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What To Drink On Valentine’s Day

February 12, 2015 18 comments

BollingerI generally avoid holiday-related wine posts, and I do it for a number of reasons. First of all, every information source on the planet considers it to be their duty to produce some piece of writing with wine recommendations. And then for someone who drinks wine all the time, the holidays are not so much of a special occasion to have a reason to open a bottle of wine. Oh well – somehow I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the wines for the Valentine’s Day, hence this post…

Pink. Red. Extreme. Commercialized beyond belief, still increasingly so year after year. Heart-shaped to the point of insanity. There are many things which turn people away from the Valentine’s Day, and I can understand that. However, I take this holiday as an extra opportunity to celebrate love and life. All you need to do is to find your way – ignore pink paraphernalia, ignore meaningless cards, ignore conveyer belt – style experience at the restaurants – and celebrate love and romance as a pure meaning of this holiday.

Let’s agree that we will celebrate love and romance in our oenophile’s way, and let’s talk about wine – without wine on the table, celebration is … just another boring dinner, right? By the way, when I said “felt compelled” in the opening of this post, this was not entirely true. I also had a pleasure to be a guest at the Off the Vine Radio Show, talking with Benita and Latisha about … you guessed it – Valentine’s Day wines – thus as you can imagine, I gave some thought to the subject (and then yes, “felt compelled”). In case you have a bit of time, you can listen to that episode here.

What can I tell you about wines for the Valentine’s Day? First of all, if you have a plan already, it doesn’t matter what I have to say. If you have some specific celebratory dish in mind, and have a pairing ready – it doesn’t matter what I have to say. But if you are still thinking how to make this holiday special, then let me share my thoughts with you. But remember – drink what you like. The wine for the Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be pink, and it doesn’t have to be sweet. It has to be something which will give you pleasure – as simple as that.

The wine for the Valentine’s Day should have balance and it should have finesse. While thought provoking is good for the wine, on Valentine’s Day you should focus on romance and not on deciphering the complex flavors. Go after balance, finesse and simplicity. This is why I would never suggest, for instance, the natural wines of Frank Cornelissen or Jean-Pierre Robinot, or the dark magic of Randy Dunn with his Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – those wines will drain you emotionally, and it is a wrong angle for the Valentine’s day. Thus let’s talk about balance and finesse.

First wine I want you to consider is Champagne. As the very least, it can be an Italian Sparkling wine from Franciacorta or Trento, or some of the California sparklers. Prosecco, Cava and many other sparklers are simply not consistent enough, so for the Valentine’s Day, go with classic – remember – balance and finesse. For the Champagne, my choice would be Bollinger, as I think it is one of the finest non-vintage Champagnes, with lots of finesse. Ferrari from Trento and Bellavista from Franciacorta in Italy would definitely my next choice. But – I don’t want to forget California – Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, Schramsberg Rosé, J Cuvée 20 or any of the Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines would live you with a happy smile.

Moving on, let’s talk white wines. As we are looking for the balance and finesse, I have a few recommendations for you – and you might be surprised with these. For this holiday, I want you to step outside of your “usual circle”. My first recommendation is for the white wines of the Rhône valley in France. Yes, Rhône is mostly known for their reds, but the white wines there are equally stunning. For instance, try to find Domaine Saint Préfert Cuvée Speciale – I called this wine once “a symphony in the glass”. But in general, look for the Clairette or Grenache Blanc wines from Southern Rhône, or Marsanne/Roussanne from the North – those wines are often not easy to find, but they will deliver lots of balance, finesse and pleasure. 

Let me give you a few more suggestions – equally difficult to find, but worth looking for. Viognier from Washington is a white wine worthy of celebrating love and romance with. Look for Mark Ryan or Willis Hall – their Viognier is nothing short of stunning. To close on the whites, here are 3 more rare beauties. First, 2 Sauvignon Blanc from … Italy: Gaja Alteni di Brassica and Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia – stunning balance and finesse. And the last one – Ken Forrester The FMC. You can’t go wrong with either one of these wines – go, start looking, you don’t have lots of time.

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Now, we arrived at the red wine junction. Looking for the balance and finesse will dramatically reduce our choices. I would say, let’s go for Pinot Noir. I will limit my recommendations to this one grape only – and here is why. We are looking for the balance and finesse, right? Think about Cabernet Sauvignon from California – what would be the first word or words you would use to describe those wines – probably “big and powerful” – and this is not what I’m looking for suggesting the wines for the Valentine’s Day. Same goes for many Merlot, Syrah and Grenache wines – never mind the Petite Sirah. Even with my beloved Rioja – there are few wines, which will deliver that exact balance and finesse – La Rioja Alta Reserva Especiale would be definitely the one – and I highly recommend it. But for the Rioja – and then for Barolo, Brunello and even Super-Tuscan –  as a general class, the probability of running into “big and powerful” is a lot higher than finding “balance and finesse”.

Talking about Pinot Noir, I wish I would recommend some of the classics to you – yes, the Burgundy – but unfortunately, my exposure to the Burgundy is way too limited, so you will need to ask your trusted wine merchant for the advice. Next up – California and Oregon. For the most of the time, California Pinot Noir will deliver exactly that – balance and finesse. To give you a few names, go look for Siduri, Loring Wine Company, Calera, Drew, Copain, Laetitia – but there are many others and it is hard to go wrong with California Pinot Noir. Oregon would be also a perfect choice – look for Adelsheim, Chehalem, Antica Terra, Evening Land – finesse is a middle name for the Oregon Pinot, so you will not be disappointed. And last but not least – don’t forget the New Zealand! Pinot Noir from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough are typically well balanced and round, perfectly fitting our quest for finesse. Look for the wines from Craggy Range, Mt. Difficulty and Amisfield among the others.

Dessert time! People often underestimate how bad the dessert wines can be – one sip of the cloying, single-sugar-note wine would ruin the experience of an amazing dinner. You really have to put a lot of care in selecting the dessert wine which will have balance and finesse. Of course I would like to recommend Sauternes and Barsac wines for you, but again, my personal experience is very limited. I’m sure you can’t go wrong with Château d’Yquem – if you can afford it, go for it! What would be a bit easier to find (and afford) is a Port. Not just any Port – balance and finesse, remember – so go for a nicely aged Tawny, 20-, 30- or 40-years old. As Port ages, it loses power, and becomes fragrant and sublime, guaranteed to deliver lots of pleasure. Look for Rozes, Graham, Quinta do Noval – lot’s of excellent choices. Then of course, the king of the dessert wines – Riesling. For the special experience, I would only recommend to go to the BA and TBA levels – you know, the stuff which always comes in the small bottles. You see, it is very hard to mass-produce BA or TBA level Rieslings – you can’t harvest enough grapes at those sugar levels – thus it is hard to go wrong with BA or TBA Riesling from any producer. And the last recommendation for today – an Icewine. Not any Icewine, but I want to recommend my personal favorite – Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine. This wine is vibrant, perfectly balanced and has lots of finesse – I guarantee you will finish your Valentine’s Day dinner on a high note with this wine.

Here you go, my friends – in the quest for the balance and finesse, these are some of my personal recommendations to enhance you Valentine’s Day experience. Let me know what do you think about my suggestions and feel free to provide your own. Happy Valentine’s Day and cheers!

 

 

Daily Glass: A Super-Local Pinot

January 9, 2015 8 comments

Cuveé Cellars Pinot NoirWhile talking to a friend on Facebook, she asked: “would like to try a local Pinot Noir”? Care to guess my response? Yeah, a dumb question, you know what I said – “of course” and “yes, please” (insert an appropriate number of exclamation points on your own). Mentioning that she will be sending the wine in a few days, she reiterated again – it will be a local Pinot Noir, or may be even rather a super-local.

As my friend lives in Silicon Valley in California, my thought was – okay, of course it will be a California Pinot Noir, so “local” means produced locally in California. I was of course curios what exact Pinot Noir it will be, but hey, patience is a virtue of a oenophile, isn’t it?

The package arrived, with the bottle of California Pinot Noir in it. 2012 Cuveé Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard Russian River Valley (14.9% ABV). Okay, so I’m sure that most of you never heard of Cuveé Wine Cellars – but the wine has Russian River Valley designation, so that’s the whole “local California” story, you ask?

Well, the wine actually is super-local. While the grapes were harvested in Russian River Valley, the wine was made locally in Silicon Valley, in the town of San Carlos, a small town near San Jose, where Cuveé Wine Cellars is located. As it often happens, especially with the urban wineries, the driving force behind Cuveé Wine Cellars is passion – and you can check their story on the Cuveé Wine Cellars web site.

How was the wine? In a few words – delicious with a great aging potential. When I opened it on the first day, the aromatics of Pinot Noir were incredible, one of the most pronounced California Pinot I ever had a pleasure to smell – forest floor, smoke, mushrooms, licorice – all very concentrated. The palate was well supporting the aroma, with silky-smooth, rich texture. Very concentrated (using the word again, sorry), with lots of fruit, chocolate, the same mushroom undertones and good acidity. But honestly, it was a bit too much. Don’t get me wrong – there was no jammy fruit or sharp biting alcohol in this wine – but you know how sometimes you are looking for the subtlety of the favors, for a bit more grace and mystery? My wish was granted on the day 3, when wine still had all the aromatics, but the palate became more mellow and intricate. Drinkability: 8+

That’s my story of the super-local Pinot – and an ode to the great friends. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Wonderwall Pinot Noir

August 2, 2014 8 comments

I had to settle for this simple title of the post after a few futile attempts to be clever. “Don’t judge the wine by the first sip”, “Give it some time”, “Patience, the most important virtue of Oenophile” were all contenders, but none of them where hitting the spot, so I went for a simple, not catchy title for this post, just with the name of the wine.

But we have to talk about first sip, time and patience, as we have a great case in point. 2013 Wonderwall Pinot Noir Edna Valley (14.9% ABV) is made by Field Recordings, one of my all time favorite producers from California – I wrote about Field Recordings wines many times in this blog. I don’t think I ever had a Field Recordings wine I didn’t like.  Or such was my very first thought after the very first sip of this wine.

On the first sip, the wine was simply … sweet. No, nothing is wrong with the sweet wines – but not when the wine is called Pinot Noir. The wine had tons of nice fresh fruit – but more in the compote flavor profile. Well, this is the young wine, very young – it is 2013 vintage, and probably was bottled just a few month ago – so the first thing to do, before declaring the wine been no good, is to give it time. Which I did. In about 30 minutes, the sweetness subsided, and acidity increased. The longer this wine was opened, the more restrained it became.

The next day the wine converted itself into a powerful, full bodied California Pinot Noir, with the hint of smoke on the nose, and ripe plums and hint of blueberries on the palate, with good structure and very good balance (Drinkability: 8 -). I was really glad that Field Recordings came around for me, and I can still call it a favorite producer without any afterthoughts.

And the general lesson(s)? Don’t judge the wine by the very first sip – in a lot of cases, freshly opened bottle might not taste as you expect it, especially if the wine is young – you should really refrain from judging the young wine until it had an opportunity to breathe and open up. And be patient. I’m sure this wine would show itself quite differently in the 4-5 years, so quite often, waiting for the wine to be ready, to be at its peak, makes a lot of sense.

Have you ever been in situation when you declared the wine “not good” based on the first sip, only to find out (or not) that the wine considerably improved after some breathing time? Comment away! Cheers!

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Devotion – The Blog Post I Can Not Write

February 16, 2014 32 comments

MWWC_logoAs soon as I saw the new theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Competition #7, Devotion, my very first thought was “hmmmm, this will be hard, or more precisely, extremely hard”. The problem is that when I hear the word “devotion”, the immediate mental picture is of a giant cross at the very best, or no picture at all – but I can assure you it ain’t the picture of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ever since the theme was announced I was struggling to find the connection of “devotion” to the wine world. I’m sure the examples of the true devotion are abundant in the wine world. May be even more than in many other trades, the success requires a lot of sweat, blood and sacrifice. Not been a wine historian, but rather only a very appreciative and dedicated consumer, I don’t have those stories of sweat and blood handy, and searching the Internet and rewriting someone else’s stories is not something I usually do, thus search for the connection between wine and devotion became literally a daily routine. To no avail.

I thought that I will start my post with the analysis of the word “devotion” – yes, the linguistic analysis. Oliver did it it perfectly in his post for the #MWWC7, as he was struggling with the theme in pretty much the same way as I did. Oliver took the Latin route for the meaning of “devotion”, so I can still refer to the English meaning of the word. Here is a nice representation of the Google search for the definition of “devotion”:

Devotion_Google

Yes, love and loyalty (or dedication for that matter) sound like the right way to go here – but if that is the direction, I would simply use the word love, and not devotion. Nope. It doesn’t connect.

So as today is a pretty much the last day to submit the entry, I still don’t have it.

But let me give you somewhat of an interesting twist here. Let’s put the word “devotion” aside for a minute, and let’s go back to the wine. Think about two sides of the wine world (not exclusively two – but let’s simplify here). On one side, winemaker should be willing to make an honest wine, the wine he or she will be willing (and proud) to offer (sell) to any consumer. On another side of the spectrum is the consumer who should be willing to buy the wine. Let’s make this statement even more precise – the consumer who should be willing (and eager) to drink the wine. Do you think we can find devotion on both sides here? Does it take devotion to make the best possible wine? Yes this is an easy case, I would say (and it was perfectly presented by Jeff at FoodWineClick in his photo essay about devotion of the winegrower). And how do we get to the devotion of the wine consumer? While this might not sound all too fitting for the term, but one should be devoted enough to the wine world to be willing to open the bottle – any bottle, a cult (DRC, Petrus, Screaming Eagle), or the most obscure, of unknown grape and producer; the wine which costs thousands, and the wine which costs $1.99. Open and give that wine a chance, step over the preconceived notions (“ahh, I don’t drink California Chardonnay”) and make an effort to understand the wine for what it is. Is that a behavior of the wine-devoted consumer, an oenophile? We are not talking here about people who buy the wine as an investment, with the sole purpose of selling the wine once its price will increase – those people are devoted to money, not to the wine. But for the oenophile, the wine is approached with an open mind – that doesn’t mean that the one should equally love all the different styles and tastes – but that one has equal respect to them all.

And let me tell about devotion of the winemaker through the eyes, nose and palate of the devoted oenophile (yep, myself in this case).

I brought the bottle of 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir from Chicago about a month ago. I was in the store, shopping for the older vintage wines, and I couldn’t resist to buy such an old wine for $25 – yes,this is how much this wine was.

I didn’t want to hold it for too long, so Valentine’s Day seemed like a perfect opportunity to open a special bottle of wine (yes, I should’ve wait for the Open That Bottle Night, but we are always traveling over the actual OTBN day, as it generally falls on the kids’ school vacation).

When I told my friend Zak (who owns the wine store) that I will be opening the 1966 California Pinot Noir for the Valentine’s Day, his reaction was “why? You understand that the wine will not be any good, just keep the bottle as is for the decoration”. My thought was “I can always keep the empty bottle as a decoration. I have to give this wine a try”.

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I honestly didn’t know what to expect. 1966 Pinot Noir from California? Not made by the star winemaker at the state of the art modern winery? The only thing I knew about the wine that it was made at Louis M. Martini winery. And Louis M. Martini doesn’t even make Pinot Noir wines today! Okay, let me come clean here – I had an additional reinforcement of my hope. I remember my wine class on Californian wines at the Windows on the World wine school, where after we tasted the line of California Cabernets, Kevin Zraly said “this wine is made by the Louis M. Martini. They make make excellent wines, and they could charge a lot more for them, but they chose not to”.

Louis M. Martini was an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1899. After working in the wine trade for a while, he opened Louis M. Martini winery in Napa Valley in 1933, as Prohibition was ending. Last year, the winery celebrated its 80th anniversary. You can read the history on the Louis M. Martini winery web site, but I want to mention that Louis P. Martini, the son of Louis M. Martini, went on to become one of the pioneers of California Pinot Noir and Merlot, and he was inducted to California Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008.

Let’s get back to the wine. It was the time to open that 1966 bottle, so I armed myself with the waiter’s corkscrew and the two-prong cork pull. I even had a thought of using Port Tongues, but that sounded a bit too fancy. Foil was cut, and I was presented with pristine looking cork top. Considering that appearance, I used the the regular waiter’s corkscrew, only moving it very slowly. The cork struggled only a tiny bit, and came out as a whole – and just look at this cork! I had 5 years old wines, where cork was in the terrible condition, never mind 48 years old wine!

DSC_0914So I poured the wine into the glass – beautiful red brick color, with an orange hue, reminiscent of signature Barolo color. I was really concerned about the first smell – hoping not to find a sauerkraut or vinegar there – and the nose was perfect! Yes, the herbal flavors were prevailing over the fruit, but nevertheless, it was a very pleasant nose without anything disturbing. The first sip – wow. This wine is beautiful! Yes, lots of herbs – sage, eucalyptus, may be even lavender, but also with the nice plum component, and most importantly, balancing acidity. An extremely complex and thought provoking wine – but in the perfect elegance of all the components. The wine opened up a bit more, showing a bit more sweet fruit notes – and then it was gone – we finished it all. Truly spectacular and almost unbelievable – but it was real. I would love to compare this wine to the old Burgundy – I guess this is what it will taste like, if I’m lucky.

And you are looking for connection to the today’s theme, devotion? To me, it is simple. To make the wine which will last for so long and stay in such a perfect condition (go back and look at that cork again) requires a dedication, it requires the full devotion of the winemaker, it requires the unconditional love to what you do. And this wine had it all.

Raise your glasses, my friends, for the true devotion of the winemakers and oenophiles. Cheers!

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