Pleasures of Drinking Local

May 8, 2017 2 comments

I love travel -seeing the world, different cultures, different people, different traditions, and, of course, different food and drinks. Food is given, as we all have to eat, so one way or the other we get to experience local cuisine. But then what I drink is also very important to me, with the same spirit of exploration.

I love drinking local. And, of course, when I say “drinking”, I primarily mean wine. When travel, I always make an effort to find and try local wines. Unknown and obscure? Perfect – the less I know about the wine, the more pleasure it brings. Drinking local wines doesn’t mean I have to visit the wineries. More often than not, my trips don’t include any spare time and any facilities to reach the wineries. But – in many places, and I would even say, in increasingly more places, you can still find local wine at local shops, as long as you willing to look for it.

Templarsky Sklepy St Laurent

It is, of course, the best when you are visiting places where the wine is part of the culture, like most countries in Europe (sorry, never been to Latin America or Australia, but somehow I think I would do fine there as well). If the wine is a part of the culture and tradition, it almost guarantees you authentic wine experiences – and what is very important – without breaking the bank. In the USA, for instance, the wine is still a part of the fashion and not part of the tradition, thus in USA, finding reasonably priced wines is extremely difficult, and finding locally produced and reasonably priced wines is simply a mission impossible. Wait, I didn’t mean for this post to be a rant, so let me get back on track.

This time around, my travel took me to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. I’m sure for many (most?) of people, as soon as they will hear “Czech Republic”, the very next image of the local drink is  – of course – a beer. This makes perfect sense, as Czechs are internationally known for their beer, same as Germany or Belgium, and rightfully so. But – what most of the people don’t know is that Czechs also had been making wines almost forever – okay, starting from approximately the 2nd century – long enough? Czech wine never made it to the levels of fame of French or Italian wines – but that doesn’t decrease the pleasure of drinking Czech wines in any way.

I discovered Czech wines for myself last year, when I had delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris ( you can read about it here). Thus I had no doubts that Czech wine is something I’m going to look for upon arrival.

The hotel I’m staying at is adjacent to the shopping mall, which includes a supermarket, a wine store and some other food stores, all of them selling wines. And mind you – at the prices which make you smile from ear to ear. So far I got the wines from the supermarket, and you will see the prices I paid in the descriptions of the wines, as usual.

I had an easy criterion for selecting the wines. Price – of course, but there was another important requirement  – new grapes. As you can see the grape count in the right column of my blog page, I continue my grape journey, so I’m always on the lookout for the additions to the list. Of course, it is usually not that easy – the name of the grape in the local language might sound new and unique – but once you do the research, you can easily find out that there is nothing new about that grape. For instance, take a look at Rulandské modré – sounds unique, right? Meanwhile, it is only a local name for Pinot Noir. Or Rulandské šedé – must be something indigenous, right? Nope, it is simply the Pinot Gris.

Obviously, that didn’t stop me. I found two new white grapes, and for the red, the name looked so cool (Svatovavřinecké) that  I had to get it, despite the fact that this was the local name for the St. Laurent grape – well, how often do you drink St. Laurent wines anyway?

I started with the red wine, as whites needed some chilling – and 2015 Templářské Sklepy Svatovavřinecké Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5, 100% St. Laurent) didn’t disappoint – light garnet color. Pleasant nose with touch of spices, sage, lavender, tobacco, hint of blueberries. Fresh fruit on the palate, tobacco, pepper, medium body, mouth-watering acidity, light, pleasant. Drinkability: 8-/8, a proof that delicious wine doesn’t have to be a fruit or tannin bomb.

Czech White wines

The whites where new, unique and different. One was made out of the grape called Muškat moravsky, which is a cross between Muscat Ottonel and Prachtraube. The other grape was called Pálava, and it was a cross between Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, first selected in 1953. I’m always a bit concerned with the new white wines (many things can go wrong), but this two were simply a stand out. I guess I was simply lucky. Or may be my palate is cursed. Of well. Here are the notes for the white wines:

2015 Chateau Bzenec Muškat moravsky Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5)
Straw pale color. Perfumy nose, reminiscent of Gewurtztraminer but of a lesser intensity, white peaches, lemon undertones, touch of minerality. Delicious on the palate – succulent fresh whitestone fruit with practically no sweetness, ripe green apple and touch of lemon. Clean, balanced, fresh, excellent acidity. Medium-short finish, pleasure to drink. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8/8+

2015 Vinium Velké Pavlovice Pálava Pozdní Sber Morava Czech Republic (12% ABV, 239 Kč ~ $10)
Light golden color. Very pleasant nose, perfumy, touch of honey, tropical fruit (guava, pineapple), medium intensity. Delicious lip smacking palate – crisp acidity, medium to full body, wine is nicely present, mouth coating, acidity keeps lingering with tart apples underpinning, then some ripe apples showing with addition of white plums. Another excellent wine. Unique and different, perfectly enjoyable on its own, but will play very nicely with the food. Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. When travel, take risk, drink local – your reward will be new experience and lots and lots of pleasure. And if you will not like it – the experience will still be with you. Cheers!

Tango Tours – A Pioneer In Wine and Culinary Tourism

April 28, 2017 5 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Choose Tango Tours?

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

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

 

Argentina Beyond Malbec with Achaval-Ferrer and #WineStudio

April 26, 2017 3 comments

Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet FrancOf course, Argentina wine industry can’t be subsided only to Malbec  – Torrontes and Chardonnay for the whites and Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon (and Bordeaux-style blends, of course) for the reds comprise an absolute majority of Argentinian wines available at any given moment. You can find some Argentinian Bonarda, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, but they don’t carry the full recognition of the 4 main grapes.

Winemaking has a long history in Argentina, starting in the 16th century and entering an international trade in the second half of 19th century. If we will take into account that most of the grape plantings in Argentina are at high altitude, with climatic conditions and terroir overall ideal for the grape growing and providing protection against many grape diseases, such as phylloxera, we will quickly realize that Argentina is home to some of the best and oldest vineyards in the world. However, it is only during the last 20-25 years Argentinian wines start receiving a full international recognition they deserve, with Malbec been the brightest shining star.

Achaval-Ferrer winery was founded in 1998, and over its relatively short history, became a leading winery in Argentina, garnering numerous awards and high critic scores for its wines. To the great pleasure of wine geeks, wines of Achaval-Ferrer were also a focus of April #WineStudio educational program, allowing us to experience some of the very best wines Argentina is capable of producing – Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blend called Quimera. But for the last April session, Achaval-Ferrer and #WineStudio took us on the trip in entirely new direction with the inaugural vintage of the Cabernet Franc wine.

I guess it is time to reveal one of my (no, not darkest) deepest wine secrets – I have “a thing”, an obsessive passion for the Cabernet Franc wines. I can’t explain to you why or how. I don’t know how it happened that out of most grapes, the words “Cabernet Franc” make me literally jump. No matter how tired I am at the end of the large tasting, say to me “let’s go try Cab Franc” and I’m ready to run. Thus you can imagine how excited I was at this opportunity to try a new first release of Cabernet Franc.

There was a lot of excitement around this wine, seems everybody really enjoyed it. As for all the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, the grapes for this Cabernet Franc came from the high altitude vineyards (3,280 ft above sea level) in the Uco Valley, mostly sustainably farmed. Here are my tasting notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 months in 3-year old French oak barrels)
C: Dark garnet
N: intense, baking spices, dark fruit, mint, dark chocolate
P: medium-full body, fresh cut-through acidity, mint, hint of cassis, touch of white pepper on the finish, smooth, long finish with tannins kicking in at the end and lingering.  Needs time…
V: 8, nice, can be drunk on its own, will be great with the food, and will evolve with time – at least 10 years. The wine opened up more on the second day, and I’m sure will further improve on the 3rd.

Definitely an excellent wine which will be hard to find – 1,400 cases total production, and a lot of this wine went to Morton’s steakhouse (so if you plan to visit Morton’s keep that in mind) – but it is well worth seeking. If you will score some of these bottles, lay them down in the cellar and let them evolve. At least this is what I would do.

This wine concluded a delicious #WineStudio experience with the Achaval-Ferrer wines, and to sum it up, I want to leave you with the twitter quote from Tina Morey, the host of #WineStudio:

I can fully sign under every word here – beautiful, expressive wines, well representing what Argentina is capable of. Salud!

Translation – Implicit Virtue and Pain of Oenophile

April 25, 2017 5 comments

When you hear the word “translation”, what is the first thought which comes to the mind? Make no mistake – we will be talking about the wine here, but let’s leave that aside for now – we will connect the dots a bit later. So, how about that translation?

I would bet that your immediate thought was of a foreign language. This is where “translation” is typically invoked. Maybe you remember your French class in the high school; may be you have a vivid picture of your last trip to Italy – in either case, we see or hear the word (at least, we assume whatever we hear to be a word), and then we make an effort to understand what that word mean in our own language, and not just by itself, but also taking it in the context of conversation or a text we are reading.

When we speak and read in our mother tongue, the words typically create immediate associations. If you hear the word “door”, you have an instant mental image of the door – whatever the style is, but you know it is a door. If you will see or hear the word “porte”, unless you speak French and expect to see a French word, that word will cause no mental images to show up, despite the fact that “porte” simply means “door” in French.

You don’t have to travel or try to read Swiss newspaper in the morning to have a need to translate something. There are plenty of interesting words we encounter all the time, which need translation in order to achieve that comfortable mental image. Some of those words came from foreign languages, some are specific technical terms, some are just an urban jargon – either way we need to translate those word one way or the other in order to “get” them. Need examples? Let’s look at something as straightforward as steak. I’m sure the word “steak” generates an instant mental image (apologies to the vegetarian readers), of juicy, crusted goodness. But, without the help of Google, how many people do you think will be puzzled if asked if they would like to order steak Diane, chateaubriand or tournedos (okay, you can use Google now)? Steak is complicated, you say? No problems, let’s go even simpler here – how about some pasta? Easy, right? Okay, please describe to me croxetti, rachette or gigli. No? Yeah, sure, go ask Google.

You know what is important here? Rachette or gigli, but we know that it is pasta, and it is comfortable enough for us, so we can skip the translation. Our experience can replace the translation itself – not always, but often. Take a couple of trips to France, and you will not be reaching for the dictionary to understand “merci” or “bonjour”. We don’t even think about what those words mean, but we know where and how to use them, and that works. We do learn, and as we learn, we get comfortable. But we have to still remember that translation is all about little details.

You must be thirsty by now, so let’s talk wine. How often do we have to use translation skills around wine? If you said “all the time”, you are right. I’m not even talking about dealing with professional winemakers’ language (debourbage, remouage, Oechsle, anyone?). I’m not talking about translating from the crazy winespeak of some of the tasting notes (references to various exotic fruits are my “favorite” – how many people know how bilberry, jostaberry or a tayberry taste like? I’m sure we all can identify Satsuma plum and Castlebrite apricots, right?). Leaving all that aside, getting comfortable with wines requires a lot of learning – and translation.

Yes, we can skip translation and just learn by drinking the wines, it is easy – I like this wine, and I don’t like that wine. But this approach doesn’t scale – there are millions of wines in the world, it is not given that the exact wine we like will be available anywhere, any time we want it. So we need to start translating the “winespeak”, which is typically right in front of us on the wine label, into the “mental images” we can bring on at any time. When we start drinking wine, we probably start from the grape. We try one Cabernet Sauvignon, and we like it. Then the next, and the next, and then we know – we like Cabernet Sauvignon. But one day we try Cabernet Sauvignon and it might be nothing like the wine we like. What happened? Time to learn about the regions. We start stating “I like Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Until it is time to learn again – the label says “Cabernet Sauvignon”, the label says “Napa Valley”, but the wine is not that great – and this is when we might start learning about producers.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Becjksrtoffer Dr Crane VineyardThere is not much translation in what I just described above – depending on where you live and what language you speak. Let’s not forget that Europe is still the most influential “wine region”, and so most of the wine drinkers will have to translate what they see, and pay attention to the “fine print”.

Okay, it is a wine label, not a legal document, but we still need to learn to translate, as the language we assumed to be our native is not universal. Remember we started our love of wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon? Unlike California, French wines typically list only the region and not the grapes the wine is made out of. It is now our job as oenophiles to translate Pomerol and Saint-Émilion into “predominantly Merlot-based wines”, and Pauillac and Margaux into “predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines”. Many French winemakers understand this Achilles hill and they put the name of the main grape directly on the label. This becomes a great thing for some wine drinkers, while some of us are getting on the offensive – “ahh, this French wine list the grape – it must be a cheap plonk made specifically for the export”. Nothing is perfect, right?

And then that fine print… As we keep translating, we learn that every little word is important, very important – but depending on the context. If you see the word “Reserve” on the bottle of California wine, it doesn’t translate into anything of any significance, as the use of the word “reserve” is not regulated in California. The word “Reserva” on the bottle of Chianti or Rioja, however,  can mean the world of difference in the taste of the wine, as the use of this word is tightly regulated and it also translates into the significant difference in taste.

Funny thing that when you think you have achieved your level of proficiency and can “translate” anything with the word “wine” in it, this is when there is a good chance you are going to make a mistake. Here is one of my favorite illustrations to this statement. A few years back, I was in Portugal with a group of colleagues. We stopped by a restaurant, and I ordered the bottle of wine which was absolutely delicious. I actually loved it so much that I bought two extra bottles at the restaurant to take home. A few days later, we visited the same restaurant again, and I ordered exact same wine. When the wine arrived at the table, I couldn’t believe that I liked that wine so much before. The wine was not spoiled, but it definitely lacked the depth and layers of flavor. For a while, I couldn’t understand what have happened – until I found the tiny difference – the second wine was lacking the word “Reserva” on the label…

I hope I didn’t lose you in translation, my friends. When translating, and we always do, we, oenophiles, should always pay attention – and enjoy the ride. Cheers!

This post is an entry for the 32nd Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC32), with the theme of “Translation”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory, Obscure, Faith

Evening With Friends

April 22, 2017 8 comments

I confessed it many times, and I’m glad to do it again – one of my most favorite parts of blogging, and essentially the most important one, is people. Interacting with people is the most prized element of any published blog post; meeting fellow bloggers and finding new friends is a huge cherry on top. I don’t know if the wine has any special qualities, but I have a great personal experience with meeting fellow bloggers face to face for the first time and feeling like I knew them for my whole life.

When I got an email from Jim, an author of JvbUncorked blog, offering to get together a few weeks ago, I knew I had to make it work. When I arrived 20 minutes late to Aldo Sohm Wine Bar in midtown in New York, Jim, Lori (a blogger and the winemaker behind Dracaena Wines) and Lori’s friend, Donna, were already there.

Anatoli, Lori and Jim More often than not, when I know what restaurant I’m going to, I like to check the wine list in advance. Aldo Sohm Wine Bar was opened by Aldo Sohm, the Chef Sommelier at Le Bernardine, a world-famous dining destination in New York City. Aldo Sohm is also known for winning numerous Sommelier competitions and was crowned multiple times as “Best Sommelier in Austria”, as well as “Best Sommelier in America” and “Best Sommelier in the World 2008” – you can imagine that the wine list put together by such a wine Pro requires some homework. I don’t know about you but I love and always do my homework, especially if it is connected to wine at least in some way.

In addition a to the substantial wine list, we had another interesting challenge – Donna liked mostly white wines with the nice buttery component to them – but, she was willing to try new wines, which was very helpful, but – the challenge was on.

Being late by 20 minutes had one lucky consequence – the first wine was already chosen and about to be poured by the time I situated myself at the table. We started with 2013 Kuentz-Bas Riesling Cuvée Tradition Alsace ($40) – and it was outstanding. Perfectly bright and intense on the nose, with a whiff of honey and apricot; on the palate, it was live and vibrant, crisp and playful, continuing honey and apricot flavors, supported by clean acidity. An outstanding wine and a great value at a restaurant wine list at $40. Bonus – we got “thumbs up” from Donna – you know how we, wine geeks, feel when someone says about your recommendation “ahh, I like this wine” – the top of the world feeling. Well, kind of, anyway.

As we were pondering at the next wine, it was really hard to decide, especially trying to make everybody happy again. While we were looking at Italian options, feeling “yeah, might be, but really, yeah?”, I took the advantage of my list studying and suggested to try a California Chardonnay. Not just something random, but a very particular Chardonnay – 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay Santa Barbara ($80). Earlier in the year, I had my first experience of Sandhi wines with Sandhi Pinot Noir. Sandhi winery was founded by Rajat Parr, a world-renowned sommelier, a partner at Sandhi winery and one of the founders of IPOB (In Pursuit Of Balance) movement for dialed-down, balanced California wines. The Sandhi Pinot Noir was incredible, which made me really curious about the Chardonnay – and it didn’t disappoint. This 2012 Sandhi Chardonnay had generous, intense, open nose with apples and vanilla, and on the palate, this wine was simply a riot – I experienced similar Chardonnay wines only a few times, mostly from Burgundy, when they get incredible intensity and brightness of golden delicious apples, vanilla and honey, supported by just a hint of butter and clear, vibrant acidity. This was truly a treat. And – yay – we got “thumbs up” from Donna again. Two out of two!

It was the time to move to the reds. While previously looking at the list, I noticed a 2001 Santenay for $77 at the end of the Burgundy section, right after 2001 DRC Romanée St. Vivant for $2650 (need an expense account, anyone got one we can share?). At first I thought there might be a mistake either with the price or a vintage in the online copy (had such experience numerous times), but no – the same Santenay was there on the wine list at the restaurant, for the same $77, so it was not very difficult to convince my partners in crime to go for this wine.

2001 Paul Chapelle 1er Cru Gravière Santenay ($77) was earthy, dry and pretty closed on the nose despite quick decanting. It took the wine a while to start showing some dark fruit, with earthy, minerally notes prevailing at the beginning. I think it took the wine about 45 minutes to give us some dark fruit notes and become a bit brighter. This 16 years old wine still has a lot of life left in it, and it is definitely a food friendly wine. By the way, do you care to guess of Donna liked this wine? Yes, you got that right – no, she didn’t. 2–1.

As our evening was progressing, we got a pleasure of meeting Aldo Sohm in person – he came to our table and introduced himself, so we were able to chat with him for about 10 minutes about all the fun geeky stuff oenophiles enjoy so much – how uneasy it is to find good wines at the good prices, especially when it comes to the Burgundy, with the combination of terrible weather and Burgundy’s love on the upswing around the world. Talking to Aldo was definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

It was getting somewhat late, but the challenge was still in front of us – we managed to score with the white wines for Donna to enjoy, but we had to find the proper red. After going back and force we settled on 2007 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva ($75). La Rioja Alta doesn’t need much introduction to the wine lovers – one of the very best producers in Rioja, making delicious wine year after year. Of course, this wine was still a baby, but within the reasonable price range, we thought that it would have the best fruit representation, which, again, we were hoping would win Donna’s vote. The wine was every bit as expected – nose of cigar box and vanilla, dense cherries, vanilla and eucalyptus on the palate, touch of sweet oak, full body, noticeable, but well integrated tannins. This was an excellent wine, but … Nope, we didn’t win this one. 2–2. But one super-fun evening.

It was late, and it was the time to go home. But I really hope we are going to do it again. And again. And again. To all the friends – cheers!

Geekiest Way to Celebrate #MalbecWorldDay – #WineStudio Blind Tasting with Achaval-Ferrer

April 21, 2017 3 comments

Achaval Ferrer WSET 3 tasting Starting in 2011, April 17th is the day when we celebrate Malbec – one of the noble French grapes, which almost disappeared in France, but found its new life in Argentina, where it became a star. I don’t want to bore you with the Malbec history – you can read it on your own in many places, including few posts in this very blog (here is a bit about the history of the Malbec grape, and here you can take a Malbec quiz).

Typical “grape holiday” celebration usually includes an opening of an upscale (high end, memorable, etc) varietally correct bottle. Our today’s celebration was a bit different, as it was based on the concept of pure, unadulterated, geeky wine lovers’ fun  – a blind tasting, and, of course, guessing.

This blind tasting was a part of the educational program run by the WineStudio during the month of April. In case you are not aware of the Wine Studio, it is a brainchild of Tina Morey, and it is wine education and marketing program which helps to expand people’s wine horizon and help them discover new regions, new grapes and new wines. April program, quite appropriately (April is designated as a Malbec wine month), was focused on the wines of Achaval-Ferrer, one of the very best wine producers from Argentina.

To facilitate the blind tasting, all the participants received a set of two bottles, some wrapped in colorful foil, and some in the black plastic – mine were the second type:

About an hour before the session I opened the bottles to let the wines breathe a little, as it was suggested by the organizers. And then the session started.

Of course, this was not the usual blind tasting. There are many ways to run the blind tasting, some of them quite extreme – for instance, tasting the wine without any known information from the black glass – an extreme sensual challenge. Going less extreme, in a typical blind tasting you will have at least some kind of limits installed – Pinot Noir grape, for instance, or wines of Pauillac. Our #winestudio blind tasting was on one side a lot less challenging, as we knew that the wines were made by Achaval-Ferrer, so we didn’t expect to find Petite Sirah in any of those bottles, and we even knew the vintage years, 2013 and 2012. At the same time, for sure for me, it was almost more challenging, as I was trying to guess the wines based on what I knew about Achaval-Ferrer and thinking about what they might want to showcase in the tasting,  instead of focusing on the actual wines.

We were asked to evaluate wines using WSET Level 3 tasting grid (you can find it here if you are curious). Here is a summary of my tasting notes – I’m distinguishing the wines by their vintage:

Wine 2013
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium
Aroma characteristics: touch of funk, mint, underbrush, blackberries
Development: youthful
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: cassis, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries
Finish: medium-
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

Wine 2012
APPEARANCE
Clarity: clear
Intensity: deep
Colour: garnet
NOSE
Condition: clean
Intensity: medium+
Aroma characteristics: tar, tobacco
Development: developing
PALATE
Sweetness: off-dry
Acidity: medium+
Tannin: medium
Alcohol: medium
Body: medium+
Flavour intensity: medium+
Flavour Characteristics: red and black fruit, salinity, raspberries, anis
Finish: medium
CONCLUSIONS
Quality level: outstanding
Level of readiness for drinking/potential for ageing: can drink now, but has potential for ageing

As it is usually the case with the blind tastings, I didn’t do well. I really wanted the wines to be pure Malbec and Cab Franc, and this is what I included into my final guess:

then, of course, I second guessed myself and changed the answer:

When the bottles were finally unwrapped, we found this beautiful Bordeaux blend called Quimera  been our Quimera for the night – it is no wonder every back label of Quimera explains the name: “Quimera. The Perfection we dream of and strive for. The search for an ideal wine”.

The wines were 2013 and 2012 Quimera, both classic Bordeaux blends, but with a high amount of Argentinian star variety – Malbec. Both vintages had the same composition: 50% Malbec, 24% Cab Franc, 16% Merlot, 8% Cab Sauv and 2% Petit Verdot. Just as a point of reference, I still have a few bottles of 2008 Quimera, and that wine has 40% of Malbec. Both wines were beautiful, but very different in its own right – and they will for sure age quite nicely. This was definitely a treat and yet another testament to the great wines Argentina is capable of producing.

Here you go, my friends. Another great night at #winestudio, celebrating the grape well worth a celebration. Next Tuesday, April 25, we will be tasting Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Franc, their new single-varietal bottling – been Cab Franc aficionado, I can’t tell you how excited I am. Join the fun – see you at 9 pm! Cheers!

Finding Peace with Chappellet and 2007 Napa Vintage

April 14, 2017 2 comments

Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Vintage. An essential word in the wine lovers’ lexicon. “How was the vintage” often is a defining question, something we certainly have to find out and then store in the brain compartment for important wine facts. Depending on the stated greatness, some vintages might keep their recognition almost forever, like 1949 or 1982 Bordeaux, and 1964 or 2001 Rioja. The vintage by itself is no guarantee of quality of the particular wine from a particular producer, but it is generally considered that in the better vintages, there are more good wines available across the board.

2007 was lauded as a truly outstanding vintage in Napa Valley in California. According to the Wine Spectator vintage charts, 2007 [still] is the best vintage since 1999, with the vintage rating of 97. When the first 2007 Napa wines appeared, I was very eager to taste them – only to be disappointed for the most cases. In my experience, the wines were lacking finesse and balance, they were often devoid of fruit and had demonstrably attacking and astringent tannic structure. My main thought tasting 2007 Napa wines was “it needs time, and a lot of it”.

Chappellet is one of the famous producers in Napa, making wines for more than 40 years, now in the second generation of the family; their wines are highly regarded by consumers and critics alike. Some time back in 2010 I scored a few bottles of 2007 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Napa Valley (14.9% ABV, Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 46%, Malbec 1%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Petit Verdot 1%). My first taste was also one of the early posts in this very blog, and nothing short of disappointment (read it here). Continuing tasting throughout the years, I was still missing that “aha moment”, an opportunity to say “ahh, I like it”. It particularly applies to the 2007 vintage of Chappellet, as in 2014 I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 vintage of the same wine (Mountain Cuvee), and the wine was quite pleasant.

A couple of days ago I was looking for the wine to open for dinner and the last bottle of 2007 Chappellet caught my attention. Well, why not? 10 years is a good age for the California wine – let’s see how this wine is now ( even though I have not much of a hope based on the prior experience). Cork is out, wine is in the glass. The color, of course, shows no sign of age, still almost black. But the nose was beautiful – fresh, intense, inviting, with a touch of cassis and mint. The first sip confirmed that the wine completely transformed – open, rich, succulent fruit, cassis and blackberries, supported by the firm structure of the tannins without any overbearing, eucalyptus and touch of sweet oak, clean acidity. Perfectly powerful, but also perfectly balanced with all the components been in check. Now this was the “ahh, this is so good” wine which I would be glad to drink at any time. (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

This delicious experience prompted this post. I’m glad to find it with my own palate, that “needs time” is not a moniker for the “crappy wine”, but a true statement. I’m sure this is not universally true – some wines are simply beyond the help of time – but this definitely worked for this particular wine and for the 2007 Napa vintage. I don’t have any more of this 2007 Chappellet, but I have other 2007 Napa wines, and I just upped my expectations significantly.

Have you had similar experiences? How would you fare 2007 Napa vintage? Cheers!

Daily Glass: Portugal Still A Value Champion

April 4, 2017 1 comment

If you drink wines every day, I’m sure you can appreciate a great value. Heck, I’m sure you hunt down value as much as you can, not only appreciate it. Even at a modest $20 per bottle, the cost of this hobby/passion quickly adds up.

All of us, wine lovers, greatly appreciate good value. But – it is equally important to note – not at the expense of the taste. It is great if the bottle is reasonably priced, however, the content still has to deliver the pleasure – as this is why we really drink the wine in the first place.

So let me ask you – what is your “go to” value region? I personally have many. In the $10 – $12 range, you can often look at Georgia and Spain (even though Spain is slowly edging itself out of that category); sometimes Italy and France can surprise you too – more as an exception, though. Add a few dollars – move to the $12-$15 range, and you got Spain very reliably there, with more of French and Italian options, and even some wines from the US; South Africa might play a supporting role there as well.

But – to sneak under $10, or even get as close as possible to $5? With the wines people will drink and enjoy? Reliably? I know of only one country which delivers here – Portugal.

I visited Portugal for the first time back in 2013, and when I saw the $3 – $4 wines at the supermarket, my thought was – this is most likely not drinkable at all. And I was dead wrong – here is one example. And I was proven wrong lots and lots more times, both in Portugal and in the US (I’m talking about place of buying the wine).

What prompted this post was a quick stop at one of my favorite wine stores – Bottle King in New Jersey. I didn’t have much time, just enough to grab a few bottles. One of them was 2014 Quinta do Vale Sub-Região Serra da Estrela Dão DOP (13% ABV, $5.98, 40% Tinta Roriz, 35% Alfrocheiro, 25% Jaen) – yes, at a whopping $5.98. To be entirely honest, I opened the bottle, poured and glass and proceeded to sip directly, without paying much attention to the appearance or the nose. The very first sip delivered the “wow” reaction. The aromas jumped from the glass – fresh, supple, juicy, with crunchy young fruit, lots of aromatic herbs (sage, tarragon), clean, smooth, medium body, touch of earthiness, fresh acidity and excellent balance. There was nothing extra in that glass – just a pure indulgence.

After that first sip (and then second, third and so on), it was evident that Portugal over-delivered again – an outstanding QPR, excellent wine at more than excellent price – clearly worthy of a “case buy” recommendation.

There you have it, my friends. What was your recent “best value” experience? What is your “go to” value wines region or a country? Cheers!

Wine News and Updates

April 1, 2017 11 comments

The wine world enjoys ever-increasing popularity and attention, and respectively, the wine news are coming at us at a neck breaking speed as well. I wanted to share with you some of the most interesting updates I recently came across.

First, an interesting update from Coravin. I’m sure the name rings the bell, but just in case it is not, Coravin produces a wine gadget, which can be somewhat classified in the “wine preserver” category – Coravin helps you to pull small amount of wine from the bottle through the cork without much impacting the wine, thus allowing aficionados to enjoy their prized bottle of Petrus slowly over the years. Coravin recently got $22 million in funding from the group of investors. One of the projects touted by the company is a “flavor booster”, for the lack of the better term – special attachment to the main Coravin device will allow consumers to specify the desired level of acidity, fruit and tannins, and the “favor booster” will be able to affect the wine on the molecular level, delivering ultimately tailored treat to the individual palates. The project is well underway, however, it is still mostly in the experimental stages. The rumor on the street had it that Riedel, producer of the finest glassware, is on the lookout for the same technology, so it will be interesting to see which company will deliver better solution first.

Now we need to move from Earth to space. Well, okay, not exactly, not yet anyway. The NASA and Space-X recently started a collaborative project aiming at converting wine into a paste concentrate. As Space-X is readying their space tourism program, having wine on the board of the spaceship is highly desirable. However, transporting the wine in its usual form – bottles – is extremely impractical as bottles are both bulky and heavy. Having the wine in “just add the water” form would be extremely beneficial. Of course, the key is to preserve the taste and uniqueness, to ensure that every wine is recognisable and maintains its individuality. Some of the best wineries in the world are sponsoring this work (Latour, Krug, Penfolds, Antinori, Mondavi, Heitz just to name a few) and are very much interested in the results. The work is only in the initial stages so we will need to keep an eye on it.

Now, let’s talk again about the paste – this time, a toothpaste out of all! If you find the flavors of the toothpaste boring, you are not alone – mint, peppermint, really? That’s all we can have? What if we had an amazing glass of wine right before the bedtime, now we need to use that mint toothpaste to destroy that wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon flavor lingering in the mouth? It seems that Colgate understands us, wine lovers. Colgate recently announced an upcoming availability of the wine-flavored toothpaste. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay flavors are expected to hit the market first, and Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are in the works. The price was not revealed yet, but it is expected to be close to the $10 per tube. Crest and Sensodyne are expected to announce similar products in the near future.

The name Nomacork might not be familiar to many of the wine consumers. Most of the corks used in winemaking today are produced from the bark of the tree. The reason corks are such great enclosures for the wine is due to the fact that while cork fully retains the wine inside the bottle, it is still porous enough to allow trace amounts of oxygen to get through and reach the wine – and oxygen is very important for the evolution of the wine in the bottle. Nomacork produces so-called “engineered corks” which can be constructed for the different levels of oxygen penetration, thus allowing winemakers to use the ideal enclosures for the different types of wines, depending on how slow or quick they would like the wine to age. While this all sounds too technical for the wine consumers, Nomacork recently announced the brand new type of engineered cork, this time squarely looking after the wine consumers. The new type of cork will have a microchip inside and will allow consumers to select the month and the year when they want to drink the wine, and cork will automatically change its properties to ensure the wine will be at its peak at the required time. Nomacork filed more than 50 patents associated with this technology and this work might be one of the most guarded secrets in the wine research today.

Over the last few years, violent “wine riots” shook South of France, with French vignerons dumping wines and setting fires to protest imports of the cheap Spanish wine juice. The unexpected offer to help came unexpectedly from the world renowned supplier of the fine meats, D’Artagnan. The company, known for its gourmet meats, game, duck, foie gras and lots more, offered to buy the inexpensive Spanish wine in the large quantities. Based on D’Artagnan research, it appears that most of the water in ducks’ diet can be perfectly replaced with wine, which leads to the much tastier meat and unbelievable smooth and delicious foie gras. It was also stated that red and white wines create different flavor profile of the meat, so soon we are going to see ever tasting products available from D’Artagnan.

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

Happiness-Inducing Wines of Lieb Cellars

March 29, 2017 4 comments

Lieb Cellars wines“Rising tide lifts all boats”.

As the wine growing in popularity all over the United States (still does, I hope), we witness the “wine countries” appearing everywhere – not just singular wineries, but the actual aggregations of the wineries, often presented as “wine trails”. While Napa and Sonoma definitely paved and continue leading the way to what the “wine country” is, you can find wineries all over the country offering not only wine tastings, but live music, concerts, dinners, special events and lots more.

Long Island wine country is the one closest to the New York City, making the wines for about 40 years by now. There is a very good chance, however, that even if you live in the USA, you never tasted Long Island wines – same as it is practically impossible to find the wines from Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona or Michigan anywhere outside of those states. So if I will tell you that Long Island makes world class Riesling, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Merlot, you will probably have to take my word for it.

Over the past 10 years or so, visiting Long Island wineries on more or less a regular basis, I witnessed those wineries perfectly learning from Napa – both the good and the bad. On the good side, more and more knowledge is accumulated as to which vineyards  and grapes do best, which individual plots do best, and the winemaking becoming more precise and resourceful. The bad side is in the fact that as the wines are getting better and better, it is less and less possible to enjoy the wines in the wine country itself, as it becomes more and more touristy – and visitors often get this “tourist special” treatment… Oops – no, we are not going into the rant, nope. Let me get to what I actually wanted to talk about.

When I was offered to taste some of the wines produced by Lieb Cellars, I had to do a bit of a research first. It turned out that despite visiting Long Island wineries every year, I never made it to Lieb Cellars and was pretty much unfamiliar with their wines. Therefore, I was looking at the best case – the wine country was coming to me, without any additional tourist distractions, yay!

Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc with the glass

Now, I would like to finally explain the title of this post (after almost falling for a rant, yeah). When the wines arrived and I started taking them out of the box, the first thought was “wow, I love these labels!”. There is really nothing special about those labels, except that they are very clean and simple, and all of them use bright, cheerful colors. We eat with our eyes first – everybody know that – and it works for me the same with the the wine labels. Of course, what’s inside the bottle is far more important than the label itself, but good label makes you anticipate good wine – works for me every time.

In case of Lieb Cellars wines, the happiness-inducing labels were also perfectly supported by what was in the bottles, as you can tell from my tasting notes below. Few comments before I will leave you with them.

Lieb Cellars produces two different lines of wines. The first line, Lieb Cellars, is being produced since 1992. You can see those wines identified on the labels as Lieb Cellars, and today those are the Reserve wines made only from the estate-produced fruit. In 2004, Lieb Cellars started new line of wines called Bridge Lane – named after the farm road adjacent to one of the Lieb vineyards. While Bridge Lane are called a “second label” wines, there is nothing “second” about them – sustainably  farmed, small crop, hand harvested wines, available in 3 different formats – standard bottle, 3L box and 20L kegs – whatever size your heart desires. You can even see those three available sizes pictured on the Bridge Lane labels.

Time to talk about the wines – here are my notes:

2016 Bridge Lane Chardonnay New York State (12.5% ABV, $15, 100% Chardonnay)
C: straw pale
N: lemon with distant hint of rosemary
P: lemon, tropical fruit, mango, Granny Smith apples
V: 7+/8-

2016 Bridge Lane Rosé New York State (11.9% ABV, $15, 49% cabernet Franc, 29% Merlot, 16% Malbec, 4% Pinot Noir, 2% Petit Verdot)
C: light onion peel
N: strawberries all the way, ripe strawberries, clean, inviting, fresh, touch of yeast Inessa which makes you smell it for a long time
P: strawberries on the palate, clean lemony acidity, firm and present. It would happily compete with any Provence Rosé
V: 8, wow, what a treat!

2016 Bridge Lane Sauvignon Blanc New York State (12.0% ABV, $15, 100% Sauvignon Blanc)
C: literally non-existent, straw pale extra light
N: fresh cut grass, medium intensity
P: lemon, tart fruit, cut through acidity. More of a Sancerre style – less fruit than California, less intensity than NZ. Clean acidity on the finish.
V: 8-, very enjoyable.

2011 Lieb Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs North Fork of Long Island, New York (12.5% ABV, $30, 48 months on the lees, 100% Pinot Blanc)
Appearance: Light golden color, fine mousse
N: touch of Apple, touch of yeast, delicious, open
P: touch of acidity, apples, lemon, restrained
V: 8/8+, the bottle can be gulped in one sitting

2015 Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc Reserve North Fork of Long Island, New York (11.9% ABV, $20, 98% Pinot Blanc, 2% Riesling)
C: straw pale
N: white stone fruit, nice sweetness
P: beautiful, plump fruit, generous, delicious
V: 8, outstanding.

2015 Lieb Cellars Reserve Cabernet Franc North Fork of Long Island, New York (12.8% ABV, $30, 10 month in Hungarian oak, 85% Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot)
C: dark ruby
N: mint, hint of mushrooms, touch of tobacco
P: fresh, open, blackberries, silky layers,
V: 7+/8-

The wines give us pleasure. It is not simple to convey that in words, but I hope I managed to share at least a glimpse of a pleasure brought by these Lieb Cellars wines. If anything, let me give you only one advice – find ’em and drink ’em. Cheers!