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Posts Tagged ‘cabernet sauvignon’

Seeking Cabernet

June 1, 2021 2 comments

Now, this is frustrating.

At the recent dinner with friends at Knife Pleat restaurant (amazing food!), I assumed my role of designated Wine Guy and was going through 20+ pages of the wine list. 1970 Solar di Samaniego Rioja Gran Reserva caught my eye – at $200, it represented an amazing value for a 51-year-old wine. After confirming with the Somm that the wine is still well drinkable, only more delicate than powerful, I had to wriggle an approval for spending $200 on a bottle (I was not paying).

After the wine made it into the glasses, it appeared that everyone was really enjoying the nose, which was complex and spectacular. The first sip of the wine, served at the cellar temperature, was met with more than subdued enthusiasm – let’s be honest here, it was rather a sigh of disappointment. There was nothing wrong with the wine, but it was well closed and at least needed the time to open up.

After a few attempts to enjoy the wine, my friend asked “can you recommend any big, round, smooth, and velvety wines”? It turns out a few years back when she just arrived in Irvine, she got a bottle of wine at the local store. The wine was on sale for about $20 a bottle, and all she remembers was Cabernet Sauvignon and that she really enjoyed the wine – but she has no idea about the producer, the vintage, or any other essential elements.

Have you been in a situation where a simple question can lead to literally complete paralysis while trying to answer it? This might be a situation where your knowledge becomes your big handicap, as you try to hastily dissect the complexity of such a simple question.

Basically, the question asks “can I recommend an amazingly good California Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable price to someone who is not a wine aficionado, but just want to occasionally enjoy a good glass of wine?” – how easy this should be to answer for the Wine Guy? For yours truly Wine Guy, not so easy.

Good California Cabernet Sauvignon might be one of the best pleasures on Earth. I’m talking about the wine which unequivocally extorts “oh my god” from the red wine lover after the first sip. Of course, this is a simple idea – but not so simple to provide a recommendation. We need to take into account price, availability, and readiness to drink. BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve might be amazing with proper age, but with the price of $100+ per bottle and pretty much undrinkable upon release, this is not the wine I can recommend. The same story would be with Kamen, one of the most amazing Cabernet Sauvignon wines I ever tasted. Textbook, Turley, or Waterstone would offer more reasonably priced options (under $50), but still, I don’t know how amazing these wines are upon release. Suggesting non-winos to decant will not work. Asking them to keep the wine in the cellar until it reaches perfection will not be received very well. That leaves us with only one option – we need to find a Cabernet Sauvignon which is delicious upon release.

In an attempt to rehabilitate me after (almost) an epic failure at the restaurant, I decided to look for the simplest solution – the wines from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s wines rarely disappoint; they are light on the wallet and don’t require cellaring or decanting to be enjoyed.

Trader Joe’s offers a good selection of Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Choosing the wines was a combination of prior experience and just good-looking labels – Justin makes outstanding wines in Paso Robles; you can’t go wrong with or beat the prices of the Bogle wines);  I had MOONX wines before, and have good memories of them.

Here are the Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Trader Joe’s I offered to my friend to taste (notes are mine, of course):

2018 Paso Dragon Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
sage, blackberries, red and black fruit
Blackberries, herbs, medium body, clean acidity, nice finish with a touch of pepper
7+, a bit too weak for the Cab, but easy to drink wine. Can’t really identify as Cabernet Sauvignon.

2018 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $24.95)
Ruby
A touch of eucalyptus and mint, blackberries; second day – earthy and complex, a hint of gunflint.
A distant hint of cassis and tobacco
Second day: Classic cab is coming through, cassis and mint, clean acidity, crisp tannins.
8/8+, this wine needs at least 5, better yet 10+ years in the cellar to shine.

2018 Boggle Cabernet Sauvignon California (14.5% ABV, $7.99)
Light garnet
Bell peppers, a hint of cassis
Blackberry preserve with tobacco and a touch of coffee. More herbaceous than anything else.
7+, it is a drinkable wine, but might be the least Cabernet of the group.

2019 Moonx Cabernet Sauvignon California (13% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
A touch of cassis, berries compote, a hint of bell pepper
Lodi fruit presentation, a hint of cinnamon, warm spices, sweet tobacco, berries preserve, a touch of fresh tannins, medium finish.
8-, easy to drink, good balance, pleasant, great QPR.

My friend’s favorite on the first day was Paso Dragon. MOONX was a favorite on the second day. She declared Justin “not bad” on the second day. And she was unmoved by Bogle on either day.

From my point of view, only Justin was worthy of Cabernet Sauvignon designation – give it time, and it will be a spectacular one. MOONX was very good too, but it didn’t necessarily scream Cabernet Sauvignon. We need to remember though that my friend’s love and desire for Cabernet is simply based on the good prior experience with the wine named Cabernet Sauvignon, but was that a classic Cab nobody would ever know.

There you go, my friends. Let’s go on the quest to find the best, varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly drinkable upon release, at a price that leaves 401k intact. Ready to offer recommendations? Be my guest…

Daily Glass: The More I Drink, The Less I Understand?

February 20, 2019 4 comments

Wine is an enigma.

But you already know that.

The wine had been a serious object of obsession for more than 20 years for me. I went through multiple education programs. Read an uncounted number of wine books and articles. Most importantly, drunk a lot of wine – from the bottles, from the barrels, the juice of freshly harvested grapes and the juice which only had been fermented for a few days. Two days old wine and 80 years old wine. I taste roughly thousands of wines every year (with the help of trade tastings). Yes, the wine is an object of obsession. And yet, I would never say that I figured it out, that I fully understand it.

Wine is an enigma.

Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria AustraliaThe curse of wine is rather simple – until the cork is pulled (or unscrewed), you don’t know what to expect. A lot of wine bottles look ultimately attractive outside – bottle’s shape and weight play an important role, and then you got the label which, when properly done, is an ultimate seduction device. But once the cork is out, it is only the content that matters – and here we learn that not all the beauty from outside can be found on the inside. The worst part? Until the first sip, we have no way of knowing what we will find, even if we tasted and loved the wine before! Sadly, this is a classic case of any investment prospectus disclaimer – “past performance is no guarantee of the future results”. It is quite possible that you tasted and loved the wine before – nevertheless, every new bottle is a perfect screw up (or a beautiful surprise) opportunity. The wine is an enigma.

Back in 2014, I tasted 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia (13% ABV, $14.99) and was blown away by the beautiful purity of that Shiraz. The wine had a clean, herbs-driven profile full of freshly ground pepper – you really had to taste it to believe it. I was so impressed with that wine that it became wine #4 on my Top Dozen list in 2014. I got 6 bottles or so (at $14.99, a great QPR) and was slowly enjoying it over the years. But not always. I remember trying to impress a friend with this wine when I found it available in a restaurant in Florida by the glass. That simply did not work – the wine was flabby and mostly insipid. Then I had opened a bottle last year, only to be able to say “what just happened???”. The wine had just some single note fruit, no pepper, limited acidity, and in a word, was not fun. I was further put down with this wine last year after tasting the current vintage release at the trade tasting – that wine was insipid, cherry cough medicine style.

When I pulled my last bottle from the shelf a few days ago, the thought was – yeah, whatever, let’s just free up some space. Unscrew, pour, sip – oh, my, everything was back as when I fell in love with this wine – fresh pepper, sage, rosemary, intensely herbal with tasteful addition of ripe black plum – as wow wine as it can be. Don’t ask me for explanations or theories – as I said, the more I drink, the less I understand.

Wine is an enigma.

Tallulah Cabernet Sauvignon

The second story is less unusual, but still in line with what we are talking about here. I got the 2009 Tallulah MD1 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $75) after reading the skillfully crafted sales pitch by the folks at Benchmark Wine Company. What’s not to like there? Excellent winemaker, Mike Drash; beautiful label, great story of naming the wine after winemaker’s daughter, and maybe most importantly, the cult grape from the cult region – Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The first experience with the wine was at the “ohh” level – tight, closed, by all means not ready. The next time I had the same wine was back in 2014, it fared better – I gave it 8- rating, but mostly for the potential, not so much for the actual pleasure delivered by the wine back then.

Looking for the wine to drink last Saturday with the steak (looking for the wine is a physical process of moving the shelves of the wine fridges in and out – I don’t have any record-keeping in place), I saw the bottle top with the characteristic “T” on it. Similar to the wine we discussed before, the thought was “well, why not – I need to free some space anyway”. The first sip solicited an instant “oh, wow” – a Cabernet perfection in the glass, vibrant cassis, eucalyptus, touch of cherries, sweet oak, perfect mid-palate weight, clean acidity, impeccable balance – the wine Napa Valley is so famous for was right there – in my glass.

While working on this post I looked for my previous notes on this wine, and I only found a short reference in the post about “Month in wines”, written precisely 5 years ago, in February of 2014. To my big surprise, in that post, I found the following line: “…definitely needed more time, let’s say, at least 5 years…” – the fact that I randomly pulled this MD1 bottle exactly 5 years after and the wine evolved beautifully – well, I guess, this is just a happenstance…

Wine is an enigma.

But that what makes it an ultimate fun.

Trader Joe’s Wines – Values and More Values

April 28, 2018 8 comments

The wine aisles of Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite places to visit when I travel. Where I live, in Connecticut, Trader Joe’s stores are only allowed to sell beer. Trader Joe’s stores are known for their great selection and great prices, and that is true for everything Trader Joe’s sells – including the wine. Thus any Trader Joe’s store which sells wine is an opportunity to visit a toy store for adults, which I definitely can’t miss.

This time around I ventured into the Trader Joe’s in Costa Mesa in California. Usually, the “wine” selection in Trader Joe’s in California goes way beyond just wine – scotch, bourbon, tequila, cognac, and more. At the store in Costa Mesa I was particularly impressed with Mezcal selection – would love to bring some home, but you know how business travel is nowadays – does the bottle worth a trouble of checking in the luggage?

So yes, wine it is. When buying wine at Trader Joe’s during my business trips, I always approach it in a simple way – I’m looking for value. Here is $20, let’s get as many bottles as possible with the $20, and let’s see how they will fare. Truth be told, I rarely manage to stay under $20, but still, I make an effort to be as close as possible to that $20 budget (before taxes, of course).

How does $23.45 sound next to the $20 budget? In absolute terms – I’m over the budget by 17%. In relative terms, 5 bottles of wine for $23.45? If the wine even half drinkable, it is not a bad deal, would you agree? I think so. Oh yes, and I also cheated a bit. Don’t worry, I didn’t cheat anyone in particular, it is this story which has a few flaws, so please allow me to explain.

First, I saw an attractive bottle, unusual shape, attractive label, $9.99, the wine called “Susumaniello” from Puglia – something I never saw before. I was planning to visit my close friends later that day, so I thought that this bottle looked good enough to bring with me (wanna call me a cheap bustard? please, be my guest). But -Trader Joe’s was having a little tasting (they always do for food – I guess they also do it for wine where the wine is sold – for sure in California) – and this exact bottle of wine was offered for tasting. So I did have a sip of 2016 Ruggero di Bardo Susumaniello Puglia IGP ($9.99) – it had a medium body, restrained profile with mostly cherry notes on the palate. To my delight, it appeared that behind the cool label was also a new rare, indigenous grape I never had before – Susumaniello, a nice addition to the collection (I really need to iupdate my “grape counter” on the page).

The wine was good, but I already tasted it, so I needed a different idea for the wine to bring to dinner, so I settled for 2012 Château Roudier Montague-Saint-Emilion (13% ABV, $12.99), which happened to be a classic Bordeaux – well, maybe not so classic but more of modern variation – warm fruit and spices on the nose, black currant on the palate, soft tannins, round, velvety – an excellent Bordeaux for the price. It also paired very well with Korean short ribs (Bulgogi) we had for dinner. Drinkability: 7+/8-, very good overall.

From here on, here are my tasting notes for the five wines I was able to play with over the next few days – these are the wines I paid $23.45 for.

2016 Joseph Händler Riesling Pfalz (9.5% ABV, $4.99) – straw pale color. Nose at first muted, literally nonexistent, then opening up into white flowers, touch of honey and candied peach. Clean acidity, lemon, candied lemon, crisp, good minerality, not over the top. Drinkability: 8-, and incredible value at $4.99. Just wow. I know Rieslings can be inexpensive, but this is a whole lot of German Riesling for the price.

Simpler Wines Too Uncanny Red Wine Blend Australia (13.8% ABV, $2.99/375 ml can) – this wine had no vintage indication, so I guess we should consider it to be a non-vintage. Dark ruby color. Fresh fruity nose, young berries, then herbaceous undertones show up. Very good acidity on the palate, blackberries, cherries, mint, surprisingly balanced and very easy to drink. A bit of an alcohol burn, but still wow. 7+/8-, yet another excellent value. Nicely drinkable on the second day from the open can.

2016 Union Wine Co Underwood Pinot Noir Oregon (13% ABV, $4.99) – as you can see in the picture, the only place where I found a year specified was on the bottom of the can. Is that really vintage indication? I have no idea, but I will consider it to be so.
Ruby color. Mushrooms and smoke on the nose, touch of cherries. Sweet cherries on the palate, nice minerality, good acidity, medium body, good balance, touch of tart raspberries, hint of black pepper. Very nice overall. Drinkability: 8-, impressive.

2016 Nero Marone Edizione Privata Italy (14% ABV, $6.99) dark ruby color. Restrained nose, herbal, not much fruit. A hint of raspberries, tart cherries on the palate, minerality, medium body, good acidity. Interesting, not bad but a bit underwhelming in the amount of fruit. Drinkability: 7+, might be more of a food wine.

2017 Viñas Chileans Rosario Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Valle Central Chile (13% ABV, $3.49) – a classic Chilean cab, a touch of green bell pepper, soft blueberries and blackberries, medium body, easy to drink from the get-go. Nicely paired with grilled snapper. Drinkability: 7+, truly lots of wine for the money.

Here you are, my friends – another successful encounter with the Trader Joe’s wines. The Riesling was my favorite, but really, all the wines were good and an amazing value. What are your latest value wines discoveries? Can you beat the Pfalz Riesling at $4.99? Cheers!

 

Usual Grapes, Unusual Places – The Oenophile Games

December 17, 2017 5 comments

I love blind tastings. I’m talking about totally non-intimidating blind tasting, done in the relaxed atmosphere, where the goal is only to have fun – in other words, not when it is part of the test. The blind tasting as part of the test is really not fun – as Kirsten the Armchair Sommelier eloquently put it in a tweet “Nothing intimidates quite like a brown paper bag!!” – as a WSET diploma candidate, I’m sure she knows what she is talking about first hand.

So I’m talking about fun blind tasting here. Blind tasting removes all sources of bias, as only minimal information is available about the wine you are about to taste, depending on the theme of the tasting, and you can’t be influenced by the pretty label, by the big name or by the well-known place (ahh, this is the wine from Napa, it is definitely better than this one from New Jersey, right?). You are one on one with the liquid in the wine glass, and your only goal is to decide whether you like the wine or not and whether you like it more than the one you had before, or if you still like it more than the one which you had after. Of course, you can make things a lot more interesting by trying to guess the grape, the origin, the vintage and whatever else you would desire, but the beauty of the informal blind tasting is that you free to do as much or as little as you want.

The best accompaniments for the wine are good food and a good company. We started wine dinners with the blind tastings with friends more than 7 years ago. Our first blind tasting was about Pinot Noir, then we had one about Sparkling wines (the thought of this one still gives me shivers as it was utterly confusing), also Chardonnay, Mourvedre, Barolo and many, many others. We decide on the theme, set the rules (how many bottles, price limits or not, what wines can be considered, what wines will not fit and so on). The bottles are put in the brown bags, the numbers are randomly assigned to the bags, the wines are poured and off we go. We usually try to figure out group’s favorite, which sometimes easy, and sometimes it is not. The results are always most unexpected, and everybody gets a chance to say “I can’t believe it”.

The theme for this tasting was “usual grapes, unusual places“. Today, the mainstream grapes are totally international. Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in Bordeaux, in Napa Valley, in New York, in Argentina, Virginia, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Czech Republic and other hundreds of places. Same is true about Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Grenache – and even Tempranillo and Sangiovese are not an exception. Now the question is – can we still recognize Cabernet Sauvignon from Uruguay as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir from the Czech Republic as Pinot Noir?

To play the game, the group of 10 wines was assembled. I couldn’t make up my mind on what to bring literally until the day before the tasting – kept changing my preferences. Nevertheless, we got together, the table was set and the wines were poured. As everybody was set on bringing the red wines, I decided to make things more interesting and brought two of the white wines to start the tasting with. Here are my notes and guesses on the 10 wines we tasted (obviously I knew what I’m tasting in the first two whites):

Wine 1 – beautiful nose, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, restrained palate, green, touch of pepper, contrast with the nose, interesting

Wine 2 – beautiful nose, plump, velvety, beautifully soft, silky smooth, outstanding, vanilla, delicious.

Wine 3 – typical Bordeaux blend on the nose. Tremendous salinity on the palate. Then acidity. Bordeaux blend from NJ. After 30 minutes – Barbera?

Wine 4 – Grenache nose, smoke and tobacco on the palate. My guess is Rhone varietal, but most likely Grenache

Wine 5 – Rutherford dust on the nose, touch of black currant, chipotle on the palate, herbal, unusual, very nice. Bordeaux varietal. Going for Carmenere.

Wine 6 – beautiful nose, Bordeaux-style, lots of smoke on the nose. Somewhat sweet on the palate. Core Bordeaux? or Syrah blend? Cab Franc dominant blend.

Wine 7 – smoke, dark fruit, beautiful tannins, cherries, beautiful. Bordeaux blend? Somewhat of extreme tannins.

Wine 8 – muted nose, mint, anise, Rutherford dust. Good acidity, soft, round. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 9 – fresh, open, clean vanilla, dark fruit, excellent. Bordeaux varietal?

Wine 10 – beautiful nose, but a bit astringent. Interesting. Bordeaux varietal?

Before the wines can be revealed, we had to figure out group’s favorite. Everybody was allowed to vote for one of the two white wines, and then two votes for the favorites among 8 reds. Here are our votes (out of 8 people):

Wine 1 – 4
Wine 2 – 4
Wine 3 – 2
Wine 4 – 0
Wine 5 – 0
Wine 6 – 6
Wine 7 – 5
Wine 8 – 2
Wine 9 – 0
Wine 10 – 1

As you can tell, both whites fared equally well with the group clearly splitting the decision. Also for the reds, there was a clear winner and a clear runner-up, with the rest of the wines not faring that well – wine number 6 was preferred by the most, and wine number 7 was the second favorite. Now, the most anticipated part of the blind tasting – the reveal:

Wine 1: 2016 Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca Suisun Valley, CA (12.6% ABV)
Wine 2: 2007 Krupp Brothers Black Bart Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley (14% ABV)
Wine 3: 2004 Bodegas Carrau Vilasar Nebbiolo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, 100% Nebbiolo)
Wine 4: 2014 Chateau Famaey Malbec Cahors AOC (12.5% ABV, 100% Malbec)
Wine 5: Changyu Cabernet Sauvignon China (Cabernet Sauvignon?)
Wine 6: 2012 Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste New Mexico (13.5% ABV, 50% Barbera, 50% Merlot)
Wine 7: 2014 McManis Barbera Jamie Lynn Vineyard California (13.5% ABV, 100% Barbera)
Wine 8: 2015 Cantele Primitivo Salento IGT (13.5% ABV, 100% Primitivo)
Wine 9: 2014 Macedon Pinot Noir Macedonia (13.5% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir)
Wine 10: 2014 Agnus Merlot Serra Gaúcha Brazil (14% ABV, 100% Merlot)

Let’s look at these results. First, let me talk about the wines I contributed for the tasting. For the whites, they were both excellent – I got this Onward Petillant Naturel Malvasia Blanca from Jeff The Drunken Cyclist as part of our Secret Santa fun, and the wine was delicious. The second white, Krupp Brothers Marsanne was a rare closeout score a few years back. Sadly, it was my last bottle, but the wine needs to be drunk, so I’m glad I had it in a good company – I consider that to be one of the best California white wines, for sure for my palate. Now, the red which I brought was another story – it was the Changyu from China, for which I terrorized my Chinese-speaking friend trying to ensure that it was Cabernet Sauvignon and trying to figure out the vintage or ABV (fail). Well, the worst part was that many people not just disliked it, they literally hated it – and I had other reds from Changyu while in China with much higher success. Oh well.

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The winning wine Caduceus La Corgtigiane Oneste was made out of the New Mexico grapes by the winery located in Arizona, with one of the grapes being Barbera – talk about rare and unusual. McManis Barbera, second favorite, was also quite unexpected – but looking at my notes and having tasted few of the California Barbera wines, I made a wrong guess with somewhat right descriptors. As you can tell, almost everything tasted to me like a Bordeaux blend – clearly, I don’t do well in the blind tastings, but one way or the other, this was lots of fun! And just think of the range of wines we tasted – Malvasia Blanca, Marsanne and Barbera from California, Nebbiolo from Uruguay, Merlot from Brazil, Pinot Noir from Macedonia, Cabernet Sauvignon from China, Merlot and Barbera from New Mexico – wow. The Malbec and Primitivo didn’t really belong on one side – but then on another side they kind of fit the bill too as Malbec from France is literally unknown to the wine consumers, and Primitivo is pretty much in the same boat, for sure in the USA. All in all, we clearly accomplished our goal of tasting usual grapes from unusual places.

Then, of course, there was food – lots and lots of delicious food, which everybody contributed to – I will just give you a quick overview in pictures, and that really only a fraction of what we had (at some point you get tired of constantly taking pictures of food…

We also drunk more wine, and this one was a standout. An unassuming California blend from Marietta in Sonoma – NV Marietta California Old Vine Red Lot Number Twenty. This is non-vintage, field blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Gamay, now, wait for it … which should be about 40 years old??? Current wine is called Lot Number 66, so if this was the Lot number 20, then we are simply making an assumption here… The wine was delicious – yes, it was mature, so showed the layer of delicious dried fruit and ripe plums – but it still had a perfect amount of acidity for everyone to say “wow”. I plan to write to the winery, so hopefully will be able to figure out the age of this wine, but this was clearly another amazing example of California wines which can age – and patience well rewarded.

Great fun and great learning experience, hands down. For anyone who is into the wine, the blind tasting is an endless source of enjoyment. If you love wine and never participated in the blind tasting, you really should fix it – get your friends together and have fun! If you need any “logistical support”, please reach out – will be very happy to help.

Ahh, and by the way, there is something even more intimidating than a paper bag – a black glass. But then your friends may start hating you, so tread gently. Have fun, my friends. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: Monday Night Escapades

October 17, 2017 3 comments

Is there a special wine fitting every day of the week? I would guess that for many, Friday and Saturday are considered special nights, as it’s the weekend, and people think of drinking something better (higher end). Sunday is still the weekend, so the higher calling might still be in order.

But what about Monday? Does your choice of wine for Monday depend on your general outlook on life? “I love Mondays” … said not that many people, but isn’t it great that it is the first day of the week and we have the whole new week ahead of us, with lots of things to do, places to visit and people to meet? I guess one’s personal take on Mondays does depend on one’s take on life, so I will leave it for you to ponder at and if you have any words of wisdom to share, please do so after the beep  … err in the comments section below.

I have two wine-related experiences from Monday which I want to share. First, I finally got to open the Field Recording’s Can Club shipment. What’s a big deal, you ask?

Field Recordings is one of the most innovative wineries I know. Small winery in Paso Robles, California, a brainchild of Andrew Jones, a vigneron, who started his career as a grape grower, first and foremost. Ever since I tried his Fiction Red, I became a passionate fan and I’m religiously following everything Filed Recordings does.

A few years ago, Field Recordings started experimenting with the wine in the can. Going beyond just the wine in the can, they also finishing their wines with the beer hops which creates truly a different experience. As soon as the “Can Club” was opened, I joined it. The wines were always good, but the shipments themselves went through a number of changes in the format, and pretty much every shipment had some little (and different) issues associated with them. Until now.

Once I opened the box, my very first reaction was “wow”. In my humble opinion, Field Recordings, under their Alloy Works brand, achieved perfection in the packaging of the canned wine. Simple, elegant, sturdy, economical, easy to handle – unpacking this shipment was absolutely a delightful experience. Ask any oenophile, the first thing which gets everyone excited is the opening of those boxes. With this delivery, Field Recordings Can Club achieved shipping nirvana – I hope they will continue it moving forward.

I can’t tell you much about the wines, as they needed to get chilled and went straight into the fridge;  I can only mention that this shipment included 2 cans each of Weissland, sparkling dry hopped Chardonnay; Martian Galaxy – a dry-hopped, sparkling rose, a blend of Gamay and Mourvedre Martian Vineyard in Los Alamos; and Sangria, a blend of freshest, cold-pressed juice cocktail of cranberry, blood orange and lemon from Yes Cocktail Company mixed with Zinfandel from Old Potrero Vineyard. I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited to try these wines – and will report on the experience afterward.

2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa ValleyNow, let’s talk about that Monday night wine. Outside of special events, I never know in advance what am I going to open. Deciding on the bottle of wine is somewhat of a frustrating experience (first world problems, I know). Numerous bottles get touched and looked at, then rejected for a myriad of reasons. Finally, one is pulled out – usually for no other reason than “oh well, maybe this will do”. This time around the bottle happened to be Turley Cabernet Sauvignon called The Label.

Turley is not known as the Cabernet Sauvignon powerhouse – it is a coveted and well sought-after Zinfandel producer for the most. A few years ago, Turley finally got into the Cabernet Sauvignon wines and produced the wine which was called “The Label” – named after the words of Larry Turley, the proprietor at Turley Winery, who always said that Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers simply “drink the label”.

I  don’t know if this should be considered funny or strange, but it appears that 2011 Turley The Label already was my choice of Monday wine – almost 4 years ago, in January of 2014 (here is the post). I really loved the wine then, but it evolved much further this time around. From the get-go, this 2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (13.4% ABV) showed a beautiful medley of the succulent berries, both on the nose and the palate – blackberries, blueberries, and black currant, tastefully accompanied by mint and eucalyptus and supported by clean acidity (Drinkability: 9-). It was reminiscent of a perfect Turley Zinfandel, fresh and playful – with a character of its own. Last time I said I want to taste this wine in 10 years. After almost four we are going in the right direction – I should have one more bottle somewhere so I will have to be careful to avoid any Monday blues prompts to open this wine until its due time.

What is your perfect Monday wine? Cheers!

Precision of Flavors – Tasting the Wines of Achaval-Ferrer

March 26, 2017 4 comments

Achaval Ferrer CorkDrinking wine is a pleasure – for sure it should be, and if you don’t feel like it, maybe you shouldn’t drink it at all. At the same time, there are multiple ways to look at one and the same thing.

A pleasure of drinking of the glass of wine may be just as it sounds, very simple  – take a sip of the liquid in the glass, say “ahh, it tastes good”, and continue to the next sip or with the conversation, whatever entices you the most at the moment.

Then there are many of us, wine lovers, who, professionally or unprofessionally, can’t stop just at that. Yes, we take pleasure in every sip, but then we need to dig in. We feel compelled to put on the Sherlock Holmes hat and play the wine sleuth, figuring out exactly what we are tasting in that very sip. What was that flavor? Was that a raspberry? Hmmm, maybe not. And that whiff of something? It is so familiar! Why can’t I put a name on it? Grrrr.

Everyone who engaged in that wine tasting exercise I’m sure can relate to what I’m saying. But every once in a while, we do get a break, when the flavor simply jumps at you, pristine and obvious. And the best twist here is when the flavor is matching to what is expected to find in the wine, like fresh cut grass in Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Cabernet Sauvignon, or pepper in Syrah – don’t we love those pure and precise flavors?

Achaval-Ferrer winery is only about 20 years old, built on the passion and vision of a group of friends in Mendoza, Argentina. In those 20 years, Achaval-Ferrer accomplishments are nothing short of enviable. Achaval-Ferrer wines earned multiple Decanter magazine 5-star ratings (the highest). There are 29 wines from Argentina rated as “Classic” by Wine Spectator (95-100 ratings) – 13 out of those 29 wines are Achaval-Ferrer wines; the flagship Malbec Finca Altamira consistently getting 96 points rating year after year.

In addition to passion, vision, hard work and perseverance, the success foundation of Achaval-Ferrer is its high altitude vineyards, located from 700 to 1100 meters above sea level (2,300 – 3,600 ft). Three out of four main vineyards of Achaval-Ferrer are also about 100 years old, and boast pre-phylloxera vines, as Phylloxera simply can’t survive in those high mountains conditions. Now all left to do is to take the beautiful fruit those vineyards produce and make it into equally beautiful wines – the Achaval-Ferrer does it quite successfully.

Here is what triggered my “precision of flavors”  opening. I had an opportunity to taste a sample of Achaval-Ferrer wines recently, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. While Malbec was a very good wine, but clearly needed time to mature, Cabernet Sauvignon was stunning, with flavors and aromas just jumping at your right away from the glass, with easy to relate to, textbook-correct cassis – also intensifying its purity with the time. This was a perfect example of why Argentinian wines are so popular and deserving of all your attention. And at a price of $24.99, the Cabernet Sauvignon offer an outstanding QPR, easily beating many classic Napa Cabs which would also cost you at least three times as much.

Here are my detailed notes:

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: very intense, dark roasted fruit, cassis. The roasted fruit intensity diminishes as the wine breathes.
P: beautiful cassis, clean acidity, soft tannins, lots of layers. As the wine breathes, the tannins show better and more pronounced. Pure clean black currant after a day.
V: 8+, outstanding, wow. Will evolve.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Argentina (14.5% ABV, $24.99, 100% Malbec)
C: practically black
N: roasted meat, smoke, tar, intense, baking spices
P: dark fruit, bright acidity, mint, alcohol burn in the back?, succulent, lavender, spicy. Blueberries showed up on the second day.
V: 8,  needs time, but perfectly delicious on the second day.

Here you are, my friends. Achaval-Ferrer definitely makes wines worthy of oenophile’s attention – and the QPR makes these wines worth seeking. Cheers!

 

Daily Glass: The Wine That Begs The Eternal Question

January 8, 2015 6 comments

Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon McMahon VineyardEternal question, you say? Which one of them? Wine is a well known suitor of the Eternal, so yeah, a few questions are lurking for a while…

The one I’m talking about is akin “chicken and egg” case, with a spin. Is the wine made in the vineyard or at the winery? Is it winemaker or the grape? Well, rest assured – I’m not trying to jump on this subject just for the sake of conversation. It just happened that the wine I opened yesterday made me ponder at that exact question.

What wine? 2012 Field Recordings Cabernet Sauvignon McMahon Vineyard Paso Robles (14.9% ABV, $29, 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Tempranillo, 16 month in 89% new French oak, 11% new American oak). What made me to think of the terroir versus winemaker? The aromatics. The wine had not a glimpse of Cabernet Sauvignon characteristic aromas – no cassis, no bell peppers, no eucalyptus. But on the nose there were plenty of spices. There was a hint of a forest floor, mushrooms, a touch of barnyard. There was also a smoke, and plenty of it. There was pepper. And there was tar and pencil shavings. So, what do you say – was that a winemaker talking, or the vineyard?

The palate, unfortunately, didn’t fully support the excitement. There was lots happening (still no cassis or anything else reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon), but there was lots of fruit, and vibrant acidity. At times, the wine was borderline jammy, only to be cleansed with the subsequent punch of acidity. I was looking for more balance, and it didn’t happen. Drinkability: 7

So in the end, I got no answers and more questions. Was that a bad wine? I don’t think so, as aromatics brought in lots of pleasure, and it was thought provoking on the palate. Did I open this wine too early? Yep, I’m quite convinced I did. Was that wine made in the vineyard or in the winery? I have no idea, so yes, the floor is yours… Cheers!

Top Twelve of 2014

December 31, 2014 11 comments
1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir

1966 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir

And here we are – Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen of [most memorable] wines from 2014. I already presented to you the second half of the top list (here is the link), together with all the explanations regarding rationale and all the dos and don’ts, so instead of repeating myself, let me jump directly to the wines. If you still need explanations, use the link above.

12. 2005 Domaine Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin La Chamade Ploussard, Jura, France ($50) – To a degree, this wine was representative of a great Jura tasting I attended. As most of Jura reds, it had an impression of lightness masking a great level of complexity – fruit, herbs, minerality, sapidity – a very impressive package. It is not easy to find, but worth looking for.

11. NV Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur ($32) – one of my very favorite Champagnes. It has everything I want in the Champagne – yeastiness, toasted bread, apples, clean and vibrant acidity – with all the elements coming in the “just enough” amount. A perfect Champagne sip every time – try it for yourself.

10. 2012 Centanni Rosso Di Forca Rosso Piceno DOP, Italy ($19) – I was familiar with the wines of Marche region in Italy for a while – but my preference was always with the Marche whites – until I tasted this wine. Luscious, layered, with impeccable aromatics and complexity – delizioso!

9. 2010 Marco Sambin Marcus Veneto IGT ($NA) – A soulful wine – is that a good enough description?

8. 2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($125) – Stunning California Cabernet Sauvignon – restrained and tightly weaved, as you would expect from the mountain – side fruit, and then balance, balance, balance.

7. NV Foggy Ridge Serious Cider, Virginia ($16) – discoveries, discoveries, discoveries – 2014 was anything but short on those. Who knew that cider (just think about the word – somehow, the mental picture doesn’t equate to “greatness”) can be so amazing? Phenomenal acidity, coupled with such a firm structure and effervescent lightness that you say “wow” and pour yourself another glass. Seek hard cider, people, as it has greatness!

6. 2012 Mark Ryan The Dissident Columbia Valley ($34) – yet another wine chosen to represent a great discovery of 2014 – wines of Washington state. This wine was a quintessential representation of Cabernet Sauvignon blends I tasted during the visit, with a pure cassis expression and impeccable balance. Yes, I’m abusing the “balance” descriptor, nevertheless – a beautiful wine.

5. 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling, Somló, Hungary ($25) – yet another discovery: there is lots more to the Hungarian wines than Tokaji and Egri Bikavér (red wine also called Bull’s Blood). It appears that Hungary has lots of volcanic soils, and the winemakers there can bring it on (yep, the famed “terroir”) to the forefront of your glass. This wine was complex, mineral driven with the pure gunflint notes, and simply delicious.

4. 2011 Michel Chapoutier Tournon Mathilda Shiraz Victoria, Australia ($14.99) – you could see my raving mentions of this wine in a many posts throughout the year. Sorry, but I can’t help it – this wine is so unique and different, with such a purity of the peppery expression of Syrah – you can’t help it but to say “wow” with every sip.

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3. 2012 Willis Hall Viognier Columbia Valley ($22.99) – may be the best Viognier I ever had. If not The Best (this is a very hard nomenclature when it comes to wines), but definitely one of the very best. Perfumy nose and elegant, silky smooth body. Simply delicious.

2. 2007 Pago Marqués de Griñon Emeritus, DO Dominio de Valdepusa ($75) – until I tasted this wine, yes, I knew that Spain produces good wines from the international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. But at such level? This wine was a true revelation – classic Cabernet Sauvignon with cassis, mint, eucalyptus and finesse.

1. 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir ($NA) – I had no expectations when I opened the bottle of the 48 (!) years old wine. To be more precise, I was not expecting anything good. What I found in my glass was simply mind blowing – still fresh, still elegant, perfectly recognizable as Pinot Noir and delicious! This was the first wine ever to receive a 10 rating from me – I hope it tells you something.

And we are done here, my friends – the last post of 2014! I wish you happy, healthy, joyous and peaceful 2015, full of amazing discoveries!

Happy New Year 2015!

Woodinville Wineries: Elevation Cellars

October 16, 2014 12 comments

Elevation CellarsThis is the continuation of the posts about Woodinville wineries – the first part can be found here.

As I walked out of the car, literally the very first winery sign I saw was for the Elevation Cellars. The name sounded appealing, so it was an easy decision – looks like a perfect spot to begin the tastings.

Inside the space looked very much like an upscale large garage with the nice wooden door, but with the addition of shiny stainless steel tanks, as well as some oak barrels. I asked if I can taste the wines (of course – what kind of question is that if the tasting room sign says “Open”, right?), and also explained that I’m a wine blogger, which was taken somewhat matter-o-factly – but very friendly in any case.

We started tasting from 2013 Elevation Cellars Imperium Riesling Lawrence Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA. The Riesling had a very interesting profile with a touch of sweetness and some interesting minerality – it was actually resembling the Washington Riesling I didn’t appreciate during the pro tasting at WBC14 – however, the Elevation Cellars Riesling had an overall round and balanced profile with pleasant tartness in the finish, so overall I liked it quite a bit. Drinkability : 7+

Next I had the 2010 Elevation Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA – this wine was almost a perfection in the glass, with clean and classic cassis aroma on the nose. On the palate, the wine was restrained, fresh acidity and medium to full body (lighter than most of the California Cabs would be), overall very round. Definitely an excellent wine for all occasions. Drinkability: 8

Our next wine was a perfect Bordeaux blend with the cool label – 2011 Elevation Cellars Jammin’ Red Blend Red Mountain and Columbia Valley AVA. I can’t describe it any better than to say “perfect Bordeaux blend” again – and in need of time. Cassis, touch of green bell pepper, very noticeable tannins in front of the mouth. Delicious and drinkable now, but it will definitely evolve further. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Elevation Cellars Merlot Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA was exactly what you should expect from Washington Merlot – it was bigger than the Washington Cabernet Sauvignon. Coffee and espresso notes, powerful tannins, great depth and again, the need of time. Give this wine 5-6 years, and you will not be able to put your glass down. Drinkability: 8-

I would think you would agree that the tasting looked quite good already, but we continued with more treats.

2009 Elevation Cellars Monolith Bordeaux Blend Hedges Vineyard Red Mountain AVA – absolutely delicious. Again, a clean nose of cassis, concentrated red and black fruit, chewy tannins, round and powerful. I learned that 2009 was an excellent year in Washington, and this wine was pretty much an exemplary rendition of the vintage. We also had an opportunity to drink this wine in the restaurant at dinner other night, and it was an absolute favorite of everyone. Drinkability: 8+

Before I will tell you about the last wine, I have to mention my main treat of the visit – a conversation with Steve Stuart, the winemaker and the owner of Elevation Cellars. At he time of my visit, Steve was working at the winery – there were  some issues in the morning with some of the equipment breaking up and subsequent need of cleanup – but he was asked to talk to me, the blogger, so I felt like a real VIP : ). You can read the full story on the Elevation Cellars web site, but to give you a quick round up, Steve is an engineer, and he still works as an engineer during the week, and spending his weekends at the winery, following his passion. I didn’t want to take up too much of his already busy day, so I only asked Steve if he is using natural or cultured yeast for the fermentation, and he gave me an interesting answer (which makes a lot of sense). As an engineer, he likes to be able to control things, so he uses the cultured yeast. But it is not the need of control for the need of control itself – as a small winery, he really can’t afford for the fermentation to fail. When he is using the cultured yeast, he is certain that fermentation will start and finish. We also talked about few other things, but this was my most memorable takeaway. Then I asked if I can take his picture, and Steve agreed, albeit with some degree of resistance :).

Steve Stuart, winemaker and owner at Elevation Cellars

Steve Stuart, winemaker and owner at Elevation Cellars

The wine which Steve has in his hand, which we enjoyed drinking together, was truly a special treat – 2010 Elevation Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA. Steve found out that one of the barrels of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was showing substantially better than the others – that barrel was bottled separately to become the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. My notes for this wine are very simple – wow! It was very much similar to the standard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – only with all the taste elements greatly amplified. Cassis, structure, balance – simply a wow wine. Drinkability: 8+

This sums up my first experience with the Woodinville winery – more posts will follow. Cheers!

 

 

 

Sharing the Pleasure – Two Cabernets for the #CabernetDay

August 28, 2014 9 comments

Yes, it is a #CabernetDay, and a post about Cabernet wines should be rather appropriate – but somehow, I was on the fence about it, until the AME opened up a little bit… When the wine give you lots of pleasure, why not talk about it? Well, this is how I felt anyway.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc make some of the very best wines in the world, both when they fly solo, and when assisted by the other grapes. Myriad of love letters err tasting notes, blog posts and articles had been written to those grapes and wines, and hundreds millions of dollars traded hands for the pleasure of owning and drinking the Cabernet wines. Yes, we love our Cabernet wines (even Miles didn’t dare to poop on them). Thus I will not inundate you with another ten (or fifty) interesting facts, and instead will simply share the pleasure I had drinking the wines.

The greatness of the #GrapeDay is in the fact that it helps to select the bottle to be open. It also makes it appropriate to break a special bottle, and so I did.

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

The first bottle opened was 2009 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley. What makes it special? I had only one bottle, and read some rave reviews advocating giving this wine some time – thus I was waiting for the “special occasion” (thank you #CabernetDay).

I don’t know how this works, but when I think about the wines in the terms of how I would describe them, I get some random analogies at random times. This time my brain decided to go with the athletes analogy. To give you an idea of how this wine tasted, imagine a runner, may be a sprinter – perfectly built slender body, perfectly visible muscles, everything is tightly wound and ready to spring at any moment. A perfectly looking, but minimalist body. That was the impression of this wine – restrained cassis notes, espresso, earth, plums, clean acidity, firm and perfectly structured – a great package all around. (Drinkability:8)

Neyers AME Cabernet Sauvignon

The second wine was 2005 Neyers Vineyards AME Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. What makes it special? I love Neyers wines – their 2003 Cabernet was spectacular, for instance. And I had only two bottles of the AME (I rarely buy wines by the case, so having only two bottles is rather common). I would say that this wine was special even for the Neyers – the AME constitutes first initials of the names of their 3 children – Alexandra, Michael and Elizabeth.

Going to the sports analogy, imagine the same perfectly built athlete, but make all the muscles at least 3 times bigger – still perfect body, no fat, just muscles, but much bigger frame and much bigger muscles. We are not getting to the bodybuilder sizes, but this might be Stallone rather than Schwarzenegger – I hope you got my point.

Delicious open nose of dark fruit, cassis, loads of cassis, eucalyptus, earth. On the palate – so many things happening – cassis, plums, earth, pencil shavings, dark chocolate and espresso combined, clean acidity, perfect balance, firm structure and powerful tannins – a wow wine. (Drinkability:9).

There you have it, my friends – two great wines in honor of #CabernetDay. What is in your glass? Cheers!

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