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Chilean Wines: Sustainability is a Long Game

January 22, 2022 Leave a comment

Sustainability is a journey.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Sustainability is a long game.

Have you ever dieted in your life? Did you achieve the intended results (let’s say, lose 20 pounds)? Did you go back where you started shortly after you stopped the diet? Of course, you already heard this a million times and you know what I’m going to say – diets don’t work. You need to change your lifestyle if you want those lost pounds to never come back, because the diet is a hack, and as such, it can give you only a quick and non-lasting, non-sustainable result.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

When I think of sustainability my first thought goes to the vineyard. How vineyard integrates into the environment, how vineyard, land, soil, and everything around can happily co-exist now and in the future. My second obvious thought goes to the winery operation – sustainable energy use, recycling, waste reduction.

In 2011, the Chilean wine industry defined its Sustainability Code, a voluntary certification system aimed to improve sustainable practices in the wine companies in Chile. In 2011, it all started in the vineyard. Today, the Sustainability Code for the Chilean Wine Industry (SCWI) represents a colorful flower, consisting of 4 areas, and featuring 351 individual requirements:

  • Viticulture (98 individual requirements /Green)
  • Vinification, Bottling, and facility operations (65 individual requirements /Red)
  • Social (118 individual requirements /Orange)
  • Wine Tourism (70 individual requirements /Purple) — new category added in 2020

In the ten years since its inception, SCWI has been adopted by all the country’s leading wine producers and accounts for 80% of Chile’s bottled wine exports. Wines from certified producers come from 123,550 acres of vineyards, out of 485,000 acres of total vineyard space in Chile, so roughly 25%.

The certification is done by the accredited international bodies (ECOCERT from France, NSF from the USA, and SGS from Switzerland, a few more should be added soon), and it is an ongoing process, as re-certification has to be done every two years. Certification has a substantial cost, so Vinos de Chile has a special program in place to help small and medium producers to achieve certification. To date, 80 wineries achieved full certification – if you will look at the list, you will see a lot of familiar names. Some, such as Casa Lapostole, one of the most famous Chilean wineries, use its own set of sustainability rules.

I had an opportunity last year to taste a number of wines from the certified sustainable Chilean wineries. Let’s talk about them.

Viñedos Emiliana (now known as Emiliana Organic Vineyards) was founded in 1986. However it is interesting that if you will check the history section on Emiliana’s website, the time count starts from 1998 – this is when Emiliana began its journey to convert into a sustainable, organic, and biodynamic winery. In 2001, Emiliana became 1st winery in Chile, and 7th in the world to obtain ISO 14001 certification in environmental management. Two years later, Emiliana produced its first organic wines (Coyam was one of them). In 2006, the winery obtained its Demeter certification and produced its first biodynamic wine, 2003 Gê. Moving forward, Emiliana obtained multiple certifications in social responsibility, fair trade, carbon neutrality, and more. As a fun fact, with 2,760 acres in size, Emiliana is the largest biodynamic, sustainable, and organic vineyard in the world.

The wine I tasted for this post was 2018 Coyam. Back in 2015, the 2011 Coyam was my wine of the year. The 2018 Coyam was good, but really needed lots of time to open up.

2018 Emeliana Coyam Colchagua Valley DO (14.4% ABV, $35, 42% Syrah, 39% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Garnacha, 3% Malbec, 3% Carignan, 1% Tempranillo, 1% Mourvedre, organic vineyards, vegan)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, cherries, cassis
Beautiful, cassis, mint, medium-plus body, good balance, good acidity
8, these are the 3rd day notes, this wine needs time.

Viu Manent‘s history began in 1935, when Catalonian immigrant Miguel Viu-García and his two sons founded Bodegas Viu, bottling and selling their own wines. In 1966, Miguel Viu-Manent, one of the sons, acquired an estate in Colchagua Valley which also included 375 acres of vineyards, planted with pre-phylloxera vines. In 1993, Viu Manent became the first Chilean winery to produce, bottle, and label Malbec under its name. In 2001, as a tribute to the founder, Miguel Viu-Manent, Viu Manent produced its single-block Malbec from approximately 100 years old vines. In 2003, the winery started producing its Secreto de Viu Manent line of wines. In 2007, Viu Manent joined the environmental biodiversity program run in Chile by the University Austral of Chile’s Ecology & Biodiversity Institute. In 2018, 3 solar panel energy plants were put into production at the winery and in the vineyards. The winery also participates in wastewater and solid waste management programs and other environmentally-friendly initiatives.

2019 Viu Manent Secreto Malbec Valle de Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $15, Malbec 85%, 15% “Secret”)
Dark garnet, almost black
Raspberries, blackberries, cigar box
Fresh raspberries on the palate, fresh, open, good minerality, a bit astringent on the finish even on the second day. Needs time.
7+ On the second day
8- on the third day

Viña Maquis, an estate located between two rivers, the Tinguiririca River and the Chimbarongo Creek, traces its roots to the 18th century when Jesuit priests were producing noble wines on the property. In the 19th century, the property belonged to the two Chilean presidents who even hosted cabinet meetings at that location. In 1916, the property was acquired by the Hurtado family with the goal of producing fine wines. Viña Maquis was one of the first wineries to obtain sustainability certification. They use in the vineyard energy recovery system based on geothermal heat pump technology for which the winery won the 2013 Innovation Prize for energy saving and carbon footprint reduction awarded by the British-Chilean Chamber of Commerce. They also use biological corridors which host beneficial insects, birds, and animals, and more than 2,600 sheep help control the weeds and fertilize the vineyards.

2018 Viña Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $24, 90% Cabernet Franc, 7% Carménère, 3% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Cassis, cassis leaves, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, crisp, medium body.
7+/8-

Concha y Toro is one of the oldest wineries in Chile, founded in 1883 by Melchor Concha y Toro with a dream of producing the best wines. He brought in vines from the Bordeaux and built the winery with all the best equipment at a time. As Concha y Toro was transitioning from a family business to a corporation, 50 years later the wine export started, the Netherlands being a first international destination. In 1987, Concha y Toro released the first vintage of its iconic Cabernet Sauvignon, Don Melchor, named in the honor of the founder. In 2020, James Suckling awarded 2018 Don Melchor a perfect 100 score.

In 2021, Concha y Toro received B Corporation Certification, which recognizes companies around the world that meet the highest standards of environmental management, governance, and social performance. This B Corporation certification included metrics such as 100% drip irrigation, 97% of waste reused/ recycled, 24% reduction of waste over 2018, 83% of energy coming from renewable sources. Concha y Toro also works with the scientific community and Wines of Chile to develop a measurable roadmap for carbon footprint reduction.

2019 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Serie Riberas Gran Riserva DO Marchigue (13.5% ABV, $17, 94.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Carmenere, 2.5% Syrah)
Dark garnet, practically black
Summer meadows, a touch of cassis, hint of mint
Open, fresh with happily gripping tannins (French oak), firm structure, fresh fruit, needs time
8-, will be great with the steak.
8+ second/ third day – wine became more integrated, polished, layered, perfect balance, pleasure in every sip.

In 1885, Francisco Undurraga imported vines from France and Germany and founded the Viña Undurraga winery. In 1903, Viña Undurraga became the first Chilean winery to export its wines to the USA. In 1942, under the management of Pedro Undurraga Fernández, the winery becomes a pioneer in exporting Chilean wines, reaching more than 60 countries. In 2006, the Los Lingues far was acquired, giving a start to Viña Koyle, which in 2009 started the transition to Demeter-certified biodynamic viticulture.

2019 Viña Koyle Carmenere Gran Reserva Alto Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $17, 85% Carmenere, 9% Tempranillo, 6% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cassis, a hint of underbrush, fresh dark fruit, inviting
Fresh berries, dark chocolate, a hint of sweet tobacco, round, succulent, excellent t balance, medium-long finish
8, excellent

In 1874, the winemaker Don Franciso de Rojas founded the winery in Maipo Valley which he called Viña de Rojas. In 1876, one of his wines received Silver Medal at a competition in Philadelphia in the USA. Now here is the rare happenstance with the transition of the name from Viña de Rojas to Viña Tarapacá. In 1892, the winery was acquired by Don Antonio Zavala and it became Viña Zavala. After the divorce, the winery became alimony assigned to his wife, who renamed the winery Viña Tarapacá ex Zavala to express her gratitude to her divorce lawyer Don Arturo Alessandri who had a nickname “The Lion of Tarapacá”. In 1992, the winery was acquired by the holding company with a focus on international expansion. In the same year, the winery acquired El Rosario Estate, 6,500 acres parcel, out of which 1530 acres are planted with vines, right in the heart of Maipo Valley. In 2008, Viña Tarapacá became a part of VSPT Group, the second-largest exporter of Chilean wines.

The winery holds a large number of environmental and sustainability certifications, and in 2016 it also became the Chilean winery to build a hydroelectric plant, capable of supplying 60% of all winery’s energy needs.

2018 Viña Tarapacá Red Wine Blend Gran Reserva Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $20, 31% Cabernet Franc, 26% Syrah, 22% Carmenere, 11% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, organic wine)
Dark garnet, almost black
Delicious nose of mint, currant, a touch of sweet basil and thyme
Ripe berries, firm structure, gripping tannins, a touch of cherries and black pepper, good acidity, excellent balance.
8+, delicious, but will be amazing in 10-15 years.

Here you go, my friends. Chilean wineries take sustainability seriously and show the world how it should be done. And they also support it with delicious wines. Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Daily Glass: A Rare Turley, And a Question of Wait

January 19, 2022 Leave a comment

I love Turley wines.

My first encounter with Turley was way back, maybe 20 years ago, when my friend and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Manhattan, and we saw a bottle of Turley on the wine list, probably a Juvenile Zinfandel or the Old Vines Zin, and it was one of the most affordable wines on the list, so we decided to try it. Right after the first sip, I remember we looked at each other and said ‘wow”. Turley became the love from the first sight sip for both of us, and when I go visit him, I always bring a bottle of Turley, which makes him very happy.

If you will ask a wine lover about Turley, most likely you will get an instant reaction “ahh, Zinfandel”. More advanced wine lovers might also add “oh yes, and Petite Sirah”. First and foremost, Turley Wine Cellars is known for its Zinfandels, and yes, the Petite Sirah. Altogether, Turley produces 50 wines from 50 different vineyards. And while an absolute majority of those wines are Zinfandels, there are few exceptions – two white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and the White Coat, Cinsault from 135 years old Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi, Casa Nuestra and Tecolote red blends, two Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and one Zinfandel Rosé, which sometimes is playfully identified as White Zinfandel (believe me, it is a proper Rosé, not a sweet plonk). With the exception of the Estate Cabernet, it is pure luck when any of these non-Zin, non-Petite Sirah wines are included in your allocation – doesn’t happen often.

Another question we can ask wine lovers – should Zinfandel wines be aged or consumed upon release? I don’t want to get too far into the woods with presenting such a broad question, but for the sake of simplicity here we are talking only about well-made wines from producers such as Turley, Carlisle, Robert Biale, Ridge, and similar. Again, posing this question to the wine lovers I heard the same answer from a number of well-qualified individuums: “I like my Zinfandel with some age on it”.

From my personal experience, mostly with Turley and Carlisle, I definitely appreciate the age on my Zins, but it also depends on the style of the wine. Turley Juvenile and Old Vines Zins are built to be enjoyed young, however, they are also perfectly capable of aging for 8-10 years with no issues. The majority of single-vineyard Zinfandels definitely benefit from aging, and best not being touched for the first 5-7 years upon release. The same applies to the Petite Sirah, probably even in the higher degree – it is better to wait for about 8-10 years to enjoy a bottle of Turley Petite Sirah.

Okay, so this is all nice, cool, and theoretical, but then, in reality, we don’t always follow our own best advice, don’t we?

I generally don’t open a new bottle of wine late in the evening. Yesterday, coming home after Taekwondo training, I realized that I crave a glass of wine. This is really a bad thought at around 9 pm because the process of selecting the bottle to open can take another 30 minutes or so. I have a lot of Turley bottles stored in the simple wine cage, which makes the selection process a lot easier as I don’t need to move the wine fridge shelves back and forth, so this is where I decided to look. I looked past most of the younger Zins – as you remember, I also like them with some age, and then I saw a bottle of 2018 Tecolote. It was pure luck that I had it, as it came via the special offer for the 2020 holiday season – this wine is typically available only in the tasting room. I never had this wine before, which provided a legitimate opportunity to ignore my own aging rules and simply open the bottle, which is exactly what I did.

Tecolote is a blend of 60% Grenach and 40% Carignane, both grapes harvested from dry-farmed Pesenti Vineyard in Paso Robles, from the vines planted in the 1920s. As this is a Catalon-inspired blend, and the grapes come from the specific plot in Pesenti vineyard which looks like an owl, the wine was called Tecolote, which is the Spanish word for “owl”.

Boy, was I happy with my decision… The first sniff of the 2018 Turley Tecolote Red Wine Paso Robles (15.9% ABV) was pure heaven – barnyard, forest underbrush, and spices. I know that the “barnyard” descriptor is polarizing, and deeply hated by some – I always love it, for sure on the red wines (never had it on the white), so I really enjoyed that aroma. On the palate, the wine had pure tart cherries, acidic, juicy, and succulent, fully supporting and continuing the initial enjoyment of the smell. I literally couldn’t stop refilling the glass until only about a third of the bottle was left.

And again I have to state that I’m happy that I left some of the wine for the second day, as the wine transformed. I usually preserve the wines by pumping the air out of the bottle. Sometimes I preserve the wines like that for 2,3,4,5 days, tasting the wine, pumping the air out, and leaving it until the next day. From my experience, I consider that each next day the wine still tastes good or even better than the day before is equivalent to the 5 years of aging. So if you don’t like the barnyard smell, don’t touch your Tecolote for another 5 years. When I opened the wine today, the barnyard smell was gone, and it was replaced by cherries and a telltale sign of Grenache in my book – dark chocolate. The wine also had cherries and dark chocolate on the palate and it was perfectly balanced and absolutely delicious (Drinkability: 9-). What is even more interesting, the wine paired very well with dark chocolate-covered raisins from Trader Joe’s and Italian truffled cheese. Go figure…

Here you are, my friends – a delicious wine, good when young, and perfectly capable of aging. If you can, go find your bottle…

Sangiovese Games and Power of Words

January 11, 2022 6 comments

Okay, folks, this might be the scariest post I have ever written. This might lead to unsubscribes, unfollows, ostracism, and public shaming. Well, it is what it is.

Here it comes, my confession.

I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Here, I said it. You heard me right, and I can repeat. I do not know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Still here? Okay, then I would like to ask for a chance to explain.

I know how Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like. Whether it is produced in Bordeaux, California, Australia or Tuscany, I still expect to find cassis, maybe eucalyptus, maybe mint, maybe bell peppers.

I know how Pinot Noir tastes like. No matter whether it comes from Burgundy, South Africa, Oregon, New Zealand, or California, I still expect to find cherries, maybe plums, maybe violets, maybe some smoke.

I can continue – I know how Chardonnay tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Riesling tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Sauvignon Blanc tastes like (from anywhere). I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

While we are talking grapes, we are also talking about the power of words. As soon as we hear Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, we have an instant mental image, set our expectations, and the first sip of wine is judged against that mental image. Of course, we make regional adjustments – Pinot Noir from Oregon might offer dark chocolate, espresso, and mocha in addition to the cherries, but cherries will be there. Bordeaux (okay, it is usually a blend, so this might be a bad example) is expected to be leaner that’s California Cab, but it will still show that cassis core. And I still have no clue how Sangiovese should taste like.

I know how Brunello tastes. It is 100% Sangiovese, but it has its own unique taste profile with layers of tart cherries and cherry pits framed by oak notes and firm tannins. I know how Vino Nobile de Montepulciano tastes. It is also 100% Sangiovese, with tart cherries usually weaved around a core of acidity. I know how Chianti typically tastes. It has to be at least 80% Sangiovese, plus other grapes, and it will have the cherries usually surrounded by leather and tobacco.

Brunello, Vino Nobile, Chianti are renditions of Sangiovese, but they are references only to themselves. When I hear any of these names, I know what to expect. But I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

I don’t know if you ever had a chance to experience Shafer Firebreak. This wine used to be made from California Sangiovese (92%) with the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon (8%), the percentages are representative of the last vintage which was in 2003 (Sangiovese plantings were removed after that). This wine had nothing in common with any of the Italian Sangiovese renditions, but instead had a smoke, espresso, and powerful dark fruit. A very memorable rendition of Sangiovese – but not referenceable.

You might be annoyed at this point by me constantly repeating “I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like” and wondering where I might be going with that. So this post was triggered by a few events. Last year, I got a few samples of Sangiovese from Castello di Amorosa. When I tasted them, they were reminiscent of Chianti, and I even had to open a bottle of Cecchi Chianti, which is an outstanding producer making Sangiovese wines with exemplary regional expressions, to compare. I also tasted a bottle of California Sangiovese which had only a name of Sangiovese, but really tasted more like a fruit compote mixed with a fruit cake. As the end result I realized that I have no idea how Sangiovese actually should taste like – and here I am, pondering at the subject with you, my dear reader (I hope someone is still reading this, eh?)

So let me take you a bit further with a few of the tasting notes and references.

First, I have to say that I probably found what can be considered a reference Sangiovese. Two years ago I had an opportunity to taste a range of wines from Cecchi, and one of the wines was called Sangiovese Toscana IGT. It was not Chianti of any kind, it was pretty much an unadulterated rendition of a pure Sangiovese from the motherland, from Tuscany, which was not even aged in oak, only 2 months in the bottle. Here are the notes:

2018 Cecchi Sangiovese Toscana IGP (13% ABV, $10)
Dark ruby
Cherries, coriander, sage
Light, bright, fresh cherries, crisp acidity, sweet basil, refreshing.
8+, can be perfect even on a summer day, but I can’t complain on a winter day either. Unique and different.

The wine was absolutely spectacular in its pristine beauty and an absolute steal for the money. Ever since I tasted this wine it became my reference for how pure Sangiovese might take like.

Now, the peculiar California Sangiovese I mentioned before was the 2017 Seghesio Venom. 100% Sangiovese from Rattlesnake Hill in Alexander Valley, 14.9% ABV, $55. Seghesio is a Zinfandel specialist, and they are good at that. If this wine would be called Zinfandel, I would have no issue with it. But under Sangiovese name, it makes me only wonder what possessed Seghesio to make a wine like that. A fruit compote with a bit of a structure doesn’t equate to Sangiovese in any shape and form. And at the price, if you just want to drink a California wine, it might be fine, but if you are looking for Sangiovese, just look elsewhere.

Well, you don’t need to look too far. Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley is really focusing on bringing their Italian heritage to wines they craft in California. Yesterday I talked about their range of Pinot Noir wines, which was excellent. Their California Sangiovese can probably be called a glorious success as I even had to open a bottle of classic Chianti to compare the notes.

I tasted two Sangiovese wines from Castello di Amorosa (for the history of the Castello, which is very fascinating, I would like to refer you to the link I included above).

2017 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $36)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, baking spices
Plums, tart cherries, light tannins, medium body, good structure, a hint of leather.
8-/8, it is reminiscent of the Chianti, nicely approachable, but will improve with time, judging by the late tannins on the finish on the second day.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Voyager Vineyard Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $45, single vineyard)
Dark garnet
Smoke, granite, gunflint, tobacco, dark fruit, Very promising.
Tobacco, baking spices, cut through acidity, medium body. Very unusual. Needs a bit of time.
Tart cherries, a hint of vanilla, bright acidity. Reminiscent of Chianti, but not as earthy
8-

And then I opened a bottle of Cecchi Chianti and was pleasantly surprised how successful Castello di Amorosa was with their Californian Sangiovese rendition.

2017 Cecchi Chianti DOCG (13% ABV, $14)
Dark garnet
Herbs with a hint of cherries
Tart cherries, good acidity, fresh berry profile, medium body. Was earthy upon opening, but mellowed out after a few hours in the open bottle.
8-, easy to drink, nice.

As you can tell, the wines are similar, and I would call it a very successful effort.

Well, I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, because this is all in the words. Unless we taste blind, we are bound by the power of words, and therefore our excitement and disappointment are fully dependent on those words. Was the Venom a bad wine? No, but it is an utter disappointment when called a Sangiovese. Thanks to Castello di Amorosa successfully offering a saving grace. While I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, I’m willing to continue the quest for the tastiest rendition.

If you are still with me – thank you for reading and cheers.

Californian Stars, Italian Flair

January 10, 2022 1 comment

Californian stars.

Of course, we are talking about wines and grapes. What would those be?

I recently called California Cabernet Sauvignon a king. We can safely designate Chardonnay as a queen. But who would you call a prince? Capricious, spiky, moody royalty? Whatever grape you think of, the correct answer is Pinot Noir, because this is the grape I mostly would like to talk about today. And tell me if you think Pinot Noir is not qualified for the role of the royal prince – finicky, demanding, and unpredictable.

Okay, we got our stars for the day. Now, the Italian flair. How would you add the Italian flair to the Californian grapes?

There are a few options. For example, you can call your sparkling wine a Spumante. Or you can call your winery Castello, and build it in the form of a medieval Italian castle. You can also make wines out of Sangiovese – but this we will discuss later. Anyway, as you can see, you got options.

Vittorio Sattui, an Italian immigrant, founded St. Helena Wine Cellars in 1885. The business had to be closed due to the prohibition in 1920, but the Sattui family continued living at the winery. In 1975, Dario Sattui, great-grandson of Vittorio, restarted the family business by opening V. Sattui winery in St. Helena.

After finishing college, Dario traveled around Europe and became obsessed with medieval castles, monasteries, farmhouses. In 1993, Dario found the next home for his future winery – 171 acres parcel near Calistoga. In 1994, the construction began initially for the 8,500 sq. ft building without cellars. That slowly morphed into a 121,000 sq. ft. 13th-century Tuscan castle with 107 rooms, drawbridge, five towers, high defensive ramparts, courtyards and loggias, a chapel, stables, an armory, and even a torture chamber. Lots of bricks and artifacts were delivered directly from Europe to ensure the full authenticity of the castle. Castello de Amorosa (Castle of Love) opened its doors to visitors in 2007 after 15 years of construction.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Castello di Amorosa in 2017 as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2017 in Santa Rosa, so I can share (inundate is a better word, of course) my first-hand impressions:

 

 

Thinking about misbehaving? Might not be recommended:

Touring the cellars:

The ceiling of the room where we had our tasting in 2017:

A bit of education – Napa Valley Regions:

Castello di Amorosa works with 14 vineyards, most of them in Napa and Sonoma, out of which 6 are estate vineyards. The focus of winemaking is on showcasing each individual terroir and on the small-batch production.

I had an opportunity to taste a range of Pinot Noir expressions from Castello di Amorosa, and I have to honestly say that I was very much impressed with what I found in my glass.

First, two sparkling wines, both produced using the classic method.

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 73% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir)
Light Golden, fine bubbles
Toasted bread, apples, gunflint
Toasted bread, Granny Smith apples, more gunflint, great minerality, a touch of sweetness, bigger body than typical champagne.
8, excellent,

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Rosé Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $49, 100% Pinot Noir)
Salmon pink, fine mousse
Steely strawberries, a hint of toast
Dry, crisp, strawberries, clean acidity, good minerality
8, excellent

Next up, Rosé. The grapes for this wine come from the Green Valley area in the Russian River Valley AVA, and the wine is partially aged in concrete egg. I had an opportunity to taste both 2019 and 2020 vintages over a few months timeframe, and you can see that my tasting notes are almost identical for both wines. Somehow I missed including this wine into my 2021 top wines list, which makes me upset – this was one of the best Rosé wines and wines overall that I tasted during 2021.

2019 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (13.6% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh ripe sweet strawberries, good intensity, inviting
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9-/9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow.

2020 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of herbs, crisp, inviting, and invigorating
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow. Superb.

Last up – Pinot Noir from Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley. This vineyard was purchased in 2015 from Burt Williams, founder of the iconic William Selyem Winery. The 12-acre vineyard is in a very cool microclimate and divided into 9 blocks of Pinot Noir planted with DRC, 115, 777, Rochioli, 23, and 828 clones. All the blocks and clones give quite a bit of room to experiment to the winemaking team.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.1% ABV, $75, 11 months in Burgundian oak barrels)
Dark ruby
Somewhat unexpressive on the first day, a hint of fruit
Closed up, concentrated, dark fruit, not amazing
Classic Pinot on the second day – iodine, violets, underbrush
Beautifully elegant on the palate – good acidity, smoke, tobacco, fresh berries, cherries, firm structure combined with medium body, medium-long finish.
8+ second day, super-enjoyable.

Here you go, my friends – a little Italian oasis – scratch that – a large Italian Castle in the middle of Napa Valley, producing magnificent California wines. Castello di Amorosa is definitely a unique travel destination and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.

Made With Organic Grapes: A Few Wines From Chile

January 8, 2022 Leave a comment

Chile is a unique winemaking place.

So is each and every wine region in the world – each wine region, big, small, or tiny, can safely state the same – they all have something unique about them, aren’t they?

But really, Chile is unique.

Chile is literally the only wine region in the world untouched by the blight of phylloxera. While it is a big deal, it is not all.

It is easy to grow grapes organically in Chile. The absolute majority of the rain falls in winter, and Chilean vineyards generally enjoy the dry growing season. Dry growing season means no need to worry about fungi, which is where most of the “inorganic” efforts typically go. And Chilean winemakers take advantage of this fact, actively pursuing organic, sustainable, and biodynamic winemaking. Taking its inspiration from the association of organic winegrowers of New Zealand, leading Chilean wineries, such as Viña Emiliana, Odfell, Koyle, Viña Miguel Torres Chile, are all joining forces to create a similar organization that will help with the promotion of Chilean organic wines around the world.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of Chilean organic wines.

Viñedos Veramonte was founded by Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean wine pioneer, in 1990, one of the first wineries in Casablanca Valley. Veramonte’s journey started with Sauvignon Blanc, gradually adding all of the traditional Chilean varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, and more. In 2019, the winery obtained ECOCERT® organic certification, after 6 years-long journey. The project involved the conversion of more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Casablanca and Colchagua valleys to organic and biodynamic farming (full Demeter’s biodynamic certification is the next goal). The wine I had an opportunity to taste was Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon:

2019 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, made with organic grapes, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, tobacco
A touch of cassis, tart, medium body, minerality, green notes
7/7+, I would prefer more fruit

The same Agustin Huneeus founded Primus winery more than 20 years ago. The word Primus comes from Latin and it means “the first” or “the first among others”.  Primus was one of the very first to create the blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, which became the standard wine of the winery throughout all the years, joined by single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere wines. The fruit for The Blend comes from Marchigue, a sub-region of Colchagua, and Maipo, from all-organic vineyards.

2018 Primus Red Blend Apalta Colchagua Valley (13.5% ABV, $18.99, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carménère, 10% Syrah, 5% Cabernet Franc, Vegan, Certified Sustainable)
Dark ruby
Cassis, Cherries
Soft, easy to drink, medium body, cassis, cherries, well balanced
8-, good aging potential

Ritual is located in the eastern corner of the Casablanca Valley, not far from the Pacific Ocean. All organic vineyards are surrounded by 6,000 acres of natural forest, which enforces biodiversity and helps with organic and sustainable farming. The estate approaches organic winemaking from all possible angles, making compost from stems and pomace, using cover crops to protect the soil, using sheep to mow the grass and fertilize. Everything in the vineyard and in the winery is done in full harmony with nature.

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, certified organic vineyards)
Dark garnet
Smoke, plums, minerality
Cherries, plums, violets, herbs, round, soft, restrained, good acidity, clean finish, perfectly balanced.
8, a long-haul wine. Should definitely improve over the next 5-7 years, might be considerably longer.

Here you are my friends – a few of the organic wines from Chile which you should feel good about drinking.

It is not just organic – Chile is leading the world in sustainable winemaking, and we will talk about it in a few days. Stay tuned…
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American Pleasures #6: A Tale of Two Cabs

January 4, 2022 2 comments

Wine should give you pleasure – there is no point in drinking the wine if it does not. Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines, that were the delicious standouts – one after another, making me even wonder if someone cursed my palate. I enjoyed all of those wines so much that I decided to designate a new series to them – the American Pleasures. 

California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Magical words for any wine connoisseur. Out of more than 100 grape varieties used in wine production in California, I would safely bet that Cabernet Sauvignon clout exceeds that of Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, and even including Pinot Noir in this list is a stretch. Cabernet Sauvignon is The One of California wines (if you are willing to disprove this with actual numbers, I will be happy to publish a correction, but until someone will step forward, this stands as unquestionable truth).

While we can agree that California Cabernet Sauvignon is an object of craving for uncounted many, it also should be recognized as an object of controversy. How do I mean it? Easy. There are probably 50 or so producers whose wines are impossible to get, due to both availability and pricing – you have to be on the mailing list with a waiting list stretching for 20 years or so, and once you get there you should be willing to pay $500++ per bottle of wine you will need to wait for another 10-15 years to enjoy. Alternatively, you need to be prepared to pay an upward of $500 per bottle and scour the internet daily looking for those special bottles.

On the flip side, you can join most of us walking into the wine store asking (begging?) for a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $20, trying not to notice the poorly hidden smirk on the face of the salesperson, who knows that we are on the quest for the impossible. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon and not buying those wines from your expense account, I’m sure you can relate to the experience firsthand. Even $50 per bottle doesn’t come with any guarantees. But – that number gives us hope. Yes, folks, it is possible to find a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $50. Let’s talk about it.

Lots of my wine learning and discoveries are linked to unimitable wine educator Kevin Zraly and his Windows on the World Wine School. I remember one of the lessons where we were talking about California Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the wines was particularly good, and I remember Kevin remarking that the wine was produced by Louis M Martini, who doesn’t charge nearly enough for the quality of the wines they produce. That reference got engraved in my memory literally forever, and Louis M Martini became somewhat of the safe bet when looking for reasonably priced and consistent California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Louis M Martiny winery was founded in 1922 when Prohibition was already in full swing. It was actually known as L.M. Martini Grape Products Company and was focused on the production of sacramental wines and concentrate for home winemaking. In 1933, expecting that Prohibition will end, the new winery building was constructed north of the town of Napa. This was the actual beginning of the Louis M Martini winery and pioneering role of the Martini family in the Californian wine industry, helping to establish Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1943, being one of the first to use wind machines to prevent frost in the vineyards, and being one of the first to bottle varietal Merlot in 1970.

Louis M Martini offers a substantial range of wines today, going way beyond standard Sonoma and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon offerings, including Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the best regions in Napa Valley such as Stagecoach Vineyard and Howell Mountain, as well as a number of Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel wines – unfortunately, most of those are priced well beyond the $50 we are talking about today. Sill, there is Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which can be found at around $15, and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon around $35. The Napa Valley bottling I tasted was simply outstanding with or without any regard to the price:

2016 Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (15.1% ABV, $40)
Garnet
Cassis, eucalyptus, baking spices
Roll of your tongue smooth, velvety, fresh cassis, perfectly ripe fruit but over, firm structure, long finish.
8+/9-, excellent, classic California Cabernet Sauvignon

If Louis M Martini can be called an iconic winery, then our next winery can be only referred to as the most iconic winery in Napa Valley. Charles Krug winery, established in 1861 in Napa Valley by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug was the very first winery in Napa Valley, the 540 acres estate which Charles Krug received via marriage. In 1943, an immigrant family from Italy, Mondavi, purchased the Charles Krug estate which had been run by the family now in 4th generation.

Charles Krug winery also offers a good number of wines, including Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Zinfandel, and others, with Cabernet Sauvignon still being a flagship offering, including clonal selections (one of the Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon wines is called X Clone as it is produced as a blend of 10 Cabernet Sauvignon clones). I always wanted to try the Charles Krug wines, and finally, I was able to do so:

2017 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $39, 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Petite Sirah)
Dark garnet
Blueberry, blueberry jam, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco
A touch of nutmeg and cloves, much crispier on the second day, firm tannins, firm structure, good acidity.
8-/8, definite improvement on the second day.

Comparing these two Cabernet Sauvignon wines, Louis M Martini was a perfect pop and pour example, which is ultra rare among California Cabernet Sauvignon, where Charles Krug bottling definitely needed time.

Here you are, my friends. If you are looking for a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $50, there is still hope!

Daily Glass: Surprised Not Surprised

January 2, 2022 Leave a comment

First, I want to use this opportunity again to wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year 2022!

Today, I want to talk about a couple of wines – one was surprising (and not), and another one was simply interesting.

Let’s talk about surprises first.

Have you heard of Harry and David? No, not about some random guys named Harry and David, but one of the most famous gourmet food gift catalogs? I don’t know if Harry and David has international fame, but in the USA this is definitely the most famous food gift catalog in existence. I remember for many many years literally drooling over the description of their most famous, and spoon-ready, Royal Riviera® Pears.

Harry and David’s food gifts are not limited to fruit, cheese, and crackers. Many gift selections also include wine, mostly from well-known California wineries – J Vineyards, Talbott, Louis M Martini, and others. And it turns out Harry and David also offers wine under its own label – Harry and David.

When we opened a holiday shipment from our friends, the appearance of Harry and David wines caught me by surprise – I really didn’t expect to see that name on the bottles. To be entirely honest, I’m not a big fan of food gift baskets, even though often they are the most convenient presents. Seeing a catalog-branded wine got my suspicion to the next level though. It is so easy to cut corners and put some random plonk into the bottle with a private label…

To make me worry even more, this was also a bottle of sparkling wine – and for my palate, finding a tasty sparkling wine is even trickier than a regular still wine. So I had a spare bottle of Champagne ready for the backup and only then proceeded with the opening of the Harry and David sparkling wine. The first sip made me instantly grab the bottle and look at the back label. My reaction to the second line on that back label was “aaah, of course, this is why the good taste is not surprising“. The wine was delicious, and the second line on that label said “Southern Oregon”, which instantly lead to the “not surprised” notion – having spent a week in August 2021 in Oregon, good Oregon bubbles are simply expected.

This 2020 Harry and David Vineyards Sparkling Wine Southern Oregon (11.7% ABV) was simply delightful – creamy, consistent mousse on the palate, a touch of fresh apples on the nose, and more of the fresh apples with a touch of the lemon notes on the palate, clean acidity, crisp, perfect balance, pleasure in every sip.

It is a pity that it is practically impossible to find actual wine information on the Harry and David website – or maybe I just lost my searching skills. I spent some time with google and was able to find this article from Oregon Wine Press, from which I learned that in 2012, Harry and David, which is headquartered in Medford, Oregon since 1934, has hired winemaker Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Company in Medford to make wines for Harry and David. The grapes are primarily sourced from the vineyards in the Rogue Valley in Oregon. I would love to have more details about the vineyards, how they are managed, how the wine is made, and so on, but hey, good wine is a good wine.

Now, let’s talk about interesting wine. I was looking for a wine gift for a friend and came across Sandhi Rosé. Sandhi wines are not widely known, but as I had the pleasure of tasting Sandhi Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, I was definitely interested in trying the Rosé. Sandhi wines are produced by Rajat Parr in Santa Barbara in California, and the whole project was born out of the desire to produce supremely balanced low-alcohol wines.

2019 Sandhi Rosé of Pinot Noir California (12.5% ABV, $20) was definitely an interesting wine. In my vocabulary, “interesting” wine or food is rarely a positive descriptor. This Rosé was if not interesting, then puzzling. Taken out of the refrigerator (so probably at around 38°F – 40°F, the wine was mostly closed, offering a bit of sapidity and onion peel, both on the nose and the palate. After warming up in the glass for about 10 minutes, the wine opened up offering a hint of strawberries with a touch of lemon, still void of any sugar but getting much closer to the traditional Provençal in its presentation. The need to play with the temperature was taking a bit away from otherwise a nice wine.

That is my first story of 2022. I want to leave you with a picture of the little present, a wine glass, I got from friends – looks like they know me well! Cheers!

Passion and Pinot Updates: Le Cadeau Vineyard

December 28, 2021 4 comments

Five years ago, I started a new project in this blog called Stories of Passion and Pinot. The goal of the project was to interview winemakers in Oregon, who passionately went on to grow Pinot Noir and make wines often in conditions that many others would find impossible and untenable. All the way until August of 2021 my interviews were all virtual – I would read about the winery, come with the questions, get the answers, and then publish those conversations in this blog (you can find them using the top menu).

This year I attended Wine Media Conference 2021 which conveniently took place in Eugene, Oregon. After the conference was over, we drove with Carl Giavanti to meet some of the winemakers face to face – and now I can offer you updates, mostly in pictures, lots of pictures, and tasting notes for the wines I had an opportunity to taste.

Le Cadeau Vineyard was our first stop after we left Eugene.

Where do I start? First of all, the views. Le Cadeau Vineyard is a stunning oasis, surrounded by tall pine trees (I already told you how much I love those), and offering amazing views. You be the judge:

Tom Mortimer slowly walked us through the vineyard, talking about clones and all the work he invested into creating this vineyard simply on top of the rock (you can find the details in the original interview). It turns out that there are 18 Pinot Noir clones used in wine production at Le Cadeau – while I was somewhat shocked to hear that number (sounds high), it was simply due to my ignorance – for example, Sanford winery in Sta. Rita Hills uses more than 50 clones. Considering that Sanford winery is about 25 years older than the Le Cadeau, it is all makes sense. Tom was particularly proud of some of the clones, such as the Calera clone which is based on the DRC, and some additional Vosne clones (not trying to impress with the words here – Vosne here stands for Vosne-Romanée, one of the most coveted Pinot Noir production areas in Burgundy; DRC stands for Domaine Romanée-Conti, probably the most famous Pinot Noir producer in the world; Calera is one of the legendary California Pinot Noir producers and pioneers from Central Coast).

The beginning of August of this year (2021) happened to be the veraison time – the onset of ripening of the grapes when the grapes start changing their color. This was my first time actually being in the vineyard during veraison, so I couldn’t stop taking pictures as I saw bunches with more and more color – here are more pictures:

We also saw Chardonnay grapes growing:

Remember, we are talking about passion here. The amount of labor of love and passion which this vineyard required to be established was simply incredible. Tom had to use a special machine to break through the basalt to help the vine roots to get established. There were a few rows where he decided not to use the machine, and those rows look particularly different from the rest of the vineyard. The rocks which you can see in these pictures give you a good idea of what he had to deal with while establishing the vineyard.

After we finished walking around we sat down to taste the wines with Tom and to continue the conversation about the winemaking. Tom is highly analytical, he uses a lot of different charts, such as Degree Day reports to estimate when he might need to start picking up the grapes based on the historical data and what is the potential weight of the grapes might be at the harvest. Harvest is usually done in multiple passes, depending on the year – in 2015 and 2018, for example, he had to pick grapes 5 times; in 2016 and 2020 there were three picks made.

We started our tasting with 2018 Chardonnay, which was outstanding:

2018 Le Cadeau Vineyard Chardonnay Willamette Valley (14.1% ABV, $45)
Beautiful nose of vanilla with a hint of butter
Vanilla, butter, Granny Smith apples on the palate, beautifully clean and balanced
8+

It is really amazing to see the level of finesse Oregon Chardonnay has developed over the years.

It appears that Tom also makes sparkling wines, and he loves it, as making sparkling wines nicely complements making still wines – you remove perfect grapes for the sparkling (high acid), and the other grapes can ripen better. The sparkling wine we tried, was again, in a word, outstanding:

2013 Le Cadeau Rosé Brut Oregon (13.1% ABV, $50, 4.5 years on the lees)
A touch of funk and toasted bread
Sapidity, yeast, toasted notes, clean acidity, delicious.
8+

Now we moved on to the Pinot Noir. Tom is working with the winemaking team to produce his wines, including the consultant from Burgundy. Le Cadeau makes some of the reserve wines, but those are only produced in the best years. We tasted through the 4 Pinot Noir wines which were all excellent in their own right.

2018 Le Cadeau Côte Est Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.9% ABV, $60)
Beautiful cherries on the nose
Cherries on the palate, clean, round, soft, a touch of earthiness, delicious.
8

2018 Le Cadeau Diversité Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains AVA (14.1% ABV, $60)
Beautiful minerality, sweet cherries, a hint of cranberry
Tart cherries on the palate, pepper, clean, fresh, light
8+

2018 Le Cadeau Rocheux Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.5% ABV, $60)
Stunning nose, cranberries, cherries, violets, a hint of sage
Superb balance of power, fruit, acidity, structure – everything is in perfect harmony.
9-/8+

2017 Le Cadeau Merci Reserve Chehalem Mountains AVA (13.3% ABV, $80)
Incredible aromatics, floral, violets
Beautiful, round, clean, open
8+

It is interesting that when I tasted the 2017 Le Cadeau vintage for the interview post, Diversité was my favorite, and Rocheux was a close second. This time, Rosheux was my favorite Pinot Noir from the tasting.

That’s all I have for my update. I don’t drink much of Burgundy, so I can’t really offer any comparisons – but I don’t think comparisons are needed. Oregon Pinot Noir are unquestionably world-class wines in their own right. I remember reading in Wine Spectator Matt Kramer’s article where he mentioned that the main characteristic of a world-class Pinot Noir is finesse. Going by this measure, Le Cadeau definitely got it – finesse is the virtue of all their wines. If you are looking for the Pinot Noir for a special occasion – don’t look any further than Le Cadeau.

This post is a part of the Stories of Passion and Pinot series – click the link for more stories…

 

 

 

Understanding Ferguson

December 27, 2021 Leave a comment

Do experiences have expiration dates? Of course not. As long as we learn something, the experience has its value – and thus it can be shared.

And so here I am, sharing another experience from 2 years ago. Yesterday, I was talking about the Sanford tasting which took place in June of 2019. Today, I’m sharing yet another experience from the same June of 2019. Just follow along, please.

I remember attending a trade tasting in New York, probably about 5 or 6 years ago. One of the wineries at that tasting was L’Ecole No 41, one of the best wineries in Walla Walla in Washington. The rep poured a taste for me and proudly said “this is Ferguson, our newest vineyard, and this wine is amazing, taste it”. I can still vividly remember the punch of tannins from the first sip and my very first thought “how is this amazing, I can’t taste anything here”.

L’Ecole No 41 needs no introduction to the wine lovers. The third winery in Walla Walla in Washington, founded by Jean and Baker Ferguson in 1983, one year before Walla Walla received an official AVA status. From the moment the winery was created, the focus was always on the Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot.

Seven Hills Vineyard, 230 acres estate on the Oregon side of the appellation, is one of the oldest vineyards in Walla Walla, planted in 1980. L’Ecole No 41 manages Seven Hills Vineyard together with Pepper Bridge Winery and Leonetti Cellars, and it is a source of more than 1/3 of L’Ecole’s total red wine production.

The second vineyard, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, was planted in 1991 on the Washington side of Walla Walla. L’Ecole was the first winery to produce wines from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard.

In 2008, Ferguson Vineyard, named in honor of the founders of the winery, was planted on high elevation (1,350 ft – 1,450 ft) not far from the Seven Hills Vineyard, a thin layer of soil over the fractured basalt from 15-million-year-old lava flows. The vineyard now is 42 acres in size and the source of the latest additions to the L’Ecole portfolio – the one I was unable to appreciate during that trade tasting.

When I got the invite to attend L’Ecole No 41 tasting in New York at the Grapes and Grains restaurant, I got excited about the opportunity to have a deeper dive and learn more about L’Ecole No 41 wines.

What I learned from Constance Savage, General Manager of L’Ecole No 41 is that L’Ecole can be safely called a high mountain desert winery, with only 8” of precipitation per year. Irrigation is available, but very much controlled, forcing the vines to work hard.

The winemaking approach at the winery is very simple – let the terroir speak. Always do the same at the winery, and let Mother Nature to express itself. The winery is not trying to achieve persistent taste – and this can be easily seen in wines through the differences between the vintages. And this all works because the climate is very consistent.

We tasted through 4 sets of wines, each set containing 3 wines. Here is what I tasted with my notes.

The first set consisted of the 3 “classics” from the same 2008 vintage – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The wines were 11 years old when I tasted them, and still you can see that they were still showing substantial level tanning and potential to evolve for the next 10–20 years.

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Cherries, iodine, mint
Tart cherries, pepper, a touch of vanilla
8

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Cabernet Franc Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 33% new, 198 cases produced)
Black currant, a touch of mocha
Tart, black currant, dry, very noticeable tannins
8, Block 8 Cabernet Franc is typically used for blending, except in the best years when enough grapes are harvested, so this wine was produced in 2006 and again in 2008.

2008 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new, 188 cases produced)
Touch of sweet oak, black currant
Much more open than cab franc, but still tannins are present


The next set of wines was made with the fruit from Seven Hills Vineyard, and they all belonged to the series called Perigee – as a scientific term, Perigee is the closest point to the Earth in the Moon’s orbit. The focus of these wines is on the earthy characteristics of the Seven Hills Vineyard.

2006 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.4% ABV, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Great complexity, plums, a touch of smoke and roasted meat, fresh onion peel (sorry about that)
Sweet plums, black currant, vanilla, good acidity, dry finish
8

2011 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Closed nose
The palate is raspberry driven, good acidity, good minerality

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Fresh, bright, fresh leaves, freshly crushed berries
Vanilla, plums, mocha, young, big body, soft and velvety initially, with the tannins gripping mouth in the second wave
8

Next, we tasted the Apogee series of wines, sourced from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. Apogee is the point in the orbit of the Moon when it has the greatest distance to Earth. The focus of these wines is to showcase the ultimate expression of the fruit.

2006 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.3% ABV, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Touch of barnyard, intense, blackberries, minerality
Sapidity, onion jam, dark berries, baking spice, minerality,
8, wines are a lot more massive than previous ones

2010 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Elegant, raspberries, fresh
Round, clean, well-structured tannins, delicious
9-

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Apogee Estate Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 11% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Not ready – beautiful fruit and acidity, but tannins covering completely

And finally, the Ferguson. The vineyard built on top of the balsamic rock, so we should expect to see expressive minerality.

2011 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Smoke, gunflint, not a lot of fruit
Dark, powerful, perfectly structured, Bordeaux style, perfectly drinkable
9-

2016 L’Ecole no 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 50% new)
Young fruit, crunchy berries,
Killer tannins, lock your mouth
Not ready

2014 L’Ecole no 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Ferguson Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 months in small French oak barrels, 40% new)
Dark fruit, minerality
Touch of Black Currant, coffee, tannins are still overpowering, but you can taste the beauty of the wine. Needs at least another 10 years
8+

So what did I learn about Ferguson? These wines need time. And with time, they can be some of the best wines Washington has to offer.

As you can tell, 2011 Ferguson and 2010 Apogee were two of my most favorite wines, but really, give them time, and you will not go wrong with any of these wines. And it is interesting that all of the 2006 and 2008 can still enjoy more time in the cellar. For sure, L’Ecole makes some serious wines.

Do the experiences have expiration dates? Maybe only those which are not shared. Here, I did my part.

American Pleasures #5: Burgundy in California, or the Wonders of Pop’n’Pour

December 22, 2021 Leave a comment

Wine should give you pleasure – there is no point in drinking the wine if it does not. Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines, that were the delicious standouts – one after another, making me even wonder if someone cursed my palate. I enjoyed all of those wines so much that I decided to designate a new series to them – the American Pleasures. 

Burgundy in California. Nonsense, right? Burgundy is located in France, and the last thing you want to hear is a review of Hearty Burgundy, proudly produced by Gallo (believe it or not, but you can still buy this wine at about $9 for 1.5L – a great deal, huh?). Rest assured – Gallo is the last wine I want to ever discuss on this blog. I would like, however, to talk about Burgundy’s star grape varieties, which are also working amazingly well in California – yes, you got it – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

California produces a lot of wine (#4 in the world, with 248 million cases in 2018), using a lot of different grapes – no matter where those grapes are typically from – from Clairette Blanc to Viura to Nebbiolo to Grenache to Tempranillo, you should expect to find them all in Californian wines. Aside from all of the abundance, there are some grapes that can be called California superstars.

With the white grapes, it is easy – Chardonnay clearly steals the show. California made Chardonnay its own way back, with Chateau Montelena already proving its prowess to the whole world by winning Judgement of Paris in 1976. Chardonnay’s style changed and changed again since those early days of success, and when you are opening a bottle of California Chardonnay today, very often you don’t know what to expect – too much butter, too little butter, too much oak, no oak. Most importantly, you have no guarantees that you will enjoy that bottle.

Speaking about red grapes, ask a wine lover to name the most famous California red grape, and I’m sure 9 out of 10 will say Cabernet Sauvignon. I love California Cabernet Sauvignon as much as every one of those 9 out of 10 people. But based on my experience, the majority of the California Cabernet Sauvignon need time and time again to mellow down, to transform, to become truly enjoyable, and not just “drink the label and keep smiling” type of beverages. California Pinot Noir typically give you a lot more hope for finding the delicious Pop’n’Pour wines. And don’t forget – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay – it is the pleasure we are looking for here, so “pop, pour, drink, and ask for a second glass” is a sequence of events we are hoping for in here.

Here is a collection of the well-known wines I had the pleasure of enjoying – and have been blown away by the Pop’n’Pour quality, truly.

Domaine Anderson takes its roots from 1981, when Jean-Claude Rouzaud, patriarch of the Louis Roederer family came across Anderson Valley along the Mendocino coast in California, in search of the perfect spot to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Today, Domaine Anderson continues to be run by the Roederer family, farming organically and biodynamically 50 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards. Here are 3 wines I had an opportunity to taste which were all just a perfection from the moment they were poured into the glass:

2017 Domaine Anderson Chardonnay (13.5% ABV, $30)
Light golden
Touch of honey, a hint of smoke, minerality
Clean acidity, tart lemon, a touch of smoke, texturally present, medium-plus body, earthy underpinning.
8/8+, this wine screams Chablis to me. Superb.

2015 Domain Anderson Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.8% ABV, $39.99, 15 months in French oak barrels, 19% new)
Dark ruby
Smoke, violets, earthy notes
Nicely restrained, good minerality, a touch of tart cherries
8, delicious

2017 Domaine Anderson Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.6% ABV, $45, 15 months in French oak barrels, 8% new)
Dark Ruby
Stewed plums, smoke, earthy undertones
Plums, cherries, lavender, tar, smoke, sweet tobacco, crisp, fresh, clean acidity, excellent balance
8, nicely restrained Pinot Noir, not over the board.

Merry Edwards Winery needs no introduction to wine lovers. Bright and noticeable labels always stand out on the shelf, it is hard to miss them. Merry Edwards’s sole focus is on the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which was first produced in 1999 (vintage 1997) – but she is also well known for her Sauvignon Blanc which was first produced in 2001. In addition to the passionate pursuit of Pinot Noir, Merry Edwards is also very passionate about sustainability, which is fully embraced at the winery and in the vineyards – you can read more about sustainability philosophy here.

2017 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate Russian River Valley Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $68)
Dark Garnet
Sage, tar, coffee, eucalyptus, freshly crushed dark berries
Tart, fresh cherries, crisp acidity, bright, invigorating
8, very uncalifornian, more Italian than anything else.

Considering how widely available La Crema wines are, I always made an effort to avoid them as “mass-produced”. After I tasted the wine, I completely changed my opinion – the wines might be produced in large quantities, but these are well-made wines. Also, the winery website has lots of good and well-presented information.

2017 La Crema Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (13.5% ABV, $25)
Dark intense Ruby
Plums, fresh herbs, mineral undertones
Ripe fresh plums, mint, a touch of stewed strawberries, good acidity, good balance. Interestingly spicy finish.
8-, nice

Landmark Vineyards was founded in 1974 by a group of people that included Damaris Deere Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of John Deere. In 1991, Damaris Deere Ford, now a sole proprietor of the Landmark Vineyards, focused exclusively on the production of Chardonnay and released the first vintage of the flagship Overlook Chardonnay. In 1993, Helen Turley started working as a consulting winemaker helping to create the Landmark’s signature style. Two years later, Landmark released the first vintage of its Pinot Noir under the name of Great Detour. In 2016, Landmark Vineyards extended into the Russian River Valley via the acquisition of the Hop Kiln Estate – and this was one of the wines I had an opportunity to taste.

2018 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay Sonoma County (14.3% ABV, $27)
Light golden
Vanilla, apple, lemon
Vanilla, a touch of butter, golden delicious apples, citrus profile, roll-off-your-tongue round, excellent balance, delicious
8/8+, excellent

2017 Landmark Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands (14.3% ABV, $45, 14 months in French oak, 35% new)
Dark ruby
Plums, dirt, forest floor
Plums, cherries, tobacco, iodine, short finish, good acidity, good balance.
8-, excellent and classic

2017 Landmark Vineyards Pinot Noir Hop Kiln Vineyard Russian River Valley (14.5% ABV, $40, aged in 40% new French oak)
Intense ruby
Cherries, underbrush, the nose says Oregon with dark intensity
Tart cherries, dark chocolate, tobacco, complex bouquet
8/8+, superb.

Here are you – a collection of delicious Pop’n’Pour American Pleasures. And don’t worry, I have a lot more wines to share with you. Cheers!

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