicky, mutation-prone grape, difficult to work with. Hence passion is winemaker’s best helper to work with Pinot Noir and produce the best possible wines.

Yes, I’m sure you figured me by now – I’m introducing a new post in the Passion and Pinot series – you can find all the past posts here. And I’m sure today’s subject resonates perfectly with the world we live in right now (for those who might read this post a few years later, look up “covid-19 pandemic”, and you will understand my point). I’m sure we would all much rather live in utopia compare to the self-quarantine and fear of sneezing – and it is the utopia we will be talking about here (don’t worry, there will be plenty of wine).

According to the dictionary, utopia is defined as “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect”. I guess Daniel Warnshuis saw this complete perfection in the 17 acres parcel of land he found on the Ribbon Ridge in the heart of Ribbon Ridge Appellation in Yamhill County in Oregon in early 2000, hence the name Utopia Vineyard.

Daniel Warnshuis. Source: Utopia Vineyard

UTOPIA Vineyard had its first commercial vintage in 2006, 413 cases of Pinot Noir. Since then, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and a number of other wines had been produced at the winery, and numerous accolades were won at multiple competitions. Utopia, which uses dry farming methods, was L.I.V.E. certified in 2008.

I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Daniel Warnshuis and ask him some questions – here is what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: First and foremost – why Utopia? Utopia means an unreachable dream, so what is the reason for this name?

[DW] The classic definition of UTOPIA is the perfect and no place. I am trying to make the perfect Pinot-noir but realize that as a human being I will not achieve perfection. It is, therefore, the goal that I constantly strive for without compromise to make the wine better each and every vintage.

[TaV]: You bought the vineyard in 2000, your first vintage was in 2006. How were those years in between? Did you have any major challenges, or did you just have to wait for the vines to mature?

[DW]:  You are correct that I consider 2006 my first commercial vintage (413 cases of Estate Pinot-noir) but I did produce 97 cases of Estate Pinot-noir in 2005. Just to be clear, it was more of an experiment than a vintage. There were a number of challenges in getting the vineyard bootstrapped. First, I had to decide which clones I wanted to plant. I looked around the valley at the time and found that most of the vineyards contained only 2-3 clones and they were mostly the same 2-3 clones, e.g.. Pommard and Dijon 115 or Wadenswil. Or one of the other Dijon clones, mostly 667 and 777. I also detected a certain homogeneity in the wines being produced at that time and I wanted to do something very different. This is what convinced me to plant a total of 12 Pinot-noir clones including several heirloom clones from various existing vineyard sources in CA and OR. Once I settled on the makeup of the vineyard it was mostly a waiting game until the vines began to produce.

[TaV]: You were born and raised on California wines, why build the vineyard in Oregon and not in a Napa or Sonoma?

[DW]: I got exposed to Willamette Valley Pinot-noir early in my wine journey working for Tektronix where my first boss was an avid wine collector and amateur chef who exposed me to Oregon wines. The raw beauty of Oregon and especially Willamette Valley wine country was also a major draw for me along with its nascent state as a wine producing region. It presented a relatively affordable opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next NAPA. I was a big proponent of Willamette Valley Pinot-noir while still living and running my NAPA wine business at a time when even most savvy wine drinkers were still unaware of what was happening in Oregon.

[TaV]: You’ve been a farmer for 20 years now. What are your main takeaways from this experience?

[DW]: Owning the land is the ultimate advantage for a winemaker because the best wines almost always come from the best fruit. 100% control from vine to wine is the maximum level of control and as a small producer here in Willamette Valley I am as close to a small producer (vigneron) in Burgundy that I can be without being in Burgundy. At Utopia I always want to make the best wine possible for any given vintage, again just like in Burgundy the wine should always be a reflection of the growing season and therefore unique each and every year.

 

Source: Utopia Vineyard

[TaV]: Do you have a pivotal wine, the one which clearly made you see the wine world differently?

[DW]: Burgundy wines from any small producer in Volnay, Pommard, Mersault (and Mersault, Chassagne and Puligny Montrachet for whites) were pivotal wines for me. The only thing I have found that compares with them are Willamette Valley Pinot-noir’s and now Chardonnay’s from small producers who are owning the land and making the wines in the same tradition.

[TaV]: Is there one Pinot Noir producer or winery you would consider a hallmark, something you would compare your wines to?

[DW]: Dominique Lafon is someone who I have followed for several decades and admire his approach (biodynamic farming and terroir driven) especially for his White Burgundy which I think is sublime. DRC is always mentioned as the ultimate but I would say that I have always and still do admire the smaller producers who are risking everything to make the best wine. This means organic/biodynamic farming even in a challenging vintage, minimalist approach to winemaking and focus on terroir.

[TaV]: What is the difference between the various Pinot Noir wines you are producing? Is it grape selection, individual plots, different oak regimens?

[DW]:  Yes, it is all those things, in addition, location in the vineyard, clonal selection for the blends, oak regimen (ex: riper fruit deserves more new French oak such as in my Reserve “Eden” bottling).

[TaV]: Any plans for Utopia sparkling wines? You already growing all necessary components, so do you plan to take the next step?

[DW]:  Yes, I would like very much to make sparkling wine. It is challenging as it requires a different setup and 3-4 years to produce the first vintage, but, I have not given up on the concept. I produced my first Port Style wine in 2018 and will bottle it this Fall.

[TaV]: You are now offering Grenache, Mourvedre and GSM wines. For how long you had been producing those? I understand that you source Grenache from Rogue Valley, what about Mourvedre and Syrah? Do you also plan to offer single varietal Syrah?

[DW]: I started producing those varietals in 2009 and actually started with a Syrah and Viognier but switched to Grenache in 2013 and added a GSM in 2014 and a Mourvedre in 2016. As long as I can get quality fruit I will continue to make different varietals. I would like to produce a Cab Franc and maybe even a Bordeaux blend in the future as well. I plan to plant some of these different varieties here on my new property to prepare for the inevitable change in our climate over the next 10 – 20 years.

[TaV]: What are your favorite wines or wine producers in Oregon? In the USA? In the world?

[DW]: In Oregon, Brick House, Beaux Freres, In California, Joseph Phelps, Spottswoode, In the World, anything Burgundy especially any small producers farming organic/biodynamic and terroir driven as well as Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux.

[TaV]: Did your utopia materialize in your vineyard? Did you find everything you were looking for?

[DW]: Yes, I live on my vineyard and work with my family to produce a unique product that we share with the world. We preserve the land for future generations (organic farming), we give back to our communities, we promote culture of all types and we make our living doing what we love the most. I cannot be any happier than I am at UTOPIA.

[TaV]: Where do you see Utopia Vineyard in the next 10-15 years?  

[DW]: More plantings of different varieties especially Rhone and Bordeaux. Possibly produce sparkling wine, continue well managed growth and keep experimenting to make it better each and every time. Create a long lasting legacy and keep it in the family for future generations.

If you are still reading this, I’m sure you are ready for a glass of wine, preferably, an Oregon Pinot Noir. I had an opportunity to taste two of the Utopia Pinot Noir wines, here are the notes:

2014 UTOPIA Pinot Noir Clone 777 Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA (13.8% ABV, $75)
Dark ruby
Smoke, plums, violets, earthy undertones
Bristling acidity, tart cherries, medium body, minerality, refreshing, inviting, good balance.
8, fresh, clean, easy to drink.

2011 UTOPIA Paradise Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Ribbon Ridge AVA (13% ABV, $85)
Dark garnet
Upon opening, the very extensive barnyard smell was apparent. It disappeared on the second day. Tobacco, earth, tar, and smoke are prevalent on the second day.
The palate is beautifully balanced with tart cherries, plums, violets, a touch of vanilla, baking spices and roasted meat.
8+/9-, delicious, hard-to-stop-drinking wine. Superb.

And we are done here, my friends – one more story of passion, and yes, it involves Pinot Noir.

Obey your passion!

P.S. Here are the links to the posts profiling wineries in this Passion and Pinot series, in alphabetical order:

Alloro Vineyard, Bells Up Winery, Ghost Hill Cellars, Iris Vineyards, Ken Wright Cellars, Knudsen Vineyards, Le Cadeau Vineyard, Lenné Estate, Tendril Cellars, Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Vidon Vineyard

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!

Wednesday Meritage – OTBN, Tre Bicchieri, Cru Bourgeois 2020 Classification, and More

February 26, 2020 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with my perennial favorite – Open That Bottle Night, or OTBN for short. OTBN movement was started by the Wall Street Journal wine writers, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, back in 1999, to encourage wine lovers around the world to open up that long stashed special bottle which might be long gone while waiting for a special enough day. OTBN is always celebrated on the last Saturday in February, which will be falling on the February 29th this year. I had been a passionate supporter of this special wine holiday for many years. Last year, we had a great celebration hosted by Jim van Bergen of JvBUncorked fame. This year, John Fodera of Tuscan Vines will be hosting a wine dinner I’m very much looking forward to attending. The only question left is what bottle is special enough to be open this coming Saturday, but this will be hotly debated until the very moment of leaving the house. Oh well, these are the first world problems of the wine lover. I hope you have some special plans too.

Next, let’s talk about the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchiery event. Gambero Rosso is a wine publication in Italy which every year rates about 45,000 Italian wines. Out of all these wines, about 1% receives prestigious Tre Bicchieri (three glasses) designation – 465 wines attained these honors in 2019. To celebrate the best of the best in Italian wines, Gambero Rosso conducts an annual Tre Bicchiery tastings around the world. Such tasting is coming to New York this coming Friday, February 28th – it is open to the trade and media only, so if you belong to one of these categories, don’t miss this fun tasting. You can register for the New York tasting using this link. After New York, the show will make a number of stops in California – here you can find the full list. If you are interested in learning more about Tre Bicchieri 2019 awards, here is a very informative link for you.

Our next tidbit is about French wines. On a perfectly unique date – 02/20/2020 – Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc announced its new classification of the Crus Bourgeois wineries. Crus Bourgeois is a classification which is one level below of the famous 1855 Crus Classés (Classified Growths), but still represents a high level of quality and is difficult to attain, as an application process is quite rigorous. The new 2020 classification is awarded for a period of 5 years. It includes 249 Châteaux with a total production of 28 million bottles. Out of 249, 14 Châteaux are classified as Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, 56 as Cru Bourgeois Supérieur, 179 as Cru Bourgeois. You can find all the interesting stats here.

Now, a bit of the advice – how to store wine. I’m sure many of you have a few bottles which you want to keep for some time – the reason is not important, it is your wine – but not everybody has a wine cellar in their house or an apartment. Even if you don’t have a wine cellar, it is not a problem – you can still preserve your wines in the perfect condition for the years to come. The folks at Redfin, real estate news and analysis firm, asked winemakers, wine experts, sommeliers and wine writers for advice on storing the wines at home, and assembled all the recommendations in the form of the blog post, which you can find here. I’m sure not all of those recommendations are universally applicable to everyone, but I’m also sure you might some useful details there.

Not to be outdone, one last note for today – about Georgian wines. If you are living in or will be visiting New York on Monday, March 2nd, you are in luck – Georgian wine tasting will be hosted at a restaurant called Chama Mama in lower Manhattan. There are actually two tastings – one for trade and press from 4 pm until 6 pm (you can find information here), and one for consumers from 6 pm until 9 pm (here is the link to buy tickets). I always consider Georgian wines to be some of the best in the world, so if you can make the tasting, you can thank me later.

That’s all I have for you today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. 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!

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