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A Refreshing Trip Around The World

August 2, 2022 Leave a comment

Have wine, will travel.

I love saying that.

Have wine, will travel.

While we might be dreaming about all those ways to instantly travel from our living room to Mount Everest, Bora Bora, or Singapore, wine has this magical ability to transpose, to let us be where we want to be in a blink of an eye. It works best with the bottle of wine you are familiar with, especially if you have had a chance to visit the winery and acquired some great memories. But even if you have never visited the winery, a bottle of wine is quite a unique product – every bottle of wine proudly advertises where it was made, right on the front label – when you see “Italy”, it is not difficult to picture Rome or Bologna. France probably would solicit the image of the Eiffel tower. Does Australia bring up an image of a boxing kangaroo? Oops, this can be just me. Anyway, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

So today, let’s take advantage of the instantaneous travel only wine can offer, and let’s go on that trip around the world.

The weather is hot in the Northern hemisphere, so today we will hop onboard of the white wine express.

Our first stop will be in Spain. Thinking about Spanish white wines, what grapes come to mind? To ease up on this question – boy, it is hot outside – what is the first Spanish white wine you can think of? While you are pondering that question, I can give you my answer – Albariño. Of course, you have Viura, Verdejo, Godello, and others, but to me the first association for the Spanish white wine is Albariño.

As you might have suspected already, our first stop is in Rias Baixas, roughly a 3,000 square kilometers region located along the Atlantic ocean’s coast in Galicia, in northwest Spain, where Albariño is the king. Pazos de Lusco winery is farming 12.5 acres of Albariño grapes in the south of the region, 40 km away from the coast. The name of the winery comprises two typical Galician words – “pazo”, which stands for home, usually in the countryside, and “lusco” which defines the beautiful moment between dusk and nightfall.

2021 Pazo de Lusco Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $24.95, Vegan)
Straw pale
Intense aromatics, ripe white fruit, peach, tropical fruit
Nicely restrained palate, crisp, tart, lemon, the wine makes you salivate and want food even if you are not hungry.
8, excellent. Should be great with oysters.

For our next stop, we are staying in Spain but traveling east almost to the French border, to the region called Somontano, where the wine had been produced for more than 2,000 years. In Somontano, there lies the Secastillo Valley (the valley of 7 castles), boasting 100 years old Garnacha vines at 2,100+ feet of elevation and a special Mediterranean microclimate defined by close proximity to Pyrenees mountains. This is where our next wine is coming from, Garnacha Blanca produced at the Pagos de Secastilla:

2020 La Miranda Secastilla Garnacha Blanca Somontano DO (13.5% ABV, $18, 4 months in French oak)
Straw pale
Minerality, a touch of gunflint, underripe white fruit
Beautifully playful, fresh white fruit and berries medley, crisp and clean acidity, excellent balance, delicious.
8

As I was deciding when I will taste these wines, the overarching thought came in – oysters. I want fresh oysters. Luckily, we have a new fish monger opened nearby, so procuring a few dozens of oysters was really simple. I tried Albariño and Garnacha Blanca with the fresh oysters, and while the pairing with Garnacha Blanca was not bad, the Albariño and oysters were simply a match made in heaven. Albariño was a perfect chaser, amplifying the delicious salinity of the oyster juice and if you would close your eyes, it was very easy to imagine yourself standing right next to the ocean waves and smelling the salty, fishy water. If you will have an opportunity – spoil yourself, oysters and Albariño are really tasty together.

Now that we are not hungry, we can continue our journey. We are now traveling northeast to the heart of Europe – we are going to Austria. Let me ask you the same question as before – what grape would you associate with Austria first and foremost? I hope your answer will be the same as mine, as mine is rather obvious – Grüner Veltliner.

Grüner Veltliner is unquestionably the most famous Austrian grape, with more than 37,000 acres planted. It appears to originate in Austria and as it was recently established, it is a natural cross between Traminer and St. Georgen (an almost lost grape, only recently rediscovered). Gruner is capable of a wide variety of expressions, depending on the soil types and the yield. But what sets the grape apart in the world of white grapes is rotundone, which is present in the skin of Grüner Veltliner. I only recently mentioned rotundone in the post about Syrah – rotundone is a chemical compound found in the skin of the grape that is responsible for the peppery flavors in the wine. Such peppery flavors are usually attributed to red wines – but Grüner Veltliner can happily join the “peppery family”.

The first mentions of Domäne Wachau go back to the 12th century. Today, this is one of the leading wine cooperatives in the world – 250 vintners sustainably farm about 1,000 acres of vines, and the wines are exported to 40 countries. Talk about Grüner Veltliner – Domäne Wachau produces more than 3 dozens of different Grüner Veltliner wines. As a fun historical fact, I want also to mention that in the 1930s Domäne Wachau was already producing single-vineyard Grüner Veltliner wines. And if you are a wine nerd like me, Domäne Wachau has assembled a wonderful collection of the Nerd Notes on their website, offering in-depth coverage on the terroir, soils, sustainability, cork stoppers, and lots more.

I had an opportunity to taste two of the Domäne Wachau wines – both delicious:

2020 Domäne Wachau Loess Grüner Veltliner Austria (12.5% ABV, $14 1L bottle)
Straw pale
Whitestone fruit, apple, fresh lemon – inviting and bright
Crisp, grassy notes, cut through acidity, fresh, delicious.
8, delicious and outstanding QPR

2021 Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen Wachau Austria (12.5% ABV, $18.99)
Straw pale
Tropical fruit, candied lemon, herbal undertones, generous, inviting
Crisp, fresh, lemon, a hint of grass, cleansing and vibrant, perfectly balanced.
8, I should’ve tried it with oysters too – the acidity is pronounced, it could’ve worked well.

Now we will have to travel to the Southern hemisphere for our last stop – Chile.

Chilean wines need no introduction to wine lovers. All classic grape varieties are doing extremely well in Chile, producing world-class wines. But as we are taking the white wine express, that reduces the number of available options. The spotlight today is on the Sauvignon Blanc, produced by one of my favorite, all-organic Chilean wineries – Ritual. I extensively wrote about Ritual before, so instead of regurgitating the information here, I would like to ask you to read that post. Ritual Sauvignon Blanc was exactly as one could expect – delicious:

2019 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $20.99, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Open, inviting, clean, intense, a hint of freshly cut grass and currant leaf
Clean, round, full of energy, uplifting, lemon, freshly cut grass, delicious.
8, outstanding.

This concludes our wine journey around the world. Well, of course, you can continue it on your own. And if you will find something tasty, please share it with the rest of us.

 

New Zealand Wines – Beyond Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

May 7, 2022 Leave a comment

Let’s say we will stop a random wine lover and will ask what is the very first wine which comes to mind if we would talk about California? I guarantee you that Cabernet Sauvignon and maybe Chardonnay would be the first associations. What about Australia? Shiraz, no doubts. Argentina will serve as a reference to Malbec, and most likely the Rioja would be the first association for Spain. Meanwhile, each one of these countries and regions successfully produces wines from literally hundreds of the grapes.

Now, what would be the first wine association for New Zealand? If you said Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir, I would fully agree with you. Meanwhile, the New Zealand wine scene offers so much more than those two grapes which had been farmed successfully for more than 100 years. New Zealand leads the wine world in terms of sustainability and organic winemaking (here is the post from the last year, for example). And, of course, New Zealand Bordeaux blends and Syrah had been on wine lovers’ horizons for many years, but coming fresh from the New Zealand wine tasting in New York, I can’t help it to comment on the diversity of the wines represented in the tasting.

Well beyond the traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, we had an opportunity to taste Chardonnay, Riesling, red Bordeaux blends, Syrah, sparkling wines, skin-fermented wines, natural wines, and more.

I had about 1.5 hours to taste about 60 wines, walking around and self-pouring – I think I managed to complete this task with some degree of success – whatever you can understand while spending 1.5 minutes per wine on average. While the tasting format and setting were comfortable, I still had a few gripes about it. First, an absolute majority of the white wines were too warm. This was the second tasting in the day, so I don’t know for how long the bottles were standing on the table, but they should’ve been put in the wine chillers at least, even without ice. I’m sure tasting white wines too warm was detrimental for many assessments. My second gripe was with the food – while the food was carried out all the time, most of those little bites had spice/flavor profiles not conducive to tasting subtle wines such as Pinot Noir. I took a few bites at first but quickly stopped paying attention to the food as I understood that it was skewing the palate in the wrong direction.

Before I will leave you with all of my tasting notes (for what it is worth), I want to mention a few favorites.

First, the natural, unfiltered Carrick Winery The Death of von Tempsky Riesling Central Otago was a riot. Yes, it was the wine for the wine geeks, but it invoked association with some of the best natural wine producers, such as Jean-Pierre Robinot and Frank Cornelissen, and every sip was absolutely thought-provoking.

Then there was the Bordeaux blend from Te Mata Estate Winery Coleraine Hawke’s Bay, which was superb – perfectly on point, varietally correct, and delicious. These were my only two 5-rated wines (I didn’t use my traditional rating system, so I stayed with the suggested “5-star” approach, but of course, had to expand it by using “+” and “-“).

Two of the Syrah wines were outstanding, with Bilancia la Collina Syrah Hawke’s Bay offering a purity of the black pepper profile, which was simply superb. And Neudorf Vineyards Neudorf Home Block Moutere Chardonnay Nelson completes the list of top favorites with its perfectly balanced profile of everything which a good Chardonnay should have – apples, vanilla, honey, a hint of butter – everything.

There were lots more absolutely delicious wines, so without further ado, here is the list of wines I tasted, sorted by the regions – with my brief notes.

Auckland
2018 Kumeu River Wines Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay Auckland – Crisp, acidic, tart apples on the finish. Interesting wine. Not the wine we taste. 3
2015 Tantalus Estate Écluse Reserve Auckland ((Cabernets/Merlot/Malbec) – Beautiful Bordeaux blend. Elegant, round, powerful. 4+

Central Otago
2014 Aurum Organic Amber Wine Central Otago – Tasty, but should be colder? Not as impressive as expected. 3
2019 Burn Cottage Burn Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful Pinot nose, plums, lavender, elegant. Tart, cherries, good acidity, good midpalate weight. Elegant. 3+
2020 Carrick Winery The Death of von Tempsky Riesling Central Otago – Wow. Acidity, depth, appearance. Wine for the geeks. Amazing. 5
2016 Domaine Thomson ‘Surveyor Thomson’ Pinot Noir Single Vineyard Central Otago – Super tart. Very lean. 2
2020 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful Pinot nose. Plums, cherries, inviting and elegant. Round, delicious palate, good balance. 4
2018 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful nose, touch is smoke. Elegant at first, but the finish is lean and tart. Food wine. 2
NV Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle Brut Central Otago – Delicious. Bread, yeast, toasted notes. Superb. 4
2020 Rippon Gewurztraminer Central Otago – Okay (not really). 2-
2020 Te Kano Blanc De Noir Central Otago – Bright floral nose, tropical fruit. Tart fruit on the palate, I would like a bit less sweetness. 3
2020 Te Kano Fume Blanc de Noir Central Otago – Restrained, a hint of fruit. Clean acidity at first, but then super acidic on the finish. Probably good with oysters. 2
2015 Ostler Lakeside Riesling Spatlese Waitaki Central Otago – Excellent. Gunflint, petrol. Good balance of sweetness and acidity. 4+
2019 Valli Waitaki Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful smokey nose. Elegant, clean, good presence. One of the best Pinot in the tasting. 4+
2020 Valli Waitaki Vineyard Riesling Central Otago – Not bad. Food friendly. Classic Riesling. 3+

Gisborne
2020 Millton Vineyards & Winery Te Arai Chenin Blanc Gisborne – Sour apples on the nose, lemon tart. Tart lemon on the palate, nice, elegant. 4-

Hawke’s Bay
2019 Alpha Domus The Barnstormer Syrah Bridge Pa Triangle Hawke’s Bay – Superb. A hint of barnyard on the palate and nose, a touch of pepper. Pronounced tannins on the finish. 4+
2019 Bilancia la Collina Syrah Hawke’s Bay – Beautiful nose, rose petals, a hint of pepper. Superb. Black pepper, crisp, light, elegant. 4+
2018 Decibel Wines Malbec Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay – Elegant at first, but could benefit from a bit more body. Tannins are very explicit. Needs time. 3
2017 Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay – Delicious. Perfect balance, a hint of gunflint, elegant, restrained. 4+
2018 Te Mata Estate Winery Coleraine Hawke’s Bay (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet franc) – Perfectly Bordeaux blend all the way, balanced, cassis, round, delicious. Will improve with time. 5-

Marlboro
2019 Astrolabe Wrekin Chardonnay Marlborough Southern Valleys – Delicious. Round, good fruit, good acidity. Excellent chard rendition. 4
2021 Brancott Estate Classic Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – A classic NZ Sauvignon Blanc! Cassis, fresh grass, bigger palate than I expected, a little plump. Nose – 5+, palate – 4
2020 Churton Sauvignon Blanc Organic Marlborough – Ok. Superacidic. 2
2020 Clos Henri Vineyard Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Wairau Valley – Very nice. Sancerre style. Freshly cut grass, flowers, perfect balance. 4
2021 Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Classic nose with restraint, mostly grass. The palate is too sweet. 2
2021 Deep Down Wines Organic Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Sancerre-like elegance. Crisp but a bit too acidic. 3-
2019 Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ‘Section 94’ Marlborough Wairau Valley – Crisp, tart. Tangy. Interesting. 3
2017 Giesen Single Vineyard Clayvin Chardonnay Marlborough Southern Valleys – Excellent. Crisp, well balanced, delicious. 4-
2020 Glover Family Vineyards Zephyr Agent Field Blend Marlborough Wairau Valley (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer) – Excellent. Wine for geeks, very tasty. Tart, crispy, tangy. Wine for geeks for sure. 4

2017 Greywacke Vineyards Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough Wairau Valley – Gunflint, butter, vanilla. Not bad, but need to be a bit more balanced. 3+
2017 Hans Herzog Estate Mistral Marlborough (Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne)- Interesting. Not my wine. 2
2021 Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Elegant nose, a hint of fresh-cut grass. Nice, elegant, but a bit tart. 3
2020 Jules Taylor OTQ Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Southern Valleys – Interesting. Softer than a typical NZ SB, not bad. 3
2021 Tohu Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Elegant, restrained nose, good palate, classic. 4
2021 Loveblock TEE Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Awatere Valley – Horrible? A nose and palate of spoiled oranges. 1
2019 Mahi Pinot Noir Marlborough Wairau Valley – Lean. A bit underwhelming, but drinkable. 3
2021 Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Wairau Valley – Excellent. Classic. Clean, a touch of grass, cassis, a touch of grapefruit. Delicious. 4
2019 Te Whare Ra Single Vineyard Riesling ‘D’ Marlborough Wairau Valley – Beautiful! Crisp, tart apples on the finish. A very apple-forward version. 3+
2021 Vavasour Wines Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Awatere Valley – Elegant, but the acidity is too much – the wine should be colder. 3
2021 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Superb. Delicious. Classic, fresh, crisp. 4
2019 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Pinot Noir Marlborough Awatere Valley – Nice, elegant, good round fruit. 3

Martinborough
2018 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough – Elegant nose with a hint of smoke. Elegant on the palate, but a bit too lean. 3
2019 Dry River Wines Dry River Riesling Martinborough – A riot. Petrol on the nose, nice, elegant, good acidity, good fruit. Delicious Riesling. 4

Nelson
2020 Neudorf Vineyards Neudorf Home Block Moutere Chardonnay Nelson – Outstanding. Perfectly balanced. Lemon, apples, a remote hint of butter. Excellent. 4+
2021 Seifried Estate Grüner Veltliner Nelson – Elegant, classic Gruner. Herbal nose, round grassy feel on the palate with some Meyer lemons in the mix. Great effort. 4

Northland
2020 The Landing Chardonnay Northland – Delicious. Apples, a hint of vanilla, round, very elegant. 4+

Waipapa
2021 Waipara Springs Pinot Gris Canterbury / Waipara – Nice. A bit too sweet. 3
2021 Waipara Springs Sauvignon Blanc Canterbury / Waipara – Ok. 3
2020 Black Estate Home Pinot Noir Canterbury / Waipara – Interesting. Unusual. Tannic. 3
2018 Mountford Koyamo Pinot Noir Canterbury / Waipara – Excellent. Clean, classic, perfectly balanced, elegant. 4
2018 Mt. Beautiful Winery Pinot Noir Canterbury / Waipara – Not bad. Too lean and tannic. 2
2018 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon Canterbury / Waipara – Interesting nose, gunflint. Crisp palate. 3+
2018 Pyramid Valley North Canterbury Chardonnay Canterbury / Waipara – Not bad. Middle of the road Chardonnay. 3
2018 The Boneline Iridium Canterbury / Waipara (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Merlot) – Iodine and rocks on the nose. The palate is a bit underwhelming. 3

Wairarapa
2019 Borthwick Vineyards Paddy Borthwick Right Hand Pinot Noir Wairarapa – Interesting nose – plums with a distant hint of barnyard. Round, powerful, expressive, peppery. More of Oregon style. 4+

There you are, my friends – New Zealand wines beyond Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. New Zealand wines are not easy to find in the USA but are well worth seeking. Cheers!

Celebrate Spring and Creativity with Aridus Wines

April 23, 2022 6 comments

Spring is here in Connecticut. There is still some frost on the cars’ windshields in the morning, but the greens are popping out everywhere, daffodils abound, and cherry trees look pretty in pink. It still feels surreal with the horrible events unfolding in Ukraine, but yes, the Spring has arrived.

Okay, so we acknowledged the Spring, now let’s talk about wines and creativity.

Spring is not only about flowers. Spring is also about new wine releases, such as the one from Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Aridus is a family winery in southeastern Arizona, the area where the majority of Arizona’s grape growing is concentrated. Aridus, which means in Latin “dry or arid”, is a young family winery, built on the passion and the desire to make world-class wine. The winery started by purchasing 40 acres of farmland in the Turkey Creek area in 2009. In 2012, a state-of-the-art winery was built, first making wines from the grapes brought in from the vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California. The white grapes were first planted on the estate’s land in 2015, followed by the red grapes in 2017, all using sustainable farming methods.

The white grapes are already used in the estate wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Being curious about the estate red grape program, I asked Lisa Strid, the Aridus winemaker, when does Aridus plan to produce estate red wines, and here is the answer I received: “We are in the process of transitioning over to estate reds – our first vintage of reds from the vineyard was in 2019 when the Cabernet Sauvignon was on its third leaf.  However, I’m not certain as yet whether we’ll be bottling that as 100% estate.  We weren’t sure what yields would look like, so in order to ensure we’d have enough Cab for the vintage, we also purchased a few tons from our favorite grower in New Mexico.  So it may wind up being a blend for the Aridus tier, and we’ll almost certainly do an estate bottling for the Barrel Select Tier.  We just bottled the 2018 Cab Sauv two weeks ago, so it will be at least another year before we actually bottle and release the 2019.

However, we did just release the 2020 Malbec from our estate vineyard to the wine club (which will be available to non-club members I believe sometime next month).  This was the first estate Malbec brought into the winery.  So despite it being a year younger, it beat the Cab to the table.”

I tasted Aridus wines last year, and I was impressed with the quality. This year, I had an opportunity to taste Aridus wines again, and now I’m impressed not only with the quality but with the creativity. How so? I thought you would never ask – but thank you for this question. To answer I will do something which I generally work very hard to avoid – directly citing the tasting notes. But in this case, the description of the 2019 Aridus Viognier from the tasting notes is simply perfect and worth quoting:

This year, we conducted extensive testing both in the vineyard and the winery in order to better understand the optimal conditions for growing and fermenting this fruit from our unique corner of the winegrowing world. In the vineyard, we tested a range of UVblocking netting. We had noticed that since this variety tends to hang below the canopy, it is particularly susceptible to sunburn. We netted two rows each with: 1) a thick bee and wasp netting; 2) Chromatinet Red 30% UV blocking; and 3) Chromatinet Gray 3035% UV
blocking. These lots were picked separately once they hit brix targets and fermented in identical stainless steel barrels. In the winery, we experimented both with yeast and with fermentation vessels. It is our standard practice to ferment whites in stainless steel, but this year we decided to ferment a control in stainless steel, an experimental lot in a sandstone jar, and another in an acacia wood barrel. In 2018 we performed extensive yeast trials and had alit upon Ferm Aroma White as our favorite of all the yeasts tested. This year, one of our technical reps asked if we wouldn’t mind testing Christian Hansen Jazz direct inoculation yeast on a white variety, and we decided Viognier was the best option. When the bulk of the
Viognier arrived at the winery, we pressed it all to one large tank before racking it off to each of the vessels for fermentation to ensure homogenous juice to best assess the differences between the lots. All in all, we wound up with eight separate trial lots. We definitely found ourselves gravitating towards certain treatments over others (we unanimously loved the sandstone jar), but when it came time to blend, we found that we loved the way that all the lots tasted blended in proportion to the volumes of each of the trials.

Protecting grapes from sunburn using different methods? Deciding on the best fermentation vessel and playing with the yeast? Aridus might be a young winery, but I would say that older wineries should definitely take notice, especially considering the climate change which is not going to go anywhere.

Moving on from creativity to the glass, here are my notes for the 4 wines I tasted:

2021 Aridus Sauvignon Blanc Cochise County Arizona (13.3% ABV, $35, 90% stainless steel, 10% 4 months in oak, 100% estate fruit)
Straw pale, almost translucent
Tropical fruit, golden delicious apples, round, intense
Tropical fruit, initial sweetness impression quickly replaced by crisp, vibrant acidity, with acidity on the finish. I would say it is Torrontés in the blind tasting, but still, a nice wine.
Drinkability: 8-, easy to drink. A crowd-pleaser – I opened this bottle during dinner with friends – both of my friends loved this wine, and even my kids, who generally don’t drink wine, said that it was excellent.

2019 Aridus Viognier Cochise County Arizona (14.4% ABV, $35, 19 months in oak, 100% estate fruit)
Straw pale
Nicely floral and perfumy on the nose, round, inviting, medium ++ intensity
Round, restrained, elegant, plump, roll-off-your tongue, good acidity
Drinkability: 8-/8, nice and elegant. Was improving over a few days as the bottle was open.

2018 Aridus Syrah Cochise County Arizona (14.5% ABV, $46, 90% Syrah, 10% Viognier, 32 months in oak, 50% new, 50% neutral)
Dark garnet
The nose of plums, cherries, and meat stew
Medium body, tart, firm structure, some underripe dark fruit. Under-extracted for my palate – I want a bigger body on this wine.
Drinkability: 7+, needs time – these were 1st-day impressions
In 4-5 days, 8/8-, round, good amount of fruit, good balance

2019 Aridus Graciano Cochise County Arizona (16.6% ABV, $46, 99% Graciano, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in oak)
Dark garnet
Beautiful intense nose, plums, earth, smoke, sage, complex
Cherries, plums, well-integrated tannins, firm structure, generous, layered, perfectly balanced
Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding. This was my personal favorite from the tasting, offering a good Rioja impersonation. Very well done.

Here you are, my friends. Spring, wine, and creativity. I will gladly drink to all.

Slow, Sustainable, Delicious

February 27, 2022 Leave a comment

“Slow forward”.

Is slow forward good or bad? In a world where instant gratification is a king, moving forward should be fast, right? We all want progress to accelerate, move faster, aren’t we? So slow is not good, right? Well, actually wrong.

Maybe “slow forward” is something we all need to adapt. Move forward, but take our time to enjoy the process of moving forward, instead of constantly being under stress for “not enough hours in a day” – moving fast, but not necessarily forward.

For sure, Herdade de Esporão embraces this “slow forward” process, as this is their motto. Not only motto – it is a principle of operation and the lifestyle, which they would like more people to embrace. Sit down, slow down, have a glass of wine and read their Slow Forward Manifesto, and see if you agree with what it says. Also, note that the slow movement is much bigger than just the one at Herdade de Esporão – you can learn more about it here.

Herdade de Esporão was founded in 1973, when José Roquette and his partner bought the historical Herdade do Esporão estate, located in Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC in Alentejo and tracing its roots back to 1267. The first red wine was produced at the estate in 1985. Fast forward to today, there are more than 40 different grape varieties growing at the estate, along with 4 different types of olive trees, all farmed organically. Conversion of more than 1,300 acres of vineyards and olive groves to all-organic farming started in 2008 and took 11 years to complete. Now Herdade de Esporão is helping growers they are working with to convert to all-organic viticulture as well.

In addition to the 40 grape varieties cultivated in the vineyards, Herdade de Esporão is home to Ampelographic nursery where 189 grape varieties and clones are planted to study the effects of climate change and find ways to adapt to it.

There is a large variety of soils at the estate – enough to hire a geologist to create a soli map. The grapes from the different plots are fermented separately in small batches after the majority of the grapes are crushed by the foot at the winery (yep, slow forward, remember?).

Herdade de Esporão is a big business (one of the largest wine businesses in Portugal) owning a number of wineries in Portugal and selling both in Portugal and around the world, exporting to more than 50 countries. At the same time, Herdade de Esporão is a family company, inspired by the land and respect for the environment. For Herdade de Esporão it is all about environmental, cultural, social, and personal sustainability, adhering to its own principles of Slow Forward lifestyle.

That slow forward lifestyle and respect to the land and the environment translate very well into the wines. I had an opportunity to taste 4 different wines from Herdade de Esporão (samples), and all the wines were absolutely delightful:

2020 Herdade de Esporão Branco Colheita Alentejo (13.5% ABV, $18, 30% Antão Vaz, 30% Viosinho, 30% Alvarinho, 10% other varieties, 4 months on the lees)
Light golden
Beautiful, inviting, open, a hint of tropical fruit, honeysuckle
Round, creamy, explicit minerality, crisp, fresh, a touch of fruit, but overall very dry, good acidity, excellent balance, medium-long finish
8-, excellent, can be confused with lightly oaked Chardonnay.

2020 Herdade de Esporão Branco Reserva Alentejo (13.5% ABV, $20, 30% Antão Vaz, 30%, Arinto, 30%, Roupeiro, 10% other varieties, six months in stainless steel tanks and in new American and French oak barrels)
Straw pale
Fresh meadows and honeysuckle, beautiful
Clean acidity, light representation than the Colheita, lip-smacking acidity, clean, crisp and fresh, excellent balance
8, pure delight. Can be easily confused with Chardonnay.

2018 Herdade de Esporão Tinto Colheita Alentejo (14.5% ABV, $18, 30% Touriga Nacional, 25% Aragonez, 20% Touriga Franca, 15% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 months in concrete tanks)
Dark garnet
Earthy, a touch of chalk, dark fruit, warm spices
Open, clean, raspberries, warm spices, good minerality, good structure, a cut-through acidity, medium body, medium-long finish
8-/8, outstanding

2018 Herdade de Esporão Tinto Reserva Alentejo (14.5% ABV, $25, 25% Aragonez, 20% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Trincadeira, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 5% Syrah, 6 months in concrete tanks)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, earth, a hint of raspberries, dark, concentrated
Cherries, pomegranate, clear minerality, layered, firm structure, fresh and food-friendly
8/8+, outstanding, ready to drink now, great with food (Odjakhuri)

Here you are, my friends – organic, sustainable farming, 4 delicious wines. You don’t need to break the bank to be able to drink them at any time you want, and even more importantly, you can pop, pour and enjoy – almost a rare beauty nowadays.

Slow down and enjoy. Cheers!

Big Game, Big Decisions

February 13, 2022 Leave a comment

I’m sure it is obvious what Big Game we are talking about.

The Super Bowl. One and only entertainment event of the year, almost a national holiday (many say that Monday after the Super Bowl should be made into a national holiday, as sometimes those games end past midnight).

I saw some interesting stats about this Super Bowl LVI (that’s 56 if you are not intimately familiar with Roman numerals). It is expected that 117 million viewers with watch the event – if this will be an actual number of viewers, it would set a new record (the previous one was 114M viewers in 2012), and a substantial increase over last year’s Super Bowl, which only attracted 96.4M of fans. Also, according to CNBC, the American Gaming Association projected that a record 31.4 million Americans would bet $7.6 billion on the Bengals-Rams game. Some staggering numbers, aren’t they?

But forget the numbers – I’m only here for the food 🙂

Source: Terlato Wines

So what are the big decisions we are talking about here? Leaving food aside, there is only one big decision to make – and you know which one it is.

Beer or Wine?

In any Super Bowl viewing party preparation discussion, this is an eternal question – what should you drink while watching the big game? What should you serve with the food?

Food is the right starting point for this discussion. I can’t resist throwing in another interesting data point – The National Chicken Council estimates that Americans will consume 1.42 billion wings while the Cincinnati Bengals play the Los Angeles Rams. Yep – 1.42 billion! Super Bowl is a finger food festival – sandwiches, chicken strips, shrimp, chicken wings, and lots of other usually salty and often spicy indulgences. So beer seems to be the obvious answer to our eternal question.

Except when it is not.

Beer is boring. Yes, I drink beer from time to time, but I’m rarely excited about it unless I’m in a pub in the Czech Republic or some other European countries which have a culture of beer drinking – and the beer is served always fresh. Heck, if I would be watching Super Bowl at some Beer Garden in the US, I would definitely stay with beer. But at home, I unquestionably prefer wine. Wine brings excitement, and even if it wouldn’t perfectly complement the food spread on the table, it will make the game a lot more enjoyable to watch.

So how about some hard-core American wine? Does American Craft Wine sound good? An American craft wine for the American craft game – that should work together, right? So the wine I would like to bring to your attention is The Federalist, proudly crafted in California.

The Federalist winery was founded in 2009 in Sonoma, California, with an initial focus on producing Zinfandel – it makes perfect sense for an American craft winery to focus on the grape which America considers uniquely its own. Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend, and Chardonnay complete the lineup today, also connecting with another uniquely American product – Bourbon. The second line of Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend and Zinfandel wines are aged in the Bourbon barrels, uniquely amplifying the power of traditional Californian varieties.

I had an opportunity to taste a few of the Federalist wines latest releases – here are my notes:

2017 Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi (13.9% ABV, $17.99, 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, 15 months in 35% new oak)
Light garnet
Cassis, dark berries, eucalyptus, open, inviting
Unmistakable Lodi on the palate, cassis, nutmeg, warm spices, a touch of dark chocolate, good balance, well-integrated tannins, medium-long finish.
8-, easy, simple, will work well with a range of foods.

2018 Federalist Chardonnay Mendocino County (14.5% ABV, $17.99, aged in 35% new oak)
Light golden
A hint of vanilla, Whitestone fruit, a touch of gunflint
Restrained on the palate, golden delicious apples, crisp, fresh, good acidity, medium finish with prevailing acidity.
8-, needs food.

2019 Federalist Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (15% ABV, $24, 100% Zinfandel, 16 months in 20% new oak)
Dark garnet
Raspberries, eucalyptus, earthy notes
Dark fruit, cut through acidity, well present tannins, a touch of raspberries, medium-plus finish with lots of acidity
7+/8-, food wine, needs time

The Federalist wines are well connected to the big game, being an official premiere wine sponsor of the San Francisco 49ers ( who I would much prefer to see in the Super Bowl together with the Kansas City Chiefs), so it would be only appropriate if you will open a bottle of the Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate the big game.

And if not the big game, the Federalist wines are perfectly appropriate to celebrate the next official American holiday, The President’s Day, taking place exactly in a week.

Game, ads, half-time show, food, wine – I wish you a great evening.

 

Daily Glass: A Rare Turley, And a Question of Wait

January 19, 2022 2 comments

I love Turley wines.

My first encounter with Turley was way back, maybe 20 years ago, when my friend and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Manhattan, and we saw a bottle of Turley on the wine list, probably a Juvenile Zinfandel or the Old Vines Zin, and it was one of the most affordable wines on the list, so we decided to try it. Right after the first sip, I remember we looked at each other and said ‘wow”. Turley became the love from the first sight sip for both of us, and when I go visit him, I always bring a bottle of Turley, which makes him very happy.

If you will ask a wine lover about Turley, most likely you will get an instant reaction “ahh, Zinfandel”. More advanced wine lovers might also add “oh yes, and Petite Sirah”. First and foremost, Turley Wine Cellars is known for its Zinfandels, and yes, the Petite Sirah. Altogether, Turley produces 50 wines from 50 different vineyards. And while an absolute majority of those wines are Zinfandels, there are few exceptions – two white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and the White Coat, Cinsault from 135 years old Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi, Casa Nuestra and Tecolote red blends, two Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and one Zinfandel Rosé, which sometimes is playfully identified as White Zinfandel (believe me, it is a proper Rosé, not a sweet plonk). With the exception of the Estate Cabernet, it is pure luck when any of these non-Zin, non-Petite Sirah wines are included in your allocation – doesn’t happen often.

Another question we can ask wine lovers – should Zinfandel wines be aged or consumed upon release? I don’t want to get too far into the woods with presenting such a broad question, but for the sake of simplicity here we are talking only about well-made wines from producers such as Turley, Carlisle, Robert Biale, Ridge, and similar. Again, posing this question to the wine lovers I heard the same answer from a number of well-qualified individuums: “I like my Zinfandel with some age on it”.

From my personal experience, mostly with Turley and Carlisle, I definitely appreciate the age on my Zins, but it also depends on the style of the wine. Turley Juvenile and Old Vines Zins are built to be enjoyed young, however, they are also perfectly capable of aging for 8-10 years with no issues. The majority of single-vineyard Zinfandels definitely benefit from aging, and best not being touched for the first 5-7 years upon release. The same applies to the Petite Sirah, probably even in the higher degree – it is better to wait for about 8-10 years to enjoy a bottle of Turley Petite Sirah.

Okay, so this is all nice, cool, and theoretical, but then, in reality, we don’t always follow our own best advice, don’t we?

I generally don’t open a new bottle of wine late in the evening. Yesterday, coming home after Taekwondo training, I realized that I crave a glass of wine. This is really a bad thought at around 9 pm because the process of selecting the bottle to open can take another 30 minutes or so. I have a lot of Turley bottles stored in the simple wine cage, which makes the selection process a lot easier as I don’t need to move the wine fridge shelves back and forth, so this is where I decided to look. I looked past most of the younger Zins – as you remember, I also like them with some age, and then I saw a bottle of 2018 Tecolote. It was pure luck that I had it, as it came via the special offer for the 2020 holiday season – this wine is typically available only in the tasting room. I never had this wine before, which provided a legitimate opportunity to ignore my own aging rules and simply open the bottle, which is exactly what I did.

Tecolote is a blend of 60% Grenach and 40% Carignane, both grapes harvested from dry-farmed Pesenti Vineyard in Paso Robles, from the vines planted in the 1920s. As this is a Catalon-inspired blend, and the grapes come from the specific plot in Pesenti vineyard which looks like an owl, the wine was called Tecolote, which is the Spanish word for “owl”.

Boy, was I happy with my decision… The first sniff of the 2018 Turley Tecolote Red Wine Paso Robles (15.9% ABV) was pure heaven – barnyard, forest underbrush, and spices. I know that the “barnyard” descriptor is polarizing, and deeply hated by some – I always love it, for sure on the red wines (never had it on the white), so I really enjoyed that aroma. On the palate, the wine had pure tart cherries, acidic, juicy, and succulent, fully supporting and continuing the initial enjoyment of the smell. I literally couldn’t stop refilling the glass until only about a third of the bottle was left.

And again I have to state that I’m happy that I left some of the wine for the second day, as the wine transformed. I usually preserve the wines by pumping the air out of the bottle. Sometimes I preserve the wines like that for 2,3,4,5 days, tasting the wine, pumping the air out, and leaving it until the next day. From my experience, I consider that each next day the wine still tastes good or even better than the day before is equivalent to the 5 years of aging. So if you don’t like the barnyard smell, don’t touch your Tecolote for another 5 years. When I opened the wine today, the barnyard smell was gone, and it was replaced by cherries and a telltale sign of Grenache in my book – dark chocolate. The wine also had cherries and dark chocolate on the palate and it was perfectly balanced and absolutely delicious (Drinkability: 9-). What is even more interesting, the wine paired very well with dark chocolate-covered raisins from Trader Joe’s and Italian truffled cheese. Go figure…

Here you are, my friends – a delicious wine, good when young, and perfectly capable of aging. If you can, go find your bottle…

Californian Stars, Italian Flair

January 10, 2022 1 comment

Californian stars.

Of course, we are talking about wines and grapes. What would those be?

I recently called California Cabernet Sauvignon a king. We can safely designate Chardonnay as a queen. But who would you call a prince? Capricious, spiky, moody royalty? Whatever grape you think of, the correct answer is Pinot Noir, because this is the grape I mostly would like to talk about today. And tell me if you think Pinot Noir is not qualified for the role of the royal prince – finicky, demanding, and unpredictable.

Okay, we got our stars for the day. Now, the Italian flair. How would you add the Italian flair to the Californian grapes?

There are a few options. For example, you can call your sparkling wine a Spumante. Or you can call your winery Castello, and build it in the form of a medieval Italian castle. You can also make wines out of Sangiovese – but this we will discuss later. Anyway, as you can see, you got options.

Vittorio Sattui, an Italian immigrant, founded St. Helena Wine Cellars in 1885. The business had to be closed due to the prohibition in 1920, but the Sattui family continued living at the winery. In 1975, Dario Sattui, great-grandson of Vittorio, restarted the family business by opening V. Sattui winery in St. Helena.

After finishing college, Dario traveled around Europe and became obsessed with medieval castles, monasteries, farmhouses. In 1993, Dario found the next home for his future winery – 171 acres parcel near Calistoga. In 1994, the construction began initially for the 8,500 sq. ft building without cellars. That slowly morphed into a 121,000 sq. ft. 13th-century Tuscan castle with 107 rooms, drawbridge, five towers, high defensive ramparts, courtyards and loggias, a chapel, stables, an armory, and even a torture chamber. Lots of bricks and artifacts were delivered directly from Europe to ensure the full authenticity of the castle. Castello de Amorosa (Castle of Love) opened its doors to visitors in 2007 after 15 years of construction.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Castello di Amorosa in 2017 as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2017 in Santa Rosa, so I can share (inundate is a better word, of course) my first-hand impressions:

 

 

Thinking about misbehaving? Might not be recommended:

Touring the cellars:

The ceiling of the room where we had our tasting in 2017:

A bit of education – Napa Valley Regions:

Castello di Amorosa works with 14 vineyards, most of them in Napa and Sonoma, out of which 6 are estate vineyards. The focus of winemaking is on showcasing each individual terroir and on the small-batch production.

I had an opportunity to taste a range of Pinot Noir expressions from Castello di Amorosa, and I have to honestly say that I was very much impressed with what I found in my glass.

First, two sparkling wines, both produced using the classic method.

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 73% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir)
Light Golden, fine bubbles
Toasted bread, apples, gunflint
Toasted bread, Granny Smith apples, more gunflint, great minerality, a touch of sweetness, bigger body than typical champagne.
8, excellent,

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Rosé Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $49, 100% Pinot Noir)
Salmon pink, fine mousse
Steely strawberries, a hint of toast
Dry, crisp, strawberries, clean acidity, good minerality
8, excellent

Next up, Rosé. The grapes for this wine come from the Green Valley area in the Russian River Valley AVA, and the wine is partially aged in concrete egg. I had an opportunity to taste both 2019 and 2020 vintages over a few months timeframe, and you can see that my tasting notes are almost identical for both wines. Somehow I missed including this wine into my 2021 top wines list, which makes me upset – this was one of the best Rosé wines and wines overall that I tasted during 2021.

2019 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (13.6% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh ripe sweet strawberries, good intensity, inviting
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9-/9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow.

2020 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of herbs, crisp, inviting, and invigorating
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow. Superb.

Last up – Pinot Noir from Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley. This vineyard was purchased in 2015 from Burt Williams, founder of the iconic William Selyem Winery. The 12-acre vineyard is in a very cool microclimate and divided into 9 blocks of Pinot Noir planted with DRC, 115, 777, Rochioli, 23, and 828 clones. All the blocks and clones give quite a bit of room to experiment to the winemaking team.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.1% ABV, $75, 11 months in Burgundian oak barrels)
Dark ruby
Somewhat unexpressive on the first day, a hint of fruit
Closed up, concentrated, dark fruit, not amazing
Classic Pinot on the second day – iodine, violets, underbrush
Beautifully elegant on the palate – good acidity, smoke, tobacco, fresh berries, cherries, firm structure combined with medium body, medium-long finish.
8+ second day, super-enjoyable.

Here you go, my friends – a little Italian oasis – scratch that – a large Italian Castle in the middle of Napa Valley, producing magnificent California wines. Castello di Amorosa is definitely a unique travel destination and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.

Made With Organic Grapes: A Few Wines From Chile

January 8, 2022 Leave a comment

Chile is a unique winemaking place.

So is each and every wine region in the world – each wine region, big, small, or tiny, can safely state the same – they all have something unique about them, aren’t they?

But really, Chile is unique.

Chile is literally the only wine region in the world untouched by the blight of phylloxera. While it is a big deal, it is not all.

It is easy to grow grapes organically in Chile. The absolute majority of the rain falls in winter, and Chilean vineyards generally enjoy the dry growing season. Dry growing season means no need to worry about fungi, which is where most of the “inorganic” efforts typically go. And Chilean winemakers take advantage of this fact, actively pursuing organic, sustainable, and biodynamic winemaking. Taking its inspiration from the association of organic winegrowers of New Zealand, leading Chilean wineries, such as Viña Emiliana, Odfell, Koyle, Viña Miguel Torres Chile, are all joining forces to create a similar organization that will help with the promotion of Chilean organic wines around the world.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of Chilean organic wines.

Viñedos Veramonte was founded by Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean wine pioneer, in 1990, one of the first wineries in Casablanca Valley. Veramonte’s journey started with Sauvignon Blanc, gradually adding all of the traditional Chilean varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and more. In 2019, the winery obtained ECOCERT® organic certification, after 6 years-long journey. The project involved the conversion of more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Casablanca and Colchagua valleys to organic and biodynamic farming (full Demeter’s biodynamic certification is the next goal). The wine I had an opportunity to taste was Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon:

2019 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, made with organic grapes, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, tobacco
A touch of cassis, tart, medium body, minerality, green notes
7/7+, I would prefer more fruit

The same Agustin Huneeus founded Primus winery more than 20 years ago. The word Primus comes from Latin and it means “the first” or “the first among others”.  Primus was one of the very first to create the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, which became the standard wine of the winery throughout all the years, joined by single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere wines. The fruit for The Blend comes from Marchigue, a sub-region of Colchagua, and Maipo, from all-organic vineyards.

2018 Primus Red Blend Apalta Colchagua Valley (13.5% ABV, $18.99, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carménère, 10% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark ruby
Cassis, Cherries
Soft, easy to drink, medium body, cassis, cherries, well balanced
8-, good aging potential

Ritual is located in the eastern corner of the Casablanca Valley, not far from the Pacific Ocean. All organic vineyards are surrounded by 6,000 acres of natural forest, which enforces biodiversity and helps with organic and sustainable farming. The estate approaches organic winemaking from all possible angles, making compost from stems and pomace, using cover crops to protect the soil, using sheep to mow the grass and fertilize. Everything in the vineyard and in the winery is done in full harmony with nature.

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, certified organic vineyards)
Dark garnet
Smoke, plums, minerality
Cherries, plums, violets, herbs, round, soft, restrained, good acidity, clean finish, perfectly balanced.
8, a long-haul wine. Should definitely improve over the next 5-7 years, might be considerably longer.

Here you are my friends – a few of the organic wines from Chile which you should feel good about drinking.

It is not just organic – Chile is leading the world in sustainable winemaking, and we will talk about it in a few days. Stay tuned…
.

A Quick Trip To California With Chalk Hill Estates

December 21, 2021 Leave a comment

Have wine, will travel!

Let’s start with the question – equally eternal and pointless, but always fun – does size matter? Yes, of course, it does.

Now, a follow-up question – is bigger always better? Remember, this is still a wine blog, so please have the right perspective here.

While you are thinking about it, let me share what I learned from one and only Kevin Zraly during his Windows on the World Wine School class.

Kevin asked everyone to imagine a circle – let’s say, it would be California. Now let’s imagine a smaller circle inside of this one – let’s say, now it is Napa Valley. The wines from Napa Valley are better than the wines from the whole of California (I’m not doing any particular comparisons, just a general bottle of California appellation wine versus a general bottle of Napa Valley wine – there always will be exceptions, but this is not what we are concerned with right now).

Next, let’s place even a smaller circle inside of the Napa Valley – how about Oakville, one of the best appellations in Napa. Oakville designated wines should be (on average) better than Napa Valley designated wines, would you agree? But how about nesting next smaller circle inside – To-Kalon Vineyard, one of the most coveted vineyards in the whole of California? To-Kalon designated wines are some of the most sought-after wines in California, so the tendency is clear – the smaller circles get, the better wine should become. We don’t even have to stop at the vineyard level – we can continue to the blocks and plots, but I think you got the point.

So now, what is your answer to the question? Yes, when it comes to the wine appellations, smaller is usually better – but of course, don’t apply this logic when someone is asking if you would prefer a standard bottle of Screaming Eagle as your present, or if you would prefer a Jeroboam.

The Chalk Hill AVA (AVA is an abbreviation for the American Viticultural Area) is a tiny sliver of land located in the northeast corner of Russian River Valley AVA on the border with Alexander Valley AVA. The area is so small that it was first discovered by Fred Furth from his plane, while he was flying over the Russian River. Fred started the Chalk Hill Estates winery in 1972, and in 1983, the Chalk Hill area received the status of the AVA.

Chalk Hill’s name comes from the white chalk volcanic soils prevalent in the area. While Chalk Hill is a sub-appellation of the Rissian River Valley, it is warmer and has a lesser amount of fog, but more of the cooling breeze. Chalk Hill AVA is best known for its classically Californian grapes – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Malbec, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel are also successfully growing there.

Chalk Hill Estate is a 1,300 acres property, with 350 acres of vineyards, planted vertically on the valley slopes. Chalk Hill Estate was acquired in 2010 from its original owner, Fred Furth, by Bill Foley, a successful financier turned vigneron, who smartly and successfully amassed a good number of famous California wineries under his Foley Family Wines brand. Actually, after the acquisition, Chalk Hill became home for the Foley family. Courtney Foley, the youngest daughter of Bill and Carol Foley, grew up surrounded by the beauty of Chalk Hill Estate, where now she became a winemaker working together with her dad.

Chalk Hill Estate vineyards are sustainably farmed, with a focus on soil and water conservation. Lots of work had been done in the vineyards to research how well different clones grow in the different sections of the vineyards, with particular emphasis on Chardonnay clones. To demonstrate the results of the study, Chalk Hill even produces a special Chalk Hill Clonal Collection set of wines.

I had an opportunity to try two of the Chalk Hill Estate latest release wines:

2019 Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay Chalk Hill AVA (14.9% ABV, $45, 11 months in French oak, 40% new)
Light golden
A hint of gunflint, lemon, herbs
Butter, vanilla, good acidity, bitter undertones
7+, over-extracted for me, but I’m sure someone might like the raw power

2018 Chalk Hill Estate Red Chalk Hill AVA (15.5% ABV, $70, 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Malbec, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Carménère, 21 months in French oak, 61% new)
Dark garnet
Cassis, pure cassis
Beautiful crunchy cassis, cherries, eucalyptus, a hint of espresso, well noticeable but not overbearing tannins, good balance, full-body, long finish.
8+, excellent

Somehow, the Chalk Hill Chardonnay is not made for me (this is not my first encounter with the wine, but the results are identical every time). The Estate Red was a pure delight, though.

And now it is time to conclude our trip. I hope you enjoyed a brief visit to the beautiful Chalk Hill Estate – next time, I’m sure it is worth a hands-on experience. Cheers!

So Long, Catarratto. Welcome, Lucido

November 14, 2021 3 comments

Catarratto grapes. Source: Sicily DOC website

It is a mouthful of the title, isn’t it?

“So long, Catarratto, welcome Lucido” – a bunch of strange words lumped together seemingly without any purpose, right?

Okay, I get it – some explaining is due.

Catarratto is the most planted white grape in Sicily and the second most planted white grape in Italy. Sicily has about 75 acres of Catarratto vines between two of its clones, Catarratto Bianco Comune and Catarratto Bianco Lucido, which represents 30% of the whole vineyard area in Sicily. Catarratto production increased from 17,300 bottles in 2012 to 730,000 bottles in 2020. And it is one of the historical varieties, growing forever on the island, producing fresh, round, and well-balanced wines. Sounds great, right? I would assume that you sense that the “but” is coming. So what is the problem with this picture? The name, Catarratto, is the problem.

Catarratto – pronounced “kah-tahr-rat-to”. Say it a few times, just for fun. Think if you will be comfortable ordering it in the restaurant, while just calling it by name instead of pointing with your finger on the line in the wine list saying “this”, “I want this”.

As Catarratto was growing in popularity, its name became a barrier. People don’t want to be embarrassed. And saying the word you don’t know how to pronounce requires a lot of courage. When Sicilian wines were presented at the seminar in China 10 years ago, there was enough of the anecdotal evidence collected in the form of videos with attendees struggling greatly while trying to pronounce the word Catarratto. And so it was well understood by the Sicilian winemakers that if they want to be successful with the wine which actually well deserves such success, something needs to be done.

Lucido is the name of one of the clones of Catarratto, and it is the name that often was used in ancient times. While Catarratto Bianco Lucido has a slightly different appearance compared with Catarratto Bianco Comune with Lucido grapes being shiny (hence the name), genetic research showed that both grapes are completely identical (speaking of genetics – another Italian grape, Garganega, is considered to be one of the parents of Catarratto, but then nobody knows where Garganega came from… ).

Sicilian DOC Consortium took this grape renaming task to the heart and after 2 years of lobbying, on November 21, 2018, the national Ministry issued a decree allowing the name Lucido to be used for any of the Catarratto wines produced in Sicily.

There are about 530 native grape varieties in existence in Italy, so it is obvious that setting up the precedent with renaming the grape variety was not taken lightly. But in the case of Catarratto/Lucido, it became very clear that considering the volume of production and possibilities of increased international demand, the hard-pronounced name of the grape variety became a gating issue of the wine’s success, and the right decision was made.

While Sicilian winemakers definitely appreciated the opportunity to change the name, it doesn’t mean that in mere 3 years you will see the name Lucido appear on all the wine labels. While we might think that the picture should look like this:

the 3 samples which I received looked like this:

Well, whether Catarratto is difficult to pronounce or not had no bearing on the wines, as I loved all three of them:

2020 Cottanera Barbazzale Catarratto Sicilia DOC (12.5% ABV)
Straw pale
A hint of tropical fruit, lemon, herbs
Round, beautiful, Golden delicious apples, lemon, good acidity, clean and fresh.
8/8+, outstanding.

2020 Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Midor Catarratto Sicilia DOC (12.5% ABV, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Generous nose with a hint of vanilla, honey, and gunflint
Crisp, clear, precise, elegant, beautiful acidity, lemon, more gunflint, and Granny Smith apples.
8+, can be easily confused for a Chardonnay. Wine with finesse.

2019 Alessandro di Camporeale Benedè Catarratto Sicilia DOC (13% ABV)
Straw pale
Lemon, steely minerality
Crisp, tart, lemon, expressive minerality, clean acidity. Very refreshing
8, excellent food-friendly wine

I wouldn’t lie to you – Midor Catarratto was my most favorite wine, and I really admire its tile-styled label.

Catarratto’s name served the eponymous grape well, but the change is coming. It is a slow change, but as long as it is just the change of the name, and we will still get to enjoy the wine inside the bottle, it is the change that will help this wine to deliver pleasure to more wine lovers around the world.

And for you, my wine friends, Catarratto or Lucido – go find this wine and expand your wine vocabulary.

Welcome, Lucido.

P.S. For the grape geeks out there: as I was working on this post, I came across this article, which identifies Mantonico Bianco as the second parent (along with Garganega) of Catarratto. The article is from 2017, so it should be old news, but at least the Wikipedia article on Catarratto has no mention of it…

 

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