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Wine, Wine, Wine – Notes from Martin Scott 2018 Grand Portfolio Tasting

November 6, 2018 2 comments

Martin-Scott is one of the largest wine wholesalers (distributors) in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, with a very extensive portfolio well representing all major winemaking countries of the world. I had a pleasure to attend Martin-Scott portfolio tastings in the past, and they were always great with a lot of delicious discoveries. When I had an opportunity to attend the portfolio tasting about a month ago, I was very happy to be able to include it into my schedule.

I wrote about trade portfolio tastings many times in the past. They might seem a bit overwhelming, as you are presented with about 1000 wines and only 4-5 hours of time to taste them. At the same time, the range is incredible and you get an opportunity to expand your wine horizon and always find new favorites.

Here are my general impressions from the tasting:

  1. I know this is my pet peeve, and I keep talking about it at every occasion, but I have to say it again – new vintages of California reds are using way too much oak. There were lots of California reds from the 2015-2017 vintages which were literally not drinkable due to very high tannins content, to the point of your whole mouth getting numb. Unfortunately, some of the bigger Washington producers follow suit and also make over-oaked red wines. I really don’t understand this trend. Yes, using lots of new oak makes wine more expensive. But it doesn’t make it more enjoyable, for sure when it is young.
  2. White Burgundies are amazing. I rarely get to drink those wines for the variety of reasons, so I was literally blown away by the beauty and finesse of most everything I tasted. You will see this love expressed in the ratings below.
  3. South Africa produces some spectacular wines. Check the full list below to see what I really enjoyed.
  4. There are some excellent spirits made in … Sweden. You really need to taste them to believe them.
  5. I was able to add one more new (rare) grape to the collection – the grape called Souvignier-Muscaris from France.

Before I will inundate you with my brief notes, just a reminder for the trade tasting ratings I use. Considering the amount of time versus amount of wines, there is no way I can do much of the thoughtful analysis for a hundred plus wines I manage to taste. Thus I use the “+” signs, with “+++” meaning excellent. When I came up with this system, I really didn’t plan to go beyond “+++”, but you will see now “++++” and even “+++++” (very rarely – maybe one in the whole tasting) – you understand what it means. I also use “-|” as a half-point. The list below only includes wines with at least “+++” rating. As these are all new releases just coming into the stores, essentially all the wines on the list represent a “buy” recommendation – whatever you can find and afford. All prices below are an approximation of the suggested retail prices. I’m sure that the actual store price might be lower for many of those wines.

Now, I will leave you to it. Cheers!

 

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WBC18: Like A Kid In The Candy Store – Again, or 4 Days in Walla Walla

October 13, 2018 10 comments

walla walla welcome signBack in 2014, I was visiting the state of Washington on business, and my obsession with local wines led me to the small town of Woodinville, about an hour northeast of Seattle. As I parked next to the industrial building and started going door to door, visiting one artisanal winery after another, I really felt like a kid in the candy store – the wines were delicious, and conversations with winemakers and not were even better than the wines – what else the wine lover needs? I was so impressed with that visit that my enthusiasm showed in the blog post, which won one of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenges (we called them MWWC) with the theme “local”.

The timing for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018 (WBC18) was a little strange – for the most of the time, the conferences took place in August, and October is definitely not the ideal month to take time off (I know that many of the regulars couldn’t attend due to the timing). However, my high opinion of the Washington wines and the memories of visiting the Woodinville became the deciding factor, so I was able to find the time for this trip to Walla Walla in Washington.

Boy, was I not disappointed. After a beautiful ride from the Portland airport along the Columbia River (I wish I would record a little video – the amazing scenery must be shared), I arrived at the Walla Walla. Walla Walla is a home to about 30,000 residents, but it is hard to tell from the tiny downtown. However, when it comes to wine, don’t let the small size to full you – Walla Walla downtown hosts 30 something tasting rooms, plus a number of full working wineries located within the city limits (there are 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley overall) – it is definitely a destination for any wine lover out there.

As it always happened so far (this was my fourth WBC), the 4 days of the Wine Bloggers Conference became a non-stop adventure of sipping, spitting and learning, and most importantly, spending time with the fellow bloggers. I can’t tell you how many wines were tasted during these four days – whatever happens at WBC, stays at WBC. But – I will be happy to share with you main takeaways from these 4 days. Here we go:

  1. Washington State produces some magnificent wines (duh) – at least on par with Napa, and often far exceeding the Napa offerings in terms of QPR – and they are predominantly red. All six Bordeaux varieties are doing quite well in Washington, both in the form of the Bordeaux blend and on its own. Merlot might be a king of Washington, but Cabernet Sauvignon can often fight for that royal crown, and quite successfully. The Syrah is definitely a queen, well deserving your attention, following by the other Mediterranean breeds, such as Grenache and even Tempranillo.
  2. Washington whites are much rarer find – but they can be equally delightful as the reds. Rhone varieties do particularly well (Marsanne, Roussanne), but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and even Albarino can deliver a happy surprise. An important reminder – please, please drink Rhone whites at the cool room temperature – they really taste better like that. Make them too cold, and they become indistinguishable and boring.
  3. Unlike California, where you can find 100+ years old [continuously farmed] vineyards, such as Bechtold in Lodi (farmed since 1886), and 150 years old continuously producing wineries, Washington wine industry didn’t survive the prohibition. What was striving in the 1860s, was completely destroyed in 1920s, and had to be rebuilt in 1960s. This information actually doesn’t have any deep meaning outside of being an interesting (and unfortunate) fact.
  4. I don’t believe you need to pay attention to the vintages for Washington wines, unless something ultra-bad happens, like out of blue frost in May. The temperatures are consistent, and so are the general climate conditions – too hot of a summer can be compensated by harvesting earlier. Well, the summers are typically hot, so the “canopy management” is a hot subject in winemaking circles. If the vineyard is managed properly, and winemaker does the job right, there is a good chance for consistency. In other words, don’t ask “how was that vintage”, just get the wine you want to drink. But – the way a lot of wines in Washington are made, especially coming from the small wineries – with utmost respect to the product at all stages – guarantees that the wines will age well. Give them some time, and prepare to be amazed.

I can probably think of more conclusions, but instead, I really want to tell you how my four days unfolded – just in case you wonder what one does at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Look at it more like the set of highlights as opposed to the detailed report. And then my plan is to convert many of this mentions below into the separate posts, to make my report more detailed – oh well, will see how that will work.

Day 1: After the beautiful ride along the Columbia River from Portland, I checked into the hotel, and then my next immediate stop was a tasting at the Seven Hills Winery, located right next to the conference hotel. After tasting at Seven Hills, next stop was the tasting at the Gård Vintners – with lots of delicious surprises. That tasting was followed with a very short walk back to the hotel to attend the Masters of Merlot session (now part of the official WBC program), presented by two of the Merlot Greats – Duckhorn and L’Ecole No 41 (very appropriate for the October, the #MerlotMe month).

Next was the mingling with the fellow bloggers around so-called Expo, where WBC sponsors poured their wines and offered their products. My last activity for the day was a superb, mind-blowing tasting at the Eternal Wines (more later) in lieu of group dinner. I also skipped all after-hours activities – that was enough for the first day.

WBC18 Walla Walla winemakers panel

WBC18wine influencers panel

Day 2: The actual conference program started. One of the main morning highlights was the panel discussion by the 4 of the Walla Walla winemakers, talking about terroir, canopy management, and stories, their personal, real life stories. I also liked the panel of wine influencers, talking about the wine industry, wine writing, and Dos and Don’ts of wine blogging. During lunch, we had an opportunity to taste wines from the Cascade Valley Wine Country, where one particular wine, WineGirl Wines Red blend left a mark with me – a standout, flawless, round, and beautiful.

After lunch, I went with a group of friends to taste delicious Oregon non-Pinot wines from Troon Vineyards Applegate Valley, as presented by WBC veteran, Craig Camp (I believe Craig didn’t miss a single WBC event). We got back to listen to the keynote by Lewis Perdue, the founder of Wine Industry Insight publication, who was focusing on a seemingly simple concept – Trust – and the tenets of good writing.

Next session was one of my traditional favorites – Live Wine Blogging for red wines, and once that was over, we all left for the dinners at mystery wineries (nobody knew where they are going), with our mystery winery being Canoe Ridge. Do you think this was enough for a day? Wrong. It is never enough – the last part of the program was so-called “after party”, where we tasted lots more wines (attendees are invited to bring wines to share with the others for this late night session). My highlights from this late-night tasting were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone and iOTA Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir vertical (2013, 2014, 2015). Whew, time to sleep.

Maryhill vineyards

Mary Hill winery - soil sample and peach trees

Day 3: The day started from learning about the location of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2019 – Hunter Valley in Australia, October 10-12, 2019. This sounds ultra-attractive – and equally impossible (in my own world). After a few of the breakout session, we went out for lunch at the Walla Walla tasting rooms which we had an opportunity to select the day before – my choice was Otis Kenyon Winery. Next was the session called Bubbles and Bites, a sparkling wine and food pairing lesson presented by Gloria Ferrer. Right after that, we had an in-depth lesson about European Cheeses. Up next was the “Lightning talks” session – 5 minutes presentations by the fellow bloggers with the slides rotating every 15 seconds. Wine Live Blogging session for whites and Rosé closed the main conference activities – which left us with the wine dinner with the vintners from Walla Walla. At the dinner, I fell in love with the wines from Revelry Vintners, which were simply stunning, and also enjoyed a few wines from Bergevin Lane. And then … yes, of course, another late night session (someone had to drink all that wine, right?)

fall in Mary Hill vineyards

view from Cathedral Ridge winery

Day 4: The conference was officially closed, but – there were post-conference excursions. I visited Maryhill Winery in Walla Walla, and Cathedral Ridge Winery in Oregon, both offering spectacular views and delicious wines.

The End.

Here it is – my abbreviated report of the WBC18 activities. Speaking strictly for myself, I greatly enjoyed the conference – the place, the wines, people and conversations – everything work together very well to create a memorable experience. If you never attended the conference – do you want to attend one now, after reading my report? If you are a “regular”, what are your thoughts about WBC18 and will we see each other in Australia? Cheers!

A Pinot Noir Lesson for Self with Tendril Cellars

October 3, 2018 6 comments

Tendril Cellars winesBack in May, we virtually met with Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars and talked about … many things wine, of course – you can find this conversation here.

Tony is one of the few winemakers I know who teaches people about his wines by conducting organized tastings. As I didn’t have an opportunity to attend any of those events, I decided to run a lesson for myself on the same subject. How you ask? Easy – by tasting the wines blind.

I can literally see the surprised looks and raised eyebrows. How is it a blind tasting if I know already everything about those wines? You see, the lineup I had included 6 wines. Out of those six, four were different Pinot Noirs – different vineyards, different winemaking process, different price points. Obviously I was not planning to try to identify the exact wine, but still – will I be able to taste the difference, and maybe identify the most expensive wine? Comparing Chardonnay and white Pinot Noir should also be a fun exercise, as those are two siblings ruling the world of Champagne. Yep – lots of opportunities for having fun.

Okay, blind tasting it is. The bottles are wrapped, the numbers are randomly assigned. May the taste buds serve me right!

Tendril Cellars Blind tasting

Here are my notes for the wines while tasting them blind:

1 Light golden color
Vanilla, golden delicious,
Bright acidity, vanilla, apples, a touch of honey

2 toasted notes, yeast
Perfect acidity, Granny Smith apples, a touch of honey, toasted notes on the palate, outstanding
white pinot?

3 Dark ruby
Earthy, Rutherford dust on the nose, a touch of roasted meat,
Beautiful palate, soft plums, round, espresso, excellent acidity, wow. ThightRope?

4 Ruby
Concentrated nose, mint, eucalyptus
Concentrated palate, acidity, eucalyptus, sage, violets on the palate. Very unusual. Single Vineyard?

5 Dark ruby
Wow. Blueberries, raspberries, restrained
Very smooth, silky, bright fresh fruit, acidity, firm structure, excellent balance, never-ending finish. Wow. C-Note?

6 Dark ruby
Nose old world style, forest floor, mushrooms, great restraint
Round palate, blackberries, baking spices, soft, delicious. Outstanding. Extrovert?

Tendril cellars after blind tasting

Everyone knows that the best part of the blind tasting is … unwrap! The moment of truth, pure and simple. Here are my notes for the tasting of the wines non-blind, 3 hours after the blind tasting (in the same order):

1 – 2015 Tendril Cellars Pretender Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $60, white Pinot Noir)
A bit darker color (golden)
Vanilla, butter
Plump, round, crisp acidity, acidity on the finish (very extensive), plump body.
8, excellent. Reminiscent of a nice Marsanne.

2 – 2015 Tendril Cellars Chardonnay Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $40)
Honey, gunflint, vanilla
Brioche, Granny Smith Apple, a touch of butter, clean acidity, excellent
8, outstanding.

 

3 – 2014 Tendril Cellars Extrovert Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $48)
Beautiful, classic, open Pinot, with cherries, sage, and plums.
Soft cherries and plums on the palate, clean acidity, sage, violets, delicious, wow
8, delicious.
8+/9-, a pure standout. Polished, velvety, seductive, like a light touch on the hand which makes your whole body to vibrate. More reminiscent of CA Pinot than dark and loaded

4 – 2014 Tendril Cellars TightRope Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.2% ABV, $64)
Very tight, espresso, licorice, blackberries
Beautiful, sweet fruit, noticeable tannins, very round, medium body, cherries and cherry pit.
8, excellent.
Complex nose of herbs and spices, exotic and unusual.
Wow, great power and complexity, not a typical Pinot, might be more of a Zinfandel or even Syrah profile. Needs time, lots more time.

5 – 2014 Tendril Cellars Pinot Noir Mount Richmond Single Vineyard Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $60)
Very unusual. Beets and caramel on the nose, with a touch of dark chocolate.
Blueberries and caramel on the palate, nice salinity, raspberries. Medium+ body. Excellent
8
Very ripe after 2 days been open (air pumped out). Beautiful palate, minerality-driven, cigar box, eucalyptus, tense, powerful. Can be mistaken for a Rioja of a nice caliber.

6 – 2014 Tendril Cellars C-Note Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $100, 100% Whole Cluster, 100% new oak)
Sublime. Can be described only via allegories, such a finesse. Dark chocolate and cherries. Excellent
Equally delicate on the palate, crisp acidity, bright, sweet plums, and tobacco. Outstanding.
8, excellent
Nose is incredible. First, you want to smell.this.wine.for.a.long.time.
Superb, elevated wine, complex, great finesse, and needs time. 8+

As you can tell, I failed miserably. I didn’t identify any of the wines – however, this was perfectly in line with my expectations. What was definitely interesting is that despite the four Pinot Noir wines been all from Oregon and at about the same age, they were absolutely, unquestionably, distinctly different – and strikingly delicious.

Of course, I extended the pleasure of tasting some of those wines over the few days, which is reflected in the tasting notes above.

 

Here you are, my friends. Blind tasting or not, the Tendril Cellars wines are worth seeking – the virtual tasting will simply not do it – these are the wines to experience. And if you need to choose only one, I can let you in on a secret (don’t tell anyone!) – the Extrovert was my favorite. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage: Chowdafest, Champagne in Space, WBC18, Losing the Donuts and more

September 26, 2018 1 comment

Meritage Time!

I have a lot of interesting tidbits for you, so let’s get going.

Clam ChowderFirst and foremost, the Chowdafest. Now in its 11th year, one of my all-time favorite fun culinary events keep on going strong. Same as the last year, 40 culinary teams (restaurants, catering, etc) will compete in 5 categories (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian). Even the lobster chowder is expected to be present this year. As usual, the guests will be sampling and judging. To put things in perspective, 40 of 1 oz samples make it for 40 oz of chowder – that is 2.5 lb of chowder combined! I don’t know how you see it, but this is a lot of chowder! Oh well, if you are anywhere within a few hours drive, the event is well worth it, so see you there!

Next one might be an old news for many (for sure my kids are already all over it) – the famed Dunkin’ Donuts is going to lose the donuts! Not to worry, only in its name. As it seems to be popular nowadays, the iconic chain which had been around since 1948, is going to change its name to just Dunkin’ – as my kids said, this is how everybody calls it anyway, so no big deal. I hope this renaming will be more successful compared to the recent failure of the IHOP->IHOB->IHOP attempt – and it most likely will. You can find more details about renaming at the Dunkin’s (can we already call them like that?) website.

The next subject I want to touch on is something I would typically include into my April 1st posts – but today is not April 1st, so this is actually not a joke and not a prank. It seems that in only a couple of years, anyone who has a spare $10M or so will be able to book their hotel room in … yes, space. It is obvious that such a unique achievement have to be properly celebrated – and what else says “celebration” if not a glass of Champagne? Challenge is that it is hard to pour a glass of revered bubbly in space – but have no fear, Champagne house of Mumm set out to solve the problems by teaming up with the designer Octave de Gaulle. The problem will be solved by creating a special two-chamber bottle which will create a foam out of Champagne, which will then return to its traditional bubbly state directly in the consumer’s mouth. For more details, please see the original article here (thanks to my friend Emil for bringing this to my attention).

Now, let’s talk about numbers – can you not like talking about numbers? When we hear numbers, we think we are in the know – if we can measure something, we are now in control, right? Okay, these are obviously wine-related numbers (you didn’t expect me to talk about Prius production here, didn’t you?) – and they relate to the wine consumption in different states in the USA. Well, not even wine – the alcohol consumption overall. VinePair just published a ranking of all 50 states in terms of the alcohol consumption per capita. Want to guess which state leads the pack? I will give you a moment to ponder at it. Ready? If you said New Hampshire, you won! Wait, I don’t have any prizes here. Well, pat yourself on the back, will you? New Hampshire is leading in terms of alcohol consumption in the USA, with 4.76 gallons per capita per year. Washington, DC is second, with 3.85, followed by Delaware at 3.72. At the bottom of the table is state of Utah (I’m sure we could predict that), with 1.34 gallons per capita. When it comes to numbers, I always remember the old adage of “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics” – I have no idea where all these numbers came from – for example, if most of my wines come directly from the wineries through the mailing lists, is that accounted for? Anyway, the numbers are always fun, so for the full report, please follow this link.

Last one for today, and it is not even really the news. The Wine Bloggers Conference of 2018 (WBC18 for short) will start in a mere week, on October 4th, in Walla Walla, Washington. I will be attending WBC18 (I know a lot of bloggers can’t make it, unfortunately), so if you are reading this and will be attending the conference, please find me and say “hi”. The state of Washington makes amazing wines, and Walla Walla is on the forefront of producing those amazing wines, so I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing the wines and meeting all the wine people next week.

And we are done here, my friends. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Until the next time – cheers!

Blending Art and Wine – Galer Estate in Eastern Pennsylvania

September 8, 2018 2 comments

Galer Estate groundsDo you like surprises? It depends, you say? Okay, let me rephrase: do you like pleasant surprises? Of course, you do – and so do I.

What’s up with this “surprises” prelude? Simple – was prompted by the recent experience in Eastern Pennsylvania – at Galer Estate Vineyards and Winery.

With the fear to sound obnoxious (feel free to stamp “snob” and stop reading), I have to say that East Coast wineries are a hit and miss experience. I’m sure this is not just an East Coast phenomenon, but here I experienced it enough to state it. When visiting the winery, I’m looking for the “full experience”. I want the winery to have an ambiance, to have a soul. To me, the wine is a thing of comfort, and this is what I want to experience when I come to taste the wine. I don’t care for glitz and glamor, I don’t care for all the little “look how many cool and utterly useless things you can buy here”. The winery to me is all about a comfort and pleasure, and, most importantly, the real, good, tasty wine.

Oh, and one more thing to add – a conversation, conversation with the person who pours the wine into your glass. I don’t want to be pontificated upon (recent experience at Akash winery in Temecula was beyond terrible), I don’t want to be ignored (“I don’t know anything, I’m just here for a weekend job, here is your wine”). I want a person who pours the wine to share their passion and pride – it makes wine tasting a lot more enjoyable.

I’m happy to say that we had this exact “full experience” on the recent visit to Galer Estate. While the winery, located just a stone throw away from the Longwood Gardens (actually, while driving to the winery, I thought I made a mistake and will simply get inside the gardens instead of the winery), started only about 10 years ago, it looks like it had been there for centuries. It is rustic, it perfectly blends into the surroundings, and it is beautifully decorated – I’m sure the fact that Lele Galer, the co-owner of the winery, is an artist, comes to play here.

Galer Estate tasting Room

Galer Estate tasting Room

The doors of the tasting room had been brought from France, some of the panels are from Italy, stained glass windows are from the midwest USA. The view of the Chardonnay vineyard from the tasting room is beautiful, and all those little details together create the right ambiance for the tasting.

The Galer Estate owns two vineyards, and when necessary, they bring grapes from other vineyards, but all the grapes are still local, coming from the vineyards within 30 miles radius, all located in the Chester County. The selection of grapes is quite eclectic – it was my first time trying Grüner Veltliner and Albariño from the East Coast. Here is what we tasted:

2017 Galer Estate Grüner Veltliner Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – fresh nose, beautiful grassy palate, great acidity. 8-, excellent effort.

2017 Galer Estate The Huntress Vidal Blanc Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – Excellent, restrained, nice balance of white fruit, good acidity, elegant. 8, one of the best renditions of Vidal Blanc I ever had.

2016 Galer Estate Red Lion Chardonnay Chester County Pennsylvania ($18) – gunflint on the nose, crisp, green apples, lemon, clean. 8, excellent wine. I’ll take a gunflint on my Chardonnay at any time, and was literally ecstatic to find it here.

2017 Galer Estate Albariño Chester County Pennsylvania ($35) – excellent, varietally correct, touch of perfume on the nose, mineral lemon notes on the palate. 7+, Unique and different – East Coast Albariño, not the wine you can expect to find here.

2015 Galer Estate Chardonnay Reserve Chester County Pennsylvania ($32) – not my favorite – I’ll leave it at that. May be a “sleeper” bottle?

2017 Galer Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Chester County Pennsylvania ($30) – practically no color in the glass. I would prefer a Rosé with more extraction. Not my favorite

2016 Galer Estate The Huntress Red Blend Chester County Pennsylvania ($30, blend of Cabernet Franc, Carmine, Petit Verdot) – excellent, clean, cassis on the nose, cassis and raspberries on the palate. Soft, good balance. 8-, an added bonus – a new grape, Carmine – the grape (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan) was specifically designed to withstand the cold of the East Coast.

We had a great time while tasting, as our host was knowledgeable and engaging. It was also great to have lunch right in the cellar room – it was too hot to sit outside, so after the view of the vineyards, the view, and mostly the smell,  of the tanks might be the most exciting for the wine lovers.

And of course we had an opportunity to snap some pictures of the vines and grapes:

Here you are, my friends. If you are visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is one of my most favorite places, put aside some time to visit the Galer Estate. Considering the full experience, this was one of the very best East Coast wineries I ever visited. And even if you have take a special trip over, you will not regret it. Cheers!

Versatility of Paso

August 31, 2018 7 comments
Paso Robles Wine Map

Source: Pasowine.com

When a typical wine consumer hears the words “California wine” what is the first thing which comes to his or her mind? I would bet that in 9 out of 10 cases, the first thought is: “Is this wine from Napa?”.

Yes, Napa Valley is the king, but the California wine landscape is a lot bigger. Today, I want to talk about a different California wine region – one of the oldest, and probably, the most versatile – the region originally known as El Paso de Robles, “The Pass of the Oaks”, which today is typically called Paso Robles, and sometimes passionately abbreviated just as “Paso!”.

At the beginning of the 1880s, Zinfandel plantings appeared in Paso Robles. For a while, Zinfandel was really “it”, adding some of the most famous vineyards, such as Dusi and Pesenti at the beginning of the 1920s. At the beginning of the 1960s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir arrived to the region, followed by first plantings of Syrah in the whole state of California in 1970s. From there on, the region (Paso Robles AVA was established in 1983) moved forward to collect numerous accolades of Wine Region of the Year, Best Vineyard in the world and others. Today, Paso Robles has 11 sub-appellations, more than 40,000 acres of vineyards and more than 200 wineries, growing more than 40 grape varieties, from Bordeaux greats to Rhone and to Spanish varieties – and did we mention Zinfandel yet?

“Versatility” is really the key word when it comes to Paso. First, there is a great diversity of the terroirs, with 11 well-defined sub-appellations (you can see them on the map), stretching from just 6 miles away from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the mountains on the east – and let’s not forget that while only 40,000 acres are under vineyards, the whole Paso Robles appellation is more than 600,000 acres, which is about three times of size of Napa Valley AVA. Such a great diversity of microclimates is very conducive to the wide variety of grapes made into the world-class wines all around the AVA. Let’s see how many times you will nod when I will mention some of the Paso Robles greats: Saxum Vineyards, making some of the best in the world Syrah; how about Zinfandel from Turley and Carlisle, some of the best of the best in the world of Zin; Tablas Creek – one of the Rhône pioneers in the area; Justin Winery, with their delicious Bordeaux blends – Isosceles, anyone?; Dracaena Wines – Cabernet Franc fanatics; Field Recordings – truly a personal favorite, making everything from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to Chenin Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Valdiguié – and all deliciously well. So, how is this list to you?

Paso Robles winesLet me take this conversation one step further and share with you some of my latest discoveries from Paso Robles:

2015 Halter Ranch Grenache Blanc Paso Robles Adelaida District (13.3% ABV, $28, 80% Grenache Blanc, 14% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Roussanne, 2% Viognier)
Light golden color
Medium intensity lemon nose, hint of jasmine flowers and lots of granite with a touch of gunflint lots of minerality – on the nose, it is minerality driven wine.
The palate is acidity-driven, fresh, crisp, bright, lemon, a touch of grass, and a distant hint of plumpness – the wine will show differently as it will warm up.
Drinkability: 8, delicious from the get-go, lots of energy

2014 J. Lohr Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.8% ABV, $35, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in 60% new French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black
Licorice, sage, dark chocolate, coffee, roasted meat, minerality on the nose
The palate is savory, bright acidity, blackberries, more licorice, coffee, medium plus body, lots of energy in every sip, dark and concentrated.
Drinkability: 8-/8, softer and rounder next day, showing up some cassis.

2014 Treana Red Paso Robles (15% ABV, $45, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 17 months in French oak, 70% new)
Dark garnet with a purple hue
Concentrated cherry pit and some funk initially, noticeable green bell pepper – or was it corked?
The bright palate, good amount of savory fruit with licorice, blueberries and cassis, noticeable sapidity, medium to full body, good acidity, nice balance
Drinkability: N/R. This was not a bad wine, but there was an annoying component in the taste profile, which gave a borderline corked impression and was adding sharpness to the wine – also it didn’t subside. I need to try this wine again to have an opinion.

2014 Aaron Petite Sirah Paso Robles (15.6% ABV, $48, 88% Petite Sirah, 12% Sirah, 22 months on lees in 50-60% new oak)
Black color. Just black with a touch of dark garnet hue on the rim.
Nose most reminiscent of a nice espresso, with a touch of vanilla. Swirling opens up some blackberries and massive, colored legs (I always thought the color in the legs is the trait of Syrah, but apparently, Petite Sirah has the same).
The palate is dense, concentrated, roasted meat with some coffee and blueberries, nice pronounced acidity, velvety texture. Massive wine, but surprisingly approachable.
Drinkability: 8, would be amazing with the steak.

2015 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $22, 78% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 7% Alicante, 2% Tannat, 2% Syrah, 16 months in 30% new oak barrels)
Dark garnet
Pleasant aromatics, medium plus intensity, Chinese five spice
A touch of tobacco, good acidity, expressive tannins. Needs time
3 days later – wow, dramatic difference. I simply put this wine aside with a cork, without pumping the air. Significantly improved aromatics, tobacco, blackberries, hint of caraway seed. The bright and round palate, cherries, great interplay of acidity. I never thought I would say this, but it seems a lot more of an Italian Primitivo style also with the back end minerality. Happy wine for sure – I can finish the bottle by myself. Drinkability: 8 (day 3)

2015 Eberle Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah Paso Robles (14.8% ABV, $28, 100% Syrah, 18 months in 50/50 American/French oak)
Dark garnet
Closed nose from the get-go, the palate shows some dark fruit, a touch of vanilla, but not much more. Second day (just re-closed without pumping the air out) – what a difference! Dark fruit on the nose, supple berries on the palate, a touch of pepper, round, medium to full body, good acidity, overall delicious.
Drinkability: 8 (second day)

What do you think – did I prove my point about the versatility of Paso Robles? What are your favorite Paso producers and wines? Cheers!

Can You Enjoy The Wine In The Can? Yes You Can!

July 28, 2018 10 comments

I couldn’t resist a little fun with the title, but really – what do you think of the wines in the can?

Let me ponder at the subject a bit while you give it a thought.

I’m sure that I qualify as one of the pioneers of the wine in the can. Here is an article in LA Times, talking about wines in the can showing up around the USA, and explaining why those make sense. This article appeared in September of 2015. Here is the link to my own post, titled “My First Can of Wine“, written back in November of 2014. So yes, I can claim some familiarity with the subject.

My first can of wine was produced by Field Recordings, a very unorthodox winemaking company to begin with, offering strange wines, with strange labels, unusual blends, aged in unusual barrels (Acacia wood, anyone?) – but ultimately, unquestionably delicious. I wrote numerous posts about Field Recordings wines, starting from 2011 – you can scroll through a few pages here. Field Recordings went on to create a club dedicated to the wines in the can (suggestively called Can Can Club), and then they even created a whole new company, called Alloy Wine Works. One of the fun parts of that Can Can club membership was to observe the progression of packaging and delivery of club shipments of canned wines – from packing bubble-wrapped cans in the same wine shipping box as the regular bottles (didn’t work too well), to the Fedex Tube:

to the practically a masterpiece of packing:

Okay, I probably got a bit off on the tangent here – this post is not about Field Recordings, but rather about wine in the can as a category, so let’s continue our discussion.

First, I think we need to establish a very simple truth – wines in the can are NOT a reduced, lower quality, cheap leftover junk wines – they are full-blown, legit, properly made wine of the same quality as all other wines made at a given winery, simply presented in the different format – a high quality lined aluminum can. These are the same wines, people, and if you want any takeaway from this post, this is my main point. One more time – these are the same wines, which are simply packaged in cans instead of being packaged in the glass bottles.

Now, why do we need wines in the can? I don’t want to get into the whole “cool factor” and “millennials” discussions – yes, those are important, I know, as they further democratize wine and bring new people to try the wine for the first time. But all of these can be categorized as a marketing gimmick, and I want to look for the actual benefits of the canned wines. Let’s see:

  • On the go: Canned wines are perfect on the go. It is much easier to stuff a can of wine exactly as you would a can of soda into your backpack, and off you go. When you decide you want to drink the wine, it is very easy to open, and you don’t need to look for the glass. And even two cans of wine will be lighter than one bottle of wine, for the most of the cases. As we said – just get it, and go.
  • Safety: Wines in the cans are a lot safer around small children, and generally anywhere where glass is simply a bad idea – like a beach or a pool.
  • Convenience: Standard size for a can of wine is 375 ml, which is half of the bottle. If you want to drink white, and your friend is in a mood for a hearty red, having two different cans is easier than opening two bottles of wine.
  • Experimenting and variety: with the smaller format and different packaging, there is an opportunity to create new types of wines or even go beyond wine. With Alloy Wine Works, I had wines going way beyond white, red and Rosé – wines finished with beer hops, wines mixed with coffee, plums, stout and lots lots more.

I’m sure there are other benefits of wines in the can, but – do cans of wine have only a good side without a bad one? As you know, this is never the case in life, so let’s talk about challenges:

  • This is wine, not a beer!: It is important to remember that a can of wine holds half a bottle of wine – not beer. What’s my point, you ask? A typical can of beer contains less than 4% of alcohol. Typical wine – 13% as the least, so that one can of wine is equivalent to at least three cans of beer in terms of alcohol volume – you better remember that. Half a bottle of wine is not something you can easily dismiss.
  • Once it’s open, it’s open: if you just want to have a glass of wine, it is easy with the bottle – open, pour a glass, close the bottle back. It is not going to work like that with the can – once it’s open, it’s open, and there is no going back. This problem has an easy solution – provide a plastic cap which can be used to reclose the can – but so far I didn’t see too many of those sold with the cans.
  • Aging: I don’t think this is a real problem, as I don’t expect much of the aging-worthy wines to show up in the can, but in any case, keep in mind that the wine cans are better not be lost in the cellar.

Here you go – my take on the wines in the can. I didn’t plan to include much of tasting notes in this post, but I can tell you that this year I had wines in the can from California, Oregon, Australia and Long Island, and all of them were well made tasty wines.

At this point you had plenty of time to come up with your opinion about the wines in the can – would you please share it with everyone? Here is an easy poll for you – let us know what you think about canned wines! Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage: Capital Grille, Thomas Keller, and more

June 13, 2018 8 comments

Meritage time!

Wednesday’s Meritage was a permanent weekly feature in this blog in the days where the time for blogging was magically found with ease. The wine can be called a Meritage only if it is produced as a blend of two or more varieties – the idea for these Wednesday’s Meritage posts was based on the same principal – sharing the tidbits of news and information which I thought might be of interest to my fellow readers.

Looking through some of the recent emails I came across a few newsworthy items, so off went the sparkle – “that warrants a Meritage post”, so here we go.

The Capital Grille is a group of steakhouse restaurants, which don’t require much introduction for steak aficionados in the USA. Their menu is generally very solid, and, what is very important for me, their wine list is extensive and reasonably priced, for sure for the restaurant in that same steakhouse category. The Capital Grille is known for some innovative wine programs – for instance, their Generous Pour event had been in effect for many years, and it allows people to enjoy a variety of the specially selected wines at a very reasonable price (was $25, now $28) with dinner – a number of my personal favorites were discovered with help of this program. While new Generous Pour will start on July 9th of this year, this is not the program I wanted to bring to your attention. The Capital Grille just announced a brand new program, called “Sip today, sip tomorrow”, with a very simple idea. You can order any bottle of wine from their extensive wine list. Next, the wait staff will use Coravin to pour as many glasses as you would want – and the rest of the bottle is yours to take home. You can get more details on The Capital Grille website – click on the “sip today, sip tomorrow” icon to learn more. I don’t know about you, but I like the idea – now, just need to find a good occasion to visit The Capital Grille and try it for myself.

Say “Thomas Keller” name to any foodie, and you will get an “ahh” reaction from the absolute majority of them. The iconic chef is best known as an owner of French Laundry, a culinary mecca in Napa Valley, and Per Se in New York City. Now, the people of Miami can dance a happy dance, as Thoms Keller is set to open The Surf Club restaurant in Miami, in the town called Surfside (less than 10 miles from Miami). This will be a first Florida restaurant for the Thomas Keller, connecting to his childhood memories of Palm Beach. The restaurant is expected to have a bit more casual menu, compared to the French Laundry and Per Se, but I’m sure Thomas Keller’s style will be well recognized there. The restaurant should be opening next month, so if you live in Miami or plan to visit, you might want to start looking up that phone number…

Last, I have a movie for you. It is less than 20 minutes long. Yes, it is in Russian – but it has English subtitles, which were done pretty well. The movie, called “The Taste”, of course, revolves around wine… and people… and wine. The ending is totally unexpected (it was for me), so if you will go to the extent of watching it, please allocate that 20 minutes of your time  – there is a good chance you will enjoy it, even if you don’t speak Russian. And if you will end up watching it, I would be happy to hear from you, whether you will like it or not.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. As these Meritage posts used to finish – the glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Until the next time – cheers!

The Art of Tempranillo

May 24, 2018 7 comments

Source: Vintae.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bodega Matsu wines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sequel in Reverse – More About Wines of Southwest France

May 18, 2018 3 comments

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

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

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

Wines of Southwest France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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