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A Quick Trip To Chile

August 22, 2019 Leave a comment

Have wine, will travel.

Today our destination is Chile. As our travel is virtual, we need to decide on the wine which will help us to get to Chile, hence the question to you – what wine would you associate with Chile?

If you would ask me this question about 20 years ago, my answer would be quick – Cabernet Sauvignon. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon has an unmistakable personality with a core of bell pepper – one sip, and you know where you are heading. Then, of course, you got the Carménère – the mysterious grape of Chile, long mistaken for Merlot – for a long time, Carménère was considered the ultimate Chilean grape, its unique flagship.

How about white wine? Again – 20 years ago, it would be a Chardonnay. Actually, that would be for no specific reason outside of remembering the shelves of the wine store full of Concha y Toro Chardonnay right by the entrance to the store – the most imported wine brand at a time. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, that Chardonnay was not particularly recognizable or memorable.

About 5 years ago, I started running into the wines which I never associated with Chile before. When I was offered to try the Chilean Pinot Noir, to say that I was skeptical would be an understatement – yep, I didn’t believe that Chilean Pinot Noir is a “thing”. Those first tastings made me believe that Pinot Noir is possible in Chile – but they were not at the level to really make me a convert. Yet.

And then, of course, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc – exuberant wine, nothing subtle about it – bright grapefruit, tons of freshly cut grass and crips lemon – very un-Sancerre. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is truly a polarizing wine, not any less than New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – both categories have plenty of haters. But let me not get on the tangent here.

A few days ago I was offered a sample of Chilean wines I never heard of before – Kalfu, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I’m always happy to expand my wine universe, so yes, please. This happened to be a wise decision.

Kalfu is a project by Viña Ventisquero, focused on showcasing cool climate coastal wines. In case you are wondering, as I did, what Kalfu means, here is what the website says: “Kalfu means “Blue” in Mapudungun, the language of the aboriginal Mapuche people of the region. It represents the color that provides a myriad of sensations: blue, like the Pacific Ocean’s intense blue; and blue, like the free sky, acting as an accomplice of and witness to the mysterious origins of life.”

Under Kalfu, there are three lines of wines, representing different regions – Molu from Casablanca Valley, Kuda from Leyda Valley, and Sumpai from Huasco – Atacama Desert, all three names representing different sea creatures. As the wines I tasted were from the Kuda line, let me tell you what Kuda means, again taking from the web site:  “Kuda – in the case of the seahorse or hippocampus, the female lays her eggs and then the male takes care of them until the new seahorses emerge fully developed. Unlike other sea creatures, sea horses are delicate and unique, so they need to be cherished. ”

Kalfu wines

The wines were, in a word, beautiful. And maybe even surprising.

2018 Kalfu Kuda Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley (12.5% ABV, $19) was currant-forward. It didn’t really have the characteristic fresh grass, nor grapefruit – it had fresh black currant leaves and loads of Meyer lemon. It was a well present wine without going overboard, with a perfect balance of fruit and acidity. And yes, every sip wanted you to take another one. Drinkability: 8+

2017 Kalfu Kuda Pinot Noir Leyda Valley (14% ABV, $19) was even more surprising. For this wine, I can use two words. Frist would be finesse. The second word – Burgundian. The wine offered smoke, black cherries, violet, a touch of pencil shavings, good minerality – nothing over the top, none of the extra sweetness, but perfect, elegant balance. For $19, this is lots and lots of wine. Drinkability: 8+/9-

Here you are, my friends. Two beautiful wines worth seeking. And now I have my new favorite Pinot Noir which I will be happy to drink at any time. Where did you travel lately? Cheers!

 

 

Between The Worlds

June 26, 2019 7 comments

What lies on the intersection of the Old World and the New World?

Yep. Starting with the question. As many of you have come to expect. Let me repeat – what lies on the intersection of the old world and the new world? Of course it is the wine we are talking about.

I can spin this question differently if you want. What is the name of the major winemaking region (a country, rather) which is most often overlooked at dinner tables, wine stores, and restaurant wine lists? Yes, give it a thought. I’m sure you know the answer. But it is too obvious, which makes it difficult.

Let’s continue?

If you said “South Africa”, pat yourself on the back. You got it. Yes, it is South Africa. The wines of South Africa are often described as “old world wines masquerading as the new world”, and when you taste the wines from the region, you can easily see why such description makes a lot of sense.

I wrote about wines of South Africa many times in the past, also including them into the “best hidden secrets” series. Winemaking history of South Africa goes back more than 400 years, to the mid-1600s. From there on, South African wine had good times, bad times, phylloxera, political issues, boycott, and lots, lots more. Many times in history the wine production was focused on quantity and not quality, which obviously had consequences and not a good ones.

I had been tasting South African wines for quite a while, and I have to say that I perceive a definite upswing in quality. As I mentioned at the beginning, South African wines are still rare and underrepresented in the modern wine scene, for sure in the USA – nevertheless, every time I get a chance to taste South African wines, they make me say “wow” more often than not.

Case in point – recent tasting of the South African wines in New York. It was not a large tasting, by all means, maybe 60–70 wines, but out of those 60–70, I probably was wowed by at least a half of them, which is very unusual for the trade tasting, maybe with the exception of Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri. Below are my brief notes – as I had a bit more time than at the typical trade tasting, but absolutely not enough to do a full assessment, I’m using words instead of plus signs. Plus, I share here some of my general impressions.

Let’s go:

I love Graham Beck wines – their sparkling wines represent great value. These wines are similar to Champagne, as they undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, so any time you are looking for the bubbles but want to spend the half of what you will spend on the Champagne, see if your wine store carries Graham Beck wines.

NV Graham Beck Brut Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – love it! Fresh, generous

NV Graham Beck Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful, elegant

2012 Graham Beck Rosé Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – a touch of strawberries, toasted notes, excellent

2013 Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – wow! Elegant, clean, polished

2012 Graham Beck Brut Zero Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – good

NV Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec Methode Cap Classique WO Western Cape – beautiful! Touch of sweetness, good acidity, elegant

I had some past (and delicious!) experience with Glenelly Chardonnay, so I was definitely looking forward to tasting their line of wines:

2018 Glenelly Unoaked Chardonnay Stellenbosch – excellent

2016 Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve Stellenbosch – excellent, a touch of vanilla, burgundy style

2015 Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – excellent, cassis forward

2012 Glenelly Estate Reserve Stellenbosch (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Shiraz, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot) – restrained, clean, herbaceous, salinity. The wine is built for the long haul.

2012 Glenelly Lady May Stellenbosch (89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc) – Bordeaux style, needs time

This was an unknown producer for me:

2018 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Chenin Blanc – Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch – unusual, might be a touch sweet

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Merlot – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – simple

2017 Beau Joubert Oak Lane Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch – earthy, nice pepper note

2013 Beau Joubert The Ambassador Stellenbosch – needs time

2014 Beau Joubert Fat Pig Stellenbosch – port style, very good balance, tasty

Yes, there was food too:

Let’s get back to wines.

The next set of wines surprised me in a lot of ways – packaging (labels), creative wine names, unusual grape varieties for South Africa (Barbera? Touriga Nacional?!) and most importantly, tasty wines. When I commented to the lady who was presenting the wines how unique and tasty the wines were, she said very unpretentiously “ah, it is my brother, he is always running around with new ideas, experimenting with the wines”. Little did I know that Bruce Jack is a star winemaker who was making wines for more than 25 years and who has almost a cult following. I can tell you, as the proof is in the pudding, this line of Drift Estate wines offered plenty of proof.

2018 Bruce Jack Year of the Rooster Rosé Western Cape – nice and restrained, excellent Rosé rendition. You would never guess the grape this wine is made out of – Touriga National. Yep. As I did a bit of research, I found out that 2017 was made out of Pinotage, and 2016 out of … Touriga Franca. Yep, talk about South African wines.

2014 Bruce Jack Moveable Feast Red Blend Western Cape – excellent. Dark fruit, spices, just excellent.

2017 Bruce Jack Gift Horse Single Vineyard Barbara Western Cape – another hit. Dark fruit, tar, pencil shavings, tobacco, just wow. Yep, a South African Barbera.

2016 Bruce Jack There Are Still Mysteries Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Western Cape – beautiful, elegant, restrained, truly a mix of the new world and an old world. If you didn’t discover yet South African Pinot Noir, go on, try to find this wine.

And a few more wines:

2018 Boschendal Rose Garden Rosé South Africa – excellent, restrained, Provençal style. Merlot + Pinot Noir blend

NV Boschendal Brut Rosé Methode Cap Classique South Africa – excellent

2016 Boschendal Elgin Chardonnay South Africa – Burgundy! Wow, spectacular wine – might be the best 9fnthe tasting.

2016 Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc Coastal Region – (3 Chenin Blanc vineyards, vines are 35 to 47 years old) – petrol on the nose, beautiful, clean, delicious.

2014 Bellingham The Bernard Series SMV Coastal Paarl Region (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Viognier) – Elegant! Excellent

2014 Brampton Roxton Stellenbosch (41% Syrah, 33% Petit Verdot, 26% Malbec) – outstanding. Lots of power. This wine is named after a bull.

That competes my report. What do you think of wines of south Africa? Any favorites? Cheers!

Samples Galore: From Ohio to Washington with a Stop in Argentina

June 21, 2019 5 comments

Have wine, will travel – who is coming with me?

How about staring our wine journey in Ohio? There is a very, very good chance you never had a wine from Ohio – am I right? So was I – until the beginning of this year.

All 50 states in the USA produce wine – not sure as of what date, but this was already true at least 15 years ago. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that you can go into the store and pick up a bottle of wine from South Dakota as this is something you want to drink tonight. There is a slew of issues (economic, legal, etc.) which make it impossible. Never mind South Dakota – while Texas is one of the largest wine producers in the USA, I stand no chance of finding Texas wines in the local liquor store in Connecticut. And as I love collecting the experiences, when I was offered to participate in the Twitter Chat about Ohio wines, I quickly agreed.

The wines had been made in Ohio for a while – on par with most of the traditional wine regions in the USA. The wine cellar which is now a part of Firelands Winery in Sandusky, Ohio, was built in 1880. Obviously the wines are still unknown outside of the local towns and maybe some visitors, but still, Ohio has the winemaking history.

When I opened the box with the wines for the tasting, my first reaction was “ohh, this might not end well”. First one was Firelands Gewurztraminer – and I consider Gewurztraminer a very difficult grape – it is really difficult to create a balanced Gewurztraminer wine – I had lots (did I say lots?) of undrinkable editions, so yes, that bottle made me concerned. The second wine was equally concerning – Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from Ferrante winery. Again – an experience with many plonk-level Ice wines was definitely getting in the way.

So how the wines fared, you ask? Much (much!) better than I expected (sorry, the inner snob was talking) – really, here are the notes:

2017 Firelands Winery Gewurztraminer Isle St. George, Ohio (12.5% ABV)
Light golden
Beautiful fresh tropical fruit – leeches, guava, white peach, intense
Dry palate, clean acidity, spicy bite, Whitestone fruit, good minerality, good balance
8, very enjoyable wine, will work well with food, excellent with cheese (manchego)

2016 Ferrante Vidal Blanc Ice Wine Grand River Valley (11% ABV)
Golden color
Honey, candied peaches, fig jam, medium plus intensity.
Perfectly clean palate, a touch of honey, apples, ripe pear. Honey notes linger on the finish, but it is not overwhelming and supported by good acidity.
8+, very impressive, this is the wine I want to have a second glass of. Outstanding.

As you can see, very impressive wines. I would gladly drink both at any time – and I would love to visit the wineries if I ever make it into the area. Ahh, and one more check mark for my collection of attempts to try the wines made in all 50 states – a personal challenge which I’m tracking right here.

After having a great experience in Ohio, let’s continue our trip. Next stop? California.

First, let’s go to Santa Barbara County. Lucas and Lewellen Estate Vineyards were born in 1996 out of the friendship between Louis Lucas, a third-generation grape grower, and Superior Court Judge Royce Lewellen who first met back in 1975. They started making wine under their own label in 1998, and from there, the business expanded to include vineyards in 3 principal winegrowing areas in the Santa Barbara County – the Santa Maria Valley, the Los Alamos Valley, and the Santa Ynez Valley. They also opened a tasting room in Solvang, one of the best “wine towns” in the country. The wine we are talking about today is a classic Bordeaux blend coming from the Valley View Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley:

2016 Lucas and Lewellen Cabernet Sauvignon Valley View Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley (14.5% ABV, $25, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 7.5% Malbec, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 21 months in French oak, 40% new)
Dark garnet
Mint, underbrush, blackberries, cherries, medium intensity
Cherry-forward, tart, a touch of mint, tight, well-integrated tannins, full body, good acidity, good balance, spicy finish in the back of the mouth
8-, probably will further improve with time

Let’s move up north in California, to the famed Napa Valley.

The first vineyard on the Mt. Veeder site which is now home to the Hess Family Wine Estates, was planted in 1876. Donald Hess acquired his first vineyard on the Mt. Veeder in 1978, and through the chain of events which are described in details here, all the history connected together. In 1986, the Hess Collection winery was established, and from the early days Hess Collection became a pioneer of sustainable viticulture, hosting the first Natural Farming Symposium in 1992, and then helping to develop the California Wine Institute’s “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices” in 2002.

You can see a symbol of the lion on most of the Hess Collection wines – “live each day with the heart and courage of the lion” had been a guiding principle of the Hess family for 9 generations. Two years ago, Hess Family Wine Estates introduced a new portfolio of wine with the release of Lion Tamer red blend. Last year, the Lion Tamer was joined by Panthera Chardonnay in its inaugural release. I had an opportunity to taste the new release of these wines, and here are my notes:

2016 Hess Collection Lion Tamer Red Blend Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $45, 40% Malbec, 27% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvedre, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot, 22 months in French oak, 40% new)
Dark garnet
Coffee, dark fruit, sandalwood, cherries, a touch of sapidity
Palate on the first day was massive, with espresso, tar, pencil shavings, and cherries.
On the second day, the wine appeared a lot more balanced, with clean acidity underscoring fresh blueberries and blackberries with a touch of coffee on the finish.
V: 8, definitely needs time. Decant for 2-3 hours if you want to drink now, or put it aside for the 4-5 years. Make sure to serve it at room temperature at around 68F.

2016 Hess Collection Panthera Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County (14.3% ABV, $45, 15 months in French oak barrels, 35% new)
Golden color with a greenish hue
Distant touch of a gunflint, minerality, underripe white plums
Vanilla, butter, a classic California Chardonnay profile, big, present, Granny Smith apples, good acidity.
8-, I prefer Chardonnay with a bit more subtle expression, but this is definitely drinkable on its own and should be good with food ( nicely complimented manchego cheese)

Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay with Glass

Our next stop is in Pacific Northwest – in Oregon, to be more precise. Knudsen Family had been growing grapes in Dundee Hills AVA in Willamette Valley since 1971, one of the pioneers of the viticulture in Oregon. For a long time, the grapes from the Knudsen Vineyards were only bought by the other wineries. Relatively recently Knudsen Vineyards started producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under its own name. Previously, I tasted Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay from 2015 and 2016 vintages, which were both excellent. This year I had an opportunity to try 2017 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay (13.5% ABV, $45), and was able to see a clear progression, from 2015 to 2016 to 2017. My analogy for 2017 is Burgundian, but I don’t even know if this is a fair comparison. Knudsen Chardonnay is not a white Burgundy – it is an Oregon Chardonnay first and foremost, and it is a simply beautiful wine.

Citing myself sounds strange, but here is what I wrote about 2017 Knudsen Chardonnay in the Instagram post: “I would describe this wine as an Elegance of Precision – from the get-go, it had just a perfect amount of everything Chardonnay is famous for – a touch of vanilla, a touch of butter, a touch of golden delicious apples, vibrant acidity – and it was getting even better over the few days it was stored in the fridge, more precise, more integrated, more Burgundian. If you like Chardonnay, this is a “case buy” wine – not because it is inexpensive, but because you want to keep a few bottles in the cellar for the next 5-10 years, to see it magically evolve”. Drinkability: 9-

While we are in the Pacific Northwest, let’s try a few more wines. Kin and Cascadia wines are the result of the partnership between multi-generational families, Sagers and Masters, with these multiple generations involved in the wine business (hence the “Kin” part). This new line of wines comes from the Cascade Mountains region – which brings in Cascadia part. I had an opportunity to try Kin and Cascadia Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – here are the notes.

2017 Kin and Cascadia Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Washington (13.5% ABV, $16)
Dark garnet color
Intense berry flavor, blackberries, eucalyptus, sweet cherries
Fruit forward but has enough supporting acidity to make it pleasant. Medium body, light, simple, fresh, fresh berries (cherries and blackberries), good acidity.
7+/8-, not my idea of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is definitely easy to drink wine. Plus, it is young, so it might evolve.

2017 Kin and Cascadia Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $14)
Ruby color
Muted nose, a touch of earthy notes, underbrush
Not very expressive palate either – Light, medium body, good acidity lingering on the finish
7/7+, I personally would like more fruit and more energy. This is drinkable, but not thought-provoking.

Santa Julia wine cans

And we finally arrived at our last stop in Argentina.

In 1950, Alberto Zuccardi started working on the new irrigation systems for the vineyards in Mendoza. In 1963, he founded the vineyard of his own, which over the years became one of the most renowned in Argentina. In 1982, Bodega Santa Julia was born, named in honor of Julia (yes, she is a real person), the granddaughter of Albero Zuccardi – and Julia Zuccardi is managing her namesake winery today.

Bodega Santa Julia focuses on organic and sustainable viticulture, which sprawls from the vineyards to the people. Santa Julia was the first winery in Mendoza to achieve Fair for Life certification.

The winery joined the popular canned wines movement in the USA and introduced the line of beautifully packaged wines, which I had an opportunity to try. The wines are not amazing, but sufficient for the day on the beach or a pool party. Here are my brief notes:

NV Santa Julia Organic Malbec Rosé (375 ml can, SRP $6) – simple, quaffable, but too sweet for my taste.
NV Santa Julia Organic Chardonnay (375 ml can, SRP $6) – a bit tart, restrained fruit expression.
NV Santa Julia Tintillo Red Blend (375 ml can, SRP $6, 50% Malbec, 50% Bonarda) – good fruit expression, good acidity, medium body, good balance. My favorite of the three. And despite the recommendation, I liked it more at the room temperature than cold.

Here you are, my friends. As I said before, have wine – will travel. Until the next trip – cheers!

Navarra, Surprising and Not

June 2, 2019 2 comments

It is commonly known that Spanish wines are some of the best-kept secrets of the wine world. An oxymoron, you say? Not necessarily. I’m not implying that you need to know the secret knock on the unsightly door in order to acquire Spanish wine. The “secret” simply means that consumers still often overlook Spanish wines as a category, despite the fact that those wines possess some of the best value, the best QPR you can ever find – try a $30 Rioja (for example, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia) and you will see what I mean.

Spanish wine regions. Source: Navarra Wine US

Turns out that even secret wines have deeper secrets, such as Spanish (of course!) wines from Navarra, a northern province known for its unique climate (influenced by Mediterranean, Continental, and Atlantic climates). A long history of a close relationship with France (going back to medieval times) also led to Navarra sporting rather an interesting mix of grapes, with plantings of Garnacha and Tempranillo intermixed with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.  For a long time, Navarra was known as the “land of Rosé” – today you can find a full selection of white, Rosé and red coming from this small region.

By the way, here is the fun fact for you – in case you are a Game of Thrones fan, you might be interested to know that season six of the popular show was filmed in Navarra, in Bardenas Reales desert – here, you can impress your friends already.

If you are interested in a quick set of numbers (I know I always am) – Navarra has about 27,000 acres of vineyards, located on an average altitude of 1,300 feet (400 meters) above sea level. Annual production is about 70M liters of wine. Most planted grapes are Tempranillo and Garnacha, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 90% of the wine production are red and Rosé (Rosé is 1/3 of this production), and 10% are white wines. Okay, done with numbers, let’s continue.

With this “secret of secrets” designation, you can probably figure that Navarra wines do not occupy central shelves of the liquor stores – but maybe it is for the better? Of course I mean it in our own, selfish interest – more for us, for the people “in the know”.

I had a pleasure of drinking Navarra wines before – for example, Tempranillo from Bodegas Ochoa is an excellent rendition of one of my most favorite grapes. However, this is where my exposure to the wines of Navarra mostly ends. Thus when I was offered to try a sample of Navarra wines, I quickly agreed.

Navarra Wines Sample

The surprises started upon arrival of the wines. Once I opened the box, finding a bottle of Garnacha made perfect sense. However, not finding a bottle of Rosé was rather surprising – I was sure Rosé would be included in the sample of Navarra wines. And the biggest surprise for me was finding the bottle of … Sauvignon Blanc! No argument here – Spain is often associated with red wines, but it makes excellent white wines – Albariño, Verdejo, Godello, Viura – but 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Spain is not something I see often (Rueda might be an exception, as Sauvignon Blanc is used there too, but mostly for blending).

The surprises continued as I opened the bottle of 2018 Bodegas Inurrieta Orchidea Sauvignon Blanc Navarra (13% ABV, $12). I have to admit, before the first sniff, I was skeptical. The first whiff of the aroma immediately cured all of my worries as the wine was simply stupendous. In a blind tasting, I would instantly place this wine into California – the wine was round and powerful, on the level of Honig or Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc. A touch of freshly cut grass and currant leaves were unmistakable, supported by golden delicious apple, lemon, and complete absence of grapefruit. Perfectly refreshing, delicious wine – and at the $12 price point, the word “steal” comes to mind. (Drinkability: 8+)

Then there was Garnacha. Garnacha, a.k.a. Grenache is a very interesting grape. Garnacha has a tremendous range of expression, from ultra-powerful likes of Alto Moncayo Aquilon and No Girls Grenache to light and ephemeral Cote du Rhone and Bodegas Tres Picos. The 2016 El Chaparral De Vega Sindoa Old Vines Garnacha Navarra (15% ABV, $15) showed rather in the “ephemeral” category, despite the 15% ABV (I only noticed this high ABV when I was writing this post but not when I tasted the wine). Two main descriptors for this wine are raspberries and pepper. The wine was light, it was playful, full of fresh, ripe, but perfectly crunchy raspberries. Each one of those raspberries had a dash of black pepper on it. Ephemeral, surreal, or simply tasty – I will happily go with either descriptor. Again – excellent, excellent value at $15. (Drinkability: 8+).

Here you go, my friends. You can’t go wrong with either of these wines – not in price, not in the taste, not in the pleasure. Look for the wines of Navarra – you might be on a cusp of your next great wine discovery. Cheers!

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Bells Up Winery

May 31, 2019 4 comments

Do you know by any chance what “bells up” means? If you do, you can already pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a glass of wine. If you don’t – you can pour yourself a glass of wine and ponder at the question for a bit – the answer will follow.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about the passion, an indelible component of winemaking, possibly even a key ingredient in a delicious wine.

Dave Specter started making wine in the basement of his home back in 2006. By 2009, he realized that passion for winemaking trumpets his (successful!) career of a corporate tax attorney, and Dave decided to let his passion lead the way. In 2012, Dave and his wife Sara found themselves in Newberg, Oregon, purchasing a dead Christmas tree farm in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, where they started planting their estate vineyard. The rest is history – of passion and Pinot, there is.

BellsUp-Pinot Harvest

Bells Up vineyards. Source: Bells Up Winery

Before there was wine, there was music. For more than 20 years Dave had been playing the French horn. In classical music, there is always a moment which needs to be stressed – “Bells up” is the conductor’s instruction to the French horn players to lift the bells of their instruments and produce the sound of maximum intensity. “Bells up” became Dave’s motto in life, and it also gave the name to his winery – now you have your answer in case you are still wondering.

While Pinot Noir was the first grape planted at the newly minted Bells Up winery, the passion also led Dave to plant half an acre of Seyval Blanc, the grape he successfully used back in Ohio. That Seyval Blanc planting became the first in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, and second in Oregon. If you look at Bells Up winery website, you will see that the winery bills itself as micro-boutique and un-domaine – planting Seyval Blanc and not Pinot Gris in Oregon is clearly an un-domaine move. By the way, the “un-domaine” was one of the words which caught my eye while researching the Bells Up winery information. So I took the opportunity to sit down (virtually, albeit) with Dave and listen to him share his passion for wine. Here is what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: What kind of wine(s) did you make in your basement in Cincinnati?
[DS]: In the beginning, when my wife Sara and I started making wine in 2006 as a couple’s activity for our fifth wedding anniversary, we started with kit wines—juice in a bag, essentially. When I moved on to grapes, I sourced from both local and regional vineyards for Seyval Blanc, as well as through a Cincinnati vintners club that would truck in fruit from vineyards in California. From that I made Syrah, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot—even a Pinot Noir, although that fruit was sourced from Lodi, and was completely unlike the Pinot I work within Oregon today. Essentially, it was a hobby that grew out of control.

[TaV]: Why Oregon? As a young winemaker, you had many options – what made you decide to go to Oregon?
[DS]: First, thank you for calling me young. We were a whole lot younger when we started this journey. After that first kit wine, I was hooked on the process and wanted to learn more. Sara graciously let me take over the basement, then the garage, then the dining room. And we started taking wine vacations to “hidden gem” wine regions—Texas Hill Country, Finger Lakes, and finally Oregon in 2008.

We had already visited Oregon briefly in 2004 and loved it. In 2008 we spent two weeks roaming the state, with the last few days in Newberg at a bed and breakfast just 400 feet up the mountain from the property that is now ours. We fell in love with Oregon, the scenery, the climate, the wines, and the intimate experiences tasting wines at the tiniest wineries with the winemaker. We decided then that this was the place for us.

[TaV]: Seyval Blanc is one of the most popular grapes in the Eastern US. But why Seyval Blanc in Oregon?
[DS]: When we moved to Oregon in 2012, we knew we wanted to plant a vine that connected to our story. I’d been working with Seyval Blanc for years in Ohio and when I won two amateur national winemaking competitions in 2011, one was with a 2010 Seyval Blanc. So, it was a great tie-in.

But also, we see an opportunity to differentiate ourselves with a white wine that nobody else has in the Willamette Valley—and only one other winery has in Oregon. Plus, we believed it would grow well here, and after two small harvests that resulted in some beautiful wine, we’re happy to be proven right. Note, however, we didn’t plant a lot of it: only about 250 vines (and not all of them made it—so Sara’s been propagating like crazy ever since for replants). We figured if it was a failure, we could always graft over it.

[TaV]: Any future plans for more mainstream Oregon white grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling?
[DS]: From a business perspective, we’ve taken a really close look at what other wineries in the area are making, and for a 500-ish case production winery like ours it’s best to have just one white wine available for sale at a given time. That’s because we don’t move enough volume and the whites generally don’t age as long as reds.

We currently make Pinot Blanc and we like it quite a bit. It’s a bit rarer in these parts than Pinot Gris or Chardonnay, which again helps to differentiate us. But as for expanding our white wine program, the ultimate plan is to phase out Pinot Blanc for Seyval Blanc and that will be the only white in our line-up. There are a lot of similarities between my Pinot Blanc and my Seyval
Blanc, so the transition from one to the other won’t be as jarring as a shift from another white varietal, such as Chardonnay.

Bells Up Wines in the cellar

Bells Up wines. Source: Bells Up winery

[TaV]: Today you already make white, rosé, and red. Any plans to join seemingly the hottest Oregon trend and start producing sparkling wine?
[DS]: No. I know I keep coming back to the numbers, but I’m a finance guy with an MBA and a corporate tax law career. While we think there’s a place in the market for adding bubbles to still wines, if I made a sparkling wine I’d want to do it the right way (traditional method). That takes time, space and money. And at our volumes, what we’d have to charge per bottle to justify that type of investment is more than what the market would reasonably bear.

[TaV]: Continuing the same question – as you already produce Seyval Blanc, which makes very good dessert wines, any plans for some Late Harvest Seyval Blanc goodness?
[DS]: Don’t give Sara any ideas! Actually, we’ve been so focused on just getting these Seyval Blanc vines established and proving that our concept had legs that we really haven’t thought much farther than straight up Seyval Blanc. Our 2017 harvest yielded 100 pounds and made 23 bottles (yes, bottles)! Our 700-pound 2018 harvest produced 15 cases and we’ve made that available exclusively to our wine club members on a 2-bottle allocation. Give me a few years when I’ve got Seyval Blanc growing out of my ears and I’ll get back to you on a Late Harvest version.

[TaV]: Who are your winemaking mentors (if any)?
[DS]: First and foremost, Joe Henke of Henke Winery in Cincinnati. Joe took me under his wing as a basement winemaking hobbyist. He offered me a position as an unpaid cellar rat but promised he’d teach me everything he knew—open book—and he did. He even showed me his books because he wanted me to understand what he called “the good, the bad and the ugly of being a professional winemaker.” He’s an award-winning winemaker who makes 2,000 cases across roughly 15 different types of wines (including a phenomenal sparkling Chardonnay and an incredible Norton) in the basement of a 100-year-old house in an urban neighborhood with the bare essentials: barrels, a pump, a press, a pallet jack. I learned so much from him about the process of winemaking and the business of winemaking; that you don’t need a bunch of expensive equipment to make incredible wines. You just need to do a ton of cleaning. Amazing mentor.

Additionally, I did a harvest internship in the Fall of 2012 at Alexana in Dundee, Oregon under Bryan Weil. It was Bryan’s first harvest there as winemaker and Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars was still working alongside Bryan, as she had been consulting winemaker for the label prior to Bryan coming on board. I soaked up as much as I could about working with Pinot Noir from both of them. Because, at age 39, I was not your typical harvest intern—plus I had three years of time at Henke Winery under my belt—Bryan was gracious enough to build my internship around what I needed to learn. He put me in the vineyard for sampling fruit, for example, something I’d never had the opportunity to do before. He had me set up the lab for him and run lots of testing because I knew how to do it. We’re still very close today and I appreciate everything he was gracious enough to share with me.

As far as winery business mentors, there have been so many people in the Willamette Valley who have generously offered advice and shared their successes and failures that it would be impossible to name them all. But they know who they are.

[TaV]: What is your view on sustainable viticulture, dry farming, organic methods?
[DS]: That’s what we do here in our own vineyard and at the vineyards we source from. We think it’s very important to be good stewards of the Earth—we’re farmers now! It also produces stronger vines that develop more flavorful grapes and ultimately better wines.

[TaV]: How did you choose the music pieces as the names of your wines? What was your thought process, what criteria? What message are you trying to convey with those names?
[DS]: Let me start by explaining the name of the winery. I played French Horn for more than 20 years (I’m horribly out of practice now—Sara says I only make noise) including after business and law schools, so it was a key part of my life. When it came time to name the winery, we wanted to name it something personal that wasn’t our last name (people are terrible at remembering names!) and I really wanted to tie it into the French Horn. Coincidentally, the property Sara found was on Bell Road in Newberg. So that tied in perfectly to the term “Bells Up,” which is a notation by the composer in the score of a piece of music. At a dramatic moment, it directs the French Horns to lift the bells of their instruments to project their sound with more intensity. It’s our time to shine—which is why I say the winery is my #bellsupmoment.

The pieces of music I chose to name each wine are all ones that prominently feature the French Horn, as well as epitomize the wine itself. George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” inspired our Pinot Blanc to be named “Rhapsody” because it’s a jazzy, energetic white wine. Gustav Mahler—the French Horn player’s best friend because his pieces tend to be horn-heavy—wrote his Symphony No. 1 in D Major, called “Titan,” and it’s become regarded as his flagship work. Therefore, our Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which we consider to be our flagship Pinot, is “Titan.” And so on. There’s a link at the top of our wines page to a playlist of all the pieces for those interested in hearing them.

[TaV]: Why “un-domaine”?
[DS]: It was a term that came up as we were discussing how to describe our casual tasting room vibe, our keep-it-simple winemaking approach, and our distinctive brand with a good friend who happens to be a wine writer. A couple of years ago after we opened our doors in 2015 there was a trend of new wineries opening in the Willamette Valley with the word “Domaine” in their name. We just aren’t. Our property is humble, our tasting room is a converted pole barn, you won’t find a marble fireplace. While Sara and I enjoy wine, nobody would ever confuse us with wine snobs.

Does “un-domaine” mean we’re not for everyone? Absolutely. There’s no cachet associated with owning or drinking a bottle of Bells Up wine. And that’s perfectly fine with us. We’d much rather be the bottle on your table every day of the week than the one gathering dust in the wine rack because you spent a ton of money on it and are waiting for a special occasion—and friends who will appreciate it—before it’s opened.

[TaV]: Did you have a pivotal wine in your life, the one which changed your wine worldview?
[DS]: Not so much a specific wine but a wine experience I had very early on. I had the pleasure of visiting some friends in Europe after graduating from law school and they took me to Beaune (in the heart of Burgundy) for a weekend. We did a lot of tasting in the touristy cellars, but also in garages and co-operatives where the atmosphere was much more down-to-earth. I knew absolutely nothing about wine prior to that but I was in awe of what I saw, smelled, and tasted. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I was in the heart of a culture that valued wine as an everyday experience—that part really resonated with my soul. Looking back, I’m sure that I would appreciate that experience more fully if I took the same trip now, but that time in Beaune has fueled my passion for wine ever since.

[TaV]: With the exception of your own wines, what are your favorite Oregon wines and /or producers?
[DS]: We truly have an embarrassment of riches here in the Willamette Valley—so many quality producers call this place home that a list of my favorite producers would fill about 3 dozen barrels. With every producer having their own unique style—plus the trailblazing nature of the Oregon wine industry—innovation is happening all the time: new grapes, new techniques, and so on. I think many people assume that a winemaker drinks only his or her own wine at home, but the truth is I almost never drink my own wines outside of the professional setting. I’d much rather be exploring the styles and fresh ideas that other winemakers here are creating and perhaps get inspired to try some of those ideas myself!

[TaV]: What are your favorite wines and/producers outside of Oregon?
[DS]: Again, way too many to answer! The wines I enjoy most are ones where I have a personal connection in some way and I’m fortunate to have so many talented friends in other parts of the winemaking world. Back in Ohio, my mentor Joe Henke at Henke Winery, of course, but also my friends Greg Pollman of Valley Vineyards and Bill Skvarla of Harmony Hill Vineyards make fantastic wines from grapes grown locally and regionally. Up in Woodinville, Washington my friend, Lisa Callan of Callan Cellars is making a name for herself with her Washington-focused program. And up over the border in Naramata, British Columbia my friend Jay Drysdale has founded Bella Sparkling Wines, BC’s only winery dedicated to sparkling wines. I know that some other friends have projects in the works and can’t wait to brag about them in a few years too.

[TaV]: Where do you see Bells Up Winery in 20 years?
[DS]: Not in the grocery store. Our customer base is national, but we have no aspirations for retail distribution. We’re perfectly content to sell direct-to-consumer and to a couple of local restaurants and a wine bar in Downtown Portland. When we hit 1,000-case production, that’s it. We won’t make any more than that annually because we both enjoy and believe wholeheartedly in the micro-boutique winery experience we’ve created. We want to have personal relationships with our customers. We specifically don’t have an online ordering portal because we want to have a conversation with our buyers either by phone or email. Making and maintaining those connections is really important to us, and we hope to grow those relationships over the next 20 years and beyond.

I’m sure you are ready to taste some wine by now. Before I will share with you my notes after tasting 3 of Dave’s wines, I want to bring something to your attention. By now you know that Bells Up wines are named after different musical compositions. In case you want to experience those musical compositions, either by themselves or together with the wine, Dave has a link to Spotify playlist of all the relevant music pieces available on the winery website. And now, here are my notes:

2018 Bells Up Helios Seyval Blanc Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.1% ABV, $38, 15 cases produced)
Light golden
Restrained, minerality-driven, touch of gunflint, a touch of fresh green apples
Excellent acidity, Granny Smith apples all the way, crisp, fresh, good texture. Has traits of Seyval Blanc (tropical fruit intent, I would say, like a hint of guava without any fruit notes), but put on a different core
8-, very interesting, thought-provoking and food friendly wine (acidity lingers on the finish for a good couple of minutes)

2018 Bells Up Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains (13% ABV, $22, 126 cases produced)
Light red
Medium plus intensity, distant hint of the barnyard, underripe cranberries, herbal notes
Bone dry, crunchy cranberries, excellent acidity, food-friendly wine, fruit showing up a bit later, excellent balance
8/8+, delicious and dangerous. I can keep drinking it until the bottle will be empty

2016 Bells Up Titan Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.1% ABV, $40, 12 months in French oak (39% new), 131 cases produced)
Dark ruby
Plums, a hint of smoke, violets
Slightly underripe plums, crisp cherries, sage undertones, good acidity, light to medium body,
8-, light, easy to drink, food friendly. Should improve with time.

Dave Specter conducts Bells Up-Private Tasting

Dave Specter conducts the private tasting. Source: Bells Up Winery

Here you are, my friends. Another story of Passion and Pinot.

To be continued…

P.S. Here are the links to the posts profiling wineries in this Passion and Pinot series, in alphabetical order:

Alloro Vineyard, Ghost Hill Cellars, Ken Wright Cellars, Knudsen Vineyards, Lenné Estate, Tendril Cellars, Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Vidon Vineyard

Rediscovering Beaujolais

May 5, 2019 4 comments
Beaujolais map

Source: Discover Beaujolais website

I remember learning about wine many moons ago at Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine School, where Beaujolais was one of the first French wine regions we discovered. We learned that there are general Beaujolais wines, which are not worth seeking, Beaujolais Villages, which are a bit better than the regular Beaujolais, and ten Cru wines (Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié, and Saint-Amour) – and the Cru wines  are something worth looking for.

There might be a few reasons why Cru Beaujolais wines are worth looking for – we should remember that Beaujolais is part of Burgundy, and thus it shares similar soils and climatic conditions as the rest of the Burgundy. Beaujolais wines are made out of Gamay Noir, not Pinot Noir, which is a king of Burgundy, but still – well-made Cru Beaujolais wines can offer a poor man’s alternative to its rarely affordable cousins.

But then there is this thing… Beaujolais Nouveau. The wine which became a glorious marketing success – and Achilles hill of Beaujolais wines. Beaujolais Nouveau became an international celebration of the new vintage, where the wine produced from the grapes just harvested a few months ago, hits the shelves of the wine stores worldwide on the third Thursday in November. While the success of Beaujolais Nouveau is unquestionable, its marketing message has a simple consequence – say “Beaujolais”, and most of the wine consumers immediately add the word “Nouveau” – overshadowing all the great Cru Beaujolais wines.

Yours truly is guilty as charged – in almost 10 years of blogging, I wrote about Beaujolais Nouveau literally every year – and I have only two posts covering Cru Beaujolais, after attending the tasting of the Duboeuf Cru Beaujolais portfolio back in 2012 (here are links to the Part 1 and Part 2 posts, if you are interested). I have to also say that the avoidance of Beaujolais wines was not conscious – there are few regions and types of wines which I intentionally avoid, such as generic Cotes du Rhone or similarly generic Argentinian Malbec – but the Beaujolais avoidance was rather subconscious.

Chateau Bellevue

Château de Bellevue. Source: CognacOne/Chateau de Bellevue

When I got the email from CognacOne, an importer with an excellent collection of French wines, introducing the new Cru Beaujolais wines from Château de Bellevue, something piqued my interest, and I got the sample of two Cru Beaujolais wines from Morgon and Fleurie.

Château de Bellevue was built at the beginning of the 19th century in the village of Villié-Morgon, with the addition of the cellar behind it in 1830. Today, Château de Bellevue is both the winery and Bed and Breakfast Inn. Château de Bellevue vineyards span 37 acres across a number of the Cru Beaujolais appellations (Moulin à Vent, Morgon, Fleurie, and Brouilly) – needless to say, Gamay Noir is the only grape which can be found there. While it is all Gamay grapes, the terroir rules, and wines from the different appellations are perfectly distinguishable.

Chateau Bellevue Beaujolais wines

Here are the notes for the two wines I had an opportunity to try:

2015 Château de Bellevue Fleurie AOP (13% ABV, $25, aged 9 months in steel tanks)
Dark garnet
Crushed rock, iodine, underbrush, cherries
Medium plus body, crunchy berries, minerality, good tannins, good acidity, good balance
8, easy to drink, dangerous.

2015 Château de Bellevue Climat Les Charmes Morgon AOP (12.5% ABV, $25, aged 9-10 months (partially) in large French oak barrels)
Dark garnet
Raspberries, minerality, hot rocks
Nicely tart, well present tannins, tart cherries, excellent balance
8, a bit more earthy and bigger bodied, delicious.
Second day: 8+, the wine opened up magnificently, adding beautiful layers of fruit and spices.

Here you go, my friends. I know – too many wines, too little time – but I definitely intend on adding more Beaujolais wines to my cellar. How do Cru Beaujolais fare in your wine world? Cheers!

 

Wine Love: Lodi, California

April 28, 2019 6 comments

It is with the bittersweet feeling I confess my unconditional love to the wines of Lodi.

It is bittersweet, as on one side when the person is in love, they want to tell the whole world about it. On another side, I don’t want to tell the whole world about it – I want to keep it all to myself. I want Lodi to stay as a secret refuge for those who know. I want the Lodi wines to stay affordable, and the wineries to stay un-Napa – simple, humble, friendly, and worth visiting. But – this is not necessarily right for the winemakers of Lodi, who wants their wines to be known and drunk by the people, and therefore, it is my mission as a wine writer and wine aficionado to help with that, even risking that Lodi might not stay the same.

Bittersweet, yeah.

In general, Lodi is unknown and misunderstood. Wine lovers think that Lodi is only producing Zinfandel and high-power, high-alcohol fruit bombs. This can’t be any further away from the truth about what Lodi really is. So if this is what you thought of Lodi before, take it out of your head, and let me tell you what Lodi really is.

Historically, if California is an agricultural capital of the USA, Lodi is an agricultural capital of California. By the way, do you know where Robert Mondavi (yes, THAT Robert Mondavi) went to the high school? Yep, in Lodi. These are just fun facts, but now let’s get closer to the subject. Lodi is not about Zinfandel. First and foremost, Lodi is home to the Mediterranean grape varieties – Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Viognier, Albariño, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Barbera, and many others. Lodi has a great climate for grape growing – it gets very hot during the day – temperatures in July/August can reach into the lover 100s – however, it cools off very nicely to “ohh, I need a jacket” on August night. That temperature range helps grapes to concentrate the flavor.

Lodi has sandy soils, which are not conducive for phylloxera, thus most vineyards in Lodi are planted on their original rootstocks. Lodi is home to some of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in the USA and in the world – for example, Carignane and Cinsault vineyards are 120+ years old, still bearing wine-worthy fruit. Lodi Rules, developed starting in 1992, became the standard of sustainable winegrowing in California (the same rules are even implemented at Yarden winery in Israel). And one of the most important elements – Lodi winemakers are some of the friendliest wine people you can find.

Until late 2016 I was square with the general public, equating Lodi with Zinfandel only. Then Wine Bloggers Conference happened, hosted in Lodi, and I was blown away by what I discovered upon arriving in Lodi. During that week I was also mesmerized by the attitude and hospitality of the winemakers, who took their time off the most important winemaking activity of the year – harvest – and spent time with the wine bloggers, sharing their love of the land. It is not only about the attitude – the absolute majority of the wines were tasted were delicious – I’m very particular in my expectations as to what good Syrah, Tempranillo, Barbera, or Albariño should taste like.

Two months after the wine bloggers conference I was in the Bay area on the business trip and had an open weekend. I tried to make some appointments in Napa, and when that didn’t work out, I went again to Lodi – had an amazing time tasting through the whole portfolios of Bokisch, Borra Vineyards, and Lucas Winery (the absolute beauty of 15 years old Lucas Chardonnay we tasted at the WBC16 speed tasting session still haunts me). I never wrote about that experience, but this is a whole another matter.

Lodi wines snooth tasting

When I got an invitation from Snooth to join the virtual tasting session of Lodi wines, I almost jumped of joy – yes, I will be delighted to experience the Lodi wines, which are still hardly available outside of Lodi or California at the best (or is that a good thing :)?) Six wines, six producers, a unique and unusual set of grapes – what more wine aficionado can be excited about?

Below are my notes and thoughts about the wines. In case you want to follow along with the video of the virtual tasting, which provides way more information than I’m including here, here is the link for you.

2018 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Ingénue Mokelumne River AVA Lodi (13% ABV, $32, 35% Clairette Blanche, 35% Grenache Blanc, 20% Bourboulenc, 10% Picpoul Blanc, 350 cases produced) – Sue Tipton, winemaker and owner at Acquiesce Winery is known as a white wine specialist. She produces a range of wines made primarily out of the southern Rhone varieties.
Straw pale color
White stone fruit, candied fruit, concentrated
Day 1:
White stone fruit on the palate, good acidity, minerality, salinity
7+; it is really a 7+ out of respect to the wine which so many bloggers raving about. I clearly don’t get this wine, and no, it doesn’t give me pleasure.
Day 2-4:
Elegant, lemon and white peach notes, clean, good mid-palate weight, definitely resembling white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, uplifting, vibrant, perfectly balanced
8+; OMG. The wines can’t be any more different after being open for a few days. It changed dramatically, it opened up, it showed balance and elegance. This is an excellent wine, just give it 5-10 years to evolve (or longer).

2018 m2 Wines Vermentino Mokelumne River AVA Lodi (12.3% ABV, $20, 250 cases produced) – this Vermentino was unique and different in its show of minerality – it is quite rare for me to taste the wines like that.
Light straw pale, really non-existent color
Minerality-forward nose, granite, lemon undertones
Salinity on the palate, lemon, crisp acidity.
8-, tremendous minerality on this wine, it has more minerality than fruit. This wine also shows a bit more fruit after being opened for a few days, but it still retained all of its minerally character.

LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards 2018 Aglianico Rosé Lodi (13% ABV, $20, winery exclusive) – owned by the twin brothers, as the name says, LangeTwins is quite an unusual winery. Fun fact: their own production under LangeTwins label is quite small – however, as a contract winery their capacity to produce and store wines exceeds 2.2 million gallons. It is not the first time LangeTwins makes delicious Rosé from the Italian grapes – their Sangiovese Rosé has a cult following and impossible to get. This Aglianico Rosé is worthy of joining the cult ranks.
Beautiful pink color
Strawberries on the nose, nicely restrained, some minerality undertones
Delicate, balanced, perfect crunchy strawberries, crisp, refreshing
8, love this wine, would drink it any day

2016 Mettler Family Vineyards Pinotage Lodi (14.9% ABV, $25, winery exclusive, 350 cases produced) – not familiar with the winery, but seeing Pinotage on the label made me really wonder. Pinotage is a South African grape, which now produces much better wines than 20-30 years ago, but still with a very polarizing following (love/hate). This was my first taste of Pinotage produced outside of South Africa – and this was one unique and delicious wine.
Dark Garnet, almost black
Ripe blueberries, a touch of smoke, herbaceous undertones
Silky smooth, dark fruit, a touch of molasses, smoke, good textural presence, minerality, good acidity, good balance
8, lots of pleasure

2016 PRIE Winery Ancient Vine (1900), Block 4 Spenker Ranch Carignane Mokelumne River AVA Lodi (14.4% ABV, $29, 70 cases produced) – Just a thought if drinking the wines made from the grapes harvested from the vine which exists for 120 years, gives me quivers. An absolutely unique experience.
Bright garnet
Roasted meat, granite, chipotle
Great complexity, tart raspberries, rosemary, bright acidity, medium body, distant hint of cinnamon, excellent balance
8+/9-, it might sound like an oxymoron, but this wine is easy to drink and thought-provoking. Lots of pleasure in every sip

2016 Michael David Winery Ink Blot Cabernet Franc Lodi (15% ABV, $35, 85% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petite Sirah, 65% 16 months neutral oak, 35% 16 months new French oak) – Michael David winery is known for its show of power in the wines. But when power is supported by elegance, that’s when you have an ultimate experience.
Dark garnet
Unmistakably Lodi, blueberries and blueberries compote, medium plus intensity, fresh
Lots of fresh berries – blueberries, blackberries, chewy, fleshy, well present. Touch of cinnamon, good acidity, overall good balance.
8, massive wine offering lots of pleasure. It just happened that soon after tasting, I had to leave the town for a business trip, so I just pumped the air out and left it standing on the floor. My wife didn’t have the opportunity to finish it, so when I came back 10 days later, I decided to taste it before I will pour it down the drain. To my horror surprise, the wine was still perfectly drinkable. That technically means that it has great aging potential, so maybe I need to lose a few bottles in my cellar.

Here you are, my friends. I hope I made you curious about the wines of Lodi. Definitely look for them in the store, but also keep Lodi in mind as your next winery excursion trip – just get ready to haul home a few cases of wine. Cheers!

Patches of Goodness – Introducing Ferzo

April 25, 2019 2 comments

In Italian, Ferzo is a patch of fabric that is stitched together with others to create a sail. Let’s sail together into the world of wine.

Wine lovers are some of the happiest people in the world.

Don’t jump to any conclusions – the happiness starts before the bottle is open, not after the wine is consumed.

How I mean it? Let me explain.

I personally believe that travel is one of the best things people can do as a pastime. You get to experience a different culture, people, food, and lots more. Travel typically requires planning – money, time off work, finding someone to sit with your three dogs, water plants, feed goldfish … you get the picture. A successful trip requires one’s full, undivided involvement, from start to finish – and then it usually ends with happy memories.

Wine lovers, on another hand, have it easy. It is enough to take a bottle of wine in your hands, and you are instantly transported. Your trip starts with the first look at the label, and then it is only limited by your imagination. The more you learn about the world of wine, the easier such travel becomes. You can instantly immerse into the culture, imagine visiting the vineyard, talking to the people, sitting in the tiny cafe with a glass of wine, just observing life as it happens. Sounds good? Can I take you on a trip right now, right at this moment? Of course, I know you are ready. I’m inviting you to visit Italy, the region called Abruzzo.

Abruzzo is a region in Central Italy, located along the Adriatic Sea coast. The territory of Abruzzo is about half of the size of the US state of New Jersey. However, the region boasts the biggest number of forests and parks compared to any other region in Italy, and thus sometimes it is referred to as “the lungs of Italy”.

There is nothing unique about winemaking in Abruzzo – it is only about a few thousand years old, on par with the rest of Italy. Well, jokes aside, the Abruzzo region is enclosed in the Apennines mountains, which historically provided natural defenses to the people living in the region – as well as ideal conditions for the winemaking.

Abruzzo wines became known internationally in the 17th century, largely thanks to the Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes, who praised the high quality of the region’s white wine, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – however, today Abruzzo is first and foremost known for its red wine, Montepulciano di Abruzzo, produced from the grape called Montepulciano (try not to confuse it with the wine made in the Montepulciano village in Tuscany, which is made out of Sangiovese).

The wine is made is all four provinces of Abruzzo, however, the province of Chieti has the highest production of the four. While Montepulciano is a “king” of Abruzzo, the white grapes always played an essential role in the region. Today, the focus is shifting past the traditional Trebbiano towards until recently forgotten varieties, such as Pecorino, Passerina, and others.

Codice Citra is the largest winegrowing community in Abruzzo, uniting 3,000 winegrowing families from 9 different communes (wineries), collectively farming 15,000 acres of vineyards. Formed in 1973, Codice Citra had been making wines from the autochthonous varieties – Montepulciano, Trebbiano, Pecorino, Passerina and Cococciola.

With bottling capacity of 20,000 bottles per hour, you can imagine that Codice Citra produces quite a bit of wine. But this is not what we are talking about here. When you make wine year after year, you learn what works and what doesn’t. Little by little, you can identify the parcels of the vineyards, the patches, which produce different, maybe better grapes, year after year. And at some point, you decide – this patch is something special, maybe it deserves to be bottled on its own?

And that’s how Ferzo was born. Single grape wines, made from the plots with the vines of at least 20 years of age, representing the best Abruzzo has to offer – Montepulciano, Pecorino, Passerina and Cococciola. I had an opportunity to taste the line of Ferzo wines, graciously provided as samples by Donna White, and I was utterly impressed with the quality and the amount of pleasure each wine had to offer. Here are the notes:

2017 Ferzo Cococciola Terre di Chieti IGP (13% ABV, $26)
Light golden
A touch of honey, golden delicious apple, a hint of tropical fruit, distant hint of petrol
Crisp tart apples on the palate, restrained, lemon, cut through acidity, very refreshing.
8, summer day in the glass. Perfect by itself, but will play nicely with food. An extra bonus – a new grape.
2017 Ferzo Passerina Terre di Chieti IGP (13% ABV, $26)
Light golden
Whitestone fruit, summer meadows, a touch of the ripe white peach, guava
Nice minerality, underripe white peach, a touch of grass, clean acidity. Clean acidity on the finish.
8, delicious, refreshing, long-lasting finish.
2017 Ferzo Pecorino Terre di Chieti IGP (13% ABV, $26)
golden
Herbs, distant hint of the gunflint and truffles, a touch of butter. The wine changes in the glass rapidly
Very complex, a hint of butter, young peaches, silky smooth, roll-of-your-tongue mouthfeel, unusual. Medium plus body, good acidity.
8+/9-, an enigma. Very interesting wine.
2016 Ferzo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP (13.5% ABV, $26)
Dark garnet, practically black
Complex, Grenache-like – dark chocolate, blueberries, baking spice, sweet oak, medium plus intensity
Wow. Great extraction, medium to full body, silky mouthfeel, noticeable tannins without going overboard, very restrained, tart cherries
8+, a modern style old world wine – higher intensity old-world taste profile
Here you are, my friends. Look for these simple labels, there is a lot of pleasure hinding behind them. Discover new side of Abruzzo with the Ferzo wines, and you can thank me later. Cheers!

 

Top Wines of 2018 – Second Dozen

December 29, 2018 1 comment

Another year is about to become a history – which means special time on the Talk-a-Vino pages. It is the time to reflect on the wines of the past year and to relive some of the tasty moments once again.

This feature is run every year since I started the blog in 2010 so this will be the 9th annual list. The wines are included in this list on one simple premise – they have to be memorable. The easier for me to recall the wine, the better are the chances for the wine to be included here.

It is always not easy to designate a few dozens of wines to include into this list – I think I roughly taste about a thousand wines (that include all the trade tastings, of course) during the year, so deciding on the 20 something of the “best” is a challenging task – but it only makes it more fun.

With the exception of the wine #1, most of the wines in this list are not sorted in any kind of order – but the wine #1 would be the most memorable wine of the year. If I wrote about the wine before, I will always include the link to the existing post. For most of the cases, I don’t include the tasting notes in the Top Wines posts – just an explanation as to why the wine was included into the list. Ahh, and it is never just two dozens of wines – making the decision is hard, and 12 or 14 doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, right?

We are done with the introduction – now, let’s talk about the wines.

27. 2016 Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux ($20) – this wine comes from the double-underappreciated category – Côtes de Bordeaux is regarded much less than the Bordeaux itself, and white Bordeaux is something people rarely ask for by name. However, once you will taste this wine, you wouldn’t care about its pedigree, you would only care about another glass. Beautiful combination of crispy, refreshing, and round. Look for this wine – but don’t settle for one bottle, or you are taking a great risk of upsetting yourself.

26. 2015 Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico Santa Barbara County ($29) – this is the wine you have to taste to believe. In a blind tasting, I would instantly designate it as an Italian – all the characteristic traits of a good, modern style Chianti, with generous sweet cherries and a touch of leather and tobacco on the back end are present in this wine – only it is made in California. Great effort, delicious wine.

25. 2016 Brooks Ara Riesling Willamette Valley ($38) – It is not every day you get to drink Riesling from Oregon. It is also not every day that you drink delicious Riesling not made in Germany, Alsace, or, at least, the Finger Lakes. Truly delicious, varietally correct Riesling. A beautiful wine worth seeking.

24. 2016 WineGirl Wines Butte PinUp Blend Lake Chelan ($40) – was blown away by how polished and well integrated this wine was during the Wine Bloggers Conference this year. This is one yummy, delicious and perfectly balanced wine, which you want to continue drinking and the bottle is …you know… empty?

23. 2007 Tishbi Cabernet-Petite Sirah Shomron Israel ($NA) – Tishbi is one of the oldest and best Israeli producers, yes. However, I really didn’t expect much from this 11 years old wine which was simply stored on the wine rack in the middle of the room in the apartment. And the wine was a total [good!] surprise – it was fragrant, it was mature, it was ultra-complex and delicious. It was probably at its peak, but who knows… By the time I wanted a second glass, it was gone.

22. 1997 Burgess Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($NA) – 1997 is a special year in my life (our marriage year), so I’m always looking for the wines from 1997. A while ago, I was lucky enough to score a few batches of Burgess Cellars 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon off the WTSO, and we had been enjoying it one bottle at a time. Every time I open a bottle I’m happy to see that it is still fresh, still can use a bit more time, and it is still perfectly delicious.

21. 2004 Viña Mayor Reserva Ribera Del Duero (~$20) – every time when I drink Ribera del Duero wines, especially at this level of quality, I wonder why I don’t drink them more often. Let’s also not forget that 2004 was an excellent vintage in Ribera del Duero. This 14 years old wine didn’t show any hint of age – powerful and structured, but generous and voluptuous at the same time. It was my last bottle, unfortunately – but I hope that even newer vintages will fare equally well.

20. 2014 Dunham Cellars XX Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley ($45) – similarly to the Brooks Riesling and WineGirl red, this wine was also one of the highlights of the WBC18. A textbook example of the good Cabernet Sauvignon – cassis, eucalyptus, full body with gentle, layered tannins, perfect balance – just an excellent wine.

19. 2011 Jean-Luc Baldès Triguedina Clos Triguedina Cahors AOP ($40) – wines of the south of France are rare and definitely underappreciated, for sure in the USA. This wine was one of the highlights of the tasting of the wines of the south of France I attended earlier this year. The wine is primarily Malbec, but unlike Argentinian renditions, this is an old world wine, restrained, elegant, and thought-provoking.

18. 2016 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($27) – this wine was an indelible part of one of the most unique culinary experiences of the year – tasting Bistecca alla Fiorentina, made out of the Pat LaFrieda meat, perfectly accompanied by this Rosso. I always think “steak and Cab”, but this baby Brunello was simply singing with the meat, precisely matching the herbal components of the seasoning and adding layers of the tart cherries with every sip. I always appreciate good wine and food pairing, but I’m sure you know that good pairings are never easy to find – and this was pure perfection.

17. 2013 Willis Hall Razz-ma-Tazz v4.0 Washington ($NA) – Sweet wines are always a troubled category – everybody is ashamed to admit that they like sugar, so the sweet wines mostly stay in the “thinking about” realm – when we plan a dinner, we often think of finishing it with a bottle of dessert wine – by the time the dessert bottle should be opened, your gusts tell you that they don’t want anything else, especially not the dessert wine. So I was contemplating opening this bottle for the very long time, few times even getting it out of the cellar, only to put back when the guests are gone. I’m glad I finally pulled the cork as the wine was a pure delight. It is actually made out of raspberries, and it was ultra-elegant, with the pure, ripe, delicious raspberry taste matched with beautiful acidity.

16. 2009 Montalbera Laccento Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato Piedmont ($35) – This is not a very old wine, but this was definitely the case of the patience rewarded. I had current vintage Ruche from the same producer earlier this year, and while the wine was good, it clearly needed time. This 2009 Ruche was perfectly on point – dry, firm and structured, it had a beautiful bouquet already developed, offering perfumed leather, cherries and tobacco intermingling on the palate. Couple that with a good pizza – and this might be a glimpse of heaven on Earth moment.

15. 2014 Tendril Cellars Extrovert Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($48) – tasting the wines of Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars was a special experience – 5 different Pinot Noir, each one with its own personality. Somehow, the Extrovert left the most lasting impression out of the five – the finesse of Pinot Noir all enwrapped in the layers of silky power, as only Oregon Pinot Noir can deliver. If you are a fun of a fully extracted Oregon Pinot Noir, you will understand me well. If you are not, you need to find this wine and taste it for yourself.

14. 2014 Domaine du Raifault Cuvée Tradition Chinon AOC ($17) – I’m a huge fan of Cabernet Franc wines, especially in the old world rendition, where the cassis is beautifully apparent and the wine stays on the lean side. This was a superb example of the old world Cabernet Franc, cassis forward and firmly structured. A delight.

This now concludes the presentation of the second dozen (and some) of the Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of 2018. The first dozen post will follow shortly. Cheers!

 

From $5 to $95

December 23, 2018 1 comment

Taste of the wine is subjective. This is a very simple statement, but it is important to keep it in mind. It really helps to avoid disappointment, when, for example, you tell your friend that the wine is amazing, and your friend politely explains that “ahh, sorry, this is really not my thing”. This is also why all the ratings and medals simply mean that someone liked the wine – but they don’t offer any guarantee that you will like the wine too.

Not only the taste of the wine is “objectively subjective” (hope this makes sense to you), but it is also easily influenced (blind tasting is the only way to remove all the external influences and leave you one on one with the wine). There are many factors which influence the taste – bottle appearance, label, ratings, medals, friends and store clerks recommendations, and maybe most importantly, price.

Think about how you buy a bottle of wine as a present for someone. You would typically set yourself a price limit, and you will do your best not to exceed it. Let’s say you decided to spend $30 on a bottle. But what happens if the store’s employee would recommend you a bottle of wine at $15, saying also that the $15 bottle is equally good or even better than the one for $32 you hold in your hand. What will be your first thought? I bet your brain will say “ohh, this is too cheap! You can’t do this, take the one for $32!”.

It is obvious that price affects your buying decision. But the price is even more influential when you start drinking the wine, as the price sets the expectations. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, but I’m willing to bet that you expect $10 bottle of wine to be mediocre, and you will be ultra-excited faced with the glass of $100 wine. The fun part about $10 bottle is that there is a great chance for a pleasant surprise. The sad part about the $100 bottle that there is a chance of a great disappointment. The best thing to do is to keep your expectations at bay and simply taste the wine and decide whether you like it or not – but this is usually easier said than done. Oh well, just keep working on it.

The message I’m trying to convey with all this pricing/influencing talk can be summarized like this: tasty wines exist at all price ranges. You can enjoy the wine for $5, and you can enjoy the wine for $95. Will you enjoy them equally? This is a tough question only you can answer. But let me share with you my experience with the wines from $5 to $95 which I tasted throughout this year – and then we can compare notes later on. Here we go:

Under $10:

2016 San Pedro Gato Negro Pinot Noir Valle Central DO Chile (13.5% ABV, $4.99)
Garnet
Characteristic Pinot Noir cherries and lavender on the nose, medium intensity
Simple, light, touch of tart cherries, baking spice, good acidity, overall not weary powerful, but offers lots of pleasure.
7+, simple but very nice glass of wine, and an amazing value.

2016 San Pedro 9 Lives Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Chile (13.5% ABV, $9.99)
Garnet
Tobacco and cat pee
Pretty tannic, with some fruit notes hiding behind.
Not very good from the get-go.
After 3 days open – dramatic change, raspberries and blackberries on the palate, ripe fruit, good acidity, eucalyptus notes, medium body – very nice. Truly needed time ( even 2 days was not enough).
8- after 3 days.

Under $20:

2014 Domaine du Raifault Cuvée Tradition Chinon AOC (13% ABV, $17)
Bright Ruby color
Tobacco and cassis on the nose, bright and explicit
The same continues on the palate – cassis, tobacco, perfect acidity, bright, soft, round, delicious.
9, I can drink this wine any day, every day. Superb. This is the Cab Franc I want to drink.

2014 San Marzano Talò Salice Salentino DOP (13% ABV, $16.99, 85% Negroamaro, 15% Malvasia Nera, 6 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Cherries, leather, earthy notes, granite, fresh, open, inviting
Ripe cherries, vanilla, toasted brioche, sweet tobacco, succulent, open, fresh acidity, medium+ body, excellent balance
8-/8, perfect from the get go
8+ on the second and next 3 days – lots of chewy dark fruit, generous, voluptuous, outstanding.

Under $40:

2013 Xavier Flouret Kavalier Riesling Kabinett Trocken Mosel (11% ABV, $25)
Bright Golden color
A touch of honey, lots of tropical fruit – guava, mango, white flowers, intense, pleasant
Cut trough acidity, lemon, green pineapple, intense minerality, excellent
8, great Riesling as it should be – I want to try it in 10 years.

2015 Markham Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $27, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah, 15 months in barrel)
Dark garnet
Muted nose, a touch of blackberries, right, mint, minerality
The palate is also restrained, tart dark fruit, good structure, good acidity
8-, needs time.

2013 Attems Cicinis Sauvignon Blanc Collio DOC (13.5% ABV, $30, 8 months in French oak Barriques and 2 months in the bottle)
Light golden
Minerality driven nose, with a touch of truffle and sweet sage
Medium body, crisp, firm, excellent acidity but overall nice plumpness, savory lemon, crisp finish
Drinkability: 8, I would gladly drink it again any time

Above $40:

2013 Frescobaldi Castello Nipozzano Montesodi Toscana IGT (13.5% ABV, $44, 18 months in oak, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet color
Leather, forest floor, minerality, cedar, medium+ intensity
A touch of smoke, tart cherries, tobacco, clean acidity, well integrated.
8, delicious from the get-go. Excellent aging potential.

2014 Domaine Ostertag Muenchberg Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Contrôlée (14% ABV, $50)
Light golden
Rich, intense, tropical fruit, guava, pineapple, distant hint of petrol
Delicious palate, a touch of honey and hazelnut, good acidity and tons of minerality. This is minerality driven wine right now, which will evolve into a total beauty over the next 10 years.
8, excellent.

2014 Luce Della Vite Toscana IGP (14.5% ABV, $95, Sangiovese/Merlot, 24 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Pungent, dark chocolate, truffles, licorice
From the get-go, super gripping tannins. A little bit of dark fruit is immediately displaced by the tannins. Based on the initial sensation, lots of French oak.
Not drinkable from the get-go. Needs time.
3 days later – superb. Succulent cherries, firm structure, a touch of leather and tobacco, unmistakably Italian, and unmistakable super-Tuscan. Great acidity.
8+

As you can tell, I was equally struggling with the wines at $10 and $95, and my most favorite wine from the group was a mere $17 wine – but overall, there were no bad wines in this group. How do you see the prices of wine? How influential are prices when you buy the wine and when you drink it? Cheers!

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