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Franciacorta: Unique, Different and Authentic

June 14, 2017 9 comments

“Sir, I will be very happy to work with you to improve the quality of your wines, but I have one request”, said young oenologist. “What is it?“ said Guido Berlucchi, the man famously known throughout the whole Franciacorta for his aristocratic, elegant lifestyle. “I would like to make Champagne here, in Franciacorta”.

The year was 1955, and young oenologist’s name was Franco Ziliani. Guido Berlucchi, while may be surprised, was not shy of taking the risk, and Franco Zeliani got to work. First vintages were a total disaster – awfully tasting wines, blown up bottles. But in 1961, the patience and perseverance paid off, and first 3000 bottles of the Franciacorta sparkling wine came into being.

Mr. Berlucchi invited his influential friends from Milan to try the wines, and they all happened to like it. The new chapter in the Franciacorta history was opened.

Map of Franciacorta

Map of Franciacorta region

The wine was produced in Franciacorta literally forever. The land surrounding Lake Iseo from the south was strategically located along the trade path between Turin and Rome. In the 11th century, the monks created a special zone called Curtefranca to encourage land development and commerce – “Curte” in this case represents “land”, and Franca, while sounds related to France, has nothing to do with it – it simply means “free of taxes” in Italian. The primary focus in Curtefranca was agriculture, and can you imagine agriculture in Italy without making the wine?

As the time went on, the Curtefranca became known as Franciacorta – however, the Curtefranca name didn’t disappear and since 2008 it is a designation for Franciacorta still wines.

That first 1961 vintage at Berlucchi became a turning point for the whole region which was before mostly known for its red still wines. Producers started changing their ways and make sparking wines, and Franciacorta DOC was established in 1967 with 11 sparkling wine producers. Franciacorta became first DOC in Italy to require all sparkling wines to be produced by the metodo classico. In 1990, the Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta was formed and became a major regulatory body for sparkling wine production; in 1995 Franciacorta was awarded a DOCG status, top level of quality for the Italian wines. Starting from August of 2003, Franciacorta became the only region in Italy where the wines can be labeled only as Franciacorta and not Franciacorta DOCG – similar to the Champagne where the word AOC doesn’t appear on the label.

If you are like me, I’m sure you are dying to hear a few more facts. Today, Franciacorta comprise about 7,500 acres of vineyards and produces about 15,000,000 bottles per year; there are about 200 grape growers in Franciacorta, 116 of them produce their own wines. 65% of all the vineyards are organic, and conversion to organic methods continues.

Franciacorta vineyards

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are the only permitted varieties in production of Franciacorta, with Pinot Blanc being somewhat of a bastard child, as the grape is even more finicky to properly produce than Pinot Noir – while some of the producers phasing it out (e.g. Berlucchi), the others love the perfumy bright character which the grape can impart on the resulting wines.

Franciacorta’s climate is very conducive to getting grapes ripen perfectly. The climate is generally mild, with consistently warm summer days. The Lake Iseo creates a cooling effect during the summer nights, helping grapes to reach the levels of phenolic ripeness which is very difficult to achieve (if not impossible) in the Champagne. During winter, the lake provides a softening effect, protecting vines from the very low temperatures.

Unquestionably Champagne was an inspiration for the ways and means of the Franciacorta sparkling wines – as expected if you use metodo classico production. However, Franciacorta is largely moving past the “Champagne copycat” status and actively seeks and creates its own unique style, not only by stricter aging requirements (both non-vintage and vintage Franciacorta must be aged on the lees for longer than the Champagne in the same category), but by the whole method of production – for instance, by using only stainless steel tanks for the fermentation or relying much less on blending and more on the quality of the grapes from the given vintage.

Franciacorta is obsessed with quality. It starts in the vineyard, where even if not certified, most of the grapes are growing as organic. New vines are often planted at a very high density, to force the roots to go deep down as they have no room to grow to the sides. The yield is well limited to about 4 tons per acre. All the grapes are harvested by hand (this is a requirement of Franciacorta DOCG). The grapes are cooled down before the pressing – and in the case of Ca’del Bosco, one of the premier producers in the region, the grapes are even washed and then dried, using specially created complex of the machines.

Getting the grapes into the winery is only the beginning of the quest for quality. We talked to many winemakers, and they were all repeating the same words – “gentle pressing”. There is a tremendous focus on gentle handling of the grapes, using various types of presses. Arturo Ziliani, the son of Franco Ziliani, who is in charge of winemaking at Berlucchi, gave us the best explanation. “Think about a lemon. Cut it, and right under the skin, you will see the white layer – pith. When you quickly juice the lemon, lots of that pith ends up in the juice, rendering it cloudy – and adding bitterness and extra acidity. If we would juice the lemon slowly without destroying the pith, the resulting juice would be clear – and lemonade would need a lot less sugar to make. While much thinner, grapes also have the layer of pith right under the skin – and when we press the grapes, we want to avoid crushing it as much as possible”.

Even gentle pressing alone is not enough. Franciacorta regulations allow up to 65% of grape mass to be pressed. Most of the winemakers press less, at around 50%, in some cases even limiting only by 30%. At all stages of the process, there is a great effort to protect grapes and wine from oxidation; such focused handling also allows to greatly reduce the levels of added SO2 – while the law allows up to 210 mg/liter, many winemakers limit it at only 50 mg/liter.

Official Franciacorta Glass

Obsession with the quality. Attention to detail. How do you drink your bubbles? The flute, you say? Where you ever able to perceive the full bouquet of your sparkling wine through that small opening on top of the flute? Well, leave the flute for Champagne, but if you want to enjoy Franciacorta, you will have to dump it (whatever way you see fit) and upgrade to something better – an official Franciacorta glass. It is specifically designed to enhance the visual and sensual qualities of your bubbles in the glass. The shape allows concentrating the aromas. And the glass is specifically made with the slight imperfections at the bottom to help form beautiful bubble traces better (perfectly polished glass doesn’t allow bubbles to form).

Glass of Franciacorta

Obsession with quality. Attention to detail. Passion. So what makes Franciacorta unique, different and authentic? It is all of the above. Franciacorta is a unique place, with its own terroir, its own ways of making the wines, and really its own, authentic sparkling wines. Franciacorta shouldn’t be compared to Champagne, for sure not anymore, not based on the tasting of 50 or so wines during our 5 days there. Well, maybe except one thing – similar to Champagne, it should be simply called by the name. You will make all hard working Franciacorta producers very happy next time at a restaurant, when you will have a reason to celebrate (and every new day is enough reason in itself), by simply saying “Waiter, please bring Franciacorta, the best one you got!”

Tango Tours – A Pioneer In Wine and Culinary Tourism

April 28, 2017 5 comments

Wine and Travel – aren’t those the best together? Visit new places, try new wines, then more new places and more new wines. I’m sure this is simply a music to the ears of many. Today I want to offer to your attention a guest post by Mark Davis, Managing Partner at Tango Tours – A Luxury Travel Company (www.tango.tours) – the company which can help you realise that dream of having a great time and great wine while travelling the world.  And as we are still in the Malbec Month of April, below you will find the Argentinian wine Infographics, courtesy of Tango Tours. Cheers!

Do wines fascinate you or are you yet to explore about this luxurious drink? Tango Tours will make that happen for you. Whether you are planning a private wine tasting tour or looking to indulge in a world-class and an unforgettable culinary experience, this is the right place for you.

Food And Wine Tour– Tango Tours curates food and wine tour to feature the finest restaurants serving local delicacies.

Exclusive Vineyard Tours– You get to explore some of the exclusive vineyard tours featuring wineries that are publicly inaccessible.

Luxury Wine Tours– Enjoy a guided luxury wine tour and taste some of the most exquisite wines of the world.

Deluxe Accommodation– You will be offered deluxe accommodation during your tour so you can sink into the silky soft beds of a luxury five-star hotel after a long and fulfilling day.

Tango Tours covers the most popular wine destinations around the world and the tours include:

Argentina Wine Tours– The itinerary features tasting the Argentinean Malbec, luxury food and wine adventure across Argentina and a visit to the reputable Argentina vineyards, along with discovering the local cuisine and culture.

Napa/Sonoma Tours– The luxury wine tour packages of the Napa and Sonoma valley offer you with a unique wine and culinary experience. From the sprawling vineyards of the region to delectable dishes from the finest restaurants, you get to explore everything.

Chile Tours– The highlights of Chile Tours include deluxe tour packages for wine connoisseurs who wish to explore the best of Chile.

Custom Wine Tours– If you have a specific destination in mind, Tango Tours helps you plan the vacation of your dream. Pick a place of your choice and we will make all the arrangements.

Why Choose Tango Tours?

At Tango Tours, we have an extensive knowledge of wines and food from the famous wine regions of the country. We work closely with some of the best winemakers and restaurateurs in the food and wine industry through which you can access private wineries and prestige vineyards across the region.

All ready to enjoy the fruity Merlots of Chile and Napa/Sonoma Valley or the dark, smoky flavors of the highest-quality Argentine Malbec? Just pack your bags and let us plan it for you and give us a chance to take you on a remarkable food and wine adventure.

 

Magnificent Portugal

May 24, 2015 27 comments

Douro Valley 2Two years ago I was lucky to discover the Portugal. A beautiful country with wonderful people, great wines and delicious food. This year, I had an opportunity to experience the Portugal again, and once again I want to share my experiences with you as much as possible. There will be a few posts, as there is absolutely no way to squeeze all the impressions into one (nothing is impossible, yes, but I’m sure none of you are interested in a post with a hundred+ pictures and ten thousand words), but still please prepare to be inundated with the pictures. Let’s go.

I want to start from the wonderful trip we had on Sunday. I’m subscribed to the updates from the wine travel web site called Winerist. An email I received from the Winerist about a week before my scheduled departure contained a section about wine trips in … Douro, Portugal! How could they know, huh? This was my very first time using the service, so not without trepidation I filled up booking form for the tour called “Wine Tasting & Sightseeing in the Douro Valley” (€95 per person), requesting the specific date – actually, the only free day I had during the trip. I was informed that my credit card will be charged only after the trip availability will be confirmed with the local provider. Two days later the confirmation arrived with all the tour provider information and pickup time (the pickup is arranged at any of the hotels in Porto). The day before the trip, I got a call in my hotel room from JoÃo, who informed me that the pickup will take place next day at 9:10 am in front of the hotel’s lobby.

The next day, a red minivan showed up exactly at 9:10 am (at least according to my watch), however the first thing JoÃo did after introducing himself in person, was to apologize for arriving at 9:12 instead of 9:10 – from which I figured that we will have fun in our tour. This is exactly what happened – after picking up two more people for the total of 8 passengers, off we went to immerse into the beauty of Portuguese nature, culture, food and wine. I will not give you a detailed account of everything we heard during of almost 11 hours of out trip (we were supposed to come back at 6:30 pm, but nobody was in a hurry, so we came back very close to 8 pm) – that would make it for a long and boring post. But I will do my best to give you a good idea of what we saw and experienced.

Our first stop was at a small town called Amarante. On the way there, our guide and driver had to really work hard – out of our group of 8 people, 2 of us needed all explanations in English, and the rest of the group was from Brazil, so JoÃo had to alternate between Portuguese and English – have to say he had no issues doing that for the duration of the trip. The second problem JoÃo had to deal with was … a marathon, which forced closure of many roads, so he had to find his way around. Well, that was also a non-issue, so we successfully arrived to Amarante. Our intended destination was the church of São Gonçalo (St. Gonçalo), which had an interesting story of the saint whose name is associated with male fertility. I had to admit that I missed some parts of the explanation regarding the origins of this belief, but the bottom line is very simple. Inside of the church, there is a statue of St. Gonçalo, with the hanging rope. Any male who needs help with the  fertility, have to pull that rope twice, but not more (don’t know if it would be equivalent to the Viagra overdose?). Besides, the Priest gets very unhappy when people get crazy with that rope, so all the pulling should be done quietly and without attracting unnecessary attention. I guess that same fertility power led to the appearance of so called St. Gonçalo cakes, which you will see below – I’m assuming the picture is self-explanatory. No, I didn’t try one, nor did anyone from our group, so can’t tell you how it tastes. After leaving the church, we had around 20 minutes to walk around the town, before we had to leave to our next destination.

Our next stop was the town of Lamego, which is one of the biggest in the Douro valley. As food was an essential part of our tour, first we visited a place called A Presunteca. I would probably characterize it as a food and wine store, somewhat geared towards tourists. No, “tourist trap” would be rather diminutive, as the food and wine were genuinely good and prices were absolutely on par with any other store. We had a taste few of the local sausages and cured meets, as well as cheese. We also had an opportunity to taste some of Porto and dry wines, as well as sparkling – the Peerless sparkling wine was excellent, on par with any good Cava or Cremant. I also really liked a Niepoort Dry White Port. If we wouldn’t have to spend the next half of the day in the hot car, I don’t think I would’ve left without a nice chunk of a cured meet, but oh well…

Next we got into a race with a long (very long!) line of honking old Minis, and we lost the race despite creative local street navigation by JoÃo. We still successfully arrived to our next destination – Cathedral of Santa Maria, Lady of Remedy. According to the explanations, the beautiful structure was erected as promised by the Bishop to show a gratitude for sparring the city of Lamego from the Black Plague. There are more than 600 steps which lead to the Cathedral on top of the hill, which people seeking the cure for the illnesses often concur on their knees. We walked around the cathedral and then used the steps to get down to the town level, admiring the beautiful view and exquisite architectural elements, also with the great use of traditional Portuguese painted ceramic tiles. This place needs some serious restoration work, but it is still absolutely magnificent.

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Our next stop was for lunch. The restaurant called Manjar do Douro was located very close to the bottom of the staircase we ascended from. It was somewhat resembling a big dining hall, with many groups occupying communal style tables. The bread, cheese and cold cuts were outstanding. For the entree I’ve chosen veal, as still was suffering from the fish overload from the night before (more about it in another post). This was rather a mistake, as the meat was really chewy (well, the sautéed vegetables were excellent). We had a few wines with the meal. 2014 Incantum Vinho Branco had inviting nose of a white fruit, a bit more tamed fruit on the palate, overall very enjoyable (and added another grape to my collection, Sìria). The 2013 Incantum Douro Tinto was nice, but a bit simplistic. As JoÃo learned from our conversation that I was all into wines, he showed me a few of his favorite wines, one of them you can see below in the picture (no, we didn’t try it).

Our next stop was finally a full immersion into the wine world of Douro. After about an hour driving, we arrived at Quinta do Tedo. Vincent Bouchard of the Bouchard Père & Fils fame from Burgundy, fell in love with the Quinta do Tedo vineyards (can you blame him? take a look at the pictures), located at a crossing of River Douro and River Tedo, and he bought the vineyard in the early 1990s. 1992 was the first vintage produced by the Quinta do Tedo. The vineyards, located on the hilly slopes around the picturesque River Tedo, consist of the vines of 30 to 70 years old. Quinta do Tedo makes only red wines, but they make both dry wines and number of Port styles. Winery’s logo has a picture of the bird on it – according to the local traditions, the birds would show up to eat the grapes when they are perfectly ripe, so that bird on the label signifies perfectly ripe grapes.

Quinta do Tedo Vineyards

Douro Vineyards

TedoThe winery still uses all of the old traditions of winemaking – the grapes are harvested by hand, into the small baskets to prevent them crushing under its own weight. The grapes are fully destemmed, and then are crushed using the … feet, yes, exactly as you expected. Grapes are stomped over the course of a few days by the men. The juice flows into the tanks (no pumping), where it is fermented for two days (in case of port production) or longer, and from there on the wines are made according to the style. Ahh, and I need to mention that the vineyards of Quinta do Tedo are certified organic. Also note that it is illegal to irrigate vines in Douro, so you can say that all of the producers in Douro are using dry farming methods.

I love the fact that wine offers endless learning opportunities – every time you talk to someone passionate, you learn something new. Let me tell you why I’m talking about it. As you might know, all the wine production in Douro is regulated by so called Douro Institute (IVDP). This is a very powerful organization, which assess all the wines made in Douro, both Port and regular dry wines, to make sure that winery’s declaration is up to the right level. I was always under impression that it is IVDP then which declares vintage year for Port. Turns out I was wrong – it is actually up to the winery to declare a vintage year (however it would be an IVDP will confirm or reject the designation). 2010 was an excellent year, and many Port houses produced Vintage Port. Then there was 2011, which was not just good, but simply spectacular. But if you mention 2009, people raise their arms defensively – it was not a good year. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Quinta do Tedo from producing delicious 2009 Vintage Port, including their single vineyard flagship, Savedra.

The learning didn’t stop there. Our guide very simply explained concept of the so called LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage Port, which has the year designation similar to the vintage port, but typically costs a fraction of price (and something which I couldn’t figure out for a while). It appears that concept of LBV is as follows. The wine is first made with the intent of becoming a Vintage Port – 2 days fermentation which is stopped with neutral brandy, then about 2 years of aging in stainless steel or neutral oak tanks. After that the port is sent to the IVDP to get the vintage approval – and if it fails to get the approval, it is aged for another 2 years or so, and then bottled as LBV. Simple, right?

Of course it was not all talking – there was also tasting. Technically our official tasting included only two types of port, but you know how that works – once the passion starts talking, the tasting becomes “no holds barred” event.

We started with two of the dry wines. The 2011 Quinta do Tedo Tinto Douro was what can be called a “BBQ Wine” – nice fresh fruit profile, with some depth, but limited power, allowing for easy sipping. But the second wine was the whole different story. 2011 was so good that the winery simply decided to skip the Reserva level, and to make Grand Reserva only. Wine spent 22 month in French oak. The level of finesse on that 2011 Quinta do Tedo Grand Reserva Savedra Douro was unparalleled, something which you really have to experience for yourself – elegant dark fruit, spices and touch of fresh herbs on the nose (you can smell the wine for the very, very long time). On the palate, the wine is multilayered, dark, full-bodied and powerful, and it combined firm structure with silky smooth goodness. At €25, it can be only classified as a steal – or definitely a tremendous value, if you prefer that definition.

We also tasted 2010 Quinta do Tedo LBV, which was absolutely delicious, with good amount of sweetness and fresh acidity, making it perfectly balanced; Quinta do Tedo 20 Years Old Tawny had beautiful complexity with hazelnut and almonds, and dry fruit sweetness. Elegance of 2009 Quinta do Tedo 2009 Vintage was simply outstanding – fragrant nose and very balanced palate. That was one delicious tasting, that is all I can tell.

We need to round up here – and I thank you if you are still reading this. Good news is that after that tasting where I think we spent double the time versus the original plan we went back to the hotel, with one last stop to suck in the greatness of the Douro River – so no more words here, just a few pictures.

Douro Valley 4

Douro Valley

Douro valley 5

Douro Valley 2

And we are done (can you believe it?). If your travel will take you to Portugal, I would highly recommend that you will give the LivingTours a try – I think this is the best way to explore that magnificent country. Also keep in mind that Winerist offers a variety of the wine tours in many regions, so do check them out.

As for my Portugal escapades – I’m only getting warmed up. Prepare to be inundated further. Until the next time – cheers!

Discovering Texas Vineyards

January 25, 2015 18 comments

Glasses at Duchman WineryAbout 10 years ago, one of the people I was working with was living in Texas, and I remember he mentioned in one of the conversations – Texas makes world-class wines. I said – really? He insisted that he knew some people visiting from France who were literally raving about the Texas wines. This stuck in my head – but I had no way of verifying that claim – no Texas wines can be found in the stores in Connecticut.

About two years ago, during one of the business trips to Austin, it suddenly downed on me – I will be in a close proximity to the Texas wines – I just need to make an effort to find them (you know how those business trips work – airport/hotel/meeting/airport – to step outside of the routine actually requires determination). I found some addresses on Internet, for what I thought were the wineries and drove there only to find myself in a middle of a small business park, with no wineries in sight.

Luckily, at that time I already had my blog, through which I met Alissa, a wine blogger at SAHMmelier, who lives in Austin. You know, if you ask me – what is the best part of the blogging – it would be an easy question. The best part of blogging is meeting passionate, interesting people and making new friends – this was my case with Alissa. So Alissa helped me to literally plunge into the Texas wines head first, by bringing me into the wine tasting event called Texas versus the World – we tasted whole bunch of Viognier wines both from around the world and from Texas (you can read about that tasting here). So yes, I tasted Texas wines, but still didn’t make to the wineries yet.

This time around, as I knew I will be coming to Austin, I reached out to Alissa and asked if she can help me to visit some of the wineries, in a short few hours which I had free after my meeting was over. Alissa came back with the long list of options, for which my answer was simple – surprise me, please.

Finally, I was done with my meeting and met up with Alissa. Short 30 minutes ride, and here we are – Duchman Family Winery. Clean, non-presumptuous building, reminiscent of an Italian villa. Not surprisingly so, as absolute majority of the grapes grown at Duchman are Italian varietals. Turns out that when the Texas wine industry was starting, the first desire for many was to grow the mainstream French varietals – only to understand later that Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay don’t work all that well in the Texas climate. But what does is Sangiovese. And Trebbiano. And the number of other grapes, some perhaps even more surprising, which you will see in the tasting notes below.

Different format bottles at Duchman WineryBy luck or by knowledge (Alissa – it is your call, but thank you!), but Duchman Winery happened to be a great place to get acquainted with the Texas wineries. They were the first winery to bring in the Aglianico, the staple of Campania and Basilicata in the … south of Italy, of course, pretty much at the bottom of the boot. An interesting side note – while working on this post, I read that some call Aglianico a Barolo of the South – not a bad designation, right?! Going back to Duchman Winery – not only they were the first to bring the grape into the US, but they also have single biggest planting of Aglianico grapes outside of Italy!

We had the great time at the Duchman Winery. Jeff, the winery manager, took us on a tour. We saw the cellar, full of wines in the making. We even saw something sad – a full 2013 harvest of all white grapes (Trebbiano, Vermentino, Viognier), aging in one (single) medium-sized stainless steel tank. Yep, that is what happen when mother nature doesn’t cooperate. But then we tasted 2014 Sangiovese Rosé right from the tank, and it was stunningly delicious. We saw the lab and the bottling line – Duchman makes about 20,000 cases of the wine a year, so it makes sense to own the bottling line. All in all, we had a great time at the winery and learned a lot. But yes, of course –  we got to taste the wines, and below are the notes for all the wines we had an opportunity to taste:

2012 Duchman Trebbiano Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (13% ABV, $14) – nice nose, white fruit, lemon peel. On the palate, crisp acidity, very refreshing. Drinkability: 7
2012 Duchman Vermentino Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (14.4% ABV, $18) – muted white fruit on the nose, touch of minerality. Lemon notes on the palate, clean acidity, nice balance. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Duchman Viognier Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (14.8% ABV, $18) – intense nose of caramel and baked apples. On the palate, lemon zest, nice bite, touch of minerality. Drinkability: 7
2012 Duchman Dolcetto Bingham Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (15% ABV, $25) – On the nose, tobacco, earthiness and dark fruit. Light and elegant on the palate, with touch of tobacco and roasted notes. Drinkability: 8-
2011 Duchman Montepulciano Texas High Plains (13.9% ABV, $30) – red fruit on the nose. Palate is somewhat unexpected, more of a Northern Rhone style with dark roasted fruit, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Duchman Tempranillo Bayer Family Vineyards Texas High Plains (13.5% ABV, $34) – on the nose, classic open Tempranillo, cedar box, touch of plums. On the palate – excellent fruit, but the finish is a bit astringent, needs time. Drinkability: 7
2011 Duchman Aglianico Texas High Plains (14.2%, $30) – nose of the roasted meat and fresh, dense, dark fruit.On the palate, outstanding! Delicious, touch of sweet fruit, tobacco, clean acidity, perfect balance, very complex. Drinkability: 8
2012 Duchman Nero d’Avola Texas High Plains (winery only) – On the nose – amazing complexity, raspberries, tar, roasted notes. On the palate, bright and balanced fruit, excellent acidity. Drinkability: 8-

NV Duchman Texas Rosso Texas High Plains (Dolcetto/Montepulciano) – traditionally produced as Dolcetto/Sangiovese blend, but new edition is produced with Dolcetto and Montepulciano grapes. Pinot Noir – like nose with a touch of smoke and mushrooms, very expressive, nice balanced fruit on the palate. Drinkability: 7
2014 Duchman Sangiovese Rosé (barrel tasting) – outstanding. Beautiful sweet nose, delicious full body. Might be a bit too sweet on the palate, but excellent overall. Drinkability: 7+

We also tasted one more Texas wine which Alissa very kindly brought with her:
2012 Kuhlman Cellars Roussanne Texas High Plains  – Touch of almond on the nose, lychee. On the palate, nice plumpness (typical of Roussanne), some salinity, good balance. Drinkability: 7+

We spent close to an hour and a half at Duchman family winery (you know how it works when you have fun), so we really didn’t have much time left to drive too far – but luckily, we didn’t have to. Our second stop was at the Salt Lick Cellars tasting room, about 15 minutes drive from Duchman. Salt Lick Cellars produces a number of wines from their own vineyards, but also in their tasting room they offer a number of wines from the other Texas wineries, which makes it a great “one stop shop”. A side note – adjacent to the Salt Lick Cellars there is a Salt Lick BBQ – very simple and very traditional Texas BBQ restaurant, where you can have all the barbeque favorites – ribs, brisket, sausages and more, made right there in the huge barbeque pit. And you can chose the wine you want to drink at the dinner right at the Salt Lick Cellars tasting room – a complete experience.

Here is what we tasted at the Salt Lick Cellars:

2013 McPherson Les Copains Brother’s Blend White (13.1% ABV, $24, Grenahce Blanc/Roussane/Viognier) – what a great start of the tasting. Bright and oily nose, elegant, white stone fruit on the palate, perfect balance. Drinkability: 8
NV Salt Lick Cellars BBQ White ($20, Trebbiano, Pinot Grigio, Orange Muscat) – Gunfling on the nose, very much reminiscent of Chablis. A bit too sweet on the palate. Should be fine as a summer BBQ wine. Drinkability: 7
NV Salt Lick Cellars BBQ Red ($20) – excellent – simple, soft, warm, or rather even heart warming, with perfect balance. Drinkability: 7+
2014 McPherson Tre Colore ($24, Cinsault/Carignan/Viognier) – Great acidity, soft and approachable, nice fruit, excellent overall. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Wedding Oak Winery Tioja Texas High Plains ($35, 80% Tempranillo, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Fire pit on the nose, smokey, plums, vibrant acidity, perfect balance. Drinkability: 8-
2012 Salt Lick Cellars Hill County Blend ($29) – very unusual nose of freshly fermented apples, a touch of root beer, lots of tannins, a bit off on the palate. Drinkability: 7-

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2011 Brady Vineyard Petite Sirah Paso Robles ($36) – Outstanding. nice power on the nose, soft fruit and good structure. Drinkability: 7+
2012 Fall Creck GSM ($48) – great nose, but slightly overdone on the palate. Needs time. Drinkability: 7
2011 Fall Creek Tempranillo ($42) – nose of fermented apples, palate is off. Dense, astringent, tannic and overdone. Drinkability: 7-
2012 Dotson Cervantes Gotas de Oro ($29) – a dessert wine. Nice sweetness on the nose, but flat on the palate, needs a bit more sugar and more acidity. Drinkability: 7-

Here you go, my friends – a wonderful deep dive into the Texas wines. While Texas wine industry is still young, the passion for the land and for the vine really works as a great matchmaker for the grapes and terroir. I think the Mediterranean varieties are really showing the best results, and this is only he beginning of the journey. If you are into wines, I highly recommend you will make an effort to find and to taste Texas wines (can someone finally fix all the demented, archaic, draconian alcohol shipping laws in US, please?) – Texas makes lots of wines worth of any oenophile’s attention.

Before we part, I want to again thank Alissa for arranging this great Texas wine experience. Cheers!

Wineries of New England: Connecticut Winery Trail

January 17, 2015 14 comments

Passport to Connecticut Farm WineriesI was back and forth on this post for a while. One one side, an experience is an experience, and it is worth sharing in the blog, as this is what it is for. On another side, what if the experience was not on par? Not on par with your expectations, not on par with what you thought it should’ve been – is that something worth sharing? Or is it not? I’m talking about an experience which was not bad – in general, bad experiences are worth sharing as you might help others to avoid repeating them, or at least you can shout to the world and feel better.  The tough case is when the experience was simply mediocre, just an okay type – what do you do then?

Well, I only have two options here – keep the internal debate going, or write the post and share the experience for what it was. Considering that you are reading this post, you already know what route I took, so let’s get to it.

I live in Connecticut for more than 20 years. I’ve caught the wine bug at least 12 years ago. All these years, while I knew that wines are made in Connecticut, I never visited a Connecticut winery – and was actually kind of ashamed of it. During the summer of 2014, the opportunity presented itself, and I was very happy to finally get acquainted with the Connecticut wines at the source.

It appears that modern winemaking started in Connecticut in 1975. Haight Vineyards, now known as Haight-Brown Vineyards, was the first winery to open, and the first vineyard in Connecticut to successfully grow Chardonnay and Riesling. From there, the industry had grown to about 37 wineries in the state in 2014. While Connecticut is not a large state by all means, the wineries are located all over it, so you can only visit a handful of wineries in one day.

Before we talk about wines and wineries, I want to mention an interesting program, called “Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries”, which is a very smart way to get people interested in visiting more wineries than they otherwise would. The Passport is a small booklet which lists participating Connecticut wineries and allows you to collect special stamps from all the wineries you visited. In case you are wondering, this Passport booklet can be picked up at any participating winery. New “Passport” is issued every year, and it is sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. However, it is worth noting that to be listed in the Passport, each winery have to pay an X amount of money ($2,400 in 2014), and some of the wineries simply skip on participation as they don’t find that worthwhile.

As you collect the stamps at the wineries you visit, you have an option to turn the Passport in by the certain date (it was November 16th in 2014). If you happened to collect all the stamps in the Passport booklet (i.e., visited all the wineries listed, 33 of them in 2014), you will be entered into a drawing to win a two week long trip for two to Spain. With less than a hundred people accomplishing it every year, your chances of winning are quite high. Also, if you will visit 16-32 wineries, you can still participate in the drawing for many interesting prizes. Prizes are good, of course, but even the sheer idea of collecting the stamps makes people to visit more wineries (works on yours truly as a charm).

Okay, now – let’s talk wineries. We only explored 4 wineries during our trip in August, all located in the north-west corner of the state. As a generic note, most of the wineries in the Northeast grow mostly an American hybrid grapes (Vidal Blanc, Cayuga, Marechal Foch, Chambourcin and so on), with the addition of the traditional staples such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also, most of the wineries we visited charge $10 – $12 for the tasting ($12 tasting also includes the winery logo glass), which is not that bad.

Our first stop was Hopkins Vineyard, one of the oldest in the state – it was founded in 1979, as the result of conversion from the dairy farm to the vineyard. I was very excited to start my discovery of the Connecticut vineyards – but somehow, that enthusiasm was quickly extinguished with the cold and indifferent demeanor of our host. The guy who was running the tasting for us, couldn’t care less about the group. He was not interested in conversation. He barely answered questions, with his whole attitude been “I’m so tired of you people”. And the wines themselves were not helping. For what is worth, below are my brief notes:

2011 Hopkins Vineyard Duet Estate Bottled ($14.99, Chardonnay/Vidal Blanc) – nice acidity, good white fruit, medium-long finish. Drinkability: 7
2012 Hopkins Vineyard Vineyard Reserve Estate Bottled ($14.99, Seyval Blanc/Traminette) – nice nose, flat palate. Not recommended.
2013 Hopkins Vineyard Lady Rosé Estate Bottled ($15.99, Dornfelder/Lemberger/Pinot Noir) – nice, strawberries on the nose, crisp, but acidity is overbearing. Not recommended.
2010 Hopkins Vineyard Cabernet Franc Estate Bottled ($21.99) – excellent nose, green bell pepper, nice earthiness, good earthy palate. Drinkability: 7+

NV Hopkins Vineyard Red Bard Red ($14.50, Corette Noir and other hybrid grapes) – nice, young, simple, fresh fruit, touch of spices, raspberries and blackberries. In addition to the fact that this was one of the better wines in the tasting, Corette Noir was also a new grape! Drinkability: 7+
NV Hopkins Vineyard Sachem’s Picnic ($14.50, Boca Noir, Dechaunoc) – touch of sweetness, nice for Sangria. Drinkability: 6+

As you can see, this was not a very exciting beginning of the discovery of Connecticut wineries. The actual highlights of this first stop were found outside of the winery in the form of the beautiful sunflowers:

Our next stop was a Haight-Brown Vineyards – the winery I already mentioned as the very first in Connecticut, opening its doors in 1975. The winery was known as the Haight Vineyards until 2007, when it was acquired and renamed into the Haight-Brown Vineyards.

Haight-Brown Vineyards WineryHere we received a better reception, and things started to look up a bit compare to the first visit. Still, no revelations and really no wines which would leave any memory marks. I’m also curious why none of the tasting notes list any vintages for any of the wines. You would think that the notes are reprinted for every new wine, so it shouldn’t be very difficult to add the vintage there – however, none of the wineries we visited had this information on. Another interesting note was a proud mention of the 15% ABV for the Big Red wine (none of the other notes have ABV listed) – it was almost shown as a point of achievement, which was really mind boggling to me. In addition to the wines, you can buy different olive oils at the Haight-Brown tasting room. And, most importantly, Haight-Brown offers meat and cheese boards, which came in very handy as the group was ready to eat. For what it worth, below are the wine notes:

Haight-Brown Vineyards Chardonnay ($16.98) – Chablis nose, restrained, green apple, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+
Haight-Brown Vineyards Railway White ($14.98, Seyval Blanc) – tropical fruit and lychees on the nose, nice creaminess on the palate, ripe golden delicious, good acidity. Drinkability: 7-
Haight-Brown Vineyards Riesling ($16.98) – Finger Lakes fruit. Nice nose, but needs more acidity. Drinkability: 7-
Haight-Brown Vineyards Picnic Red ($15.98, Foch/Dechaunoc) – simple, nice, open grapey nose, the same on the palate. Drinkability: 7
Haight-Brown Vineyards Morning Harvest ($19.98, Ruby Red Cabernet) – green bell pepper nose, classic, light and balanced Cabernet palate with a touch of sweet oak. Drinkability: 7+
Haight-Brown Vineyards Big Red ($19.98, 15% ABV, California Cabernet Sauvignon) – Classic, big flavors, nice green notes, okay balance. Drinkability: 7-

Our next stop was at the Sunset Meadow Vineyards, which probably was the highlight of the day – for sure in the terms of very friendly service. And then the wines were a bit better than at the previous two wineries. Interestingly enough, the Shades of Risqué Sparkling Wine, simple and unassuming, was my personal favorite.  Here is what we tasted, with the notes:

Sunset Meadow Vineyards Riesling ($21.99) – interesting, acidic, light. Drinkability: 7
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Cayuga White ($16.99) – beautiful nose of pear and apple, good acidity, good balance. Drinkability: 7+
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Vidal Blanc ($18.99) – nice residual sweetness, good balance. Drinkability: 7+
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Blustery Blend ($16.99, Cayuga/Seyval Blanc/Chardonel) – nice nose, palate too sweet. And new grape – Chardonel! Drinkability: 7
Sunset Meadow Vineyards St. Croix ($24.99, 24 mo in oak) – nice earthy nose, a bit astringent on the palate with some salinity. Drinkability: 7-
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Merlot ($18.99, 24 mo in French oak) – tobacco and green pepper on the palate, overall missing the balance. Drinkability: 6+
2012 Sunset Meadow Vineyards New Dawn ($22.00, Landot Noir/Frontenac/Petit Verdot/Merlot) – astringent, sharp, spicy. Drinkability: 7-
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Shades of Risqué Sparkling Wine ($16.99) – round, simple, good balance. Drinkability: 7+
Sunset Meadow Vineyards Root 63 ($16.99) – nice and round, good balance. Drinkability: 7+

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To be entirely honest, we also stopped at the Miranda Vineyards, but – I don’t have any notes to share. I remember tasting the wines (no standouts), and I remember taking the pictures – I even have a stamp in the Passport book – but no notes. So here are a few pictures for you:

There you have it, my friends – my first encounter with the Connecticut wineries. Not a great experience – but still an experience, which will leave a memory mark. I would think that 40 years should be a good time period to figure out what works, what doesn’t, what grows well, and then make interesting wines – but it was not really the case. Yes, there are more wineries in Connecticut, and so there is a hope for the memorable wines to be found close to home. And by the way, if you visited wineries I mentioned, and had a different experience – let me know – may be it was a root day after all. Cheers!

Wine Gifts – A Practical and Pragmatic Guide, Part 3

December 12, 2014 7 comments

Happy HolidaysAnd we are on the finishing stretch! Third and the last installment of the Wine Gifts Guide. We already talked about wines and wine gadgets as two large gift categories. This post will be a bit different from the previous two. If I pressed and pressed the need to be practical and pragmatic when it comes to the wine and wine gadgets, it will be hardly applicable to this last group of potential wine gift recommendations. You will easily see why it is so, and without further ado, let’s get to it.

Here is the last of my list of potential wine-related gifts:

  1. Wine Books. Yes, wine lovers still read books. If anything, we use books as a reference. There are plenty wonderful wine books which will make any aficionado happy – the famous World Atlas of Wine, Wine Grapes Guide, Jura Wine, Food and Travel, and hundreds and hundreds of others. It is hard to go wrong with the book – the only issue might be if the recipient already has the exact same book, so I guess our principle of “practical”, knowing what the other person has, would still come handy. Nevertheless, the wine book would make a great present for the most of the wine lovers.
  2. Wine Education. Wine education is fun, it is almost priceless for the wine aficionado. You can never know it all, and even if you think you do, you will still learn a lot, given the opportunity. There are many wine classes and wine schools offered around the country and I’m sure, the world. Yes, you will need to spend some time to find the reputable wine school and wine educators. But the gift recipient will really appreciate it. For instance, a famous Windows on the World Wine School taught by Kevin Zraly – you can buy a gift certificate for a single class at $125, and the series of the 8 classes would cost $995. Yes, it is a lot of money, but hey, my job is to give you ideas, it is your job to get from the dreams to the reality.
  3. Wine Experiences. Yes, this is a broad category, and it includes a lot of possibilities – but these are the experiences we are talking about. I don’t want to sub-divide this category too much, but you definitely got options. Here are few:
    • Grand Wine Tastings. A ticket to the Boston Wine Festival Gala Dinner will cost about $250 per person. Wine Spectator Grand Tour is $225 per person. You will create memories forever by sending special people in your life to such an event.
    • Wine Master Classes/Dinners/Vertical tasting. If you can score tickets to the event of this kind, they will run about $450 – $600 per person – but hey, I’m sure you have people in your life who are well worth it. Again, guaranteed memories for life.
    • Wine Travel. Send your grown up kids on the 10 days wine tour in Tuscany – I guarantee you will change their life forever. Or – grown up kids, remember how much your parents did for you? Send your parents on the trip of the lifetime while they can still enjoy it! Remember, the best things in life are not things. Collect the experiences and help others do the same.
  4. Wine Art. Similar to the books, I’m sure most of the wine lovers will be happy to get a beautiful painting. Yes, there are lots of options, in all different price ranges. If you live in the US, you can find very nice paintings in your local Home Goods store, where it will cost you $25 – $50. Yes, it will be mass produced art, but I personally own a few of those, and they make me happy when I look at them. But you don’t have to be confined to the home decoration store selection – you can look for the actual artists who creates paintings and other forms of art, all wine related. Here are two references for you – Leanne Laine categorizes herself as “The Women in Wine Artist” – she has a lot of beautiful wine-themed paintings which are available from her website. Another artist I know of, Ryan Sorrell, creates beautiful mosaics from the wine bottle foil tops – here is the link to Ryan’s website. These are just two artists I know of, but I’m sure you will find more artists – and again, I think wine art is a great gift category on par with all others.

Well, believe it or not, but we are done! I don’t have any more wine gift recommendations for you, and this series is over. I only hope that I was able to give you at least a tiny amount of useful information, and if you got a wine lover in your life, your shopping task will be a little bit simpler. If you will find this information useful (and especially if you will not), I would love to hear from you. Happy Holidays and Cheers!

Few Last Words About Washington Wines

November 5, 2014 9 comments

All the good things come to an end – so did my trip to Washington and the series of the blog posts about Woodinville wineries (if you missed the series, here is the link to the first, “MWWC-award-winning” 🙂 post – you can explore it from there).

What is my main outcome of that trip? First, at the “duh”  level – great wines are made in the state of Washington. Yes, yes, I understand how pathetic this revelation is. However, outside of Chateau Ste. Michele, Columbia Crest and may be  Cayuse and Quilceda Creek, how many Washington wineries can you name if put on the spot? Meanwhile, the wines I tasted in Woodinville, where literally one better than another. When it comes to the focused winery visits and large tastings, I do have a bit of experience – 7 wineries, about 40 wines, and not a single wine wine I really didn’t care for? That is a serious result in my book. Couple that with most of the wines reasonable priced in the $25 – $50 range, and the picture gets even better. Spectacular Bordeaux blends with such elegance and finesse – these Washington wines definitely worth seeking out. Well, today you would have to mostly travel to the area if you want to experience the wines – but this is the only problem you might have with the wines. Bottom line – I was very happy with my discovery of Woodinville and its wineries, and in the words of the Terminator, “I’ll be back”.

So you think we are done here? Nope. I still have a few more Washington wines to mention – thanks to Vino Volo. I wrote about Vino Volo a number of times in the past – the company manages wine bars in [mostly] various airports around US and Canada. While good wine at the airport is the most welcome development of the past 5 or so years of the flying experience, my favorite part about Vino Volo is that whenever possible, the bars offer tasting flights of local wines – you should expect to find Texas wines in Austin, California wines in San Francisco and of course, Washington wines in Seattle!

I had about 2 hours before my flight back to New York, and when I saw the Vino Volo sign, that was a happy “Yes!” moment. A number ofthe Washington wine flights were offered, but when I saw the one with Leonetti Cellars Cabernet, I had to go for it – I only heard the name before and they considered to be an excellent producer, so I was definitely curious.

Washington Cabernet Flioght at Vino Volo in seattle

The flight consisted of 3 different Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Washington.

Washington Cabernet description at Vino Volo

Here are my notes:

2010 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Walla Walla Valley – Raspberries and blackberries on the nose. On the palate, great depth, cassis, blackberries, pencil shavings, medium to full body, sweet tannins, elegant. Drinkability: 7+/8-

2011 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – herbal nose with sage and lavender, touch of cassis. On the palate – dark chocolate, earthiness, nice mineral profile, good acidity, elegant. Drinkability: 8-

2011 Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley – Rich and concentrated nose, with the hint of forest floor, herbs, eucalyptus and great complexity. On the palate – round, spectacular, herbal profile with nutty aftertaste, more eucalyptus, long finish. Drinkability: 8+

Well, now it is the time to conclude the series for real. What can I tell you? If you are looking for the great wine experiences, put state of Washington, and Woodinville in particular, on the top of your  list. For those of you who can experience the Woodinville wines and wineries at any time – lucky you. For the rest of us? Well, at least we know where to find them. Cheers!

Woodinville Wineries: Mark Ryan Winery

November 2, 2014 13 comments

Mark Ryan Long Haul BoxesThis post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation CellarsPondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars, Sparkman CellarsGuardian Cellars and Fidélitas.

…walked towards the tasting counter, only to find out that the tasting room was closed for the day. I was told that there will be a special event in the tasting room, and they have to close earlier to prepare for that event, and unfortunately, I would have to come back to taste their wines. The tasting room itself looked very appealing, with the large format wines and wooden crates (the visual aspect of the “wineappeal” is so fascinating), I was really disappointed with the prospect of just walking away and finishing the great day on such a low note, especially after a so-so tasting at Fidélitas. So I used my last resort  – I explained that I’m a blogger, and that I traveled from another coast, and it would not be possible for me to returned for the tasting any time soon. It worked! I was told that if I don’t mind sitting outside at the table, they will be glad to bring me all the wines to taste – but of course, thank you very much!

At Mark Ryan Winery

Tasting Room at Mark Ryan winery – aren’t does bottles look great?

The weather was beautiful ( it was not even raining! :)), and tasting outside was just an excellent proposition. The first wine which was brought to the table was  2013 Mark Ryan Viognier Columbia Valley (100% Viognier). I’m generally a bit worrying about Viognier wines – when they are good, they are absolutely spectacular in all aspects, from nose and the taste to the mouthfeel and the body. But when they are bad, they can be really daunting. Starting form the nose, Mark Ryan Viognier was spectacular – perfumy nose, perfect acidity, creamy mouthfeel, excellent balance and overall delicious. An interesting fact – this wine was partially aged in the concrete egg, which, according to the winery description, enhances the texture. I concur. Drinkability: 8.

The next wine was 2012 Mark Ryan NumbSkull GSM Walla Walla (58% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre) – beautiful ruby color, open nose of fresh berries (mourvedre dominated), blackberries, raspberries, thyme, earthiness – another delicious wine. Drinkability: 8

2012 Mark Ryan The Dissident Columbia Valley (54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot) – cassis all the way! Texturally very present (my original note says “phenomenal texture”, but I don’t think “phenomenal” would be a universally recognized descriptor), round, clean and delicious. Drinkability: 9-

2012 Mark Ryan Long Haul Red Mountain (49% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) – cassis again! Hint of green bell pepper, noticeable tannins, nice herbal component, round and delicious. Drinkability: 8+

2012 Mark Ryan Dead Horse Red Mountain (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot) – wow! Dusty tannins, cassis, big body, eucalyptus, delicious by all means. Drinkability: 9-

I guess you can tell that this was one exciting tasting – from my experience, this is quite a rare occasion when all the wines in the tasting are literally one better than the other. This was the second winery where I just had to buy the wine (got a bottle of NumbSkull and The Dissident). I’m really thankful to the kind folks at the Mark Ryan for being able to accommodate me despite their prepping for a special event – and I’m glad to be able to finish the day on such a high note.

This post essentially concludes the series about my short 3-hours run around the Woodinville wineries, but before I left the state of Washington, I had an opportunity to taste a few more interesting wines – we will talk about them in the next post.

To be concluded…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Fidélitas

October 27, 2014 9 comments

Fidelitas winery This post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation CellarsPondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars, Sparkman Cellars and Guardian Cellars.

… and I arrived at a small shopping plaza (also known as strip mall in some part of US), only with wineries instead of shops. I decided to start with Fidélitas, which had a bright and shiny sign and was one of the two wineries recommended by Randy at Sparkman cellars. The tasting room was similarly busy (not!) as all the previous ones – a few people at the counter, and that is about it. I introduced myself to the girl at the counter, explained that I’m a blogger and asked if I can have a complementary tasting (the exact same thing which I did at 5 previous wineries). The reaction on girl’s face was rather resembling a consequences of an unexpected bite into a lemon. She was equally not moved with my business card (no, I was not expecting a bow or applause, but at least may be a mild interest I had at the other wineries?), and she sternly explained that free tasting is granted only to visiting winemakers; she will do it for me, but only as a big exception, and if I will come again, it will not be free anymore (please understand – we are talking about ten dollars).

I think this “warm welcome” affected the way I perceived the wines. Randy mentioned that Fidelitas makes big wines – and while the wines were good, they were not the big wines I was expecting. Here is what I tasted:

2013 Fidelitas Klipsum Vineyard Semillon Red Mountain – Nice, clean fruit, sweet nose, dry on the palate. Drinkability: 7

2011 Fidelitas Malbec Columbia Valley – cut through acidity, a food wine. Drinkability: 7

2011 Fidelitas Boushey Vineyard Red Wine Yakima Valley (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc) – Excellent, clean, Bordeaux style. Drinkability: 8-

Fidelitas wines

2010 Fidelitas Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Verdot) – powerful over the top tannins, clean and round, Bordeaux style. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Fidelitas Champoux Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills – forthcoming tannins, nice, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+

I spent less than 15 minutes at Fidelitas. After a leisurely 15 seconds walk,  I arrived at my last winery of the day, Mark Ryan. I opened the door and walked towards the tasting counter, only to find out that…

To be continued…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Guardian Cellars

October 23, 2014 8 comments

Guardian Cellars Felony Uusal Suspects Wine ClubThis post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation CellarsPondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars and Sparkman Cellars.

Coming out of the Sparkman Cellars, I had my new targets set, and they were outside of the industrial park area. Walking past the open door on the way to my car, I heard the inner voice saying “we must go there”. I don’t know what exactly attracted that inner voice thingy, may be just the name “Guardian”, but I decided not to argue and stepped in. Boy, was I in for the lots of fun!

I was greeted by cheerful and smiling Jennifer, and had the first wine poured – 2013 Guardian Cellars Entrapment Chardonnay. From the get go, this was a delicious wine – chablis-like nose with the hint of gunflint and minerality,  round, powerful, medium to full body and perfect vanilla profile. It’s been a while since I had such a beautiful rendition of Chardonnay. Drinkability: 8

There were two more people in the tasting room (I think I was lucky with the football game happening at the same time, so it definitely lead to the reduced audience at the wineries). The TV screen behind the counter was running a slide show, and Jennifer started commenting on the pictures, telling the story of the winery bit by bit. By pure chance, Jerry Riener (who works as a police officer) one day stopped by the winery, and got fascinated with all the shiny stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. Next time, he offered his help (as a volunteer, of course) at the vineyard during the harvest, and little by little became an indispensable member of the team. This passion fully materialized when Jerry started The Guardian Cellars, which he owns together with his wife Jennifer Sullivan, who also has a full time job as a journalist for The Seattle Times. I can tell you, when you look at the winery and especially after you taste the wines, this passion comes through as something incredible. And to top it of, just look at the names of the wines – Entrapment, Confidential Source, Gun Metal – the pure ingenuity of all those names left me almost speechless. How about “Usual Suspects” as the name of the wine club, huh? Anyone remembers the movie?

I hope I managed to convey my general excitement – what is great is that it was not just the story and creative names of the wines – what was inside the bottles definitely was better than the thousands of words. Here are my notes:

2011 Guardian Cellars Chalk Line Columbia Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot) – nice, clean and simple. Looking at the list of grapes used in this wine, it is quite an eclectic mix – but it worked. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Guardian Cellars Confidential Source Columbia Valley (100% Merlot) – Clean Bordeaux notes, light, round, multilayered – it starts simple, and the depth comes back later. Drinkability: 7+

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2011 Guardian Cellars Gun Metal Columbia Valley (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) – delicious! Great texture, perfect concentration, round, smooth – a pleasure in every sip. Drinkability: 8

2011 Guardian Cellars The Informant Syrah Wahluke Slope (Syrah with a splash of Viognier) – an exemplary cool climate Syrah specimen. Dark roasted fruit, spices, pepper, very elegant and excellent overall. This wine broke my resistance – I just felt that I must get a few bottles. Excellent overall. Drinkability: 8

2011 Guardian Cellars The Rookie Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (Klipsun, Obelisco and Ceil du Cheval vineyards) – perfection in the glass. Round, restrained, medium to full body, good mid-palate weight, an excellent aging potential. Impeccable balance. Drinkability: 8

I was very happy I listened to my inner voice and entered the doors of the Guardian Cellars – it resulted in a great encounter with passion, and I discovered delicious wines, which became very handy during one of the restaurant visits ( I think we depleted their whole supply of Guardian Cellars wines).

Finally, it was the time to say good bye to the industrial park wineries and visit those recommended by Randy at the Sparkman Cellars, as I had less than an hour left before 5 PM – time when most tasting rooms are closing. Short 7 minutes drive and I was …

To be continued…