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Twelve out of Twelve

January 23, 2021 Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but I love trying new wines, the wines I never had before. When I’m in the wine store, I like to take a slow walk and look for the wines which look interesting enough to try – the region I trust, cool label, and maybe most importantly, reasonably priced.

Value is an interesting concept, for sure when it comes to wine. Wine values can be absolute and relative. Wine under $10 represents an absolute value, especially if it is a tasty wine. This applies to both known and unknown wines – Bogle Petite Sirah, which would be well known in my book,  is an example of such an absolute value, always priced close to the $10, and always tasty. But even if I don’t know the wine, $10 for a bottle which hopefully will be tasty is still a good value.

When it comes to the wines you know, and most importantly, desire, the concept of value becomes relative – a $100 bottle of wine is still not cheap at $50 on sale or closeout, but it is a tremendous value.

So, let’s get back to that store where we are looking for the new wines to try, preferably in the absolute value category. Let’s say we will get a case of 12 different wines to try. What are the chances of you liking and enjoying all twelve wines? It is a possibility, but from my personal experience, the chances are not very high. Based on my experience I usually would really enjoy 3-4 bottles and I will be okay with another 3 or 4, and I would wish that I never bought the rest.

Now, let’s take this exercise to the next level. What if you will give a stranger $150, and ask him or her to surprise you with a case of 12 different bottles – how would you estimate your chances then? How many bottles would you possibly like out of the box of 12?

I recently conducted such an experiment. Okay, we can say that it was a stranger, but this stranger was a wine pro – but still, the wine pro who knows nothing about your preferences. How do I mean it? My stranger was the Last Bottle Wines, a so-called wine flash sale site. Last Bottle folks always run special events, usually called Marathons, especially around the holidays. Last Halloween, Last Bottle Wines offered a number of mystery cases – you have no idea what will be inside, you can only know that you will pay X for something which otherwise would be 2.5X or 3X. I was lucky enough to see the $144 mystery case offer and to pull the plug without much thought. How lucky? See the title of this post – that’s how.

Twelve out of twelve. Believe it or not, but I enjoyed every one of those bottles. Each one was delicious, and I would happily buy each one again, especially if offered at $12 – this was the actual price per bottle in my mystery case.

This mystery case was just perfect for someone who always wants to try something new. 12 different bottles, 7 from the USA (California, Washington, Oregon), 5 from around the world (3 from France, 1 from Spain, and 1 from Chile). I enjoyed two bottles with Thanksgiving dinner, and I just opened the last bottle a few days ago, so now I can share the experience. I still had a bit of trepidation opening the new bottle – what if the luck will break – but it didn’t. Twelve out of twelve. Each one delicious, and worth drinking again. Take a look at my notes:

2016 Brassfield Estate Eruption Volcano Ridge Vineyard High Valley Appellation (14.8% ABV, blend of Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Mourvèdre)
Outstanding – inviting nose, red and black fruit, eucalyptus, full body, drinkable from the get-go, excellent overall (8+)

2017 Domaine l’Abbé Dîne Côtes du Rhône (14.5% ABV, 80% Grenache (vines planted in the 1960s), 18% Syrah, 2% Mourvèdre) delicious from the get-go. Bigger body than a typical Cotes du Rhone, red fruit, soft, voluptuous and sexy, roll-of-the-tongue smooth, perfect balance. Another delicious and easy to drink wine (8+).

2016 Bodegas Patrocinio Zinio 200 Rioja Alta DOC (14% ABV, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano) – restrained and earthy. A bit too restrained for my Rioja preferences, but still very characteristic of Rioja with cedar box, red fruit, and eucalyptus. Needs time (8-)

2018 Azur Rosé California (12.5% ABV, blend of Grenache, Syrah, a blend of Napa and other appellations) – beautiful pale pink color with copper undertones, strawberries on the nose, hint of strawberries with lemon undertone on the palate, the second day showing mostly crisp and vibrant acidity. Elegant, Provence-like as advertised. (8)

2017 Casino Mine Ranch Vermentino Shenandoah Valley, California (14.1% ABV) – never had wines from Shenandoah Valley. Delicious. Nose resembling classic Gewurztraminer, with honeysuckle and white stone fruit. The palate is fresh, vibrant, a good amount of fruitiness, well supported by acidity, perfectly balanced. Perfectly passes my white wine excellence test – delicious from the fridge, but also delicious at room temperature. (8+)

2017 Chateau Perbal Cabernet Sauvignon Family Selection Central Valley, Chile (14% ABV) – a big surprise. I typically consider that I can easily identify Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon by a substantial green component (pyrazines, bell pepper) – this wine had none. Round, smooth, touch of cassis, eucalyptus, mint – easy to drink and delicious. (8)

2016 Belle Fiore Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rogue valley Oregon (14.5% ABV) – never had before Cabernet Sauvignon from Oregon. Elegant, classic, cassis, eucalyptus, anise, round, soft tannins, good acidity, perfect balance – excellent overall. (8/8+)

2019 Domaine La Milliere Ceielles Vignes Côtes du Rhône AOC (15% ABV) – clearly a young wine at first, bursts with the freshly crushed berries, but settles down into round, open, easy to drink wine – raspberries and blueberries, a touch of herbs, easy to drink. (8-)

2017 Theorize Zinfandel California (14.6% ABV) – a strange wine to a degree, almost a single note, but that single note delivers perfection – delicious sweet tobacco. Fresh, clean, good acidity, good balance, but that sweet tobacco is the theme, from the first drop to the last. This might not be the wine for everyone, but it is definitely the wine for me. (8)

2017 J. Wilkes Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14% ABV) – tart nose of dusty berries and herbs, clean, uplifting, fresh palate, the right amount of raspberries and blackberries, a touch of anise, easy to drink, inviting, delicious. (8)

2013 Beresan Winery The Buzz Yello Jacket Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.4% ABV, 30% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec) – upon opening, the wine was a bit aggressive and disjointed. At the same time, it was a typical unapologetic Washington wine, but I was able to enjoy it only on the third day when it mellowed out and became more balanced and round. This can probably be solved with decanting (7+/8-)

2018 Chateau Beauregard Ducasse Graves AOC (13% ABV, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 60% Semillon) – this wine was opened before its time. Closed on the first day just with some acidic notes, it beautifully blossomed on the second day, showing ripe apple, honeysuckle, nice creaminess, round and perfectly balanced. (8/8+)

Here you go, my friends – twelve out of twelve. How well do you score having someone picking the wines for you?

Of Beautiful Things

January 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Beauty is an interesting concept. It seems to be simple and universal. And nevertheless, the declaration of beauty might dramatically differ, even for the people going through the same experience. Take flowers, for example – if someone doesn’t like daisies, looking at the field of daisies will solicit no emotional response, but the same person might spend an hour admiring an orchid.

Whatever we see as “beautiful” solicit the emotion, it gives us a tiny burst of positive energy, it makes us happy. But the proverbial “truth in the eye of the beholder” is fully in control – everyone decides on their own concept of beauty.

Photography is one of the best and simplest tools to capture the beauty of the moment and convert it into a tangible memory, something you can get back to. For sure I’m the one who heavily relies on photography for doing so. If you look at the pictures on my phone, you will have no problems figuring out that I consider wine, flowers, and sunsets as the most beautiful things in this life – well, this is not an absolute truth, but we can go with it for this post. Of course, sunsets and flowers are exactly what they are, but the wine bottles in the pictures simply represent the memory knots, the real beauty is inside the bottle, no matter how pretty the labels are.

Garden at Calla Lily. Source: Calla Lily Winery

Calla Lily Estate & Winery is a project of renowned California winemaker, Cary Gott, and a group of business partners out of Hong Kong, who together started Calla Lily in 2013. Calla Lily is a 95 acres estate in the Pope Valley section of Napa Valley, with the first vines planted in 1995. The estate’s vineyards comprise 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 acres of Petite Sirah, 1 acre each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Calla Lily is not a random name. You can see the beautiful flower appear on the label of Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is both the name and the symbol. Calla is a type of lily flowers, which is taking its name from the ancient Greek word “Kallos” which means “beauty”. Calla Lily had been around a few thousand years, and have a lot of symbolism associated with the flower in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures, as well as in Christianity overall. You can read about Calla Lily symbolism further here, but I also can’t resist quoting the same source in regards to the meaning of the color of the Calla Lily flowers: ”

  • White Calla Lilies: Purity and innocence.
  • Yellow Calla Lilies: Joy and growth.
  • Pink Calla Lilies: Appreciation and admiration.
  • Red Calla Lilies: Intense passion.
  • Blue Calla Lilies: Femininity and refined beauty.”

As you can see, red Calla Lily is depicted on the label of the Calla Lily wine, and after tasting the wine, I have to agree to the “intense passion” suggestion.

After talking about beautiful flowers, let’s talk about beautiful wines, as I had an opportunity to sample two of the Calla Lily wines.

2016 Calla Lily Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 26 months in 40% new French oak) was an interesting experience. While the nose was intense with red and black fruit, the wine on the palate was way too powerful for me to really enjoy it as “pop and pour”. The wine kept gradually improving over the next 4 days, finally offering soft rounds of cassis and mint, over the velvety texture. You need to wait for some beautiful things in life – for example, for a flower to fully open up from a tiny bud – this wine is beautiful, but you might need to wait for it – or decant it well in advance (Drinkability: 😎

2015 Calla Lily Audax Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $120, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 27 months in 50% new French oak) is yet another interesting wine. “Audax” in Latin means “bold”, and this barrel-reserve wine is a tribute to the audacity of the pioneer winemakers, many of whom settled in the Pope Valley. Somewhat unexpectedly, the wine was more approachable from the get-go than the previous one – beautiful nose of cassis, and more cassis on the palate, accompanied by mint, pencil shavings, espresso, and cherry pit. Lots of beautifully balanced power with a firm, dense structure. (Drinkability: 8)

Here is the story of the two beautiful things in life – flowers and wine. Beautiful things well worth seeking. What brings beauty into your world?

Wednesday’s Meritage #154

January 20, 2021 2 comments

Meritage time!

Today’s issue might be a bit geeky, but let’s roll with the punches, shall we?

First, an interesting ruling from the TTB in regards to the allowed bottle sizes. Until now, the only approved (standard) wine bottle size was 750 ml. Yes, you could go to half (375 ml), or a quarter (187 ml), or up to a liter (1000 ml), and also 500 ml were permitted, but that was about it – for the “standard” bottles, of course, because there are many large formats, such as 1.5L, 2.25L, 3L and so on, which we are not discussing here. Now, to accommodate a fast-growing category of wine in the can, new sizes were introduced – 355ml, 250ml, and 200ml. However, the ruling allows new wine packaging sizes without restricting them to bottles or cans. So now it would be possible to see a 355 ml bottle of wine. While it is only 20 ml less than a standard 375 ml, it is still an option to give you a smaller bottle and keep the price. The level, of course, is not the same as for the typical orange juice cartons, which went from 64 oz to 52 oz while keeping the same price, but still, there is an option for an implicit price increase and some of those “half-bottles” can go into the hundreds of dollars…

Next, I found a few interesting articles in the Wine Spectator. The first one is the story of the Witch’s Wine, which I don’t want to regurgitate just to give an opportunity to read it in its entirety. Then there are a couple of good news in regards to the health benefits of wine.

First, it appears that the consumption of wine and cheese can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. The study seems to be reasonably founded: “Analyzing data from the UK Biobank, a biomedical research database, the study followed more than 1,700 participants, ages 46 to 77, over the course of 10 years.” This sounds to me like a good number of subjects and the duration of the study, so I’m sure no wine lover will be upset at the prospect to consume wine with cheese on more occasions. The second study once again looks at the anti-aging effects of resveratrol, an anti-oxidant usually found in red wine. While establishing the long-term benefits of consuming a glass of red wine every day, the study also suggests that consumption of higher amounts of wine doesn’t increase the health benefits of resveratrol, but quite on the contrary can lead to negative consequences.

And the last one for today is all about wine games. Wine Enthusiast summarized 6 games available to wine lovers with different levels of skills and expertise. I only played one of those, Wine Wars, and it was somewhat interesting, depending on the level of the audience. SOMM Blinders sounds really interesting, and I would love to play a Wine-opoly, however, I’m sure I would never win as I can’t take the risk, and thus my son always beats me in Monopoly. Oh well, we need to be able at least to see each other to play any of these, so I’m definitely looking forward to that happy moment…

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

New Year’s Escapades – 2021 Edition

January 18, 2021 Leave a comment

New Year is my favorite holiday. It revolves around food, wine, friends, and a good time. New Year’s Eve is always special, and then on New Year’s Day we usually get together with friends, to talk and open some special bottles.

Yes, that how it always was. But not this time – no friends in the house, except via FaceTime or zoom. Better than nothing, but all the food and wine sharing is completely virtual, and therefore, not endorphins-producing.

Obviously, this New Year’s celebration was scaled down. In terms of wines, I mean. Our family can’t scale down food, this is not in our genes, so cooking was mostly as usual, with all the appropriate holiday favorites. But the wine I had to scale down – my mother-in-law prefers tequila, my wife would only have a glass of red for the evening, and kids, while grown up, don’t care much about alcohol. So I had to mostly count on yours truly for any wine adventures.

Here is what I decided to open for the New Year’s celebration:

Let’s talk about these wines.

At first, I thought that Mailly Grand Cru would be the only bubbles I would open for the night, to drink with dinner and celebrate the arrival of 2021, as I was the primary consumer of bubbles. Then I decided last minute that I will leave that Mailly Champagne just for the midnight toast, and instead would have NV André Chemin Champagne Brut Tradition Blanc de Noir Premier Cru (12% ABV, $26.99 WTSO, RC) with dinner. I’m always curious who makes the Champagne – you know, those little letters and numbers which you can find practically on any Champagne label. Is it NM (Négociant-Manipulant, majority of the big Champagne names are in this category), or the RM (Récoltant-Manipulant), which signifies grower’s Champagne? I found the letters RC on the bottle of the André Chemin Brut, which I never saw before. With the help of this website, I was able to figure out that RC stands for Récoltant-Coopérateur – grapes are provided by the grower to Coopérative-Manipulant who makes wine on the grower’s behalf and under grower’s label but without grower’s involvement.

The André Chemin Brut happened to be an excellent addition to the group – the wine was superb, offering warm notes of the toasted bread and fresh apple, perfect acidity, round, fresh, and delicious – pretty much the way I prefer my Champagne.

2012 Mailly L’Intemporelle Champagne Brut Grand Cru (12% ABV, $115, CM) was also a learning experience. I found letters CM on the label, which stands for Coopérative-Manipulant – this is when a group of small growers blend grapes collectively and make wine under one or more brands – with growers involved in grape growing and winemaking. I poured this wine to toast 2021, and unfortunately, it didn’t do anything for me ( my son said that he enjoyed it quite a bit). The wine had mostly Granny Smith apples without much of the roundness and creaminess – I definitely expect a lot more from the vintage Champagne and this wine didn’t deliver.

I also opened the 2014 Tiefenbrunner Turnhof Sauvignon Südtirol Alto Adige AOC (14% ABV) “just in case”. I had this wine before, and it was quite delicious and elevated. On the first night as the wine was opened, it didn’t offer much of anything, it was closed. It opened up, however, over the next few days, offering whitestone fruit, a touch of honeysuckle, and good acidity.

My choice of red wine was the 2007 Waterstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV) – it happened to be another perfect choice. There was a rumor (never confirmed) that this wine had some grapes coming from Harlan vineyards. Harlan or not, but this was a perfect California Cabernet – cassis all the way, mint, eucalyptus, round tannins, big but perfectly balanced body with well-integrated, smooth tannins – lots of pleasure.

Then, of course, there was food. As I said, scaling down the food is not an option in this house. The majority of dishes were the ones you would expect to find at the Russian New Year’s table, such as “shuba” (herring under the fur coat), Olivie salad, deviled eggs, and cod liver salad. We even managed to find reasonably priced black caviar – which was really a black caviar imitation, but a very tasty one.

Our entree was just one dish, stuffed chicken rolls, but it was definitely a tasty dish:

Most of these dishes are quite simple to make but really tasty – a note to self to add recipes to my food collection here – food, same as wine, is the best when you can share it.

That’s all for my New Year 2021 celebration notes. Yes, this was all scaled-down – but we still had a delightful evening to end an interesting year on a high note.

How was your 2021 celebration?

Wednesday’s Meritage #153

December 30, 2020 Leave a comment

Meritage time!

This is the last Meritage issue of 2020, so let’s get to it.

I would like to start with the virtual wine event which I plan to attend next year – Oregon Wine Symposium. The event will take place over four days, February 16-19, 2021, in a browser next to you. The event will offer excellent educational and networking opportunities, and if you register before January 15th, you can save 25% off the registration cost. The event is definitely geared towards wine professionals, but I’m sure some of the sessions would well worth any wine lover’s attention.

Next, I would like to once again get back to the subject of the Top 100 Wines lists. James Suckling just made all of the Top 100 Wines reports available for free on JamesSuckling.com. You can use this link to access a large collection of Top 100 reports – Top 100 Wines of the Year, Top 100 wines of Argentina, Austria, Australia, France, Italy, Chile, Spain, Germany, and the United States. A very impressive collection with some eclectic choices, like Alsace wines in the #1 and #2 positions of the French Top 100, or Rieslings taking the first 4 positions in the list of Top Austrian wines. Have fun analyzing those – I’m sure you will make some interesting discoveries.

Not to be outdone, I published the Top 20 of 2020 list of the top wines of 2020. This year’s list takes a step aside from the traditional “top dozen” format and is heavily skewed towards red wines with only 3 white wines, 1 Rosé, and none of the sparkling wines included. Definitely a reflection of 2020 drinking habits.

Here an interesting article from Wine Spectator, talking about Heitz Cellars’ owner and CEO’s quest to preserve some of the historic Napa Valley vineyards. The duo just acquired Stony Hill Vineyard, one of the first wineries built in Napa Valley after the repeal of Prohibition. You can read the full story here.

And the last one for today, really an unexpected one for me. According to this article in Wine Spectator, “a recent study conducted at Iowa State University has found that consuming more wine and cheese over time could help bolster cognitive health as we age.” – isn’t this statement the best music for the winelover’s ears? None of us, wine lovers, needs to be asked twice to double down on wine and cheese consumption, especially if this can help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Is that the best news to finish the year, or what?

That’s all I have for you today. Until we meet next year, the glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage #152 – Top 100 Lists

December 16, 2020 2 comments

Meritage time!

Yes, it is the top time again. A time for the tops? Whatever. A Top 100 time – that’s what time it is.

Today’s Meritage is all about numbers and wines. By now most of the wine publications released their Top 100 wine lists of the year and being a number junkie, I want to ponder at them – analyze might be a bigger, but better-suited word. On one side all the Top 100 lists seem to be fun and games – on another side, there is serious business associated with those lists. Of course, they all have different carrying power, but Wine Spectator Top 100 is a serious selling tool – as soon as this list is published, the wine stores go out of their way to get as many as possible of the wine on that list, as wine consumers ask for those by name. So let’s play the game, shall we?

For this post, I took 3 Top 100 wine lists to analyze – Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020 list, James Suckling Top 100 of 2020 list, and Wine Enthusiast Top 100 of 2020 list.  All lists are based on tens of thousands of wines tasted by publications’ wine reviewers throughout the year – all the specifics of the process for each publication can be found using the links provided above.

Let’s look at the Wines of the Year first – the cream of the crop so to speak.

Wine Spectator’s wine of the year is 2010 Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial ($139, WS96) – I had some other Castillo Ygay wines in the past, but not this one. I’m sure it is a well-deserved recognition for this wine – but this choice doesn’t strike me as anything out of ordinary. James Suckling’s wine of the year, on another hand, is something quite unique in my book – 2018 Chacra Pinot Noir Patagonia Treinta y Dos Argentina (wine-searcher $123, JS100). This does strike me as an interesting choice – yes, I had good Pinot Noir wines from Argentina, but considering the price, and the fact that this wine was selected ahead of such heavyweights as Chateau Margaux, California Bryant and Abreu, or Australian Henschke and Torbreck, this must be one hell of the wine. I would love to try it, but I’m sure the wine will have zero availability for the next number of years. Wine Enthusiast choice for the wine of the year was 2017 Lail Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($80, WE97) – never heard of this wine, but you can’t go wrong with Napa Cab, can you?

Comparing the wine lists in their entirety, we can see some interesting differences. James Suckling’s list clearly stands out in ratings, region representation, and prices of the wines. All 100 wines at James Suckling’s list are rated either 98, 99, or 100 – with 99 being the median value. At the same time, Wine Spectator’s list has wines rated from 90 to 97, with a median rating of 93; Wine Enthusiast’s ratings range from 90 to 99, also with a median value of 93.

Price-wise, James Suckling’s list is the most expensive – only 9 wines are priced under $50, and another 30 under $100 – the rest (70!) is priced in excess of $100, and 13 most expensive wines priced above $300. The most expensive wines are California cults – Bryant Family and Abreu ($688 and $685, respectively). I have to note that Suckling doesn’t provide release prices – each wine is listed with the link to Wine-Searcher, which complicates things a bit, with some of the listed vintages not even yet available. The average price of wine on this list is $173, with a median value of $123.

Wine Spectator’s list priced a lot more reasonably (based on the release prices), with Top 10 being some of the most expensive wines, with only one out of ten priced less than $90. The most expensive wine on Wine Spectator’s list is Ridge Monte Bello at $230. The average price of wine on Wine Spectator’s list is only $50, with a median value of $35.

Wine Enthusiast’s list is priced even better than the WS’s list, with the most expensive wine being Brovia Garblèt Suè Barolo at $92, the average wine price on the list at $34, and the median value of $28.

Last but not least we can look at the regions represented in the three lists. To simplify the comparison, I created a little table for you:

Region JS WS WE
Argentina 9 4 3
Australia 19 3 4
Austria 3 1 4
California 9 18 19
Canada 1
Chile 6 2 4
France 12 20 17
Germany 17 2 3
Greece 1
Hungary 1
Israel 1 1
Italy 20 19 16
New York 1 1
New Zealand 4 3
Oregon 1 7 5
Portugal 1 1 7
South Africa 3 1
Spain 2 9 5
Uruguay 1
Washington 1 3 5

Here you can see that James Suckling’s list is uniquely standing out with the number of Australian and German wines far exceeding those in the other lists. I happy to see a good coverage of my beloved Spanish wines in the Wine Spectator’s list, and I would like to commend Wine Enthusiast for giving appropriate attention to the Portuguese wines. For any further insight, I will let you continue peeking at these numbers on your own.

Here you go, my friends. There are lots and lots more of the Top 100 lists available today, but I limited my analysis to these 3. You can definitely continue the analysis on your own, but for me, it is the time to work on my own Top Dozen list.

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

 

Alit Wines – Follow The Flow. Lava Flow

December 9, 2020 2 comments

Here is a question which can never be answered: where the wine is made, in the vineyard or in the cellar?

There are many arguments towards the vineyard being The Place where the wine is made. Mother Nature offerings are everchanging – they change every year, never repeating themselves. But it is not only the climate that never repeats itself – the land which seems to present itself as chunks of sameness is very far from it. Only identifying different pieces is the work of art – the mastery of the winemaker.

Alit Wines is a very young winery, by all means – it was founded only about 5 years ago, in 2016. You would not think that once you taste their wines, which come through elegant and mature – but we need to keep in mind that Alit is only one piece to a bigger story.

Oregon is often compared with Burgundy – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are stars in both regions, and both regions produce well ageable wines of finesse. Burgundy is built on the concepts of terroir and soils – I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of Burgundian vignerons going any distance to protect their soils from erosion and any sort of loss. The whole concept of Crus is based on terroir differentiation, and it took Burgundy centuries to find their best of the best parcels which earned the right to be called Grand Crus.

If you ever listened to the Oregon winemakers, they often talk about soils, first in monolithic terms, in terms of big blocks. But with every subsequent harvest, they start seeing differences between different plots in the vineyards, and those become specific plot-designated wines. This is Oregon’s path towards finding their Grand Crus.

We probably shouldn’t speak for the whole of Oregon, as Alit’s approach to this Grand Cru quest is different. Let’s get back to our “bigger story” around Alit. We usually think that wines are all about grapes, but they are actually all about people – people who stand behind those wines. In the case of Alit, the first person we need to mention is Mark Tarlov. After leaving his first successful wine project, Evening Land (a unique enterprise, if you ask me, making wines under the Evening Land label both in Burgundy and Oregon), Mark continued his wine endeavors with Chapter 24 Vineyards, which he started in 2012. Chapter 24 wines are extremely terroir focused – if you will look at the Chapter 24 Vineyards website, you will see that it produces only two wines –  one called The Fire which comes from the volcanic soils, and The Flood, with the grapes coming from vineyards planted in riverbed soils.

In 2015, Chapter 24 Vineyards opened the “last chapter” as it is called – Rose and Arrow winery, as well as the subsequent (2016) “sister” operation  – Alit. In case you are curious, the “About” page explains the Rose and Arrow name: “The “rose” and “arrow”, innately connected yet conflicting, each defined by the existence (or absence) of the other. Our favorite wines make us appreciate the harmony of opposites: acid/sweet, simple/complex, solid rock/sprouting vine. The latter is where our narrative begins, as every great wine is ignited by unique tensions in the rock of its origin.“. Also in 2015, Mark Tarlov was joined by Chilean winemaker Felipe Ramirez, who became the winemaker for Chapter 24, Rose and Arrow, and Alit wines, working together with consulting winemaker Louis Michel Liger-Belair.

Remember, we need to follow lava flow, as these wines are all about soils, basalt soils, rich in unique nutrients. Enters Dr. Pedro Parra, who wine writer LM Archer called Terroir Whisperer. Dr. Parra is one of the leading soil specialists in the world. Explaining Dr. Parra’s methodology would require a long, very long, and dedicated post, so instead, you should read Lyn’s article where she does a great job explaining what Dr. Parra does – but in essence, he is capable of identifying microsites, some can be 0.5 acres or less, capable of producing wine with very specific characteristics – all of it based on soil and climate analysis before (!) the vineyards are planted. To make it all practical, one of the first projects at Rose and Arrow was the vinification of about 100 wines harvested from such microsites – this is what makes Rose and Arrow wines unique.

When you think of “vineyard plots”, what image comes to mind? My imagination stops at squares or rectangles – but in our case, a correct answer is a polygon. Chapter 24/Rose and Arrow/Alit all operate with polygons, where the shape of microsites can be very complex. Here is the snapshot from our zoom call with folks from Alit where Felipe Ramirez shows the map of one of the sites (sorry that you can’t see Felipe):

How these microsites are identified? Using a method called electrical conductivity. Measuring the electrical conductivity of soil allows to create maps – this is exactly what the folks from Alit and Rose and Arrow are doing. Once you have a map, the rest is easy 🙂 now it is all about mastery of the winemaker – harvest each microsite (polygon) separately, vinify separately – and create the magic.

Now that we understand how the road to the Oregon Grand Crus looks like, let’s discuss the role Alit is playing in this quest.

Talking about Alit wines, we need first mention the Collective. Alit Collective is similar to the wine club, but it is very different from the typical winery club. To become a member of the Collective, you need to pay a $100 annual membership. After that, you can buy Alit wines at a cost – however, it is you who decide what to buy and when. To give an idea of the cost, Alit Pinot Noir (2015) costs $15.10 for Collective members and $27.45 for non-members – this means that once you buy 8 bottles, you will recoup your $100 investment, and every bottle afterward gives you great savings. How does selling at cost makes sense, you probably wonder? It wouldn’t if Alit would be on its own, but in conjunction with Rose and Arrow, it does make sense, as it helps to finance the overall operation.

What else can I tell you? Ahh, the wines, let’s not forget about the wines!

We tasted two of the Alit wines, Rosé (of Pinot Noir, of course), and Pinot Noir.

2019 Alit Rosé Willamette Valley (13% ABV) had a salmon pink color. Gunflint (volcanic soils!), strawberries, and onion peel on the nose. Nice touch of fresh strawberries and lemon, crisp, refreshing, nicely restrained, and well balanced with lemon notes on the finish (Drinkability: 8) – unquestionably delicious any time you want a glass of light, refreshing wine.

2017 Alit Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.6% ABV, native yeast fermentation, 10-12 months in oak) – beautiful bright ruby color – it is seldom for me to see a red wine of such a beautiful color. Beautiful nose, herbal, open, inviting, with mint, cherries, and a touch of the barnyard. Now, I have to say that the palate made me work for it. During the tasting, with the freshly opened bottle, the wine showed light, with red and blue fruit, good acidity, fresh, food-friendly, and restrained – we can even say “under-extracted” (Drinkability: 7+/8-). Over the next two days, the wine opened up, it obtained body, became round and supple, and became an object of pleasure (Drinkability: 8+). Definitely needs time, either in the cellar or in the decanter if you are in a hurry.

Alit Wines and Rose and Arrow enterprises are definitely something to watch. Mark Tarlov believes that sometime around 2030, it will be possible to understand if his quest for the Oregonian Grand Cru was successful. As for me, I practically always enjoy the journey more than the destination, so I will be happy to tag along, and yes, actually enjoy the journey with Alit wines – hop on, we can follow the lava flow together.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2020 Edition

December 5, 2020 1 comment

Yes, I know – we are ending the first week in December, and it’s been more than 2 weeks since Beaujolais Nouveau was released, so if anything, this is not a timely post. And I acknowledge your critique, as you can see in the title – my typical Beaujolais Nouveau post announces “Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!”, but hey, life takes precedence…

I know that many wine lovers dismiss Beaujolais Nouveau as a gimmick. The beauty of wine is that everyone is perfectly entitled to their opinion, but for me tasting the very first wines of the vintage is always fun. Ever since this blog started more than 10 years ago, I didn’t miss a single Beaujolais Nouveau release – you can check all the previous years here – and I have two main observations. First, the labels are always beautiful and creative. Second, the wines are getting better and better. Well, for sure on the labels – and keep talking about improved wines almost every year, so I guess they had been good for a while.

For 2020, I something interesting for you in the store – errr, on the blog. It appears that it will be the first time I will include a non-Beaujolais “nouveau” wine in this post. I know I had other new vintage wines before, released at about the same time as traditional Beaujolais Nouveau – I can only guess I was never happy enough about those to include them into this special coverage. But this year, the non-Beaujolais nouveau wine was excellent, and hence I’m including it in the group.

I’m not trying to drum up the drama – here you can see the full set of Nouveau 2020 wines I was able to find at my local wine store: All the wines were in the range of $10 – $13, thus I didn’t write down prices for each wine. Here are the tasting notes:

2020 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais Nouveau AOC (12.5% ABV)
Dark ruby
Fresh berry, cherry cola
Fresh raspberries, a touch of lemon, crisp, crunchy, acidic.
7+

2020 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau AOP (13% ABV)
Garnet
Raspberries and blueberries on the nose, a touch of mint
Fresh raspberries, round, clean, less acidic than the previous wine, very pleasant.
8-/8, can be consumed without regards to the Nouveau designation. Long finish full of pure raspberry joy.

2020 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau AOC (13% ABV)
Ruby
Complex nose with herbs and cherries
Slightly tart raspberries, crisp acidity, acidic finish.
7+/8-, not bad, but the previous wine gives more pleasure.

2020 Union Wine Co Underwood Pinot Noir Nouveau Oregon (13% ABV)
Bright ruby color.
The nose of freshly crushed berries
succulent raspberries on the palate, nice minerality, lots of pleasure
8, excellent

As you can see, Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and Underwood Pinot Noir Nouveau wines were my favorites, and both clearly win the best label contest (can’t decide which one do I like more):

It seems that Georges Doboeuf is pretty consistent with very good Nouveau wines for many years already. Drouhin is pretty consistent too – the wines are not bad, but not super-exciting at the same time. I had Domaine Dupeuble 5 years ago, and I liked it more back then. If I have one gripe it is with the Underwood – nowhere on the bottle the vintage can be found, which is bad – next year, nobody would know how Nouveau is that Nouveau, unless Union Wines will change the label.

As you can tell, this was a good group of wines. Was this tasting fun? For sure. Is the quality really improving? Probably not – but it still stays up, so we have nothing to complain about.

Did you taste any Beaujolais Nouveau this year? Any favorites?

Celebrate Cabernet Franc!

December 4, 2020 2 comments

What do you think of Cabernet Franc? Is that a grape worthy of its own, special celebration?

If I can take the liberty of answering my own question, it is an enthusiastic “yes” from me.

I don’t know if wine lovers realize the grand standing of Cabernet Franc. The grape is essential as part of the blend, in French Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends from anywhere in the world. At the same time, Cabernet Franc is perfect on its own, making delicious single-varietal wines literally everywhere – Argentina, Australia, California, Canada, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Africa, Washington, and everywhere in between.

While classic Cabernet Franc taste profile evolves around Black Currant ( a.k.a. Cassis), the overall expression varies from lean and dry in the wines coming from Loire Valley in France (Chinon, Saumur) to opulent, bigger-than-life renditions from Argentina and California. Another essential taste element of Cabernet Franc is bell peppers, which are typically most noticeable in the Loire wines but can be completely absent in the Californian wines, where bell peppers flavors often considered highly undesirable.

I talked about the history of Cabernet Franc in some of the older posts, so I’m not going to repeat it here. Instead, we can just get to the subject of today’s celebration and taste some wines.

#CabFrancDay holiday was invented about 5 years ago by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines, a passionate Cabernet Franc producer out of Paso Robles in California and a tireless champion of her beloved grape. To celebrate the Cabernet Franc, I tasted two samples of the Cabernet Franc wines which I never had before, so let’s talk about them. We can even make a competition out of this tasting, a California versus Washington match.

Let’s start in California, at Vinum Cellars in Napa Valley. As soon as I saw a bottle of 2016 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet Franc El Dorado (15.18% ABV, $35, 26 months in 2-year-old French Oak) I realized that I have a lot of questions. Who and why is depicted on the bottle? What the mysterious number on the top of the bottle? Is there any reason to use grapes from El Dorado for the Napa-based winery? To answer these questions, I reached out to Maria Bruno, whose cousin, Richard Bruno, is the co-founder and co-winemaker at Vinum, where Maria helps with the winery’s social media and digital marketing efforts. Here are the answers to my questions which give you an excellent introduction to the winery and the wine:

1. Why the wine is called The Scrapper?
A scrapper is essentially a fighter and we call our wine that because Cabernet Franc is a varietal that has quickly been forgotten in the shadows of the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon. Our wine is made for the open-minded, the adventurous, and those who root for the underdog.

2. What is behind the image on the wine’s label?
The image on the front of the bottle is Gene Tunney. He was the 1926 Heavyweight Champion of the World, however, most modern day people have never even heard of him. But have you heard of Jack Dempsey? I’m sure you have. A little history lesson here: Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey for the 1926 crown, and it was the second time he defeated the more popular fighter (no one else ever did that). So to complete the metaphor, if Gene Tunney is Cab Franc, and Jack Dempsey is Cab Sauv we then ask you, which is the better varietal? Because we know who the better boxer was…

3. On top of the foil capsule it says BW 6334. What is the meaning of that?
That’s our California Bonded Winery number. In 1997 we financed our own winery on credit cards and utilized the custom crush space at Napa Wine Company (they are Bonded Winery number 9! Literally, the 9th bonded winery in the state and currently the only single-digit bonded winery still in existence). We sold our first vintage, all 960 cases, out of the trunks of our cars, and here we are over 20 years later… still going strong!

4. Why El Dorado? What makes Cab Franc from El Dorado a special wine?
We source our Cab Franc from a hillside, red dirt soil single vineyard at an elevation of 1,600 feet within the Sierra Mountains in El Dorado County. The grower, Ron Mansfield, has a degree in renewable agriculture and has organically farmed this vineyard (though not certified) using sustainable practices for over 35 years. Ron also grows tree fruit such as peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears We have produced Cabernet Franc grown by Ron for over 20 years, and the 2016 vintage was our 19th. The entire vineyard only produces about 500 cases a year but it’s worth it (because it’s so good). The vineyard is 25 years old and is head-trained allowing more sunlight into the canopy and therefore a reduction in Pyrazines which are responsible for green and vegetal aromas and flavors.

How was the wine? Please allow me to introduce Damsel Cellars first, and then we will discuss the wines side by side.

Damsel Cellars is located in Woodinville, Washington. Just seeing Woodinville on the wine label puts a huge smile on my face, as it instantly brings back the happiest memories of discovering Woodinville some years back. Walking from one winery door to another, and tasting one delicious wine after another, I was hoping to replicate the experience a few months back as I was supposed to have a business meeting in Seattle, but you know how 2020 travel looks like…

Mari Womack, owner and winemaker of Damsel Cellars, got into the wine only 10 years ago, but tasting her wines you would never think so. After working at a number of Woodinville wineries, she started Damsel Cellars, with the sixth vintage on the way now.

The Grapes for 2017 Damsel Cellars Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc Yakima Valley (14.6% ABV, $36) come from the Boushey Vineyard in Yakima Valley, located on the southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. The first vines were planted there in 1980, and the last plantings took place in 2003. The vineyard is located on slopes from 700 to 1200 feet elevation, so the grapes can enjoy a cooler and drier climate.

Now, how did the wines compared? Both wines are 100% Cabernet Franc, which I find quite typical for any wines bearing the Cabernet Franc name. Both wines were similar in the pure black currant expression, and both wines didn’t offer any of the bell pepper undertones. Both wines required at least an hour to come to their senses. Vinum Cab Franc stayed perfectly powerful and polished over the course of 4 days, black currant all the way, a touch of dark chocolate, full-body, a roll of your tongue smooth, and perfectly balanced. Damsel Cab Franc’s power on the first day manifested in black currant notes weaved around expressive minerality, which I usually call “liquid rock” (this is one of the common traits I find among many Washington wines), perfectly balanced and delicious. On the second day, however, the ultra-distant touch of the bell pepper appeared, the fruit gently subsided, and the wine magically transposed into the old world – a perfectly balanced old world wine. In a blind tasting, I would put this wine squarely into the Loire Valley and would be very proud of my decision.

The verdict? I don’t have one. Yep, seriously, These are unquestionably Cab Franc wines, unquestionably delicious, and unquestionably different. Oh well. If I would be really hard pressed to chose one, I would go with Damsel Cab Franc – if anything, for the old world nostalgic emotions – I really drink very little of the old world wines, so I’m always excited to experience them again.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How is your Cabernet Franc celebration going? Let me know what Cab Franc made you excited. Cheers!

Wednesday Meritage #151

December 2, 2020 Leave a comment

Meritage time!

Why don’t we start with the Top 100 wines list – James Suckling Top 100 Wines of 2020. Having created my own top dozen wine lists, I have a lot of appreciation for all the hard work deciding on the best 100 wines from tens of thousands of potential candidates. But I have to say that this 2020 Top 100 list is full of surprises. I will let you do your own analysis, but here are my observations. The top wine of the year is a Pinot Noir from Patagonia in Argentina. The first time you find Californian wine on the list is in position #31. France – #56! Lots and lots of German, Italian and Australian wines in the top third of the list. Really unique and different. I plan to do a bit more analysis once Wine Spectator releases its own Top 100 list on December 14th.

If you are an obsessed wine lover living in the USA, I’m sure you are perfectly familiar with Last Bottle Wines, a great online source of amazing wines sold at value prices. What I recently learned, courtesy of the search engine, that Last Bottle also has an excellent wine education section, called Last Bottle Sediments. You can learn about Burgundy, Riesling, or many other popular wines – all in a concise, well-written manner. There is never enough good wine information, so check this out.

I’m sure you heard already about China imposing tariffs on Australian wines, some in excess of 212% – this is definitely terrible news for the Australian wine industry, and for the worldwide wine market. In case you are trying to understand what is going on there, here is a very good article from the Wine-Searcher, offering an in-depth exploration of the conundrum.

Okay, now – who likes corked wines? Yep, I don’t know too many (any?) wine lovers who do. You know how it goes – you fetch the bottle from the cellar for dinner with special friends. You pull the cork, you pour a little taste, and the first whiff of air from the glass makes you cringe – you smell wet basement. Your well-thought entertainment ideas and joy of sharing a special bottle are all trashed – the wine can go only directly into the drain. Or not? According to the research conducted by French scientists, a plastic wrap of specific qualities can actually remove the cork taint from the wine.  Before you sigh with relief, read the article – the experiments were conducted on the wine barrels, using very specific cling wrap – but who knows, maybe your kitchen staple can have a brand new use now…

Last but not least – the grape holiday is coming! This coming Friday, December 4th, we will be celebrating one of the tastiest grapes in the world – Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc is one of the main grapes in Bordeaux and California, but Cabernet Franc really has no country borders in its appeal, as there is hardly a wine-producing region, never mind the country, which doesn’t produce a delicious Cabernet Franc wine – Argentina, Australia, Chile, California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Canada, France, Italy, Israel, South Africa – we can go on and on. A few years ago, Lori Budd, who makes delicious renditions of Cabernet Franc in California under the Dracaena Wines labels, founded the Cabernet Franc Day to celebrate the noble grape. Don’t stay aside, join the festivities – get the bottle of your favorite Cabernet Franc, and share your happy moments with everybody.

To finish, a couple of interesting stories from the Wine Spectator. First, here you can read about a special around the world voyage of two barrels of Sherry on board the Spanish ship, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation. This journey should take 12 months and 44,000 miles. Upon return, the Sherry, produced by Gonzales Byass, will be bottled and commercially sold in some quantities, and it is expected to improve due to maritime influences. And here you can read about a special Port release by Taylor Fladgate, to commemorate the release of the 3rd movie in the Kingsman franchise. Special edition Kingsman Port spent about 90 years in the oak barrels, appropriately priced at $3,800, and packaged in a crystal decanter. I’m definitely looking forward to watching the movie when it comes out in February 2021, but as for the Port – Christmas is around the corner, so can I hope for a present from a kind soul?

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

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