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Rioja Versus Rioja – Will One Tempranillo More?

November 10, 2017 11 comments

The time has come for a battle, where the brother will go against the brother and the blood will spill … – oops, let’s cull the drama before it sets in – it is the wine we are talking about, and if anything will be spilled, it will be the wine – but I promise to be very careful, as red wine is not easy to get off the clothes.

Today, in honor of the International Tempranillo Day, we will put glass to glass some of the best of the best in Rioja’s World. These wines are truly the siblings (brothers or not), as both wines are produced by Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), also known as CVNE, and also sometimes referred to as Cune, due to an interesting style of writing used on the labels.

CVNE Rioja wines

Wines were produced in Spain forever. However, the story of Rioja as we know it, started in the late 19th century, after phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of the vines in Bordeaux, but England’s thirst for Claret Bordeaux was so famous for, was at its pick. Producers in Rioja wanted to become a new source of Claret, and some of the most ambitious producers even set up their new operations right by the train station in Haro, to ensure the best transport for their wines (you can read more here).

CVNE was created by two brothers in 1879, and the ownership stays in the family even today. In 1920, Viña Real line of wines was started to produce Rioja in new, modern style. CVNE owns about 1360 acres of vineyards, located in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Alta. Both appellations have similar soils and Atlantic coastal climate exposure, however, Rioja Alta vineyards are located at the higher altitudes than Rioja Alavesa, which shows in the resulting fruit.

Before we will enter the battle, we need to establish some ground rules, to make sure that our fighters are in the same “weight category”. The rules are not difficult: there are 4 main varieties which can be used in Rioja – Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan). Together, these 4 varieties should represent at least 85% of the blend or 95% of grapes are destemmed; there are few other grapes allowed to be used in the leftover percentage.  Crianza wines should be aged for at least 2 years ( 6 months in the cask); Reserva – 3 years (12 months in the cask); Gran Reserva – 5 years (18 months in the cask).

Okay, now that we set the rules, let the fight begin.

Battle Crianza:

2014 Cune Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $13, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: Garnet
N: earthy smell, freshly crushed blackberries, acidity, cedar box,
P: medium body, pronounced minerality, restrained fruit, clear acidity, tart cherries, soft, round, hint of tobacco, asking for food
V: 8-, restrained and tart, definitely improved after a few hours of breathing

2013 Viña Real Crianza Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $15, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: Garnet
N: surprisingly different, dark fruit, touch of tobacco, touch of sweetness
P: medium+ body, firm structure, cherries and tart of cherries pit, even brighter acidity than a previous wine, more present mouthfeel
V: 8-, a touch fruitier and more round than previous wine. Different but equally good.

Conclusion: Tie. You can definitely taste the difference – Cune Crianza is more restrained and tight, and Viña Real is more round and fruity from the get-go. Slight difference in age and vintage might play a role. The wines would ask for a different food, but otherwise, they are equally good wines.

Battle Reserva:

The Reservas match fair and square – same vintage, same age in barrel, very similar grape composition

2013 Cune Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $28, 85% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet
N: medium+ intensity, leather, touch of sweet plum, cedar box, very inviting
P: medium weight, tart, acidic, a bit of sour cherries, explicit tannins. Needs time.
V: started opening after one hour in the open bottle. More fruit showed up, perfect structure, very pleasant. Excellent overall. 8+/9-

2013 Viña Real Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $32, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet
N: medium- intensity, touch of the forest floor, mushrooms, tobacco, eucalyptus
P: cherries, cigar box, medium+ presence on the palate, crisp acidity, very pronounced French oak tannins, needs a lot of time
V: more approachable than the previous one, but still should improve with time – get a case and forget it. Also a great improvement after an hour. Wow. Superb. 8+/9-

Conclusion: Advantage Viña Real. The wines are clearly stylistically different. Appellation might play a role, and the winemaking technique, of course. I slightly preferred Viña Real, as it was a bit more round versus more austere Cune.

Battle Gran Reserva:

Here we have different vintages (both considered excellent, but I think 2010 has a slight edge up over 2011), different appellations and different grape compositions.

2011 Cune Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuello, appellation Rioja Alta)
C: dark garnet, practically black, with Ruby rim
N: dark fruit, roasted meat notes, sage, eucalyptus
P: forthcoming tannins, tar, cherry, tart, with lip-smacking acidity, really long finish.
V: 8+, within 20 minutes of opening, not ready even remotely. After about 3 hours in the open bottle, the wine became opened up enough to become delicious.

2010 Viña Real Gran Reserva Rioja DOCa (13.5% ABV, $47, 95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano, appellation Rioja Alavesa)
C: dark garnet, just a shade lighter than the previous wine
N: more open than previous wine – blackberries, graphite, pencil shavings, cedar box, iodine
P: incomparably more drinkable, fresh cherries, open, bright, perfect structure, eucalyptus, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8/8+, you feel the need for time, but the wine is a lot more approachable

Conclusion: Advantage Cune. First, nobody should drink 2010 Gran Reserva now. It is simply a waste. Buy it at a great price, and put it aside for another 15-20 years, especially from the outstanding vintage such as 2010. Just to explain the result here, I slightly preferred the firm structure of Cune versus fruity appeal of Viña Real.

As you can see, we didn’t find a winner of our Tempranillo battle – all 6 wines Tempranillo perfectly, as one would expect from such a great producer as CVNE.

I wish wine would be the only real battle we ever have to fight – wouldn’t that be great? Enjoy your glass of Tempranillo, no matter where it came from and celebrate the noble grape of Spain! Cheers!

Daily Glass: An Australian Score

October 29, 2017 3 comments

I pride myself with very wide wine horizon. I scout wines from literally everywhere in the world – China, Japan, Croatia, Bulgaria or Hawaii – bring it on, the more obscure, the better, I will be happy to try them all.

Nevertheless, a majority of my daily drinking evolves around Italy, Spain, and California, with a little injection of France. The rest of the wine regions make a very sporadic appearance at our house – without any prejudice or malicious intent – just stating the fact.

Nevermind China and Japan, which are still going through an adolescence as wine producing countries – let’s talk about Australia instead. About 20 years ago Australia was leading wine imports in the USA. As you would enter a wine store, you were greeted with countless Australian wine selections.

Today, Australian wines are relegated to the back shelves, and they are definitely not on top of the wine consumer’s mind (in the USA for sure). Ups and downs are hard to analyze in the wine world (think of the devastating effect of the movie Sideways on Merlot consumption), and such an analysis is definitely not the point of this post, no matter how interesting such a discussion could’ve been.

As I stated before, Australian wines are rare guests at our table, and this is not deliberate – I enjoyed lots and lots of excellent Australian wines, and have an utmost respect to what this country can deliver. I’m always ready to seize an opportunity to try an Australian wine, especially if it comes with a recommendation.

Such recommendation can present itself in lots of different ways – a friend, a magazine, an Instagram post, a tweet – or an offer from the Last Bottle Wines, especially during the Last Bottle’s infamous Marathon events. During the Last Bottle Marathon, you can buy the wines in single bottle quantities, which I like the most as you can create your own tasting collection quickly and easily.

If the wine is offered for sale by the Last Bottle, it definitely serves as an endorsement for me. The folks at Last Bottle know the wines – if they offer something, it means the wine really worth trying. During the last Marathon, the 2015 Gemtree Uncut Shiraz McLaren Vale (14.5% ABV) attracted my attention. I don’t know what made me click the “buy” button –  the name “Gemtree” (sounds interesting, isn’t it?), or the word ‘Uncut” (again, this somehow sounds cool to me as well), but I did click that button quickly.  You see, you only have a split second to get the wine – you blink, you lose – and I scored the bottle of this Australian Shiraz.

I pulled the bottle from the wine fridge, twisted the top and poured into the glass. Dark ruby color, a whiff of the blackberries. The palate had a tremendous amount of salinity over the crunchy blackberries – I guess this was an effect of drinking this wine at a cellar temperature. But it was still attractive. While admiring the simple label I saw the word which made me very curious – “Biodynamic”, and then the back label provided lots more information about how this wine was made. To me, “sustainable” is a very important wine keyword, and whatever extras “biodynamic” entails, the biodynamic wine is always a sustainable wine – and it is definitely important for me.

After warming up, the wine became generous, layered, showed soft tannins and perfect crunchy backbone of dark fruit with some dark chocolate notes and touch of a spicy bite – all perfectly balanced and delicious (Drinkability: 8+). The name “Gemtree” kept me intrigued, and the picture on the label was very attractive in its simplicity, so I went to the Gemtree Wines website to learn a bit more. I rarely quote from the winery websites, but I think in this case this is quite appropriate (here is the link to the source):

This is our Gemtree story…

There was once a tree. Not the tallest tree, nor the oldest tree, but a tree that had put its roots in just the right part of the paddock. Here the soil was deep and layered – sometimes hard and rocky, elsewhere soft and sandy – and the wind had just enough room to move, and even the rain – when it was kind enough to visit – would fall evenly and gently.

Because of its favoured position, the grasses grew tall against its trunk, and the wild flowers were easily encouraged to grow closely around it, and the insects and birds that looked to trees for shelter and for vantage, eagerly moved in.

One day a farmer approached the tree and wondered: “You do not grow the strongest, nor the fastest, so why is it that you grow the best fruit?”

The tree let the answer whisper through the wind in its branches: “If I am shown a patient mind and a gentle hand, if I am left to follow the rhythms of my seasons – to rest in Winter; to revive in Spring; to make busy in Summer; and to provide in Fall – then I can offer fruit that tastes not just of the ground upwards, but also of the sky downwards, and of everything around me.”

The farmer thought to himself: “This is truly a Gemtree – it takes only what it can give back to the land, it contributes to its surroundings, and it provides for those that live around it.”

This is the heart of the Gemtree story: growing better wine ~ naturally.

Here you are, my friends. I don’t know how often you drink Australian wines, but Gemtree is definitely the name to keep in mind for your next round of wines from down under – I think you will be happy with your score. 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!

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!

 

Top Twelve of 2016

December 31, 2016 8 comments

pol rogerAnd now, the moment you’ve been waiting for … cue in the drum roll… Talk-a-Vino Top 12 wines of 2016. Well, okay. I’m sure you were not really waiting for this moment, but nevertheless, I made up my mind about best of the best wines I experienced this year, and now I’m ready to present you with my list.

The list of top wines of 2016 consists of 2 dozens of wines – here you can find the first half of this list, containing the wines from 13 to 24 – note, the order is not essential, it doesn’t mean that I liked wine #13 more than wine #14. That first post also explains how the wines are selected for this Top Dozen list. In this post, I would like to share the top wines of 2016 (the order is not essential with the exception of the top 3 wines.

Here we go:

12. 2010 Fields Family Wines Tempranillo Lodi ($25) – I’m a Tempranillo buff, a snob, if you will, and this was one of the very first wines I tasted while attending the welcome reception at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi. And I have to honestly say that table of the Fields wines was the closest to the food. Once I had a sip of  this Tempranillo, everything changed – Ribera del Duero style, fresh and firm, just outstanding.

11. 2012 Viña Maipo Syrah Limited Edition DO Buin Valle del Maipo ($35) – Here is another great discovery of 2016 – Chile is not only the land of Cabernet, it makes perfect Syrah. This wine was spicy, dark, vibrant but restrained, a classic, classic Syrah. Yum!

10. 2013 McCay Cellars Grenache Abba Vineyard Lodi ($32) – Here is another standout from Lodi – the smoke and roasted meat over the violets. A “dangerous wine”.

9. 2013 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri Sassicaia ($200) – ahh, the layers. The layers of goodness. Silky smooth, mouth-coating nectar. This is not called “Super” Tuscan for nothing. The most amazing part – this 3 years old wine was ready to drink. Wow.

8. 2013 Viña Maipo Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon Valle del Maipo ($50) – World-class Chilean Cabernet at its best. Fruit, herbs, balance. Smooth, powerful and delicious.

7. 2016 Field Recordings Pét Nat Arroyo Grande Valley ($20?) – I might be just lucky around Field Recordings wines, as I understand that Pét Nat wines can be all over the place – but this wine had a perfect finesse of bubbles in a very simplistic package – a bottle topped with a beer cap, and delicious, classic sparkling goodness of Chardonnay in a glass. A perfection.

6. 2012 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia ($210) – I now learned my ways at Gambero Rosso, so I know to start from the most “cult” wines first (after missing on Massetto 5 years ago). The Ornellaia was definitely a personal surprise – didn’t expect 4 years old Super Tuscan to be so ready to drink – but it was. Generous fruit, perfect structure, layers of pleasure – this is the wine you finish with “ahh”.

5. 2001 The Lucas Winery Chardonnay Lodi California ($37?) – there are 4 wines from Lodi among the 24, and I had to hold myself from including more. An absolute surprise of the tasting – I couldn’t expect 15 years old California Chardonnay to taste this fresh and vibrant. Yes, the wine was made by Heather Lucas, an owner/winemaker,  in Burgundian style – nevertheless, I’ve seen way too many failed California Chardonnay to truly appreciate what was done here.

4. 2005 Domaine des Monts Luisants Les Genavriéres Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru ($50) – I.want.to.drink.this.wine.every.day. That’s it.

3. 2015 Vidon Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Chehalem Mountains, Oregon ($35) – Oregon’s supremacy is unquestionable when it comes to Pinot Noir. Pinot Gris from Oregon are also a safe bet anywhere you find them. But Chardonnay? Considering this wine from Vidon Vineyard, the Chardonnay is also a thing in Oregon. Bright, beautiful, vanilla laced golden delicious apples chased by the pure lemon. I wish your white Burgundy would be as good as this wine.

cesari bosan Amarone

2. 1997 Cesari Bosan Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC, Italy ($85) – Amarone might be my “curse of oenophile”. Ever since trying this wine for the first time and been blow away with the contrast of beautiful nose of dry fruit and perfectly dry, powerful and balanced palate, I had been on the quest to repeat that experience. And I keep failing and failing over that, with Masi single vineyard wines providing an occasional salvation. This Cesari Bosan single vineyard Amarone brought that old memory back – dry fruit on the nose and polished, structured wine on the palate. A pure delight.

sir winston churchill champagne

1. 2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Champagne ($230) – definitely surprised myself with this choice of the wine #1 of 2016. I had vintage Champagne from the very solid producers before – Krug, Piper-Heidsieck, Dom Perignon, Roederer Cristal; in the same tasting there was ’02 Bollinger RD and ’06 Roederer L’Ermitage, both superb. But this Winston Churchill Champagne… The interplay on the nose, the complexity and richness were stunning. Before you take a sip, you have to smell this wine. And smell. And smell. Reflect. And smell again. Wow. Too emotional? Might be. Find the bottle of this wine, invite me over, let’s smell it together, then talk.

This is it, my friends. Two dozens of most memorable wines of 2016. Can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring. Cheers!