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Power of Perception

April 28, 2015 15 comments

Emiliana Coyam Chile Bidynamic GrapesI probably shouldn’t even write this blog post, as it will expose my true nature as a wine snob – this is something which I would always vehemently deny. Or maybe it is just about a human nature, and you might see your own reflection in my words. But hey, to make it all better, I will share with you a recent delicious wine discovery.

Few days ago I took a customer for dinner to the Seasons 52 restaurant (an outstanding dining place deserving its own post – I will plan to write one so I don’t have to inundate you with the food pictures). The wine list was well designed [by the Master Sommelier George Miliotes, who is in charge of wine selection at Capital Grille and Seasons 52 restaurants] with a good number of options from different regions around the world. I scanned through the list, looking for the interesting wines which would be also reasonably priced. Yes, I understand that “reasonably priced” is an extremely personable category – so I’m generally looking for the wines under $80 – everything above requires either super-special occasion or a unique wine. Fitting this criterion, I saw two wines – one from South Africa and another one from Chile. Great thing about Seasons 52 is that lots of wines are available by the glass – which means you can taste them. Two bottles arrived at the table. We tried South African wine first – it was excellent, dry and spicy. Then the Chilean wine was poured into the glass, and I was blown away – this was simply a “wow” wine. 2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley, Chile (13.5% ABV, 38% Syrah, 31% Carmenere, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Mourvedre, 1% Malbec, Biodynamic® grapes) had a nose of concentrated dark fruit, the one which informs you succinctly “I will be delicious”. That spectacular nose followed by the multi-layered, roll-of-your-tongue, texturally present goodness, with lots of fruit, dark chocolate and perfect acidity. An overall package which makes an oenophile ecstatic – I’m sure you got my point. (Drinkability: 9-/9).

Where is the promised talk about power of perception, you ask? Yes, this is what this post was supposed to be all about – so let’s talk about it. My wine lover’s path took me through a fair share of Chilean wines, which were concurring the U.S. market at that time. Do the names such as Frontera and Concha y Toro mean something to you? Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot – all priced at around $7 for the regular bottle, or around $11 for the magnum; perfectly drinkable for what they were. This was many years ago. Yes, there were and there are wines like Los Vascos Reserva and Terra Noble Gran Reserva – which are again perfectly drinkable at around $15. And of course I’m aware of the wines such as Don Melchor or Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta (both are trailing $80), but those are registered in my mind as an exception rather than the norm. So here at the restaurant, the Emiliana wine was $72 on the list. To be entirely honest, and this is where the power of perception comes to play, if I wouldn’t be with the customer (meaning – I’m not paying for the dinner), there is practically no chance I would chose Chilean wine for that amount of money. I wouldn’t even blink if that would be Ridge or Turley (both can be found on the restaurant wine lists for about $70) – but not the unknown Chilean wine. Yep, the mind is interesting like that – some decisions are made on the subconscious level and you need to actively intervene to change them.

To dig myself even deeper, I can tell you more. I was so impressed by this wine that the next day I checked the trusted wine-searcher to see how much this wine would be in retail. It showed up well available in the U.S. for about $30. The first running thought – “hmmm, this is expensive for the Chilean wine”. Luckily, the second thought was “man, you are crazy. You just had this wine and it was stunning – what do you mean expensive?” Again, preconceived notions, perception are so hard to deal with – they try to take control whenever possible. This $30 bottle of wine would beat lots and lots of California wines priced at $100 or $200 – I don’t want to name names, but I seriously mean it. And nevertheless, I need to make an effort to understand and consciously accept it.

Perception is a formidable force when it comes to wine. Don’t know if the wine world is all so unique in regards to perception, but at least this is the subject of interest here. We all know the prolific effect of the producer’s name, label, price, critic’s rating and many other factors on the way we buy and perceive the taste of wine. But the power of the prior experience was somewhat a revelation for me, hence this post.

So, do you have a story to tell? I’m listening… Cheers!

Daily Glass: France, New Jersey, Oregon

April 25, 2015 18 comments

Old York Cellars WinesGlass of wine (or two, but who’s counting) is a standard daily routine at our house (most of the time anyway). Hence these “Daily Glass” posts, where I talk about those “everyday” wines. What I’m trying to stress here that it is really an “everyday” wine phenomenon, as opposed to the wine dinners, birthday, holidays and other special occasions.

In today’s post I want to talk about my recent “everyday” wine experiences, which included wines from France, New Jersey and Oregon. I’m sorry, what are you saying? You never heard of the New Jersey wines? Really? Okay, fine, you got me. New Jersey wines are not my everyday wines either. But the wines are made in New Jersey, and some of them are pretty good wines, I have to admit.

Anyway, let’s talk about those recent “everyday” wines – shall we?

Domaine Rolet Chardonnay Arbois AOC JuraLet’s start with the two wines from France. First, 2005 Domaine Rolet Chardonnay Arbois AOC, Jura (13.5% ABV, $20?) – yes, a pretty rare bird – the wine from Jura. I got two bottles few years ago at  the store in Massachusetts.  This was my second bottle, and while I’m sure the wine would still can go on and on, I thought that 10 years should be good enough to open it. After initial whiff of oxidation on the nose (quite typical for Jura), the wine opened into delicious, balanced Chardonnay. White fruit on the nose, touch of vanilla. Clean acidity, Chablis-like minerality, touch of lemon and Granny Smith apples, perfectly fresh and balanced. Drinkability: 8-

Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-EstépheNext wine was really an unexpected treat. I have to admit – I rarely drink Bordeaux. Inexpensive Bordeaux often under-delivers. And I really don’t want to experiment with $50 wines; $120+ wines are out of my league for the everyday consumption. But with this particular wine, the story was much simpler – “try before buy” is the best thing since the sliced bread, people! Stopped by my local favorite wine store, Cost Less Wines, for the traditional Saturday tasting. Lester, who usually runs the tastings, poured the wine from the decanter and warned me – “you might not like it”. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe (12.5% ABV, $15) – this is just a tasting, how bad can it be? First smell – amazing, mature wine with complex, fragrant bouquet. First sip – wow, dried fruit, hazelnut, spices, distant hint of cinnamon, fresh acidity – a perfect package. Turns out that the first bottle opened for the tasting was somewhat off, this is what prompted Lester’s warning. This wine was decanted for 2 hours, and it was perfect – I don’t know how much life it still has, but considering the way it was drinking, it definitely has a few more years to enjoy it. Drinkability: 9

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – New Jersey wines. Let me ask you something – what would be your expectations of the New Jersey wines? Yes, New Jersey is better known for its humongous malls, Jersey Shore or evenly spaced, monotonically numbered highway exits. Wines? Not something people would readily associate with the Garden State. I also had sad prior experience with one of the New Jersey wines, which I simply deemed “undrinkable”, so when I was asked if I want to participate in the virtual tasting of New Jersey wines, my first inclination was “thank you, but no”. After a second (or a fifth) thought, there was “well, may be?” moment, so I said – sure, will be glad to.

You would understand my skepticism even better if I will tell you that the wines offered for the tasting were not anything less than the classic varietals – Chardonnay and Merlot. I’m very particular with the flavor profile of both, as from my experience, it is very easy to screw up the respective wines. Okay, so the winery in point – Old York Cellars. Vineyards at Old York Cellars were planted in 1979, and the winery was first to produce commercial wines in New Jersey in 1981. Today winery produces about 6,200 cases from the 18 different grape varieties with Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Marechal Foch been most popular among the customers. We learned these and many other interesting facts during the #VirtualVines twitter session with winemaker Scott Gares, who had been making wines for more than 20 years – “it’s the family business” he twitted.

Old York Cellars ChardonnayNow, let’s talk about the wines. First, 2012 Old York Cellars Chardonnay (under 12% ABV, $18). When I just pulled the cork and poured wine into the glass, the first sip was simply not good. There was lots of salinity and soap, so my first thought was “here we go again” (referring to my prior experience with NJ wine). Oh well, let’s see what will happen. 30 minutes later, it was totally different wine. Touch of vanilla showed up on the nose. On the palate, the wine opened up into a clean, classic Chardonnay, plump, medium to full body, vanilla, apples and touch of butter on the palate, excellent balance. Don’t know why the wine started like it did, but the transformation was very impressive. I was upset when the bottle was finished, would love to have another sip. Drinkability: 8

Old York Cellars MerlotNext wine was 2013 Old York Cellars Merlot (15.5% ABV, $18). From get go, this was one tasty wine. Dark fruit on the nose (without characteristic cassis though). On the palate, very interesting smoke and spice, with undertones of mudrooms and forest floor, and well present sapidity. A thought provoking red wine. Full bodied and concentrated, with excellent balance. What was also very interesting is that at 15.5% ABV, the alcohol was extremely well integrated – it was not showing on the nose or on the palate. Drinkability: 8-

So here are two wines which greatly exceeded my expectations – you know, it is the sip of the wine which becomes an ultimate truth. Perception holds a lot of power in the world of wine – but more on this later in the separate post. For now I can only recommend that if you will have an opportunity, try the Old York Cellar wines – at least I plan to continue doing that.

Brick House Pinot Noir OregonThe last wine for today – 2011 Brick House Vineyards ‘Cuvée du Tonnelier’ Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Oregon (13% ABV, $45). Lately, I come across many wines made with biodynamic grapes – most of them are really good wines, but I’m still trying to form an opinion if those are just lucky accidents or a trend. Also, label specifically says that the wine is made with Biodynamic® grapes – Biodynamic with upper case and registered trademark symbol next to it – is “Biodynamic” like “Champagne” now? Anyway, the wine was delicious – a classic Pinot Noir nose with smoke and mushrooms, bright fresh fruit on the palate, very clean, round, perfectly balanced – a new world wine, yes, but perfect finesse and elegance. Biodynamic or what, but it was one tasty wine.  Drinkability: 8

And we are done here. Have you had any of these wines? Have you ever had wines from New Jersey? What do you think of Biodynamic wines? If you are willing to talk, I’m ready 🙂 Cheers!

Note: Old York Cellars wines where supplied as a media sample. All opinions are my own.

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