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Hey, Rioja, What’s New?

April 20, 2021 2 comments

I love Rioja.

But you already know that.

Well-made Rioja, opened in its due time, is one of the ultimate indulgences wine lovers can experience. I can bet this is also nothing new for you.

So what’s new with Rioja?

Every new vintage of any wine is unique and different, true, but talking about new vintages unquestionably banal. How about then Rioja made from organic grapes? What do you think about classic Rioja made from organic grapes – and timely conversation during April, the Earth Month?

CVNE, Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España, one of the oldest producers in Rioja (CVNE celebrated 140th anniversary last year), requires no introduction to any Spanish wine lover. CVNE produces a number of different Rioja lines – Cune, Viña Real, Imperial, Contino are some of the best known. Now, the Cune line has brand new Rioja to brag about – the first Rioja red wine made with organic grapes. The wine is made out of 100% Tempranillo (not very common) from the vineyards which were organically farmed, from the vintage with an Excellent rating (2019 was rated Excellent by Rioja DOC). The wine is also Vegan certified, and even sports the label produced from recycled materials. Most importantly, this is a simple, and tasty wine:

2019 CVNE Cune Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $15, 100% Tempranillo, organic grapes, Vegan certified, wild yeast fermentation, 4 months aging in oak)
Dark ruby with purple hues
Dark berries and cedar box
Soft, round, good acidity, soft ripe fruit, medium-long finish mostly acidic.
7+, food-friendly, simple, and easy to drink.

Back in 1915, CVNE produced Rioja’s first white wine – Monopole. It was not only the first white Rioja – this was the first white wine produced in Spain.

I had the pleasure of tasting many vintages of CVNE Monopole, and I have to honestly say that this 2020 was by far my favorite Monopole I tasted – I know I said talking about new vintages is banal, and here I am, yeah. Oh well. The wine needed a bit of time to open, but after 20 minutes in the glass, it was absolutely beautiful.

2020 CVNE Monopole Blanco Seco Rioja DOC (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Viura, Vegan certified)
Straw pale, literally clear
Explicit minerality, a touch of gunflint
Crisp, tight, lean, hint of whitestone fruit, explicit minerality.
8+, outstanding.

Bodegas Beronia is much younger than CVNE, founded in 1973 by a group of friends from the Basque country. In 1982, Bodegas Beronia became a part of González Byass’s portfolio, and at that point, Bodegas Beronia wines appeared on the international market.

Bodegas Beronia is known for its innovative approach to winemaking. Rioja wines are traditionally aged in American oak, which gave them a rustic, “traditional” taste profile. Recently, many winemakers switched to using the French oak, which gives the Rioja more of the international, “modern” taste profile, making wines also more approachable at a younger age. Bodegas Beronia pioneered the use of specially made barrels, which use both American and French oak in its construction, to create a unique taste profile, an intersection of tradition and modernity.

In this release of 2017 Crianza, Bodegas Beronia recognized the new realities of 2021, where people have to spend more time by themselves, and added the 375 ml, a half bottle to the portfolio, making it easier for the wine lovers to open a bottle for a solo night.

2017 Bodegas Beronia Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $14.99/750ml bottle, $7.99/375ml bottle, 94% Tempranillo, 5% garnacha, 1% Mazuelo)
Ruby red
Freshly crushed red berries, a touch of barnyard, smoke, earthy
Red fruit, eucalyptus, clean acidity, excellent balance.
7+ at the moment, needs time

There you have it, my friends. A brand new organic wine from Rioja, a superb white Rioja, and a thoughtful Rioja, coming in different formats, all reasonably priced, perfectly suited for life at the moment. Cheers!

Beautiful Simplicity

April 12, 2021 1 comment

Is there a such thing as simple wine?

I really despise controversy. In a world where every word is twisted, turned, analyzed, over-analyzed, then twisted and turned, again and again, I don’t want to be the one to start a new controversy around wine (clean or natural, anyone?).

But really, is “simple” an applicable descriptor for the wine? If I say “simple wine”, can you relate to this as easily as to “tannic”, “acidic”, or “sweet”?

Everything in the wine world is personable. No two palates are the same, no two glasses of wine are the same. And so will be the concept of simple wine – it is highly personal.

There are thought-provoking wines – you take a sip, which triggers an instant process in your brain – analyzing flavors, looking for patterns, digging into memory looking for comparisons. Not every thought-provoking wine equates with pleasure – if we call the wine thought-provoking, it doesn’t always mean that we are craving a second glass. Need an example? How about Frank Cornelissen wines? Nevertheless, we all can relate to the wine we designate as thought-provoking.

Then there are complex wines. The wine presents itself in layers. You don’t need to over-analyze anything, and yet every sip keeps changing, offers you new depth and new impressions every passing moment. Complex is beautiful, wine aficionados love drinking complex wines.

So what is then a simple wine? A lot of people would equate the definition of “simple” with the price. We are trained not to refer to the $10 bottle as “amazing” – even if we enjoy it immensely, we would rather say “it’s just a simple wine”. Leaving the price aside, a simple wine has a very simple effect – take a sip, and your only reaction is “ahh, that’s good”. Simplicity doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the wine – the wine should still give you pleasure, and you should still want a second glass.

Every time you think you know a lot a good bit about your favorite subject, wine, life quickly humbles you, just so you know your place. Ever heard of Mack and Schuhle? I also never have. Meanwhile, they had been in the winemaking and wine distribution business since 1939, and currently have a portfolio of 25 wine brands from around the world – from New Zealand to Italy, Spain, and France to the USA.

When I was offered to review 2 of their wines, Montepulciano and Malbec, I agreed to do that because I was intrigued by the names – Art of Earth and El Tractor. Would you instantly agree to drink something called Art of Earth? For a wine geek like myself, such a name makes the wine simply irresistible. And tasting these wines, which are also very inexpensive, resulted in the diatribe about simple wines. For what it worth, here are my tasting notes:

2019 Art of Earth Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, made with organic grapes)
Dark garnet with beautiful ruby hues
Touch of cherries, a hint of funk,
Bright, pure, beautiful, succulent, tart cherries – fresh of the tree.
8+, delicious. This wine doesn’t have the complexity of Masciarelli, and I don’t believe it will age very well – but it is absolutely enjoyable right now.

2017 El Tractor Malbec Reserve Mendoza Argentina (13% ABV, $14, 12 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, cherries, sweet tobacco
Dark fruit, tobacco, cherries, a hint of smoke, nicely restrained, good acidity, good balance.
8, excellent. This wine is not going to rival Catena, but it is perfectly an old-world style, quaffable, and enjoyable Malbec.

Here you are – two simple wines, good for every and any day – or at least I would be happy to drink them any day. What is your definition of simple wine?

In Rhythm With The Earth – Hawk and Horse Wines

April 9, 2021 2 comments

Wine is Art.

Wine is Magic.

Wine is a Mystery.

When you drink wine for pleasure (don’t take it for granted – there are many reasons why people drink wine – to fit into the crowd, to be socially accepted, to show your status – drinking for pleasure is only one of the reasons), mystery, art, magic – call it whatever way you want, but it all comes to a play when you take a sip. Wine is a complete mystery as you have no idea what will be your conscious and subconscious reaction to the experience of that sip – what memories will come to mind? What emotions will take you over? The magic is there, waiting for you in every glass of wine.

The magic and mystery in wine go well beyond that sip. “Well before” might be a better descriptor though. The creation of the delicious bottle of wine is not an exact science. It is an art. It is magic. It is a mystery. Mother Nature, who gifts us grapes, never repeats itself. Every year, every vintage is different. Every day of the growing season never repeats itself. It is up to the craft, the skill of the grape grower and the winemaker to create the wine which can magically transport you. And this magic starts in the vineyard.

I’m about to step into the controversial, really controversial space – the biodynamics. As I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, let me just share the definition of biodynamics from the Oxford Languages. Actually, here are two definitions:

Biodynamics is

1. The study of physical motion or dynamics in living systems.
2. A method of organic farming involving such factors as the observation of lunar phases and planetary cycles and the use of incantations and ritual substances.

It is the second definition that is interesting for us. And it is the last part of that definition, “the use of incantations and ritual substances”, which makes biodynamics so controversial for many people – I’m sure you heard of cow horns filled with manure and buried in the vineyard as part of biodynamic farming. Is that magic or pseudoscience? This is the question I don’t care to answer or get an answer for. Taken out of the context, that might sound strange. But the whole point of biodynamics is in creating a healthy ecosystem of the living things – bacteria in the soil, plants, vines, grapes, animals – everything should co-exist in harmony with each other and the Earth, create a habitat where the problems take care of themselves (magic!). When the vineyard is farmed biodynamically, it simply means that the grapes will be produced in the most natural way with the utmost attention on the health of all the elements of the ecosystem.

Delving into the depth of biodynamics rules is completely outside of the scope of this post – if you want to further your knowledge of biodynamics, there is no shortage of great books, articles, and blogs. My reason to share the excitement about biodynamics is simple – tasty wine.

Source: Hawk and Horse Vineyard

Hawk and Horse Vineyards started as the dream of David Boies, who purchased an abandoned horse breeding farm in Lake County in California. His partners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins planted the first vineyard in 2001 in the red rocky volcanic soil, at an elevation of 1,800 to 2,200 feet. The first wine, released in 2004, was a great success. The 18 acres farm became California Certified Organic (CCOF) in 2004, and biodynamic Demeter-certified in 2008. If you want to have an example of what biodynamic farming is, you can read about the Hawk and Horse Vineyard biodynamic practices here – it will be well worth a few minutes of your time.

Hawk and Horse Vineyard grows primarily Bordeaux varieties. I had an opportunity to taste (sample) 5 wines from Hawk and Horse Vineyard, and I was literally blown away from the very first sip I took (magic!). Here are the notes:

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Franc Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet color
Wild strawberries, mint, mineral notes
Cassis, fresh black berries, sweet tobacco, well-integrated tannins, firm, tight, perfect structure, excellent balance. Worked perfectly with the steak.
Drinkability: 8+, wow

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet
Tobacco, earth, sandalwood
Silky smooth, round, tart cherries, perfect acidity, dark and powerful, perfect balance.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petit Verdot Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 90 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Cherries, eucalyptus
Tart sweet cherries, dark fruit, dry tannins, firm structure. Super enjoyable over 3 days, the addition of tobacco and sweet dark fruit with balancing acidity. Succulent. Superb.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $75, 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 100% French oak (80% new), 1800 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Earthy flavors, eucalyptus, a hint of cassis
Good acidity, well-integrated tannins, the lightest wine so far.
3 days later ( no air pumping, just reclosed)
The nose has a similar profile (cherries, eucalyptus, mint), maybe a touch higher intensity
Delicious on the palate, dark well-integrated fruit, firm tannins, tight core, lots of energy, a hint of espresso, perfect balance, medium-long finish.
This wine can be enjoyed now, especially with food. Or left alone for the next 15 years. Your choice.
Drinkability:8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Block Three Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 100% French oak, 150 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Warm, inviting, succulent cherries, a hint of bell pepper, very delicate. Overall, ripe Bordeaux nose
It took this wine 4 days to fully open up. Bordeaux style, ripe berries with herbal undertones, well-integrated tannins, soft and dreamy.
Drinkability: 8/8+

Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah were absolutely delicious from the get-go. Both of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines, coming from the same vineyard and the same vintage really needed time – I don’t know if the type of oak used can make such a difference, but from my observations, it was clear that using more of the new oak made the wine a lot more concentrated and requiring the time in the cellar.

Here it is, my encounter with [magically], [mysteriously] delicious biodynamic wines. What do you think of biodynamics and biodynamic wines? What do you think of the magic of wines (no, you don’t have to answer that 🙂 ). Cheers!

Chasing DRC

March 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Only yesterday I told you about some of the unicorns I’m chasing (the special breed, those made out of wine). And now I want to talk about the ultimate unicorn, the unicorn of unicorns if you will – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, usually called by its abbreviated name – DRC.

Life is a series of random events. Sometimes we think we are in control, and sometimes we really are – but more often than not, things are just happening, and they are happening whether we are there to observe, learn, and experience, or not. While the events might be random, it is up to us to look for the patterns or the objects we desire. Once we know what we want, our subconscious is programmed to look for it any time all the time.

I had been following The Wellesley Wine Press blog for a very long time. Robert Dwyer, who is writing it, not only shares his opinion about wines but also has a great talent for finding amazing wine deals, all sorts of special discounts and promotions by credit cards, wineries, and wine merchants. When I got an email about Robert’s new post, “Domaine Romanée Conti meets Sonoma Coast: 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir [$37]”, my fingers were clicking the link even before I finished reading the title of the post, literally a reflexive reaction to detecting the words “Domaine Romanée Conti”.

You see, DRC might be the most coveted wine in the world. If it is not the one, maybe it is one of three or five of the most sought-after wines in the world. It is produced in minuscule amounts, and it is prohibitively, really prohibitively expensive for most of the mere mortals. DRC produces a number of wines, so to give you an example, there were a bit more than 2,000 cases produced of DRC La Tâche 2017, each bottle priced at $4,000+. And I honestly don’t care about owning a bottle, I just want to experience such wine at least once in a lifetime – so yes, the unicorn of unicorns.

You can imagine that opportunity to taste something even remotely related to DRC would trigger an immediate reaction. Skimming through Robert’s article, I learned that Vivier Pinot Noir is produced by Stephane Vivier, who was the winemaker for Hyde de Villaine, DRC’s joint venture in California, who started producing his own wines under the Vivier label. And at $37, this is the closest I can get to DRC without second-mortgaging the house. The same post also explained that the wine is available at Wine Access, the site I already had a good experience with – the rest was a no-brainer.

The wine quickly arrived, and I had to literally hold myself from opening the bottle while the UPS truck barely left the driveway. While I was admiring the simple design of the label, I really liked the description I found there: “Stéphane Vivier is a lazy winemaker. He watches. He waits. He plans. All the while letting the vineyards, the fruit, and “le climat” do the heavy lifting. So when you taste his wine, you taste what created it, not who“. That prompted me to take a look at the Vivier Wines website, where I learned that Stéphane Vivier was born and raised in Burgundy, where he also obtained a degree in viticulture and enology. He started working as a winemaker for Hyde de Villaine in 2002, and in 2009 he started making wines under the Vivier label with his wife Dana.

So how was the 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (12.8% ABV)? Upon pouring into the glass, the first thing to notice was the beautiful, perfumy nose – fresh berries, violets, a touch of strawberries. On the palate, the wine was a typical, well-made Californian Pinot Noir, round, elegant, and polished – but unmistakably Californian, with a good amount of sweetness coming through. I can’t tell you what I was looking for, but I wanted to find something unique, something I didn’t experience in Californian Pinot Noir yet – but that didn’t happen.

On the second day, the wine changed its appearance. Both the nose and the palate pointed directly to Oregon. the nose became more earthy and less perfumy, and on the palate the wine was significantly more restrained, with iodine and earthy notes coming through a lot more noticeably. While the wine on the first day was good, I much more preferred how it was showing on the second day (Drinkability: 8-/8).

There you have it, my friends. Did I find DRC in California? Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to tell, as I have no frame of reference. Did I discover a tasty Californian Pinot Noir? Absolutely. In 5, or maybe 10 years, it might become even amazing. Chase your dreams, my friends. Cheers!

 

Everyday Bubbles – Domaine Bousquet

January 21, 2021 Leave a comment

In my wine lover’s journey, bubbles were never essential. I grew up with only sweet sparkling wines available, and I still have no idea if those wines were even made out of grapes. Plus, the bubbles were strictly associated with only a celebration – New Year, maybe a big birthday, and a wedding. I have no idea what was the first Champagne I ever tasted, but the first Champagne I actually appreciated was vintage Krug, and ever since I have a full appreciation for a tasty glass of bubbles – and no, I didn’t become “Krug or nothing” zealot.

I can imagine drinking Champagne every day. No, let me take that back. I can imagine drinking Champagne on any day I crave bubbles – yes, this is a better way to put it, as drinking Champagne every day would quickly become really boring. However, while I have no issues with the imagination, drinking Champagne at will is hardly practical. I can still find a tasty bottle of still wine for around $10 – no matter what “premiumization” trend dictates – but most of the drinkable Champagne today pushes the $40-$45 boundary (unless you find your success on WTSO) – and this is hardly an “at will” range for me. If you are craving bubbles but want them to be reasonably priced, you can find better luck with Prosecco or a Cava, but you better know producers by name.

And here I come, extending my helpful hand, to bring to your attention delicious bubbles which you really – and I mean it, really – can afford to drink at any day. And not only to afford but also to enjoy. Cue in Domaine Bousquet Charmat-method sparkling wines from Argentina, made from organic grapes and priced at a whopping $13 – and this is the suggested retail price, which means you can probably even find them in the stores for less.

Before I will share my impressions of the wines, let’s take a quick look at the Domaine Bousquet, the product of vision, obsession, and dedication. “Vision, obsession, and dedication” are not just words. In 1990, during his vacation, Jean Bousquet, a French third-generation winemaker, fell in love at a first sight with the high altitude remote area in Argentina – Gualtallary Valley in the Tupungato district of the Uco Valley in Mendoza. You really need to have vision and dedication to leave your country and buy 1,000 acres of essentially a desert (real estate broker told Jean Bousquet that he is making a mistake of his life) – you would probably think so too if you will look at the picture below:

Source: Domaine Bousquet

Jean Bousquet had a vision and dedication, and most importantly, he knew what he is doing, he knew the importance of water and proper irrigation. You would never tell that the picture below represents the same land today (also note that today Gualtallary Valley represents one of the most expensive farmlands in all of the Mendoza):

Source: Domaine Bousquet

Fast forward to today, Domaine Bousquet sustainably and organically farms 667 acres of land, produces 50 million liters of wine, 95% of which exported to 50 countries around the world, and ranks among the top 20 Argentinian wineries in terms of export and a leader in the organic wine.

The winery produces a large range of still wines from traditional Argentinian varieties – Chardonnay, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc, and it also offers a series of sparkling wines, both traditional method and Charmat. I got samples of Charmat-method wines, both white and Rosé, made from the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in different proportions.

NV Domaine Bousquet Brut Tupungato Uco Valley Mendoza (12.5% ABV, SRP $13, 75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, certified organic, vegan friendly) offers a nice fresh nose of golden delicious apple, crisp, fresh, energetic on the palate with cut-through lemony acidity. It is definitely enjoyable by itself and will play nicely with a wide range of dishes (Drinkability: 7+).

NV Domaine Bousquet Brut Rosé Tupungato Uco Valley Mendoza (12.5% ABV, SRP $13, 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, certified organic, vegan friendly) is a beautiful Rosé in its own right. It is not only the color, but it is also the wine which presents itself as a classic still Rosé would, with a nose of fresh strawberries and a full range of strawberry flavors on the palate, from tart to candied, perfectly balanced, fresh, vibrant, and full of life (Drinkability: 8-/8). Out of the two, Rosé was definitely my favorite.

At $13, these are the bubbles that you can consume any day without feeling guilty. You should, actually, feel guilty while drinking these wines, as the amount of pleasure you will derive is unproportionally more than what you are paying for them. But I will let you deal with your conscience, while I’m off to look for more values. Cheers!

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?

Hey French – Drink Italian

November 12, 2020 Leave a comment

I mean no disrespect.

The title of this post is only suggesting that you should drink Italian wine. A particular Italian wine. And it doesn’t mean that French people should drink Italian wine – even though they will not regret if they will. Everybody can (should?) drink this Italian wine – Hey French.

The Pasqua brothers started Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine winery almost 100 years ago, in 1925 near the town of Verona in Northern Italy. Now with the family’s third generation at the helm, the winery continues and advances its traditions. I came across Pasqua wines for the first time almost 10 years ago – I found Pasqua Amarone at Trader Joe’s in Boston, and it was as good as Amarone under $20 can be. Then I discovered (also at Trader Joe’s) PassimentoSentimento, a tribute to the most famous Italians from Verona – Romeo & Juliet. At the beginning of this year, 2020, I had the pleasure of tasting Pasqua Famiglia Amarone at the Gambero Rosso event in New York. And then I was offered to try a sample of the latest addition to the Pasqua portfolio – maybe even a winner of the longest wine name contest – Hey French. You Could Have Made This Wine But You Didn’t.

This wine is definitely unique. To begin with, the wine is identified as “multi-vintage”, which is not a typical term in the wine world. The standard term is non-vintage, it is typically applied to Champagne and some other sparkling wines. And of course, a typical Champagne is a blend of multiple still wines from multiple vintages – however, it is rare to find a non-vintage still red or white wine. Hey French is deliberately identified as multi-vintage and it takes its inspiration from Champagne (hence Hey French in the wine’s name). The wine is made out of the grapes coming from the 4 best vintages of the decade – 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, from one of the best vineyards in the area, Monte Calvarina, and 3 grapes – primarily Garganega (the grape used for the production of Soave Classico), with the addition of Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon Blanc. A total of 18 wines were used to produce Hey French Edizione 1.

How was the wine? In a word, delicious.

Multi-vintage Pasqua Hey French You Could Have Made This Wine But You Didn’t Edizione 1 Veneto Bianco IGP (13.5% ABV, $40, blend of best 4 vintages of last decade)
Intense gold
Vanilla, apples, plums, Chardonnay-like
Fresh, lip-smacking, precise, clean acidity, whitestone fruit, granny smith apples, a hint of nutmeg, a hint of butter, round, plump, herbs, perfectly dry, delicious.
8/8+, superb.

Based on my experience with Pasqua wines so far, the company is accustomed to making bold moves (drinkable Amarone under $20 at Trader Joe’s clearly is a good indicator). This multi-vintage wine should also be categorized as such – $40 still wine without vintage designation with a playful label (designed by the celebrity Cuban-French artist CB Hoyo) might not be an easy sell. Once you try this wine, which is an absolutely solid, world-class wine, you would be happy to drink it again and again, but you know how preconceived notions work with wine…

The bottom line is simple – find this wine and try it. Additionally, offer it to your friends to taste blind, and then watch for the surprise on their faces once you reveal the wine – life’s little pleasures. Cheers!

Procrastination and Carménère

October 16, 2020 Leave a comment

Let me quickly put you at ease – procrastination has nothing to do with Carménère. Unfortunately, it has to do with yours truly, and this blog been behind on the content for years.

It happens a lot more often than I would even want to admit to myself – I attend a great tasting or an exciting dinner with the winemakers. I would typically leave the event excited and with lots of ideas for the post. I would start writing and envisioning that post in my head for the next day, two, five, ten… One out of five will probably make it onto these pages, and the rest will continue playing in the head until it will convert into permanent guilt. I would look at my blog to-do list and feel that pain of unaccomplished over and over again. Sometimes, I would break through and write that long overdue post – and sometimes, you just accept that guilt, you know…

How far back it would be appropriate to go for some untimely post? If you know, please tell me. This is the wine we are talking about – who knows what vintages people hold? As long as I have the notes, it is all good, right. Feel free to disagree, but I’m going three years back today, to experience again some tasty Carménère…

As I wrote a post about my recent experience with the world-class TerraNoble Carménère line, I recalled the Carménère tasting which was organized three years ago by Snooth (I wrote about many Snooth tastings in the past, but somehow managed to miss this one). In the tasting, we heard from 7 producers and tried their Carménère wines. For what it worth now, three years later, here are my notes:

2015 Viña Casa Silva Cuvee Colchagua Carmenere Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $15, blend of grapes from Casa Silva’s Los Lingues vineyard in the Andes and the Lolol vineyard in the Costa zone, 8 months in French oak)
Dark garnet color, restrained nose, herbal nose, mineral notes, granite. On the palate, tobacco, nicely restrained, earthy, herbal, good acidity, dark fruit. Overall, nice. Needs time. Pioneer of Carmenere in Colchagua, started in 1892. Carmenere overall started in Colchagua

2015 Siegel Single Vineyard Los Lingues Carmenere Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $28.99, 8 months in French oak)
dark garnet, inky, color. Herbal in your face on the nose, pure currant, rutherford dust. Very concentrated on the palate, lots of oak, restrained. Needs time.

2014 Viña Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $15, 90% Carmenere, 7% Carignan and 3% Petite Verdot, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 2 months in the bottle)
The oldest winery in Chile, founded in 1850. Practically black in color. Chocolate, coffee on the nose, sage, dark fruit. Open on the palate, sweet cherries, tobacco, perfectly balanced. Round, delicious. Best of tasting so far.

2015 Viña Requingua Toro De Piedra Carmenere Gran Reserva Maule Valley (14% ABV, $15, 12 months in French and American oak barrels)
Dark garnet color, herbal, funky nose, forest underfloor. Round on the palate, fresh herbal notes, sage, sweet cherries, blackberries. Good balance, very approachable.

2012 Valdivieso Single Vineyard Carmenere Valle de Peumo ($23, 12 months in French oak barrels, 35% new)
Almost black in color. Dark concentrated nose, currant leaves, very herbaceous, a touch of pepper. Sweet fruit on the palate. I can’t decide if this wine is corked on not. The nose says corked, palate says not. Need to give it a bit of time.

2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Single Block Carmenere Trinidad Vineyard Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $22, aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, 34% new and 66% second and third use, 8 months in the bottle)
Practically black in color. Interesting nose, a touch of cabbage stew on the nose (in a good sense), funky nose, meaty. The palate follows on, beautiful pepper, black currant, delicious. Another favorite of the tasting.

2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta Colchagua Valley ($35, 55% Carmenere, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in 100% French oak casks)
BAB, dark garnet color. Touch of funk on the nose, mocha, dark chocolate, touch of herbal notes. Delicious palate – pepper, tobacco, black currant, herb garden, clean acidity. Best of tasting overall.

I definitely find this interesting how 4 of the TerraNoble Carménère wines were all at the top of the game, and as you can tell from my notes here, many of these Carménère wines still have ways to go. But – unquestionably, Chile takes its star grape seriously, and there is a lot for us, winelovers, to enjoy, now and in the future.

With this post I also get to reduce my feeling of guilt, if at least by a hair – but I’m still happy. I hope I deserve another glass. No matter, I’m going to pour it anyway. Cheers!

Beyond Kosher: Thinking of Israeli Wines

October 1, 2020 5 comments

I love pairing wine and holidays. It is always a fun exercise, as you need to find a way to explain your choices – how given wine enhances or at least relates to a given holiday (good luck with your Thanksgiving wine selections). Jewish holidays, which we are still in the middle of (Jewish New Year just arrived less than 2 weeks ago), are very helpful in that regard, as wine is simply a requirement here – most of the Jewish holidays require a glass of wine to be present and consumed.

When it comes to Jewish holidays, my approach is simple – I prefer to have on the table the wines made in Israel. But when I reach out to get an Israeli wine off the shelf, I can’t help it but think about all of the complexities of the Israeli wine landscape – what we are talking here is above and beyond of intricacies of making any fine wine. Making of the delicious wine is anything but complex – how to protect vines from the disease, when to harvest, what yeast to use, for how long to macerate, what to blend – lots and lots of decisions, each one affecting the end result, often dramatically. Production of Israeli wines deals with all of the same complexities but then adds a cherry on top – concepts of kosher and mevushal.

I remember visiting Israel about 15-17 years ago with a group of co-workers from the USA, at the resort on Mount Carmel. One of my colleagues pointed to a bottle of wine saying “this is amazing”. The wine he was pointing to was an Israeli wine, Yatir Forest, which was at a time a total surprise for me – I knew that this guy was really into wine and he was drinking very serious stuff, more of California cults and Bordeaux first growth, so this was unexpectedly high praise. I was absolutely unfamiliar with Yatir wines at that time (it would make me say “ahh, pretty please” now).

When we asked to open that bottle for us, we were surprised to hear that it will not be possible. Explanation? The food at the resort was kosher, and food includes wines. The resort just got a new person in charge of observing all the kosher laws and requirements in food preparation and service, and Yatir Forest was not kosher enough. That, my friends, is a problem which is unique to the Israeli wine scene – I’m not aware of any other winemaking region in the world where making tasty wine is not enough for that wine to reach the consumer, even the local one – this also complicates the imports quite a bit.

I’m not going to pretend to be an authority on the laws of kosher wines – I’m very far from it. I’m just here for the tasty wine. What I do know is that the kosher laws are quite intense and involved, whether it has to do with the food or the wine. While I understand that there is some rationale when it comes to the food, I don’t believe kosher requirements can materially affect the taste of wine. We also need to keep in mind that there are different levels of kosher types and certifications, and to top it all off, there is the Mevushal. In case you are not familiar, mevushal is somewhat of a process of pasteurization of the wine to allow for it to be served by a non-Jewish people at a restaurant or anywhere else. It appears that according to the kosher wine rules if the kosher wine is served by a non-Jew, it becomes non-kosher. Mevushal treatment solves that problem, allowing for the kosher wine to be served by a non-observing person without losing its kosher qualities.

To be labeled as Mevushal, the wine has to be heated up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, essentially becoming pasteurized. As you understand, the exposure of the wine to such a high temperature result in the “cooked” wine – and very appropriately, in the old days Meviushal wines were simply undrinkable, at least by anyone who drinks the wine to enjoy it (as a matter of fact, the word “mevushal” means “cooked”). Lately, however, the wineries found new ways of making wine Mevushal without destroying it. One is a flash-pasteurization, where the wine is very quickly heated up to the same 185°F only for a few seconds. According to the Wine Spectator article, another method is even more interesting – it is called flash-détente, where instead of the wine, grapes are heated up to 190°F and then quickly cooled to the 80°F in the special machine. It would be an interesting experiment, but many wineries produce the same wine from the same vintage both as mevushal and non-mevushal – comparing such wines should be a fun project, don’t you think?

Now that we have Mevushal figured out, let’s take another look into the world of Kosher wines. Think about your favorite wine store – note, I’m speaking about the USA, your experience in France will be vastly different. As you walk in, you see the tags which help you find what you are looking for. Most likely, these tags are one of two types – either specifying a grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir) or the country and maybe a region – France, Italy, Burgundy, Spain, California, etc.. Somewhere in the corner, you will probably find the Kosher section, possibly right next to the Organic display. In that Kosher section, you will find predominantly Israeli wines with some additional bottles from California, France, maybe Australia, and Spain.

I can safely assume that you will be visiting that Kosher section only a few times a year, just around the Jewish holidays – okay, maybe you will make a special trip if you are invited to the Shabbat dinner by the observant family. Should you expect to find Israeli wines anywhere else in the store? Unlike California, France, Australia, and Spain, all of which you will find all around the store in the different varietal sections, Israeli wines will be confined to that specific Kosher section, 99 out of a 100. As Israel truly makes world-class wines, it is definitely a problem, as Israeli wines have a lot to offer. But what if Israeli wine is not Kosher, such as the wines produced by Vortman Winery – what can they do to make themselves found? Who will take a chance on the Israeli wine which can’t be placed in the Kosher section?

About 5 years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting across from Hai Vortman, the owner and winemaker at Vortman Winery. We were sitting in the Vortman winery tasting room, which was adjacent to his home in Haifa, enjoying magnificent views and superb wines. I was listening to Hai talking about the history of winemaking in Israel, particularly around the Carmel Mountain, which is considered one of the very best and oldest winemaking regions in Israel. Depending on the source, winemaking in Israel is from 3,000 to 5,000 years old, but this was not the point of our conversation. I learned that Baron Edmond de Rothschild recognized the viticultural potential of the Carmel Mountain region and founded Carmel Winery there in 1882, investing millions in the development of the vineyards and production of the wine. In 1900, Carmel Winery wine from Richon Le Zion area won the gold medal at the Paris World Fair, competing against classic French Bordeaux.

The first half of the 20th century was a tumultuous period for the Israeli winemaking – it was not until the last quarter of the century that Israeli winemaking started to rebound. Vortman Winery was founded in 2003 in Haifa in the basement of the family house, with the vision of producing organic wines from the grapes growing in the Shfeya Valley region of the Carmel Mountain. The first commercial vintage was in 2007. In 2009, Vortman started planting new vineyards in Shfeya Valley and converting old vineyards to organic viticulture, all based on dry farming, biodiversity, and full respect for the environment. Today, Vortman winery produces around 30,000 bottles a year – of the non-kosher wines.

Vortman wines we tried were delicious. 2014 Vortman Shfeya Valley White, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from 45 years old vineyard, was delicious, showing minerality, white fruit, crisp, clean, creamy, and refreshing, with a long finish. 2014 Vortman Prime Location Red, a blend of Merlot, Carignan, and Cabernet Franc (mostly stainless steel) was nicely restrained, earthy and fruity on the nose with a firm structure and an excellent balance. 2012 Vortman Shambur, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Merlot (9 months in oak barrels) had a classic Bordeaux nose, great restraint on the palate with a nice core of tannins and great acidity. Nothing extra, nothing unnecessary, just a supremely precise wine.  2013 Vortman Carignan from 50 years old vines (7 months in new French oak) offered a burst of dark cherries on the palate and the nose and a perfect balance. Simply beautiful wines, one after another.

Now, the problem is that unless you plan to travel to Israel, you are out of luck with Vortman wines (hey, if any importers read this – do you want to bring some delicious Israeli non-kosher wines into the US?). Don’t despair, as Israel exports lots of tasty wines.

About 2 years ago, I had a sample of Yarden wines I never wrote about (yeah, I know). Yarden might be one of the best known Israeli wineries in the US, largely thanks to the efforts of the head winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, who is relentlessly promoting Yarden wines. Yarden is one of the brands of Golan Heights Winery, along with Gamla, Hermon, and Golan. Golan Heights winery was founded in 1984, and it is considered as one of the quality wine pioneers in Israel. Here are the notes for the wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2014 Galil Mountain ELA Upper Galilee (14% ABV, 61% Barbera, 30% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Grenache, kosher, non-mevushal)
Dark garnet, almost black
A bit of the stewed fruit on the nose, ripe plums
Clean, fresh on the palate, pepper, plums, baking spices, a touch of savory notes, good acidity, medium-plus body
7+/8-, initially the wine showed a touch of cork taint on the palate, some presence of a wet basement, which disappeared on the second day.

2016 Golan Heights Gilgal Rosé (13.5% ABV, 100% Syrah, kosher, non-mevushal)
Dark intense pink color
Touch of gunflint, oregano on the nose
Ripe spicy raspberries on the palate, more gunflint and granite notes, fresh finish of ripe fruit without been overly sweet, excellent concentration and presence, fuller body than most of Rosé. Delicious.
8, very pleasant

2017 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Galilee (13.5% ABV, 2 months on French oak barrels, kosher, non-mevushal)
Straw pale color
Whitestone fruit and a touch of candied fruit on the nose, not typical for SB
The palate is restrained, with a hint of freshly cut grass, green apples, and some tropical fruit undertones. Good acidity, a hint of fresh-cut grass on the finish
8-, very good and pleasant rendition of SB

2016 Mount Hermon Indigo Galilee (14% ABV, cabernet sauvignon/Syrah blend, kosher, non-mevushal)
Dark garnet, almost black
Bright, inviting, freshly crushed red fruit, eucalyptus, raspberries, and blueberries on the second day, plus some dry fruit notes – figs
Wow. The first day was a little incoherent, but the second day is simply incredible. Beautiful supple blueberries and raspberries, excellent extraction, tobacco, dark chocolate, clean acidity, soft and round on the palate.
8+, excellent. Just let it breathe.

Before we are done here, I still need to talk about one more Israeli winery – Shiloh. I had been introduced to the Shiloh wines about 3 years ago, at a dinner in New York City. The wine we had, Shiloh Mosaic, was absolutely mind-blowing, it was #14 on my Top Wines list for 2017. Shiloh is the youngest winery out of the 3 we talked about today, founded in 2005. Shiloh vineyards are located in the area of the Shiloh river and Samarian hills. Based on the limited information available on the website, it seems that Shiloh produces wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Barbera, Grenache, Syrah, Petitte Sirah, and Petite Verdot grapes – of course, there might be others.

To celebrate Jewish New Year 5781, we opened two bottles of Shiloh wines. 2018 Shiloh PRIVILEGE Winemakes’s Blend (14% ABV, 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 165 Syrah, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Grenache, kosher, mevushal) showed beautifully, offering soft red and black fruit, good minerality, soft tannins, and excellent balance. 2017 Shiloh Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (15% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months in French oak, kosher, mevushal) was even better – a classic old world, rivaling any classic Medoc wine, full of cassis, eucalyptus, a touch of green bell pepper, silky smooth on the palate and extremely satisfying, a pleasure in the glass – this is the wine you need to experience, better yet, compare it against the best of Bordeaux in a blind tasting. It appears that many of the Shiloh wines are produced in both mevushal and non-mevushal styles – something which really calls for a blind tasting side by side.

Israeli wines are world-class, but they still need to be found by the wine consumer. Will you look for them?

A Quick Trip To Germany

September 25, 2020 1 comment

Germany is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in Europe, tracing its roots to 100 BC. Believe it or not, but at some point, Germany and France were considered as the two best wine-producing countries in the world, with German Rieslings being traded and collected at the same level as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Germany made some strategic mistakes in the middle of the 20th century, producing large quantities of insipid sweet wines, and it is still trying to recover from those losses.

Thinking of German wines, what is the first wine which comes to mind? If you said Riesling, you are absolutely right. Riesling is a megastar, the grape which embodies German wines and maybe even Germany itself to many of the wine lovers. However, even in Germany, there is life after Riesling – for example, in the Pinot family – and these will be the wines which will be our tour guides today.

Let’s start with the white Pinot wine – Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc, also known as Weißer Burgunder, Weißburgunder, or Weissburgunder – all of which are different spellings for “White Burgundy”, where the grape presumably originated, is experiencing growing popularity in Germany. Its plantings nearly doubled in the past 10 years, and now Germany has the highest amount of Pinot Blanc plantings in the world.

I recently saw a reference to German Pinot Blanc to be an understudy of the Chardonnay. Based on my experience with 2017 Wittmann 100 Hills Pinot Blanc dry Rheinhessen (12% ABV, $17), I would have to agree with this statement. The wine showed all the traits of the good Chardonnay except a touch of butter – however, vanilla, fresh apples, minerality, and clean acidity were tastefully weaved around the plump, texturally present core. (Drinkability: 8-). To give you a quick reference, the Wittmann family had been growing grapes in Westhofen for more than 350 years and 15 generations. The estate has been certified organic since 1990, and biodynamic since 2004.

Our travel in Germany is half done – and the second part of the journey might really surprise you. Germany is really not known among wine lovers as the land of red wines – and nevertheless, Germany has third in the world amount of plantings of one of the absolute darlings of the wine world. Care to guess what grape it is? Well, as it should be red, and you already know that we are talking about the Pinot family, this should be an easy guess – of course, it is Pinot Noir, better known as Spätburgunder in Germany.

Most of the Pinot Noir plantings in Germany are in the areas of Baden and Ahr, which is interesting as Baden is southernmost, and Ahr is one of the northernmost regions.

The wine we have chosen for our trip is coming from Baden, from the winery called Shelter, produced by husband and wife team, with harvest by hand and no use of herbicides or pesticides.

2016 Shelter Winery Spätburgunder Baden (13% ABV, $28) is unquestionably an old world wine, built with perfect precision. Gunflint, earth, smoke, cranberries, all in the lip-smacking, densely textured, tight package – this wine packs a lot of pleasure. (Drinkability: 8). I have to honestly say that this was my very first German Pinot Noir I was able to enjoy and I would happily recommend it to anyone who needs proof that Germany actually can create a tasty red wine.

There you have it, my friends – our little journey is over, but worry not – we will be traveling again very soon. Cheers!

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