Snow, Wine, and Valentine

February 18, 2022 Leave a comment

First, there was snow.

Well, not true.

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

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














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

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

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

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

 

Big Game, Big Decisions

February 13, 2022 Leave a comment

I’m sure it is obvious what Big Game we are talking about.

The Super Bowl. One and only entertainment event of the year, almost a national holiday (many say that Monday after the Super Bowl should be made into a national holiday, as sometimes those games end past midnight).

I saw some interesting stats about this Super Bowl LVI (that’s 56 if you are not intimately familiar with Roman numerals). It is expected that 117 million viewers with watch the event – if this will be an actual number of viewers, it would set a new record (the previous one was 114M viewers in 2012), and a substantial increase over last year’s Super Bowl, which only attracted 96.4M of fans. Also, according to CNBC, the American Gaming Association projected that a record 31.4 million Americans would bet $7.6 billion on the Bengals-Rams game. Some staggering numbers, aren’t they?

But forget the numbers – I’m only here for the food 🙂

Source: Terlato Wines

So what are the big decisions we are talking about here? Leaving food aside, there is only one big decision to make – and you know which one it is.

Beer or Wine?

In any Super Bowl viewing party preparation discussion, this is an eternal question – what should you drink while watching the big game? What should you serve with the food?

Food is the right starting point for this discussion. I can’t resist throwing in another interesting data point – The National Chicken Council estimates that Americans will consume 1.42 billion wings while the Cincinnati Bengals play the Los Angeles Rams. Yep – 1.42 billion! Super Bowl is a finger food festival – sandwiches, chicken strips, shrimp, chicken wings, and lots of other usually salty and often spicy indulgences. So beer seems to be the obvious answer to our eternal question.

Except when it is not.

Beer is boring. Yes, I drink beer from time to time, but I’m rarely excited about it unless I’m in a pub in the Czech Republic or some other European countries which have a culture of beer drinking – and the beer is served always fresh. Heck, if I would be watching Super Bowl at some Beer Garden in the US, I would definitely stay with beer. But at home, I unquestionably prefer wine. Wine brings excitement, and even if it wouldn’t perfectly complement the food spread on the table, it will make the game a lot more enjoyable to watch.

So how about some hard-core American wine? Does American Craft Wine sound good? An American craft wine for the American craft game – that should work together, right? So the wine I would like to bring to your attention is The Federalist, proudly crafted in California.

The Federalist winery was founded in 2009 in Sonoma, California, with an initial focus on producing Zinfandel – it makes perfect sense for an American craft winery to focus on the grape which America considers uniquely its own. Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend, and Chardonnay complete the lineup today, also connecting with another uniquely American product – Bourbon. The second line of Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend and Zinfandel wines are aged in the Bourbon barrels, uniquely amplifying the power of traditional Californian varieties.

I had an opportunity to taste a few of the Federalist wines latest releases – here are my notes:

2017 Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi (13.9% ABV, $17.99, 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, 15 months in 35% new oak)
Light garnet
Cassis, dark berries, eucalyptus, open, inviting
Unmistakable Lodi on the palate, cassis, nutmeg, warm spices, a touch of dark chocolate, good balance, well-integrated tannins, medium-long finish.
8-, easy, simple, will work well with a range of foods.

2018 Federalist Chardonnay Mendocino County (14.5% ABV, $17.99, aged in 35% new oak)
Light golden
A hint of vanilla, Whitestone fruit, a touch of gunflint
Restrained on the palate, golden delicious apples, crisp, fresh, good acidity, medium finish with prevailing acidity.
8-, needs food.

2019 Federalist Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (15% ABV, $24, 100% Zinfandel, 16 months in 20% new oak)
Dark garnet
Raspberries, eucalyptus, earthy notes
Dark fruit, cut through acidity, well present tannins, a touch of raspberries, medium-plus finish with lots of acidity
7+/8-, food wine, needs time

The Federalist wines are well connected to the big game, being an official premiere wine sponsor of the San Francisco 49ers ( who I would much prefer to see in the Super Bowl together with the Kansas City Chiefs), so it would be only appropriate if you will open a bottle of the Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate the big game.

And if not the big game, the Federalist wines are perfectly appropriate to celebrate the next official American holiday, The President’s Day, taking place exactly in a week.

Game, ads, half-time show, food, wine – I wish you a great evening.

 

I Know Nothing. Notes From The Desk of Puzzled Oenophile

January 28, 2022 1 comment

I know nothing.

Of course, I’m aware of the proverbial circle of knowledge. When your knowledge is represented by the tiny dot, it seems that the surrounding unknown is equally tiny. As your circle of knowledge increases in size, you get to understand that the surrounding unknown is vast and grows together with your knowledge.

Nevertheless, today’s wine lesson proved that I know nothing about wines. Or maybe I am just bad at predicting the future.

A long time ago I attended a wine tasting event to celebrate the anniversary of The Wine Century Club. The event was hosted in New York by the folks from Snooth with the idea that everybody should bring a bottle or a few of the wine(s) made from rare grapes. I have no memories of the wines I brought – I believe one of them was a blend with lots of different grapes in it, but this is really not important for our story. My absolute highlight of that get-together was a bottle of Loire white wine, made from the grape called Romorantin coming from the Cour-Cheverny AOC, which I never heard of before (both grape and appellation). If I’m not mistaken this event took place in 2008, and this bottle of Romorantin was from 1998 vintage. The wine was amazing in its youthfulness and brilliance, vibrant lemon and honey, crisp and fresh. Again, if I can still trust my memory, the person who brought wine said that he (or she) got the bottle at one of the Manhattan wine stores for around $50. I made a note to myself that I want to find this wine and age it – as you know, I’m a super-fan (read: geek and zealot) of aged wines.

I think literally next year I got lucky – I found 2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC available at my local wine shop, for about $15 per bottle. I got 6 bottles and prepared to happily and patiently wait for the right moment to open this wine.

I don’t remember when I opened the first bottle of this, maybe 2-3 years later, and the wine didn’t wow – it was acidic all the way, without much salvation.

My next attempt to replicate the amazing experience of the first encounter with Romorantin, was made in 2014. Here are my notes:

2014

2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC (12% ABV, 100% Romorantin) – bright white stone fruit on the nose, citrus (lemon) notes on the palate, medium to full body, zinging acidity. It is getting there, but needs another 4-5 years to achieve full beauty and grace. 8-

As you can tell we are moving in the right direction but still far from the destination. Another year, another attempt – again, a copy and paste from the previous post:

2015

This is a rare French white wine made from 100% Romorantin grape. I remember a few years back trying this wine at 10 years of age – and I remember being simply blown away by the exuberant beauty of this seemingly unassuming wine (new vintages retail at around $15 – the QPR is through the roof on this). The nose of that 2007 was amazing, with fresh white fruit, guava, mango, honeysuckle, lemon, and lemon zest. On the palate, behind the first wave of Riesling-like appearance with a touch of sweetness and tropical fruit notes, there were layers and layers of acidity and minerality. After about 10 minutes of breathing time, the wine was almost bone dry, very crisp, and refreshing. I still have 3 bottles of 2007, and now the trick will be to keep my hands away from them, as they still benefit from time.

It is quite possible that this was this wine at its peak? The next attempt was much less successful, despite the fact that we are passing 10 years mark now. I brought the bottle to Jim Van Bergen’s (JvBUncorked) house to celebrate Open That Bottle Night 2019. I was really hoping for a “wow”, or at least an “omg” from the group, but this definitely didn’t happen:

2019

2007 François Cazin Le Petit Chambord Cour-Cheverny AOC
Why: This is one of my favorite wines. When it was 10 years old, was literally blown away
How was it: Underwhelming. A touch of petrol, clean, good acidity, bud no bright fruit. Still delicious in its own way – I would gladly drink it any time. But – lucking the “umpf” which was expected… Still have 2 more bottles – will open them later on and see.

Underwhelming was the word. Okay, down to the two bottles.

At the virtual OTBN2021, I made another attempt to experience greatness. Here’s how it went:

2021

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

And now we are down to one, my last bottle.

I was feeling blue, and I needed a “pick me up” bottle. Considering my loving relationship with wine, a “pick me up bottle” is nothing specific – it can be something very different every time. This time I wanted a white wine with some age on it. Marsanne/Roussanne would be ideal, but I had none of those. A have a few bottles of Peter Michael with a nice age on them, but this would be a bit too lavish and still not fitting the mood. And then I saw my last bottle of Romorantin, and the thought was “yeah, I can appreciate some oxidative notes right now”

The bottle is out of the wine fridge. Cork goes out in one piece with no issues. I poured wine into the glass to take a picture. Beautiful color, between light golden and golden – remember, this is 15 years old white wine.

The first whiff from the glass was clean, with lemon and minerality, an impression of a young, confident white wine. The first sip simply confirmed that first impression – whitestone fruit, crisp, minerally-driven, vibrant, and refreshing. A distant hint of petrol showed up on the nose, very faint, and a touch of honey. The wine was alive, the wine was fresh, the wine was perfect.

The wine continued its finesse on the second day (it was a heroic act of not polishing the whole bottle on the first day), behaving as young and fresh white wine of the new harvest. In a blind tasting, I would be completely sure that his wine is one or two years old at the best.

Anyone cares to explain this to me? I stored all 6 bottles the same way. Maybe the wine was strangely not ready in 2019 (sleeping stage), and last year’s bottle simply had an issue of cork? Maybe what I tasted in 2015 was actually a peak, and so this vintage needed only 8 years and not 10? Why 1998 was amazing at 10 years of age, and 2007 was amazing at 8 and 15? Vintage variations? Change in winemaking between 1998 and 2007? Wine Spectator vintage charts consider 2007 Loire wines past prime. Wine Enthusiast’s vintage rating for 1998 is 86, and 2007 is 92. And none of it helps.

If you have any ideas, please chime in.

I know nothing. But I will continue learning.

 

Wednesday’s Meritage #159

January 26, 2022 Leave a comment

Meritage Time!

January is almost over, and as many people talked about “dry January”, it was reasonably dry – not in terms of wines, but in terms of wine events. However, February promises to compensate abundantly and offers lots to look forward to.

Let’s start with the grape holidays. Next Tuesday, February 1st, is International Furmint Day. Furmint is one of the most famous Hungarian grapes, best known as the grape behind Tokaji, heavenly nectar. Furmint also can be vinified dry, although much harder to find compared to Tokaji. Either way, you have a holiday to celebrate. Two weeks later, on February 16th, we will celebrate one of my favorite grapes – Syrah, via International Syrah Day. Syrah should be much easier to find, so no excuses. There is also Global Drink Wine Day on February 18th, but for someone who drinks the wine every day, that is not something I can particularly celebrate.

Continuing the theme of celebrations, let’s talk about celebrating not a particular grape, but the whole wine region. Monday, February 7th, will mark the beginning of the New Zealand Wine Week. Two webinars will be offered – one focused on the New Zealand wines on the global wine scene, and the second one diving deep into the world of New Zealand Pinot Noir.

To complete the subject of celebration, the last one for today is the main wine holiday of the year – Open That Botte Night, or OTBN for short. The holiday was created 22 years ago by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, writers of the Wall Street Journal’s Tastings column. The goal of the holiday is to help people to happily part with their prized bottles, taste those wines themselves, and share them with friends, hopefully while both wines and people are in their prime. OTBN is always celebrated on the last Saturday in February, which will be February 26th this year. It is time for you to already start thinking about those special bottles you would want to open.

The next event I want to bring to your attention is Oregon Wine Symposium. While this is definitely a technical event, focused on the winegrowers, winemakers, and winery owners, the event offers excellent educational content for any wine lover. This year’s event will consist of two parts. Virtual part with all the educational content will take place February 15-17, and then the Oregon Wine Symposium Live portion will follow on March 8-9. Virtual sessions will cover in-depth Oregon wine industry, looking into the overall state of the industry, the direct-to-consumer market, the management of the supply chain, and lots more. Again, this is a technical event, offering lots to learn for those who want to learn.

Last but not least will be the first trade tasting I plan to attend in person this year – the Tre Bicchieri 2022, taking place on Friday, February 25th. This event is a culmination point of the Gambero Rosso wine publication, offering an opportunity to taste the best of the best Italian wines selected during the prior year, those awarded three glasses rating by the publication. Tre Bicchiery is one of my favorite tastings of the year, usually full of great discoveries – here is the retrospective of the events I attended in the past. Considering that there was no Tre Bicchiery event in 2021, I can only hope that we will see some great wines at the event, and I will actually be able to plan my attendance properly to taste the most coveted wines, instead of finding a table with only empty bottles, as already happened at my first Tre Bicchieri event, and the empty bottles at the table were the legendary Masseto. The event will travel around the USA, with the stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Houston, so hopefully, you will get your chance to attend.

That’s all I have for you for today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Chilean Wines: Sustainability is a Long Game

January 22, 2022 Leave a comment

Sustainability is a journey.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

Sustainability is a long game.

Have you ever dieted in your life? Did you achieve the intended results (let’s say, lose 20 pounds)? Did you go back where you started shortly after you stopped the diet? Of course, you already heard this a million times and you know what I’m going to say – diets don’t work. You need to change your lifestyle if you want those lost pounds to never come back, because the diet is a hack, and as such, it can give you only a quick and non-lasting, non-sustainable result.

Sustainability is a lifestyle.

When I think of sustainability my first thought goes to the vineyard. How vineyard integrates into the environment, how vineyard, land, soil, and everything around can happily co-exist now and in the future. My second obvious thought goes to the winery operation – sustainable energy use, recycling, waste reduction.

In 2011, the Chilean wine industry defined its Sustainability Code, a voluntary certification system aimed to improve sustainable practices in the wine companies in Chile. In 2011, it all started in the vineyard. Today, the Sustainability Code for the Chilean Wine Industry (SCWI) represents a colorful flower, consisting of 4 areas, and featuring 351 individual requirements:

  • Viticulture (98 individual requirements /Green)
  • Vinification, Bottling, and facility operations (65 individual requirements /Red)
  • Social (118 individual requirements /Orange)
  • Wine Tourism (70 individual requirements /Purple) — new category added in 2020

In the ten years since its inception, SCWI has been adopted by all the country’s leading wine producers and accounts for 80% of Chile’s bottled wine exports. Wines from certified producers come from 123,550 acres of vineyards, out of 485,000 acres of total vineyard space in Chile, so roughly 25%.

The certification is done by the accredited international bodies (ECOCERT from France, NSF from the USA, and SGS from Switzerland, a few more should be added soon), and it is an ongoing process, as re-certification has to be done every two years. Certification has a substantial cost, so Vinos de Chile has a special program in place to help small and medium producers to achieve certification. To date, 80 wineries achieved full certification – if you will look at the list, you will see a lot of familiar names. Some, such as Casa Lapostole, one of the most famous Chilean wineries, use its own set of sustainability rules.

I had an opportunity last year to taste a number of wines from the certified sustainable Chilean wineries. Let’s talk about them.

Viñedos Emiliana (now known as Emiliana Organic Vineyards) was founded in 1986. However it is interesting that if you will check the history section on Emiliana’s website, the time count starts from 1998 – this is when Emiliana began its journey to convert into a sustainable, organic, and biodynamic winery. In 2001, Emiliana became 1st winery in Chile, and 7th in the world to obtain ISO 14001 certification in environmental management. Two years later, Emiliana produced its first organic wines (Coyam was one of them). In 2006, the winery obtained its Demeter certification and produced its first biodynamic wine, 2003 Gê. Moving forward, Emiliana obtained multiple certifications in social responsibility, fair trade, carbon neutrality, and more. As a fun fact, with 2,760 acres in size, Emiliana is the largest biodynamic, sustainable, and organic vineyard in the world.

The wine I tasted for this post was 2018 Coyam. Back in 2015, the 2011 Coyam was my wine of the year. The 2018 Coyam was good, but really needed lots of time to open up.

2018 Emeliana Coyam Colchagua Valley DO (14.4% ABV, $35, 42% Syrah, 39% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Garnacha, 3% Malbec, 3% Carignan, 1% Tempranillo, 1% Mourvedre, organic vineyards, vegan)
Dark garnet
Bell pepper, cherries, cassis
Beautiful, cassis, mint, medium-plus body, good balance, good acidity
8, these are the 3rd day notes, this wine needs time.

Viu Manent‘s history began in 1935, when Catalonian immigrant Miguel Viu-García and his two sons founded Bodegas Viu, bottling and selling their own wines. In 1966, Miguel Viu-Manent, one of the sons, acquired an estate in Colchagua Valley which also included 375 acres of vineyards, planted with pre-phylloxera vines. In 1993, Viu Manent became the first Chilean winery to produce, bottle, and label Malbec under its name. In 2001, as a tribute to the founder, Miguel Viu-Manent, Viu Manent produced its single-block Malbec from approximately 100 years old vines. In 2003, the winery started producing its Secreto de Viu Manent line of wines. In 2007, Viu Manent joined the environmental biodiversity program run in Chile by the University Austral of Chile’s Ecology & Biodiversity Institute. In 2018, 3 solar panel energy plants were put into production at the winery and in the vineyards. The winery also participates in wastewater and solid waste management programs and other environmentally-friendly initiatives.

2019 Viu Manent Secreto Malbec Valle de Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $15, Malbec 85%, 15% “Secret”)
Dark garnet, almost black
Raspberries, blackberries, cigar box
Fresh raspberries on the palate, fresh, open, good minerality, a bit astringent on the finish even on the second day. Needs time.
7+ On the second day
8- on the third day

Viña Maquis, an estate located between two rivers, the Tinguiririca River and the Chimbarongo Creek, traces its roots to the 18th century when Jesuit priests were producing noble wines on the property. In the 19th century, the property belonged to the two Chilean presidents who even hosted cabinet meetings at that location. In 1916, the property was acquired by the Hurtado family with the goal of producing fine wines. Viña Maquis was one of the first wineries to obtain sustainability certification. They use in the vineyard energy recovery system based on geothermal heat pump technology for which the winery won the 2013 Innovation Prize for energy saving and carbon footprint reduction awarded by the British-Chilean Chamber of Commerce. They also use biological corridors which host beneficial insects, birds, and animals, and more than 2,600 sheep help control the weeds and fertilize the vineyards.

2018 Viña Maquis Cabernet Franc Gran Reserva Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $24, 90% Cabernet Franc, 7% Carménère, 3% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet
Cassis, cassis leaves, a touch of bell pepper
Cassis, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, crisp, medium body.
7+/8-

Concha y Toro is one of the oldest wineries in Chile, founded in 1883 by Melchor Concha y Toro with a dream of producing the best wines. He brought in vines from the Bordeaux and built the winery with all the best equipment at a time. As Concha y Toro was transitioning from a family business to a corporation, 50 years later the wine export started, the Netherlands being a first international destination. In 1987, Concha y Toro released the first vintage of its iconic Cabernet Sauvignon, Don Melchor, named in the honor of the founder. In 2020, James Suckling awarded 2018 Don Melchor a perfect 100 score.

In 2021, Concha y Toro received B Corporation Certification, which recognizes companies around the world that meet the highest standards of environmental management, governance, and social performance. This B Corporation certification included metrics such as 100% drip irrigation, 97% of waste reused/ recycled, 24% reduction of waste over 2018, 83% of energy coming from renewable sources. Concha y Toro also works with the scientific community and Wines of Chile to develop a measurable roadmap for carbon footprint reduction.

2019 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon Serie Riberas Gran Riserva DO Marchigue (13.5% ABV, $17, 94.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Carmenere, 2.5% Syrah)
Dark garnet, practically black
Summer meadows, a touch of cassis, hint of mint
Open, fresh with happily gripping tannins (French oak), firm structure, fresh fruit, needs time
8-, will be great with the steak.
8+ second/ third day – wine became more integrated, polished, layered, perfect balance, pleasure in every sip.

In 1885, Francisco Undurraga imported vines from France and Germany and founded the Viña Undurraga winery. In 1903, Viña Undurraga became the first Chilean winery to export its wines to the USA. In 1942, under the management of Pedro Undurraga Fernández, the winery becomes a pioneer in exporting Chilean wines, reaching more than 60 countries. In 2006, the Los Lingues far was acquired, giving a start to Viña Koyle, which in 2009 started the transition to Demeter-certified biodynamic viticulture.

2019 Viña Koyle Carmenere Gran Reserva Alto Colchagua (13.5% ABV, $17, 85% Carmenere, 9% Tempranillo, 6% Petit Verdot)
Dark garnet, practically black
Cassis, a hint of underbrush, fresh dark fruit, inviting
Fresh berries, dark chocolate, a hint of sweet tobacco, round, succulent, excellent t balance, medium-long finish
8, excellent

In 1874, the winemaker Don Franciso de Rojas founded the winery in Maipo Valley which he called Viña de Rojas. In 1876, one of his wines received Silver Medal at a competition in Philadelphia in the USA. Now here is the rare happenstance with the transition of the name from Viña de Rojas to Viña Tarapacá. In 1892, the winery was acquired by Don Antonio Zavala and it became Viña Zavala. After the divorce, the winery became alimony assigned to his wife, who renamed the winery Viña Tarapacá ex Zavala to express her gratitude to her divorce lawyer Don Arturo Alessandri who had a nickname “The Lion of Tarapacá”. In 1992, the winery was acquired by the holding company with a focus on international expansion. In the same year, the winery acquired El Rosario Estate, 6,500 acres parcel, out of which 1530 acres are planted with vines, right in the heart of Maipo Valley. In 2008, Viña Tarapacá became a part of VSPT Group, the second-largest exporter of Chilean wines.

The winery holds a large number of environmental and sustainability certifications, and in 2016 it also became the Chilean winery to build a hydroelectric plant, capable of supplying 60% of all winery’s energy needs.

2018 Viña Tarapacá Red Wine Blend Gran Reserva Maipo Valley (14% ABV, $20, 31% Cabernet Franc, 26% Syrah, 22% Carmenere, 11% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, organic wine)
Dark garnet, almost black
Delicious nose of mint, currant, a touch of sweet basil and thyme
Ripe berries, firm structure, gripping tannins, a touch of cherries and black pepper, good acidity, excellent balance.
8+, delicious, but will be amazing in 10-15 years.

Here you go, my friends. Chilean wineries take sustainability seriously and show the world how it should be done. And they also support it with delicious wines. Sustainability is a lifestyle.

A Few Days In Florida

January 20, 2022 Leave a comment

Last weekend we were lucky enough to avoid fighting with the cold here in Connecticut and instead spend the weekend with our friends in Naples, Florida. We had a great time so I want to share that with you – in the form of pictures, of course.


We were flying out of the La Guardia Airport, and our excitement started as soon as we walked from the garage into terminal B, as we were greeted with a stunning mosaic display. I was flying from La Guardia for the past 20+ years and all the time this was a dingy, run-down place you didn’t want to spend an extra minute at. In 2016, a huge construction project started, which seems to be almost complete right now, and the result is a beautiful, modern, stylish airport, very much comparable with some of the best in the world I had an opportunity to see. The terminal had lots of great food and shopping options, including even the F.A.O. Schwarz store! I was really excited to see the bear and Patrick The Pup!



So what was exciting in Florida besides, of course, the warm, sunny weather, beautiful flowers, palm trees, and the beach? A few things. First, a huge tomato bush growing on our friends’ property. It turns out that the development where they bought the house was built on the land of an abandoned tomato farm. Apparently, the tomatoes found their way out and considering Florida’s consistently warm climate, instead of a plant these cherry tomatoes grew into the huge bush. There were lots and lots of tomatoes on that bush, and I can’t even describe how sweet they tasted.

Next was our very first experience of eating bananas directly from the tree. We are used to buying green bananas in the store which need some time to ripen. The taste of banana which was fully ripened on the tree is absolutely uncomparable with our store versions here in Connecticut – it has a different taste even with the acidity which I was able to taste very clearly. I’m generally not a big fan of bananas, but I couldn’t stop eating these.





We enjoyed beautiful surroundings and beautiful sunsets.





I was even able to add to my list of states I tried the wines from. I had a little bit of time and stopped by the local Total Wines store. These stores typically have a tiny section of “local wines”. In Florida, I obviously found the wines from Florida, but also from North Carolina, Virginia, and, to my joy, from Indiana! I got a bottle of Oliver Vineyards Cherry Moscato, which is a blend of Muscat Canelli and Muscat Alexandria with the addition of a little bit of the Montmorency cherries juice, produced in Bloomington, Indiana. At 6.6% ABV, the wine was very light and had an excellent acidity to balance off the sweetness, a perfect quaffer for any hot day. And of course, I was able to check out one more state in my Wines of 50 US states list.

Two days went by quickly, and we are back into the cold, but armed with new, heartwarming memories. Hope your travel will take you somewhere exciting very soon!

Daily Glass: A Rare Turley, And a Question of Wait

January 19, 2022 2 comments

I love Turley wines.

My first encounter with Turley was way back, maybe 20 years ago, when my friend and I were having dinner at a restaurant in Manhattan, and we saw a bottle of Turley on the wine list, probably a Juvenile Zinfandel or the Old Vines Zin, and it was one of the most affordable wines on the list, so we decided to try it. Right after the first sip, I remember we looked at each other and said ‘wow”. Turley became the love from the first sight sip for both of us, and when I go visit him, I always bring a bottle of Turley, which makes him very happy.

If you will ask a wine lover about Turley, most likely you will get an instant reaction “ahh, Zinfandel”. More advanced wine lovers might also add “oh yes, and Petite Sirah”. First and foremost, Turley Wine Cellars is known for its Zinfandels, and yes, the Petite Sirah. Altogether, Turley produces 50 wines from 50 different vineyards. And while an absolute majority of those wines are Zinfandels, there are few exceptions – two white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and the White Coat, Cinsault from 135 years old Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi, Casa Nuestra and Tecolote red blends, two Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and one Zinfandel Rosé, which sometimes is playfully identified as White Zinfandel (believe me, it is a proper Rosé, not a sweet plonk). With the exception of the Estate Cabernet, it is pure luck when any of these non-Zin, non-Petite Sirah wines are included in your allocation – doesn’t happen often.

Another question we can ask wine lovers – should Zinfandel wines be aged or consumed upon release? I don’t want to get too far into the woods with presenting such a broad question, but for the sake of simplicity here we are talking only about well-made wines from producers such as Turley, Carlisle, Robert Biale, Ridge, and similar. Again, posing this question to the wine lovers I heard the same answer from a number of well-qualified individuums: “I like my Zinfandel with some age on it”.

From my personal experience, mostly with Turley and Carlisle, I definitely appreciate the age on my Zins, but it also depends on the style of the wine. Turley Juvenile and Old Vines Zins are built to be enjoyed young, however, they are also perfectly capable of aging for 8-10 years with no issues. The majority of single-vineyard Zinfandels definitely benefit from aging, and best not being touched for the first 5-7 years upon release. The same applies to the Petite Sirah, probably even in the higher degree – it is better to wait for about 8-10 years to enjoy a bottle of Turley Petite Sirah.

Okay, so this is all nice, cool, and theoretical, but then, in reality, we don’t always follow our own best advice, don’t we?

I generally don’t open a new bottle of wine late in the evening. Yesterday, coming home after Taekwondo training, I realized that I crave a glass of wine. This is really a bad thought at around 9 pm because the process of selecting the bottle to open can take another 30 minutes or so. I have a lot of Turley bottles stored in the simple wine cage, which makes the selection process a lot easier as I don’t need to move the wine fridge shelves back and forth, so this is where I decided to look. I looked past most of the younger Zins – as you remember, I also like them with some age, and then I saw a bottle of 2018 Tecolote. It was pure luck that I had it, as it came via the special offer for the 2020 holiday season – this wine is typically available only in the tasting room. I never had this wine before, which provided a legitimate opportunity to ignore my own aging rules and simply open the bottle, which is exactly what I did.

Tecolote is a blend of 60% Grenach and 40% Carignane, both grapes harvested from dry-farmed Pesenti Vineyard in Paso Robles, from the vines planted in the 1920s. As this is a Catalon-inspired blend, and the grapes come from the specific plot in Pesenti vineyard which looks like an owl, the wine was called Tecolote, which is the Spanish word for “owl”.

Boy, was I happy with my decision… The first sniff of the 2018 Turley Tecolote Red Wine Paso Robles (15.9% ABV) was pure heaven – barnyard, forest underbrush, and spices. I know that the “barnyard” descriptor is polarizing, and deeply hated by some – I always love it, for sure on the red wines (never had it on the white), so I really enjoyed that aroma. On the palate, the wine had pure tart cherries, acidic, juicy, and succulent, fully supporting and continuing the initial enjoyment of the smell. I literally couldn’t stop refilling the glass until only about a third of the bottle was left.

And again I have to state that I’m happy that I left some of the wine for the second day, as the wine transformed. I usually preserve the wines by pumping the air out of the bottle. Sometimes I preserve the wines like that for 2,3,4,5 days, tasting the wine, pumping the air out, and leaving it until the next day. From my experience, I consider that each next day the wine still tastes good or even better than the day before is equivalent to the 5 years of aging. So if you don’t like the barnyard smell, don’t touch your Tecolote for another 5 years. When I opened the wine today, the barnyard smell was gone, and it was replaced by cherries and a telltale sign of Grenache in my book – dark chocolate. The wine also had cherries and dark chocolate on the palate and it was perfectly balanced and absolutely delicious (Drinkability: 9-). What is even more interesting, the wine paired very well with dark chocolate-covered raisins from Trader Joe’s and Italian truffled cheese. Go figure…

Here you are, my friends – a delicious wine, good when young, and perfectly capable of aging. If you can, go find your bottle…

Wednesday’s Meritage #158

January 12, 2022 1 comment

Meritage Time!

I’m back with the Meritage post, but without any promises to keep them going. 2022 will be a year of opportunism – if it happens – great, if it doesn’t – c’est la vie.

Most of the news in this Meritage issue will be self-centered – it will be all local, very local news about happenings in this blog. But first, let me start with the

Grape Holidays

Very important subject – we always need a reason to open a bottle, so grape days – or grape holidays, whatever you prefer – greatly help with that. WSET compiled a list of grape holidays for 2022 – this is an excellent reference for us all. At some point I will add such a list to the top menu, so you will never miss an important day. It seems that January is actually a dry month, and the very first grape holiday of 2022 will be International Furmint Day on February 1st. This will be challenging to celebrate, as Furmint is a star grape of Hungary and Hungarian wines are hard to find unless you are willing to celebrate with Tokaji. But if you think that Furmint might be difficult to celebrate, wait until October 14th to celebrate Prokupac Day, October 26th for the International Mavrud Day, and to top them all off, until the first of December to celebrate Maratheftiko Day – use google, I’m not here to make your life easy.

Vintage Charts

Vintage charts offer a great reference, giving you an idea for how long to keep a bottle or when you should consider drinking your special bottle. I have a Vintage Charts page on this site which I recently updated to make sure all the links are current and working. You can find the Vintage Chart collection here.

Stories of Passion and Pinot

If you ever looked at the top menu of this site, you possibly noticed a recently added menu item, Interviews. Under that menu, you will find a collection of winemaker interviews from around the world. One of the regions clearly stands out in the number of interviews – the Oregon section contains interviews with 13 winemakers. After spending a week in Oregon last summer and meeting with many winemakers face to face, I created a series of updates which are all published now. Here is the top link to the whole Stories of Passion and Pinot series – check out the post to read the original interviews and updates.

Top Wines

Before 2021 ended, just on time, I published my two-part list of top wines of 2021 – you can find all the lists via the Top Wine Ratings menu, or you can click here.

Year in Review

I also wrote somewhat of a reflection post, looking back at the happenings of 2021 – the good, the bad, and the ugly of that year. In that post I also made a detailed analysis of my Top Wines list, so you should look at the Top Wines list first before reading the year in review post.

Happening Now

I’m currently in a middle of an interesting experiment. This post, once published, will become the eighteenth consecutive post on this blog. So for the past 18 days, I published a post every day (well, the night would be more appropriate). Those are not “one picture, two words” posts. Those posts have 900 words on average (well, this one will be shorter), so they are posts with the substance (or at least I hope they are). To be entirely honest, it is not just an exercise in let’s-see-how-long-can-I-last – I have a huge backlog of posts that were supposed to be written last year and even the year before, so at the moment I’m simply forcing myself to complete the post before going to sleep, and though the body says “c’mon, let’s just go to sleep”, the brain says “you are not going anywhere until the publish button is pressed”. Sadly, this will not last much longer – we are going to visit friends in Florida (that’s good, not sad), and my work laptop, which I usually carry with me and use for all the writing on the road etc., didn’t survive the latest encounter with Microsoft update (using PG-13 language, I really despise Microsoft with a passion), and now I don’t have a computer to do the writing on the road. Oh well…

That’s all I have for you today. The glass is empty, but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

 

Sangiovese Games and Power of Words

January 11, 2022 6 comments

Okay, folks, this might be the scariest post I have ever written. This might lead to unsubscribes, unfollows, ostracism, and public shaming. Well, it is what it is.

Here it comes, my confession.

I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Here, I said it. You heard me right, and I can repeat. I do not know how Sangiovese tastes like.

Still here? Okay, then I would like to ask for a chance to explain.

I know how Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like. Whether it is produced in Bordeaux, California, Australia or Tuscany, I still expect to find cassis, maybe eucalyptus, maybe mint, maybe bell peppers.

I know how Pinot Noir tastes like. No matter whether it comes from Burgundy, South Africa, Oregon, New Zealand, or California, I still expect to find cherries, maybe plums, maybe violets, maybe some smoke.

I can continue – I know how Chardonnay tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Riesling tastes like (from anywhere), I know how Sauvignon Blanc tastes like (from anywhere). I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

While we are talking grapes, we are also talking about the power of words. As soon as we hear Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, we have an instant mental image, set our expectations, and the first sip of wine is judged against that mental image. Of course, we make regional adjustments – Pinot Noir from Oregon might offer dark chocolate, espresso, and mocha in addition to the cherries, but cherries will be there. Bordeaux (okay, it is usually a blend, so this might be a bad example) is expected to be leaner that’s California Cab, but it will still show that cassis core. And I still have no clue how Sangiovese should taste like.

I know how Brunello tastes. It is 100% Sangiovese, but it has its own unique taste profile with layers of tart cherries and cherry pits framed by oak notes and firm tannins. I know how Vino Nobile de Montepulciano tastes. It is also 100% Sangiovese, with tart cherries usually weaved around a core of acidity. I know how Chianti typically tastes. It has to be at least 80% Sangiovese, plus other grapes, and it will have the cherries usually surrounded by leather and tobacco.

Brunello, Vino Nobile, Chianti are renditions of Sangiovese, but they are references only to themselves. When I hear any of these names, I know what to expect. But I still don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like.

I don’t know if you ever had a chance to experience Shafer Firebreak. This wine used to be made from California Sangiovese (92%) with the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon (8%), the percentages are representative of the last vintage which was in 2003 (Sangiovese plantings were removed after that). This wine had nothing in common with any of the Italian Sangiovese renditions, but instead had a smoke, espresso, and powerful dark fruit. A very memorable rendition of Sangiovese – but not referenceable.

You might be annoyed at this point by me constantly repeating “I don’t know how Sangiovese tastes like” and wondering where I might be going with that. So this post was triggered by a few events. Last year, I got a few samples of Sangiovese from Castello di Amorosa. When I tasted them, they were reminiscent of Chianti, and I even had to open a bottle of Cecchi Chianti, which is an outstanding producer making Sangiovese wines with exemplary regional expressions, to compare. I also tasted a bottle of California Sangiovese which had only a name of Sangiovese, but really tasted more like a fruit compote mixed with a fruit cake. As the end result I realized that I have no idea how Sangiovese actually should taste like – and here I am, pondering at the subject with you, my dear reader (I hope someone is still reading this, eh?)

So let me take you a bit further with a few of the tasting notes and references.

First, I have to say that I probably found what can be considered a reference Sangiovese. Two years ago I had an opportunity to taste a range of wines from Cecchi, and one of the wines was called Sangiovese Toscana IGT. It was not Chianti of any kind, it was pretty much an unadulterated rendition of a pure Sangiovese from the motherland, from Tuscany, which was not even aged in oak, only 2 months in the bottle. Here are the notes:

2018 Cecchi Sangiovese Toscana IGP (13% ABV, $10)
Dark ruby
Cherries, coriander, sage
Light, bright, fresh cherries, crisp acidity, sweet basil, refreshing.
8+, can be perfect even on a summer day, but I can’t complain on a winter day either. Unique and different.

The wine was absolutely spectacular in its pristine beauty and an absolute steal for the money. Ever since I tasted this wine it became my reference for how pure Sangiovese might take like.

Now, the peculiar California Sangiovese I mentioned before was the 2017 Seghesio Venom. 100% Sangiovese from Rattlesnake Hill in Alexander Valley, 14.9% ABV, $55. Seghesio is a Zinfandel specialist, and they are good at that. If this wine would be called Zinfandel, I would have no issue with it. But under Sangiovese name, it makes me only wonder what possessed Seghesio to make a wine like that. A fruit compote with a bit of a structure doesn’t equate to Sangiovese in any shape and form. And at the price, if you just want to drink a California wine, it might be fine, but if you are looking for Sangiovese, just look elsewhere.

Well, you don’t need to look too far. Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley is really focusing on bringing their Italian heritage to wines they craft in California. Yesterday I talked about their range of Pinot Noir wines, which was excellent. Their California Sangiovese can probably be called a glorious success as I even had to open a bottle of classic Chianti to compare the notes.

I tasted two Sangiovese wines from Castello di Amorosa (for the history of the Castello, which is very fascinating, I would like to refer you to the link I included above).

2017 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $36)
Dark garnet
Plums, cherries, baking spices
Plums, tart cherries, light tannins, medium body, good structure, a hint of leather.
8-/8, it is reminiscent of the Chianti, nicely approachable, but will improve with time, judging by the late tannins on the finish on the second day.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Voyager Vineyard Sangiovese Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $45, single vineyard)
Dark garnet
Smoke, granite, gunflint, tobacco, dark fruit, Very promising.
Tobacco, baking spices, cut through acidity, medium body. Very unusual. Needs a bit of time.
Tart cherries, a hint of vanilla, bright acidity. Reminiscent of Chianti, but not as earthy
8-

And then I opened a bottle of Cecchi Chianti and was pleasantly surprised how successful Castello di Amorosa was with their Californian Sangiovese rendition.

2017 Cecchi Chianti DOCG (13% ABV, $14)
Dark garnet
Herbs with a hint of cherries
Tart cherries, good acidity, fresh berry profile, medium body. Was earthy upon opening, but mellowed out after a few hours in the open bottle.
8-, easy to drink, nice.

As you can tell, the wines are similar, and I would call it a very successful effort.

Well, I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, because this is all in the words. Unless we taste blind, we are bound by the power of words, and therefore our excitement and disappointment are fully dependent on those words. Was the Venom a bad wine? No, but it is an utter disappointment when called a Sangiovese. Thanks to Castello di Amorosa successfully offering a saving grace. While I still don’t know how Sangiovese should taste like, I’m willing to continue the quest for the tastiest rendition.

If you are still with me – thank you for reading and cheers.

Californian Stars, Italian Flair

January 10, 2022 1 comment

Californian stars.

Of course, we are talking about wines and grapes. What would those be?

I recently called California Cabernet Sauvignon a king. We can safely designate Chardonnay as a queen. But who would you call a prince? Capricious, spiky, moody royalty? Whatever grape you think of, the correct answer is Pinot Noir, because this is the grape I mostly would like to talk about today. And tell me if you think Pinot Noir is not qualified for the role of the royal prince – finicky, demanding, and unpredictable.

Okay, we got our stars for the day. Now, the Italian flair. How would you add the Italian flair to the Californian grapes?

There are a few options. For example, you can call your sparkling wine a Spumante. Or you can call your winery Castello, and build it in the form of a medieval Italian castle. You can also make wines out of Sangiovese – but this we will discuss later. Anyway, as you can see, you got options.

Vittorio Sattui, an Italian immigrant, founded St. Helena Wine Cellars in 1885. The business had to be closed due to the prohibition in 1920, but the Sattui family continued living at the winery. In 1975, Dario Sattui, great-grandson of Vittorio, restarted the family business by opening V. Sattui winery in St. Helena.

After finishing college, Dario traveled around Europe and became obsessed with medieval castles, monasteries, farmhouses. In 1993, Dario found the next home for his future winery – 171 acres parcel near Calistoga. In 1994, the construction began initially for the 8,500 sq. ft building without cellars. That slowly morphed into a 121,000 sq. ft. 13th-century Tuscan castle with 107 rooms, drawbridge, five towers, high defensive ramparts, courtyards and loggias, a chapel, stables, an armory, and even a torture chamber. Lots of bricks and artifacts were delivered directly from Europe to ensure the full authenticity of the castle. Castello de Amorosa (Castle of Love) opened its doors to visitors in 2007 after 15 years of construction.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Castello di Amorosa in 2017 as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2017 in Santa Rosa, so I can share (inundate is a better word, of course) my first-hand impressions:

 

 

Thinking about misbehaving? Might not be recommended:

Touring the cellars:

The ceiling of the room where we had our tasting in 2017:

A bit of education – Napa Valley Regions:

Castello di Amorosa works with 14 vineyards, most of them in Napa and Sonoma, out of which 6 are estate vineyards. The focus of winemaking is on showcasing each individual terroir and on the small-batch production.

I had an opportunity to taste a range of Pinot Noir expressions from Castello di Amorosa, and I have to honestly say that I was very much impressed with what I found in my glass.

First, two sparkling wines, both produced using the classic method.

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 73% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir)
Light Golden, fine bubbles
Toasted bread, apples, gunflint
Toasted bread, Granny Smith apples, more gunflint, great minerality, a touch of sweetness, bigger body than typical champagne.
8, excellent,

2017 Castello di Amorosa Spumante del Castello Brut Rosé Napa Valley (12.5% ABV, $49, 100% Pinot Noir)
Salmon pink, fine mousse
Steely strawberries, a hint of toast
Dry, crisp, strawberries, clean acidity, good minerality
8, excellent

Next up, Rosé. The grapes for this wine come from the Green Valley area in the Russian River Valley AVA, and the wine is partially aged in concrete egg. I had an opportunity to taste both 2019 and 2020 vintages over a few months timeframe, and you can see that my tasting notes are almost identical for both wines. Somehow I missed including this wine into my 2021 top wines list, which makes me upset – this was one of the best Rosé wines and wines overall that I tasted during 2021.

2019 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (13.6% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh ripe sweet strawberries, good intensity, inviting
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9-/9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow.

2020 Castello di Amorosa Rosato Cresta d’Oro Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $39, 100% Pinot Noir)
Light bright pink
Fresh strawberries, a touch of herbs, crisp, inviting, and invigorating
Beautiful ripe strawberries, a touch of lemon, clean acidity, impeccable balance. Wow.
9, one of the best Rosé I ever had. Just wow. Superb.

Last up – Pinot Noir from Morning Dew Ranch in Anderson Valley. This vineyard was purchased in 2015 from Burt Williams, founder of the iconic William Selyem Winery. The 12-acre vineyard is in a very cool microclimate and divided into 9 blocks of Pinot Noir planted with DRC, 115, 777, Rochioli, 23, and 828 clones. All the blocks and clones give quite a bit of room to experiment to the winemaking team.

2018 Castello di Amorosa Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (13.1% ABV, $75, 11 months in Burgundian oak barrels)
Dark ruby
Somewhat unexpressive on the first day, a hint of fruit
Closed up, concentrated, dark fruit, not amazing
Classic Pinot on the second day – iodine, violets, underbrush
Beautifully elegant on the palate – good acidity, smoke, tobacco, fresh berries, cherries, firm structure combined with medium body, medium-long finish.
8+ second day, super-enjoyable.

Here you go, my friends – a little Italian oasis – scratch that – a large Italian Castle in the middle of Napa Valley, producing magnificent California wines. Castello di Amorosa is definitely a unique travel destination and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.

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