Beyond Wine? Before Wine? Instead of Wine?

April 8, 2021 Leave a comment

Today, class, we are going to talk about grape juice. The real grape juice.

Am I about to descend into the rat hole of “clear and unclear wine” with this “real juice” statement? Nope. Not at all. Today we are talking about pure, unadulterated, varietal grape juice which stayed in the form of juice without becoming the wine.

When I got an offer to receive a sample of the Castello di Amorosa varietal grape juices, my first reaction was “seriously???”. Juice is juice no matter what it is produced from, right? It is usually cloyingly sweet and not something I generally enjoy. I had a great experience tasting the juice of just-harvested Merlot grapes at Paumanok winery on Long Island, and I still remember how incredibly sweet it was, so I don’t really see it as a product on its own. But then curiosity prevailed, and I asked for the sample to be shipped.

I got three juices shipped to me – Muscat Canelli, Gewurztraminer, and a Sparkling Red blend, all beautifully packaged in the Riesling-style bottles and labeled exactly as the wine would. Muscat Canelli and Gewurztraminer are 100% pure varietal, and red blend consists of 90% Gamay, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Grenache. All juices priced at $14 per bottle and available at the winery or online.

When I first tasted the juices, I really didn’t treat them as wines – I didn’t try to analyze the profile and understand individual flavors, the nose, the palate – I looked at them more as binary “like/don’t like” type of experience. I also made the mistake of judging the “wine” by the first taste – thus I declared Muscat, which was open the first, to be “too sweet”. Gewürztraminer was open second and showed nicely (read: surprisingly) balanced. The sparkling red blend was my favorite – it was barely fizzed (”sparkling” is a big word here) and had a nice tangy mid-palate feel, sort of a burst of the wild berries – really, really delicious.

It is interesting to note that these juices not only taste like wines, they also behave like wines. On the second day, the initial sweetness of Muscat subsided – just a little bit, but it was enough to make the juice appear more balanced and the Muscat instantly became my favorite for the evening.

I had been writing about wines for more than 10 years. While writing about the wine, all the little details – technical details, shall I say – summarized in the tasting notes, published by the wineries for all the wines and all the vintages – are quite helpful. This is where you find the details about the vintage, grape composition of the wine, fermentation, and oak regimen. At least, this is what I typically use in my writing. Talking about wine’s technical details, you can also often find there some of the analytical data – namely, pH and amount of residual sugar. And so in my 10+ years of writing, I literally never paid any attention to pH and residual sugar – it took nothing less than unfermented grape juices to make me look at those. Let me share those details with you:

Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer Grape Juice – residual sugar: 200.9 g/l, pH: 3.19
Castello di Amorosa Muscat Grape Juice – residual sugar: 18.5 Brix (199.12 g/l), pH: 3.35
Castello di Amorosa Sparkling Grape Juice Red Blend – residual sugar: 18.6 Brix (200.28 g/l), pH: 3.25

As you see, all juices have about 200 grams of sugar per liter – for comparison, there are 113 grams of sugar in one liter of Coke. We can also compare these juices with world-famous dessert wines – Sauternes, which typically sport between 80 and 120 grams of sugar per liter, occasionally reaching 160 or even higher. When it comes to pH values, wines are typically falling in the range between 3 and 4, and the lower the pH value is, the more acidic the wine will be perceived (note that pH is not a direct measure of acidity in wine), so as you can tell the pH values of these juices are quite comparable with the wines.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to balance. Everyone’s palate is different, and your perception of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness can perfectly differ from mine, however, balanced wines exist in each one of our personal worlds. So I have to tell you that each one of these juices was perfectly balanced for me, and therefore, I’m aptly impressed by the mastery of the winemakers here. To make my excitement clear – these are unadulterated beverages. There is nowhere to hide. No flavor-enhancing yeasts, no oak, no blending. Nothing. You need to know when to harvest and when to bottle. Nowhere to hide.

As you can tell, I can wholeheartedly recommend these juices. They are perfect on their own. Perfect any time you desire a little sweet fix after the meal. They will perfectly well support a wide variety of dishes. And I have a number of friends who only drink sweet wines with very little alcohol in them – considering the quality of these juices, I would much rather prefer to serve them these juices instead of Bartenura Moscato di Asti or a similar plonk (my apologies).

You know me well, so I’m sure you understand that it is improbable that I wouldn’t have any gripes – of course, I have them. While winery information on the back label is nice to have, I would like to know when these juices were bottled. How they should be stored. For how long they can be stored. How the opened bottles can be stored (I’m presuming in the refrigerator, but still), and how quickly the opened juices should be consumed.

Nevertheless, this was a great surprise and a delicious discovery. We might be looking at the trend here – hard to tell, but I expect that there will be wineries that will follow Castello di Amorosa’s lead. And I personally would be happy to have a few bottles always on hand to delight oneself or a special guest. Next time someone offers you a glass of varietal grape juice, say “thank you” and enjoy. Cheers!

Double Lucky Number 8

April 5, 2021 3 comments

Luck.

An interesting term.

Luck is extremely subjective, personable, and relative. There are many definitions of luck, starting with the cliche one “when preparation meets opportunity” – not sure how that would apply for example, in the case when the brick is accidentally falling off the roof of the building and missing your head by the quarter of an inch. Or when you win the lottery. When you miss your train and meet the love of your life – what kind of luck is that? Okay, let’s not get hung up on the research of the true meaning of “luck” as this is not the goal of this post.

Last year, 2020, can hardly be called a “lucky” year. Quite on contrary, for 99.9% of people living today, this was probably the unluckiest year of their lives to date (who knows what the future hold). Or was it? Yes, we lost the ability to travel, eat out, enjoy the concerts, and socialize with friends. And yet many of us who kept our jobs managed to pay off debt (Americans paid off the record of $83B in credit card debt), invest into their homes (the price of lumber doubled in certain markets in the USA, due to very high demand), and even get well on the path to early retirement. And those of us obsessed with wine even got access to the wines we couldn’t dream of before (thanks to the restaurants not buying those wines anymore), and meet lots and lots of winemakers who happily visited our houses – via zoom. Everything has its silver lining.

A few months ago I got an email from Cayuse, saying that I will be getting a bottle of wine called Double Lucky #8 – a free sample, plus there will be a special zoom with the winemakers to introduce the new wine. Cayuse, and all of the “sister” wines – No Girls, Horsepower, Hors Categorie – are super-allocated (never mind expensive), so the free bottle sounded very lucky.

The wine arrived a few days ago. A beautiful bottle that solicited an array of thoughts. Cayuse wines are better with age – 2017 is clearly too young to be enjoyed now. Also, I love sharing the wine – so what should I do – to open or not to open? I decided that as this will be a unique opportunity to taste this wine together with the winemakers, I should just open the bottle and go with the flow. But also do it in a smart way – open a few hours in advance and decant it – which I did.

I remember reading an article by W. Blake Gray, the wine writer and a critic I respect very much, who mentioned that Cayuse wines might be the best wines made in the USA. Ever since then, tasting Cayuse wines became a dream, which required more than 10 years of waiting to get on the mailing list. Obviously, meeting Christophe Baron was a similar dream, which materialized thanks to pandemic and zoom.

Our zoom session was moderated by Owen Bargreen, the wine critic from Washington, with Christophe Baron and Elizabeth Bourcier, the winemaker, talking about all of the wines produced by Cayuse – well, that is not exactly correct. As introduced by Christophe Baron, it is all the wines produced by Bionic Wines, the new overarching brand, which includes Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, Hors Categorie, and Champagne Christophe Baron.

It is all about the rocks (Cayuse is derived from Cailloux which means stones or rocks in French). If I would give you a cliff note on what Christophe Baron does, it would sound something like “he finds the great location, establishes new vineyard, and makes new wine” – really, this is the story behind various Cayuse wines, No Girls, Horsepower…

Everything at Cayuse is done in full respect and harmony with nature – all the vineyards are farmed biodynamically since 2002 – the only biodynamic winery in Washington. As Christophe put it eloquently during the webinar, Mother Nature is the Master, and we are all her servants – it is Mother Nature who produces the grapes, and the winemaker needs to covert those into the wine, hence the utmost respect and attention to producing the wines in full harmony with nature.

We talked about all the wines under the Bionic wines umbrella, how they came to being (remember, new vineyard – new wine), and what is the philosophy behind them all. Almost at the end of the session (the time flew unnoticed, all thanks to the incredible energy and enthusiasm of Christophe), we finally talked about 2017 Double Lucky #8, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo, the same three varieties which comprise No Girls offering. Double Lucky is Elizabeth Bourcier’s project, from start to the finish – her idea, her execution. She wanted to create the wine similar to Cotes du Rhône – simple and approachable from the get-go, a sort of Cotes du Walla Walla if you will. Was she successful? Let’s talk about it.

When I poured the wine at first, it literally jumped out of the glass. I call Cayuse wines “liquid rocks” – Double Lucky was no exception, with granite, iodine, and smoke being prevalent both on the nose and on the palate. The wine was definitely drinkable, though not for the faint at heart – if you like massive wines, you would be pleased. 2 hours in a decanter made the wine more mellow, shifting the balance towards some cherries and herbs. For my palate, the wine continued up and down until it was gone.

Elizabeth shared her winemaking philosophy, which includes whole cluster fermentation and use of the stems, as stems “give the wines freshness” in her own words. I’m rather cautious about both – I guess my palate is overly sensitive to the tannins extracted from the stems – I perceive them as “green” tannins, which are unpleasantly bitter, and thus I’m generally not a fan. So I don’t have a strong opinion on Double Lucky #8, and while the wine is influenced by Cote du Rhône, it will last for the next 10–20 years, unlike Cote du Rhône wines, which typically have only a few years to be enjoyed, so I would definitely mark it as “needs time” right now. One more parallel with Cote du Rhône – those wines are usually inexpensive – and Double Lucky will be the cheapest wine in Bionic Wines portfolio, at $44 when it will be officially released next winter as part of the No Girls wines release. While the wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo, there are no exact proportions, as the blend will change every year. I can only guess Grenache makes the majority of the blend, given Elizabeth’s propensity for use of Grenache as she does in her own sought-after wine, La Rata.

I have to tell you that while the zoom is exceptional, it is hard to keep attention all the time. As the result, I don’t know if it was just me, but I didn’t really get the real story behind the intriguing name (Double Lucky) and the meaning of #8. Was that the blend #8 which became the winning one? Was the idea behind this wine associated with some lucky moment? I would love to know, but I have no idea. Hopefully, someone will be luckier than me and we will learn the story behind the name.

Was that a lucky break drinking Double Lucky and listening to Christophe Baron? Oh yes, it was. I wish all of us lots and lots of luck, whether we are prepared for it or not.

Wine News and Updates

April 1, 2021 1 comment

It seems that the wine world is moving at an ever-increasing pace, with new wines and wine products continuing to surprise even the most adventurous wine lovers. Today, we want to cover some of the most interesting news and announcements.

Loic Pasquet is the winemaker at Liber Pater, the winery in Graves, producing some of the most expensive wines in the world. He is well known for his unique approach to winemaking, using pre-phylloxera vines and old grape varieties which are not used in winemaking in Bordeaux anymore, thus forcing his wines not even carry Graves appellation on the label. It appears that Loic is also an avid coffee lover. After tasting Kopi luwak, the coffee produced in Asia from the beans partially digested by the rodent, Loic decided to try to replicate the same in the winemaking, training presumably marmots (this work is done in full secrecy, so very little information is available) to eat grapes which they can’t fully digest. We hear that in the blind tasting, the wine made from partially digested grapes showed an immense promise, but I guess it will take it a few more years for those wines to become available to the wine lovers (you can imagine production quantities of a few cases a year, each bottle probably costing around $100K – but at the moment, we can only speculate about it).

Continuing the wine and coffee theme, it appears that Starbucks entered a partnership with E.&J. Gallo Winery to produce wine directly from the coffee berries. The coffee berries (or cherries, as they are properly called) are imported from Guatemala and Costa Rica at the moment. Coffee cherries are crushed and fermented at the E.&J. Gallo facility in Northern California, with some batches undergoing malolactic fermentation. Once fermentation is complete, the coffee wines are aged in ceramic eggs for 9–12 months and additional 6 months in the bottle. Few of the wine critics already had an opportunity to taste the wines and had been wildly raving about them. Starbucks and Gallo are currently in conversation with coffee farms in Kona, Hawaii, to add famous Kona coffee to its line of coffee wines. The new coffee wines, branded CoStarWin, should appear in Starbucks shops next year, first in San Francisco and Seattle, with more locations getting access to the much-desired beverage.

The unbound creativity of Coravin is widely known – the non-stop innovation coming from the maker of the famous wine preservation system is simply incredible. It was recently reported in the news that Coravin partnered with none other than Patek Philippe, a famous Swiss watchmaker, to create a new version of Coravin which allows to age wine for a precise number of years as the wine been poured into the glass. Let’s say you want to drink Opus One, and you only have the current vintage of the wine. Take your trusted Coravin, set the dial to 15 years, pour a glass, and enjoy delicious Opus One in its prime, tasting exactly as it would 15 years from now. The technology behind the new gadget had not been revealed, however, it is known that Coravin filed 16 patent applications with USPTO in conjunction with this new product. The new device, aptly named Coravin Patek WineTime, is supposed to be available in time for Christmas shopping this year and will retail for $1199.

I’m sure you will find the next news update quite surprising – Procter and Gamble is not readily associated with wine, but still. It was recently leaked to the press that Procter and Gamble, or P&G for short, is developing a new type of toilet paper using … yes, grape skins! – as the main source material. The project started out of a desire to find a new use for the abundantly available grape skins, and quickly developed into a major R&D undertaking. The first results are very encouraging, with users raving about the pleasure of using the colored toilet paper instead of just the boring white. It appears also that grape-skin-based toilet paper has excellent skin-soothing properties, so this product definitely has a bright future. It seems that Walmart got exclusive distribution rights for Charmin Grape Magic Ultra, so look for it starting in January 2022, and see how you will like it.

The last one for today is again, somewhat unexpected. Wine is usually associated with gourmet food, and Velveeta, the infamous cheese spread, is as far from gourmet food as it can be. Nevertheless, in an attempt to expand its customer base, Velveeta just announced a new line of cheese products called BoozyV. The BoozyV cheese spreads are made with the addition of the wine directly into the spread. As wine is added at the end of the mixing cycle and right before packaging, it doesn’t lose any alcohol content and offers the best of both worlds for the wine and cheese lovers – the product which instantly combines both together. Initially, the BoozyV line includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel cheese spreads, with a nice buttery Chardonnay version hitting the stores at the beginning of the next year. As BoozyV products contain alcohol at full strength, they will be exclusively available at fine wine retailers nationwide.

That’s all I have for you for today, my friends. Cheers!

A Week In Cancun

March 30, 2021 3 comments

For many, travel is still a virtual concept. We broke that notion two weeks ago and ventured to Cancun – or to be more precise, Iberostar Paraiso Maya resort in the Riviera Maya area. I already shared my impressions as a week in sunrises, but as you can imagine, I have a lot more pictures to share.

We like active vacations where you live hotel in the morning and you come back at night, happy from all the new experiences, but incredibly tired. We also like relaxing vacations, where your whole day runs a small sequence of events in a circle – food, sand, waves, cocktail, food, sand, pool, food, cocktails, sleep – that’s it. There is pure joy in doing nothing, just enjoying the sunshine, as long as you can take your mind under control and tell it to relax together with the rest of the body.

Our week in Cancun was exactly like that – relaxing. This also means taking lots and lots of pictures – whoever invented digital photography – thank you very much. And thus I have the pictures to share with you.

I used to travel with my trusted Nikon and a few lenses. The iPhone camera doesn’t replace the Nikon, but it has a “good enough” advantage. Comparing the advantages of the DSLR versus the simplicity of the single device to carry around, if you are okay with “good enough” and not looking for perfection, your phone camera is all you need.

I love the versatility of the iPhone camera, where you can have both zoomed-in and ultra-wide pictures, as well as the capability to build a panorama. I’m not good at taking panoramas, as it requires you to hold your phone absolutely still while you are turning around – nevertheless, I made an effort to take sunrise panorama shots every morning together with the pictures of the sunrise. Here are the panorama sunrise pictures which I found to be good enough to share:

The resort we stayed at is called Paraiso Maya, and its main building is shaped as a Mayan pyramid. It is very well lit and changes colors at night:

Here are a few more pictures from the resort:

A few flowers:

And, of course, the food. We ate at a buffet and at 5 restaurants, out of which only the Italian restaurant was really good. We also found a new favorite wine – 2014 Oscar Tobias Roja Reserva – the wine was outstanding, with dark fruit and cedar box notes, fresh, and vibrant as only Rioja can be.

 

And last but not least – sand and waves:

Here you are, my friends. If you still can’t travel, I hope these pictures will help you cope.

You will travel soon.

Wine Quiz #136 – How Well Do You Know Your Wines?

March 27, 2021 5 comments

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to the weekend and your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #135. Once again, you needed to identify wines (producers) by the fragment of the wine label. I’m making an effort to ensure that the fragment of the label will be telling enough to allow for the producer to be identified. Here are the full pictures of the labels so you can compare:

All of these are well-known producers, most from California with the exception of Chateau Ste. Michelle from the State of Washington.

Sadly, nobody attempted to answer this quiz, so I have to keep all the prizes where they are.

Here is a new set of fragments of the wine labels, with the wine producers who should be reasonably familiar, and some even carrying good hints with them:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

Good luck, enjoy the weekend and your new quiz! Cheers!

Pleasures of the Obscure – New Discoveries

March 23, 2021 2 comments

If you follow this blog for some time, you might (or might not) know that I identify as an obsessed wine geek. There is definitely more than one trait that would allow such an identification, so the particular one I want to talk about here is the love of obscure grapes.

I was bitten by The Wine Century Club bug more than 15 years ago, and since then I’m on the quest to seek the most unusual wines made from the most obscure grapes. The Wine Century Club offers to wine lovers a very simple proposition – for every 100 different grapes you taste, you get to the next level in the club. With more than 1,300 grapes used in wine production today, this shouldn’t be very difficult, shouldn’t it? Yet, of course, it is, as an absolute majority of the wines readily available today in the supermarkets, wine stores, and even from the wineries direct, are made from 50–60 mainstream grapes – the rest requires quite a bit of work of procuring as most of the wines made out of the rare grapes are produced in minuscule quantities and not sold anywhere outside of the immediate area of production.

So if finding those rare and unusual wines is that difficult, why bother you may ask? I can give you a few reasons. One – I can simply tell you that I tried 555 grapes at the time of writing this post, so it kind of “mine is bigger than yours” type of reason. Yep, lame. Let’s leave it.

The better reason is the fact that every bottle of wine made from grapes one never heard of before is an opportunity to experience great pleasure. The grape is unknown, so we have no expectations whatsoever. While drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, that simple little piece of information – the name of the grape you are well familiar with – has a tremendous effect on how you perceive the wine. The level of pleasure will depend on how well the particular wine matches your expectations. It might be the best ever for you in the blind tasting, but in the non-blind setting, you are instantly influenced by your prior experience and thus your level of pleasure is limited by your expectations.

When you pour yourself a glass of Bobal, Trepat, or Hondarrabi Zuri, you are presented with a blank canvas – you can draw any conclusions you want. You will decide if you like the wine not in comparison but simply based on what is in your glass and if it gives you pleasure, or not. Simple, straightforward, easy.

Here, let me share with you my latest encounter with obscure grapes.

Let’s start with the white wine – 2017 Paşaeli Yapincak Thrace Turkey (12% ABV, 100% Yapincak). Yapincak is a native variety of Şarköy – Tekirdağ region in Northern Turkey. The grapes for this wine, produced by Paşaeli winery in Turkey, come from the single vineyard located at about 500 feet elevation, 35 years old vines. Upon opening the wine showed some oxidative notes, I even thought it might be gone already. A few hours later, it cleared up, and presented itself as a medium to full-bodied wine, with fresh lemon and a touch of honey notes, crisp, fresh, easy to drink. This can be a food wine, but it doesn’t have to be, quite enjoyable on its own. (Drinkability: 8-/8)

My rare red wine was really a special experience, as it brought back really special memories. I got this 2014 Agricola Vallecamonica Somnium Vino Rosso (12.5% ABV, 100% Ciass Negher) 4 years ago, during a press trip to the beautiful region of Franciacorta. As we were the guests of the Franciacorta consortium, we were mainly focusing on the Franciacorta sparkling wines. During one of our lunches, I noticed this wine and had to bring it home, albeit only one bottle. This wine is made out of the ancient grape called Ciass Negher in the local dialect, used in the winemaking by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, and resuscitated by Alex Belingheri in his vineyards at Agricola Vallecamonica.

This wine was absolutely unique – as you would expect considering its rare pedigree. I perceived this wine as something in a middle between Pinot Noir and Chianti/Sangiovese. A touch of Pinot Noir’s sweetness, smoke, and violets, with the undertones of leather and tobacco, and a little funk. Each sip was begging for another – easy to drink, perfectly balanced, and delightful. If this would be my everyday wine, I would be perfectly happy about it. (Drinkability: 8+)

Here you are, my friends. The wine pleasures are everywhere – you just need to look for them.

A Week In Sunrises

March 22, 2021 9 comments

And so we did something almost unthinkable – we traveled. Abroad. For vacation.

The mere fact of normalcy – going on the family vacation – became “mission impossible” and unreal over the past year. In today’s world, it might be even considered an act of stupidity. Whatever. We still went to Cancun for a week.

Traveling with the mask is not fun, but it is still not something very difficult. At least the travel to Mexico on the plane was really uneventful. Coming back was borderline madness and exercise in patience, with the huge check-in line moving slower than a snail, and all the useless passport checks about nothing. The trip back almost negated the whole vacation, which was still … a vacation. Much needed vacation. An opportunity to lay under the sun and jump waves in the ocean. And experience beautiful sunrises.

When in Cancun, seeing the sun slowly rising above the horizon is one of my biggest pleasures. I’m happy to wake up early. This is my one on one time with Mother Nature.

This trip was not any different – 7 unique and different sunrises. Actually, even 8, as we were lucky to see one at JFK before our flight. Here they are, below, in chronological order, from Sunday to Sunday. Which one is your favorite?

Sunday:

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Friday:

Saturday:

Sunday:

There are way more experiences I want to share – and I even have a wine recommendation for you – so as they say, stay tuned…

Chasing DRC

March 11, 2021 Leave a comment

Only yesterday I told you about some of the unicorns I’m chasing (the special breed, those made out of wine). And now I want to talk about the ultimate unicorn, the unicorn of unicorns if you will – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, usually called by its abbreviated name – DRC.

Life is a series of random events. Sometimes we think we are in control, and sometimes we really are – but more often than not, things are just happening, and they are happening whether we are there to observe, learn, and experience, or not. While the events might be random, it is up to us to look for the patterns or the objects we desire. Once we know what we want, our subconscious is programmed to look for it any time all the time.

I had been following The Wellesley Wine Press blog for a very long time. Robert Dwyer, who is writing it, not only shares his opinion about wines but also has a great talent for finding amazing wine deals, all sorts of special discounts and promotions by credit cards, wineries, and wine merchants. When I got an email about Robert’s new post, “Domaine Romanée Conti meets Sonoma Coast: 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir [$37]”, my fingers were clicking the link even before I finished reading the title of the post, literally a reflexive reaction to detecting the words “Domaine Romanée Conti”.

You see, DRC might be the most coveted wine in the world. If it is not the one, maybe it is one of three or five of the most sought-after wines in the world. It is produced in minuscule amounts, and it is prohibitively, really prohibitively expensive for most of the mere mortals. DRC produces a number of wines, so to give you an example, there were a bit more than 2,000 cases produced of DRC La Tâche 2017, each bottle priced at $4,000+. And I honestly don’t care about owning a bottle, I just want to experience such wine at least once in a lifetime – so yes, the unicorn of unicorns.

You can imagine that opportunity to taste something even remotely related to DRC would trigger an immediate reaction. Skimming through Robert’s article, I learned that Vivier Pinot Noir is produced by Stephane Vivier, who was the winemaker for Hyde de Villaine, DRC’s joint venture in California, who started producing his own wines under the Vivier label. And at $37, this is the closest I can get to DRC without second-mortgaging the house. The same post also explained that the wine is available at Wine Access, the site I already had a good experience with – the rest was a no-brainer.

The wine quickly arrived, and I had to literally hold myself from opening the bottle while the UPS truck barely left the driveway. While I was admiring the simple design of the label, I really liked the description I found there: “Stéphane Vivier is a lazy winemaker. He watches. He waits. He plans. All the while letting the vineyards, the fruit, and “le climat” do the heavy lifting. So when you taste his wine, you taste what created it, not who“. That prompted me to take a look at the Vivier Wines website, where I learned that Stéphane Vivier was born and raised in Burgundy, where he also obtained a degree in viticulture and enology. He started working as a winemaker for Hyde de Villaine in 2002, and in 2009 he started making wines under the Vivier label with his wife Dana.

So how was the 2018 Vivier Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast (12.8% ABV)? Upon pouring into the glass, the first thing to notice was the beautiful, perfumy nose – fresh berries, violets, a touch of strawberries. On the palate, the wine was a typical, well-made Californian Pinot Noir, round, elegant, and polished – but unmistakably Californian, with a good amount of sweetness coming through. I can’t tell you what I was looking for, but I wanted to find something unique, something I didn’t experience in Californian Pinot Noir yet – but that didn’t happen.

On the second day, the wine changed its appearance. Both the nose and the palate pointed directly to Oregon. the nose became more earthy and less perfumy, and on the palate the wine was significantly more restrained, with iodine and earthy notes coming through a lot more noticeably. While the wine on the first day was good, I much more preferred how it was showing on the second day (Drinkability: 8-/8).

There you have it, my friends. Did I find DRC in California? Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to tell, as I have no frame of reference. Did I discover a tasty Californian Pinot Noir? Absolutely. In 5, or maybe 10 years, it might become even amazing. Chase your dreams, my friends. Cheers!

 

Open That Bottle Night 2021 – What A Night!

March 10, 2021 7 comments

Traditions, traditions, traditions.

Traditions need wine. Wine needs traditions. Makes sense? If not, express your disdain with a flaming comment. But if you are an oenophile (wine aficionado, wine snob, wine geek, …), you understand and can easily relate.

Open That Bottle Night, or OTBN for short, is one of the shortest living traditions of the wine world, where thousand years might be a good measure for some – OTBN was first celebrated in 1999 when it was created by the wine couple – Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers behind the “Tastings” column in Wall Street Journal. The OTBN was created to help wine lovers part with the special wine bottles which might otherwise become a waste.

There are two parts to any wine tradition – the first is a special wine itself, always carefully selected to match the tradition, and the second is sharing – sharing of that bottle with the world. Not with the whole world at once, but with the friends.

Let’s talk about finding and sharing.

Finding a proper bottle is never easy – and it might be even worse for the holiday such as OTBN, which was created specifically to help us part with the special bottle, the bottle which has a special meaning for us – no matter why and how, but special in whatever way. Sharing is typically not a problem – unless it is 2021 and the world is still mostly in lockdown – and that includes all of one’s wine friends.

I was lucky for the past many years to have wonderful celebrations of the OTBN with the friends, sharing the most amazing wine experiences (here is the first-hand account for 2017, 2019, and 2020). The only possible way to share OTBN 2021 was the one using for the majority of the gatherings during 2020 and 2021 – the virtual one. I’m not complaining – I’m grateful that at least we have the technology with allows us to spend time with each other face to face, no matter how physically distant we are. So sharing portion was rather easy, and now let’s talk about finding.

Finding is not even the right word. Finding is easy – but selecting is not. OTBN asks for that special bottle. Deciding on what makes one bottle more special than the other, when your cellar is full of unique bottles all present in the quantity of 1 (one), is the hard part. After some amount of deliberations, which included pulling numerous wine fridge shelves back and forth, back and forth, I settled on these four bottles:

Let me explain my selection logic so you will see why it is such a daunting process for me.

First, the white wine, as I’m a big proponent of the balanced diet. 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC might be called my unicorn wine, at least when it comes to whites. The first time I tried a different vintage of this exact wine when it was 10 years old and this wine became one of the brightest memories for me – the beauty and interplay of bright fruit, honey, and acidity were simply unforgettable. When young, this wine from the Loire, made out of the rare grape called Romorantin, is a single note acidic. With age, it develops into an absolute beauty. When I opened the bottle of this wine back in 2015, the wine was superb. When I brought it to Jim’s house for the OTBN 2019, 4 years later, it was “interesting” but absolutely not exciting. I was hoping for redemption, so this was an easy choice.

My next selection was 2008 Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage AOC. When I see Hermitage written on the label, you can literally hear me sigh. Hermitage to me is synonymous with the Syrah, and I love classic Syrah. And so does my wife – Syrah is her favorite grape. I have very few Hermitage wines in my cellar – and this one was calling my name for a long time (meaning: it was pulled off the shelf and placed back many times). Considering that 2008 had a rainy growing season and the vintage has low ratings (WS86, for example) and “Drink now” recommendation, this was an easy decision – no point in waiting any longer.

How many unicorns can one have? Well, having a unicorn would be nice, but I guess I’m talking about chasing them. So how many unicorns can one chase? Clearly, it seems that I’m chasing many. Good Amarone is the wine I’m always chasing. Giuseppe Quintarelly Amarone is more of an ephemeral dream for me, considering the price and availability – and it is definitely one of those unicorns I’m talking about. With 2004 Zýmē Kairos Veneto IGT, I’m getting as close to that unicorn as I can. This wine is produced by Celestino Gaspari, the winemaker for Giuseppe Quintarelli. As the label says “Produced from 15 varietals of grapes of Verona, it is a reflection and interpretation of our soil and the culture of its terroir”. In case you are curious, the 15 grapes are Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, SauvignonBlanc, Chardonnay, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, CabernetSauvignon, CabernetFranc, Merlot, Syraz, Teroldego, Croatina, Oseleta, Sangiovese, and Marzemino. This was my last bottle, and I scanned the pages of this very blog for a good 20 minutes last night as I couldn’t believe that I could’ve never written about this wine before – apparently, I have not. Anyway, I was afraid that it might be the time for this wine, thus it was added to the OTBN group. By the way, another interesting tidbit about this wine is that the name “Kairos” means “timely”, “appropriate”, and “the perfect moment”.

Every good plan A needs plan B, right? The backup. Have you ever went to a friend’s house with a bottle of wine, while another bottle stayed in your car just in case the first one would be corked? Yep, that’s the plan B we are talking about. 2004 Vaucher Pere et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin was my plan B. I don’t have a lot of Burgundies, so opening one is always a special moment. 2004 vintage was so so, with WS88 rating and “drink” recommendation, so this bottle was rightfully on the OTBN list, should the need and opportunity come.

Now you know all about selecting, and I want to say a few more words about sharing. Sharing wine is one of the best pleasures of drinking wine. The approving, understanding nod from the fellow wine lover after he or she is taking the sip from the bottle you brought really fills you up with joy. It might be even more satisfying than your own enjoyment of the same wine. Yet in today’s world, sharing the wine face to face is literally impossible, OTBN or not. To at least share the moment, I reached out to the technology which seemed to save the world from going mad – a virtual get-together over video. Zoom is my tool of choice, so after sending the invites to the group of bloggers, we got together at 7 pm on the OTBN Saturday.

We were not a big group – even in the virtual world, people are busy and have their own plans. But I’m really grateful to everyone who was able to spend that special Saturday time together – some for the whole 2 hours, some for 20-30 minutes, talking about wines, sharing life stories and experiences, and most importantly, having fun. You can scroll through the pictures below, I’m sure you will see some familiar faces.

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So how was my OTBN? In other words, let me tell you more about the wines.

The miracle didn’t happen, and the white wine didn’t become suddenly magical. If I need to describe this 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC in one word, the word would be “strange”. At some moments, it was oxidative and plump. In other moments, it was acidic. It never showed that amazing lemon and honey notes I was expecting. I still have one more bottle, but now I really need to forget it for as long as possible and see if the miracle will happen.

The Hermitage was … superb. First of all, opening it was a breeze – cork was perfectly intact, regular waiter’s corkscrew worked just fine. Drinking this 2008 Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage AOC was a great pleasure – a touch of pepper, a distant hint of a barnyard, round and delicious fruit. The wine was just right – perfectly balanced, round, and smooth. I don’t have a lot of experience with Hermitage, but this wine was clearly one of the best renditions of Syrah I had in a long time. “Elegant” would be the single word descriptor I would use.

The Kairos was the bottle I was concerned about the most. It could’ve been gone by now, especially considering such an eclectic blend of grapes. When I started opening this 2004 Zýmē Kairos Veneto IGT, first I decided to use the regular corkscrew, which worked perfectly fine for the Hermitage. Looking at the way the screw was going in, the cork seemed to be too soft, so I decided that it was the job for Ah-So – I’m glad this decision was not an afterthought I usually have after the cork is already broken in half – Ah-So worked perfectly well and the cork came out with no issues.

And the wine… The wine was magical. Dark fruit with a hint of dried fruit on the palate, perfectly firm and structured, powerful and elegant, with clean acidity and an impeccable balance. The wine was delicious on Saturday, and I also enjoyed that over the next two days. So now I regret not having any more bottles left – but I’m glad I had this special experience. Magical would be the word.

As two bottles of red had no issues whatsoever, the Burgundy was left aside and now will be waiting for its special moment to be opened and enjoyed.

And that, my friends, concludes my OTBN 2021 report. While the sharing was virtual, the experience and pleasure of the wine and the company were real, and it will stay in my memory as yet another great OTBN night. Hope you had fun too. Cheers!

Wine Quiz #135 – How Well Do You Know Your Wines?

February 28, 2021 1 comment

The Wine Quiz series is not meant to intimidate. The whole idea here is to have fun and learn something new. When answering the questions, it is fully encouraged to use all available sources of information, including Google or any other search engine. There are no embarrassing answers – the most embarrassing thing is not giving it a try…

Welcome to your new wine quiz!

Let’s start with the answers to the last quiz #134. That was the second quiz in the new series, where instead of identifying the wines by the top foil or the top of the cork, I’m now asking you to identify the producers by the fragment of the wine label. I’m making an effort to make sure that the fragment of the label will be telling enough to allow for the producer to be identified. Here are the same pictures, now with the producers identified (point to the picture to see):

As I suggested in the last quiz, all of these producers and wines can be called iconic, and they all come from the same region – Washington. Also worth noting that 4 wines here are produced by Christophe Baron (Cayuse, Hors Categorie, Horsepower, No Girls).

Only one player attempted to answer the quiz, and he did it quite successfully – Zak correctly identified 5 wines out of the 6, so he gets almost unlimited bragging rights.

This week, I’m offering you another set of 6 fragments of the wine labels, with a similar hint as before – all wines are reasonably famous/iconic (again, some might be hard to find, though).

Here we go:

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6.

Good luck, enjoy the new quiz! Cheers!

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