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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!

Behind The Label

September 18, 2017 13 comments

We eat with our eyes first – everybody knows that. We drink in exactly same way. While looking for the wine to buy, we always start from the label. Of course, sometimes we might be looking just for the specific producer’s name – but way more often than not, wine consumer is lured by the appearance of the bottle before anything else. We let the bottle speak to us.

Wine producers always knew the effect of the bottle appearance, and always tried to design attractive and appealing labels – think about Château Mouton Rothschild, for example, which started their “Artist” wine label series back in 1945. 20-25 years ago, the design, and most importantly, production capabilities were limited both in style and the cost. But not today- there are literally no limits to how creative the wine bottle design can get in today’s world. It is hard to tell what exactly makes the wine label instantly attractive, but we all can recognize that special label when we see it. I shared my fascination with the creativity of the wine labels on the multiple occasions in this blog – here is one example for you.

You don’t have to agree with me, but I see creative wine labels as objects of art. Art at large is a form of the human expression. Art takes lots and lots of different forms – beautiful building, successful surgery, a sublime glass of wine, a flower, a painting. I’m sure there are countless studies written on the subject, and I will not even try for the slightest bit to delve into it, but I’m convinced that art as a final expression always has its source, the origin, it is inspired – and this leads to the fundamental question – what inspires the art? I will leave you to ponder at that, and meanwhile, let me turn our conversation towards the … wine, of course.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava When I saw the label of Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé, my first reaction was “wow, this is a beautiful bottle”. The next question was – what does it mean? Yes, I read the description connecting Vilarnau Trencadís Edition cavas to the work of famous architect Antoni Gaudí, but I still wanted to understand the true inspiration behind this label. I reached out to the winery, and asked a few questions – here is our short conversation:

[TaV]: Vilarnau produces Cava since 1949. When Trencadís labels were used on Vilarnau Cava for the first time?
[V]: We launched the Trencadis labels at the end of 2014.

[TaV]: What was the inspiration behind the Trencadís labels?
[V]: This form of mosaic is very famous in Catalunya, Spain. Inspired by the Park Guëll in Barcelona and the famous artist Gaudí. Vilarnau is the “Barcelona Cava” and we felt it was fitting to use such an iconic design to decorate the bottles.
Trencadís’ is a type of mosaic used in Catalan modernism, created from broken tile shards. The technique is also called ‘pique assiette’. The mosaic is done using broken pieces of ceramic, like tiles and dinnerware. The Catalan architects Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Pujol used trencadís in many projects, among which Barcelona’s Parc Güell is probably the most famous. Vilarnau being so close to Barcelona (not only geographically, but also with heart and soul), it was natural to pick up this typical artistic theme for our winery.

[TaV]: Are the Trencadís Cava target the specific market, or do they sell equally well world-wide?
[V:]: We are currently exporting this label to almost 30 markets (principle markets being the USA, UK, Germany, and Belgium) and the number is growing as consumers love the design and the wine.

[TaV]: Do you have plans to add any new wines to the Trencadís series?
[V]: When we first launched we only had the Brut Reserva NV in the trencadis design but we have added the Rosado Reserva to the range two years and the Brut Nature Vintage and Demi-Sec last year

[TaV]; Do you have plans for any other “creative label” designs under Vilarnau name?
[V]: Barcelona is a constant inspiration to us and we are full of ideas, however, we have so much to do with the Trencadis design that we probably won’t launch anything new for the next 2 years or so.

Vilarnau Barcelona Cava glasses

The beautiful label is very important, it sets the expectations and makes you anticipate more from the wine. But – the content of the bottle is better to support the beauty of the label, or the joy of wine drinking will quickly dissipate.

I’m happy to say that the NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Trencadís Edition Rosé D.O. Cava (12% ABV, SRP: $15, 90% Trepat and 10% Pinot Noir, 15+ month in the bottle) didn’t disappoint. Beautiful intense pink color, classic Sparkling nose, with a touch of yeast and toasted bread on the nose, supported by fresh tart strawberries and lemon notes on the palate, crisp, succulent and invigorating. A perfect sparkling wine by itself, and at a price – almost an unbeatable value. (Drinkability: 8-/8).

What do you think of Art of the [wine] Labels? Do you have some favorites? Cheers!

[Weekly] Wine Quiz #119: How Well Do You Know Your Wines?

January 7, 2017 12 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

“Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!” – this was an opening phrase of this long-running feature on the blog – but yes, it had been more than a year since the last quiz post here.

Well, definitely welcome to the weekend, and an occasional wine quiz I managed to put together for you – this wine quizzes used to come out every Saturday, on the various wine-related subjects.

Today’s quiz is on the subject of the wine bottle tops – foils, or sometimes simply the corks themselves. I know, the bottle’s top is rarely something most of us pay attention to. Meanwhile, in a lot of cases, the picture or letters on the top are meaningful, and allow you to identify at least the winery, even if the name is not spelt out. So below are the pictures of 6 of such bottle tops – please see what you can derive out of them.

Here we go:

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As this quiz is hard enough, I can offer you a small hint – the wines here represent Spain, US, Australia and Chile.

Please place your answers into the comments section. Remember – you have nothing to lose, and by playing, you can obtain cool bragging rights. The answer will be provided next Saturday – I have enough bottle tops prepared to play another round 🙂

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!

The Post Which Could Have Many Names

May 29, 2016 6 comments

Blog post title is something I consider to be important, may be even essential. Good title facilitates the flow of thoughts and actually, once I get a title in and I’m happy with it, the writing usually flows effortlessly.

The post you are reading could’ve have many different titles, such as “More Creative Wine Labels”, “City Winery with Worldly Wines”, “Secret Wine Santa Over-delivers”, “Art in and of the Wine Labels”, or “Better Late Than Never” and I’m sure I would be able to come up with a few more – hence the title you see at the top. As for all of these possible titles – read on and you will figure it out.

As some of you know, there is a game of Secret Wine Santa, originated by Jeff a.k.a The Drunken Cyclist – here is Jeff’s post about it from the last year. The game, of course, is played closer to the actual Santa-related period. All participants get assigned a random recipient, who then gets from the secret Wine Santa one or two bottles of wine, preferably arriving before Thanksgiving. If you think that I have a nerve talking about Wine Santa when the temperatures on the East Coast are trailing above 90°F – well, may be I do. But I have an excuse – I always wanted to play this game twice a year, but shipping wine during summer is not good for the wine, so much for that thought – but then at least I get to talk about it (no, I didn’t plan it like that – life did).

Of course the Santa stays secret only until the wine arrives. When I opened the box, I found a nice handwritten note from Nancy Koziol, introducing me to the two absolutely gorgeous looking bottles from the winery I never heard of, called Brooklyn Oenology:

Brooklyn Oenology

Going beyond the beautiful labels, it turned out that the wines are produced by Brooklyn Oenology, the first urban winery in the New York City – they have a tasting room open in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, so technically right in my backyard (still never visited them so far). Brooklyn Oenology, or BOE for short, sources their grapes from around the New York state (as you can see below in the wine descriptions) and in the future they even plan to bring actual winemaking facilities into Brooklyn.

Now, talking about the labels – not only they are beautiful, but to top that off, BOE really thought of the people like myself, who spend countless hours trying to neatly peal off the labels from the bottles for the notes journals. These labels are peel off labels – how smart is that! I can’t help it not to share this paragraph from the About page on the BOE web site:

“In addition to sourcing New York grapes, BOE draws upon the Brooklyn and greater New York areas to create its identity. Each wine’s label showcases contemporary art by a Brooklyn artist and features a new piece of work for each vintage. They’re not just for viewing; they are double-layer, easy-to-peel stickers, so the customer can preserve the artwork”.

What is most important, that these wines are not just labels – they are first and foremost, unique, different and delicious wines.

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For what it worth, here are my notes:

2012 Brooklyn Oenology Gewürztraminer Finger lakes, New York (12.8% ABV, 100% Gewurztraminer, fermented with skin and seeds)
C: concentrated gold, the wine is made with the “orange wine” methodology
N: concentrated honeyed fruit initially, but then quite closed, not perfumy at all, which is usually a trait of Gewürztraminer
P: very unusual, more of a qvevri style, clean acidity, very restrained, but opens up to some nice finish with touch of fruit.
V: 8-, very thought provoking, interesting wine

2010 Brooklyn Oenology Motley Cru North Fork of Long Island, New York (13.5% ABV, 57% Merlot, 19% Syrah, 14% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, ripe sweet fruit, blueberries
P: medium to full body, soft, round, fresh fruit, touch of pepper, violet, clean acidity, excellent balance, long lingering finish. On the third day the wine became even more polished. Delicious.
V: 8, an excellent bottle of wine, good for all occasions.

Here is the story of [yet again] boundless creativity and passion in the world of wine. Thank you wine Santa for this wonderful discovery – and I already can’t wait to see what next November might bring. Cheers!

Labels and Beyond – Creativity in the Wine World

May 28, 2016 11 comments

There is a famous Russian saying  – “meet by the clothes, part by the smarts”. Yes, I know I’m butchering the original with this translation, and typical proper analogy in English will be “Don’t judge the book by its cover” – but I wanted to emphasize that “meet by the clothes” part.

In the world of people, our first impression of the stranger is often directly related to the way the person is dressed – however, once we get into the conversation and get to know the person, the dress becomes of no importance at all – if, of course, we manage to find common ground and enjoy each other’s company. More often than not, we use clothes as a differentiator – this is our way to stand out from the crowd and get noticed – and I’m sure you all can attest – that generally works; clothes matter, especially for the first impression.

This is the wine blog, right? So let’s get to it. What are the “clothes” for wine? The bottle and the label, isn’t it? We, wine drinkers collective, are often very quick to make serious assumptions about the content of the bottle just from a quick glance at the bottle. Ahh, a cute creature? The wine must be cheap and terrible. Look at how solid this heavy bottle with black and gold label is – I’m sure the wine will be delicious. Been there, done that.

The wine today is at a pick of popularity – for sure in the US. Which means that there is more and more wine produced all the time, to the pleasure of a wine drinking public. But here also lies a flip of the silver lining – looking at the wine store shelves is overwhelming, so how can producers ensure that someone will pick the bottle of their wine? This is where the “clothes” come to the play – all other things been equal, the label and the bottle are the only differentiators winemaker got (the brand recognition of course will be superior to the label differentiators, but we should put it aside for the sake of this post). What I’m observing lately is an explosion in creativity in the wine labels, names of the wines and even the bottle shapes (or overall packaging, such as “wine in the can”). And this is what prompted this post – over the month, I came across a few wines which I felt I just wanted to share with all of you.

Here is the first one – Honoro Vera Grenache. When I saw the bottle, it was an instant “wow, that looks beautiful” – I must try it. The fact that it was Spanish Grenache (hard to go wrong with), priced at $7.99, make that decision even easier. And the wine didn’t disappoint with fresh core of the dark fruit and mocha – round and delicious.

The love of the next label might be giving away my age – but this “post card formatting” somehow always attracts my attention, as the nod to the times when people actually used paper and their hands to write, and not only to type. One look at the bottle and I knew I had to get this Bob’s Pinotage from South Africa – and of course at $6.99, the risk was minor. Pinotage used to have a lot of bad rap in the past, but this wine was delicious – fresh strawberries, hint of gaminess, medium to full body, good balance – excellent food friendly wine.

How about the label which takes guessing out of the wine enjoyment? The label on this Rosé La Princess from Provence will change when the wine will be chilled to the suggested drinking temperature, and will definitely encourage you to drink it. One would’ve thought that this is too gimmicky (and I did), and to my delight, I found classic, gentle, strawberry driven, perfectly refreshing wine in this bottle. All for $11.99.

We all know that wine and flowers make perfect gift for anyone. How about the wine which essentially includes flowers? How I mean, you ask? Take a look below – this Côte des Roses bottle features the bottom which looks like a perfect Rose flower. Going all the way, take a look at the pink glass enclosure – isn’t it beautiful? And the best part is that wine itself is a beautiful Rosé – restrained, delicate, tart and refreshing. And despite the overindulgent bottle, the wine retails for the same $11.99 – a great value for Rosé if you ask me.


Let me finish this labels galore with a series belonging to the wine called Machete Red. This wine is produced by the legendary Dave Phinney, and each case sports 12 bottles with 12 different labels  – from the same theme. I didn’t have an opportunity to taste this wine, and it retails for quite a bit more than any of the wines I mentioned before ($45.99), so in this particular case I can’t tell you if content of the bottle matches the creativity on outside – but I surely hope it does.

Machete Red

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That’s all I have for you for today. What are your creative label discoveries? Cheers!

Weekly Wine Quiz #109: How Well Do You Know Your Wines, Part 4

July 19, 2014 14 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

We are continuing the “bottle top” series, where you need to recognize the wine/producer based on the picture of the top of the bottle. Below you will find the pictures of the 8 different bottle tops – let me know what do you think those wines are (suggestion – click on the pictures to zoom for more details):

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3. DSC_0549

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5. DSC_0547

6. DSC_0554

7.DSC_0984

8. DSC_0544

Hint – the wines above represent Argentina, California, Spain and South Africa. Few of the producers are well known, and some are not so much. Even if you recognize only one wine – don’t be shy, comment away!

Good luck, enjoy the quiz and your weekend! Cheers!