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Daily Glass: Uncomfortable Wine

October 11, 2021 2 comments

“Uncomfortable wine”??? What utter nonsense, right? Did the author had one too many glasses while writing this post?

The wine can be spoiled. The wine can taste bad. We can call it plonk, we can pour it out. But uncomfortable?

Shoes can be uncomfortable. The dress can be uncomfortable. The shirt’s collar might be too tight. Not knowing how to start a conversation with an attractive stranger might be uncomfortable. Not knowing how to answer a live interview question for the position you dreamed of your entire life is uncomfortable. Many, many things can be uncomfortable. But wine?

When I refer to wine as an art, the typical association in my mind is painting. As an art form, I imply that there are similarities between the bottle of wine and the painting on the wall. But maybe a book would be a better art form to compare?

Reaction to painting is instantaneous – you can, of course, spend hours looking at elaborate details and discovering new elements even if you saw the painting a thousand times before – but your first impression is unlikely to change, it might only deepen as time goes on. But with the book, first we see the cover, then we start reading, and if we found the book which speaks to us, by the time we reach the second page, nobody cares about that cover anymore.

When it comes to the wine, the bottle and the label matter – until we take the first sip. If we found “our wine”, the same as 300 pages book can be obsessively consumed within a few hours, a good bottle of wine will be gone in no time. And while you will be enjoying it, most likely you wouldn’t even remember how the label looked like.

What’s with this interlude and our comfort/uncomfort discussion you ask? Don’t worry, this is all connected.

So what can be uncomfortable about wine? Actually, many things. Remember – in the wine world, it is all about perception – except the taste, the pleasure, and your desire to have a second glass – of course, if you chose to be honest with yourself. Otherwise, perception is everything. Enjoying a glass of 2 buck chuck is uncomfortable. Bringing a $5 bottle of wine to your friends’ house is uncomfortable – knowing that it is an amazing bottle of wine without any regard for a price doesn’t make it less uncomfortable. Enjoying the glass of wine while your best friend hates it is uncomfortable. And then there are labels.

Okay, call me “captain obvious”, but this is where I was leading you all the way – the label can make you uncomfortable. There are enough wines in this world that have, for example, sexually suggestive or simply offensive words or images on the label. Ever saw the bottle of If You See Kay? This is a perfect example of suggestive language on the label – the book cover – for a perfectly delicious wine produced by Jayson Woodbridge. And there are wines that don’t even use suggestive language anymore – like the Little Fuck Malbec from Cahors.

When a friend sent me a picture of this label a few days ago, my first reaction was literally WTF – how can such a label be even approved (Jayson Woodbridge had lots of trouble getting his If You See Kay label approved 9 years ago)? But as the wine was available, I decided that I would not judge the book by its cover, and actually try reading it – and so I got the bottle.

I have to say that as soon as I got a hold of the bottle my negative impressions instantly started to diminish. This is hard to explain, as I don’t know if all the oenophiles feel the same way, but there are bottles that express “comfort” with its shape, weight, and overall feel in your hands. Once you take such a bottle in your hands, you can’t help yourself but say “oh, this is nice”. This was precisely the bottle. Outside of the wine name and the image on the label, the bottle was very comfortable and really created the anticipation – “oh yeah, I do want to open that bottle”. Even the label looked well designed in its shape and size and added the overall “comfort” feeling.

The wine didn’t disappoint – 2020 Vellas Père Et Fils Little Fuck Malbec Cahors AOP (14% ABV) was unapologetically a New World Malbec – big and brooding – and in a blind tasting I would confidently place it into Argentina, but never into the old world. The wine was full of raspberries, smoke, and sweet tobacco – on the nose and on the palate. Big, full-bodied, and powerful, but also well balanced and delicious – a very unapologetic Malbec I might be ashamed to bring to the acquaintance’s house but would be happy to drink at home or with close friends.

I’m really curious about the backstory of this wine. I don’t believe the name and images are random. Nicolas Vellas is a vigneron in the 4th generation at Vignobles Vellas, farming 300 acres of vines and producing a wide range of wines in the South of France. If this would be the only wine produced at the winery, yes, we could dismiss it as a gimmick. But this is simply one of many and the only one with such a unique label, so I truly believe there is a story for this wine, which is not easy to figure out – I even sent a message to the winery asking them to share the story if they can, but I’m not very hopeful. Well, actually lots of Vignoble Vellas wines have very creative labels – you can see them here, but I don’t know if there are any more of the “uncomfortable” ones.

Here you go, my friends. Uncomfortable wine which also happened to be delicious. Yeah, I’m okay with that. I’ll take delicious any day. And comfort? It comes after delicious.

Daily Glass: For The Love Of Appassimento

October 10, 2021 3 comments

Appassimento is an Italian word that means “drying”. Thus very appropriately, appassimento is the process where after the harvest, grapes are dried for some time (from 3 weeks to 6 months) before being pressed and fermented. Now, the question to the audience: name any wine (just type, no need for producer) which is made from such dried grapes?

If you said Amarone della Valpolicella, Passito di Pantelleria, Recioto di Soave, or Recioto della Valpolicella, you can definitely give yourself a high five. While this method of wine production originated in Greece, Italy produces most of the appassimento wines in the world. Drying of the grapes increases the concentration of flavors and sugars and changes the structure of the tannins, bringing an extra layer of complexity to the wine.

While getting more complexity is great for any wine, it also comes at a cost. Drying of the grapes requires additional space, whether inside with good ventilation, or outside under the sun. There is additional time required to dry the grapes. And while drying, grapes lose moisture, thus you need to use a lot more grapes to get that same bottle of wine – no wonder Amarone is usually an expensive wine – but if you ever experienced good Amarone, or Passito, Recioto, Sfursat (Sforzato di Valtellina), Vin Santo, you know that it was well worth it.

Making wines from partially dried grapes is not limited only to Italy – I had delicious Australian Shiraz made from partially dried grapes (Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz from South Australia), Pedro Ximenez Sherry from Spain. Overall, the wines from dried grapes are produced in most of the winemaking regions – Eastern Europe, Germany, Greece, USA, and others.

The appassimento wine which I would like to bring to your attention today is produced in Italy, but it is far from common. Nero d’Avola is known to produce big, well-structured Sicilian reds. But when you take Nero d’Avola grapes from four of the areas in Sicily where Nero d’Avola is known to grow best, then you dry the bunches of the grapes for 3 weeks in fruttaia (well-ventilated rooms) and then continue to make wine, you end up with delicious, round, perfectly approachable wine in its youth.

2019 Cantine Ermes Quattro Quarti Nero d’Avola DOC Appassimento (14% ABV, 100% Nero d’Avola, 4 months in 500l oak barrels) is produced by Cantine Ermes we spoke about earlier this year – the coop of 2,355 producers, farming 26,000 acres across a number of provinces in Sicily. The wine was ready to drink from the get-go, offering beautiful dark berries medley with sweet oak, herbs, and a hint of dried fruit, exactly as one would expect when appassimento is involved – soft, layered, comforting, and dangerous – the bottle was gone very quickly, not being able to put the glass down.

This was a perfect example of the appassimento wine – yes, it didn’t have the power of Amarone, but it also didn’t need any cellaring time, offered instant gratification, and it is a lot more affordable. Definitely the wine worth seeking.

Now, what are your favorite appassimento wines – Amarone and not?

Daily Glass: While I Was Out

September 28, 2021 Leave a comment

This September probably was my worst blogging month ever. Whatever the frustrating reasons are, this is not the self-reflection blog (it is, of course, but only for wine, food, and life-related matters), so one thing we are not going to do is an analysis of that “dry period”. However, it was dry only for the words, but not for the wines, so let me share a few of the recent delicious encounters with you.

Let’s start with the 2009 Alban Vineyards Reva Estate Syrah Edna Valley (15.5% ABV), which I opened to celebrate our anniversary. Alban makes some of the very best Rhône-style wines in the USA, and this Reva Syrah didn’t disappoint – beautiful fruit on the nose with a touch of barnyard, layers of red and blue fruit on the palate with spicy, peppery underpinning. Delicious.

Next, we continue with a number of Field Recordings wines. It is no secret that I’m biased toward Field Recordings wines, ever since I discovered them more than 10 years ago (this is the only wine club I belong to). Field Recordings wines don’t cease to amaze with Andrew Jones’ talent to find one-of-a-kind vineyards to make one-of-a-kind wines.

2020 Field Recordings Domo Arigato (Mr. Ramato) Skin Contact Pinot Grigio Central Coast (12% ABV, $25, 52 barrels made)  is skin contact Pinot Grigio, made in Ramato (copper) Italian style. A beautiful complexity on the nose without going overboard, fresh fruit and herbs, clean and unctuous on the palate – when the friend stopped over, we finished the bottle without even noticing. This wine is a blend of Pinot Gris from two sites on the Central Coast, each of which spent a month on the skins and then was aged in the neutral oak barrels.

2019 Field Recordings Festa Beato Farms Vineyard El Pomar District (11.5% ABV, $25, 100% Touriga Nacional, 12 months in Neutral American oak barrels, 6 barrels produced) really surprised me. Touriga Nacional is not the grape California is known for. Also, from my experience with Portuguese wines, Touriga Nacional from the Douro definitely benefits from a long time in oak (I much prefer Douro Reserva over the regular wines), so I opened the Californian rendition without much of the expectations.

Wow. Festa actually means Party in Portuguese, and what a party it was! Wild berries on the nose – wild blueberries and wild strawberries. The same fresh, crunchy, crispy, fresh wild berries on the palate, but well supported by the medium to the full body of the wine and perfectly balanced in and out, creating one delicious mouthfeel. Another wine you can’t stop drinking once you start.

Let’s take a short break from the Field Recordings wines and let’s go visit Washington with the help of 2013 Brian Carter Cellars Byzance Red Wine Blend Columbia Valley (14% ABV, 53% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise, 3% Cinsault). I got this wine at one of the Last Bottle marathons, going strictly by the region, age, and price – never heard of the producer before. Turns out that Brian Carter had been making wines in Wahington since 1980, and he has a passion for blending – which this wine perfectly demonstrated. In my experience, 8 years is not an age for many Washington wines, so I opened the bottle not without trepidation. To my delight, the wine was simply superb – fresh cherries and blackberries on the nose, ripe cherries, mocha, and dark chocolate on the palate, soft, round, perfectly balanced, exciting, and delicious. And I didn’t need to wait for it even for a second. Pop, pour, enjoy. This is the wine that brings an instant regret with the first sip – why, why I didn’t buy a full case??

This next wine I want to talk about might surprise you, and this is something I very rarely discuss in this blog – it is Sake I want to share with you. As we planned to have sushi for dinner, the family requested sake to drink with it. I stopped at the wine store on my way to pick up sushi, and this Hananomai Sake Jun-Mai-Ginjo (15%-16% ABV) was recommended. What a great recommendation it was! I almost got the point of regretting buying only one bottle, as everyone couldn’t stop drinking it – nicely perfumed, light fruit notes on the palate, delicate and balanced – it perfectly complemented our eclectic selection of the sushi rolls.

And now, back to Field Recordings.

2018 Field Recordings Happy Accident Alicante Bouschet Vignoble Guillaume Jean Paso Robles (11.1% ABV, 10 months in stainless steel, 5 barrels produced) is another atypical California wine – made from the Alicante Bouchet grape. This is one of the few so-called teinturier grapes – red grapes which have not only red skin but also red flesh, thus producing red juice when pressed, without the need for skin contact (famous Georgian Saperavi is another example of the teinturier grape). Alicante Bouschet is a cross between Petit Bouschet and Grenache, and it was widely planted in California during Prohibition and lately increasingly planted in France, as well as in Spain and Portugal. The name of the wine has its own story, which I simply quote from the description I got with the wine club offering email: “Many things can go sideways in the cellar as we are ushering the fermentation along. In most wineries, a surprise visit from brettanomyces to your cellar could be a curse, but in this situation we are celebrating it. The funky wild yeast that is popular in the beer world brings out a signature funk. This signature funk, though, took 5 barrels of Alicante to another level.  As a famous painter once said, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents.

The wine offered an inviting nose of the fresh berries, continuing with tart, the dry mouthfeel of red and black fruit, and medium to full body. I think this wine would well benefit from another 3–4 years in the cellar, but it was quite enjoyable as is right now.

And that concludes our daily glass ride – hope you had some tasty wine discoveries lately!

While In Texas …

August 27, 2021 3 comments

August was an eventful month – two trips back to back, something I didn’t experience in the past 18 months.

After a trip to Oregon to attend the Wine Media Conference and visit some of the wineries in Willamette Valley, I spent two days at home and got on the plane again, this time to attend a work event in San Antonio in Texas. This was a short but quite intense 4 days trip, so I really didn’t plan to look specifically for any local wines as I like doing during any of my trips. Until I walked into the Riverwalk Wine and Spirits.

You see, I was only looking for sparkling water, as this is what I prefer to drink, so buying wine was not a part of the plan (who am I kidding). But being in Texas, I had to look at the shelf with the local wines – located, as one would expect, in the far corner of the store. What do you think happened next? Of course… I love Marsanne and Roussanne wines, and the bottles were simply looking at me saying “yeah, we know you want us…”. I grabbed the bottle of Becker Claret to keep the whites company, and we happily left together.

I’m familiar with Becker wines, had them a few times before – they also have quite memorable labels. But I don’t believe I ever tasted any wines from Lost Draw Cellars, so let’s talk about them first.

Lost Draw Cellars traces its origin to 1936 as a family business. The grapes were planted on the Lost Draw Vineyard site in 2005, and in 2012, Lost Draw Cellars bottled its first vintage. Today, Lost Draw Cellars produces a wide range of wines, focusing primarily on the Mediterranean varieties growing on the number of vineyards in Texas High Planes AVA – Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and many others.

The two white wines I tried were, in a word, excellent.

2017 Lost Draw Cellars Roussanne La Pradera Vineyard Texas High Plains (13.2% ABV, $14.99)
Golden color
A touch of tropical fruit and gunflint, herbal notes
Fresh, round, lemon notes, complex, great acidity, good balance, good minerality
8, I would drink this wine any day

2018 Lost Draw Cellars Marsanne Timmons Estate Vineyard Texas High Plains (13.2% ABV, $14.99)
Light Golden
Butter, vanilla, nose reminiscent of Chardonnay
Vanilla, pronounced honey note, round, plump, creamy, good acidity, good balance
8+, superb.

The story of Becker Vineyards started when the Becker family decided to look for the log cabin to make it into a country getaway. They found their perfect cabin in 1990, along with 46 acres of land. Owning the vineyard was a long-time dream, so the first vines were planted in 1992, following by the first harvest in 1995. That humble beginning today became a 100,000 cases operation with numerous honors and accolades – for example, Becker wines were served at the White House on 7 different occasions.

I have to honestly say that I was very happy with my choice of red wine at the store – after the first sip, it was hard to wipe the smile off my face:

2015 Becker Vineyards Claret Les Trois Dames Texas (14.1% ABV, $14.99, 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 12% Petite Verdot, 10% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc)
Garnet
Coffee, mocha, cassis, bell pepper
Cassis, bell pepper, eucalyptus, good acidity, soft tannins, perfect balance
9-, spectacular. Just pure pleasure in every sip. The wine is at its peak and it is an absolutely delicious rendition of classic French claret.

This was my second time tasting Becker Claret – the first time I had it in 2011 at Vino Volo at the airport. It was a 2009 vintage, thus I was tasting 2 years old wine. This time, it was a 6-year-old wine, and it definitely shined to its fullest.

That is my short story of finding delicious wines in Texas (at a great price too). Texas Hill County was one of the suggested locations for the next Wine Media Conference 2022 – for once, I would be absolutely ecstatic if that would be an actual choice – I would just need to bring a few of the wine suitcases with me…

We are done talking about wine, but there is something else I want to share with you. While in San Antonio, I stayed at Marriott Riverwalk hotel, in a room with a beautiful city view. Yes, it means pictures – I want to share with you that city view, taken at different times – together with a few flowers.

And now we are done. If you will be visiting Texas, make sure to drink Texan wines – you don’t even need to thank me.

 

Made With Organic Grapes: Domaine Bousquet

August 3, 2021 Leave a comment

Today we will be talking about two subjects we already discussed in the past. The first subject is the wines made from organic grapes. Organic grapes are becoming more and more available, and winemakers around the world are more eager to use organic grapes in winemaking, especially as wine consumers happily embrace the trend.

The second subject is the wines of Domaine Bousquet in Argentina. Last time we talked about unpretentious and delicious Domaine Bousquet bubbles, sparkling wines well suitable for every day. Today we want to continue that conversation and talk about few more wines.

The organic viticulture is fair and square a centerpiece of Domaine Bousquet winemaking. The picture below perfectly summarizes it – these are all the certifications that the domain already has:

Source: Domaine Bousquet website

Organic viticulture is only a stepping stone for Domaine Bousquet – the goal is to convert to biodynamic farming in 2021/2022, which is not an easy task, considering the sheer size of Domaine Bousquet’s vineyards (more than 500 acres) and the fact that biodynamic viticulture is 30% more labor-intense compared with traditional methods, and 15% more intense than sustainable. But once you get on this road, there is no turning back.

Organic/sustainable/biodynamic is an important part, but still only a part of the story. The terroir is essential, and it is a classic combination of the soil and climate which contributes to the quality of the Domaine Bousquet wines. Many of the Domain Bousquet vineyards are located in the Gualtallary region of Uco Valley, at an altitude of about 4,200 feet. The high altitude by itself doesn’t guarantee the quality of the wines, but it helps. Domaine’s vineyards are located on the patches of sandy soils, which are great for the vines as they limit the spread of the disease, provide good drainage and force the vines to work hard to get to the water.

Gaultallary offers a desert-like climate, with constant winds blowing for the Andes, and less than 8 inches of rain being total precipitation for the year. In such conditions, it is important that Domaine Bousquet vineyards are located in areas with access to the ground water – not everybody in the Gaultallary is that lucky. And then there are Zonda winds (Zonda in local dialect means “The Witch’s Wind”, which are showing up in the spring, and they are dry (relative humidity of 0), strong, and unpredictable – but they help to reduce the crop size and concentrate the flavor.

Domaine Bousquet produces about 10 different lines of wines. I was able to taste wine belonging to the 4 different lines (samples). Below are my notes.

First, 2 wines from the Premium selection:

2021 Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc Tupungato Uco Valley (12.5% ABV, $13)
Straw pale
Ultimately inviting nose, a touch of fresh grass, lemon, uplifting intensity.
Crisp, clean, lemony, grassy, tart, fresh, pure delight.
8+, perfect, delicious.

2019 Domaine Bosquet Cabernet Sauvignon Tupungato Uco Valley Mendoza (14% ABV, $13, no oak – unusual)
Dark Ruby
A touch of bell pepper, dark berries, medium-plus intensity
Bell pepper, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, good energy, good balance
8-/8, easy to drink. And I have to say that unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon is mind-boggling.

Next were two wines form the Reserve line:

2019 Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley (14.5% ABV, $18)
Straw pale
Vanilla, a hint of butter, inviting, generous
Crisp, vibrant, a touch of butter and vanilla, tightly weaves around the citrus core. Excellent balance, delicious.
8+, superb. If this wine can age, it might be amazing, if this bright acidity will evolve into the honey note as it works with the best Chardonnays.

2019 Domaine Bousquet Pinot Noir Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley (14.5% ABV, $18, 6-8 months in French oak)
Dark ruby
Not very expressive, a hint of tart cherries
Tart cherries, bright acidity, crisp, tart
7/7+, not my wine, but should be okay as food wine or for those who like austere, bone-dry wines.

Next was the wine from the Gaia line – the wines dedicated to the goddess of Earth, Gaia, sporting a very attractive label. This is the second time I was able to taste the wine from the Gaia line – the first was Gaia Rosé, which was excellent.

2019 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc Gualtallary Vineyards (15% ABV, $20, 8-10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
A touch of barnyard, earthy notes, dark berries
Dark fruit, explicit minerality, a distant hint of bell pepper, mint, dense, good structure
8-, not the most striking Cab Franc, but interesting on its own

And the last one for today – the wine from the Gran series:

2018 Domaine Bousquet Gran-Malbec Valley de Uco (14.5% ABV, $25, 85% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black with purple hues
Dark fruit, eucalyptus, cassis, intense, powerful
Beautiful fruit on the palate, firm structure, big, brooding, perfectly balanced
8+, outstanding

Here you are, my friends – more organic wines you can choose from. As an added bonus, with Domaine Bousquet, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy delicious organic wines any time you want. Cheers!

United In Ink

July 26, 2021 Leave a comment

How about some ink, friends?

Does it sound strange?

In my wine vocabulary, wine is wine. I’ve heard people sometimes referring to wine as “juice” – if this term is used by the winemaker, they definitely have a pass – for the average wine consumers, it sounds a bit disrespectful. But that’s not the point here.

So it appears that the wine can be also referred to as “ink”. I only know of “Ink of Toro”, a different name for the Tempranillo growing in the Toro region in Spain, but otherwise, I never heard this term in conjunction with wine – until now.

When I’m offered the wine for the review, there is always the decision process involved – where the wine is from, do I expect to like it, would I be able to write about it, do I like the label. Labels, yes, let’s talk about labels.

When I got an offer to review new series of wines from Mack and Schuhle called United Ink, the first thing which caught my eye was the labels, cool-looking labels. After reading that wines are from the Pacific Northwest, the region I well respect, and having a previous positive experience with Mack and Schuhle wines, I quickly agreed to taste the wines.

If you look at the labels carefully, it is not only the majestic creatures you can observe – each label also features a variety of stamps:

I tried to find explanations for the label design on the Mack and Schuhle website, but there was nothing offered, so I reached out to the PR agency and got the following answers to my questions:

  • Why United Ink? What is the story/significance/idea behind this name?

The brand concept has to do with championing American viticulture and incorporating symbols including stars, traditional American tattoo art, and the idea of ink as a metaphor for wine

  • Freedom to Choose is written on all labels – what is the idea of this statement?

Freedom to choose great wines instead of the everyday, homogenized, manufactured wines at the everyday price points, not having to pay big $$ for wines of similar quality

  • “Hand made” stamp – any story behind it?

Hand crafted and blended by our winemakers Joe Dobbes and David Forsyth who are well respected in their regions

  • “Guaranteed” mark/stamp attached to all the labels – any reasons for that? The idea behind it?

Guaranteed quality and authenticity is our cornerstone. We used a union stamp to express this contract with our customers/consumers.

The wines themselves were rather an enigma, akin to their mythical counterparts on the labels. With the exception of Riesling which was tasty from the get-go, the three reds didn’t show well initially – to the point of me having doubts if I would be able to write a post about the wines (remember – I don’t write negative reviews). I shared my concerns with the PR agency and got an answer that the wholesaler mentioned that it seems that screw caps somehow play a negative role, causing the wines to dumb down for a few days. This is exactly what happened as you can see from my tasting notes:

2020 United Ink Riesling Columbia Valley (12% ABV, $12)
Straw pale
Intense nose of white peach, white plums, and honey
Tropical fruit, guava, ripe white plums, honey undertone, fresh, good acidity, well balanced.
7+/8-, it appears sweeter than one might want from Riesling, but good balance definitely helps. Should be great with tangy cheese. Excellent with Comte (complements). Excellent with Manchego.
8 over the next 3 days – good balance and lots of pleasure.

2019 United Ink Red Blend Columbia Valley (14.1% ABV, $18, 60% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cherries, a touch of sapidity, black plums
Tart, tart cherries, nutmeg, salinity, good acidity on the finish, forest underbrush – an unusual expression. Spicy long finish with mouthwatering acidity.
7+, needs time. Was better on the second day.
8-/8 on the 3rd day – astringency disappeared from the finish, the wine became a lot more balanced.

2019 United Ink Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley (14.1% ABV, $18, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cinnamon, vanilla, sweet tobacco
Sweet tobacco, espresso, and dark chocolate on the palate, blackberries with undertones of the roasted meat. Unusual.
7+ initially
8- on the third day, a hint of cassis, improved balance.

2019 United Ink Pinot Noir Oregon (13% ABV, $22)
Dark Ruby
Plums, anise, a hint of smoke
Plums, smoke, light, appears under-extracted on the first day. A clear cigar profile on the finish.
7+ on the first day – need to see how the wine will evolve.
8 on the day 3 – violets joined plums with a touch of smoke and vanilla, round, well balanced, delicious

Here you are, my friends – the Ink of Pacific Northwest, for your imbibing pleasure. I’m happy the wines came around. If you will come across these wines, remember to decant them for at least 3-4 hours before drinking. Cheers!

Beyond ABC – Wines of Southern Italy

July 7, 2021 Leave a comment

Source: Sud Top Wine

I know, ABC is a loaded acronym. Outside of all the proper uses, it is “Anything But C…”, like it would be in Anything But Chardonnay sentiment. Today, however, let’s give Chardonnay a break, this is not the angle I would like to pursue. ABC here is just a homemade abbreviation, and it simply identifies some of the best-known Italian wines – those which everyone wants to drink.

I’m sure you can decipher this acronym with ease. A in Italian wines would stand for … Amarone, of course! Amarone is one of the most coveted Italian wines, and the best Amarone wines have simply a legendary following.

B is even easier than A. B should be really upgraded, as it is not just B, but rather BBB – Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello. Some of the most thought-after wines from Piedmont and Tuscany.

And C, of course, is as straightforward as it gets – I know you got it already. Yes, C stands for Chianti, possibly the most famous Italian wine out there.

But today we are leaving our ABCs alone, and traveling down to the Southern part of Italy, hoping to discover some of the local wine treasures. To assist in our quest, we will enlist the help of the Sud Top Wine competition, organized by the Italian food and wine publication Cronachedigusto.it.

Sud Top Wine competition is in its second year, and it covers the wines produced in the Southern regions of Sicily, Sardinia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, and Apulia. It is not only the climate that makes Southern regions unique, it is also the grapes that are typically not grown anywhere else in Italy (every rule has an exception, but this is not important at the moment). When it comes to the white grapes, you should expect to find Grillo, Greco di Tufo, Catarratto, Vermentino. For the reds, we are talking about Aglianico, Nero d’Avola, Nerello Moscalese, Primitivo, Cannonau (a.k.a. Grenache).

I had an opportunity to taste some of the top awarded wines (samples) from the 2020 competition, so below are my notes:

2018 Cantine Terranera Greco di Tufo DOCG (13% ABV, Sud Top Wine 2020 1st Place)
Light Golden
Whitestone fruit, a touch of honeysuckle
A touch of sweetness, good acidity, nice depth and structure, lemon notes with a hint of candied lemon, excellent balance
8, excellent white wine

2017 Pietre a Purtedda da Ginestra Centopassi Rosso Sicilia DOC (14% ABV, Nerello Moscalese, bio certified, Sud Top Wine 2020 Winner)
Bright ruby
Fresh cherries
Tart cherries, fresh, crisp, succulent, medium body, medium finish, nicely present tannins
8-

2014 Chiano Conti Rosso Faro DOC (13.5% ABV, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio, Nero d’Avola, Nocera, Sud Top Wine 2020 1st Place)
Red currant, herbs, earthiness, tobacco
Tart cherries, underbrush, light and earthy
7+, it’s okay, not exactly my style

2016 Quartomoro VRM Memorie di Vite Vermentino di Sardegna DOC (13.5% ABV, Sud Top Wine 2020 Winner)
Light Golden
Intense nose with gunflint, white stone fruit, a touch of vanilla
Beautiful, full-bodied, plump, round, white plums, Meyer lemon, good acidity, good balance
8, delicious.

2019 Baguio del Cristo di Campobello Lalùci Grillo Sicilia DOC (13.5% ABV, Sud Top Wine 2020 Winner)
Straw pale
Complex nose of granite, gunflint, whitestone fruit
Crisp, fresh, a touch of gunflint, fresh lemony acidity, delicious
8+, superb

As you can tell, I really preferred the whites over the reds – but your experience might be different. If you will come across any of these wines, give them a try – you might be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!

Made With Organic Grapes: Find Your Ritual

June 9, 2021 Leave a comment

The world of wine is full of eternal questions. Here is one of the most prolific ones: where is the wine made – in the vineyard or at the winery?

Many would argue that, of course, the wine is made in the vineyard. To make good wine you have to start with good grapes. You need good, healthy, properly ripened grapes to make good wine. “Good grapes” might seem obvious as a concept, but it actually entails a lot of hard work, love, and care, from the moment the first bud will appear on the vine (and even before that) until the moment when harvested grapes are reaching the winery. “Good grapes” are not defined by the taste alone – it is important how the grapes were growing, were any pesticides used, were all the methods organic, or better yet, sustainable? “Good grapes” for sure means a lot of work.

Then some might argue that no matter how good the grapes are if the winemaker will not take good care of the grapes from the moment grapes arrived at the winery, the good grapes will not result in good wine. How the grapes were manipulated from the very beginning – sorting, cleaning, de-stemming, pressing, fermenting, aging, storing – each of these steps has to be performed properly, as even the very best grapes will not convert themselves into the good wine.

Source: Ritual Winery

Source: Ritual Winery

The folks at Ritual winery in Chile clearly don’t want to answer this eternal question. Or rather their answer is “both”. Estate vineyards in the eastern part of the Casablanca Valley in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean are surrounded by 6,000 acres of the native forest, creating a unique biome. All the vineyards are certified organic. Estate uses its own compost, made out of the pomace and manure of the local animals. Sheep help mow the grass and fertilize the vines.

The grapes are hand-harvested early in the cool morning at the first sunlight. After sorting, the grapes are fermented in the open-top tanks, using basket press and native yeast. To achieve desired characteristics, 4 different vessels are used for the aging of the wines: Oak Barrels to enhance the structure, Concrete eggs for the texture, Stainless steel Drums elevate freshness, and Stainless steel Tanks help with aromatics.

Below are my tasting notes, where you can also see all the different vessels used to produce particular wines:

2018 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (14% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, 8 months in stainless steel, concrete eggs and neutral barrels)
Light golden
Very complex, white stone fruit, good minerality, fresh herbs
Round and velvety, creamy texture, a hint of vanilla, even butter, nice lemon core, clean and crisp finish
8+/9-, outstanding. A different and delicious Sauvignon Blanc. Borderline a Chardonnay experience.

2019 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, fermented and aged for 8 months in concrete eggs, neutral oak, and stainless steel)
Light golden color
The nose is not very expressive, minerality, a hint of whitestone fruit
On the palate, a full spectrum, changing as the wine warms up – starting from steely Muscadet-like acidity, adding a bit of the creaminess after a few minutes in the glass, and then showing Chardonnay-like fuller-bodied notes and expressive minerality.
8/8+, Delicious

2018 Ritual Chardonnay Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $20.99, aged in concrete eggs and French oak barrels)
Light Golden
Characteristic touch of vanilla and apple on the palate, a whiff of honey
Vanilla, apple, a hint of butter in the palate, perfect balance, crisp acidity, wow, a superb rendition of Chardonnay. Give it 5–10 years, and it will rival the white burgundy.
8, Outstanding

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $21.99, aged 11 months in French oak barrels)
Dark Ruby
The dusty nose of fresh plums with a touch of vanilla
Plums, violets, a touch of mocha, good acidity, fresh, excellent balance
8+, delicious from the get-go

Tasting Ritual wines will not help us to find an answer to our eternal question – these wines are clearly made both in the vineyard and at the winery. Have you tried any of these wines? If you did, I guess you already found your Ritual, if not – well, here is your chance.

Made With Organic Grapes: Viñedos Veramonte

May 14, 2021 2 comments

“Made with organic grapes”. If you see these words on the wine label, are you more inclined to buy it, less inclined, or indifferent? Are you willing to pay more for the organic bottle of wine, as we accustomed now for the meat and produce?

Organic production implies that no synthetic pesticides, fungicides, insecticides were used in farming. It doesn’t mean that no pesticides etc. were used at all – it only bans the use of synthetics, and natural pesticides, etc. can still be used. Truth be told, organic doesn’t automatically mean better for consumers or the environment – even natural pesticides can have bad consequences – you can learn more in this excellent in-depth article.

When talking about organic wines, we need to keep in mind that “organic” is only a part of the story of the “better wines”. Sustainable viticulture, which doesn’t always overlap with organic, and then biodynamics, which again may or may not intersect with the other two, are important to take into account when talking about wines that are better for humans and the environment. Though considering the title – made with organic grapes – let’s stick to that part of the story.

How to convey the organic farming concept in one picture. Source: Viñedos Veramonte

I remember the early days of seeing “organic” on the wine labels. Most of the organic wines I tasted 10-15 years ago were undrinkable. The “Organic” label is a big selling factor in itself, and I can only assume that some of the winemakers decided that good tasting wine is not a necessity if the wine is labeled as organic (I will refrain from putting names on the table, even though it is difficult to resist the urge). Even today, when “organic” designation is not just a marketing gimmick (in most of the cases), wine consumers seek first familiar producers, grapes, and region – the “organic” designation comes to a play only after all other requirements had been satisfied, as a “nice to have”. Of course, in the world of wine, most of the concepts are multidimensional, so I don’t want to oversimplify the “organic wine” – it goes well beyond of choice of pesticides and fertilizers, it also includes “no added sulfites” and other factors – but then again this is not the organic wine 101 post, so let’s leave this discussion for some other time too.

Lately, I tasted quite a few of the organic wines and was pleasantly surprised not only with the taste but also with the QPR (Quality Price Ratio) – while labeled “organic”, most of the wines didn’t command the premiums on the scale of organic apples or meat, and thus offer a great QPR. Here I want to share with you my encounter with delicious organic wines suitable for any budget. Let’s talk about it.

Source: Viñedos Veramonte

Agustin Huneeus, a Chilean wine pioneer, planted 100 acres of Sauvignon Blanc in the northern part of Casablanca valley in the late 1980s. In 1990, he founded Viñedos Veramonte, which became one of the first wineries in the region. From the moment the winery was found, the focus was on growing grapes in harmony with nature. After 6 years of hard work, in 2019, the winery obtained ECOCERT®organic certification, one of the most respected in the world. The project involved the conversion of more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Casablanca and Colchagua valleys to organic and biodynamic farming, with the aim to also become fully Demeter’s biodynamic certified. The organic practices don’t stop at the vineyard – natural yeast and low intervention methods are used to produce the wine.

Can you taste all this care and attention in the glass? I think you can. I had the pleasure of trying a number of Veramonte wines (samples), and I think they were consistently delicious while offering an unbeatable QPR – see for yourself:

2019 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $11.99, Vegan, organic grapes)
Straw pale
Distant hint of Whitestone fruit, a touch of cassis
Crisp, fresh, creamy, lemon notes, a touch of herbs – excellent
8/8-, perfect for summer, perfect for winter.

2020 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $11.99, organic grapes)
Straw pale color
Touch of freshly cut grass, cat pee, medium+ intensity
Creamy and balanced on the palate, lemony acidity, freshly cut grass, elegant, restrained.
8/8+, outstanding.

2018 Veramonte Pinot Noir Reserva Casablanca Valley (14.5% ABV, $12.99, 8 months in oak, organic grapes)
Pale Ruby color
Touch of smoke, earthy undertones, classic Pinot
After about an hour – plums, earthy, medium body, well present sapidity, good acidity, good balance
8-, nicely drinkable

2018 Veramonte Carménere Reserva Casablanca Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, organic grapes)
Dark garnet, practically black.
Mint, black currant leaves
Black currant, coffee, very focused, good acidity, the wine shows tight, like a spring ready to snap.
8-, herbal notes are prevalent. Will see how it will be on the second day.
Second day- very concentrated, espresso, cherry pit. Good balance, but asking for the food to pair.

2019 Veramonte Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $11.99, 8 months in French oak, organic grapes)
Dark garnet
Cassis, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis and bell pepper on the palate, good balance, good acidity, medium body.
8, very enjoyable.

When it comes to organic wines, Viñedos Veramonte delivers wines you can drink every day and feel good about yourself, nature, and your wallet. Isn’t that a great combo?

What do you think of organic wines? Do you actually seek them out? Do you have any favorites?

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!

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