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Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Salice Salentino

January 31, 2019 2 comments

Today, wine lovers, we are going on yet another wine journey in Italy. We are going all the way down almost to the bottom of the heel of the “Italian Boot”, to the area called Salice Salentino.

While we are on our way, I have a question for you – what do you know about first ever Rosé wine – ahh, we are in Italy, so let’s switch to the proper names – so again, what do you know about first ever Rosato wine bottled in Italy and exported to the USA? Do you know where, when, what was the name of it? I’ll let you ponder at it for a bit – the answer will come a bit later. And for now, let’s talk about Salice Salentino.

Salice Salentino is a small town located down south on the “heel” of Italy. If you will find it on the map, you will see that it is situated on a strip of the land, Salento, sandwiched between Adriatic and Ionian Seas (Gulf of Taranto, to be geographically precise). The town supposedly takes its name from the willow trees, which were growing in abundance in the area in the old days – you can see the willow tree showing up in the middle of a shield on Salice Salentino’s coat of arms. I don’t know if the land looked anything the picture below, but it is easy to imagine that this looks very authentic.

willow tree photo by arvid høidahl on unsplash small

The town of Salice Salentino was founded in the 14th century, but wine… The wine was made on that land way, way before – let’s say, about 2000 years before, as the first mentions and artifacts of winemaking in the area go all the way back to at least the 6th century BC. And why not – you got rich soils with a lot of maritime influence, and despite the close proximity of the seas, hot and dry summers, which sport on average 300 sunny days. It is easy for grapes to ripen happily and abundantly in such conditions – may be, too easy – it is difficult to tame that amount of sugar later on at the winery. It is not very surprising that for the longest time, Salice Salentino was known as the source of grapes and bulk wine, and quantity was definitely trumpeting quality.

Come the 20th century, and the situation started to change, with more attention placed on the quality of the wine, controlling the yield and focusing on the quality of the grapes. Historically, Salice Salentino, and the whole big region it is a part of – Puglia – was focused on the red grapes and red wines; ohh – let’s not forget about olive trees (Puglia produces about 50% of all olive oil in Italy – but this is not the subject of today’s conversation). When Salice Salentino DOC was created in 1976, red wines were the only ones allowed under the DOC. Rules were subsequently changed in 1990 and 2010, and now both white and Rosato are produced in Salice Salentino.

To make wine, we need grapes, right? So let’s talk about grapes. Every region in Italy has its own, unique grapes – such grapes are called autochthonous (having a local origin). Salice Salentino is no exception – Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera (Black Malvasia, a red grape which is a sibling of the well known aromatic white grape, Malvasia), and Primitivo are three of the autochthonous grapes in that area.

Negroamaro is definitely the kind of Salice Salentino winemaking. The grape’s name can be translated as “black bitter”, due to its shiny black skin and bitter aromatics. It is widely considered that Negroamaro originated in Salentino area. The grape has no problems with dry hot climate and lack of water and can consistently achieve appropriate levels of ripeness. Most of the Salice Salentino DOC red wines contain 80% to 90% of Negroamaro grape.

Malvasia Nera is a dark-skinned member of Malvasia family. Malvasia Nera is growing around Italy, not only in Salice Salentino, and it is typically used as a blending grape, adding unique aromatics to the resulting wine.

You might not be familiar with Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, but I’m sure you heard of Primitivo, which after the long research and often heated debates was recognized as an identical grape to American beloved Zinfandel. Primitivo is a star of the surrounding Puglia, especially in Primitivo de Manduria, however, in Salice Salentino it only plays supporting role in some of the blends, particularly with Aleatico.

In addition to the three grapes we already mentioned, Aleatico (red), Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Fiano can be used. Overall, DOC rules allow the production of the full range of wines – sparkling (spumante) white, Rosato, red, and dessert (Dolce and Liquorosso).

Now, it is time to taste some wines. I had an opportunity to taste three of the Salice Salentino wines, but before I will share my tasting notes, let me introduce you to the three wineries.

Leone de Castris

This is definitely one of the pioneering wine producers in Salice Salentino. The company started in 1665 in Salice Salentino, by planting vines and olive trees. In the 19th century, the Leone de Castris was exporting bulk wine to the United States. The first bottling under Leone de Castris name was produced in 1925.

Now, remember the question I asked you at the beginning of this post? You probably figured that already (o mighty google), but nevertheless: the very first Rosato produced and sold in Italy, and imported to the United States was made at Leone de Castris winery in 1943, under the name of Five Roses. The name signifies the fact that multiple generations of de Castris had 5 children each.

Gradually, Leone de Castris reduced their land ownership from 5,000 acres to under 900 acres, which is split between the vineyards and olive trees. The winery makes today around 2.5 million bottles per year, which includes red, white, Rosato, and sparkling wines.

Cantina San Donaci

Cantina San Donaci is also one of the oldest wineries in Salice Salentino. It was established in 1933 by 12 local farmers. Today, about 600 partners are involved in all aspects of winemaking – tending to about 1,250 acres of vineyards, harvesting the grapes and making the wines.

Production includes white, Rosato and red wines.

Candido Wines

Candido Wines started in 1929, producing bulk wine obtained from the 1,000 acres of vineyards. In 1957, the bottling started under its own label. Today, the winery owns 350 acres of organically farmed vineyards, focusing on the autochthonous varieties, as well as some of the international ones and producing the typical Salice Salentino range of wines.

Here are the notes for the 3 wines I tasted.

2015 Leone de Castris 50° Vendemmia Salice Salentino Riserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, 90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera, 12+ months in barrel, 6+ months in bottle)
Dark ruby
Herbs- driven nose – sage, oregano, excellent minerality, underbrush, a touch of cherries
Ripe cherries on the palate, sweet tobacco, well-integrated tannins, a touch of sandalwood. Good balance.
8, the wine is super food-friendly, and it is a lot of wine for the money.

2017 Cantina San Donaci Anticaia Rosato Salice Salentino DOP (13.5% ABV, $8, 90% Negroamaro, 10% Malvasia Nera, 18-20 hours skin contact)
Beautiful Intense Rose color
A touch of strawberries, restrained,
Beautiful strawberries and cranberries, good acidity, fuller body than a typical rose, but nicely balanced, good tartness.
8-, very good

2015 Candido La Carta Salice Salentino Riserva DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, 95% Negroamaro, 5% Malvasia Nera, aged in large casks)
Garnet color
Tobacco, sweet oak, leather, medium plus intensity
Cherries, smoke, round, pleasant well-integrated tannins, delicious.
8+, superb. Absolutely delicious. Outstanding value and QPR.

As you can see, these Salice Salentino wines are offering an outstanding value – at $12, finding the wine which gives you so much pleasure is rather difficult – and these wines delivered. They are perfect on its own and would work very well with food – antipasti, traditional local hard sheep cheeses, such as Pecorino Sardo or Pecorino Romano, hearty stews, you name it.

I hope I helped you to discover a new Italian wine region. If you are looking for every day, great value, delicious glass of wine – Salice Salentino wines are worth seeking and experiencing. Cheers!

Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions – Alto Adige

January 28, 2019 4 comments

Italian Wine Regions. source: Wikipedia

Italian wines are some of the most respected wines in the world. Well respected and well known, which is not surprising as Italy is the biggest wine producer and wine exporter in the world. But if you will ask a random wine lover about their favorite Italian wines, there is a good chance that all you will hear will be a few of Bs, most likely a C, and an S on a good day. I’m not trying to be cryptic here, just playing a bit – most likely you will hear about Brunello, Barolo, Chianti, and possibly, Super Tuscan. Some of the more advanced wine lovers might include Amarone. Someone might also include Prosecco, but that would pretty much complete the list.

When it comes to the regions, I expect the story to look very similar – Tuscany and Piedmont are two of the most likely contenders, everything else is open to the chance. Meanwhile, the wine is produced in Italy absolutely everywhere – otherwise, it is not that easy to be the number one wine producer and wine exporter in the world. When I say “wine is produced everywhere in Italy”, I mean exactly that – Italy has 20 administrative regions, and all 20 administrative regions are also wine regions.

There are many reasons why you want to expand your Italian wine horizons. For one, with the exception of Georgia and probably a few others, Italy is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world with almost 3,000 years of history of the winemaking – that in itself deserves some respect. Another, and more important reason is that lesser-known regions usually mean great value – you can find the wines to enjoy with much better QPR than those coming from the best-known regions. And let’s not forget the sheer abundance of the grape varieties in Italy – about 350 used in winemaking today, out of which about 180 are so-called autochthonous (the grapes which originated in their respective local regions) – that translates into a tremendous range of wines available to the consumer.

Source: AltoAdigeWines.com

Let’s start our exploration. Let’s go to the northmost part of Italy, between Austria and Switzerland, where the Italian Alps are located. There are few names used for this region – Trentino, South Tyrol (Südtirol) and Alto Adige all point to the same area in the north. One of the oldest winemaking areas in Italy, with about 3,000 years of winemaking history, with the wines having significant Austrian influence and using a number of the same grapes, such as Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer. While the region is small, there are about 5,000 grape growers and 150 wineries in Alto Adige, producing on average about 60% of the white and 40% of the red wines (colder climates enticing more production of the whites). The climate in the region is the Mediterranean, and it allows for proper ripening of both white and red grapes, without much worry about over-riping the grapes (unlike in the South of Italy). You can also imagine that it is not easy to work with the vineyards on the mountainous slopes, so grape cultivation in Aldo Adige is quite demanding.

Out of 17 or so grapes used in the winemaking in Alto Adige, three varieties are considered autochthonousGewürztraminer, Lagrein, and Schiava, with both Lagrein and Schiava being red grapes. I’m sure you are perfectly aware of “spicy aromatic” grape – Gewürztraminer is popular most everywhere around the world. However, it is not an easy grape to work with, as it always needs balancing acidity to avoid single-dimensional wines. Alto Adige Gewürztraminer might be one of the very best renditions on the market, along with Gewürztraminer from Alsace.

Lagrein is the indigenous red grape of Alto Adige, known for its high acidity and high level of tannins. Lately, Lagrein gained popularity around the world and now can be found in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. Schiava, also known as Vernatsch and Trollinger, is the second indigenous red grape in Alto Adige. Schiava is known to produce the lighter-bodied wines with high acidity.

Let’s taste some wine, shall we? Why don’t we try exactly the grapes we were talking about – the autochthonous varieties:

2017 St. Michael-Eppan Gewürztraminer Alto Adige (13.5% ABV, $14) – St. Michael-Eppan winery is a cooperative of 340 winemaking families, formed in 1907. The winery produces a wide range of white, Rosé and red wine.
Light golden color
Intense, lychees and peaches, a touch of guava
More lychees on the palate, nicely restrained compared to the nose, good acidity, a touch of spicy notes, minerality showing up on the finish. very enjoyable.
8-, would be good with the food. Also, expect it to evolve over the next 5-7 years.

2017 Muri-Gries Santa Maddalena Alto Adige (12.5% ABV, $14, Schiava 93% and Lagrein 7%) – MURI-GRIES is the monastery, starting its history in 1845, when Benedictine monks moved into the monastery from Switzerland Today, MURI-GRIES makes a number of wines from Lagrein  as one of the favorites, however, today we are tasting the Schiava wine and not the Lagrein from this producer. This Schiava comes from the well regarded single vineyard, Santa Maddalena
Light ruby color
Earthy nose, a touch of underripe raspberries, lavender
The light but supple palate, round and velvety, beautiful silky mouthfeel, more underripe raspberries, a touch of pepper and interesting salinity.
8-/8, the wine to ponder at

2017 Cantina Schreckbichl Colterenzio Lagrein Alto Adige (13% ABV, $14, 100% Lagrein) – and finally, Lagrein. Colterenzio winery was formed in 1960 by a group of 26 winegrowers. Today, more than 300 partners winemakers participate in the work of the winery.
Dark garnet, almost black
Roasted notes, a touch of smoke, black plums, a touch of oregano
Velvety palate, excellent extraction, a touch of pepper and herbaceous notes, black fruit, medium+ body, voluptuous and sexy
8, this wine has a mystery to it.

Alto Adige wines offer all wine lovers an opportunity to drink great wines at the very reasonable prices – may be that’s why we should keep it a secret? Have you had wine from Alto Adige? What do you think of them? Cheers!

Bubbles for the New Year 2019

January 9, 2019 2 comments

I pride myself with not discriminating against any type of wine – white, red, sparkling, Rosé, dessert, fortified, $2, $10, $100 – doesn’t matter.

In theory.

In reality, most of the days, I drink red. And wish that I would drink more white and bubbles. Especially bubbles.

But luckily, we have at least a few holidays in the year, where the only appropriate choice of wine [for me] is bubbles. New Year’s Eve is absolutely The One – bubbles all the way.

As with all the holidays, a little prep is involved – the word “little” is a clear exaggeration, as deciding about the wine is mission impossible around here. However, this year it was easier than usual. Shortly before the New Year day, I received a special etched bottle of Ferrari Trento, the oldest Italian traditional method sparkling wine and one of my absolute favorites (I wrote about Ferrari many times in the past), so it was an easy decision regarding the bubbles to ring the New Year in with. I also wanted to start the evening with some vintage Champagne but considering that nobody was thoughtful enough to send me the gift of Krug Vintage, I had to settle for whatever I already had in the cellar. And then there was a bottle of generic French sparkler (non-Champagne) “just in case”.

2008 Philippe Fourrier Cuvée Millésime Brut Champagne (12% ABV, $29.99 WTSO) was outstanding, just a perfect sip to start the holiday evening right. It had just the right amount of yeast and toasted bread notes on the nose, just enough to enjoy without going overboard. Apple and lemon notes on the palate, round, fresh, elegant, perfect balance – just a beautiful wine (Drinkability:  8+). It was also a steal at the price (seems that the wine is no longer available at WTSO).

The vintage Champagne disappeared in no time, it was still long before the apple would start its slide down in the Times Square, so the generic French sparkling wine was next. The weather outside was far from ideal for the New Year’s Eve (non-stop heavy rain) but it didn’t stop me from the pleasure of sabering the bottle into the darkness – worked like a charm even with the wine glass, unlike the #$%^ (insert your favorite expletive) with the saber at the French Laundry.

The NV Prince d’Estivac Blanc de Blancs Brut Vin Mousseux de Qualite (12% ABV, $13.99 WTSO, Melon de Bourgogne 50%, Ugni Blanc 25%, Chardonnay 25%) was excellent in its own right – fresh and vibrant, with rich mouthfeel, touch of a fresh apple, a bit bigger body than a typical Champagne – delicious in every drop (Drinkability: 8). It was also interesting learning for me as I’m not really familiar with “Vin Mousseux de Qualite” designation. It can be used for any French sparkling wine made with the traditional method. I’m assuming with the Vin Mousseux de Qualite designation the grapes can come from anywhere in France, where all of the Cremant wines (Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Loire, …) require the grapes to be from the defined geographic area – if I’m wrong, please let me know in the comment.

Last but not least the time has come for the NV Ferrari Brut Trentodoc Emmys’ Special Edition (12.5% ABV, $24, 100% Chardonnay, 24+ month on the lees). Ferrari wines generally don’t disappoint, and this one was not an exception – crips, bright, bubbly (pun intended), good minerality, cut through acidity – sparkling wine worth any celebration (Drinkability: 8).

Of course, there was more than just the wine – New Year’s Eve is calling for a full table – here is a fragment of ours.

How did you celebrate the arrival of 2019? What were your bubbles of choice? Cheers!

Top Wines of 2018 – Second Dozen

December 29, 2018 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From $5 to $95

December 23, 2018 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

Under $10:

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

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

Under $20:

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

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

Under $40:

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

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

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

Above $40:

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

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

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

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

Quick Trip Around The World

December 20, 2018 3 comments

Travel might be the biggest joy of human existence. Okay, if not the biggest, it is still one of the most essential ones. Travel leads to new experiences – and experiences are the moments which comprise our lives. I’m sure the joy of travel is not universal, but I’m equally sure that it actually is for the majority of the readers of this blog (hoping that there is at least someone reading it?).

Travel typically requires two things – resources and preparation. Heck, with unlimited resources you need no preparation – you can finish your work day, say “I feel like dining at Le Cinq tomorrow”, have your limo take you directly to the airport and off you go. For many of us, this would be just a scene from the movies – which doesn’t make it impossible, right?

For most of us, successful and happy travel would require a bit more effort – find the deal on the airfare, find the deal on the hotel, find out that your passport expired just a week before you need to get on the flight, then listen to the boss complaining that you are leaving without finishing all your important tasks, finally, throwing everything you need but mostly what you don’t into the suitcase 30 minutes before leaving for the airport and starting your so long anticipated travel totally exhausted. More or less, this is the picture, right?

Then every once in a while, there is something even the unlimited funds can’t buy. Time, I’m talking about. When you finish work at 6 in New York, there is no way to be in Madrid in time for dinner. This is where you need a magic trick – and I can offer you one. Actually, you don’t need any magic to travel instantly to many different places – all you need is … well, I’m sure you know it is coming … yes, all you need is wine. The wine has this capacity. Once you look at the label and see it says France, Spain or California, your imagination can easily do the rest. A well-made wine has a sense of place, so once you take a sip, you are instantly transported to the place where wine was made. And if you ever visited the winery or the region where the wine came from, I’m sure you can be instantly overwhelmed with the emotions and memories. No, it is not the same as simply been there, but I’m sure it will still do the trick.

Bodegas Godelia Compra Online

Bierzo, Spain. Source: Bodegas Godelia website

Let’s take wine and let’s travel – how about a quick trip around the world? Let’s start in Spain, in the region called Bierzo, located in the North East part of Spain, close to the Portuguese border. As with many places in the old world, the viticulture originated in the region in the times of the Roman empire. Today, Bierzo is best known for the red wines made out of the grape called Mencía, and Godello and Doña Blanca are the two primary white grapes in the region. Bierzo is known for its special microclimate, conducive for the grape growing, which can be characterized as the continental climate with ocean influence. Bierzo has today about 2,000 grape growers, 75 wineries, and produced about 9 million bottles of wine in 2017.

Two wines I want to offer to your attention come from the Bodegas Godelia, about 86 acres estate in Bierzo. The winery was created in 2009, however, their vineyards are much older, from 20 to 90 years old, depending on the grapes, and located at the altitudes of 1,600 to 2,000 feet.

2015 Bodegas Godelia Blanco Bierza DO (13.5% ABV, $17, 80% Godello, 20% Doña Blanca)
C: light golden
N: intense, pear, guava,
P: lemon, honeysuckle, crisp acidity, medium + body, delicious
V: 8-

2012 Bodegas Godelia Mencia Bierzo DO (14.5% ABV, $19, 12 months in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: warm, inviting, medium+ intensity, a touch of barnyard, spices
P: cherries, baking spices, medium body, violets
V: 7+ on the 2nd day, needs time. Mencia is known to produce massive, chewy wines, so this wine is no exception. 6 years of age is nothing for this wine – it might start opening up after at least another 6.

Tuscany

Hills of Tuscany. Source: Barone Ricasoli website

Where should we go after Spain? How about Italy? Let’s visit Tuscany, where 2015 vintage was simply outstanding. Of course, Tuscany is best known for its Chianti wine. At the heart of the Chianti region lays a much smaller region called Chianti Classico – this is where the Chianti wines historically originated from. Inside Chianti Classico, let’s look for the winery called Barone Ricasoli – one of the very first producers in the region, taking its history since 1141. Barone Ricasoli property has a grand looking castle, where some of the stones are still original since 1141, 600 acres of vineyards and 65 acres of olive trees. While Barone Ricasoli is mostly known for the reds, they also produce a few of the white wines, a Rosato, grappa, and of course, the olive oil.

I want to offer you two of the classic Chianti wines from the Chianti Classico area (pun intended):

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG (13.5% ABV, $18, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Garnet
N: Tar, leather, sandalwood, tart cherries
P: Tart cherries, plums, clean acidity, sage, a touch of tobacco, medium plus body, good structure.
V: 8, was excellent from the get-go, got more complexity on the second day.

2015 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (14% ABV, $23, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: Dark garnet
N: Cherry, Sage, Rosemary, leather, medium plus intensity.
P: Supple berries, tart cherries, firm structure, young tannins, a touch of tobacco, good acidity, tannins on the finish
V: 8, great potential. Right now needs food. While perfectly drinkable now, with time will become a truly delicious sip.

Languedoc image

Languedoc. Source: Languedoc-wines.com

We need to complete our old world portion of the tour, so I think the stop in France is a must. How about a quick visit with Paul Mas in Languedoc? Languedoc is the largest wine producing region in France, located in the south, producing a tremendous range of white, sparkling, Rosé and, for the most part, red wines. Domaines Paul Mas is one of my favorite producers I have written about many times. What I love about the wines of Domaines Paul Mas is that you literally can’t go wrong with any of the wines produced at the domain – Sparkling, Rosé, white or reds. Not only the wines taste great, but they are also priced very reasonably – Paul Mas wines saved my wallet at the restaurants on multiple occasions, so they definitely deserve some respect. Here are the wines I want to bring to your attention:

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Chardonnay Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Light golden color
N: Meyer lemon aromatics, hint of white peach, Bosc pear
P: Crisp, tart lemon on the palate, ripe Granny Smith apples, clean, refreshing. Good mid-palate presence, medium finish.
V: 8-, very good.

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Pinot Noir Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99)
C: Dark ruby
N: Fresh raspberries and cherries on the nose
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 7+/8-

2016 Paul Mas Estate Single Vineyard Collection Malbec Saint Hilaire Vineyard Pays d’Oc (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 90% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc))
C: Dark garnet
N: Fresh raspberries and blackberries in the nose, nicely inviting
P: Soft, supple, fresh berries, crisp, fresh, perfect acidity, excellent
V: 8-

How is your day going so far? Feel like traveling somewhere? How about we will take a trip to sunny California? California is a big place, so to narrow it down we are actually heading to the Santa Barbara County. Here is a perfect example of the wine being a connector and an instant transporter – as soon as I hear “Santa Barbara County”, the brain instantly serves up the memories of the first Wine Bloggers Conference I attended, WBC14, which took place in Santa Barbara County. Moreover, one of the best experiences of that trip was a visit to the small town of Solvang, which is an incredible place for any wine lover. While visiting Solvang, we tasted the wines produced by Lucas and Lewellen – thus seeing that name on the label was an instant memory trigger.

The wine I want to offer to your attention today is perfectly representative of the capabilities of the Santa Barbara County wine growing region, and at the same time is very non-typical for California. Lucas and Lewellen produce the line of wines under the name of Toccata, which are all Italian varieties and blends, all grown in California. This Toccata Classico was a perfect enigma – varietally correct Tuscan beauty, only made from start to finish in California. In a blind tasting, my guess 100% would be “Chianti!”.

2015 Lucas & Lewellen Toccata Classico Santa Barbara County (14.1% ABV, $29, 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Freisa, 5% Petit Verdot, 18 months in French Oak, 346 cases produced)
C: Garnet
N: Fresh cherries, touch a leather, medium+ intensity
P: Ripe cherries on the palate, bright, firm structure, fresh, crunchy, touch of leather, excellent complexity, nicely integrated tannins
V: 8+, an excellent rendition of the old world wine in the new world.

vista trinidad ventisquero

Trinidad Vineyard, Chile. source: Viña Ventisquero website

Hurry up or we will be late for our last destination – Chile. About 25 years ago, Chile was mostly known as a “one-trick pony”, offering bargain-priced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Today, Chile is one of the leading wine producing countries in the world, offering a substantial range of perfectly executed wines, from Chile’s own trademark, Carménere, to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, and many others.

Today we are visiting Viña Ventisquero, the winery which started only 20 years ago, in 1998, and now offering a diversified set of wines, coming from the different regions and made with the finest attention to detail.

Vina Ventisquero

2017 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Apalta Vineyard Valle de Colchagua (14% ABV, $18, 62% Garnacha, 19% Carinena, 19% Mataro, 6 months in French oak)
C: Ruby
N: Fresh raspberries, medium plus intensity, beautiful
P: Restrained, dark fruit, medium body, minerality, clean acidity, tart raspberries
V: 8-

2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Carménere Trinidad VIneyard Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $19, 18 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
A perfect nose of Carménere – mix black currant berries with blackcurrant leaves
Medium to full body, soft, silky, fresh blackcurrant present, anis, good acidity, good balance, very pleasant overall
8/8+, excellent wine

That concludes our trip, my friends. Wasn’t it easy to travel with wine, in the comfort of your living room? Cheers!

Double the Holiday Fun With Vilarnau

December 17, 2018 4 comments

Vilarnau Reserva Brut Who doesn’t like the holidays? Of course, it is easy to complain about how overwhelming the holidays can be when we feel obliged to please lots of people in seemingly irreconcilable ways with food or with gifts. But let’s not go there – holidays genuinely are about the happy state of mind, so let’s focus on it.

Here I come, with an offer to double your holiday fun and enjoyment – are you at least a little bit curious how am I going to be able to deliver on that?

Here is how. First, I want to recommend you a good wine. Wine is an indelible part of any celebration – any holiday, any birthday, any achievement. There are lots and lots of wines to chose from, and really not enough time to learn about all of them. Thus the wine recommendation means that you can save time for some other important tasks, and have one less thing to worry about. Check.

Now, how can I double the fun? Easy. How about the wine in a beautiful package? When you bring the bottle to someone’s house, or you put it out in front of your guests, isn’t it nice to hear “wow, what a beautiful bottle!”. We are visual creatures; not only we eat with our eyes first, but we drink with our eyes first too. Instead of explaining the bottle with the gray words-covered label “it comes from the great producer, really” or “the guy at the store said I would love it”, isn’t it better to just put the bottle on the table which makes a statement with its own appearance “here, look how beautiful I am”?

So here it is, my recommendation for the double fun for the holidays – Cava, Spanish Sparkling wine from Vilarnau, all wrapped in the beautiful, Gaudí-inspired packaging.

Vilarnau estate had been growing vines since the 12th century. The first Cava at Vilarnau was produced in 1949, and from there on, Vilarnau moved on to become one of the prominent Cava producers in Spain.

Vilarnau has a diverse portfolio of the sparkling wines, out of which the Trencadis series wines stand out beautifully. To explain the Trencadis concept, let me simply bring an explanation from the Vilarnau website:

What is Trencadis?

“Trencadís” is a kind of mosaic that was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia, created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or crockery. The technique is also known as “pique assiette”, in French. The Catalan architects Antoni GaudÍ and Josep MarÍa Pujol used “trencadÍs” in many of their designs, the most famous probably being “Parc Güell in Barcelona. Vilarnau’s proximity to Barcelona (not just geographic but also spiritual) means it was natural for this artistic resource used by the winery. As a result some of our cavas are dressed as follows.”

Vilarnau Trencadis Barcelona Cavas

Just take a close look at those bottles, how closely they resemble the actual mosaic pieces with all the grout in between? Don’t you think these bottles are beautiful? If anything, they will make for a perfect conversation starter at any gathering – and now you can also explain to people what exactly are they looking at.

So what is behind the beautiful packages? Equally beautiful Cavas, which are also stylistically very different. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine produced in so-called Classic Method, where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, exactly as it is done in the production of the French Champagne.

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva DO Cava (11.5% ABV, $14.99, 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel-lo, 15+ months in the bottle)
Beautiful mousse
Classic Champagne nose – toasted bread, a touch of yeast, white apples, a touch of lemon
Same classic profile continues on the palate – freshly baked bread, a touch of yeast, golden delicious apple, fresh, exuberant, perfect acidity
8, delicious

NV Vilarnau Brut Reserva Rosé Delicat DO Cava (12% ABV, $15.99, 85% Grenache, 15% Pinot Noir, 15+ months in the bottle)
Beautiful mousse
A touch of toasted bread with the addition of strawberries and cranberries
Toasted bread, strawberries, a touch of cranberries, bitter orange, crisp, tart, cut-through acidity
8, excellent example of a sparkling Rosé

I hope you find these bottles as beautiful as I do, and I hope you will like the wines too. At this price level, Vilarnau Cavas will stand easily against a lot of Champagne, so go ahead, make your friends and guests happy. Cheers!

We Are Creatures of Comfort

December 15, 2018 Leave a comment

We are creatures of comfort. If you are feeling particularly wound up today and comfort is the last thing on your mind (especially considering that we are living through the typical hectic holiday season), maybe you need to look for a post about coffee – but for the rest of us, let’s talk about comfort (there will be wine at the end, I promise).

Everyone has their own elements of the comfort. Favorite coffee mug. A big old chair which hugs you as soon as you touch it. Favorite room in the house. Favorite corner in the backyard, the one where you feel the most relaxed. Maybe a favorite bench in the park. The shoes which slip on your feet like they are part of the whole. And clothes, let’s not forget may be the easiest, most simplistic, everyday purveyor of the comfort – clothes.

Let’s talk about clothes a bit more. Outside of the office, when you need to run errands, go to the movies or drive to see your friends, what are your most comfortable pants? For me, it is jeans. Jeans are my most versatile type of clothes, anywhere I go, whether driving for 10 minutes to the supermarket or flying around the globe to Japan. Definitely an essential element of comfort in my book – and I suspect that many of you share the same feeling.

Now, let me take you out of the comfort zone, as I have a question for you. Without scrolling forward (please), can you tell me what is the connection between the jeans and the wine? The brand of jeans plays absolutely no role – jeans as the clothing category can be directly connected to the world of wine. I will give you a few minutes to ponder at it.

I’m still here, take your time.

Still here – got any ideas?

Okay, let me give you a hint. The material the jeans are made of is called denim. Does it help?

It is entirely possible that you easily figured it all out already. Whether you did or not, here is my answer and the explanation. We can go from “denim” to “de Nim”, and then it can be further changed to “de Nîmes”. Heard of Nîmes, the town in the Rhone valley in France? Denim became an abbreviation for the “serge de Nîmes”, where “serge” means a specific type of fabric, as Nîmes was the town where this fabric was created. It turns out that Nîmes was the center of the textile industry in France in 17th – 19th centuries – however today no fabric is manufactured in this medieval town. But – in the true spirit of life actually moving in circles, here you can read the story of a company which dreams of reviving the textile industry back in Nîmes – note that this story has actually no connection to wine, so let’s move on.

And the connection to the wine, you ask? Costières de Nîmes, the region surrounding the same town of Nîmes, where the history of winemaking goes all the way back to the third century.

Costières de Nîmes is the region in the Southern Rhone, which carries forward all of the Rhone Valley traits (all Costières de Nîmes wines even have a designation on the bottles for the Vins de la Vallée du Rhône). Instead of me retelling you all the facts about the appellation, I have a better idea – how about some creative infographics where you see all the fun facts about the region? Here you go:

Infograpphics Costieres de NimesAt this point I’m sure you are wearing your comfortable clothes (jeans, perhaps) and sitting in your comfortable chair, so I’m sure you are ready for some wine. I had a chance to taste 3 wines from the Costières de Nîmes, so here are my notes:

2016 Domaine de Poulvarel Costières de Nîmes (14.5% ABV, $22, 65% Syrah, 35% Grenache)
Dark ruby
Raspberries, lavender
Raspberries, pepper, well integrated but noticeable tannins, baking powder, firm, medium plus body, excellent acidity.
8-/8, very good overall

2015 Château Vessière Costières de Nîmes AOP (13% ABV, $9, 50% Shiraz, 50% Black Grenache)
Dark ruby
Raspberries and tar
Raspberries and lavender on the palate, light to medium body, good acidity. Perfect charcuterie wine – paired well with salami and cheese.
7+/8-, excellent food wine

2016 Château Beaubois Cuvée Expression Costières de Nîmes AOP (13.5% ABV, $9, 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Marselan)
Dark Ruby
Tart, minerally notes, blackberries, granite, anis, roasted meat. While nose is not exuberant, it is very expressive.
Raspberries, tar, medium body, good acidity, some green notes, a touch of pepper.
7+/8-, nice, simple, works great with meat and cheese.

Here you are, my friends. A bit unusual (I hope) connection between our daily life and the world of wine. The Costières de Nîmes wines I tasted might not be mind-boggling, but they are definitely comfortable, and fit our story well. I don’t know what one expects from the $9 bottle of wine, but I know that I would be perfectly comfortable having this wine daily – and my wallet would be very comfortable too. Have you had Costières de Nîmes wines before? What do you think of them? Put on your denim jeans, and let’s go have another glass. Cheers!

Thanksgiving with Smith-Madrone, And a Few More Delights

December 9, 2018 4 comments

Holidays are all about pleasure. The pleasure of the company. The pleasure of food. The pleasure of wine. As the very least, they should be.

Let me tell you about the pleasures of my recent Thanksgiving – in one picture:

Turkey with Smith-Madrone wines

If this would be an Instagram, I could end my post here, but in this blog, I can add a few words, right?

Let’s talk about the wine first. Everyone has their ideas as what is the best Thanksgiving wine. Some talk about how difficult it is to pair any wine with the Thanksgiving table, due to the large variety of dishes and often prevalent sweet flavors (this is not universal, of course). I have a very simplistic view of the wine and food pairing – give me tasty food and good wine, and if they don’t work together – no problems, I’m happy to consume them one by one. Difficult or not, pairing is not the focal point of my Thanksgiving wine selection. I really have only one strong preference for the Thanksgiving wines – they should be all American. Thanksgiving we celebrate here in the USA is all about this country, and so the wine should match that. And thinking about American wines, you understand how easy it is nowadays to have all-American wine experience.

How many of you heard of Napa Valley? Okay, I see that look, this was a stupid question, I know. But let me go on. How many of you heard of Spring Mountain District? Okay, I see your facial expression changing to say “hmmm, I’m not so sure”. And the last question – how many of you heard of Smith-Madrone? Okay, don’t feel too bad, at the end of the day it is one of the about 400 wineries located in the Napa Valley, so of course, one can’t know all of them. But – this is why I’m talking about it – this is the winery you might want to get better acquainted with.

Smith-Madrone is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, started by brothers Stuart and Charles Smith in 1971. Smith-Madrone property is about 200 acres, with some parts of the vineyards planted more than 100 years ago, all located near the top of the Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The name Smith-Madrone combines the family name with the name of the evergreen Madrone trees, prominently growing at the property. Well, instead of me trying to regurgitate the past and present of the Smith-Madrone winery, let me direct you to this article – it is a good story, well worth a few minutes of your time.

Smith-Madrone wines

When was the last time you had Napa Valley Riesling? If you answered “never”, it could’ve been my answer too – until I discovered this Smith-Madrone Riesling. Riesling is simply not a common grape for the Napa Valley, but Smith-Madrone produces the absolutely beautiful rendition of the famous grape. It might be due to the mountain fruit – all the Smith-Madrone vineyards located at the altitude of 1300 to 2000 feet, with slopes reaching 34%. Sustainable dry farming and winemaking practices also play a role, but one way or the other, the 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (12.9% ABV, $32) was just delicious. varietally correct both on the nose (honeysuckle, a touch of tropical fruit, lemon, apples) and the palate, which was beautifully balanced with golden delicious apples, a touch of honey and acidity. To make me ultra-happy, the Riesling is sported a distant hint of petrol, which is my pet peeve.

2015 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, $40, 10 months in French oak) was equally beautiful. Again, the wines of that styling I call in my book “classic”. A touch of vanilla and apples on the nose, a distant hint of butter, continuing with the same vanilla and white apples on the palate. Clean acidity, noticeable minerally undertones, restrained, balanced – a very classic example of “how to do chardonnay right”.

With the risk of sounding very boring and repetitive, I have one more classic wine for you – 2014 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $52, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 70% new French oak, 30% one-year-old French oak for 18 months). How classic was this wine? Bordeaux-classic. The mountain fruit was shining, showing great restraint. This was not an exuberant typical Napa Cab – lean, tight, well-structured, with cassis both on the nose and the palate, the wine was very enjoyable now, and it will be equally or more enjoyable in 30 years.

So that was my main wine story on the Thanksgiving day. The rest was about the food – starting the smoker as 9 am in the 21°F weather (about -6°C), and then watching the turkey slowly getting to the right temperature. The silver lining of that cold weather was the fact that instead of 4-4.5 hours in the smoker, it took about 6 hours to get that big bird to the right doneness – and slower cooking results in more tender and more flavorful meat. A glass of Smith-Madrone Riesling was adding to the cooking enjoyment.

After celebrating Thanksgiving at our house, we went to see our close friends in Boston. What I love about that house is that there are always a few of the older wine bottles laying somewhere on the shelf. You never know what you will find in the older bottle, but that is what makes it fun, isn’t it?

The first bottle I opened was 2007 Tishbi Cabernet-Petite Sirah Shomron Israel (12% ABV, 70%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah). Judging by the pronounced brickish, almost orange, color, my first thought was “this probably fully turned”. And it was not! Complex nose of dried fruit and herbs was supported by plums and prunes forward, but balanced palate. Good amount of acidity, tertiary aromas – this was a very enjoyable glass of wine. Only one glass, I have to say – by the time I wanted the second, the wine was gone.

Without much thinking, I pulled another wine, realizing later that I opened another wine from the same vintage – 2007 Marani Kondoli Vineyards Saperavi-Merlot Kakheti Georgia (13.5% ABV). This wine couldn’t be more different from the previous 2007 – dark garnet color, not a sign of any aging, tight, fresh, blackberries and blueberries on the nose and the palate, firm, fresh and young. I’m really curious about how much longer this wine could’ve last.

One last wine to mention – 2010 Massandra White Muscat Crimea Ukraine (16% ABV). Massandra winery roots go back to the old Tsar’s Russia in late 1800, but their cellars hold wines from the 18th century (if you are not familiar with Massandra wines, here is an article by Jancis Robinson). Massandra is best known for sweet fortified Muscat wines, like the one we tasted. To me, this 2010 was most reminiscent of a Sherry, and not necessarily an ultra-balanced one. But then the same Jancis Robinson’s article says that Massandra wines require 45-60 for the full maturity, so I guess the wine tasted within the expectations…

Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley, Israel, Georgia, and Ukraine – not a bad wine play for the holiday, what do you say?

Here you go, my friends. I will leave you with some beautiful wines to look for. And how was your Thanksgiving, if you still remember it? Cheers!

Impromptu Evening With Friends? A Bottle of Golden Bordeaux is All You Need

November 26, 2018 6 comments

You just came home from work. It was a hard day. The boss [again] didn’t get your idea, and you didn’t get much support from your coworkers either. All you want to do is to crawl into the old trusted chair with your feet, open the book, and get lost in its pages. Tomorrow will be another day, and all the problems will magically solve themselves. Or you will force them to solve themselves. No matter what, but “me evening” is about to begin.

The doorbell rings. Really? The doorbell? What the heck? You sure didn’t invite anyone over. Get the sleepers on, let’s see, maybe it is just a late package. Ahh, it is not a package. It is your friend. And she just had a rough day at work, and she needs at least an ear, and hopefully not a shoulder.

Walk her in, get her situated on the couch. Then you get this burning feeling – something is amiss. Oh yeah, of course – there is nothing on the coffee table, and your friend sheepishly confirms that she is really “not that hungry”, and your perfectly know what it means – while nobody is looking for a 5-course meal, a little something would be great.

You didn’t shop for a while, and all you got is some crackers, some chips, salami and a bit of cheese. And of course, you need to bring a bottle of wine, which is a must for the free-flowing conversation, but what wine would pair well with such an eclectic spread of crackers and salami?

So let’s stop here, as I’m not writing a fiction novel, and let’s analyze the situation. We got chips, crackers, cheese, and salami – what would pair well with it? I’m sure you have your own take on this, but let me give you mine – how about some Golden Bordeaux to pair with this eclectic mix?

If you are curious what Golden Bordeaux is, I’m sure you can easily guess it – heard of Sauternes? Have you ever seen a bottle of Sauternes? Yes, it typically looks like a liquid gold, hence the reference to the Golden Bordeaux.

The term “Sauternes” here is used rather generically, and Golden Bordeaux might be more suitable than just Sauternes – however, while the Golden Bordeaux makes sense, I’m not sure how common the term is.

Of course, first and foremost, Bordeaux is known for its reds (anyone who experienced Bordeaux whites from Pessac-Léognan would easily disagree, but still). However, Bordeaux is a lot more than just the reds. On the left bank of the Gironde river, which splits Bordeaux in half, lies the region called Graves. Inside of Graves resides the small region of Sauternes with its neighbors Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac and Cadillac, as well as Barsac which is a sub-region of Sauternes. Together, all these regions are the source of the Golden Bordeaux, the unique white wine made from the partially raisined grapes due to their contact with so-called Noble Rot. It is common to describe Sauternes as sweet, dessert wines – but the flavor profile of these wines goes way beyond just sweet, offering layers of complexity, and therefore suitable for a lot more than just a dessert course.

A few weeks ago, a group of wine aficionados got together for the virtual tasting of the Golden Bordeaux, hosted and guided by the kind folks from Snooth. This tasting went beyond just a standard format of tasting and discussing the wines – we also had an opportunity to experiment with the variety of savory and spicy snacks, which included Sweet Potato and Beet Crackers from Trader Joe’s, Sriracha Cashews, Jalapeno Chicken Chips, Gusto by Olli Calabrese Spicy Salami, and Jack Link Sweet & Hot Jerky. Spicy and sweet, as well as sweet and salty are well-known combinations for anyone who likes pairing wine and food. However, these Golden Bordeaux wines go beyond just sweet, often adding a layer of forest mushrooms and herbs to their taste profile, which helps to complement the ranges of savory dishes.

I had a few surprises and personal learnings in this tasting. I never paid attention to the mushroom undertones in the Golden Bordeaux, so this was definitely an exciting discovery. I also never thought that those wines need some breathing time – and I was wrong, as you can see in the notes below – another little memory knot is in order. I also found out that not all food can be good for the tasting – the Chicken Jalapeño crackers were so spicy for me, that I had my lips burning for an hour in the tasting. It would be fine if this was a pairing and conversation with a friend, but for the next time around, I plan to taste the wines first, and only then try it again with spicy food.

Now, here are my notes from the tasting:

2016 Château Manos Cadillac (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 95% Semillon, 2.5% Sauvignon Blanc, 2.5% Muscadelle)
Light golden color
Peach, honey, beautiful nose, very inviting
Delicious palate, peach, candied peach, caramel, good acidity 8/8-
Very nice with beets crackers from Trader Joe’s

2014 Château du Cros Loupiac (13% ABV, $12, 90% Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle
Golden color
Complex nose of caramel and herbs, a touch of spicy notes, great complexity
Beautiful concentration on the palate, candied fruit, golden raisins, perfect balance. 8+
Amazingly elevates sweet and hot beef jerky, wow

2016 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet Loupiac (13% ABV, $17, 90% Sémillon, 10% Sauvignon Blanc)
Light golden color
Sweet apples, herbs. Later on: truffles!
First reaction: Sweet apples on the palate – need more acidity
After 20 minutes: good acidity, mushroom, forest floor. 8-
Excellent with hot beef jerky

2011 Château Dauphiné Rondillon Loupiac (13.5% ABV, $28, 80% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Blanc)
Golden color
Honey, plums, candied plums
First reaction: Burned sugar, then medicinal. Ouch
After 20 minutes been open: sugar plums, white plums, good acidity showed up. 7+/8-
Later on – mushrooms on the nose (really a discovery for me), caramel. Savory caramel on the palate. Interesting – definitely a food wine.
Very good with salami and sweet potatoes crackers

2015 Château La Rame Sainte-Croix-du-Mont (13% ABV, $22, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Very restrained, a touch of tropical fruit, distant hint of honey, gasoline added after 20 minutes
First reaction: Candied fruit, really sweet, can use more acidity. 7
After 20 minutes: vanilla, cookies’n’cream, light, good acidity. 8-/8
Tried with hot beef Jerky – not bad

2016 Château Lapinesse Sauternes Grand Vin de Bordeaux (14% ABV, $20, 100% Sémillon)
Golden color
Lemon, lemongrass, touch of honey, white plums
Candied fruit, apples, good acidity. 8
Didn’t make much difference with spicy salami

2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes (14% ABV, $90, 99% Semillon, 1% Sauvignon Blanc)
Dark gold color
Honey, candied lemon, touch of caramel
Beautiful palate, fresh caramel, butterscotch cookie, good acidity. Very rich. 8-
Very good with beef jerky, also with jalapeño chicken strips

Here you are, my friends – Golden Bordeaux and eclectic snacks. Get a few bottles on hand – the wines are versatile, and can be enjoyed in many ways – especially when the late night friend pops in.

The Golden Bordeaux wines are definitely underrated – here is the great opportunity to surprise yourself and your friends. And you can thank me later. Cheers!

Sent with Writer

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