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Daily Glass: Domaine Breton Bourgueil, A Vinous Vino

September 22, 2011 1 comment

Do you know how old tavern smells? The one were thousands of wine  bottles were opened, and wooden tables soaked up all the spills and drops of the wine during many tens or may be even hundreds of years? I don’t know about you, but for me this smell means “hello, vino was here!”. This is what you get when you pour this 2007 Epaule Jete Catherine and Pierre Breton Bourguiel in the glass. You get the most vinous nose you can imagine – not a hint of sweetness, not a hint of berries – only a noble smell of the ageless wine with the whiff of acidity. On the palate you get earthiness, minerality and more acidity, all delicately balanced by the early sour cherry kind of fruit.

Once I tasted this wine, one of the first thoughts was – it reminds me of a recent experience. It was so light and transparent (noted after tasting: 12% alcohol) that it brought back memories of the natural and biodynamic wine tasting at the PJ Wine (here is the link to that post). Similar to the wines in that tasting, this Cabernet Franc wine also let the Terroir to shine through, unadulterated. After checking the web site for Domain Breton  – voila, it appears that this wine is also natural, organic and biodynamic!

All in all this was a great experience – I’m not sure it will be easy to repeat, as it was the only bottle I had (I got it in Lavinia wine store in Geneva). Oh well – this wine is worth seeking and experiencing, so talk to your favorite wine store guy – I will certainly talk to mine. Cheers!

Celebrate Two Noble Grapes in One Day – What Are You Drinking Tonight? #CabernetDay and #TempranilloDay

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m honestly puzzled, but somehow September 1st had being declared an international #CabernetDay and #TempranilloDay – it feels like there are not enough days in the calendar to properly celebrate all the grapes? Anyway, it is what it is, right? And the celebration is on, which means … oh boy… you have a reason to have a glass (or two or …) of wine tonight!

To celebrate Cabernet Day, all you need to do is to open a bottle of your favorite (or better yet, the one you never had) Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc wine (and of course Cabernet blend will do quite well too), and then tell the world how great it was (if you will only tell your neighbor, that will also count). With abundance of choices from Bordeaux, California, New York, Washington, Australia, Canada, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Israel and pretty much everywhere else, you will have no problems finding a good bottle of Cabernet to enjoy. And instead of giving you any particular recommendations, I would like to simply reflect on some of the past experiences:

Next, we definitely should acknowledge Tempranillo, a noble grape of Spain. While this grape is slowly trickling into other winemaking regions, it is a true star in Spain, where it shines in Rioja and Ribero del Duero regions, making some of the most beautiful (and age-worthy) wines in the world. You can also find it producing good results in Portugal, however, under the names of Aragonez and Tinta Roriz. Again, no particular recommendations as to what wine to open, just some reflections here for you:

 

Whatever bottle you will end up opening, the routine is not new – all you need to do is to enjoy it. And if you will be kind enough to leave a comment here, I will be glad to enjoy it together with you. Cheers!

Experiencing Wines of Canada

August 28, 2011 10 comments

Coming back to the memories of “ahh-so-distant-by-now” our Canada vacation (it’s being almost a month!), I need to share my wine experiences with you. You might remember two earlier posts (you can find them here and here), which I prefer to refer to as “picture reports”, which gave you the visual expression of the food and some of the wines in Canada. However, we had an opportunity to spend some time in one of the Canadian wine countries, surrounding small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake – and it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Until this trip, my idea of Canadian wines was very simple – Icewine. I knew for a while that Canada makes some really famous Icewines, which compete with German and Austrian Icewines. Outside of Icewine, my only reference were wines of Finger Lakes region in upstate New York (general direction of Canada). While I wouldn’t claim that I visited mass amount of wineries in Finger Lakes, in a few places we visited the only drinkable wines were Rieslings, and all the red wines were plain bad. Therefore, these were my expectations for the Canadian wines.

I decided to start from the winery with the name at least I heard of – Inniskillin, and of course the only wine I knew “of fame” there was an Icewine. As a side note, I want to mention that the winery had a playroom for kids – which is a very important factor in letting adults enjoy a wine tasting, even during family vacation. The first wine we tried was 2010 Two Vineyard Riesling – very clean, good tropical fruit expression, all paired with beautiful acidity, nice finish. This was a great start of the tasting. The next wine completely blew me away – 2009 Legacy Series Pinot Gris. First, I didn’t expect Pinot Gris to be produced in Canada. But is not the main factor. Very complex, with explicit minerality and spicy bouquet on the palate, this wine still puts a smile on my face when I think about it.

After having a great start with the whites, my level of expectations increased for the reds – and rightfully so. 2009 Montague Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir was very nice, varietally correct with a precise expression of smokiness and red fruit. Again, I would never expect to find a Pinot Noir of such clarity at a winery located so high up North – but I did. 2009 Shiraz Cabernet had perfect acidity, good minerality, just a right balance of dark fruit. 2009 Cabernet Franc was simply my favorite red wine – perfect, very balanced, with clearly expressed green peppers and explicit minerality (you might think that I’m abusing the term – but minerality was one of the key characteristics of all the Inniskillin wines we tasted, so I can’t help myself but to call it out).

As you might expect, sweet wines were next. We are not talking about some arbitrary late harvest wines – we are talking about Icewines, which have the highest sugar concentration out of all sweet wines, as the grapes are ripening on the vines until the frost reaches –8°C (about 17F) – then the grapes are harvested while being frozen and pressed right away – which yields tiny amount of super-concentrated grape juice – this is why the wines are called Icewine (also such a low yield explains high price of the Icewines). First, we tried 2010 Sparkling Vidal Icewine, which was very light and delicate. 2007 Cabernet Franc Icewine was a real star though. I have to mention that Inniskillin was the first winery to produce Icewine from the red grape. Also, Inniskillin worked together with Riedel, leading wine glass maker in the world, to produce a specially shaped Icewine glass which enhances aromatics of the Icewine.

Going back to Cabernet France Icewine, it was incredible, one of the best ever dessert wines I ever tried. Why am I saying that? Balance. Ultimate Balance was first and foremost characteristic of this wine. Beautiful balance, perfect lingering acidity, and literally unnoticeable sweetness – great wine. All in all, it was an outstanding line up of wines at Inniskillin, I can’t recommend highly enough each and every wine I tried.

Next stop we made at the Cattail Creek Family Estate winery. One of the reasons to pick that particular winery was the fact that they have a few wines with the grapes I didn’t have before, like Chardonnay Musque, or different Riesling clones. I’m glad we stopped by, as we found more great tasting wines, plus most of the wines are made in very small quantities, so many are available only at the winery itself. First, we tried 2008 Catastrophe White, which was perfectly refreshing, with good acidity and a good amount of the white fruit. Then we tried 2009 Catastrophe Red, which had very good balance, nice red and black fruit expression, soft and pleasant. It is interesting to note that Catastrophe wine series labels depict real cats who lived at the winery. Last but not least was 2009 Chardonnay Musque – very nice, with good acidity, good reflection of what Chardonnay is, good subtle tropical fruit expression, more as a hint. This was yet another great experience.

Our last stop was Chateau des Charmes. This winery had the most impressive building of all:

The wines here were also very impressive. We started with 2007 ‘Old Vines’ Riesling (I wanted to experience “old vines” Riesling) – and to my complete surprise, this Riesling had a Petrol nose! I was always under impression that Petrol nose is a property of only German Rieslings – and here we go, Riesling from Canada with full classic German Riesling expression. In addition to Petrol nose, it also had very good fruit, medium body and perfect balancing acidity. Next were more of the very impressive Pinot Noirs. 2007 Pinot Noir had a beautiful nose, and lots of tannins on the palate – it was unusually muscular for the Pinot Noir, probably in need of a few years to open up, but still, it was very good. 2007 ‘Old Vines’ Pinot Noir was also very big and powerful, with clean smoky nose, but also needing time as the previous wine.

Last but not least was 2008 Gamay Noir ‘Droit’, which happened to be a clone of Gamay and therefore it accounted for an additional grape for my “counting grapes” project. This wine had very unusual herbaceous nose, and was nice and light on the palate – definitely a food friendly wine.

That concludes the Canadian wine story, as we didn’t have time to visit more places. But even based on this experience, if before I knew of only Icewines from Canada, now all the Canadian wines are squarely on the “to find and drink” list for me – and I highly recommend that you will make an effort to find them and try them as well. The challenge is – I didn’t see that many Canadian wines on the shelves of the wine stores here in Connecticut. Oh well, hopefully, we can change that. Cheers!

Wine, Aged Beautifully

July 12, 2011 4 comments

Let’s talk about aging. No, that’s not what you think – not people aging and not the world problems with the aging populations. Let’s talk about the aging of the wine. By the way, it appears that second time in the row I’m taking upon the popular subject – in the previous post we were comparing the wine glasses (post can be found here), and now the wine aging.

With all due respect (based on this phrase, my friend Kfir would tell you right away that I’m about to blast something), I completely disagree with the majority of the popular opinion on the subject of wine aging. Open a wine book, read a wine blog, or ask a question on Quora, and for the most part, you will get an answer that 95% of the wines are not supposed to be aged and should be consumed within a year or two from the release date.

Based on my personal experience, I disagree with this viewpoint. I can’t put a percentage or a quantity on it, but I believe that well in excess of half of the wines produced in the world (not by the volume, but by the variety of the actual wines) can age very well for 5 to 10 years – and “age well”  means “to improve with age”. My biggest problem with the aging of the wines is … space. If you want to drink aged wine, you either need a lot of space, or you need [typically] lots of money, as most of the aged wines increase in price. If you have a cool and dark area with constant humidity, you can buy wines as they are released.  store them and enjoy them later as they evolve and mature. Otherwise, you need to have money and a reputable source of the aged wines (improper storage conditions will ruin any wine in no time). Once you solved your space problem, the rest is easy.

How easy is that? How can we know if that bottle of wine will age well – read: improve with age? There are way too many factors affecting the aging of the wine, and being able to predict age-worthiness of the wine (age-worthiness means that wine will evolve and taste better in the future) is more art than science. As an example, Matt Kramer, one of my favorite wine writers identifies age-worthy wines using characteristic of the mouth-feel, a mid-palate weight of the wine in the mouth. Here is my take on the subject. First, yes, of course, some of the wines are meant to be aged – for instance, Beaujolais Noveau is released in November and should be consumed by May of next year. Outside of the wines which are designated by winemakers as “do not age”, the majority has some aging potential. I believe the biggest dependency here is on the winemaker and what she or he wants to achieve with particular wine – if wine is well made,  there is a good chance that it will also age well.

Some wines are helped by their “DNA” – under which I mean from what grape and where in the world the wine is made (of course good/bad year matters too). California Cabernet Sauvignon expected to [typically] reach maturity at around 13 years. Bordeaux easily ages for 30-50 years. Syrah-based wines, whether from Australia or France, can live for 50 years. Many 50-years old Riojas are fresh and vibrant as being just made. But “DNA” alone is not enough – wine should be well made in order to age well.

If you are still reading this post, I guess you might be tired by now by this prolonged escapade into the wine aging, and you might be wondering why, why is all that wine aging might be important? Well, I can’t answer this question. At least not before you will find the wine with a little age on it, which will blow you away. Yes, it is an acquired taste. But once you will actually acquire that “mature wine” taste, this is what you are going to crave, I guarantee you.

Let me share some recent and exciting discoveries. Let’s start with 1995 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley. This wine is made out of 100% Chardonnay. While the nose was not very expressive, the level of complexity of this wine is unimaginable. Yes, considering dark golden color, this wine might well be past prime, and without that “acquired taste” for the aged white wine, you might be even upset after the first sip. This wine was exhibiting notes of vanilla which almost moved up to some sort of the almond paste, still showing some acidity. Next are savory notes, almost to the level of saltiness, which was increasing the complexity even further. The wine was in a very stable shape as it tasted the same on the second day as well. Will this wine evolve further? Who knows – but I would be very happy to taste this wine again in five or maybe ten years. Drinkability: 8

The next wine is 1992 Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage from France. Crozes-Hermitage wines are made primarily out of Syrah, typically with a very small addition of Marsanne and Rousanne grapes. As we mentioned before, Syrah wines age quite well, and this was an excellent example of the well-aged Syrah wine. This wine was very playful and soft, with lots of red fruit on the nose and on the palate, very good acidity and a good level of tannins. This wine probably will continue evolving for the next five to ten years, and again I will be glad to help you share the bottle later on – if you will have one. Drinkability: 8-

 

Going back to California, 2001 Lolonis Petite Sirah Redwood Valley. In short – outstanding. This 10 years old wine was completely fresh and beautiful. It is made from organically grown Petite Sirah grape. The wine showed perfect dark fruit, good acidity, full body, excellent tannins, and perfect overall balance. This wine might be evolving for the next 10-20 years – again, the trick will be to find it.

Drinkability: 8+.

 

Last, but not least, 1991 Justin Cabernet Franc, San Luis Obispo County. This was the “wow” wine, that exact mind-blowing one. First, while I like Cabernet Franc wines, I had no idea they can age so well. I can literally guarantee that in the blind tasting format, very very few people would be able to guess the age of this wine. Deep garnet color, not a hint of age (no brownish overtones at all). Perfect fresh fruit, soft and luscious, a perfect balance of tannins and acidity. This wine was the oldest in the tasting, and it was definitely the best of tasting. Considering how good it was now, I can’t even guess how much time it has left – but I would be very glad to find a few more bottles to be “wowed” again in the future. Drinkability: 9-

One note before we conclude – this was a rare case of someone doing all the hard work, and me enjoying the results – I got all wines from Benchmark Wine Company and each one of them had been less than $20.

Don’t know if you got the desire to seek well-aged wines – I hope you will one day. For now, I can only wish upon myself, my family, all my friends and all of you, my readers, to age as beautifully as this Justin Cabernet Franc does. Cheers!

 

Long Island Wineries Trip – Great Weather, Great Wines

October 11, 2010 4 comments

Talk about being lucky. Last year in October we had a great trip to Long Island wine country, enjoying great weather, 2 hours long lunch with good food, wine, and company. We started planning second annual Long Island Wine Country getaway about 3 months ago – we set the weekend, but who can know about the weather? This is why I’m talking about being lucky. Beautiful weather – just look at the picture of the grapes (accidental leftover after the harvest), against the beautiful blue sky… Immaculate.

And there we went. The plan was simple – visit 3 wineries, taste the wines and have lunch with the wines we like. We started with the Lenz Winery, as it was far-most in our plan. Two things were interesting about Lenz Winery – they are well known for their Sparkling wines, and Lenz Merlot was compared with Petrus, one of the best regarded and equally expensive wines in the world (here is the link if you want to read more about Chateau Petrus, Bordeaux wine from Pomerol). The 2004 Sparkling Cuvee, made from 100% Pinot Noir, was nice, yeasty and balanced. Does it worth $30/bottle? Comparing to actual Champagne – may be, comparing with good California Sparkling wines like Chandon or Mumm, or Gruet from New Mexico – probably not. As for 2002 Old Vines Merlot, the one which should be compared with Petrus – I never had Petrus, so I’m not qualified to make any comparisons. I can only state that I didn’t like that Merlot at all.

The next stop was Jamesport winery. One of the driving forces behind our choice of wineries was a post in Wall Street Journal wine blog by Jay McInerney, where he was talking about tasting great Petit Verdot and other good wines at Jamesport and Paumanok wineries. Since we were planning to have lunch at Paumanok anyway, and Jamesport was around the corner, it was easy to decide that we want to taste the same wines.

I’m glad we stopped at the Jamesport. I chose Estate Series tasting flight out of many others available, and I can tell you that it was one of the very few experiences where I liked each and every wine in the flight. Reserve Chardonnay 2007, Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Riesling 2009, Pinot Noir “Sarah’s Hill” 2007, Estate Merlot Block “E” 2005, Syrah MTK 2007 and Melange de Trois 2005 – all were very good wines. One minor disappointment was the fact that Sauvignon Blanc 2009, highly regarded in James McInerney’s article,  was sold out. As we were explained, 2009 was a difficult vintage, and only 350 cases of 2009 Jamesport Sauvignon Blanc were produced, so it is not surprising that it was sold out. But then I have to mention an absolute highlight of the trip. We decided to try Petit Verdot Reserve 2007 – at $100/bottle, the tasting of this wine costs $10 for 3 oz pour, but still, looking for the experience we decided to go ahead and try it. This was one of the best $10 spent on the wine ever – luscious, multi-layered fruit, amazing balance of tannins and acidity and great mid-palate density! Considering my rating system, this was definitely a 9 – and I wish I would have a budget to put a few bottles in my cellar – this wine will evolve amazingly over the next 10-15 years.

The next stop was Paumanok winery, where we finally had our lunch.

We didn’t do tasting flight there, as everybody was already quite hungry, instead, we got a bottle of Rose, and a bottle of Riesling, and LI_Wineries_PaumanokCabFrancPaumanok Cabernet Franc 2007. Unfortunately, we couldn’t escape our dose of disappointment here as well, as Paumanok Petit Verdot 2007 ($60), lauded the most in Jay McInerney’s article, was sold out! At least the Cabernet Franc 2007, also highly mentioned in the article, was available ( good value at $24.50). The Cab Franc was very nice, with a refreshing tartness, layers of restrained fruits and medium body – it was simple and pleasant to drink.

The grapes are already harvested on Long Island so the new vintage will be on the way.

 

The weather is still warm so you can enjoy yourself in the Long Island Wine Country. This year, or the next year, and many years after – the wines are only getting better. Get your friends together and go out and play…

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