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Daily Glass: An [Opportunistic] Bordeaux Discovery and a Case Buy Recommendation

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

If you read this blog regularly, you might have noticed my claim of “rediscovering Bordeaux” after the Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. Now, my  happy feeling about Bordeaux was reinforced further, after a spontaneous Bordeaux tasting.

After somewhat of an extended break, we got together with the friends for dinner. Before we would eat, we were presented with a difficult task – we needed to taste 5 different Bordeaux wines – I hope you see my attempt at humor here.

bordeaux wines

The reason for this “obligatory tasting” was simple. My friend (and our dinner host) frequents a large and well known wine store on Long Island, called Pop’s Wine and Spirit, which routinely offers some legendary deals – I can’t call them any other way as the savings for the wine buyers are quite substantial. So my friend got a recommendation from his trusted sales rep to try few of the Bordeaux wines offering great value, and come back for more if he would like them.

There were 4 Bordeaux wines we needed to try as such – plus one which is my perennial favorite. Three of those Bordeaux wines were coming from the same producer, whose name I never heard before – Denis Durantou, who supposedly is a well known, and the wines we had in front of us were more of the side project for him.

After tasting the wines, which were magnificent and a great value (notes below), I had to do some research and found out that Denis Durnatou is indeed more of a pioneer and the legend, making wines at Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet in Pomerol. Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet is a part of so called “Pomerol Triangle”, which is an area with the best soils in Pomerol, where most of the “Pomerol greats” are located – I hope the names like Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, l’Evangile, Pétrus spell magic for you (yes, all amazing producers).  Denis Durantou was the first to start green harvesting in Pomerol (green grapes are removed at the early stages, to allow remaining grapes to concentrate flavor). He was also a big proponent of thermo regulation in the cellar, which is critical when you ferment the grapes. Actually, I can’t do justice to the Denis Durantou’s work in a few sentences – instead, let me refer you to an excellent article which you can find here.

2014 Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet will set you back at around $180, the futures for the 2015 seems to be closer to the $225. At the same time, all 3 of the “other” Denis Durantou wines we had a pleasure of tasting, were in the range of $17 to $24 (all prices come from Pop’s Wine and Spirit).

Denis Durantou Bordeaux wines

Here are my notes:

2014 Château Montlandrie Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $22, 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) black currant on the nose, classic, clean, mint, wow; perfect Classic Bordeaux on the palate, beautiful fruit, cassis, firm structure, perfect balance, ready now, will evolve. Drinkability: 8+

2014 Château Les Cruzelles Lalande de Pomerol Denis Durantou (14% ABV, $24, 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) green bell peppers on the nose, touch of Cassie , eucalyptus; dusty palate, firm tannins, meaty texture, very round, cherries. Will evolve. Drinkability: 8-

2014 Saintayme Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $17, 100% Merlot) dusty nose, plums, touch of roasted meat; fresh fruit on the palate, delicious, silky smooth, fresh tannins, well balanced. Drinkability: 8

Let’s talk about two more wines.

What I love about Chateau Simard is that they take great care of us, oenophiles. Chateau Simard wines are aged at the Chateau for 10 years, and only then they are released to the public – all at incredibly reasonable prices, at least so far. As you can tell, this wine was perfectly fitting my comment price-wise, and it was delicious:
2004 Château Simard Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, $22, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc) – very funky nose, and lotsr of barnyard, mint, truffles ; sweet fruits on, fresh tannins, nice depth, touch of licorice, cured meat, great balance, delicious wine. Drinkability: 8+

Now, for our last wine, you don’t even have to read this post anymore – just run to the store and get a case of this wine – at least one. You can thank me later. And by the way, I’m not the only one who thinks this wine is great – 2014 vintage got 89 points from Wine Enthusiast magazine.

chateau-roc-de-levraut

2015 Château Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Superieur ($8, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) – beautiful smoke on the nose, roasted meat, dark fruit; plums and smoke on the palate, good acidity, nice minerality, savory notes, excellent overall. Drinkability: 8, incredible QPR.

Here we are, my friends – few of my “Bordeaux finds” for you. By the way, I need also to mention that my friend, who kept tasting the leftover wines over a few days, said that they all kept on opening up, especially our QPR star, so I’m serious about that case buy recommendation. I also just realized that 4 of these wines are predominantly Merlot wines, so this post is also perfectly fitting for the October being the month of #MerlotMe!

Have you made any exciting Bordeaux discoveries as of late? How is your Merlot? Cheers!

Craving Bordeaux Again

October 11, 2016 6 comments
visuel selection officielle 2013 des crus bourgeois du medoc

Source: Cru Bourgeois

If you listen to the stories of oenophiles, learning how they become who they are (oenophiles, wine lovers, it is), you will hear often that their world was changed with the first sip of that coveted First Growth (best of the best in Bordeaux wines), or another Bordeaux bottle of the similar pedigree – this might not be the story of millennials, but for sure it is the one for the older generations.

As I started getting into the wines, I developed utmost respect to the Bordeaux wines first by reading all possible books and articles about the Bordeaux greatness – this was well before China put the Bordeaux world upside down. This was also happening around the Vintage of the Century in the year 2000, when each and every magazine was going nuts about the greatness of that said vintage. At that time it was still possible to buy Chateau Latour for about $90, which was completely unthinkable to me as a spending on a single bottle of wine.

My first experience with Bordeaux was $6 or $7 Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superiore AOC wine, acquired at a local supermarket in New Jersey – I’m sure I don’t need to describe to you how those wines tasted like – think green branches, lots and lots of green branches, and don’t add any fruit…

Needless to say that this type of experience, coupled with prices for the better Bordeaux wines increasing faster than disappearing TGV train and discovering that the wine world is bigger than anyone’s imagination with more wines to try than there are days in an average human life, put a damper on my interest to Bordeaux wines. Don’t get me wrong – I was privileged to taste Chateau Margaux 2000, and it was beyond amazing, along with lots of other absolutely delicious Bordeaux wines. But the end result is that you will practically never find me in the Bordeaux aisle at the wine store – I will drink Bordeaux if offered or recommended, but will not proactively seek it on my own.

Until now.

cru bourgeois tasting line up

Back in June, I was lucky to be invited to Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. First of all, that means that I had to drink a lot of Bordeaux wines. Leaving that aside, it was also interesting to find women winemakers behind all of those wines – and practically all of them representing their multi-generational winemaking families.

Before we talk about wines which made me craving Bordeaux again, let’s talk about Cru Bourgeois, as this is not just some random designation.

Origins of the Cru Bourgeois go back to the Middle Ages, so you can imagine that it is impossible to give it due respect in the few lines of the blog post. According to the official Crus Bourgeois description, “The bourgeois were inhabitants of the “bourg” of Bordeaux, a town of merchants and craftsmen. During the period of English rule, they acquired rights and privileges, including exemption from taxes on the sale of the wines from their vineyards both locally (Guyenne) and abroad.

By the fifteenth century, enriched by international commerce, the bourgeois of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest properties in the region, which gradually acquired the name of “Crus des Bourgeois”.”

Cru Bourgeois classification significantly predates the the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification, but it also went through multiple turbulent times affected by French Revolution and later on by the Great Depression of 1929. In the early 19th century, Cru Bourgeois classification included about 300 producers; 248 Crus Bourgeois were listed in 1858 (divided into 3 categories); in 1932, Bordeaux wine brokers designated 444 Crus Bourgeois.

sticker-cru-bourgeois-millesime-2013

Source: Crus Bourgeois

Fast forward, the latest chapter in Crus Bourgeois history started in 2010, when union of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc finalized its new quality procedures and published its first official selection of the Crus Bourgeois producers. The whole idea behind the Cru Bourgeois classification is to control quality and ensure that the Cru Bourgeois sticker on the bottle gives consumers piece of mind. Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification covers 8 AOCs – Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. If producers from those appellations would like to be listed in the official Crus Bourgeois classification, they have to apply for it, pass the inspection and continue operating within the quality requirements of the classification – otherwise, their status will be revoked. Each bottle from the officially classified Chateaux carries a secure sticker which can be easily scanned to obtain all authentic information about producer, vintage and the wine.

To give you an idea about the process, for the 2013 classification, 251 producers were selected from 400 applications – as you can tell, obtaining Crus Bourgeois status is not guaranteed. Few more numbers – Crus Bourgeois production for 2013 stood at about 20 million bottles, representing about 26% of the total wine production in Médoc. For the past 6 vintages (starting from 2008), total Crus Bourgeois du Médoc production was about 166 million bottles. Well, if you need more facts and numbers, you can continue reading on the official Crus Bourgeois du Médoc web site.

Now, let’s talk about the virtual tasting. It was done in the usual format, over the UStream, with live chat and ability to ask questions, which was, of course, a big part of fun. Seven producers represented seven Crus Bourgeois regions (out of 8 – very nice coverage). Every winemaker had a few minutes to introduce themselves and their wines – I did my best to capture at least a few words coming from each presenter  – this is easier said than done, so below are the results of my efforts together with detailed tasting notes (except one wine – you will see below). Overall, very impressive level of quality.

Here we go:

Virtual Tasting Panel Crus Bourgeois

virtual tasting Crus Bourgeois

Magali Gyuon – the wines should be drunk at the right time – only 2009 ch la Cardonne is available on US market. 2012 is an exception. It is very good At the moment. It will close in 1–2 years, and then it will reopen in about 4 years – I have to say that this is perfectly resonates with my viewpoint on the wines – I truly believe that many wines have their “close up”, “sleeper” periods and if you are unlucky to open wine in such a period, you might not be able to enjoy it at all. This is why you always need to buy more than one bottle 🙂
2012 Château La Cardonne Médoc AOC (13% ABV, $25, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: garnet
N: warm, inviting, dark berries, cassis, sage
P: round, supple, touch of green undertones, but good balance overall. Acidity on the finish even on the day two.
V: 7+, rating unchanged on the second day

Armelle Cruse – Château has open door policy. Studied in California, and she wanted to reintroduce the same style in Bordeaux. First women to become a winemaker in the family (out of 5 girls).
2012 Château du Taillan Haut-Médoc (14.5% ABV, $25, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark Ruby
N: fresh fruit, warm, open
P: fruit core, but finish is very tart, almost bitter. Needs time? yes! Much more round and approacheable on the second day; dark concentrated fruit.
V: 7- first day, 8- on the second day – much improved, tannins subsided, fruit appeared

Nathalie Meyre, has B&B at the château, winery in the family for 6 generations
2012 Château Cap Léon Veyrin Listrac-Médoc (13.5% ABV, $30, 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: freshly crushed cherries, touch of the savory notes
P: supple, fresh, good acidity, cherries, touch of white pepper, good balance, excellent spicy aftertaste
V: 8-, excellent wine, this verdict stands on the second day, may be the wine is a bit softer, but still with a good balance.

Pierre Cazeneuve represented his mother, who is the winemaker. Has strong marketing presence on Internet.
2012 Château La Garricq Moulis-en-Médoc (13% ABV, $21, 48% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 12 in French and American oak)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, cassis, eucalyptus,
P: Classic, cassis, green bell pepper, perfect balance, perfect tannin core on the finish – just right.
V: 8, excellent right now and has a great promise of aging; 8+/9- on the second day.

Mélanie Fabre – taking care of the vineyard and also a winemaker, works in partnership with parents. Makes the wine she likes – fruit forward and balanced.
2012 Château Bellevue de Tayac Margaux AOC (13% ABV, $30, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 12-18 mo ageing )
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: roasted meat, smoke, dark, brooding, tar, pencil shavings
P: dark fruit, more roasted meat, good concentration, excellent balance
V: 8, excellent, second day is equally good. Round.

Pascals Peyronie – small property works very hard and can produce wines at the reasonable price ( I have cheaper than the famous neighbors). Society of women in winemaking, 12 members, formed in 1994, first organization in France.
2012 Château Fonbadet Pauillac AOC (13% ABV, $54, 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 16-18 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet
N: borderline corked, can’t evaluate

Violaine Labauge – involved in the marketing of the wine. The Château belongs to the same family for 3 centuries. Wine is made to be enjoyable now but can be cellared for 10–15 years.
2012 Château La Haye Saint-Estèphe AOC (13.5% ABV, $20, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12-14 mo in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: mostly closed, touch of fruit and kitchen spices
P: nice touch of cherries, pencil shavings, soft, round, explicit minerality, good acidity, good balance
V: 7+/8-, rating stands the second day.

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That’s all I have for you for today, my friends. I’m glad to find some great values coming from Bordeaux – I’m sure more is to come. What were your recent Bordeaux discoveries? How often do you drink Bordeaux wines? What do you think of them? Put that comments section to the good use! Cheers!

 

One On One With Winemaker: Michel Rolland

May 6, 2016 20 comments

To anyone inside of the wine circles, the name “Michel Rolland” needs no introduction. If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine but don’t dig deep, very deep into what is behind the label, it will probably tell you nothing. Unlike Araujo, Bryant Family, Harlan, Staglin – right? All of these are the cult wines from California, revered, adored and drooled upon by many wine connoisseurs. Let’s not forget Tenuta dell’Ornellaia from Italy, Angélus and Ausone from St-Emilion and  l’Evangile from Pomerol. In case you didn’t know, Michel Rolland, classically trained French winemaker, is behind these and hundreds (I’m not exaggerating – search for his name on Wikipedia) of other wines. He is a consulting winemaker, sometimes also referred to as “flying winemaker”, who made wine on all continents and all possible and impossible corners of the world.

When I got an invitation for lunch with Michel Rolland, who was visiting New York to introduce some of his newest wines, I was excited at first, and then bummed. The lunch was overlapping with the Jura wine tasting, which I was planning to attend for a very long time. So as a last resort, I asked if I can meet with Michel Rolland after the lunch so I can ask him a few questions. To my absolute delight, kind folks at Deutsch Family, a wine importer company hosting the event, managed to arrange the time for me right after the lunch to sit down and talk to Michel Rolland.

As you understand by now, unlike most of my virtual interviews in this “one on one” series, this was a real face to face conversation, with a real handshake and visible emotions. At first, I was thinking about recording our conversation. That probably would be okay, but I never did this before, and fighting with technology in front of the busy man who was doing me a favor didn’t feel right. So I did what I always do – I prepared my questions in advance. After a subway ride and a brisk walk, I arrived – on time – and shake hands with the legend. We sat at the table, three different glasses of red wine appeared on the table. And conversation started – here is what we were talking about, with the precision of my fingers hitting the screen of the trusted iPad:

Q1: You made wine all over the world. Is there one place or one wine which was your absolute favorite?

“No. I like the challenge, so every time I’m going to the new place, it is very exciting.”

Q2: What was your most difficult project and why?

“To make wine, we need soil, grapes, and weather. When the weather is not playing, it is very difficult. There were 2 places which were the most difficult. First one was India – everything is great except the climate. India has only 2 seasons – dry and wet. Another one was China – extreme climate, very difficult to make wines. In the project in China, years 1,2 and 3 had no frost, then in the year 4 we decided not to cover the vines, and half of the vineyard became dead.”

Q3: You are known to create big and bold style wines. At the same time, it seems that wines with restrained are more popular today. Did you make any changes to your winemaking style to yield to the popular demand?

“After 43 years in this job, it is good that I have style. So the style is what the market is asking – the wines are made to be sold, so we have to follow tendencies in the market. Even that not everything is changed at the same time, it is more of the evolution and adhering to the fashion. The wine to drink tonight is not the one to be stored for 10–15 years. So the wine have to be made more enjoyable younger, and this is what we do.”

Q4: Where there any projects which you rejected and if yes, why?

“Yes, of course, but it doesn’t happen very often. The biggest concern is the relationship with the team. Day to day in the cellar and field it is the team – if the relationship with the team is not good, I prefer to leave. For sure if nobody is happy, then it is better to leave. I never refused project because it is too challenging. In Chile, 25 years ago the variety called Sauvignonne had to be used, which was hard – and I didn’t refuse the project because it was challenging. So the relationship is the major part.”

Q5: Again, appealing to your worldwide expertise, what do you think is the hottest new wine region today, if there is one?

“We have to look back – we have new world and old world. France, Italy, Spain – being there before. Then came US, then South America. Chile, and Argentina is growing the fastest now. Then there is New Zealand and Australia. But I think the area around the Black Sea, which was historically there, is very promising. Now Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Russia all started making really good wines and we will see great wines coming from there. I [actually] currently work in Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria.”

Q6: What are the most undervalued wine regions in the world today, if there are any left?

“One of the most difficult countries to make and produce wines is South Africa – great wines which sell well only in UK, but very difficult everywhere else.”

Q7: What do you think of natural wines, which are very often are very opposite in style to “big and bold”

“We can’t fight against natural wines, but all the wines are natural [laughing], minimal intervention. We have to slow down with all the chemicals, but the wines should be made to be good wines – a lot of “Bio” is done only for marketing, so if it is done smart, it is good. I have small estate Val de Flores in Argentina which is for 8 years is completely “bio”, so yes, I support that.”

Q8: What are the latest projects you are working on?

“The one in Tuscany (Maremma) running by the German family, they have a wonderful vineyard and wonderful winery, and now making very good wines.”

Q9: You are a role model and a teacher for many in the wine world. Who were your role models and teachers?

“When I began my job my mentor was Émile Peynaud. It was another era. When I began the oenology, we were not speaking about quality. The goal was to avoid problems. I discussed this a lot with Peynaud. Peynaud was convincing people to do better in the cellar, to have clean wines, to use better material. It was very difficult, but Peynaud was great dealing with the people, so I learned a lot from him, including the patience for dealing with people. I often said that my job is 80% psychology, and 20% oenology, this is what I learned from Peynaud.”

Q10: What are the new trends in the wine world? What wine consumers should expect to see and experience over the next few years?

“I think people like more and more approachable, and gentle wines – full bodied, but gentle. The big problem I see is that during the 90s, I did a lot of work where we dramatically improved quality. In the 2000s, we drunk best wines we could. What I don’t like now that everybody is going after cheaper and cheaper wines – we can still do good wines, but not better than in the previous years. In the end, the wine is a business, so I don’t want to see people reduce quality just to survive.”

Chateau La LouviereAs you can imagine, Michel Rolland didn’t come to the New York to talk to me. He was promoting his latest project, the wines of André Lurton which he helped to create. André Lurton is the winemaker in Bordeaux whose family winemaking heritage goes back more than 200 years, and who is not only known as a  winemaker but also was very instrumental in advancing Bordeaux wine industry, including creating of the new appellations.

Here is the story of how Michel Rolland started working with André Lurton (don’t you love wines with the story?):

“Lurton is one of the last projects. I had an interview on the radio, and the journalist asked me if I have any regrets. I said at 65 years old, I don’t have a lot of regrets. When making wines, you get to meet wonderful people from all over the world. So the regret is “why I never met this guy” – one of such people is André Tchelistcheff – I met his wife, but never met him. And then the journalist asked me “who else”. So I said in Bordeaux, there is André Lurton, who I never met and worked together.

3 hours after the interview I received a call from Andre Lurton who said: “come and meet me”. Now we are working together.

So what we are doing is looking after the future, what can we produce for the people. We have to make approachable wines – still with the ability to age, but more approachable. “

This was the end of my conversation with Michel Rolland. We spoke for about 45 minutes, and it was clear that Michel had to continue on with his day. But there were still three wines standing in front of me, so I had to go through the speed tasting and only capture general impressions, there was no time for detailed notes. Here are my brief notes:

2012 Château Bonnet Réserve Rouge Bordeaux ($14.99, Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend) – beautiful tobacco nose, fresh fruit, soft, round –  clearly Bordeaux on the palate, green notes, restrained. Green notes do get in the way, though.

2012 Château de Rochemorin Rouge Pessac-Léognan ($33.99, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend)  – beautiful, classic Bordeaux, great finish, some presence of the green notes

2012 Château La Louviére Rouge Pessac-Léognan ($74.99, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Petite Verdot), new oak, open fruit on the nose, lots of complexity, very beautiful, layers, delicious finish. Overall delicious wine, my favorite of the tasting. This wine was polished and concentrated, and I would love to drink it every day.

What is interesting for me here (besides the clear proof that I’m a wine snob who prefers expensive wines) is that there is a clear progression of taste and pleasure in this three wines – the price was increasing accordingly, and this is how things are quite often in the wine world.

After an encounter like this one, and the pleasure of talking with the legend, if blogging would be my job, I would gladly proclaim “I love my job”. But even without it, I still would proudly say that I love blogging as it makes possible conversations like this one, which is priceless for any oenophile. 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.

Re-Post: Best Hidden Secrets Of The Wine World: Second Labels

December 18, 2012 8 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Second labels. Second is a keyword here. Second – meaning second best? How good it is to be second best?

When it comes to competition, second best is always only second best. Second best means you scored less, you ran not as fast as the best, you jumped not as far as the best. By all means, you really tried – but someone else was better in the same art.

Luckily, the notion of “second best” is not applicable to the world of wine. Of course, you might have your favorite (the best) wine, and then second favorite wine, and the third, and the fourth and many others.  However, those are your personal favorites which are driven by your own personal taste. It is entirely possible even that someone’s most favorite wine is totally not drinkable for someone else (I think this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the wine world.

So what is the second label? Many wineries around the world have one wine which is considered the best, most well known and well regarded. Such wine would be their “First Label”. Typically, those wines have two” external” characteristics: they are very expensive and made in the limited quantities – and one way or the other, these subsequently become driving factors to produce so called “second label” wines, which are at least less expensive (quantity still might be an issue).

Actually, officially designated second labels started in Bordeaux in France simply to avoid throwing out the grapes which didn’t make it into the best wines. What started from so called “first growth” Bordeaux wines from famous 1855 classification in the 18th century, the second label movement spread widely across many wine making regions in the last quarter of 20th century (you read more on the subject here). From being only a Bordeaux phenomenon, it became adopted by many wineries all over the world as their main wines elevated to the “cult” status.

Today many of the cult wines from California, Italy and Spain ( other regions joining in as well) have their second labels. It is interesting to point out one essential difference between Bordeaux second labels and the rest of the world. Based on In Bordeaux AOC rules, second label or not, if Chateau is specified on the wine label all the grapes (100%) for that wine have to come from the vineyards which belong to that Chateau. This is not the case for most of the world. For instance, when particular AVA (analog of AOC in USA) is mentioned on the wine label, it means only that at least 85% of the grapes in that wine should be coming from the specified AVA, and 15% of grapes can be coming from any other places. I’m not saying that this is good or bad – this is just something to take into account when talking about second label wines.

Now, putting all the technicalities aside, what is all the fuss? Why are we talking about some kind of “second labels” as a great secret of the wine world? Very simply, it is all about QPR. Let me give you an example. If you hadn’t done so recently, go check how much Chateau Latour or Chateau Lafite costs. 2008 (somewhat of a sleeper vintage, not declared as outstanding) Chateau Latour will cost $1,600 or more, and Chateau Lafite is somewhere in the $2,000 – $2,500 range. No, not for 5 cases – these are the prices per bottle… 2008 Les Forts de Latour, second label of Chateau Latour, will cost about $250 per bottle, and Carruades de Lafite, second label of Chateau Lafite, will cost about $600.This is still very steep, but I’m sure you can see the magnitude of price difference.  In addition to the better QPR, second labels are ready to be enjoyed much faster compare to the main wines.  You need to wait for 15-20 years for great Bordeaux to open up, and second labels often cane enjoyed right away or after the short time in the cellar.

Let’s talk about some practical examples, but instead of Bordeaux, let’s start from Italy.

LeVolte_2008Le Volte is so called Super Tuscan wine made by Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. Their flagship wine, Ornellaia, has won numerous accolades and consistently rated above 95 points by various wine critics. You can buy Ornellaia for about $180 – $220 per bottle. Le Volte is produced by the same winery (it is technically a third label, with Le Serre Nouve being the second) from the grapes which were not selected for the main wine, and you can buy it for about $20-$25 per bottle (about one tenth of the price of Ornellaia).

2008 Le Volte was very tight and aggressive initially. After a while, it changed beautifully showing luscious fruit (dark fruits) and silky smooth tannins. It can be enjoyed right now with the appropriate breathing time (an hour in decanter might be the right call), but it will benefit from another 5 years in the cellar.

Croix_de_Beaucallou_2005Here is another example – Crouix de Beaucaillou, second label from Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou is so called second growth winery from Saint-Julien region in Bordeaux – again based on 1855 classification. Taking 2008 as a reference year again, their flagship wine, Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, can cost $110 and above (just for comparison, same wine from 2005, which was one of the best years in Bordeaux, will cost you $180+, and 2009 prices start from $250). 2005 Croix de Beaucaillou can be found for about $45 per bottle, which is one fourth of the price of the first label. This 2005 Croix de Beaucaillou opens one with beautiful nose of ripe black plums, oak and spice box. On the palate the wine is very restrained initially, and then opens up with some cedar notes and exhibits pronounced acidity and powerful tannins. Despite my earlier statement about second labels being ready to drink earlier, this particular wine definitely need more time in the cellar (but we should still keep in mind that 2005 was a great year).

After learning the first great secret of the wine world – beautiful Rioja wines, now you are armed with even more knowledge and you can have a lot of fun exploring the world of hidden gems, the second labels. Just to leave you with a little reference, below you will find a table with names of some of the second labels throughout the world, you can enjoy hunting for. And stay tuned, as more secrets are coming!

Note: this post was prompted by the post “Second Label Values” by the fellow blogger wpawinepirate.

Reference: Second Label Wines

Primary Wine Second label
France – Bordeaux, 1st growth
Chateau Haut-Brion Le Clarence de Haut-Brion
Chateau Lafite Rothschild Carruades de Lafite Rothschild
Chateau Latour Les Forts de Latour
Chateau Margaux Pavillon Rouge
Chateau Mouton Rothschild Le Petit Mouton
France – Bordeaux, others
Chateau Ausone Chapelle d’Ausone
Chateau Cheval Blanc Le Petit Cheval
Château Rauzan-Ségla Ségla
Château Léoville-Las Cases Le Petit Lion de Marquis de las Cases (Clos du Marquis before 2007)
Château Léoville-Poyferré Château Moulin Riche
Château Léoville Barton La Réserve de Léoville Barton
Château Gruaud-Larose Sarget de Gruaud-Larose
Château Lascombes Chevalier de Lascombes
Château Pichon Longueville Baron Les Tourelles de Longueville
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Reserve de la Comtesse
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou La Croix de Beaucaillou
Château Cos d’Estournel Les Pagodes de Cos
Italy
Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto
Ornellaia Le Serre Nouve, Le Volte
Spain
Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5°
Alto Moncayo Alto Moncayo Veraton
Bodegas El Nido Clio
Clos Mogador Clos Manyetes
USA – California
Bryant Family DB4
Duckhorn Migration, Decoy
Harlan Estate Maiden
Pahlmeyer Jayson
Paul Hobbs Crossbarn
Screaming Eagle Leviathan
Quilceda Creek Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Red

Ten Cabernet Sauvignon Facts For The Cabernet Day

August 31, 2012 3 comments
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes, Wikipedia

Today (or it might be yesterday, depending on when I will finish this post), on August 30th, we are celebrating Cabernet wines, which include some of the most coveted and sought-after wines in the world.

For this event, I want to talk a bit about Cabernet wines in general. While Cabernet wines often include both Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes, I want to focus today on the wines which have Cabernet Sauvignon as the only or at least a primary ingredient – I should save something (Cabernet Franc, to be precise) for an easy post next year, shouldn’t I?

For what it worth, here are ten facts about Cabernet Sauvignon – some might be actual facts, and some might be… myths? I will let you be the judge…

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon grape is relatively young, first appearing in 17th century as the result of the cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes (hence the name).
  2. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are very small with the thick skin, which means that the ratio of seeds and skin versus pulp is quite high, leading to lots of tannins being extracted during maceration process. More tannins = bigger wine, which usually also can age for a long time, but on a flip side needs an additional breathing time to open up.
  3. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are successfully made all over the world, but the best known regions are Bordeaux, California, Tuscany and Australia. These main regions are closely followed by Argentina, Chile, Israel, Spain and South Africa.
  4. Typical flavor profile of Cabernet Sauvignon wines include black currant (Cassis), green bell peppers and eucalyptus (not necessarily all at the same time).
  5. Not all the Bordeaux wine are predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon based. The wines made in Médoc and all the sub-appellations (situated on the left bank of Garonne river) are actually based on Cabernet Sauvignon (70% is quite typical). The wines made on the right bank of Dordogne river are predominantly Merlot wines (typically containing about 70% of Merlot grapes). Some of the most successful Bordeaux wines, such as Chateau Petrus and Le Pin, are actually made out of Merlot.
  6. The oldest continuously producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world are located in Australia – it is Block 42 of the Kalimna Vineyard in the Barossa Valley, which belongs to Penfolds. It is assumed that the vines were planted between 1886 and 1888, which will give us an approximate age of 125 years.
  7. Typical California Cabernet Sauvignon wine needs about 13 years to reach its peak (see, I told you – patience is one of the important traits of oenophile).
  8. Malbec was the most popular grape in Bordeaux until early 18th century, when it was replaced by Cabernet Sauvignon.
  9. Cabernet Sauvignon holds the title of most expensive wine ever sold in the world. An Imperial (6L = 8 bottles) of 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon was sold at the auction (proceeds went to charity) for $500,000 in year 2000.
  10. When it comes to pairing with food, there are two combinations which are typically stand out. Cabernet Sauvignon and steak are usually go very well together, and same is true for Cabernet Sauvignon and dark chocolate (be advised – your mileage might vary).

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. I have to admit that I didn’t get a chance to drink Cabernet today (I promise to compensate tomorrow) – but I really want to know what was in your glass for the Cabernet day? Please comment below. Cheers!

Wine and Time

January 10, 2012 3 comments

Of course time had being here forever, always moving, and always in one direction (someone, please prove me wrong!). Wine had being around for about 8,000 years, first appearing in the ancient Georgia (no, not the one down south, but the one from the Caucus region, on another continent). Wine is one of the few products literally not changed for such a long time in its form and its production methods – sans reverse osmosis machines, electrical presses and micro-oxygenation boxes. Considering such a long history, you can imagine that relationship between wine and time is very complex, and you would be right.

First, time is a necessary part and an attribute of the wine making process. For the vast majority of wines, if you read winery’s description of the wine, you will see something like “aged for so many month in …”. Sometimes the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks. Sometimes the wine is aged in clay vessels (very popular in Georgia now, the vessels are called Kvevri and produce very distinct wines). Lots of red wines are aged in oak barrels – American oak, French oak, Hungarian Oak, new oak, old oak – variations are endless. For many wines, duration and the type of the aging is a sole decision of winemaker (no pressure, but this decision will greatly affect quality and the taste of wine, and will define success and failure for it). For some of the wines, aging in a specific type of barrels is mandatory before the wine can be released – Rioja Gran Reserva should be aged for a minimum of 2 years in oak barrel and 3 years in the bottle to be officially designated as Rioja Gran Reserva. Barolo must be aged for 3 years, at least two of them in the oak barrel, and Barolo Riserva should be aged at least for 5 years. During the aging process, the wine is changing. Oak imparts very specific flavor, which we, humans, tend to like. Oak aging also acts as a preservative and helps wines to live long life.

Once all the aging is complete (in the tanks, barrels and bottles – whatever the aging was), wine is released – and this is when the second phase of the wine and time relationship kicks in.

This second phase is as tricky, if not trickier, as the first. Have you heard the phrase “needs time” in relation to the particular bottle of wine? If you will look at the wine reviews in Wine Spectator or any other publication which provides wine reviews, you would often see one of the phrases “Drink now”, “Best 2014-2020”, “Best after 2013” – these are the suggestions for how long the wine should be kept in the cellar before it should be consumed.

Why is that? What with all this aging? Why not open the bottle right away and just drink the wine? What was discovered at some point (don’t ask me when, but it was long time ago) is that wine actually changes its taste as it spends time in the bottle (the aging). And it doesn’t just change the taste arbitrarily, it tastes better. Young wines are often sharp, or somewhat single-toned in their taste – you might get pronounced acidity, or only sweetness, or lots of white apples – but only white apples. During aging, trace amounts of air are making its way into he bottle, and they lead to the wine changing its taste, improving to the better in majority of the cases – it becomes complex, bite softens up, bright and diverse fruit tones compensate for the pronounced acidity and the wine brings a lot more pleasure compare to the young wines. Mature wines deliver more pleasure – this is the whole philosophy behind wine aging.

Simple and easy, right? Well, this is were everything becomes complicated and confusing – as not all the wines should be aged (do not try to age Beaujolais Noveau, please) and also it is very tricky to make sure you would drink the wine at its peak – as whatever comes up, goes down in mother nature. This is where time transforms from the friend to the foe – and as a foe, it is merciless. After reaching maturity and staying there for a while, the wines are typically starting their decline in the taste (wine loses fruit, become very acidic, may be oxidized – and it stops delivering pleasure). Different wines made in the different styles will have different peak times and different lifespans. Some of the Jerez, Madeira and similar wines can go on literally for the hundreds of years. Good Rioja, Barolo or Bordeaux can be perfectly aged for 50 years or longer. Simple Cote du Rhone might only last for 3-5 years, same would be true for many of the Chardonnay wines. There is not crystal ball telling you precisely how long the wine will last and when will it taste the best – human trial and error is the best way to find that out. Of course there are many factors which might help you to decide whether to age the wine and if yes, for how long – the winery, the winemaker, the region’s wine style, success of the vintage and many others – but in the end of the day you would need to do the work (err, I meant the wine drinking) as the wine ages to find out when it tastes best to you.

So, does it worth to age wines if you don’t know what will happen to them in the end? For anyone who is into wines, and who had an opportunity to try a mature wine, the wine which reached its optimum taste, I’m sure this is a no-brainer question – yes, of course, and please, please give me more.

How one can experience aged wines? You got a few options. First, you can age it in your own cellar. Second, you can buy aged wines, either in a good wine store, such as Cost Less Wines in Stamford or Benchmark Wine Company. Note that you have to buy aged wines only from the trusted source – not aging the wines in the right conditions will simply ruin them, so you have to trust your source. Third option is to attend a wine tasting, such as PJ Wine Grand Tasting, where you can taste really amazing wines. However, you don’t have to wait of the Grand tasting, which takes place only once a year. If you live in a close proximity to Stamford, CT, you can attend a wine tasting at the Franklin Street Works gallery on Thursday, January 19th at 5:30 pm (here is the link for RSVP). The event is free and open to all. Here are the wines which will be presented in the tasting (the list might change at any time):

2003 Riesling, Mosel Saar River, Germany

1998 Merlot, Italy

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, Napa Valley

2009 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time, hyper-decanted using Nathan Myhrvold’s methodology.

So you should come and experience the relationship between time and wine for yourself – there is a good chance that you will even enjoy it! Cheers!

Great [Accidental] Experience: Chateau Leoville Poyferre

April 27, 2011 1 comment

I recently mentioned that I started to write a series of posts for The Art Of Life Magazine. Currently, the series is covering Best Hidden Secrets of the Wine World, and last post was dedicated to the second labels. As the whole notion of the second labels was originated in France, of course my intent was to talk about one of the “second label” wines from Bordeaux.

I decided to go with Chateau Leoville Las Cases Clos Du Marquis, which is a second label of Chateau Leoville Las Cases Grand Vin de Leoville. 2005 was available ( and it was a great year), and I ordered (online) the Clos du Marquis for about $50 – of course I would be glad to go with second label of Chateau Latour, but that would ring about $500, which was definitely not budgeted for this exercise.

So I got the wine, it was the right year, and it was Chateau Leoville, so I tasted it for the post. Then I started working on the post, and of course I wanted to mention both first and the second label. This time I used the full name of the wine, Chateau Leoville Poyferre, and when I failed to find it as a second label, I finally understood that something is off! Well, it was a rare case of “off” to my benefit. Actually Chateau Leoville Poyferre which I got instead of Clos De Marquis is a first label (second label for this wine is called Château Moulin Riche), never mind the fact that it costs twice as much as Clos De Marquis was. I ended up getting another, real second label wine for The Art Of life Post, as talking about this wine would not help the goal of the article (La Croix de Beaucaillou was also not bad, as you can read for yourself in that post).

As everything in life has two sides, tasting this wine was also good and bad. The good part was in the fact that this wine, 2005 Chateau Leoville Poyferre from Saint Julien in Medoc, was outstanding. To describe it in the few words, it is muscles and power in a perfect balance. Perfect balance of dark fruit, spices, eucalyptus, tannins and acidity, however all in need of time. This wine needs another 10-12 years to really shine. Don’t get me wrong – it is perfectly enjoyable now – but it begs you to give it time to evolve. I would put drinkability to 9.

Where is the bad part, you ask? The bad part is that at $100 a bottle, it was truly an accidental experience – this is outside of my wine budget, so I will have to hope for another lucky mistake (yeah, fat chance). Oh well, I’m glad I had this experience and I was able to share it with you. Until the next time – cheers!

Bordeaux Weekend, Plus Random Thoughts

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Somehow, last weekend happened to evolve around Bordeaux. First, there was “Lafite Around The World” tasting at Saltwater Grille restaurant in Stamford, featuring Lafite-Rothschild wines from around the world (don’t worry, there was no “all you can drink” Chateau Lafite). The actual French wines (2008 Chardonnay from Languedoc and 2009 Lafite Reserve Speciale Blanc and Rouge) were rather unimpressive (drinkable, but not necessarily enjoyable). Chilean Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is usually a good wine, and the 2008 was no exception. Amancaya, which is a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina, produced jointly by Lafite-Rothschild and Nicolas Catena, was best of tasting, with silky smooth tannins and soft full-bodied fruit expression. It perfectly complemented couple of excellent appetizers served at the tasting, such as steak tartar and roast beef.

The next Bordeaux experience was courtesy of Cost Less Wines and Liquors, which was running a Bordeaux tasting. Two of the wines in that tasting were from 2009, which is being touted as the best vintage in Bordeaux in many decades. In general, comprehending young Bordeaux wines, especially from the great years (like 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009) is not simple, as Bordeaux wines really need time in the cellar to shine. The good thing about great years in Bordeaux is that you really don’t need to look for top producers (and deep into your retirement savings to be able to afford it) – pretty much any producer will deliver a very nice and enjoyable wine. I don’t know if it is just a year, or is it a widespread change in production methods in Bordeaux, but 2009s are a lot more approachable than 2000s – and quite enjoyable already.

As we discussed before, a lot of factors influence taste. I don’t know if this is just because of the widespread notion “2009 Bordeaux are great”, but when I was drinking these 2009s, a little voice in my head was saying “just think how amazing it will be in 10-15 years…”. If you can only learn once thing from the wine world, I think that “thing” should be … patience. From harvesting the grapes at the best moment to waiting for the wine to reach optimum age to even moving very slowly while pealing a label from the bottle – patience is a friend around wine…

To give you quick roundup on the tasting, the last two wines were my favorites – 2006 Marquis de Pez, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, was austere and fruit forward at the same time, and 2009 Chateau Haut Beyzac was very round and polished already – it’s good now, just imagine it in 10 years! And a bonus “feature” of these two wines – they both are under $15.

As Bordeaux 2009 start coming on the shelves, you will have to make a hard decision – drink now or wait. Not so hard, you say? Well, I heard that while 2009 was vintage of the century, 2010 might be even better….