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Precision of Flavors – Tasting the Wines of Achaval-Ferrer

March 26, 2017 4 comments

Achaval Ferrer CorkDrinking wine is a pleasure – for sure it should be, and if you don’t feel like it, maybe you shouldn’t drink it at all. At the same time, there are multiple ways to look at one and the same thing.

A pleasure of drinking of the glass of wine may be just as it sounds, very simple  – take a sip of the liquid in the glass, say “ahh, it tastes good”, and continue to the next sip or with the conversation, whatever entices you the most at the moment.

Then there are many of us, wine lovers, who, professionally or unprofessionally, can’t stop just at that. Yes, we take pleasure in every sip, but then we need to dig in. We feel compelled to put on the Sherlock Holmes hat and play the wine sleuth, figuring out exactly what we are tasting in that very sip. What was that flavor? Was that a raspberry? Hmmm, maybe not. And that whiff of something? It is so familiar! Why can’t I put a name on it? Grrrr.

Everyone who engaged in that wine tasting exercise I’m sure can relate to what I’m saying. But every once in a while, we do get a break, when the flavor simply jumps at you, pristine and obvious. And the best twist here is when the flavor is matching to what is expected to find in the wine, like fresh cut grass in Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Cabernet Sauvignon, or pepper in Syrah – don’t we love those pure and precise flavors?

Achaval-Ferrer winery is only about 20 years old, built on the passion and vision of a group of friends in Mendoza, Argentina. In those 20 years, Achaval-Ferrer accomplishments are nothing short of enviable. Achaval-Ferrer wines earned multiple Decanter magazine 5-star ratings (the highest). There are 29 wines from Argentina rated as “Classic” by Wine Spectator (95-100 ratings) – 13 out of those 29 wines are Achaval-Ferrer wines; the flagship Malbec Finca Altamira consistently getting 96 points rating year after year.

In addition to passion, vision, hard work and perseverance, the success foundation of Achaval-Ferrer is its high altitude vineyards, located from 700 to 1100 meters above sea level (2,300 – 3,600 ft). Three out of four main vineyards of Achaval-Ferrer are also about 100 years old, and boast pre-phylloxera vines, as Phylloxera simply can’t survive in those high mountains conditions. Now all left to do is to take the beautiful fruit those vineyards produce and make it into equally beautiful wines – the Achaval-Ferrer does it quite successfully.

Here is what triggered my “precision of flavors”  opening. I had an opportunity to taste a sample of Achaval-Ferrer wines recently, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. While Malbec was a very good wine, but clearly needed time to mature, Cabernet Sauvignon was stunning, with flavors and aromas just jumping at your right away from the glass, with easy to relate to, textbook-correct cassis – also intensifying its purity with the time. This was a perfect example of why Argentinian wines are so popular and deserving of all your attention. And at a price of $24.99, the Cabernet Sauvignon offer an outstanding QPR, easily beating many classic Napa Cabs which would also cost you at least three times as much.

Here are my detailed notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: very intense, dark roasted fruit, cassis. The roasted fruit intensity diminishes as the wine breathes.
P: beautiful cassis, clean acidity, soft tannins, lots of layers. As the wine breathes, the tannins show better and more pronounced. Pure clean black currant after a day.
V: 8+, outstanding, wow. Will evolve.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Malbec)
C: practically black
N: roasted meat, smoke, tar, intense, baking spices
P: dark fruit, bright acidity, mint, alcohol burn in the back?, succulent, lavender, spicy. Blueberries showed up on the second day.
V: 8,  needs time, but perfectly delicious on the second day.

Here you are, my friends. Achaval-Ferrer definitely makes wines worthy of oenophile’s attention – and the QPR makes these wines worth seeking. Cheers!

 

Top Twelve of 2016

December 31, 2016 8 comments

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

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

Here we go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cesari bosan Amarone

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

sir winston churchill champagne

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

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

 

Top Wines of 2016 – Second Dozen

December 30, 2016 2 comments

Here we are again – another year is about to become a history, which means it is time for one of my favorite wine aficionado exercises – reliving the best wine moments of the year to create the list of Top Dozen wines of 2016.

Ever since this blog started back in 2010, Top Dozen list was always a feature – here are the links for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Many years I couldn’t even limit myself to one dozen, thus some of the years had two dozens of top wines. It seems that 2016 is one of those years – so I’m really trying hard to stay within that two cases limit (how many of you were successful with limiting yourself at the wine store, raise your hands, please), will see where I will end up.

The way these Top Dozen lists are built is simple. These are the most memorable wines I had throughout the year. As I was preparing for this post, I looked at some of the wines in the past Top Dozen posts and had an immediate “ahh, I remember that…” emotions. Wine creates emotional connections, wine creates and enhances memories – this is what makes the wines “top list”-worthy.

I always try to present the wines randomly – and I’m reasonably successful, with the exception of the wine #1 – that wine is always the most memorable wine of the entire year, and sometimes that internal deliberation takes a while to complete.

I wrote about some of these wines during the year – some, but not all. If there is already a post about the wine in this Top list, the link to such post will be included. I also include the pricing information where available, but not any of the technical details of the wines or my ratings – the idea is to focus on what made those wines memorable.

Without further ado, here we go:

24. 2013 Domaine de la Vallée du Bras OMERTO Vin Apéritif de Tomate Moelleux Québec ($20) – the tomato wine? Yes, please, any time! This was a delicious treat which nobody could believe can be made out of tomatoes. As you can see , this wine has the vintage designation, so it would be fun to taste a flight and try to pickup the differences. In any case, the wine is reminiscent of a nice Riesling or a Muscat, slightly off-dry style. Try it for yourself!

23. 2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina ($25) – sexy is the word. Layered, seductive, silky smooth. Not sure will get you laid, but worth a try!

22. NV Champagne Emile Leclère Cuvèe Du Bicentenaire ($26) – growers champagne at that price? Thank you WTSO! Toasty, rich, voluptuous – lots of delicious Champagne pleasure in every sip.

21. 2016 Field Recordings Nouveau California ($20?) – It is a rare treat to drink the wine that young and that delicious. Outside of the name, there is nothing really “Nouveau” about this wine – it has enough restrain, but still delivers plenty of succulent, balanced fruit with classic California Pinot Noir flair. Would love to get more of this wine, but I think it was a rare treat for the club members – thank you, Andrew Jones.

 

20. 2011 Masciarelli Marina Cvetić Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva ($28) – “rich and opulent” – describes this wine completely. Dense, smooth, texturally present – drinking this wine is truly a decadent experience.

19. 2014 Maeli Fior d’Arancio DOCG Sweet ($27) – this was a perfect starter to the memorable lunch with Gianluca Bisol. While sweet, the wine was effervescent, elusive and seductive. It would be equally perfect at the end of the meal – albeit if you will be able to find it.

18. 1998 Mauritson Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley California ($31) – love surprises! This was clearly an odd bottle in a tiny liquor shop in Florida, I’m sure forgotten there by some accident. The wine, however, was spectacular – lots of mature fruit, enough freshness and acidity, an abundant pleasure in every sip. Yum!

17. 2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato Venezia Giulia IGT ($18) – it is hard to believe the conversion of somewhat pedestrian Pinot Grigio left in the contact with the skin for 24 hours – onion peel, sapidity, intrigue – definitely the next level of enjoyment.

16. 2013 Borra Vineyards Heritage Field Blend Lodi ($25) – if you love smoke and tar in the wine as much as I do, this is your wine. Spectacular depth, tobacco, tar, dark fruit – this is how delicious power tastes like. I’m so glad about my discovery of the Lodi wines in 2016 – this wine is a great example of what Lodi is capable of.

15. 2015 Henri Cruchon Nihilo La Côte AOC Switzerland (25,00 CHF) – ahh, fresh crunchy fruit, live, succulent, delicious – organic, biodynamic, pure – the wine I would be happy to drink every day.

14. 2013 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain ($30) – if you want summer in the glass, this wine might be it. Perfect balance of fresh fruit and grass, sprinkled with lemon zest. Refreshing and delicious.

13. 1998 Patrick Lesec Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes ($NA) – the barnyard hint on the nose is often polarizing for the oenophiles, but I’m squarely in the “love it!” camp. Add to that touch of barnyard smoke and ripe plums, and you will get a delicious, mature adult beverage. Judging by the wine like this, I need to drink Burgundy way more often (I wish I could). 

This was not easy, but we are done for now. Cheers!

To be continued…

 

Celebrate with Ferrari!

December 29, 2016 5 comments

Would anyone argue that holidays are better with Ferrari? Both of eponymous Italian hallmarks of quality would greatly enhance one’s holiday, but one of them – the car  – is a bit less accessible to the general populace, so let’s talk about the one which is – sparkling wine from a beautiful region in the Italian Alps – Trento.

More than 100 years ago, Guido Ferrari recognized the potential of the green slopes to grow world-class Chardonnay. While Chardonnay is an undisputed star of the still white wine, its swan song might be delivered best with the bubbles. Champagne comes only from Champagne, but Méthode Champenoise is successfully used around the world to produce sparkling wines easily rivaling Champagne in quality.

This is what Guido Ferrari set out to do in 1902 – produce world-class sparkling wines – the task which he completed successfully. As Guido Ferrari had no direct heirs, in 1952 he sold the winery and vineyards to the Bruno Lunelli, a friend and wine merchant. Now in the third generation, Lunelli family proudly continues Ferrari traditions into the 21st century.

Earlier in the year, I had a virtual conversation with Marcello Lunelli, a winemaker at the Ferrari winery – you can find that post here. Then during summer I had an opportunity to meet, talk to and taste the wines together with Camilla Lunelli, Managing Partner at Ferrari, who visited New York on the occasion of attending The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony, where Ferrari was sponsoring The Art of Hospitality Award (it went to Madison Eleven restaurant in New York city). As we combined conversation with the tasting of the wines, I want to share here my brief notes about both the winery and the wines we tasted.

Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari wines

Today Ferrari is producing about 2 million bottles per year. They are working in close cooperation with the network of 500 growers and employ 8 agronomists who work literally around the clock to ensure the quality of the grapes. All Ferrari vineyards are certified organic, which is something not to be taken lightly – think about the work required to convince 500 growers to change their ways, to adapt Best Practices developed by Ferrari and get certified (it took most of the growers between 3 and 5 years to change). Talking about the vineyards, an interesting side note: Trento is a mountainous region, and all Ferrari vineyards are located on the slopes which provide for large temperature shifts between day and night, which is significant for the development of the Chardonnay grapes.

Italy is the biggest market for Ferrari sparkling wines. However, when I asked which market is the next big one after Italy, I got a surprising answer – it is Japan! (Yeah, I knew it is not the US, as Ferrari wines are hard to find in the US stores).

I also asked what would be an interesting food pairing for the Ferrari sparklers, and Camilla recommended Rosé sparkling wine with Pizza (yes, I can see it) and then bubbles with the BBQ, which is something I will need to try.

Okay, let’s get to the wines now, shall we?

NV Ferrari Brut Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $25, 100% Chardonnay) – Delicious. Perfect acidity, lightly yeasty, refreshing, clear acidic finish.

2007 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – complex nose, minerality, complex palate with musk undertones, full bodied and refreshing

2009 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – we didn’t taste this wine with Camilla – I recently got a sample of 2009, so it was a good opportunity to include it here. On the nose, fine fizz, mostly closed nose with just a touch of an apple. The palate showed toasted bread notes, restrained, good acidity, tart, very clean and austere. Perfectly reminiscent of a good Champagne, however, too astringent for my personal enjoyment. I would definitely prefer 2007.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Rosé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $59, 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) – Delicious nose, hint of strawberries, yeast, great concentration, complex, toasted bread, refreshing.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Nero Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $79.99, 100% Pinot Nero) – great nose, plump, open, full-bodied, lots of fruit on the nose, fresh baguette, not just yeast or toasted bread, toasted caramel, butterscotch

2006 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $56, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from the single area around Villa Margon. This wine is aged in neutral Austrian oak casks. Excellent, seriously complex nose, with a touch of tropical fruit; tremendous palate – roasted meat, super-complex, delicious.

2004 Ferrari Riserva del Fondatori Giulio Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $120, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from a single high altitude vineyard called Maso Panizza. The wine has the classic nose, great acidity, it just screams “classic vintage Champagne” all the way.

Here you are, my friends – a full range of beautiful sparkling wines, worthy of any celebration you will have. I wish they would be a bit easier to find in the US, but these are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!

Samples Galore – Holiday Edition

December 28, 2016 2 comments

Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de BlancsOver the last few months, I had an opportunity to try a number of wines. What I didn’t do in timely fashion, however, is to share the tasting notes with you – and this needs to be corrected, which I’m doing with this post.

While I call this post a “holiday edition”, this is strictly due to the fact that this post is coming out during the most festive time of the year. It might be too late to use any of these wines for the gift giving, but you know what – these wines will be perfect for any day, whether it is cold or warm outside, and whether you need a gift or just want to reward yourself (yep, you always deserve an award for just being you).

Let’s start with the sparkling wine – I have one to bring to your attention today. This wine comes from the master of “affordable luxury” Paul Mas (I wrote about his wines a few times in the past – you can find those posts here). This Blanc de Blancs from Languedoc is made out of Chardonnay using the traditional method, and it perfectly on par with Paul Mas sparklers I tasted before:

NV Côté Mas Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionelle Vin de France (12% ABV, $15.99, 100% Chardonnay)
N: Pleasant nose with touch of yeast and fresh apples
P: Restrained palate, good acidity, clean, touch Of yeast, hint of Granny Smith apples.
V: 7+

Let’s continue with a few of the white wines. First, one of my perennial favorites – Hanna Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted prior vintages of Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, and this is one of my most favorite styles of California Sauvignon Blanc – grassy, fresh and clean:

2015 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Sonoma County (13.2% ABV, $20)
C: straw pale
N: intense, fresh-cut grass, touch of lemon, fresh meadows, you can smell this wine forever.
P: nicely restrained, same grassy notes, touch of black currant (distant hint), perfect balance, refreshing
V: 8+

The next white wine comes from the very creative producer in Oregon – Left Coast Cellars, which also not a stranger to this blog – I had a pleasure of speaking (virtually) with Luke McCollom, winemaker for Left Coast Cellars and taste some of the previous vintages of their wines (here are the links to the two-part interview  – Part 1 and Part 2). You can’t go wrong with Oregon Pinot Gris – today this is literally a “classic”:

2015 Left Coast Cellars The Orchards Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (13.7% ABV, $18)
C: Straw pale color
Touch of honeysuckle on the nose once warmed up, White stone fruit initially
Closed up while cold, white ripe fruit once warmed up, good balance, medium body, medium-long finish.
V: 7+

Last but not least is Les Dauphins Côté du Rhône. Rhone whites are fun wines, often very dry in the early years, and “ripening up” as they age. This was unquestionably a young wine which most likely would improve with age:

2013 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Réserve Blanc (12.5% ABV, $11, 65% Grenache, 15% Marsanne, 10% Clairette, 10% Viognier)
C: Light golden
N: touch of honey, white stone fruit
P: white stone fruit, herbs, good acidity, quite astringent
V: 7+, will hold well with and without food

Now, time for the reds. The reds today represent a diverse group, from Australia to Italy to the USA. At the beginning of November, I participated in the #winechat with Michael Twelftree, winemaker for Tow Hands Wines out of Australia. We had an opportunity to taste and discuss three wines from Two Hands – two classic Shiraz wines from Barossa and McLaren Vale regions, and a Cabernet Sauvignon:

Two Hands Wines2014 Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley (13.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: espresso, roasted meat, licorice, blackberries
P: spice, plums, big concentration, touch of salinity, smooth texture, velvety and dusty
V: 8-, good rendition of Shiraz. The wine completely reversed on the Day 2, closed up.

2014 Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz McLaren Vale ($14.5% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: intense, powdery, eucalyptus, mocca, licorice, tobacco
P: peppery finish, round, restrained, excellent acidity, bright and crispy red fruit
V: 7+, probably needs time

2015 Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon Mclaren Vale (13.8% ABV, $36)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: touch of cassis, closed
P: smooth, round, nice cassis backbone, mint, restrained
V: 7/7+, too young, needs time to rest and evolve

Two Italian wines were probably my favorite in this group – Cecchi Chianti and Alta Mora from Sicily:

2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico DOCG (13% ABV, $22, 90% Sangiovese, 10% other grapes)
C: Garnet
N: dark red fruit, dark chocolate, touch of smoke, roasted notes
P: fresh, vibrant, good acidity, touch of pepper, hint of tobacco, crashed raspberries, firm structure
V 8-/8, very enjoyable from get go, will evolve

2014 Cusumano Alta Mora Etna Rosso DOC (14% ABV, $24, 100% Nerello Mascalese)
C: dark garnet
N: playful, open, cherries, mocca,
P: bright, mouthwatering acidity, tart cherries without too much astringency, pronounced minerality, medium body, dry finish
V: 8-

And to finish off, here are two classic grapes – Merlot and Pinot Noir:

2014 Markham Merlot Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $26, 86% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah)
C: garnet
N: touch of cassis, mint, alcohol presence is noticeable, dark chocolate
P: round, soft, clean acidity, touch of cassis, underripe raspberries, alcohol and tannins show a bit on their own, peppery finish
V: 7/7+, needs more time? second day definitely showed to wine as more coherent (7+), but it would benefit from more time

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $24)
C: Dark garnet
N: Mocca, sage, roasted notes, touch of mushrooms, savory undertones
P: Fresh raspberries, mint, herbs, touch of roasted meat, fresh acidity, mouthwatering finish, medium body, easy to drink
V: 8-, easy to drink, pleasant

We are done here. Have you had any of these wines? What do you think of them? Cheers!

Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers, 2016 Edition

December 21, 2016 Leave a comment

bottle_wine_presentsIf there is one overarching theme for my 2016 posts, it can be expressed with one word: “late”. No matter how useful my advice will be, the major present-buying holiday takes place in mere two days, so yes, it is truly late. But – the comforting thought is: if you got a wine lover, an oenophile in your life, wine is always, always an excellent present. Or anything related to the wine for that matter. Except for the 5th identical book – oh well, nothing wrong with re-gifting, right?

Now, when it comes to the presents for the wine lovers, I already covered the subject quite extensively over the past few years. I checked what I wrote before, and was happy to realize that all or practically all of my advice still stands – thus, allow me to simply give you a reference to the older posts – if you are still looking for the present, you might find my suggestions helpful.

Back in 2014, I wrote a series of posts on the subject of wine gifts which I called “Practical and Pragmatic Guide”. It is practical and pragmatic, as I not only tell you what to buy but also provide recommendations for the gifts I wouldn’t buy – definitely practical and pragmatic. The series consisted of 3 parts:

Part 1 – Wine gifts – this post provides a general introduction for “practical and pragmatic”, and it is talking about various wine gifting options.

Part 2 – Wine Accessories – openers, pourers, decanters and lots more – what makes sense, what doesn’t.

Part 3 – Wine Education – books, classes, experiences – everything the wine lover might really appreciate.

Here is also a post on the same subject from 2011 – while it will not give you much new information conceptually, it has more recommendations as to where to buy the wine.

Before we part I want to mention that I created now a collection of useful wine gift items on Amazon. All the books there are personal recommendations and all the accessories are split into different categories to simplify navigation.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Better late than never, eh? Happy Holidays and happy last minute gift hunting! Cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Two Classic Regions, Three Classic Pairs

June 4, 2016 4 comments

I tend to abuse certain words in the conversation, especially when talking on the subject of wine. As you might easily guess, one of such words is “Classic”. I use this word in hope that it is the quickest way to convey my impressions about the wine. For instance, the words “Classic Red Bordeaux” or “Classic White Burgundy” would most likely paint a quick and vivd picture for the most of oenophiles to imagine how the wine actually tastes. While the wine is produced all around the world, such a broad stroke reference can be only applied to the well known and well referred to regions – saying “Classic Red Bio-Bio” (wienmaking region in Chile) or “Classic White Valais” (winemakiing region in Switzerland) would be an empty sound for majority of the wine lovers.

Looking past the regions, we can also apply the word “classic” to the grapes themselves. There are probably 15-20 grapes which can be easily referred to in this way – “classic Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Classic Sauvignon Blanc”, for example, would give you quick pointers to how the wine might taste like. Yes, “Classic Bobal” or “Classic Resi” will leave most of us with no information at all.

As this is not an epistolary exercise on the applications of the word “Classic” in the wine world, let’s get closer to the subject at hand, and talk about few wines in the practical terms. Today I want to talk about 2 classic regions and 3 classic grapes – for sure for those regions. So the classic regions are: California and Oregon. Would you agree that it is easy to refer to these two world renowned winemaking regions as “Classic”? I hope you are nodding. And for the grapes, I also hope you would share my “classic” sentiment – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California Napa Valley – aha, I see you smacking your lips. And Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Oregon – need I say more?

Talking about the wines from Oregon, the Pinot Noir is of course an uncontested king of the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Commercial Pinot Noir production in Oregon started in the 1960s, and then from the beginning of the 1990s, Pinot Noir from Oregon needed no introduction anymore. With Oregon Pinot Gris, you might argue with my “classic” designation, however, today, you will practically not find a single Oregon winery which will not produce Pinot Gris. Oregon Pinot Gris has its own, easily recognizable style and character, so in my mind, Pinot Gris wines are the “classic” element of the Oregon winemaking.

Thus let me present to you the first two of the “classic” pairs – Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from two wineries in Oregon: Willamette Valley Vineyards and Pike Road Wines.

Willamette Valley Vineyards was established in 1983, planting Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay vines where blackberries and plums were growing before. The original Estate vineyard spans 53 acres at the 500 to 750 feet in elevation. Today, Willamette Valley vineyards farms more than 250 acres of vines, including one of the oldest in Oregon, Tualatin Estate, which are all LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certified. I had a pleasure of trying Willamette Valley Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines earlier in the year, so here are my notes:

2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon (12.4% ABV, SRP: $16)
C: straw pale
N: white stone fruit, touch of grass
P: hint of candied lemon, white stone fruit, nicely round, refreshing, good acidity, medium to full body
V: 7+/8-, very pleasant

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.7% ABV, SRP: $30, retail: ~$20)
C: beautiful Ruby
N: fragrant, fresh, cranberries with touch of cherries, sweet raspberries
P: wow, lots of fresh fruit – cranberries, raspberries, fresh, super-clean, touch herbal, great restrained finish
8+, one of the most delicious Pinot ever, perfect.

Our second Oregon winery takes its name from the Pike Road, which winds through the hills of Yamhill-Carlton AVA. This is the second winery for the Campbell family, who founded Elk Cove Vineyards in 1974. Pike Road takes advantage of 5 generations of the farming experience, including 40 years of tending the wines.

Pike Road Wines Oregon

Here are my notes:

2015 Pike Road Pinot Gris Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, SRP: $15)
C: pale greenish color
N: tropical fruit, candied lemon, fresh, intense, inviting
P: crisp, clean, perfect fresh acidity and white stone fruit, creamy. Outstanding.
V: 8-/8, delicious white wine, perfect year around and superb during summer

2014 Pike Road Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon (13.5% ABV, SRP: $19, 10 month in French oak barrels)
C: dark Ruby
N: delicious. Touch of sweet fruit, open, inviting, raspberries, herbs, super-promising, wow
P: soft, layered, silky, spices on top of traditional smokey profile, triple-wow
V: 8+/9-, wow, totally unexpected and amazing. I know Oregon Pinot delivers, but this far exceeded my expectations. Might be the best QPR for Oregon Pinot Noir in existence. Love rustic labels too.

Our last classic pair comes from the classic of the classics, none less than Napa Valley, and it is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Artesa winery. Artesa winery is located in Carneros region of Napa Valley. While Artesa recently celebrated is 25th vintage, their winemaking traditions go way, way, way back – say by another [almost] 500 years. How come? Artesa winery was founded by Codorniu Raventós family from Spain, which takes its winemaking heritage 17 generations back to the 1551. Artesa sustainably farms 150 acres of vines, all Napa Green Land certified, and produces a range of wines, starting with a few sparklers and finishing with another Napa classic – Cabernet Sauvignon. Two wines which I had an opportunity to taste are the new Estate Reserve release from the winery:

Artesa Napa Valley

2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Chardonnay Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, SRP: $40)
C: light golden
N: touch of vanilla, hint of butter, white fruit, intense
P: touch of butter, green apples, good acidity, medium to full body, vibrant and balanced
V: 8-, a classic Chardonnay

2013 Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Napa Valley (14.4% ABV, SRP: $40)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, sweet plums
P: round, polished, present silky texture, touch of smoke, more plums, minerality, restrained
V: 8-, nice, smooth and restrained

There you have it, my friends – some new and interesting wines worth seeking. And whether they will hit the “classic” note for you – it is entirely your decision. Cheers!

The Post Which Could Have Many Names

May 29, 2016 6 comments

Blog post title is something I consider to be important, may be even essential. Good title facilitates the flow of thoughts and actually, once I get a title in and I’m happy with it, the writing usually flows effortlessly.

The post you are reading could’ve have many different titles, such as “More Creative Wine Labels”, “City Winery with Worldly Wines”, “Secret Wine Santa Over-delivers”, “Art in and of the Wine Labels”, or “Better Late Than Never” and I’m sure I would be able to come up with a few more – hence the title you see at the top. As for all of these possible titles – read on and you will figure it out.

As some of you know, there is a game of Secret Wine Santa, originated by Jeff a.k.a The Drunken Cyclist – here is Jeff’s post about it from the last year. The game, of course, is played closer to the actual Santa-related period. All participants get assigned a random recipient, who then gets from the secret Wine Santa one or two bottles of wine, preferably arriving before Thanksgiving. If you think that I have a nerve talking about Wine Santa when the temperatures on the East Coast are trailing above 90°F – well, may be I do. But I have an excuse – I always wanted to play this game twice a year, but shipping wine during summer is not good for the wine, so much for that thought – but then at least I get to talk about it (no, I didn’t plan it like that – life did).

Of course the Santa stays secret only until the wine arrives. When I opened the box, I found a nice handwritten note from Nancy Koziol, introducing me to the two absolutely gorgeous looking bottles from the winery I never heard of, called Brooklyn Oenology:

Brooklyn Oenology

Going beyond the beautiful labels, it turned out that the wines are produced by Brooklyn Oenology, the first urban winery in the New York City – they have a tasting room open in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, so technically right in my backyard (still never visited them so far). Brooklyn Oenology, or BOE for short, sources their grapes from around the New York state (as you can see below in the wine descriptions) and in the future they even plan to bring actual winemaking facilities into Brooklyn.

Now, talking about the labels – not only they are beautiful, but to top that off, BOE really thought of the people like myself, who spend countless hours trying to neatly peal off the labels from the bottles for the notes journals. These labels are peel off labels – how smart is that! I can’t help it not to share this paragraph from the About page on the BOE web site:

“In addition to sourcing New York grapes, BOE draws upon the Brooklyn and greater New York areas to create its identity. Each wine’s label showcases contemporary art by a Brooklyn artist and features a new piece of work for each vintage. They’re not just for viewing; they are double-layer, easy-to-peel stickers, so the customer can preserve the artwork”.

What is most important, that these wines are not just labels – they are first and foremost, unique, different and delicious wines.

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For what it worth, here are my notes:

2012 Brooklyn Oenology Gewürztraminer Finger lakes, New York (12.8% ABV, 100% Gewurztraminer, fermented with skin and seeds)
C: concentrated gold, the wine is made with the “orange wine” methodology
N: concentrated honeyed fruit initially, but then quite closed, not perfumy at all, which is usually a trait of Gewürztraminer
P: very unusual, more of a qvevri style, clean acidity, very restrained, but opens up to some nice finish with touch of fruit.
V: 8-, very thought provoking, interesting wine

2010 Brooklyn Oenology Motley Cru North Fork of Long Island, New York (13.5% ABV, 57% Merlot, 19% Syrah, 14% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, ripe sweet fruit, blueberries
P: medium to full body, soft, round, fresh fruit, touch of pepper, violet, clean acidity, excellent balance, long lingering finish. On the third day the wine became even more polished. Delicious.
V: 8, an excellent bottle of wine, good for all occasions.

Here is the story of [yet again] boundless creativity and passion in the world of wine. Thank you wine Santa for this wonderful discovery – and I already can’t wait to see what next November might bring. Cheers!

New and Noteworthy: Few Spanish Wine Recommendations

May 12, 2016 8 comments

I’m an eternal optimist, for sure – I keep creating new “series” of the posts (like the one you now see in the title – New and Noteworthy) in the hope that I will remember to use it all the time. Well, I had or still have a number of series in this blog, but very few of them are current ongoing. Will see what will happen with this one. Here is the idea behind this series: I do get to taste many of the newly released wines, some of them are samples, some are not; the wines which I like I intend to share with you in this series of posts. ‘Nuf said, let’s go.

CVNE winesMy love affair with Rioja started after tasting of the beautiful line up of Viña Real, CVNE and Imperial Rioja (all essentially produced by CVNE), all the way up to the 1964. They were all delicious red wines. For the long time Rioja associated for me only with the red wines, until I tasted Lopez de Heredia Blanco and Rosato, both being about 15 years old and delicious. This is how I discovered that Rioja actually is not only red wines. My next discovery of Rioja white wines was Rioja Monopole (100% Viura), which (to my shame) is produced since 1915 – well, “live and learn” (or “better late than never”, whatever you prefer to comfort yourself). And few years ago I also encountered the Rioja Rosato – so now I definitely know that Rioja is a lot more than just delicious reds.
Recently I had an opportunity to taste the latest releases of few of the white and Rosé wines from Spain, not only from Rioja but also from few other regions, and I want to share those wines with you. I don’t know if this is luck, or if I lost all of my taste buds already, but I liked all the wines I tasted – below you will see my tasting notes on the 6 wines, and I would gladly recommend all 6 to you. As a bonus, all 6 are also a great value (under $20). Well, you will be the judge once you will have an opportunity to taste these wines.

Cune Monopole Rioja2015 CVNE Monopole Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Viura) – the oldest continuously produced white wine in Rioja, starting from 1915. I didn’t realize this was a 100th vintage (assuming there was no break in production years).
C: straw pale
N: beautiful white fruit with tropical fruit nuances, lemon, intense
P: clean, crisp and round at the same time – is it possible?, white stone fruit, medium to full body, refreshing, nice acidity on the finish
V: 8-, this wine would brighten up any summer day

Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina2014 Bodega Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina DO (12% ABV, $19, 85% Hondarrabi Zuri, 10% Riesling, 5% Folle Blanche, Vegan) – Txakoli is dangerously looking but actually easy to pronounce (just say “Cha-Coh-Lee”) wine coming from the Basque country in Spain. My first encounter with Txakoli was about 8 years ago – it is a clean and refreshing wine, perfect all year around and especially in summer. Similar to many other Spanish whites, it didn’t make it in the US in any major way, but you can still find some of the Txakoli wines in the wine stores – and they well worth your attention.
C: Straw pale
N: concentrated, intense, inviting, touch of peach, candied fruit
P: fresh, undertones of candied fruit but with dry core. Somehow reminiscent of grapefruit, but without much sweetness of bitterness. Medium body and intriguing, leaves you with a sense of mystery which is hard to grasp.
V: 8-/8, excellent and dangerous. Once you start drinking it, it is hard to stop.

Cune Rioja Rosado2015 CVNE Rosado Rioja (13.3% ABV, SRP: $13, 100% Tempranillo) – shhh, don’t tell anyone, this was my favorite wine out of the group – but it is a secret.
C: Dark, concentrated pink, bright fresh cranberry juice level
N: intense, floral, with fresh berries and the leaves – imagine smelling the raspberries right on the brunch with leaves on a hot summer day
P: wow, crunchy strawberries and cranberries which just plop in your mouth as you bite them. Clean acidity, super refreshing and every sip is asking for the next.
V: 8+/9-, outstanding, one of the very best Rosé I ever tasted.

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Viña Real Rosado2015 Viña Real Rosado Rioja (13% ABV, SRP: $15, 85% Viura, 15% Tempranillo) – you don’t need my comments here – Viña Real needs no introduction to Rioja wine lovers.
C: orange onion peel
N: very restrained, hint of herbs
P: ripe strawberries, good acidity, medium body, unusual. Second day: delicious, round, refreshing, cohesive. Just needed to let it breeze
V: 7+, need to try again to make up my mind. Second day: 8-, excellent, clean, good fruit presence and perfectly refreshing

acienda de Arínzano Rosè2015 Hacienda de Arínzano Rosè Tempranillo Pago de Arínzano (13.5% ABV, SRP $19.99, 100% Tempranillo) – Pago is the highest denomination for wine quality in Spain, above DOC, and it is not easy to achieve it. You can think of Pago as single winery becoming its own appellation – as Arínzano is in our case. What is also interesting about this wine is that it comes from the Tempranillo vineyard which is designated for the production of the Rosé wine, so Rosé here is the goal, not an afterthought.
C: bright pink, beautiful
N: inviting, herbal notes, strawberries, fresh
P: outstanding. Soft, polished, fresh strawberries, excellent balance, lip smacking delicious, medium body.
V: 8, excellent wine, easy to drink with perfect balance.

Laguardia de Viña Real2012 Laguardia de Viña Real Crianza Rioja (13.5% ABV, $12.99, 100% Tempranillo) – can’t leave you without a red, can’t I? Viña Real Rioja Crianza is one of my favorite wines, and it is also one of the best value wines for about $15 or under (depending on where you shop). I never had, however, Laguardia de Viña Real, so was definitely interested in trying this wine when I saw it in the store.
Once I poured it in the glass and took sip, I was not happy. The wine was rather lean and biting, not what Viña Real usually offers in the glass. I decided to decant it, and then after about two and a half hours, the magical Rioja showed up.
C: dark garnet
N: eucalyptus, cigar box, cherries
P: fresh fruit, herbs, sweet oak, medium to full body, well noticeable acidity
V: 8- (after decanting), very nice wine, but give it 5 years or so.

We are done here – let me know if you tried any of the wines I mentioned above and what you think of them. Cheers!

Few World Class Wines, Kosher Too

April 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Yarden Blanc de Blancs in the glassWhat is world class wine, you ask? Well, this question has multiple answers – there is a good chance that every responder will give you a different answer. Heck, I will give you different answer every time you will ask this question. So for today, how about this one: in a blind tasting, world-class wine can be easily mistaken for a wine coming from the well established and world famous wine region. For instance, a sparkling wine which tastes like Champagne. Or Chardonnay which resembles classic white Burgundy. Or a Rosé which tastes like… you know, how about just “delicious”?

How often do you drink Israeli wines? Hmmm, that would actually make it for an interesting “unknown wine regions” survey – note to self. Okay, back to the question, what do you say? I would bet that 9 out of 10 people never had an Israeli wine, and 9.5 out of 10 didn’t even know that Israel produces wine. Which is a shame, as even modern winemaking history (never mind the biblical times) in Israel goes back to 1880s. But of course with ups and downs, Israeli “wines of notice” started to appear in the late 1980s.

Today Israel has more than 250 wineries (depends on who counts, I guess), which includes both large commercial wineries and garage-level productions; israel even sports some “cult wines” – the wines which lots of people want, but can’t get (do the search for the wines produced by Lewinsohn, for instance). About 25% of the Israeli wines are exported, out of which amount about 60% go to the United States, and the rest to Europe and Asia. Most (but not all) wines produced in Israel are kosher – which, by the way, doesn’t take away from the quality of the wines even the tiniest bit – scratch that Manischewitz image and taste from your head, once and for all. While in general Israel might have a very long wine history, the vineyards were never continuously preserved – as the result, absolute majority of the grapes grown in Israel are of international varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, etc.), with Emerald Riesling being one of the rare exceptions. Otherwise, Israel produces full range of wines, from Sparkling, Rosé and whites to the Bordeaux and GSM blends and single varietal masterpieces.

Golan Heights Winery was founded in 1983, and the first wine was released in 1984 (well, they vineyards were planted in 1976, so it all makes sense); it might be considered a foundation of renaissance of Israeli wine industry. Today the Golan Heights Winery farms 600 hectares (1500 acres) of vines, which subsequently consist of 28 vineyards and 400 unique parcels within those vineyards. Vineyards are spanning for about 65 km (40 miles), and elevations are ranging from 400 meters (about 1300 feet) to 1200 meters (about 3900 feet). The fruit from each parcel is tended to individually, as you can imagine that growing conditions would be different in such a stretch of the land and with such a difference in altitude. Of course you can imagine that winery makes quite a range of wines.

I had an opportunity to taste a three wines from the Golan Heights Winery and its sister winery called Galil Mountain, which impressed me enough to come up with this “world-class” title for the post. Don’t get me wrong – I had absolutely mind-blowing Israeli wines before, but somehow this Blanc de Blancs put the experience for me to the next level. Here are the notes:

2008 Yarden Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling White Wine Golan Heights Israel (12% ABV, SRP $32, 100% Chardonnay, 5 years on the lees, kosher, non-mevushal)
C: pale straw
N: Classic sparkling wine – touch of yeast, hint of Apple, touch of fresh baked bread
P: creamy mouthfeel, fresh acidity, hint of yeast, fresh lemon, fine mousse, perfect balance
V: 8/8+, outstanding, world class sparkler

2014 Yarden Galilee Chardonnay Odem Vineyard Golan Heights Israel (13.9% ABV, SRP $22, 100% Chardonnay, 7 month barrel aging, kosher, non-mevushal)
C: light golden
N: white stone fruit, hay, touch of lemon, candied fruit as wine was warming up
P: plump, full body, vanilla, creamy round mouthfeel, touch of butter, good acidity, fresh.
V: 8-/8, full bodied without heavy butter or oak, more reminiscent of Marsanne/Roussane. What I loved about the wine that it stayed perfectly delicious at the room temperature, which is not an easy fit for many white wines.

2014 Galil Mountain Rosé Upper Galilee, Israel (12.5% ABV, SRP $12, 74% Sangiovese, 23% Pinot Noir, 3% Grnache, kosher, non-mevushal)
C: beautiful, concentrated pink
N: strawberries, minerality, very promising, touch of lemon
P: fresh strawberries, herbs, clean balancing acidity, soft, medium body, very round.
V: 8-, an excellent summer day (or all year around) treat, very easy to drink

Have you had Israeli wines? What do you think of them? Cheers!