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Posts Tagged ‘Cayuse’

Double Lucky Number 8

April 5, 2021 3 comments

Luck.

An interesting term.

Luck is extremely subjective, personable, and relative. There are many definitions of luck, starting with the cliche one “when preparation meets opportunity” – not sure how that would apply for example, in the case when the brick is accidentally falling off the roof of the building and missing your head by the quarter of an inch. Or when you win the lottery. When you miss your train and meet the love of your life – what kind of luck is that? Okay, let’s not get hung up on the research of the true meaning of “luck” as this is not the goal of this post.

Last year, 2020, can hardly be called a “lucky” year. Quite on contrary, for 99.9% of people living today, this was probably the unluckiest year of their lives to date (who knows what the future hold). Or was it? Yes, we lost the ability to travel, eat out, enjoy the concerts, and socialize with friends. And yet many of us who kept our jobs managed to pay off debt (Americans paid off the record of $83B in credit card debt), invest into their homes (the price of lumber doubled in certain markets in the USA, due to very high demand), and even get well on the path to early retirement. And those of us obsessed with wine even got access to the wines we couldn’t dream of before (thanks to the restaurants not buying those wines anymore), and meet lots and lots of winemakers who happily visited our houses – via zoom. Everything has its silver lining.

A few months ago I got an email from Cayuse, saying that I will be getting a bottle of wine called Double Lucky #8 – a free sample, plus there will be a special zoom with the winemakers to introduce the new wine. Cayuse, and all of the “sister” wines – No Girls, Horsepower, Hors Categorie – are super-allocated (never mind expensive), so the free bottle sounded very lucky.

The wine arrived a few days ago. A beautiful bottle that solicited an array of thoughts. Cayuse wines are better with age – 2017 is clearly too young to be enjoyed now. Also, I love sharing the wine – so what should I do – to open or not to open? I decided that as this will be a unique opportunity to taste this wine together with the winemakers, I should just open the bottle and go with the flow. But also do it in a smart way – open a few hours in advance and decant it – which I did.

I remember reading an article by W. Blake Gray, the wine writer and a critic I respect very much, who mentioned that Cayuse wines might be the best wines made in the USA. Ever since then, tasting Cayuse wines became a dream, which required more than 10 years of waiting to get on the mailing list. Obviously, meeting Christophe Baron was a similar dream, which materialized thanks to pandemic and zoom.

Our zoom session was moderated by Owen Bargreen, the wine critic from Washington, with Christophe Baron and Elizabeth Bourcier, the winemaker, talking about all of the wines produced by Cayuse – well, that is not exactly correct. As introduced by Christophe Baron, it is all the wines produced by Bionic Wines, the new overarching brand, which includes Cayuse, No Girls, Horsepower, Hors Categorie, and Champagne Christophe Baron.

It is all about the rocks (Cayuse is derived from Cailloux which means stones or rocks in French). If I would give you a cliff note on what Christophe Baron does, it would sound something like “he finds the great location, establishes new vineyard, and makes new wine” – really, this is the story behind various Cayuse wines, No Girls, Horsepower…

Everything at Cayuse is done in full respect and harmony with nature – all the vineyards are farmed biodynamically since 2002 – the only biodynamic winery in Washington. As Christophe put it eloquently during the webinar, Mother Nature is the Master, and we are all her servants – it is Mother Nature who produces the grapes, and the winemaker needs to covert those into the wine, hence the utmost respect and attention to producing the wines in full harmony with nature.

We talked about all the wines under the Bionic wines umbrella, how they came to being (remember, new vineyard – new wine), and what is the philosophy behind them all. Almost at the end of the session (the time flew unnoticed, all thanks to the incredible energy and enthusiasm of Christophe), we finally talked about 2017 Double Lucky #8, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo, the same three varieties which comprise No Girls offering. Double Lucky is Elizabeth Bourcier’s project, from start to the finish – her idea, her execution. She wanted to create the wine similar to Cotes du Rhône – simple and approachable from the get-go, a sort of Cotes du Walla Walla if you will. Was she successful? Let’s talk about it.

When I poured the wine at first, it literally jumped out of the glass. I call Cayuse wines “liquid rocks” – Double Lucky was no exception, with granite, iodine, and smoke being prevalent both on the nose and on the palate. The wine was definitely drinkable, though not for the faint at heart – if you like massive wines, you would be pleased. 2 hours in a decanter made the wine more mellow, shifting the balance towards some cherries and herbs. For my palate, the wine continued up and down until it was gone.

Elizabeth shared her winemaking philosophy, which includes whole cluster fermentation and use of the stems, as stems “give the wines freshness” in her own words. I’m rather cautious about both – I guess my palate is overly sensitive to the tannins extracted from the stems – I perceive them as “green” tannins, which are unpleasantly bitter, and thus I’m generally not a fan. So I don’t have a strong opinion on Double Lucky #8, and while the wine is influenced by Cote du Rhône, it will last for the next 10–20 years, unlike Cote du Rhône wines, which typically have only a few years to be enjoyed, so I would definitely mark it as “needs time” right now. One more parallel with Cote du Rhône – those wines are usually inexpensive – and Double Lucky will be the cheapest wine in Bionic Wines portfolio, at $44 when it will be officially released next winter as part of the No Girls wines release. While the wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo, there are no exact proportions, as the blend will change every year. I can only guess Grenache makes the majority of the blend, given Elizabeth’s propensity for use of Grenache as she does in her own sought-after wine, La Rata.

I have to tell you that while the zoom is exceptional, it is hard to keep attention all the time. As the result, I don’t know if it was just me, but I didn’t really get the real story behind the intriguing name (Double Lucky) and the meaning of #8. Was that the blend #8 which became the winning one? Was the idea behind this wine associated with some lucky moment? I would love to know, but I have no idea. Hopefully, someone will be luckier than me and we will learn the story behind the name.

Was that a lucky break drinking Double Lucky and listening to Christophe Baron? Oh yes, it was. I wish all of us lots and lots of luck, whether we are prepared for it or not.

Thanksgiving Day Experiences – 2020 Edition

November 28, 2020 2 comments

2020. What a year.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, as it revolves around family, food, wine, and friends. Close friends, who are more a family. Friends we celebrated Thanksgiving together with for the past 29 years. And 2020 managed to put a damper on that too, among a vast array of destruction this year will leave behind. Thanksgiving 2020 was about immediate family, food, and wine.

But even in 2020, the proverbial silver lining can be found. This probably was the most relaxing Thanksgiving ever. The menu was dramatically reduced – the family of 4 doesn’t need much of the elaborate appetizers and a vast array of side dishes, so cooking was mostly stress-free. Mostly, however, is a keyword here, as the cooking of the turkey became an unintended study of the operations of our oven.

I’ve cooked the turkey using most of the possible ways over the years, with the exception of deep-frying – roasted, roasted in the bag, turducken, deboned and roasted, smoked (smoked was the house favorite for the past 3 years). I’m also a big fan of slow cooking when you cook low and slow for a long time, so we decided that this was the way to go this year. Turkey was all buttered up with cavity stuffed with aromatics (garlic, lemon, celery, herbs), and the turkey went into the oven at around midnight at 200°F. Or at least I thought that it was 200°F. In the morning, the thigh registered only 152°F (you really need 185°F there) – this is when we decided to check the temperature in the oven using the same meat thermometer, and found out that it was at least 20 degrees lower, barely reaching 180°F, which greatly extends cooking time. We spent the next 6-7 hours playing with that temperature until we finally reached the desired doneness. 40 minutes at 450°F uncovered rendered a beautiful bird with crispy skin. So as long as you trust your oven, slow cooking is the way to go. Added benefit – the best ever turkey gravy, made from the drippings (here is the link to the recipe in case you need one).

The rest of the food prep caused no heartburn, everything came out quite well. We did the same stuffing for the second year in a row. While the recipe is very simple (but it takes time), the result is simply a delightful dish loved by everyone. One more standout was Nantucket Cranberry Pie, which is incredibly simple to make but yet again, the result is superb.

What didn’t work well at all (every occasion needs a flap, right?) was my attempt to recreate childhood memories. I ordered black caviar from Costco (yes, guilty as charged), which came pre-packaged with Creme Fraiche and tiny blinis (a dollar-coin-sized Russian pancakes). First, the caviar itself was just so-so, both in texture and in the taste. But following the instructions and serving it with blinis was a complete disaster, as those dry nibbles resembling poorly made English muffins were, in a word, disguising, both in the taste and texture, especially the texture. Talk about disappointments… But as I said, this was the only flap.

And then there were wines. Over the years, I developed an “All-American” approach to my Thanksgiving wine selection. 2020 was not an exception, and I decided to open definitely more than we could drink, but still have fun with the wines.

Two out of four wines came as part of the mystery pack from Last Bottles which were offered during Thanksgiving. I always missed that deal, but this year I managed to grab the 12 bottles for $144, which made it a great deal. So far I tried 5 bottles out of those 12, and they were all excellent, so the white and Rosé were coming from that set. Vinum Cab Franc was a sample that I received as a preparation for the upcoming #CabFrancDay celebration. I also managed to get cellar-aged Cayuse as part of this year’s offering (directly from Cayuse), so I decided that it might make the Thanksgiving celebration quite special. And yes, it did…

For what it worth, here are my wine notes:

2017 Casino Mine Ranch Vermentino Shenandoah Valley (14.1% ABV)
Light golden
Honeysuckle, white flowers, inviting
Delicious. Whitestone fruit and tropical fruit, a touch of honey undertones, Gewurz-like spiciness, good acidity, good balance.
Should play well with food (pre-dinner notes)
8-, it was good with food

2018 Azur Rosé Napa Valley (12.5% ABV)
Gold with a copper hue
Similar to the previous wine, honeysuckle, ripe strawberries
Good acidity, strawberries all the way, fresh, vibrant, full of energy. Excellent.
8-/8, tremendous acidity on the second day. Worked well with food.

2016 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet Franc El Dorado (15.18% ABV, $35, 26 months in 2 year French Oak)
Dark garnet
Red and black fruit, a touch of black currant
Black currant, dark chocolate, sweet cherries
8, good balance, well-made wine.

2011 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (13.9% ABV)
Dark garnet, almost black
Liquid rocks, a touch of barnyard, iodine, can’t stop smelling
Liquid rock, tart cherries, tar, pepper, iodine, firm structure, layers and layers of flavor. Wow.
9-/9. Surprising pairing – worked amazingly well with Nantucket cranberry pie. Worked well with turkey as well.

As you can tell, the wine program was a complete success – and I definitely can’t complain about spending the holidays with just the closest family

That’s my Thanksgiving story. Hope you have fun too!

A Weekend Of Wine Experiences

August 11, 2020 3 comments

What makes the wine experience for you?

If you drink wine pretty much every day, is that every glass an experience? Is that even possible?

The experience should be something memorable, something you can bring up in your thoughts on the moment’s notice. The experience is not always positive – I well remember some bottles I had to pour down the drain – luckily, it doesn’t happen all that often. The experience triggers the emotion – pain or pleasure – and this is what makes us remember.

During our recent Cape Cod visit with the family, in addition to the ocean, flowers, and sunsets, we also had lots of wine. While some wines were good and simple – and not necessarily memorable – some were just at the level of creating a lasting memory. Let me present my case.

I try not to associate the color of the wine with the weather, but fresh and crisp white wine always brightens up a hot summer day better than a big red. Both wines we had were somewhat of an experience. 2018 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley (13.2% ABV) was a reminder for how much I love this wine, which I consider one of the best California Sauvignon Blancs in general – fresh, citrusy, with plenty of the freshly cut grass and vibrant acidity. A sip of such wine makes you say “ahhh”, and immediately go for another.

The second wine was rather an unexpected disappointment – it had nothing really to do with the wine itself, I guess it was a self-inflicted disappointment, but this is how it will be remembered. 2016 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) didn’t offer much anything in the glass. It was a white wine without a sense of place or much in terms of the expected taste profile. It had no obvious faults, just the taste of “some white wine”. Maybe it was supposed to be consumed two years ago (my wife got it as a present from a coworker and then it was forgotten on the bottom shelf of the cellar). Maybe it was in a “sleeper mode” at the moment. No idea, but this was definitely not something I expected from the Duckhorn.

I continue to surprise myself with an inability to find a bad tasting Rosé nowadays. Either something is wrong with my palate, or I don’t drink enough, or everybody simply mastered the art of Rosé to its fullest, but I like every Rosé I have an opportunity to taste. 2018 Etude Rosé Santa Barbara County (13.2% ABV) was excellent, strawberries all the way, both on the nose and the palate, very elegant and round. Etude is a Pinot Noir specialist, so this was a Pinot Noir Rosé. Santa Barbara designation also brought back lots of happy memories of my first Wine Bloggers conference in 2014. The second Rosé, 2017 Baron de Fumes Rosé Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV) was a bit lighter but sharing mostly the same strawberry profile with a bit more acidity – still every drop delicious. This was also a great value at $8.99 at my local wine store – I now have a few bottles in the fridge ready to be open on any hot day.

Time to move to reds – and to elevate the experience.

Everyone’s cellar has bottles that appeared out of nowhere. You know how this works – you host a party, someone walks through the door with a bottle. You say thank you, hastily put a bottle aside as you are rushing to meet another guest. The bottle is never opened as you had enough wine prepared, and after the party, it is just put away and you have no memory you ever saw it. This was my story with the bottle of 2008 Cantine Lonardo Coste Taurasi DOCG (14.5% ABV, 100% Aglianico). I have no memory of how the bottle made it into the wine fridge. I saw this bottle many times looking for the wine to open – as I’m not familiar with this wine and never bothered to research, I would always skip opening it just on the basis of the vintage – too young, next time, too young, next time. This time around, as our family on The Cape loves the Italian wines, I decided that the time has come to open it.

As we arrived Thursday evening, this was the first bottle we opened. Oh my… As soon as the wine made it to the glasses, the aromatics stopped everyone in their tracks. I can’t even describe it. Mature Italian wine at its peak literally gives me shivers. You can’t put down the glass, you don’t want a sip – you just want another smell, and then another one. Succulent cherries, eucalyptus, tobacco, iodine, ocean breeze – the bouquet delivered such an interplay of flavors that you simply forget the time. When you finally decide to take a sip, you are blown away anew – juicy cherries with herbs, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, and impeccable balance – just a divine experience (am I going to far? Can’t tell you. Wish you were there…). Hands down, this wine is an excellent contender for the top wine of 2020, rivaling Soldera experience (Drinkability: 9/9+).

As I had no idea about Coste, I decided to bring a couple of big guns – two of the Christophe Baron wines – No Girls and Cayuse. I knew that I’m committing a crime by opening 3 years old Cayuse – but this was my very first taste of Cayuse wine, after finally making it on the mailing list, so I decided to take my chances. 2010 No Girls Syrah La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.8% ABV) was as good as I expected it to be – a little bit of funk, black fruit, black pepper, full body, good structure and concentration, excellent balance – definitely a very enjoyable wine. 2017 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV), however, was a disappointment. I knew I’m opening the wine prematurely (the one can only hope. I wonder how Sassicaia does it, making their wines perfectly drinkable upon release), but I still expected the wine to come to its senses at least on the second day, and especially with the help of decanter.

The decanter didn’t help, even on the second day. The wine had some amount of fresh crunchy cherries in it, but that was the maximum excitement. The wine never demonstrated the body I would expect from the Washington Syrah, nor the depth of flavor and the textural experience on the palate. Again, this was not a bad wine, just not enjoyable for me. As this was my very first experience with Cayuse, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions – maybe the wine will completely change in a few years, or maybe the wine is just meant to be like this – I anticipate that the wine will need at least another 7-10 years before it will become fully enjoyable, but we will see. And if it just supposed to taste like that, this will be a serious disappointment, especially considering the price of this wine (around $100).

One more wine I want to mention here – 2017 Domaine La Font de Notre Dame Lirac AOC (14.5% ABV, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre). This wine was opened to compensate for the Cayuse not being very drinkable – and this GSM blend didn’t disappoint – perfectly drinkable and enjoyable from the moment the cork was pulled out. Bright fruit, medium to full body, good minerality, and perfect balance. The wine has limited availability, unfortunately, but if you can find it, it should set you back for less than $20 and this can be your perfect every day red for any time of the year.

There you go, my friends. This is how experiences form into the memories. The pleasure of drinking Coste will stay long in the memory – this was one of the most exciting wines this year. The absence of pleasure in my first sip of Cayuse will also become a long-lasting phenomenon. What are your strongest memories associated with wine?

Lists Worth Waiting For

January 24, 2019 7 comments

Once again, one of my all-time favorite subjects – lists. This time, however, these are the lists with a twist – these are the lists you probably want to know about.

Let’s talk about wine collecting.

I have to say that I don’t consider myself a wine collector. I will gladly identify under multiple “wino” categories. I can identify as wine snob – I have my [strong] preferences and if I’m not careful, they will either slip off my tongue or will be readable off my face as in the open book. I’m definitely a wine geek – wine from the barrel, 2-days fermented juice, obscure grape varieties, wine in the can, wine in the plastic bottle – bring it on, I will happily try it all. I’m a wine lover, oenophile – all of these identities are just fine. Wine collector – I would never present myself as such. I love aged wine – this is the main reason for me to have a “collection” – I buy the wines which I believe (hope?) will improve with time, and I store them to give them time to evolve. In my mind, to be qualified as a wine collector, you need to have more or less an unlimited budget – you taste a good wine, you like it, you say “I’ll take a case” – all of it without paying attention to the price. You are definitely free to disagree with my approach, but this is not what this post is all about.

Collector or not, but I’m passionate about wine. I’m paying attention to what I taste. I’m paying attention to what critics have to say. I’m paying attention to what fellow bloggers and writers are saying. Yes, I’m paying attention to the recommendations, reviews, and suggestions – but the trick is to convert the recommendations into the actual wine. You need to be able to find the wine which is so highly recommended – otherwise, the wine will remain only a “fiction”.

If you think that getting the wine everyone wants to drink is easy, you are probably just starting your oenophile journey. Getting the “desired” wine is not even a question of money. Yes, some of these wines are impossible to find and very expensive. But this is not always the case. For example, 2014 Carlisle Syrah Papa’s Block, 96 rating by Wine Spectator, was priced on release at $44. According to Wine-Searcher, it is available only at one single store in the USA. I’m sure you can afford it – but you can’t really find it. And this is just one example. Theoretically, any wine can be acquired from the wine store. In practice, lots and lots of the wines which built their reputation, are not available in the store, neither “brick and mortar” nor online.

This is exactly what I want to share with you today – where and how to find the wines everyone wants to drink. Before we get to it, one important note – everything I will be talking about here is relevant only for the wines in the USA. It is entirely possible that some winery around the world has the same mechanisms in place, but I’m not aware of those wineries – with the exception of Bordeaux En Primeur however, this is not something I want to talk about today. 

Now, how can you reliably get the wines everyone wants to drink? You will need to learn few key terms – “allocated wine“, “allocation” and “mailing list“. The gist of the process can be summed up in one sentence – in order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Sounds simple, isn’t it? Let’s take this summary in pieces.

Highly allocated wine” simply means that the desirable wine is produced in the limited quantity – 100 cases, 200 cases, whatever the number is – but it is given that demand greatly exceeds supply, and so the wine becomes allocated.

A mailing list is a form of the winery membership which is very different from the typical winery wine club. In the wine club, you say how much you are willing to spend, and the winery will decide what they will send you (yes, you have an option of ordering more, but this is beside the point). Mailing list membership gives you access to desired wines the winery produces, but you still have no guarantee that you can get any wine you want.

Every member of the mailing list receives their allocation – how many bottles of what wine they can buy. Allocation is uniquely tailored to your buying history, position on the mailing list and other factors. Even when you get your allocation, life is still not necessarily perfect – some allocations are guaranteed, and some are offered on “first come, first serve” basis – yes, you have an allocation for the wine, but unless you are buying as soon as you receive the email, the wine you wanted might be already gone – experienced this scenario with Peter Michael and Turley many times.

Lastly, you need to keep in mind that your allocation will not necessarily include all the wines which winery included in so-called Release – some of the wines in the release might not be a part of your allocation. Ahh, and one more thing – in order to be on the mailing list, you need to continue buying the wines. I don’t know if there are minimal quantities, and I know that some of the wineries will allow you to skip one or a few of the mailing list offers and will still keep you on the list. Some wineries, however, warn you in a very direct fashion – if you will not order wine from this offer, you will be taken off the mailing list.

So that’s it, now that you understand how the system works, the rest is easy, right? Let’s find the wines we want, go sign up for the mailing list and start receiving the wines – easy! Not so fast. There is one more term I need to make you familiar with. This is the scary term – it is called “waiting list“. Remember I gave you the gist of the buying process for the highly desirable wines in one sentence? We need now to use a few sentences to fully explain the process:

In order to get highly allocated wine, you need to be on the winery’s mailing list in order to receive your allocation. Before you will get on the mailing list, you will first join the waiting list for that mailing list, as the mailing list has limited capacity.

What’s so scary about the waiting list? You have no idea how long will it take for you to transition from waiting list to the mailing list. I was on the waiting list for about seven years in order to get on Cayuse mailing list. I’m waiting for more than seven years now to get on Saxum and Sine Qua Non mailing lists with no end in sight. So yes, if you want access to the wine, you will have to learn to wait.

That’s about all there is to the allocated wines and mailing lists. I would like to make it clear – mailing list is one of the sources of allocated wines – but it is the only option if you want to be fully in charge of what you will be buying. Wine distributors in the USA also hold positions on various mailing lists and they get access to the allocated wines exactly as individuals do. However, their allocations are also limited,  and different stores have different access to those wines. Yes, you can definitely rely on the stores as your source of the allocated wines – for example, Wades Wines in California offers an amazing selection of the allocated wines – but you still have to hunt down the wines you want to drink.

At the beginning of this post, I said that we will be talking about wine collections. So far I explained how you can get wines for your collection – but as someone who had been hunting down collectible wines for a while, I would like to give you a number of suggestions for the wines I consider of being worthy of anyone’s collection – and worth hunting them down and waiting on the lists. Or at least, worthy of most anyone’s collection – for instance, if you don’t like Zinfandel wines as a category, Turley and Carlisle might not be wines you will be interested in. I’m not going to recommend any individual wines – below are the wineries I suggest you will get on the waiting lists for mailing lists, including a short explanation as to why I’m recommending them. I’m also including links for your convenience. The list sorted alphabetically without implying any preferences.

Alban Vineyards

Rhône-style specialist located in Edna Valley in California. Produces both whites and reds. Alban Syrah is a riot, and Alban Viognier might be the best in the country – among other wines. One release per year.

Carlisle Winery

Zinfandel and Syrah specialist. Produces also a number of white wines (Gruner is amazing) and few of the red blends. The wines are released twice a year. Allocations are typically guaranteed until the expiration date of the offer. Majority of the wines are under $50. Wines can be ordered as individual bottles.

Cayuse Vineyards

One of the very best wineries in the country, located in Walla Walla, Washington. Produces predominantly red wines – Syrah and Grenache rule, but Cabernet and Bordeaux blends supposed to be outstanding. Didn’t have a pleasure of tasting the Cayuse wines yet, but have high expectations. The wines are sold in the 3-packs, so 3 bottles is the smallest quantity you can buy. One release per year.

Horsepower Vineyards

The winery takes its name from the fact that all the heavy work in the vineyards is done using horses. Another winery from Washington and closely affiliated with Cayuse through Christophe Baron, the winemaker at Cayuse. Produces only Syrah and Grenache. If you like Syrah, Horsepower Syrah is amazing. One release per year, 3-pack offering only.

No Girls Wines

yet another project of Christophe Baron. Syrah, Grenache, and Tempranillo from Washington. Delicious, terroir-driven wines. One release per year, all wines are available as 3-packs only.

Peter Michael Winery

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon specialist out of Napa. The wines are simply outstanding. Two releases per year. Wines are available in single bottle quantities. Allocations are not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

Saxum Vineyards

the winery, located in Paso Robles in California is focused only on 3 varieties – Syrah, Grenache and Mataro (they prefer to use the popular Australian name for Mourvèdre grape). Their wines supposed to be amazing – I’m still waiting (for 7 years now) to find out how amazing.

Sine Qua Non

the legend. I should really stop right here and not even try to describe this winery. Might be the most cult winery in the United States – it’s either Sine Qua Non or Screaming Eagle. These wines are impossible to get (unless you have a spare $1000 – then run to Benchmark Wine website, they have one bottle available at that price). Sine Qua Non makes supposedly amazing wines in California (the winery calls Santa Barbara home), each wine in each vintage having a unique name and unique label. I’m waiting for about 7 years already and will continue to do so.

Turley Wine Cellars

best known as Zinfandel and Petite Sirah specialists from Paso Robles. Turley produces 47 wines from 50 vineyards. When it comes to Zinfandel, Turley is often considered a hallmark of Zinfandel expression. In addition to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Turley produces a small number of whites, plus a number of red blends. A few years ago Turley even started making their own Cabernet Sauvignon wines, called The Label. Most of the wines are priced under $50, with a few exceptions. Two releases per year, plus separate end of the year release for The Label. All wines can be acquired in the single quantities. Your allocation is not guaranteed – first come, first serve.

There you go, my collector and future collector friends – my explanations about inner workings of the desirable (allocated) wines, and the list of the wines I find worth waiting for. I’m sure many of you have your own take on wine collecting and wines worth hunting down – use the comments section to share your opinion with everyone.

Hope you will find this useful. Cheers!

An update: After this post was published, I received a number of suggestions for the lists worth waiting for. I have very little knowledge of most of these wines, but as they came recommended, I will list them here so you can do your own research and make your own decisions: Abreu Vineyards, Aubert Wines, Brand, Hourglass, Quilceda Creek Winery, Scarecrow Wine, Schrader Cellars, Vérité.

 

Must Try Wines, with Updates and Explanations

May 6, 2012 Leave a comment

After publishing the first post about Must Try Wines, I had an extended dialog with @PeterZachar on Twitter, where Peter provided good suggestions as to more ”must try wines” to be added to the list. Then I thought about whole rationale of ”must try”, ”must do”, ”must see”, ”must experience”, and I believe it makes sense to talk about it first.

When it comes to ”must experience” in the wine world, I believe there are few deciding factors to get a given wine into that category. First one probably is a price. In the end of the day, this is how first known ”must try” classification came about – famous Bordeaux 1855 classification was made out solely on the price of the wines sold by various Chateaux. Of course price is just a consequence, an artificial showing of other, more fundamental factors, such as quality, reputation, demand and availability – but it is easy for us, humans to comprehend numbers, so the price serves as an aggregate measure instead of quantifying all other fundamentals independently. Looking at Chateau Petrus, Screaming Eagle or Seppeltsfield Port, each one faring at about $2500+ a bottle, it is easy to say ”if ever possible, I really really want to try it”.

Next factor is a reputation of the wine. Reputation in general is hard to assess, right? Well, when it comes to the wine world, one side of reputation also happened to be quantified for us – in the form of the infamous wine ratings. All over the wine blogosphere you can find beating and bantering of the various point rating systems – however, whether good or bad, consumers like to have some simple numerical indication of one ”thing” being better than another ”thing”. No, I’m not planning to divert into the 100-points scale discussion – what I’m alluding to is the fact that it is very easy to include wines rated 100 points into the ”must experience” category. Probably 98 to a 100 points will do just fine, as I can bet I would never be able to tell the difference between 98 and 99 rated wines, so 98 to a 100 is a good range. Should all 100 points rated wines be included into ”must try” list? I don’t think so, simply because you have to draw a line somewhere.

Another side of reputation shows up in the form of someone’s opinion – not a single person, but rather as a collective opinion. If the wine receives multiple [substantial] praises from multiple people, it is probably worth considering for the ”must try” subject – however, all these praises will most likely become reflected in the price, and almost certainly will affect one more ”must have” deciding factor – availability.

What do we usually want the most? That’s right – something we cannot have. In the industrial world, if we run out of something, we can make more of it. It doesn’t work the same way in the wine world. Deeply engrained in the concept of terroir, the most sought after wines are produced from the very specific vineyards – yes, you can plant more vineyards, but they will not bear the same fruit and you will not be able to produce the same wine. Therefore, you can’t address the increased demand by just making more – and your wine becomes less available (and its reputation most likely is increasing). The next step is for the wine to be sold only through the mailing lists thus injecting some sanity into that supply and demand equation. And in many cases price of wine goes up, completing the full connection between our three key ”must have” factors – price, reputation and availability.

I hope I gave you enough insight into my logic. To come up with the additions to the original ”must try” list, I did two things. First of all, I used the exact recommendations from Peter. Second approach was based on using the Wine Spectator online and searching for the wines with 98 to 100 ratings in particular regions and countries – then looking at the prices and styles to decide if I would be interested in experiencing that wine. The result can be found in the updated table which is available as a standalone page on this site (please click this link).

Few more comments, if I may. For most of the wines from France, actual vintage is not essential – all these wines show remarkable consistency in good years and in bad years. Also for Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sauternes the actual ”must try” wine is a flagship which usually goes under the same as the winery itself. Same is true for California ”cults” outside of Rhone Rangers. For all other wines, the exact wine is listed. Also for Port, Madeira and Spanish wines the exact vintage is listed and important.

I just want to repeat the same disclaimer as last time – this list is a personal reflection – feel free to criticize it or make it yours and change it. I’m sure there are plenty worthwhile wines which can be added to this list – this is why I’m sharing it with you. Yes, you are welcome.

Let’s raise the glass for the best experiences of our lives! Cheers!

Weekend Wine Happenings

April 24, 2012 1 comment

This past weekend was filled with different wine events, which I want to share with you. First and foremost – arrival of the No Girls wine. No Girls wine is made by Christophe Baron, the wine maker behind Cayuse – one of the cult wineries from Washington state. What is so special? No Girls wine is available only through the mailing list. If you ever dealt with winery mailing lists you probably know that before you get on the mailing list, first you spend time on the waiting list for the mailing list. It took more than two years for me to move from waiting list to mailing list with Turley, makers of the great Zinfandels. I think for more than 3 years I’m still on the waiting list for Alban, Cayuse and Carlisle. With No Girls wine, despite the fact that I signed up literally on the same day as the offer came in, initially I got an e-mail that I didn’t make the mailing list, with the follow up e-mail in a couple of month saying that I got an allocation.

Hence the excitement and anticipation associated with arrival of No Girls wine – 2008 Grenache and Syrah from La Paciencia vineyard in Walla Walla. I can’t tell you anything about the wine itself – I plan to give it some time first. However, even packaging alone can make you excited – and to explain what I mean, here are few pictures for you.

Very bright and clever – what do you think?

Now, on the subject of the wines I actually tasted over this weekend, there were few I wanted to talk about.

First one is a Spanish wine 2010 Laya D.O. Almansa (14.5% ABV). This wine is a blend of Garnacha (70%) and Monstrell (30%). When you open the bottle and take a first sip, it comes out very grapey and young. It took this wine 3 days to develop a nice undertone of richness, with some ripe red fruit, a touch of spices and smokiness. Considering the price ($7.99) this is a great everyday wine (Drinkability: 7+).

 

Next one is a 2009 Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon Fin de journee Napa Valley (14.5% ABV). I had this wine for a few months, waiting for the right moment to try it and building up expectations – somehow the name “Textbook” caused a lot of warm expectations, especially with the back label promising a “textbook Napa Cabernet”. The wine had a nice nose of the dense black fruit, not too jammy, but present. On the palate, the fruit grew together with nice tannins and silky texture, only to somehow stop short of delivering the “oompf”. Almost like watching the golf ball slowly rolling after the putt “almost, almost, almost, ahh”. Signature black currant was almost there, but didn’t really show up in its clean beauty. Don’t get me wrong – for a $20 Napa Cab, this was a good wine, but it had to battle my inflated expectations… and lost. Drinkability: 7+.

Last but not least was 2009 Catastrophe Red Cattail Creek Estate Winery, Four Mile Creek VQA, Canada (12.5% ABV). We brought this wine back from Canada after the last year’s trip. It is a blend of Gamay Noir, Merlot and Cabernet. On the nose, it has a bright red fruit. On the palate, there is more red fruit, such as sour cherries, hint of earthiness, good clean acidity, very balanced. Medium body and very easy to drink. This wine also would be a great food wine – too bad, I only brought one bottle back. Drinkability: 8-.

That’s all folks. Don’t forget that April 25th is a Wine Blogging Wednesday, with the theme “Barossa Bumerang”  – find a bottle of Barossa wine from Australia, enjoy it, and write a blog post or at least leave a comment here. Have a great week! Cheers!

 

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