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

June 13, 2018 6 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.

The Region Which Started It All

May 15, 2018 8 comments

The wine had been made in the Southwest of France ( Sud-Ouest in French) almost forever – in terms of human life, 2,000+ years well classified as “forever”. The region is considered one of the “cradles of winemaking” in Europe, and it maintains its uniqueness and diversity today – for example, out of 300 grape varieties used in the winemaking in the region, 120 are not found anywhere else.

Of course, we know that winemaking started about 8,000 years ago, and not in the Southwest of France. So what’s up with “started it all” claim? Glad you asked! Let me explain.

We live in the times when the wine is a part of daily life of many. Drinking wine is a norm and normal, simply a part of the daily routine for many, not a luxury or a weird exception anymore. Yes, that’s how it was in Europe forever – but now I’m talking about the rest of the world, countries such the USA, and even China now heading that way. The demand for wine had been constantly increasing since the late 1990s, and even Great Recession of 2008 didn’t kill it (just shifted the “acceptable” price ranges). Is it all just a normal course of events? We can, of course, settle for this. However, I believe that on a deeper level, there are exact reasons, “tip the scale” moments for many things which seem to happen just on its own – however, sometimes it is not easy to identify those “reasons”.

Remember the impact of the movie Sideways on consumption and production of the Merlot in the USA? That movie was the reason for a huge slump after 2004, and production and interest to Merlot are still in the recovery mode even now, 14 years later.

Late in the 1980s, the world started talking about The French Paradox – French eat cheese and foie gras, cook with butter and duck fat daily, and nevertheless, the coronary disease rates are much less than in the countries with comparable living standards and much lesser fat consumption. Possible explanation? Red wine. French consume lots of red wine, and resveratrol, one of the prominent substances found in seeds and skins of the red grapes, acts as a defense against clogging of the arteries. That was the outcome of the extensive medical research study conducted in France, which became known in the world as French Paradox.

In 1991, CBS in the USA dedicated one of their popular programs, 60 Minutes, to the French Paradox, and you know how Americans are, right? We are always looking for an easy way out, so wine sounded like an easy enough cure, and I believe this became a pivotal moment which triggered a renewed interest in the wine. Almost 40 years later, it seems that the wine successfully keeps the momentum. And before you will attack me with all the facts from the latest research – yes, I’m aware of many articles pointing to the issues with the study. Whether French Paradox study conclusions were medically solid I have to leave to professionals to debate and decide on. But it was still that pivotal “tip the scale” moment which changed the perception of the wine for many in the world.

At this point, I’m sure you want to see the connection between the title, the Southwest of France, and the story of the French Paradox, right? Here it is. While attending the tasting of the wines of Southwest France, I was listening to the presentation by sommelier André Compeyre, who mentioned that Southwest France has the biggest number of centenarians in France and it was one of the main regions where the French Paradox study was conducted – here we go, now everything is connected and explained. Is it time for a glass of wine?

The tasting took place at the little store in New York called the French Cheese Board – what can be better than wine with a little cheese, right? Especially if both come from the same region, where they trained to live together for a few thousand years…

We started tasting with the sparkling wine, moved to the white and then red. As usual in such events, there was not enough time (and desire) for the formal notes, so below is the best I can offer. However, overall, the word is “outstanding” – the wines of Southwest France are well worth seeking – and you will not be disappointed.

NV Domaine du Moulin Mauzac Méthode Ancestrale Gaillac AOP (12% ABV, $15, 100% Mauzac) – very nice and simple. 7+

2017 Domaine du Tariquet Premières Grives Côtes de Gascogne IGP (11.5% ABV, $14, 100% Gros Manseng) – semi-sweet wine. It appears to be a traditional wine in the Southwest of France, which people are accustomed to drinking. It is possible that the wine was not cold enough when I tasted it, but I really didn’t appreciate it. If you like sweeter wines – this might be the one for you.

2016 Héritage Blanc Saint-Mont AOP (13% ABV, blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu, Arrufiac) – excellent, bright, crisp, but very complex and thought-provoking. A touch of grass, vanilla, ta ouch of honey on the palate, green apples, wow. Excellent acidity. Great complexity. 8. And let’s not forget 2 new grapes – Petit Courbu and Arrufiac

2017 Domaine de Joy l’Eclat Côtes de Gascogne AOP (12% ABV, $7, blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc)  – crisp, clean, superb. 8

2012 Château de Haute Serre Cahors AOP (13.5% ABV, $22) – superb, ripe berries, blueberries, round, delicious, acidity, vanilla, the backbone of minerality. 8+

2012 Château Montus Madiran AOP (15% ABV, $32.99, blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon) – smoke, campfire, tobacco, great concentration, powerful, excellent, great acidity, outstanding. 8

2011 Jean-Luc Baldès Triguedina Clos Triguedina Cahors AOP (14.5% ABV, $40, 85% Malbec, 10% Merlot, 5% Tannat, 12 months in oak) – touch of barnyard on the nose, delicious fruit, ta ouch of funkiness on the palate, great acidity. 8

2015 Domaine de Terrisses Terre Originelle Gaillac AOP (13% ABV, $16, blend of Braucol (Fer) and Prunelart) – beautiful Cabernet nose, crisp, cassis, Bordeaux style -outstanding. 8. and a new grape – Prunelart

2015 Réserve Bélingard Côtes de Bergerac AOP ($15, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot) – beautiful, warm nose, vanilla, cassis, beautiful, soft. 8

2013 Chateau Peyros Vieilles Vignes Madiran AOP (13% ABV, $18, 80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc) – excellent, soft. 8-

2017 Domaine de Joy l’Eclat Côtes de Gascogne AOP (12% ABV, $7, blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc)  – crisp, clean, superb. 8

In addition tot he wines, we had an opportunity to indulge on the local cheeses of Southwest France – Ossau Iraty, Buche de Lucay, Bethmale Chèvre, Chabichou, Valencay, and Comté. Sorry, I’m not going to give you any individual notes, but all the cheese were superb. If you are like me and accustomed to the Comté cheese from Costco – that Comté in the tasting was the whole different game (go visit the store and taste, you don’t have to believe me).

There you go, my friends. Have you had wines of Southwest France lately? Any favorites you want to mention? Let’s raise the glass to many happy wine discoveries – and some red wine as a solution to all our problems. Cheers!

Where In The World is Gigondas?

May 5, 2018 1 comment

Do you think I’m dumbing it down way out of proportion? Do you think every wine consumer is perfectly familiar with whereabouts of Gigondas and its wines, and thus taking offense in the title of this post? Well, if this is the case, please share your anger in the comments section below and click the “x” in the corner. And if you are still here, let’s talk about the tiny speck of land in the southern part of the Rhone appellation in France.

Size matters, but probably not in this case. Gigondas has only about 3,000 acres of vineyards for the whole appellation  (for comparison, E.& J. Gallo in California owns 20,000 acres of vineyards). Nobody knows where Gigondas name came from, but it is known that the wine was consumed in the Gigondas region more than 2,000 years ago. First records of Gigondas vineyard go all the way back to the 12th century. I guess the wine in Gigondas was really good even in the early days, as in 1591 there were first laws enacted, particularly prohibiting the sales of the wine to foreigners. In 1971, Gigondas became the first appellation in Côtes du Rhône-Villages to receive its own AOC status.

Gigondas is the land of Red and Rosé (just Red, mostly). Yep, that’s right – no white wines are produced and no white grapes are grown – at least for the wines produced under the Gigondas designation. The wines of Gigondas stylistically similar to the wines made in the neighboring – also much larger and a lot more famous – appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – despite vignerons mostly working with 4 grapes in Gigondas (out of 8 varieties officially permitted), while folks in Châteauneuf-du-Pape allowed to use 18 in production of their red wines, 9 of which are white. At the end of the day, it is not for nothing both Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are often classified as “GSM” – which stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre – these are the main three grapes, with Grenache typically been a workhorse here (up to 80% allowed in Gigondas wines).

Now, the time has come for an ugly truth. I’m actually not familiar with Gigondas wines. I know and had many of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, but I usually would pass by one or two bottles of Gigondas which most of the stores would offer, and go to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the same price range. Thus when I was offered to try 3 different Gigondas wines, my “yes, please!” was very enthusiastic.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I’m going to play with err, taste a few of the Gigondas wines, I got back an instant outpour of love – and not only to the wines, but to the place. Take a look at these tweets:

It is time to talk about the wines I was able to taste. I had three wines, two from the 2015 vintage and one from 2014. Let’s take a look at the producers first.

The Domaine des Bosquets traces its history back to 14th century. Today, Domaine des Bosquets farms 64 acres of vineyards (50 years old vines), primarily growing Grenache and small amounts of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault.

The Famille Perrin needs no introduction to the wine lovers. It takes roots in the same 14th century, with its historic Château de Beaucastel. In the 1950s, Famille Perrin became a pioneer of the organic farming, later on extending into the Biodynamic. The Famille Perrin also involved in the multiple projects in France and around the world, and the wine I tasted comes from their La Gille property in Gigondas.

Unlike the two wineries we just talked about, the Guigal Estate was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small village Côte-Rôtie appellation. From there on, however, E. Guigal moved to the great prominence, with its so-called “La La” bottlings from Côte-Rôtie (La Mouline, La Turque, La Landonne) becoming an object of desire and obsession for the wine lovers around the world. Guigal Estate produces the wines in multiple appellations throughout both Northern and Southern Rhone, and “Guigal” name on the bottle is typically associated with quality.

I have to honestly tell you – with the exception of E.Guigal, this was not the love at first sight. However, all three wines perfectly evolved on the second day. Here are my notes:

2015 Famille Perrin La Gille Gigondas AOC (14.5% ABV, $38, 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah)
Garnet
Beet juice, mocha, raspberries, medium intensity, minerally undertones
Dense, chewy, blueberries and blueberry compote, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, medium to full body. Long finish.
7+, I would like a bit more balance.
8- second day, the wine is a lot tighter, has firm structure, shows hint of white pepper and by all means a lot more enjoyable. Apparently will improve with time.

2015 Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas AOC (15% ABV, $35, 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and Cinsault, total 30 month aging in oak and concrete)
Dark garnet, almost black
Intense nose of freshly cut berries, vanilla, eucalyptus. Noticeable alcohol as well.
The palate is very intense but also astringent at the same time, black pepper, surprisingly medium body (was expecting bigger body). After 30 minutes in the decanter, the aggressive alcohol is gone. Still, feels that the wine needs time – not ready to drink now. Putting aside for a day.
Day 2 – cherries, mocha, and coffee on the nose. No alcohol, all nice and integrated. The palate shows tart cherries, pepper, vanilla, cut through acidity, medium plus body. Nicely drinkable. 8-/8, very good.

2014 E. Guigal Gigondas AOC (14.5% ABV, $36, 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre)
Intense garnet
Open and inviting nose, black pepper, raspberries, mint, cassis
Fresh raspberries and blackberries, hint of mushrooms, nice minerality, a touch of vanilla and pepper, firm structure, good acidity, good balance
8-, a very pleasant and nicely drinkable wine from the get-go.
Day 2: 8+, sweet vanilla, dark chocolate and blueberries on the nose, extremely inviting. The palate evolved dramatically – pepper, raspberries, graphite, nutmeg, violets, firm structure, superb.

Here you are, my friends – my first serious encounter with Gigondas. Looking at the pictures, I would really love to visit Gigondas, and I will be happy to drink the Gigondas wine – just need to fiorget them in the cellar for a while. What is your eperience with Gigondas? Cheers!

 

Discover Wines Of Loire Valley

April 23, 2018 5 comments

What do you think of the wines from the Loire Valley? Why, you say you are not sure? Come on, give yourself a credit – there is a good chance you had Loire Valley wines, but maybe you simply didn’t associate those wines with the Loire Valley? Let me help you – Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuissé), Muscadet, Vouvray, Touraine, Anjou, Saumur, Chinon – had any of the wines with these words on the label? Ah, of course, you are saying? Then now you know – those are all the wines from the Loire Valley in France.

Loire Valley appellations map. Source: http://www.loirevalleywinetour.com/

The Loire Valley is not the most famous winemaking region in France, but it deserves the utmost respect. Here are some facts for you. Number one region in France for production of the white wines. The largest producer of the sparkling wines in France outside of Champagne. Number two producer of Rosè wines in France after Provence. The largest in France vineyard declared UNESCO World Heritage site. 79 sub-appellations and denominations and more than 2,000 years of winemaking history. These numbers speak for themselves. And to round up the stats – five grapes (Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgeois, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir) comprise most of the Loire wines, but a total of 24 grapes are used there.

A few weeks ago, I was happy to attend the “Spring To Loire” trade tasting in New York City, alongside the inimitable, one and only JvB Uncorked – we definitely had lots of fun tasting through the Loire wines together. It was also literally the first tasting this year which I managed to attend, so “happy” is the right word. Besides, I love Loire wines, with Chinon and Saumur been personal pet peeves, as producers of delicious Cabernet Franc.

The tasting was unquestionably interesting. First, it had a couple of curious moments. There was a seminar which offered an excellent introduction to the region, tasting all major styles and varieties. Two of the reds in the tasting were rather green and aggressive. At the end of the tasting, I asked a lady sitting next to me how did she liked the wines, and she told me that she didn’t like the red wines individually, but she mixed them (!?!?) and they became more palatable – truly a wow moment in the professional tasting. And then it was another lady who (accidentally or not) dumped what seemed like a whole bottle of perfume on herself – trying to smell nuances of the wine standing next to her was beyond mission impossible. Some memorable moments…

Okay, let’s talk about the wines. I have a few favorites which I will be happy to mention, but first, let me give you my broad stroke impressions.

  1. Sancerre had a much lesser amount of fresh cut grass than I was expecting. Okay, I’m not an expert on Sancerre evolution, as I rarely drink them. However, based on what I remember from my education and some of the previous experiences, classic Sancerre is supposed to have pronounced grass and cat pee notes – didn’t find much of the Sancerre like that. Touraine Sauvignons, on another hand, were delicious across the board with an abundance of the freshly cut grass.
  2. Many of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine wines were lacking the characteristic acidity. When going for Muscadet, I’m expecting acidity which will plucker my mouth and make the cheeks to go meet each other. Many Muscadet in the tasting were nice white wines, but they were lacking their prized quality.
  3. The Chenin Blanc was a star. We had a number of delicious Vouvray and not only wines, which offered bright acidity, sometimes a touch of sweetness, a round mouthfeel – all which you would expect from a nicely done old world Chenin.
  4. Many of the Chinon and Saumur Reds were too tannic. This was a total surprise – the wines were fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, nevertheless, the mouth was drying up almost as much as if you would be tasting the young Barolo. I was told that the whole cluster fermentation and aging was a culprit, but this was not a pleasant surprise. I really expect much more elegant and approachable wines to come from those regions. Nevertheless, we managed to find a few of the superb reds.

Done with my general impressions – here are some limited notes on my favorite wines.

Sparkling:

Crémant de Loire:
NV Maurice Bonnamy Crémant de Loire Brut (SRP: $16.99, 65% Chenin Blanc, 20% Chardonnay, 15% Cabernet Franc) – nice, refreshing, yeasty
NV Maurice Bonnamy Crémant de Loire Rosé (SRP: $16.99, 100% Cabernet Franc) – toasted bread and strawberries, nice, refreshing, great mouthfeel
NV Ackerman Crémant de Loire Brut (70% Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc for the rest) – this wine was presented in the seminar, so I had a bit more time to spend with it – great nose, toasted bread, fresh, a touch on a sweeter side but still very nice

White:

Melon de Bourgogne:
2017 Sauvion Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine AOC (SRP $13.99) – crisp, fresh, great acidity
2014 Château de la Cormerais Monnieres-Saint Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (SRP $19.99) – outstanding. fresh, clean
2012 Domaine de Colombier-Mouzillon-Tillières Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (SRP $19.99) – great complexity

Sauvignon Blanc:
2016 Domaine Pascal Jolivet Les Caillottes Sancerre AOC (SRP: $38) – steely acidity, crisp, a touch of grass.
2015 Domaine Pascal Jolivet Sauvage Sancerre AOC (SRP: $73) – this wine was just ok. The only reason to include it – this was probably the most expensive wine in the tasting, and it really didn’t deliver.
2016 Domaine Michel Vatan Calcaire Sancerre AOC – presented at the seminar – on the nose, minerality, lemon, distant touch of the grass, crisp, fresh. Excellent acidity on the palate, very nice overall.
2017 Raphael Midoir De Silex et Tuffeau Touraine AOC (SRP $14.99) – outstanding. Classic nose, delicious.
2016 Pierre Prieuré & Fils Domaine de Saint-Pierre Sancerre AOC (SRP $19.99) – excellent, fresh
2016 Raphael Midoir La Plaine des Cailloux Touraine-Oisly AOC (SRP $19.99) – outstanding, great complexity.

Chenin Blanc:
2016 Château de la Mulonnière M De Mulonnière Anjou – presented at the seminar – delicious. White stone fruit, peaches on the nose. A touch of sweetness and perfect balance on the palate. Outstanding.
2017 La Croix des Loges Anjou White AOC (SRP $14.99) – outstanding. Clean, fresh, touch of sweetness.
2014 La Croix des Loges Trois Failles Anjou AOC (SRP $22.99) – outstanding, gunflint on the nose, clean, balanced palate.
1977 La Croix des Loges Bonnezeaux AOC – yes, 1977, this is not a typo – this was an off the list, off the charts treat – a Chenin Blanc dessert wine, still elegant and complex.

Other:
2017 Domaine du Colombier Vla de Loire IGP ($14.99, 100% Sauvignon Gris) – excellent, fresh, complex.

Reds:

Cabernet Franc:
2015 Domaines des Varinelles Saumur-Champigny AOC (SRP: $20) – amazing similarity with Lodi wines on the palate – soft, aromatic, touch of cinnamon, ripe blueberries and raspberries, hint of blueberry compote. The similarity with Lodi is mind-boggling. Let’s not forget that this is Cabernet Franc wine, so there must be something there which can explain it. Need to dig deeper into this, I’m really curious.
2015 Domaines des Varinelles Laurintale Saumur-Champigny AOC (SRP: $24) – muted nose, and practically identical on the palate to the previous wine from the same domain. I will look into it… But two superb wines by all means – the wine are coming from the old world, but clearly, are screaming “new world”.
2017 Domaine du Raifault Chinon AOC (SRP: $17.95) – wow! Cassis on the nose, cassis on the palate – spectacular. This was my best of tasting red wine. This wine is not available in the US yes (we tasted one of only two bottles brought in for tasting) – in the process of being imported. Once it arrives, do yourself a favor – go find it and buy a case, or two. You can thank me later.
2016 Sauvion Chinon AOC (SRP: $17.99) – interesting dense nose, great palate, sandalwood, smoke, fresh, present. Tannins are still aggressive, but not as much as others.

Pinot Noir:
2014 Xavier Flouret Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon AOC (SRP: $20.95) – great Pinot Noir – excellent fresh nose, great balance of dark fruit on the palate, outstanding. 15 generations of vignerons know what they are doing. Definitely one of the highlights of the tasting.
2015 Domaine Gérard Millet Sancerre Red (SRP: $25) – fresh, crisp, herbs, spices, light.

Blends:
2014 Domaine de la Chaise Touraine-Chenonceaux AOC ($22, 70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Côt) – fresh, delicious, cassis and tobacco, excellent balance

The Spring is finally here (or at least it seems so in New York), so go on, find some Loire wines to explore on your own. Cheers!

Wine News and Updates From Around The World

April 1, 2018 18 comments

I’m happy to live during the times when wine is getting more and more popular – at least if you look at the wineries popping up all over the place, everywhere in the world, new wines coming out from the places where grapes were never planted before, and winemakers everywhere experimenting with new grapes, new tools (when did ceramic egg became “the thing”, huh?), and new styles (bourbon barrel-aged wine, anyone)? There is a tremendous amount of information available to the wine lovers everywhere, so I wanted to bring to your attention some of the latest news and developments in the world of wine which I found the most interesting.

There seems to be quite a bit of research pointing to the health benefits of the moderate wine consumption. More often than not, the health benefit is attributed to the red wine, not so much to the white, Rosé or Champagne. And then we also heard a famous story about Marilyn Monroe taking a Champagne bath (it supposedly took 350 bottles to fill the bathtub). What’s the connection, you ask?  Based on the research conducted at Dartmouth University, it appears that Marilyn Monroe was onto something – the Champagne, with its high acidity and tiny persistent bubbles, has a great refreshing effect on the skin, so the 30 minutes bath is highly beneficial and rival most of the known skin rejuvenation treatments in its efficiency. Moving from theory to the practice, Veuve Cliquot, the leading Champagne producer, teamed up with Elizabeth Arden, leading American cosmetics and skin care company, to start offering Champagne treatments at select Red Door spa locations. The price is set for $10,000 for the 30 minutes, and the first 6 months of the appointments were booked within first 30 minutes of the initial offering. First trials at the spa showed excellent results and produced many happy clients. The only challenge? Someone has to constantly watch over the clients and remind them to drink Champagne only from the glass in the hand instead of taking the “deep dives” with their mouth open. Otherwise, the offering had been extremely successful and Veuve Cliquot is even considering to start offering treatments using  La Grand Dame, but the pricing had not been unveiled yet.

There are no limits to the winemaking innovations today – aging wines in ceramic eggs and old bourbon barrels, mixing wine and coffee, filtering wines with the beer hops – bare mention of any of these would make winemakers and wine lovers cringe merely 10 years ago – but it is the norm today. Taking winemaking innovation to the next level, BrewDog out of the UK, the legendary producer of the world’s strongest beer (Tactical Nuclear Penguin clocks whooping 32% ABV), teamed up with the Australian winemaking legend, Penfolds, to produce the world’s strongest wine. The wine, called Penge Royal, uses the production methods of the Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Penfold’s flagship wine, Penfolds Grange. After aging the wine for 3 years in the old Scotch barrels, it then spends 60 days at the -32°C, and at the end of that period, reaches 70% ABV, beating most of the Absinthe on the market. It seems that the wine nicely preserves the flavor profile of Grange, but packs a substantial punch – as you would expect. The wine initially will only be available at the select markets in Australia and the UK, with the prices set at $5,000 per bottle. There were only 10 cases of 375 ml bottles produced, and they were all sold out immediately upon the offering. Would love to taste the Penge Royal one day, but getting one would not be easy.

I’m sure you heard about the so-called AI – Artificial Intelligence, and the robots, which will replace humans in pretty much everything we, humans, do. Going beyond the robot bartenders turns out that winemaking is also not immune to the automation and robot’s onslaught. The research team at Oxford University was working for the past two years on creating a robot which will be able to inspect the vineyards and decide on the day of the harvest, make all the decisions at the winery (how long fermentation should take, what strain of yeast to use, how and for how long to age wine, and also how to blend the final product). The project ran into an unexpected issue of many (if not most) of the winemakers not willing to share their knowledge, or even deliberately providing wrong information (no, you can’t wait until -10°C to harvest the Cabernet Sauvignon). Also, first results of blending by the winemaking robot were rather disastrous, with the resulting wine been completely not drinkable, not deserving even to be called a “plonk”. Hopefully the situation will change for the better, and the scientist will be able to make some progress, but for now, we will have to continue trusting humans to have a drinkable wine on the table.

If you are a serious wine enthusiast, I’m sure you run into this dilemma an uncounted number of time – I’m going to the dinner, should I wear a perfume? The perfume would interfere with the smell of wine and get in the way of truly appreciating it, both for oneself and for the people around us, right? The designers at Chanel, a leading French fashion house, set out to help all of us, oenophiles, to solve this dilemma and let us feel good about ourselves while going to a party while not disrupting the sensual pleasures of wine. Chanel’s designers created a new line of perfume specifically for the wine lovers, called W by Coco. The 3 years of experiments and hard work which went into the creation of W by Coco resulted in the perfume which offers a refreshing scent of the perfectly balanced wine, helping you to greatly accentuate aromas of the wine you are about to taste. All the Bordeaux First Growth producers supported the research, and as the result, the W by Coco line includes five different fragrances, one for each of the first growth Chateaux – Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion and Château Mouton Rothschild. The fragrances available exclusively at Chanel boutiques in Paris, New York, Singapore and Tokyo and will cost wine lovers $450 for 30 ml. Reportedly, Château d’Yquem, Petrus, and Screaming Eagle all lined up to be included into the second release of the W by Coco line, but the date for the second release had not been confirmed yet.

Capitalizing on the popularity of the wine, literally every self-respecting brand is involved in the wine business, whether it is private label wines, special releases or simply store-branded lines of products – I’m sure you all had Kirkland wines, Trader Joe’s wines, Wine Farmer line at Whole Foods and more – never mind wine retailers such as Total Wines who offers thousands of private label wines in their “Winery Direct” program. Yes, we all know that and are usually not surprised by those private label wines. However, Walmart, the largest in the world retailer of discounted goods, managed to surprise everyone (and I meant it), by unveiling their partnership with none less than Old Rip Van Winkle, the producer of the most thought-after bourbon in the world. It appears that two of the iconic American companies joined forces to offer whiskey aficionados two new bourbons – Old Rip Wal Winkle 10 years old and Wal Winkle Special Reserve. The pricing and availability will be announced later, but it is expected that both whiskeys will appear in Walmart stores in the USA only at the beginning of 2019. Walmart shoppers and whiskey lovers, rejoice!

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Cheers!

 

How To Expand Your Wine Horizon – With Wine Til Sold Out Weekly Tasting

January 29, 2018 10 comments

WTSO weekly tastingIf you followed this blog for a while, you know that Wines Til Sold Out is one of my most favorite sources of the great wines at the value prices. Wines Til Sold Out (often referred to as WTSO), was the originator of so-called wine flash sale sites, where you can find an excellent range of wines at equally great prices. Not only the prices are great, but the wines are typically shipped free if you hit the minimum required number of bottles for the free shipping (usually any number from 4 to 1, depending on the price per bottle). There are also other ways to buy wines from Wines Til Sold Out, such as so-called marathon events, which I covered a numerous number of times in the past.

About a year ago, Wines Til Sold Out started a new service, called Bonus Offers, where every month there is a new theme, and the wines are offered according to that theme – and there are no minimum quantity requirements to get free shipping, which takes fun to the whole new level.

WTSO weekly tasting

And now, continuing the tradition of innovation for the benefit of the wine lovers, the Wines Til Sold Out came up with the new concept – weekly tasting, which even has its own dedicated website. Each week, WTSO’s sommeliers create a new 4-pack of wines, priced at $69.99 including shipping. The wines are offered with introductory tasting video describing the wines, and information cards which describe each wine in detail, offer fun facts about wine and the grapes and even recipes and/or suggestions for the dishes to pair with the specific wine. If this is not a fun wine education, I don’t know what is!

I got my tasting pack right before I was leaving for a two-week-long trip, so I only had an opportunity to open the box, say “wow”, take the pictures and leave. But finding such gems as dry Furmint (Hungarian grape used in the production of famous Tokaji dessert wine) and Austrian Zweigelt, definitely makes an oenophile happy. So next time, I will tell what I think about the wines, but for now, I will enjoy them in the exact same way as you do – vicariously.

WTSO Weekly tasting info card

If you are like me and always looking to expand your wine horizon – check out this new feature from Wines Til Sold Out – and you can thank me later. Cheers!

Top Wines of 2017

January 5, 2018 Leave a comment

And here are my top most memorable wines of 2017. A few days ago, I published the first part of the top wines list, and now the time has come to look at the most memorable wins of 2017. The logic behind the list is explained in the post about the second dozen of the top wines of 2017, so let’s just proceed.

12. 2016 Salabka LA COQUINE Chardonnay Praha Czech Republic (€25) – we finished the second dozen list with Chardonnay, and we are starting this one with  Chardonnay, however, of a very different character. This was yet another surprise during Salabka winery visit in Prague – bright and upbeat, excellent core of acidity surrounded by tropical fruit and apples with a tiny touch of vanilla – a pure delight in a glass.

11. 2010 La Rioja Alta Viña Alberdi Reserva ($16) – I have an unquestionable love to La Rioja Alta wines – didn’t find yet the one I didn’t like. This 2010 Viña Alberdi is a classic, generous Rioja – red and black berries, cedar box, mint, sweet oak, rounded by clean acidity and delicious finish. It was literally my “go to” wine this – I took a number of bottles with me in my travels and the reaction everywhere was the same – “wow, this is a good wine!” – including the dinner at the wine bloggers conference this year.

10. 2011 Fiction Red Wine Paso Robles by Field Recordings ($20) – Field Recordings is one of my most favorite producers. Fiction red was also one of my “convert” or maybe rather a “discovery” wines – tasting the 2010 Fiction made me fall in love with Field Recordings wines. The 2010 Fiction was my Top Wine in 2011.  This 2011 Fiction was almost a revelation this year – I didn’t expect much from the 6 years old screwtop wine, meanwhile – it evolved dramatically, showing delicious berry medley elevated with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a slimmer of sage on top. A wow wine.

9. 2007 Marchese Antinori Tenuta Montenisa Contessa Maggi Riserva Franciacorta ($50+) – drinking this wine at the old and authentic Montenisa Estate definitely had some effect – regardless, the wine was outstanding, boasting vintage sparkling wine qualities, freshly toasted, yeasty bread, plenty of fruit and beautiful acidity. A treat.

8. 1967 Fratelli Giacosa Barolo DOCG ($65 at Benchmark Wine) – 50 years old wine deserves respect, isn’t it? Still was drinkable with characteristic Barolo plums and lavender. It was showing a bit of an age, but still was going strong. Great example of excellent winemaking and a testament to Barolo’s longevity.

7.  NV Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage Champagne ($50) – Sauvage means “wild” in French, and this is a perfect name for this champagne. Exuberant, in-your-face, fully loaded with fresh succulent strawberries – there is nothing subtle about this wine, it is very present in every sip you take – but it is unmistakably Champagne, delivering lots of pleasure. Will be definitely looking for this wine again – it will brighten up any occasion.

6. 2012 Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino DOCG ($75) – if I will say that this was Gaja Brunello – would that be enough of the description for you? Supremely delicious from the get-go, Brunello from one of the best producers in Italy, from one of the best vintages for Brunello. The wine was beautifully showing, fully extracted and powerful, but nevertheless perfectly balanced. Outstanding.

5. 2013 Sandhi Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills ($35) – Sandhi Chardonnay was mentioned in the second dozen of top wines for 2017, but it was this Pinot Noir which made me say “wow” while discovering Sandhi wines. Unmistakably California Pinot Noir with gentle red fruit in the leading role and violets and sage supporting the bouquet. Luscious, silky smooth, perfectly dense and balanced – the wine which needs to be experienced.

4. 2014 Unionville Vineyards Amwell Ridge Cabernet Franc New Jersey ($28?) – It is interesting how many wines on this top list represent “surprises” ( but then, of course, the surprise factor is what makes the wine memorable, right?). This wine tremendously exceeded my expectations and showed a classic, perfectly balanced, new world Cabernet Franc – blackcurrant, a touch of mint, medium body, perfectly balanced with clean acidity. An excellent wine worth seeking.

3. 2011/2012 La Valle Brut Rosé Franciacorta DOCG ($45) – visiting La Valle winery in Franciacorta and meeting charismatic Stefano Camilucci was definitely one of the main highlights of our trip to Franciacorta. On top of that, this Rosé sparkling wine was yet another highlight – from beautiful presentation of the bottle to the delicious, perfectly clean and balanced, playfully effervescent liquid inside. 2011/2012 is not a mistake – most of the Franciacorta wines are vintage wines; I had both vintages, and they are both excellent. Yet another wine I recommend most highly.

2. 2015 Nevada Sunset Winery Syrah El Dorado County ($20) – I love surprises, and this was a big one! Tiny city winery, officially opened only two months prior to my visit, and then the wine which can be a crown jewel for any winery’s portfolio. Definitely a new world Syrah, but impeccably balanced. Intense dark fruit with chocolate and espresso on the nose, and the same matching profile on the palate with the addition of a touch of pepper – silky smooth, full-bodied, and – did I say it already – impeccably balanced. Wow.

1. 1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon, Loire ($85?) – for any Cabernet Franc aficionado, Olga Raffault is “the name”, Chinon is “the place”, and 1982 was really a legendary vintage in France (for sure in Bordeaux, don’t know if this can be reciprocated to the Loire, but still). Tasting this 35 years old wine was a pure delight – no sign of age, cassis all the way, complex bouquet, great balance – what else can you wish for in wine?

Here we are, the Top wines of 2017. I could easily double the number of wines here, as lots and lots of well worthy wines were not included – ah, well… Let’s look at the “diversity” as we did for the second dozen. Out of 12 wines, 5 countries, 11 different regions, some of them I bet you never had the wines from such as Nevada and New Jersey – I believe it is an interesting mix and well on par with diversity in the wine world today.

As everything works in life, one list is finished, and the new one is starting right after. Happy wine year 2018! Cheers!

 

Usual Grapes, Unusual Places – The Oenophile Games

December 17, 2017 5 comments

I love blind tastings. I’m talking about totally non-intimidating blind tasting, done in the relaxed atmosphere, where the goal is only to have fun – in other words, not when it is part of the test. The blind tasting as part of the test is really not fun – as Kirsten the Armchair Sommelier eloquently put it in a tweet “Nothing intimidates quite like a brown paper bag!!” – as a WSET diploma candidate, I’m sure she knows what she is talking about first hand.

So I’m talking about fun blind tasting here. Blind tasting removes all sources of bias, as only minimal information is available about the wine you are about to taste, depending on the theme of the tasting, and you can’t be influenced by the pretty label, by the big name or by the well-known place (ahh, this is the wine from Napa, it is definitely better than this one from New Jersey, right?). You are one on one with the liquid in the wine glass, and your only goal is to decide whether you like the wine or not and whether you like it more than the one you had before, or if you still like it more than the one which you had after. Of course, you can make things a lot more interesting by trying to guess the grape, the origin, the vintage and whatever else you would desire, but the beauty of the informal blind tasting is that you free to do as much or as little as you want.

The best accompaniments for the wine are good food and a good company. We started wine dinners with the blind tastings with friends more than 7 years ago. Our first blind tasting was about Pinot Noir, then we had one about Sparkling wines (the thought of this one still gives me shivers as it was utterly confusing), also Chardonnay, Mourvedre, Barolo and many, many others. We decide on the theme, set the rules (how many bottles, price limits or not, what wines can be considered, what wines will not fit and so on). The bottles are put in the brown bags, the numbers are randomly assigned to the bags, the wines are poured and off we go. We usually try to figure out group’s favorite, which sometimes easy, and sometimes it is not. The results are always most unexpected, and everybody gets a chance to say “I can’t believe it”.

The theme for this tasting was “usual grapes, unusual places“. Today, the mainstream grapes are totally international. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in Bordeaux, in Napa Valley, in New York, in Argentina, Virginia, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Czech Republic and other hundreds of places. Same is true about Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Grenache – and even Tempranillo and Sangiovese are not an exception. Now the question is – can we still recognize Cabernet Sauvignon from Uruguay as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir from the Czech Republic as Pinot Noir?

To play the game, the group of 10 wines was assembled. I couldn’t make up my mind on what to bring literally until the day before the tasting – kept changing my preferences. Nevertheless, we got together, the table was set and the wines were poured. As everybody was set on bringing the red wines, I decided to make things more interesting and brought two of the white wines to start the tasting with. Here are my notes and guesses on the 10 wines we tasted (obviously I knew what I’m tasting in the first two whites):

Wine 1 – beautiful nose, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, restrained palate, green, touch of pepper, contrast with the nose, interesting

Wine 2 – beautiful nose, plump, velvety, beautifully soft, silky smooth, outstanding, vanilla, delicious.

Wine 3 – typical Bordeaux blend on the nose. Tremendous salinity on the palate. Then acidity. Bordeaux blend from NJ. After 30 minutes – Barbera?

Wine 4 – Grenache nose, smoke and tobacco on the palate. My guess is Rhone varietal, but most likely Grenache

Wine 5 – Rutherford dust on the nose, touch of black currant, chipotle on the palate, herbal, unusual, very nice. Bordeaux varietal. Going for Carmenere.

Wine 6 – beautiful nose, Bordeaux-style, lots of smoke on the nose. Somewhat sweet on the palate. Core Bordeaux? or Syrah blend? Cab Franc dominant blend.

Wine 7 – smoke, dark fruit, beautiful tannins, cherries, beautiful. Bordeaux blend? Somewhat of extreme tannins.

Wine 8 – muted nose, mint, anise, Rutherford dust. Good acidity, soft, round. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 9 – fresh, open, clean vanilla, dark fruit, excellent. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 10 – beautiful nose, but a bit astringent. Interesting. Bordeaux varietal?

Before the wines can be revealed, we had to figure out group’s favorite. Everybody was allowed to vote for one of the two white wines, and then two votes for the favorites among 8 reds. Here are our votes (out of 8 people):

Wine 1 – 4
Wine 2 – 4
Wine 3 – 2
Wine 4 – 0
Wine 5 – 0
Wine 6 – 6
Wine 7 – 5
Wine 8 – 2
Wine 9 – 0
Wine 10 – 1

As you can tell, both whites fared equally well with the group clearly splitting the decision. Also for the reds, there was a clear winner and a clear runner-up, with the rest of the wines not faring that well – wine number 6 was preferred by the most, and wine number 7 was the second favorite. Now, the most anticipated part of the blind tasting – the reveal:

Wine 1: 2016 Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca Suisun Valley, CA (12.6% ABV)
Wine 2: 2007 Krupp Brothers Black Bart Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley (14% ABV)
Wine 3: 2004 Bodegas Carrau Vilasar Nebbiolo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, 100% Nebbiolo)
Wine 4: 2014 Chateau Famaey Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, 100% Malbec)
Wine 5: Changyu Cabernet Sauvignon China (Cabernet Sauvignon?)
Wine 6: 2012 Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste New Mexico (13.5% ABV, 50% Barbera, 50% Merlot)
Wine 7: 2014 McManis Barbera Jamie Lynn Vineyard California (13.5% ABV, 100% Barbera)
Wine 8: 2015 Cantele Primitivo Salento IGT (13.5% ABV, 100% Primitivo)
Wine 9: 2014 Macedon Pinot Noir Macedonia (13.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir)
Wine 10: 2014 Agnus Merlot Serra Gaúcha Brazil (14% ABV, 100% Merlot)

Let’s look at these results. First, let me talk about the wines I contributed for the tasting. For the whites, they were both excellent – I got this Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca from Jeff The Drunken Cyclist as part of our Secret Santa fun, and the wine was delicious. The second white, Krupp Brothers Marsanne was a rare closeout score a few years back. Sadly, it was my last bottle, but the wine needs to be drunk, so I’m glad I had it in a good company – I consider that to be one of the best California white wines, for sure for my palate. Now, the red which I brought was another story – it was the Changyu from China, for which I terrorized my Chinese-speaking friend trying to ensure that it was Cabernet Sauvignon and trying to figure out the vintage or ABV (fail). Well, the worst part was that many people not just disliked it, they literally hated it – and I had other reds from Changyu while in China with much higher success. Oh well.

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The winning wine Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste was made out of the New Mexico grapes by the winery located in Arizona, with one of the grapes being Barbera – talk about rare and unusual. McManis Barbera, second favorite, was also quite unexpected – but looking at my notes and having tasted few of the California Barbera wines, I made a wrong guess with somewhat right descriptors. As you can tell, almost everything tasted to me like a Bordeaux blend – clearly, I don’t do well in the blind tastings, but one way or the other, this was lots of fun! And just think of the range of wines we tasted – Malvasia Blanca, Marsanne and Barbera from California, Nebbiolo from Uruguay, Merlot from Brazil, Pinot Noir from Macedonia, Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Merlot and Barbera from New Mexico – wow. The Malbec and Primitivo didn’t really belong on one side – but then on another side they kind of fit the bill too as Malbec from France is literally unknown to the wine consumers, and Primitivo is pretty much in the same boat, for sure in the USA. All in all, we clearly accomplished our goal of tasting usual grapes from unusual places.

Then, of course, there was food – lots and lots of delicious food, which everybody contributed to – I will just give you a quick overview in pictures, and that really only a fraction of what we had (at some point you get tired of constantly taking pictures of food…

We also drunk more wine, and this one was a standout. An unassuming California blend from Marietta in Sonoma – NV Marietta California Old Vine Red Lot Number Twenty. This is non-vintage, field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Gamay, now, wait for it … which should be about 40 years old??? Current wine is called Lot Number 66, so if this was the Lot number 20, then we are simply making an assumption here… The wine was delicious – yes, it was mature, so showed the layer of delicious dried fruit and ripe plums – but it still had a perfect amount of acidity for everyone to say “wow”. I plan to write to the winery, so hopefully will be able to figure out the age of this wine, but this was clearly another amazing example of California wines which can age – and patience well rewarded.

Great fun and great learning experience, hands down. For anyone who is into the wine, the blind tasting is an endless source of enjoyment. If you love wine and never participated in the blind tasting, you really should fix it – get your friends together and have fun! If you need any “logistical support”, please reach out – will be very happy to help.

Ahh, and by the way, there is something even more intimidating than a paper bag – a black glass. But then your friends may start hating you, so tread gently. Have fun, my friends. Cheers!