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Hey, Rioja, What’s New?

April 20, 2021 2 comments

I love Rioja.

But you already know that.

Well-made Rioja, opened in its due time, is one of the ultimate indulgences wine lovers can experience. I can bet this is also nothing new for you.

So what’s new with Rioja?

Every new vintage of any wine is unique and different, true, but talking about new vintages unquestionably banal. How about then Rioja made from organic grapes? What do you think about classic Rioja made from organic grapes – and timely conversation during April, the Earth Month?

CVNE, Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España, one of the oldest producers in Rioja (CVNE celebrated 140th anniversary last year), requires no introduction to any Spanish wine lover. CVNE produces a number of different Rioja lines – Cune, Viña Real, Imperial, Contino are some of the best known. Now, the Cune line has brand new Rioja to brag about – the first Rioja red wine made with organic grapes. The wine is made out of 100% Tempranillo (not very common) from the vineyards which were organically farmed, from the vintage with an Excellent rating (2019 was rated Excellent by Rioja DOC). The wine is also Vegan certified, and even sports the label produced from recycled materials. Most importantly, this is a simple, and tasty wine:

2019 CVNE Cune Rioja DOC (13.5% ABV, $15, 100% Tempranillo, organic grapes, Vegan certified, wild yeast fermentation, 4 months aging in oak)
Dark ruby with purple hues
Dark berries and cedar box
Soft, round, good acidity, soft ripe fruit, medium-long finish mostly acidic.
7+, food-friendly, simple, and easy to drink.

Back in 1915, CVNE produced Rioja’s first white wine – Monopole. It was not only the first white Rioja – this was the first white wine produced in Spain.

I had the pleasure of tasting many vintages of CVNE Monopole, and I have to honestly say that this 2020 was by far my favorite Monopole I tasted – I know I said talking about new vintages is banal, and here I am, yeah. Oh well. The wine needed a bit of time to open, but after 20 minutes in the glass, it was absolutely beautiful.

2020 CVNE Monopole Blanco Seco Rioja DOC (12.5% ABV, $16, 100% Viura, Vegan certified)
Straw pale, literally clear
Explicit minerality, a touch of gunflint
Crisp, tight, lean, hint of whitestone fruit, explicit minerality.
8+, outstanding.

Bodegas Beronia is much younger than CVNE, founded in 1973 by a group of friends from the Basque country. In 1982, Bodegas Beronia became a part of González Byass’s portfolio, and at that point, Bodegas Beronia wines appeared on the international market.

Bodegas Beronia is known for its innovative approach to winemaking. Rioja wines are traditionally aged in American oak, which gave them a rustic, “traditional” taste profile. Recently, many winemakers switched to using the French oak, which gives the Rioja more of the international, “modern” taste profile, making wines also more approachable at a younger age. Bodegas Beronia pioneered the use of specially made barrels, which use both American and French oak in its construction, to create a unique taste profile, an intersection of tradition and modernity.

In this release of 2017 Crianza, Bodegas Beronia recognized the new realities of 2021, where people have to spend more time by themselves, and added the 375 ml, a half bottle to the portfolio, making it easier for the wine lovers to open a bottle for a solo night.

2017 Bodegas Beronia Crianza Rioja DOC (14.5% ABV, $14.99/750ml bottle, $7.99/375ml bottle, 94% Tempranillo, 5% garnacha, 1% Mazuelo)
Ruby red
Freshly crushed red berries, a touch of barnyard, smoke, earthy
Red fruit, eucalyptus, clean acidity, excellent balance.
7+ at the moment, needs time

There you have it, my friends. A brand new organic wine from Rioja, a superb white Rioja, and a thoughtful Rioja, coming in different formats, all reasonably priced, perfectly suited for life at the moment. Cheers!

Beautiful Simplicity

April 12, 2021 1 comment

Is there a such thing as simple wine?

I really despise controversy. In a world where every word is twisted, turned, analyzed, over-analyzed, then twisted and turned, again and again, I don’t want to be the one to start a new controversy around wine (clean or natural, anyone?).

But really, is “simple” an applicable descriptor for the wine? If I say “simple wine”, can you relate to this as easily as to “tannic”, “acidic”, or “sweet”?

Everything in the wine world is personable. No two palates are the same, no two glasses of wine are the same. And so will be the concept of simple wine – it is highly personal.

There are thought-provoking wines – you take a sip, which triggers an instant process in your brain – analyzing flavors, looking for patterns, digging into memory looking for comparisons. Not every thought-provoking wine equates with pleasure – if we call the wine thought-provoking, it doesn’t always mean that we are craving a second glass. Need an example? How about Frank Cornelissen wines? Nevertheless, we all can relate to the wine we designate as thought-provoking.

Then there are complex wines. The wine presents itself in layers. You don’t need to over-analyze anything, and yet every sip keeps changing, offers you new depth and new impressions every passing moment. Complex is beautiful, wine aficionados love drinking complex wines.

So what is then a simple wine? A lot of people would equate the definition of “simple” with the price. We are trained not to refer to the $10 bottle as “amazing” – even if we enjoy it immensely, we would rather say “it’s just a simple wine”. Leaving the price aside, a simple wine has a very simple effect – take a sip, and your only reaction is “ahh, that’s good”. Simplicity doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the wine – the wine should still give you pleasure, and you should still want a second glass.

Every time you think you know a lot a good bit about your favorite subject, wine, life quickly humbles you, just so you know your place. Ever heard of Mack and Schuhle? I also never have. Meanwhile, they had been in the winemaking and wine distribution business since 1939, and currently have a portfolio of 25 wine brands from around the world – from New Zealand to Italy, Spain, and France to the USA.

When I was offered to review 2 of their wines, Montepulciano and Malbec, I agreed to do that because I was intrigued by the names – Art of Earth and El Tractor. Would you instantly agree to drink something called Art of Earth? For a wine geek like myself, such a name makes the wine simply irresistible. And tasting these wines, which are also very inexpensive, resulted in the diatribe about simple wines. For what it worth, here are my tasting notes:

2019 Art of Earth Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC (13.5% ABV, $12, made with organic grapes)
Dark garnet with beautiful ruby hues
Touch of cherries, a hint of funk,
Bright, pure, beautiful, succulent, tart cherries – fresh of the tree.
8+, delicious. This wine doesn’t have the complexity of Masciarelli, and I don’t believe it will age very well – but it is absolutely enjoyable right now.

2017 El Tractor Malbec Reserve Mendoza Argentina (13% ABV, $14, 12 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, cherries, sweet tobacco
Dark fruit, tobacco, cherries, a hint of smoke, nicely restrained, good acidity, good balance.
8, excellent. This wine is not going to rival Catena, but it is perfectly an old-world style, quaffable, and enjoyable Malbec.

Here you are – two simple wines, good for every and any day – or at least I would be happy to drink them any day. What is your definition of simple wine?

In Rhythm With The Earth – Hawk and Horse Wines

April 9, 2021 2 comments

Wine is Art.

Wine is Magic.

Wine is a Mystery.

When you drink wine for pleasure (don’t take it for granted – there are many reasons why people drink wine – to fit into the crowd, to be socially accepted, to show your status – drinking for pleasure is only one of the reasons), mystery, art, magic – call it whatever way you want, but it all comes to a play when you take a sip. Wine is a complete mystery as you have no idea what will be your conscious and subconscious reaction to the experience of that sip – what memories will come to mind? What emotions will take you over? The magic is there, waiting for you in every glass of wine.

The magic and mystery in wine go well beyond that sip. “Well before” might be a better descriptor though. The creation of the delicious bottle of wine is not an exact science. It is an art. It is magic. It is a mystery. Mother Nature, who gifts us grapes, never repeats itself. Every year, every vintage is different. Every day of the growing season never repeats itself. It is up to the craft, the skill of the grape grower and the winemaker to create the wine which can magically transport you. And this magic starts in the vineyard.

I’m about to step into the controversial, really controversial space – the biodynamics. As I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, let me just share the definition of biodynamics from the Oxford Languages. Actually, here are two definitions:

Biodynamics is

1. The study of physical motion or dynamics in living systems.
2. A method of organic farming involving such factors as the observation of lunar phases and planetary cycles and the use of incantations and ritual substances.

It is the second definition that is interesting for us. And it is the last part of that definition, “the use of incantations and ritual substances”, which makes biodynamics so controversial for many people – I’m sure you heard of cow horns filled with manure and buried in the vineyard as part of biodynamic farming. Is that magic or pseudoscience? This is the question I don’t care to answer or get an answer for. Taken out of the context, that might sound strange. But the whole point of biodynamics is in creating a healthy ecosystem of the living things – bacteria in the soil, plants, vines, grapes, animals – everything should co-exist in harmony with each other and the Earth, create a habitat where the problems take care of themselves (magic!). When the vineyard is farmed biodynamically, it simply means that the grapes will be produced in the most natural way with the utmost attention on the health of all the elements of the ecosystem.

Delving into the depth of biodynamics rules is completely outside of the scope of this post – if you want to further your knowledge of biodynamics, there is no shortage of great books, articles, and blogs. My reason to share the excitement about biodynamics is simple – tasty wine.

Source: Hawk and Horse Vineyard

Hawk and Horse Vineyards started as the dream of David Boies, who purchased an abandoned horse breeding farm in Lake County in California. His partners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins planted the first vineyard in 2001 in the red rocky volcanic soil, at an elevation of 1,800 to 2,200 feet. The first wine, released in 2004, was a great success. The 18 acres farm became California Certified Organic (CCOF) in 2004, and biodynamic Demeter-certified in 2008. If you want to have an example of what biodynamic farming is, you can read about the Hawk and Horse Vineyard biodynamic practices here – it will be well worth a few minutes of your time.

Hawk and Horse Vineyard grows primarily Bordeaux varieties. I had an opportunity to taste (sample) 5 wines from Hawk and Horse Vineyard, and I was literally blown away from the very first sip I took (magic!). Here are the notes:

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Franc Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet color
Wild strawberries, mint, mineral notes
Cassis, fresh black berries, sweet tobacco, well-integrated tannins, firm, tight, perfect structure, excellent balance. Worked perfectly with the steak.
Drinkability: 8+, wow

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 150 cases produced)
Garnet
Tobacco, earth, sandalwood
Silky smooth, round, tart cherries, perfect acidity, dark and powerful, perfect balance.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petit Verdot Red Hills Lake County (14.1% ABV, $65, 100% French oak (40% new), 90 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Cherries, eucalyptus
Tart sweet cherries, dark fruit, dry tannins, firm structure. Super enjoyable over 3 days, the addition of tobacco and sweet dark fruit with balancing acidity. Succulent. Superb.
Drinkability: 8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $75, 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 100% French oak (80% new), 1800 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Earthy flavors, eucalyptus, a hint of cassis
Good acidity, well-integrated tannins, the lightest wine so far.
3 days later ( no air pumping, just reclosed)
The nose has a similar profile (cherries, eucalyptus, mint), maybe a touch higher intensity
Delicious on the palate, dark well-integrated fruit, firm tannins, tight core, lots of energy, a hint of espresso, perfect balance, medium-long finish.
This wine can be enjoyed now, especially with food. Or left alone for the next 15 years. Your choice.
Drinkability:8+

2017 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Block Three Red Hills Lake County (14.3% ABV, $60, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 100% French oak, 150 cases produced)
Dark garnet
Warm, inviting, succulent cherries, a hint of bell pepper, very delicate. Overall, ripe Bordeaux nose
It took this wine 4 days to fully open up. Bordeaux style, ripe berries with herbal undertones, well-integrated tannins, soft and dreamy.
Drinkability: 8/8+

Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah were absolutely delicious from the get-go. Both of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines, coming from the same vineyard and the same vintage really needed time – I don’t know if the type of oak used can make such a difference, but from my observations, it was clear that using more of the new oak made the wine a lot more concentrated and requiring the time in the cellar.

Here it is, my encounter with [magically], [mysteriously] delicious biodynamic wines. What do you think of biodynamics and biodynamic wines? What do you think of the magic of wines (no, you don’t have to answer that 🙂 ). Cheers!

Chasing DRC

March 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Only yesterday I told you about some of the unicorns I’m chasing (the special breed, those made out of wine). And now I want to talk about the ultimate unicorn, the unicorn of unicorns if you will – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, usually called by its abbreviated name – DRC.

Life is a series of random events. Sometimes we think we are in control, and sometimes we really are – but more often than not, things are just happening, and they are happening whether we are there to observe, learn, and experience, or not. While the events might be random, it is up to us to look for the patterns or the objects we desire. Once we know what we want, our subconscious is programmed to look for it any time all the time.

I had been following The Wellesley Wine Press blog for a very long time. Robert Dwyer, who is writing it, not only shares his opinion about wines but also has a great talent for finding amazing wine deals, all sorts of special discounts and promotions by credit cards, wineries, and wine merchants. When I got an email about Robert’s new post, “Domaine Romanée Conti meets Sonoma Coast: 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir [$37]”, my fingers were clicking the link even before I finished reading the title of the post, literally a reflexive reaction to detecting the words “Domaine Romanée Conti”.

You see, DRC might be the most coveted wine in the world. If it is not the one, maybe it is one of three or five of the most sought-after wines in the world. It is produced in minuscule amounts, and it is prohibitively, really prohibitively expensive for most of the mere mortals. DRC produces a number of wines, so to give you an example, there were a bit more than 2,000 cases produced of DRC La Tâche 2017, each bottle priced at $4,000+. And I honestly don’t care about owning a bottle, I just want to experience such wine at least once in a lifetime – so yes, the unicorn of unicorns.

You can imagine that opportunity to taste something even remotely related to DRC would trigger an immediate reaction. Skimming through Robert’s article, I learned that Vivier Pinot Noir is produced by Stephane Vivier, who was the winemaker for Hyde de Villaine, DRC’s joint venture in California, who started producing his own wines under the Vivier label. And at $37, this is the closest I can get to DRC without second-mortgaging the house. The same post also explained that the wine is available at Wine Access, the site I already had a good experience with – the rest was a no-brainer.

The wine quickly arrived, and I had to literally hold myself from opening the bottle while the UPS truck barely left the driveway. While I was admiring the simple design of the label, I really liked the description I found there: “Stéphane Vivier is a lazy winemaker. He watches. He waits. He plans. All the while letting the vineyards, the fruit, and “le climat” do the heavy lifting. So when you taste his wine, you taste what created it, not who“. That prompted me to take a look at the Vivier Wines website, where I learned that Stéphane Vivier was born and raised in Burgundy, where he also obtained a degree in viticulture and enology. He started working as a winemaker for Hyde de Villaine in 2002, and in 2009 he started making wines under the Vivier label with his wife Dana.

So how was the 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (12.8% ABV)? Upon pouring into the glass, the first thing to notice was the beautiful, perfumy nose – fresh berries, violets, a touch of strawberries. On the palate, the wine was a typical, well-made Californian Pinot Noir, round, elegant, and polished – but unmistakably Californian, with a good amount of sweetness coming through. I can’t tell you what I was looking for, but I wanted to find something unique, something I didn’t experience in Californian Pinot Noir yet – but that didn’t happen.

On the second day, the wine changed its appearance. Both the nose and the palate pointed directly to Oregon. the nose became more earthy and less perfumy, and on the palate the wine was significantly more restrained, with iodine and earthy notes coming through a lot more noticeably. While the wine on the first day was good, I much more preferred how it was showing on the second day (Drinkability: 8-/8).

There you have it, my friends. Did I find DRC in California? Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to tell, as I have no frame of reference. Did I discover a tasty Californian Pinot Noir? Absolutely. In 5, or maybe 10 years, it might become even amazing. Chase your dreams, my friends. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Vinous Vino

January 31, 2021 2 comments

This post could’ve been filed under lots of different titles – “confusion of the oenophile”, “beautiful labels”, “how mistakes are made”, “one has to pay attention”, and I’m sure many others.

The story here is rather simple. I saw the wine on the Last Bottle offered at $26. If you ever saw the Last Bottle offer descriptions, it is full of exclamation marks, explanations that they never had the wine like that before and their collective socks were blown away the second they smelled the wine, and the wine will be gone before anyone can even say the name of the wine which is offered. I really can’t pay attention to the text like that, so with a quick glance, I established that this was a Tempranillo wine from Spain, and it was produced by Elias Mora. When reading every other word or less, mistakes are bound to happen. Somehow, my brain transformed Elias Mora into Emilio Moro, one of the very best producers in the Ribera Del Duero region, and at $26 with 4 bottles to buy to get free shipping and $30 of available credit, that sounded like a great deal, so I quickly completed the purchase.

When the wine arrived, first I admired a beautiful label. I don’t know what you think, but to me, this is one of the most beautiful and creative labels I ever saw. Then I noticed the word Toro on the label, which made me instantly question what I have done, as Emilio Moro doesn’t produce wines in Toro. I quickly realized that while the label is beautiful, I have no way to relate to the content of the bottle, except knowing that it is a Tempranillo from the Toro region.

Tempranillo is one of the most popular red grapes in Spain, and while Tempranillo wines are produced absolutely everywhere, it is Rioja and Ribera Del Duero which make Spanish Tempranillo famous. In addition to Rioja and Ribera Del Duero, Toro is the third Tempranillo-focused region. Tempranillo is often called Ink of Toro in the Toro region, and it might be slightly a different clonal variation of Tempranillo, similar to Sangiovese in Chianti and Sangiovese Grosso in Brunello. Compared to a typical Rioja or Ribera del Duero renditions, Toro always packs a lot more power into that same Tempranillo-based wine and typically needs time to mellow out.

I tried to find out if Elias Mora and Emilio Moro might be related in any way, but the Elias Mora website offers little to no information about the history of the estate, primarily focusing on just selling the wine. I also tried to no avail learn the idea behind the unique and creative label – the wine description provides technical details but no explanation whatsoever why the bottle is decorated with an elaborate image of playing cards – of course, it matches the name “Descarte”, but I’m sure there should be something deeper there (if you know the story, I would greatly appreciate a comment).

Now, most importantly – how was the 2015 Elias Mora Descarte Toro DO (14.5% ABV, 12 months in French oak, comes from the plot of 50 years old vines)? It was a typical Toro wine. On the first day after opening, I had nothing but regrets about buying this wine. Freshly opened Toro is just too much for my palate. It is literally an espresso, made from the darkest roast and in the tiniest amount – if you enjoy that powerful punch, you should try a young Toro wine. If you don’t, and you are opening a bottle of Toro, decanter might be of help. On the third day, however, my first sip instantly generated the “vinous vino” words in my mind, so I needed not to worry about the title of this post. The wine transformed into the medley of the dark fruit, perfect aromatics of the wine cellar, cedar, eucalyptus, now just a touch of espresso instead of the whole ristretto shot, clean acidity, and delicious, perfectly balanced, finish. (Drinkability: 8)

There you are, my friends. If you will see this wine, you can definitely buy a few bottles, preferably to forget them in your cellar for the next 5-10 years. And take your time to read wine descriptions – or not, as life might be more fun if you don’t. Cheers!

Local, and World Class

January 25, 2021 Leave a comment

Today I want to talk about world-class, local wines. Let’s first agree on definitions – feel free to disagree, but at least I will explain my logic.

Local is an easy one. Yes, we are talking about wineries. Living in southern Connecticut, I look at the wineries in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey as local. Any winery I can drive to in one sitting I would consider being a local winery. This might be pushing it a bit – both New York and New Jersey are big states, but then while I live in Connecticut, it would take me only 15 minutes without a highway to reach New York state, so yeah, New York is local.

World-class might be a bit harder to define in an agreeable fashion. What constitutes a world-class wine? Tasty, delicious, high-quality – all very important, but I would dare to offer slightly a different characteristic to be the most important for the world-class wine – the wine should be identifiable. What I mean is that if the label says “Riesling”, I want the content of the bottle to show at least some resemblance of Riesling – honeysuckle, honeycomb, honey, petrol – something should help you say “yes, this is Riesling”. If the label says “Chardonnay”, I really need to find that vanilla, apple, butter, gunflint to say that this is the world-class wine. I don’t need all of the “characteristic traits” to be present – not all Chardonnays exhibit those buttery undertones – but still, some of the expected aromatics and flavors should be there. Of course, if I don’t have a frame of reference for a particular grape – let’s say, Trepat, Bobal, Schiava – my declaration of “would-class” would be based solely on the taste profile – but this is a whole other subject we can ponder at some other time.

So why are we talking about local and world-class? I have a winery I want to offer to you as a perfect example of both – it is local, and it makes world-class wines.

Ravines Wine Cellars was established in 2001 in the Finger Lakes area of New York state, close to Keuka lake. The name of the winery comes from the fact that the first 16 acres vineyard was located between two ravines, which are widespread around all the lakes in the Finger Lakes area. Today, Ravines Wine Cellars sustainably farms 130 acres of the vineyards in prime proximity to Seneca and Keuka lakes (prime proximity is important – close proximity to the lake protects the vineyard from the harsh weather) and has close relationships with a number of growers in the region. Morten Hallgren, who owns the winery together with his wife (and Chef) Lisa is a French classically trained winemaker, and this is something you can clearly see reflected in his wines. I had an opportunity to try 3 samples of the Ravines Wine Cellars wines, and all three greatly exceeded my expectations.

Here are the notes:

2017 Ravines Dry Riesling Finger Lakes, NY (12.5% ABV, $17.95) – I had my share of bad East Coast Rieslings, so I always have a bit of trepidation trying our “local” Riesling. In the case of Ravines Riesling, my worries dissipated with the very first sniff and sip – a classic, German-style, lean, crisp, perfectly acidic with a touch of a fresh honey note. It was perfectly German-like in its presentation, and textbook delicious. (8/8+)

2017 Ravines Chardonnay Finger Lakes, NY (12.5% ABV, $19.95) – yet another surprise. I had some decent New York Chardonnays (Tousey comes to mind), but New York is not known for its Chardonnay, so everything is possible. Again, I needed not to worry about this wine. Beautiful nose of apples and vanilla, minerally driven and restrained – more of apple and vanilla on the palate, a distant hint of butter, crisp and delicious overall. (8)

2017 Ravines Maximilien Finger Lakes, NY (13% ABV, $24.95, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 54% Merlot) – yes, you got it – a surprise number 3. In the blind tasting, I would place the wine in Bordeaux and would be very proud of how well I did. A touch of cassis, a warm dark fruit profile, the same on the palate – round, smooth, cassis, eucalyptus, warm spices, good acidity, perfect balance, medium-long finish – another textbook wine. (8)

Here you are – three excellent, textbook quality, world-class wines from the local (5 hours drive) winery, with excellent QPR – you do get a lot of wine for your money, even at retail prices. How are your local wines? Do you agree with my definition of world-class?

Twelve out of Twelve

January 23, 2021 2 comments

I don’t know about you, but I love trying new wines, the wines I never had before. When I’m in the wine store, I like to take a slow walk and look for the wines which look interesting enough to try – the region I trust, cool label, and maybe most importantly, reasonably priced.

Value is an interesting concept, for sure when it comes to wine. Wine values can be absolute and relative. Wine under $10 represents an absolute value, especially if it is a tasty wine. This applies to both known and unknown wines – Bogle Petite Sirah, which would be well known in my book,  is an example of such an absolute value, always priced close to the $10, and always tasty. But even if I don’t know the wine, $10 for a bottle which hopefully will be tasty is still a good value.

When it comes to the wines you know, and most importantly, desire, the concept of value becomes relative – a $100 bottle of wine is still not cheap at $50 on sale or closeout, but it is a tremendous value.

So, let’s get back to that store where we are looking for the new wines to try, preferably in the absolute value category. Let’s say we will get a case of 12 different wines to try. What are the chances of you liking and enjoying all twelve wines? It is a possibility, but from my personal experience, the chances are not very high. Based on my experience I usually would really enjoy 3-4 bottles and I will be okay with another 3 or 4, and I would wish that I never bought the rest.

Now, let’s take this exercise to the next level. What if you will give a stranger $150, and ask him or her to surprise you with a case of 12 different bottles – how would you estimate your chances then? How many bottles would you possibly like out of the box of 12?

I recently conducted such an experiment. Okay, we can say that it was a stranger, but this stranger was a wine pro – but still, the wine pro who knows nothing about your preferences. How do I mean it? My stranger was the Last Bottle Wines, a so-called wine flash sale site. Last Bottle folks always run special events, usually called Marathons, especially around the holidays. Last Halloween, Last Bottle Wines offered a number of mystery cases – you have no idea what will be inside, you can only know that you will pay X for something which otherwise would be 2.5X or 3X. I was lucky enough to see the $144 mystery case offer and to pull the plug without much thought. How lucky? See the title of this post – that’s how.

Twelve out of twelve. Believe it or not, but I enjoyed every one of those bottles. Each one was delicious, and I would happily buy each one again, especially if offered at $12 – this was the actual price per bottle in my mystery case.

This mystery case was just perfect for someone who always wants to try something new. 12 different bottles, 7 from the USA (California, Washington, Oregon), 5 from around the world (3 from France, 1 from Spain, and 1 from Chile). I enjoyed two bottles with Thanksgiving dinner, and I just opened the last bottle a few days ago, so now I can share the experience. I still had a bit of trepidation opening the new bottle – what if the luck will break – but it didn’t. Twelve out of twelve. Each one delicious, and worth drinking again. Take a look at my notes:

2016 Brassfield Estate Eruption Volcano Ridge Vineyard High Valley Appellation (14.8% ABV, blend of Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Mourvèdre)
Outstanding – inviting nose, red and black fruit, eucalyptus, full body, drinkable from the get-go, excellent overall (8+)

2017 Domaine l’Abbé Dîne Côtes du Rhône (14.5% ABV, 80% Grenache (vines planted in the 1960s), 18% Syrah, 2% Mourvèdre) delicious from the get-go. Bigger body than a typical Cotes du Rhone, red fruit, soft, voluptuous and sexy, roll-of-the-tongue smooth, perfect balance. Another delicious and easy to drink wine (8+).

2016 Bodegas Patrocinio Zinio 200 Rioja Alta DOC (14% ABV, 90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano) – restrained and earthy. A bit too restrained for my Rioja preferences, but still very characteristic of Rioja with cedar box, red fruit, and eucalyptus. Needs time (8-)

2018 Azur Rosé California (12.5% ABV, blend of Grenache, Syrah, a blend of Napa and other appellations) – beautiful pale pink color with copper undertones, strawberries on the nose, hint of strawberries with lemon undertone on the palate, the second day showing mostly crisp and vibrant acidity. Elegant, Provence-like as advertised. (8)

2017 Casino Mine Ranch Vermentino Shenandoah Valley, California (14.1% ABV) – never had wines from Shenandoah Valley. Delicious. Nose resembling classic Gewurztraminer, with honeysuckle and white stone fruit. The palate is fresh, vibrant, a good amount of fruitiness, well supported by acidity, perfectly balanced. Perfectly passes my white wine excellence test – delicious from the fridge, but also delicious at room temperature. (8+)

2017 Chateau Perbal Cabernet Sauvignon Family Selection Central Valley, Chile (14% ABV) – a big surprise. I typically consider that I can easily identify Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon by a substantial green component (pyrazines, bell pepper) – this wine had none. Round, smooth, touch of cassis, eucalyptus, mint – easy to drink and delicious. (8)

2016 Belle Fiore Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rogue valley Oregon (14.5% ABV) – never had before Cabernet Sauvignon from Oregon. Elegant, classic, cassis, eucalyptus, anise, round, soft tannins, good acidity, perfect balance – excellent overall. (8/8+)

2019 Domaine La Milliere Ceielles Vignes Côtes du Rhône AOC (15% ABV) – clearly a young wine at first, bursts with the freshly crushed berries, but settles down into round, open, easy to drink wine – raspberries and blueberries, a touch of herbs, easy to drink. (8-)

2017 Theorize Zinfandel California (14.6% ABV) – a strange wine to a degree, almost a single note, but that single note delivers perfection – delicious sweet tobacco. Fresh, clean, good acidity, good balance, but that sweet tobacco is the theme, from the first drop to the last. This might not be the wine for everyone, but it is definitely the wine for me. (8)

2017 J. Wilkes Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14% ABV) – tart nose of dusty berries and herbs, clean, uplifting, fresh palate, the right amount of raspberries and blackberries, a touch of anise, easy to drink, inviting, delicious. (8)

2013 Beresan Winery The Buzz Yello Jacket Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.4% ABV, 30% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec) – upon opening, the wine was a bit aggressive and disjointed. At the same time, it was a typical unapologetic Washington wine, but I was able to enjoy it only on the third day when it mellowed out and became more balanced and round. This can probably be solved with decanting (7+/8-)

2018 Chateau Beauregard Ducasse Graves AOC (13% ABV, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 60% Semillon) – this wine was opened before its time. Closed on the first day just with some acidic notes, it beautifully blossomed on the second day, showing ripe apple, honeysuckle, nice creaminess, round and perfectly balanced. (8/8+)

Here you go, my friends – twelve out of twelve. How well do you score having someone picking the wines for you?

Of Beautiful Things

January 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Beauty is an interesting concept. It seems to be simple and universal. And nevertheless, the declaration of beauty might dramatically differ, even for the people going through the same experience. Take flowers, for example – if someone doesn’t like daisies, looking at the field of daisies will solicit no emotional response, but the same person might spend an hour admiring an orchid.

Whatever we see as “beautiful” solicit the emotion, it gives us a tiny burst of positive energy, it makes us happy. But the proverbial “truth in the eye of the beholder” is fully in control – everyone decides on their own concept of beauty.

Photography is one of the best and simplest tools to capture the beauty of the moment and convert it into a tangible memory, something you can get back to. For sure I’m the one who heavily relies on photography for doing so. If you look at the pictures on my phone, you will have no problems figuring out that I consider wine, flowers, and sunsets as the most beautiful things in this life – well, this is not an absolute truth, but we can go with it for this post. Of course, sunsets and flowers are exactly what they are, but the wine bottles in the pictures simply represent the memory knots, the real beauty is inside the bottle, no matter how pretty the labels are.

Garden at Calla Lily. Source: Calla Lily Winery

Calla Lily Estate & Winery is a project of renowned California winemaker, Cary Gott, and a group of business partners out of Hong Kong, who together started Calla Lily in 2013. Calla Lily is a 95 acres estate in the Pope Valley section of Napa Valley, with the first vines planted in 1995. The estate’s vineyards comprise 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 acres of Petite Sirah, 1 acre each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

Calla Lily is not a random name. You can see the beautiful flower appear on the label of Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is both the name and the symbol. Calla is a type of lily flowers, which is taking its name from the ancient Greek word “Kallos” which means “beauty”. Calla Lily had been around a few thousand years, and have a lot of symbolism associated with the flower in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures, as well as in Christianity overall. You can read about Calla Lily symbolism further here, but I also can’t resist quoting the same source in regards to the meaning of the color of the Calla Lily flowers: ”

  • White Calla Lilies: Purity and innocence.
  • Yellow Calla Lilies: Joy and growth.
  • Pink Calla Lilies: Appreciation and admiration.
  • Red Calla Lilies: Intense passion.
  • Blue Calla Lilies: Femininity and refined beauty.”

As you can see, red Calla Lily is depicted on the label of the Calla Lily wine, and after tasting the wine, I have to agree to the “intense passion” suggestion.

After talking about beautiful flowers, let’s talk about beautiful wines, as I had an opportunity to sample two of the Calla Lily wines.

2016 Calla Lily Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 26 months in 40% new French oak) was an interesting experience. While the nose was intense with red and black fruit, the wine on the palate was way too powerful for me to really enjoy it as “pop and pour”. The wine kept gradually improving over the next 4 days, finally offering soft rounds of cassis and mint, over the velvety texture. You need to wait for some beautiful things in life – for example, for a flower to fully open up from a tiny bud – this wine is beautiful, but you might need to wait for it – or decant it well in advance (Drinkability: 😎

2015 Calla Lily Audax Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $120, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 27 months in 50% new French oak) is yet another interesting wine. “Audax” in Latin means “bold”, and this barrel-reserve wine is a tribute to the audacity of the pioneer winemakers, many of whom settled in the Pope Valley. Somewhat unexpectedly, the wine was more approachable from the get-go than the previous one – beautiful nose of cassis, and more cassis on the palate, accompanied by mint, pencil shavings, espresso, and cherry pit. Lots of beautifully balanced power with a firm, dense structure. (Drinkability: 8)

Here is the story of the two beautiful things in life – flowers and wine. Beautiful things well worth seeking. What brings beauty into your world?

Everyday Bubbles – Domaine Bousquet

January 21, 2021 Leave a comment

In my wine lover’s journey, bubbles were never essential. I grew up with only sweet sparkling wines available, and I still have no idea if those wines were even made out of grapes. Plus, the bubbles were strictly associated with only a celebration – New Year, maybe a big birthday, and a wedding. I have no idea what was the first Champagne I ever tasted, but the first Champagne I actually appreciated was vintage Krug, and ever since I have a full appreciation for a tasty glass of bubbles – and no, I didn’t become “Krug or nothing” zealot.

I can imagine drinking Champagne every day. No, let me take that back. I can imagine drinking Champagne on any day I crave bubbles – yes, this is a better way to put it, as drinking Champagne every day would quickly become really boring. However, while I have no issues with the imagination, drinking Champagne at will is hardly practical. I can still find a tasty bottle of still wine for around $10 – no matter what “premiumization” trend dictates – but most of the drinkable Champagne today pushes the $40-$45 boundary (unless you find your success on WTSO) – and this is hardly an “at will” range for me. If you are craving bubbles but want them to be reasonably priced, you can find better luck with Prosecco or a Cava, but you better know producers by name.

And here I come, extending my helpful hand, to bring to your attention delicious bubbles which you really – and I mean it, really – can afford to drink at any day. And not only to afford but also to enjoy. Cue in Domaine Bousquet Charmat-method sparkling wines from Argentina, made from organic grapes and priced at a whopping $13 – and this is the suggested retail price, which means you can probably even find them in the stores for less.

Before I will share my impressions of the wines, let’s take a quick look at the Domaine Bousquet, the product of vision, obsession, and dedication. “Vision, obsession, and dedication” are not just words. In 1990, during his vacation, Jean Bousquet, a French third-generation winemaker, fell in love at a first sight with the high altitude remote area in Argentina – Gualtallary Valley in the Tupungato district of the Uco Valley in Mendoza. You really need to have vision and dedication to leave your country and buy 1,000 acres of essentially a desert (real estate broker told Jean Bousquet that he is making a mistake of his life) – you would probably think so too if you will look at the picture below:

Source: Domaine Bousquet

Jean Bousquet had a vision and dedication, and most importantly, he knew what he is doing, he knew the importance of water and proper irrigation. You would never tell that the picture below represents the same land today (also note that today Gualtallary Valley represents one of the most expensive farmlands in all of the Mendoza):

Source: Domaine Bousquet

Fast forward to today, Domaine Bousquet sustainably and organically farms 667 acres of land, produces 50 million liters of wine, 95% of which exported to 50 countries around the world, and ranks among the top 20 Argentinian wineries in terms of export and a leader in the organic wine.

The winery produces a large range of still wines from traditional Argentinian varieties – Chardonnay, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc, and it also offers a series of sparkling wines, both traditional method and Charmat. I got samples of Charmat-method wines, both white and Rosé, made from the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in different proportions.

NV Domaine Bousquet Brut Tupungato Uco Valley Mendoza (12.5% ABV, SRP $13, 75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, certified organic, vegan friendly) offers a nice fresh nose of golden delicious apple, crisp, fresh, energetic on the palate with cut-through lemony acidity. It is definitely enjoyable by itself and will play nicely with a wide range of dishes (Drinkability: 7+).

NV Domaine Bousquet Brut Rosé Tupungato Uco Valley Mendoza (12.5% ABV, SRP $13, 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, certified organic, vegan friendly) is a beautiful Rosé in its own right. It is not only the color, but it is also the wine which presents itself as a classic still Rosé would, with a nose of fresh strawberries and a full range of strawberry flavors on the palate, from tart to candied, perfectly balanced, fresh, vibrant, and full of life (Drinkability: 8-/8). Out of the two, Rosé was definitely my favorite.

At $13, these are the bubbles that you can consume any day without feeling guilty. You should, actually, feel guilty while drinking these wines, as the amount of pleasure you will derive is unproportionally more than what you are paying for them. But I will let you deal with your conscience, while I’m off to look for more values. Cheers!

New Year’s Escapades – 2021 Edition

January 18, 2021 Leave a comment

New Year is my favorite holiday. It revolves around food, wine, friends, and a good time. New Year’s Eve is always special, and then on New Year’s Day we usually get together with friends, to talk and open some special bottles.

Yes, that how it always was. But not this time – no friends in the house, except via FaceTime or zoom. Better than nothing, but all the food and wine sharing is completely virtual, and therefore, not endorphins-producing.

Obviously, this New Year’s celebration was scaled down. In terms of wines, I mean. Our family can’t scale down food, this is not in our genes, so cooking was mostly as usual, with all the appropriate holiday favorites. But the wine I had to scale down – my mother-in-law prefers tequila, my wife would only have a glass of red for the evening, and kids, while grown up, don’t care much about alcohol. So I had to mostly count on yours truly for any wine adventures.

Here is what I decided to open for the New Year’s celebration:

Let’s talk about these wines.

At first, I thought that Mailly Grand Cru would be the only bubbles I would open for the night, to drink with dinner and celebrate the arrival of 2021, as I was the primary consumer of bubbles. Then I decided last minute that I will leave that Mailly Champagne just for the midnight toast, and instead would have NV André Chemin Champagne Brut Tradition Blanc de Noir Premier Cru (12% ABV, $26.99 WTSO, RC) with dinner. I’m always curious who makes the Champagne – you know, those little letters and numbers which you can find practically on any Champagne label. Is it NM (Négociant-Manipulant, majority of the big Champagne names are in this category), or the RM (Récoltant-Manipulant), which signifies grower’s Champagne? I found the letters RC on the bottle of the André Chemin Brut, which I never saw before. With the help of this website, I was able to figure out that RC stands for Récoltant-Coopérateur – grapes are provided by the grower to Coopérative-Manipulant who makes wine on the grower’s behalf and under grower’s label but without grower’s involvement.

The André Chemin Brut happened to be an excellent addition to the group – the wine was superb, offering warm notes of the toasted bread and fresh apple, perfect acidity, round, fresh, and delicious – pretty much the way I prefer my Champagne.

2012 Mailly L’Intemporelle Champagne Brut Grand Cru (12% ABV, $115, CM) was also a learning experience. I found letters CM on the label, which stands for Coopérative-Manipulant – this is when a group of small growers blend grapes collectively and make wine under one or more brands – with growers involved in grape growing and winemaking. I poured this wine to toast 2021, and unfortunately, it didn’t do anything for me ( my son said that he enjoyed it quite a bit). The wine had mostly Granny Smith apples without much of the roundness and creaminess – I definitely expect a lot more from the vintage Champagne and this wine didn’t deliver.

I also opened the 2014 Tiefenbrunner Turnhof Sauvignon Südtirol Alto Adige AOC (14% ABV) “just in case”. I had this wine before, and it was quite delicious and elevated. On the first night as the wine was opened, it didn’t offer much of anything, it was closed. It opened up, however, over the next few days, offering whitestone fruit, a touch of honeysuckle, and good acidity.

My choice of red wine was the 2007 Waterstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.5% ABV) – it happened to be another perfect choice. There was a rumor (never confirmed) that this wine had some grapes coming from Harlan vineyards. Harlan or not, but this was a perfect California Cabernet – cassis all the way, mint, eucalyptus, round tannins, big but perfectly balanced body with well-integrated, smooth tannins – lots of pleasure.

Then, of course, there was food. As I said, scaling down the food is not an option in this house. The majority of dishes were the ones you would expect to find at the Russian New Year’s table, such as “shuba” (herring under the fur coat), Olivie salad, deviled eggs, and cod liver salad. We even managed to find reasonably priced black caviar – which was really a black caviar imitation, but a very tasty one.

Our entree was just one dish, stuffed chicken rolls, but it was definitely a tasty dish:

Most of these dishes are quite simple to make but really tasty – a note to self to add recipes to my food collection here – food, same as wine, is the best when you can share it.

That’s all for my New Year 2021 celebration notes. Yes, this was all scaled-down – but we still had a delightful evening to end an interesting year on a high note.

How was your 2021 celebration?

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