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If Grapes Would Fight

January 22, 2020 Leave a comment

The Duel.

How human. Or inhumane. Whatever way we want to spin it.

Yes, duels are the thing of the past. You walk on the street. You lightly bump into someone. You apologize. But the other man says that you didn’t hurt his shoulder. It was his honor which was hurt. And the only way to alleviate that pain is through the duel. Choose the day, the time, and the weapon – pistols are fine, or maybe you prefer the Épée. And be there, or else.

You and your witnesses show up at the agreed time in the agreed place. Your opponent will probably be there already with his suitors. Both of you line up, someone gives the command, you fight. One of you most likely will die. But this was expected. The honor will be cleared and not in pain anymore – for whoever will survive, that is. The end.

Oh, did I mention that those duels were not very legal for the most part even when they were very popular?

Now, imagine if those pistols would shoot grapes instead of bullets, and the only choice of weapon would be the type of grape? Let’s say, you will shoot with Cabernet Sauvignon, and your opponent with Petite Sirah, or maybe you will choose a Zinfandel and your opponent will load up with Syrah? I have no idea how the honor will be defended, but I’m sure nobody would die, and such a duel will be so much fun! I’m sure you have a good imagination – imagine the fully ripened grape hitting one of the opponents on the forehead, and splattering the juice all around, in the slow motion – that would be something to remember!

Okay, so grape shooting pistols are not on the market (yet?), but the grapes can duel all they want – if the winemaker desires.

Cue in Dueling Pistols – the wines weaved around the mystery of two men, raising guns at each other at the dawn. We don’t know how they ended up there, or how shootout ends, but it is not important, as we should rather pay attention to wines.

The two Dueling Pistols wines represent 50/50 blends of the grapes that meet each other only after the fermentation is done separately. In one wine, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah fight for supremacy; in the second wine, Zinfandel battles Syrah.

Never mind all this fight and battle talk. The wine is all about harmony – you want all the elements of the wine to be in full balance, playing together to deliver an amazing experience. So how these two wines did?

2016 Dueling Pistols Red Blend Dry Creek Valley (15% ABV, $49.99, 50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel, 18 months in French oak, 30% new)
Dark Garnet
Very intense nose, tar, tobacco, roasted meat, mint
Crisp acidity, tart fruit, much lighter on the palate than expected based on the smell, sour cherries, significant herbal component
7+ initially, needs time
8- on the second and third days, the wine is softer and showing more fruit.

2016 Dueling Pistols Red Blend Paso Robles (15.5% ABV, $49.99, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Petite Sirah, 18 months in French oak, 30% new)
Dark Garnet
Inviting nose of cherries and chocolate, with a hint of vanilla and licorice
The palate is smooth and gentle, well extracted, lip-smacking acidity, layers of flavor, velvety texture which makes you crave another sip even before you finished the first.
8/8+, very enjoyable

Here you are. A duel of grapes and even duel of wines. But – nobody got hurt, which is a great outcome of any duel, right?

Judging this fight, I have to say that Cabernet/Petite Sirah won this fight, at least in my corner. But you know what they say? YMMV, so go ahead, stage your own duel and have fun with it. Cheers!

P.S. These two wines were samples provided by Terlato Wines.

Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Wine Regions – Vinho Verde

January 11, 2020 4 comments

Vinho Verde.

Let me ask you, wine lovers – when you hear the words “Vinho Verde”, what are the two things which are instantly come to mind? Let me guess – it should be “green” and “summer” – am I correct?

Let’s leave “green” aside for a minute and let’s talk about “summer”. Do you insist on pairing wine with the season? Of course, rich and opulent California Cabernet Sauvignon or tantalizing Barolo might not be the ideal choice of beverage for the pool party in the middle of summer. But then would you say that white wines should be only drunk when it is hot outside? Even if you will insist, I would have to disagree – the white is simply a color, and white wine can be equally enjoyed during any season. And to prove my point, let’s talk about Vinho Verde.

Oh, and let’s address the “green” thing – there nothing green about Vinho Verde. “Verde” here refers to the young wines – Vinho Verde wines are typically released 3-6 months after the harvest.

Here are some interesting facts about Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Portugal, producing wine for the past 2,000 years. It is also the most northern wine region in Portugal, and the largest, with 51,000 acres planted. There are 19,000 grape growers and 600 wine producers, making over 85 million liters of wine, out of which 86% are white wines, and the rest is divided between Rosé, red and sparkling wines.

45 indigenous grape varieties are growing in Vinho Verde, out of which 9 are recommended – Alvarinho, Avesso, Azal, Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura for the whites, and Espadeira, Padeira, and Vinhão for the reds. Vinho Verde region subdivided into the 9 sub-regions named after rivers or towns – Monção, Melgaço, Lima, Basto, Cávado, Ave, Amarante, Baião, Sousa, and Paiva. It is also interesting to note that while Vinho Verde is identified as a DOC (top quality designation, similar to French AOC/AOP), the region called Minho Vinho Regional, completely overlaps Vinho Verde territory, however, its designation is similar to French Vin de Pays (lesser quality requirements).

Vinho Verde wines are typically low in alcohol and pair well with a wide variety of food. Quite often, Vinho Verde whites are also exhibiting very light fizz, this is really a hallmark of the region.

I had an opportunity to taste (samples) 3 whites and one Rosé from the region, here are my notes:

2018 Encosta do XISTO Vinho Verde DOC (12.5% ABV)
Straw pale with greenish hue
Vegetative nose, a touch of grass, sweet basil, restrained
A touch of fizz, lime, a hint of grapefruit, lots of minerality, fresh
8-

2018 Vercoope Pavāo Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho  (12% ABV, $8)
Light golden
Tropical fruit, candied lemon, sage, tobacco
Guava, a touch of honey, candied fruit, a touch of pink grapefruit. Good acidity.
7+/8-

2017 Seaside Cellars Rosé Vinho Verse DOC (11% ABV, $8, 40% Vinhão, 30% Borraçal, 30% Espadeiro)
Wild salmon pink
Nice minerality, whitestone fruit, a typical nose of white wine if there is such a thing
Underripe strawberries, good minerality, a distant hint of fizz, mostly on the finish.
7+/8-, fuller body than most of Rosé, not sweet at all despite low ABV. It also gives me two new rare grapes (Vinhão and Borraçal), which is always a nice bonus.

2018 Quinta da Calçada Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho (13% ABV)
Light golden
Intense fresh lemon, a touch of grapefruit, noticeable minerality
Tart lemon, a touch of grapefruit, dry, intense, medium to full body, good minerality, good textural presence.
8, perfect any time you want a glass of dry white.

As you can tell, I liked all the wines. No, these wines are not mind-blowing, of course not. But considering the price, often less than $10, these wines offer an excellent, hard to beat QPR.

Here you go, my friends. No need to wait for the hot summer days. Just pick up a bottle of Vinho Verde, and enjoy it by itself, or pair it with good food and good company. You can thank me later. Cheers!

American Pleasures, Part 3 – Murrieta’s Well

January 3, 2020 3 comments

How often do you drink wines from Livermore Valley? Not trying to offend, but do you even know where the Livermore valley is?

If you guessed that Livermore Valley is an area in California, or if you simply knew it, yes, of course – Livermore Valley is located a bit north and west of San Francisco and can be considered one of the little wine world secrets for the people in the know. While Napa and Sonoma are the regions everyone is looking up to, Livermore Valley is located a stone throw from both, and in most cases offers a lot more fun in the tasting room for much less money.

Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard is located in this exact Livermore Valley and yes, we can consider it as one of the hidden gems. The estate has a rich history, going back to 1884. This is not the first time Murrieta’s Well wines are making an appearance in this blog, so instead of repeating all the historical references, I would like to direct you to my previous post on the subject. Same as the last time, the wines were provided as a courtesy of Snooth, for the virtual tasting – you can find the video recording of that tasting here.

This series is not called American Pleasures for nothing. This is the third post in the series, following the posts about Silverado and Oceano wines and Peju. As I explained in the introduction to the series, I simply had a great number of wines which were surprisingly consistent – wine after wine, they delivered a great deal of pleasure. You can expect to equally enjoy two wines from a good producer; 4 wines in the row is not typical; 6 wines is seriously unexpected. The 4 wines I tasted from the Murrieta’s Well were perfectly consistent and unquestionably enjoyable, offering loads of pleasure. Yes, all four. And what is even more interesting, if you will compare my ratings from 2017 tasting versus 2019, you will see that I rated all the wines higher. It appears that the process is going in the right direction, to the joy of all of us, oenophiles.

Let me share my notes:

2018 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Dry Orange Muscat Livermore Valley (14.6% ABV, $38, 100% Orange Muscat)
Light golden color
Plums, guava, tropical fruit
Bright acidity, an undertone of sweet tobacco, bright acidity on the finish
8, fresh, excellent

2018 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé Livermore Valley (13.5% ABV, $32, 42% Counoise, 33% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre)
Medium intensity pink color
Underripe strawberries
Tart fresh strawberries, good acidity, clean, vibrant, perfect balance, long finish
8, an excellent wine.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Merlot Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $48, 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark garnet
Touch of cassis, eucalyptus
Cassis, blackberries, nicely tart, a touch of coffee, good acidity, good structure
8+, excellent.

2017 Murietta’s Well The Spur Livermore Valley (14.5% ABV, $35, 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petite Sirah, 13% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot)
Dark Garnet
Smoke, tar, roasted meat, blackberries
Succulent blackberries, tobacco undertones, good acidity, medium to full body, good balance
8-, excellent

Here you go – 4 excellent wines, 4 sources of the great American [wine] pleasure. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had wines from the Livermore Valley? Cheers!

American Pleasures – Part 2, Peju Napa Valley

December 9, 2019 2 comments

A few weeks ago I shared with you my view on [strictly wine] American pleasures – some of the wine samples which I had a pleasure to taste recently. Yes, it is the pure hedonistic pleasure we are talking about here – the wines which have a magical power of making you want another glass even before the first one is empty. Today I want to continue that conversation and talk about Peju Province Winery in Napa Valley.

The story of Peju Province Winery is simple and similar to many others – it started from a dream. Tony Peju had a drawing of the winery with the tower two years prior to the first Peju grape been harvested. Tony found early success in Los Angeles as a horticulturist, using his landscaping skills in the real estate, improving and reselling the houses. But his dream was to own the farm.

After his search for the farm land led him up north to the Napa Valley, he was able to find the location of his dreams – a 30 acres Stephanie vineyard in Rutherford, located next to Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu vineyards, growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombard vines, some 60 years old or maybe even older. Tony and his wife, Herta, purchased Stephanie vineyard in 1983. At first, Tony and Herta were only selling the grapes, however taking advantage of Tony’s green thumb, improving the vineyard and learning what it is capable of. They identified the section of the vineyard, about 5 acres in size, which produced the best Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The vineyard, which was renamed into HB in honor of Tony’s wife, Herta Behensky, was replanted using cuttings from that best section grafted on the phylloxera-resistant rootstock. The time has come to start making Peju’s own wine.

Peju Province Winery Grounds. Source: Peju Province Winery

Tony went on to get a degree in enology from UC Davis, and the rest was history. Well, there is one interesting hurdle worth mentioning. If you remember, Tony had a full drawing of the winery done in 1981, two years before HB vineyard was even found and purchased. Once they had the land and were ready to convert dreams into reality, in order to fund the project, Tony and Herta started selling wine out of their garage converted into the wine tasting room. This, however, was against Napa County’s rules, which required all the wine sales to be made from the legitimate winery building. However, California law allowed winegrowers to sell the wines in the place where the grapes were grown, so the issue ended up in the court. The judge sided with Peju, agreeing that if Tony is growing the grapes, he should be allowed to sell the wine. This became a pivotal case that significantly changed the landscape of the Napa Valley.

Peju went on to build the impressive 50-foot tall tower in the French Provencal style, using Brazilian cherry wood, beams from old Midwestern farm buildings and 1906 antique stained glass window. Way before that new winery building was complete, Peju acquired 350 acres of land at the 2000 feet elevation in the nearby Pope Valley section of Napa, which they named Persephone Vineyard, after the goddess of Greek mythology. In 1997, 120 acres of that land was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (using HB Vineyard clone), as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. In 2007, Rutherford HB vineyard became certified organic, and today all three of Peju vineyards are using sustainable viticultural methods. In 2009, Peju Province Winery was certified as a Napa County Green Winery and Bay Area Green Business. Also in 2006, Peju started installing solar panels on 10,000 square feet of winery roof and generating 35% of all electricity consumed at a winery.

Okay, so now you learned a lot about the winery, so let’s talk about the wines, as a proof is always in the glass. I had an opportunity to try 6 wines from Peju, and I was literally blown away by what I tasted. To be entirely honest, these wines were one of the most inspirational coming up with the title for this series – American Pleasures. 6 out of 6 delicious wines, one better than another – I taste enough wines during the year to tell you that this is not given. Below are my notes:

2018 Peju Province Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.8% ABV, $25)
Straw pale, practically clear
A touch of freshly cut grass, white flowers, maybe a distant hint of cat pee – only because I want to find it there?
Layers of flavors. Crisp lemony acidity first, then a hint of plums and slightly underripe melon, unusual plumpness for the Sauvignon Blanc, the wine rolls off your tongue like a nice Marsanne.
8, excellent, a unique and different Sauvignon Blanc.

2015 Peju Province WineryCabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot, 18 months in French and American oak, 45% new)
Dark garnet
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus, sweet oak
A beautiful mix of black currant and cherries on the palate, a touch of herbal notes, good minerality, firm texture, vibrant acidity, medium+ finish
8/8+, the first sip says “I’m a Napa Cab”. Delicious.

The next wine is one of the few in “Nostalgia Series”, where every label depicts a moment in Peju’s history.

2015 Peju Province Winery Nostalgia Series The Farm Napa Valley (15.2% ABV, $80, 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 18 months in oak)
Dark garnet, practically black
Dark fruit, eucalyptus, restrained, mineral undertones
Perfectly balanced fresh fruit, soft, luscious, black currant, tar pencil shavings, perfect balance, delicious.
8, delicious wine

2016 Peju Province Winery Merlot Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $48, 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot, 18 months in oak)
Garnet
Sweet licorice, eucalyptus, underbrush
Coffee, tart cherries, cherry pit, minerality
8-, probably need more time. The finish is a bit astringent, however, it plays well with savory food (cheese and crackers)

Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite grapes – this wine was truly a Cabernet Franc experience.

2013 Peju Province Winery Petit Trois Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $75, 100% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in oak, 333 cases produced)
Deep Garnet
Cassis, licorice, mocha, a hint of sweet tobacco
Cassis, mint, gently present tannins (after a few hours), firm structure, sweet oak, unmistakably California
9-, wow, tons of pleasure in every sip. Needs decanting. Outstanding on the second day.

This wine has its own story. It is the result of the barrel experiments run by Peju winemaker, Sara Fowler. For the 2017 vintage, she worked with 37 different barrel tasting styles and 22 coopers, then discussed the effects of the oak regimen with the group of the fellow Napa Valley winemakers. To have all new-oak, effectively a young wine, to be ready to drink from the get-go is something really incredible in my opinion.

2017 Peju Province Winery The Experiment Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $100, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak, 100% new, 1075 cases produced)
Dark garnet
An “Oh my god!” nose – Black currant, eucalyptus, pure, intense
Wow, supple black currant, mint, eucalyptus, silky smooth tannins, good minerality, all delivered in layers. Clean acidity, impeccable balance, and immense pleasure.
9/9+, wow. An exemplary Napa Cab

There you have it, my friends – some incredible wines. Of course, these are not inexpensive wines, but in my opinion, the $100 bottle which gives you lots of pleasure is worth splurging for the right moment. Cheers!

 

The Curse and Mystery Of The Top 100 Wine Lists

December 5, 2019 4 comments

Lists and numbers – who doesn’t like that? We, humans, are all about lists, we like to sort things out – to-do lists, shopping lists, “best” lists, “best of the best ” lists, Top 10 lists, Top 100 lists. No area of people’s interest is immune to the lists – and of course, the world of wine is no exception – come to the end of the year, and you are guaranteed to see lists and lists of the lists, ranking wines, wineries, regions, winemakers, what have you.

I don’t know how much attention you are paying to the top wine lists. Talking about myself, I like to ponder at the Top 100 lists, especially the one produced by Wine Spectator – not because it is any better or different than the others, but simply because I had been a subscriber for a long time, and it formed more into a habit. My main interest is to see what wines can I recognize, and then to play with the data a bit – countries, prices, grapes. I’m a number junkie. It is always fun to organize numbers in a few different ways, no matter if it means anything or not, and so the Top 100 lists present a good opportunity to conduct such a “research”.

Before we delve into the numbers, let’s talk about the Mystery. What is mysterious about the top 100 wine lists? I would say most everything? How the wines are chosen? How wine #1  is decided? According to the information on the James Suckling web site, they select the top 100 wines out of the 25,000 wines tasted throughout the year. How do decide on 100 out of 25,000? Do you run a separate list of potential candidates throughout the year, or do you sit down at the end of the year and try honestly recall the most memorable wines of the year? What role the ratings play?

Here is what Wine Spectator says on the subject: “Each year, Wine Spectator editors survey the wines reviewed over the previous 12 months and select our Top 100, based on quality, value, availability and excitement”. I like the “excitement” part, this is how I decide on my top dozen wine of the year. The other two publications I studied with Top 100 lists don’t talk about their methodology, they just talk about the content of their lists.

So here are some stats we can gain from looking into the details of the Top 100 lists.

Wine Spectator:

Wine Spectator offers two lists – the regular Top 100 Wine and Top 100 Value Wines, which includes wines priced under $25 (you can find all the lists here). I didn’t spend time with the top value list, so all the numbers below are related to the Top 100 list:

  • Distribution by country: France – 23, California – 22, Italy – 21, Spain – 7, Australia and Oregon – 5 each, Chile and Portugal – 3 each, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, and Washington – 2each, Argentina, Israel, and South Africa – 1 each
  • Distribution by the wine type – 74 reds, 21 whites, 1 Rosé, and 4 Sparkling.
  • Prices – most expensive – $197, least expensive – $13. 14 wines are priced above $100, 13 wines are in the $75 – $99 range, 11 wines are in the $50 to $74 range, 27 wines are priced in the $25 – $49 range, and 35 wines are in the $13 – $25 range.
  • Ratings: the top score is 98, the lowest is 90. There is only one wine on the list with a rating of 98, 6 wines have a rating of 97. The ratings of 96, 95 and 94 are assigned to 14 wines each. 11 wines have a rating of 93, 10 wines each have ratings of 92 and 91, and 20 wines have a rating of 90.
  • Wine Spectator’s top wine of the year 2019 was 2016 Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien with a rating of 97 and priced at $98.

Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast produces not one, but 3 Top Wine lists – Top 100 Wines, Top 100 Best Buys, and Top 100 Cellar Selections – these links will allow you to retrieve PDFs for each list. General notes on Wine Enthusiast site say that more than 24,000 wines are tasted during the year and afterwards condensed into the 3 Top Wine lists. Note that Wine Enthusiast Best Buys list covers only wines under $15. Focusing on the Top 100, I did a limited analysis, using the data already provided in the PDF file:

  • Distribution by country: California – 18, Italy – 17, France – 16, Australia, Oregon and Spain – 5 each, Argentina, Chile, Portugal and Washington – 4 each, Austria and Germany – 3 each, NY State and South Africa – 2 each, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Uruguay and Virginia – 1 each
  • Prices – most expensive – $114, least expensive – $16. Only one wine is priced above $100, the majority of the wines are less than $50 with an average price of $33.
  • Ratings: the top score is 99, the lowest is 90. There is only one wine on the list with a rating of 99, 3 wines are rated at 98, 5 wines have a rating of 97, 8 wines are rated at 96. Most of the rated wines fall in the 91-93 range (55 wines)
  • Wine Enthusiast top wine of the year 2019 was NV Nino Franco Rustico Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore with a rating of 94 and priced at $20.

James Suckling:

This one is the most exclusive Top 100 club in a number of ways. First, you need to be a subscriber to see any wine details. Second, all the wines on the Top 100 list are rated 98-100 points. This is the only stats available from the James Suckling Top 100 Wines website: “We have 41 100-point wines in the list and another 35 with 99 points. The rest of the wines scored 98 points. All the wines were produced in quantities of 300 cases or more.”

Let’s leave James Suckling Top 100 list aside and talk about Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast lists. The makeup of both lists is quite similar when it comes to the countries – California, France, and Italy represent at least half of the Top 100 wines (2/3 in case of Wine Spectator list). Where the list differ quite a bit is in the pricing – 14 $100+ wines on the Wine Spectator list versus only 1 on the Wine Enthusiast. But the biggest difference to me is the Wine #1 – Grand Cru Classé versus Prosecco. Okay, call me a snob or whatever you want, but I’m really missing the point of the Wine Enthusiast choice. To my defense, I can only say one thing – I tasted this wine. Nino Franco Rustico is a nice Prosecco, and but it is really, really far away from the memorable, exciting wine. Here you go – another case of the wine list mystery.

I also wanted to talk about the “curse” of the Top 100 wine list, for sure when it comes to the one from the Wine Spectator. As soon as the wine makes it on that list, it instantly becomes unavailable. Adding to the mystery side, it is a mystery to me why an average wine consumer puts such a value on the Top 100 list nomination. But talking about availability, are we looking at the scalping phenomenon in the works? Buy bulk and resell for a quick buck? This is annoying, and it is a real problem for the wine retailers who can’t find enough of those top wines to offer them to consumers. It also gets worse every year – a friend of mine, who has a wine store in Stamford, was able to assemble about 40 Top 100 wines to offer to his customers last year – this year he will barely make it to 20.

There you have it my friends – a deeper look into the mystery (and curse) of the Top 100 wine lists. Do you pay attention to those? What do you think of this year’s top wines? Do you see any trends? Cheers!

Daily Glass: Pizza and Wine

December 2, 2019 3 comments

What do you think of pizza and wine – a perfect combo, right? Let’s talk about it.

On Friday, kids requested pizza. I’m generally not craving pizza (unless it is Frank Pepe White Clam), but I don’t object to it too much. Especially when I have two wine samples which should work well with pizza – Prosecco and Barbera.

The world loves sparkling wines, with consumption growing consistently year over year – you can find some interesting stats here. For the last few years, Prosecco bypassed Champagne as the world’s best selling sparkling wine in terms of volume – a bottle of Champagne is at least 3-4 times as expensive as Prosecco, so in terms of revenues, Champagne is still ahead. But let’s not get hung up on numbers.

Prosecco is made from the grape called Glera (the grape itself used to be called Prosecco, but it was renamed to make Prosecco a protected name, similar to Champagne). Prosecco is made using the method called Charmat (patented in 1907), where the second fermentation is taking place in the pressure-sealed tank as opposed to the bottle in Méthode Traditionnelle. Fermenting in the tank allows to significantly reduce the cost of the sparkling wine, as the whole process is a lot less labor-intense.

In 1919, Antonio Franco founded the Cantine Franco winery in Valdobbiadene in Northern Italy. In 1966, his son Giovanni (Nino) renamed the winery into Nino Franco di Franco Giovanni and went on producing white and red wines. In 1971, Nino’s son Primo, who studied enology, began working at the winery, focusing on sparkling wines – this was a pivotal moment, converting Nino Franco into the Prosecco powerhouse it is today.

Prosecco’s success is not given – it is a result of belief, hard work, obsession, and dedication. This year marks the 30 years since Prosecco first appeared on London markets, and it had not been even that long since its introduction in the USA (1992/1993) – all largely thanks to the efforts of people such as Primo Franco and Gianluca Bisol. Think about the success of this simple sparkling wine in just 30 years – it is definitely something to be proud of.

Before I share my tasting notes for Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (11% ABV, SRP $19.00, 100% Glera), I want to mention that there are two occasions to celebrate as it relates to this wine. One is more general – it is the 100th anniversary of the Nino Franco wine company, a great achievement in itself. The second one is directly related to the wine, and it is even more impressive – Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico became the wine #1 on the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 wines of the year 2019. Wine Enthusiast folks review tens of thousands of wines every year – to snatch the top position of the 100 most impressive wines of the year is not an easy fit and serious accomplishment.

How was the wine? Upon opening and pouring into the glass, the wine first filled the glass (I was using standard Riedel wine glass, not the flute) with a foam – not just a little “hat”, but almost a full glass of foam. The nose had very expressive aromatics of apple, peach, and guava. The palate was fresh and crisp, with more of the apple notes, tiny bubbles, and good acidity. All-around a good Prosecco, definitely more voluptuous and assertive than many. (Drinkability: 7+/8-).

Okay, now it is the Barbera time. Barbera is one of the well known Italian grapes primarily growing in Piedmont. Barbera d’Asti or Barbera del Monferrato would be a perfect accompaniment for a pizza, but the Barbera we are talking about today hails from … Lodi in California.

I never get tired of expressing my love and admiration of the Lodi wine region in California. Lodi is uniquely un-Napa in most everything – from the winemaker attitudes and low-key wineries to the focus on the Mediterranean grape varieties. Lodi is often considered to be a land of Zinfandel, but truth be told, Tempranillo, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cinsault, Carignan, Albarino, Grenache Blanc are really running the show there. And Barbera, let’s not forget Barbera.

Barbera wines are clearly outshined in Piedmont by the famous siblings, Barolo and Barbaresco, both produced out of Nebbiolo grape. I was unable to find the fresher set of data, but at the beginning of the 21st century, Barbera was the third most planted grape in Italy after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Barbera grapes are naturally high in acidity, and it is acidity which often needs to be tamed when it comes to Barbera wines. Compared with the finicky Nebbiolo, Barbera does quite well in the new areas, so over the past 30 years, it spread through Australia, Argentina, California, Israel, Texas and other places where this grape was never known before.

Starting from 1860, the land where Oak Farm Vineyards is located was simply a farm in the Lodi region of California where the cattle were raised. In 2012, Dan Panella, third-generation California farmer, replanted 60 acres of the old vineyard on the property, and this was the beginning of the modern history of the Oak Farm Vineyards. There is a wide range of wines produced at the winery starting from California staples Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel to the hardcore Italian range of Fiano, Barbera, Primitivo, and Sangiovese.

It is 2017 Oak Farm Vineyards Barbera Lodi California (15% ABV, $25, mostly Barbera with a small percentage of Petite Sirah for color and structure, 20 months in French, American, and Caucus (24% new) oak barrels) that we are talking about today. In a word, the wine was superb – dark garnet color, intense nose of cherries and tobacco, and mind-boggling concentration and interplay of flavor in every sip – cherries, tar, tobacco, roasted meat, perfect balancing acidity and 100% delicious wine. (Drinkability: 8). I would greatly drink this wine again at any time – with or without the food.

Oh, I guess I promised you some pizza. Yes, there was cheese and bacon/mushroom/onion pizzas. I have to say that prosecco was rather ambivalent to either, but Barbera worked quite well with the combination pizza.

There you have it, my friends. Italy meets California and vice versa, in many ways. But the important part is two delicious wines which you should find and experience for yourself. Cheers!

 

Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! 2019 Edition

November 20, 2019 Leave a comment

Traditions, Traditions, Traditions.

I’m not sure how much I care about Beaujolais Nouveau at this point, but – I need to keep the traditions. I’m not talking about the tradition of the Beaujolais Nouveau, an annual celebration of a new vintage in Beaujolais – this tradition has a life of its own and surely doesn’t care if I will uphold it or not. I’m now talking about the tradition of this very blog, where I didn’t skip writing about a single Beaujolais Nouveau release since this blog started (proof is here), hence this post is unavoidable. I’m all about traditions, and 2019 will not be an exception.

Every third Thursday in November is celebrated as a Beaujolais Nouveau Day. What was the local French phenomenon for a very long time, celebrating the end of the harvest with a young and simple wine, became an international movement, largely due to the efforts of Georges Duboeuf, French negociant. In France alone there are more than 120 celebrations related to the Beaujolais Nouveau. The most famous festival, called Les Sarmentelles, is held in the town of Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region. The festival starts one day before the third Thursday and lasts for 5 days.

Beaujolais Nouveau wine has its share of controversy. Many professionals and consumers alike dismiss the Beaujolais Nouveau wine as a gimmick, simply a marketing plot to sell something which is not supposed to be sold. I wouldn’t say that I’m buying the Beaujolais Nouveau wines by the case, but they are as mysterious as any other unopened bottle, and having a tradition in place helps undecisive wine geek at least to know what he will be drinking around third Thursday every November.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2019

How were the 2019 Beaujolais Nouveau wines? Let me offer you my tasting notes:

2019 Henry Fessy Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau Vieilles Vignes (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
Dark ruby color
A hint of fresh raspberries, sage, lavender, more reminiscent of a regular Beaujolais
You can clearly perceive a young wine on the palate, but it doesn’t have characteristic Nouveau grapiness – zesty raspberries, crushed rock, nice herbal component, clean acidity, medium-plus finish
8-, an excellent effort – at this point, this is simply a young wine, not “just another Nouveau”. I bet this wine will age well past recommended 5 months. It would be interesting to taste it again in 3-4 years. And if this is any indication of the quality of the 2019 vintage, this is the one to look forward to.

2019 Georges Buboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau (13% ABV, $9.99)
Garnet color
Upon opening, the nose had the characteristic Nouveau freshly crushed berry medley, but after an hour or so, it morphed into a raspberry jam, a well-made raspberry jam
Ripe raspberries, good minerality, sage, a hint of eucalyptus, good acidity, good finish
8- after an hour of breathing in the open bottle, another perfectly drinkable wine which has little in common with Beaujolais Nouveau as it used to be

Color me impressed. I say every year that I’m impressed with the quality, and that the quality of Beaujolais Nouveau keeps improving. Yet I have to say again that this was the best Beaujolais Nouveau I ever tasted. Is that the 2019 vintage? Is that just global warming? Is that winemaker’s capability to arrive at better and better grapes before the crush? I don’t know – and if you do, please share your opinion. But first and foremost – try the Beaujolais Nouveau 2019 and say if you are impressed as I am.  Cheers!

Trader Joe’s Wines: Combining Great and Value

November 15, 2019 5 comments

I travel for business (let’s get it straight – I actually like it). One of my small personal pleasures in such travel is exploring the local wine scene if time allows. I always check for the wineries close to my location (if I have a car, sometimes, those wineries don’t even have to be close). If I can’t find wineries, I’m happy to visit local stores, especially when they come with recommendations, as during my recent visit to Texas and discovering the Spec’s wine store.

When it comes to the wine stores, I have one which stands aside. It is not really a wine store, it is a grocery store that also sells wine. I’m not trying to be mysterious here, you already saw it in the title – yes, I’m talking about Trader Joe’s stores. Trader Joe’s stores can be found pretty much everywhere in the USA, and the store which is less than a mile from my house is considered best on the East Coast (you should see the line of cars trying to enter the parking lot Saturday morning, ohh). But – Trader Joe’s in Connecticut only sell beer, so I have to look for Trader Joe’s wines elsewhere, and this is where the travel comes handy.

What so special about Trader Joe’s wines? Glad you asked, as the answer is very simple – QPR, which stands for Quality Price Ratio. While Trader Joe’s sells some wines from the producers you would easily recognize, the absolute majority of the Trader Joe’s wines are so-called “private labels”. Trader Joe’s is working with producers all around the world to find very inexpensive wines, which also happen to be really tasty. I don’t know how it is possible to have consistently good tasting wines in the $4.99 – $9.99 range, but they actually manage to do it. Those wines might not blow your socks off (some might), but the wines are solid, well made, and yes, tasty. Here you can find an account of some of my past Trader Joe’s visits to check it for yourself. – the question “how do they do it” is always paramount in these explorations.

My visit to Trader Joe’s in Reno, Nevada gave me another round of excitement and envy. Magnums of French Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine and Prosecco for … wait for it … $12.99? How do they do it? No, I didn’t taste these two but based on my prior experience with Trader Joe’s wines, I can imagine that these will be decent  wines. I can continue this “how do they do it” theme for a long time, as the prices for most of the wines are just mind-boggling. Here is a glimpse of the shelves, see it for yourself:

Obvously there is a limit to how many wines I can taste during a short trip, so here is what I do. I set myself a limit, which is practically always at $20, to get as many wines as will attract my attention. I don’t believe I was ever been able to stay within this exact range, but I usually cut it pretty close. First of all, I select the wines by the label, but then I think if I want to try a Portuguese wine or a California wine more. There is no science to my decision process, it is more of a spur of the moment – but having a price limit set helps to make it more organized.

My selection this time consisted of 2 wines from France and 2 wines from Califonia – without having any intent for it to happen this way. I saw two very attractive labels for the California wines, and then Cote du Rhone white wine for $5.99 and French Rosé for $4.99 – there is absolutely no chance those would be good, right? Yes, I blew my budget by $4 to the grand total of $24 for 4 wines – do you expect any of those wines to be any good?

Here is a graphical account of my loot:

And here are the tasting notes:

2017 Phigment Red Wine Blend California (13.5% ABV, $5.99)
Concentrated Ruby
Dark fruit, mint, coffee, a touch of cassis
Fresh crunchy berries, sweet tobacco, baking spices, soft texture, good acidity. Characteristic Lodi touch of cinnamon. Long, pleasant finish.
7+, excellent QPR.

2018 Cellier des Vignes Prestige Côtes DI Rhône AOC (13% ABV, $5.99)
Light golden
Whitestone fruit, a touch of smoke, a hint of pineapple
Clean, fresh, good acidity, a touch of golden delicious apples and white plums, medium finish
8-, excellent, good by itself, should be even better with food

2018 Fleur de Treille Rosé Vin de France (12% ABV, $4.99, 55% Cinsault, 45% Grenache)
Onion peel pink
Strawberries on the nose, nice, clean
Strawberries on the palate, good concentration, good acidity, a nice presence of fruit, nice lemon notes on the finish
8-/8, outstanding QPR, an excellent wine. Really impressive.

NV Gambler’s Flash Red Table Wine Paso Robles ( 13.9% ABV, $6.99, a blend of grapes from 2 vintages)
Dark Garnet, practically black
Serious gunflint, a touch of funk, tart cherries, sage, pleasant
Wow, dark fruit, smoke, touch of coffee, medium-plus body, sweet cherries undertones, perfect balance
8-/8, this is a lot of wine for the money! Great QPR, easy to drink, lots of pleasure, just wow
Definitely an 8 on the second day.

I don’t know how it is possible. 4 out 4 are nicely drinking wines. I would buy either one of them again in the instant – it would be perfect with or without a meal, with a friend and without a friend, these are just good wines at good prices.

Three out of four are a bit of a mystery in terms of grape composition. I would only take a guess on Gambler’s Flash to say that in my opinion, Grenache or Malbec should be a part of the blend – just a guess, don’t think I will ever know if this was correct.

But what I know for sure is that Trader Joe’s did it again – 4 wines, 4 outstanding values, and one happy wine lover.

Have you recently discovered any Trader Joe’s gems on your own? Cheers!

American Pleasures

November 7, 2019 2 comments

Yes, you read it right – we will be talking about American pleasures.

But don’t worry – this is still a wine blog. Yes, we will be talking about wine. And as the title suggests, we will be talking about wines made in the USA. As for the pleasures – this is what the wine is for. The wine should give you pleasure. If it does not, I don’t know what is the point of drinking it. For sure I don’t see it for myself – if I’m not enjoying the glass of wine, I’m not drinking it. It is the pleasure we, wine lovers, are after.

Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines sent to me. Mostly California wines, to be precise. And to my big surprise, I enjoyed all of them. I’m not implying that the wines I tasted were better than I expected, hence the surprise. While I pride myself with the willingness to try any and every wine, it doesn’t mean that I equally like any and every wine – I’m rather a picky (read: snobby?) wine taster. At a typical trade tasting, my “likeness” factor is about 1 out of 10 or so. And here, wine after wine, I kept telling myself “this is good!”, and then “wow, this is good too!”. Is my palate getting cursed or just old and tired? Maybe. But, as I still trust it and as I derived pleasure from every sip of these wines, I would like to share my excitement with you, hence this post, or rather, a series of posts. Let’s go.

First, let’s talk about the old. “Old” is a very respectful word here, as we will be talking about the winery which had been around for more than 40 years in Napa Valley. Back in 1976, Ron and Diane Miller purchased 105 acres vines on in Yountville, which is now known as Miller Ranch. Two years later, they acquired 226 acres in Stags Leap District, which was the vineyard called Silverado. Initially, the grapes were sold to the other wineries, until in 1981 the winery was built and the first harvest was crushed – the was the beginning of Silverado Vineyards as we know it. Today, Silverado Vineyards comprise 6 vineyards throughout Napa Valley, all Napa Green certified, which is an established standard for sustainable farming. Silverado Vineyards wines are exported to 25 countries and have won numerous accolades at a variety of competitions – and Silverado Vineyards garnered quite a few “winery of the year” titles along the years.

Two wines I tasted from Silverado Vineyards were Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé. I like California Sauvignon Blanc with a little restraint, not overly fruity, and with a good amount of grass and acidity – Honig Sauvignon Blanc and Mara White Grass would be two of my favorite examples. California Rosé is somewhat of a new category, still scarcely available in the stores on the East Coast – this is mostly wine club or winery tasting room category at the moment. Again, for the Rosé, restraint is a key – nobody needs to replicate Provençal Rosé in California, but the wine still should be light and balanced.

Silverado Vineyards perfectly delivered on both – here are my notes:

2018 Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc Yountville Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $25)
Straw pale
Beautiful, classic CA Sauvignon Blanc – freshly cut grass, a touch of lemon, all nicely restrained. Nice minerality.
An interesting note of salinity, lemon, lemon zest, a touch of pink grapefruit, just an undertone with some bitterness. This is a multidimensional wine, with a good amount of complexity.
8-/8, a thought-provoking wine. Great with manchego cheese and Hungarian salami.

2018 Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $25, 100% Sangiovese)
Light Pink
A touch of strawberries, light and elegant
Strawberries and lemon on the palate, elegant, balanced, good textural presence, very refreshing.
8, and excellent Rosé overall, with its own character. And I have to tell you – I’m duly impressed with Californian Sangiovese, for sure when it is made into a Rosé – seems to be a complete winner here.

Another wine I want to talk about here, is definitely from the “new” camp – only 5 years ago, Oceano winery was not even an idea. The winery has a great story, which you better read on the winery website. The story has everything – the love at first sight, the encounter with the seahorse, a wine label drawn on the napkin.

Oceano wines are made from the fruit coming from Spanish Springs Vineyard in San Luis Obispo – the vineyard which is closest to the Pacific Ocean not only in the Central Coast appellation but in entire California. Cool climate helps Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to mature slowly and to accumulate great flavor. Not only Spanish Springs Vineyard provides ideal conditions for the grapes, but it is also SIP (Sustainable in Practice) Certified vineyard, which is considered a higher status than Organic due to the stringent requirements throughout the whole process of winemaking up to the point of bottling of the wine.

I had an opportunity to taste the second release of Oceano Chardonnay, and was simply blown away:

2017 Oceano Chardonnay Spanish Springs Vineyard San Luis Obispo County (13.6% ABV, $38)
Light golden
Vanilla, a hint of honey
Vanilla, a touch of butter, hint of almonds, nice golden apple and brioche, let’s not forget the delicious, freshly baked brioche – with tons of acidity on the long finish, tons and tons of acidity.
9-, outstanding rendition of the Chardonnay, worked perfectly well with a variety of foods – beef roast from Trader Joe’s, Brie, Spanish Cheeses (Manchego and San Simone) – this was totally an unexpected surprise. If you are looking for a delicious and versatile Chardonnay, this might be the wine you are looking for. It might easily be a star of your Thanksgiving wine program.

Here you are, my friends. These wines delivered lots and lots of pleasure, and these are the wines worth seeking. We are done for today, but we are very far from done seeking more wine pleasures. To be continued…

Shiraz, Shiraz, Cabernet

September 27, 2019 3 comments

Shiraz, Shiraz, Cabernet.

If it is Shiraz, it is from …

Most likely, Australia. South Africa often uses the same name, and sometimes you can find it in the USA and Israel, but my first reaction would still be Australia.

Cabernet Sauvignon can be from …

Anywhere. Really. The most planted grape in the world. From China to Australia to Lebanon and Israel, France, Italy, South Africa, USA, and everywhere in between.

But today we will be talking about Australian wines, so our Cabernet Sauvignon has to come from Australia.

I have to say that I don’t drink a lot of Australian wines – can’t tell you why. Maybe because they are typically located on the back shelves at most of the wine stores. Maybe because they are rarely featured on the flash sale sites, such as WTSO and Last Bottle Wines. Or maybe because I’m still burned from the years of over-extracted, overdone, heavy wines (I called my impression of those wines “burnt fruit”) supported by overinflated Robert Parker ratings – this stuff gets stuck in your head, even though these are 15-20 years old impressions – preconceived notions, here we go. No matter. This is just a fact.

But then I’m always open to taste the new wines – how else can you learn – especially if those are offered as a sample.

And so we will be talking today about the wines produced by the Two Hands Wines, the Australian winery celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

This is not the first time Two Hands Wines make an appearance on these blog pages – here you will find tasting notes for the same three wines as we will discuss today, only from the 2014/2015 vintage, and here you will find a few more posts covering one of the Shiraz wines). But I can tell you that my impressions are consistently improving, which is either a good sign or a sign of degradation of my palate – I would rather go with the first option.

Two Hands Wines was born in 1999, a product of imagination and conviction of two friends – you can find the full story here. The goal of Two Hands Wines was to showcase different regions in Australia, and of course, make good wines. They succeeded with the flying colors, becoming the only Australian winery (or maybe even the only winery in the world) featured for 10 years in the row in the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines list. From the beginning, the winery set out to showcase Australian Shiraz. Out of 21 wines produced today under Two Hands label, 14 are Shiraz wines. While the first wines represented the different regions – Barossa, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Clare Valley, Heathcote, Two Hands also added single-vineyard wines to its repertoire, highlighting best capabilities of each region.

The three wines I had an opportunity to taste belong to so-called Picture Series, as each bottle label features a picture related to the name of the wine. As promised, these are two Shiraz wines and one Cabernet Sauvignon, representing some of the best-known regions in Australia – Barossa and McLaren Vale. Above you can see the labels, and below you can find my notes:

2018 Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz McLaren Vale (14.2% ABV, $33, 14 months in 12% new American oak hogsheads)
Dark purple
Dark fruit, tar, eucalyptus, blackberries
Blackberries, good mid-palate weight, well present, velvety texture, good acidity, good balance.
8, lots of pleasure, better on a second day.

2018 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz McLaren Vale (13.8% ABV, $33, 12 months in French oak, 13% new)
Dark garnet
Eucalyptus, sweet tobacco, anise, blackberry jam
Silky smooth, blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb, bright acidity, medium-long finish
8/8+, excellent. Smooth and delicious. Definitely 8+ on a second day, delicious, complex wine with a perfect balance

2018 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale (14.2% ABV, $33)
Dark garnet, practically black
Black currant, a touch of coffee
More black currant on the palate on the second day, a touch of cherries, a touch of pepper, clean acidity, fresh and vibrant. Dark fruit-driven finish, with a touch of coffee.
8-, even a bit better on the second day – black currant more pronounced.

As you can tell, I liked the wines quite a bit, with Gnarly Dudes been a favorite. But I have to add a bit to these notes. It is so happened, that I tasted the wines over two days, with some slight evolution on the second day. Then I simply had to put these wines aside – and these are the screwtop wines, so I didn’t even pump the air out – then we left the house for the 4 days. After coming back, I decided to try the wines before simply pouring them out – and the wines were perfectly drinkable! I wouldn’t say that they evolved, but still, they were perfectly good to continue drinking them instead of becoming an undrinkable plonk. Screwtop wines remaining drinkable for a week. Not one, but three different wines. I don’t know what to think of it, as I’m merely reporting on my experience. If this is something you ever experienced, please comment.

So, my friends, how often do you drink Australian wines? I guess the time has come to do it more often? Cheers!

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