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Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé! 2018 Edition

November 25, 2018 5 comments

Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2018I find myself lately talking a lot about traditions. These are not cultural or societal traditions, of course not. Much simpler. These are only the traditions of this very blog. One needs time to claim something a “tradition”. This blog had been around continuously for more than 9 years, so I hope I get the right to call some of the permanent, repeated year after year, themes a “tradition”. A tradition such as the yearly Beaujolais Nouveau post.

I’m sure hope the majority of the wine drinkers are familiar with the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon. Every year we celebrate the new vintage by drinking the young, simple wine just made a few months after the harvest. As the tradition of celebrating the new – Nouveau in French – vintage originated in the Beaujolais region in France, we call this celebration the Beaujolais Nouveau. And to set the expectations right, the Beaujolais Nouveau is always celebrated on the third Thursday in November – this is when the Beaujolais Nouveau wines officially hit the shelves of the wine stores around the world.

Every “new” Beaujolais Nouveau celebration brings something new and unique with it. I remember huge celebrations held a few years in the row. Then there was a period when the “Nouveau” movement was joined by the number of US producers. Last few years, however, were rather uneventful – it is, of course, possible that I missed something.

This year 2018 brought in quite a few things which might not be designated as “new”, necessarily, but for sure they were different. First, I almost missed the whole Beaujolais Nouveau celebration, as it came up quite unexpectedly – the earliest possible celebration overall. Beaujolais Nouveau can only be released on the 3rd Thursday of November, which fell this year on November 15th – can’t happen any earlier than that. Okay, I know this is insignificant. Next interesting fact was … the snow. Yep, we got 5 inches in Connecticut right in the middle of November – this is something which generally doesn’t happen. But I was able to take the pictures of the bottles in the snow.

The last “new” was truly a Nouveau event – Georges Duboeuf released Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé. Rosé was never a part of the Beaujolais Nouveau celebration – until now, that is. Not only it was a beautiful looking wine, but it was also a tasty one too!

Beaujolais Nouveau 2018

I know that bashing of the Beaujolais Nouveau as only a marketing stunt is quite popular among wine professionals and consumers alike – and I honestly don’t support it. Even this year, I saw someone asking in one of the wine forums on Facebook “does anyone drinks Beaujolais Nouveau wines”. I didn’t want to get into that conversation, but I can, of course, answer here – I do! The Rosé I would actually gladly drink at any time at all. And I would never refuse the second glass of either one of the reds, so there, you have my answer.

Here are a bit more detailed notes:

2018 Henry Fessy Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau Vieilles Vignes (13% ABV, $12.99)
Dark ruby color
Fresh raspberries with the characteristic Beaujolais Nouveau acidity, mineral notes
Fresh tart raspberries, good structure, good balance, overall quite pleasant. 7+/8-

2018 Georges Buboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé (12.5% ABV, $9.99)
Beautiful light pink color, very inviting.
Beautiful fresh strawberries on the nose. Strawberries and cranberries on the palate, clean acidity, excellent balance. There is nothing “Nouveau” about this wine – it is just an excellent Rosé. 8

2018 Georges Buboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau (12.5% ABV, $9.99)
Garnet color
Raspberries and violets on the nose
Raspberries and strawberries on the palate, interesting minerality, some baking spices, good concentration, medium plus body, well integrated mouth-plucking acidity. A very solid wine. 8-/8, one of the very best Beaujolais Nouveau.

What do you think of Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon? Did you taste the 2018 wines? If you did, what do you think of them? Cheers!

Wine, Wine, Wine – Notes from Martin Scott 2018 Grand Portfolio Tasting

November 6, 2018 3 comments

Martin-Scott is one of the largest wine wholesalers (distributors) in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, with a very extensive portfolio well representing all major winemaking countries of the world. I had a pleasure to attend Martin-Scott portfolio tastings in the past, and they were always great with a lot of delicious discoveries. When I had an opportunity to attend the portfolio tasting about a month ago, I was very happy to be able to include it into my schedule.

I wrote about trade portfolio tastings many times in the past. They might seem a bit overwhelming, as you are presented with about 1000 wines and only 4-5 hours of time to taste them. At the same time, the range is incredible and you get an opportunity to expand your wine horizon and always find new favorites.

Here are my general impressions from the tasting:

  1. I know this is my pet peeve, and I keep talking about it at every occasion, but I have to say it again – new vintages of California reds are using way too much oak. There were lots of California reds from the 2015-2017 vintages which were literally not drinkable due to very high tannins content, to the point of your whole mouth getting numb. Unfortunately, some of the bigger Washington producers follow suit and also make over-oaked red wines. I really don’t understand this trend. Yes, using lots of new oak makes wine more expensive. But it doesn’t make it more enjoyable, for sure when it is young.
  2. White Burgundies are amazing. I rarely get to drink those wines for the variety of reasons, so I was literally blown away by the beauty and finesse of most everything I tasted. You will see this love expressed in the ratings below.
  3. South Africa produces some spectacular wines. Check the full list below to see what I really enjoyed.
  4. There are some excellent spirits made in … Sweden. You really need to taste them to believe them.
  5. I was able to add one more new (rare) grape to the collection – the grape called Souvignier-Muscaris from France.

Before I will inundate you with my brief notes, just a reminder for the trade tasting ratings I use. Considering the amount of time versus amount of wines, there is no way I can do much of the thoughtful analysis for a hundred plus wines I manage to taste. Thus I use the “+” signs, with “+++” meaning excellent. When I came up with this system, I really didn’t plan to go beyond “+++”, but you will see now “++++” and even “+++++” (very rarely – maybe one in the whole tasting) – you understand what it means. I also use “-|” as a half-point. The list below only includes wines with at least “+++” rating. As these are all new releases just coming into the stores, essentially all the wines on the list represent a “buy” recommendation – whatever you can find and afford. All prices below are an approximation of the suggested retail prices. I’m sure that the actual store price might be lower for many of those wines.

Now, I will leave you to it. Cheers!

 

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Daily Glass: Farmhouse Wines – The Wines You Knew California Can Produce

October 22, 2018 7 comments

Memories are often unpredictable and illogical when you try to understand by what rhyme of reason a certain event, situation or circumstances get remembered. Sometimes, I can remember tiny and totally irrelevant details, I guess in lieu of something really important. Moving along.

California had been the major wine superpower for more than 40 years (if we would count starting from the 1976 Judgement of Paris events), so I’m sure many of you are puzzled about the title. California wines are unquestionably amazing, no matter which of more than 4600 wineries would produce them. California wines come in a tremendous range of styles and grape varieties, producing delicious wines from the grapes you wouldn’t even think are growing in California (Palomino, Corvina, Nebbiolo, Tinta Cão anyone?), and have a cult following, with wine lovers casually waiting for 8-10 years on the waiting list for the mailing list. Yes, California is well known for its incredible wines.

What California is not known for today is inexpensive wines. If you are willing to spend at least $20 per bottle, or better yet, you are willing to spend at least 5 times that or just add a zero to that number, that is an easy game. Almost an easy game, I should say, as you would also need to wait for at least 5 or 10 years to fully enjoy that $200 bottle. However, naming a California wine under $12 (somehow I think $12 is a good number for anyone looking for a good value wine for any night, not just for a Tuesday night), which consistently delivers, is not an easy task. My mind can’t go much past Bogle Petite Sirah, which is consistently good and usually priced in $9.99 – $11.99 range – but I’m failing to readily name another California wine in the same value category.

Cline Farmhouse Wines

When I was offered to try two of the Farmhouse wines, I hesitated for a brief moment. As a matter of policy, I never write reviews for the samples I don’t like, and $10.99 bottle of wine from California sounded suspicious. The fact that it was produced by the Cline Cellars, who I respect very much, and that the wines were made using sustainable viticulture, tipped the scale towards accepting the offer.

The very first smell and sip of the Farmhouse Red extorted a “wow” and instantly triggered an obscure memory – absolutely not related to the wine. I don’t exactly know you, my reader at the moment, but it is quite possible you were only learning to walk when one of the big 3 struggling at a time Detroit automakers, Chevrolet, released newly redesigned Chevy Malibu sedan. At that time, back in 1997, Japanese cars really swept clean the mainstream family car category. Chevrolet was so proud to release a competitive car that they came up with the slogan for that new release of Malibu: “The Car You Knew America Could Build“. I have no memories of that car, of course, but the slogan got stuck in my head – and it instantly popped up after the first sip of the Farmhouse wine, remembering that the wine is only priced at the suggested retail of $10.99. This is a lot, a lot of wine for the money – especially the California wine.

There is even better spin to the Farmhouse wines – the wines are produced using sustainable farming methods, a farming discipline called Green String Farming, which is defined as “”natural process agriculture”. It’s about keeping the soil and plants healthy and free from pesticides and artificial chemicals. Overall, it’s about producing the highest quality grapes with the healthiest vines.” Delicious, sustainably farmed, extremely reasonably priced California wine – I’ll just rest my case.

Here are my more detailed tasting notes:

2017 Farmhouse Natural White Wine California (12.5% ABV, $10.99, 41% Palomino, 25% Muscat Canelli, 22% Roussanne, 6% Viognier, 1% Riesling)
Light Rosé gold color
Whitestone fruit, guava, a touch of honey.
Peach, white plum, lemon, touch of minerality, fresh, vibrant, excellent acidity, lots (lots!) of wine for the money. 8-/8

2017 Farmhouse Natural Red Wine California (14% ABV, $10.99, blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Petit Sirah)
Dark garnet
Dark chocolate, fresh raspberries, sage
Cloves, a tiny bit of cinnamon, pepper, ripe plums, excellent acidity, excellent balance. 8-/8

Two California wines, perfect for every day, easy to drink and afford – what else can you ask for? Cheers!

WBC18: Like A Kid In The Candy Store – Again, or 4 Days in Walla Walla

October 13, 2018 11 comments

walla walla welcome signBack in 2014, I was visiting the state of Washington on business, and my obsession with local wines led me to the small town of Woodinville, about an hour northeast of Seattle. As I parked next to the industrial building and started going door to door, visiting one artisanal winery after another, I really felt like a kid in the candy store – the wines were delicious, and conversations with winemakers and not were even better than the wines – what else the wine lover needs? I was so impressed with that visit that my enthusiasm showed in the blog post, which won one of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenges (we called them MWWC) with the theme “local”.

The timing for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018 (WBC18) was a little strange – for the most of the time, the conferences took place in August, and October is definitely not the ideal month to take time off (I know that many of the regulars couldn’t attend due to the timing). However, my high opinion of the Washington wines and the memories of visiting the Woodinville became the deciding factor, so I was able to find the time for this trip to Walla Walla in Washington.

Boy, was I not disappointed. After a beautiful ride from the Portland airport along the Columbia River (I wish I would record a little video – the amazing scenery must be shared), I arrived at the Walla Walla. Walla Walla is a home to about 30,000 residents, but it is hard to tell from the tiny downtown. However, when it comes to wine, don’t let the small size to full you – Walla Walla downtown hosts 30 something tasting rooms, plus a number of full working wineries located within the city limits (there are 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley overall) – it is definitely a destination for any wine lover out there.

As it always happened so far (this was my fourth WBC), the 4 days of the Wine Bloggers Conference became a non-stop adventure of sipping, spitting and learning, and most importantly, spending time with the fellow bloggers. I can’t tell you how many wines were tasted during these four days – whatever happens at WBC, stays at WBC. But – I will be happy to share with you main takeaways from these 4 days. Here we go:

  1. Washington State produces some magnificent wines (duh) – at least on par with Napa, and often far exceeding the Napa offerings in terms of QPR – and they are predominantly red. All six Bordeaux varieties are doing quite well in Washington, both in the form of the Bordeaux blend and on its own. Merlot might be a king of Washington, but Cabernet Sauvignon can often fight for that royal crown, and quite successfully. The Syrah is definitely a queen, well deserving your attention, following by the other Mediterranean breeds, such as Grenache and even Tempranillo.
  2. Washington whites are much rarer find – but they can be equally delightful as the reds. Rhone varieties do particularly well (Marsanne, Roussanne), but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and even Albarino can deliver a happy surprise. An important reminder – please, please drink Rhone whites at the cool room temperature – they really taste better like that. Make them too cold, and they become indistinguishable and boring.
  3. Unlike California, where you can find 100+ years old [continuously farmed] vineyards, such as Bechtold in Lodi (farmed since 1886), and 150 years old continuously producing wineries, Washington wine industry didn’t survive the prohibition. What was striving in the 1860s, was completely destroyed in 1920s, and had to be rebuilt in 1960s. This information actually doesn’t have any deep meaning outside of being an interesting (and unfortunate) fact.
  4. I don’t believe you need to pay attention to the vintages for Washington wines, unless something ultra-bad happens, like out of blue frost in May. The temperatures are consistent, and so are the general climate conditions – too hot of a summer can be compensated by harvesting earlier. Well, the summers are typically hot, so the “canopy management” is a hot subject in winemaking circles. If the vineyard is managed properly, and winemaker does the job right, there is a good chance for consistency. In other words, don’t ask “how was that vintage”, just get the wine you want to drink. But – the way a lot of wines in Washington are made, especially coming from the small wineries – with utmost respect to the product at all stages – guarantees that the wines will age well. Give them some time, and prepare to be amazed.

I can probably think of more conclusions, but instead, I really want to tell you how my four days unfolded – just in case you wonder what one does at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Look at it more like the set of highlights as opposed to the detailed report. And then my plan is to convert many of this mentions below into the separate posts, to make my report more detailed – oh well, will see how that will work.

Day 1: After the beautiful ride along the Columbia River from Portland, I checked into the hotel, and then my next immediate stop was a tasting at the Seven Hills Winery, located right next to the conference hotel. After tasting at Seven Hills, next stop was the tasting at the Gård Vintners – with lots of delicious surprises. That tasting was followed with a very short walk back to the hotel to attend the Masters of Merlot session (now part of the official WBC program), presented by two of the Merlot Greats – Duckhorn and L’Ecole No 41 (very appropriate for the October, the #MerlotMe month).

Next was the mingling with the fellow bloggers around so-called Expo, where WBC sponsors poured their wines and offered their products. My last activity for the day was a superb, mind-blowing tasting at the Eternal Wines (more later) in lieu of group dinner. I also skipped all after-hours activities – that was enough for the first day.

WBC18 Walla Walla winemakers panel

WBC18wine influencers panel

Day 2: The actual conference program started. One of the main morning highlights was the panel discussion by the 4 of the Walla Walla winemakers, talking about terroir, canopy management, and stories, their personal, real life stories. I also liked the panel of wine influencers, talking about the wine industry, wine writing, and Dos and Don’ts of wine blogging. During lunch, we had an opportunity to taste wines from the Cascade Valley Wine Country, where one particular wine, WineGirl Wines Red blend left a mark with me – a standout, flawless, round, and beautiful.

After lunch, I went with a group of friends to taste delicious Oregon non-Pinot wines from Troon Vineyards Applegate Valley, as presented by WBC veteran, Craig Camp (I believe Craig didn’t miss a single WBC event). We got back to listen to the keynote by Lewis Perdue, the founder of Wine Industry Insight publication, who was focusing on a seemingly simple concept – Trust – and the tenets of good writing.

Next session was one of my traditional favorites – Live Wine Blogging for red wines, and once that was over, we all left for the dinners at mystery wineries (nobody knew where they are going), with our mystery winery being Canoe Ridge. Do you think this was enough for a day? Wrong. It is never enough – the last part of the program was so-called “after party”, where we tasted lots more wines (attendees are invited to bring wines to share with the others for this late night session). My highlights from this late-night tasting were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone and iOTA Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir vertical (2013, 2014, 2015). Whew, time to sleep.

Maryhill vineyards

Mary Hill winery - soil sample and peach trees

Day 3: The day started from learning about the location of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2019 – Hunter Valley in Australia, October 10-12, 2019. This sounds ultra-attractive – and equally impossible (in my own world). After a few of the breakout session, we went out for lunch at the Walla Walla tasting rooms which we had an opportunity to select the day before – my choice was Otis Kenyon Winery. Next was the session called Bubbles and Bites, a sparkling wine and food pairing lesson presented by Gloria Ferrer. Right after that, we had an in-depth lesson about European Cheeses. Up next was the “Lightning talks” session – 5 minutes presentations by the fellow bloggers with the slides rotating every 15 seconds. Wine Live Blogging session for whites and Rosé closed the main conference activities – which left us with the wine dinner with the vintners from Walla Walla. At the dinner, I fell in love with the wines from Revelry Vintners, which were simply stunning, and also enjoyed a few wines from Bergevin Lane. And then … yes, of course, another late night session (someone had to drink all that wine, right?)

fall in Mary Hill vineyards

view from Cathedral Ridge winery

Day 4: The conference was officially closed, but – there were post-conference excursions. I visited Maryhill Winery in Walla Walla, and Cathedral Ridge Winery in Oregon, both offering spectacular views and delicious wines.

The End.

Here it is – my abbreviated report of the WBC18 activities. Speaking strictly for myself, I greatly enjoyed the conference – the place, the wines, people and conversations – everything work together very well to create a memorable experience. If you never attended the conference – do you want to attend one now, after reading my report? If you are a “regular”, what are your thoughts about WBC18 and will we see each other in Australia? Cheers!

Blending Art and Wine – Galer Estate in Eastern Pennsylvania

September 8, 2018 2 comments

Galer Estate groundsDo you like surprises? It depends, you say? Okay, let me rephrase: do you like pleasant surprises? Of course, you do – and so do I.

What’s up with this “surprises” prelude? Simple – was prompted by the recent experience in Eastern Pennsylvania – at Galer Estate Vineyards and Winery.

With the fear to sound obnoxious (feel free to stamp “snob” and stop reading), I have to say that East Coast wineries are a hit and miss experience. I’m sure this is not just an East Coast phenomenon, but here I experienced it enough to state it. When visiting the winery, I’m looking for the “full experience”. I want the winery to have an ambiance, to have a soul. To me, the wine is a thing of comfort, and this is what I want to experience when I come to taste the wine. I don’t care for glitz and glamor, I don’t care for all the little “look how many cool and utterly useless things you can buy here”. The winery to me is all about a comfort and pleasure, and, most importantly, the real, good, tasty wine.

Oh, and one more thing to add – a conversation, conversation with the person who pours the wine into your glass. I don’t want to be pontificated upon (recent experience at Akash winery in Temecula was beyond terrible), I don’t want to be ignored (“I don’t know anything, I’m just here for a weekend job, here is your wine”). I want a person who pours the wine to share their passion and pride – it makes wine tasting a lot more enjoyable.

I’m happy to say that we had this exact “full experience” on the recent visit to Galer Estate. While the winery, located just a stone throw away from the Longwood Gardens (actually, while driving to the winery, I thought I made a mistake and will simply get inside the gardens instead of the winery), started only about 10 years ago, it looks like it had been there for centuries. It is rustic, it perfectly blends into the surroundings, and it is beautifully decorated – I’m sure the fact that Lele Galer, the co-owner of the winery, is an artist, comes to play here.

Galer Estate tasting Room

Galer Estate tasting Room

The doors of the tasting room had been brought from France, some of the panels are from Italy, stained glass windows are from the midwest USA. The view of the Chardonnay vineyard from the tasting room is beautiful, and all those little details together create the right ambiance for the tasting.

The Galer Estate owns two vineyards, and when necessary, they bring grapes from other vineyards, but all the grapes are still local, coming from the vineyards within 30 miles radius, all located in the Chester County. The selection of grapes is quite eclectic – it was my first time trying Grüner Veltliner and Albariño from the East Coast. Here is what we tasted:

2017 Galer Estate Grüner Veltliner Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – fresh nose, beautiful grassy palate, great acidity. 8-, excellent effort.

2017 Galer Estate The Huntress Vidal Blanc Chester County Pennsylvania ($25) – Excellent, restrained, nice balance of white fruit, good acidity, elegant. 8, one of the best renditions of Vidal Blanc I ever had.

2016 Galer Estate Red Lion Chardonnay Chester County Pennsylvania ($18) – gunflint on the nose, crisp, green apples, lemon, clean. 8, excellent wine. I’ll take a gunflint on my Chardonnay at any time, and was literally ecstatic to find it here.

2017 Galer Estate Albariño Chester County Pennsylvania ($35) – excellent, varietally correct, touch of perfume on the nose, mineral lemon notes on the palate. 7+, Unique and different – East Coast Albariño, not the wine you can expect to find here.

2015 Galer Estate Chardonnay Reserve Chester County Pennsylvania ($32) – not my favorite – I’ll leave it at that. May be a “sleeper” bottle?

2017 Galer Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Chester County Pennsylvania ($30) – practically no color in the glass. I would prefer a Rosé with more extraction. Not my favorite

2016 Galer Estate The Huntress Red Blend Chester County Pennsylvania ($30, blend of Cabernet Franc, Carmine, Petit Verdot) – excellent, clean, cassis on the nose, cassis and raspberries on the palate. Soft, good balance. 8-, an added bonus – a new grape, Carmine – the grape (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan) was specifically designed to withstand the cold of the East Coast.

We had a great time while tasting, as our host was knowledgeable and engaging. It was also great to have lunch right in the cellar room – it was too hot to sit outside, so after the view of the vineyards, the view, and mostly the smell,  of the tanks might be the most exciting for the wine lovers.

And of course we had an opportunity to snap some pictures of the vines and grapes:

Here you are, my friends. If you are visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is one of my most favorite places, put aside some time to visit the Galer Estate. Considering the full experience, this was one of the very best East Coast wineries I ever visited. And even if you have take a special trip over, you will not regret it. Cheers!

Versatility of Paso

August 31, 2018 7 comments
Paso Robles Wine Map

Source: Pasowine.com

When a typical wine consumer hears the words “California wine” what is the first thing which comes to his or her mind? I would bet that in 9 out of 10 cases, the first thought is: “Is this wine from Napa?”.

Yes, Napa Valley is the king, but the California wine landscape is a lot bigger. Today, I want to talk about a different California wine region – one of the oldest, and probably, the most versatile – the region originally known as El Paso de Robles, “The Pass of the Oaks”, which today is typically called Paso Robles, and sometimes passionately abbreviated just as “Paso!”.

At the beginning of the 1880s, Zinfandel plantings appeared in Paso Robles. For a while, Zinfandel was really “it”, adding some of the most famous vineyards, such as Dusi and Pesenti at the beginning of the 1920s. At the beginning of the 1960s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir arrived to the region, followed by first plantings of Syrah in the whole state of California in 1970s. From there on, the region (Paso Robles AVA was established in 1983) moved forward to collect numerous accolades of Wine Region of the Year, Best Vineyard in the world and others. Today, Paso Robles has 11 sub-appellations, more than 40,000 acres of vineyards and more than 200 wineries, growing more than 40 grape varieties, from Bordeaux greats to Rhone and to Spanish varieties – and did we mention Zinfandel yet?

“Versatility” is really the key word when it comes to Paso. First, there is a great diversity of the terroirs, with 11 well-defined sub-appellations (you can see them on the map), stretching from just 6 miles away from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the mountains on the east – and let’s not forget that while only 40,000 acres are under vineyards, the whole Paso Robles appellation is more than 600,000 acres, which is about three times of size of Napa Valley AVA. Such a great diversity of microclimates is very conducive to the wide variety of grapes made into the world-class wines all around the AVA. Let’s see how many times you will nod when I will mention some of the Paso Robles greats: Saxum Vineyards, making some of the best in the world Syrah; how about Zinfandel from Turley and Carlisle, some of the best of the best in the world of Zin; Tablas Creek – one of the Rhône pioneers in the area; Justin Winery, with their delicious Bordeaux blends – Isosceles, anyone?; Dracaena Wines – Cabernet Franc fanatics; Field Recordings – truly a personal favorite, making everything from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to Chenin Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Valdiguié – and all deliciously well. So, how is this list to you?

Paso Robles winesLet me take this conversation one step further and share with you some of my latest discoveries from Paso Robles:

2015 Halter Ranch Grenache Blanc Paso Robles Adelaida District (13.3% ABV, $28, 80% Grenache Blanc, 14% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Roussanne, 2% Viognier)
Light golden color
Medium intensity lemon nose, hint of jasmine flowers and lots of granite with a touch of gunflint lots of minerality – on the nose, it is minerality driven wine.
The palate is acidity-driven, fresh, crisp, bright, lemon, a touch of grass, and a distant hint of plumpness – the wine will show differently as it will warm up.
Drinkability: 8, delicious from the get-go, lots of energy

2014 J. Lohr Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.8% ABV, $35, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in 60% new French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black
Licorice, sage, dark chocolate, coffee, roasted meat, minerality on the nose
The palate is savory, bright acidity, blackberries, more licorice, coffee, medium plus body, lots of energy in every sip, dark and concentrated.
Drinkability: 8-/8, softer and rounder next day, showing up some cassis.

2014 Treana Red Paso Robles (15% ABV, $45, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 17 months in French oak, 70% new)
Dark garnet with a purple hue
Concentrated cherry pit and some funk initially, noticeable green bell pepper – or was it corked?
The bright palate, good amount of savory fruit with licorice, blueberries and cassis, noticeable sapidity, medium to full body, good acidity, nice balance
Drinkability: N/R. This was not a bad wine, but there was an annoying component in the taste profile, which gave a borderline corked impression and was adding sharpness to the wine – also it didn’t subside. I need to try this wine again to have an opinion.

2014 Aaron Petite Sirah Paso Robles (15.6% ABV, $48, 88% Petite Sirah, 12% Sirah, 22 months on lees in 50-60% new oak)
Black color. Just black with a touch of dark garnet hue on the rim.
Nose most reminiscent of a nice espresso, with a touch of vanilla. Swirling opens up some blackberries and massive, colored legs (I always thought the color in the legs is the trait of Syrah, but apparently, Petite Sirah has the same).
The palate is dense, concentrated, roasted meat with some coffee and blueberries, nice pronounced acidity, velvety texture. Massive wine, but surprisingly approachable.
Drinkability: 8, would be amazing with the steak.

2015 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $22, 78% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 7% Alicante, 2% Tannat, 2% Syrah, 16 months in 30% new oak barrels)
Dark garnet
Pleasant aromatics, medium plus intensity, Chinese five spice
A touch of tobacco, good acidity, expressive tannins. Needs time
3 days later – wow, dramatic difference. I simply put this wine aside with a cork, without pumping the air. Significantly improved aromatics, tobacco, blackberries, hint of caraway seed. The bright and round palate, cherries, great interplay of acidity. I never thought I would say this, but it seems a lot more of an Italian Primitivo style also with the back end minerality. Happy wine for sure – I can finish the bottle by myself. Drinkability: 8 (day 3)

2015 Eberle Steinbeck Vineyard Syrah Paso Robles (14.8% ABV, $28, 100% Syrah, 18 months in 50/50 American/French oak)
Dark garnet
Closed nose from the get-go, the palate shows some dark fruit, a touch of vanilla, but not much more. Second day (just re-closed without pumping the air out) – what a difference! Dark fruit on the nose, supple berries on the palate, a touch of pepper, round, medium to full body, good acidity, overall delicious.
Drinkability: 8 (second day)

What do you think – did I prove my point about the versatility of Paso Robles? What are your favorite Paso producers and wines? Cheers!

Drink Local: Texas, Georgia, Walmart

August 27, 2018 10 comments

Whenever I travel, whether for work or leisure, I always love to try local wines – adding an occasional winery visit is a cherry on top, for sure.

Drinking local had been a habit for a long time (here are some posts if you are interested in my past discoveries), and I have to say that more often than not, the curiosity is rewarded handsomely, with tasty, unique and different wine discoveries.

At the end of June, I was in Texas, and of course, I wanted to taste the local wines. I didn’t have time to visit a supermarket, so to my delight, I found a full line of Texas wines at the happy hour at the Residence Inn hotel where I was staying. All the wines where from the winery called Messina Hof, which, according to the website, is a very prolific producer, offering 70 different wines – well, everything is bigger in Texas, right? Here is what I had an opportunity to try:

Messina Hof Red Wines

2017 Messina Hof GSM Texas (14%ABV, 52% Syrah, 35% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache) – earthy aromas, cherries, good acidity, tart blackberries, good structure, excellent overall. 8-

2016 Messina Hof Reflections of Love Private Reserve Texas  (13.5% ABV, Merlot based blend?)
Touch of eucalyptus and dark fruit on the nose
Perfectly clean, varietals correct Bordeaux with cassis, well integrated tannins, crisp structure, excellent overall. 8

2016 Messina Hof Pinot Noir Private Reserve Texas (13.5% ABV) cherries on the nose, good cherries and and plums on the palate, well integrated, well balanced, medium plus weight, round, smooth. Not necessarily a traditional Pinot Noir rendition, but well enjoyable. 7+.

The only supermarket I managed to find the time to visit while in Texas was the one at Walmart. There was no Texas wine there (sad, but rather expected), but I couldn’t leave empty-handed, couldn’t I? I settled on two wines, both of which I picked solely on the basis of a cool label (yes, sorry, you can make as much fun of me as you want – I did like that critter label with the duck) and the price. I have to tell you that I actually got lucky, and ended up with two very decent wines:

NV Lucky Duck Shiraz South Eastern Australia (13% ABV, $3.99) – yes, simple, but very clean and nicely balanced. Good but not overbearing amount of red and black fruit, good acidity, warm spices. Medium body. Pleasant and easy to drink, outstanding QPR. 7+

2016 Prophecy Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (12.5% ABV, $8.99) – unquestionably a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, while surprisingly restrained. Fresh, Crisp, cassis undertones, touch of tropical fruit and fresh cut grass, Meyer lemon notes, clean acidity. Excellent QPR. 8-

At the end of July, I had an opportunity to spend a weekend in Atlanta. I didn’t have much time, but still managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the local Total Wines, which, to my delight, carried the selection of the local wines:

Local Selection at Total Wines Marietta

Local Selection at Total Wines Marietta

Local Selection at Total Wines Marietta

Many of the wines were either fruit wines or pointedly sweet wines, however, I managed to find the Château Élan wines, which promised to be dry, and were priced in the category I consider “reasonable” (at $19.99). Here are the notes for the wines I got:

2015 Château Élan American Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Georgia (13% ABV, $19.99)
Light golden
Touch of gunflint on the nose, herbal profile
Very unique and different on the palate compare to most of the Sauvignon Blanc wines. Green apple, tart lemon acidity, clean, fresh.
8-, more reminiscent of Chardonnay than Sauvignon Blanc – well drinkable and delicious overall.

2016 Château Élan American Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Georgia (14.5% ABV, $19.99)
Dark garnet, almost black
Classic Cabernet all around – nose is open and inviting, with a touch of casis and mint
same on the palate – dark fruit, cassis, fresh cherries, medium+ body, soft tannins, good acidity and overall good balance.
8-, very quaffable

I wish I had an extra few hours to visit the winery, which I understand is located about an hour away from Atlanta, but this will have to wait until the next visit. In any case, I get to update my “wines of 50 United States” page with one more check-mark :).

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Any local discoveries you want to share? Cheers!

Seeking Pleasure in Bordeaux

August 16, 2018 6 comments
Cotes de Bordeaux map

Source: Cotes de Bordeaux website

Let me take a safe guess: if you consider yourself a wine lover (oenophile, wine aficionado – you can choose your own designation), the word “Bordeaux” is sacred for you. Even if you hadn’t had a glass of Bordeaux in five years, I would safely bet that there was a period in your oenophile’s life when Bordeaux was “it”, the wine to admire and worship, and you would never pass a glass of a good Bordeaux if an opportunity will present itself – and if you ever had that “glass of a good Bordeaux”, you will happily attest to that.

Of course, the clout of Bordeaux is often linked to the so-called First Growth chateaux, 5 of the most famous producers in Bordeaux and in the world, and a few others having a similar level of influence, such as Chateau Petrus. However, for the most of oenophiles, First Growth and other wines of the same caliber are mostly a dream – you can never find them, and even if you will find them, you can’t afford them. However, Bordeaux, being one of the largest wine regions in France, both in terms of the size of vineyards and a volume of wine production, is so much more than just the First Growth – there are lots and lots of Bordeaux wines worth seeking.

Case in point – Côtes de Bordeaux appellation – approximately 1/10th of the Bordeaux appellation, both in size of vineyards and wine production. In exact terms, Côtes de Bordeaux consists of 6 sub-appellations (Côtes de Bordeaux, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, Francs Côtes de Bordeaux and Sainte-Foy Côtes de Bordeaux). However, based on the old adage of “rising tide floats all boats”, the Union des Côtes de Bordeaux was created in 2007 and it united all sub-appellations under the single AOC Côtes de Bordeaux, which was launched in 2009. The individual sub-appellations are still indicated on the label under their names (Blaye, Cadillac and so on) to signify differences in the terroir, but we all know the power of the brand marketing…

Leaving all the technical details aside, the beauty of the Côtes de Bordeaux is in its artisanal wine producers, many of whom are certified organic and biodynamic, and more and more producers embracing sustainable methods – which all translates into the quality of the wines. Also, considering that most of the producers don’t have big brands to support, the wines also deliver great QPR.

Let’s move from the theory to practice – yes, you got me right – let’s taste some wines. I had an opportunity to taste 2 white and 2 red wines from the region and was literally blown away by these beautiful wines and the value they delivered. As usual, I also played a bit with the wines to see how they will evolve – you will see it below in the notes.

2015 Château Puyanché Blanc Sec Francs Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (14% ABV, $14, 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Semillon, 7 months in 30% new oak)
Light golden color
Ripe white stone fruit, vanilla, touch of butter.
Ripe white fruit, minerality, round, mellow, touch of butter, beautiful
8+, lots of pleasure

2016 Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux (13%, $20, 50% Sauvignon, 50% Sémillon, Vin Demeter)
Light golden color
White stone fruit, apricot, tropical fruit notes
Beautiful ripe white fruit, vanilla, apples, butter, clean acidity, can be easily mistaken for Chardonnay
8+/9-, superb, just wow. Lots of pleasure.

2014 Château Cap de Faugères Castillo Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (14% ABV, $17, 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Dark Garnet, almost black
Mint, eucalyptus, green bell pepper, touch of underripe berries
Underripe blackberries, tart, crisp, firm, mouthwatering acidity. Finish extends mostly into mouthwatering acidity with a touch of tannins and slight alcohol burn.
7, needs time. Might work well with food, but on the first day, not tremendously enjoyable on its own.
Day 2: 8-, cassis, ripe fruit, good power good balance
Day 3: 8-/8, soft, layered, full body, great aromatics on the nose, voluptuous and generous. Great transition.

2015 Château Peybrun Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (13% ABV, $18, 80% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in thermo-regulated tanks)
Dark garnet
Green bell pepper, baking spices, intense, distant hint of barnyard, touch of nutmeg
Pepper, tart cherries, noticeable acidity, medium-light body, well noticeable tannins on the medium-long finish.
7, needs time.
Day 2: 8-, dark fruit, soft, round
Day 3: 8-, great aromatics, touch of roasted meat, licorice, sweet cherries. Eucalyptus and cherries on the palate, touch of iodine, soft, well integrated, good balance.

As you can tell, the reds were excellent, and the whites were stunning (which is great considering that only 3% of the total wine production in the region are whites – 97% are red). If you will take into account the prices, these wines represent simply some solid and unbeatable deals (yep, a case buy, if you will).

Côtes de Bordeaux common message is Bordeaux, Heart & Soul – after tasting these wines, I have to agree. If you are seeking pleasure in Bordeaux wines, maybe you don’t need to look any further. Cheers!

Looking for Great Wine Values? Trader Joe’s Got Them

June 8, 2018 4 comments

Another trip. Another stop at Trader Joe’s. Another “how do they do it?!” sentiment.

My typical strategy in Trader Joe’s is to see how many wines $20 can buy. This time around, I decided to change that. Somehow, being in San Diego in California, there was sudden desire to focus on California wines. That, and maybe a bit of France – 2018 had been my personal France tasting renaissance so far.

Of course, while I wanted to drink California wine, I was still on the lookout for reasonably priced bottles, not to exceed $20 – by the way, I know that good California wine under $20 is considered “mission impossible” by many, so this was another interesting challenge.

After touching and turning tens and tens of bottles, I settled for maybe not famous, but very well known producers – Benziger Family Winery and St. Clement Vineyards from California. I almost added French GSM to the basket, but instead, went with the Rhone-style white blend – a classic combination of grapes (Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne), and a great value at $6.99. Trade Joe's wines

How did the wines fare? Let me tell you all about it.

2016 Pontificis Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne Pay’s d’Oc IGP (13% ABV, $6.99, $50% Viognier, 35% Roussanne, 15% Marsanne). While Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne combination is a classic blend of Northern Rhone, this wine came from Languedoc, the winemaking region where everything is possible. Was it different than the actual Northern Rhone would be? You bet. Was it still delicious in its own right? By all means.

Light golden color in the glass. After some time, the nose showed classic Viognier perfume of tropical fruit – nothing overboard, but well noticeable. As it is often the case with Marsanne/Roussanne combination, I almost preferred this white wine at the room temperature versus fridge-cold. A touch of lemon and lemon zest on the palate, characteristic plumpness, full body, with some hint of guava. Roll of your tongue goodness, with a perfect amount of acidity on the finish – just bring me some food. Drinkability: 8-/8. And good luck matching this value.

2014 St. Clement Vineyards Pinot Noir Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $9.99). St. Clement Vineyards had been making wines in Napa Valley since the 1970s. One of their wines, a red blend called Oroppas, is one of my favorites, so this was an easy choice.

Bright ruby color in the glass. Dark chocolate, tobacco, and plums on the nose. The palate is perfectly balanced with supple raspberries and blackberries, good firm structure, excellent mouthfeel and presence, and an acidity cleanse on the finish. It might be pure luck – but luck or not, this was one tasty California wine. For $9.99. Drinkability: 8

2015 Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County (13.5% ABV, $13.99, 16 months in oak). Benziger winery was founded in 1980, and in the year 2000 became a Demeter certified biodynamic farm. Benziger wines generally offer good value for the money, and who can refuse a California Cabernet from a good producer? Yep, not me.

Dark garnet, almost black in the glass. Beautiful nose of black currant and bell pepper. Unmistakable, textbook Cabernet Sauvignon on the palate – clean fruit, soft, open, black currant, eucalyptus, soft tannins, medium+ body. Lots of pleasure in every sip. Another great California value – well under $20. Drinkability: 8-/8.

Here you go, my friends. Trader Joe’s is unstoppable in its mission of bringing tasty power to the people. What was your favorite Trader Joe’s discovery as of late? I’m off to have another glass of Cab while you are thinking about it.

 

The Art of Tempranillo

May 24, 2018 7 comments

Source: Vintae.com

I love Tempranillo wines. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I had a wide range of Tempranillo – with the exception of Australia, I believe I tried most of the major renditions – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Toro, most everywhere else in Spain, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington (am I missing something? do tell!). With all the love and respect to all the regions, if I have to put an order of priorities in that “list”, I would put Rioja first, Ribera del Duero very close second, but the competition for the 3rd place would be severe – in my world, of course.

I like wines of Toro, the closest sibling to the Rioja and Ribera del Duero, but it would be hard for me to place them higher than some of the beautiful Tempranillo renditions from Irwin Family Vineyards, Duchman, or Fields – considering the Toro wines I had in the past. Compared to Rioja and Ribera del Duero, Toro is … well, maybe I need to explain why I keep mentioning Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro together all the time. These are the only three regions in the world where the absolute majority of the red wines is made out of the Tempranillo grapes. Yes, there are Garnacha and Graciano in Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in Ribera del Duero, but still – most of the red wines in these three regions are made out of the Tempranillo, hence the constant comparison.

Out of the three regions, Toro is south-most one, with an expressly continental climate, low annual rainfall amounts, and significant range of day-night temperatures – which typically translates well into the flavor. Tempranillo is the grape of Toro, but similarly to Tuscany/Brunello, where you have Sangiovese and Sangiovese Grosso, Tempranillo in Toro is known as Tinta de Toro, a.k.a Tempranillo de Castilla, a.k.a. Ink of Toro. The grape is a bit smaller, with thicker skin, which coupled with growing conditions typically results, in massive, concentrated wines requiring extensive aging to become drinkable – I still have a memory of trying Alabaster made by Sierra Cantabria, one of the well-known producers in Toro, which was one of the most massive wines I ever experienced. Nevertheless, as I said at the beginning, Tempranillo is one of the favorites, so when the opportunity called to try 3 wines from Toro, I was definitely curious – and a bit cautious at the same time.

To ease things up, together with the 3 Toro wines from Bodega Matsu came a bottle of Rioja Reserva from Bodega Classica. While coming from unrelated producers, there is a common link between them – this link is called Vintae – a young company with a serious passion for the Spanish wine for the modern world. Vintae, started in 1999 by the Arambarri family, set on changing world’s perception of the Spanish wine as “boring”. To the date, Vintae unifies a collection of 11 different “projects”, all focused on showcasing the regions and the grapes.

Going back to the wines at hand, let’s talk about Rioja first. The wine comes from Bodega Classica, located in the heart of Rioja Alta. Rioja Alta offers a unique high-altitude setting to produce arguably the best Tempranillo of the whole of Rioja region. Couple that with more than 100 years old vineyards, and you are looking at some tasty opportunities in the bottle, as this Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva was. Here are my notes:

2013 Bodega Classica Hacienda López de Haro Rioja Reserva DOCa (13.5% ABV, $16.99, 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, 20 months in French and American oak)
Dark garnet color
Pepper, vanilla, raspberries, mushrooms, nice minerality
Medium body, good acidity, noticeable alcohol burn initially, went away in about 15 minutes, good fruit showed up, characteristic cedar notes, good acidity, round, soft.
8-, nice, just give it a bit of time to soften up at the beginning. The second day continued without changes. Good life expectancy, as expected of Rioja Reserva. And an excellent QPR.

Now, let’s go back to Toro. As I already said, in my prior experience, Toro wines were massive and concentrated, requiring long aging to soften and really show a beautiful expression of Tempranillo. And then there were wines called Matsu.

Bodega Matsu wines

Matsu in means “wait” in Japanese. As we all know, waiting is one of the favorite games of oenophiles. When it comes to the three Matsu wines I had an opportunity to taste, there are many different levels of “waiting”. The wines had been progressively aged for the longer times before the release – 3 months for El Picaro, 14 months for El Recio, 16 months for El Viejo. The grapes were harvested from the vines of different age (again, progressively) – 50-70 years old for El Picaro, 90-100 years old for El Recio, more than 100 years old for El Viejo. See, waiting here is clearly a part of the equation.

And then there are those ultra-creative labels. Not only labels commemorate people who actually worked to create the wines, they clearly identify what you should expect from the wines – in age, in style, and even in price. I conducted a little experiment, first with my kids, and then with the people on Instagram, asking them to identify the most expensive wine – nobody made a mistake, the labels speak very clearly to us.

How were the wines? Surprising. Probably the best Toro wines I ever had – without any regard to the pricing category. Here are my notes, so you can see for yourself:

2016 Bodega Matsu El Picaro Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $13.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 50 – 70 years old vines, 3 months minimum aging on the lees, concrete tanks)
Bright ruby color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation
Young fresh berries, medium+ intensity, a touch of vanilla
Surprisingly light on the palate, pleasant tannins, fresh berries, very quaffable.
8-, might be the lightest rendition of Toro I ever had. The smell is a bit more complex on the second day. Palate nicely evolved, good balance, raspberries, no more impression of the young wine, lots of minerality.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Recio Toro DO (14.5% ABV, $21.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 90 – 100 years old vines, 14 months aging in second use oak barrels)
Garnet color, noticeable legs, minimal rim variation too
Sage, fresh raspberries, quite fruity, roasted notes, minerality, distant hint of cinnamon
Underripe plums, blueberries, thyme, nice herbal component, surprisingly light, still noticeable alcohol, needs more time
8-, needs time. Second day: 8/8+, velvety texture, well integrated, excellent balance, a touch of tobacco and espresso on the palate and ripe plums. Outstanding.

2015 Bodega Matsu El Viejo Toro DO (15% ABV, $46.99, 100% Tinta de Toro, 100+ years old vines, 16 months in new French oak barrels)
Garnet Color, noticeable legs, rim variation is not extensive, but present
Sweet blueberries and raspberries on the nose, sage, sweet oak
8- first day, waiting for more.
Second day: 8, much evolved, more integrated, velvety texture, dark fruit, round, smooth. Will evolve further.

Here you are, my friends – the Art of Wine, from the label to the glass. Very impressive and thought-provoking wines, definitely worth seeking. Have you had any of these wines? Have you had Toro wines before? Do you have any Tempranillo favorites? Cheers!

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