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Thinking About Albariño, or Notes from Albariño Deep Immersion with Snooth – 2018 edition

August 1, 2018 2 comments

Luckily, Albariño doesn’t need an introduction to the wine lovers anymore (if you think I live in lalaland, please speak up). Albariño is the best known white grape of Spain, making crisp, dry, minerally-infused, refreshing white wines, perfectly suitable to support any seafood dish, as they always had in their native Galicia region. As with most of the white wines, Albariño is typically associated with summer, but it is a versatile wine all year around – and typically very reasonably priced.

Albariño tasting 2018

For the second year in the row, I had a pleasure of participating in the virtual tasting of Albariño wines, organized by Snooth, one of the largest online wine communities. I will not delve into the technical details of the region, as I had an extensive coverage in last year’s post, and instead, I will simply share my notes for the wines we tasted.

Here are the notes, sorted by the sub-region of Rias Baixas:

Sub-region: Val do Salnés:

2016 Condes de Albarei Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13.5% ABV, $15)
Light straw
Lemon, lemongrass, hint of peach
Lemon, good minerality, medium body, good mouthfeel, mostly acidity on the finish
8-, good balance, round

2017 Pazo Señorans Albariño Val do Salinés Rías Baixas DO (13.5% ABV, $25)
Straw color
Rich citrus – lemon, grapefruit, orange
Clean acidity, lemon, thyme, good minerality, vibrant, fresh
8-, excellent

2017 Nai e Señora Albariño Val do Salnés Rías Baixas DO (13% ABV, $15.57)
Straw pale
Tropical fruit, white flowers
Round, clean, good balance of fruit and acidity
8, definitely one of the favorites.

2017 Paco & Lola Albariño Rías Baixas DO (13% ABV, $21.99)
Lightest color of all, straw pale
Lemon, mint, nice minerality
Fresh, crisp, cut-trough acidity, lemon grass
8-, round and extremely refreshing

Sub-region: Contado do Tea:

2016 Fillaboa Albariño Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $20)
Light golden
Candied lemon, vanilla, touch of butter, medium+ intensity, inviting
Crisp acidity, fresh, touch of salinity, fresh lemon, steely notes, vibrant
8-/8, excellent

2017 Señorío de Rubiós Robaliño Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18)
Straw pale
Sage, lemon, hint of overripe white peach
Good acidity, lemon finish, Meyer lemon notes
7/7+, Needs more vibrancy.

2017 Bodegas As Laxas Albariño Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $18)
Light straw color
Lemon, touch of minerality,
Minerality, forthcoming acidity, hint of grapefruit, Mayer lemon, good balance
8-, very good, balanced wine

Sub-region: O Rosal:

2017 Valmiñor Albariño Rías Baixas DO (13% ABV, $18.99)
Light gold
Fresh white plums, intense, pineapple, very inviting
Crisp acidity, lemon notes, fresh
7/7+, nice, simple, varietally correct

2016 Don Pedro Albariño De Soutomaior Rias Baixas DO (13% ABV, $18.99)
Light gold
Touch of honeysuckle, white flowers, hint of peach
Crisp acidity, pure lemon, vibrant, clean, lots of minerality, good midpalate weight
8-, steely goodness of the young Chablis, excellent, lots of pleasure. This wine will dramatically evolve over the next 5-7 years.

2017 Altos de Sorona Rosal Rías Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $20, blend of Albariño, Caiño, Loureiro)
Straw color
Lemon, sea air, minerality
Lemon, crisp acidity, good weight, fresh, vibrant.
8-, excellent balance, can be had by itself as a summer day thirst quencher, or with some oysters (would work beautifully)

2017 Terras Garuda O Rosal Rias Baixas DO (12.5% ABV, $23.99, 70% Albariño, 10% Loureira, 20% Caiño Blanco)
Light golden color
Tropical fruit, guava, candied lemon, vanilla
Rich, generous, hint of watermelon and pineapple, crisp acidity, fresh, vibrant
8-, excellent

If you want to see the recording of the tasting, you can find it here. If you want to try the wines we tasted, most of them are still available on the Snooth website, also at a great price – take a look here.

I have to say that the quality was excellent across all the wines we tasted, with some of the standouts, such as Nai e Señora Albariño. Is Albariño a part of your standard wine routine? Do you have any favorites? Cheers!

P.S. Procrastination sometimes offers benefits – this tasting took place in May, but today (August 1st, 2018) is International Albariño Day, so I guess the post about Albariño is quite appropriate.

Looking for Great Wine Values? Trader Joe’s Got Them

June 8, 2018 4 comments

Another trip. Another stop at Trader Joe’s. Another “how do they do it?!” sentiment.

My typical strategy in Trader Joe’s is to see how many wines $20 can buy. This time around, I decided to change that. Somehow, being in San Diego in California, there was sudden desire to focus on California wines. That, and maybe a bit of France – 2018 had been my personal France tasting renaissance so far.

Of course, while I wanted to drink California wine, I was still on the lookout for reasonably priced bottles, not to exceed $20 – by the way, I know that good California wine under $20 is considered “mission impossible” by many, so this was another interesting challenge.

After touching and turning tens and tens of bottles, I settled for maybe not famous, but very well known producers – Benziger Family Winery and St. Clement Vineyards from California. I almost added French GSM to the basket, but instead, went with the Rhone-style white blend – a classic combination of grapes (Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne), and a great value at $6.99. Trade Joe's wines

How did the wines fare? Let me tell you all about it.

2016 Pontificis Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne Pay’s d’Oc IGP (13% ABV, $6.99, $50% Viognier, 35% Roussanne, 15% Marsanne). While Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne combination is a classic blend of Northern Rhone, this wine came from Languedoc, the winemaking region where everything is possible. Was it different than the actual Northern Rhone would be? You bet. Was it still delicious in its own right? By all means.

Light golden color in the glass. After some time, the nose showed classic Viognier perfume of tropical fruit – nothing overboard, but well noticeable. As it is often the case with Marsanne/Roussanne combination, I almost preferred this white wine at the room temperature versus fridge-cold. A touch of lemon and lemon zest on the palate, characteristic plumpness, full body, with some hint of guava. Roll of your tongue goodness, with a perfect amount of acidity on the finish – just bring me some food. Drinkability: 8-/8. And good luck matching this value.

2014 St. Clement Vineyards Pinot Noir Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $9.99). St. Clement Vineyards had been making wines in Napa Valley since the 1970s. One of their wines, a red blend called Oroppas, is one of my favorites, so this was an easy choice.

Bright ruby color in the glass. Dark chocolate, tobacco, and plums on the nose. The palate is perfectly balanced with supple raspberries and blackberries, good firm structure, excellent mouthfeel and presence, and an acidity cleanse on the finish. It might be pure luck – but luck or not, this was one tasty California wine. For $9.99. Drinkability: 8

2015 Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County (13.5% ABV, $13.99, 16 months in oak). Benziger winery was founded in 1980, and in the year 2000 became a Demeter certified biodynamic farm. Benziger wines generally offer good value for the money, and who can refuse a California Cabernet from a good producer? Yep, not me.

Dark garnet, almost black in the glass. Beautiful nose of black currant and bell pepper. Unmistakable, textbook Cabernet Sauvignon on the palate – clean fruit, soft, open, black currant, eucalyptus, soft tannins, medium+ body. Lots of pleasure in every sip. Another great California value – well under $20. Drinkability: 8-/8.

Here you go, my friends. Trader Joe’s is unstoppable in its mission of bringing tasty power to the people. What was your favorite Trader Joe’s discovery as of late? I’m off to have another glass of Cab while you are thinking about it.

 

Sequel in Reverse – More About Wines of Southwest France

May 18, 2018 3 comments

What’s up with the “sequel in reverse”, you ask? Easy. All we need to do is flip the timeline. This post is a continuation of the previous post about wines of Southwest France – however, the tasting I want to share with you took place almost 6 months ago, at the end of the last year 2017, hence the “reverse” notion.

Outside of the sequence of the events, the two tastings are perfectly aligned – they are both squarely dedicated to the wines of one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world – Southwest France.

I can’t explain why, but I feel that I need to make a confession. If you look through the pages of this blog – and there are a few here – I’m sure you will come to a conclusion that I primarily drink wines from California, Spain, and Italy, with an occasional sprinkle of everything else. And you will not be wrong. However, truth be told, my true love to wine started from French wines. I read the most about French wine and French wine regions. I was obsessed with trying to find an amazing Bordeaux for less than $10. Côtes du Rhône wines were a staple at the house. I spent countless hours in the France aisles of the wine stores (luckily, I was working in a close proximity of the Bottle King in New Jersey), looking for the next great experience with the wines from the Loire, Rhône, Bordeaux, Chablis, and others. French wines were “it” – unquestionably, a sacred territory. As the time was going by, and Bordeaux and Burgundy prices were going up faster than the weeds growing after the rain, the French wines moved mostly into a category of a rare encounter.

Wines of Southwest France

Last December was not the first time I participated in the virtual tasting about the French wines – but somehow, when I opened the box with these wines, something warm and fuzzy came over, and my first reaction was “ahh, I really, really want to drink these wines!”. There is nothing special about this particular set – no big names (I don’t believe Southwest France has much of “big names” anyway), no flashy, ultra-modern labels – and nevertheless, there was a promise of a great time in their simplicity and authenticity. These wines also perfectly played to my other “wine obsession” – the love to obscure and lesser-known wines, so altogether, I took a great pleasure in anticipation of the tasting.

As this was a virtual tasting, I had both the wines and time at my disposal, so unlike the previous post, here are my detailed notes in the usual format:

2016 Chateau Laulerie Bergerac AOC (12% ABV, $12, 85% Sayvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon)
C: Light gold
N: beautiful, fresh, medium+ intesnsity, honeysuckle, white flowers, peach
P: fresh, crisp, excelllent lemony acidity, white stone fruit, restrained
V: 8-, delicious, will be great with food and without, great QPR

2015 Domaine Elian Da Ros Abouriou Côtes du Marmandais AOC (12% ABV, $23.99, 90% Abouriou, 10% Merlot)
C: dark ruby
N: freshly chrushed berries, leafy notes, cherries, anis
P: ripe plums, sweet tobacco, eucalyptus, medium long sweet tobacco finish
V: 8-, would love to try it with an actual cigar. Needs a bit of time. And a new grape – Abouriou

2015 Domaine du Cros Marcillac AOP (12.5% ABV, $15.99, 100% Fer Servadou)
C: Ruby
N: earthy notes, mint, some medicinal notes (iodine?)
P: beautiful fresh pepper on the palate, tobacco, cherries – that pepper is delicious, love the wines like that
V: 8/8+, delicious, excellent QPR

2014 Château Lamartine Prestige du Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, $17.99, 100% Cot (Malbec))
C: dark garnet
N: vegetative, tobacco, a touch of cherries
P: bright acidity, dark fruit, tart cherries and cherry pit, noticeable tannins.
V: 8-, pleasant, will work great with the steak, but needs time

2011 Château Bouscassé Grand Vin de Madiran (14.5% ABV, $17.95, 60% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, forest floor, a touch of eucalyptus,
P: initial tannins attach, pepper, dark round fruit, excellent extraction, layers of flavor, firm structure
V: 8+, outstanding, powerful, balanced, needs time!

The Southwest France wines are a treasure trove for the wine lovers – they capitalize on tremendous history, experience, unique terroir and unique grapes, offering oenophiles lots of pleasure in every sip. Look for the wines of Southwest France – and you can thank me later.

From Lodi And Provence, With Love

May 12, 2018 3 comments

Provence RoséWe drink wine because it gives us pleasure. Yes, it is that simple (and I didn’t come up with this – I learned it from Kevin Zraly, maybe the best wine educator in the world). We are looking for pure and simple sensual pleasure in every sip of that white, pink or red colored liquid in the glass, and, of course, it makes us happy when we find it.

When it comes to giving pleasure, I have to state that Rosé has an unfair advantage. We start drinking with our eyes, and while white and red have to compete for our attention with creative labels or sometimes even bottle shapes, Rosé takes a lot more simplistic approach – it just stands in front of us – naked. Clear bottle, nothing to hide – here I am, and I know I’m beautiful, so yes, do look at me and feel free to admire.

I don’t know if colors have universal meaning around the world – for instance, red is typically associated with danger or daring in the Western world – and red is the color of luck in China. So the pink color is usually associated with love and happiness in the Western world, and this is why the bottle of Rosé is so good at driving our emotions, no matter what shade of pink it actually boasts.

Acceptance, appreciation, and demand for Rosé stand at all times high today – and it continues climbing to the new “high” every year. Rosé still has a stigma of “summer wine”, but this is slowly changing as people start recognizing how much pleasure every sip of good Rosé packs, and how versatile it is with food – I would dare to say that in its food pairing versatility, it can well compete with Champagne, which is very hard to beat in its pairing range of cuisines from traditional Chinese to fiery Indian, sublime French, or big and bold Texas BBQ.

Today, Rosé is made everywhere – literally everywhere in the world. It is hard to find a winery which didn’t add Rosé to its repertoire. But before Rosé became so fashionable, there was Provence. More than 90% of the wines made in Provence are Rosé, and then they’ve been practicing for about thousand years, so Rosé is really a way of life in Provence, which is easy to see once you take a sip from the glass. I might surprise you with a choice of a close contender to the dominance of Provence – and they are not at all if you will think about the production volume – but when it comes to the taste, Rosé from Lodi in California will easily give Provence a run for the money.

Just look at these colors! Don’t they scream “pleasure”? The Provence Rosé in this picture is only for the color reference purpose, was not part of the tasting

Ever since visiting Lodi in 2016 for the Wine Bloggers Conference, I use every opportunity to confess my love to the region. Lodi might be one of the best-kept secrets in California wine. While a lot of wineries and regions are contemplating their approach to sustainability, Lodi grape growers already developed so-called Lodi Rules (now being analyzed and copied in many regions) for sustainable viticulture, and they have the certification program in place to ascertain that rules don’t just stay theoretical. What starts in the vineyards, continues in the wineries, and the result is simply better wines.

Most of the times Lodi is associated with Zinfandel. Of course, Zinfandel is one of the best known and important grapes in Lodi, but on a big scale, Lodi is a home of the Mediterranean grape varieties – Albarino, Grenache Blanc, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo and many others, made into delicious, perfectly restrained wines. Lodi goes beyond just the grapes – we need to talk ancient grapes here. lodi is home to some of the oldest in the world plantings of Carignan and Cinsaut (Cinsault), original Mediterranean varieties, also planted on its own rootstock (phylloxera doesn’t survive in Lodi’s sandy soils). Definitely another level – and should be a subject of a separate post.

I had a pleasure of tasting 5 different Rosé for this post – two from Lodi and 3 from Provence. One of the Lodi Rosé is coming from Markus Bokisch, truly a master of Spanish (yes, Mediterranean) grape varieties. Second Lodi wine is produced by Estate Crush from ancient vines Cinsaut, from 130 years old vineyard. Provence wines are coming from two estates owned by Provence Rosé Group – two wines from the Château de Berne, the estate tracing its origins back to the 12th century. The last Provence Rosé is from the Ultimate Provence, the experimental estate which combines traditional Provence with urban design. Before we talk about the wines, just look at those Provence bottles – each one is practically the work of art, uniquely appealing beyond just the color.

Here are my notes:

2017 Bokisch Bokisch Vineyards Terra Alta Vineyard Rosado Clements Hill – Lodi (13.6% ABV, $18, 80& Garnacha, 20% Tempranillo)
Beautiful salmon pink color, very delicate
Fresh tart strawberries on the nose, medium intensity, touch of Meyer lemon
Strawberries all the way on the palate, the wine is definitely more present on the palate than any from Provence, a touch of sweetness, medium body, good acidity, very good balance. Refreshing and quaffable. Sweetness significantly subsided on the second day. Outstanding.
Drinkability: 8-, will be perfect with any spicy food.

2016 Estate Crush Rosé of Cinsaut Bechthold Vineyard Lodi (12.5% ABV, $21, 100% Cinsaut, 130 years old vineyard)
Bright strawberry pink
Strawberries and caramel on the nose, even the toffee flavor, sweet condensed milk. Caramel and toffee are mostly gone after first swirl and sip 😦
Nicely restrained palate, a touch of strawberry with very high lemon acidity and Long, acidity-driven finish – I keep salivating for about 30 seconds already. This will compete neck in neck with any Provence wine
Drinkability: 8, excellent. This wine also perfectly passes room temperature test.

2017 Château de Berne Emotion Côtes de Provence AOP (13% ABV, $16, 50% Grenache Noir, 25% Cinsault, 25% Syrah)
Light salmon pink/onion peel
Strawberries on the nose, ripe strawberries on the palate, excellent balance, clean, fresh, easy to drink.
Drinkability: 8, excellent, delicious from the get go (as one would expect from Rosé). Was also excellent with food!

2017 Château de Berne Inspiration Côtes de Provence AOP (13% ABV, $19.99, 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Cinsault, 10% Syrah)
Salmon pink
Delicate nose, lemon notes, minerality, a touch of funk
Pretty rough edges on the palate initially, interesting vegetative undertones.
Drinkability: 7+, might be a food wine.
3 days later, the palate is better integrated, clean and balanced. Totally unexpected. Drinkability: 8-/8

2017 Ultimate Provence Urban Provence Côtes de Provence AOP (12.5% ABV, $22.99, 45% Grenache Noir, 35% Cinsault, 15% Syrah, 5% Rolle)
Delicate light baby pink
Complex nose, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, a touch of flowers, a cheese note (light, disappeared after some breathing time)
Clean, bright, fresh palate, strawberries and strawberry compote, crisp acidity, very refreshing – but all the fruit quicky fading, and the wine doesn’t appear balanced.
Drinkability: 7+, unique and unusual nose. Palate might be too dry after all.
3 days later – 8-/8, round, strawberries and raspberries with white stone fruit undertones, clean, totally different level of pleasure. Another surprise.

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Here you are, my friends – 5 very interesting Rosé to brighten up any day, summer, winter, holiday, and not.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, so you still have time to surprise Mom with your good taste in wine. And if you are a mom reading this – Happy Mother’s Day to you and thank you for everything you do!

 

 

Where In The World is Gigondas?

May 5, 2018 1 comment

Do you think I’m dumbing it down way out of proportion? Do you think every wine consumer is perfectly familiar with whereabouts of Gigondas and its wines, and thus taking offense in the title of this post? Well, if this is the case, please share your anger in the comments section below and click the “x” in the corner. And if you are still here, let’s talk about the tiny speck of land in the southern part of the Rhone appellation in France.

Size matters, but probably not in this case. Gigondas has only about 3,000 acres of vineyards for the whole appellation  (for comparison, E.& J. Gallo in California owns 20,000 acres of vineyards). Nobody knows where Gigondas name came from, but it is known that the wine was consumed in the Gigondas region more than 2,000 years ago. First records of Gigondas vineyard go all the way back to the 12th century. I guess the wine in Gigondas was really good even in the early days, as in 1591 there were first laws enacted, particularly prohibiting the sales of the wine to foreigners. In 1971, Gigondas became the first appellation in Côtes du Rhône-Villages to receive its own AOC status.

Gigondas is the land of Red and Rosé (just Red, mostly). Yep, that’s right – no white wines are produced and no white grapes are grown – at least for the wines produced under the Gigondas designation. The wines of Gigondas stylistically similar to the wines made in the neighboring – also much larger and a lot more famous – appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – despite vignerons mostly working with 4 grapes in Gigondas (out of 8 varieties officially permitted), while folks in Châteauneuf-du-Pape allowed to use 18 in production of their red wines, 9 of which are white. At the end of the day, it is not for nothing both Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are often classified as “GSM” – which stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre – these are the main three grapes, with Grenache typically been a workhorse here (up to 80% allowed in Gigondas wines).

Now, the time has come for an ugly truth. I’m actually not familiar with Gigondas wines. I know and had many of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, but I usually would pass by one or two bottles of Gigondas which most of the stores would offer, and go to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the same price range. Thus when I was offered to try 3 different Gigondas wines, my “yes, please!” was very enthusiastic.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I’m going to play with err, taste a few of the Gigondas wines, I got back an instant outpour of love – and not only to the wines, but to the place. Take a look at these tweets:

It is time to talk about the wines I was able to taste. I had three wines, two from the 2015 vintage and one from 2014. Let’s take a look at the producers first.

The Domaine des Bosquets traces its history back to 14th century. Today, Domaine des Bosquets farms 64 acres of vineyards (50 years old vines), primarily growing Grenache and small amounts of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault.

The Famille Perrin needs no introduction to the wine lovers. It takes roots in the same 14th century, with its historic Château de Beaucastel. In the 1950s, Famille Perrin became a pioneer of the organic farming, later on extending into the Biodynamic. The Famille Perrin also involved in the multiple projects in France and around the world, and the wine I tasted comes from their La Gille property in Gigondas.

Unlike the two wineries we just talked about, the Guigal Estate was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small village Côte-Rôtie appellation. From there on, however, E. Guigal moved to the great prominence, with its so-called “La La” bottlings from Côte-Rôtie (La Mouline, La Turque, La Landonne) becoming an object of desire and obsession for the wine lovers around the world. Guigal Estate produces the wines in multiple appellations throughout both Northern and Southern Rhone, and “Guigal” name on the bottle is typically associated with quality.

I have to honestly tell you – with the exception of E.Guigal, this was not the love at first sight. However, all three wines perfectly evolved on the second day. Here are my notes:

2015 Famille Perrin La Gille Gigondas AOC (14.5% ABV, $38, 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah)
Garnet
Beet juice, mocha, raspberries, medium intensity, minerally undertones
Dense, chewy, blueberries and blueberry compote, eucalyptus, dark chocolate, medium to full body. Long finish.
7+, I would like a bit more balance.
8- second day, the wine is a lot tighter, has firm structure, shows hint of white pepper and by all means a lot more enjoyable. Apparently will improve with time.

2015 Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas AOC (15% ABV, $35, 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and Cinsault, total 30 month aging in oak and concrete)
Dark garnet, almost black
Intense nose of freshly cut berries, vanilla, eucalyptus. Noticeable alcohol as well.
The palate is very intense but also astringent at the same time, black pepper, surprisingly medium body (was expecting bigger body). After 30 minutes in the decanter, the aggressive alcohol is gone. Still, feels that the wine needs time – not ready to drink now. Putting aside for a day.
Day 2 – cherries, mocha, and coffee on the nose. No alcohol, all nice and integrated. The palate shows tart cherries, pepper, vanilla, cut through acidity, medium plus body. Nicely drinkable. 8-/8, very good.

2014 E. Guigal Gigondas AOC (14.5% ABV, $36, 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre)
Intense garnet
Open and inviting nose, black pepper, raspberries, mint, cassis
Fresh raspberries and blackberries, hint of mushrooms, nice minerality, a touch of vanilla and pepper, firm structure, good acidity, good balance
8-, a very pleasant and nicely drinkable wine from the get-go.
Day 2: 8+, sweet vanilla, dark chocolate and blueberries on the nose, extremely inviting. The palate evolved dramatically – pepper, raspberries, graphite, nutmeg, violets, firm structure, superb.

Here you are, my friends – my first serious encounter with Gigondas. Looking at the pictures, I would really love to visit Gigondas, and I will be happy to drink the Gigondas wine – just need to fiorget them in the cellar for a while. What is your eperience with Gigondas? Cheers!

 

Trader Joe’s Wines – Values and More Values

April 28, 2018 8 comments

The wine aisles of Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite places to visit when I travel. Where I live, in Connecticut, Trader Joe’s stores are only allowed to sell beer. Trader Joe’s stores are known for their great selection and great prices, and that is true for everything Trader Joe’s sells – including the wine. Thus any Trader Joe’s store which sells wine is an opportunity to visit a toy store for adults, which I definitely can’t miss.

This time around I ventured into the Trader Joe’s in Costa Mesa in California. Usually, the “wine” selection in Trader Joe’s in California goes way beyond just wine – scotch, bourbon, tequila, cognac, and more. At the store in Costa Mesa I was particularly impressed with Mezcal selection – would love to bring some home, but you know how business travel is nowadays – does the bottle worth a trouble of checking in the luggage?

So yes, wine it is. When buying wine at Trader Joe’s during my business trips, I always approach it in a simple way – I’m looking for value. Here is $20, let’s get as many bottles as possible with the $20, and let’s see how they will fare. Truth be told, I rarely manage to stay under $20, but still, I make an effort to be as close as possible to that $20 budget (before taxes, of course).

How does $23.45 sound next to the $20 budget? In absolute terms – I’m over the budget by 17%. In relative terms, 5 bottles of wine for $23.45? If the wine even half drinkable, it is not a bad deal, would you agree? I think so. Oh yes, and I also cheated a bit. Don’t worry, I didn’t cheat anyone in particular, it is this story which has a few flaws, so please allow me to explain.

First, I saw an attractive bottle, unusual shape, attractive label, $9.99, the wine called “Susumaniello” from Puglia – something I never saw before. I was planning to visit my close friends later that day, so I thought that this bottle looked good enough to bring with me (wanna call me a cheap bustard? please, be my guest). But -Trader Joe’s was having a little tasting (they always do for food – I guess they also do it for wine where the wine is sold – for sure in California) – and this exact bottle of wine was offered for tasting. So I did have a sip of 2016 Ruggero di Bardo Susumaniello Puglia IGP ($9.99) – it had a medium body, restrained profile with mostly cherry notes on the palate. To my delight, it appeared that behind the cool label was also a new rare, indigenous grape I never had before – Susumaniello, a nice addition to the collection (I really need to iupdate my “grape counter” on the page).

The wine was good, but I already tasted it, so I needed a different idea for the wine to bring to dinner, so I settled for 2012 Château Roudier Montague-Saint-Emilion (13% ABV, $12.99), which happened to be a classic Bordeaux – well, maybe not so classic but more of modern variation – warm fruit and spices on the nose, black currant on the palate, soft tannins, round, velvety – an excellent Bordeaux for the price. It also paired very well with Korean short ribs (Bulgogi) we had for dinner. Drinkability: 7+/8-, very good overall.

From here on, here are my tasting notes for the five wines I was able to play with over the next few days – these are the wines I paid $23.45 for.

2016 Joseph Händler Riesling Pfalz (9.5% ABV, $4.99) – straw pale color. Nose at first muted, literally nonexistent, then opening up into white flowers, touch of honey and candied peach. Clean acidity, lemon, candied lemon, crisp, good minerality, not over the top. Drinkability: 8-, and incredible value at $4.99. Just wow. I know Rieslings can be inexpensive, but this is a whole lot of German Riesling for the price.

Simpler Wines Too Uncanny Red Wine Blend Australia (13.8% ABV, $2.99/375 ml can) – this wine had no vintage indication, so I guess we should consider it to be a non-vintage. Dark ruby color. Fresh fruity nose, young berries, then herbaceous undertones show up. Very good acidity on the palate, blackberries, cherries, mint, surprisingly balanced and very easy to drink. A bit of an alcohol burn, but still wow. 7+/8-, yet another excellent value. Nicely drinkable on the second day from the open can.

2016 Union Wine Co Underwood Pinot Noir Oregon (13% ABV, $4.99) – as you can see in the picture, the only place where I found a year specified was on the bottom of the can. Is that really vintage indication? I have no idea, but I will consider it to be so.
Ruby color. Mushrooms and smoke on the nose, touch of cherries. Sweet cherries on the palate, nice minerality, good acidity, medium body, good balance, touch of tart raspberries, hint of black pepper. Very nice overall. Drinkability: 8-, impressive.

2016 Nero Marone Edizione Privata Italy (14% ABV, $6.99) dark ruby color. Restrained nose, herbal, not much fruit. A hint of raspberries, tart cherries on the palate, minerality, medium body, good acidity. Interesting, not bad but a bit underwhelming in the amount of fruit. Drinkability: 7+, might be more of a food wine.

2017 Viñas Chileans Rosario Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Valle Central Chile (13% ABV, $3.49) – a classic Chilean cab, a touch of green bell pepper, soft blueberries and blackberries, medium body, easy to drink from the get-go. Nicely paired with grilled snapper. Drinkability: 7+, truly lots of wine for the money.

Here you are, my friends – another successful encounter with the Trader Joe’s wines. The Riesling was my favorite, but really, all the wines were good and an amazing value. What are your latest value wines discoveries? Can you beat the Pfalz Riesling at $4.99? Cheers!

 

Welcome Spring With Wines of Lieb Cellars

April 14, 2018 3 comments

Bridge Lane RoseConsidering the weather in the New England, “spring” is just a word. Still freezing temperatures during the night, and simply cold during the day, despite the sun been in a full swing. I’ve seen plenty of rain and sunshine, but snow and sunshine? For sure this was new for me. So seeing the way Mother Nature is, we simply have to proclaim that Spring has arrived, and behave appropriately – Mother Nature will have to eventually comply with that unyielding demand.

Spring is the renewal time for everything in nature – including wines. No, I didn’t mean the vines, the bud breaking and all other beautiful “new life” occurrences. I actually meant the wines, as to liquid in the bottle. Yes, Spring is the time for … new arrivals, for sure in the Northern hemisphere. New vintages, new wines, new excitement – this is the beauty of the wine. Every vintage is different, every bottle is different – pulling that cork (okay, it is more often twisting the screwtop nowadays) is always an exciting moment – you never know what you will find inside.

Last year I discovered the wines of Lieb Cellars from Long Island, and it was a very tasty discovery – in fact, I called Lieb Cellars wines  “happiness-inducing”, so you understand how much I liked them. Obviously, I was very happy to receive the new vintage of the wines from Lieb Cellars and their daughter winery, Bridge Lane Wines.

This year, the wines from the Bridge Lane Wines showed up in the new packaging – cans. As an extra bonus, all the cans had winter-defying, bright and cheerful colors – a good way to feel spring even if you still need a thick jacket to spend any time outside. Bridge Lane Wines are now available in 4 different formats – 375 ml (1/2 bottle) cans, standard bottles (750 ml), 3L boxes and 20 liters plastic kegs – whatever format will better suit your needs. The lineup from Bridge Lane Cellars includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, White Merlot, Rosé, and Red Blend – and below are my tasting notes (note that all prices are SRP for 375 ml cans):

2017 Bridge Lane Chardonnay New York State (12.5% ABV, $7.99, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: fresh apples, minerality, lemon, medium + intensity
P: crisp, tart, Granny Smith apples, pretty astringent, needs food – shellfish, preferably
V: 7, definitely needs food

2017 Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc New York State (12% ABV, $7.99, 100% Sauvignon Blanc)
C: light golden
N: touch of grass, touch of grapefruit,
P: lemony notes, grapefruit, good acidity, fresh
V: 7+, nice and simple

2017 Bridge Lane Rosé New York State (11.9% ABV, $7.99, 45% Cabernet Franc, 27% Merlot, 16% Malbec, 8% Pinot Noir, 4% Pinot Blanc)
C: beautiful salmon pink
N: fresh strawberries, clean, crisp
P: zinging acidity, lemon, crisp, vibrant, hint of underripe strawberries.
V: 8, outstanding. Will be a perfect shellfish wine

2017 Bridge Lane White Merlot New York State (12% ABV, $7.99, 86% Merlot, 8% Pinot Blanc, 3% Riesling, 3% Viognier)
C: straw pale
N: crisp, white stone fruit, green apples
P: crisp, lemon, lemon zest, clean, fresh
V: 7+, reminiscent of unoaked Chardonnay more than anything else

2016 Bridge Lane Red Blend New York State (12.9% ABV, $7.99, 44% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 13% Petit Verdot, 12% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 months in Hungarian oak)
C: dark ruby
N: currant, eucalyptus, forest underbrush, medium+ intensity
P: crisp, fresh, good acidity, medium body, blackberries, cherries, nice extraction, smooth, good textural presence
V: 8-, very nice

As you can tell, the Rosé and Red Blend were my favorites, but White Merlot was definitely fun, tasty, and creative as well. Now, let’s get to the big guns – the Lieb Cellar main line of wines. I had 4 different wines to try – here we go:

2015 Lieb Cellars Reserve Sparkling Rosé North Fork of Long Island (13.2% ABV, $29.99, 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, 16 months in the bottle)
C: light onion peel pink, fine mousse
N: Provence-like, restrained, touch of fresh strawberries and yeast
P: same fresh strawberries, fresh, perfect acidity, tiny hint of sweetness, perfectly round, delicate and delicious.
V: 8, excellent wine, would happily drink it again at any time

2013 Lieb Cellars Reserve Sparkling Pinot Blanc North Fork of Long Island (13.2% ABV, $29.99, 100% Pinot Blanc, 42 months in the bottle)
C: straw pale, perfect mousse appearance
N: toasted bread (restrained) with a hint of nutmeg, intriguing
P: crisp, fresh, touch of brioche, golden delicious apple, more nutmeg, impeccable balance, delicious.
V: 8/8+, superb

2016 Lieb Cellars Estate Cabernet Franc North Fork of Long Island (12.8% ABV, $29.99, 80% Cabernet Franc, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Merlot)
C: dark garnet
N: mint, eucalyptus, underripe black currant, a touch of cherries
P: open, bright, welcoming, medium body, fresh blueberries and sweet cherries, pronounced acidity, good balance.
V: 8-, the wine feels extremely young and hints at a good aging potential.

2016 Lieb Cellars Estate Petit Verdot North Fork of Long Island (13.2% ABV, $35 tasting room only, 90% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark ruby
N: licorice, mint, grape leaves, a touch of sour cherries, restrained, medium intensity.
P: medium+ body, succulent, lip-smacking acidity, bright blackberries and cherries, impeccable balance
V: 9-, it’s a riot. A perfection of young, fresh, balanced Bordeaux. Dangerous wine – once you start, you can’t stop

Lieb Cellars tasting Lineup

These were excellent wines, I can’t complain much about either one of the four – Sparkling Rosé was outstanding, Sparkling Pinot Blanc was superb and far exceeded my expectations. The Cab Franc was solid, and the Petit Verdot was, as I said, a riot. I did my usual “longevity test” with the Petit Verdot – pour a glass, close the wine, pour another glass next day and so on. For every day the wine stays tasty, I account 5-7 years of the aging time the wine can endure in the cellar. So Petit Verdot was fine for 2 days, but on the day number 3 it went down, so I would probably age it for another 5-7 years, but not much longer. But then with the screwtop, you never know…

Here you are, my friends. Spring, summer, fall or winter – Lieb Cellars have some fun and tasty wines waiting for you. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Textbook Precision

March 19, 2018 3 comments

Once you fully embrace the wine world, one of the important lessons you learn is rather simple – “there are no guarantees”. The bottle of wine can perfectly say “Cabernet Sauvignon” – there are absolutely no guarantees that Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington, California, and Chile will have any smell and taste similarities, never mind Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Czech Republic, and Moldova. And this is okay, we can all accept it – at the end of the day, the only thing which matter is whether we like the wine or not.

Despite all the differences, when it comes to the major grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and so on, we usually know how the “classic” wine should taste like – especially if we take any formal wine education or make enough effort to study the wine, pay attention to what we drink and make it a lesson to learn. Yes, there might be a bit of our perception in it too, but still, we usually have that “classic profile ” idea in the mind.

What prompted this post was a lucky happenstance, an encounter with two classic, textbook wine profiles for two nights in the row.

First, there was Pinot Noir. When it comes to Pinot Noir, there are probably four classic profiles – Burgundy (of course!), with lots of dark fruit power and a little bit of funk (especially with age, but drinking young Burgundy is almost like killing a baby, right?). Then you have New Zealand, which usually can be identified by the pronounced acidity. Oregon Pinot Noir often screams minerality, mocha and dark chocolate. And then you got California, with luscious smokey plums and silky, seductive texture.

So the wine I had a pleasure of experiencing was a textbook, unmistakable California Pinot Noir – 2015 Field Recordings Derbyshire Vineyard Pinot Noir San Luis Obispo County (13.1% ABV, $28, 20% whole cluster fermentation, foot tread in open top bins, 12 month in French oak) – smokey plums on the nose, bright cherries and plums profile on the palate with a perfect balance of acidity, velvety layers – tremendous amount of pleasure in every sip. Drinking this wine evokes comparisons with other California classics such as Siduri. It doesn’t reach the ultra-luxurious texture of Sandhi, but if you have any experience with classic California Pinot, one sip of this wine will perfectly put you in the right place.

Now, talking about classics, let’s talk about the grape which is not a relative of Pinot Noir, but more often than not, a closest friend and neighbor – Chardonnay. What is interesting about Chardonnay, in my opinion, is that good Chardonnay is a lot more cosmopolitan than a Pinot Noir. With the exception of Chablis, which often can be recognized by the gunflint on the nose, the classic Chardonnay profile includes vanilla, apples and a touch of butter. You can often differentiate Burgundy from California by the amount of butter (California usually offers lots more) and acidity (that’s what you will get with the young Burgundy), but still, Chardonnays from Australia, Burgundy, Chablis, and California have quite a bit of similarity.

Oregon, which is definitely an established world leader when it comes to Pinot Noir, lately also started to show its Chardonnay provenance. Two years ago, I was blown away by the perfection of Vidon Chardonnay. This time around, the 2016 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay Dundee Hills (13.5% ABV, $45) made me say “wow” many, many times. Perfect nose of vanilla and golden delicious apples with a distant hint of butter and even honey (honey is usually showing up in Chardonnay after some aging) was supported by the same profile on the palate – vanilla, apples, butter – all perfectly mended together in cohesive, sublime package resting on the vibrant core of acidity. This was definitely a textbook Chardonnay for me, and the one which I would love to see aged, at least for another 5-7 years.

Here you go, my friends – a textbook experience with two classic grapes. What are your textbook wine experiences? Cheers!

 

Weekly Tasting with Wines Til Sold Out – The Wines

February 17, 2018 3 comments

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new feature from the unimitable Wines Til Sold Out – a Weekly Tasting. Every week, there is a new set of 4 wines available for you with all the extra fun information – history, stories, pairing recommendations and more – like your personal sommelier visits the house for a fun and entertaining evening. I didn’t have a chance to taste the wines as I was living for a business trip, so I only introduced the concept – now it is time to talk about the wines.

The set which I got was really right up my alley – I love all of the lesser known grapes and appellations.

White grape Furmint is a star – but only in Hungary, and mostly in the world-famous dessert wines called Tokaji. Dry Furmint is difficult to produce, as most of the plantings are very susceptible to the noble rot due to the climatic conditions.

Another white grape, Picpoul de Pinet, is only growing in France, and it is quite rare even in that same France. Zweigelt is not necessarily rare, but definitely a lesser known grape from Austria, capable of delivering superbly playful wines. And Mencía is currently in the search of an identity, which usually makes it fun to taste – you never know what you will find.

For what it worth, here are my notes:

2014 Patricius Tokaj Furmint (12% ABV)
C: light golden
N: touch of petrol and honeysuckle, guava, medium intensity
P: more petrol, lemon zest, nice green undertones, almonds, pear, excellent minerality, good acidity
V: 8, very playful with nice complexity.

2016 Charisse Picpoul de Pinet Blanc AOP (12.5% ABV)
C: straw pale, green undertones.
N: Apple, perfume, white peach, jasmine flowers.
P: restrained, touch of herbal notes, good minerality, pomelo, crisp acidity
V: 8-/8, very nice, food-friendly, will complement a wide range of dishes.

2015 Pfaffl Zweigelt vom Haus Niederösterreich Qualitätswein aus Österreich (12.5% ABV)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: eucalyptus, blackberries, forest underbrush
P: clear black pepper backbone, more blackberries, touch of sapidity. Unusual
V: 8-, needs time to open ( was much better on the 2nd and 3rd days).

2015 Vega del Cúa Tinto Mencía Bierzo DO (13.5% ABV)
C: dark garnet
N: tobacco and barnyard, both are very pronounced.
P: sweet cherries, hint of tobacco. Very unusual profile as the fruit is initially perceived as sweet, and then it quickly subsides without acidity kicking in. Very short finish.
V: 7, not my favorite – but it might need more time…. 7+ second day, more of an 8- after 5 days (using air pump to preserve the wine). A lot more integrated after 5 days, showing nice pepper notes and much longer finish.

Here you are, my friends. Furmint was definitely a favorite, but I truly can’t complain about this set of wines – this was definitely a fun tasting. Kudos to Wines Til Sold Out for bringing up yet another great service for the wine lovers. Get your weekly tasting set today, invite your friends over, and go have some fun! Cheers!

 

Discover Wines of South Africa

December 1, 2017 9 comments

South African white winesLet me start with a question: when was the last time you had South African wine? You can take a few minutes to ponder at it – but I would bet that if you are a wine consumer in the USA, there is a very good chance that the answer will be “hmmm, never”. But if “never” or “many years ago” is your answer, we need to change that.

The winemaking history in South Africa goes back to the 17th century, when immigrants from Europe brought the vine cuttings with them, as they’ve done in all other places. South African wine story somewhat resembles most of the Europe, as it also includes the phylloxera epidemic and replanting of the vineyards. Unfortunately for South African winemakers and the rest of us, the wine story of South Africa also had heavy political influence, with apartheid, KWV monopoly, and resulting boycott from most of the countries for the majority of the 20th century (here is an article on Wikipedia if you want to learn more). The new chapter for South African wines opened up in the 1990s, with the end of apartheid and subsequent changes in all areas of life, winemaking included.

In the past, South Africa was best known for its Chenin Blanc wines, which was also called Steen. Another grape South Africa was famous for was Pinotage – dinking of the Pinotage wines was likened by some wine critics to the drinking of the “liquified rusty nails”. On much brighter note, while talking about the past, I want to mention Klein Constantia Vin de Constance – the nectar of gods (don’t take my word for it  – find it and try it), made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes and favorite wine of the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was buying it by the barrel (legend has it that it was Napoleon’s deathbed wish wine).

Today South Africa offers lots more than a typical wine consumer would expect. The South African wines are often described as “old world wines masquerading as new world wines”, and this is perfectly showing in the wide range of the wines. You really need to try for yourself South African Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and don’t skip the Chenin Blanc, especially if it is an FMC by Ken Forrester. You shouldn’t skip even Pinotage, as it dramatically evolved compared to the old days.  The old world winemaking foundation really shows through many of the South African wines today, and they are always ready to surprise a curious wine drinker.

Case in point – our recent virtual tasting on Snooth. We had an opportunity to taste 6 white wines, well representing South African grapes, styles and regions. The tasting included 3 out of the 4 most popular white grapes in South Africa (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc) – the second most planted grape, Colombard, is used primarily in the brandy production. Another interesting fact for you  – until 1981, there was no Chardonnay planted in South Africa, which makes it all more impressive (read my notes below). Two of the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blanc from the tasting were simply stunning, and the rest of the wines were perfectly suitable for the everyday drinking. What is even better is that you don’t need to rely on my notes if you want to discover what South Africa is capable of – Snooth offers that exact set of 6 wines for purchase, at a very reasonable price of $79.99 for the whole set.

Here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Glenelly Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay WO Stellenbosch (13.5% ABV, $20, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: Beautiful, vanilla, touch of guava, fresh, medium+
P: good acidity, granny smith apple, crisp, maybe a bit too restrained now, lemony acidity on the finish
V: 8, excellent now, but I definitely want to see it evolve.

2016 De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay WO Robertson (14% ABV, $16, 100% Chardonnay)
C: light golden
N: complex, vanilla, popcorn, medium intensity. Nose clears up as the wine breathes. Golden delicious and honeysuckle appeared. Delicious nose.
P: quite restrained, touch of Granny Smith apples as opposed to the golden delicious. Perfect acidity, vanilla, fresh.
V: 8, will evolve. Definitely an interesting wine.

2016 Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs Chenin Blanc Swartland WO Steen (12.5% ABV, $15, Chenin Blanc with a sprinkling of Palomino and another secret grape)
C: straw pale
N: interesting, yeast, touch of white stone fruit
P: crisp, restrained, mostly lemony, acidic notes
V: 7, too simple and single-dimensional

2016 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded WO Stellenbosch (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Chenin Blanc)
C: straw pale+
N: inviting, medium plus, minerality, hint of peach
P: clean acidity, interesting touch of pear and white plum with acidic finish
V: 7+, interesting wine, by itself and with food.

2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc WO Elgin (13% ABV, $20)
C: light golden
N: lots of minerality, touch of gunflint, touch of grass (distant hint), white stone fruit as the wine is opening up – doesn’t resemble SB at all
P: crisp, clean, lemon acidity, very restrained, mineral-driven, limestone. Almost astringent. Needs food.
V: rated it first 7+/8-, noting “will be interesting to see how the wine will open up”. More playful after 30 min in the open bottle. Interesting. After two days, this clearly became 8/8+ wine

2016 The Wolftrap White WO Western Cape (13.5% ABV, $12, Viognier 42%; Chenin Blanc 37%; Grenache Blanc 21%)
C: light golden
N: lemony notes, grass
P: a little too simplistic, mostly lemony notes. Drinkable, not great
V: 7, too simple, might work better with food

South African wines are definitely here, at the world-class level. If you pride yourself as a wine lover, they are all ready for your undivided attention.