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!

Precision of Flavors – Tasting the Wines of Achaval-Ferrer

March 26, 2017 4 comments

Achaval Ferrer CorkDrinking wine is a pleasure – for sure it should be, and if you don’t feel like it, maybe you shouldn’t drink it at all. At the same time, there are multiple ways to look at one and the same thing.

A pleasure of drinking of the glass of wine may be just as it sounds, very simple  – take a sip of the liquid in the glass, say “ahh, it tastes good”, and continue to the next sip or with the conversation, whatever entices you the most at the moment.

Then there are many of us, wine lovers, who, professionally or unprofessionally, can’t stop just at that. Yes, we take pleasure in every sip, but then we need to dig in. We feel compelled to put on the Sherlock Holmes hat and play the wine sleuth, figuring out exactly what we are tasting in that very sip. What was that flavor? Was that a raspberry? Hmmm, maybe not. And that whiff of something? It is so familiar! Why can’t I put a name on it? Grrrr.

Everyone who engaged in that wine tasting exercise I’m sure can relate to what I’m saying. But every once in a while, we do get a break, when the flavor simply jumps at you, pristine and obvious. And the best twist here is when the flavor is matching to what is expected to find in the wine, like fresh cut grass in Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Cabernet Sauvignon, or pepper in Syrah – don’t we love those pure and precise flavors?

Achaval-Ferrer winery is only about 20 years old, built on the passion and vision of a group of friends in Mendoza, Argentina. In those 20 years, Achaval-Ferrer accomplishments are nothing short of enviable. Achaval-Ferrer wines earned multiple Decanter magazine 5-star ratings (the highest). There are 29 wines from Argentina rated as “Classic” by Wine Spectator (95-100 ratings) – 13 out of those 29 wines are Achaval-Ferrer wines; the flagship Malbec Finca Altamira consistently getting 96 points rating year after year.

In addition to passion, vision, hard work and perseverance, the success foundation of Achaval-Ferrer is its high altitude vineyards, located from 700 to 1100 meters above sea level (2,300 – 3,600 ft). Three out of four main vineyards of Achaval-Ferrer are also about 100 years old, and boast pre-phylloxera vines, as Phylloxera simply can’t survive in those high mountains conditions. Now all left to do is to take the beautiful fruit those vineyards produce and make it into equally beautiful wines – the Achaval-Ferrer does it quite successfully.

Here is what triggered my “precision of flavors”  opening. I had an opportunity to taste a sample of Achaval-Ferrer wines recently, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. While Malbec was a very good wine, but clearly needed time to mature, Cabernet Sauvignon was stunning, with flavors and aromas just jumping at your right away from the glass, with easy to relate to, textbook-correct cassis – also intensifying its purity with the time. This was a perfect example of why Argentinian wines are so popular and deserving of all your attention. And at a price of $24.99, the Cabernet Sauvignon offer an outstanding QPR, easily beating many classic Napa Cabs which would also cost you at least three times as much.

Here are my detailed notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: very intense, dark roasted fruit, cassis. The roasted fruit intensity diminishes as the wine breathes.
P: beautiful cassis, clean acidity, soft tannins, lots of layers. As the wine breathes, the tannins show better and more pronounced. Pure clean black currant after a day.
V: 8+, outstanding, wow. Will evolve.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Malbec)
C: practically black
N: roasted meat, smoke, tar, intense, baking spices
P: dark fruit, bright acidity, mint, alcohol burn in the back?, succulent, lavender, spicy. Blueberries showed up on the second day.
V: 8,  needs time, but perfectly delicious on the second day.

Here you are, my friends. Achaval-Ferrer definitely makes wines worthy of oenophile’s attention – and the QPR makes these wines worth seeking. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Will It Merlot?

March 23, 2017 8 comments

2002 Robert Green Cellars Merlot NapaYes, the title of this post is a play on the theme of some of the Good Mythical Morning episodes, where Rhett and Link are trying to figure out how far they can take the usual food items in the unusual directions, calling those episodes “Will It …” (if you are not watching the show, you really should, here is the link for you). But this is where the connection with the popular show ends.

And yes, we are talking about Merlot. But that also not very important, as the bottle was not opened just because I wanted to drink Merlot.

The vintage was the culprit – 2002 – as this is the year when my youngest daughter was born. And as I’m sure many of you, oenophiles, out there do, I love opening proper vintages to celebrate birthdays.

So the question was whether this 2002 Robert Green Cellars Merlot Napa Valley (14% ABV) would be still drinkable in 2017.

I presented this question to a few of the twitter winos, and the consensus was cautiously optimistic, presuming the wine was properly stored (the bottle actually never left wine fridge from the moment it got into the house). Wine Spectator rated 2002 Napa vintage at 89, and “Drink Recommendation” column had gloomy “Past peak” reference. I wanted to learn a bit more about the wine from the producer’s website, but the link on the back label was non-functional, and google didn’t offer much help searching for “Robert Green Cellars”.

Done with theoretical research – the proof is in the pudding wine glass anyway. The cork pulled out in a perfect condition. The wine is in the glass, and the first whiff had nice fruit in it, but the wine tasted a bit off. But – never judge the wine by the first sip, right? This rule is very important when it comes to the young wine, but this is even more important when it comes to the aged wines. 10 minutes in the glass brought this wine together – a perfect core of the dark fruit, maybe a touch of black currant, mint, firm structure, definitely a nice glass of wine.

About an hour and a half after the bottle was opened, it opened up even more, but somewhere in the distance, more on the finish than anything else,  tertiary aromas started to appear – this is when I tweeted to the same group that the wine was perfect but at its peak. Another 30 minutes later, the wine started closing back, but only in a good sense – acidity came to the forefront, fresh young black and red fruit came to dominance – I was clearly looking at a young and delicious wine, not more than 3-4 years of age. Then, of course, the bottle was empty.

This was definitely a fun bottle of wine, with the self-attached “first world problems” – would the wine be still good or not. Believe it or not, but there was even the next level of fun associated with that wine. The little pictogram of the flute player, known as Kokopelli, which you see on the front label and the cork itself, most often is associated with fertility. What I didn’t know that Kokopelli also can be credited with the arrival of the spring. I have other 2002 bottles but somehow decided to open this particular one on the second official day of Spiring (the Spring in the USA started on March 20th). Oh well, as I said before, first world problems.

I think this wine Merlot perfectly, and I can only wish you same success and fun with your older bottles. I also want to leave you with the text from the back label of this bottle, as I think it perfectly finishes this post:

“The Joy Bringer” “This flute playing character is often credited with bringing the change of winter to spring, melting the snow and bringing about rain for a successful harvest. He is believed to represent the fertility of the untamed spirit of nature. Perhaps this joyful traveller’s greatest lesson is showing us that we shouldn’t take life so seriously. We hope the spirit of Kokopelli shines through in our wine and that it brings you as much joy and pleasure as it was for us to make. Enjoy the moment. Robert and Sue.”

Restaurant Files: The Art of Southern Cuisine at Peaches in Norwalk, CT

March 19, 2017 4 comments

Eat Drink Boogie RepeatLet me make a bold claim – Southern Cuisine might be the only authentic cuisine in the United States. Yes, New England got lobster and clam chowder, Maryland got blue crab and crab cakes, but it hardly constitutes a “cuisine”. Even barbeque is more of a cult or a culture if you will, but more often than not, the word “barbeque” would simply associate with the specific method of cooking rather than a cuisine in general.

Say “Southern cuisine”, and immediately the words and images for “shrimp and grits”, “chicken and waffles”, or ‘fried green tomatoes” pop in one’s head. Same as Thai, Japanese, or Mexican, Southern cuisine is something we can easily identify with.

While the Southern cuisine is, of course, better experienced in the South, over the last few years we were lucky here on the East Coast of the USA with a number of restaurants representing the cuisine very well. Today I want to offer you a perfect example – Peaches Restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, officially known as Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint. Peaches is the newest endeavor of the serial entrepreneur Greer Frederick, who is deeply involved in Connecticut restaurant scene for many years.

I love the rustic decor at Peaches, very homey and calming, but very modern at the same time:

Of course the restaurant visit started at the bar. Spicy Okratini (Oola Aloo Vodka, dirty okra juice, pickled okra) had a nice bite and literally no sweetness, which I really appreciate. Bee’s Knees (Bar Hill gin, fresh lemon, Mad Hatter honey) was made with an artisan Mad Hatter honey, which we also had an opportunity to taste. Again, despite the honey base, the cocktal was perfectly balanced with right amount of acidity and sweetness. Peaches’ Old Fashion (Rittenhouse Rye, Damerara sugar, Angostura bitters, Fee Brothers Peach bitters), was very tasty, but also a bit too generous with alcohol.

Once we got to our tables, the little bowl with various pickles was the very first plate arriving in front of us – not overly sour, quite tasty. Then our first appetizer showed up – Devilled Eggs (beet brined eggs, braised bacon, pickled okra). Definitely a very creative dish, an unexpected color of the eggs, nice touch with the bacon crumble on top, creamy. Devilled eggs are very popular in Russian cuisine, so I’m more accustomed to a different style, but this was still a tasty dish.

The Chopped Kale (charred corn, pickled beets, green goddess dressing, cotija cheese) was one of the best kale salads I ever had. Additional of charred corn worked very well, and creamy dressing was outstanding, very flavorful. The Fried Green Tomatoes (tomato jam, country ham, buttermilk ranch), a timeless Southern classic was excellent as well – great interplay of textures, and I would eat that tomato jam by the bowlful. Our last appetizer, the Country Fair Bacon (funnel cake batter, braised bacon, black pepper maple) was good, but maybe a bit too simple to my taste.

We started our entree round with another Southern classic – Shrimp and Grits (andouille, smoked shrimp broth, pickled okra, heirloom grits) – the grits were creamy and super-flavorful, one of the best ever, and the shrimp had a perfect amount of spice and cooked very well – that was one delicious experience. The Pork Shank (black eyed peas cassoulet, pickled veg, onion jam) was a standout. It was a huge hulk of meat on the bone, marinated for 36 hours and cooked at 275F for 3.5 hours – I can’t even describe how comforting this dish was. The meat was falling apart, and all you needed to do was just to savor ever little bite. Outstanding.

Shrimp and Grits at Peaches

Pork Shank at Peaches

And then there was Bucket O’ Chicken (pickle-brined fried chicken + Nashville style cornbread, coleslaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese). Do you like properly made Southern style fried chicken? Then get away from the screen and head over to the Peaches right now – that dish was a quintessential Art of Southern Cuisine right on the table. We had both regular and Nashville Hot style – in both cases chicken is brined before cooking, but the Nashville Hot style has the addition of a hot sauce (smoked paprika, brown sugar, cayenne, oil) brushed on after the chicken is fried. It was also served with lots of different side dishes – cole slaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese and delicious corn bread – every bite of chicken was tender and bristling with flavor. It was also served with apple cider vinegar on a side, which, as Greer explained, is considered a Ketchup of the South. Great experience all in all.

Bucket o'chicken at Peaches

Peaches is not called the “Pub and Juke Joint” for nothing. The restaurant has a second floor with another bar, perfectly suitable for dancing or as an event space, as well as an outdoor patio – definitely the space with a lot of potential.

We finished this outstanding meal in style with Old Fashioned Southern Peach Cobbler (brown sugar peaches, vanilla ice cream) – delicious dessert, candied pecans packed a lot of flavor.

Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler at PeachesI hope that the pictures and my notes explain my point about the Art of Southern Cuisine – this was truly a soulful cooking, and we experienced the tasty food with unmistakable personality – like the familiar face we are always happy to see in the crowd, the Southern Cuisine is something we can now spot anywhere we go.

Hope I didn’t make you too hungry. And if I did – oh well, I’m not going to apologise. Cheers!

Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint
7 Wall St
Norwalk, CT 06850
Phone number (203) 831-0399
http://www.peachesnorwalk.com

Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Open That Bottle Night 2017 – What A Night!

February 28, 2017 21 comments

Let’s say you have a bottle of an excellent wine. Do you know how to make it better than it is? I guarantee you this works every time, so listen carefully. You share it with a friend. Yes, that makes any excellent wine into an amazing one. Works like a charm.

Saturday, February 25th was Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) – the night when there is no bottle in your cellar which is off limits. If you are not familiar with OTBN, you can read more here. What made my OTBN twice as special was the visit by Oliver and his wife Nina.

For me, the decisions around wine are never easy. I typically buy wine in the single bottle quantities (okay, maybe four at the most, when I need to get a free shipping from WTSO) – thus any bottle can qualify as a special one. As an exception to my long and almost painful decision process, for this OTBN I had a very clear idea – 1982 Olga Raffault Chinon, of which I had a single bottle. The bottle out of the wine fridge and ready for the prime time.

This is what I was looking at after cutting the top foil:

old corkAs you can tell, this is not very encouraging. However, if you like older wines and get an opportunity to open them, you know that the state of the top of the cork is nothing to fret about. More often than not, behind most terrible looking mildew there is a delicious wine.

As this was 35 years old wine, I didn’t want to take any chances and used the two-prong opener to pull the cork out. This turned out to be an unnecessary precaution – while cork looked red throughout, it was perfectly firm and came out as a single piece without any crumbling – here is our OTBN corks collection, the red one is the one I’m talking about:

okd corks And for the wine… what can I tell you… This 1982 Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” Chinon, Loire looked perfectly fresh in the glass – not a sign of losing color.  Here are the two glasses, one is with 1982 Cabernet Franc, the second one is with 2014 – care to guess which glass contains 1982?

two glasses cab francYes, the one on the left is with 1982 wine, but I believe you would agree that the color shows perfectly young. The nose and the palate were an incredible study in Cabernet Franc flavor profile 101. The wine opened full of bell pepper – both on the nose and the palate. In about 10 minutes, the bell pepper was gone – and what was left was pure, unadulterated black currant – stunning, full flavorful black currant, also known as cassis if we want to use traditional French terminology. The wine had perfect structure, firm, with fresh acidity, almost crisp – and loads and loads of black currant. This was truly a treat.

We followed with a beautiful rendition of Ruchè – 2012 Poggio Ridente Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG San Marziano (organic grapes). Ruchè is a little known red grape, cultivated in the Monferrato region in Piedmont, capable of making very concentrated wines. This particular bottle, brought by Oliver and Nina directly from Italy, was fresh and open, with nicely restrained palate with mostly herbal flavors, and a twist – dried mango undertones. Nina was the one to identify the dried mango, while I was desperately trying to figure out what that strange flavor was – but that was a spot-on descriptor. An outstanding wine by all means.

Our next wine was 1989 Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Auslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. No issues with the cork (makes me happy). Still fresh, clean light golden color (28-years old wine!). The nose and the palate were singing in unison here, and the music was simple – peaches and apricots. Slightly underripe peaches and fresh, plump apricots. The balance of sweetness and acidity was impeccable – the wine was fresh and alive, without any sign of age. Wow.

As an added bonus, the grapes for this wine were harvested in November of 1989 – the year and a month when Berlin Wall was demolished – and this is what the label of this wine commemorates.

Our OTBN night didn’t finish there. You would expect us to go to something nice and sweets after such a beautiful Riesling, right? In the conversation, it came out that Oliver doesn’t like Tempranillo wines. Being a Spanish wine buff, I had to fix that immediately, so I had to pull out the big guns. 2001 La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva Especial was absolutely beautiful from the get-go – cedar box and eucalyptus on the nose, soft and gentle cherries on the palate, fresh, round. I hope I made Oliver a convert – but will see about that the next time we will meet.

There you are, my friends. A stunning OTBN with great wines and great company. Hope you enjoyed your OTBN as much as we did – feel free to share your OTBN stories below. Cheers!

Just in: Another Wine Auction From Invaluable

February 24, 2017 Leave a comment

This is a guest post, or may be rather a last minute guest announcement from Invaluable, the company wich runs wine auctions. This is truly a last minute, as the auction starts tomorrow. But – if you got some spare change, you can use it to get that bottle of Pétrus… 

Invaluable teaming up with Waddington’s, a fine wine auction house in Canada, over the next week to auction off almost 700 exceptional lots from an international collection. Waddington’s experience in auctioning dates back to 1841. There are three different auctions in the upcoming week: Fine & Rare Wine, Fine Spirits, and Fine wine.

These three auctions by Waddington’s take place on February 25 and the 28th. We’ll be auctioning off nearly 700 wine and rare wines and spirits. Saturday’s auction begins at Toronto’s Nota Bene Restaurant where Chef David Lee will prepare an exquisite three-course lunch before we launch into the auction. This auction is followed by two auctions on the 28th; the first offers fine spirits and the second offers fine wines.

Here are a few noteworthy lots from the upcoming events:

Lot 87: CHÂTEAU PÉTRUS 2009

Estimated Price: $19,900 – $23,100

Quantity: 6, Size: 750ml

Notes: This 100% Merlot has a dense plum/purple color and a sweet nose of mulberries, black cherries, some subtle toast and licorice as well as a floral element. A wine of great intensity, a multidimensional mouthfeel and full-bodied, stunning concentration, the 2009 Petrus is everything one would expect of it.

Lot 1: Armagnac Chateau de Laubade

Estimated Price: $1,100 – $1,300

Quantity: 1, Size: 750ml

Notes: Bottled in 1948, in original wooden box

Lot 76: Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon

Estimated Price: $7,300 – $8,500

Quantity: 1

Notes: The blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc was bottled in 1999. It boasts an opaque purple color along with a gorgeously pure nose of creme de cassis, charcoal, and floral characteristics. The wine is opulent, dense, and rich, with exceptional purity, a viscous texture, and impressive underlying tannin that frames its large but elegant personality.

We have a variety of wine and spirits along with collectibles up for auction daily, so stay up to date with Invaluable; you never know what you’ll find.

Stories of Passion and Pinot: Looking Back and Looking Forward

February 15, 2017 6 comments

Back during the fall of the last year, I ran a series of posts talking about passion and Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a finicky grape which, I can only guess, has some enchanting properties – for the winemakers and wine lovers alike. Pinot Noir has an ability to grab you and never let you go – once discovered, it becomes an object of obsessive desire: winemakers go out of their way to make the best Pinot Noir wine, and oenophiles go out of their way to find it.

To give you the best examples of Pinot Noir’s passion and obsession, I decided to [virtually] sat down with a pioneer, a rocket scientist, a soil fanatic, biodynamic believer and some true farmers – all of them from Oregon. Through our conversations, I wanted to convey the unwavering belief in the magic of that little black grape, Pinot Noir.

We talked with Ken Wright of Ken Wright Cellars, David Nemarnik of Alloro Vineyard, Mike Bayliss of Ghost Hill Cellars, Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill Vineyards, Steve Lutz of Lenné Estate and Don Hagge of Vidon Vineyard – the passion was easy to see, through their words and through their wines.

The essential Pinot Noir map includes four major players – Burgundy, California, New Zealand and Oregon. Out of these four, Oregon usually beats Burgundy in consistency, and often California and New Zealand in finesse. That consistency and finesse don’t go unnoticed – and not only by wine consumers but by the big domestic and international wine businesses and investors as well. Big businesses are great, but – they are, first and foremost, big businesses – and passion is often replaced just by pragmatic business needs and shareholders value.

The wine quality and creativity is on the upswing around the world, and while consumers are driving this trend with an ever increasing thirst for the wine, nothing can be taken for granted – the wines have to find the consumers, and convince them that they are worth paying for.

The big business interest and more and better wines – what does it mean for the Oregon wine industry, the passion and the Pinot Noir? To answer this question, I asked once again for the help of Carl Giavanti of Carl Giavanti Consulting, wine marketing and PR firm, who reached out to the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. As you can imagine, I had more than one question, so here I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Passion and Pinot series photo collage

First three questions were answered by Anthony King, 2017 President of WVWA Board of Directors and General Manager of the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio:

[TaV]: Willamette Valley squarely joined the ranks of world-class wine regions. Does it mean that everything is great, or you still have big issues to solve on your agenda?

[AK]: Willamette Valley is certainly on the rise and we are all thankful for the attention. Our biggest issue is to continue to share the spotlight with the other classic regions of the world without losing our roots, our authenticity, and collaborative spirit.

[TaV]: It seems that lately big corporations are paying lots of attention for the WV wineries – or rather money, as for example, Jackson Family which acquired 3 WV wineries over a short period of time. Are you concerned with this development? Do you think it might change the soul and spirit of WV wines?

[AK]: Most of us are flattered by the attention that our wines, vineyards, and wineries have been getting from producers all over the world. JFW, in specific, has invested heavily, but have done so with a soft touch and an eye towards the community and their neighbours. In the end, the region will have diversity that consumers will ultimately benefit by. Our hope, however, is that this interest doesn’t drive vineyard and fruit prices into a range that makes the hands-on artisan winemaking that has made Oregon so special too expensive for entry.

[TaV]: There are many white grapes which can be called “next frontier” for the WV wineries – Pinot Gris (yes, okay, this is an old news), Chardonnay, even Riesling. However, if we look at the red grapes, WV wineries are a “one trick pony”, only working with Pinot Noir. Do you see any problems with that? is there a next big red grape for the WV, or is it not necessary?

[AK]: Great question. I don’t think that any of us, as winemakers, regret that we are working with Pinot noir in such an ideal locale. It presents a lifetime of challenges and, hopefully, rewards. Although much more rare, Gamay can be thrilling and has been successful planted alongside Pinot noir. Syrah, too, has a lot of potential, making compelling, Northern Rhone style reds in warmer years. Cooler-climate Italian reds could have potential as well. We’ve already seen an increase in planting of these “other reds,” but the more dramatic shift is (as you mentioned) towards focusing on whites and sparkling wine, which are very well suited to this climate. Ultimately, I foresee increased experimentation with a range of red varieties in the warmer sites in the Willamette Valley in the short-term; time and the weather will tell what succeeds.

The rest of the questions were answered by Emily Nelson, Associate Director for Willamette Valley Wineries Association.

[TaV]: What percentage of WV wineries are LIVE certified? Do you see this number dropping, increasing, staying the same?

[EN]: In 2016, there are 13,170 Oregon vineyard acres certified sustainable, which is 48% of total planted acres in the state. 8,218 acres are LIVE Certified, which is 30% of total planted acres. We do see the number of certified sustainable vineyard acres increasing year after year. As the home of the nation’s most protective land use policies, the first bottle recycling law, and the highest minimum wages for farm workers, it’s fitting that the Oregon wine industry is committed to sustainable farming and winemaking practices.
For LIVE Certified acres in particular, the number has increased annually from 2,368 acres in 2007 to 8,218 acres today.

[TaV]:  How important is Biodynamic viticulture for the WV wine industry? Do you see more wineries embracing it?

[EN]: Biodynamic viticulture in Oregon has also steadily increased over the years, from 289 certified acres in 2007 to 1,585 certified acres today. It is an important component of our sustainable character in the region, reinforcing our belief that agriculture in general and viticulture in particular can flourish in harmony with our natural environment. In general, Demeter Biodynamic certification is in accord with many practices that characterize the certification of organic farms. However, certain practices are unique to Biodynamic agriculture, including managing the whole farm as a living organism; maintenance of a healthy, diverse ecosystem that includes not only the earth, but as well the cosmic influences and rhythms of which the earth is a part; and use of the Biodynamic preparations to build soil health through enlivened compost.

[TaV]: Are there any new wineries showing up in the WV? If yes, is there a trend there (more than the last 5/10 years, less than the last 5/10 years, the same?

[EN]: Yes! Our number of wineries in the region has climbed over the last five to ten years. We had about 110 wineries in the Willamette Valley in the year 2000. By 2010 that had more than doubled to 300 wineries. And now in 2016 our most recent census shows 531 wineries in the region. People are drawn to grape growing and winemaking here for many of the same reasons that brought our pioneers in the 1960s—unique climate and soils ideally suited to Pinot noir and a wine industry culture that celebrates collaboration, inventiveness, and land stewardship.

[TaV]: Do you see a lot of foreign capital coming into the WV winemaking industry (buying, partnering, starting new wineries)? Again, is there a trend?

[EN]: There is a trend of outside investment in the Willamette Valley wine industry, and it speaks to the quality of the wines being produced here. We see Burgundian investors who’ve found the New World home of Pinot noir, as well as those from Washington and California who are expanding their premium Pinot noir brands with Willamette Valley wines.

[TaV]: Last question – are there any new and coming, or may be old but coming around wineries wine lovers should watch for? Anything which makes you particularly excited?

[EN]: We’re particularly excited about a few things here: first, many of our pioneering wineries are handing the reigns down to second generation winegrowers and owners. The children who grew up in the vineyards and cellars of the wineries who put our region on the map are now at the helm. They continue to innovate and improve, so watching their brands and their wines flourish and evolve is a thrill. Second, we’re excited about the Burgundian presence in the Valley. French winemakers who come here to experience the Oregonian version of their time-honored grape offer unique expressions of the wines and outside confirmation that there’s something really special happening here. Lastly, we’re excited about new winemakers just entering the industry, who contribute a vibrant sense of experimentation and energy to the Valley.

All the good things come to an end, so this was the last of the conversations in the Passion and Pinot series – for now, at least. As I said before, Pinot Noir has some very special properties, making people fall in love with it and not letting them go. And whether you agree or disagree – you know what to do. Until the next time – cheers!

P.S. Once again, here are the links to the web sites for the wineries profiled in this series:

Alloro Vineyard: www.allorovineyard.com
Ghost Hill Cellars: www.ghosthillcellars.com
Ken Wright Cellars: www.kenwrightcellars.com
Lenné Estate: www.lenneestate.com
Youngberg Hill Vineyards: www.youngberghill.com
Vidon Vineyard: www.vidonvineyard.com

 

Coffee and Wine – Ultimate Twins?

February 11, 2017 17 comments

img_7157I know that many of the wine lovers live by the principal “coffee in the morning, wine in the evening”. The sad part is that for many, coffee is just a source of the jolt, the charge for the day, so it is expected to be strong and bitter, to deliver that “wake up punch”. But it is not what the coffee should be – while coffee bean has no genetic relationship with the grape, spiritually, it offers the same qualities: it can be as nuanced as wine, and should be consumed for pleasure – I’m also assuming here that this is why one drinks wine, looking for pleasure.

Before I will make an effort to prove to you my “twin” statement, I want to mention first that this post is also an answer to the last Weekly [Wine] Quiz #122. The object in the picture is coffee – these are so-called coffee cherries, and the coffee beans are inside of those cherries. Red coffee cherries are the ripe ones, and once they reach that color, they will be picked – but more about it later. For now, I’m happy to say that we had a number of winners – Kirsten (The Armchair Sommelier), Bill (Duff’s Wines), Anthony (Oz’s Travels) and Danielle (Naggiar Vineyards) all correctly identified coffee cherries in that picture – congratulations to the winners, you all get the prize of unlimited bragging rights!

The reason coffee came to the forefront on the wine blog, is simple. Well, it is more than one. First of all, I love coffee. Growing up, I was spoiled – not with the best coffee beans necessarily, but rather with one of the very best preparation methods for the coffee – so called Turkish coffee, where the coffee is made without letting the liquid to boil. Second, I just came back after spending the week on Hawaii’s Big Island, a home to one of the very best coffees in the world – Kona coffee. See, I simply had to talk about the coffee.

So what is going on in the coffee world today that it starts resembling the wine world so much? You be the judge:

Terroir and Origin Protection.
There is a growing understanding that similar to wine grapes, it matters where the coffee beans are growing. Hawaiian Kona region is a 26 miles stretch of land along the coast of Pacific Ocean, with the elevations from 800 to 3000 feet above sea level. All Kona coffee can be harvested only within that stretch of the land – any addition of the coffee beans from outside of the designated borders will render the whole batch of coffee not eligible for “100% Kona Coffee” label. Jamaican Blue Mountain designation has similar protection, as I’m sure many other places around the world.  img_7161

Ancient trees.
In winemaking, “old vines” refers to the vines which can reach the age of 100+ and still produce delicious grapes. With proper care, coffee trees can do the same – the ones you see below are more than 110 years old (planted in 1900), and they are expected to produce good fruit for at least another 20 years:

coffee trees

Vintage designations, aging and blending.
An absolute majority of the wines specify their vintage on the bottle, the year when the grapes were harvested, and we all know – vintages matter, not all vintages are created equal, by the powerful hand of Mother Nature. I never heard of vintages in conjunction with the coffee – until now. If any of you are Nespresso fans, there is a good chance you recently received an email, offering Nespresso’s 2014 vintage (!) – here you can find the description of that coffee. I will take a liberty to quote a few lines from the description:

Nespresso experts selected promising fresh Arabica beans from the lush Colombian Highlands and stored them under certain controlled conditions to create a whole new sensory experience” – aged for 3 years.

“Nespresso experts selected a more sophisticated split roasting technique. One part of the beans was roasted lighter to protect the specific elegant aromas of these precious coffee, and the other part was roasted darker to reveal the maturity of the taste and enhance the richness of the texture” – blending!

Harvesting by hand.
Kona coffee is always harvested by hand. The major difference here, of course, that during the coffee’s growing season, which is typically July through February, the coffee is harvested 4-5 times,   were in most cases grapes are harvested only once. Nevertheless, the Kona coffee is harvested by hand, picking only red ripe coffee cherries and leaving greens to continue ripening in the cluster.

coffee berriesI hope you see my point about similarities between coffee and wine, and I think coffee producers are only starting following the steps of the winemakers – for instance, I’m sure we will see more single cru designations for the coffee, more blending and more aging. While production process of coffee and wine are very different, the similarities conjugate again in a major way once the final products reach the consumers. Both coffee and wine deliver pleasure. And it is all in the taste – the nuanced, seductive goodness, which delivers excitement to the taste buds and challenges the brain.

What is uniquely different between coffee and wine is what happening with each product in the “last mile”. The “last mile” literally non-existent in the world of wine – once the wine lands in the hands of the consumer, it is necessary only to open the bottle and enjoy. Yes, the consumer still can affect the taste – try rich California Cabernet served ice-cold – you will see what I’m talking about – but still, the consumer actions are minimally impactful around the wine.

With the coffee, it is a totally different story – even if properly roasted, the coffee still has to be prepared by the consumer, and opportunities to totally destroy the taste are boundless. But – this probably deserves its own post (or two).

That’s all I wanted to share with you for now. Are you a coffee drinker? Do you drink it only for the jolt, or do you actually seek pleasure in that cup? Cheers!