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Drink Local, Colorado Edition (and Don’t Lose Hope)

August 21, 2017 14 comments

I’m an eternal optimist. Even when I’m worrying about something, deep inside, I still believe that everything will be okay – one way or the other (sometimes we really have to look for this “okay”, but this is a subject for the whole other post).

This “life’s attitude”, of course, reflects on my approach to wines. Particularly, a belief that in today’s world, good wines can be made everywhere and anywhere – not only in a few places we know can produce the good wines. And anywhere I travel, I’m always looking to prove myself right – which I call “drink local”.

This time, my travel took me to Denver, Colorado. Colorado sounds as good as any other state in the US to be able to produce wines, so once I situated at my hotel in downtown of Denver, off I went to the closest liquor store in Denver.

While walking to the store, literally few steps before it, I saw a sign for the “Wild Women Winery” – I couldn’t even believe my luck, to find a city winery short walking distance from the hotel, also with a very cool sounding name. So I walked in and situated at a bar table, looking at the bottles with super-creative, super-colorful labels.

Talking to the bartender, I learned that while the winery is located in the Colorado (downtown Denver, to be precise), they make wines from the grape juice which they get from California Central Valley, as the winemaker believes that local Colorado grapes are too young to produce a good wine. Fine – the proof is always in the glass, right?

I decided to try 3 wines for $5 (happened to be an extremely wise decision, as opposed to trying 7 for $10, you will understand why in a minute).

The first wine was Viognier – a touch of overripe Apple with sage on the nose. Good fruity palate nice acidity, golden delicious apples. Not my favorite, but not bad. Not amazing, but drinkable.

My next choice was Cab/Merlot blend and that wine really threw me off – too sweet all around, no balance, no acidity, just a sweet fruit. Don’t remember when was the last time I disliked the wine so intently.

At that point I realized that all of the wines the winery offers are non-vintage wines, so I tried to discuss it with the bartender, but unfortunately, she didn’t know what “vintage” means, and I had to face the issue that certain basic concepts we, oenophiles, take for granted, are not so easy to explain in the simple terms. Nevermind.

The last wine, Petite Sirah, had a sweet chocolate nose, bitter-sweet type. Sweet fruit compote on the palate, definitely too sweet, but more acidity than the previous wine. Mostly plum notes with the equivalent acidity of just ripe, but not overripe plum. A marginal improvement.

This visit really left me at the feeling of deep disconcert – I see a lot of passion on the labels, but the soulless concoctions inside the bottles were really conflicting with the bright images.

I gladly left the winery and headed over to the liquor store. Here I had another surprise – a sticker shock. I understand that the wine store is located in the downtown of Denver. But Colorado wines aren’t that well-known, aren’t they? There was a good selection of the local Colorado wines present, none of them cheaper than $20 (okay, $19.99 if it makes you feel any better). Really? On my recent trip to Canada, I had a phenomenal selection of tasty wines under $15. Now, especially after the first tasting fiasco, I had to spend $20+ for a bottle which I might just have to pour down the drain?

After going back and forth and trying (unsuccessfully) to obtain an advice of the store clerk (”I tasted only this one wine”, “yeah, yeah”, “huh, you don’t like sweet wines? Really?”), I settled on the bottle which looked the most Colorado-authentic while still staying in the low $20s- Two Rivers Syrah – at least the information on the back label suggested that the grapes were harvested in Colorado.

Two Rivers Syrah Colorado

The wine was definitely an upgrade over the previous experience, but still no cigars. As this was nevertheless a better wine, here are my typical-style notes:

2015 Two Rivers Château Deux Fleuves Vineyards Syrah Mesa County, Colorado (14.1% ABV, $22.95)
C: dark garnet, nice visible legs
N: blackberries, tar, tobacco, sage, medium to high intensity
P: sweet berries, tobacco, good acidity
V: 7-, it is drinkable, but sweetness too prevalent.
7 on my the second day – sweetness subsided a bit, and roasted meat notes showed up. Still, the finish is mostly sweet fruit with a touch of tobacco.

On the last day before leaving Denver, I still had a bit of the free time and decided to give Colorado wines one more try. I found another wine store, still within short walking distance from the hotel, with good reviews on Google, and took 20 minutes walk. This store had a much smaller selection of Colorado wines, but a little bit better prices (by a few dollars, nothing major), and incomparably better, knowledgeable service. I left with the bottle of The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc – The Infinite Monkey Theorem is another city winery – but unlike Wile Women Winery, this one I would be happy to visit if I had more time.

Infinite Monkey Theorem Cab Franc

Remember I told you about eternal optimism? It finally worked, as this Cabernet Franc was well worth of writing home about:

2015 The Infinite Monkey Theorem Cabernet Franc, Colorado (12.9% ABV, $21)
C: dark ruby
N: tobacco, sweet bell peppers, freshly crushed blackberries
P: bright, fresh, freshly crushed berries, intense sweet tobacco, a touch of pepper, clean acidity, vibrant.
V: 8, outstanding. Would gladly drink that every day.

There you have it, my friends – my first real encounter with Colorado wines. I was happy to prove myself right and find a good wine made in Colorado. As a collector of experiences, I was also happy to add another checkmark to the list of states I tried the wines from – if you are like me, feel free to compare your records 🙂 Have you had the wines from Colorado? Express yourself in the comments section below. Cheers!

One on One With Winemaker: Phil Rose of Wairau River, New Zealand

July 15, 2017 2 comments

It just happened to be that once again, we will be talking about New Zealand wines. Once again, we are going to visit Marlborough. And once again, we are going to meet with a pioneer.

Wairau River Vineyards

Source: Wairau River

Wairau River Wines‘ story started in 1978 when Phil and Chris Rose became grape growers (Phil was a farmer since the childhood, so the transition was not that dramatic). In 1991, they also became winemakers, producing their first wine. Today, Wairau River vineyards span 550 acres, making it one of the biggest family owned wineries in New Zealand. And it is all truly in the family, as Phil and Chris’ two sons and three daughters are all working at the winery.

Wairau River Wines produces two lines of wines. The Estate collection includes all of the usual suspects, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay, but you can also find some oddballs there, such as Albariño. The Reserve line also includes Syrah and Viognier, as well as late harvest botrytized Riesling.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Phil Rose (albeit, virtually), and inundate him with questions – here is what transpired.

[TaV]: You started growing grapes in 1978. Was there a pivotal moment which got you into the grape growing? Were grapes a long-time passion before you started, or was there an event which brought you into the world of the wine?

[WR]: The oil shock in the 1970’s meant we looked for an alternative away from the farming of beef and sheep plus the growing of Lucerne and other crops. However due to a rural council district scheme rule, grape growing was prohibited on land north of old Renwick road. 
We were required to apply for permission to establish a vineyard, which we did but the application received 56 objections and not one single vote of support. There were a number of reasons for the objections. Forestry owners were concerned they would no longer be able to use sprays like 2.4.5.t because of its impact if grapes were nearby. Local farmers were also concerned their normal farming methods would be threatened. There was also the moral opposition such that no one should be able to grow a product that could be turned in to alcohol. 
Unfortunately the council denied our application, so we appealed. But things moved even slower back then than they do now – and it took 18 months for the independent tribunal to take place. 18 months where we worked hard to try and convince the powers that be and our own neighbors that grape growing in the Rapaura area of Marlborough had huge merits. 
Finally in 1978 we got a unanimous decision from the tribunal which gave us the permission we needed to become contract grape growers. As a result, the council had to change the district plan and open the Rapaura area up to grape growing.

[TaV]: Can Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc age? What was the oldest Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc you ever tried? What is the oldest Sauvignon Blanc you have in your cellars?

[WR]: Of course the wine will age well although the wine takes on different characters with age as do all wines. Most sauvignon blanc now though is consumed in its youth as its fresh, crisp and lively style that have become hallmarks of our success. 1991 was our first vintage and we still have a few bottles of that in the cellar.

[TaV]: Did you ever experiment with cork versus Stelvin closures? Obviously, all your wines use the screw tops, but I wonder if you ever tried to create a control batch with the conventional corks and see how the wines would compare.

[WR]: We bottled our first wine in screwcaps in 2002. Prior to that we were 100% cork but never really happy with the closure. We felt that cork was tainting, oxidising and affecting the delicate aromas of sauvignon blanc in particular. 
Wairau River was part of the New Zealand screwcap initiative that was formed in 2001 and we did many trials in the early days – all of them showing that wine under screwcap was far better in terms of consistency and quality than corks. 
Today we are 100% screwcap for all of our wines.

[TaV]: It seems that Wairau River is truly a family operation top to bottom. Do you ever have any work conflicts? If yes, how do you resolve them?

[WR]: Yes we now have the whole family and some their partners involved in running the business across vineyards, winery, cellar door and restaurant. It is not often there are any issues but having a voice and opinion is important and so we all listen and work through this and will always achieve a result that works for everyone. We also have a board of directors which meets regularly which helps with accountability and offers independent advice.

[TaV]: The question I always like to ask: what was the worst vintage you remember at Wairau River and why? 

[WR]: I think 1995 will long be remembered as the toughest vintage we have had. It rained and rained

[TaV]: And the second question I always like to ask: what were your most favorite vintage years and why? 

[WR]: Actually there are many years we look back and think that was one of the best vintages however we never like to look backwards for too long. We are always striving to improve our wines each year so lately it seems every year we are getting better results across all varieties.

[TaV]: How would you differentiate Sauvignon Blanc from Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley? Are the pronounced differences there? Do you think Marlborough needs further subdivision?

[WR]: There are quite big differences between the 2 valleys in terms of flavor profiles however strategically the Rose family have chosen to focus in the Wairau Valley and then within that a tight area surrounding our home vineyard and winery. 
Further sub regions like Rapaura or Dillons Point will develop with time however Marlborough as an overall region will still be the key to our success and the protection of that is paramount.

Wairau River Wines

[TaV]: It seems that your wine portfolio is very diverse and includes a wide variety of grapes as well as styles (white, rosé, red, dessert) – the only notable absence nowadays is Sparkling wine – do you plan to fix it?
[WR]: haha – always a good topic of conversation…..we are happy with what we are doing at the moment, however we have a rule of never saying no to anything so who knows what the future will bring – perhaps the next generations may want to make sparkling wine.

[TaV]: Sauvignon Blanc and then Pinot Noir squarely put New Zealand on the world wine map. Is there a next big white and/or red grape for the New Zealand?

[WR]: We consider Pinot Gris to be the next big thing especially from Marlborough. It has a certain style that resonates well with wide variety of cuisines and will help those drinkers that are looking for NZ wine and want to try an alternative to our Sauvignon Blanc.
In the reds perhaps the wines from Hawkes Bay may make a statement but this will also be limited by smaller production.

[TaV]: Outside of New Zealand and your own wines, do you have any other favorite producers or regions for Sauvignon Blanc?

[WR]: We are lucky enough to travel the world selling wines and meeting customers so we are exposed to a number of different wine areas and styles.
In all honesty I think we produce a world class Sauvignon Blanc that is hard to beat however I do quite enjoy wines from Sancerre in particular Domaine Vacheron.

[TaV]: Same question as before, but only for the Pinot Noir – any favorites outside of New  Zealand?
[WR]: Of course, we enjoy Jim Clendenen wines at Au Bon Climat.

[TaV]: What are your next big plans at Wairau River? Any exciting projects you have started or about to start? 

[WR]: We are comfortable with where we are at in terms of our vineyard ownership and winery capabilities – our challenge is to grow sales and return better margins in all markets as we have wines that are in high demand but with limited availability. 
Gaining recognition for our other varieties such as Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir will be a key focus. Ros sales have become very hot lately so this will also be a focus going forward.

[TaV]: Last question: as you run winery as a family, I’m sure you had some funny moments in your daily wine business. Anything you care to share?

[WR]: We work extremely hard throughout the year and don’t often come together as a whole family outside of the work environment. Although I can’t pick one particular moment we have a lot of fun with the family when we gather to celebrate Christmas in the Marlborough sounds with our 5 children, their partners and 12 grandchildren there is always something happening that creates some funny occasions and a great laugh.

I’m sure you are thirsty by now, so let’s taste some wine, shall we? Here are the notes for a few Wairau River wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2016 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand (13% ABV)
C: white pearl, pale
N: intense, currant, touch of grass, bright, fresh
P: herbaceous, nicely restrained, fresh, bright, touch of grapefruit on the finish.
V: 7+/8-, an excellent example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

2015 Wairau River Pinot Gris Marlborough New Zealand (13.5% ABV)
C: light golden
N: medium intensity, minerality, limerock
P: white stone fruit, nice minerality, salinity, crisp, refreshing
V: 7+

2015 Wairau River Pinot Noir Marlborough New Zealand (13% ABV)
C: bright ruby
N: freshly crushed berries, cherry, plums
P: cherries, fresh fruit, plums, touch of smoke, medium body
V: 7+, nice, traditional Marlborough Pinot Noir

Passion and perseverance rule in the wine world – we all know that, but it is always fun to listen to the stories. Pour yourself another glass – you deserve it. Cheers!

Three Beautiful Rosé To Fit Any Budget

July 13, 2017 2 comments

Can I give you a small piece of wine advice? I promise it will be short and simple. Here it goes: if you are looking for an excellent value wine, look for the wines of Domaines Paul Mas from France. That’s it. End of the advice. And I can pretty much finish the post right here as this was my main point for today.

Paul Mas Rose

I discovered the wines of Paul Mas 4-5 years ago, and ever since, they were my perennial favorites. Red, White, Rosé, Sparkling – I tried many of the wines (here are a few links – reds, sparkling) and they always delivered – at a great QPR, whether you are buying them at a store or at a restaurant. “Affordable luxury” is a perfect definition for Paul Mas wines, as these wines deliver a great value – without the need to rob the bank or borrow from 401k.

The story of Domaines Paul Mas started in 1892 in the small town of Pézenas in Languedoc (Pézenas’s fame is usually associated with the famous French playwright Molière). The modern part of the history of Domaines Paul Mas, however, is associated with Jean-Claude Mas, who fell in love with winemaking at the age of 3 (yep, and if you want the whole story, you can read it here). Jean-Claude Mas is often credited as a pioneer who is working hard to change the winemaking in Languedoc from the focus on the quantity to the focus on the quality, to bring Languedoc to the old glory of 2000 years of winemaking. 

The wines I want to talk about today are happened to be all … Rosé. I don’t know if this is an effect of summer, but it seems that the pages of this blog are lately nicely colored in pink. Nevertheless, the wines below are well worthy of your attention and deliver a great value which is really hard to beat. Here we go:

 

2016 Paul Mas Rosé Aurore Pays d’Oc (13% ABV, $8, 1L, 30% Cinsault, 20% Syrah, 50% Grenache Noir)
C: beautiful pale pink, light salmon
N: touch of fresh strawberries, gentle, medium intensity.
P: strawberries all the way, perfect balance, nice, refreshing, clean.
V: 8, outstanding, just perfect.

2016 Arrogant Frog Rosé Lily Pad Pink Pays d’Oc (13% ABV, $8, 100% Syrah)
C: bright pink, intense but without getting into reddish hues
N: strawberries, medium intensity.
P: strawberries with touch of lime, good acidity, good balance.
V: 7+, perfect everyday Rosé

NV Coté Mas Rosé Brut Crémant de Limoux (12% ABV, $15, 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, 10% Pinot Noir)
C: beautiful bright pink
N: toasted bread notes, crisp, fresh
P: fresh, clean, lemon, tart strawberries
V: 8, outstanding Rosé sparkling, will compete with any Champagne

Have you had any of these wines? Are they a great value or what? Let me know! Cheers!

Exploring Wines Of New Zealand – With Villa Maria on Snooth

July 8, 2017 6 comments

Wines of New Zealand need no introduction – for sure to the oenophiles. Winemaking started in New Zealand in the 1850s, but it really flourished in the second half of the 20th century, when jet travel allowed much easier access to the future winemakers to get educated and experienced in Europe. Since the 1990s, New Zealand greatly embraced sustainability and … screw tops. I’m definitely very happy about the first – sustainable farming always leads to the better wines and happier environment. The screw tops – they are fine, I’m not convinced though that they are the best for aging the wines properly. However, I don’t want to convert this post neither into a rant, nor into a debate, so let’s just move on.

Villa Maria WinesThe story of Villa Maria winery is easily an exemplary story of realizing the “American Dream” – only in this case, it is, of course, have to be called a “New Zealand dream” (I hope such a concept exists).

George Fistonich started in 1961, at the age of 21, with one acre of vines in Auckland. In 1962, he harvested the grapes and produced the wines under the name of Villa Maria. That was the beginning of the journey of one man, who had the passion, vision, perseverance and enough obsession to make it. Villa Maria was a one man operation through the 60s, hiring its first staff in the early 70s, and now employing 250 people and exporting their wines to the 50 countries. As a perfect proof of making it, George Fistonich became Sir George Fistonich, receiving the first knighthood in the country for the services to New Zealand’s wine industry.

Villa Maria today has vineyards located in Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Marlborough regions. The grapes range from the New Zealand’s staples such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to such an obscure varietals as Arneis and Verdelho. Villa Maria became a cork-free zone in 2001. And I can tell you, they really treat sustainability seriously – the Villa Maria bottles were some of the lightest wine bottles I ever came across, which I’m sure greatly affects the carbon footprint.

A week or so ago, I was a part of the big group of winelovers tasting Villa Maria wines together in the virtual tasting organized by Snooth (no worries, the wines were real). Here are my notes from tasting and also, re-tasting of the wines.

First, two of the Sauvignon Blanc wines. First one was called “bubbly” as it was lightly carbonated – and it was definitely a fun wine, perfect for a summer picnic, fresh and delightful. And the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was simply a classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, done with a perfect restraint:

2016 Villa Maria Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $15)
C: literally non-existent
N: touch of grass and currant, a classic SB, restrained.
P: nice, touch of bubbles, touch of sweetness, black currant, nice and round, refreshing.
V: 8-/8, definitely nice

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (12.5% ABV, $13)
C: straw pale
N: pure cassis, beautiful, freshly cut grass, classic
P: excellent balance, acidity, currant and a touch of grass. Nice and pleasant.
V: 8, I can drink this at any time, excellent wine

Now, the Rosé and then Chardonnay. The Villa Maria Rosé is predominantly Merlot. It is light and simple, but it has enough finesse to pass one of my personal tests – I particularly like the white and Rosé wines which are well drinkable when they are a bit warm – it is annoying to maintain the wines at the ice cold level (at home, for sure). The Rosé was delicious and drinkable even at the room temperature, so it definitely passed that test. And as for the Chardonnay – I know that I will be in the tiny minority from our tasting group, but I found it to be just okay. It had all the classic Chardonnay traits, but, somehow, didn’t hit the home run for me…

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Rosé Hawkes Bay (12.5% ABV, $14)
C: Pink
N: strawberries and strawberry leaves, round and pleasant
P: strawberries, touch of sweetness, could use a touch more acidity, but still, nice and delicate
V: 8-, definitely improved the next day, more delicate, better balance

2015 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Chardonnay Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $45)
C: straw pale
N: creamy, vanilla, freshly baked brioche buns with a touch of butter on them
P: Granny Smith apples smothered in butter, good acidity, excellent midpalate weight, nicely plump, but clean. Nice cleansing acidity on the finish.
V: 7+, needs food.

Now, the reds. Pinot Noir was unusual compared to what I typically expect from the Marlboro Pinot Noir. It was heavier than I expected, and on the day 3, it became a lot closer to the powerful Oregonian Pinot (which is a good deal at $26, right? ). The Merlot blend was an enigma. It opened up beautifully as I just opened the bottle, but then it went back into its shell and never came out of it, even on the day 3 …

2014 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir Marlborough (13.5% ABV, $26)
C: bright ruby
N: touch of sweet cherries, violet
P: tart cherries, tart acidity, touch of tobacco
V: 7, 7+ on the day 3 – showed a lot more fruit on the palate, Oregonian notes of dark power, espresso, mocha, with sweet core of cherries and plums.

2013 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Hawkes Bay (13.5% ABV, $20, 70% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: medium intensity, baking powder, vanilla, sweet mocha
P: black currant, ripe and sweet, touch of espresso, tar, dark fruit, dry, tannic finish
V: 7, unusual experience …

Have you had any of these wines? What are your thoughts? Cheers!

Enjoy Your Summer A Little Bit More – With Rosé from WTSO

July 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Is summer the best time of the year? Well, I love all seasons, but with the right weather, summer might be the most enjoyable. Can we enjoy it “better”? Of course – with a glass of Rosé in your hand.

There is something special about the Rosé. We eat with our eyes first, and we drink that way too. If you think about color of the white wine, you get the range from literally a clear water to a dark gold – white wine is fun to look at, but the color of it doesn’t provoke much thought, unless you are in a blind tasting setting. Similar story with the reds – the color goes from the bright ruby to literally black, but again, the color doesn’t bring that much of the visual pleasure.

Rosé is a totally different game. The shades of pink go from the onion peel to salmon to copper to electric pink, and just a visual effect of the bottle of Rosé is appealing and uplifting, it says “the world looks a little bit better now, isn’t it”? We don’t always carry around those pink-colored glasses which improve our life’s outlook, but the bottles of Rosé can have the same effect. Who is with me? Yep, go pour yourself another glass.

So we agreed that Rosé itself can make our summer better. Can we further improve that? Of course! With the help of Wines ‘Til Sold Out, commonly known as WTSO. WTSO provides tremendous service to all of the wine lovers – it finds great wines at amazing prices – and passes savings to all of us. To make our summer even better than it is, WTSO is offering a special Côtes de Provence Rosé 4-pack collection, which you can find here.

I had an opportunity to taste these wines and here are my impressions:

2016 Famille Négrel Diamant de Provence Côtes de Provence (12.5% ABV)
C: pale, very pale pink
N: minerality, gunflint, ocean breeze
P: beautiful fresh profile, touch of underripe strawberries, crisp acidity, nice salinity, excellent balance. Appears very light, but very present in the glass.
V: 8, very nice, perfectly enjoyable, and guaranteed to remove at least 5 degrees off the thermometer.

2016 Château Garamache Côtes de Provence (12% ABV)
C: light salmon pink
N: muted, touch of green leaves
P: savory, good lemony acidity, but missing on the overall package. Acidic finish, needs more fruit.
V: 7-, should be good with food – salad comes to mind.

2016 Château Gassier Ormilles Côtes de Provence (13% ABV)
C: beautiful pink color, rose gold
N: onion peel, strawberries, medium intensity, inviting
P: ripe strawberries with touch of honey, a bit of perceived sweetness, perfect balance, delicious.
V: 8/8+, quintessential Provence. When I think “Provence”, this is a taste profile I expect

2016 Domaine du Garde Temps Tourbillon Vielles Vignes Côtes-de-Provence (12.5% ABV, 50% Cinsault, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah)
C: bright salmon pink
N: onion peel and savory strawberries
P: fresh, crisp, tart strawberries, beautiful palate cleanser, excellent balance.
V: 8, nicely present wine, good weight in the mouth, excellent for summer and not only. Needs about 20 minutes to breath.

Enjoy your summer and drink Rosé! Cheers!

Daily Glass – Pinot Grigio To Ask For By Name

July 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Terlato Pinot GrigioBlind tasting is probably the most difficult part of any of the Guild of Sommeliers examinations. It is one thing to memorize the names of the hundreds of the German villages producing Riesling. It is an entirely different thing to be able to distinguish, let’s say, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and identify a possible region, vintage and even a producer.

As with anything humans do, blind tasting also has its own set of “tricks” associated with it. Some of them perfectly legitimate – for instance, Nebbiolo wines (Barolo, Barbaresco, etc) typically have red brick hue in the glass, even when young, so this is a great “giveaway” for the blind tasting. Or the fact that the tannins from the American oak are perceived more in the back of the mouth, versus the French oak, which comes in front.

But then some of the “tricks” have nothing to do with the characteristics of the wine. Here is one, a statement by the Master Somms running the exam: “we will never pour Pinot Grigio for your blind tasting”.  Pretty good hint, right?

To a degree, Pinot Grigio became a victim of its own success. Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio became an overnight sensation in 1979, driving demand for the Pinot Grigio wines in the USA. That, in turn, led to the appearance of the great number of “imitations”, Italian Pinot Grigio which had no bouquet or a flavor but was very easy to drink and affordable. Fast forward on, and Italian Pinot Grigio became the “wine to ignore” for any self-respecting oenophile, next in line to White Zinfandel.

But let’s not forget that Pinot Grigio is simply an Italian name for the grape known throughout the world as Pinot Gris. As soon as one hears Pinot Gris, I’m sure Alsace comes to mind first, and then, of course, the Oregon. Alsatian Pinot Gris is extremely well respected among wine lovers, beautiful when young and amazing with some age on it. Oregon Pinot Gris is beautifully crisp, clear and flavorful, and as such, a popular choice for the wine consumers as well. So why can’t Italian Pinot Gris, err, Pinot Grigio be a well respected and delicious wine?

Well, it can. There are many producers who make Italian Pinot Grigio a wine worth seeking and drinking – for instance, how about Elena Walch or Livio Felluga – if you never had their Pinot Grigio, this is a mistake which you need to correct ASAP. And here is one more Pinot Grigio which you need to ask for by name – the one made by Terlato.

Terlato is a very well respected wine importer – and by the way, Tony Terlato was responsible for the overnight success of Santa Margherita, creating that Pinot Grigio phenomenon in the USA. Terlato Family also goes beyond just importing, producing the wines under their own label around the world. The wine I suggest you will look for is Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio from Friuli. It is very different from the mainstream – in Terlato’s own words, “First we pioneered Pinot Grigio. Now we’ve revolutionized it”.

Friuli region is nestled in the foothills of the Alps, in a close proximity to the Adriatic sea, which creates great winegrowing conditions. Add to that poor soils and hillside vineyards with 20-30 years old vines, harvested by hand in the small plots, and you’ve got an excellent foundation for making a delicious wine.

Here are my notes from the tasting of this wine:

2016 Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali DOC (13% ABV, $22.99)
C: light golden
N: intense, minerally, touch of honeysuckle, white stone fruit and fresh brioche, very promising.
P: crisp acidity, touch of gunflint, pronounced lemon, touch of freshly cut grass, medium body softly coating the mouth. Great complexity.
V: 8/8+, wow, very impressive.

Here you are, my friends. Next time you are looking for a bottle of wine, you might want to include Pinot Grigio into your shopping list. Trust the producer, and you might uncover something new to enjoy. Cheers!

Discovering Portuguese Wines, One Winery at a Time – Esporão

June 27, 2017 2 comments

Portuguese wines used to be an oenophile’s best secret. Portugal is rather a small country with very good climate for grape growing, lots of slopes and poor soils to force the roots to go deep in search for nutrition. People in Portugal heavily relying on their own agriculture – very little of the food products are imported, and the wines were for the long time produced mostly for the consumption inside the country. Add here a long and successful winemaking history (thousand years give or take a few) and lots of indigenous grapes (actually, the most of them are), and you have a recipe for excellent wines which are hardly known anywhere.

In today’s global economy, where love to the liquid grapes has no boundaries, it is hard to keep something like this as a secret. All of us, lucky travelers, who manage to visit Portugal and haul the wines back by suitcases and boxes, are obviously only helping for this secret to be … well, much less of a secret. And thus today let me contribute to the secrets-free wine world and talk about Portuguese wines produced by the company called Esporão. (take a look at their website to see beautiful viewcams of the vineyards and olive tree orchards).

Herdade do Esporão boundaries were established in 1267, which definitely gets it in the group of some of the oldest estates in Europe, in the region of Alentejo, about 100 miles southeast of Lisbon. The estate remained virtually unchanged until it was purchased by José Roquette in 1973. It is now run by his son João Roquette, who upholds his father’s winemaking traditions. In 2008, Esporão expanded into the Douro Valley with the purchase of the Quinta dos Murças estate which traces its history back to 1714. Quinta dos Murças vineyards are located on the slopes with the elevations of 262 – 1312 feet above sea level, in the Cima Corgo sub-region which is one of the most coveted in the Douro.

Esporão Quinta dos Murças wines

While I would love to talk about many different wines produced by Esporão, today our focus is on the Esporão wines from Quinta dos Murças. Here is what I had an opportunity to taste:

2016 Quinta dos Murças Assobio White Douro Valley, Portugal (12.5% ABV, $13, 30% Viosinho, 25% Verdelho, 25% Rabigato, 10% Gouveio, 10% Códega do Larinho)
Straw pale. Touch of lemon and white stone fruit on the nose, touch of grapefruit zest, medium+ intensity. Good crispy acidity on the palate with round, almost plump body, touch of green apple. Drinkability: 8-

2015 Quinta dos Murças Assobio Red Douro Valley, Portugal (13.5% ABV, $13, 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 30% Touriga Franca)
Dark garnet, restrained nose, crunchy raspberries, sweet oak undertones, very serious tannins on the palate, French oak, excellent balance, round, very tasty. Drinkability: 8+, best QPR in the tasting

2015 Quinta dos Murças Minas Douro Valley, Portugal (14% ABV, $25, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão)
Dark garnet color, fresh jammy cherries, baking spices, medium intensity, touch of barnyard, restrained palate, tart cherries, good acidity, excellent balance, Drinkability: 8. Added Bonus – new grape, Tinta Francisca

2011 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Douro Valley, Portugal (14% ABV, $45, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barocca, Sousão)
Almost black. Medium intensity, black fruit medley on the nose, eucalyptus, sage, wow – delicious.
Round layered palate, spices, dark fresh fruit, good acidity, outstanding. Drinkability: 9-

Have you tasted Esporão wines? What is your opinion of Portuguese wines? Do you have any favorites? Cheers!

Come For The Name, Stay For The Wines: Murrieta’s Well in Livermore Valley

June 23, 2017 2 comments

Murrieta's Well Outer boxYour Day Just Got Better” – how fun is it to read something like this? Even if it is written on the cardboard box [ahem, full of wine]? Ahh, sorry. Especially(!) if it is written on the box full of wine!

When I was invited to participate in the Snooth virtual tasting of the wines of Murrieta’s Well, something bothered me in that name. Something very familiar, but I really I couldn’t get a grip as to what it was – until I started working on this post and figured out that Murrieta was referring to Joaquin Murrieta, a Mexican miner turned hero/bandit to avenge his wife in the first half of 19th century. Growing up I remember been moved by a beautiful music and singing in one of the very first rock-opera produced in the former USSR, called “The Star and Death of Joaquin Murrieta” (Звезда и смерть Хоакина Мурьеты). That is what my brain was trying to associate with – but again, this only became obvious after I started working on the post.

Similarly to the Joaquin Murrieta himself, the Murrieta’s Well vineyards go back to the early 1800s. In 1884, Louis Mel purchased the estate, built the winery and planted new vineyards using cuttings brought directly from France, from none less than Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux. In 1933, he sold the estate to his friend Ernest Wente, and ever since the estate was a part of the Wente properties. Actually, the  winery received name “Murrieta’s Well” only in 1990 when it was revived, and from there on the modern history of Murrieta’s Well started. Rest assured that you can still find very old and still producing vines as part of the Murrieta’s Well vineyards.

Before we talk about the wines, let me ask you a sidebar question. Let’s say you are visiting Northern California on business and staying somewhere between San Francisco and San Jose. Let’s assume you have a bit of a free time and want to visit a winery. Outside of the city wineries, which can be found today in many places, what do you think would be the closest “wine country” for you to visit? If you said Napa, it is a wrong answer! Yes, you can go to the Santa Cruz mountains and visit Ridge (good choice), but – your best bet will be Livermore Valley! You will find a good number of excellent producers in Livermore Valley, all within 45 minutes ride (not talking about California traffic here, sorry). If you will go, make sure to include Murrieta’s Well and Wente on your short list.

Now, let’s talk about making the day better – I think kind folks at Murrieta’s Well know how this can be done. When you open the box and first thing you see is a written note “Your Day Just Got Better“, whatever the day you had before, it immediately gets better :). Then you see the bottles, packed with meticulous care, and feel even better. Meticulous care obviously goes not only into the packing, but first and foremost, into the wines themselves. Winemaker Robbie Meyer believes in the art of blending, and I can tell you, one of the flagship blends, The Spur, was my favorite wine of the tasting. Robbie Meyer’s philosophy is to harvest and vinify all the grapes separately, and then combine them into the final blend.

Murrieta's Well winesFor what it worth, here are my tasting notes for the wines:

2016 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $30, 55% Grenache, 45% Counoise)
C: pale pink
N: intense, fresh, strawberries and strawberries leaves,
P: perceived sweetness but perfectly dry, underripe strawberries, nice and round
V: 7+/8-

2015 Murrieta’s Well The Whip Livermore Valley (13.5% ABV, $24, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, 30% Chardonnay, 7% Viognier, 3% Muscat Canelli)
C: straw pale
N: touch of perfume, tropical white fruit, guava, medium intensity,
P: touch of sweetness, nicely restrained, good acidity in the back, more tropical fruit, good balance
V: 7+

2016 Murrieta’s Well Muscat Canelli Livermore Valley (14.2% ABV, $35, 100% Muscat Canelli, 100 cases produced)
C: light straw
N: perfumy, intense, sweet, intense white fruit
P: grapefruit, grapefruit zest, good acidity, round
V: 7+, excellent summer wine

2014 Murrieta’s Well Small Lot Merlot Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $48, 90% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot)
C: Garnet
N: medium plus intensity, touch of sweet cherries and earthiness, mint, touch of cassis, overall very inviting.
P: good earthy fruit, cassis, medium to full body, touch of sweet oak, outstanding overall
V: 8+, excellent, delicious wine

2014 Murrietta’s Well Small Lot Cabernet Franc Livermore Valley (14.1% ABV, $58, 88% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot)
C: dark garnet)
N: touch of vanilla and mint, black and red fruit, medium intensity
P: touch of black currant, vanilla, chewy structure, baking spices, medium to full body.
V: 7+, I like my Cabernet Franc to be a bit leaner, but a very good wine overall.

2014 Murrieta’s Well The Spur Livermore Valley (13.5% ABV, $30, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Sirah, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc)
C: dark garnet
N: crunchy raspberries, intense, tobacco, sage
P: round, layered, black currant, silky smooth, touch of sweet tobacco, eucalyptus, fresh acidity, impeccable balance
V: 8+, this wine would make me happy any day

Whether Joaquin Murrieta was an avenger, hero or bandit – it is hard to tell. We don’t even know if he was just a legend. But – the wines named in his honor are real, and you should definitely look for them. Cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Red Wines Edition

June 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Recently, we were talking about the Spanish wine samples I had a pleasure of trying. Now, let’s visit some other countries. Would  France and Argentina be okay with you?

Let’s start with something very simple – how about some Cotes du Rhone? Cotes du Rhone reds are known to be easy drinking and soft. They typically can be classified as GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre – however, the exact proportions of those three grapes can vary from 0 to 100%. It is recommended that Cotes du Rhone reds should be consumed within 3-4 years after release, but some of the better specimens can last for close to 10 – still, they are not meant to be aged extensively.

Les Dauphins became a family wine venture in the 1920s, when France was experiencing a “bistro revolution”. Easy drinking Cotes du Rhone wines were a perfect pairing for a vibrant bistro fare, and Les Dauphins became one of the popular suppliers for such wines. Fast forward to today, Les Dauphins offers a full range of Cotes du Rhone wines – white, rosé and a number of reds, still well suitable for a bistro experience. The wine I had was 2015 Les Dauphins Reserve Cotes du Rhone:

2015 Les Dauphins Réserve Côtes du Rhône (14% ABV, $18, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre)
C: dark Ruby
N: medium intensity, touch of sweet tobacco, fall leaves, plums
P: hint of pepper, good acidity, touch of alcohol heat, graphite, black plums
V: 7, maybe needs a bit of breathing time to round up. Definitely evolved and smoothed out over the next couple of days. 7+ on the next day

Last year, I had a pleasure of learning about Cru Bourgeouis wines, and the wines were so good that I proudly declared that my faith in affordable and tasty Bordeaux wines was restored. This year, I was happy to find out that my conclusion was not an accident, and it is definitely possible to find deliciously tasting [and reasonably priced] Bordeaux wines.

Château Haut-Logat vineyards overlook the village of Cissac-Médoc, located between Saint-Estèphe and Pauillac, and it is a part of the Cheval Quancard properties. The wine was perfect from the get go:

2012 Château Haut-Logat Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc AOC (12.5 ABV, $25, 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc)
C: garnet
N: intense, mint, touch of bell pepper, touch of freshly crushed cassis
P: beautiful, medium body, cassis, eucalyptus, tobacco, touch of sweet oak, medium finish
V: 8, excellent Pop’n’Pour wine

The next two wines come from Argentina, and yes, both are Malbec.

Ruca Malen means “the house of the young girl” in the local language of the ancient tribes inhabiting the area, and it has a nice legend attached to that name (which you can read on the back label above). Bodega Ruca Malen was born in 1998 with the vision of creating terroir-driven wines. The grapes for the Ruca Malen Malbec came from the two high-altitude vineyards – one in the Uco Valley, at 3600 feet, and the second one in Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, at 3115 feet above sea level, from the 22+ years old vines. The wine was varietally correct and easy to drink:

2014 Ruca Malen Malbec Reserva Mendoza Argentina (13.5% ABV, $18.99, 12 months in 80% French Oak/20% American oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of pepper, sage, freshly crushed blackberries, intense
P: medium body, plums, mint, soft, good acidity and overall good balance, medium finish
V: 8-, easy to drink

Nieto Senetiner history predates Ruca Malen’s by more than 100 years – it starts from the first vineyard in Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo in Mendoza, planted by the Italian immigrants in 1888. Today, Nieto Senetiner farms more the 1000 acres of vines, located in the 3 estates in Mendoza.

Don Nicanor Single Vineyard is a flagship wine produced at the estate and it is named after the mentor of Bodegas Nieto Senetiner who was instrumental in setting the direction and the vision for the winery.

2010 Nieto Senetiner Don Nicanor Malbec Villa Blanca Lujan de Cuyo Mendoza Argentina (15% ABV, $44.99, 18-24 months in French oak barrels)
C: dark garnet, practically black
N: intense, red and black berries, baking spices, vanilla, fresh blackberries
P: intense, fresh, noticeable tannins (French oak), clean acidity, a bit of the alcohol burn, slightly underripe, crunchy berries, more of a raspberry profile, tar. A couple of days later, the intensity still there.
V: 8. Needs time to open up, can’t judge from the get go. Even a few days later, packs a lot of power. Craves food – nice charred steak feels the most appropriate. Will develop over next 10–15 years at the minimum.

Here you are, my friends – a few red wines well worthy of your attention. Cheers!

 

Precision of Flavors – Tasting the Wines of Achaval-Ferrer

March 26, 2017 4 comments

Achaval Ferrer CorkDrinking wine is a pleasure – for sure it should be, and if you don’t feel like it, maybe you shouldn’t drink it at all. At the same time, there are multiple ways to look at one and the same thing.

A pleasure of drinking of the glass of wine may be just as it sounds, very simple  – take a sip of the liquid in the glass, say “ahh, it tastes good”, and continue to the next sip or with the conversation, whatever entices you the most at the moment.

Then there are many of us, wine lovers, who, professionally or unprofessionally, can’t stop just at that. Yes, we take pleasure in every sip, but then we need to dig in. We feel compelled to put on the Sherlock Holmes hat and play the wine sleuth, figuring out exactly what we are tasting in that very sip. What was that flavor? Was that a raspberry? Hmmm, maybe not. And that whiff of something? It is so familiar! Why can’t I put a name on it? Grrrr.

Everyone who engaged in that wine tasting exercise I’m sure can relate to what I’m saying. But every once in a while, we do get a break, when the flavor simply jumps at you, pristine and obvious. And the best twist here is when the flavor is matching to what is expected to find in the wine, like fresh cut grass in Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Cabernet Sauvignon, or pepper in Syrah – don’t we love those pure and precise flavors?

Achaval-Ferrer winery is only about 20 years old, built on the passion and vision of a group of friends in Mendoza, Argentina. In those 20 years, Achaval-Ferrer accomplishments are nothing short of enviable. Achaval-Ferrer wines earned multiple Decanter magazine 5-star ratings (the highest). There are 29 wines from Argentina rated as “Classic” by Wine Spectator (95-100 ratings) – 13 out of those 29 wines are Achaval-Ferrer wines; the flagship Malbec Finca Altamira consistently getting 96 points rating year after year.

In addition to passion, vision, hard work and perseverance, the success foundation of Achaval-Ferrer is its high altitude vineyards, located from 700 to 1100 meters above sea level (2,300 – 3,600 ft). Three out of four main vineyards of Achaval-Ferrer are also about 100 years old, and boast pre-phylloxera vines, as Phylloxera simply can’t survive in those high mountains conditions. Now all left to do is to take the beautiful fruit those vineyards produce and make it into equally beautiful wines – the Achaval-Ferrer does it quite successfully.

Here is what triggered my “precision of flavors”  opening. I had an opportunity to taste a sample of Achaval-Ferrer wines recently, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. While Malbec was a very good wine, but clearly needed time to mature, Cabernet Sauvignon was stunning, with flavors and aromas just jumping at your right away from the glass, with easy to relate to, textbook-correct cassis – also intensifying its purity with the time. This was a perfect example of why Argentinian wines are so popular and deserving of all your attention. And at a price of $24.99, the Cabernet Sauvignon offer an outstanding QPR, easily beating many classic Napa Cabs which would also cost you at least three times as much.

Here are my detailed notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: very intense, dark roasted fruit, cassis. The roasted fruit intensity diminishes as the wine breathes.
P: beautiful cassis, clean acidity, soft tannins, lots of layers. As the wine breathes, the tannins show better and more pronounced. Pure clean black currant after a day.
V: 8+, outstanding, wow. Will evolve.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Malbec)
C: practically black
N: roasted meat, smoke, tar, intense, baking spices
P: dark fruit, bright acidity, mint, alcohol burn in the back?, succulent, lavender, spicy. Blueberries showed up on the second day.
V: 8,  needs time, but perfectly delicious on the second day.

Here you are, my friends. Achaval-Ferrer definitely makes wines worthy of oenophile’s attention – and the QPR makes these wines worth seeking. Cheers!