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A Weekend in [Great] Wines

June 27, 2022 Leave a comment

What is a great wine?

Does the wine made by a famous producer make it great? Does a high price make it great?

Wine should give you pleasure. Is there a measurable amount of pleasure to declare wine “great”? 5 units of pleasure? 25 units of pleasure?

Of course, “great” is a subjective definition. The infamous “the truth is in the eye of the beholder”. Every wine lover has their own way to declare wine great, and it is not just one way – there are many ways.

I love the harmony in the wine. The perfect balance of all the components. A unique flavor. A thought-provoking bouquet that makes you want to take a sip, and another sip, and try to understand. Or the wine which makes you disconnect from the world and all of its problems, and just get lost in your own thoughts. I also love the wine which perfectly matches your expectations.

I’m sure “expectations” is yet another loaded term, but if you are into the wine, for sure you have expectations when opening a bottle of wine. You expect to find freshly cut grass and maybe a proverbial “cat pee” on the bottle of Sancerre. I love gunflint on my young Chablis. I expect a good bottle of well-aged cold climate Chardonnay to show honey and apple notes. I want succulent cherries in my Brunello. And I need cassis in my Bordeaux, and gobs and gobs of cassis on my bottle of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t get me wrong – the wine can be great if it doesn’t match expectations at all, but this is the subject for another post.

That is what I want to talk about here – the wines matching expectations. The wines that were simply perfect. And a few others that were maybe not perfect, but still delicious.

The last Sunday was Father’s Day. I usually open a good bottle or a few in honor of the holiday, but this weekend of wines started a few days prior. My sister-in-law, who lives on Cape Cod,  had her milestone birthday recently, and as she loves wine, I wanted to bring a few wines that would be worthy of a moment. She used to love California Pinot, but as of the last few years California Cabernet Sauvignon became the thing, so I grabbed a few bottles of Turley Estate Cabernet, which generally doesn’t disappoint. And of course, a few other bottles, as we had to drink something for 3 days, okay?

Before we got to the reds, there were whites. We started with 2020 Château Montet Blanc Bordeaux AOC (12% ABV, Sauvignon) which was a nice, middle-of-the-road, Bordeaux white wine, offering a hint of freshly cut grass and some Meyer lemons. We also opened a bottle of 2018 Alban Vineyards Viognier Edna Valley (14.9% ABV). It was nicely perfumy and complex on the nose, and quite big and powerful on the palate, with an interesting flavor that I could not discern – on overripe wild plum maybe. I tried this Viognier with the fresh oysters, but this was not necessarily a winning combination. Our last white was 2016 Turley The White Coat California (13.5% ABV, 40% Roussanne, 40% Grenache Blanc, 20% Vermentino) – a full-bodied, elegant white wine, plump and round on the palate, perfectly fresh and clean overall.

Summer asks for a Rosé, even though the weather was rather on the cool side – our choice of Rosé was 2021 Turley Zinfandel Rosé California (12% ABV), which was delicious. Strawberries and cranberries on the nose and on the palate, crisp, clean, refreshing – it had everything you want from Rosé.

And then there were reds. Some were more of the “placeholders”, the wines you open just to drink something before you get to the main program – as was 2021 Field Recordings Nouveau Edna Valley (12.9% ABV, Pinot Noir). Young, fresh, grapey, and tart, as you would expect from the Nouveau. We treated somewhat similarly 2018 Pedra Cancela Winemaker Selection Dão DOC (13% ABV, 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Alfrocheiro, 30% Tinta Roriz), even though this is an excellent wine in its own right – dark fruit, cherries, nice minerality, medium body, fresh acidity, and overall good balance. 2016 Pedra Cancela was wine #7 on my Top 20 of 2020 list – I think I would prefer 2016 over 2018, but I need to try this wine again by itself and not “among others” before I will be able to form an opinion.

Next was the time for magic, so the bottle of 2012 Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV) was open. I have a long history with Turley Cabernet Sauvignon wines, ever since they debuted with the 2010 vintage – this post describes my perception of the 2010 vintage and also provides some details on my initially rocky relationship with this wine. The first 2 vintages were called “The Label”, becoming simply Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon starting from the 2012 vintage. The last time I tasted the 2012 Turley Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly two years ago – you can read the tasting notes here. These 2 years made a difference, and the wine was delicious from the get-go. Cassis on the nose and the palate, layered with soft tannins, generous and powerful. Upon opening, it was varietally correct and simply superb, worthy of a great wine designation.

You take a sip of wine, you think you discovered the perfection, and you are reveling in the happy state. Then you open another bottle, catch a whiff from the glass, take a sip, and wonder how the absolute happiness you experienced a second ago can be toppled? And yet this is exactly what happened when we opened the 2013 Turley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV). 2013 was almost the same as 2012 – except it was better refined, more elegant, cleaner. Cassis was beautifully pronounced supported by a touch of mint and a distant note of bell pepper. Perfectly on point, perfectly matching the expectations.

The next day I wanted to deviate a bit from the Bordeaux direction with 2015 AR PE PE Grumello Rocca de Piro Nebbiolo Valtellina Superiore DOCG (13% ABV). ARPEPE is an excellent producer in the Valtellina region in Italian Alps in Lombardy, crafting Nebbiolo wines. This wine had a beautiful vibrancy of the fresh cherries, not overripe, but just ripe enough, to offer an “unmistakably Italian” feeling on the first sip. Fresh, lip-smacking cherries, herbs, well-integrated but noticeable tannins – this wine offered a well-needed break from the power of California Cabernet Sauvignon. Unfortunately, a very short break as the bottle was gone in no time.

And then the story repeated itself. We opened 1998 Château Tournefeuille Lalande de Pomerol AOC (12.5% ABV, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc), the wine I knew nothing about. I got this wine from Benchmark Wine Group a few years ago, for $30 or so. I simply got it based on the vintage and the price – the vintage is one of the few I try to collect, and the price was reasonable. First I was pleasantly surprised with the condition of the cork, which was intact – for a 24-year-old wine, this is not always the case. But then the whiff and the sip… Oh my… The precision of cassis was elevated on yet another level – don’t know how is that possible. The wine had pure, pristine cassis on the nose and the palate with a small addition of bell pepper and eucalyptus, a perfect round bouquet, a perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and tannins, just superb. After the first sip, I asked my sister-in-law what does she think about this wine by itself and in comparison with two of the previous bottles of Turley (we still had wine left there on the second day). She said that she really doesn’t want to make me upset, but she really likes it even more than the 2013 Turley Cab – and I’m fully agreeing with her. If I were to rate these 3 wines on my Drinkability scale, Turley 2012 would be an 8+, Turley 2013 is 9-/9, and the Château Tournefeuille is a solid 9 or maybe even 9+, and definitely a memorable experience.

It was not just the wine – the food and the views were quite good, despite somewhat gloomy weather during most of our visit. Local oysters were delicious. I had an opportunity to try the Swiss cheese called Tête de Moine, which also comes with its own special curler. The kabobs were delicious too. And the views of the ocean never get tiring.


We came back home on Sunday, to have Father’s day dinner with the kids. Of course, Father’s Day celebration requires a special bottle of wine. I was thinking about opening the 2005 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Alexander Valley (13.5% ABV) for a while at this point, so I decided that the celebration gives me a good enough reason to pull the cork, which I did. The last time I had this exact wine was in 2018 when I brought a bottle for a special wine dinner in Singapore. At that time the wine showed as overly sweet. 4 years later, the wine lost all of its sweetness, and now was showing as a classic Cabernet Sauvignon with cassis on the palate, but somehow now the wine was showing very lean and underwhelming. I think the wine could’ve further improved over the next 5-10 years, but as this was my last bottle, now there will be someone else who will make the discovery. I had this wine with a special burger from Darien Butcher Shop – I had fried egg, fried onion, and bacon as flavor enhancers with the burger, so the wine didn’t stand a chance to show well, but at least it was not fighting with the food.

That concludes my story of a few great wines. What are great wines in your book?

 

Wine, Beer, and Road Trip

June 21, 2022 Leave a comment

Some road trips require long planning. Some are just spontaneous. The road trip we took two weekends ago was somewhat in between, more on the spontaneous side. I had a Marriott certificate expiring by the end of the month, and I couldn’t let it go to waste. Balancing places I would like to visit with the low value of this certificate, travel madness ensuing in the country, and the desire to stay within a 3-hour driving radius from home narrowed down the search. The town of Reading in Pennsylvania offered a reasonable combination of all the factors I mentioned above, so this is where we decided to go.

There are many advantages when traveling by car, such as ultimate flexibility of the schedule. The ability to bring your own bottle of wine to the hotel is another big one. This is exactly what we did.

I don’t know what possessed me to bring 2016 Saxum as the wine of choice, but this is what I did. By the time we settled in the room and were ready to have a glass of wine, the day reached my favorite “Kodak moment” – the sunset. I obviously couldn’t miss such a beautiful sky painting – at the same time, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to include the bottle of Saxum in the picture. First the bottle, then the glass.

You know how they say “no people/animals/objects were damaged during the filming of this video”, right? This was not a video, just a picture. And no animals were hurt. No people were hurt either (I think?). As for the objects… Well, the glass didn’t survive my adventurous stupidity. This was a standard wine glass, which can’t really stand on top of the wine bottle. It almost felt, and I was lucky enough to catch it before it went down. Someone with a better belief in the laws of statistics would take this “almost fall” as a fair warning. But not this guy. I put the glass back and continued taking pictures, trying to get the wine label into the picture. Until glass finally met the ground (ground – 1, glass – 0), giving my wife and me an opportunity to dance next to the window sill for the next 20 minutes trying not to cut ourselves with the tiniest remnants and also remove wine traces from surrounding surfaces. Felt like an idiot for the next 2 days. Oh well – maybe I will learn? Or not…

On the positive side, the 2016 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles Willow Creek District (15.9% ABV, 72% Syrah, 10% Mataro, 9% Graciano, 6% Grenache, 3% Roussanne) was absolutely surprising and spectacular. The surprising part was that this 6-year-old wine from California was perfectly drinkable upon opening – I would never expect it. The spectacular part was in the layers and gobs of fresh, succulent fruit, unending pleasure of interplay of blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and sweet oak, balancing acidity and full-bodied power each sip was offering. The wine was even better on the second day, becoming a touch more mellow. The same wine perfectly complemented the cigar on day 4. I’m sorry about the glass, but I’m really happy with my first Saxum experience.

Then there was beer. Clearly, I drink a lot less beer than wine. Nevertheless, I have a full appreciation for a glass of well-made beer (about 25 years ago I was one of the first members of the Beer Across America club, at the very beginning of the American craft beer revolution). Even more than a glass of beer, I like the opportunity to experience a tasting flight – which we found at the Chatty Monks Brewery in West Reading.

The Chatty Monks brewery binds itself as a “nano-brewery”. I have no idea what that means, I can only assume that they are implying that their production is much less than the microbrewery (microbrewery in itself is a highly contested term – for a long time Samual Adams defined itself as a microbrewery, while their volumes were clearly not at the “micro” level). Anyway, let’s leave the size aside and talk about the taste.

A tasting flight at Chatty Monks includes 4 beers which you can select from the list of beers available on tap. Out of the 14 available beers I went with Alondra which was a stout – the only dark beer available and I prefer dark beer whenever I can; Split Face which is defined as Pretzel-Style amber lager (no idea what pretzel-style means); Pray for More, a New England IPA, and Tree Trimming, which is described as “winter warmer” – again, no idea what that means.

Of these 4, we absolutely loved 3, which were each delicious in their own way. The beer lovers will have to forgive the wine lover trying to describe the beer experience, but Alondra, Split Face, and Pray for More were perfectly balanced and round, each in their own category. I rarely perceive the bitterness of the stouts, including Guinness, and the Alondra was just rich, creamy, coffee-like, and delicious. Split Face was fresh and bright, with enough body to complement fried foods. And Pray for More was probably the most exciting IPA I ever tasted – while it had the characteristic bitterness, it was complemented and leveled by bright citrus, and orange notes – altogether making it irresistible. We loved the beers so much that even got all 3 to bring home – except that Pray for More was sold out in the standard cans so we got one big 32 oz can which was made for us right on the spot. If you are ever in the area – this is the beer to crave.

We talked about wine. We talked about beer. Now, the last part – the road trip. We had more or less one full day for all of the explorations. Luckily, we had been to this part of Pennsylvania many times, so exploring Amish villages, lifestyle and museums was not on the itinerary. In addition to immensely enjoying driving around green pastures with cows, sheep, and horses, going up and down little hills on the narrow country roads, we visited a couple of places we had not seen before. One was Reading Pagoda, a fully authentic rendition of a traditional Asian structure, enacted first in 1908. Apparently, this is the only pagoda in the world with a fireplace and a chimney – which we were unable to see as the building itself was closed. But we were able to fully enjoy the views of the town of Reading, from the south end of Mount Penn where the pagoda is located. You can also see it through the lens of my trusted iPhone:

Another stop we made was to see the covered bridge called Wertz’s Covered Bridge, one of the covered bridges located in the Berks County – also the longest single-span covered bridge in Pennsylvania at 204 feet across. It was really fun imagining all of those carriages traversing the creek since 1867 when the bridge was built. You can close your eyes and hear the sound of the horseshoes hitting the wood pavement as carriages are slowly pulled through the bridge… Well, here are a few pictures, I’m sure you can add the horses as you see fit…

That makes it a full account of the wine, beer, and road trip experiences. Next, we will talk about some fun wine experiences on Cape Cod. Stay tuned…

Celebrate Spring and Creativity with Aridus Wines

April 23, 2022 6 comments

Spring is here in Connecticut. There is still some frost on the cars’ windshields in the morning, but the greens are popping out everywhere, daffodils abound, and cherry trees look pretty in pink. It still feels surreal with the horrible events unfolding in Ukraine, but yes, the Spring has arrived.

Okay, so we acknowledged the Spring, now let’s talk about wines and creativity.

Spring is not only about flowers. Spring is also about new wine releases, such as the one from Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Aridus is a family winery in southeastern Arizona, the area where the majority of Arizona’s grape growing is concentrated. Aridus, which means in Latin “dry or arid”, is a young family winery, built on the passion and the desire to make world-class wine. The winery started by purchasing 40 acres of farmland in the Turkey Creek area in 2009. In 2012, a state-of-the-art winery was built, first making wines from the grapes brought in from the vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California. The white grapes were first planted on the estate’s land in 2015, followed by the red grapes in 2017, all using sustainable farming methods.

The white grapes are already used in the estate wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Being curious about the estate red grape program, I asked Lisa Strid, the Aridus winemaker, when does Aridus plan to produce estate red wines, and here is the answer I received: “We are in the process of transitioning over to estate reds – our first vintage of reds from the vineyard was in 2019 when the Cabernet Sauvignon was on its third leaf.  However, I’m not certain as yet whether we’ll be bottling that as 100% estate.  We weren’t sure what yields would look like, so in order to ensure we’d have enough Cab for the vintage, we also purchased a few tons from our favorite grower in New Mexico.  So it may wind up being a blend for the Aridus tier, and we’ll almost certainly do an estate bottling for the Barrel Select Tier.  We just bottled the 2018 Cab Sauv two weeks ago, so it will be at least another year before we actually bottle and release the 2019.

However, we did just release the 2020 Malbec from our estate vineyard to the wine club (which will be available to non-club members I believe sometime next month).  This was the first estate Malbec brought into the winery.  So despite it being a year younger, it beat the Cab to the table.”

I tasted Aridus wines last year, and I was impressed with the quality. This year, I had an opportunity to taste Aridus wines again, and now I’m impressed not only with the quality but with the creativity. How so? I thought you would never ask – but thank you for this question. To answer I will do something which I generally work very hard to avoid – directly citing the tasting notes. But in this case, the description of the 2019 Aridus Viognier from the tasting notes is simply perfect and worth quoting:

This year, we conducted extensive testing both in the vineyard and the winery in order to better understand the optimal conditions for growing and fermenting this fruit from our unique corner of the winegrowing world. In the vineyard, we tested a range of UVblocking netting. We had noticed that since this variety tends to hang below the canopy, it is particularly susceptible to sunburn. We netted two rows each with: 1) a thick bee and wasp netting; 2) Chromatinet Red 30% UV blocking; and 3) Chromatinet Gray 3035% UV
blocking. These lots were picked separately once they hit brix targets and fermented in identical stainless steel barrels. In the winery, we experimented both with yeast and with fermentation vessels. It is our standard practice to ferment whites in stainless steel, but this year we decided to ferment a control in stainless steel, an experimental lot in a sandstone jar, and another in an acacia wood barrel. In 2018 we performed extensive yeast trials and had alit upon Ferm Aroma White as our favorite of all the yeasts tested. This year, one of our technical reps asked if we wouldn’t mind testing Christian Hansen Jazz direct inoculation yeast on a white variety, and we decided Viognier was the best option. When the bulk of the
Viognier arrived at the winery, we pressed it all to one large tank before racking it off to each of the vessels for fermentation to ensure homogenous juice to best assess the differences between the lots. All in all, we wound up with eight separate trial lots. We definitely found ourselves gravitating towards certain treatments over others (we unanimously loved the sandstone jar), but when it came time to blend, we found that we loved the way that all the lots tasted blended in proportion to the volumes of each of the trials.

Protecting grapes from sunburn using different methods? Deciding on the best fermentation vessel and playing with the yeast? Aridus might be a young winery, but I would say that older wineries should definitely take notice, especially considering the climate change which is not going to go anywhere.

Moving on from creativity to the glass, here are my notes for the 4 wines I tasted:

2021 Aridus Sauvignon Blanc Cochise County Arizona (13.3% ABV, $35, 90% stainless steel, 10% 4 months in oak, 100% estate fruit)
Straw pale, almost translucent
Tropical fruit, golden delicious apples, round, intense
Tropical fruit, initial sweetness impression quickly replaced by crisp, vibrant acidity, with acidity on the finish. I would say it is Torrontés in the blind tasting, but still, a nice wine.
Drinkability: 8-, easy to drink. A crowd-pleaser – I opened this bottle during dinner with friends – both of my friends loved this wine, and even my kids, who generally don’t drink wine, said that it was excellent.

2019 Aridus Viognier Cochise County Arizona (14.4% ABV, $35, 19 months in oak, 100% estate fruit)
Straw pale
Nicely floral and perfumy on the nose, round, inviting, medium ++ intensity
Round, restrained, elegant, plump, roll-off-your tongue, good acidity
Drinkability: 8-/8, nice and elegant. Was improving over a few days as the bottle was open.

2018 Aridus Syrah Cochise County Arizona (14.5% ABV, $46, 90% Syrah, 10% Viognier, 32 months in oak, 50% new, 50% neutral)
Dark garnet
The nose of plums, cherries, and meat stew
Medium body, tart, firm structure, some underripe dark fruit. Under-extracted for my palate – I want a bigger body on this wine.
Drinkability: 7+, needs time – these were 1st-day impressions
In 4-5 days, 8/8-, round, good amount of fruit, good balance

2019 Aridus Graciano Cochise County Arizona (16.6% ABV, $46, 99% Graciano, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in oak)
Dark garnet
Beautiful intense nose, plums, earth, smoke, sage, complex
Cherries, plums, well-integrated tannins, firm structure, generous, layered, perfectly balanced
Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding. This was my personal favorite from the tasting, offering a good Rioja impersonation. Very well done.

Here you are, my friends. Spring, wine, and creativity. I will gladly drink to all.

Wine News and Updates

April 1, 2022 1 comment

When it comes to the wine world, there is never a dull moment – things are happening all the time. Today, the world of wine is indelible from the world of technology, with no shortage of exciting products. Wine is also a business, big and important business, again, with no shortage of exciting developments. Let’s take a look at some of the latest business and technology wine news from around the globe.

Let’s start with something unexpected – cars. Cars and wine should never be mixed together – driving is one of the most dangerous tasks humans routinely perform, and it requires a clear sober head. So what can we talk about here? Let me tell you. last week Elon Musk made an interesting announcement. As Tesla feels the heat of the serious competition from all leading automakers, the electric carmaker decided to differentiate itself with the addition of an (albeit optional) reverse osmosis accessory which can remove alcohol from wine. This option, available exclusively for models S and X, would add about 5 grand to the list price of the vehicle. but the opportunity to enjoy your precious Latour or Harlan during the ride can not be passed on lightly. Open the compartment, pour in the bottle, and the spout on the dashboard will become operational once the alcohol is removed from the wine. Based on preliminary market data, Tesla has a hard time fulfilling all the requests for the accessory. We shall see if the other manufacturers will follow the suit.

The next news is almost a no-brainer. It is the one from the series “how I didn’t think of it before”. Coca-Cola company entered into a partnership agreement with Bacardi USA to produce a range of Rum and Coke products. The product line will include all possible permutations of Coke (Diet, Zero, and the others) with the full line of Bacardi rums – light rum, dark rum, and the others. The new product is expected to hit the store shelves at the end of May, just in time for the grilling season. Retail prices will start at $20 for the 4 pack, with consumers already waiting impatiently for the product. I’m really curious how Pepsi will respond, if ever – is Rum and Pepsi even a thing?

Our next news comes from the wine glassware leader, Riedel, which never stops innovating. As you know, Riedel glasses are developed to enhance the aromas of a specific type of wine – Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and many other wines have glasses of the specific shape offering the best sensory experience to the wine drinkers. The only disadvantage of the wine-specific glasses is that you need to have them all on hand, as you never know what bottle of wine you will decide to open, and even storing so many different glasses might become a challenge in itself. To address the issue, it appears that for the past 10 years, Riedel was secretly working on a project with the United States Air Force Research laboratory to develop a glass that can change its form based on the request from the smartphone app. The glass is made of some smart material – again, the exact details and fiercely guarded – which responds to the electric impulses from the control module embedded in the stem and changes its shape as needed. The glass will appears soon in the wine catalogs, with the expected price tag of $750 for two – it is expected that the price will drop over the next 2-to 3 years as production will increase.

Can we talk about wine today and not talk about NFTs (Non-fungible tokens)? Of course not. Gallo family company, which had been producing wines in California since 1933, teamed up with Beeple, one of the most famous NFT artists in the world. to produce a series of unique labels, each one of them having its unique value, as is always the case with NFT art. About 14,000 cases of the 2021 Gallo Hearty Burgundy will be adorned with Beeple’s artwork and will be available at select retailers around the USA. Gallo will dictate the initial price for the NFT-labeled bottles, but the retailers will be allowed to sell the wine in the auction-like model, with 25% of the extra money going back to Gallo. These NFT-labeled bottles are expected to be a big hit with consumers, and reportedly many wine producers around the world, such as Torres in Spain, Concha y Toro from Chile, Cavit from Italy are in talks with NFT artists to create their own collections.

Our last news piece might be the most bazaar of them all. As you know, Korbel Champagne Cellars in California produces wine in California under the Champagne brand (California Champagne). Based on the source speaking on condition of anonymity, Bernard Arnault, top executive of the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy), got fed up with Champagne’s name being used outside of the Champagne region in France alongside coveted LVMH brands such as Krug, Dom Perignon, and Ruinart, and announced that LVMH entered into the definitive agreement to acquire Korbel at an undisclosed amount. The deal is subject to the approval of the boards of directors of both companies, expected to be closed in 6 months. Once the deal is complete, Korbel California Champagne will be renamed the Korbel California Sparkling wine.

That’s all the news I wanted to share at the moment. Cheers!

Wine and War

March 9, 2022 6 comments

I don’t want to write this post.

I really don’t want to write this post.

Mere thinking about the war unfolding right now in Ukraine literally gives me pain. What started on February 24th is pure, unthinkable, unfathomable madness. Brothers were sent to kill brothers. All on the orders of the egomaniac who lost his mind and belongs in jail or a mental institution – at least I wish this was the case. In reality, it was all well thought through and calculated, so the ruler of Russia really belongs in jail as a war criminal. The country that was a subject of merciless, unjustifiable aggression 80 years ago became a merciless, unjustifiable aggressor itself. Unfathomable.

Of course, wine has nothing to do with the war. At the same time, everything has its role in the war. Here is how.

Instead of bottling the wines, Ukrainian wineries are bottling “Molotov cocktail” and helping in any way they can – wine writer Lyn Archer wrote an excellent piece detailing what is happening at the wineries in Ukraine and beyond.

Speaking against the war in a totalitarian regime is an act of courage that almost guarantees to land you in jail. Nevertheless, a group of top Russian sommeliers wrote an open letter to Putin, expressing their strong opposition to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Russia is not the biggest wine market in the world, but from 2015 through 2019 was consistently the fastest growing one at about 15% growth every year. As multinational conglomerates declared their exit from Russian markets, it is still a very difficult decision for the majority of the wine producers – but a necessary one. La Rioja Alta, one of the best Rioja producers in Spain, suspended its trade relations with Russia.

To protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden’s government-owned liquor stores Systembolaget stopped selling any types of Russian-made alcohol. A similar boycott was announced by Finnish stores Alko. Also, Russian-made vodka was removed from the shelves of many wine stores in the USA.

The world doesn’t need war. After 2 years of the pandemic, the war is absolutely the last thing we need right now. I don’t know how, but I really, really want it to be over. Now. Before it is too late.

All You Ever Wanted To Know About Wine Education

March 2, 2022 Leave a comment

Wine is an agricultural product.

Wine is clearly a unique agricultural product.

When you buy an apple, pear, cucumber, or eggplant, you really need to know nothing to make your selection – as long as it looks good and fresh, that’s all you need to know.

When you sell an apple, pear, cucumber, or eggplant, you don’t need to impress anyone with information – as long as whatever you sell looks good and fresh, that’s all which is needed.

When you are consuming an apple, pear, cucumber, or eggplant, you still need to know nothing to really enjoy it, as long as it tastes good and fresh.

But when it comes to wine, knowledge is power, whether you are buying, selling, or consuming – where this wine is from, how was it made, for how long it can age, what is the best food to pair it with, what is the best way to serve it, and so on. On one side, you really don’t need to know anything about the wine to be able to enjoy it, but the uniqueness of wine is in the fact that the more you know about the wine, the more you might be able to enjoy it.

When it comes to wine education, there are lots and lots of resources – books, podcasts, websites, blogs. And then there is formal wine education.

What prompted this post was an excellent article on the Rack and Return website which provides an in-depth overview of all available formal wine education options. Here is what it covers:

  • WSET – Wine and Spirit Education Trust
  • WSG – Wine Scholar Guild
  • CMS – Court of Master Sommeliers
  • IMW – The Institute of Masters of Wine
  • SWE – Society of Wine Educators
  • ISG – International Sommelier Guild
  • Regional Wine Study Centers
  • Universities and Colleges

Without further ado, here is the link for you to the original article:

The Definitive Guide to Wine Education

Enjoy!

Snow, Wine, and Valentine

February 18, 2022 Leave a comment

First, there was snow.

Well, not true.

Last Saturday we had a break in winter weather. The thermometer hit 60ºF here in Stamford, and it was perfect grill weather. I’m not at the point of grilling in any weather (some of my friends are), but 60ºF in February definitely calls for some meat on the grill. While the meat was cooking, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a glass of 2018 TerraNoble Gran Reserva Carmenere Valle del Maule – the wine had cassis and a signature pyrazine (bell peppers) which was perfectly integrated, and practically disappeared after a few hours, leaving, luscious, layered, roll-of-your-tongue, seductive liquid in the glass (the bottle was practically gone by the end of the evening).

Then, there was snow. This snow was absolutely wonderful for a variety of reasons. For one, it was extremely photogenic, as you will see below (yep, pictures time!). But the main reason was that this snow was a total surprise. There was no weather channel hysteria, forcing people to run into the supermarkets, no warnings. We woke up to the beautiful white blanket, covering the ground, trees, and cars. It was beautiful, it was peaceful, it was happy. I took a few pictures from the deck, and then we took a slow walk with Penny – she kept on happily digging her nose into the snow, and I kept on trying to get a picture of that before the snow was melt, but I was not very successful, so you will not see a dog’s nose below.














For the Super Bowl, the game of power, I decided to open a powerful wine. If you would ask me to name wine that I associate with power, California Petite Sirah would be on the top of my list. This was my last bottle of 2010 Jeff Runquist Salman Vineyard Petite Sirah from Clarksburg – I’m glad I decided to open it, as I think the wine was at its peak. Cherries and cherry pits, on the nose and on the palate, round, succulent, juicy and delicious, with beautiful acidity and impeccable balance. This was definitely one delicious wine.

I also made almond cookies – these are made from almond flour, so they are completely gluten-free, soft, gooey, and delicious.

And Monday was Valentine’s day. For many years we prefer a simple family celebration with kids instead of going to the restaurant to participate in the ritual of poor service and mediocre food. I was really craving bubbles, so 2008 Berlucchi Palazzo Lana Satèn Reserva Franciacorta (disgorged in 2017) was exactly what we wanted – golden delicious apples on the palate and the nose, fine, delicate mousse, round and clean. Very elegant sparkler, good for any occasion.

That concludes the store of the few days in wines and pictures, mostly in pictures. Cheers!

 

Happy New Year 2022!

January 1, 2022 4 comments

I want to wish all of you a healthy, happy, and peaceful year 2022!

May it bring lots of new, memorable, and exciting experiences, and of course, lots of delicious wines!

Categories: wine

Top Wines of 2021: Second Dozen

December 24, 2021 1 comment

And the time has come (drum roll, please) to announce Talk-a-Vino Top Wines of the year 2021.

One of the most exciting and most dreadful posts of the entire year.

It is exciting, as during the preparation I get to re-live the wines of 2021, look through the notes, reflect, and reflect more.

It is dreadful because I don’t like making decisions. Can you decide on your favorite child? Of course not. These are wines, not kids, but still – there are many ways to decide on what makes the wine exciting and what does not, and then trying to sort through the excitements? Dreadful, just dreadful.

But someone has to do it, right?

If you are a regular here on these pages, you know the story. Every year ever since this blog started in 2010, I come up with the list of most memorable, most interesting/unique/unusual/stunning wines I tasted throughout the year. When I started these Top Wine lists, the goal was to identify a dozen (12) of top wines. I was rarely successful with such limitation, and most of the Top wine lists consist of two dozens, a few times there were even two dozens plus a few.

So without further ado, let me present the second dozen (and some) of Top Wines of 2021.

26. Castello di Amorosa Sparkling Grape Juice Red Blend ($14.99) – until I tasted these grape juices from Castello Amorosa, I had no idea that it is possible to create grape juice that would perfectly resemble the wine, only without alcohol. I tasted 3 different juices from Castello Amorosa, all 3 were a pure delight – I liked this sparkling juice red blend just a hair more than the two others.

25. 2013 Fero Vineyards Saperavi Pennsylvania ($25?) – This was the only bottle of “Georgian” grape I could open to accompany an impromptu Georgian dish we had for dinner. Exceeding any of my anticipations, this wine evolved to be perfectly delicious, and it elevated our dining experience akin to the glove perfectly fitting the hand.

24. 2020 Tenuta Gorghi Tondi Midor Catarratto Sicilia DOC ($12) – Ancient grapes make delicious wines – Catarrato or Lucido, you can’t go wrong with this invigorating white from Sicily.

23. 2014 Oscar Tobia Rioja Reserva ($20) – if you are as conservative as I am when it comes to what Rioja do you drink, remember this name. Perfect delight in the classic style – if you have a Rioja craving, this wine will deliver. This was our go-to wine during a week in Cancun, and it didn’t fail us.

22. 2018 Knotty Vines Cabernet Sauvignon California ($10) – simple is beautiful. This is the first entry in the Top list from the Oregon trip in August (but so ohh not the last). Delightful California Cabernet Sauvignon at $10 or so is not something which should be even possible – and nevertheless, here is this wine. If you will have an opportunity – give it try. Definitely a case buy.

21. 2020 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Pet tanNat Applegate Valley ($35) – this wine has an energy of the tight rope, or maybe a guitar string should be a better analogy. As clean and vibrant sparkling as they get – ignore the petNat part, this wine is a serious game.

20. 2015 Imperial Reserva Rioja DOCa ($50) – a beauty such as Imperial Reserva Rioja can easily be anywhere on the list. Anywhere. But on the Top list, as this is top wine in its core.

19. 2019 Troon Vineyard Siskiyou Estate Syrah Applegate Valley ($50) – I’m a big fan of Syrah, and this Syrah is as pure as they get. Clean pepper and underbrush, clean and unadulterated. If you like cold-climate Syrah, this is just pure pleasure.

18. 2013 Montecillo Rioja Reserva DOC ($40 for 1.5L) – Rioja overload? This is not even remotely possible. If you love Rioja, this is yet another beautiful rendition.

17. 2015 Becker Vineyards Claret Les Trois Dames Texas ($14.99) – you never know what you can find in the local store. This wine was at its peak and absolutely mind-boggling in its Claret beauty.

16. NV Keush Origins Brut Methode Traditionelle Armenia ($25.99) – Armenia winemaking might be one of the oldest in the world, but this is modern, clean, and very well-made, world-class, sparkling wine.

15. 2018 Bodegas Muga Flor de Muga Blanco D.O.Ca. Rioja ($50) – Another Rioja!!!! Okay, this time it is at least white. Rioja is not only red, and some of the Rioja whites can be quite memorable – like this one from the classic producer.

14. 2019 Field Recordings Festa Beato Farms Vineyard El Pomar District ($25, 100% Touriga Nacional) – aromas that can transport and transform. Amazing wild strawberries and meadows aromatics. A perfect rendition of one of my most favorite grapes.

13. 1998 Reverie Special Reserve Diamond Mountain ($NA, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot, aged in 100% new small French oak barrels) – they don’t make them like that anymore. This is sad, but a true statement – this winery doesn’t exist anymore – but this 23-year-old wine was a pure delight, as good as aged California Claret can be.

And now we reached the end of the presentation of the second dozen to Talk-a-Vino Top WInes of 2021. Top Dozen presentation coming soon and it will be …. well, you will have to wait. Cheers!

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

December 22, 2021 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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