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Playing With Celebrity Wines

July 22, 2020 4 comments

Celebrity wine – is there such a thing?

Of course.

If you will look at this Wikipedia page, you will see the list of 100+ famous people who own vineyards, wineries, or both. Like all of us, some of the celebrities happen to love wine, and they are not shy of associating with what they love.

Every year or so, a new celebrity finds their love of wine and joins the ranks. 2020 had two celebrities (so far) joining the wine club of their own making – singer Post Malone and actress Cameron Diaz brought to the market their wine offerings – which I was eager to try, hence this post.

I’m always curious about celebrity wines. Celebrity status greatly simplifies the marketing of the product, no matter what the celebrity associates with. The celebrity status easily overshadows the product itself – this removes the need for the product to be excellent, as we love our celebrities so much that we are willing to blindly take whatever they are endorsing – and so my inner skeptic always wants to know – how good is the particular product? Is it a real deal or simply a cover up for something mediocre?

I had no idea who Post Malone is until I saw a Netflix movie called Spencer Confidential. Afterward, I learned that Post Malone is actually a popular singer. Then I read an article talking about the upcoming release of Post Malone’s wine, so here it is – a celebrity wine which needs to be tasted. After waiting for almost a month, the wine finally appeared in Connecticut, and I was able to buy my bottle.

When I’m faced with celebrity wine, the celebrity factor goes aside. I’m happy to know that somewhere there is a famous name associated with the wine – but the only thing I care about is the wine itself. Where was it made, what grapes it is made out of, terroir, winemaking, smell, taste, and pleasure – this is what is important. Knowing I’m drinking the wine associated with a famous person doesn’t give me pleasure – tasty, delicious wine does. I always say that the proof is in the glass – that is the only thing that matters. So celebrity wine or not, I treat it exactly like any other bottle.

Avaline and Maison No 9

From that point of view, Maison No 9 represents a mixed bag. When it comes to the wine – it is superb. 2019 Maison No 9 Rosé Méditerranée IGT (12.5% ABV, $24, blend of Grenache, Merlot, Cinsault, Syrah) has a beautiful light pink color, has a nose of fresh strawberries with a touch of lemon, and bursts in your mouth with fresh strawberries and lemon, perfect minerality and raw, vibrant energy – all scrumptiously balanced (Drinkability: 8+). I love the bottle, it definitely stands out with an engraved front label depicting the sword and the rose. However, the problems start as soon as you try to dig deeper.

The website of Maison No 9 has no information about the wine, the vineyards, or the winemaker. All pictures on the web site feature Post Malone, and the only purpose of the website is to make sure you will buy something – either merchandise (T-shirt? Would it make wine taste better?), or the wine. This is in stark contrast with Miraval website, for example – Miraval is clearly a celebrity wine project (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) – where it is all about the land, terroir, and wine. Website or not, but my problem is that the only place with any information about the Maison No 9 wine was this Forbes article. That is where I learned the story behind this wine, or that the wine was made by a well known French winemaker Alexis Cornu, or that the “new wine is named Maison No. 9, a reference to the Nine of Swords tarot card” (by the way, I searched the meaning of Nine of Swords tarot card and seems to be nothing good, but I’m not going to talk about things I have no idea about). So the bottom line here is that the wine is good, but the whole story is lacking. Does it worth $24? If this is your budget for Rosé, yes, but if not – you got options.

The Maison No 9 story, while almost non-existent, is still perfect compared to our next two wines, Avaline, which come with quite a story – and not really a good one. Avaline, which I believe means “bird” in Latin, is a product of the imagination of two long time friends, Cameron Diaz, a famous actress, and Katherine Power, a well-known entrepreneur. The duo decided to come up with a concept of a “clean wine” to advertise their creation, and this was a grave mistake, as it made the professional wine world fuming.

I’m not going to regurgitate any of the articles – just go search “clean wine Avaline”, you will find plenty of “critical acclaim”. The problem with using terms such as “clean wine” is that as soon as you designate your wine to be “clean”, you automatically imply that all other wines are “dirty” because no other wines advertise themselves as “clean”. When someone says on the label “Free from added sugars, artificial colors, concentrates”, I can’t keep my eyebrow from going up as my immediate reaction is “huh”? Really? I can’t speak with confidence about Two Buck Chuck, but I have serious doubts that they use any of these said additives. I don’t know who was advising Avaline on the wine marketing, but to me, this is a complete failure. Forget “clean wine” – another serious problem I have with these wines is that there is no information whatsoever about the wines – who made them, where the wines were made, from what grapes… yes, Wine.com, which sells both wines, has information on the grape composition. But then the white wine is designated as “Product of Spain” – another “huh?” from me as I never saw another wine with such designation, and the Rosé is identified as Vin de France. Another interesting element here (strategy????) is that both wines don’t list the vintage. So when you come to buy the wine in the store, you have no idea for how long the wine was sitting on that shelf… Nice…

So how were the wines? Both wines were actually quite tasty: NV Avaline White Wine Spain (11.5% ABV, $24, blend of Xarel·lo, Macabeo, Malvasia) – white stone fruit on the nose, nicely restrained, fresh flowers, a touch of minerality. Fresh ripe plums, sage, Meyer lemon, clean acidity, medium-long finish (Drinkability: 8, nicely done). NV Avaline Rosé Vin de France (13% ABV, $24, blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Caladoc) – gentle pink color, a hint of sweet ripe strawberries, nicely restrained, candied strawberries and strawberry jam on the palate, good acidity, good balance, not over the top. Short finish, easy to drink (Drinkability: 8-).

While the Avaline are tasty wines, I see a serious problem here, outside of any “clean/dirty” concepts. You are asked to pay $24 for the wines of unknown pedigree, unknown vintage, made by someone somewhere, with a clean (pun intended), but a seriously unattractive label. I can splurge $5 on such a wine if I will get a recommendation – I guarantee you I will pass a wine like that if I will just see it on the shelf.

Here you go, my friends – 3 celebrity wine for your attention. All three are well drinkable, but you seek them at your own peril. Cheers!

Winemaking: A Step by Step Guide

June 29, 2020 Leave a comment

Today I would like to offer you a guest post by William Reed, who is a passionate winemaker that continues his family’s the age-old tradition of producing quality homemade wine. With respect to
heritage and classic concepts as well as a zesty touch of the modern, William continues to explore the vast world of winemaking all while sharing his thoughts, ideas, and processes on his own personal website at myhomewine.com.

Winemaking or vinification is the process of making wine, from start to finish, which ends up having a lot of detailed steps you should know, so are you ready to begin this long but incredibly rewarding journey?

Some people say it’s easy to make wine but making good and fruity ones is only for the experts – well that’s not entirely true as we’ll see below. Summed up, the major steps on how to make wine are the selection of grapes, their fermentation to alcohol, and, lastly, the bottling. You can make all types of wine but the most common ones are red wine, white wine, or rosé, and even though they are pretty different between, their process is very similar.

Wine has been produced for thousands of years, being almost considered as an art, having an important role in religion and there is even a science that studies wine and winemaking, called oenology. Generally speaking, wine is an alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes with 5.5 – 15.5% alcohol and is a cultural symbol of the European life, changing from a nutritional supplement to a food complimentary beverage, compatible with a good lifestyle. Drinking isn’t safe for everyone and doing it more than moderate amounts can lead to health problems, however, a study from 2018 proved that wine can have great benefits because it contains antioxidants and it promotes anti-inflammatory and lipid-improving effects.

The classification of this beverage can be done according to its origin, methods, vintage, or variety used. Practices can be different in each country and have varied over time to achieve progress. Wine-growing regions all over the world have been improving their conditions with technological innovations to have better hygiene and control over the production process, contributing to the creation of wines suited to the taste of consumers. In fact, global wine consumption has risen with the purpose to enjoy in moderation, as part of a modern, sustainable, and healthy lifestyle. You can also take a look at the following guide in case you want to learn how to make wine at home.

With that said, I will now present you with the process of winemaking, in a thorough but also easy to understand step by step manner:

1 – Choosing the Perfect Grapes

The first step of all is harvesting! It’s one of the crucial stages in this operation, and it’s really easy to understand why – the better grapes you have, the better the product will be!

The moment the grapes are picked from the vineyard will determine their sweetness, flavour, and acidic and tannin levels – now we know why it’s called science. Some of the tracked conditions are the weather, the time of harvest and even the way you pick them – hand picking or mechanical harvesting. Even though there is a lot to consider and to control when it comes to reaching a nice final product, don’t get too scared, as you’ll only reach perfection through trial and error.

2 – Crush!

Once you have the grapes picked up from the vineyard, it’s time to de-stem them and gently squeeze them to liberate their content. This process, in the past or in traditional smaller scale farms, is done by foot. Nowadays, and in bigger wineries, mechanical presses are used to turn grapes into must (pulp) in a much faster and efficient way. Some say this can affect grapes negatively but it’s a more sanitary crushing step and also helps the quality of the final result. Personally, I’d prefer the machines rather than drinking wine crushed by some random farmer’s feet!

What is tapped from the must depends on the type of wine you are making. If white wine is what you want, then the seeds, solids and skins are removed from the grape juice. On the other hand, if red wine is what you prefer, the seeds, solids and skins should stay along with grape juice to offer it more flavour and that beautiful red colour.

3 – Sugar into Alcohol: Fermentation

It’s true, the third step is fermentation and is quickly defined as a transformation from sugar into alcohol – it seems like magic, am I right? It only seems like it, because here is where this process is the longest and most complicated, as it determines the quality of the final result.

As you already know, the product obtained from crushing will ferment because of the present yeasts that transform the sugar, as an energy source, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide. This explains the primary fermentation, which is called alcoholic fermentation, and will last from 5 to 14 days, requiring a lot of careful control (if the goal is a high premium luxurious wine). The second one is called malolactic fermentation, lasts another 5 to 10 days and it characterizes the pH 3,8 of red wines and 3,55 of white wines. Pure science! Temperature, speed and level of oxygen are also extremely important considerations and must be optimized. This whole process can take weeks or even months.

4 – Clarification and Stabilization

After fermentation, it’s time for clarification! This is where pulp, proteins, dead yeast, and other unwanted residues, created during the chemical reactions, are removed from the juice that you can almost call wine at this point. Particles that are insoluble and float, can be filtered and the ones that are soluble but still undesirable, can be centrifuged. Both of these methods need to be optimized to obtain a clear, healthy and appropriate wine. Some natural winemakers don’t clarify because they believe that it diminishes the aroma, texture, and color, so they leave the particles and compounds in red wines for aging – I follow this school of thought.

At this point, you already know that wine can be claimed as a complex mixture built upon microorganisms, and that it can be unstable and reactive depending on the environment and the condition submitted. One of the techniques to stabilize it is cold stabilization and it consists of exposing the wine to low temperatures, close to freezing, for two weeks. The complexity of this whole step is amazing because it enables winemakers to deliver their individual appeal to each wine.

5 – Aging and Bottling

This is the final step but one that is very important in winemaking, because it’s the relocation of the wine into oak barrels (my preferred vessel), stainless steel tanks or bottles.

Wine aging can be defined as a group of reactions that changes the properties of wine and allows it to develop unique flavors over time. Premium wines need to pass through this maturation step to acquire some amazing characteristics like aroma, color, flavour, texture and mouthfeel. Other light and fruity wines don’t need aging and reach their quality peak in a shorter time.

The major considerations in bottling are what kind of bottle to use, type of closure (sealing), (maybe cork), and if you want to add gas or not (not recommended at all for beginners). There are also a lot of kits available for you if you want to experiment making wine at home in a small but very educational manner.

Enjoy it – with Moderation!

Here is every important and crucial step in the winemaking process and you can apply them at your own industry or even at home! Yes, you can make this fruity, incredible juice without leaving your house. If you’re not interested in making your own, you can think about this whole procedure when you’re enjoying it, remembering the magic behind and realizing the work put on it.

Winemaking can be difficult because there are a lot of conditions you need to optimize, starting from picking the grape, to the act of bottling the wine, to the temperature you apply and the cleanliness. Now we can agree that this is almost an art and you have to learn a little bit of science too! Don’t forget that drinking wine in moderation has positive benefits linked to some cardiovascular disease due to the amount of antioxidants, isn’t that great? Thank you for reading and let’s have a glass of wine!

Good When Young, Good With Age

June 8, 2020 2 comments

It’s what you crave, people.

And right now, I’m craving Riesling.

Wine cravings are an interesting phenomenon. Or not. I guess food cravings work in exactly the same way. It appears to be all of a sudden, the desire for a certain food – french fries (oh wait, I always crave french fries), fried chicken, steak, scallops, lasagna, broccoli (really, you say? Yep, I can bet someone is craving broccoli right now). Is it really so unprovoked, so out of blue, or is it our subconscious at play here, collecting little cues here and there?

It is getting warm now, but that alone is not the reason to crave Riesling. But what if I read about other people enjoying the Riesling, with food and without – would that count as an invisible cue? I don’t know, but I can clearly imagine myself with a glass of cold Riesling in hand, don’t even need to close my eyes.

In the world of white wine, Riesling is unquestionably a part of “big three” – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. At the same time, if you think about typical wine store, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc would take the prime real estate, the most central position on the shelves – and Riesling would be typically relegated to the far-most corner, with a little “Germany” sign next to it, or maybe in the “other whites” section. And it is a pity because scandalously delicious Riesling is produced practically everywhere – Alsace, Australia (Grosset would be an amazing example), New Zealand, Israel, California (how about some Smith-Madrone), Oregon (Brooks Rieslings are sublime), Washington (Chateau Ste. Michelle does an excellent job), and I’m not even talking about New York state or Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada.

It is not only the hedonistic pleasure that the glass of well-made Riesling readily delivers on its own. Riesling is one of the most versatile food wines – it pairs well with a wide range of dishes and cuisines. And then Riesling has an ability to age not just well, but extremely well. Let’s bring back again the big three. Yes, you can age many of the Chardonnay wines, but rarely for 30, 40, 50 years – I’m sure there are some exceptions, probably in Burgundy, but still, this is not common. Sauvignon Blanc would fare even worse than Chardonnay. But well-made Riesling? 30 years will not be even the age – it will be still youthful and vibrant, with ease.

I didn’t have any 30 years old Rieslings recently, but I got two samples with 4 and 8 years of age, and both fared equally well – while even 8 years might be a stretch for many white wines. 2016 Leitz Eins-Zwei-Dry Riesling Trocken Rheingau (12% ABV) was produced by Weingut Leitz, where the family winemaking traditions go back to 1744; 2012 Müller-Catoir Bürgergarten Riesling Spätlese Pfalz (9% ABV) was produced at the Weingut Müller-Catoir which, interestingly enough, was also founded in 1744.

It is interesting that both wines were produced at the wineries with the 9th generation of winemakers (duh – the wineries were founded in the same year, I know). Both wines are pure Riesling wines, both come from the hillside vineyards with some unimaginable slopes. 2016 Riesling is designated as dry, and 2012 is a Spätlese-level, which means that the grapes had a higher sugar content when harvested.

I’m sure you wonder how were the wines? Well, yes, both were delicious. Both were a characteristic Riesling, with honey, honeysuckle, and a touch of lemon on the nose. Of course, Spätlese was sweeter, but not by much. And it is always the acidity which makes or breaks Riesling – both wines showed perfectly balancing, fresh, vibrant acidity. Bottom line – both were equally delicious and ready to be enjoyed on their own or support any food. As for the age… what age? I will be happy to try both in 10 (or 20)  years – and I’m sure I would enjoy them very much.

What is your take on Riesling? Do you have any favorites wines or regions? Do tell! Cheers!

 

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

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