American Pleasures #7: Barra of Mendocino

October 31, 2022 1 comment

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

One of the great pleasures of drinking wine is a surprise factor. When you open a bottle you know nothing about – maybe you recognize the grape, and maybe you have an idea of the place, but you never heard of the producer, you never had this wine before – there lies the best mystery. This mystery is the best because you don’t need to work too hard to come upon it. Mystery makes life fun, especially when this mystery is as safe, simple, and innocent as opening a bottle of unknown wine, unlike wondering over a dark path in the forest, not knowing if you are in a way of a raccoon or a bear.

Of course, the surprise can work both ways – you might not be happy about your discovery, you might not be happy at all. But when you take a sniff, which is magnificent, then take a sip that fully matches your initial expectations, you can’t help but have an ear-to-ear smile on your face. And instantly pour yourself another glass. There, this is the surprise and the mystery I’m talking about – a simple pleasure available to you on any day you desire one.

Don’t take it for granted – it doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes, you don’t want another glass, and simply move on. But when you are in luck, it is not just a pure hedonistic pleasure that is offered to you. It is also an opportunity to learn something new, to discover something which will serve you well for a long time.

At this point you already know that this conversation is not theoretical – we will be talking about my recent discovery. As the subject of this discovery is the wine made in California, I thought it perfectly falls into the American Pleasures series.

Bella Colina Vineyard. Source: BARRA of Mendocino

Please meet Barra of Mendocino.

The history of Barra of Mendocino started in 1954 when Charlie Barra purchased Redwood Valley Vineyards, which today boasts 256 acres of organically farmed vines. Original Redwood Valley Vineyards was planted with “standard” grapes suitable for making table wines. Over the course of a few years, Charlie recognized the potential of varietally-specific wines, and he started working with Karl Wente, Louis Martini, Robert Mondavi, and other pioneers of varietally-specific vine-growing and winemaking to move in that direction.

From the beginning, Charlie Barra was focused on organic farming – no pesticides or herbicides, no synthetic fertilizers – just the natural habitat, allowing Mother Nature do her best. While banal, here is an interesting tidbit – before World War II, agriculture was all organic. Now we have to pay dearly for simply returning to how it should be. Nevertheless… Redwood Valley Vineyards was one of the early officially certified organic properties in California, obtaining its certification in 1989. Mendocino County appellation, home to the BARRA of Mendocino vineyards, today has close to 25% of all vineyards certified organic.

Today, BARRA of Mendocino organically farms more than 350 acres of vineyards, growing Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah grapes. It is also home to the 2.8 million gallons CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certified custom crush facility.

I had an opportunity to taste 2 wines from the Barra family – as you can tell, I was sufficiently impressed to add this post to the American Pleasures series.

First, Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc. All Girasole Vineyards (Girasole means sunflower in Italian, hence the label) wines are not only organic they are also vegan-friendly. Pinot Blanc is not a grape typically associated with California. Alsace, Germany – of course, maybe even Oregon – but Californian Pinot Blanc was a bit of a concern to me. Which dissipated instantly with the very first sip of the wine.

2021 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Blanc Mendocino County (13% ABV, $15, vegan)
Straw pale
Whitestone fruit, herbs, lemon, distant hint of the gunflint
Wild apricots, Whitestone fruit, plump, round, perfect mid-palate weight, good acidity, perfect balance, delicious.
8+, excellent. Hallmark of quality – very tasty at room temperature.

Petite Sirah can be safely called a signature grape of California. Okay, okay – it is not Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, and it is not even a Pinot Noir. Nevertheless, Petite Sirah is very popular among those who know, and if you need confirmation, don’t look further than Turley, Carlisle, Retro, Stag’s Leap, Ridge, and many many others. At the same time, Californian Petitte Sirah is one of the most challenging wines for wine lovers, because more often than not Petite Sirah wines are massive, and require 10-15 years in the cellar to even start opening up. Thus you can imagine that I approached Barra Petite Sirah with a good dose of trepidation, even though it subsided somewhat after tasting the delicious Pinot Blanc.

2019 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah Mendocino (14.8% ABV, $26, 89% Petite Sirah, 11% Zinfandel, 18 months in 25% new French oak, balance in neutral barrels)
Dark garnet
Dark fruit, fresh and succulent, blackberries, espresso
Polished, elegant, voluptuous. Beautiful supple dark fruit coupled with salivating acidity and roll-of-your-tongue texture. Layered and sophisticated.
9-, truly outstanding.

Two outstanding wines from California – certified organic, super-reasonably priced (both $15 and $26 are almost a steal and offer an insane QPR), and most importantly – absolutely delicious, pop’n’pour wines. A rare treat for sure.

Besides, these wines can be a jewel of your Thanksgiving wine program. Yes, you can thank me later. Until then – cheers!

I Still Don’t Understand…

October 29, 2022 6 comments

This is not really a rant. I guess this can classify as rambling. Or “asking for a friend” might be the best way to classify this post.

Nevertheless, let me share my frustration.

The question is as simple as it is proverbial. When you take a sip of wine (you can make it a glass, doesn’t matter), do you judge the wine at that moment?

Hold on, while you ponder this, let me add a few layers.

You read the description of the wine. The wine sounds great. The wine sounds like something you want to buy and you want to drink, so you buy it.

Some time later (let’s say, 10 months later), you open a bottle. You remember it came with the recommendation, so you are full of anticipation – or not, maybe you even forgot the raving review. But this bottle is in your cellar, as you had a reason to buy it. So it is rightfully expected to be a good bottle of wine.

You pour a glass. You take a sip. The wine is perfectly fine, no faults, all is good, but the wine gives you nothing. Forget pleasure – the wine is flat and pedestrian, it doesn’t deliver anything, doesn’t cause any emotion. Just flat and boring. You let it breathe for an hour or even two, and still, there is nothing. Does this story sound familiar? Can you picture yourself in this situation?

So here is the first part of the question. How do they do it? The people who reviewed the wine and called it “Killer Bourgogne Rouge” – how come you can’t see an eye to eye with them? I get it when the wine solicits emotion and it is not your wine – this I understand. I remember Robert Parker raving about Ball Buster Shiraz, and the wine was incredibly overdone to my taste, I couldn’t enjoy it at all, but at least that wine didn’t leave me indifferent. But this is not my point. Let’s continue.

While I was not happy  – I rarely get to drink Burgundy, so I really want every Burgundy experience to be special – I still did what I always do. Pumped the air out and left the bottle on the counter.

The next evening, I poured another glass to decide on the fate of the half bottle which was left. I took a sip, and couldn’t believe that I’m drinking the same wine that was flat and boring the day before. The wine opened up, it had depth, the fruit, minerality, forest underfloor, hint of smoke, acidity  – all were at a beautiful interplay. The wine instantly went into the “delicious” category, and that half a bottle didn’t last for too long.

This brings us to the second part of the question. How do they do it? The wine critics and professional reviewers – are their palates so much more sophisticated than mine? There is no way they wait for the wine for a day or two to open up. Where I see “flat”, they can really see the full beauty? Or is there something I miss?

Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure is one of the oldest in Burgundy, tracing its roots back to 1552. The property spreads over 3 appellations – Pommard, Volnay, and Beaune, allowing wines to be produced in each one of those applications. The domain practices sustainable viticulture; the grapes are harvested by hand, and the wines are aged in 17th-century cellars in partially new oak for 14-18 months.

The wine I’m talking about here was 2019 Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure Cuvée de Maison Dieu Bourgogne (13.5% ABV, $26.98 at Wine Exchange), and after giving this wine time to open, I have to fully agree with “Killer Bourgogne Rouge” definition. Yet I know that I couldn’t enjoy this wine from the get-go.

So what can you tell me? Is this simply my personal handicap, or is there something fundamental I’m missing?

Whatever you want to say, I’m all ears…

Celebrate Champagne Day With Champagne Lanson

October 28, 2022 1 comment

Ooh, another wine holiday I almost missed – Champagne Day, celebrated on the 4th Friday in October. Not that I need a reason to open a bottle of wine, but a wine holiday offers an opportunity to reflect on a specific wine subject, which is always a fun exercise.

My personal Champagne journey was long and rocky (still going). Growing up on a sweet concoction called “sovertskoe shampanskoe” (still have no idea if it is made out of grapes), the profound acidity with no sweetness is not something that one can quickly and gleefully embrace. And the price… And then the French obnoxiously insisting that Champagne can only come from Champagne, phew… Lots of things to get over…

I had a few key learning experiences along the way. First, about 20 years ago, there was a blind tasting of the Champagnes during Windows on the World wine classes, where I learned that liking Dom Perignon, or any other vintage Champagne when you are not influenced by the label is not obvious. Then about 12 years ago, there was PJ Wine Grand tasting in New York, where the first taste of vintage (and even non-vintage) Krug became a proverbial nail on the head and a pivotal moment of discovering the true pleasure of Champagne. And I have to mention an encounter with 2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Champagne about 6 years ago (the wine ended up being my 2016 wine of the year) – I spent about 10 minutes simply enjoying the aroma of the wine before even daring to take a sip. Yes, I can safely say that I love Champagne.

Okay, let me be careful here. I love Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I love Rioja. Yes, I love Champagne. However, this is not a blanket statement. I love the category but within the category, the “love” concept is very particular. There are 10-12 specific Rioja producers and brands that I love, and the rest of the Riojas don’t excite me even for a second. It is the same story with Champagne – there are a few producers that I love and respect, and then there are quite a few I don’t care for. But I’m always willing to learn, taste, and discover something new.

Talking about discovery, I need to share with you my latest Champagne discovery – Champagne Lanson.

Founded in 1760, Champagne Lanson is one of the oldest Champagne Houses. From the moment it was created, Lanson’s focus was always on foreign markets. By the late 19th century, Lanson was supplying champagne by royal appointment to the courts of the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Japan. It still remains the main Champagne supplier to the British royal family. It is also official champagne of Wimbledon tennis tournaments since 2001. Today, Lanson Champagne is exported to 80 countries.

Lanson has close relationships with the growers, having access to more than 100 vineyards throughout Champagne, 50% of which are Grand Crus and Premier Crus. Lanson also cultivates more than 140 acres of its own vineyards, out of which 40 acres are farmed organically and biodynamically.

What I’m looking for in Champagne is precision. My ideal champagne has perfectly persistent energetic bubbles, toasted bread aromas on the nose maybe with a touch of yeast and even gunflint, the same toasted bread notes on the palate, maybe a hint of an apple, and a perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and structure on the palate. Balance is a king for any wine, Champagne not excluded.

I had an opportunity to try 3 of the Lanson Champagnes, and they all didn’t disappoint.

NV Lanson Le Black Label Brut Champagne (12.5% ABV, $50, 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier) had perfectly persistent fine mousse, toasted bread aromas on the nose, and crisp, precise and refreshing palate. Some of the best bubbles have this captivating effect – once you take a sip, you can’t wait to take another – this was this Champagne Lanson.

NV Lanson Le Rosé Champagne (12.5% ABV, $70, 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier) showed very similarly on the nose, with toasted notes and a hint of floral undertones. On the palate, it was a bit more feminine than the previous wine, still crispy, but softer and more round, with the addition of a touch of strawberry. Absolutely delightful.

And yet NV Lanson Le Green Label Organic Champagne (12.5% ABV, $75, 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay) was my favorite of the 3. Precision and energy. Vibrant and raw, this Champagne simply over-delivered – ultra-precise bubbles, energy, finesse and balance. Superb.

Talking about precision – Champagne Lanson eliminates the need for you to guess. Take a look at these back labels:

Harvest year, disgorgement date, all the technical details if you care to know them – everything is presented, simply and clearly. You don’t need to guess for how long that bottle of Champagne had been waiting for you on the shelf? With Lanson, just take a look at the back label, and you already know.

Here is my offering to you – beautiful Lanson champagne which now will join my “favorites” ranks. The Champagne that will make any celebration seem brighter.

Have you had Champagne Lanson before? What are your favorite Champagnes? Happy Champagne Day! Cheers!

And A Little Bit Of Cognac

October 16, 2022 8 comments

– I’m tired of drinking scotch. Next time, can we try something else? How about cognac, for example?

– Cognac? Why not? Next time, we will drink cognac.

This was a conversation with my high-school friend earlier this year. She visits a few times a year, and it is customary for us to taste 10-15 different whiskeys during one of the nights during her visit. This is easy to do, as, after the wine, whiskey (primarily scotch or equivalents, such as Japanese whiskey) is my next favorite type of alcohol. At any given moment I have probably 20+ bottles opened – unlike wine, once opened, whiskey can still last forever, so I have no issues opening a bottle, even for a tiny sip. Whiskey tasting on short notice? No problem, let’s do it. But cognac?

I like cognac as well. Totally different bouquet compared with whiskey, the pleasure of eloping the brandy sniffer and letting the aromatics charm you as the amber liquid gently heats up in your hand… Love cognac – however, I still prefer whiskey on an average day. As a result, if I can find 20+ open whiskey bottles on a given day, I would only have 1, 2, or maybe 3 cognac bottles on hand – that doesn’t make it an interesting tasting by any means.

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about cognac first. Same as scotch is a type of whiskey, cognac belongs to the broader spirits category called brandy. Brandy is defined as the hard liquor (35% – 60% alcohol by volume) produced from wine, which can be a grape wine or a fruit wine, by the process of distillation. Cognac is the most famous type of brandy, produced in France in the Cognac region – as you might expect, Cognac name is protected and Cognac can only come from the Cognac region in France.

There are a few classifications that are important for Cognac. The first one is geographic – not any different from any wine classifications. Cognac can be sub-divided into 6 growing areas, or crus – Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires (you can find all the detailed explanations and a map in this excellent blog post). These crus are always identified on the label if the appellation’s requirements are satisfied – but the majority of the cognacs are simply identified as “cognac”, meaning that the grapes can be coming from any vineyard within the Cognac region. There is one more classification that is not precisely geographically delimited – Fine Champagne, which allows mixing grapes from Grand Champagne (at least 50%) and Petite Champagne regions. Of course, there are single vineyard options, but those are rare.

Another classification that potentially has higher prominence for cognac lovers is the age of the liquid in the bottle. Upon distillation, future cognac is clear. All of the beautiful amber colors are acquired during aging in the oak barrels. The age classifications are typically depicted on the bottles in the form of the following abbreviations:
VS (Very Special) – aged at least 2 years in the barrel
VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) – at least 4 years
XO (Extra Old) – at least 10 years
There are other age classification types – XXO, Napoleon, Extra, Réserve – but I would like to offer you another excellent article if you are interested in learning more. While the price of cognac will depend on age, it is not the only dependency – the producer’s name and geographic region need to be taken into account to understand the pricing. You can often find an XO cognac from an unknown producer to cost less than a simple VS from a well-known one, so the age statement alone doesn’t identify the price.

One more note before we get back to our tasting. Approximately 150 miles southeast of Cognac lies another famous french brandy region – Armagnac. Armagnac is also made out of grapes and has its own geographical and aging classifications we are not going to get into here. While there are aromatic and stylistic differences between Cognac and Armagnac, it is important to know that Armagnac is typically cheaper than cognac at the same level of quality. Also, lots of Armagnacs specify the year they were distilled, which makes them an amazing birthday present…

And then, of course, there are brandies, which sometimes can be amazing, and sometimes … just not. Unlike Cognac or Armagnac, brandies are typically not regulated, which means that you need to know what you are buying. Some of the brandies can be amazingly tasty – my favorite brandy when vacationing in Mexico is 10 years old Torres – easily beats all of the big names lifeless VS…

Now, let’s get back to our cognac tasting story. As you might imagine, I decided not to limit the selection to the Cognac alone, and include brandy and Armagnac as it would be possible – however, talking about the prep to the tasting, I would generally use the term “cognac” while talking about my quest.

As I promised the cognac tasting I had to actually find what we will be tasting. And it is much easier said than done. Go to your neighborhood liquor store and compare the size of the cognac and whiskey sections (if your store doesn’t have the cognac section at all, don’t get upset). A typical cognac selection at the store is very limited – and it gets very expensive very quickly,

Okay, so I will be very smart about it, I thought. I need to look for the miniature bottles (50 ml, sometimes 100ml), and tasting sets.

While working on this post, I decided to look at the “popularity” of cognac through the sales numbers. According to this article, cognac sales increased substantially, not only in value but also in volume, comparing 2021 sales with 2020 and even with 2019. As theoretical numbers, it is easy to accept, especially with the value – the average price for the XO cognac almost doubled over the past 5 years. In practical terms, the cognac shelves at most of the wine stores I visited are very short and sometimes even not existing. What’s even worse, finding the miniatures (50 ml) of cognac was mission impossible, with some stores having only one type, and many having none. Our local Total Wine in Norwalk offered a breakthrough – I was able to pick up 6 cognacs and brandies at once.

My friend Zak was able to find me a tasting set from cognac Tesseron, which included 4 different bottlings of XO-level cognac. The set contains 4 different cognacs – Lot No 90, Lot No 76, Lot No 53, and Lot No 29, where the number gives you an approximate year(s) when the cognac was distilled – in 1990 – 1991, 1976, 1050-1952, and 1930s. Lot 29 contains a third of the cognac from the 1906 vintage – it is not every day you get to drink alcohol at such an age. Lot 29 also received 100 points from Robert Parker (not that it matters, but still).

I found the second set on the Cognac-Expert website – Park Cognac Mizunara cognac, a set of 3 Park cognacs from Bordieres finished in Japanese oak called Mizunara. Note of advice – if you like cognac, cognac-expert might be a site for you.

With this, we were all set for tasting. Finally, my friend arrived at the end of September, and we were able to get to it.

Below are my notes from the tasting. The notes are similar to any wine notes I would put out in this blog. Does it make sense for the cognac? Maybe yes, maybe no, but this is the best I can do. As a bare minimum, you will get an idea. During the tasting, we also decided which cognacs/brandies would be worth re-tasting (round 2) and then we rated all the cognacs to decide on our top favorites. Without further ado, here are the results:

E&J V.S. Brandy
Sweet fruit on the nose
Caramel candy on the palate, just caramel.

E&J V.S.O.P. Grand Blue Brandy
Sweet fruit on the nose, dry fruit
Burnt sugar on the palate, pure milk chocolate candy with fruit preserve. Horrible.

Paul Mason Grande Amber Brandy
Dark red fruit, herbs
Touch of sweetness, good restrained, good balance

Hennessy Very Special Cognac
Dry fruit on the nose
Wooden notes, a touch of sweetness, lacks excitement

Courvoisier V.S. Cognac
Oak notes on the nose
Nice restraint, but mostly flat

A. De Fussigny Sélection Fine Cognac
Beautiful nose, sandalwood, nice perfume
Disjointed on the palate, needs more balance

Paulet VS Cognac
Nice complexity on the nose
Good fruity palate, perfectly integrated, excellent balance.
Very good, perfectly elegant, round 2 – final verdict #3

ABK6 Family Reserve XO Single Estate Cognac
Beautiful nose, you can smell the grapes
Perfect complexity, wild apricot, wild apricot pit, a hint of sweetness, but dry finish
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict #6

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish
Wow. Cigar box, medicine box, great complexity
Amazing complexity, perfect balance, cigar box, apricot, one of the very best
Wow. Round 2 – final verdict – #1, best of the tasting

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish Single Cru 10 years aged
Very complex nose
On the palate, effervescent, but not as impressive as the second one
Very good, round 2 – final verdict #11

Park Cognac Borderies AOC Mizunara Japanese Oak Cask Finish Unique Single Cask Edition Distilled 2004
Amazing nose, very complex
Very complex, spicy oak, delicious
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict #9

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 90 XO
Wow, spicy pepper nose, sweet fruit, amazing
Great complexity, fruity notes, excellent balance
Round 2 – final verdict – #5

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 76 XO Tradition
Dry fruit, wild flowers
Interesting complexity, but not harmonious
Round 2, final verdict – #10

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 53 XO Perfection
Very feminine on the nose, delicate, perfumy, plums, vanilla
Floral complexity, elegant, delicious
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict – #8

Tesseron Cognac Lot N 29 XO Exception
Beautiful nose, complex, round
Herbal notes, plums, spices, perfectly balanced.
Very good, round 2 – final verdict #7

Saint-Vivant Armagnac AOC
Lemon and herbs on the nose
Touch of oak, good acidity, a touch of herbs.

Pierre Ferrand 1er Cru de Cognac Reserve Grand Champagne AOC
Fruity, elegant
Beautiful fruit on the palate, plums, a touch of chocolate, perfectly balanced
Excellent, round 2 – final verdict – #4

1966 Darroze Bas-Armagnac
Very complex, Forrest underbrush, spices, white pepper
Dark chocolate, dried fruit, perfectly restrained
Superb, round 2 – final verdict – #2

As you can tell, Cognac Park Mizunara Borderies AOC was our top choice, followed by the 1966 Darroze Bas-Armagnac and then Paulet VS cognac ($25 at Total Wine, winery direct program).

Here you go, my friends – an account of the cognac tasting. With the exception of E&J, which humans should not drink, this was a great tasting.

What do think of cognac? Do you like drinking it? Any favorites?

Daily Glass: Monday Night Wine

September 12, 2022 Leave a comment

Monday night. The first working day of the week is over. Or it might not be over, who knows. But it is Monday, and the week is just starting. Is there a wine more suitable for Monday than any other day of the week?

Friday night is easy. Friday always means fun and celebration. Friday is already playful, so unless you have serious dinner plans aligned, Friday night wine might be even a cocktail for all I can tell.

I guess Saturday is asking for a serious wine, no matter what. It’s the middle of the weekend which is always special. Thursday… well, I don’t know about Thursday, let’s get back to Monday.

So how do we select the wine for Monday night? Most likely, you are at home. Most likely, it is only you and your spouse drinking. Most likely, you are not in a hurry. Most likely, you can take your time and enjoy that glass for as long as you want. Considering all of these “most likely” circumstances, let’s settle on the thought-provoking wine. The wine which shows its beauty slowly, sniff by sniff,  sip by sip.

Can you think of a wine that would match this description?

While you think about it, I will lead by example and offer to talk about my Monday wine.

2019 Turley Bechtold Vineyard Cinsault Lodi (12.4% ABV). Wine from one of my favorite producers – Turley. Wine from one of my favorite wine regions in California (and not only in California) – Lodi.

Lodi flies under the radar for a lot of wine lovers. Everybody knows Napa and Sonoma. Californian Pinot Noir aficionados probably know Santa Barbara County. Meanwhile, Lodi is where Robert Mondavi went to high school and where his father run the grape-packing business. Lodi is the single largest AVA in North America, and Lodi is where Napa winemakers go to get their grapes. Maybe most importantly, Lodi is home to a number of old, continuously producing vineyards. Of course, everyone likes to lay a claim to the “oldest vineyard” here and there – however, Bechtold vineyard in Lodi was planted in 1886, and oldest or not, 136 years of continuously producing fruit deserves the utmost respect.

Lodi might be best known for its old vines Zinfandels, but our Monday wine tonight is made out of Cinsault, a grape typically used in Rhône and Provence. Cinsault wines typically offer a fruity and floral profile with some pungent undertones.

2019 Turley Cinsault was made using whole cluster fermentation with natural yeast and aged for about 7 months in used French oak barrels. The result was the wine that delivered that thought-provoking Monday night experience we were talking about.

On the nose, the wine offered fresh berries and a hint of the forest floor. On the palate, there was a delicate interplay of raspberries, sour cherries, tartness, and acidity, all packaged together delicately but firmly, and finishing off with sour cherries and cherry pits, long-lasting and offering an opportunity to enjoy a quiet moment. (Drinkability: 8/8+)

That’s how my Monday night wine was (delicious!). How was yours?

Daily Glass: Yin and Yang

September 9, 2022 Leave a comment

Obey your inspiration.

Yin and Yang are too big of a concept to casually use while discussing everyday wines. Black and white. Darkness and light. Night and day. Passive and active. There is a lot of meaning behind the revolving black and white semi-spheres, and we would need a few (4, 5, …) bottles of wine to discuss it. So what gives?

I was drinking a bottle of wine for 5 days. Open, pour a little into a glass, drink, hope to be amazed, close, pump the air out, put aside. Repeat. And then I opened a bottle for a Friday night dinner of homemade tacos, and the wine was delicious and approachable from the moment it hit the glass. Yin and Yang, the brain said. This is a perfect title for the post. Who am I to argue?

Yin is a black portion of the circle of life. 2014 Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Gran Reserva (13.5% ABV, $19.99 at WTSO, $49.99 on the web) was the Yin at the moment.

Bodegas Riojanas was founded in 1890 by the Artacho family which had a long winemaking history prior to that. Unlike many other Rioja’s Greats, who set up their wineries close to the train station in Haro, Bodegas Riojanas winery was built in Cenicero, where the grapes grew. Bodegas Riojanas was among the 13 founding wineries behind the Rioja DOC denomination. Today, Bodegas Riojanas farms 250 acres of vineyards and produces a large number of white, red, Rosé, and sparkling wines.

Bodegas Riojanas Gran Reserva is one of the flagship wines. 100% Tempranillo, aged for 24-30 months in the casks, produced in traditional Rioja style. 2014 vintage was rated “good” in the official Rioja vintage classification – the best years are identified as “Excellent”, then “very good”, and then “good” – so we can say that this was an okay year. Traditional style Gran Reserva wines are typically tight and need time – and so was this wine. For 5 days, as I was tasting it little by little, the wine was opening up ever so slightly. Don’t get me wrong – it was drinkable for someone who likes the power and likes to drink super-structured, super-tight wines. On day 5, there was a glimpse of cherries and a cigar box, which was slowly replaced by the tannins on the finish. This is the wine with promise, but we need to wait until the Yin will turn.

Now, the Yang – 2018 Casa Santos Lima Confidencial Reserva Vinho Regional Lisboa (13.5% ABV, $9.99, 10+ grape varieties, 6 months in the French oak cask).

Casa Santos Lima also has a history that lasts more than 100 years. The company had great success as a producer and exporter at the end of the 19th century. In 1990, the company was restarted, and today 90% of the produced wines are exported to more than 50 countries on 5 continents. Casa Santos Lima produces a wide range of wines in all the regions in Portugal, with a significant focus on providing value.

It is not for nothing this wine is called Confidencial. You might know that I excel and take pride in being a very capable grape sleuth. And nevertheless, as the name says, I was only able to find out that the wine is produced out of more than 10 confidential varieties – nowhere there are any hints on what those grapes might be.

This is not necessarily surprising. Yes, it can be a clever marketing play (humans love mystery), but at the same time, lots of grapes in Portugal are growing as field blends, where the grape grower doesn’t exactly know what grapes are growing in a given vineyard or a given plot – this might be a great idea to simply declare such blend as “confidential”.

Based on my experience with Portuguese grapes varieties, I would think that Touriga Nacional is a part of the blend, with the wild strawberries being a telltale sign. In any case, the wine was delicious with soft and supple wild strawberries and raspberries forming the core, and sage and other garden herbs playing a supporting role. Layered, velvety, and round – perfectly approachable and enjoyable right at this moment. (Drinkability: 8-/8).

Yin and Yang are all about harmony, and things that are changing in life – what was white can become black, and the other was around. The light can bring warmth or it can kill. The darkness can be scary, or it can be comforting.

With time, these two wines can completely change places. The Rioja might become absolutely stunning in 25-30 years., The Portuguese red might be past prime even in 10. The Yin and Yang can swap places. But we don’t know what will happen in the future, and that makes it all fun. Let’s drink to the harmony in life. Cheers!

One on One with Winemaker – Maya Hood White of Early Mountain Vineyards, Virginia

September 8, 2022 Leave a comment

Source: Virginia.org.

Virginia Is For Lovers.

This simple slogan, coined in 1969, became the foundation of one of the best marketing campaigns of all time. It is simple, it gets stuck in your head and once you hear “Virginia” the image of a red heart with the words “Virginia is for Lovers” automatically pops up in your mind.

Virginia is for lovers, but what many people might not realize, Virginia is for Wine Lovers. Virginia is probably the oldest wine-producing state in the USA, where Thomas Jefferson planted vineyards in the last quarter of the 17th Century, way before any wineries were established in New York and California. Virginia’s climate is one of the closest to Bordeaux out of all wine-producing states in the USA. But if you don’t live in Virginia or close by, you might not even know that Virginia produces world-class wines. But Virginia actually does, and we need to rectify this gap in your knowledge, one winery at a time.

Early Mountain is a relatively young winery, founded only 10 years ago, in 2012. However, it was founded by Steve and Jean Case – founders of AOL, the legendary early days Internet provider for millions of Americans. Early Mountain was founded with the vision and mission of representing and promoting the Virginia wine industry. In the Early Mountain tasting room, you can order Best of Virginia wine flights and taste the wines from the 10 vineyards around Virginia – of course, in addition to the full range of wines Early Mountain produces.

The original Early Mountain vineyard which gives the name to the winery was planted in 2006; the Quaker Run vineyard, the second major holding of Early Mountain was planted in 1999. Early Mountain farms about 350 acres of land, out of which 55 are planted under vines. The estate-produced fruit is also complemented by the fruit coming from the local Virginia growers, in an approximately 50/50 ratio.

I had an opportunity to speak with Maya Hood White, Early Mountain’s winemaker over a zoom session, and taste Early Mountain wines. As this was a live interview, below you will find pretty much a transcript of our conversation, not a detailed account that I manage to provide using an email interview format. I still hope you will get enough information, and most importantly, will be curious enough to go and find Early Mountain wines.

Why Early Mountain?
– The name relates to John Early, a historical figure who lived in Virginia in the second half of the 17th century. There is also a historic building on the property that relates to John Early.
What are those curved lines on your wine label?
– It is a topographic map. The lines represent the true topography of the land surrounding the winery.
What does the logo mean?
– These are letters E and M 🙂 (my reaction – duh…)
What is the meaning of the pointer arrow?
– Again, it is a map attribute, a locational arrow.

At this point, we poured our first glass, 2021 Early Mountain Rosé Virginia (11.3% ABV, $26, 72% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Syrah) – Early Mountain site fruit is used to produce this wine. Grapes for Rosé are harvested earlier than the grapes for the red wines. Depending on the year some grapes are co-fermented. Mostly stainless steel but some Acacia barrels were used as well. The wine was beautiful, salmon pink color, leading with strawberries, cranberries, and cleansing acidity. Very present, balanced, and refreshing.

Speaking with the winemaker always offers us, mere mortal oenophiles, a chance to geek out and learn. When you hear about clones, the first thought is always Pinot Noir, maybe a Chardonnay. Maya works with clones of Sauvignon Blanc, and those clones produce dramatically different wines. She also works a lot with and was speaking fondly of Petite Manseng, the grape best known in Southwest France. Petite Manseng is producing excellent wines in Virginia, and it makes one of the flagship wines at Early Mountain. Petite Manseng grapes grow in such tight clusters that Maya prefers to harvest them after the rain, it helps to process the grapes better.

I asked Maya about Viognier, which is considered to be a star in Virginia. First, I learned an interesting fact from her: Viognier looks like a white grape version of Syrah – the same format of clusters, the same shape of leaves – I guess it is not surprising that Viognier is often used in winemaking to play together with Syrah. It appears that Viognier was growing before at Early Mountain, and it was pulled out and replaced – Viognier is a problematic grape that ripens irregularly and sometimes doesn’t ripen at all. It is definitely preferred to work with more reliable grapes.

We continued our tasting with 2021 Early Mountain Five Forks Virginia (12.9% ABV, $27, Petit Manseng 59%, Sauvignon Blanc 38%, Malvasia Blanca 2%, Muscat 1%) – rich and inviting white fruit nose, followed by a crisp, clean, playful bouquet on the palate. I loved the plumpness, roundness of the wine, reminding me of my favorite Roussanne bottles. The wine was perfect cold, and it was very tasty at room temperature – this is my standard hallmark test of good white wine – good white wine is delicious cold or not.

And then there was time to ask more questions:

What is your winemaking philosophy?
– Maya oversees grape growing as well as production. Listening to the vineyard – not set on what should be produced from the specific lot. Sites are closely watched for what they can do best – vines can be pulled and replaced.
What does the line of Young Wines represent?
– Approachable, low-intervention, fruit is sourced from the growers in the Shenandoah Valley. Wines are often made using a whole cluster approach. Also, the wines in the Young Wines line appeal more to younger wine drinkers.
Where do you stand on sustainability/organic?
– The low-touch approach, use biodynamic teas, certain blocks are processed only in an “organic” way. The holistic approach to the overall vine growing – over cropping, etc. low touch is a key.
What is your take on biodynamics?
– There is a lot to learn. Compost teas, herbal teas, oak bark – many things work, but the approach is more “what makes sense” than religious.
What winemaking vessels do you use? Oak barrels, amphorae, concrete tanks, stainless steel?
– I gravitate towards bigger casks; we have concrete egg, which is used primarily for whites. We also work with Northern European oak, Acacia wood

Next, we had two Cabernet Franc wines. Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite grapes and a staple of Virginia winemaking, so I was definitely looking forward to trying the wines.

We started with 2020 Early Mountain Cabernet Franc Shenandoah Valley Virginia (13.3% ABV, $30) – pulled from different sites in Shenandoah Valley. Uses larger size barrels, 500 liters or larger, Northern European oak barrels. 2020 was a rainy vintage, and the wine was rather on the mellow side. When I tried the wine during our zoom session, I was not terribly impressed. While the wine had all the traits of Cabernet Franc – cassis, bell pepper – it was a bit underwhelming. The next day, the wine really came around offering a lot more depth and structure.

My second Cabernet Franc was supposed to be a 2019 Cabernet Franc Quaker Run Vineyard, which Maya was absolutely raving about, defining the 2019 vintage as an epiphany. However, the bottle I got was the 2018 Early Mountain Cabernet Franc Quaker Run Vineyard Virginia (12.5% ABV, $45). 2018 was a very challenging vintage – too much rain, even the road was washed away. I never thought of Cabernet Franc in terms of clones, but it appears that this wine was composed of 2 different clones with different aromatics. Despite the vintage challenges (or maybe thanks to? :)) the wine was superb from the getgo – a good amount of dark fruit, good structure, cassis, eucalyptus, herbal underpinning – this Cabernet Franc was more expressive than a typical Chinon or Saumur, but less fruity than a typical west coast Cabernet Franc. Delicious.

Another interesting note from Maya – there is completely anecdotal evidence that in Virginia, even vintages are lean, and odd vintages give you bigger wines. I will need to pay attention next time I will be drinking Virginia wine, to see if this observation would hold true.

And a few more questions to complete our conversation.

How is the harvest in 2022? What to expect?
– Ha! Harvest is still ongoing, 10 days to 2 weeks later than last year, and some of the white grapes are still on the vine. Rain showers got in the way. Reds have another month. Hard to tell yet. There was a got fruit set, some fruit was dropped, so it is too early to tell.
What’s ahead? Single block wines? New varieties?
– New hybrids are coming from Italy – Merlot Kanthus, Sauvignon Rytos, VCR Tocai, The new grapes will account for about 1%. Will be planted in 2023. These new hybrids are important as they are disease resistant, and with grape diseases, the question is not if, but when. There will be also a new wine made from Petite Manseng which was planted instead of Cabernet Sauvignon.

That concluded our conversation with Maya, the time flew by very quickly.

If you are familiar with Virginia wines already, the Early Mountain can offer an excellent refresher course. And if you are not – what are you waiting for? Virginia wine has lots to offer, start your journey already.

Pure Pleasure, And How To Express It

September 5, 2022 1 comment

Does this glass give you pleasure?

You take a sip of wine. The wine is sublime. It is beautiful. It is complex. The wine solicits emotion – it makes you happy. It makes you moan quietly inside your head, you might extort an “OMG” or a “Wow”, and after a pause, you take another sip. You are not in a hurry. You want to extend this pleasure for as long as possible.

Wine is art. Wine doesn’t leave you indifferent. Wine solicits emotion.

Painting is art. Painting doesn’t leave you indifferent. Painting solicits emotion.

Music is art. Music doesn’t leave you indifferent. Music solicits emotion.

We can consider wine to be a form of art, the same as painting, music, poetry, architecture, and many other human creations which invite an emotional reaction. Do you know what makes wine a unique form of art? Your utter desire to share it.

You can quietly stare at a beautiful painting for a long time, slowly uncovering little details and being in the moment. Even if you stand next to someone else looking at the same painting, 99 out of 100 you are simply focused on your own personal moment.

When listening to the music, even if you are in the concert hall surrounded by thousands, the music is being played only for you and this is how you want to keep it. You can buy a recording and listen to it 100 times. Just by yourself, and you are happy about it.

Have you seen an oenophile get excited about wine? The excited oenophile grabs the total stranger by the sleeve, shoves the glass into their face and says “here, here, you must try this!!!” It is very important for an oenophile to be able to share the joy of the experience with others. There is an ultimate pleasure in sharing your excitement with others, as wine is an art that needs to be shared.

Sharing pleasure is easy in person. Have you tasted magnificent, life-altering wines in the group? If you had, you probably noticed the collective “ohh”, rolling the eyes, unprompted nodding, maybe a muttered “oh my god”, and then silence. The silence of the greatness of the moment, slowly settling in.

This in-person sharing of the pleasure is simple, and kind of just happens on its own. The real challenge comes when you decide to share that ultimate pleasure with the rest of the world.

So how can one express pure pleasure?

A typical way to describe the wine is via so-called tasting notes. Such tasting notes are often called “technical notes” as they usually describe the wine in terms of appearance, aroma, bouquet, and finish – using analogies such as “brickish color”, “smell of mushrooms”, or “taste of dark cherries”. The wine is described in the terms which the wine drinker is supposed to relate to – and it is a great review if you can relate to all of the terms used without trying to figure out what is Cascarilla and how it actually smells, or how Jabuticaba tastes like. What is usually not found in the tasting notes is the emotion – how this wine might make you feel; will you scream with joy when you will take a sip? Yes, I get it. Even the aromas and flavors are subjective. The emotion which you will experience while drinking the wine is yours and yours only – the person next to you might not experience the same enlightenment – and nevertheless, even the hope for greatness is worth sharing.

Can wine pleasure be expressed in the words by professional wine critics? You be the judge of it. Here is the collection of tatsing notes for the 1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru. At this link, you will find the reviews from Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, John Gilman, and others. Here is the best excerpt in my opinion. John Gilman: “La Tâche ‘66 is deep, full and opulent on the palate, with a grandiose delivery of thick, perfumed fruit, excellent balance, plenty of power, great focus and finesse, and an incredibly long, softly-tannic and astoundingly complex finish.” This might be the best description out of the six present, but does it convey the emotion?

Does this wine give you pleasure?

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of drinking two wines from the 1997 vintage (1997 is a special year for our family). These two wines really prompted this post. First, I opened the 1997 Château Haut-Piquat Lussac Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc). The wine was somewhat of a recent find at the Wine Exchange – after getting an email offer to buy 1997 Bordeaux for $19.99, I had no option but to get a few bottles. I was happy to see the cork coming out in its entirety with no issues. I was ready with the decanter, but the wine in the glass was quite approachable. After the initial grippy tannins dissipated in 20-30 minutes, what was left in the glass was an absolutely sublime beauty. You see, this is where the challenge lies. Here is the technical description from the Wine Exchange: “a wine that still possesses a youthful charm as there is something to be said for ex-chateau. A beautiful plum/garnet color with very little lightening for its age. This 1997 is full to medium-bodied, showing lots of forest floor, roasted herbs, cedar, tobacco, black cherry, blackcurrant, and new saddle leather. It is opulent and is just entering its plateau of full maturity. The tannins are soft and subtle with an elegant seamless finish. ”

The description is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t help me to express my emotion. The mind singing with every sip. Pure joy in each and every sip. Enough pleasure in every sip to have the nerve enough to tell my wife, who was enjoying the wine with me “this is almost as good as sex”. A personal perspective for sure, but yes, this was the wine.

I didn’t have many expectations for 1997 Chateau Montelena Saint Vincent Red Wine Napa Valley (13.5% ABV, blend of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Sangiovese). Chateau Montelena is absolutely legendary with its role in the Judgement of Paris, especially if you had an opportunity to see the movie Bottle Shock. But Saint Vincent is an eclectic blend, produced only for 5 years from 1995 till 1999, and it is not given that this type of wine can age for 25 years. While very different from the previous Bordeaux in its profile of cherries, eucalyptus, and herbs, it had such a lip-smacking, savory and satisfying bouquet, that every sip was demanding to be followed by another sip.

Do you want a second glass?

I have no idea how to convey the pure pleasure the wine can bring. Maybe emotion is the key. There are lots of good wines out there. The wines you are happy to drink any day every day. Maybe it is the excitement that needs to be measured. Or maybe this is simply in the unyielding desire to share this pleasure with the world. The act of telling the world how amazing the wine was, and hoping that everybody will see it that way too.

Let’s share our little joys with one another. And if you know how to convey this pure wine pleasure, please let me in on that secret.

 

Daily Glass: Winning and Learning

August 29, 2022 1 comment

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

You never lose – learning is the opposite of winning – I think this is a better approach to life, would you agree?

I love aging my wines. The popular wine press tells people that 95% of the wines in this world are meant to be consumed shortly after purchasing. “Absolute majority of the wine is not meant to be aged,” the message says. I don’t want to obnoxiously invalidate all the expert opinions, but the subject of wine aging is a lot more complicated than the simple statement portrays.

Lots of factors play a role. The wine itself is probably the most critical factor. White wines generally don’t age too well. To be more precise, percentage-wise, a lesser number of white wines can age well compared to red wines. But this doesn’t mean that all red wines age well. For example, red Cotes du Rhone typically don’t age for longer than 4-5 years.

I wish there was an easy method to tell us, wine lovers, that “this wine will age for 30 years”, but “this one got only 10 more left”. There is no such method, however, so we need to rely primarily on our experiences. I’m not trying to disqualify all of the wonderful advice we receive from the wine critic and publications – but it would be rare to receive an aging recommendation there unless the wine is deemed of a “collector” level – which pretty much means that it will not be really affordable.

At this point, you might wonder why is all this commotion with the aging of the wines. Simple. Wine is a living thing. The evolution of the wine continues in the bottle. It is a general hope that wine can improve with time, evolve, become more complex and multidimensional.But the wine can’t evolve forever – at some point it starts “turning”, losing its delicious, attractive qualities.

It is important that the wine drinker can appreciate the beauty of the aged wine – it is not for everyone. I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way – this is simply a matter of taste. One of my most favorite examples is the blind tasting of a few Champagnes which took place during Windows on the World wine classes. After blind tasting 4 Champagnes, the group was asked to vote for their favorite Champagne. Champagne #4 got almost no votes, it was clearly the least favorite of the group of 100+ people. While revealing the wines, Kevin Zraly, our wine teacher, said “and this is why, people, you should not drink vintage Champagne”. Bottle #4 was Dom Perignon – if people would see the label before voting, you know how that would work (”drink up, honey, it is French”). And Vintage Champagne is nothing more than just an aged wine. It is just a matter of taste. The same story goes for food. For example – I love fresh oysters, and I have friends who wouldn’t put an oyster into their mouth even if this will be required to save their own life. Just a matter of taste.

But for those of us who like aged wines, that elusive quest becomes an obsession. I love the Italian term “vino da meditazione”, which applies to the wines which make conversation stop upon the first sip, and puts the whole group of oenophiles into a quiet, self-reflective state. The silence at the table becomes not deafening, but instead a very comfortable one. The silence nobody wants to break.

Okay, such amazing encounters are possible but truly rare. But the pleasure of drinking the well-aged wine is real, and this is what we are seeking. And as we don’t have the scientific method of predicting the peak of enjoyment for a given wine, we have to rely on our own experience. Which takes us back to winning and learning. When we experienced well-aged wine, we clearly won. And when the wine with age doesn’t deliver the pleasure, this is where we learn.

It is not so binary, of course. The point is that no matter what happened, we learn something. When you taste a random but amazing $10 bottle of California red blend (Toasted Head) with 15 years of age on, you learn that inexpensive wines can age too. When you taste 2002 Barolo (Fontanafredda) 10 years after release, and you see that the vintage chart declares this vintage as literally horrible, but the wine tastes good, you learn that the producer matters more than the vintage. When you taste two bottles from the same producer and the same vintage, but you love one of them and can’t stand another, you learn that bottle variation is real and that you have to always manage your expectations.

This whole rambling about winning, learning and aging was prompted by a few wines I opened last week.

First, the learning part. 12 years ago we did the Pinot Noir blind tasting with friends, with a very unexpected outcome – 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa was the best wine in that blind tasting. I loved the wine so much that I went and got a bottle to keep. Over the years, I made many attempts on the life of this bottle, until the last weekend I decided to share it with a friend. Upon opening the wine was reminiscent of the good Burgundy, with the nose offering some plums, iodine, and smoke. But the wine quickly succumbed to the tertiary aromas of dry herbs and maybe a hint of dried fruit, and while my friend really loved it, this was a complete loss learning in my book.

Then another friend was stopping shortly after his birthday. He always liked the wines, but recently started getting really “more into it”. He was stopping by for the dinner, and when we were talking about wines a few days prior, he mentioned that he started liking the Brunello and Amarone wines. There is no happier moment for the oenophile than to learn what the guest desires to drink – the cellar is instantly paraded in the search for the best and the most appropriate bottle.

I don’t know how I came into possession of the 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, I can only guess I got it as a present. This single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino was absolutely spectacular – beautiful cherries on the palate – not the fresh and crunchy ones, but more subdued, more elegant, eloped in the sage and other herbal aromatics. The wine was spectacular when we opened it, and when I finished the last drop 2 days later (wine was kept in the bottle with the air pumped out), I had a clear feeling of regret as the wine was not gone, but instead was still fresh and even more complex, with a promise of becoming the Vini da meditations in 10 years, same the 1999 Soldera had become for us – alas, I don’t have another bottle…

And then my pet peeve – you know how much I love Amarone. I got a few bottles of the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi Amarone della Valpolicella from WTSO 7 years ago. This was my last bottle, and boy it didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful in its finesse and impeccable balance all the way through. Dried fruit on the nose, powerful, well-structured wine on the palate, with more of the dried fruit, cherries, plums and herbs, and with good acidity, perfect balance and delicious bitter finish. It is not for nothing Amarone means Great Bitter – and there was this pleasant bitterness on the finish, something hard to find in most of the Amarone wines.

Here you are, my friends, my story of winning and learning. Three aged wines, two of them delicious, two that could age for far longer (learning!). One learning experience – but who knows, maybe it was only that particular bottle. Moving on.

What did you win and learn lately?

Drinking With Purpose

August 27, 2022 Leave a comment

Drinking with purpose.

Okay, so what are we talking about here?

First of all, we are talking about wine. Usually, we drink wine for pleasure. Of course, sometimes people drink just for the buzz, to forget, to relax – there are many reasons why people use alcohol, but wine (I hope) stands a bit apart from the rest of the alcohol. Wine helps us to converse with friends, create memories, enhance our food experiences and simply derive pleasure from the simple moment of existence. Then what is this purpose I’m talking about?

Wine is the product of passion. At least this is how we, wine lovers, want to see it. Wine also enables passion. Not even passion, but passions. It solicits passions. Wine is surrounded by desire, obsession, exclusivity, mysticism, glamor, science, greed, mystery, art, and devotion, it evokes all of these and many other feelings and emotions. Wine allows everyone to find their own passion.

One such passion is collecting. Yes, some people are collecting the wine. In a lot of cases, they simply do this to feel superior to others, as they have something which other people want but can’t have. We can leave this aside, as this is a boring aspect of wine. Collecting unopened bottles is not the only thing to collect around wines.

The wine offers lots of artifacts. People collect unique bottles. People collect unique labels (hundreds of thousands of different wines are produced every year around the world – and many labels can change every year – think of an endless potential here). People collect champagne and sparkling wine bottle caps – this hobby even has an official name, placomusophilia. Peope collect corks and screwtops. I collect grapes and experiences.

Many, many, years ago I came across The Wine Century Club. No, you don’t have to be 100 years old or drink 100 years old wines. It is all about grapes. Anyone who tasted 100 different grapes (obviously, in wines) – don’t have to be individual grapes, blends are totally fine – is welcome to apply to become a member of the club. The application is honor-based (well, if you lie, your palate would be cursed forever – who would want to risk that), and you get the certificate sometime after you submit the application. Tasting the first 100 grapes was relatively easy. By the time I was done with the first 100, the club was already offering the 200 grapes level (Doppel), then 300 (Treble), 400 (Quattro), 500 (Pentavini), and now even 600 (Hexavin).

After I passed the 100 grapes level, hunting for the new grapes became an obsession, which I thoroughly documented on this very blog. I had friends reaching out and asking if I already had such and such grape. I spent countless hours looking for the grape information online, trying to figure out what grapes went into this particular wine from this particular vintage. Hunting down new grapes became drinking with purpose. I didn’t care if I would like the new wine or not – if it had the grapes I didn’t taste before, that was all I needed.

As I mentioned before, I collect not only grapes but also experiences. Wines are made in all of the 50 states in the USA. Wines are made at least in 60 countries around the world, maybe more. I have a personal goal to experience (read: taste) wines of all 50 states. I also would love to taste wines made in all the different countries around the world.

This is how I collect the grapes and experiences. And this is how drinking with purpose happens. A wine from the new state or a country – yes, please! The wine with new grapes? Yes, pretty please!

Recently, I managed to find a few wines with grapes I never had before. Not only that but one of the wines was made in the region which was new to me, so the two proverbial birds were killed with one stone – err, bottle. Here are the quick notes on these wines:

First, two wines from Eastern Europe. I never had the wines of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so this was a new country I was able to add to the list. Both wines were tasty, and Tikveš Belo was probably my favorite wine out of these 4. New grapes are marked in bold:

2015 Čitluk Winery Blatina Bosnia & Herzegovina (13% ABV,  100% Blatina)
Brickish red
Plums, dried fruits, medium intensity
Sour cherries, soft, round, medium body, good acidity, soft tannins
7+, not sure how it was stored. It is still nice, simple, and easy to drink, but probably on the decline.
8, on the second day. Interesting transformation – tertiary aromas are gone, plums, cherries and sage on the palate, nice, round, pleasant.

2020 Tikveš Belo Special Selection North Macedonia (11.5% ABV, Smederevka, Riesling, Marsanne, Roussanne)
A light greenish hue
A hint of gunflint, Whitestone fruit, medium intensity but very confident nose
Lemon, a hint of grass, salivating acidity.
8, this is a beautiful food wine, will compliment a wide range of foods.

It is my second time drinking Armenian wines. I was really looking forward to Yacoubian-Hobbs white, but the wines ended up being a disappointment. The Armenian red was quite drinkable. In any case, when you drink with a purpose, you don’t complain.

2018 Yacoubian-Hobbs Dry White Wine Aghavnadzor Vayots Dzor Armenia (14% ABV, blend of Voskehat, Khatuni, Qrdi, Garan Demak)
Golden color
Stewed fruit on the nose
The palate had some stewed plums, it was overwhelming and had no acidity. The wine was devoid of balance.
N/R, Maybe a bad bottle? Cork broke while I was opening the wine using a standard waiter corkscrew. But the wine didn’t seem oxidized, maybe heat damage?

2019 VinArdi Estate Blend Dry Red Wine Armenia (13.5% ABV, 40% Areni, 35% Haghtanak, 25% Milagh)
Dark Ruby red
Wild berries on the nose
Wild berries, dried herbs, medium+ body, good structure, good acidity, excellent balance.
8-, easy to drink

Now you know all about my wine obsessions. And I get to increase the counter you see on the top of the page from 561 to 567. Little by little…

By the way, there is no stopping in sight. While I’m trying to close on 600, there are people in The Wine Century Club discussing the 800 mark. Talk about obsessions… Enjoy your wine. Cheers!

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