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Few Memorable Wines

July 21, 2016 7 comments

As wine is a daily beverage at our house, the supply of it should be regularly renewed, to support that [tasty] habit. I really make an effort to stay in under $15 range for that daily enjoyment (yep, I’m a cheap bastard like that), so this is how most of the wines are acquired.

But then, of course, the are special occasions (like Monday, for instance – it happens only once a week, right? – okay, kidding), which require special wines, so I’m always on the hunt for the interesting wines, whether through the mailing lists (for those that you must have, like Turley or Carlisle), specials at the store or online (thank you, Universe, for the WTSO and Last Bottle). Those special wines disappear inside the wine fridge, and I have lots of fun trying to remember where is what, as I have no record keeping system of any sort, to ensure maximum frustration when looking for a specific bottle.

Few memorable wines

And then there are days when it is really appropriate to jolt that memory, and moreover, force oneself to make a decision about what bottles deserve to be opened, to celebrate the occasion.
We had a good occasion to celebrate very recently, with the group of close friends, so the bottles were pulled, opened and savored. And memories were created.

Here is what we drunk, more or less in this order:

2013 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain – Carlisle is one of my absolute favorite wine producers in California, who makes a range of single vineyard Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah wines, all representing an outstanding value (most of the wines are under $40). Best way to acquire Carlisle wines is to be on the mailing list (you can sometimes get lucky with the store, but this is quite difficult). While most of the Carlisle wines are red, they also produce few of the whites, which are delicious. I had the same 2013 Grüner last year, and it was great. With another year of age, it became amazing – yes, the star Austrian white grape can grow in California, and very successfully. The wine showed a backbone of herbaceous flavors, but elevated with the bright white fruit and perfect balance. Can’t find you a generic reference, as the wine was rather unique – but if you will ever see a bottle at the store, don’t miss your chance.

Next up was 2010 Peter Michael Belle Côte Chardonnay Sonoma County – what can I tell you? Peter Michael is one of the most coveted producers in California. Just to give you an idea, Peter Michael wines were served at the White House dinner when Queen of England was visiting – not a bad reference, what do you think? To say that the wine was delicious would be an understatement. Fragrant, tongue-coating, luscious and layered. Layers were intertwining, going through all classic Chardonnay elements of vanilla, golden delicious apples, very distant hint of butter, and back to vanilla. This is definitely a special occasion wine – it also manifests in the price ($90) – but then there is always that special moment worth it, you know?

You can’t have a party today without Rosé, can’t you? Of course not. And that Rosé must be special too. Which is easy with 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Rosé Oregon. I came across Antica Terra after tasting their Phantasy wine at a restaurant (it was my wine of the year in 2012). Antica Terra is a very interesting winery in Oregon, with the winemaker honing her skills under none other than Manfred Krankl of the Sine Qua Non. If only Antica Terra wines would be a bit cheaper… Well, let’s go back to that Rosé. It was a full power wine – there was nothing subtle there – but instead there was a perfect parade of the fresh, juicy cranberries and ripe strawberries, with spices and mineral notes – outstanding.

Remember I thanked Universe for Wine Til Sold Out (WTSO)? Had a reason to thank them again after opening the bottle of 2005 Domaine des Monts Luisants Les Genavriéres Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru. Technically, I have an insatiable thirst for the Burgundies – but the problem is that most of the inexpensive ones rather disappoint – and expensive ones – well, I don’t get to drink those. This is where WTSO comes to the rescue – I got this bottle for $50 – of course this is not cheap, but it is special occasions we are talking about here – and this is much better than its retail of close to a $100 or so. The wine was absolutely stunning – bright, sweet, ripe and savory cherries, whole bouquet of herbs, firm structure, clean acidity and perfect balance. A wow wine for sure.

And then there was Leviathan. If you are a wine geek, that name might have a meaning for you. In case it doesn’t, let me try another approach. Ever heard of Screaming Eagle? The most cult out of all cult California Cabernet Sauvignon wines? Until a few years ago, Screaming Eagle wines were made by Andy Ericsson. Leviathan was actually one of Andy Ericsson’s own projects, which was considered for a while to be a second label of Screaming Eagle – which is incorrect, as the second label of Screaming Eagle is the wine called Second Flight. This 2007 Leviathan California Red was outstanding – dark, brooding, with classic flavors of cassis and mint, layered and complex. I decanted it for an hour, which was the right move – but still, this wine is just a baby and needs to rest for a while. Luckily, I do have a second bottle, and even luckier, I have no idea where it is hiding from me, so it is safe for a while.

I hope you see a clear progression here – Grüner, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Rosé, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – we are increasing the depth and concentration with every next wine. So what would you continue this line up with, just for the finishing touch? I’m sure there are few options here, but my decision was … California Zinfandel.
Not just any Zinfandel, but Carlisle – which means lots of dark power. This 2012 Carlisle Zinfandel Montafi Vineyard Russian River Valley was almost a natural continuation of Leviathan – dark berries, sage, round and smooth – it is amazing how Carlisle wines don’t give out the alcohol level of 15.9% – you don’t even think about it until you look for it on the label. Delicious.

And now, to round up the evening? Port! Last year I was lucky to visit Quinta do Tedo, a winery in Douro valley which was founded by the Bouchard family of Burgundy fame. I brought back a few wines, and this 2010 Quinta do Tedo Late Bottled Vintage Porto was one of them. The wine was perfectly delicious – sweet fruit but not a tad hair over the balance – you have a mouthfeel of garden fresh berries, with their natural sweetness, and nothing extra. This was a beautiful finish for our special evening.

I’m glad we have special days in our lives, so we can have such memorable celebrations. I had a bit of time to reflect on this stupendous group of wines, and I figured that I actually had a favorite – that Burgundian wine was simply flawless – I don’t know if the wine was at a peak, will it further evolve or will it start to decline – but what I had was spectacular.
I would like to leave you with this, my friends. What were your memorable wines as of late? Cheers!

Valentine’s Day Wine Experiences

February 19, 2015 15 comments

Valentine's Day wine line upLast week I gave you some recommendations for the wines to serve on Valentine’s Day. Now, let’s see if I followed my own recommendations.

Of course the plan was to start the evening with the Champagne – and then there was a … but. I recently got my hands (told you many times before  – I love my friends) on the very interesting sparkling wine from UK. What was the most interesting for me even before I tried the wine is that it contains one of the extremely difficult to find, rare grapes called Schönburger. As I mentioned last time regarding my quest to complete all the grapes in the original Wine Century Club application, Schönburger was one of those “last standing”, extremely difficult to find grapes – and the Carr Taylor Brut was the only wine containing Schönburger, which Wine-Searcher was able to find pretty much anywhere. In case you are curious, Schönburger is a rose grape created in 1979 in Germany as a cross of Pinot Noir, Chasselas and Muscat Hamburg, As an added bonus, the Carr Taylor Brut contained another grape I never heard of, another cross from Germany called Reichensteiner.

Okay, now that I provided a full disclosure, let’s talk about the wines. NV Carr Taylor Brut Sparkling Wine, England (12% ABV, $35) was an excellent start for the evening. Fine bubbles, very intense, very reminiscent of Champagne. Hint of toasted bread on the nose and may be a touch of almonds. The palate had all the toasted and yeasty notes, packaged together in compact but bright way – the wine had no sweetness, but nevertheless was perceived as a fuller body than a typical Champagne. I would gladly drink this wine again any time – if it would be available in US. Drinkability: 8-

Now it was the time for Champagne – Pierre Peters “Cuvée de Réserve” Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne (12% ABV, $55) – very classic, a hint of brioche on the nose, and nice toasted notes on the palate. Quite honestly, after the first sparkling wine, I wanted a bit more life in the glass – this was clean and fine, but more of the usual. Drinkability: 7+

Our next wine was a white Burgundy. Considering my limited experience with Burgundy, I was concerned if 10 years old wine would hold well (all of you, Burgundy buffs, please stop laughing out there – I’m still learning), so the Valentine’s Day seemed to be quite a good occasion to find out. This 2005 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard La Romanee, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru, France (13.5% ABV, $65) was outright delicious – beautiful nose of fresh apples, and then apples and honey on the palate – full bodied, supple, with perfect lingering weight in the mouth – this was really a treat. Too bad it didn’t last – but this was definitely an excellent wine. Drinkability: 8

Time for the reds, don’t you think? Remembering the pleasure of the Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir (here is the post in case you missed it), I wanted to try another Pinot Noir from Antica Terra – this time it was 2011 Antica Terra Botanica Pinot Noir Willamete Valley (13.2% ABV, $75). The nose was very similar to the Ceras – cranberries, touch of forest floor, lavender, bright and intense. On the palate, this wine had much bigger shoulders than Ceras. Ceras Pinot Noir need no breathing time – it was ready to drink from the moment the bottle was opened. Botanica needed a bit of time. After about 20 minutes in the glass, it showed its structure, dark concentrated fruit, touch of coffee, earthiness, all with a perfect balance, and again, finesse. Drinkability: 8

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And then there was Opus One. 2001 Opus One Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $250). Quite honestly, when I learned that we will be opening Opus One, I was a bit concerned. Yes, this is one of the legendary California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and yet when I tasted it before, I was not blown away. And when you are not visually excited about $250 bottle of wine, you feel that something is wrong with you, don’t you think? Bottle is opened, and wine is poured in the glass. Based on the color, the wine looks like it was bottled only yesterday – dark, very dark garnet. On the nose, the wine was somewhat muted but pleasant – touch of black fruit and eucalyptus. On the palate, the wine was simply closed – and aggressively tannic, with a touch of green brunches on the finish. Well, to the decanter, of course. After about an hour in decanter, the wine definitely changed for the better, showing touch of cassis and coffee notes on the palate – the tannins still stayed, but reduced, and the finish became spicy, peppery if you will – still not leading to the “wow” which you want to find in the bottle like that. Oh well. Drinkability: 7+

As we were waiting for Opus One to come around, another bottle was pulled out – 1996 Robert Sinskey Vineyards RSV Stag’s Leap District Claret Napa Valley  (13.9% ABV, $55). This wine amply compensated for the Opus One shortcomings – in a word, it was delicious. Perfectly young appearance in the glass was supported by the fresh fruit on the nose. And the palate had cassis, touch of mint, mocha, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, perfectly layered and perfectly balanced. This was Napa Valley Cabernet at its peak, and it was not afraid to show it. Drinkability: 8

Logically (Valentine’s Day!) we had to finish on a sweet note. This was my first experience with Austrian dessert wine, and it was also a first experience with Kracher – I only heard the name before, but never tasted the wines. 2011 Kracher Auslese Cuvée Burgenland, Austria (12% ABV, $22) had everything you want in the dessert wine and nothing you don’t – delicious light honey notes, lychees, vibrant acidity, lemon peel – it was an outstanding way to finish the evening. Drinkability: 8

That is the story of our Valentine’s Day wine experiences. Well, I can’t leave with the wines alone – the food was delicious too, so let me at least share some pictures – I spent time working on them, you know. Here we go:

And we are done here. So, what were your Valentine’s day wine highlights? Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: First, There Was A Smell

February 9, 2015 9 comments

Drinking wine is a sensual experience. Okay, I can’t speak here for all the people who drink wine at one time or the other – but I’m sure that this selectively crazy passionate group, oenophiles, would wholeheartedly agree. Once the wine goes into the glass, of course the color matters first – but color is mostly a technical characteristic. The color can tell you what to expect – for instance, if a Chardonnay has rich golden, yellow color in the glass, you should prepare for the worst (the wine which will be well past prime). Or if a red wine looks almost black in the glass, get ready for the tannins encounter. Still, the most pleasure you can get from the color alone is to get excited  – “look at this beautiful color!” type excited.

Your hedonistic pleasure starts with the smell. Technically, it starts and ends with the smell, as our taste buds don’t go beyond 4 (or 5) basic tastes, and even when you take a sip of the wine, it is still the sense of smell which leads you to the strawberries in that sip – but let’s not get technical here, we are talking about the pleasure. Yes, you start with the smell – it is the smell which takes you away and makes you go “wow”. It is the smell which grabs your attention and captivates you, and forces you to smell that wine again, and again and again. It is the smell which builds up the excitement and expectations of the first sip.

The first sip afterwards is a moment of truth – if you are lucky, the taste will match the smell and will take you to the oenophile’s heaven, at least for a moment. It doesn’t always work like that – more often than not, the excitement built by impeccable aromatics instantly dissipates after the first sip. But when you are in luck, this is how the wine memories are created.

What prompted this post was my undoubtedly lucky experience few days ago with two wines in the row, delivering that incredible combination of aromatics and taste. Sorry, I’m getting overly excited here, but the smell of the 2013 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley ($15) was, in a word, spectacular. In the New World renditions, Sauvignon Blanc is very aromatic more often than not – but it would be typically aromatics of grapefruit and lemon, Here, from the get go, the glass was exuding with the aromas of the fresh cut grass and cat pee. Yes, I know that many people jump when the cat pee descriptor is used, but anyone who had owned a cat would perfectly understand what I’m talking about. And yes, cat pee is a known classic profile of Sancerre, the most classic Sauvignon Blanc of all. So this wine had it all, clean, bright and present on the nose – and the palate was beautiful, medium to full body, with fresh cut grass and touch of lemon peel. Definitely an outstanding example of California Sauvignon Blanc, now squarely engraved in my memory, right next to the Honig and Mara White Grass, which are always California Sauvignon Blanc staples for me. Drinkability: 8+

And then there was 2011 Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($75). I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the winery – you can should read interesting stories on Antica Terra web site on your own. But this wine… Talking about attractive color, the wine was ruby with the light pinkish hue in the glass. And then the first smell… It was surreal. Here is where I fail as a wine writer, as I can’t give you the right set of words to describe the impressions from this wine. The smell had everything in it – the cranberries, forest floor, herbs and mushrooms – light, delicate and seductive, saying “and now, let’s take a sip…”. The palate was a natural, precisely fitted extension of the smell – all the same component, now packaged together. More cranberries, shallots and truffles, sage and lavender, minerality and whiff of the forest floor, effortlessly rolling off your tongue, delicate and present, with perfectly noticeable, silky texture and needless to say, perfect balance. This was for sure one of the most sensual wines I ever had. And yes, if you want to take this tasting note as an example “look at another moronic wine review” – I will still stand behind it, as this wine delivered lots and lots of pleasure. Drinkability: 9/9+

There you have it, my friends – two wines which will be etched in the memory for the very, very long time. I wish you all to have lots of sensual wine experiences and memorable wines. Cheers!

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